Like many red-blooded Americans I was brought up by parents who subscribed to the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead to erase all of our sins so that we could be reconciled to God and actually get to go to heaven. There came a time in my life however, as I am sure it does for many intelligent, self-aware people; when I questioned my beliefs. Not only questioned what they were, but also why I had them in the first place. What purpose did religion serve in my life? Why is God (or many gods or goddesses) necessary to my well-being?

I started reading up on different religions that I knew existed. Judaism. Buddhism. Taoism. Wicca. Hinduism. I discovered in short order that they all shared worthwhile teachings about how to deal with the lemon that is life, and also how to treat the assholes around you with some measure of civility so they don’t kill you. These are the things that I think we should take from religion: the teachings that show us how to understand ourselves and how to understand and treat others.

Coming to terms with a God (singular, male, and one angry sum’bitch) who is kicking ass and taking names, and the names he doesn’t take go to some Hell that experts can’t agree on but it sounds pretty awful no matter how you slice it, was something I could never do. It never made sense to me. If there was a God, he would have to be bigger than that, above such petty human reactions and emotions. That isn’t what I came to write about though.

“Real Americans” like to make fun of a lot of things: libruls, New Age hippies, the French, black people, really anything that is different or threatening to their current state of living. To their credit I have met a lot of New Age hippies, and while they may not be as dangerous as the people mocking them, it is possible that they are just as crazy. That being said I think that many New Age religions may just have it right, especially in the religion of Wicca. Not normalised until 1960, Wicca has a bunch of different official traditions, plus some jackoffs like me who bend it to suit my own purposes. That’s the cool thing about these kinds of religions: you can do that. Oh wait, I seem to remember instances of people doing that with Christianity…oh well!

I like the balance of a god and goddess, but I don’t do the rituals to celebrate their feast days anymore. Polytheism is welcomed too, but I think that is just because the Greek/Roman/Celtic/Norse gods were cool and flashy, and in a religion which honors nature and the elements, it makes some sense to honor them if you are so inclined.

Two attractive pieces of this religion for those seeking to escape the heaven or hell guilt train are the afterlife beliefs and the use of “magic.” When considering the afterlife reincarnation plays a large role, so Wiccans focus on the here and now, which is stark contrast to the focus that other religions hold on the afterlife. Also most Wiccans believe in a Summerland, which is a place we all go no matter how our lifetimes were spent.

The magic part might seem silly to most, and honestly people who think it’s real are across that good ol’ crazy line, but the rituals that might be considered magic could just as easily be viewed as commitment rituals, or a declaring of intent. Wiccan magic rituals can be anything you need them to be. Asking for money, health, happiness, weight loss, anything can be the same as making a New Year’s resolution, but you’re doing in a much more purposeful and physical manner. Personally I prefer candle magic within a circle when I need to dedicate myself to something, but others use different modes. I say that as long as you can keep one foot in reality then the other foot should be able to step into a land of imagination to light an orange candle to honor a commitment to being more patient.

Perhaps the most important piece of Wiccan tradition is the Rede, which lays down the basic moral code of the religion “an’ it harm none, do what you will.” That includes harming oneself. I’d say that sums up what other religions are trying to get across nicely in one simple statement.

Being Wiccan comes with some danger because of the stigma that popular culture and the Christian religion have placed on its symbols. For example, wearing a pentagram will mark you as a Satanist in the eyes of most people, but it symbolises the 5 Captain Planetesque elements and their connections to each other (i.e. earth, fire, air, water, and spirit…Go Planet?). Doing rituals are you? Must be black magic and an affront to God Himself! Wicca also emphasizes personal responsibility, which in other religions is seen as selfishness and a refusal to give it all up to God.

People have to do what makes them happy, and so for some knowing that they will go to a heaven (or that their repression of certain actions is helping them to avoid hell) is motivation for them to continue living a good life. The problem arises when these beliefs infringe on the happiness of others (the Crusades, the KKK, Al Qaeda, any fringe group, any annoying aunt that won’t stop sending you those forwarded e-mails…) and at that point they can be anything from irritating to harmful to lethal. In my own humble opinion, Wicca (and some other New Age religions) have it right. Do what you want, but don’t hurt anyone in the process. Be happy. Create magic in the world. Live so you can be proud of how you lived and maybe come back to try to be better next time. Rings all my bells. Maybe others should take a look and step off the guilt train.

Go forth, bring joy to others, and I’ll see you next time.