H – Holy Days and Holidays (PBP week 15)

Most pagans are aware of the recent Fox news comments about Wiccans that brought down the wrath of our community.

One of the comments that caused such offense at the time was from a woman who said, to paraphrase (because I watched the thing once and that’s usually once too often for a Fox story), “I can’t take any religion seriously whose most sacred day is Halloween.”

Now, it was obvious when she said this that she was ignorant of, or at least playing on her audience’s ignorance of, the difference between the two Samhain and Halloween.

The modern secular celebration of Halloween consists, in part, of many folk customs that were originally connected to the Celtic festival of Samhain, but have been divested of their sacred meaning.  So now, on one hand we have a fun night of dressing up in costume, overdosing on candy, and trying to scare ourselves silly; while on the other hand there is a solemn marking of the thinning veil and an night of honoring and communing with ancestral spirits.

Most pagans, I think, will acknowledge that despite the origins of the secular holiday, it no longer really has anything to do with the sacred one.

The Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas, too, have many folk customs tied to them.  In their case, the folk practices tend to come from faiths practiced before Christianity was adopted.  So we hunt for eggs on Easter, and celebrate the fertility of spring because that’s what our ancient ancestors did on Ostara.  But this has become the secular side of the holiday.  No one, outside of the pagan community, connects these activities with the sacred meaning of Easter.  For most, it is a day of overeating and chocolate.

My Sweet Lord by Cosimo Cavallaro; photo credit unknown

My Sweet Lord by Cosimo Cavallaro; photo credit unknown
(Because I am in love with this image and have to add it to any post I make about Easter.)

For devout Christians, Easter is a both solemn and joyous celebration of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of humanity.  Its timing is not directly based on the spring equinox, but rather the Jewish holiday of Passover.  Thus Christ is symbolically connected to the lamb sacrificed at the beginning of Passover.

Claiming that the festival in honor of the most sacred mystery of their faith was “stolen” from pagans because of the bunnies and eggs – the (now) secular folk customs – is deeply offensive.

I don’t blame pagans for wanting to score some points off of the dominant religion in their part of the world.  Many pagans have endured ridicule or worse at the hands of the majority and it’s only human to want to share that wealth.

But we can understand the difference between Samhain and Halloween, why can’t we acknowledge the same thing for the holidays of other faiths?  Is the shared name really that confusing?

I blame the English language.

We all know that the word “holiday” is derived from, and still almost identical to “holy day.”  But “holiday” has taken on new meanings beyond the sacred one.  To most English speakers “holiday” now means a day off, a vacation – happy fun time.

I think this might be part of the reason it’s so easy to look at the cultural holidays being celebrated around us and only see the eggs and chocolate and assume everyone has forgotten the “real” meaning of the day – whatever we believe that to be.

We know our holy days are still holy, but we have trouble respecting the sacredness of the holy days of other faiths.

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G – There But For the Grace of the Gods… (PBP week 14)

I am intrigued by the idea of Grace.

It is one of the central beliefs of Christianity, God’s Grace.

At its purest, most basic level it is a beautiful concept.  The idea that whatever we do, however far we fall, God’s love for us is so strong and so total that we will always be forgiven – even when we don’t deserve it.  Especially when we don’t deserve it.

The problems come when people try to imagine the practical details of such a thing.  Many sects add the caveat “and you can never deserve it” and tie it to the idea of a fallen Earth, that we are all monsters in need of external salvation.  Others believe it to be a cheat – a get a “get out of hell free” card as available to Ted Bundy as it is to Mother Theresa.  I’ve heard many Protestants use this argument against Catholicism and its rituals of confession and penance.  Ugly ideas, to tie to something so beautiful.

I wonder if there is room for a concept such as Grace in the various paganisms.

It’s true pagans in general don’t believe that the world is fallen, or that there is any particular need for salvation.  But we all know that no human is perfect.  Most of us fall short from time to time on our obligations – spiritual, moral or practical.

And yet our Gods show us patience.  (Well, except when they don’t.)

Compared to the Gods, we are small, insignificant.

And yet, They are there.  They listen when we call.  Sometimes They answer.

I believe our Gods do gift us with Their Grace.  I don’t pretend to know the whys and hows and all the messy little details.  I just believe it.

I could be deluding myself because I find the idea of faith without love cold.  Sad.  I know there are those that would accuse me of still thinking like a Christian, but I don’t buy it.  I believe Dionysos has affection for those who chose to follow Him, and I imagine other deities might feel the same.  It is what I think of when I hear Kemetics talking about their relationship with their divine parents.

I really have no way to wrap up this post.  So I’ll take the opportunity to indulge my fangirlishness and close with this link to a liberal Christian-ish interpretation of Grace.

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?