I spent a while last night pounding my head against the need to write up presentation proposals for Paganicon, which I will be attending this upcoming year. Which had me thinking, for various reasons, about the process of breaking down religion to be comprehensible to the kids.
This is actually not that difficult, once one gets down to the heart of things. There is a lot of elaboration in religious ritual, a lot of fancy and additional symbolism, bonus freight on things.
But a few months ago the older kid found a candle and candleholder I’d sorted out for a particular ritual I needed to do. “This you red candle?” she asked me. “Yes, that’s my red candle.”
She ordered me: “You put fire on it.”
You put fire on it. It’s simple, it’s accessible. (She’s loving Hanukkah at the moment: you put fire on it!) And it’s primal, it’s Zep Tepi: we bring light out of darkness, we give the world form with our eyes like Nit. This is an ancient power, the fire is, and perhaps there is a part of the soul who remembers the way it could drive the beasts back when we still greatly feared the beasts.
One of her fathers has a little prosperity shrine set up, and a little ritual that goes with the shrine. And she loves to help with that. He lights the candles, “You put fire on it,” she puts the coin in the bank, “I feed the cow.”
We light the fire, we eat. The universe is created; life is sustained. Bread is the default symbol of food in much of the West, as that was the default food of much of the West. It’s not just Egypt that had bread and beer as the staff of life, after all.
We eat, we drink. And with water, an ur-symbol of drinking something, we also become clean. We touch the primordial – whether it is the silent seas of pre-creation, the ocean of our water-ape past, the ritual bath, the flask of coolness on a hot day – and are transformed and uplifted by it.
Creation, sustenance, and purity. From this all ritual derives, in the end, if you go back to it. Which is something that a child can understand – you put fire on it, I feed cow – or that can be done in a difficult time.
Everything else is elaborations upon a theme. And like I’ve said before, and like someone else said today, the fancy shit is not the point. You create the world, you feed the hungry, you drink and become clean. Yes, there are details to explore as one gets deeper and deeper into creation, into nutrition, into clarity, into what that means and how to put it into action in a situation more complicated than Light Candle. Eat Bread. Drink Water.
But in the end, if we need to return to the beginning, to where the story begins, to our religious roots and the things that start to nurture us, we can always go back there, both for ourselves and for others, trying to figure out how to bring light and food and water to all people, all relationships, all Powers.
The rest, as the man said, is commentary.