Monday, October 6, 2008

bring it to the alter

"Alters and Their Purposes". That was the name of the Adult Education for Pagans seminar I went to on Sunday. I had no idea what to expect, but ironically enough, it was yet another group of oldish hippie-ish folk (similar to what I have been encountering at the other faiths I have been visiting) and we met in the local library.

About two years ago I got up the courage to check out a book about Wicca from the library. I don't remember the title, "Wicca for Beginners" or something like that. I was searching for "The Divine Feminine" and had really enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd's Dance of the Dissident Daughter (I'll have to blog about that book sometime.) But I did have a harder time relating to most of the books I found about modern paganism- the appropriation of ancient culture's gods and goddess for use in spells for prosperity and love... I just couldn't get into it. The book that I enjoyed the most, The Body Sacred, ironically was also the last pagan book I read as it really brought home to me that a faith surrounding the Goddess (or Lady) had several problematic and contradictory aspects just like the patriarchal tradition I was questioning.

But yet when I heard about this Wiccan seminar, I couldn't resist, ditched the last session of General Conference to go have a "pagan experience". Like the books I had read, there was a lot that just didn't resonate with me and the gendered language that the group leader used (equating feminine with passivity and masculine with action etc...) was off-putting. But the concept of making a special space in a little nook or cranny of the home, collecting items that have meaning to help focus, remind... Well, I have had that thought before of making a little alter/shrine/something but never quite known exactly how to go about it. And I still don't, even after attending this seminar, but it is back to the front of my mind. One of my flickr friends posted a picture of her family alter in her home and that really stuck with me. Also back to front of my mind are the various alters of Christianity and Mormondom, sacrificial alters of the old testament, the sacrament table, the marriage alter (and the many times I passed out at that marriage alter while doing work for the dead in the temple. did anyone else ever do that? Something about kneeling for long durations, I passed out almost every time. Weird.)

Anyhow, in honor of the various little connections between Christianity and Pagan, and for your viewing entertainment, a little Dar Williams:


Kiskilili said...

I have to admit I'm fascinated by magic in general and I find Wicca and neo-paganism intriguing. I'm impressed you actually went to a seminar! That said, like you, I'm put off by their own ideas about gender (women are passive? *snort*). Also, I don't find goddess worship particularly appealing. I would hope that if Heavenly Mother ever were to become prominent in Mormonism she could somehow be rescued from touchy-feely wooey-wooeyism.

Bored in Vernal said...

Ayla has a family altar, too. She usually posts a pic of the current one on her sidebar.

I had a bad experience in the temple once when I passed out at the altar. Dr. B and I were the witness couple and I had to leave the session and be replaced by another woman. He told me that the experience was symbolic and that if I was not righteous I would be taken away from him and replaced with another. Humph!

Chandelle said...

I almost passed out once, doing sealings, but I was pregnant. I never did it again because I just could not stand to kneel for that long. I was sore for a week. I'm just not cut out for heaven, I guess.

In Waldorf education, there's often something called a "nature table" in the classroom, and many Waldorf homes have one as well. It basically amounts to an altar. It's always seasonal, and you place items of significance on it for the season, and decorate it with colors for the season, and pictures and so on. It's a really neat little feature of the Waldorf classroom and something that drew me to the method. We always try to have one here at home, but we have grabby children so it doesn't stick around for long. I embellish our nature table with items non-specific to Waldorf. Like, October is the month for remembering the dead, so you might put some pictures up of people you've lost, and if you're really into it you might seek some sort of communication.

I've studied Wicca and other paganisms intently, but I have the same problems you do. I love the basic symbolism of the pentacle, for example, but I don't like how it posits men and women as two halves of the same whole, as opposites. I have this same problem with taoism, how it sets men and women as opposites. Instead of seeing men and women as yin and yang, I prefer to think of it as combining yin and yang, balanced opposites, within ourselves, not with another person. Make sense?

I really don't respond to ritual, and that's been a big reason why I haven't sought a lot of personal experience with Wicca. There's a little pagan shop near us and also a pagan church where they have rituals and celebrations for the sabbats, but I look at those funky robes in the pagan shop and think about the activities in the church, and I just know I'd feel like an idiot. I would not be able to get into it. But we do a few little things in celebration without it becoming very ritualistic. On Hallowe'en we're going to have a bonfire and bob for apples and talk about loved ones who have passed. It has to feel very natural and sincere, otherwise I feel like a phony.

I don't get the idea of worshiping anything or anyone. I tried to combine some elements of paganism with Mormonism on my way out, and my interpretation of it was that the gods and goddesses of Wicca were simply different faces of the one god. But it just didn't work for me. I couldn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out who "my" goddess was, or what animal was my totem, or other things that just seem silly to me. The mythology feels redundant and anachronistic and I just cannot respond to it. So I've just used basic pagan symbolism to connect with nature. I consider myself a pagan insofar as nature is essentially my religion. Working with plants is an extremely spiritual experience for me. I don't go in for the other stuff, worshiping and dancing and giving offerings to gods I don't believe in, but I totally understand the importance of relating to the seasons and incorporating their features into our daily existence. That's as much as I've taken away from it. And this is one freakin' long comment, so I'll hush now.

adam said...


I almost wrote a paper on Wicca in my theories class last year, as I was trying to find something to most different from my current world views. I ended up doing Taoism, but I am very interested in these different practices.

biv - They didn't take him away too? That's kinda weird. I have yet to pass out in the temple, but I did pass out during my sister's wedding (as an usher, in front of everyone--the bishop just kept going on and on. I think he was trying to do some kind of pre-marital seminar during the ceremony).

djinn said...

I just discovered your blog, by virtue of the inimitable mfranti, and am entranced. My life/sideways/sorta, in a northwesterly direction. Though you seem much cleverer about everything.

Do you listen to Elliott Smith? To the despair of my family (how's that for a promising start) I adore every singly thing about him. He wrote a song, "I don't think I'm ever gonna figure it out" (on a tiny hard to find ep and 'From a basement on a hill 2') that I think you might like. After much agony, I found a loverly version (acapella) on the magical interwebs. Here it is:

You have to scroll down a bit to find it; I suggest you stop, briefly, at "Jealous Guy" (John Lennon cover, and 13 a cover of a song by one of my most favorite of all time groups --big star.

Best wishes, I'll keep reading.

D'Arcy said...

djinn--I LOVE Elliot Smith. Wow! Thanks for the link.

I love this song by Dar too.

The other day someone asked me what religion I was. I have stopped saying LDS or Mormon, but I really hadn't thought what to replace it with.

Without hestitating I simply said, "I'm all religions." and I smiled and I felt good. Each religion has something good that I relate to and that helps me focus on different parts of my soul.

This may not be the answer I will always use, but in this time of trial and error and exploration, that's what I am.

djinn said...

I can't believe, Dar, that you like the fruit bats! They seem to have two fans, you and me. I love to sing "Dragon Ships" to the despair of my offspring. But what's the point of having kids (pretty much grown in my case) if you can't embarrass them like your parents did. C'mon, you know it. You know that the driving force behind the fruit bats, Eric Johnson, joined the Decemberists? (The Decemberists live in my neighborhood, or at least appear on the street regularly. That is my only claim to fame.

When people ask me what my religion is (this, truthfully, doesn't happen all that often) I say--either "God's got a lot of explaining to do" or I look out hte window and say "I belive in that stuff out there." NO one ever replies.

djinn said...

uh, D'arcy. Spelling and me, not really on speaking terms.

D'Arcy said...

djinn...I would take ANYTHING to do with the Decemberists as a claim to fame ANY DAY!

Awesome. Good taste. I like you. I can tell good people by their music references. It's true.

I am so stealing that one "I believe in all that stuff out there!" I love it!

G said...

whew... busy day... thanks, ya'll for talking!

kiskilili - me too! very fascinated in general, in theory. Trying to find an actual practice that feels authentic to me,,, meh, not so easy.

biv- oh! thanks for the link, that is so cool. I need to start a collection of other peoples alters, help me get some ideas.
Gagh! he really said that?!? humph indeed!

Chandelle, the nature table sounds beautiful! (I think I remember a pic you posted once of an alter/nature table in you home, with your son 'sky-clad' in front of it :) do you have a link to that? I'd love to see it again.)
(once again... you say things that sound exactly like what I would say if I could say them so well :)

thanks adam. I'll see if I can find a taoism group here in tucson. :)

Hi djinn! welcome! (guilty confession... I lurk at your blog but never comment! I will now have to return the favor!) Hey, I just found "I don't think I'm ever gonna figure it out" on iTunes. Thanks for the tip!

and I'm with D'arcy; I'm totally gonna steal "I believe in that stuff out there". AWESOME!

D'arcy- I'm still sort of in that awkward neither here nor there place where I don't know what to call myself. I do refer to myself as Mormon, maybe I always will, or maybe there will come a time when it doesn't feel right anymore.

Can I just call myself a pagan quaker with christian leanings and mormon roots? (who believes in 'that stuff out there.')

djinn said...

G, so still digging the initial, I refer to myself as a non-believing, non-practicing Mormon. Pretty much everyone says, and I quote --- O. K. --- how about those Fleet Foxes?

(Confession, non-mormon conversation.) With mormons (that would be anyone I am related to), I sissy out and find some way to change the conversation. I find saying "Look! over there! (point in random direction) to work quite well.

djinn said...

This is a totally innocent remark, G (but having just turned 50, I figure I get to make a few) your picture is quite stunning. That's all.

I will now continue reading. I'm quite impressed that you put so much of yourself on your blog, I tend to not share much, preferring to make random comments on subjects not so personal. Perhaps taking your lead, I will post the occasional personal observation.

Do your family read your blog? What is their reaction? In spite of my advanced age, I am a total coward and try not to rock the waters, which is pretty silly, since anyone who has gotten within, say 25 miles of me, has figures out that the waters are not only rocked but sloshed out of the tub. Forward---thanks for your brave example.

djinn said...

Being in a rather talkative mood, and having my browser set on "G," I confess that I used to have a mesa (an altar) which sorta disappeared when I moved; I have various sacred object now scattered around my house, the nature of the object known only to me. It works. My 2 inch krishna and esp. my 2 inch Kali Durga give me much joy; esp, Kali, as I need the power she represents. There's also my Tarot cards (how horrible is that?) Come on over, and I'll give you a reading.

flygirl said...

While I haven't made as much effort as you G, in exploring Wicca and paganism, I am drawn to it in similar ways, but also put off. The seminar sounds interesting. I think I am a lot like Chandelle in that I just really don't get much from ritual. The temple never really did it for me, and I don't feel like pagan rituals do it either, though a part of me wishes they would. But the things make sense and are natural are things I can incorporate into my life.

And I always love Dar Williams.

G said...

aw thanks, djinn (it is a habit of mine to only post pictures of myself that flattering. also a habit- photoshop. :)

as per my family, I have one sister who is no longer in the church who know's about it, the rest are in the dark. I keep a benign family blog (you can see a link in the side bar) but there is no corresonding link at that blog for people to trace back here. It's an entirely different account.
a good symbol of my double life. :)

maybe eventually.

and I would LOVE to come over for a tarot reading!!!