Thursday, June 13, 2013

Modern Paganism: Still life or interpretive dance?

There is a pretty big precedent in the Pagan community to put a heavy emphasis on the historical authenticity and accuracy of practices.  It often seems like the theory is that if we can keep the line unbroken, if we can practice in the same way as our ancestors, that our practice will somehow be more successful. 

But we aren't our ancestors.  We live in different times, and we have vastly different everyday realities.  Things that were commonplace in years past are not always relevant.  Trying to recreate an ancient practice can lead to frustration and the feeling that you will never get it right, and that until you do get it right, you can't have a working practice.

Let me say this now though:  I don't have any problem with anyone who finds value in recreating ancient practices.  I think that examining the way things were done in the past can bring great value, and if it calls to you to bring those methods into your personal practice, then more power to you.  However, it doesn't work for me, and I don't agree with the idea that just because something is older that it is more valid. 

For me, my personal practice needs to be a living, breathing thing.  It changes, not only as I learn more and expand my horizons, but also it changes as I do, so that it can meet needs that I have developed as I have grown into myself.  It doesn't always step me away from my daily life, but sometimes steps me more deeply into it.

I love the duality of my faith and practices.  It can simultaneously support bring more mystery and wonder into my life, helping me to see the fantastical aspects of the things around me and to take time for that child part of myself, for sacred play and for ecstatic creation.  But it can also help me ground my daily life in spirituality, to focus on the here and now, and protect myself from the stresses and strains of modern life.

I think there is a big gap in a lot of modern Pagan practice.  While there is a lot of information out there on basic areas that are definitely still a part of our lives (love, family, health, personal growth), there is a whole lot that is rarely discussed.  Things like keeping our cars running, protecting our computers from viruses and keeping our identities safe.  We have tools as part of our daily lives that our ancestors didn' that can be incorporated into our spiritual like in the same manner that they incorporated their tools.  If we can use a blade, cup and incense in our practice, why not a blender, coffee pot and air freshener? 

I believe we are at a turning point.  Paganism has been gaining ground and acceptance.  There are still holdouts for sure, people who can't see beyond the blinders of the past and don't understand that our beliefs are just as valid (and life-affirming) as theirs, but we are seeing Paganism depicted in social culture in a positive light more and more often.  I feel we have uncovered so much of the past that it is starting to blend together.  We don't need more 101 books that explain how things are traditionally done...those books are out there for those who are starting out and want the basics.

The question is:  where do we go from here?  Do we continue to look to the past and try to paint all those tiny details in?  Or do we take everything we know about Paganism, everything we know about ourselves, everything we know about our world in this moment....toss it into the air and see what patterns form all around us?  I believe the way forward is through exploring where our religion takes us today going forward into tomorrow.  I am excited to see how it will evolve and what it might become.  My faith isn't static, my religion isn't static and I think that is what makes it wonderful.

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