Paganism is Lived and Experienced

I read a lot of blogs over the course of the day, week, year… I rarely comment because either the individual who wrote the blog said things so concisely that I cannot find anything to add, or I disagree so much that it would sound more like I was complaining than providing a constructive point. On the last day of the year, over on the Druid’s Well, Catriona McDonald published the post “Thoughts at the Twilight of the Year.” This post brought a single point that rung completely true for me. In talking about the book “Sand Talk” by Tyson Yunkaporta, McDonald makes the following point:

Yunkaporta notes that becoming an agent at the center of a complex system isn’t in and of itself a terrible thing. It’s ok to be a strange center around which something can crystallize. But you then have to be able to step away and let the process continue however it needs to, with or without you.

And I think that is the danger of esoteric “projects”. In our culture, ownership is second nature. How do we let go of power and prestige to give these sorts of endeavors life of their own within their communities? It is so easy to make something “mine” instead of “ours”. As a friend and mentor so beautifully and gently put it to me once, “This isn’t your grove. This isn’t my grove. The grove is its own thing [being]. It belongs to all of us, we all bring our best to share.” It was a sorely needed ego check, and I’m so very, very grateful for this wisdom. I’ll always be afraid that I’ll lose sight of the “us”, even if it’s from the best of intentions. I need to trust that “us” will keep us all honest. Even when it means grappling with scary things.

Catriona McDonald, “Thoughts at the Twilight of the Year”

I have talked about leadership and such before. I have my own reasons for refusing to take up a mantle of leadership, in any sense of the word. Its not a Path I want my footfalls to be on. At best, I walk beside that Path, not on it. What I seem to be far better at, is helping people down their own Path. I’m not nudging them in directions I want them to go. I listen, I ask questions when I need to…and then I become a cheerleader for their progress and process. I’m trying to light that Awen within themselves…kindle that fire of self-inspiration that will help them move forward. I’m not here to fill their heads of how Magick and ritual work because of the way that I do it. I’m not here to explain how to be good little Pagans, Druids, Witches or what have you, by following what I do. I want them to follow what calls to them, as individuals. To find their inspiration to where it calls them. To explore. To be willing to make mistakes and learn from all of that.

But there’s so much more to glean from McDonald’s comments. As she noted, her friend and mentor made the point that the grove is its own being. That the grove is alive in its own unique way because of the people that are there, not because of a single individual. I’ve watched this first-hand at the Gulf Coast Gatherings I have attended. The opening, main, and closing rituals live and breathe with its participants. The initiation ceremonies have their own cadence fed from the expectant, nervous energies. The discussions that happen all over the camp outside of those ceremonial times can encompass anything from catching up on family news and goings-on to discussions on nearly any other subject. Remove a single individual from all of that, and the energies of the Gathering changes. Somewhat slightly, but its noticeable. I’m a solo Druid, red-cup variety if you will, so I can’t speak to the energies of a grove, but I do understand what McDonald’s mentor is noting here. Any group or gathering has its own collective energy, its own individual identity.

What makes Paganism, well…Paganism? Or Druidry for that matter? Or Wicca? Or whatever else you can toss into the mix? Its all the people. Our collective and constantly mingling energies. Our collective inspiration to be there for each other. Why do I attend initiations of various Pagans, even those that I don’t know all that well? Because I want to add my own happiness at their first steps on this new Path for them. Because I remember my own nervous energies during my own various initiations, and how the calming energies of others that were there was so serene, and so very necessary.

Not that long ago (December 28th to be exact), I had another Pagan tell me that I needed to do a particular thing in my practice to be an authentic Pagan. I posted my response to that statement on Facebook.

Uhm….no. What I need to be doing in my Pagan “practice” is what connects me to the Gods, my environment, and myself. If [this] happens to be helpful, then yes – I should be doing that. If it’s not, then I don’t need to be wasting time and energy on that and shift my focus to what makes those connections for me. Paganism is not some prescribed set of instructions that everyone follows until it becomes rote muscle memory. Paganism is meant to be lived and experienced (solely my opinion there).

People ask me what I believe Paganism is…my answer winds up somewhere along these lines. I’m not talking about what Gods you follow. I’m not talking about which of the many Paths in Paganism you choose to follow. It doesn’t matter if you do things on your own or in a group. Paganism is how it works for you, how you live it, how it connects you to everything else in this world – and even beyond. I can’t – and won’t – tell you how to do that. I can tell you and show you how I manage it. But that works for me, not necessarily for you. I connect by walking, reading, cooking, sleeping, and so many other activities. For me, just breathing awakens my Paganism…and sometimes, I’m not even sure about the connection it makes. But its there. I don’t turn off my Paganism and Druidry from a spigot. It’s a part of who I am. I carry it everywhere I go.

But I also must temper my thoughts. My Paganism, my approach, it works for me. But I am not Paganism. I am not the be-all, end-all of Paganism. Far from it. Paganism is wide, its diverse, it encompasses us all. Paganism is all of us. We all make Paganism what it is. It shrinks with the passing of our Elders. It shrinks when people leave it because it no longer speaks to them. It grows with each new person entering this Path. Its alive because of us. We may bicker and argue over issues like rituals, the appropriate approach to a particular God or Goddess, or even which Path is better. But welcome to humanity over all of that. Forever and a day, human beings have believed that their way is the only way, only to find out within the annuals of our collective history that its not really the case.

We’re Pagans. I am proud of that. We exist because we believe the way that we do. Our approach to daily life is as wide and varied as our Paths. But we follow this Path because it works for us. Whether you have been here longer than I have (which many, many of you have), or are just starting out…its your Path, and just as valid as anyone else’s.

Yes, our Paganism is lived and experienced, but as McDonald’s mentor points out – its not mine, yours, or anyone else’s. Paganism is us. Whether you are in a group or work your thing alone, we’re all a part of us. I, for one, am proud of my Path.

–Tommy /|\

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