Validity, Tradition, and the Labelling of Personal Beliefs

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As I’ve mentioned, I’m reading a lot of blogs written by Pagans/Wiccans/witches and also watching a lot of YouTube videos by people presenting themselves to be Pagan/Wiccan/witches and offering information about their own lives, practices, etc.  I recognize that though these people may give themselves the Pagan/Wiccan label, their personal beliefs and practices may not be representative of the entire Pagan/Wiccan community.

What I’ve also stumbled across are a lot of Pagans/Wiccans doing videos and blog posts that basically say “UR DOIN’ IT WRONG.”  These people disagree with the notion of one creating one’s own tradition if one can’t find a tradition which “fits.”  One argument I’ve found for this is that those who do so are not looking hard enough at the traditions which are currently available, and they don’t understand the meaning behind such traditions (this is paraphrased from one particular article).  As such, a lack of basic understanding is creating an increase in what others consider to be “faux tradition” – people just making it up.

I find this lack-of-foundation theory interesting.  As far as my understanding goes, Wicca in its current form is only about sixty years old.  I understand that it is purportedly based upon ancient traditions, but I’m sure the Wicca practiced today is drastically different than the earth-based religions practiced thousands of years ago.  Just because the traditions have changed, does that mean the religion is still not valid?  How important is it that followers of a certain religion adhere to tradition, and of that adherence how much leeway, if any, is available if a certain tradition does not “fit” with one who wishes to practice said religion?

This is an issue of labels and ownership of ideas/culture.  A member of a group identifies themselves as belonging to a particular group.  A member believes their practices and beliefs are reflective of the group’s practices and beliefs.  A member sees another person appropriating their group’s label but not adhering to the same set of practices and beliefs.  The member is offended, and in an effort to protect the member’s own group decides to admonish the outlier.  But is that admonishment justified?  As I asked before, how much is Wiccan or Pagan enough?  For some people it may never be enough.

More importantly, if we are not practicing with a group, should we even care?  In real life, I feel I am an incredibly private person (basically anonymous blogs notwithstanding).  I doubt I will ever practice or worship with others, so why should it matter what others think about me?  Should I care that others don’t view me as pagan enough?  Or does it only matter when I am trying to adopt the label of a certain group or spiritual path?

I can identify as a Pagan when Pagan is defined as “a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions.”  For a while I called myself an atheist because I don’t believe in the idea of god as presented in most widely-accepted religions, however I have recently started to accept that I do believe there is “something” out there (“The Big Stuff”).  I don’t identify as Wiccan.

Despite that I am trying to read and research about many different paths, for the most part I will probably just “make it all up.”  The way I see it, any religious idea presented to me through another human vessel has already been tainted with that person’s ideas, ethics, and prejudices.  What I want is to cultivate my own personal relationship with The Big Stuff and the energies that surround me every day.  My own, personal relationship; it is possible that some of my beliefs may dovetail with those of others, but it is also possible that no one else on the planet will see things the way I do.  And that’s perfectly okay; I will do my best not to pass judgment on the practices of others as long as they do not pass judgment on mine (with stipulations, of course – my overarching ideas of Ethics and Humanity trump my respect others’ practices, particularly if others’ practices include things like torture, rape, etc.  But that’s a whole other issue altogether.).

It seems the easiest thing to do would be to scrap labels completely.  However, I recognize that would make it difficult for individuals who wanted to practice with others to stay organized and be able to reach out to others with similar beliefs.  So perhaps labels are necessary, if only for those who wish to reach out to others.  I’m leaning toward Eclectic Pagan myself.

Of course, these could just be the naive ramblings of the young and uneducated.  Thoughts?

Like the Locals

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I just want to quickly share with you this article about Korean Shamanism.  Korean Shamanism is a tradition that stems waaay back to before Buddhism was introduced to Korea.  Some speculate the traditions are at least 40,000 years old (holy. crap.).  The practice aims to solve human problems by involving the spirits.

A few years ago the New York Times posted an article about the resurgence of Shamanism in modern Korea.  The article gives a little insight into indigenous Korean practices and how they’ve survived because they’ve adapted and evolved to include other practices over the years. This reminds me a lot of religions that have traversed from old world to new and traditions that borrow saints from one practice and converge them with spirits from another.  It adds a whole new level to the idea of separate-but-the-same.

Anyway, I think the article is really interesting, and I think a lot of the practices described are similar to some of the eclectic pagan paths I’ve been reading about.  I really enjoyed reading it.

Nugdged, or “Coincidence? I think not!”

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You should read the post before this to fully grasp what I’m saying.

OK, so I was talking about all those weird little “coincidences,” for lack of a better word, right?  I just wrote my Tiny Little Nudges post this morning.

At my school, teachers will often bring in snacks to share with each other when we’re planning in the staff room.  I usually have a variety of things in my desk — for example, small packages of crackers or cookies from other teachers, leftover treats from when I’ve brought things in for my classes, etc.  Lately, however, I haven’t had any snacks.

This morning, as I was on my way out the door, I thought about grabbing a pack of Pepero (it’s the Korean version of Japanese pocky — thin cookie sticks dipped in chocolate and then sometimes rolled in things like almonds).  I thought I’d want something to have on hand in case we would be sharing food today.  I put a package in my purse and promptly forgot about it.

But sure enough, not ten minutes ago, one of the teachers said something about being hungry, and the math teacher asked me if I had any cookies.  If I had not brought the Pepero, I would have had no snacks!  Please keep in mind that I haven’t been asked for snacks by anyone in about 3 weeks, so it’s not like I should have been expecting it or anything.

I know this may sound ridiculous or incredibly trivial to someone else, but it’s far too coincidental to actually be coincidental, you know what I mean?  The universe/powers/etc. (“The Big Stuff”)  knew they finally had my attention and just wanted to drive the point home.

From what I’ve heard/been reading, “The Big Stuff” reveals itself to us in mysterious ways.  For me, they used snacks.  Good one, universe.

Tiny Little Nudges

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I feel like I’m starting to get paranoid that the universe is reading my mind.

It’s in the tiny little things.  For instance, I go to work everyday in a carpool.  Nearly every day my carpool is very late.  Yesterday it was really cold outside, and I thought to myself “Man it would be awesome if they went ahead and got here right now.”  I turned around, and sure enough they were pulling up to the curb right behind me.

Last week all I managed to grab for breakfast was a tangerine.  I was really hungry and not sure how I was going to make it to lunch.  Then the part-time PE teacher (a friend) showed up with fruit and kimbap (kinda like the Korean version of sushi rolls, but with no raw fish) and plopped some down on my desk for me.

There’s a lot more, but those are two that have happened recently.  I don’t know when I started noticing these things, but now that I have, it seems like this sort of thing happens all the time.  It’s interesting to note, however, that they only happen when things are in my best interest.  For example, yesterday I was dreading teaching and was hoping something would happen to cancel my classes (to give you some perspective, I’m an EFL teaching in South Korea; my schedule is changing constantly, often at the last minute, and I have more than once walked in to empty classrooms to find all my students missing because of school pictures or something).  Nothing happened to prevent my having the full 5 classes, but they all went well, and I ended up feeling better for having taught.

I think it’s funny.  I almost feel as if the universe/powers/god(s)&goddess(es) are treating me like a wild animal they are trying to tame; they stretch out their hands and patiently wait for me to trust enough to accept the nut they offer.  I take it and run away again and convince myself it was just a fluke, but they they come back and the same process starts over again until I can come without suspicion, doubt, fear, or even the need for the nut.

And yes, I just compared myself to a squirrel.

Fall Foliage

We’ve had some unseasonably warm weather this year (so the locals tell me).  Up until last week it was still reaching into the 70s.  My fiance and I wanted to get out of the house and go experience some nature, so Sunday we went hiking Geumosan.  Many of the trees had already turned, but there were a few closer to the base of the mountain that were still flushed with fall colors.

It was beautiful, but it was a little hard to appreciate with all the people around.  I’m a very private sort of person and a bit of an introvert, so often I find the sheer amount of people in S. Korea — EVERYWHERE in S. Korea, to be a bit overwhelming.  We visited one of the temples and also a beautiful Buddhist shrine built into a cave in the mountainside.

Korea has an interesting religious makeup — almost half the population professes no religious affiliation whatsoever.  A little over a 1/4 claim Christianity in various forms (mainly Protestantism or Roman Catholicism), a little over 1/5 of people are Buddhist, and the rest belong to minor traditional religions like Shintoism or are Jehovah’s Witnesses or Islamic.

Personal Beliefs

How does one establish what their beliefs are?  Must they be taken from dogma or knowledge which has been told to one through outside means, or is it just a collection of ideas which feels right to one’s personal self?  Does one realize their beliefs and find a faith that conforms to them, or does one find a faith and, within that faith, find their beliefs?

I’ve been doing a lot of “belief-adjusting” lately.  I’ve never believed in any sort of traditional Christian god as it was presented to me in the past, and as such for a while I just settled for being a staunch atheist.  However, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to deny that I do feel that there is something, whatever it may be, out there.  You know what I mean?  So for the first time in my life I’ve sat down and instead of thinking about what I don’t believe, tried to pin down a general notion of what I do believe.

I believe there is one main unifying universal force in the world.  This force encompasses all of life and death, all of light and dark, etc.  It is neither masculine nor feminine but both.  The gods and goddesses are the manifestations of different aspects of this force.  When one wants to commune with specific aspects of this force, they can do it through the channel of a god/goddess.

I believe with practice and intention one can learn how to affect the energy of this force and use it to help them achieve goals within their lives.  I believe things on Earth and the Earth itself have within them their own store of this energy or force, and by doing certain things one can influence those energies to achieve one’s goals.  However, I also believe that despite one doing something to the best of their abilities, there may be outside factors we do or do not know about that prevent us from accomplishing some tasks.  That’s not necessarily to say I believe in predestination; but I believe that we have no way of knowing whether we will or will not succeed at something unless we give it our best shot, and if we fail it is not necessarily because we weren’t worthy or we were “doing it wrong” (but, depending on the situation, that may very well be the case).  So, we might as well put forth our best efforts.

These are just some ideas I’ve been working on.  Thoughts?

Seeing Signs

In some of the books I’ve read, it talks about how people chose/were chosen by their patron gods/goddesses, how they decided to embark on a particular path, etc, and there’s a lot of mention of “signs.”  For example, in the Thea Sabin book (which I actually think I read before, maybe in high school) she mentions a person she knew who felt as if they were being stalked by owls (on television, ads, etc.), so that person went out and researched owl deities because they took the owls as a “sign.”

Yesterday evening I was taking the bus home.  I looked out the window and saw the moon.  But it looked funny.  On either side of the moon were transparent semi-circles, as if it had sprouted gossamer butterfly wings.  It was quite beautiful, and I was quite surprised.  At first I thought it must be some sort of refraction or haze because of the clouds; as the bus ride continued, however, I realized there must be some sort of coating or something on the glass of the bus windows that, at certain angles, caused the said phenomenon.

So, even though there was a physical root cause, per se, does that mean it wasn’t a sign?  Did I only notice it because I’ve been reading so much about these sorts of things lately?  Or was I supposed to see it?  Is the difference between a true believer and a nonbeliever how they read the signs, and whether or not they accept that things can be signs as opposed to just meaningless coincidence?

I think reading just makes me more confused.

Brief Questions About Race, Tradition, and Religious Practices

In addition to the aforementioned readings, I’m also following a few “witchcraft/pagan/etc.” blogs.  A few I’m reading are from people who have patrons from a variety of different pantheons, including Orishas from Santeria.

I think Santeria is really fascinating, and I like what I (think I) understand about the Orishas as manifestations of Olodumare (God).  I like the mutual relationship that seems to exist between Orishas and human beings (they exist because they are worshipped, which technically could be argued for all gods, I suppose).

Anyway, in some of the blogs, there are people who are very definitely NOT the descendants of the Caribbean slaves brought over and quasi-converted by the Spanish (how Santeria developed).  The dilemma I have is that, even though I am also not in any way related/descended/exposed in real life to this religion, if I decided to practice elements of Santeria or honor Orishas, would it be seen as valid?  If, in fact, they are just various facets of one god or, as I see it, the underlying, mysterious life force (if you will), does it matter that in the past my family was not tied to them?  Would honoring an Orisha be the same (in the general idea of honoring one facet of the big life power) as honoring a deity from a pantheon from the geographic area from whence my ancestors came?  If I feel more ‘connected’ and ‘attracted’ to the idea of Orishas, if that’s what resonates with me, is it better to honor them and risk that I’m “doing it wrong,” so to speak, or do I need to stick with what should, traditionally, be “mine?”

Most importantly, should I even be worrying about whether my beliefs would be seen as valid?  Valid to who?  Valid to me, of course, but if it’s what I feel then it is valid, isn’t it?  After all, no matter what I do, Haters Gonna Hate.

My biggest obstacle to faith has been (and continues to be) my need to be right and for others to recognize that I am right.  However, I recognize this characteristic and am working on taking a deep breath, letting go, and accepting that I might not know (or even need to know) everything, that everyone makes mistakes, and that’s OK.

Information Gathering

I am currently in the process of information gathering.  I’m really trying to look into all sorts of other religions, present and historical, just to sort of see “what’s been going on,” if you know what I mean.  I’m not sure what calls to me, or if, in fact, I even need a label.  Right now I’m veering toward Paganism, in the broad definition of any of the Earth-based religions (though, interestingly enough, if you enter the search term ‘define: paganism’ into Google, you stumble across a wealth of borderline offensive terminology).

I’m doing a lot of book reading and supplementing it with reading websites, browsing forums and watching (sometimes, I admit, ridiculous) youtube videos.  So far I’ve read Scott Cunningham’s Wicca:  A Guide to the Solitary Practitioner, which I felt was a good little overview of Wicca, though I felt at times Cunningham waxed a bit too romantic.  However, I appreciated the simplicity of how the ideas were presented.  I’ve just started Wicca for Beginners by Thea Sabin, and also have a copy of Wicca:  A Year and a Day, to see the sort of ‘faith exercises’ that are in there, and maybe try one or two, just to see how it feels.

Things, I feel, might get a bit more complicated for me since today my boyfriend is moving in with me.  I currently live in a tiny apartment in Asia, and it will be his first time leaving the US ever, so I imagine between culture shock and our limited living space he will stick to me like starch on rice.  So, the reading will still commence, but any further delving into this area might be left on the back burner for a few months.  Not that I’m ashamed that I’m looking into a new spiritual path for myself; I’m just not sure he’d really understand, and I’d rather wait until I felt confident that I have a particular path before I make an issue of it.  Does that make sense?

Anyway, if anyone happens to magically stumble across this and can recommend some research materials into paganism/wiccan/witchcraft/etc, please feel free to leave a comment.

New Moon Summer

Religion in the traditional, average, white middle class American sort of way has never worked for me.  As a young child, I never went to church regularly.  There may have been one or two random times when my brother and I were visiting our grandparents that we attended mass with them (both my grandparents are Catholic).  My mother, raised as a Catholic but never confirmed, had both my brother and myself when she was very young.  Time that she could have spent taking us to church was instead spent either at one of the three jobs she worked to support us as a single mother or at an outing to a park or duck pond so she could have a precious few hours with us before work started again.

As we got older, my mother got more involved with Christianity.  When I was in middle school she forced us (“forced” in no uncertain terms) to attend church with her.  Celebration United Methodist was a new, contemporary church that met in the cafeteria of a local middle school.    The pastor was a vaguely pleasant, middle-aged man who lived in one of the more affluent (but not grossly so) areas of town.  He would spend an hour preaching while I spent the hour scowling and wishing I were somewhere else.  I resented the fact that I was suddenly expected to be enthusiastic about having someone else tell me where my spirituality should take me since, up to that point, I had seen nothing to make me believe in the power of the traditional Christian “GOD.”  I was and still am extremely taciturn in nature, particularly regarding things so intimate as one’s faiths and beliefs, so this effort by my mother to force me into religion made me turn away from any idea of faith even more so than before we started going to church.

That was twelve years ago.   While I will never ascribe to one of the major traditional religions, I must admit that my position as a staunch atheist has been wavering in recent years.  When one examines the world around them, it is hard to believe that everything that has ever occurred and been created can be the result of a series of happy accidents.  The intricacy of the human circulatory system, the waxing and waning of the moon and the effect on the tides, photosynthesis – all these beautiful things can be explained, to some degree, by science.  What is science but the magic of how the earth exists?  You can explain to me how my lungs can take in air in one form and breathe it out in another, you can explain to me how the oxygen from that air travels through my lungs and into my blood stream, and you can tell me how the blood can go to feed all the organs and cells that make up my physical body, but can you tell me why?  There is something, a reason or a force or something, that causes my chest to rise and fall a million times a day every day.  There is something that gives me dreams and causes my heart to give an abrupt tug and recognize the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains or the glide of a crane over verdant green rice paddies.  There is something.

Am I looking for the meaning of life?  No, not exactly.  Maybe it is more accurate to say I am looking for meaning in life.    Or perhaps I simply want to open my eyes and recognize the forces at work around me for what they really are:  forces, and not just the random, loosely connected threads of chaos.  Does that make sense?

Anyway, tonight is a new moon.  It feels like a good time for a new beginning.  I’ve created this blog to help me chronicle some aspects of this foray into… well, whatever it is I’m foraying into, and to potentially help communicate with other like-minded individuals.