This post continues and perhaps finishes the argument raised in Part One: The What and Part Two: The How. There have been two interludes since, Disclaimed and ReDisclaimed that further explain and clarify my point of view. And it is, indeed, my point if view. It is clear now that most pagans may never read or even accept the challenges presented here. That is fine. I have never aimed to be the final authority, but perhaps, at least, a conversation starter around a topic I believe to absolutely necessary for our survival. The ball is in your court now, play or don’t play accordingly.
Before starting to explain the reasons why I believe the question of pagan culture is so important right now, I must first recap a little of my previous arguments. First, I argued that the formation of a coherent pagan culture was as of yet undone, and potentially imperiled. We neither have the nation-wide, nor world-wide community bonds available to manifest and practice a culture, nor are such efforts generally rewarded.
I proposed that some steps we could take toward this goal would be to drop the twin lures of ego and orthodoxy and begin with establishing kinship. In this sense, kinship was defined as acknowledging the few things that bind most pagans as one people. There are quite a few things, even if there are shades of difference among all of us. Together, we make the full range of mesmerizing color and texture in the plumage of a divine/holy beast–a beast hungering for companionship and actualization.
Then, as kinship is accepted among pagan people–and this must happen first within the individual, I’m afraid, before it can be expressed healthfully among the folk–we must create a physical space where sharing and praxis is possible. My humble suggestion was the formation of urban Gardens, where produce and culture is produced under our own influences and control, rather than any external or subverting agencies. Again, differences in practice would be a requisite, but core tenets would be needed–to foster kinship, to foster a unique pagan culture, to support each other in times of need.
The question is why? Why am I calling upon friends and strangers–you, beloved reader–to add this great and daunting goal to your personal pagan practice? The answer follows.
The Threat External
It is not the realm of tinfoil conspiracy theories to say that global climate change/disruption poses a grave risk to our way of life. The very way of life that made many of us ready for the work of Uncle Gerard, the Andersons, and all other paths of paganism that took root in the second half of the twentieth century. Pagan responses to the increasingly dire climate news vary: from paralyzing fear to rage, from tentative activism to full blown engagement, from struggling to gather signatures for the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment to tepid invocations to Mother Gaia. The Anthropocene’s Sixth Mass Extinction is upon us, and we–the dirt worshipers, the children of Mother Nature–have yet to rally as one to the cause.
Don’t read this as an indictment. Even I have given up advocating for a unified response. Communal, urban Gardens is the current step of that infinite path I am willing to attempt.
That must, however, bring us to the cold realization that we shall not meet this challenge “in time” as a diverse religious movement or as a civilization. The catastrophic weather disruptions of the future will impact us differently, but will continually put stress on a community half-formed and disunified. Eventually, even our staple of unity–the gatherings and festivals we so enjoy–will become a luxury beyond our means. The last hold outs will be local communities–perhaps even Gardens–that secure their food source and clean water, wisely, before society splinters and governmental services become too expensive or unreliable.
If the miracle political response takes place before time runs out, these hardships will ease and life will come to a new normal, perhaps having proofed our crop of paganism to survive and thrive like wild new seeds in the second half of this century. If governments fail entirely and climate change become runaway, then the fracturing of our previously interconnected societies will continue into a new lurid chapter. We might see interstate wars–we might see faces we once saw across workshops now geared for violence arrayed against us.
Oddly enough, this doesn’t phase some people. Perhaps they are the true inheritors of the pagan spirit of our ancestors, the ones who survived against a bitter world of strife and deprivation. But we must remember why that was considered the “Dark Ages” and our times thought of as a relative “Enlightenment” of humanity. To embrace this chaos is to accept the death of millions: not in glorious battle but ignobly, through rampant disease and plain, old starvation.
How do you imagine the dominant religious powers will react to this time and to our presence? How did Christians treat religious minorities historically? With the rise of rabid fundamentalism, I can already feel history repeating.
I offer you an alternate vision. Instead of rising to meet the struggle of times to come, we rise now and face the world that is becoming manifest. We stand tall and proud as witches, druids, heathens, and all–pagans–and proclaim the Rights of Nature inherent in Her Divine Immanence. We share our worldview and live the ancient mythic archetypes to show the world there is an alternative: our path. Christ can stay, many parts of “his” book must go. What remains is forged in the wisdom of the Ancestors, in their rituals of making kin of wild opposites and mixing the blood until it ran deeply, truly red.
Will this alter the course of the future? I do not know. Nothing may ever be enough to stop the changes coming to our world. But in this vision we are active agents within our Great Mother, the Earth. We claim the place culture and nature made for us: wise folk, visionaries, the guides and mentors of human promise.
Inspiration Beyond Self
In The Four Centers of Paganism John Halstead and John Beckett argue for a self-oriented paganism that seeks to heal past wounds, better one’s skills and abilities, and reach the heights of mystical or psychic development. They also argue for three other “centers” of pagan identity: Nature, Deity, and (no surprise) my favorite Community. Though the centers are supposed to overlap in any individual’s path through paganism, this doesn’t always come to pass.
In a recent conversation, also featuring the magnificent Émile Hart, Halstead said that the centers had become sort of “silos” within which pagans tended to stay and rarely visit outward. Therefore, by necessity, they tended to view those “centered” in the other three areas as different, or to keep using anthropological lingo, outside of their kin-group. In short, there was little cooperation among the centers and, in all our shared views, the pagan community as a whole suffered.
This is where we must draw inspiration beyond self and cross the divides–cross the hedge, if you will–that separates us. This is where kinship fits in.
In the same conversation, I argued that the centers should be accompanied by four “paths” that were description of actions needed to cross from one point to another. I proposed words for these paths like healer, weaver, champion, and oracle and suggested that they most naturally fit with the centers of Self, Community, Nature, and Deity–respectively. After we talked it out, it was decided to uncouple these associations to let people “mix and match” as their distinct spiritualities chose to manifest.
Thus, there could be a Community healer and a Self champion, as well as a Deity weaver and a Nature oracle. (Imagine them walking into a bar and, suddenly, through Land, Sky, and Sea, it becomes the holiest place imaginable. Cue laugh-track.) All sixteen permutations could work together, easily recognizing each other’s focus and their roles in the culture they promulgate as they breathe and work, play and #witch. Moreover, because none of the centers or the paths remain the same over one’s lifetime, it would be easy to find an element of kinship among strangers. “Oh, you’re a Community champion? I champion the Gods, and am sometimes their oracle…” And so on.
This is the call to adventure, in contrast to the threatened state of the world above: We are to relate like we have never before, dream and work like never before, and practice more than just a weekend religion. Like the ancestors of old, the ones who wore fur and leather, who discovered the flute and comb and art upon the cave walls, we must dream a new world into existence. The old world is passing away before us and we haven’t been wise enough to plan for either riches or the political power needed to change it. We barely even dare to shine the wyrd light on our magic and the inborn role of fate-changer… Yet.
It is time to seek inspiration beyond self, and reach back to the oldest roots of our family tree, forgotten somewhere around Anatolia and the Mediterranean, or somewhere in the Antedeluvian East. It is time to witness the work of birthing a culture, a way of being pagan, that flourish and grew in power and imperfect glory over the next 10,000 years–still growing today. Just as the Ice was melting for them, it melts for us, and perhaps tragically forever. Just as the waters rose for these most remote ancestors, it will rise for us because of the wheels of power and carbon we have set into motion.
Be the healer and erase the wounds that make us meek and mild.
Be the weaver and bring together golden threads of kinship and fate.
Be the champion and dare to assert our relevance in a world askew.
Be the oracle and chart out the future with ecstatic visions.
This is why there must be a fully fledged pagan culture: beyond solitary eclectic muts being shunned by hardcore Trads, beyond arbitrary divisions around lineage and paths, beyond thoughts and prayers for our own brothers and sisters in pain/need, beyond orthodoxy, beyond arm-chair sorcerers with online bragging rights, beyond isolation, beyond fear of our own power and the role we have been put on this Earth to fulfill. It is pagan culture because we can only do it together.
Thank you for sticking with this long and rambling blog post series. I know at times I seemed to be “building the plane as we flew it” and that probably comes down to my lack of patience for the editing process. I am an amateur and this is a poor offering to help save our world. Blessed be.