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Lopezian Paganism

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Lopezian Paganism is a variety of eclectic Paganism practiced on Lopez Island. It is not disimilar to the various forms of rather laid back paganism practiced in other small communites in Washington State, such as Port Townsend. Unlike many forms of Paganism, Lopezian Paganism is quite community based. Although some members of the faith do have very active personal spiritual lives that connect with their beliefs there are also many Lopezian Pagans who participate in religion primarily as a community activity, as is done by many Christians. That is, they participate in communal religions activities without doing much on a personal level.

Holidays

The Winter and Summer Solstice are the largest celebrations that are primarily religious in nature. Both Solstices involve staying up all night and keeping a fire burning during the night. Summer Solstice is much less structured than Winter Solstice and usually takes place on one of the nearby smaller islands which are also a part of the San Juan Archipelago. Summer Solstice usually involves a communal potluck, a sauna with occasional plunges into the icy waters of the Puget Sound, much drumming, dancing and socializing. There are usually far less people who choose to stay up throughout the night and there are even occasions on which the fire has been allowed to die, although there are almost always a few coals that can be fanned back up into a fire for making morning coffee and cooking breakfast. Winter Solstice is a more serious festival, the bonfire is much larger and is not used for cooking. Many people choose to fast for Winter Solstice and eat nothing at all and there is no communal potluck that night. Although participation in Winter Solstice is sometimes smaller in size that Summer Solstice, as Summer Solstice is more of a party, the participants tend to be more focused and a much larger proportion of them stay up all night. The fire is kept blazing all night and various ceremonies take place throughout the night. Some are constant from year to year, others evolve or run for a few years and then are discontinued, and others occur only once. One belief that is passed around at Winter Solstice, and believed in a way by some, is that the fire must be kept burning all night so that the Sun will see it on his journey through the longest night of the year and know how to find his way back to light the earth and warm it once more. Other holidays include Mayday, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Lopezian Paganism adds an atmosphere to other community events, such as the annual Brewfest and Juggle festival. Although the Pagan community is often present at larger community gatherings, their faith is not the focus and they are not religious events.

Beliefs

"Lopezian Pagans" is a name chosen by a relatively small group of Lopezians (a few hundred) to describe themselves. Members believe different things concerning the nature of the universe, with some holding monotheistic beliefs, similar to those of resurgent Native American religions and praying to a Great Father or Creator, others are more polytheist, invoking nature deities of various sorts or traditional Gods or Goddesses of Greek, Norse and other traditions. Some Lopezian Pagans are even essentially atheist, participating in the holidays but not accepting the idea of any spiritual realm at all. Discussions of belief are actually rare, community members understanding what the ceremonies entail and choosing not to clash ideas with one and other.

The difficulty with new comers to the "pagan" community is that there is no explanation of the communities religious practices or hierarchy. Such lack of an explanation is often confusing and sometimes disturbing for the unaware. These practices include drug use, varying from marijuana to psychedelic mushroom teas to public nudity and religious ceremonies.

Behaviors

There is no religious book or rules of behavior. The threads that hold Lopezian Paganism together are the common rituals and a common attitude toward each other and the earth. Lopezian Pagans tend to be very community oriented and are often involved in helping out their neighbors and caring for one another. There is a Quaker community on the island and there has been a lot of flow of ideas between the Quakers and the Pagans. "Simple Gifts" is sung along with more Pagan songs at Pagan celebrations and the Quaker ethic of simple living is a part of the ethics of most Lopezian pagans. Lopezian pagans are also quite environmentally aware and try to be very careful about the impact that they have on the earth. Partly because of the emphasis on simple living and partly because of the relative remoteness of Lopez Island Lopezian Pagans do not have much of a presence on the internet. Lopezian Pagans are often quite political, although they tend to focus more on local issues than national ones. This is not always the case as many participated in such things as protests against the Nuclear Submarines off the coast of Washington, and the Anti-WTO riots in Seattle. None of these are exclusively pagan traits however, as the entire population of Lopez Island can be said to hold these traits as well. The distinct differences in the Pagan community from the wider one are in their holidays.

Coming Of age

Lopezian paganism does include a rite of passage ritual for teenage members of the faith. The rites of passage differ for every individual. Typically the individual elects to do a coming of age ceremony before the summer solstice. The child is taken to a small island by a group of adults of their gender. The child generally spends 24 hours fasting and reflecting. Because of the wide variety of personal beliefs within the self named "pagan" community this practice does not have an intrinsic meaning as it would for a youth who comes from a community with a unified religion. One man describes his very unique experience a such-"The young man (usually about 14) is abducted from his house by a group of men, scantily dressed, usually bare chested, and decorated with clay. He is stuffed in a bag and taken to a remote location, another island in my case, and left there by himself for a day, generally with very little, or no, food. This is a time for the young man to reflect on what it means to be a man, to seek a connection with nature, and to realize that he is strong enough to survive a day without eating. Finally, near sunfall on the next day, the men arrive to share a bit of food and water and offer their wisdom to the young man. He is then brought back to the community, walked into the center of everyone, for the final part of the ceremony. He is bound to his mother by kelp, surrounded by a ring of children, a ring of women, and finally a ring of men. The mother and son sever the bonds of kelp, signifying the umbilical cord, and the young man must make his way out through the children and the women before he can join the ring of men. Finally he is allowed to break his fast."

Although this individuals experience is dramatic, the manner of the "abduction" is highly unusual, in fact no other youth has had an experience like it. The ceremony of separating the youth from the group with a ring of children, moving into a group of adults of their own gender is common, as is a gift from the community. These gifts have included expensive camera equipment and camping gear. Although may now be treated more as an adult, they are not now an adult within the community, they are not expected to take on an adult role within their own lives or the community. The coming of age is an almost entirely symbolic act, drastically different from the cultures the practice is copied from.

Authority structure

There is not a rigid structure of authority in Lopezian Paganism, however some people are accorded more respect than others and take a more active part in organizing and running holidays. There is a longhouse council, which has open membership, assuming a person is willing to take part in meetings and help out to make the holidays a reality. The Longhouse council makes many of the decisions as to location and structure for holidays, although they also delegate decisions to people who take on responsibility for things such as organizing specific dances and so forth. Older members of the community (over 50) are also recognized as elders, and are often given a blanket decorated with buttons on their 50th birthday to commemorate their status as elders. Elder is technically purely a ceremonial title, although the decisions and requests of elders to tend to be given a bit more weight.

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