Sometimes friends see you more clearly than you see yourself. A few months ago, John Halstead wrote about my particular brand of small-p, backyard paganism in a post so flattering of my approach that I was embarrassed to read it. It was a profound gift, to have my practice reflected back to me. There’s precious little space for spiritual reflection in my life at this time, while also fulfilling commitments to parenting, partnership, community obligations, and nurse work life. Yes, I do practice “being here, now” and “loving here, now.” Yes, I do think that cultivating “a quiet, devoted relationship to nearby life,” to borrow again the words of Martin Buber, is a worthy spiritual goal. And increasingly, I’m becoming aware that this brand of animistic, small-p, backyard paganism may be a very different approach to practice than what big-P, Pagan-identified people have in mind.
I want to cultivate a particular way of approaching experiences of all kinds, not only the ones that occur within magic circles.
I want to find my place in a heterarchy, in a world that is wild and radically plural, not in a hierarchy. (See also Wrycrow’s excellent post on seeking alternatives to institutionalized religions.)
I want to know and practice right relationship with spirits that are not human, the ones with which I share this particular place. I can’t meaningfully devote myself to the ancient gods of other people in far away times and places, though I’ve tried.
Lemon beebalm, Monarda citriodora
Latergram: beebalm tisane, my June full moon tea
This is all to say that I used to identify as Pagan. But the shiver of recognition that I felt when I read John’s post told me that I’m actually small-p pagan. Nontheistic animism is my jam, and while such an approach may share some important characteristics with Paganism, such as a cyclical approach to time and sensory rituals, it’s not necessarily the same thing. There’s joy, clarity, and relief in embracing this insight. I don’t have to react to or reconcile what I think and do with what big-P Pagans think and do, because we’re doing different things. Instead I can focus on questions relevant to small-p pagan approaches. How can the worldview of small-p paganism be described? What are its values? What are its common practices? How can we discover and enact the rituals that the world-as-it-is and the other-than-human lives with whom we share it call us to do?