North Van pagans celebrate spring
It takes guts to come out of the broom closet. Not guts like animal sacrifices — that’s not what paganism is all about. But guts like cleaning up other people’s garbage in the park and sometimes dealing with other people’s garbage ideas about your religion.
While it’s been centuries since any old fashioned moral panic about witchcraft touched Canada, Christine and Samantha, two pagans who practise on the North Shore, asked The Outlook not to print their last names.
Not because they’re afraid of any religious persecution, but for more pedestrian reasons.
“I just don’t want it to be the first thing that comes up when people Google me,” Christine says, walking through one of her favourite North Vancouver haunts, Greenwood Park, while discussing the joys of honouring nature by cleaning up parks and greenspaces.
Neither Christine nor Samantha care very much for the terms Wiccan or neo-pagan but both agree those are probably the best fit for their brand of spiritual practice.
The problem, if one sees it that way, is that there are almost as many forms of paganism as there are pagans.
“We have no church, no hierarchy, no single book saying ‘Thou shalt meet on this day in this way,’” Christine says.
“If you could find two pagans anywhere that agreed on anything, you’d be well on your way,” Samantha adds.
One thing that is generally agreed upon is that this week marks the coming of spring and the arrival of the season of Ostara in pagan lore. And that means celebrating the resurrection of the sun after the death and darkness of winter. It’s also where we get the word Easter from.
For pagans on the North Shore and everywhere else on the northern half of the Earth, the spring seasonal change is often cause for a celebration.
Whether taken up in a public group or privately in one’s home or garden, pagan celebrations of the spring equinox usually involve the creation of an alter to honour the season with flowers, food, pastel-coloured cloth, incense and some representation of each of the natural elements: earth, air, fire, water and spirit.
“It’s really about connecting with this annual cycle that people are not really naturally involved in anymore,” Samantha says.
“We want to bring ourselves almost into an ecstatic state where we’re really resonating with the themes of the time of the year,” Chistine adds. “And then we have food afterward to ground us again because we get quite elevated.”
Contrary to many misrepresentations of secret black magic bacchanalia, the “elevation” that most pagans try to achieve at these festivities doesn’t involve intoxicants like booze or drugs.
“You might have like a glass of mead, but drugs and alcohol are not really conducive to spirituality,” Samantha says. “Drugs just agitate the spirit.”
Instead, guided meditation, dancing and the invocation of one or more seasonal deities are generally preferred.
“Especially with Ostara, I may just light a candle and meditate,” Christine says. “I sort of really focus on just leaving the baggage of the past behind and think, ‘Okay, the winter was long and arduous — wonderful and refreshing at the same time — but that’s done and I’ve learned my lessons and now move forward.’”
And that’s what paganism is ultimately about — self-discovery and the balance of mind and heart, nature and spirit, intellect and intuition. Fittingly, that too is what we mean when we talk about the spring equinox: A perfect balance of light and dark.
Christine and Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.