Articles/Essays From Pagans
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
A Witch in the Closet
How Many People Can You Fit Under An Umbrella?
Gut Hunches, Mouse Dreams, and Pinkie Sense
December 30th. 2012 ...
Ritual "Cheat Sheet" Bracelet
Magick is All Around Us
Confessions of a Living Satyr
A Tiny Bit of Belly Dance History
December 23rd. 2012 ...
The Warrior Goddess and You.
World Change: A Message from Greece
What's the Meaning of Life, Anyway?
My Brother's Keeper
December 16th. 2012 ...
Keeping Christ in Xmas
Love is the Law
Listen to Your Heart's Wisdom
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
The Literate Pagan|
Posted: February 10th. 2002
Times Viewed: 6,157
Whether we look at the statistics , or simply look at our circles, covens and community at large, there is little doubt that Wiccans are, as a whole, highly educated. Most of us are open-minded, tolerant, actively seeking knowledge; most of us have a college education or higher. This implies that we are also highly literate.
But what if I were to suggest that we are, as a whole, not literate at all?
In his book Lives on the Boundary, author and teacher Mike Rose suggests that true literacy goes far beyond the ability to read. Rather, 'literacy' is the ability to interpret, understand, and apply literature to your life. It is the ability to make sense of, read into, and learn applicable things from the written word. Do we do this with our own literature?
As a community we tend to value personal experience over theology, and to a point that's fine. Being a 'living religion' - changing rituals, experimenting with new liturgy, emphasizing 'what works now for me' keeps routine and dogmatic tradition from separating us from the Divine. Moreover, knowledge of what works must come through experimentation and experience. It can't always be gleaned from a book. But you can only teach yourself so much, come to so many conclusions on your own, before you hit a dead end. And, while using literature as sources for techniques, liturgy, and ritual format is a fine application, it will only take us so far.
The downside of emphasizing the now is the tendency to de-emphasize what came before: the rich history of poetry, song, and philosophy that is building up behind us as we move ahead. Our literature offers us a collection, not only of other people's experiences, but also of reactions, musings, and possible explanations of those experiences, a collection of the thoughts and lessons of those who traveled this path before us. Through academic study and critical analysis of our literature, we can enter into a discourse with those authors, comparing, contrasting and ultimately learning more than simple technique and ritual format, and more than we could each of us learn on our own.
How many of us treat our religion as if it has this academic merit, with a foundation of literary resources from which we can build our practices, philosophies, debates, and arguments? How many of us are truly literate in the canon of Wicca?
Starhawk states in The Spiral Dance that liturgy is a key that unlocks our inner self, our 'younger self, ' and that chant, song and poetry are the tools that allow the younger self to play. It is this play that unlocks our true energy, the magickal power of our subconscious that transforms reality without our direct awareness. It is for this reason that our liturgy, written mostly in poetry and applied in the form of song, chant, and the mystical play of ritual, is so powerful. On a deep psychological level, this perspective is truth. Yet, there is another method of analysis that both compliments and enhances Starhawk's theory. Critical reading shows us not only the way our literature affects us, but also how it accomplishes this effect. Why does a particular poem work within our community, when others do not? And what about it taps into the younger self -- that deep well of cultural knowledge and symbolism -- and causes emotion to overflow into powerful magick? What tools are the artists utilizing? What turns of phrase, metaphor, symbols, lyrical trills and trappings, are being tweaked and twisted, to affect us the way they do?
As Cunningham observed in Earth Power, 'Since the subconscious mind works through symbols, it is important to cultivate the ability to interpret these symbols, to decipher their meaning' (Power, 11). In this spirit, let's examine a poem, often sung in round, which even most solitary of practitioners will be familiar with.
'We all come from the Goddess
And to her we shall return
Like a drop of rain
Flowing to the ocean.'
It is a song most often used at times of change, when comfort or support is needed. Currently, most people 'read' it by memorizing, singing, and letting their voices and spirits swell with the beauty of it, applying it without understanding why it works.
Let's begin thinking about why it affects us so profoundly, and what lessons might be hidden in the text.
Why do you think the author wrote this poem? To comfort, to expound a philosophy, to teach us a lesson? What words make you think this, and why? Which philosophy, and which lesson, does this poem teach us? What is this poem about? Oneness? Wholeness? Does it imply a separation from the Divine, an imperfect state (rain) when we were originally part of the perfect whole (ocean)? Does it imply the promise that we shall return to that state of perfection? That smacks of a philosophy that most of us spring away from -- the idea that God is a separate being, far away 'up there.' How does this relate to the Wiccan/Neo-Pagan ideal that God/dess is immanently manifest within the world and all parts of it? Why do you think that the author chose to challenge this belief?
Since the rain and the ocean are both water, does the poem imply that we are all made of the same stuff, the 'divine' substance? Why did the author choose rain, the ocean, and water? Would you sight Cunningham's take on water as the source of life and love (Earth, 30)? Would you tie in Starhawk's note that from water, associated with death, 'comes the courage to face our deepest feelings' (Starhawk, 77)? If we 'read' the poem while thinking of Zsuzsanna Budapest's link between water, the menstrual flow, and the divine nature of women, does it become and exclusively feminine poem about an exclusively Feminine Divine, accessible only to women? Why are we 'flowing, ' rather than 'trick'ling, ' 'running' or 'falling'? Does the word imply an additional connection to menstrual flow? To the ebb and flow of the seasons? To the moon-guided flow of the tides? What do you make of the connection between the ocean, flowing (tides), the moon, and the Goddess? Why do you think all of these have been, within our traditions, symbols of Her? And what does this poem teach us about our relationship to Her?
It is a simple chant, but it works because it had a complex soul. Add cultural and historical context, especially to older literature such as Gardnerian ritual and Valiente's poetry, and the possibilities compound. What did these authors originally mean to convey? What do they convey to us now? Why has the interpretation changed, and what does that say about our community's growth? How can we take what we learn, and use it to shape what we are growing to become?
As daring as the statement is, most of us don't take our religion seriously enough to give it genuine academic attention. How many of us know the true origins of Wicca? How many of us can name ten Pagan authors, poets, or leaders, and tell why they are noteworthy? How many of us know who wrote the liturgy we use every full moon? These are all part of our canon, so why don't we know? Are we afraid that study will take the power out of our liturgy, or invalidate our religion?
Maybe it is time to view our 'ancient provenance as an inspired legend rather than hard and fast history, ' as Charlotte Allen said. Perhaps doing so will free us from the shackles of dogma -- shackles that we are slipping on much too happily -- and inspire us to embrace and understand our unique system of symbolism, metaphor and allusion. All of this is part and parcel of being literate.
This then, is my charge unto you: seek, question and learn. While we weren't watching, language, mythology, symbolism, and history uniquely our own have been born within our fledgling culture. Consider theology, critical reading, historical research, and cross-cultural and inter-religious comparative studies. Through them, we can create a framework for interpretation, dialogue, and critique of our literature, and through all of this we may gain a deeper understanding of these young cultural births, what they make us, and what we want to become through them. It is about time we become literate in our culture, give it the intellectual attention that it has been struggling to earn, and in this way come to a deeper understanding of our own selves.
- Allen, Charlotte. 'The Scholars and the Goddess.' The Atlantic Online Jan. 2001. www.theatlantic.com/issues/2001/01/allen.html.
- Budapest, Zsuzsanna. The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries. Oakland: Wingbow Press, 1980.
- Starhawk. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1979.
- Cunningham, Scott. Earth Power: Techniques of Natural Magic. St. Lewis: Llewellyn Publishing, 1997.
- Cunningham, Scott. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: More Techniques of Natural Magic. St. Lewis: Llewellyn Publishing, 1998.
- Rose, Mike. Lives on the Boundary. New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 1989.
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Bio: Michelle is a senior undergraduate at Pennsylvania State University, majoring in both Japanese and English (Creative Writing). She is a proud member of Alpha Gamma Delta Women's Fraternity, and has been a member of PSU's Pagan Student Organization, Silver Circle, since the fall of 1997. Currently, besides attending to lectures, papers, and translations, she helps organize Silver Circle's educational programs and Full Moon rituals.
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