Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I am a bad pagan.

Yesterday was the autumnal equinox, when light and dark are again equal as the nights get longer and the days get shorter and shorter until the “sun is reborn” at Yule, the Winter Solstice, which is the darkest night of the year -at which time the days start getting longer again. The autumn equinox, also called Mabon, is one of the eight sabbats celebrated by most pagans, along with Samhain (Halloween), Yule, Imbolc (Candlemas), Ostara, Beltane (May Day), Litha (Midsummer) and Lughnassadh (Lammas). The sabbats are based on the changing seasons, the turn of the sun wheel, while esbats (full, new and dark moon celebrations) occur more frequently and are based around the moon. This is a time of thanksgiving, as we celebrate the manifestation of our labors and give thanks for the harvest that will sustain us through the dark months. The energies for this time are of balance, consideration, fruitful partnerships, and the promise of rebirth. Now is the time to prepare the spirit for an interval of introspection and growth. Mabon themes are: harvest, reaping, thankfulness, reflection, preparation for the dark times, and conservation.

There is something steadying and comforting about ritual. A group of like-minded people coming together to perform an action designed to send good things out into the universe, an individual going through familiar motions on a regular basis to commune with nature or deity… I understand all of this, and I have attended many an open circle and sabbat ritual in my day. I am interested in the history of different cultures and have read books from many religions, but mostly I’ve focused on the pagan traditions because their beliefs most closely align with mine (do no harm, respect for self, respect for nature, respect for others, no baby-eating…). For a long time I considered myself a pagan witch, because the pagan belief system made sense to me and I was comfortable with it. As I get on in years, though, I haven’t been as drawn to the ritual and ceremony as I once was. I am also not comfortable pretending to believe in deity, including deity in my rituals and attending rituals where deities are summoned or addressed. Perhaps the emphasis on god(s) and goddess(es) overwhelms what comfort I might draw from the familiarity of ritual (unless, of course, we are worshipping the god/desses Godiva, Ghirardelli and Sara Lee).

Maybe the real turning point came when I took a class about “Ancient Languages and the 2012 Prophecies” (possibly the last class I didn’t quit after one session). I was just interested to see what the different cultures say about the supposed 2012 doomsday, but the class was more focused on showing us a lot of different ancient languages and telling us why the prophecies can’t really be understood anyway because we look at them from the wrong perspective. The teacher did impress upon us the importance of critical thinking, which I thought was good, and that we shouldn’t take prophecies on face value (especially supposed Native American prophecies where the earliest know teller is a white Christian preacher man -hmmm…) without doing more research about them -which is true of just about anything, of course. But I didn’t want to do the research, I just wanted to be taught about them, that’s why I took the class.
However, the point is: we watched a History Channel program (“Doomsday: 2012” was the name, I’m pretty sure) which featured, among other people, Dr. Michael Shermer (Executive Director of the Skeptics Society). As soon as he appeared on the screen, the other women in my group immediately sucked in their breath and rolled their eyes and pretty much shut down, refusing to listen until he was no longer talking.

Wait a minute! Wasn’t the class supposed to be about objective viewpoints and getting all of the information before making snap judgments? Who better to provide an example of critical thinking than Dr. Shermer? And aren’t pagans as a whole supposed to be an understanding, accepting and tolerant sort? When we close our minds to others’ points of view, especially if they diverge from the way we want to see the world, we are being just the same as those we purport to differ from!

I was attracted to paganism because I liked the tolerance that pagans (usually) have for one another and for the world. I like the caring and the feeling of community. I like that pagans are nice and generous and compassionate. Sadly, I don’t see much of that from other religions, and increasingly I find that just beneath the surface of many pagans lies the snarky holier-than-thou attitude I find rampant throughout religious belief.

I remain interested in nature, environmentally and ecologically, and am still in agreement with the sound morals and principles held by most pagans, but I find it difficult to mesh my logical scientific side with a faith path that is so influenced by deity. More and more I am drawn to the rational science put out by people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Phil Plait and P.Z. Myers, and the ethical principals espoused by Paul Kurtz’s secular humanism -all the good and happy and realism that I liked about paganism, but without the deity.

Too many people go blindly into the night, following the belief path they think they should without ever stopping to determine whether it is right for them. Too many people open their mouths and let unsubstantiated nonsense spew out (or, often worse, forward it via the internet) without stopping to think that maybe what they’re saying and posting isn’t completely true and that maybe they ought to do some of their own research on the matter to get a better understanding of the real situation.

I went along for a time seeing deity as a metaphor, using terms like “Great Cosmic Universe” and “Cosmic Feminine” and “Masculine Principle” to refer to aspects generally covered by one god or goddess or another, but more and more I realize that I just can’t pretend to understand what people mean when they think there is a literal Goddess looking out for them and caring for them. I don’t believe in the Christian God, don’t believe that He directs or influences anything or even exists, why would I suspend rational thought for the pagan deities?

So I don’t. My beliefs are more tangible and rational and easier to meld without a deity of any sort (Christian or pagan, literal or metaphorical) involved. Unless there is some sort of atheistic pagan path out there (and if there isn’t a Facebook Group for it, it can’t exist, right?), then I’m going to have to start correcting people from now on when they call me a witch [I’m not a witch, I’m your wife! But after what you just said, I’m not even sure I want to be that anymore! -sorry, couldn’t be helped]. Sorry, guys, I’m just not feeling it anymore.

Not sure what label fits me best (atheist? secular humanist? critical thinker? bright? non-religious? irreligious? faith-free? rationalist? planetary ethicist? reality-based?) at the moment (though apparently I’ve been dubbed an “Avon wife” without my knowledge or consent), so I’ll have to get back to you on that and in the meantime leave you to question why we really need faith/unfaith labels anyway -can’t we all just be nice to each other?

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