Posted: December 31st. 2001
Times Viewed: 6,123
Have you ever worked on a puzzle? One of those big ones with five to ten thousand pieces? If you have, and emerged sane enough to tell the tale, then you know three very important things already: you need room to work, a certain affinity for spatial arrangement and color and lots and lots of patience. It also helps to have an understanding family who is willing to eat while balancing their plates on their knees for a week when the dining table is off-limits and cats who won't hide the pieces under the couch in the middle of the night.
Some of the very first puzzles constructed were of what we often refer to as 'magic squares'. The words are all the same length and all read the same up and down, left to right, right to left and bottom to top. Our friend, Michael Pendragon, has a very good article called, Magick Squares, Sigils and Planetary Seals if you want to learn more about the mathematical version of these. Certainly a puzzle is a good thing to work on in the after-holidays since the new seasons of 'Buffy','Lexx', WitchBlade' and 'Farscape' haven't begun as yet. It's probably a more constructive way to spend the time than walking about muttering, "Will this thing with Spike last?" And you can still mutter it under your breath anyway as you -now looking sufficiently intellectual and studious- pour over your puzzle pieces. Only those close enough to hear you will actually know and (with a little pre-planning on your part) they will be too busy trying to keep their plate of spaghetti from sliding off of their laps to do much about it.
Our modern-day attempts at reconstructing ancient Pagan/Heathen ways and religious practices can also be a bit of a puzzle. In fact, it is very much like working on one or I would obviously be writing about something else here. First off, puzzles (of any kind) are supposed to be a challenge. That's the fun of it. In the tabletop version, you get a box with a picture of the puzzle on it and inside the box you find hundreds and hundreds of little cut-out pieces that you must reconstruct and fit together until you get the picture looking like the one on the box-top. When it comes to reconstructing the 'picture' that is Pagan history however, we are working under several handicaps that most cardboard puzzlers never encounter. We don't have a 'full picture' to work from. We don't even have a box. And not only don't we have all of the pieces, it is highly unlikely that we ever will- even after we've checked under the sofa. I doubt many weekend puzzlers would even bother with such a crazy thing to begin with, but it seems as though there are many archaeologists, scientists, historians, literary scholars and Pagans who are willing to take it on. Hopefully, more pieces will continue to be recovered through their efforts. But let's look at what we have thus far.
Space to work: While we obviously can't place a life-size version of a stone circle or temple wall on our dining table as a visual aid, we can give ourselves 'space to work' by opening up our minds to all possibilities. Most scientists and scholars working in the fields of historical reconstruction have extensive background training in these areas. However, they like everyone else have their own pet theories and prejudices and may view an object -a piece of the puzzle as it were- by comparing it to the 'picture' of history that they carry around in their heads. They may be right; they may be wrong. But they require a LOT of proof that they are wrong before they will abandon the spot where they think that the piece might fit. Pagans, too, have put some wrong pieces of historical content and/or lore in the wrong places over the years. Happily, many of these misconceptions that were accepted as truth not that long ago have been corrected in the last five years. And, yes, perhaps it did take a lot of proof for many to be able to make that mental adjustment on the 'picture' of Pagan history that they carried around in their heads, too. But they have done it. So please all you 'scholars' and writers and Pagan critics out there, get a clue. Don't quote anything from a Pagan writer that is older than three years when you rant about how Pagans don't know the truth about historical events. We've got it. We've moved on to another part of the puzzle already. Keep an open mind. We're a work in progress.
An affinity for spatial arrangement and color: Just how the puzzle pieces might fit together depends on the context in which they are found. While working on a cardboard puzzle, experts tend to group together the pieces by shape. Then when a 'hole' in the puzzle emerges, there is a convenient pile of semi-sorted shapes to choose from. In the search for Pagan origins and history, our 'shapes' might consist of academic works, literary translations of ancient or pre-modern works and archaeological discoveries. When a 'hole' opens up, we can see if anything that we have so far fits in our puzzle. Many pieces look alike, of course, and so to further determine whether a particular piece might fit there, we also have to take into consideration color. 'Color' here is the 'feel' of the thing. Irish poetry, for example, is typically very Irish. It has a certain cadence and rhythm all of it's own. It wouldn't 'fit' into a puzzle picture of ancient Crete, but it would find a place in Celtic thought process and literary lore. Such 'color' is not interchangeable from puzzle to puzzle. It is unique to the picture of only a few of the puzzles that we might be working on. If one works on too many puzzles at once, it is easy to get the pieces confused and then give up any hope of sorting them all out. Best to concentrate on just one 'Pagan History' puzzle at a time. Then we can all stand back and see if our cultural or literary or archaeological 'work' when put together with others makes an even larger picture when combined.
And then there is patience. We are talking about thousands and thousands of years of history here and thousands and thousands of puzzle pieces. Those who want to have all of the definite black-and-white answers on Pagan histories right now undoubtedly live in a constant state of frustration. We just don't know yet what we will have for a picture when most of the pieces are filled in. We probably won't know for a long time to come. Certainly we can fill in some empty spots with new rituals and rites. We have a real working and vital set of paths and religions and we do have to get on with that. But we should also be willing to go back to the drawing board when evidence is found that some Pagan 'truths' just didn't happen that way. Or at least acknowledge that what we are doing is a modern reconstruction, adaptation or even a new creation altogether of a ritual or rite. Most of the 'folk ways', like the Maypole for instance, are not 'ancient' in themselves as no reference to them before a few hundred years ago have been found. But then again, a few hundred years might be 'ancient enough' for most of us and certainly if something has become a ritual which resonates with the basic philosophies and cyclical methods of Paganism today, we can fit it into our picture. If a more 'ancient' piece of the puzzle should be discovered at some point in the future- and if it also fits well into our 'big picture'- well then we can always make the switch if we want to. 'Leaving space' for the fact that something modern might work better than something 'ancient' in our evolving religions and practices allows us some considerable flexibility while we continue to flesh things out. Just be honest about what is 'ancient' and what is 'modern', that's all. It saves a lot of back-pedaling in the long run.
Working on a puzzle can be a lot of fun. It increases the ability to focus and sharpens concentration. It builds patience and encourages the development of reasoned conjecture. You try a piece. Maybe it fits and maybe it doesn't. You check under the sofa. You go on. In the case of Pagan history, as it is in the hobby of tabletop puzzling, the journey, the work itself, is the reward. I don't know how many of the missing pieces that we will eventually find and I don't know what the final picture of 'Pagan History' will look like when more of it is filled in. But I do know this: There is no box. And there never will be a box.
Because wherever we came from and wherever we are going, Pagans are just too vibrant, too innovative and just too stubbornly freedom-loving to ever be so conveniently or neatly contained.
Walk in Love and Light,
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, December 31st., 2001
Image credit: Image used by permission and was sent in by Aelhaeran... (email exerpt) "Dear Fritz, this shot is from last Saturday's Yule gathering which, for the first time in EDO pastoral observance, we held in- doors... The gathering was an intimate, family-style affair, smaller than we have been having in the recent past. But it was deeply spiritual and moving... And by the way Fritz, it was only this week that I had the pleasure of hearing your music and... well all I can say is... WOW! You have an amazing gift"! Aelhaeran AnDubnoaedh Email
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