I’m an avid reader. Books, blogs, and HuffPost articles feed my unquenchable hunger for more information. The genres I read lend toward nonfiction: science, memoirs, and of course, Pagan books. Religion is something I have deep interest in and not just my religion. I love to read books by and about Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and any other religion. My favorite stories are religious memoirs, books written by people who came from some sort of orthodox life who “escaped” and are now making their way in the world. Some of my favorites include Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and The Namesake.
Whenever I read books on this subject an envy deep in my soul grows a little bigger. The envy is for the the connection many of the community members have: living in tight knit communities, sharing space and lives and sometimes bloodlines, of actually *knowing* your neighbors, of being able to trust those around you to have your best interest at heart.
Of course, the authors don’t paint the rosy picture my mind wants to see. Instead, they talk of oppressive patriarchal hierarchies so tightly knit together they can be almost impossible to rip back. They speak of deep loneliness, of feeling “other” all the time, not being able to trust their families and peers for fear of being shamed for wanting something other than maintaining whatever the cultural and religious norm there are.
Our religion does not fit into the above description. We Pagans tend to flee when we see the words “rules” “restrictions” “regulation” “responsibility” because many of us came from religions which had far too many of these “r” words. We bristle at the very thought of anyone having power to tell us what to do and what not to do. I’m one who bristles at the very thought of someone telling me anything. But I see there is a need for some rules. Paganism is not a free-for-all religion. We have responsibilities to ourselves, our kin, and Mother Earth.
Paganism, because it is simultaneously old and new, is not well organized. That’s what calls many of us to it: its lack of central leadership, lack of doctrine, lack of hierarchy. Leaders have bubbled out of the cauldron to fill the vacuum. There’s the old adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely” so, while I call for leaders to step up, those leaders should not have a hunger for power. My ideal leader is one who point us to the path instead of instructing how to walk the path. I also want leaders who participate in the creation of community. I’m not talking about community in which people get together and worship in a brick and mortar building then go home to where ever they may live. I’m talking about community in which people actually live together such as the Hasidic Jews of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York or the Amish of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
If Pagans were to come together to form a similar community a whole host of questions need to be answered:
Where would an Orthodox Pagan live? What would she wear? Whom would she marry? Where would she worship? What rites of passage would her children participate in? What would she eat?
There would be as many Pagan communities as there are Pagans: urban, suburban, and rural. I suspect whatever group of individuals self-selected to live together would determine what members of their sect would wear, whom they would marry, rites of passages, and the rest.
The last question I asked focuses on food. What would the Orthodox Pagan eat? It’s a subject I broached in 2011:
Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking more and more about food prohibitions. Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork, Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays. Buddhists are vegetarian. Pagans don’t have those prohibitions. But maybe it would be a good idea for Paganism to have some food rules.
If writing the rules were up to me this is how I’d write them: all food consumed by Pagans must be organic. Animals consumed must be raised in the open air, free from chemicals (including but not limited to fertilizers, growth hormones, pesticides) and slaughtered in humane ways. All animal parts must be used so there is zero waste. Regarding fruits, vegetables, nuts, and all other plant based food the same applies: organic. Local. Zero waste.
I know how difficult it can be because I try to live these ideals myself and I fail miserably. I simply cannot afford to eat all organic all the time. And I like non local foods like kiwis and oranges. But if it were a tenet of my faith (and it is) I would put a concerted effort into following such a rule (and I do): I shop at the local farmers market as much as I can afford. I purchased a share in a CSA. I get to know the farmers and visit the farm if I can so I can see with my own eyes how the animals live and how the plants are grown.
Organic food costs will come down as the demand for it increases. In your Orthodox community, whomever does the cooking in your home can start a buying club with other kitchen witches to buy in bulk to reduce the cost of food. One trip can be made to the local farm thus lowering gas usage and your household (and community’s!) carbon footprint. Gardens can be planted in small yards and in containers connecting each Orthodox Pagan to Mother Earth in a simple way. Funds can be collected to help Orthodox Pagans to buy farmland thus allowing each household to be a shareholder in the farm.
This post is really just the tip of the iceberg. While I may not have completely articulated what it means to be an Orthodox Pagan I can say with certainty: Orthodox Pagans are not ashamed of women. Orthodox Pagan women are strong, independent, and lively. Our bodies are not shameful including hair, skin, and menstruation. Men and women are equal in Paganism and in Orthodox Paganism. Sex is a vital and loving function of our faith and it doesn’t matter who our sexual partners are so long as that partner (or partners) is of age and consents to sex and intimacy without being coerced or manipulated.
The idea of Orthodox Paganry is, of course, a little silly but it’s an idea I do love deeply. Our religion won’t be organized enough in my lifetime to accept any sort of rules which orthodox religions, generally, require. Those religions though focus on suffering: the more you suffer the closer you are to purity. That’s antithetical to Paganism. Paganism, as Eli Effinger-Weintraub said, is a religion of “YES!” But I draw the line at yes to toxic food, yes to destroying Mother Earth with our addiction to oil, and yes to shaming women (and men) into thinking they are sinful for merely for being born.