Important Announcement

Hey everyone,

So I have some big and important news to announce.

Nature Is Sacred is moving home.

This blog is now moving to it’s own site – www.naturalpantheist.com

Previous links to this site may not work so I would appreciate it if you could update your links to reflect the new website address (simply delete the “wordpress” word in the link).

Similarly, if you have subscribed by email or by “following” me, please head over to the new site and click on the subscribe button to keep updated with future blog posts.

While this address will stay up on the web, all future updates/ posts will occur on my new blog site rather than this one.

Finally I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has followed my blog for the last few years, and I look forward to our journey together in the future.

Matty.

Why “Naturalistic Pagan”?

As you know, there has recently been a kerfuffle in the blogging sphere between Naturalistic/ Humanistic Pagans and Hard Polytheist Pagans. Now I follow many bloggers both Naturalistic Pagan and Polytheist Pagan, and a Heathen blogger has recently written a blog addressed to John Halstead (and any other Naturalistic Pagans) asking why we identify as Pagans, rather than just atheists/ humanists e.t.c. This is a very valid question and so I’d like to respond with my own story and thoughts..

Why am I a Naturalistic Pagan?

Let’s start off with why I don’t call myself an atheist. I was most definitely an atheist for a while after I left fundamentalist Christianity. In the immediate aftermath of the death of a friend and the searching it led me to engage in, I was first a liberal Christian and then very soon became atheist thanks to watching many Youtube videos and reading books by prominent atheists. But that wasn’t the end of my religious journey. I was hungry for more.

When I found the World Pantheist Movement, I became a Pantheist – one who sees the universe as divine and the earth as sacred. This was religion without the supernatural. I still consider myself a Pantheist. I see the Earth as Mother Nature, something to be honoured, revered and yes, worshipped. I even pray to the Earth. It is our duty as children of the earth to honour and look after her. This to me is the essence of Paganism.

I am an animist. Like many in the new animist and deep ecology movements, I see all living things (and perhaps even non living things) as “persons” we have a duty to respect. Persons who deserve rights. Persons who we can develop relationships with. Humans are not the superior species on earth, we are just one of many species with no more right to be here than any other. Philosophically I find the ideas within Panpsychism/ Panexperientialism i.e. that mind is not something that “emerges” from brains/ matter, but is something that is inherent all the way down and up – the smallest electron experiences, just as the largest galaxy does. There is no scientific proof for this, it is more an argument from philosophy, and if science ever does prove it wrong I’ll have to change my ideas.

Ancestor veneration is also a sacred duty in my opinion. Learning to cope with the death of my close friend and then my grandmother, and without the “comforts” of heaven to believe in, I found the Pagan emphasis on honouring our ancestors to be very helpful and useful. I honour my ancestors regularly. I research them. I have an altar to them. I pray to them. I give them offerings. Can they hear me and are they conscious beyond the grave? I doubt it. The scientific evidence against the existence of a soul is pretty strong. But I venerate them anyway – it helps me remember them, it helps me feel closer to them, it teaches me values like reverence and filial piety. It allows me to feel connected. And if by some miracle there is some kind of consciousness beyond the grave then I’m simply doing my duty as any Pagan should.

What about the gods? First, it is important to acknowledge that modern paganism has always emphasised that orthopraxy not orthodoxy is what matters. When we stray from this tenet, we only have to look at monotheistic fundamentalism to see what happens. I don’t truly know how I view the gods but I have trouble believing there are supernatural gods. I suppose I’m slightly on the agnostic side rather than fully atheist. My religious practice involves regularly praying to the gods, particularly the Anglo-Saxon ones. I give offerings and do devotions. I also follow the Celtic-inspired practice of giving an offering to my local river each Beltane and addressing her as a goddess. When I see the moon each night, I bow my head and say “Hail Mona.” When I hear a thunderstorm or see lightning, I say “Hail Thunor” and when I see the North Star I say “Hail Tiw.” I was a member of the hard polytheist organisation, ADF, until recently (I will join again once my travels are over), and so my religious practices and rituals are very polytheistic. In fact, I would say my religious practices are probably barely distinguishable from any polytheist. I would have no problem taking part in a religious ceremony with hard polytheists, praying to the gods, giving offerings or any other Pagan practice. In fact I find the Celtic and Norse/ Saxon Reconstructionist religions to be one of the greatest sources of inspiration for me when putting together my religious practices. But do I believe in powerful literal existing beings somewhere in the universe who are the gods of Paganism – I don’t currently see enough evidence to back up such a claim. That said, having read “A world full of gods” by John Michael Greer, I am open to the idea that because millions have had religious experiences from a variety of faiths, there could well be something I am not seeing.

I follow the Neo-Pagan wheel of the year – the eight festivals/ sabbats. These help me to stay in tune with nature, to feel more of a sense of the cyclical nature of time, to be aware of the changes taking place in the world around me each season. I love celebrating these festivals, of feeling connected with nature, of the way they ground my spirituality in the reality of daily life. And that is another reason I consider myself a Pagan.

If these things don’t make me a Pagan, I have no idea what would.

Finally, I think it is important to say that I owe a debt of gratitude to hard polytheism. I follow hundreds of pagan blogs, and most of them are written by polytheists. And that is great! Because I am regularly challenged, made to think and I learn so much from them. I base a lot of my religious practice on what I read on those blogs, especially those who emphasise scholarship. In a time when it seems like the Pagan blogosphere is becoming more polarised, there is so much we can learn from each other that will improve our religious lives and it saddens me to see the regular arguments. We need each other. We are better together.

I hope this blog post has answered the question of why I personally identify as a Pagan, rather than just a humanist, even though my worldview is primarily naturalistic.

Why Naturalistic Pagans should consider Sumbel

Naturalistic Paganism is on a journey, it is searching for ways to relate to the world around us, often through ritual, but without the supernatural. There have been many suggestions made for how to do this and today I would like to consider another – one with roots that go back thousands of years to the ancient times of our Norse and Anglo Saxon ancestors.

Anyone who has spent time researching Asatru and Heathenry will be aware that one of their most sacred rites is Sumbel. This is essentially a ritual drinking session. A horn filled with mead (honey wine) is passed around a group of gathered people three times and each time the participants praise their gods, ancestors and heroes and take a drink. Alternatively they may also make a vow or boast. It is very powerful.

I think that we as Naturalistic Pagans should also consider adding this type of ceremony into our rituals…even if we practice solitary. A first round could involve praising the Earth Mother (in honour of the Norse and Saxons we could use the names “Nerthus, Jord or Erde” for her), a second round could involve remembrance of and praise for our ancestors, and a final round could involve many possibilities – for example praise for our families, people who inspire us and why, the animals and plants around us or simply anything we are grateful for that day. Gratefulness is a very important practice.

This ritual drinking is not an excuse to get drunk and it is very important to approach a sacred ceremony like this with respect and reverence.

So what do you think? Could a Sumbel be part of Naturalistic Pagan spiritual practice?

mead-horns

Celebrating Beltane 2015

Happy Beltane everyone. Beltane, meaning “bright fire” is one of the four great fire festivals of the ancient Celtic cultures. In ancient Irish culture it was the time when both the Tuatha De Danaan and the Milesians came to Ireland and was originally celebrated when the Hawthorns began to blossom. Half way between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, it marks the start of the light half of the year and heralds the beginning of summer. According to historian Ronald Hutton, “the ritual of Beltane was found in all Celtic areas of the British Isles, but also in pastoral regions of Germanic and Scandinavian Europe.” The historical evidence for the celebration of this festival is much better than for others. The earliest references to it are from 900AD which state “lucky fire i.e two fires Druids used to make with great incantations, and they used to bring the cattle against the diseases of the year to those fires” and “they used to drive cattle between them.” Another reference says “a fire was kindled in his [Bel] name at the beginning of summer always, and cattle were driven between two fires.” Like the other three Celtic festivals, Beltane is mentioned in the Irish tale of Tochmarc Emire and the ritual of lighting bonfires at this time survived right up until the 19th century. Like Samhain, it was seen as a liminal time “when fairies and witches were especially active, and magical devices [were] required to guard against them.” To the welsh, it was one of the “spirit nights.” Hutton says that “rituals were conducted to protect…against the powers of evil, natural and supernatural, not merely in the season to come but because those malign powers were supposed to be active at this turning point of the year.” Other celebrations in English areas at this time include “bringing in the May” and dancing around a Maypole. Bringing in the May dates back to at least the 13th century and refers to gathering flowers and foliage to bring home and celebrate the beginning of summer. Hutton says that there is no evidence for when the Maypole came to Britain but it was first recorded in a welsh poem in the mid 14th century and is also recorded in Scandinavia so probably originated from the continent. The May Pole was not a phallic or world tree symbol but was most likely simply a “focal point for celebrations” or something to hang garlands on.

Beltane marks the beginning of the pastoral season, the time when farmers traditionally moved their herds to summer pastures (driving them between two fires for blessing and protection first) and people could go outside because of the milder weather. The crops were in the ground by now and it was traditionally the beginning of calving season. There was lots of milking to do and making dairy products like butter. It was the busiest time to visit water sources to collect water for healing and good luck. It was also a time for the renewal of rents.

Learning from historical practices, Gaelic reconstructionists celebrate this time by extinguishing a flame (ideally a bonfire) and relighting it. If there is no bonfire or hearth fire, it is a good time to buy a new hearth candle for your altar and ritually extinguish the old one while lighting the new one. They eat a feast, usually including bannocks and oatmeal porridge or soup with soft cheese and shoots of new herbs and salad greens such as wood sorrel. They also decorate their houses with greenery and yellow flowers like buttercups and collect dew or water in the morning (considered potent for healing and maintaining a youthful appearance). They also make offerings to the gods, carry out protection rites to sain their house and land while warding the boundaries, and make charms of rowan. Some groups also see this as a time to renew their bond with the land goddess (the nearest river) by giving her offerings at her river bank. In Welsh myth this is the time when Taliesin was found in a river after being reborn from the goddess Ceridwen, and some pagans may choose to read his story on May eve.

For Norse Reconstructionists and groups like Asatru, this festival is called Walpurgisnacht. It is a night when witches gather and magic happens. It is a time to honour Freya, the goddess of magic and love. Like the Gaelic Reconstructionists, it is seen as a time of supernatural danger, and is celebrated with feasting, bonfires and protective rites. Some modern northern polytheists see the 9 days between Earth Day and May day as the nine nights when Woden hung on the world tree to sacrifice himself in order to learn the mysteries of the runes. It is therefore a good time to focus on runic divinations and making runic charms. Along with this, some celebrate April 23rd as Sigurds Day (the norse equivalent of St George who slew a dragon) and some may choose to celebrate the ancient Norse celebration Sigrblot (victory sacrifice) on May 1st which marked the beginning of summer and asked Odin for victory in war and good luck on journeys.

Beltane is a time for fertility, fun and flowers. By this time most of the tree buds have burst and they’re becoming green again, insects and bees are flying around and countless species of flowers are in bloom, including the beautiful bluebells. It is much warmer now and the land is fertile again. Summer has arrived. For me, its a great time to get outside and enjoy nature coming alive again, to have a bonfire and picnic. One can build a maypole to dance around, or decorate our homes with lots of flowers. It is a good time to eat seasonable foods and make lemonade. This is the perfect time to get out and collect some wild foods to make a wild food salad as part of your Beltane feast. Nettles, Goosegrass, Wild Garlic, Dandelions, Jack by the Hedge, young Hawthorn Leaves and others are available now. This time is also a very good time to focus on the romantic side of life.

Happy Earth Day 2015

Today is Earth Day. It is a day to honour our Earth Mother, to recommit ourselves to living in harmony with her and to make changes to our lifestyle. What lifestyle change are you going to make today for your Earth Mother?

The Pagan community has also created a new Pagan Community Statement On The Environment. Please check it out and add your signature. It can be found here – http://www.ecopagan.com/.