Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thoughts on Being Pagan

[Originally published on, June 30, 2008]

There's a lot of hot and bothered people in the Pagan community these days, ever since Cathy Lee Gifford mentioned "the nasty, bad pagans" while doing a wedding faux pas survey during the Today Show. I don't know what all the fuss is about; most of America knows that Cathy Lee is an empty-headed Barbie doll wannabe and nobody really even hears her when she opens her mouth, much less pays attention to what comes out of it. But I digress...

All of this, and some discussions amongst fellow Pagans, got me to thinking about what I really mean when I call myself a Pagan. I'm not a Wiccan or a member of any of the other organized groups working under the general blanket of "Pagan" or "Neo-Pagan" (although I have a real affinity for Oberon Zell and his people). I'm what the Pagan websites would usually label "eclectic" and "solitary". I observe the European-based Wheel of the Year and celebrate the quarters and cross-quarters (I love Samhain/Halloween and Yule), I work with the Tarot and Runes, and some of the objects on my altar are a nod to the traditional European "elements" - earth air, fire, and water. But...

I also work with the I Ching, and my version of the Tarot (I have my own self-designed, hand-drawn deck) is based more on the work of C.G. Jung than on Egyptian mythology or the principles laid down by the Order of the Golden Dawn. I really like the Tao Te Ching, and Rumi's works, and Zen and Sufism. And I have statuettes of Ganesha and the Laughing Buddha - both symbols of home, family, hearth, prosperity - and a Tibetan singing bowl on my altar. And most of my spiritual philosophy is based on Matthew Fox's Creation Spirituality theology.

That previous paragraph there makes a lot of Pagans of my acquaintance say that I'm not really Pagan because I accept those "foreign" elements into my belief system. Of course I point out to them that the roots of modern Paganism, which is more accurately called Neo-Paganism, was created out of equally diverse and "foreign" sources. LOL!!! So far that hasn't changed anybody's mind, but they stop bugging me.

The source of my Paganism is the source of the word "pagan" itself - it comes from the Latin paganus, which means "country dweller", from pagus, country. In Roman times pagans were the farmers, close to the earth, worshipping the earth dieties like Pan and his fauns, and following the rhythms of the seasons moreso than the urban dwellers. And that's what defines my own Paganism.

To me being a Pagan means following an earth-based, human-centered spirituality. I'm a real Nature Boy; if you want to hang out with me you need to own a pair of hiking boots. I consider Creation to be sacred, and I'm spiritually moved walking through a forest, or sitting on a rock while the waves crash against it, or looking up at the night sky, or looking at the Hubble deep space pictures.

Most "organized" religion teaches that the physical creation - Earth. the Cosmos, and especially our bodies - is somehow inferior, flawed, incomplete. The Augustinian angst that flows through most of Christianity teaches that everything associated with the human body is dirty (especially sex), and Augustine himself described man as "born amid urine and feces." The less radical approaches still see physical creation as at least a distraction from man's real "reality". The Buddhists even go so far as to declare Creation as not there at all, just an illusion of an unenlightened mind.

Well, I don't buy any of that. I love Earth, I love Nature, I love the Cosmos, and I love all our oh-so-human bodies. If you're going to believe in a God, at least admit that what this God created carries on His/Her sacred nature; if it's all so nasty as Augustine thought, a truly Divine Being wouldn't have been capable of creating it. And if it's not there at all, then what's the purpose of creating the illusion in the first place? Sorry, but to me all that is plain, unadulterated nonsense!

As far as I'm concerned, we're here to celebrate the great gift of life that we've been given. That's what my Paganism is all about! So I go hiking and take pictures of all the critters and trees and hills and coves and all that I see. And I celebrate the harvest season with ale and cider and Lammas bread, and the Winter darkness with a burning log and Holly and evergreens. It's all wonderful - celebrate it!

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