Pagans like to say, "What is remembered, lives." Memory is re-membering, the act of giving life to the past through rituals of witness.
Our knowledge, instead of leading us to certainty, betrays us — guiding us deeper into the confused complexity of the forest, the dark wilds of unknowing. This is holy bewilderment. This is the horizon that is forever receding and can never be reached; the periphery that is everywhere and nowhere. We find ourselves spinning in circles. We look for a centered self that isn’t there, and when we find it, it is deeply bizarre. We are confronted by an Other that can never be centered or normalized. This is the call of the Wild One. Welcome to the hunt...
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?
I try to answer an intriguing question put forward in an essay by Sionnach Gorm: "How do we, as devout polytheists, reconcile the historic reality that our ancestors (at some point in the 5th-6th century CE and with no evidence of coercion) chose to turn to a god of bells and tonsures, of monks and scriptures, of Rome and the Papacy? Why would they 'abandon' the gods of their ancestors, and choose this newfangled Christ and his missionaries?"
There is always pressure to either romanticize or demonize the past. As it recedes into the distance of memory, its complexities are all too easily lost in the mists. The veils of time fall across our vision and we glimpse only vague impressions of a landscape, a culture, a handful of faces on the edge of our perception that seem to change and fade when we turn to look again. What does it mean to part this veil, to honor the ancestors?
I glance out the window at a foggy world that seems still and quiet... a little too quiet. The salmon that should by now be making their way upstream to spawn are missing. Without the necessary steady rains to wash the familiar scent of freshwater streams out into the sound, the fish languish just offshore — uncertain which way to go, unsure which creek is calling them home. It's as if they, too, are lost in the fog. In such weather, my thoughts dwell on memories of the past — what we have lost, what we have forgotten, and what we might still regain. It is so easy to think we have always lived this way, struggling with scarcity, alienated from the living earth, uncertain and alone. Without the rain-washed scent of hope, what will guide us home?
For me, Salmon has claimed her place along the year's wheel at Samhain-tide. The salmon run at Piper's Creek begins by the first day of November and lasts as late as the winter solstice. It is a time of cool, steady rain, a time of death and consummation. It is the in-between time, just after the Celtic New Year, but before the dawn of lengthening days. A time when new life begins in the dark, buried beneath the gravel of the streambed, invisible and silent. I think in many ways, modern Paganism is in this twilight time before rebirth as well. Seeded and kept alive from generation to generation after two millennia of broken traditions and scattered, assimilated cultures. We strive to root our traditions in the land, in a sense of place and in the presence of earth, but the social systems upstream don't make it easy.
Imagine how we are woven bodily into this world, pulsing veins and sinew wrapped tightly around bone. Blood and marrow so intimate in the secret recesses of our structure. This is what connects you to them. Your whole life presses forward. Like a single thread pulled taut until it aches, the spun-spiraled blood and body of your life pulls away from the past, yet anchored there by the fact of your birth, the stubborn persistence of your being. They had that too, and now here you are. What strange and unwieldy imperfections make up the beauty of your body, the lumpy joints and stringy tissue. And the tension in you, it is theirs as well.
"What would happen if the government collapsed?" My oldest stepdaughter asked after I'd spent fifteen minutes explaining exactly what a bond was and why I was filling out paperwork to report which ones had been lost so that the government knew how much money they owed me. Her siblings all sat quietly, listening intently to the more-grown-up-than-usual conversation, and her voice carried a weight of anxiety in the silence. "This is going to be one of those Princess Bride moments," I told her. "I'm going to let you know that the giant screeching eels don't eat you. I'm telling you now because you look nervous."
To me, Druidry will always be a kind of mysticism or mystery religion, a spiritual path grounded in the ecstasy, creativity and vision that takes root in wildness. As a religion, modern Druidry has grown up around the archetype of the Druid as the wise sage, the inspired poet, the bright-eyed seer and the lover of nature. That archetype of the Druid is the acorn from which the oak of Druidry as a religion grows and expands, reaching limbs in all directions, sending down roots deep into the earth and the present moment. The Druid archetype is the ideal that helps to shape and guide the religious lives of those who practice Druidry — just as the acorn contains within itself the genetic patterns necessary to create the mature oak, and yet each oak itself must draw nutrients from its immediate environment and will grow in its turn to fit its own place and time. No two oaks that grow in the wild will be the same, and that process of growth is never-ending as each new branch, twig, leaf and root seek their own way towards sunlight and soil.