The Concept of “Faith” in Paganism

Faith is a word I’m struggling with a lot lately.

Faith is a big thing in Christianity, in most religions, and in the many years I spent as a Christian, I had a lot of faith. Faith that God was listening, that God had a plan for me, that God forgave me when I did something wrong.

Faith is something that’s a lot harder from me as a Pagan, in a religion where a lot of people see the gods as removed and distant. But are they? Does my faith really have to be so different now?

The dictionary gives a multitude of definitions for faith:

  • confidence or trust in a person or thing

I have faith that the gods are powerful and interact with people’s day-to-day lives, that they hear the prayers of those devoted to them and want to have meaningful relationships with humans.

  • belief that is not based on proof

I can’t see the gods. I have no proof, other than my own personal experiences and interactions, that they exist, but I believe they exist.

  • belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion

I have faith, not only that the gods exist, but that I am following a spiritual path with teachings that are moral, fulfilling, and bring meaning to the way I am living my life.

  • belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.

Part of my goal of becoming more consciously spiritual this year is to study the ethics and values of my religion through the lens of Celtic spirituality. I am not living in a religion devoid of standards of behavior.

  • a system of religious belief

I proudly identify as part of a Pagan faith, in which I’ve created community with others of similar beliefs.

  • the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.

I am loyal to the gods and to the people I’ve engaged with because of my Pagan faith. I have made the promise to live my life in a way that honors the gods, to please them in the way I live my life and interact with other people.

  • the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one’s promise, oath, allegiance, etc.

I work hard to keep my promises; I believe that oath-breaking is a terrible dishonor in the eyes of the gods I worship, and I believe it’s a terrible way to act toward other people. The promises I make carry weight, and a lot of it.

In Christianity, the idea of faith goes beyond believing in something you can’t see or following a book whose authors lived thousands of years before you were born. It encompasses trust in the things you believe in, that God and the things you believe will keep you on a path of morality, happiness, and fulfillment. People always say, “God has a plan. Have faith in God. God won’t lead you astray.”

I think that’s what I’m struggling with: feeling like the gods have a plan for me. I think they do, and I’m learning to give myself over to more trust and faith in them. Too many times, I’ve felt like my life was spiraling out of control, like there was nothing but chaos…and then, when I stopped worrying so much about everything, things fell into place so quickly and so perfectly, it was spooky. I think that is the gods working in my life, trying to wake me up and tell me, “Hey, we’ve got this.”

Faith is hard for a lot of people. It’s hard to believe there is purpose and order in what feels like life’s chaos. If the gods didn’t have plans, if they didn’t want a relationship with us, why would they call to us at all? Why do we have myths and stories and legends of gods interacting with people that span the ages and have survived time, place, wars, and religious conversions?

The gods are still here, and I’m working on my faith.

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3 thoughts on “The Concept of “Faith” in Paganism

  1. I think that articulating your feelings is a good way of sorting out just what it is you believe, but I think you are making some fundamental mistakes, the most significant being your concern that the “faith” you had when you were a Christian is something both desirable and necessary, as a Pagan.

    “Pagan” is a bit too amorphous a term, so I’m going to stick with the perspective of “polytheism” and the significant theological differences with monotheism. For starters, the reason that faith is not central (and thus not particularly written about topic) in polytheism, is that it skews experiential/ devotional when it comes to approaches or modes of worship. In regards to your statement about gods in [polytheism] being distant, I find such a statement odd; one of the general principles of [polytheism] is the immanence of the gods, as beings in or about the world, and not particularly transcendent (albeit to over simplify would be to establish a false dichotomy, as there certainly are transcendent deities).

    I think the issue you are facing is this, you are still carrying theological baggage from your time as a monotheist; that you would be concerned that you need to have the same sort of “faith” as a [polytheist] that you did when a Christian is a good demonstration of this point. Likewise the concern that the “gods have a plan for you” as being of particular importance is also something which is conspicuously Christian. While I have no qualms with concepts like fate or destiny as having significance to ones worldview, this can be taken too far. Certainly the danger here is that this nudges folks back towards the view that Christianity is the default for HOW religion (or theology) ought to work, and that if what you are doing doesn’t reflect that, then you are failing at religion. Hegemony is sneaky that way.

    With regards to how culturally distinct forms of polytheism understand the centrality of human agency in relation to “the gods plans”, in this case the Celts (and specifically the Gaels) are really forthcoming about it. While I am certain the belief that the gods “have got this” provides a great deal of comfort, it is considerably inverse to Celtic mores. In other words, whether the gods have got this or not, YOU should have this. Throwing ones hands up and “giving it up to the god(s)” is a distinctly Protestant theological precept; the gods are not divine helicopter parents. You have worth, and so you should be able to stand on your own. Chaos is endemic, and while the gods (for the most part) tend to stand against it, to believe that the gods are omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and omnibenevolent is to once again fundamentally misunderstand how [polytheistic] theology works.

    If your answer to the question: “Does my faith really have to be so different now?” is anything other than “yes”, than you are going to continue to be beholden to theology rooted in your former, and not present, worldview.

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    1. I really appreciate you stopping by to share your insights. I agree that the gods are not “divine helicopter parents” and don’t appreciate us as whiny, needy followers. I apologize if my post came across this way.

      I think this post is coming, not necessarily from a place of monotheistic baggage, but from a place of stumbling through “Paganism” (which I agree, is a bit vague). I acquired my polytheist and Pagan beliefs quite eclectically and now, after 7 years, am trying to find a way to structure them, as I’ve found that broad eclecticism isn’t such a fulfilling path for me.

      It’s a frustrating time for me, as I had hoped I would have found more of a place, a spiritual home, if you will, after all this time, and instead I feel like I’m back at the beginning bumbling around to figure out where I belong.

      I do think that there needs to be a balance between the idea of the gods as unconcerned for us and the gods as benevolent beings that want to help us. Their benevolence may have limits and require a deal of self-sufficiency from people, but I don’t think that lessens my relationship with the gods. If anything, honoring certain deities in my life has taught me to be more determined, self-sufficient, and intentional about how I’m living my life.

      Thank you again for stopping by!

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  2. I think faith is an expression of belief, and beliefs – even within established religious ‘systems’ – tend to be highly individual. As such, I’m not so inclined to label this as leftover ‘monotheistic baggage.’ Someone who struggles with their faith tends to do so because their beliefs are not concretely defined or rigidly in place. My own experience has led me to understand that no one’s beliefs should ever be that way … our learning, from life, from Nature, from the gods, is a process. It’s a walk, where each step requires a momentary relinquishing of balance in order to reach a new point. As such, we are meant to change, and our beliefs are meant to keep up with us. The struggle comes from experiencing these various changes, and realizing that we have not yet deluded ourselves into thinking we have a rigidly codified system of belief. Looking at your struggle from this perspective, I’d say what you are experiencing should be encouraging: you wrote some rather interesting words when you wrote: “… when I stopped worrying so much about everything, things fell into place so quickly and so perfectly, it was spooky.” Keep walking, and smile with the understanding you have already attained, that the gods are with us, and continuously working on our faith is part of the plan. You can’t teach someone something they think they already know 😉

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