The Empty Bucket

The Empty Bucket November 13, 2011

Recent conversations with Pagans, in person and online, are bubbling up for me this morning, bringing with them troubling thoughts.

Do we care more about our rituals than we do about our gods?

It’s happened more than once, lately, that the response to some concern expressed among us has been a rather pat, “I wrote a really good ritual about that, once.”  As though the authorship was the main thing; as though the performance of a ritual script was enough to settle whatever questions living posed us.

I’m not knocking a good ritual.  But surely, the point of ritual is communion, relationship, and change–not carving a notch on a staff or athame.  We seem to think that rituals work if they’re good theater, if they move a human audience.

We rarely ask if they are of any interest at all to any other audience.  Indeed, I’ve heard Pagans go on at length about how nothing any individual one of us can do would ever attract the attention of a god, and that those who think otherwise are fools or deluded… and lucky, as the attention of a god would simply destroy our minds, blow open our psyches and leave us gibbering in a corner.

The gods don’t care, the reasoning goes, or if they do, we’re unprepared to encounter them in any case.

As for me, I don’t see a lot to choose from, between gods who don’t care or are unavailable to us, and gods who don’t exist.  That polytheism that denies the possibility of a relationship with our gods seems sterile to me, pointless.

Incidentally, I don’t feel that way about non-theism.  I know plenty of what might be called “juicy” Pagan non-theists: they may not have much use for gods or goddesses, but their lives are spent in communion with spirits on every side: spirits of ancestors, trees, animals, and places.  Their rituals are not merely theater for their own entertainment, but doorways.

Doorways that lead somewhere.  Wells that bring up water.

Photo by Zserghei

Sometimes I think that, for many of us in the Pagan world, we found a well that gave us water once, but when it ran dry, we neither searched elsewhere for water nor attempted to dig the well deeper, but instead sat down and worshiped an empty bucket.

Too much of the conversation I hear among Pagans strikes me as an invitation to worship an empty bucket, and that makes me sad.

The gods are real, and there is good water everywhere, if you know–not so much how to look, but that looking is a possibility.

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