Finding Pagan Culture, ReDisclaimed

First, an update, in case you are among the handful of interested readers waiting for the next installment (sorry): I have been incredibly busy in the past few weeks since the last post. I attended Stone & Stang 2018 in the Santa Cruz Mountains with my Unnamed Path brothers and other beautiful MWLM* folks, and then came back home with the beginning of a terrible throat infection. Don’t even with the joke, just no. I’ve been recovering rapidly and I am now well enough to attempt some coherent writing.

As before, this is a more general and comprehensive response to commentary and reactions I have seen from others about the writing. At first I allowed the necessity of it to make me feel “lacking” for having to publish “intermissions” and commentary on my own work based on public opinion. Clearly, my argument should have been thorough enough to take it all into account!

But then I realized two things: The Hebrew Bible is filled with annotations and commentary and this isn’t an article or any sort of official writing. It is a blog post, a modern method of communication. It is a conversation starter. I’m happy enough to come back here now, while the next post “slow cooks” in my mental cauldron, to combine thoughts and responses given online into a more coherent framework of ideas.

There are really only two main reactions to discuss this time, so I hope this will be brief.

 

First, I have come across the “plague of orthodoxy” in some reader’s interpretation of what pagan culture could be, is, or should be. It seems I didn’t make too much of a point of stating that we’re too diverse to unify belief systems, and should make kin despite differences of belief. Nevertheless, some people immediately jump to the conclusion that in order to recognize or establish such a singular thing as culture, every member must believe in very nearly similar or entirely similar things.

This is a fallacy inherited from Christianity–and other Abrahamic religions–who desired exclusive control over the mental lives of their people. We rejected it in coming to paganism, because it granted us the exhilarating freedom to do and practice as we wished. Why then impose orthodoxy upon our fellow pagans?

Much contention has happened over this throughout the decades modern paganism has been public–and even in the hidden decades before Gardener’s emergence into the public eye. Entire witch wars have transpired over the simple fact that we’re dealing with highly subjective experiences and points of view that approach truth but never quite encapsulate it. Nevertheless, the need for some of us to be validated through shared beliefs is profound enough to deny others the freedom of belief we took in self-conversion.

The problem with orthodoxy is that it causes unproductive friction in a minority religious movement at the very moment it is undergoing a great upward shift in popularity. It paralyzes any possible response we could mount to educate and nurture newcomers, each and every one of who will be drawn to the idea of a revolutionary spirituality that can brake the old mold, rather than retreading the drama of the old ones. They only have to dig a little bit into Facebook pages, blogs, and comment sections and they’ll see we are a movement divided. They’ll–perhaps even rightly–walk away from what is easily one of the most revolutionary ways of living/thinking/worshiping in our time. What awaits them on departure is predatory capitalism and the fetishistic duplicate of a promise, never to be fulfilled.

Within our ranks, there is another problem: before the individual can demand that others believe and practice as they do, there must first be judgment and blind dismissal. I have heard it so many times before, and it never gets easier: I can’t tolerate they way so-and-so does this-and-that, who taught them? What degree are they? What is their lineage? How long–elitism is a tool of the Old World and it only serves the Ego. You do not have to approve of the way they cast a circle, or how long they’ve been studying tarot. Who can even verify your own pedigree, if they first consider it irrelevant? We become atomized and dismembered, and wounded, flee from the community that was meant to enfold us in welcoming arms. Outcast from the outcasts, unworthy of recognition because we had the gall to practice creatively.

No kinship is possible under these conditions, and thus, there can be no pagan culture. There will be the brief, self-indulgent 20th and 21st century experimentation with a Great Promise, all of which faded at the World’s Turning. One by one our paganisms will be snuffed out, sometimes by our own hands, sometimes at the hands of others. This magical flower we’ve germinated out of its centuries’ long slumber and watered with our most powerful enchantments and dreams will find no further sustenance and wither. Perhaps in another millennia and a half, another seed will sprout again; perhaps they will be wiser.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can stand in the river of time and sample the past and present and future. We can weave this Great Promise until every particle is made sacred again, and life returns to harmony. But it requires all pagans, everywhere, and more. It requires we first accept each other as kin, without judgment, and allow our differences to enrich us, rather than divide us. Because what the Alexandrian lacks, surely the animist or rootworker will have.

 

Secondly, and finally, I wish to talk about a nascent idea I can’t take full credit for. It came about through conversation with ever-glorious Émile Hart on Facebook, which I meant to turn into a “Dialogue” style post in the same structure as these Disclaimed posts. However, the current version is 10 pages long and we’re both extremely busy people, so smelting it down to a more digestible shape will be the project of another day.

The ideas is named after, but not entirely the same as, Epicurius’ The Garden but spread out across the entire United States into every major city. The difference lies in that neither of us are advocating for a communal style of living. For starters, it would be incredibly expensive–where did Epidude get his coin from, anyway–and once set, it is also potentially limiting. That is, once the “facility” reaches maximum capacity, the only solutions are either an offshoot or expansion. On top of all these considerations, there’s the fact that running such a commune effectively would be a draining and all-consuming task. In American history, very few of these endeavors have borne good fruit.

What it is meant to to be, however, is a place where pagan individuals can congregate sporadically, pass through, work together, share ideas, and sporadically host rituals. (Émile also insists upon it being porous to the wider faith communities, and I can certainly see the use of interfaith dialogue, but not before the “pagan cultural identity” of place is established and firmed.) The Garden is meant to be literal, as the space is to incorporate some meaning of this word. It can produce edible produce, medical herbs, endangered native plants, an aesthetic forum for discourse, or all of the above. The labor would be freely shared among members of the community, who would then reap rewards of use, harvest, or decision-making.

As I sat with and spoke with friends about this idea, a possible layout has suggested itself to me, along with three possible “official roles” that would be filled:

  1. The Circle of the Land: Would perhaps do most of the edible/medicinal growing around a lemniscate pattern of stones marking the specific seasons and spirits of that Land. This would vary the most between Gardens and would always be considered “the foyer” where everyone is first welcome. It may be tended by a Keeper of the Land, who is likely to have knowledge/experience of gardening with native plants and permaculture. This position might end up being paid for, so a potential activity of the Garden might be raising funds, rather than requiring labor from the community.
  2. The Circle of the Seasons: Would stand in for the greater/shared mythology of the pagan Wheel of the Year, careful to note all variants of the community it serves (Norse, Celtic, etc). It would be a round shape with a fire pit in the middle. This area isn’t necessarily off-limits, but it is a ritual space above all else. The size of the circle would describe the size of the community. It does not require a hired tender, but it could use a volunteer/yearly elected Keeper of the Wheel to arrange and coordinate ceremonies. If all traditions are to be affirmed and celebrated, coordination would be paramount. Qualifications would be “epic levels” of diplomacy.
  3. The Circle of Ancestors: Would be the calm and almost-hidden “inner sanctum” of the Garden, in the image of a labyrinth ending in a wall-sized altar for the dead. It would be tended by the community, with the utmost respect, and would require no keeper on site. Many of our elders pass, and their shrines should be available for their students and loved ones. If there are no legal barriers, even seed-pods for ashes could be planted around this area.

As you can see, I am drawing a great deal of inspiration from the work of Starhawk in The Fifth Sacred Thing and its sequel novel. However, I am also keenly aware that urban gardens are becoming more and more acceptable, even demanded, among city governments, who would gladly provide permits, land, and support to any group willing to put something like this together. Can our paganisms work with government assistance? That is left to be seen. My contacts here haven’t quite given a final answer.

 

Until next time, for the finale. Don’t judge, don’t quarrel: build a garden, grow the future.

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