When scanning through my social media feeds, one of the questions with which many fellow pagans — especially those newer to this world– struggle is how to define what they are doing — or just embarked upon.
Interestingly enough, from the responses — some of which rather challenging — one can see that there is quite a bit of confusion between paganism and the Path. While the former is more of a general life style outside the revealed religions (those where the essence of the religion was revealed to someone — usually a prophet, sometimes disciples, or authors of scripture — by a deity), the latter, the Path, is the spiritual aspect of that life style. That could be Druidry (like in my case), Wicca, Asatru, Heathen, you name it. Witchcraft is somewhat a hybrid, because it is first and foremost a craft, a tool kit, that can be used in any Path, but which can also, but doesn’t need to, become its own path for a particular person. Yet, witchcraft can also be practiced by followers of the revealed religions (as it was actually by many mediaeval European witches who were for all intents and purposes Christian — just not in the way other, more powerful Christians would have expected (but that’s worth another blog post)).
All these Paths do have certain elements in common, even though these elements are processed in sometimes vastly different ways. In pagan times, there were differences of practice between households within the clans and villages as well as differences between clans, tribes, and regions. If you were to time travel to a northwestern Europe before the dawn of Christianity, you would probably see how a family of inner-Alpine Celts would act out their worship, their spirituality, differently from Western Gauls, and they differently from the Britons, the Irish, the Picts and so on. The practice would be different, and so would be the Gods. If you were to cross over the Rhine and wander northwards, you’d see a slow but steady change to not only an entirely different language, but very much a different pantheon, lore, and worship.
However, Britons, Gauls, Germans, Slavs and whatnot still went about their lives in similar ways: they farmed, kept live stock, and interacted with one another — just guided and inspired by their particular faiths and pantheons.
So, let me take one aspect of life — food — today and contemplate how you can, through the simple act of production and consumption of life sustaining matter in all its variety, be essentially pagan, all the while completely independent from your and someone else’s path.
For me, taking an active part in processing food is one way to directly connect with my pagan ancestors. I know I have pagan ancestors, because every single person on this planet has them (we all come from people who lived before any of the revealed religions were formed). What I mean with actively partaking in the process of making food is to learn how to make the things I eat from scratch. As much as possible. So, while I am not able to keep and slaughter pigs in the suburban setting I live in, I can go to a farmer not far from me and get, say, pork belly from the recently slaughtered pig. I know, it sounds harsh for many nowadays, but it is in fact a part of my paganism to know where my food is coming from, that the meat that my family and I eat comes from animals that once went about their lives more or less happily. Only by not being in denial about this fact, and certainly by not thinking that some god gave me dominion over such animal, am I able to fully appreciate the gift — pork belly as it were today — that I am holding in my hand and that allows me to sustain myself and my family.
The act of processing this pork belly into bacon, or Speck as we call it in my home country, has actually started much earlier, last fall even, when I went into the forest to harvest wild juniper berries. I talked with the juniper tree there, sat a while leaning against its gnarled trunk — which wasn’t the most comfortable back rest — connecting with this creature and asking for some of her (only “female” junipers produce berries) seeds. I put the berries into self-made incense mixtures, but had already in mind to eventually use some of them in the rub for my Austrian style bacon.
Today, when I cut the pork belly into sizable pieces; ground coriander, caraway, the juniper berries, gloves, and pepper corns in my mortar; mixed that with curing salt, brown sugar, onion and garlic powder; and rubbed that mixture all over the meat and fat, I consciously connected with my ancestors, the plants, and the pig to honor the gifts each of them provided, gifts that enabled me make food today.
It is these little things, not the certificate of having been duly initiated into the Druid grade of the Most Ancient Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druid,s that form my paganism. It’s being there in the moment, feeling the coarseness of the rub against the smoothness of the meat, it’s the honoring of the traditions (e.g. putting juniper berries into the rub) and the ancestors, and it’s the listening to the whispers of the future — when all this has become bacon — that connects my paganism with my path of Druidry.