Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Your God, Part I

“You will meet the God you know.”

I never believed that there was only one path to deity, but as many as there are people who seek with an open heart. What I have found is that unless the spiritual path you have chosen is the right one for you, there is little chance that you will find deity, God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, or whatever name you apply to the Creator.

I have always been a spiritual seeker. I love theology and studying comparative religions across the globe. Ironically, I had not been looking for a new faith path when I first read about Paganism. But, as soon as I processed the information, that’s exactly what happened. It was the first time that everything fit, made sense in profound ways that are still difficult to explain. It was the first time that I met the God that I know – I was home.

After I became Pagan, I realized just how precious the U.S. protection of religious freedom is. Before then, I didn’t understand the fear of religious persecution in a truly personal way. But, as a Pagan, I know that had I lived in another era, or country, my life could easily have been forfeit because of my beliefs. Thankfully, I live in a time and in a country that I am free to practice my religion and to freely discuss it without fear.

In launching this blog, I wanted to begin by a providing a brief overview of Paganism. In later posts, I will delve much deeper into other Pagan paths. Each of these are so rich that there is just no way to go into much depth in an introductory post.

Basically, Neopagans are a community of faiths bringing ancient Pagan and magickal traditions to the modern age – including mostly Wicca but also Druidism, Hellenics, Asatru, Shamanism, neo-Native American, and even more. Neopagan is an umbrella term for the various and diverse beliefs with many elements in common.

Many Neopagans, especially Wiccans, strive to revive authentic pantheons and rituals of ancient cultures, though often in deliberately eclectic and reconstructionist ways, and by embracing particularly contemplative and celebratory attitudes.

Generally, Paganism is any religious path not under the Abrahamic umbrella: Judeo-Christian-Islamic. Thus, in addition to Wicca, etc., Buddhism and Hinduism are also examples of Pagan paths. While many of these are founded upon earth-based beliefs, not all center around "Mother Earth." Pagan History predates Christianity by thousands of years.

Interestingly, it is important to note that some Neopagans find no incongruency practicing Neopaganism along with adherence to another faith, such as Christianity or Judaism.

Neopaganism is not an organized religion and has no official doctrine. Pagans follow a wide variety of paths and often have a variety of beliefs regarding the divine, human nature, and the afterlife. However, there are some common beliefs that are held by most Neopagans.

Neopaganism is characterized by its revival of ancient polytheistic religions. Pagans are especially interested in the pantheons of northern Europe (Norse) and Britain (Celtic) but also may incorporate gods and beliefs of ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian paganism.

Some Pagans regard one particular god (or the God and Goddess pair) as the Supreme Principle, worshiping that divinity above all others. Some regard all gods as aspects of the Great God and all goddesses as aspects of the Great Goddess. But nearly all Neopagans recognize the existence and true divinity of other gods; a very few Neopagans are monotheists.

In addition to gods and goddesses, Neopagans usually honor ancestral and locational spirits. These might include deceased relatives (honored especially at Samhain, known by non-pagans as Halloween), local and national heroes, Elves, the Spirit of the Hearth, and more.

In additon to some commonly-held beliefs, Neopagans who follow a particular path usually have their own distinctive religious beliefs. Most revere a Goddess as more primary than the God, partly in response to the male-dominated religions of the past millennium.

Perhaps the most fundamental belief of most Neopagans is the recognition of the divine in nature. Most Pagans honor the cycle of the seasons and all of nature as a direct expression of the divine, and a model for spiritual growth and renewal. The Earth herself is regarded as sacred by many Pagans, and deep ecological concerns are characteristic by most followers.

Different deities are often connected with different times of the year and worshiped in seasonal festivals, and practices like astrology and divination are rooted in the belief in nature's divinity. The Neopagan seasonal cycle, called the Wheel of the Year, consists of eight Sabbats. These Sabbats are joyous occasions of celebration and communion.

The eight Wiccan Sabbats are spaced roughly about 45 days apart throughout the year. There are four major and four minor Sabbats. The major Sabbats occur approximately midway between the minor Sabbats, typically at the end of a month.

Different Wiccan traditions have various names and dates for these festivals. The most common names for the major Sabbats are Celtic in origin and they are: Samhain (Oct. 31), Imbolc (Feb. 1), Beltane (May 1), and Lammas (Aug. 1).

The four minor Sabbats consist of the two equinoxes in March and September when day and night are balanced, and the two solstices in December (the longest night of the year) and June (the longest day of the year). The exact date for each of these Sabbats varies from year to year occurring on or between the 19th to the 22nd of the month.

It is believed that the Sabbats originated from the cycles that were associated with farming, hunting and fertility. Like Jewish Shabbats, Neopagan Sabbats begin at sunset the day before the holiday.

The phases of the moon, including the 13 full moons in every year, are also celebrated. These monthly celebrations are called Esbats. Magickal work and more solemn rituals are normally done on the Esbats. (Much more about Magick in the next post.)

The most important Esbat is on the full moon, but some groups also recognize Esbats of the new moon and the two quarters. Magickal power is believed to be especially strong on the night of a full moon, which is why important rituals are undertaken on such nights.

While Esbats involve rituals or ceremonies dedicated to the Moon, and the Goddess, Sabbats involve rituals and ceremonies dedicated to the Sun, the seasons, and the God. Sabbats trace the birth, life, death, and rebirth of the God as symbolized through the changing seasons.

To Be Continued...Next: Beliefs and Magick

— Danu’s Daughter

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