Article ID: 15300
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Nimue Brown
Posted: January 6th. 2013
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Many people who come to Paganism experience a sense of returning home. There’s a feeling that this is what you’ve always done and been, you just didn’t have the world for it before. Then you start to find out about the many other words. Are you a Druid, Shaman, Witch, Heathen, Dianic, Hellenic, Kemetic… the list goes on, vast and daunting. There are terms for groups as well. Just in Druidry, there are Groves and Gorsedd, Eistedfodd, Seed groups, Bardic circles, and more. After that warm feeling of belonging can come something a lot less comfortable: A sense of disorientation, confusion and not being so Pagan as that first rush had you believe.
Then you start to realise just how many books there are. All the modern writing to take on board, all the ancient and possibly ancient texts that you haven’t read yet. You find out about ritual forms, and wonder what you need to learn. If, along the way, smug and confident people put you down for not having read The Tain and Ovid and everything Ronald Hutton has ever written, up to and including his shopping lists… the magic that first drew you in can ebb away all too quickly.
Now, I’m a fan of learning and study, but a book does not a Pagan make. No amount of knowing the right words will make you into a Pagan if it isn’t in your heart. That first feeling of belonging and connection is the one thing you can’t manufacture or teach. It is the most precious thing, and so easily lost by the enormity of all the thinky, intellectual, formulaic here-let-me-sell-you-something aspects of modern Paganism. Learn, by all means, but protect that spark of feeling, because that’s the thing that matters most.
I’ve long believed in the idea of innate Paganism. It goes like this. The realities of life – the weather, seasons, agricultural cycle, landscape etc impact on us, if we’re paying any kind of attention at all. When we respond to those things, we may well end up doing what people do – it’s not like there are an infinite number of potential responses. Get to the cold, dark time of the year and a desire for warm fires and a bit of colour is pretty natural. Get the main harvest in, whatever it is in your part of the world, and some celebrating is called for. Music, dancing, and drinking tend to feature because these are the happy things we’ve had widest access to for longest.
You don’t need any shared origins or much beyond the whole ‘being human’ thing to get to the cold, dark, damp days and think ‘bloody hell, I could use cheering up’. And so we invent stories and rituals, celebrations, costumes, colourful things and happy music, reasons to feast and special cakes to feast upon, to cheer ourselves up. It is an innately human response to an innately natural experience.
For me, that’s the absolute essence of what Paganism means. It responds to the intrinsic parts of life – sex and death, food and farming, the wheel of the year, the cycles of our lives, the mysteries of existence as we experience it, the wonder of sun, moon and stars, the power of water, the secrets of soil. It recognises these essential, life-giving things and wants to respond to them. The Pagans of old may well have been seeking control over a hostile world. We still try and do that with science but may have to learn it won’t work either. Where we seek to understand, to honour, and celebrate, what we get is going to look a lot like Paganism.
You do not need insight into the thinking of the ancients for this. You don’t even need to know that there is such a thing as Paganism, or have any kind of conscious creed. You just need to be living on the earth with awareness and, as Mary Oliver puts it ‘Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves’.
It doesn’t give us right answers. If you get to midwinter and, like the bear want to embrace the darkness, go into the cave, dream the long dream of winter, then fine. If, like the tree, you are bare and still, waiting for the spring, so be it. If you are struggling to survive, hunting and foraging and trying to keep warm, it’s a grim season. If you need the campfire and the storyteller to get you through the long nights, that’s a perfectly natural reaction too. Even the people who head off to warmer climes are enacting something natural enough, migrating like the swallows. We are natural. What we do comes from our own natures. The only time we get this ‘wrong’ is when we’re so busy trying to be modern and separate that we ignore what our own natures are telling us, and so disconnect ourselves from the rest of nature too.
Be alive. Be human. Be present in the world. If you respond to that experience with love and gratitude, with respect and honour then what comes will be Pagan, and will probably have more in common with what other Pagans do, than not.
If your learning follows your heart, and supports what comes to you in this more naturalistic way, you won’t find a lot of conflict. If you run into people who announce that you must do things that feel wrong to you, then it’s worth looking around because the odds are it isn’t the only way. You must feel reverence for nature to be a Pagan, and really that’s the bottom line and there is no other. How you express and explore that is your own business.
There is, for example, a text floating about online by Emma Restall Orr that says to become a Druid, you must give away something that you love, that represents some part of who you are, and that if you aren’t ready to make that sacrifice you aren’t ready to become a Druid. I’ve had people ask me questions about that one. For me, what takes a person into Druidry should not be an act of sacrifice, but a sense of inspiration. It’s the connection to inspiration that makes a Druid, and no amount of giving stuff away (as I see it) will give you what is not in your heart.
So, find what is in your heart, and do that thing, and the words that make sense of it will come along in time.
Copyright: Nimue Brown 2012
Location: Gloucester, England
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