On behalf of Palm Beach Pagans, thank you for your hospitality. We are a group of local pagans who came together some months ago in order to meet and establish a deeper sense of community. Like you, we accept people of all backgrounds and we welcome a diversity of ideas. Every one of my fellow pagans has his or her own story to tell. I hope that you will take some time later to get to know all of us a little better.
Paganism, or as some would say neopaganism, modern paganism or pagan reconstruction, is a contemporary religious movement made up of numerous different paths or traditions. Some of us are Wiccan, Druid, Asatru or Hellenist. Some of us eschew labels and follow a more eclectic and personalized path. All of these paths share three important features.
One: we look to the pre-Christian roots of western civilization for philosophical and spiritual inspiration, as well as to the indigenous traditions of the peoples of the Americas, Asia, Africa and all over the world.
Two: we recognize Divinity as both feminine and masculine, as both Mother and Father. Likewise, we believe strongly in the equality of men and women.
Three: we regard all of nature as sacred. We possess no dogma, no creed, no commandments and no infallible scriptures. We believe that every man is his own priest and every woman is her own priestess. We shy away from hierarchies and bureaucracy.
When we come together to worship in groups, such “covens,” “circles,” or “groves,” as they are called, they are often small, fluid and short-lived for we walk a path of personal revelation. Outside of brief apprenticeships, every pagan is her or his own authority.
I’m a pagan for the exact same reason some of you are Unitarian Universalists. I was raised in a conservative Christian family. The arbitrary rules and illogical dogma of the Church never sat well with me. I have always believed in a loving God and such doctrines as hell and original sin were offensive to my innate sense of right and wrong.
I was an avid reader and at the age of ten I discovered the writings of Scott Cunningham, Janet and Stewart Farrar, Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente. In so-called Witchcraft or Wicca, I found a religion that espoused all of the things I already believed: God is both Mother and Father. Women and men are equal. All ethnicities are deserving of equal respect. All of nature is sacred.
Some pagans believe in one God whom they might regard as “Spirit,” “Nature,” “The Universe” or “Providence.” Others believe in a Goddess and a God who represent complimentary spiritual forces that manifest the universe: similar to the Taoist idea of Yin and Yang. Some believe in many gods and goddesses. But some of us are atheists who regard gods and goddesses as representative of powerful aspects of the human psyche.
Until recent decades, the pagan movement has been predominantly a private, if not secret, affair. Even today, most pagans practice alone and are focused on self-healing and in developing a deeper personal relationship with nature. I believe that it is time, now, for pagans to assume a larger role in our communities. In an age of rising sea levels, habitat loss and the extinction of species we need pagan voices to remind us of our proper relationship with Mother Earth. Politicians can pass restrictions and companies can slap green labels on our products, but I believe that in order for us to truly walk in balance with the natural world, each and every one of us must change the way we relate to Her.
When was the last time you looked at your yard as a community of living beings rather than just as an arrangement of things you bought at Home Depot? The sciences of biology and ecology provide us with a deeper left-brained understanding of how human beings depend upon Mother Earth. Paganism inspires us to compliment that knowledge with creative right-brained experiences that allow us to make that understanding a part of our day to day lives.
As I mentioned before, I can only speak for myself. I hope you will take the time during the coffee social to allow my fellow Palm Beach pagans to share their own perspectives with you.
Today we observe the Spring Equinox, one of the eight seasonal holidays in the Wheel of the Year observed by most modern pagans. Today, the tilt of the earth's axis causes night and day to be of equal length. For us here in the northern hemisphere, Winter has ended and Spring is about to begin.
Because it marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the Spring Equinox has been celebrated as a holiday of renewal all over the world for thousands of years. Today, even the dates of Passover and Easter are calculated from where the Spring Equinox falls.
In the Middle East it is called Nowruz and it marks the new year among Iranian, Persian, Kurdish and Turkic peoples. Within the Zoroastrian religion and in the Baha'i Faith it is also a holy day. As a matter of fact, the English word “Easter” comes from the name of an ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess of springtime and fertility. Eostre lent her name to the heathen month in which the Spring Equinox was celebrated. When the heathens converted to Christianity, they used Eostre, or Easter, as the English translation of the Latin Pascha. Some pagans today call the Spring Equinox, Ostara, another word derived from the name of this pagan goddess.
In the Middle East, where the Spring Equinox marks the New Year, grains of wheat or lentils are sprouted in a flat dish called a Sabzeh, or “green shoots,” to represent new growth. Since 1970, April 22nd has been observed by people from all nations, religions and cultural backgrounds as Earth Day. Earth Day promotes the protection of the natural environment and its celebration may include the planting of trees or beach cleanups.
Christians celebrate Easter with painted eggs and images of bunny rabbits. Some believe that the dyeing of Easter eggs pre-dates Christianity. Eggs are a universal symbol of creation. Many ancient pagans taught that the universe burst forth from a cosmic egg in a process very similar to the Big Bang. It is believed that before industrialization hens would produce an overabundance of eggs this time of year. Our ancestors would find creative ways of using this surplus rather than throwing them away.
Rabbits are notorious for their romantic prowess. As the Spring Equinox falls in the middle of their breeding season, bunnies are a natural symbol for this time of the year. The Jewish celebration of Passover is redolent with seasonal symbolism: the egg, the bitter herbs and the lamb shank are rooted in a culture that once lived very close to the land and to the cycles of Mother Earth.
Today in Mexico, at Chichen Itza, the Return of the Sun Serpent occurs on the northern balustrade of the Mayan pyramid called El Castillo.
In Japan, today is a traditional time to visit the graves of loved ones and to honor the ancestors. The home is cleaned to make it fit to receive new blessings. Resolutions are made such as adopting new habits and starting new projects.
For all people, both pagan and non-pagan, both ancient and modern, the Spring Equinox is a time to celebrate the return of vitality and fertility to the land. The snows are melting. Snowbirds are returning north. Bare trees are putting forth green shoots. Pollen dusts our windshields. The world is reborn. Some say that Florida has no seasons but when you step outside today, pay attention to which flowers are blooming. There are subtle signs in the wind and in the angle of sunlight that summer is coming. If nothing else, you’re probably still missing that extra hour of sleep from when we turned the clocks forward.
As pagans, we seek to restore our intimate relationship to the natural world. We take this time to celebrate nature’s power to renew all things. It is a time to plant the seeds of that which we would see grow in our lives. It is also a time to reflect upon balance. Life cannot exist in complete light or in utter darkness. Today, darkness and light are in perfect balance and it is upon that balance that all things are renewed.
The Palm Beach Pagans are going to perform a ceremony in celebration of the Spring Equinox. Please visit with Jim and Dayan during the coffee social to find out more about what we have planned for this afternoon. At 1 o’clock we will be gathering outside, just behind this sanctuary, to celebrate. We hope that you stay and join us in our circle or observe from the sidelines.
Let us welcome the growth of new blessings into our lives, both for ourselves, for our community and for our world. Let us find rebirth in this time of renewal and may we ever walk in balance between the darkness and the light.
Ostara, a sermon delivered by Mathew Sydney at 1stUUPB on March 20, 2016.