Happy Mabon!

Here are dozens of ways to celebrate fall.

It’s time to celebrate my favorite season—fall! From the changing colors of the leaves to the apple cider and of course, Halloween, there’s nothing to NOT love about fall (except allergies for many of us, unfortunately!). Here are a bunch of ways to celebrate.

Apples, apples, apples! Here is a list of ways to love apples, from geography and other lessons, recipes, and other fun activities.

Grab a Harvest Time curriculum. If you teach preschool or kindergarten, or if you just want some good fall activities inspired by Waldorf philosophy to use at home with your kids, here is a great free curriculum to download. It includes field trip ideas, books to read (both fiction and nonfiction), activities, art projects, and more!

Spicy Apple Bread: Shakesville is my favorite source for news and biting social commentary, but today the site is hosting a bunch of delicious fall recipes. Get this spicy apple bread recipe as well as links to others.Step out of the box. Interest-Led Learning, one of my favorite unschooling blogs, has a bunch of great ideas, including this list of non-usual fall activities and this new list of fall things to do.

Start a long and healthy life habit. Okay, this isn’t fall-specific, but it’s something we all could do! Here is a list of healthful habits from the healthy people of the island Ikaria, which is the home of the most healthy people over age 99 in the world. I think I could live with dancing every day, drinking herbal tea, and napping—could you?

Download an entire fall guide. Imagine Childhood’s got one for you right here! This 45-page book is chock full of gorgeous photos to help inspire you on your fall journey. Oh, and did I mention that it, too, is free?

A little bit of everything: Want to do some crafts, cooking, sewing, and more? Want to read some good autumn-related articles about gratitude, the spirit of the season, and other topics? Rhythm of the Home has exactly what you need.

Science experiments: My daughter and I started the season with a fun experiment earlier this week. We took round stickers and put them on the green leaves of one of our trees. Once they fall, we will look for the leaves that have (or had) stickers and see what happened with their spots!

Feel free to share your own fall rituals and activities below.

"Paganing While Brown"

Has anyone else ever encountered such racism in the pagan community?

The About Paganism/Wicca channel of About.com has always been a supportive, friendly community and a safe space for all pagans. Though I don’t really participate in discussions, I subscribe to them and get plenty of ideas, fun activities, and rituals to do at home from this website and appreciate all it has to offer.

Recently a highly bigoted person named Silvia commented that Wicca should be left to white folks only—and that it’s the only place where white pride can still happen. Seriously?? The lovely Patti Wigington, the About.com guide at the Paganism/Wicca space, handled this comment gracefully with humor and appropriate outrage here. I have never heard of such a notion in the pagan community; I really don’t know many pagans personally, but those I do are so accepting of everyone and open-minded that this, to me, is an even scarier notion. If white power prejudice exists in the pagan community at all (even in a small amount), how can we expect to eradicate the rest of the world from this very hate?

Has anyone else ever encountered such racism in the pagan community? I am interested in your stories. Please share them here at Pagan Journey. Though I’ve encountered (ironically, as I don’t think Jesus preached to hate people) plenty of hate and general meanness from Christians for my beliefs—particularly if I wear a pentagram!—I never would have thought of this kind of mentality occurring among pagans.

We are happy hippy pagans! We do joyous naked dancing around balefires! OK, not all of us do (now that’s ME perpetuating stereotypes!) but we are known as being one of the most accepting groups of people on earth. This has just really disturbed me.

Does this reader celebrate any pantheons that are non-white, after all—from Egyptian to indigenous peoples to Hindu gods and goddesses and more? Most include plenty of colorful deities, which has always been another attraction to paganism for me. Not only does it embrace the feminine spirit—unlike the Big Three religions—it also embraces a wide variety of colors, not being color blind but instead highlighting and celebrating each and every culture.

I’m really not sure why anyone with a white supremacist worldview would want to be a pagan. It just seems like a Mormon or another non-drinker by faith joining a Beer of the Month club and then chastising anyone who drinks from it.

Pagan Hymns

By Proclus and others

Some of the most prominent philosophers of the late pagan era of ancient history were also the composers of beautiful hymns, devotional poetry to the old Greek and Roman gods. This tradition of pagan hymn-writing goes back to the earliest times, and we even have a collection of hymns supposedly written by the poet Homer himself. Other hymns were said to have been composed by the legendary Orpheus, but were probably actually written for use by the Orphic religious sect.


The later hymns by the philosophers include examples by Julian the Apostate (the last pagan emperor), Sallust, and the Neoplatonist Proclus. Because Proclus was an advocate of theurgy (the use of ritual magic to enter mystical states and achieve enlightenment), some scholars believe that the Proclean hymns may even have been used in magical rituals. It is possible that the recitation of the Proclean hymns was supposed to function something like a mantra, focusing the mind of the worshipper and making it easier for him or her to enter an altered state and contact the gods.


Whether or not the Proclean hymns were ever used this way in ancient times, it should certainly be possible for modern pagans to use them for meditative or theurgic purposes. Translations of these hymns are not widely available, but they can be found. Sometimes the translations are accompanied by scholarly commentary, which can be both interesting and useful for the worshiper who really wants to understand them in depth. They could also be used as liturgy by Hellenic pagans.


The Magical Worldview

And Magical Thinking


Pagan religions are religions of magic, religions of the symbolic and mythic and wondrous. Psychologists and “scientific fundamentalists” frequently speak of magical thinking as an irrational approach to life, or even a symptom of a mental disorder. From that perspective, paganism is just an incoherent set of superstitions, based on a fallacy of assuming causality where there is none. But there's another way to look at it.

The scientific worldview, while highly effective in a certain context, is based on atomization- breaking everything down into discrete and alienated little pieces, while explicitly denying that those pieces have any symbolic or spiritual meaning. The context in which this works is always local and short-term. It allows you to continually discover new and more effective ways to do more things faster, more efficiently and on a larger scale. And the global scale is precisely where it breaks down, as you burn through all the available resources and leave a gutted wasteland behind you. That's the fallacy of thinking you can truly understand the whole by studying an infinite number of isolated parts.


The magical worldview is less effective on the small scale and the short term. No one in his right mind would go to a faith healer if he had a surgeon on hand. But magical worldviews tend to look at the whole system of the world as being interconnected and filled with meaning, and people with this type of worldview don't tend to destroy the future in order to make the present more comfortable or more profitable. What the future needs is not the victory of the scientific worldview over the magical, but a way to integrate them.



A movie about Hypatia


Agora is a new movie about the pagan philosopher and martyr Hypatia, who was murdered by a mob of Christians in the latter days of the Roman Empire. Hypatia is sometimes taken as a martyr of science and thus a hero for atheists, but in reality she was a deeply religious person. Specifically, she was a Neoplatonist, which was a powerful late pagan philosophical and mystical movement. None of her writings have survived, but she was universally considered to be an important philosopher.

The city of Alexandria in Roman Egypt was a hotbed of rival religions, mystical sects and philosophical schools. Gnosticism was born there, as was Neoplatonism, and Christianity absorbed a lot from both movements. However, all of Alexandria's rival religious factions were violently antagonistic to each other, and the struggle for spiritual supremacy was often mixed up with local political rivalries. Hypatia, as an influential figure in the pagan community, was in it up to her neck.


At some point she made too many enemies, and they managed to get the mob riled up against her. The result was her murder, the most famous example of pagan martyrdom in the ancient world. Apparently the Church has been complaining about the movie because it portrays Christians as a bloodthirsty mob of intolerant fanatics. Such a sweeping generalization would not be fair, but the facts are the facts. Hypatia was in fact murdered by a fanatical mob and they were in fact Christians. Hypatia's story deserves to be told.




A Religion of Mythopoeia


Westernesste is an interesting and unusual neopagan religion founded by Maerian Morris, a former priestess of the Church of All Worlds. What makes Westernesste so interesting is that they are more interested in fiction than history. Most pagan groups in the present day are focused on reviving something from the pagan past, though usually with large doses of fantasy, wishful thinking and misinformation.

Rather than taking this well-worn route, Westernesste comes right out and says that their religion is based on fantasy, specifically fantasy as mythopoeia or the creation of new myth. I see this as a very promising development, because it takes neopaganism out of the “looking things up in books” mentality and focuses instead on going to the roots of the matter.


Those roots are not to be found in old books about folklore and ritual (although such books should be studied carefully by all serious pagans) but in a direct and personal contact with the world of myth and magic through the medium of the subconscious, the imagination and creativity. Westernesste has created an interlinking web of “virtual worlds” called Sidhevair, using web design and art software to build striking images of fantastic worlds.


In taking this approach, Westernesste avoids both the dry intellectualism of much of the Reconstructionist pagan community, and the pseudo-historical fallacies so common in Wicca. This is a promising new direction for paganism to take, and it provides a possible framework for the creative, playful and truly inspired to do many exciting things.




Human sacrifice

A historical reality


Some neopagans would prefer to believe that human sacrifice was never a part of ancient paganism, but of course it actually was. The archeological, historical and literary records provide far too much evidence of this for any reasonable person to doubt it. Some cultures practiced human sacrifice as an occasional ritual act of great power, an exchange between humanity and the world of the divine in which a thing of great value (a human life) is offered up in anticipation of a great reward. Other cultures practiced human sacrifice on a massive scale, slaughtering hundreds of victims at a single ceremony. These acts are repugnant to us today, and with good reason.

On the other hand, the callous violence of human sacrifice is by no means a feature unique to ancient paganism. What about the auto-da-fe, the central public ritual of the Spanish Inquisition, in which “heretics” were forced to publicly confess before massive crowds before being burned alive? If this is not a human sacrifice, the distinction is an academic one.


The ancient Romans professed to be horrified by the Gaulish practice of human sacrifice, but they also threw people to the lions for public entertainment. Modern atheists would see human sacrifice as one of the evils of religion and superstition, but atheist totalitarian regimes murdered millions of people in the name of ideology, so what's the difference?


The practice of human sacrifice in ancient paganism should not be denied, because it's a historical fact. But it also shouldn't be blamed on pagan religious ideas- whether pagan, Christian, atheist or anything else, humans still have a lot to learn!



The Julian Society

A Pagan Religious Order


The Julian Society is (or was) a religious order dedicated to the memory of Julian the Apostate, last pagan emperor of the Roman Empire. Why do I say “was”? Because the last new entry on the Society's blog is from 2009, so the extent to which they are still an active organization is unclear.

Although the emperor Julian was indeed a pagan, his paganism was distinctly different from that of the ancient Greco-Roman world. Julian was steeped in the doctrines of Neo-Platonism, a tradition of mystical philosophy that had both a pagan faction (represented by philosophers such as Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblichus) and a Christian faction (represented by philosophers such as Origen and Pseudo-Dionysius). Christian Neo-Platonism had a huge influence on the development of Christian doctrine, and some of the tenets of pagan Neo-Platonism were a lot more similar to Christianity than most neo-pagans would be comfortable with. For instance, Neo-Platonists of both factions tended to advocate an austere morality of “rejection of the flesh.”


In addition, Julian attempted to unify all of the autonomous pagan temples into a structure similar to the Church. If Julian had succeeded in his grand attempt to revive paganism, it would have been as a state-sponsored institutional structure very similar to Catholicism in everything from its views on sexuality to its relationship with central authority. This is arguably reflected in the Julian Society, which seems to aim to reject the “counter-culture” associations of most of modern neo-paganism in favor of a “respectable” image as a serious and sober religious option in the modern world.



Problem People

And Perplexed Pagans

Anyone who has ever been part of a small group knows that such groups are often vulnerable to being derailed by people with issues. This applies to every type of small group, from political activist organizations to pagan circles. It may even be more common among pagans, though, because the nature of pagan religion is such that it is more likely to appeal to people that see themselves as outsiders. That isn't a bad thing, but while some people are outsiders because of their unorthodox opinions, other people are outsiders because they just plain can't get along with other people.

The specific issues vary, but they all have one thing in common- drama. One person creates it, everyone else has to deal with it. There's a useful article on this topic at the the ADF website, called “weeding the garden.” It might not be very nice to think of certain people as being like weeds, but the analogy is a valid one. When a single member of the group is ruining the experience for everyone else, that person has to go.


Of course, you don't want to jump to that conclusion, and nor should you. But once you start losing other members because of the actions of a single person, you have to ask yourself- is it more important for us to keep this one person at the expense of everyone else, or do we need to lose this one person for the sake of everyone else?


According to the article, the biggest mistake you can make is to explain yourself to the person in question, because they will use that as an opportunity to debate the issue with you in detail. Instead, you should just let them know that they aren't a good fit with the group, you wish them well, but that's that.





And Anti-Christian Bigotry

The rather inelegant word “Christopaganism” refers to syncretic religious practices combining Christian and Pagan concepts. Not surprisingly, Christopaganism is condemned by a lot of Christians, because Christianity historically has made exclusive truth claims. Paganism, of course, has not, so the condemnation of Christopaganism by many Pagans is not so easily explained.

I can't really see any easy explanation for it other than simple bigotry. Most Pagans strongly disagree with typical Christian concepts like Original Sin, but Christopagans may or may not even hold to those concepts, so that alone can't explain it. What it comes down to, I think, is the “Burning Times” origin myth.


The witch hunts had nothing at all to do with Paganism, except perhaps in a few localized and isolated examples. There was no organized remnant of Paganism left in Europe by the time of the witch trials, and the idea that the witches were Pagans is a complete fiction. The “Burning Times” are an imaginary persecution. The witch trials really happened, but they were a matter of mass hysteria and moral panic, not an organized attempt to suppress Paganism. Therefore, Pagans who hate Christianity because of the “Burning Times” are angry about something that never even happened in the first place.


A thousand years or so before the witch trials, there were certainly cases of Christians persecuting Pagans. And five hundred years before that, the Pagans were persecuting the Christians. Hating Christians because of what the church did to Pagans a thousand years ago is pure insanity. It would be like Christians hating Pagans because of Nero and his lions.


When Christian bigots try to suppress Paganism in the modern world, they must be strongly resisted. But when Pagan bigots respond by hating all Christians across the board, they only prove that the real problem has nothing to do with Christianity. It has to do with human nature.