Pagan enough

DSCN0990So there’s been yet another internet dust-up between non-theist and polytheist pagans over who is and is not a “real” pagan. And while in the past I may have engaged to defend my own non-theist position, this time around I find myself not caring.

If you’re interested, I point you to this rather brilliant post by John Halstead at Humanistic Paganism (or really all the posts at that blog):

Literal gods are for the literal-minded: re-enchanting polytheism

As for me, I don’t care if Mr. Random Internet Pagan number 4537 thinks that my paganism isn’t real, or that I am a vile blasphemer for not believing in gods. There will always be someone who disagrees with you, and, in matters of religion, this disagreement can easily turn hateful, and I want no part of that.

I don’t find my paganism on the pages of Facebook. I find it in the land beneath me. On my lunch break yesterday, I sat under a willow tree by the riverbank. Sunbeams filtered through the leaves, casting interplays of light and dappled shade onto the grass. A light breeze moved the branches, making them sigh and whisper, the sound mingling with the tinkling flow of the river washing over the stones on its banks, and the choir of birds, each singing their own song, calling for mates or territory. Because the riverbank area is common land, there were cows grazing, occasionally lowing softly to each other. Being in the centre of town as well, there was the sound of traffic buzzing past, and people talking, out enjoying the sunshine.

All these sounds combining to produce the song of the land, the Oran Mor.

And I sat, feeling the warmth of the sun above me and the softness of the earth beneath me. Everything, from the grass to the rocks to the clouds overhead seemed to tingle with life and vitality. The edges of “me” blurred until all there was was this moment, this connection, one life in many forms.

This is how I perceive the sacred. No gods required, just this.

To me, “pagan” means “of the land”, as its Latin derivation suggests. To be truly of the land, to know it and love it and connect with it, is to be pagan. If that means reifying bits of it as gods and doing elaborate rituals, that’s your prerogative. If that simply means sitting under a tree and letting the infinite now carry you beyond yourself, then that is pagan too. And nobody can take that from me.

Truthfully, since coming back from Ireland, I have removed all trace of gods, even as archetypes or personifications of natural forces, from my practice. Not consciously, but they have just fallen away, an old crutch no longer needed. I still love the old stories,  of course, and have a deep respect for the power of myth, but my daily paganism is of the sun, the land, the river, the trees, the moon, the stars and the stones.

And it feels deeper. Less structured perhaps, less formalised, less “religious”, but more real, more from the heart and blood and bone. I am here. The earth is here. That is pagan enough for me.

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Spiral

maze-56060_960_720The journey, we are told, is linear. The hero leaves “here” and goes “there”. Mountains are climbed, distances are crossed. Time itself we perceive to be linear. Past-Present-Future. One arrow, pointing one way.

This is not how it works. Modern physics suggests that time is not a straight line, but something much more complicated.

And journeys, too, are more complicated. Is a journey even a good metaphor for a life? Where is the “there”, the destination? Surely not death, although of course that is the ultimate destination for all travellers. But that is rarely what is meant by the journey metaphor. People generally use it to mean some state of achievement, success, self-actualisation, enlightenment, whatever.

I prefer the image of a labyrinth. Not a maze, in which you might get lost, but a traditional labyrinth of the kind you might walk as a meditative practice. There is one path, but the path weaves in and out, doubling back and over on itself, sometimes coming tantalisingly close to the centre, and then looping back out again.

And note here the destination is the centre. Not an external point of reference, but something integral to, and inseparable from, the labyrinth itself. The centre that is nowhere, but is now here.

In nature, we see how life moves through spirals of great activity and then stillness, the hibernation of the hedgehog, the dormancy of the tree, the new life in spring, the punctuated equilibrium of evolution.

And so, too, in any spiritual practice.

Since coming back from Ireland, a trip whose subtle effects I am still working through, I have been busy. I’ve started a new job, one which finally brings me back to the work I want to do as a librarian, the work I trained for and studied for.

This busy-ness and new wave of information, expectation and responsibility, has left me with little time for Druidry. So my practice spiralled into dormancy. And that’s OK. I think I always feel a sense of guilt in these times, like I’m not doing enough, I’m not “Druid” enough unless I do all the things. But that’s not true. I simply had to shift my priorities around to accommodate this new Big Thing in my life.

But it’s been three weeks, a good Druidic triad of time, and things are starting to level off. So my Druidry is emerging again, like a small shoot on a branch, fragile and delicate, but filled with the hope of new life.

The sun still rises. The earth still turns. The birds still sing. The wind in the trees still whispers “all will be well”.

All of which is a long and flowery way of explaining why I haven’t been blogging of late, but there you go!

Ireland

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So I got back last week from a trip/pilgrimage to Ireland, and was swiftly thrown into the deep end of a new job, so I didn’t have the time to reflect much. But it would be a shame not to post some pretty pictures at least!

Ireland is the place of my ancestry, and I was raised by my grandfather to have a very deep sense of rootedness and connection to my Irish heritage (legend has it we’re descended from a long line of ancient chieftains going back to around the 3rd century), yet it isn’t somewhere that I visit very often. So it was great to have a chance to go back, and also to go to some parts of the country that I haven’t been to before, especially the amazing scenery of the Wild Atlantic Way on the west coast.

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One thing that struck me was simply the beauty of the landscape, truly like nowhere else on earth, and all in a relatively small space. Mountains, sea, lakes, rolling fields, all seem nestled up to each other and you can drive through several strikingly different landscapes in one three-hour jaunt across the country.

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The peace of nature was literally breathtaking, in places like Gougane Barra in West Cork or Lough Leane in Killarney. I can see why so many poets, artists and mystics have come from this island and drawn inspiration from it.

There were always reminders of the innate spirituality of the land, whether in the form of Catholic roadside shrines or the older and more numinous places like stones said to have associations with the Druids, dolmens known to be doorways to the land of the Shide, healing wells and sacred lakes.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see that even in Blarney Castle, one of the more tourist-trap locations, there were remnants of the ancient past, and also a recently-restored “Druidic” stone circle originally built around 1703, at the very earliest stages of the Druid Revival period.

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The trip was a busy one, visiting around 7 locations in 6 days, but it was also a wonderful way to take a break from the daily world of work and reconnect to something deep and ancestral. And of course, lots of good food was eaten and local beers were drank!