On Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day, we remember those who have died.

Hail to Mercury, the messenger and guider of souls. Help convey greetings to our loved ones who have passed to the underworld!

On this Memorial Day, we remember the men and women who worked and risked their lives to protect their home and families.

Hail to Mars, who granted courage to these warriors!

On this Memorial Day, we remember those innocents and non-combatants who have been killed and injured in conflicts.

Hail to Minerva! Grant your wisdom to the warriors so they may achieve their goals without unnecessary damage and injury.

On this Memorial Day, we remember those who have lost their family, friends and loved ones in wars.

Hail to Venus, who knows that love lives beyond the grave!

On this Memorial Day, we remember those who are injured in body and mind by wars.

Hail to Aesculapius! Bring healing to the injured bodies and peace to the injured minds.

On this Memorial Day, we hold our leaders in our minds and in our hearts.

Hail to Apollo! Shine your light of truth and prophecy and let the only wars be just wars.

On this Memorial Day, we remember all the ancestors and spirits who watch over us.

Hail to you, ancestors and spirits! May our purpose be your purpose and may you lend us your wisdom!

Vegan and Pagan

Plants are magical.  They perform a remarkable kind of natural alchemy.  They take the raw ingredients of earth, water, air and sunlight and they create something new. Photosynthesis takes sunlight energy and changes it into chemical energy – the food that nourishes their own plant bodies, but they create such abundance that they also feed every animal on the planet. No animal has this ability to create food.  All animals, including human animals, are dependent on this plant magic.

We take in the plant’s leaves, stems, seeds, and roots and we use their energy to build our bodies and fuel our lives. Different plants have a huge range of different qualities and can create vast varieties of food.  The tastes, smells, textures and nutritional qualities have seemingly endless variety.

Many animals have adapted to the specific plants in their usual habitat. Some animals have adapted to eating other animals, which is essentially a second-hand use of the plant energy.  In environments where plants are scarce or only available during certain seasons, the plant-eating animals store the plant energy within their own body, and the carnivore exploits that storage capability. Some species are omnivores, like humans, dogs, rats and raccoons and they are remarkably flexible at getting nutrition from a wide variety of sources.  Omnivores are often adaptable to an incredible variety of habitats.

In human history, our species has often lived in extreme conditions where plant-based food is very scarce, or only available in seasons.  We have developed ways of preserving and preparing foods for later use.  We have developed agriculture to cultivate supplies of plants that may not grow naturally in an area for our use. We have also created an elaborate system of keeping animals for use as food.

As a person in a modern industrialized country in an urban area, I have access to a huge variety of foods that would have been mind-boggling to people even just a few generations ago.  Shipping, canning and freezing technologies have made foods easily available to me from different seasons and climates. I sit in a position of incredible privilege when it comes to food choices.

When we realize that we sit in privilege, the question becomes – how do we use that privilege? Necessity does not force my choices. I have decided to choose food that aligns with my ethical positions and still provides me with proper nutrition. I choose plant-based food and not animal-based food.

There are two main reasons that animal-based food is not compatible with an ethical choice for me.

First, animals who are kept for food production suffer unnecessarily.  For anyone curious to find out about the practices that are carried out on thinking, feeling beings like chickens, cows, and pigs on a massive scale, take a look at the Mercy For Animals website.  Modern factory farming techniques are more cruel to animals, but even traditional techniques are cruel and end in the unnecessary death of so many beings.

Second, keeping animals for food is environmentally destructive.  Factory farming is again the most egregious, with horrendous pollution of waterways and large amounts of methane production. But even in traditional and organic methods, it takes 6 to 10 times the amount of plant feed to produce an equivalent amount of nutrition from animal flesh.  So for every acre of corn and soybean that we may use to feed a human eating those plants directly, it takes 6 to 10 acres of corn or soybeans to feed the chickens, cows or pigs who will be slaughtered to feed the same human.  As someone who values natural places, that’s 5 to 9 acres of farmland that could be restored to forest preserve or wild prairie.  That’s 5 to 9 acres of rain forest that don’t get chopped down.  If you want more information about this, please see the United Nations study.

So how does this connect to my path into Paganism?  As I have brought up in an earlier blog post, the preservation of natural places is directly connected to my spirituality. The connection to the environmental impact is clear

For the first ethical point about animal suffering and death, it’s certainly not true that all pagans, past or present, are with me on that.  Many ancient religious traditions (including monotheistic ones) demanded blood sacrifices as part of their practice.  But I do not believe that the gods and goddesses demand the blood of sacrificed animals. Some current Pagans embrace a thought inspired by Native American spirituality that if we connect with the spirit of the animal that we kill and eat, and thank the spirit for their sacrifice, we participate in a circle of life.  I don’t mean to denigrate the Native American tradition, but I can’t imagine how I, coming from a modern urban American setting, can adopt that without being disingenuous and self-serving. I know that animal does not have to die for my dinner, how can I thank that spirit for an unwilling and unnecessary sacrifice in good conscience?

There are the roots of ethical vegetarianism in many ancient cultures. Ancient Greeks like Porphyry and Pythagoras argued vigorously against eating animals from within their pagan context.  Hinduism and Buddhism also have a long tradition of vegetarianism for spiritual reasons. Ultimately, I think that I feel an ethical urgency that no ancient thinker could have felt about this issue due to both the privilege of choice and the peril to our environment caused by exploding human population and current industrial practices and farming practices.

Wicca & Druid & Heathen (& So Many More)

You may notice that I have been using Pagan with a capital P. It’s an umbrella term for a lot of different paths in modern spirituality and there’s a lot of controversy and disagreement over what exactly falls into that definition or whether it even makes sense to use that word.  The diversity of beliefs has been something of a surprise to me as I have learned more about this community. There are many advocates of the use of “Pagan” as an umbrella term, since it has the benefit of increased recognition of the various faith practices and traditions in the larger community of religions.

This post is an exercise in defining what I mean when I use certain terms, but also acknowledging that not everyone will use these terms in the exact same way.

“Pagan” was a derogatory term from the late Roman imperial period.  It means a person from the country – a rustic, a bumpkin.  When polytheist practices were the dominant form of religion before Christian domination, the term was unknown. The more sophisticated city people were thoroughly Christianized, but the simple folk of the country held onto traditional practices far longer.  In the medieval and renaissance periods in Europe, the term came to mean everyone other than Christians, Jews and Muslims (including Hinduism, Buddhism, and all traditional religions of various parts of the world.  In modern times, it has been reclaimed to have a range of meanings, the narrowest of which is the revival of pre-Christian practices from the areas formerly in the Roman Empire to the broadest meaning of including all of the different definitions I am listing below and a number of others.

Heathen has a similar derivation to Pagan, but from an Old English source, instead of Latin.  It too was a derogatory term for a country dweller that came to mean nearly everyone who was non-Christian.  Today it is typically used to denote people who follow a specific path of pre-Christian Germanic, Norse, and Anglo-Saxon religions.  Ásatrú is another term for Scandinavian/Norse tradition, and some practitioners use names associated with specific gods, such as Odinism.

Along with Norse traditions, there are other Reconstructionist traditions in a number of other pre-Christian traditions – Hellenic (Greek), Religio Romana (Roman), Kemetic (Egyptian) Celtic, Romuva (Baltic), and others.  These traditions reach back to texts, archaeology, and folk traditions to recreate the practices that have been forgotten for centuries.

Wicca, whose practitioners are called Wiccans (and sometimes Witches), is one of the most common types of Paganism in modern America. It was founded in the early 20th century in England and combined a number of traditional practices and more modern interpretations.  There are wide variations in the beliefs and practices of the adherents, but common features are the use of magical/witchcraft practices in rituals, a duotheistic veneration of the Goddess and the God, and fertility emphasis. Reclaiming is an offshoot of Wicca that developed in the 1970’s and embraces feminism, environmentalism and social justice causes.

The Feri tradition was a tradition that developed in the United States at the same time and also uses magical/witchcraft traditions.  They have a more ecstatic focus and follow a unique brand of polytheism.

Druids, in the ancient sense, were the priests of the ancient people of Celtic Gaul and the British Isles during the Iron Age.  Evidence of their beliefs and practices is scarce and the written sources are often hostile, so most of the modern recreations and revivals of this movement are based on modern interpretations.  A Druidic revival began in the early 18th century in England, but the 18th and 19th century scholarship was often more creative than rigorous. Various organizations call themselves Druids today, and they are particularly popular in the UK. Some are explicitly Christian, while others like The Order of Bard, Ovates & Druids are Pagan in their outlook.

There are many religious traditions that are often included in Paganism, but there can be a tension because sometimes practitioners of these traditions don’t want identification with a movement that they see as too modern, Western, and/or syncretistic for their taste.  This is true of traditional Native American, African, and certain Asian traditions, where the traditional practices have survived largely intact.  I just recently learned that the term “shaman” refers to a specific type of spiritual practitioner in Siberian culture, and some of them find it disrespectful that the term is used so liberally today referring to practices that have nothing to do with that tradition.

Spiritual practices like magical rituals, tarot cards, kabbalah studies, astrology and meditation are often considered central to the spiritual practices of Pagans, but all of these may be embraced by non-Pagans as well. Even the term “witch”, which is used to identify certain Pagan practitioners (especially Wiccans), can be used by people who are Christian or who adhere to other faiths.

There are also syncretistic traditions such as Voodoo/Voudou and Santeria that combine aspects of Christianity and pre-Christian traditions such as West African religious practices. It’s unclear if these practices fall into the definition of Paganism, but certain Pagans do feel a kinship with these practices and look to them for inspiration.

There are also many people who identify as Pagan who are eclectic practitioners, or who participate in small local groups with a particular focus.  Many people are also initiated into multiple traditions.  Rarely do any of Pagan groups have a requirement in terms of specific beliefs or dogma. The requirement for being part of the community is typically to share an experience – of a ritual or sometimes to take a class.  Often there is a formal initiation or different levels of initiation.

Then there are the many Pagans who are not associated with any groups at all, and are typically called solitary. Sometimes their interest or reading lists may align with one of the groups above and they just have not made the connection with a physical gathering of like-minded people, or they may be on a solitary quest to read about and explore many different traditions. They may practice rituals, meditation or worship on their own or with small groups of friends.

Paganism is quite a melting pot.  The diversity is a benefit and a challenge. It can cause people to wonder what they actually have in common with other Pagans and why they need to work together. But it also allows people with diverse traditions to get along relatively well in broader Pagan gatherings, since that none of them want to convert anyone to their particular path, and typically most people respect the right of others to pursue their own way. There are shared practical interests to be pursued, especially viewing Paganism as a minority religion in a Christian-dominated society. But there are also shared spiritual lessons to be learned from people pursuing different paths for those who are open to hear them.

Exclusivity/inclusivity and my search for a group

I believe in accessibility, pluralism and openness in spiritual work. It is a basic idea behind the Pagan movement – recognition of the validity of many paths and a celebration of and respect for different traditions.

So a question creeps in. Why am I seeking to participate in a group that is exclusive? The Brotherhood of the Phoenix is by definition for men who love men. In most contexts, I don’t think I would be comfortable joining organizations that exclude women or people of different sexual identities. But I do think that in this specific context, exclusivity allows the Brotherhood to pursue some spiritual goals that would be difficult otherwise.

First, to be clear, the Brotherhood is certainly not a men’s club by the old definition. There aren’t titans of industry smoking cigars and making handshake agreements away from the prying eyes of the masses. Alternately, it’s not a wild gay sex orgy club, either. I am not yet initiated into the Brotherhood, so I will not pretend to understand everything that it is, but what I have seen is this: The Brotherhood is a context for men who love men to be together to explore and deepen the spiritual questions that are specific to us. It is specifically neo-pagan, but there is not required dogma or belief to join. There is certainly intellectual content, but it is also about creating a common experience.

The clergy and mentors who design the rituals use ideas of ritual and magic to create a shared mental and physical space away from pressures of daily life and where everyone present can have a special experience. There is story-telling, and dancing. There are symbols used, and breathing exercises. There are prayers, candles and sharing of food. These spiritual experiences bring the group together in a concrete way that reinforces respect and community.

It would be nice to believe that men who love men are just like everyone else, and don’t need any specially tuned spiritual work. In truth, that isn’t the case in our society. Gay, bi, queer and trans men still need to forge their identity in context where mentors and role models are uncommon or even deliberately suppressed. In many places this has changed and there is a greater openness, but the openness far from universal. There are plenty of conservative religious places in our country. Even in places that are relatively accepting of LGBTQ people, there still can be a pervasive expectation and assumption for children that they are straight until proven otherwise. The necessity of reaching inside to find an identity, rather than just accepting roles assigned by convention, is a common experience for men who love men.

For many men who do “come out” and begin to explore gay communities, they often first encounter places like bars and dance clubs, which can be lonely places that are often tuned more for alcohol consumption and sexual objectification than for finding true friends or finding deeper meaning in life. The “coming out” process can be like a second adolescence, with all the awkwardness that implies, including gossip, insecurities and embarrassments. Deep connection and spiritual meaning can be difficult to find.

As I mentioned in my last post, Paganism was a major spiritual home for feminists from the 1970’s and 1980’s who valued the expressions of feminine divine power and the fact that women were welcomed into leadership positions. But men also needed to re-evaluate themselves in light of the feminist movement, and a men’s movement developed, to consciously develop a new idea of what it means to be a man once the patriarchal/male dominated cultural structures are taken away.

Within certain Pagan traditions, for example Wicca, there is also a tradition of using a very heterosexual lens on fertility magic and a mythology around the uniting of the Goddess and God to create life. Although these traditions certainly don’t exclude gay, bi, queer and trans men, this kind of mythology and magic doesn’t really have the same resonance for obvious reasons.

So in response to these needs, spiritual groups have sprung up in various places aimed at the specific needs of men who love men, and many of them have somewhat different characters depending on the people involved. The Brotherhood of the Phoenix is a Chicago-based organization. I have really enjoyed learning about their particular outlook. The eight holidays of the year are celebrated with public rituals that each have a theme based on aspects of life for the men who are members. They correspond to times of life from birth to the elder years, but they also correspond to aspects of the self to be understood and embraced.

The structure and experiences are very well thought out and the group is lucky to have quite a few knowledgeable and dedicated clergy and mentors to guide the group.

Musing about Divine Mothers on Mother’s Day

During my Catholic childhood, the idea of the Mary the Mother seemed to me much more real and powerful than Jesus the Son or God the Father.  Certainly part of the power and resonance was related to the very real bond that I felt with my own mother (who happened to be named Mary). But I did have a present father, unlike many of my schoolmates who were often children of divorced parents, and yet the divine Father seemed rather abstract and not particularly meaningful to me.

I remember feeling distressed when I made the mental connection that Mary was really only divine by association, by reflecting the godliness of the patriarchal God.  She was an intercessor who had God’s ear, she was favored by God and was even given the gift of being born without Original Sin, but she held no innate divinity in the Catholic scheme of things.  How could it be that the only part of the Catholic concept of divinity that really lived for me was just a special, but basically regular, human who God happened to really like?

My feelings about Mary are a big part of why modern Paganism originally struck a chord with me when I started learning about it in my late teens.  The paganism I became exposed to had the distinct feminist flavor that came with Wicca and the Reclaiming tradition in the 1980’s.  It had gained favor in Women’s spirituality circles specifically because it held out a vision of the Divine Feminine, and it allowed women to see themselves as made in a divine image, or really in divine images, since the Goddess was seen to manifest herself in many shapes and guises. (The God was also seen to do the same, but at the time there was a particular energy in the resurgence of the Goddess into consciousness.)

Somewhere I read that one of the Goddess’ guises is Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven. Her attraction couldn’t be denied by the Church, so she was still honored, but given a plausible story that didn’t conflict with the dominance of the patriarchal God. I felt like there was a certain logic to this recasting of the power of Mary.  It validated my felt experience of the divine, but allowed a new interpretation.  My own cosmology has moved away from a dualistic god/goddess conception found in Wicca into polytheism, but I still feel the wisdom in this revelation.

Mother goddesses show up in many cultures and they are often central to cosmologies. The fact is that every human is literally born of the body of a woman, a mother (with a few very recent exceptions). For most of us the most important protector and nurturer in early life is also a mother. On a deep level, that is how we understand the powers that give us life and nurture us. A mother’s fertility that gives life is the lens that we use for the earth’s fertility to grow the crops that sustain us. A mother’s comfort to her crying child is the same comfort that we tap into to soothe our adult fears and find an unconditional acceptance in the divine.  It is no wonder my first encounter with the divine was with the Mother.  Even as young children, we can all understand her and feel her.

So, Happy Mother’s Day to Isis, Cybele, Demeter, Venus, Freyja, Ceres, Dea Matrona, Rhea and all the many other divine Mothers!

I am in love with Terra Mysterium

 

Terra Mysterium is a small theater group here in Chicago, a collective of actors, musicians and writers. I am so lucky to have encountered them, both because they are delightful and creative people, but also because they helped crack open something inside me and lead me along my spiritual path.

The group came together around the idea of Earth Mysteries, so essentially they are a Pagan theater company.  Their first show (which I saw in a later revival staging) was called “Betwixt and Between” and it was a modern fairy tale adventure with the actors switching identities to tell the story

The first Terra Mysterium show that I saw was “Professor Marius Mandragore’s Salon Symposium regarding Spirits, Spells, and Eldritch Craft”. It was a wonderful piece of theater.  The story framework was that the eccentric and mysterious Victorian-era Professor Mandragore has a Salon Symposium that transports through space and time.  He and his (equally eccentric and mysterious) guests materialized at an intimate theater in Chicago and each presented their work, and sometimes they summoned various spirits to assist.  From the Pooka to the White Lady, these spirits lent their magical presence to the proceedings.  The whole evening was full of wit and myth-making and I had a marvelous time.

That show launched the company in a different direction.  The audience loved the air of neo-Victorian mystery and the company began to embrace and be embraced by the local Steampunk community.  The two most recent shows “The Alembic” and “In the Observarium” incorporate both the Earth Mystery and Steampunk themes into deliciously entertaining shows.

The character of Professor Mandragore (Keith Green) himself even launched a group called The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment, which combines Steampunk and pagan/occult scholarship.  The gatherings of the Owen Society on Sunday afternoons in the upper room of a local pub have become some of my favorite events.  The papers given by the Society members combine history, whimsy and spirituality.  Of course, they are also an excuse to dress up in glorious neo-Victorian attire.

Here’s where they have become a part of my own spiritual path.  Although the topics are sometimes fanciful, many of the contributors are genuine authorities presenting real scholarship.  They have presented on such fascinating subjects as stone circles in Britain and Ireland, ancient Roman curse tablets, and the Fairy Doctor tradition of magic. I have had a longtime interest in ancient understandings of the divine and traditional expressions of nature-based healing. The Owen Society presenters have also exposed me to subjects in astrology and the Kabbalah that I had known little about in the past.  Part of my journey into understanding Paganism recently has been to be more open-minded and open-hearted about different paths, beliefs and practices that I may not understand. Even when the talks don’t resonate with my current mindset, I can at least expose myself to these systems and have a glimpse into different ways of thinking, which is a value in itself.

The Owen Society has brought the theater collective into an intimate and interactive format (the groups are often less than 20 people and allow for questions and discussion after the talk).  Terra Mysterium is also branching out of the theater in another way.  They are recording their music and videos and they are marketing them for sale in such venues as Amazon and iTunes.  Their first track is the title song from “In the Observarium”.

So, yes I’m in love with Terra Mysterium.  It’s not a jealous love, though.  You can fall in love, too, dear reader.  Soon that may be possible even for those far from Chicago who are unable to appreciate them in person. I’m so glad to have discovered them and hope they continue their beautiful and enriching work for many years.

Religious organizations for the organizationally skittish

There was a long, long period in my life when I had no interest in joining any kind of religious or spiritual organization, but recently that has started to change.

Certainly having been raised a Catholic has much to do with my skittishness. It is the epitome of a large, hierarchical and inflexible structure. I realized in my early teens that the mythology of the Church was limited and unappealing to me, and then the logical inconsistencies of the dogma became obvious. A few years later, as I discovered my sexuality, it was clear that the Church was distinctly hostile to the identity that I was forming. There wasn’t much to hold me to the Church, and frankly, much to make me run away from it.

At various points in time, I flirted with Unitarianism and Quakers, largely because those traditions seemed like magnets for the kind of open-minded and open-hearted people that I enjoyed, but honestly it never seemed quite right.

I wish I could remember more clearly how first became exposed to modern Paganism. I know when I was in college, I had books by Starhawk and Margot Adler. I read tarot cards, as some friends did, too. I was in awe of friends who were knowledgeable about herbs and traditional healing, but never learned much about that. There were a few instances when a small group of friends had small private rituals inspired by Pagan ideas. But I never connected with any sort of structured group. I never really knew of an opportunity.

After I moved to Chicago, few of my friends were religious in the slightest and I had little inclination to seek out religious organizations for myself. I knew that some Christian churches were more accepting of the LGBT community and a couple friends started going to those churches. I felt no connection to Christianity, though, and no real interest in pursuing that path.

I think that I initially became aware of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix about 6-7 years ago. They identify as a neo-pagan brotherhood for men who love men. I may have first seen them marching in the Pride Parade, wearing bright colors and some of them on stilts for an extra theatrical flair. I was intrigued, and I looked them up online. I still don’t think I was quite ready to connect, though. It wasn’t until about three years ago when I decided that I was ready to think about connecting with this organization.

They hold public rituals eight times per year that are open to men who love men. Unfortunately for me, they’re on Saturday evenings, which are almost never good for me to attend something like this. So, even though my willingness to join was higher than almost anytime in my life, logistics were getting in the way. But another option became available. Last year, the Brotherhood began offering a Novitiate program that included classes 6 times per year. The courses were taught on Saturdays and then repeated on a weeknight. My opportunity had come. I completed the six courses in the Novitiate program and I enjoyed them. Some of the material covered was familiar to me, and some of it was new. The courses combined learning background and concepts in a lecture format (with written backup to take home), discussions, and more practical exercises like breathing exercises and simple rituals.

I had a few hesitations as I went through the Novitiate classes. I honestly wondered if I was looking at a good group for me. Some of the subjects covered didn’t really fit with my understanding of Paganism. But I have come to understand that a group like the Brotherhood includes a wide diversity of beliefs and there is no dogmatic requirement, and I have come to understand that the modern pagan movement in general has a very wide variety of approaches under its umbrella. I am going to write more on this process of discovery later.

So I finished the Novitiate courses and I was able to attend my first of the public rituals earlier this year. I am hoping to attend my second ritual this week. I think I will soon be at the point where I will ask to apply to become a Brother. I think I am finally ready to become a part of a religious organization.

Immanence and the importance of natural places

One of the fastest and most reliable ways for me to feel connected to the divine is to take a walk in the woods.  Here in the Chicago area, there are a number of forest preserves and many of them are centered around rivers, streams and lakes. Many are areas where native plants have been restored.  In a very few instances the forest areas are untouched by development. When I go to the forest preserves, I usually take the bridle paths.  They are crushed gravel instead of asphalt or concrete.  Bikes and joggers usually stick to the paved trails, so the bridle paths are quieter, and I have better chance of finding some quiet and time to be alone with the forest.

Even a few steps into a green, forested area and I feel transformed.  It pushes away the stresses of my daily concerns and completely resets my state of mind. Sometimes, I will experience a burst of emotion and well up with tears.  These places are divine to me.  Their power is enormous.

The ancient Romans gave a name to the spirit of a place, the genius loci.  There were genii loci of many types of places, and they were sometimes depicted in human form, but I know they were connecting to this same kind of power. In many places around the world today, “house spirits” and other divinities of place are recognized and honored. The ancient Celts, my ancestral people, were well known for recognizing the sacredness in groves of trees and bodies of water. Perhaps there’s something in my ancestral memory that causes me to react strongly to these types of places.

Although we might represent the spirit of the place in human form, I don’t see them as divine because they are created by a divinity.  I don’t see them as channeling a divinity.  They are divinity, pure and simple.  They are a source of something greater than my individual human self, and if I surrender to their effect on me, I am enriched and improved.

This idea is called Immanence.  It is contrasted with Transcendence, which is a more common idea of divinity.  Transcendence is the idea that divinity is from another realm, often conceived as above our own, and that it may reach down to interact with us or we may be raised up to interact with it. Transcendence may recognize something divine in the forest, but only as an associative effect.  It may be sacred because it’s God’s creation, or even it is sacred because God came and spoke to me in this place.

To me, I don’t think I’m just wading though godly residue and it’s not just a place where my spiritual cell phone reception to God is better. These places are divine.  They are gods and goddesses in themselves.

When I take this idea seriously, the idea of preservation of natural places becomes more urgent. Destruction of pristine natural places can disrupt and desecrate the spirit of that place.  If we destroy a natural grove and replace it with a parking lot, the genius loci may be crushed and may even be gone, and the world will be a poorer, less magical place for it.

I am not suggesting that we rip up all the parking lots and roads and try to return to some kind of pre-industrial form of society.  That certainly isn’t a realistic goal.  But I think we have to do better with human development so that wild areas are not heedlessly destroyed, that unused old developments are converted back to wild areas. In addition, practices that cause more broad destruction, like ground water and air pollution, excessive greenhouse gas production, and excessive creation of solid waste and poor disposal must be halted or dramatically scaled back.

All this is possible if we change our perspective and value what is special and sacred in natural places.

Pagan Coming Out Day

Yesterday, May 2nd, was Pagan Coming Out Day.  It was created a few years ago to take a page from the National Coming Out Day every October for LGBT people.  I am very familiar with LGBT version, which has existed since the late 1980s. I think it has been an effective strategy for increasing visibility and acceptance of LGBT people. The more people know that a friend, family member or co-worker is personally impacted by discrimination, the less likely they are to partake in, condone or allow such discrimination.  It personalizes the issue.

I think that the connection makes sense for Pagans, although I think that in some ways it may be a bit trickier.  Pagans are certainly less numerous than LGBT people, and the likelihood of any random American knowing a Pagan is pretty slim.  Also, Christian biblical prohibitions against homosexuality are often set aside due to the view that same-sex attraction is not a choice, but an inborn, inherent inclination. This is not considered true when it comes to religious beliefs.  Paganism is typically seen as a choice, and often it’s a very conscious choice by a practitioner raised with another faith.

In spite of these quibbles, I think it’s a great idea, and I certainly hope it continues.

This blog is about my own personal journey as someone who is both rediscovering and newly discovering my own Pagan path.  I don’t know how ready I am to “come out” at this particular moment.  I have been wrestling with it over the last couple days.

Am I at a point to educate people about Paganism?  It’s a complicated movement and community, and I readily embrace some parts of it and other parts of it I have a hard time explaining to myself. For someone with whom I am comfortable explaining my own perspective and path, I can take that time. But to more casual acquaintances, I don’t think I can do a quick summary.  I guess I don’t even know what questions people will ask, although knowing the long list of ignorant questions that people have asked me as a gay person and as a vegan, I can only imagine what they come up with for Paganism.

My partner of 12 years is Christian and although he’s aware that I have been pursuing some different spiritual paths, I don’t think he’s comfortable discussing Paganism. I think he looks at it as wacko hippie New Age thing. Frankly, I am not sure that I could change his mind on that.  When we started dating, I was in a sort of vague agnostic pagan-friendly mindset (which was easily not discussed). Then I went through a rather angry atheist phase.  Now, I have moved back onto the Pagan path that I started when I was in college and that I stepped away from when I moved to Chicago.  We don’t really discuss our religious views with one another, although we’re both aware that our views differ radically.

For my family, we were raised Catholic.  My own religious path diverged from the Catholic fold when I was in my early teens and it was never a point of discussion with my parents. My mother died several years ago and my father is not really in a mental state to discuss these things, so there’s no “coming out” occasion there.  My sisters and brother (all still Catholic, but widely varying in their level of adherence to Catholic faith and practice) all know that I am not Christian in my beliefs, but I haven’t kept them up with my increasing identity with Paganism, so at some point I suppose there’s coming out opportunities there.

For friends, many of my newer friends and some of my college-era friends are Pagans, so the coming out has already happened, but that is probably far less effective as an act of social change.  Some other friends may be open to discussions about Paganism. Others may be dismissive. Others probably don’t really care.

I wonder about the whole process of embracing my Pagan identity and further “Othering” myself. On one hand, I am a middle class white male whose gender identity is close enough to the standard variance of our culture’s version of masculinity that I don’t readily stick out as gender discordant. I am already out as a gay man, and society has moved far toward greater acceptance of that in the 26 years since I started that process.  My identity as vegan sometimes ruffles feathers, but I’m not the kind of “let me show you photos of a slaughterhouse” confrontational activist.  I’m comfortable with these levels of otherness, but I also realize that openly identifying as Pagan adds one more layer of otherness, and one that can elicit distinct hostility from certain quarters.

I wonder how common it is for Pagans to experience backlash against their identity.  I certainly have seen recent news stories about people having guns fired at their homes.  I’ve definitely seen the offensive comments on the internet (but then anyone of any identity probably has to deal with the crackpots). Have my friends been fired from jobs or been harassed?  Are Pagans in a cosmopolitan place like Chicago targeted for violence?

To Proserpina in Springtime

 

Our hearts are filled with joy that you are with us, my Lady. Your mother’s mourning is relieved and through her, flowers begin to bloom, trees bud and the earth turns green again.

We see your smiles, but you are not the carefree, flower-picking girl who left.  You are a paragon of womanly beauty and wisdom. But there is a tint of something darker. Your smile sometimes dims with a memory or knowledge beyond our understanding.

You have seen the inner workings of the earth’s mechanisms. You have reigned over places even gods fear to tread. You know what, if anything, is left of humans after mundane cares, joys and desires are swept away by time and transformations.

You keep your secrets as needed, dear Lady. Our love for you is still the same whether you are the light-hearted girl or the heavy-hearted woman, whether you are the frightened, shivering bride or keeper of the deepest secrets.

We shall bask in your presence while you are here with us. Being near to you brings growth and warmth. Know that whatever secrets you share, we will take them as gifts from your perfect beauty and wisdom. Even if they are heavy truths, they are knowledge. Knowledge which is the seed of wisdom.

We shall keep sweet fruits, pomegranates and nuts for you. We welcome you and we honor you, Queen of the Realms Below, Keeper of Secrets, Daughter of the Vital Force.