[Update: man, I feel like I phoned this one in. There have been a number of excellent essays on IPCOD from others in the community. Many have been gathered on the IPCOD Facebook page, but I invite you to read Peter Dybing's challenging words on coming out. Truly remarkable!]
International Pagan Coming Out Day (IPCOD) is an important event for me and not just because I help out however I can as a member of the executive committee for the event. It’s important as a call to action for Pagans to stand with others in our community who have come out but, just as importantly, to recognize that not all of us can do so safely.
I was lucky to have parents that, for a variety of reasons, weren’t concerned–or didn’t share their concerns–when I moved on from the religion of my childhood. In fact, it was my mother who purchased a copy of Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner at my request way back during my teenage years. But, I recognize that my situation is not that others find themselves living.
We’ve seen the stories of a Witch and author if Florida who’s been on the receiving end of violence thought to be motivated by religious intolerance. Step outside of America and you can fairly easily find stories from other countries where people are still killed based simply on accusations of witchcraft. I think it’s clear that US Pagans hopefully aren’t facing the threat of death for coming out of the broom closet, but that doesn’t mean that things are without there dangers here.
Throughout the day today, on the IPCOD Facebook page, we’ve seen testimonials from people who’ve come out. At least one of those people indicated that she actually came out to members of her family today! Unfortunately, it sounded like things went a little rough for her, and she wasn’t the only one. We’ve heard stories of people who were disowned, those who lost friendships, those who were accused of Satanism, who faced attempts to “save” them, and who were said to be damned to hell.
I look back at my time growing up in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania and it was an accepting place. Rarely was I on the receiving end of antisemitism while identifying as Jewish and I can think of only one instance when my music teacher, of all things, questioned me regarding my interest in Satanism. But even in this case, I explained myself and he dropped it. Similarly, no one in Illinois really seemed worried for me or my soul and now in Massachusetts I live about an hour and half from Salem so people around here are at least familiar with Witches and with Paganism at least anecdotally.
But the ease with which I came out and the lack of issues relating to my religious choices doesn’t somehow invalidate the need for IPCOD nor does it make it any less necessary. Until we can all feel comfortable sharing ourselves truly with the world (when moved to do so) without fear of professional or private consequences, it’s important for us to support those who are publicly Pagan, to do our best to support the works of other Pagans when we find them congruous to our own goals, and to understand and support those who, for any reason, choose not to share their religious identify with others.
It’s been a few weeks since I popped up on the Pagan Blog Project and this is likely to be a shorter post than my other ones. I’m hoping to jump back in time and cover the “H” posts this weekend, on Saturday and one on Sunday because I actually have ideas for those (unlike the missing “F” posts).
What is Immanence
I’ve talked about the concept of immanence elsewhere on the site. In short, this is the belief that everything has within it at least some quantity of a creative force currently unknown to science. Those who believe in gods are may see this force as divine, but I don’t personally think one has to be a theist in order to believe that there are forces in this world that science has not fully described at this time. If one is a theist, then this creative/divine force might be seen to give rise to the gods or it could be described as a capability granted by the gods to some or all of creation.
Regardless of why it exists, I think that many Pagans believe that an immanent creative force is simply a part of our reality.
Immanence and Magic
I recently spent a chunk of a morning chatting with members of the Interfaith Youth Corps in an speed-faithing event. Speed-faithing is a term that I ran into first as a part of the Interfaith in Action student organization at the University of Illinois. I’ve seen others use it, too, but I don’t think it’s too common. Essentially, it’s a discussion on a specific faith where a group can ask questions of a member of that faith in a sort of rapid-fire way. The intention is to get a basic understanding of a faith as a jumping off point for further research and understanding.
Preparing for this event, I worked to anticipate what sorts of questions might be asked of me. This was, in some part, in the back of my mind when I wrote an essay on defining Paganism and why I’m a bit of stickler for (a) having a definition of it and (b) that definition being accurate and respectful of those who don’t use the term Pagan. As I wrote that definition, something struck me and it led to this part of my thinking:
This belief in an immanent divine force is made manifest by the commonly–but not universally–held practice of magic.
I had not, prior to thinking my way through things, about the theological basis for magic, but I think that, as I quoted above, it’s related to immanence. This relationship is as follows: if we have within us a quantity of creative/divine force, it is possible that we can use the force in some way.
This supposition doesn’t really define how it’s used or what manner of manifestation may result from it, but I don’t think it’s necessary to describe magic in that much detail. Consider this more of an elevator pitch the next time someone asks you how you can possibly believe in magic. If the conversation continues from this point, you can go into greater detail. I’ll be wrapping back around to this concept when we get to “M” in a few weeks….
With my recent struggles vis-à-vis deities it would seem unworthy if I didn’t spend at least one letter-G post for the Pagan Blog Project on the gods. Part of my struggle is the lack of a conversation partner for a lot of these ideas; if ever there was a post on which I’d appreciate some criticism and thoughts from others, this is it (I’m looking at you, fellow PBP bloggers!).
A Superposition of States
I am not a scientist, but I do remember some of my physics lessons regarding matter as both a particle and a wave. The most common example of this, and of the weirdness that is quantum mechanics, is the double-slit experiment. If you’re unfamiliar with this experiment and/or with the basics of a superposition of states (tl;dr: that matter, at the quantum level, exists in all theoretically possible states until observed, in which case the superposition collapses into a single, specific reality), this cartoon from Dr. Quantum may help out:
My view on deities is that they, like matter, exist in a superposition of states.
Transcendent vs. Immanent Gods
This is the debate: are the gods separate, individual personalities that exist “out there” somewhere (i.e. transcendent) or are the within us and around us at all times permeating the world (i.e. immanent).
I know a lot of hard polytheists out there who fall into the transcendent camp. Transcendence has a lot of fairly prominent historical relevancy; pretty much any mythology that describes a god living somewhere special and separate from our world in some way, like Olympus or Asgard, is describing deity in a transcendent way.
Immanence is a little harder to point to. It’s easier when you look at cosmological structures like those of animists and pantheists. These sort of philosophical ideas posit that there is a little piece of divinity within all living (and sometimes non-living) things or that the sum of the divinity of all living (and sometimes non-living) things together is god or makes up the gods respectively. Regardless, in these worldviews, there is no separation between the natural and the supernatural; it’s all just one big connected thing.
Things get real interesting, though, when you start to consider topics like the Greek heroes or the Christian idea of the Trinity. Many of the Greek heroes have a certain immanence to them. Some could be described as the agents through which the gods work in the world while others, like Achilles, weren’t really watched over by any specific god, if memory serves, but instead was granted a supernatural capability in his youth. There is an “in-between” quality to these heroes that mixes certain ideas of transcendence and immanence.
The goddess Thetis dipping the infant Achilles into the river Styx. The scene was painted by Peter Paul Reubens around 1630/1635 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Trinity does so as well. God the father is transcendent. He sits in heaven looking down on the world. Throughout the Old Testament, he speaks through the mouths of the prophets on earth, but he doesn’t really walk among that which he created after expulsion from the Garden of Eden. God the son and the Holy Spirit, however, are different. The son, i.e. Jesus, is a figure analogous to the Greek heroes in many ways: he’s both mortal and supernatural; both somewhat immanent and transcendent. The Holy Spirit, however, is a more immanent concept especially when it’s described to infuse a person or when a person can be said to feel it.
I’ve strayed from my point here a bit, but to sum all this up, even that which we think of as fairly cut and dried with respect to transcendent and immanent cosmological world views is a lot less so when you look at it more closely.
Sort of like how what we think of as solid matter behaves pretty weirdly when you examine it at the smallest of levels.
A Superposition of Deities
My answer to the debate posed at the top of the prior section is this: the deities are both transcendent and immanent until we observe, measure, or interact with them in some way. They exist, in other words, in a superposition of states, existing at the same time in all theoretical possible ways until we work with them at which time, their state collapses into the one that is most beneficial to us at that time.
I’d worry that this was a cop-out if science didn’t show us that this was the way that so much of what we think of as real behaved similarly. Regardless, it allows me to see the gods as transcendent when it’s convenient to think of the mas such; when evoking them during a ceremony, for example. But, at other times, it’s more important for me to see divinity not as distinct personalities separate from us but as a force within. This is especially true during magical work. If we suppose that there’s some sort of divine creative force within everything (including us) then it seems like it may be possible for us to use that force to actually create. In other words, an immanent deific force is what makes magic possible (in my mind).
The Struggle Within
Is this the end of my thinking on the topic? Certainly not. I still struggle to decide if I think this is too superficial an understanding of deity. Plus, I don’t have any sort of unverified personal gnosis that would help me to find at least personal connections between thoughts and reality. In the end, though, my doubts about the nature of reality and whether my philosophical thinking about the nature of divinity is at all representative of it make the choice to believe as I do all that much more relevant to me. It’s easier, I think, to choose not to believe due to lack of evidence than to do so in spite of that lack.
I also think that this struggle is connected to some of what I wrote about when discussing Eris and her role in my life. If one seeks stability through instability — constancy through change — then struggle is an inherent part of the search. It also occurs to me that reality of a superposition of states is also a form of stability through instability.
In the end, the idea of a superposition of deities is one that brings me stability now. It allows me to hold internally conflicting worldviews over time, but to reconcile them in the moment. And, I think that this benefits me specifically when working with members of other spiritual and philosophical communities because I can reconcile their worldview as simply another part of the complexity that I see in my own.
[Author's note: I'm back! After about 5 weeks of an absolutely grueling schedule, I'm feeling like I'm coming out of one of the more trying periods of my professional life. I completely skipped the letter "F" with respect to the Pagan Blog Project which is okay because the F-words I would have been using aren't appropriate for a PG website!]
I’m a solitary. In Paganism, that’s pretty common actually. But, it’s something that–as I speak to members of other faiths–is often not understood. Even for those individuals who are also a religious minority, they usually have the ability to access congregational practice even if they only do so every once in a while. But, for a solitary Pagan, it’s not a matter of seeking congregational practice but rather avoiding it.
As I come to think of it, I’m pretty solitary in my regular life, too. I can count on one hand the number of people I consider to be my friend. I have many, many acquaintances and I even have people who probably think of me as their friend, but I’m a bit more picky. I wish there was a term for something between a friend and an acquaintance, but I digress.
I’m a telecommuter so I rarely leave the house. I work online so I rarely even speak to another human during the day unless my partner happens to have the day off. And, her schedule is such that sometimes she’s getting home shortly before I’m ready to head to bed and so she and I sometimes don’t even have much in the way of conversations.
But, solitary reflection can only go so far when one is wrestling with the great questions of life. I’ve always found that a good conversation with others is what’s necessary to hash out that sort of thing. For years, I turned to the Internet to chat with people regarding Paganism. My digital group of choice was the Mystic Wicks forum. Trying to visit it today yields a request for username and password so either (a) they’ve drastically changed the way you access the site or (b) they’re undergoing maintenance. Likely (b).
However, forums like Mystic Wicks seem to lack a certain depth. This is not meant to offend them or any member of their site, but the same problem often happens in publishing: you see a lot of Intro to Paganism questions that are frequently repeated by new members (and new Pagans). Introductory information is certainly important and is of primary concern to new Pagans. But those of us who’ve been walking this path for years sometimes need something else.
I think that a consistent, non-judgmental group can help a lot in finding this “something else.” If you’ve got people who you trust to talk to and who are both willing and able to work with you through a difficult topic, that’s a thing to be treasured. But for solitaries, it’s something that’s very, very difficult to find.
Part of what I’d like to find is something like a Pagan book club. There’s a lot of Pagan and Pagan-related books out there that I’d like to read and work on, but frankly I have so much else to do (much of which I’m not getting done) that reading for any purpose other than recreation and escape is pretty far down my list of priorities. But, I think that with a group of people all reading and discussing the book as we worked through it, I might have more motivation to get through things. It was for that reason that I purchased paganbookclub.com but I haven’t had the time (or energy) to do something with it yet.
But, even a book club requires a lot of time from its participants. Not only do you have to read the book but then you have to find the time to visit the site, post, discuss, reflect, etc. A conversation is easier to have but you need people willing to have it with you. To that end, I started a Meetup.com group for Southeastern Massachusetts Pagans. We’ve had two meetings and quite bit of fun, but we’ve not moved passed the general conversations any group has over food and adult beverages.
How about you? Do you, too, seek a deeper digital conversation?
I am a devotee of Eris. She and I have had a relationship since high school, really, though I resisted the situation for many years. This post is fairly important for me since my connection to her is both deeply personal and is my primary reason for continuing to walk the path of theism rather than one of atheism.
In high school, I invented a character named Ariaka Soorat. This was a character I used in my fledgling table top role-playing days as well as online in a variety of early MUDs. In the ongoing adventures of Mr. Soorat, he gained the title “Incarnation of Chaos.” It was a suitably mysterious and darkly appropriate title for my teenage years, if shockingly dramatic in retrospect.
In time, Ariaka fathered a son. I have no idea who the mother was, I’m not sure it was important at the time, and that son’s name was Dashifen. For those who are savvy to my identity — and for everyone else, I guess you’re about to be — I’ve taken that name as my middle name and used it as a part of my identity for years. Google it; you’ll find me.
Part of the persona of Ariaka Soorat, and later his son, Dashifen, was that of the powerful rebel. The type of person who was willing to do something spontaneously glorious only for the purpose of the experience. Ariaka didn’t need a lot of motivation for what he did; if it seemed interesting, it probably was. In some ways, he was very much an archetypal fool seeking new experiences and I, through role-playing games, was experiencing things with him.
Dashifen was a little more tempered. Still a rebel, in fact he was a rogue for those of you familiar with the concept from RPGs, but a little most stable than his father was. In many ways, he was a refining of the original concept. Someone who was not ruled by the vicissitudes of a situation, but instead flowed within them changing himself and altering his perceptions to suit the needs of the moment.
He sought stability through instability.
Transformation and Change
Eris (source unknown)
There are many deities of transformation and change. For me, Eris is one of them. She is the mover and shaker of what is normal. She stirs things up not only to force change but, I find, to ensure that all things can reach a form of equality.
I like soup; I also like abrupt transitions. A good soup isn’t simply broth. It should also have veggies and maybe meat or legumes as a part of its composition. If I recall my high school physics, heating a liquid causes circular motion, convection cells, mixing the contents within. This motion helps to evenly heat the broth and the morsels of solid food contained therein.
Eris’s role in my life is that of the heat. I don’t find that she’s the sort to take a direct hand in events; she simply heats the soup and lets all the bits inside it move around until things reach some sort of equilibrium in motion. I hate to use the phrase “order from chaos” because that’s neither how I see the world nor how I find Eris. Instead, I prefer the one I used above: stability through instability. That stability doesn’t have to be ordered or even stationary; in fact, I suspect that it’s usually not. Fractures, divisions, and differences will still pull at it, but as long as these forces are met, dealt with, and understood, the stability can remain.
Eris as Information
I find Eris through information. The flow of information through digital networks, primarily (remember: TechnoWitch). We’ve seen how destabilizing Twitter and other social networks can be in world events like the Arab Spring and Iran’s Green Revolution. Bringing it closer to home, the Obama campaign’s ability to use information technology — especially through the campaign website — to help bring supporters into conversation with those who may have been on the fence or opposed to his candidacy likely helped him earn his second term in office. We see time and again that our ability to exchange information brings us both closer together and catalyzes a situation.
Information is the heat; our lives are the soup.
In many ways, I see Eris not only as a deity of transformation, but I see her as a deity of information exchange which naturally leads to transformation. This is, quite evidently, different from how she was seen by the Greeks. But, for me, that’s okay.
If she’s a deity of transformation, that includes transformation of deities.
I’ve mentioned process theology before. In short, it’s the philosophical idea that divinity is not unchanging. To put it in monotheistic terms, God is not an omniscience, omnipresent being who has a plan for an ordered universe that was begun and will continue unaltered through to the end of time. Instead, the ideas of process theology hold that divinity is changed by the grand march of time and, I contend, by the cultures and ideas of the times.
Thus, Eris could be, to the ancients, a being of strife and discord that motivated people to act only through envy, as Hesiod described her in Works and Days, or one “who is only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven … [hurling] down bitterness equally between both sides as she walked through the onslaught making men’s pain heavier.” (Iliad, Homer, Book IV). But, over time, and seen through the lens of a different culture, we can find her to be something else.
Theism vs. Atheism
I read it some where that one should always analyze their philosophical trappings to determine their continued worth. If you find something that you’ve held to be true that would not …
- cause you personal grief to leave behind, or
- cause you to be less humane in your dealings with others should you leave it behind
… then perhaps you don’t really need it in your life.
The gods are, for me, one of those somethings. I use their names in ritual, but doing so seems more a convenience than a necessity. I have not, at the time of this writing, had a profound or numinous experience of a divinity. While I suspect that most of us have not had such an experience and while they are not necessary, it does seem so defining a thing to those who have had them that I remain somewhat envious. And, while I lack personal evidence of the gods, it is the experiences of others and their description of those experiences that convinces me that there is more to this life than what we regularly perceive.
For me, it all comes back to Eris. To be devoted to information and transformation means that one has to be both willing to self-reflect and to change. It is, therefore, not an unwavering belief in her and her divine colleagues that is most important, but that I continue to question, to challenge, and to transform both myself and the others around me.
By seeking to un-quo the status in ways that benefit the world around me, I hope that Eris — wherever and whatever she may be — is at least amused by my antics and, at best, approving.
I’m a Pagan evangelist.
Did your head explode? No? Good. Bear with me; let’s pick that apart a bit.
What is Evangelism?
We’ll leave out what many dictionaries use as the first definition of evangelism (i.e. the spreading of the Christian gospel) and focus instead on the second: zealous advocacy for a cause. This definition actually encapsulates the former; if you are an evangelical Christian, then you could be said to zealously advocate for Christianity.
I think, though, that we need to separate evangelism from Evangelical Christianity. The former is simply a word that can be applied in a variety of situations. The latter, however, is a specific way of being a Christian–to be fair, it’s a set of religious practices and beliefs and much less the monolithic culture that we sometimes think it is. I’m not really talking about Evangelical Christians herein, though at times I do think the tools of coercive evangelism are a bit too much in their kit.
Just because I’m an evangelist doesn’t mean that I don’t have a problem with some forms of evangelism. What I have begun to think of as coercive evangelism is by its nature a problem. The intentions of the evangelist might be good, e.g. they might truly believe that I am a sinner and need saving. But the purity of one’s intentions do not guarantee that actions performed as a result of them are the same.
So what makes one’s advocacy coercive? To but it succinctly, I think it’s a primary focus on the negative results of not joining the evangelist in his or her cause instead of a discussion or example of the benefits found by doing so.
Hell, I think, is a form of coercive evangelism. It’s a particularly horrible concept, in my opinion, and it’s inherently coercive to tell others that the only way to avoid an afterlife of eternal punishment is to convert to this or that religion.
Modern advertising is another. How many times are we bombarded by an advertisement with a beautiful person using a specific product to become more so? Or someone down on their luck that buys a device that suddenly turns their entire life around? It’s the “but wait there’s more” phenomenon of late-night infomercials but writ large throughout our entire culture. We could even include product placement as a more covert form of this sort of thing. The expectation that we may prefer a specific brand of car over another because it’s featured in a movie may seem ludicrous, but there must be evidence to support the phenomenon or companies wouldn’t keep paying for it!
What’s the opposite of coercive anyway?
So if we have a coercive form of evangelism, there must be something else; something not-coercive. The Internet tells me that “yield” is the antonym of “coerce,” but that’s not the word I’m looking for. A term like lifestyle evangelism is more what I’m going for.
Lifestyle evangelism, and I have no idea if anyone else uses this term, is the simple act of being a good person.
My goal, in much of what I do, is to make the world a better place. Since my skills lay in the area of digital community organization, that’s how I tend to serve. For example, I’m beginning to develop a relationship with HandsOn Tech in Boston. They bring volunteers with a particular set of digital skills together with nonprofits in the city who need their help but wouldn’t be able to afford a full-time employee or even a project-based freelancer. Organizations like HandsOn Tech help me to pay-it-forward when others help me. And, they do the same helping others when I support them. This sort of community involvement is part of what I feel we should all be doing, but I think it’s particularly important for those of us who might otherwise have a negative reputation.
You see, I do this as a person with tattoos.
(That’s not where you thought I was going, was it?)
It may be true that to have tattoos is not as stigmatized as it once was. But, why is that? Maybe it was a doctor trained in the military who took the skills he learned as a battlefield medic with him to the emergency room. Or, perhaps a young woman coming of age during the Summer of Love got inked but later became a nurse, teacher, mother, lawyer, or engineer. Her colleagues came to accept her for her skills in the workplace and began to look past the sinusoidal dragon entwined on her forearm.
Regardless of how or why it happened, it has. This is not to say that in certain professions one may have to cover a tattoo or that a given situation might not be the place to show off the awesome tat you have on your right butt cheek. But, for those of us who see our tattoos as an integral part of who we are and how we were meant to present ourselves to the world, that tattoos have become more generally accepted within our culture is, I feel, a direct result of positive lifestyle evangelism on the part of the tattooed.
Pagans can do the same thing. I wear a pentacle ring on my right hand. It’s pretty much always there. In fact, the band is so deformed from its original shape that it’s hard to take off at this point. My partner bought it for me a number of years ago and especially because I talk with my hands (watch my video blog for proof), people notice it. If they ask me about it, I’m honest about my Pagan faith, it’s meaning to me, and why it shapes my actions on a day-to-day basis. And then, usually the conversation shifts back to some other topic that might be more pertinent to the situation.
But that person will forever know that I’m Pagan, and by sharing that brief story about my faith practices, I may have altered their perception not just of me but also of Paganism. That is how I evangelize: by being a good person, doing good works, and acting with kindness toward others, and doing so with as few reservations about who I am and the willingness to share my story with others.
And, I’m grateful that I have the privilege to do so.
[I was late with last week's Pagan Blog Project post. I think about distance in a video blog, and if you're up for it, I'd love for you to check that one out, too.]
I am such a nerd.
There are a few letters that I’ve had ideas for from the very beginning of this project. “E” will have a post on Eris, “L” needs a rumination on light, and “W” is going to get the “Why ‘Witch?’” treatment. Similarly, “D” has always been slated to involve a discussion of doubt.
Faith is a choice. No, that’s not accurate.
Faith is a state of being entered into by the act of make a decision without certainty; without certainty in the correctness of the decision and without certainty in the outcome of it. If we take the next step and define doubt as the absence of certainty, then we could restate our definition of faith as follows:
Faith is a state of being entered into by the act of making a decision in the presence of doubt.
This is a fairly dense statement, so let’s break it apart a bit.
State of Being
When I use the term “state of being,” I’m reminded of my introductory computer science training. In comp sci, one can describe some software systems as a finite-state machine. In such a description, a problem is said to have a limited series of situations, only one of which can be occurring at any time, and a limited number of choices that determine which one is currently occurring.
Consider an elevator. It exists on one floor of a building at a time or in motion between floors. You can influence where an elevator is by pressing the call button to bring it to you or indicating a floor to which you want to go once you enter the car. And, there’s also the possibility that the elevator is off and not going anywhere. An elevator is a finite-state machine and the software that programs an elevator could also likely be described thus.
I like to think of life as a finite-state machine but I suspect that it’s not. It’s too complex and there are too many situations we find ourselves in and too many ways for others to influence us. But, I do think that it’s sometimes valuable to think of life in these terms. If, for example, I’m happy and someone comes by and punches me in the face, I’m likely to leave the state of being happy and enter the state of being confused, angry, and hurt.
So, to say that faith is a state of being means that it’s a situation created by our decisions and influenced by others.
The Act of Making a Decision
Let’s go back to our elevator. If its location in a building is its state, then the pressing of buttons are what determine what state it’s in. By extension, the making of a decision is the event that determines us to be in that state of being faithful.
But, we make a lot of decisions every day and they don’t all represent or require faith. It’s not necessary for me to be faithful regarding my choice of breakfast cereal, for example, nor do must I have faith that I’ll be at my desk and working on the average Monday morning. In other words, these are things about which I am certain.
And, to be faithful about something requires that I not be so. It requires that I have doubt.
The Presence of Doubt
We walk every day in the presence of doubt. I’d say that it’s with us when we make the majority of our decisions and it influences us in ways that we’re not fully aware of. If we were, I bet we’d be largely paralyzed, incapable of decision-making at all.
Doubt is a stalwart companion of mine. My partner and I, not 2 hours ago had something of an argument simply because I doubt my ability to make a decision for us better than she can. The occasion of this decision: what to have for dinner.
Over thinking much? Don’t mind if I do!
This is not to imply that I don’t have confidence in my abilities or in my capacity to act in the world. I just have a hang-up over making decisions that include others. I am, after all, fairly good at being alone (note: this does not mean that I am lonely), but I think I’m less skilled at acting with others, even those closest to me.
It is, therefore, the presence of doubt in a decision-making process that puts me in the state of being faithful. If I act without doubt, and I don’t think that anyone does so very often, I don’t need to be in a state of faith at that moment. Instead, I’m in a state of certainty.
Religious doubt is perhaps one of the more profound ways in which we can be in a state of faith. I think it is telling that we often use the terms “faith” and “religion” interchangeably despite the fact that they are very different things. Religion includes faith, but it also includes cosmological theories, liturgical and ceremonial techniques, and more all of which help to create a shared reality that fosters faith in those things.
But I don’t think any of us is perfectly certain in our religious beliefs; I don’t think we are 100% sure that we’ve gotten it right. There are times when we may feel more sure than others and I think there are some religions that foster more certainty than doubt; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, for example have always struck me as very, very certain in their beliefs. Even they, I suspect, have crises of faith–we all do.
I am not certain about my beliefs at all. I constantly evaluate, choose, and re-evaluate my thinking (see my earlier post on atheism). This has left me, for the last few years, feeling somewhat lost. In light of that feeling, I’ve decided to try to focus a bit more on one hearth culture, to use the ADF terminology (seriously; Google define: “hearth culture” and it’s all ADF links), and to create structure where there was only the potential for it in the past.
It’s not going well, to be honest. Too many days I neglect my practice, but the simple fact that I have not done so even on a small minority of days represents progress when compared against my past.
But, I have faith in myself. I exist in the state of being where I choose to practice, I choose to believe in that which I hold dear, despite the fact that I doubt myself in these situations.
Ask me how things went this time next year and I hope that I have a positive answer, but I fear that it may not be. To be faithful is to ignore that fear, to work through it, and to rise to the occasion.
To have faith is to overcome the doubts we create by acting in this moment, so we can move onto the next stronger, wiser, and prepared to deal with what faith requires of us when we get there.
[This post is late. The first week of the letter "D" was supposed to go up on 2/15, but I didn't make the deadline. To try to cut the amount of time I would need to get this online, I've done it video-style. I'd love to know what you think of this as I'm not so sure it's a workable solution.]
[This week, the Pagan Blog Project is on the second-week of the letter "C."]
Powers need not be ancient to be venerable. Because we Pagans frequently seek out ancient sources for our spiritual inspiration, we may ignore the more modern concepts that can bring the same. For some time now, Columbia — as represented by the Statue of Freedom which rests on top of the US Capitol building — has had a place on my altar. I work with her as the goddess of America and as the genius loci of this land.
When I started the Pagan Blog Project, I sort of decided that I wasn’t going to use any letters to talk about specific powers that I work with. I realize, though, that I tend to reach for powers that others may not and therefore sharing how and why I work with them may be of interest to others. Especially with respect to Columbia, because of her more recent personification, and with Eris, because of her darker connotations and history, I think it’s important for me to share my thinking as to why these powers speak to me. Hell, if even one other Erisian out there who’s also Pagan reads that article (when it’s online in a few weeks) and realizes that they’re not “doing it wrong,” it’ll be worth it. But, I digress.
Columbia as a name for America was first encountered in the 1700′s. At that time, it was common for various European countries to use Latin names to describe themselves (e.g. Gallia for France, Britannia for Britain, Caledonia for Scotland, Hibernia for Ireland, etc.) and the American colonists did the same. It was even used during the coronation of George III (you know, the one that found us revolting) in a poem:
Behold, Britannia! in thy favour’d Isle;
At distance, thou, Columbia! view thy Prince,
The prince referenced therein being the newly crowned king. The term, in other words, had become accepted as a reference to the colonies prior to the revolution.
Columbia has a history rife with contradiction. She’s connected to ideas of liberty, justice, and freedom, but she was also used as an image for the manifest destiny of the American nation to reach from sea to shining sea ignoring, of course, the fact that many, many people already lived there. In the painting to the right, you can even see that as she leads settlers westward, she brings the light of American progress into lands shrouded by darkness. While this was likely a foundational and uplifting message to the settlers, I suspect the Native Americans whose land we took had a different view of things.
Even the Statue of Freedom became contentious during it’s development. It was being created in the mid 1850′s before the American Civil War. At this time, Jefferson Davis — later the president of the Confederacy but currently a Senator from Mississippi and the Secretary of War — was in charge of the Capitol building’s construction. The original design of the statue had not an eagle-feathered helmet but a Phrygia cap which was seen in ancient Rome as a symbol of the pursuit of liberty and freedom and was also connected with the emancipation of Roman slaves. The sculptor was from the North and Secretary Davis felt that the cap was too strongly connected to abolitionist ideals. He (unfortunately) demanded that the design be changed to what we see today.
I believe in a process theology. This means that I see divinity not as an unchanging, perfect ideal but rather something that shifts and changes with the times. For me, I attribute this shifting and changing as a process similar to evolution, but the comparison is a problem considering that we don’t tend to see our powers as having generations that would give rise to genetically superior mutations within a species, but again, I digress.
Part of this theology informs me that new ideas and concepts can be elevated to divine status in an apotheosis-like way. Columbia was never a specific person who became divine, as apotheosis would technically require, but the ideals she represents are timeless. You could say that she is but the modernized, Americanized version of Libertas, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree with you. But, I think her quality as an American goddess separates her from that Roman one.
For my part, I see her as something like an older sister. I feel like she relates to us with something that’s one part rueful acceptance of our faults and another part hopeful. She can see the long arc of history bending toward justice over our nation’s history, and I choose to believe that we can reach out to her for guidance as we navigate the tumultuous waters of American civil life.
The Pagan Blog Project continues and we’re on to the letter “C.” The concept of the Pagan community has been all over the blogosphere over the last six or so weeks. The best round-up that I’ve encountered throughout the conversation is the Allergic Pagan’s post; he’s been updating it regularly throughout the conversations travels online.
I keep returning to the conversation because our community and its future is dear to me. I’m an advocate of what some term “big-tent” Paganism to indicate that there is a lot of room for a lot of diversity within it. However, an argument was made at the Wild Hunt’s entry into the conversation by a user with the handle GOPagan:
On most levels, Hellenismos and Wicca have almost nothing in common (to take but one example). Why try to cram them into some sort of solidarity that doesn’t make any sense theologically, culturally, or sociologically?
This is a decent point. An argument could be made that there’s a gulf of difference between Catholics and snake-handle Pentecostals but the counter to it is that even these disparate groups believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and Holy Trinity. It’s harder, as GOPagan put it, to connect a Wiccan and a Hellene when neither practice nor belief line up.
Ancient Spiritual Inspiration
Someone else wrote, and I wish I could find it to give them the credit they deserve, that the common theme between our various traditions is that we’re all modern people seeing inspiration from the faith practices of ancient cultures. This seems to be broad enough to include many of us, but those who are humanist, naturalist, or more occultist in nature may not find that much inspiration in such cultures. In the end, I suspect that it’s impossible to line everything up to create a single definition that is going to work for everyone.
But, I’m beginning to thing that we no longer have to.
I still think it would be nice to have something to share with non-Pagans — by which I mean other world religions, not simply non-Pagan polytheists — as my experience is that others have some difficulty understanding the us without some foundation on which to stand. But, I think that we’ll likely need to use the best words we can and provide clarification as asked. In fact, it’s been my more recent experience that the term “Pagan” is main-streamed enough in interfaith circles that people have that foundation and it’s the clarifications that are becoming more important. But, I digress.
United Federation of Pagans
Instead of a comprehensive definition, I’ve begun to think about things in a different way. In the Star Trek franchise, the action centers around members of the United Federation of Planets. The Federation is made up of many, many worlds each with different cultures, faiths, societies, and rules. Each of these worlds agrees to a charter that not only builds bridges between them, it enshrines the equal sovereignty and diversity of its member planets.
I think this is something that we could aspire to. Clearly, the Federation is a fictional construct created for the purpose of storytelling, but that doesn’t mean that the idea isn’t a good one. In a similar way, Hellenes and Wiccans might be able to agree on a series of principles that might also be agreeable to Khemetics and Heathens and Witches and Druids.
A tall order? Yes.
But maybe, just maybe, we could create such a community given time and the drive to do so. I’m not sure that we currently have that drive, but I hope that one day we might.