Month: March 2013

Christians and Pagans: Rules for engagement

This post angers me.

In short, for those who don’t feel up to clicking today, it concerns the trolling of non-Christian obituaries with the intent of proselytizing. Christians contact the non-Christians mourning their dead, send tracts and various well-meant sentiments that essentially come down to: “You’re going to rot for an eternity in hell because you don’t believe exactly as I do. Your loved one is doing that now. Save yourself.”

Gee, thanks.

Granted, if I happened to be the grieving party subject to such treatment, I’m not sure I’d be able to restrain myself. I’m pretty even-tempered overall, but there would be at the very least an angry in-person (or, if not possible, telephonic) confrontation. No one has the right to use personal tragedy to sell faith like a used car.

Overall, I’d like to believe I’m fairly Christian-positive for a Pagan. I’ve read parts of the Bible and even studied in a Methodist seminary as both the graduate and undergraduate levels. I minored in religion. I make an effort to see people’s faith from their own perspective, or at least as close to that perspective as I can get without being of that faith, and give them what’s popularly known as “the benefit of the doubt” when they screw up. If they offer to pray for me, I thank them; I assume the intent stems from well-wishing and that’s always welcome, even if the sentiments are expressed in a way that I would find alien or even slightly obnoxious. People do the best they can.

But tolerance and even attempted understanding have their limits, and I can well understand why some of my Pagan peers shun Christians. Obituary-trolling is an extreme example, true.

Some thoughts:

1. A willingness to engage in dialogue or attempt to understand your faith practice doesn’t mean I want to convert. I am very happy as a Keltrian Druid, thanks. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a friendly interchange of ideas, but the emphasis is on “friendly” and “interchange.” Monologues don’t count, nor do mean-spirited sentiments such as “you’re going to hell,” no matter the flowery language you coat them in.

2. I won’t read the Bible cover to cover, nor will I read the Koran, the Book of Mormon, etc. Quite simply, I have other things I’d rather read right now. Maybe I’ll get to it someday, but it’s not a high priority. And while we’re comparing ancient literature, have you read the Kalevala, the Tain Bo Cuailgne, the Eddas, the Upanishads? I have and I’m more than happy to discuss them, but I don’t expect you to unless you really want to.

3. I am not, to borrow a term from Islam, one of the “peoples of the book.” The Bible and Koran aren’t immutable truths as far as I’m concerned. I don’t see why they should be, and accepting that as one of the articles of faith that makes you a “person of the book.” I’ve read parts of both the Bible and the Koran, and I didn’t find any deep, immutable wisdom that proved to me that either was the “one true way.” Sorry. Re-reading it won’t bring me there, either, because there is an essential philosophical difference. While it’s too simplistic to say that Pagans rely on the “book of nature,” that’s closer to the truth than not. Or rather: a particular set of written words is not the only way to truth and spiritual practice.

4. I don’t believe there is “one true way” and that you have access to it. To quote a Japanese proverb I’ve heard bandied about: “There are many paths up the mountain, but the view of the moon from the top is the same.” Or, to quote the Hindu mystic Ramakrishna:  “God can be realized through all paths. All religions are true.” Your faith is real and true to you, as mine is to me.

5. I think we can strive for mutual understanding. But I will never truly understand your faith path in its entirely because I walk a different one. The same goes for you.

6. If you truly want to minister to me in a way that I can appreciate, then be a role model of right action. Be compassionate, kind, concerned about justice, forgiving of human foibles. Truly embody your ideals. Seeing that, maybe others will be inspired to adopt your path. Maybe they won’t, but that’s okay, too. It’s not about racking up conversions like a video game score, but living in accordance with your vision of the sacred, right?

7. Understand that Christians are a majority religion and have pride of place in our culture. This means that the cultural discourse more often reflects your perspectives or practices than mine. Members of minority religions have at least a little familiarity with the beliefs and practices of the majority religion just because they encounter it so much. Don’t assume that this cultural centricity means that there are no other perspectives or practices, or that yours are more important to everyone because they are culturally central. Also, members of majority faiths usually have very little understanding of minority faiths because they don’t need to. Most of us get this and expect ignorance, but you get an extra gold star for at least trying to learn about us.

8. Remember that all members of any particular group aren’t the embodiment of good or evil, ignorance or knowledge, etc. Both sides need to remember this. Every group contains its great souls and its charlatans, its saints and its assholes, and more than everything else, average people.

In the end, respect breeds respect.

I’ll leave you with a fairly well-known song by Dar Williams.

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Poem: the birth of Aonghus Og

Love is born when the rain
merges with the river,
the two planes meet, silver,
as birds and fish dart through.

Keep the secret from wells
that we don’t need them now,
that sky and stream provide
as snow edges to mud.

And then, the sun stands still.
So long it seems, so long
out of reach, veiled by cloud
and distance, a mirage.

And now she draws close, breathes
her blessing and her love
on the union of rain
and river, scattering

gifts of green on the banks.
Love is born with the squelch
of mud under boot-sole,
the red of the sumac

whose berries feed robins.
We still await the swans
but hear the blackbirds sing
wedding hymns from the reeds.

Poem: 0. The Fool

Another poem, scribbled in a fit of whimsy on my couch the other day.

Oh, I have spent my life
walking on the air.

Yes, I feel those white teeth
nip my ankle,
hear the warning bark, all well-meant,
herding back to a grounded life
bunched and safe, like sheep.

My eyes mark the crows
and the glory-of-god bird
and the light on the bucking limbs
the drip of icicles on the twig
tossing rainbows onto snow

but at the rim of vision,
yes, I see what yawns.
How can I not?

I have spent my life
walking on the air.

Sometimes, I am cloaked with feather
and dance on the rising tide of the light.

Sometimes I tumble, a jumble
of blood and bone on stone
as the dog howls above.

Yes, I see what yawns.
How can I not?

Pandora: A poem

Found these notes scribbled in one of my files. While I apparently meant to assemble the pieces into a longer poem, I’ll string them together into their own piece here.

Perfect hands trace the lid,
keys etched in clay, a chain
of shark’s teeth and their warning.

Then, curiosity lifts
a gauzy wing, a jeweled eye.
White teeth pierce a petaled lip.

A lift, a roar — and then
all the insects of the world
rush toward dawn, toward depths,
toward you.

And one last. Turquoise shimmers,
a jungle sky, a butterfly.
The hand, now scratched, cradles it.

Know then what the caged bird knows
or the root in the cellar:

That beating wings against wire
can’t create the hurricane
to blow the walls to dust.

That thrusting your will against
the dark does not mean you
will be planted in the clay.

 

A non-genetic Druid

For the past several months, I have been researching my ancestry and have even undergone the genetic “spit test.” The results: I am 78 percent eastern European, 14 percent central European and 8 percent god-knows-what. (The term they use is “uncertain.”) This is no big surprise; a full three quarters of my grandparents came from the area once known as Austria-Hungary. The remaining one-quarter came, on one hand, from Norway and Denmark and, on the other, from Barbados, England, the Normans and, oddly enough, the Angevins and Plantagenets, with some undocumented but likely African blood mixed in courtesy of the Caribbean.

In an odd twist of fate, I have more documented ancestors from the “god knows what” side of my ancestry than of the Hungarians and Slovaks that make up the bulk of my family line.

But there is one element notoriously absent from both my genetic and documented lineage: Celtic, particularly Irish. Seeing that this is a Druid-themed blog, that may seem like an odd omission. You could make the argument that central and eastern Europe were once part of the original Celtic homeland, that the Normans and Franks had wed or just plain fornicated with the native Gauls, that some speck of Irish blood may be hidden there somewhere. But all that’s just an excuse: I’m not Irish, not a documented or genetic drop.

So, one might ask, why the heck am I a member of an Irish-focused Druidic order? Why not just honor the Gods of my ancestors?

Thankfully, Druidry seems to lack some of the sentiment found in, say, folkish Asatru, in which practitioners must have the same ethnic/genetic identity as that of the pantheon. Certainly, many Druids are proud of their Celtic forebears, but bloodline is not a prerequisite. I’m not sure precisely why Druidry lacks the racial/ethnic identification element, although I suspect it has something to do with the nature and beliefs of the original founders.

Certainly, in ancient times, you would have sworn by the gods of your tribe and the spirits of the land in which you dwelt. As a North American, the latter is out of the question for me; the Haudenosaunee and the Lenape, the original inhabitants of the land in which I currently dwell and the one in which I grew up, don’t appreciate outsiders honoring their gods. I can understand that. They lost, in the Haudenosaunee’s case, most of their land and culture; the Lenape lost literally everything, having been driven from their land and forced to combine with the Cherokee. The gods of this land are their gods, and they can never be mine.

And I no longer dwell in the land of my ancestors, although I have visited Hungary and Slovakia in my younger years as well as England (the likely home of some of the “god-knows-what” ancestors). I know very little of Slavic and Hungarian gods due to a lack of sources published in English. Interestingly, Wicca is found in Hungary, and Slavic reconstructionism in a number of Eastern European countries — the latter linked, sadly, to nationalism. In English-speaking North America, practices based on traditional Slavic and Hungarian Paganism just aren’t accessible. The closest approximation is the Slavic path formulated by some members of ADF.

And frankly, I just don’t feel connected with those cultures. I am genetically Hungarian and Slovak, but culturally American and, thus, spiritually rootless. I could conceivably follow the thread of my mother tongue and follow a Saxon version of Paganism, or that of my until-recently-unknown Scandinavian forebears. But when it comes to ancestry and religion, how much is enough to qualify? Does one drop of Danish blood make me a Viking? Does a dash of France nine hundred years ago make me a Gaul?

So, what’s the answer? The answer is: I don’t mix ancestry and faith practice. In short, I follow the path I am called to. Brighid extended her hand to me years ago, and I accepted it. She is the first Goddess who called to me, rather than the other way around. I’ve had deities of other pantheons — the Greek Hera, to name one — do the same. After dabbling with Greek and Hindu paths, I have since politely declined those other divine offers; I’ve tried, but I can’t travel two roads at once.

Rather than continue to dig a series of shallow wells, I chose one spot where I could drill and then drink deeply. And that spot is Keltria, genetics be damned. If my ancestors are affronted, they aren’t saying.

Lus: a flame, an herb

Come then. Your hands lace
around the chipped cup
framing your eyes with
rising steam. The knots
and veins of them thread
a landscape — mountains,
valleys, broad rivers.

Age hones you into
the image of Earth.

At your back, the snow
catches sound like mice
on a cat’s paw. Turn
instead to the fire.

Let it delight your
eye, let it spark a
story as it heats
the tea, as it draws
us to the corners
of the hearth. A breath
and again. Begin
with prayers to cattle
and to men. Come then,
you chant, let me tell
you of times spun of
mist and shit and earth.

Let me tell you of
the herb you hold in
your cup. Let me tell
you, the singing harp
the strings unstruck, of
the hiss of fat from
the cooking fish that
turns boy into bard.

It starts with a hearth,
with a cup of tea,
with age in your hands
and fire in your eye,
a hearkening ear,
and a crackling tongue.