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Archive for the ‘Earth-based Religions’ Category

The Use and Misuse of Names


by: on October 22nd, 2010 | 23 Comments »

I intuitively feel that these experiences, mystical but also sensual and embodied, are the core of spirituality and the foundation that religions build their vast tottering edifices upon: these experiences that work for us, that we then work hard to name and explicate in full logical or fantastically elaborated detail. Naming is not only important but unavoidable … but once the naming develops into major exclusionary truth claims, … and once these get identified with the worldly power involved in religious organization then all the power of the experience gets harnessed to the groupthink and the powerplays (exclusions, repressions and crusades) and we have the worst of religion.

Dave Belden in response to How I Became a Pagan

Reading Dave’s comment, I was reminded of Deepak Chopra’s saying “God gave humans the truth, and the devil came and he said, ‘Let’s give it a name and call it religion.’” There is an inescapable tension between experience and the words we use to describe that experience, which cannot help but remove us from the experience itself. Ted Hughes warns us eloquently: “In a way, words are continually trying to displace our experience. And insofar as they are stronger than the raw life of our experience, and full of themselves and all the dictionaries they have digested, they do displace it.” Yet Hughes as a poet chose to use words to create extraordinary experiences for his readers. How do you communicate without words? How do you guide people on a spiritual path without names for the landmarks they are passing?

On the vision quest I wrote about, Oriah was certainly conscious of that tension. When we came back from the vision quest, we were not allowed to talk to anyone about our experience, because once we did it would become a story, and we would remember the story and how we had told it rather than the experience. After a day, we met as a group and shared the experience of our vision quest with one another, in mime. No words allowed. This was (radical understatement) a challenge, but it forced us to focus on the physical, emotional, and spiritual experience rather than moving into the intellectual world, which I at least certainly do all too easily. I remember one woman, who simply sat in the centre of our circle, and peeled an onion, layer after layer, as tears rolled down her face. When I go to sweat lodges in my tradition, we are always encouraged not to speak to any one for seven days about our experience in the lodge, so that we have time to process the experience before it becomes a story.


How I Became a Pagan


by: on October 16th, 2010 | 29 Comments »

Paganism. The name itself has a certain wild and crazy sound to it, a sense of scribbling wildly outside the lines of the establishment. Much as I’d like to claim that aspect of the word, that sense of neo-medievalists dancing naked in the spring moonlight before they copulate in the furrows so that the crops will come again this year, that isn’t me, and it isn’t my paganism. I’m an urban middle-aged man, ex-school teacher, born and raised Jewish. What has brought me to a spiritual place where I can assert my religion is pagan, (or primal, to use Huston Smith’s more encompassing term) ?

I’ve always had an interest in the spiritual, in how we form a bridge from ourselves to something that is bigger than ourselves. Judaism is a community religion; the Talmud says that one cannot be Jewish in isolation, and there is no story I know of a Jewish hermit living in a remote cave by himself seeking G_d. But my family lived in a small French-Canadian town, and even when we moved to Montreal and later Toronto we were never part of a Jewish community. So perhaps that’s the reason that I never felt any twinges of spirituality around Judaism, never felt a personal connection to Something Greater when I was in the synagogue listening to people chant something in Hebrew, a language I was able to memorize enough of to stumble through the form of a Bar Mitzvah but never understood. I read the Bible, cover to cover three times in Grade 5, and while I liked the stories, and absorbed the ethic better than I realized, I was never a believer in the theology. But my spiritual need was still there. Had I been raised by Kabbalists, I might well have found the catalyzing power I was seeking there, but those were not the cards I was dealt.


Genetically Modified Salmon or Can this Marriage be Saved


by: on September 20th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

On Friday my husband and I cooked wild caught salmon over a wood fire. We enjoyed it with garden vegetables and maybe a little too much wine. When the subject of genetically modified salmon came up, I was surprised to find that we disagreed – vehemently on my part.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently holding meetings (for only two days!?) on whether or not to approve marketing of a species of salmon genetically modified to produce growth hormones all year long instead of seasonally. Proponents argue that this fast-growing salmon would be a significant new food source whose consumption would also spare wild salmon populations. Critics are concerned about allergens in this untested food and also about what could happen if genetically modified salmon were to escape. Would their rapid growth mean that they would consume more food to the detriment of existing wild species?


Elemental: Why We are All Pagan


by: on August 24th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

“My family is Jewish,” he said.

“My family is Protestant,” she said.

“But we’re pagan,” he continued, “and we want our wedding to have some pagan element.”

“Only we want it to be subtle,” she added. “We don’t want our families to feel uncomfortable.”

That was back in the day when I used to officiate at weddings as an interfaith minister. (For why I no longer do so see “Mixed Marriage“)

“That’s simple,” I answered. “We’ll honor the elements.” A feature of most contemporary pagan rituals. “We all have to breathe. We all need light and warmth. We all stand on the earth that feeds and shelters us. We all need water to stay alive, whatever else we believe or don’t believe.”

The word pagan simply means country dweller, though many contemporary neo-pagans are urban dwellers as were many pagans in classical times. From the Judeo-Christian perspective, the designation came to describe anyone who was not a monotheist. Paganism isn’t really an “ism” at all. Pagan practices are specific to a time, place, and culture. Though Isis was at one time worshipped all over the Mediterranean world, and the Rites of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis drew pilgrims from everywhere, no pagan community or practice (to avoid the charged word cult) has ever been hailed as a world religion. Yet all so-called world religions have pagan roots and practices that vary from one region to another. All the world religions have splintered into sometimes violently opposing sects. They also continue to make war against each other, or their more extreme practitioners do.

So who needs religion? you might wonder, as you hum John Lennon’s “Imagine” under your breath. I am not going to answer that question beyond muttering: “Religions! Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em.”

Paradoxically in its particularity, attention to the local – this mountain, this river, this cycle of seasons – the pagan approach offers a way to recognize our commonality, not just with our fellow human beings but with all the life on this planet. For most of human existence, religious practice had to do with ensuring that there would be enough food, that resources would be preserved, that the gods (source) in the form of rivers, springs, mountains, soil would be honored and fed, replenished, so that the people would continue to thrive.

Whatever our religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, we know that we are made of the same elements as this planet. The sea is in our blood, the air is our breath, are bones are crystalline, the sun’s fire (in whatever form) warms us and fuels. Climate change, in which we play a role, has shifted the balance of the elements. Whether or not human agency is clear in every instance, we can’t help but be aware of elemental upheaval: tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, the devastating flooding in Pakistan, fires in the Western United States. We have put diverse ecologies at risk as we compulsively drill for what is in effect primeval sunlight. A huge glacier just broke away from Greenland, and the seas are rising. Instead of regarding the elements as our enemies, something to harness, subdue, exploit or escape, maybe it is time to start honoring them again, restoring them, learning from them, aligning with them, recognizing that all life, not just our own, is sustained by the elements, of one substance with them. Maybe we are all pagans, urban or rural dwellers on this earth.

The Empowerment of Your Own Wisdom


by: on August 13th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

I led a nature divination workshop in the University of Wisconsin Arboretum a few years ago. I asked the group first to ground and center, then remind themselves of their oracular question, and then simply look around at the marshland where we had gathered. One woman decided to ask two questions rather than just one.

She stationed herself on a boardwalk overlooking the marsh, closed her eyes and asked: “How can I find the time and energy to enjoy my life, given the fact that I am extremely busy with work right now?” When she opened her eyes, she immediately noticed the swaying grasses and rushes in front of her and realized that she, too, could be flexible like these plants. She could go with the flow and fit pleasure into the small cracks in her work life.

Then she closed her eyes again and asked: “What should I do about my nephew?” Opening her eyes on the same scene less than a minute later, she noticed a large tree in the middle distance that appeared sturdy and deeply-rooted. Yes, she thought to herself, I could provide this teenager with the kind of stability this tree represents if I open my home to him.

My student’s experience exhibits the extent to which her insight depended on her own perception. Because she was looking for different types of feedback, at the same place and at almost the same time, she noticed two very different images.

To see more divination cards, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.

This is exactly the type of experience I wanted to foster when several years ago I proposed a project to my daughter, the painter Linnea Vedder. My idea was a deck of divination cards that helps people access their own insight. Linnea illustrated the cards and I wrote the accompanying book. We call it The World Is Your Oracle.


The Feast of Mary Magdalen: Celebrating Incarnation


by: on July 20th, 2010 | 10 Comments »

Mary Magdalene and Jesus

On July 22nd, the height of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, fruits and vegetables ripening, sun baking or steaming, cool waters beckoning, warm nights full of stars and fireflies, when our senses are so engaged, the Roman Catholic, the Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches all celebrate The Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene. Or Magdalen, as some prefer. I know her as Maeve, the Celtic Mary Magdalen. This summer marks the twentieth anniversary of my first encounter with what might be described as an archetypal force, or, as one reader called her, an imaginary friend.

Mary being even more incarnate: Jules Joseph Lefebvre's 1876


The Information Age? Meet John Michael Greer.


by: on July 9th, 2010 | 3 Comments »

I am reading

Our time, as the media never tires of telling us, is the information age, a time when each of us can count on being besieged and bombarded by more information in an average day than most premodern people encountered in their entire lives. Now it’s important to remember that this is true only when the term “information” is assumed to mean the sort of information that comes prepackaged and preprocessed in symbolic form; the average hunter-gatherer moving through a tropical rain forest picks up more information about the world of nature through his or her senses in the course of an average day than the average resident in an industrial city receives through that channel in the course of their lives.

Lots of more that here on The Archdruid Report.

Spiritual Wisdom of the Week


by: on June 22nd, 2010 | 1 Comment »

This week’s spiritual wisdom was sent to us by a member of the Faith and Spirituality group with which Tikkun is working to plan many workshops, a service, and a sacred space at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, Michigan, June 22-26. The member, Louisa Davis, suggested this poem as a blessing for the social change work taking place at the forum:
Another World is Possible

by Rose Flint

We can dream it in, with our eyes
Open to this Beauty, to all
That Earth gives each of us, each day
Those miracles of dark and light–
Rainlight, dawn, sun moon, snow, storm grey
And the wide fields of night always
Somewhere opening their flower
stars – this, this! Another world is

Summer Time, When the Living is Easy


by: on June 22nd, 2010 | Comments Off

When I was ten years old, I had a dream: I wanted a chipmunk to eat out of my hand. I laid peanuts in a trail that led from 15 feet away to the tip of my toes, with one final nut in my palm. I sat for what seemed like hours before the chipmunk arrived. The small animal scurried around, looked the whole situation over, scampered away, and then quickly returned to pick up the first nut in her mouth. After she tucked it into her pouch, she proceeded to the next, and the next, and then scooted away to hide them in her burrow. Happily for me, she returned, getting bolder and bolder, until she had taken every single nut, every one, that is, except the one in my hand. She was much too scared of me to risk jumping into my palm for that final reward.

As you can imagine, I was greatly disappointed. The most carefully laid plans of mice and men (or in this case chipmunks and girls) had come to naught. Unfortunately, no one told me that I had made a good start in acclimating that chipmunk to my presence, or that it actually takes several desensitization sessions for a wild animal to become comfortable enough to first take a nut from a human hand and then – eventually – to jump into that person’s palm for the proffered peanut. I learned that myself last summer when I finally realized my 10-year-old’s dream and trained a chipmunk not only to jump into my palms, but from one of my hands to the other and finally into my lap for the nuts I had placed there. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to finally overcome this animal’s instinctive fear of me. For as opposed to my 10-year-old self, who wanted a “pet chipmunk,” I wanted a relationship with a wild animal.

Wildness, wilderness, Mother Earth in Her most primal state have always been important to me, even as a child. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that listening to the purple martins’cheet, cheet, chert as they talk to each other from our purple martin house, or watching the northern orioles flash their orange-and-black plumage as they fly to and from our feeder, or just soaking up the view from our porch over Lake Mendota has an undeniably relaxing and rejuvenating effect. As Nancy Wood says in her poem,


Mother to Mother: A Bilingual, Interfaith Funeral


by: on May 25th, 2010 | 16 Comments »

Cuatro master Roberto Fuentes. Photo: flickr/superartista

Roberto died at High Valley, our center, after a long illness. During his last weeks, his friends Karen and David cared for him there, joined by his mother Luisa from Venezuela. Until her recent move to a nursing home, Karen and David shared a house with my mother-in-law Olga, also from Venezuela. Olga’s last years at home coincided with the years Roberto, a musician from New York, stayed at High Valley frequently. Whenever he visited, he played Venezuelan folksongs on his Cuatro for Olga. In her nineties and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Olga knew all the words and sang along, tapping her feet to the rhythm. Olga and Roberto were more than compatriots. They came from the same island, Margarita, and spoke the same dialect. With his music, Roberto restored Olga’s memory of her earliest years.