PDA

View Full Version : A Drop in the Ocean



Aruinn
December 2nd, 2010, 07:45 PM
I'm not entirely sure if this is the right section, so if it isn't I apologise. Basically, I've been toying around with writing and attempting to publish my own book on paganism. I've self-published poetry before, but never anything like this. So I was hoping that if I posted the introduction here that a few kind people might give me some feedback. :)

I'm a little uncertain on the "Ancient Paganism" section, as I've read a lot of historical sources and they all seem to conflict with each other, so if there's any content that is plain wrong, or if the style isn't working, that's what I'd like to sort out.

Thanks in advance to anyone who gives this even a glance!

A Drop in the Ocean: practical paganism

INTRODUCTION


Welcome to my pages.

I feel an introduction is in order to detail first of all my reasons behind writing this book. There are a great many books out there that focus on paganism and its various religions and there are quite a large chunk of them that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning about this wonderful web of beauty and madness. But sometimes, when reading myself, I notice a pattern in that many of the authors are women, many are middle-aged or older and many follow a particular tradition or path.

Now, before I get any angry letters thrown at my head I would like to point out that there is nothing wrong with that. I have nothing but respect for any author who has felt that they had something to offer the world. In particular, I am an avid supporter of authors such as Starhawk, Emma Restall Orr and T. Thorn Coyle, who have all produced some incredible works and all could fit into the above categories. This isn’t a case of having anything against anyone.

While there is a lot to be said for the wisdom of such writers, to which I wouldn’t dare compare my own, I think there is something magical in diversity. To my knowledge, there are few young, male pagan authors releasing works in the twenty first century. There’s nothing wrong with that either, especially when there are some spectacular books out there already. But I do think pagan youth has something to offer in literacy and experience, especially in a world where our youth seems disinterested in religion at all as a whole. I do not have the wisdom and experience of some of these great writers, but I believe the young have a different view of the world, one that may be interesting to people of any age-group.

Now that I have that awkward exposition out of the way, I’d like to point out that this it not a “how-to” guide. This book will hopefully be useful to newcomers to pagan religion and I do settle on subjects that will be informative for that aim, but I do not focus specifically on people who have yet to experience paganism. It may be best to view this book as somewhere in between a book for newcomers and the more experienced pagan. Hopefully there will be something for everyone!

Let’s start with what seems to be an endless question:

What is paganism?

This is probably the most common question I get asked when people discover my spiritual beliefs and a question that many of the books I’ve come across in my reading tackle in a fairly general way, especially in books aimed at newcomers to pagan religion. This is because it can be quite difficult to formulate a specific answer to this question; not only are there so many different paths and faiths within paganism, the very word itself means different things to different people. For me, this is the beauty of paganism. I view paganism as a construct that allows people who fall into that “category” to follow a personal religion, a spiritual path not forged by others but by themselves. It’s an odd, beautiful creature, but it can be a bit confusing if you’re not used to this idea.

In this vein, I think it’s important to note that paganism itself is not a religion but an umbrella of religions. Paganism is a term applied to various religions and faiths, all intertwined and yet separate. Some can be quite different, some very similar. But in the same breath, I call myself a pagan but I am not Wiccan, I am not a Druid, I am not an Odinist. So while my beliefs and practices are considered pagan (and borrow from many such traditions), my religious “label” is too broad to fit into any of these paths. Sometimes, this is known as eclecticism but I’m not particularly fond of the term.

So, as we can see, this question isn’t one that can be answered easily with any degree of solidity. So I won’t try to be specific, a trend this book’s pages will do their best to follow. There are, however, a number of generalised beliefs and practices that you may well find in most pagan religions and those are listed here:

Worship of deity. This itself can take many forms and I’ll discuss this in more depth in the Deity section.

Reverence for the earth, the universe and the cycles of nature. Pagan religions are often termed as earth-based religions and this often connects with the concept of deity and our views on the cycles of life and death.

Ritual is an important part of many pagan faiths; this can take many forms and will be discussed in its own chapter.

Though there are some pagan traditions that focus on particular aspects of the human condition, it is generally seen that everyone is welcome. There are no official texts, creeds or templates within pagan religion, not to the extreme of some major religions, so there is nothing to cite to expel people who may be different in some way. I’ve even been to public rituals where non-pagans were invited to watch.

Of course, this is a wide and wild generalisation, and when exploring individual pagan religions and traditions, you’ll find that beliefs and practices can be narrowed down further and made clearer. I’ll discuss this in more detail in its relevant chapter, in terms of my own experiences.


ANCIENT PAGANISM


I won’t go into too much detail about the specifics of these old religions, as that would probably take a book of its own to accurately describe. You’ll forgive any generalisations in the history of Europe over the next few paragraphs.

Now, paganism as an historical term is a slightly shady one. In Latin, the term Pagan (Paganus) means something akin to country dweller, and as such may not have been used in a religious context at all when it first came into use. However, we tend to view the term as describing the polytheistic religions of the Europeans before Christianisation, as it is thought that once the Christian religion took hold of major cities of the ancient world, it would take longer for it to spread to country dwellings, where people would retain the practices of their families. As such, it may be at this point that the term Pagan came to be synonymous with those practicing the old religions in the countryside.

As to the actual religions themselves, there is a debate, especially among pagan circles, over where and when we can lay claims to historical origins. We know that the Egyptian religion, for instance, was observed through various gods for at least three thousand years before Christianity took over in around the forth century A.D. Mesopotamian religion is thought to have lasted for a similar period.

However, in Western Europe, there is little evidence of concrete pagan religion before the Celts, who spread their various religions out across Western Europe in the first millennium BCE. This is a murky area as the tribes that existed before the Celts began assimilating would have had their own practices and gods, though it is probably a safe bet to include them as pagans.

Numerous theories and authors have placed the observance of religion that could be described as pagan as far back as the Middle Paleolithic period. There is evidence of prehistoric burial, suggesting a belief in how the body should be treated, animal cults, artwork and monuments and while this all suggests religion, we simply don’t know enough about those people to say that they were definitely pagans, or that they had any concept of religion at all. What, to us, seems like religious practice, could have simply been artwork or getting rid of a body to them. But while I personally believe that religion does go back to those people, I don’t think this is a debate that will ever go away.

But it is safe to say that much of the world, but Europe especially, were once pagan. The first major point of change worth noting is the Christianisation of the Roman Empire in 380 A.D. Looking back over history, this seems to be the point where European pagans should have started getting worried. Though sometimes conversion of native peoples was peaceful and even beneficial, the many conversions of the next few hundred years were often bloody, violent and sacrilegious.

Paganism was all but wiped out of Europe by the end of the fifteenth century, though there are cases of some pagan areas surviving until at least the eighteenth century. Despite this, aspects of paganism, myths and stories, songs and prayers, survived in the folklore of the country people as well as in the imagination of the writer, poet, painter, the romantics of the eighteenth century. Though by the early nineteenth century no longer practiced in Europe, pagan religion had found a way to survive.


MODERN PAGANISM


I think it’s important to note that modern pagan religions are not the same as the religions of these ancient people. There are a great many claims out there that the revival of paganism was in fact a reawakening, that when pagan faiths began to be constructed in the early twentieth century and started to emerge a little later they were direct continuations of older religions, witch cults, and secret practices that had managed to survive the Christianisation of Europe and had been kept protectively in familial lines.

While I think this is certainly possible, I don’t believe for a minute that it is true. Yes, I am a pagan, but I am also a practical person and while I find that history is a susceptible creature often written by the winners of wars, I tend to agree with it in this instance. It seems to be a common belief that for something to be valid it must be old. We can make claims that the paths we are walking now are directly related, uninterrupted constructions, but that won’t be something I’ll ever write and ask you to believe to be true. Even Reconstructionists, who aim to once more construct the religions of ancient people, had to do just that. Construct.

Modern paganism owes a lot, I think, to the romantics, who popularised occultism in the arts. It seems that it was shortly after this period that actual religion began to develop. The origins of Wicca, one of the most popular modern pagan religions, go back to a man named Gerald Gardner, who popularised the religion in the 1950’s. But while several different claims have been made about how far back this religion reaches, it is unclear whether the re-emergence of Witchcraft practices began in the 1920’s due to the writings of Dr. Margaret Murray (who was one to make historical claims that have since been disproved) or if there were in fact covens at work before this.

The fact, to me, seems that pagan belief systems are based on myth and poetry, and through this we sometimes find it difficult to see the line between myth and history. We should cherish our legends, myths and stories, even those that tell of the Old Religion and Neolithic cults. But we shouldn’t make historical claims and ask them to be regarded as fact; we should understand that the beauty inherent in the things we have created is valid and spiritual, not because it is ancient, but because it is ours. Of course, I think these claims are often made in the face of prejudice and misunderstanding of our ways, but personally I don’t think falsity is the way to help people accept us.

In the last sixty years, modern paganism has grown so much and in so many different ways that it can be difficult to keep track of who is who and what is what. I like to look at it as a beautiful chaos. Because of how unorganised we are it is difficult to tell how many pagans there are in the world, but various estimates have been made, anywhere between one million worldwide to several times that figure.


MY STORY


Like many of us, I wasn’t raised in a pagan spirituality. I sometimes wonder what that would have been like, but I have nothing but thanks for my childhood and my family, despite any problems we may have had, despite how awkward any of my transitions may have been. I grew up in a fairly relaxed Catholic household and I’ve always gone to Catholic schools. I was christened, I went through the stages of communion and confirmation. I once had something of an argument with my grandfather over the significance of these rites; his belief was that I would be a Christian until I died because of those rites. My belief is that I was a child and didn’t know any better, that my Christian “status” cannot exist if I don’t believe in or follow Christian religion. We’ll agree to disagree.

I feel that I had religion forced upon me from a young age, but looking back I don’t see it as something negative. I have certain stronger reactions to some of the things I was taught in religious education, to how much influence certain religions have had even on our so-called secular society, but I can’t blame my family for trying to give me a good start in life, and as Christians that included inviting God into my life.

I still have God in my life, but I don’t see God the same way as I was expected to when I was being taught all about him. I was eleven when I began to question the religion I saw all around me. At this point, I was attending a Catholic secondary school, I was going to mass regularly as an undeniable result of this. This was about the time that I started to question the safety of my childhood world entirely and from those questions, like water from a spring, sprung an answer; I don’t like this.

Something in the doctrine I was essentially being told was universal truth just didn’t sit in my head, my heart or my soul. Now, that’s not to say that I think Christianity is evil and corrupt - quite the opposite. It’s usually Christians and their interpretations that I have words with, not the religions themselves. The fact is that my early life was forged by Catholicism and I still retain the things I learned; I have edited, cut, chopped and rearranged, but I won’t ever forget. Like all religions, I found there was something to be learned, something to be kept, and everything else can be put out of sight in a drawer.

So I was eleven when I began to explore the possibility of other religions. My memories of religious education only include a one week period of learning about Hinduism, so you can understand why I took the challenge to research myself the great many religions we’ve developed in our time here. I’m a curious person anyway, I like to learn new things, but this desire I had to find something meaningful to me over being expected to find meaning in something given to me drove me in my explorations.

I looked at many religions, many of them unsettling to me in their unbreakable patriarchy, until I finally came across a word I’d never even heard of before; Wicca. Now, this was around the year 2000, when Wicca had become quite a popular fixation for young people such as myself due to its occult tones, the idea of rebellion against the established order and the glamorised appearance of witchcraft in the media. I must admit, I became one of those people in my early teens who wore a lot of black, watched Buffy religiously and drew pentacles all over my school books.

But through the sensationalism and my apparent desire to be different, grew a deeper understanding that what I was going through was a phase. I’ve heard that phrase several times in my life and it’s always bothered me. But yes, I was. Only, my phase led me further into a world of deep and serious religion, a road I continue to travel and I have never looked back or stopped to ask for directions.

I was about fifteen when I began to look at other areas of paganism. It was about here when I realised I didn’t have to settle on any of these pagan paths because, as with the other religions I had discovered, I found there were certain things I didn’t agree with or didn’t agree with me. I discovered personal religion and began to form my own path out of the various strands of beauty of Wicca, Druidry, and other religions. As I’ve mentioned before, this is often referred to eclecticism, and though I understand the need for a term to describe people such as myself, I don’t like to call myself an eclectic pagan. My path is unique, individual and personal, and different from anyone else’s. Why? Because I’m unique, individual and personal and purposely don’t sit myself into as many categories as I can avoid. This is my way, but it may not be yours. There’s nothing wrong with becoming a Wiccan, if the religion fits you.


SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGION


I often think about the nature of our spirituality and our need for religion. I like to think about these things, in a time when we have so much to question, so much freedom to choose, to deny, to reclaim and re-examine, there is so much to think about. I think I’ve made my feeling about organised religion quite clear previously, but if I haven’t; I like religion, it’s just religious people that often make it impossible.

But spirituality is something I think we all have. My definition of spirituality might be different to yours. To me, spirituality is that spark that connects to us to the world and to each other; it is our creativity, our imagination, our morality, our ability to love. I can apply certain religious overtones to all of this, and I do, and I’ve heard many people say, especially in my generation, that this is just a crutch. Religion is make-believe. Yes, it is. And? So is much of our lives, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Everyone needs a moral crutch in their lives, does it matter what form it takes?

Everything about us is made-up. Someone a long time ago decided that we needed laws, so we had laws and those laws have changed over time. We literally live in a different world than we did fifty years ago, and that’s because we slowly made up a new one. Our morality, whether we are religious or not, is deeply based in religion and there’s no getting away from that. “I don’t need religion to tell me what’s right or wrong!” Well no, perhaps not anymore, but we aren’t ingrained with those kinds of thoughts, we’ve learned them socially and our society has been informed, for hundreds and hundreds of years, by religion. We’ve retained that sense of morality in our spirituality, in our spark.

We don’t need to cling to religion anymore because our society now informs us what is right and wrong, we have learned through our families and our laws and perhaps in that way religion is now obsolete. But religion and spirituality are not the same thing. I’m not even talking about God here, because the idea of divinity, to me, is a very personal one. I don’t like people telling me what God is and what it isn’t. Some people don’t believe in God, and I would say that is their God. Rationality is such a funny thing, it’s almost irrational.

But in all this lies our spirituality, which is connection. We all connect to something, we can’t avoid it in our nature, in our existence. It is what defines us. But we all connect in different ways, to different forces, for different reasons. God, creativity, imagination, talking to that guy on the bus, planting some daffodils … isn’t it all the same thing? It’s expression, connection. That spark that makes us human. To me, that’s what spirituality is. Religion is an expression of that spirituality, and just like everything else in our lives it is a choice and for want of a better phrase … is completely made-up. There’s nothing wrong with that.


A PATH TO WALK - A PATH TO RUN


My spiritual path is a constantly adapting and changing creature. Nothing in nature is fixed in place, things evolve and create and destroy and develop, and so does my religion, a force of its own that neither I nor anyone else can contain or control. This is because I am constantly learning, consciously and unconsciously, what is true to me simply by living.

As such, it can be difficult to pinpoint and eloquently explain my beliefs and practices to anyone who isn’t in my head with me. But then, I am writing this book, so perhaps that will help!

2010 Liam Robb

U-we-tsi-a-ge-ya
December 8th, 2010, 02:46 AM
I love it!,Your an awsome Author,I'm writing A novel of my own.Maybey i should post the first chapter or 2,When i have the time, for you to see,I would love to hear what you think of it.You did a wonderful job here,Two Thumbs Up!:thumbsup::thumbsup:

Quantum Witch
December 8th, 2010, 10:25 AM
This is really good. Informative and personal at the same time. Definitely keep writing. I'd love to offer up my services as an editor for any further writings (I was a journalism major, and before getting on my current career path, I did several stints as copy editor).

Also, aside from definite encouragement, I would recommend putting together a list of sources as you move forward, especially if you're considering going to print. It also help you keep everything organized and easy. And don't shy away from contradiction. If you're citing your sources, you can give both sides of the argument, and then draw you own conclusions. Readers won't fault you for that, if anything it raises your credibility.

Either way, keep writing. Your style is a mixture of formal writing (that's the Brit in you, no fault in that! I do it too sometimes, my father's British) and informal tone. It works really well for you. I'm looking forward to reading more.

Aruinn
December 8th, 2010, 07:18 PM
Thank you both very much! :)