Articles/Essays From Pagans
June 16th. 2013 ...
How To Stay Spiritual Amidst This Chaos?
Hearing The Music And Dancing The Dance
A Tale of the Wood
June 9th. 2013 ...
The Nature of Sacrifice
The Magick of Buildings
Start your own Pagan Church in Canada - A Detailed Guide
June 2nd. 2013 ...
Maiden, Mother, Who?! (A Discussion of the Triple Goddess)
Gods Who Live In My House
Why the 'Redneck Pagan'?
Among the Greenwod - An Interview with Raven Grimassi
May 26th. 2013 ...
So You Think You've Found a Teacher...
Learning To Live Your Own Life
Raising Personal Magickal Energy for Spellwork
Casting The Wiccan Circle
May 19th. 2013 ...
The Role of Identity in Magic
Talking Trash? It's a Dirty Subject but Waste Happens.
My Wiccan Journey
13 Keys: The Victory of Netzach
May 12th. 2013 ...
Pagan Studies I: How Should We Define Modern Paganism?
The Third Path
Nothing Special... Part Two
May 5th. 2013 ...
The Value of Multicultural Awareness
Put Your Back Into It (Our Lady of the Sacred Honey Badger)
Moon Musings, Planetary Preponderances and Red Lipped Bat Fish
April 28th. 2013 ...
Lessons from the Lessers: Iris
April 21st. 2013 ...
Taken By The Goddess: The Crescent Moon Tattoo
The Gods/Being Godbothered
To Be A Witch
The Archetypes are Gods: Re-godding the Archetypes
April 14th. 2013 ...
On The Inclusion of Children
'Wand Fun' With Grandson
Lessons from a Baby
Lessons of Freedom: On Divinity and Healing
April 7th. 2013 ...
Out of the Broom Closet... Sorta
A Journey Through the Witches Tarot
History and Science Behind Numerology
March 31st. 2013 ...
What is the Magickal Self?
Ethics and Numerology
March 24th. 2013 ...
Keystones of the Sacred Land
March 17th. 2013 ...
Why Some Pagans and Witches Still Hide
Witch Heritage 101: What Happens When Witch Haters Joke about anti-Witch Films
I'm Not a Broom. So What's with the Closet?
March 10th. 2013 ...
Top Ten Stupid Things I Did as a New Pagan: Part 3
Hunting for the Real Witch in Film
The Collective Shadow
Lies - The Opposite of Truth
March 3rd. 2013 ...
Grounding and Releasing Negative Energy
A Patchwork of Magick
February 24th. 2013 ...
Top Ten Stupid Mistakes I Made as a New Pagan (Part Two)
February 17th. 2013 ...
Top Ten Stupid Mistakes I made as a New Pagan... Part One
Gardening with Crystal Energies
A Call from the Ancestors
Moon Musings, Planetary Preponderances and Black Water Snakes
February 10th. 2013 ...
We Are the Weirdos, Mister: A Completely Uncool Story of Origin
February 3rd. 2013 ...
"I'll Grind Your Bones to Make my Bread": Pagans and Animal Husbandry
The Role of Contemporary Culture in Magic
A Pagan Response to Endangered Earth
The Great Mother's Gift, Heinlein, and the Nature of Squirrels
13 Keys: The Glory of Hod
January 27th. 2013 ...
Why We Do Need Wicca
The Cosmos In the Coffee Shop
On Travel Spirituality and Magick
January 20th. 2013 ...
Beloved Backs and How to Save Them
Building or Burning Bridges?
Plants, Magic and Intuition
Plagiarism - How It Harms Our Community
January 13th. 2013 ...
Ramblings of a Pagan Guy: Stupid Clichés
The Magick and Power of Words
Aging Is Not Easy
The Riddle of Who We Are?
January 6th. 2013 ...
Wicca v Witchcraft
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
The Syncretic Pagan|
Posted: January 24th. 2004
Times Viewed: 2,850
Last night I went dancing. I hadn't gone for months, so I was sorely out of practice. The dance hall was full of people...some skilled, others more like myself. After enjoying a couple of songs, I took a seat to watch the couples around me. My date and I picked out individual dancers to watch and analyze. Some specialized in turns and momentum, while others worked on complex footwork or smooth delivery. One particularly skilled couple caught my eye. The man had taught several classes in the past, and the woman, though quite young, was every bit his equal. They danced with zeal and grace and had a vivacious quality that shone above the other couples. Their basic game was simple. As the music progressed, he switched his style of dancing. She shifted to match his changes with dazzling speed. East Coast Swing. Lindy Hop. Balboa. Shag. Charleston. One style after another passed before my eyes. I was stupefied, and they were having a ball.
When I sat down to argue for syncretism I could think of no better example to illustrate its merit. My spiritual path is a method of aligning my movements with the rhythms of the world around me. In essence, it is the way I dance to Life.
Naturally, I enjoy some dances more than others. My Swing is better than my Salsa. I took to Tango better than Two-step. I can Waltz, but it never moves me like Zydeco. As I learn more about dancing, one style begins to inform another. The lessons about weight changes and momentum that I have learned in Swing carry over into Zydeco or even Contra dancing. The foundation of every style of dancing is the same. Regardless of the style, I am learning to liberate my body by understanding and controlling its movements. This process extends beyond the boundaries of dancing. Some activities improve my dancing, while others are improved by it. For example, I can be a good lead because I learned to have quiet hands and a firm connection from jumping horses. Alternately, when I paint I create the rhythm of the strokes with my whole body, not just the tip of my brush. The boundaries between activities are fluid, if they can be said to exist at all.
The real goal of dancing, of course, is to forget that I am dancing and to simply be and move. This is the real joy, the moment of ecstasy that validates whole nights of awkward fumbling. During these brief moments of clarity, the whole apparatus of dancing falls away. I am no longer executing a preordained series of steps. I improvise. I glide. For one fleeting moment I taste freedom.
Then I realize that I am doing it, and it is gone.
This ecstasy, whether it happens on a barroom floor or an altar, is the stuff from which all spiritual paths are crafted. In the words of the violinist Stéphane Grapelli, "Great improvisers are like priests. They are thinking only of their god." The daily toil of the spiritual seeker only enables this experience. The rules have little intrinsic value except as an aid towards this goal.
Some dance styles are more technical than others and require more training. Lindy Hop takes a long time to really sink in, but anybody can go out and "booty dance" at a local club. Paradoxically, the more technical dances, like Lindy, require the dancer to be more aware of the imaginary nature of the dance itself. This lesson was taught to me while learning how to Lindy. East Coast Swing is a six-count dance, while Lindy is an eight-count dance. The music for both of them is in 4/4 time. Experienced dancers switch back and forth constantly. I found this vexing and asked the instructor about it. His reply was a bit more profound than I had expected. "You have to remember that both dances are constructs," he explained. "They don't really exist. The music has a rhythm, and you just have to put them together to make them fit. Six-count. Eight- count. Really no difference."
Likewise, a woman that was teaching us Zydeco at a local bar showed us how we could use our Swing moves. She even showed us that we could use them during a Waltz. The trick is to know what beat to start a move on and how long to take to execute it.
One dance naturally flows into another, but some purists would prefer to keep them apart. Often, the purist mentality has more to do with establishing and preserving identity than it does with dancing. There is power in exclusivity...selfish, insecure power. The purist creates exclusivity by rigorously enforcing a complicated set of taboos and rules that put a newcomer in a position of uncertainty.
Furthermore, the purist stance safeguards identity by creating a false sense of stasis and security. The purist arrests the growth of his/her particular tradition by attempting to define it as (s)he perceives it to have been at some particular point in time. 'This is the real Tango.' 'This is traditional Irish dancing.'
In an insular, provincial world, a dance style could exist in a 'pure' state. It could remain in that state if a person was raised hearing only one type of music and dancing one type of dance. Yet our era is an era of mixing and hybridization. I turn on the radio and hear hip-hop, salsa, jazz, Mozart, and corporate pop. I walk down the street and pass Asians, Africans, Europeans, and Americans. My clothes were made in far-flung countries and my food was grown in distant soil. I am of a world in which identity is a fluid idea. Dance styles and spiritual paths cannot properly be segregated. In truth, I see this as our greatest strength.
I am drawn to the modern Pagan movement, because I perceive it to be the least dogmatic of contemporary, Occidental, spiritual movements. The very term Paganism includes every branch of spiritual practice that is not accepted Christian practice. Rather than hurrying to re-concretize belief structures, I would like to see modern Paganism moving in the opposite direction. I would like to see syncretism embraced to such an extent that the very concept of a Pagan religion disintegrates. I would like to see people simply dancing to the music of Life.
Peter Ralston says it well in his book Reflections of Being:
"Movement being necessary for life, we will move. That being the case, we must know what it is that directs our movement so we can move in alignment with the very heart of our being and its demand... So our courage must be true and our persistence in opening up and noticing what is conceptualization and what is simply Being, unshaken. However we must guard against making this an exclusive quality or reinforcement of our fixed conclusions. At all costs, don't make this another righteous belief system."
But I think Irving Mills and Duke Ellington say it (and play it) even better:
"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. Don't mean a thing, all you got to do is swing. Makes no difference if that rhythm's sweet or hot. Give that rhythm everything...everything you've got."
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Bio: I can be found roaming the alleys of the Fan in Richmond, VA. I have a long list of former addresses and an even longer list of former jobs. I enjoy sniffing out dead stuff, chewing on things, and lounging on the furniture. Given my choice of superpowers, I would have the ability to unerringly find things. As it is I can rarely find my hat or matching socks. Failing that, I'd like the ability to magically change people's bumper stickers. I once had my left arm shown on the Discovery channel. Someday I'd like to see the Northern Lights going full tilt.
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