Neo-Pagan Meanderings

012I came to Druidry through neo-Paganism, mainly Wicca-inspired at first, but later went a more informal and non-traditional way. I wanted to explore and experiment, not get tied down to any specific tradition or doctrine.

Modern Paganism I’d say comes in two parts: ancestral tradition and reverence for nature (it gets more complicated than that, but that’s the general picture). On the one hand, there is a sense of recovering ancestral pre-Christian religion that somehow still exists within us. On the other hand, these ancestral religions represent being closer to nature, and give us a link to our own image of the “noble savage” – a native one rather than one appropriated from another culture.

I was drawn to the “native” traditions of the Celts and Norse, but couldn’t restrict myself to them, since my sense of ancestry and cultural heritage was broad. Western Culture has a strong Christian element that I couldn’t ignore, and much of our philosophy and politics has found its way in from the Mediterranean. If I were to “honour my ancestors” I would have to be inclusive and recognise the multiple sources that have affected my ancestry, both biological and cultural.

But my real interest was “nature-based spirituality”, so I only recognised the spiritual value of something if I felt it would connect me to nature. I searched a wide variety of sources, but I had no special interest in formal religion, gurus, spiritual celebrities or progression through graded initiations. My spirituality was far too anarchic and “organic”; I wanted to connect directly to the spirit of nature, not follow artificial spiritualities with their arbitrary systems. I wanted to contact with nature in a quiet and private way. I felt I was developing a Celtic- or Nordic-flavoured Taoism with hunter-gatherer aspirations (but not quite a luddite – I still used the Internet a lot, lol).

Things like chakras, the kabbalah, methods of meditation, ritual, divination and all sorts of spiritual theories and theologies were “human inventions”. I have to admit, they were never far away, since my curious intellect always liked to play with these interesting “toys”, and let’s face it, we’ve come a long way since the Stone Age, and can’t do away with the many technologies and philosophies accrued along the way. Many “human inventions” are very useful, and even essential to a modern lifestyle.

I think you can see why Ecopsychology just seems so logical for me: it’s modern and yet is a way to contact our deepest roots. We can’t regress, but we can integrate the deepest ecological parts of us with the more modern, technologically inclined parts. And we need to. I have a tattoo of the Celtic god Cernunnos, holding a horned serpent in one hand and in the other a torc, symbols of nature and of human artifice, respectively. He holds them both, mastering both qualities and synthesising them without rejecting one or the other.  This has been a dominant theme throughout my neo-Pagan journey.

Community Belonging

Many who talk of community talk about “belonging”, which is a sense of shared identity, a feeling of acceptance and perhaps understanding. You can go along to a party and for a brief moment have a feeling of “community”, but then you have to go back home – where is the community then? Do you have to wait until the next event appears on the calendar? That’s been my experience in many Neopagan groups, where likeminded people get together outside of their normal routine, have a great time discussing “meaningful” things, doing rituals, attending camps and workshops, but then they have to go back to our normal routing – the bills won’t pay themselves, will they?

But this belonging doesn’t often sustain itself beyond the events that produces it, there is no commitment beyond that feeling of “belonging”, whatever that may be. Which conveniently stops short of conflict appearing, which invariably happens in community. You go along for a weekend camp, get the benefits of “good feeling” which you can take back to work with you and not have to face the possibility of conflict, and perhaps that is why some many “communities” don’t develop beyond a sort of Sunday Christian phenomenon, because they don’t want to face the conflict that lies behind the “good times”.

Sustainable community takes more than a weekend of “belonging”, it involves facing conflict and working through it, coming to a consensus, and cooperation and compromise that sometimes mean putting aside personal interests, and commitment to a project that doesn’t rely on personal interests alone.

The theme of “co” is no accident, and if there was no “co”, then community wouldn’t be(long). 🙂