Last night I experienced my very first pagan ritual. It was for the holiday Imbolc (and, before all you Christians jump all over me, this is also known as the Feast Day of St. Brigid, an Irish festival marking the beginning of spring). Imbolc is the halfway point between the winter solstice and summer equinox. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate the coming of spring?
Reflecting back on the ritual of last night, I started to draw a great deal of parallels between this ceremony (for lack of a better word) and a lot of Christian ceremonies, particularly the Roman Catholic masses that I grew up with. The difference is that you are not specifically exhaulting any God on High, you are not discussing the fundamentals of Christianity. There are no names for the pagan god and goddess. Parts of the ritual involved meditating on those who need healing and/or help, everyone voicing what they’re thankful for in their lives, one by one, and then everyone sharing requests for the coming months — such as balance, motivation, etc. — much the same way Christians pray to God for help or healing or strength. At the end of the ritual, everyone shares a piece of food and sips from a glass of wine, and then gives the rest to the god and goddess (sound like Catholic communion, anyone?).
Paganism and wiccan traditions and rituals have been around long before Christianity, deriving from old Irish and Scottish religions. It’s pretty plain to see that Catholicism derived a great deal of its own oldest rituals (especially prayer and communion) from the pagans. There was also herb burning — lavender and sage and others (reminiscent of a Roman Catholic priest burning incense and shaking it up and down the aisles). And candles. Lots of lovely candles.
The word “pagan” has such a negative connotation to a lot of people–especially Christians. People think “pagan” and they think “evil,” “devil,” etc. People hear “wiccan” and they think of devil-worship and old-time witch hunts. People even fear these religions and rituals, a fear often sparked and fed by fundamentalist religions and their leaders. But these pagan and wiccan religions (for lack of a better word, and no offense meant) are far from devil-worshiping.
The ritual I participated in was about energy and giving thanks, and personal cleansing. I think it’s a lot more involved than that, and being that I’m not very educated on the subject, I can’t speak to the full meaning of the Imbolc ritual. Aside from what the ritual means, it was a great experience overall for me. I took the time out of my evening to meditate, give thanks, and think about my own state of being, mentally and physically, as well as reflect on how I relate to the earth and my energy and the energy around me. It’s good stuff, really.
I think a lot of Christians would try to tell me that that’s what they get out of going to church, but my experiences with church has always been anything but. Christian churches incite nothing but guilt and stress and there is never a moment where my mind has ever been quieted or I have felt calm in a church service–no matter the religion. I don’t want someone shouting at me. I don’t want to sit-stand-kneel all the time. I don’t need to sing or have gospel, faux rock, or organ music blasting in my face. Give me the quietness. Give me a soothing voice. Give me time to reflect on what’s around me and what I believe.
I’m not saying I’m a pagan. I’m a nothing. I’m not Buddhist or Hindu or Christian or Catholic or Jewish or Mormon or Muslim. Some people call me an atheist. Some other people call me agnostic. I don’t have a label for myself. I’m just spiritual. And my spirituality is earth- and energy-connected.
Whatever anyone calls themselves or believes, it’s important to accept that others have different beliefs than you. I would never try to convince someone that what I believe and my way of being spiritual is the way to do it. (Hell no.) I only want to tell people who are so firm in their beliefs that they should feel proud of their beliefs, and dedicated, but that they should be open to listen to others’ beliefs simply for education and, I’ve found, personal growth. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Side note: Today was also Groundhog Day … see all the connections here?