Yuletide Musings

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As I write this I’m at work. Gone is the bookshop. Work now is in a big office building on the industrial estate close to my home. People look at me gone out when I tell them I’ve changed jobs, I think because they have a romantic idea of what it was like in the shop. They didn’t see the unpaid overtime or the long hours or the heavy lifting up and down stairs. Or the fact that it’s corporate owned. I think people imagined that it would be like working in ‘Black Books’ (a UK based comedy). But it wasn’t.

So the new job is better but still, it’s work, and not for myself. I keep catching myself daydreaming out of the window. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been gone for hours, though the reality is just minutes. I’ve always been a daydreamer. Perhaps it offers a freedom of sorts.

It takes me around five minutes to walk to work, ten if I linger across the field, wishing that I could just stay there for hours instead. It’s a large stretch of land, the only open green space close to the council estate where I live. Soon the council are going to build on that too. My home is due for demolition as the council plan to ‘regenerate’ the area. Local people don’t care, I think the majority of them have fallen for the council’s lies that the community, one of the poorest in the whole town, will benefit from the plans. How we’ll benefit is beyond me, especially when even more land is taken from us, or when the number of new houses built isn’t enough to cover the number of homes that are due to be demolished. But people don’t want to hear what I have to say on the topic. They look shocked when I say I’m happy where I am. I mean, unless it’s a cottage in the woods, I’m really not interested in going anywhere, least of all to a new built home (they don’t make them like they used to. Instead they are boxy little homes with paper thin walls and small neat lawns).

I’ve taken to spending my lunch break walking around the field, partly because it feels so strange to be sat down for seven hours a day and partly because I just like being outside and every time I do I can’t help but feel sadness to know that it will all change. And not for the better, whatever the council may say.

They’re going to build 300 homes on some of this land. With the rest, or so they claim, they are going to create sports pitches and even a wildlife area. A fecking wildlife area!  As if the wildlife isn’t already there. As if it won’t be displaced by the building work. As if a path through a border of wild flowers is enough.

But I didn’t come here today to bemoan to you all what you already know – that things change, that those in power do not care for the wants or needs of us, the planet nor anything upon it, except for their own greed. You already knew that else you wouldn’t be here, right?

Instead I wanted to tell you a little about this land here. About what it means to connect to a place. About how the wild can be found, even in the most unlikeliest of places.

I always say that nature abhors a vacumn, and as an avid gardener, I know just how easily nature reclaims back what was once taken, if given chance and opportunity, and this field shows that, more than any other place I can think of in the town, perhaps besides down by the scrap yard where wild datura grows.

The field sits between the housing estate and the ever increasing industrial estate. I’ve written a little about this area before, and you can read about that here. I’ve grown up on this land. We played here as kids, all of the kids from the estate. I walk here daily, I train here, how many times I’ve lapped this field! I forage here. The trees here are old, and in the summer there are apples, elderberries and plums to to be foraged, in the autumn cobnots, the wild variety of hazelnuts (delicious pan fried in butter and seasoned with a little black pepper!).

This place is overlooked. People don’t see the wild. Instead they hear and smell the industrial estate, see a huge expanse of land and think of it as a waste. But there is much to be found here, if you look with an eye to see. The same is true of anywhere else. It doesn’t matter where you live.  And from that connection to land, comes connection with others.

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The land is where all folkish stuff comes from (and when I say folkish, I mean in the proper sense of the word, to mean encompassing all things folk related, not the other kind, of which we will not speak. I will say we need to start reclaiming back from those who would misuse them, and this is one such instance. ‘Nuff said!).

All folk tales begin with the land, come from the land. Look how many of them connect to specific places, from the people who come into contact with that land, who add to and enhance and take with them those stories. And the land belongs to all, it differentiates between us not.

So if you do anything this Yule, go outside and find the wild where you live. It doesn’t matter what form that takes. Feel that connection between yourself and the land and as the time of balance approaches, take strength and power from it, for the solstices are such times and you can feel it most in the wild!

Whatever you call the festive season, have a good one!


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!You can follow Emma on Facebook.

Equinox Musings – Connections

“We dream of space travel to distant planets, of the stars, all the while forgetting that the stuff that makes the stars, that makes the universe, makes us too.”

From Emma Kathryn

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The world is a mysterious place.

It’s funny to think that so many go through their lives oblivious to the magical other-world that resides within this one (or perhaps it is this world that resides in the magical one), either way, so many people are unaware of it.

We’ve forgotten we are a part of it.

Instead of going out and living, truly living and connecting with this world, we watch films that take us to new and fantastical worlds, we watch nature via documentaries through our telly boxes. We dream of space travel to distant planets, of the stars, all the while forgetting that the stuff that makes the stars, that makes the universe, makes us too.

And in the forgetting of our real world and our real selves, we are sold false ones instead. We buy endless crap to try to fill the void, thinking that if we just buy this new phone or that brand of clothing or this new car, then we’ll feel better. Only it never works. We might feel better momentarily, that is until the novelty of the new stuff wears off and they just become things, like the rest of the things we buy. The circle is never-ending, at least until you take a step back and realise it’s all shit, all designed to keep us spending, to keep us docile. It’s time to break the cycle.

As I write this, it is the spring equinox, or if you follow the wheel of the year, Ostara. I’m outside, in my garden, or rather sitting on my porch. Sunrise is still ten minutes or so away. I love this time of day, there’s no one around, no sounds of traffic. It’s like you can actually really relax.

It’s cold still, though the last of the snow has melted and narcissus and crocus are almost ready to bloom, to unfurl their yellow and purple petals, providing the first splash of colour of the season.

The dawn chorus is in full swing as the birds begin to get ready for the mating season, pairing up and nesting. There’s a couple of blackbirds that nest in the wall of ivy that grows in my garden, just beside the house, as well as a quarrel of sparrows. Every morning, the male blackbird perches in the wild cherry tree that grows at the front of my garden and sings his little black heart out, marking his territory. His song is crystal clear and melodic. It cuts through the early morning air with the delicate clarity of a glass bell, combining with the rest of the feathered choir. Yes, the dawn chorus is truly one of my favourite things about spring time.

If Imbolc is a time for the unfurling of roots, of planning and scheming, then Ostara is the time for those plans, so carefully laid down, to be put into action. The season of fertility and growth is upon us, everything is beginning to awaken. Spring is a time of energy and activity, and so we too must take our cues from nature, from the season. It is time for us to begin our work.

Sometimes I think that we, as a species, have fallen out of sync with the natural cycles of earth and of nature. The modern technological world has made it so easy for us. We live in climate controlled homes all year round; our days stay remarkably (or perhaps unremarkably) the same, day in day out. We get up, we go to work for eight or more hours a day, too tired to pursue our own interests, and it’s the same with our children too, except they are in school for the best part of the day, and longer if the parents rely on the school for childcare.

I’m not proposing (here at least) that we shun the comforts of home, or that you quit your job tomorrow ( regular readers will know how I feel about the capitalist system and how we are enslaved to it), instead, I suggest that we make a start in reconnecting to the land, to nature.

To retune ourselves to the natural rhythms of life, to the cycles of nature and the land in our own locality means that we must be willing to put in at least a little effort. It’s not enough to visualise in meditation sitting out in nature, to imagine a deep connection to it. It’s certainly not enough if you never make an effort to get outside.

In mainstream paganism, I feel that the natural world is sometimes overly romanticised – think the earth mother offering us all of her gifts, her bounty. I guess you can tell that I’m going to disagree with this view of nature. Nature does indeed give us all that we need to live, but that does not mean that these things are easy to come by, that we don’t have to put in the work or effort. It doesn’t mean we can just do what we want, take what we want. Nature is not all love and light, and to go out without understanding this is to risk your own safety.

The pagan mythic of the wild wood and building a connection, a relationship with it or any other large natural formation, mountain, lake, whatever, is indeed romantic, and let’s face it, who wouldn’t want that. But for many, the reality is only a dream. For sometimes it can be hard for us pagans to realise that sometimes, quite often in fact, the wild wood, the mountain, the lake, do not want a relationship with us. It’s true. I have felt it myself.

I took my dogs out once, not to my normal woods, the ones I write about here, but to a larger one. I am a witch, and tracks are not for me, so off the track we went. It was such a nice walk, a warm spring day, the dogs were running through the trees, loving their freedom. We walked and walked until we came to a part of the woods I didn’t know. I was looking forward to exploring, always on the look out for plants to forage and what not, but then the atmosphere changed. I thought it was just me, spooking myself, and so I forced myself onwards. I looked back to find the dogs waiting about  two or three metres back, and no matter how much I called, whistled and cajoled, they wouldn’t go any further. Instead we turned back the way we had come.

Sometimes we are just not wanted. I believe it’s because the land remembers, and though we as individuals may be innocent, the crimes committed against the land by humanity are too much and thus great effort is required to regain what we have lost. The land remembers.

So with all of that said, building a relationship with the land, with nature needs to start small, and the best way to do this is to start with where you live. It doesn’t matter where you reside either, just for the record, whether that be the city, town or countryside. Before, when I’ve written on the subject, I’ve had people say that it’s all well and good for us country folk to talk about building a connection to the land, but for those who live in cities, then to do so costs money and time. To that I say forging a connection does take time, of course, but I truly believe you do not have to spend a penny. You don’t need to transport yourself away from where you live. Every place has a spirit, and forming relationships with the genius loci, the spirit of the place where you live will be more than fulfilling, even if it’s a relationship with a stunted and lonely tree, a patch of wasteland where only weeds grow (of course the sorcerers and witches will know that really, there’s no such thing as a weed,an unwanted plant!).

Let the season of fertility and growth inspire you. Take yourself outside, go for a walk around your neighbourhood, learn the natural rhythms and cycles where you live, what grows where.

The best place to forge relationships with the land and spirits of place is the place where you live. Let Ostara be the time for action.

Happy Ostara.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


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What’s A Nice Atheist Like Me Doing At Gods & Radicals?

“The Sources” by Emy Blesio (oil on canvas)

 

Recently, some criticisms of the Gods & Radicals community have included condemnation of the inclusion of a self-proclaimed atheist — me — among the contributors.1

What’s an atheist doing at Gods & Radicals?  It’s a fair question.

The truth is, while I am an atheist, I am also a non-theistic humanist, a Gaian pantheist, an archetypal polytheist, a naturalistic animist.  And which one I answer to really depends on how you ask the question or what aspect I am choosing to emphasize at the time.

I am but atheist north-north-west.

When the wind is southerly, I know a god from a geist.

My worldview does not accommodate supernatural beings that exist separately and independently of human beings — and in that sense I am an atheist.

And yet, my world is full of gods.  Let me give you an example …

Each morning, I wake up and greet the rising sun with arms upraised and an invocation of Indra, adapted from the Rig Veda, on my lips:

Scaling heaven, splendor encompasses you,

Chariot-Borne, sun-bright, and truly potent,

You pour forth, bursting the clouds,

Giving life to sun and dawn …

You say the sun is no god?  What is it else that rules outside our selves?

I saw that there are, first and above all,
The hidden forces, blind necessities,
Named Nature, but the thing’s self unconceived :
Then follow, — how dependent upon these,
We know not, how imposed above ourselves,
We well know, — what I name the gods, a power
Various or one: for great and strong and good
Is there, and little, weak and bad there too,
Wisdom and folly : say, these make no God, —
What is it else that rules outside man’s self?

— Robert Browning, “The Ring and the Book”

Do I believe the gods are real?  Of course!  What could be more real than the sun?

For ages, humankind, we’ve wanted to celebrate what brings us life. What is this thing that allowed us to emerge. …

The Sun. The Star.

That right there is the source of all of our myths and allegories and hopes and dreams. It gave life to the world; gave birth to life.

Its core burns at ten million degrees and it consumes millions of tons of matter per second – we ourselves are made of remnants of its fallen siblings.

The preconditions for our humanness, that, certainly, is what god is right? ‘Let there be light!’

— Jason Silva, “What is a God?”

But you say, it’s impossible to interact with this god?  Not so.  I interact with it every morning when I open my eyes to the growing light.  I interact with it every time I step outside and feel its warmth on my flesh, my cells absorbing  its rays.  I interact with it every time I take a breath of air which is warmed its radiation.  I interact with it every time I eat a vegetable which transformed its energy into life-sustaining matter.

True, the sun does not hear or respond to my prayers.  You might say it is indifferent to me.  And yet, in a sense, I am an extension of the sun.  I am its energy transformed into living matter.  I am the light of the sun made conscious, capable of reflecting back on itself, seeing and appreciating its own warmth and beauty.  “Indifference” does not seem a fitting word to describe this relationship.

“I want to know why beauty exists, why nature continues to contrive it, and what is the link between the life of a lightning storm with the feelings these things inspire in us? If God does not exist, if these things are not unified into one metaphorical system, then why do they retain for us such symbolic power?”

— Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat

Why does the sun hold such beauty and power for us?  Because there is a sun within us too, an inner sun god.  Indra, to whom I call in my invocation, is just one of the names of this god.  He is the power of the sun personified.2  Indra is my internal sun — the part of me that is called forth by the sight of the rising sun.  The sun god without speaks to the sun god within, and the sun god within responds.

Have you ever felt the sun rise within you?  Words like “archetype” and “symbol” are inadequate to capture this experience.

You say this Indra is not real because he is “in my head”?  It’s true it is all in our heads, but if we think this makes them less real, then, as Lon Milo DuQuette has written, we have no idea how big our heads really are.

For the pioneers of modern psychology, Freud and Jung, the deepest levels of the psyche merged with the physical body and the physical stuff of the world.  Ecopsychologists like James Hillman and Theodore Roszak extend Freud’s id and Jung’s collective unconscious and draw the rational conclusion that what these terms imply is literally the world.

The most profoundly collective and unconscious self is the natural material world.

— James Hillman, “A Psyche the Size of

the Earth”

What meaning does the phrase “merely psychological” have if the psyche is “the size of the earth”, a literal anima mundi which suffused with subjectivity, interiority, intimacy, and reciprocity.

But you say this Indra is not real because he is not separate from me?  But if that’s the case, then you and I are not real either, because we are not separate:

We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson

Our interconnectedness makes us more, not less, real.  From this perspective, the more we emphasize the separateness of the gods, the less real they become.

What does any of this have to do with being a “radical” or with anti-capitalism?

In order to answer that, I need to explain briefly the relationship between capitalism and the disenchantment of the world.

According to Morris Berman, “The story of the modern epoch, at least on the level of mind, is one of progressive disenchantment,” which Berman defines as “nonparticipation”  and “alienated consciousness.”  A disenchanted consciousness sees everything else, even living beings, as objects — objects to be bought and sold, in the case of the capitalist form of disenchantment.

Capitalism is one of the driving forces behind the disenchantment of the world.   It alienates workers from the products of their labor, but it also alienates us from the physical world, from nature (including our own bodies).  Capitalism disenchants the world by reducing everything to resource and commodity, fungible and without intrinsic meaning.

Nothing we come upon in the world can any longer speak to us in its own rights. Things, events, even the person of our fellow human beings have been deprived of the voice with which they once declared their mystery to men.

— Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counterculture

This disenchantment of the world happened, not when we stopped seeing gods and spirits in nature — gods and spirits can be objectified too — but when we stopped feeling our connection to nature, when we lost our sense of essential participation in the world.

The view of nature which predominated in the West down to the eve of the Scientific Revolution was that of an enchanted world. Rocks, trees, rivers, and clouds were all seen as wondrous, alive, and human beings felt at home in this environment. The cosmos, in short was a place of belonging. A member of the cosmos was not an alienated observer of it but a direct participant in its drama. His personal destiny was bound up with its destiny, and this relationship gave meaning to his life.

— Morris Berman, The Re-Enchantment of the World

The re-enchantment of nature, then, is a means overcoming capitalist alienation.  It means relating to nature once again as our home — in the deepest sense of that word.  (The prefix eco- means “house”.)  It means cultivating a profound awareness of our interconnectedness — our kinship  — with every other living being — and, yes, even with the rocks and other unconscious, yet animate, matter.

So let’s go back to my morning ritual …

When I raise my arms in greeting to the sun, I am re-storying myself to my proper place in the universe.  I am re-placing myself in the vast cosmic drama which began billions of years ago, when stars were born and died, and spread their life throughout the universe.  I am re-calling the time when the rays of the sun gave life to our first simple-celled ancestors.  I am re-membering how my body and yours evolved in response to the sun — how our sensory organs were shaped by a long and delicate process of interaction with the world around us, how our eyes were shaped by and then finely tuned by the light of the sun and its reflections off of the myriad surfaces of the natural world.

… when I look up at the night sky and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small because they’re small and the Universe is big—but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant you want to feel like a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.

— Neil DeGrasse Tyson

I am also reviving the energetic process which sustains my life today.  I am re-cognizing my kinship with all other life — both human and other-than-human, both plant and animal — all life that depends on the energy from the sun — as well as to the winds and waters whose cycles are driven by the sun’s rays.  And I am re-connecting the experience of the light and warmth outside of me to the experience of psychological light and warmth inside of me — as above so below.

This simple gesture of greeting the sun is one way of re-enchanting the world.  Ritual gestures like these work together as an antidote against the disenchantment of capitalism …

… the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

— Rachel Carson, “The Sense of Wonder”

Doing this reminds me of my place in the cosmos — not a “stranger in a strange land”, not a exile from heaven, and not a mere consumer of widgets and producer of GDP — but a child of Sol and Terra, kin to wolf and salmon, redwood and moss, earthworm and parasitic wasp.  Knowing I am a part of this earth, and it me, and that my destiny in continuous with it, helps me see capitalist alienation for what it is.  It helps me find ways to resist that alienation and to imagine a different kind of life.

So am I an atheist?  Yes, but that’s not all I am.  I am also a worshiper of many gods … and a radical too.  And as surely as the earth is my home, so is Gods & Radicals.


With gratitude to Rhyd Wildermuth and others who have defended my participation in this community.


Endnotes:

1 I am not the only non-theistic writer at G&R.

2 Indra was a sun god in his earliest form in the Rig Veda. In later forms, he became a god associated with rain and lightning.


John Halstead

John Halstead is Editor-At-Large and a contributor at HumanisticPaganism.com. He blogs about Paganism generally at AllergicPagan.com (which is hosted by Patheos) and about Jungian Neo-Paganism at “Dreaming the Myth Onward” (which is hosted by Witches & Pagans). He is also an occasional contributor to GodsandRadicals.org and The Huffington Post and the administrator of the site Neo-Paganism.com. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment,” which can be found at ecopagan.com. He is a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community, which is described at GodisChange.org. John is also the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. To speak with John, contact him on Facebook.


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