A Pantheacon Discussion
It seems like a contradiction- atheists at a convention centered around spirituality. But that is what makes it so much more appealing. Due to their questioning nature, atheists can often be quite confrontational in matters that cannot be scientifically explained. I don’t consider myself an atheist, but I also don’t attach myself to any particular higher power or deity. This has made it difficult to find my place and like-minded community, even within the diversity of the pagan community. I see the flaws in every dogma, and have found myself and my path through picking and choosing through traditions. I don’t want to limit myself by aligning with a certain dogma or spirits that may not serve me personally. After all, the reason I first forayed into paganism at all was because I didn’t feel like Christ was answering my prayers. Relationship with the unexplained is just as important as how to explain its effects on yourself. Furthermore, while events like Patheacon help me feel closer to spirit and my own empowerment, it can be extremely difficult to work belief into everyday practice. So I went into this group discussion with many questions, unsure of how the direction of conversation would lead, and bracing myself for opposing and perhaps even confrontational viewpoints.
I have to start off with saying how grateful I am that this did not turn into a conflict-oriented discussion. There was a refreshing lack of better-than-thou mentality, and people seemed more than open to new perspectives and experiences. Many talked about their past religious upbringings, Mormon, Catholic, Jewish… and the major consensus was that while the faith itself might have had a few tolerable ideas, what they missed most was the sense of community. Paganism offers community without expecting complete conformity. For me, without a particularly religious upbringing and the freedom and support of my family to chose my path, I find myself incredibly interested in how people can practice spirituality in their everyday lives, especially knowing that your spirituality is yours alone. As a perpetual teacher’s pet, I found myself accidentally driving the discussion in these directions. I have never been afraid to voice my questions or opinions first.
I was introduced to a new term at the beginning of the discussion, a portmanteau that properly summarizes how I pick and chose what works for me without being devoted to a single practice: Eclectitarian. I like this word on so many levels because it allows me to embrace everything, celebrate what works for others, and respect that which does not work for me personally. The group within the discussion came to a mixed agreement that nature, science, and history were our first loves. We explore these topics, trying to understand what might be out of our ability to understand, and love it anyway. I do love the elements of the world, Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Spirit, more than any other names I might identify specific spirits or aspects of the world individually. Part of the everyday practice can be appreciating nature and the functions of the world in all its forms, that educating yourself and expanding consciousness in itself can be a spiritual experience. I personally have to accept that having a spiritual practice does not mean that you are constantly in a state of ecstasy with the universe, but more often than not it is a calm patience that accepts things as they are or could be.
And so we came across an important distinction that revealed itself many times over the course of the convention: I don’t care if it’s only inside or outside of my head, as long as I feel it inside of my heart, then it is real and fact to me. Being answerable to your own experience and maintaining responsibility for your actions creates a level of accountability that is often disregarded in those claiming to be spiritual when in reality they are simply self serving. “Woo,” or the heightened state of consciousness and personal power, along with setting intent for rituals and prayer therefore become science and fact. It sounds out there, but the idea behind this is that in order to be a science, an experiment, theory, and outcome need to be practiced, documented, and recreated. If you have found something that works for you and you alone in this way, then you have done the science to make it your personal fact. As a community, we simply ask that you don’t try to impose it on others, instead it would be more helpful to help them find their own truths and paths along the way. What is sacred, it follows, is what we chose to have value in our lives. Treating that with reverence allows you to be more empowered by your moral compass and make important decisions in your life with convention as well as humility.
If you personally have not had a ecstatic experience or are still extremely skeptical about the idea of faith, I have another perspective that may produce a broader understanding: Everything is an art form. Everything. Every science, every word out of your mouth, every mathematical calculation, every surgery, every hike in the woods or downtown has an artistic sense to it. You may read diagrams in textbooks, with simplified pictures and statements of how elements of the universe should be, put that is very different from practice. Under and electron-microscope atoms simply look like clouds, our physical bodies react to medications in different ways and our organs function specifically to us. Recovery time from illness is different for every creature, how your bones repair themselves after a break has a timeline, but no guarantee, We use the concepts of science to quantify the world around us, predicting and theorizing about cause and effects. Art is the same way. Art is an expression of experience, of emotion and things that cannot be easily quantified. People are drawn to the Mona Lisa, in my opinion not the best work of DaVinci’s, because they want to understand her enigmatic smile or simply to see why the artwork itself is so famous. Every fact in the universe has an interpretation placed around it because that is what our human natures do. We try to explain and understand and improve our futures based on what we feel and how we act. To state that anything has a clear cause and effect or a 100% rate of proof is a gross oversimplification of life and a horrid aggrandizement of our understanding and place in the universe. Letting yourself feel small, experiencing humility for what you cannot understand, is itself a spiritual experience that allows you greater compassion and acceptance of your fellow, flawed human beings. Allow yourself the suspension of disbelief, let yourself play make believe or talk to imaginary friends because they are projections of your experience and your consciousness reflected back to yourself. There is power in this whimsy, and it allows us to have a more complete picture of ourselves and especially what we value.
The reason we desire spiritual or ecstatic experiences is to so we can face our anxieties and let ourselves acknowledge what is our true selves. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable yet without fear strengthens us. Our past hurts help protect us, but they can also limit us if we are not careful. Compassion for ourselves and the people in our community who may not understand our pain helps us raise above jealousy and victimization. Know your power, what works for you, and embrace it. For me, that means diving into metaphor in stories, embracing archetypes of behavior, seeing abstract connections and diving into why something makes you feel, using color and texture to heightened other senses and improve my environment, love strongly and deeply, and even to hesitate for a better chance to see the big picture. We are not alone, no matter how much it feels so, because each one of us got our ideas from somewhere. Learned how to interpret data and express ourselves for better or worse. Be true to yourself and harm none, take responsibility for your actions and your beliefs, but keep learning, keep exploring the universe. It helps you not only connect with others, but also yourself and the parts of the universe you do not yet understand.