[Note: Those just tuning in now are encouraged to read the preceding posts in this series:
I don’t claim to know a lot about neopaganism, it’s many branches and related traditions. I’ve never practiced any form of paganism. All I know is what I’ve learned from books and friends and family who are, or were, pagans of some description. Those of you who are better versed than me are welcome to correct any misconceptions on my part.
Aspects of neopaganism which have struck a chord with me:
- Emphasis on the feminine face of divinity that equals or exceeds that placed on the masculine. This is the most obvious. Worshiping and/or identifying with only a masculine god has always felt incomplete to me.
- Conscious invocation of archetypes. Most religions involve some kind of archetypes. Few make them as central as paganism. Neopagans explicitly set out to “draw down” those idealized figures which seem to be embedded in the collective unconscious. That’s a practice which has a lot of resonance for me, because I see how, if nothing else, it can have a powerfully transformative effect on the psyche.
- Embracing the natural world. Few things have are as effective at putting me in a spiritual frame of mind as being out in the wild. I remember sitting in innumerable church services thinking I’d feel closer to god if I were off sitting in a meadow. Nature brings out my sense of wonder and puts me in a receptive mode. I can remember camping trips, long before I even knew much about paganism, feeling the thrill as we padded single-file through the woods and then out into the bonfire clearing, with the stars spread out overhead… I remember the way it tugged at something deep within me, and I wanted more. The pagan way of outdoor rituals piques a hunger in me that has never been satisfied.
- Explicit personal identification with diety. Certainly it’s not the only religion to feature this, but it’s the one I have the most exposure to. While Christianity and Judaism stop at seeing the divine workmanship in humans and in identifying service to man with service to god, paganism (some forms, at least) takes it to the point of saying, as in Stranger in a Strange Land, “Thou art god”. I like this (have I mentioned my humanist tendencies yet? 😉
- Sanctification of sex. Christianity and Judaism, even at their least dysfunctional, only concede that so long as it’s within marriage, sex is a good thing, a blessing from god. Paganism joins hinduism in elevating sex to the level of sacrament. This meshes with my own experience of sexuality, which, at it’s best, is a profoundly worshipful experience.
And now, the aspects which leave me cold:
- The focus on symbolic objects. Granted, I’m only working from what I’ve read here. Sprig of this, pinch of that, crystal of the other. For me, the power of ritual resides more in words and movement than in objects.
- Pantheism. Although, as I said above, the natural world engenders awe in me and opens me up to spiritual perception, it is rare that I feel I see the divine in it. I find many compelling symbols in nature, but when I want to see the face of god/dess, I find I have to look around for another human being.
In my practice…
I have found that the emphasis placed on symbols and material objects is largely there for that beginning Practitioner, and the average human. Did you know that more than 70% of the world’s population is incapable of abstract thought? (I am not making this up, though I wish I was) In practice, what that means is that most adult humans embrace symbols as the keys to their spiritual elightenment. They see the tools as having the power, instead of seeing the tools as just what they are tools. If you are putting together a bookcase and realize that you do not have a screwdriver, you may think to pull out a butterknife and try that. Many practitioners would give up on the bookcase, believing that the project cannot be completed without the mystical screwdriver. Similarly, you can currently only see evidence of the Divine in other humans, because that is where your awareness is. One of the steps on the path toward enlightenment is being able to see the Divine in every human being. Another is being able to see the Divine in every living thing. Keep practicing. The more you try, the more you learn, and learning is never wrong (once you get away from that damned bible story… )
Re: In my practice…
Hmmm… I found one part of it a tad offensive; but on the whole, point well taken. I suppose that if the only knowledge someone had of the hobby of flying model airplanes was the how-to books they’d read, they would think it was a hobby uncommonly obsessed with tools, glues, woodcutting, and paints.
The only thing I take issue with is this: “once you get away from that damned bible story…” . If you’d read the preceding parts of this series, you’d know that as a Jew and former Christian, I have found some profound meaning in those damned bible stories. Meaning that has helped me understand and clarify my inner conception of the divine, and indeed launched me on the path that I’m now walking. Keep in mind, not everyone has had as negative an experience with the Judeo-Christian tradition as you may have had.
You seem smart and worth knowing; mind if I add you?
Re: In my practice…
I don’t mind at all if you add me… I might just add you ;-D
Unless, of course, this post offends you once more (i really don’t mean for it to).
I actually know your background (I try to do my research), and I know you are wandering in from that entrance. The comment about the bible story wasn’t meant to be insulting to you or anyone else. Nothing I say is meant to insult anything… I am only writing what I think, not trying to persuade or belittle anyone. I was actually trying (poorly, apparently) to obliquely reference the fact that few other major religions teach that knowledge is a bad thing, yet Christianity teaches that it is the cause of original sin (if Adam and Eve had just blindly stuck to the other vegetation in the Garden, they would [presumably] still be hanging out, immortal, in Eden. Notice that the last people to ban books before the fundamentalist christians were goosestepping around bonfires fueled by the written word? I personally wandered over to my corner of the multiverse via the scenic route. I have studied many religions, faiths, beliefs, and ideas. You said in your Christianity post that you liked the idea of a personal relationship with God. The funny thing about that is that I have found the reverse to be more true. Christianity (especially Catholicism) tends to lean away from that concept. Try Buddhism for that one. Catholicism… well, let’s just say that Catholicism should be its own sub-category of religion, as it has moved so far from the basic tenets of most christian fellowships. I will be happy to elaborate on my views if you want me to.
If you don’t mind me saying so, there is an amazing amount of meaning hidden in the language we use to describe a thing. For example, christian ministers (most notably Jesus) are referred to as “shepherds (sheep-herds)”, while the congregation is called a “flock”. Do you sense the “wool” being pulled over your eyes yet? How strong are your be-lie-fs? Coincidence?
Re: In my practice…
Heh… you can take that as far as you want… e.g., “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” is more or less a tacit acknowledgment of the bondage/masochistic element in Judeo-Christianity.
I feel I should point out one thing: the Adam-and-Eve myth is a Jewish one, which is where Christianity got it. Your point is a good one; I just get a little pedantic about that because I see a lot of people who criticize christianity for things like that and have no clue that they are implicitly endicting Judaism as well. Not that that makes it somehow worse in any way. But the number of people that think the whole bible is just a bunch of “christian stories” is simply appalling. Only the last bit is christian.
The irony is that the Jews are rather famous for embracing the pursuit of knowledge whole-heartedly, unlike Christians, whereas christianity has, in much of it’s history, embraced the knowledge-is-evil lesson. I wonder why that is?
Some people find happiness and comfort in blinders and cuffs. I happen not to, but sometimes I envy those who do. To each his/her own; I don’t begrudge their choice of blissful ignorance,
Re: In my practice…
Well spoken. You are correct, that myth is technically a Jewish one, just as Jesus was technically a Jew, but Judaism and Christianity have both made dramatic changes through the years, even while retaining traditions. It was the Christians who kept the written language alive in the Dark Ages, even if that knowledge was reserved solely for men of the cloth and only appeared in the form of the bible. Any overbearing system will be bucked by those it most condemns. Hinduism and Christianity have both spawned their antitheses (i.e. Satanism and Aghora). There is much duality, if that is what you are looking for, but many people forget that dualism relies on the two sides of one coin. The oldest versions of the bible are, in some ways, radically different from the versions available today. King James didn’t just translate the bible, in many ways he wrote it. Have you ever wondered, for instance, why Jesus is the only rabbi in history to be unwed, and why it is never mentioned despite its extremely unusual nature? How the bible describes Jesus’ entombment immediately following his being taken down off the cross, despite the fact that Jewish tradition holds that touching a corpse after sundown taints one, making them ritually unclean for a significant length of time? Actually, just look up Mithra, see what sounds a touch familiar. The wider your eyes are opened, the more you are able to see. don’t go back to sleep.
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