Beltane is fast upon us – here in Suffolk, the hawthorn is in bloom already, and I have heard the first cuckoo of summer. The oak leaves are just coming out, and the beech and ash are lagging behind, sluggish after their long sleep. The garden is abloom, and the forest is filled with bluebells, their soft energy shimmering in the sunlight. It is, indeed, Beltane....
In the early days of Egyptology scholars took the attitude that a transcendent experience was only expected after death in ancient Egypt. This fit well with the predominant Judeo-Christian background of virtually all of them, as well as the desire to demonstrate their new profession could be as scientific as any others. But the record is plain as day that mystery schools flourished in at least the Late period, influencing other mystery cults all around the Mediterranean. Contemporary Egyptologist Jan Assman even goes so far as to assert that ancient Egyptians could not have developed their own mysticism because that it would not have been based on lived real-life experience. Really?!
I do love Assman’s writing, but as an unabashed mystic myself I am all too aware that close encounters with another kind of reality, one we often call “god” or “the divine”, happen all the time. It seems far more likely that Egyptians encountered this numinous, liminal reality enough times that they began to form, first mythologies, then theologies, around it.
What I find so intriguing about Egyptian myth is how it is used to shape one’s personal narrative. By experiencing the mysteries of Osiris, for example, one can prepare for inevitable mortality. But at the same time the initiate uncovers layers of his own psyche, depths of meaning about the here and now....
There's been a lot of talk since PantheaCon in the blogsphere recently about Wiccanate privilege. I was not at PantheaCon, but to the best of my ability to determine, it is a general sense of being marginalized in the Pagan community that exists among a variety of Pagans who do not follow a path that resembles (at least superficially) Wicca. They feel that most "Pagan" rituals and gatherings are Wiccan-normative, and they would prefer that this assumption is not made in pan-Pagan ritual, conversations and gatherings. There have been some excellent articles on the topic; here's one at the Wild Hunt; here's one at Finnchuill's Mast; here's one by T. Thorn Coyle in regards to a controversial "Wiccanate" prayer she gave at the gathering; here's one at Of Thespiae (a Hellenic Reconstructionist blog); here's a couple by fellow PaganSquare writers Stifyn Emrys and Taylor Ellwood; here's a couple by fellow Patheos writers Yvonne Aburrow, Niki Whiting, Julian Betkowski, John Halstead and Jason Mankey at Raise the Horns; and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, writer of "Queer I Stand" at Patheos, has commented about it extensively around the internet though I couldn't find a specific blog post on the topic in my search (though e was at the conference). If you read all of these, you'll probably get a good handle on the many different sides of the issue and what various people's take on it is: and if you read the comments, it will be more informative still. If you haven't done so yet, do it; then come back here in an hour or three if you still want to hear my opinion. Don't worry, I'll wait . . .
Here's my thoughts as someone who identifies as a Wiccan: I think that those who are advocating for this are right! I think that most people, within and without the Pagan community, do assume that "Wiccanate" paths are the norm. And I do think we need to be more inclusive and accommodating in our language and form. No question about it! Our community is still small enough that I don't think we can afford to alienate each other. Let's try to get along in a climate of mutual respect.
I think it might help to have an idea of where the problem came from. Back in the early 90s, when we were all using bulletin boards and Yahoogroups to open these conversations in a collective way that wasn't in-person at festivals, most of the books out there were indeed about essential solitary "Outer Court" Wicca. Most people came to Paganism through these books. Most of us still do. So I (being one of those sorts) got on a bunch of different Pagan groups to chat and learn about stuff, and identified myself as a "solitary Wiccan". I suppose the reactions I got were fairly indicative of what was typical: some initiated British Traditional Wiccans (who, don't get me wrong, are justifiably proud of their accomplishments because it takes a lot of work to earn those degrees) told me that because Wicca was a special initiatory mystery tradition descending from either the unbroken line of the Craft back to Neolithic days, or Gerald Gardner, I could not be Wiccan because I was not an initiate. I imagine that my reaction was very similar to that of others like me; I found the term "Pagan" or "Neo-pagan" (which both Oberon Zell and Isaac Bonewits have claimed to have coined; I wasn't there so I don't know) and began calling myself an "eclectic Pagan" instead....
Within Paganism, there appear to be an equal number of women and men in leadership roles. One of the most popular Druids today is Emma Restall Orr, one of the most popular Wiccans is Starhawk. Heathenry has Galina Grasskova and Diana L Paxon. There are countless others in all pagan paths and traditions that stand alongside the men in equal roles of leadership, teaching and more....
Seven or eight years ago, I shocked a large group of my Pagan friends. I was at a small festival in Oklahoma that happened to take place during St. Patrick’s Day weekend. I was vending and teaching at this festival (as well as performing my first song) and knew most of the attendees very well. As we were cleaning the dining hall after dinner, I invited everyone down to my vendor table to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a drink of Irish whiskey. The look of horror on some of their faces was priceless.
The sun rises ever earlier, the days becoming longer. Soon the balance will tip, when the night gives way to the lengthening days. The spring equinox falls on March 20th this year, and after a very wet winter I am very much looking forward to it....
She is with me - I can feel Her as soon as I step out the door. She calls to me, she pulls me further away from the houses of humanity, deeper into the wilds; the windswept heath, the dark forest, the bright birch glades. I smile and answer her call with a song in my heart, my footsteps getting lighter and lighter as I head out to meet Her. I walk taller, with more grace, my body flowing and moving without the restrictions that are usually placed upon it. I feel an almost eldritch tingling in my blood - the awen is awakened....
Who gets the right to define you? To label you? Is that right solely your own, or does it belong in some measure to the culture with which you identify? I've considered this question for a long time, and I've concluded that there's no easy answer.
I've long been an advocate for the principle of self-identification: If you choose to identify yourself in specific terms, who are others to challenge it? But things really aren't that simple, are they? What about frauds who have ulterior motives for adopting a label? What about people who don't really understand what the label means?
A Huffington Post article titled "Striking Photos Challenge The Way We See Blackness" recently explored the idea of self-identification in terms of race. The writer interviewed several individuals from diverse backgrounds who identified as black, postulating that "Blackness must be recognized as something other than just skin color and specific physical attributes."...
Blest is the happy man
Who knows the Mysteries the gods ordain (Euripides)
It is a mystery – that we can be One and also separate, and likewise the gods.
It is a mystery – that we can have a solitary experience which then links us inextricably with others who have shared that same experience, or one like it....
I’ve been studying Wicca, and it really appeals to me. But I was raised Christian. Can I practice both at the same time?
First off, you should know that this is a very loaded question, and you might receive different answers from different Wiccans, Pagans, and Christians. This is my two cents, but I don’t pretend to speak for everyone in these communities.
Can It Be Done?
I think it’s not impossible to practice Wicca or Paganism and Christianity fully at the same time, but it’s difficult, because there's a fundamental conflict over deity. Christianity asks Christians to accept Jesus as their savior, and the Bible makes it pretty clear that the Christian god is the only god for Christians. Pagans, however, usually worship gods other than or in addition to the Christian god. So it’s challenging to be a fully practicing Christian and a fully practicing Pagan at the same time, while still being true to both traditions.
That said, I have seen people have success with choosing one of the paths as their main path, and integrating elements of the other path into their practice. For example, one of the most beautiful and powerful rituals I’ve ever been in was one done by indigenous Mexicans, who called their traditional gods together with the Virgin Mary. And I’ve known some practicing Christians who add some Pagan ritual elements, like working with the elements, into their private devotional practice. Some churches, such as the Unitarian Universalist Church, are reasonably accepting of Paganism. Making this work requires being flexible....
Awake in beauty - rsi m nfr
Awake in peace - rsi m htp
Awake my soul in beauty and peace
Awake in beauty and peace, Great Ones in the Boat of a Million Years
Awake in beauty and peace, ancestors, guides, spirit friends and elements
Dua! Iti m htp - Hail and welcome!
This is the beginning of my daily morning devotional, based on an ancient Egyptian prayer. As I light a candle* while offering this prayer, I imagine myself in my wholeness as if my soul is waking to a renewed awareness of its immortality. I remember the great continuous thread of existence of which I am a part. I rebirth myself into the present moment, ready to bring the gifts of the past and future into my day.
I belong to a local, Pan-Pagan group. I was a member of it about seven or eight years ago, but it was a bit too chaotic and "fluffy" for my tastes. I didn't end up sticking around for long as a result, but it did good work in the community and meant well, so it's existence didn't really bother me either. It just wasn't for me, but it served it's purpose. Recently, the organization went under a fair amount of upheaval and was in danger of breaking apart due to infighting and disagreements.
It had managed to achieve non-profit status about three or four years ago, so people came forward to try and help repair the damage and keep it alive. While not the most conservative state in the union, Pennsylvania is hardly what I'd call progressive either. As such, having a Pagan organization with non-profit status is something worthy of celebrating and definitely provokes some consideration. Some of the local Heathens were part of the initial efforts to rebuild the organization from the ground up, and informed me of the issues at hand. I decided I wanted to help as well, which brings us to the moment where I found myself in a county owned recreational center, sitting in on one of the meetings.
At one point, the conversation turned to the subject of how to make events and rituals mutually inclusive and respectful to all people who might be in attendance. Towards the end of the discussion, an elderly woman of an amicable nature said "We should all stop arguing, and just worship the Earth." She said this while wearing an expression that suggested she felt that this was so universal of a truth there could be no way that anyone who called themselves Witch, Pagan, or Polytheist could possibly disagree. It wasn't an opinion, to her; it was fact.
Most of the people in attendance were Wiccans and/or Monists of various philosophies, so she didn't seem to actually offend anyone. Even my fellow Heathens and I were sort of used to these statement from her, so we didn't really see the point in working ourselves up over the issue. Getting angry at this sort of person is like yelling at a cloud; it does nothing, and they didn't come from someone who was particularly polarizing. She's just the typical representation of someone who thinks they're so inclusive that couldn't possibly make an excluding statement.
The thing is, however, that I've seen so many theological arguments come from this exact scenario; someone makes some sort of presumption for all of Paganism, and than they come across someone who believes the exact opposite. The next step is that the disagreeing Pagan will point out, often times with great offense, that the person is very wrong. Typically, the person who made the faux-inclusive statement gets defensive, because they aren't bigoted and/or privileged so of COURSE the other person is just being too sensitive, and than an argument breaks out.
We've all seen his exact scenario play out a lot, especially over the last year or two. I stay out of these fights because, to be quite simple about it, I don't recognize the authority of some fool sitting off on the sideline making proclamations that are less authoritative on a given religion than the content of a Wikipedia article. Some people, however, don't go by that standard and I can't blame them; when you practice a minority religion, you find yourself bombarded with a rather alarming amount of social faux pas.
That's putting it very diplomatically to be sure, but it cuts to the core nicely. Being the target of so many social and diplomatic mistakes, you expect people who also practices minority religions to be more mindful and considerate. After all, regardless of whether you are a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Gardenerian Wiccan, a solitary practitioner, or what have you...in many circles within North America and (I suspect) Europe, you are going to be the targets of some similar acts of ignorance, privilege*, and stupidity. You expect that anyone who is in a similar situation would take equal effort in being mindful of the theology and philosophy of others.
So when that expectation is let down, it's easy to get extremely angry about it.
I am Heathen. I do respect the Earth, no doubt; there are spirits both animist and ancestral that reside on it and within it, and I do my best to show them the respect and thankfulness my tradition says that they are due. I do not, however, worship the Earth; that's a word that I direct towards divine figures almost exclusively. Even with ancestors, the term "worship" is used differently than I use it when I talk about Gods. That is my path, and no one gets to tell me what it's about or what I should or should not be worshiping.**
You are...well, whatever you are. Whatever your tradition, path, or philosophy, it is up to you to define your worldview as best as you are able. In the meantime, for the sake of the Ancestors, Gods, the Earth,or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster, don't act like your path is mine. At least, not before we've talked and discovered that together. Not until you truly know, rather than feel you can reasonably presume. Your path does not represent the whole spectrum of non-Abrhamic and/or non-Islamic belief,*** so don't pretend that it does.
You have the right to your beliefs, but that right ends at the beginning of every other person's belief. No matter then intention, someone trying to unify all faiths across the world into a single thread is going to end up insulting someone. Probably a lot of someones. No matter the intentions, it becomes exactly like being told that you are a Satanist because you're not Christian. Improperly worded or poorly thought out statements about religious unity contain a very similar message; they involve telling someone what their faith is, without their consent or consideration of their person. Should we be surprised that such statements end poorly when the presume so many things that, in many case, trip over many of our own psychological wounds?
No matter what you wish to say when it comes to religion, you'll find someone who disagrees. That is wonderful! After decades and centuries of religious thought having been homogenized, by legal mandate in some cases, we have the opportunity to form our religious standards, philosophies, and concepts. In many places in the world, such processes even have legal protection. We get to disagree on religion, and have that not be a big deal. We can identify, build, and form spiritual relationships in ways that were unthinkable a few generations ago. Savor that!
This statement even applies to my Monist friends; even if you feel all paths are one, the wondrous permutations of that one idea are split into thousands of ideas like the light of one sun traveling through a prism. This isn't a cause for contention. It is a cause to rejoice!
Even this statement that I am making now will find some who disagree with it, and I'm okay with that. The person who disagrees with probably will be as well, because I'm about to say one thing; this is how I see things. I speak for no one else but myself, because I'm the only person I have the authority to speak for. Everyone else needs to speak for themselves.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
* I don't like the term privilege, because I think it's counter productive most of the time. Using the term in conversation with people who don't understand it seems to destroy bridges instead of building them, and I think that's not any kind of way to sew empathy and compassion. Your mileage may vary, of course. In this case, we're talking about it in a broader, less accusatory manner....which is where I think this concept works best.
**Well, my Gods get to of course...but that is an entirely different topic...
***I use the dictionary definition of Pagan most of the time; that is, any religion that doesn't come from a Christian, Hebrew, or Islamic background. Yes, that casts a wide net...but it's about the only consistent definition I can ever find. Thus, it has become the one I use the most. My word choices typically favor clarity as a deciding factor, and you can't get much clearer than "this is the definition the dictionary uses the most often".
Book of the Dead, Book of the Amduat, Book of Caverns, Coffin Texts, Book of the Night, Book of the Earth, Book of Gates - these and more comprise a group of ancient Egyptian texts which describe the journey of Ra through the night world and, by extension, that of the dead soul following his pattern. First discovered by Champollion in the Valley of the Kings in 1829, they were pretty much dismissed as priestly fantasies by subsequent Egyptologists, though Maspero and Lefébure worked on deciphering some of the books in the 19th century. Only in the 20th century did scholars like Piankoff and Hornung begin to really study this rich material.
But I can understand why some were initially put off. I even found myself commenting last week to a friend, “The ancient Egyptians were in their own way just as nutty as the early Christians!” (If you’ve read all the lately-translated apocryphal texts you’ll know what I mean.) Hornung’s The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife is a blow-by-blow description of what you see in the accompanying drawings. Page after page of embellishments, fantastical netherworld characters, and attempts to graphically illustrate esoteric concepts begin to make me a bit dizzy. I start to wonder just how much artistic license the different priest-artist-scribes employed while creating their masterpieces.
But I’ve reconsidered. Some say that pre-industrial people did not distinguish between the physical and the realm of the soul, as we do now. Certainly, the written record indicates that Egyptians viewed every part of existence as infused with meaning and spirit. The books of the afterlife predominantly depict and describe these ideas, illustrated with a seemingly-endless pantheon of otherworldly deities and characters. Hence, a human figure with the head of an cobra can stand for the motherly protection for which the cobra was noted. A floating pair of arms may denote protection, or the reverential passing of the sun disk from one place to another. Mummies are shown which have waked from the dead and turned over in their coffin, the implication being that they are about to rise and walk into a new life. And snakes - there are a lot of snakes, some of them a protective coil or ourobouros, and others represent the sinister Apep (or Apophis).
Egyptian culture was one that valued dreams and the numinous. The Duat was nothing if not liminal, poised as it was on the edges between life and death and new life, between conscious and subconscious, between this world and the next. I can imagine that priests who were truly devoted to their practice and craft would birth fresh ideas in the course of temple life. No doubt, some also wanted to impress the client with elaborate products that might be perceived as better than the last client’s - though most of these works were found in tombs of pharaohs. The texts also span many centuries and several locales; given how different English communications now are radically different from only 400 years ago, I would likewise expect Egyptian texts to show some evolution.
The afterlife books also remind me of the value of personal gnosis. Our scientific era has made this a dicey subject - how can gnosis replace so-called verifiable fact? But ancient Egyptians understood the importance of those insights which can only emerge from within, from the dark waters of the Duat, or from the watery interior of Nut’s body (through which the sun also passed during the night). Pondering the mysteries of the afterlife texts is like stepping into those waters and exploring, one foot in the conscious world and one in that of the soul.
Though my people are Methodists on one side and Baptists on the other, I was not raised in either church. I got formal religious training from a parochial Lutheran elementary school and my own intellectual curiosity. Friends and neighbors invited me to visit their churches with them and I sometimes did--giving me an interesting smattering of all kinds of ceremonies and observances. My grandmother sang in the choir of a small Methodist church and I sometimes went to church with her and my grandfather. I sat in the second row between him and a former mayor of our little town and I was very well-behaved. Of course.
I have never been christened or baptized because I grew up "unchurched," as we say in the South. One of the best parts of that sort of upbringing is that I don't carry around a load of anger or fear or resentment for my treatment at the hands of a monolithic institution like The Church. And I got to make macaroni picture frames in vacation bible school and I was a sure winner at the Sword Drill.
Can I get a Blessed Be?...
Most of us grew up listening to song lyrics that proclaimed a lack of satisfaction. Here in mid-life I find myself increasingly satisfied, peaceful and content, or hetep – a fitting mood for today’s annual holiday of Thanksgiving.
The word hetep was also used in the classic “offering formula,” a standardized epithet placed on stelae commemorating the dead, on tomb walls and numerous other inscriptions. The formula started with the phrase hetep-di-nesu, “a gift the king gives.” Since the king was the priest for all of Egypt, any offering was thought of as offered by the king, even if it was just you ordering up a monument for your mom and dad.
Here’s what hetep-di-nesu looks like:
And here’s a whole offering formula for a guy named Ky:
Translated, it means, a gift which the king gives to Osiris, lord of Djedu, lord of Abydos, he gives an offering of bread, beer, cattle, fowl, alabaster and linen and every good thing on which a god lives, for the spirit of the revered one, Ky.
The Wild Gods I love the word wilderness. It conjures up images of windswept moors and heathland, dark tangling forests and craggy mountaintops. That spirit of the untamed, the uncivilised, that spark that humanity cannot touch, much in the same way as deity is traditionally viewed. For many Druids, that wilderness is deity – it has the power to give or sustain life or the power to kill. It has not and, in many places, cannot be touched by human hands, existing without any human interference. I like to think that same dark spark exists within our own human souls as well, offering us the sanctity of the wilderness within.
The concept of the “untouched” wilderness is an interesting one. I rather wonder if it has anything to do with secular religious views that have crept into our culture predominantly for the last thousand years or so. The concept of the virgin forest, the virgin wilderness – I have to say, I really dislike the term. It is nice to think that there are places in the world where humans have never been – but still, it’s the terminology that is rather uncomfortable. I have been to places where humans have lived with the landscape, and who live there no more – the wilderness has returned. Where stone buildings once stood, nature has reclaimed it, slowly destroying it until nothing remains but the songs on the wind. Virginity cannot ever be reclaimed – and in this regard, I find the term does not work within the context of the natural world. As it works in cycles, what happened once can be undone.
As wilderness flows with the cycles, it shows that it cares little about anything else. It exists to exist – there is no other. It follows its own song, and will continue to do so. Humans may interfere with the existing wilderness, “taming” it if you will, but it will continue to carry on attempting to restore itself to its original state. It is that spirit, that sense of soul song reclaiming itself again and again that I find so fascinating. The weeds will continue to sprout in the garden, whether we are farming organically or not (I really hope that all reading this do!). The wind will continue to blow regardless of skyscrapers, bridges, mountaintops or 500 year old yew trees....
There's just something about a November sky.
For many, November can be a month of hard coping, with the clocks changing, the nights drawing in, the colder air and wetter weather. Yet we often miss the beauty of this month, lost in our own solipsism. Looking around us, we see that there is so much more than our own worlds, than our own lives. As Bjork said, "nature is ancient and surprises us all"…
Just getting over a bout of chicken pox, it would be so easy at this time to fall into introspection, into dulled apathy or even despair. Having an illness of any kind can turn our thoughts inwards and, it has to be said, not always in a good way. Looking outside helps. Literally....
What with the rage of the storm St Jude passing over our area on Monday morning, we were without power for a couple of days (as well as being without land line phones -mobile masts were also out). At this time of year, when the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in, the change can be quite dramatic, especially when you are living without power....
Who are the gods in Druidry? There is no one answer to this question, as deity, like religion, is such a personal thing in Paganism. There is no single authority telling us who our god is, or what She is saying. There are books, teachers, Orders, Groves etc that can offer paths of a tradition that may lead to a relationship with the gods, but again they won’t tell you exactly who they are – we’re given a map and a compass but we have to find our own way....