Gateway Goddess: Looking at Lent through Pagan Eyes

Lent is coming up. And for once, I find myself thinking seriously about the meaning of this season, and its relationship to my own life.

I was raised Protestant (Disciples of Christ, mostly) and we didn’t do Lent. We also didn’t do Advent, which I would have enjoyed, given the prevalence of candy calendars in its celebration. But Lent? Lent was giving up candy, or cartoons, or something else fun. I could do without that season of doing without.

But this year, I am in a relationship with an Eastern Orthodox man. And he not only does Lent, he does Double Super Lent. He observes Roman Catholic Lent, which starts Feb. 13 this year. And he observes Eastern Orthodox Lent, which would run through Orthodox Easter on May 5 this year. That’s a lot of Lent.

My own understanding of Lent, as an outsider, is that it is intended to help one prepare for the sacredness of the Easter season. The giving up—sacrifice—of candy, or television, or some other pleasure is symbolic of giving up things which stood in the way of drawing near the sacred.

I used to say that as a Pagan, well, I didn’t do sacrifice. I held to a view that for us, Carnival and Mardi Gras were what it was about. All party, no hangover.

I am older now, and I get hangovers.

And I have a more subtle understanding of the nature and the uses of sacrifice. Sacrifice shares linguistic roots with “sacred.” To sacrifice something is to offer it up to the sacred, thus increasing our own connection with Divinity.

As my own practice has matured, I’ve become drawn to traditions and schools that do have observances that could qualify as sacrifice.

Unplugging from media can be a sacrificial act. Photo by Samuel M. Livingston.

During my two-year stint working through Thorn Coyle’s Evolutionary Witchcraft with a study group, we did a 24-hour word fast while working with the powers of the North. One of the attributes of the North is to Keep Silent. And so, we did.

No TV, no Internet, no talking or singing, no books or writing unless on sacred or spiritual topics. I carefully chose a weekend when my roommate and boyfriend were going to be out of town. I meditated, did some shamanic journey work with Michael Harner’s shamanic drumming CD, journaled. The connection with sacred energy was profound. I haven’t done a full 24-hour word fast since then, but have done shorter 8- and 12-hour abstentions. I find the quiet regenerative.I’ve also done 30-day Media Fasts. It’s similar to the week-long media fast recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, but longer.   In those, I abstain from the Internet, newspapers, television, NPR. That is far more brutal for me than keeping silent for 24 hours. But it has the same purpose: to unplug from the mindless and frequently negative chatter that fills our public spaces, to retreat and reconnect. To remind myself that what is important in my life is doing, creating, being, connecting, not merely passively observing.

On Twitter, #TheWagon is one of the top trending topics as I write this. It’s what it suggests—getting On the Wagon. it can be a no-wine Wagon, or a no TV Wagon, or a no chocolate wagon. Again, it’s about people looking at their lives, and trying to step back from things that are taking space that can be better occupied by something else.

I’m reminded, too, of the Altars of Distraction we built in Diana’s Grove Mystery School. One month was frequently dedicated to looking at those things which kept us from progressing. That could be spiritual progression, professional progression, or progression in changing our lives. For ritual, the Altar would frequently be centerpieced with a television. As the ritual or weekend progressed, we’d put objects representing our distractions on the altar. Then, we would pledge to remove those distractions from our lives, or reduce their presence, to help us grow into the people we wanted to become.

Word fasts, #TheWagon, Media Fasts, Altars of Distraction. I think they share common roots with the practice of Lent. All involve self-examination, and the removal of obstacles. All involve giving something up to reconnect with the sacredness of ourselves and our individual paths. All bring us closer to the Divine Within, and the larger Divine that connects us all.

I am wondering whether this would be a good time for me to experiment with a season of sacrifice. Ostara is just a little over a month away, after all. The seeds stirring in the belly of the Earth after Imbolc can sprout on their own—but how much better for them to work their way through soft earth, fertilized by leaves cast to the ground last autumn, empty spaces cleared for the first blooms. Soil that can be prepared by contemplation, by turning away from distractions, by seeking the light of the Divine. By becoming aware of the stirrings of my own Divine nature. And giving it room to burst forth into life.

Gateway Goddess is published on alternate Fridays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

About Kathy Nance

Kathy Nance is freelance writer and green entrepreneur who lives in suburban Missouri. She has a B.S. with majors in mass communications, sociology and English. She has worked as a newspaper education reporter, feature writer and editor. Her freelance work has been published in general circulation and specialty publications in the U.S. and Great Britain. Before coming to Patheos she was a featured writer for Civil Religion, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch interfaith blog. She has organized both large and small public Pagan celebrations bringing together groups from a variety of traditions in the St. Louis area. She leaves offerings to the Fey and to her ancestors, as well as a multi-ethnic family of Gods and Goddesses who so far are content to share altar space. She can be found expressing opinions on a daily basis on Facebook and Google+, or @GatewayGoddess on Twitter.

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  • DarkSidhe

    I was raised Eastern Orthodox, and am a dyed-in-the-wool meat eater, yet I would give up meat for Lent at the time. It was a tremendously challenging thing for me, particularly in light of my school lunch program at the time (as a teenager).  While I no longer feel any particular connection to the reason for my sacrifices at the time, they did definitely teach me something about myself, and developed my willpower to a great degree simply by making a decision and sticking to it. Even if the reason is arbitrary (or becomes it), this is a practice that is worth pursuing, I think.

  • Jeremy Kohler

    A few years ago I found myself in a bit of a slump. “A bit” is rather understating the matter, really. My fiance had left me, I was fired from my job to cover up some internal matters, and I was struggling to make ends meet on unemployment and supporting my daughter. My job prospects were poor after nearly a year of searching, and my relationship prospects were even more anemic. It seemed that stumbling blocks were constantly in my path, and every time I tried to avoid them, I would get more frustrated and full of despair. At the sidelines, I could sense Hermes watching. Waiting. I could keep going until things got better, or just give up. Just going forward didn’t seem to be working though, and it was all getting worse. I was doing SOMETHING wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what it was, and I was too upset to focus.
    So I said to hell with it. Lent was coming up, and since I was raised Catholic, I thought maybe a new focus was required. So I decided to give up being fat, jobless, and Not Catholic for Lent. I returned to my work out regimen, started my job search from scratch, and attended Mass. I took the time to lose myself in ritual: Wake up at 6am. Strech. Exercise. Eat. Shower. Check job postings. Submit applications. Iron shirt and pants. Forget the failures of the past. Attend Mass. Meditate on my goals. Do not worry about progress, simply continue. By the fortieth day I had a job, had lost ten pounds, and the stumbling blocks were gone. After years of crawling along my path, I was SPRINTING. All it took was some time to breathe, start from scratch, and focus on one activity at a time.
    It was a very worthwhile experience, even as a non-Catholic. It gave me an opportunity to tread within the territory of another and be respectful and diplomatic while still gaining some strength from what was offered, as Hermes might expect of a Messenger. I could practice blending in not out of mockery, but out of appreciation.

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