C – Search for Community (PBP week 6)

I don’t miss a lot about my days as a Christian, to be honest.

OK yeah, they do get all the great music.  (Seriously:  Gregorian chant, Schubert’s Ave Maria, U2 – I am covetous.)

But the one thing I really do miss (’cause it’s not like I don’t listen to U2 everyday anyway) is being part of a community of worshipers.

While the church I belonged to would have dismissed all that great music as not Christian, two being Catholic and one *shudder* rock and roll and, what’s worse, politically liberal, (this was a crowd that found Amy Grant questionable,) there really was a strong sense of brotherhood among its members.  And it felt good to be part of that.

Some pagan faiths have a built in community.  Wicca, being coven centered, certainly has this potential.  So do some of the Druid organizations, like ADF – at least for those living in areas with a large enough pagan population.  Those of us who live in small rural communities are often solitary by necessity.

The internet has done a lot to soften this isolation, sometimes providing a way to bring people together in the real world ( a la Witchvox), but more often it is a source of online communities and support.

If we want shared worship and don’t have our own coven or grove to turn to, the options are slim.  We can attend large public gatherings like Pantheacon or small ones like those provided by local ADF groves.  The Unitarian Universalist church has a pagan group, CUUPS.

So far, none of these has proven to be the right answer for me, but I’m still looking and open to suggestions.

Do you feel the need for religious community?  Is it something readily available within your faith?  If not, how do you satisfy that need?

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Reboot

Greetings all!  (She says optimisticly…)

As an introductory post, I feel the need to talk a little about myself and what I want to do with this blog. 

I am an ecclectic pagan who has been practicing on and off (more on that later) for nearly 25 years.  Through the years I’ve practiced solitary NeoWicca, hedge witchcraft, and ADF style Druidry.  It was because of the ADF Dedicant program, part of which includes finding a hearth culture and a patron deity, that I finally found a real spiritual home worshipping the Greek pantheon. 

I am a follower of Dionysos above all, and have an intense interest in Hermes, my husband’s patron.  I think of them as our “household” gods, but attempt to give due honor and respect to all the Theoi. 

I eventually left the ADF.  While I love its combined emphasis on scholarship and practice, it has a definite Celtic flavor, despite its attempts at Pan-IndoEuropean inclusiveness.  This framework did not feel like a good fit for worshipping Hellenic gods.  I still have a lot of respect for the organization and use much of what I learned from them in my own practice.

(I have also recently felt pulled towards certain Buddhist philosophies and even aspects of liberal Christianity – although I’ve put these interests somewhat on the back burner for now as I piece my primary path back together.)

So now I’m somewhere in the mists, trying to find my way once again.  At least this time I have guides.

I’ve looked at Hellenic Reconstructionism, as I have many online contacts who practice this faith and it looked like an obvious alternative.  I want to worship my gods in the way that they have chosen, yet it seems impossible to recreate a municpal religion with only two worshippers.  I also don’t feel qualified to offer the blood sacrifice that was such an important part of ancient practice.  I’m not particularly squeamish about animal sacrifice – at least, I could get over any squeamishness I do have:  I am an omnivore and hate hypocrisy – but I don’t have the skills or the facilities to do it properly.

I will probably never be a Recon, but I am beginning to research ancient Greek household practices and the Mystery cults, and let the gods guide me where they will.

On a personal level, I suffer from major depression and have all my life.  Spiritually, this means I will often go for long periods where I completely neglect my practice and, while the gods are always in my mind, I never seem to turn to them in these times of greatest need.  This is what has happened to me recently.  I’m just starting to climb out of the worst depression of my life, during which I moved from Phoenix back home to California.  I only recently realized that, while I have dutifully unpacked Dionysos’ shrine and am keeping it pristine, I haven’t made an offering to him since I left Arizona in December.  One of my major goals, as I start to regain energy and interest in life is to reaffirm my faith and attempt to repair my relationship with the gods.

That’s where this blog comes in.  I’ve attempted to keep spiritual blogs in the past, both as part of the ADF Dedicant program and on my own, but I’ve never been able to keep at it for long.  I’m using the Pagan Blog Project as a framework to encourage me to post more regularly this time.  Many posts will deal with personal discoveries and insights, though I will try to keep them useful or interesting to any followers that happen to come along.  I also intend to post more scholarly essays as I get the braincells firing again and am able to do proper research.

That’s all for now.  Blessed be.  Namaste.  Peace, love and soy products… and all that jazz.

P – Pagan Piety (PBP week 32)

Piety gets a bum rap these days.

When someone is described as “pious” the intention is usually derogatory.  It is taken to mean that they have a holier-than-thou attitude or are hypocritical – faithful in action, but not in spirit. Also, because it is usually used to refer to members of the majority faith (Christianity in the US), members of the pagan minority who have had bad experiences with that faith or it’s members can sometimes react negatively to the word, even when it is intended to be complimentary.

Yet in pagan religions that place a large emphasis on practice, piety again becomes a real virtue.

To use the ADF definiton, piety in a pagan sense is “correct observance of ritual and social traditions; the maintenance of the agreements, (both personal and societal), we humans have with the Gods and Spirits. Keeping the Old Ways, through ceremony and duty.”

I like this definition, though I would prefer one that also addressed intent, (though not belief.) Because most neopagans come from cultures heavily influenced by the monotheistic faiths, we often bring with us their idea of pious intentions in addition to pious action. This may not be historical, but I believe it is a good addition. A proper relationship with the gods begins in the mind and heart of the individual.

As for societal traditions and agreements, that’s complicated.

In ancient times, piety was an important civil obligation, not just a religious one. The success or failure of the society as a whole depended on every member maintaining their proper relationship with the gods.

Today it is different. Worshippers of the old gods are a tiny minority in their communities. In the west, our societies are either purely secular or are under allegiance to the god of Abraham. If I believed that I was responsible for maintaining the agreements that my society has made with the divine, I’d be obligated to be Christian and to follow the rituals and traditions of that faith.

So how to be properly pious in a social sense? A few ideas come to mind. We can define our society more narrowly – taking on the obligations of our family, coven, or other group. We can, in the course of honoring our ancestors, try to make good on obligations that they weren’t able to fulfill. We can also partake in the religious festivals of the community in which we live, as much as outsiders are welcome to. Because of the pluralist nature of much polytheism, many pagans have no issue attending rituals for deities that they do not personally worship. For those of us comfortable with the idea, this courtesy could be extended to the God of Abraham – for example, by attending mass on Christmas and Easter without participating in communion.

I think the most important aspect of piety for modern pagans is the reminder that we should be actually practicing our religion. It is easy for so many pagans, myself included, to get wrapped in study, in learning what the ancients did (and then blogging about it). But it cannot end there.

A religion that exists only in the mind of the believer is not a religion.

And, to borrow a Christian aphorism, the road to Hel is paved with good intentions.

 

(Post written and originally published 9/29/12.  Backdated to reflect PBP due date.)