a return to Paganism

117.20 Southquarter 37 EE (Earth Epic Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: Loreena McKennitt, “The Mummer’s Dance”
Stonehenge Monument Prehistoric
TheDigitalArtist / Pixabay

I returned from a twelve day vacation and started 2020 with a long lists of posts I wanted to write for this blog and things I wanted to get done. I felt ready to hit the new decade running and then…I hit a wall. I got sick shortly into the new year and the “down time” helped me realize the importance of slowing down and grounding myself. And in the process of doing so, I suddenly felt called to revisit a spiritual path I’d abandoned about 23 years ago. That path is Paganism

But it’s not the same Paganism that I’d previously practiced. More on that later.

I was active in the Chicago Pagan community from 1991-96. In the summer of 1991 I was adjusting to life in the big city after spending almost all of 1990 living out of a tent and walking across the desert Southwest, the Midwestern plains, the Appalachians, and up the Eastern seaboard as part of a cross-country walk for the environment. In the city, I missed feeling that connection with the Earth that I felt on the Walk, and one August evening, I felt called outside by a sudden rush of wind through the trees outside my apartment. Outside, I looked up and watched the clouds roll dramatically across the moonlit sky, and felt an immediate calling to look for a Pagan autumnal equinox celebration.

That began six years of a spiritual path and spiritual community that was both wonderful and frustrating. It was wonderful in that I met many remarkable people, many of whom are still friends even as we are now scattered around the country. It was also frustrating for two reasons. One reason was the level of conflict that occurred in the Pagan community around me. But the bigger reason was that the Paganism I was practicing didn’t feel like a good fit for me.

My desire was to tune in with nature at a spiritual level. But for most Pagans, polytheism is another core part of the spiritual practice. Being part of a Pagan community was great because of the friends I made, but it also meant participating in rituals that I increasingly realized I could not connect with. Truthfully, I had little interest in gods and goddesses and magick (and zero interest in Aleister Crowley), though I respected other people’s beliefs and practices in those areas.

I started to feel that Paganism as I knew it was too limiting and set out to write out my own Book of Shadows, though what I was interested in involved more statements of beliefs and rituals than magical spells. However, I abandoned this project in the summer of 1996 after joining Sukyo Mahikari, a spiritual organization that involved some elements of Shintoism. This was followed by a few years with the Baha’i Faith, which I left in 2014.

Just three months ago, I posted an article talking about a need to define my spirituality as something beyond “spiritual but not religious,” and about some core motivations for needing to do so. Concern for the Earth in these trying times, and feeling the need to at least partially address it at a spiritual level has continued to motivate me. That is the one consistent thread throughout my spiritual paths going all the way back to 1990.

I realized about a year ago that my spiritual beliefs can be best described as Pantheist. I believe in a Universe that is spiritual and which all living things are part of yet also separate from. I feel more comfortable referring to the Divine as the Universe as opposed to “God.” Technically, I see God and the Universe as one and the same, but I tend to avoid the G-word nowadays because the word “God” represents to me an anthropomorphic monotheistic view of the Divine that is limiting. Plus, I believe the word has been stained by scores of atrocities committed by people claiming to work on God’s behalf (even though I know that they truly weren’t doing anything God-like). I will say, too that my feeling about the “G-word” has gone back and forth over the years and I can’t rule out it changing again.

My interest in the Universe has even extended to the creation of the Universe, and for a couple of years I’ve taken an interest in scientific theories surrounding the creation of the Universe. I’ve also taken a real interest in astronomy and am fascinated by the creation of star systems, planets, and the discovery of exoplanets, as well as new planets found beyond Pluto (which I refuse to call “dwarf planets”). The fact that all of us and everything on Earth and in our own solar system is literally stardust (making Joni Mitchell scientifically correct) is a profound spiritual realization to make. Plus, there is clearly a lot more about the Universe that we have yet to discover.

That leads me to the current year 2020. I got sick shortly after the new year, I had little energy for anything—particularly the things I planned to do after the new year. I was essentially trapped in my apartment for four days, and during that time, I suddenly had the desire to look up Celtic culture and Celtic paganism.

My Celtic roots arguably run deep. I don’t have much Irish in my background, but I am descended from at least three Scottish clans. Recently, I have been following some Scottish vloggers on YouTube, and have found myself interested in learning more about the Scottish Gaelic language. I recently discovered a Scottish folk musician named Julie Fowlis who sings primarily in Scottish Gaelic. There is something about Celtic music and the Gaelic language that has always felt like home to me.

This shouldn’t be surprising when you really think about it. While Celtic culture is part of my heritage, it also was one of many cultures in which reverence for the spiritual aspect of nature was deeply embedded. It’s not possible or practical to recreate Celtic spirituality, as we are in the early 21st century now living in a very different world. But it is good to be influenced by Celtic spirituality—as long as the information we have about the Celts is accurate.

I admire the word that Celtic Reconstructionists do in separating truth from fiction about ancient Celtic culture. Many people involved in Celtic Reconstruction felt frustration with the popularized Celtic spirituality spreading in the Pagan and New Age communities, much of which was based more on fantasy and fancy than fact. Two classic and unfortunate examples of “idol fancy” was the invention of the Celtic Tree Calendar which turned out to be a fake–as opposed to the real Coligny Calendar discovered years later–and the invention of “Neo-Druidry” which claims heritage from an ancient priestly class who, in reality, never wrote down their beliefs and practices.

So, I would never say that I am practicing Celtic spirituality, but I can say that it is Celtic-inspired. And one practice that is truly Celtic and also celebrated by Wiccans and other neo-Pagans are the holidays of Samhaim, Imbolc, Beltaine, and Lughnassadh. It’s not clear whether the Celts also celebrated the solstices and the equinoxes like modern Pagans do. But the four Celtic holidays, the two solstices, and two equinoxes make up the “wheel of the year” marked by many Pagans. As someone who lives in Wisconsin, who gets to enjoy all four seasons and who welcomes each new season as it arrives, celebrating the changes of the seasons seems to be a natural part of Earth spirituality.

I wrestled with the question of whether Pagan is the best word to describe my beliefs. In many ways, it really doesn’t matter what I call my spirituality. But I realized that my desire to focus on the spirituality reflected in nature and celebrating these Pagan holidays is perhaps the strongest argument for describing my beliefs as Pagan.

The Pagan communities are places where I’ve both felt at home and not felt at home, because of the way my beliefs and practice differ from the vast majority of Pagans. At this point, I consider myself a “solitary practitioner”—meaning that the spiritual work that I do is something I do for myself. Right now, that practice involves meditation, journaling, and reading, and from those practices it will take the form it takes.

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