I can’t reblog this, but please do go and read it. PaganCentric wrote a fantastic piece about the history of St. Patrick’s Day. A couple of passages that author Claire Mulkieran wrote that are both informative and heartbreaking.
If most people know anything about Saint Patrick, it’s that his one claim to fame is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. What most people don’t realize is that the snake is a Pagan symbol, and that the snakes referred to in the Saint Patrick mythos are not meant in the literal sense, but refer to Pagans; i.e., Saint Patrick drove the Pagans (specifically, the Celts) out of Ireland (although it could be said, and has been argued, that much has been done in Saint Patrick’s name, but that the man himself was relatively unimportant). So what is celebrated on Saint Patrick’s Day with drinking and much cavorting is, ironically, the spread of Christianity throughout Ireland and the subjugation and conversion of the Celts.
This, in particular, spoke to me. The rise of Christianity is a long and bloody one; with most indigenous religions and practitioners paying the price. My ancestors are (among others) Irish, but I have no way of knowing if they were affected by the Christianization of Ireland.
By way of remembrance, she shares a bit of her personal family lore and tradition; that of wearing a oak leaf pin passed down to her:
The significance of the oak leaf should be obvious to most Pagans. Greeks worshipped [sic] the oak as it was sacred to Zeus. It was a crime to fell an oak tree in Pagan Ireland. The ancient Celts wouldn’t meet unless an oak tree was present. The old expression “knock on wood” comes from the Celts, who believed in tree spirits. Both the Greeks and the Celts believed touching sacred trees would bring good fortune. They would knock on the oak tree to say hello to the tree spirit. And my family tradition holds that an oak leaf worn at the breast, touching the heart, will protect the wearer from all deception and the world’s false glamour. Oaks are protectors, and to me they represent strength and renewal; that spark of the old ways that can never be fully stamped out by Christianity, and which keep popping up in the least expected places.
Why not wear a shamrock? Simple. Legend credits Saint Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Christian Trinity by showing people the shamrock, using it to highlight the Christian belief of “three divine persons in the one God”. Wearing a shamrock to me is tantamount to wearing a Christian cross. I don’t begrudge those who do, but I know the meaning behind it, and I can’t follow you there. You might as well ask a Jew to wear a swastika.
is another perspective I hadn’t considered before, and it’s quite jarring to think about such a ‘fun’ holiday in this context. I do particularly appreciate the importance of family lore, and recognize the importance it has in shaping our identities.
But… is this a factual representation of the ‘truth’ of St. Patrick’s Day?
Maybe. But maybe not. Patheos also has a great article about the myths that surround St. Patrick’s Day, worth reading, especially if you’re swayed by the impassioned assertions of those who would ‘reclaim’ St. Patrick’s Day. Particularly this:
It seems the “snakes = Druids” metaphor is a relatively recent invention, as was the idea that Patrick “drove them out.” … P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan (and scholar) who has extensively studied Irish myth and folklore, had this to say on the subject.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and the hagiographies of St. Patrick did not include this particular “miracle” until quite late, relatively speaking (his earliest hagiographies are from the 7th century, whereas this incident doesn’t turn up in any of them until the 11th century). St. Patrick’s reputation as the one who Christianized Ireland is seriously over-rated and overstated, as there were others that came before him (and after him), and the process seemed to be well on its way at least a century before the “traditional” date given as his arrival, 432 CE, because Irish colonists (yes, you read that right!) in southern Wales, Cornwall, and elsewhere in Roman and sub-Roman Britain had already come into contact with Christians and carried the religion back with them when visiting home.”
The simple fact is that paganism thrived in Ireland for generations after Patrick lived and died, and, as Lupus puts it, ” the ‘final’ Christianization of the culture didn’t take place until the fourteenth century CE.” There was no Irish pagan genocide, no proof of any great violent Druid purge in Ireland, it simply doesn’t exist outside hagiography.
I’m not a historian, by any means, so I defer to those who make such matters their life’s work. With credible historians backing this point of view, and a decided lack of factual evidence for the former claim, I tend to lean in this direction – that St. Patrick’s mark was negligible; though he may have played a prominent role in proselytizing and has been canonized for those efforts, he wasn’t the hammer that drove the first, or final, nail in the coffin of Paganism in Ireland.
So what’s a modern Pagan to do? Which point of view is correct? What should we believe?
Ultimately, that’s up to the individual Pagan. There is no right answer for ‘all’ Pagans. With most things, how you choose to celebrate (or not) is entirely up to what you feel is right for your path. Obviously, the Christian movement has a long and bloody history to atone for, and it is an undeniable fact that most indigenous Pagan religions were stamped out by aggressive Christian proselytizing and all-out war. The mindset is so pervasive that even today, to be an out-of-the-broom-closet Pagan can be dangerous in many areas of the world, including the United States, my own included. Considering that, on some levels, it seems ‘right’ to rally behind the idea that celebrating the rise of Christianity in a Pagan country is wrong, and that re-framing it in the context of ‘cultural genocide’ instead of ‘fun secular holiday’ is a more respectful way to approach it. On the other hand, for those of us with Irish roots (however deep they may be), without a concrete connection to our cultural identity as Irish descendants, St. Patrick’s Day in modern context (that is, more or less devoid of the religious context that it may have once held) is an important touchstone.
Like most holidays, irrespective of their origin or modern connotations, I approach it from several angles with my kids. From a ‘world religions history’ perspective, we take the factual (as much as possible) account of St. Patrick and his deeds, and the context (from world history) of the region of the time. From a spiritual perspective, which is admittedly biased by my personal beliefs, we discuss the possible effects that the Christianization of Ireland had on both the people, and religion of the country. And finally, from a secular perspective, we take what’s fun about it, and what might be connected to our family history, and celebrate where we feel moved to do so.
Sláinte, and Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!
This is Part I of the Pagan Parenting Series. Raising children is hard enough, but when you factor in being part of a religion or spiritual belief system that falls outside the mainstream, there’s an added layer of difficulty. In addition to criticism by the mainstream, there is also a decided lack of resources for Pagan parents that deals specifically with the particulars of raising children in an Earth-based belief system. In the interests of full disclosure, I developed this series based on a discussion centering on the book, Circle Round: Elements of Spiritual Parenting, but you may find the self-assessment questions relevant even without the book. I looked for the original discussion, but could not find it to link. If this sounds familiar, and you have a source, please let me know and I will update the introduction with a link. However flavored by the original discussion, I have put my own spin on it for publishing here. In this series, I invite you to explore some of the topics and issues of concern centered on raising children as a Pagan parent.
Part I: Values
In the first part of this series, we’ll start with some introspection. All of us, as parents, have core values that we want to instill into our children, and help them develop as they grow. As a Pagan, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, ‘Where do your values come from’. It’s a question usually inspired by the belief that values are strictly a Christian commodity, and that the Bible is the source and guardian of all the Good Things, including behaviour and motivation, and that without them, you’re incapable of having a meaningful system of values. Obviously, that’s not so, but the idea and assumption that because you are Pagan you’re incapable of having a moral compass persists.
As a parent, this issue is compounded. Not only are you considered ‘less than’, but (clutches pearls) ‘think of the children’!! We parents have a great responsibility in raising the next generation to be productive adults. It’s worth it to take some time to consider what things in your spiritual history are worthwhile, what things you’ve abandoned, and what you’ve learned that you hope to pass on.
Some of the questions for this discussion are:
How were you raised spiritually?
What do you reject of your spiritual upbringing?
What do you still value?
What parts of your current spiritual path are new to you?
What are the essential qualities you want to give your children as they grow?
How were you raised spiritually?
No matter what religion or spiritual beliefs you were raised with, it left a mark on you – on how you think, on how your spiritual beliefs and practices evolved and grew. Whether you continued in a similar path, or found something that fit better, or forged your own path, your foundations matter. It’s common for the birth of a child to shake you a bit. It’s a huge change in life-roles, and it’s normal for every aspect of your world to be rocked to the core. It’s fairly common for new parents to revisit the beliefs or religions of their childhood, especially if those memories were happy ones. One advantage that most established religions have is community. The lure of a ready-made community is strong. As a new parent, your network of support may be fragile, or non-existent, and a religious community fills that void in a big way (at least it does in the US South – not sure if it’s the same in other places). If you live near family, then there may be great pressure and/or temptation to return to your foundations by family or friends.
If that happens, it’s okay! Consider it a learning experience. Go – enjoy what you can from the experience. You may find that it fits now in a way that it didn’t before. But if your beliefs are dramatically different and/or incompatible with how you were raised, then don’t be surprised if those temptations are fleeting, or you feel out-of-place relatively quickly. That’s okay, too. Considering the possibility that this may happen to you once you have a child is, as they say, forewarned is forearmed.
What do you reject of your spiritual upbringing? What do you still value?
This is a multi-faceted question, and interesting to explore. By getting a good idea of what you reject and what you still value, you can form better ideas of what you want to pass on to your child. In the context of religion and spirituality, if a Creator story is important to you, then finding resources that embody your current values may be something you want to look into. If the idea of serving the community is important to you, then finding stories and histories that illustrate that idea would be important. If celebrating special events and Holy Days as a family are important to you, then you’ll want to figure out how to incorporate that into your family routine.
What parts of your current spiritual path are new to you?
I firmly believe that one of the best things that parents can do is ensure that their children know that they’re still learning. Life is made up of one learning experience to the next, and even as adults, we learns new things, make adjustments to our worldview and keep on growing as people. It’s completely okay not to have all the answers, and letting your kids know that you’re willing to study and learn something new with them creates bonds of communication and trust that last a lifetime. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be an authority in their lives; your life experience and book knowledge absolutely give you a broader perspective, but it’s totally okay not to know everything, especially when it comes to spiritual matters.
One thing I have noticed about Pagans is that many have a set of core-beliefs but that they also tend to be fluid with what aspects of their spirituality and practice are most important to them at various times. They’re also eager to learn about new ideas, concepts, methods of practice and mythology and willing to put those things into their own practice when they feel something strongly. As you learn new things, don’t be afraid to introduce them to your children. There are many Pagans who adopt a ‘family friendly’ approach after they have children, and even festivals, gatherings and some circles consider themselves ‘family friendly’.
What are the essential qualities you want to give your children as they grow?
Part of being a parent is guiding by example. Whatever your children see you doing – good or bad – they’ll imitate. Many of those things will become patterns of thinking and action. I think one of the best ways to teach is to show them. Whatever you want your children to do, start now. As a family, get involved in activities, or routines that instill something in your children that you want to see grow in them.
Feel free to explore these questions on your blog, and comment with a link so I can read it!
Part II: Beliefs
Probably every person who admits to being Pagan gets this question at least once. I’ve never addressed it here, so I thought it might be a fun way to kick off the new year. The question of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is a hard one to answer, in my opinion. Not because what I do or don’t do in my practice is questionable, but because of the very nature of black and white thinking. Categorizing something as either/or leaves out a vast canvas of grey, which I think most things could be said to be. There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether something is good or bad, not the least of which are intention and perspective.
Morticia Addams said it best, ‘What is normal to the spider is chaos to the fly.’
Take healing spells, for example. Most people would say that the intent of a healing spell is to help someone who is ill or feeling poorly. Few would argue that the intent of a healing spell would be classed as ‘good’. But if the person you worked a spell for feels that anything to do with Pagan practices is ‘evil’, and you knowingly violated that person’s belief/preference, would that still be classed as ‘good’?
There are those would would argue that all witches are evil. Quoting the bible, Exodus 22:18 says, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ That’s pretty damning, most would say. But surely all witches aren’t evil? I don’t consider myself to be evil, or even mostly bad. Short of swearing and a little social drinking and smoking every now and then, that’s about the worst of my vile habits. Even in my spiritual practice, I am cautious when it comes to affecting change in a way that might be destructive.
Many people who have an inkling of familiarity with Pagans may think that all Pagans are Wiccan, and as such, follow the Wiccan Rede, which states, ‘An it harm none, do as ye will.’ That’s not so; while Wiccans are Pagan, not all Pagans are Wiccan. Wicca is a specific style/belief/practice set within Paganism, and even though it has different ‘flavors’, that’s only a small part of the larger Pagan community. I’m not actually Wiccan, so I wouldn’t follow Wiccan dictates any more than I would follow Catholic ones (though those two particular religions have practices and ‘rules’ that are remarkably similar to one another, but I digress). That doesn’t mean that I take the idea behind the Rede, or even the Christian sentiment of the Golden Rule, any less seriously. Most cultures and religious or philosophical maxims have some version of it; I think it’s because at their core, most people strive to be good – to do good and be well thought of by others in their community. Even the concept of karma, and ‘the rule of three’ emphasis that what you put out there is what comes back to you.
For myself, I choose to strive to be good. My version of ‘good’ may vary slightly from yours; for example, I enjoy firearms as a sport, and other weaponry. While my interest in them does fall towards ‘sport’ and less towards ‘protection’, if pressed, I wouldn’t have an issue protecting myself or my children with force. I believe that doing so, even should it result in injury or death, would still be ‘good’. That’s more pragmatic than many ‘fluffy goodness and light’ Pagans might like, but I believe that there is more than just black and white; good and bad.
In light of recent world goings-on, I have had many discussions with my children about how ‘good’ and ‘evil’ develop, particularly within the political realm. While current politics don’t hold my interest the way that history does, I can see alarming correlations between some of the American Presidential candidates’ positions and policies that historical figures that we almost universally categorize as ‘evil’ once held. But to truly avoid repeating those same mistakes, we can’t dehumanize the villains in those accounts. They were men; not monsters from a fictional story. They were men who, through charismatic, enigmatic and persuasive arguments and speech, appealed to fear, a need for safety and an idealized (but unattainable) ‘better’. And people flocked to them. They came running, willing to set aside their personal values and concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in order to work towards a goal that someone else imposed upon them. And there are those who would unequivocally say that those leaders were ‘good’ men. Chaos for the fly, indeed.
On the flip side, we have examples of non-violent lifestyles taken to extremes. Some might say that inaction in the fact of injustice is ‘bad’, but who could argue that refusing to harm or kill another living being is anything but ‘good’. But if my child were harmed or killed through someone else’s deliberate inaction on their behalf, I’d probably fail to see how they rationalize being a ‘good’ person after that.
My point is that black and white thinking is a form of cognitive distortion (another subject that interests me greatly). When you categorize something, and more importantly, someone as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you box them, and yourself, into a corner. You tend to put ‘good’ people up on a pedestal, unable or unwilling to see their faults, and have the potential to grossly wrong someone by judging them as ‘bad’ simply because their perspective or worldview is different from yours. We all do it to some degree; it’s natural. But being aware of it is the first step towards questioning our snap judgement and perceptions and getting to the grey.
Then again, according to the quiz, maybe I am just here to tempt you to the Dark Side of the Force.
So, are you a good witch, or a bad witch?
When my children were born, I was somewhere in the midst of a philosophical crisis of sorts. I was of an age where I knew what I wanted, but lacked the confidence to go after it. I found it really difficult to decide what the ‘right’ thing to do was, regarding teaching my children about religion:
- Should I bring them up in my parents’ religion (I turned out ‘fine’, right??)? Even though it wasn’t my belief, most of my family is in the church, and there’s a rich history that comes with it. Is it ‘right’ to deprive them of that culture, even though I personally disagree with it?
- Should I raise them to follow my personal belief system, even though I recognize that my personal belief system is ever-evolving? I think it’s okay to not be ‘sure’ and to adopt new ideas and attitudes, but do children need more stability (even if it might be wrong)?
- Should I not tell them anything and let them figure it out on their own? Are they capable of making that kind of decision?
- Should I give them a wealth of information on all religions and hope they choose wisely? What happens if I don’t do a good job of making other beliefs available to them; what happens if they’re swayed by one religion before gaining an appreciation for all and/or less structured belief systems?
- Something in between all that? And what happens if I choose wrong, or change my mind mid-stride?
Being a parent is exhausting, and trying to figure out some of the more obscure and complicated aspects of producing a functional member of society can be extremely taxing! Even knowing that you don’t have to have it all figured out today does nothing to alleviate the looming responsibility of raising your children ‘Right’.
Obviously, I can only share my own experiences, and I am far from anything resembling an expert. But as my kids get older, I do feel like the choices that we made with regard to bringing them up have been good ones. That is to say, they’re no more screwed up than any one else (and a great deal less so than many others). I’d also like to preface this article with the understanding that my viewpoint is a rather conservative view, both because I prefer my privacy (while not ‘in the closet’, I don’t advertise my spirituality overtly), and to protect my children’s privacy until they’re of age.
Living in the South, there were/are often a number of additional factors that go into your decision-making progress. I live in an area where Paganism and its associated terms and beliefs are stigmatized negatively. In my town, for example, there are probably as many Christian churches as there are gas stations (and we live in the petroleum refining capital of the world… so that’s saying something). We’re deep in the Bible Belt, and it’s generally assumed that you’re Christian until you say or do something that casts that assumption into speculation. Everyone here has a ‘church’, and you’re absolutely judged by which one you attend. As far as ‘progress’ goes, there’s a growing Atheist/Secular Humanist movement, which is helping to bring round the idea that one doesn’t have to be religious to be a good person, but it’s ever-so-slow, and does absolutely nothing to help the stigma attached to Pagan Life (and often creates yet another source of friction due to the ‘woo’ factor).
The children, themselves, are another problematic issue. The little
blabbermouths darlings tend to have no filter, so openly talking about your beliefs in easily-recognizable terms can be problematic should they say something unexpected at a playdate or party. Even mostly benign subjects like meditation, mentioning the full moon, and herbal medicine can get the side-eye from the conservative set. Having people in your home is another source of worry. If your altar is in public view, it can create tensions with people who visit – even if they don’t know exactly what they’re looking at, they know it’s ‘Something’ and that that Thing is different from their Thing. Even hosting a family ritual in the back yard can cause problems with neighbors.
I use the term ‘relaxed approach’ because that’s my parenting style in general – at least, I feel like it’s relaxed in relationship to how I was raised (which was extremely authoritarian). I’m sure some would look at my approach and say that I am authoritarian as well, but I am okay with that. What I mean by ‘relaxed’ is that we didn’t start out with a framework that we tried to fit our lives and our kids into. Rather, we let our growing relationship with our kids help shape the framework that our lives became based on. We didn’t necessarily start out with the idea that they should be brought up with XYZ ‘beliefs’; we took a more broad/general approach. We shared stories and read myths and tales with origins in many religions. As an American, our entire culture is shaped by Christianity, so I feel like my kids need to have a basic knowledge of what that means. As they get older, we’ve taken a more ‘religious studies’ approach, which seems to have been a good choice for us/them.
As for the ‘how’, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when or how we went about teaching them. As parents, you’re always teaching your kids – whether intentionally or not. They pick up on everything you say and do, and in many ways, the habits and routines you set just become part of their life effortlessly. If you pray or do spellwork openly, then so will your kids. If you honor the moon, or pay homage to deity, then your kids will, too. You can certainly call attention to it with explanations and rote, but as long as your path is fascinating and tended with love, then your children will grow up with those values and traditions and habits. I took a more conservative approach – while not doing such things ‘openly’, I didn’t hide it, either. That created a safe space for me to settle into life as a confident adult, while still exposing my kids to my belief system without overwhelming them. As they have gotten older, I’ve found it to be easier to talk to them about what I feel or think and why.
Some of the more important things to me, we’ve covered a little more in-depth, and certainly where interest is shown, I am more than happy to delve into. I do feel like it’s good for the children to know what my beliefs are, and to participate in group activities with other kids who are in non-traditional/non-Christian households, not necessarily because they’re ‘Pagan’, but because such people tend to have a more open and accepting worldview. That is the kind of attitude that I want to foster in my kids, and that is the community that values it. That doesn’t limit their fellowship, but it does segment it to a certain degree. Pagan families are hard to find, I think partially because of the stigma attached to Pagan religious misconceptions. Groups like Spiral Scouts have made it a little more mainstream, but the minute people read that it’s based on Wiccan philosophy, people immediately shun it.
I was fortunate in that by the time I decided to be more open with my kids about what I believe, they were a bit older. The only thing that ‘changed’ really was talking about it. They were already familiar with Mommy’s altar (very, very simple when they were little – but the same rules apply about touching), and meditation practice and herb crafting. Many of the things we did at the turn of the seasons became more celebratory, but they were still the same things we’d always done. Books like Circle Round, and Honoring the Great Mother, and Pagan Homeschooling were great resources, too. Even though they seem to have gone dormant, back issues of newsletter like Pagan Moonbeams and Pooka Pages have tons of great kid-centered information.
Autonomy is important to me, and as a parent, it’s important to me that my children have the autonomy to choose their own paths. We emphasize communication and the idea that you should try things before deciding that they’re not for you (most things; some things we can look at objectively and make a decision based on those observations). We’ve invited the kids to participate in ritual and Teaching Circle classes, and also taken them to visit local churches and facilitated discussions about religion with peers and family members. My youngest has a personal altar set up in his room, but my oldest doesn’t feel the need for it. Neither have chosen a set path, but I feel like they have the opportunity to learn and choose as they will, and I’m okay with that. My point in writing this is to emphasize that you really DON’T have to have it all figured out. It’s perfectly fine to take it day by day, or situation by situation, and address things as they come up.
What’s your approach to raising witchlings look like?
I was thinking about this sentence, and considering how my life would be different if Paganism was the predominant faith. If you’d like to use the icon, feel free to snag it and flesh out your thoughts on the subject. I’d appreciate a link back, or comment with your link so I can see what you have to say!
For one thing, I wouldn’t feel like I have to hide my beliefs from certain members of my family. I am actually feeling less and less the need to keep my real identity under wraps and separate from my Pagan identity; there is a point on the horizon that’s fast approaching where I won’t be able to hide. There really isn’t much keeping me ‘in the closet’ at this point; I posted a public picture of myself wearing a pentacle on my personal FB page the other day. Plus, leading our local Spiral Scouts group under my real name is bound to form some connections. I’m fine with that – revealing in stages. Less scary that way.
I wouldn’t have to coach my kids on what is ‘okay’ to talk about with my parents. They don’t celebrate Christian holidays even, so ALL religious topics other than their own are basically off-limits for my kids when they’re with my parents. If pressed, my kids would class themselves as Atheists, friendly Atheists, but Atheists nonetheless. They have been raised with the idea that a person’s religion is their own, and they choose that faith because it makes then comfortable, but one path is just as valid as the next (unless that path is actively spreading hate or oppressing another group of people). So they are non-judgey as they can be in most circumstances. They know that Daddy is Atheist and Mommy is Pagan, and that they’re allowed to join in anything they want, for the most part. The kids have come to class with me, and to Ritual observances before (Beltane, most recently). They’ve gone to church with my parents, and with my grandmother. There have been times where we’ve felt the need to pull them out of situations where there was indoctrination going on, rather than sharing. My oldest really enjoys Tarot class when we have it (and he’s pretty intuitive, as well), but doesn’t generally like ‘class’ (of any sort). In any case, in the Pagan community, children’s preferences are generally respected and their contributions both welcome and appreciated. In contrast, in other religious communities, children are commanded to listen, learn and obey, and they are not seen as having anything worthwhile to contribute.
Another area that would be vastly different would be in terms of religious language. If someone says ‘Christmas’, most people know what the discussion is about. But if I say ‘Yule Ritual’, I get blank stares. Same with Ostara vs. Easter, Samhain vs. Halloween… and if I try to explain the appropriation of Pagan Holy Days by the Catholic Church in order to convert the Heathen Hordes in Europe, they get offended (no matter that a few quick searches on the interwebz can clear that right up). Sabbat and Esbat days would be respected, and Pagan deities would be as well known as folk heroes and saints are today. We could use traditional holiday symbols and people would know the meaning behind them, not the pretty Christian packaging that has replaced historical significance, and we would be able to find traditional decorations commercially!
Instead of celebrating Christopher Columbus, we would celebrate Leif Erickson and instead of venerating the Pope, we’d venerate Gerald Gardener. Words like ‘ritual’, ‘Circle School’, ‘sabbat’, and ‘esbat’ would take the places that ‘church’, ‘Sunday School’, ‘mass’, and ‘bible study’. Invitations would request ‘Ritual Garb’ instead of ‘Sunday Best’ for outfits, and we’d have ‘cakes and wine’ instead of ‘coffee and dessert’. We would do healing spells instead of praying for recovery, or spells for peace and love and strength instead of praying for trials to pass. The entire landscape of language would change, and that would be a cool thing.
We would have vast centers for worship, Pagan style, instead of massive stone and brick churches. Nature would be at the forefront instead of a much-abused dead and dying man renowned for his agony and suffering ‘in love, and on our behalf’. We would celebrate all facets of life; all phases in their time and place. We wouldn’t torture our children with the threat of hell, or sin, or make the ashamed of their thoughts or feelings or sexuality. We wouldn’t make our elders feel ashamed or that they are burdensome; instead their knowledge would be respected and they would have an honored place as Crone and Lord in our society. Being in tune with nature, we wouldn’t have so much focus on money, or possessions, instead focusing on harmony and peace and balance with nature. The world at large wouldn’t be seen as a possession or commodity, but as the Source, to be revered and nurtured.
Simplistic view? Sure. Even I know that this is a pipe dream. Even if we did have a Pagan Society, there would still be factions that seek to prosper at the expense of others. There’s always that opportunity, especially if the majority isn’t like that. It only takes a selfish few to upset the harmony that such an ideal society may have – just a few greedy ideas to subjugate the masses probably before anyone realizes what’s happening. But then, it wouldn’t be a ‘perfectly pagan world’.
While a PPW may be impossible, I don’t see anything wrong with moving in the direction of at least true religious freedom. Even today, in America, where we are supposed to be free to worship as we please under full protection of the law, we still have articles like this one: Summer Solstice Pagan Festival has Pahokee Residents Outraged, the ones from last year about Ginger Strivelli, and numerous articles about Pagan children/students being asked to remove pentacles or other Pagan symbols of faith while at school. It’s happening daily and most non-pagan people don’t pay attention to it unless it’s thrust into their faces. But we Pagans see it all the time. Our faith and practices are misconstrued, misunderstood and misrepresented as though we’re a challenge or danger to the communities we live in, which is odd to me since I don’t know of very many place that are near me with a booming Pagan population – how could such a small populace possibly bring such destruction on a ‘strong Christian community’? Mind boggling.
I think that if Pagan religions were more predominate, there would be less fear of being exposed to something new. I have not personally come into contact with anyone from a Pagan path who ‘preaches’ that their path is the only valid one; in fact quite the opposite. All paths are considered equally valid. Pagan paths vary, even within the same tradition, and the discussions I’ve participated in within the Pagan Community are more about sharing what things mean to you, personally, or what significance things have for you. It’s about broadening your own path by learning about someone else’s. It’s about finding meaning for yourself; being encouraged to apply things to your own practice. In stark contrast, many other religions preach how their interpretation is the only one; the only way to ‘salvation’, and anything else is ‘wrong’ or cause for fear. Just that mindset, alone, would do so much to change the attitude of the general population, I think.
I guess I am just rambling, but it’s an interesting idea – a Pagan World. Feel free to expand on the concept!
I was reading on Wild Hunt this morning about the predictions of psychic Sylvia Browne on her predictions about Amanda Berry, and considering my own opinions about psychic ability and the ethics of making predictions, and about being pagan and addressing such issues within our community.
I am going to potentially hang myself and say outright that I don’t believe that the vast majority of people who claim to have the power to accurately and outright PREDICT the future are able to do so. I believe that we can be taught to use the tools available to us (tarot, scrying, tasseography, crystal gazing, etc.) to expand our awareness of factors that may influence the future, and to clue ourselves and others into those factors, but outright prediction? No. I certainly don’t have this ability, and I have never seen it unerringly in play. Feelings and foreknowledge for myself? Yes; absolutely. But I would never profess to know with certainty and without error, what the future holds for someone else. I believe that it is unethical to tell someone definitively that XYZ ‘will happen’, or to assert a possibility as a certainty.
There is never a circumstance where this is more true than in the issue of a missing child or person, especially – especially – when someone is coming to you for hope. To play on a grieving person’s emotions in such a way – either to give hope or crush it – is callous and absolutely immoral.
I have always felt that people who profess psychic ability in connection with publicity (for example, in highly publicized missing persons cases) are seeking the limelight more than genuinely trying to help. Together with the examples of the kind of ‘help’ often seen (‘I see a body near a railroad track, close to a highway and body of water‘ Srsly?? Name 2 places in the entirety of the United States that isn’t near a railroad track, a highway and a body of water! ), I loathe the idea of commercial ‘psychic ability’ being linked to the pagan community.
One of the first experiences I had with my religious preferences being made public was fear – fear that I would cast a spell on someone, or that pagan meant stereo-typical ‘voodoo’ (complete with dolls). Followed closely by desire – desire to use my skill and belief for their own gain (love spells, money spells and the like). Despite correcting these views and expectations, that initial fear didn’t go away. Having attention-seeing charlatans parading around as commercial psychics does nothing to improve the general opinion of such typically pagan attributes as being attuned to the possibilities that the future may bring.
One of the comments on that article was the assertion that ‘psychic’ and ‘pagan’ should not be confused. I agree, but agreeing with that sentiment doesn’t do anything to dispel that notion from the eyes and minds of the general public. The suggestion was made that the pagan community decry any connection with charlatanry, and to denounce such persons as the unethical and immoral sharks that they are, and again, I agree. But doing so does nothing to protect the few genuine psychics who may be out there. However, in my experience, even the most adept at reading the signs in tarot or other divinatory methods will caveat their predictions with phrases that let you know that what they see is only one possible outcome; that things can change or other factors currently unseen may play into the situation. Furthermore, they don’t use their abilities to gain fame or fortune (please don’t misread – I am not saying that charging for genuine and ethical services is in any way wrong).
So how do we go about separating the perceptions? Can we? One on one, yes maybe, but short of going on a national campaign to educate the general public about pagan belief, which would be virtually impossible considering the many differing paths and beliefs therein, there’s no way to correct these inaccurate perceptions, any more than we can separate the Christian population’s association with paganism/witchcraft and the devil.
Should we, as pagans, even worry about this connection and perception? As a rule, I think not. At least, not any more than we worry about any other mistaken connection. Of those who are commercially psychic, I wonder how many of them are pagan? Enough to worry about? Maybe, but I don’t think that the majority of them are publicly professing to be pagan. So then, is there really damage being done to the pagan community by commercial psychics?
These are interesting questions, and I hope that other pagan news and commentary sources continue this discussion.
Throughout my childhood, the phrase ‘the occult’ was used to strike fear into the hearts of any who might dare look outside of the Bible. It was a word that was used freely to encompass everything from ancient pagan religions to modern Witchcraft, games like the Ouija board (which is still trademarked by Parker Brothers) and tarot cards. Practices like palmistry, astrology, energy work, fortune-telling, scrying, dowsing (water witching) and even meditation were lumped into ‘the occult’ as a warning not to stray too far from Christianity.
As a Pagan, I want to deconstruct that word, and look at some of the ways it has been misconstrued through time and appropriated by the Christian Chuch to tarnish the reputations and credibility of Pagan faiths.
First of all, the word occult comes from the Latin word occultus, which means clandestine, hidden, or secret; referring to “knowledge of the hidden”. There’s nothing scary in the word itself. It’s even used in the medical community to refer to something that is someplace it shouldn’t be (like ‘occult’ blood – blood in a location it should not be – like the digestive tract, or the ‘occult’ spleen after an injury).
In general use though, the word occult is taken to mean “knowledge of the paranormal”, as opposed to something that is known or can be measured via scientific endeavors. There is also an unspoken understanding that the word occult refers to “knowledge meant only for certain people” or “knowledge that must be kept hidden”. Now that’s where we start running into tricky meanings. The connotation is that anything occult might be dangerous, or tempting. This meaning runs parallel to the idea that the occult is something that the uneducated person does not understand – something that runs outside of their education and/or experience. Therefore, anything that is deemed ‘mysterious’ or ‘frightening’ can be termed ‘occult’ – and best to stay away from it, right?
Nevermind that for most people, who practice any form of Pagan religion (indigenous, Neo-Pagan or simply non-Christian), their involvement in what some would call ‘occult’ is anything but – it is common knowledge; it is the study of a deeper spiritual reality that extends beyond pure reason and the physical sciences. By that same rationale, even Christian belief in the Lord God and heavenly beings (and demons, Satan and the like) can be termed ‘occult’. In fact, ANY association with what cannot be quantified by science can be termed ‘occult’. In the English language we use other terms that are less frightening – esoteric and arcane, for example.
The first attempts at science might be termed ‘occult’ – alchemy and thaumaturgy. Alchemy had to do with the transforming of metals into gold; thaumaturgy had to do with the working of miracles – healing – specifically by a saint (though the word has taken on a different meaning today). Are not these arcane ‘technologies’ outside of modern scientific knowledge? Unexplainable, unknowable – dare we say… ‘occult’?
Even today, there are practitioners who practice the ‘laying on of hands’ to heal. Depending on who you’re talking to, some Christian traditions view this sort of healing as ‘occult’ while others view it as a manifestation of Divine Favor. In Pagan faiths, this is referred to as ‘energy healing’, and still others call this process (or a similar one) Reiki. And then there is the medical community, which dismisses it as balderdash, and the scientific community which can acknowledge, but not quantify it. Does any of that make it ‘occult’, or is it simply ‘unknown’ or ‘currently inexplicable’?
Math and machines were seen in the 1570’s as ‘occult’ – something we understand very well and use every day today. John Dee wrote a book called Mathematicall Praeface to Euclid’s Elements. In it, he mentions an “art mathematical” called “thaumaturgy… which giveth certain order to make strange works, of the sense to be perceived and of men greatly to be wondered at.” He was referring not only to complex maths, but also to devices (machines) that used mathematical principles in their design – things like pulleys, levers, compressed air – things which the common people knew nothing about. These devices were seen as ‘magical’ to the uneducated – ‘occult’.
It makes me wonder how much of what is considered ‘occult’ to some that is merely normal to those of us who are educated about such matters will be viewed in 500 years. In any case, I have long since gotten over my fear of ‘the occult’. There is nothing to fear in my religion.
This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project 2012.
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