Religion Part III: Building a Religion from Beliefs
This post will go into a little bit more in-depth about my religious beliefs. My intent is not to start a fight. My intent is not to start a discussion, unless people can be calm and rational about it. My intent is only to document the path religion has taken though my life. This is not an attempt to convert anyone and I will delete any comment or discussion attacking any beliefs held dear. Any attempts to convert me, or anyone that reads this to beliefs other than what they already hold will be met with the same no forgiveness.
My goal is not to convert but to inform as to the beliefs of others in the world. I will never tell someone what to believe, but I will always encourage people to believe in something. The belief in something bigger than humanity and Earth itself is fundamentally a belief in imagination. To believe in religion is to imagine a place that is better than here. To believe in religion is to imagine solutions to things science and the best of human knowledge cannot answer. To believe in religion is to believe there is someone, somewhere, that can answer the questions you cannot.
Religion is an interesting topic. I strongly believe everyone should have their own (whatever it may be) but should not accept the beliefs of others. I will fight for one thing in regards to religion, everyone having their own beliefs. (ง’̀-‘́)ง
At this point, I had constructed, primarily based on Wicca & Unorganized Paganism, a core set of three beliefs.
- A Goddess and a God, both unnamed comprise a set of two deities. I had not made them or their roles any more specific then that at this point
- When someone dies, if they have completed the purpose of their life (which is one overarching question) will go to Heaven then await rebirth as any living thing.
- There is a spiritual energy that radiates from all living things and can be harnessed to bring happiness, joy and healing.
I had constructed no way to practice those beliefs. I had about a journal book full of religious thoughts and wonderings it felt so odd to have a religion without any kind of practices, prayers, actions, or holidays. However this ‘religion,’ which in retrospect was not much of a religion, answered the core needs that I had in terms of things to believe in. I was able to have comfort that there was something out there larger than a normal life on earth. I was able to have comfort that the end of my life is not the end of my consciousness. I was able to have comfort that all living things shared a common bond other than ‘being alive.’ I wanted to have a deeper connection to those that had come before me, those that will come after me and with the world as a whole.
At this point, I had collected into my Book of Mirrors (a book much like the Bible of stories and good advice relating to religious belief) many verses from various religious books. One of my favorites that found its way into my original Book of Mirrors from the Bible is Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” I also collected into this book my wonderings and thoughts about religion, faith, belief, and matters of spirituality.
I started stretching out my beliefs to things I learned in school. It is easier to connect to deities when they have names, feelings, purposes. Therefore, I gathered all the different deity setups I could find. One thing I found very interesting is that Christianity was both monotheistic being that there is only one God but it is also tritheistic in the way it teaches of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit combining into one… I looked throughout my life into any kind of belief I could elevate to a deity level. Many pages in my first Book of Mirrors dedicated to this purpose. I was finding though each religion that religion hinges greatly upon what each person considers divine. For me: The topics I had to rationalize into one giant mess were, among other things: Gender Equality, Prayer, Self-Responsibility, the Wheel of the Year, and Rationality. The terms Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent bothered me quite a bit. To me it was not rational for any being God or otherwise to be able to be all seeing, effect everything and be present at all times in the life of every human. It would be too much work.
I mentioned the Wheel of the Year in the above paragraph. The Wheel of the Year is the eight yearly holidays Wiccans/Pagans celebrate. I am going to link all the related Wikipedia articles for all the names those are the classical or ‘accepted’ ways to celebrate them, for me each has a slightly different meaning. I’m going to write a separate post going into more detail about how I see and celebrate of these holidays. I was going to add it into this one but it would have added 10-15 paragraphs…
Four of the holidays are on the Equinoxes and Solstices, therefore their dates move. Those four are Yule, Ostara, Midsummer or Litha, and Mabon. In the days of old, times these holidays helped to keep track of the year and to note the start of each part of the agricultural season. Note: In the pagan calendar, these holidays mark the middle of each season. Not the beginning of each season as our calendar states… For me, these holidays mark the path though the year and the energy cycle that happens every year. The other four are dividers between the seasons and mark moments where the ‘energy’ to do something is at its highest. Those four are Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas/Lughnasadh, and Samhain. Please note Lammas and Lughnasadh are slightly different holidays that both happen at the same time. Usually a person celebrates one or the other. Here is the complete Wheel of the Year with the approx. dates because some shift because of the equinoxes and solstices:
For me each of the holidays has a slight different meaning from standard Paganism and Wicca. Many of them have tied to Christian holidays because that is what my family celebrates. It is very interesting to celebrate many Christian holidays with pagan/wiccan meanings. Many Christian holidays are twists of Pagan holidays with similar meanings to get people to convert as Christianity spread over Europe. It is particularly clear when you think of the trinity of Christian belief, where “God,” “Jesus,” and “Holy Spirit” can all be the Pagan “God” or “Goddess.”
My family celebrates Christian holidays and many of these holidays play directly into those. The most obvious is Yule, which ties very deeply to both Christmas (the birth of God) and The New Year (New beginnings and plans) but many of the others do as well. I am planning a separate post later about what each holiday means to me, but know that I celebrate them more as seasons and things to concentrate on yearly during those times. For me, the pagan holidays seemed to match the universe around me. It gave me a good look at what I needed to be thinking about at any given time in the year. These holidays formed a perfect core of planning, planting, growing, harvesting, and rest.
Therefore, now I had holidays I had a God and Goddess, I had a clear picture on my belief of the afterlife… Now I needed something to practice every day… In Christianity, that is prayer. There is one thing that bothers me to no end about prayer. I can have the bible to show what it is: From John 15:7 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This verse implies that no matter what you ask for it will come true. Mark 11:24 clarifies a little bit to say, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Meaning that you have to believe you have already received it for you to get it but again it shows that God does not actually make a judgment if the prayers should actually happen. Prayers just happen without question. Two things bothered me about this concept of prayer.
The first thing that bothered me was a logical conflict. A couple of my friends are considering moving out of town. I do not want to lose them. If they pray for the move to happen, happen quickly, and go well and I pray for them to stay… which prayer wins? They both cannot happen. Who and how is doing that decision-making? Would the more devout person win? Is there a measurement of your faith in God? That concept of prayer presumes that the person praying knows that these prayers are the right thing for all parties involved. Prayer also feels like a form of begging to me. The concept of that is you are asking God to do something for you. These are all questions and concepts that disturbed me to no end. Paganism and Wicca had a neat solution.
That solution is a concept called magic. It is very similar to prayer the goal is to have a result that you cannot directly affect come though. Prayer and magic are both applicable for the same types of goals. In many ways the concepts are complete interchangeable. They differ in a couple key ways. Magic is an action performed by the person. Magic expends energy and is actually work instead of just asking for something. For me I believe that that spiritual energy I referenced before that connects all living things is the energy expended in magic.
Many pagans and wiccans see this energy differently. For me (I call myself an Elementalist) this energy exists in five variations: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Spirit. Every living thing is composed of a different balance and construction of those things. Different prayers or “spells” expend different elements of energy from my being. Spirit is the element that comprises thought, emotion, religion, belief and interacts with all other elements to create a whole being. Spirit is the metaphysical element, the one that is not constrained by the physical world and lives in its own world. My two strongest elements have always been Water, and Air. Here is a diagram of the four physical elements.
After the spell is “cast,” then an appropriate deity will make a judgment as to if my actions should succeed based on if it is a positive or negative result for the parties involved. If I have expended enough energy and the deity decides, it would be a positive result for all parties involved the prayer will succeed, if either of those things falls though the spell will fail. I am willing to accept a partial success rate for a more logical system. I have the personal responsibility to put in the work for something to happen, but I also know that I cannot know that it is the right decision for everyone. I trust my deities to know better than I do if it is the right thing to do. However, this eliminates the ability to pray for “answers” but I believe that most of the answers you need as a person are inside yourself.
There are many misconceptions about what pagans call magic… There is one rule. You can never break someone’s free will. Love potions, spells to manipulate people, various things like that never really work because they deny someone their own free will. Spells that bring negativity and pain to people (other than myself) will always fail because they are not in the best interest of the effected party. In many cases spells are taken from other pagans or crafted on your own and will be recorded into a Book of Shadows which is more or less a pagan spell book.
I mentioned deities and that I was bothered by the idea that one god could see, hear, interact with, and watch over every human all the time. No matter how powerful a deity is how could they possibly understand 7.125 billion thoughts every second? While I was looking though different systems for interpreting deities there was one that I was really attracted to during my childhood the idea that there were many Gods and Goddesses that all had topics of understanding really stuck out to me and to me seemed, at least spiritually, more plausible. I know the idea of Dieties is not plausible in reality (which I tried to do earlier in this paragraph) but I believe that personifying spirituality gives it more power and value.
I adopted 16 of the Greek Gods and Goddesses as my own. I integrated four of them as the two Pagan Deities. How do two become four? There are three aspects of the Goddess as a woman’s life goes through three distinct stages. As the wheel of the year progresses, she matures from Maiden to Mother to Crone. I will go into that concept more in my separate post about the Wheel of the Year. The Sun is also associated with the pagan God and the Moon is associated with the pagan Goddess. As I wrote spells into my Book of Shadows and as I wrote stories and beliefs into my Book of Mirrors, I began integrating names of the appropriate deities. Here are my sixteen deities. You will recognize some names I am sure. You will also notice some big names that are missing, because I did not see them as valuable to my beliefs. Zeus is a great example of that. I did interchange between using Greek and Roman names throughout my Book of Mirrors and My Book of Shadows so I will list both. The roman name is in parenthesis when it existed, even if it was the same name.
“Major” Deities (The ones I used to represent the two pagan deities):
- Apollo (Apollo) – God of the Sun, archery, music, arts, healing, and manly beauty
- Artemis (Diana) – Maiden – Goddess of the Waxing Moon, the hunt, wilderness, animals, new beginnings, birth, youth, youthful energy, the new day
- Selene (Luna) – Mother – Goddess of the Full Moon, fertility, sexuality, fulfillment, stability, and the midday
- Hecate (Trivia) – Crone – Goddess of the Waning Moon, insight, magic, ghosts, the Underworld, The Night
“Elemental” Deities (The ones I integrated for use because of their areas of specialty):
- Athena (Minerva) – Goddess of wisdom, intelligence, skill, peace, warfare, battle strategy, and handicrafts
- Ares (Mars) – God of war, bloodshed, contest, competitiveness, and aggression.
- Dionysus (Bacchus) – God of wine, parties, festivals, madness, chaos, relaxation, and ecstasy
- Hades (Pluto) – God of the underworld, the dead, regret and rebirth
- Hephaestus (Vulcan) – God of fire metal working and crafts
- Hermes (Mercury) – God of air, boundaries, travel, trade, communication, language and writing
- Tethys (Tethys) – Goddess of water, healing, and status quo
- Gaia (Terra) – Goddess of the earth, mothers, and familial love.
“Minor” Deities (These are the four Gods and Goddesses I used to personify the fifth element of spirt and certain feelings):
- Deimos (Formido): God of fear, terror, fright, and fleeing
- Eleos: Goddess of pity, mercy, clemency, love, and compassion
- Lyssa (Rabies): Goddess of mad rage, frenzy, and blind indignation
- Nemesis: Goddess of revenge, balance, righteous indignation, and retribution
I had managed to create practices, holidays, and deities out of my core set of beliefs. I created… a religion. At this point, I had something to practice. I also had multiple journal/diary sized books that comprised two “encyclopedias” of my beliefs. The Book of Mirrors was similar to the Bible and contained stories, quotes, lessons, morals, describing the beliefs that formed my religion. My Book of Mirrors also frequently had stories and verses from the Bible and other religious texts. The Book of Shadows was similar to the hymnal and contained songs, chants, readings, spells (prayers,) and rituals. Some of those also came from other religious texts including some various Christian Hymnals.
I had moved from being an atheist, to an agnostic, to now creating and practicing my own religion. Yet it was finding it helpful to my life… I was now a believer in religion. I was now a devout of something that I looked down on for a good chunk of my life. I felt like I was playing with madness… Moreover, it was giving me great comfort and helping me define my life.
However, I was alone in this religion. I was a solitary believer and member of my own religion. Before long it was a very lonely process and while it was helpful to both my mental state and my coping with various issues I faced, I felt very alone… The next step was to find a community. The natural step was to look into Pagan Communities. The next section is about my looking for a group to join that would accept who I was and my beliefs as they were…
Continue to Part IV: Finding Religious Community and Acceptance (Coming Soon)