What Good Is Religion?

candles-in-church

In the U.S.A, religion is often seen as a dirty word by secularists and progressives. Religion is painted as a term for the Christian right wing. Religion is seen as something people use to condemn bigotry and war. Yet, the truth is that religion like most things is neither inherently bad or good.

Religions are endlessly diverse. Individual traditions vary greatly. There is no one form of Christianity, Buddhism, Paganism, etc. These are mere umbrella terms that place many traditions together because of some shared values or belief or practices. But in the end what religion means is subjective to the tradition, the group and the individual. So, as long as there are good decent religious and spiritual people, there are good religions.

It is easy to say what makes a good religion in a general sense. Charity, compassion, kindness, loving and uplifting are the first things that come to mind. On an individual level, I think a good religion is what makes you feel whole and what empowers you to help others. For some people, good religion or spirituality is making music. They connect to themselves and others through that art. That is simple and good. Others may need more practices, more devotion, more meaning in order to find peace in this life. Strict religiosity is not wrong or bad as long as it brings out the goodness in that person.

It is hard to say what is good about my own religion since I am very eclectic. What is good about being a Unitarian Universalist eclectic Wiccan? Well, the most important and “righteous” elements of religion for me is open-mindedness, self-care and social justice. All my paths give me these elements. I am still learning about UU history but what attracted me to it was the respect of religious and human diversity. Plus, UU philosophy is grounded in social justice. It is hard to put UU in a box because it accepts people of various religious beliefs but its core is activism. While I had found too many Wiccans who are willing to sit on the fence of injustices, UU promised me a place to be with justice minded people.

Wicca on the other hand is the ground I raised up on. It is a path of healing and balance. It allows me to heal my inner wounds and connect to the wholeness of humanity. Wicca for me is the path of joy. Becoming a Wiccan, I awaken to a world of magic, mystery and beauty. The Wiccan path, the journey of the Goddess, gives me the strength to face injustices and suffering with a open heart and hope. The rituals of self care, I perform as a Witch and meditator, save me from endless burn out of a human service worker. In the end my religious path is good because it creates balance in my inner world and helps me see the divine in others. I want to support others because my beliefs show me that we are all interconnected.

Interconnection is the wisdom of good religion. Interconnectivity causing churches and synagogues to fight for their rights to feed and shelter the hungry and homeless. It causes faith-based groups to open shelters, protest violence, hold vigils against the death penalty and fight for various human rights. To often, we hear about the beliefs that lead to hatred and exclusivity but there is so much good religion that leads to love and social action. Good religion connects a person to their humanity and reminds us of the worth of all human life.

On Defining my Magick

What is my magick? I used to do a lot of spells when I was younger. Spells for love and happiness and money. But the older I  would get, the less spells I would do. Magick become less about what I could attain. Magick became about my connection with nature. I wanted mystical relationships. Marriage to the sun and moon. An affair with the waters. A deep secret friendship with the air. The earth as a my protector. Old, grumpy and wise earth. I wanted to understand how everything worked. And how I was apart of it. I did not want to create magic, I wanted to discover that I was indeed magic.

Surprise. As I got older still, magic took on a new meaning. I wanted to heal. Not with spells. They seemed too easy and fleeting. I wanted to heal people.  Heal the inner pains with hard work. By helping them see into their own hearts and minds. Helping them to see their own wisdom. Help them see they are also magic.

I wanted to heal the human relationships. I wanted to heal our relationships with nature. With creation.  I wanted to teach that we all were married to each other. Interdependent. We were all the sun, moon, earth, water.  And then I grew older and came down to earth. I wanted to  experienced the true magic of family and friends. I wanted to heal my own wounds and disconnection from loved  ones. I wanted to feel not the sun or reach the stars. I wanted to dig through the earth, pull up the dirt and find the bones, the bodies, the skeletons of my ancestors. I wanted to discover my roots.  How could I know magic if I don’t know where I come from, and  who I am.? Magic is now honoring the past, the spirits and ancestors. Seeing and receiving their healing messages. Passing on what I learn.  So that many other people can take this journey into magic too.

What is Sin? One Wiccan perspective

The question of sin was a heated conversation in my religious studies classes. We were Buddhists, yogis and a Wiccan who did not believe in a God outside of creation ( or did not believe in God at all), who did not believe in punishment or damnation.

Sometimes, the aversion to the concept of sin would make  it difficult to relate to Christian text. Eventually, it became clear  that we had to think differently about sin in order to really engage the texts.  We began to think about what sin meant from our own religious perspectives.

In my case, I had already lessened my anger around the term. It happened when I was introduced to the idea that sin was “whatever takes you away from God”*. Boom. It was a miracle. That one phrase was like poetry to me because it took out all the damnation and punishment. It also made rejecting sin sound  like a daily practice. You do what brings you closer to God to avoid sin. It was also so much more relatable. While someone Christian might take that to mean do not have sex before marriage because it takes you away from God. I could relate it to when I am not doing practices that bring me closer to the Goddess.

When we substitute God for divinity or sacredness, then sin holds a whole other notion of personal responsibility and wisdom. In the Buddhist tradition, we can likely “sin” to what leads you away from enlightenment, service to others or a healthy mind. An example of  this would be virtuous or non-virtuous  karma. These are not a good/bad reward system. They are not a punishment system. Instead, non-virtuous Karma is what is created by  and leads to unhealthy emotion patterns (Kleshas). Kleshas stand in our way of  having a healthy mind (somewhat like that sin that keep us from God).

In Wicca,  God is Divine Immanence. God is and is in nature. God is in us and all creation. So what would be sinful in Wicca. To me,  Wiccan “sin” would be  whatever causes imbalance in nature and whatever makes us experience disconnection from  The Goddess, The Divine, Nature and Humanity.  If I did a spell that causes an imbalance or was against nature or if I was cruel to an innocent human, I would see that as “sinful.”

With all that said, Christianity, Buddhism and Wicca are not completely comparable if at all. Also, sin is unique to certain religions like Christianity. The theology of sin does not really work in religions like Wicca. However, it is so helpful to ponder religious concepts that challenge us, to translate into our religious words. In this case, the concept of sin can be a doorway into to thinking about what is important in our Wiccan practices. And what makes us have regret, fear or imbalances. What do we “punish’ ourselves for. And what can we do to be closer to The Goddess and Nature.

* I do not remember where I first heard this but it seems to be a 
   take on " Sin separates us from God" (Isaiah 59:2).

Heteronormative In Wicca: Rethinking The God and Goddess

When people assume that Wicca  has to be heteronormative it is often because of the pairing of The Goddess/ The God. While, I will not argue that these terms can be problematic and I’m totally in favor of people making adjustments that fit them better. And perhaps, Wicca would be better off without those terms. Still, there are  many reasons why Wicca does Not have to be practiced in a heteronomative way.

Here are just some things to think about as far as heterosexism , Wicca and the God/Goddess combo:

1: The Goddess and God are not just lovers. The Goddess and God are portrayed as Mother and Son. There are also myths of two Gods.  Such as the Gods who highlight the dark and light halves of the year. The God and Goddess are not just some literal heterosexual couple.

2: Symbolism: Both the God, Goddess and their relationship often symbolize aspects of nature, seasons, human existence, spiritual journey, etc. Wiccans who have overly focus on there being some power in an hetero-union are sadly missing all the symbolism.Over focus on literalism is often an avenue to oppressive religious ideals

3: The Goddess represents everything including all gender, sexual and nonbinary expressions. The Goddess can be seen as ultimately all genders or genderless or both.

4: The God and Goddess represent all Gods and Goddesses including Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Gods.

5: There are Wiccans and Wiccan groups who do not use the ” God/Goddess language”. Some use just God or Goddess for example.

6: Sex and fertility rituals usually are symbolic or have a symbolic layer. But they can be alter, changed or left out . In Gay Witchcraft, Chris Penczak offers suggestions on exploring one’s sexuality and gender expression in ritual by taking on different parts in ritual such as a male being the Goddess.

7: There are LGTBQ Wiccan groups who created non-heteronomative covens, rituals and theology.

This is not to say Wiccan community does not have tons of problems as far as heterosexism and cissexism. More that, there are plenty of ways to look at the philosophy/theology and practice in a non-heteronormative/Cissexist way. Plenty of religions fight with oppressive ideas, Wicca is not any different or uniquely doomed.

Redefining: Paganism

As I have had this blog for awhile, I realize that there are few topics  where I have change my views or grown in understanding. Therefore, from to time to time, I will be updating and correcting  or adding to some of my older posts.

This is a update  of my original post defining  Pagan/Paganism.

First off, we should start by acknowledging that there is no agree upon definition of Pagan or Paganism.  Though many  might think this lack of clarity is unique to Pagans, disagreement on religious terms are quite common within traditions and the academic world. For instance, the definition of a Christian or ritual is still unclear in religious studies.

Being that there is tons of debates and infighting around the words Pagan and Paganism, some people  refuse to define them at all. Settling instead by describing Paganism simply as a ” Umbrella or blanket term for various religions.” While, this description can be useful in certain incidences, it is not much help as a formal definition for students, professors, writers and lecturers whose audiences may need more insight. My personal suggestion for defining Paganism especially in formal writing  is to do your own research, form your own opinion,  offer a definition that fits your topic, audience and  your understanding but  be ready to defend your findings. Also, be flexible as your definition may be different given the topic, your experience or setting. For instance, a general and most inclusive definition may work for a big tent Paganism event while a nature based one may be more suitable for a ecology paper or a feminist one for a Women’s group.

Below are some definitions of Paganism ( all of which are acceptable in some circles and rejected in others)

Paganism is or a Pagan is a follower of…

* A nature, earth, universe based religion

* A polytheistic religion

* A Non monotheistic religion

* A Non- Christian religion

* A Non- Abrahamic religion

* A folk or ethnic religion

* A historical ethnic religion

* A magic based religion

* Cyber Pagan tradition

* An umbrella term for religions who deem themselves Pagans

Original meanings of Pagan/paganism

* Citizen

* Poor, Rural folk

* Country dweller

* ” Of the land”

Use as Slur

( none of these things are inherently bad but the term was meant as a bad thing for these groups or as a means of  lumping groups together incorrectly)

* as a label for Non-Christian

* as a label for  those not saved or doomed

* as a term meaning Satan Worshiper

* as a label for Black/Brown/Indigenous religions

* as a label for Jewish people.

One this blog, Paganism will usually refer to nature based, folk and magical traditions. I do talk about Hinduism and Buddhism however I prefer the term Asian, Eastern or Karmic religions for those traditions ( though I feel those who follow these traditions can call themselves whatever they please). I do not use Paganism as a blank term for all non- Abrahamic religions as some still view Pagan as a slur. Also, many religions have their own and more appropriate designations.

I also think Pagan is a reclaimed word and not everyone should have access to it. It is usually a word for religions and people who are outsiders or marginalized and is used to reclaim their roots or power.

Samhain and Mourning ritual

What do I do for Samhain?

This year, I dedicated my Samhain time to honoring the recent passing of my Dad. I lacked the energy to a formal ritual and in my grieving state I was in no mood to celebrate.

So my partner and I decided to create an altar of mourning. I searched for inspiration online however most of the Samhain Wiccan altars I found were too  happy for my current mood. We decided to go off instinct. We had planned to let the creative process be our ritual. But after making the altar a more clear ritual emerged.

The Ritual:

1: We did grounding breaths

2: We walked through a doorway and tiny path ( we made a pathway out of recycle tires  –reborn symbol:) towards the altar.

3: We took a drink and then pour some for the deceased. ( similarly to pouring a beer on the ground for those who have passed)

4: We each tossed dirt onto a silver box and said” ashes to ashes…”

5: We each placed a penny into a bowel of water ( which had a makeshift boat inside).

6: We close by ringing a Bell.

* In the background we had on a Day of the Dead station

The ritual was spontaneous but manages to incorporate Wiccan, Norse, Christian spiritualities.

Praying as a Wiccan: Format and freedom

How to pray
When I think of the format of a pray, I think of how a ritual is created. First, I ground myself and clear my mind in order for my highest voice to emerge. Then, I acknowledge the sacred place and time. I invoke the energies I want to speak to such as the Goddess, Divine love, etc depending on my currents needs or temperament. Then, I simply speak from the heart my most urgent desire or gratitude. However, prayer often comes to me without planning or structure. There are times when I simply close eyes and words pouring out as if I am a vessel. I often wonder if I am talking to the Divine or is Divine talking to and through me. Mostly, prayer is my way of letting go of barriers and letting my natural wisdom flow through.

The power of  prayer
Prayer is a creative expression of one’s connection to their inner spirit, their world and the Divine. Prayer reminds where my passions are, where my fear lies and the places within me that are longing to be healed. Pray helps me to come out of hiding to face my demons, wounds and seemingly hopeless dreams. There is a feeling that this is between me and “God” therefore I am free to be fully me.  In prayer, we, not only, give ourselves completely to the Divine, we also remove our masks learn to love ourselves through that union.
Through pray we are reminded of the interdependence of life and my blessings of our world. We remember that we are all God’s children or we are all the Goddess. It is through this realization that many of us develop a longing  to help ease the suffering of others and come into communion with our world.

Prayer can be an avenue to embrace the wonders of everyday existence, and loving all that is around us and within us. In this way prayer, no matter who it is address to, is about seeing and experiencing the Divine qualities of our own being.

Prayer is an art of courage that invites the universe to look into the deepest depths of our being.