• Ryan Smith

Making Spirituality Serve People

Updated: Apr 12, 2019

Serving people’s needs in the context of spirituality is a complicated question to wrestle with. What makes this such a thorny matter is that it cuts to the heart of what it is all about. For many the purpose of religious practice of any sort is to connect people to a higher power either directly, through mystical practices, or philosophically through ideas that are meant to help you lead a good life as defined by each practice. Most forms of practice combine the two to varying degrees. The implicit idea here is such connection and guidance lead people to a good life, thus fulfilling their needs.


The problem with this generally accepted assumption is it puts the belief system and its requirements at the center of the discussion. People are expected to adhere to what flows outward from there, receiving guidance from accepted authorities that theoretically will ultimately serve their needs. While on paper this dynamic is supposed to serve the needs of people in practice it puts the whims of authority in the position of interpreting what is good for others. This takes power away from people to decide what is best for themselves by putting it in the hands of others.


In the Way of Fire & Ice the process for developing spirituality works in the opposite direction. There are certainly sources in this practice that are used for initial inspiration and discussion. How this is handled, however, is completely different than many cases of conventional religious or spiritual practice. Just as the past is used as a starting point for inspired adaptation applied in the present the same is true of the initial material and ideas offered in the Way, also known as Radical Norse Paganism. Radical ideas become a foundation for each person to build their own ideas, practices and specific interpretations of what they think is best for them and living in the world.


Some might say this is offering nothing more than a total free for all to practitioners and provides no clear way forward. Such a take misses that developing your own way is only half of the process. The other half of the process is recognizing the broader world we live in, the impact of our actions on that world and how that world impacts us. These broader dynamics, as a reflection of the influence of Fate on our lives, mean that while we can live and understand the world as we choose this does not mean we do so as we please with no regard for consequences. Such intimate ties of cause and effect which bind everyone in the world together means you cannot simply interpret and apply however you want. You must take the needs of others and the world around you into account.


For a concrete example of this you may find the knowledge-focused aspects of the Aesir Odin to be most appealing to you. In your practice you might choose to express this by writing poetry in the old forms, researching the lore or meditating on the runes. You might also choose to explore this element of a highly complex God by exploring the questions posed by the world around you. Both approaches are equally valid interpretations of what Odin is associated with.


In both cases the pursuits of wisdom are not value-neutral experimentation for its own sake. What you learn and how you apply it has impact on both your life and the lives of people around you. There is a world of difference, from a moral perspective, between using the fruits of such labor to advance bigoted ideas, act as a spiritual gatekeeper or deny others their basic needs and applying your knowledge in ways that uplift people around you, better inspire free exploration or increase our understanding of the struggles of the human condition.


In Radical practice there is no question you should always use what you learn, understand and develop through your spiritual practice for the betterment of yourself and others. Spirituality doesn’t start and stop in ritual, meditation and devotionals. You live it in every moment of your life. This means your insights, interpretations and the broader guidance that moves you always applies. Such application manifests in small ways, such as tiny acts of kindness for a lost stranger, or in big ones, like engaging in direct action. Regardless the core thread is all the people and the world around you matter. Striving to be a better person does not mean using others as rungs on the ladder of success. It means seeking ways to improve yourself while also standing with others in their times of need, offering a helping hand where you can and always being mindful of the impact of your actions.


This is also why free exploration, interpretation and pursuit of spiritual knowledge by all practitioners with no gatekeepers, authorities or barriers is necessary. No one person, no matter how learned or experienced they might be, will ever have all the answers. Neither will any specific institution or organization. Everyone ultimately benefits from discussion, debate and encouraging the pursuit of new experiences. What matters most in this dynamic is not how close or far they are from one specific person or authority’s view but their impact on your life and the lives of those around you. Spirituality, in this understanding of practice, is a compass that helps guide you and not a map with specific routes, directions and points you are supposed to follow.


This does not mean the Powers exist to serve you and your needs. They are not automatons or archetypes who simply are present to fulfil your every desire. They have their own needs, goals and drives. However this doesn’t mean their choices get to override yours or your autonomy simply because they demand it. A Power doing something doesn’t make their actions automatically right just as your own interpretations and applications of spiritual practice aren’t automatically right regardless of impact. It is your responsibility to always be mindful of your needs and boundaries when working with any of the Powers. Sometimes this can be resolved through careful negotiation of what is acceptable while in other cases you may decide a specific Power is not one you can currently work with.


This process of people-centered spirituality works just as well in a community setting. This is where discussion, debate and reaching a shared consensus comes into play. Shared practice that meets the needs of people is created by collectively shaping these ideas. It would, after all, make no sense to claim something is a people-centered communal practice if it was developed in ways that disregard the desires of all members of the community engaging in that practice. Such a process should also make sure that your community is as welcoming and hospitable to any guests, visitors or others who wish to participate by helping explain to them what your community’s practices are and why your group engages in such practices.


Ultimately building practitioner and people-centered spirituality is a constant process. Your needs, the needs of those around you and those of the world will always be in a state of chance. How your practice works will always be changing as will the practices of the community around you. Such changes are not a problem. Instead what matters is that any changes, developments or adaptations are serving people’s needs, improving lived conditions, uplifting the state of the community and making things more hospitable instead of less. These sorts of changes, ideas and objectives are the essence of people and needs-centered spirituality.

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