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Creating a Pagan Way of Life
You've studied Paganism. You've gone to rituals and you've taken classes. You're attracted to the freedom and self-determination that is a part of Pagan practice. But, somehow, it doesn't seem to be enough. Paganism is a frame of mind, an attitude, a way of living with the world and with each other that reflects Pagan principles. To be truly Pagan means to live your life in accordance with your Pagan understanding of the divine, the universe, the world, yourself, and others. When you have reached this type of understanding, you then come to ask yourself how this can be done. How can one create a lifestyle that truly reflects a Pagan understanding of life?
First, you must clearly understand what it means to be Pagan. This book is not an introduction to Paganism. There are already many great books on that topic, but I would like to mention what I think are the basic principles of Paganism. I call these principles the Pillars of Paganism.
The 3 Pillars of Paganism
1. All things are sacred, for the divine exists both within and beyond us.
2. We are free to choose our life and spiritual path and, consequently, are responsible for the choices we make.
3. We honor and celebrate the natural cycles of the universe.
The first statement is probably the most important and is what sets Paganism apart from most Western religions. With Paganism, there is no separation between the divine and the self, and yet there is an understanding that the divine is not just the self either. Spirit or the Ultimate Reality (or whatever term you use) is within us and beyond us because it is all things. We may honor deities but also know that, at the same time, we are also the essence of God or Goddess. We are all part of the greatness of being. As is often said in the Upanishads: Whatsoever you believe is holy, you are that, my friend, you are that. Within this text I will be using the term Spirit to denote the ultimate unifying energy in all beings and the universe. Please feel free to interject your own term wherever this term arises.
The second two statements follow from the first. Because we are part of the divine, we are endowed with a certain freedom to live our own life, to find our own path, and to respect the paths of others, for they are just as divine as we are. With that freedom, however, comes the understanding that we are responsible for our actions. We cannot blame what we do on a god or devil, for we are an equal part of divinity. We recognize our own freedom in the Rede (As it harm none, do as you will) that many Wiccans follow. This freedom means that we can take wisdom from wherever we may find it and develop a Pagan theology that is uniquely our own and that does not require all to believe or practice in the same way.
The final statement says that we are Gaia-centered because we celebrate the natural cycles of Gaia and the universe. We recognize the cycles of the moon and the sun, and we honor them as part of the deep mystery of all cycles that are part of life. Pagans most often celebrate these cycles through the practice of sacred rituals in which we directly participate in this cosmic dance.
Accepting, believing, and practicing these things in our lives creates a Pagan way of life. We commit ourselves to honoring the sacred in all things by the belief that all life and all things are sacred. We are free to choose our own path and understand that we must take the time and effort to devise our own way of celebrating the sacred rather than depending on someone else's pre-planned method. Even this book is no exception. I will not try to tell you the one and only way of making Paganism a way of life. Instead, I will offer several suggestions, but it will be up to you to determine your own practice. We learn to honor those cycles in our lives through the knowledge that the whole universe is sacred and reflects the beauty of the divine. By recognizing and honoring regularly the divine presence exhibited in natural cycles and in all life, we begin to develop a life that is truly spiritual and Pagan. Rituals and classes become only part of the many ways we connect to the universe and to each other. As we continue to practice, we develop a love of life and a desire to improve both our lives and the lives of others. We can develop practices that include honoring the sacred, self-improvement, and a commitment to serve others.
The challenge to leading a Pagan lifestyle is daily life itself. There are a thousand things that constantly call to us for attention. We have responsibilities and commitments. We have jobs, families, houses to keep up, lawns to mow, kitchens to clean, paperwork, homework, schoolwork, doctor appointments, dentist appointments, therapist appointments, soccer games, football games, hockey games, taxes, meetings, and memos — and I'm sure there are many other things you could add to this list. If all these things fulfill you, then I honor you and your joy. But for some people, living life this way is similar to eating a hamburger without the meat (or, in my case, without the veggie patty): You can take a big bite full of bread, lettuce, ketchup, and tomato, but you know there's something missing. Adding substance to a busy life can be challenging. It requires that you either find a way to make your life a little less busy or that you carefully manage your time to fit everything in — including spiritual sustenance. It also requires a promise to yourself. If it is really important to you that your life be lived spiritually and that it reflect your Pagan values, then you have to be willing to commit yourself to those practices that will do that. There are many things you can do to make your life more spiritual without adding large amounts of time to your schedule, but you may feel that it is important to carve out some blocks of time for spiritual practice so that you truly feel connected to your source of divinity and to the universe. This text will provide a plethora of ideas on how to do that, but how much you choose to do will, naturally, be up to you. Feel free to use as many of these ideas as you see fit.
The Cycles of the Universe
There are many cycles that surround us. Some we are aware of and others we are not — or at least most people are not. Pagans are usually the exception to that rule because we have committed ourselves to honoring Gaia. Let's take a close look at those cycles and how we experience their manifestations.
There are cycles of Gaia called days. Actually, these are cycles between Gaia and the sun or, more accurately, between the rotation of Gaia and the sun. Approximately every 24 hours, Gaia rotates on her axis, enabling different parts of her surface to be filled with the light and warmth of our solar system's sun (unless of course there are clouds or smog to block the way). The day's journey from light to dark affects everything we do. We are most active during the light part of the day and sleep through most of the night. Within every day there are certain things that happen. They, too, are part of the regular patterns of Gaia cycles and depend upon particular activities that we must do each and every day in order to stay alive. I remember as a child that I could not understand why we had to eat and sleep. All these things got in the way of letting me continue to play and imagine. Only much later in life did I realize what these things really are and why they are important to us. I believe that eating, sleeping, breathing, and engaging with others keeps us connected to Gaia and to all life. They are activities that remind us that we are not separate beings. We depend on Gaia — Her food, air, and creatures — to continue living because we are an integral part of the whole fabric of the life of Mother Gaia. We are Her and She is us. When we do these things we are reconnecting to Gaia and to the Spirit of the universe that is the source of all life.
To me, each of these daily requirements is a spiritual act worthy of respect and reverence, and we can live our lives in a way that reflects this adoration of the sacred in our life patterns. Many of our daily activities are related to these regular cycles of the day. For example, we all rise in the morning (unless you're in college, pulling an all-nighter), we all eat at least two to three meals per day (unless you're fasting or unable to obtain food), most of us go to a job or workplace (unless you've got a rich uncle), many of us return home after work, and most of us go to bed at night. These are things we do every day.
There are also weekly rituals. The week is actually a cycled relationship between Gaia and the moon. We divide the month or moon cycle of 28 days into four quarters, each with seven days we call the week. We can use the cycle of the week to engage in some activities that we may not want to do every day. Going to church on Sunday is a regular weekly ritual for many people. Some have meetings or practices on certain days of the week. There are people who see Wednesday as a day for midweek spiritual practices — a day for prayer meetings, Bible study, or choir rehearsals. Almost everyone has some kind of weekend ritual, such as going out to dinner on Friday night or watching the big game on Saturday.
There are cycles of the moon. The sun's light and the shadow of Gaia reflected on the moon changes the appearance of the moon. It appears to change from full light to complete darkness and then to full again approximately every 28 days. This moon cycle became known as the month. In ancient times, priests would determine when a month began by observing the moon. In ancient Rome, the first of the month was called the Calends, and from that we got the word calendar. Pagans celebrate the night of the full moon in a ceremony called an Esbat. Some also celebrate the dark moon in a celebration I have dubbed the Astor because it is the best time to see the stars.
There are also cycles of the sun. The time it takes for Gaia to return to any position in its orbit around the sun is called a year. Because the axis of Gaia is tilted in its relationship to the sun, various locations on its path around the sun allow certain parts of Gaia to receive more of the sun's light at particular times of the year. That influence is in opposition from the northern hemisphere of Gaia to the southern hemisphere. So, when the northern hemisphere receives the most light, the southern hemisphere receives the least. This amount of light and heat on the surface of our planet greatly affects our weather and our lives. These times are called the seasons, and we subdivide the year into four of them, which we call Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. The point at which the sun offers the greatest amount of heat and light in one hemisphere is known in that hemisphere as the Summer solstice; in the opposite hemisphere it is known as the Winter solstice. The points in between the two solstices, where light and dark are even, are known as equinoxes. Every year has two solstices and two equinoxes. Pagans celebrate these times of the year in order to recognize these changes and cycles, and to honor the cosmic forces that make them happen. Pagans also celebrate the times between the solstices and equinoxes, creating a total of eight solar holidays known as Sabbats.
Finally, there are also cycles in our lives that go beyond the single year. All life from birth to death is seen as a cycle because the death of one allows another to live and thrive. Within the cycles of birth and death are many changes that affect every human life. We can honor and celebrate those parts of the life cycle as well. Besides the event of being born, we also experience the time when we change from being a child to being an adult. Later, many people choose to get married or handfasted, or take on a life partner. Becoming pregnant and having a child are also life-changing events for all involved in the process. For women, menopause signals a shift to middle age. (For men, it may be a sudden desire to buy a small, red sports car.) We also experience a transition from middle age to becoming what is known as a senior citizen, when we might retire from years of work. Finally, we will all experience the end of our life cycle: death. These are regularly occurring cycles that affect every life. We often view our life in terms of a straight line because we are conscious only of our own birth and death, and not how each cycle of life affects the whole pattern of existence. If we could step back and see our life as part of the whole dance of the gods, we might also see our lives as part of a great cycle — just as the rise and fall of the sun and the moon. In the chart on page 27, I have compared the cycles of life to the patterns of the solar and lunar changes we observe. I call this chart the Wheel of Life.
The outer circle indicates the regular changes of the moon as it passes from full to dark every 14 days, and then from dark to full in the next 14 days. Similarly, our lives take on significant changes every 14 years. Around the age of 14, we make the transition from child to adult. At 28, we are on our way to becoming symbolic (or real) mother and father figures. This does not necessarily mean that we have our own children to raise, but we do begin to think about having a life partner, establishing a regular home life, and caring for others. Around 42, we hit the proverbial mid-life crisis, when we look back on our past and begin to assess the meaning of our lives and what our legacy will be to the world. This is often a life-changing time for many people, and understanding that this is a normal transition in life can help it become less frightening and a more positive learning experience. In the stage of crone and sage, we can honor the wisdom we have gained from living a full life. People used to retire at 55, but many now delay retirement. Though it has become financially impossible for many to retire around the age of 55, there is still a sense of major transition at this time. It is a time when we feel the need to return to a childlike state of wonderment. Many people are still quite healthy at this age, making it a good time to begin a new sense of exploration. It is a chance to let go of life's responsibilities and embrace the beauty and wonders of the world. This is a time for playing with grandchildren, touring the country, or volunteering for causes that are important to you.
Now that you have identified your spiritual goals as a practicing Pagan and have observed the cycles of the universe and how they can be matched to those goals, you may be looking over everything and feeling a bit overwhelmed. There's a lot there to consider, and your life is already busy enough. This is the time to consider how much you can really commit to these goals and cycles. A religious practice must be as practical as it is enriching. I advise you not to fret, however. Though there may be quite a bit you want to add to your practice, you do not have to change everything all at once. In fact, you can slowly add to and change your practice as you go, which will also give you time to consider the reasons and effects you desire.
Reasons for Taking on This Work
The practice of Living Paganism may, at first, appear a bit daunting, so it might help to go over the reasons for beginning such a practice. Here are some reasons Pagans want to develop a more spiritual way of life based on Pagan values:
1. To develop a better quality of life.
2. To help determine what is truly important in life.
3. To feel more connected to Gaia, Spirit, and all beings.
4. To add magick and fun to life.
5. To feel and act truly Pagan within and beyond.
The first reason listed is about one's quality of life. When we do not leave time for seeking beauty, truth, the right, and the good; if we do not live to share joy with one another; if we do not live in a deep relationship with Spirit but live only to exist from one day to the next, there is no quality of life. Quality implies a fullness — a richness in something. There are those who have only the means to survive and who, for whatever reason, cannot pursue a greater quality of life. It is for that very reason that those of us who have the opportunity to do so must help those who cannot, for, as children of Spirit, we all deserve the chance to pursue this quality. For those who are capable of pursuing a better life, the first step is committing yourself to a spiritual practice that helps you find it and develop it. A higher quality of life comes from determining goals that allow you to live better, more spiritually, and in greater connection to yourself, others, and Gaia and Spirit.
By taking time to determine your spiritual goals and how you will meet them through the cycles, you force yourself to decide what is truly important to you in your life. This is an important act in and of itself. Too often, the busy pace of life does not allow us to take time out of life and consider the bigger questions of life. Considering what is truly meaningful to you in your life allows you to make decisions as to which things and practices need to be included and which need to be eliminated so that your life is lived closer to your values.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Living Paganism"
Copyright © 2006 Shanddaramon.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Brief Explanation of the Chapters,
Chapter 1. Creating a Pagan Way of Life,
The Cycles of the Universe,
Reasons for Taking on This Work,
Developing a Pagan Practice Through the Cycles,
Chapter 2. Determining Spiritual Goals,
Practices for Developing the Self,
Practices for Helping Others,
Practices for Honoring Gaia and Spirit,
Practices for Honoring Yourself and Others,
A Summary of Goals,
Chapter 3. The Cycles and Their Significance,
The Cycles of Gaia,
The Cycles of the Moon,
The Cycles of the Sun,
The Cycles of Life,
A Summary of Cycles,
Chapter 4. Merging Goals and Cycles,
Gaia Cycles and Honoring Gaia and Spirit,
Moon Cycles and Developing the Self,
Sun Cycles and Helping Others,
Life Cycles and Honoring Yourself and Others,
Putting It All Together,
Chapter 5. Rituals for Celebrating the Cycles,
The Elements of a Pagan Ritual,
The Format for Ritual Work,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The only reason that I could figure that this book didn't sell better is that people aren't ready for it yet. It's not a paganism 101 book, rather it leads you through a myrid of cycles and patterns and challenges you to develop and meet corresponding spiritual goals.