Pagan Studies


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Studies Blogs

Advanced and/or academic Pagan subjects such as history, ethics, sociology, etc.

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Over the last week or so I've been systematically going through my house and sorting my various possessions into two piles: What I'll keep and what I'll get rid of. So far I've managed to cull quite a bit of my possessions, which I'm pleased about because they can hold you down sometimes. This time of year is perfect for this kind of work. People are in a reflective mood, looking back over the previous year, while also starting to plan toward the future, like Janus. The act of sorting your possessions is simultaneously a releasing of the past and an embrace of the future. You let go of what is holding you back and open yourself up to the possibilities.

You might not think that your possessions would weigh you down to the past, other than through the obvious physical reality they embody, but with anything you have there is always an emotion and memory attached to it, if not more than one. In some cases you can rewrite those memories by making new ones. I've done that a lot over the last few years, but in other cases, it can be good to just let go of the memories and emotions by letting go of the possessions. In my case that includes letting go of 8 crates of books, which served their purpose, but now is just a lot of weight, emotionally and physically to continue carrying around.

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American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting - I

November 2014

San Diego, CA 

Day One: Friday

The Pacific Surfliner Amtrak train arrived in San Diego at 1:00 a.m. on Friday, having boarded the Coast Starlight in Emeryville at 6:10 a.m. on Thursday.  Due to confused arrangements for lodging, I had no place to stay.  Took cab to home of my niece Ally and crashed on inflatable mattress in their living room.  The good news is that I got to spend a little time with her, her spouse Lisa, and their darling little Rockwell, aged 19 months, on Friday morning.  I taught him a new word.  He was identifying animals in one of his picture books.  He liked to go “hoo, hoo” when he saw owl.  He could say something approximating “sheep,” but didn’t have sheep’s sound.  I said “baaa, baaa” in a really croaky sheep voice, and he cracked up.  Now he has another word in his vocabulary: “baaa.”  Meaning I blew off the early Friday sessions I’d planned to attend.

Ally dropped me off at a hotel where I was staying for one night, thanks to my friend Megory Anderson of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Checked in and made my way to the colossal San Diego Convention Center, where I picked up my nametag and bag.  (Purple this year, and sturdily made.)

Feeling a bit lost in the vastness of this convention center, I headed for familiar territory and found myself at the Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University, annual luncheon.  I decided to stay for a while because the luncheon was headed by John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker; John Grim and I had participated in The Biodiversity Project[1] Spirituality Working Group[2] at a small retreat near Madison, Wisconsin, in 1999.  The first person I encountered whom I knew was Bron Taylor, headed for this luncheon.  I was fortunate to have a little time for one-on-one with Bron, when we shared optimism about the emphasis on climate change at this AAR, and considered more recent changes in radical environmental activism with the death of such notables as my friend Sequoia in 2008.  I chatted with some of the organizers for a while because we were early, and learned that one of them, a man from Vermont, has a son who is a grower in California.  You never know.

Soon we were joined by Graham Harvey, Doug Ezzy, and others.  As I listened to every person in the room -- I would guess more than 100 -- introduce her or himself and say something about where they were working (universities, graduate students, NGOs, et al.), I was pleased to hear all the references to ecology, nature, climate change, and the like.  Of course, some went on and on explaining what they were doing, and that had to be checked so there was time for everyone else to speak.  I said I was from Covenant of the Goddess and Cherry Hill Seminary, indicating that CHS was the first and only Pagan seminary and that it operated in cyberspace (green, ya know), and that I lived in a county in a metropolitan area that, thanks to some far-seeing wealthy environmental activists and not to me, is zoned 70 percent open space.

I wasn’t able to stick around for very long because I left for a tête-à-tête with a Pagan pal from Colorado before the conference got too crazy.

Here are examples of a few of Friday’s sessions that intrigued me but that I couldn’t attend 

★      Religion and Media Workshop, “The History and Materiality of Religious Circulations,” a day-long seminar “designed to foster collaborative conversation at the cutting edge of the study of religion, media, and culture…[exploring] the history and materiality of religious circulations.”

★      Dharma Academy of North America (DANAM), “Polytheology: The Vision of Plural Divinities,” featuring, among others, papers on “Conceptualizing Divinity: One, None, or Many”; “Conceptualizing the Divine: How Hindu Deities Are Presented in High School World Religions Courses in Canada”; “Devotions of Attachment and Detachment & the Myriad Divinities of Jainism”; ”When Hanuman Became a Jain: The Miraculous Story of Babosa”; “Deities, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas: Nontheism in a Theocratic Universe.”

       

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At one time you may have considered yourself a Christian - because you loved the persona of Jesus, and felt a deep intuitive understanding of his attitude and teachings, as though he was an exemplar of kindred mind, the like of which you might grow to become yourself in time. You may have heard him communicate with you in your prayers and meditations. But the churches in your part of the country insisted that to be a Christian, you had to accept him as your personal savior, whose status you could never hope to attain - and moreover, you had to be evangelical about it. You saw no need for either of these things. You felt that each initiate must make his own sacrifices and his own choices, and that Jesus would prefer that you learned how to stand up for yourself! But because you had such a stiff-necked, self-willed attitude about it, no minister bound by a literal commitment to the Nicene or Apostles Creed could admit you into church membership. 

You might have also considered yourself a Hindu - because you meditated and chanted the Gayatri Mantra, and you received loving messages and assistance from Mother Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu, Sri Krishna and Siva Nataraj. None of them ever turned you away, that you could tell. You were sure you had lived many past lives in India. Yet militant "born" Hindus sent you nasty emails telling you to stop insulting their religion and stop teaching Yoga; you couldn't possibly understand the depth and gravitas of the subject. You couldn't possibly be psychically or emotionally gifted enough to communicate its truth to others. (As though complete strangers would be in any position to make that judgment about you.) 

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    You're very welcome, Asa - and thank you, Lizann and Carol. You're so right, Carol, about the mania of looking for an authority!
  • Asa West
    Asa West says #
    Sometimes a post feels like a drink of cool, clear water on an unbearably hot day. Thank you.
  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ says #
    Couldn't agree with you more. I find it interesting that many on the earth path also are looking for authorities, whether in the f
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Yes! The cultural turn from "right belief" to "personal experience" is happening in parts of all religious and spiritual communit

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

   ‘Tis the season for some traditional drink recipes![1]

 

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One of the values I ascribe to in my magical practice is keeping an open mind. A recent conversation with an acquaintance got me to thinking about what keeping an open mind means to me, and I consequently decided to revise that value to one which I feel is more accurate to who I am and how I approach life. I keep myself open to experience. There is a distinct difference to keeping an open mind and keeping yourself open to experience. Keeping yourself open to experience is a recognition that genuine openness isn't something you can keep in the realm of the conceptual. An open mind might conceptually consider an idea, but not engage it in a fundamental manner that actually enables real experience to occur. Keeping yourself open to experience, on the other hand, moves away from concept. The experience is important because it requires a level of engagement that goes beyond just thinking about something.

In Awakening the Sacred Body and Embryonic Breathing, both authors discuss the importance of maintaining a state of openness to experience. Both books are about meditation and experiences of altered awareness and what both authors recognize is that a conceptual treatment of the topic won't provide the necessary understanding and development of skills that the reader ideally wants. The only way the reader can learn about these topics is to open him/herself to the actual experience of doing the work. Even more important, for the person to get real value out of the work s/he must as best as possible avoid preconceptions that may shape the experience in ways that are less than helpful. Being open to experience means truly being open to the actual experience, allowing yourself to be present without analyzing or categorizing it. That can be hard for anyone to do, because so much of what we're taught is to categorize and label our experiences.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Commitment to Diversity

Howard Thurman wrote, "Community cannot feed for long on itself; it can only flourish where always the boundaries are giving way to the coming of others from beyond them — unknown and undiscovered brothers."

This quote by Thurman is helpful in my own reflection of the work I do as a chaplain.  In the two years that I have worked as a chaplain I have provided care to a diverse group of people.  First as a hospital chaplain in West Virginia and then as a hospice chaplain in Ohio.  In these two years I have had the opportunity to provide care to two people who identity as Pagan.  In both cases it was family of the patient; although in one case the patient was Pagan but unresponsive.  

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Activist Clergy: Protesting from the Sidelines

I wrote this piece to the discordant music of police helicopters circling above.  Monday night my friends and colleagues marched through the streets of Berkeley, CA, protesting the killing of unarmed black men in the United States.  While many of them went home after awhile, some stayed to shut down Interstate 80 for a time.  Those dozen or so folks were part of a group that were cordoned off, surrounded by the police.  While they awaited arrest, the chaplains and ministers I spend my days with here at the Pacific School of Religion led the two hundred or so activists in Christmas carols, pop songs, and hymns.  Our Professor of Worship served a communion of almonds and tea to anyone who wanted to partake.  The group sang to the police for hours and the peaceful presence of the religious leaders kept things calm on both sides. It is the kind of work that I think religious leaders are well suited for.  I was with them many hours before, offering energy-based activist training and my loving support as they prepared for this action.  I've shed many tears this last week, filled with anguish for the injustice I see happening in my country and frustrated with my body's inability to march in the streets.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    This brings back memories of my past protesting at Lawrence Livermore Lab when I, too, was a student at PSR. Though it's been deca
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thank you for all the work you did readying the group and supporting in the long hours that followed.
  • Kai Koumatos
    Kai Koumatos says #
    THANK YOU, Lizann, for your gentle invitations and unwavering support. You are a gem.

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