Last year around this time, MLK day, I launched a venture called the Circle of Power and Compassion. Even though we only did one service opportunity, a day volunteering with It’s my Park! Day, I haven’t given up. Working on NYC Pagan Pride, attending Faith House, running my coven, taking 2 class at Cherry Hill Seminary, my job, and my stress level all intervened. Plus, the hardest part about starting such a group is the time spent contacting people. Unlike other religions with built-in resources for networking, like published phone numbers and buildings (duh!) most pagan groups are isolated and volunteer-run to begin with. The Internet is not always the best tool, because you have to go out there and meet people to convince them, and that takes a lot of time and energy. There are only a handful of organizations that operate on a national level-such as Pagan Pride, or Covenant of the Goddess, or the Troth, or ADF, And none, really, that operate on a local level in the New York City that have been around for a while, aside from Pagan Pride with which I am already active and plan on doing more with on this issue, if the other members of the team will let me!
So, organizing pagans to think charitably together it is a work in progress. I haven’t given up. I have even considered a certificate program in community organizing-paid for with my copious money that I earn in my non-profit job…
So this past year, aside for the team that volunteered for It’s my Park! day and one “meetup” in a diner that resulted only in some chat about potential goals, and signing on to the Charter of Compassion, and another meetup I attempted in a diner that just resulted in me in a booth by myself eating eggplant parmigiana-my ultimate comfort food when disaster strikes- I did nothing…
So in celebration of the first anniversary of this stalled but not forgotten idea, the Circle of Power and Compassion, I present some ideas on how the Wheel of the Year- which is a pagan holiday calendar embraced by several traditions within neo-Paganism, can be used as an inspiration for service and charity-related projects. Basically, it seems to me that our theology is mostly centered around the seasons and we create ritual lessons based on the seasons. My former ritual partner and I used to refer to a certain part of the ritual-where the HP and HPS introduces and reminds the group what exactly they are about to do/experience and why- as the preface to the work. I call it “the homily.” So here is my “homily for the Wheel of the Year”
Samhain-Ancestors, preservation of lore. Let us take care of the elderly before they become the honored dead, by visiting them when they are sick and preserving their wisdom and stories. We can also make sure things that are old like historic buildings are kept in a state of preservation and do not crumble. This includes churches folks!
Yule- Homelessness, perhaps also hunger. Winter for me is about survival. Insuring that we work on these issues is a big one. Although it is common for pagan groups to jump on the “do a toy drive” bandwagon that many groups and corporations do at this time of year, perhaps these other issues are more appropriate to the season. The coat drive that takes place in NYC is a good one..
Imbolc- the Arts,disease research, children. Here I am expressing my bias towards making this holiday’s service about the Irish Goddess/Saint of healing, smithcraft, inspiration, and midwifery, Brigid (yes, she is my gal, what can I say, and those areas are her special purview) but I think these issues belong here.
Not to far from where I live is the enormous Martin Luther King High School, with a sculpture outside with quotes from MLK-
“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, quality, and freedom for their spirits.”
I can think of no other more eloquent way to say that the arts are as essential to the human condition as freedom and food!
Spring Equinox- equal rights such as marriage equality, social justice and political prisoners, human rights. We often associate the coming of spring with the taste of freedom- freedom to venture out doors, freedom to start something. When political upheaval takes place, and more democratic forms of government replace repressive regimes, it often seems like spring to the people involved, does it not? For me, these issues go here.
Beltane-World Health, AIDS, Reproductive Health, Violence against women, birth control. Okay, folks, this is the sex and fertility holiday, which makes me think about how we treat our bodies and our reproductive health, and diseases that affect the entire world. We must look after this issue and develop sensible policies that do not just benefit the health of the so-called industrial countries, but contribute to the fertility and the health of the planet and its peoples as a whole.
Midsummer-Water and the Oceans. When I think about June, I think about the beach, about sea goddesses, and about water and making sure others have clean water at this time of year. This may seem like a subset within environmentalism, but it fits for me. Another issue that goes here are equal rights for LGBT because of this holidays’ closeness to Gay pride days. So that may go here as well.
Lughnassah- at the first harvest, we begin to collect food. In the past, we have collected food at our open Lughnassah in the park. I like this association because the first harvest to me is always the most tentative and scary one. By Samhain, one knows what the deal will be and there is nothing to do but face the coming cold and count the salted beef! Therefore, hunger issues for me go here as well as food justice. This summer I was shocked to learn many things about migrant farm workers rights in the state of New York when I attended a sermon at my Unitarian Universalist Church. The sermon was given by the director of this organization- Rural and Migrant Ministry. Did you know that farm workers in New York State get no guaranteed time off? Worth reading about and agitating your legislature about!
Autumn Equinox-environmental issues. By this time of year, you have probably gone hiking, camping, or vacationing somewhere out in nature. I don’t have a car, and I prefer cabins (alright, I might be persuaded to camp once more) but by now the first foliage is out and the earth is in her full glory. But for me there is definitely a growing sense of fragility now, and I think we at this time are grateful for the abundance of the natural world at this time, but not yet scared of the winter. A perfect time to plan for the preservation of the planet. So any and all environmental activism might be good this time of year before it gets too cold. Come to think of it, we are supposed to find divinity in the natural world all year round, so there is no bad time for a group or congregation to focus on this issue.
I am sure I left out some specific issues that people like to organize around- disaster relief? I think the ADF Cares does some great stuff because each grove is required to do community service four times a year. I remember reading in Oak Leaves that one grove did outreach to a local tribal reservation and did service there, reaching out to another kindred religious path and helping them with some issues they were having.
I am going to try to implement them as best I can, although another plan of attack I want to consider with our group is to develop a relationship with one charity a year and stick with that charity with a time and energy committment that will allow us to know an issue and a problem in depth, and therefore form a strong bond between the group and the staff at the cause. I think that can only lead to future interactions that will endure and be beneficial to both groups.
Thanks for reading, and have a meaningful day of rest or service.
I welcome your comments!