I’m kind of getting used to being in this sort of spiritual no man’s land, where I’m looking for a place to lay my head but it seems like everywhere I look is just this great expanse of emptiness. That could be an exaggeration. But honestly, I keep thinking the answer is out there just beyond my sight line, so close. Is there a spiritual home that exists in the world that fits all of my needs? I love paganism, and I love Judaism, and I even love Christianity a bit (but more in a nostalgic kind of way), but they don’t completely meet my needs. Are they even supposed to? It seems pretty selfish of me to ask something to meet my every need.
Judaism has structure and longstanding traditions and customs. I love that. I love, to a certain extent, having the roadmap sorta written for me. That’s not to say that there’s no wiggle room, but it in some ways makes it easier to be observant. The instructions are relatively clear! Although I say that knowing that I actually only know a very, very small part of the traditions and customs of Judaism, and some of them are quite complicated (and in an entirely new language for me). Every ritual is on paper somewhere, and discussed by scholars ad nauseum. Jews are not messing around, they take ritual pretty seriously and I really appreciate that. Paganism doesn’t have that kind of structure, at least not what I’ve experienced so far. There are rituals written down, but there are so many for one simple event! Look up “Winter Solstice ritual” in google and you’ll get probably 20 different rituals to choose from. Which one is best? How do you weed through all the flowery bullshit and get to some meaningful ritual that meets your needs (in my case, can be done solitary, without a whole lot of tools, and doesn’t involve a bonfire)?
I get so bogged down trying to find a ritual, I get overloaded and don’t end up using any of them. At least with Shabbat I know the blessing over the candles is the same every time. It’s not just a relief to have something already there for you to use, but it connects you with others. Not just with the thousands of other people also saying blessings on the same night, but with the millions of Jews of thousands of years who have said the same prayer. That’s pretty cool, and what a great reminder of the community you’re a part of, right?! You just don’t get that same connection with paganism (even though some pagan traditions are just as old, or at least based on older rituals, you don’t get the same feeling).
And yet, I love Paganism for its freedom. Sometimes the feeling of having no rules is very freeing, allows for creativity and just being with Spirit in whatever way feels best (as long as you don’t hurt yourself or others). Paganism has taught me that you can make almost any place sacred, and that Divinity isn’t only in some man-made building. It’s in all sorts of things (I think it’s everywhere). If I had to pick a word that made me think of paganism it would be Embrace. Embrace of difference. Embrace of nature and its majesty. Embrace of that which cannot be seen, only felt. Even embrace of the quirky and/or unverifiable. Many branches of paganism (though not all) encourage you to think outside the box, make your own traditions and rituals, find your own way to connect with the Divine regardless of how others do it.
I see that less in Judaism– often I see Jews telling other Jews (and non-Jews) how to do Judaism “the right way,” from how to properly celebrate Shabbat to whether or not interfaith marriage should be allowed. Which is awkward from someone who is balls deep in an interfaith marriage. It’s not that pagans don’t also have strong opinions about “how we do things,” it’s just that there seems to be way more wiggle room, and if you don’t the perspective of someone you can just ignore it because…. to each their own. But it’s particularly intimidating, as an outsider trying to be an insider, to have to navigate all of these rules and strong opinions that would affect my everyday life. Does that make sense?
In any case, the saga continues. Maybe one day soon I’ll make a decision.