Or: Why Are You Pagan?
Wilfred Von Dauster
Why does anyone go against the prevailing culture of the Unites States, which is Christian or at least Abrahamic, and decide they are pagan, a follower of a supposedly dead "mythology," such as Asatru? Ask this question of any ten pagan friends, and you will likely get a number of answers ranging from a reaction against the practices and tenants of the Christian beliefs, to an appreciation for the Earth and its beauty, to answers based on one's ancestry. If one takes the pagan community as a whole, however, one may gain insight on a somewhat higher level than these common answers.
The key is perception. Pagans have not lost their sense of wonder, or, after years of suppression, regained the same. The beauty of life, the shear experience of the joys encountered while living life, are simply overwhelming. These joys are limitless, if one takes the time to release the baggage of life, the restraints, and allow its pleasures to reach the core of your being. To influence not only your day to day attitude, but your Weltanschauung, your way of looking at the world. This can happen to anyone, regardless of circumstances. True, some folks have harder luck, are dealt a worse hands than others, and nobody is entirely immune from life's travails. But you know, this author has encountered just as many folk with serious problems who are able to transcend these impediments and experience much joy at the wonders we all encounter, as those who enjoy perfect health and comfortable living circumstances who cannot, or will not, enjoy life.
What about those impediments? They are varied, of course. There are the obvious ones, such as physical handicaps or illnesses. But this article concentrates on the other factors, which are more common and much harder for most people to overcome. These factors are one's conditioning, training, culture, resulting in one's character, personality, and finally attitude.
Conditioning and training are intrinsic to one's predominant culture. The Abrahamic religions which have dominated this country since its inception, and all of the countries of Europe since it was imposed by force in most places more than a thousand years ago. The tenants of this set of religions include that people are intrinsically fallen, or evil, that there is only one god, sometimes of three parts, who is perfect, vindictive, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, has laid down a series of immutable and narrow laws, and must be placated for one to leave this vale of tears and begin living after death (see how absurd this group of religions sound when described in a different way?). True, not all varieties of Abrahamic belief espouse all of these tenants openly, but significant portions of these strange beliefs are to be found in all.
Perhaps the key concepts in this word-view which inhibit the enjoyment of life, are the underlying guilt which comes from never being able to perfectly follow "God's Laws," and the expectation of delayed gratification.
Guilt imparts the attitude that not only is the individual not "making it," but the others the individual encounters are certainly not making it either. This leads to a whole set of distractions. First off, and most importantly, one is distracted by inhibitions not necessary to live a good life. Secondly, it distracts one from the joys of life by creating the impetus to stick one's nose where it does not belong, namely in the other person's business. Privacy is the first thing to go when "we all must live by the (unending set of) rules." This attitude continues among neo-christians who call them selves "liberals" but cannot resist the continuing impulse to regulate other people's behavior. Among this crowd, only the rules have changed, the attitude has not. Political correctness replaces The Bible. One finds as little wonder and joy among these folk as among a picnic of the sourest Calvinists. Such people are too busy worrying about things that do not matter to be open and perceptive to the beauty around them. It is precisely because pagans see the world that we reject the otherworldliness of Christianity or Islam.
Even more damaging to the enjoyment of life is the concept of delayed gratification, the idea that "we are here to suffer and prove ourselves worthy to attain our eternal reward." What garbage. The intellectual fallacies here are almost to obvious to comment upon, but what the heck.
Nobody can prove the existence of an afterlife, nor can anybody disprove it. As a matter of hope and belief, this author believes that one probably gets exactly what one expects after death. If so, Asgard and Valhalla sounds better than an eternity admiring a very unpleasant god. Regardless, this expectation is destructive if it prevents one from seeing, enjoying, or otherwise simply living life. The attitude of "I'm not concerned with this world, I'm living for the next," should generate feelings of genuine pity for the person uttering it. What a waste. In other words, to begin concentrating on the good and wonderful in this life, one must relegate a fixation on the next life, at least until one is a headin' that way. In any case, by living one's life to the fullest, one is probably going to be worth remembering far more than the person who hides away in that "rock of ages, cleft for me."
Maybe it was also more difficult to fully enjoy life when it was more "nasty, brutish, and short," but one has only to listen to the music of Mozart or his contemporaries to realize that beauty and joy are always there. Some have more to overcome to see it, but obstacles to experiencing the joys of life can be overcome.
Hopefully you cannot relate to the inhibitions just described. If you can, well, you know where to start to enjoy life. What else can one do to open one's perception? Look at habits or ruts one easily slips into. This author had a friend once who, burdened with an unhappy marriage and Christian work-view, seemed incapable of enjoying himself. This became an ingrained habit of interpreting everything he encountered in day to day life, that is to say reality, in the most negative light possible. For example, although he really liked snow, on the first (and probably only) day of snow one Dallas November, his brother and this author picked up this fellow on the way to our mutual workplace. His brother and I had been discussing how beautiful the city looked covered with four inches of virgin white. When this fellow climbed into the car with us, his first words, uttered in an unbelievably negative tone, were, "It can't even snow right here."
The point of this is that not only could he not enjoy the obvious beauty, his negative attitude immediately brought the pleasant conversation and enjoyable ride to a dead stop. The second point is that a negative attitude may not always be acquired by choice, sometimes after a series of tough breaks or living in a difficult situation, one can slide into this way of thinking. Continuing this attitude, however, is a choice. Removing that fixated gaze from oneself is critically important to freeing that gaze to enjoy that which is around one. Nobody ever became a hero through chronic self-pity and grumbling: It seems pretty clear the Gods of the North have even less time for such folk as those of use who encounter them in Midgard. Can one imagine sitting around the table in Valhalla and bitching?
The next bit of advice for those who have let go the impediments to enjoying life is to begin paying attention to what is around them. Of course, this involves the senses. It is amazing how many people look at their world without seeing, sometimes just as a result of getting into a rut. Open them eyes and see: believe it or not, this involves effort. Now, this can sometimes come as a rude awakening, as one discovers the ugliness of the typical United States city. OK, start by improving your own environment, that which you can control. The house or apartment can be made a more pleasant place to be. Get out of a rut, if you're in one. Take a different route to work, maybe even move.
It follows that the senses of smell and hearing can be likewise assaulted by the modern city. Playing music at home or in the car helps. Sometimes, so does complete silence, a difficult thing to attain in the city. This leads to the next suggestion: Get out of town. Get to where you can enjoy the Earth, nature, as close to as it was before humans "improved it" as you can. Wilderness areas, National Parks, and what is left of our ever-diminishing old growth forests are all good teachers in their way. There is a palpable magic in the ancient forest which, if one is open to it, teaches more about the Earth and her son, Thor, than anything else this author can think of. Indeed, quiet walks through the woods, as Thoreau discovered, have a way of breaking through some of that fixated vision, a way of drawing one's vision upward and outward.
Keeping or reacquiring one's wonder requires thinking. Yup, maybe it isn't fashionable, but thinking helps one discover the joys of living. To think requires not only the skill of logic, but just as importantly raw material. The best way this author knows to acquire that raw material is trough reading. This is not to endorse the over-analysis of every situation and thing, but perhaps the under-appreciation is more common...
Finally, people, the friendship and love of folk who live life with their eyes and hearts open, and who share this with us, can and often do add the extra perspective and insights to sharpen the wonder of life. Here's to friends, our kindreds, and the Gods!
(c)1994 Wilfred von Dauster, all rights reserved.