Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Illiterate, Innumerate, Barbarian

Have you noticed that there are people who just want to bury themselves in books and learn even the most esoteric piece of information in order to better themselves? Have you also noticed that some people would rather just get out there and muck about, willy nilly? Rarely do these twain meet, you gotta agree.

I see, running through the Pagan community, a certain concern on some parts that people who call themselves Pagan aren't really very well-versed in the scholarly underpinnings of their praise and worship teams. The notion, which I hesitantly call prevailing, is that if you don't study up on the proper practices, you shouldn't tout yourself as a particular type of Pagan.

A year or two ago I paid my dues and joined ADF. I embarked on their rigorous course of study, founded by Isaac Bonewits. This course of study included college-level reading and a reflection journal in which I was supposed to record my feelings and thoughts about meditation and rituals.

I attended a few ADF rites and read one very interesting book. But then I saw the list of "don't read" books. And I had trouble setting down in writing (believe it or not) my thoughts and feelings after rituals and meditations. (It doesn't help that I rarely meditate in any conventional manner.)

I can see where some people would just revel in this kind of scholarly thing, but not me. I revel in the smell of wet leaves, a riotous New Year's parade, toy monkeys, vultures on the wing. All of my magick is intuitive and unstructured. It doesn't come from any tradition. I made my wand at a hippie shop. My infamous mother-in-law made my robe. I told her I wanted to look like Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Yes, here I am, that dreadful fluffy bunny, tree-hugging, shortcut-taking, clueless bad example that every good Pagan tries to avoid.

Guilty as charged.

There are ancient Bards who are well worth studying. But my Bard is more recent, and he inveighed heavily against by-the-book folks. When posing for a lithograph for his own book, he took care to shove his hat askew and unbutton his shirt around the neck. He cocked his hip and seemed to taunt the very idea of scholarship.

His name was Walt Whitman.

Walt wasn't a Pagan. He often refers to the busy God in his poetry. But what stands out about his work is its exhortation to leave behind the staid and the studious, hit the bricks, hit the road, love your body, lose yourself in the grass, sing at your work, and take a pass on that astronomy lecture. If you feel it, you are it. Who makes much of a miracle?

Under the subversive tutelage of Walt Whitman, I've become skeptical of esoteric learned practices. Therefore I'm probably not worthy of the term Pagan. Perhaps, sounding a few YAWPs, I should just shrug and be satisfied to be a barbarian.

I, too, am not a bit tamed
I, too, am untranslatable

Study as you will, learn all you can, and may the Gods find favor with you. As for me, it's all in the feeling and the flesh. It's all in the smiles and the sunset. It's all good.


Lucretia said...

The first thing that struck me was that to the members of ancient Christian church, "pagans" WERE barbarians! Yet today, you'll often find in a group of mixed religions that the "pagans" are better educated than the other people in said group.

The second thing that struck me was your mentioning a "don't read" list for ADF druid students. In the course of my 10+ years of wandering the pagan path, one of the first things I was told was to read EVERYTHING, even the crap, because that way you'll be able to tell the crap from the good stuff. I'm a bit surprised that ADF would have it's own 'banned book' list. Now, of course, I'm dying to know what's on it... ;-)

Anne Johnson said...

Lucretia, it wasn't exactly a "banned book" list, it was just a list of books that probably were really misinformed ... but you're right, it's a good idea to read the misinformation and recognize it as such, rather than just wondering what the author said that was controversial.

Speaking of misinformed, almost everything in written form that we know about the Celts was written down by the Romans. And the original historical work by a Roman author is nonexistant. It's like some unknown Yankee veteran of bloody Civil War campaigns wrote a history of the Confederacy. And then that person died, his book went out of print, but someone else (equally biased) picked up a copy second hand and re-wrote the story. History by inference is difficult, and as for me, there are parades to attend and dinners to cook.

Lori F said...

I don't think you're alone in your love of nature and joy of life. But I may have to read some Walt Whitman. Wonder if I have any of his stuff in my basement....

Lucretia said...

Anne, very true about the Celts! They believed that words were sacred and had magical power, and to write them down was not a good thing, probably because then they could be changed later. Maybe they had something there...

Mohammed was illiterate, so he didn't actually "write" the Quran; it was written by his followers. But he couldn't actually have read it himself or been able to tell if what he said had been altered or added to. And most of the books of the Bible were proven to have been written hundreds of years (or more) after the events occurred by people who weren't even alive at the time. Makes you wonder...

Anonymous said...

Rodger C:

There are books in Appalachian studies like that, namely anything by Harry Caudill, Jack Weller, or David Hackett Fischer. I wouldn't tell people "DO NOT READ," but I'd say "FULL OF BULLSHIT." At any rate, most people with a casual interest in the region have read them already.

Anonymous said...

I believe that most members of most religions have not made a study of their religion. The converts may know more.
Certainly most modern followers of the Busy God don't know a lot about it. and know a lot of misinformation.

Anne Johnson said...

Yes, Professor C, I do get that. There are many parallels between Appalachian Studies and modern Paganism. There are too many people in both areas that claim to be experts while really spewing rot. And in both cases its hard to test the hypotheses without personal schema.