When folk ask me about my religious or spiritual beliefs, I find it hard to give a coherent answer. This is because my personal beliefs and feelings about the nature of the universe and my place in it cannot be quickly or briefly characterised - I've not encountered one term that accurately summarises where I'm coming from. "Pagan" is the closest, but that is not entirely accurate either, since for many folk that term mainly refers to Wiccans, Goddess-worshippers and suchlike. While my approach has some similarities to these things, it has some differences too. So here I shall discuss some of the main underlying precepts and assumptions behind my world-view.
But there's one caveat: my spirituality isn't a detailed and specific description of a metaphysical or religious system. It's more a series of impressions and ideas and preferences that underlie the way I interact with the world. It is very vague on a lot of matters, and I like it that way. I don't want the rigidity that often follows from spelling out "rules to live by" in exhaustive detail - I prefer to take a few basic principles and use them as tools to interpret and deal with each life experience as it occurs, dealing with each according to the circumstances that surround it.
Well, enough general waffling. What are the these underlying principles that I refer to?
The most important and most fundamental principle in my worldview is that all forms of life are aspects of Deity. That's why I say that I'm a pantheist. The best analogy I've come across to express this concept is that of waves on an ocean. Waves occur on the surface of this ocean, and each wave can be considered as an entity separate to other waves. Waves can compared to each other, and their movement and interactions with the rest of the world and each other can observed and compared. It makes sense to talk about "this wave here" and "that wave over there" as different entities. But while they can be viewed as separate entities, they are all aspects of the ocean, all made of the same stuff, all affected by what affects the ocean. The waves are connected to each other on a very fundamental level. So it is with living beings, as I see it. You (the reader) and I (the writer) are separate people on one level, but on another level we are both manifestations of one life force, aspects of one Deity. We are both parts of the same thing. When we die, we become part of the ocean again; when/if we are reborn into another life, it is as if another wave has appeared on the surface of the ocean.
This probably sounds a bit airy-fairy and theoretical, but it does impact my day-to-day life in a very real sense. Because if this is true, and all of us are in fact part of a greater meta-entity or Deity, then there really isn't much point to ego-contests, one-upmanship, competitiveness and aggression - not on the larger scale of things. If we're all part of the same thing, then surely encouraging division, antagonism and distance between folk is rather silly and artificial? Surely it would be better to honour others as being of the same kind as ourselves, and work with each other and learn from each other, rather than to push each other away?
This is not to say that I think everyone's the same - it is abundantly evident that folk have very real differences, in character, abilities and preferences. But I prefer to think of those differences as alternate perspectives that I can maybe learn something from and perhaps might be useful in situations or environments that I don't function as well in, rather than dismissing them as being "wrong" because they don't do what I do. Of course, in real life most people don't share this opinion, and so I have to continually deal with people who want to tell me my choices are bad or wrong or silly and that I should really do what they say instead. If they want to try to convince me of this by stating their case for me to consider, I am happy to listen. But I do consider "heavier" forms of persuasion unethical, and decline to participate in "debates" that involve force, invoke authority or are dismissive or disrespectful of different opinions.
Given all this, why do I sometimes call myself a pagan? Well, paganism is a very dogma-free approach to religion - in general, pagans tend to share broad general ethical principles rather than a specific set of deities or religious texts, and given that broad inclusiveness I can fit myself under the general umbrella-term of "pagan" quite happily. The pagan folk I've dealt with tend to have an approach to such matters that I'm quite comfortable with... an inclusive "do what's right for you so long as you don't harm another" sort of ethic. I approve of that. Pagan folks also tend to be very nature-oriented and environmentally conscious, and the "green" emphasis is something I'm very comfortable with. After all, most forms of paganism are in some way or another nature-religions that promote an awareness of what is going on in the natural world - the flow of the seasons, the changes and cycles in the lives of other species around us - these all play a strong part in many pagan ways, and that is an awareness that I also value highly. And a corollary of this emphasis on the natural world and its cycles is an attitude that views sex as a sacred thing and a celebration of life rather than something to be ashamed of. It's an approach that welcomes sexuality as a part of living in the world and celebrating its fertility and richness. The pagan folk I've dealt with tend to be very accepting and comfortable with "non-standard" manifestations of sexuality. As a polyamorous and bisexual person, it is nice to be among folk who honour my way of life rather than writing it off as "weird" or freaking out over the fact that I might have sex in ways other than the "societal standard" of monogamous heterosexuality.
The biggest difference between my ways of thinking and those of most pagans I've dealt with is that I don't believe in personalised Gods and Goddesses who one can interact with on a one-to-one basis. I sometimes use god or goddess images as metaphors for a particular aspect of Deity in the larger sense - I may consider The Green Lady, or The Lord of the Forest, or Aphrodite, or Inanna, or Pan; and in doing so I will be contemplating them as metaphors, aspects of the greater whole. I don't pray to them, or consider them to be individuals per se; but I do see that it may sometimes be valuable to act as if they were, for some purposes. But this is where it starts getting magical and complex - because I am of the opinion that if enough folk focus their attention on a particular image and act as if it had independent reality, in some ways and on a certain level, that image may become real, at least for a while. So the boundary for me between "real" and "imaginary" can be rather blurry.
Which leads me on to the final thing I want to ramble on about here, magic. Which is a strange and complex topic that I certainly won't do justice to on this little webpage, but let's give it a go anyway.
Let's start with the idea that the world is a complex and multifaceted place, and that in general, folk view the world through their own set of filters, expectations and beliefs. What we expect to see is to a large degree what we actually do see - if something occurs that doesn't seem to make sense according to our worldview, it will likely be re-interpreted in other ways until we find a way of fitting it into our concept of how the world is.
This ability to shape the world we live in according to our expectations and perceptions is a very powerful tool. In most cases it tends to be a largely automatic thing - I think that very many folk are unaware of the way their underlying worldview informs what they see on a day to day basis. However, this shaping of the world according to perceptions can be done with intent, with Will, as well; and that's where magic comes in.
A friend of mine refers to magic as "the subjective sciences". I think that's a very interesting way of putting it. Because magic blurs the boundary between subjective and objective in such a way that real changes can be made to the world using it. Bear in mind that in this conception, I am not separating "self" and "the world" - often, changing oneself in a very specific way has huge ramifications beyond that one small change, and can affect other things in a ripples-in-a-pond sort of way. And often those sort of little inner changes are the most powerful sort. But magic can be used in little ways as well as big, world-changing ones. If I perform a wine-spell for a friend, and by using my Will and my imagination I lead that friend to taste a very cheap glass of wine as an intoxicating aphrodisiac, then who's to say what has actually occurred here? If we do a chemical analysis on the wine, I daresay nothing will have changed regarding what's in the glass. However, my friend for whom I did the wine-spell has experienced it as an intoxicating and delightful experience, and is high as a kite. Power of suggestion? Maybe so. But the bottom line is that my friend's experience of the situation is different, due to my exertion of my Will. Was the wine-spell "real"? Was it a Subjective or Objective change? Who knows, and on a certain level, who cares? The boundary between the two is blurrier than many folk believe. And that is the power of magic.