Over many years, I’ve studied and explored a wide variety of spiritual traditions – including those within the neopagan and occult spectrum, but also world religions of various types. As a teenager in the late nineties, I began my journey with solitary eclectic neopaganism – including aspects of both witchcraft and western occultism, but eventually transitioned into polytheistic reconstructionism in adulthood. For the majority of my adulthood, I focused most of my study on various forms of polytheistic reconstructionism. Most of what I initially studied was Hellenic or Roman, but I eventually studied Kemetic and other near eastern religions – as well as Celtic and Germanic traditions.
Despite the benefits of studying these traditions – both devotional or esoteric to varying degrees, I have found myself unsatisfied with both the traditional and contemporary approaches to polytheism that dominate discourse in the pagan community as a whole. Moreover, after many years of practice, I no longer identify with any religious tradition – polytheistic or otherwise. For this reason, I have decided that my practice can best be described as mysticism. Instead of dealing with specific terms from various traditions, I will simply call myself a mystic from now on. My spiritual practice is devotional but also highly pragmatic and holistic. I am willing to draw inspiration from a variety of sources – both ancient and modern, but I prefer rituals that are simple, direct and uncluttered; I don’t like excessive ceremonialism – whether that comes from rigid reconstructionism or occult philosophies.
It is my contention that the cluttered, ungainly structures of many pagan traditions – and religions as a whole, are a major hinderance to effective, holistic spiritual practice – both individually and in groups. I believe that a direct approach – when done consistently, has the potential to increase spirituality and make mystical experiences more effective. If you are doing rituals for so long that your feet get tired, you are doing it wrong. If your rituals require you to obsess over traditional pronunciations of ancient phrases or encourage you to have petty fights online, it is only a hinderance and isn’t helping you to connect to the gods and goddesses.
There are so many aggressive, exhausting fights in the pagan community – as well as many other religious communities, over what is considered correct practice or the appropriate interpretations of material – often by people who barely practice themselves and frequently don’t even have altar spaces to practice from. I seek to abandon these inane, pointless spiritual hinderances and encourage others to do the same in their own lives. These kinds of ideological fights are spiritual hinderances in any religion, but are especially damaging in pagan or polytheistic religions that have struggled to even exist in the first place. This is why essential, personal mysticism is an ideal approach and can be extended to small, local and intimate mysteries involving people with whom we have implicit trust and respect.
With mysticism, the correct approach focuses on those practices which encourage direct experience of the gods and promote an active, consistent spiritual lifestyle. This includes doctrines and orthopraxy, but also pathos – all in equal measure. Mystics should be historically informed in their practice, but should also be willing to incorporate contemporary or anachronistic ideas when they serve a spiritual good. This is similar to how god poles have been adopted by many Heathens – even though the practice is mostly associated with Slavic and Baltic traditions historically. Even many reconstructionists favor god poles in spite of this anachronism.
There are traditional ideas that are more effective and simpler than ideas from contemporary occult traditions. It’s completely unnecessary to go through the mess of highly Christianized, western ceremonial banishing rituals or the medieval quarter calling of witchcraft traditions when salted lustral water and offerings to land spirits and house spirits are far simpler and more effective. There are also modern occult practices which simplify things in their own right – like the concept of modern sigils, but without the unnecessary philosophies of Chaos Magick or other forms of contemporary occultism. There are many polytheists who already use them this way.
Another important reason why a holistic, independent, mystical style of spirituality is an ideal approach is because of its anti-collectivist philosophy. Whether it is witches who insist that all magic must follow the rede, Chaotes that think all magic must be banished with laughter, Heathens who think that devotion to gods and goddesses is some kind of weakness, Hellenists that think that magic itself is some kind of sinful spiritual act, or Kemetics that are adamant that cultivating maat requires you to hold specific spiritual or political beliefs, the most essential, holistic, mystical forms of spirituality are a complete rejection of these sorts of social requirements to connect to the gods; polytheists – both in their individual practice and among others of like mind, should be able explore their faith without meaningless restrictions.