Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What Are We In?

The question is often raised: Whether the people who call themselves pagan/Wiccans constitute a community. If we use as a first-draft definition: a community is a group of people who work together for a common purpose and are mutually supportive, then to our eyes the people who espouse the label have lost their professed purpose. Many pagan/Wiccans find themselves trying to educate a small group of acolytes/seekers. Unfortunately that teaching sometimes comes with an unspoken subscript, "My path or no path."
One prime purpose of a community is mutual support. If a member is unwell, is short of cash, needs help getting a car repaired, or whatever, then the community should pull together to offer what help it can. This is not to say the community should be enablers of parasitic or negative behavior.
We Frosts may be blessed with a larger number of friends and acquaintances than many of you are, and we can say with some confidence (though with great sorrow) that today's pagan/Wiccans do not support; instead they tear down. We've all got to stop this behavioral trend, though quite frankly we ourselves have no idea of how to do it. So we're open to suggestions.
It would be a great pity if everybody changed their path so that we all formed one gray amorphous mass. The whole excitement stemming from differences of opinion, and thus sharing possibilities, would be gone. What can we do, mutually to help each other? How can we go forth as a united religion (or spiritual path) and gain our rightful place in a modern society?
Some of you read on this site the little homily about Gail Geisenhainer's painful experience in a UU fellowship. We got only one real comment on why the members of the fellowship did not criticize the woman who held such negative views about gays. Is that fact symptomatic of our problem? That apathy?
We're off to Toledo, so you'll have plenty of time to get worked up again at us.
Blessed be, y'all. Gavin and Yvonne

Monday, January 21, 2008

Imbolc - a Water Festival Connected with New Birth and the Lactation of Ewes

The full moon that marks Imbolc (near February 1) occurs in 2008 on Tuesday, January 22. We have looked at several Imbolc observances on the web and have come away with the impression that all are designed to star the high priest/ess conducting the ritual. It occurs to us, then, that the community needs and deserves a new ritual observance of the holiday.
In England, where Gavin grew up, he remembers this season as the time when the hedgerows wer cleaned and re-layered. When a workman layers, he works along the hedgerow selecting lowest branches, cutting them halfway through on the trunk side of the plant, laying them down, weaving them into other low branches, to strengthen the hedge as a barrier to straying livestock. The worker in this effort who first found a sleeping hedgehog was usually given a prize.
In this nation where hedgehogs were never native, the animal traditional in Europe (Erinaceidae) morphed into the groundhog or woodchuck (Marmota, Sciuridae). Hence the enduring new tradition we still observe, employing the groundhog to predict the probable length of winter.
Most hedges have given way to metal fences, anathema to Native American nations who look upon metal stakes as driven into the Mother's heart. Further, since most of us currently live in urban environments, we need a new ritual, perhaps designed to interconnect with the spring cleaning of the dwelling place.
In Brittany this is the season when the first big traditional community laundering of winter's dirty clothing occurred at the old Roman lavaterias. The Breton language enjoys a host of words that look like cognates of Imbolc. All mean research, including one that means research of the spirit (imbroudereah). The verb form is imbroudic. The word family can also refer to researching the imagination. If anyone has an appropriate ritual, we would be grateful to you for sharing with us all.
It is clear from Breton and English practices that the holiday dates back to time immemorial. It is not based on the calendar laid down so arbitrarily by Pope Gregory some time in the 16th century C.E. Indeed, it is more closely related to the calendar dating from the French Revolution, and based on the old Egyptial 30-day month. The short-lived French version featured days named for plants, animals, and agricultural tools.

This week we enjoyed a saying that deserves to be shared around, especially in this year when we're dreading non-stop political white noise.
Don't comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable.

In this political year, too, we recall Sam Keen's words:
Don't follow the man with all the answers. Pay attention to the man with the questions.

Never sign anything until you've asked an Indian.
Trust, but count your change.
Blessed be, and never leave the house without fresh batteries in your BS detector.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I, Thou, We, Us

Last Sunday we saw Gail Geisenhainer, a UU Minister, tell her congregation how she came to the Unitarian Universalists. When she first visited one of the smaller UU fellowships more than 20 years ago, she was an over-the-top in-your-face lesbian, wounded, lonely, and hurting. She found acceptance with that congregation--except a couple of weeks after her first visit, a lady stood up and said in effect, "I don't know how we can have gays in our community. They bring their filthy diseases and dangerous ideas with them, and should be quarantined, preferably on some remote island away from all of us decent people, so they can't spread their loathsome creed to us healthy people."
Need we say? Gail was stunned. She crawled into her shell, drew her aura in about her, and ran for her car. She didn't want to see or talk to anybody; she was just in that space where holding your breath and hoping the world would stop was all there was. As she reached the exit door, one of the congregation opened it for her, looked her straight in the eyes, and gently said, "See you next week."
This shocked her out of her trance. Was he crazy? What was he thinking? Was he on another planet? Impaired? But no, he didn't seem crazy; he was looking her straight in the eyes and he spoke in a soft, pleasant voice. "See you next week."
That next Sunday she decided to gather her forces and brave it out. In a part of the UU service called "Joys and Concerns", almost every member of that congregation stood up and said, "There were views expressed last week which I didn't agree with; I will not stay in this congregation if we believe that gays are diseased and should be quarantined." It all took a long time, because almost everyone spoke, saying essentially the same thing; but Gail realized that she was home. Thinking about it afterward, she realized too that nobody had denounced the woman who had attacked her.
This was an interesting epiphany. She stayed with the fellowship and eventually became a respected UU minister.
Our point is this: The congregation as a whole was tolerant of diverse views no matter what those views were. If the congregation had criticized the woman who wanted to quarantine gays, then she would have dug in, cast her ideas in concrete, probably left that UU church. Since she stayed, her views had a chance gradually to change.
You cannot change people's fast-held opinions overnight, nor can you torture them out of them. Always remember that the Buddha said, Hate generates hate.
We think this is a lesson that all we Wiccans can gain from. Blasting someone for his/her opinion does not work. You can defend your beliefs on a topic; in fact you should, especially if that means you have to think them through. Not, though, by attacking someone else for theirs; we see that too often in the pagan/Wiccan community.
We ourselves were partially doing it with BDD. Everyone is entitled to their opinion--yes, even the Christians--but to be a community, we must think of life and the lessons it brings in terms of "we" the community, not "Mine is the one and only right and true way." The Christians say, "Love your enemy." We like better the idea, "Tolerate your enemies and their views."
In the future is it to be I, or thou, or you, or we, or us -- ?
Blessed be. Gavin and Yvonne

Friday, January 4, 2008

Tradition versus Reality

Last Sunday we gave a presentation at the local fellowship of the Unitarian-Universalist Association. The congregation there, small but select, is accustomed to honoring the directions at the beginning of each Sunday service. They do it in the traditional way, with Air in the east, Earth in the north, and the rest of it; so we decided to try on them a new way of honoring. We had attendees do the calling, taking turns around the circle (deosil, of course). Instead of the whole congregation singly doing it, we had three in turn, around the circle, honor each direction. Just to give them some ideas to push against, we passed out copies of a crib sheet like the one at the bottom of this posting.
We started with Mother Earth, below; after all, we do stand on the earth. Then we put Water in the east because the largest body of water near Beckley (where we met) is the New River, flowing east of the meeting site. We put Fire in the south because we were in the northern hemisphere. Air went in the west because here in the States that's where our air mostly flows from. (At least that's what the weather channel leads us to believe.) In the north we put Old Age and Ancestors. Overhead we put Father Sky and the Universe. In the center we put Spirit, for seven directions in all.
Two interesting things came out of this.
1. The various directions elicited a stunning range of responses and personal associations. After a hesitant beginning with earth, attendees came up with fascinating and moving thoughts about each direction.
2. The people really liked the approach. Every adult present, without exception, had something personal to say about various directions. Indeed, they asked afterward that we do it again, and even perhaps write it up for the UU national bulletin. We came to realize how involved they had become in this one little part of the presentation.
The question, then, is this :
In general, in our own pagan/Wiccan circles, are we right to follow the old traditional way that was developed in Europe, much of it in times long gone? Or should we seriously think about letting attendees at circle put their own flavor into the ritual?
Give us feedback, please; many aspects of life could do with some updating and/or improvement.

Earth - our mother -- the solid ground from which we all come
east - water, adaptability; takes on the shape of its container
south - fire, passion, not indifference
west - air, mental -- here new ideas come in on the wind
north - remembrance -- good times and old people who have gone before
Sky - our father -- the sky over us all
spirit - spiritual aspect of relationships; without a spiritual match, all is lost.