Jazz-Style Paganism – the Song I Sing for Today

“You’re a Pagan, right?”  A little absent-mindedly, I nod in the affirmative.  “So, are you a re-constructionist?”  And I draw a very deep breath and slowly release my inevitable sigh.

That particular scenario has not played out for some time. My somewhat addled mind strains to recall how far back in time that goes. Six years?  Eight?  Perhaps further than that. Shit, it could have been yesterday. But here it is again. And its the same answer it has always been – No. Which leads to a ton of other questions from my querent. And the start of what could be a promising discussion, or a series of frustrating question-and-answer sessions.

I’m not a re-constructionist by any means. I wouldn’t even consider myself a “constructionist” of any sort either. I know in some minds that this may disqualify me as a “Pagan” in their eyes – but to be frank, that does not matter to me. I don’t follow my beliefs, practice my rites, and learn to expand my consciousness and connectedness to my environment to appease someone else. I follow my somewhat unmarked trail of Paganism through the forest because its the Path that works for me. But, here we are diverging from the trail of this subject slightly – so let me set us back on the Path somewhat.

As I said, I’m not a constructionist or a re-constructionist. I draw my inspiration from the long cold ashes of a belief system that has very little documentation to it. But I have no desire to build it up into a vision for everyone, nor do I have a desire to try and recreate it from those ashes into something close to what it may (or may not) have been. I merely want to follow my Path to wherever it may lead, and spend my time trying to connect more with my own environment.

Now, before the re-constructionists start to freak out as their blood gets warmer than my freshly brewed cup of coffee – let me make something crystal-clear here. I am not saying that the path of re-constructionism is wrong. Nor am I saying it is right. FOR ME. It works for those that are on that Path – and more power to them. I’m not about to say what’s right or wrong for anyone else – particularly in a spiritual sense. I’m not a spokesperson for Paganism. I am; however, a spokesperson for myself. And with that out of the way…

jazzSo, how do I approach my beliefs? Well, perhaps the best way to describe it is with the phrase: “its just Jazz, man.”  The musical form of Jazz is so vibrant and alive, in my opinion. The musician doesn’t just play the music, they play the music that’s inside of them. No true set form, Jazz is improvisational – coming from within, to be played as a tribute to the world around the musician in that moment. There are many people that find this style of playing harmonious, beautiful, and very in the moment. I am one of those people. But there are others who find it discordant, out of sync, and sometimes just purely random. I can understand that. Not everyone has the same connection to the world around them. Some folks prefer a bit more structure to what they do.

Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put, and it never will.  –J.J. Johnson, Bebop Jazz Trombonist

I have talked about this previously on the blog. I am not that big on structured ritual. It has its place in my daily Spirituality – mostly tied to the Wheel of the Year – but my improvisational rituals are far more relevant to me. And there is nothing “formal” to my processes either. Things can be as simple as a walk through the wooded area just south and west of my home in the swampy area of Lake Lewisville’s north shore near the Goatman’s Bridge. if you went walking with me, we might stop along the way to listen to the birds singing their morning song, or clumsily dance together in a sandy section of the trail – just because. For me, its celebrating the world around me for this very day, which the Gods have unveiled before my eyes. Or I can hold my ritual at my desk at work, wearing my headphones – lost in the teen-age wastelands that “Baba O’Riley” is conjuring in my mind. I can grab a hold of the strong energy of The Who and let that flow through me – a celebration of the Awen that created the song.

Much like the Jazz soloist, waiting for the bass player and the drummer to lay down the syncopated backdrop against he/she will paint their feelings against in a fountain of musical notes, I hold my rituals in the same fashion.

The quest for spiritual experience begins with the quest for feeling. What moves you? Has anything in your life been beautiful enough to make you cry? What took your breath away, put you on your knees with awe, turned your world over and shook it?  —Nimue Brown, Spirituality Without Structure, p.22

Nimue’s wonderful book put into words much of what I already knew. I already understood the “why” and the “how” of my rituals. I lacked the lexicon to explain it adequately. I still do – in my opinion – a lackluster job of explaining things. A lot of that has to do with my brain running far faster than I can type or talk.

If you’re gonna sing meaningful songs, you have to be committed to living a life that backs that up.  –Joan Baez

This one quote of Baez’ brings me back to a semi-grounded state. Celebrating the day is one thing…I still have to live my life with integrity. I remind myself that I need to remain grounded and centered in the face of the world that doesn’t accept me for who I am. Exploding in anger and rage for the lack of respect or recognition of who I am and what I believe does nothing for me – and only fuels their argument that what I do has no basis in a reality that they choose to define. I may declare myself as not being a “Priest” of any type – but I am still viewed as a “Pagan” in that vein by others. I MUST follow my Path…

I am ok with being looked upon with disdain by re-constructionist folks. I only need to remind myself – I am the one working with my own spirituality. I only need to have my own permission to do what I need to. And much like the Jazz musician…I play what I feel. I feel the environment around me, and let that influence the pattern of notes that I will play – the song I will sing for today….

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