When I was about six years old, my mother left me at home alone so she could go and get the babysitter. This was about 1971, so there's no need to call CPS. It was close to Christmas, I was in my jammies, and Mom needed to meet my stepfather at an office Christmas party. It wouldn't take her long, only about twenty minutes or so, but not minutes after she left, I had a panic attack. Her car would slide off the road and no one would know I was home alone. I did the one thing I could think of to protect myself -I moved the presents out from under the tree and moved myself in. I knew that the spirit of the tree, call it Santa or whatever, would protect me. I imagined that this spirit moved down the tree and enveloped me in a warm, reassuring cloak of protection. That's where Mom found me when she came in with the babysitter -curled up under the tree. Since then, trees have always held a special place within me.
The totem animal that I've always had is something else that didn't quite fit with my Catholic family. He's been with me for as long as I can remember. Not having been exposed to any culture that would have influenced my active imagination, one must to ask -how does a child in a Catholic family come up with these ideas?
Does this sound familiar? Since you are reading this, I'm going to assume it does.
I'm not going to rehash the whole history of paganism, ancient or modern, although I will reference them. Check with your local public library -they have an entire section devoted to ancient world history. I won't be teaching you Pagan 101, either. There are plenty of books already on those subjects. Personally, I recommend Scott Cunningham for an appetizer, and then Janet and Stewart Farrar (and then Janet writing with Gavin Bone since Stewart died) for a more advanced main course meal. While I am not Wiccan, I think Cunningham is a good intro for basic concepts. Just don't stop there, keep advancing by reading as many books as you can get your hands on. When your brain is stuffed completely full, dump about 98% of the information, and use your instincts on making the rest your own path. And I include dumping much of this book, too, since these words are my thoughts on my own spirituality. Take what works for you, dump the rest. I know there will be plenty of people who will want to argue with me about various things in here -refer to the above sentences, and control your control issues.
What I will do in this book, however, is discuss my thoughts on modern Western paganism and how the practice of paganism is more about a world-view or outlook, than it is about dressing up in pretty robes and drawing Circle. Said robes and rituals will be discussed, so don't despair.
"I don't understand," Mom said. It's kind of hard to explain, actually, because it's mostly an internal, experiential thing, just like any other spirituality. Being pagan isn't about setting up altars, waving wands or lighting the appropriately colored candle. It's about how you see the world. It's about how you view life. One all-encompassing deity doesn't work for us; we tend to view life in multiples. Just as we all have different personalities, we have deities that also have different personalities. Our gods live among us; we breathe them in as long as our lungs continue to move.
Many of us don't have gods at all. It's also about the Feminine Divine, the Living Earth, Gaea, the Living Universe, the Great Spirit.
Most of us do our best to live in at least relative harmony with the world. We try to recycle, although not all cities have a recycle program (for shame!), and we do our best to be good neighbors. During holidays, it isn't unusual to find a pagan household inviting people with nowhere to be into their home for a potluck meal and a little community sharing. We share our space, our time, and our resources when we can. Even stray animals find a home when a call goes out to the community. I can't think of one pagan home that doesn't have some kind of animal sharing the space. When someone is in need of clothing or furniture, closets get cleaned out. Need a meal? Come on over. Need a ride? We'll find a way to get you there. I call this being a good neighbor.
And we don't particularly care what religion our neighbor practices or doesn't practice. While the Christians seem to have a strange, sometimes violent antipathy toward pagans, we tend to shrug off this oddity unless we are directly threatened. Any pagan will tell you to worship as you will, as long as your heart is happy and you don't try to force your path on others. Their religion doesn't bother us one way or the other; all we ask is the same consideration. That whole 'do unto others' concept works well for us. It's a good thing, no matter whose book it came from. Although, we also tend to be big readers, so most of us can probably point to the same concept in any ancient religion. We call it karma, and we know it works.
Another thing we have in common is our view of the ethereal plane. While it is not a 'job' requirement, most of us have had some sort of paranormal experience. Ghosts, precognitive dreams, reincarnation memories. I certainly have my share. I think that these experiences may play a part in why people find their way to paganism. There is nothing in paganism that prohibits the concept of other-worldly experiences; in fact, they are right at home in paganism. Just as the earth renews itself year in and year out, so do all other living things.
Odd things happen, and Pagans are usually receptive enough to not only see them, but to look on them as a normal part of life.
I have about six past life memories, three of which I've had since very early childhood. Used to make Mom look at me weird when I asked about them. "Michele, that never happened." It took a while for me to learn that they didn't happen. Not in this lifetime. Also used to make Mom look at me weird when I told her someone wasn't home just as we were on our way to that person's house. And no, they weren't home.
UFOs? Saw lights in the sky twice in my life. (This lifetime. :D) They did this crazy zig-zag and then straight up and gone. I was about eight-years old, in upstate NY. Saw lights once here in Phoenix (no, not THOSE lights) many years ago. My brother was in the car with me and saw them, too. Three of them, playing in and out of the clouds before disappearing. Once in a while when I leave work early enough in the morning for the sky to still be somewhat dark, I will see triple lights just hanging still and then disappearing.
Mom had something happen to her years ago. She was sleeping and woke up thinking that my dog Penny was scratching at her bed, trying to get up. (Chihuahua-Toy Poodle, little girl with short legs.) Well, Penny had been dead a few years, so that wasn't quite possible. Two hours later, my uncle called to let us know grandma had died. Two hours earlier.
I've always had a way with energy. I can 'clean' places. An office I used to work at had this old spirit that used to walk through in the middle of the night. This guy who worked with on third shift on my off-nights saw it long before I started there, but he never said anything until I mentioned it. We were the only ones who ever saw it. It was old, sort of like an image from an old projector. It wasn't even aware. It would sweep in from one direction and out the other wall. It was harmless; it just spooked anyone working that shift. So I 'cleaned' it. It never came back.
A friend had a messy divorce, but she was jittery, thinking her ex had left something in the house because she kept getting creeped out. I went in, went room to room, felt a need to look into a closet that no one used, and found a picture of him on the floor. Then I went outside and was taken to the vegetable garden. I saw an image of him standing in the corner of the garden as though he were a sentinel over it. I looked down and asked what was buried in the garden. My friend shrugged -they hadn't buried anything. She put a hand in the section of dirt I was looking at and came up with his wedding ring.
Tarot cards -I've spooked people with those things, too. I told one woman she was going on a vacation far away. She laughed, shook her head, and said no, she didn't have money to go anywhere. She came back the following week and said her husband had surprised her with tickets to Egypt. I also told her she was pregnant a week before her doctor did.
I told another woman to keep her husband from driving that weekend. It was a really strong message, so I did my best to stress the message. She didn't come to work on Monday. We learned that her husband had been killed in a car accident that weekend. That was the only time, in about 30 years, that a card spread meant an actual, physical death. Usually, the 'death' spreads just mean a big change is coming. A transformation of some kind. Rarely a physical death. That one made me feel really bad.
I went to a full moon circle, and after ritual everyone gathered for food and drinks. Non-alcoholic. It's a family event. Lots of people socializing and having a good time. I was talking with a friend and this woman I had never met before. From across the room, I saw this black shadow come our way. It looked like someone's long, black curtain was being dragged across the room. It had a feminine shape to it, though, and came up to my friend, touched his shoulder, and disappeared. He put his hand on his shoulder, turned around, and asked who had touched him. The woman I didn't know looked at me and said, "You saw that, didn't you?" I said yes, and we both said to him, at the same time, "Female figure, long black dress and long black hair." My new friend didn't know which gods were which, she was new to it all, so I told them it was the Morrigan, mainly because the figure 'felt' underworld, and since his path was Celtic, he'd understand 'Morrigan' much more than he'd understand any other pantheon's warrior queen. That sort of spooked him because he didn't play with the warrior gods. The underworld was my territory, not his. I told him the Morrigan had chosen him for something and he needed to pay attention. I don't know how things turned out, we lost touch.
We also learn to be careful of how we discuss wants and needs. The gods have a sense of humor:
One year, I went to a Pride parade. After the parade, everyone gathered in a park for music, food and community. I was alone, having just moved to the city and didn't know anyone. Watching people who were coupled, tripled, and whatever other combination, made me a little depressed and self-pitying at my aloneness. So I walked to a book store that I had quickly come to enjoy, all the while informing the gods that I needed companionship. It was a small store, pagan, not new age, and I was comfortable there. I took a book and started reading. Not a half hour later, three women walk through the front door, clearly coming from the Pride festival. They were each very large ladies (by which I mean a lot larger than me), with green teeth and enough grease in their hair to coat a fleet of trucks. They were looking at me as though I were a candy bar. I escaped out the side door and walked home, informing the gods of what I thought about their sense of humor.
I know of someone who decided to do something about the stifling heat one summer. He did a rain ceremony. He made the mistake of doing the ceremony inside his house, however, and a pipe burst.
The gods are also helpful. When I had my dog Penny, and I needed something for her that I couldn't afford, I'd ask Anubis. I'd give him a rundown of what was going on, and I'd ask him for help so that I could keep his puppy safe and healthy. It wasn't too long after our talk that something would happen that led me to whatever I needed for her. While Egyptian isn't my pantheon, I still keep a small statue of Anubis on my altar in thanks for his kindness.
The gods don't need to be bargained with, they need simple honesty. None of that 'you do for me, and I'll do for you.' We serve the gods, they don't serve us.
This service to the gods is one of the major changes from ancient worship to modern worship. In the past, people were slaves to the gods. People were taught to fear the gods. The gods weren't there to be loved, they were there to be served. Apparently, after going through the trouble to create the physical world, it was too much of a bother for them to fix themselves a meal, so human slaves were created.
From the time the concept of divinity came about, the growth of the gods and the growth of society has been a symbiotic relationship. When one changes, the other changes. We now know too much about science and how the natural world works to be afraid of the gods, so they have become our guides, our companions and our spiritual parents. It's OK to update your gods for modern needs; if they don't change, they stagnate, just like anything else that doesn't change. We can see the changes to the gods when we read ancient mythology, and gods changed and combined when territory was taken by an army or when 'transplanted' to another country by travelers, so there is clear precedent for updating our gods.
We no longer fear the gods; they have become our family.
You won't find two pagans who agree on everything. We are all very individual people, and trying to get us all to agree on something is like trying to herd cats, as the old pagan joke goes. We even view the gods in different ways. While the main aspects are pretty much the same, the details are personalized. Some people insist on referring to Inanna as the goddess of love, while others point out that the myths never claimed her as the goddess of love, but she displayed lots of passion both in her bed and on the battlefield. I see her as the goddess of passion, which is much different from a love goddess. 'Love', in the romantic sense, is an invention of the middle ages.
Then you have some people who practically make a warding sign at the mention of Loki, while others dance with glee at the thought of his chaos mixing it all up. Personally, I think a little chaos is needed; without it, things stagnate and stop growing. As we say -whatever floats your sun boat.
Getting back to a comment earlier, you'll also find pagans who don't believe in deity at all. No, it isn't a contradiction. As I said before, being pagan is a world-view. For us, life itself is a living thing. We don't worship it, we don't worship trees and rocks. We do, however, acknowledge it and do our best to respect it. Sometimes it's easier for us to see this life in the form of a personality, so we give the different aspects a name and a face. It makes us happy to do so. In this book, you will find me referring to various things in conjunction with deity, and without deity. Sometimes a thing strikes me in a poetic way, other times the scientist comes out for some common sense. Either way, it's all the same to me. You take it as you will, put whatever names and faces on it as you wish.
On the other end of the spectrum, you'll find conservative Pagans (an oxymoron to the rest of us!) who insist that the gods do exist. My argument to them is that if one set of gods exist, they ALL exist. Including Abraham's god. If they pick and choose which gods exist and which don't, that makes them no better than followers of any other religion. Republican pagans confuse the hell out of me, so I won't even delve into that topic.
Such is the general environment of pagans. This is our normal, natural world. Is this at odds with science? No, not to us. Most of us, especially the magicians (think shaman or ceremonial), understand at least the basics of quantum mechanics, and we find those basics to be a perfect definition of our worldview. And no, physicists don't like it when we say such things; they are convinced that we truly don't understand. Yes, we do. It's the same as being bilingual; we can go back and forth to each language as the occasion needs. Just because the physicists don't understand us, doesn't mean we don't understand them.
While I'm not going to delve into ancient history, I do want to point out that, while many pagans believe that there was a primordial matriarchy, I'm going to tell you no, there wasn't. At least not one that has been proven. Those little clay female figurines do not constitute a matriarchy. Not one of them is labeled as 'goddess.' As far as we can tell, primitive humans didn't have a concept of deity as we know it. They were more of a shamanic/animistic peoples, looking at the elements as living beings.
The figurines are found in caves and graves. They are found IN something. Female=container=womb=fertility. If they mean anything at all, I'd say they were fertility dolls. Let's follow lines of thought logically, please.
I remember reading a history book about a cave in France, I think it was, (I don't remember what the book was or who wrote it), which had legs painted inside the cave entrance, one leg on each side of the entrance. The author stated that the reasons for the 'legs' were unknown. I tossed the book down and refused to read more. I mean really...!
So, let's see what we can do about advancing some concepts, and learn to communicate, before we head into things such as cosmology, rituals, and magic.
"My Pagan World:
A Personal Discussion from a Western Pagan on a Sumerian Path"