The Pagan Heart
Myth, Magic, and Madness

February 2005 Issue

Witnessing One's Religion

By Axiom


Mention the concept of "witnessing religion" and watch the Pagans boil, flee, or shivel up hoping to find a convenient toadstool beneath which to hide.

And it's likely that every single one of those Pagans will be convinced the religion under discussion is Christianity. After all, we have probably all been victims at some point to either the well-meaning "Let me change your life and save your soul" conversion tactic, or the less salubrious "Hellfire shall char your bones, you filthy maggot-ridden Pagan" battery and assault. One of the great strengths and weaknesses of Christianity is its focus upon witnessing for Christ. Now, I know that any Pagan reading "weakness" knows exactly what I mean by that...and some may also acknowledge understanding of the inherent strengths such a concept may offer. But who among us proudly proclaims their willingness to witness for Ishtar, or Ba'al, or the Green Man, or Isis, or the multitude of deities out there held sacred by us?

Yet we should.

Witnessing one's faith is not about shoving your beliefs down the throats of all and sundry. Rather it's intimately tied to the way you exhibit your spiritual beliefs within your life. How you live your life.

That is where the greatest strength of witnessing is to be found. Of the Christians I know, the ones I most respect and cherish are those who live as their faith dictates. They struggle to be humble, honest, compassionate and empathic - to be Christ-like in all the glorious ways that term can be used, without being loud and obnoxious about their faith. They are a joy to be around, and often the people most likely to be looking after those less-fortunate, but without all the brou-ha-ha so many "charitable Christians" display. Their faith is witnessed in every action they take. And that simple fact is what draws others to be with them and to be like them - and also to respect them, regardless of what common ground may be found or lacking.

The failing of the Christian drive to witness is in the misuse of the concept - it becomes an external thing to do to others, rather than an internal need to emmulate Jesus. And this makes it competitive and impersonal. And downright unpleasant for anyone being witnessed to.

So how does one attain that state of being that makes them a living witness for their faith - without ending up in snowy white robes wandering about to the accompaniment of heavenly choirs and harps? Afterall, I like my Christian friends, but I have no desire to be like them. Some of the strictures of their faith - such as always turning the cheek, for example - don't quite work for me as I meander along my Druidic path. I want to live my faith because I want that confidence and security in my beliefs and myself that my friends display. I want to reach Samhaine (the time I take account of my spiritual achievements and losses) and be satisfied with where I am on my path and where I'm going. I want to be an inspiration to others, the way some people have been to me. And most importantly, I want to raise my children with confidence, faith and joy - things I think will be more successful if I have a solid spiritual basis to work from.

In my desire to attain a similar state to my Christian friends, I should stipulate that I do not want to be angelic or Christ-like! But I think those attributes come from the particular path followed. If one follows Christ, one will end up that way inclined. This is a lesson one needs to remember in the search for the self. By all means read the Bible, but do not use it as a guide to being self-aware. Probably not a warning needed by the average Pagan. But it also applies to the other faiths we read about in our search to understand our beliefs. Think about the deity you most desire to emmulate. Books sacred to that deity and the religion of him/her are the ones wherein you will find the foundation upon which to construct your faith. This should go without saying, but considering the number of Pagans I know who walk a path dictated by their mind rather than their heart, it does need to be pointed out. You will never truely live your faith if it is not the one that sings in your heart.

I am a big supporter of reading about one's faith - and others - to help gain a solid understanding of one's own belief system. But when it comes to the security of self that I am talking about here, books do not have all the answers. To witness my faith, I must have an intimate knowledge and acceptance of my self. I must tear away the veils that conceal who I really am and face myself. True acceptance of the self marks the great spiritual leaders. While I doubt that I shall be a great leader myself - it's not my interest, my path or my calling - I would do well to emmulate those leaders in my search for identity.

When I think of some of the great spiritual people of our world, Buddha leaps to mind. Everything Buddha taught came back to the same basic concept of the self. Not that we should become self-absorbed, selfish beings, but instead that we should strive to become more self-contained. Instead of focusing upon what others want us to do, think we should be, etc, we learn to understand what we truely are, and what we thus are really capable of. By doing so, we cut away the adopted attitudes and thought processes, and are freed from the need to conform. And as a result, our spirituality is also freed.

How many Pagans out there try to perform regular rituals because "it's what I should do - everyone else does"? Or follow a particular path because it's "the closest to what I believe"? Or, my personal favourite, live a structured and totally ordered life of ritual and tradition and lip-service because "the group I belong to says this is how it's done"?


Why should any of us allow our spiritual selves to be bound up by another's doctrine - or worse, what we think that doctrine is? Isn't that the very reason so many of us left our previous path and came to Paganism? To live a more spiritual, less constrained life? So why chain ourselves up again?

Those chains are what encourage external witnessing - the focus upon controlling others and convincing them to follow where one leads. Casting those chains aside will create Nirvana within this lifetime. The intimate awareness of one's spiritual self, one's relationship with the divine, is only possible when one steps aside from dogma and begins to live one's faith.

Why not start today?

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