What it means to claim religion

I sent The Allergic Pagan’s blog post to my husband, because I felt like it touched on a part of how I see myself as a pagan. As far as the tri-coloured triangle rubric he references, from Margarian Bridger and Stephen Hergest, I feel like I fall somewhere between the blue and the yellow (greenish – how appropriate). As I’ve said before (perhaps on another blog), Emma Restall Orr’s description of deity resonated very deeply with me – that the “gods” are forces of nature, unconcerned with the goings-on of humans, and capable of bulldozing through all sorts of ritually set plans with “how the world actually works”.

As I have definitely mentioned before on this blog, I see a lot of the ritual work that seemingly happens in paganism/witchcraft/etc. to be largely psychological workings, which probably comes from my exposure to Nancy B. Watson’s Practical Solitary Magic.

He texted me back amazed after reading it. Although this is something that we talk about quite often, he thought that The Allergic Pagan’s post was mind blowing – that people assume paganism is even attached to theism. Which is the gist of the beginning of the post – the blogger was challenged by another blogger as to why he claims to be a pagan if he’s essentially an atheist and humanist.

Which I think brings up an interesting point. When someone says that they are Catholic, is it assumed that they believe in God, take communion and go to church? Or can we safely assume that they, too, forgo ritual and prayer, and just live culturally as a Christian, observing Easter, Christmas, and maybe Lent?  Why would they bother identifying as Catholic?  I would suggest that most Christians that one knows mainly live culturally as Christian and perhaps say a prayer from time to time. They make sure they baptize their children, because it’s a ritual of life. But they may not go to church every Sunday, until the kids need to go through their confirmations and first communions. I know at least one Muslim friend who observes Ramadan mainly because it’s his culture, not because it’s his belief. He doesn’t eat pork because he had a bad experience with it once as a kid, not because he doesn’t believe he should. I have some Jewish friends who, although the husband is an atheist and the wife is fairly agnostic about the whole thing, have taken their children through the Jewish rituals of life because their family is Jewish. However, they all, even the grandparents, enjoy a slice of bacon or ham. Which they serve at their Hanukkah party.

I’ll admit that there are pagan holidays I observe more consistently than others. Imbolc, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Samhain, Winter Solstice usually get at least a candle lit, a happy salutation to the sun or darkness, some introspection, maybe a salt water cleansing of the house. Samhain is the one where I’m mostly likely to do an actual ritual, for various reasons. Winter Solstice sees me turning my handmade mini-Yule-tree topper from the moon face to the sun face. I’ll even hang a piece of red cloth somewhere outside overnight for the goddess Brigid to bless on her walk across the face of the Earth on Imbolc. Lughnasadh, despite me finding an affinity with Lugh after all this time, doesn’t get much notice (except perhaps an instinctual desire to preserve fresh food for winter). Spring Equinox is noticed but I’m often slogging through gray slush and gray skies, so it doesn’t resonate except to raise hope that it will only be another month of slush instead of a month and a half – spring is coming…? And Fall Equinox is usually also busy so it’s a passing “Oh yeah, autumn is here” thought, and probably the creation of a big vat of hearty, tomatoey vegetable soup with some fresh homemade bread.

Which is sort of what I’m alluding to – I live culturally as a pagan, with some Christian cultural stuff thrown in too. I grew up as a cultural Christian before I found that paganism resonated much more with who I was. My family is still culturally Christian and they want to have the big family gathering at Christmastime (on Christmas Day, if possible).

When I am outside, I’m paying attention to nature around me. I’m saying hi to the birds and animals. I’m greeting and thanking the trees that I sit under, sharing a bit of water with their roots, and maybe even leaving a bite of my apple or a few almonds. I’m admiring the sky, the moon, the stars, the thunderstorm raging. I feel the powerful wind lift me. I escort spiders out of my house gently, so that they can continue their complex and important lives safely. I don’t expect Manannan to show up personally to say hi.

So, what does it mean to claim a religion? Does it mean your culture? Your active beliefs? And why do you want to claim a title at all? It makes it easier to categorize, I suppose. I’m a pagan, he’s an atheist, she’s a Catholic. But unless the other person is curious, is it really likely that it will make a person understand who you are? Are you likely to get as a response, “Are you like, Catholic Catholic, or just raised Catholic?” Or you can get all Starbucks-order-y on them and say that you’re a semi-practicing, solitary, atheistic but polytheistic humanist animist Celtic eco-Neo-pagan (no whip). That will generate conversation (or maybe not as it might be intimidating or seem pretentious).

As church attendance dwindles, I don’t see it as a bad thing. I think society is working this out organically. Living as a cultural Christian or cultural pagan doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to say that you’re a Christian or a pagan. Why should someone have to say that they BELIEVE!! to be able to use a word in the English language to describe, briefly, where their beliefs/cultural structures come from? Hell, you might even like Jesus as an archetype to inspire you, and pray to him from time to time. When I’m finishing my morning yoga practices, I practice gratitude towards my deity figures who may or may not actually exist as gods per se.

But when the majority of people around you are operating under the same principle, why is it weird that pagans have to be different than anyone else? There are a variety of pagan types out there (including the tri-colour triangle example above). The “too-busy-to-have-a-big-elaborate-ritual” types are out there too.