Over the past few days I’ve taken great pleasure in reading and re-reading the posts of the Rogue Priest, Mr. Drew Jacob, who describes himself as,
Priest of many gods. Freelance author, nonprofit professional, and full-time adventurer.
I like Drew. He’s intellectually rigorous, but not snobby. He’s thoughtful and respectful of his readership, and he challenges us to think broader and deeper.
I think I’d end up a regular at his Temple if it weren’t 900 miles away.
Drew doesn’t identify as a Pagan, although I took him for one. I asked him how exactly he wasn’t Pagan, and he did a mighty fine job explaining that in this post, “Why I’m Not Pagan“. Give it a read.
In response, I’m writing to explain my relationship with the identifier, Pagan, and how it sometimes fits and often does not fit my sense of religious identity.
An Acolyte’s Primer
There’s no better preparation for becoming a liturgist, Pagan or otherwise, than to train directly with a priest in the Episcopal Church. They do liturgy well. I discovered a love of ritual at a very young age. Eight, maybe? The smells of incense, the white robes and rope belts, the ringing of bells and the chanting… it was heavenly.
I loved church. I loved being a part of a community. My priest taught me, directly and by example, that my actions, be they ceremonial or mundane, helped to created something vibrant and meaningful for myself and for others. Liturgy can be truly transformative magic, and the magic took root in my soul. But more importantly, the magic had context within the community. It served a greater purpose than my own personal fulfillment.
Did I love Jesus? Was a Bible thumper? No, not exactly. I didn’t not love Jesus. It just wasn’t really about him, blasphemous as that may have seemed. It was more about all the stuff that surrounded Jesus; the myth made manifest through our actions. That’s what made me feel good about being Christian. That, and the community of people who cared about me.
The Beauty of Ruin
I had my hard times with the church, don’t get me wrong. But I always returned because I believed in the magic that happened during the services, and between the people who showed up. I believed in an incarnate Spirit, and that She wasn’t just some idea for theologians to parse out. The Spirit was real, and moved through a place. God was a mystery, but the Spirit was the the source of the most amazing, moving, meaningful magic.
For a brief while, I was a youth leader for the Juniors and Seniors at my Cathedral. I was tattooed, queer, and unwilling to allow them to rest on dogmatic laurels. I challenged my kids’ assumptions about God, about faith and about the strange and often uncomfortable intersection of the two. I opened them up to the idea that there was more than one way to connect with the Divine. I told them that I didn’t really care what they believed. I just cared that they sought out something deeper. I wanted them to experience the magic I’d felt in my heart.
In time, I came to realize that the Church was not concerned so much with magic. The Church is a business, a bureaucracy. Ultimately, it all boils down to belief, and due process. Jesus is God, and God is Love, and saying that Love is the Law is legalism, eventually.
So, in spite of all the joy it brought me, I left.
From That To This
Being Pagan is much more than simply not being Christian. You don’t walk away from the Church and just – poof! – you’re a Pagan. At least, this has not been my experience.
Two years ago I found OBOD, The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, and I thought that their expression of Druidry might be a good fit for me. They hold up creativity as sacred, and their understanding of Awen (a Welsh word meaning, literally, inspiration) felt very much like my understanding of the Spirit. I sent off for their correspondence course.
OBOD isn’t a religion, per se. They are a Druid Order, and they approach Druidry more as a philosophy. You don’t have to be Pagan to be a Druid, they posit, and their stance was important to me at the onset of my new quest, because I didn’t know if I was Pagan. I just knew I was seeking something mystical, magical and communal. I was seeking an immediate connection to the Source — the Awen.
OBOD’s study course was interesting for a while, but I slowly lost interest. I had no community support, and the absence of religious structure left me feeling aimless in my studies.
I found religion and structure in ADF, or Ár nDraíocht Féin (Our Druidry in Irish). ADF also offers a study course, but it leans more towards the anthropological and less to the philosophical. ADF is much more like a Reconstructionist tradition, placing high emphasis on building a religious practice the approaches the traditions of the Indo-European people. Accuracy is paramount. ADF is also explicitly Pagan.
Pagan as Pre-requisite
I joined ADF and decided that I might be able to find the magic by participating in the religion. Rather than chase the Spirit, I would build the Temple. creating a home in which the Spirit could dwell.
And I’ve done that, at least on a small scale. I have an altar, and I worship daily. I’ve taken to reading books on polytheism, Indo-European tradition and Celtic deities. I have a personal religion now, albeit one I still don’t completely understand, and it satisfies my need for fragrant, candle-lit, ceremonial liturgy. What it doesn’t do, however, is provide any real sense of community.
A Context of Communion
It comes to down to is this: I believe that a solitary, Pagan/Druid practice is not a viable substitute for communal worship. Not for me, at least. The work I do alone should prepare me for work I do in community. Magic requires context in order for it to be valuable to anyone other than just myself, and community creates the context.
I think Pagans – and for now, I include myself in that category – would do good to sit with the idea of Communion, as it relates to community. Set aside the Christian connotation for a moment. I’m not talking about the consumption of body & blood. I’m talking about the something more universal.
See, communion is more than just a Christian sacrament. Communion is a human birthright. We commune with one another so that we might catch a glimpse, experience a moment of kinship with the spiritual forces that create our world, and with whom we work to create the magic in our lives.
Communion, as an extension of community, creates the context through which our personal magic is imbued with purpose.
So, for now, I’m a Pagan in search of Communion. This is my new starting point.
If this was post was interesting to you, please be a good friend and tweet or Facebook share it.
Beautiful narrative, beautifully told. Thank you.
Thank you, Themon. I appreciate that very much.
Very nice. I’m right there with you on the need for community. When I was a young man and lived in a major urban centre I belonged to a strong vibrant Pagan community; which I took for granted as is the prerogative of youth. Now that I am a bit older and living in a very conservative part of the country (rural with the odd blue-collar city), I am also looking to rediscover that community. I *know* that there are others out there who think the same, who want to be part of a public community rather than some secretive and strictly hierarchical Wiccan coven.
One of the things that drew me to ADF was Isaac’s vision for ADF as a means to incubate local Pagan communities. I’m hoping to use the resources that ADF makes available to help fill that need for a public community.
Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate hearing from you about this. And I’m also glad to get the reminder about Isaac’s vision — I feel I don’t hear enough about this outside of my books.
Perhaps you’re approaching a place in your life where you can serve as a leader in the Pagan community. Does that feel like a calling for you now?
[…] don’t have years of context for how most Pagans approach Deity. As I’ve written before, I grew up in the Christian church. To a great degree the Christian God was supposed to remain a […]
[…] a Christian tradition, and spent most of the first 25 years of my life identifying as a Christian. I’ve written of this before, but the subject keeps coming up for me. There’s something about how we arrive at our […]