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!

Return to Mago

I’m honored to have work featured in Return to Mago. It’s an online magazine dedicated to “the Primordial Knowing originating from the Great Goddess, Mago.”

Mago Logo

Here’s more about the Magoism mission:

Our vision and intention is to advocate for feminist and spiritually-based activism and to promote creative and scholarly work that supports the awareness of the oneness of all entities in the universe. Our hope is to reclaim the WE in S/HE, uniting all beings across differences of gender, culture, race, ethnicity, class, ability, and species. In doing so, we seek to create a world that is non-ethnocentric, non-racist, non-capitalist, non-imperialistic, and counter-patriarchal.

A tall order to be sure, but I’m fully on-board. I’m doubly honored to be one of the few male contributors to the magazine. You can find my contributions tagged under my name. Check it out.

Book of the Year

I’m flattered and flabbergasted to see that Godless Paganism has been named as “Book of the Year” by the ever-insightful Megan Manson.

Godless Paganism

I’m proud to have two essays in this collection, which was edited by John Halstead and features a ton of writing by many folks more talented and expressive than I could ever hope to be.

Ms. Manson calls the book “an essential contribution” and here are a couple more choice passages from her review.

Quite simply, they are Pagans who take great meaning and fulfillment from the nature-based and mystical aspects of Paganism, but want to reconcile this with 21st century rational, scientific outlooks on life.

Godless Paganism shows a very real solution to the very real problem of reconciling modernity with tradition, and spirituality with science: by putting science and naturalism at the heart of spirituality, and by giving people the freedom to define their spiritual experience however they see fit.

Obviously, I’m biased, but I tend to agree. Get your copy today!

Books Books Books

Suddenly my personal bibliography has quadrupled.

I’m honored to have essays in two new collections. As if that’s not enough, I’m also thrilled to announce the publication of my own book at long last.

Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral, edited by Erick DuPree, came out from Megalithica Books in February. Godless Paganism, edited by John Halstead, is a crowdfunded effort that came out earlier this month.

Godless PaganismFinding the Masculine in Goddess' Spiral

On the face of it, these two titles might seem contradictory. Goddess and godless? What a difference one letter makes! How can this be?


Well, it’s complicated, but that’s what makes this subject matter so interesting. I encourage you to get both books and decide for yourself whether I’ve lost my mind.

Still with me? I hope so, because as exciting as those publications are, there’s more. It might seem like overkill, but it just so happens that I finally finished my own book, which I’ve been working on since 2012.

Spinning in Place

It’s titled Spinning in Place, and it’s about the Wheel of the Year. You know, the solstices and equinoxes and cross-quarter days I’ve been yammering on about for so long. Some of these essays have previously been published in various online venues, but I’ve revised extensively and there’s new material as well. It’s currently available exclusively through Amazon as an ebook. And it’s priced to sell. I don’t wanna make any money, folks; I just love to share Earth-based spiritual practices.

(That’s a joke for my Hoosier readers who may remember Don Davis of Indianapolis. Don passed away in February, but his commercials live on in our collective memory. And of course YouTube.)

Now it’s time to get the word out. I’ve got my author page set up on both Amazon and Goodreads. I’m available for interviews. I’ll be mounting a campaign on social media in the near future.

And, yes, I could use your help. Please do share this link with anyone who might be interested. If you’re able to review any of these items on Goodreads or Amazon please do. And don’t be shy about being honest. No one is really fooled by those books that have nothing but gushy, glowing, five-star reviews.

A Pagan Community Statement on the Planetary Ecosystem

Happy Mother Earth Day

Today is International Mother Earth Day. Yes, that’s the official name as designated by the United Nations. And isn’t that a more interesting, more compelling, juicier name? I wonder if it will ever catch on in these United States.

I’ve heard it’s the largest secular holiday in the world, but many of us experience the Earth as sacred, which would seem to make it a quasi-religious holiday. Such mysteries are well above my pay-grade.

Not coincidentally, I am also celebrating today the publication of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” I’ve been involved in the drafting of this document over the last six months, though it was very much a group effort, with dozens of people contributing.

It was, as one might imagine, difficult to synthesize many divergent views on such a broad topic into a single coherent and relatively concise statement, but I’m proud of the final product. As of this moment, there are over 400 signatories from around the world, including a number of well-respected organizations.

Please take a moment to read the statement and consider signing on yourself.

Happy Mother Earth Day!

The Wheel as a Whole

Wheel of the Year

For over a year I’ve been writing a series of short essays on a cycle of holidays, starting with the winter solstice. Now here we are again. I’d like to offer another short essay that attempts to tie these all together: Wheel Without End. With any luck, I’ll collect these all in a little ebook some day. Happy solstice!

Glad Midsommar

Flowers to Flame

Just in time for the summer solstice, my article “Flowers to Flame” has been published on Humanistic Paganism. I think this may the best thing I’ve written. If you’ve got a moment, please give it a read; if you’re rushed, just take a look at the pretty pictures, and you’ll get the basic point.

Step into the Dark

Equinox Sculpture

A year ago I set myself a project, an experiment, a journey, a spiritual quest. I wanted to discover, uncover, delineate and define my religion. I wanted to deepen, strengthen, and integrate everything in my life. I wanted to live with greater intention.

And I wanted it all to happen on a one-year schedule. It sounds pretty silly when I put it like that. But sometimes we need silly conceits to prop up our most serious ambitions.

So anyhow, the year has gone round again. Here we are back at the equinox. The planet keeps revolving around the sun. Our journey is not finished. Not yet.

For me, it’s been a year of baking bread and meditating and writing.

With my family, I celebrated all the seasonal holidays or sabbats known as the Wheel of the Year.

I’ve just read back through what I posted here since the last autumnal equinox. I aimed to post with less frequency but greater depth. And I did that, at least for a while. For the first six months, anyhow. I probably would have done better to break some of those massive posts down into sections and post them in serial fashion. But whatever.

It might seem I lost focus over the summer months. I did indeed get distracted by our travels, and the ROX party, and Persephone’s new school, and Isaac. I wrote about those things, but didn’t explicitly integrate them into the narrative of my quest. It would have required a little more effort to make those connections, and I didn’t make that effort. I got lazy.

But there’s more to it. A key piece of the puzzle, for me, was the question of theology. I published an essay on how my thoughts were evolving, but that was extremely tentative and exploratory. I continued to think and work on that over the summer, but I didn’t write about it. The time did not seem ripe, and my thoughts were far from clear.

Finally, a couple weeks ago, things crystallized somewhat. It was not a soul-shattering epiphany. It was more like a few ideas quietly clicking into place. Yet the ramifications are profound, at least on a personal level. I’m now prepared to make a basic statement of belief and identity.

While I’d like to articulate those thoughts, I’m not sure this site is the best venue. I’ve poured my heart out here for the last eight and half years. I think it’s time for a break. I suspect that if I stop writing here, I will be able to funnel that energy into writing something else, somewhere else, and I have some vague ideas about that. I think I’d like to write fiction for a while.

Every year is divided into a light half and a dark half. From now until the vernal equinox, the nights will be longer than the days. Right now we are losing one minute and 47 seconds of light each day. Over the last twelve months, I found I enjoyed the light half of the year more, but that the dark half was more productive. That dark half begins again now, with the autumnal equinox. Glenys Livingstone writes about the autumnal equinox as a time for “stepping into the creative power of the abyss.” So it felt last year. So again this year. New beginnings require old endings. I feel the need to step into the dark awhile, and harvest dreams.

A Night with Desmond

Saturday night I found myself with a bunch of Pagans and other folks at an uptown synagogue, preparing food for the homeless. We whipped up some large batches of red beans and rice, salad, and watermelon. Then we took the food to a large encampment of homeless people and served it. I slopped out 130 or so helpings of beans.

I was frankly amazed at how long the line was, how evident the need.

Though my connection was with Lamplight Circle, this regular Saturday night effort is organized by the Desmond Project. I understand it was started by a Catholic priest; it now runs out of the kitchen of a synagogue; throw some occasional Pagans into the mix and it starts to look like an interfaith project. Strangely enough I don’t think I’ve ever been in a synagogue before. But I digress.

The Desmond Project website appears to be misconfigured but there is a cached version. There’s also a Facebook page which appears to have gone somewhat dormant, and a Youtube channel with a couple videos posted a two years ago; I also found a sign-up form for volunteers but don’t know if it’s functional. The group, however, is definitely functional, and I’m sure there are other similar organizations out there.

If you’ve never done something like this, I highly recommend it. I read plenty about the plight of the homeless, here in New Orleans and elsewhere. It’s easy to become calloused or indifferent. It’s easy to turn people into abstractions. Seeing the faces of the men and women living on the street is profoundly humanizing.

By the Light of the Moon

Moonrise

We gather by the side of the road on the edge of an urban forest. I know the others only because they are dressed like me, in white clothing. We talk amongst ourselves, getting to know each other.

The signal comes at twilight, just as the sun is setting and everything is growing dark. We walk into the woods along a gravel path. We can hear the sound of drumming.

Soon we come to a clearing. There’s a circle made of lit candles and strewn leaves. Inside the circle, an altar and a pentagram. There are two women here, also dressed in white. These two I know, a little. One is inside the circle, drumming. The other is outside the circle, singing. She strides toward us. Her voice is beautiful. She reaches out and takes my hand, leading me and all the rest toward the circle.

We are each in turn ritually purified with incense. When all are within the ring of light, the circle is cast by calling the quarters and invoking the elements. And within this sacred space the ritual unfolds, as the full moon slowly rises.

This is an esbat, not a seasonal celebration, and so something new and unfamiliar to me. The heart of the ritual I might describe as energy work and group therapy. H. Gunaratana Mahathera describes Buddhism as “much more akin to what we would call psychology than to what we would usually call religion.” This is not a Buddhist ritual, but I’m reminded of this nonetheless. We are invited to think of some area in our life where we’ve reached a plateau, some area of our personal or interpersonal development where things have stagnated, where we’ve grown complacent or are just plain stuck. We think about ways to release that energy, and we engage in a few activities to visualize that release. Strategic symbolism, perhaps.

This may all sound very solemn, but there was a lightness to it as well, and laughter. We also drink margaritas.

Later, we sit in the moonlight sharing food, drink, and conversation. I hear a voice through through the trees. Soon it comes again, and again, impossible to ignore because the unseen person is shouting. He sounds angry. Then another voice joins the first. A woman. Their exchange becomes a song. Then instruments kick in: accordion, double-bass, sousaphone. The music is lusty and uproarious. There’s a whole band back in the woods somewhere.

After a few verses and a rousing chorus, the song crashes to a halt, and there is a round of applause. Judging by the sound there must be at least fifty people there. A couple members of our party are dispatched to scout out the situation. They report that it’s a gypsy-punk interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome.

Many strange and wonderful things happen by light of the moon.

Photo: Moonrise / Eric Miraglia / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Xmas Xfire

Strange times we live in. Here’s a Christian pastor, C. Joshua Villines, who says we should take Christ out of Christmas. Compare that to noted Pagan, T. Thorne Coyle, who wishes we’d all put Christ back in Christmas. They both make interesting points. As far as I can tell these two essays were written independently within a few days of one another, but they make a wonderfully perplexing point-counterpoint.

Here’s a couple of choice quotes. See if you can tell who wrote which.

Christmas, at least how it is celebrated in the U.S. overculture, has become a sort of Frankenstein’s monster. The sewing together of old Pagan customs, Christian theology, and rampant consumerism has wrought a beast that is ugly, fearsome, noisy, and out of control. Christmas has so overtaken us, that even many Jews have upgraded what used to be a fairly minor holiday into a gift exchanging extravaganza. It is hard not to at least try to compete with the juggernaut that is Santa’s sleigh.

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day is not, in fact, the “Christmas Season.” It has become the Christmas Shopping Season, but that is a very different animal. Identifying this time of year with Christmas has nothing to do with Christianity, Jesus, the Nativity or anything theological. Instead, advertisers and shopkeepers use the “Christmas Season” as an emotional lure to persuade people to buy more things they don’t really need. Even Christian fundamentalists realize this.

I don’t really have any wisdom of my own to add, except to note that it does seem evident that whatever “Christmas Season” there is seems to have shifted. Once upon a time we thought of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” which as any New Orleanian knows run from Christmas to Epiphany, aka Twelfth Night. In other words, the season started at Christmas. I found further evidence of this in some old recordings from my grandparents. They noted that in their childhood, a tree would be erected at home only on Christmas Eve, after they had gone to bed; they only saw the tree on Christmas morning. I assume the tree remained up for at least the twelve days if not longer. But today the run-up to Christmas is is so overwhelming that even many enthusiasts are thoroughly and completely sick of it by the time the 25th rolls around. This shift from a post-Christmas to a pre-Christmas season seems significant to me.

In yet another essay, the always fascinating Bron Taylor introduces a new phrase — new to me, at least — and one that resonates: The War on Solstice. Good stuff, and probably the best reflection of where my head is at now. Check it out.


Now we’re taking some time to visit family and friends for Christmas and other generalized festivity.

Just in case you’re wondering, I am healing up nicely from my recent surgery. And so, in the spirit of the hostilidays, I’d like to present this special and oh-so-appropriate video.

Cheers! I’m having an Old Horizontal as I type this. Do love me some barleywine, and it seems like the perfect thing for Xmas Eve.

Dark Green Religion

Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary FutureDark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future by Bron Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here’s a rarity — an academic book that is also a page-turner, at least for me. I couldn’t put it down. This is a broad survey of an emergent global phenomenon which might be called earth worship or nature spirituality or “dark green religion.” Bron Taylor defines religion broadly and looks a range of cultures and subcultures, from radical environmentalism to surfing to Disney films and many more. I was a bit disappointed that contemporary Paganism got such scant coverage — only about two and a half pages plus some scattered references. Perhaps that’s because Taylor seems preoccupied with folks who don’t explicitly consider themselves to be practicing “religion” in the most familiar sense of the word. The term “dark” in the title is supposed to connote a sense of potential peril, but according to the author that mostly seems to be in the eyes of Abrahamic practitioners. He hints early in the book that he might examine the potential dangers of ecofascism, but this is never really explored in depth. I suspect there may be a resonance between racism and “dark green religion,” especially in Europe, that bears a closer look. But I quibble. This is a good one which I recommend to anyone interested in ecology or religion.

View all my reviews

Happy Lammas

Grass Horsie

Happy belated Lammas or Lughnasadh or whatever else you may call it. (I guess it’s over now. I get confused with these traditional-style holidays that last from sundown to sundown, essentially extending into two days of our modern calendar.) This is a time, in the Northern Hemisphere anyhow, to celebrate the beginning of the harvest. It also marks the beginning of the end of summer. That seems a long way off in the middle of this heat wave, but the “back to school” ads are appearing in the paper, and we painted Xy’s new school room not long ago, so I guess that’s what time it is.

I took Persephone to her first Lammas celebration this past weekend. This was organized by New Orleans Lamplight Circle and was specially planned for kids. It was my first such thing as well, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

What we found was all very sweet and beautiful and meaningful. We did some chants and songs with hand motions, honoring nature and the elements. There was some face painting and story-telling. We shared a simple but satisfying feast with an emphasis on bread. We also made corn dollies. Actually we made horsies, and (corn husks not being readily available) we made them out of grass. The one I made was a little on the shabby side, but I was holding a toddler on my lap the whole time.

Next year I hope to make some bread.

Participating in this celebration fulfilled a longstanding goal. I want my daughter to have a broad and well-rounded religious education. Mainstream Christian doctrine is easily encountered, but rituals such as this are a little more obscure. I want her to see that religion comes in many forms and varieties, and that it needn’t take place only in a church or a mosque or a synagogue.

But it’s more than that. I’ve been interested in religion myself for as long as I can remember, and in the last few years I’ve studied a bit about the diverse practices loosely grouped under the umbrella term of contemporary paganism. I find it endlessly fascinating, not to mention aesthetically compelling, and after so much reading it was gratifying to encounter the actual thing.

I’m looking forward to the autumnal equinox already.

A Samhain Saining

We worked a little magic in Mid-City today. We gathered on the banks of Bayou St. John and collectively welcomed a new person into our community. (What better place for a baptism than a body of water named for John the Baptist?) We sanctified her and gave her a name. We shared a pomegranate and toasted with beer.

Offering

Photo by Howie. More here.

Amazing stuff. I’ve recently become convinced that public rituals such as this, and indeed all celebrations no matter how large or small, have a profound power in them.

Thanks to everyone who was able to come. And for those who wanted to be there but couldn’t make it, we’ll count you present in spirit. I made sure to record the event so we could share the experience with our parents and anyone else who cares to listen. It’s about twelve minutes long.

Samhain Saining by Editor B

It was a beautiful day. I had a great time. It was sweet.

Our liturgy, or whatever it should be called, was something I cobbled together from various sources, a secular humanist/neo-pagan mish-mash. But I did write some parts myself, and I was particularly happy with this passage:

We honor not only our immediate ancestors who have passed on, but all those who have come before us, for untold and uncounted generations, beyond memory and beyond history. It is our hope that Persephone will see the entire human family as her family, to embrace the best wisdom from the traditions of the world, and draw upon the rich cultural heritage of every nation.

For the full text, I refer you again to the audio recording.

Thanks especially to Michael, Kalypso, Lily and Anna, Sebastian and Sue, Sean, and Howie, for their help with various aspects of the ceremony.