Rooted in Experience

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Let me make a pitch for one of my favorite Pagan causes: being rooted in experience.

We like to say that Paganism is not about following a creed or obedience to commandments written in an ancient book. It’s about lived experiences: direct encounters with our gods and our communities, with nature and with spirit.

So why is nearly everything we write in the form of a recipe book? Why so little in the way of lived experience? For a religion of direct, personal gnosis, we have remarkably little writing about what happens when we set out to practice rather than preach.

I propose we change that. Here is my challenge to you:

Don’t tell me how your tradition draws down the moon or performs a proper blot. Instead, tell me about the first time you led a public ritual: about how your knees were wobbly, and you began to sweat; about how you were afraid that nothing would happen. And then it did. And something in the sound of the drums took hold of you, and you felt different, and the world changed.

Don’t tell me that Paganism celebrates the body and honors sexuality. Tell me about the scent of pine needles in your hair when you kissed your lover under the stars, and about how the smell of pine sap and wood smoke can still make you dizzy.

Don’t tell me that community is important in Paganism. Tell me about finding your first Pagan community, and about that heady rush like first love you felt for it. And about the crushing pain that followed the first betrayal (the leader that was manipulative; the grove member who stole; the coven-mate whose oaths didn’t keep her from outing one of you) and how you came to terms with it. How you learned to embrace the Pagan world despite its flaws–or dedicated yourself to eradicating them.

Don’t tell me that Pagans find our gods in nature. Tell me about the time you climbed a mountain to celebrate with them, but it turned cold and foggy, and you thought you were lost forever until you spotted that raven that looked at you out of just one eye. Tell me about the taste of the meat from the deer you hunted yourself–or about the look of kinship in the eyes of the possum you accidentally killed, which made you give up meat-eating forever.

Tell me about how hot your sweat lodge was and how thirsty you emerged from it, when you explore whether or not Pagan sweat lodges are cultural appropriation. Tell me about the first time you saw an aura–or the time you were the only one who couldn’t see one, in your whole magical lodge–before you tell me about psychic phenomena.

Don’t give me your ideas on Pagan life, my sisters and brothers. I have ideas enough of my own. And don’t give me answers, because ours is a religious movement with hundreds of answers, thousands of answers.

Give me your experience. Give me the marrow and the meat of your spiritual life. Because, unless you write it down, no one else ever will. Only from you can I receive this gift: your own lived Pagan journey.

–Guest post by Cat Chapin-Bishop of Quaker Pagan Reflections.