As a Pagan, I believe in balance. Night and day; sun and moon; life and death; the seasons; earth, sea, and sky. I also believe balance comes with a spectrum of permutations and commutations. We are all made up of a balance of character traits and likes and dislikes and experiences that make us who we are. That’s why when we as people are truly tapped into the fantastic complexities our spirits, our lives feel like they run as they should.
One thing that I think does not get talked about enough in Pagan communities is the balance of faith and doubt. Simply put, faith is belief and doubt is skepticism. They are the two sides of the same coin. I strongly believe there cannot be faith without doubt because faith and doubt exist on the same spectrum.
I’ve struggled with doubt for most of my life. I grew up in the Methodist church. Literally. My dad was a pastor; we lived in a parsonage. I knew from a fairly young age that Christianity wasn’t for me, but I was at peace with my skepticism. I believed that a higher power probably existed and in the power of being nice to others and in the power of knowledge and learning, but that was about it. I identified with my doubt about Jesus and the teachings of Christianity as a major part of who I was. I simply thought religion wasn’t for me.
That whole part of my identity was completely upended when I discovered the Goddess and Paganism. For the first time in my life, I was a person of faith. I had rituals to do, altars to maintain, and Goddesses to pray to. I had something outside of me to believe in when shit hit the fan or when I felt like I was not enough on my own. My faith got me through my dad’s death, through a devastating breakup after college, and through a scary medical scare in grad school. For a couple of years, doubt took a serious back burner to my faith. I kept growing and learning and asking questions, but always from a lens of a Goddess-worshipper. In hindsight, that seems fairly typical for someone with the enthusiasm of a newly found spiritual path.
And then about a year and a half ago, my faith in the Goddess started to be tested. After several months of drama and headaches, I walked away from the coven I helped shape in its early years. Even though that was the right decision, losing that community was a blow to my spirit. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with a thyroid problem. This felt like a huge slap in the face to all the habits and practices I thought were keeping me fit and healthy. A few months later, the university I worked for announced it was being sold to a bigger university. Suddenly the other community I leaned on for support and guidance as well as for my livelihood was in complete disarray, and I was looking at losing my job. After weeks of heartache and rumors and debate, I was asked to transition to the bigger university a few months before my college closed because they had a staffing need. At first I was elated because my job was saved. But then I was asked to work on administrative tasks related to my old employer. As the weeks went by and I sat through meetings where my new coworkers called my old coworkers who were getting jobs at the bigger university “immigrants” and “not as good as us,” my spirit began to break. My faith in myself and in the Goddess started to wilt faster than flowers in fall. I stopped performing ritual and repurposed my altar table for more book storage.
I was done. I gave up. I gave into my doubt and let it consume me.
I thought that was it. The end of my religious phase.
And then I started seeing bunnies. Like everywhere. Like every time I stepped outside there was a wee little rabbit outside my apartment building or my office or outside my CVS. Which by the way is all in downtown Boston. When the weather warmed up, I started seeing butterflies everywhere too. Symbols of fertility and transformation. Every single day for a month.
So after a few weeks I said, okay Big Mama, I see what you’re doing.
I got to work. I started seeing a therapist. I’m working on transforming my career. I am looking for new opportunities to make friends and have been spending extra time with old friends as well. I am not yet at my best, but through my faith in myself and in the Goddess I’ll get there.
And I am starting to see the gifts of doubt. My practice was starting to feel stale and obligatory. Now I am creating new prayers and rituals better suited to my lifestyle and personality. Also, I am beginning to deepen my understanding of the connection between the Goddess within and the Goddess without. Essentially, it feels like I am doing away with what I thought a Pagan practice “should” look like and am actually creating a practice that is mine.
I think there will always be room for doubt in my life and in my practice. I think there has to be. Because how can I experience the joy of faith without the lessons of doubt?
© Ariadne Woods