A Pagan Aesthetic: Paganism Through Philosophy
A Pagan Aesthetic seeks to examine particular topics within Paganism through the various lenses of philosophy.
Call Me the Fool: This Is The Beginning or How Philosophy Ruined and Saved My Spirituality
Maybe ruined is a bit strong. In fact, my studies in philosophy only did exactly what was promised to me, they made me think critically. While this is typically understood as a positive attribute, in matters of faith the “dark night of the soul” gets a few shades darker when all you can see in the dark are logical fallacies. Maybe backing up could be helpful in understanding why I’m writing this blog and why my insistence on philosophy.
Like many contemporary Pagans, I converted from a religion that just wasn't working for me anymore. I grew up in a devoutly Mormon household where God was a very real, almost tangible, thing. As a family, every evening we read the King James version of the Bible and the Book Of Mormon. My earliest memories are of learning songs and stories about the intervention of God in everybodys life. My parents went as far as to say I was sent to them to save their marriage, and my father would tell me he and I were friends before this mortal existence. Growing up in an intensely spiritual environment, I thought it absolutely common to ask for help in mundane matters from spiritual energies.
Then, with the onslaught of hormones and independent thinking that arose from my adolescence, I was faced with a problem: as a gay teenager, do I suppress my identity in favor of my inherited spirituality, or do I leave my parents church for an embracing spirituality? In the years that followed I lived in libraries seeking out avenues of spiritual assistance that would embrace my sexual preference. Upon learning of Neo Paganism, tarot cards found their way under my bed and my journal entries started to include notes about meditation.
When I left for college, I joined a local group of like minded spiritualist and underwent a Year and a Day training process to receive my first degree in Wicca.
While I was studying Wicca, I was a French major in college. Every day consisted of memorizing and expressing myself in french. Attempting greatness, I also enrolled in German, dreaming to break the stereotype of the monolinguistic american in Europe. This training was not dissimilar to my studies in Wicca: memorize the correspondences and formulas, express the magical will and intent. I even went as far as composing rituals in french, something that made me feel closer to deity. While I was very happy with my studies and community, eventually I started to feel myself stagnating. Writ memorization eventually plateaus and I felt at a loss for how to proceed. My solution was a change of scene. I transferred to a new college some 200 miles away from my community and started a new life in a completely new city where I knew no one except my boyfriend. It was in this new city that I shifted the focus of my studies from language to philosophy. And thats where everything fell apart.
I had always felt drawn to the deep thinkers of the past. My first philosophy course was decided last minute because I discovered in the bookstore I actually already owned the textbook for a different course than the one I had signed up for. I had taken a few philosophy courses at my previous college, but when I transferred, I experienced an overhaul of my intellectual status. A sort of “So you think you know philosophy?” attitude pervaded from the brilliant intellectuals I was now surrounded by in the larger school. I went from big fish in a small pond to a little fish in a big pond. While it is possible to study certain topics and not have them affect one's personal life, this is impossible with Philosophy. The basic questions of philosophy “How can we live well”, and “How do we know what we know?” have ramifications well beyond the academic sphere. I started looking at different aspects of my life and started asking myself hard questions. My relationship was in turmoil, my father had just suffered an aneurysm, my family was at war with one another in terms of inheritance, and I felt spiritually weak without my community to fall back upon. What is it that keeps me going? Why do I get out of bed in the morning? Am I just kidding myself when I say anything has meaning? These were the constant questions in my mind during this tumultuous time. Indeed, my “dark night” turned into a “dark semester” and a few bleak years to follow.
For a while then, I was only Neo Pagan in theory. I stopped practicing any literal form of worship and my alter grew very dusty from disuse. My studies in philosophy had consumed much of my life, to the point of needing therapy (I was taking 15 hours of straight philosophy courses and I started to doubt my very existence, and not in the blithe mystical kind of way). My final courses before graduating included a few electives. I signed up for “Religions in America”, “Jewish Mysticism & Kabbalah ”, and an advanced poetry course. These ended up being the most significant courses in my education. The religion course offered a refreshing perspective on faith as a phenomenon and not just a relevant experience, something almost sneered at by jaded philosophers. The Kabbalah course was taught by a Rabbi who informed us we would not learn how to create golems or summon spirits, but how to live well (sound familiar?). The Poetry course was the most beneficial in that it asked me to slow down and ponder the beauty of a moment.
Upon graduating college, I decided I would try to use my education practically instead of accumulating more debt for grad school. This meant thinking critically about my life, my goals, what made me happy, and how I arrived at the things I took to be valid, authentic, and honest. What made me happy was thinking critically and using philosophy. What I enjoyed thinking about was spirituality. My spirituality, long since relegated to the background of my identity, resurfaced like an old friend; curiously changed from our time apart, but with the potential for a new and stronger friendship. The final result was my website, A Pagan Aesthetic
I started examining aspects of Neo Paganism that I felt were lacking in academic scholarship. I read (and still read) anything I could get my hands on about spirituality. I rearranged my bookshelf bringing all my philosophy and spirituality books to the front. And then, I started writing. I work a 9 to 5 job for a less than stellar company that pays the bills. I have a new and wonderful boyfriend and exceptional friends whom I dedicate time and attention to.
Summer Solstice Festival sans the philosophy jadedness.
I have personal interests outside of spirituality that I spend time and money on. But ultimately, my primary drive, that thing that gets me out of bed and validates how I know what I know, is exploring the endlessly fascinating concept of spirituality within Neo Paganism. Finally,some days are boring. Some days are not filled with magic or divine wonder, and though my words may not always be inspired, or eloquent, or even interesting, it is with deep respect that I express my ponderings. My words are my offerings to the Gods. How else could an offering ever be delivered?
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