Category Archives: Basics

Pagan Renewal: A Brief Exposition

If Reform Paganism is, as we say, a new branch of the great family tree of Paganism, then the living pith of this branch consists in our conviction, vision, and mission:

We affirm our conviction that all persons possess an innate spiritual capacity rooted in Nature.

We affirm our vision of humanity’s once and future faith, inspired by both ancient wisdom and modern learning, ever reforming for the present and the future.

We affirm our mission to promote the restoration of this timeless faith for the highest good of all.

What does this mean? Where do Reform Paganism’s Fifteen Theses and Five Elements fit? How does all this relate to the Pagan Renewal? Allow me to explain…

Humanity’s Innate Spirituality

When Reform Pagans say that humans are by Nature creatures of spirit, we mean that spirituality has always figured in human existence, even human essence: to be human implies possession of a spiritual faculty. This spiritual faculty, which defies precise formulation in words but which each human person can experience in operation for himself or herself, is what first inspired humans to see the sacred in Nature, and this spiritual faculty remains with us still, even amidst and despite all our attempts to disenchant ourselves and the whole world.

Implied in the claim that humans are by Nature creatures possessed of a spiritual faculty is an observation that we are also possessed of other faculties, which philosophers throughout history have probed, dissected, and classified and which Reform Pagans situate in the metaphorical framework of the classical elements: Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Æther. For Reform Pagans, these elements correspond roughly to human soma or nephesh, comprising sensation, appetition, aversion, etc. (collectively, the faculty of “Body”);  psyche or ruach, comprising reason (“Mind”), emotion (“Soul”), and volition (“Will”); and pneuma or neshama (“Æther”).

Reform Pagans regard these faculties not in a strict, scientific sense (indeed, the very notion of a “faculty” is not a scientific one) but as a useful framework by which to understand the essential human person. And this framework is the inspiration for Reform Paganism’s Five Elements, which together provide what Reform Pagans consider a natural and complete expression of human spirituality.

Humanity’s Once and Future Faith

Human faculties give rise to corresponding human desires, and these to pursuits, which Reform Pagans describe as Life for the Body, Truth for the Mind, Love for the Soul, Power for the Will, and Divinity for the Spirit.

From the beginning, humanity’s innate spirituality has lent itself to worldviews and lifeways that incorporate each of these faculties and their corresponding desires and pursuits, and Reform Pagans believe that we can still fulfill all of our essential needs as human beings through such holistic spirituality, rooted in who we are as humans in Nature. The religion that humankind has created—and recreated—from the earliest days of our species down to the very present is Paganism.

Though in some ways our times and circumstances have changed incomparably from what they were in our unremembered past, in other ways we humans remain very much the same, as much animal as spirit. Paganism that allows itself the limitless freedom to reimagine itself—freedom in the security that such reimagination does not weaken this quintessential expression of human spirituality but reawaken and strengthen it—can continue to meet all our human needs today and tomorrow, even into the unimagined future.

A Pagan Restoration

Though Paganism has always offered humankind all we need to flourish in Nature, we have for the most part abandoned our natural faith, originally because the dogmas of “revealed” religion were thrust upon us and more lately because, in the process of rediscovering Paganism in recent years, we have tended to assume that to be a Pagan today means what it did when Paganism enjoyed the preeminent place in human society long ago. This assumption has relegated Paganism today to the fringes of a society that has changed vastly from what it was hundreds and thousands of years ago, and the resulting “Great Apostasy” from the natural faith of our ancestors—a faith not of specific metaphysical commitments, which rise at one time only to fall in the next, but of the eternal human pursuits of Life, Truth, Love, Power, and Divinity—has caused grave damage to individual humans, the entire human family, and Nature’s Creation.

Reform Pagans make healing that damage our mission, and lasting healing comes not from change externally forced—for that which is done by force can be undone by force—but from transformation of the individual and collective spirit that inspires humankind to action every moment of every day. Transformation of the human spirit requires the person’s or persons’ participation, which they may gladly offer if they appreciate the benefits that such transformation promises. Reform Paganism facilitates such appreciation for a contemporary audience by reimagining itself without requiring us to set aside either those things that our ancient ancestors knew better than most of us do now about how to attain Life, Truth, Love, Power, and Divinity or all that we have learned about ourselves and the world around us over subsequent millennia of human development.

Reform Paganism sees the Pagan Restoration not merely as a collateral effect of the Pagan Reformation but rather as an important goal that contributes to the holistic wellbeing of each essentially social and spiritual human being and of all Nature. The Pagan Reformation necessarily works toward a Pagan Restoration because fulfilling humanity’s innate spiritual needs through continuous revival of our once and future faith requires us to work together on this project elaborated in but not constrained by the Fifteen Theses; conversely, the Pagan Restoration serves as the vision that informs and inspires the Pagan Reformation. This virtuous cycle of positive transformation—the Pagan Reformation and Pagan Restoration, linked inseparably—we call the Pagan Renewal.

Reform Pagan Practice 101: Spiritual Actualization

This post is the fifth of five installments in Baldr Frostflame’s “Reform Pagan Practice 101” series, giving his high-level overview of Reform Pagan practice.

Reform Pagans believe that divinity, which some of us call the flowing spirit of Awen, arises and resides within each person. Some of us say that the source of spirit is the union of matter and energy (potentiality, symbolized by the Goddess) with the forces of order and chaos (actuality, symbolized by the God), culminating in the emergence (symbolized by the divine child of the Goddess and the God) of the psyche from inanimate (meaning “spiritless”) matter, energy, and forces.

The final and crowning element of Reform Pagan practice is, therefore, connecting with our inner divinity, which is also the original source and highest expression of our individuality. As Awen (the Celtic/Druidic analogue to the Greek “muse”) means “flowing spirit”, so this fifth essential element of Reform Pagan practice involves both inflow and outflow of the human spirit, a sort of spiritual “respiration” that actualizes the fullness of our spiritual and divine potential.

Inflow of Awen/Divinity

Before we can breathe out spirit, we must breathe it in. Reform Pagans breathe in the flowing spirit of Awen through certain spiritual activities that often involve altered states of consciousness (normally without the use of entheogens). Foundational activities of this kind include meditation, divination, and contemplation.

Meditation is known not only by practitioners but also by objective researchers to promote and support the health of the entire psyche. Divination is often discredited because many of its traditional claims are not supported by scientific experimentation, but Reform Pagans use divination more as a way to stimulate the flow of spirit than as a way to tap into hidden information. And contemplation involves intense concentration upon a specific idea or set of ideas in an attempt to release a pent-up flow of spiritual insight.

Outflow of Awen/Divinity

Spirit flows as it will, and we cannot force it. By engaging in the above spiritual practices and others, however, we can more reliably tap into the inspiration of Awen. When Awen fills us, we know it because we cannot help but express our true selves, our divine selves. For some, this expression takes the form of artwork or music, others write beautiful poetry, and still others undergo intense spiritual experiences or gain ineffable insights into spirit and reality. Mystical or spiritual experience is an essential element of Reform Pagan practice, but different Reform Pagans may engage in this element of practice in innumerable different ways.

Discuss the Element of Spirit in Reform Pagan practice here on the Pagan Renewal Network.

Reform Pagan Practice 101: Biophysical Attunement

This post is the fourth of five installments in Baldr Frostflame’s “Reform Pagan Practice 101” series, giving his high-level overview of Reform Pagan practice.

Reform Pagans understand that the human spirit is linked to—and more likely than not arises from nowhere and nothing but—the human body. The conditions and circumstances of our bodies affect the conditions and circumstances of our spirits; therefore, in order for us to prosper in spirit, we believe that we ought to do what we can to prosper also in body.

At the same time, Reform Pagans appreciate that human beings’ biophysical conditions, like our intellectual, emotional, volitional, and spiritual conditions, are changing radically with the progress of science and technology. “Humanity” is clearly not an eternal constant, as what it means today differs vastly from what it meant a thousand or ten thousand years ago. Rather, Nature is an eternal constant, and the accelerating advancement of science and technology also appears throughout human history to have been—and still to be—a constant.

The bridge between Nature and technology, between the natural and the artificial, is humanity, and the form and substance of this bridge is dynamic, meaning that it changes over time. As Reform Pagans, we not only promote the reconciliation and reunion of humanity with Nature but also look forward to the continuing convergence of humanity and technology. These three rays—Nature, humanity, and technology—are approaching unity, and our participation therein is an essential element of Reform Pagan Practice.

Attunement with Nature

The first aspect of this element of our practice is attunement with Nature, which some Reform Pagans also describe as “grounding and centering” in Nature. Attunement unfolds in five degrees: observation of Nature, immersion of our bodies in Nature, absorption of Nature into our bodies, cultivation of Nature by the activities of our bodies, and application of what we learn from Nature to the rest of our lives.

Once we are attuned to Nature, we learn to appreciate its universal sacramentality: Everything in Nature, including our own bodies, bears sacred potential, so we treat all of Nature and our activities within it as sacramental, which means that we treat these things as a means by which we can receive the divine.

Part of appreciating the universal sacramentality of Nature and of our bodies in Nature involves self-regulation to promote our own biophysical health and wellbeing and transcendence of our own biophysical limitations (to the extent possible). So Reform Pagans regard, for example, adhering to a regimen of good nutrition as an essential element of our spiritual practice.

Attunement with Technology

Meanwhile, Reform Pagans also understand that science and technology can be sacred, for they can enable us to improve our biophysical conditions and, thereby, facilitate our spiritual development. Reform Pagans take particular interest in the technologies of “transhumanism”, which promise to expand the human experience and spiritual potential in ways we cannot even imagine at present. Reform Pagans embrace such technological advancements as a second aspect of this element of our practice.

Discuss the Element of Earth in Reform Pagan practice here on the Pagan Renewal Network.

Reform Pagan Practice 101: Liberal Learning

This post is the third of five installments in Baldr Frostflame’s “Reform Pagan Practice 101” series, giving his high-level overview of Reform Pagan practice.

Reform Pagans appreciate the value of consilience, which means the unity and consonance of all one’s knowledge. A consilient worldview is one in which no individual strands of knowledge stand apart, all of them having been woven together into a coherent whole.

Reform Pagans also recognize that knowledge is isometric from one domain to another—the structure of knowledge repeats itself across domains. By virtue of this isometry, our understanding in one domain often lends itself to greater understanding in another domain.

Although Reform Pagans know that Truth is, paradoxically, at once accessible only through direct experience and altogether inaccessible through human experience, because of what we believe about the unity and isometry of knowledge, we make “liberal” (meaning “expansive”) learning an essential element of our practice.

Spectrum of Knowledge

To help us make sure we see the full spectrum of knowledge, many Reform Pagans figuratively associate different domains of learning with colors of the rainbow, which, like the domains of knowledge they represent, retain their distinctiveness despite blending together where they meet:

  • Red: cognitive sciences (psychology, epistemology and certain other branches of philosophy, linguistics, etc.)
  • Orange: symbolic sciences (logic, mathematics, computer science, etc.)
  • Yellow: physical sciences (cosmology, astronomy, meteorology, geology, chemistry, physics, etc.)
  • Green: biological sciences (ecology, phylogeny and anatomy, microbiology and molecular biology, etc.)
  • Blue: social sciences (anthropology, sociology, politics, economics, etc.)
  • Indigo: creative sciences (visual arts, musical performance and composition, dramatic arts, literature, etc.)
  • Violet: spiritual sciences (metaphysics and certain other branches of philosophy, theology, etc.)

Many Reform Pagans choose, as a spiritual practice, to challenge ourselves to focus our lifelong studies in turn upon those domains of knowledge we know least about. That way, we are always discovering new manifestations of the isometry of all knowledge and bringing our own personal understanding closer to perfect consilience. The more complete and accurate our understanding, the freer we are from illusion and the closer we are to Truth.

Discuss the Element of Air in Reform Pagan practice here on the Pagan Renewal Network.

Reform Pagan Practice 101: Community Ministry

This post is the second of five installments in Baldr Frostflame’s “Reform Pagan Practice 101” series, giving his high-level overview of Reform Pagan practice.

Many world religions and spiritual systems, many secular philosophies, and even many subfields of modern psychology have recognized that one of the most important aspecks of living “the good life” is giving of oneself to others in love.

Reform Pagans, being among the most willing of Neopagans to learn from non-Pagan sources, often conceptualize this kind of selfless love according to the ancient brahmaviharas of the East: lovingkindness, compassion, vicarious joy, and equanimity. Some Reform Pagans prefer to think of these things in Western terms, such as agape, charity, or simply love.

Exactly how different Reform Pagans conceptualize this idea is less important than is our shared commitment to it, which sets us somewhat apart from many other Neopagans.

Ministerial Roles

Reform Paganism generally recognizes the usefulness of guiding our efforts in community ministry by distinguishing among various distinct ministerial roles, though specifics about the roles tend to vary from tradition to tradition.

Western astrology has served many Neopagans—including many Reform Pagans—as a symbolic lens through which to view distinct qualities and aspects of human personality and human life, so many Reform Pagans use an astrological paradigm (for example, planets, signs, or houses) to define a set of roles for community ministry.

Using the planets, for example, a Reform Pagan might define a set of roles for community ministry as follows:

  • Ministry of Sun: representative, director, and leader
  • Ministry of Moon: caregiver, nurturer, and sustainer
  • Ministry of Mercury: thinker, communicator, and educator
  • Ministry of Venus: encourager, counselor, and facilitator
  • Ministry of Mars: apologist, advocate, and protector
  • Ministry of Eris: innovator, challenger, and reformer
  • Ministry of Vesta: steward, custodian, and provider
  • Ministry of Jupiter: treasurer, cultivator, and builder
  • Ministry of Saturn: secretary, administrator, and manager
  • Ministry of Uranus: performer, creative, and liturgist
  • Ministry of Neptune: ambassador, humanitarian, and missionary
  • Ministry of Pluto: anchor, guide, and friend

The above definitions paint only a broad-strokes picture of what Reform Pagan community ministry can look like, but even these simple examples illustrate how the astrological paradigms of planets, signs, and houses lend themselves to a full and rich understanding of community ministry.

Reasons for Role-Based Ministry

Defining such a set of concrete ministerial roles, rather than thinking of community ministry merely in the abstract, serves two important purposes:

  1. By rotating through various ministerial roles (for each Reform Pagan is generally expected to do so in turn), we each learn about our own individual strengths and weaknesses, and by pushing ourselves to minister in roles in which we are less comfortable, we expand our capacity for lovingkindness, compassion, vicarious joy, and equanimity.
  2. By defining a set of ministerial roles that are interdependent and complementary, we remind ourselves that no person is separate from the rest of the human family and that our ministerial efforts create greater positive transformation in ourselves, in our communities, and in the world when we work together as Reform Pagans.

Discuss the Element of Water in Reform Pagan practice here on the Pagan Renewal Network.

Reform Pagan Practice 101: Ritual Observance

This post is the first of five installments in Baldr Frostflame’s “Reform Pagan Practice 101” series, giving his high-level overview of Reform Pagan practice.

Humans have always attributed spiritual significance to certain moments or periods in time, whether hours in a day, phases in a lunar month, seasons in a solar year, or stages in a human life. Accordingly, one of the Five Elements of Reform Pagan practice—represented by the alchemical element of fire—involves observance of common and special occasions through ritual.

Reform Paganism gives each individual the freedom to create a personal schedule or calendar of ritual observances, but like otheir Neopagans, we most typically celebrate the sabbats (eight per solar year) and esbats (two or four per lunar cycle).

Reform Pagan sabbats and esbats might appear at first glance simply to mirror the sabbats and esbats common among many Neopagans. But in Reform Paganism, the purpose of each ritual occasion and observance is to give us a targeted opportunity to concentrate our willpower and our efforts on positive transformation of the individual, the community, and the world in a particular area of focus.

Sabbats

Whole books can be (and have been) written about each of the sabbats, so here is just an outline of particular areas of focus that are sometimes associated with each sabbat:

  • Winter Eve (also called Winter/Hibernal Passage or Samhain) – circa Nov 5*: heritage, release or ending (including mortality), and transition
  • Mid Winter (also called Winter/Hibernal Solstice or Yule) – circa Dec 21*: solidarity, hope, and patience
  • Spring Eve (also called Spring/Vernal Passage or Imbolc) – circa Feb 3*: openness, purification, and resolve
  • Mid Spring (also called Spring/Vernal Equinox or Ostara) – circa Mar 21*: beginnings, breakthrough, and regeneration
  • Summer Eve (also called Summer/Estival Passage or Beltane) – circa May 5*: passion, union, and creativity
  • Mid Summer (also called Summer/Estival Solstice or Litha) – circa Jun 21*: joy, vitality, and power
  • Autumn Eve (also called Autumn/Autumnal Passage or Lughnasadh) – circa Aug 5*: fruitfulness, gratitude, and giving
  • Mid Autumn (also called Autumn/Autumnal Equinox or Mabon) – circa Sep 21*: sacrifice, balance, and reconciliation

* Dates are given for observances in the Northern Hemisphere, while observances in the Southern Hemisphere are shifted by six months. Each date is marked “circa” because different Reform Pagans may observe the same sabbats on slightly different days (often based on different systems of reckoning)—given dates for the Eves (or Passages) represent the approximate calendar midpoints between the sabbats immediately preceding and following each Passage. Reform Pagans need not observe any particular sabbat on any particular date.

Esbats

Again, whole books can be (and have been) written about each of the esbats, so here is just an outline of particular areas of focus that are sometimes associated with each esbat:

  • Dark Moon*: possibility inherent in emptiness
  • First Quarter Moon: energies of waxing and increase
  • Full Moon*: completion and wholeness
  • Third Quarter Moon: energies of waning and decrease

* The Full Moon is typically regarded as the greatest esbat in importance, and the Dark Moon is typically regarded as second in importance, so if only one esbat is celebrated, it is typically the Full Moon, while if only two esbats are celebrated, they are typically the Full Moon and Dark Moon.

Other Occasions

Some Reform Pagans also observe certain devotional “hours” of the day (also called “stations of the sun”), and many of us observe various rites of passage in the course of human life. Each of these devotional hours and rites of passage, like each of the sabbats and esbats, is associated with particular areas of focus for continuing transformation of self, community, and world.

Discuss the Element of Fire in Reform Pagan practice here on the Pagan Renewal Network.