Earth Wind Water, by Christopher Beikmann
Deep Ecology, Featured, Holy Wild, Theology

Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mist

The other day I was talking with Jeff about a recent post by Morpheus Ravenna on ritual theory for polytheists, and he said something so profound in its simplicity that it made me gasp in recognition. I was noting how all of Ravenna’s conclusions about the reality of the gods seemed to assume that the gods are very much just like people, with the same needs, desires and expectations. Jeff replied:

The problem with asserting that the only gods that are “real” are those that are like humans is that it takes for granted a worldview in which humans are the only measure of what is real.

Earth Wind Water, by Christopher Beikmann

This is how I feel when I read posts by hard polytheists and posts such as Ravenna’s*. It’s not that I disagree with her about the importance of gratitude, commitment, respect, receptivity or deep reciprocity as essential aspects of polytheistic ritual. I affirm those values wholeheartedly and hold to them with fierce stubbornness in my own ritual practices.

Where we disagree is in the language and metaphors we use to talk about the gods. Ravenna speaks of her gods like they’re celebrities or superheroes, and her explanations for what the gods want and expect from us are all drawn from examples of interpersonal human relationships — how we might treat a dinner guest, a keynote speaker, or a new friend. She insists that if we perform rituals in ways that are not grounded in the belief that our gods have human-like behaviors and attitudes, then we must not believe the gods are “real.”

But I do believe my gods are real. Some of them are human-like, but many of them are not. Many of them are more like how Sara Amis describes her encounters with the divine:

This is how I understand the divine, and why I continue to seek it in the resolutely non-human world, with which we nonetheless recognize a numinous kinship. Sometimes, it will turn and lock eyes with you, lifting you out of yourself, changing everything. Other times, it will give you the side-eye and swoop away, leaving you longing for retreating beauty. You might not see it every single time you go looking, or where you expect to find it. No matter how common the experience, every time you stumble across mystery, or independent wild being, it is a surprise and a miracle. And every day, you can look.

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?

God Of The Mountain, by Tim Johnson

You might not understand or relate to the metaphors that I use to describe my gods, but that does not mean that those gods are not real, or that I am being disingenuous about my beliefs. My rituals may look different from yours or have a different purpose, but that does not mean that they are incompetent or superficial.

For me, the hard polytheist definition of the gods as “separate, discrete and individual beings” is simply too brittle, placing undue focus on exclusionary boundaries and either/or ontological experiences. Recently, it seems to be increasingly common to talk about Pagan theology as if all polytheism were hard polytheism. Posts like Ravenna’s and Rhyd Wildermuth’s speak on behalf of polytheists without acknowledging that there are polytheists like myself who do not agree with the anthropocentric and theologically transcendent views of hard polytheism. (In fact, Wildermuth makes the mistake of labeling me a humanistic/non-theistic Pagan, despite my many, many, many, many writings about my polytheism.**) They worry that Pagans like myself are rejecting or denying their gods…. What they don’t seem to understand is that by insisting that gods can be “real” only if they fit the definition offered by hard polytheists, they are actively denying the reality of gods that may be wholly unlike the anthropomorphic, discrete and separate beings that hard polytheists worship. When they assume that because I am not a hard polytheist, I must therefore be a non-theist, they reject my experiences of my own gods as legitimate encounters with the divine.

My gods are not always like human beings. Sometimes my gods are like mountains, sometimes they are like mist. Sometimes I seek my gods in the forests, sometimes in ritual space or the beat of the drum. Sometimes my gods are inscrutable or apophatic, and my relationship with them is one of longing and seeking rather than invocation and offering. And sometimes it is the mountains themselves who are gods, and the rivers and trees who speak.

What I would like to see is a renewed sense of inclusivity among Pagan polytheists, and a return to the possibility that hard polytheism is only one way out of many to seek authentic relationship with the many different deities in this world full of gods.

* Please see Morpheus Ravenna’s clarification and my response in the comments below.

** It saddens me that we are losing the nuances of theological and spiritual exploration in this rush to establish which side of the hard-polytheist/non-theist debate everyone is on. The fact that I do not wear a hard polytheist flag pin on my lapel during every theological debate has apparently been enough to earn me the accusation of having “humanist/naturalistic [that is, atheist] tendencies” in a post that otherwise denounces this kind of simplistic othering. What’s more, Wildermuth’s interpretation of the Google+ discussion he quotes is clearly influenced at a basic level by the assumption that I am an atheist. When I asked questions meant to provoke a conversation about how our personal values inform our relationship with the gods and our approach to discerning the health of those relationships, he chose instead to see my questions as simplistic attacks on the existence of the gods themselves — not only missing an opportunity for a more complex and challenging conversation, but dismissing me as insensitive, even hostile, towards mystical experiences (clearly assuming that I’ve had none of my own), adding personal insult to social injury.

Photo Credits:
• “Earth Wind Water,” by Christopher Beikmann © 2007 [Purchase a print here]
• “Mountain God,” by Timothy Johnson © 2010 [source]

Muse in Brief

Satire, Suffering and the Pantheist’s Dilemma » No Unsacred Place

In my latest post over on No Unsacred Place, I explore the meaning of pantheistic faith in the face of the “hour of adversity” and the role that satire and deep play have in helping us through times of spiritual crisis and community strife:

Strict pantheism is, I think, a difficult outlook to maintain. You find only a few people — even among Pagans — who are truly and purely pantheistic. Polytheism has its multiple gods, goddesses, elementals and other spirits, inhabiting a sacred natural world but also maintaining distinct personalities within it. For polytheists, a local river god, no matter how closely identified with the river, is not just the river, but conceived as “something more,” as possessing some quality of character or personality, some human-like attributes with which we, as human beings, can communicate and interact. Certain monotheistic religions go to the other extreme, conceiving of deity in purely transcendent terms, inherently separate from the “created” world. Usually modern critiques of each of these belief systems focus on the extent to which they deny or imbue sacredness in the natural world. Examples from past cultures show us that polytheism can degenerate into petty bickering among fallible and narrowly anthropomorphized deities, whose capriciousness no longer points to the mysteries of a shifting natural environment but has become entirely self-referential and melodramatic. Likewise, religions based on transcendent conceptions of deity come to rely heavily on abstract revelation (often supposedly only available to religious or political leaders) rather than personal experience of a sacred world, and even the extreme view that nature is inherently “evil” or degraded and must be rejected and escaped.

So how does pantheism cope with the “hour of adversity” and the inescapable reality of physical death? What can the bardic tradition of satire in Celtic mythology and folklore tell us about how we can confront a loss of faith in our spiritual lives as well as in our political leadership?

You can read the full article here.

Holy Wild, Theology

Gods and Spirit

That word for god — the breath, the gleaming — the shining days like great columns bearing up the sky, buttresses, rafters. Beams that in their falling, hold.

I say the names of my deities, I feel the drop of each sound into silence. They gather on the long, bent grasses in the meadow and the field, *dewos-, the many that glisten in the coming dark. Amulets of sky, jewels of the daylight, coalescing in the movement of my breath, the lingering touch of the wind. They draw themselves, wavering, into the weight and gravity of form.

I open the door, and the gods enter the dark interior of my being. The gust, the call, tracing themselves in the dust of the rafters, the shift that shivers down in drifts of gentle gray and grit, mingling particulates stirring in every corner of the sunlight. What is so small and intimate and strange — numen, spirare — the dancing footsteps of spirit in the air, the vital stir of fear, the silent thrill, calling me to courage in the deep spaces of my birth and dying, the liminal between. I am on the threshold, pouring out my breath in quick libations. I am pouring out my soul-song to mingle on the doorsill with the soft noise of their presence.

And She is rising up again, and rising up, she is the exalted queen and lady of all that rises up — the purifying fire and the wellspring of healing waters, the bright, clean sun at daybreak, the serpent stirring in the mound, all thoughts of justice and beautiful compassion aching towards the perfect, the spark and steam of smithcraft in the forge. She rises up, drawing gravity along in ecstatic going-out to meet the inspired act of making, dragging the anchor of my mind into the light and breath of Spirit. The gulf of the sky widens from heaven to horizon, an archway of blue and exhalation, and I am beneath it and within it, I am spiraling and lifted, small and intimate and strange.

And He is circling and moving, a realm and waste that gives his name and takes it back again — the ebb and flow along the shoreline, the horizon and the deep, the mist, the movement of the winds and storm, the heron gliding on long, still wings through the midnight of the newborn sun. He turns his murmuring immensity to touch my listening, gentle and insistent. He wears away the boundaries of my skin, seeping in to claim me for the flux of Spirit, moving in me with the rhythm of my heartbeat, and I am surrounded and within it, I am spiraling and sailing on the mingling waters on the threshold of my being.

And She is resting in fecundity and promise, the mother of all our naming — she is wealth and self-giving, the firm body of our dancing, the bristling flowers of spring and the high harvest of the fall, the rolling curve of the lands always unfurling, the dark cavern of our tombs grown over with pale, delicate lashes of green. She names the earth and world, the sounds of her children coalescing on her lips like drops of dew, all eddies in the mud and rocks and bones and growing things. All verdant and gold, she stirs in me every corner of Spirit with the weight of praise and gravidity, she makes my heavy form and holds it close, and I am made and move within it, I am spiraling and born in the darkness of my body.

I open the door, and the gods enter. The gods enter with their whispering and multiplicity, each one an opening into Spirit, a shining, an embrace. I settle down into my work like someone opening a window, and the breeze comes winding, finding its way into the center of my grasping and obscurity. A breeze that smells of sunlight and summer days across the field, a breeze that languishes heavy with dew in the gloom of the new morning, a breeze that sings the world’s together-song into the waiting silence. I do the work, I pour libations, I pray and wait and let the Spirit come when it will.

The door is like an eye. It grows wide and hungry in the dark.

This post is part of the 30 Days of Druidry creative writing project.

Holy Wild, Science & Civilization

Mission Accomplished.

I love when life gives me what I like to call “xkcd Moments.”

See, I’ve been meaning to migrate the archives of my former Meadowsweet & Myrrh site on Blogger over to this domain so that everything’s in one convenient place, but website design is really only something I do with any gusto when the obsession mood strikes me. So there the old girl languishes, attracting the occasional lost traveler and a whole lot of spambots. (Is it just me, or has spam gotten increasingly aggressive in the last couple weeks? Did someone just develop a new and improved way of getting around CAPTCHA?)

Which brings me to this morning, when I opened my email inbox to discover that someone had left this comment on my December 2009 post, “Avatar & Eywa: Looking at Deity, Pantheism and Justice“:

I’m not sure if this is the type of thinking you were getting at, but it does make sense to me that a thriving, comprehensive pantheism cannot stop at the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. There must be a place for sun, stars, galaxies, and even the emptiness between. [random link to female viagra product]

Touché, Spambot.

Now, this almost qualifies as a “Simpsons Moment” — it’s like an R-rated version of purple monkey dishwasher.

But no one nails it as dead-on as xkcd:

Xkcd for the win.

Contemplation & Meditation, Holy Wild

Silence in the Trees

Tonight, reading David Abram’s musings on the language of our embodied selves and this thickly expressive world in which we live, I wonder about the internet.

As my friend Cat has taught me, the Quakers have a saying: “This Friend speaks to my condition.”

The Quaker Meeting is one of silence and unfolding into Spirit. When a Friend speaks in Meeting, it is with Spirit moving through them. The breath is Spirit in the flesh, and when it stirs, the Friend opens and allows the music of Spirit (the Song of the World, as we Druids call it) to rise up and overflow. When David Abram writes about his friend who listens to the dialects of trees, the pine and spruce and hemlock, each rustling in the breeze — I think of the Quakers. How lucky we are to choose when to speak, when to be silent, to have that control. And how lucky the trees are, to speak only when the breeze moves them, only when the winds exhale in a community of breath and weather to make a song out of the forest — and to otherwise be silent, and still. To not fill up their world with frivolous noise.

I have been thinking a lot lately about rituals of silence, how they connect us to the voiceless, how they open us to the possibility of justice through attending.

And I have been thinking about the internet, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, where so much of the noise is the noise of passing on, forwarding, “liking” and “sharing” — but not with our own voices.

Some essays make us think. Some poetry gives us pause. Some writing slows us down and makes us wonder, contemplate, and we are stilled for a moment from our need to speak and fill that silence.

Other articles make us jump up and say, “Yes! This!” We pass on those articles that articulate our beliefs, that do our speaking and our arguing, that make our points and push our objective. We do not have time. We are busy people. And there is so much injustice in the world, so much that needs to be corrected, that needs to be said. When we find an article that seems sharp and smart, scathing or insightful or deeply necessary, we pass it on. We beg the world to stop for just a moment to read it, to consider its ideas. We do not have time to be forever saying everything. So we say instead, over and over, as much as we can, “This Friend speaks to my condition!”

I sometimes feel frustrated that my articles are rarely those that go viral. I try to write from a place of quiet and complexity, I try to hold the ambivalence that I feel and allow it to move and turn so that I can see its many sides. I’m not always trying to make some point — I’m just trying to let the wind rise up and make its noise in me.

But maybe, in my own self-conscious frustration, I can’t always see the forest for the trees. We are all so busy, we all have so much to say. Maybe we are much like the trees these days, at the mercy of whatever the wind will bring us — whatever drifts to us through the Facebook feed, filtered through our outstretched fingers, trying to catch and shape and turn this stream of chatter into something that means something. We rustle and shake, just a few brief seconds to say what we can before the current’s moved on and we lapse again into silence.

So maybe what I can give with my writing is silence, a few moments of pause, and for once, the relief that there is nothing more to say… only the mystery and the quiet and the dark between.

Holy Wild, praxis, Theology

Contemplations on Polytheism and Gods of the Land

This post was originally published July 11, 2010.

There was a lightness of being in my solitary walk to the library this morning, after yesterday’s long-rumbling thunderstorms growling out of the dense haze and heat of the city.[1] For the past two weeks I have been getting up early to hillwalk through the wooded park down the block, and even in the dawn hours everything hung heavy and damp, dark green, sticky, slick with heat, heat, heat. The pond was a low patch of thickening mud, the stream in the ravine a gully of trickling gutter-water between the tree roots. The mulberries from the neighbor’s drooping tree were slowly fermenting on the sidewalk, and giving birth whenever someone walked by to a swarm of iridescent flies. This is not exactly unusual for July around here (certainly not as out-of-character as the hotter weather farther north). But the cloudless domed sky fading to muggy gray on the horizons unbroken for so many rainless days became a little disconcerting in a city centered on three rivers and so near a great lake, where the mountains rising to the east back up the westerly winds carrying their rainstorms over the land. We get a lot of rain here in Pittsburgh, but for the past two weeks it seems we’ve had nothing but hot, thick, hard-to-breate damp — sliced through with burning arrows of sunlight.

So yesterday was a blessing. An early twilight by midafternoon when the storms rolled in, and it was finally cool enough to fall asleep a few hours before midnight for once. For the first time I felt refreshed when waking up this morning, as if I had slept well and without that constant, unidentifiable anxiety that the body seems to absorb and store up from the enforced stillness of long, hot summer days. And the morning is beautiful. During long weeks of constant heat, coolness becomes a kind of abstract in a sun-fogged brain. Jeff and I kept talking about our upcoming vacation in cool, ocean-hedged Acadia National Park, and my trip soon after to Ireland — the misty green lands that my skin and bones remember, like a gift from my ancestors, without ever having been there — but I don’t think I could really believe in these things or imagine them with any kind of realism.

Ah, but this morning I can almost taste the very first hint of crisp, cool autumn, sneaking in just after the high, bright peak of the solstice! Walking down the streets of my neighborhood, I had flashbacks to that feeling I used to get during the first weeks of a new semester back in college, when everything was light and fresh and free, with new classes (and, glory be!, new books to devour!) and new faces roaming campus, and a new year ahead. And in all of this, that special kind of solitude, the aloneness of stepping out and away from home, cut loose from routine or rather in the early stages of a new one when it still feels wide and spacious and full of possibility. It was as if heat had become my home, and I thought it would go on being home forever. It is hard to describe, but I could taste it like gentle sunlight — after two weeks I’d almost forgotten that sunlight could feel gentle and smooth, not always burning and oppressive — and light wisps of clouds that go skipping now from horizon to horizon in a cool lake of blue sky, awash in relief. And I am so thankful that my gods, if I have any, are changeable, full of movement and utterly beyond me.

I’m rambling. I’m rambling because I can write again, my wrist fairly good as new thanks to rest and caution, and because to a certain extent I am tired of all the analytical thought I have been slogging through recently in the heat of these past weeks. As I mentioned earlier, I went through an unexpected shake down in faith last week in the wake of the July 4 celebrations on various Pagan blogs hailing Columbia as a goddess of liberty and personification of the country. This bothered me, deeply, and in two ways. First was this terrible sense of repulsion at nation-worship, which seems to me not only misplaced but so obviously easy to bend to nationalism and racism. Patriotism, that self-loving pride in one’s country merely because you happened to be born there, has always seemed like thinly disguised racism and bigotry to me (in Ursula Le Guin’s book Left Hand of Darkness, a character says: “What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t mistake a virtue of it, or a profession…”). Of the things I have taken away from my Catholic upbringing with gratitude is this notion that the Law of Love, the devotion and care for the imperfect and the seeing of the face of divinity in all beings, makes a mockery of the state, and of all its demarcations and institutions that it guards at so high a price. Which was why this idea of Columbia bothered me in another way, too: that modern Pagans might be so eager, or so desperate, for gods that they’ll make them out of anything.

Ecology of Spirit

Maybe that sounds harsh, or intolerant. But I was feeling somewhat betrayed, honestly. I’ve spent the past few months — and, to a lesser extent, the last few years — seeking out the stories and theologies of Pagans and polytheists in good faith, in an attempt to understand where they’re coming from, to learn to see the world the way a polytheist does. I’ve been sounding the depths of polytheist theology, so to speak, and trying to find my sea-legs, bringing my intuition and personal experience to bear on the philosophy. And though the progress has been slow — and many of the works on “polytheistic theology” have been about as deep as a kiddy pool compared to the complexities and mysteries of Catholic doctrine I grew up with — there are a few things I have learned through the work.

One of the first things that became obvious to me is what I’ve come to understand as the “ecology of Spirit.” Raised Catholic (did I mention that already?), the triune nature of Spirit had always been at the forefront of my theological thoughts, and though I was honestly and truly monotheistic, it was in a One-out-of-many kind of way which made ample room for multiplicity not only at the core of my concept of deity, but in the whole spiritual sphere, with its angels and saints and, though I barely gave them a second thought, its devils and demons. When I began exploring polytheism, I began to understand that the monism underlying some Pagans’ conception of Spirit did not jive with my experiences and observations. If I believed in the intimate relationship between the material, physical world and the spiritual world that was its home and source, it seemed unlikely that the embodied world could be so varied, mottled and marvelously complex if the nature of Spirit was a kind of homogenous, undifferentiated aether or spiritual soup. So the beginnings of my own polytheistic theology was this idea of the many-in-the-One, the “ecology of Spirit.” This was an ecosystem of living and interrelated beings, some embodied in all the unique ways that embodiment brings, and some just as unique without the solid weight of the body to serve as anchor. The stream and the mulberry tree had their soul in them, and the wind, the ancestors and Shining Ones had their souls as well, like the angels and the egregores, the sunlight and the gods.

But this led me to the firm conviction that, just as in any ecosystem you have both the bacteria and the bison, the plankton and the humpback whale, just so in this ecology of Spirit not everything is a god. Which is not to say that they don’t all have Spirit in them, and soul. A human being may have the face of Spirit shining within them, or hidden beneath layers of fear and grime and cynicism. We can treat each other as holy beings of Spirit… but to worship another human being not as God but as a god, to place them up on that pedestal of our longing and expectation, we know well in the human sphere how unhealthy this can be, how demeaning to both the idolized and the idolater. Though my understanding of spiritual ecology lacks the kind of hierarchy found in Catholic theology among the angels and devils, it still makes room for idolatry. What is idolatry, after all, except unbalanced, unhealthy relationship? We might praise and love the stones as stones, and the river as river, and we might honor how they dwell, like us, in Spirit. We might find that, through our attending and gratitude, we come into a relationship with them that is not unlike love and mutual exchange. But part of this love is knowing deeply the soul and being you are in love with, and not mistaking that being for something else, not projecting your own desires for deity or salvation or elevation onto it.

Columbia as Egregore

Now I know, I’m not exactly qualified to say what it is that makes a god a god, not at this point, not with my limited experience. I have a sense of Brigid as most distinctly a deity, a goddess, but in what way? I am still working, waiting and attending to the possibility of articulation on that one. Still, I have some sense that I know when something is not a god. And Columbia — well, the objection welled up in me immediately, with intensity and repulsion. “But she’s not real!” I complained to Jeff, “They just made her up.” While those who worship the gods of Tolkein’s fantasy Middle-Earth or the mythic Klingon heroes of Star Trek may sometimes cause me to sigh and shrug, I feel something a bit more sinister in this praise of Columbia.

Jeff, after some very basic research, summed up the origin of Columbia in a response to one of these recent July 4 posts:

Columbia, a goddess created (or, as [some] say, “revealed”) in the 18th century, was named after Christopher Columbus, the first European known to have enslaved anyone in the New World. Columbus arrived in the Caribbean with the explicit and open intent of capturing slaves and stealing gold, not to mention spreading Catholicism around the world, so it is extremely ironic that the goddess named after him would come to be associated with freedom and plenty. Freedom and plenty for whom?

Phyllis Wheatley, writing in 1776, was the first known person to speak of Columbia as a goddess […]. Born in Senegal and enslaved at age eight, she was named “Phyllis” after the ship that brought her to America. She was purchased by the rich Wheatley family of Boston, and adopted as their daughter. They gave her an education, and her poetry was read in England and throughout America. She married John Peters, a free black man, in 1778, but he was put in debtor’s prison shortly thereafter, leaving her alone with a sickly infant daughter. In the land of freedom and plenty, she inherited no money from the Wheatleys and, indeed, was legally unable to own property; so she had to set aside her poetry and work as a scullery maid at a boarding house. She died at age 31.

Again, ironic; but I for one am not surprised at how Columbia rewarded her prophet.

It seems blindingly clear to me, with even this small bit of research, that Columbia fits fairly well the definition of an “egregore,” a thought-form created by a group or community which then feeds off of the energy and collective imagination of that group and can likewise serve as a source of energy for an individual tapping into that group consciousness. She functions as a mirror, a reflection that amplifies and exaggerates. In that sense, it’s not exactly accurate to complain that she “isn’t real” — she’s as real as the Catholic Church, or Mickey Mouse. Certainly egregores can be used effectively and benevolently, to establish group cohesion and energy-patterning on a communal level. But the egregore can just as easily give rise to a mob-mentality that overrides rational thought and human compassion, that bends all energies into zealotry and hysteria. To worship an egregore as a god… to me there can hardly be a better example of idolatry, of wrong relationship. To worship such an egregore is, in many ways, to worship a flattened and distorted reflection of one’s own mind (or group-mind) projected outward onto Spirit in a way that obscures with self-congratulation and self-indulgence. You might as well project your old home movies against the low-lying clouds of the night sky, and mistake the sad and silent pantomimes for the glorious turnings of the sacred celestial bodies.

Ignorance and Unknowing

What’s worse is that we, as modern Pagans, know that Columbia is an invention, and we even know to what extent irony, misery and exploitation lurk at the heart of the attributes like liberty and prosperity we would like to ascribe to her. Just look at the poverty and racial inequality sprawling like an ugly shadow away from the shining white marble and perfectly-manicured lawns of the nation’s capital buildings in the “district of Columbia” (the white marble columns and statues themselves, a mock-up of our mistaken belief about what ancient Greece and Rome looked like). We know better these days, with our post-Enlightenment dedication to reason, science and the study of history, and yet for the sake of some imagined, romanticized past we willfully overlook the evidence of our own time in order to imitate the ignorance of our ancestors. No doubt they they came to worship dead but all-too-human heroes as gods, or imagined the egregore of the tribe or the nation into a protective deity with a power and purpose all its own.

Yet what was an ignorance of unknowing then, clean and innocent and receptive, has become willful and self-serving today. While our ancestors may have thrown up lines of worship towards Spirit like those spiraling, zig-zagging webs of ionized air kicked up by storm, those threads of longing and potential that invite the lightning down[2] — too many Pagans today seem to anchor their worship in deliberate blindness, pretending their willful and repetitive insistence on personified abstracts or flat and half-forgotten mythic figures will make them into gods, if only they’re invested with enough offerings, energy and prayer. Of course, this only serves to establish more powerfully those patterns of control, manipulation, irresponsibility and willed idiocy.

Still, we have our own kinds of unknowing today, as clean and innocent and receptive as that of our ancestors. I have heard plenty of Pagans speak of the gods in ways that leave me with no doubt that they have cast their lines into the storm of love and longing and the lightning has answered back. Perhaps the deepest source of our unknowing and ignorance today lives in the land itself, and the movements and rhythms of wildness and wilderness, of cultivation and care. In some ways, long before I felt the touch of Brigid as deity, Mama Earth was my first goddess, and both within and beyond her I feel the stirring of the Many in the way of Spirit. I think maybe there are gods, too, in the mechanisms of human society, in technology and science, lurking in the deep places where we still hesitate to look. We cannot make them or will them into service, but they creep and move around us — in nature, in industry, in land, sea and sky — and it takes a certain foolish courage to call for them, and a certain crippling honesty and of-the-humus humility to let them answer.

[1] For folks living in the Pittsburgh area confused by the next few paragraphs, a note: I began writing this post yesterday but did not have a chance to finish it until today and didn’t feel like rewriting all references to the storm “yesterday” to read “the day before yesterday.” Yes, I am a lazy writer. But not so lazy as to shirk my responsibility entirely! Praise be to footnotes!

[2] This metaphor requires some insight into exactly how lightning works.