Sunday, March 20, 2011

World Religion: Experiencing Paganism

Our World Religions class has concluded our unit on Christianity, and has moved on to Earth-based Religions.  So today we had a wonderful experience:  we got to experience the celebration of Ostara with leaders of a modern-day Pagan group.

Our guest teachers today were Miss Carissa and Mister James.  Both of them had been practicing Paganism over over 20 years, and both of them were very clear in explaining a spiritual tradition that was new to most of us, as well as wonderful about working with young people.

The class began with the building (and explaining) of a Pagan altar.  In the particular Pagan tradition of these teachers (Reclaiming tradition), the alter begins with the North--the place of Winter and Earth.  It then moves to the East (or Spring and Air), then South (Summer and Fire), and then West (Fall and Water).  In the center is Spirit.

Miss Carissa and Mister James then went through the "Wheel of the Year," or the calendar of the major Pagan celebrations.  They explained the significance of each one, and related them to other holidays celebrated around the same time by other religions.  They presented a really interesting perspective that the different holidays were times for us to use for our own planning and manifestation purposes.  Thus, for example, the Spring Equinox, or Ostara, is a time for setting intentions for the new year; Mabon, or the Fall Equinox, is a time of taking inventory and assessing what you have achieved; Imbolic, which takes place at the beginning of February, is a time of wonder and transformation, and for getting ready to set the intentions that will be given in a few weeks at Ostara once again.  I love the idea of religious holidays that are not marking what has happened in the past with a significant figure, but for our personal use for driving our own lives.

The last section of the class was spent in experiencing an actual Ostara ritual.  We began drawing our own intentions for the coming period on a piece of material that was to become our seed packet.  For example, the first picture is the one my son drew; the second one is mine.

We wrapped dill seeds in our packages, and placed them on the altar.

Then we went through an Ostara ritual, which included cleansing, grounding, setting a sacred circle, honoring the directions, calling in the ancestors, calling in allies,  a guided meditation to help us get clear on our intentions and our power...and then breaking everything down by going through the whole process in reverse.

And I may have messed up the process somewhat, because the entire experience was just so energizing that is is hard to remember and explain using our traditional brain.  I think we all experienced a change in consciousness and a change in the energy as we experienced and participated in this ritual.  But our guest teachers explained that what we had experienced was what Paganism was all about.  Or, that is, they said that "magic" (I think many Pagans spell it as "magick," but they were speaking, not writing, so I don't know if that is how I should be writing it) is really just about a change in consciousness.  That, I believe, is the goal of many, if not all, religions.

So we experienced a great energy in Paganism, while discovering another universal thread that ties almost all spiritual practices together.

I had read quite a bit about modern Paganism (also called Neo-Paganism, or sometime Wicca or Witchcraft), but it became a lot clearer hearing about it from actual Pagan teachers.  Plus, I think we all had a fabulous experience in the ritual.  So if you are studying World Religions, I really recommend finding a local Pagan group and seeing if you, too, can experience some Pagan practices.

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