Green Priestcraft: A ChristoPagan Pastoralia

"Pastoralia" is a somewhat archaic term denoting the spiritual, pastoral, and ritual care of a community.  "ChristoPagan" is a somewhat emergent term denoting a blend of Christian and Pagan thealogy, cosmology, and spirituality.  So, put the two together, and you have the hopefully intriguing (and, to some, infuriating) description of my own journey as a greenpriest.  I trust that folks of various and sundry spiritual persuasions will find something here to pique their interest, deepen their practice, and feed their souls.  Hear the Rune of Sophia: "God is Love, and Her body is all creation.  She is a Tree of Life, who gathers Her children in Love."  This is the conviction which guides me.  Blessed be.

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Shawn Sanford Beck

Shawn Sanford Beck

 
The Rev. Shawn Sanford Beck is an ecumenical Christian priest, and a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. He is the author of Christian Animism, and the founder of the Ecumenical Companions of Sophia, an informal online community fostering Christian-Pagan dialogue and spiritual practice.  He lives with his family on an off-the-grid farm community in north-western Saskatchewan (Treaty Six Territory), where he is chaplain to the human and more-than-human wights of the community.  When not writing sermons, chopping wood, or practising magic, Shawn can be counted on to have his nose buried in a book. He can be contacted at greenpriest@hotmail.ca
 

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A Rune for Samhain

Over the past year, my friend Darcy and I have been continuing to work away on our “prairie rune” project.  Starting from a bioregional adaptation of the Anglo-Saxon futhorc, or rune alphabet poem, we have been sharing reflections in poetry and prose as a way of gently unfolding some of the spiritual-cultural-linguistic mysteries hidden within each rune.

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I'm no expert in Tarot – not by a long shot – but I've always had a particular fondness for card number IX, the Hermit.  This iconic image of an old, hooded man, staff in one hand and lantern in the other, resonates with me on a very deep level.  Folks who know me well would not be surprised by this at all.  Indeed, one of my best friends recently encouraged me (only half in jest) to offer my skills as a consultant in hermitting, in this new age of social distancing and self-isolation. Apparently, we are all be asked to become hermits for the time being, and many people find that exceedingly challenging.

As Covid-19 sweeps through the global population, everyone except essential workers are being told in no uncertain terms to go home and stay there.  Front line health-care staff and other service providers are already feeling exhausted by the demands of this pandemic, and the rest of us feel vaguely overwhelmed by the fact that we can really do nothing except stay home.  Of course, there are many interesting new ways being developed, mainly online, for people to stay connected and keep working.  Churches, libraries, and other community centres are empty, but their staff are working hard to provide their ministries and services in novel ways.

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Under the beautiful crisp clear light of the full moon, our extended farm community gathered together for the “saining of the beasts”.  In our talking circle, we reflected on the realities of the Samhain season, specifically in relation to the animals of the farm.  I gave a bit of history concerning the old Scottish custom of saining (blessing) the herds as they come back from the summer pastures into the closer confines of the homestead.  I spoke as well about the AngloSaxon word for this Novembry season: blodmonath.  The month of blood.  This was the time when the culling of the animals would happen, depending on the size of the herd, the amount of hay stored for winter fodder, and the number of (human) mouths to feed in the community.  So this early winter season was paradoxically a time of both saining and slaughter, blessing and butchering.

For us, as for our ancestors, this is still the reality of a small scale, subsistence, off-grid farming life.  As members of our community processed from the chickens, to the sheep, to the pigs, to the cows, chanting blessings under the moon, we knew that some of these wonderful “more-than-human” persons would soon be filling our freezers and our stewpots.

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This past weekend, at Knox-Metropolitan United Church in Regina, Saskatchewan, history was made.  It was, I believe, the first time that a traditional Christian church publicly hosted an event specifically around ChristoPaganism.  Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think this has happened before, anywhere.  There have been a (very) few gatherings for Christian-Pagan dialogue, but nothing that has brought Pagans and Christians together to explore the bi-spiritual path of ChristoPaganism, within the walls of a church.

I am so thankful for Pastor Cam Fraser and the congregation of Knox-Met for taking a chance, in a very public manner, to invite me to offer this introduction to ChristoPaganism.  And I'm equally grateful for the individual Christians, Pagans, and spiritual seekers who gathered together to learn, to share, to pray, and even to do ritual together.

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As we enter the season of Lammastide, my eyes are drawn daily to the beautiful crop of oats growing in our garden.  The heads are filling out and passing through their milky stage. The tall stalks have survived storm winds and hail, and within weeks the grain will harden and it will be time to put in the sickle.  

In the spring, we began the sowing of this crop by gently and prayerfully burying the oat-doll which we made from the final cut of last season's harvest.  She held the spirit of the oats throughout the winter, hanging on our wall, a reminder of the continuity of life in its cycles.  After several months of good summer growth, the work of harvest will begin again.  My goodwife and I will cut the stalks, bind and stook them, thresh them, winnow them, and clean the oats, all by hand.  It is a labour intensive process, providing our breakfast porridge throughout the year. At some point in the harvest, I will inevitably curse this whole idea of “back to the land living”, with its stupid valorization of physical work. But in truth, it is a very good life.

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“It is not the world who is mute, but rather we who are deaf.”  

Thus I wrote, several years back, in my book of Christian Animism.   I meant it – really, I did – but more as a rhetorical flourish than a statement from experience.  Now, the experience is kicking in.

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For the past three weeks, we've been involved in a lovely and intriguing process here on the farm.  This particular season of the year brings a short period of weather where the nights fall below freezing and the days warm up in the spring thaw.  This oscillation of temperature, combined with the changing patterns of sunlight, creates  the conditions for sugar-laden sap to flow quickly in the trees. By tapping the trees and collecting this sap, we are able to enjoy the alchemy of maple syrup making.  Here on the prairies we don't have many of the big sugar maples of the eastern woodlands, but we do have Manitoba maples (sometimes called box elder, or even elf maple (!))  These maples are a little less prolific and less sweet in their sap production, but its still worthwhile to make the syrup.  

Visiting the trees every day to gather the sap is a delight in and of itself.  They are offering their lifeblood, not in dangerous quantities, but it still is a good reminder for me to thank them, and ask the Creator to bless them.  Like so many things on the farm, syrup production is derived directly from the life of other persons ... in this case, tree persons.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    One of my childhood memories is visiting a farm in Vermont when they were mapleing off. I remember the smell of wood smoke and ma

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