The subject matter of this post, to some, will be challenging. It is not my intention to cause offence as such but I will be questioning some core aspects of some general Pagan frameworks. If your path is clearly defined for you and you are happy with that definition, it would probably be better to now move away from this post. Any comments directed to this site that adopt an antagonistic or personal attack will be deleted.
Ever since I embarked on this journey of what at this time, is self defined as Druidry, there have been aspects of general paganism and, indeed in some quarters, Druidry, that have created problems for me. These problems at this time, the summer solstice of 2014, now appear to be at the forefront of my thoughts and it’s time to address them.
Both myself and my partner have been recently getting involved in our local Druid group. They have local rituals with a, largely, local focus and it is a good place to meet and interact with people from our general area. The rituals themselves are ones that are mainly OBOD derived and have had the same format for a number of years. And this is where thoughts are now beginning to highlight some of the problems that have been in the background of my mind for a number of years.
It is well documented by the likes of Prof Ron Hutton, that the OBOD rituals that were devised upon OBOD’s re-emergence in the late 80’s were initially written by Wiccans. The concepts of the personification of both elements and objects was one that fitted into the pagan ethos of those times. I believe they are still a valuable tool for introduction into a general pagan spirituality and that they demonstrate the earlier methodology of using analogy to create a spark of connection.
from what I read now in a lot of areas, the analogies themselves have now almost taken on the role of dogma to some people. A somewhat ironic turn of events when you consider the stated positions of these same people in relation to their stated abhorrence of organized religious dogma. The rituals “have” to be structured in such and such a way, because that is the way people have come to “expect” them to be. So what’s the difference between that and a church service? Apart from the people running it?
Recently I have started to question some of the wording to “traditional” rituals. Following the rules of personification, it is not uncommon to read at this time of the year something like the following .. “We welcome back Father Sun as he blesses us with the bounties of his return at this time of abundance”
This has a very traditional “feel” about it. Except that when you think about it, it is reinforcing outdated preconceptions about the reality of the human within nature. “Father Sun” hasn’t gone anywhere. We are the ones who have “gone” somewhere, that being on the elliptical orbit of the Earth around the sun. I recently highlighted this elsewhere and was left somewhat bewildered at some of the responses.
Our present state of reality and the factual information available informs us that it is indeed, us, that move and not the sun. Therefore, wouldn’t the rituals now be better worded to reflect this? Something along the lines of “We greet the sun as our journeying at this time mean that we, and our home the Earth with all the life thriving in our hemisphere at present, come to fix our full gaze upon you once again at this time”?
It is a subtle change and yet one that more accurately reflects the factual position we live in without necessarily diminishing our acknowledgement of their presence. The same sort of analysis applies to the calls to the elements. The personification of, say the winds, has always left me “cold” and especially the attributed qualities traditionally associated with them. For me, it looks like placing the elements within a human centric framework, they are there to interact with “us” as opposed to them playing a far bigger role on a planetary scale. Therefore, I am inclined to be thinking more along the lines of “We welcome the qualities of the winds at these times as they choose to interact with us in ways that are suitable to them at this time”. It moves the interactions away from the human centric positioning, which was largely understandable in earlier times, but, frankly in my opinion, are now not really either particularly relevent or even, to an extent, appropriate.
The diminishing numbers of people actively engaged with religious activities within the UK is demonstrated in census figures over the years. Here in Scotland in the last census of 2011, something like 1/3rd of adults subscribed to having “no religious beliefs”. The numbers for active participants in religions have dropped generally, though Paganism seems to be the largest group to buck that particular trend, but their numbers are still statistically low in relation to the number of people living within Scotland.
I personally know of a number of people whose general attitude is one that I would consider to be actually very “pagan” but for whom the adoption of the title of pagan would be anathema because, amongst other concerns, the public viewing and content of pagan public rituals. Put simply, the personifications adopted in the rituals are as outdated as the church services they see in the churches or the services within the mosques which they then choose to not engage with. They simply are unable to relate because the context those rituals / services were written in are now not applicable to their own lives at these times. So why would they engage in what, to some, are no better than role-playing rituals?
My own identification of the processes I actively engage with have, to a large extent, moved me away from the general premise of the personification of nature. There are things that personification are absolutely the right things to do. I am thinking here specifically of interactions with Gods and spirits of place for example, because that personification is part of the active process of interacting. But the emphasis of some within the pagan community of almost dogmatically using the frameworks of analogy as the sole method of spiritual interactions, appear to me to be akin to being mesmerized by the spark ( the analogy) and missing the fireworks displays ( the resulting interactions) going on all around them. I recognize the spark, but my own gaze is very firmly fixed on the resultant interactions created by the tool that spark represents. And as such, I think I need to consider how the results reveal themselves in relation to how we are living our lives at this time.
The continuation of the use of these earlier pagan preconceptions now demand of me the reassessment of the context of them in future interactions. I simply am unable to divorce myself from the reality of our lives to the extent of continuing to place an important place for them in my spiritual activities. I do recognize however, that this position is a purely personal one and probably does not reflect the vast majority within the pagan community.