Thursday, January 08, 2009

Spiritual Development

Sad news – the wonderful pagan – spiritual - philosophical podcast ‘Deo’s Shadow’ is coming to an end. For those of you who don’t know Deo’s Shadow, I would highly recommend it.
Deo and Mandy have moved from Paganism to Atheism and I wish them well, although I will miss the podcast greatly.

But it does raise the question of personal spiritual development – once we fall into a category/religious path, how easy is it to break away or change our views? Having been brought up as C of E, exploring new religions at school was very limited. Everything was labelled, everything fit nicely into a little box and everything was compared to Christianity. But do religious ‘labels’ really do us any good? There is so much in common between the world religions and most faiths evolve, to a certain extent, with the times. So when I describe myself as Pagan, what does that actually mean?

I had a long discussion with my boyfriend about religion recently. It was really interesting, not just the depth of philosophical thought that we reached, but also I became aware of how much I don’t fit into the ‘pagan/witch’ bracket and how much my personal beliefs have changed and developed since I turned to paganism when I was 14/15. Paganism, I feel, does allow for this kind of development. The existence of ‘solitaries’ who embrace their own paths allows a wide variety of beliefs and doesn’t restrict the individual’s personal beliefs, nor does it force them to ‘fit’ to a more widely held view/religion. A variety of published books (some more proscriptive than others, admittedly), online communities or 'real world' groups allow for the exchange of ideas necessary to reassess one’s beliefs.

Not that this makes paganism perfect. Often you are left floundering in a sea of uncertainty, with no one to help, no religious text to guide you (although this does ensure a level of independent thought and responsibility sometimes less evident in other religions). Labels can help you to define yourself and find your place in the world. But paganism’s label can also restrict development. So much is expected of a pagan. Either we fit with often ridiculous long-held superstitions and bigotry, or conversely, we are expected to enjoy a freedom of thought and action (and acceptance by the wider world) that often is unrealistic.

This is still only a small beginning of a barely-formed thought in a very small brain (and still subject to change), but what do the rest of you think?

Update: I've just left the following comment on the Wild Hunt Blog on this topic (Part one here):

Personally I think that part of the problem is the labelling - putting people into boxes according to their label - and then expecting them to stay there! One of the things that appeals to me most about Paganism is its flexibility, that 'solitaries' follow their own path and therefore can change that path as and when they develop.

But perhaps I'm just a very naive Pagan! Certainly I've not spent much time in a wider pagan 'community' (or 'network') either online or in the real world, other than setting up a Pagan Society at University. Interestingly, my aim of the society was to allow pagans to meet and exhange ideas, thus having their own views/beliefs challenged with a view to encouraging development. However it quickly became more 'boxy' than I had hoped and I felt that it was preventing the open discussion that I'd hoped for. If this is what Paganism is becoming, then I'm not suprised that Deo and Mandy are looking for a more open 'label' in which to continue their development! Good luck to them.

Update 2: Well I haven't posted the comment above onto the Wild Hunt yet, because it wont let me. Grr. I'll just have to try again later or tomorrow.