Equanamity, Balance and the Equinox

As I write this, the Earth coasts in its slightly angled orbit towards the Ecliptic, the plane of rotation of the Sun. When we cross it, the days and nights will be of equal lengths (at the equator). It is the Vernal Equinox, the moment when the days begin to stretch longer than the nights in the Northern hemisphere.

There are many themes associated with this holiday for Pagans, as we frame our Wheels of the Year based on our local climate and ecologies and, in some cases, on the agricultural cycle and/or the life cycle of a person. But one we don’t talk about quite so often is this idea of balance suggested by the equally lengthy day and night.

The concept of balance is a funny thing in our world: in most of the world, the ideology of growth has supplanted it, but there are still places where equanamity, moderation and the paradox of opposites are still embraced. It is this I address today.

Paganism is not, generally speaking, a contemplative family of religious paths. Unlike, say, Buddhism, we do not place the highest value on calm and acceptance of the vagaries of life, but rather pursue the heights of ecstasy in our rites, dancing about leaping fires, singing joyously, pursuing the transformative experience through engagement with the world rather than withdrawing from it. We celebrate pleasure; so much so that in order to be responsible, we must have ethical principles ensuring we do not go overboard in its pursuit.

But there is something to be said for the reflective, dispassionate eye that contemplative traditions offer us. Mindfulness and self-examination are essential for us to do the work of growing to be healthier, more whole, and kinder human beings. They can ensure that healthy self-esteem does not cross into egoism, that we remain cognizant of our impacts on others, and that we continue to reflect so as to uncover assumptions, blind spots in our perceptions and behavior patterns we may want to change. They can help to calm anxiety and lead to self-discovery that helps us to heal and improve.

This time of year is a natural one for reflection on contradictions and paradoxes, as the light and dark of day and night come into balance.

What contradictory impulses or forces are you balancing?

Doing the Work

As Atheopagans, we’re about being healthier, wiser, happier humans, and through action to contribute to a better world.

Some of that is about values. Ours are articulated in the 4 Sacred Pillars and the 13 Atheopagan Principles, and in this area particularly Principle 4: humility; Principle 5: perspective and humor; Principle 8: legacy; Principle 9: social responsibility, and especially Principle 13: kindness and compassion.

Some of it is about healing: healing our wounds and shame, our self-esteem. Our fear.

And some of it is about moving through and beyond our bullshit.

Which, let us be clear, we all have.

Personal work is core and essential in Atheopaganism. Willingness to confront our biases, our truisms, our histories of injury–and, yes, our egoism, mistaken understandings, and blind spots–and to transform these into wisdom and compassion is a part of what this path requires of us. For they are what makes a wise and kind person.

Will any of us accomplish this perfectly? No, we will not.

That’s why it’s called a path instead of a destination.

Mind you, the self alone is not the focus of Atheopaganism. The personal community, human society, and the ecological systems of the Earth are priorities as well for our service and attention. But just as it is erroneous to focus on nothing but the self to the exclusion of the communal and ecological, it is a mistake to ignore personal growth as an aspect of the Atheopagan way of being.

We have all been wounded. We have all absorbed destructive culture and learned inappropriate behavior. We have suffered. We grieve, we rage. It is the human experience.

Knowing yourself and working to grow is a lifelong journey. Sometimes growth happens in leaps; sometimes it is so incremental that you can hardly tell it is happening until you turn around one day and realize: Hmm. I’ve changed.

It is immensely rewarding, and tremendously humbling. It helps us to see how each of us struggles with mental demons and damage.

And it gives us the foundation of humanity, warmth and compassion from which can spring activism to better our world for all of us…with “us” meaning not only humans, but the fabric of life itself.

So if you don’t have a personal practice that can help you to reflect and grow, I encourage you to start one. Meditate, or do contemplative rituals like those linked above. Journal your thoughts and feelings, and learn from them. Read the words of people who have specialized in becoming compassionate: from Thich Nhat Hanh to Pema Chodron to Nelson Mandela, they are out there. Likewise people who have accomplished social change.

Each of us has a life to live and a self and world to improve. This is the human project. Let us embrace it and do the work to make progress, day by day.

Death, the Creator

Classic depictions of Death personified include skeletons carrying an hourglass or a scythe, mummified persons extending leathery hands, armies of skeletal warriors mowing down the living, or Pale Horsemen laying waste to kings, priests and children, as in the Coleman-Waite “Rider” Tarot deck.

It makes complete sense that we view death with fear and revulsion. We are, after all, hardwired to wish to survive, hardwired to want to pass our genes on, however we may. Certainly, our deaths scare us. We die, and by and large, we don’t want to.

But if we step back, we can see the value of death. The importance it plays in the perpetuation and evolution of Life on Earth.

We are assemblies of molecules, intricate biological machines that start self-assembling according to genetic instructions as soon as THIS sperm cell hits THAT egg. We are assembled by Life to perpetuate Life. And when we have fulfilled our natural spans, we die, and our components are disassembled and reassembled into new Life.

This is not a dark, horrible thing! It is the only way we could have existed in the first place.

And for those who seize onto terror of death—or fetishize its power—well: both are missing the point.

This is the time of year that we Atheopagans acknowledge our mortality, honor it, recognize the driving force it has in our lives. We decorate our homes with skulls and bones and frightening jack o’ lanterns; we scare ourselves with spooky films and stories about frightening beings that break the fundamental rule of death, like mummies, ghosts, vampires and Frankenstein’s monster; we remember those whose deaths we have lived through. We make death as real to ourselves as we can, short of the actual, final experience.

And this is apt. Because the next, magical, phenomenally important phase after death is the one we will never live, never experience: the composting. The rotting into rich, fertile soil, the recomposition of our component molecules into bacteria, badgers, bluebirds or bears.

We Atheopagans acknowledge this essential time in the weeks between Hallows and Yule: the period of Resting. Of decomposition and recomposition.

Death is the Creator.

Yes: that very thing we fear is what makes all we love about Nature, about Life on Earth. Death creates; it is the process of gathering of resources for assembly of new creatures, plants and animals and microbes.

And we are exponents of it: we eat what is living, and disassemble it, create flesh and bone and thoughts and actions, and excrete food filled with nutrients for other creatures. It is the essential nature of what we are.

So as we scare ourselves with our spooks and skulls and dead bodies–as we feel the very real loss when we grieve–let us remember the tremendous kindness of Death. We would not be here without it. We are death-makers and death-beneficiaries, like all life on Earth. Our precious lives were assembled for us out of the dead, and we in turn will go forward for disassembly and reassembly in our time.

Death is the means to Life: the only gateway to living this magnificent voyage we enjoy as humans. The price of the ticket, in fact.

Let us not hate it so much.