They took different spiritual paths and found balance, peace and “flowing love everywhere”
by Hani Naim
Translated by Tony Saghbiny (Ninar)
“Pagans didn’t fade away. They are here among us, living by their personal beliefs in the shadows despite more than two thousand years of persecution.
With every spring, occultists and pagans celebrate the renewal of life. And it’s not a coincidence that this celebration is simultaneous with mother’s day, the giver of life itself. It’s no coincidence that The First of April is also New Year’s in ancient beliefs, turned by modern civilization into a fool’s day. Till this day, several ancient people in middle east like kurds and Persians, still celebrate Newrooz Day as New year’s between 21 March and April 1st.
Here in Lebanon, despite the lack of official legal recognition of anyone who’s not affiliated with the three main religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism), young people have chosen alternative spiritual paths different from the dominant currents that are rooted in the general education. They converted to the esoteric and pagan beliefs, on their own, without being preached about it by anyone.
Who are they?
Coming from different backgrounds, most of them first encountered esoteric and pagan teachings during the early formation phase of their personalities. They found it by themselves as a personal quest and studied it on their own.
Curiosity lead the young Marie-Helene, as early as seven years old, to discover these thoughts, “we didn’t have internet or media like we do today, that’s why I skipped a lot”. She Adds: “Then at the age of 18 I started going to libraries and spending hours reading all kinds of books: new age philosophies, mind and meditation. And I spent a lot of time
on the internet over Wicca and paganism”.
Lama (21) who works as a graphic designer, started learning and reading about Wicca since she was 12, “I always had a different path from all the people i knew in all the spiritual related issues”.
On the other hand, Marwan (an Alias, 17), doesn’t remember exactly when he started to get to know these ideas, “I always felt a connection with the occult”.
Mounir (an alias, 24), who works in the media field, considers that he have always been a pagan, but he got to know these ideas more by reading starting at the age of 15, “later, it became a passion and a way of life”.
On the reasons that made them convert permanently to paganism, they say it had the answers to their existential questions. May-Helene says “I tried to fulfill those questions by asking clerics but I was never satisfied with the answers or they weren’t the answers I was seeking”. She adds: “the general rules that govern us on daily basis never made sense to me, people live like robot. The main reason for the switch inside of me was life itself”.
For lama, who have a “passion for spirituality”, everything began “to look superficial, from the places of worship to religious holidays to clerics. I had many questions and was only satisfied with Wicca”.
Marwan shares her views; he considered that mainstream Christianity have a lot of “evils”, including homophobia and anti-feminism… “I followed my instinct, and became who I am today”.
Mounir considered that “Actually we are born pagans and later in life we get raised on other man–made principles. With our basic intuition, we feel this strong link with the earth, the sky and the universe around us, and we feel that this connection exceeds a simple geographical reality or a mere coincidence, we feel that all the existence is divine and we are part of it”. He adds that his real transformation toward esoteric teachings and paganism later was because “it’s our doorway to reconcile with our mother earth and the universe, to reconcile with ourselves and each other because it’s the philosophy of infinite love and natural ties free from the devastating psychological syndromes of modern civilization”.
Esoteric and Pagan currents?
Pagans and occultists in Lebanon aren’t organized in groups or covens, contrary to the adherents of mainstream religions and political ideologies. They practice their beliefs on an personal scale, and their experience is characterized by its individuality. Although they hold common esoteric and pagan beliefs but that don’t mean they belong to a unified intellectual – spiritual current.
Marie – Helene believes in esoteric doctrines and she’s also close to paganism, but she don’t follow a specific spiritual path, “I’m closer to the Rosicrucians, Gurdjieff School and Wicca, because they are closer to my mentality”. She adds: “All spiritual schools have different names but they lead to the same path in the end”.
Marwan also find it difficult to give a specific name to his beliefs, “all I know is I that I worship the Goddess, believe in the universal laws as helping people, humanitarianism and the Golden rule (Treat others as you want them to treat you)”. He adds “I guess I’m Theisitic – Goddess worshipping – mystic”.
In her turn, Lama is wiccan, but Wicca don’t have an organized presence in Lebanon.
On the other hand Mounir also says that there’s no a one specific name for his beliefs, because “it’s a combination of several schools, it’s esoteric and pagan at the same time. Some may call it eclectic paganism or even symbolic paganism, but I prefer to just call it paganism or occultism, or basic – instinctive spirituality because it expresses universal truths and basic human nature more than it’s an organized religion”. Mounir sees that occultism and paganism are one, “paganism is the philosophy of dealing with love with all the physical presence and the natural energies around us, and occultism is the philosophy of unknown universal laws and spiritual realms. The essence of the two is one; they are complementary as the two faces of a silver coin”.
The path to balance
They all say that paganism gave their lives a great sense of “Inner peace, balance, power, and the answer to most of my questions”; these are the words of Lama. Marwan says his new beliefs gave him “freedom and true unconditional heavenly love”, and helped him overcome “prejudice and discrimination”.
Mary-Helene considers her beliefs as “a gift in her life”. Talking about what she has found in her current spiritual path, she says: “It’s a long list. I found the reason of our existence here on earth and our purpose, our inner God and the unlimited universal energy that connects us, who we are and what exists beyond this life. I found the value of the human being itself”.
Mounir describes the same issue saying that “it was like moving from a state of sleep to the state of awareness”, he continues: “it opened the door to connect with the higher universal consciousness far beyond physical reality. It enabled the opportunity to be in harmony with our earth and with each other, and it gave me that overwhelming feeling of inner peace, freedom and flowing love wherever i looked”. Making a comparison with mainstream monotheistic religions in the region, he says that paganism “is also the faith in the value of the human being and the divinity of all living creatures instead of considering that humans are slaves for an enraged God who’s always demanding more wars and bloodshed in his name”. Mounir says that he found “the purpose of our existence and a hope for this cold and cruel world we live in, a world which is always on the verge of self destruction straying away constantly from its essential truth”.
Between secrecy and visibility
Rituals are an important aspect of ancient and modern spiritualities. And while monotheistic religions practice pre-defined rites and traditions, pagans on the other hand don’t have unified rituals.
Marwan celebrates sometimes Wicca holidays, “but I take the Goddess related side of it, and don’t look much at the nature-related part”. Lama in her turn celebrates wicca holidays, and sometimes she create her own rituals, “the holidays are the similar to the holidays of many religions, they date back to many centuries before Christ”, she says.
Mounir rarely practices pagan rituals, but he celebrates the cycles of nature, his new year’s is the completion of spring equinox at April 1st because “It’s the celebration of the Renewal of life”. Mary-Helene practices some traditions and rituals but she preferred to not mention them.
In a deeply judgmental society dominated by stereotypes, occultists and pagans rarely announce their beliefs to anyone. Marwan would talk about his beliefs only “to people who I know they will accept me as I am, like other religious minorities and LGBT. Fear is present in a place like Lebanon. There’s a possibility that you’ll be either ostracized or even killed because of your faith. In my case, my family would kill me. Literally”.
As for Lama, her parents know that she have a different point of view, and her friends are very understanding. She admits that mentioning her beliefs at work is risky, “but I am not afraid to announce my beliefs to anyone, I have mine and they have their own, we’re equal”. When there’s a proper conversation she explains about her views and the reasons that made her believe in them, “but I never try to convince anyone”.
Mary-Helene have no problem in announcing her beliefs, but she says that “I always try to keep it to myself, because people misjudge a lot. I’m a silent person on that side and I don’t like to argue”. Mary have friends who share her beliefs, she says “when one of my friends talk about their convictions, people’s reaction would be generally laughing or thinking that we are Satan worshipers or some other sort of things from their imagination. But some people accept it and are ask to know more”.
For Mounir, the majority of his friends don’t have a clear idea about what he really believes in, “and most of those who know about me think I’m a heretic that should be hunted down”, he says it while laughing. He says that there are others who don’t take it seriously when they know about my beliefs. When asked if he have friends who share the same spiritual path as his, he said that they are “counted on the fingers of one hand”. Mounir rarely enters a discussion about his spiritual path, “People in our country don’t know how to discuss issues, they are used that there’s always one opinion that should be imposed on everyone, they are eager to act as a judge or even a cop if they didn’t like your beliefs”.
Finally, these young people hope that the society would become more tolerant and embrace the ancient spiritual ways. They denounce the misconceptions about their beliefs in the society. Mounir explain it by saying “Occultism and paganism aren’t raising the dead nor statue worship and human sacrifices as they were portrayed historically in our society. They are the return to our real selves, to the universal womb, they are the doorway to rediscover our humanity as part of the higher divine essence and see ourselves as a vibrant and active component in the universe, not just mere wanderers that pass by this life once to be sent afterwards to an eternal heaven or hell”.
The arabic version Published in As-Safir newspaper, 31 March 2010