Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pagan values: pleasure and beauty

Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. Let there be beauty....

(The Charge of the Goddess)

To be incarnate in a human body is to know exquisite pleasure. I imagine that when souls choose to incarnate they do so largely because they want to put on a body and feel the lusciousness of being human: of flesh upon flesh, of swimming in cool water on a hot summer's day, of eating chocolate and strawberries, of dancing and yoga, of stroking an animal's soft fur, of making and witnessing art, of warming in front of a fire, of mud baths and hot springs, of smelling incense and flowers, of nibbling a baby's fat thigh.

For we Pagani, all glory is in embodiment. We don't honor asceticism, chastity, or restraint. There is no reason to deny the pleasures of the flesh. All mutually consensual and pleasurable sex is holy. All variations on the human form are lovely and beloved. Our sacraments include taking care of oneself and one's body, of each other's body, of animals, children, and the land. We seek the pleasure in eating and shitting, in crying and bleeding, in sex and dancing, sleeping, stretching, breathing.

To make beauty is a holy thing: to plant a flower, prepare an altar, pick up litter, carve a toy, sweep a stoop, cook a meal, or paint a picture. We practice bearing witness to the beauty in others. If I could do nothing more than reflect back to my son the beauty that shines in his face and his whole being, then I have been a good mother.

It's not necessarily easy. I complain sometimes. I have a habit of negative judgment. I let ideas about what's wrong, and my self-judgment, cloud my vision of what's true and right and beautiful and holy. I sometimes deny my body what it needs. I worry about the weeds in the garden, the dust in the house, the shape of my body, the uncertainty of my path in life. I tell myself that I don't have time to enjoy myself, or that I don't deserve to, or that I should be doing something different from whatever it is I'm doing. We must be vigilant against self-denial and self-abnegation.

The call is always to open to what is, to make a small patch of earth beautiful and lively, to enjoy the pleasures given to me every day, to love my life and make it holy and delicious and good. To turn toward myself. To embrace the mystery and mess. And to give thanks for the good green earth, all-sustaining and filled with delights. Blessed be.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pagan values: immanence

Deborah Lipp has written recently about immanence, so as a lazy blogger let me point you first to her post. Do come back.

Deborah says that the immanence of deity--which she defines as gods' being inside us--means that the source of value and goodness is also within us. Such a view rejects an authoritarian, "handed down from on high" view of morality in favor of something more self-directed, more democratic. I define immanence more broadly than Deborah does, though I don't disagree with her.

I take the transcendence of deity to mean that god is somewhere outside of nature or everyday reality: above, beyond, distant from us. If god is "out there," even if he can intervene "in here," then "out there" is more divine, better, more desirable. It's heaven. If god is transcendent, then we are necessarily at least somewhat alienated from god, because there is a place he occupies that we don't. (Hence the need for mortal intercessories in Christianity: saints, Mary, or Jesus--someone who can get the message to the big guy, who can mediate between heaven and earth).

The immanence of deity means that there is no "out there"; there is only "right here." The Divine is present on earth and in us. She is present in mountains, springs, trees, compost piles, cities and slums, my pit bull, you, and me. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote that "earth's crammed with heaven." More prosaically, I think of the world's being infused with divinity.

People either believe in the immanence of deity because they experience the world that way (Starhawk famously compares the question "do you believe in the Goddess?" to "do you believe in that rock?"--belief really isn't at issue), or they experience the world as suffused with god because they believe it is (the background belief thus affects the quality of experience). I can't tell which it is for me; the mystic favors for former explanation, and the skeptic favors the latter.

Why does it matter whether deity is immanent? On a practical level, the way I treat the beings and things around me is affected. I'm much more likely to be patient with my dog, my child, myself, if I remember that we all partake of the Divine. Other choices I make that reflect my belief in the Goddess's immanence are to eat food that's organically or humanely raised, to pick up trash when I'm hiking, not to use chemicals when I garden or clean my house. It's not that I think, "god is there, I should be careful." Rather, I experience the things in my life as holy, and from that experience I strive to make choices that honor the holiness of all beings.

Thus a belief in immanence is closely connected, for me, to a belief in the sanctity of the earth. The earth is all we get. There is no heaven, no afterlife in another place untained by fallen humanity. We don't get to escape the earth. We don't get to use it up and then leave. If we eschew or deny what's real, we don't get to transcend the consequences of our actions. God Herself is in the whole thing. She is the shadow as well as the light. And She is as close as the beating of your heart.

Blessed be.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pagan values: the sanctity of the earth

If you had to find one value that the majority of Pagans would identify as a Pagan value, the sanctity of the earth might be it. For many Pagans, this value is central to our spirituality.

Some say that the earth is the Goddess and don't mean that metaphorically (some do). Many subscribe to something like the Gaia hypothesis, which posits that the earth itself not only houses living beings but is a living being itself. Many say that we find the gods in nature. Pagans tend to be animists, believing that even things like trees, rocks, and mountains have a kind of soul, spirit or consciousness. Many if not most contemporary Pagans believe that the earth is holy and has instrinsic value.

In keeping with this value, Pagans strive to live in right relationship with the earth and her creatures. We invoke the ideas of balance and right relationship and reject models of dominance. We may practice permaculture, buy organic foods, garden organically, strive to live sustainably, belong to conservationist groups and land trusts, advocate rights or protections for animals, or shelter and rescue domestic animals. Most of the Pagans I know are involved in one or more of these practical, earth-honoring activities.

Our rituals often take place out of doors, and even when they take place indoors, we often invoke and honor nature, the earth, or earth spirits and guardians. Many Pagans honor the old agricultural cycles and the phases of the moon. We practice grounding ourselves and our energy, and we value the particular places where we live. One Witch I know says he can't sleep well if he doesn't know the land.

Some conservative Christians make the disingenuous mistake that all environmentalists are Pagans. Of course that isn't true; one can value nature, animals, trees, habitat, and the wild without practicing Paganism. But Pagan religions are the only ones I know that make concern for the earth a central spiritual value.

Surely the image of earth as Mother arose in cultures where there was less separation from the land than in ours, and where breastfeeding children was the norm. The way that a human mother gives of herself for her child, providing nourishment and care, fulfilling the needs of early life, mut have struck our ancestors as analogous to the way the earth provides us with water, food, medicine, shelter.

In right relationship, we love the One who sustains us, as She sustains us with her love. Blessed be.

Monday, June 15, 2009

So what makes those Pagan values?

I think my five favorite Pagan values are in fact Pagan, even if not every Pagan holds them, and even if non-Pagans hold (some of) them. Why? Because they're values that arise from (many kinds of) contemporary Pagan spiritual practice. And while they're not uniquely Pagan values, strictly speaking, they are values that other religions I know of don't hold as spiritual values. So these values are intrinsic to the way I practice my religion and to my spiritual life, but they're not intrinsic, as far as I know, to other religions or spiritual practices.

That's my rough-and-ready definition of what makes something a Pagan value.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pagan values, a brief introduction

June 2009 is International Pagan Values Blogging Month. Well, twist my arm and hold the baby (or, er, vice versa). My undergraduate and graduate training were in philosophy with specializations in ethics and feminism. Though I'm a recovering academic, I still care deeply about value and can wax pedantic with the best of them. I'll try to avoid that in a series of short posts (you can't hold the baby for that long) about my favorite Pagan values, ethical and non-. I'm optimistic about this being a series because Adonis is taking the week of from work, so I'll be holding the baby less than all the time.

So to begin, a list of my favorite Pagan values:

1. sanctity of the earth
2. immanence of the divine
3. pleasure and beauty
4. (re)enchantment
5. healing

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Available: freelance Pagan priestess

Women are more likely than men to be religious. When women belong to a particular culture, tradition, or faith, they're more likely to be conservative about that culture, tradition, or faith (or so I think I've read; I remember it surprised me). Women--usually mothers--often play the role of cultural conservator: I think of mothers lighting shabbas candles; mothers cooking big holiday meals, sending cards, buying gifts, remembering birthdays; grandmothers attending Mass every day. Women don't often hold positions of power in religious hierarchy (though that started to change with the second wave of feminism), but they most often do the day-to-day religious work in a culture.

In Wicca, of course, especially those strains of Wicca influenced by feminism, women hold spiritual authority. (This is something of a truism, but my own experience suggests a pretty firm divide between feminist-inflected Wicca and other, more traditionally male-centered Wicca; I don't think the public face of Wicca is as feminist or female-friendly as one might expect from a Goddess-centered spirituality.) Also, since Paganisms are relatively new, historically, and often improvisational and ad hoc, and since they seem to attract seekers with anarchist or countercultural sympathies, many Pagans don't set much store by tradition. (Obviously there are exceptions, but even traditionalist Pagans don't have that many years of tradition to uphold; and Reconstructionists are, you know, reconstructing, which involves much faithfully making things up.)

I think a lot about what it means, as a woman and now a mother, to serve the Goddess, and what it means to be called to a kind of clergy-like service in a faith that has no clergy (and that some would argue should have no clergy; please forgive a new mother for not looking up all the links; I think Kerr Cuhulain made an argument to that effect recently). I think about how I want to practice my faith now that I have a child. Can I still slack off on some of the sabbats? (Pagan true confession: I never manage much for Beltane.) How will I get my child a spiritual education? (Join the UU church? Develop a curriculum for Pagan SunDay School, as one non-Pagan friend suggested I do?) Is spiritual community even more important now, and is a specifically Wiccan/Pagan/earthwise community important? How do I rustle up one of those?

In short, what does it mean to be a religious conservator and innovator within my family?

What does it mean to be a freelance priestess in my wider community? For we Pagani a sense of place--of the very earth under our feet--is important, but there aren't a whole lot of Pagans in my place. I image playing a role something like a public monastic; I imagine tending a temple and playing a visible role in a wider community. I'm a solid celebrant, though I usually have to create my own occasions and invite people to celebrate with me. But I imagine that my public role might be more counselor and healer. I'm also an excellent teacher--really, it's one of the things I do best, though I've been several years without a classroom or students.

In short, I have vision, skills, training, and interest, but I don't know how or what to manifest.

I remain open to Her call. The changes in my life in the past year alone have been tremendous. I'm incredibly blessed. I just wonder if I need to be taking more assertive action. I don't want to miss out. Yet the message I get so often is, be patient and wait.

So I turn these ideas over in my mind, I listen, and I wait.