Things I Wish Other Religious People Knew About Paganism

I recently had the opportunity to attend an interfaith conference of religious educators.  Most of this group consisted of followers of Judaism and the largest denominations of Christianity.  They had only just begun to make connections with Buddhists and Muslims, and I supposed they would probably need time to get used to broadening the tent before being asked to encounter too much of the unfamiliar.  But sometimes things don’t work that way.

I was not, for example, only there as a Unitarian Universalist professional; I was there as a pagan, for which I was not sure they were prepared.  And yet, when I was asked to name two things of which I thought others might have “holy envy” about my religion, I wanted to tell them.  After a few people took their turn, I finally had an opportunity to share what my experience of paganism meant to me. 

It’s not a question I’m often asked.  I think people don’t believe there’s much more to say about it, or think they already know what it is and don’t need to hear my version.  But I’m a person of faith, too; passionate faith.  I wanted them all to know how much I was just like them.  Having realized I’d put it into words for the first time, I wanted to remember in case I was ever asked again.

So here they are, the things I wish other religious people knew:

Pagans can have personal relationships with that which others call “God.”

I had been a very devout Christian growing up, and a personal relationship with God - and later Jesus, when I was led to incorporate him into my idea of God - had been a real part of my formative years.   In fact, that relationship never ended.  It’s just that now, as I told them in truncation, it’s with “thousands” of emanations of God, instead of just one.

For me, the Divine exists in nuances; just as among any number of like human beings, each one has a completely unique personality and set of experiences.    Getting to know “the gods” is fulfilling, exciting, enrapturing, ecstatic. 

And I never get tired of it.  Each of the gods and goddesses, every spirit of land, tree, air, every angelic being, and the endless, numerous emanations of All That Is, is simply a new stream in which to taste the divine force of life, experience the sacred, touch and return to God. 

This is not an explanation of pagan cosmology, by the way; pagans are quite varied where that is concerned.  I just mean this to be the poetry of my experience in relationship to the Divine.

Pagans hold as sacred both the dark and the light, that which seems holy and that which seems profane, things of the body as well as things of the spirit. 

It is a long journey for anyone who tends, spiritually, toward asceticism, to get to a place where the messy, imperfect, aging, sexual body is just as sacred as the supposedly perfect, immaterial spirit.  But my love and celebration of the body is as much a part of my life as was once my shame of it, and of anything that involves pleasure for pleasure’s own sake.

 I do not reject the pleasurable to find the Divine in some internal desert, as if the Divine is not a part of the dirt and the earth, the sand and the wind and the mud and the rain, the blood and vestibules and muscles and nerves and hair and fur. 

I embrace the Divine in the ecstatic pleasure of just being alive, and all the wondrous experiences that make a life.  I am thankful for the uplifting of the body through its sacred ability to express the Divine in a material world.  God is not to be encountered only in retreat from pleasure; pleasure is often exactly where God is found, if you stop to notice it.

And the same can said for embracing those “negative” emotions of ours, those things out of control, that come from the shadow of the subconscious.  We know these destructive emotions serve a holy purpose.  It is appropriate that most tarot decks have a Tower card (Tower of Babel?), which people dread seeing, because it means what you’ve been building was either an illusion, or no longer serves you. 

Paganism is filled with many of us who still struggle with the idea that the best answer to everything is to be more than human, when being human is what we’re here to be.  But the point of working in earth-centered systems and of any system of magick, is that you are responsible for your own actions. 

We are not children, with a divine parent keeping us from doing something “wrong,”  or someone who knows better than us.  We must discern right and wrong according to our own conscience.  Despite all our protestations, we can actually be trusted to arrive at the “right” conclusions.  But there’s another critical piece to that:  Because we are sovereign over our choices and actions upon the world, we’re keenly aware of our responsibility for the consequences they can have.

In learning to claim my own power, to live without someone who has all the answers and can tell me what to do, to understand that divine Guidance is following my lead, and not the other way around, I am more whole, empowered, and grown up than I have ever been in my life. 

And that’s really it, the things I chose to share with those who were listening to me talk about paganism.  I have no idea how they received it, but actually being allowed to talk about it felt like re-joining a tribe.

I belong among people of faith, because I am a person of faith.  So do all pagans.  It would be nice if there were a seat at the table for us, but now and then I suppose we need to learn to invite ourselves. 

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Acknowledgments

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