Note: this post grew out of a comment I made on Erl_queen’s LJ the other day.
I realized a long time ago that I am not going to fit into the mainstream of any religious community, even a Pagan one; as my wife puts it, we’re sort of the “fuzz on the end of the string on the fringe”, wherever we are. I’m used to being too conventional for many Pagans and too weird for most other groups, and to being both too conservative and too liberal (both in the wrong areas) to fully integrate even with the UUs.
I often feel out of place even in semi-Recon environments such as Neos Alexandria, because I don’t have regular ongoing interactions with the Gods or other spiritual beings, and don’t really feel the need to. I have experienced enough to know that They exist, but beyond that I’m just an average householder trying to get through life as best I can.
There are two prevailing attitudes I see in much of the Pagan community, both of which I find distinctly unhelpful. The first is the well-known “soft polytheism” (not that this term is entirely unproblematic) – that the Gods are in the end either metaphors or the concretizations of archetypes, or at most “expressions” of an underlying Unity; but however it’s described, most of the time it winds up basically meaning that They are inside our heads. While this attitude is easy to ignore – why would I bother to worship something I/we made up? – it is annoying and contributes to the general perception that Paganism is a lot of wooly-headed nonsense.
The other attitude that bothers me, which tends to come more from the “hard” polytheist end of the spectrum, is that in order to be a “real” Pagan I should be having tea with half a dozen Gods and spirit guides every Tuesday :). I find this both more problematic and harder to deal with; while I appreciate that these folks generally at least believe in the actual existence of the Gods as real Persons, it smacks too much of the attitude of many charismatic Christians that if you’re not speaking in tongues you must not really believe… and it’s also distinctly anti-historical, particularly for a Hellenist.
True, the literature is chock-full of stories of the Gods interacting with people – mostly kings and Heroes. With the occasional exception such as Baucis and Philemon (and even that is a Roman story) or periodic hotties being seduced by one or another of Them, the Gods did not (to our knowledge!) generally have [edited to add: *constant*] dealings with “normal” people. Certainly there were religious specialists then, as now – but most folks, then as now, just muddled through… and there was nothing wrong with that. It didn’t make them any less or more pious than priests, mediums or seers, just “normal”. Now, as someone else pointed out in the discussion, it’s entirely possible that the Gods talked to everyone, they just didn’t write about it… but I have to go with the evidence we actually have, and my own experience, and both of these lead me to conclude that there’s no particular reason the Gods should necessarily want to talk to me on a regular basis. I have no calling to be a priest, or a mantis, or anything much other than a lay worshiper and amateur theologian.
As I said to Erl_queen, I am saying nothing against those who desire such personal relationships and are blessed to have them – Godspeed and more power to them! But to those who insist that their experience should be the norm for everyone, let me observe that no religion will endure without a large base of laity, folks who just want to be able to worship the Gods, make their offerings and libations and get on with their lives.