To Re-Enchant the World

This month at OUUC we continue to explore indigenous traditions and modern neo-paganism in our religious education program. Last month, for Earth Day, we looked at how current scientific understandings of ecosystems use the symbols and imagery of ancient goddess worship, popularized by such terms as “Mother Earth” and “The Gaia Hypothesis”.

When I was a child, the world seemed to be a magical place. There were flower gardens that I was sure housed fairies, trees that looked like they could come to life at night, and spooky water culverts where trolls might dwell. I roamed my urban neighborhood, making forts with the other kids, and giving places whimsical names. All those special places were sacred to me.

This is developmentally appropriate. Our youngest children effortlessly weave fantasy and reality, living in a magical world. As they grow older, school aged children become concrete thinkers, but still love their stories and symbols. Whereas they once effortlessly believed in magic, now they choose to believe in an epic story which helps make sense of the world. The stories they tell become part of their sacred landscape.

Every now and then, we adults can still tap into that wonder and awe and magic that came so easily to us as children. When I first saw Yosemite Valley, I felt the same sense of utter enchantment that I felt about those fairy gardens as a child. When I recently stared a coyote in the eyes in my own back yard, I felt a sense of recognition and connection.

When we see the world as sacred and enchanted, harming it becomes unthinkable. When we see ourselves as connected to other life, we have to act in ways that honor and protect it.

In A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship With Nature, sociologist James William Gibson explores the resurgence of a sense of enchantment and connection to nature. After the long history of Western culture making nature into nothing more than resources for humans to exploit, this sense of re-enchantment may be the best hope for protecting this one magical world we all must live on. Gibson says: “But however dissimilar and partial their commitments, people respond to the culture of enchantment because it offers something they need (and cannot find elsewhere in consumerist America): transcendence, a sense of mystery and meaning, glimpses of a numinous world beyond our own.”

Perhaps the culture of enchantment can be part of your own search for transcendence, while also bringing you into greater commitment to our one interdependent world.

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The April Theme: Mother Earth

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The theme for the religious education classes in April is Mother Earth, and as we are still exploring indigenous traditions and modern neo-paganism we are having fun looking at the sacred feminine.  We had our first class on this theme last Sunday, and as I watched the children explore this I was struck by just how important this is, for several reasons:

1.  One aspect of goddess reverence includes a reverence for the female body.  In a denomination that promotes OWL as a positive sexuality education program and has taken on reproductive justice as a study issue, it also behooves us to explore body-positive spirituality.

2.  Particularly for the elementary aged kids, who are mostly in the mythic-literal stage of faith formation, storying is a very important aspect of their religious explorations.  They are finding the big mythic stories – the hero tales, the religious founder tales, etc – that help them make sense of the universe.  I believe that even as we grow out of any literal belief in these stories, the hero image that we focused on will still form our superego, or internalized ideal.  This need for a superego was identified by religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs as one of the basic human needs that lead to religion.  And if we are finding superegos here, it is vitally important that there are more options than just male ones.

3.  And, finally, this language of goddess-reverence is deeply embedded in the environmental movement and weaves throughout our 6th Source and 7th Principle without usually being noticed in any explicit way.  To use the symbols and language when it suits us but not take them seriously at other times is a shallow approach to theology and faith.  If Mother Earth is important to us, lets spend some time on that “mother” part as well.

Next Steps at Home:

To explore goddess religion with your kids, check out Circle Round by Starhawk or Celebrating the Great Mother by Cait Johnson.  To