Pagan Studies


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Studies Blogs

Advanced and/or academic Pagan subjects such as history, ethics, sociology, etc.

The Theological Aftermath of PSG: A Flood Narrative For Modern Times

"Twelve hundred years had not yet passed

When the land extended and the peoples multiplied.

The land was bellowing like a bull,

The god got disturbed by their uproar.

Enlil heard their noise

And addressed the great gods,

"The noise of mankind has become too intense for me,

With their uproar I am deprived of sleep." --Atrahasis Epic

 

It is hard to make your way in our modern world without at least cursory knowledge of flood narratives in some form--whether that is the story of Noah and the Ark, Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, Metamorphoses, or many others from multiple cultures around the globe. Indeed, there is an ongoing relationship between man and the divine that involves water particularly as a cleansing agent. This particular post is not going to delve into the deeper meanings of punishment inflicted on humankind by the divine use of water. Rather, I'd like to take a look at theological implications for the Pagan community in the aftermath of one of the most significant natural disasters of this decade. 

I was a prime observer of the 2015 Pagan Spirit Gathering deluge. I showed up on Sunday afternoon, and after a harrowing few days evacuated the area on Wednesday afternoon after having drove thirteen hours from Maryland to get there. During that short time period I witnessed marvelous acts of sacrifice and kindness--the kind that inspires me to continue doing my work as a minister in training for Circle Sanctuary. There is no question in my mind of the bond shared by our community, or the significance this event personified.

First and foremost, I have participated in and been witness to multiple conversations on creating intentional community. Many of us realized having our spiritual and emotional cup filled only once a year is not enough, and have begun seeking out like-minded individuals to either purchase land to live on or start some other form of community with more permanence. In this way it is possible to draw upon narratives like the Jewish diaspora for inspiration (not that I am comparing the Pagan community to the Jewish community). Having shared this particular experience as a whole, we carry our own pieces and memories of the loss with us, using it to fuel our search for something more.

Secondly, we are beginning to see more attention being garnered for climate change and its effects. It is a bit of bitter irony that while I am up to my knees in mud and we are pushing cars out of a lake, that California and other portions of the nation are still experiencing intense drought. This is only one example of how our weather is shifting in many ways due to mankind's involvement--highlighting a greater need to discuss remediation with our planet.

Lastly--and I'm throwing a hurt feelings disclaimer out there--events like the one we just experienced have large scale implications for "culling the herd." In mythology it's called cleansing the sinful. In today's society it's called where your heart lies. This event will have turned many off to the idea that PSG is worth their time or their money. We will see the numbers drop, but we will also see a strengthening of existing bonds in ways nothing else could have accomplished. For better or worse this event, this flood narrative of our modern time, has marked us as a people who love and work and sacrifice for each other. So for that I am grateful. #wearetribe 

 

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The Great Conflation

I am looking forward to the final episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell on Sunday (I think it's begun in the States more recently). It's been fun seeing an 'alternate' history of magic, though I will be sad to see it end. It got me thinking about a period in history that leads to a lot of confusion. When people say 'witch hunts' most people still seem to think of the Middle Ages, though the worst years were part of the Early Modern era, sometimes known as the Renaissance (a much disputed term for a variety of reasons). While many see the dividing line as the Reformation, the roots of that change can be see in Wycliffe and the Lollards in the 14th century. I tend to see Gutenberg's innovation as a technological change, though even there printing existed before his moveable type -- but the speed of the technology has all kinds of impacts as we know in the internet age.

We may not think of magic as technology, but all knowledge is technology. A revolution in technology may be regarded as good or bad or something in between, but it usually hard to deny once it happens. A big change happened in the history of magic that had a huge impact that leads to the widespread witch hunts of the Early Modern era (and on into the so-called Age of Enlightenment). For background, I highly recommend you get Michael D. Bailey's Battling Demons: Witchcraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages. Perhaps easier to obtain is his briefer essay, 'The Feminization of Magic and the Emerging Idea of the Female Witch in the Late Middle Ages' (available via Project Muse in many libraries).

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Of Flags and Symbols

I really, really wanted to write about the art of Mesopotamia for my next blog post, especially in light of the destruction of Mesopotamian art and artifacts by the Islamic State, but I have really found myself a wee bit sidetracked by the horrific events of June 17, 2015 when a young man named Dylann Roof sat in Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina before turning his gun on the group. Nine people were murdered that day. Accompanying this news has been the debate about what has come to be known as the Confederate flag, and calls for it to be removed from the state capitol grounds of South Carolina. For those who may not be American, or have not followed the story, South Carolina not only continued to fly the Confederate flag on its state building lawn after the massacre, it was not even flown at half mast.

The Confederate flag has been a subject of much debate in the United States I would argue, since the end of the Civil War. For black people, it represents slavery and a horrible time in United States history. For those who fly it with pride, it is said to represent liberty. The argument has been heated and vehement on both sides. Why is this symbol so polarizing?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Your initial comment and my reply inspired me to write something for W&P on the flag and Southern culture amnd how Pagans can have
  • Rianna Stone
    Rianna Stone says #
    Perhaps the household I grew up in was the exception then. Racism was not tolerated by my family and no one I knew tolerated it ei
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Rianna- I have just posted my response, inspired largely by your criticisms. I think you might find it rather different than you
  • Rianna Stone
    Rianna Stone says #
    The reason why the flag wasn't lowered is because it cannot be lowered without something from the legislature to make it happen. W
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Well, I was born in Southwestern Virginia, have relatives there I saw at least yearly once I was old enough to drive back there
The Subjectivity of Spiritual Experiences

Lately, in my meditation group, we've been doing some work with space/time magic meditations and with spirits associated with space and time. In our most recent session I had the group do a meditation with Purson, a goetic demon who has some specific skills related to time. What I also told the group was that it's important to recognize that their experience of Purson is subjective and that he is only as real as that person wants him to be. That may seem like an odd statement to make, but the group was comprised of people that ranged from atheists to people who believe in the objective existence of spirits, and so I felt it was important to acknowledge that a wide range of experiences could happen that would nonetheless be significant to each participant and wouldn't necessarily invalidate any of the experiences. All the participants accepted that explanation and then we had our various encounters with Purson.

Spiritual experiences, by their nature, are subjective. For example I believe that spirits are objective beings in their own right. Note the word believe. Believe is a word rooted in subjectivity. That's what I believe, but I can't really prove it. I can tell you about my experiences and I can cite other people who've had experiences in their own right which tells that what they encountered is real, but its ultimately subjective. For that matter so is the argument that the spirit is just a psychological aspect the person is drawing upon. Again we can find a variety of people who will argue that position and draw on their experiences, but it's still subjective.

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(I wrote this in 2005, before I had embraced Paganism.  So please forgive the absence of the usual buzzwords, and feel free to insert your own.) 

We survive the trials of life because our brains change.  The brain creates new neural pathways in response to fresh information.  Each time we encounter a different piece of the cosmic puzzle, be it pleasant or unpleasant, the brain readjusts its “wiring” to integrate that information into our total reality system.  By this process we gradually increase the sum total of what we understand.  At the same time, we raise the threshold of what we are able to endure.  

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In the early hours of morning, I found myself in a shining reality where Ravyn and I were sitting comfortably on a pillowed living room sofa, holding our sweet puppies in our laps.  Augie and Muffin - healthy and happy, resting in our arms.  As I looked at the sweet upturn of Muffie's muzzle and nose, and stroked both of their soft, warm, silky heads, I reminisced with Norie/Ravyn about all the terrible times we had survived - ill health and pain, car accidents and worse, bankruptcy and financial ruin - and we discussed how grateful we were to be finally made whole once again, and able to take care of our dogs properly.  

In my dreamy reverie, I was trying to remember who the kind person was who had taken them into her care for us when we could no longer pay for their upkeep and medical expenses, and who had kept them safe and well until the day when we could finally welcome them back again.  I asked Ravyn if she could remember that person's name - after all, it was a wonderfully selfless act she had performed.  Imagine caring so well for such sweet beings, with no thought of being paid back - and then willingly restoring them to us, healed and whole, without feeling any attachment or desire to keep them for herself!  It seemed vaguely strange to me that I could not recall the name of such a wondrous person, but I was so comfortable and peaceful that it did not bother me much.  Ravyn was equally forgetful, mellow and happy; and it occurred to me, as a sort of disinterested afterthought, that all four of us had perfectly functioning youthful bodies.  All traces of gray were gone from our hair and its natural color had been restored, as had all the skin smoothness and muscle tone that we had possessed when first we met. 

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  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thank you. Sweet reminders are the best.

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Temples: Ancient Pagans and Sacred Space

In my last article, I put forth the notion that we humans have had the need to create art encoded into our DNA. Along with the need to create images, humans have had the need to “make special,” to “make sacred,” and art can fulfill this need. By bringing art into a space, humans make the space special. When the art reflects beliefs about the divine, the art that inhabits that space makes it sacred. I spoke at length about cave paintings in my last entry, and I believe that those paintings could in fact have been making ancient caves into sacred spaces.

As humans moved from a hunter gatherer existence into something more settled, areas where they settled often included sacred places where their relationships with the divine could unfold – temples. When I was in graduate school, I strove to understand what installations were and what “site specific” art, as installations are more commonly called these days, were and where they fit into art history. Temples themselves are “site specific,” created to meet the needs of a particular people in a particular place. In this article, I will look at some pre-historic peoples and their need for the creation of permanent sacred space.

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