As a Naturalistic Pagan and as a trained philosopher, I tend to find the whole concept of faith generally off-putting. As a naturalist, the association of the term with various theistic worldviews does not appeal to me. I do not like the term when used as a proxy for belief in goddesses and gods. It appeals to me even less when associated with belief in the Christian god, one of seven Christian virtues.
As someone with philosophical training, the concept of faith is likewise problematic. Faith is the counterpoint to reason. To have faith is to believe something to be true that you do not have good evidence for. In this way, faith is the opposite of reason. It is the willful presupposition of a preferred belief or outcome, regardless of the absence of logically defensible reasons. For these reasons, I often adopt a rather dismissive view of the concept.
This year, as Imbolc approached, I found myself drawn to this concept of faith. I wondered, why this concept? Why not one of the more traditional Pagan virtues, like justice, prudence, temperance, and courage? The traditional Pagan virtues are virtues fit for beings in the world, virtues that situate one in the world with respect to others. Why this virtue that I find, for all of the many reasons above, particularly distasteful?
The last two years have been difficult for me. I finished a Ph.D. program and moved across the country to a city where I knew almost no one. I started a demanding new job that regularly requires 60 to 75 hours a week from me in order to keep up with the work flow. And even then, there are tasks that are not finished, endless to-do lists that keep getting longer as each semester passes. And then, in the middle of all of that, my marriage fell apart. There were months of either silence or yelling. Eventually I moved out for a few weeks. I came back, not because I was ready to, but because I felt pressured into it. Near Samhain, I was given an ultimatum: work on the marriage or end it now. No more waiting for clarity. No more space think about what I want or need.
I wish I could say that, in the intervening period between Samhain and now, things had become clear. I’d like to be able to say that in the period since the Winter Solstice, I felt a warmth growing. That the period of increasing light has been also a period of increasing love and connection. But I can’t say that.
And I think that’s why Imbolc for me this year has been so much about faith.
In previous years, Imbolc has always been about the growing light, the slow and delicate process through which the light takes the place of the darkness. It is a gentle giving way of darkness, receding and making room for the light. In the past, I have focused so much on the increasing of the light that I have neglected to think about the way in which warmth follows after the light.
Although the ratio of the day to the night has been increasing since the Winter Solstice, this time of the year is the coldest. There is a seasonal lag. We don’t feel the warmth of increased light for many more weeks. So, although the shift toward greater light and warmth has begun weeks ago, it has only just recently become noticeable to us visibly, and it may be weeks before we can feel the shift on our skin and in our bodies.
I think that Imbolc has been so much about faith for me this year, because instead of focusing on the light, I’m focusing on the warmth. Imbolc, for me, this year is about trusting that shifts are occurring, even if their results are too subtle to perceive or delayed in their impact. It’s about trusting that clarity and warmth eventually predominate, even though the cold feels like it may go on forever. Faith in this sense, then, is not about belief in supernatural beings or the absence of rationality. Instead, it is a commitment to a sense of humility towards that which is, as yet, too subtle to be perceived. It is a trusting that the light will bring both clarity and warmth in the future as it has in the past.
Crafter Yearly earned a PhD in political philosophy and now works as a professor at a teaching institution in the midwest. Her research is in the areas of antiracism, feminism, and social constructivism. She was introduced to Paganism by Wiccans, but has come over time to adopt a purely naturalistic reverence for the Earth and the Universe. She lives her Paganism by celebrating the movements of the sun and the moon, connecting to the cycles of the earth through crafting handmade goods, and connecting to her body through yoga and dance. Crafter Yearly maintains a blog at: https://craftingthewheeloftheyear.wordpress.com.