The three big questions, what does Religion, Faith and Gods mean to me?
The first 'Religion' is relatively easy. I was christened and brought up Church of England but I can't say my parents were ever the religious types, more the sort that went to church for special occasions but I attended Sunday school and learnt the bible stories etc. As a young child you never think to question what you are told by your elders, or at least you don't think to put your doubts in to words. So if I was asked I would say I was christian even though even as a young child I can remember that there were thoughts that niggled at me. I was also well aware that there were other faiths. Being an ex-pat brat who moved from country to country as per my parents work, many who I made friends with were of different faiths and creeds. As I grew older, them niggles in my mind about religion became stronger an I took the subject of religion in schools to learn more. The more I learnt the more certain I was that all religions were man made and that is still my stance today. I think religions were invented by man for a variety of reasons, to explain the feelings they had that were unexplainable (faith), to explain the world around them and some were invented with the sole purpose of having power over a group of people. Sadly I think many religions can get twisted in this latter way, even if the original meaning was of true intent, human kind seem to have a need to want to control those around them and religion gave some that opportunity. So does all the above mean that I don't consider myself to have a religion? Ahhh I did say 'Religion' was relatively easy at the beginning didn't I, well now we get to the complicated bit.
Faith, how do I describe faith, someone who doesn't have it will never understand and them that do will probably see it in a completely different way to me, but here is my definition. Faith to me is just knowing that there is something else, like the world is in layers and some bits we can see and some we can't yet we are all connected. As a child growing up some of those niggles I mentioned above were when what I felt and believed were in conflict with what I learnt as part of the christian religion, from a very young age, long before I knew of the term animist pagan or even of paganism, I felt that everything natural had their own stories, their own spirits / souls. I always felt an integral part of the world, equal to the rain and wind, the pebbles on the beach but not higher. I felt the layers in the world and the thread that connects us all, it wasn't something I could see and I didn't think of it like a god I learnt about in school, this thread of spirit had no gender, no shape, it just was woven in to us from where ever the beginning was. I still feel like this, I know there is no scientific explanation or one I could provide any form of logic for, so for me this is what faith is. A true belief in what I feel even though it can not be seen or proved to exist.
So if I believe religions are man made but have faith where does that leave me on the subject of gods and of course goddesses. They have been the most difficult for me to get my head around, in truth this is a thought process that is still evolving. It is probably the one thing that many other pagans will take issue with me on but this is my thoughts on the gods. Yes I do believe in them, not in the way, I learnt as a child, for a start I'm a polytheist, I believe there are many different gods and like religions they have all been invented by human kind. Yet once something has been invented then it exists. If you take the car, that was invented, it now exists, no one can argue with that, it's a material object. The gods on the other hand are one of those things where faith comes in. I don't think I will meet Frigg in my local supermarket but she is as real in my heart and mind as the car sitting on the driveway. I do not often question how a car is built and likewise I have given up trying to question where the gods I honour came from, they are there and that is enough. Like a respected older family member I value the lessons I can learn from them, the comfort I receive from them but I do not expect them to be responsible for me, I hope if I live my life in respect of them and my code of ethics they will be on my side in moments of strife but I don't expect them to be at my beck and call. I also do not see the gods as infallible, we can all err at times and sometimes make choices that proved to be wrong but it is through our mistakes we sometimes learn our best lessons in life. The gods for me are pragmatic mental constructs. They don't need me to understand them, but through them I can learn better to understand myself.
So where does that leave me with the subject of religion, for some having a spiritual faith is enough, there is no need to give their beliefs a definition of a name. Yet here I am, as someone who thinks religions were invented by man and still I call myself a heathen and follow the Northern religions. I also have an affection for the druidry path, having Celtic ancestors, I can see there is a link there but that does not call me in the same way. There are quite a few similarities between the heathen and druidry ways, such as the ethics and veneration of the ancestors. This is easy to understand, as few religions develop in complete isolation and both these groups of people were close enough that ideas would have flowed between, yet there are differences and it is the heathen ways and gods that pull me in their direction. I don't know why, is there some ancient ancestral link there as well, who knows? as far as I can go back all my ancestors seem to have been christian of some type, yet heathen is what I am, my heart and spirit says so. The ethics, culture and simple pragmatic nature of the northern religions match my world view. Yes I still believe that it's a religion we have invented and we can not know exactly how it started or was truly celebrated by our ancestors. We can glen some information from historical sources, the myths and sagas to find out what their world view, ethics and beliefs were. It is then down to our own interpretation and like all religions it will develop with time as we fit it in to our modern world but as long as we keep to our core beliefs and honour the our ancestors I think we can leave the rest down to our gods and faith. My religion helps me make sense of the world around me and my place in it, gives me comfort and strength in times of difficulty, for this reason it is important to me.