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Author Topic: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.  (Read 13052 times)

sionnachdearg

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Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« on: November 04, 2014, 11:06:16 pm »
I was brought up with Christian beliefs but over the years been dissatisfied and became interested in paganism and thus found this forum. The problem I have now is the definition used in this forum is so extensive that I find it hard to understand what it means to be pagan. Many of the posts suggest a clear desire not to define things, which I can understand, but that makes it harder for someone new to see if they can identify with paganism. There seems to be a wide range of beliefs from worshiping gods and goddesses (including mixing them from different cultures) to animistic to nature worship. Can anyone organize these seemingly different pathways to help me see which pathway I might Identify with?

Faemon

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2014, 01:24:05 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;164379
I was brought up with Christian beliefs but over the years been dissatisfied and became interested in paganism and thus found this forum. The problem I have now is the definition used in this forum is so extensive that I find it hard to understand what it means to be pagan. Many of the posts suggest a clear desire not to define things, which I can understand, but that makes it harder for someone new to see if they can identify with paganism. There seems to be a wide range of beliefs from worshiping gods and goddesses (including mixing them from different cultures) to animistic to nature worship. Can anyone organize these seemingly different pathways to help me see which pathway I might Identify with?


Welcome! From what I've gathered, we're quite individualistic, so the way you've organized it yourself from what you've seen is likely to be the best pathway flowchart for you. Where you fall into depends on what you're seeking and what your goals are. What was dissatisfying about Christianity, for you?

Yes, there are animists, nature worshippers, urban pagans (which is an etymological contradiction but we make do), people who focus on a single mythology and reconstruct it based on what can be found of the historical evidence of the dedicants conduct from bygone times, people who syncretize, soft polytheists, hard polytheists, people with a "godphone" or Unverified Personal Gnosis (basically, psychic intuition) who casually communicate with said deities, people who go about the holidays and daily venerations and do without the godphone...some have strongly-characterized communities and follow calendar holidays and such structures, and others less so.

My only advice would be to follow what you're drawn to, jump in, and...get dissatisfied, as often as you will. Some cornerstone tenet gets you "Nope!"-ing out of there? Go ahead. Or is something worth sticking around for if you just re-frame the Nope-worthy aspect? That can do too. Some of us made up our own in the end (or, well, in the middle, I should hope this isn't the end. Or to start? Haven't met anyone who's done that last bit, but they're probably out there.)
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Freesia

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2014, 02:22:34 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;164379
I was brought up with Christian beliefs but over the years been dissatisfied and became interested in paganism and thus found this forum. The problem I have now is the definition used in this forum is so extensive that I find it hard to understand what it means to be pagan. Many of the posts suggest a clear desire not to define things, which I can understand, but that makes it harder for someone new to see if they can identify with paganism. There seems to be a wide range of beliefs from worshiping gods and goddesses (including mixing them from different cultures) to animistic to nature worship. Can anyone organize these seemingly different pathways to help me see which pathway I might Identify with?

 
Good luck with finding your way. Don't get discouraged if what you want doesn't jump out at you. This is a process.

Jainarayan

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2014, 09:34:22 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;164379
I was brought up with Christian beliefs but over the years been dissatisfied and became interested in paganism and thus found this forum. The problem I have now is the definition used in this forum is so extensive that I find it hard to understand what it means to be pagan. Many of the posts suggest a clear desire not to define things, which I can understand, but that makes it harder for someone new to see if they can identify with paganism. There seems to be a wide range of beliefs from worshiping gods and goddesses (including mixing them from different cultures) to animistic to nature worship. Can anyone organize these seemingly different pathways to help me see which pathway I might Identify with?

 
I would say, and take this with a grain of salt, not to try to fit into what you read or hear Paganism is (I was taught to capitalize Paganism and Heathenism ;)), or to try to take it all in. I tried to do that with Hinduism and Buddhism but it made me reject all the practices and most of the beliefs. Rather, explore your feelings and see what draws itself to you, and what draws you to it. Listen to your gut feelings. Think on the gods and goddesses, or spirits. Open yourself to hearing their call, some will call you, some will not. Thor has been calling me for decades, but I never paid attention until recently, when it hit me like a thunderbolt (pun intended :p). He grabbed me in a headlock. I tried finding other paths, but they didn't feel right. I listened to my gut, and found it. I can't and shouldn't speak for anyone else, but this is how it seems to me to happen.
śivāya vishnu rūpaya śivaḥ rūpaya vishnave
śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ
Vishnu's appearance is Shiva; Shiva's appearance is Vishnu
Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu - Skandopanishad
 

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2014, 09:47:56 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;164379
I was brought up with Christian beliefs but over the years been dissatisfied and became interested in paganism and thus found this forum. The problem I have now is the definition used in this forum is so extensive that I find it hard to understand what it means to be pagan.


"Pagan" is the big bucket of "none of the above" for religions.  It means, basically, that someone is following one of the many dozens or hundreds of different religions that are not in any of the other religious categories.

Positive definitions of "... and, yeah, everything else" are difficult.

If one means by "pagan", "one of the religions that grew out of the modern neopagan movement in some form", that is... a slightly smaller vague bucket, but it's still dozens of different and largely unrelated religions sharing mostly a certain amount of developmental history, not matters of theology, practice, or belief.  (By which I mean it's much more "that section of the category of religions where someone was trying to figure out how to do this sometime between, oh, 1940 and the present which were connected in some way to The Pagan Revival Movement".)  (And I think that excludes some of the druidic organisations that are considered broadly pagan, because they're older.)

Quote
Can anyone organize these seemingly different pathways to help me see which pathway I might Identify with?

 
http://www.ecauldron.net/newpagan.php
http://www.ecauldron.net/teensandpaganismfaq.php

may be useful.
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sionnachdearg

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2014, 03:03:58 pm »
Quote from: Faemon;164391
Welcome! From what I've gathered, we're quite individualistic, so the way you've organized it yourself from what you've seen is likely to be the best pathway flowchart for you. Where you fall into depends on what you're seeking and what your goals are. What was dissatisfying about Christianity, for you?

I became disatissfied with Christianity for several reasons. First I feel there is a general conflict between nature and what was expressed in what I heard in the churches that I attended with a feeling of dominion over nature which was expressed to serve man rather that to be in a mutualistic relationship. I also felt there was too much a male presentation of God and whenever I expressed God as she my comments seemed unwelcome. I became interested in the writings of Ted Andrews with the last book which I read Nature-Speak: Signs, Omens and Messages in Nature. Although I could not identify with everything if felt his ideas were much closer to what I believe in. I do not know if He would be considered pagan but from what I have read paganism is about as good an identification as any.

I also had problems with the way heaven was presented since I feel the spirits of my parents and grandparents are next to me and no in some other place. I then read something about the otherworld in pre-christian beliefs and I became interested since my heritage is Irish, Scottish and Welsh. I want to find out more about the concept of the otherworld and see if there is a way that what is presented by Ted Andrews is compatible with the pre-christian Celtic beliefs.

I would like to know if anyone in the forum can tell me if these two beliefs can be merged and were I can find out more about the Celtic Otherworld.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2014, 07:34:52 am by RandallS »

Faemon

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #6 on: November 08, 2014, 08:38:26 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;164584
First I feel there is a general conflict between nature and what was expressed in what I heard in the churches that I attended with a feeling of dominion over nature which was expressed to serve man rather that to be in a mutualistic relationship.

Quote
I also felt there was too much a male presentation of God and whenever I expressed God as she my comments seemed unwelcome.

Quote
I also had problems with the way heaven was presented since I feel the spirits of my parents and grandparents are next to me


If I understood all that correctly, your base values/needs as of now are: a mutualistic relationship with the natural environment, gender egalitarian representation, and validation of your experiences (paranormal experiences?) and subsequent beliefs concerning ancestry. Is this correct?

Quote
I became interested in the writings of Ted Andrews with the last book which I read Nature-Speak: Signs, Omens and Messages in Nature. Although I could not identify with everything if felt his ideas were much closer to what I believe in. I do not know if He would be considered pagan but from what I have read paganism is about as good an identification as any.


Only if Ted Andrews himself calls himself pagan, would it be... although, if you call yourself pagan and part of that is influenced by something not pagan, I believe that it can then become pagan through you. :)

Quote
I then read something about the otherworld in pre-christian beliefs and I became interested since my heritage is Irish, Scottish and Welsh. I want to find out more about the concept of the otherworld and see if there is a way that what is presented by Ted Andrews is compatible with the pre-christian Celtic beliefs.


Perhaps a heritage-influenced or Reconstructionist approach would be a good starting point for you, then?

What I like about what I've read of otherworlds is that they appear to be very experience-based. I can really believe that somebody was walking around until they found a place that they couldn't find again, or that other people searched for them within an area that they should have been in but weren't, and what made the most sense once they compared stories was that the temporarily missing person fell into an otherworld. What "science" the sources could make of it before scientific standards existed (don't stand in a ring of mushrooms, be careful at dawn or dusk or at bridges, and turn the clothes you're wearing inside-out and backwards if you feel you've gotten lost when you could swear that you know your way around these parts) become superstition and folklore.

Two of my favorite resources are The Religion of the Ancient Celts by J. A. MacCulloch and I think this one about fairies has more on otherworlds but I can't recall enough to be certain.
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sionnachdearg

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2014, 03:33:24 am »
Quote from: Faemon;164707


Two of my favorite resources are The Religion of the Ancient Celts by J. A. MacCulloch and I think this one about fairies has more on otherworlds but I can't recall enough to be certain.

 
I took some time to read what I could of Celtic Gods including  The Book of Lecan,  The Yellow Book of Lucan,  The  Book of Leinster ,  Book of Ballymote,  and the  Book of the Dun Cow.   Actually in do not know enough Irish to read all sections but read what had been translated. On consideration of what I read I came to a problem which I need help to understand.  Despite references to gods and goddesses, what I read appears more like ancestor worship mixed in with spirits of the Land and Sky.   Leaders such as Lugh or Dagda have as much human presentation as god like presentation.   There is a succession of different groups of people who invade then disappear or enter into the land. Later they appear to be referred as fairies or inhabitants of the Sidhe. Finally the children of Dana are also defeated by the people who will become the Irish of today and the children of Dana enter into the land sidhe. They have more magical strengths and aspects of transformation but I get the impression they are more like the people with magical skills that lived before the Sons of Mil who become Irish and are not as much gods or goddesses than people with powerful magical skills.  My question is does anyone else see this relationship or are there other references that clearly make these Gods and Goddesses rather that previous people from the past with magical skill who enter the Sidhe as ancestors of the past?

Faemon

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2014, 04:24:07 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;168069
Despite references to gods and goddesses, what I read appears more like ancestor worship mixed in with spirits of the Land and Sky.

My question is does anyone else see this relationship or are there other references that clearly make these Gods and Goddesses rather that previous people from the past with magical skill who enter the Sidhe as ancestors of the past?

 
You can just simply refer to them gods and goddesses if you like, many modern practitioners just do. Why would euhemerism be so off-putting? "Spirits" and "gods" are just different words for the same thing.
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Kaio

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2014, 01:30:30 am »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;164379
I was brought up with Christian beliefs but over the years been dissatisfied and became interested in paganism and thus found this forum. The problem I have now is the definition used in this forum is so extensive that I find it hard to understand what it means to be pagan. Many of the posts suggest a clear desire not to define things, which I can understand, but that makes it harder for someone new to see if they can identify with paganism. There seems to be a wide range of beliefs from worshiping gods and goddesses (including mixing them from different cultures) to animistic to nature worship. Can anyone organize these seemingly different pathways to help me see which pathway I might Identify with?

 Maybe you will find useful the idea of the four centers of contemporary paganism and the notion of here, there and anywhere religions.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2014, 01:32:14 am by Kaio »
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Freesia

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #10 on: December 25, 2014, 11:24:05 pm »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;168069
I took some time to read what I could of Celtic Gods including  The Book of Lecan,  The Yellow Book of Lucan,  The  Book of Leinster ,  Book of Ballymote,  and the  Book of the Dun Cow.   Actually in do not know enough Irish to read all sections but read what had been translated. On consideration of what I read I came to a problem which I need help to understand.  Despite references to gods and goddesses, what I read appears more like ancestor worship mixed in with spirits of the Land and Sky.   Leaders such as Lugh or Dagda have as much human presentation as god like presentation.   There is a succession of different groups of people who invade then disappear or enter into the land. Later they appear to be referred as fairies or inhabitants of the Sidhe. Finally the children of Dana are also defeated by the people who will become the Irish of today and the children of Dana enter into the land sidhe. They have more magical strengths and aspects of transformation but I get the impression they are more like the people with magical skills that lived before the Sons of Mil who become Irish and are not as much gods or goddesses than people with powerful magical skills.  My question is does anyone else see this relationship or are there other references that clearly make these Gods and Goddesses rather that previous people from the past with magical skill who enter the Sidhe as ancestors of the past?

 
I think you are on a good track with your reading selection. I only read a bit of The Book of the Dun Cow years ago, but I plan on finding it again someday. To answer your question: I believe that religion begins with ancestor worship, the idealized hero/hunter, a great mother, and everything branched off from there. Eventually the ancestor stories became deeds of the Gods and so forth.

I was raised atheist so my introduction to spirituality started with fairy tales and folklore. Since I decided to go pagan I chose to start with my bloodline and take up Ancestor Venerating. Most of my family came from Northern England and Denmark, but I also have Irish and Welsh Great-Grandmothers. Many stories tell of fairy tale creatures (elves, tomte, nisse, ect) making the cross to the New World with the human immigrants so I feel as though I can include them in my path.

sionnachdearg

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2014, 03:52:24 am »
Quote from: Faemon;168071
You can just simply refer to them gods and goddesses if you like, many modern practitioners just do. Why would euhemerism be so off-putting? "Spirits" and "gods" are just different words for the same thing.

 
Euhemerism is not "off putting" to me. I find the Idea that the Irish Mythological cycle is a generalized history of Ireland an interesting notion. The stories seem to refer to the different people who settled in Ireland including the people prior to the Celtic invasion, the Norsemen who often raided and set up settlements, and the Celtic people who appear to have entered from Spain.  The use of the words Gods and Goddess often appears to be applied to those who were associated in the use of magic and who were prominent leaders in the respective people. What makes the image of gods and goddesses seem deferent is that they are defeated by the people who are to become the men and women of Ireland and the enter into the other world which appears to be called the sidhe or similar term in Irish. In addition there are strong relationships between spirits of the land and females.  I am not sure that I can find spirit and god or goddess as the same thing, but I would be interested in hearing the reasoning. What I would like to know is if there are others that see the goddesses and gods of the Irish Mythological cycle to be more like the Spirits of the people of the past more than like the Gods and Goddesses of the Abrahamic religions or even of the Greek or Roman religions?

sionnachdearg

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2014, 03:58:40 am »
Quote from: Kaio;168132
Maybe you will find useful the idea of the four centers of contemporary paganism and the notion of here, there and anywhere religions.

 
I appreciate the two sites you suggested and thought the four centers of paganism to be an interesting way to help someone starting out in paganism to help begin to find out what they identify with. From what I have read on the posts there are clearly those that focus primarily on Deities and communicating with deities compared to others that focus more on ritual aspects and others that place nature at the center of importance. I wonder if there are others that see this differentiation too.

sionnachdearg

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2014, 04:02:20 am »
Quote from: Freesia;168173
I think you are on a good track with your reading selection. I only read a bit of The Book of the Dun Cow years ago, but I plan on finding it again someday. To answer your question: I believe that religion begins with ancestor worship, the idealized hero/hunter, a great mother, and everything branched off from there. Eventually the ancestor stories became deeds of the Gods and so forth.
.

 
Thank you for this input. I guess that is to some degree the way I see it also but along with that there appears to be a spirituality with the land also especially rivers, lakes, and certain mounds. I would be interested in hearing more about what you think about this approach.

Freesia

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Re: Trying to understand what it means to be a pagan.
« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2014, 09:29:07 pm »
Quote from: sionnachdearg;168220
Thank you for this input. I guess that is to some degree the way I see it also but along with that there appears to be a spirituality with the land also especially rivers, lakes, and certain mounds. I would be interested in hearing more about what you think about this approach.

 
The books I have are pretty and many of the concepts are considered obsolete (Stonehenge and other standing stones for example). I struggle with finding a place in my practice with the Big Guys: the heroes, place bound deities, deified kings, and wizards. Right now I keep to the Little Guys: the peskies, elves, and folk tale spirits.

The main fact is that the place I live is so alien to the green meadows and woods of Ireland and Europe. I'm having a great deal of trouble cobbling together a path that doesn't look like yesterdays scrambled eggs.

Truthfully I don't think I'm doing very well identifying a practice "starting point" and I may have jumped into the maze too soon. I'm tired of studying and just wanted to get in and start doing something. So I'm not deity centered at the moment and focusing on the Little Guys. If I get the attention of one of the Big Guys then I'll handle it or come running for help.

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