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Repeat episode: Interview with Michael of the Atheopagan Society Council

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We aren't able to record a new episode this week, so here is a great interview we did with Michael H. of the Atheopagan Society Council. See you next week!
S3E41 TRANSCRIPT:

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Mark: Welcome back to the Wonder Science-based Paganism. I'm Mark, one of your hosts.

Yucca: and I'm Yucca.

Mark: and today we have a really exciting episode. We have an interview with a member of the Atheopagan Society Council, Michael, who is joining us today, and is gonna tell us about his journey and what this community means to him and his vision for the future and all kinds of cool stuff.

So welcome.

Michael: Well, thank you very much for having me.

Mark: I'm delighted to have you here,

Yucca: Thanks for coming on.

Michael: Yeah, no, I'm excited.

Yucca: Yeah. So why don't we start with so who are you? Right? What's, what's your journey been to get here?

Michael: Gosh. Well, I kind of have to start at the very beginning. So my name's Michael and you know, I've, I start, sometimes I go by Mícheál, which is my Irish, the Irish version of my name. And that's something I've been using more as I've been involved in the Pagan community. My parents are both Irish and.

They moved to the United States in their early eighties cuz my dad got a green card working over there

Mark: Hmm.

Michael: and I was born in America. And then they decided they want to move back to Ireland then in 1991. So already I had this kind of dissected identity. Was I American or was I Irish? I never really lost my American accent.

When I, when I moved to Ireland my sister who was born in Ireland, she actually has a slight American accent just from living with me. So she never people always ask her, are you, are you American? And she's like, I've never lived there. So it's funny that it's kind of stuck with her, but I moved to Ireland and I suddenly was kind of got this culture shock at the age of five and moving to this new country.

And my mother has a very large family, so she has like, two, two brothers and seven sisters, and then I've got like 30 cousins. So , it was a big, a big change from AmeriCorps. It was just the three of us. Moving back to Ireland and. It was a very, you know, Ireland, you know, is, would've been considered a very Catholic country, and it's been kind of secularizing since the nineties up until now.

But back then it was still quite Catholic. Like homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1992 and divorce was only made legal in 1995. So, I guess the first kind of sense of, of what I meant to be Irish back then was, You know, you learned Irish in school, you learned to speak Irish in school, and this was very it wasn't taught very well, I would say, and I think most Irish people would agree with that.

It's kind of taught like almost like Latin or something as a dead language rather than as a living language. So you're spending time learning all this grammar. And you don't kind of develop that love of it that I think you should. I did go to like Irish summer camp in the Gaeltacht . The Gaeltacht is the Irish speaking area of Ireland, and I kind of became aware of my Irishness, you know, just through being part of all this and also. I would've introduced myself as American when I was little but people didn't really like that. It was kind of a, like a weird thing to do. So my mom eventually told me, maybe you should just stop paying that. And so throughout my I, you know, as I mentioned, it was a very Catholic country.

And when I was in the Gaeltacht in Irish summer camp one of the kids said they were atheist. And I was like, what does that mean? I'm like, I don't believe in God. And I was, and in my head I was like, I didn't know you could do that, I didn't know that was an option. . So I kind of thought about it for a while.

I became, we started studying the Reformation in school when I was about 14. And then I learned that Catholics believed in transubstantiation and nobody had really mentioned that before. They didn't really teach the catechism very well, I guess. I'd done my communion and my confirmation, but nobody ever mentioned that.

We literally believed that the, the body and blood, you know, was that the bread and water? Oh, sorry. The bread and wine actually became literally, And the body. And I thought that was a very strange thing, that that was a literal thing. It wasn't just symbolic. And then we also studied Calvinism and all that stuff. And I was like, then I started to read the Bible and I was like, then it fun, it finally just dawned on me that I didn't believe any of this, and it was kind of liberating.

But it was kind of a way of being d. In a very homogenous society too. You could be a bit of a rebel. So I think I was one of those annoying teenagers who was always questioning everybody and having, trying to have debates with everybody about religion and they didn't enjoy that . And so I went through school and I just remember hating studying the Irish language until eventually when I left school.

On the last day, I actually took all my. My Irish textbooks and burnt them and I feel I . Yeah. I mean I feel so much guilt and regret about that and I think about that how important it's to me now and that, that was a real shame that, but I didn't, partially I didn't put the work in, but also I just think the structure.

Was not there. I mean so many Irish people come out of outta school not really know, knowing how to speak the language, you know, and I think it is an effective col colonization as well, where, you know, you consider English is a useful language and learning French or Spanish, that's a useful thing, but there's no use for Irish in people's minds, which is a, and I find that a real shame and I. could go back and change that. In university I studied anthropology and history because I was very interested in religion. All throughout my teenage years, I was obsessed with learning about world religions, you know, there was a world religion class in, in secondary school. I didn't get into it, but I begged the teacher to allow me to.

Into it because I was so interested in the topic. And he was like, fine, fine. And he kind of thought he'd humor me in one class one day and he was like, well, Michael, maybe you could talk about satanism. That's the topic for today. And I was like, well, let's start with Al Crowley. And he was like, okay, maybe he actually knows what he is talking about So, I went, I. I went to the university sorry, national University of Ireland, Minuth Campus. And it's funny because that used to be known as so it's actually, it's two campuses. They're St. Patrick's college, which is like a, a seminary for priests. And there's the I, which is like the secular version, and they're both, but they both share the same compass. So it's funny, it used to be the, the biggest seminary in Europe. They call it the priest factory cuz they pumped out so many priests that sent, sent them all over the world. And it's when you go out and you walk down the corridors, you see all the graduating classes. So you go back to 1950 and you see a graduating class of like a hundred priests.

And every year as you're going down the corridor, it gets smaller and smaller and smaller. Until I think the year I graduated, there was like two people graduating as priests. Yeah. So that was, that was a, I decided to study history and anthropology at n Y Minuth and one of the books that I read. Was kind of a gateway into thinking about land and language, which are two things that are really important to me in my, when I think about Paganism.

It's a book called wisdom Sits in Places by Keith Bato, bass by Keith Bassell, and. I'm just gonna read a little bit here from the book because he was an anthropologist working with the Apache, the Western Apache, to try and remap the land using the Native Apache words rather than the, the English words. So trying to make a native map and working with Apache people to find all the true, the true names of all these. so this is the quote, but already on only our second day in the country together a problem had problem had come up for the third time in as many tries. I have mispronounced the Apache name of the boggy swale before us. And Charles, who is weary of repeating it, has a guarded look in his eyes after watching the name for a fourth.

I acknowledged defeat and attempted to apologize for my flawed linguistic performance. I'm sorry, Charles. I can't get it. I'll work on it later. It's in the machine. It doesn't matter. It matters. Charles says softly to me in English, and then turning to speak to Morley. He addresses him in Western Apache, is what he said.

What he's doing isn't right. It's not good. He seems to be in a. Why is he in a hurry? It's disrespectful. Our ancestors made this name. They made it just as it is. They made it for a reason. They spoke it first a long time ago. He's repeating the speech of our ancestors. He doesn't know that. Tell him he's repeating the speech of our ancestors. And I'm gonna just there's another section here, a little, a few pages. But then unexpectedly in one of those courteous turnabouts that Apache people employ to assuage embarrassment in salvage damaged feelings, Charles himself comes to the rescue with a quick corroborative grin. He announces he is missing several teeth and that my problem with the place name may be attributable to his lack of dental equipment. Sometimes he says he is hard to underst. His nephew, Jason, recently told him that, and he knows he tends to speak softly. Maybe the combination of too few teeth and two little volume accounts for my failing. Short morally, on the other hand, is not so encumbered though shy. Two, a tooth or two. He retains the good ones for talking and because he's not afraid to speak up, except as everyone knows in the presence of gar women no one has trouble hearing what he. Maybe if Morley repeated the place name again slowly and with ample force, I would get it right. It's worth a try, cousin. And then he, I'm just gonna skip forward a bit and he successfully pronounces the name, which translates as water Lies with mud in an open container. Relieved and pleased. I pronounce the name slowly.

Then I, then a bit more rapidly and again, as it might be spoken. In normal conversation, Charles listens and nods his head in. . Yes. He says in Apache, that is how our ancestors made it a long time ago, just as it is to name this place. Mm-hmm. So this became important to me when thinking about the Irish language because something similar happened in Ireland in the you know, we have all our native Irish place. But in the 1820s the British Army's Ordinance survey came and decided they were gonna make these names pro pronounceable to English ears. And so they kind of tore up the native pronunciation and kind of push an English pronunciation on top. So you have these very strange English Anglo size versions of Irish Place names

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Michael: Soin in is is probably better known in English as dingle, but doesn't really have anything to do with the Irish.

And there are plenty of, there are so many examples of this and I think when you're trying to learn about a landscape in your relation to a ship, to a landscape, it is important to know the native place. It's something that I think about a lot and I try to learn. One of my favorite writers is named Tim Robinson, and he's well he died in 2020.

But I had the opportunity to meet him in 2009 and he was an English cartographer. But he moved to the west of Ireland, to the Iron Islands and also to Kamara. So he kind of moved between those two places. He lived there for more than 30 years, and what he actually did was he went out and mapped the landscape and talked to local people, and he was able to find some of the place names that had been lost over the years that weren't on the official maps, and he was able to help recreate a Gaelic map of those areas. I think that's a really kind of religious or spiritual activity to go out onto the land and walk it. And to name it and to name it correctly. And I think that's what I think my pagan path is in a way. It's to go and walk the land and learn it, what to call it. Cause I think language is the most important tool we have as pagans.

Mark: Hmm.

Michael: So those are, that's kind of when I started to think about this stuff. I've always been interested in folk. It was actually funny. There was, it started with a video game one of the legend of Zelda video games called Major's Mask

Mark: Hmm.

Yucca: Yep.

Michael: in, in the game, they actually have like a mask festival and they dis they discuss the the history of the festival.

Anna was just like, wow, I didn't, I ended up making masks with my sister and we kind of pretended to. A little mask festival of our own

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Michael: that you're, you're familiar with that? Yucca?

Yucca: Yes. Yeah, I played a lot of it.

Michael: Yeah. So, but I guess I really started to think about folklore when when I watched the Wickerman as um, as a teenager. I was probably at 16 when I watched it, and it kind of opened my eyes completely. And we've talked a lot about this in the group. And I. It's watched as a horror movie in a way, but

I think I really got into the, the paganism idea of, of paganism as a teenager because of watching the Wickman and just the symbolism and the pageantry. And I also just like the idea. These island people turning on the state in the form of, of the policeman.

So that's kind of been something I've that I've really enjoyed over the years, watching that every every May as part of my, my, my annual ritual so, you know, after university, I, I moved to South Korea to teach English, and, but at the same time I was quite into Buddhism. I had been practicing some Zen Buddhism from about the age of 18, and, but not like, more as just a practice rather than believing in any of it.

Not believing in reincarnation or anything like that. I just found the ritual of it very beautiful. And I ended up going and doing a temple stay in a, in a place at, at a temple. Up in the mountains and it was very beautiful and really amazing. You know, something you'd see in a movie because the monk, the head monk actually brought us out into a bamboo grove and we sat there meditating just with all surrounded by bamboo.

And it was waving in the wind and it felt like a correction, tiger Hidden dragon or something like that. And one of the powerful events that happened on that trip. Doing the Buddhist meal ceremony where we ate in in the style of a Buddhist monk. And the idea is that you do not leave any food behind.

After you're, after you're finished eating, you've, you eat all the food, and then when you wash the bowls and they kind of put the communal water back into the, the, the waste bowl, there should be no no bit of food, nothing. It should just be clean water. That comes out of, after everybody finishes washing all their bowls.

So we followed all the steps to do that and, you know, some people really, really weren't into it. They didn't wanna do the work of, of being extremely thorough. And there were a few rice pieces of rice in the water at the end and the head monk said to us oh, that will now get, you're, you're gonna cause pain to the hungry to ghost.

Because the hungry goats ghosts have holes in their throats, and when we pour the water outside for the hungry ghosts, the rice particles are gonna get stuck in their throats. And a lot of people were like, what? What are you talking about

Mark: Hmm.

Michael: But I thought that was beautiful because it doesn't, not, you don't have to. It's a story that has a purpose, and that's why, you know, It made me think about the superstitions that we have. And I don't know if I like superstition like these, calling it that. Cause I think a lot of these things have purpose and you have to look for the purpose behind them. And the purpose of that story of the honky go story, maybe for him it is about not causing harm to these, these spirits, but it's also about not wasting food. And I think it, it has more power and more meaning. And you remember. More thoroughly when you have a story like that to back up this, this practice. So I think it kind of made me rethink a lot about the kind of folkloric things that I, in my, in the Irish tradition and that, you know, I think about things like fairy forts, which are, you know, the, these are the archeological sites that you find around Ireland.

Like, I think there's like 60,000 left around the country. These, these circular. Homesteads that made a stone or, or saw, or saw that you find all over the country and people don't disturb them because they're afraid they'll get fair, bad luck. The, if you, if you disturb the, the fair fort the ferry's gonna come after you , or if you could, or if you cut down a tree, a lone tree.

Lone trees that grow in the middle of fields that don't have a, a woodland beside them, just singular trees. These are known as fairy trees and it's bad luck to cut them down. But I feel like these folk beliefs help preserve the past as well, because, you know, farmers who don't have this belief, they don't have any problem tearing down fray, forts and that kind of thing.

They just see it as a, something in the way of them farming, especially in the kind of age of industrial agriculture. Yeah. So it just made, that was when I started to think about how important it is to keep folk belief alive. And I've really, and I really started to study Irish folk belief after that point. And I lived in South Korea as I mentioned. I met my wife there, she's from Iowa and she was also teaching in, in South Korea, and we moved to Vietnam after that. And we lived there for a couple of years, and I might come back to that later. But fast forwarding, we moved to Iowa then in 2013, and I'm teaching a course in Irish.

At a local community college, but I always start with this poem by Shama Heini Boland. And I just wanted to read two extracts from it. So the first stands out is we have no prairies to slice a big sun at evening everywhere. The eye concedes to encroaching. And then moving downwards. Our pioneers keep striking inwards and downwards. Every layer they strip, they, every layer they strip seems camped on before. So I, I started with that initially, kind of trying to, as, it was almost like a gateway for my students to kind of look at. Look at Iowa with its historic prairies, which don't really exist anymore. It's all farmland. There's very little prairie land left. I think maybe 2% of the state is prairie. But that idea, that idea of our pioneers strike downwards, and I've been thinking about that a lot as well, that that's kind of a, a colonial look at the land because this land, the American land has is just as camped. As Ireland, and I've been kind of experiencing that more and more. I have a friend who's an archeologist here and just hearing them talk about the kinds of fines that they have. You know, we lived in a town where there was a Native American fishing weir was a couple of hundred years old. It you could kind of see the remains, but it mostly washed away by the time we had.

But I did see an old postcard of it from the seventies, and you could see it very clearly. And so just make, and then we always it's become a ritual every every autumn, we go up to northeast Iowa to these, to these effigy mounds, which are some Native American mounds up there on a bluff, just overlooking the miss.

Mark: Hmm.

Michael: And that's really amazing to look at that and experience and experience that. And you know, I'd love to go back, unfortunately, Shamus, he died more than 10 years ago now, but I'd love to go back and ask him if he would consider rewriting that line, you know, because this land is just as a count on

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Michael: and I'm trying to, trying to make sense of that and what it means. As an Irish person living in America,

Yucca: Mm.

Michael: Cuz we, Irish people are victims of col colonialism,

Mark: Hmm.

Michael: Irish people, when they moved to America, they just became white as well and had the same colonial attitudes as everybody. And I'm trying to kind of, but you know, there's, there's, there's kind of stories of reciprocation as well. Where during the famine, the Irish famine the, I think, I believe it was the Chota Nation sent Emin relief to the AR to Ireland. Even though they didn't have much themselves, they still saw this. People in need across the water and they sent money to help. And, you know, there's that connection between the Chta nation and the Irish has continued to this day. But I am just trying to figure out what it means to be an Irish person and a pagan living in this country.

And that's kind of where I, where I am right now. But to get back to how I got into Ethiopia, paganism I mentioned earlier that I was really into the Wickerman and I found this group called Folk folk Horror Revival on Facebook. And somebody one day mentioned that there was this group called Atheopagan. And so I decided to join and I found a lot of like-minded people.

And I've been kind of involved in the community for, for, I think that was maybe 2018.

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Michael: And I've been involved in the community since then and maybe on a bigger, I've been much more involved since Covid started and we started doing our Saturday mixers. And I think I've made maybe 90% of those

Mark: something

Michael: and we've, yeah, and we've been doing that for the last three years and it's just been. It's a really amazing, it's one of the highlights of my week to spend time with with other people in that, in that hour and 45 minutes that we spend every Saturday.

Mark: Mm.

Michael: Mm-hmm.

Mark: Yeah, I, I really agree with you. That's, I, it's a highlight of my week as well. Such warm, thoughtful people and so diverse and living in so many different places. It's yeah, it's just a really good thing to do on a Saturday morning for me. And. We'll probably get into this more a little bit later, but the idea of creating human connection and community building I know is really important to you and it's really important to me too.

I think there have been other sort of naturalistic, pagan traditions that have been created by people, but they just kind of plunked them on the internet and let them sit. And to me it's. That would be fine if I were just gonna do this by myself. But when other people started saying, I like this, I want to do this too.

To me that meant, well then we should all do it together. Right? Let's, let's build a community and support one another in doing this. And so the Saturday mixers, when we, when Covid started, I think. I mean, to be honest, COVID did some great things for the Ethiopia, pagan community.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: yeah. Kind of accidentally, but that's, that's

Yucca: Well that's the silver linings, right? That's one of the things we, you know, life goes on. We have to find the, the, the benefits and the good things, even in the challenging times.

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Mm-hmm.

Michael: yeah.

I think. I'm just thinking back to when we started. So it's kind of, we have maybe six or seven regulars who come to every meeting maybe. And then we have other people who join now and then, but I'm just trying to think back to the first meeting. I think we, that's when the idea of doing virtual ritual began as well in that first meeting.

And we were trying to figure out how to do.

Yucca: Was that was the first meeting before Covid or was it as a response to Covid?

Mark: You know, honestly, I don't remember. I think it must have been in response to Covid because everybody was shut in and, you know, everybody was kind of starving for human contact.

Michael: I think the first one may have been March or April. 2020,

Yucca: Okay, so right there at the.

Michael: Yeah, right at the beginning. Yeah. And I think, I remember in the first meeting we were talking about ritual ideas and I think the first suggestion I came up with was like I'd love to somebody do like a, describe what an atheopagan temple might look.

Mark: Oh yeah.

Michael: Yeah. And I left, and I think you were recording the meetings at that time, but we don't record 'em anymore, just so people can feel free to be themselves and not have a recorded recording of themselves out there, . But I know that, I think James who you interviewed recently he, he was listening to that one, I believe, and he came the next week and actually had prepared a guided meditation.

Of what a pagan temple would be like to him. And it was a walk through nature. I think that was the first, our first online ritual together.

Mark: Yeah, I remember that now. Yeah, and it's been, it's really been a journey trying to figure out how, how can you do these ritual things over a, a video conferencing platform. In a way that makes everybody feel like they're participating and engaged. Right. So that there's a, a transformation of consciousness.

But I think we've done pretty well, to be honest. I mean, some of the rituals that we've done have been really quite moving.

Michael: Yeah. And I think the ritual framework that you've worked at translates very well to. A Zoom conference as well. I dunno if maybe, if he wants to describe that, what the usual atheopagan ritual would look like.

Mark: Sure. We've, we've talked about this before. The, the, the ritual structure that I proposed in my book is basically a, a five step process where the first is arrival, which is sort of, Transitioning into the ritual state of mind from the ordinary state of mind, and then the invocation of qualities that are a part that we'd like to be a part of the ritual with us, which is sort of the equivalent in Wicca or other pagan traditions of invoking spirits or gods or what have you, ancestors, what have you.

And then the main working of the ritual, which varies depending on what the purpose of the ritual is. But it can be, well, we've done lots of different kinds of things. We've braided ribbons and then tied, not tied magical knots in them. We've made siles, we've we've done just lots of different kinds of things.

And then gratitude expressions of gratitude. The things that we're grateful for. And then finally, benediction, which is sort of the closing of the ritual at a declaration that we're moving back into ordinary time.

Yucca: So how does that look in, in a meeting, like a Zoom meeting In a digital format?

Mark: Michael, you want to take that one or should I?

Michael: So you know, you have maybe, I think usually when we have a ritual more people attend that and so we might have 12 people there and

often

Yucca: cameras on.

Michael: Camera's on. Well, it's optional. Yeah. If you don't feel comfortable having your camera on, that's completely fine and you don't even have to speak.

We do encourage people just to you know, leave a message in the chat so you can just listen in. You can engage as much or as little as you want. And you, you, so. We have all the people on in the conference, and maybe we'll try and get some more of the senses involved as well. So sometimes we'll like candles and everybody will have a candle in front of them.

I do know for for some of our sound rituals. Mark, you've used two cameras where you, you aim one camera at maybe a focus, like what's one of the examples of that that you.

Mark: Well we did that both at Sown and at Yu. So both the Halls ritual and the Yule ritual where I would create a focus or alter setup with thematic and symbolic things relating to the season. and then I would point, I would log into Zoom with my phone and point my phone at that. And then, and then I'd log in separately on my laptop for myself as a person, and then I could spotlight the focus so that it's kind of the centerpiece of what everybody experiences on their screen and sets the atmosphere.

Michael: Yeah. So just a virtual focus that everybody can, everybody can virtually gather around.

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Michael: Yeah. And I think we've also used a Pinterest board in the past as well for people. I think it was at Sound again, we had that Pinterest board where people could put up notes about. Their ancestors or loved ones that they were That's correct, isn't it?

Mark: Yeah. Yeah. Or pictures of people that had passed recently or.

Yucca: mm.

Michael: yeah. So yeah, there's a lot of digital space that you can use for this ritual. We also try not to involve too many props as well. Because we wanna make it as easy as possible for people of all abilities. And just if you don't have the space for something, for a large proper if you don't wanna make a lot of noise, you know, we're not gonna have you using chimes or things like that.

So we try and make it as easy as possible. Sometimes we do invite you to bring some food to eat as well, because, you know, a lot of these are feasting rituals. So we maybe, if you feel comfortable bringing some refreshments, you might want to do. And just have a friendly meal with people online. For example, we're actually gonna start doing I'm gonna be leading full Moon meals every month on the, on the, so the first one's gonna be December 7th.

And I'll post, post about that on Discord, and I think Mark will post about that in the Facebook group. Yeah. And so the idea is everybody just comes. Joins the Zoom meeting and everybody should have their meal. Whether you're, whether that's lunch or if you're in a different time zone, maybe there'll be dinner or maybe it's just a snack.

And then we'll spend a minute just thinking about the providence of the food and then we'll eat us and maybe people can talk about the food that they're eating and what it means to. And I'm hoping to make that a monthly event that we meet every full moon to share a meal together

Mark: That

sounds. I, I, I really I have pagan guilt over how little I pay attention to the full moon. I'm, I'm always, I'm always aware of what phase the moon is in, but I, I don't do a lot in the way of observances of the phases of the moon. And so, I'm excited to have this added in to something that I can attend.

Michael: Mm-hmm. . But yeah, as you can see from that format, it's very simple. And again, you, if, if people listening would like to attend as well, there's no obligation to keep your. Your camera on, there's no obligation to speak. You just, you can just listen in and just feel part of the, part of the community that way.

Yucca: Mm-hmm. So in the mixers sometimes ritual, are there discussions or what else do the mixers.

Michael: Usually the mixer is kind of a freeform thing.

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Michael: Maybe we'll have a topic sometimes, but usually people just come and do a check in and talk about how they're, how they're getting on that week and if there's anything they wanna discuss, we just open it up to that. Depending on the size of the turn, we may require some kind of etiquette stuff.

So if there are a lot of people and we don't want people to. Shut it down or have spoken over. So we'll ask people to raise their hands if they wanna speak. That's, that really is only when there's a lot of people and, and often I, I know I'm somebody who likes to talk, so it's a, I think raising hands also gives people who are less confident, or, I'm sorry, not less confident, just not at, don't feel like interrupting.

It gives them an opportu. To to have their say as well

and be called on mm-hmm.

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: Mm.

Mark: I think it's really good that we've implemented that. It, it's, it helps.

Michael: Mm-hmm. I think one of the really cool rituals we had recently was for like the ATO Harvest, so that was when was that? That was in September or October. In September, yeah. Yeah. So. We were trying, I mean, usually it's, you could do some kind of harvest related and I think we've done that in the past.

But I have a book called Celebrating Irish Festivals by Ruth Marshall. And this is my go-to book for, for, for ritual ideas. And this is, and I like to. Kind of some of the traditional holidays and maybe just steal from them. . So Michael Mass is is the holiday around that time in Ireland? It's a Christian holiday, but it's also it's

a

Yucca: were older.

Michael: yeah, yeah,

Yucca: Christians took for the older

Michael: yeah, yeah, yeah. you know, it's about St. And he's known for slaying a dragon as just as St. George was known for slaying a dragon. But I thought, well, let's turn this on this head and let's celebrate our inner dragons. Let's bring our dragons to life. So it was the whole ritual was about dragons. And we actually drew Dragons, drew our inner dragons and shared them.

Talked about what they. And kind of we were feeding our inner dragon so that they could warm us throughout the coming winter.

Yucca: Hmm.

Michael: Mm-hmm.

Mark: as well as watching the home. Star Runner Strong Door, the Ator video,

Michael: Oh yeah,

Mark: which you, you have to do if you've got dragons as a theme. It's just too funny to avoid.

Michael: That's an old flash cartoon from the early two thousands. That was pretty popular.

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Michael: Yeah. Track toward the ator. Google it, and in fact, I did a, I did the hot chip challenge as part of that ritual as

Mark: That's right. Yeah.

Michael: where I ate a very, very hot tortilla chip on camera. And. It was it was painful, but I'm sure, I don't know if it entertained other people, but it was, it was fun

Mark: Oh yeah. It was fun.

Michael: So, yeah, they're like, I mean, these rituals aren't all, they're, they're fun and they're kind of silly and goofy and but I mean, I thought at the same time they're very meaningful because people really opened up in that one

Mark: Yeah.

Michael: and shared some really profe profound truth. That was one of my favorites actually, and I hope we do another, another dragon invoking ritual in the future.

Mark: Maybe in the spring

Michael: yeah.

Mark: you do it at, at both of the equinoxes.

Michael: Mm-hmm.

Mark: so you've joined the Atheopagan Society Council, which is great. Thank you so much for your, your volunteering and your effort. What do you think about the future? How do you, how do you see where this community is going and what would you like to see?

What's, what's your perspective on that?

Michael: Yeah, so just before I discovered the Pagan Facebook group I had attended A local cups meeting. So that's the covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. And so it was just a taro reading workshop and, you know, I was, I, I like kind of using these kind of rituals just for their beauty and, but not, for not, not seeing anything supernatural in them. I was, it was amazing to, to find a group that was interested in these kind of things too, but without the they weren't incredulous. So I guess what I'm hoping for is that as we, as we kind of find more people who are, are, are aligned with us, maybe we can have more in. Experiences. That was one of the great, the great highlights of, of last year was attending the Century retreat and meeting all, all these amazing people in real life and being able to spend time together in real life.

And I hope that as we kind of, as the word gets out about this group, more and more of us can meet in person or as we are able to,

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Michael: That's what I really hope for the future that you're finding your, your people that we are, we are being able to get these local groups together and then spend time on these important days of the year.

And I believe the Chicago Afu Pagan group was able to do that not too long ago. And I know Mark, your local group meets quite regularly as well.

Mark: We, we meet for the, for the eight holidays, for the eight Sabbath. So yeah, we're gonna get together on the 18th of December and burn a fire in the fire pit and do a, a ritual and enjoy food and drink with one another. And yeah, it's a, it's a really good feeling that that feeling of getting together is just You can't replace it with online connection, but online connection is still really good.

So that's why, that's why we continue to do the mixers every Saturday. And Glen Gordon has also been organizing a mixer on Thursday evenings. Well evenings if you're in the Americas. And. Yeah, there's just, there's, there's a bunch of different opportunities to plug in and it's always great to see somebody new.

Michael: Yeah, I think that would be another hope as well that, you know, if you've been on the fence about coming to a mixer I hope that what we've described today maybe entices you to come along. You know that there's no expectations and you can, you can share, you can just sit in the background and watch, or you can participate.

There's no expectations and it's just a nice way to, to connect with people, so,

Yucca: how would somebody join in? They find the, the link on the Facebook discord.

Michael: that's right. Yeah. So I think, mark, you post it regularly on the Facebook group, and it's also posted on the disc. As well. So, and it's the same time every Saturday, so it's 12:15 PM Central for me, so, and that's like 1115 for you, mark, on the,

Mark: No, it's 1115 for Yucca.

Michael: Oh, okay.

Mark: It's 10 15 for me.

Michael: Okay. Okay.

Yucca: one 15 for Eastern. Then

Michael: one, yeah, that's right.

Yeah.

Yucca: Hmm

Mark: And.

Michael: and it's always the same time, and I think we've, I think we've only missed one week, maybe in the last three years.

Mark: Yeah, I think that's right. I wasn't available and I couldn't find somebody else to host or something like that, but yeah, it's been very consistent. And I see no reason to think it isn't gonna keep being consistent. But yeah, we, you know, we welcome new people. And if you're not in the Americas, that's fine too.

We've got a couple of Dutch people that come in all the time. There's a, an Austrian woman who lives in Helsinki who participates. So

Yucca: E eight nine ish kind of for Europe,

Mark: Yeah.

Michael: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We've even had on the Thursday night mixer, we've even had Australians join occasionally too. So

Yucca: That sounds like that'd be early for them then, right?

Michael: yeah,

Yucca: getting up in the.

Michael: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. But I'd I'd love for some of the listeners to come and join us on one of the mixers and then cuz you know, you bring new ideas. And I we're always looking for new ritual ideas,

Mark: Mm.

Michael: That kind of bring meaning to our lives and to everybody else's.

Mark: Mm-hmm. Yeah, cuz that's, I mean, that's what we're doing, right? We're, we're create, we're, it's a creative process for us. We've got these sort of frameworks like the Wheel of the Year and the, the ritual format that I laid out. Although people can use other ritual formats too. That's fine. But it's, it's an ongoing process of creation and of taking some old traditions and folding them in where they fit but creating new stuff as well.

One of the innovations that we, that we've been doing for the l past year or so is if people want to be done with something, if they want to be finished with something in their. They can write it in the chat and then I take the chat file and I print it on my printer and I take it and I burn it in my cauldron.

So it is actually being burnt physically. But it just takes a little bit of technical processing before that happens.

Yucca: Hmm.

Mark: And it's those kinds of innovations that are really useful for online rituals. And boy, if you have new ideas about things we can do for online rituals, I, I would love to hear 'em.

Yucca: So thank you so much for sharing your story and your visions or the future with us. This has been, it's, it's really been beautiful to hear and to get that insight. Thank you, Michael.

Michael: Well, thank you for having me on.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: It's been delightful hearing from you and, and I, I gotta say, I, I feel like our community is very lucky. You've been exploring religion and and folklore and ritual for a long time in a lot of different frameworks and I feel really fortunate that you've landed with us cuz I like you so.

Michael: Okay. Well thanks very much. I like you too,

Mark: Okay folks, that'll be all for this week. And as always, we'll have another episode for you next week on the Wonder Science Based Paganism. Have a great week.

Yucca: Thanks everybody.

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We aren't able to record a new episode this week, so here is a great interview we did with Michael H. of the Atheopagan Society Council. See you next week!
S3E41 TRANSCRIPT:

----more----

Mark: Welcome back to the Wonder Science-based Paganism. I'm Mark, one of your hosts.

Yucca: and I'm Yucca.

Mark: and today we have a really exciting episode. We have an interview with a member of the Atheopagan Society Council, Michael, who is joining us today, and is gonna tell us about his journey and what this community means to him and his vision for the future and all kinds of cool stuff.

So welcome.

Michael: Well, thank you very much for having me.

Mark: I'm delighted to have you here,

Yucca: Thanks for coming on.

Michael: Yeah, no, I'm excited.

Yucca: Yeah. So why don't we start with so who are you? Right? What's, what's your journey been to get here?

Michael: Gosh. Well, I kind of have to start at the very beginning. So my name's Michael and you know, I've, I start, sometimes I go by Mícheál, which is my Irish, the Irish version of my name. And that's something I've been using more as I've been involved in the Pagan community. My parents are both Irish and.

They moved to the United States in their early eighties cuz my dad got a green card working over there

Mark: Hmm.

Michael: and I was born in America. And then they decided they want to move back to Ireland then in 1991. So already I had this kind of dissected identity. Was I American or was I Irish? I never really lost my American accent.

When I, when I moved to Ireland my sister who was born in Ireland, she actually has a slight American accent just from living with me. So she never people always ask her, are you, are you American? And she's like, I've never lived there. So it's funny that it's kind of stuck with her, but I moved to Ireland and I suddenly was kind of got this culture shock at the age of five and moving to this new country.

And my mother has a very large family, so she has like, two, two brothers and seven sisters, and then I've got like 30 cousins. So , it was a big, a big change from AmeriCorps. It was just the three of us. Moving back to Ireland and. It was a very, you know, Ireland, you know, is, would've been considered a very Catholic country, and it's been kind of secularizing since the nineties up until now.

But back then it was still quite Catholic. Like homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1992 and divorce was only made legal in 1995. So, I guess the first kind of sense of, of what I meant to be Irish back then was, You know, you learned Irish in school, you learned to speak Irish in school, and this was very it wasn't taught very well, I would say, and I think most Irish people would agree with that.

It's kind of taught like almost like Latin or something as a dead language rather than as a living language. So you're spending time learning all this grammar. And you don't kind of develop that love of it that I think you should. I did go to like Irish summer camp in the Gaeltacht . The Gaeltacht is the Irish speaking area of Ireland, and I kind of became aware of my Irishness, you know, just through being part of all this and also. I would've introduced myself as American when I was little but people didn't really like that. It was kind of a, like a weird thing to do. So my mom eventually told me, maybe you should just stop paying that. And so throughout my I, you know, as I mentioned, it was a very Catholic country.

And when I was in the Gaeltacht in Irish summer camp one of the kids said they were atheist. And I was like, what does that mean? I'm like, I don't believe in God. And I was, and in my head I was like, I didn't know you could do that, I didn't know that was an option. . So I kind of thought about it for a while.

I became, we started studying the Reformation in school when I was about 14. And then I learned that Catholics believed in transubstantiation and nobody had really mentioned that before. They didn't really teach the catechism very well, I guess. I'd done my communion and my confirmation, but nobody ever mentioned that.

We literally believed that the, the body and blood, you know, was that the bread and water? Oh, sorry. The bread and wine actually became literally, And the body. And I thought that was a very strange thing, that that was a literal thing. It wasn't just symbolic. And then we also studied Calvinism and all that stuff. And I was like, then I started to read the Bible and I was like, then it fun, it finally just dawned on me that I didn't believe any of this, and it was kind of liberating.

But it was kind of a way of being d. In a very homogenous society too. You could be a bit of a rebel. So I think I was one of those annoying teenagers who was always questioning everybody and having, trying to have debates with everybody about religion and they didn't enjoy that . And so I went through school and I just remember hating studying the Irish language until eventually when I left school.

On the last day, I actually took all my. My Irish textbooks and burnt them and I feel I . Yeah. I mean I feel so much guilt and regret about that and I think about that how important it's to me now and that, that was a real shame that, but I didn't, partially I didn't put the work in, but also I just think the structure.

Was not there. I mean so many Irish people come out of outta school not really know, knowing how to speak the language, you know, and I think it is an effective col colonization as well, where, you know, you consider English is a useful language and learning French or Spanish, that's a useful thing, but there's no use for Irish in people's minds, which is a, and I find that a real shame and I. could go back and change that. In university I studied anthropology and history because I was very interested in religion. All throughout my teenage years, I was obsessed with learning about world religions, you know, there was a world religion class in, in secondary school. I didn't get into it, but I begged the teacher to allow me to.

Into it because I was so interested in the topic. And he was like, fine, fine. And he kind of thought he'd humor me in one class one day and he was like, well, Michael, maybe you could talk about satanism. That's the topic for today. And I was like, well, let's start with Al Crowley. And he was like, okay, maybe he actually knows what he is talking about So, I went, I. I went to the university sorry, national University of Ireland, Minuth Campus. And it's funny because that used to be known as so it's actually, it's two campuses. They're St. Patrick's college, which is like a, a seminary for priests. And there's the I, which is like the secular version, and they're both, but they both share the same compass. So it's funny, it used to be the, the biggest seminary in Europe. They call it the priest factory cuz they pumped out so many priests that sent, sent them all over the world. And it's when you go out and you walk down the corridors, you see all the graduating classes. So you go back to 1950 and you see a graduating class of like a hundred priests.

And every year as you're going down the corridor, it gets smaller and smaller and smaller. Until I think the year I graduated, there was like two people graduating as priests. Yeah. So that was, that was a, I decided to study history and anthropology at n Y Minuth and one of the books that I read. Was kind of a gateway into thinking about land and language, which are two things that are really important to me in my, when I think about Paganism.

It's a book called wisdom Sits in Places by Keith Bato, bass by Keith Bassell, and. I'm just gonna read a little bit here from the book because he was an anthropologist working with the Apache, the Western Apache, to try and remap the land using the Native Apache words rather than the, the English words. So trying to make a native map and working with Apache people to find all the true, the true names of all these. so this is the quote, but already on only our second day in the country together a problem had problem had come up for the third time in as many tries. I have mispronounced the Apache name of the boggy swale before us. And Charles, who is weary of repeating it, has a guarded look in his eyes after watching the name for a fourth.

I acknowledged defeat and attempted to apologize for my flawed linguistic performance. I'm sorry, Charles. I can't get it. I'll work on it later. It's in the machine. It doesn't matter. It matters. Charles says softly to me in English, and then turning to speak to Morley. He addresses him in Western Apache, is what he said.

What he's doing isn't right. It's not good. He seems to be in a. Why is he in a hurry? It's disrespectful. Our ancestors made this name. They made it just as it is. They made it for a reason. They spoke it first a long time ago. He's repeating the speech of our ancestors. He doesn't know that. Tell him he's repeating the speech of our ancestors. And I'm gonna just there's another section here, a little, a few pages. But then unexpectedly in one of those courteous turnabouts that Apache people employ to assuage embarrassment in salvage damaged feelings, Charles himself comes to the rescue with a quick corroborative grin. He announces he is missing several teeth and that my problem with the place name may be attributable to his lack of dental equipment. Sometimes he says he is hard to underst. His nephew, Jason, recently told him that, and he knows he tends to speak softly. Maybe the combination of too few teeth and two little volume accounts for my failing. Short morally, on the other hand, is not so encumbered though shy. Two, a tooth or two. He retains the good ones for talking and because he's not afraid to speak up, except as everyone knows in the presence of gar women no one has trouble hearing what he. Maybe if Morley repeated the place name again slowly and with ample force, I would get it right. It's worth a try, cousin. And then he, I'm just gonna skip forward a bit and he successfully pronounces the name, which translates as water Lies with mud in an open container. Relieved and pleased. I pronounce the name slowly.

Then I, then a bit more rapidly and again, as it might be spoken. In normal conversation, Charles listens and nods his head in. . Yes. He says in Apache, that is how our ancestors made it a long time ago, just as it is to name this place. Mm-hmm. So this became important to me when thinking about the Irish language because something similar happened in Ireland in the you know, we have all our native Irish place. But in the 1820s the British Army's Ordinance survey came and decided they were gonna make these names pro pronounceable to English ears. And so they kind of tore up the native pronunciation and kind of push an English pronunciation on top. So you have these very strange English Anglo size versions of Irish Place names

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Michael: Soin in is is probably better known in English as dingle, but doesn't really have anything to do with the Irish.

And there are plenty of, there are so many examples of this and I think when you're trying to learn about a landscape in your relation to a ship, to a landscape, it is important to know the native place. It's something that I think about a lot and I try to learn. One of my favorite writers is named Tim Robinson, and he's well he died in 2020.

But I had the opportunity to meet him in 2009 and he was an English cartographer. But he moved to the west of Ireland, to the Iron Islands and also to Kamara. So he kind of moved between those two places. He lived there for more than 30 years, and what he actually did was he went out and mapped the landscape and talked to local people, and he was able to find some of the place names that had been lost over the years that weren't on the official maps, and he was able to help recreate a Gaelic map of those areas. I think that's a really kind of religious or spiritual activity to go out onto the land and walk it. And to name it and to name it correctly. And I think that's what I think my pagan path is in a way. It's to go and walk the land and learn it, what to call it. Cause I think language is the most important tool we have as pagans.

Mark: Hmm.

Michael: So those are, that's kind of when I started to think about this stuff. I've always been interested in folk. It was actually funny. There was, it started with a video game one of the legend of Zelda video games called Major's Mask

Mark: Hmm.

Yucca: Yep.

Michael: in, in the game, they actually have like a mask festival and they dis they discuss the the history of the festival.

Anna was just like, wow, I didn't, I ended up making masks with my sister and we kind of pretended to. A little mask festival of our own

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Michael: that you're, you're familiar with that? Yucca?

Yucca: Yes. Yeah, I played a lot of it.

Michael: Yeah. So, but I guess I really started to think about folklore when when I watched the Wickerman as um, as a teenager. I was probably at 16 when I watched it, and it kind of opened my eyes completely. And we've talked a lot about this in the group. And I. It's watched as a horror movie in a way, but

I think I really got into the, the paganism idea of, of paganism as a teenager because of watching the Wickman and just the symbolism and the pageantry. And I also just like the idea. These island people turning on the state in the form of, of the policeman.

So that's kind of been something I've that I've really enjoyed over the years, watching that every every May as part of my, my, my annual ritual so, you know, after university, I, I moved to South Korea to teach English, and, but at the same time I was quite into Buddhism. I had been practicing some Zen Buddhism from about the age of 18, and, but not like, more as just a practice rather than believing in any of it.

Not believing in reincarnation or anything like that. I just found the ritual of it very beautiful. And I ended up going and doing a temple stay in a, in a place at, at a temple. Up in the mountains and it was very beautiful and really amazing. You know, something you'd see in a movie because the monk, the head monk actually brought us out into a bamboo grove and we sat there meditating just with all surrounded by bamboo.

And it was waving in the wind and it felt like a correction, tiger Hidden dragon or something like that. And one of the powerful events that happened on that trip. Doing the Buddhist meal ceremony where we ate in in the style of a Buddhist monk. And the idea is that you do not leave any food behind.

After you're, after you're finished eating, you've, you eat all the food, and then when you wash the bowls and they kind of put the communal water back into the, the, the waste bowl, there should be no no bit of food, nothing. It should just be clean water. That comes out of, after everybody finishes washing all their bowls.

So we followed all the steps to do that and, you know, some people really, really weren't into it. They didn't wanna do the work of, of being extremely thorough. And there were a few rice pieces of rice in the water at the end and the head monk said to us oh, that will now get, you're, you're gonna cause pain to the hungry to ghost.

Because the hungry goats ghosts have holes in their throats, and when we pour the water outside for the hungry ghosts, the rice particles are gonna get stuck in their throats. And a lot of people were like, what? What are you talking about

Mark: Hmm.

Michael: But I thought that was beautiful because it doesn't, not, you don't have to. It's a story that has a purpose, and that's why, you know, It made me think about the superstitions that we have. And I don't know if I like superstition like these, calling it that. Cause I think a lot of these things have purpose and you have to look for the purpose behind them. And the purpose of that story of the honky go story, maybe for him it is about not causing harm to these, these spirits, but it's also about not wasting food. And I think it, it has more power and more meaning. And you remember. More thoroughly when you have a story like that to back up this, this practice. So I think it kind of made me rethink a lot about the kind of folkloric things that I, in my, in the Irish tradition and that, you know, I think about things like fairy forts, which are, you know, the, these are the archeological sites that you find around Ireland.

Like, I think there's like 60,000 left around the country. These, these circular. Homesteads that made a stone or, or saw, or saw that you find all over the country and people don't disturb them because they're afraid they'll get fair, bad luck. The, if you, if you disturb the, the fair fort the ferry's gonna come after you , or if you could, or if you cut down a tree, a lone tree.

Lone trees that grow in the middle of fields that don't have a, a woodland beside them, just singular trees. These are known as fairy trees and it's bad luck to cut them down. But I feel like these folk beliefs help preserve the past as well, because, you know, farmers who don't have this belief, they don't have any problem tearing down fray, forts and that kind of thing.

They just see it as a, something in the way of them farming, especially in the kind of age of industrial agriculture. Yeah. So it just made, that was when I started to think about how important it is to keep folk belief alive. And I've really, and I really started to study Irish folk belief after that point. And I lived in South Korea as I mentioned. I met my wife there, she's from Iowa and she was also teaching in, in South Korea, and we moved to Vietnam after that. And we lived there for a couple of years, and I might come back to that later. But fast forwarding, we moved to Iowa then in 2013, and I'm teaching a course in Irish.

At a local community college, but I always start with this poem by Shama Heini Boland. And I just wanted to read two extracts from it. So the first stands out is we have no prairies to slice a big sun at evening everywhere. The eye concedes to encroaching. And then moving downwards. Our pioneers keep striking inwards and downwards. Every layer they strip, they, every layer they strip seems camped on before. So I, I started with that initially, kind of trying to, as, it was almost like a gateway for my students to kind of look at. Look at Iowa with its historic prairies, which don't really exist anymore. It's all farmland. There's very little prairie land left. I think maybe 2% of the state is prairie. But that idea, that idea of our pioneers strike downwards, and I've been thinking about that a lot as well, that that's kind of a, a colonial look at the land because this land, the American land has is just as camped. As Ireland, and I've been kind of experiencing that more and more. I have a friend who's an archeologist here and just hearing them talk about the kinds of fines that they have. You know, we lived in a town where there was a Native American fishing weir was a couple of hundred years old. It you could kind of see the remains, but it mostly washed away by the time we had.

But I did see an old postcard of it from the seventies, and you could see it very clearly. And so just make, and then we always it's become a ritual every every autumn, we go up to northeast Iowa to these, to these effigy mounds, which are some Native American mounds up there on a bluff, just overlooking the miss.

Mark: Hmm.

Michael: And that's really amazing to look at that and experience and experience that. And you know, I'd love to go back, unfortunately, Shamus, he died more than 10 years ago now, but I'd love to go back and ask him if he would consider rewriting that line, you know, because this land is just as a count on

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Michael: and I'm trying to, trying to make sense of that and what it means. As an Irish person living in America,

Yucca: Mm.

Michael: Cuz we, Irish people are victims of col colonialism,

Mark: Hmm.

Michael: Irish people, when they moved to America, they just became white as well and had the same colonial attitudes as everybody. And I'm trying to kind of, but you know, there's, there's, there's kind of stories of reciprocation as well. Where during the famine, the Irish famine the, I think, I believe it was the Chota Nation sent Emin relief to the AR to Ireland. Even though they didn't have much themselves, they still saw this. People in need across the water and they sent money to help. And, you know, there's that connection between the Chta nation and the Irish has continued to this day. But I am just trying to figure out what it means to be an Irish person and a pagan living in this country.

And that's kind of where I, where I am right now. But to get back to how I got into Ethiopia, paganism I mentioned earlier that I was really into the Wickerman and I found this group called Folk folk Horror Revival on Facebook. And somebody one day mentioned that there was this group called Atheopagan. And so I decided to join and I found a lot of like-minded people.

And I've been kind of involved in the community for, for, I think that was maybe 2018.

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Michael: And I've been involved in the community since then and maybe on a bigger, I've been much more involved since Covid started and we started doing our Saturday mixers. And I think I've made maybe 90% of those

Mark: something

Michael: and we've, yeah, and we've been doing that for the last three years and it's just been. It's a really amazing, it's one of the highlights of my week to spend time with with other people in that, in that hour and 45 minutes that we spend every Saturday.

Mark: Mm.

Michael: Mm-hmm.

Mark: Yeah, I, I really agree with you. That's, I, it's a highlight of my week as well. Such warm, thoughtful people and so diverse and living in so many different places. It's yeah, it's just a really good thing to do on a Saturday morning for me. And. We'll probably get into this more a little bit later, but the idea of creating human connection and community building I know is really important to you and it's really important to me too.

I think there have been other sort of naturalistic, pagan traditions that have been created by people, but they just kind of plunked them on the internet and let them sit. And to me it's. That would be fine if I were just gonna do this by myself. But when other people started saying, I like this, I want to do this too.

To me that meant, well then we should all do it together. Right? Let's, let's build a community and support one another in doing this. And so the Saturday mixers, when we, when Covid started, I think. I mean, to be honest, COVID did some great things for the Ethiopia, pagan community.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: yeah. Kind of accidentally, but that's, that's

Yucca: Well that's the silver linings, right? That's one of the things we, you know, life goes on. We have to find the, the, the benefits and the good things, even in the challenging times.

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Mm-hmm.

Michael: yeah.

I think. I'm just thinking back to when we started. So it's kind of, we have maybe six or seven regulars who come to every meeting maybe. And then we have other people who join now and then, but I'm just trying to think back to the first meeting. I think we, that's when the idea of doing virtual ritual began as well in that first meeting.

And we were trying to figure out how to do.

Yucca: Was that was the first meeting before Covid or was it as a response to Covid?

Mark: You know, honestly, I don't remember. I think it must have been in response to Covid because everybody was shut in and, you know, everybody was kind of starving for human contact.

Michael: I think the first one may have been March or April. 2020,

Yucca: Okay, so right there at the.

Michael: Yeah, right at the beginning. Yeah. And I think, I remember in the first meeting we were talking about ritual ideas and I think the first suggestion I came up with was like I'd love to somebody do like a, describe what an atheopagan temple might look.

Mark: Oh yeah.

Michael: Yeah. And I left, and I think you were recording the meetings at that time, but we don't record 'em anymore, just so people can feel free to be themselves and not have a recorded recording of themselves out there, . But I know that, I think James who you interviewed recently he, he was listening to that one, I believe, and he came the next week and actually had prepared a guided meditation.

Of what a pagan temple would be like to him. And it was a walk through nature. I think that was the first, our first online ritual together.

Mark: Yeah, I remember that now. Yeah, and it's been, it's really been a journey trying to figure out how, how can you do these ritual things over a, a video conferencing platform. In a way that makes everybody feel like they're participating and engaged. Right. So that there's a, a transformation of consciousness.

But I think we've done pretty well, to be honest. I mean, some of the rituals that we've done have been really quite moving.

Michael: Yeah. And I think the ritual framework that you've worked at translates very well to. A Zoom conference as well. I dunno if maybe, if he wants to describe that, what the usual atheopagan ritual would look like.

Mark: Sure. We've, we've talked about this before. The, the, the ritual structure that I proposed in my book is basically a, a five step process where the first is arrival, which is sort of, Transitioning into the ritual state of mind from the ordinary state of mind, and then the invocation of qualities that are a part that we'd like to be a part of the ritual with us, which is sort of the equivalent in Wicca or other pagan traditions of invoking spirits or gods or what have you, ancestors, what have you.

And then the main working of the ritual, which varies depending on what the purpose of the ritual is. But it can be, well, we've done lots of different kinds of things. We've braided ribbons and then tied, not tied magical knots in them. We've made siles, we've we've done just lots of different kinds of things.

And then gratitude expressions of gratitude. The things that we're grateful for. And then finally, benediction, which is sort of the closing of the ritual at a declaration that we're moving back into ordinary time.

Yucca: So how does that look in, in a meeting, like a Zoom meeting In a digital format?

Mark: Michael, you want to take that one or should I?

Michael: So you know, you have maybe, I think usually when we have a ritual more people attend that and so we might have 12 people there and

often

Yucca: cameras on.

Michael: Camera's on. Well, it's optional. Yeah. If you don't feel comfortable having your camera on, that's completely fine and you don't even have to speak.

We do encourage people just to you know, leave a message in the chat so you can just listen in. You can engage as much or as little as you want. And you, you, so. We have all the people on in the conference, and maybe we'll try and get some more of the senses involved as well. So sometimes we'll like candles and everybody will have a candle in front of them.

I do know for for some of our sound rituals. Mark, you've used two cameras where you, you aim one camera at maybe a focus, like what's one of the examples of that that you.

Mark: Well we did that both at Sown and at Yu. So both the Halls ritual and the Yule ritual where I would create a focus or alter setup with thematic and symbolic things relating to the season. and then I would point, I would log into Zoom with my phone and point my phone at that. And then, and then I'd log in separately on my laptop for myself as a person, and then I could spotlight the focus so that it's kind of the centerpiece of what everybody experiences on their screen and sets the atmosphere.

Michael: Yeah. So just a virtual focus that everybody can, everybody can virtually gather around.

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Michael: Yeah. And I think we've also used a Pinterest board in the past as well for people. I think it was at Sound again, we had that Pinterest board where people could put up notes about. Their ancestors or loved ones that they were That's correct, isn't it?

Mark: Yeah. Yeah. Or pictures of people that had passed recently or.

Yucca: mm.

Michael: yeah. So yeah, there's a lot of digital space that you can use for this ritual. We also try not to involve too many props as well. Because we wanna make it as easy as possible for people of all abilities. And just if you don't have the space for something, for a large proper if you don't wanna make a lot of noise, you know, we're not gonna have you using chimes or things like that.

So we try and make it as easy as possible. Sometimes we do invite you to bring some food to eat as well, because, you know, a lot of these are feasting rituals. So we maybe, if you feel comfortable bringing some refreshments, you might want to do. And just have a friendly meal with people online. For example, we're actually gonna start doing I'm gonna be leading full Moon meals every month on the, on the, so the first one's gonna be December 7th.

And I'll post, post about that on Discord, and I think Mark will post about that in the Facebook group. Yeah. And so the idea is everybody just comes. Joins the Zoom meeting and everybody should have their meal. Whether you're, whether that's lunch or if you're in a different time zone, maybe there'll be dinner or maybe it's just a snack.

And then we'll spend a minute just thinking about the providence of the food and then we'll eat us and maybe people can talk about the food that they're eating and what it means to. And I'm hoping to make that a monthly event that we meet every full moon to share a meal together

Mark: That

sounds. I, I, I really I have pagan guilt over how little I pay attention to the full moon. I'm, I'm always, I'm always aware of what phase the moon is in, but I, I don't do a lot in the way of observances of the phases of the moon. And so, I'm excited to have this added in to something that I can attend.

Michael: Mm-hmm. . But yeah, as you can see from that format, it's very simple. And again, you, if, if people listening would like to attend as well, there's no obligation to keep your. Your camera on, there's no obligation to speak. You just, you can just listen in and just feel part of the, part of the community that way.

Yucca: Mm-hmm. So in the mixers sometimes ritual, are there discussions or what else do the mixers.

Michael: Usually the mixer is kind of a freeform thing.

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Michael: Maybe we'll have a topic sometimes, but usually people just come and do a check in and talk about how they're, how they're getting on that week and if there's anything they wanna discuss, we just open it up to that. Depending on the size of the turn, we may require some kind of etiquette stuff.

So if there are a lot of people and we don't want people to. Shut it down or have spoken over. So we'll ask people to raise their hands if they wanna speak. That's, that really is only when there's a lot of people and, and often I, I know I'm somebody who likes to talk, so it's a, I think raising hands also gives people who are less confident, or, I'm sorry, not less confident, just not at, don't feel like interrupting.

It gives them an opportu. To to have their say as well

and be called on mm-hmm.

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: Mm.

Mark: I think it's really good that we've implemented that. It, it's, it helps.

Michael: Mm-hmm. I think one of the really cool rituals we had recently was for like the ATO Harvest, so that was when was that? That was in September or October. In September, yeah. Yeah. So. We were trying, I mean, usually it's, you could do some kind of harvest related and I think we've done that in the past.

But I have a book called Celebrating Irish Festivals by Ruth Marshall. And this is my go-to book for, for, for ritual ideas. And this is, and I like to. Kind of some of the traditional holidays and maybe just steal from them. . So Michael Mass is is the holiday around that time in Ireland? It's a Christian holiday, but it's also it's

a

Yucca: were older.

Michael: yeah, yeah,

Yucca: Christians took for the older

Michael: yeah, yeah, yeah. you know, it's about St. And he's known for slaying a dragon as just as St. George was known for slaying a dragon. But I thought, well, let's turn this on this head and let's celebrate our inner dragons. Let's bring our dragons to life. So it was the whole ritual was about dragons. And we actually drew Dragons, drew our inner dragons and shared them.

Talked about what they. And kind of we were feeding our inner dragon so that they could warm us throughout the coming winter.

Yucca: Hmm.

Michael: Mm-hmm.

Mark: as well as watching the home. Star Runner Strong Door, the Ator video,

Michael: Oh yeah,

Mark: which you, you have to do if you've got dragons as a theme. It's just too funny to avoid.

Michael: That's an old flash cartoon from the early two thousands. That was pretty popular.

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Michael: Yeah. Track toward the ator. Google it, and in fact, I did a, I did the hot chip challenge as part of that ritual as

Mark: That's right. Yeah.

Michael: where I ate a very, very hot tortilla chip on camera. And. It was it was painful, but I'm sure, I don't know if it entertained other people, but it was, it was fun

Mark: Oh yeah. It was fun.

Michael: So, yeah, they're like, I mean, these rituals aren't all, they're, they're fun and they're kind of silly and goofy and but I mean, I thought at the same time they're very meaningful because people really opened up in that one

Mark: Yeah.

Michael: and shared some really profe profound truth. That was one of my favorites actually, and I hope we do another, another dragon invoking ritual in the future.

Mark: Maybe in the spring

Michael: yeah.

Mark: you do it at, at both of the equinoxes.

Michael: Mm-hmm.

Mark: so you've joined the Atheopagan Society Council, which is great. Thank you so much for your, your volunteering and your effort. What do you think about the future? How do you, how do you see where this community is going and what would you like to see?

What's, what's your perspective on that?

Michael: Yeah, so just before I discovered the Pagan Facebook group I had attended A local cups meeting. So that's the covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. And so it was just a taro reading workshop and, you know, I was, I, I like kind of using these kind of rituals just for their beauty and, but not, for not, not seeing anything supernatural in them. I was, it was amazing to, to find a group that was interested in these kind of things too, but without the they weren't incredulous. So I guess what I'm hoping for is that as we, as we kind of find more people who are, are, are aligned with us, maybe we can have more in. Experiences. That was one of the great, the great highlights of, of last year was attending the Century retreat and meeting all, all these amazing people in real life and being able to spend time together in real life.

And I hope that as we kind of, as the word gets out about this group, more and more of us can meet in person or as we are able to,

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Michael: That's what I really hope for the future that you're finding your, your people that we are, we are being able to get these local groups together and then spend time on these important days of the year.

And I believe the Chicago Afu Pagan group was able to do that not too long ago. And I know Mark, your local group meets quite regularly as well.

Mark: We, we meet for the, for the eight holidays, for the eight Sabbath. So yeah, we're gonna get together on the 18th of December and burn a fire in the fire pit and do a, a ritual and enjoy food and drink with one another. And yeah, it's a, it's a really good feeling that that feeling of getting together is just You can't replace it with online connection, but online connection is still really good.

So that's why, that's why we continue to do the mixers every Saturday. And Glen Gordon has also been organizing a mixer on Thursday evenings. Well evenings if you're in the Americas. And. Yeah, there's just, there's, there's a bunch of different opportunities to plug in and it's always great to see somebody new.

Michael: Yeah, I think that would be another hope as well that, you know, if you've been on the fence about coming to a mixer I hope that what we've described today maybe entices you to come along. You know that there's no expectations and you can, you can share, you can just sit in the background and watch, or you can participate.

There's no expectations and it's just a nice way to, to connect with people, so,

Yucca: how would somebody join in? They find the, the link on the Facebook discord.

Michael: that's right. Yeah. So I think, mark, you post it regularly on the Facebook group, and it's also posted on the disc. As well. So, and it's the same time every Saturday, so it's 12:15 PM Central for me, so, and that's like 1115 for you, mark, on the,

Mark: No, it's 1115 for Yucca.

Michael: Oh, okay.

Mark: It's 10 15 for me.

Michael: Okay. Okay.

Yucca: one 15 for Eastern. Then

Michael: one, yeah, that's right.

Yeah.

Yucca: Hmm

Mark: And.

Michael: and it's always the same time, and I think we've, I think we've only missed one week, maybe in the last three years.

Mark: Yeah, I think that's right. I wasn't available and I couldn't find somebody else to host or something like that, but yeah, it's been very consistent. And I see no reason to think it isn't gonna keep being consistent. But yeah, we, you know, we welcome new people. And if you're not in the Americas, that's fine too.

We've got a couple of Dutch people that come in all the time. There's a, an Austrian woman who lives in Helsinki who participates. So

Yucca: E eight nine ish kind of for Europe,

Mark: Yeah.

Michael: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We've even had on the Thursday night mixer, we've even had Australians join occasionally too. So

Yucca: That sounds like that'd be early for them then, right?

Michael: yeah,

Yucca: getting up in the.

Michael: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. But I'd I'd love for some of the listeners to come and join us on one of the mixers and then cuz you know, you bring new ideas. And I we're always looking for new ritual ideas,

Mark: Mm.

Michael: That kind of bring meaning to our lives and to everybody else's.

Mark: Mm-hmm. Yeah, cuz that's, I mean, that's what we're doing, right? We're, we're create, we're, it's a creative process for us. We've got these sort of frameworks like the Wheel of the Year and the, the ritual format that I laid out. Although people can use other ritual formats too. That's fine. But it's, it's an ongoing process of creation and of taking some old traditions and folding them in where they fit but creating new stuff as well.

One of the innovations that we, that we've been doing for the l past year or so is if people want to be done with something, if they want to be finished with something in their. They can write it in the chat and then I take the chat file and I print it on my printer and I take it and I burn it in my cauldron.

So it is actually being burnt physically. But it just takes a little bit of technical processing before that happens.

Yucca: Hmm.

Mark: And it's those kinds of innovations that are really useful for online rituals. And boy, if you have new ideas about things we can do for online rituals, I, I would love to hear 'em.

Yucca: So thank you so much for sharing your story and your visions or the future with us. This has been, it's, it's really been beautiful to hear and to get that insight. Thank you, Michael.

Michael: Well, thank you for having me on.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: It's been delightful hearing from you and, and I, I gotta say, I, I feel like our community is very lucky. You've been exploring religion and and folklore and ritual for a long time in a lot of different frameworks and I feel really fortunate that you've landed with us cuz I like you so.

Michael: Okay. Well thanks very much. I like you too,

Mark: Okay folks, that'll be all for this week. And as always, we'll have another episode for you next week on the Wonder Science Based Paganism. Have a great week.

Yucca: Thanks everybody.

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