Natural Pagans

Just in time for May Day — I’m proud to announce the launch of NaturalPagans.com, a new site that aggregates relevant postings from various bloggers who share a naturalistic Pagan worldview.

Artwork by Rua Lupa

I feel like those terms deserve some clarification. Bear with me. Last week, I was honored to give a guest lecture at Loyola on the topic of “Ecology & Religion: A Naturalistic Pagan Perspective.” It was my most concerted effort to date to communicate a worldview and spiritual approach that is not just an intersection of naturalism and Paganism, but a coherent whole, or at least a tightly-coupled integration of the two. So I’ve been mulling over basic terms and definitions.

There are many different definitions of naturalism, but one of my favorites is the shortest and pithiest. It’s the idea that nature is enough, to borrow from the title of a book by Loyal Rue. Nature is enough to account for the meaning of our existence. In the domain of religious expression, nature is sufficient for reverence. Naturalists tend to believe that science is one of the most reliable ways to learn about the world.

The term Pagan derives from a very old Latin term meaning “bumpkin” or “hick” and referred to people in the countryside who clung to the old ways long after urban centers had converted to Christianity. Today it’s used also to denote a family of religious orientations, many of which are described as “Earth-based,” “Earth-centered,” or “Earth-honoring” spiritual paths. While many of these hearken back to ancient traditions, they are mostly new. Some scholars date Neo-Paganism in North America to 1967, which makes it the same age as me.

You might think that these two things (naturalism and Paganism) fit together hand in glove. Perhaps they did, once, but these days there seem to be plenty of Pagans who relate to gods and goddesses as supernatural beings. There’s probably also plenty who just don’t think too much about such matters. For those of us associated with this project, however, naturalism is crucial.

So…. as a friend recently put it, I’m “basically a nature worshiper.” You could call me a devotee of Mother Earth or Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth. But what does it mean to speak of a “goddess” anyhow, for a naturalist? I understand that language as nothing less than a powerful metaphor which expresses my hopes and desires for a more reverent way of living in peace with all my relations.

Read more about such ideas at NaturalPagans.com.

Happy May Day!

Happy May Day

Anarchy Flowers

As I researched the Haymarket Affair and the history of May Day in America, it was interesting to learn that Bohemian anarchists played a prominent role in the campaign for an eight-hour day and other labor struggles of the late 19th century. That caught my eye because I recently learned that one of my Bohemian immigrant ancestors had to sign a loyalty oath vouching that he was not an anarchist. (This puts me in mind of a conversation I had with my father some 17 years ago… but I digress.)

Tomorrow is May Day, so I wanted to wish everyone a very happy holiday.

Also, for the occasion, I have an essay on the topic, examining the connection between politics and spirituality through my own highly idiosyncratic lens, which you can read here:

May Day x 2

Happy May Day

Happy May Day

Workers of the world, take a break and celebrate International Workers’ Day or as I prefer to call it: May Day. It’s a day to remember the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. It’s good to recall that the eight-hour work day was not always a given, but something for which workers had to fight and even give their lives.

Absurdly, the US government has installed something you never heard of called Loyalty Day on the first of May, “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.” It’s a laughable attempt to undermine the celebration of May Day.

Of course, there’s an even older history to May Day that goes way beyond 1886. Europeans brought this tradition with them to the New World as early as 1627. It’s a cross-quarter day, halfway between the equinox and the solstice. Technically the halfway point falls on Friday evening, so maybe we should extend our celebrations all week long. There are a cluster of old traditional holidays around this time that have interesting stories. Many are seasonal observations with an emphasis on fertility and the coming of summer, and some are a little spooky, which I like. May Day — Beltane — Walpurgisnacht — Vappa — Roodmas — Whitsuntide — whatever you want to call it — I’d celebrate them all if I knew how. I’d like to combine the pagan and labor traditions, the “green root” and the “red root” into a single holiday. A protest, a party, a ritual — all in one.

Hopefully if you’re in New Orleans you can make one of the marches planned here. No matter where you are, there’s probably something going on near you. Get out there.

May Day 2012

May Day

See what you missed?

Cucumber Mint Gimlet

Not to mention the maypole.

This was our second May Day party. I enjoyed last year’s so much that I wrote, “I’m already imagining what it might be like to do it again next year.” So, boom, now it’s a tradition.

In fact our celebration last year represented our first observance of a cross-quarter day, and so we might be said to have completed the Wheel of the Year, except the of course the Wheel never ends, and also I don’t recall what we did for Midsummer last year. I can’t call it a complete revolution until Lammas.

Walpurgis

Twenty-five years ago tonight, I was at a bonfire in northern Sweden. I was astounded by the size of the thing — like a house burning.

Walpurgis Afton

It may not look like night in these photos, but remember that we were very near the arctic circle. By late June it hardly got dark at all.

Bonfire

Note the snow still on the ground.

The occasion was the last night of April, the beginning of May. I noted it in my journal as Walpurgis Afton, though now I read the proper term would be Valborgsmassoafton. In English it’s called Walpurgis Night, but the German name Walpurgisnacht is perhaps more famous. Beltane and May Day are also at this time. People call these spring festivals but I think they represent the beginning of summer. I wish we had a fire pit for a little bonfire tonight. Ah well. We are filling up the pool and having a party tomorrow. I’ll be serving cucumber-mint gimlets. We may even have a maypole. Stop by Sunday afternoon (roughly 2-6 p.m.) and join us.

Summer Is a-Coming In

We had a little party. For Beltane and May Day. I didn’t send out engraved invitations, only announced it via Twitter.

What is this day, anyway? A cross-quarter day, Beltane falls halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Some folks mark it as the beginning of summer, which makes sense to me.

We had a total of six guests, so it was perhaps the smallest such party we’ve ever thrown, but also one of the most enjoyable. In attendance were: Michael H., Brother O’Mara, Caitlin and her friend Randy, and a little later DJ and Lala.

And of course also P. & Xy & yours truly. So nine all told, including hosts. A nice number.

We drank a pitcher of Limoncello Collins, and numerous other drinks were consumed. (Most notably a quantity of Luxardo Amaro Abano.) We fired up the grill and cooked sausages and burgers. We oiled up the blades and shaved my head — just the underneath parts, still keeping it long on top for now. No one else was up for a shave, alas.

And we talked and talked and talked, about religion and politics and the apocalyptic unfoldings in the Gulf of Mexico. It was more than interesting to hear the perspectives of an African-American from New Jersey on the racial politics here in the Deepest South. By the same token, I was glad when DJ showed up, a friend who is also a native to the city and a person of color, who is progressive and intelligent and who (in a nutshell) represents everything the world thinks we’re not. It was cool those guys got to meet each other, especially since they are both teaching in the public schools.

I didn’t take any pictures or record any songs or create any great works of art out of this event. But I enjoyed it a great deal, so much that I’m already imagining what it might be like to do it again next year.

It certainly feels like summer’s coming in. It’s hot and sticky and after three days of overcast turbulence it’s finally raining. I can only hope it gets our grass growing to cover up the bare patches that have begun to appear over the last month.

May Day

Workers of the World Unite!

You have nothing to lose but your chains!

On this May Day I salute my father-in-law Michael Paxson. He is retiring today after I don’t know how many years of bondage to the state as a civil servant.

Here’s the only picture of Mike I have handy:

Ready to Vodou

Let me also add that in the scheme of things Mike is about the best father-in-law a man could have. Xy and I decided to express our love for the man with a subscription to that bastion of his generation, the Rolling Stone. Only in a bonehead move I filled out an online form and it appears that he’s getting the magazine — and he’ll be billed for it. In perpetuity. I don’t know how we’re gonna square this.

In other news, a giant spider invaded our bedroom and we had to bust out the vacuum cleaner and throw all the furniture around to finally get the thing. Normally we wouldn’t mind the odd bug but this thing was so large it was frightening.

In other other news I’ve been contacted by a young woman, apparently from Alaska or Canada, who has shares both our daughter’s names, first and middle. Through the miracle of the internet I already feel like I know a little bit about her, and quite frankly it’s freaking me out. She seems to be very much what I imagine our daughter might grow up to be — or what she might be already if we’d gotten in the procreation game a wee bit earlier. And that’s cool. But freaky. And what on earth were her parents smoking?