Sunday, October 09, 2005

What Have I Learned So Far?

As many of you know, I started this blog as a way to organize my thoughts as I learned about different aspects about Paganism. As I have stated before, I am not Pagan myself and had no intentions of exploring this set of religions with intent to convert. Although I still have no intentions to convert, I am finding that I have stronger leanings towards Paganism than I had thought. I find that neo-pagan religions inspire creativity, are insightful, and have a heavy leaning towards spirituality and that is something that I like.

I have had this blog now for just over four months now. Therefore, I am finding that it is time to start tying these blog entries into a cohesive whole of what I have learned to date. In other words, what have I learned and how does the information fit together.

So far, I have learned mostly about neo-pagan religions, specifically Wicca, as there is much information available about the topic. Wicca, appearing in the 1950’s, paved the way for the many earth-centered religions that are starting to gain popularity today. Wicca’s inspiration is based in mythology, anthropology, other shamanistic religions, alchemy, ceremonial magic and of course, natural life. Although they are gaining in popularity, there is still some road bumps to over come, one being the lack of validity within mainstream society. Those of other religions (specifically Christianity in the US*) sometimes refuse to acknowledge Wicca/Paganism as a religion, even though their religion was once treated in the same way. This can be seen in the example of our Pagan military personnel being refused the recognition of their beliefs on their headstones when they die in the line of duty.

Wicca, as stated before, is an earth-centered religion that concentrates on the natural cycles of life and death. Death is not ignored, but is integrated as an aspect of the natural cycle and as such plays a huge role within the holiday symbolism. For this reason, death is not something to be afraid of but something to celebrate and be respectful of in the form of honoring those that came before you, as is the case during Samhain. Life, as you know, is also celebrated and respected.

As a young religion, Wicca/Paganism has much growing up to do. Those involved today are laying the groundwork for those that will come along tomorrow. But it is, as of yet, still the groundwork for the religion. There is much that needs to be explored in the way of ethics, community, organization (if any) and the integrated history of several different fields (as named above). Being that this is the information age, ideas do spread rapidly and seem to change on regular basis.

One thing emphasized that is almost central to each of these belief systems is to use what works for them. That means anything that fits into an individuals schema of what makes up their religion can be used. Of course, there are a few “givens” or core beliefs but for the most part, each persons system is different. This is what allows for creative flow and the sense of control over how one believes and worships. But there is a down side to this as well. This idea of using what works seems to create a bit of chaos within the religion and, in my honest opinion, seems to create the illusion of lacking religious validity to those of other, more established religions. I can hear critics say, “If everyone believes in something different, how can it be one religion?” To this I would answer, “Community.”

Community has been talked about a lot over the past month, with The Juggler holding a huge amount of the conversation regarding this topic. There were many different viewpoints with many people having their say. Here are some links to individual posts so you may read them (and so I can have a link to them for posterity) if you so wish.

Lilith Saintcrow
Lilith Saintcrow (again)
Sunfell (again)

At this point,(IMHO), community seems to refer in order of importance to followers:

1. Individuals
2. Internet
3. Covens
4. Local surroundings/other covens in the area/Local bookstores
5. State organizations
6. Country organizations

This is opposite from most “mainstream” religions today, where the larger group comes before the individual. Why did I include internet near the top? I think that the internet has been an intrinsic method of communication for the Pagan community, so much so that some Pagans have contacts with other Pagans only through the internet as there may be no other Pagans within their area.

As this is getting long, I will continue with it another day in the near future.

* Sorry to leave out those of different countries, but I honestly don’t have much knowledge regarding how these new-ish religions are looked upon. If you are from another country and want to respond to the question of how Pagan religions are perceived in your country please do!


A Minor said...

Great summary so far! As a beginner myself the "anything goes" ideology makes it hard in that there is no solid springboard from which to jump (although this is also what appeals to me about paganism.) As an Australian who has been to 3 schools, 2 universities, had about 10 jobs and lived in 3 different cities plus some towns I can honestly say I have never met anyone that has ever mentioned paganism. I would be suprised if very many people had even heard of it given the southern hemisphere doesn't have the history and sites such as stonehenge etc which people may have learnt about. The only pagans I know are people I have never met (internet) although there is a local organisation that appears to have about 5 people in it who are all 30 years older than me! Its quite isolating! Hope this helps some.

Andy said...

I agree with your analysis of the role of the internet in Pagan religion.

Scott said...

If you follow up on the internet thing, I think you might find that the Pagan community helped lay the foundations of the internet in many ways....
Great summary, I am pagan, but not Wiccan, so this has been both informative and refreshing,,,especially now knowing you are not pagan... Very good work!!