Friday, February 24, 2017

Growing Up Pagan

My people come from the Summerlands.  We were born in the Mundus, just as were all our neighbors.  Our parents were born in the Mundus, and their parents, and so on for as far back as our family trees are able to recollect, with the possible exception of those among us descended from kings and queens (and who happen to be aware of this fact).  By Mundus, I mean the ordinary reality of everyday life.  In terms of worlds, the Mundus is Earth, and perhaps envelopes of breathable atmosphere which humans are able to send off this planet at great expense and for short journeys.  It is a physical world which provides everything which our bodies need to be born and survive.  The Mundus is a material world in which what seems to be, for the most part, is, and can only be changed into something else by some kind of physical work, either on our behalf, or through some natural force.  Those parts of the selves of my people which are not comprised of physical matter, however, are not of the Mundus.  They come from Elsewhere, the Summerlands, the Dreamtime, the Great Forest.

I knew this to be a fact when I was very young.  As I would run with my family's dogs through the woods near my house, able to see the paths which they saw and know the things they knew about the animals and plants around them without having to think about them, I knew that I was touching the Other World from which my spirit originated.  The dreams I had as a young boy, in which I routinely flew with birds and climbed straight up tall pine trees with squirrels, were doorways to that place where my heart most belonged.  Those other dreams, more rare, in which I passed through a hole between the roots of a tree in my yard which led to an indescribably beautiful pond with a waterfall and an ever-present rainbow, and in which I was permitted glimpses of the Mother of my soul, gave me hope that the Mundus, in which people looked at me like I was some kind of alien and constantly reminded me of what I could not do, was only a small part of a greater Reality.

As I grew older, I entered into a formal relationship with the Mundus when my parents enrolled me in school.  Grown-ups who I did not know not only told me what to do and not to do like my parents, but went even further, punishing me for things I had never understood were wrong, and which seemed to have no harmful consequences for anyone, save those which these strangers imposed.  If a thought came into my head, I was no longer free to share it.  If I was hungry or thirsty or sleepy or bored, but the clock on the wall said it was not the right time to eat or drink or take a nap or play, then when I tried to do those things, or even brought up the suggestion, I was reminded in no uncertain terms that the clock on the wall was in charge, not me.  When I rebelled, my teachers would scold or spank me or put me alone in little rooms for long periods of time.  I hated school.  I knew I did not belong to those people or to that clock on the wall.

When I told my parents about my unhappy experiences at school, they were sympathetic, but told me that the State of Alabama required them to send me there.  It was a place to make friends and to learn how to be anything I wanted to be, they said.  It was true that I was making friends.  Many of the other kids at school were delighted by my imaginative stories, jokes, and games.  It was fun to kindle that fire in them and awaken their spirits.  In retrospect, my gift seems to have been to find out what they took for granted, and to turn it upside-down and inside-out, to joyful and humorous effect.  Of course, not everyone was delighted.  It seemed like in every class or gang of kids, there would be one who felt threatened by my ways of seeing.  They would try to turn the tide against me and make everybody laugh at me rather than with me.  My teachers, most of the time, seemed threatened as well, and liked using me as an example to the rest of the class of what not to do, and of the consequences thereof.  Nonetheless, I had many allies among the other kids, many of whom remained friends for life.

At home, my life was rich with reminders that the Mundus was not all there is to life.  My parents kept shelves of books on all sorts of interesting topics, fed my mind with sources of knowledge about anything I wished to know, and let me participate in their wide circle of friends and acquaintances whom they had known in school.  They would invite friends over for dinner who would bring their kids, and we would go to their houses.  My extended family got together much the same way that my parents did with their friends, and I could hardly tell the difference between family and friends.  There never seemed to exist an imposing barrier between the kid world and the grown up world, other than certain foods and drinks which we kids were not supposed to eat and drink when the grownups threw parties (wine, beer, and "adult brownies").  I could carry on conversations with my family's adult friends about anything I wanted, and often did.  My favorite thing to do, however, was to get all the kids together and lead them in the kinds of stories, jokes, and games that I knew would spark the fire in their eyes and make them laugh and talk endlessly about their own visions of the Summerlands.

At the age of ten, my family started meeting people who had a more formal relationship with the Summerlands.  They were members of an organization which was named in honor of that Great Mother whom I had known in my sacred dreams as a child.  The women were the leaders of this group, although men were an integral part of it, and boys and girls were encouraged to participate on equal terms.  The members of this Fellowship would gather in each others' houses on full moons, or during one of eight holy times of the year, or for occasional rites of passage, and have a potluck dinner.  Often, since many people were traveling from out of town, and since the wine, beer, and other adult substances flowed freely, most people were encouraged to spend the night.  The hosts of these parties made accommodations all over their houses and in their yards, spreading out pallets and letting people set up tents as needed.  As morning broke the next day, some early riser would inevitably make a delicious breakfast to help cure any lingering hangovers and help people get back to ordinary reality ("get grounded", as we call it).  Part of the gathering would inevitably involve a ritual, in which a small fire would be lit, perhaps, or just some candles, people would dress up in otherworldly costumes, and sacred words would be spoken from pieces of paper that the hosts would hand out.  These ritual scripts sometimes came from the Fellowship to which we all belonged, but sometimes would be wholly written by one or more of the participants.  They generally involved figures from ancient mythologies from around the world, as well as many references to that same Great Mother whom I mentioned before.  The topics tended to be centered on the Divine, the human soul, nature, and the interaction between those three.  Although all those elements had their dark side, the lessons taught in the rituals made us feel that the dark and light sides of reality are not opposed, but interact with each other in a way that might best be described as play, and that the result of such play is the endlessly changing universe we know.