Slowing the Pace, Reading the Stories, Doing the Rituals – Looking For Quality Over Quantity

One of our problems today is that we are not well acquainted with the literature of the spirit. We’re interested in the news of the day and the problems of the hour. It used to be that the university campus was a kind of hermetically sealed-off area where the news of the day did not impinge upon your attention to the inner life and to the magnificent human heritage we have in our great tradition – Plato, Confucius, the Buddha, Goethe, and others who speak of the eternal values that have to do with the centering of our lives. When you get to be older, and the concerns of the day have all been attended to, and your turn to the inner life – well, if you don’t know where it is or what it is, you’ll be sorry.

Greek and Latin and biblical literature used to be part of everyone’s education. Now, when these were dropped, a whole tradition of Occidental mythological information was lost. It used to be that these stories were in the minds of people. When the story is in your mind, then you see its relevance to something happening in your own life. It gives you perspective on what’s happening to you. With the loss of that, we’ve really lost something because we don’t have a comparable literature to take its place. These bits of information from ancient times, which have to do with the themes that have supported human life, built civilizations, and informed religions over the millennia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage, and if you don’t know what guide-signs are along the way, you have to work it out for yourself. (The Power of Myth, p1-2)

This lengthy quote from “The Power of Myth” really got my mind to wondering about a variety of things, such as how different our individual approaches to the aspects of Spirituality that appeals to us may have been if today were just ten or twenty years prior. “The Power of Myth” came out in the late 1980s, a time frame where I had just started on my own Pagan Path. Therefore, some of what Campbell references here is very clear in my somewhat fuzzy memory. The news cycle had started to shorten with the arrival of cable news networks. Compared to today’s endless 24x7x365 news blitz, the starting point from much of this was much shorter. Even in this changing moment for news reporting, the traditional news cycle that was handled as a combination of daily newspapers, national news broadcasts at 5pm local time, and local news broadcasts in the morning, noon, evening, and late-night (10pm local) still ruled the roost. Today’s constant, non-stop news cycle is a hallmark of the fast-paced, constantly on-the-go lifestyles we have adapted to. And in some cases, this go-go-go lifestyle is all that one may ever have known throughout their life. And that fast-paced, constantly “on” pace provides little time or need for classic learning behaviors. Through this, certain aspects of our lives are swept aside as “unnecessary”, ‘unneeded”, or “unwanted” because there is not a quick, neat correlation to this new, quicker paced lifestyle.

John Beckett recently did a second installment of his Q&A posts, what I gather to be a monthly installment for his blog. I read the first version with curiosity, and was very intrigued by the questions asked of him, as well as his answers. For his second installment, I decided to play along. I decided to utilize a topic I knew would resonate deeply with John – ritual. I have witnessed a few of the rites that John has had a hand in creating – and these are wonderful moments to catch. The way he layers meaning, symbolism, and intention into rituals is truly a wonderful thing to behold, in my not so humble opinion. So, for his post, I did a rapid fire of quite a few questions, thinking he would pick one or two to answer. I did not expect him to answer ALL of the questions, but he did and with his usual insightful perspective.

[From John’s Post]: I’d like to see more ritual acts of devotion, especially simple things like saluting the sun in the morning and/or evening, and the moon when it’s visible at night – little things that done consistently remind us of our connections to Nature, the Gods, and our ancestors.

[My Response]: Yes, all of that makes for a daily practice that becomes more intense, more personal, more connected. And I cannot state how much of a difference it can make in one’s life. The focus it provides is quite intense and intentional. I have always wondered if a lack of personal rituals around moments in our lives is a catalyst towards the de-emphasis of how connected we are to the world around us. I would tend towards “yes” but I don’t really have any empirical evidence to prove my supposition.

The above is from my comment on the blog. And coupled with Campbell’s previous quote, I can see where aspects of all of this have started changing the perceptions of how people relate to Paganism, Druidry and personal Spirituality in our new, faster-paced, “modern” world. Daily routines and rituals, such as my morning ritual of greeting the Sun at dawn (something I try to do every day), have been pushed aside that there is more time to cram in to the information overload that we gorge on daily. We’ve pushed classical education to the side, so that we can focus on educating students on subjects that “matter” in the workplace…mathematics, writing/grammar, and technical topics – each essential to a student’s education, but a major de-emphasis on history and philosophy, where students are provided the opportunity to stretch their theoretical legs around concepts revolving around ethics, moral principles contained within stories and tales. In essence, we have pushed our mythologies, our rituals, our daily rites off to the side in the name of convenience. We aim for speed, efficiency, maximum profit for minimum effort…rather than finding the quality in what we have. Quantity over quality to utilize a phrase that was dictated as a “standard” in modern business practices in my MBA degree program.

img_9678Recently, I posted about taking a drastic change in my approach to my Ovate studies within OBOD. I termed this as “diving deep” into my studies, moving at a pace that allows me to bring a certain degree of quality to my understanding of the material. The approach will lengthen the time that I work at these studies, but thus far, it has enhanced the depth of what I am learning by allowing me to take some of the side-trails in what I find in my studies. In this manner, I am allowing myself to branch further out in these studies than I had originally planned on doing. Rather than approach the studies on a plan of do(x) then(y), I do(x) until I find a natural end to the studies of (x). Only then do I move to (y). The previous methodology was focused on accomplishing this set of studies on this particular day. Then moving forward into the next set of studies which were to be done on another certain date. Quantity over quality. After just a handful of Gwers, I started to realize that I was not learning anything in this methodology.

I do not pretend to have any answers to how to live life. Not even for myself. I muddle through life like everyone else does. However, I am increasingly left to wonder if we tried approaching life with a bit more intention, we might be able to improve some of the quality that we seem to be missing. If we brought back rites of passage – such as proper celebrations of birthdays (as a singular, very secular instance), we might find more joy in life? Perhaps, we could tone down the pace in which we devour our news cycle, and choose to consume aspects of daily life at a much slower pace – we might find that quality we all seek? I know when I approach my life with a bit more deliberate intention, I slow down quite a bit. And to be really honest, that change of pace has made all the difference to my attitude in life. Truly, I cannot say that any of this will work for everyone else, but bringing back our stories, bringing back some intention in our daily routines, setting time aside to honor our Gods, our Ancestors, the Spirits of Place – surely, if all of that provides a better connection to the world around you, helps you find a small niche in this world where you truly feel you belong…wouldn’t that be worth it? For me, it has been….

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Review: The Path of Paganism – John Beckett

Before I get going too far, I do have to note – I know John in real life. I am also an avid reader of his blog. And while both of these provide some degree of prejudice when it comes to reviewing his book, I like to think I am capable of being more than just a raging fanboy. With that noted here at the onset, let’s take a voyage into The Path of Paganism.

First off, the cover depicts a forested scene, where a part of the upcoming pathway seems to be lit from the sun above. After reading this book, its apparent that this is an appropriate image for what John has written. We all travel a path through the forests of our lives. Occasionally, we come across something – music, books, lectures, experiences – that illuminate the Path for a moment. We cross through those moments of light, feeling the warmth and depth of the light in comparison to the denser parts of the forest where the same light struggles to penetrate to the floor below. This book, I believe, will be a moment where the light penetrates to the forest floor for many of those that read it, and take meaning and experience from it.

This book is a 101 Paganism book, but then again – its not. Instead of endless pages on the same rote concepts of the Wheel of the Year, how to perform ritual, or ways to meditate – John provides a bit more. Steps beyond those positions. Granted, in some of the instances, John does revert back to basic-level explanation to get the reader to a point where the next steps can be taken, thus my 101-sticker application. However, once that context has been exposed, and provided appropriate explanation, the next steps are taken on ground that is far more solid than it would have been without the lead-in.

At the end of each section, John provides small statements of food-for-thought, or even questions for you to spend time on. Some of these have even made it into my daily journal entries, and were the stepping stones to even deeper questions that I posited to myself. For me, these ending aspects provided an entire cache of intellectual and spiritual fodder that I will be working my way through for quite some time. Or, as I said to myself when I realized I had seven pages of hand-written questions to work through:  “Thanks John. Just what I needed. More stuff to write about.” But I am kidding. All of that writing helps me work through concepts and issues in my mind that I had never thought of before. And I am grateful to have the chance to do so now and into the future. For that’s how I grow. Writing and thinking and doing and experiencing.

Writing and thinking and doing and experiencing. Well, if you were looking for a summative phrase for John’s book, this might be it. The material in the book is about more than just reading though. Its about doing. Its about experiencing. And sitting back and reading is only the measure of opening the door. Utilize what’s written there, take on the suggestions he sets forth, and improvise when he feel comfortable enough. In short, experience it, for real.

So, if you’re new to Paganism, this is not a bad starting place – though the concepts might be better handled if you read other books first, and then turned back here immediately afterwards. Just to have a good base to work from. If you are not new to Paganism, give the book a read. You never know, you might find something different to muse over. You may see things in a different light. And after all, that’s really what this book seems to be written towards:  seeing things on that Path with a different light. Hence, the gorgeous book cover.

In my opinion, biased as it may be, get it. Read it. Try it. Experience the world around you through some of the suggestions contained within its pages. Think about the concepts. Ask questions about those concepts with your friends. Discuss. Talk with others. Experience it together.

Riffing on Paganism and Druidry

John Beckett has written a recent blog addressing aspects of polytheism moving forward in a monotheistic environment. It covers a lot of ground, and proposes quite a bit of food for thought and discussion, but one particular part of it jumped off the page at me when I read it.

At the 2009 House of Danu Gorsedd, John Michael Greer said that Paganism in general and Druidry in particular are not revived religions or even reconstructed religions. Rather, they are indigenous religions of modern Anglo-American industrial society.

Now, I am far from someone that takes my understanding and interactions with the Gods and desires to hearken back to the manner of worship within the Past. And this little quote from John’s blog post reiterates that for me. In fact, it tickles a particular thought I have had over the past year: do the Gods really care whether we follow the exact same patterns of worship from long ago? This plays into what I have taken to calling “Jazz Paganism”, which is a style I essentially practice. I wrote about this a while back in “The Song I Sing for Today” and “Free-Form Ritual – Knowing It“, both of which have addressed my style of beliefs and practice. None of that has changed. And its rather doubtful any of it will in the future. Its a style that works for me.

One of the bones of contention has been over the term indigenous. Rather than trying to argue and nitpick over definitions, I will just set the way I understand the term, and leave it at that. Revealed religions are those that are started by one individual who has a spiritual way revealed to him and shares with others. Nature religions, on the other hand, are indigenous and revere nature. In this aspect, indigenous refers to something that grows naturally from a region, for instance Native American beliefs or Celtic beliefs. From my understanding, one telling difference between the two is that the Nature religion has the flexibility to continually grow and change, while the Revealed religion has a very stringent set of rules or guidelines (I would tend to call this “dogma”) that adherents must follow.

So, if I follow what Greer is saying above, Druidry is a set of beliefs that grow, change and/or evolve over time. Druidry as we know it today is not the same as Druidry as it was in the 1960s, nor will it be the same as Druidry in the 2020s. I am not sure I completely agree that Druidry grew out of the modern industrial society, though. From my perspective, it found fertile ground within that cultural environment, where a need and desire for things natural, green, and growing was a necessary contrast to the cold, dark, steel and concrete environment that manifested in the western world. Much like we humans need complexity and simplicity, we also have needs for the industrial world as well as the natural. That concept of dichotomy seems to be rampant within the way our human minds operate.

So, if someone asked me for an in-depth answer of how I view today’s Paganism in comparison to say, Paganism in the 1960s – I would say that today’s Paganism is continuation of what we have seen. Its evolved, and changed. In many ways, its a direct answer to many of the issues that we have in our modern society. And in many others, its an offshoot because of those issues. Not quite an answer, but closer in concept as a result of those issues. And from that, people are coming to Paganism to remove themselves from a dogma-filled aspect of the Revealed religions.

With no dogma, many of the Natural religions allow people to explore concepts of Spirituality in ways that they haven’t been provided before. I know it is a major pull for myself. Had I remained a Christian, a doubt I would have even stumbled over the amazing experiences I have had, nor would I have grown as much as I have as an adult. And trust me folks, those who remember me in my twenties prior to finding my way into Paganism, can attest to the asshole that I was.

So, is Druidry and Paganism the framework for moving forward into the future? Well, I don’t know about the entirety of the human population. After all, we are all very different individuals with very different ideas to the bigger and more useless questions of life, such as who should be President of the United States. But I hold out hope that one of the smaller, and more important point in life is something we can all share throughout this world: we need to treat one another far more kindly. For me, my exploration of Paganism and Druidry is my guiding aspect in all of this. Respect for other aspects of Life, including other human beings. It might not be the sole guiding principle, but it certainly is one of the major ones for me.

So, back to Greer’s statement. Is Druidry something that grew in the wild from the muck of a modern Anglo-American industrial society? I would tend to agree. The seeds do not come from this particular part of history. Those go much, much further back, and are shrouded in the mists of oral history, and muddied by the attempts of individuals to take from that oral history, and document it in writing and video and other forms of media. Much like a plant can be “groomed” a certain way (think ivy vines growing over an archway or up a wall), I would posit that much of what we understand of Druidry today is “groomed” by the manner in which it has been recorded and documented by others who have long since passed beyond the veil.

I would also posit that Druidry has changed, thanks to the many writers we have today, and the numerous Traditions as well. Druidry (and Paganism), in my mind, is a growing entity. It will evolve and change in response to the issues and crises of the momentary point in time. In a Druid Prayer and Devotion on the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids website, there is a particular series of statements:

And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;

Druidry has a focus on social change, a focus on addressing corruption in government at all levels, and a focus on understanding and respecting others regardless of their beliefs, skin color, eye color, hair color, height, weight, gender, political affiliation, etc etc. In my eyes, this is where Druidry can be utilized to address the issues of the current moment in time. There is a desire to find equality for all, that none are treated differently or seen to be different. There is a desire that each are treated equally for aspects of justice, regardless of social status, personal wealth, or whatever other difference making descriptive you can think of. For me, this particular point, along with many, many others, allows Druidry to be elastic in its usage as an approach to the future. This is what allows Druidry to grow from the muck of the world around us, to produce a strong, steady oak tree into the future. And as the tree grows and sheds its acorns into the future, those grow into more oaks, providing more relevance to tomorrow’s society. For me, Druidry is a continually evolving and changing response to our global society and its ever-changing issues and crises.


One final note. It took me nearly five days to formulate this. All based off of a single quote from John’s original post. It is not quite what I think John had in mind, when he published his original post over on Patheos. But I let this grow organically in my mind as I wrote it. Hopefully, its coherent. And hopefully, it does for you what John’s post did for me:  spark some deeper thought. I encourage you to clink the above link to John’s original post, and give it a couple of reads. Check out the comments as well, as there are even more thoughts there that can hopefully help spur discussion and thought.  –Tommy /|\