The Importance of Going Outside

I try very, very hard not to get hoity-toity. Not to get cranky and snobbish towards “city” pagans. It’s important to respect that everyone is on their own path.

Sometimes I have to try harder than usual.

Like the time that, not long ago, I met a witch at a large pagan event in a forest. A high priestess, no less. She and her coven were lovely people, and I could’ve sat and spoken to them all night, had I not gotten so upset (not to mention outright worried) after one of our first exchanges.

It went something like this:

Galloway: Anyway, it was great to meet you. Have you been to (this event) before?
High Priestess: No, it’s my first time. I’ve never even camped before! (The coven) don’t really do outdoor rituals. I’m what you’d call an urban pagan.
G: …
HPS: …Yeah, I’m not big on outdoors. <She motions to a copse of pine trees nestled among the eucalypts>. So… Are they natives? Or are they pine trees?
G: <dies inside>.

Most pagan writers, particularly those who write books on Wicca, will agree with Ms HPS.

In his perennially popular Complete Book of Witchcraft (aka “Big Blue“), Father of American Witchcraft Raymond Buckland weighs in on this issue:

Although many Witches meet, and work, outdoors – perhaps in the corner of a field or in a clearing in the wood – it is not always possible for everyone to do that. Many live in cities and towns and are unable to get out into direct conact with the Earth. This does not mean they cannot function. Your temple can be an indoor or outdoor one.
(Buckland, Raymond [1986]. Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. Llewellyn Publications, Minnesota, USA. p28.)

Sure. An indoor altar/temple works really, really well for day to day practices/blessings. But I tend to disagree after this point. Paganism, after all, is an umbrella term for an ever-increasing number of nature religions. Now, I may be missing something here, but if you are a nature worshipper wouldn’t that mean you would actually have to spend some time with nature?

English Ale, South Australia, 2012

No, this is not a call for each and every remotely pagan-ish person to strip off and disappear into the bush. I am not anti-indoors, or anti-modern age. The internet, especially, has kept pagan folk connected through online discussion groups, forums, mailing lists and so on. More and more people are using Facebook to publicise their pagan events, and countless others run online pagan stores for books, supplies, clothing… you name it.

As funny as we find this, we have met many Witches afraid of dirt and stains…

But what many – including Ms HPS – seem to be forgetting is that, behind all the panne velvet, cheap jewellery and silly names, pagans are nature-worshippers. Or at least they should be.

For me, this means some aspect of their practice should be outside, even if it’s once every now and then. Like Bucky says, circumstances don’t always allow for a full-blown outdoor ritual. I have heard of a couple of surprisingly poignant lounge-room rituals, and some of my favourite footage of the likes of Janet and Stewart Farrar and others shows even they performed indoor rituals from time to time. But unless there is absolutely no alternative, it is important to make an effort when and where you can.

Make an effort to cover modern appliances, regardless of how retro-chic they may be.

Increasingly, the indoor/outdoor debate is becoming a real “wheat from the chaff” exercise for me. I am inclined to agree that the modern pagan has become quite “outdoor phobic”. If you never leave your loungeroom, if you never sit in the sun or wind the windows down in your car, if you make excuses about it being too hot/cold, if you see no power in the still that comes just before a ritual outside on a windy night… Well, perhaps you need to re-assess why you have chosen this spiritual path.

I work hard at not being hoity-toity. I still think city covens are fine, as are city pagans. I just think it is important that they embrace the country and the outdoors from time to time, rather than avoid it at all costs.

– Galloway.



Filed under Heathenry, Pagan Community, Paganism - General, Wicca

6 responses to “The Importance of Going Outside

  1. darachamelangell

    Ha! I love the television in that photo! Hilarious!

  2. Hi Galloway,

    thanks for this post. While I do agree with your sentiments here, I think it needs to be borne in mind that Wicca, at least before it morphed into the various modern varieties was and is “pagan” ceremonial magic. Pure and simple. Its antecedents are more ceremonial (indoor) magic and Masonry than any “Pagan” religion or practice. To quote Hutton:

    “In an important sense, modern pagan witchcraft was to be the last (or at least the latest) outgrowth from the tradition which had begun with the Mason’s Word. In virtually every respect it was to embody and perpetuate the characteristics of the tradition; in one, that of gender, it was to overturn them completely.”

    I am happy to accept this and think many indoor Pagans or Wicvans are very happy and fulfilled in what they do, dancing in the nuddy in the lounge room and side stepping the TV.

    That these forms of Wicca and Paganism may be helping to define what “Paganism” is in the modern world is where, for some, the problem lies. I agree will you, Paganism refers to nature, the sea, land, sky, earth, life, death and re-birth in the humus. But for others, it IS getting starkers, calling each other a Priestess and performing solstice ceremonies with an orange to represent the sun, while the shutters are drawn against the actual sky. Thus is one of many problems of Pagan (self) definition in the 21st century.

    What can we do, when one of the central principles of our traditions is the right of self definition? 🙂 Ta.

    • Thanks, Peregin.

      I agree that Wiccans need to acknowledge their roots in ceremonial magic (many don’t, especially the aforementioned “initiated by me nanna” types). I also agree that ceremonial magic often fits an indoor setting better.

      I suppose this article was written more as a reaction to the increasing number of “children of the earth” types who never set foot outside the CBD. As I say, indoor workings are fine, but for Wiccans especially it is important to get out and experience what they are supposedly revering.

      In recent decades, authors and publishers have worked hard to make Wicca more accessible to all, and that troubles me, as it has also cheapened and diluted it, I think.

      But yes, no offence meant to ceremonial mages here. This was directed more at what Daracha and I call “lounge room Wiccans”.

      – Galloway.

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  5. Ivy

    I agree. There are ways to commune with nature, even in an urban setting. In Los Angeles, for example, there are parks, there are hiking trails within 30 minutes, and there are oftentimes backyards, or even balconies. Even just leaving your windows open, listening to the birdsong, and feeling the breeze can help FEEL nature. Indoor gardening, too. I live in a suburb, and so have more access to parks, and backyards and a garden. If I could live in a rural area, I’d love it, but it just isn’t going to be happening anytime soon, so I have to make the best of what I have. 🙂

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