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Now that we’re nowhere near consensus on how to use the word “Pagan”, how’s about we wander through an even hazier meadow…

What are our Pagan Values?

I’m jumping the gun a bit, being that the Third Annual Pagan Values Blogging and Podcasting Month is scheduled to begin on June 1st. But I thought it might be useful to spend a minute trying to understand what exactly a “Pagan Value” might be, and to ask the question, What makes a Pagan Value…pagan?

Entry-Level Exploration

Before I go there, I’m going to get a little “101” with it. Sometimes it’s best to start with a simple question.

What exactly is a value?

My American Heritage Desk Dictionary app, the default resource I use when typing with my thumbs, lists this definition:

A value is a principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable.

Using this as a starting point, what happens if we add in the word “Pagan”? How does it change things?

A Pagan value is a principle, standard or quality that Pagans consider worthwhile or desirable.

Is this statement true? Can we imagine such a value?

Consider the following questions:

Do all Pagans have shared principles? If so, how do these principles differ from those shared by people who would not choose to identify as Pagan? What happens when they don’t differ much, or at all? Is it possible, for example, that there is overlap between Pagan principles and Christian principles? Were such a thing to happen (as I think we will find it does), can the shared principle be truly claimed as either Christian or Pagan?

Maybe a question to ask is, Who came to the principle first? If the Pagans beat the Christians to the principle, do they get to claim it? What’s the motivation behind that kind of race? A quest for superiority? Thirst for the truth? Dunno.

Do all Pagans have shared standards? Are we talking standards of behavior? Standards of academic integrity? Standards of social accountability or etiquette? There is no central Pagan dogma, so there is no standard set of beliefs. We’ve seen evidence in the last week that there isn’t even a singularly acceptable title for the whole group, nor an agreement that the group is even a group at all. How do you arrive at group standards when the group is sort of a non-group?

Do all Pagans have shared qualities? This may be the easiest of the three to approach, but we might also fall into a trap of describing the qualities of Pagans we’re most exposed to, unaware that these qualities may not be universally applicable to all Pagans. Again, we find qualities that are both specific and universal. Still not sure what to do about that.

Double Edged Values

What else happens when you tack on the word Pagan – or Christian, or American, or Family, even – in front of the word “Value”? Does the new group-specific phrase serve a entirely different function than the word might on it’s own? What is the purpose of distinguishing one group’s values from those of another group?

I’m going to nudge forward here and suggest that drawing value-borders around a group allows people within the circle to judge the behavior, the actions, the worth of the people outside the circle. When that judgment is paired with a given or assumed authority to condemn, the opinion can become a tool for victimization and oppression.

This might look something like:

I hold up this Group Value, and by doing so I assert not only what is good and right about my worldview, but what is not good or right about yours.*

*Insert religious debate/argument/war here.

People sensitive to the Christianist, Islamist or any other Fundamentalist assault on…well…anyone who doesn’t share their Group Values might recognize the behavior I’m describing.

It Must Begin With The Individual

I don’t have the answers to these questions, nor am I certain that they’re the most useful questions to be asking. I’m not a trained philosopher by any stretch. But, I think I’d be foolish to go charging ahead into philosophical territory without at least trying to get clear on a few important concepts.

I think my approach to this June’s blogging assignment will be to describe, as best I can, what my values are first, and then see where else these values might be shared.

If these questions sparked an idea, please share your thoughts in the Comments section of the post. I’d love to know what you think about this notion of Pagan Values, or about values in general!

If this post was interesting to you, please be a good friend and tweet it or Facebook share it.

There was no mention of the Full Moon at the most recent Full Moon rite I attended. This struck me as strange, but I didn’t bring it up. After all, I hadn’t arranged the Meetup and I wasn’t leading the ritual. But, I did take note.

Are we what we say we are, I wondered.

Some of the people in attendance, myself included, introduced themselves using their self-chosen, magical or Pagan names. Mine, Teo, is a derivation of my given name and, admittedly, lacks a certain mystic flair that those chosen names of the fantasy/animal-totem variety possess. I could have been a Wolf Claw, or a White Dragon. Instead, just Teo – pronounced “tAy-oh”. The unusual name sometimes makes for awkward introductions, even at Pagan Meetups.

“Teo,” I say, extending my hand.

“Pardon?”

“TAAY-oh.”

An awkward nod. A polite, understanding smile. You’re Pagan, the smile acknowledges. A bit strange, and I accept that because I’m a bit strange, too.

Are we who we say we are, I wondered.

There’s a buzz in the Pago-blogosphere about this idea of expostmodernism, specifically as it relates to religion, it’s survival, or it’s demise. According to Drew Jacob, “the core of expostmodernism is a culture shift in a direction that is pro-individual,” and the primacy of the individual’s personal journey. Individuation by selection of a new name fits right into the expostmodernism ethos.

The expostmodern seeker, as Drew describes her, is not unlike the author of this blog. I write into the void, meeting on occasion, either here or on another blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook, a like-minded, text-based traveler with whom I try to forge something akin to a pen-pal relationship. Except, I don’t have the benefit of seeing their handwriting, catching their scent on the page, touching something – anything – tactile and of the earth. Its all text. Text projected onto glass. Scrying through code, the expostmodernist forges a kind of community that doesn’t resemble the groves, covens or mystical orders that I imagined when I first started down this path.

Drew may be right. The future of religious community may be grounded (a word that is ironic, possibly inappropriate to use in this context) in text/hypertext-based, Internet-centered communication. However, my deep longing for physical, organic, of-the-dirt community, marked and made fleshy by the sensory experiences (sharing food, lighting non-virtual fires) which are unattainable through the internet, gives me cause to question whether the eventuality he predicts will provide the spiritual sustenance I need.

Who will stir the soup?

My family is a kitchen family. We gather where the food is made, we pontificate where the food is made, we fantasize where the food is made. We make magic around the gas-stove hearth, along with hand-rolled tortillas and fried eggs, and the doing is part of what connects the members of this family to one another. The shared activity, and all of the mess it can make, creates for us a sacred space. A sacred spiritual, yet very much physical space, filled with sweet, savory and sometimes burnt smells and tastes.

I think Drew is hitting on something close to home when he describes the desires of expostmodern individuals.  I crave a communal experience, not simply the sense of belonging to a religious order. For me (a true start to an expostmodern sentence) it isn’t a question of form, so much as it is a question of quality. I’d like to attend a Full Moon ritual that leaves me breathless and awestruck at the sight of our heavenly Queen. I’d like for someone to ask me — “Teo…where did that come from?”, and then I’d like for that same person to follow me online & dig deep into my blog posts and unpack ideas with me. I’d like continuity between what I conjure up on my computer screen and what I’m cooking in my kitchen.

Is that too much to ask for in an expostmodern world?

 

To read the post which started all of this discussion, click here.

I sat in my room, staring blankly at my altar. I hadn’t even lit the candle or prepared the incense, and I was already stressed, bewildered, and overwhelmed with the drama of the morning.

The episode leading to this emotional state of emergency involved two missing shipping receipts, a lost package in Alaska, and $400 dollars. I was a frantic mess, running around the house, trying desperately to find the pink and gray Post Office notes, certain that I would end up with a very expensive consequence for my dis-organizational tendencies. My husband tried to reassure me, but I couldn’t be consoled. I collapsed into my chair, folded my arms across my chest, and proceeded to pout my very best pout.

He quietly left the room.

After a few minutes alone I thought about making a petition to the Kindreds, and I thumbed through A Book of Pagan Prayer. There was nothing for my specific situation. I started to wonder if there was something ethically problematic about asking for aid in the retrieval of a lost item. Is that too trivial? Should I wait to petition the Kindreds for something more dire? Recovery from a life-threatening illness, perhaps? I didn’t know what to do.

So, I decided to do my devotional anyway. I would approach my altar with sincerity, and, if it felt right in the moment, I would ask for otherworldly assistance in as respectful a way as possible. I would do it in a spirit of ghosti.

I centered. I purified. We opened the Gates. I blessed my offerings and lifted them up to the Kindreds. I lit a fire for Brighid. I sought out guidance through the tarot, and the images were both intuitively correct and intellectually foggy. Then, I approached the altar, closed my eyes and spoke from my heart.

I said that if the Kindreds deemed this cause worthy of their assistance, and if they would kindly help resolve this situation in my favor, I would, in return, donate a portion of the $400 to a group that seeks to restore balance and harmony with the Earth, and that honors the Gods.

There. I’d spoken my peace. I’d also made an oath to the Kindreds; not something a devoted Pagan should take lightly. I felt better. I’d done all I could do. I closed out the space and left my room.

Sitting in his office across the hallway was my husband, typing away at his computer. When he saw me he paused, and reached for something on the desk in front of him. He held up the two missing Post Office receipts. He’d just found them.

I grinned, and chuckled under my breath. How brilliant. How perfect.

Before thinking to long about it, I went back into my room and opened my computer. I went to ADF.org and found the link to “Donate” through their web-store. I made a donation, fulfilling my promise to the Kindreds.

All was right in the world again… just like that.

Ghosti!

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.

This post is a response to The Meaning of Prayer on Grey Wren’s Flight.

Kristin, I appreciate what your fiancé said – “Prayer is an offering of time and spirit” – and I’d like to add something my husband told me. He said that of all the offerings we make to the Kindred, our sincerity may be the greatest one we have to give.

When we were Catholic, or in my case, Episcopalian, and we prayed in thanks for something we had received, or to request something from God (good health, protection, blessings upon those who we loved, etc.), we were making a sacrifice, of a sort. True, we also had a theological construct to inform our understanding of sacrifice (i.e. Jesus’s transaction on the cross), but we approached our God with a sincere heart and made our requests anyway. How different was that from what we are doing now? We may offer grain or spirits, incense or fire, but fundamentally are we not simply offering a part of ourselves?

We give back because we have already received, not simply because we wish to receive more. Our offerings can have built in to them a recognition of all that has already been given to us.

In a way, your “spontaneous prayer” can do the same thing.

Rev. Skip Ellison writes these suggestions for integrating your spirituality into your daily life in his book, Solitary Druid:

  • When you see something in nature that strikes you, thank the Spirits of Nature.
  • When you remember one of your Ancestors, thank them for giving you their wisdom
  • When you feel the presence of one of the deities, thank them for being with you, and ask if there is a special lesson you should be learning from this moment.
  • Last, by opening yourself up to what is really happening around you, you will find it easier every day to understand this communion with the Mighty Kindreds.

Make the first steps to bringing prayer back into your life. It belongs to you still. It is a natural extension of your innate connection to the Mighty Kindreds.

(To Kristin, and to all those who long for the immediacy of prayer that they knew before starting their journey on the Druid Path, I encourage you to purchase a copy of A Book of Pagan Prayer by Ceisiwr Serith.)