"I AM A POWERFUL DRUID PRIEST OF THE OLD WAYS! [or insert any other tradition here...] I WAS (RE)BORN INTO THIS WORLD TO SERVE THE GODS AND TO RENEW AND REVITALIZE THE LOST WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS!!" (Yeah yeah. Yadda yadda yadda. Get real....)
Why do the rites at all? Well of course, there are many reasons; perhaps as many different reasons as there are people involved in the process. Perhaps also we might find that there are many reasons, unsaid and unarticulated, which are more significant for us than any of the pompous internal assertions of our pseudo-mystical personae.
Eliade and others show us that the functions of public/tribal calendrical ritual were largely pragmatic: the rites were not considered optional, they were considered to be essential for the health and safety of the people. The rites were also considered to be essential to the very continuity and integrity of the World Itself; the rites neglected, the World-as-we-know-it could very well come thundering to an end. Is this all so very primitive? Really?
In my writings and public speaking I often find myself suggesting (projecting?) that many of the aspects of our Neopagan personalities are simply dishonest. Innocently and without malice of forethought, but still... we are dishonest. We are all far, far too wrapped up in the way we would like to be thought of and the kind of person we would like to think of ourselves as and the way we would like to live our lives... than we ever could justify through real action in real life at all. We can't expect to relate to others about the true motivations behind our spiritual identities if we can't manage to be honest, internally, with ourselves. This dichotomy between the false self image and the ordinary but pure self is the theatre of the medicine of religion. True religious activity is that which seeks to rectify our relationship with the World: the relationship of our true selves with the true World.
The Old Ways that the anthropologists of religion describe to us were not legislated at some synod of ecclesiastics and then carved in stone; no, no... they grew. Over generations of practice, repetition, and trial and error, they grew, were molded and evolved organically; more truly coming to fit the needs of the people and their world. For all the machinations of the governing priesthoods of thousands of years, that simple living process defiantly survives, and again and again shakes off the ash and rubble of the collapse of artificial, unnatural and inhuman cultures and their false, unnatural and inhuman religious systems. People are by nature religious creatures and they need religious activity that touches their lives in a direct and honest way; it does not need to cater to our fantasy selves, it needs to speak to our souls.
"Finding comfort" in the rites
Paganism, as a modern pursuit, often attracts those seeking the unusual, gothic, or titilatingly different. Those folks quickly tire of the hard work and actively spiritual participation demanded of them by group religious practice. We are not in the business of entertaining the curious, but it is incipient upon us to work hard to meet the needs of those who attend and willingly put themselves 'on the line' by attempting to participate. Yet, to meet their needs, we must be able meet our own also.
There is a pendulum that swings through our lives... or, perhaps I can be more clear if I speak of my own personal experience: there is a pendulum which swings through my life which finds me drifting alternately from a clear and integrated relationship with the world to that of a self which is work-weary, media ravaged, fragmented and basically schizoid in its distorted, false notions of the world and my place in it. The need to govern this ever pulsing rhythm, swinging from competence to failure, from knowledge to doubt... is what sometimes calls me to return to the woods or to go out under the stars.
Here perhaps we can find one definition of the spirit of Druidism: answering the call of Nature; not to be wild, but to be healed by the Wilderness. The Wilderness bears within it that which we periodically come to lack: truth.
There is a great pattern of undeniable natural truths in which we live our lives; it is the Great Wheel of the Seasons, and for us living in this part of the North Temperate Zone, we are blessed with the grand four-fold symmetry which has shaped our cultures and languages and cultural consciousness for tens of thousands of years. As far as we may stray from the ordinary facts of existence, the Seasons always bring us back to the truth. No amount of air conditioning, roofing or central heating can support our fantasies substantially enough to escape the fact that we are not in control here. The World is not the Mall, nor is it School, nor is it Work... no matter how much it seems that way to us at times. The World has more to do with that tree you touched the other day than all the tax forms and magazines and dollar bills we print on the flesh of its kin, yet we constantly lose sight of this; well, I do... don't you? Perhaps it is time to call upon the definition of a term I have been developing for some time now:
Rx for having fallen from grace with one's sense of wonder... a bringing back of the individual's sense of self into an appropriate, correct, or more sanctified relationship with certain "facts of existence"; unlocking the sanctified relationship with the world-as-it-is and thereby moving away from (or being cleansed-of) the world-as-we-imagine-it-is.
The need for this function is often due to the individual's natural propensity for ‘back sliding' or becoming somehow progressively distanced from one's own set of ethical, religious or aesthetic principles (or various other attitudinal predispositions). In a sense, during extended periods of distraction by either some singular concern or simply the the increasing demands of everyday life as one ages, one's reflective capacity can become slightly or significantly schizoid in its relationship with the components of one's personality which matured or integrated during a period of life that was far richer on a reflective level. It is possible to functionally ‘de-evolve' at the reflective level; leaving one a "stranger to one's self". This is the schizoid dilemma which calls out for rectification: the current ‘dull' self must be brought to terms with the earlier ‘enhanced' self -before one's standards become lowered beyond retrieval. Is this Psychology or is it Religion? I believe the answer to that question is: "yes."
Remembering the Seasons
Reconciliation with the World through the process of honoring the Seasons, the connecting and coming to terms with the gentle passage of time through our lives, is one of the most important single reasons for celebrating any calendar of religious observances. The more that the mythos and theme of an annual feast is integrated with the grand seasonal pattern above and around us, the more valid, powerful and profound the religious mysteries are commemorated therein. Too often, when developing some complex or even simple symbolic or traditional theme, the content of our observances become artificial, too human and out of step with our basic need to become personally reconciled to the season. The season simply must be remembered in the process of a rite or one of our holiest duties will have been neglected.