A new chapter

So… today my sister discovered I’ve been attending a pagan full moon circle. This is, well, pretty non-Christian. Regular readers of this blog will already know this, but this was news to my sister.

And her first reaction was to ask how that fits with the core Christian beliefs of one God, one Saviour.

How indeed.

I did my best to avoid the question without seeming to avoid it. She knew I’d been looking for another church. Today she gained a better idea of where I’ve been looking. At least she was receptive to hearing my story.

She and I both have had a delayed maturing into adulthood largely because neither of our parents knew how to take us through that last step from adolescence. Part of this is because whilst Mum is a child of a broken marriage, she and Dad have never to our knowledge fought. However, it is only when a person has a close relationship disintegrate is it possible to learn certain things about ourselves. Mum and Dad have not gone through that with each other and so my sister and I had to find out how take that last step ourselves. In a large way without really knowing we had to.

Part of my journey led me way from my sheltered upbringing and that includes what I believe.

What I now believe is that there is so much more to the spiritual realm than the Christian church wants to admit or even know about. Do I believe Yahweh exists? Yes. Do I believe he is the only god? No longer. I have learnt that different gods think and behave differently. This is a skill almost lost to most people. So much of western secular culture is conditioned to think the choice is one god or no god. The idea of many gods, all with different personalities is really alien to many.

What about that Jesus is my personal saviour? That’s harder. My first honest response to this question is “saviour from what?” which is quite a non-Christian response. I couldn’t say that to my sister – but I didn’t think of that response until much much later. You see, when I stepped out from the Christian Guilt (this is the corporate shaming of what you are and are not supposed to do as a “christian”) I also left behind the idea of being a sinner.

Of course, the real risk in alerting my family to where I’m headed is that of it fundamentally changing my relationships. Whilst the loss of my Christianity is likely to worry or scare my sister, it is more likely to upset my mother.

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A Re-evaluation Of Christmas

Christmas has always been a time of the year with complex layers of meaning and purpose. There are traditions and practices that differ across religious groups and even across geographical groups as people in northern Europe celebrate it differently to those in North America.

Even the basic meaning is not so simple to describe. Christians and church-goers hold tightly to the fact that they celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some go so far as to avoid as many of the secular practices as possible. This means no tree as that pre-dates Christian celebrations, and sometimes no presents. In less extreme environments, there is a fusion of secular and religious practices and iconography that flows both ways. And I use he word fusion quite deliberately. Many churches will have Christmas decorations in their chapel, for instance, and even the most secular of carol singing nights will include many of the Christian ones.

But as I move further away from Christianity and further into Paganism, I myself run into some odd dichotomies.

First of all, I can’t easily extricate the Pagan pieces of Christmas. The history of many of our Christmas traditions in the modern world is murky, but one fact that is clear is that a lot of them originate in places that are cold at this time of year. It’s not cold here – which leads me to the other big fact: a lot of Christmas is based on Yule and in this part of the world that was six months ago. :-/

That leaves the secular pieces. Which means consumerism and commercialism. But they borrow heavily from history. Which takes me back to square one: Christianity and Pagan Yule, only re-interpreted and mangled to suit capitalism.

I found an article the other day that pointed out that the Church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus in the early centuries. It just wasn’t part of the Christian calendar back then. The gospels don’t even tell us when in the year it happened (the only clue is that the sheep were outside at night), so the writers didn’t think it important, either. But Christian theology was going through a phase where the emerging thinking was that Jesus’ ministry was a mystical story. So the Church authorities decided to start celebrating his birthday as a way of reminding people that he had been a real person. Yule and Saturnalia was chosen. And thus we now have Christmas at this time of year.

Typically, the Church has largely forgotten that that happened. But in the west, celebrations of individual birthdays is normal, so doing one for the baby Jesus does not feel odd. Children are often taught this comparison!

But I don’t need to celebrate this anymore. Christmas is being re-shaped for me.

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Shifting Ground

What’s the one unavoidable fact you’re going to come up against sooner or later when attending an event at a church run by the church? Yep: you will be evangelised to.

Once upon a time that would not have bothered me.

I miss a portion of the friendships from my old church, but I can’t stand the preaching anymore. Nor can I honestly sing the songs I used to love to play, either. As a compromise, I thought I’d go to some of the less central events, such as the Men’s Breakfasts that happen every few months. The last one was last weekend. Not being part of the church life anymore has distanced me from the place. This, I knew. But I realized for the first time that being part of the church’s life is what makes the small talk in such meetings work.

As is the normal structure, they have a speaker after everyone has (mostly) eaten enough. The topics can vary wildly. The last one I went to looked at some hokum numerology on the Bible texts. Last week was very evangelical. The pastor of a church they are looking to merge with spoke about his up-bringing. It was a fairly typical drunken-rebellious-teenager-finds-Christ-turns-his-life-around stories. Mike had gone further than most before the big turnaround, though, including petty crime and other things of that ilk.

Since I kind of know the guy, I would have little doubt that the story is true. Nonetheless I was annoyed. Annoyed because I’d tricked myself about it. I don’t want to not go there again, but I will have to check the topic for next time.

You see, the spiritual ground I am walking on has shifted at once subtly and radically in the last month or so.

By the time I realized I was on this journey, I’d been questioning and seeking things about the Bible that the church doesn’t teach at all well, if at all. Then I got permission from Yahweh to go explore outside the church’s walls. That was when I went Wiccan, but always with one eye on Christianity. I had some mad dream to combine the two, as I know others have done. Along the way I joined a Pagan circle and became a regular, opening up to spiritual things I had never contemplated before.

Once or twice Yahweh found me out on my journey.  And every time he was happy I was finding where I should be and in no way wanted me to go back to what the church had built. And just in the last few weeks I truly feel he’s set me free. Free from “churchianity”. Free to leave him behind. Free to not consider myself any sort of Christian anymore.

It is an odd feeling in some ways. Yet it feels right.

It also means I am not at home in the midst of church-based evangelising anymore. They don’t know it probably should be aimed at me, but they’d misunderstand anyway.

My spiritual ground has shifted. Away from the “Church”.

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The Art of being Pagan

Imagine you’re on your way to your regular Sunday morning church service. You rock up, maybe with a family, maybe not, and head inside. You have your art bag and there are still a few places left at the tables.

Wait… art bag? tables? What happened to rows of pews and a church service? Well when was the last time you crafted something new and meaningful with your own hands in a church event? I bet it was when you were last in Sunday School.

One thing that is abundantly clear is that a Christian worship event is actually really rather passive compared to a pagan event. Full moon circles are designed for everyone to participate and to a large extent don’t work if someone sits out. Church services are structured more like a performance with a handful of people shouldering the burden of that. Pagan celebrations will usually involve hand-crafts, Christian celebrations usually do not. It is even an event in itself if items of any sort are even handed out at a church service.

Why is this?

Pagan rituals often require personal effort in a way that praying in a mainstream evangelical church does not. The notion of individualising the work is important and even referred to as magickal and participants will usually value and thus keep the token created, whether they’ve spent two hours or two minutes over it. It is a natural part of the ritual. I’ve been a part of church services where there have been interactive pieces, usually along the lines of writing a response on a slip of paper. These are often not valued afterwards by their participants who rarely know what to do with them.

I sometimes wonder what my church could be like if it picked up some of the art tasks that my pagans do. I know a church would never create rune stones, but there are other Christian symbols they could create with clay. You’d have to solve the problem of children being around and not understanding the exercise, although now that I think about it, it could be an incredible learning experience for them. That does mean the adults would have to take it seriously and reverently. I’ve seen in the churches I’ve been in that that’s difficult.

Another difference in attitude between Christians and pagans, I guess. And one that dabbling in art won’t solve.

 

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I think I have found my tree.

This sounds like such a silly statement. But where things spiritual come in to play, it can be hard to find things that are off limits. I’m kinda sure that the tree I found is what I was supposed to find, but I’m aware that this is – well, not temporary but transitory. The goal wasn’t to have a tree, it was to find a tree. I expect a different instruction in time.

The tree in question is a piece of jewellery, specifically a necklace – and the first I really felt called to wear. It is a symbol of Yggdrasil, the World-Tree out of Norse mythology. And this is oddly significant.

I spent part of last weekend away with some pagan friends celebrating Beltane. (Beltane is the counterpart to Samhain, both of them probably the most important two sabbats in the pagan calendars. Beltane is a solidly Spring event, which is why we celebrate it at this time of the year in the southern hemisphere.) The whole thing was two nights and two days of a variety of activities of a most pagan bent. This group has been doing this for quite some years and do it for both Beltane and Samhain.

The theme for this one was “Viking”, which meant Norse. Dressing up for Saturday night was encouraged and the costuming varied from a handmade kirtle to costumes from eBay to random items from home wardrobes that might qualify (yeah, that was me).

We were also aiming to connect with the earth dragon. This was the focus of most of Saturday. It was a craft exercise of making our own dragon masks.

However, quite what that could entail is actually fairly broad – and that was a little bit of a problem. When you have a spiritual system that has no fixed rule book (or indeed almost no rule book) and an extremely small number of practitioners, there is an awfully large amount of figuring it out yourself and very often on the fly. This is totally different to (for example) Christianity where there is always scads of advice available along with a lot of quite definite ideas.

What the regulars seem to have not realized is that a newbie does sometimes need some extra guidance. One thing I wish I’d known about two weeks earlier is that pictures are around of the masks made previously. Also, I missed some useful group meditation that I didn’t know about, and nearly panicked in the face of everyone being helpfully unhelpful until I realised two things: 1. there was no pressure to finish or even start by any particular time and 2. I needed to do my own meditation to find inspiration. Perils of arriving late.

I kind of know now how to find a place in the nearby bush to find inspiration from the earth dragon. I could not say I would’ve known how to do that six months ago. But this time I did. I found my earth dragon was one of concealment, and yet he had a bright, flamboyant side hiding in there, too. So my mask became one of two halves. Strips of dark leather and dead leaves on one side, leopard print and bright ribbons on the other. It reflects me in a lot of ways. (And yes, I had a very limited range of material to work with.)

It was probably that afternoon that I found the small collection of jewellery one of the others there had on display for sale. There was a range of items, necklaces, earrings and bracelets and a variety of icons. That’s where I saw Yggdrasil. I have other such items; a pentagram, a green man and have been looking for a tri-moon. But the tree sang to me. However, I didn’t buy it then.

Saturday night was the highlight of the weekend. The plan all along was to create our own ritual, complete with custom invocations. The original intention was to call Freyja, Frey and the Valkyries, but in the wake of a hot day a storm cell moved over us. A very violent storm cell: Thor had decided to make his precense known. We decided to call Thor instead of Frey but the lack of anything that could stand in for Mjolnir was mildly annoying. And then I remembered I had a rubber hamer in my car, which looked a lot more like Mjolnir than a claw-hammer would! And that’s how I got asked to write an invocation to Thor. Thor the god of thunder, Thor the mighty warrior, Thor the protector. I definitely need to read up on the Thor of mythology as opposed to the Thor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

After the circle was cast, we danced a maypole. This was kinda fun. Remember, it’s only called a “may-pole” because it was danced on May 1. Which is Beltane in Europe.

We were supposed to have a bonfire as well at that point, but due to there being a Total Fire Ban, we had to make do with a small cauldron indoors filled with methylated spirits. Once we were all tired, we went back outside to close the circle. The structured part of the evening over, several people started playing drinking games, which was amusing to watch for a while.

We had one more activity which was what Sunday morning was for: we made our own set of rune stones. I’d seen professionally made rune stones before and was familiar with how runes worked. It had never occurred to me to make my own, though. But I’d spent a lot of my childhood playing with clay because my grandfather was an inveterate artist. He was always sketching or drawing or painting or sculpting. And the latter was with clay. So theoretically I knew what I was doing.

Being a spiritual exercise, though, what came with the crafting instructions were also instructions about how to begin using them for spiritual tasks. The process and benefits of blooding them (yes, putting your own blood on them) was described, and this coupled with the fact that they are hand-crafted can render them powerful. I’m tempted to actually do this with mine.

It was after this that I finally gave in and bought my tree. I’m not sure where to go next with it. The weekend away was pretty much over once we’d cleaned up after the rune-making and had lunch. But there is a regular full-moon circle next Friday which I will be attending.

It feels like I’ve crossed a milestone of some sort. The demands of living in today’s modern world makes this journey into new beliefs and spirituality systems a long journey. And there are pieces of my past life I can’t really leave behind as I must continue to masquerade as a Christian to some.

But I’m not a Christian anymore. Not like I was, anyway.

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An upside-down world.

I got asked a few minutes ago at work if I was dressing up at all for tomorrow. Why tomorrow? Well tomorrow is October 31, and as well it falling on a Friday, it’s also Halloween. Americans seem to love Halloween and we’re owned by an American company. So reasonable question, then?

Yes it is, but that’s actually not my point. For years I lived under the misapprehension of Halloween being a satanic festival when it is nothing of the sort. It is mostly a mangled mimicry of a pagan festival: Samhain. And the other problem is that the consumerist version of it is extremely American.

It was also an interesting opportunity for a discussion on beliefs. One I did not take, I hasten to add, though I admit I was tempted.

Picking up a more pagan belief system inevitably means picking up on the eight sabbats and Samhain is one of the really big important ones. It also means becoming more aware of the seasons and once you do that, it is an inescapable fact in the Southern Hemisphere, Halloween does not co-incide with Samhain like it does north of the equator. Instead, it is Beltane.

 

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The Seeking Of Solace

What do you do when you’re shifting religion and you need a spiritual hug and safe place to fall apart briefly?

Good question.

In time past, one of my coping mechanisms in times of stress was disconnecting from the world and praying to God for peace and calm. Unlike other people who thrive in stressful situations, I don’t: I shatter. Holding it together is only ever a temporary measure until things settle down. Try to hold it together too long and I get stress-sickness. Of course, the real solution is to actually remove the stress. 

In the meantime, finding a quiet place for a pray and a cry does wonders. I’d like to be able to do the Wiccan same – especially as spells are actually really the same thing as a prayer. The other kicker is that I don’t have anything remotely Wiccan here at work. The nearest I can do is a local park.

Maybe this is some good incentive to start carrying one or two Wiccan things with me more often. A lot more often.

 

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