Peering into the Flame – Thoughts on Paganism into the Future

Imbolc Retreat 2015 - photo by Amanda Godwin

Imbolc Retreat 2015 – photo by Amanda Godwin

What will our world look like in ten years?  Twenty?  Twenty-five?  One-hundred??  That’s really hard to say.  I am about as good at predicting the future as I am picking against the spread on National Football League games (I was .484 for this last season using a statistical model I created myself). But it was this very style of question that John Beckett asked during Hearthstone Grove’s Imbolc Retreat. He walked everyone through a guided vision/meditation and then asked for responses to questions.  He then utilized these question to extrapolate a perspective that he was trying to showcase in his talk.  It was quite effective, and absolutely fascinating. The responses were varied, and were helpful in
showcasing what John was aiming for.  But I want to take a few steps back…

First, I am glad John didn’t call on me to express what I had seen. At this point, my Dream Crows were in nearly every meditation that I had been doing – and this was still the case at this point. However, I have had close to a week to sit and think about what John had presented. Plus, my Dream Crows have subsided to a greater extent, but that’s for tomorrow’s blog post.


Wanting for the Future – Looking to the Past

To be honest, I don’t see much of a change to where we are right now in our Pagan communities over the next ten to fifteen years. Sure, there will be some groundwork (important groundwork) that gets laid down, but for the most part – I can see the Pagan communities remaining in local focus. And to be completely honest, I grok the desire of others to not only have a cohesive community with a wider focus, but also the desire for Paganism to come more to the forefront on the religious scene. There’s a lot more groundwork left to be laid there.

Falcon Circle at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Back when I was in the United States military, Paganism was very much an underground aspect. Coming out openly usually hurt one’s chances for promotion, and sometimes provided strife between one’s self and their coworkers. I went through all of that when I came out openly at Carswell Air Force Base in 1987. When I was finally reassigned to Sembach Air Base in Germany in 1990 – I know that many of the people I worked with (hardcore Catholics and very aggressive Charismatic Christians) probably breathed a sigh of relief. In Kasierslautern, Germany I found more Pagans to talk with and spend time with. Most were Wiccans — and at this point, I had stepped away from Wicca and noted myself more as a Pagan (in reality, this was where my original steps into Animism came from – including me taking super long walks in the absolutely stunning forests there). The group that I was working with eventually managed to get status as a “Chapel sponsored group” which meant that we could hold religious ceremonies in Chapel controlled space.  That was a first in the United States military. This also happened to coincide with the time frame where the Department of Defense allowed the usage of the term “Pagan” on one’s dog-tags. At the Imbolc Retreat, I was able to talk with folks who have been in the United States military – and while these aspects are still in place, and a few more base commanders have relented to providing space for Pagan worshippers — not much has changed since I got out of the service in 1994.

Request for Waiver – Non-Chaplain Personnel Certification – 8 Dec 1992

Granted, the United States military is a closed environment – particularly on a social level.  Its members are not subject to the freedoms that we US citizens enjoy under the Constitution. They are governed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which over-rules the Constitution for military members. But it is important to note, that very little progress has been made for active duty members in a little more than twenty years of time. Yes, there has been a lot of progress made on the front of grave markers and headstones for Pagans – as well as the formation of Open Circles in forward operating locations – when there is a military member willing to serve as the Lay Person.  And the military is most assuredly not the civilian populace in the United States.  (I know I am very slanted towards the United States societal aspects in this blog post — please remember, I can only speak for where I live).

But Progress is Progress, Right?

Yes, I agree that progress is progress. Baby steps forward are still steps forward. And those little steps forward mean that we need to be patient about that progress. After all, we are still the teetering toddler at the moment. A few steps forward, as we struggle to maintain our balance before we fall forwards on to our chests, or backwards onto our diapered butts. Then, we struggle to maintain balance as we stand and continue making our small steps forward. We must learn to walk before we can run.

So Mr. Smart-ass, how do we manage that?

That’s the tough one. We continue to manage our steps forward – mostly within our local communities. We have folks that are heavily invested in inter-faith relations and dialogue. And that’s a great thing. Until you run across the Pagan-folk that criticize the bad apples within a non-Pagan religious community, and than paint everyone in that community with a very broad brush.  To be fair, its a common tactic – and one that I hate to see utilized in any capacity against anyone.  For instance, there’s whacko politician Sarah Palin – who injects her version of religion into everything she espouses politically. She’s described herself as a “non-denominational Christian” — and yet, when she makes some whacky statement about the dominion of Christianity, I see people using that to paint over other Christians – as if every Christian beliefs precisely as she does. ::sigh:: And that’s just not true. And there are just as many instances as that with people taking some individual’s controversial statements that are made – and broadly painting that on to other members of that same person’s espoused belief system.

In my opinion, one of the first things we have to do is to stop the broad-brush painting attribution.  There’s an old saying I remember (just don’t know who said it)….

The cycle stops here…with me.

I’m by no means perfect, and just as guilty as anyone else of doing the broad-brush technique. But I really try my dead-level best to see people for what they are – individual people. No one is the construct of their own belief system – they are merely people. And people make mistakes.

What About Your Point on the Future? Where is the Progress?

True, let’s bring this back to the center point – where do I see Paganism in a series of time-line events. In ten years?  We are still making baby-steps at this point. There will be areas of improvement – progress if you will – but nothing so earth-shattering that Paganism will be challenging any of the Big Five (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism). Twenty years? Even more progress, perhaps Paganism will begin to flower and grow to the point where we can walk as easily as a teen-aged kid or an adult. Fifty years?  A hundred years?  I’m not so sure. I would hope that the world would be far more open and inviting to various faiths. But when I look back through the jaundiced eye of History, I see wars fought on differences of religious perspective. Some of them are not that far into the rear-view mirror at the moment. I see a lot of people being bombastic about their beliefs and using high-handed tactics to try and be influential (Kirk Cameron, anyone?). Until attitudes like those are flushed into the background and treated as suspect, unhelpful, and injurious – I really see no reason to hope for the kind of progress we all would like to have.

Ursula Drawing Crows

From my perspective, Paganism is the perfect belief system for the world going forward. There are harms to the environment that we need to mend, and I believe that we can get the Spirits of the Land to help out – provided we can prove that we are no longer the harmful species we have become. I see the Gods being able to provide guidance and inspiration for everyone. But I am also cautioned by my own patron God that I am merely one person. My predictions of the future – at best – are myopic. I can only manage my life on this Path as I have before – greeting the Sun each morning with a cup of coffee in my hand, a song in my heart, and a smile on my face. Beyond that – I really don’t know until I have taken my steps down the Path for today.

–Tommy /|\

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