Friday, 2 May 2014

Fat Blue Lady

It's the start of May - Beltane, or May Day - so that means it's time to give my Fat Blue Lady a new coat of paint and pop her out in the garden for the summer :-)

After I stopped being a Christian, many years ago, I felt that I still needed a spiritual dimension to my life (because that was what I was used to) so I went through what I guess was a "pagan-curious" phase. I looked into Wicca but rejected it rapidly on the grounds that it was just as dogmatic, bigoted and divorced from reality as the religion I'd left. I could never bring myself to take magic seriously. But for a long time I was sympathetic to alternative spiritualities and I hung out with pagans (there are a LOT of them in re-enactment circles, so I met them through work), and I even studied modern shamanism for a couple of years.

My skepticism grew as time went on, and eventually I had to admit that, sod it, I really was an atheist.

Funny thing is, I don't miss anything about Christian ritual at all - no, not prayer or Christmas carols by candlelight or the promise of Heaven - but I do desperately miss pagan ritual sometimes. I loved the fact that it was tied to nature. I loved the going outdoors and putting myself into a mental state where I felt I was directly in touch with the great big living wonderful Universe. Even more beguiling for pagans is the idea that the Natural Universe is aware of and paying attention to you. It's very validating.*

One of the things I'm hoping to recapture when I write The Wheel of Year is some of the joy and the mystery of pagan worship, and that shivery sense of intimacy with something far bigger than oneself. I'm hoping to make the world seem magical once again. Because writing can do that:
I believe that Magic is Art and Art whether it be music, writing, sculpture or any other, is literally magic. Art, like any magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images, to achieve changes in consciousness… Indeed to cast a spell is simply to manipulate words, to change people’s consciousness, and this is why I believe that an artist or a writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world to a Shaman.
—  Alan Moore

My base mental attitude to Nature is one of awe and wonder and worship. In my heart I am a nature-worshipping heathen. The thing is ... my heart just can't take my head along for the ride. Fiction is as close as it gets.

*(But is it true? Is it bollocks.)


Jo said...

In truth, I really don't know what I think about the idea of what you've talked about being true or not. Perhaps I just haven't ever thought about Religion in those terms, as in, some higher consciousness being conscious of YOU. Though, I suppose that's what religion's about, alright.

We are part of nature, no matter how much we try to deny that, and subjugate it to our needs... we have the same electrical energy and matter and vitality that runs through it all, and in this, we're connected.

Personally, I think if there is any possiblity of recognition from communing with nature, it's a process of recognising ourselves, and what's within. I think we know far more than we allow ourselves to be aware of (rational brain, rationalising!). I don't think it's god, other than what could be called the divine (for want of a more appropriate word) in ourselves.

Janine Ashbless said...

I think this is a sensible approach Jo. One of the interesting things about hanging out with pagans is that I found a surprisingly large number of them are what you might call "pagan atheists" - they have no literal belief in the Mother Goddess etc, but the ritual and the theological language suits them and makes them happy. You might expect that sort of thing in an established religion, where say someone is brought up Catholic, no longer believes in God as such, but still regards themselves as part of the religious community and enjoys the religious ritual. But very few people in the West are brought up as neo-pagans- it's an active choice. To make that choice and still accept that it is not a matter of "truth" or even "belief" says something very interesting about human nature!

Jeremy Edwards said...

Do you know about scientific pantheism, which I think is also sometimes known as "spiritual atheism" (because the term "pantheism" can mean various things)? Basically, it's a philosophy that's focused on the awe-inspiring "inherent divinity" of nature, without any belief in any supernatural sentient anything whatsoever. I.e., the universe is purely scientific, but it gives us a tingly feeling and perhaps makes us want to do special ceremonies to feel closer to its infinite wondrousness. (I say "us," though I don't personally feel much of a tingle. I'm more of a non-tingly atheist.) I actually once wrote an erotica piece about this!

Janine Ashbless said...

WOOOOOOOH! Is that what I should be - a "scientific pantheist"? How cool does that sound? (Because I'm definitely a "Tingly Atheist")

Jeremy Edwards said...

Here's a link to the World Pantheist Movement site. (Hilary used to be involved in it.)

And here's my story!

Jo said...

Jeremy's theory is great, alright!

As to your other comment, I think it comes down to this - humans need ritual, and it's part of our intellectual make up to search for meaning.

Apart from that, well, paint me blue and call me a deity if I know :)

Chris said...

That scientific pantheism is a bit like what my dad believes. So he became a Unitarian (whose only bit of credo is "there is at most one god"). They get together on a Sunday to think philosophically and sing a couple songs and be awestruck by how great the universe is.

Janine Ashbless said...

But Sunday mornings ... why Sunday mornings? I cannot be awestruck by anything on a Sunday morning! Mostly I'm just wanting to stay in bed with my other half who does not have to get up early and go to work for once. Can't we be communally awestruck at, say, 2pm after lunch? Or on a nice warm 8pm evening? Or on a silent starry midnight?

Jo said...

That's why I stopped going to the Unitarian Church!!

Nano said...

What an interesting blog, particularly as I've moved in the opposite direction - from atheist to pagan! For me it's something personal that puts me in touch with the spiritual and, like you found, the pagan ritual does help you connect with something wider. But I still retain some of my atheist scepticism about some things and I do accept this is something very personal that I cannot and would not attempt to prove in any rational way.

Nano said...

Oh, forgot to say...Love your fat blue lady!

Janine Ashbless said...

Thanks Nano!