What is divine inspiration? And how do you know it when you see it or feel it? How do you know when Spirit, God or the Goddess is speaking to you versus when, just maybe, you're a little too full of yourself? How do you tell the difference between hearing Spirit's call and, as some might say, being led astray?
These kinds of questions have been rattling around in my skull a lot lately, what with the discussions at Patheos on cultural appropriation, what it is and whether it even exists, and who's really a true Pagan and who isn't. Some people insist that you can only understand a religion if you come from the culture in which it is predominantly based. Others say a white person shouldn't practice a minority religion because of racial politics. Still other people claim that if you don't believe the gods are literal beings rather than archetypes, then you are, clearly, apostate.
First, I find all of these arguments discouraging and pointless. Hasn't centuries of Christian division taught us Pagans anything? We like to think we're so enlightened, casting off centuries of Christian oppression only to wield the same weapons against each other. Arguing about whether Odin is real or an archetype is about as helpful as Catholics and Protestants arguing over whether taking communion is symbolic or actually eating the body of Christ. Does this make the world a better place? No. If you find it helpful in your own practice, fine, but these kinds of questions can never be settled once and for all.
Deciding how we as individuals feel about deities, rituals and practices comes down to our own unverified personal gnosis. It's always been this way and always will be, regardless of whether you're Christian, Pagan, Muslim, Jewish or something else. But can we not allow others the freedom to believe differently than we do? Can we not respect those who have different beliefs without eviscerating their character and spiritual path? Ironically, we Pagans want Christians and others of majority faiths to respect us without maligning what we believe -- and yet, we're tearing our own community apart with the same intolerance and accusations.
If someone feels called to practice a religion from another culture, what's it to you? How do you know that the gods haven't called this person? How do you know that you're on the "right" side? After all, if it's so easy to misinterpret spiritual guidance, isn't it just as easy to consider that you might be the one "doing it wrong?" And if your deities are so strong and powerful, are they not capable of sorting out the frauds and dilettantes themselves? Is your own faith in your gods and goddesses so fragile that you feel the need to play guardian of the religion?
Sure, people do all sorts of harm in the name of religion. Their motives are often warped, their spirits damaged, and they may lure unsuspecting others to follow them. But this could be said about every single spiritual path on this planet. And so the Muslims argue, the Christians fight, the Jews debate and the Pagans call each other names. We all think we're right about spiritual matters and the other guy is wrong. Setting politics, theology, culture and every other lens aside, what we're essentially doing is questioning the other person's spiritual direction and calling. And we cannot win this debate. So stop already.
Instead, use your energy to sit with someone who's depressed or dying. Make your community a safer, more welcoming place for everyone. Create art and tell stories. Help those who are less fortunate than you, who simply do not have time to spend arguing about arcane things online. Play with children, dance and enjoy time with your loved ones. Pray, serve your deities, conduct your rituals -- and let everyone else do the same in peace.