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.

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?

Ancestors and Samhain

Back when I fancied myself a Wiccan… (Huh. Firefox’s spell-check recognizes “Wicca” but not “Wiccan.” One of the suggested alternatives is “Anglican.” This amuses me.)

Anyway, as I was saying, back when I considered myself a Wiccan Samhain was my favorite holiday.

This was partly because I always loved Halloween. As a girl it was a magical time when I got to dress up and roam the streets after dark. As an adult, well same thing really. I suppose I can (and do) roam the streets at night anytime I want now, but its more fun on Halloween. And the Weeping Angel costume might get me committed another time of year (outside of Comic-Con, anyway.)

But also as a religious holiday it had more meaning to me than the others. I can literally feel the veil thinning this time of year.

When we were living in the Bay Area, we would regularly attend Reclaiming’s Spiral Dance, which are still the most powerful public rituals I’ve ever been part of.

I guess that’s why Samhain is one of the only Wiccan holidays I still celebrate, in my own way.  (Imbolc is the other, because of a personal debt of gratitude to Brighid.)

Speaking of the veil thinning, I had a dream the other night about the little girl on the left. She was maternal grandmother. She passed away in the early 80’s. I spent most of my life, before and after her passing, actively disliking her. She did not like children, didn’t know how to relate to them. Since I was a child when she died, most of my memories of her are rather unpleasant because of this. (There are also some stories about her questionable treatment of my mother as a girl, but that’s second hand stuff.)

The thing is, since I’ve moved back to my home town and have been spending a lot of time with my mother (the adorable, but grumpy girl in the middle of the top photo) I’ve been learning things about my grandmother that have really humanized her in my eyes. On top of this, I’ve started to see how alike we are. (For example – I don’t do well with children either. I just had the good sense not to have any. Not really an option for a young married woman in the 1930’s, I guess.)

In my dream I first met “ghost” of my mother (who is alive and well) as a little girl. Then my grandmother. Both about the ages they were in these pictures. It made me really happy.

I’ve been feeling really bad about all the dislike I’ve sent her way over the years. I’d like to take this Samhain to try to heal that relationship.

Another ancestor I have unresolved issues with is my maternal grandfather, her husband.

I loved my grandpa.

In a way, he was the ideal grandfather – a great storyteller who knew everything. And what he didn’t know, he made up.

Everybody in my family adored him. And they still do. So I’m not going to go into any details here, since some family members might read this blog, but yeah. Issues. I’m not sure how to go about healing that one. But I’d really like to. Like I said, I practically worshiped him.

The thing about Samhain that I like, religiously or at least magically, is that it is the one NeoPagan holiday where I got real work done. Not that worshiping the Gods isn’t really work – obviously, its very important. But personally, I never really connected with the Wiccan mythic cycle, and being a solitary NeoWiccan, had never been introduced to the Gods of Wicca. So even at that time, these holidays were more about their other associations for me: Samhain/ancestors, Beltane/fertility (liked that one, too), etc.

The ancients that inspired my current path also venerated their ancestors and looked to them for aid and guidance. It was important to maintain good relationships even after death. Maybe that’s why Samhain still feels like it fits.

R – The Wiccan Rede and Other Wise Advice (PBP week 36)

I spend a lot of time, in the virtual world anyway, around pagans who walk a wide variety of paths.  In this particular group, very few are Wiccan (of either the Neo- or Traditional varieties.)  Something guaranteed to raise their hackles is when some well-intentioned neophyte who doesn’t understand that paganism consists of more than what they’ve read in their Wicca101 books, or some equally-well-intentioned-but-really-should-know-better elder promoting pagan unity, comes along and, in an attempt to find some common ground, declares something like “well, at least we can all agree on the Rede, right?” 

Right?

Er, no.  Not really.  Cue hornets nest. 

Paganism* is made up of such a wide variety of religions, that this statement seems to me the equivalent of entering a convention of monotheists and stating “well, at least we can all agree on the Nicene Creed, right”?  (You’d have trouble with that even among a group of Christians.)

So, not every pagan follows the Wiccan Rede.  But some do.  I’m not Wiccan, haven’t been for decades, so I don’t.  Right?

Right?

My gut response to this kind of statement is to firmly place myself among the chorus of those declaring “Not Me!”

But I found myself thinking about the Rede recently – the actual Rede, what it really means – and it dawned on me that, well yeah.  I kinda do.

The problem is that so many 101 books and sloppy thinkers like to shorten the Rede to bumper sticker wisdom:  “Harm None.”

I think most people can agree that a command to “Harm None” would be impossible to live up to.  We cause any amount of harm just going through our daily lives.  We kill animals and plants to eat.  We kill bugs by walking on the grass.  We kill microbes when we breath.  We kill bacteria and viruses when we attempt to stay healthy.  Even assuming the “None” in question only refers to other humans, it is still impossible to follow.  Consider someone being violently attacked by another.  If s/he fights back, s/he harms the attacker.  If s/he doesn’t resist, s/he causes harm to hirself through inaction.

It just doesn’t work.  Good thing that’s not what the Rede actually instructs, isn’t it?  What it says is:  “Eight words the Wicca Rede fulfill: An’ it harm none, do what ye will.”  John J. Coughlin offers a history here, including some early statements of Gardner’s that actually do seem to fall more along the lines of the “Harm None” motto.

The most common interpretation of the full Rede is “If it doesn’t hurt anybody, do what you want.”  That’s a little different that “Harm none.”  This Rede isn’t proscribing any behavior – it’s an incomplete bit of moral advice that doesn’t say what to do if an action will cause harm, it just gives one full permission to do anything at all that doesn’t.

This is what the Rede means to me:  If you’re not hurting anything, go for it.  But there is also the implication that if you do need to cause harm, it’s your responsibility to be aware of the consequences of your actions and be willing to accept them.

It is a call to freedom, but one that implies an equally strong call to personal responsibility.

And yeah, I follow that Rede.  Not because it’s an element of my faith, but for the same reason I follow the Golden Rule:  it’s just plain good advice.

* The definition of paganism that I’ll be using throughout this blog is the one coined by The Cauldron:  “A Pagan religion is a religion that is not Jewish, Christian, or Islamic and self-identifies as Pagan.”

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.