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?
Today is Lughnasadh, and I find myself returning to the strange mixture of work and rest, grief and celebration that always marks this time of year for me. It is the acknowledgement of fear and loss during the most fruitful time of the year that marks this as a holy season. It is this mingling of love and sorrow, hope and grief that transforms the cycles of production and consumption into something more: a sacred harvest. When we forget the hard work of our ancestors, when we distance ourselves from the sweat, blood and tears that connect us to the living reality of those who have come before us, when we anesthetize ourselves to the grief we feel at the struggles they faced and the sacrifices they made — that is when we risk becoming mere consumers. Grief serves a sacred purpose, for we cannot grieve what we have not loved. Grief is one of the fruits of love, even as joy and prosperity are the fruits of labor.
Snowshoeing opens up possibilities for exploration that ordinary hiking can't. With a sturdy pair of snowshoes and eight feet of snow, winter is the perfect time to rise above ordinary obstacles and move deeper into the heart of the forest. To walk is itself a kind of ritual, a practice that changes us in subtle and significant ways. To move through the land, we have to be attentive and responsive to it. To survive these cold months, it's not enough to stay hunched in front of our computer screens all day long theorizing and debating. We must become apprentices of this goddess, Winter — to truly know her and her work, we must go out to meet her beneath the trees.
What is anthropocentrism? Turns out, there is no single, simple answer to this question. (Just among the nearly fifty books on environmental ethics and deep ecology that I have, only one actually offers a definition of the term, despite almost all of them referring to it in their discussions. As with many words, its meaning often has to be teased out and inferred from context.) In my earlier post I hinted at the beginnings of a definition when I referred to an approach to ritual that "takes for granted a worldview in which humans are the only measure of what is real." The question of how our idea of "the real" and our practical responses to it (for instance, through ritual activity) influence our underlying values and where we locate (or create) meaning is a complex conversation in its own right, and it is in this particular theological meadow that I'll do much of my lingering and bee-gazing in the following posts. But for now, it's probably more helpful to sketch out a basic definition, one we can use as a kind of measure against which we can hold up more complex, fidgety ideas later in the conversation...
On the same day I published "Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mists," Irish animist Traci Laird also shared a piece in which she confronted the issue of anthropocentrism in modern Western Paganism more directly. She points out, very rightly I think, that "the belief that human-persons are the most significant species on the planet, plays out within paganism in subtle and tricky ways." The response to our two posts has been incredibly varied, with writers across the Pagan blogosphere grappling with notions of anthropocentrism that range so widely at times it seems they're hardly talking about the same thing at all. The more responses and reactions I read over the past couple weeks, the more I realized that the issue of anthropocentrism in Paganism is incredibly complex and at times very confusing. Subtle and tricky ain't the half of it! And so I wanted to spend some time teasing apart some of these ideas about anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism in Pagan ritual and theology.
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...
As Christmas approaches once again, I find myself wondering, wandering in a liminal space. Asking myself how to teach children that realizing their own inner Santa Claus is infinitely more challenging than believing in some unlikely literal jolly-old-elf, and infinitely more rewarding. Asking myself where I belong, where we all belong, and how we belong to each other. Asking myself how I can tell the stories of my ancestors, pagan and Christian alike, to the children of my partner. What can I say that will be meaningful and relevant for them, that will share with them the "spirit of the season" that I have come to know and love and value? What will I say when they come singing, a penny for my thoughts?
Keystones of the Sacred Land is in beta, and my guinea pigs have been plugging away at some pretty challenging exercises (and doing great, I might add!). We've been delving into an exploration of our local landscapes and preparing to meet the guardians and guides who will walk with us for the rest of this journey together. We concluded this week's work with a simple ritual to honor the land and to state our intention to seek our deepest soul, what wilderness guide Bill Plotkin calls our "truest place" in the world. In honor of the summer solstice (and the super moon), I wanted to share this simple little ritual with all of you.
When we see nature itself as a constantly-unfolding story about the deepest, most sacred truths of life and death, we can adapt the practice of Lectio Divina as a creative approach to meditation that can strengthen our relationship with the earth. Here are just a few ideas about how to use the practice of Lectio Divina to engage with the stories of nature. Although we can approach each of the four stages of Lectio Divina as distinct activities that we can do one at a time on their own, we experience the most benefit from this kind of spiritual work when we bring them together into a single coherent, continuous practice.
When we light a candle in our ritual space, we ignite a flame within ourselves. When we pour water or burn incense as offerings, we offer ourselves as well, to soak into the earth or rise in gentle wisps of smoke towards the sky. Imagining these things is not enough — the work demands that we engage not only with our minds and hearts, but with our bodies. This is the original meaning of celebration: a gathering, a time of coming together. We've come to think of celebration as an occasion for happiness and enjoyment, because this sense of wholeness that we find in company with ourselves and with others is deeply nourishing and joyful for us. But celebratory spirituality also means being fully present to sorrow and suffering, and giving our whole selves as much to hard work and discipline as to pleasure and delight. Celebratory ritual is about our willingness to be fully present to the world and its gods.