Textual Arachne

A weaver of threads.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Grounding my thoughts

This is the second of my Yule-resolution posts: writing at/near the full moon on topics about being Pagan publicly, rather than musings on the holidays. (I wish I could find some kind of metaphorical connection to last night's eclipse for this topic, but nothing's coming. On the other hand, I can feel a poem on the word "adumbrate" struggling towards consciousness.)

When I told people I was in Divinity School, I often felt as if I needed to qualify that statement by immediately saying I wasn't there for ministry. Now, when I tell classmates and professors that I'm a Pagan, I often feel a similar disclaimer following: that I'm not interested in studying only Paganism.

The first reason is that there are people out there who do it better than I could hope to: Sarah Pike and Chas Clifton are the first ones that spring to mind, but there are many, and they're excellent. They've got the mix of clarity and closeness that I find elusive. This work is already being done, and done well. I don't feel that I could add a lot to this discussion. And, to be truly honest, it does not interest me as much as learning how multiple religions collide and combine in the American public sphere.

I do feel that I can add a lot as a Pagan scholar studying non-Pagan religions and the interactions between faiths in America. (Of course, this work is also being done--I just think I can add more here than in the field of Pagan studies.)

I feel that it's important in some hard-to-define way that Pagans look back at the religions that look at us. That we act, speak, and think from a Pagan perspective (no, I don't have a good idea what that involves yet) when we perform our research or present our ideas. That we turn the gaze back towards a culture that wants to condemn, ignore, or exoticize us, and take our own stand. What would a Pagan study of Christian theologies look like? (If there are already some out there, by all means let me know--my head's stuffed full of coursework reading right now.)

Along those lines, I started drafting up some "Notes Toward a Pagan Anthropology" last week. Partially, this was a response to ideas about 'false consciousness' in religion--a concept I find very patronizing and prone to abuse. But it is also a way for me to spell out not the theoretical, but the moral grounds for why I want to do my work in the way I want to do it. It's still pretty crude, though I may post sections of it later on. Right now, it involves a constellation of Pagan ideas that should inform the way I work: immanent divinity, polytheism, feminism, interconnection, the fae/spirits/what have you, anti-eschatology, and embodiment. This isn't a matter of setting a research agenda that will blind me to other elements: it is a process of understanding why I do this work, why I believe it's important, and how I can make sure that I act ethically while in the middle of the hustle and bustle of research. More on that at another time.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Imbolc, or Brigid, or whatever name it goes by, is the quarter-day holiday between winter solstice and spring equinox. It's probably closer to the middle of winter than Midwinter, and it usually carries a feeling of continuance for me. Nothing big seems to change around Imbolc; when winter feels like sleep, Imbolc is the snooze alarm that says things will continue to sleep, and when winter seems like a dogged slog through slush, Imbolc is like a half-way signpost. It was cold before, it'll be cold tomorrow. Right?

What this way of looking at Imbolc misses is the important changes under the snow. Last year I did a small ceremony that made me more aware of this meaning to Imbolc: right now, though we can't see it, the first push of growth is starting. We won't see bulbs growing for weeks, flowers not for months, and spring--well, spring depends on the whim of cold snaps and late frosts. But what we don't see is the subtle switch from the dormant seed to the preparations for growth: from mere survival to anticipation.

One of my favorite fables is that of Frederick. I was reminded of it by a few other Pagan bloggers a week or so ago (Chas Clifton, I think, though I've lost the link). It's a wonderful story, but looking at it during Imbolc makes me think that it's a good story for this holiday. The mice go from happy feasting to mere survival--they have more than enough food to live through the winter, but their days are gray and dull. It is the creative spark that Frederick gathered, the colors and words and sunlight, that enlivens the mice again and reminds them of the joy and beauty in the world.

This, I think, is why poetry, creativity, and crafting are honored at this time of year. We've made it through the dark times, and proved to ourselves that we can survive. But if winter is more than just a test, more than something to be endured, then it needs the words and colors and light that creative souls have gathered through the year.

So what is it that Imbolc gives, and what are we giving in return? Imbolc gives us what seems like the biggest gag gift of all: more winter! More snow, more ice, more gray skies and a long time before we'll see green again. But hidden in that is the miracle that continuance is change: that "more winter" is not just extra cold time, but time that wakens things and readies them to grow. What we give in return is our creativity and inspiration, turning "just more winter" into creations of words and images.

It is these gifts that transform winter from a test to be weathered into a season with its own mysteries and strengths.