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 Once & Future People
Žemė, “Earth.” Pendant: amber (with vegetal inclusions), 2¾' x 1¾'. George Romulis, 2012
George Romulis, at 93, has been working amber for more than 70 years. He is an emeritus member of the Riga Amber-Workers Guild and one of the living treasures of Latvia.
This stunning pendant, titled Žemė, “Earth”, fits neatly into the palm of the hand, but its clean lines and boldness of form give it a striking monumentality; it feels larger than it actually is. It is also profoundly female. We all know these lines; we've seen them many times before: in the bodies of the women around us, as in what our coven kid Robin used to call the “clay ladies” of ancient Europe and the Middle East, here elegantly stylized but readily recognizable nonetheless.
She is a graceful goddess, this Earth: poised on tiny feet, powerfully hipped, she sings a song of Becoming as she dances, full of light and vegetation.
My friend and colleague Bruner Soderberg was telling me about a piece of jewelry he'd seen recently which he greatly admired.
“I love things that look old and new at the same time,” he said.
Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to stop him there.
As modern pagans, we have an authenticity problem. So often what we do simply rings false. So much of our ritual seems forced, shallow, phoney. How much of what passes for modern paganism is defined by a “let's pretend,” Renn Fest aesthetic? Why do so many rituals end up with a circle of people holding hands with their eyes squeezed shut, what I call “all alone together”?
This is both understandable and forgivable. We are not yet the pagans that we need to become. Our great labor is to learn how to be the pagans for our own time, the pagans that our time calls us to be. So, as so often in human social history, we learn by doing, and we don't always get it right.
A couple of years ago I spent an Old Warlocks' intensive weekend with two dear friends, thrashing out a working definition of “authenticity.” (“I recognize it when I see it,” we say, but surely it's easier to recognize something if one knows what one is looking for.) Authenticity: contextual cognitive resonance.
Contextual cognitive resonance.
Cognitive dissonance is something one comes across frequently in the pagan community: when the pieces just don't fit together. Cognitive resonance is the opposite: when everything does come together, fit together, and work together. And since what fits together is also a function of time and place, all authenticity is of necessity contextual. What is authentic for one time and place will not necessarily read authentically in a different when and where.
That's why I stopped Bruner before his insight had became lost in the flow of our conversation. “Things that look old and new at the same time.” What he has done here is to articulate an aesthetic for this entire movement. Here is our touchstone. Here is a (megalithic) yardstick by which we can measure the success of what we do. Here is the mountain towards which we move, and in relation to which we can map out our progress. “Old and new at the same time.” When we manage to do, and to be, this (and it's not only a future goal; sometimes we actually do) then we are the pagans that we need to become, the pagans that our time calls us to be.
It is precisely here that Romulis' amber goddess succeeds so spectacularly: bold, clear modern lines that are nonetheless thoroughly, profoundly, grounded in all that has come before.
Old and new at the same time: a byword for us, the Once and Future People.
You are a graceful goddess, our Earth:
poised on tiny feet, powerfully hipped,
you sing a song of becoming as you dance,
full of light and vegetation.
For Bruner Soderberg and Frebur Moore, partners in thought-crime
Photo: Anne Marie Forrester
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