Faith & Magic

Straight from the Source: Personal Gnosis in Paganism

David GandyI grew up with the Greek deities. Not literally, of course. I'm not sure I would have survived Apollo's wedgies, or Zeus' discipline, or even sharing a bathroom with Aphrodite (imagine waiting to use the potty while She fixed her hair). No, when I say I grew up with them, I mean their stories. I can tell you who gave birth to who, who dallied with who, their favorite animals, and their most prominent myths. When I first began working with male gods as a Pagan, it may surprise you to learn that I reached out to an Egyptian god. Or maybe He reached out to me.

 

Thoth was very different than my Greek friends. He was calm, cool, collected, and reserved. He showed more interest in balance than vengeance, and valued knowledge above beauty and self-gratification. He seemed to me to be a very wise, worldly professor-type, and I was very drawn to Him. To my frustration, though, I couldn't find religious information on Him at the time. Oh, I found the Emerald Tablets, the stories concerning the Book of Thoth, and more than a few references to Atlantis...but where were the accounts of His favorite stones? His preferred sacrifices? His favorite drink, His favorite color, even lists of prayers to Him? I found some information, but nowhere near enough to satisfy my desire to know Him, and most of it presented with a very Egypt-central slant. How was I supposed to bathe His statue in water from the Nile, or fan His incense with ibis feathers?

 

I'm not the only person who has encountered this problem. Paganism, being a collection of reconstruction efforts, often falls short of completing the whole picture of a deity and their worship. How do we fill in the blanks? For some, they rely on UPG, which stands for Unverified Personal Gnosis, a term that I am told originated in the Asatru community. When a person says they feel that their deity enjoys certain things, or that they had a vision or heard their deity's voice, this is UPG. Some purists look down on this as being a "fake" version of worship, wishful thinking attempting to shore up the cracks in carefully reconstructed religions, but I ask: from where did our original information come, if not personal gnosis? How many people, and for how long, must accept a person's gnosis before it becomes "fact" in the Pagan community?

 

Historically, information about deities has been revealed through a human intermediary; whether they be an oracle, a priest or just an everyday person. For example, the Oracle at Delphi (also called the Pythia) spoke for Apollo and the populace accepted their account of things as coming from the divine. The first oracle there was just a normal shepherd who tarried close to the chasm where the temple would eventually stand and was struck with visions of the future. We accept these as truths when reconstructing worship to Apollo, but do we believe that He suddenly stopped revealing things to humans then? That Apollo said everything He wanted to say and then relied on that account to carry forward through time on parchment that can disintegrate or stone that can crumble to dust. It seems more likely that He, and other deities, are still communing with humanity through what we now call UPG. This can hold just as much sacred value as the tomes and tablets from the past unless we choose to believe that our gods and goddess choose not to speak to us any longer; that they just ran out of things to talk about so they stopped the conversation.

 

The problem, I believe, comes when personal gnosis is presented as having originated from an ancient source rather than the individual. This can take away all credibility from a revelation and make it appear to be little more than a well-crafted lie. It is wreathed in self-doubt because the originator of this piece of gnosis doesn’t have faith enough to speak from their own personal experience; a place of honesty and confidence. If they dress it in the trappings of “ancient” how can we be confident in their conviction that it came from a deity if they themselves cannot embrace it. From that point on, any other attempt to discuss that particular bit of gnosis is immediately tinged with the falseness of its original presentation. This is a great disservice to our deities, many of which are still speaking and interacting with us, and who may have wished a particular revelation to be made public.

 

What do we do, then, when two pieces of UPG conflict with one another? Say two well-respected priestesses each say they have learned, through intense discussions with the god Nuada and spiritual meditations, His favorite modern offering. One priestess claims that it is cinnamon-spiced oatmeal, the other says that it is sterling silver rings. Who is correct, and who is wrong? Ultimately, what you choose to accept and integrate into your personal spirituality is up to you.

 

In ancient myths there may have been two or even three wildly different explanations of a particular event or action of a deity. For example, some myths say that Sekhmet was Hathor in Her furious, war-loving form, and that Hathor was eventually calmed and went on to marry Horus. Other myths say that Sekhmet married Ptah, and seem to present the two goddesses as separate individuals with separate functions. Which myth is correct?

 

In speaking with Thoth and listening and watching for His responses, I discovered, in my own personal gnosis, that He enjoyed tea (as it did not cloud the mind like liquor or make the body sluggish like cola), hummingbirds were an excellent American representation of Him (since their long, curving beaks can sometimes resemble the moon or an ink pen), and that He appreciates the mathematical precision of classical music (such as Bach).

 

I don't know if other followers of Thoth or the Egyptian path would agree with me, or if they've experienced a personal gnosis that says much the same thing. I do know, however, that when I commune with Thoth these things feel right to me, and so I make use of them in my practice. Who knows, maybe one day my gnosis will become another Pagan's fact?

Ár nDraíocht Féin: Druid Fellowship in NWA

ADF Druid

 

(Fayetteville, Arkansas) The ancient practices of the Druids have been told throughout history. The stories of travelers, healers, and those who call upon the spirits and Gods around us have been chronicled for hundreds of years. One group in Arkansas has claimed these ancient ways for their practice and have provided the services of knowledge, fellowship, and worship.

The Ozark Druids – Protogrove located in the lovely North West Arkansas region is a member church of the Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF). According to the Ozark Druids’ website, ADF “Is a Pagan church based on ancient Indo-European traditions.”

ADF international is a nonprofit organization dedicated to provided services and protections for those who follow the faith. Founded by Rev. Isaac Bonewits (1949-2010) in 1983, “ADF is working to combine in-depth scholarship with the inspiration of artistry and spiritual practice to create a powerful modern Paganism,” explained Rev. Jeffry Wyndham. The ADF looks beyond fantasy and uses research and modern scholarship to form and resurface ancient beliefs in today’s modern world.

Grove Organizer, Tress Disney, said she began the local chapter of the ADF because she “didn’t have a local group specific to [her] particular brand of spirituality”.

A former member of the Unitarian Universalist fellowship, Disney was acquainted with fellow Pagans, but still was in search for a connection with fellow ADF believers. “So, I started a discussion group at a local coffee shop,” Disney explained.

The coffee shop became the hub for conversation and fellowship in 2012. It served as a simple discussion group until a few years later when they became an official Protogrove. “When we became a Protogrove, we began having rituals,” said Disney.

Each grove has their own flair when it comes to rituals, rites, and traditions. This is organic, one trait that is held in high regards in the ADF. However, basic ritual order and some guidelines are required. For example, leaders must be “those who describe Pagan Druidry as their primary religious path,” explained Wyndham.

The NWA Protogrove follows an orthodoxic, or hard polytheistic world-view. “The polytheistic model of ritual encourages diversity,” Disney revealed, “This is one of the reasons that ADF can be common ground for many kinds of Pagans.”

To step into an ADF ritual is to enter an ancient world. Practices that are commonly found in NeoPagan rites, such as casting a circle or calling quarters, will not be found in these rituals. Gifts and offerings of fruit and drink are given to the Outsiders (Chaos Spirits), “so they’ll leave us alone,” Disney admitted.

Disney offered an overview of the ritual. “We bend down to pray to the Earth Mother at the beginning of our rites. We do a Three Realms (Land, Sea, Sky) meditation. We experience sacred space as emanating out from a sacred center of Well, Fire, and Tree (the Three Hallows). We call upon a Gatekeeper deity to ‘ward’ our space, and we make offerings to a group of beings we call the Three Kindreds (Nature Spirits, Ancestors, and Deities). We take an omen for the coming season (usually with runes). We share the ‘Waters of Life’, which is usually mint-infused water. There are two times during the ritual in which folks may come forward and participate more fully; the first time is for individual offerings, and the second time is for anyone who wants to activate individual magickal workings in the ritual fire. We have some call and repeat and unison phrases, and a lot of singing. We always have a potluck feast afterward,” explained Disney.

This ritual has become more than a rites to connect with the Gods and spirits, but has become the sacred grounds of theological evolution. These Ozark Druids have taken theology into their own hands and through dedication and continual growth in self and as a group; the practices have become their own creation.

Druidism is a live and well in NWA. A sense of the ancient whispers and timeless rituals echo throughout the rolling hills and beacon the curious traveler. This truly is the time of the ancients.

For more information on the Ozark Druids – Protogrove, visit http://ozarkdruids.webs.com/

-- This article has been written and published for the express use of Arkansas Pagans online, your premiere news source for all things Arkansas Pagan. --

The Beautiful House: Nefer-Per-Netjer

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(Lonoke, Arkansas) Nefer-Per-Netjer is ancient Egyptian for Beautiful House of the Gods. It was so named by the late Fran McIntosh Parmer (Lady Isis) and established as a Pagan church in 2000. Lady Isis crossed the Veil on January 3, 2011. Her dream was to have a place where local Pagans could gather to worship together in a beautiful outdoor setting. Fran and her husband, Les, toiled for many years clearing trees, toting in rocks, crystals, and statuary to form the current Circle area.  

The Circle itself has East and West arbor entrance gates and each direction is marked by an altar representing Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In the South you will find Fran’s Memorial Wall which reflects the ritual fires from the large fire pit area at night. Life-sized statues of Demeter and Dionysus frame the North altar. The Circle is shaded mostly by large pines, maples and oaks. You will find beautiful plants and flowers in the Circle and around the property such as dogwood trees, hostas, lilies, lilacs, jasmine, holly, gardenia, mums, hydrangeas, and roses.

Nefer-Per-Netjer became a state recognized non-profit religious organization in May 2009. On March 28, 2011, Nefer-Per-Netjer became a 501(c)(3) federally recognized church. Nefer-Per-Netjer is located on private property in rural Lonoke, Arkansas.

Nefer-Per-Netjer is a working-learning group. We all work and we all continue to learn about ourselves and seek to understand our spiritual past, present and future. We hold several workshops and classes throughout the year for those interested in learning something new. Each of us feels strongly about being charitable and supporting our community. Feeding the hungry, donating to local charities, children's hospitals, and animal shelters are some of the charitable work we regularly pursue.

Nefer Folk are eclectic and welcome those who follow varied paths. We celebrate the Celtic-based Wheel of the Year for most Sabbats in addition to holding monthly Esbats. Simple gatherings and an occasional “Fritual” will be had when the time is right.

This year, Nefer will hold its 4th annual “Mabon – The Second Harvest.” This is one of our larger gatherings where Nefer Folk, Family and Friends come from all around to spend a 3-day weekend at Nefer celebrating the fall harvest and cooler weather. Camping, potluck feast, workshops, and a candlelight ritual are the weekend’s highlights.

Future plans for Nefer include an additional building to house indoor rituals during inclement weather, a library, and meditation space. Nefer’s mission is to promote spiritual development through teaching, gatherings, retreats, and rites for those on a Pagan path, to promote understanding, love and support to those in our community and to be charitable and giving to those in need, no matter their spiritual path.