On the Vanic side of my spiritual life, one of the most meaningful and nourishing things I do is also one of the most simple, something that may not look outwardly like a spiritual practice: going for walks....
PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
When I first started writing for W&P my intent was to focus more on nature and Spirit here, more technical, interfaith, and political issues over at Patheos. Such plans are nice, but rarely maintain themselves, and that one was no exception. On either end.
I just published what I think is an important post on Pagan religion and environmentalism over there as part of a big discussion on the topic. Perhaps some of you who do not watch that site regularly might want to take a look at it.
The lost world
Our EuroPagan traditions were last practiced centuries ago. Traditions that had developed in an unbroken sequence since the Pleistocene are gone. Some folklore, myths and sagas have come down to us. Some writings have survived, especially from Greece and Rome. These bits and pieces remain, but like fossils, they are far removed from their ecosystems and relationships....
I’ve read it so many times in books and blogs – now is the season for making love out of doors, jumping naked over Bel fires and generally doing your Paganism in a carefree, unclad sort of way. It is warm enough to be barefoot outside, I grant you, but far, far too cold for nudity. A traditional British summer brings more rain than it does cavorting options. The naked dancing Pagans are either far tougher than me, or don’t actually do as much of the cavorting out of doors as they imply.
As a species we obviously didn’t start out wearing clothes, but have got into the habit over thousands of years. It’s allowed us to extend our habitat far beyond the balmy zones our hairless and not that blubbery bodies could otherwise tolerate. So the trouble with viewing nudity as natural, and thus desirable, is that you aren’t budgeting in what we’ve been doing for a long time purely because we can and do wrap up....
Every religious tradition stands in some tension with its society, legitimizing some things in terms of a larger eternal context, but in the process challenging others, sometimes deeply. As NeoPagan religions increase in America this same pattern is developing. This essay explores how the logic of Pagan religion leads us to question the legitimacy of some important contemporary institutions, particularly the joint stock corporation, and with this questioning, the way our society views the world.
More deeply than most religions, NeoPagans legitimize and honor the goodness of this world, the sacred immanence that shines through all things. Consequently, from a Pagan perspective living well in our world requires observing appropriate ethical and moral relationships. This insight cannot help but lead us to criticize attitudes treating this world as noting but a means for human ends....
The organizers of Pagan political causes keep writing to me, asking (nay -- demanding) that I lend my support to various environmental protests, demonstrations, and campaigns -- on the grounds that we Pagans are supposed to be ‘stewards’ or ‘caretakers’ of Mother Earth -- and, as such, we have a religious duty to ‘walk the talk’ and engage fully in ecological activism.
More to the point -- who was the first to say so? And what was the process by which these beliefs (and demands) became the water in which today’s Pagans are swimming?
IMO, and FWIW, the people who rallied, with me, around the ribbon-bedecked May Pole of modern Pagan Witchcraft in the early 1960s were primarily hedonists. Many of us, it's true, were interested in ecology and environmentalism. But all were there, I believe, to fuel the fires of a religiosity that claimed 'all acts of love and pleasure' as its sacraments.
Over the following 15-plus years, considerable thought went into the development of an ethical system in support of this effort. A new system, now called the Expressive Ethical Style, evolved to replace obedience or self-interest as the motivations for human behavior with an ethic of impulse ('follow your feelings'), self-expression ('let it all hang out'), and situational appropriateness ('go with the flow'; 'different strokes for different folks').
Replacing the goal of self-preservation with self-awareness, this new ethical style encouraged relaxed non-analytical attention to the present situation ('be here now'), in order to meet the newly reified obligations of universal love and mutual non-injury.
But then the 80s began. And some writers, new to the field, began making rather strident announcements to the contrary. First, if this was a religion that worshiped Goddesses, and if all Goddesses must therefore be one Goddess, then this one Goddess must be the Goddess of Nature. Veneration of the Maiden (romance) and the Crone (wisdom) was scorned in favor of a kind of feminist monotheism -- worship of the Mother -- Mother Nature.
Next, it was declared that all historical Goddesses (those about which something was actually known, and from whose myths ethical insights might be gained) were hopelessly tainted by 'the patriarchy', and that only those (imaginary Goddesses of pre-literate civilizations were worthy of worship.
Established Pagan ethical ideals (esp 'harm none') were acknowledged in passing, but deemed naive and insufficient. We were not to burden ourselves with such considerations, especially if they prevented us from enacting the emergency measures necessary to protect the (now sacred) environment from those who disagreed with our visions for its preservation.
And as for 'all acts of love and pleasure', well you can just forget about them. In this instance, 'harm none' was extended, and radically so, to disallow any behavior that had ever caused harm, or was believed even theoretically capable of causing harm -- especially to members of a new 'victimhood elite' -- those capable of concocting fictive (or, as Chas Clifton once put it, 'cheerfully ahistorical') narratives of past oppression.
From this point onward, there'd be no wine in that chalice. Nor would any wand or athame be welcome there either. So there!
I object. I have only the greatest reverence for the Goddess as Mother -- but as part of a polytheistic constellation in which Maiden & Crone are included. I have no argument with the sacral nature of Nature -- that Nature is imbued with the divine -- as long as no one insists that Nature (esp as 'the environment') IS the divine.
I want to see a return to our original Pagan spirituality, in which the genuine Pagan deities of the past are studied with reverence and care -- hopefully to provide us with insight into the polytheistic worldviews that predated the Abrahamic religions. And I’d like to encourage study of the concocted deities of the past couple of decades in order to better understand the inner nature of the political, spiritual, and psychological environment that produced them.
I propose a return to our roots. Those who wish to pursue environmentalism (or feminism, etc) are welcome, now as then. But they could just as easily find a home -- quite a comfortable spiritual niche -- in any number of mainstream religions. IMO, what makes Paganism unique, what distinguishes it from these other established religious paths, is its enthusiastic embracing of a sybaritic worldview -- along with the focus and energy to continue (or resume) work on an ethical system (see above) that would support such a way of spiritual life.
Raise your hand and shake your bells.
Every religion is both a product of its times and, to the degree its vision takes hold of practitioners, transforms those times. Ours is no exception. I think Pagans interested in our larger significance within American society as a whole will want to take a look at my new book, Faultlines: the Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine, published last month by Quest.
It was as a guest at a NROOGD Midsummer Sabbat many years ago that I had my first and most powerful encounter with the Wiccan Goddess. After that encounter my life existed in a context I had not even imagined possible. It would be years before I began to grasp how different....