What We Can Do For The World
Article ID: 12313
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 2,343
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Author: Brendan Myers
Posted: April 20th. 2008
Times Viewed: 4,166
There is something I find myself needing to do, almost physically needing to do, at least a few nights out of every year, and that is go to a pagan revel fire. There’s nothing else like it in Western society in general. I need to walk barefoot down a path in a forest, in the dark, with only torches every dozen meters or so to light the way, and a friend at my side.
I need to hear the sound of the drums in the distance, growing clearer and louder as I get closer. I need to see the fire from around the bend for the first time, through the trees, through the silhouettes of the dancers and drummers. I need to see the thirty or so dancers, the twenty or so drummers, the hundred or so other people hanging about as they take a break from the dancing to talk, flirt, laugh, share food and drink, share stories, share life. I need to see the stars above, and feel the wind on my arms and legs, feel a branch or two from the trees brush by my face.
I need to see the smiles on the faces of the people who recognize me as I arrive. I need to have my djembe slung over my shoulder, and find a place among the other drummers there, maybe pat a few of them on the shoulder as they let me in. I need to take a breath or two as I look on the dancers, enjoy the sight of them, enjoy their smiles and laughter, the flirting they do with each other. I need to feel the heat of the fire on my face, coming and going as the passing dancers come between me and the fire and then pass on again. I need to dig my bare toes into the warm sand.
And then I need to feel the music of the drums in my rib cage and my arms, and then I need to join the music, let my arms and hands do my talking, let my drum-skin be my voice, let my eyes close as I arouse the wonderful Goddess-given energy of life that dwells within me. Then I need to feel that energy make my arms and hands move as if of their own accord, in time with the rhythm of the tribe.
A worthwhile and satisfying life must necessarily include a sense of magic like that. By ‘magic’ here I am not implying anything supernatural. To my mind, ‘magic’ is the hard-to-define quality of the things that stir up mystical feelings like amazement, curiosity, imagination, and above all wonder.
Magic is that which renders something beautiful in a spiritual sense. It is that which makes one feel as if the world is more than it is presently understood to be, and yet at the same time the world is working itself out in a good and beautiful way.
Magic underlies the relationship between us, and the greater immensities of birth and death. Thus the experience of being in the presence of something magical is an empowering, uplifting experience. Magic, understood this way, contributes meaning to life.
People can obtain the magic they need from many kinds of sources, but not all of them are life-affirming, or even rational. It is very possible, for instance, to create magic and wonder and purpose with a totalitarian political program. Such a program can take the form of the ‘toughening’ of criminal law and of punishments for even the smallest of crimes; the praise for the ‘natural’ talent and merit of the rich and the corresponding scorn for the ‘natural’ laziness and ineptitude of the poor; the scapegoating of outsiders and of those who criticize the program; the cultivation of an environment of fear, especially the fear of foreign attack; the assertion that the leaders have received a mandate from God and are therefore infallible; the assertion that obedience is a sign of patriotism; the integration or even union of state power with corporate power; the promotion of absolutist or fundamentalist forms of religion; and of course the belief in the manifest destiny of the nation.
All of these things, especially when taken together in a comprehensive political program, are effective ways to create a sense of purpose and meaning in life. All of them are capable of offering appealing answers to the important questions of who we are, and what we are supposed to do with our lives. Yet they are also capable of justifying xenophobia, racism, sexism, witch-hunting, militarism and violence, even open warfare. They can result in the camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz, the gulags of Siberia, the military prisons of Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay.
The very best alternative, the proper place where we should look for the magic we need to live, is the Earth. First of all, the Earth will never demand the sacrifice of our free minds to a totalitarian political program. It will never scapegoat anyone, nor will it invent false pretences for war. And it will never demand faith or belief in abstract realities that cannot be proven or dis-proven to actually exist. For the Earth’s only laws are the natural laws of ecosystems. These laws do not flow from the barrel of a gun.
Secondly, the Earth is already recognized in cultures all over the world as a profound source of magic and meaning. The landscapes of our planet form perhaps the most important substance of shared identity between people, perhaps just as much as shared language and history.
The Canadian is defined by her Great White North, the German identifies with her mighty forests, the American has the Wild West, the Australian has the Outback, and the Irish have their Four Green Fields. So much of a nation’s culture and history is what it is because of the kind of climate and environment the people inhabit. And many landscapes around the world are loved by their people as holy lands, given to them by God, and still inhabited by the ghosts and bones of ancestors.
In many places, a Goddess is, or once was, the personification of the land. She is the image and the figure that best represents humanity’s various relationships to the Earth, and to each other. She is the figure that integrates those relationships into personal and public identities. She, therefore, is the one to whom we ought to look for our sense of belonging and purpose.
The contemporary pagan community, holding the Earth in such high spiritual regard as it does, can show the world what a magical, environmentally conscious, socially just, and culturally admirable society looks like. The pagan community can create a social and cultural space where ancient noble ideas like ‘inspiration and honor’ are still preserved and practiced.
A person who lives in this mythological and mystical way, who fashions herself in the image of the goddess within her, is someone I would like to call a great soul. We have met such a person already. She is benevolent and persevering, like Grandmother Anishnabe; passionate and curious, like Queen Inanna; protective and loyal, like Demeter; fierce and loving, like the Morrígan; contemplative and wise, like the three Norns; nurturing and loving, like the Goddess With No Name. These and other qualities are the values involved in the celebration and enjoyment of embodied life.
The pagan community could give to itself the task of preserving these values, and other values of the so-called ‘old’ ways. For some day, the world may want them back again.
Copyright: Copyright 2008 by Brendan Myers
Location: Gatineau, Quebec
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