Monday, April 20, 2015

Tips for Living Wicca; Don't Be a Religion Hog

You can't follow two, or three, or four (and more) religions simultaneously, and you shouldn't claim to. 

Did I get your attention? Did your blood pressure just hit the roof? If so, stop now and take a deep breath. In... and out... good. Now, please read with an open mind. I'm not telling you what to believe; I'm not telling you what you can and can't do. I'm merely talking about how you might be mislabeling what it is you believe and do. 

I run into a lot of people that are what I call 'Religion Hogs'. They claim they practice several religions-- fully practice them!-- simultaneously. 

Very few religions can be, in their entirety, harmoniously combined yet kept separate. If you practice two separate religions, it would be very difficult to follow both (especially if they are from entirely different cultures). There would have to be compromises where they conflict, or where you don't have time to actively follow the various traditions.  

On the other hand, if you combine two or more separate religions into a syncretic spiritual path, then you are not actually practicing any of the original religions, but a new creation entirely. And if you're the only one practicing it, then it's not really a religion (which is a set of beliefs and practices followed by a group of people).  It's a perfectly valid spiritual path, but since you're forging your own path rather than following an established one, it's not a religion (yet-- it might be in the future. Who knows- maybe your beliefs will catch on). 

You may be influenced by multiple religions, but most likely you are only practice one; or perhaps none (there's nothing wrong with that; religion is not for everyone-- some people need to march to the beat of their own spiritual drum, and that's okay, too). 

For example: let's say someone claims to be a Celtic Reconstructionist, Hindu and Native American Shamanism. The person swears they are not 'cherry picking'-- they are following 3 different religions at once.

They may believe that, but they're not. How do I know? Well, Celtic Reconstructionism emphasizes things like devotion to accurate history of the Celts, learning the languages, dances, folk music, etc.-- this in itself is a tremendous undertaking. Hinduism is another entire, complete, intact path of devotion with different practices. Sure, some beliefs overlap, some conflict though -- and each one would take up the majority of your time. If you claim a Native American religion, dollars to donuts you're not legally recognized as Native American and what you're practicing is New Age concepts of Native American Shamanism (what real American Indians call 'plastic shamans'). Native American is not a religion at all, it's a culture with many different tribes who have many different religions. You cannot be a convert to those religions, either-- you have to be born into them. And Shamanism is Northern Asian in origin, Native Americans don't relate to it or use the term.

So the person in question here is not Celtic Reconstructionist and Hindu and Native American Shaman as they think. They're an Eclectic Pagan-- they're influenced by three different religions, and have possibly merged them in some satisfactory way. That's great, I applaud that they found what works for them. 

But I think it's insulting to Celtic Reconstructionists, Hindus and Native Americans for them to claim that they are following any of those religions in their entirety. 

Which brings me to Wicca, specifically, since this is a blog mainly about and aimed at Wiccans. Our religious group is one of the most guilty of cultural appropriation. You'll find there are a lot of Wiccan trads and flavors. People might claim to be Norse Wiccan, or Greco-Roman Wiccan, or Celtic Wiccan. Sometimes they think it actually makes them two (or more) different religions. 

Again, no. To say one is a Celtic Wiccan does not mean (and was not meant to imply) that the person is practicing an ancient Celtic religion and modern Wicca simultaneously; it means the person is Wiccan, and drawing heavily on Celtic influences (especially relating to the Gods). That makes them Wiccan, but it does not make them Celtic.

So, let's do a quick recap of my points here:
  • If you are actively studying and practicing one religion in its entirety, intact, as an individual religion, then most likely you do not have the time to actively study and practice a second religion, in its entirety, intact, as a separate religion simultaneously.
  • If you follow multiple  religions 'cafeteria style' by picking and choosing from them, and you combine them as desired, you are not a practitioner of any of them; you are merely influenced by them, and you are an Eclectic Pagan, or spiritual but not religious
  • If you actively follow and practice one main religion, and draw influence from one or more other religions, then you practice one religion with another's influence. The one religion you're more fully devoted to is your actual religion. Example: Hellenistic Wiccan (a Wiccan who worships Greek Gods), Pagan Unitarian Universalist (a UU who identifies with Pagan religions), Buddhist Hindu (a Hindu who is influenced by Buddhism), etc. 

My Tip for You Today: Don't be a Religion Hog. 

People who have a tendency to be Religion Hogs are people who are very spiritual and find great inspiration from multiple places. This in itself is not a bad thing; but the Religion Hogs don't want to actually choose-- they want them all. They want to hoard them-- and this is what's unhealthy and imbalanced. It's also intellectually dishonest, and unfair to the people who actually practice the religion because they're misrepresenting it. 

If you feel you practice more than one religion, list them. Then go and do some serious research on each one- not from Neo-Pagan sources, but from strict practitioners. Try to find the top organizations most reputable in that religion... chances are you'll find your actual practices pale in comparison to theirs. 

Once again, I am not telling you want to do, or what to follow, or what to believe; I am talking about what you call it, and that maybe your label is misrepresenting it!!!  
  • It is okay to be eclectic. 
  • It's okay to take influence from various places and apply it to your main path. 
  • It's okay to not have a religion at all and find influence in multiple religions.
  • It's okay to combine religions. 
  • It's not okay to pretend to be something that you're not, or to twist or misrepresent established religions; it's disrespectful to those that are fully devoted to those single religions.   
And one more thing before I wrap this up: if you legitimately are trying to practices several intact, separate religions-- you are probably not getting the full benefit out of any of them. There's such a thing as spreading yourself too thin. 

If you don't believe me, try sticking to just 6 months and fully devote yourself it in study, practice, devotions, veneration, etc. I bet you a will grow leaps and bounds and reach the true depths when you stop trying to be a spiritual multi-tasker and start focusing. 

Sound off: what's your opinion?
(let's please keep it respectful)

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