My faith is a constant presence in my life. It guides my beliefs and values and dictates my social calendar. It influences what I read, and it’s obviously on my mind when I sit down to write on this blog. When I look around my house there are reminders of my Paganism everywhere, from the multitude of Horned God statues that adorn the tops of altars and bookshelves to the art on my walls.
Like the art on my walls, some of it truly feels like window dressing. Writing is a reminder of my faith, it’s rarely an experience of it. Much of the reading I engage in feels more like an academic exercise than an exploration of my beliefs. I honestly believe that my gods are always with me, but much of the time it feels like I’m engaging them in a series of Facebook messages instead of face to face. I don’t think these emotions are unique to me. Even the “most Pagan” of us are forced to live in mundania for long stretches of time.
When I first encountered Modern Paganism as an adult (or a snot nosed kid of legal drinking age, your pick) I had images of how I thought it would be. I remember reading somewhere about an experience an author had molding goddess figures out of clay deep in the bowels of a cave with her coven. It was one of the most beautiful descriptions of ritual and devotion I had ever encountered (and still is), and the type of thing that I wanted to experience. Sixteen years later and I’m still waiting for that particular moment, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably won’t have it, but I’ve still had some moments that have come close, hell, they might have even been better. Those are my Precious Pagan Moments, and the ones I to return when I feel disconnected from the divine.
Some of those experiences involve the gods of course. There are just moments with them that are more real than others, those are the times I nearly have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. This past summer I was asked to serve as a “Guardian” at an initiation ritual. My role was basically just to shoo anyone away who happened to stumble a little too close to the ritual. Since the initiation was outside of my own tradition, I stayed a respectable distance away; mostly alone with my thoughts and the symphony of sounds from a distant festival drum circle. I did as I was asked and patrolled the path near the the location of our rite. The night was dark, the trees around us were tall, and outside the distant (and pleasant) drumming, all was still.
All of that felt nice, for lack of a better way to put it. I had friends who needed me, I was in nature, and I felt far removed from the everyday, that’s all good stuff to take in. While breathing in the scent of the woods I began to notice strange shadows in the darkness. Moving closer to the shadow I heard a rustle outside the path I was standing on and saw a shadow that looked very Pan like. Upon seeing the shadow I felt his energy and a surge went through me. A minute or so later the ritual I was guarding finished up and the moment ended, but it was still a moment. Instances of Jason and Pan aren’t necessarily rare, but the ones with a touch of both the physical and the spiritual are. They are some of my very most treasured memories.
My Precious Pagan Moments aren’t always related to the gods, some of them are those “holy crap!” instances, where the majesty and power of nature are nearly overwhelming. One of my favorite things to do out here is to visit the ocean. Gazing upon Madame Pacifica is renewing and cleansing, and I’ve found it to be the most effective way to rid myself of any negative feelings. I like mostly empty stretches of beach, far away from the large state parks and the surfers. I like cliffs to one side of me and the rage and wash of the water on the other.
The Pacific Ocean is cold, usually unpleasantly so. The coastline its self isn’t warm either, so many of my beach walks are spent getting as close to the water as I dare without getting wet. Those dares always fail, because she gets me every time. I like to dance around the ocean’s edge, listening to the panicky pleading of my wife yelling “You are going to get wet!” as the water laps just inches from my ankles. Later when I think I’m far from the tide, and walking in completely dry sand, the waves swell and the surf comes invading, crashing over me, sometimes up to my knees. It’s her reminder that she can’t be escaped from.
Forty degree water colliding with bare feet at the fifty-five degree shoreline probably results in anger and annoyance for most people, in me it tends to result in delight. “She’s talking to me!” Even my wife who tries so hard not to ever get wet ends up giggling when it happens to the both of us. Sure the natural world has its dangers along with its delights, but I’m OK with some shivery toes.
I took my photographer brother to my favorite stretch of coastline so he could capture a piece of it. With his camera atop a tripod he set up shop far from the ocean’s edge. As it goes in my family, from out of nowhere the surf roared in, and soon he was up to his knees in salt-water with his camera nearly being pulled out to sea by the ocean tide. Instead of panicking about the near loss of his equipment and his now blue shins, he had a good laugh about it, proving that blood is thicker than water. Those are Precious Pagan Moments; the things I think about when stuck on a commuter train or doing the dishes.
To me, a lot of the Pagan Experience is about fellowship and community. The ideal community has always been easier to picture than to create, and situating yourself in the center of a new one always presents lots of challenges. Last weekend we had some friends (old and new) over to our house for a run through of my 1899 Ritual. The ritual its self was fine, if a little short (and you win Ian, I’ll add some grimoire stuff to it). Apart from the moments in the ritual where I got to wave my sword around (and get your head out of the gutter there) the best part of the night came afterwards.
Instead of flipping the lights back on in the living/ritual room like we usually do, we kept the room bathed in just candlelight. After getting a bite to eat and a drink or two many of us retreated back to the dimly lit parlor. With me clutching a tumbler of Oban (neat of course) my friends and I engaged in a far ranging discussion on Pagan History, Aradia, and Freemasonry. In the kitchen I could make out the laughter of those chatting with my wife and the clink of their wineglasses. It wasn’t a group of us crafting clay goddesses in a cave, but it was that feeling of closeness and comraderie that I always associate with Paganism, yet find so rarely. To me Paganism isn’t just about nature and the gods, it’s about connections, and connection with people, and to touch that for a brief while is always spiritual to me.
I know that “Precious Moments” is often associated with mopey looking Christian children figurines, but I’m taking it back damnit. It’s those precious, fleeting Pagan moments that stick with us and remind us why we are who we are.