I’ve been a stay-at-home Pagan, a bookish Pagan, a CUUPS ritual-attending Pagan, and a blogging Pagan. But as of yet, I have not been a festival-going Pagan.
That all changes this week.
On Wednesday I shall make my way to the Prosser Ranch group campground, located just outside the town of Truckee, California, and celebrate Druidism, ADF style, at the annual Eight Winds festival.
The timing of this religious retreat is rather interesting. Over the last month, swamped as I’ve been with work-related travel and the upkeep and promotion of my Indiegogo Campaign (which, by the way, wraps up in a little over a week…nudge, nudge), I’ve neglected my daily practice. Some days I approach my shrine with an open heart and a still mind, but most mornings I dive straight into work without much attention at all to the gods or to my spirit. There’s been no consistency, only a cursory amount of reverence or piety, and a whole heaping load of worry and stress.
On top of all that, I just finished reading a book about Jesus, and it’s thrown my mind into a bit of a tailspin.
[STAY CALM — This is not a conversion post.]
The book, Jesus through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ, has done quite a number on me. I’ve written a review for HuffPost called, “Every Conceivable Jesus: A Review of ‘Jesus Through Pagan Eyes,'” and it should be published sometime this week (UPDATE: Post published on 6/26). The long and the short of it is this:
Reading Rev. Mark Townsend describe his complicated, rich, and heartfelt understanding of the many persons of Jesus reminded me of what I loved about being a Christian, and reading the book’s essays and interviews from Pagans about their perspectives on Jesus left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Perhaps reading a book about a central figure from a Pagan tradition — say, Pan or Lugh — in which two dozen Christians reflect on that particular god’s relevance (or irrelevance) in their religious lives would affect me similarly. In any case, it was the lone Christian in the bunch whose voice resonated with me most, and I’m not exactly sure what that means.
I remember writing about a similar quandary last Winter, and one of my readers responded with something like, “If you want to be a Christian, be a Christian. If you want to be a Pagan, be a Pagan. But pick one already!” I found the comment to be rather rude, and terribly reductive. We are never just one thing. We are always the sum of our parts, a work in progress, a collage. Many of our parts remain hidden from us until we are ready to understand them, but they’re all there. We are mysteries, even unto ourselves, and part of the wonder of living is unpacking the mystery.
Know thyself is a process, not a single action.
To be reminded in such a visceral way of my former expression of religiosity on the eve of a celebration of my newer expression of religiosity is confusing, to say the least. It makes me wonder whether or not I will be able to surrender completely to the experience of fellowship and ritual at Eight Winds, or if I will be consumed by my own questioning. My hope is that there will be opportunities for dialogue with other ADF members, and through that dialogue we might come to know one another (and ourselves) a little better. Perhaps Jesus will hitch a ride to the Druid camp, and I’ll be forced again to examine who he is in relationship to this new, thoroughly Pagan environment. Or, maybe when we’re all naked and dancing around a fire (which, in my imagination, is key to any successful Pagan gathering), Jesus will calmly retreat into the background, and await rediscovery at some future point.
I wonder – do you find that religious retreats or Pagan festivals provided you with opportunities to explore and express the more complicated sides of your religious path? Do they serve the purpose of simply affirming what we know about ourselves and our traditions, or do they challenge our assumptions? Have you ever gone to a festival expecting one thing, but you ended up experiencing something altogether different?
Feel free to share your festival experiences, or reflections on anything in this post. Then, click here for a clip of some wicked, unreleased Pagan music.
Witches have a saying: “Where there is fear, there is power.” You can take this in the Machiavellian sense of manipulating people by making them afraid. But you can also take it in the alchemical sense of tracing your own fear back to whatever blocked energy or power-of-spirit causes the fear.
Coming from an Evangelical background, the ideas of magic, polytheism, and even symbols like the pentacle carried enormous power for me, because there was enormous fear of these things. I welcomed the act of facing that fear, because I knew what it represented: trapped, stagnating power. My own power: my birthright. Stuff I’d walled off in the need to be “Christian.”
No atheist would gain any benefit from this “claptrap.” But what I would bet holds power for most atheists is their own non-rational nature. The mindless forces: the deep powers of uninhibited sex, of the mob, of hatred and rage, of impulsive action. The numinous forces: inspiration, Unity, gratitude, worship.
It’s all what Jung called “shadow-work.” Exploring the unexamined self.
I’d like to add my own saying: “Where there is ambiguity, there is deeper truth.”
Jesus is an ambiguous figure. God or man? Prince of peace, or rabble-rouser? Victim of the State, or triumphant Lord of Heaven? His character is a bit like a Zen Koan. That ambiguity, like a cloudy crystal ball, can be a focal point for finding a deeper truth. The Tao that is not the Tao, the Jesus that is not Jesus.
It only works if you see the Ambiguous Jesus, which you apparently do: you speak of the many persons of Jesus. Most Pagans do not see the Ambiguous Jesus; they see the Contradictory Jesus. No truth to be found there, and a waste of time looking for it.
You may not be the most popular Pagan on the block by having Jesus in your pantheon, but that only means that people can be dicks.
It’s funny: I went to a spirit-animal workshop at Dragonfest one year, and the facilitator took pains to try to put people at ease for getting “little” animals, like hamster, or turtle, or even worm. In the process, she was lightly dismissive of people who claim to have “big” animals, like eagle, or wolf. When it was my turn to share, I felt I had to apologize, because my spirit-animal happens to be wolf, and has been for a long time. He scared the piss out of me the first time I met him, too — not really what I was looking for. But he was what I needed.
The sentiment of the facilitator was correct: there are no “big” or “little” power animals. But the peer pressure to not-be-wolf in that group was an interesting turnabout.
There are no “big” or “little” gods, either. None of the “I worship Artemis, so I’m better than you house-bound Hestia-worshippers.”
If Jesus insists on turning up in your meditations, talk with him. A Pagan who talks to Jesus: now there is an ambiguity. And where there is ambiguity, there is a deeper truth….
You’re a good man, Themon. You come to this place and share insights with me, and in doing so you provide affirmations I was unaware I needed.
I never thought about including Jesus in a personal pantheon. There are Pagans in Townsend’s book – ChristoPagans – that “work with” Jesus, or that welcome Christian teachings or practices into their lives. Perhaps that’s one way of working through this.
But, truth be told, I’m not certain of what the “this” is that I’m trying to work through. There is ambiguity, for certain. For now, I guess I’ll have to be ok with that.
My current spiritual paths are:
third gender transperson (since birth)
Witchcraft: ContraryWise Craft & Wheel-Dancing (since 1987)
devotee of Eshu, the trickster orisa of the Yoruba of West Africa (since 1988)
Celtic retro-paganism, devotee of Gwydion ap Don (since 1996)
Wicca: Blue Triskele Wicca (since 1998)
Hermeticism: The Hermetic Order of the Celtic Cross (since 1999)
Christianity: The Episcopal Church USA (since 2000)
Yes, I’m a long-standing pagan who added Jesus to my list of personal gods in 2000. I don’t call myself a Christo-pagan because I follow the ancient wisdom of GhostBusters: “Don’t cross the streams.” When I’m practicing ContraryWise Craft, I’m practicing ContraryWise Craft. When I’m at church, I’m at church. I don’t see any greater ambiguity in worshipping Jesus than anything else in my practice. I’m not an orthodox Christian, sure–but heterodoxy is the heart of my spirituality.
I’ve written a couple posts in my blog that touch on this issue:
They are included in my polyreligiosity tag, which also includes at least one post inspired by your blog.
Keep in mind too that (liberal/progressive) Christianity and Druidry aren’t mutually exclusive in OBOD. I’m personally quite skeptical of the worth or wisdom of combining the two, but for some folks it works nicely. There’s probably something to be said for increasing one’s comfort level with more progressive forms of Christianity, regardless. You can admire parts of a religion without wanting to follow it yourself.
I have no words of wisdom other than to second what Themon said. But here’s a suggestion.
Go to the festival with no expectations. Go to the rituals. Go to the workshops that look interesting and nap during the ones that don’t. Eat. Drink – lots of water, and more Druidy stuff if you like. Talk. Sing. Dance. Talk some more.
Experience. Be receptive. Just be. Don’t analyze – there’ll be plenty of time for that when you get home.
Good luck, have fun, and I’ll be eager to hear all about it when you get back.
Thank you, John. I appreciate the comment, and the voice of support. I’ll take your advice, and try to be expectation-free. I’ll dig in deep, be open and receptive, and try to keep the inner-critic at bay.
And yes – you will hear about it when I get back. 🙂
Peace be with you, friend.
To have a deep connection, to ‘give yourself’ to Christ, is a goal within Christianity. Sometimes I feel that our Paganisms can be held back from that feeling of surrender to a particular Deity, if that is indeed what some of us want, just in case some of our other Pagan friends think we have gone a little too far, and gone slightly mad. Fiona Davidson, a Bard who was a great influence on me changed her name to Fonn Tulach and refounded the Ceile De church in Scotland after just such a decision – she found that spiritual dead end in Paganism. I’ve not found it myself. It still fills me up every day. I know Mark, and think it’s about time I got him on DruidCast!
Thanks for sharing your perspective here, Damh. So glad you’re a part of the dialogue. Thank you also for sharing Ceile De (http://www.ceilede.co.uk/) with us. I’m looking forward to learning more about that.
When you say that Paganism “fills you up” every day, do you mean that your connection to nature fills you up, or is it ritual, or tradition? Or, a Deity? What do you think it is that sustains you?
(And please get Mark on DruidCast! I’d love that!)
Teo, why do you feel that you have to throw the baby out with the bath water?
The fact that the reverend’s writings about the “many persons of Jesus” resonated so deeply with you simply means that probably at some level, you still feel a connection with Jesus. Why does this represent a crisis?
You yourself said that we are a work in progress, not just one thing, but the sum of our parts, a collage. I love this analogy, and find in it, a parallel in the concept comparing deity to a diamond. A diamond has many facets; each individual deity representing just one facet of the whole Deity. Jesus is one facet, as is Lugh, and Pan, and Cernunnos. And so are Briga, Isis, Gaia, Danu, and Mary. Our relationships with the different deities are unique and individual, as well developing and changing over time. My own opinion is that you don’t have to completely divorce yourself from your past spirituality to continue to grow on the path you are on now.
I, too, come from a Christian background and do understand the confusion and struggle: http://thehemlockgrove.blogspot.com/2012/01/pagan-is-not-four-letter-word_11.html I hope the retreat is everything you hope it will be, and look forward the reading about it here on your blog. I’ll be checking out the book review too!
Enjoy Eight Winds, and I particularly suggest attending my dear friend and colleague Erynn Rowan Laurie’s session if you can/want to! 😉
While I know it’s popular amongst both recons and Druids to ignore certain things in medieval Irish literature that have to do with Christianity, I’d suggest there are pathways within that context that might be useful to explore further. There’s a poem (possibly by Blathmac son of Cú Brettan, but I can’t be certain of that at present…it may be in the same volume where his poetry is translated, however) which describes Jesus as the “sister’s son” of the Jewish people. In Irish (and Welsh, and very likely most Celtic) society, the “sister’s son,” particularly of kings, was an important and beloved position: Cú Chulainn was sister’s son of Conchobar mac Nessa (as were the sons of Uisnech), Gwydion was sister’s son of Math vab Mathonwy, and Lleu was sister’s son of Gwydiion, etc. Putting Jesus in that position means a great deal, and isn’t just a kind of “localization” of Jesus in an Irish cultural context–it implies a privileged position, but one often fraught with danger, because if one eliminated the sister’s son of a king, one eliminated the most likely inheritor of the kingship.
There are all sorts of ways to think of Jesus in a kind of polytheist-Christian syncretistic context. A Welsh poem considers him another form or type of Mabon; Irish tradition has St. Brigid as his foster-mother–but if one simply made the saint into the goddess, there’s no reason the goddess Brigid couldn’t still be the foster-mother to the “sister’s son” of another people or another set of gods.
So, if these sorts of things appeal to you, there’s definitely precedent for it, on the Christian side; why not extend that treatment to the pagan side?
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“Know thyself is a process, not a single action.”