Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands

I was doing more research on wicca and paganism last week and I found this post on a pagan forum:

We have this ornamental cherry tree in the front of our house, and I like to go beneath her branches. . . . I sit under her branches and it feels like she is trying to embrace and protect me. I sing to her sometimes. . . . I lean against her trunk and just feel the energy and vibrations.

Most of the posters on forums like this are in their teens and twenties. They’re interested in spells, spirit guides, animal totems, magic, divination, amulets, and talismans. They want to channel energy, shield energy, scry, cast runes, and perform telekinesis. In fact, for young people, after the need to connect with others, the strongest draw to wicca and paganism is the need to experience and connect with the supernatural.

But what strikes me about the practices they discuss—aside from the fact that they are counterfeits of reality—is that they sanitize the supernatural. They present it in a safe and palatable way. (Hard-core dangerous practices such as astral projection are another matter. While all of the above practices are dangerous, especially in the hands of naive teenagers, some are quicker pathways to trouble than others.)

Wiccan spells are often rhymes invoking mythic figures such as the “Lord and Lady,” pagan amulets are beautiful jewelry fashioned with silver and gemstones, and pagan animal totems are kind wolves and wise bears. Wiccan rituals make use of oils, incense, and candles, and modern-day pagans follow pretty ethnic “paths”: druidry, shamanism, Celtic reconstructionism, Hellenic polytheism. If a path’s accouterments—music, deities, clothing, jewelry—aren’t aesthetically appealing, it has no followers.

When I read these forums, I always get the impression that wiccans and pagans want to keep the supernatural at arm’s length. They don’t want to embrace it, they want to catch a fleeting glimpse of it from a comfortable armchair. They seem more willing to consider the existence of fairies than the existence of God—and all that belief in God would require of them. I sometimes wonder what they would do if they encountered the mind-bending, bone-rattling supernatural reality of God.

The Bible is full of stories of everyday human beings coming face to face with the supernatural. Usually they react with great fear; sometimes they even collapse. One of my favorite such stories, about Elisha and his servant, is told in 2 Kings 6:8-17.

The king of Syria sent an army to capture Elisha at Dothan. The army moved at night, so when Elisha’s servant woke in the morning, he discovered that Dothan had been surrounded. It looked hopeless, and the servant was terrified. Elisha told his servant not to be afraid, that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” But the servant saw only the Syrian army—no help from God. Elisha asked God to open his servant’s eyes so that he could see the unseen reality around him, and God answered Elisha’s prayer. His eyes opened, the servant, to his amazement, “looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

That beats your hawk totem talking to you in your dreams.

The Bible contains many more encounters with the supernatural, of course, including a bush burning but not burning up (Ex. 3:3), water pouring out of a rock (Ex. 17:6; Num. 20:11), birds bringing food to a man (1 Kings 17:6), bread and fish multiplying when passed through Jesus’ hands (Matt. 14:17-21), a resurrection (Matt. 28:8), and—for the young pagan poster who loves his cherry tree—trees clapping hands (Isa. 55:12).


Traci said...

I love your picture of an arm chair pagan. I grew up with so many of those. It seems that now, in their thirties, the young arm chair pagans I knew have eased naturally into materialism, which makes sense when viewing their spiritual dabbling as an embrace of aesthetically pleasing faerie tales.

Traci said...

I meant to add that it seems natural for Satan to ease them away from spirituality as they grow, if he can, as growing or maturing in understanding of the spiritual world could bring them too close to the truth. As though maybe his strategy is to entice young people away from their parents church, give them an idea that spirituality should be pretty and all about them, fill them with a nostalgia for things that can't be had, bore them with it and toss them material goods as a replacement.

Karin Kaufman said...

I hadn't thought of that before, Traci, but you're absolutely right. Materialism is the natural next step for those whose spirituality consists of aesthetically pleasing "paths," wiccan or pagan.

As for young people believing it's "all about them," I think the whole cafeteria method of choosing your pagan path--a little from here, a little from there--with little if any curiosity about what’s true (since truth is relative in a pagan world) ensures that point of view.

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