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Posts Tagged ‘Piety’

Sometime in mid-2012, I turned to Jesus.

There wasn’t a day when I had a big spiritual experience, or made a conscious decision. So maybe some people will say I’m not really converted or not really born again. Maybe they’re right; I get nervous about it sometimes. But I do know that on January 1 of 2012 I still identified as a pagan, but on December 31 of 2012, I was a committed little-o orthodox Christian.

I hadn’t been much of a pagan in awhile, to tell you the truth. I was not particularly pious by then. I had pretty much totally stopped making offerings or praying or singing hymns to the gods at all. My paganism had sputtered out into just thinking pagany thoughts every now and then and reading pagan blogs. I was more into the Civil War, Southern literature and country music than I was into the theoi. And I tried to hold it all together into some sort of broad paganism that could include all of that stuff, but it didn’t ever really seem to fit right (Stonewall Jackson was a Presbyterian who talked about Providence all the time, Flannery O’Connor was deeply Catholic and it intensely informed all of her work, and Jesus is all over country music), and it was increasingly evident that the paganism was slipping away.

I also started getting more interested in pagany things that leaned a bit back Christianward. Tarot. Arthurian stuff. In fact, that was one of the first tipping points, really. I read Keith Baines’s rendition of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur in the spring of 2012, grail quest and all, and it moved things in my heart. I was back to thinking about Druidry and Vedanta a bit (again, trying to hold it all together). I read Gareth Knight and underlined all the references to Jesus and the Trinity (there are a lot). I started looking into the Gnostic gospels. I picked up some books about esoteric Christianity. And within a really short amount of time, I was earnestly reading the Gospel of John and then the rest of the actual Bible.

At the same time, my kids were getting older and getting literate. My oldest (then six) was starting to get interested in the Bible and Bible stories. We always had tried to be multireligious (my paganism, my beautiful and sexy wife’s Christianity), but it was plain that the kids liked Jesus best.

Flashing back for a minute–the day I knew I was going to marry Katyjane was the day I came back from Chattacon with my buddy James and we went straight to a Young Single Adult broadcast at church. I looked around for a place to sit, and I sat down by my friend Daniel. But then, a few rows up, I saw Katyjane, sitting by herself. So I hopped back up and went up to sit next to her. And when I sat down, it felt so insanely right. I was in trouble. I knew I wanted to sit next to her in church for the rest of my life.

So going to church with Katyjane, and now with my kids, was important to me. Even if I was a pagan. But we hadn’t been going to church regularly since we moved to Chicago, and I kind of wanted to start again. Especially since my kids were showing interest (and pWning me with the Bible, which is a story I’ll tell in another post). So my mind was inclined in that direction.

As I said above, I was also listening to a lot of country music (I still am), and that also meant basically relentless exposure to Jesus. I could not help but think about Jesus Christ because the music I listened to mentioned him over and over again and it moved me. It was troubling, uncomfortable, and kind of exciting.

But again, there was no moment of clarity. No road to Damascus (unless the whole year was my road to Damascus). I mentally made peace with some sort of Green, liberal, vaguely Hinduish pagany kind of Christianity, but that was clearly just a threshold to walk through, since I spent basically zero time grappling with that. Instead I was just on a straight trajectory to orthodoxy. I picked C.S. Lewis back up and read Miracles, and was blown away by how much I had just glossed over things like the Incarnation when I was first grappling with Christianity as a post-Mormon.

That’s important: I left Mormonism mostly because I had an increasing sense that Mormonism and Biblical Christianity were not the same thing. But I really struggled with Christianity in the years after that because my notion of what Christianity is was really limited to the teachings of Jesus and the Atonement. I think I had an acceptable handle on those, but I understood them in such a radically different context that I just could not make the direct transition, and I didn’t realize the pieces I was missing. even when I read about them I just kind of glossed over them as secondary. No wonder I struggled.

But this time, coming to Christianity with fresh eyes after a couple of years of pagan detoxification, it was all just totally new, and totally amazing. I just found myself hungering for the Bible and for Jesus and the more I consumed, the hungrier I got. I still feel that way. Reading the Bible just makes me want to read the Bible more.

So Jesus just sort of gradually sucked me in.

By the end of the year, we had moved to Baltimore (that was unrelated, but not irrelavent), I was reading the Bible and praying every day for the first time in years, I was devouring N.T. Wright’s New Testament for Everyone, and I believed in Jesus Christ, my prophet, priest and king and my only savior. And then I spent 2013 continuing to grow. We were baptized. We joined a church. I kept reading the Bible. I prayed more. I put my trust in Jesus. I even read Augustine!

I have to eat a lot of crow to write this, and of of the reasons I have held off on spelling it all out is fear of being called out for wishy-washiness. “Oh, Kullervo’s found a different religion again. Must be a day that ends in -y.” I don’t have an answer for that either, other than to swear that this time it’s different. But of course I can say that all day. I can say that through all my pagan years, I always had a sneaking suspicion that I would eventually come back to Christianity, that like C.S. Lewis I had to learn to be a good pagan before I could learn to be a Christian, but I realize that’s easy to say and hard to believe. Maybe it doesn’t matter because it’s ultimately between me and Jesus anyway.

But I wanted to finally write it all out, mostly so that I can refer back to it in some other posts I want to write and not have to give a lot of background every time.

So there you have it. There’s a lot of different ways to look at that I guess. Country music and the Bible turned me to Jesus. A good Christian woman turned my heart to God. The Holy Grail and the blood of the Lamb called me straight from heaven itself. I finally dropped the pretense of exploring spirituality unbounded and settled down like I was always going to do anyway. However you want to look at it, that’s how it happened.

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Wicca-derived modern neopagan slang terms like “newbie” and “getting thwapped” have absolutely no place in even moderately reconstructionist pagan religions.

“Newbie” is a term implying resentment towards beginners. It’s appropriate in something like online gaming, where beginners can be annoying and in the way. Whether or not it’s appropriate in Wicca or other witchcraft practice is none of my business, since I’m not a Wiccan or any other kind of witch. But in [recon] polytheist faiths, that kind of attitude towards new believers makes no sense whatsoever. We should be embracing, welcoming, and guiding new believers, not resenting them and being annoyed at them. Why on earth would we want to discourage people from coming back around to the gods of their ancestors? Sure, just like new believers in any faith, their (our) heads are probably full of leftover ideas from wherever they came from, but the response there should be gentle (or firm, as the case may be) correction, not personal resentment. Direct your ire toward the religion(s) that gave them unhelpful ideas, not toward them for having them. New believers are not in the way; they are an essential part of a living, thriving faith community.

“Being thwapped” is a flippant and disrespectful term for a powerful and sacred revelatory mystical experience. It stems from an casual attitude towards the gods that is born from neopagan beliefs about the nature of divinity that have no place in a truly polytheistic (or any kind of true theistic) faith. But even if you believe that the gods are mere psychological archetypes, they still are potent and powerful archetypes that should be honored and respected. Being casual about them is dangerously disrespectful, if you believe they actually exist in any real sense.

Between the lore we have from the ancients and analogous modern living polytheist faiths we have plenty of vocabulary–specialized, tested, specific vocabulary that properly expresses what we are trying to say the way we should be saying it. Relying on modern neopagan slang to define our spiritual lives essentially allows modern neopaganism to set the terms, and it undermines many of the core concepts of our faiths.

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Here’s a picture of our shrine to Hestia, the goddess of the hearth and arguably the central focus of Hellenic pagan household worship.

Shrine to Hestia

Yes, in case you were wondering, it’s just a tart burner from Yankee Candle. The trend in modern Hellenic polytheism, as far as I understand, is to put a shrine to Hestia in the kitchen if your home doesn’t actually have a hearth. For some homes, that might make sense, but for mine it doesn’t really, as the kitchen is not the center of our home life (it is sort of tucked-away).

My shrine is humble, not flashy. It doesn’t burn all the time like maybe it’s supposed to (tealights have kind of a short lifespan). But every morning I light it and offer a quick but sincere prayer to Hestia to honor her and to ask for light, life, love, a happy home, and a happy family, and every evening (at least when I remember) I put my hand on it–by that time, it probably isn’t burning anymore–and offer my thanks to her for those same things. It may not be orthopraxy, and I might even be accused by the particularly rigid of insufficient piety, but it feels right, and it feels good.

In our next home, I would like to have an actual hearth with a fireplace, but I imagine our shrine to Hestia there won’t actually be much different. The tart burner is a flame, after all, and one that is practical and simple to light every day (if not keep lit all the time), and the wax potpourri tart fills the home with comforting smells, helping to make it an inviting, comfortable place. We’ve talked about getting a series of tart burners, to change them out through the course of the seasons, and that would be nice. I also think I might spruce the shrine up a bit with a votive offering or two and some shrine-y decorations. But at the center will still be the tart burner, a humble reminder of the good things that home and family have to offer.

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In my last post, I hinted cryptically at something new in the works for me, spiritually speaking. The quick and dirty version is that a week from tomorrow my family will celebrate Samhainn and I will, in honor of the new year of the ancient Celts, officially begin my candidate year with the Ancient Order of Druids in America. I not only plan on pursuing the First-Degree Curriculum on my own, but actually joining the Order and becoming as active as is practical in it (although since the Order is small right now, that just might mean no more than stepping up my participation in the Yahoo group). That’s as big of a bite as I am willing to take at the moment, but I intend for it to only be a beginning. I fully intend to ultimately join and study with Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids within the next few years. In other words, I have decided to become a Druid (or at least a neo-Druid, which I will say for the first and last time for the benefit of the unreasonably rigid who demand that such a distinction be made).

A massive amount of thought has gone into this (you may remember that I have been toying with the idea of Druidry for an awfully long time, especially now that I have finally come to terms with my pagan identity), but despite Druidry’s constant presence in my spiritual orbit, I have been pretty much consistently unable to actually do anything with it, even to commit mentally to the idea.

Since the Hellenic gods reached out to me, I have had a kind of internal tension with traditional Hellenic polytheistic religion, i.e. Hellenismos. Belief in the reality of the gods of ancient Greece does not necessarily imply the need to worship them in the fashion of the ancient Greeks, but I have this pro-dogma reflex that I think I inherited from Mormonism. Even though I have known from the beginning that Hellenismos was not going to work for me, i have kept trying to make it work for me, and although I have made some important spiritual inroads and have developed meaningful relationships with the gods, I have never felt like “this is it; this is my spiritual identity.”

Don’t be confused here, though. I am in no sense whatsoever talking about abandoning my faith in or worship of the Hellenic gods. I have felt these gods, I have been blessed by them, I have had incredible experiences with them. These gods reached out to me, and I would say that I claim them as my gods, but it really makes more sense to say that they claimed me as their own. I will continue to worship these gods to me–the gods that are, in my experience, the real gods.

I am also not saying that I will abandon traditional Hellenic worship forms, either. It makes sense and it to worship the Greek gods in a Greek way. I also think it pleases them to be worshipped in a way that is traditional. I will continue to draw on ancient practices and forms of worship in my spiritual life as I have done for the past year. But I’m not going to stress out about “doing it right” or feel nervous, inadequate, or impious when I fail to perform my religion according human-created specifications, as ancient and valuable as they may be. Ultimately I’m concerned with what the gods think, not with what ancient Greeks would have thought, or what Hellenic polytheists on the internet think.

What I am saying here is that my religion is not “Hellenismos.” Though I worship the Hellenic gods and often do so in Hellenic ways, I will not keep trying to fit my religious life into a wrong-sized hole. My relationship with the gods is not the only component of my spirituality, and I see no reason why it should be. I believe in my gods, not in a religion.

But I am embracing Druidry because it is the only place I know of that will allow me to fully explore all of the aspects of my spirituality–Hellenic polytheism included–that cry out to be explored. The modern Druid tradition embraces absolutely everything that is important to me spiritually (except for badass muscle cars; those really just don’t fit which is too bad for Druidry, really), and provides a framework for finding or building the connections between them. And more importantly, I am embracing Druidry because I feel pain when I am cut off from the natural world, and because I feel dead inside when I am alienated from nature’s cycles. Druidry is the only spiritual path I am aware of–and I have done no small amount of looking around–that comes even close to punching all of the buttons that I need to have punched.

So here I go; into the breach. I’ve been sort of warming up, practicing meditation and the Druid grove ceremony, and I’ve been talking to my beautiful and sexy wife a bit about what I’ll be doing and what parts of it we can do together. I’m excited about this. Being willing to say “I am committed” in a spiritual context is a huge step for me, as even a quick perusal of my blog archives will show you. This is a big deal.

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My belief in the gods is based largely on two things: 1. I find them compelling enough to believe in, and 2. I have experienced their presence, existence, and sometimes even immanence. Not so with Athena. Of all of the major Hellenic gods, Athena has just never seemed that real to me. She’s the goddess of civilization and wisdom, and as an almost-lawyer, she should probably even be my patron, but she just seems nonexistent. At the risk of being impious, I have even siggested on a number of occasions that I thought maybe she wasn’t actually real at all. Maybe the Athenians made her up in some kind of self-serving bid for a patron goddess they could make in their own image.

I mentioned it again today, in a series of text messages to my brother. Recently he ran for class president at his law school, and lacking any other real religious direction of his own, but also not really a commited atheist, he decided what-the-hellishly to pray for help from my gods. Among others (Hermes and Nike I think), he made an offering to Athena. He was a bit disappointed when he lost, and it wasn’t much of a religious conversion moment for him (the Hellenic gods didn’t come through for him, so he has been soured a bit as far as future faith goes). I tried to console him by suggesting that perhaps Athena did not answer his prayer because she is not real.

That was this afternoon, while I was hiking in the woods. Later this evening, I went running around the apartment complex. It was after dark, which is normal for me; I go running at night around the compex all the time, as it is challengingly hilly and conveniently one mile around. Furthermore, while I was running, I was talking on the phone. To my brother.

Suddenly this big bird flies down from behind a lamp-post. And not just any bird. An owl. A big gray owl flies from behind a lamp-post, right over my head, no more than four feet above me, and then flies past me and into a tree, sending terrified little birds scattering.

Now, I realize that owls probably live around here, even though I have never personally seen one. And I realize that I might be just engaging in magical thinking, or making connections that are not really there. But on the very day that I suggest the nonexistence of Athena, a member of a pantheon of gods whose existence I otherwise heartily affirm, I get a fly-by by a big owl. The symbol of Athena. The only time I have ever seen an owl in the wild in my entire life.

My brother pointed out a very real possibility: “Maybe Athena just isn’t interested in you.” Good call, bro.

I hereby publicly apologize to Athena for my impiety. I pledge to never again suggest or imply her nonexistence, and at the next opportunity I will make an offering to her to make up for being a pompous, arrogant mortal.

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