Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth
In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.
The Gods My People Swear By
I think it was Judy Harrow that told me this story. If not, apologies to my actual informant, whoever you are. As my father is fond of saying, “Age spares us nothing.”
Dateline: Chicago, 1993: the World Parliament of Religions. (This was the event at which the archbishop of Chicago used his political muscle to get the pagans a permit to do a ritual in a public park. Now that's what I call ecumenism.) It's the main event: religious leaders from all over the world are lined up on stage. The place is packed so full that they have to set up TV screens outside to accommodate everyone that wants to see. The pagans are all outside, watching. (There are, of course, none on stage.)
Some grandee gets up to talk. “Let us all be as one,” he says. “After all, we all worship the same god.” Nods, smiles, and knowing applause from the entire line-up on stage, including (shame on them) the Hindus. The audience eats it up.
The pagans seem to be the only ones that aren't at one with this feel-good moment. They look at each other incredulously. “No we don't,” they say to each other.
But who listens to the pagans?
In Irish epic, the heroes are wont to say: “I swear by the gods my people swear by.” Scholars are divided on whether this is an actual ancient oath or not. It could be that the medieval monks who wrote down the epics quite simply didn't know who the Old Gods were. Another possibility might be that they didn't want to give the opposition any free advertising.
It occurs to me, though, that this is exactly the kind of oath a pagan might swear in the presence of outsiders. “I swear by the gods my people swear by (and Who They are is none of your damn business, dirty cowan).”
When the plumber came over to work on the temple bathroom, before he got here I covered the statue of the Goddess of Witches that graces our altar, before Whom the same flame has burned for nearly 30 years now. The plumber was the friend of a friend, and a very nice guy. But to gaze upon Her is a privileged seeing; nor is it the right of every eye. Some things are only for members of the tribe.
I would contend that the paganisms at their truest are essentially tribal. It's no so much that I'm a pagan because these are my gods as that these are my gods because I'm a pagan. My gods, and my people's gods: the ones we swear by. (And sometimes, pagans being pagans, the ones we swear at.) To draw an overculture analogy, it's much more a Jewish model than a Christian one. A member of the tribe is a member of the tribe; membership is not premised on belief. Even the pagan atheist fits into this model: “These are the gods I don't worship. (But I'm still a pagan, pagans are my community, and these are the pagan gods, all right.)”
Pagans understand that different people worship different gods. To us this seems both natural and reasonable. It's easy to forget that not everyone sees it this way. To every people, its own gods. This is how it always has been and how it always will be. Some of us would even say: This is the nature of the world. This is how it should be.
So no, Mister Speaker at the Parliament of World Religions, in fact we don't all worship the same gods.
Please login first in order for you to submit comments