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18 July 2006 @ 02:48 pm
Paganism and Locality (a work in progress)  
 January 20, 2004:  My Lady took two lives the other day. An overturned canoe was found in Her frigid waters, an abandoned firearm found upon Her shore. Apparently, two men had been duck hunting and one fell into the water. The other attempted to help him, but both shared in the same fate. The murky depths and underwater vegetation of Her lake have taken others before them.

And I must acknowledge all of Her faces.

The same waters have shown me the face of the moon, disturbed only by the faint concentric rings produced by a tossed pebble or a fish contacting the surface. They have soothed and consoled me in some of my worst hours, and they have held my small kayak afloat as I explored the terrain from a different perspective.

Her winter snows split and bend the young Eastern Red Cedars, and She calls forth the purple crocus from the chill soil. The osprey, whose presence seems to be less frequent as the years pass, graces Her sky with his arched, dappled wings. Her features are delineated in the foliage - Tulip Poplar, Sassafras, Pin Oak, White Ash, Dogwood, Sugar Maple - they are the delicate lines that etch Her skin. Her bones are the water-worn boulders left behind by glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age.

    She breathes in the air, flows in the water, resounds in the earth, quickens with the warmth of the sun.

 I am searching for Her name.
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 When I was a young girl, still ignorant of the concept of "cultural appropriation," I wished to practice something akin to Native American spirituality. I greatly respected it in my own naive way, and I resonated with many of the beliefs and attitudes found in traditional Native cultures. Immersing myself in books about their philosophies and ceremonies, I came to recognize many of my own thoughts about God and Nature within the framework of their worldviews. I and a few acquaintances even went so far as to construct a tiny teepee out of branches, wire, and a blanket at the edge of the forest and to paint designs on our faces with makeup. We briefly even had a small fire. I also created a highly detailed, miniature Plains Indian village from polymer clay on a bookshelf in my room. All of this came to pass before I, as a little white girl with no Native heritage of which to speak, understood that attempting to copy distinctly Native American practices wholesale was the same as the theft of their land. It is not something of which I am proud.

    My desire to emulate Native Americans also occurred a number of years before I learned of modern Paganism and had something of an epiphany: I should not deny my own beliefs and perceptions simply because they do not fit neatly into a religion with which I am familiar.
It is such a simple thought, yet it eluded me. I had been drawn to the Gods and mythology of my own (European) heritage, I sought a practice that drew upon my own response to Nature and one that allowed me to explore my own symbol systems - but it never dawned on me that I could do this on my own, inspired by yet independent of any specific established religion.

In truth, I believe that everyone who sincerely seeks to deepen their spiritual side will come to personalize their faith to a degree. In this way, it could practically be said that every individual practices their own unique religion (or perhaps their own unique group of religions since a person's beliefs can change over time). For instance, one individual's Christianity can be drastically different from another's, and no two will ever match up exactly despite the fact that they may go to the same place of worship or read the same translation of the Scriptures. I, of course, was developing my own relationship with the Divine, but for some reason I tended not to regard my experiences as valid in and of themselves unless they happened to coincide with some other religion, and so I did not acknowledge them to their fullest.
        
Little did I know that there was another layer to this epiphany.

I have been drawn to mythology, and to the Gods and Goddesses of ancient paganisms for as far back as I can remember. I began intensive study of the culture, religion, and language of ancient Egypt as a fifth grader (it was certainly an intensive undertaking for an eleven year old with no driver's license, no Internet access, and limited resources) and I was the only sixth-grader in my class who could correctly pronounce 'Aphrodite.' But although I have an interest in ancient Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Celtic, Norse, and other mythologies; and even though specific members of those pantheons have had a definite influence on me, I still felt as if something significant was missing, a lack of immediacy perhaps?

    Strangely though, I had always been aware of Her presence, even at a much younger age: She is the Lady of the Old Roads, those which used to crawl across the area when it was but forest and farmland and are now barely distinguishable as faint, unnaturally straight scars that mark the forest floor. She has all but reclaimed them now. She is also the Lady of the Animals. In this guise, She has been the one to send me signs in my distress. Once I found myself at a stand-still, on the verge of an unnerving self-realization that caused me to seek the woods for solace. I rounded the corner, began my small escape - a large white-tail buck emerged from the forest upon the same road. We stared at each other for what felt like hours. I have never seen such a large deer with so many tines in real life, and certainly not with such little distance between us. (I hope he's still out there somewhere. I hope his head has not become a trophy on some dingy wood-paneled trailer wall.) She has sent me the sight of Sirius through the trees, accompanied by the dissonant song of Great Blue Herons gliding in the night, necks tucked in their tight S-curves, resembling some prehistoric reptile in flight. On Imbolc 2004, a very bad day for me personally which somehow paradoxically contained that seed of rebirth, She sent another deer across my path, only this time it was on my drive home at night. The sight of a pale flank on the opposite side of the road a split second before allowed me to slow down just enough so that the next deer crossing the road that night kept her life (as I kept mine, and my vehicle was kept from damage). It was the ultimate symbol of the close-calls that occurred during that day, a mere few yards before I entered my own driveway.

I had been trying in vain to identify Her, to pin-point Her as a pre-defined Goddess of some established mythos. Certainly she shares traits and attributes of other Goddesses - Artemis, Diana, Freyja, Nebt-het, the Wiccan Triple Goddess, Fauna, etc. yet She is not Them.
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One of the major appeals of religious Witchcraft is its conscious desire to connect with Nature. It encourages us to gain knowledge of the land we live on, to experience it as the body of the Gods. We acknowledge the sanctity of our environments, in theory all of our landscapes are sacred. Yet we are drawn to foreign Gods from Their own sacred landscapes. So few of us as North American (or Australian) Pagans actually reside in the area that particularly speaks of the original land and culture of the Deities we worship, who are often of European, Near Eastern, or even of Asian origin.

    All Deities are tied to the environments where Their worship originated, and many Pagans comprehend from both personal experience and study that Celtic Deities have a different overall "flavor" from either Greek or Norse Deities, for instance. This overall difference in pantheons exists because each pantheon arose from different cultures which, in turn, are different because those cultures developed in different environments and climates. The ancient Egyptian God Hapi who ruled the annual flooding of the river Nile, an event of the utmost importance since it allowed the land along the river to be arable, would not have developed in an area where water and fertile land was more readily available and were not dependent upon an annual inundation for their existence. White Buffalo Calf Woman (Petsan-Wi), who brought the sacred pipe and knowledge of the hunt to the Lakota tribe of American Indians, would have little relevance to a people whose survival and well-being was not dependent upon a large herd animal.

    However, the purpose of this essay is not to call into question the practice of worshiping Deities out of their environmental and cultural contexts, but rather to address the idea of honoring the Deity (Deities?) that respond to/emanate from/manifest as the environment where a Pagan actually lives and experiences everyday. Many times, the particular Deity/Deities or genius locii, the spirits of a place, may not have specific names, titles, and mythology associated with Them, or if They do possess such things, the information may have been lost or left unrecorded.

As you can tell by the dates included in this writing, it is already a few years old. It is obviously in need of some (okay, a lot) additional work.