Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Re-Membering Theology: Part IV

Part IV: Changing Stories

It seems the debate online has died down a bit, just in time for a blast from my past: a practitioner of the Norvicensian Witchcraft tradition emailed me asking if I was still in contact with its founder, Rawna Moon. Unfortunately, I haven't communicated with Rawna in a few years. Her particular blend of "Christian Witchcraft" was my first serious step into a practical "Pagan-ish" nature-spirituality.

A year and a half before, I'd studied Neopaganism academically as part of a summer research grant, looking at ways in which it was shaped by and responsive to modern socio-cultural patterns. But I had not, at that point, ever considered becoming a "practicing Pagan" myself (though one of my interviewees suggested I'd make a good one). When I finally dipped a big toe in to test the waters--on that Candlemas (i.e. Imbolc) four years ago, among a half-dozen tealights and wafting incense--it was through a tradition that honored Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen, the Catholic saints, as its inspiration and spiritual role models. Rawna Moon described witchcraft as just that, a Craft, that anyone from any religious tradition could practice. Just as anyone--Christian, Buddhist, atheist--could practice medicine or basket-weaving or poetry. It was a way of interacting with the Divine, more creative and interactive than prayer, more personal and private than church service. I was okay with this (I was still in my good-example-of-a-Catholic mode), though over my year of practice I was never able to get comfortable with the term "witch." By the following February, I had come upon Druidry, completely by accident, and three years later, here I am.

It feels like a lifetime. Reading back over the journal I kept during that year of witchcrafting, I can see how much I have changed and grown--and yet my core ideas have always remained anchored in a few key truths. Those unwavering, inborn beliefs, I suppose. I may adapt my way of speaking and writing about them, tweaking them to fit the language of my current spiritual life moment to moment, but there they always seem to be, lurking, glistening, whispering to me. On the other hand, reading Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, I find it strange and even at times amusing how Philip Johnson's essays provoke me into objections and disagreements (while I find myself nodding along with Gus diZerega). I have gained a new perspective on how Christians come across to non-Christians.

When I read his statement, for instance, that "some analogies [for God] are metaphysical while others are metaphorical," this seems like unnecessary semantic parsing. Later, when he explains that the immanence/transcendence of God is a paradoxical "both/and," this paradox seems lessened, dulled, by his explanation that God's transcendence is existential while its immanence is merely relational. It seems like a lot of bending over backwards to preserve the Otherness of the Divine, something which has never seemed necessary to me (we are, after all, surrounded by "otherness" because we are surrounded by uniqueness and diversity--why should Spirit be special?). Yet there was a moment when suddenly these language acrobatics coalesced and clarified, became a discernible dance of belief, and I understood again that Christianity has its own story and, for two thousand years, that story has hung together. It may not be my own story--perhaps it never really was--but it is a story that I can appreciate nonetheless.

I am still seeking my own story, the story that moves me and speaks to me. It is a project--an on-going process--in self-knowledge. Why do I believe some things and not others? Why does the generally Pagan-y belief in reincarnation come so easily to me, and yet I still struggle with the polytheistic belief in multiple gods and goddesses? As I've studied Celtic mythology more seriously over the past year, this question has continued to nag me. Am I not cut out for belief in many gods, just as I was simply not cut out for belief in a savior? I'm not sure. Of course, it may take years of exploration, study and practice before I know the answer. I'm okay with this.

Clearly deo and Mandy have explored and studied, and discovered--at least for now--that atheism suits them. I do not think--at least, I hope that it isn't so--that they believe themselves to have found the Truth-capital-T of which we will all one day be convinced. Personally, regardless of exactly how I conceive of the Divine, I cannot help but believe that the world is infused with Spirit, positively overflowing with it. I cannot imagine a purely materialist reality. I have had my own doubts about a personal God or god, or goddess, or gods and goddesses for that matter, but it has never led me towards an explicit atheism. Uncertainty, a sense of curiosity, sometimes an overwhelming loneliness--yes. But the story that atheism tells is too simple, too flat to speak to me the way the singing of sunlight and long grass and winding paths in the woods speak to me.

(It looks as though this series is likely to run its course in a fifth and final part. Meanwhile, here are a few more links to interesting and related blog posts by other Pagans and Druids that I've stumbled across since last writing.)


  1. I still struggle with the polytheistic belief in multiple gods and goddesses

    I find that I'm becoming more animistic as I go along... I interface with the Greek Gods as such because that is how I know Them, and They seem to like it. For the rest, nature spirit(s) and what have you, I don't feel the need to squeeze them into that conceptual framework. I simply see them as spiritual entities (or discrete expressions of Spirit) that appear to have their own beingness - deciding whether they actually do or not is above my pay grade. :)

  2. For me, polytheism was a journey. I started out as a monotheistic Heathen (of all things!), believing all the other gods were simply 'masks' of Odin. I also took more pantheistic and pandeistic turns (even for a while considering all the gods as being facets of a great, multifaceted, divine gem), until finally arriving at a sudden awareness of the other gods as their own individual beings.

    I believe some people 'get' polytheism from the get-go. Others, such as myself, need to really explore the gods from every possible perspective before polytheism starts to make sense. "Of course, it may take years of exploration, study and practice before I know the answer. I'm okay with this." From my experience, the gods are okay with this, too :-)

  3. Even though it's reasonable to approach Craft as a craft that works across a renage of religions and spiritual traditions, including some Christian realms, I find that I resist this approach.

    I find that Neo-Pagan Craft (at its core) is different from religions like Christianity. And I want to nurture the difference rather than see Neo-Pagan Craft meld into some technical and vaguely Nature-favoring sort of Christianity.

    I'm a firm polytheist, and I always have been. Probably because I started out from a youthtful fan interest in polytheistic mythologies (Norse, as a matter of fact) and a somewhat later and much more thoughtful study of Hinduism and Tantra. One, I figured out and learned by expereince, would never be enough Deity for me.

    Good series of posts. Thanks!

  4. Pitch, yes, I saw those posts on your own blog about that very topic. It took me back to that whole debate as I contemplated it four years ago, and made me smile. I find myself not so much concerned anymore with the question of whether or not the Craft is compatible with Christianity. I do think that Christianity as it is practiced today could benefit from an infusion of creative, personal ritualistic activity--which was what the Craft had been for me, a kind of extension or expansion of artistic work, in which the body and mind of the practitioner, along with other physical objects like candles and stones, served as the medium for creative expression and connection with Spirit.

    Now, I think, I'm of the opinion that the Craft as a particularly Neopagan spiritual activity may very well have some basic differences with Christianity. But I'm not so worried that it will be diluted by too much mixing. Instead, I suspect that those people honestly interested in exploring the Craft will eventually ease out of Christianity as they discover those inconsistencies. The Craft can take care of itself, in other words. ;) Meanwhile, allowing for neophytes to explore the possibility of blending and borrowing gives them a bridge into a relatively new and sometimes strange spiritual tradition, while opening up the possibility of new, uniquely Christian solutions to the problem of experiential spirituality and creative ritual.

  5. Erik and Stormgazer, I've been planning on writing a post specifically on polytheism for quite a while now (someday I will actually get around to it!), and I hope you both come back and share your responses when that happens. I find the whole topic intriguing, but realizing that I've only been exploring the possibility of polytheism for a mere three years puts my uncertainty in perspective. ;) As you pointed out, Stormgazer, I think belief is almost always a journey (or it should be), and I've already cycled through monotheism, panentheism, agnosticism, o-crap-I-have-no-idea-what's-going-on and back again. I figure if I can find circumstances and situations in which any or all of these approaches "work" for me, I'll be okay no matter what.... (But I'm multitasking at the moment, so this comment might not make any sense at all.)