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Archive for November, 2009

Last night I finished reading an exquisitely beautiful book, Thomas the Rhymer, by Ellen Kushner. As I read the book (for the third time), it struck me just how much the theme parallels my own life. In my mind, it is in these myths that replay themselves out in the lives of people, generation after generation, that the “Old Gods” live on.

I think of the Old Gods as deities whose powers are tied up in story. And that story repeats itself in the lives of humans, shifting and changing with each retelling as good story does, but retaining its core essence. Because I use the word “story”, it isn’t to say the Old Gods aren’t real. They are very real. They have been and always will be.

The most tangible gods to me are the forces of Nature: the wind, sun, moon, Earth, ocean, winter storms, and the rush of Spring growth. The Old Gods are not so different. They are forces of Nature that run through the human collective. Though we may give them different names, they are energies that play out in the lives of people around the globe. Although our tribes are scattered, similar life themes are found in all of them. For example, the journey of Persephone to the Underworld can be found in similar myths from many cultures. It is through experiencing the ancient energies that influence and give theme to our personal journey, the power of the Old Gods are felt, the story renewed.

There is a definite power in these tales, in the myths of old, the stories of our ancestors and the gods. It is the gift and power of the Bard to retell the tales of old so that each of us, in that moment, hear and feel and identify with it. The story doesn’t just mirror our story. It is our story!

By delving into the old myths, we learn to understand ourselves better, we gain insight in to our ancestors, our heritage, and our own humanity. We attune to and feel more deeply the currents of energy that shape our life. Learning the ways of Nature, we gain wisdom and insight. Most importantly though, we must live powerfully, embracing the tale that has become our own, awakening to the energies at play. In the living of the tale, we touch the gods. The power of the Old Gods flows through our own life story. We experience the power of deity and in that moment, we are filled with awen. We drink once again from the chalice that is at once Cerridwen’s cauldron, the Holy Grail and the Sacred Well. We eat the fruit of the Tree of Life – the Old Gods gracing our journey, together we find the divine inspiration that flows when soul touches soul in truth.

So in honor of the Old Gods that have touched me, shared their wisdom and gifted me with inspiration, I say, “Hail to the Gods of our people, to the Gods of old. Hail to the Queen of Fey, dark mistress of magic. Hail to the forest God, Jack O’ the Green. May we always find you. May your songs be sung. May your stories live on!”

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Paganism Beyond the Occult

I was writing a fellow pagan in a Tennessee prison this morning. She described to me how pagan were treated there compared to Christians – much worse of course and with great skepticism. The roots of that being arrogance and bigotry but also of our own doing. There was a Nazi Ásatrú group in the prison that spoiled it for all other pagans. This is very common. I hear from prisoners all over North America. And the results of the actions of a few paint a very destructive view of the rest of us.

So how do we change this perception of pagans here in the States? We are perceived quite differently in Europe. I think we as pagans need to come out of the proverbial broom closet and let the world see who we are. We need to collectively demand equality. I am a pagan because Paganism’s ethics and practices go so much deeper than the revealed religions. It makes me a better person. This is something to celebrate, not hide away. The occult approach to paganism needs to go away. It doesn’t serve us well. Our history in America is dominated by occult magical traditions that came here in the 60’s and 70’s. These traditions keep teachings secrets. People have to pass through levels to get the next teaching. I see this as a dynamic antithetical to equality. I find the whole dynamic very troublesome. People love to have power over others.

Nature just doesn’t support this hierarchical dynamic.  There is no top of the food chain. That is a very crude and mechanised way of looking at Nature. In Nature, there is only interdependence. Which his higher, the lion or the Ebola virus? The hierarchy falls apart when you look past the surface and try to comprehend (and even more deeply, participate in) the relationships that Nature is built upon.

Those of us that follow “Nature-based” religions, need to let go of occult and hierarchical dynamics in our religious traditions. It isn’t helpful. I think there are so many pagans in the US now, we could be a political force if people were willing to stand up for their civil liberties and fight for the Earth. Many pagans feel this isn’t an issue. But I can tell you I talk to people every week in prison that are having their religious freedoms stomped on. Many can’t gather as a group, or pray over food, or celebrate ritual and holidays in any way that is visible to anyone else, and they can’t even receive pagan elders as clergy. So many of our brothers and sisters are suffering. Also, when I look at all the environmental degradation all around me, I feel like I have no choice but to stand up and say I am pagan and paganism offers a better way of being in the world, one that doesn’t destroy the Earth. I hope our community starts doing this more. The need is great.

I am not suggesting we proselytize. I only wish we would remove the cloak of the occult and focus on the ethics and our way of living in a sacred manner. This begins to eliminate fear and ignorance and build common ground. So the question for me boils down to this:

Why are we hiding our spirituality, the living expression of our human soul in relationship to the universe?

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