The (Executive) Pagan Inquisition

Mahud at Between Old and New Moons is asking about paganism (thanks to Sara for the link). He has issued a general request for responses; this is mine.

Is it OK you be just a ‘Pagan?’
As I understanding it is is an umbrella term used much in the same way as ‘Hinduism’ is used to represent a whole range of different beliefs and practices?
If so, is choosing a specific Pagan path essential?

I see the word “pagan” as roughly equivalent to “monotheist” – it describes a basic religious or theological orientation. There are many religions that fall under the term “pagan”.

My own feeling and experience is that “just a pagan” is a perfectly reasonable place to be, and almost the only place to be at the beginning unless you know you’re being called to the service of a particular deity or religion – I was there for years, until I discovered a particular (set of) path(s) that called me.

Nature affirming Pagan
Are you a Pagan because you are drawn or feel a connection with nature?

In part – I am drawn to “nature”, but I don’t believe that’s either a requirement for all pagans, or that a spiritual connection with the non-built world is only available through pagan religions. I’ve read too much Jewish and Christian nature mysticism for that.

Do city dwelling Pagans find it difficult to practice in the City?

Not at all – particularly as a Hellenist, my tradition is heavily city-oriented. (My “druid” side is assuaged by the river and woods behind the house.) Besides, nature is all around us – the peculiarly American equating of “nature” with “wilderness” is too limiting.

Living with a community of Pagans

Is it easy finding a community of like-minded Pagans?

No; particularly in the South. We have a small druid group that we do ritual with, but these people were already friends who happened to become interested in druidry about the same time we did.

There’s only one other Hellenist in my area that I am aware of, and we’ve never actually met.

Are there any local Pagan communities where you live, and was it easy to integrate into your community? Perhaps it took a while to find a community that met your needs?

Do you find your community to be a group of loving people who deeply care for others, esp’ outcasts in society?

The pagan “community” in my area is mostly Wiccan, and for the most part hard to find and get to know (we’re in North Carolina, which is not the most pagan-friendly place to live). We had a CUUPS chapter for a few years, but it quietly dissolved and nothing has arisen to take its place. I think this may just be a fallow period. For the most part, the pagans I do know here who aren’t psycho are indeed quite open and accepting of pretty much everyone.

Is there a kind of leadership? Or are some members considered to be more authoritative than others without any rigid kind of leadership structure.

Is everyone encouraged to play an active role in the community, and look after those members that need more care and attention?

What we mostly have in this area is a bunch of small covens, and I have no idea of their internal workings. The OBOD group I work with is very non-hierarchical, but there are two of us who are sort of recognized as at least pointers-of-the-way, rather than “leaders”.

Perhaps you are a solitary Pagan, or your only connecting with Pagans on the internet, how does that work for you?

Being a semi-solitary is actually working quite well for me. I have access to large groups of thoughtful, well-read Hellenists and Druids online, and a small, caring face-to-face community. There are times when I wish I had access to larger ritual groups, but not enough to actually make it happen – I know how much time and effort it takes to start a new group of any kind, and I just don’t have the bandwidth.

How do non-Pagans react upon learning you are Pagan?

It’s not something I normally bring up in casual conversation – generally, by the time somebody figures out I’m pagan they already know me. This is not out of fear or concern, just my personal feeling that religion is a private matter (says the religion blogger ;).

Pagan Rituals

What is the most basic form of ritual in your Pagan tradition?

Depends on which “tradition” : my OBOD group uses OBOD’s basic ritual outline, with some modifications; when I design an ADF ritual I use the Core Order of Ritual as my starting point. Interestingly, these two forms are very different: OBOD casts circles, goes through a standardized opening ritual to establish the sacred center, followed by the ritual for the occasion (similar to the “propers” and “ordinaries” in Christian liturgy). ADF does NOT cast circles, but instead has a process for “recreating the Cosmos” within the liturgical space; the other function of the traditional circle casting, protection, is covered by making a token offering to the “Outsiders”, defined as any beings who would seek to interfere with the ritual, and asking them, in essence, to accept the offering and bugger off. :)

My straight Hellenic worship usually takes the form of a simple libation and possibly an offering of barley or other food.

How do rituals play a part in your form of Paganism?

If you didn’t practice rituals would you be considered non-Pagan?

Doing worship is a pretty essential part of Hellenismos; I suppose one could consider oneself a Hellenist without actually establishing that relationship with the gods, but IMO it would be sort of like considering oneself married without actually ever living with or even talking to one’s spouse.

Can rituals be a guiding influence both inside and outside of the community?

Sure! Absolutely. ADF and OBOD both encourage public ritual (ADF requires it at the Grove level, at least for the “big eight” holidays).

Do Rituals have a transformative effect on you as an individual and as a group, and can ritual “break through’ to the otherworld, another realm or reality?

A definite yes to the first, and a qualified yes to the second – I have had experiences that I subjectively believe to have been with other-than-human spiritual beings, but I don’t believe that they are in some “other” world – they’re right here.

Have you ever met anyone, or heard about, anyone become mentally ill by participating in a Ritual.

Can ritual be in any other way dangerous?

No to the first, but if somebody has a problem waiting to be triggered, I suppose a pagan worship service could set them off as easily as anything else. I don’t think a perfectly sane person could be driven mad by participating in pagan worship.

Any worship experience has the potential for danger, or at least profound change, if you’re really opening yourself to encountering the object of your worship – ekstasis is by its very nature not “safe”.

Pagan ‘gods’

How do Pagan ‘gods’ have an active role in your life?

Hestia, Athena and Hermes have actively blessed our lives (in the case of Athena, particularly my daughter’s); and my wife and I are working on cultivating a relationship with Hera. For the rest, we honor them as appropriate, but don’t really have an active relationship. I also have a private devotion to Quan Yin that is separate from my Hellenic path.

Do some pagans create their own gods?

I’m sure some do.

Finally

Are there any more worthwhile things I might need to know?

Oh Gods yes – everything! ;)

I’ll give you one quick piece of advice under this heading and leave it at that for now… you don’t necessarily have to define yourself as anything at all, certainly not right away. Taking time to get to know yourself, and understand exactly what you’re looking for, will take you farther than just about anything else. That, and listening for the little voice inside you that says “go here – explore *this*. Now!”

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10 thoughts on “The (Executive) Pagan Inquisition

  1. Jeff | Druid Journal

    Eric, this just awesome. I’m with you 100% here. And it’s good to know more about OBOD and ADF — I still know very little about them. There’s a long way to go in my own journey. :-)

  2. mahud » Mythology and Mysticism

    More wonderful insight. Thank’s Erik!

    Do city dwelling Pagans find it difficult to practice in the City?

    I’m currently living in a suburban area in Brooks, Alberta, that before it was irrigated was basically a desert. There are lots of trees, mostly evergreen pines, but no woods or forests, which I particularly miss.

    Still, every morning I get to witness the sunrise, feel the wind and rain, experience fantastic thunderstorms, the Northern Lights (despite the light pollution), and at night I watch the stars. I don’t think it’s necessary to experience nature in the wild. I love both the countryside and large cites too, esp’ London, that has a magic all of its own.

    Thanks for the insight, and the description of different rituals. The re-creating the cosmos ritual sounds interesting. Isn’t that what brahmins do when perform vedic sacrifices?

    I’m thinking about what we really mean when we talk about Heaven and Hades and Otherworld, and I do see them that somehow integrated in the cosmos. There is no up or down, they are just helpful spiritual metaphors, that correspond with our subconscious, waking conscious, and higher conscious. At least thats the way I’m understanding it right now. Something I’m hoping to blog about soon :)

    Summit and abyss- these are one! Zarathustra: 3.45: The Wanderer

  3. executivepagan Post author

    Mahud,
    The re-creating the cosmos ritual sounds interesting. Isn’t that what brahmins do when perform vedic sacrifices?

    I believe so… ADF’s overarching “project” is to seek out the common elements found in all (or at least most) ancient Indo-European cultures and religions, and embody those truths in our neopagan theology and rituals. This is why, despite the “D-word” in the name, you can find Hellenistic, Vedic, Roman and Norse deities, as well as those from the expected Celtic cultures, worshipped by ADF members within the ADF ritual structure.

    Some pieces fit better than others – the “World Tree”, for instance, doesn’t have a direct analogue in traditional Hellenic theology… but Mount Olympus can be interpreted to serve much the same purpose, uniting the earth and sky realms. You can find a good bit more information here: http://www.adf.org/about/

  4. Pingback: Mythology Blog: Between Old and New Moons » The Pagan Linkquisition

  5. maiku

    Hello,

    I was married by the late emperor Meiji at his shinto shrine.
    I think that classes me as a pagan!

    The thing that interests me is that in Japan no-one even bats an eye-lid over it. Here in Britain, one of the druidical centres of the ancient world, people laugh as if I’m having a joke.

    Now here’s the irony. Those same people will then go to a large building full of psycho-focul iconery and pray to a middle-eastern diety!

    I think that if these middle-eastern cults hadn’t successfully “burnt the books” during the middle ages, then they would be the pagans.

    Some of the mainy muslims with whom I have bantered have also expressed that “In Britain it is not the holly land of god so it is OK to drink…”

    It appears that they too, in their particular group, have a local diety!

    All pagans together. Nice.

  6. executivepagan Post author

    maiku,
    Thanks for stopping by! A druid priest I know once commented that “Christianity is the greatest surviving pagan religion in the world today”…

  7. The Green Witch

    “you don’t necessarily have to define yourself as anything at all, certainly not right away. Taking time to get to know yourself, and understand exactly what you’re looking for, will take you farther than just about anything else.”

    This is probably the single best piece of advice for those newly interested in a pagan path. The more people that say it, the deeper into the pagan psyche it’ll go!

    And I love the idea of an executive pagan. EI is a hero of mine… :-P

  8. Feral Boy

    “Have you ever met anyone, or heard about, anyone become mentally ill by participating in a Ritual?

    Can ritual be in any other way dangerous?”

    I have found that when groups or members take their “power” or rank too seriously, it can have very negative consequences. I’ve been in a group briefly where any disagreement with authority was taken as treason and
    betrayal (I think you know the one). This is laughable, because I am on this path to find balance and change myself, not create a little pocket empire. I’ve also experienced the same thing in a historical recreation society. Too many there took their own “pointy hats” seriously, instead of having fun with the game!

    I find in general that the combination of religion and secular power of any kind is a Very Bad Thing. That is
    the path of the cult and the Crusader.

    Also, knowing that “There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy” may also give the shadows lurking in one’s soul more power. But that is more a matter of predilection and choice than it is an effect of a particular ritual.

    Feral Boy

  9. executivepagan Post author

    I think you know the one
    Indeed. I hope she has found some peace with herself in the last 18(!) years. (Crap – I’m old! OMGs! ;) )

    Green Witch,
    Thanks, and thanks for reading!

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