Blog Response: UU and Pagan Aesthetics

Blog Response: UU and Pagan Aesthetics August 26, 2011

Over at Rev.  Dr. Victoria Weinstein’s blog PeaceBang I posted a responses to her post, “Humanist Worship and the Arts”, in which she takes a crack at UU and Pagan UU aesthetics.

Here’s my response:

My introduction to Paganism was through a CUUPS (Covenant of UU Pagans) Wheel of the Year ceremony. It was only later that I learned that CUUPS rituals are considered by many Pagans to be some of the worst out there. And my experience has confirmed that. Having experienced some Pagan rituals from other traditions since then, I can still say that there is more bad than good in most public rituals. But I think there is a reason that CUUPS rituals are particularly bad and it is precisely because of the “dumbing down” of UU aesthetics that you have described. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the “embarrassingly bad rituals, dances and music” inflicted by Pagans on the UU, which you described in your response to Patrick above, actually says more about the influence of UUism on Paganism than the other way around.

CUUPS suffers from the same challenge as the UU generally: it tries to be everything to everybody, and ends up being nothing to anybody. That’s an overstatement, but you get my point. By trying to make itself inoffensive to atheists (ahem … I meant “humanists”), Buddhists, liberal Christians, Pagans, and so on, the UU has denied itself access to a rich source of symbolism, imagery, music, and beauty. Anything worth doing is bound to offend someone. What should bind us together as UUs is not our inoffensiveness, but that we can roll with the offense.

You made an excellent point about the Bible. I will always remember one Sunday morning discussion group at my local UU where the token Christian in the congregation wanted to talk about something in the Bible, but no one could find a Bible in the entire church. And the discussion group was held in the church lending library for God’s sake. If my 11th grade English teacher could get away with telling her public school students to read the Bible as literature, surely we can have a Bible in the church library.

That same token Christian has suggested that our UU congregation (which is about 1/2 humanist) should adopt a liturgical year of sorts. We already have a Christmas Eve service which I notice all the humanists attend. I also heard about one Easter service which our openly-atheist minister actually conducted a (completely voluntary) communion — although that upset a lot of people. What the UU needs is more specificity, not less. We need not to be afraid of offending some people or even a lot of people. If you’re offended by the Christian service this week, don’t worry, next week we’ll be doing something completely secular, or Buddhist, or Pagan. Stick around and you’ll be bound to be offended on some occasions and inspired on others.

And the same goes for the CUUPS rituals. The worst Pagan rituals are ones that try to be generic Pagan, which end up being vaguely WIccan, but not specific to any particular tradition. Instead, CUUPS should dedicate particular celebrations to one tradition, for example: a feminist witchcraft ritual for Candlemas, a Christo-Pagan ritual at the spring equinox, a Celtic Reconstructionist ceremony for May Day, a Druid ceremony at the summer solstice, a Kemetic (Egyptian) ceremony at Lammas, a Hellenic (Greek) Reconstructionist ceremony at the autumn equinox, a Wiccan ceremony at Samhain, and an Asatruar (Norse/German) ceremony at the winter solstice. Such rituals are bound to be much more evocative than any generic ritual.

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