Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Building a Pagan Community

Recently we attended a Pagan festival in Kansas, and we attended a workshop on what we believed was going to be a discussion on building up a sense of community in Paganism. It turned out to be a discussion on intentional communities, living off remote acreages and communal living with fellow Pagans. Nothing about building community with other Pagans right here where we live now. I have no desire to remove myself to a distant communal farm and be subject to all the rules and drama inherent in a closed society. Self sufficiency is an admirable goal, but what does it accomplish for the larger Pagan culture?

Astarte recently moved so she could be closer to a Pagan community, but it was the larger community offered by a larger town. We do not desire to remove ourselves from mainstream society. Why should any of us have to do so? We can live and work and socialize with anyone, Pagan or not. It is only the select few, the fundamentalist extreme, that can't abide our freedom of religion.

Pagan minded individuals generally don't preach against anyone's right to choose their own religion. We may not agree with that choice, but if we also want our right to choose, we have to accept it for everyone.  There are quite a few that would talk about their own past experiences and why a particular religion isn't for them. But to quote a friend, "Part of respecting each other is recognizing that “not right for me” isn't the same as “not right”.

You will likely never see a group of Pagans protesting a Catholic mass, or a Baptist bible camp. But if there was a secretive Pagan commune, with guarded gates and "members only" signs, it would attract way more attention and persecution than just living among the fundamentalist Christians and letting them discover on their own that the nice neighbor across the street with the fabulous herb garden is not Christian like they are.

This falls under the whole "Morality comes from Christianity" argument, and it's one that I would like to refute by being a moral and ethical person out where they can all see me, not closed off in a commune where only my fellow Pagan people can acknowledge it. So, how can we go about building a Pagan community with the people who are close by, but not actually living in the same neighborhood, or even the same city? The answers are vast, and simple. Internet. Festivals. Small group activities. Sabbat observances with any and all Pagan minded peoples, regardless of tradition. Take a leadership role and teach others. Share insight, opinion and your abilities. Work together on community projects. Network. Let others approach you when you wear your pentacle, and invite them to come to your meetings and introduce them to the people you know. Diversity is our greatest strength.

The key to becoming a wholly accepted part of society is not to withdraw from it, but to embrace it. Live your tradition within the world, and show that Paganism is not something to fear.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Astarte's view:

It’s the holiday season again, the one that the Christians think began and ended with their “Jesus”. What’s Winter Solstice anyway? How about “Festivus ( for the Rest of Us)?

Even in the Pagan Community we have many different traditions, some claim to have had theirs handed down through the generations since the dark ages, even though Wicca has only been around for the past 60 years. So, what makes a tradition? Is it the fact that we go through a repetitive cycle of events that mark certain occasions merely because “we have always done it this way”? Should there be deeper meanings in our traditions and rituals?

Growing up Mormon, my life was plenty about ritual and tradition. Going to church on Sunday, having the communion blessed and passed in a certain way, going to your meetings and planning temple trips were all part of the Mormon lifestyle. Even within the temple itself, we mimicked and practiced rituals for our “spiritual enlightenment” . It was tradition for young men at age 19 to voluntarily serve a mission for two years. Young women are encouraged to marry only returned missionaries and start their families early. Tradition rules the way of life in that religious society.

So, how did I remove myself from a life seeped in tradition, only to find myself desiring to create rituals and traditions in my Pagan life? Obviously, some individuals enjoy having that symbolism and that comfort of tradition behind their personal practice. I have a need for spiritual portals and I design personal rituals to bring about my own spiritual growth.

If I were to meet a new family who just moved to the area and joined up with our Pagan social group, and then they shared their traditions with us, I would likely explore them, adopt what might work for me, and politely acknowledge their right to keep up with whatever works for them. It’s only when we meet up with people who insist that their tradition is the “One True Way” that I would have any reservations. It’s the main reason I have avoided joining a coven, or becoming a Guru myself… I don’t want to perpetuate the fallacy of “One True Way”. That is too similar to the system I was brought up with, so I don’t think I could be that structured and rigid anymore. For example: I like to place Air in the East in my rituals. There are essays out there by some other Pagans who have very valid arguments about why it should not be so. I read them, of course, but I don’t feel obligated to change my rituals in order to conform to True Wiccan-ism.

So, on the question of the holiday traditions. I was raised with Christmas tree, stockings, singing in the church choir, buying new special ornaments for each member of the family every year, and other assorted traditions. Now that I am Pagan, I am torn about discontinuing these traditions. I still have a tree, but I don’t put it up. (my kids did though.) I have tolerance for it being in my home, but I don’t decorate. I made a Yule log one year, but didn’t store it and re-use it again. And I generally wait til the eve of the 24th before I wrap gifts and stick them under there, (mostly so the cats don’t mess with them much). I go to the family dinner, but I don’t sing in a choir, or go caroling. I can acknowledge a “Merry Christmas” with a “same to you” without much hassle.

Aletheas' view:

A tradition is the secret fraternal handshake of the larger socio-political culture of humans. It is one of the means by which we identify the differences between “us” and “them”. Ritual and tradition serve to underscore the moral authority of the masses, and it is even possible for simple acts of tradition to be the only difference between groups. See The Butter Battle Book, and Gulliver's Travels. This is true not only for Lilliputians and Christian denominations, but for Pagans as well. What is the difference between Gardnerians and Alexandrians? Tradition. The specifics of the way they perform their rituals. Otherwise, the general philosophies and structure are the same.

So what is the difference between a tradition and a ritual? Obligation? Intent? A ritual is a repeated set of actions for the purpose of accomplishing something. A tradition may accomplish something, but the purpose is usually tradition for the sake of tradition. and many traditions are simply arbitrary. Along with that, traditions can include ritual, and rituals can contain elements that are noting more than arbitrary decisions based on tradition, such as the example above, of elemental quarters. Why is Air associated with the East, Water in the West? Because it worked well for someone, and they passed on their tradition.

As an alchemist, I try very hard to distill the arbitrary out of my personal rituals. I find it is less important to place the elements in their proper directions than it is to make sure they are all equally acknowledged. I have mixed feelings about celebrating sabbats and esbats as well. Although they are tied to astronomical phenomena, the inevitability of the recurrence of the cycle makes me a little derisive of the perceived obligation to mark the dates. I don't object to participating in a ritual designed with purpose, and I acknowledge the increased power associated with the alignment of celestial bodies, but I do object to the use of a "holy" day as an excuse for social fraternization. Hey, if you wanna party, throw a party. If you want to have a spiritual experience, then that should be the full purpose of your gathering.

All that said I do still have some traditions myself. I still get my friends and family christmas presents, It's a fun way to show that you appreciate them. I don't make it about religion though. I accept it for the tradition that it is, and nothing more.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Who are We?

Astarte Moonsilver
I've been using the name "Astarte Moonsilver" now for over 7 years, mostly as an avatar name for the many message boards and websites I have visited since I started exploring Paganism. As a newly deprogrammed Christian, (or Mormon Christian, for those who have been following along), I was hesitant to use my real name, because I felt the need to keep myself "in the closet" for the sake of my family, and because of the small town I live in. There was a certain thrill in being secretive and cloaked, I would have to admit that.

I've been asked before, "why choose the name of a Goddess?" In some circles, I suppose this seemed rather haughty and high-and-mighty of me to adopt the name of a Goddess, sort of like going about with "Lord" or "Lady" titles or calling yourself a High Priestess when you just started a month ago. Well, my reasons are not very glamorous, and I was being rebellious at the time, but since then, I have found other reasons for keeping the name I chose since my journey began at Mabon of 2003.

When I left Mormonism in November of 2002 (wow, eight years!) my decision was not happily accepted by the Mormon side of my family. There were many email fights, many days of not speaking to each other, and a moody, sort of painful Christmas. By then, I had just about finished off being Christian altogether. My mother and I were in a heated discussion at some point, regarding Wicca, (I think she found some web pages I had browsed while staying with her), and she asked me why I would want to worship Ashtoreth instead of God. (I am shortening this story quite a bit, to spare the minutiae). I had literally no idea what she was talking about, though she was referring to a movie I had seen as a teenager, called The Seventh Sign. Somewhere in this movie, she remembered Ashtoreth was named as a demon, and she connected this with my new interest in Wicca, and asked me if I knew that it was common for Ashtoreth to be summoned during Wiccan ceremonies.

That assumption got my attention enough to go researching through Biblical references, watch the movie a couple more times, and try to find the connection she insisted was "common knowledge" that all Wiccans do this. And why would this be a big deal? Because, growing up Mormon meant that you usually accepted what your church leaders told you, and you didn't have to spend all your time doing your own research since it had already been done by church scholars and the Priesthood 'brethren', so it would be unnecessary to question their authority. Only, I was now of the mind to question everything. I left the church through intellectual inquiry, and I fully embraced that power to find out the truth of what my mother was saying. Turns out she was misinformed. (I would not go as far as saying she made it up, because she seemed very scared and worried for me at the time).

So, after having researched this question, I approached my mother, to tell her what I had learned. She was not open to hearing any opposing information, and the discussion soon ended. (rather badly, I'm afraid). I decided to adopt the Greek translation of the name, half in rebellion towards my mother, and half to be an inspiration to seek out truth and not to let others define your beliefs for you.

So, I adopted the first name, "Astarte". But I wanted to have more distinction, a name no one else had claimed on the internet, and could be my original 'nom de plume'. My given name begins with "A" as well, so I decided to try to find a last name with the same initial as my given last name. "Moonsilver" came to me as I was taking a full moon bath and meditating. Lots of people think of things like 'the silvery moon', but I didn't really care for using SilverMoon as a last name, it seemed too common. But, Moonsilver fit me, and it was useful at the time.

Now, when I use the name, I connect it more to the initials of my given name, but I keep it because it's been with me since the beginning, and has become a symbol of my passage from Mormonism/Christianity into Wicca and Paganism. So, I'm not trying to be haughty, or elevate myself to the level of Lady or High Priestess by using a Goddess name. I can understand how that might seem to others, especially if I was calling myself Lady Astarte Moonsilver H.P. I also stamped it all over numerous websites and forums in the past 7 years, and the story of why I left Christianity and became pagan is published with this chosen name.

As I continue on the journey, I will continue to use this name for continuity sake, and because it has become a living symbol of my transition out of the darkness of closed minds and into the open space of research and self determination.

Χερι της Αληθεας

So, I've only been using the name "Aletheas" for about a year, but I've been a practicing pagan since 1987. I've been through many paths in Paganism and Philosophy. I've used other names, none of them have been public personas and none of them have ever been shared with anyone. It just wasn't important for me to have a public persona. Recently, I've been convinced that after 23 years of researching various paths it's time to pass on some of what I've learned.

The name you see above is pronounced KYREE TEHS ALETHEAS and it is a Greek translation meaning "hands of truth".   I went through a period of self re-assessment and realized that most of the stress of my life had been caused by dishonesty of some sort. So a simple answer? Stop doing that. Keep things simple by always telling the truth, no matter what. I made a conscious decision to change a fundamental aspect of who I was. I did this through the psychological processes of alchemy, and that will be a continuing conversation throughout this blog. 

As for the "hands" part of the name, that's a little easier.  I'm a sculptor and I have always worked with my hands. 

Since our recent engagement, I have decided to take Astarte's name for my own. I will now be Aletheas Moonsilver. when we get married, she will be taking my mundane name, so I think it's a fair tradeoff. besides, In traditions of Alchemy, the association of the moon with the metal silver is an important phase of the Great Work.