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Academic Cultural Appropriation of Neopaganism and Occultism

Author's Note: This is a reprint of an article I originally published in the Anthology: Talking About the Elephant in 2008. Because the theme of the month is on cultural appropriation I thought I'd dig it out and reprint it here. I've added a commentary on the end to show where my thoughts on this topic are now (5 years after the original article was published).

While some of the articles of this anthology [Author's note: I'm referring to Talking About the Elephant] deal with cultural appropriation issues that Neopagans and Occultists may perpetuate, the goal of my article is to provide a look at a different form of cultural appropriation currently gaining popularity in both the academic and Neopagan/Occult cultures. This cultural appropriation comes in the form of academic articles and books focused on Neopaganism and the Occult. On the surface, it would seem that scholarship on these subjects is a good thing, certain to buoy the public relationship image that both Neopaganism and Occultism have with mainstream culture. However, as I will argue, there is a different, more subtle agenda occurring in these academic works, and in a manner that can be considered cultural appropriation. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to revere academic works without coming to them with an open, but critical, awareness of how those works really represent their beliefs. Nor is the question raised by Neopagans or Occultists, if the benefits of said academic works are really good for the community, or are only good for the academic who happens to be doing the research.

 

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  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    The knife does cut both ways and I'm sorry you had that experience, but imagine if you'd gone in, recorded everything and publishe
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    I tried that myself, and I got burned badly. I can't use my research at all. I wasn't allowed to record, barely able to take not
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    I have a question on this subject: Has a researcher ever encountered a Pagan population they wanted to study that has said "No" t

Women all over the world are tired of being treated like third class citizens. Even in cultures that traditionally worship the divine feminine, grown women are granted fewer rights than a male infant and are punished with mutilation and death if they display personal initiative or act in accordance with nature. Three world religions blame females personally and vindictively for a mistake supposedly made by the very first woman ever created! By what logic should the ancient misjudgment of Eve be held against our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters today? This is a classic example of masculine propaganda: if we men say that women are inherently flawed, we can blame them for all of our problems. We can even make the outrageous claim that we were made in the image of God—but they were not!    

It is shocking how many women have bought into this mind manipulation, and actually believe that they are inferior. But this is not universally the case; these days many are seeking a different sort of religion that will give them equal, if complementary, status to their brothers.

Mother Nature has blessed us with a beautiful world. Why shouldn't women, who embody the regenerative Life Cycle itself, honor Nature and seek to preserve Her in cooperation with whatever demi-urges may exist as the guardians of trees, mountains and lakes? Early Celtic Christianity saw no contradiction between Nature veneration and the additional worship of Christ - the Son of the Sun. Sadly, the Church of Rome eventually succeeded in imposing its intolerant restrictions over a beautiful system that had been gentle, open-minded and inclusive.  

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  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. says #
    hi re: "There is an important difference between the Christian conception of Satan and the Hindu or Buddhist notion of Mara, the
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    This is so lovely, Gary! Thank you so much for sharing it. Tolkien has long been among my favorite wordsmiths, and now I see that
  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    I enjoyed the article and agree wholeheartedly with your conclusion, but I don't see where the foolishness comes in. The headline

[Note: This is a revised version of an earlier essay that appeared on the Humanistic Paganism blog.]

"... creative imagination is the only primordial phenomenon accessible to us, the real Ground of the psyche."

-- Jung, letter to Kurt Plachte, Jan. 10, 1929

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Another Ancestor Q&A

...When honoring the dead makes your skin crawl

 

"Every man is a quotion from all his ancestors." ----Ralph Waldo Emerson

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  • Virginia Carper
    Virginia Carper says #
    I agree. There are Ancestors who are willing to help you with the toxic ones. I had to go back a few generations to find Them. Onc

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
A Day in the Life

 

Sannion has written a delightful post at http://thehouseofvines.com/2013/06/09/what-does-a-sannion-do/ about an average day in his devotional life. I know that I always find it interesting to know what my colleagues and friends do for their Gods, and how they both order and balance the demands of devotion but until reading this, it hadn't occurred to me to write anything about my own average devotional day (though I have occasionally been asked what I do).  Well, I"m going to do that now, stealing an idea from Sannion (whom I hope will not mind too much!). There is of course, one caveat to all of this (as Sannion also points out in his post): what i write here is what I do. It may not be what those of you reading are called to do. The thing here is to ask yourselves how you can deepen and better *your* practices. If this helps, then I'm glad. If not, let me know what you're doing devotionally--it might inspire me and others reading this. 

Now, i'm essentially pretty lazy. So this is what I do on a general day, not a day where I have special ritual obligations, House rituals, oracle work, client appointments, or where i may have to go to school, etc. This is just a basic run of the mill day. I generally get up around eight am. Sometimes I have morning appointments so it might be later or a bit earlier. I greet the Gods, the Orisha, the house spirits and my ancestors. groggily. I bath and dress (and what i wear is dependent on what my ritual, Deity, and client obligations might be throughout the day) and head downstairs for coffee. I make my breakfast and also offerings to the ancestors. 

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  • Betty Prat
    Betty Prat says #
    I read Sannion's and enjoyed it very much. I am so glad you added to it. It's good to know and hear how others "walk their talk" d

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Deity Centered Polytheism

 

I just returned from a creative retreat where I spent the better part of the week blade-smithing and oil painting and I intended to move on to issues other than the current 'pop culture vs. devotional polytheist' Pagan debate. Upon returning, however, I found this brilliant post: http://www.witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Paths-Blogs/gods-of-consequence.html by Anomalous Thracian, and realized that I wasn't done yet. In light of some of the comments there, I think that perhaps I need to articulate where I'm writing from a little more clearly. Because one thing that's getting lost (purposely, I think) in this debate is that what it really comes down to is those whose practices are devotionally centered on the Holy Powers (Gods and ancestors) and those for whom the human experience, human emotions, human society,  the human mind. and most of all human comfort is centric. I actually think that this is the heart of many of the misunderstandings that we're seeing. We're not speaking as one community. We will never speak as one community so long as devotion to the Gods is being marginalized. We will never speak as one community so long as devotional polytheists are expected to accept a certain homogenization of our beliefs, predicated on acceptance of attitudes and practices that to those of us who prioritize the Gods are objectionable. We're not speaking from the same place. We're not even speaking the same devotional language. Instead, we're each fighting to wrest the roots of our various traditions from out of the other's hands. 

I will begin by focusing briefly on my own spirituality, because it is not all that out of the ordinary to anyone actually rooted in any sense whatsoever of their own indigenous traditions. That's the kicker isn't it? Some of us are working as hard as possible to restore our traditions and some of us are working only to make themselves feel good. So let me get this out of the way from the start: My polytheism, which informs every aspect of my life, is not people-centric. It is not focused on making human beings feel better about themselves, or about fitting into a nice social group. It is not an excuse for intellectual masturbation, nor do I practice it for my own gratification. It is not always comfortable, and is quite often inconvenient. My polytheism, as I believe devotional polytheism by its very nature should be, is very, very Deity centric. I honor and serve the Gods because it is the right and proper thing to do as an intelligent, responsible adult. While my practice is in part about building community, that community is one centered in devotion to the Holy Powers. That is the only community in which I am interested. I would go so far as to say Paganism that isn't Deity centric isn't Pagan. It might be fun. It might be a intellectually entertaining. It might be a nice, accepting social gathering. It's not, however anything approaching polytheistic spirituality. 

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  • Marie Dees
    Marie Dees says #
    One of my teachers in my spiritual path was Hindu. I remember that he had a great devotion to the goddess Durga. Devotion is recog
  • Betty Prat
    Betty Prat says #
    I support you and agree with you 100%. These people are just causing dissension because they have nothing better than to slander g
  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova says #
    Byron, thank you. That means a lot right now. thank you. and looking forward to chatting with you next Wed on the show.

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Questions on Devotion

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to start writing about the basics, the real fundamentals of devotion, spiritual engagement, and polytheism as I see it, live it, and teach it. I've often lamented that I see way too many people coming to me lacking the basic foundation, a foundation that were we living in a polytheistic society, were we living in a community where our indigenous traditions were intact never having been sundered by monotheism, would have been taught by osmosis. We'd have learned by doing. We'd have learned by living in a community where our parents, our grandparents, our leaders, our friends, our neighbors all modeled these ideas and approaches. It would have been reinforced by the community in a way that simply doesn't happen today.

I've often complained about this to colleagues, but it wasn't until a few days ago that my partner said "why don't you write a series on the basics of devotional work as a way of providing something of that foundation. Gods know people have enough questions." Well, I know a good idea when I hear it, hence this post. 

So send me your questions on devotion, on living polytheism, on honoring the Gods, even on my own practices and I will do my best to answer them based on my own approach, my understanding of polytheism as a theologian, an active polytheist, and a historian, and as a priest and shaman. I'm going to break it down as I see it, to some very base-line concepts that someone in the dubious march of modernity we've lost, forgotten, or decided to ignore. 

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  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson says #
    Have you thought about covering the differences between shrines and altars?
  • Trine
    Trine says #
    I'd be really interested in a piece on that - from the p.o.v. of several traditions too, if there is a difference.
  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    Okay, here is a silly/serious question: how important do you think it is to pepper our everyday speech with references to the Gods
Wyrd Ways Radio Tackles the heroes vs. superheroes debate: Join us

The recent debate about fiction vs. reality, superheroes vs. heroes, and the role of fantasy and fiction in contemporary Paganism has been far more intense and ongoing  than I ever expected it to get. It has, however, brought up many good points, theories, and questions too. I was talking with Sannion  quite recently on this and as a result, we decided to make this the topic of discussion for the next Wyrd Ways Radio show, airing at 10pm this Wednesday (May 29). 

Sannion, who writes both here at Blurring Boundaries and at http://www.thehouseofvines.com, Wyrd Dottir, a Heathen working in the entertainment industry, as well as myself and my co-host Laura Patsouris will be discussing these issues with callers. We're going to open up the lines early and encourage folks to call in, regardless of your position on these issues. I'm looking forward to a very interesting and lively debate. 

Wyrd Ways Radio airs this Wednesday at 10pm EST. The call in number is 347-308-8222. We'll be opening up the lines about quarter after ten. Check out our previous archived episodes here: http://krasskova.weebly.com/wyrd-ways-radio.html

 
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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Are the Norse Gods Racist?

Today I was chatting with my colleague Ochani Lele (who will be appearing on Wyrd Ways Radio on June 5), author of "Sacrificial Ceremonies of Santeria: A Complete Guide to the Rituals and Practices," "Diloggun Tales of the Natural World," and several other books.  We were discussing our respective Holy Powers when he asked me a question that made me stop and, after answering it, ask him if he'd mind me using it as a question here.   During the course of our conversation, he said to me: 

"You know . . . having Jewish blood, I've always been a bit afraid of Norse religion. Just out of curiosity, how do you think your gods would react to someone with Jewish blood taking up their worship? Would they respond? Would they accept? What about an African, or an African American? How would the Norse gods respond to such a person? Are they beyond racial boundaries, like the Orishas? I'm assuming they would be . . . but assumptions often get me in trouble. What are your thoughts on that?"

 

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  • Alfar
    Alfar says #
    I will not debate this issue, and I myself am no raving racist. However, I believe we are being simplistic when we attempt to asse
  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    Fortunately, mainstream Asatru largely addressed these issues years ago, with the general consensus that "folkish" is not, in fact
General Deity Questions, Fandom Gone Wrong, and "Pray, Forrest, Pray!"

 

Well, the school term is finally, officially over, I've submitted my last essay exam, and now I am free and clear as a bird, almost. I'm at least free and clear enough that I can catch up on some of the Odin and/or Deity questions that have accrued while i've been battling through finals the last two weeks. As I know i've noted before, I'm really enjoying the questions that are coming in. I think these are conversations we need to be having. Moreover, I"m forced to really engage with my own practice, and think and analyze what I do and how i approach my practice much more consciously and I think that's a good thing. Nothing in devotion should ever become so rote that we forget why we're doing it!

 

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  • Danielle Aubenque
    Danielle Aubenque says #
    Thank you for clearly articulating a struggle I have had for years. It gives me hope that I am not alone in my feelings toward the
  • Ainslie
    Ainslie says #
    I suspect Paganism is being used as "Atheism lite" by many people who really need to become Atheists.
  • Tim Schneider
    Tim Schneider says #
    For me this is pretty simple. It is about having standards, not being elitist or mean. It is about demanding respect for the God
Questions about Odin - Round 3 "A Matter of Pride"

I''m so glad readers are taking the time to post or email me their questions. I enjoy writing about Odin, and each question that i've received has given me a great deal of food for thought. I like that; I like engaging with anything that makes me think. Perhaps it's an Odinic trait, hmmm? 

Over on my personal blog, http://krasskova.weebly.com/blog.html, Visons from Afar recently asked a question that caused me to sit back and really think for quite awhile before sitting down to type this out. Visons asks about pride, and how to differentiate between good and bad pride in one's engagement with the Holy Powers and this is a good question, not only because Heathenry puts a tremendous cachet on expressing pride for one's worthy deeds, but also because this is something that I'm willing to bet most of us have wrestled with at some point or another.  I'm going to take a stab at answering it here and I encourage my readers to offer your own advice and insights here as well. 

Visions from Afar asks: 

"Where is the line between pride (we're Norse, and we're expected to have pride in accomplishments and ourselves, right?), and disrespectful arrogance/impiety? I ask because more than once He's called me "quite rude"."

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  • Liza
    Liza says #
    My first thought too was that if Odin called me "quite rude" I might actually die on the spot of embarrassment. That is likely tru
  • Brea Saunders
    Brea Saunders says #
    There is profound and wise content here that stands alone no matter one's dieties, thank you for writing it I'm grateful for havin
  • Carl
    Carl says #
    Thank you, it's just what I needed to hear.

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Questions on Odin - Round 2

 

 

Continuing my thread of answering reader questions, today I'm going to be tackling a rather interesting question from Christopher who asks: 

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Another Question on Piety from a Reader

 

In response to my call for questions, Trine asked me the following: 

"Why do you think humans bicker so much about the "right way" of pleasing the Gods (through ritual, devotional practice, etc.)? Is it because the Gods (in their mysterious ways) ask something different of each person, and sometimes what they ask and expect of one person is the complete opposite of that of another person? Or is it rather the result of human arrogance and ego? I feel it can be both, but having no experience really with spirit work and what it's like to carry out these duties, I'm not really sure. "

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  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova says #
    That's a brilliant question and I want to take a little while to think about it. I'll answer to the best of my ability but it may
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    I have a question: If there's such a thing as pagan piety, is there such a thing as pagan sacrelige, and what form would it take?
  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova says #
    I had to sit with this for a few long moments before responding because I was having a strong emotional response to the use of the

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Questions on Piety from a Reader

In my previous post, I promised that if people wanted to ask me questions about my practice or about the way I express piety in my devotional life, I would be more than happy to answer them. Liza broke the ice and asked the following three questions, which I found very insightful, so I decided to tease them out into their own separate post. 

 

Liza: For the newbie, young's, seeker without a physical community to lead them, how do you suggest they start? (Though I suspect I know this answer in part, I think it bears repeating)

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  • Liza
    Liza says #
    Thank you, BTW, for thinking out these questions to give answers. I've had a busy week, and I am now only catching up on reading a
  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova says #
    Trine, thank you for your question. I just answered it in my most recent post. Go and take a look. These are good questions, fol
  • Trine
    Trine says #
    Thanks for opening up for questions - this one has been on my mind for a while. Maybe there's no answer to it (and maybe it's too

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Yet More on Piety

 

In a comment to my previous article, Anne Niven wrote: 


"But anytime we start getting into defining "piety" I start to twitch. I believe that there's absolutely no "right" way to serve the gods. Why? Because I believe that only personal gnosis can impart that information. And personal gnosis is just that -- personal. Which is to say, what's pious for you is, indeed, pious -- for you. But it might not be pious for me. In fact, what's pious for you might very well be *impious* in my relationship to the very same deity."

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  • Tannim Wolfkin
    Tannim Wolfkin says #
    Just finished writing a paper on hubris for my English class and came across this post. Wish I had read it before finishing the da
  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova says #
    Thank you, Laura. I think you may be on to something with the way our society devalues service. In Heathenry, part of it is also t
  • Laura P
    Laura P says #
    Thank you again for writing about piety, a subject all too often overlooked in modern paganism. To me piety means respect, love an
Ritual, Monotheism, and Again with the Piety

 Seriously, folks, argue and disagree with me all you want, but do so based on what i say, not the misinterpretations you project onto what I say. I find it particularly interesting that in the course of the comments to my two articles on ritual (both those posted and those I received privately), quite often I'm being accused of everything BUT promoting piety and respect in ritual. Why is that such a difficult and challenging concept? It certainly wasn't for our ancestors. Piety was a central concept to the majority of ancient polytheisms, though of course the words used to describe this behavior varied from culture to culture. Plato, for instance, wrote an entire dialogue ("Euthyphro") in which the definition of piety was the central issue under discussion. The ancient Romans considered it a necessary and sacred virtue and one simply cannot read writers like Cicero, Pliny, or Seneca (to name but a few) without finding exhortation after exhortation to pious behavior both within one's temples and without. Why is it so difficult for us moderns? Because it is. I don't quite know why, though I have my suspicions, but it really is.(1) 

Unlike Plato, who had his character Euthyphro define piety in part as 'what is dear to the gods,' i would, in addition, define it as 'right behavior toward the Gods.' Piety is a curb and a guide to our behavior.  Of course, right behavior implies precisely that: that there is a right and wrong way of behaving, that there are standards. Standards do not imply tyrannical theocracy. They imply behaving properly and mindfully as the occasion and interaction demands. Now I've written about the opposite of piety here: http://krasskova.weebly.com/1/post/2012/05/pagan-blog-project-i-is-for-impiety.html for those who might want to take a peek. I'm going to let that stand and speak for itself, because there actually is a right way of doing things and it's not that difficult to figure out.  You know what else? The Gods and ancestors are more than capable of telling us what it is if we do the work and listen. Of course that might lead us to a reordering of our priorities but c'est la vie.

Piety, by the way, is a far, far different thing from orthodoxy. In nothing that I wrote on ritual, did i demand any particular orthodoxy beyond piety and respect.  I did not mention what Gods people should honor.(2) I did not exhort readers to any particular ritual style or practice. It's not about any specific action or belief. It's about attitude and awareness, about the way we approach our Gods and ancestors. By exhorting piety, i'm not demanding that everyone become a mystic. I'm saying that we should behave with proper decorum and respect when in the presence of the sacred. What it comes down to, I suspect, is that many people simply don't *want* to be pious. They don't want to be respectful. They don't want their spiritual world to revolve around anything but themselves. Otherwise instead of bitching when I mention piety, we could start talking about ways to show it; because really,  if right behavior toward the Powers isn't valued in our communities, then what is? That's the seed from which all good things flower. 

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  • helmsman of inepu
    helmsman of inepu says #
    I think you're right about "the filter." You even see it operating with "Evangelical" atheists- it's not enough for them not to be
  • Ainslie
    Ainslie says #
    Paganisms of the world are diverse. Galina's a particular person doing particular work in a particular context. Some of that conte
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Oh dear. I really wasn't gonna jump back into this, but feel I've been pulled in by reference. So I'll speak up and say, "me, me!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Over the last few weeks, some of the bloggers at the Pagan Channel on Patheos have been posting short explanations as to how and why they became Pagan. I'll tackle that question, too, but in a manner more appropriate to this column: as a life-long bibliophile, books have had a huge influence on my spiritual development. The genres, target audience, and quality of those books have varied widely; the majority were not even aimed specifically at Pagans. Nonetheless, during my formative years (say, childhood through mid-adolesence), these books contributed to thoroughly corrupting me.

Augustus Caesar's World by Genevieve Foster, for instance, which I first found at the public library as a child, lost track of, then rediscovered in the tiny children's section in my college library. I adore the artwork, and I love how Foster interweaves the personal histories of ordinary people with those of major personages and important events. It was this book which first made me a fan of Cleopatra, and led me to further explore women's history and the religions of the ancient world.

Everyone should have at least one copy of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm on their shelves. At least one. I need to explain why? Magic, derring do, adventure, magic, powerful women, brave princesses, magic, villains, talking animals, and so on and so forth. Grimm collections, along with Perrault, Andersen, Lang, and others, inspire awe and curiosity. They keep alive in us a vital sense of wonder and awe without which we are blind to the mysteries and beauties of the world. 

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Transcendental Hogwash

Or, How Transcendentalism and Panentheism are theological notions unworthy of contemporary Pagans.

The view I take in these matters is Pantheist, which simply stated is the intuition that All is God (from Pan = All, Theos = God), for whatever value of ‘God’ you care to apply. Many Pagans today hold to some variation on this perceptive. The Pantheist view makes ideas like Transcendentalism and Panentheism logically untenable, and they have some further consequences for Pagans that make it worthwhile to remove them from our thinking.

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  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Addendum: This is Whitehead and Hartshorne's view too. They describe a God in "dipolar" terms, having two natures: eternal and te
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    I don't think you can dismiss panentheism by reducing it to the logical fallacy you described. I'm not as smart as Spinoza or Har
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Thanks! That was quite interesting and thought-provoking.

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
News and Updates

 

I'm currently working on a new article (after way too long a hiatus, I know) and if all goes well, I'll have that for you next week. There are a number of issues and topics that have caught my attention, I have a few projects in the works,  plus I still owe the final article in my 'honoring city spirits' series.  That's all in progress and i'm hoping to post weekly  now that my school term is nearly finished,  but in the meantime, i wanted to make a brief announcement.

 

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This post started as a discussion of whether some Pagan traditions are more “privileged” than others.  It rapidly became deeper than this.

When I first became a Pagan and began thinking about the deeper implications of my spiritual path, my first major insight was that since Spirit is everywhere, every spiritual tradition, including those made up from whole cloth, have the potential of carrying someone closer to harmony with the Sacred. For example, even if Gerald Gardner simply made up Gardnerian Wicca (which I do NOT believe), that the Gods come in our workings is all the proof I need that it is a valid path – at least for me.

Several major insights grew from this realization.

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  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette says #
    Thanks. I try to tread very carefully, because I do NOT want to add fuel to the "culture wars" that seem to be brewing between ecc
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Thank you D.R. We all carry what we once were with us when we change on anything, and many either try to stuff what is new into o
  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette says #
    Lovely post, as usual. As one who has learned and lived an ecclectic path for almost 30 years, it has always been my experience (n

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