Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Changing the World in 2013

It's a silly little illustration, but it demonstrates perfectly how beautiful stories can change the world for the better.

By the way, happy holidays to you and yours, however you choose to celebrate this time of year. The Pagan Pope blesses you.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Perceiving Divinity

A picture of this tattoo (see right) was floating about on Facebook and sparked a theistic debate on whether or not people can perceive divinity. There was also a discussion on whether or not the message preached intolerance, but that will be a post for another day.

My friend Jim Royal stated that he did not believe that any "any human anywhere perceives divinity" and went on to say:
The reason is that there is absolutely no agreement on any aspect of it. Get a hundred theologians in a room and ask them what is god, and you'll get a hundred different answers. If people were perceiving something real, there would be at least *some* commonalities. Instead, all we see are the needs and fears of individuals projected onto the universe. No, people do not have any perception of divinity, any more than they have ESP or the ability to tell the future.
I countered with the suggestion that not only could people perceive divinity, but that Jim himself perceives divinity all the time and that I could prove it. Here is my reply (the "you" in this is directed at Jim):

The term "divinity" or "divine" has a multitude of meanings, although many people associated it with God or a spiritual being. However, the nature of divinity is that it transcends human capacity. When atheists cry out "Oh my God!", they haven't suddenly found faith, but rather the statement indicates that something has occurred that transcends the moment (Oh my God, that's horrible! Oh my God, that's beautiful! Oh my God, I wasn't expecting that!).
Copyright 2012 Jim Royal (
Used with permission

When people perceive divinity, it's not that they are perceiving God per se (although some might insist that they do), but that they are perceiving something that transcends the surface of what they are experiencing.

The proof that I have that you perceive divinity (although I'm sure you would never label it that way) is through your photography. I've always loved your photos: you have an awesome eye to frame a shot. But when you take a picture of a bench in the woods, what makes it a good shot is that there is a quality that transcends the surface. It's more than just a bench in the woods: there is a level of meaning to it that is implied, but not overtly stated.

When you took that picture of the bench in the woods, the image of it spoke to you and suggested something beyond the surface. Maybe it speaks to the isolation of nature, or the juxtaposition of a dead human construction amid the natural life. There might be a thousand layers of meaning hidden in this picture and you may only be aware of a few, but only you know how you felt when you decided to take a picture of it.

But when I look at it, all I see is a bench in the woods and I perceive nothing special about it. You can tell me what you perceived when you took the picture, but if I don't see that, does it mean that there is nothing to perceive? Can you prove to me what was special about that shot? If 1000 people look at that picture and see many different layers to it that you never envisioned, does this mean your perception is false? Does it make the picture any less beautiful?

Of course not, because photography is art and the meaning that transcends the picture can only be experience by the observer. I would suggest that spirituality is also artistic because it expresses the beauty of relationship between the practitioners and the world they live in. Just like the photo, there may be no deeper meaning behind it beyond just being a bench, but the relationship the observer has with the photo is very real.

When people perceive the Divine, they are experiencing something that transcends the human capacity to express it. When you hold your newborn child in your hands, the experience is more than just holding a tiny human and it is very, very real and very unique to you. Just because the experience cannot be replicated empirically, this does not make the transcendent experience any less real.

The problem arises when people (usually fanatics) try to impose this transcendental experience on other people and demand that they all have the same interpretation of the experience. A similar crime is committed when others insist that there is no Divinity to be experienced and whatever you have perceived is non-existent.

You saw something beyond the bench in the woods when you took that picture, which is why it is special to you. No one has the right to take that away from you, and at the same time, everyone is allowed to perceive what they will when they look at your picture. Or not.


Jim's reply:
Einstein famously wrote, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." And to his utter frustration, he was forever misinterpreted.

You would have to read his entire essay, published in "Ideas and Opinions," to fully grasp what he was trying to get at. Einstein had a great dislike of organized religion. He wrote in a letter, "If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." For Einstein, religion was a sense of awe and wonder, an appreciation for order and beauty, and an aspiration toward truth and understanding.

Yet perhaps he should have expected to be misinterpreted. The definition of the word "religion" involves the supernatural. It is not the sole defining characteristic of religion, but it is the key element that distinguishes it from those things that Einstein genuinely admired.

Hobbes, everything you said about beauty and transcendence was bang on. The only point I quibble about is the term you used to describe it.

The word "divine" has, at its root, the supernatural. I know you hand-waved away that aspect of the word by saying that it has many definitions. But like Einstein, you're using the word in a non-standard way. When people speak about the divinity of Jesus, they don't mean he was just this great guy. They mean that he was a supernatural entity. There's no ambiguity there.

I deeply appreciate that what you are talking about is not merely beauty, but those moments where knowledge and intuition collide with emotion and aesthetics to produce an experience that transcends our day-to-day lives. It is very difficult to characterize this kind of experience outside of a religious context, and I don't think that's by accident.

Philhellenes said, "There's no word for such experiences that come though scientific and not mystical revelation. The reason for that is every time someone has such as mindgasm... religion steals it, simply by saying, 'Ah, you had a religious experience.'" I think that religions have deliberately co-opted the vocabulary of these kinds of experiences, leaving people like you and me with an impoverished lexicon, arguing over semantics.

So when I said that no human can perceive the divine, I was referring to the supernatural. Your reply was not to my statement, but to make a point about transcendent experiences, which people have whether they believe in the supernatural or not.

So what do we call it instead? The word "sublime" is close, but not quite right, as you're trying to describe the very subjective aspect of not only appreciating beauty, but creating the experience in the first place. Perhaps we should together invent our own word and start a Wikipedia article.

(Incidentally, when I say "Oh my god" in surprise, I'm not making a comment about a transcendent moment, I'm saying it because I speak English, and the phrase is a habituated reflex. The words have no meaning to me. If I natively spoke a different language, I'd say something different. But if it pleases you, I'll use the phrase "Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster" for my excited utterances from this point on.)
My reply:

As I stated previously, the words OMG do not mean you've found faith, but rather indicate a situation that is greater than you were expecting. Even if you use PGGB, it's still describing the same experience, but using a different label. It's all window dressing.

I would argue that there is no such thing as the supernatural because nothing exists outside of nature. Paranormal would be closer to the right word, assuming you can define what Normal is, which is subjective to the extreme.

I would then argue that religion does not involve the supernatural since nothing exists outside of nature. Therefore, Einstein had it right: religion attempts to celebrate the beauty of our relationship with the world and expresses that spiritual relationship using myths that, while on their surface are false, carry truths that cannot be fully expressed in logical terms. Where religion and atheism goes wrong is when they attempt to take these myths at face value, then jump to wild conclusions based on the premise they are trying to prove.

When people speak of divinity of Jesus, they are not speaking about how popular he was at the beach because he didn't need a floatation device to get to the other side. It was his message that mattered, and his supposed supernatural powers (which are mythic in design, not meant to be taken literally) indicate to the reader/listener that the message transcends our understanding of the world and how it works. What that story means is way more important than whether Jesus could defy the laws of physics or not.

When I speak of divinity, I am not relating to it from a Christian perspective. Instead, I am taking a more global view of it so that it applies to as many faiths as possible. This may dilute its meaning, but a certain amount of uncertainty and ambiguity is key to be able to approach spiritual expression in the right way. Science can explain how an eco-system works, but to be able to perceive a divine presence is a forest is to express your own personal appreciation for your relationship with that forest.

Scientific expression describes the surface, while spiritual expression describes the personal meaning beyond the surface. Both forms of expression can be telling the truth, but from their own unique perspectives which are unique because they have different jobs to do.

Sensing a divine presence in the bench in the woods photography is a very personal experience and describes the relationship between the observer and the observed. Whether a divine presence truly exists or not empirically (without the observer) is irrelevant. Without the observer having a relationship with the photography to give it meaning, it has no meaning. So to the question: Did Man create God, or did God create Man? The answer is Yes.

I think I may be off topic now (it's getting late), but my original point was that even if God (the Divine) is imaginary, that does not make it any less real because the relationship we have with the Divine is very real. The relationship is so real, in fact, that it makes the independent, empirically provable existence of that Divine being irrelevant.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Honouring our Beloved Dead

The great thing about being challenged on something is that it gives you the stage to achieve clarity on something you just assumed you knew, but never really gave a second thought.

At the Montreal Witches Ball this year, there is a public ritual that has been announced as follows:
"The veil between the worlds thins, it is time to honour the ancestors, pay tribute to our dead, and celebrate the Pagan New Year. [..] Bring yourselves, memories of your ancestors, your colourful masks. Altars for the dead will be set up. Feel free to bring a small item to place on one of the altars to remember those gone before you. The Ferryman will greet you at the entrance to collect the name of your dead and your token, and the Lady will collect the names of those born this year."
I posted this on Facebook, and in response to this, an old university friend posted:
"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!"
To which I replied:
"Ah yes... Deuteronomy 30:19-20. The thing is, taking time to honor the dead is not a denial of life. At this time of the year, we take a moment to remember our honored dead. But we do not celebrate their death: we are celebrating the beauty of their life, how lucky we are that they shared some of it with us, and how we are changed because of that beautiful gift of life.

Death is a part of our lives, and it is part of what gives our lives meaning. By remembering our loved ones who have passed on, we are giving thanks for their presence in our life's path. In our own way, we are ensuring that we all enjoying ever-lasting life by keeping their memories alive."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bardic Etiquette

A Bardic is a type of pagan talent show and can include singing, music, dancing, acting, storytelling, poetry, magic, juggling, and more! A bardic usually involves several performers who each take the stage (or the centre of a circle) in turn, and the performances are usually less than 10 minutes long. Sometimes a bardic can involve judges and prizes, but it's often just a venue to showcase our community talent and while-away an evening.

A bardic is usually held at night around a campfire, although there have been venues with stages, lighting, and microphones. But a bardic is usually a low-tech, cozy, and home-grown evening of entertainment. 

Bardic Etiquette applies to both the bard and the audience. The Bard and the listeners both enter into a pact where the listeners pledge to open themselves to the bard, and the bard pledges to share something inspiring. The chances of the Bard failing in this pact are as epic as the legends of old, and if the Bard is not ready to move his listeners, his listeners will move away, leaving the Bard powerless.

Truly, a Bard without an audience is a fool talking to himself. This is why the Bard needs to pick his material carefully, rehearse it methodically, and deliver it passionately. Any power he wields over his audience is given freely to him; it is not wielded solely by him and it certainly is never lorded over his audience (or at least, not for long).

When a bard performs a piece in a bardic, the audience is expected to:

* turn off their cellphones
* be respectful towards the performing bard
* be quiet, attentive, and responsive
* support the bard by participating when asked
* show appreciation at the end of a performance (applause)

When the audience gives the bard a venue in which he can perform, the bard is expected to:

* have selected, prepared, and rehearsed his performance
* speak in a loud, clear voice (where appropriate)
* make eye contact with the audience as much as possible
* speak respectfully and eloquently
* present a piece that fits within the Bardic theme
* perform within the agreed time-limits 

This is a really touchy subject, both for the bards and the audience. Some say that no one should heckle the performers, while others say that a bard should expect and know how to deal with heckling. Some people even think heckling is a venue for expressing consequence-free abuse. Heckling is an attempt to distract or disparage the bard during his performance, ruining the performance itself and potentially humiliating the bard. 

As an absolute rule, you should NEVER attempt to humiliate a performer, no matter how bad you think the performance is. It doesn't make you a hero, it doesn't make you a good person, and it can do incalculable damage to the artist. Having the courage to stand before any group of people and lay yourself bare before them is no small feat; having a person simply take that risk deserves your respect. Most performers will tell you that performing for a crowd is terrifying, so part of bardcraft is learning how to master that fear and use it to better your performance.

The Bard has craft something beautiful that he wants to share with you, the audience. Give him a chance to do that, and if you don't like it, it'll soon be over and you can move on to the next Bard. If you can't stand the performance, then maybe you shouldn't be in the audience in the first place. You can always walk away. 

Trying to destroy a Bard during his performance from the comfortable safety of an anonymous crowd is an act of cowardice. Hurtful hecklers are bullies who cannot stand to see someone else live the glory that they are too afraid to seek for themselves. They should be pitied, but not tolerated.

How a Bard can Deal with a Heckler

There's no way to predict how an audience will act during a performance, so it's best to be ready for anything. The Bard needs to understand that anything can happen, accept it, and even relish it. It's the dangerous beauty of live performance. But if you need to deal with a Heckler, here are some suggestions:

1. If someone shouts out something that adds to your story, find a way to work it in. If you can't work it in to your performance, take a moment to give a smirk in the direction of the caller, and then move on with your performance.

2. If one or more people continue to make too much noise, stop your performance and wait for them to quieten down. The rest of the audience will usually tell them to shut up. DO NOT attempt to silence them by shouting back: this only feeds their satisfaction in controlling you.

3. If a person shouts out something derogatory ("YOU SUCK!!"), try to ignore it and move on with your performance. If the abuse continues, stop your performance and wait for them to quieten down. The rest of the audience will usually tell them to shut up. If you know who this person is, find them after the show and make them explain why they felt the need to say such awful things. DO NOT deal with it during your performance.

4. If you keep getting interrupted, walk away from the stage quietly. You have failed to hold the audience's attention, so take your lumps, move on, and learn. Maybe your material wasn't right for the show, maybe you weren't ready, and maybe the audience wasn't ready. Maybe you need to revisit your performance and figure out what went wrong (length, timing, language, topic, etc.) Try to keep your ego under control and take this failure as a chance to be better next time. 

Note: I have rarely seen this happen in a formal bardic; it usually happens during an informal gathering of friends or colleagues. It's important to realize that sometimes you need to pick your moments and your audiences carefully. If you're surrounded by children, telling them a 2-hour epic tale will not hold their attention. If you're in the company of adults, leading a "Little Bunny Foo Foo" sing-along won't always go over well. If the adults are drunk, their attention span may be too limited for even a short performance. 

Audience Participation

There is a way for the audience to take part in the Bard's performance in a positive, constructive way. Some Bards may see this as a dangerous suggestion, but I know that audience can be so enthralled with a performance that they may call out to the Bard as a show of support. 

When in doubt, don't shout. If the Bard is young in his career, you should refrain from calling out until he gains more experience and more confidence. You can test the waters by calling out encouraging words or something appropriate to the story. For example, if the Bard is singing a song about a beautiful woman, you could burst out with exclamations ("Wooohoo! Hawt Girl! Sexy!"). If the Bard is encouraged by this, he may feel confident enough to adlib his way through the song based on what the audience is giving him. 

You could also engage in known cliches, challenging the Bard to respond in kind. Again, if the Bard is telling a story about a beautiful woman, you could call out "How beautiful WAS she?" The Bard should be able to roll with that without missing a beat ("She was so beautiful that she looked just like you!"). 

To know when it is appropriate to call out anything more challenging to the Bard, you need to take the time to get to know the Bard first. Maybe talk to him about his performance, find out how he feels about audience participation, maybe even warn him that you will say something during his performance, so he should be ready for it.

But in all cases of audience participation, keep it short. The Bard is the main attraction, not you. What you want to do is add to his performance rather than take away or distract. Anything more than a few words of encouragement or challenge can damage or destroy the sacred moment between performer and the audience. If you have more to say, then swallow your fear and walk into that Bardic space yourself. Until then, respect the Bards that choose to take that risk.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

House Blessings & Cleansings

House blessings and cleansings can be as complicated or as simple as you want them to be, and still be as powerful. It really depends on what you are comfortable with and what you want to achieve. Do you want to remove all the energy in the house, leaving it a clean, neutral space? If there are spirits that are not negative, do you want them to stay but everything else be banished? Do you want to simply add your own energy to the house as it stands?

All of these options are perfectly fine, but you need to make a firm decision about it before you start. Being wishy-washy about what you want with make your energy wishy-washy and not really effective or efficient.

The following suggestion is what I've done personally when asked to do a house blessing/cleansing. I've tried to make it as neutral as possible so that you can adapt it to whatever tradition you find most meaningful.

To perform a house cleansing/blessing, put out all the lights, walk through the house with sage, walking the edges of each room, and speak something like:
 "In the names of [Gods], I banish all negativity and any negative entities that are in this space. Etc." 
Basically, you want the space to be empty and neutral. Visualize that the sage fills the space and burns off any negative energy there.

In the second part, put out all the lights, gather some friends together, give each one a lit candle, and have each person walk through the house (maybe have a 1 minute gap between each one) and have them say something like
"In the name of [Gods], I bless this space with positivity, light, and joy. May these walls be witness to great joy, warmth, and the beauty of family and friends. etc."
Once that's done, have a pot-luck dinner party and invite all your loved ones. Put a pot of pennies by the front door and invite your friends to visit one or two rooms and drop pennies into them for luck and blessings.

If you have any other ideas or experiences with house blessings & cleansings, please post them in the comments.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


After the last Kaleidoscope Gathering pagan festival, shenanigans ensued that spawned this song to be filked. Good Times. In case you don't know, the YAG is the name of the chip wagon that sold awesome food (Ye Audle Grub) and poutine is a side dish made of fries, cheese curds, and gravy.

filked from Ra Ra Rasputin (BoneyM)
by Rick D. and Marie D.

There lived a Pagan Pope at KG long ago
He was big and bald, in his eyes a flaming glow
Most people looked at him with humour and with fear
But to KG chicks he was such a lovely dear

He could teach the Craft like a Pope could wave his beer
Full of hopes and fizzy ale
But he was also the kind of teacher
Women would regale

we all love the Fraser queen
That Hobbes really tried to make a scene
KG's greatest love machine
It was fab how he carried on

He ruled the Raven’s Gnoll and minded Auz and Ma
From monkeys on the wing he fled really really far
In all affairs Bardish he was the man to sneeze
But he was real great when he had a babe to squeeze

For Flirtatia he was no wheeler dealer
Though she praised the things he’d done
She believed he was a bard of something clever
Who would watch her son

we all love the Fraser queen
That Hobbes really tried to make a scene
KG's greatest love machine
It was fab how he carried on

But when his drinking and lusting and his hunger
for fame became known to more and more people,
the demand to do something about this outrageous
man became louder and louder.

“Something must be done!” declared his competitors
But the ladies begged, “Don’t you try to do it please.”
No doubt this Hobbesy Bard had no sort of hidden charm
Though he wasn’t very cute they just fell into his arms

Then one night some men of uncertain standing
Set a trap they’re all to blame
"Come to visit us" they kept demanding
And he really came

we all love the Fraser queen
They put him up on a silly soap box
KG's greatest love machine
They shaved his head and his hair was gone

we all love the Fraser queen
They wouldn’t quit as they wanted his hair
KG's greatest love machine
They shaved and shaved
But always kept his raiment clean

Oh those Pagans...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hugging and Consent

If you look around at a Pagan event, there's so much hugging going on that you'd think a full-body hug was the equivalent of a handshake. Mainstream society's view on hugging reserves it for close friends and family, but in pagan communities, a hug can be a welcoming gesture or even an attempt to reassure others that this is a place of safety and trust.

But in truth, a hug is a form of affectionate greeting that is reserved for friends, not the population in general. There are appropriate and inappropriate moments to give a hug, and unfortunately, a hug can be intrusive and even abusive if projected onto another person without permission.

If you've never hugged someone before, don't assume that because that person is Pagan, or that the person has hugged others, that he/she is ready to hug you. Hugging involves such closeness that some people can be very picky with whom they're comfortable to be that close.

1. If the person throws their arms out, inviting you to hug them, feel free to accept the invitation.
2. If you're unsure, start with a handshake. If the person leans into you to hug you, feel free to accept the invitation.
3. If it's just a handshake, smile, look the person in the eye, and say something positive (the handshake should not last more than a couple of seconds).

Unless you know the person very well, and you have a history of hugging with this person, DO NOT grab them by the body and pull them into your space without permission. Also, keep in mind that hugging does not give you free reign to kiss the person or fondle any part of their body that has nothing to do with the hug. A hug generally lasts about 2 to 10 seconds.

Don't EVER think that because you love to hug people (even for the most platonic of reasons), this gives you the right to hug anyone you want, even without their consent. The onus does NOT fall on the receiver to state that the hug is unwanted or that they have to move out of the way of an unwanted hug. It is ALWAYS the responsibility of the giver of the hug to ask for consent before hugging someone else.

If you are not comfortable with being hugged, you have every right to have your boundaries respected. Although many Pagans engage in hugging, it is not a statement about how Pagan you are if you don't like to hug. You should be suspicious of anyone who suggests that you are somehow less in your character, your spirituality, or your values because you don't like to hug. Not cool.

However, it can be difficult in the excitement of a moment to let the person who is trying to hug you to know that. A graceful way of side-stepping an unwanted hug without creating a scene is to grab an incoming hand as a handshake, using your other hand to hold them back by the shoulder. Try to smile, maybe whisper "I'm not into hugging, thanks", and move on. It gives the other person a chance to recover gracefully and no feelings are hurt.

If the person persists on pushing through with the hug, push them back harder by the shoulder, which should throw them off. If the persistence to hug continues, push back, get out of it, and state firmly that you are not into hugging. If the person continues to insist that you accept the hug, call out for Security.

If you are the person who has launched an unwanted hug, pay attention to other person's body language. If they draw back, have their hands up, or have a frightened look on their face, change your stance and offer a handshake instead. You can easily recover from this faux-pas and and save face, but you need to put respect of the other person's personal space above your need to unleash your love upon the world at large.

Above all, don't get insulted if your hug is rebuffed. Try to be gracious in your misunderstanding. No one is obligated to accept your hug, and if you think they are obligated in some way (because you're a great person, you're a celebrity, you're of the opposite gender, you should be bonding on your common ground, etc.), you're going to find yourself in a very bad, very lonely place.

It can be difficult to know when hugging or handshaking is appropriate, but if you're unsure, stick with the handshake. The choice to hug or not to hug needs to be respected and not used to identify who is more pagan-than-thou. It all comes down to respecting a person's boundaries and being gracious when etiquette mistakes are made.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Religious Discrimination

On a Facebook Group called Active Pagan Discussion, a fellow pagan posted something about how Pagans need to rally together to fight religious discrimination in our society. This was my reply to that post. 

Technically, Pagans cannot suffer from religious discrimination because Paganism is not a religion. It is a type of spiritual belief, which then breaks down into many types of Pagan religions. Atheists also face discrimination in society and they have NO religious affiliation.

So expanding the religious discrimination laws seems inappropriate here. It would seem more fruitful to expand upon the Freedom or Speech rights to include Freedom of Thought.

However, exercising discrimination and prejudice is very human nature. Making sweeping statements about other religious people is the definition of prejudice. If you found out that the guy who owns the local hardware store is Pagan and (assuming he wasn't a jerk) you decide to buy all your nails at his store to encourage a local Pagan, are you guilty of committing spiritual discrimination yourself against the other Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist hardware store owners ("I don't buy my nails over there because they are not Pagan")?

People in our society are being discriminated against for all sorts of ignorant reasons: they are too fat, too old, too young, too male, too female, not gender-specific enough, not religious enough, too religiously fervent, too pretty, too plain, too many tattoos, too much pigmentation, etc. We make these judgment calls all the time, and sometimes its justified and sometimes it isn't. Do we really want to make this process a crime across the board?

Anti-Pagan sentiment is a real problem that our communities face, to be sure. Hateful discrimination of any kind is bad, but rallying Pagans together to fight religious discrimination seems too big a mountain to take on as the first target and makes the Pagan community an even bigger threat than it should be ("OMG! The Pagans are becoming ORGANIZED!").

If the Pagan community has a PR problem (and we all know it does), then maybe the Pagan community has to step out from its own closet and become more socially active outside of its own borders. If there is an charitable event in your neighborhood, make sure the Pagans show up to make a contribution. Organize events that are not only pagan-centric, but that are open to everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation. Be ready to answer difficult questions about your Pagan faith, but do so with charity and generosity of spirit rather than defensiveness and hostility.

If the Pagan community does enough good work in mainstream society, when people see discriminatory talk against Pagans, they will be able to say "Actually, the Pagans I've met are pretty good people. They believe some outlandish things that I don't agree with, but I know they are good people."

Education and positive experiences is how you reduce discrimination in our society. Creating stricter laws against discrimination does nothing to address the discriminative attitude in the first place, it risks intensifying that discrimination, and spreads more ignorance.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Raven vs. The Big Bang: The Epic Battle of Myth and Logic

by Hobbes, the Pagan Pope

Originally published in WynterGreene and Witchvox

As Neo-Pagans living in a modern world, we can feel like we're being stretched in multiple directions. Finding balance between what we know to be true and what we're supposed to believe can leave us feeling conflicted, confused, and frustrated with the lack of clear answers.

Mark Twain once wrote "Havin' faith is believin' in somethin' you know ain't so." We're all fairly intelligent people, not prone to being dangerously gulible (aside from being guilty of forwarding emails promising doom and gloom or fame and fortune, depending on the hoax of the day). Thanks to science and our many technological wonders, we know that the sun rises and sets at predictable hours, we know the price of tea in China, and have access to an ocean of facts and figures that we are bombarded with every day.

And yet, our Neo-Pagan culture speaks of deities, magic, energy, mythology, and invisible forces that shape our lives in ways that we experience without truly understanding them. Some of us are resigned to believing we will never truly understand, while others continually seek definitive answers, and still others simply fill the gaps with as much faith as they need to move to the next level.

How are we to reconcile these two mindsets? Science and Logic vs Faith and Myth: each discipline demands our attention while trying to refute the existence of the other. How do we balance what we know with what we believe or don't believe?

First, let's examine belief and knowledge. Don't take this the wrong way, but you don't actually know all that much; most of what you profess to know is really just very strong belief. For you to truly know something, it requires experience and understanding. This experience converts what you believe to what you know, and the belief you had before the experience will probably aid in your understanding.

For example, if you've never been to Egypt, then you do not know that there are pyramids in Egypt. You can believe the books, believe the TV, believe your friends, believe your family, but all that is only very strong belief. Until you go to Egypt yourself and experience the wonder of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, all you can do is believe others when they tell you there are tall pointy things in the desert.

Fortunately, there's nothing wrong with believing in concepts until they are converted to knowledge by experience. You must believe someone at some point in your life or you won't be able to move forward. Belief tempered by critical thought and fueled by faith can bridge the gap until a concept becomes true knowledge.

Applying critical thought to your beliefs is crucial to maintain a realistic view on the world, which is why it is perfectly reasonable to believe that there are pyramids in Egypt, but a little out there to really believe that you will die in 5 days if you don't forward a chain email to ALL of your friends in the next 48 hours.

Now imagine how strong your spiritual expression could become if you had the same confidence in your beliefs as in your "knowledge" that there were pointy buildings in Egypt. If the same muscle in your brain is flexing when you think of either concept, realizing that they are both beliefs might help you with some of your self-doubt.

Secondly, there's the struggle with balancing myth vs logic (or science). Early philosophers understood that myth and logic were necessary to paint a complete portait of existence. Myth is NOT primitive science (as many of us were taught as children). While logic examines and measures the surfaces of life and our environment, myth attempts to explore the deeper meaning beyond that surface. Myth allows us to understand concept that cannot be fully grasped by logical definition.

Let's say that you have never heard the word "courage" and are completely in the dark with the concept of it. From a logical standpoint, I could read you the dictionary definition of Courage and you could still not truly understand its meaning.

Instead, I would tell you a story about a boy who sets his fear aside to battle a dragon that is determined to destroy his village. In the moment when the boy lifts his trembling arms to point the sword at the dragon's heart, you would have the opportunity to understand the true meaning of courage without even using the word. This is the heart of mythic knowledge.

However, if you start fearing the existence of dragons 'round every corner, you would be guilty of applying a purely logical interpretation to a mythic story and be missing the point of the story entirely. Logically, we know the story is false. But mythically, the story speaks to a universal theme that people can understand because it allows them to view the boy's courage in the mirror of their own experience. So even if the listeners do not know the word "courage", the myth allows them to experience courage.

This is the beauty and power of storytelling. Even though a story can be entertaining, it can contain levels of deeper meaning that are experienced by the listener in a way that logic cannot; logic is about breaking down and categorizing information while myth invites the listener/reader to search for its deeper meaning. The early philosophers believed that the effort in this mythic exploration was as valuable as arriving at its destination.

Myth and Logic can co-exist comfortably because they both have very different goals to achieve. So while we can logically understand the scientists speak when they tell us that it is the earth's rotation that causes the sun to seemingly rise and set along the horizon, we can still appreciate the mythic telling of how the lovers Sun and Moon chase each other across the sky, pausing ever so briefly for a tender embrace during an eclipse.

As Neo-Pagans, we seek to celebrate the deeper meanings in events and our lives. While we can keep an eye on our logically-organized calendar, choose our sacred times, and celebrate our connection to the Divine through ritual and symbol deeply rooted in myth and personal expression, What we experience during these mythic moments allows us to live our beliefs, expand our knowledge of ourselves, and adds fuel to our faith. There's no need to sacrifice our mythic reasoning for society's logic: balancing mythos and logos enriches our lives more than either discipline can achieve on its own.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Snakes and Bladders: Celebrating All Snakes Day

Although Montreal celebrates St. Patrick's Day on a Sunday with its annual parade, March 17th is the actual St. Patrick's Day, which in 2010 falls on a Wednesday. Historically, St. Patrick is one of Christianity’s best-known and most-loved saints who is credited with banishing all snakes from Ireland.

Of course, there never have been any snakes in Ireland for St. Patrick to banish, and some believe that the snakes actually represent the Druids that were killed or the pagans and their beliefs that were replaced by Christian doctrine. Historians are quick to point-out that this cannot be true either since paganism was still quite popular a century after Patrick's death (Living Liminally, Patheos).

I would argue that the historical facts are now irrelevant compared to what the holiday means today to a modern audience. For those Pagans who cannot stand the idea of celebrating a Christian icon, there is even talk of replacing St. Patrick's Day with the Feast of CĂș Chulainn (Facebook), the Celtic super-hero of Irish myth and legend.

At face value, the spirit of St. Patrick's Day has certainly been hijacked by boorish behaviour, but it's certainly not the only holiday in which that happens. Some people are happy to gloss over the surface of meaningful events while others can make the best of a holiday to appreciate it's deeper symbolism and meaning.

Let's take a look at the other seasonal celebrations we have and consider their excesses:
  • For Summer, we have St. Jean Baptist Day and Canada Day.
  • For Fall, we have Thanksgiving and Halloween.
  • For Winter, we have Christmas/Yule and New Year's Day.
  • For Spring, we have St. Patrick's Day and Easter.
There is an opportunity for extremism and boorish behavior for each of these holidays ranging from excessive drinking, eating, consumerism, etc. So why does St. Patrick's Day get all the criticism?

What are we really celebrating in March? If you take a look outside, you'll no doubtedly notice that the snow has mostly melted away and the days are sunnier. The Vernal Equinox is nigh, signalling the coming of Spring and Summer, a time of growth, rebirth, and warmth. After three months of darkness and cold, St Patrick’s Day is our moment to cast off the dark shroud of winter and welcome the warmth of the sun and the rebirth of nature.

From a pagan perspective, many modern-day pagans refuse to celebrate or even acknowledge this day. But just as our modern-day pagan pioneers attempted to reclaiming the word "witch", I should think pagans can attempt to reclaim the spirit of the Vernal Equinox celebration.

If St. Patrick's Day celebrates the day when the patron saint of Ireland seemingly drove all the snakes from Ireland, then we can celebrate "All Snakes Day": the day the Druids tricked St. Patrick into thinking the snakes had been banished (as suggested by the late, great Isaac Bonewits).

But in the end, we Pagans welcome the Sun God and the Green Goddess with open arms, excited with what the warmer seasons have to offer in terms of their bounty and boundless possibilities. Just like the snake who sheds his outer skin, so do we shed our warm, protective clothing and feel the warmth on our faces and skin. We may even hoist a horn of mead or ale to share with our kith and kin, bringing family and friends together to make plans and celebrate the friendship that got us through the darker winter days.

So Happy All Snakes Day to you, fellow Pagans! Go out and revel in the heat that warms your snake skin. Moderation in all things is best, so I caution you to not indulge in it too much and be safe. In the meantime, I will raise a toast to you and yours while we enjoy the longer days together. As for St. Patrick? It's only fitting that we extend him some Irish hospitality for his special day if he'll lower his ash staff and share a pint or two with us.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pagan Pope brings the Sexy Back!

The Pagan Pope decrees that sexy is NOT a question of what you look like, the shape of your body, the condition of your skin, the waviness of your hair, or the size of any particular part of your body. 

The part of you that makes you sexy is who you are beneath the skin, beneath the surface. And as with all things important, the only way you can discover how sexy a person is is through relationship and experience.

Take the time to discover each other as the amazing, wondrous, and sexy people you are, not only as individuals, but as friends, as family, as community, and as tribe.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pagan Pope has been Declared

On January 13 2012 (a Friday), Hobbes declared himself to be the Pagan Pope. Being the Pagan Pope does not grant him any powers or any authority of any kind over anyone or anything. Reports are pouring in from the Pagan community at large, but accepting his legitimate claim to the title seems to be overwhelming.

The Pagan Pope is unsure what he'll do with this blog, but it's better to get a hold of the URL early before other illegitimate pope-posers get any bright ideas.

The Pagan Pope wishes to assure all Pagans worldwide that he is here to serve your needs. He does not wish to be worshiped or adorned in any way, but well-wishes are always welcome. And pie.

The Pagan Pope first declared his ascension to power using Facebook. Go Like the page now! The Pagan Pope decrees it!