I have taken a couple days off from just about everything by spending time in Paris and Provence seeing sites, visiting historic locations, imbibing Van Gogh historical locations, and just experiencing a glimpse of what it can mean to be French (insofar as that is even possible to consider for a New Yorker whose French is rusty and clunky at best).
While I have scoured Paris for a taste of Paganism (with varying amounts of luck, mind you), I find myself in an odd situation of being surrounded by religious institutions that have been secularized in such as way that I am no longer sure what is Catholic, what is Christian, what is historical, what is current, what is secular, and what is a mixture of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Is is a very secular nation whose art and culture is decidedly religious.
In other words, France is more complicated than it seems on the surface, which is another way of saying that clear lines and levels of distinction exist in the minds of people, if not in the formal presentation of society. Case in point — while visiting Rêves d’Acier, a fantastic Medieval arms and clothing store where the staff were more than helpful and I walked away with two bags of items! — I asked about Pagans in Paris, and was told there really was not much. When pushing a bit more about Druids, I was told that there are some who call themselves Druids (in French, Druides), though they are only deceiving themselves, for surely none of those Celts who died out over a thousand years ago across northern France exist any longer. Period.
Since when do Druids have to only be those historical people way back in time? That is like saying that Catholics are only those who held vast sums of money and participated in the Inquisition and Crusades.
Hmm, good point. It may be tempting to group all people A as those who do B, but that is an oversimplification. We don’t fairly say that about all people who are Jewish, black, women, immigrants, Republican, abortion-rights supporters, LGBT, or any other group, so why about Pagans?
I have heard it said that Christians are only interested in social justice when they are not in power, otherwise they are interested in converting all dissenters. Undoubtedly a knee-jerk reaction to some experiences in some peoples’ lives, but that does not lesson the power of those forces that influence our learning and our becoming who we are today. Personal beliefs do not just appear, they come about through work and efforts and experiences and reflection, among countless other factors.
If we learn that certain things are this or that, right or wrong, true or false, or any other way in a world filled with binaries, it is relatively easy to dismiss those who are different (from us).
Indeed, when visiting the asylum where Vincent Van Gogh institutionalized himself, Saint Paul de Mausole in Saint-Remy de Provence, I was struck by how readily we move about our lives even when not understood, or at times accepted by those around us. I had a couple silent moments to consider this from the room where Van Gogh stayed (see my photo of looking out his barred window, above), I could not help but think that Van Gogh suffered in part as nobody really understood how he saw color and light and texture, and while he may not have been able to express his genius, it only furthered the suffering he felt at not being understood.
After all, he was not understood at the time.
How often do we feel this way?
Can Pagans be very different today, in that it is hard at times to talk about these spiritual experiences as many do not understand the words or the intentions. How many times do I hear (or even have to say), “It is like Christianity, but instead of X it does [thinks, practices, celebrates] Y.”
How wonderful it is when I finally started to read something that captures what I have been experiencing, but have nonetheless been unable to put into words? I am thinking now about the book The Five Rings, by Shanddaramon, that I am reading for my Formations for Modern Pagan Ministry course at Cherry Hill Seminary. Next step on this journey is to process the section on Caring, which is the spiritual advising that Pagan ministers can offer those who spiritually need support. We will be talking about this in class tonight, so looking forward to my own better understanding it so as to share some of it here.
You are welcome to join me on this journey!