Wicca in the World: Our Place in the 21st Century
Author: Ash’lynn Gaoithe
Religion has always been a sensitive subject. Religious conflicts and disagreements have a long and bloody history. I’ve heard it said that a belief system couldn’t be a true religion unless someone has died in its name. And while martyrdom is a powerful way to express the ultimate conviction for a cause, what does that say about human tolerance and our inability to coexist with people who do not believe the same things as us? I have many opinions on this subject, and I’d like to believe that they are a lovely shade of grey, instead of the black and white that religion usually is. I’ll talk about my views of religion in the abstract, how Wicca fits in, and then why I don’t believe that science in any way discredits our faith.
First of all, I think the theory of religion is beautiful and comforting. The belief in a power greater than one’s self puts me at ease, because it puts responsibility in the hands of someone more qualified than any man. I find it easy to rationalize that whatever happens, happens for a reason, and for the greater good (even if the “greater good” doesn’t quite work out in my favor) . There is a Navajo belief that every religion contains a thread of truth, and only when all the threads are woven together can the complete tapestry, the full truth, be seen. I mention this because I have a hard time accepting religions that claim to be the only “right” way to salvation. These religions then of course condemn other beliefs as false.
Now, I was raised a Christian, because it’s what my parents believed. This is easy to understand, because Christianity is the predominant religion where I was born. I’m sure that if I had been born in Afghanistan, I would have grown up a Muslim, or had I grown up in India or China, I would have been Hindu or Taoist, respectively. Religion, it seems, is quite culturally based. That’s why I always felt very uncomfortable with the whole “Jesus is the only way to salvation” thing. If the Christian God knows all, then He must know that a child born in the Middle East is not likely to turn to Christianity, because of harsh social pressure to be Muslim. And what about children born in remote parts of the world, like in tribal Africa, or aborigines in Oceania? In cases like that, He would know, perhaps, that western missionary would come to preach Christianity, at least not in that child’s lifetime. (And it’s not to say that conversions can’t happen; although cultural backgrounds do hold influence on people, personality is not indicative of where you were born. I recognize that. But if religion is part of an accepted social norm, conversion might be unlikely.)
It seemed to me, that if in the Christian doctrine anyone who did not accept Jesus into his or her heart could not enter heaven, then by determining that a child would be born into a “heathen” part of the world, then He was damning that soul to hell. And I could not relate to this God of predestination. He did not strike me as a loving God.
A couple months ago, I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was a wonderful book, and in the author’s quest to find spiritual enlightenment, she found her spark in a Hindu temple in India. When she described her experience, which happened during meditation, I remember thinking: “Wow, how lucky she was, to have had a personal experience like that. She found her spark through Hindu guidance and meditation; I wish I could find something that would work for me!” When I mentioned book to some women at my church, I was shocked at the reaction one woman had. She warned me that the book was dangerous, that the woman was following a path of evil, because she too, had been raised Christian, but had begun to walk a different path. She finished by locking me in a fixed stare and saying: “Jesus is the one true savior. You know that. Right?”
I nodded, to keep the peace, but inside, I was so confused. The Hindu religion was a peaceful, legitimate belief system, with many followers. How could so many people be wrong? And that’s not to claim that people can’t make mistakes, but when it comes to religion, there is so much doubt. Anyone who commits to a faith, especially those who find a faith without being born into it, does a lot of soul searching. They learn about a belief, and they might test the waters to see if the faith speaks to them. And while nothing is perfect, any widely recognized religion that exists, exists because it has been able to stand up to scrutiny. Organized religion is a mass of variables, but behind religions are thousands of people who are well-learned and accepting of the doctrine. And she had found a religion that spoke to her; surely connection to a higher power of any kind is a good thing? How could anyone condemn that experience, and write it off as a false god, or a path of evil?
I have since come to the conclusion that all Gods are one. I read somewhere that God does not care what you call Him, as long as you call Him. This rings so true to me. I find it very sad when I hear people born Christian that are now atheists, because they carried similar beliefs as me, which simply did not have a place among Christian teachings. And because that belief system did not suit them, they gave up belief altogether. And I’m not saying that Deity is supposed to align with what we want. But different religions exist because people have different views on what God is, and our personal beliefs should align with a belief system.
As a Christian, I was told that Jesus was savior. I could not believe that, it didn’t ring true with me. And there was no good in pretending to believe something that I could not accept in my heart; we cannot force ourselves to believe in something, we either do, or don’t. Therefore if one particular belief system does not “click”, search for something that does. Religions are many, and diverse. Religion should be a reflection of what you already believe. How else can you put your faith in something that cannot be proven?
There are many different types of people in this world (and thank goodness! Without diversity, we would be a boring human race!) . There are introverts and extroverts, athletes and bookworms, liberals and conservatives. Not everyone thinks quite the same way. So why shouldn’t there be different religions?
I believe everyone should explore, to find what suits him or her. There is no conviction without question. And it would be stifling to proclaim yourself a practitioner of a certain faith simply because others around you believe that! You always hear it said: “Be yourself, ” and “If everyone else were jumping off a bridge, would you?” But you never hear those things when it comes to faith; it seems everyone is telling you what to believe, telling you that it’s the only true way, the only right thing to believe.
I mean, belief is a personal thing. Some people can relate to God as a stern, disciplinary father, who has strict concepts of right and wrong, do this and not that. Some people want a loving embrace that can accept them and forgive their sins. Some people can relate more to an ambiguous deity who leaves life a matter of free will. Some people believe in one God, and others believe in many. Even in Wicca, no two people believe the same thing. Some could envision many individual Gods and Goddesses from several different pantheons, another person may call only on the all-encompassing God and Goddess, and another person may call only on the One. To me, all beliefs are just different faces of the same power.
I was recently reading a book in which a very good analogy was brought up: a disco ball. “A sphere made up of many small mirrors, each of which is one named aspect of Deity, and together they compose the whole, the One.” (How to Become a Witch: The Path of Nature, Spirit and Magick by Amber K and Azrael Arynn K)
And to me this is true on a bigger scale as well. Each mirror, each religion and belief system is a facet of the same thing. Whichever one you look at, it’s just a different way to see the same thing. And I just don’t know how someone looking into one tiny mirror can tell someone looking at a mirror on the other side that they’re not looking at the disco ball the right way, or that what they’re seeing isn’t real because they’re not standing in a certain way, looking at it from a certain angle.
Man can never come close to understanding the divine; it is simply beyond our comprehension. We can only seek to understand. Much of any religion is man-made, anyway. Men, believing themselves to be divinely inspired, wrote all the Bible, Torah, and Qur’an. And I’m not saying those books didn’t contain divine truth to the men who wrote them. And there are of course many who believe those sacred holy books to contain the only real truth. But in any religion, you will find man at its roots, seeking only to find enlightenment in the way he believes is best. Likeminded individuals who agree join together to seek the truth together, and a religion is born.
Unless it wasn’t clear, I am not seeking to condemn any religion, or convert anyone. As I said before: I believe all Gods are one, and religions are just different ways to worship. Different methods for different people. I am merely calling you to think and question. Keep an open mind, and learn as much as you can. Find what works for you. I found my spark. I had my own religious experience. And I am happily following my own path.
And that is a part of why Wicca is so beautiful to me: we don’t seek to convert people, or claim that there is only one “right” God to follow, one “right” way to worship. Yes, some Traditions may claim their way has been around longer, or that only people who have been initiated in a certain way are legitimate, but for the most part we respect diversity, and we acknowledge that not everyone thinks the same way. In Wicca, not only do my wide views of religion as a whole fit in comfortably, but also there is a lot of freedom within the Wiccan faith to worship in a personal way. For those familiar with the geometric principle of fractals, having the freedom to choose which Gods and Goddesses speak to you is just the same as seeing which religious path speaks to you, but on a smaller and more specific scale.
The other point I would like to make is on the topic of science: when people of faith are not defending their beliefs from one another, they are defending their beliefs from the chiefly logical and scientifically minded who claim that the existence of deity is scientifically disproven. For me, the more I learn about the laws of physics which govern how our universe works and newly discovered wonders, the more validation I have that a higher power exists. Science and discovery reinforces the belief in a divine being (s) ; they do not disprove it.
Take Stephen Hawking’s theory for example. He said that a God could not have created the universe, because before the Big Bang, there was no time, space, or energy. He says that our entire universe exists deep within a giant black hole, and outside of that is nothing. This baffles me. If we even raise the question ‘Could a God have caused the Big Bang’ only to dismiss it because time did not exist? Ridiculous! It seems to me that if we even acknowledge that a God could conceivably have had the power to create and trigger the beginning of our universe, if only there had been time to do so… I can’t even finish that sentence.
If a God has the power to create the universe, then I don’t think little nuances like lack of the vector of time could stand in his or her way. Anyway, if we buy into the multiverse theory, or even acknowledge that outside our universe there is a timeless void (which Hawking’s black hole theory suggests) , then I believe that something ageless could very well exist there. Whether you want to call it heaven, Summerland, or simply acknowledge it as a place between worlds and out of time, some separate plane of existence other than ours, many scientists agree that it exists. Our universe is ever expanding, and we don’t know the half of what’s out there.
And in Wicca, especially, no part of our philosophy contradicts proven science. We revere what is natural and easily observed: the path of the moon across the sky, the turning wheel of the seasons, the growth of crops and the harvest, etc. And as for the magickal element, we are only manipulating the natural energies that exist on earth to produce results. (At the root of Wicca is ‘wic’ which suggests ‘to bend’ as in wicker chair. In Swedish, ‘wika’ literally translates as ‘to bend’) . (Simple Magic by Michele Morgan)
A mundane example is food: food is a natural product of the harvest and hunt on earth, which turns to energy in our bodies. And because it is natural and life-sustaining, it is sacred, and we give thanks for the sustenance. It is the same energy which comes in light and heat from the sun, and which helps plants grow. Although magick is thought of as supernatural, because it is certainly extraordinary, it is not above of or outside of the natural. It brings about physical effects, and can be measured. Just because other parts of religion, like the existence of heaven or God, cannot be measured yet, it does not mean they do not exist.
Atoms and quanta existed even in the Stone Age, although the people living then were totally unaware of them and could not have measured or even understood them. Perhaps, in the same way, we simply do not have the means (or the imagination) to discover some of these things yet. To believe that everything that exists has already been found and understood would be the ultimate arrogance and stupidity.
In summary, I guess I’m just saying that when rational minds say that a supernatural design cannot exist in an increasingly scientific world, I completely agree. The supernatural does not exist. But something which is a part of the universe just as we are, something natural yet much grander than us…? Yes, I believe that exists, whether it is “out there”, or more simply, alive and sustained in every living thing on earth.
I hope that I have given you something to think about, and some ways to defend our faith to those who would seek to convert us or discredit us, be they missionaries of other faiths or the scientifically minded.
“How to Become a Witch: The Path of Nature, Spirit and Magick” by Amber K and Azrael Arynn K
“Simple Magic” by Michele Morgan