Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Spiritual Skepticism

Recently in a Facebook status, I wondered what the overall overlap between women and non-men who are skeptic/atheist/freethinkers and also witches/wiccan/pagan looks like. Because I do know quite a few of us just locally. And why.

Thinking about “the why,” this is what I came up with: community, ritual, shiny rocks, fire, fashion, queerness, and upsetting the patriarchy/kyriarchy.

But how can skepticism and belief in the supernatural coexist? I don’t necessarily mean belief, but the witchy/new age practices are common in my circles, for some of the reasons mentioned above.

I’m atheist but find meditative and creative-thinking value in reading tarot cards; community, connection, support, and grounding in a monthly women’s full moon circle; and personal empowerment in creating art, personal rituals, and altar design. I don’t have to believe the supernatural aspects to find that focusing my thoughts on something helps me foster calmness, reduce anxiety, explore and process complex feelings, and work through personal trauma, struggles, etc.

The Truth behind any practice matters less than the effect. The mind is very powerful, and we're constantly seeing new and fascinating studies that validate many things previously thought to be “woo woo.” Meditation, for example, is often viewed or practiced with a spiritual bent but has buckets of data showing its impact on mitigating stress, anxiety, depression, and more.

Also, skepticism does not invalidate belief in one’s self, one’s choices to practice rituals that provide structure, focus, and community.

Independent of supernatural accuracy and prediction, to learn or receive a tarot reading requires concentration and creativity to identify the ways that different symbols and ideas connect to your life and your world.

Belief in an all-powerful deity and community worship at a church may not suit us, but community and the belief that we CAN affect our world does. Especially as women and read-as-women people.

Community and ritual have value independent of belief in any one thing. Many of these ideas are the reason that Unitarian Universalist churches exist. Various belief systems share common threads, but rigid dogma drives people away. No matter your path, your experience of the world and relationship to whatever deity or power is going to be totally unique, because we are all individuals.

Many witches of yore were just pharmacists and physicians anyway. And a second component of community is not just seeking it for oneself but feeling driven to support others as well. [Something something paradigm of healers, caretakers, mothers, sisterhood, etc. — a thought that won’t fully coalesce just now.]

Ancient goddesses are fascinating characters and a joy to learn about, belief or no. Studying these characters, cultures, and myths is more than entertaining; it’s educational, too. Same goes for learning about crystals and other shiny rocks, plants, herbs, and oils. And who doesn’t like to smell nice things?

I mentioned queerness above. We know that the holy texts of the biggest religions condemn homosexuality and other queer existence even more than they subjugate women. When the religions we grew up with make it clear they don't want us, where do we go?

As for myself, Catholicism drove me away in my teens, though my dissatisfaction with being a second-class person because of dogma began when I was 8. In college I briefly read about pagan practices but felt they were still too rigid and too similar to Catholic practice and Mass. I found my way toward movement atheism, but it’s not as if movement atheism is super welcoming toward non-men and POC. Turns out that skepticism ≠ empathy.

Eventually, I meandered into my own skeptical spiritualism, which includes tarot, meditation, creating art, learning about and wearing shiny rocks, and meeting monthly with a group of women and non-men for ritual, support, and cathartic release.

We rarely hear about this skeptic/spiritual overlap in part because it’s intimidating to identify as both practitioner and non-believer. One fears her skeptical friends will react with disdain and that her pagan friends will take offense to her disbelief as perhaps invalidating or disrespecting their practice.

Below, I’m sharing some comments from friends on the topic:

N. “I was a jerk about tarot before. I finally got a reading from a friend and it blew my mind. It just gave me so much to think on and work on within myself.”

M. “I kinda bounce between pagan/wiccan and atheist, kind of a hope there are gods and goddess at there. I am very much a skeptic though. Why: for me its the accepting nature, the rituals, the spiritual side, shiny rocks, fashion, it’s just idk comforting.”

N. “I know a lot of women who are either or but not both. I like incorporating candle lighting and contemplation to my "spiritual" practices. But i don't consider myself witchy. I am very drawn to it though.”

Z. “I am. Most (if not all) pagans I know subscribe to a non-religious pantheist "it's all the same, depends what you do with it" approach. That fits perfectly with questioning hierarchies and manipulations of control in most things. If you can manage to not believe in patriarchal monotheism in a society flooded by it, the rest will likely follow.”

H. “I've incorporated a lot of rituals, especially meditative ones, into my life and have always enjoyed tarot as a tool of introspection.”

J. “I'm agnostic and paganish, really just pretty MEH on the whole cosmos/binding philosophy front in general.”

C. “Once I would never have been able to fathom an overlap. But now I'm a faithiest who goes to UU services on occasion. I like the introspection that some of these practices can bring. It's not at all what I thought it would be.”

J.D. “Raised catholic but realized science wins over human stupidity. Dating a Native American has brought out my dormant Taino Indian juju, but I still feel like more of a Jedi; we're all connected somehow.”

K. “I consider myself a past Pagan, current atheist. But even when I was a practicing and believing Pagan, I was a skeptic.”

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