Friday, July 29, 2005

One nation are we, all pagan and free?

Brendan Cathbad Myers looks to be stretching his bardic wings with this piece, inspired by the the movement to make South Carolina a haven for Christian fundamentalists, with secession a "last resort":
Well, a few enterprising Pagans read in the news that there is a Christian Fundamentalist group that wants to get as many Christians as possible to settle in the state of South Carolina and eventually declare the state an independent Christian theocracy, devolved from the rest of America. This got us thinking, we can do the same! A few months before that, at the death of John Paul II and the inauguration of Benedict XIV, we got to thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to have our own Vatican City, somewhere in the world? It’s been tried before, and never successfully, but our attempt has something no previous attempt at herding Pagans into one mould—I mean uniting them in harmony—has had. People are showing up! Huge crowds are converging on our sovereign territory, a farmer’s field in Greenland, every day. And it can only get better from here.

I rather suspect the attempt in South Carolina will go at least as well.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Whither CR, 79th in a series

The Greeks dubbed my European ancestors keltoi. The secret people. For all their loud shows in battle, learning their ways was not easy for the outside observer. Especially not the intricacies of their faith. I am beginning to wonder if that old approach is permeating modern Celtic paganism.

Misapprehensions about the Celts go down smooth and easy with so many. The truths that we know are only gained with focus and effort. And then they are not so readily shared. Book projects go down the tubes. People who make efforts from their studies are dubbed "overly Wiccan" when they'd never been in a coven in their lives at the point they'd developed what they wrote about. People post web sites that few people find out about. When people ask "what are you doing for X holiday" on a mailing list, replies are few and far between. We're busy doing to the point we don't seem able to talk. Assuming we're doing anything more than gaining a few authors fatter royalty checks.

Celtic reconstructionist paganism has been rightfully accused of being long on academia and short on ritual. I know people are performing rituals in a CR framework. But few of us talk about them. Of course, part of the problem is we have a fairly steady stream of newbies who have to get a grasp of what's behind them more often than not before they can appreciate them. It's one of the hurdles of cultural paganism. If you don't have a good grasp of the culture, the ritual's symbologies could get lost. "Celts liked the number three" doesn't cut it when the real explanation takes a chapter's worth of text to communicate the nuance. Secret, in short, while not being esoteric in the "oathbound to secrecy" sense.

Of course, some of us might be too much in love with the nuance to be able to share the bare bones. But, again, I see the love of the complex over the simple in Celtic art. A love of symbology and detail over realism or minimalism. And we the would-be inheritors of that pattern wind up poring over archaeological dig abstracts to extract useful info for our in-house rituals. And when newcomers arrive wanting to honor the gods, we often as not hand them the same abstract or something like it. I sometimes wonder if it's a knee-jerk hazing ritual. "You must be this intelligent to ride our ride." I vacillate sometimes as to whether I like it that way.

The lack of consistent groups isn't helping with the ease of transmission, either. Those form and die like so many badly plotted games of Life on an Apple ][e. Asatru kindred that maintain coherency are able to support new members and guide their learning. A lot of us Celtic folk are little more than solitaries. But we keep trying, so a solution to that is in progress.

And then there's the arguing. Yet another "why are we doing it this way" debate on a mailing list drove me to post this, in fact. The questions raised are good ones. They tend to be. But it's been a challenge in Celtic circles to keep matters at a civil level. As I was reminded elsewhere, King Cormac had this to say about argument:
"O Cormac, grandson of Conn", said Carbery, "What is the worst pleading and arguing?"
"Not hard to tell", said Cormac.
"Contending against knowledge,
contending without proofs
taking refuge in bad language
a stiff delivery
a muttering speech
uncertain proofs,
despising books
turning against custom
shifting one's pleading
inciting the mob
blowing one's own trumpet
shouting at the top of one's voice."
If nothing else, if more of us could commit to following that sage advice, we'd at least have our schisms form politely.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Someone posted a long screed to a pagan mailing list I'm on that he titled, "Why are We Druids?" In it, he proposed to speak for all druids by going on about how we worship nature as if that were the only reason for the concept to even exist.

I realize that the term druid has been ripped from its moorings so long that the original connection points have rotted into uselessness. I'm not annoyed at the nature-boy approach being dubbed druidry per se so much as I am at the claim all who use the term mean the same thing he means by it. I have protested the claim that all pagans practice Earth-based spirituality for a long time. I for one do not. I see conservation and related behaviors as sensible. I also know my ancestors practiced slash-and-burn agriculture and thought midden heaps were just peachy. This is why I see green paganism as a valid modern innovation instead of a return to the way the old ones would have wanted it.

I've also been making my way through Barry Raftery's Pagan Celtic Ireland recently. It contains a drawing that reconstructs the probable look of a pre-Christian temple they know was built on Emain Macha. And where there's a permanent temple, I know there were druids who were happy to be out from the rain leading sacrifices under its roof. Not so much with the communing with trees there unless you consider dead timber to be the same as an oak grove for the sake of argument. And while I can enjoy an outdoor ritual, I have issues with sunscreen and blood sacrifices to mosquitos being mandatory to my pagan experience.

So, I grant that neither the nature lover nor myself can really claim an unbroken line of descent from Cathbad in any realistic form. I was still not represented by his words. I figured my definition of druid is as good as his and posted it. To wit:

"I am a druid because I am a priestess of the Celtic gods and serve a tribe (small and scattered, to be sure) of like-worshipping people."

It's a definition I don't see used too often, truth to tell. But it's mine, and I like it.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Turning on your own kind

I like the idea of putting the internecine squabbling that happens in pagan circles in some sort of perspective. But frankly, people vandalizing and committing arson against a Christian church because its denomination supports same-sex marriage is not the way I want it.

That may be a terribly self-centered way to look at it, but I'm stunned at the whole thing. We've all been aware that the hatred of fundamentalist right-wing Christianity against what they perceive as non-Christians has even led to murder for some time. But now, some of them are turning on their own kind. I knew that sort hated disagreement in the ranks, but that's going beyond the pale.

I've heard noises about liberal and moderate Christians rising up to voice their objections to the fundamentalist fringe that's trying to set itself up as the only Christian voice in the world. I hope and pray this galvanizes them into stronger and faster action. It's wrong when pagans turn against each other over doctrinal or procedural differences. It's heresy bordering on apostasy when members of one sect of a faith physically attack another's house of worship over similar conflicts.

Monday, July 04, 2005

A declaration

  • My ancestors served this country with honor and sometimes shed their blood for it and the ideals upon which it was founded...
  • I believe the precepts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are compatible with my faith...
  • I know the Founding Fathers did not consider polytheism to be a sign of a bad American...
  • I know "my country, right or wrong" means "It's my country whether it's behaving itself according to its ideals or not" instead of "love it or leave it"...
  • I vote in elections and try to keep myself informed on the issues...
  • I raise my voice against would-be tyrants regardless of their political bent...
  • I remember that this nation was founded by people on wildly different sides of divisive issues, which means respect for diversity has been part of our ideals all along...
For all those and many other reasons, I call myself a pagan patriot.

Happy Independence Day.

Music, Maestro, please!

Jason Pitzl-Waters tipped his readership off to an article on the Grievous Angel blog that suggests modern pagans look to house music as a source of expression of our energies. GA considers it a more appropriate form for at least his own expression of faith than the usual folk, Goth or rock music. A lot of GA’s point is how Dionysian disco and its descendants are, a mood far closer to his own experience of paganism than that provided by the aforementioned genres.

In my own life, I work with ecstatic practices. I am deeply aware of how a driving beat can help pull you out of your logical brain and into a deeper communion with spirit in whatever form you're reaching for. It also leads me to appreciate the times when I'm not swimming in a Dionysian river. I want my rituals to be in touch with spirit. But I don't always want to be overwhelmed by it. So, while I do like the idea of house music as a pagan form, I don't see it as the pagan form. I think there's plenty of room for more, just as there's room for both group and individual ritual, trance work and feasts. Think of it as an adjunct to the "many roads, one mountain" concept for religions, only there are many mountains. Different music takes you different places, and there are lots of good places to go. Only approaching your faith on one vector leads to stultification if you're too rigid and chaos if you're not careful. I know a lot of pagans rejected the faiths of their childhoods because it felt too restrictive. It is always possible to run too far the other direction.