Tell Us Where You’re Coming From (And Let Others Do the Same)

CommunityThere’s a difference between your personal experience of the spiritual and the “rules” of spirituality. Sharing your experiences means saying “when I do this, I experience that”. This is different from saying “when you do this, you should experience that”.

Want some more specific examples? Check out this post on whether we have to speak aloud to the Gods or not. Camilla Laurentine shares her experiences of speaking to the Gods in her mind–and of being told by others that “polytheists don’t do that”. Laurentine is sharing what she experiences. The people who criticize her are requiring her experience to line up with theirs in order to be valid, which is Not Cool.

Now, there are some traditions where the Gods must be prayed to out loud. If you are knowledgeable about such a tradition, it is appropriate to tell someone “in this tradition, we do X”. If you’re knowledgeable about historic sources, it’s all fine and good to tell someone “this particular historic source tells us that ancient polytheists in such and such a place and time did Y”. It’s totally cool to say “when I worship/participate in this spiritual activity, I experience Z”. What’s Not Cool is telling someone else “I experience Z, therefore you must also experience Z”. (Have I used enough variables yet? Because polytheism is nothing if not a world of variables.)

In my own writings, I take pains to be clear about when I’m discussing:

  1. My own personal experiences
  2. What a specific tradition–on this blog, usually Urglaawe–typically adheres to
  3. What is attested to in some specific source regarding the practices of peoples in a particular time and place

When we’re clear about those things, it helps to avoid–deliberately or unintentionally–invalidating someone else’s spiritual experience. Let’s be real for a minute here. We’re all people. We have our failings. Don’t you think it’s possible that there might be some spiritual stuff that falls outside the limits of your own personal experiences or knowledge? That maybe someone else can be going through some real, legitimate shit that you just can’t explain?

I get it. While our traditions have ancient roots, our reconstructions, revivals, and what-have-you, are young. It’s hard to establish what we are without knowing what we’re not. It’s hard to get mainstream religions to take us seriously when we have so much wild personal experience going on, and it’s almost impossible to sum up in a few paragraphs “what we believe”. Not to mention the fact that “we” could be anywhere from one person to thousands, who all disagree. (What, you’ve never disagreed with yourself?)

Honestly, I have experienced far more aggression from co-religionists than I have from the religious mainstream. In the interests of building community, and trying to, you know, not “eat our own”, can we try to be a little more open minded about the personal experiences of others? Can we try to do a little less of “you’re doing it wrong” and “you’re not the boss of me!”? Can we do a little more of clarifying where we’re coming from and asking others to do the same?


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