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A Pedagogy of Gaia: “How Lammas Changed My Life” by Bart Everson

August 6, 2014

What can we learn, and how can we teach, from the cycles of the Earth — both the cycles within us, and the cycles in which we find ourselves?

A Subtropical “Fern Dolly”

The Dog Days of Summer

Do you know that time in late summer, when the air seems heavy and full, and the heat gets hotter, and everything seems to slide from ripe to overripe? It’s that sultry, sticky time sometimes called the Dog Days, after Sirius the Dog Star.

It’s my favorite time of year. Most of the people here in New Orleans think I’m crazy. Maybe I am. Then again, I work in an office which is maintained at such a bone-chilling temperature that some of my co-workers resort to using space heaters in August.

After the summer solstice, our hemisphere’s axial tilt to the sun diminishes each day. Slowly the days are growing shorter, the nights longer. The light is waning. Yet, outside the tropics at least, as a rule, the warmth increases. The processes of life, fueled by the sun, do not diminish but continue waxing. Just as solar noon is not the hottest time of the day, the solstice is not the hottest time of the year. That’s because of the simple fact that it takes time for the sun’s rays to warm things up.

This phenomenon is known as the lag of the seasons, and it may be observed on some other planets in our solar system as well as our own, particularly the gas giants. It just takes a while for those big atmospheres to heat up. On Earth, the seasonal lag is largely due to all the water with which we’re blessed. The oceans function as heat sinks. Thus, places surrounded by water may have a longer seasonal lag than dry places. In San Francisco, the hottest average period is in September, but in Death Valley, it’s in July.

Those who track the progress of the sun will correctly note the summer solstice as the crown of the year. Paying attention to the rhythms of the Earth reveals another apex, less precise, but perhaps even more relevant to humanity. In much of the world, that second apex takes place midway between the summer solstice and the equinox, at the end of July or the beginning of August in the northern hemisphere (late January or early February in the southern hemisphere).

We may not be highly attuned to these rhythms, but it comes as no surprise to learn that ancient people recognized this time and celebrated it. There’s a harvest festival which the Celts called Lughnasa or Lughnasadh. It’s still known in that last bastion of Celtic culture, Ireland, where it’s called Lúnasa. To the Welsh, it’s Gŵyl Awst; to the English, Lambess or Lammas.

Lammas Altar

A Modern Harvest

Shakespeare makes a point of fixing Juliet’s birthday on Lammas Eve, a fact which is announced as soon as she first appears on stage. This bit of foreshadowing would have appreciated by contemporary audiences: she was born just before the harvest; tragically, but poetically, her life will end before she comes into the full ripeness and maturity of womanhood.

My favorite literary reference, however, comes from Robert Burns in an 1783 lyric which recounts a romantic tryst in context of the grain harvest.

It was upon a Lammas night,
When corn rigs are bonie,
Beneath the moon’s unclouded light,
I held awa to Annie;
The time flew by, wi’ tentless heed,
Till, ‘tween the late and early,
Wi’ sma’ persuasion she agreed
To see me thro’ the barley.

(An updated version of this lyric can be heard in the opening credits of the classic 1973 film, The Wicker Man, noted for its folk soundtrack by Paul Giovanni.)

I was confused by the word “corn” at first. Isn’t that a New World crop? I soon learned that, in the Atlantic Archipelago, corn refers to wheat or oats or barley, whatever might be the main cereal produced in a given area — not maize. The first harvest of such grains was the occasion for the festival of Lammas.

For 21st-century Americans like myself, this celebration is almost completely unknown. It is easily the most obscure of the eight festivals in the Wheel of the Year. The four solar holidays are at least vaguely familiar as the starting dates for the four seasons, though most Americans don’t know their solstice from their equinox. That leaves the four cross-quarter days. Three of these correspond roughly with Halloween, Groundhog Day and May Day; only Lammas is unassociated with a modern holiday. In fact, August is sometimes held to be “the month without a holiday” in the American calendar.

In that obscurity, I see opportunity. We may come to this holiday without preconceived notions and set ideas. We may discover unexpected depths and make new connections if we are open to possibilities.

The Possibility of Lammas

It was at just such a time, a time in my life of opening to new possibilities, when I celebrated my first Lammas. Ever since my daughter had been born, I’d been on something of a spiritual quest. I was seeking to discover my own identity, and looking for a tradition in which my daughter might be raised — or more accurately, to which she might be exposed, as I don’t presume to find her path for her.

2013 Lammas Ritual

I was particularly intrigued with these people who called themselves “Pagans.” A photo in the paper showed a local Pagan group, the New Orleans Lamplight Circle, working to build a community garden. From that photo, I connected with the group online and kept looking for a meeting I could attend. They sponsored drum circles, meditations with Tibetan singing bowls, workshops on beneficial bugs for the garden, panel discussions on witchcraft, ice cream socials, all manner of things. At last I found something that coincided with my schedule.

And so, on the last day of July, I rode my bike out to City Park to meet some of these folks for the first time. Riding in the child seat was my daughter, 2½ years old, because this event was billed as “Lammas for Kids.” I didn’t know what to expect exactly.

What we found was sweeter than I imagined, full of beauty and meaning. We did some chants and songs with hand motions, honoring nature and the elements. There was some face painting and story-telling. We shared a simple but satisfying feast with an emphasis on bread. We also made corn dollies, traditional effigies of the harvest season. Actually we made horsies out of grass. The one I made was a little on the shabby side, but I was holding a toddler on my lap the whole time.

Participating in this celebration fulfilled a longstanding goal: I wanted my daughter to have a broad and well-rounded religious education. Mainstream Christian doctrine is easily encountered, but rituals such as this are more obscure — though becoming more visible all the time. I wanted my daughter to see that religion comes in many forms and varieties, and that it needn’t take place only in a church or a mosque or a synagogue.

Honouring the sacrifice of John Barleycorn

The Lammas-Tide of Life

Since then, we’ve continued to celebrate Lammas at home as a family. (I’m still active with Lamplight, but the chief organizer of the kid-oriented rituals moved away.) Every year our celebrations evolve a bit. We usually make corn dollies, though the materials have changed over the years. I have taken to fashioning them out of the subtropical ferns which grow in our backyard. We have a bonfire to which we commit the Brigid’s crosses which we made at Candlemas. This is a way of connecting across the year, and also of simulating the agrarian cycle on which we still depend, despite the illusions of the global marketplace. Most importantly, for Lammas, we bake bread.

There are many mysteries wrapped up in a loaf of bread. The process of baking from scratch can connect us to history, science, culture, agriculture, and nature. The bread can be a symbol of all these connections, of our relation with the Earth and with humanity. Best of all, it’s a delicious and healthy food, which has become a mainstay of my family’s diet. Inspired by the holiday, I’ve been baking bread pretty much every week for several years now. One might say that we celebrate Lammas every weekend.

On Lammas, we bake a special loaf, a bread figure. Sometimes the figure is roughly humanoid in shape, to the best of my severely limited skills. Last year, we made a one-eyed cat at my daughter’s insistence. A highlight of Lammas is tearing apart this figure and eating it. This year we’ll make a point of feeding the bread to each other.

Of all the holidays, Lammas is the closest to my heart, the best day of the year, for all the reasons enumerated above — plus perhaps one more. Lammas corresponds to where I am in the cycle of life, somewhere past my summer solstice, somewhere in my late summer, with autumn coming soon behind. That sense of melancholy on the verge of dissolution, that gentle bittersweet ache of loss, is inherent in this seasonal moment.

For me, it’s not just a celebration of the agricultural harvest but also a time to think about how we stepped into the spiral, where we’ve come since, and where we’re headed. Rituals and traditions gain power over time, as associations and resonances build. Simply doing the same thing at the same time of year can be richly rewarding. I’m looking forward to deepening our experience as we continue to move around the wheel again.

The Author

Bart Everson

In addition to writing the A Pedagogy of Gaia column here at HumanisticPaganism, Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. An award-winning videographer, he is co-creator of ROX, the first TV show on the internet. As a media artist and an advocate for faculty development in higher education, he is interested in current and emerging trends in social media, blogging, podcasting, et cetera, as well as contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, sometime contributor to Rising Tide, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle.

See A Pedagogy of Gaia posts.

See Bart Everson’s other posts.

Musings of a Pagan Mythicist: “Walking Sacred Paths in Hellas″ by Maggie Jay Lee

August 3, 2014

Hiking on Mt. Parnassus to the Korykeon Cave from Delphi

I recently fulfilled a dream of mine to visit some of the sacred sites of ancient Greece, the land of the Hellenes.  Hellas has been for me a sustaining source of inspiration.  I am a naturalistic, pantheistic Pagan.  I do not believe goddesses and gods exist in any literal sense, as a species of individual, autonomous, immortal super-beings.  I don’t think the deities need to exist in that way to have great meaning and significance.  To me the goddesses and gods are the embodiment of the sacredness that is Nature, both the Nature inside and outside of us.  My own engagement with the ancient Hellenic tradition has led me to this view.   In many ways, the religion of ancient Hellas is a sophisticated Nature religion, not nature in the abstract, but of the particular Nature experienced by the ancient Hellenes.   I wanted to visit Greece to be in that Nature, to experience a little bit of the places that the ancients found sacred.

My husband, Matthew, and I spent three weeks in Greece in May.  For Matthew this was a special painting trip to launch his new career as a full time landscape painter, and for me it was a sacred pilgrimage, a journey to my Mecca.  As I communed with the old stones, Matthew captured a little bit of its magic on canvas.  May is a wonderful time of year to visit Greece when Gaia shows her most gentle face and wears all her lovely flowers.  We visited archeological sites in Attica, eastern Peloponnese, central Greece and Crete.  We went to the places on most people’s itinerary like the Athenian Acropolis, Epidaurus, Delphi, Knossos, but we also went to some of the less visited sites, like the temple of Artemis at Vravrona, Eleusis, Argive Heraion and the Korykeon Cave above Delphi.  Of course the ruins that draw the most attention are the most spectacular, but it was the places off the beaten path and the often overlooked places on the major sites that were the most meaningful to me.

The temple of Artemis at Vravrona

At the archeological sites, the first thing I would do is run around with my Oxford archaeological guide book and try to figure out just what is what and where.  I read all the signage and tried to photographically document the salient details.  Most books as well as the on-site information focus your attention downward onto the details of the site, but I also brought with me Vincent Scully’s book, The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture, which draws your attention outward to the landscape.  Scully believed that the ancient Greeks selected temple sites based on specific landscape features that emanated the presence of the deity:

All Greek sacred architecture explores and praises the character of a god or a group of gods in a specific place. That place is itself holy and, before the temple was built upon it, embodied the whole of the deity as a recognized natural force. With the coming of the temple, housing its image within it, and itself developed as a sculptural embodiment of the god’s presence and character, the meaning becomes double, both of the deity as in nature and the god as imagined by men.  Therefore, the formal elements of any Greek sanctuary are, first, the specifically sacred landscape in which it is set and, second, the buildings that are placed within it.  (Scully, Kindle locations 739-743).

According to Scully many sites are positioned in relationship to either mountain cones and/or clefts flanked by twin peaks.  These are equated with a single or double breast or horns, symbols of the ancient Goddess and sacred bull, which go back to Minoan and Mycenaean cultures.  So orientating myself on the site also involved finding the landscape features of which Scully speaks.

Once I finished my intellectual exploration of the site, I liked to go back and walk through the site the way an ancient pilgrim might have, imagining what they might have seen and just being present with the site.  Where possible I would start on the ancient sacred path to the proplyaea (monumental gateway), stopping at the site of the fountain or spring used for purification, walking the path where once stood the gifts, statues, and small treasury buildings to the deity, paying my respects at the various altars along the way to the main temple.  All of these elements were present at the ancient pilgrimage sites Eleusis, Epidaurus and Delphi, which I found particularly moving.

 

The temple of Apollo in front of the “terrible cliffs”

There are so many wonderful details to pick up among the old stones, but by far the most powerful element for me was the surrounding landscape especially at the mountainous sites like Delphi and Phaistos.  At Delphi, east of the temple of Apollo, is a stark cleft flanked by twin horns, which Scully calls the “terrible cliff”, and another cleft with twin peaks, this one more rounded and breast like, lies south of the two temple remains to Athena Pronaia.  While the altar to Athena Pronaia faced east as is customary for ouranic altars, the temples and all accompanying buildings faced southward toward the “shining cliffs of Phaedriades.”  Pronaia here means before, that is before Apollo, likely both geographically, as most pilgrims first came here before reaching the shrine of Apollo, and temporally, as the old earth goddess worshiped here by the Mycenaean, the Potnia of this place.  I don’t know how much credence Scully’s theories about landscape are given by most classical scholars today, but I found this connection between landscape and temple to be so powerful that I think there must be some truth in it.  The specific landforms associated with the sacred sites are recognizable often from a great distance, a visible connection to the Holy place.  For me this was even more true for the horns of Mount Ida which rise above the Palace of Phaistos in Crete.

The twin mounds that the temple of Athena Pronaia at Delphi faces

One of my favorite sites was the Argive Heraion, located about a 15 minute drive south of Mycenae.  This sacred site dedicated to Hera sits on a high terrace just below a great cleft in the mountain and provides spectacular views of the surrounding olive groves and distant mountains.  There are no impressive buildings left on the site, just the foundation stones remain, but it is a very peaceful and beautiful place of great importance to the ancients.  Scully believes the Heraion is aligned in reference to the cone of Argos found to the southwest of the site, but another hill not mentioned by Scully impressed me.  The site contains the foundations of two temples to Hera constructed in different periods, both of which, as well as the ancient altar, face eastward toward another conical hill which to me looks very breast like.  We might suspect that the priest making the sacrifice would face the cult statue in the temple, but no, according to Jon Mikalson, the priest stood to the west of the altar of ouranic deities and faced outward to the rising sun.  I find this of tremendous significance.  Not much is left of most of the sacred sites, often just a footprint on the ground, but the landscape is still here and to look out from the place is to see what the ancient saw, which I believe was just as sacred as the ground on which the altar stood.

The foundation of the classical period temple at the Argive Heraion

The view from the temple to Hera facing eastward

It was a wonderful trip.  The archeological sites and the museums are incredible.  The land and the waters are so beautiful.  It was also wonderful experiencing modern Greece.  We mostly got around with buses, only renting a car a couple of times, and we made a lot of our accommodations through Airbnb  staying with local folks.  I also loved seeing the modern religious landscape of Greece, the little roadside shrines that seemed to be everywhere and the many small chapels and churches so full of golden images and the glow of candles.  To me the sacred architecture of the Greek Orthodox tradition creates a very inward focused heart space, like a mother’s sheltering embrace, so different from the ancient religious expression which is focused outward.

At the conclusion of my journey through one of the ancient sacred sites, I liked to either stand near the altar or find a quiet shady spot nearby and read the Orphic Hymns to the deity of the place.  While I don’t share the Orphic theology that desires life after death over life here and now, I do really like the Orphic Hymns, and I really like the translation by Athanassakis and Wolkow.   The hymns present a soft polytheistic perspective, full of syncretism, and here the goddesses and gods are the forces of Nature.  I’d like to close with one of my favorites, the Hymn to Earth:

Divine Earth, mother of men
and of the blessed gods,
you nourish all, you give all,
you bring all to fruition, you destroy all.
When the season is fair, you teem
with fruit and growing blossoms,
O multi-formed maiden,
seat of the immortal cosmos,
in the pains of labor
you bring forth all fruit.
Eternal, revered
deep-bosomed and blessed,
your joy is the sweet breath of grass,
O goddess bedecked with flowers,
yours is the joy of the rain, the intricate realm of the stars
revolves in endless and awesome flow.
O blessed goddess,
may you multiply the delicious fruits,
and may you and the beautiful Seasons grant me kindly favor.

(Orphic Hymn to Earth translated by Athanassakis and Wolkow)

 

The Author

M. J. Lee
In addition to writing the Musings of a Pagan Mythicist column here at HumanisticPaganism, Maggie Jay Lee is interested in growing a new religious culture grounded in the everyday shared world and the public revelations of science, that celebrates our relationship with Cosmos, Earth and each other, and strives to bring us into right relationship with the Nature inside and outside of us. She draws inspiration from modern cosmology, evolutionary psychology, and the myths and wisdom traditions of ancient Hellas. M. Jay is a member of the Universal Pantheists Society and the Spiritual Naturalist Society, and she has studied with Glenys Livingston author of PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. She celebrates the creative unfolding of Gaia in west Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, two dogs and cat.
See all of Musings of a Pagan Mythicist posts.
See Maggie Jay Lee’s other posts.

What to look forward to in August at HP

August 2, 2014

“Midsummer” by Albert Joseph Moore

This month and next month, we will be exploring the theme of “Emotion”. Naturalistic Paganism may sometimes seem to be a matter of the mind rather than an affair of the heart. What positive role do the emotions play in our Naturalistic Paganism? Remember, your writing is what makes HP great! Send your submissions to humanisticpaganism [at] gmail [dot] com.

This Month at HP

Aug 3 Musings of a Pagan Mythicist by Maggie Jay Lee

Aug 6 A Pedagogy of Gaia by Bart Everson

Aug 8 The Wheel of Evolution: Lammas by Eric Steinhart

Aug 10 “Atheopaganism: An Earth-Centered Religion without Supernatural Credulity” by Mark Green

Aug 13 DE NATURA DEORUM: “What is this whole “deity” thing, anyway?” by Blue

Aug 15 “‘As the gods pour, so do mortals’: An alternative conception of divine reciprocity” by John Halstead (Part 2)

Aug 17 Mid-Month Meditation: A poem by Yona

Aug 24 “The Centrality of Emotion in Naturalistic Paths” by B. T. Newberg

Aug 27 “Unitarian Universalism and Paganism” by CrafterYearly

Aug 30 “Compassion as Foundation” by DT Strain

Humanistic Paganism Calendar for August

Aug 1 Neo-Pagan summer cross-quarter day (Lughnasadh)

Aug 6 Hiroshima Day

*Aug 7 Summer thermistice/cross-quarter

Aug 9 International Indigenous Peoples Day

Aug 19 World Humanitarian Day

Aug 24 Anniversary of Look magazine issue featuring a Neo-Pagan Beltane ritual

Aug 25 Death of Friedrich Nietzsche

A Lammas-Themed Music Mix by Bart Everson

August 1, 2014

We’re in for a real treat this Lammas-tide.  Our own Bart Everson has put together a great playlist of Lughnasadh/Lammas music.  Enjoy!

From Bart “Here’s a fresh seasonal mix for your enjoyment. You should listen to this sometime in the next week or so, preferably whilst fashioning corn dollies, baking bread or imbibing your favorite malted barley beverage. Happy Lammas!”

And for those of you in the southern hemisphere, here is a playlist for Imbolc/Candlemas!

The Mix-Master

Bart Everson

In addition to writing the A Pedagogy of Gaia column here at HumanisticPaganism, Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. An award-winning videographer, he is co-creator of ROX, the first TV show on the internet. As a media artist and an advocate for faculty development in higher education, he is interested in current and emerging trends in social media, blogging, podcasting, et cetera, as well as contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, sometime contributor to Rising Tide, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle.

See Bart Everson’s other posts.

Help create a Naturalistic Pagan Creed

July 30, 2014

Follow this link to take the survey.

Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology: “Raven and the Meaning of Meaninglessness” by Glen Gordon

July 27, 2014

On the autumnal equinox of 2008, I took a random drive through the Clearwater Mountains of northern Idaho. Along the way, the firs gave way to lodge pole pine, and I could see patches of ground where trees have been cut and places where young saplings, planted to replenish wood supplies, struggled against the bright autumn sun. I rolled down the window.  The crisp alpine breeze was the sound of the world calling my name. The sunlight bounced from the road, and I looked around to take in the world. As I drove along the ridge of the Clearwater Mountains, the world became surprisingly level, and I slowed down to observe. I pulled into a dirt turnabout at the head of a “T” intersection near an old dilapidated sign and got out of the car to check my roadmap.  As I contemplated my choices, a raven perched on the sign a few yards away.

Raven cocked his head, looked at me with his black pebbled eyes, and ruffled his feathers. He looked down the road toward Pierce, and then up the road to Headquarters.  He gave a string of calls as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other and then unfolded his wings, lifting himself to the air to fly toward Headquarters.  I folded my map and entered my car.  I followed Raven.  I drove through a small community of a few houses and a ranger station and came to a sportsman’s access sign for Deer Creek Reservoir.  I slowed down and found Raven perched on top.  He gave a shrill call and flew down the dirt road.

I turned onto the gravel pathway and watched the swirls of dust kick up behind my car.  I turned a blind bend, and a young fawn pranced out of the trees and followed alongside me.  The sun highlighted its white rump, and I watched its elegant dance in awe, its spindly legs bending and lifting its body into the air.  It swerved back into the woods and I found myself entering the sportsman’s access.  Two or three picnic tables rested on the side of a reservoir.  A parked car was in front of one, and around the bend two young men unloaded a fishing boat from their truck.

The waters of the reservoir reflected shards of light from the sun. I felt free of the upcoming algebra test, the writing assignments, and the constant to-do list, caught in the moment like a leaf slowly falling from a tree.  Berated and beaten by normality, I imagined myself St. Elmo fleeing to Mt. Lebanon, and this place a morsel of food, a gift of compassion from Raven to nourish me back to health.

I walked along a trail following the water’s edge, passing a lone fisherman who waved hello.  A short distance and I found myself walking an old logging road, foliaged over from neglect.  I crawled and ducked under fallen trees and found myself in a clearing where trees had been scorched by fire.  Those not burnt and dead had been cut down leaving tree carcasses strewn about haphazardly like they had perished in a battle.  I entertained the thought that Raven brought me here to see the destruction amidst the beauty.  Like the hydroelectric damns clogging river ways and damaging the salmon population, the swaths of clear cut trees was the result of the mechanism of society providing power and lumber.  I looked again, and between the dead trees and stumps, I could see the life of saplings growing and thriving.  I knew with time they would be tall and strong.

I melted into the landscape, moved to sing.  On these occasions, the song is not something recalled from childhood or in any language.  It is sound for the sake of making sound.  When I am suspended in a moment of mindfulness, I feel the need to make sound.  I rarely remember the sounds and the song is never the same.  It soothed me and moved me to action. I retrieved the pouch of rolling tobacco from within my jacket and moved from tree stump to tree stump leaving small piles of tobacco as offerings of gratefulness.  I entered the old growth forest and I found a raven’s feather laying on a stump.  I placed the feather between the cracks of the wood, letting it rest upright. I  left one more tobacco pile as I finished the final notes of my nonsense song of mindfulness.

I walked deeper into the forest and away from the reservoir.  The frustrations of moving to a new place surfaced.  Like the river, paths in my life had been dammed.  My funding for college as an out-of-state student in Colorado had came to an end and forced me to drop out.  I drifted from squatting in an old house in Salt Lake City to living with a friend in San Antonio, but I could never find substantial work.  The difficulty of being a stranger was like the reborn social awkwardness I felt as a child.  I found it hard to accept that I was back in Idaho.  I had run away many times, always being pulled back.  When I live in Idaho, I become inert like reservoir water gathering in the basin between two mountains; I forget the serenity around me.  I found solace in the fact that I was living in a part of the state I had never seen before.  I arched my back to face the sky and I let the frustration escape my mouth in a roar.  Then I stood in silence, listening to my anguish echo back at me.

I slumped on a fallen tree and listened to the birds chatter around me in their hidden perches among the evergreens.  I heard a distant call of Raven and looked up to see him circling overhead.  I raised my hands to my mouth to funnel my voice, and I talked back, “Kaw Ka-Kaw Kaw.”  Raven responded, “Kaw, Ka-Kaw, Kaw.”  He continued to circle above me.  Beneath the sun, I could see his silhouette against the blaze of light.

I sat upon the fallen tree and responded again to Raven’s call, loosing myself in conversation.  In that moment, time had no meaning to me.  I listened intently to each response.  I cannot say what was shared between us.  It was not like the conversations I have with humans, constructed with thoughts molded into words.  This was different, the simple sound released all the frustrations, tension, loneliness, isolation, uncertainties, and anxieties I felt.  When Raven responded, these feelings where validated.  The sky darkened with rain clouds, and Raven became bored with me.  The birds in the trees had become silent, and I knew that was my cue to leave.

I often speculate that Raven was imparting important knowledge to me during our conversation on that autumnal equinox.  If so, I have only grasped a fraction of its meaning.  However, as Raven is prone to do, he could have been playing with me and singing nonsense.  Maybe that nonsense has as much meaning as my own nonsense songs — a meaning outside of conventional thought and understanding and encoded in an intuitive language of the living world.  After all, the world sprang from the waters of Chaos, and Raven was there.

The Author

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 5 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.

See other Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology posts.

See Glen Gordon’s other posts.

Call for Book Review: Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel

July 25, 2014

If you have read or would like to read Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, and write a review for Humanistic Paganism, contact the editor here.

From the Amazon book description:

The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.

Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such.
Nagel’s skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic.

In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility.

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