Rootwater Paganism: A Not-Thing Thing
by Ruby Sara
Greetings, best beloveds, from the silver rain rich streets of the fiercely wild urban midwest! The sky has been slate for days, and alive with thunder. Crocuses and blue scilla have been popping up all over the neighborhood. Is rain in the spring my favorite? I can’t decide. The blustery and expansive rain of summer, thundery and outrageous…that’s hard to beat. The sweet late summer / early fall rains that sweep in and back the turning leaves with shades of blue that can only be described in poetry…I can’t say I don’t love that. But still, these rains…these. When they come blowing in from over Mother Lake, bringing with them a kind of shivery, silvery laughter…a fey stillness, the voice of the Kore…well, it may be that the rains of April and May are my favorites. At least right now. Because it’s April. Ask me again in June. And August. And October. What can I say? The Mama just does a bang-up job of it, this whole weather/planet/life/organic/being thing.
And speaking of the Mama…I’m right proud to announce that I will be a participant in a brand new group blog project brought to you by the Pagan Newswire Collective, entitled No Unsacred Place: Earth and Nature in Pagan Traditions. The PNC has produced several excellent group blogs, and I’m excited to be a part of this newest addition, where I will be joining a panoply of excellent writers and thinkers, including Alison Leigh Lilly o f Meadowsweet and Myrrh, Cat Chapin-Bishop of Quaker Pagan Reflections, and Juniper Jeni of Walking the Hedge, among others. I am really looking forward to reading the work of my fellow bloggers! I will be contributing a monthly column on earth-centered liturgy and ritual in addition to other various posts. I hope you will check out this new exciting project!
It has been a crazy time here at PG headquarters. In addition to our recent Ostara ritual, Johnny and I have been busy getting ready for the upcoming festival season, and have just registered for both Earth Traditions Oasis and Pagan Spirit Gathering, where we hope to present our new workshop on performance in ritual building. Terra Mysterium has a wealth of awesome projects in the works and is also in full swing preparing for Oasis, where we will be presenting a wide range of performances and a new ritual based on the Eleusinian Mysteries. Yes, our friends the Badgers of Life ™ have indeed been chewing at my ankles with what feels like a renewed and enthusiastic vigor. Luckily, they’re cute.
As a matter of fact, the aforementioned Badgers were at fault for the fact that I also missed posting on that most holy of days, All Fools, sacred feast day for my friend and yours, Old Coat. Luckily, Old Coat understands. He is, after all, the King of Laziness and Woolgathering (in addition to his many other Kingly and Princely titles…which,despite the fact that he’s pretty anti-monarchy, he enjoys tremendously), and while it was actually quite a lot of industry on my part that prevented my posting, it would be out of character for Old Coat to fault me for being late to the game. What I’m saying is: Happy All Fools! It may be too late to peddle funny untruths to your friends with impunity, but it’s not too late for storytelling. It’s never, ever too late for that. Isn’t that grand?
Though I don’t think I have a story for you so much today as something of my own personal “This I Believe.” See, it’s spring. A busy spring, yes, but spring. And spring always seems to be the season of experiments for me. Something about newness…you know. So in between the growling of Life Badgers and the bandaging of my ankles, I have also thought a bit about my personal spiritual system, the one I’ve been calling “Rootwater Paganism,” and I thought I’d work out some thoughts about it here for a minute, and collect them in one place.
See…Rootwater Paganism…isn’t a thing.
Well, it kind of is.
Obviously, I’m equivocal about this is. But let’s pretend it *is* a thing, at least for the moment. And let’s say then that that thing is, at the very least, an experiment, and at most, a spiritual road trod upon by pretty much just me, and maybe a small few other people if they choose to define themselves that way.
See, in the grand schemed of self-identification, it has become increasingly challenging to comfortably label myself in response to the question “what is my religion?”
Now, on one hand, I don’t need a name for my spirituality. Especially if it’s only mine and I practice it alone, or even with a small group of people. However, in the last few years, as I’ve mentioned on occasion, Johnny and I have been working together on presenting these large public rituals, and in that time many of the themes and prayers and poems within my personal spirituality have been thus presented publicly…and further, in presenting them this way, I began to see patterns in my own theology that seemed to come together with something that resembles continuity. And of course I’ve been developing my own feelings on earth-centered theologies and whatnot here in this space for several years now.
And then there’s the issue of my taking umbrage with the word “Pagan.” This hasn’t gone away. I maintain that the term “Pagan,” used as a marker for a specific religion, is problematic and misleading. I further believe that even the use of the term as an umbrella category for a whole host of religions is suspect, but that’s a whole wasp’s nest for another day. It remains at least true for me that identifying myself as a “pagan” (whether I capitalize it or not) is essentially meaningless when I consider that doing so tells you pretty much nothing about who/what I worship, how I worship, the ethical system I follow, the books/poems/prayers/scriptures/mythologies/stories I find meaningful, etc. Yes, if you know the term it will tell you something about the general community I probably associate with, as I admit that the term has become connotative at least of a general culture or cultural milieu, and that one might readily point to certain cultural markers, festivals, etc. and call them “pagan.” But as a religious identifier, at least for me, it’s no longer useful. And seeing as how I’m not comfortable identifying as a Wiccan or a Witch, a Druid, a Recon of any variety, a Feraferian, a Ceremonial Magician, a Thelemite, or any number of other religions that fall under our nifty yet oh-so-leaky umbrella, it’s become awkward to me when I start to think about how to jive my developing philosophies regarding this term with the fact that I don’t have a better term for my own practice, at the very least when referencing it in theological ruminations like those on PG.
So. In that ineffable, long and winding silliness that is the could-be-pointless realm of self-identification, I’m currently experimenting with calling my practice “Rootwater Paganism.” Bear with me. I could chuck it tomorrow.
The name comes from a dream I had when I was in college. It was summer semester, and I was taking a class on modern 20th century poets. At the same time, and unrelated to the class, I was reading Gary Snyder’s sublime book The Practice of the Wild. My mind was a whirl of poetry and wilderness (the words “wild” and “wilderness” to this day provoke shivers), and one dark Texas night, I dreamed I was swimming along a river under an enormous full moon. To my right, I saw the riverbank, dark and dreamy, and an enormous tree rising out of it, its roots entangled in mud and riverwater, making moonshadows where I knew night creatures lived, despite my being unable to see them. When I woke, I thought about the beauty of that moment, and about the contrast of strong and implacable roots with the silvery and tricksy malleability of water. And so I choose to call this non-thing “Rootwater,” to highlight that meeting of immutable and mutable…the root and the water. And I choose to use the word “Paganism” to maintain that connection to the cultural community in which I still and probably always will move and have my being.
So let’s say this: Rootwater Paganism is a syncretic, anarcho-mystic, animist/polytheist (with a side of monism), critically earth-centered thing-non-thing that posits embodied theology, sensate epistemology, story-centered liturgical theology, justice-oriented and ecofeminist ethics (with not a little bit of anarchist thought), a praxis steeped in storytelling, poetry, art, ritual and folk magic, and takes inspiration/influence from various witchcrafts, Feraferia, Hellenic Paganism, Cosmic Story/Creation Spirituality, and Protestant and folk Christianity. Principle deities include the Mama, the Beloved, and Old Coat, among others (the Kore, the Flame-Haired Smithwoman, the Lightbringer, the Fierce Sister, the Bone Woman, the Man of Sorrows…), not to mention a panoply of local spirits and powers, such as Mother Lake.
I think the clearest examples of the philosophies and theologies that underpin Rootwater Paganism can be found on PG here:
So there you have it. This I believe. Rootwater Paganism in a convoluted, possibly pointless, nonsensical and weirdly glittery nutshell. I’m not sure there was anything here that I haven’t said before…but still, it’s a reference point at least.
Do I think Rootwater Paganism is some kind of super-unique not-thing thing? Lordisa, no. It’s an idiosyncratic variation on an earth-centered theme with its syncretic feet in a few places. Does Rootwater Paganism cover every detail of my personal spirituality and practice? Of course not. Frankly, I’m unsure if any one religion can or even should cover everyone’s personal bases. But it will do for the nonce, as I dance gracelessly but enthusiastically along the grassy swards of this mossy stone we call Earth.
Tomorrow’s nonce? Who knows.
But we are still all here in this nonce, friends and Pagani, and for this nonce, I wish you the joy that falls in the silvery and delicious spring rain, the thrill in every crocus witnessed, the rush in every blush of green green grass.
Grok earth, y’all. Pray without ceasing.