Amazon.com Widgets
Currently viewing the tag: "Isaac Bonewits"

If you missed yesterday’s HuffPost Live Paganism roundtable with me, Amy Blackthorn, Gus DiZerega, Morgan Copeland and Patrick McCollum, you can watch it here:

We covered a fair bit of ground in the brief time we had allotted, and it was an honor to be seated beside (digitally speaking) so many interesting thought-leaders and organizers from the Pagan community.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the experience for me was what happened after the Google Hangout ended. The panelists stayed on the call and talked for a good 30 minutes more, sharing perspectives about a whole variety of topics. We re-addressed some of what happened while we were on the air, and there are a few things that stuck out that I’d like to get your take on.

First, Gus DiZerega says in the conversation:

“If Christians emphasize salvation, and Buddhists emphasize enlightenment, we emphasize harmony…That means harmony with one another, and harmony with the earth.”

Does that ring true to you?

 

It came up that Amy Blackthorn has been a Pagan since she was a kid. This led to an interesting conversation about whether or not children are self-aware enough to choose a religion. I suggested that Paganism might have something uniquely valuable to offer young people, mainly the emphasis on self-awareness and self-direction. To me, it seems that these qualities are very healthy for a kid, and one might add to that list the emphasis on family and community.

Do you see other ways that Paganism is inherently good for kids?

 

Lastly, are we “earth-based” anymore? It came up in response to Gus’s later statements about the political landscape that there are a wide-variety of Pagans, many of whom no longer identify as “earth-based.” This struck a chord with some people, and I’ve already received some feedback on Facebook which voiced appreciation for pointing out that some Pagans are more centered around deity.

I think this one is worthy of a little unpacking. Do a little research, and you’ll see that the roots of the Neopagan movement were very much in the dirt, if you will. Earth-centered, or at the very least earth-aware spirituality has, up until fairly recently, been synonymous with Paganism. How exactly did we get to a place where someone could consider themselves a Pagan and not be “earth-based?”

I think about Isaac Bonewits, the founder of ADF, who said that he believes that all Neopagans, especially those who identify as Druids in some way, should be environmentalists first and foremost. He believed that we should be on the forefront of the environmental movement.

Not all Pagans think that now, and I’m not exactly sure why.

As I said yesterday I’m not an expert on Paganism, I just play one on the internet. I believe that there are many voices that deserve to be heard, and now’s your chance to pick up where we left off on HuffPost Live.

The floor is yours!

I’ve spent nearly the entire week working on new ways to make ADF Druidism an accessible tradition to solitary Pagans. The work is still in its early stages, and I’m piecing together ideas which I hope to share once the leaves have fallen. My backyard maple is only hinting at new color, so it will be a few months yet.

Crafting religious practice gets me really excited, though. As perplexed as I was last week about the Gods (and I’ve been on the fence about capitalizing “god,” by the way — please share your thoughts about that grammatical choice in the comments), I’m having no problem with putting together new models for sharing my religion that might better serve people.

Religion, as I’m learning to practice it, allows each of us to be our own priestess or priest, our own empowered solitary practitioner. When we do religion in this way we become better equipped to serve our community, and we cultivate an intimate relationship with the Kindred.

Isaac Bonewits wrote in The Vision of ADF:

“Everyone is expected to communicate with Goddesses and Gods in her or his own way — spiritual growth is not a monopoly of the clergy. Every human being needs to learn how to contact the divine fire within, how to talk with trees, and how to unleash the power of magic to save the Earth. If there is such a thing as ‘spiritual excellence,’ we need to be striving to express that as well.”

Isaac placed great emphasis on terrestrial religious gathering (i.e. Grove rituals being held in physical locations), but I think the underlying message of the above quote speaks quite clearly to the path of the Solitary Druid. It is what a Druid does on her own — her devotionals, her studies, the development of her personal piety — that informs how she participates in community.

And I believe it is important to note that the work of the Solitary is the work of the community, because the Solitary who never participates in a terrestrial gathering is nonetheless a part of the greater religious body.

Perhaps this idea of a unified religious body is easy for me to conceive of, having been brought up in a tradition which understood the Church — capital C — to be the “Body of Christ.” All salvation doctrine aside, this concept of a unified body of believers was empowering, and created a sense of deep, spiritual belonging.

I think there is a Pagan analog, perhaps conceiving of ourselves as the “Body of the Mother,” or the “Children of Earth” (feel free to offer up any phrases in the comments that you think might be clearer, or more appropriate to Pagans).

We are less a “body of believers” than we are a “body of practitioners,” and in the case of ADF — a Pagan tradition which already emphasizes unity through practice — we have good cause to embrace this idea of a unified religious body.

See — I think Solitaries are the glue which holds a religion together. They (we) are not the cast-offs who simply can’t make it to the party. We are our own party.

We are, through the nature of our solitary circumstance, sometimes better equipped to engage in deep contemplation about the ambiguities, the paradoxes, and subtext which often goes unnoticed in group settings. In silence and solitude we hone our skills at cultivating the “divine fire within,” we uncover the language of the trees, and we connect in an intimate, personal way to the Earth Mother.

We have that available to us, that is.

I asked on Facebook, “Do you consider yourself a ‘Solitary Practitioner’ of a Pagan tradition?”:

Click photo to share your answer

There are a good number of people who are practicing their religious traditions alone, or mostly alone, and I think those of us who find ourselves in that position might do well to start exploring ways in which we can become united with one another in our solitude. That’s the work I’m busy crafting right now, and I’m at a point in the process where I could use some feedback from you.

Do you consider yourself a Solitary? If so, have you ever felt a sense of unity with other Solitaries? If you are an ADF member, what has been your experience of our community’s service to solitaries? Where have we succeeded, and were could our perspective use a little adjustment?

I’m wearing Isaac Bonewits’s belt buckle. Have been for days.

The pewter Pan, which once held up the pants of a great Druid, is now playing his flute just above my zipper. This seems both an appropriate and terribly dangerous location for the randy God.

I’ve never been a devotee of Pan — at least, not in the traditional sense. I was a bit rowdy in my younger days. As a gay man born at the tail-end of the gayest, most sexually liberated, pre-AIDS decade in the century (1979, to be exact), I spent the better part of my early 20’s trying to make up for all the good times I’d missed.

Let’s just say… I would have made Pan proud.

But it wasn’t devotion to the Greek God, or a nostalgia for my free loving days that led me to bid higher and higher on the belt buckle, or on the “DRUID” name tag that I also won from Phaedra Bonewits’s eBay store.  No — it was Isaac. I wanted something that had belonged to him, and I wanted it for a very specific reason.

I’ve been drifting for weeks. I’ve had no personal practice, no clear sense of religious identity. One reader of mine, the writer, Gavin Andrew, asked in response to my post, Questioning Paganism…Again,

“So Teo, what do you do? What is it that resonates, in your very bones?”

It was a simple enough question. For Pagans, by and large, it is what we do that defines us. But I couldn’t answer him. Something about the simplicity of his question made me uncomfortable, perhaps because I hadn’t been doing much of anything for quite some time. My only regular act of doing was the picking apart of other people’s ideas, the dissecting of the various rituals I attended, and the mining of my own thoughts, feelings and experiences in search of good blog content.

That’s hardly a holistic, rich, and inspired spiritual practice.

If I’d been truly honest, I might have responded to Gavin in the past tense by saying:

I used to do a morning devotional, ADF style, before my home altar, during which I made offerings to the Gods (a.k.a. the Shining Ones), the Ancestors of blood, spirit, religion, tradition and place (a mouthful, yes, but I don’t like leaving people out), and the Spirits of the Land.

Used to.

I used to meditate, and seek out the presence of divine beings in my mind, my heart, my home and throughout the world I walked in. I used to feel confident in identifying as a Neopagan Druid; one who was seeking to forge something new and authentic in his life. I used to think a lot about Pagan ministry, too, as a possible vocation for me down the road.

These past tense practices are not completely lost to me, though they’ve often felt that way. I like to think that they’ve just been on hiatus; frozen in a stillness indicative of winter. They’ve been trapped under the snow; hidden from the sun.

But, the fire of spring is soon to return.

Imbolc, the holiday which honors the Goddess, Brighid, to whom Isaac was devoted in his life and whose symbol I had tattooed to my wrist on a pilgrimage to Ireland, is just a little over a week away. The winter cannot last forever, and neither can this spiritual stasis. The sun will return, and with it – I hope – will come a renewed, pious fire within me.

I bought Isaac’s belt buckle because I wanted to have something tangible to remind me of these things that I used to be passionate about. I wear it to aid me in connecting to the person who stood still before an altar, heart open, raising offerings to the Great Mystery, in all of its various parts and persons. I wear it to instill confidence, to inspire curiosity, and because it makes me smile. I wear it because Isaac was a person who believed in excellence, and who assumed that all of us were capable of such — if we were to commit ourselves to doing the hard work.

This is what I am doing now. This is how I’m beginning to re-engage with my spiritual practice.

Do the work, I imagine Isaac saying as I fasten Pan to the tattered old belt once worn by my grandfather.

Do the work.

So, this morning I returned to my altar for the first time in months. I tightened up my belt, and did the work.

Week 4 of my daily meditation and devotion was Omen-centered. My creative work was consuming much of my time, and I sought guidance daily. I wrote on January 19th:

Throughout this two week period [referring to a 2 week creative project I was in the middle of], I’ve been given guidance from the Kindred. The Omens, or as I understand them, the Points of Focus, have been quite useful reminders and guiding posts throughout the work days.

Examples of the questions or statements I have posed to the Kindred and the Omens I have received are:

1/19/11

Q: What is my challenge?

A. The Tower.

Meaning: You are blessed with Awen. Fury may preceded grace, destruction may precede creation. The work of liberation, deepening and illumination progress.

1/20/11

Q. Why change decks? [A question I posed when I felt that I needed to switch from using the DruidCraft Tarot Deck to the Llewellyn Tarot Deck, a Welsh centered deck]

A. 10 of Wands, The Moon, Three of Cups.

Meaning: You are coming home. Home to the place where your intuition is a force, and where magic is born. These cards will aid you in your learning. Enjoy the experience.

Mid-week, I had an unexpected brush with an Ancestor, which I wrote about in this post. It gave me pause to consider whether or not I was moving faster than I should in my daily work. After approaching the Kindred, as well as communicating with a few ADF members, I found that there is nothing wrong with a daily practice — “slowing down” doesn’t mean changing the routine, or abandoning it altogether. It may simply mean, “lighten up”. There isn’t a need for every devotional to be performed with the intensity of a High Day ritual. After all, that’s what High Day rituals are for, right?

On January 24th, I made an intuitive decision to use the Ogham Card deck for an Omen. The card was Nuin (Ash). The book read:

Your deeds are part of a far greater, even endless, chain of events, and your own inner pathways have their reaction in the outer world.

This message was deeply connected to my meditation for that morning, and proved a very useful reminder throughout the day.

I’m not sure that the Celtic Tree Oracle would stand up to ADF’s academic standards, and I know there are some who outright dismiss the idea of a Tree Calendar (including ADF’s founder, Issac Bonewitz – read this). But, this feels like a good introduction to the Ogham, even if the historicity is questionable. At some point soon I would like to acquire, or better yet fashion my own set out of wood.

The snow is falling outside my house. It doesn’t want to stop. It’s the light, lingering kind of snow, and it makes me feel a little bit slower than usual.

This morning, during my daily devotional, after my offerings had been made to the Kindred, I sat down to write a blog post. Sometimes writing seems like the natural form of meditative work to do. I started to write about an experience I had last night, during which I was approached by an acquaintance and asked if I would be interviewed about my religious beliefs. I politely declined, informing him that I was in the middle of a process, and that sometimes in order for a process to remain sacred, it has to be kept secret.

It may seem strange that I write on Bishop In The Grove about the desire to keep my beliefs private. This is a publicly viewable blog, after all. But, to the best of my knowledge he is unaware of the work I’m doing here.

What struck me as interesting about his request, and what sent me into a bit of a tailspin, was how he framed the proposed discussion. My beliefs were what mattered to him, not my practice. When I thought to myself, “What do I believe?” I was reminded of an earlier time in my life; a time when I could have told you exactly what I believed. I recited my beliefs quite clearly every Sunday morning.

As a child, I was indoctrinated into the Christian church, and by extension, the Christian worldview. This isn’t some deep, dark secret, nor was this morning the first time the thought had occurred to me. But, for whatever reason, today it felt like a revelation.

Indoctrination happens to the best of us. Most every child who grows up in a creedal church learns what they “believe” through the rote recitation of someone else’s words. Some grow up to continue to believe those words, to allow them to forever shape the way they see the world. And others, like me, grow up to discover that they are drawn to something different. The words become hollow. Mechanical. Devoid of any magic whatsoever.

ADF’s widely accepted beliefs, as explained by ADF’s founder, Isaac Bonewitz, make sense to me. I can accept them, at least as a starting point. But I am still a novice when it comes to talking about those beliefs as my own. In a way, they aren’t my own. They aren’t creedal, or doctrinal. They are descriptive, not prescriptive, if that makes sense. They describe the loosely held, collective beliefs of a body of people, to which I belong. They are not prescriptive of how I must believe in order to belong to that group.

I was made a Christian, and all of my “I Believe” statements were handed to me. I learned them, loved them at times, and was resistant to them at others. But, they were core to my experience of being a Christian. I was what I believed.

Now, I think I’m being called into a different process.

This is a process of discovery; a process that is all about the “doing”. In searching for a practice that is spiritually fulfilling, that, as my husband pointed out today, gets at the deep, deeper-than-Christian roots I’ve always been connected to, and in working with forces, movements of being, that are very old, (like, capital O, Old),  I will come to understand with great clarity what it is that I believe. I will be able to explain my beliefs, my worldview, to others, perhaps in a way that is universal, completely ecumenical. My beliefs will be a natural extension of my practice.

And, it will take time.

Patience is a virtue, the Christian adage goes. But, as you may know, patience isn’t on ADF’s list of virtues to study.

Perseverance is, though.

Perseverance, which I’ve not written about before, may be a current running beneath the surface of this post, and of my life as a whole. My vision may not be perfectly clear, and my path may be fog-dense at times, but the only way for any of that to change is by me continuing to do what I’m doing. Now may not be the best time to explain my beliefs, but if I persevere that time may soon come.