This is long, folks, and likely needs to be longer. Hopefully it is the start of a larger conversation:
I’ve been circling around to this topic for the last couple of months, and am writing today on the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed for living his religious convictions.
A fair amount of my social justice and activist work has been done around radical Catholics. Strange, isn’t it, for a public Pagan to have at times so thoroughly thrown in her lot with Christians? Not really. These few walk something akin to my theology daily – that of sacred connection – even though we differ on many points. There are Pagan activists – Reclaiming Tradition, for example, is famous for civil disobedience – but we don’t always have a lot of examples to look to for inspiration from among our own ranks. I’ve written in the past about Pagans and magick workers acting in service to the larger community, and truly honor their contributions. I also wonder whether they are acting as Pagans, from a theological base, or just happen to be Pagans, serving for other reasons. I don’t yet know the answer to that question.
A few weeks ago, I went to a talk by Frida Berrigan – daughter of anarchist Phil Berrigan of Catonsville Nine fame – about the nuclear arms race and nuclear power. As I sat in the chapel listening to nuclear facts, I was struck by the fact that US commitment to nuclear development is far worse than even I, who try to keep up, thought, with an increase of the National Nuclear Security budget from 8 billion to 180 billion. I also noticed that I was probably one of two Pagans in attendance, and among the younger people there. Most of the people there were Catholic, with a smattering of Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists. Most had been activists for a very long time, some of them longer than I have been alive.
I was partially there as a chance to see my compatriot Fr. Steve Kelly before sentencing which will likely send him back to prison for several years. So I was struck by this, too: all of the activists I have known who’ve done years in prison – not just a few days in jail – for peace and social justice work are Catholics. Not that I haven’t met others, such as Katya Komisaruk, but radical Catholics seem to cheerfully go to prison for hard time when it is needed. They are willing to play a high stakes game.
Why? I think a large part of it has to do with theology. Not only are they humanists on some basic level – believing in human dignity and rights – but this humanism is bolstered by a theology that tells them that their God came to help the poor, to make peace, and to act against the forces of corrupt power and oppression. So, for my friends like Fr. Steve Kelly, Fr. Louis Vitale, and the late Sr. Patricia Mahoney, doing actions that might lead to prison time is just a matter of course. When not in prison they work in soup kitchens, or with drug addicts, for water rights, or peace, or any number of causes. Their lives are not separate from religion and religion is not separate from action. Of course, not all Catholics or other Christians walk their talk in this way, just as not all Pagans walk our talk by organize recycling in our towns, or treating our bodies with honor, or even remembering to do ritual if it is not a major holiday. But then again, some of us do. I’m not advocating Pagans all of a sudden take on a theology of martyrdom – that is not our way – but what is our way?
At the soup kitchen, I work side by side with Catholics, Jews, Atheists, Buddhists, and Muslims. This feeds me. We are each there because we like it, and because it is right to offer food to those who need it, for whatever the reason. So, primarily, I am there for humanist reasons. But I am also there as a Pagan.
I write about this all the time, but bear with me once more, because I think it is important to talk about in this context of religion and eco-justice and human-justice:
Theologically, I hold two realities: that of a non-dualist and that of a polytheist. To me, these are not mutually exclusive, but rather, are mutually inclusive. We live in a web of connection. We are Gaia and Gaia is us. As Gaia, we are also part of the larger cosmos, of the body of what one of my teachers called God Herself. This body is made up of individual cells, each with its own function. The Gods are part of this. The rocks are part of this. The Ancestors are part of this. The trees and soil and stars are part of this. We are part of this. We co-create the unfolding process of reality with the Gods, with the stars, with the sand. Therefore, it behooves us to take care of one another.
If everything is holy – imbued with divine power – how do we relate to that holiness? We pay attention. We find connection. We give back. One definition of sacred is “set apart and dedicated to a deity.” How do Heathens act in ways that are dedicated to Thor or Ing? How do Thelemites act in concert with the energy of Nuit? How do Celtic Reconstructionists honor the ever abundant cauldron of the Dagda? I could go on, but the implications of these questions should be clear: we bring everything in our lives into alignment with our worship and our practice. We can give food to the hungry as an act of devotion to the Dagda. We can offer protection to the weak, in Thor’s honor. And we can remember: Nuit is everywhere, the circumference of all that lives.
Many Pagans connect – or say we do, or try – with the earth. Other magick workers connect – or say we do, or try – with the sun and stars and limitless divine. My personal call is to bring these two visions and ways of being together again. I want to repair my shattered thinking and fragmented action into as seamless a whole as possible. I want to be like Isis, repairing Osiris. I want to be like Freyja, standing boldly for what I love. I want to remember that the Glastonbury Thorn, having been brutally decimated, is once again sprouting green shoots this Spring.
Life is a generous thing, and generosity is a key ingredient to magick and the manifestation of desire. Without it, energy becomes constricted, scarce, and we retreat more and more into fear and isolation, our separate clans take precedence over the whole, and we devolve into clannishness and fear, rather than coming together from our divergent places, offering the gifts unique to our separate cultures, practices, and to each individual. Generosity brings us back into the flow of love and justice, back toward health, and the formation of alliances of mutual aid, in all the worlds seen and unseen.
In what ways do our lives not reflect our spiritual tenets? In what ways do our rituals not touch the day to day? How are we still compartmentalizing aspects of our lives? How do we separate our communities from larger human society, from Gaia, and from the great, primordial process of creation?
Can we commit to asking ourselves these questions and to bringing our lives and communities back toward wholeness?
As magick workers and Pagans, we come from spiritual and religious convictions that will give rise to actions that look different from those of my Catholic compatriots, but we can act nonetheless. In his recent campaign to raise money for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, Peter Dybing showed that we can also work together. I pray that we will continue to do so. We can live from (poly)theologies of justice and connection. Therein lies hope.