First basic premise: What you experience may or may not be real, but it is part of your reality.
I have found myself for the past two years writing down what I envision Neopagan Animism to be: how it works in my practice, what my beliefs are. The simple fact of the matter is, as I continued to work on this treatise, my practices kept evolving, and I have come to the conclusion that they will continue to do so. This made me more than a little frustrated, as I struggled to keep up and to put down an accurate accounting. It only got worse in peer review, as things I thought I had made clear were torn apart by my dear brother-by-choice, who has been in the Pagan community for about 12 years longer than I have.
So, I “went down” to talk to the Gods about this dilemma, and they answered me with a strange and (for me) disconcerting idea: I was to start over, put my beliefs and practices on my blog, chronicling how I believed and worked at that point and time. Considering the whole point of the exercise was to be helpful to as many Pagans as may need it, the suggestion (alright, ORDER) makes sense.
The final question was, where to begin. This came to me as I was cleansing in the shower: the basics precepts haven’t changed in 10 years. They’re what led me to ADF, and they’re what led me away when the time came. So I will start with the basic premises of Neopagan Animism as I see them, the core fundamentals on which everything else is based.
1) Spirits Exist
Spirits are entities which coexist in the world with physical beings. They themselves are not physical, as the name “spirit” would imply. As they are not bound by physical limitations and benefits, they skirt the line of breaking the laws of physics, existing sometimes by themselves, and sometimes occupying the same space as something in the physical world. Furthermore, everything living and almost everything non-living has a spirit, which is tied to the physical thing’s energy at a fundamental level. This is seen in the phrase, “A god in every blade of grass.” This also goes the other way: there are spirits in the Sun, Moon, Earth, the galaxy, even the universe.
2) Gods are Spirits
Whatever else the Gods are (which we will get to in a subsequent post), the Gods are spirits, and therefore at the basic level have similar properties to other spirits. Primary among these properties is that they do not necessarily adhere to the laws of the physical world, but are also at a detriment (however slight) when affecting the physical world. They are individual entities with their own personalities, desires, and agendas. They do not usually have physical bodies and often borrow from their faithful (or a poor schmuck) when they have need of one. They have power, but what exactly that power can do is dependent on the individual God.
3) There are More Gods Than You Might Think
Neopagan Animism supposes that since the Gods are real entities, and not archetypes, aspects, or facets of one another, that the experience of the Gods and other spirits was likely heavily influenced by location or tribe. Some spirits are tied to the land and do not move much, while others are tied to specific humans or human groups, and travel with them when they are needed in another part of the world. Therefore, the pantheons that are conceived as existing, do exist. This means that the Irish, Welsh, Norse, Baltic, Slavic, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek pantheons (as well as others) all exist as real pantheons of spirits, not expressions of one another, and one person can deal with more than one pantheon at a time. However, keep in mind also, it is very prudent to approach a given pantheon within its own cultural context, to avoid confusion and offense. More on this later; the basic gist is: if there was or is a religion centered around it, there are spirits that are filling the roles.
4) Spiritual Disciplines Work
What the Pagan community commonly calls magic works, and if you are skilled and a little lucky, it works well. It doesn’t matter why or how it works, whether it’s a trick of the psyche or the actual movement of subtle energy, or even the intercession of the spirits themselves.
5) You Represent the Spirits You Work With
One of the central tenets of my practice for the past ten years has been, if you are there, your spirits are likely there with you, or at least keeping tabs. Therefore, if I invite you to one of my rituals, I am also inviting the Gods, Ancestors, and other Spirits you work with. More correctly, I’m giving you leave to invite them, with the unspoken caveat that if they cannot behave, you will not invite them or will throw them out. Most rites are performed in one cultural context, making spirits from outside that context honored guests to that rite, with the “hosts” being the spirits that are most comfortable in that cultural context.
6) The Stove is Hot
Neopagan Animism is a religion of the experience of the spiritual. We rely on sacred texts as a guide, a framework, not rigid law. If a spirit presents itself to us in an unfamiliar way, we go with it, and deal with it as it comes. I call this the “Stove is Hot” method; you can read and hear from friends and from the television that a given stove top is cool to the touch, but if you put your hand up to the stove and your hand is burned, nothing is going to convince you that the stove is not hot. Sometimes the stove top may actually be cool, but that wasn’t your experience. In the same way, the lore is a guide, it is not a hammer or shoehorn to force us into looking at the spirits one way alone.
7) Life Hurts; This is a Good Thing
Finally, yeah, life sucks sometimes, and things can be hard or crazy or hectic. No one’s getting out of here alive. My belief is that this is not necessarily a bad thing. This life is not a mere illusion, nor is it a corrupted vision of God’s plan, nor is it a base and fallen creation. This life is holy, as is everything in it. We stand on sacred ground daily, and the power of the spirits surround us.
So, there we have seven fundamental building blocks upon which this faith is based. From here, we will be looking at the various aspects of Neopagan Animism, its history and influences, its practices, and its various assumptions about life, the universe, and everything.