Thinking about paganism, about coven and fellowship is not an unusual pastime. I’ve been doing it a lot recently, and after each lengthy contemplation I find myself sighing long and thinking, “Thank the Gods for my Coven!”
They are not the only people of my “pagan acquaintance”. I’m fairly consistent between mundane me, online me, witch me, and there are increasing conversations which start with, “I saw your comment…” and walk tentatively towards the outing from the broom closet. Behind the veil of the private Facebook message I’ve been privileged to have had many a confession of Otherworldly fellowship with people I would not have guessed as having more than a passing fancy for horror and supernatural themes in films.
But for all our online chit chatting, there is a stark difference between me and most; and that is that my conversation is peppered with phrases like “my coven…”, “my teacher…” which find places in sentences detailing real time face-to-face events and remembrances. And not all of them ritual, or magical in nature, the true blessing I have come to understand is mine, is that my coven, my teacher, are my friends, we catch up, we feed animals and water plants when someone is away. We loan books between us with reckless abandon *gasp*. We talk about work, we share music and film shame. And we did so a long time before we were a coven, before I took up my Stav and began down the crooked path myself.
I know we are a small coven, we are not the only coven in the country either. But I know that there is more in the experience for me, for us, than others who also have the blessing of a flesh and blood, down the road for dinner and ritual connection to a group of people. Half a life time (so far) of all things mundane, and usual on top of, weaved through and permeating the spiritual growth, the birth of children, deaths and love in all its manifestations. They’re family. At no point, is the “I know this is going to sound odd…” declaration actually ever been so odd. And that level of familiarity and trust is something that would be remiss of me to take for granted.
I realise that our similarity of age, the fact we grew up near each other, we share ancestral cultural connections and similarities, and at times we’ve share housed, is a rare gift. For many people I speak to online, the thought of engaging a coven is a wrought with the same stresses and caution as walking into a new workplace. Sometimes we are lucky as human beings, and a few hours is enough for a lifelong connection to form, but the older I get, and so the older my peers get, the more baggage, the more disappointment, the more caution before trust, and when it regards the very nature of our being, the core premises upon which we manufacture our lives, this is completely understandable. Outing oneself at work is not always advisable, nor is it at your child’s school PTA meeting. We are not surrounded by people who believe and practice the same, who accept such beliefs as ‘normal’.
In the end, the Pagan confession guarantees very little. The truth is the word ‘Pagan’ can mean lots and lots of things, and no two people define the word the same way. The same can be said for the word ‘witch’ and a plethora of other tags. It is still relevant, particularly for defining oneself within the broader community, but within it, it’s about as definitive as the word ‘person’.
I came across this article by Cavalorn on LiveJournal, which addresses the issue of the term Pagan, which besides making me giggle a bit, highlights for me how hopelessly the word is understood and it’s impracticality inside the Pagan Community. And how little things change over time.
A short time after reading that I had the pleasure of sitting down to dinner with a group of Pagans. There at the table was the very problem manifest in real time and real conversation. Despite being lovely people and very welcoming, it was evident from the outset, these were not the same kinds of pagan as me. So much so, it wasn’t even clear how non-Christian some of the attendees actually were, if indeed they were at all! When one was asked to actually define the word pagan, we received a short lesson in Wicca circle casting, and the Wheel of the Year. Which is interesting, but quite a ways off from defining the term in any helpful way, pagan is not what Wicca does. One could be monotheistic and invoke the elements as aspect and in honour of the One True God. That would not even be new.
These are some of the issued faced by people all over the place. It is one thing to make friends with those who are open minded enough not to judge your path, or even talk to you about openly, but it is a long way off a space of learning, someone who can teach you The Craft in such a way as to allow the experience of Ancestral Pre-Christian religion as your ancestry requires along side it, and interlaced within it, should that be the case.
This is the primary question of Paganism for me. It embodies not only any and all European pre-Christian religious adherence, but any and all European sorcerous and Occult systems. Interestingly, one is not required in order to have the other. More than that, increasingly those who are European are also Hindu, Asian, African, South American etc. And Paganism as it is at its most broad is European. In the New World, the Pagan community writ large seems little prepared to honour the syncretic nature of ourselves in such a way as to honour it inside any workable system. “Eclectic” hardly begins to explain the beautiful fusion of the ancestral experience of those who are altogether European let alone bicontinental. There is something that lacks honour in the appropriation of one thing with another, and is not the answer for those people, like myself, who are animistic and polytheistic.
And all together it pays no credence to location at all.
Oh! Thank the Gods for my coven!
We are social creatures if we are anything, and so we will search for spiritual home and fellowship as surely as we would for food and shelter. Too often I find myself in conversations asserting that the convergence of spirit mind body place and another is simply not likely, and to use those tools like the internet as best we can. But I can not deny that this desire, for the all togetherness of a life, family, friends, spiritual experience and location is fundamentally human, and quite possibly the best alchemical equation for achieving Inspiration and Gnosis. I am also aware that I picked up and left one family in Sydney in order to follow the other part to Hobart which has resulted in me writing this post now, steeped and macerating still in the Thread of Craft, red and green and vital as it is. But for others I have observed such life moves have been disastrous! And when one has children, and lives already rooted to place and family and community, picking up to go and learn the Craft from the perfect teacher is just not even a little bit practical.
It got me thinking about the nature of the Völva, a word to describe the female Mystic in the far Norse traditions, and one that means a great deal to me as part of my ancestral experience, and of Druids, of the Spirit Healer, and many other words and terms we use to describe those people of our combined European Ancestry as we understand them from the information we have. What is it about them that is common?
One thing stands out, that they all travelled. This is probably not as wholly appreciated in our 24/7 convenience society. But it was of vast importance to those people who lived in different kinds of societies, without cars and airplanes and internet. But it is an aspect that is being re-imagined now, by those who travel perhaps further, and less within the immediate communities of their homes. Most especially to teach and facilitate those who otherwise do not have these luxuries down the road.
On the other side of that is a major difference; that is they write. Blogs like this one to share their meagre workings in a hope it might help someone, and others much grander thoughts and lessons, while others, books.
I’ve always been somewhat cautious of the things I recommend to people, for two reasons. The first, is as I have described, it is difficult to recommend something where there is often a vast gap in understanding, particularly when someone is searching for help, taking the first steps on their path. And the second is because I have a high standard.
So whilst I am thanking the Gods for my coven, I think it’s also time we are grateful for our malleability. We need to change our concepts of fellowship and sharing, and recognise those things that actually tap directly into traditional behaviour of our pre-Christian ancestors. Take better advantage of what we do have to work with and be prepared to think deeply about what paganism is for each of us individually, and be prepared to express and explore that in depth. And most certainly not take for granted those who we do enjoy fellowship with.
It’s in that spirit that I thought in the next few posts I would show a bit of appreciation to my fellow coveners, share a little more about what it is I practice, and even make a few recommendations.