Marriage equality: All you need is love… or is it?

All you need is love, all together now
All you need is love, everybody
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need – The Beatles – All You Need Is Love

I am immensely heartened by the legalisation of same-sex marriage across the United States of America by the Supreme Court ruling, and by popular referendum in Ireland. Even the Pitcairn Islands have legalised it, despite not having any gay couples living there. This makes the US the 23rd country to legalise it. Given the large number of people in same-sex relationships who want to get married, it seems like a very good idea, especially when it grants access to all kinds of other benefits (the ability to visit your spouse while they are dying in hospital, the ability to be named as their spouse on a death certificate, and so on). And we should celebrate our victories along the way. However, it does not mean that the struggle for equality is over.

All of the above is why I would urge you to support the LGBTQ Bill of Rights.

Love wins

I really the enjoyed the fact that my Facebook feed was full of rainbow profile pictures, as loads of friends, both straight and LGBTQIA, rainbowed up their profile pictures. Because they were celebrating with the LGBTQIA community, and they didn’t care if anyone else thought they might be gay. Could you have imagined that, twenty years ago? Ten years ago?

Same sex marriage has been a stunning success in so many places because it is not particularly complicated, and it is easy to get behind it. BECAUSE LOVE. Everyone can get behind it, everyone can understand it. Two people in love – awww, right? Obviously it is a bit more complicated than that, because marriage is all tangled up with property and legal status and all that kind of stuff – and until relatively recently, marriage was a massively patriarchal thing designed to ensure that a father (who owned the property) could be sure that his biological offspring would inherit his property, because he knew his wife had not had sex with anyone else.

However, it was the concept of romantic love that changed heterosexual marriage for the better. Before the rediscovery of romantic love, and the invention of chivalry, women were mere chattels who could be exchanged as part of a contract. That is why so many of Molière‘s plays champion marrying for love against marrying for the furtherance of parental property deals.

Chivalry, and the accompanying tradition of courtly love, schooled the uncouth knights of Europe in the art of behaving like somebody who actually read books and knew one end of a lute from the other. Prior to this, they had been too busy indiscriminately raping, pillaging, and looting their way across Europe and the Middle East, all in the name of Christendom, in an activity usually referred to as the Crusades.

In fact, it may have been contact with the Muslim world that started the tradition of courtly love, according to Wikipedia:

The notions of “love for love’s sake” and “exaltation of the beloved lady” have been traced back to Arabic literature of the 9th and 10th centuries. The notion of the “ennobling power” of love was developed in the early 11th century by the Persian psychologist andphilosopherIbn Sina (known as “Avicenna” in Europe), in his treatise Risala fi’l-Ishq (“Treatise on Love”). 

It took a good few centuries, and the subsequent introduction of the concept of companionate marriage, followed by the impact of feminism, but eventually heterosexual marriage started to be more equal. But it was the concepts of courtly and romantic love that started the process.

"Codex Manesse Bernger von Horheim" by Meister des Codex Manesse (Grundstockmaler) - http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg848/0351. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Codex_Manesse_Bernger_von_Horheim.jpg#/media/File:Codex_Manesse_Bernger_von_Horheim.jpg

Codex Manesse Bernger von Horheim” by Meister des Codex Manesse (Grundstockmaler) – Universität Heidelberg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The other day someone commented on Facebook that same-sex marriage is important because, “for some straight people, it is the only thing that makes them realise that queer people are human too”. I would argue that the concept of love (courtly and romantic) achieved the same thing for women.

Contrasted with the slow progress of equality in heterosexual marriage, the rise of same-sex marriage has been meteoric, and that in itself is quite an achievement – in England and Wales, homosexual activity between consenting adults over the age of 21 was legalised in 1967. It was not legal in Scotland until 1981, and in Northern Ireland, not until 1982. I was gobsmacked recently by an article by Colm Tóibin, in which he commented that some otherwise liberal people were unaware that same-sex relationships involve love:

I met a prominent Irish feminist, someone had been at the forefront of the women’s movement, and she too expressed surprise at the intensity of the relationship between the two men in the book. “They sound like straight people,” she said. I told her that that was because they were like straight people, that they wanted intimacy and love, they wanted each other, they wanted ease in their domestic and family lives. They also wanted their relationship to be publicly recognised. They wanted to move out of the shadows and into the light.

I am unsure of how anyone could be unaware of this, as it seems kind of obvious to me – but then I recall how, when I published a piece celebrating the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK in a magazine of which I was the editor, someone commented that “you already had one article about sex in that issue, did you really need another one?” I was appalled by the assumption that same-sex marriage is only about sex, and not about love and equal rights.

Progress is incremental

So, you think same-sex marriage is not enough? That we need polyamorous marriage, marriage that is not entangled with property rights, and an understanding that not everyone wants to get married? Well, yes, but let’s celebrate this milestone on the road to equality, because it’s all about love, and that is worth celebrating. Recently, it was the anniversary of Loving vs Virginia (1967), the Supreme Court case in which laws against people of different colours marrying were struck down. Someday, the idea that two people of the same sex were not allowed to marry will seem as bizarre as the idea that two people of different colours couldn’t marry. It was particularly apt that the couple bringing the case were called Mr and Mrs Loving.

Today we celebrate, tomorrow the struggle goes on.

Advertisements

Pagans and Money

Contemporary Paganism – like much of the rest of the world – has a deeply conflicted attitude to money. Money is probably even harder to talk about than sex and death. People tend to think it is a deeply unspiritual topic. It probably is – but we still need to talk about it.

Whenever the subject of Pagans and money comes up, there arises the vexed question of what spiritual services to charge for. The ethics of charging money for spirituality-related events is always tricky. On the one hand, there are those who argue that if they expend energy, they should be paid for it, and on the other hand, there are those who argue that money is the kiss of death to spirituality.

"CoinsOfTheParisii" by PHGCOM - self-made, photographed at the MET. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CoinsOfTheParisii.jpg#/media/File:CoinsOfTheParisii.jpg

Coins Of The Parisii” by PHGCOM – self-made, photographed at the MET. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

In order to think about this issue a little more clearly, let’s go back to a time before money, and look at how money was probably invented.

The tribe – a communal effort

Let’s imagine that I am the village spirit-worker. It’s my job to find herds for the tribe to hunt, and to talk with the ancestors and the spirits to find out useful knowledge, and to heal ailments suffered by the tribe. I contribute my knowledge and skills to the tribe in order that the people may survive and flourish. The hunters contribute their hunting skills, and bring back food. Various other members of the tribe cure leather, sew it together to make clothes, make tools and weapons and cooking pots, knap flint, and gather herbs. Everyone contributes, and everyone gets their share. And everyone knows that “what goes around comes around”. No-one keeps count of who owes what to whom, because everyone pulls together for the survival of the whole group.

The village – barter

In later centuries, a hierarchical view develops, and some people are considered more worthy of food and resources. Now, the tribe has settled in one place, and owns separate houses and separate cooking pots and separate hearths. A barter system develops, in which I exchange my work for food, clothes, and medicine.

The city – and money

After a while, people start to think that it is a bit inconvenient to exchange work for things. What if you need me to help out with your harvest, but you can only offer me a couple of chickens in exchange, but I don’t actually want any more chickens right now? Then it is easier to say, well I will give you this lump of gold, and you can exchange it for whatever you want later on. In addition, villages have got larger and become cities, in which the inhabitants don’t know everyone else in the town. Tribal links are weakened, perhaps dissolved. Family links and alliances become more important – and it is only in family settings that people don’t count the cost. Though perhaps guilds provide a kind of replacement for the tribe.

And that, I would suggest, is how money was invented.

The Celts started to use coins from the 5th to 1st centuries BCE, and minted coins based on Greek designs (they needed money for trade with the Greeks). The ancient Greeks began to use coins in about 700 BCE. The Romans began using coins in the third century BCE.

At various points in our lives, we return to one or other of these means of exchange. During a harvest, or when someone moves house, or at a Pagan camp, we return to communal effort mode. It feels idyllic, partly because we have lost our need to ‘count the cost’ in the knowledge that we are all mucking in together, and that the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.

Sometimes, when money runs short, we return to barter mode. There are community credit schemes where you can exchange piano lessons for bread-making, or baby-sitting for bicycle repair.

A Pagan camp in communal effort mode

If you go to a Pagan event with a large number of people, and a significant number (say, more than half) of them are offering workshops, helping out with the fire-pit, organising the technical aspects, and generally contributing to the community, then you know that you won’t have to do more than your fair share, and you will get to benefit from other people’s workshops, and at this type of event, you probably don’t expect to get paid for your one- or two-hour long workshop, because you will attend at least ten other really good workshops given by other people, and you know that if you attend the same event in the future, you will benefit from the workshops there too. So this type of event becomes like a mutually supportive tribe – what goes around comes around – no need to pay speakers.

A Pagan camp in city mode

If, on the other hand, you go to a different type of Pagan event, where less than half of the participants are offering workshops, and the workshop leaders are contributing more than a couple of hours of their time each, and are not getting a comparable benefit from attending other people’s workshops (perhaps because the speakers have considerably more knowledge than most of the other attendees, or because it is a day or weekend event, and so there is no time for them to attend other people’s workshops) – then it’s a really good idea to factor in paying the speakers.

And it’s really important to note that in both these examples, the speakers get paid – it’s just that in the first example they are paid ‘in kind’ through receiving the benefit of workshops from other people; and in the second example, they get paid with money.

An exchange of energy

In an earlier post on the Pagan value of reciprocity, I wrote:

The giving of money in exchange for something does not create relationship, it ends it. If I pay in full for a service or a commodity, my obligation is discharged, and that ends the relationship. If I pay for a massage, a Tarot reading, or a workshop, that is because the masseur, Tarot reader, or workshop leader is not going to receive from me (at some unspecified future date) a massage, a Tarot reading, or a workshop. The relationship is ended by the payment. This is, I think, why Wiccans believe strongly that we should not charge trainees for training. Members of a coven are in a relationship, and payment for training would end that relationship. What you gain in return for teaching is an opportunity to formulate, clarify, and refine your own views in the process of transmitting them to others. You can also learn from your trainees. And in due course, you will have a coven to work with who can write rituals for you to take part in.  All members of a coven are expected to contribute food for the feast and candles and incense for rituals, and help with the washing-up, however. 

Note that I am not saying that charging money for services such as Tarot reading, or even rituals like a handfasting, is a bad thing. All services create some obligation. If I invite you to my ritual, you will probably feel obliged to invite me to yours. If someone gives you training in Wicca, you should feel obliged to turn up on time, make an effort to absorb what they try to teach you, and at some point in the future, to reciprocate by creating awesome rituals that they can enjoy, and to “pay it forward” by training others in Wicca.

Paying money for services rendered just ends the obligation. That can help to make things simpler; sometimes we do not want to enter into relationship with a person who has done something for us, because they are not part of our social group, or because – for one reason or another – we won’t see them again, so we discharge the obligation by paying them in full.

However, we do end up having a sort of relationship with people we pay money to – you go to a particular shop because the staff are friendly, or because the shopkeeper is nice; you go to the same hairdresser because you have become one of their clients.

The barter and exchange model, and the communal effort model, both create a web of obligation and relationship. That’s great – but there can be a shadow side to that, just as money has its shadow side. One can end up so obligated to others that they have power over you in some way, for example.

And then there’s capitalism

Of course, all of this gets much more complex and layered by the introduction of capitalism. Once capitalism rears its ugly head, you get third parties who want to make money by brokering the services offered by others, and as Rhyd Wildermuth recently pointed out, it has even infected hitherto communal exchanges like offering acquaintances a bed for the night.

The introduction of capitalism means that people can buy the services of one person, and sell them at an inflated price to someone else, and that a third party can invest in the whole enterprise, and expect to get a profit in return for their investment, despite not having done any actual work.

And then, even paying your workers comes to seem like a bad idea to some capitalists, so they go and kidnap a large population from somewhere else, treat them as property, and make them work for nothing. And that is how colonialism and slavery were invented.

Money is energy

So, whilst the abstract nature of money is partly what made capitalism possible, it is also a really useful marker for indicating that you are owed a certain amount of goods or services from the communal pool.

Of course, it might be wonderful to move towards a tribal model where everyone gets what they need, as Jonathan Woolley has suggested – but that would entail a considerable loss of individuality, and I am willing to bet that even the most ardent advocate of communal living is not quite ready to go there yet. And we do not have the kind of society that makes that kind of community possible for more than a short space of time, though we can pioneer it as a model.

I think it would be very difficult not to reinvent money, even if we succeeded in re-establishing a tribal / communal model, because there would still be a need for long-distance trade with strangers who would be outside the pool of communal effort, which means you need non-perishable tokens of exchange (otherwise known as money).

Nor do I think it is realistic to ask people to offer workshops entirely for nothing – you either get paid in kind, or with money, or you operate on a pay-it-forward model. Yes, I train people in Wicca for the good of the tribe, and I don’t expect money in return, but I do expect commitment and effort on the part of trainees, and one day, I can relax and let them run a ritual for me to participate in. What goes around comes around.

 

Paganism for Beginners: Things we care about

Pagans care about the same issues as everyone else – poverty, war, racism, homophobia, transphobia, the environment, saving indigenous lifeways, knowledge, and culture, women’s rights, cruelty to animals, and so on.  Like any other movement, there are many different opinions in the Pagan movement: some Pagans don’t care about these things; some take a different view of them; and  some care about them very much more than the average.

But there are some issues that are associated in people’s minds with being Pagan, the two most obvious ones being environmentalism and feminism. Many people have claimed that Paganism is a Nature religion (and many others have claimed that it’s not), and since Paganism and Nature-worship are synonymous in many people’s minds, caring for the Earth seems like an obvious thing for Pagans to want to do. And since the Earth is often viewed as a goddess, or as the Goddess, Paganism is an obvious choice for anyone who wonders why so many monotheists view their deity as exclusively male.

Environmentalism

Pagans care about the environment for many and varied reasons. Some people became Pagans because they care about the environment; others began to care more about the environment after becoming a Pagan. Either way, Pagans recognise that the Earth is our mother, and if we don’t take care of her, we will all die, and so will many other species.

The earth is our mother,
we must take care of her.

Hey yanna, ho yanna, hey yan yan.

Her sacred ground we walk upon,
with every step we take.

The earth is our mother,
she will take care of us.

Native American song (mp3)

The causes of our current destructive course are many and complex. Some people blame capitalism; others blame consumerism; and others blame the dominionist views of conservative Christianity.  I blame all three, and think they are historically interlinked.

Capitalism does not simply mean a market economy; it means the investment of surplus money in a business venture. This means that instead of being accountable to the whole community, a company becomes accountable to its shareholders, and shareholders generally want only one thing: a profit.

Consumerism is not simply wanting nice things; it is the view that only having nice things makes you happy, and the drive to acquire more and more nice things.

Dominionism is the view (derived from the book of Genesis) that God gave the Earth to humans for our use.

A major contrast with these views is deep ecology, which advocates the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, and argues that this requires a radical restructuring of modern human societies. This certainly chimes in well with the Pagan world-view, and I explored the ecological and embodied world-view in two previous posts, Eco-spirituality and theology and Eco-spirituality in practice.

The language of ecology can be problematic, especially when it gets co-opted by business trying to preserve the status quo. Sustainability used to mean living in a way that prevents damage to the environment and loss of species habitat; now it has been co-opted to mean something like ‘greenwashing‘ (paying lip-service to environmental concerns while actually continuing to act in a destructive way), or buying carbon credits and continuing to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The “environment” implies something that surrounds us, but which we are not necessarily part of. We are part of the environment and of ecosystems; we are not separate from our habitat.

A group of Pagans (of which I was one) have recently produced A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, which has been translated into several different languages and has now reached around 5000 signatures. Whilst a statement will not fix things on its own, what it does is articulate the principles and practices which will help to fix things, and signing up to the statement means a commitment to its principles and to doing something for the planet.

Feminism

Some people became Pagans because they were feminists; others began to focus more on equality after becoming a Pagan. Either way, feminism is a natural bedfellow of Paganism, because most Pagan traditions worship a Goddess or goddesses, and value diversity and equality.

The roots of feminism lie in three simple premises:

  • that women are equal to men,
  • that women are not currently treated equally in society,
  • and that we should do something about it.

However, as with any other philosophy, there is more than one flavour of feminism, because not all feminists necessarily agree on the correct tactics for getting rid of inequality, or indeed on who counts as a woman.

Variants include: Amazon, Analytical, Anarchist, Atheist, Black, Chicana, Christian, Conservative, Cultural, Cyber, DifferenceEco, Equality, Equity, Fat, French, structuralist, Global, Individualist, Islamic, Jewish, Lesbian, LiberalLipstick,  MarxistMaterialMaternalMormonNeo, NewPostcolonialPostmodernPoststructuralPro-lifeProtoRadicalSeparatistSex-positiveSocialSocialistStandpointThird worldTransTransnational, and Womanism. There is even an online quiz for deciding what kind of feminist you are.

Here are some of the ones that share concerns with Paganism:

According to Wikipedia, “Anarcha-feminism, also called anarchist feminism and anarcho-feminism, combines anarchism with feminism. It generally views patriarchy as a manifestation of involuntary coercive hierarchy that should be replaced by decentralized free association. Anarcha-feminists believe that the struggle against patriarchy is an essential part of class struggle, and the anarchist struggle against the state. ” Historically, anarchist feminists included those who advocated free love and campaigned against marital rape and the subjugation of women. 

Black feminism: Black feminist theorists argue that sexism, class oppression, and racism are inextricably bound together. The way these relate to each other is called intersectionality. The theory of intersectionality has been adopted by many other feminists and social theorists. According to Barbara Omolade,  ”Black feminism is sometimes referred to as womanism because both are concerned with struggles against sexism and racism by black women who are themselves part of the black community’s efforts to achieve equity and liberty”.

Eco-feminism: According to Vandana Shiva,  women have a special connection to the environment through our daily interactions. She says that women in subsistence economies who produce “wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature’s processes.”

Obviously there are lots of other things that Pagans care about,  but these are two areas that are fairly central to why so many people have joined the Pagan movement.


This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’  link at the foot of the blogpost. 

The next post in the series will be on controversies in the Pagan community, where I attempt to summarise all the controversies of the last few years, including racism, transphobia, Wiccanate privilege, and more.

A Queer Pagan Reading List

Here are a bunch of books for the LGBTQ Pagan reader. I have either read these and can recommend them, or I have read another book by the same author, and can therefore recommend the ones on this list.

Collection of some Contemporary Pagan & Male Nude Sculptures created by Malcolm Lidbury

Collection of some Contemporary Pagan & Male Nude Sculptures created by Malcolm Lidbury (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Gay

Inclusive

Kink

Lesbian

LGBT

Polyamory

Queer

Transgender

Other people’s lists of recommended books

Online resources

Why Pagans don’t proselytise or evangelise

There are various different ways in which religions can try to attract new adherents and/or communicate with others.

Interfaith dialogue means providing other faiths/philosophies with information about your own religion or philosophy, and having a dialogue about how to co-exist peacefully. Some members of some faiths may participate in interfaith dialogue in the hope of making converts: I don’t think that should be our goal. I think it is dishonest and undermines the whole purpose of dialogue if the participants have an aim to convert each other. One can certainly enter dialogue with a willingness to entertain another perspective, but not to persuade others to join your own faith.

Interfaith is a bit of an awkward name for having a dialogue with atheists, humanists, and people who don’t adhere to any faith, but the same rule applies: we are not there to make converts; we are there to communicate with others and provide information about Paganism(s).

A deer in Holland. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow

A deer in Holland – too busy eating to evangelise any local cats. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Providing information to others who might be interested in Paganism (because they have a gods-shaped receptor, or a Nature-shaped receptor) but don’t know we exist. This type of communication doesn’t have a special name, but is certainly desirable. There are still people out there who have never heard of contemporary Paganism, or if they have heard of it, don’t have a clue about it.

Evangelism is telling other people they will be happier if they adhere to your faith. But we can’t prove that non-Pagans would be happier if they were Pagan – maybe they are perfectly happy as atheists or whatever – different people are wired differently – some people have a gods-shaped receptor, others have a God-shaped receptor, some don’t have a receptor for god(s). So I do not think that evangelism is a good idea. Where religions do evangelise, I suspect that they find that converts made through evangelism are often not very engaged, and fall by the wayside at the first sign of difficulty.

in any case, which Pagan deity would you evangelise  on behalf of? Cernunnos? As this Lolcat meme makes clear, the cats (who obviously worship Bast), would be pretty unimpressed. What about Woden? A well-known UK Heathen once turned up to a party with an amusing T-shirt reading “Woden’s Witnesses”.

Proselytising is (technically) where you tell people that they are doomed in some way if they don’t follow your faith. As Pagans don’t believe that our gods have an unpleasant fate prepared for non-believers, this is not an option open to us, nor would it be a desirable route to take. No-one should be persuaded to join a religion on the basis of some kind of threat, whether the threat is of suffering in this life or a hypothetical next life.

Pagans don’t actively seek converts because we believe that the realisation that you are a Pagan wells up from within, as a response to the beauty of Nature, the call of the Pagan deities, or a growing convergence with Pagan values and a Pagan world-view. We do not believe that it is “cosmically necessary” to be a Pagan – our gods want willing adherents, not forced ones, and they do not punish people who do not believe in them (ancient pagans also did not believe in punishment for non-believers).

Most Pagans feel that you cannot be converted to Paganism, because being a Pagan is not about the acceptance of a set of propositions or a creed, but a sense of connection with Nature, the old gods, the Earth, or the land. Instead, we call the realisation that we are Pagan a feeling of coming home.

In an excellent article for the Theologies of Immanence wiki, Judy Harrow wrote:

I’m a convert, and probably so are you. Very few of us were raised as Pagans. Most of us come to this religion in adulthood, by conscious choice. Some Pagan elders find satisfaction in welcoming newcomers to our community, helping them to find their way around. It’s good for all of us to reflect upon the process of change that most of us have experienced.

Among ourselves, we don’t call new Pagan affiliation “conversion” at all; we call it “homecoming.” The difference is not trivial. Remember, language shapes thought. Most religions expect conversion to be a transformative experience. They expect new adherents to think, behave, even speak differently, utterly renouncing their old ways. In contrast, we say “you don’t become a Pagan; you find out that there’s a name for what you already were, and a community of others who feel the same way.”

All we really expect from a new homecomer is a deep sigh of relief. Certainly we have our community mores and customs. However, instead of indoctrinating or re-socializing newcomers, we like to believe that they come to us because they find us already feeling and doing the very things that made them misfits in their previous faith communities. They find the home they never thought existed for them. That’s what it felt like for me, how about you?

It’s not that simple of course. Whoever comes home as an adult has left a previous home. Although it was less satisfactory, still there are aspects they’ll miss, and baggage they’ll carry along. And anybody who has ever moved house, even to a much better location, knows how disorienting, and how much work, it can be.

In the article, Judy goes on to point out that all processes of conversion (whether they are called that or not) involve a shift of perspective, a leaving-behind of a previous paradigm, a search for a new paradigm and a new community, and settling in to the new community.

Paganism for Beginners: Organisations

Pagan organisations are important because they represent Pagan organisations to the wider world, and connect members of the Pagan movement together. Through them you can find out more about your chosen tradition, and meet other Pagans to celebrate with. Pagan organisations do not claim to represent all Pagans, only their members – but the more people who join these organisations, the stronger, and the more diverse, the Pagan voice in the public square will be.

Pagan handfasting ceremony at Avebury (Beltane 2005) - source: ShahMai Network

Pagan handfasting ceremony at Avebury (Beltane 2005)

Organisations

ADF – Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (USA)

The ADF is a Pagan church based on ancient Indo-European traditions expressed through public worship, study, and fellowship.  ADF is working to combine in-depth scholarship with the inspiration of artistry and spiritual practice to create a powerful modern Paganism. They research and interpret sound modern scholarship (rather than romantic fantasies) about the ancient Indo-European Pagans — the Celts, Norse, Slavs, Balts, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Vedics, and others. Upon these cultural foundations, they are working to build a religion that these ancient people would appreciate and understand yet one which has depth and power for modern people. They seek to developing genuine skills in composition and presentation in the musical, dramatic, graphic, textile and other arts. They bring together people trained in ritual, psychic skills and applied mythology to bring the remnants of the old ways to life, and to create a nonsexist, non-racist, organic, flexible and publicly available religion to practice as a way of life and to hand on to future generations.

CoG – Covenant of the Goddess (USA)

The Covenant of the Goddess is one of the largest and oldest Wiccan religious organizations. CoG was incorporated as a nonprofit religious organization on October 31, 1975. The Covenant is an umbrella organization of cooperating autonomous Witchcraft congregations and individual practitioners with the power to confer credentials on its qualified clergy. It fosters cooperation and mutual support among Witches and secures for them the legal protections enjoyed by members of other religions. The Covenant is non-hierarchical and governed by consensus. Two-thirds of its clergy are women.

CUUPS – Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (USA)

The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) is an organization dedicated to networking Pagan-identified Unitarian Universalists (UUs), educating people about Paganism, promoting interfaith dialogue, developing Pagan liturgies and theologies, and supporting Pagan-identified UU religious professionals. CUUPS was chartered by the Unitarian Universalist Association at the General Assembly in 1987.

OBOD – Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (UK, international)

The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids is a worldwide group dedicated to practising, teaching, and developing Druidry as a valuable and inspiring spirituality. The Order was founded in Britain 50 years ago by the historian and poet Ross Nichols, aided by the writer and founder of the Tolkien Society Vera Chapman, and fellow members of the Ancient Druid Order, which developed during the early years of the last century out of the Druid Revival which began about three hundred years ago. Read more

Pagan Federation (UK)

Founded in 1971, the PF seeks to support all Pagans to ensure they have the same rights as the followers of other beliefs and religions. It aims to promote a positive profile for Pagans and Paganism and to provide information on Pagan beliefs to the media, official bodies and the greater community. The Pagan Federation regards membership of any organisations that refuse to support freedom of religion and equality of race, gender, and sexual orientation, as incompatible with their aims, objectives and values.

Pagan Federation (Scotland)

The Pagan Federation (Scotland) is a democratic organisation whose membership is drawn from all the Pagan traditions including Wicca and other forms of Pagan Witchcraft, Druidry, Heathenry, Celtic Paganism, Shamanism and Goddess-Spirituality. It is an autonomous national body within the Pagan Federation, Europe’s largest and most active Pagan organisation.

Pagan Federation International (PFI)

One of the main aims of Pagan Federation International is to enable Pagans to network, using the internet and email. It is however also important to be able to contact Pagans in our own countries and to communicate in our own languages.

The PFI  communicates internationally using English as our common language and at a local level we are building up regional contacts in local languages. A number of countries have coordinators who provide regular newsletters, advertising events of interest to PFI members and also including news of local pub moots. Most countries with a substantial amount of members are now also providing websites with the various information packs provided by the PF and translated into the local languages.

Pagan Life Rites (Ireland)

Pagan Life Rites Ireland is a non-profit organisation, operated by a nationwide network of Priests and Priestesses, which offers a range of services to the greater Pagan community of Ireland, including Naming and Welcoming Rituals, Coming of Age Rituals, Handfasting (Marriage) Rituals, Separation Rituals, Croning Rituals, Funerary Rituals, courses and training offered in the various traditions, and events hosted for the community. They offer their services to the public regardless of practice, race, gender or sexual orientation.

Pagan Heathen Symposium (UK)

The Pagan Heathen Symposium is a group of Pagan and Heathen Organisations that actively co-operate on a variety of issues and projects.

Unitarian Earth Spirit Network (UK)

The Unitarian Earth Spirit Network (UESN) is an association of Unitarians based in the UK that seeks to represent a Nature/Earth/Creation centred religious voice within the Unitarian church. The UESN provides a forum for this group and is a recognised, credible part of the British Unitarian movement.

Websites

Gardnerian Wicca

An unofficial and informative website about Gardnerian Wicca, with articles by various Gardnerian Wiccans about various aspects of Wicca and Paganism, with links to other Wiccan and Pagan sites.

Gods and Radicals

A site of beautiful resistance. We Pagans are trying to re-enchant the world, to bring back the magic of the forests and the mountains. We are trying to hear and revere the wild places the sacred forgotten places, the spirits of ocean and rivers and lakes. And yet Capitalism is always poisoning these places because it considers nothing sacred except profit, nothing holy except wealth. To Re-enchant the world, we must destroy Capitalism.

Patheos Pagan

Patheos is a multi-faith blogging platform with channels for different religious traditions. Patheos Pagan is the Pagan channel, with blogs by Pagans and polytheists of many different traditions.

Polytheist.com

For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals.  In a “manifold” universe populated by myriad entities, autonomies, consciousnesses and willed layers-upon-layers of complex relations, animist sensibilities, and ancestral connections, Polytheist.com acknowledges not only the many gods and goddesses and Their sacred agency, but also the agency of the many cultic communities, devotional disciplines and worshipful fellowships, war-bands, sects and circles. 

The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt is the Pagan news blog. It is a daily updated news blog that concerns itself with the events of interest to or happening within the modern Pagan, Polytheist and Heathen communities. Their mission is to raise the standard of journalistic discourse regarding our religions from within and without. Consider it an exercise in advocacy journalism, where a decidedly “pro-Paganism” view is exercised.

The Witches’ Voice / Witchvox

A community resource for Paganism since 1997, Witchvox hosts hundreds of articles and listings of Pagan groups. The Witches’ Voice is a proactive educational network providing news, information services and resources for and about Pagans, Heathens, Witches and Wiccans.

Witches and Pagans / Pagan Square

A collection of blogs and magazines devoted to various Pagan paths and aspects of Pagan culture.

Did I miss someone?

Did I miss out your Pagan organisation or website? Add the details in the comments – please include the name of the organisation, the URL of its website, where their activities are focused (a specific country, or international) and a summary of what they do.

This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’  link at the foot of the blogpost. 

Summer Solstice, and the gender-stereotyping is easy

Relief showing Helios, sun god in Greco-Roman mythology. From the North-West pediment of the temple of Athena in Ilion (Troy).

Relief showing Helios, sun god in Greco-Roman mythology. From the temple of Athena in Ilion (Troy). Circa 325 to 390 BCE. Pergamon-Museum, Berlin, Germany. [Public domain, via Wikipedia]

Many people think of a Sun god when they think of the Sun, and a Moon goddess when they think of the Moon, and these ideas play into our ideas about of different qualities being associated with specific genders.

The Sun is hot and fiery and bright, so people associate it with maleness, the active/penetrative principle, yang, warriors, and intellect. The Moon is cool and reflective and represents intuition and dreams, so people associate it with the feminine, dreamy, receptive, and watery side of things.

We then go on to ascribe these qualities to actual men and women, or regard them as the “ideal” masculine and feminine qualities.

Of course we know that real Moon goddesses are not dreamy, pretty, airy-fairy, and harmless at all. But that doesn’t stop people from depicting them that way. And that real Sun gods have a sensitive and emotional side. Don’t we?

We tend to associate Summer Solstice with the Sun being at the height of its power, and it is at this time of year that a lot of archetypal material about the Sun god gets wheeled out for presentation at Pagan rituals.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

"Diana Reposing", by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry [Public domain], Walters Collection, via Wikimedia Commons

“Diana Reposing”, by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry [Public domain], Walters Collection, via Wikimedia Commons

Many cultures have a Moon god and a Sun goddess. It’s also possible that these cultures had some different ideas about qualities being associated with one gender or another. It’s worth looking at Sun goddesses and Moon gods, because we can learn a lot about the mythology of the Sun and the Moon, and begin to deconstruct gender stereotypes at the same time as finding out some great stories.

Moon gods

In Hinduism, there is Chandra. The Mesopotamians worshipped the Moon god Sin. The Germanic tribes worshipped Mani. The Japanese worshipped Tsukuyomi. These cultures often featured female Sun goddesses

According to Wikipedia,

the original Proto-Indo-European lunar deity appears to have been a male god. In subsequent traditions, the number of male moon deities (or words for “moon” with a male gender) seem to vastly outnumber female ones, which appear to be an exclusively eastern Mediterranean invention. Several goddesses, like Hecate or Artemis, did not originally have lunar aspects, and only acquired them late in antiquity, due to syncretism with Selene/Luna, the de facto Greco-Latin lunar deity. In traditions with male gods, there is little evidence of such syncretism, though the Greco-Roman Hermes has been equated with male Egyptian lunar gods like Thoth. In Greece proper, remnants of male moon gods are also seen with Menelaus.

Sun goddesses

Practitioners of  Dievturība, the revived traditional religion of Latvia, celebrate the Sun goddessSaulė. Saulė is a goddess with a fairly detailed story and attributes. She is the goddess of life, fertility, warmth, and health, and is patroness of the unfortunate, especially orphans. The Lithuanian and Latvian words for “the world” (pasaulis and pasaule) mean as “[a place] under the Sun”. The summer solstice is the feast of Saulė, and the winter solstice is celebrated as her return.

Amaterasu is the Japanese sun goddess, who is seen as the goddess of the sun and of the universe. The name Amaterasu derived from Amateru meaning “shining in heaven.” Her full name, Amaterasu-ōmikami, means “the great august kami (god) who shines in the heaven”. She hid in a cave after her brother Susa-no-o went on a rampage.

Japanese Sun goddess Amaterasu emerging from a Cave,"ORIGIN OF IWATO KAGURA DANCE"

Japanese Sun goddess Amaterasu emerging from a Cave,”ORIGIN OF IWATO KAGURA DANCE” – public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In Ancient Egypt, the earliest deities associated with the sun were all goddesses: Wadjet, Sekhmet, HathorNut, Bast, Bat, and Menhit.  There were also Moon gods, such as Thoth and Khonsu.

Ancient Heathens worshipped Sol and Mani. Sol was the goddess of the Sun, and her brother Mani was the goddess of the Moon. The horse’s of Sol’s chariot are called Árvakr (“Early Riser”) and Alsviðr (“Swift”). They are pursued across the sky by a wolf called Sköll, and the Moon is pursued by her brother Hati.

Dan McCoy writes:

According to one of the poems in the Poetic Edda, a figure named Svalinn rides in the sun’s chariot and holds a shield between her and the earth below. If he didn’t do this, both the land and the sea would be consumed in flames. Elsewhere, the father of Sol and Mani is named as “Mundilfari,” about whom we know nothing. His name might mean “The One Who Moves According to Particular Times.”

In runic lore, the gentle warmth of Sol is contrasted with the heat of the rune Sowelu, but it seems as if this might be a misattribution.

Deities in ritual

When I am writing rituals, I try not to always go for the “obvious”. I like to challenge people’s assumptions, and introduce deities that look a bit different. One year, I wrote a ritual to Saulė. Another summer solstice, I wrote a ritual all about the arrival of Parsifal at the Grail Castle.

It’s also a good idea to work with a deity you have some sort of connection with, or to try to establish a connection with the deity you are working with before the ritual. There’s nothing worse than a ritual falling flat because you didn’t make a connection with the deity. What does the deity’s story mean for you personally? How does it link in with the festival you are celebrating?

If the deity is not very well-known, I find out as much as I can about them, and email all the ritual participants their story beforehand, and/or build in a meditation about that deity.

Summer solstice

At this time of the year, the days are at their longest, so the Sun is said to be at the height of its power. However, after Midsummer, the days will get shorter, so the Sun is said (symbolically) to descend into the underworld. The Sun is a metaphor for consciousness; as we descend into the depths of winter, the self is said to go inward and become more introspective.

Whilst the summer solstice is the moment at which the days get shorter, and the Sun starts rising further south again, there is still plenty of summer left after the solstice. Some people regard 21 June as Midsummer, others regard it as the start of summer.

Summer is always associated with warmth and plenty and long lazy sunny days – until you get to the harvest, when it’s all hands to fields to bring in the crop before a summer rainstorm comes and trashes it.

The word solstice literally means “Sun stands still” as the Sun seems to rise at the same point on the horizon for a few days. So the solstice is a moment to pause, and take stock, as well as to enjoy the longest day.

A Pagan perspective on the Bible

I find it very odd when Pagans and atheists hold forth on the subject of a book they probably haven’t read. Quite often their perspective on it seems to be informed by evangelical or fundamentalist interpretations of the book, and they seem blissfully unaware that – whilst certain bits of the book, taken out of context by right-wing Christians, have been used to justify the perpetuation of slavery, the persecution of LGBT people, and all sorts of other horrors – there is much more to the Bible than the wilful and selective misinterpretation of it by right-wing Christians would suggest.

Recently, Jason Mankey posted a piece on why it is a good thing that Pagans don’t have a holy book. I quite agree that having a single holy book (especially one which is taken to be the literal word of God) is a very bad thing – but I can think of a number of people who are starting to regard “the” Book of Shadows as a holy book, thinking that you have to do the rituals in the way they are written, and that the theology implied in the rituals is definitive and normative. To many Pagans, all books are holy, not just one. Jason quite correctly critiques how right-wing Christians regard the Bible as inerrant and take it out of context – but there are plenty of Christians who don’t regard it as inerrant and spend ages researching the context in which the books of the Bible were written, sometimes to the point of being complete and utter nerds about it. Full credit to Jason for acknowledging the complexity and long development of the books of the Bible, but the reason we know all that stuff is mostly because liberal Christians went and did the research. He also interprets the word “prophet” as someone who is regarded as infallible. I would say that a prophet is anyone who speaks truth to power, and criticises the status quo. Like Amos and Micah.

Even more recently, Katrina Rasbold posted a piece refuting the ridiculous idea that Christians shouldn’t address God as Mother. But her interpretation of the Bible as absolutely riddled with patriarchy and misogyny is more than a little off. I agree that the New Testament is pretty patriarchal at times (all that stuff about the man being the head of the woman just as Christ is head of the Church) but there is also some pretty radical stuff about men and women, slave and freeman, Jew and Gentile, all being one in Christ.

One thing that ex-Christians often do is to continue the perspective that they were taught in the tradition they left. If the tradition that they left viewed the Bible as the inerrant word of God, and a single unified text, then they regard it as a completely erroneous single unified text. But the idea that the Bible is the inerrant word of God has been challenged and modified many times. The Orthodox Church has acknowledged since the 4th century that the creation story in Genesis is a metaphor. The Higher Criticism in the 19th century demonstrated the multiple authorship of the Bible, especially the first five books, which were traditionally attributed to Moses. The Higher Criticism is now largely forgotten, but modern fundamentalism was formulated in response to it, and at the time it was held to be a bigger threat to fundamentalist Christianity than the theory of evolution.

But modern Biblical criticism has shown that the Bible is a palimpsest of many different texts, coming from many different perspectives. Even texts that were written down at the same time have been shown to be the work of multiple authors, whose ideas were very different from each other. So any time we read the books in the Bible, we should bear in mind that it is the result of a tug of war between multiple perspectives. For example, the book of Genesis appears to have been compiled from the works of two different authors, known as the J author and the E author. They are called that because J uses the name Yahweh for God, and E uses the name El, or Elohim. Not only are their names for God different, but their theological perspectives are different. That’s why there are two creation stories in Genesis: one is J’s version, the other is E’s version. Similarly, David Doel (a Jungian analyst and Unitarian minister), in his book, That Glorious Liberty, has suggested that there were not one but two Pauls – the liberal one who wrote all the expansive mystical stuff in Corinthians, and a later imitator who wrote the less liberal stuff in some of the other writings attributed to Paul. Let’s face it, if you wanted your work accepted, the idea of attributing it to a much-admired leader was a very smart move. And some of the stuff that “nice Paul” says and does – like writing to the female leaders of various early churches – is very inconsistent with some of the more patriarchal stuff attributed to him. A Christian blogger, John Walker, even argues that the text about women not speaking in church has been mistranslated and misinterpreted.

I strongly recommend reading The Bible: The Biography by Karen Armstrong, which goes into just the right level of detail about the history and development of the books that we now refer to as the Bible. It should be remembered that “Bible” means library, and that it is a collection of books, not a single book.

If you read the Tanakh (the collection of books referred to by Christians as “The Old Testament”) as a sequence of evolving ideas about the divine, you can see that belief about the nature of God changes from the beginning to the end (remember that the books were written over several hundred years, and that they developed from oral traditions), and the emphasis on what is believed to please God also changes. At the beginning, Yahweh is seen as one god among many, with whom the Jewish people have a special relationship. Then he becomes seen as the supreme God, the Creator. Towards the end, he is seen as the only God. At the beginning, the way to please Yahweh was to offer him sacrifices; towards the end, it becomes more about people treating each other decently, and taking care of the poor (this is particularly noticeable in the books of Amos and Micah).

In between we have the Book of Job – an extended meditation on life’s unfairness, and how God can be a bit of a git sometimes; Ecclesiastes – a wistful little meditation on life’s ups and downs; the magnificent poetry of the Psalms; and the beautiful erotic poetry in The Song of Solomon (can’t see any misogyny in that text, no sirree). There are also the marvellous stories of David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi.

The Bible has inspired people to rise up against their oppressors and demand freedom and equality. It is full of rich stories and poetry and demands for equality. It has a lot of stories of strong female heroines. It is much more than a single book – it is a collection of stories. Therefore, we should stop reading it as a religious text, and read it as a classic work of our shared culture – the way we read Shakespeare or Milton.

I think it is also important to pay attention to Jewish interpretations of the text, not just swallow hook, line, and sinker the interpretations placed on it by Christians – for example, the Servant Song in Isaiah is not a prophecy of Christ, it’s a song about a particularly social-justice-loving king who was a contemporary of Isaiah.

And don’t forget that when the Bible was made available for people to read in their own language, it caused a massive shift in authority from the priesthood to the laity, who were now able to read and interpret the text for themselves. Sometimes their interpretations were really bad, but sometimes they were really good – it rather depended on their prior inclinations. But at least the book was now freed from the clutches of the Church, and available to the laity to read. The Jews, of course, have always had the freedom to read and interpret the Tanakh for themselves – and they really enjoy discussing the many different possible interpretations – but let’s not forget what it meant for people finally to be able to read and interpret the Bible for themselves.

The best bits of the Bible from a Pagan point of view

The creation story is really interesting, because what happened was that the monotheistic Hebrews basically cobbled together elements of creation stories from the cultures around them, and put a monotheistic spin on them, replacing any mention of other gods with Yahweh. In Eden: The Buried Treasure (2009), the author, Eve Wood-Langford, shows the sources of all these stories in earlier pagan texts from Mesopotamia, including the Epic of Gilgamesh. For instance, the story of the Flood was originally a story about Ishtar flooding the world because she lost her temper.

The gods were angry at mankind so they sent a flood to destroy him. The god Ea, warned Utnapishtim and instructed him to build an enormous boat to save himself, his family, and “the seed of all living things.” He does so, and the gods brought rain which caused the water to rise for many days. When the rains subsided, the boat landed on a mountain, and Utnapishtim set loose first a dove, then a swallow, and finally a raven, which found land. The god[dess] Ishtar, created the rainbow and placed it in the sky, as a reminder to the gods and a pledge to [hu]mankind that there would be no more floods. See the text Epic of Gilgamesh: Sumerian Flood Myth.

Numerous other creation stories from the Middle East have a creator god, Marduk, making the Earth from the dismembered remains of a great serpent, Tiamat. In Sumerian mythology, Tiamat was the salt water, and her consort Apsu was the sweet water. In the book of Genesis, it says that the spirit of God divided the waters.

The story of Esther looks like another interesting retelling of a pagan myth. Esther and her uncle Mordecai  completely overcome a plot by Haman to kill all the Jews in Persia. It may be a coincidence, and I can’t find a pagan Sumerian story that mirrors the details of the Esther story, but the names Esther and Mordecai are very similar to Ishtar and Marduk. The story is celebrated in the festival of Purim, and Esther is the main protagonist of the story.

Esther is not the only strong feisty woman in the Tanakh – there are also Deborah, Naomi, Ruth, and Jael. Deborah was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible, and led a successful counterattack against the forces of Jabin king of Canaan and his military commander Sisera. In the same book, you can read the story of Jael, who spiked the enemy general in the head with a tent-peg. Hardly an image of the submissive and quiet type!

Then there’s Ruth and Naomi, who, even if they were not lesbians in the modern sense, were two women who loved each other so much that Ruth was prepared to follow Naomi into possible slavery in order to stay with her. This story is very inspiring for Christian lesbians, and Ruth’s vow is used in wedding ceremonies in the Anglican Church, and in same-sex weddings in liberal churches too.

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

And of course, David and Jonathan, who clearly loved each other very much.

“When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.” (1 Samuel 18:1-4)

And then there’s the marvellous extended love poem that is the Song of Songs / Song of Solomon, dripping with eroticism. As Wikipedia points out:

Scripturally, the Song of Songs is unique in that it makes no reference to “Law”, “Covenant” or to Yahweh, the God of Israel, nor does it teach or explore “wisdom” in the manner of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes (although it does have some affinities to Wisdom literature, as the ascription to Solomon suggests). Instead, it celebrates sexual love. It gives “the voices of two lovers, praising each other, yearning for each other, proffering invitations to enjoy”. The two are in harmony, each desiring the other and rejoicing in sexual intimacy; the women (or “daughters”) of Jerusalem form a chorus to the lovers, functioning as an audience whose participation in the lovers’ erotic encounters facilitates the participation of the reader.

And the philosophical perspective of Ecclesiastes (Koheleth in Hebrew) is strikingly similar to that of contemporary Paganism – it’s all about cyclicity: the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

I also think that Amos and Micah deserve special mention for advocating people being nice to each other for a change, instead of focusing on sacrifices, ceremonies, and the outward forms of religion.

“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.             (Amos 5: 21-24)

Amos spoke against the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor. His main themes of social justice, God’s omnipotence, and divine judgment became the basis of prophecy. Micah was a contemporary of Amos and said that the beautification of Jerusalem was financed by dishonest business practices, which impoverished the city’s citizens; he also emphasised social justice, and complained about houses being seized and sold by the oppressors (Micah 2). He emphasised that:

“what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”  (Micah 6:8)

Both of these prophets have been inspirational for Unitarians, Universalists, Unitarian Universalists, and Quakers, who are widely acknowledged to be pretty hot on social justice issues.

Then there are all the times when the apostle Paul quotes from pagan poets like Epimenedes and Aratus. That quote about “in whom we live, move and have our being” is from a pagan poet. Paul also quoted from a number of other classical pagan poets.

So, the next time you decide to do a little Pagan criticism of the Bible – at least read some of it first. And don’t assume that just because one bit of the Bible has something dodgy in it, that means all the rest of it is worthless. It is a library of different books by different authors, written at different times. Since we don’t take it literally (along with thousands, perhaps millions, of progressive and liberal Christians), we are free to enjoy it as literature. And it is – like any collection of literary texts – extraordinarily rich in meaning and symbolism.

You might be wondering why I care… well, I happen to like the Tanakh and think it is a fascinating record of a people’s relationship with their deity over centuries. I also think that a book that inspired Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu, among many others, can’t be all bad. And I like the poetry and the stories in the book, and think that they are part of our culture, whether we like it or not, and that we should reclaim them from fundamentalists and appreciate them for what they are. There are even bits of the New Testament that I quite like, mainly the Sermon on the Mount – but I have to say I prefer Tolkien and Shakespeare and Chaucer.

Another reason why it matters is that every time you assert that the Bible is a book full of patriarchy, misogyny, justifications for slaughter, and condemnation of gay people, you are damaging the cause of progressive Christians and liberal Jews, by denying the validity of their liberal interpretations of the Bible. These people are on the same side as us: they want same-sex marriage, religious tolerance, and equality for women.

Some of my previous blogposts about the Bible:

A random sample of progressive Christians talking about gender:

Progressive Christians talking about the Bible:

And this is a poem I wrote about the Bible in 2009:

Craggy old book

Craggy old Bible
Wisdom, treasure, bitter delight
Poison and perfume

Tales of abduction
Rape and seduction, sorrow
and exile. Selah.

Darkness and light dance
on the face of the waters
calling my name.

Across the abyss
the words are inaudible
speaking mystery.

Pageant of prophets
madmen and sages, voices
cry in the desert.

not universal,
absurdly particular:
seventy faces.

opaque parables
they insinuate themselves
into your heart.

myriad stories
speak of relationship:
a god and a people

will they, won’t they love?
making up and breaking up
Yahweh and Israel

stormy lovers dance
through the deserts of Canaa:
prophets foretell doom

a star blazing forth
over the land: carpenter
reshapes his world

then in a garden
a man was betrayed
rejected cornerstone

locked in a kiss
for all time, Jesus, Judas
lover, beloved

a garbled message
spreading pentecostal fire
a new betrayal

words overwritten –
he said “love one another”
not “worship me”

 

Paganism for Beginners: Rites of Passage

A rite of passage is a ritual or ceremony to celebrate and mark the passage from one phase of life to the next. Rites of passage ease us over the threshold into the next phase, and help us to understand and embrace our new status.

Baby Naming

Most cultures have some kind of naming ceremony for babies, and Pagans do too. Pagans generally believe that children should be able to choose whether and which religion to follow when they are old enough, so Pagan naming ceremonies do not include a pledge to bring the child up Pagan – though they may include a desire to instil Pagan values into the child.

Coming of Age

Western culture generally lacks a single unified coming of age ritual. Judaism has one in the form of the Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah. Many Pagans celebrate the first menstruation of their daughters (as long as the daughters want to celebrate it). Many indigenous cultures have rites of passage into adulthood, in the form of a vision quest in the wilderness.

Coming Out

Coming out as LGBT is definitely a rite of passage, and usually a very liberating and empowering experience as the person who comes out feels more authentic as a result. I have written a Pagan coming-out ritual exploring some of the themes around coming out.

Initiation

Several Pagan and other religious traditions have initiation ceremonies, in which the initiate becomes more fully part of the tradition into which they are being initiated, is given a new and sacred name, and has some of the tenets of the tradition imparted to them, usually in the form of ritual drama and ordeal.

There is sometimes controversy among Pagans as to the value of initiation, and whether self-initiation is the same thing as initiation into a coven or other group.

There are several different aspects of initiation, some of which are conferred by either form of initiation (encounter with the gods, inner transformation, encountering the Mysteries), and some of which can only be conferred as part of a group initiation (being given the secrets of the initiating group, joining the group mind of the initiating group; and the joining of the lineage or tradition of which the coven is part).

Marriage

A Handfasting

Handfasting by Gordon” by Original uploader was Lizzievee at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; Transfer was stated to be made by User:Undead_warrior.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A Pagan wedding is called a handfasting, and can be contracted for a year and a day, for a lifetime, or for all lifetimes to come (the last of these seems a bit reckless to me). Pagans recognise both same-sex and opposite-sex weddings. Quite a few Pagans are polyamorous.

Pagan weddings have legal validity in the USA and Canada if the celebrant is registered with a recognised religious body, in Scotland if you are a registered celebrant, but not in England and Wales.

A handfasting is a wedding ceremony which involves wrapping cords around the couple’s clasped hands and tying a knot, symbolically binding them together in their declaration of unity. The contemporary handfasting ceremony is a revival of the handfastings of the past. The act of handfasting was originally part of a formal betrothal ceremony (the forerunner of today’s engagement) perhaps going as far back as ancient Celtic Scotland, and surviving up to the 16th century. During the betrothal ceremony, in which a couple agreed to marry each other in the future, there was a formal handshake to seal the deal. This was called the handfæstung, meaning, a pledge by the giving of the hand. To illustrate the imagery and importance of the handshake, the knotting of cords around the hands was eventually incorporated, possibly by contemporary Pagans.

Divorce

Pagans have always been liberal about divorce, and the fact that a handfasting allows a trial marriage shows that Pagans are aware of the possibility that a relationship may change for the worse, and therefore divorce may become necessary. Of course, marriage should provide security and be a commitment to work at the relationship and treat one’s partner with integrity – but that does not preclude divorce, as that is sometimes the only way of dealing with a marriage that’s not working any more. Paganism lacks a ritual for divorce, but individual Pagans may have crafted divorce rituals.

Croning

Croning is a ritual for recognising the menopause, when a woman ceases to menstruate and becomes a “crone”. Pagans have reclaimed the word crone to signify a wise older woman.

Patti Wiginton writes:

In early cultures, the female elder was considered a wise woman. She was the healer, the teacher, the imparter of knowledge. She mediated disputes, she had influence over tribal leaders, and she cared for the dying as they took their final breaths. For many women in Wicca and other Pagan religions, reaching the status of Crone is a major milestone. These women are reclaiming the name of Crone in a positive way, and see it as a time to joyfully welcome one’s position as an elder within the community.

Death

Pagan funerals generally focus on celebrating the life of the person who has died. There are some beautiful pieces of liturgy for Pagan funerals, and many of them can be found in the excellent book,  A Pagan Book of Living and Dying, by the Reclaiming Collective.

Gela Painter - Black Figure Pinax (Plaque) -Walters 48225

The lying in state of a body (prothesis) attended by family members, with the women ritually tearing their hair, depicted on a terracotta pinax by the Gela Painter, latter 6th century BC (Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons)


This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’  link at the foot of the blogpost. 


The Pagan Channel has a page dedicated to posts about Rites of Passage. You can find out more information about handfastings, baby namings, Pagan funerals, and other rites of passage.

 

Paganism for Beginners: Values

Pagan values and virtues

Pagan values are grounded in an appreciation of life and the enjoyment of being physically embodied, and the desire for others to enjoy the same experience. A value is shared norm or expectation of a group; something that is considered desirable. A virtue is a quality of a person or a group that is considered desirable. Traditionally, most Pagan ethical codes were lists of virtues which were considered desirable, instead of a set of rules to be kept. The cultivation of virtues by the individual was said to lead to eudaimonia, a happy state of being.

The Temple of Ancient Virtue

The Temple of Ancient Virtue.
Built in 1837 to a design by William Kent. Devised as a cenotaph to the four ancient Greeks who embodied Lord Cobham’s virtues – inside are niches containing life-size statues of Socrates, Homer, Lycurgus and Epaminondas.
© Copyright Trevor Rickard and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Hospitality

This was and is a hugely important virtue in just about every traditional culture, and governed the behaviour of both guest and host. Imagine you are travelling in a strange land, like Gawain in the story of Gawain and the Green Knight. The offer of a nice warm bed, and a feast every night, would be an absolute godsend if you were riding in a howling wilderness at midwinter. Imagine you were shipwrecked on a strange coast, like Odysseus in the story of The Odyssey. Rescuing and looking after shipwrecked travellers would be a sacred obligation in an age when there were no coastguards and few lighthouses. But the guest must also behave honourably towards the host. Many cultures still have the beautiful custom of the guest-gift – something that the guest brings the first time they visit your house. Being inclusive and welcoming to all could be said to be a logical extension of hospitality.

Reciprocity and balance

This is linked with the idea of hospitality. “A gift for a gift” says the Hávamál. Connections between people are maintained by the exchange of gifts (not necessarily physical objects, but the gifts of time and attention). Everything in Nature is balanced, and the same is true of society and culture – as in the saying “what goes around, comes around”. This is related to the Pagan concept of cyclicity, which maintains that everything goes in cycles: night and day; the seasons; birth, life, death, and rebirth.

A common treasury for all

The land is sacred in all Pagan traditions, and looking back at non-hierarchical cultures, we can see that it was held in common by the people, or not owned at all. The persistence of the idea of communal land, despite the Enclosures, the Highland Clearances, and the theft of land from indigenous peoples around the world, shows what an important idea this is.

Honour

The upholding of personal integrity appears in lists of virtues compiled by a number of different cultures and traditions, including the eight Wiccan Virtues, and the Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry. What honour means to me is being honest in my personal dealings, including all aspects of life, and doing the decent thing: fighting against injustice, speaking up for the vulnerable.

Embodiment: Celebrating being alive

Pagans value physical pleasure: eating, drinking, making love, seeing beautiful things. We find that the enjoyment of these things increases our ‘spiritual’ connection, because we find value in the physical world. We love trees, rocks, mountains, flowers, beautiful art, the ocean, animals, birds, other people, the moon, the night, the sun, rolling hills, water, making love, eating, making merry. Oh yes!

The Charge of the Goddess, written by Wiccan priestess Doreen Valiente, says that “All acts of love and pleasure are [Her] rituals.”

The idea that the divine/deities is/are immanent in the world (intimately entwined with physical matter) also contributes to the sense that being alive in this world is to be celebrated and enjoyed.

Sovereignty

“Women desiren sovereigntie”, wrote Chaucer, at the conclusion of his excellent story, The Wife of Bath’s Tale. Sovereignty is the ability to determine your own destiny. Pagans love being free, and not being coerced. We don’t like to be told what to think, what to do, or how to live. This extends to bodily autonomy, and not being coerced or cajoled into having unwanted sex or other physical contact. The value of sovereignty is particularly important in Druidry.

Conclusion

Paganism is a life-affirming religion, and most Pagans view the physical world as sacred. Pagan values flow from that and embrace it. Pagans do not usually regard spirit as more important or more valuable than matter. Most Pagans view matter as entwined with spirit, or perhaps as a denser form of spirit.

There are many different values embraced by Pagans, but the ones described above seem to be the most widespread. Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments.

Further reading

This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’  link at the foot of the blogpost.