Are you going through this course to broaden your knowledge of 'pagan theology' or are you doing it from a deep seated spiritual path that resonates with you on a personal level?I've been considering this question a lot recently, and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure. Firstly, I am definitely approaching Druidry from a deep, spiritual urge that stirs with a thrill of recognition whenever I read books or essays on modern Druidry. There are aspects of my life that seem to fit perfectly with Druidry--such as my devotion to poetry and music, my love of and fascination with nature, and my desire for a supportive spiritual community which accepts, encourages and inspires mystic and experiential paths to Spirit. In principle (if not in fact), the Catholicism of my childhood incorporated all of these things, and so for a long time I studied Christian theology and mythology, especially as they've been interpreted and utilized by various saints and mystics, trying to find connections to my own personal spiritual life. Eventually, I began to realize that most of these inspired and inspiring mystics, venerated posthumously as saints, were often persecuted and harassed by the Church while they were alive; furthermore, while the modern Church didn't necessarily forbid a reverence for nature, poetry and ecstatic seeking, it certainly didn't encourage or even much acknowledge them.
So I feel like I am of two minds at the moment. On the one hand, Druidry speaks to certain needs that I've had as a spiritual being ever since I can remember. When I was a little girl, I had an imaginary friend who was a Native American girl I named Little Deer, to whom I wrote letters and poems. I would imagine her living secretly in the woods by my house, singing to the trees and conversing with the birds, playing hide and seek with the local foxes; meanwhile, I imagined myself to be a like-soul, explaining to her my own heritage, more literary and scholarly, perhaps, and flavored and influenced by my father's Irish heritage, but still wild and in tune with the local landscape, the streams and fields and woods. Though I did not know of them at the time, looking back I would say I imagined myself as a daughter of Druids, the shamanic nature priests from across the ocean. As an adult, I feel that at the heart of Druidry are those very things which have seemed marginalized, if not downright rejected, by Christianity, and so in that sense, I feel like my work with this course is a highly personal calling.
On the other hand, I know from my academic experience and research in college that Christianity itself is widely varied according to its many historical and cultural settings. I have yet to find anything about my personal spirituality which technically conflicts with the "theology" of Catholicism, and indeed, I feel very moved by ideas of the Trinity and the mystical Logos and "waters of life" found in particular in the Gospel of John. Although I would consider myself a panentheist, rather than a monotheist, it seems to me that the idea of Christ as an incarnate Divine figure embraces the notion that Spirit both transcends and is immanent within the world (not to mention Jesus' many parables about the natural world).
As an academic, I have always tried to approach other religions with the attitude best summed up by the question, "What if this were true?" I try to study other religious systems not just from an external, analytical perspective that recognizes patterns and relationships, but by imagining what it would be like to be a "believer" or practitioner. I ask myself, "What would it mean if this were true about the nature of reality? How would it influence the way I live and understand my life? What would it take for me, as a human being, to believe this thing, or behave in this way?" Asking these questions has allowed me to be sympathetic to other spiritual traditions even when I don't personally agree with them, and to better understand ideas or practices that my fellow students dismiss as merely baffling or strange. For instance, when I studied the Aztecs during one semester, I tried to imagine myself as a member of a society that performed ritual sacrifice, and through that "thought experiment" I came to understand a little better what it might be like to live in a jungle teeming with wild and exuberant life, in which human communities were only one small and fragile part, and how in such a setting, harsh or fickle deities might seem the natural expressions of sacred experience. This understanding of the fragility of a person and her community has stayed with me, even though I don't believe in the Aztec deities or subscribe to the idea of human sacrifice (or any kind of deliberate violence, for that matter). So in that way, I am very much interested in broadening my knowledge of "pagan theology" and the Celtic pantheon, because even this apparently distanced and abstract approach has proved personally relevant and meaningful for me in the past.
All of that said, I want to keep open the possibility that a pagan/polytheistic theology may someday have more immediate and personal meaning for me. I continue to read various collections of Celtic myths and stories with this in mind. Recently, I even felt a strange tug of connection when reading the story of Aengus Og and the swan maiden, Caer Ibormeith. Later that week at work, during a particularly stressful dinner rush I was on the edge of breaking down in frustration, when one of my coworkers walked by carrying a strawberry pie, topped with dabs of whipped cream that looked, to me, startlingly like swans. All at once, I was reminded of the story of Caer, and her self-possession and poise, transforming effortlessly between swan and human form as she willed. A new sense of calm and self-confidence washed over me, as I felt a kind of ugly-duckling inner conviction about my own self transcending what is otherwise an often degrading and frustrating job.
Because of that experience, I want to explore this particular Celtic figure more, perhaps begin to work with her on a personal spiritual level. But I'm not sure how to begin or where to start. Do you have any suggestions for "making contact" with mythological figures or deities, or advice or experiences about how to work with gods or goddesses? Other than building an elaborate swan altar, I haven't a clue. I don't really know how neophytes to Paganism go about finding and establishing a relationship with their first patron deity, and so I don't know if such a path would be right for me or not.