What are the basics of any path and why they are important
Today we are going to talk about an important topic. Today we are going to discuss what it is when they mean “tell me about the basics of X religion or X path” This is a question that many seekers often ask in forums and on mailing lists. In some ways this question seems obvious to answer, but it also at times seems to represent a lack of previous research. The lack of previous research is not necessarily a bad thing as at this point in the seekers stage they may be looking for bare bones information from which to refine their search for their path. This is why it can be important to look at some 101 books before you read to much lore on a specific culture.
What the basics include
The basics of any religion or spiritual path are easy to outline. While not every path has every belief or idea I am going to outline, the idea and concepts behind these basics are found in enough spiritual paths across the world that they can be considered what the basics would be. Basics of a religion include the pantheon or pantheons involved in that particular path (this covers the basic mythology of the path), the style and types of rituals involved and a rough idea of what ritual entails, views on the afterlife and the soul, views on spirits and spirit realms, holidays, and ethics. Each of these basic components provide excellent insight into what each religion essentially believes in and what may be involved in being a part of that particular path.
As I cover the basics of what religions and spiritual paths include I am going to use a few different pagan paths as examples. Most of the references in this post are going to come from either Germanic paganism, Witchcraft (many different forms), or Hellenic Paganism as these are the paths I have the most experiences with. However in general use the examples as an idea for what you may encounter with the paths that you are looking to explore and study. These examples are going to illustrate why these aspects of a religion are important to understand for those paths and why they form the basics.
Pantheon, Pantheons and Spirits
Every religion and spiritual path out there has a unique set of spirits and spirit beings that they work with. These beings do not need to be Gods or even called Gods. They can just be a set of spiritual entities which are worked with for spiritual development. The establishment of which beings are in which path helps a seeker to know which myths are going to be the source for knowledge on the Gods.
It also gives the seeker a culture to research and in some cases a specific name for a path to follow. For example if you know you want to work with the gods from Shintoism you would be following a Japanese pantheon and set of spirits. If that was our path you would now also want to do research on the culture and the history of the Japanese people. You may even want to learn some of the language.
Style and Type of ritual
Different cultures and religions had different rituals. The rituals in Asatru (A Norse/Germanic Paganism recon pagan path) are not the same type of rituals you will encounter in Wicca. The rituals in Wicca are different than the rituals in a Kemetic (Egyptian style of paganism). The rituals in each culture and path are a reflection of the ways that humans and Gods interacted in those cultures. By understanding the basic outlines of different types of rituals you can understand a bit more about the cultures that religion and ritual style is dedicated to.
In Wicca and many forms of religious witchcraft the rituals involve typically a circle being cast. That circle creates a sacred space. The elemental forces are called. The God and Goddess are invoked. Here we have the workings either magical or sabbat related. There is an offering given to the Gods. The Gods are released from the circle and the other elemental forces are released. The circle is taken up and the ritual is over followed by a feast or grounding with food.
This ritual outline there gives a seeker an idea of what exactly will happen during a worship service and ritual. This information gives a person a vague idea of what they will need to do if they seek to follow that specific path. This is useful information because if a person doesn’t like the basic outlines of rituals in a path then that path may not be for them, or they may need to study further to see if there are other ways that they can adapt rituals. It is a starting point for ritual work concepts any way.
Views on the soul and the afterlife
Many religions have views of some sort on the soul and the afterlife. For many people their belief in the afterlife and the soul is a large defining aspect of their path. So in many paths this is a basic concept. Many people will choose spiritual paths which reflect how they personally feel about their beliefs in the spirit and the soul.
Christianity for example does believe in a soul and in an afterlife. The specific views on the soul and the afterlife play a large role in the beliefs and works of this religion and as such it forms a good example of why the view on the soul and the afterlife are basic components of a religion and or spiritual path.
Spirits and Spiritual Realms or Spirits and Cosmology
Different paths have different spirits that they work with and believe in. In some of these paths there are many different realms where different beings and spirits exist. One of these realms is typically the realm where the Gods live and at least one other realm aside from the physical world is the world of the dead. Other paths like Asatru teach that there are many different realms with different spirits that live in those worlds. For example in Asatru there are nine different realms. These realms are Asgard, Vanaheim, Jotenhiem, Midgard, Muspelheim, Swarvelheim, Alfheim ,Helheim, and Nifelheim.
Here is a meme depicting the cosmology of Germanic and Norse Paganism.
Each of those realms have a few specific type of beings that live in them. Asgard is the realm of the Gods in Norse Myth. Here Odin lives. Helheim is the realm of the dead. Jotenheim is the realm of the Giants. Vanaheim is where the Vanir live. Alfheim is the realm of the light elves. Swartvelheim is the realm of the dark elves or dwarves. Midgard is earth. Nifelehim and Muspelheim are realms of fire and ice.
In Norse religion understanding how these realms interact and how they work together is a part of the basics. Here you have seen the realms that are involved in this cosmology and you have been introduced to the concept of a few of the spiritual beings that are encountered in the Norse/Germanic Myths.
Holidays and special occasions
One of the main things people think about in religions are the holidays. What are the sacred and special days of the Gods and spirits of this path. These holidays provide times for worshiping and or strengthening relationships with the Gods and spirits. Some times holidays provide further ways to examine the lore and engage in cultural activities that were specific to that holiday and that time of year.
Some cultures have massive holiday schedules. The Hellenic holiday calender is very complex and long. Those who seek to practice Greek Paganism often have a long list of holidays to choose from. Each of the holidays had a specific reason for being there and some of them were specific to certain Gods and cults. The major holiday in Hellenic paganism that most look into the the festival surrounding the Elysian Mysteries.
With pagans who have complex festival cycles and associations they can often choose which ones to follow. Typically you find the holidays that were the most important to the Gods that you are worshiping in that culture. For example those who are close to Dionysus, Demeter, and Persephone would definitely be doing something for the festival of the Elysian mysteries while a Greek Pagan dedicated more to Pan would find festivals for Pan.
This illustrates the key point I wanted to make with the holidays. There is a major misconception that all pagan paths follow the 8 sabbats or the wheel of the year as it is known and seen in Wicca and Wicca flavored Pagan paths. Asatru does not have the 8 sabbats. There are 4 of them but not all 8. Hellenismos has lots of festivals. Other religions have only one or two that are key components.
Ethics and Morals
Every path out there seeks to teach the idea of what is right and what is wrong. Many spiritual paths form the basis for how we as individual treat each other. Some paths have been so influential on cultures that the ethical considerations of that religion have formed the basics of how that culture interacts with people. Basically ethics influence how we act as a person and how we act in society to other people and with other people.
The rede is the basic ethical outline considerations for Wiccan styled pagan paths. The idea is that you basically do what ever you want so long as you harm none. The rede even states: “an it harm none do what ye will”. This is the way many witches who follow Wicca inspired paths live their lives. Other witches follow different ethical considerations that are more informative.
Some paths don’t call their ethical or moral codes ethical and moral codes. Some paths call them virtues. The Germanic paths idea of how you should live life has a set of what they call the nine nobel virtues. These virtues outline personal behavior as well as different types of actions that can be found.
Here is another meme that lists the nine noble virtues:
By knowing the ethical standards of a path a person can get an idea of what sort of lifestyle they can have. The idea of the morals and ethics are the ideas behind how the Gods want their followers to behave. Often times these ideas include day to day life as well as during conflicts and social settings. The ideas in the ethics are what that path considers to be a good person and living a good life.
This entry here has given you an idea of what the basics of any particular faith are. The examples given come from some of the most popular pagan and spiritual paths. Its important to understand what the basics of a religion or magical path is before you start to get to deep into studies. The basics of the paths provide everything you need to know to understand the beliefs and practices of that particular path and practice. If you understand the basic concepts before you step too deeply in the path, you can have an understanding on if those beliefs and concepts resonate with your personal beliefs and concepts.
Once you understand the basics of a path you can then start to take your studies deeper. With Norse paganism you can start to spend time to study and experience the various realms. You can look at other practices including magical traditions in the Norse belief systems. You can find ways to look at the basics and become deeper involved with them. Once you know the basics its all building from there.
Though a true seeker knows that revisiting the basics is at time a good thing to do. It strengthens foundations and deepens experiences with more advanced concepts and practices within the belief system you have chosen to follow. Once you know the basics you can start to also go off and create your personal understandings and developments spiritually. The basics give us a strong base from which to grow our understandings of that universe.