I’ve been feeling a bit “out of sorts” lately. Some of it could be attributed to the seasonal cabin fever that we all tend to get around this time of the year, although in reality this has been a rather mild winter here in the Midwest. I think it’s just that I’ve been a little bored and a lot lazy of late, with the result that I’ve been dawdling around the house, wasting my time on Facebook and snacking on unhealthy food – which of course doesn’t do anything for my health or my waistline.
But yesterday was a beautiful day – the sun was shining, the sky was a bright blue, and the temperature climbed into the 50’s…still on the cool side, but warmer than average. I was determined to get out and get some exercise…and with a large park near my house, I had no excuse. So I donned my exercise clothes, laced up my New Balance sneakers and drove over for a hike.
This particular park is over 700 acres, and is built on a large knob covered with old growth forest. After parking my vehicle, I headed off into the woods.
It turned into one of the best decisions I’ve made recently.
It gave me the chance to do a bunch of RE-ing: rejuvenating, renewing, reconnecting and reaffirming. I was able to rejuvenate my body with some needed exercise; renew my relationship with nature; reconnect with the Goddess in her role as the Earth Mother, and reaffirm my spiritual beliefs.
Sometimes all it takes is a walk in the woods to remind oneself why you are a Pagan.
As I strolled along the trail, my senses took in all that was happening around me. I couldn’t hear the birds, of course…but I could see them fluttering around the branches. I could feel the sun’s rays upon my shoulders, smell the rich fertile earth beneath my feet, see the small green shoots of plants poking up through the soil. Mother Earth is indeed awakening, and we are now witnessing the promise of rebirth, the continuation of the cycle of life that is celebrated in the Wheel of the Year.
My mind drifts back to a time many moons ago, when I was a newcomer to the Craft and studying the Pagan Path with the help of the Elders. One of the requirements of my study was to keep a journal – and to every day take a walk outdoors and record my experiences of the day. I had to use all of my senses and then write about the things I saw, felt, smelled, tasted, and to the extent that I was able…heard. I had to jot down my thoughts, describe the feelings that were invoked. What words came to mind? What songs did I feel like singing, chants that I felt like chanting? What quotes or sayings was I reminded of?
The keeping of that journal was a significant part of my training. It taught me a lot about observing, about expressing, about experiencing.
It taught me a lot about the heart and soul of what it means to be Pagan.
Through journaling, one could write about what she observes with the Wheel of the Year – the changing of the seasons; the birth, death, and rebirth of life; the lessons that Nature has to teach us.
Alas, I haven’t been doing much journaling lately. Maybe it’s time to get back into the habit.
But I was doing a lot of thinking. I found myself reflecting on a recent discussion which occurred on-line, in which another individual stated that it was her understanding that Paganism is a “taught” religion that one was to learn via books or from a teacher…it doesn’t just instinctively pop into your mind. Understandably, a number of Pagans objected to the statement.
I’m also reminded of a statement which was made in a comment here at the Crossroads some time ago – in which an individual recommended spending as much time in nature as possible… that books are just theory, and what helps most of all is a true and profoundly deep connection to nature and all helping beings. Understandably, a number of Pagans objected to this statement as well.
So what’s the answer? Are both of these statements wrong? Both right? One right and one wrong?
My friend Hawk had this to say on the subject:
While I do agree that Mother Nature is probably our best teacher, I do feel strongly that any time spent out in the woods needs to be coupled with time spent in intellectual pursuit of a true understanding of Paganism from historical, theological, ethical, psychological, spiritual, sexual, scientific, and/or magickal perspectives.
Spending time outdoors developing a love for nature does not in and of itself make you a Pagan, any more than spending time observing trials in the courtroom makes you a lawyer. You’ve got to be willing to walk your talk and do the work.
While my friend Robin shared her own sentiments:
I learned the most when the Elder teaching me at the time had me spend a year and a day getting to know the Wheel of the Year through nature rather than through books. Many of the books at the time based their seasonal timelines on what was, for me then, a more northern climate. She had me learn about the geology, ecology, and history of the land where I lived. I had to get outside every day, keep a diary of things like the weather, what was happening to the flora and fauna. I also spent that year naming the full moons with names that were appropriate to where I was living and what was happening on the bit of earth where I lived. It was a great exercise, and I continued to do that whenever we moved. It works for urban, suburban, and country living. Not only did I get to know the land and seasons where I lived, but it really put me in touch with my surroundings in a deep way, as well with the Earth herself. It allowed me to practice, rather than read theory.
I chimed in with my own thoughts on the matter:
I do agree on the importance of getting out and communing with the outdoors… Mother Nature can indeed be our greatest teacher. Thus, I do endorse Robin’s idea of getting out and spending time observing nature and the changes taking place in your area, learning to understand the land, the flora, the fauna, the moon cycles, etc.
However, Robin also brought up another point – the fact that she had an Elder… a teacher to help instruct her and give her some guidance as she underwent her journey and traveled down the Path. Having such a resource to bounce thoughts and ideas and knowledge and so forth off of is invaluable, and I think when that is missing from your studies, that it leaves a gap in your full understanding and appreciation for our spirituality.
But in the end, I have to agree with my friend Wolf Wind:
I think an important foundation stone has been touched on here and that is balance in all areas (outdoors vs. book learning, elder vs. young, solitary vs. group etc.)
The common factor in all of this is do your homework and do it seriously, not half-assed (putting it bluntly) and remain open because such journeys definitely take unseen and unexpected turns and twists when you least expect it.
I think Wolf has hit the nail on the head. Balance is the key, and I suspect this explains my out-of-sorts feeling…I’ve been rather unbalanced lately. I was running the risk of becoming too much of an “armchair witch” - I was spending too much time sitting around around talking about my spirituality; but I wasn’t getting off my duff and actually practicing my spirituality. I wasn’t living my religion.
It took the Goddess giving me a good nudge to remind me of the healing effects of communing with nature. A walk in the woods is a good prescription for the body, mind and spirit.
The sun is shining again today. I’ll have to continue this in my next post. For now, please excuse me while I go find my hiking boots.