Madame Death’s dressed all in black and seated next to a battered metal table…
I wrote those words five years ago this month, the opening line to my first column on The Wild Hunt. It’s a riff – I think – on William Earnest Henley’s poem Madam Life’s a Piece in Bloom, which I would have picked up from its use as an epigraph in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but I don’t remember for certain. It is long enough ago that now I can read my own thoughts from then and not be quite sure whence they came; I was then a different person, and the world was a different world. The Wild Hunt itself has changed entirely, going from the herculean effort of one writer, the blessed Jason Pitzl-Waters, to a publication staffed by 20 writers, editors, and business managers.This morning I have been looking back through my archives of the past five years, in part to figure out an answer to a question I have asked myself over the years: what is this column about, anyway? (The question has also been asked by The Wild Hunt’s esteemed publisher, Heather Greene, and I have never given her a satisfactory answer.) At first, I intended for my writing here to focus on second-generation Paganism, the distinctive experiences of those who, like me, had the fortune to be born into our convert religions. That theme pervades the first column, a meditation on Samhain and the chain of life and death that constitutes a family, and continues throughout the first year or so of writing. I thought that I would start with my own experiences and eventually move into writing about others, but I never went very far along those lines; I have always hoped to one day wake up as a journalist, but so far it has not happened.
Although my family coven has continued to appear in the column, over time the writing has wandered elsewhere, especially after I moved away from my hometown in 2013. Certain themes reappear, intermittent series that arose less from forethought and more from curiosity and pleasure after a successful first attempt. My favorite of these are the essays I call “the Museum Pieces,” which reflect on my encounters with representations of Pagan divinity in art and history museums: the ecstatic pain carved into the marble face of Pan at the St. Louis Art Museum, the delicacy of the Lindby Odin, what is seen in turn by the tourist, pilgrim, and historian when the faces of ancient gods peer at us through glass cases. Another frequent topic is the Gaea Retreat outside of Kansas City, home to my favorite Pagan festival, Heartland.
At times the column has seemed to change theme entirely, as it did for a time last year, when I spent four months writing about Pagan motifs in gaming, covering the exploration of gender roles in the tabletop RPG Sagas of the Icelanders and the recurring trope of divine death in games like God of War and even Magic: the Gathering. (Alas, as much fun as I have with these sorts of columns, they require time, money, and accomplices to research, and never became a mainstay.) More significant were my series of columns about visiting Iceland and the United Kingdom, material that has served as the first draft for much of my current book project. In both cases the column became a travelogue for six months – perhaps giving a false impression of the length of the trips, which were only about three weeks apiece.
That said, if the topics I have written about change frequently, the mode in which I write has not. My work at The Wild Hunt, in the end, rests in its documentation of my own life, mainly through a Pagan lens, but at times as an academic, as a geek, as a traveler, a Midwesterner. It’s a column less about the big stories of our shared Pagan community and more about an individual experience, the never-ending process of figuring out what it means to live a Pagan life. Some might argue that this approach is self-centered, and I can’t really disagree with them: the writing I have shared here over the years is indeed centered in my self, to the point that I can hardly envision another way it might have gone.
But while autobiographical writing is, by definition, self-centered, I do not think that makes it inherently selfish. One of the reasons I chose to make and study life writing is because of my conviction in the necessity of the small accounts of existence. The meditation on one landscape, one object, one human life is a meditation on all of them. If we focus too long on only the broader perspectives, we risk losing ourselves in a narrative of “great people,” the long list of tradition founders and high priests that sometimes seems to stand in for our understanding of our Pagan culture. Paganism is not just that: it is, just as importantly, the way in which the hundreds of thousands of Heathens, witches, druids, polytheists, magickians, and other varieties of Pagan conduct their lives. It is my hope that in sharing my own account of a Pagan life with you over these past five years that it implies the depth and wonder of each of our particular lives, and that perhaps it convinces you to share your gem of being with others as well.This past Saturday, another Samhain came and went for my family; in the time between my visit with Madame Death and then, some people came into our coven and left again, some old bonds broke and others created, some children were born and some old friends passed to the other side of the veil. We sang that night not only to remember the dead, but also to remember to live: I am here right now, standing on this sacred ground. So we are, always, always sacred, always now, always pushing this present moment into the past, creating Paganism with our every breath. It has been an honor to share my Pagan life with you here in The Wild Hunt for these past five years; I look forward to many more to come.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.