When I started my research, I had a hard time choosing three paths to look into for my paper. I know myself pretty well, so I knew my reasons were threefold.
 I felt intimidated and frustrated with the task. We’re supposed to go to three services for the paths we’re studying, yet for about a year now I’ve been a car-less bum. That said, I have an issue with asking someone else to drive me out of their way to do MY homework. Yet I didn’t want to choose paths based on the ease of avoiding this part of the task; I know many paths are inaccessible, car or not, but that isn’t a reason to pick them.
 I felt pressured. Not just by the loving nudges of my covenmates, but by the Universe. I understood that taking my First Degree would mean that my spiritual life would take a step forward, but I found myself a little overwhelmed and uncomfortable with it all. And being pushed, unfortunately, makes me dig in my heels.
 I had to be sure. I hate research papers for school where the topic is completely chosen for you, because they MEAN NOTHING to you. I wanted to be sure that the three paths I used for this paper would mean something to me. I knew that the amount of research I would do, being a knowledge whore, would mean taking a huge collection of information into myself. You can’t unknow a thing once it’s known, so I wanted to pick paths that I would be comfortable carrying with me. It’s happy chance that they also contain beautiful gems that I’ll incorporate into my own spiritual life.
All that said, I chose to research the Asatru, the Unitarian Universalists, and the Church of All Worlds.
The Asatru are an interesting group of pagans, or heathens (depending on who you speak to). They are very similar to other branches of paganism in their basic beliefs. All life is connected and sacred. Individuals can create personal relationships with deity without an intermediary. Theirs is not the one path all should follow. Nature is sacred, as a reflection of divinity. And so on. It’s their differences that I find most fascinating. The Asatru embrace values outside of the traditional “harm none” pagan ethos. They value strength, courage, joy, honor, freedom, loyalty to kin, realism, vigor, and the revering of our ancestors. You could argue that many pagans claim these, but I don’t think they really do, at least not deep down. For the Asatru, honor is what lends to ethical behavior. Living without honor, you are shaming not only yourself, but your ancestors. Ancestors are far more important to the Asatru as well. While most pagans will “honor” a the recently dead on Samhain (one night in the whole year), the Asatru regularly honor their bloodline from now to the beginning. They give tribute when passing a horn (similar to passing the bottle, or a chalice) to the gods AND to their ancestors. I read somewhere that you don’t own your name, but that it was gifted to you by your blood; that said, you should do your best to return it unblemished.
The Unitarian Universalists are an interesting bunch. They remind me of what you’d get if you took all the good bits in Christianity, made them completely non-denominational, and shared them with like-minded people. UUs support the idea that there is no one-true-path out there, but that certain principals are universal. Everyone has value, no one is worthless. Justice and equality are necessary, and open-mindedness that allows to positive interaction and growth. Everyone is searching for their Truth, and that search is personal and unique to each of us; UU congregations are about the free exchange of ideas and thoughts based on that search. I love their ceremonies and lessons, especially the ones they have available to the public. Every meeting, class, and worship day begins with lighting a chalice; the chalice represents what they share, while the flame represents the spark of spirit in everyone (and light in the dark). It’s a very simple but beautiful ritual; I tried it out myself for a few days, lighting a chalice before studying for this paper. The lessons they have are very universally acceptable; I’d even suggest them for a coven that wanted to expand spiritual thought beyond pagan-focused ideas. For example, there’s an entire series of lessons on spiritual practice. It covered things like physical practice (yoga, meditation) to social practice (community service as worship) to personal vs group practice (prayer beads for yourself, or an open ritual for all). They most definitely strive to ensure we all seek and find our personal path.
The Church of All Worlds has fascinated me since I first read “Stranger in a Strange Land” back in high school. They’re very much like a neutral, non-denominational pagan group at heart. It’s the specific practices and philosophies that make them unique. For one, CAW members practice “water sharing” rituals to bond with their circles (called Nests). They pass a chalice like we would, only it’s filled with water. The concept is that water is life sustaining and precious, and sharing it is a sign of deep trust and love. It reminds me of the Aiel in WoT (nerdy moment), in that the book CAW based itself on also included a scarcity of water and, therefore, a greater understanding than others of its value. CAW is also a major group in supporting polyamory, a concept based on the book as well. They don’t require Nests to be a big polyamorous family, but they definitely don’t avoid it. Love is very much a beautiful, all-encompassing thing, with many levels and forms of expression.
It’s hard, after studying all three of these paths seriously and closely for a couple months now, to pick apart pieces from the conglomeration of facts and thoughts that I’ve collected. Being pagan paths, both the Asatru and CAW have basic beliefs and ritual structures that would be familiar to us. But I found it interesting that the UU had an introductory ritual that made me think of our rituals, as well. They light their chalice to symbolize their connectivity, just as we do an altar dedication and such. CAW and UU are both philosophically like our tradition, in that they strive to allow for variety in personal practice and beliefs; CAW supports all paths while focusing on pagan paths, and UU supports individual spiritual growth while containing a lot of Christian-based philosophy and focus. The Asatru are more focused in practice, having a specific culture and pantheon that are used, but they don’t pin practitioners down to ONLY worshipping in this or that god. They allow for a variety of worship methods, as well, ranging from very generic and familiar pagan prayers of thanks to in-depth sacrifices or activities dedicated to the preferences of said god or goddess. The seasonal celebrations are different between all four paths (ours and those three), mostly due to variety. We celebrate the Wicca-European fertility cycle of eight sabbats, which CAW and the Asatru both support (and CUUPS, the pagan branch of UU). But the Asatru add many feast and honor days for various heroes, gods, and ancestors. The UU supports all religions, to the extent that they sometimes incorporate holidays from various paths into their calendar; this varies from church to church, and congregation to congregation. CAW is most like us, because they are like COG in the way they accept other traditions as practitioners of their own without forcing conformed beliefs and practices.
I can honestly say that I’ve incorporated bits and pieces of all three paths into my own personal practices, or found parts that already resonated with things in me. I’d love to write a ritual based on the water-sharing of the CAW. I’d love to include a small ritual like that of the chalice lighting at UU churches before each class, something that kind of puts everyone in the same headspace and makes the moment sacred. (I think we all need a reminder sometimes that every moment IS indeed sacred.) I would love to find a way to honor my ancestors regularly, even though they’re largely unknown to me. I think it’s easier with pictures and stories to explain who you’re honoring, but easier doesn’t mean better. I challenge myself to remember that others walked before me, opening doors I never even saw (equal rights, voting, freedoms of speech and religion, and so on). They may not be direct blood, but as the Asatru honor their Norse ancestors and people who gained honor through their deeds, I’d like to honor my American ones.
I thoroughly enjoyed the research, once I got past the reasons that were holding me back from starting this paper. I’m already starting another set of research, largely for my self and my personal growth rather than as “homework”. This was interesting.