Messy Religion

Fellow No Unsacred Place columnist Juniper has a new essay titled “This Gift, This Sacrifice” about the offerings she made during a recent Hecate’s Night ritual. I’ve written about sacrifice a few times recently and don’t have anything more to add to that. What grabs me about Juniper’s essay is the messiness of her rituals and her sacrifices.

As a UU I’m heir to a tradition of reason and learning. As a Druid I’m heir to a tradition of culture. My faith is a reasoned faith. I may be a Pagan, but I’m a civilized Pagan… as are most of the Pagans I know.

That’s a good thing. We need civilization. We need the Intellect and the Will to guide our lives and to balance the evolutionary instincts which served our pre-human ancestors well but which are not helpful to our lives here and now. But if we listen only to reason, if our religion touches our heads and not our bodies then we’re missing something – something important.

When was the last time you got your hands dirty doing religious work? I don’t mean metaphorically – I mean literally, grease-under-the-fingernails dirty? When was the last time a religious service got you hot and sweaty? When was the last time a religious observance got you cold and wet? If you can’t remember then it’s been too long.

I don’t mean that our religious practices should be unpleasant (though sometimes they may be). There is sensual pleasure in running your fingers through moist soil, standing under the Midsummer Sun, or walking through the snow. “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals” means all acts, including but not limited to sexual acts.

We grew out of the Earth. We are part of the Earth. The Earth is not neat and clean and comfortable and safe. The Earth has teeth. If our religion – our beliefs and our practices – doesn’t acknowledge and honor those physical connections then our religion is incomplete. If our religion isn’t one of touch and taste and smell as well as one of sight and sound then our religion is incomplete. If our religion speaks to our God-soul and our Human-soul but not to our Animal-soul then our religion is incomplete.

We are the heirs of the drummers and dancers. We are the heirs of the Lupercalia. We are the heirs of the Great Rite. Our religion may be cultured and reasoned, but at least occasionally, it should also be messy.

If you’ll excuse me, I have to go outside and get my hands dirty.

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