Mahud, over at Between the Old and New Moons, is exploring Paganism and posted a great list of questions about Paganism for Pagans to answer. They are such good and thought-provoking questions that I would like to answer them, though it looks like he has already had some good people tackle them. I haven’t read anybody else’s answers because I wanted to write mine first and then see how and where they match up.
Choosing a Paganism
Is it OK you be just a ‘Pagan?’ Yes, though it depends on what you mean by “OK.” Do you mean, will other Pagans point and laugh at you if you don’t pick a certain path? Some of them might. Most of them won’t. By the way, this is also true if you join up with any particular group. Most people will be fine with it; a few will consider your path to be All Wrong and judge you harshly for it. This is true regardless of which path you choose.
If you mean, is it OK as a form of practice, will it still be productive for me? the answer is maybe. Lots of people are non-denominational Pagans and do just fine with it. I was one for most of my life, but it wasn’t by choice, just that it took so long for me to find a path that fit. If you want to be a garden-variety Pagan, it is possible that it will work well for you. If you’re good at directing yourself and finding your own way, and if you are an independent thinker, this can work.
As I understanding it is is an umbrella term used much in the same way as ‘Hinduism’ is used to represent a whole range of different beliefs and practices? Yes.
If so, is choosing a specific Pagan path essential? Absolutely not. Your religion is between yourself and the Gods; if your practice works for you and hurts no one, you don’t have to answer to anyone else’s ideas about what you should be doing. I think it is beneficial to find a community and a path that fits, because you can learn so much from those who have gone before and those you work with that you can’t get anywhere else. I think a structured, consistent practice gives the best results, and a specific path really helps with that.
Nature affirming Pagan
Are you a Pagan because you are drawn or feel a connection with nature? I don’t know why I’m a Pagan. There was never a moment when I chose this; it’s just the way I am. I do feel a connection with nature, in that I know that I am part of nature, and this is part of my Paganism, but I don’t know which came first. I first read about modern Paganism (Gerald Gardner’s Living Witchcraft, actually – my mom had a copy) when I was maybe ten and though, “yep, that’s me.” It wasn’t “I want to be that,” it was “I am that.”
Do city dwelling Pagans find it difficult to practice in the City? I live in the city now and there are certain obstacles – I can’t light a fire in my backyard and drum all night or anything. I do reject the idea that city dwellers are somehow “cut off from nature” – nature is all around, even in the most urban areas, all the time. I don’t find it difficult to practice here, though. I have a terrific Grove and nice parks and I have gathered medicinal herbs and harvested wild food well withing the Philadelphia city limits. I would prefer to live in the country for a variety of reasons, but I don’t find urban living to be particularly limiting to my practice.
Living with a community of Pagans
Is it easy finding a community of like-minded Pagans? Alas no, though that varies by region and individual circumstance. I had years and years with no community to speak of. This was pre-Internet, though. The Internet has made it much easier to connect with others.
Are there any local Pagan communities where you live, and was it easy to integrate into your community? Perhaps it took a while to find a community that met your needs? The Philadelphia pagan community is unfortunately pretty lame. No offense to those who work hard to change that – we have some people, such as those at the Philadelphia Witch’s Meetup and the Delaware Valley Pagan Network, who work valiantly to improve the situation, and there are some great pagan groups, but we all stay pretty scattered. I had no problem integrating into my Grove when I found it, and the group I was part of before that also came together fairly easily, but I don’t feel like I’m part of any larger Pagan community in the area.
Do you find your community to be a group of loving people who deeply care for others, esp’ outcasts in society? I don’t know about the “outcasts” thing – I don’t think we spend any more time thinking of outcasts than anyone else. We are generally loving, kind people, though of course there are jerks in any community. My Grove is entirely made up of fantastic people. If Pagan groups do volunteer work, it’s more likely to be a park cleanup or food drive than anything involving outcasts.
Is there a kind of leadership? Or are some members considered to be more authoritative than others without any rigid kind of leadership structure. If you’re asking, is there national leadership, some kind of Boss Pagan, then absolutely not. By “members,” I’m assuming that you mean members of the Pagan community as a whole. Different groups will have different leadership structures, and I can’t generalize about that. As for the overall Pagan community, we tend to give authority to those who have written books that we like. The way to become a Pagan leader is to write a book that a whole lot of people enjoy. However, there is no Pagan Pope.
Is everyone encouraged to play an active role in the community, and look after those members that need more care and attention? This seems like two different questions. “Playing an active role in the community” (and here I’m again interpreting this as the Pagan community) is not just encouraged, it’s essential. If all you ever do is show up for the rituals and mumble along, you won’t be part of the community; you’ll just be that weird guy that never does anything. “Looking after members that need more care” is kind of a yes and kind of a no. I mean, we are generally compassionate people and if one of our community is ill or struggling, they will have prayers and rituals done for them and all kinds of good energy sent their way. We might pass a hat for someone who needs help with hospital bills or something – this is all normal. However, Paganism can attract some marginal and needy people and I think many of us have learned to be wary about these types. If you really have a crisis and are already integrated into a group, you will get support. You won’t get special treatment just for labeling yourself a Pagan, though, and if you come across right away as someone who is a persistent mess, you will probably find yourself ignored. We don’t really do the ministry thing.
Perhaps you are a solitary Pagan, or your only connecting with Pagans on the internet, how does that work for you? I went through a period of mainly connecting on the Internet, and I didn’t like it at all. The Internet is a great tool, and I have made some valuable connections through it, but there is an odd thing that seems to happen with the Internet-only Pagan. There are people who spend so much time talking and arguing about Paganism online that you have to wonder how they ever find time to practice anything (she says in the middle of an epic blog post) and things can get very abstract. Similarly, if you’re always solitary it’s easy to become ungrounded and go off into your own little world that isn’t always the most productive place. Even if you’re usually solitary, I think it’s always valuable to get out there every now and then, by going to festivals or meetups, and actually connecting with other Pagans.
I do think a solitary or Internet-based path can work, but I don’t think it works very well if that’s all you ever do.
How do non-Pagans react upon learning you are Pagan? I don’t know; I don’t tell them. I’m not ashamed or afraid or anything, I just don’t want to go to the trouble of explaining my entire belief system to someone who doesn’t need to know it. Too much work for too little reward.
What is the most basic form of ritual in your Pagan tradition? For AODA ritual, the basic form is the opening and closing of the Grove – what happens in between opening and closing can vary. We also do a short ritual called the Sphere of Protection which is an everyday protection ritual.
How do rituals play a part in your form of Paganism? Rituals are my form of Paganism. Everything from a big group seasonal ritual to the blessing of dinner as I cook it can be ritualized, and I love ritual so I do it all the time.
If you didn’t practice rituals would you be considered non-Pagan? No, though I would wonder why you would bother calling yourself Pagan if you don’t practice. I do have a very utilitarian approach to religion, though.
Can rituals be a guiding influence both inside and outside of the community? I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand the question. Do you mean, do people learn from doing rituals? Yes, every time, I would hope.
Do Rituals have a transformative effect on you as an individual and as a group, and can ritual “break through’ to the otherworld, another realm or reality? They do have a transformative effect, but what that effect is depends on the intent of the ritual. I don’t think I would use the term “break through” since it’s a much gentler process than that, but ritual can help with entering the Otherworld. That’s not always the purpose of ritual, though.
Have you ever met anyone, or heard about, anyone become mentally ill by participating in a Ritual. No. Anyone I have known of who acted mentally ill after a ritual was that way beforehand as well. I have heard of dramatic improvements in mental health through ritual, though.
Can ritual be in any other way dangerous? Well, you could knock over a candle and burn your house down. There are certain practices that, if you’re not ready for them, could knock you on your metaphorical butt. A good ritual leader will be careful not to put anyone into that sort of situation (I’m thinking here of more intense forms of trance work and calling down deities) – this could take the form of spaciness or persistent ungroundedness. It wears off, though, as long as you’re sane and healthy to begin with. If you’re not, then you need other help already. It could also be dangerous if you have ill intentions and are doing a ritual to hurt someone else – that can mess you up, but it’s not so much the ritual doing it as you doing it to yourself.
How do Pagan ‘gods’ have an active role in your life? I’m not sure why you have the Gods in scare quotes – they are entirely real to me, and have a very active role in my life.
Do some pagans create their own gods? This is a hard question, because first you have to define what you mean by “gods” and that can get tricky. I still haven’t figured out how to do this. I would say yes, they do, but they can only do that because the god they create existed already. That’s paradoxical on purpose, and I’m not sure how to explain it in words. Sorry I can’t give a better answer.
Are there any more worthwhile things I might need to know? Oh, Gods yes. I have one suggestion for you: practice. Whatever you are interested in, whatever you read about, whatever you explore or think you believe – practice it. Even if it’s just to try it out. You won’t go to Pagan Hell for praying to the wrong god or meditating wrong. If it’s wrong, you’ll know it and you can move on to something else, but you don’t know unless you try. While you’re trying, examine what you are doing and why you are doing it. Practice, and then think about the practice, and then practice some more.