By Rev Acolyte Mike Smith
It is the nature of clergy that we often discuss theology. As the folk of The Ways, that means we will disagree often. That’s ok, especially when it creates respectful dialogue between people of different paths, or when we can take the time to learn about our different traditions and ask hard questions to help each other grow. As the body responsible for the sacramental and spiritual life of The Nemeton of The Ways and her community however, we have to ask what theology unites us. I propose two core theological tenets, gnosis and covenantal religion, are hidden theological underpinning of our shared path.
It is a common notion in pagan circles, especially the druids of A Druid Fellowship (ADF), that paganism is orthopraxic. Orthopraxy is “right practice/ action” and is contracted with Orthodoxy, or “right belief.” In paganism what you personally believe is not what matters, it’s what you do. As long as you give offerings piously and act in a neighborly manner, you're doing religion right. Our beliefs about the divine are like personal hypotheses or perceptions of reality. We are all likely partially wrong and partially right about the nature of the divine and while the subject is important for discussion, it isn’t necessary for us to agree on even a vague answer.
How can it be that belief isn’t the cornerstone of a religion. We are a religion of many ways, we accept all those who would enter into the bonds of friendship and community with us. Each of us relies on direct experience of the divine realm, Gnosis, to tell us what and why we believe. We do not rely solely on the teaching of a prophet or a guru. we may find wisdom in the words of such persons, but they are tempered with our own judgement and gnosis. You can not be a pagan with theory or even faith alone, practice is required. You must do the work and experience the divine before you truly know what paganism is and why we do it.
Religious groups gather because we seek communities that will accept us and help us grow. Faith communities fill needs within the human soul so deep we always seem to create such groups. We share our fire and our tables in the most human of sacred rights, the shared meal. We invite divine persons to join us and form relationships with them as protectors, guides, patrons, and members of your community. We are a community bound by covenant. By oath, bond, and promise. We hold each other accountable because we rely on each other.
Unitarian Universalist, a faith I have recently begun to identify with, refer to their faith as covenantal, not creedal. Even though the word covenant has been drenched with the weight of thousands of years of christianity, it simply means an agreement. We are a community bound not by some ancient creed made by old white guys in pointy hats 600 years ago, but by the agreements we forge in the loving embrace of community. What are our agreements? What principles do we use to hold each other accountable? These are difficult questions, and I hope we can have a dialogue about the answers.
- Buehrens, John A, and Forrest Church. A CHOSEN FAITH; An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism. 2nd ed., Beacon Press, 1998.
- Corrigan , Ian. “What Do Neopagan Druids Believe?” ADF, 2013, www.adf.org/about/basics/beliefs.html.