Precious Pagan Moments

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.

(You can like Raise the Horns on Facebook, or go a step further and like Jason’s Facebook Page. Not that anyone is begging or anything.)

A Halloween History
Maybe I Don’t Need a Temple
10 Responsibilities of a Host
Let’s Talk About Us! (Not Them)
About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Nicole Parsons Platania

    Thanks Jason…I think it’s nice to remember the PPM’s because it reminds us why we study our paths.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Thank you for sharing this. too often, I feel, people are happy to talk about every aspect of Paganism other than those intense moments that are really the heart of what it is to be Pagan.

    I don’t have a blog, but I do, from time to time write ‘Notes’ on Facebook. Your post here reminds me of one of my recent notes.

    I will be cheeky and copy/paste it here. (I figure that, if you don’t like it, you can ‘mod’ it away.)

    The Religious Experience

    Do you believe in
    ghosts? This is a question that is more common than a lot would,
    perhaps, suppose. It is inoffensive and is often used to initiate a
    conversation. That conversation will either be about local and/or
    personal stories of ‘eerie’ encounters or it will be about whichever
    ghost-based shows that the participants of the conversation favour. A
    lot of people will say yes. Perhaps even the majority of people will
    admit to a belief in a disembodied human soul. This is because most
    people will have, or know someone who has, had an encounter with a
    ghost. Do you believe in (a) god(s)? For some reason, this
    is a far more personal question than my opening one. Plenty of people
    will say yes, but more will be defensive and attempt to avoid answering.
    Fear of ridicule for their belief is an obvious reason for that
    behaviour, but why does this fear exist? Perhaps it is
    because fewer people admit to having had a religious experience than a
    ghostly one. We do not talk about personal revelation of the divine.
    Cultures for thousands of years have been (in part) defined by shared
    religious belief and, yet, we are suddenly supposed to be coy about
    religious experience? Does that not seem ludicrous to you? I
    believe in the existence of multiple gods. I believe in the existence
    of multiple pantheons of gods. This concept of belief is known, to some,
    as ‘omnitheism’ but, since I have a preference for English over Latin
    words, I like to think of myself as an Ēalgodan (essentially ‘one of all
    gods’). I feel than an important question to be asked of myself, and
    anyone else who claims to believe in any form of god is ‘why?’ Without
    personal religious experience, all we have is indoctrination – “I
    believe in God because my mum/dad/priest says He exists, and they
    wouldn’t lie to me.” Not me. I believe because I trust my experiences,
    and I have experienced gods. Let me tell a story of my
    religious life but, before I do, it should be known that I do not recall
    a time when I can honestly say I really felt ‘human’. I
    was raised within the Christian religious umbrella. In particular, I was
    raised as a member of the Church of England. I was, for many years,
    quite content to accept the indoctrination. I regularly attended Sunday
    School and then became an acolyte within the Church. I was devout. Yet
    the best way I can describe my religious experience within this
    religious would be with the word absent. I never felt as if the god of
    the Christians, or his son, ever wanted to connect. In church, it felt
    like avoidance. In fact, I have never felt comfortable in the ‘house of
    God’. Welcome is not a feeling I can ascribe to churches, having often
    felt decidedly like my presence was not desired. As I grew
    older, through my teens, my mind opened to possibilities. It seemed to
    me that, if I believed in one god, how could I deny the existence of
    others? I became a polytheistic Christian. At first, this manifested as a
    form of soft polytheism – have you ever noticed how similar many
    religions are? One divine power at the top, divided into a trinity, with
    many lesser beings below. All religions were the same, just with
    different trappings and terms. Towards the end of my
    teens, I had what is termed a ‘crisis of faith’. Years of feeling
    isolated from a god I had been trying to connect with combined with
    certain ‘real-world’ issues and suddenly I felt that I was going to the
    wrong place on a Sunday morning. Oh, I still believed, it turned out
    that I had been having a regular religious experience, if only in
    miniature. I felt that the Christian pantheon was avoiding me, not that
    they were non-existent. I did the only reasonable thing in the face of
    such systematic neglect. I left. I was quite content to be a theistic
    agnostic – I believed there was ‘something’, I just didn’t know what.
    Wasn’t all that curious about it, either. It was quite a
    surprise, therefore, to have my first major religious experience a few
    months later. I was not in a ‘happy place’ mentally. It was early
    evening in September 1999 and I was sitting on a picnic table in
    Bradford-on-Avon’s Barton Farm Country Park with a heavy moon looking
    down on me. It is a quiet place, perfect to be alone with my thoughts.
    Except that, suddenly, I wasn’t alone.“Hello, Luke.”“Hey, Luna.”Having
    double perception is a strange thing. I was alone, in a park, with the
    moon above me. Simultaneously, I was sitting on a bench with a goddess
    of the moon sitting beside me. We spoke for a while, about
    various things. The entire time, she felt like an Old friend. When I
    say Old (capital O), I am talking Old. Life on earth is a fleeting
    thing, in comparison. I didn’t get any resolution for anything from our
    conversation, but I didn’t feel quite so ‘down’, either. To this day,
    Luna remains one of my closest friends. Please take a moment to note
    that there is no sense of reverence or veneration, here. We were (and
    are) equals -friends, not god and follower. Fast forward
    to the vernal equinox in March, 2000. The sun is setting and the full
    moon is rising, in perfect synchronicity. I am in the New Forest for my
    Handfasting. There is an east-west aligned clearing that I used to go to
    as a child, with my family. This is where we hold the ceremony. Before
    the ceremony, I have to go back to the car (I forget why), leaving me
    apart from everyone else. I cut through the wood to save time and find a
    small animal trail. Suddenly, I am not alone. With me is a
    great beast of a figure. Easily eight feet tall, but appearing even
    taller due to the massive rack of antlers he is sporting, Cernunnos
    stands on the hind legs of a deer. He smells of leaf-litter and blood.
    He says nothing to me, but I understand. We run. It is only a short run,
    from the car to the glade, but it feels far further. In the faded
    twilight, my eyesight is, quite frankly, awful. However I can see every
    leaf and twig in stark clarity. It is breathtaking. I am unsure if I
    have ever felt so alive. The feeling passes as I break cover and enter
    the clearing, where the wedding-party awaits. Normally, such a run would
    leave me exhausted (I am not much for running), but I felt energised.
    Cernunnos is no longer with me but I know he is still there; another
    friend. I have had other experiences since these first
    two, but these are the powerful, iconic ones that stick with me. These
    could be delusions, but I do not believe so. These could be subconscious
    archetypes, but I do not believe so. These experiences were no less
    real than experiences of meeting people in the street, for me. I cannot
    prove them, but I cannot prove my existence to anyone else, either. It
    is my reality, and I am convinced of its objective truth. I
    hope this encourages others to be less shy of their own religious
    experiences. People may not believe you, they may ridicule you and call
    you delusional but these people are simply trying to force their own
    reality onto you. What proof do they have, beyond their own experience,
    of the veracity of their claim? I believe in the gods, not because I have been told to, or because I want to, but because I cannot believe in their inexistence.

    • Jason Mankey

      That is awesome! When I write the big Cernunnos post I’ll share my story with him. I don’t think we talk enough about our experiences with the gods. I’m a Pagan because of those moments. There’s an immediacy to deity in many forms of Modern Paganism that are just missing in other faiths.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        It is the theological relativism and fear of orthodoxy that is prevalent in Paganism.

        With everyone believing their own thing, we see no cohesion and this is why people outside of the ‘umbrella’ find it so hard to take Paganism seriously. We can talk about ‘individual experience’ all we want, but outsiders just see a bunch of people making up stories to make themselves feel special.

        Personally, I wouldn’t mind a little orthodoxy if that will help deepen community bonds.

  • JMoore

    I love this, Jason. Thank you so much for sharing your insights! Those Precious Pagan Moments are definitely the ones that stick with us.

    Blessed Mabon.

  • Jessica Mccool

    why don’t we share… hum cus people make a mockery of ones experience…. the two times I have shared that has been the result..