Lily Dale! I’m home. I had a great time, and bought some pretty things - I’ll talk a bit more about that later. What really hit me the hardest was a conversation I had with one of the lovely facilitators after the session was over. A few of the individuals in the session had been given “Indian names” by the facilitator, and I asked to speak with him about that afterwards, to learn more about what that was about, the customs around it, the how and why, etc. Apparently, in order to obtain one (he was speaking from an Ojibwe perspective), one had to commit oneself fully to walking “The Red Path,” and it was a prerequisite not to practice any other kind of religion. This was of course of interest to me because as I’m sure most of you know by now, syncretism is very important to me. I believe in syncretism as being valid, and in being a valid religious and spiritual path and philosophy - it is inherently free of dogma, very intuitive, and very pave-your-own-way, and that feels natural and like home to me. (And, I’m sure, many others who mix paths - there didn’t used to be books on Christian Wicca, and now there are! Obviously there’s a reason for that - these individuals created their own paths that sated their own desires and spiritual needs by combining resonating aspects of multiple paths.) The speaker said that a person must fully commit to that spiritual path and that path alone. I asked if it would be appropriate for a Pagan or Wiccan person to pursue acquiring a Native name, and he mentioned that that would be less of a problem, since Native paths are Pagan - but if there were many differences, he would be very uneasy about it.
Something else that surprised me was that for his people, they believe in limited reincarnation, but if reincarnation happens, it’s because something went horribly wrong. Interesting (that’s not compatible with how I feel, I believe reincarnation happens again and again and again, and that’s just how stuff rolls). Anywho, back to syncretism - the individual I spoke with said that they generally discourage people from walking many paths, because then you do not get very much out of each and only have a little tiny bit of knowledge from each philosophy (he phrased it as knowing a little of all, but not enough from either for it to be useful or enlightening). By way of example, I mentioned the whole Witch-Pagan-Wicca-and-more thing that permeates a lot of my practice, and he said it would make more sense (to him) to keep each practice to themselves. To know both but, for instance, not to use Native American drumming at a Wiccan sabbat, for instance. That made me take a step back and wonder Why? (Though initially I said to him that this made some sort of sense to me, at the moment I’m questioning if it really makes sense or not - again, why?) Why do anything a certain way? Simply because it is tradition? For me that’s not a good enough answer. He said that it was setting oneself up for conflict, but I’m not so sure. At the beginning of his talk he mentioned that he was presenting was one way to do things, but there are many other ways to do things, and that everyone should do what feels right to them - which in a way conflicted with his later thoughts on how combining faiths is a bit taboo.
On one hand I do understand the reasoning behind wanting to preserve certain practices the way they are - surely, if I practiced with a Native group I would let them teach me and be a receptacle for knowledge; I wouldn’t try to incorporate any Wicca or Santeria or whatever with that kind of ceremony. Surely, the Native communities (for instance) have suffered great losses over the years to their culture, spirituality, and way of life, and I completely understand a need for preservation. But in terms of personal belief, I feel differently; one can preserve one’s beliefs and practices while still teaching and working with others. Beliefs can be like venn diagrams, colluding at some places but not in others. There is an emphasis on purity that I cannot relate to; for me growth and evolution and change is a natural process and to try and avoid it or paint it in a negative light is to fight the flowing changing river of life. If I was practicing with a 100% Native group, then obviously I wouldn’t whip out my pentacle and cast a circle in the common way that many Wiccans do (which has had a huge influence on my circle casting), similarly in my Wiccan coven I probably wouldn’t whip out Native hand drums for everyone to beat. But my personal practice is an entirely different story, as I do whatever I damn well please and mix various elements together to create an awesome hodge-podge of stuff that makes me happy. The thing is, if you fully admit to syncretism, some groups won’t even let you in since you believe a plethora of things, and won’t teach you because you disagree on a few points and your beliefs are not “pure.” Why should we strive for purity? Why is purity considered to be superior? Why not decide how you feel about various facets of life, death, deity, and energy and use what works for you? Why follow blindly ALL of a faith because half of it resonates with you and you don’t want to lose that half that you love? Similarly, before committing to walk a path one must first experience it all, try it out, see what fits and what doesn’t. For instance, I’d never commit to walking a Hindu path without fully immersing myself in the practice. At this point, I’m not knowledgeable enough to make that call.
I think on some level it goes back to essentialism, and preserving the “essential” quality of each faith and/or spirituality. A lot of people probably view spirituality and religion as easy things to essentialize, or indeed things that are natural to essentialize, because many religions do have certain rules or guidelines in terms of beliefs and/or ways of doing things. But there’s so much left open to personal interpretation that can still be valid, that I don’t think essentializing a faith to an outline of rules is completely necessary. At what point does a Christian cease to be a Christian? At what point does a Wiccan cease to be a Wiccan? Who draws the lines? Do we? Our faiths will always overlap and intersect; my witchcraft is not your witchcraft. Many people would essentialize witches as being folks who work with nature spirits and Celtic gods and potions and incantations and candles, but I consider Christians with strong prayer to be witches as well because to me it is the same principle, though they probably would not. Who draws the line?
This weekend was interesting for me from a syncretic perspective because I have over the past few years had a slight Native influence in my practice. For instance, I work with Owl and Buffalo spirits, nature spirits, and plant spirits more than I work with deity. In fact, I don’t really work with deity very much (I really think everything is just the same, but that’s just me - so when I am practicing with a group that speaks of Pan or Fortuna, I’m not offended or put off; speak of ‘The Creator’ irks me more and generally doesn’t sit right with me personally) because I like working with non-anthropomorphized energies; us humans have already messed up so much stuff in our interaction with nature that it resonates more with me to work with nature than to petition to godforms. Some Wiccan stuff jives with me, some doesn’t, some Native stuff jives with me, some doesn’t. I think we’re all like that, and to claim otherwise is to be a bit disingenuous most of the time. We all have doubts about our spiritualities, and I think that’s completely natural. For myself, I have a place that exists in between (that leans towards very Pagan Wiccan stuff). I guess I just really don’t get the “either or” way of looking at things, to practice Buddhism OR Wicca, to practice Wicca OR Christianity, to practice Wicca OR Native American spirituality. I don’t understand the WHY of it, other than “Well, we’ve been doing it this way for a long time and it seems to work, so there.”
With syncretism I want to create a place for people like me, people who reject dogma. People who are intuitive. People who look at a religion or faith, and feel at home with half of it and feel totally not into the other half of it. I don’t like being told that I have to pick one OR the other. When I spoke with the presenter on having a somewhat in-between practice, he thought that at some point later on I’d end up picking one and going with it instead rather than mixing them together. I felt strange about that, because I strongly disagree that a choice is necessary. Why not, for ourselves, for our own personal practices, mix all that we like from whatever faiths we like? Obviously, study up so you know your stuff and be sure to talk with people of that faith who can answer your questions and in general be an awesome, experienced, legitimate resources.
One thing I like about Wicca is you can choose Pan, Kali, Freya, whoever as your patron(s) or patroness(es) and no one will bat an eyelash. Even though Hinduism has a lively practice, it’s okay to build relationships with those deities. Wicca, word up for being such an open faith - epic high five from over here. Likewise, if someone wanted to mesh Wicca with a lot of heavily Hindu knowledge, that would be neat, and many people mix Wicca with Santeria and Yoruba. For me this is natural, this mixing of ideas and faiths into cohesive gels that differ from person to person. For instance, the Native songs we heard were beautiful and obviously very powerful, but I’d be uncomfortable singing them by myself in my room during my practice since they’re in Ojibwe and I don’t understand the language. To me, words of power have no personal meaning in my personal practice if I have no idea what the words mean. I’d rather drum along and if I used the song in my personal practice, say the words in English.
Afterwards when I spoke with one of the presenters, the idea of a syncretism of many faiths did seem denounced as being “a New-Age hodge podge” which wasn’t good for much. Again, I’m inclined to disagree, and it really cemented in my mind how much backlash I may receive from various communities as a result of my philosophy. I’m sure a lot of people are going to hate my guts and/or be offended that I’m doing something “wrong.” The individual I spoke with seemed to have a certain idea that “the best way,” and even “the one way” exists, which is incompatible with my own stance on the matter; I believe that all faiths are valid. (He shared his thought that Christianity is a path that is “not working.”)
This is already super long, so I’m going to shut up. It was an amazing, interesting, fun, relaxing weekend, and I can’t wait to go back to Lily Dale. I’m planning a trip for later on this summer, to take a few more classes and just chill out. Expect a bit more about all the classes I took, and some pictures over the next few days!