Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Pagan Body

For Pagans, the human body is holy, an expression of the divine. But we live within a dominant culture that disrespects the body. We can't help but be affected. What does it mean to experience one's own body as a Pagan? How can we heal our bodies within a culture that devalues them? How do we create new value?

Many Pagans have an understanding of the body as more than just the physical stuff, the gross anatomy. Whether we travel in the astral, work with chakras, read auras, or ground and raise energy, we acknowledge the reality of etheric bodies, energy bodies - the subtle anatomy. My first experiences of the subtler bodies came in yoga practice and my work with a gifted energy healer. Yet only in the last year or so have I begun to understand and accept the significance of energy bodies. I've begun to see energy patterns around people's physical bodies. I take more seriously the feelings I get when I'm around someone. I'm learning to heal with my hands - or to trust the healing I can do with my hands. I sense the life, the chi or prana, in some food, and the lack of chi in other food. I feel the subtle but vivid quality of the flower essence I've been taking. The world comes alive in a whole new way, and while much of the time I'm not tuned in, when I am, it's thrilling.

Within a Pagan belief system, then, we're talking not about "the body" but about bodies. Part of developing one's skills in magic involves learning to sense the subtler realms. Fortunately, since we live in a postmodern age, we have the wisdom of other traditions to help us. For me, yoga has been crucial. It's helped me learn the joys of an embodied spiritual practice and to experience the communication between physical and energy bodies moving together, carried on muscle, tendon, and breath. Lying in corpse pose, I wonder what becomes of the energy bodies when the physical body dies. Are our bodies inextricably linked one to another, or does energy persist, perhaps dissipating, while matter decays and transforms?

Our bodies are no less holy for being temporal, for being born and dying. I eschew any belief system that would rank the physical body less than "spirit" because of the former's inevitable demise. Once I read a poem about the holiness of fragile and temporary things. Yes. Illness is as sacred as health. Purity is a false ideal, and one that hates the body. We're a mess, all of us - earthy, bloody, broken. And we're perfect that way. There is nothing to save.

What does my being a Witch have to do with the way I live my body/ies? How does my commitment to healing the earth and my belief in the sacredness of bodies express itself in practice? What is an ethical way to eat, when one's ethics include the honoring of sensuality? Which practices express distaste for the body, and which honor it? Where does dieting come in? What about cosmetic surgery? What about practices that value appearance over function, like body building or fashion? How about where we live or how we keep our homes? How we have and raise children? Choices of medical care? Accessibility for people with impaired bodies? Caring for people with old bodies? Attitudes toward dying? How do Pagan beliefs about the body/ies affect our beliefs and actions about all of these other things?


Rubicon said...

well said. I can understand sense withdrawl for a specific purpose or goal; I even understand the benefits of delayed gratification for the same reason. Like you, I don't understand how certain teachings say that everything is an illusion and our bodies a burden to what keeps us from spiritual enlightenment.

In fact, I believe the opposite and say that by respecting our bodies and tuning them to the natural rhythms of nature we will find the balance neccessary to work at our spiritual paths. Denying our bodies and senses but at the same time overindulging in them has been disasterous. We need to become intuitive and nuturing. :)

olive said...

Loved your post. Thinking about this myself led me to giving up fast food altogether, besides reading Fast Food Nation! :O :)

I would like to see the pagan community move towards a point where you could mention the idea of ethical eating without being shot down as being too political or not respecting other people's truths.

Pagans are so ready to accept the energies of "Atlantis" more than the idea that they could have a better personal energy in ritual if they ate organic. Which is such a shame! :)

The Zero Boss said...

Great post. I put in my two cents here.