I am reminded, having read several things this week, that there is no litmus test for Paganism. We are, by nature, an eclectic and assorted bunch, with various tastes, skills, and goals. But those various tastes, skills, and goals do not make us more or less valid Pagans than anyone else.
This comes up especially in response to something I read over at Druid’s Cosmos, where I left what was probably a comment that should just have been a response post. She was feeling discouraged because she felt left out, or “less than” because of all the people around her (online) who were talking about direct contact with, or visions of, the Gods.
There are lots of people on the internet – on blogs, forums, and mailing lists – who like to talk about their mystical experiences. This is pretty natural. For one thing, when you’re first encountering something new and exciting (much like when you’re in the first, budding, exciting stages of a relationship) you want to talk about it all the time! You want to share how wonderful it is! Also, mystical experiences of the Kindreds can be a little scary, and it’s just as natural to want some reassurance from others that they know where you are and can relate to what you’re going through. It becomes self-perpetuating as well, as everyone struggles to talk about THEIR mystical experiences, and the impression given is that everyone has these deep and powerful religious experiences (and frequently!) and that somehow you’re not “in” the group if you’re not having them.
This creates something of a selection bias that I’ve found myself falling prey to. I too grow quiet in those conversations. I’ve only recently had what might be termed a mystical encounter, and it’s not something that’s happened regularly or even sporadically since then. I get vague creeping-on-the-back-of-my-neck feelings that it’s still there, but nothing worth being excited about. Before that, in all my working within different parts of Paganism, I’d never had a *direct* contact with the spirit world before. Sure I’d had experiences that were powerful, that told me I was doing what was the right thing – but nobody had ever talked in my ear before.
And if I’m honest? I felt a little left out by that, especially once I joined the ADF community.
ADF specifically trains people towards mystical experiences in the Dedicant Path, even going so far as to encourage (though no longer require) development of a patron relationship to complete the DP. This, combined with our natural proclivity to talk about things that are happening to us (especially things that we think are special) – and to keep silent in discussions where we don’t have anything to add – gives the impression that *everyone* in ADF has all these amazing mystical experiences all the time (since someone is regularly talking about it on the lists) and that part of being a Druid is having a deeply personal, deeply mystical relationship with the Kindreds.
I think that impression is wrong.
Not that many Druids and Pagans don’t have those relationships – they obviously do, and those relationships are obviously fulfilling and meaningful. But many OTHER Druids and Pagans (equally as many, I’d guess, if not more) are there because the act of devotion is what centers and grounds their practice. They are there to honor the Gods, to follow the Old Ways, to worship the Kindreds, and to find spiritual fulfillment through those acts.
The internet is a tiny microcosm of Paganism, if Margot Adler’s numbers of modern Pagans are to be believed. Most of those Pagans are not writing blogs or posting to email lists, they’re quietly going about their business, being Pagans in their daily life. Maybe they’re Secret Agent Druids who work in offices (like me), or teachers or doctors or engineers or scientists or fire fighters or whatever it is that anyone else might do.
Those people – the quiet, every day, ground-and-center, worship on their landbase, remember the High Day Pagans – they are just as much Pagan as the devoted spirit workers, the god-touched, and the deeply mystical. They are no more or less than what their actions speak of them as being. They’ve been called to different work.
Paganism, and especially Druidry, is a Religion of Doing (orthopraxy).
We don’t much care whether you think of the Earth Mother as the land on which you stand, some great Goddess of tradition (like Jord or Nerthus or Gaia), the Great Biosphere Herself (Gaia Hypothesis), or some shifting combination of all three. When you do an ADF style ritual, you honor the Earth Mother. If you are honoring the Earth Mother (however you think of Her, and whether or not you have a personal, first-name relationship with Her or not) you are on your way to practicing Druidry.
In short, are you doing the stuff? If yes, all the rest is just you figuring things out on your own.
All the mystical experiences in the world might mean things to you personally and give you great comfort, but they are not Doing the Stuff. Because I don’t think my experience is so far out of line with others. I think sometimes you have deep and powerful rituals, and sometimes you have mediocre ones, distracted by the lawn mower next door. Sometimes you have rushed rituals, and sometimes you don’t get to do your morning devotions until noon because your spouse had car trouble and your kid threw up on the bus, and life happened.
Sure, some of those reporting constant mystical connection probably have it, but for the rest of us, Paganism has to be part of our lives – alongside all the other parts of our lives.
You’re not less of a Pagan (or Druid) because you can’t directly hear the Gods. You’re not more of a Pagan (or Druid) because you can. We all have different gifts, different callings, and different skill sets. Some people take naturally to divination, others do not. Some take easily to high liturgies and poetry, others like to work off the cuff. Some people worship an entire pantheon, others work with one or two specific Gods exclusively. Some people can organize and run a ritual or a festival, others simply don’t have the mental tools to do that. Some people have the mental connection that allows them to “hear” and “see” the Kindreds, others do not. We’re all Pagans (and Druids) together.
Can you learn to have those skills? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Is it important to learn what skills you DO have, and to work on developing those? Probably.
But don’t mistake “having a certain skill set” or even “having a certain relationship with the Gods” with “being a better (or more legitimate) Pagan.” It can seem glamorous or special to have that kind of deep relationship that allows you to truly hear the Gods – and it IS something special, and something that I’m working on developing for myself. But it’s not required.
There is no litmus test for Paganism.
Do the Stuff.