Michelle Lewis, The Blessings Butterfly
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way up front: I am a Witch. I often work with various gods, goddesses, ancient deities, ascended masters, and a whole lot of spirit-beings. It’s an amazing spiritual connection that has always been part of my life, though I had to keep it hidden from most people. Especially from religious people… even when I was openly religious. My own sacred journey has become one of following my heart as someone who is deeply spiritual… but no longer is bound by religious constructs.
After having spent many years in the Christian Church as a practitioner and as a leader, I found myself growing more and more disillusioned, dissatisfied, and disappointed. I struggled with the belief system that claimed to be based on unconditional love, but too often played out in reality as anything but that. The more I began to separate myself from my religion, the deeper my longing for true spiritual fulfillment became palpable, necessary. Nowadays, my religious background is just that: background, a layer and lesson from my past.
The phrase “spiritual, not religious” is often used to describe individuals who identify as having a sense of spirituality or connection to something greater than themselves, but who choose not to affiliate themselves with any particular religious institution or tradition.
For some people, being “spiritual, not religious” may mean that they reject organized religion due to negative experiences or philosophical disagreements with specific religious teachings or dogma. Others may be drawn to spiritual practices that are not necessarily tied to a particular religious tradition, such as meditation, yoga, or nature-based rituals. My religious deconstruction has become my most liberating reclamation of a spiritual practice that evolves and grows with me, unconfined and beautiful.
Universalism is a religious and philosophical belief system that emphasizes the universality of humanity and the inter-connectedness of all life. In a religious context, Universalism refers to the belief that all people will eventually be “saved” in this life or the next and gain spiritual enlightenment, regardless of their beliefs or actions. This is often seen as a direct rejection of the concept of eternal damnation or exclusive claims to salvation that are found in some religions.
Universalism can also refer to a broader philosophical or ethical perspective that emphasizes the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and seeks to promote social justice and equality. This can include advocating for human rights, environmental sustainability, and peaceful conflict resolution, among other issues.
Universalism is not tied to any specific religious tradition or philosophical school, and there can be significant variations in beliefs and practices within the Universalist movement. However, a common theme is the belief that all people are connected and that we have a responsibility to work towards the greater good for the benefit of all.
Pagans, Neo-Pagans, and Heathens
Paganism is a term that refers to a group of religions and spiritual traditions that are typically polytheistic and/or animistic, and often involve reverence for nature and the cycles of the seasons. Historically, pagan religions were prevalent throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa prior to the spread of Christianity, Islam, and other monotheistic religions.
Neo-Paganism is a modern movement that draws inspiration from pagan traditions, but is not necessarily tied to any specific historical pagan religion. Neo-Pagans often incorporate elements from a variety of different pagan traditions, as well as from other sources such as shamanism and Eastern spirituality.
Heathenry, also known as Germanic Neopaganism or Ásatrú, is a specific form of Neo-Paganism that is based on the pre-Christian religions of the Germanic peoples, particularly those of the Norse and Anglo-Saxon cultures. Heathens typically worship a pantheon of deities that includes gods such as Odin, Thor, and Freyja, and they may also honor ancestors and nature spirits.
It’s important to note that these terms are not always used consistently or universally, and there can be significant variations in beliefs and practices within each of these broad categories. Additionally, some people who identify as pagan, Neo-Pagan, or Heathen may not adhere to a specific set of beliefs or practices, but rather see themselves as part of a broader spiritual or cultural movement.
Witches and Wiccans
Witches and Wiccans are often associated with modern-day Neo-Paganism, but these terms can have very different meanings depending on the context and the individual using them.
The term “witch” has a long and complex history, with different connotations and associations depending on the time period and cultural context. In modern usage, a witch is often understood to be a person who practices magick, often but not necessarily in connection with a specific religious or spiritual tradition. This can include using spells, divination, and other forms of ritual practice to connect with spiritual forces or to influence the natural world.
Wicca is a modern Neo-Pagan religion that was founded in the mid-20th century by a British man named Gerald Gardner. Wicca incorporates elements of traditional witchcraft and British folklore, as well as influences from other sources such as Hermeticism and ceremonial magic. Wiccans often worship a goddess and a god, and may incorporate elements of ritual magic into their practice.
Not all witches are Wiccans, and not all Wiccans identify as witches. It is important to note that the terms “witch” and “Wiccan” are not always used consistently or universally, and may mean different things to different people. These are not interchangeable terms, and we shouldn’t assume that a person who identifies as a witch is automatically a Wiccan or vice-versa. I, for example, am absolutely a Witch and I observe the various sabbats throughout the year… but I am not initiated by, nor do I follow the tenets of, any branch of Wicca.
Additionally, there are many other forms of Neo-Paganism that incorporate elements of witchcraft or other magical practices, and some people may use the term “witch” to describe their spiritual practice even if they do not identify with any specific religion or tradition.
But Like, Who Cares?
So what does any of this matter? What’s the point if not to find some comfort, some sense of belonging in a “spiritual, not religious” community? Simply put, it matters as much as it matters to you. Some individuals who identify as spiritual may still find value in certain religious practices or teachings, while others may prefer to create their own spiritual path that is tailored to their personal beliefs and experiences. Ultimately, the phrase “spiritual, not religious” is meant to capture a broad and diverse group of people who prioritize their own inner spiritual life over traditional religious institutions or dogma.
I suspect that I’ll be unpacking and deconstructing my religious indoctrination for the rest of my life as I continue to hone my craft and reclaim my own spirituality. I do not hold anything against a person who chooses to practice any form of religion, or none at all. It’s literally none of my business. So whether you consider yourself to be spiritual, or religious, or neither- I wish you well.