Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day One: Why (not) Paganism?

Why, or why not, Paganism? What brought me to the Pagan umbrella of religions, and what do I find here that I so love?

Paganism was sort of a given, once I discovered that it existed. As a child I'd longed for the, I assumed, long-past days of polytheism, on the basis that the world (I believe I was reading about Greece at the time) must have been so different when your neighbour worshipped a different god to your own family. The appeal of those gods was always there, and not just the gods as individual entities, but the concept of multiple deities. A pantheon, a whole family of gods to worship. I'm an independant person with a strong mind, and a great love for the natural world, which had always been a part of my personality as well - like many children of my generation I grew up watching Captain Planet, Widget the World Watcher (can't remember that one? Find it on youtube, I guarantee it will all come flooding hideously back) and other cartoons and TV shows that stressed recycling and the evils of pollution and waste. I was a feminist, being of the opinion that no one could tell me I couldn't do something because I was a girl and I had a habit of getting quite rabid about the subject even when quite small.

But Christians and atheists and associated Abrahamic paths may value the equal rights of women, the natural world and personal independance. These things aren't the reason that I am a Pagan, but I was glad to find them within Paganism. Again, it's a "why not" more than a "why".... I wasn't really religious before I was a Pagan, but I was definitely searching for religion. Searching for one that fit me, for deity I clicked with.

I started out, like many Pagans, with religious witchcraft. ("Wicca" - although of course it wasn't really Wicca. More on that particular can of worms another day.) I started reading about it in the effort to learn about witchcraft (I had always been interested in the occult) and responded immediately when I discovered there were related religions, one with a focus on the earth around me and on mysterious and exciting deities - one of whom was female! (Shock.) Not just female, but an appealing female figure that I felt drawn to. The deities I discovered in these early days are still with me, but my understanding of Them is so changed and layered now that They may as well be different deities. I leapt into this new religion, ate it up, not because of the witchcraft because the spirituality described herein was one I held, or wanted to hold.

Other religions - Dharmic and Abrahamic - had been briefly considered and rapidly discarded. It wasn't so much that I disliked them but that I was very uninterested in them. I knew instinctively to just move on and keep looking, and knew with a solid and definite sureity that the right religion would come along. I think my primary spirit guide was shouting that in my ear, though I'm really not sure I was actively speaking with him at that point.

Why not Paganism? It's so wide an umbrella. Everything I require from a spiritual path I can find here. It has both tradition and variety, cultures to learn about, a wealth of things to study. Researching it involves mythology, anthropology, archaeology, history. There is structure and liberation, value in the natural world, animism, energy use. Value is placed in sex, in both genders (and beyond), in exploring and celebrating those things. There are rituals of various forms, and more freeform worship and prayer. There is lovely poetry. And there are the gods I love and worship. If I found all these other things elsewhere, I could not find the gods elsewhere.

The only thing it lacks.... well. Institution, really. Hear me out - I'm not so much interested in the institutions themselves, but in what they provide. There are two things I crave in my practice that I can't find within it. The first is great monumental places of worship; stone churches, Norman and Gothic, make my soul soar and depress me, because I love them and their vibe and aesthetic so much and I have no such place to honour the gods I love. I would delight in a place like that, to visit and light candles, to kneel before images, to explore as places of pilgrimage.
The second is related in some ways and not in others: monasteries. Monasteries provide an escape from normal life to focus on religion. Monasteries give you peace and calm, quiet, a place where you can go and simply dedicate yourself to the spiritual for a while. I love that. From time to time, I really crave that - that ability to retreat to a place away from the everyday for intense spiritual study and work - and I wish such a place existed for Pagans of many a stripe to visit once and a while.
With these both come beautiful works of art, music and plainsong.

Those things are tempting indeed, but not enough to drive me to Catholicism. Especially not enough to tempt me away from the gods I love.

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