Pagan Religious Ambivalence
A look at the combining of opposing faiths.
I have come to know many Witches and Pagans over the years. This has brought me to encounter and understand the need for diversity within our communities, and with this variety comes religious ambivalence.
Diversity is the fabric of the Pagan umbrella. You don’t need to agree with the person next to you to be a part of the same community. You also don’t need to agree with one another to work together.
This is why I am touching on the subject of Christian Witches, Atheist Witches, and religious contradictions, which tend to create hostility within our communities. I have seen more than enough discussions in forums, and group chats blow up over this subject. Pagans go for the throat from both sides in a desperate attempt to feel understood, validated, and recognized.
Religious ambivalence is where the idea of combining two opposing religious views falls squarely into our lap. I don’t feel that this is an area of debate, but rather a point of discussion where we can build understanding for one another within our communities.
Understandably this subject holds a lot of contention within our communities. Traditionally Pagans reject the idea of Christianity and other “organized religious beliefs” because of the negative experiences many have encountered. Also, Christians fiercely and actively oppose the practices and beliefs of Pagans (in general) and deem our practices as devil worship. Combining two seemingly opposing religious views naturally creates a “hot button” topic.
Once again, I can see both sides of the coin. Personally, I don’t feel that one can authentically practice as a Christian Witch, as an Atheist Witch, or the like. However, I can see how it might be possible. I also hold to the principle that all religious and spiritual paths are personal. It is up to you, the individual, to decide who, what, when, where, why, and how.
No matter what Deity you follow, it all flows from one infinite resource, the multiverse.
First, let’s talk about how ambivalence might be possible. Later, I will briefly discuss how they might not be possible.
Why combine seemingly opposing religions?
In the grand scheme of things, when we choose a religion, we are looking for a higher connection to something beyond us in this world, something beyond the mundane and the face value of life. We are usually seeking to add meaning and worth. We are looking for hope. We are looking for possibilities. We are looking for something more to this existence, something other than surviving or biding our time before we can watch the latest & greatest on Netflix. We are looking for a deep and infinite connection. This connection is part of ourselves yet can be hard to reach or explain.
In the past, opposing religions have been combined for an excellent reason; Self-preservation.
It is sad to know that this survival technique must exist even today. I live in the United States, where we have a constitutional right to worship as we please. Under our constitution, we are allowed “Freedom of Religion,” and this applies to any and all religions. This means I can wear my spiritual and religious symbols anywhere and everywhere, and no one can tell me to take them off or hide them. I can talk about and practice my faith without fear of retribution (well in concept).
However, not everyone is granted this fundamental right. In many cases, the penalty for worshiping a religion outside the accepted status quo is death. Naturally, to protect one’s themselves, people must do what is necessary to preserve their faith and ultimately their lives. This is when disguising or combining your true religion with the accepted theology becomes essential.
This example is easily expressed in the slave trade of the US during the early (and very ignorant) years of our existence. Slaves who were brought to the new world were forbidden to worship their cultural faiths and deities. They would have been tortured and killed for practicing any form of it, so they did the next logical thing. They combined their faith with the faith of their “Masters’” creating more acceptable religious theologies like Southern Conjure.
In other areas of the “new world,” religions like Santeria developed during the rule of the Spanish empire, evolving from combining the local theology and Roman Catholicism. There are several examples of this kind of religious combining (or religious ambivalence). With these examples, ambivalence seems to work very well together.
While in the US, we have a constitutional right allowing us to follow the religion of our soul; this does not mean we are free from persecution and ridicule from those who understand our paths. There are far too many out there who continue to believe that the constitution is merely a suggestion. Therefore, many people (supported by large religious groups) do not uphold or believe in the rights bestowed upon us by the law of our country.
Now, I am not going to get into too much detail here because there is far too much information to cover on this subject. I could write for days, and I’m sorry, but I am not up for that. My goal is to highlight a couple of views to create a path of understanding and open-mindedness between the two.
In my experience, based on my interactions with other Witches, I have found that many who combine Christianity with Witchcraft seem to come from deeply religious and even judgmental backgrounds or family groups. The need to combine Christianity and Witchcraft no longer arises from the need to be safe. Instead, it comes from the fear of judgment. Many seem to hold on to the beliefs impressed upon them for obvious reasons. They fear what will happen if they let it go. They fear the unknown, and they fear standing up for themselves. Sometimes claiming your authenticity is scary, even if there is no tangible threat to be had.
I am not saying that this is the case in every circumstance, but it appears to dominate chat rooms and groups everywhere. Because of this fear, many make the most logical leap. Those who live in fear will combine contradicting religious beliefs to make peace and to stave off ridicule. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with this, so long as it works for you. There is nothing wrong with this combination as long as it is indeed what you believe. The key here is to ask yourself some pointed questions. Journal them and see what becomes clear to you. Ask yourself, “What do I fear from fully identifying myself as a Witch without any other associations?” OR “What do I fear by removing myself from the faith of my family in pursuit of my own?” OR “Am I ready to let go of the secular faith/my family’s faith?” If the answers come back to reveal that you are merely trying to prevent others from judging you or that you fear backlash from the secular God, then perhaps Witchcraft is not for you?
In addition to this, there is the idea that the Bible has been translated MANY times over thousands of years. Which version do you believe? The most used and best-known version here in the US is the King James Version of the Bible. This version of the Bible is exactly as it is entitled; King James’ version of the bible. King James purposefully changed many passages to suit his needs and goals. He wanted to control the people thoroughly, and he did so with the use of religious dogma. Part of his desire for control was to rid his kingdom of those who might take away his power or cause the people to question him. The fact is this version of the Bible has been widely adopted time and again by leaders to serve their agendas in this world.
In playing Devils Advocate, it is possible that some Witches who associate with Christianity are not following the modern interpretation of the bible, where most of the condemning principles against Witches seem to appear. In this context, the two seemingly opposing theologies work well together.
Spirituality and Religion are personal, and I am not going to tell you how you should follow your path. I want to make this very clear.
When ambivalence doesn’t make sense:
Again, my purpose here is to play Devil’s Advocate. I have a knack for seeing both sides of the coin on many subjects. Perhaps it is a Piscean gift of fluidity, or maybe it is because I have been around the block many times, and I see the value in individuality.
Previously, I discuss how religious ambivalence is possible and in many cases, necessary. Now I will explain how it becomes perplexing and nearly impossible to comprehend. I include myself in this statement.
I hope these two views will help both sides of the discussion see one another’s point of view without creating disagreement. I hope that both sides can learn to discuss the topic openly without it becoming a heated argument or a debate of legitimacy.
Let’s first look at the ambivalence of Atheist Witchcraft. While many Atheist Witches state that they rely on themselves as their source of power, there is a different point of view present that causes this idea to appear invalid.
As a Witch, I understand the principles of Witchcraft and Magick in conjunction with how we draw power. Spells and the energy needed for manifestation is often channeled from the multiverse and/or universe. This power can also be channeled from items, like herbs, crystals, and the Earth herself. This means we draw strength and influence from resources that are both within and without.
This requires the use of theology. It compels us to believe in the willingness of the universe in all its forms to work directly with us. It compels us t to accept Animism as part of our theology. It compels us to believe that objects have power outside of our own. Part of how we channel energy is through the development of relationships with helpful entities. We must spend a significant amount of time with spirits, ancestors, deities, and more as we build a mutual admiration society or cooperative.
Atheism is the opposite of theism and therefore rejects the idea of Divinity and power outside of self. As a result, true atheism rejects the belief of using external energetic resources. This means that an atheist most likely will not hold a view that one can draw power from anything other than self because there is no other; there is only self.
Here is where the contrast becomes evident. Witchcraft is theology or theism. It often holds the belief that deities are not omnipotent beings seated on high looking down on us in judgment. Instead, they are our partners. They come in all forms from the Fae to Dragons, to Nature Spirits, and the old Gods (from Zeus to Quetzalcoatl). They are also within you and me, which is self. With this theology, it is widely agreed that we are one-in-the-same with deity, meaning that we are infinitely connected, which means that when you use personal power, you use divine power. Also, Witchcraft holds an ancient standing belief in using and drawing from other sources of energy outside of one’s self. These sources of energy may come from the use of herbs, animals, crystals, nature, storms, a coven, etc.
In general, the Witch must combine the power of self with additional sources to create a cohesive bond that manifests our needs, desires, and intentions. The cooperation the Witch gains helps ensure the success of all workings. We must do what is necessary to ensure that we will have the collaboration of the vast array of energies that have the potential to shut us down or launch us forward. This is not to say that every single working is a combination of outside sources of power or energy, but often this combination is evident. The point is Witches rarely work alone, whether we are actively aware of it or not.
In atheism, the belief that the only power available is your own, and there is no divinity or external source of energy; essentially creates a blockage in your ability. Even if you believe in the force of the universe and draw from it, you are by default drawing from and using divine power.
But now think of this, if you recognize only yourself as your infinite source of authority and guidance, then are you not positioning yourself as Divinity or Deity? Just think about it.
Assuming that the individual is following the modern interpretations of the bible, this causes a considerable area of contention for the practitioner.
Witches and Pagans are blatantly unwelcome in the common Christian faith. Paganism, Witchcraft, and Wicca is entirely viewed as a gateway for the Devil and is actively denounced. In many cases, Christians consider the belief in and practice of Paganism in all its forms as an act of “War of the Church.” Yes, there are groups out there who believe this and actively preach this belief.
This fact, in itself, is enough to make the two religions/paths far too opposing to combine. For centuries Christians have openly and aggressively demonized Witchcraft and its practices. No wonder most people are confused. The idea of a Christian Witch in a complete oxymoron.
The largest area of contention between Christian Witches and Modern/Traditional Witchcraft comes from the history of Christianity as a whole. Historically Christianity has overtaken pagan traditions as its own to control the masses.
The combining of Christianity and Witchcraft can be viewed as yet another covert or even a hostile takeover of the Pagan faith. A diluting of sacred traditions, theologies, mythologies, and more. Especially since many Christians have ignored, denied, and lost track of the origins of the many traditions they currently follow. Many of these traditions have Pagan roots, i.e., the Christmas tree, wreaths, the Holy Trinity, Yule Log, and more.
In my experience, I have found that many people simply like the idea of being associated with Witchcraft. They want the concept because this path has power.
Or Perhaps these individuals are rebellious, and this is their outlet, and they like the idea of adding shock value to their path (as Witchcraft is still a dirty word in many circles).
Another area of consideration is how God is viewed in Christian texts: “…God is Light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all…” (1 John 1:5).
In Witchcraft, it is commonly accepted that the balance of light and dark is essential for our practice. You must embrace both to create stability and effectiveness within your tradition. The logical leap is that the Christian Satan or Devil could be the contrast to God’s light, but it is taught that the Devil must be absolutely repelled, which does not allow for the balance of light and dark.
Exploring is how we get to the threshold of understanding. Some are not yet ready to distance themselves from past teachings, or they fear the potential of ridicule from family and church, while others want to get as far away from it all as possible.
Moving into our authenticity requires us to explore and question. When we can discuss our beliefs without dispute, without seeking validation, and without the need to convert others to our chosen theology, then we are likely on the right track.
The fact is we have a right to worship in whatever way best resonates with our mind, body, and soul. No one has the right to tell us if we are right or wrong.