Okay, so the second part of the Chapter Two Activities is “meditate on your chosen myth for ten minutes a day, every day, for a week, and journal about what comes up”.
I haven’t been doing this. Or, I have been, but not with that degree of consistency.
I think I’ve done 4/7 times at this point?
The first night, I got a big response.
I closed my eyes, imagined myself in the deep woods, the desert woods. I started rocking side to side (which is… not how that usually goes. Usually I rock back and forth).
I thought of the woman in her besieged castle and asked:
What do you owe the land you inherit?
Images that came up:
Three silver coins slipped into the river, close to shore but the water was moving.
Hawthorne and yew (saw yew, heard “rue”)
Heard “Walking the bounds”
Short, thorny shrubs/trees (Hawthorne? Sloe? But with white bark) that woolen clothes caught on
Slow walking (observation? Witnessing?)
Rocks close under and poking through the ground’s surface
So… I guess she – or someone – wanted to talk.
The second night, I tried to talk to Peredur’s mother. I imagined myself back in the deep woods, and I asked:
Who lives here?
And… oof. I saw a woman with a green pig’s head and tusks (who was not me) and a long dress, and she was not happy. I heard:
“I do!” in this very aggressive, fuck-off voice, accompanied by the sounds of distressed horses, galloping hooves, and the sound of metal-on-metal.
So I left, because it sounded like she did NOT want me in there.
I have no idea if that was Peredur’s mom – possible, given the whole “stay away from me, I’m traumatized by war and its accompanying grief” situation – or if it was somebody else. Still a big response, but not a welcoming one.
Which: The other two times I’ve done this, I haven’t had much come up. Possibly this is because I’m trying to steer clear of the Deep Woods – where most of this story takes place (er… sort of?). But also possibly just because I’m tired and feeling under the weather. I’ve been asking about the requirements of hospitality and not getting tonnes of a response.
Continuing with the end-of-chapter Activities offered in Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies, it’s time for Chapter Two.
Chapter Two is about mythology and its roles in contemporary pagan faiths. I appreciate that this chapter includes a discussion of ways that we can conflate mythology with history – like The Burning Times as a period when actual practitioners of The Craft were being hunted out and killed, rather than a period when various types of Christians were hunting out and killing each other for being The Wrong Kind of Christian; or the theory of a Pan-European Matriarchal Prehistory that requires a LOT of conjecture and, like most conjecture about prehisotry, says more about the contemporary storytellers than it does about the people the story is ostensibly about (this is why I like Ron Hutton, tbh). I also appreciate how the author talks about cultural appropriation and the need for contemporary pagans, as a predominantly white population, to tread carefully and respectfully when (if) engaging with the living traditions of racialized people, while also avoiding falling into the trap of “someone can ONLY engage with a tradition/pantheon/practice if they have that cultural heritage or ancestry” which can, and does, get used to bolster white n*tion*list narratives. The author also talked about how contemporary pagans are engaging in myth-making that incorporates both contemporary science and UPG, while also engaging with pre-existing texts and interpreting them – sometimes with difficulty – in ways that are relevant to our 21st century lives. It was a good chapter.
The Activities presented at the end of the chapter all revolve around a myth with-which the reader chooses to engage. So. Part 1:
Choose a myth, read it, then analyze it to answer the following:
What does this myth tell you about the people who wrote it?
In what ways is this myth relevant to you and your life today?
What does this myth tell me about the people who wrote it?
First, I have to recognize that this is a probably Victorian lady, and a Christian, doing the translation of a story that was written down by Christians in the middle ages as a (likewise very Christian) King Arthur legend. I gather it’s probably older, and less Christian, than that. But this is what I have available.
As far as what it says, more broadly, about the Brithonic culture at large, in terms of what the Christians who wrote it down opted to keep, this is what it tells me:
Peredur, who is known as “the Son of Evrawc” is, none the less, constantly running into, and gaining both honour and hospitality through, the brothers of his MOTHER. All of whom seem to live in big-ass castles within the wild “desert” wood.
So… I sort of think this implies a Matrilineal society shifting towards Patrilineage at the time of the writing-down? Maybe?
I also wonder if Peredur’s Mother was one of the Fair Folk, once upon a time, as all of her brothers appear to live in what’s described as the wild “desert” wood.
I’m wondering, too, if “desert” here is just… look, hypothetically, the Forest of ancient England would have been more like a savanna than like the deep, Beech forests of Germany, as described in The Hidden Life of Trees. None the less, I’m wondering if those deep forests – the Wild Wood of high, thick canopies, wind pollination, and mostly non-existent understory, far from the forest edge of insect-pollinated, annually-fruiting trees (hazel, chestnut, hawthorn, sloe, apple, a zillion bramble berries) and the related abundance of small and mid-sized game, where humans can thrive – were thought of as either “wasteland” – meaning “you are not going to find a lot of food, easily, if you’re stuck here” – or as “wilds” (like, in the biblical sense of various people wandering in the desert for forty days/years to indicate a long period of being removed from civilization and its related ills, dangers, and distractions)
Hiding out in the Deep Woods was definitely a thing one could do, but you had to pack in a lot of livelystock… so maybe my Deep Woods theory is accurate? (No idea)
Question: Is “The Lord of the Glade” Gwyn ap Nudd? Or Arywn?
Kingship (or earlship, etc) was won, and maintained, by Might Of Arms
This is also how you made a name for yourself
Women could inherit land and rulership but, given the whole Might Of Arms situation, they weren’t always in a position to defend that which they’d inherited if they didn’t have brothers or foster-brothers or other fighting-fit male relatives around to do the defending.
If someone was under your parents’ protection – I am not sure if I’m stretching things here or reading them right – and those parents died or were otherwise indisposed, you inherited that duty to protect them.
Hospitality was a BIG DEAL – like if someone turned up on your doorstep, it wasn’t just “Hey. Welcome. Come in and have some food and rest”. It was “Hey. Welcome. GOOD TO SEE YOU! Come in and have some food and rest” and then introducing yourselves after the meal was done. Feed your guest first, ask questions later.
Also, apparently, if you had a guest and they were like “Nice jewelry!” you had to give it to them happily?
Being someone’s guest also came with responsibilities. Like, sure, you could eat people out of house and home and take their stuff just by asking for it. But you also had to return the favour via significant acts of service.
I’m assuming that Peredur is opting for acts of heroism because he’s a Knight (or wants to be one), but in a less legendary situation, maybe it’s things like doing the washing up, showing up with a hostess gift, and not making a total mess of someone else’s home.
Which, I guess, brings me to question two: How is this myth relevant to me, as a person living today?
Family ties (for a given definition of family that’s broader than the one implied by the story) being how you keep yourself safe, fed, etc
How can I strengthen my own family ties?
Am I looking after the people in my extended family? In what ways?
How to be a Good Guest when one’s status as “guest” is a polite euphemism for “colonizer” or “invader”.
What services can I do for the people whose territory I’m in?
What services can I do for the territory itself?
What can I do in order to NOT continue eating them out of house and home and taking all their stuff?
If these are stories about boundaries and boundary-crossings… how do I stay in my own lane, so to speak? How do I behave respectfully and respectably when I’m out and about, interacting with other human and other-than-human people, and so on?
Part Two of Chapter Two’s Activities requires meditating on one’s myth of choice, for ten minutes every day, for a week. So: Having only done one day worth of this so far, I’m going to follow up on this bit a little while.
Star Carr is a seasonal Mesolithic site situated in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire, England. Early Mesolithic activities dating back about 10,700 years can be found here. The site was originally excavated during the early 50s, with excavations led by Manchester and York Universities continuing to today. In this post I will explore the evidence found of human activity at this site and suggest that even during the Early Mesolithic, complex worldviews were in place…
The Mesolithic period dates between 10,000 BC and 4000 BC, when people were nomadic hunter-gatherers. This period occurs at the end of the last ice age and continues until the first farmers of the Neolithic began settling down and domesticating their animals. The image above sets the scene, with people processing…
Following up on this post with the second Homework Question asked by the author at the end of Chapter One. The author asks:
“What would it be like to honour the differently? Consider experimenting with a practice that is different from the beliefs that you hold. Can a hard polytheist meditate on Atman with a group of Hindus? Can a monotheist make offerings to the spirits of the land, understanding them as aspects of the divine? Can a soft polytheist, or nontheist, call upon a deity and speak with them as a person rather than an archetype? Sit with the feelings of discomfort that may arise from this thought experiment. Is it important to continue to believe as you do now? Why or why not?”
I started to touch on this very briefly in my previous post. That, when trying to find points of relation with monotheists and panentheists, I lean into the idea of numerous individual godsouls – including those of actual deities – making up a giant, composite, universe-soul who is, at the same time, an entity unto themselves, but that doing this is not entirely comfortable.
I feel like I’m lying. Or being rude to my gods. Or both. Which is one of the reasons I mostly practice as a Solitary.
Uh. More on that, even though I’ll be touching on it again in a few chapters:
I “go to church” with my girlfriend, and her ritual group, and it’s LOVELY. I’m very glad that I get to do this – or got to do this when they were doing ritual online, and may get to do this again if in-person stuff is available while I’m visiting DC – and it’s been really… really special and important for to be able to do that. I’ve talked before – if not on this blog, then with my friends – about “missing church”. Which has meant a couple of things for me. I miss the… laziness? Of just being able to show up at a ritual and follow the directions, rather than having to come up with the ritual myself.
Like, yes, I’m definitely down to create my own rituals, they’re personally meaningful and let me connect with my gods, my ancestors, my godself, my fetch, the spirits of my micro-bioregion. All of that. But it’s also really nice to be able to who up and immerse myself in a ritual without having to also make sure I remember what step comes next.
But I also miss “church” in the sense of “having a community of shared values and… heavily overlapping(?) cosmology with-whom I can do personally meaning woo-woo stuff on a reliable and consistent basis”. And there are local ritual groups, public ones, that I could be part of. Or there were, a few years ago. But it feels really weird to sort of “play at” penentheism, or at duotheistic poly pantheism, in a long term way. Like, she who is the white moon among the stars is actually NOT the same person as the one who’s the green earth. Heck the Green and the Earth are two different people. And that’s just on my personal altar, before you get to the specific individuals who make up the Green ad the Earth who I call to when I do quarter calls. You know?
So, to drag this back to the author’s question:
While I’m able to consider the soul of the universe, of which I (and/as my tripartite soul) am just a tiny, TINY part:
I’m not thinking of Atman – my rudimentary understanding of All That Is, the connections between, and ultimate unity of, All That Is, is not likely to be the same understanding that someone who’s been a practicing Hindu for 25 years is going to have via the lens of their faith.
I’m going to feel like I’m oversimplifying things if that’s the part I focus on. Like I’m smoothing the edges off my cosmology to make it easier and more palatable for a largely monotheistic “over-culture” to wrap their collective heads around
I’m going to worry that I will forget both the complexity and the embodied immediacy of The Divine qua numerous individual deities, spirits of place, etc, if I spend too much time focusing on that broader, harder-to-have-relationships-with (harder to relate to? – There’s probably something worth digging into there) all-encompassing Universe Soul at the expense of naming and honouring and relating to those individual entities-unto-themselves who are my gods, who are the gods-who-aren’t-mine, who are the local Neighbours, who are my specific ancestors of blood and spirit, who is my own godself… all of them.
So, yes. I think it’s important for me to continue worshiping as I do, and… cosmology-ing as I do. While I get that my practice and understanding are going to keep evolving over time, I don’t think I’d be doing right by my gods or my Other People, if I changed that up substantially or suddenly or, possibly, at all.
So I got myself a copy of this book. It’s one of the ones that’s on the reading list for Cherry Hill Seminary’s Community Ministry Certificate. I figure, if I can’t take the courses (…yet), I can at least start doing the readings. So I’ve made a start of it. It’s absolutely an intro book – a bit of a light survey with a solid bibliography to go hunting up further stuff. Short, but it’s chewy none the less. I appreciate how the author has made a point of drawing on examples from a lot of different traditions, and from writers/thinkers/theologians who were both well-established (Starhawk, Graham Harvey, Carol Christ, the Andersons, the Farrars, Judy Harrow, John Casey, Margot Adler) and those who, at the time of this book’s publication (2012) were much more recent additions to the Pagan theological… canon? Can I call it a canon? Let’s go with that. Think Sarah Kate Istra Winter, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Katherine MacDowell, Raven Kaldera, Ivo Dominguez Jr, and Emma Restall Orr, if we want to split that particular hair at roughly the Millennium line). I’m hopeful that, as we head into 2022, she’s got a 10 year anniversary follow-up in the works. Time will tell.
Anyway. The book has Activities at the end of each chapter. And I thought I’d give some of them a go.
Chapter one, which is kind of an introduction of theological terms like “Monism” and “Animism”, “Process Theology” and “Polytheism” (both hard and soft), asks the reader to think on their own theological position(s) and how that position has changed, if it has, over the course of their life.
I would start by saying that my theology was experiential before I ever heard the word “theology” let alone started using it in sentences. Part of why I stopped being christian is that… there wasn’t anything there. Or at least that who was there was definitely not answering my phone calls.
I was about fifteen when I concluded that “Christian” no-longer described me, and that it was time to figure out what I did believe, and ideally to find a faith that could match it.
I was sixteen when I met a God for the first time.
For the first few years – years when I was interacting with mostly Wiccan practitioners, mostly on the proto-internet of the mid-1990s – I probably qualified as either a soft polytheist or a duotheistic polypantheist (one of my profs used that term to describe the embodied, “all the gods are one god and all the goddesses one goddess” theology of Wicca, which she practiced). I’m not sure if I was an animist yet, though I knew that Ancestors were part of my reality pretty much immediately. I met my first (out) hard polytheist when I was in my very early twenties and that, as they say, Really Gave Me Something To Think About.
I think I was probably hitting on my own hard polytheism inside of five years later. Basically, I started meeting other gods (and then meeting other humans who had very specific relationships with specific other gods) and it felt increasingly… rude? to act like they were interchangeable. It was also around this point that I started thinking about the nature of souls and came to my own conclusion that there are multiple parts to a soul, or multiple souls, in a given person (not just human people, fyi, so: definitely an animist by this point). What I think is that, since reincarnation is a thing, and since ancestors who stick around and with-whom you can interact, are also a thing… There must be a spark that jumps from life to life, reincarnating over and over and picking up experiences, as well as a “self” or “memory” soul that develops over the course of a given lifetime and becomes an Ancestor (and sometimes a restless ghost, tbh) upon death.
That said: A lot of the theology I’ve read has been by Feri initiates, even if they were presenting stuff that was okay for laypeople to know. Lee Harrington. T Thorn Coyle. Starhawk. Gede Parma. Orion Foxwood. So maybe it’s not surprising that I’ve picked up.
Everything seems to be built in a series of nested layers – I am an entity unto myself. But I’m also part of the entity that is my micro-bioregion and, from there, my planet. I’m also made up of entities-unto-themselves that are the myriad folk of my gut biota, for example. My planet is made up of all those micro-bioregional entities, and is part of the entity that is my solar system.
And I think that souls must be a bit like that. I am an entity until myself – and so I go to the land of the Ancestors when I die. But I’m also part of the soul of All That Is – the universe has a soul made up of a zillion parts, because the universe is made up of a zillion parts. I think this is a little related to the Feri tradition’s Star Goddess. But it’s also a little related to the Vedic tradition’s Prajapati. It just seems to fit, given how the universe works (by our current understanding of How The Universe Works). All those land spirits, all those Gods of place. They are entities unto themselves. And I think, on some quiet level they are, like me, part of the All That Is.
I’ve met my Godself, my Deep Self, my Shard of the Universe Herself – to use three different ways of referring to Her – I know She’s real, and is an entity unto Herself. But I also know that She is, at the same time, both part of ME – this human body, this human life enlivened by a leaping, experiencing, ever-renewing Spark (is this Fetch? Maybe?) and remembered by/as an Ancestor (is this Talking Self? Maybe?) in times to come – and part of the swimming, blending, universe-soul, All That Is.
So… my Hard Polytheism and my Animism are underpinned by something like Pantheism? Maybe? But it’s a quiet, background pantheism rather than the Pantheism or Panenthism that my Unitarian clients, or the uh… Pananimist Nontheism(?) that my Buddhist clients for that matter, tend to lean towards. It’s what I lean into when I’m trying to find points of theological relating with people who are just weirded out by the reality of “Gods, Plural” and give me funny looks when I want to talk shop. It’s fine, but it feels a bit like hitting a wall, sometimes. It’s much easier to tell people that “my church is in my back yard” or “I take a walk in the woods when I need to commune with the divine” because that sounds hippie-pantheist enough to be non-threatening (I say, presuming that people are likely to be off-put by polytheism and hard animism) than to get into the nitty-gritty of seasonal offerings, deities turning up in the living room (and the bedroom), messages being passed along through humans who are More Sensitive To This Stuff than I am, using an imaginary legal pad to talk to my Godself, and how old an appliance has to be before it starts talking (I think the youngest machine who every told me her name is Janice, my wife’s the sewing machine who would have been… between 40 and 45 at the time? So younger than the Tsukumogami by a substantial margin. I’m kind of… trepedatious about what will happen in 10-20 years when my library starts hitting that age…)
… And that’s kind of where things stand right now.
I’m sure things will continue to evolve – particularly around Animism regarding things like “I am a mammal that eats… at all” and “So much plastic packaging… What do I do with this??” – but I like where my cosmology/theology are at right now. I think, at this point, it’s more likely to deepen than to change direction. I hope that’s how it goes.