Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My First Pagan Festival: Gathering Thoughts in the Storm

I am left with so much to process and ponder after this past weekend when Jeff and I, invited by Cat Chapin-Bishop and her husband Peter Bishop (of Quaker Pagan Reflections), attended the Feast of Lights festival hosted annually by EarthSpirit. I fear this blog is about to devolve into just so much stream-of-consciousness journal rambling despite my best efforts to write with some coherence and perspective; and yet, these are thoughts I want to capture before they slip away into the dark waters of memory. Meanwhile, the snow is coming down thick and sugary outside, drifting and piling up on top of the two feet that we found blanketing our lovely city upon return, and I can already feel the cabin fever of February setting in as usual, making me anxious with a thousand intentions and scheming (and how could I be hungry again when I just had lunch?). So bear with me.

Before braving this post, I wrote a ridiculously long and dull account of the Sequence of Events™ for my personal journal, to help organize my thoughts and give me some sense of having already begun (a blank page at this point being the most intimidating thing). But it occurs to me that, in my account of the weekend, I left out one telling detail about my visit with my brother for the two days before. Thursday night, as Jeff and I settled down to sleep on the first of what would become several futons over the next few days, I thought about The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe that the three of us (plus my brother's two kittens) had just finished watching. The story is a familiar one, though the film just is not as impressive or old-feeling as Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings; instead, it has a freshly minted, shiny and clean quality to it, so that it's hard to imagine the "deep magic" that calls for Aslan's life being much older than some of my newer pairs of shoes. Yet the story of sacrifice and renewal, the humiliation and glorious return, that Aslan enacts in the film are moving and beautiful, and not just because he is a beautiful, sun-drenched and shining animal in his own right (though, as they always remind us, he is not a tame lion).

So as I drifted off to sleep, here I was wondering once again if, below these layers of freshly-minted, shiny and clean beauties and joys of Paganism, there wasn't perhaps still something old and familiar in me that smacked of Christianity, dirty and ugly and sad and so heart-piercingly sublime. I long for something ancient and deep-down earthy as soil and stone, yet there is so much in modern Paganism that glimmers and jangles of a New Age, and from the stories I've heard about Pagan festivals, I was braced for the silly and the embarrassingly over-eager. Yet later, as we began our drive north the following morning, I sat with the story of Jesus as the Only Way, and thinking about the institutions of patriarchy and politics that have grown up around what was really a very simple idea. And it seemed that my rational mind couldn't really believe in such things anymore, that what in C.S. Lewis's enchanted imagination had been old and beautiful and true was, in reality, so much rot and shabby props for greedy, grizzled men in funny hats, and that while this was not the heart of Christianity by a long shot, I knew full well that only Mama Earth can pull off "ancient" with any kind of grace. When we human animals cling too long to something, we get fearful and gross, which is worse, certainly, than being too new and bouncy to have had a chance to deepen. Though sometimes, it feels, not by much.

So this was the state of mind I was in as we picked our way across the intervening states, climbing northward towards Jeff's old town where not a year ago he had been living and longing with his big, gooey heart for some ridiculous young woman in Pittsburgh. Though only half-aware of it, there was trepidation as well as excitement in my thoughts about the coming weekend. I had no expectations of "coming home," and perhaps the truth was closer to this: that I was going to this festival not so much to participate, but to observe, to watch what "Pagans in their natural habitat" were like, what they did and how, and to discover how I maybe one day could say something meaningful to them, if not ever become completely at home as an unabashed and un-conflicted Pagan of my own.

I won't tell you the long story of how I was wrong. But I was. And happily. By the end of the Feast of Lights, I knew that here was a community of folks just as conflicted and uncertain and in love with the possibilities of deepening as I was. And while I did not feel that sense of "coming home" so often described, I was finally able to relinquish the unacknowledged worry that being Pagan would ask me to leave the home in Spirit that I have already begun to build.

Looking back, the story of this weekend is bookended by two appropriate events. The first, this visit with my brother in the brightly-lit basement apartment he only moved into a month ago, still so new a home that the bathroom cabinets are all mostly empty and the shelves only sparsely filled. And the second, a trip on our last night in Massachusetts to see the old farmhouse owned by Jeff's family, so rundown and filled with memories that every spare inch of space is cluttered and his great grandmother's ashes are buried under the front stoop, while behind the house there stretch forty acres of old forest that no human has walked in a hundred years. The new, and the old, and the ancient of the Earth. Things are moving, things are coalescing, coming together. I won't bother to articulate them now, but I want to know that, years from now, I will remember.

Meanwhile, I'll jot down a few more posts focusing on particular thoughts and observations about the festival itself. I won't write about them in chronological order because, well, that's just not good story telling this time around. I think, once I've finished, I'll revisit this post and include a list for easy linking and referencing. Meanwhile, stay tuned, I'm sure to be saying some controversial things in the posts to come.

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