Gateway Goddess: Looking at Lent through Pagan Eyes

Gateway Goddess: Looking at Lent through Pagan Eyes February 8, 2013

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.

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