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.
Members of CUUPS Fort Myers draw their practices from many different pagan paths. Some follow a specific path, others combine elements to form an eclectic path. Below is some information regarding the various paths practiced by our members:
There's an old saying that if you ask any ten Wiccans about their religion, you'll get at least fifteen different answers. That's not far from the truth, because with hundreds of thousands of Americans practicing Wicca today (and the actual numbers are unclear), there are thousands of different Wiccan groups out there. There is no one governing body over Wicca, nor is there a "Bible"
that lays down a universal set of guidelines. While specifics vary from one tradition to the next, there are actually a few ideals and beliefs common to nearly all modern Wiccan groups.
Do keep in mind that this article is primarily focused on Wiccan traditions, rather than on the principles of non-Wiccan Pagan belief systems. Not all Pagans are Wiccans, and not all Pagan traditions have the same set of principles as the core beliefs of modern Wicca.
Origins of Wicca:
Wicca as a religion was introduced by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s. Gardner's tradition was oathbound, initiatory, and secret. However, after a few years splinter groups began forming, and new traditions were formed. Today, many Wiccan groups owe their basic foundation to the principles laid out by Gardner. Wicca is not an ancient religion, but Gardner did incorporate some old esoteric knowledge into his original tradition, including Eastern mysticism, Kabballah, and British legend.
Who Is a Wiccan, and How Do You Find Them?:
come from all walks of life. They are doctors and nurses, teachers and soccer moms, writers and firefighters, waitresses and computer programmers. In other words, anyone can be Wiccan, and people become Wiccan for many reasons. In fact, a recent study estimated nearly half a million Wiccans in the United States today - and frankly, that number seems inaccurately low. As to where to find them, that might take a bit of digging -- as a mystery religion that doesn't proselytize or actively recruit, it can sometimes be difficult to find a group in your area. Never fear, though -- the Wiccans are out there, and if you ask around enough, you'll bump into one eventually.
Calling Upon the Divine:
Wicca acknowledges the polarity of the Divine, which means that both the male and female deities are often honored. A Wiccan may honor simply a non-specific god and goddess, or they may choose to worship specific deities of their tradition, whether it be Isis and Osiris, Cerridwen and Herne, or Apollo and Athena. In Gardnerian Wicca, the true names of the gods are revealed only to initiated members, and are kept secret from anyone outside the tradition.
Initiation and Degree Systems:
In most Wiccan covens, there is some form of initiation and a degree system. Initiation is a symbolic rebirth, in which the initiant dedicates themselves to the gods of their tradition. Typically, only an individual who has attained the rank of Third Degree dedicant may act as a High Priest or High Priestess. Study is required before an individual may advance to the next degree level, and often this is the traditional "year and a day" period.
Someone who is not a member of a coven or formal group may choose to perform a self-dedication ritual to pledge themselves to the gods of their path.
The belief in and use of magic and spellwork is nearly universal within Wicca. This is because for most Wiccans, there's nothing supernatural about magic at all -- it's the harnessing and redirection of natural energy to effect change in the world around us. In Wicca, magic is simply another skill set or tool. Most Wiccans do use specific tools in spellcrafting, such as an athame, wand, herbs, crystals, and candles. Magical workings are often performed within a sacred circle. The use of magic is not limited only to the priesthood -- anyone can craft and perform a spell with a little bit of practice.
What Wicca Isn't:
Wicca does not embrace the concepts of sin, heaven or hell, the evils of sex or nudity, confession, Satanism, animal sacrifice, or the inferiority of women. Wicca is not a fashion statement, and you do not have to dress a certain way to be a "real Wiccan."
Basic Beliefs of Wicca:
While not exclusive to every single tradition, the following are some of the core tenets found in most Wiccan systems:
- The Divine is present in nature, and so nature should be honored and respected. Everything from animals and plants to trees and rocks are elements of the sacred. You'll find that many practicing Wiccans are passionate about the environment.
- The idea of karma and an afterlife is a valid one. What we do in this lifetime will be revisited upon us in the next. Part of this idea of a cosmic payback system is echoed in the Law of Threefold Return.
- Our ancestors should be spoken of with honor. Because it's not considered out of the ordinary to commune with the spirit world, many Wiccans feel that their ancestors are watching over them at all times.
- The Divine has polarity -- both male and female. In most paths of Wicca, both a god and goddess are honored.
- The Divine is present in all of us. We are all sacred beings, and interaction with the gods is not limited just to the priesthood or a select group of individuals.
- Holidays are based on the turning of the earth and the cycle of the seasons. In Wicca, eight major Sabbats are celebrated, as well as monthly Esbats.
- Everyone is responsible for their own actions. Personal responsiblity is the key. Whether magical or mundane, one must be willing to accept the consquences -- either good or bad -- of their behaviour.
- Harm none, or something like it. While there are a few different interpretation of what actually constitutes harm, most Wiccans follow the concept that no harm should intentionally be done to another individual.
- Respect the beliefs of others. There's no Recruiting Club in Wicca, and the Wiccans are not out to preach at you, convert you, or prosetylize. Wiccan groups recognize that each individual must find their spiritual path on their own, without coercion. While a Wiccan may honor different gods than you do, they will always respect your right to believe differently.
If you ask 100 people who practice Goddess Spirituality what it is, you will likely get 101 answers. However, for many people, Goddess Spirituality means experiencing the female aspect of Divinity in whatever way is meaningful to them. That could be learning about how people in the past or currently around the globe have worshipped deities that have the form of women. It can be thinking about Divinity as being female or as having traits that are considered in some cultures to be female, like compassion, motherliness, creativity, closeness to the Earth, among many, many others. It can be finding the Divine within yourself and associating it with those aspects of yourself that you think of as being especially female. It can be many other things, too. It is as individual as you are.
Can you belong to another religion and practice Goddess Spirituality?
Those who consider that they practice Goddess Spirituality come from all different paths, including major religions. Some people find that Goddess Spirituality is their main way of relating to the Divine, while others think of themselves as primarily following a particular religion, but in a way that includes Goddess Spirituality. Many people who practice Goddess Spirituality and do not consider themselves to be part of major religions refer to themselves as Pagans and witches.
What is the relationship of Goddess Spirituality to nature?
Many people who practice Goddess Spirituality feel a special relationship to nature. They may also believe that the female essence of Divinity focuses on nature through an emphasis on creating life and relating in an ethical and caring way to all living beings, among other aspects.
Is Goddess Spirituality related to activism?
Not everyone who practices Goddess Spirituality participates in social, political or ecological causes. However, many people do find that elements of Goddess Spirituality, such as having a close relationship to the Earth, motivate them to be involved in efforts to bring about a more peaceful and ecologically-sustainable world.
How can I find out more?
The Beltane Papers is a magazine that comes out three times a year and contains articles, reviews, fiction, and poetry centered around the diversity of Goddess spirituality practices. You can find out more, and subscribe, by going to www.thebeltanepapers.net.
Druidry is a vital and dynamic nature spirituality that is flourishing all over the world. It unites our love of the earth with our love of creativity and the arts. Flowing through all the exciting new developments in modern druidism is the power of an ancient tradition: The love of land, sea and sky - The love of the earth our home.
The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids works with Druidry as a spiritual way and practice that speaks to three of our greatest yearnings: to be fully creative in our lives, to commune deeply with the world of Nature, and to gain access to a source of profound wisdom.
Druidry teaches the art of how we can open to the magic of being alive, the art of how we can bring ideas into manifestation, and the art of journeying in quest of wisdom, healing and inspiration.
Our Bardic teachings help nurture the singer, the artist or storyteller within: the creative self. Ovate teachings help foster the shaman, the lover of Nature, the healer within. The Druid teachings help develop our inner wisdom: the sage who dwells within each of us.
Humanistic Paganism, also called Naturalistic Paganism, is a unique Pagan orientation for those who are uncomfortable with or skeptical of the supernatural or metaphysical elements of contemporary Paganism. Individuals may use other self-descriptors, such as “Atheist Pagan”, “Atheist Witch”, “Pagan Humanist”, “Druid Naturalist”, etc. Humanistic Paganism has been described as Paganism without the “woo”. In affirmative terms, Humanistic Paganism is Paganism that is firmly rooted in the empirical world.
Many people come to Paganism after leaving Christianity or other monotheistic religions. Many are drawn to Paganism, or Neopaganism particularly, because of its “this-worldly” orientation and the impulse to find the divine in the “here-and-now”. Neopaganism is often described as a religion of immanence, in contrast to religions of transcendence. This is manifest by the concept of a pantheistic Goddess, the seasonal Wheel of the Year, and a pro-body ethic.
But a person drawn to Paganism by its down-to-earth orientation may be disturbed by other aspects of Paganism, such as the belief in instrumental magic (the belief that thought can cause change in the physical world without corresponding physical action), New Age trappings like crystals, or the literal belief in gods as sentient beings. For some, this kind of Paganism too closely resembles the other-worldliness of the transcendental religions we left behind. These Pagans may find a home among Humanistic Pagans who share a love of the myth and ritual of Paganism, but not what we see as its irrational credulity and superstition.
Others come to Humanistic Paganism not from theistic religions, but from non-religious backgrounds. Atheists may come to Humanistic Paganism looking for a spiritual practice to help them celebrate the natural world or experience a deeper connection to the Universe without abandoning their rational faculties.
Local Group: Ghost Orchid Grove
About The Earthways Shamanic Path
Find the Magic in your land -- The Earthways Shamanic Path is an Earth-based spiritual path. It is based in Southwest Florida, yet can be practiced all around the world.
In this Path,
1. We study the Seasons as they unfold where we live. We learn what those Seasons are, their physical-environmental aspects, their spiritual aspects and what they mean, and how to celebrate them.
2. We approach the world through a shamanic perspective. We drum and meditate to achieve altered states. We go on shamanic journeys. We communicate with spirits and guides. We do this to help ourselves, or to help other people or other beings. We advocate the achievement of altered states of reality through meditation, drumming and dancing,as well as through exploring nature, for greater self-awareness.
3. We believe that Shamanism is an ancient earth-based spiritual practice with modern applications. The Earthways Shamanic Path is based upon core shamanism. Our philosophy is that people are drawn toShamanism, if they are meant to learn more about it. Each person is responsible for learning what they need to, for their personal growth. We recognize that you can be Shaman and Wiccan, or Shaman and Druid, or other combinations. But for us, we are Shaman and this is our Path.
4. We say, “Share your peace with our Mother Earth, Father Sky, and The Big Water.”
Many of our classes and activities are sponsored by CUUPS of Fort Myers.
For more information about the Earthways Shamanic Path, visit our website: www.earthwaysshamanicpath.com.