Sometimes what I want is a wild fire. A fire that roars. A fire that beats at the air with its bright fists clenched. Sometimes I want prayer like a fire that claims everything it touches.
We Pagans have a love affair with the past that leads us to try to model the rituals and practices of ancient times as closely as possible. But we live in a different world today. Despite the ornate beauty of certain approaches to ritual, I wince at the wastefulness I see sometimes. Can this really be what the gods want from us? Are we so busy trying to do ritual “correctly” that we fail to do it well?
The bleakness of Douglas Adams' novel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, is its critique of our willingness to treat the gods like vending machines, here to serve our needs. The god who can't serve us is as useless and incomprehensible to us as a Coke machine with an "Out of Order" sign taped to it. It's no coincidence that Adams portrays the gods as vagabonds who have to sleep in an abandoned train station, while the villains of the book are comfortably middle-class characters who use money to buy the luxury of ignoring "all the mess." Does mortality offer the gods a way out?
In light of recent events and discussions, I wanted to share this essay as a robust defense of the sacred value of art, poetry and satire within both our theological explorations and our political discourse. It is my view that ambivalence itself can be sacred, for it opens us to authentic experiences of others which may be unexpected or challenging, and so we can appreciate this ambivalence and the art forms that express it as powerful and meaningful aspects of our relationship with the numinous, and with each other.
Hey look, someone on Twitter made a meme out of me! I feel honored! (Does this mean I get to start wearing a "Ask Me About My Meme" button on my lapel?) From my post, "Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mist."
There is ice in old Earth Mother's blood these days, and everywhere the ground is as hard as unyielding stone. The winds are biting cold. The sunlight, though still low on the horizon, is bright and sharp. It glints off the edges of every surface, refracted, scattered in a thousand directions. I sit in the shadow of a great evergreen tree outside, struggling to root, straining to bring the manic energies back into balance. The whole world seems to be cold fire and frenzied air. This won't do. I have to find another way...
My gods are not tame. They do not always come when they are called. This is not a failure of ritual or a weakness of belief. It is the nature of my gods. I would no more expect a god to "show up" in my ritual space than I would expect to be able to call a mountain into my living room. That is simply not the nature of mountains. If I want to meet a mountain, I am the one who must move. Because I do not believe that humans are the only beings with agency in the world, I do not expect my gods to express their agency in the same ways that human beings do. There are gods who forever remain elusive, whose identities shift with the landscape, the seasons and the stars. And there are gods so intimate that they are never really absent at all, and meeting them is not a matter of inviting their presence but rather of quieting my own expectations and learning how to listen. There are gods whose presence looms like a mountain range on the horizon, and gods with(in) whom I walk with grace, my footsteps just one more melody in the great pattern of their being. What does hospitality look like to a mountain? How does a forest speak its mind? What does it mean to invoke a god of mist and sea on a mist-strewn shore?
"One day I am sweet, another day I am sour," says the Irish trickster god Manannan mac Lir in his guise as the disheveled traveling buffoon whose hat is full of holes and whose shoes squish with puddle water when he walks. Manannan appears in folktales sometimes as a buffoon and sometimes as a richly dressed bard of talent and renown. When he is a buffoon, his words are sweet and his music sweeter; when he is a master of his craft, he comes off as a fake and an ass. When he is at home, he is a king whose otherworldly castle is thatched with white birds' wings. But the half-thatched homes of the mortal bards will never be complete. While the poets are away gathering their feathers, the winds have already swept away the last day's work. Which is the real god? The king, the poet, or the wandering buffoon? Which is the real writer? Which is the real me?
When my friend Carl McColman says that language is tricky, and that God is bigger than the limits of the human mind, we might imagine our words are just so many rigged-up rubber bands, paper clips and packing tape with which we are, MacGyver-style, trying to capture a wild and mighty wind. Yet our words are our own breath given form by our body and its movements, and where else have we drawn that breath but from the winds themselves? Our speaking is a shaping of the wind within us, released back into the wild to work its way into someone else's body, moving with the ebb and flow of sound waves, pressing in against their eardrums, stirring the tiny hairs of their skin. To talk about language this way is to break out of the metaphor of objects and containers, and to see words as experiences in themselves.
In my latest post over on No Unsacred Place, I talk about the exciting discoveries of recent genetic research into LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor of all life on earth, and what parallels we can draw to ancient creation stories about the divine origins of life from cultures all over the world.