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The Religious Experience: A Wiccan Viewpoint

Author: Summer Woodsong

SWoodsong@aol.com
Connections Journal


What is religion? Religion is a set of beliefs
which allow us to understand and categorize our world and our
place in it. A set of beliefs which define our culture, our
expectations, our views of people and behaviors we expect. I have
found several different definitions, but one thing comes across
fairly clearly – religion almost always acknowledges power
outside ourselves. Contrary to popular dictionary definitions,
Wicca does not require that we believe in a supernatural or a
supernaturally powerful being – but you can if you want to
envision it that way. Religion is a spiritual path that allows us
to move outside of our day-to-day needs and demands. It provides
us with a view of our place in the larger picture. To see
ourselves, our lives, and our endeavors as part of a whole world
– a tapestry of people, plans, energy, art and creation. It
shows the entire process of creation, growth, death and
reclaiming of the component parts for the next creation. It
provides a paradigm and form around and through which we live our
lives and understand who and what we are.



I found one part of the word defined as “A
cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and
faith.” (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1977) This is
closer to acceptable, but even then they use the word faith.
Since faith is believing in something firmly even though there is
no proof - it is not a solid match either.



I can only speak with full knowledge of my
religion of choice, Wicca. However, I will speak in a broader
sense of many religions. There are many excellent books available
on comparative religion, and on each religion mentioned. If
something catches your interest learn more about it. All
religions are a unique fit, to individual needs and gifts. For
some, the best religion is none at all. However, even a decision
not to believe in a source, a divine being or an ultimate mystery
incorporates a philosophy and a social system in its structure.
There is only a fine line between philosophy and religion.



 



Philosophy and beliefs justified



Almost all religions provide a philosophy which
is a combination of community, social and personal philosophies,
and operating instructions for contributing to one's family,
friends and society. It is the lens through which we assign
meaning to our lives. Humankind is not psychologically geared to
work in a vacuum. We want answers and require some reason behind
those answers. In general we look to our science, which is also a
religion in many ways, for these answers. But when we look for
answers that science cannot evaluate for us, we have to make
decisions that will be in concert with our values and provide
comfort in times of misfortune. However, when it comes to our
lives and what society requires of us, it has long been simplest
to assign some divine authority to those behaviors to justify
societal demands.



 



Etiquette



When a cultural system has specialists, such as
priests, shamans or ministers, who interpret the divine's will
and use it to enforce social norms, it has frequently lead to one
individual telling another what their Authority required of them.
However, in the rational and scientific lights of today, that is
not as widely accepted as it once was. People have become more
skeptical of exactly whose will is being imposed.



All religions are based on a series or set of
values – which in turn spawn ethics, working rules of
behavior and personal morals. Paganism, in particular, focuses on
independence, freedom to choose, self-reliability, respecting
each path, seeing each of our members as divinity incarnate.



Now, there are some conflicts here that must be
handled with common sense, but in general these values translate
well into societal norms. Thus, we value those who are competent
in their religious, personal, social, professional and artistic
pursuits. There is little rancor against one who asserts their
interests and skill level. We do not have any exhortation from
above to be humble, although our elders may caution young, strong
individuals not to intimidate or overwhelm their peers. Wicca and
Paganism is a path for individualists, with room for their family
and newcomers to join along.



 



Values and Society



First and foremost, religion provides social
guidelines so that we may have predictability and security in our
physical environments. These tend to be absolute guidelines such
as, “Thou shalt not” steal, murder, bear false witness,
etc. In other religions, such as Wicca, you will find broader
based exhortations, such as, “Everything will come back to
you, threefold.” And “An it harm none, do as thou
will.” These social guidelines try to provide a common set
of values and behavioral norms that will ensure that people
within that culture will thrive and continue. When I was growing
up, we were constantly bombarded with instructions on how to
behave. Don't hit, don't lie, don't take things that don't belong
to you, don't touch, etc. ad infinitum. Of course all that
instruction was damned annoying, someone was always at you with
it. And to a kid, this seems like the most fussy and restrictive
part of growing up. Stay clean, don't get dirty, wash your hands.
Yet, all of these were designed to promote a culture where
disease was at a minimum, each person could accrue wealth and
security, and violence was not part of everyday occurrences. In
short, the good life.



While, to this day, I still don't see the point
in writing thank you notes, I now understand that with these
common courtesies in place, we can see that we live in a good
environment. And those that will not adhere to these courtesies
will not fit in. Ultimately they will be cast out, or
incarcerated or move on to other locations by their own efforts.
They were not a good match. Football studs, do not understand or
care about the norms of computer geeks. It just doesn't fit.



To that end, each culture will provide its
members with a description of its divinity and that divinity's
rules for its people. And the leaders of that culture, religion,
belief system, etc. will provide interpretation and application
of those rules for its members. Is this God authoritarian? Or
does He accept compromise? Is this Goddess a warrior, or will She
see nurturing as valuable? Does this God over here interfere with
humans – should we look to see his messages in our
day-to-day environment? Or is He the type that set up the game,
and we are on our own to figure it out? These views of divinity
are directly linked to our decisions about how we should live our
lives. Even if we do not see ourselves as devout or intimately
linked to our religion and its practices, we are acting through
its paradigms in our daily decisions about ourselves, our family,
our coworkers and our leadership.



That definition also tells us how to regard our
world. What will be sacred? Is the world a resource, at our whim
it becomes a parts list of available components? Or is it, in and
of itself, an entity entitled to undisturbed existence? Again,
this is a question that religion answers for us, and which has a
powerful effect on our actions. These decisions carry through all
of our actions and our decisions about our world and our fellows.
Is mankind innately flawed? Must people be tightly controlled so
they do not rape, steal and plunder? Or are they inherently good,
and when put in optimum circumstances will they grow and
contribute art, beauty and abundance to their fellows? These
decisions about our peers enable our choices to be gracious,
generous or to be conservative and cautious. As you can readily
perceive, this effects the emotional atmosphere as profoundly as
the physical realm.



In the same way religion spells out what our
Gods and beliefs are, they also explain what we need to bring to
our social group – the obligations under ethics code. This
might be something as simple as “Share and share alike”
or “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” “Each according
to his own merits.” Or, like the old story of the
grasshopper and the ant, those that do not contribute, plan
ahead, shall perish. Some religions demand that all the time and
effort of an individual be devoted to the religious cause. So,
day-to-day thoughts and actions are driven by needs and
requirements of that religion. Other religions, or even
interpretations of the same religion, may have much lighter
demands for time and resources. Many churches believe that seeing
people once a week is plenty of devotion shown.



 



What is it used for? What good is it?



Religion answers questions that science cannot
deal well with. Science is the art of physical examination,
measurement and replicable results of that examination and
manipulation. It is objective, not subjective. That means that it
is not equipped to deal or measure solely personal, emotional
responses.



Religion tries to provide sufficient
explanations about important questions that cannot be reasonably
dealt with through science. In particular it provides mythology
concerning our origins. How did we get here? How did all this
start? Across the world, there are many parallel explanations of
the origins of the race and the cosmos. Even children seem to
suddenly realize that there was a time when they were not, they
had no life. And they demand an explanation. Many of these
explanations are vague, without detail or substantiating details.
And that is to be expected, because we are addressing questions
that have no answer, yet we are more comfortable if it seems that
someone knows.



At this point we tend to create great
overarching figures that exist outside our reality. And we assign
them powers. Yet, we do not see the flaw in creating greater
beings, for that would imply even greater beings created them,
and so on, and so on. Being uncomfortable with ambiguity, we
simply assign a divine cause and go with it. Many of these divine
causes are in the shape of our own lives, just bigger and
brighter. Thus we invent God in our own image. Or we assert that
God created us in his image.



In the same uncertainty that made us examine
our origins, we look to religion to tell us what it is we are
supposed to be doing here. There is some opinion that this is a
local and recent phenomenon. Back when we spent most of our time
and resources on survival, this question was put off until the
elders had time to sit and cogitate. Now most people have some
time to devote to their spiritual questions, and so we look to
our spiritual specialist for answers. For, if we create or
acknowledge a greater force than ourselves as the designer of
what is, and was, and will be, it follows logically that there
must have been a reason for our presence. This may be something
as benign as the Creatrix was lonely, or as demanding as that
Creator needed worship and attention to continue. Decisions about
the reality and personality of that which created our world, then
also will tell us what kind of precautions, actions or steps are
required in order to lead a fortunate life. Is this a God which
needs attention or He will send storms and destruction? Or is
this a benign God which we can safely leave to its own devices,
while we get on and pursue new projects? Must this Goddess be
addressed and gifted prior to conception of a child? Or is birth
a natural part of the order of things, so we can save our efforts
and energy toward other endeavors?



It seems somewhat odd from this outside view,
but these questions occupy us and our energies until we make some
working hypotheses from which to work. And these are not
questions which fit into the common mold. They are not measurable
quantities, you cannot weigh or assess their validity with any
measure available. These are the mysteries of life. And mysteries
leave open unanswerable questions. There will always be those
story tellers who provide art in absence of solid form. Later
this art becomes metaphorical reality and we proceed to religion
as an inherited truth. Where science cannot help, our spiritual
artists will provide new truths that satisfy the inner child of
our minds.



 



How do you choose a particular
religion?



The first thing to do is to decide what is
important to you. This not only encompasses the services
available, but more importantly – what is it these people
believe? What would they have you do? Are their beliefs going to
contribute to the life you see as valuable and preferable? Or
will they teach you new ways, and new lifestyles? Is that what
you want?



If you are a strong, independent person –
does this religion tolerate controversy, questioning, differences
in doctrine? If you do not have time and energy to contribute
– will this religion allow you to miss services, meetings,
singles, prayer groups etc.? If you deeply value free speech,
will this work out? Are your values and the organization's
beliefs in concert? Do you tend to devise your own rules, or is
it important that the religion you seek lay out exactly what it
is they expect, what you need to do to be accepted, saved,
anointed, whatever. People can be internally driven, respecting
the paths, decisions and goals of each of its members, or it can
be externally driven. Externally driven philosophies have
mandates from their leaders, Gods, or councils that are very
firmly set in place. It is important to match not only your
day-to-day endeavors, but to ensure that you can wholeheartedly
endorse and strengthen the goals of the group you are going to
join.



What precisely is it you need from the religion
and the religious group you are considering joining? You need to
outline what kind of services you expect from whichever
organization you will join, what kind of opportunity you need for
your spiritual rituals or ceremonies. Is it important that you
can gain more involvement over time, or are you completely
comfortable simply observing and attending ceremonies that other
people hold for you? This religion should not only reflect your
values, ethics and moral code, but it should provide a certain
amount of emotional security while providing opportunity to
stretch and grow. Classes, mentoring, participatory groups,
family outings and events, singles events – what are your
needs?



Each religion has a different way of looking at
life, yet there are two broad types which we have not yet
addressed. For many of the Pagan, Wiccan and other Earth-Oriented
religions, we see life as a series of mysteries which we
celebrate. We see ourselves as part of the natural divinity,
participating in the flow and ebb, life and rebirth, youth and
age of our world and our people. Our world-view tends toward the
optimistic, with a touch a pragmatism to leaven it. Death may be
the natural ultimate consequence of life, but it is only the
doorway into rebirth and new life. Thus, we do not focus on an
afterlife, or potential dire consequences. Each life is redolent
with growth, potential, love, light, sex, children. That joy is
balanced and created by acknowledging our need to learn, support,
do and be all that is required in order to conserve, sustain and
create an environment which will nourish that which we value. Our
life and our accomplishments are set aglow by the joy and wisdom
which we share. For other religions, there is a fear of the
afterlife. It is referred to as a death focused religion, because
those religions focus throughout the life of the member, tightly
on what rewards or punishments will accrue following that life.
These lives are seen as qualifying tests to decide the ultimate,
temporary or eternal destination of those individuals. Failure to
meet specific, and sometimes uncertain standards are a constant
preoccupation and fear among its members. These religions beseech
and attempt to placate their god(s) in order to lighten perceived
punishments here in this life, and to understand the requirements
in order to qualify for a better afterlife. These religions are
categorized as supplicatory. They seek to provide sufficient,
pleasing energy, works, words, etc. in order to avoid negative
consequences.



It is important to look at not only the beliefs
granted you through your personal history, but to investigate and
make a determination of what it is that you want to have in your
life. Many individuals have adapted supplicatory religions and
converted their view of the deity to that of a gentler, more
loving God. Others have gone farther, and become completely
disassociated from anything that smacks of religion or
spirituality. In essence, they have created meaning and goals
from refuting all that people of religion have to say. Secular
Humanism is one such philosophy. Atheist beliefs also work in
this manner.



There is a less well known belief that sees
power and meaning in religion and spirituality that cannot be
offered by anything less than the informed, intelligent and
rational decision to engage in activities that are pleasing to
the mind, the psyche, the inner child. These endeavors feed the
natural love of art, beauty, and mystery that makes us so much
more than Skinner's reactive machine. Religious Humanists are
probably the closest thing I have seen to define what it is that
Wicca offers to its members. Without compromising common sense,
without offending intelligence, without denying the
interconnectedness of all things in this world, these rationally
irrational religions offer the ability to provide a working
theory of life, that encompasses joy, strength, and will allow
devotion on a level unavailable when these gifts must be
compromised for belief. This was what I found in Wicca. Finally,
there was a place that respected the Earth, the Elders, Life,
Pleasure, Joy, Self-Reliance, Strength, so many things that I had
instinctively seen as the building bricks of my world. When I
finally found my religion, I understood at last so many things
that had been senseless. I finally understood true devotion. I
was suddenly fully at home. My spiritual puzzle had been solved.



For many people coming to Wicca or WitchCraft
there is any immediate recognition that this is what they have
been looking for. I call it the `click.' There is this sensation
that a puzzle piece has finally been found, which clicks right
into place. A real “Yes, at last! This is it!”
sensation. I do not know if other religions have this kind of
effect when they are discovered and accepted, but I can only hope
that they do. My religion is my delight. It is in all that I am,
all that I do and in all that I offer. I never try to convince
others that my choice would be right for everyone. I know it is
uniquely suited to me. I can only hope that others respect my
choice, and that they are as happy as I.



 



What do you have to offer?



In an interview in this issue, eluki bes shahar
gave us this definition of Wicca, not as an absolute, but as a
single descriptor among many. “...Wicca is an initiatory,
non-pastoral, non-proselytizing, adult-conversion polytheism and
let it go at that.” Note the word initiatory. There are many
aspects of Wicca that are important, but this one area is
changing, and I believe it is one of those which must be
reclaimed.



In the past, Wicca was made of small, private
groups, which were tightly knit since what they were doing was
broadly misunderstood, and in many places, punishable by law or
even death. Thus, trust, cohesiveness within the group, belief in
stated norms was of paramount importance. It was an initiatory
experience only offered to those who were willing to put their
time, effort, studies, and adherence to the test. After many
years, in most cases, people who had gathered the knowledge,
proven themselves reliable, and come to the point of flouting all
the more common social norms, took initiation into the Coven.
That Coven had also spent many years, training, assessing,
considering and deciding whether or not this person could be
trusted, was sufficiently valuable to risk the Coven's social
cohesion and its existence. Ill-considered words could spell the
end of traditions guarded and nurtured for decades.



Thus, the initiatory experience was always a
serious and coveted experience.



One of the things that people face today as
they look toward the Wiccan religion, is the level to which they
are willing devote their time, resources and energy. There is
great discussion of Congregational Wicca. And there is a place
for it. But for those who truly want to understand and experience
devotion to the Gods, Wicca as a religion and the richness that
it can encompass, these people must look toward an initiatory
experience of the highest level. Simply reading two or three
books and going through a self-initiation ritual will almost
never compare to the dedication and demands of a Coven path that
so stretch, define and mold a personality.



If you are strong-willed and would know the
limits and capacity of your power, then become truly involved in
a path that makes demands of you, that will shape you from the
small personal being you were into the leader and Priest/ess that
you could be. Never will simply claiming such a title bring you
to understand the depth of your service to the Gods and the
community.



If you are not interested in the role of
leader/servant, there are still necessary obligations for any of
the religions that you choose to call yours. There are many roles
which are available, and it is important to choose a religion
that provides you with an outlet for your spiritual needs, your
gifts and talents, and that is a good match for the time and
interest you need to devote in order to satisfy your spiritual
personality.



 



Choices/roles within the religion



These roles include a variety of contributions,
and sometimes needs. Many people want to find a group which will
allow them to express their opinions and strengths by being
pivotal in a leadership role. Coordinating other's efforts for
projects, designing new projects, being a visionary, etc. Others
find their greatest joy in assisting and providing the nuts and
bolts for accomplishing such projects, and bring visions into
reality. If you are proud of your organizational skills, then the
administrative details of group coordination may suit you well.
Sometimes the most important skill one can offer is to assist
with the children of the group. To keep them occupied so that
their parent can have the time and mental focus necessary to
learn new concepts, behaviors, courtesies, etc. To create an
environment where others have the opportunity to weave their
lives into their peers can be the greatest gift one can provide.



Occasionally, we all find that we need help.
That perhaps it is our time to be given energy and assistance,
rather than offering it to others. At another time we may move
into a role of sharing our experiences with others, advising,
playing the counselor as once others provided us the same
service. This happens when the group offers its sympathy and
support to someone who is undergoing immense stress – such
as divorce, abuse, drug dependency. To reach out to help others
in need is a sign of the personality of the group, it is healthy
and strong enough to support others without demanding
reciprocation.



It is not unusual in any group to find all
these roles happening at once: leader, observer, administrative
person, newcomer, potential leader, social coordinator, extra
care required person, those growing in their spiritual path, and
others that don't quite fit any of those descriptions.



Groups are the basis of any religion, and any
congregation, coven, grove, area community will be made up of
many different types of groups, each with their own distinct
personality. These groups provide a touchstone for those who
would support us when we are in stress. We are not just
intellectual computers, spewing forth solutions and taking up
data. Our chosen religion offers spiritual richness when we are
devoid of energy to be imaginative. To those involved in the
stressful day-to-day professional world, spirituality allows us
to return from the sterility of professionalism and rational
denial of self, back into the richer forum of experiencing our
physical and emotional facets. We need to feel, touch and
connect.



 



Why not just rational?



It almost seems contradictory to teach Rational
Emotive WitchCraft, teach people to control their emotions and
energy, and then insist that straight rationality is not enough.
Yet humans constantly seek meaning. Some are more spiritually
inclined than others. They may actively enjoy seeing their world
as a constant display of the mysteries of our life. Many are
grounded in the scientific model. For these folks it almost seems
paradoxical to offer spirituality as a panacea for those
definitions and explanations that science cannot offer. There are
a couple reasons, though, to include religion in addition to
science and its rational model.



Science cannot answer all questions. Although
it can assess results, and record what our thoughts, it has no
answer to the ultimate mysteries – thought itself. Although
it can record emotions and causes of those, it has no answer as
to why we experience emotions. Perhaps all humankind is the
result of Skinner's behavioral model, and we only act out of
selected survival traits over the millennium. Yet, there seems to
be much more to us than that. Beauty is not survival, art is not
survival, why do we love music? For these attributes, we can only
look within and speculate.



Humankind needs to see a goal, a plan, a
reason, in order to structure and weigh their actions. And as we
have more and more available resources, time and energy, it
becomes even more important that we have a guiding view of what
it is we need to be, accomplish, and contribute in order to be
successful as humans. As interdependent members of a culture, we
long ago learned that cooperative strategies maximized our
capacity to produce food, necessities, and protect ourselves from
disasters or violence. That ability to move in concert required
more than just an agreement to work together, it was based on
common goals and a thorough understanding of each other's
intentions. Thus, over time, our beliefs and expectations for
behavior, worth and trust were developed into common standards
for membership of that community. There was consensus. And with
that consensus came consistent decisions and activities within
the culture. One knew what one needed to give by way of time,
resources, etc. Roles became defined, and enforced – either
directly or indirectly. People became more secure in their
physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.



Those who have less capacity intellectually and
emotionally are less able to tolerate divergence from these
culturally established norms. Over time, we calcified these roles
into absolutes. Men did this, women did that, only shamans could
do this. This provided both predictability and discomfort for
those the roles did not suit.



Religion today is again in a quandary. We no
longer are in a pattern of adversity which allows absolutes and
strict roles to be forced on our community members. Wicca and
Paganism looks to a model that allows each to contribute
according to their unique gifts, rather than by predetermined
roles based on age or gender. And it may be in time that Wicca
will find itself creating more hard and fast roles in order to
define itself better. But, for now, it is a very flexible system
in many ways. Christianity still has many sects which restrict
how women can contribute. While supporting roles are encouraged,
the absolutes that demanded only the male gender lead, counsel or
preach is slipping. All religions are now being chosen and
assessed on different merits than in past. And each religion must
provide appeal to attract new recruits and members based on a
combination of its values, needs and the services it can offer
those members.



In many ways, strategies are being developed
specifically to attract new members. Some Christian small
ministry books I have read advocate deliberately misleading
newcomers about their inner political structures, group missions,
and beliefs in areas which might not be palatable to newcomers.
Only after newcomers become entrenched and indoctrinated in the
new beliefs will these inner truths be shared. And often then
only in small parts, so as to retain the new member and
desensitize them to unpalatable material while displaying rewards
which supplant earlier values.



 



Cult vs. Religion



Wicca, Neo-Paganism, WitchCraft have all been
accused at some time or another of being cults. In popular
terminology, this seems to mean any religion or spiritual group
with insufficient wherewithal to legally argue the label.
However, cult does have a technical definition and there are
distinctive characteristics to watch for. Cults, and any religion
can have a group which would qualify, seek to initially draw one
in by either seeking those in a time of severe need and stress,
or offering particularly enticing rewards for the newcomer. Signs
of a destructive group/cult include: attempts at mind control,
deception, fatigue, alienation, change of diet, lack of privacy,
exploitation, guilt, totalitarian world view (us vs. them),
deceptive recruiting practices, member's time is spent in
recruiting, fund raising, and elitism (we are the best!). Mind
control sounds a bit strong and paranoid, but again, it is a
technical term by people who focus on what cults do and how they
operate. The two basic tactics of mind control are: 1) If you can
get someone to behave the way you want, you can get them to
believe the way you want, and 2) Sudden, drastic changes in
environment lead to heightened suggestibility and drastic changes
in belief. The most common form of mind control I can point to is
Military Basic Training. They always bring you in in the dark,
you are always exhausted, your behavior is completely controlled
and you become fantastically concerned with things that have
never before had relevance, like the crease of a uniform pant,
folding underwear and other highly detailed and unusual demands.
No one comes out of Basic Training the same person that went in.



If you encounter any group that demands
anything close to that level of dedication, run, don't walk.
Religion should complement your values, illustrate your goals,
and demand only that which allows you to grow and find greater
depth in your life. Any group that isolates you from your friends
or family, or which demands that you only concentrate on their
provided information, is restricting your freedom of belief. That
is not growth. It may sometimes seem simpler, maybe even welcome,
but it is not a display of your choice of path and power.
Ultimately, it will only weaken you, not fulfill you.



Religion is a rich combination of personal
philosophy, combined with values, behavioral norms and social
courtesies. It offers a rich appeal to the senses, and satisfies
the emotional need to belong and understand the ways of the world
that each of us inhabit. All religions have aspects that can only
be understood over time, and all people have aspects that will
only encompass certain spiritual facets as time goes by. Yet this
is the most exhilarating and rewarding journey one can begin.
This article only begins the exploration. Now, it is your turn.
All journeys begin with a single step. Choose a path.

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WICCAN BELIEFS - Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Jan 10, 2010 Principle #10 refers to the intense opposition and oppression experienced by many Wiccans at the time, typically from conservative Christians.
Training - Cherry Hill testimonials - Pagan Pastoral Outreach
I'm writing to recommend the Cherry Hill experience as well as to discuss my Some students think the subject matter is a bit weighted towards Wiccan viewpoints, instruction from the top, most motivated elders in our religious movements.
Wiccan's Viewpoint Concerning Evil, Sin, And 'Redemption', A
2 days ago A Wiccan's Viewpoint Concerning Evil, Sin, And 'Redemption' of the doctrine and dogma of organized, beauracratic religious frameworks. human souls Chrisianity exists by 'saving humans from' experiencing our souls .