Xiao Rong wrote:
Not everyone grows up the same way, and I think if you grow up in a secular/atheist family, coming to Paganism presents a different set of challenges than, say, former Christians who become Pagan.
This is a good and fair point. It was just something that I thought of in reflection to this thread. It just made sense to me that there would be a force behind the things in life. Like something has to tell flowers how to grow, how birds know how to fly and the like. There was something behind the instincts in plants and animals, and there was something behind the forces of star creation beyond the scientific meanings. To me it made even further sense that there would be Gods and other forces around when I learned about the Big Bang theory. I figured something had to be the force behind the Big Bang. Why not spirits or divine beings? Something had to make the big bang occur.
Xiao Rong wrote: I grew up in an atheist family; in particular, my dad is a very hardcore atheist who hates anything that smacks of the ceremonial, supernatural or religious even in the least. So during my childhood, we had very little that resembled a ritual and any talk of spirituality was quickly squashed; the only acceptable way of thinking was through science and materialism (reality consists of nothing but physical matter).
That seems a very dull way to think and be raised. I mean where is the sense of wonder? I have honestly tried to view life through the idea and concept that only what is physical is real. I have tried to view the world through only the modern science and technology views. It just never seemed to work. I had to many questions that science didn't have the answer for. So I stopped trying. I have at least been able to develop a respect for that view, even if I can't wrap my head around it (not without trying). I do often ask atheists questions about spirituality and the like and through some of them I have been able to try an gain a better understanding of that world view.
The only time I actually lost my belief was after my grandmother died of cancer. I questioned God (Christian God) about why he would take such a loving and caring person away from those who really needed her. I was filled with hate and anger. So I despised him and his faith. Granted I was also start my studied as a witch at the same time, so it was a mixed bag.
I think the best way to describe that part of my life was agnostic. I figured there was something out there but because of my anger towards Christianity and their God I wasn't sure what was out there. I felt something but wasn't sure what.
Xiao Rong wrote:I am of the opinion that as children we all have that sense of dream-like wonder of the universe and a sort of unquestioning acceptance that, properly nurtured, are what gets structured into spirituality, faith, or religious belief. When that gets quashed at a very early age, it takes a lot of work to build it back up again.
I would have to agree. I would have to describe the way I was raised (within the context of Christaintiy) as more spiritual than religious. While God was talked about and believed in, the overall teachings I received from my parents were more focused on nature connections and respect for the earth. Neither of my parents were religious, but they were spiritual. My mother is one of those who believe that children should be raised with a sense of religion and spirituality to a certain age (basically early teens) and then be allowed to make their own decisions.
Xiao Rong wrote:Incorporating ritual, practice, and spirituality into my life is still very much an ongoing process for me, since I did not grow up with personal experience participating in rituals or talking about the supernatural; they are still to some degree quite foreign to me -- to me, it's a little comparable to learning a second language. Plus, at every turn I have that little inner skeptic voice telling me that all this is mumbo jumbo nonsense that is irrational and not real.
I have that voice in my ear from time to time as well. I think we all do honestly. For me its a large part due to the culture we live in, where spirituality as a whole and magic especially is laughed at. With the world being more and more in the "show me the evidence" view its often hard to believe in and practice something like magic that can't be proven. The one thing I have done to keep this in check is hold a belief and understanding of magic that is both spiritual and psychological based. Psychologically it comes from a place like the one you mentioned. Spiritually it comes from a different source, though I have the mind tied to the spirit so for me it works both ways.
Xiao Rong wrote:My process thus far has been:
1. To reconcile that I can hold multiple competing truths at the same time
2. To realize that sometimes it's less about what's literally true in a materialistic sense and what I need to believe in (for example, understanding that the crow flying by is a completely random occurrence, yet simultaneously being able to accept that the crow crossing my path at this specific moment has a special significance for me that is non-random)
3. To learn that having the mystery and unknowable in my life is not a bad thing; whereas the ideology of the Enlightenment would say that any gaps in knowledge represents ignorance that needs to be conquered, I can recognize that there are some things that are better off not known and the mystery makes my life more, not less, complete (part of Paganism for me is valuing the dark and the light)
4. That there are other ways of knowing beyond pure logic and scientific reasoning that are valid and are equally, if not more, important in helping us understand who we are in relation to the rest of the world.
Thank you for sharing your process. I personally like numbers three and four. There are things that science teaches us that religion/spirituality doesn't (like the way to body works-biology and chemistry) and there are things religion teaches that science doesn't (creation, spiritual reality, etc). This is why I believe its important to accept both religion/spirituality and science in our lives. I believe that the school compliment each other. There is no reason to accept evolution and deny creation. They can be beliefs side by side. I think this is part of what you mean in #1.
Xiao Rong wrote:That's why I hope to provide this thread as a resource for people who grow up in circumstances like mine; because the journey to Paganism looks very different when you are coming to it from an entirely secular/atheist standpoint. Certain things such as being able to feel the presence of deities and spirits are things that I imagine come more naturally if you grew up in a religious household. To people who didn't have such a background, "believing in" deities may not ever be possible, and I also don't believe it to be a necessary step towards having a holistic and healthy spirituality.
This is true. I don't think we need to believe in deities. I don't even believe that being pagan requires a belief in any forces outside of oneself. To me being a pagan is essentially not following the three major religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity).
I realize that many atheists don't consider themselves pagan, and if they asked me to not call them that I wouldn't. Though I have found that being an atheist doesn't necessarily mean that they deny all spiritual forces and practices. I've met several atheists who don't believe in deities, but believe in energetic forces of change in the universe. Others believe in a spirit of sorts, sort of like a collective unconscious. Some (they call themselves hard atheists) dont believe in anything not material. Like any other type of theology and spiritual practices atheism does come in different forms. So for these reasons I consider atheists to be a type of pagan, even if its not religious or spiritual. For them science is their answer and working with science helps them understand the world around them. And honestly I believe that spirituality is really about understanding ourselves and our place in the universe. So I do see science as really an acceptable spiritual path-if one defines spirituality as a connection with the universe and yourself through personal understanding and exploration.
I also don't believe that belief is necessary for magic or spiritual practices. One of my favorite sayings is actually "A witch doesn't believe. They know". basically this statement is about through personal experiences we dont need to believe in our Gods and spirit forces. We know that they exist because we have experienced them. Which this actually fits basically any path and truth. Through experience we "know" our truths.
That is one of the reasons I have loved this thread. You have given several ways that atheists can practice magic and spirituality without Gods, and have also provided several different ways to understand the universe without Gods. Sometimes I go back and forth between belief in the Gods as individual beings and them as simply forces in the universe. I know that energy is real. I just can't always define its form.
Does this make sense?