Walking together in the woods recently, a friend asked me whether I would call myself a pagan.
I replied that I was reluctant to tie myself to any particular label and that the label, Pagan, was tricky as it tends to carry with it peculiar connotations of devil worship, men in white robes with big beards and strange goings on in the woods.
But I have thought about it and have to admit that, whilst I try not to worship any devils, and don’t look good in white robes, I have grown recurrent beards and have, in my time, been involved in a fair bit of strange goings on in the woods. So, maybe now is the time to take the plunge and call myself a pagan.
But, if I am going to do that, I want to do it on my own terms and define what being a pagan means to me.
To me, if I am a pagan, it simply means that I view the Universe in a particular way. I worship no gods and follow no scriptures. I wear no ceremonial robes. I have no holy book. I have no temple, no specific place of worship. Paganism is not a religion in the traditional sense. I follow no single tradition but feel free to take what is useful from any. No, for me, what makes me a pagan is my sense that the whole Universe is sacred. I see God in the spider in the bath, God on my breath on a chilly mountain top, God in the glide of the nuthatch, God in the river’s stare. For me, as I walk in the woods, the sacredness of all that surrounds me is self evident. I don’t need faith to believe in the Sacred. I think of living as an act of worship. I see All Things as Sacred and try to live accordingly.
….. which is not always easy.
I do not believe in a Creator God, nor one that responds to prayers and requests. I don’t hold the notion of there being any higher order beings controlling events or a place called Heaven where they live. But I do believe there are Rules – no, not rules, because that implies someone to make the rules. Rather I believe that the Universe embodies a set of Principles that apply equally to everything all the time. Laws of the Universe if you will. And I believe this because I see them in action all the time. Karma is a good example – the notion of What Goes Around Comes Around, or, put another way, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” You Get Back What You Give Out. This seems self-evident to me. It is clear, if you pay attention, that Reality isn’t random. There is a sacred Order in place. There is a System going on. It’s under control. We are born. We die. And certain stuff happens in between. And there is a certain flow to what happens. Sometimes it is hard to see when you are in the midst of the river. But look around you and you will see it – the old tree dies, falls, creates space, lets in light, rots down, becomes food for another, new, plant to grow. Which in turn will grow old and die too. What seems like chaos is, in fact, creation. A self-sustaining system. That is beautiful.
I like the Taoist description of how it all works best. There is the notion of the Uncarved Block – that everything is essentially One. That we are all of the same stuff. But the Block is not static – there is movement. The movement is between states of being. Poles. Opposites. Yin and Yang. And the movement never stops. No thing is ever totally Yin or totally Yang. Everything is in a state of becoming. Of becoming its opposite. Everything in a perpetual state of flux. A never-ending flow. Back and forth. In and out. Round and round.
All that might sound a bit difficult to grasp but it’s all based on observation. Look at the ocean. Listen to a stream. Watch the labours of a bee or trace the journey of a mole. Examine the veins of a leaf. The arms of a snowflake. Awesome complexity. I observe all this and I stand in awe. It is so rich and complex that it humbles me – makes me very aware that I am just a tiny part of a magnificent whole and privileged to be so. It is this sense of awe and this humbling that makes me a pagan.
As a pagan, I believe that Nature is Sacred. Not because I am against that which is man-made. I think that the very concept of man-made somehow being bad, being unnatural, is not very helpful. Man is part of Nature, not separate from it. That idea that we are somehow separate is responsible for all sorts of trouble. And being a pagan means recognising that we are Natural and we are subject to Nature’s Laws. We too are the Uncarved Block and we are the never-ending flow. Just a part of a huge self-sustaining system.
But we need to pay more careful attention. Which is part of why I think Nature is Sacred. Nature (that which is not made by Man) is a great teacher. If we pay attention, we see that if one plant or animal becomes dominant in an ecosystem, Nature has a way of adjusting the flow in order to bring the system back into balance. So, if a predator becomes too successful, there is not enough prey to go around. Then, some of the predators are killed fighting for prey. Or starve from lack of food. The predators reduce in number until the correct balance of predator to prey is restored. There is a constant ebb and flow. Growth and diminishing.
Only Modern Man is arrogant enough to think that he stands outside Nature’s balancing system. Only Modern Man is stupid enough to think that constant growth is desirable or good. Or, indeed, possible. But Modern Man has got a big wake up call coming. We have been on a wave of expansion for a while now. We have been growing rapidly. In numbers. In our impact upon the system. We have been taking more than we need. But we have not been paying attention. There have been lots of warning signs. Rising temperatures. Diminishing ice-caps. Multiple species extinctions. Fire, famine and flood – that sort of thing. But we have carried on taking regardless. Head in the sand. Fingers in the ears. La, la, la. Until, sooner or later, the system will kick in and we will be re-balanced. It won’t be kind and it won’t be pretty. But it will be what’s best for the planet. And, as a pagan, I can’t see that as a bad thing.
This has been a hard post to write. I have struggled to give voice to the feelings that form the foundations of my being. Most of the time, they are just there – I don’t have to try and explain them. They are personal. But, as I said at the beginning of this YulebLog2016, it’s about me figuring out who I am, where I stand. Because now is a time where we have to know who we are and stand firm. So, I guess it’s just simpler to use the short-hand and say, “yes, I am a Pagan!”