Winged Wolf said:
Well, I was speaking of all religions, not just one in particular.
My outlook on deities is that there isn't one all-encompassing overbeing...I just can't accept that there's a man behind the curtain, as it were. <g>
It's not just that there are different names used for deity, or different qualities attributed to deities. I was hoping to point out that even just within Wicca there isn't just a single overall philosophy of deity. Personally, I'm a "soft polytheist" who embraces panentheism (the Divine is in everything in the physical realm and is therefore immanent, and is also present in nonphysical realms and is therefore transcendant -- at the same time.) I personally believe that the Divine is so vast and complex that it's impossible for we mortals to truly grasp even a tiny understanding of that Divine. All the multitude of deities (Isis, Diana, Zeus, Brigid, etc.) are just different manifestations of the Divine, small portions that are limited and specific in their own way but approachable by humans.
That's just my own view as a Wiccan. I'm sure there are others who think like I do, but there are also many who do not.
My thoughts on deity are similar to some of the philosophical messages in at least some branches of Hinduism. They explain that ultimate deity as Brahman, who is so vast an unknowable humans can only approach it through its lesser manifestations, which include all named and described deities including Vishnu, Krishna, Siva, Kali, etc.
Winged Wolf said:
But seasonal rituals aren't necessarily part of "faith", are they? I feel I should be able to practice these sorts of rituals for the benefit of my children, and because I have enjoyed them, without feeling that I'm being hypocritical--but I do feel that going through those motions would be a sort of hypocrisy.
There are all sorts of reasons to observe seasonal celebrations. Sure, they could be part of a system of honouring whatever deity might be the focus of worship, but there are lots of other perfectly valid reasons why someone engages in seasonal celebrations.
I incorporate my concerns for the environment and ecosystem into my Wiccan practice, but even if I were an atheist I'd still be an environmentalist in some form. Paying attention to the cycle of the seasons (regardless where in the world I live) and doing concious things to acknowledge the cycles and my place in them can be a very nonreligious thing, or it can be extremely spiritual. Routines like annual celebrations help us to anchor our lives... we are a very time-sensitive species in many ways. Honouring the change of seasons can also help us to build a sense of connection and responsibility towards our part in the ecosystem.
Seasonal celebrations are also often very social events, either at the family or larger community level. I'm a Wiccan and I call my winter solstice celebration Yule, but I still am very active in my nominally Christian extended family's Christmas celebrations. Those celebrations, at least to me, are more about the connection to family and community than they are about any particular religious philosophy.
Other ritual occasions, like milestones to honour changes in life status (coming-of-age, becoming a new parent, becoming an aunt or uncle, funerals, etc.) can be ritualized and made more significant through the use of careful symbolism without having to be overtly religious too. If you do have a particular religious philosophy though they are perfect times to incorporate it.
My point is that you don't have to abandon ritual and cyclical celebrations because you're unsure of your spiritual philosophy. Ritual and celebration are not exclusively about religion.
Winged Wolf said:
I don't think exploring other religions is likely to make much of a difference...different deities, different practices....and those not the practices I became so fond of.
Same story, though, regardless of the religion. I'm 100% certain I'm not going to find a religion to exactly match my beliefs, and I'm not capable of altering my beliefs to match a religion--it's just not in me to do so. My beliefs still fit into a vaguely Wiccan/eclectic paganism mold (sans beliefs in karma).
It's perfectly acceptable to practice your own ever-changing and unnamed spiritual path. Personally, I think each of us are on unique spiritual paths anyways -- we just have this tendency to band together with people who have similar (although not always identical) ideas and give the group a name. It's a way to build a (perhaps false) sense of security and belonging. Do we really need labels for our spiritual path to have validity? Personally, I don't think so.
Winged Wolf said:
I suppose I'm going on the assumption that if I'm not entirely happy, then something's wrong. I'm just having a particularly difficult time picking out exactly what it is that's wrong. It's been more than 6 years since I've practiced any religion, and the discontent is still there.
I wonder how much of this discontent is the result of the consumerism of Western culture. We're conditioned to feel unfulfilled and to desire all sorts of instant-cure products. Ads rely on this discontent -- they almost all portray their product as a panacea which will turn our miserable conditions into "perfect lives" where we have ideal lives, ideal homes, are popular, and sparkling smiles.
Many religions market themselves the same way. They often claim to have the One True Way, which will make your life perfect (and your next lives as well!) if you just buy their product and do what they say exactly as they tell you.
Unfortunately, I don't think life, death, and existence is that simple. I don't think that there is any religion that has The Absolute Answers to Everything, that is Absolutely Perfect and Completely Infallible. If there were you'd think it would have quickly refuted all the rest of the religions out there a long long time ago and we'd all be living in a utopia now without hunger, disease, turmoil, or natural disasters.