As some of you may know (my regular readers and my PF buddies!!), I’m one of the administrators/moderators/co-owners/long time members of Pagan Forum, which is a multi-faith religious forum with a mostly Pagan perspective and I’ve been Pagan of one flavor or another for 22 years now, in a variety of settings (speaking in terms of practice, belief, and just plain geography), so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to see people new to Paganism wonder wherem in a plethora of traditions and world views, that they might fit. When most of us discover Paganism (or any religion, really) it seems that we generally pick the one that resonates with the beliefs we already *grok* as true and sort of evolve from there, rather than the other way around.
Over the years I’ve had some time to take stock of my own journey and the journey of those around me and I’ve found it helpful (and fun) to think about the ideas that are the backbone of my own world view and the practices that I have based them upon. With the help from the folks at PF, I’ve compiled (what I think is) a useful list of questions…sort of a belief self-inventory. Whether you are new or old to Paganism (and even if you aren’t Pagan), its good to check in and touch base with those things that we *grok*–IMO, its particularly interesting to see how they change as our experiences shape our views!
…and feel free to add your own questions!
(I might just start blogging my own answers to these questions)
Self-Inventory of Beliefs
1. Where do my religious beliefs arise from (in my life)? Were they taught to me as a child? Did I discover them as an adult? Have I developed them on the basis of personal experiences–are they a positive or negative reaction to events in my life? Have they been developed from books or other people’s experiences?
2. What is the purpose of my personal religion/spirituality (its beliefs and practices)? How do they add or detract to my inherent qualities—in my relationships with my family, with my community, with the world at large? Do the actions of my religious practices respect the individuality and autonomy of others? How do I measure the worth of my beliefs and practices? How do I decide to accept/reject and/or adopt/discard a particular religious or spiritual idea or practice?
3. What is the basic nature of divinity? Is it one(monotheistic), many separate and distinctly unique literal entities (hard polytheism), the universe in its entirety (pantheism), male and female divine forces (duotheism), as multiple figurative personalities that originate from one, or two, or several entities (soft polytheism)? As the very fabric from which the cosmos is formed? As a wishful or even deluded thinking? As none of these…or several of them…or something that is impossible to say?
4. How is divinity expressed in the universe? (do the gods act directly? is there no action by gods? is there a “force”of some sort? etc…) What is the underlying nature of existence? (is everything alive? does everything have a spirit? a soul? why or why not? which things? ) Does our existence serve a greater purpose? How so? What is sacred? What is not sacred?
5. What are my religious practices? Do they work? How do my actions, prayers, rituals, etc effect change (and where do they do so–within, without, etc)? What mechanism do I have to explain this? What is the purpose of these practices–celebration, thanksgiving, blessing, etc? Are there particular days or times where these practices take place? Do they need to be performed in a certain manner or at a certain location? Is there particular clothing or equipment that is needed?
6. What is forbidden and/or encouraged in my faith? Do I feel that there are actions, events, or items that are forbidden because they are considered to be an affront or transgression against divinity? If so, why? What are they? Is there a method to achieve forgiveness, make restitution, or otherwise be absolved from my actions? What about actions, events, or items that are proscribed because they cause harm? What is the role of “harm” in choosing right or wrong action? Is there are punishment for these actions? Are there actions, events, or items that are preferred or required by divinity?
7. What is the role of science and nature in my spiritual and religious beliefs? What is our relationship with other animals? What is is our relationship with the planet or planetary systems? What is our relationship with the rest of the Cosmos? If there is life on other planets (statistically is seems likely), how does that impact our religious and spiritual beliefs? Is the material sacred? How does our physical place in the material world relate to our relationship with the divine? What should our actions be towards the natural world if they are to reflect our religious beliefs?
8. What is the role of culture and history in my spiritual and religious beliefs? Do I need my beliefs validated textually or to share a lineage with pre-existing beliefs? Am I seeking to reconstruct (as historically accurate as possible) a religion from an ancient culture in a modern world (a reconstructionist)? Or seeking to revive the religions of ancient cultures in a modern context (a revivalist)? Or simply inspired by a pantheon or mythology of an ancient cultures, from a modern interpretation without much concern for the historical context (I call this one an “inspirationalist”)? Do I believe that a culture’s mythos, symbology, beliefs, and practices should be approached singularly and on their own terms? Or is it acceptable to blend two or more systems into single personal system?
9. What is the role of mythos in our lives? Is myth meant to be literal? Figurative? Inspirational? Do I feel the Eddas? The Vedas? Odysseus? Myths from Olympus? Or tales from Eire? Perhaps its the story of humanity, or a specific culture, or something a bit more Big History–Book of Nature/the Universe, or the Story of Mankind? Am I attracted to/inspired by a particular set of spiritual myths or a particular culture’s beliefs and practices? Which myths speak to you the loudest, and why? What lessons do I think I can learn from them? What do they tell me, or how do they inspire me?
10. Is there such a thing as fate? Is there such a thing as free will? What is the balance of fate vs free will in predetermination of our destinies (singularly and/or collectively)? How is fate and/or free will governed? Is there a way to change the balance of fate or free will at play in our lives? How are we judged in our action or inaction? What is the repercussion for a “wrong” actions or inaction? What is the reward for “right” action or inaction? How does fate and free will balance with ideas of “karma” (in whatever manner one chooses to interpret that word)?
11. What happens when we die? What is the religious/spiritual importance of death or after-death? How does one ensure a good death? A good afterlife (or after-death)? What is the role the dead play in my religious beliefs and practices? How should I “pick” the departed to include? How is ancestry important to my beliefs and practices (who “counts” as an ancestor, should they be venerated, why)? What is the role of those that have come before us in our lives, spiritually or otherwise? Do we “owe” the departed (ancestors or not) anything as part of our practices?
12) How do we determine what actions are right or wrong? What is right? What is wrong? Where do/should our morals and ethics come from? Is anything always right or always wrong? Where does the notion of harm come into play in determining what is right or wrong? Can a right action be harmful or a wrong action be harmless? What do we owe others or ourselves when it is perceived that we have done something wrong (particularly if we don’t see it that way)?