I mean, a really long time. For many of us, since long before even the pandemic.
Since we strode, or ran, or wheeled, or paddled into the wild, lungs gulping precious air, consumed with The Moment of Aliveness.
Or, being unable to do any of those things, simply witnessed one of the many miracles of life on this exquisite Earth—a sunset or rise, a rainbow, a bolt of lightning, a crashing wave, a moonrise, snow falling, an aurora—and had our breath taken away.
It’s more than a year now since our socialization, our group activities were taken from us.
And I’m writing now to suggest to you—to me—that it’s time.
Not that the pandemic is over. It isn’t. But after a year of fear and isolation, it is time to chase joy.
Yes, we must be safe. Some of us — myself included — are vaccinated now, and I have to say that it feels like an enormous weight has been lifted. But even if you’re not, I recommend a joy hunt: a drive to somewhere beautiful, perhaps, or a socially-distanced walk or trip. I know not all of us are able to do some of the things I am describing, but Nature is so vast — it’s even in your house! — that surely there is some wonder to be found, however limited your range of motion.
Now, a joy hunt doesn’t necessarily have to be for a natural phenomenon; that just happens to be the sort of thing that makes me and many others happy. Is it an activity you love? Something that fell by the wayside as the pandemic ground on? It may feel awkward to do that thing again, but give it a try. Here, after so much time, is a moment when we can emerge as the plants are emerging (in the Northern Hemisphere), and restate our aliveness.
Joy isn’t something that always falls in our laps. Happiness is a muscle; it must be exercised. Even as we use our rituals and our contemplative practices and draw forth our wisdom through personal growth, we must also go to where the Good Feeling is if we want to feel it.
I’d say that’s about 2/3 of a perfect assessment of modern Paganism and the current Pagan community…at least in the US, where I am familiar with it. He’s not wrong, and his critiques are apt…painful and embarrassing as they may be for many American Pagans.
John orients his piece around this table:
Now, I think one of the most incisive and true critiques in this chart are that much of modern Paganism has “adolescent values of a youth movement”: black-and-white thinking, knee-jerk resistance to authorities and moral precepts, and a desire to “shock” conventionality just for the sake of doing so.
But this chart, too, says something about the so-called “oppositional” culture.
Being “oppositional” is actually a clinical term. It is encoded in the diagnosis “Oppositional/defiant disorder”, which is demonstrated mostly by people who were abused by authority figures as children.
Being “oppositional” and “resistant” are not virtues in and of themselves, and this is a lesson many who embrace such terms have failed to learn. It is too easy to kid yourself that you’re a hero just because you have a fist in the air.
The point is to be transformational. And being transformational involves embracing some things, rejecting others. Fighting like hell for the best possible outcome, but then not shitting on the inevitable partial loaf that reality produces. Calling that a small victory, and then gearing up for the next fight to make it better.
In short, transformational culture lives beyond self-absorbed, adolescent self indulgence, and beyond reflexive, adolescent rebellion. Beyond childish all-or-nothing demands. Transformational culture understands nuance, which makes it adult.
I’d suggest that the chart should look more like this:
Now, that doesn’t mean that the critique of most modern Pagan culture isn’t apt. Sadly, it is. But there are plentyofvoices in this broadly drawn community who are neither “alternative” nor “oppositional”: who stand for the hard work–internal AND external–of changing the world for the better. I don’t agree with these voices on all points but that doesn’t matter. They are Pagans of integrity, and voices for transformation in the world.
John isn’t wrong about his diagnosis. But his prescription doesn’t really address the nature of human motivation. We’re not going to just drop all effort at growth and improvement of our lot in the name of The Cause. That’s zealotry; the likes of Pol Pot leveraged exactly that, to disastrous ends.
No. We must value the individual, the society and the Earth. We must understand that we have responsibilities to each. We must speak truth to destructive power and fight to break its grip, while not lumping all power together and labeling it as destructive.
More than anything, we must understand context. There is a time for playfulness and outrageousness and radical self-expression; there is also a time for coming to meet our fellow humans where they are, and engaging them on those terms. That is key to the art of persuasion, and transformation cannot occur without moving hearts and minds through persuasion. And there is a time to square our shoulders and simply refuse to cooperate with what destroys our world and enslaves its people.
It’s a complicated world and our strategies must, therefore, also be complex. Having a nuanced, adult understanding both of ourselves and the politics of our societies will enable us to find pressure points, leverage points we can flex to accomplish positive change.
And the spirituality of the Sacred Earth is a driving force behind this. Opposition is not enough to create a better world; that can only come about through activism rooted in love.
And what better object of our love is there than That Which Brings Forth All Life, which sustains and feeds and warms and protects each of us worldly creatures?
The Holy Earth, turning in space, home to all of us, is both object and subject of our activism for deeper meaning, more profound joy, and societal transformation.
That is the Paganism I pursue and promote.
*Note: this book and perspective have been deemed highly questionable, at the least, by people I trust, citing them as both ableist (given that it calls for the end of industrial civilization that many of us, including myself, rely on to survive), and also transphobic, so be aware that these critiques are out there. I haven’t read it and don’t plan to, and I honestly don’t know whether John subscribes to their philosophies or simply cribbed the chart from the book as a kind of one-off.
Because it has never happened before, we think it cannot be.
And this is ironic, because we believe that in our aspirations and efforts, we can make what has never been.
We know that with heart and work, we can make a better, kinder world.
Unfortunately, those with awful values and hatred in their hearts also aspire and try. And with enough effort–and enough indulgence and blindness on the part of those who surround them–they, too, can make manifest.
As happened on Wednesday in the murderous, seditious attack on the United States Capitol.
There is much to say about this and it has been said elsewhere. I don’t need to go into details.
But in the darkness of this time, in the confusion and fear and anger this event has provoked among decent and goodhearted people throughout the world, there is a lesson to be taken, and it is not only that we must redouble efforts to stamp out hatred in our societies.
It is also that the need for what we are about, Atheopagans, has never been so great. Not in our lifetimes, in any case.
Never has the need been so strong for strong and vigilant efforts for equality, for democracy, for kindness.
Because hatred has been steadily stoked in recent years, by the fascist would-be dictator Trump and by the sorry, deluded and dangerous people who are his cult. Tremendous effort has been invested in building up this hatred, paranoia and fanaticism.
We must be the opposite. We must be the force for love in the world: not in a naive, Christian turn-the-other-cheek way, but through tangible action, strategic advance and devoted fealty to our true and kind hearts.
This is a frightening time. There has been an attempt at a revolution of hate, and there will probably be another before the inauguration of the new President.
So stay safe, stay strong, and hold the vision, friends. We’re in this for the long term and with diligence and commitment, the way of love will prevail.