Ash Wednesday – a Pagan perspective

Christians have Lent, Jews have Yom Kippur, and Muslims have Ramadan. All are seasons of prayer, fasting, and introspection. At their best, their purpose is purification and simplification; they are a time to set aside the mundane and focus hearts and minds on the spiritual and the sacred.

Does Paganism need its own season of introspection?

I think the answer is “yes.” Even those of us who have established consistent daily practices find it too easy to get into a mundane rut. We need spiritual anchors that pull us back to our center, something to remind us that there’s more to Life than our endless cycles of work and school, errands and chores, obligations and entertainments. The eight sabbats do that to a certain extent, but even there we can get caught up in mundane preparations and end up spending only the hour of the circle in actual contemplation. I think there’s a reason Lent lasts forty days, Yom Kippur ten (starting with Rosh Hashanah), and Ramadan a lunar month.

Is there a place for asceticism in a religion that celebrates sensuality?

Again, I think the answer is “yes.” Many Pagans see our mission as bringing joy and celebration to a culture that’s been dominated by puritanical religion. Yet one of the things we most frequently work for in our circles is balance. Mixed in with our feasting, frolicking, and, um, celebrating the Great Rite, we need some time to look within. Removing luxuries from our lives for a short time reminds us what’s really important, helps us appreciate what we have, and connects us with our ancestors whose lives were rougher and harder than our own. It helps us find that balance.

Should we establish an annual season of introspection like the Religions of the Book, or would we be better served by a formal “Week of Preparation” before each of the eight major seasonal observations?

I don’t have a clear answer here. Annual events get more attention – we treat them like a big deal, and I think this is something that needs to be a big deal. On the other hand, a “Week of Preparation” could be tied in with historical practices (re-establishing or re-creating the practices of our ancestors), plus they could be tailored to match the themes and moods of each of the sabbats.

If this was going to be an annual event, I think Imbolc would be the time to do it. It has roots as a purification festival and it occurs at a time of year that’s conducive to introspection. Given that we just passed Imbolc, I think it’s worthwhile try some formal preparation before each of the upcoming seasonal celebrations. I’m going to do that – I encourage everyone else to try it as well and let’s see how it goes.

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