The Contemporary Pagan community’s rhetoric in regards to identity is portrayed as being orthopraxis. True; but it is not the end of the story. As with all things, correct practice (orthopraxy) and correct belief (orthodoxy) are a spectrum, and not a linear one at that. Let’s make a quick comparison.
Judaism is recognized by Religious Studies scholars as being primarily orthopraxis. Within the scale of Judaism there are Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews, and other movements. Each one of these is its own organization for which individuals will identify, however, many simply identify outside of associated membership to any particular group. When the question is posed as to what makes a Jew a Jew, the answers include: ethnicity, membership with a synagogue or Judaism Organization, culture, or adherence to Judaism precepts and general beliefs. Depending upon the particular individual the answer will be any of these, all of these, only one of these, or even some other answer. What is agreed upon is what makes someone a Jew is their own conscious decision and identity through adherence to practices they find relevant to their own Judaism. Therein are many similarities to Contemporary Paganism.
Within Contemporary Paganism there is a large range of affiliation and identity: Reconstructionisms (Hellenism, Celtics, etc.), Druidisms (ADF, HoK, OBOD, ADOA, etc.), Heathenisms (Asatru, Odists, etc.) forms of Religious Witchcraft (BTW, TIW, Feri, TW, etc.), and a whole host of others, many of which identify, just like in Judaism, outside of any associated membership with a group. As for what makes someone a Contemporary Pagan, I think this is best summed up with the saying used in the Witchcraft currents, “Ask any two Witches what makes a Witch and get a dozen different and conflicting answers.” What the Mythical Christian Underworld of Eternal Damnation? Well, we as whole pretty much agree on one thing, just as in Judaism, and that is that what makes someone a Contemporary Pagan is their own conscious decision and identity through adherence to practices they find relevant to their own Contemporary Paganism. The smaller one makes the group therein the more similarities that exist in practice.
Let us just look as Contemporary Pagan Religious Witchcraft; British Traditional Wicca, Traditional Initiatory Witchcraft, Traditional Witchcraft, Feri Witchcraft and Unaffiliated Solitaire Witches. The main account of what unites all of these is the practice of Witchcraft. This Witchcraft is religious in nature and within the spectrum of Contemporary Paganism. Any specifics that can be given beyond this at this point will have exceptions. Luckily there are a few things that can be listed as the fairly universal, understanding the previous qualifier about exceptions. All of these practice within some form of polytheism. Note that I said practice and nothing about belief. The particular beliefs of that polytheistic practice may be duotheistic, oligotheism, monism, pantheisim, animism, humanism, something else, or some combination thereof.
There is something though that isn’t really discussed but should be. Practice begets belief, and similar practice tends to beget similar belief. As a result of this, there are a handful of beliefs within Contemporary Pagan Religious Witchcraft that are common. These beliefs aren’t universal, someone always has to be the exception, but generally speaking they exist as the balancing point opposite practice on the scale. There is no such thing as a religion that is pure orthopraxy or orthodox, each has some elements of the other. We happen to fall deep within the orthopraxy portion of said spectrum.
Bam! Some of those beliefs (Please note that the nature of these beliefs have been left out*):
-Immanent and transcendent divinity existing simultaneously.
-Legion of Being/s.
-Directional and Three Realm based mythos.
-Multiplicity of Self.
-Magick is effective.
-Polarity as a spectrum.
-The mind is the filter between Self and existence.
Got something you think should be on this list? Add it in the comments.
“Lost in a thicket bare-foot upon a thorned path.”
*For example, within theistic belief the deity may be defined as an internal function alone, such as being the expression of psychological archetypes in Humanism, or an external entity, or both, or neither, or any other multiple of combinations. All of the beliefs listed above are just as complicated, for that matter, this example has to be grossly simplified to explain briefly.