Help me think through paganism
November 30, 2016 7:09 AM   Subscribe

I just started going out with a delightful man. He's neopagan and I'm Christian. I'm looking for resources and experiences to understand paganism better.

We have great conversations and are exploring and sharing our beliefs together. I know next to nothing about paganism; what I heard growing up as a Christian was nearly all negative. I'm super stoked to keep getting to know him. I've googled a bit but my understanding of paganism so far is that while it tends to be poly- or pantheistic and nature-centric, paganism contains a ton of different belief systems and approaches--there's no one way to do it.

What are your recommendations for learning more about paganism and neopaganism? What questions or topics might be helpful for us to ponder? I did some googling, but am interested in responses specific to our dynamic as a pagan and a Christian.

For example, we've had some great shared experiences, like meditating, but when we talk about the experience we have completely different words for it. I use words like prayer and spirit, while he uses words like chakra. He says he can read my energy; I would call say he has spiritual discernment or is just perceptive. I'm hoping to find resources to help me process whether this is a vocabulary thing or whether we're having completely different experiences. (Or whether this is just something we get to discuss.)

What don't I know I don't know?
posted by ramenopres to Human Relations (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ask him what he suggests you should read. Paganism is a very broad term and tradition, and people who identify as pagans may use it very idiosyncratically. For instance, people I've known who identify as pagans never talked about chakras or reading peoples' energy. So if you want to know more about the kind of paganism he practices, ask him. Christianity is also a broad tradition, for example, and you saying you are "Christian" doesn't give me much more information than that you (probably) believe Jesus is the son of God. Beyond that, are you Catholic? Protestant? Which flavor of those? Etc.
posted by rtha at 7:57 AM on November 30, 2016 [10 favorites]

Yeah, there's a lot under the umbrella of "pagan" + what you specifically describe (meditation, chakras, reading energy, nature based) sounds more new age/eastern-flavored-maybe-kinda-Animism. Maybe update if you get more clarification. It's a broad topic.
posted by jbenben at 9:36 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Starhawk's The Spiral Dance is a good introduction to neo-Pagan thea/ology, specifically the Reclaiming tradition of Wicca, which is one of many informal denominations of neo-Paganism. I would ask him what books or teachers have influenced him and let his responses guide your reading.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:59 AM on November 30, 2016

In my experience having spiritual conversations with people from many different frameworks is that at deeper levels of meditation the words are mere conceptualizations and I understand the person better by digging into their understanding and more importantly their meditation experience. So you simply ask: what does chakra mean to you? What do you feel in meditation? If you had to describe it without the word chakra, what would you say? How would you describe your awareness during meditation? Even within one tradition there are so many different understandings or interpretations of a word.

Where I have seen conversations stall is in theoretical or non-physical experiences: do you believe in a soul? What do you mean by soul? What does god mean to you? What happens after we die? That kind of thing.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:54 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Former Wiccan-style neo-pagan, now Episcopalian here.

I agree with what everyone has said already - neo-paganism is *huge* and it's hard to know what he believes and values without knowing his flavor of neo-paganism. (And as rtha said, Christianity is also huge, so it may be an equally daunting question for your guy if you guys haven't talked about your specific Christian beliefs!)

That said, there are a few topics I'd consider talking to him directly about at an appropriate time in the relationship, regardless of your own reading and research. They'd be things like:

* What do you think is the meaning of life? What do you think our job(s) here on Earth are?
* What do you believe about death and the possibility of an afterlife?
* How do you make moral decisions? Do you believe that morality is fixed or context-dependent? How do you personally deal with it when you feel you've done something morally wrong (even if it's a tiny wrong)?
* How do you connect to your version of a greater power(s)? What are your regular observances, religious practices, and daily spiritual practices?
* To what extent does your spirituality influence your acceptance and love of others who have different opinions or lifestyles than you? To what extent is community worship or activities part of your spiritual life?

These aren't really as sexy and fun as things like "What do different colors of energy mean to you?" but I think they're probably far more important for building a relationship (romantic or platonic), so I'd suggest working them in as/when you feel comfortable.

(On preview I see that St. Peepsburg suggests starting with more concrete topics about specific details, and I definitely understand that point of view, but I think at some point it's worth having the big-picture, theoretical conversations. And it's okay if the answer - for either of you! - is "I don't know." Just try to take that answer and turn it into something a little more: "I don't know - I think either this or this might be true. I definitely don't think this." etc. Then you're still getting a meaty conversation about really important stuff that may matter to your relationship and a potentially shared life together. Obviously, not conversations you need to have now if you just started dating, but things to think about down the road.)

To be perfectly honest, I think some forms of paganism probably mesh better with some forms of Christianity than some forms of Christianity do with other forms of Christianity, so I would not at all see this as a deal breaker (unless it becomes one for one of you). Instead, it's fun and interesting to explore your faith and spirituality together, find similarities, and think through and appreciate the differences.

Also, if you haven't listened to Dar William's amazing song "The Christians and the Pagans," I think it's kind of required. Seasonally appropriate, too!
posted by bananacabana at 12:04 PM on November 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

This website explores Christian animism, which isn't quite what you asked about, but might provide some starting points for fascinating discussions about common ground
posted by Heloise9 at 12:47 PM on November 30, 2016

Paganism is just a word for not one of the few big organized monotheistic religions really. For example the pagan tradition where I'm from include things like a non linear view of life, not reincarnation exactly but a cycle. A lot of people still believe in this despite being nominally Christian, they also just converted lots of local gods to saints and people still do little rituals for them. My cousins have a spring on their farm and still pour a bit of water on the ground when they use it, I doubt half the people who do stuff like that could tell you why but they do it. It also used to include a certain amount of human sacrifice so there's that. But paganism covers a lot of religious traditions, most of which had just as many rules as Christians do. Mostly lost to time now but originally were just as rigid and serves the same purpose, if scholars are to be believed.

What you describe this guy being is more what I think of as spiritual hippie-ism. Which is a personal mish mash of beliefs so really there is nothing to learn other than by asking him what he believes.
posted by fshgrl at 1:03 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you for seeking to understand! I agree with the recommendation of rtha to ask him to suggest what you should read, but I also agree with ottereroticist that Starhawk's book is an excellent starting point.

I wanted to add that, in my experience, what neopagans do (in a religious context) is much more important to us than what we believe. Personal beliefs often even evolve over time based on the experiences that result from the practices themselves, and this is considered normal. So it's often much easier for a pagan to describe what they do in their spiritual practice than to rattle off a core set of beliefs.

It's wonderful that you two are enjoying exploring each other's perspectives and I wish you great joy in it!
posted by heatherlogan at 10:08 PM on November 30, 2016

You might like William James, the religious experience, as well. If you are having conversations about what is beneath the specific lingo of your particular religions, it can help to start trying to deconstruct things.
posted by ServSci at 4:56 AM on December 1, 2016

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