Tumbling into the Earth

Tumbling into the Earth

The sun has set behind the hedge
The gnats rise from the hay
I reach my hands into the grass
And fall into that ancient space

Like tumbling in water I tumble into the earth
Slowly drifting deeper into her embrace
Until I find myself suspended
For I have reached that ancient space

I cannot see but indeed I know
Aho! I say and you return
We greet each other
In this vast unknown

For a moment we know each other
Our greetings mix and turn
But then the moment is over
And I tumble out of the earth

Unlearning the New Age

Summer is a time when I end up doing a lot of reflecting about my practice. Six years in has given me a lot to reflect on. One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how much I’ve had to unlearn the New Age movement.

Back in high school when I was reading Cunningham and was learning tarot at lunch with my friends, the New Age movement was where I was doing a lot of my learning. I had quite a few occult and holistic shops near me to get crystals and other things that I thought I needed. The older generation Pagans and witches I was interacting with were very much of the love and light variety and just kept pointing me towards Neo-Wicca. Everything I was reading was filling my head with how everything I was meeting was a sign on my path. Books were telling me that every animal could mean something, that angels or guides were trying to contact me, mediumship books told me the dead were always crossed over and peaceful.

Yeah. There were a lot of hard lessons coming down the pipeline that the New Age movement did next to nothing to help me with. I do a lot of head shaking too when I look back at it all. But lately I have been thinking about just how anthropocentric the New Age movement is and how much it conflicts with my current animist understanding of the world.

Anthropocentrism refers to a human-centered worldview, which places human beings as the most important entities in the universe and thus the universe is interpreted only in terms of the human experience and human values. It’s also something I’ve been working to overcome the past year or so and will probably always be checking myself on.

How I interpret the New Age movement is that it teaches people that everything exists to benefit them on their path. Everything is a personal sign, every person has a lesson to teach, every spirit willing to help you and share their wisdom with you, every culture open for you to unlock its mysteries. It teaches that every person is a part of the great big universe and has the power to demand of the universe whatever they want. Needless to say I find the New Age movement pretty damn toxic these days.

As I have really started to work as an animist (and a witch really) at a higher level than just a general belief, what I am experiencing really kicks the New Age worldview in the teeth. If I am going to say that everything has a spirit, then there is a level of autonomy I need to recognize.

With spirits this realization came pretty quickly. It doesn’t take long to figure out that a lot of spirits want nothing to do with people or want something in return for working with you. And that is just fine by me. If a spirit and I can strike a deal, then we work together that way. Sometimes a relationship just doesn’t work out and a spirit ends up being a real piece of work. I would rather be realistic when working with spirits and respect their boundaries and independence than think that every spirit I meet is a guide or wanting to teach me something. This goes for me as well. I do not owe any random spirit the time of day just because they are a spirit either.

Animals were the next thing I needed to unlearn. The New Age really loves its animal dictionaries and animal totems. As an animist, I also want an educated understanding of nature. Anthropocentrism and the New Age told me that every animal was a sign and meant something. As an animist I now understand that unless it is a very rare and obvious sign, that animals are just being animals and not existing just for my benefit. I have a greater appreciation for the animals around me now that I understand why they are doing what they are doing and what that means in the larger scheme of things. Animals do have a lot I can and have learned from, but it takes patience and putting my own needs and interests pretty low on the ladder.

Plants and crystals are where I am currently working on things. As I am tending to my witch garden (even though I have grown things before) I am paying much more attention to just how complicated plants are and how much their spirits deserve my respect. There is so much more to my relationship to them than just asking briefly if I can cut off some leaves and leave a few coins as payment. I’m actually not harvesting as much because I want to work to build that relationship more before I do. Crystals are something that I am more so working on understanding when they come up. I don’t really buy into the New Age advertisements that these crystals can heal my organs or just putting one in my pocket will activate all their stored powers. But I am working to ask more when I do bring them into my practice.

Like I said, there’s been a lot of unlearning of the New Age over the years. I am a lot more critical of what I am learning and I would like to think I walk with a lighter step now too. I no longer understand myself as the center of my spirituality, but rather as a piece of a much larger world and it is in interacting with this world, taking a step back and really listening and watching that I learn and grow. I am not entitled to spiritual knowledge or experiences, I need to earn it and actually pay attention to what is going on around me, to see and feel empathy for more than just myself. That is what unlearning the New Age has taught me.

Sometimes Ritual needs to be Quiet

Earlier this week, I lead my University’s Pagan Student Association in a ritual celebrating the coming of Spring. Myself and the other leader of the group had been planning the ritual since February. We planned it assuming we would be outside but once we got closer to the date, I realized we should prep an indoor version as well. The two rituals were very different in tone and the indoor ritual didn’t look like anything I had ever experienced. But inspiration had struck hard for both versions so I wasn’t going to question it.

I guess I should talk a little bit about our group. We are pretty interfaith when it comes to what we believe. Those of us who are Pagan all work with different deities from Norse, Celtic, Greek, Near East, and even Japanese sources. We also have Christian, Baha’i and Atheist members who are interested in interfaith and learning more about Paganism. As a result, planning a ritual that includes all of us can be rather difficult. Our solution has been to format our rituals through a more animist lens (albeit with some Wiccan formatting for the ritual itself). All of us can get behind the sacredness of nature in some form or another. However, one of our other challenges was that none of us ever frequently attended group rituals. Myself and the other leader of the group were the only ones who had, and even then our practices were more solitary than anything else.

So in crafting this ritual, we wanted it to actually connect with people. We wanted a ritual that anyone from any tradition could participate in and get something from it, but still have it be clearly Pagan.

What ended up happening was actually really beautiful. Instead of calling the elements in a very loud invocation, we described what reminded us of each element on our campus. For Earth, we talked about the grass being green from all the storms, and everything coming into bloom. For Air we talked about the smells in the air and the little wind chimes one of our members had hung in trees all over campus. Fire was the warmth of the sun but also being able to walk around at night without freezing. Water was a lot of talk of storms, especially one that woke us all up a few nights earlier. Spirit we divided into two parts. The first was a silent remembering of the ancestors and those who had left our life followed by silently acknowledging the new relationships that had come into our lives. Then we went around the circle and out loud welcomed for ourselves the forces that were guiding us. For many of us, this was the time we welcomed our deities and for others it was welcoming a concept like ‘new beginnings’. This was all followed by a guided meditation and a discussion of what we experienced.

The feeling of this ritual was wonderful. Everyone in the circle participated and there weren’t any awkward silences of people not knowing what to do. It was a quiet ritual and an intimate ritual. And sometimes, that is just what you need.