20 December 2013

Why a Witch in the 21st Century? (A Few Yuletide Thoughts on Faith)

Tomorrow is the day of the winter solstice, and the Wiccan sabbat commonly known as Yule. Yule is about the rebirth of the sun, the first step of the long journey towards spring and summer. It's about the cycles of nature, the seasons, birth and death. These are fairly universal ideas associated with midwinter celebrations in many cultures.

Naturally this has me thinking about spiritual matters again. And I've also been sharing my thoughts a little more openly, for anyone who might find such things interesting. Living life out of the 'broom cupboard'. Below is a little more about my personal history and feelings on religion. If such matters don't interest you, that's fine. I wish you a good midwinter, however you choose to mark it!

Earlier this year I wrote at some length about my religious background and current feelings on the topic. But obviously there are many questions that remain unanswered, and many viewpoints one could discuss the topic from. (I mean, we are talking about religion, probably the most written about and debated topic of the entire history of mankind...)

The big questions are the whys. Why any religion in general? Why Wicca in particular?

I tried to go a little way towards answering that in the previous post, but basically my answer boiled down to 'I happened to read about it and it appealed to me'. Let's see if I can go into this with just a little more depth.

First of all, how it happened. This was many years ago, so I don't really remember all the details perfectly. I think it sort of began with buying my first tarot deck. I believe I was contemplating some RPG rules at the time and thought tarot cards might make an interesting alternative to dice (the rules were never really completed, though, and I soon abandoned them). This, however, naturally led to wanting to learn a little more about tarot, which eventually led to the local library's occult section. That is where I also encountered books on Wicca. On a whim I decided to check them out.

By this time I was already a big fan of Buffy. And there were many other things with witches and so-called Wiccans in popular culture. I think that pop culture image of witchcraft actually had made me somewhat wary of the topic. I didn't want to look like I was getting into something just because cool shows were referring to it. But once I actually started reading about Wicca, I soon discovered it had pretty much nothing to do with its pop culture counterparts. Shows like Buffy have basically used the word simply as a synonym for 'witch', and usually have very little if anything to do with the religion of the same name. (Nothing really wrong with that, just an important distinction to be aware of.)

Which leads us to another important topic. Throughout my life, if there has been one thing that I really am, that I really identify as, it is a geek. Above all else, I love fantasy. From Tolkien to Buffy to Final Fantasy to... a myriad works of imagination, many of them drawing upon the myths of ages past. Now, we all know there are certain religious fundamentalists out there preaching the evil of fantasy. Frequently books are blamed as gateways to witchcraft. Of course to these people witchcraft is synonymous with evil and Satan, a stance I obviously strongly disagree with. But is there a kernel of truth there about the connection of fantasy and witchcraft?

Naturally I'd like to think my religion is about just me and my relationship with the universe. But I think it would be naive to claim my decades of love for fantasy hadn't made me more inclined to find interest in a religion laced with mythology, mysticism and the occult. I'm obviously not saying you need to like fantasy in order to be Wiccan, or vice versa, but I suspect there is likely a little more overlap in these two fields than between many other genres and religions.

Even if when starting out popular culture might have made me a little wary, I think in more recent years I've come to embrace it as an inspiration rather than hindrance. So many works of popular culture are among the things I love most in this world, it would be foolish not to draw inspiration from them. So what if they're not always historically accurate or even remotely realistic? That's really not the point. It's about the emotions they instil. These are things that are much more present in most our lives than any ancient deities. It's inevitable that influence should bleed into many other aspects of life, including spirituality. There certainly should be no shame in it.

But why Wicca in particular among all neopagan, occult and other alternative religion movements? Perhaps partly because Wicca is a melting pot, of sorts. It's right there at the centre of the modern neopagan and occult world, drawing influence from many directions. Particularly the way it combines nature oriented pagan sensibilities with western occult tradition has always appealed to me. As I wrote in that earlier post, I found much of traditional occultism a little too complex and abstract, while Wicca's more down-to-earth nature appealed to me. Compared to many other neopagan faiths it is also more general and neutral in nature, not being focused on any particular ancient pantheon.

One of the most difficult questions I've had to tackle over the years, however, is why practise religion at all, when I am, at heart, a naturalistic, empirical person? It has occurred to me that in many ways religion is like a hobby to me. There is nothing forcing me to do it. No culture or tradition coercing me. No promise of an afterlife. No one listening to my prayers. (At least as far as can be confirmed by current scientific evidence—which is plenty enough for me not to waste too much time contemplating such things.) The only real reason I can come up with for practising religion is that I enjoy it. It fascinates me and entertains me. I get to play with beautiful objects and recite lofty, mystic words. It adds a little variety to my life.

But enough of this for now. I wish everyone a great holiday season, whatever their chosen traditions or lack of them!

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