Monday, May 12, 2008

Quakers and pagans

Recently, Christianity Today ran an RNS story about pagans joining liberal Quaker meetings. The article, among other things, argued that Wiccans and other pagans are using what they consider a mainstream faith to gain legitimacy.

Is this OK?

Many, obviously, say yes. But Wicca, as I've experienced it, is so highly ritualistic that it clashes with Quakerism's emphasis on unmediated worship. Two examples: For a newspaper story, I once watched two Wiccans cast a spell. The spellcasting involved cutting the air with special knives to create a sacred space, lighting pillar candles at the four corners of their kitchen table to represent North, South, East and West, lighting a candle in front of a statue of a goddess, saying incantations and burning written requests to the goddess. For another story on Wiccans and earth practitioners, I watched a winter solstice celebration with people standing in a circle wearing capes and reciting scripted nature verses, while a King of sorts stood at the head of the circle wearing horns (or maybe it was antlers) and passing a bowl of wine.

Needless to say, all of the above is extremely ritualistic behavior, probably more so than the wine and wafer communion Quakers so thoroughly reject. So how Quakers can accept Wiccans ... as Quakers ... is difficult for me to understand, unless the Wiccans give up their rituals, at which point, are they still Wiccans?

It can be easy to see the liberal Quaker embrace of Wicca as hypocrisy: a highly ritualistic faith practice is fine as long as it's not patriarchal, and more to the point, not Christian. However, I think the embrace might more stem from blindness and kindness: people not perceiving non-Christian ritual as ritual and people wanting to include those who've been wounded by Christianity or life. But shouldn't the inclusion of pagans cause some soul-searching about what Quakerism is? And isn't? Is Quakerism about accepting the trendy and rejecting the Christian? That's what I think in my darker moments, and I struggle to find a better place.

1 comment:

Bill Samuel said...

There seems to be a certain inbred yearning for ritual in people. I wonder if that's part of what attracts some Quakers to Paganism?

Because Quakers so strongly rejected the liturgy of the Christian church, the rejection may be tied in some minds to specifically Christian ritual. So perhaps it is easier for Quakers to fulfill their yearning for religious ritual in a very clearly non-Christian context.

My former Meeting specifically approved a small group celebrating the Eucharist, even in the meetinghouse, provided we made clear that it was not sponsored by the Meeting. But I think this has only happened rarely among Friends.

A number of Friends, including a former editor of The Conservative Friend, have become Orthodox (that's Orthodox as in Eastern Orthodox, not as in the Orthodox branch of Friends). There is some real common ground in spirituality between Quakers and Orthodox, but the Orthodox do use ritual and icons.

My own thinking is that Quakers have not had a well developed view of the Incarnation. I think a good understanding of the Incarnation would lead to acceptance of the Eucharist. Quakers tend to over-spiritualize it.