A poetry of Place: An interview with Glenys Livingstone of PaGaian
- Dr. Glenys Livingstone, author of PaGaian Cosmology – Dec. 21
- Dr. Chet Raymo, author of When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy – Dec. 25
- Chris Stedman, author of Nonprophet Status – Jan. 8
- Dr. Brendan Myers, author of Loneliness and Revelation – Jan. 15
- Rev. Michael J. Dangler, Druid and Senior Priest of Three Cranes Grove - Jan. 22
- Dr. Ursula Goodenough, author of The Sacred Depths of Nature – Jan. 29
Today we interview Dr. Glenys Livingstone, leader of the thriving PaGaian community of naturalistic spirituality, and author of PaGaian Cosmology. Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year for those in the Northern Hemisphere, but Glenys talks to us from Australia, where it’s the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year.
B. T. Newberg: Let’s cut right to the chase. What makes PaGaian different from other Neopagan paths? Why should readers of Humanistic Paganism sit up and take notice?
Glenys Livingstone: PaGaian is understood as an “evolutionary” spirituality because it is grounded in the evolutionary story, and the practice of ritual at Seasonal points may celebrate that Cosmic unfolding as well as the regional phase of the year – there is not understood to be any separation of Creativity.
BTN: What do you mean by “no separation of Creativity?”
GL: The same Creativity that unfolds the Cosmos manifests in the extant Creativity of the Seasonal cycle, and in any cycle of being – including personal. All layers of Creativity may be celebrated at once – may be understood to be woven into each other.
Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme define three qualities of Cosmogenesis in their book The Universe Story, which I have linked with an ancient Triplicity – as Marija Gimbutas notes in The Language of the Goddess, expressed in later times (evidenced in the last several thousand millennia) as 3 qualities of the Triple Goddess and also in the Triple Spiral of Irish indigenous tradition.
In PaGaian Cosmology I have re-visioned the three faces of Goddess (based in female biology and lunar phases) as Cosmic Dynamics innate to being, no matter your gender or species, and suggest that the Triple Spiral and the ancient noting of a Cosmic Triplicity may have embraced such a notion of Cosmic Creativity.
Such Cosmic Creativity was also understood to be symbolised and microcosm-ed in the female body which may conceive, give birth, and lactate – bring forth new life: surely a central impetus to being and becoming. Indigenous cultures have no problem with this – She includes all (we all have navels that may remind us of connection to a birthing Cosmos).
PaGaian Cosmology is a synthesis of all that: the science, the Pagan and female metaphor.
And it is a practice – of seasonal rituals that align one’s small self with regional and Cosmic creativity: that is how it happens in our small particular lives – in Conversation (ceremony) with our Place which is understood to be alive and sentient. So PaGaian Cosmology is not just an idea or thought. It has to be practiced in ritual in some way – that is the nature of the Cosmos we are in… it is an Event.
For change to really happen one’s cosmology must be embodied – it can be really simple or with high drama, but it expresses relationship with Place, helps us come Home – not just talk about it.
BTN: And that capital “P” in “Place” is there for a reason, isn’t it? You’ve said that PaGaian is not even about gods, it’s about Place. The Goddess is a metaphor: “a place, not a deity.” What does that mean?
GL: The term “Cosmology” is used decidedly because what is being discussed here and what PaGaian Cosmology is about, is a Place – the Cosmos – as sacred (as many of our ancient forebears apparently knew their Place to be). It is not a theism of any kind – be that athiesm, pantheism, panentheism or whatever, nor even a thealogy. Any references to deities is understood to be metaphor: Poetry is all we have to attempt to express the multivalent awesome Universe.
As I say in my book:
Cosmos is a Place, dynamic and moving, alive and changing, which is indistinguishable from participatory selves, which remains ultimately mysterious and indefinable; thus ultimately only able to be spoken of metaphorically. This then is Poetry. (Ch.1, p.43)
BTN: So, if we’re talking about Place, then why continue to use the word “Goddess?”
GL: Most people who use the word “God” forget that “God” is a metaphor – and it is perhaps past its “use-by” date. Some may not find “Goddess” helpful either, but I am of the opinion that the word needs trotting about – to put a sense of “Her” back on our lips and in our minds: the lack of language that may express or do that is symptomatic of the problem of “Her” invisibility – that we don’t have words to conjure a sense of femaleness to the sacred, and most people on the Planet have forgotten that that is possible.
I also want to say that some may be put off by the sub-title of my book (“Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion”). I chose to use the word ‘religion’, because the root of the word means to connect and ‘cosmological celebration’ is a ‘connecting’ practice – and what I feel is required is a consistent practice of intention, attention, meditation and ritual, that enhances a personal and communal sense of belonging. I would like to write a new version however and change the sub-title to something like “Re-Creating a Gaian Poiesis” or “a Poetry of the Cosmic Mother”.
BTN: So what does all this look like “on the ground”? How does a person practice PaGaian? Would an outside observer notice anything different from other forms of Neopaganism?
GL: What PaGaian Cosmology looks like “on the ground” is that it involves a practice of ritual for each Seasonal Moment (as I name the “sabbats”): that means eight a year here at my Place – that could vary according to your place but you would have to work that out.
Essentially PaGaian Cosmology is a practice, not just a head-trip – it has to done: it is an art form. Ritual is the art form of a living cosmology - that is where the transformation happens.
“Conversation” is necessary – and that is how I understand ritual and the creating of it (or any “prayer’ for that matter, but ritual more so as one has to DO a bit, and that is part of the Conversation, the learning, the devotion) – and I get that term for it from Thomas Berry: one needs to be speaking with one’s beloved of the soul which may be named as the “sentient Cosmos”.
The rituals here don’t look/sound much like traditional Wicca or other forms of Neopaganism, in the sense that the central focus of the celebration is frequently quite different and language I have used in the scripts that are offered is quite different (and I do offer scripts because language is important in my opinion – but the words are meant as guides – for a sense – not to be parroted, though they may also be regarded as Poetry and learned by heart with some variation of one’s own).
For example, in terms of language, when the elements are “called”, I speak of “remembering” that we are Water, Fire and so on; and/or that we are expressions of these Cosmic Dynamics. The elements are qualities of Earth/Cosmic manifestation, always present and felt.
In PaGaian Cosmology, the language of ritual needs to express that we are the Earth… so that we may re-learn it more deeply.
In terms of an example of the central focus of a Seasonal ritual being different from other forms of Neopaganism: at Beltaine the PaGaian ritual essentially celebrates Desire – not just a simple notion of “Goddess and God” or even a simplistic version of “Beloved and Lover”, but yet still deeper to a Cosmic essence that is multivalent, and that is felt in the Power and Creativity of Earth-Sun-Moon interaction. Aphrodite is named particularly – as representing this Power (of Allurement/Desire) but need not be: it may be felt as distracting, or there may be other deities (zoomorphic or anthropomorphic) that one may find helpful for personal or collective aesthetic reasons.
PaGaian Cosmology may be summed up in the practice of what I call the “Triple Goddess Breath Meditation” which I teach here on the ground, and is also described on p.12 in the Introduction to my book (The Yoga Mudra as In-Corporation of Gaia’s Breath). I have made a DVD of it for my online students, so they can see it and associate it with imagery – which of course will take off and vary in their own minds. The words, more or less, are on the final pages of Chapter 8 in my book. It expresses the sense of each being (one’s personal being) as a “Place of the Cosmological Unfolding”.
BTN: Speaking of online students, is there a training program? Are there local or online Pagaian groups? How does one become more involved in Pagaian?
GL: I teach and facilitate a year-long course called “Celebrating Cosmogenesis” which is a mentoring through the year-long cycle of eight Seasonal Moments: it is now available online for both hemispheres. There is information here. Many simply use my book as inspiration for their Cosmic/Earth rituals – and I update the online versions of the offered ritual scripts in Chapter 7 each time we change it here on the ground at my place.
BTN: Where can we find your book?
GL: You can ask for it at any good book shop, and lots of online retailers such as Amazon. It is freely available with a Creative Commons licence at my website at http://www.pagaian.org/book and a paper copy may also be purchased there (click the BUY button).
BTN: Finally, if you had just one sentence to express the heart of your path, what would it be?
GL: It is a practice of relationship with our Place, and the Place is at once the small self, the communal self – other, and the cosmic self – all that is.
PaGaian Cosmology, by Glenys Livinstone, Ph.D.
Glenys Livingstone Ph.D. has over thirty years experience on a Goddess path, which has included diverse spiritualities and a scientific perspective, inner work as well as academic scholarship. Her studies have been in theology, ritual, archaeomythology, social ecology, psychology, sociology and education.
Glenys is the author of PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion, which was an outcome of her doctoral work in Social Ecology from the University of Western Sydney. Glenys’ doctoral research was an experiential study of the three phases of the Triple Goddess – Virgin, Mother, Crone – as Creative Cosmological Dynamic, and the embodiment of Her in seasonal ritual as a catalyst for personal and cultural change. More recently, Glenys’ continued ritual practice of the seasonal Wheel of the Year and research, has deepened her identification of this Cosmic-Organic Creative Triplicity with the Triple Spiral engraved by the ancients at Newgrange (Bru na Boinne) in Ireland.
Glenys grew up in country Queensland Australia. Glenys considers herself a student of the Poetry of the Universe – a language expressed in scientific story, mythological metaphor, ancient and contemporary images of integrity, body movement and dance, stillness, chants and songs. By these means, she conducts geo-therapy – ecological reconnection – for herself and with others.
Glenys’ work is grounded in the Old European indigenous religious practice, integrated with evolutionary perspective and Goddess scholarship.
Glenys’ M.A. is in Theology and Philosophy and included education in liturgical practice at the Jesuit School of Theology Berkeley California. She lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her beloved Taffy (Robert) Seaborne, who is also a graduate of the School of Social Ecology and rich life experience. Glenys teaches, writes and facilitates the seasonal rituals in her Place with an open community.