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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spirituality, Community, and Diversity

Anyone who's been in the modern pagan or polytheist community for more than, say, 5 minutes will probably have noticed that we're a pretty contentious bunch. We are, in point of fact, usually much better at splitting hairs than at building bridges, something that I've written about more than once. You see I'm of the opinion that we should worry less about whether or not the person next to us folds their altar cloth left to right or vice versa*, and more about whether we share the same Gods and the same general goals and outlooks.

If you go by some people its impossible to interact with or associate with people who don't follow the same spiritual path you do, who don't believe what you believe, or do things the same way you do. Others are a bit more lenient, willing to associate with people who are similar enough in the most important theology. Why is this impossible? Well the reasons vary, from concern that it will offend the Gods to be around people who don't believe in them correctly to the idea that it just personally offends the individual to have to put up with someone so different in philosophy.

I was never that person by the way, with my liminal ways and my friends all over everywhere. Even before the great Pagan-Polytheist Divide I was that person with friends who were Christian, Jewish, Atheist, Wiccan, Thelemic, Satanists, trad witches, Recons - that person who would gladly get into conversations with almost anyone. Of course I myself am someone who straddles worlds, identifying as more than one distinct thing. As to whether that's a strength or a weakness, well that depends on who you ask. Some people praise me for it, others...not so much. I'd argue though that whether its a strength or a weakness, its a flexibility that is important in a world that is constantly growing more complex.

I'm getting ready for the 3rd annual Morrigan's Call Retreat, coming up in less than two weeks. As part of this Retreat I'll be acting as a priest/ess in several rituals for a diverse group of people with a diverse group of co-facilitators. In the past my co-priestesses have included people on many different paths whose views agree and disagree with my own to varying degrees - and yet our ability to work together has always been good and the rituals themselves have touched people in meaningful ways. We come together to offer a conduit for the Morrigan, both to be honored and to reach out to those honoring Her. And it has always worked, and she always seems to appreciate it. I would argue that our diversity is an undeniable strength and that our ability to serve our community comes directly from it.

Spirituality is ultimately a solitary thing, even when we practice it in a group because it is something that lives in our heart. Our spirituality may be expressed around others or in a group setting some small amount of the time but we are always within ourselves contemplating and doing whatever it is we do in our daily lives. This 24/7 spirituality is far more important, I think, than what we may do in the small amount of time we spend religiously with others. No two people then are exactly identical in their spirituality, although they may be very, very similiar.

Our community is diverse, whether we want it to be or not, because no matter how much we try to surround ourselves with people just like us, people who believe like us and act like us, we will always fail. Its not human nature to have that much sameness, nor looking at history has it ever been. At the height of the Norse pagan period there were atheists among the Norse. There is an open, unanswerable question about whether the Tuatha De Danann are the aos sí or part of but distinct from them, and each person has to decide for themselves how the Irish Gods fit into the beliefs about the Good Folk. In spirituality there are always going to be more open questions than answered ones, and more than we'd like to admit the answers we do have are less certainty than faith. We believe what we choose to believe based on our own experiences and knowledge. And so each person has slightly different views and opinions. We are diverse.

And there is beauty in that.

*that's just a snarky example to illustrate how extreme the divisions can get. As far as I know altar cloth folding isn't an actual source of contention between anyone

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