It has been a while since my last post and I have a lot to update as far as my paganism goes. I have picked a path and started on the Bardic Grade course with The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD). And I have joined a local grove, which has recently been recognized officially as an OBOD Seed Group. I have been attending wheel-of-the-year celebrations with them since Samhain last year, and officially joined via initiation at this year’s Ostara ritual.
I’ve found that in the broader pagan community — outside explicitly atheist or humanist circles — there is a common assumption that what defines someone as a ‘pagan’ is that they are polytheistic. This is one area in which I admit I have felt a bit out of place, and that is where members of the grove talk about their workings and experiences with their gods. I think the stories are interesting and the last thing I want to do is show disrespect or cast doubt for anyone else’s experiences. But what do I say when someone asks me what gods I work with? The question did come up during after-ritual socializing this year at Beltane, and my response was simply that I don’t work with gods. But the complete answer to that depends on what you mean by ‘work with.’ I don’t believe in the literal existence of gods, but I have a deep appreciation of myth and poetry and symbolism. I have invoked gods in my personal practice (though not often) and the group rituals with my grove pretty much always involve invoking gods. So how does that work?
I have a couple of approaches that I use. The first approach is seeing the gods as characters in myth — often very rich and meaningful characters with lessons to teach and qualities and virtues that they represent. When I am focused on those lessons and qualities and virtues, I’ve found it very helpful to imagine them as being embodied by these characters. My other approach, the one that I focus on most often lately, is that in the ritual space — in that very specific context — I relax my scientific analytical mind and just let myself experience what is without analyzing whether or not it is ‘real’ or just in my mind. Openness to experience in ritual — a type openness that I don’t usually hold in regular life — has become a key part of my personal ritual practice. Also for this reason, I don’t want to practice in an environment where there are people are constantly telling me ‘gods are not real’ or ‘magic’s not real’ or anything else. However skeptical I am in my ordinary life, in the context of the ritual space I let that go and open myself to experience.
My atheism has not been a problem in my practice. One of the things that drew me to OBOD is that they don’t try to tell you what you must believe or not about gods, but advise that you should tailor your practice to fit what beliefs feel right to you. And you don’t have to believe in literal deity to appreciate the story of Ceridwen and Taliesin, which is covered in the Bardic Grade studies. (I’m not supposed to reveal the content of the lessons, but this is not really a spoiler.) And you don’t have to believe in deity to participate and fully experience the guided meditations, or the workings with the directions or elements.
I love having a non-dogmatic spiritual practice.