Recent experiences have shown me that more and more relationships are being described in terms of customer and vendor, even when that application of the commercial metaphor is terribly inappropriate. Where this problem disturbs me the most is in misunderstandings of magical and religious relationships.
Where and how does food become a religious issue? I can think of two cases. The first is when we have a relationship with what we eat. The second, when there are purity issues at stake. In his Moral Foundations theory, Jonathan Haidt says that human concepts of purity are shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination, and holds that the body is a temple that can be desecrated by eating something that has been contaminated. While this has not, in my experience, been the case with the Pagans I know, it is common in many other religions.
I’ve found the first case is far more common for Pagans. Ritualizing the harvest of a carefully raised animal is now not uncommon among Heathens. Of the Pagans I know who garden, raise livestock animals, or grow their own food or herbal medicines, every single one has a relationship with the land, and the living beings that thrive there. Such relationships are deeply interactive. Goats are fed and milked. The milk is drunk, and soap is made nourishing humans and creating products that can be gifted or sold. Chickens are fed and housed, their eggs supporting bodies and their antics providing food for the soul. Gardens are carefully planned, mulched, fertilized and the harvest proudly shared, or preserved.
And then there is the ethic of caring for the Earth. Modern agriculture is one of the nastier things we do to the planet....
Desire carries the implicit possibility of change. Relationship requires that possibility to become a reality.
This year was the first time I had the opportunity to leap a (small, thankfully) fire as part of a Beltane ritual. I was surprised by how much it made me feel in my flesh and bones the way that Beltane is about the potential for transformation.
We're all familiar with the idea that Beltane is about desire, of course, but there's a wonderful book called The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World in which author Michael Pollan investigates and meditates on the relationships between humanity and four different plants, each one catering to a different human desire....
It's been a while, but I'm back again, lovely readers! I'm currently hard at work on my second book (amongst other projects, as you'll see below), but I will certainly continue to post here as and when I can. Comments and topic requests always welcome.
At this time of year, it's easy to understand why our ancestors (both actual and spiritual), those wise women and cunning men, were considered remote, unusual, untouchable, even fearsome.
As Autumn moves into Winter here in the UK, we feel our natural, animal pull to dig in, hibernate, take time within the darkness to assess the previous year and anticipate the time to come - but I doubt any busy society has ever really allowed that to happen, except when they have no choice. Stoke up the fire, head to the pub or communal house, light and laughter against the outside world.
(Photo - 'Autumn in the New Forest', from Glastonbury Goddess Temple)
When you've practiced magic long enough, you inevitably start to form relationships with spiritual entities, and much like relationships you have with people, its takes some work on your part (and their part) to create a healthy and sustainable relationship. There's also the question of how you form the relationship initially. There are some approaches to forming a relationship with a spiritual entity that I would find quite rude (these approaches involve commanding an entity to appear and do what you tell it to do), and other approaches I wouldn't do because I'd be concerned about how much power I was giving to the entity.
Personally I prefer a middle approach. I'm not going to worship a spiritual entity or deity and do what it says. If I wanted to do that I'd have stayed with the religion of my family. But neither do I believe in doing the medieval approach to evocation which involves summoning the entity and threatening it with other entities in order to coerce it into doing something. I figure why not just ask nicely and on top of that create a good relationship? I know, I know, some of you will say, "That sounds rather fluffy and ill-advised." But seriously why not simply dispense with all the theatrics and try and make nice? It's always worked for me and I've gotten the results I've wanted while also creating a solid relationship with the entity I've worked with.
In today's world, humans have become the major factor affecting our own environment - and I don't just mean ecology. Of course we are affecting the environment, causing creeping climate change and dramatic variations in weather. But we also have a huge effect on what's around us in the most mundane sense, the things that we work with and use on an everyday basis, what might be called our technological environment. One of the new things we've introduced to that technological environment is certain types of guns, and they're poisoning us from the inside out.
One of the key foundations of modern (and ancient) Paganism is also one of the most contentious. We find it very hard to talk about, it seems, and yet it's fairly key to many people's personal practice. When I've talked about it in the past, it almost seems like I'm breaking a taboo, with the words themselves being 'dirty' or embarrassing. And yet, learning from my passionate and heartfelt Heathen friends, that embarrassment is itself disrespectful, dishonourable and, ultimately, rather foolish.
Who are your Gods and Goddesses? What does Deity mean to you, and how does it influence and affect your Paganism? From the Platonic 'ultimate Male/Female' images (tallying with 'All Gods/Goddesses are One') to the pantheistic, international eclectic transference of pretty much any deity with any other no matter where you yourself live, talking about Deity is a tricky business. Especially because ultimately, nobody can really tell you you're wrong. Or right. Except, perhaps, those Gods themselves.
The Judgement of Paris (Classical)
Today is Lammas-tide, Lughnasadh, the festival of the grain harvest. Across the land, fields full of golden wheat, barley and numerous others have been growing tall, a feast for the eyes as they bend in the breeze, a feast for the birds, bees, mice and other creatures that run between the rows.
In centuries past, it would be entire communities who came out to help with the harvest, threshing, binding and preparing the crop to last them the winter. Fuel is needed for heat, nourishment and sustenance for livestock - without a successful harvest, a lean winter means walking the path between life and death.
These days, it's more the rumble of heavy-duty farming machinery at work that is heard as the harvest is gathered in - but it's no less valuable for that. Despite the knowledge that we can import food, fuel and whatever we need from other places, there's still the essential connection between us and the land as personified in the life of our fuel-stuffs. We celebrate it, we recognise and remember it. Children make corn-dollies, singers remember John Barleycorn.
I've returned today from performing a Handfasting with my partner - not unusual at this time of year. But this was our first on a beach.
Yes, this is Britain. Yes, we've just had semi-monsoon conditions for the last few months. Summer was rumoured to have been cancelled. So much could have gone wrong.
It was beautiful. Golden sands, blue sky, bright sun, lush green grasses and flowers on the path leading from the couple's home to the beach itself... everyone commented that you couldn't have wished for a better day.
Nota bene—I had planned to post this second part earlier in the week but have been drawn—lured!—down the tricky rabbit trails in our community. Some of you will understand this guilty pleasure: following link after link in a circuitous, riotous and ultimately informative research effort.
These are not issues exclusive to the Pagan/Heathen communities but—as with many other sticking points—it is writ large here. Sturm und drang—polished and deliberate language used as both weapon and shield. The bristling armed camps face each other across a wide gulf. After many months of observing, listening and analyzing, I did what any curious person would do. I went to the edge of that deep gap and simply looked in. It seemed the best way to understand the level of disconnect that I was encountering as I pondered the situations and the reactions to them.
Slick, clever, running both hot and cold, the talk (in person and on-line) surrounding some relatively simple questions of protocol belies the complexity of the times, the personalities and the issues involved.
The great scholar Gerda Lerner has often been my guide as I attempt to look through the lens/lenses of that construct we call “history.” Her work has been instrumental in revealing the hidden roots of ostensibly modern problems.
An it harm none, do what ye will – Doreen Valiente
Most Pagans in this country were raised Christian. No I haven’t taken any sort of official poll, but since Christianity is the dominant religion in the United States, and Paganism is one of the fastest growing religions, the math is unavoidable. Coming from the structured dogma of a monotheistic religion into one that places all life-choices squarely in one’s own lap can be a heady experience, as is the vastly different image of the body.
Early Neo- Paganism – which was dominated by Wicca – held and still holds, that the body is a good thing, and the good feelings that arise from it are to be embraced and welcomed. Indeed, such feelings can be counted as acts of worship to a deity. This attitude has resulted in a good deal of healing for many around body image and sexuality. It has been a positive force for growth and change. Eating is something to be enjoyed, savored, and celebrated. Guilt is not necessary. Size is not equated with morality. Bodies are a gift, and we are glad to be in them.