In my previous blog on building a Pagan spiritual practice I discussed a continuum of philosophical beliefs that provide the foundation of Pagan spiritual practice. Depending where your beliefs fall on that range it will influence the type of practice that you create. There is another important spectrum that influences the development of any spiritual practice. But here we will look at it through the lens of Pagan practice specifically.
Whatever your foundational cosmology or philosophical view you will have an inclination towards being influenced by external or internal authority in your practice. In the realm of Pagan spiritually I have not often seen discussed in a explicit way. As with the previous blog I feel that we need to consciously examine where we feel we land on both of these continuums as part of the process of crafting an authentic spiritual practice. Personally, I feel that if I had consciously examined where I fell on both these spectrums early in my practice I could have saved myself a lot of time, effort, and confusion (not to mention money).
This blog looks at the range of where we look for authority in our spiritual practice. To one extreme we may look externally for direction and authority. This means we look to outside sources to provide us with direction and inspiration to create of spiritual practice. We may look at science, history, mythology, or archaeology for that inspiration or direction. We may also look to spiritual teachers, organized groups, or established traditions. Once we recognize that we feel more comfortable with an external authority we can look for sources, teachers and/or a groups that align with our philosophical outlook (in the range between animism and pantheism) and commit our self to learning from the external authority that best matches with our beliefs.
If we really more comfortable with internal authority we will expand on our philosophical beliefs (where we fall on animist/pantheist spectrum) through connection with internal wisdom and direction. Our practices will be about our experiences. We will give special attention to experiences that are intuitive or psychic in nature. We may give authority to messages that come through dreams or divination. We will seek mystical experiences to help us build our own personal gnosis. We may take inspiration from other’s personal experiences but we don’t see anything outside ourselves as having authority over our spirituality. Since our spiritual authority is internal this work is usually done alone or in loosely created groups that emphasize personal experience and have little structure or context outside of individual mystical experience.
Many of us fall in the middle of both the continuums I discussed in my blogs. We are neither pantheist or animist exclusively, rather our beliefs fall in the grey area between these two seemingly opposite cosmologies. In the case of the authority spectrum we may give equal weight to external and internal authority or we may lean towards internal authority but still acknowledge some external wisdom, etc. When we don’t fall neatly to one polarity or the other it can be harder to navigate the spiritual landscape. We may feel pressured to identify one way or another with our beliefs. We may feel judged for not fully committing our internal authority or told we need to heed external doctrines. While it is harder to navigate a practice that falls in the middle realms of these spectrums, most of us do fall somewhere in the middle. Having a clear understanding of where we land on both these continuums is critical to creating a spiritual practice you will be truly comfortable with. In future blogs I’ll talk more about navigating a practice that falls in the grey areas of these two ranges of approaches and beliefs in Pagan practice.
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