I, Paganus

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.

In the Beginning…

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.

A Matter of Language

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.

Familiar Patterns

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.

 

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To Bring Beauty Into The World

Take a deep breath, then slowly exhale. Take a moment away from the gloom, despair, and anxiety that seems to permeate the atmosphere these days. Take a moment to appreciate how good a breath of fresh air can be. Isn’t that just what you need; a breath of fresh air?

Notice the rest you find when you exhale? You can take some rest from the negativity, worry, and depression. You can take a break from the news, too. You can rest easy knowing that all that stuff will still be waiting for you when return from your break. You need rest and deserve a break regularly. Rest is part of your natural cycle as evidenced by your breathing and sleeping.

Sleep is good, but it is not sufficient rest in these troubled times. Sometimes you need to clear your mind so you can gain a new perspective on an old problem (meditation.) Sometimes you need to clear your mind to put anything and everything into a proper perspective (contemplation or reflection.) You need rest to maintain your sanity, so take a break.

Have you ever noticed how the word “peace” is normally associated with “quiet”? Carefully attend the things you hear in normal conversation during your day. People tend to focus on negative things that induce insecurity, anxiety, and worry. Rick Hanson PhD wrote that the human tendency to be negative is based on our natural instinct to watch for threats to our existence. Although this negativity may be explained by our human nature, it does not stop us from being driven to the desperate desire for “a little peace and quiet!” This is a sign that a rest break is imperative.

The sunniest days can seem dark, dismal, and depressing at times. It is sad that some people feel their only means to cope is through medications, alcohol, violence, and/or suicide. These solutions are not only bad for them, but they often result in an uglier world for the rest of us. Fortunately, there is a simple solution: let’s bring light and beauty into this dark and ugly world.

I am not suggesting that we all become artists: poets, painters, sculptors, or musicians. However, there are simple ways we all can bring beauty into the world everyday. As cliché as it may be, a smile can be infectious. My wife has a smile that always brightens my day, and her smile reminds me that I do not smile enough. I will have to work on that.

You must be the change you want to see in the world. (Mahatma Gandhi)

I find it hard not to smile when confronted by the smile of another. I once responded to another’s smile with a smile, then recognized the person as someone I didn’t like because of the trouble they caused me personally. Although a smile has great power, I do not think it has sufficient power to dispel the darkness of modern times, though.

I look to my wife for another example of bringing beauty into this world. I am biased, so I can find many ways she brings beauty into my life. However, to illustrate the principle I am trying to portray here, I must lean towards her cooking for it seems to bring pleasure to others as it does myself. She brings beauty into the world through an activity that many take for granted. This also makes me wonder how many people bring beauty into the world through activities that are taken for granted, and go unappreciated. It does seem that the natural instinct of humankind has them ignoring the beauty of the simple things in life, in favor of (or preference to) watching for “threats.”

It is also an ability of humankind to overcome their natural instincts; an ability that sets this species apart from others. It appears that we can blindly wallow in our natural instincts and depress the hell out of each other, or we can choose to live with a higher purpose. “To bring beauty into the world” seems like a good purpose, doesn’t it?

As I reflect upon this purpose, I realize that I have not been appreciative of how people bring beauty into the world apparently. I am not talking about professional ways, either (like poets, painters, sculptors, and musicians.) Professionals work for money, while the common person works out of a love. As an example: gardeners are people who work to bring beauty into the world because they like doing it, while landscapers are professionals. This is not to say that professionals do not love their professions. I’m simply looking for simply ways the general population tries to bring beauty into this world in simple ways.

I am a bit ashamed at how I am drawing a blank here. I do not seem to be very appreciative, so I must work to improve that, as well as find more ways to bring beauty into this world myself. In the meantime, perhaps you can contribute some ways everyday people try to bring beauty into the world? What do you do?