Once the whole world was Pagan. Paganism is not a man-made religion created by a prophet or guru but one that continually evolves out of a spiritual relationship with the natural world. Paganism’s many gods and goddesses represent the diversity of that natural world, indwelling divinity present in all things from a blade of grass to a stream, a mountain and a human being to a galaxy; for the Pagan, the physical world is a manifestation of the sacred one. Pagan spirituality does not depend on accepting some scripture or book as literal truth, but on experiencing the sacredness inherent within the rhythms of nature, the turning of the stars, the changing of the seasons, and the mysteries of birth, life, death and rebirth. Traditional societies have always recognised that the spiritual and the physical are intertwined.
We hold Mother Earth to be sacred. She is a manifest goddess, and her divine presence flows through the world and everything in it. She has many names – Gaia, Rhea, Cybele, Tellus Mater. In Slavic mythology she is Moist Mother Earth, who was never depicted in human guise, but always shown in her natural form. In spring, she was considered pregnant, and no one was allowed to strike her with hoe or plough until after the spring equinox, and if she was treated with reverence would reward with bounty, some of which was returned to her in the form of wine, poured into a hole, or the burying of bread. Sacred oaths were sworn when holding a piece of earth. Wedding vows were taken with earth placed on the head. If you dug a hole and spoke into it, she would act as an oracle, and reply, or sins could be whispered into it, and forgiveness sought.
In the present day, the Pagan tradition aims to put humankind back in harmony with the Earth. Believing that the Earth is a Goddess, that all creation is ensouled, means living life in a different way. Pagan spirituality is about wholeness; it values life in all its diversity. To honour the sacredness of the Earth and all that lives upon it, we must incorporate our spiritual practice, beliefs and ethics into our daily lives or we are doing nothing more than paying lip service to them.
To practice Paganism is to adopt a spiritual, responsible way of life in the modern world by using ancient wisdom. Many Pagans say that the code they live by is “an’ it harm none, do what you will”, but each Pagan has to consider for themselves what that actually means. Does it mean only other humans? Or only when it doesn’t inconvenience me? When it doesn’t conflict with my transient desires?
For the Pagan, the understanding of the world is different, and therefore the connection with lifestyle and interaction with it is different to that of a non-Pagan. Actions are not the definition of Paganism but are the outward sign of it.
It is difficult to make ethical choices in a world dominated by factory farming that treats animals as unfeeling ‘production units’, that promotes processed foods full of strange chemicals, that advocates the use of poisonous fertilizers and pesticides, wasteful packaging, over fishing, exploitative labour practices, and a global market that means that many food miles are added to a product. Sometimes the tide of injustice and suffering seems overwhelming.
So what are we to do? I think the only answer is that we do as much as we can as best and as honestly as we can – but it has to be the very best we can, and we have to be completely honest with ourselves, and not ignore the prickings of conscience just because we fancy something we know involves pollution, cruelty and suffering.
In the western world we are programmed by a consumer society to value the self above all, to take without need and to measure people by what they own; our beautiful planet is treated as merely a resource to be exploited rather than being honoured as our living Mother, the fount of the sacred energy that nourishes us.
When we turn our backs on nature, we feel a sense of alienation, of spiritual and emotional loss, because we are cut off from our divine source. Ritual is a connection through which you can plug into the sacred world. And like any plug you can choose how long you are connected: to revitalise yourself, to work magic with, to honour the Old Ones, or even to stay permanently connected. Through it your world and life becomes one with the sacred.
Most of us feel that we should make more time in our lives for spiritual practice, chiding ourselves that we really should put aside thirty minutes for meditation each day, or an evening a week for ritual, and then struggling to fit it in and feeling guilty.
Instead of struggling to tack our spiritual devotions on to our busy lives, Paganism is about honouring the sacred in the manifest world, honouring the sacred in the everyday. Try to see the sacred within the daily round of preparing food, working, relating to people, cleaning house and raising children. When you bring your attention into cooking a meal, lighting a candle, or just being aware of your feet meeting the earth as you walk, it becomes a spiritual practice and opens up a deeper reality.
You can begin in the home. For our ancestors, the hearth fire was a shrine, the dwelling place of the living flame, which was a gift from the Gods. The goddess of hearth fire dwells within every hearth, whether large or small. She represents security and the solemn duty of hospitality and appears in many ancient religions under many different names. The domestic goddess protects the home, safeguarding the well-being and security of the inhabitants, as well as its wealth and supplies. To make sure that your home stays under her protection, honour her with a fire in the hearth or a candle on the mantelpiece, and recognise that a home needs a heart.
In all traditional Pagan societies, past and present, the deities of the household are venerated, but this is something that modern western Pagans often neglect. In bygone Rome, this spirit was given daily offerings of food and monthly gifts of garlands, all placed on the hearth shrine. The spirit protected the house and its wealth. Its presence was invoked on family occasions such as birthdays, weddings, births and deaths. The idea that every home had its own protective spirit persisted long after the arrival of Christianity with legends of household fairies.
In order to bring the sacred into the everyday, you could try some of these:
- Consider your home as a sacred place, a temple of the Gods where you worship.
- As you make a fire in the hearth or light a candle, honour the living goddess of the flame and her presence in your home.
- Make a shrine to your household gods, the indwelling or ancestral spirits that protect it.
- As you clean and tidy your house, think of it as honouring the household gods.
- With intent, a physical cleansing can become a psychic cleansing, sweeping away negative energies.
- As you prepare food, do it with intent – to make your body healthy, to thank Mother Earth for her bounty, and to share it with love.
- Honour each food ingredient for its individual life force and its inherent physical and spiritual properties, and you can read about some of their transcendent qualities in in various books or online.
- When you make your morning tea or coffee, inhale the fragrance and acknowledge the gift of the beans or leaves, their growth, harvest and journey to you, and their effects on your body.
- As you take your bath or shower, view it as a ritual act of purification, cleansing you physically, emotionally and spiritually, releasing all you wish to be rid of.
- Follow the changing seasons, and decorate your home to reflect them with seasonal plants, wreaths, statues and ornaments.
- Plant a garden if you can – this will teach you more about the magic of nature than any book, and if you can’t manage this, grow a few houseplants and herbs in pots. Don’t buy them ready grown, but plant the seeds yourself.
- Learn to understand how each plant grows and what it needs, and how to work with it.
- Recycling and composting are much more powerful ways of honouring Mother Earth than muttering a few words in a ritual now and again. The Pagan not only believes that the earth is sacred, she treats it as such.
- Gather herbs and plants from the wild, season by season, and put them to use in food, medicine, incense and magical workings. We will be teaching you about some of these as we progress, and there are two day courses later in the year on some aspects herbalism.
- As you walk to work or stroll in the park, feel your feet connecting with the earth, feel it supporting you, nurturing you.
- Observe the effects of the time of year and weather as you walk.
- Honour the phases of the moon. Start new home and garden projects at the new moon, celebrate with friends at full moon, and do your clearing out and weeding at the waning moon.
- Spinning, weaving, sewing and knitting can become extended acts of meditation or incorporate acts of magic as you weave in your intent with each stitch or thread. You can accompany them with chants.
© Anna Franklin