Sunday, December 26, 2010

An Integrated Path

This is something I have been thinking about for some time, but haven't been sure how to write it out, nor sure how it might be received. However, I'm going to go ahead and just put it out there. It is what it is, I am what I am, and, come what may, now you know it too.

You may have noticed in the last year that I've written a bit about our celebrating some traditional Pagan holidays, namely the wheel of the year (solstices, equinoxes, and the quarter days between them). I've mentioned how we do not find this to be in conflict with our Christianity at all, because we believe that God wants us to understand and respect the Earth that he gave us, and we feel the observing the passage of seasons and the cycles of time is respectful of Him and His creation.

But it goes a bit deeper than that; so I will explain.

When I was in college I was in the play Macbeth, and, as you're probably aware, there are witches in the play. The director was doing a more modern take on the play, and wanted the witches to be modern wiccans (now this isn't justified by the script at all, but she was the director so we did what she said!) As one of the witches, I did some research into wicca. I was very attracted to the simplicity of the "wiccan rede" and I loved the way we laid the circle in one scene--presenting a candle and then a crystal at each of the 4 directions, then ringing a chime to each, I think there was incense...I don't remember exactly anymore. It was just beautiful and so serene and purposeful. I loved it, and have been drawn to the symbolism of the rituals as well as the attunement to nature and natural cycles.

Of course, as a believer in Christ, I never pursued wicca, but my fascination with the nature spiritualities remained. When I visited Ireland, we saw stone dolemans and ancient passage tombs, which again fascinated me. In recent years I've begun to observe the solstices and equinoxes--not with formal rituals, but with a special meal or a gathering of friends, or at the very least I take note of the day. It feels appropriate to observe these things, and the mindfulness of observing the passage of time is very grounding. If there is one truly significant thing I've learned in this exploration, it is that truth can be found in many places, and that truths never contradict each other. They may be very different, but they still fit together in the long run.
The "Wheel of the Year" showing the 8 Sabbats, which occur about once every six weeks
This last month I've been reading Drawing Down the Moon: witches, druids, goddess-worshippers and other pagans in america by Margot Adler. Mostly I just wanted to know more--to understand more. I wasn't seeking spiritual enlightenment so much as cultural literacy. One idea from the very beginning of the book jumped out at me though: Many Pagans come into their beliefs because they feel that it is "Old Religion," In other words, Christianity and other major world religions are only a couple thousand years old, whereas humans have walked the Earth for far longer than that, and these Pagans are seeking the spiritual path of the earliest humans.

From my perspective, the earliest humans were Adam and Eve. I do believe that they had religion--religion straight from God in fact (in other words, the perfect religion). I believe that over time--especially in a pre-literate/illiterate society, some things were forgotten or confused, while others remained more or less intact. I am inclined to agree on many points with this blogger who expressed the idea that we (as mormons) share with Christianity the understanding Christ as Savior and the need for the atonement, and we share with (many) Pagans the understanding of our divine origins and equally divine potential (as children and also literal heirs of God). In other words, I think that Pagans do have something right, I think they do have (at least part of) that original Old Religion that Adam had. I find that certain aspects of pagan beliefs overlap or mesh with mine, and that certain aspects of their practices, therefore, seem appropriate for me as well. (I don't want to get sidetracked in this post by going into what specifically those things are, but I may dedicate a future post to that topic if you, gentle reader, want details!)

The second thing that draws me toward paganism are the symbols and rituals. For example, the spiral is an ancient symbol for eternity. I find it aesthetically more pleasing than the sideways 8 used in mathematics, and have several pieces of jewelry with spirals in them. It may be a 'pagan' symbol, but I wear spirals because they can mean 'eternity' to me too, and since I believe in eternal marriage and eternal families and eternal progression, I like wearing the symbol that reminds me of those things. Goddess symbols--particularly the pregnant Goddess--remind me of my participation in the miracle of procreation.
A ritual may be something as simple as raising ones hand or lighting a candle, or as complex as a lengthy liturgy. In my perception, rituals have precisely as much (or as little) meaning as is felt by the participant. I find that the simplicity of lit candles, awareness of seasons and cycles, and repetition of simple mantras enhances my spirituality. I feel closer to nature and closer to the Holy Spirit as I tune out the world with these things. Aspects of these 'pagan' rituals work for me as a Christian. I may adapt some and ignore others, but the source is undeniable. (In fairness, any moderately literate person should know that many modern 'Christian' practices were originally pagan, from the Christmas tree to the Easter egg...again, it's not what the ritual is that matters so much as what it means to the practitioner!)

So there you have it. I am 'coming out of the broom closet.' I'm getting in touch with my pagan side, and I think I'm a better Christian because of it.
Incidentally, I am not the only one--not by far. But that is a conversation for another day. ☺


Anna said...

Jenni, I love that you blend your observances and beliefs. I really like the pagan parts about respecting the earth. I've recently imvestigated buddhisim, and find I am extremely drawn to the beliefs and practices and people. Mostly the people. They have seemed to me to be so much less judgmental than tradition Christians. Anyway, please keep posting. I hope you don't get any flack for your position. I think you are spot on!

Descent said...


Maggie said...

Beside Drawing Down the Moon what books on Wicca/neo-Paganism have you read/are you interested in reading? I am also curious as to what it all is that you will be integrating. I know the Sabbats but what else? And will you be following the standard Wiccan mythology that belongs with the Wheel of the Year? I'm guessing you are probably having this conversation elsewhere but I'm not there so I figured I would ask here. :) As Wicca is a bit more ritual-oriented than other neo-Pagan paths I would love to hear about how your rituals will be structured. Will you cast circle? Call quarters? Invoke the God alone or also the Goddess (or visa versa)? Speaking of our Heavenly Parents I'd also love to hear all about your views on the Goddess as co-partner. I don't think you and I have ever really discussed the Goddess before (I could be wrong though. My brain is mush these days).

I am so psyched to see so many Mormons (of different varieties) finding themselves along this path. Each seems to be going about it in their own way so I am super curious as to how everything is for others. Feel free to tell me to butt out if you'd like.


Maggie said...

I remembered just as I was hitting submit that I meant to ask you about divination. How do you feel about it? Are you drawn to any form in particular?


Jenni "Bee" said...

I have not read any other books at this point, nor do I have a particular reading list in mind. I'm always interested in recommendations, but will also be somewhat limited by local library availability. ;)

I do feel a pull toward wicca--yes, because of the ritual. But I'm not adopting wiccan practices or rituals specifically per se...i suppose it would be more accurate to say that wicca was my gateway toward paganism in general, and I am integrating ideas from several paths. I also feel an inclination toward some of the "Church of All Worlds" stuff...mostly the god/dess within each of us, and that sort of thing.

As for how/what I'm integrating:
*One big thing is the ecological mindset, living symbiotically with mother earth, respecting the spirits of all things, etc.
*Another is the (imo much-healthier) viewpoint about sex--seeing it as a union of opposites, the holy "Great Rite" of God & Goddess. That may only be a mindset shift, but for me it's significant (a post about that is coming later this week).
*Yes, we'll be observing the sabbats, but for us they will be more feast days than ritual days. *I also have some plans for the esbats (both full moons and new moons--are new moons esbats too?), which I will be writing about on Mother Wheel.
*I'm also integrating some of the idea of personal ritual, taking a page from meditation, yogic relaxation, and the 'self blessing' in the appendix of DDTM.

I'm taking the *idea* of ritual, more than adopting specific wiccan rituals. I don't currently anticipate casting circles, formally calling quarters, invoking God/dess, etc. I am not ruling it out entirely for the future, but it's not in the current gameplan. As I said, it's more the idea of ritual, but doing my own things in my own way, rather than adopting existing practices. For example, personal meditative/clearing/strength rituals, as I mentioned, but also rituals for anniversaries and such. (I'm working on a MW post right now about what I did for our anniversary.)
Divination, along with any sort of spellwork or magiks, is not something I intend to delve into.

I have not yet made up my mind about the Wheel of the Year mythology. I think that the concepts are universal (death, rebirth, life, fertility, harvest, etc) and that they are valid without the mythology. If I do teach the mythology, it will either be adapted to the gospel, or else taught strictly as myth. Myth, while not true in a factual sense, can be informative and valuable (eg, archetypes), so I may do that. I don't know yet. I need to read up some more.

Mallory said...

I have always shown an interest in this stuff, too. I definitely see a connection to the gospel. I often look for the truth in things. But, I haven't done much other than think "that's really cool".

Maggie said...

Thanks, Jenni!

Melodie said...

I think that's awesome that you are so open to learning about something that would otherwise be shunned (Is that too harsh a word?) by your religion. I like to do the opposite. As a pagan one of my favorite things to do is sing carols at a Christmas service and hear, re-told the story of the birth of Jesus. It is like revisiting my childhood too though, I think. Anyway, thanks for the great post.

Anonymous said...

Hi, as a Christian who also follows & celebrates the wheel of the year & has an interest in the celtic history of the UK, I found it beautiful to hear of someone else exploring areas of light & love this way, Blessings x

LexxyV said...

" it's not what the ritual is that matters so much as what it means to the practitioner!"

OH my goodness! Loved this particular part of your post! EXACTLY I couldn't have said it better myself


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