Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May Day Contemplations

May Day is one of my favorite holidays. We usually go to our favorite Mennonite greenhouse and buy plants and flowers and then give them anonymously to older family members and neighbors. "Anonymously" is maybe a stretch. I imagine they know that we are behind the new hanging basket of flowers outside their doors. They aren't stupid. Still, it is fun to sneak up with the blooms and then sneak away to admire the gift from a distance.

This year we didn't do anything for May Day. My husband's new work schedule combined with my unusual teaching schedule temporarily eliminates most possibilities of religious observance. Nevertheless, this May Day, though uncelebrated, did not go unrecognized in my heart. I spent it contemplating my status as a Pagan and wondering at my inability to draw close to others who share that identity.

It is curious to me that the more Pagans I know, the less "Pagan" I feel. On the other hand, I am finding that I am more and more likely to consider myself "Quaker" without the hyphen. The words I have used to describe myself have changed since my father baptized me as a toddler. Since then I have been a consecrated soul though the words that describe the consecration shift. The funny thing is that my spiritual sensibilities don't change much at all over time. The same feelings and core beliefs I had as a young Christian girl are the same ones I possessed as a Pagan teenager and young adult and as a Quaker Pagan mother. Perhaps the feelings are processed, analyzed, and organized differently within the context of my educational and evolving experiential context, but basically, I haven't changed that much. Certainly, I have not had a "conversion experience" so much as I have played with words and metaphors for what my heart experiences wordlessly and this has resulted in an evolving terminology.

I am a "solitary practitioner." I have a shelf of familiar Pagan and Wiccan books. As a young woman I was more likely to play with ritual, prayers, altars, and candles but I never took such play seriously. I recognized it as play and believed that the play itself was the worship. It was signal to my unconscious self that now was a time to release the rational and the cerebral and to relax happily into a world of dream-like symbolism. Had someone asked me then what books to read to understand Paganism, I would not have suggested any of these books (unless I knew that they were also capable of that kind of play). I was far more likely to suggest academic texts written for non-pagan and/or feminist audiences. If asked if I believed in any of it, I would have said that performing a ritual or saying a prayer or invoking a spiritual entity was really an engagement with a deeper, less accessible part of my own psyche and therefore a means whereby I could engage with the Divine less encumbered by the linear, rationalist chains I drag around. My Goddess is Hel but is she a real Goddess? And I would think, "What is real?" But if you pressed me more, I would say that She is a manifestation of memory, pain, and desire and therefore real to me and that She, like me, was a part of a Mystery Far Greater and Wilder. But is Hel a living Goddess of static and historically verified form whose worship I could honestly pass on to others? Hell, no. I'm just not that kind of Pagan.

On another shelf I have books of more academic interest for the study of spiritual feminism. Marija Gimbutas, Mary Daly, Charlene Spretnak, Mary Condren, Merlin Stone, and Carol Christ share space with books by Christian feminists like Rosemary Radford Ruether, Renita Weems, and Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza. I'm far more interested in these conversations than in discussions of faeries and gods which have never been anything more than imaginary playmates for me. Give me a good sacred debate about ethics and history. I do not need the author to identify himself or herself as Pagan. Some of my favorite "Pagan" writings come from Transcendentalism, Romanticism, and Theosophy. I confess that I have never read Starhawk. I tried, but it didn't take. I found Margaret Fuller and Matilda Joslyn Gage more to my liking.

I recognize the equinoxes and solstices and celebrate our family's Pagan holidays of Halloween and All Souls' Day, Yule, Bride's Day, May Day, and the Sauerkraut Festival (Lughnasa). On Halloween and All Souls' Day we leave apples on the graves of our ancestors and loved ones. On Yule we seek the Holy Child in the woods by candlelight. On Bride's Day we bake a cake and decorate the house with silver and white. On May Day we seek flowers (and Mennonite bulk foods) to celebrate the return of green. At the Sauerkraut Festival, we welcome home family from around the country who join us in feasting on local produce. We watch the parade and walk around the village remembering childhood then come home to play dominoes and share stories around the old dining room table with the elders.

If someone were to ask me how I worship, I would say that I do it by hanging laundry on the line and if they asked what I believe I would say that I believe that all that exists is en-souled. I would say that we are paradoxically one and One and that this is all I know of God. I would say that humanity is the tenant and steward of Nature (though perhaps we will soon be evicted for our abuse of this office). I would say that love is our mission and life is our school. If you asked by what principles I organize my life I would say, "Simplicity, Sustainability, Pacifism, Equality, and Compassion." And if you asked what I am here to do, I would say that I am here to learn and to share what I have learned. And what of sin? I would tell you that sin is to willfully live apart from one's calling and to willfully separate another soul from theirs.

I think I would not have questioned whether or not to use the term "Pagan" to describe myself if I had not begun blogging and if I had not then been introduced to so many other Pagans in the blogosphere who seem to take the forms and the history so much more seriously than I do. I think, perhaps, what is happening to me is similar to what happened to my family when I was an adolescent. It came to pass that we learned that what we understood to be essentially "Christian" was not truly what other Christians believed and practiced and since we were the minority, it was easier to stop calling ourselves Christians than it was to try to conform to them. In that time too I found that "Pagan" also defined my essential Christian faith and was indeed a better term since it encompassed not only love for the collective and individual souls of humanity but for the entire Cosmos. I found in it that death and grief and light and hope and pain and passion and paradox all have a home in the Divine.

On this May Day, I contemplated my Paganism as I rode through the countryside on the way to the grocery store. I know nothing of covens and little of ritual. My interest in mythology is academic. My Paganism is in the orchards and the farm fields and in the vineyards. It is in the cemeteries rich with ancestors. It is in my woman's blood and my maternal fear. It is in grief and longing and hope and hunger. It is in the land, in my bones, in the way my husband smiles at our children and in the May Day flowers still waiting for us at the Mennonite greenhouse. I owe no allegiance to any pantheon. Mother Mary/Sophia/Christ, Hel, and Aslan most often populate my symbolic landscape but they are only shadows of that which hovers in and about and through and near me as I hang socks on the laundry line. I don't need to name that. I don't need to know. I don't even know what questions I would ask although I know the answers are "Yes and always."

And here my sentiments outstrip my sense so I must stop. Perhaps it is not important for me to know if I am properly Pagan or properly Quaker or properly Christian or properly non-theistic. I suppose I am not properly anything except myself which is what I am called to be. And perhaps that is just exactly enough.


Karen said...

No perhaps about it.

Lone Star Ma said...


Nellie said...

Again, you say it so wonderfully!

Mary Ellen said...

Hystery, this is a lovely piece. I suspect we have lots over overlap in the contents of our bookshelves. I'd call you a "person of faith" - clearly on a path - and you don't need any permission or authorization to keep following the truth as it is lit, step by step, before you by the light within.

Hystery said...

Thank you all for your encouragement. Mary Ellen, "person of faith" is an honorable and hopeful term with which I am happy to be associated. Thank you for that. I'd almost given up on it. There are days when I think I have. It is something I will want to think about.