Every Sunday, right after the sermon, we used to sing the Nicene Creed. “Credo in unum deum, Pater Omnipotentum, Factorum Caeli et Terra visibulum omnium et invisibilium….” I believe in one god, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible…” Before we went up and received Communion, we made an act of faith that Jesus was present “body, blood, soul and divinity” in communion.
These practices, rooted in beliefs that we were supposed to be willing to die for, separated us from other Christians. While your local Baptist church probably has no problems with the Nicene Creed, they would have a definite problem with the belief that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. An Eastern Orthodox church would have no problem with that, but their creed omits the “filioque procedit” from the Creed, and it was important enough, among other issues, to split the church over. Since the meeting in the book of Acts over whether or not Gentiles should submit to circumcision when they converted, to the Second Vatican Council, belief has always been the defining structure of Christianity.
And as society has moved away from Christianity, you are seeing this focus on belief in different ways. The “spiritual but not religious” movement is based off of the idea that what you believe is far more important then what you do. Granted, people choose that category for many reasons, including some who people would say belong solidly in the paganism area. Some are merely trying to state they don’t believe in dogmatic religion, where a theology is followed in an absolutist manner. Others feel like if you’re not part of the “Big 3” of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, then you obviously are not “religious.” But there is a growing number of people who believe a little from everywhere and focus on nowhere. Many, if not most of these people, don’t have regular, strong religious practices.
The point is to state that focus on belief as the defining criteria for one’s religious experience is an ingrained part of our society. However, things are different in paganism. The very fact that “paganism” exists as an umbrella term shows that.
The ancients didn’t care nearly as much about belief. No one recited a creed every Sunday saying that they believed that Persephone ate six pomegranate seeds vs. three, or that Gwion Bach stole the Awen from Cerridwen’s son instead of receiving it by accident. They believed in the gods, they honored their myths, they worshipped them, and they lived their lives. No pagan religion, to my knowledge, had a religion based on the attempt to ensure people’s strict, literalist belief in the mythology.
In case you aren’t familiar with the terms I mention in the title, ‘orthodoxy’ means “right belief” and “orthopraxy” means “right action”. I’ve talked about this before on here, but I’m bringing it up today in the context of this question: does it matter if we practice our Pagan faith, or is it more important that we believe (have hearts in tune with, feel deeply in our soul, whatever) in paganism. I read today someone’s statement that “Paganism is about the feeling you get when the wind blows through the trees, or when you can tell you are connected to all around you.” While those feelings are definitely part of paganism- an important part, even- they are not paganism, and they don’t take the place of actually doing something.
In saying we need to do something, I am not trying to guilt-trip anyone who is not doing something on a consistent basis. Life happens. People get busy, sick, move, and you name it. What I would argue is that a failure to pick yourself up from those problems and keep trying misses what paganism is truly about. While there is a lot of richness in paganism’s beliefs about the natural world, the real experience with them comes from doing something.
I have said before that paganism doesn’t believe in belief; we believe in experience. I don’t ask you to believe in my experience of the God and the Goddess. I want to give you the tools so you can go and have your own. After all, to experience the Divine is the whole purpose of religious practice. You don’t believe in the wind- you experience it. You don’t believe in the grass, you experience it. The difference between that and religious experiences is only that you use your material senses for the experience of the wind and the grass, whereas you use other facilities for experiencing the Divine. That doesn’t make the experiences any less real.
I cannot guarantee that if you meditate or pray or engage in a ritual that you will have an experience of the God or the Goddess. What I can guarantee is that if you don’t try, you will, in all likelihood, miss out on many experiences you could have had. Yes, Divinity appears to people unbidden all the time. But those kinds of experiences are not the same as having the experience of a real relationship with Divinity. And it’s not unusual to find that if you don’t pick up the phone and engage in a conversation, the gods will eventually stop calling. Not out of “anger”, but out of a respect for the fact that you don’t seem to be interested. The God and the Goddess have better things to do than either condemn an uninterested worshipper or to continue to call someone who has clearly shown they don’t have any desire.
Paganism is not for everyone. If you have no desire to engage in paganism or see it as one more thing to check off your “to-do” list, then it’s possibly not for you. One of the best things anyone has ever done for me was to give me the insight to see that people relate in different ways to the Divine and that one way (in my case, the Christian way) isn’t for everyone. That’s not gatekeeping, it’s common sense. I have moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis in both my knees despite my age. Running is not the way for me to relate to exercise. If I try to force myself to do it, the pain is going to stop me and I’m not going to get anything done. So I do something else. If you love the idea of paganism, but its actual practices hold no appeal for you, then it’s time to see if there is some way out there that suits you better.
But for those of us who do say, “Yes, paganism is what feeds my soul,” then we need to start practicing. Because that is what makes us a pagan, not what we “believe”. How we relate to the Divine, the world around us, ourselves- these are the things that make us pagan, and none of these things are done in the head and the heart alone.
Don’t limit yourself by not doing anything. Brush yourself off, then go have your own adventure!