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On Not Knowing (Peter reads the Neoplatonists, part II)

I’ve been reading Greek philosophers.  I formed a neoplatonist book club recently with a couple of Pagan friends, and we’re reading Iamblichus’s On the Mysteries.  I’m plowing through it, chewing on some very dense prose as I try to take in and understand neoplatonist ideas about God and the Gods, time and eternity, body and mind and soul.

I am aware of being very attached to some ideas about the soul.  It’s not all that different from the way Christians cling to their orthodoxy.  Christians (and that includes me when I was younger) will do a lot of mental gymnastics to make their experiences of the world to fit into Christian doctrines they can’t afford to let go of.  Everything new they learn gets reworked and reinterpreted to fit with their core beliefs.

My own attachment, the idea I find myself clinging to, is the idea of an immortal soul.  The reason is simple and obvious: I want to keep going and keep growing after death.  I don’t want it to end.

Personal identity may not survi…
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Peter on Reading Neoplatonists (part 1)

Imagine an ice cream factory that fills an entire city block.  You have teaspoon.  You go in the front door and you have to run as fast as you can through the building to the back door and out onto the next street.  Along the way, you get to scrape your spoon across any tubs of ice cream you pass, licking the different flavors as you’re sprinting by, but those tastes are all the ice cream you get.

That’s often what it’s like for me when I start reading in a new subject.  It’s what college was like.  It’s how it was when I first became Wiccan, and when I was doing historical research for a novel, and when I taught physics for the first time.

Now my ice cream is Iamblichus, a neoplatonist philosopher from around the second century C.E.  It’s dense.  It’s technical.  And I’m reading it at breakneck speed to keep up with a sort of neoplatonist book club that we started.

It’s worth it.  As I take in the ideas of Plato and Plotinus and Iamblichus, if find pieces of my spiritual life settli…

Quaker and Pagan Means What, Exactly?

Since I began describing myself as a Quaker Pagan, I run into people who are suspicious of my claim to be both Quaker and Pagan. To these folks, Peter and I look like spiritual cheats, trying to sneak fifteen items through the clearly labeled Twelve Item Express Lane of a spiritual life.

“Cafeteria spirituality,” I’ve heard it described, expressing the notion that my husband and I are picking and choosing only the tastiest morsels of either religion, like spoiled children loading our plates with desserts, but refusing to eat our vegetables.

This isn’t the case. The term “cafeteria religion” implies imposing human whims over the (presumably) sacred norms of religion. But Peter and I are both/ands not out of personal preference, but because we were called to our religion… twice. By two different families of Spirit.

I can explain this best through my own story.

I became a Pagan out of a childhood of yearning to be in relationship with nature, magic, and the glimmers of the numinous I fou…

Peter on the Soul and Magic and Matter

I was out in the back yard a few weeks ago, and I looked up and saw the full moon, brilliant and sharp in a clear night sky.  Seeing it, I found myself quietly singing a song by the ritual performance group Mothertongue:

"The Moon is high at the witching hour,
Children come to this place of power;
Our hands are raised to four directions,
Spirit force is born again."

I felt a wave of awareness of the magickal quality of its beauty, very like the feeling I once had of walking into a Benedictine monastery when I was a young man and feeling the Holy Spirit settling over my shoulders like a warm blanket.

And somehow, the beauty reminded me of how important it is to me that the Gods are persons.  I’ve been reading Plotinus, a neoplatonist philosopher, and he’s fascinating.  His Enneads are one of the foundational texts of western mysticism and magick…but he’s missing something.  It’s the same thing I found missing in the Tao Te Ching.  Taoists and neoplatonists both strive to be passi…

The Return of Quaker Pagan Reflections

Welcome to the new, hopefully improved Quaker Pagan Reflections.

Between leaving Patheos Pagan and this post, Peter has finished the last edit on his novel and begun to pitch it to agents, I have been in negotiations with Anne Newkirk Niven of Pagan Square to carry our blog starting this fall, we have redesigned our layout, and--oh yes! I have also retired from my work as a high school English teacher.

It has been a summer like any other, in many ways: bike rides and trips to the beach, gardening and canning and time with friends.

It has also involved daily trips to Peter's parents in their assisted living center, grief and worry over their failing health and their futures, and for me, a fair amount of soul searching around what to do with Act III of my life.

We have spent more time in meetings with caseworkers and at protests than at the beach, and I have been focused on trying to discern how to be faithful to the promptings of Spirit in the personal and political spheres, having…

Goodbye to Patheos Pagan Channel

The Quick VersionThis will be our last post for the Patheos Pagan channel.

We’ll keep writing, and you will always find us at Quakerpagan.org. Our archives will appear both here and also at Patheos, as is customary for their bloggers who leave that site. (We will not be transferring comments, so if you are looking for an old discussion after one of our posts, you will find it there.)
For Those Who Want to Know: Why We Are LeavingLike a number of other Pagan bloggers, my husband and I were not happy with the most recent contract we Patheos offered us.
Actually, I haven’t been happy with the overall direction I’ve seen here for some time–not because of the content of the Pagan blogs here, which I continue to enjoy, but because there’s an increasing push to monetize our writing.  And while there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but I’m not sure that’s how my writing works–at least here on this blog.

The strapline at Quaker Pagan Reflections has long been “Blogging in a …

Facing Death/Facing Life

Our hemlock tree is dying.

Seventy feet tall or more, its feathery top boughs filter the light below.  Its triple trunk, hard roots, and burnished needles dominate the yard.  It cradles the altar Peter shaped to fit its branches.  

We have celebrated Lammas beneath this tree, watched its branches snare the moon, and carefully skirted the faerie ring at its feet.


World Tree, Tree of Life, stubborn, strong, it shelters hundred wild creatures. Our hemlock tree is sacred.   And it is dying, in spite of anything we can do.

Two summers ago, my husband moved his parents to live in the house next door.  Their home in Ohio had become too hard to manage, and it was clear that Peter’s father’s dementia was worsening.

We hoped that moving them across the country to live next door would improve their quality of life. We didn’t reckon on how much their moving here would improve our own.  New traditions sprang up for all of us: Friday nights are for pizza and Star Trek at our house; Satur…