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This is actually a topic I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while now. It is, perhaps, one of the least discussed topics in Paganism, often left to the Monotheists, or dismissed by the scientists, laughed at by the Atheists, and most Pagans tend to talk more about Magic as Faith rather than speak to Faith itself. Indeed, one might come to the impression that for Pagans there is no faith, only magic, or that they are the same thing.
See, to me, Magic and Faith are two different things. They can work independently of each other or together. Perhaps it’s my hard polytheist nature insisting the two are different, but within myself they seem to function differently. Both are Power, or are different types of power, depending on how you look at it. Still, one can use/have one without the other, and as Paganism grows and we have more “lay” pagans who do not work the magic like so many of us do, we are going to have to cross the “faith barrier” and start dealing with it. Because those Pagans who come, not by magic, but by faith, are going to be just as important to us. Not everyone can be a Magi, you need all kinds.
So, what is Faith? I’m not going to get into the present understanding of it, because I think most people know what it is and a lot of us came to Paganism because we lost it. Indeed, it seems a lot of Paths out there will have nothing to do with faith, and will work through the divine via Magic, but not anything like faith.
I think the best place to start talking about faith is with the Latin word from which we derive our word of Faith: fides. Fides means Faith and Belief, which is not surprising. But it also means Confidence and Trust. This is something that is often ignored in the debate about faith (not that there is much of a debate these days. The Abrahamics all know what it is, and those of us outside there really don’t talk about it.)
See, mostly faith is treated as belief in the unknowable. This flies in the face of Science which seems to insist that if you can’t know it, it can’t exist (a rather odd concept, when you think about it). It also flies in the face of Paganism a bit, because most of us like to believe we can know our Gods and Goddesses (or God and Goddess, depending on your point of view). But it is the second part that is important, the Confidence and Trust aspect of Faith that is where we must find ourselves as much as it is the Faith and Belief.
See, I can’t really talk to Gods and Spirits (at least not yet). Apparently it’s because I over think stuff, my brain won’t shut up, and so I have trouble doing magic and “hearing” the spiritual. It’s annoying, but it’s part of life at the moment till I can figure out how to get around it or through it. Or smash it with a hammer. But what I can still have if Faith. Faith that these things exist (I see the Thunderstorm, so I see the work of Thor, even if I cant’ see Him.) I trust that he will be in the storm, and I have confidence that he and the storm will do what storms are meant to do. This is my Faith. It is the same Faith that lets me see the touch of Hel in dead things, the touch of Freyja and Frigg and Sif in beautiful women, the feelings of home, or in the growing of life. It is my faith that Tyr, Odin, and Mars walk on the battle field (with Freyja and Hel as well) bringing valiant deeds and death and doom. I feel it deep in the earth and in my blood.
People can mock and sneer at the Blood and Soil philosophy (which I suppose is fair, considering how it has been used), but it is something I have been considering. There is a profound connection there that breeds strong faith. There is power in belonging to a Land, and there is power from one’s ancestry (regardless of who or what that ancestry is).
Still, that trust and confidence can come from a lot of places. Like anything though, Faith takes work. And it will also need acceptance from the larger community of Pagans. There aren’t really any how to guides for Faith. Unlike magic, which in many ways is a “mechanical” system based on will and belief, there no way to train yourself for faith. I think this is another reason why so many Pagans seem averse to dealing with matters of Faith.
The other part of Pagans’ issue with faith is it is tied so much into Religion. Perhaps that’s why I don’t have as much an issue with having and using faith, because I don’t really have an issue with Religion. I’m a something of an eclectic Asatru, though I like working with Re-construction. I suspect that other Re-Cons probably don’t run into the ideological problems as much as others. Then again, so many Pagans insist on being “spiritual” rather than “Religious” that they avoid anything to do with religion. And we seriously need to get over that. We here in the West have allowed Three Religions to define our understanding of literally Hundreds of Religions, most of which have nothing in common with those Three. If we want to have religious equality and respect for our religions, then we are going to have to admit that a number of us are Religious and have Religions.
Once we can do that, we can start working on building Faith in our religions. In our Gods and Goddesses. We can have Faith in ourselves, not just belief. This is something we want, because Faith is it’s own power, and in many ways Faith can do things that magic can’t, and more people can use Faith than can use magic. It can empower us to act in ways that Magic can’t. It can inspire us to great deeds, both wonderful and terrible. And if our ways are to withstand the coming decades, perhaps even the coming centuries, we are going to have to regain the abilities of Faith as well as Magic.