What religion are you?
It seems like a simple question but really, when you think about it in any depth at all, it becomes a braid that unwinds in your hands. How does society at large, and us as pagans specifically, define religion? How do faith, spirituality and religion weave together to create our inner lives?
There is a reason why religion can be so controversial in modern society. Religion, at it’s very roots, is a set of dogmas, the specific, authoritative, prescribed doctrines that govern lives and get passed down from one generation to the next. These doctrines generally fall under one of two categories, they are either “the word of God” or they are “the way it’s always done”. Either way, there is little to no room for questions, interpretations, or growth.
This is the main reason why people leave the religion of their birth. Go back far enough and you catch glimpses of the beauty and the nuggets of truth in any of our mainstream monotheistic religions. Jesus’ words, as written, speak of an enlightened soul speaking his form of truth. But go into any mainstream church today and what you will hear from the pulpit does not always align with the original inspirational writings.
So religion isn’t always a good thing. Any set of doctrine that carries absolutes, ie have to, cannot, should, never, anything that at its core limits individual growth as a human being, will never be anything but a negative influence that holds us back and limits out potential.
So how do we find growth within our relationship to the Divine? The answer lies in the second strand of the unwinding braid. We find growth in our spirituality. If religion speaks to our relationship to a church, a dogma, or eachother as a community, then spirituality speaks to our relationship to the Divine.
I am a believer in the idea that the Gods and Goddesses exist whether we believe in them or not. Nor do I think that they “need” our worship or attention. But they like our attention, they appreciate our acts of devotion and worship.
Remember back to high school biology? The teacher standing at the blackboard (or whiteboard) explaining the difference between parasitic vs symbiotic relationships? Our Gods are not parasites. They do not leech on and bleed us dry, not do they ask of us without giving in return. They do not demand blind faith or acts of devotion without cause, they do not want legions of followers all walking the path set before them without questions.
No, they want relationships with us and demand that we hold ourselves to the same standard. Each act of devotion is a way of saying “Thank you” and of reminding ourselves that we are not alone in this, not really. Science has shown that prayers and meditation have strong physical health benefits. So setting up each day with a silent meditation on your relationship to the Goddess or pulling out your pagan prayer beads each night and reciting a prayer string that starts with “thank you for…” or “blessed be…”, can these small acts make us better humans? I believe they can.
In Norse lore there is the Wyrd and the Orlog. Wyrd is our individual strands of fate that flow into our past and into our future. Orlog is the tapestry of our lives, how our family, our friends, our Gods weave our foundation together. Orlog is the picture of how we relate to others. And our Gods are a large part of that. Orlog is the story of our lives told out in the relationships we choose to build upon.
The third strand of the braid relates directly to how we build up our relationships with our Gods. Faith has become such a dirty word within western culture. The idea of “blind faith” comes with its own special blend of oppression. Outside of the “religion” conversation, blind faith brings to mind images of Hilter, Stalin and the racism and genocide that was (and is) rampant during the Emperialism of the past centuries. But even within the religion conversation, the blending of politics and religion has led to disastrous results. So no, blind faith is not a good thing.
But faith does not have to be blind in order to be “faith”. On the one hand, faith can mean belief without proof. But faith can also mean having confidence in someone or something.
I have only ever “seen” my Gods or spirit guides while doing journey work. To me, this is all the proof I need. I hear them all the time, but I am the only one to say that these are the voices of the Divine and not of a schizophrenic nature. But I have faith in my belief system and that faith informs my behavior. My faith is the reason I do the journey work and the counseling and the prayers. Faith is the reason I want to work to build my relationships with my Gods. Faith is the reason I go through the motions even when I don’t feel like doing it.
The three strands weave together to create a braid that is stronger as a whole than any gossamer thread could be on its own. See, you can have religion without faith or faith without a spiritual practice, but they compliment eachother in a way that makes our souls stronger.
So, for me, religion is the lore and the way my ancestors practiced and worshiped, spirituality is the give-and-take with my gods and spirit guides and faith is the foundation of my spiritual life.
So… what religion are you?
(I apologize for any spelling or grammatical errors. I’m typing this on my phone on the night shift at work.)