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Posts Tagged ‘Belteinne’

I referred to myself as a pagan in conversation with my beautiful and sexy wife a few days ago (we were talking about piddly, meaningless stuff like the meaning of life), and she recognized the significance: it was a casual but meaningful declaration of spiritual identity of the kind that I have not been able to make in years.

It wasn’t just a slip, either. I have been thinking about this and I came to an important realization. One of the issues I have been grappling with in the background of my mind is if at the end of the day I basically think that religion and spirituality are highly subjective and have more to do with assigning meaning to human existence than they do with making objective truth-claims about the universe, why shouldn’t I have just stayed Mormon? Wouldn’t it have been easier, after all, for me to just figure out how to reconcile the religion I was raised with than to try to blaze a completely new spiritual trail? My gut rebels against the idea of staying Mormon, but why? I think Mormonism’s truth-claims are bogus, but that’s not really the issue for me (except it kind of is, because Mormonism spends a lot of time and spiritual effort insisting that its truth claims are literal truth). I have problems with the Church as an institution, but a lot of liberal and New Order Mormons figure out ways to deal with that, and the insistence of the orthodox believer notwithstanding, my relationship with the organizational church should not really affect how I feel about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration, right?

So why do I feel like remaining Mormon, or going back to Mormonism, would just be unacceptable? I think it is because I never really internalized Mormonism in the first place. Sure, I internalized some ways of thinking about religion because I didn’t know any better–some cultural transmission from my parent subculture is inevitable–but in a spiritual sense, I was always torn and doubtful about Mormonism and I was always drawn to mythology, the gods, and the spiritual power of the wild places of the earth. As a little kid I was obsessed with mythology. As a young adolescent I stayed awake all night with my best friend on Boy Scout camp-outs talking about Beltaine. As a teenager I flat-out just wanted to be a druid. As a young adult I was absolutely enthralled by Joseph Campbell, the Arthurian romances, Celtic myth, and the cosmic and spiritual significance of poetry and literature.

Yes, when I was nineteen, I “got a testimony” and went on a mission, and began to live a fairly orthodox Mormon life. But let’s not give my conversion too much credit. The coercive pressure from my family was immense-it was made clear to me that being an adult meant setting aside childish things like entertaining the possibility of paganism, and taking Mormonism seriously as the One True Religion. People I trusted and relied on made it absolutely clear that there was no viable moral alternative, that anything less than fully getting with the program meant personal weakness, laziness, and a lack of integrity. So I did what I was supposed to.

But the pagan inside me did not sleep too soundly. As a young adult I was captured by the power of Norse myth, by the dynamic majesty of romantic-era classical music (I discovered Sibelius, and it was love), and ultimately by the brutal, mythic energy of heavy metal.

On top of this, I have noticed a clear pattern in my life: when I have lived out of touch with nature, I have been depressed, unbalanced, and extremely mentally unhealthy. Proximity and involvement with the natural world are simply things I need for spiritual wholeness. And I have consistently had feelings about love, the feminine, and sex that have been reverent, passionate, and worshipful.

The point is, I have been a pagan all along. It doesn’t matter that I went to sacrament meeting every week. It doesn’t matter that I spent two years as a missionary trying to convert people to Mormonism. Mormonism never really fit. My mother and I had countless discussions and arguments about religion and point of view: in her mind the right thing to do was to completely internalize Mormonism, and subvert your entire mind to it, to relinquish all non-Mormon thought as something unwelcome and alien. I always wanted to take the point of view of an outsider, because I always was an outsider.

I was a pagan, and I always have been.

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After I finished with final exams, I was able to take a day for myself and go tromping around the woods. It was a few days after any reasonable dating for the holiday (the full moon was on the 9th, but I wasn’t able to get out and about until the 15th), but it was close enough and my most practical option.

So I spent a day exploring undeveloped parkland in Montgomery County, which was a lot of fun. Most of these areas are parcels of land bought by the county and technically part of the park system, but with no access or anything–they’re just pieces of woods that you can go play in if you can find a way to get there. The day was tough on my allergies, and I wound up really exerting myself with a day full of exploration, but it was a lot of fun. I even found a cool snake under an old corroded piece of metal. Getting a chance to be outside in nature does me a lot of good and generally makes me feel a lot saner.

My other project for the day was to try out the Beltaine liturgy from Greer’s Druidry Handbook, as a way of kicking off my AODA candidate year. So one of my goals while exploring was finding a suitable place for a ritual. It took me a bit of time and expense to gather all of the needed materials (and I wound up not having a sprig of hawthorn, or any idea of how to find one). I used a katana instead of a medieval European-style sword because it’s what I have on hand, and I wound up just putting my white altar cloth on the ground for lack of anything more altar-like. I also made an on-the-spot substitution of gods, invoking Aphrodite in the ritual instead of Niwalen (I already have a close relationship with Aphrodite, and she seems like an entirely appropriate goddess for Beltaine).

Honestly, I could have come into it with better preparation, so it was a definite learning experience. Without a sprig of hawthorn, I just used a sprig from a sapling nearby, which was a little unsatisfying. And I had to carry the book around with me because I hadn’t learned the liturgy very well. No spiritual fireworks went off during the ritual, but when I was finished, I had a sudden and very interesting sense of spiritual wholeness and satisfaction, like I had accomplished something that was actually significant.

My location was kind of fantastic, with a few exceptions. It was pretty difficult to get access to (I had to park on the side of the highway and tromp in past some backyards), and there were an insane number of ticks, but that’s partly an issue of season and not going to get much better in any wooded area. But I was flicking the little buggers off of my arms and legs all day long. Those issues aside, it was a wooded hilltop with a bunch of clearings covered in this vibrant green ground cover, and the hill was almost entirely surrounded by two branches of a little creek. It was the kind of place where you could almost feel a spiritual presence. If I get the chance, I would like to go back.

I wasn’t wild about Greer’s seasonal liturgy before I gave it a spin, and now I’m rather excited about it. This is not to say that I am prepared to accept it as scripture or anything, but I would like to try it again. The holiday-specific stuff didn’t drive me wild–really it is just an offering, an invocation of deity, and a meditation session (it was hard fro me to concentrate when I was imagining ticks crawling all over me)–but the general opening and closing of the Druid’s circle was pretty awesome, and I will definitely keep using that, even if I wind up cherry-picking the rest.

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It occurred to me a few moments ago that I am getting very near to (or already at!) the threshold between thinking about paganism and actually practicing paganism.

In some ways that’s not really true: I’ve been pouring out regular libations, saying simple prayers, and making little sacrifices to the gods regularly for several months. But it has been in a very tentative way, sort of still uncommitted in the back of my mind. I want more, and I want to involve my family in it. I want a little more periodic ritual, a little more family celebration to intertwine with my private devotions (which could stand to be improved a bit, too).

I need to be careful about diving in over my head, as I have a tendency to go overboard and then turn myself off as soon as I turned myself on. But I do feel like I am someplace, I don’t know, liminal right now, as I hover between different spiritual states.

May Day is coming up soon. Unfortunately it falls in the middle of my exam period, but I am thinking about using it as a kickoff point for studying AODA Druidry in earnest, and for committing to the more large-scale expressions of faith in my life at the same time. I am working on collecting information about the Eightfold Year/Wheel of the Year, and thinking about foods, traditions, ways to celebrate, ways to decorate. I’m not talking about specific ceremony and ritual (although I also intend to come up with some of that before too long, because I don’t know how enthusiastic I am about the ritual laid out in Greer’s Druidry Handbook), but the folk and family customs, the things that make a holiday feel like aholiday instead of just another day.

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