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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.

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The practices of Paganism are wide, diverse, even contradictory. Neopagan Animism is nothing like Wicca, which bears little resemblance to Hellenic Paganism, which is in turn very different from Dianic Wicca or Feri or Reclaiming. Anyone not saying, “Duh!” to this statement really hasn’t spent a lot of time in the community, or outside their own tradition.

The number of times I have heard the statement, “You’re Pagan? I didn’t think you were into Goddess Spirituality…” has exceeded the number of fingers on my hands and toes on my feet. Most of these times occurred back in Columbus, but there have been enough times in Denver and in Colorado Springs for me to think that this is by no means isolated to one area. It’s unfortunate. In the ranks of the Pagan community, we can count Jungian archetypists and “soft” polytheists, hard polytheists, animists, nature-focused materialists, duotheists, feminine-focused monotheists, atheists, philosophers, speculators, and (who can forget?) various flavors of magicians, as well as several combinations of any of the above. Being Pagan does not mean exclusively following any particular dogma or set of beliefs or practices.

Neopagan Animism was born from this fact as much as from any particular tradition. I was introduced to a number of religious practices and beliefs under one umbrella term when I was introduced to Paganism, from Wicca to Heathenry to Druidry, and many of the magical practices found within these traditions. Furthermore, we all practiced our religious beliefs together, several belief systems coming to one focal point and one practice in our rituals. Since then, I have heard hundreds – if not thousands – of times that this was the highest form of blasphemy to the Gods and Spirits. I heard this not only from elders in various local Reconstructionist and Traditional communities, but also from lovers, friends, and energy work partners. For a time, I even partially believed it. The development of a tradition which emphasized the animistic aspects of Pagan practice was an ultimate rejection of this attitude.

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Read here for the original post I’m responding to. Honestly, I’m not just responding to the post. I’m also responding to the program listed in the post called “Way of the Master Radio” with Kirk Cameron and a couple of others. In this post, I’ll be criticizing everyone involved, so if you feel offended, at least you’re not left out.

Before I begin, I must mention that I was a member of ADF. Still am a member of the organization, even though I don’t practice in their way anymore. I was a member of Stonecreed Grove in Cleveland; I helped to start Silver Branch Golden Horn Grove in Denver, and The New Village Grove began as an ADF protogrove. Having been immersed in the organization for almost five years, I can name several things I loved and hated about it, and I can name specifics as to why I am no longer practicing in their way. I even completed their year-long Dedicant Program, so I am quite aware of ADF beliefs and practice. I still use a number of their terms, like *ghosti.

First of all, Fundamentalists tend to do this sort of thing. They go to rituals and don’t participate. They criticize other modes of belief and practice, they put themselves out as superior to other belief systems. We know this. Why are people surprised? Granted, some of their criticism is baseless, factless, even simply inflammatory, designed more for the emotional response rather than rational thought. What about the rest of their arguments, though?

More under the cut…

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One of the most obvious misunderstandings between myself and Christians is the whole, “I know you don’t believe this,” thing. They assume that, because I am not Christian, that I do not believe in the God they pray to or that Jesus was a real person. I find this most commonly among family; in fact, it is because of a recent conversation with a family member that I’m writing on this.

Let me set the record straight. Just because I do not believe your God is who you or He says He is does not mean I deny His existence entirely. Just because I do not subscribe to Christian cosmology or symbolism does not mean I think Jesus did not exist. Just because your God is not among the Gods I worship does not mean I have a problem with your prayers to that God for my health and safety. It is the same if another Pagan were to pray to Apollo on my behalf – I don’t really deal with Apollo, but if He’s inclined to help me with something, I’m not the idiot going to say, “Uh, no, you’re not MY God, YOU can’t do a thing!!!”

This, I think, is a major difference between a monotheistic and a polytheistic/animistic viewpoint. I know many Christians who would be offended if I prayed to Freyja on their behalf for their health and safety, especially considering the “One God” standpoint. At the most benign, to them, praying to Freyja is fruitless, as she does not exist in their paradigm. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s praying to a “false god”, AKA the Devil, which is inherently bad and evil and wrong.

On the other side, you have the type of polytheist I am, which does not only acknowledge multiple Gods, but multiple pantheons, as well. The “Christian Pantheon”, consisting of YHVH, Yeshua (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit (and possibly the Devil, angels, and saints, depending on sect), exists to me, but separately from the pantheons I adhere to. I don’t belong to YHVH, I belong to Freyja. It’s like being a citizen of a whole different spiritual country. I don’t appeal to YHVH because I’m not His, nor do I expect someone who is Christian to appeal to any of my deities. However, Freyja can and does allow YHVH to intercede in my affairs when my Christian relatives or friends pray for me, and I and my allies among the spirits see nothing wrong with this arrangement.

To the Neopagan Animist, Gods and Goddesses are spirits, separate and individual. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity does not countermand this, because ultimately, that God is still separate from the other pantheons of spirits that exist, as He should be – God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, even if the three are one, is still not Freyja or Gwydion. However, I don’t believe that the Christian concept of God is the same as the all-encompassing entity in which we live, which is also a spirit, greater and further apart from human understanding than any God. To me, God is not the universe, God is a part of it. (This is not to say anyone will agree with me on this point; as I said, I believe in a different cosmology than the one accepted by most Christians.)

This viewpoint also does not make Christian doctrine obsolete in my understanding; rather, I see Christian doctrine as applying to God’s (YHVH’s) chosen, of which Pagans are not a part. Jesus calls his own; of those He calls, some do not follow, and instead choose wickedness in His sight. This does not mean Jesus calls everyone, I don’t care what Saul says. This is the ultimate difference: the assumption seems to be that if you believe YHVH exists, you MUST inherently believe everything written about Him in that accepted paradigm. Wars have been fought over this assumption. Friendships have been torn apart over something as simple as the acceptance of the Trinity, or the nature of the Eucharist. To me, this assumption simply isn’t true. First of all, I don’t believe everything written about my Gods, and I don’t need to – my experiences with them are enough. Second, I have had enough of my beliefs blown wide open to know it is better to interpret beliefs to fit experience, rather than interpreting experiences to fit beliefs. My experiences of land spirits and nature kin, fey and otherworldly beings, and many other kinds of spirits weren’t even possible in the Christian paradigm I was brought up in, so I had to expand my own understanding of things. In doing so, I came to the conclusion (however erroneous others may believe it to be) that YHVH was not the overarching spirit that He was publicized to be, but rather one of many, albeit with quite a bit of power behind Him (1000 years of being the dominant deity in a decent-sized chunk of the world will do that).

It’s hard for me to explain how this misunderstanding can be insulting. Speaking more specifically here, you telling me that you’re praying for me, and then saying something to the effect of, “but I know you don’t believe in it,” makes me sound more like an atheist or an anti-Christian, rather than what I am. Ultimately, I am writing this post to get across that praying for me, to whatever God or Goddess you choose to, is not an insult, and why would it be? You are asking for intercession for me from a deity who might otherwise not even think twice of me! I’m cool with that!

Granted, not all intercession will be desired, or wanted, or accepted. Anyone praying for me to accept Christ into my heart: Freyja WILL take exception to that. Sort of. Okay, that’s a complicated situation. Anybody praying for me to kick the bucket: Freyja WILL fight that tooth and claw. Why? I dunno, I think she likes me or something. Or maybe it’s because that, like Christians belong to Christ, I belong to her! But, I digress. Most of my family and friends are praying for my health and safety, or to help me find a job, or something along those lines. Why would Freyja try to block that? She’s on my side! Why would I want to counter that? It’s help! I don’t even think YHVH would be too upset about that: He’s helping His flock by helping me, when His chosen pray for me. The same goes for Freyja, or Herne, or Gwydion if I prayed to them for one of my friends or family: they would help those I pray for because in doing so, they are helping me; it’s part of the *ghosti relationship I have with them. I give them praise and offerings for being there for me; they give me and mine aid and help when needed. We work together.

So, it is hard for me to explain how this misunderstanding can be insulting, but I feel it’s important that at least some of the Christians I deal with understand that fact. Hey, if you feel so inclined, pray for me! I’m glad that I rate up there in your thoughts and your prayers. Why do you think I would not understand that your deity is important to you, and makes real change in your life? Being your family (or friend), I’m a part of that life, which means, for good or ill, that your deity still affects me whether I belong to that deity or not. That is my standpoint – that my beliefs do not necessitate a lack of prayer on my behalf. That I believe in your prayers. That I believe that, even if your deity is not mine, He (or She) may still intercede in my life if you ask, because you ask.

Quote of the Day

"The Lord tells me He can get me out of this mess, but he's pretty sure you're f***ed".
-Stephen, Braveheart