A Case for Diversity
Over 200 years ago, the founders of the United States realized that it was politically unhealthy for a society to permit only one political point of view. The corporate laws of most developed countries recognize that modern business techniques require a number of different organizational structures and management arrangements.
Regional and municipal councils of Christian churches will attest to the positive synergy that rises from ecumenical discussion. Biologists know that maximum biological diversity is necessary for a healthy ecosystem. And any Midwest farmer will tell you how cultivation of a single crop year after year in the same place will kill the productivity of the soil.
That which is true of political structures, rain forests, and corn fields is also true in the realm of religious practice and spiritual development.
A Variety of Spiritual Paths
As Unitarian Universalists, our living tradition draws from direct experience of the transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures. There are no boundaries on the diverse ways we understand this mystery. The experience moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life. There are no restrictions on the myriad ways in which we live out this reality.
Direct experience of the sacred is given great value by those who follow an earth-based spirituality or neo-pagan path within Unitarian Universalism, who believe that humans require nurture of both the intellectual side of human nature as well as the experiential or sensual side.
Within Unitarian Universalism, the neo-pagan movement embraces a wide variety of different spiritual paths and a rainbow of thea/ological orientations based on the diversity of our experiences with transcending mystery. Within a typical gathering of Unitarian Universalist neo-pagans, you may find some who are in sympathy with Wiccan views. Others may be following West African or Shinto traditions. Some may feel more comfortable with Druidical teachings from the ancient Celts or look to Mayan or Norse religious structures.
Still others may follow no specific tradition but revere direct experience of the sacred immanent within all creation.
A Rainbow of People
The Unitarian Universalist living tradition also draws wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life. As interest in earth-based traditions and neo-paganism grows, the category of world's religions must be expanded to include these spiritual traditions with ancient roots and modern applications.
Those of us in the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans are a rainbow people, proud of our diversity and open to the ever-creative and surprising newness of the sacred.
What is Paganism?
Paganism is not new or unusual in our modern life. For many people it exists less as an active religion than as parts of our popular culture. Halloween costumes and treats, Christmas trees and mistletoe, Easter bunnies and eggs, maypole dances, harvest festivals and hundreds of other folkways began as Pagan practices. Modern-day Pagans seek to restore the religious context of these practices.
The origin of the word pagan is from the Latin paganus, meaning a country dweller. When cities were Christianized the people in the country continued to practice the old religions. The word pagan took on the meaning of "those folks out there in the sticks who still do all that old-fashioned stuff." Later it came to mean any member of an indigenous folk or tribal religion or anyone who was not "of the Book" (i.e., the Koran, Bible, Torah).
Pagan religions originated in a time when people lived close to the land. Pagan theologies reflect an awareness of nature with its cycles of the seasons, as well as the cycles and seasons of human life. Such awareness is a common thread among Pagans today. Few modern Pagans can fully know or follow how our ancestors worshiped. Instead we invent and reinvent our religious practices, and even our beliefs, as we determine how they resonate with our contemporary lives. Some people prefer to use the word "Neopagan" to describe this form of modern Paganism.
We capitalize the words Pagan and Paganism in accordance with standard practices for religious names, e.g., Buddhist and Buddhism, Muslim and Islam. Paganism is a vital, genuine -- and growing! -- spiritual path.
What Pagans Believe
Modern Pagan theology is like a great tapestry with strands originating in many distinct religious traditions. Contemporary Pagans may embrace all or part of the Pagan tapestry. Some Pagans explore their ethnic roots and discover the indigenous practices of their ancestors. Others incorporate indigenous practices that belong to a wide variety of cultures. Still other Pagans follow newly created practices. Common among these Pagans is their tie to nature in a way that resonates with their inner spiritual voice.
Some Pagans believe in the Goddesses and Gods of the old religions and others do not. Many Pagans understand deity as immanent, in everything, and believe revelation is found in nature instead of written in scriptures. Some believe in an afterlife and that their actions in this life will determine their place in the next. Others believe only in this life and that their actions here are all that matters. Still others believe in reincarnation. Some Pagans believe in an active Spirit World while others do not. Because Paganism is a non-creedal religion such divergent beliefs can exist together under one religious name -- just like in Unitarian Universalism!
Many modern Pagans find their beliefs are very much in harmony with Unitarian Universalist Principles, especially the reverence for "the interdependent web of which we are a part."
Women and Paganism
Contemporary Paganism entered the consciousness of the Unitarian Universalist community mostly through its women members and their explorations of Women's Spirituality. Their groundbreaking work paved the way for contemporary Paganism as an active spiritual path for men and women in the UUA.
Through UU Adult Religious Education
The Goddess is a potent image in contemporary Paganism. Many Unitarian Universalist women were introduced to the Goddess through the religious education classes "Cakes for the Queen of Heaven" and "Rise Up and Call Her Name". Some women have chosen to focus exclusively on images of the Goddess who may be maiden, mother, crone, teacher, lover, healer or death bringer.
The Diversity We Celebrate
God images, male faces of Divinity, are also very much present and a part of modern Pagan culture. Some women embrace the complement in a polytheistic view of male Gods, who might be young, old, wise, tricky, strong, or physically challenged. This multifaceted view of Gods provides an insight many women seek in their relationships with men.
Although a significant minority of women on the Pagan path choose to explore their spirituality by worshipping exclusively with other women, the majority of contemporary Pagans commonly worship in mixed gender groups. Many Pagan groups explore the partnership of Goddess and God, using governance models of equality and shared leadership.
Women Who Inspire and Teach Us
The modern Pagan movement owes much to the women who shaped its direction and brought it to public notice. Women like Starhawk, author of the best selling book Spiral Dance, founder of Reclaiming Collective and the Compost coven, teacher; Margot Adler, National Public Radio reporter, author of the pioneering book Drawing Down the Moon, board member of CUUPS; Z Budapest, founder of Dianic Wicca, author, teacher; Margaret Murray, anthropologist, archaeologist, Egyptologist; Doreen Valiente, poet, teacher, author, considered one of the most influential modern witches.
In addition to Margot Adler, two other Unitarian Universalist women who greatly influenced this movement are Rev. Shirley Ranck, author of "Cakes for the Queen of Heaven", and Elisabeth Fisher, author of "Rise Up and Call Her Name". Members of Cuups of FM having gone through the curriculum offer these workshops.