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Adaptive Mythology

It is pointed out frequently and with a great deal of enthusiasm on social media just how many “Pagan Holidays” have been absorbed and re-purposed by what now passes for mainstream religion.  Christmas, Yule, Easter, Ostara, the list can be populated at least eight times.  What seems rarely pointed out is that even our ancestors never practiced all eight stations on the wheel of the year.  Customs and holidays were different from locality to locality and region to region.  As tribes and clans blended, broke off, re-blended, broke off and re-blended again, different practices were absorbed by different people and only the myths and stories of why those days were important survived to connect one to the other.  In essence, there are no “Pagan Holidays,” there are simply “Holidays that Pagans Celebrate.”  The only things we can truly claim ownership of are our own stories and the myths we connect them to.  In essence, all of our holidays are stolen holidays no matter what our path.  What we have done is recognized something in the mythology and wisdom of such days and adapted them to our own life in a meaningful way.

Myths and people travel together, crossing and recrossing all the time.  When we hear a story that demonstrates wisdom, we adopt it and make it part of our own story.  That is, after all, what myth was always intended to be.  Myth is supposed to remind us of both the glory and the failings of our ancestors that we might learn from their hard won experience.  The myths we connect to in our own lives are those that we aspire to in some way, that speak of something within us we wish to become or describe our experience.  The greatest strength of mythology though, can also be its greatest weakness.  Knowledge and wisdom, when transferred via a colorful story, can often be manipulated into implying that if one part of the story is “true” then the entire story must also be true and that is when myth becomes dogma.

I have heard it said many times that “people are sheep” and there is some logic to that.  Human beings are social primates and as social animals we tend to look for and respond to strong leadership.  It is also why we are so critical of our leaders (and we should be) because we want to know that the people we are following are not leading us off of a cliff (which they are).   How many times in the history of our species has one group of people waged war upon another simply by convincing their own people that “those other people hate our god?”  The “Red Scare” of the 1950’s and the subsequent “Cold War” are examples of where our leadership has created a mythology around the perception of an enemy (in this case Communism, and I have little doubt that the Communists did the same thing in their neck of the woods) that could potentially “destroy our way of life.”  In this case, it was the “religion of progress” that the Communists so badly wanted to destroy and that was our “God-given American right” to pursue.

What such a mythology really does is act as a catalyst for fear.  Stop and think of the hypocrisy inherent in the context that in America we are “free” and yet 60 years ago people were socially crippled if someone so much as thought that they might be a Socialist or a Communist, while others were little more than freed slaves 90 years after the Civil War or were left on poorly funded reservations without even the simplest amenities.  This is often the dogmatic approach that is taken with Paganism by more vocal mainstream spiritual practitioners.  To people who practice their path in that manner, not believing what they believe means that we worship evil.  No amount of  “we don’t believe in your [entity representing evil] so how can we [suffer in a place of punishment] for [length of time not to exceed infinity]?” is going to convince others of the truth that our paths have to us.

Even though many of us are sore from the yoke that such people have placed upon us, it is inherent and important that we focus our efforts away from actively intending to offend others or defend ourselves and more towards building a place where we can be ourselves without fear.  This will take several generations.  Our hopes for simply buying up land and building communes are far fetched at best.  On the other hand, beginning to build networks of people, something that organizations like EarthTides Pagan Network, the Eastern Maine Pagan Pride Association, the Northern Maine Pagan Pride Association and Southern Maine Pagan Pride Association are doing, is an important step in the process of building community.  These organizations hold space so that we can come together as a community, as a tribe and build relationship and connection.  Our next step of course is to begin the process of writing our stories so that generations from now, our descendants may learn the meaning behind them and learn how to avoid some of our mistakes or at least recognize the cost of their own mistakes in our stories.

It is not unreasonable to for us to set aside how “real” or “unreal” our mythologies are, especially with one another.  It seems to me that the better question to ask is “What do our mythologies mean to ourselves?” because that is really where mythology begins.  Some of the finest spiritualists I know are not those that demand the world conform to their deeply-held beliefs, but rather those who quest for the truth of  inspiration, wisdom and knowledge inherent in the stories they see and take part in.  In circles of Druidry we call this “Awen”, the three rays of light that bring with them these three gifts.  It seems to me that this is a good place to start looking at the myths we believe and why we believe them, whether we practice Druidry or not.  What parts of these mythologies can we communicate through story and song to our own descendants and what will that teach them about the world we inhabit now?

There is much about the adaptive nature of myth that is a reflection of our own adaptive nature and our nature is reflective of the greater system of nature we are a part of.  Simply put, when seen in the context of Location, Being and Becoming, we can see mythology as being a bridge between “Becoming” and “Location.”  Myth is based upon location but also the result of observable movement and growth so it transcends location as well.  The land does not stay as it was, it changes, and myth is the human observation of change and how we understand the manner in which that change affects us.  So in essence, the effects of change are inherent to what we are becoming and “being” provides the action that  observes this motion and enters it into the tribal lore.  This is an active seeking and presentation of Awen.  It means being awake, present and mindful of the land where our feet touch the Earth (location), learning those songs and stories (being), and then bringing them to the tribe (becoming).  In this way, time itself more accurately reflects the nature of our existence as a constantly evolving cycle rather than a linear time frame in which events are linked but static conditions.

Myth, much like the successive life cycles that act as the catalyst for evolution itself, are derived organically.  In order for any evolutionary system to be effective, it must be adaptive to changing conditions.  The idea that the holidays of our ancestors have been stolen is, in my opinion, beside the point.  Instead, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we are rediscovering the cycles of the living Earth and trying to achieve better consistency in our own relationship with Nature.  By observing the cycles of the Earth, we are better able to adapt both our lifestyle and our spirit to seeking equilibrium.  Adaptive mythology and the wisdom that it can pass down to subsequent generations is a place where Nature and its human element reach greater parity.

Poetry and Musings

The following is a collection of poems and musings that landed on me beginning in May and up through the present.  I want to spend more of my time crafting poetry, even really bad poetry, because it allows me the opportunity to approach my relationship to the land from a different perspective.  When I have to change the rules of language to support a thought it allows me creativity and Awen comes to wash me clean again.  I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

 

Becoming the Pine

There is a Blue Spruce

in the yard

and it filters light

through the kitchen window

on grey days it catches the rain

while I watch out the window with my son

the water tumbles over 

the green needles

to the eager mound of Earth

stepping out the front door

a toddler hugging my knees

the rain washes over

my twisted limbs

upon my growing son

I am a graying elder

I am a growing child

 

Musing:

There are times when I want the roof of my home to crack open like an eggshell over my head and let the rain pour in and soak everything.  There are times when I want a dying pine tree to topple over and make his final resting place in my bedroom.  Invite the Wild into my living room, let the black bears hibernate in my couch, the raccoon can eat canned ravioli in the kitchen sink, the seagulls can nest in the bathtub.  My son will play with coyote pups and my wife will teach knitting to the groundhogs.  I will listen to the sound of chickadees nesting in the open microwave and the mice will use the oven racks for a jungle gym.  Ivy will grow up the wall and over the television, moss will cover the electrical outlets.  Beavers will dam up the washing machine and flood the basement.  There is a moose sifting garbage in the garage and a family of deer are playfully jumping up and down on the hood of the car.  In the bedroom, the mirror fell off the wall and stares at the sky in surrender.

 

Blood Rite

Stepping out into the wild next door

I walk with ungraceful strides over the ferns and through the witch hazel,

in the place of four bears,

sometimes my footsteps cross their tracks

and nothing is familiar

except maybe the mosquitoes

my bare arms are not bear arms

and the sentinel pines offer no protection

and while I wander over mossy rocks in large dumb circles

the wild watches me in spreading awareness

like a fly caught in a gossamer thread

and the twisted trunks smile at me in amusement

the mosquitoes draw her price from me a thousand times

and my arms are itchy scars

Nature is a blood rite.

 

Black Fly Tidings of May

Black beads buzzing around my head in silly circles

Lightly touching, itching,

scratching

Shooing away from ears and eyes.

I’m not sure why it makes me sigh.

Wondering,

Dreaming,

Leaning,

Leaning on a White Pine,

There is Honey in my beard and a buzzing in my ears,

with my back touching the tree I’ve known for years.

 

Skiing into the Summerland

Blessed is the smell of earth in the springtime up one’s nose,

And blessed is the grass one feels in between their naked toes,

And blessed is the sun we feel, upon our naked brow,

And blessed is the carefree feel, as before the spring we bow.

Before the gnats and mosquitoes perch, to taste our red liquor,

Below the skin their proboscis search, and drive us back indoors,

We have but a week, or perhaps 10 days, before the armies fly,

To lay upon the greening Earth and bask beneath the sky.

To whit young man upon the ground, his lady love in reach,

And naked laying arms outstretched, might be a summers ripened peach

If the armies of the black fly king, were to search and seek him out,

And chase that screaming ninny fool, that whining silly lout.

Yet bask he does beneath the sun of summer’s prognostication,

Upon the grass, beneath a tree in the land of eternal vacation.

Without a mosquito or black fly found, to land upon his skin,

And seek the beating blood and veins that he has so rich within.

The sun declines on western lines, the coolness never felt,

As his naked form has lost for norm, a overcoat or pelt.

And as the twilight settles in, his lady gone to home,

The night begins just warm enough, to simply cool his bones.

As the mistress moon glides overhead, the Earth sheds off her heat,

And the coolness of the sod below, sucks fire from his seat.

He shivers lightly in the night, frost forming on his lips

And in the dawning of the light, has crowned his fingertips.

His feet won’t thrum, his heart won’t beat, his hands will ne’er grasp,

The feeling of the summer grass, the shuddering cold and final gasp,

The songs of summer soft and sweet, of grilled and charred and perfect meat,

The Spring in Maine is often cruel, by daytime Litha by nighttime Yule.

 

Another Musing

 Last night, I saw some clouds absolutely illuminated in silver moonlight though the moon remained obscured.  It drew my attention and I began thinking about this object in the night sky. Our ancestors identified the passage of time by all these easily observable celestial bodies.  This is of course, the basis for many of our Pagan festivals and holidays.

It fills me with a sense of awe(n) when I look at things online like computer models of the galaxy and galaxy clusters.  The distance between things in space is far more vast than what I can comprehend without relative terms.  I’ve heard people try to point out that this makes us insignificant and yet, I don’t feel insignificant.  I feel important and legitimate no matter how many stars and galaxies there may be.  I also feel that the way I see things is a unique perspective on how the Universe interprets itself and that my experiences are valid and real.

So I think about how Organic ritual must have been for our ancestors as they stared at stars and wondered about what they were and what it meant that they were there in the first place.  I imagine that sense of bewilderment and the meaning that came out of it.  It makes sense to start with celestial events.  I wonder if the celestial holidays, the observation of the changing Earth and the Seasons, isn’t our most observed holidays because it was the first and most recognizable.  I also love the idea of smaller rituals in which we honor more individual concepts to the gods of place.

In a very real sense, it seems to me that our ancestors probably did the exact same thing.  There were these large, observable correspondences upon which the basic structure hung and then they filled it in with other immediately observable events.  If you think about it, isn’t that exactly how life developed here in the first place?  A large blank canvas upon which life began and filled in organically?

 

~Alban Artur

 

Faerie Tidings: The Seeds of Imbolc

Seeds of ImbolcFaerie Tidings: The Seeds of Imbolc
by BlackLion and Starcat

Nestled in the cozy cottage, though the cold, wintry winds still blow, we enjoy the hearth fire as our cat friends curl nearby. We sip our late-morning cups of chamomile tea with honey. A cauldron of white bean and rosemary soup already bubbles on the stove, while happy loaves of dough rise into bread in the filtered sunshine. Imbolc has arrived, a blizzard is coming, and it’s a day-dreamy kind of day.

Visions of a big garden expansion dance in our heads. Layers upon layers of green plants, shrubs, and trees will be exchanged, moved, and combined for the optimum growth for our plant friends. We are creating a design that not only benefits our plates, but also the plants, critters, and earth as well. A joyful and yummy garden indeed!

We scribble down notes about which seeds to claim at the upcoming seed exchange at the Browns’ farm, as well as discussing all the brown-paper packets of seeds to share that we have carefully saved from last season’s garden.

Before too many moons, we would be rearranging window seats on the south side of the cottage, making room for seedlings. We’ll need to remember, of course, to leave sunny sleeping spots for the cats. As if on cue, the orange stripey cat wakes from his slumber and leaps into the cardboard box we had strategically left for them beside the couch, drawing the casual attention of the two black cats. All felines soon settle back to their snoozing.

By afternoon, the sky has clouded over and the expected snow begins to fall. We check the barn and make sure everything is secure. The day wanes towards dusk, and we light the candles on the mantel, along with a pair of lanterns. We settle in to dream near the fire while the bread, now shaped into braided rings, does its final rising.

Our inner visions sparkle with the delights of seasons to come. Besides the bountiful and brightly-colored gardens, our reveries include barefoot hikes into our beloved mountains, crafty creations at the big oak table, dance and revelry at the bright sunny beach, community celebrations with the folk of the vale, and a new friend for our donkey pal, Maude. Later, after the bread and soup is safely placed in our bellies, we’ll assemble our dreams and intentions onto our Imbolc vision board.

In the meantime, we bustle into the kitchen and collect our aprons and bowls and flour and the big rolling pin and a myriad of whimsically-shaped cookie cutters. We add nuts and dried fruits and chunks of chocolate as decorations to adorn the gingerbread cookie parade. It is soon comprised of prancing kittens, swirling spirals, shooting stars, plump hearts, dancing birds, covered wagons, and an assortment of wild animals – elephants, mustangs, giraffes, antelope and lots of big cats. Lions, tigers, and leopards, oh my!

In a few days, when the snowstorm relents, we plan to deliver our menagerie of cookies to our neighbors at the seed exchange. As the baking proceeds into the evening, the frigid winter air is temporarily left at the door. The seeds of Imbolc have been lovingly planted in our minds and hearts for the year to come.

The Weaving Follow-Up: Where Do We Go From Here?

So we completed our second annual Weaving ritual this past weekend. I have to say, I am totally amazed at the sense of community and connection that we were able to create. I don’t believe I have ever been in a circle with 30 people without detecting a single current of conflict. There was a real sense of peace in our circle. Everyone’s needs were met. And we all sat around the fire in perfect equality, sharing our impressions and insights from the rite. We talked about the community and the next generation and a vision began to come. And that is what this ritual was all about.

Next year we will change the format a bit. The second round will not be a free-for-all drum circle. It will focus on prayer, divination and maybe some priestess will be an oracle for us. It was too much to shift gears from deep quiet trance to active outward movement. We will take it more slowly next time around. Third time’s a charm as they say.

One criticism I have is this. We need to stop bashing the Christian faith. There were a lot of open negative comments about Christianity that were said around the fire. I know many of us are still reeling with the wounds we received from that religion. But do we want to have this negativity as part of our sacred community rituals? Let’s all try to keep the comments focused on our own works, our own faiths, and our own community. There are scary screwed up people in every religion. I still encounter Pagans who are focused on ritual magick and summoning demons to do their bidding. We hope they aren’t the face of Paganism. And I meet Christians who just shudder at the fundamentalists and the bigots in their own religious community. These Christians are people of deep religious experience. They are Christian because they experienced the spirit of Christ. So let’s not go down that road anymore. Let’s work on building our own traditions and let their beauty and deep communion with the divine in Nature echo out to the world.

To dive into that image, I have been carrying this vision around for a while. I have talked about it with many of you but I want to bring it forward to get the community talking about. My vision is one of building a strong Maine Pagan tradition to carry us through our lives and to pass onto the next generation. We have had to create everything from scratch – sometimes with beautiful inspired results, sometime with a complete flop. I hope we can leave a foundation of community rituals and strong priesthood-level training opportunities for the next generation, something more tangible than what we all started with. And to that end, we have already made great strides.

Beltane on the Beach just celebrated its 30th year! That is remarkable. I have no doubt the Weaving will continue. Someday there will be Pagans dancing the 300th year at Beltane, and we will be the ancestors they call to come dance with them. To keep that connection strong, I think it would serve the community well to have four seasonal rites to balance these two. We could use winter and summer rites to bring our community together. I already have thoughts around these. But I think it would be awesome for the community to dream up these rites together. It takes individuals to put out ideas and to try things out. So to that end, here are my thoughts.

Winter in Maine is dark, cold and long. What serves us well in these long months is family and community. What did our ancestors do during these months to sustain themselves? They had incredibly strong traditions for music and storytelling. So I am thinking a Gorsedd (a Gorsedd is the coming together of bards to share). We could wrap this rite in rich sacred space. We could make it very special. The passing of the mead horn would be a part of it. And for those of us who are not bards, we hold witness and simply take in the inspiration. Bardic craft is about reaching deep into relationship to find inspiration. And then in honor of that inspiration flowing from the muse, gift it back to the world. I think a winter rite of this nature would serve the community well.

The second rite I have brewing in my mind is for the Lughnasadh timeframe. We had a Stone Spiral rite this past weekend as well. It was a long intense night of working with fire, a vigil, and finally a sunrise rebirthing rite of walking into a stone spiral to dive into the cauldron at the center. It was exquisite and very powerful. I would like to build on this and make it a stand-alone weekend. There was other work I had intended but simply forgot or wasn’t organized enough to add. Dedicating time and energy to this rite is again something I think would serve the community well.

These are my thoughts about ways to hold our community close to us and to craft something of lasting value for those Maine Pagans yet to come. I am not wed to these being the community rites we put into place. They are just ideas being thrown into the cauldron. Let’s hear your thoughts!

Finally, I had the great pleasure of meeting a young man this past weekend raised in a Pagan tradition. It was deeply inspiring to see someone who wasn’t healing from being brought up in a religion that didn’t serve them well. He seems whole, connected to the Earth, and with a true understanding of sacred relationship. I have great hope for future generations of Pagans. I send a special thank you to all you Pagan parents who have shared your religious ideals with your children, acknowledging their experiences of the divine in Nature.

Blessings of the harvest,
Snowhawke /|\

Faerie Tidings: Midsummer’s Full Moon

photo by mgstatton

photo by mgstatton

Faerie Tidings: Midsummer’s Full Moon
by BlackLion and Starcat

We pick up our baskets, getting ready to forage for berries and herbs. Before we leave, we make a last check of our ocean-side encampment and its midsummer decorations. Maude the donkey seems happy in the shade near the pavilion, munching on hay and the local grasses. Our pavilion is set up near a hedge of beach roses. Their beautiful scent wafts over us each warm night.

Flowers adorn the walls in streams. We hung flags of vines and leaves attached to hemp rope atop each peak. Colorful ribbons flutter from every wooden pole. Inside, we’ve covered the ground with canvas and piled pillows upon pillows, all shapes and sizes. Low tables hold lanterns, books, crafting supplies, and in one corner, the kitchen.

Crushed shell paths lead from the pavilion further down the beach, where our stone-lined fire pit is full of driftwood, surrounded by the larger logs for seating. The tide is low, smelling of seaweed and brine. We can see that it will turn soon and be quite vibrant and close for our nighttime ritual.

We set off on a path away from the beach into the forest. We miss the companionship of our cat friends, who decided to stay back at the cottage, yet we have noticed a pair of red squirrels trailing not far behind us. The meadow up ahead is one where we first noticed the blossoms of wild strawberries. After a few weeks we are excited about returning to collect a harvest.

Giggling and skipping, we pause occasionally to collect mushrooms and baby greens for a salad for the feast. We plan to make a berry pie if we find as many strawberries as we saw blossoms. Our fire brick oven is our latest addition to the encampment. Steps from the kitchen is our baking and cooking area on a wide stone ledge. Lost in a reverie of pie, we almost miss the split in the path to the strawberry patch.

Opening up in the forest is a bright, sunny meadow filled with green and juicy red. Our floppy hats protect us from the sun as we start picking. The Berry Faeries have been quite busy – we fill our baskets and still see more. Once in a while we pause for some stretching: cartwheels, backbends, and handstands. The red squirrels chitter-chatter around the edge of the meadow, laughing at our playful antics.

At length, it is time to return. We put in a good afternoon’s work of strawberry picking for our feast. Leaving plenty of berries for the other critters, we bless the area and head back down the path toward the beach. Off in the distance we can hear a cadence and a playful melody. We hurry our steps, knowing that our musician friends will soon join us. With uncanny timing, we meet at the split of the path and greet one another enthusiastically. As usual, their gift for the feast is mead, music, and merriment – all welcome additions.

The miles seem like moments as we regale in the beauty of the land, the rhythm of nature, and the empowerment of open spirits. We discuss the forthcoming preparations each of us will make. Our musician friends agree to draw the labyrinth in the sand above the high tide line, while we prepare the feast.

On our voyage to this beach encampment, we had stopped along the way at a friendly farmstead. We stocked Maude and the cart up with a full load of vegetables, fruits, and grains. So along with the berry pie, our feast will include millet stew, onion flatbread with cucumber yogurt sauce, huge salads of fruit and greens, and hand-made sushi.

Feeling quite hungry, we spare a few strawberries as we finish our journey to the beach. We hear the roar of the ocean as the tide begins to come in and the sun settles over the trees. When we arrive, Maude brays a greeting and we offer her some of our foraged greens. The musicians explore our encampment, exclaiming excitedly. They rave about our decorative flair. Making themselves at home, they unpack their bedrolls (and swim suits) in an open area since they will be joining us for several days. Then we all merrily set to work.

Stoking the oven, we bring her back to life and begin our baking excitement. The flatbread is prepped, flattened, and baked at just the right temperature. Meanwhile the chopping, slicing, shredding, julienning, and mashing of the fruits and vegetables proceeds apace. When we finally wipe our hands on our aprons and look up, twilight is beginning to fall and it is time for the ritual to begin.

The musicians have been quite busy. As the other guests arrived, they were guided to different areas of focus for creating the sacred space. Whether beachcombing, setting up trestle tables, lighting the fire, or completing the labyrinth, each of the attendees shared their energy in the spiritual process.

The stars and fireflies twinkle and the waves roll louder and louder. Some of the younger guests are already frolicking in the water. We step out of the pavilion to raucous cheers as we encircle the fire. As the Full Strawberry Moon appears over the watery horizon, we all join hands and dance as we joyfully celebrate the Midsummer Full Moon.

Maiden, Mother, Crone and Warrior

Maiden, Mother, Crone and Warrior

 

Sweetest Maiden Sister,

Lover of the wild,

In all respects a blossoming

And happy little child.

We name you Springtime Maiden,

Treading softly through the trees,

Awakening the flowers,

Your laughter on the breeze.

Beneath you, seeds are sprouting;

Above you, warm, the sun.

Around you, animals are born

Now that Spring’s begun.

The innocence of childhood,

The joy of simple things;

We find in you beginnings new

And pleasure without stings.

Blodewedd of blossoms,

The Vernal Goddess bright

Who brings the rains that nurture seeds

And longer days of light.

 

Great Goddess Mother,

Watching over all,

Lovingly we praise you

And you hear us when we call.

We call to you as Brigit,

The hearth and home you rule,

The holy wells and blacksmith’s forge

With love the burning fuel.

We name you, too, as Lakshmi,

Of wealth and hope you sing;

Candles lit in praise of you,

For happiness you bring.

The fullness of the Summer

With fields so ripe and round,

Your body in its glory,

The grand and fertile ground.

The King Stag your companion,

Your partner, God of love

Who walks with you in fields if green

And in the clouds above.

 

You, the Elder Goddess

Honored Lady of the best,

The Wheel can’t turn without you –

Our fair planet needs to rest.

You are the Harvest Goddess

Within the grain and corn,

And all that falls will rise again,

Life’s promise thus reborn.

We name you as Nokomis,

The Goddess of the field,

Giving of your body

When the gardens fail to yield.

We call to you as Winter Queen

Who puts the earth to bed –

The Goddess of the quiet times,

Keeper of the dead.

Rising with the crescent moon,

Falling with the rain;

Walking Winter’s frozen land

So silent once again.

 

And the Mighty Warrior,

She of sword and spear,

Confident within herself,

Strong – no sign of fear.

We name you as Diana

Who hunts with spear and bow –

The lives you take are done with honor,

And respect you show.

And you, the Goddess Morrigan,

The Celtic Queen of war,

Black crow of the battlefield

Who feasts on death and gore.

Goddess of the Dark Phase,

Of those things that we hide,

Our anger and our vengefulness,

The things we keep inside.

But also you’re our power

The strength of blood and bone,

The competence of women

That the brave have always shown.

 

© LSG 2:02PM 1.19.2010

Defining “Pagan”: Coming Together as a Community

Within Paganism we have a seemingly endless list of traditions – and within those traditions, endless variation of practices. Paganism is a living dynamic spiritual path and this can make it very challenging to craft a definition of Paganism people can agree on. Many pagans would even challenge the idea that we need a definition. But I think we can craft a definition and that there is value in doing so. So here goes…

Why bother?

In my work as a priest I have been deeply involved in Pagan prison ministry. Over the past decade, I have written hundreds of pagans in prisons across the country. While some states are much more supportive than others, there is a definite prejudice against pagans of all traditions in our prison system. I hear the same stories of blatant discrimination over and over again. While it is no easy thing to be a Christian, Jew or Muslim in prison, it is doubly difficult if you are Pagan.  Pagans are routinely refused a place of worship, the ability to gather as a group, allotted time slots for gathering, books, materials, visitors, and the right to wear a necklace or symbol from their tradition. There is an ongoing struggle for Paganism to find legitimacy in this country. This is especially apparent within the US prison system.

The purpose of this article however is not the issue of pagan prison ministry. I use it as an example of consequence. It is the consequence of our disconnection as a religious community.  Most institutions have little to no knowledge of paganism, especially given our many traditions and the solitary nature of the majority of pagans. We are an unknown. And the consequence of being unknown is very apparent when we try to exercise our religious traditions within established institutions: national, state and local.

What continually affects the few, eventually affects the many. I still see people in this country hiding their pagan beliefs out of fear. I hope that as a community, we can evolve past this. There is strength in numbers and it is important that Pagans of all traditions come together as a whole and help assure our religious freedoms are being respected.

As part of the Maine Pagan Clergy Association, I know from experience that getting people from our many traditions to agree on a definition of “paganism” is a real challenge. While I may have a completely different theological view of paganism than other pagans, I think we can find common bonds and core principles that we embrace in our spiritual life. I think we can all agree on the following:

1. All of Nature is sacred

2. We seek direct relationship and communion with the Divine

3. Self-responsibility and living with honor are at the core of our pagan values

In my definition of Pagan, the community expands greatly. I see Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, Santeria, basically all nature-based indigenous religions around the globe sharing these common ideals. I see these as great pagan traditions. And I think it good to have an expansive rather than limiting view of Paganism. I think reaching for the common ground is much more effective than emphasizing the differences.

When I work within the prison system, I don’t feel any need to explain the principles of Druidry to people. I say I am a pagan and then if there is sufficient interest, I may go deeper. But I always go back to these three core ideals and it usually suffices. I think most people can identify with them. They aren’t hidden, occult, mysterious or dangerous. And while I could write an entire book on the nature of each ideal, they really don’t require much in the way of further explanation to give someone an idea of where I am coming from.

We all have aspects in our traditions and practices that are unique. And I think this very beautiful and powerful. But the differences are often used to draw divisions.

There is inherent disdain within the pagan community for institutions and organizations trying to define Paganism; to speak for the greater community; to make a judgment call on what defines a pagan or which tradition is legitimate. I love that this is the case. Nature isn’t filled with hierarchy and neither should religious traditions based on Nature be so. Our ideal of equality is one that makes paganism work for people. It is a key principle that attracted many us to paganism. My point in this essay isn’t to try to get all pagans involved with prison ministry or greater local, state or national organizations. It is only to get people to embrace the word “Pagan” and to reach for the common ground. If the word “Pagan” brought to the mind of the average American an image or understanding that encompassed the three principles I’ve mentioned, I think would see less discrimination towards pagans within our institutions and within our culture. It would dissipate a lot of the fear people have when they hear the word “pagan.”

Personally, I think one of the core strengths of paganism is the celebration of diversity. Finding a greater umbrella for the outside world is very helpful though, and I am hopeful we can all embrace the label of “Pagan.” Each tradition struggling individually simply isn’t working. I have encountered many prisons where “Wiccans” can have a group but “Druids” can’t. “Druid” groups can gather but “witches” can’t. These labels divide us. And division isn’t helpful. If we all claim the label of Pagan first and then state our tradition, I think this would make a significant difference.  It is my opinion that the common threads can bind us together as a community. If we can make progress here, its reverberations will hum with power and beauty throughout many aspects of our lives as Pagans here in the States.

Peace, beauty and inspiration,

Snowhawke /|\

Brighid

Imbolc lays before us deep

As all the world lies still, asleep.

And in this time of seeming death,

We’re livened by Midwinter’s breath.

The celebration of this time

Is done with stories, song and rhyme.

Here in Winter’s deepest cold

We find you, Brighid, kind and bold.

 

With joy, the bride doll now is made –

The children dance a brisk parade.

Old and young folk, one and all,

Do bless the lovely white-clad doll.

And then the bride is laid abed

With blossom garlands at her head,

And at her feet, all shod in white,

A candle, lit to share its light.

 

Lady of the Holy Wells,

We chant your name and ring the bells

To honor you this special day,

Our trials and fears all laid away.

Crosses made of golden wheat

And flowers are laid at your feet.

The bread is baking, tried and true –

With mead, full cups we lift to you.

 

Lady of the blacksmiths’ fire,

You of love and heart’s desire,

Shed your glow on all our lives,

Sons and daughters, husbands, wives.

Forge us in the glowing coals,

Strong in body, mind, and soul.

Lady Brighid, shining bright,

We seek your blessings on this night.

 

Brighid’s Flame

Saint_Brigid's_crossIt is a cold Imbolc day in the countryside, and wintertime restlessness has made your feet wish to wander. Bundling yourself up against the chill, you don thick socks, warm long underthings, a heavy jacket, mittens, boots, and a hat. Bidding farewell to your warm home, you venture forth into the cold afternoon air, and begin your journey.

You are newly come to this area, and have not had the opportunity to explore much beyond your own yard. The harvest kept you busy, and the snow set in early. Heading west, you set an easy pace, enough to keep you warm but not enough to wear you. There are small clouds, some which seem to threaten snowfall, but the ground is nearly bare in places due to a January thaw.

Continuing for some time, you wander past stone walls and open fields, past small forests and frozen streams. Then ahead, in a meadow, you spy a building standing alone. It has begun to snow lightly, and the wind has picked up, so out of curiosity and the desire to rest from the cold, you venture forth.

It is a stone building, a small chapel-like structure with a thatched roof. The path to the door is wide and well kept. The windows are of stained glass, and the door is heavy oak hinged with large iron pieces. Seeking respite from the wind, you grasp the large iron handle and pull the door open.

You enter a small antechamber and pull the door closed against the elements. The noise of the wind is greatly muffled here, and it feels good to be out of the cold. You shake the snow from your shoulders and move forward through the archway into the larger chamber.

The light from outside makes the stained windows glow with a multitude of color, spilling a rainbow on the stone floor. Low wooden benches line the walls, inviting rest for the weary traveler.

On a wooden table in the center of the room, there is a stone lamp, lit. The flame is bright and warm, and dances in the slight breeze. Also on the table, you see flowers – white roses, daisies, lilies, all fresh and alive despite the winter’s cold. It is then that you realize that you are relatively warm in here, not just the simple warmth that comes from being out of the wind, but almost comfortable enough to remove your outer layer. You wonder at this, since there is no visible heat source other than the small flickering flame of the lamp.

You move from the table to one of the benches and release a sigh of contentment as your feet no longer bear the full weight of your body. You adjust a little, finding the right spot to relax. Now at rest, your mind wanders to events in your life that have been troubling you; frustrating situations, difficult decisions, and painful processes. The dancing flame catches your gaze again, and your eyes are drawn to its glowing presence. The flame waves gently, back and forth, like a shining fish’s tail through calm water. It lulls you into a state of well-being, and your lips form a half smile. Your eyes grow heavy but do not close, though your lashes cause the candle flame to soften and blur.

Then, between one breath and the next, there is a shimmer of tiny bells, and you realize that a white-clad figure, a woman, is standing beside the table, looking at you. Your eyes open fully, but you are not startled. Indeed, Her presence is calming, gentle. You wonder how She came to be here, for you did not hear the door open, and it is the only entrance into this small stone building. Then you notice that Her feet are bare, and She has on no warm outer things, only a white gown and a garland of green gracing Her head. A question forms on your lips, and She smiles, drawing a breath to speak.

“Welcome are you, child, to this sacred place, on this holy day. Here does My flame ever burn; here do I hear those who beseech Me.”

In wonder and awe, you realize that you are in the presence of the Goddess Brighid, and She smiles again at your expression. You rise quickly, and stammer an apology for your intrusion.

She laughs gently. “Indeed, fear not, for this is a place of safety and rest for those who are weary. Ever is this a sanctuary for those seeking rest and hope. Though you spoke not, I heard the storm within your heart, and I respond.”

“Oh my Lady,” you cry out, “how is it I can bear the troubled times facing me? There seems to be no hope, no answers. I’m lost.” Your voice breaks on that last word, and tears come to your eyes.

Brighid comes to your side on silent feet and takes you within her arms. She lays a hand upon your head, bringing it to rest on her shoulder, and She strokes your hair.

“I am the promise of Springtime. Within Me lies the purpose and power of new life coming and dark times passing. Though at times your strength is truly tried, keep My flame alive in your heart. Balance your actions with compassion; keep words of love in your mouth, for truly do I listen. You are never alone, Beloved; you need only call to Me, and My light shall shine forth from the depths of your darkest night. The flame into which you gazed is as constant as My love for you, and never shall it be extinguished. You are precious to Me, dear one. It is through your own acts of love that you draw strength, so love and love well, even when it is hard to do so.  Every act of anger brought against you is an opportunity to be answered with love. I say that not lightly, for it is those times that shall surely try you, but in those times will you gain your highest power. Answer anger with grace, hatred with compassion, fear with light, and always shall you be borne by My flame.”

Your breathing slows as you listen to Her words, and the tension drains from your body. Though your troubles are still present in your mind, you can see more clearly now, and feel that you have the strength to endure, if not succeed. You expel a deep sigh that seems to lighten both your spirit and your physical form, and you lift your head from Brighid’s shoulder. Smile answers smile, and you drop your eyes, feeling a bit shy in such a sacred presence.

“Return here when you wish,” She says, “for this door is always open to you. Bring your troubles and your joy; come in calm or in turmoil. Here shall you ever find peace.”

“Thank you my Lady, with all of my heart,” you say, and slowly, She fades from view.

The Lady of Yule

The Lady of Yule

 

On the night of Yule

The stars shone like jewels

In a sky that was clear as black glass

I was walking through woods

And stopped where I stood

With my heart in a seeming morass

 

Finding sadness everywhere

I was lost in despair

In this season of coldness and death

But my head turned around
As the wind bore the sound

Of a baby’s first in-taken breath

 

I entered a clearing where a fire blazed on

And a woman sat wrapped in warm furs

A child at her breast lay in comfort and rest

And then my eyes gazed into Hers

 

I was lifted above

My heart bursting with love

As I knew Her, the Goddess of Life

Having just given birth

Bringing new life to Earth

‘Twas the promise of the end of strife

 

The sweet newborn child

In this woodland so wild

Was the Hope and the gift that we need

And the Green He shall bring

With the coming of Spring

When the tendril shall split from the seed

 

She spoke to me then in a voice clear as rain

And she told me, “Child, look deep within

For the green in your heart which never departs”

Tears of gratitude rolled off my chin.

 

I met Her that night

And my soul knew delight

That I never would lose Her a-more

For the love that She spoke

In my spirit awoke

And had opened a hard-shuttered door

 

I no longer fear cold

Or the Sun getting old

For I know that the Winter shall fly

And the light will return

It’s the lesson I learned

On a deep and dark night of Yuletide

 

© Lorelei Greenwood 12.9.2012