In an attempt to organize both my thoughts and my beliefs, I’ve recently begun to codify my spiritual path by asking questions about faith, religion, belief, and related issues. Each question seems to lead to more with no end in sight. I do not view this as a bad thing, however, for each new question gives me an opportunity to examine my beliefs and spiritual practices. Some questions are fairly straight-forward and are answered simply. Others are, well, without answers and probably will forever remain so.
I’m going to begin posting some of the questions here on my blog under entries titled “Path Forging”. Each entry will have a central theme. Read the questions and if you like, add your comments and additional questions. If they help you in examining your path, terrific, my sharing will have served a purpose other than simply recording my own path. I may add some additional commentary on the subject and possibly share some of my own answers. In any case, it’s shared here as a way to spark discussion and encourage deeper consideration of our individual paths.
So, here’s the first set, centered around the names we give our spiritual/religious paths:
- Is it either necessary or important to have a name by which to label your path?
- By what name do you call your own beliefs/religion/spirituality?
- What does your choice of labels imply about your actual beliefs and practices?
- If you’ve chosen a name associated with an established religious tradition, are your practices and beliefs similar to those of others using that same label?
- If you do not follow an established tradition, how did you name your path?
- What things need to be taken into consideration when applying a name to our beliefs?
The name by which we call our path is usually the first thing that we present to other people regarding our religious beliefs. It’s a convenient way to describe what we believe and how we practice without going into long explanations. When someone says that they are Eastern Orthodox, Buddhist, or Catholic, there is a nearly instantaneous association of these terms with a set of beliefs and spiritual practices. Correct or not, the impressions formed by labels paint to the person hearing them a certain picture of who we are spiritually.
The problems arise when someone is not following a traditional path or one that is not well understood in mainstream culture. I am a pagan. For some, this term conjures images of devil-worship, anti-Christian sentiment, and human sacrifice. For others, it stirs images of flower children singing praises to Gaia and hugging anyone and anything that stops moving long enough (particularly trees). The problem is that neither of these images comes close to reflecting my beliefs or practices. To make it more problematic, paganism has more “flavors” than Baskin-Robbins. Wicca, recon, druid, asatru, kemetic… all embody very different different beliefs and practices.
I tend to explain my path as eclectic paganism. The reason that I use the term eclectic is to 1). establish that I don’t follow a particular tradition within Paganism and 2). reflect that my beliefs are influenced by a wide range of sources. Even the term eclectic tends to come with its own particular set of problems, the foremost of these being that many in the pagan “community” have a disdain for what they assume is a sloppily-assembled pile of beliefs without rhyme, reason, cohesion, or logic. While that’s not my path, I can understand the frustration that people feel when they hear the term. I feel frustrated with the people who simply pick and choose what resonates with them without trying to put the puzzle pieces together in a whole.
I try to keep my spiritual label at just those two words however. As an eclectic, I am very wary about appropriating other people’s terms for their religious practices. For example, I have a form of mediation that I use for specific spiritual purposes that is influenced both by shamanic techniques and zazen practices. To call myself either a shaman or Buddhist would be a falsehood. I cannot claim either path as my own, nor would either path claim me as a follower. I give credit to both paths for having helped me to craft a method that works well for me but I do not try to lay claim to their labels as my own. It is just one of the many things that I must consider when constructing my personal path.
Our names for our paths influence the view others take of us, what does yours say?