This came about because the Polytheism Facebook page posted one of John Beckett’s articles from Patheos. While that article has to deal with the fear of the gods that one might have, it briefly touched on some insecurities that many have had. I made a comment about lay practice, which has been on my mind since reading this post from the God’s Mouths 2.0 project blog. Everyone should read it, I think. Both, in fact.
I have some theories on why so many people have an issue with being “simple” lay practitioners of their faith. It seems that wherever you turn on the Internet there’s somebody claiming that they have experienced something profound. Something intensely spiritual or mystical, perhaps intense and vivid out of body experiences/pathwalking sessions, who knows. That they have some connection to a deity, or have deep, soul-changing trance sessions, or that they might have some more concrete connections with the deities themselves.
This somehow translates as having more worth to certain people, and there are always going to be those who use their ‘special qualities’ to make themselves feel better and more important.
Western society, especially American society, is founded upon principles of individualism. Capitalism itself is a process by which individuals can work towards their own betterment. Entire schools of sociology have been dedicated to the exercise of power and agency and all of those fun little social scientific words that get thrown around with increasing regularity. I think, coming from a largely secularized, consumerist and inherently egocentric society it can be difficult to fall into a role of a lay practitioner.
Because we, as a society, are dedicated to the idea of extreme individualism, we seek to try to find something that represents ourselves; something that can differentiate us from the mass of our fellows. Something that is, in effect, a large neon sign proclaiming who or what we are. I have a few thoughts why people strive so hard to make Paganism seem like such a big deal:
- They might come from a religious background where they were simply one practitioner among hundreds of others, their voices drowned out in the back of the church and no longer want to feel like “one of the herd”.
- They require external validation because they’re coming from a largely secularist society which, founded upon reason and logic, innately positions them against an expenditure of time or energy on “unfounded ideals” on something like religion or spiritualism.
- They simply want something to differentiate themselves from the mundane.
I’m sure there are others. And really, this is not a critique on them, at all. We each have reasons for doing what we do, although I will criticize the individuals who use their experiences to lord over others. This seems to be pretty common on Tumblr.
If I could give only one word of advice to anyone who is interested in, newly joined, or returning to any kind of Paganism it would be something like this:
Being a lay practitioner is absolutely, inherently, and utterly acceptable. There is not a damn thing wrong with it, at all. Never feel like you are forced to measure up against anyone else. The only person who you have to measure up against is yourself.
It is only a very small minority of mystics, contemplatives, and other spiritual positions that will ever have any kind of position of clarity with the Gods. This is not saying that it will never happen to any one – I have had a scant few experiences myself. But not everyone is going to have a deep relationship with even one deity, let alone anything resembling all of them. A great many practitioners of the Paganisms do so without external validation; they practice, worship, pray, and most importantly believe. And they do this by, excuse me for this one, having faith.
It is perfectly acceptable to have radio silence. It is not a unique situation to be in, no matter what it looks like on the Internet. There is nothing wrong with what you are doing – you are not Doing It Wrong™ by practicing with no signal clarity. And I say this being a person who is unable to voluntarily leave his body, who has not had any contact with any of my own deities in over sixteen years. I’m not speaking of this as someone who is in a position where I am privileged to have these events.
Think of the number of people who practice other forms of spirituality and religions. Look at the number of, say, Christian worshipers to the number of Christian mystics. It’s a dreadfully small number, even throughout history. But those lay practitioners are no less important to the foundation of that faith than the mystics and theurges.
I personally think that it is egocentric assumption that the Gods are going to want to have in depth relationships with all of their practitioners, one that edges close to hubris to assume that they should be. I also think it is self-depreciating masochism to inherently assume that it is something wrong with you that they don’t.
Being a lay practitioner doesn’t invalidate the individuality that we have. It doesn’t make us less worthy to worship, or lessen our worth in the eyes of the Gods and spirits. It doesn’t mean that those with greater signal clarity are better people, better followers, better religious practitioners than we are.
This does not get emphasized enough. People fall into the allure of Paganism, the spellwork of the Wiccan faiths, or the deep spiritual connections that the shamanic paths have, or the esoteric nature of the occult traditions, and they just want to be special in those regards. I can appreciate that. Nobody wants to get lost in the grind. But those things aren’t what makes that person worthy.
These are some of the things that measure the worth of a lay practitioner. Keep that in mind, and do not let anyone make you feel otherwise.
Thanks for reading.