For many, today is Easter. While I have never personally celebrated the holiday, I confess to having enjoyed some of its trappings, such as egg hunts, pastel M&Ms and peeps. While those were always a treat, springtime marked a very different religious celebration for me.
You’re thinking of Ostara. Of course, that’s true. But also…Passover.
I remember it like it was yesterday. We’d come home from school and don our fancy clothing. That meant a tie and jacket for my brother and a pretty dress for me. Then we’d watch Mom pace back and forth as we waited for my father to return home from work. We absolutely had to make it to my Uncle’s house before sundown. As I child, I was sure this had something to do with Vampires. I was quite disappointed to learn otherwise.
Upon arriving at my Uncle’s house, my mother would head to the kitchen to deliver her farfel cupcakes while my brother and I were inundated with hugs, kisses and pinches. We would all schmooze a bit while the final guests arrived. Then, at last, my Uncle would call everyone to the super-extended dining room table. The men and boys quickly affixed their yarmulkes and the Seder would begin.
Yes, Passover was my favorite Jewish holiday – gefilte fish and all. Even after twenty years of being Wiccan, I still buy a box of Matzoh. I have even found myself humming “The Four Questions” on occasion. This is sort of like the Passover caroling.
There are very few Pagans who are second-generation practitioners like Wild Hunt columnist Eric Scott. Most of us have an alternate religious heritage with one or more stops along the way. In order to embrace our Pagan path, we’ve had to acknowledge, reject and walk away from these traditions. For some people, like myself, the transition was painless. For others it was and still may be a struggle. In either case, something else was there, in secular or spiritual form, during our lives B.P. (Before Paganism)
Growing up as a “none,” I didn’t have to uproot any religious dogma – only a deeply-embedded cultural tradition. At the time of my 3rd degree initiation, I was forced to examine my nostalgic attachment to Jewish custom. Was I trying to walk two paths? Why did the culture mean so much? What if I say “Oy Gevalt” in the middle of ritual?
At first I tried to reject my Jewish-ness but then I realized how senseless this was. My family’s heritage is as much a part of my spiritual journey as anything else. That epiphany got me thinking. If Judaism, in part, has defined my understanding of religiosity, how have other people’s Pagan practices shaped by their own experiences B.P?
This idea came to light one Mabon while my covenmates were holding hands and bowing their heads in prayer. We never did this at Seder or otherwise. Jewish prayers were said with heads up, eyes open and wine glasses raised. Is “hand holding and head bowing” a remnant of Christian tradition? If so, that’s not a bad thing, just a curiosity. Our history enriches our lives. Denying its existence is denying a part of the self.
Since fully embracing my Jewish identity, I feel more complete. In addition, I have discovered why Passover was such a highlight. It is the powerful importance of family and tradition. Every spring we sat around that same table with the same crowd of people to tell the same story and eat the same food. I felt like I was a part of something magical. These people were my tribe. Despite all political differences, divorces and dirty dishes, we came together year after year after year.
Recently, I began to wonder how these memories could be used to enhance my Pagan practice. What can I borrow from Passover, for example, to strengthen my Wiccan journey? No, I’m not talking about making a Pagan Seder. I’d consider that cultural appropriation as defined by Yvonne Aburrow: “taking someone else’s practice and doing it in a completely different context where it does not fit.”
Nor am I suggesting that we tell the Passover story within an Ostara ritual. Nobody needs to be re-enacting the ten plaques. Blood, Frogs, Lice, Flies, Pestilence, Boils, Hail, Locus, Darkness…Death of the First Born Son. That could get pretty ugly. Plus, I’m quite certain that it violates the “An ye harm none” clause.
So what can we do with these tales of religions past?
In his recent Patheos post John Morehead, the custodian of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, asked, “Will we ever be able to move beyond our history of ignorance, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, bigotry, and combativeness?” He later goes on to say, “It would seem to me that we have limited options in the way forward.” Could our experiences B.P. be one of these “limited options”? Could our memories of participating in other religious cultural moments become the tools of interfaith outreach – the stepping stones to better communication?
I would venture to guess that there are very few religious groups that have as many followers as Pagans do who once were “something else.” This is a unique quality that can ultimately work in our favor. The sharing of common experience can open doorways, disarm the mind and break-down the barriers between people. Nostalgia is a wonderful bonding agent. I can schmooze with Jewish people about Passover, keeping kosher and the best charoset recipe. Add in a bit of Yiddish and we have an instant connection.
What do you remember from life B.P.? Maybe it’s that single magical moment sitting quietly before a Christmas tree filled with gifts? Perhaps it is the beautiful harmony of a Church choir? Or maybe you remember the frantic need to collect more plastic eggs than your brother? Perhaps it’s more simple like the smell of your Grandmother’s homemade Baklava or the struggle to make it through fast.
These captured moments are a part of the creation that is each of us. As Pagans, especially those who engage in interfaith work, we can use these memories to help us build a bridge to those of others faiths. Instead of entering the conversation with shields up, we can enter the discussion from a point of remembrance. Once that platform of trust is built, a deeper discussion about spirituality and journeying can happen.
I do understand that not everyone has had a painless religious journey. I am privileged in that respect and I speak from that point. In addition, not everyone has been called to or is interested in interfaith work. However, for those that do, this is something to consider when casually coming in contact with non-Pagan activities or engaging with them in formal settings.
How have you incorporated your past religious heritage into your current practices? What remnants of life B.P. still remain? Have any of those experiences helped in your Pagan journey or in interfaith work?