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Non-Fluffy Pagans
I think need a neopagan litmus test, please 
1st-Nov-2011 01:38 am
corvus cornix
I hope I'm not annoying anyone with such a basic question, but it's nagging me for a long time now. (I even googled this, but no success.)

I quit monotheistic religion because the idea of one right god, one right path and all the others are false feels like it wouldn't even fit into my head - square peg, round hole. I've been studying and reading for years now, mostly pretty basic stuff like Drawing Down the Moon and Witch Crafting (Phyllis Curot) but also Where Magic And Science Meet. Lots of reading on the internet on Asatru, Wicca and so on.

And I'm not sure where I belong.

I know that stories have a huge impact on me, always had. (Does that even indicate a spiritual affiliation?) I feel drawn to some deities but they can be from very different reactions. Some statues of deities just give me a strong impulse to kneel in front of them (complicated when happening in a museum, BTW).

I'm skeptic even about deities or principles I believe in or want to believe in, which makes things difficult. I tend to feel awkward when trying to use a spell or chant or invocation from a book because I immediately ask myself questions like "so why this one? how do I know the author didn't just make it up to fill half a page? Is any chant/invocation using line from a tv show, even a good one, automatically Silver Rabidwolf territory?"

Please help me out here; I'm really disorientated about whether there's something wrong with my mindset or I'm just manipulating myself or what.
Comments 
1st-Nov-2011 01:14 am (UTC)
What's your actual question?

You are allowed to question things. A lot of us come to paganism due to extreme skepticism and paganism seeming like the only thing that really makes sense in the end.

"I tend to feel awkward when trying to use a spell or chant or invocation from a book because I immediately ask myself questions like "so why this one? how do I know the author didn't just make it up to fill half a page?"

They likely did make it up. The best spells are the ones you make for yourself, filled with your intentions. The spells of others are good starting points but they won't necessarily have meaning to you.
1st-Nov-2011 01:57 am (UTC)
I know no one ever wants to hear this, but "where you belong" is right where you are, until you have a better idea that you want to be somewhere else. No one is going to be able to tell you in advance where your path should lead you. Anyone who tries is lying, manipulating you, or at best, offering well-intentioned but ill-conceived advice.

Which, of course, sucks. The waiting, I mean. But just keep looking around and paying attention; eventually, something will be interesting enough to hold your attention longer than you were expecting, and you'll suddenly find yourself moving in a direction.

In the meantime, try different things. Most importantly, meet other people. Often, the "right path" is less about what specific modality you're working, and more about whom you're meeting along the way. The connections you make will often lead you to a path -- and sometimes, lead you away from one. Either way, you know more than you knew before.

Skepticism is fine. Just keep an open mind. (I'm assuming this is already the case -- why would you be exploring paganism if you were certain the gods aren't real? :-) Don't give up your autonomy, or let anyone convince you that anyone but you is responsible for your choices. Follow your nose.

As for the books -- why would it make a difference if someone made something up specifically for the book they were writing? As opposed to what? Ancient chants from the dawn of time, that just happen to rhyme in English? :-) I'd venture to guess that most authors invent at least part of the contents of their books for those specific books, but I don't see why that would be a problem -- it's quality composition, or it's not. Its antiquity is rather beside the point (unless you're leaning in the direction of hardcore cultural reconstructionism, in which case you're gonna want to start with the original language in question). If nothing you're reading rings true when you try to use it, dump it and try something else. If you can't find anything else, read half a dozen examples to get the idea, and then write your own stuff. Works better anyway.

Whether a line from a TV show is of any use in a chant or piece of pagan liturgy is entirely dependent on whether the line was any damned good to begin with. With anything borrowed from popular culture, the question is: does it evoke in you the feeling or mindset you need it to invoke? If so, use it. If not, dump it. If Simon and Garfunkel songs get you there, then sing them -- and take a look at similar music from that era, or other eras, because you might be onto something in terms of personal usefulness. Or maybe it's just that one song. Fine. Use it 'til you wear it out.

The impulse to kneel in front of specific statues is probably a hint. Explore it. But don't feel constrained by it, and don't decide you're bound to it any time soon. There's always time for formal dedication to one or more deities when you're sure of your footing. You don't want to be doing that sort of thing on a maybe, because reneging on agreements like that is a Very Bad Idea. Better never to have made it in the first place than to blow it off later when you find it doesn't fit as well as you hoped it might. If They really want you, They'll wait 'til you're sure. They might do some nudging, mind you, but it's still up to you.
3rd-Nov-2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
Good point about the made up chants; after all, someone has to start them. And using something 1500 years old could feel wrong, too - like using something ancient because old is better.

> Whether a line from a TV show is of any use in a chant or piece of pagan liturgy is entirely dependent on whether the line was any damned good to begin with
I was a bit shocked to find that the ever present "blessed be" apparently originated in the "Robin of Sherwood" show - which I love to bits, for the record, but still. Very often what really rings true for me is from some story or other. (I'm looking at you, Terry Pratchett.)

Exploring the impulse to kneel before a specific statue is a good tip! I did assume that it might have been caused by the evocative surroundings but it really happened in very different circumstances.

Thanks for your tips!
1st-Nov-2011 03:46 am (UTC)
The truth is - Everyone makes it up.
All religions are made up.
There is a desire for mystery, the mystic, the more in all of us. We try to express it and actualize it.
That's what religion is all about. Everybody's religion. Ancient or modern.

We are all constantly growing and changing.
Uncertainty is uncomfortable and totally normal.
Questioning is normal.
Certainty is unrealistic.

So. read, learn, question.
Do what makes you feel happy and fulfilled now.
That is where you are supposed to be at this moment.

Have faith in yourself.
A path winds and twists.
The view changes.
Just keep walking the path.

All will be well. All manner of things shall be well
(I was given that by the first teacher I knew. I still hold on to it)
Blessings
3rd-Nov-2011 11:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
1st-Nov-2011 04:13 am (UTC)
Start with what you know works for you. Spirituality is based in stories--the story of the Cosmos, the story of the human condition, the story of the workings of the world we're in. Perhaps some study of Jungian archetypes may help; go to his original works first, so that you can then sift through the derivatives of varying qualities.

Pay attention to what images evoke reverence in you. Is it the deity itself that draws you, the pose, the style of the art? Do you look at deities as literal beings, or parts of great stories on the level of Jung and Campbell? Is, perhaps, pantheism your path as opposed to a literal polytheism?

Let inspiration be your primary guide, and fill in the blanks later as you need to, with research and exploration. Don't do something because you think you should; follow it because you feel it.
3rd-Nov-2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
> Start with what you know works for you. (...)Perhaps some study of Jungian archetypes may help

Thank you, that is good advice.

Sometimes it seems to be the style of art, like classic statues of deities like Diana. About other deities it's their character and what they are. I'm not sure what deities are; maybe it differs from one to the other. It's easy to see that deities are often personifications of the ocean, life, death, wisdom and so on. I'm not sure what they are beyond that - a sort of power created and/or formed by believe or beings on a different plane of reality. Or mostly made up by humans. There's that scepticism again.

I think you are right about the inspiration, I will make sure to work with that. Thank you!
1st-Nov-2011 04:54 am (UTC)
Don't look for lists of beliefs. Look for the stories that sing to your soul, and the poetry that inspires you. Look to the patterns and myths that make you feel you've come home.

Find the people--find the ones who make you say, "ooh, I wanna be like *that* when I grow up!" And find out what path they're on.

Don't look for the path that seems familiar, that matches who you are. Look for the one that leads where you want to go, that makes people like you want to become.
3rd-Nov-2011 11:53 pm (UTC)
Looking for stories that touch me is at least something that's not hard to do for me. :) Thanks!
1st-Nov-2011 02:11 pm (UTC)
I agree with much of what the other commenters here have said. Also, it's ok if your answer today is different from your answer next week. My continuing feeling of awkwardness and disconnection in relation to most spells and ritual helped me to figure out that my place is as an extremely pagan-friendly secular humanist. But maybe next year I'll feel differently. Everyone has to come to their own peace with what works for their own brain, their own life, and their own community - the important thing is to keep your eyes open for what feels like Home.
4th-Nov-2011 09:32 pm (UTC)
I suspect that given how analytical and sceptical I am, secular humanist or something else that's closer to philosophy than to religion would be the natural choice. But I know I miss the mystical in it - the stories, in a way.
1st-Nov-2011 03:26 pm (UTC)
I understand wanting to know which hole is just your shape. The thing is, your shape changes and most holes don't. There is a quiz I like to direct people to on Beliefnet called the
Belief-O-Matic you may like to take. It is fairly complete and gives you a results list of several different paths to explore. Perhaps you'll feel like a good fit with one or more on that list.
4th-Nov-2011 12:05 am (UTC)
What a good idea and what perfect name! Just what I was looking for. Just a shame that I think I answered half the questions with "don't know or not important". Well, today I am:

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (98%)
3. Theravada Buddhism (91%)

Seriously, the explanations are very useful. Now I can at least answer the question of "which confession", and learn about about the different religions. I'm very curious to know what I'll turn out tomorrow.
1st-Nov-2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
Is any chant/invocation using line from a tv show, even a good one, automatically Silver Rabidwolf territory?

That you're asking this suggests no matter what, YOU are not in that territory.
4th-Nov-2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
thanks, that is always good to know! I might have 5% fluffy in me that wants to believe that I can buy a pretty book with lots of pictures of cats and cauldrons, buy the right color of candles and do a love spell. But the other 95% consider that all kinds of wrong.
1st-Nov-2011 04:49 pm (UTC)
I've got my path, but read widely, constantly about religions, both major and minor. So far, I've found there are wise people of all faiths, and even very stupid people can say wise things. Wisdom is where you find it - even on television.

It sounds horribly glib to say 'you'll know', but chances are that you will. You will, in all probability, either, as elfwreck says, find the path that leads to where you want to be, or, as lupabitch says, you'll find some paths just mean a lot more to you than others, or something will happen and push you more in one direction than another. It *could* never happen, but IME people who start seeking tend to find.

Even once you know what path you're following, you're still going to end up cherrypicking which bits you can follow, if only because of modern laws, mores and practices. For example, it is not practical for me to wind any variety of intestines around a tree for any purpose outside, perhaps, a modern art exhibition. You'll end up adding new bits in, because most forms of paganism are living religions and they adapt, change and survive.

You will hopefully never, ever be entirely certain that what you are doing is absolutely the right thing. Because, again IME, that is Silver Rabidwolf territory. People only seem ever to refuse to question their own beliefs at the point where those beliefs are going to crumble at the slightest critical glance or application of basic logic.

TL;DR: keep looking, keep listening, best wishes.
4th-Nov-2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
thank you, that is good advice! Especially about those who are seeking usually finding something. And I've got to remind myself that if I had the ability to simply accept a given set of believes, religious "facts" and rules, I could just have stayed with Christianity.

> keep looking, keep listening, best wishes.

Thanks very much!
1st-Nov-2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
All good stuff, above, but there's more, one more thing that is highly significant. Yes, explore the what-there-is, the how-it-works, the what-calls-me, the gotta-go-there. Explore it all. But, in the exploration, don't forget the most cogent question of all, the one my first "good" teacher taught me was "the Witch's question". As you explore, never cease to ask, "WHY"? Why do I like it, why does it make me feel this way, why does this matter, why am I doing this, why, why, why? Because when you have reached the place where the answer is just "Because", as in "Because I have to, because it just IS..." then you will have reached YOUR answer, and you will know the path you are on is YOURS.
4th-Nov-2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
thanks, that is a very good tip!

And it's a hopeful thing, too, because I know that yesterday in a very, very dicey "am I going to do this" choice I did pretty much that, asking myself why I was afraid of it and why I thought I should do it. I didn't get all too clear answers, but it's good to know that it was the right strategy.
1st-Nov-2011 09:05 pm (UTC)
Of course I'm going to throw in with "study Chaos magic," because I always throw in with "study Chaos magic."

But seriously, study Chaos magic. Don't worry about being one of the cool kids or being part of the community, because right now the community is in shambles (again.) But grab the books and the texts and the internet archives and read.

The philosophy behind Chaos magic is very good at connecting a lot of very different things from a lot of different places by finding out what they all have in common, at explaining that the Green Lantern Oath is not better or worse than the Lord's Prayer and why, drawing connections between practices and beliefs from any system, Proto-Indo-European history to Final Fantasy VII, bar none.

Because once you know the why's, the skeleton frameworks underneath it all, you're going to be in a much better place to make informed decisions. Once you know how a mass "works," you can use that to study the religious frameworks that use that pattern, or create new ones.

But most importantly, the old stuff will teach you to hold ideas without committing to them, to focus on what's working rather than what's "real," and to work with others who don't hold the same conception of what's "real." And that can be a huge, huge boon in its own right.

But that's just what it does for me. Happy hunting, and let me know if you find anything interesting. :)
5th-Nov-2011 06:27 pm (UTC)
Hm. I started with googling chaos magic and that lookes tasty. Wait what, those guys use elements from Lovecraft? Now I'm very intrigued.

> Don't worry about being one of the cool kids or being part of the community, because right now the community is in shambles (again.)

I'm not even sure wether studying Chaos magic would make me a cool or uncool kid. As for a pagan community in shambles, I think that's the death-rebirth circle in action: communities develop, grow, grow too big, suffocate on drama or over-blown egos or whatever, shrivel up, and a hard core somewhere survives and starts growing again.

So, I guess I'll just use the wikipedia article and links as a starting point. Any tips on what's good to read and what can/should be avoided?
2nd-Nov-2011 12:03 am (UTC)
It's ok (in my opinion) not to know exactly where you fit in. Being eclectic doesn't necessarily make you fluffy, it just means that your beliefs, philosophy and point of view don't fit neatly and cleanly into any one particular path. You will most likely read books, articles and websites and feel that some things resonate and other things you read don't. I think it's ok to take what feels right and discard what doesn't. That's just natural and part of being an individual. And if you read about a ritual that you'd like to do, but feel that you would rather change a few things or write a new one altogether to suit your own needs, DO IT!!!

Wishing you all the best... oh, and relax once in a while! ;)
2nd-Nov-2011 12:13 am (UTC)
As for the tv spells thing, maybe it is $RW territory, but I used to sometimes adapt spells and invocations I saw on Buffy, during it's heyday. *Ducks* I think as long as you do adapt it to suit your own needs (and make sure you aren't invoking the huge worm creature from the end of season 3), it's ok. For me it was part of being young and impressionable and also really inspired by Willow in the abscence of any actual real life witches (as I didn't know any at the time). I even once read an article called "invoking Buffy", about the invocation of pop-culture icons and characters. Only you can know if it's right for you or if it's pointless fluffy territory, and maybe you might just have to try it and see.
2nd-Nov-2011 10:21 pm (UTC)
Talk to people. Ask questions. Most pagans are happy to answer questions from honest interest and curiosity, and won't try to convince you that you must go down their path. They are mostly interested in helping you discover what resonates for you. Between reading and talking to people, your path will most likely take shape.
3rd-Nov-2011 11:05 pm (UTC)
I'm just moving from one city to another; actually to a small town. I'll have to look for pagans around there but with the inter net, that shouldn't be too difficult. Thanks for the advice!
3rd-Nov-2011 12:07 am (UTC)
My usual advice on finding a path is:

* Start by reading broadly. [It sounds like you've got that covered.]
* If possible, meet real life pagans, and participate in open rituals, if they are available to you.
* After a bit, pick something to *do*. Some discipline. It can be a whole tradition or just a simple practice or anywhere in between. The point is committing to doing something. Don't worry about whether or not it's the right path for you for life. Just choose it for now.
* Stick with it for a year. That will probably be very hard at points. Feel free to adjust the discipline during that year, but don't stop it.

By the end of year of *any* discipline, you will know a great deal more about yourself, and about what you're really looking for. And it's amazing how often--if the discipline wasn't the right path for you--opportunities will crop up to show you where you should be heading.
3rd-Nov-2011 11:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I think that is very good advice!

I have to admit I'm horrifically bad at pulling something through long-term; I love to start something new (a language, a craft, a sport) and then as soon as there's a lot of work the new good habit drops. So keeping at something for a year will be a very good exercise for me, if nothing else. Thanks!
7th-Nov-2011 12:20 am (UTC)
Upon reading the revised Drawing Down the Moon, in which the author goes back to some of the same people she interviewed before, some of the Erisians noted to her that if they'd known how much chaos and discord they were calling into their lives, they would have chosen a different deity.

In another area of life, a conversation with an artist friend, she noted that she'd seen people put aside their art goals and spend a couple of decades working to make enough money to retire and do art instead. A few of them succeeded--but no longer had the ambition to stop focusing on money and create. They had reached a point where they thought a career making art was frivolous or unimportant.

I think the advice to figure out where you want to go, what is important to you and what work do you want to do in the world, and then make time for those things in your life is very good advice. What you choose to focus on will shape you.
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