I’ve recently made a commitment, on my personal blog and in my life, to a deeper authenticity, a deeper vulnerability. I am sharing more of who I am and who I have been with the world so that I can serve those I need to serve and who need me.
How does authenticity play in the context of Pagan spiritual and religious life as I know it and have practiced it? What do I really think about Paganism, UUism, and the permutations of their combining?
In my tradition, Authenticity is the Virtue of the East. It is the Virtue of Air, of clarity, realness, the chaff shaken and blown away, and the fertile grain left behind.
Authenticity is where we begin, turned toward East. We begin with reality.
For example, in my honest, authentic experience, I have found practicing Paganism as I know and prefer it is impossible inside UU contexts.
While I am an ordained UU minister and an initiated Wiccan priestess, I cannot say I am a UU-Pagan, and much less a Pagan-UU. I am Pagan. And I am UU. I am Christian-adjacent. I have relationships with several other spiritual, religious, and discerning communities.
Really, though, in my heart of hearts, I’m a priestess of Wicca who is an ordained UU minister. I bring my Pagan sensibilities to my preaching and worship design, but I can’t imagine I’d ever be an “acceptable” congregational minister in our tradition. Neither acceptable to a congregation, nor acceptable to myself.
Why? Because I can’t figure out what Paganism as I know and love it and UUism have to do with one another. I can do one and the other, but it’s sooooo hard to do them together.
For one thing, my practice is a blood-sweat-and-tears practice.
My practice was honed in a community that raises multi-ton Stones with ropes, sledges, rollers, pulleys, concrete, and winches. Oh, and hundreds of people pulling those ropes. No trucks. No complex machinery.
Did I mention that sometimes a Stone may be pulled half a mile in the dark, silently, up and down hills, a procession lit only by people bearing torches?
My practice was sharpened in a community where people have been pierced with hooks to be pulled one against another, practiced Sweat Lodge, and where a Native American community has come to offer Sun Dance.
My practice was built out of New Moons and Full Moons spent in common with ceremony (and dinner) made every two weeks (sometimes “thweeks,” depending on the calendar). I am used to a place where East, South, West, and North are not just directions. They are the compass by which I oriented my life.
I am used to a place where drums of all kinds, mud, face paint, masks, a two-hundred-by-160-foot elliptical ritual space, and a lovingly tended Fire Circle are integral parts of ceremony.
Not only that, but this is a place where Divine possession is the order of the day. Where my passion for religious ecstansy and mysticism can live side-by-side with religious naturalism and atheist environmentalism.
How am I to reconcile these ways of relating intimately with the Ultimate with the biggest, most powerful UU Pagan-style ceremonies I have attended–writing wishes on flash paper and lighting them from the chalice or, at best, an eight-inch cauldron? Or folding origami cranes to share or–and this one is, to be fair, quite lovely–regular labyrinth walks?
How am I to reconcile the practice that shaped my heart, soul, and sense of Divinity with the neck-up practice I find in the great, great majority of our congregations, whether fellowships, societies, or churches?
I don’t know.
I just don’t know.
CUUPS is marginal at best, and in many congregations and UU communities, definitely viewed askance. In the fellowship to which I first belonged, the CUUPS group comprised mostly cis-women who did not belong to the Fellowship and weren’t interested in joining. They knew where they weren’t really welcome and where they could get at least a taste of some kind of Paganism. They came to the building, but they didn’t come to the Fellowship.
Not only is CUUPS marginal in the larger UU community, but the ceremonies I’ve observed have been tepid at best, and disorganized and appropriative at worst.
While I am a member of CUUPS and I respect much of the work being done by the Board, I haven’t been to a CUUPS or Pagan-UU ritual in a while because honestly, it hasn’t seemed worth my time to risk a lukewarm experience.
Part of the problem is something we UU’s have over and over again: We (and I use “we” advisedly) try to include everything but the kitchen sink. We call Directions with invocations that don’t resonate with one another under the guise of “inclusion.” We invite white people claiming to channel indigenous elders into our ceremonies. Our ceremonies are far too often egregiously appropriative and divorced from community. It’s not just burning sage and playing djembes I’m talking about. For better or for worse, those actions are now standard issue in Pagan ceremony by white people.
My thing, though, is that at bottom, folks simply aren’t trained to make powerful ceremony. It’s another version of our not having worship associates who understand worship or hosting services that are more lecture than liturgy.
Furthermore, I’m not sure what to do about it. I know that when I’ve made rituals in UU congregations, they certainly haven’t been my best.
What can be done indoors in a sanctuary full of pews, or even full of chairs that are cumbersome to move? I mean, I’ve done full-on, no-mic, voice-projection Quarter Calls in interfaith services with pews, but it’s a commitment.
My ordination included the Five-Fold Blessing, but it was considered notable and extreme. Many of us say that we honor the spark of the Divine within each of us and yet a ritual action honoring just that is extreme.
Some of you are saying that I’m doing the equivalent of complaining about the government and yet not voting. (Which I consider totally valid, by the way.)
Some of you—rightly so—are saying I’m yearning after a past I can no longer have.
Some of you are saying I don’t even have a ball to take home.
I’m trying to explain why I essentially took my ritual ball home a long time ago.
I’m trying to show how many Paganisms there are among us, and how some of us long both for the intellectual rigor of UU contexts AND the sheer power of transformative, psycho-emotive ritual. Ritual that changes people’s lives.
Is there a space for both these things?
And is it a UU space?
I’m going to continue to explore issues like these, issues of authenticity, magic, transformation, and power in my weekly loveletter, Reflections. Curious? I invite you to sign up! Reflections is a place where I write intimately and (I hope) thoughtfully, about the spiritual life, practice, awareness, discernment, and other fun topics like Shitty Rough Drafts (thank you, Ann Lamott).