I recently participated in an online interview for a book project about spirituality and paganism. I thought the questions were interesting, and decided to post my answers here.
- What do you generally term/call yourself? Pagan, heathen, pantheist, agnostic, druid, witch, â€¦? If youâ€™ve chosen a specific path, can you explain why? What is it that makes you a pagan? (how do you define pagan?)
Most days I will call myself “pagan,” simply because it is a very broad term, though in general I call myself “seeker,” which is of course even broader. My spirituality is very eclectic, and draws from many sources. In general I feel to confine myself within a “box” of a term limits the possibilities of my spiritual existence. I am at least as informed by Buddhism, for instance, as I am by paganism.
In terms of how I define pagan, the best way I know to explain it (and my tongue is only partially in cheek here) is to say that “pagan” is Latin for “redneck.” Put another way, “paganus” translates as something close to “country-dweller.” And if you look at European history, the urbanization phenomenon along with the rising hegemony of the Catholic church have much to do with the demonization of pagans. The Church encouraged people to live in the cities, where they were more easily manipulated and controlled, as people had to rely upon one another on a much larger scale, creating a political and economic situation based increasingly on power-over. In a city, one cannot “live off the land” nearly as easily, and things like property ownership (as opposed to the commons of the wilderness) become much more important to survival. We also saw the birth of a money economy across all classes (as opposed to just among the aristocracy) for the first time in this period. As part of the drive to increase their influence and power, it became fashionable to demonize the heathens outside the cities, creating a culture of fear, to entice people to come to and stay in the cities. Hence the negative connotations of “pagans” and witches who lived “sinfully” outside the cities, and the witch hunt phenomenon, etc etc.
This phenomenon carried over, the “rednecks” (heh) spiritual traditions, their ties to the land and to nature, became swallowed over by the rigid codes of Catholicism, and the economic developments of capitalism, and the mechanistic thinking of the nascent scientific movement, all of which combined to turn nature from something wonder-filled, an organic whole of which humans are a part, into something to be “conquered,” “owned,” and “exploited.” The persecution of witches/pagans was a necessary and brutal step in this accumulation of power, along with the brutalities of things like the Enclosure movements in that period of history.
So to bring my rant back from history/politics and into spirituality, to me the word “pagan” denotes a particular intimacy with nature, with natural cycles, an intimacy that is nearly completely alien to those of us in modern urban America, where our survival is not so closely linked to the natural struggles involved with living in the wild. We cannot relate to this; to us the closest thing to struggle for survival is a long line at the grocery store or agonizing over a checkbook balance. Something primal, full of awe and vitality, has been lost. It is this relationship to nature that I seek to restore in my spiritual reality. It helps me to see that all of life is connected, that we all are one.
In terms of pantheism, I don’t relate to that term which means the Divine is everything; I prefer panentheism, which means the Divine is in everything.
- Do you relate more to Spirituality or Religion?
Definitely Spirituality. To me Religion implies a separation from the divine, in that the emphasis becomes adhering to a specific religious code, rather than one’s direct experience with the divine.
- Has your faith ever come up on hospital or other forms, or socially or professionally? If so, how did you deal with it? Are you concerned about social/financial/legal repercussions of being openly pagan? Have you suffered from discrimination? Do you know anyone who has?
I have nothing to hide, I’m sure I put “pagan” on the forms or something like that. It’s never been a big deal or an issue for me. I’m not really concerned about this. I’m sure discrimination against pagans has happened, but never to me. In general I don’t associate regularly with people who would discriminate on any basis.
- How important is ritual to you? How important is ecstasy? Community? (specificially religious community- I suppose it would also be good to know how important community created by other means I to you?)
Ecstasy is at the core of my spiritual practice, and is the single most essential ingredient to spiritual existence for me. Ek stasis, in the original Greek, means “to stand outside the self,” and for me this is the key to ritual: to snap ourselves out of our normal, mundane lives and open ourselves up to limitless being. Normally I accomplish this through music, that’s at least the most familiar for me. Though body work of various types is a close second (ie, massage, sexuality, etc).
Community is also essential for many reasons. Perhaps the simplest explanation is synergy: various energies that entrain together become more than the sum of their parts. Therefore, it is in the best interests of magical/energy workers to entrain their energies together to increase the energetic throughput.
Also, on a practical level: shared joy is increased, shared joy is lessened. This, to me, is the essence and purpose of community.
- Do you have pagan “stuff”? (ritual tools, clothing, decorations) Do you have a special place set aside in your home? (altar, cupboard, yard) Do you set certain days or times aside for faith based activities?
My family still does have pagan “stuff.” I don’t find “stuff” as necessary anymore as I did when I first began pagan practices nearly 2 decades ago. A beginning pagan needs to learn how to step out of the normal contexts and get into that altered state of consciousness for ritual. After enough practice, the tools aren’t necessary any more, at least that’s my experience. Though I do still have a soft spot for candles and incense, in a variety of contexts….
- What do you think is the background of Neo-paganism (built up from earlier romantic or magical movements, or survivals from much earlier paganism?)
Well, see my above answer for my view on the context of neopaganism. There has clearly been a revival and expansion of the neopagan movement since the mid-20th century. In this age of mechanization, there is some element — a magical, romantic, organic element — missing in our everyday experience. Neopaganism is, in my view, a natural response to this void.
- Do you use ritual to create a sense of Sacred?
I actually try to be aware of the sacred in all contexts, not just ritual. I don’t actually use ritual all that much anymore. As a panentheist, I think that all that exists is suffused with the divine, the sacred is all around us. But mostly, I feel that the sacred is something that we experience, and therefore it exists primarily in our own consciousness.
- How do you celebrate holidays? Which ones do you celebrate?
We celebrate the main 8 solar holidays, mostly in the context of community; these tend to be celebrations/parties. We also gather occasionally on full moons, for more introspective or intimate work on deeper soul levels.
- Do you get inspiration/training from books/movies not technically pagan? What books of any sort were important in your pagan development? Have you studied/explored other religions?
I try to get inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. This includes books. I gain a lot of inspiration from philosophy texts, particularly metaphysical treatises, as well as literature.
I began as a pagan from many of the familiar sources: Starhawk, Cunningham, Farrar, Campinelli, Buckland, etc etc. I have read many of these books, and sort of assimilated them over the years.
I have also drawn a huge amount of wisdom from the Arthurian legends, and specifically the Grailquest. I see the Grail as a (perhaps the) central theme in my spiritual life, the idea of a quest to reconnect the seeker with the divine.
There are several Buddhist texts that I find full of wisdom as well, Old Path, White Clouds is among my favorites.
I was raised Catholic, but walked away from Catholicism shortly after becoming an adult.
- When did you decide that you were pagan- both your age, and when (about what year- trying to place it in the spread of neo-paganism in the last half century)
I first got into paganism in late 1987, after graduating high school. A girlfried at the time was into it, and I remember being oh-so-supportive (not) by telling her “when are you gonna drop this hocus pocus bullshit and get real?” So, yeah. My first exposure to it was closed-minded, to say the least. I was still a good Catholic boy at the time, so I felt I knew all about hocus pocus bullshit.
- You’ve probably been aware of the growth of the neo-pagan movement, what about it has appealed to you, and what has turned you off?
It’s been fun to watch. Paganism attracts the freaks, not to mention the drama queens/kings. Which of course is part of its charm. Pagans are, I think by definition, more individualist than, say, Christians who adhere to a fairly narrow and rigid religious code.
- Is there any reason(s) you havenâ€™t been more involved in the “movement”? (busy with other things, like kids or work, turned off by certain individuals, not able to find others to work with, not interested in ritual, not able to relate to the ones you did find)
Well, without sounding pompous, the best thing I can do for the “movement” is to pursue my own spirituality as authentically as possible. There are very few elders in the pagan movement, some days I joke that I’m an “elder in training”… heh. I’m only in my mid-late 30s, so a few more decades of training, and I should be ready….
- Do you have “cyber-pagan” contacts, although you don’t see people face to face? How does this feel to you?
The net is just another communication medium. As long as the people you communicate with are being authentic, then there is no problem with it. If they aren’t, well, then the problems will reveal themselves in good time. In general I prefer online communication to snail mail or telephone. Of course, nothing beats face-to-face. But there are several people I know — mostly introverted empaths — who have an easier time communicating honestly and authentically in this medium than in any other. It’s certainly useful in those situations.
But regardless, it’s a useful communication medium in many contexts, pagan or otherwise. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to do this interview.