“The World is Very Different from a Pagan Perspective”

How do you explain it them?

A couple of days I sat down with an interviewer who had read an old essay of mine, “The Hunter’s Eucharist,” also published as “The Nature of the Hunt.” (It  appeared along with works by writers more articulate than I in A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport, edited by David Petersen, one of the best nature writers out there.

When I wrote it in the early 1990s, I was maybe more sure of how to talk about the universe than I am now. At least, that is what I ended telling the interviewer, giving him the old story about how the American anthropologist Irving Hallowell, after learning that in the Ojibwe language stones are grammatically animated (treated as alive), asked a tribal elder, “Are all stones alive.” The man thought a moment and replied, “Some are.”

(Or maybe they are experienced as alive some of the time, depending on many things—that is me talking, not Hallowell.)

This interviewer was all right—not capital-P Pagan, but someone who had thought about nature, hunting, and spirituality quite a bit. To be  honest, “spirituality” is not a term that I fully comprehend, but I have to use it here.

The more I live, the more complexity I sense in the seen and unseen universe. This makes it harder and harder to talk to monotheists, who think that we merely replace the True God with a set of inferior replacements but otherwise think and worship much as they do.

At the Pagan Square blog portal, Guz diZerega has started a series of posts called “Viewing the World through Pagan Eyes.” He puts the communication problem this way

Christian-derived views see the world as a collection of things initially created and ordered by God. Secularists accepting this distinction replace God with predictable laws. There is a deep distinction between human subjectivity, and the objective nature of everything else. Some secular scientists accept the dichotomy but reject consciousness as a fundamental property of reality, hoping to reduce all subjectivity to impersonal objective processes. The ‘illusion’ of mind is a side effect of determinism, and not an active part of reality.

A Pagan outlook implies what we call subjectivity and objectivity both exist ‘all the way down.’ People can be studied as if they were simply objects and there is an element of awareness in even the simplest phenomena, but reality includes both. This view is not unique to Pagans, some physicists share it, for example. But it is rarely treated seriously in many other sciences, particularly the social sciences. The social sciences usually incorporate the distinction between people and the rest of the world or, alternatively, seeks to understand us using the same ‘objective’ approaches used to understand all else.

I took the title of this post from Gus’s first post, and I am looking forward to reading them all. We need to realize how different we are.


The Story of Three Athames

I have owned three athames in my life — or more precisely two athames plus a new knife that may well become one.

There is a story in here of changing Craft practice.

Actually, the first athame was simply my wooden-handled Mora hunting knife, not in the photo.1)Those wooden (birch?) handle models are long gone, replaced with synthetics. Mora knives still give good value for the price. I cleaned the first deer that I ever killed with it, and it still rides in one of my daypacks.

1 — Then one February 28th in my mid-twenties, I went rabbit hunting on the Pike National Forest west of my home in Manitou Springs, Colorado. I know it was February 28th because that is the last day of the season, and I wanted to get out one more time.

As I recall, I saw no rabbits, but while walking through the woods I found an antler-handled knife.2)Made in Spain by Muela. Of course I picked it up. Of course (being a relatively new Pagan) I thought it was a sign. Some god or daemon had given me a ritual knife — terrific!

I walked on — and then I found a cup — an aluminum cup of the kind that come with campware cooking sets.

“This is too much!” I thought. “Where is the pentacle?” (No need to ask about a wand; I was in the forest, after all.)

No pentacle appeared, but I felt somehow honored all the same. The gods or simply the universe had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re in.”

That knife was my athame for several years, and I will still use it sometimes; otherwise, since it takes an edge, it makes a good “white-handled knife.”

2 — But a new teacher entered my life, and he had different ideas about how magic worked. He and some engineer buddies postulated that maybe magical energies were on the electromagnetic spectrum . . . somewhere. They experimented with psionic “machines” that were said to amplify mental energies, psychic healing, fields of protection, and so on.

He suggested removing all ferrous metal from the ritual circle, and — if you were indoors — turning off the electric power for the duration.

So I had to replace the stainless steel (inox) athame. The high priest of my coven (a different person) found me a piece of very hard bronze. I took it to the HP of another coven, who was also an SCA fighter and an armorer — I would put his articulated steel gauntlets, for example, up against any from the 14th or 15th centuries.

He ground and polished this bronze billet into a full-tang leaf-shaped blade. The crystal in the hilt was my addition — it might help, who knows?

I made some other changes in my practice, becoming more aware of bodily energy flows. And I just liked the idea of bronze. Ah, the Bronze Age. Thuban was the North Star, and those were Shining Times.

Ritual. Long memories,
houses built on poles,
mountains, glaciers, trading parties
of tattooed men and women, faience beads,
packs filled with poppies, tin, and amber
threading through a pass.
Hammered bronze knives. Helen,
mixing her potions,
the blue Aegean stretching
like a storyteller’s breath.

Dale Pendell, Pharmako/Poeia, Revised and Updated:
Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft

Maybe that was not what my teacher had in mind, but it is where I drifted.

3 — Last year at Yule M. gave me a flint knife. I know where she bought it, at a trade fair in Taos, New Mexico3)Where, coincidentally, I am writing this blog post, and it was made just down the road by Charlie Acuña of The Stone Edge (say it). For three months it has been sitting on my desk while I think about it.

But where has my practice been heading? More and more to the local level. I have written a little about paying attention to Tlaloc, our regional god of the hydrological cycle, for example. I’ve been working with volunteer crews to clear fallen logs and other debris from Hardscrabble Creek, before the run-off from a large burn scar upstream causes flooding in our communities, which gives me plenty of time to think about the spirit of the creek while adjusting the saw chain tension.

Am I moving backwards from the Bronze Age now? It’s all just dreams and talking to the plants and animals. Doing certain feral things. Letting so much fall away.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Those wooden (birch?) handle models are long gone, replaced with synthetics. Mora knives still give good value for the price.
2. Made in Spain by Muela.
3. Where, coincidentally, I am writing this blog post

Paganism Close Under the Surface

In central and eastern Europe, and maybe elsewhere, there is a tradition to end a group hunt for deer, boar, and other animals with a ceremony. I have never seen the like in America, but then all my hunting has been with individualistic Westerners — which is not to say that sometimes informal rituals are not performed, but not with everyone lined up and flaming torches.1)Clifton’s Second Law of Religion: If there are no torchlight processions, it’s not a real religion.

The Baltic people were the last old Pagans in Europe, Christianized at sword point in the Middle Ages.2)The Last Pagans in Europe.”  Their Pagan reconstructions in the 1920s–1930s, such as Dievturiba in Latvia, assumed that folksongs etc. preserved the Old Religion, a common assumption among 20th-century Pagans. Maybe, maybe not — is every tree in a folksong really the World Tree in disguise? Certainly the new Paganisms, with their strong ethnic and nationalist components, have gained respectability quickly.3)Baltic Diaspora and the Rise of Neo-Paganism.”

The hunt in the video was a women’s hunt — in Latvia as here, more women are taking up hunting than did a generation or two ago. The description at the International Conference Women and Sustainable Hunting’s Facebook page reads,

At last in Latvia we now have a chance to make lady hunters more pro-active. And we had the chance to organise first ever in Latvia a driven hunt for ladies – ladies are shooting, guys are helping. Now we are in the process of creating our own Lady hunting club under Latvian Hunters’ Association.

Watch and you’ll see lots of tramping in the snowy woods, but right at the end — wow. That’s an altar, folks. Folk-memory or reconstruction, they are tapping into Old Stuff. I suspect that they know what they are doing.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Clifton’s Second Law of Religion: If there are no torchlight processions, it’s not a real religion.
2. The Last Pagans in Europe.”
3. Baltic Diaspora and the Rise of Neo-Paganism.”