Friday, March 24, 2017

A Pagan Lifestyle

I am a critical person; it's built into my personality as an "internal processor" and it is part of my "witches work" to juggle it until the day I die. I won't deny it, but I'm also not going to sugar-coat it. However, I will attempt (as I regularly do) to channel this trait into a positive characteristic rather than a destructive one.

A rant that regularly passes through my head comes from the criticism I exact against many contemporary pagans. In my opinion, most self-identified pagans don't live a very pagan lifestyle. They call themselves pagans, but they don't act as if their pagan-ness is driving the decisions of their world.

It is accepted that Wicca is a pagan religion. It is said that all Wiccans are pagan, but not all pagans are Wiccan. Wiccans are typically called "witches." It is very possible for someone to be a non-pagan witch. An example would be a Curandera, a Hispanic spiritual healer who uses ritualized actions to seek the involvement of the power of the Christian God and Angels. It's also possible to be a pagan believer, but to do no witchcraft.

What would be examples of pagan-ness expressing itself? If you are pagan, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you step on an insect without understanding its journey at that moment in time, even if you find it completely intrusive?
  • Do you recycle, even if your town doesn't provide it?
  • Do you know the names of the trees in your yard or on your block? Are they native plants or are they completely invisible to you?
  • Do you cook with the herbs from your magical collection? Have you ever actually done a spell at your kitchen stove (your "hearth")?
  • Do you worry about the chemistry that goes down the drain with your laundry soap?
  • Do you wonder what's in your soap that isn't soap, or in your canned goods that isn't food?
  • Do you avoid the outdoors because it's humid, has mosquitoes, or you can't get a cell signal?
  • Do you throw things in the trash completely unthinking of where they go next?
  • Do you have any idea how many things in your home - in the room with you now - are made of plastic?
I know some (or many) of the examples of a pagan mindset seem to be very much part of the modern "environmental" movement. Efforts to recycle or keep the oceans clean, or protect tuna, or prevent dog fighting, or prevent glaciers from melting, all stem from a pagan mindset. 

This means that a great number of people, of all different religions, have a pagan mindset, or at least the seeds of one. It is the result of tens of thousands of years of being tribal people, living in close concert with the land. We can imprint whatever culture - whatever religion - on top of it we want; we can obscure it in many ways. Yet it will always rise to the surface because humanity has spent the majority of its evolution being close to and part of the web of life. It is a quiet calling at the back of our minds. That kind of lifestyle can't simply and completely disappear.  It is an instinct that is built into our DNA. Yet we do have the ability to avoid it, or to focus on an empty pleasure that makes us feel and believe we are fulfilled.

From time to time science will reveal a study that proves this connection. The state of New York, Department of Environmental Conservation has prepared an excellent web page highlighting some of this research. The studies prove that living as a part of nature is essential to the correct functioning of our bodies and minds (and by extension, our spirits). Our very lives depend on us maintaining a connection with unspoiled nature. By not living a pagan lifestyle, we are harming ourselves. The fact that an environmental movement exists at all is evidence that something deep inside humanity wants us to be working harmoniously with nature, rather than in opposition to it.

In addition to the environmental movement, pagan-ness hides throughout our modern world because the instinct to be pagan seeps out of humans when we aren't looking. It shows up in Disney movies about an American Indian princess, or the birth of a lion cub, or the story of a girl who can talk to the ocean. It lasts in the wishes we make as we blow out birthday candles. It drives the movement to leave cities for a rural life, or to buy a tiny house, or the farm-to-table movement. It keeps the herbal medicine industry alive. It sings about the satisfaction in a hard-working life that enriches Country music. The pagan way of life speaks quietly to us from a memory that is older than language itself. 

I have watched too many pagans operate as if they are no different from the Christian or the Agnostic or the Atheist or the Jew next door. Few pagans these days have any idea how to live a pagan lifestyle, but more sadly, even fewer of them even care to try. 

As time passes, humanity moves more and more away from these memories. Many of us now operate by using a product briefly, then discarding it. We have even begun to discard things before their usefulness is gone, so that we can have the things that we are told we ought to have - the newest phone, a bigger house, better clothes and even the newest medications. As a species, humanity is drifting away from its inclination to be connected to nature - to be pagan - and that drift is making our species unhealthy. 

I'm not saying that, to be a contemporary pagan one must sell everything and go live in a yurt or join a commune. I'm simply asking that people who claim to be pagan spend some time allowing their pagan-ness to express itself in small ways throughout their lives, even if it goes contrary to popular culture and social media. I urge pagans to do whatever it takes to avoid the trap in which they suppress their pagan natures to become part of the contemporary age. There are many ways to be a part of this age without obscuring one's pagan side.

When I first converted to paganism, it was because I attended a ritual that made me remember this inner pagan memory. I discovered something inside myself that felt very ancient, yet very correct.

I also had high hopes for the other pagans I encountered. I thought that we were part of an awakening of something buried deep within humanity. Over the years, my disappointment has grown as more and more pagans I encounter show they have no idea how to live a life that honors nature, or even gives nature a thought.

Update (January 24, 2018): Happy New Year! I want to address the presence of a movement in neo-paganism that is gaining ground. More and more these days, I find people who call themselves "technopagan." This is a spirituality that promotes the spiritual evolution of man through the progression and application of his technological advances. The idea here is that mankind is intelligent because nature made us that way, so all the tech produced by humans is part of Nature's design. Since we have invented the means to augment ourselves, we should be doing so as part of our natural, evolutionary journey.

I can agree with this perspective to a point. I don't think that technology is necessarily in opposition to paganism, but I think much of today's technology definitely is.

I keep my own home clean and orderly using a practice my mother taught me. The act of "using" a tool is a 3-step process; it includes taking it from its storage place, using it as was designed, and finally (this is the important part) putting it back into it's storage place. To put it more simply, if one doesn't have time to put something back where it belongs, one doesn't have time to use it, at all. Resolving the use of the tool requires ensuring it is handled correctly when it is no longer useful.

Inventors produce machines. The machines are mass produced so that everyone can evolve. Eventually, the machines wear out or become obsolete. Then the machines are thrown into a pit and buried, where all of the materials we invented decay. Ew. My problem with the technological age is that is fails on its follow through at the end of the inventive process. It is this failure that is anti-pagan. The things we invented were done so only to produce a desired effect. At no point during the development, design and use do we consider how we are going to undo the invention when the time comes -- how we are going to dispose of the invention and its materials. This disposal is an important step because it not only considers the health of the natural system of which we are a part, it also considers the effect of the invention and its core materials on human beings, which are part of that natural system.

What good is a nuclear power plant if we have no process to ensure that the radioactive waste it produces doesn't harm the natural world? What good is a cell phone in every pocket if its batteries create toxic runoff? What good is a diamond laser if its gem was produced by an oppressive regime that cuts off the hands of the poor? What benefit has a sterile plastic syringe when it drifts from beach to beach and eventually kills sea life?

I like the benefits that technology provides, but all of us, including myself, need to think through any invention to its very end to ensure it doesn't cause harm after it provides its benefit. If technology was handled this way, it would be entirely pagan.

Given that this lack of follow-through is the dominant MO, I have to wonder if "technopagan" is even the correct name for this movement. Its advocates claim that they are using technology to spiritually evolve. It is the focus on the spirit, specifically, that makes this a religion. But there is a religion in the world for every person who considers deity and one's own spiritual journey. So why call oneself pagan? Is someone a pagan only because one uses technology in ritual? Is it the use of spells that makes someone a pagan? Certainly, there are Christians who use spell work. There are also Jewish mystics who use a process that could be called magick. Just using magic doesn't make someone a pagan; pagan is a mindset that seeks a close relationship with the way the natural systems typically work. I suspect that a better word for these people is "technomage."