Not everyone is happy of course. The Churches are looking all confused – on the one hand preaching that “God is love” while on the other hand saying, “wee-eeeell, maybe God is love – but not quite for all people. Not for you gay people over in the corner, anyway.”
And the politicians who, in not too distant memory were all iffy and uffy about same sex marriage, now rush in their full acceptance of the cause, saying, “We were on your side all along! Yes, really!”
Then there are groups who claim that same-sex marriage will persecute traditional marriage types. I’m not sure how – and neither are they, as they don’t quite specify the details – but they’re vehement on the matter.
The thing is, all this denying and delaying and complaing and whinging about being persecuted sounds eerily familiar. The same complaints were heard, and the same arguments, every time a persecuted minority (or majority) has gained rights.
The same arguments were used against the civil rights movement in the US (didn’t you know whites are discriminated against?), and the same against women rights (men are being persecuted now – didn’t you know?). It’s the same old line, used over and over.
It never held water then, and it doesn’t now.
Australia is a backwater
My home country of Australia is starting to look more and more like a backwater of human rights. I’m embarrassed. I’m living in New Zealand now, but I follow the Aussie news, and I feel ashamed that Australia hasn’t led the way on this issue. Especially when so much of the population is clearly in favour. It seems like the politicians have stopped listening to the people. Or maybe that happened a while back…
But you can’t stop change. The Churches in the UK are against this, but popular opinion is changing so swiftly in favour of this issue that they’ll soon be left behind, if they aren’t already. Just one more way in which mainstream religions are losing touch with popular culture.
These are interesting times we live in. I think there are some issues that are changing a little too fast for my liking, such as the amount of violence on TV and film. But other issues, such as rights for minorities, can’t change fast enough.
From then on, of course, they’re infinitely better and so much more Pagan than you.
Feel insecure and insufficient yet? Yep. That’s the idea.
My potted history in Paganism
You want to know my Pagan lineage? Here it is: I got interested in Paganism through various books as a teenager, and then got together with a few like-minded friends. And we made stuff up.
We flew by pulling ourselves up by our shoelaces.
We knew nothing except that we wanted to learn. So we supported each other in the learning process, did a whole stack of courses and training, some more reputable than others, and gradually started figuring things out.
Some stuff worked, other stuff really worked, and a lot of stuff didn’t work at all. We were really, really eclectic! We read everything we could get our hands on, from Campbell and Frazer and Kramer to Starhawk and Fox and Buckland – and a whole lot besides.
I was involved with two main covens through the 90s and early century – MoonSpell Coven (which I originated) and then Akasha Coven, which I created and for which I was the HPS. Many of the members of those groups are still practicing, and almost all of them remain my friends.
Akasha in particular was very active in the wider Pagan scene in Melbourne, Australia, offering classes and public gatherings that attracted large groups of people and were very sucessful. My involvement in the Pagan scene wound down when I had children and just couldn’t keep up with the hours required for regular work.
But lineage? I have none. None of my friends do either – or they didn’t when I was working with them. Maybe they do now. But I still don’t. I’ve been in the Pagan scene since I was a teenager, I’m 43 now, so that’s about 25 years of practice, and I’m still unlineaged.
I’d say I’m pretty experienced now. I’m still considered a Pagan Leader in certain circles, and quite knowledgeable, but I feel like a novice in a lot of areas. I’m learning all the time. I love learning all the time! I’d never call myself an expert, although I know quite a bit by now.
Time is, change is…
That’s just it with Paganism though. It’s such a huge field that you never stop learning. Nobody is ever really an expert – not of everything, anyway. If anyone calls themselves an “expert” or starts giving themselves titles in my presence, my Bullshit Detector starts twitching. Like a Timey Wimey Detector, it goes Ding! when there’s Stuff.
Does lineage matter?
The truth is, lineage doesn’t matter. Not one bit. The whole point of Paganism is that you do what you want, what works for you – without the need for a clergy. So you certainly don’t need someone Uber Important telling you what to do.
No practitioner is more important than the rest, simply because of who they happen to know or claim to know. Or claim to have learned from.
I’ve been fortunate in my time to have taken classes with some of the “big names” in Paganism. Did they teach me anything that was intrinsically better than what I figured out on my own? No. Maybe I’m just not someone with a “groupie” mindset, but although the experience of working with these people was generally good, it didn’t make me a better practitioner.
What has made me a better practitioner has been experience. Years and years of it. Making lots of mistakes. Learning from lots of different people from all different walks of life. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t – and doing the figuring out for myself.
I’ve made some big balls ups in ritual. Some of them at large public events I was running. I’ve stuffed up, screwed up, and ballsed up. It all helped me learn. I’ve had to learn humility, and I’ve had to have a healthy sense of humour.
Skills for becoming a better practitioner
I can’t reiterate it enough – a piece of paper, or a certain lineage, or a course from an education centre, no matter how reputable – none of these can make you a better practitioner.
What will make you a better practitioner is learning to listen to your own, inner self.
Learning to take in what works for you, and toss what doesn’t.
Learning to discriminate between the good and the not so good.
Learning to accept that everyone is different, and that what works for your friend may not necessarily work for you.
Having a sense of humour will make you a better practitioner, as will learning to not take yourself too seriously.
Learning that you will always, always be a novice in the world in most fields will help, while recognising that most of the people who claim to be adepts are actually novices too is also useful.
Learning to have a fully functional Bullshit Detector is a valuable asset. Learning that most people are just fumbling along in the dark is another useful asset. And being especially wary of anyone with titles or claims is a real, serious asset – hang on to that, no matter who you meet or what they claim to be!
Lineage isn’t important. The biggest fool can train, and the biggest fool can make claims. What is meaningful, in the end, is what you choose, what is purposeful and worthwhile for you.
My path continues…
Like I said, I have no lineage. It is meaningless to me. I’m self taught, and taught by many, and taught by Life, and taught by the Goddess Aphrodite. That is humbling and empowering and enough for me.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to teach many, many others, and help them find their own paths, their own journeys.
I started on this path 25 years ago, maybe more. I’m excited to see where it leads me. But one thing I do know – I don’t need titles or claims or lineage or Big Wazoo outfits to impress anybody.
Bonfires have special significance not only in Paganism, but right the way through human history.
Circle: When a group meets at a bonfire, we automatically form a circle. It’s a gathering of equality, just like King Arthur’s round table.
Sure, you can arue that some points in the circle are more important than others – the position to the direct right of the King, for example, is always going to be favoured in Camelot.
But generally, a circle is as egalitarian as it gets.
Interestingly, the word “Church” comes from the Old English word “cirice” (pronounced Kih-Rih-Kuh), and is directly related to the word “circle”. So you could argue that we Pagans are still doing it right, keeping the tradition of circle alive through the centuries, long after others have abandoned it in favour of a “stage show presentation” style of worship.
Our backs to the dark: When we light a bonfire at night, our backs are turned to the dark. At the same time, we are aware of and recognise that the beauty of the light, in the form of the bonfire, can only truly be appreciated when it is fully dark. Both dark and light are needed for balance in this world.
Energy moving upwards: When we burn wishes in a bonfire, our wish is directly sent skywards in smoke and heat. The bonfire connects the earth, and products of the earth (wood) with the sky above. As above, so below.
All elements: The bonfire is a gathering of all four elemental states of matter: air (gas), fire (plasma), water (liquid, in the form of steam) and solid (fuel). Our inner selves recognise this balance – I believe this is why we find fire so hypnotic.
Elemental positioning: Have you ever noticed that people will gather at the elemental compass point they feel most attuned to? For example, I’m a Fire sign, and in the southern hemisphere, I always gravitate to the north of the Circle. In the northern hemisphere, you’ll find me at due south. I don’t know how – it just happens. The Bonfire brings out our true selves.
Celebration: Fire is a celebration of humanity. Humans are the only creatures able to create and manipulate fire. When we build and maintain a bonfire, we are celebrating our own humanity.