I was brought up as a Christian, and for me, any other belief other than in the Christian God was an element of devil worship. This faith made life easy for me because when something good happened, I had God to attribute it to, and when something terrible happened, the devil was always there to take the blame. However, in the back of my mind, I had questions regarding my religion on issues such as who created God, how God is everywhere, and how He listens to everyone simultaneously. However, as a Christian, such questions are evil; one has to believe. My curiosity would later lead me to interact with groups holding different beliefs and develop a new outlook on life.
During the Christmas holidays last year, I took a break from work to catch up on my favorite shows. Unlucky for me, almost all these shows were on a break, leaving me trapped indoors with nothing much to do because of the snow outside. In my boredom, I remembered I had stashed away some DVDs belonging to my sister, and I decided to watch them since I had nothing to lose. Among them was Merlin, a fantasy drama revolving around magic, kingdoms, and secrets. What captivated me most about the show are the Druids, who are nature-believing spiritualists. I did some research and learned that druids often converge at Stonehenge for rituals. Given my interest in anthropology, I decided to make a trip there, to interact with these fascinating pagans, and learn more about them, first-hand. When I got there, I found a friendly group of druids who were carrying out winter rituals at the sacred ground. The druids were more than happy to share their beliefs and history with me. To begin with, they made me understand that whether one took on Druidry as a religion or as a way of life, one thing took prominence: The spirituality of life ("Druid Beliefs").
They further asserted that for them, nature is sacred and all creatures in the web of life are viewed equally. This revelation made me cringe a little, which the druids noted and I explained to them that as a Christian, I was taught that God, the Christian deity, accords man authority over all other creatures. At the mention of a deity, the druids said that for them, the concept of gods depends on what kind of druid one is. There are those druids who believe that only a single deity exists (monotheists) while others believe in the existence of multiple gods (polytheists). Another group of druids, animists, believe that deity is everything. As I continued engaging the druids, it crossed my mind that Stonehenge is supposed to have served as a burial site. The thought raised my curiosity on the druid opinion regarding life after death. Their response was that like their Celtic ancestors; they believe that the spirit is in a constant state of migration. One may have a life as a human being and become a tree, or a rock in their next lifetime. Before letting the Druids carry-on with their pilgrimage, I could not resist asking the one question that everyone has regarding druids regarding their perceived practice of witchcraft. However, they noted that they were often mistaken for witches and wizards. They revealed that their association with witchcraft is a common misconception, clarifying that druidism follows a spiritual approach to life, rather than a magical one.
I also came across another religious group, the Norse Pagans, who also revealed relevant information on their beliefs. Luckily for me, in 2011, while attending the cinema screening of Thor, a fantasy film featuring powerful ancient gods, I bumped into a group of men and women who to me seemed overexcited about the film. I would later learn that these people were Norse pagans, whose religion the film Thor is based on. Being one never to miss a learning opportunity, I engaged them for a while, and although their beliefs set, seemed exaggerated (giants, dwarfs, elves, spirits), I was still interested in learning more about the Nordic faith. One of the believers explained that despite their belief being almost extinct today; it was a force to reckon during the Iron and Viking ages. The religion spread out across Scandinavia until the Christianity wave hit and most Norse believers converted (Carr-Gomm 28). This is why many people are not familiar with the Norse religion, worsened by the fact that Norse tenets were only transmitted orally as opposed to beliefs of other faiths like druidism, which were inscribed, and hence withstood the test of time.
At this point, I felt sorry for these believers, but the conversation quickly escalated into a delightful one when they said that the religion is making a quick comeback especially in Iceland. They argued that modern Norse paganism is realistic. The mythologies of strange creatures are now only accepted as metaphors manifesting forces of nature and psychology (Reuters in Reykjavik). In fact, the Norse pagans said, construction of a temple to the gods Thor, Ordin, and Frigg is underway in Iceland with the unveiling set for late 2018. Because of my spontaneous conversation with the Norse believers, I enjoyed watching Thor immensely with the film's background fresh in my mind.
The 21st century is outstanding because of its religious liberty, which is symbolized by Neopaganism movement. Today, religion options are not just limited to Catholicism or Protestantism. One can as well be a heathen, a member of the goddess movement, an occultist, an LGBT pagan, or even a witch. This I learned while attending the annual Ottawa pagan conference in Canada last year. The free-spiritedness of the thousands of pagans had drawn me to the meeting as I sought to understand what it is that these people believe in, if not the Christian God. I got the chance to speak to one of the conference organizers, who enlightened me that although Neopaganism has multiple sects and movements, they all share several uniting factors. First is their reverence for nature, especially the four compass directions, the four climatic seasons, and the path of the sun (What is Neopaganism). The representative also told me that in Neopaganism, the ultimate goal is the expansion of the spirit, which is achieved by developing an open mind to the realm that exists beyond ordinary imagination (Ellwood, 43).
Another issue that I was interested in is whether Satanists are part of Neopaganism. The representative said that Neopagans do not believe in Satan, just as they do not believe in Jesus. Satan is a Christian construct representing evil. Neopagans believe that harm does not come from a cosmic force, instead, is a result of human choice. For them, the concept of deity points towards a more in-depth power (nature) as opposed to the conventional Christian belief in a higher power (God). The representative added that Neopagans are all over the world. Some are lucky enough to live in liberal communities, while others living in rigid communities are branded Satanists, and blamed for all accidents and incidents.
Before I interacted with the druids, the Norse believers, and the other Neopagans, I was a rigid Christian who believed that the world is simple: Good, bad, God, and the devil. After speaking to believers of a contrary opinion, my mind is more open to the things and people around me. As Christians, when something evil happens, we always rush to blame the devil while most of the time evil is a result of human error. From my interaction with the pagans, I learned that because they are spiritually connected to nature, they are doing much more to make the world a better place through environmental conservation. This proactive approach to life is sensible, and appealing to me, though I have not converted into a pagan just yet. Nevertheless, I think that Christians need to develop a more realistic approach to life and that way; the world will make more sense as it does to me now. For example, saying that God is everywhere makes more sense to a believer of nature because for them, nature is God, and nature is everywhere.
"Druid Beliefs." Order of Bardes Ovates and Druids. www.druidry.org/druid-way/druid-beliefs.
Elwood, Robert. Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America. Prentice Hall, 1973.
"What is Neopaganism?" Neo-Paganism.com. www.neo-paganism.com/who-are-the-neo- pagans/what-is-neo-paganism.
Carr-Gomm, Phillip. Druidcraft. Thorsons Publishers, 2002.
Reuters in Reykjavik. "Iceland to Build First Temple to Norse gods since Viking Age." The Guardian, 2 Feb. 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/02/iceland-temple-norse-gods-1000-years Accessed 16. Mar. 2018.
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