Tag Archives: pagan

Are we good?

One of the key underlying concepts in religion is the question of whether we are inherently good or not. There are of course various takes. Some religions or subsects of religions treat this world as inherently bad, with transcendence the only thing to aspire to. We have to overcome our sinful bodies and lives, chained to karma, or however else it’s framed, and transcend into pure spirit. We have to work at being good in order to do this.

Paganism tends not to judge us so harshly and is much more in favour of this world.

In Taoism I’ve run into the idea that humans are basically good, but that can be distorted. The aim is to get back to our natural state so that what we do is good without having it work hard at it. The person who is in tune with the Tao can just get on with things and it will all flow and work out. Effort can be the enemy of this process.

Whether we are innately good, or innately vile is a question that underpins our politics. Are we more interested in helping the needy, or stopping people abusing the system? Are we more afraid of corruption, or suffering?

It’s an interesting question to ask of yourself, as well. Do I think my nature is fundamentally good? Do I think the expression of my true nature would be the best that I could be? Do I feel tainted, fallen, sinful, loaded with karmic debt, and otherwise in need of redemption? And if I feel that way, why do I feel that way?

So often, taking pleasure in life is treated as sinful. How do we construct our ideas of good and evil in the first place? Why would joy be sinful? Why would pleasure be sinful? Why would relishing this one precious existence be some kind of moral failing? Who benefits from those ideas? What happens to us when we work very hard at denying ourselves the things our mammal bodies yearn for?

For me, being Pagan means a starting place that says we might be good. We’re probably ok. We may have the capacity for terrible things, but it’s not inevitable. There is no atonement required. We do not need saving. Wine and sex and laughter and dancing and all those things are good and to be relished, not feared. We may in fact do more good by seeking simple pleasures and joys that don’t diminish anyone or anything else, than by tying ourselves in knots trying to fight our fundamentally animal selves.


Druidry and service

I first started studying Druidry about 18 years ago. Back then, I was hungry for knowledge, and hopeful about developing wisdom. I wanted something that gave my life coherence, and Druidry brought together all the things I was interested in, giving shape to my life in a way I was excited about. I joined a Grove, went to open rituals, studied with OBOD. When I started, this is something I was doing for me.

Not very far in, the idea of service as the heart of Druidry happened to me, and I volunteered for The Druid Network. For some years, it was all about how much I could give and as a person who already wasn’t good at self-care, this didn’t entirely work for me. Most of my Druidry came to be about what I did for other people – in ritual, in teaching (I’d grown up Pagan, so when I got to Druidry I actually knew quite a lot already).

I don’t really know how to do ritual for myself. It was always something I did as an act of service. I only dress the part if I’m working for someone who I think needs me to dress the part. I don’t go to events unless someone wants me to do a talk. It struck me this week that my whole approach to Druidry has been shaped, if not distorted by this sense that service is what matters most.

Most people who take up a spiritual path do so because they want to grow. They want to enrich themselves, and for Pagans, opening the door to wonder and the numinous is usually part of the mix. When I started out, that was what I wanted. I have a lot of underlying issues around not feeling like I deserve nice things, and this has no doubt played its part. So, I’m looking at my assumptions.

I don’t really ‘do’ deity and that’s in no small part because I can’t see why any deity would want to bother with me so there’s not much point asking. For years now, I’ve only held sacred space and time for other people’s benefit. I don’t dress up, because I’m not glamorous and I don’t really feel entitled to present that way – I intend to challenge this. I don’t do much pagan bling, or interior decoration because I’ve persuaded myself it’s superficial. But it’s also joyful, and I’ve not made much space for personal joy in my path, and I think I need to.

What if my Druidry was fun?

What if the study and embodying of Druidic philosophy was something I consciously did for my own benefit first and foremost?

What if I made more deliberate space for beauty and joy? What if I allowed myself to play with this and take more delight in it?

What if I stopped trying to justify my use of time in terms of how I benefit other people?

 


The Hidden Goddess – a review

The Hidden Goddess, by Laurie Martin-Gardner explores feminine divinity in Jewish and Christian tradition. It’s a book that looks at texts, historic practice and modern interpretations and in a small space covers considerable ground.

The book is written in a narrative style, and while there are enough references that you can get in and check things if you want to, this is not an academic text. It is immensely readable and ideal for someone who just wants to get in and explore the ideas. It’s not a book claiming to have exclusive insights or unique knowledge, but it is a bringing together of sacred femininity evidence from traditions that, superficially at least, seem to lack for that sort of thing.

For me there was a mix of the familiar and the wholly unknown here. One of the consequences of reading this book is that I feel inspired to try and read the Bible and look at this for myself. I have tried to read the whole Bible before (and failed) but to go in looking for these details might make a lot of odds.

I think this is the ideal read for anyone who has moved to Paganism from a Christian or Jewish background and who wants to find ways of balancing their old path and their new one. It will also be valuable for anyone whose ancestor work has felt difficult – seeing how the Goddess has always been present in these traditions may help bridge the divide between modern Pagans and our immediate ancestors. For Christian Druids I think it’s a must have (unless you’ve already covered this ground somewhere else!).

I found it an enjoyable read that expanded my knowledge and that may have set me on a reading adventure.

Read the first chapter here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/blogs/moon-books/the-hidden-goddess-chapter-one-the-quest-begins/


The Book of Babalon – a review

I first encountered Anna McKerrow when I had the opportunity to review her Greenworld trilogy. That was a glorious YA series heavy on the Paganism. Her latest title, The Book of Babalon is not for younger readers – it is resplendent with sex magic, and also digs in with the kind of abuses modern women continue to face. It’s glorious, heartbreaking, rage-inducing, enchanted stuff.

If you’re not familiar with the Goddess Babalon, this book would work as an introduction and may send you off on a journey. Do read the author’s comments at the end to see what is rooted in fact and what isn’t!

This is an unapologetically feminist book, telling a story that very much demonstrates why we still need feminism. It’s also full of the sorts of things angry patriarchs would like to shut down – sexual expression, the right to body autonomy, the right to say no. Lesbianism, witchcraft, divorce, abortion… all those things they tell us will happen if women either take up witchcraft or get into masturbation, or both!

This is a story where triggering content is handled with care. No punches are pulled, but none of the horrors are glorified or dwelt on too much. You know what’s going on. If you’ve been there… you know exactly what’s going on. Too many of us have been there. All the things women are not encouraged to talk about – the blood, and the miscarriages, the shame, the stigma, the desires and the dissatisfaction are in these pages. These are stories we need to tell each other.

It’s a powerful piece of writing, and I read it in large, intense bursts because I did not want to put it down.

The story then… Woven through this novel is text in here from an imaginary Book of Bablon, written by Scarlett Woman, founder of an organisation called Bablon. The book within the book explores her history with Bablon, and anyone whose read any 20th century occult stuff will find this familiar, especially around how women can be both ‘goddess’ and totally objectified at the same time. The story itself follows several Bablon members using magic, activism and other avenues to fight oppression and get some control of their own lives. The characters are engaging, and between them they capture a broad range of female experience.

It’s a powerful story, underpinned by substantial philosophy. If you’re already into smashing the patriarchal structures we live in, this is for you. If you think we don’t need feminism any more, this book is especially for you. We’ve got a long way to go on the road to equality.

Buy the book – https://www.amazon.com/Book-Babalon-Anna-McKerrow/dp/1890399698 


Seasonal Pagan Colouring

A bit of a plug for Michael Daoust…

‘TwoLoveBirds and the Festival of Yule Coloring book’ is a charming coloring book that features 25 unique pictures that will enchant both adult and child alike.

But what is the TwoLoveBirds project? The TwoLoveBirds is a pagan-run project that aims to create pagan-themed material for parents to use as educational tools. It features the adventures of two little birds, Tcheep and Pit, as they explore their very pagan world together.

Amazon book link: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1710315431

Authors Smashwords page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/TwoLoveBirds

Author Instagram:  twolovebirds245

Author Twitter: mdaoust245

Author on Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/user/MichaelDaoust6


The Last Priestess of Malia – a review

Laura Perry is an author of several non-fiction titles about ancient Minoan culture and belief. She’s worked extensively with the imagery of this fascinating culture. Now, Laura has written a novel set at the end of the Minoan civilization and it is a truly remarkable piece of work. There is a powerful sense of place here, rich with details of everyday life and underpinned by a wealth of historical insights.

The central character of the novel is a priestess, so the rituals and beliefs of the Minoans are very much at the centre of the tale. Obviously, much of this had to be invented/discovered/remembered. I was struck by how powerfully this had been done. Too many representations of ancient Pagans just retro-fit contemporary belief or play out modern Pagan fantasies. There’s none of that here. The rituals feel specific, and culturally rooted. Many of them relate to specific locations and seasonal events and while we have no way of knowing exactly what the ancient Minoans did or believed, this all feels utterly plausible and convincing.

This is a story about the end of a civilization, and as such, I felt it speaks to the present in a powerful way. One way or another, we are also approaching the end of an era, and perhaps the end of western capitalist culture. Either the climate crisis will destroy us, or we will have to radically re-think how we do everything.  We aren’t the first people to have stood and the end of their known world and there’s a lot we can learn about resilience by looking to the past.

The Minoan world Laura describes is one of a peaceful culture based on co-operation, sharing, trust and mutual care. During the story, we see this culture brought down by an aggressive, hoarding, greedy, power-hungry culture. We see respect replaced with violence. We see consent replaced with conquest. It’s a tough read, but also a pertinent one. Culture is what people make of it. We all get to make these choices and decide what we support and enable, what we resist, and what we do with ourselves.

What do you do when the Goddesses seem to have abandoned you? What do you do when everything you hold sacred is in peril? What do you do when your power is taken from you by people who decide you have no right to self-determination? What do you do in face of abuse, contempt, violation, sacrilege and cruelty? When there is no magic solution to restore justice or give you back what was rightfully yours? These questions are so very pertinent right now, with international companies killing and displacing indigenous people around the world.

This is a beautifully written tale that will break your heart. There’s no making entertainment out of horrors here, but if it sounds like you could be triggered by the content, approach with caution – there are some very difficult scenes in there. Even though it is a book that will break your heart, it has potent and inspiring messages about how to keep going in face of overwhelming adversity.

 

The book is widely available online, here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.com/Last-Priestess-Malia-Laura-Perry-ebook/dp/B07XGDNFWY


Closing the windows – a seasonal thing

I always hold on as long as possible, but there will come a morning (it came yesterday) when the night was too cold and I have to admit I can’t have the windows open any more. It’s not a great point in the year. Having the windows open at night means being able to hear running water, owls, and sometimes other wildlife really easily.  Closing the windows is a recognition that winter is coming, and I’ve never much liked winter.

During the warmer part of the year, open windows make my home fairly permeable. The sounds of nature come in. Blackbird song at twilight, the dawn chorus, sounds of wind and leaves. Even when I’m indoors I can feel quite connected in this way. Once the windows are shut it is far harder to hear the owls at night. Subtler sounds are lost entirely.

In previous years, closing the windows has marked the start of a whole host of problems. Condensation in cold dwellings – some that have been hard to heat, times when being warm enough to avoid it was unaffordable. Condensation leading to the dampness of everything and the difficulty of keeping stuff dry, and the ongoing battle to keep black mould out of the equation. Or to control it. Or finding it’s grown somewhere in secret and is out of control. One very old house I lived in blossomed with a vast profusion of mould growths as soon as the windows were shut, and I could not get that under control no matter what I did.

Shutting the windows is less of a problem now that I have and can afford to run a small de-humidifier at night. It warms the flat slightly, dries the laundry in wet weather, and keeps the condensation and mould at bay. It’s a neat bit of kit, and using it, I will likely go some time before I’ll need to put the heating on as well.

Damp is more of a problem when you live in small spaces. The more cramped you are, the more stuff is squeezed into spaces not suitable for it, the more people there are in relation to the space, the less air movement there is, the more moisture people are breathing out – these things combine to make winter moister. They are things that go with poverty, with over-crowding and not being able to afford heating or a dehumidifier. Too many people are heading into these conditions as the year turns. You choose whether to be cold, and somewhat damp, or a bit less cold and more damp – neither way is a win. An open window on a cold night will still leave your clothes damp in the morning, especially if you don’t have a wardrobe.

When there’s space, ventilation, money for heating, when you can easily dry out your home, this time of year is fine. For many people, closing the windows means you are just choosing which miserable and unhealthy situation you find most bearable. One of the problems with privilege is how invisible it is to the people who have always had it. If you’re enjoying that cosy autumn feel with your fluffy socks and pumpkin spice everything, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t go that way for everyone. Don’t call people killjoys or otherwise put them down for struggling with the shift towards winter. It’s not a Pagan-fail to struggle with this time of year if it causes you real issues.


Scruffy for the love of the earth

Being scruffy is something we can all do for the good of the planet. It’s a low cost, low effort response to cutting carbon, cutting plastic use, cutting the impact of the fashion industry. I appreciate that in some jobs and contexts it’s simply too high a risk, and that the more affluent and comfortable you are the fewer implications there are in looking a bit ragged round the edges. If you are poor, people will judge you – but they will also judge you for not looking poor enough.

Scruffy clothes – anything a bit worn, or faded, marked from use or obviously repaired falls into this category. Wearing old clothes is something we can celebrate as an assertion of loving the Earth, and I think if we can re-enforce those choices for each other, there’s a lot of good to be found in it.

It’s also a way of pushing back against all that glossy new age rubbish full of improbable dresses in fields and things you’d never wear for a decent walk in a wood because it wouldn’t last five minutes. And for the guys, and the non-binary folk there’s very little visual content out there. That’s something else to push back against – if we are going to be spiritually glamorous, there should be room for everyone, not just young, thin, white, female-looking people.

I find that if I’m outside for a while, my hair becomes messy. I find that if I don’t wear makeup this impacts on how I look in photographs and videos alike. But, getting makeup without getting throwaway plastic is hard, and animal testing is back, and makeup is expensive, and I don’t think those chemicals do my skin much good… and maybe my face is ok without it. Your face is definitely ok as it is, I feel sure of that. I take no issue with people wearing makeup creatively and playfully and for fun, but if you feel like you need it… you’ve been had by adverts. (I have been had by adverts, but I’m pushing back).

A Pagan aesthetic that is scruffy for the love of the Earth is available to everyone. Body shape doesn’t matter, nor does age, or gender or our ability to conform to ‘beauty’ standards. If you live closer to the Earth, you won’t be able to keep your clothes perfect anyway. Crafting, gardening, walking, doing things from scratch – anything physical like this causes wear and tear. You can only have pristine new looking stuff if you don’t do much with your body while wearing it!

For too long, a ‘Pagan’ look has meant velvet cloaks. Impractical shoes. Flouncy shirts. What happens if we start dressing as though we’re going to walk everywhere? What happens if we walk everywhere and start to look like that? What if looking like you spend time outside is the most Pagan look you can cultivate? What if you make actual crafts part of your Craft?

Changing the surfaces of how we present isn’t superficial. It calls for a massive change in what we value and celebrate and treat as appealing. Show me your dirty Paganism. Show me the love that goes into keeping clothes out of landfill, and I will show you mine…

Here’s an old photo of me in the kind of clothing I can walk in and sit out in. Not especially attractive, but I wasn’t doing it for the camera…


Darkness in spirituality

I find myself increasingly uneasy about the way the language of darkness is used in spirituality. We equate lightness and whiteness with good, darkness and blackness with evil. There are clear racist issues in this. It’s also a line of thought I think owes much to the Middle Eastern sky Gods who are all very much about the penetrating light of the divine.

Paganism is full of Earth Gods, underworld Gods, night Gods and other deities of darkness. Inside wombs and cauldrons there is darkness, not light. There is absolutely no reason to associate light with goodness and darkness with evil – both are necessary and both are harmful in excess. You can die of too much light, dried out, burned, or cancerous. There is comfort, sleep and healing to be found in the natural darkness of night. There is mystery and beauty in the dark places – and the way our ancient ancestors went there to do beautiful cave paintings is well worth contemplating.

There may be some value in talking about human actions and choices in terms of good and evil. Often, talking about light and darkness in this way just allows us to externalise our own choices and reduce our feelings of responsibility. A person can be in darkness or in light and their actions are of their own making. What we do in the privacy of darkness – sex particularly – isn’t necessary shameful, just something we don’t want to share with everyone. If doing it in broad daylight seems like the more honest and virtuous position – I rather feel the politics of the last few years should have scuppered that illusion.

Light and dark are both good in their own ways, and both potentially problematic. Walking a dark path, working at night, celebrating underworld Gods – there’s nothing inherently evil here. This may in fact be taken as a path of great healing and compassion. As for light working – I am reminded of a conversation earlier in the year with a woman who has made a living as a light working, talking about ‘the compassion trap’ and how it was ok not to care about the death of a baby… Perhaps it was no coincidence that the baby in question wasn’t light or white. People who spend too much time staring into the light are not necessarily good or kind. I’ve encountered more backstabbing from ‘peace and love and light’ folk than ever I have anywhere else.

What would it mean to identify as a follower of the darkness? What would it mean to refuse to use the language of darkness to describe negativity? What would it mean in terms of how we might be unconsciously thinking about race? Can we let go of the idea that a good witch is a white witch and a bad witch is black? Can we make more room? Can we not have this lingering sense that white is superior and black is not a good way of being?


External authority and why I’m not a fan

One of the accusations levelled against Pagans and atheists alike is that we can’t have a moral compass because we don’t have a sacred text to refer back to.

In practice, the person without a sacred text can only use their reason and personal sense of fairness to make moral judgements. It means you know that you are responsible for what you do and say, what you think and how you come to conclusions. As far as I can see, this is the most honest and most responsible position to hold.

Of course a person can have a sacred book, use it for inspiration and take the same process of coming to reasoned positions. So long as the book isn’t considered the literal word of God and to be followed in all ways, a person can use it to help them navigate while still remaining consciously in charge of their own choices.

However, when a sacred book becomes a substitute for thinking, it becomes dangerous. Anything in a book is at risk of going out of date. What makes sense in one time and place may be far less sensible or fair in another. Dogmatic insistence on the primacy of an out of date book clearly isn’t going to work well.

I note that the people who seem most fanatical about sticking with the text are often the ones calling for the least kind outcomes. The sort of people who would make a child rape victim carry a baby to term, and oblige them to marry their attacker. The sort of people for whom being ‘immodest’ in dress (however they choose to measure that) is a greater spiritual offence than physically attacking someone. What I think happens here is that people outsource their morality so they don’t have to question the real implications of their apparently spiritual beliefs.

This kind of dogma is really convenient for anyone with a nasty agenda.

I don’t think the problem here is books – a decent human being can read a book and make informed decisions about what to work with and what to reject. We do this all the time with the stories of our Pagan ancestors. I’ve never seen a modern Pagan suggest that tricking someone into a bag and then beating them until they let you have things your way is a sensible way of getting things done, for example. If you know that a story is just a story, you can work with it in whatever way makes sense. It’s when you decide that the story has authority, and then, having given it authority, negate your own responsibility to be a decent person, that we get into trouble.

It’s not the presence or absence of a sacred book, or books, that gives people a moral compass. The morality does not lie in the book. It never has.