Religion vs. Spirituality

There is often a blurring of the lines when it comes to the difference between what is a religion and what is a spiritual path. Neo pagans in particular are guilty of this lack of distinction, perhaps because so  many neo pagans come from a Abrahamic religion originally. I also believe that because Wicca tries to define itself as a religion that it readily serves as the stepping stone for those who are interested in the mystic arts.
This is not a bad thing, just a pragmatic observation from one who follows a spiritual path rather then a religion.
But then that is where the dual focus of this article comes into play.
To begin with, religions of all types have to define themselves in a manner that sets them apart from other types of religions in order to be seen as a distinctive school of thought and/or belief.
The ironic result of this attempt is that basically all religions have the same underlying theme, whether it be an Abrahamic religion, Judaic, Muslim, Wicca or any of the other four hundred plus religions in the world.
And that theme is that their particular gathering represents all others in the world.
And that the gathering in question does it better then all of the rest. For instance within the Abrahamic religions the Christians claim to be the only "true religion", within the Muslim religion there are the Baha i, amongst others that claim to represent a better way and so on. Within the neo pagan community the Wicca claim to represent all other pagans, though such claims are simply naive.
For instance those who follow the Shamanic path do not belong to a religion but rather engage in a very personal and thus individualistic spiritual path. They are represented by none but themselves.
My question is; if religion is supposed to be a means of communicating with deity then why does such a communication require so many middle men as it were?
What makes specific folks so special that only they can talk directly to the deity of ones choice?
Is it possible that religion is more about elitism and the many human travails that define our existence as a species?
As far as paganism goes, does connecting with other-wordly entities really require all of the trappings that a religion imposes upon a person?
For instance, does one really need to cast a "Sacred Circle" every single time they want to communicate with deity? Is not the entire earth and all that she contains not sacred?
Has the Sacred Circle simply become a substitute for a raised dais that one uses to distinguish themselves from others with?
This is not to say that there are not "times" when the Sacred Circle should be employed. Such a tool should in my personal opinion, be used as a form of protection when dealing with certain entities and in other instances as a portal to travel to other-wordly realms.
But I also personally believe that some neo pagan religions have perhaps appended the use of such a tool in an effort
to define themselves as a separate religion, in short, an attempt at elitism. And as such, the use of such a special tool has become mere dogma and thus has lost much of the meaning of its originally intended use.
One of the problems that I see with religions in general and with neo pagan religions in particular is that when one sets up parameters, especially when dealing with the magickal arts, one sets up barriers to any real spiritual growth.
Paganism was never meant to be stifled by the whims of certain humans and that is exactly what a religion is.
A personage or small group of personages set out a particular dogma and thus a religion is created.
This may work well for those who need such a group mentality in order to relate to their choice of deity.
However,paganism is a school of thought and action that does not fit within such a group consciousness.
The magickal arts that are a prevalent part of paganism is never discovered within its entirety. It is a on going process of trial and error which in many cases is what constitutes a real Book of Shadows and not the kind that is purchased off of a book shelf.
What works for one may not work for another and so there is no one BOS for all. Which brings me to yet another thought. Todays neo paganism, on the surface at least, appears to be less about the discovery of ones latent abilities and more about the commercialism that is so prevalent amongst certain so called mystical neo pagan religions. If paganism is about the individual experience, then how can one person define this experience within a book in a way that represents everyone. In reality, they cannot accomplish such a feat and yet there are thousands of neo pagan books written over the last 30 or 40 years that claim to do just that.
As a result the true meaning of paganism and what it represents has become mired in the blatant commercialism that now defines neo paganism.
This sad situation is the direct result of a few folks attempting to fit the concept and workings of paganism into the restrictive parameters of religious dogma. Such an attempt is like trying to fit a square peg into a circle.
In short, this attempt has in many ways stifled the growth and knowledge of what paganism is really about.
And what is that you may ask?
In my personal opinion, paganism is not about yet another form of religion, rather it is about the individual growth of each person who seeks what I personally see as a spiritual path.
If neo pagans would spend less energy in trying to re-invent paganism and instead would spend more time learning about themselves there would be no need for the elitism and commercialism that neo pagan religions bring to the table.
There are many spiritual belief systems under the real pagan umbrella that one could learn from. Those such as the various shaman practices, Native American, practices, Australian bushman and so forth, have been practising their forms of paganism for generations. And yet these folks are not flooding the marketplace with how to books on paganism. But neither do they claim to belong to a mystickal religion either.

They practice and learn from a spiritual point of view. And isn't that what true paganism is supposed to be all about?