I have never felt particularly comfortable talking about my religious beliefs (or my occasional lack of same). I can blame this on having deeply embarrassed myself on several occasions when I was at least nominally Christian. (On one very memorable occasion, I invited a Baptist to my church–my eight year old self not realizing that Baptists are in fact Christian. The girl got her revenge in the form of her ill-tempered Sunday school teacher aunt and an invitation to her church’s summer vacation bible school.) I was interested in the beliefs of others and found a great deal I wasn’t very comfortable with in the religion I was raised in.
Since my beliefs are in general all over the place and somewhat eclectic I find it very difficult to actually put a name to the belief system…since technically, I do not have one because I’m not following any particular tradition.
The first way I define myself is “Pagan.” I occasionally add in “non-practicing” because I only have a few observances and don’t really do “magic.” Pagan in this case can be defined as “follower of pre-Christian or non-Christian belief systems.”
Next, I define myself as a polytheist (believing in lots of gods). Occasionally I throw in an “agnostic” depending on my general mood, or “animist” to indicate that I have a belief that everything is imbued with a spirit. (Except on those occasions where I am doubtful that there are spirits or gods.) This is something that is generally difficult to explain to people who are used to standard organized religions instead of a magpie nest full of shiny things.
After that, I generally state a preference for the Norse pantheon. (Aside from a brief period where I was strongly influenced by some writers who had a strong bias against everyone’s favorite marauders after the Huns, the Vikings.) I could probably throw in “hipster pagan” because one of the gods I feel the most affinity for is also one of the most obscure with the least reference material–Sigyn. (Whose only apparent claim to fame is a stubborn refusal to desert Loki…who I also have a slight fondness for.) I have not had a lot of interest in seeking out a Heathen or Asatru group because both are Reconstructionist and I’m extremely eclectic. Also, I am not very good at “social” and tend to hang out in the back of the room to eavesdrop. When I don’t I am almost guaranteed to mortally embarrass myself or offend someone else which is why I hang out in back.
I also throw in “student of Buddhism and Judaism” because I think both religions are very interesting and have a lot to offer from a philosophical standpoint. “Eternal student,” might also be a good definition if it didn’t sound terminally new-agey and hokey. (It is however accurate, since I seemed to give off a general sense of not knowing anything at all on the occasions where I have attended pagan groups when I was younger.) I could probably also tag on “secular” because I don’t have many practices or rituals and my meditation is haphazard at best.
In general, don’t try explaining all of this because of the various reactions I have gotten from those who require a concrete definition. (Specifically, I don’t talk about my beliefs very often because of negative reactions from those who require a concrete definition involving an affirmation of the superiority of their own religion.) These reactions have tended to be hostile, or inappropriately intrusive or flippantly contemptuous. Which is why I tend to go silent and withdrawn if someone asks me what my religion is or flippant and sarcastic.