Today we hear from our first of several regular columnists, Glen Gordon.
The Song of the Deer
I’ve encountered a phenomenon which is difficult to describe. It is the gifting of song from the land and the other-than-humans I share it with. The only way I can describe it is a bubbling of sound that comes from the one-soul, and moves through the natural living world, and at moments burst through me in a way that I cannot ignore. These are ceremonial songs I have learned from my relationship with the land and greater ecological community. Most do not have words, though some have one or two English words in them. I only remember them when they need singing. This is the story of how one of those songs was gifted to me.
I was driving home from visiting family and traveling through western Montana during a cloudy autumn day. I had been on the road for two or three hours in silence. I spent the time contemplating the landscape as I drove. It always tells me a different story. I spotted a deer jump across the road a few yards in front of me. Mesmerized, my eyes followed him as he crossed two double lanes of US interstate and made it to the knoll on the other side.
As I watched the deer gallop along the roadside, I heard a thud from the empty passenger side. I turned in time to witness the rear of a second deer impact my side door and its head pressing against the windshield. The car swerved, almost crossing lanes. I wanted to stop, but glimpsed a big SUV breathing down my neck behind me, which would have rear ended me if I made an abrupt stop. I began crying in frustration, my heart pounding, my hands shaking. I looked behind me, desperate to see him scurry off, shaken but unharmed — no luck.
Amidst my panic and dread that I killed the deer, a flash of imagery and sensation overcome me and I pulled off to the side of the road several yards from where I hit the deer. There was no exit or other way to cross the lane and head back to the site. My mind filled with a vision of seeing the world as a deer, feeling the world as deer, smelling the world as deer (there is no other way to describe it). I felt the impulse of four legs darting underneath me, and saw another deer ahead of me. Then an unsuspected blur streaked in front and I felt the pain of impact. I was myself again and sitting on the ground next to the passenger side door which has a deer-sized imprint. To this day, I can’t look at that door without thinking of that flash of being a deer.
I was shaken, as tears swelled in my eyes and I felt the fur that stuck in the crack between the door and rest of the car’s body. (In some places the fur stayed for a year.) I trembled as I touched the bristly fur, and an unexpected sound came from my mouth. A simple string of vowel sounds in different combinations. My voice trembled as the sounds grew stronger in my abdomen and moved through my throat and escaped my mouth. The singing intensified as I got into my car and continued driving. It felt important to me that I not stop the song. It weaved in and out in different arrangements of the same sounds. The tempo would speed up and slow down at intervals and filled up the space of the car. I sang for at least 3 hours before entering the nearest town on the route. My eyes watered and my body was moved by these sounds that moved through me but came from outside of me.
The song has come to me several times since. Once, the song came to me when my favorite professor had passed away. I had given an All Souls Day sermon at my Unitarian Universalist church. I spoke about land trauma and how it connects with human trauma, something we had spoken about in his office before. He would have appreciated the sentiment of the service, which I had dedicated to him. During this service, I asked the congregation to take stones we had collected from a nearby stream and think about someone who had passed, or someone close to them who was suffering, or their own traumas, or the traumas of the land, and come up and place the stones in a bowl of dirt and, if so moved, say a few words. I invited the congregation to join me a few hours after the service to bury the rocks near the foundation of the church.
I returned to the church later to see if anyone would show to bury the rocks. One person showed up. We continued the ceremony by burying the rocks, which the community had placed in the bowl, near the foundation behind the church. The stone I had chosen was dedicated to my professor. He had such faith in my ability and had encouraged me to continue to grad school. I don’t remember what I said as we placed the stones in the ground. Such is the way improvisational ceremony works for me. But at one point, I remember singing the same song from when I hit the deer.
The third time the song came to me was during a road trip to the city. A friend’s dog companion had to be put to sleep due to cancer. We stopped in the small Washington town where the two of them had spent a lot of time together. The three of us humans and two dogs walked into the vet for the euthanasia appointment. We comforted my friend who was in tears as he carried the dog into the room and placed her on the table. The dog had been nervous before, but as she sat there she looked at me for a, long time. I had only met the dog a couple of time, but it felt like she was telling me that I knew what to do. I looked back perplexed, then politely excused myself from the room.
I walked outside along the bank of an irrigation ditch and the song come bursting through me again. I sang for a few moments until the song went away on its own. I returned as the vet prepared the syringe. After my friend’s goodbye, the dog turned to me again and looked at me as if to thank me. The vet completed the procedure and we stood in tears as we watched the last few moments of this magnificent animal (who was husky-wolf mix). When we collected ourselves, we returned to my friend’s mobile home where we cried some more. I asked if it would be alright if I sang the song. In tears he thanked me. The song moved through me again and time froze, allowing us to gather ourselves before we continued to the city.
The song has since come to me on other occasions, like when a feline companion of a close friend passed away and when my grandfather passed.
Glen Gordon was introduced to Paganism by friends while living overseas in Europe during the late 90′s. He underwent both Wiccan and Neodruidic training during his formative years, but had not self-identified as a Pagan when his path diverged into land-centered spiritual naturalism ten years ago. His focus has been on cultivating beneficial relationships with the natural living world surrounding him wherever he lives. During this time, he discovered Unitarian Universalism and has been active in his local congregations for many years. Since 2007, he has worked on varied projects regarding BioRegional Animism, including this five minute video, the words of which came from a short UU sermon he gave. He has spoken on the topic of ecology and the land on a few occasions for his local congregation and facilitated a now-disbanded group of UU Pagans and spiritual naturalists. In the past, he maintained the blog, Postpagan, and is excited to share some of that material at HumanisticPaganism. Currently, you can find Glen writing occasionally for No Unsacred Places and helping achieve Green sanctuary status for his beloved UU community, where he helps create and lead ecological aware earth- and land-focused ceremonies for the solstices and equinoxes.
Next Sunday we hear from a new contributor, Genevieve Wood: “Death and Life”.
Today we continue our late autumn theme of “Death and Life” with Natural Pantheist. The theme for early winter will be “Beginnings”. Send your writing and art to humanisticpaganism [at sign] gmail.com by September 21, 2013.
Over the past few years I have lost two people that I was very close too. The first, my Nan, died of cancer at the end of January this year. It was too late before we found out she had it and there was nothing that could be done to help her. Two years ago another friend of mine, quite young, was killed in a car crash. Their deaths are still raw in pain for me…but when has life ever been fair?
Anyway, this situation has got me thinking about how I see death as a Naturalistic Pantheist. A few years ago I was a Christian and would have taken comfort from the fact that I would see her again one day in heaven. Now, without those beliefs, where will I find comfort? Can Pantheism give any help?
I believe it can. Pantheism says that “We see death as the return to nature of our elements, and the end of our existence as individuals. The forms of ‘afterlife’ available to humans are natural ones, in the natural world. Our actions, our ideas and memories of us live on, according to what we do in our lives. Our genes live on in our families, and our elements are endlessly recycled in nature.”
Pantheism does not promise an afterlife in some heaven, nor in hell. Pantheism promises only natural forms of afterlife – we will live on in the memories of those who knew us and in our genes passed down through our children. But Pantheism also goes further…it says that at death we begin a process of transformation, of changing or recycling. Our atoms become part of nature again. When we are buried, our atoms become part of the soil, that becomes part of plants, that becomes part of the animals and so on in an endless cycle. If we are cremated, some of our atoms join with the atmosphere and become part of that. The point is that none of our atoms or energy is destroyed, we are not “gone” because we become part of the world again, the world we came from. Our atoms have been in existence since the very beginning and will be until the very end of the universe. We do not die, we are transformed. Our consciousness may end, but the very essence of who we are, the elements that make us up will never be destroyed but will continue to exist for all time. When we die, we do not just rot in the ground, but become new things, new creations. We may become a flower or tree, become part of insects or animals, become rain or the wind. We become part of the natural world once again. How beautiful a thought.
A long time have I lived with you
And now we must be going
Separately to be together.
Perhaps I shall be the wind
To blur your smooth waters
So that you do not see your face too much.
Perhaps I shall be the star
To guide your uncertain wings
So that you have direction in the night.
Perhaps I shall be the fire
To separate your thoughts
So that you do not give up.
Perhaps I shall be the rain
To open up the earth
So that your seed may fall.
Perhaps I shall be the snow
To let your blossoms sleep
So that you may bloom in spring.
Perhaps I shall be the stream
To play a song on the rock
So that you are not alone.
Perhaps I shall be a new mountain
So that you always have a home.
by Nancy Wood, Many Winters: Prose and Poetry of the Pueblos
This essay was originally published at Naturalistic Pantheist Musings on June 10, 2012.
In the comments below, discuss how your Naturalistic Paganism helps you cope with the loss of loved ones, either actual or anticipated.
NaturalPantheist: A former Christian, I now see myself as a Naturalistic Pantheist with an interest in Druidry. I blog at Natural Pantheist Musings on issues relating to scientific and naturalistic approaches to spirituality. I’ve lived in both China and the UK and I love to travel. I’m a country boy at heart but also strongly believe in getting involved in my local community here in Devon, UK. My interests include religion & philosophy, social media & technology, current affairs and walking. My blog is at naturalpantheist.wordpress.com
This Wednesday, we hear from our first new columnist, Glen Gordon, Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology: “Death Song”. Don’t miss it!
Thank you to everyone who helped HP meet our fundraising goal! And a special thank you to the following individuals:
David Dashifen Kees
If you would like you name displayed differently above, please let me know. If you contributed $25 or more and have not already let me know what site or blog you would like HP to link to, please email me at humanisticpaganism [at sign] gmail.com. Thank you all again for your support. The funds have been transferred to The Wild Hunt blog to secure our graphical underwriting ad on the main page of the site.
If you’ve been hanging on, waiting to see if we needed your contribution, now is the time! There is only 1 day left. The campaign ends at midnight Pacific Time on Friday, November 22. A donor has committed to matching all donations until our goal is met. That means, if you contribute $25, $50 will actually go toward the campaign. Go to HumanisticPaganism’s Indiegogo campaign to contribute!
About the campaign: Help HumanisticPaganism place an add at The Wild Hunt, the primary online destination for news relating to and of interest to contemporary Pagans. HumanisticPaganism is piggybacking on The Wild Hunt’s Fall Funding Drive. The Wild Hunt is offering to place a graphical underwriting ad on the main page of wildhunt.org for the first 20 people to contribute $500. An ad at The Wild Hunt would greatly increase the visibility of HumanisticPaganism and draw more people to our community. If we reach our $538 goal ($500 + $38 Indiegogo fees), we will contribute $500 to The Wild Hunt and receive a graphical underwriting ad on the main page of wildhunt.org. (If we don’t reach our goal, your contribution will be refunded.) Any contribution over $10 will get you a shout out at HumanisticPaganism (unless you prefer to remain anonymous). Any contribution over $25 will get you a link to the website or blog of your choice.
Your help is needed! Please critique this entry from the HPedia: An encyclopedia of key concepts in Naturalistic Paganism. Please leave your constructive criticism in the comments below.
Agency is a characteristic distinguishing most naturalistic views of deity from other views. Generally speaking, naturalistic views do not attribute independent causal agency to deities; other views may.
Pascal Boyer writes:
Agency is that set of characteristics by which we infer the existence and action of an agent; that is, a living (or lifelike) entity whose behavior indicates that it has intentions and can act upon them. Agents are purposeful, and purposeful (i.e., teleological) action is the hallmark of agency.
Note the emphasis on intention and purpose. There are plenty of causes in nature, but not all causes are cases of purposeful intention.
So, in other words, naturalistic deities generally do not act with purposeful intention. Within the narrative of a myth, they might be portrayed as such, but this is typically understood as metaphor, poetry, etc., crafted by human intention.
A significant exception may be cases where living creatures such as animals or humans are deified, as in naturalistic pantheism which views nature and all entities within it as divine.
Robert McCauley observes that the general direction of science throughout history has been toward decreasing attribution of agency to phenomena, though we still refer to agents in psychology, economics, sociology, and a few other fields.
A common postulate in the Cognitive Science of Religion is that our brains are equipped with hyperactive agency detection devices (HADD), the evolutionary fitness value of which is evident: it is better to err in assuming a predator in each movement of grass than to assume no predator when there is one. Errors of the former type matter little, but even a single mistake of the latter type is deadly. Thus, evolution would select for hyperactive detection of agents. The consequence for religion is, of course, that we are predisposed to perceive agents everywhere, in every storm or dry spell, whether or not they are really present.
See also “Deity” and “HADD.”
Check out other entries in our HPedia.
Our early winter theme is “Beginnings”.
Each of us has a story about how we got to where we are now. Stories are the way that we orient ourselves in the world and in history. But we frequently look at our past only as something that we are leaving behind or reacting to. How does your past continue to play a role in your Naturalistic Pagan spirituality today? In what way will your past always be a part of your spiritual journey?
Send your writing and art to humanisticpaganism [at] gmail.com. Submissions need to be received by December 21.
Yesterday, Courtney York posted this on the HP Facebook page:
Hello! I’m very new to Paganism. I’m a naturalistic pagan and for all of my life, I thought that I was just not going to ever discover a religion to be a part of. After I described my beliefs to my sister, she linked me the website HumanisticPaganism and I was blown away. I have never EVER found a belief system that even remotely was like mine but naturalistic paganism is a perfect fit. I cried after reading the blog and ever since then I recognize as a Naturalistic Pagan — since I already was one!
I remember feeling the same way when I first discovered this site. This is why this site is so important. We are providing a spiritual home, albeit a virtual one, for Humanistic and Naturalistic Pagans who might otherwise be unable to find a home in Paganism or other forms of Religious Naturalism. This is why I think it is important that HP expand its outreach. There are many more people who might join our community, but have never heard of us or even conceived that we might exist.
We have five days left in our Indiegogo campaign. We are about half way to our goal. If we can raise $538, we will be able to place an add at The Wild Hunt (and help support The Wild Hunt at the same time). A contribution of $10 or more will earn you a shout out at HP. A contribution of $25 or more will get you a link to the website or blog of your choice.
Thank you for your support.
John Halstead, Managing Editor