I drop to one knee and scoop up a handful of earth. It is dry, granular, and loose; it falls easily through my fingers. A fine plume of dust is carried off by the slight breeze as it falls between my fingers. This is not soil; it is dirt. It will not grow much unless something organic is added; there is no life in it.
When I was young, I was full of life. I was full of dreams. I watched the dream of the ages fulfilled as the first man set foot upon the Moon. I was inspired, but the dream ended.
The people were satisfied with themselves. There was nothing they wanted to do except enjoy the fruits of their labors. Their great accomplishment spawned a myriad of new toys. The people then sat in their easy chairs, playing with their shiny new toys, and getting fat. The spirit of life slowly seeped out of the land.
Seeking wisdom, I was drawn to ancient writings of great repute. Grand religions were built around these writings, and these writings inspired awe. I eventually realized that the great congregations of the grand religions understand little about their own scriptures, as demonstrated by their words and deeds. The congregations were drained of the spirit of life; they were dark and oppressive. I came to doubt the power of these ancient writings. I resumed my search.
The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. (Jesus of Nazareth, John 3:8, NASB)
A Matter of Spirit
There are many religions in this world, but I came to understand the iconic destruction of The Temple. Spirit cannot be confined, it defies limitations, and there are no pedestals large enough to hold it except perhaps the Earth itself… or the hearts of humankind. Then one day, I discovered people who believe that Spirit is everywhere and in all things.
The object is to move with Spirit in their belief system, rather than trying to control or command spirits. Believing spiritual revelation to be at the heart of the world’s religions, there is respect for the religions and their respective deities, past and present. These people did not believe it respectful to attempt dictating to the Divine how it should reveal itself to humankind. Finding the deity that resonated the strongest within you was recommended as the first step to put ones self on the “fast track” to enlightenment. They postulate that there are many paths to enlightenment.
The respect shown to Divine Spirit by acknowledging its inherent freedom resonated within my spirit. Freedom was further enhanced by an expressed lack of requirement to join a coven or congregation; a solitary path is acceptable. Considering my earlier experience, it was no surprise that I was inexorably drawn to this path.
Freedom fosters an expansive feeling. Respect for other beliefs fosters a sense of adventure for one seeking wisdom. Together, a natural proclivity towards eclecticism results; seek wisdom wherever it may be found. My initial taste of Paganism through Wicca led to an exploration of Witchcraft, Druidry, Shamanism, Chaos Magic, and more. Unfortunately, the initial excitement would become diminished.
And thou who thinkest to seek Her, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the mystery; that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee. (The Charge of the Goddess)
The Temple Builders
It seems only natural that diversity is bound to produce some divisiveness, and perhaps great diversity produces great divisiveness. There was a great deal of activity to resurrect, revive, or reconstruct Paganism, particularly in the twentieth century, which resulted in a “new” Paganism or Neo-Paganism. Begrudging acceptance (to one degree or another) of Pagan beliefs constituting legitimate religion appears to have also awakened the organizers of religion: the Temple Builders.
The Temple Builders concern at the beginning of the twenty-first century appears to have been credibility. Temple Builders desired distance from the so-called “fluffy bunnies” they claimed were attracted to Wicca. There seemed to be a move towards the preferred label of “Pagan.” However, “Pagan” apparently seemed too general; it lacked definition. Two solutions appear to have arisen from this problem.
Some Pagans chose to define themselves by using or creating more specific labels to signify their specific beliefs and traditions. However, there appears to be other factions that assumed mantles of authority to re-define “pagan.” This is not soil; it is dirt. The definition of a word is not subject to any religious authority.
My grammar was frequently corrected as a youngster when I said “ain’t.” I was told that “ain’t” is not a word; it is not in the dictionary. Half a century later, “ain’t” is a word because it is now in the dictionary, despite efforts to eradicate the word from common usage. This illustrates that common usage has more to do with the definition of a word than some artificial authority.
At the Root of the Matter
The root of the word “pagan” is attributed to the Latin word “paganus.” Latin, of course, was the language of the Roman Empire, and the sophisticated jewel at the heart of that empire was the eternal city of Rome. According to one Latin dictionary, “paganus” is an adjective used to describe “pagan; of a pagus (country district); rural/rustic; civilian (not military).” It seems to have had similar usage as the modern term country hick, as used by city slickers.
Military service could elevate a person’s status in ancient Rome, which suggests a paganus to be low on the social scale. The grand buildings, running water and great fountains, and bath houses were the hallmark of the sophistication of Roman cities. Roman intelligentsia flocked to the centers of the arts and sciences (cities) while the rural people who worked the land were considered relatively crude, uneducated, and consigned to common labor. The rural villages and people lacked sophistication.
The power center of the Roman Empire eventually shifted to Constantinople as the empire declined. This left a power vacuum in Rome that was (at least partially) filled by the developing Catholic church, whose seat of power remains in Rome to this day. It isn’t difficult to see how paganus developed into pagan with its modern definitions.
Pagan was the name given to idolaters in the early Christian church, because the villagers, being most remote from the centers of instruction, remained for a long time unconverted. (The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48)
The modern definition of “pagan” essentially says, “If you don’t believe in our God, then you ain’t one of us.” Some synonyms listed for “pagan” are: heathen, gentile, and infidel. However, the definition becomes a little more refined:
n. a person who follows a polytheistic or pre-Christian religion (not a Christian or Muslim or Jew)… adj. not acknowledging the God of Christianity and Judaism and Islam… (Wordnet 3.0)
The usage of “pagan” by the Children of Abraham appears to dominate the definition of this word, and that usage was not limited to Europe only. Some demographics indicate that Christians and Muslims comprise over half of the world’s population. The population of “Neo-Pagans” is relatively insignificant by comparison. If all the English teachers (language authorities) in the U.S. could not eradicate the use of “ain’t” fifty years ago, what makes any group of elite Pagans think they can redefine “pagan”? This is not soil; it is dirt. Nothing good can grow here.
Religion is a social construct of humankind. There usually is some spiritual revelation (truth) at its core, but the religion built around that core is a social construct of humankind with a hierarchy of power. It seems to be a general weakness of humankind to be easily seduced by power, too. When the power structure begins to take precedence over the spiritual core, the religion begins to deteriorate.
The iconic representation of these principles is the Temple of Solomon. A covenant was established between God and the Jewish people. The covenant was inscribed upon stone tablets, and an ark was built to hold the tablets of the covenant. The Jewish people carried the Ark of the Covenant with them wherever they went. They carried it with them when they conquered and inhabited their promised land. Eventually, Solomon built a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant within its heart, the holiest of holies.
Although the material representation of this spiritual covenant was surrounded by a magnificent religious structure, the people forgot the covenant; it wasn’t found within their hearts. This angered their God and He had the temple destroyed. The temple was eventually rebuilt, only to be destroyed again. Today there is no temple and the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant remains a mystery. What can we learn from this example?
The material and social religious structures built around spiritual revelations are inconsequential to the Divine, particularly when the spiritual core becomes lost to the people. Similar events happened to the Pagan people of the Mediterranean world with the rise of Christianity. Eventually, the persecutors became the persecuted, and many of their temples were destroyed. Now that Paganism seems to be on the rise again, some Temple Builders want to establish the Pagan equivalents of the ecumenical Council of Nicaea.
The Council of Nicaea was convened by the Roman emperor Constantine I. Constantine wanted consistency in Christian beliefs for the purpose of population control. The Council had a political purpose with a spiritual facade. The goal of religious consistency resulted in limiting the diversity of “Christian” beliefs by ostracizing some Christians, even declaring them to be heretics. Temple Builders are chasing power, not seeking wisdom. The results of these methods are revealed in the historical record.
This is not soil; it is dirt. Nothing Pagan can thrive here. If we come to know the Divine through the study of the Divine Creation, it is hard to miss that great beauty and life springs from great diversity; diversity needs to be preserved. Any attempt to limit that diversity, or eliminate any of its parts, only reveals that arrogance obscures intelligence.
Proud to be Pagan
There does not appear to be anything remarkable about Pagan Temple Builders over other religious organizers. The heady exhilaration produced by the values of freedom and respect has been balanced by observations that aberrations of the human mind are consistent across the board. The balance reminds me to seek wisdom in higher places, and that contradictions exist everywhere as a function of humanity more than their religions. So, what makes this “territory” special?
Kneel down and scoop up a handful of earth. It is dark, moist, and it clumps when you squeeze it, but the clumps break up easily. This is soil, and much can flourish in it. There is life here.
Spirit flows freely. The dark cloud of ever present guilt does not dominate this land. People are free to follow where Spirit leads, which is why the solitary path is acceptable. Diversity is simply another word for individuality, which is natural in the character of the Divine Creation. A rainbow of colors can only be brilliant where light shines brightly.
I am low in social stature. My feet are firmly planted on the earth. I learn about the Divine through the nature of the Divine Creation. I am Pagan.