Brynneth Nimue Brown shares this idea for a new project:
I’d like to launch a project, one I hope would then run indefinitely. However, to make it work, I need input from other pagans. Lots of input. I’m aware that many Wiccans and Witches keep Books of Shadows, recording rituals, spells and whatever else that resonates. So I’d like to start by making clear that’s not what I had in mind. This is about the kind of material you could, and hopefully will, choose to make public. While writing a sacred text could well be a deeply personal journey, there are reasons why this is going to work better if people are willing, and able to share. Write it for your child, or for a child of tradition you haven’t met yet. Write it for someone who needs to hear the things you’ve learned. Don’t write with excessive authority and dogma, the idea is not to produce the next Bible, but to challenge the whole principle that currently underpins how we think about sacred writing.
It is my firm belief that every sacred book in existence was written down by humans. I’m perfectly happy to accept the possibility of divine inspiration for any and all of them. What I absolutely do not accept is that any sacred text is the unadorned and unadulterated word of god and that it therefore should be obeyed to the letter. We’re moving away from sacred books as literal truths, in more enlightened circles at least, but there are far too many unenlightened circles out there, where human writing, attributed to god, is used to justify horrors. If we could, as a species, acknowledge that there have been many flawed, human involvements in the creation and selection of all Holy books, that might enable us to loosen up a bit and stop killing each other over them. I’m nothing if not an optimist. The assumption of the ‘word of God’ in holy books is the source of a frightening amount of pain, violence and death. If we could only let go of that, and view them as inspired, and written by humans, so much else would change.
My vision is of a world in which it is perfectly normal to write your own sacred book. You might share it online, give copies to friends, pass it on to your children. It would be no more, or less important than any other sacred book written by a human being. There’s no restriction to one, either. You might find you have a great deal to say once you get going! Why shouldn’t your learning, your vision, your truth be as important as words that came out of a desert several thousands of years ago? Are you any less a child of the gods? Are you any less able to be inspired?
Every religious rite in the world is the consequence of human invention. Again, perhaps divinely inspired, perhaps not. Every prayer, every hymn, every pilgrimage and act of faith, is intrinsically human in origin. We tend to give validity to the practices that have been around the longest, and there are sound pragmatic reasons for taking such a line. Namely that tried and tested things may have the advantage over new stuff. But once, every last word and hand gesture of it was also new stuff, and it only got to be tried and tested, by being tried and tested. Rejecting any spiritual practice on the basis of newness, is therefore not entirely sensible. Again, if we accept the importance of human creativity and human innovation in the mix, we do not have to rely on ancient, out of date and irrelevant spiritual practices.
We can make our own. I’d go further and say that we should make our own. We can draw on inspiration from many sources, but we are here, and now, each of us in situations unique to us. We should not deny our own spirits and our own spiritual power by relying too much on external sources of words, and others who mediate between us and whatever we hold sacred.
So, my suggestion is this: Write your own sacred book. Write it, and, if you’re feeling brave, share it. And if you want to come and tell me about it, drop by www.druidlife.wordpress.com and let me know. I’ll happily share links for handmade sacred texts.
I’ve been exploring the possibilities of this for some time now, and it’s not as difficult or daunting as the premise may suggest. You simply need a dedicated notebook, and if something occurs to you, add it. Generally, sacred texts include mythic histories of founders and creation, stories that illustrate ethical principles and demonstrate how to behave, wisdom statements, prayers, observations on life and on what works and what doesn’t and things to do and not do. Now, there’s no requirement to have all of these in your book. You might want to take existing stories, myths, etc and include them. This is fine. Reinvention is nothing new. Arguably, the Bible is full of examples of people recycling other people’s ideas in just this way, and our ancient Pagan ancestors were forever borrowing from each other. However, if a text has a name on it, bring that along too. It’s important, it keeps the writing out of the hands of the gods and reminds us of our own fallible humanity.
If Facebook is anything to go by, many Pagans love finding and sharing little wisdom statements and expressions of love and hope. There is no reason why a sacred text couldn’t be a collection of these – original, borrowed, or a mix of the two. No source is off limits. Take your favourite Jesus quotes if you want to. Or those from your favourite comedian.
Consider what advice you’d most like to share with the world. What have you learned? What do you know? If this was going to be the one book everybody read, what would it need to say? It’s often said that everyone has a book in them. For some reason this is always assumed to be a work of fiction. It is my firmly held belief that what we could all write, is the book of our own religion.
I’ve been working on a project in this vein for six months at the time of writing this. I add things as they occur to me. I’m a Druid, which means that a lot of what I’m doing is observing things in the natural world and then reflecting on the meaning of the experience. I spend a lot of time learning from what I see – recently that’s meant water birds more than anything else, but I know that will change. I reflect on life events and seek lessons in them, and when I think I’ve pinned a thing, I write it down. This helps me focus in my daily practice. Contemplation is a big part of what I do, and trying to reduce concepts to potent nuggets of insight has added to my spiritual journey. It’s also given me a book of words I can reflect on. In times of stress or uncertainty, flipping through the pages of my own observations is a comfort. I can see that with enough thoughts collected, I might even be able to use them in the same way as I might a set of oracle cards, flitting to a random page in search of inspiration to help me tackle the day.
It would be an option to write an entire book full of useful bits of advice. There doesn’t have to be any religion in it at all, technically. In fact, one of my hopes is that a few atheists may become interested and have a go. The deflating of the power of the ‘word of god’ in the form of human texts, might have some appeal there. A person can have spirituality without belief. They can have ethics, guiding stories and wisdom sayings without needing any gods at all.
For someone who follows a deity, writing a sacred book might be heavily influenced by that experience of the divine. It might be a record of encounters and experiences. For someone whose perspective is more animist, the sacred text might be a reflection of how spirit manifests in life.
There are so many ways in which this could be done. None of them better, or any more right than any other way. There should in fact, be as many unique sacred books as there are people undertaking to write them. That’s part of the beauty of it. No authority. No monopoly on truth. No power base. It will only work if plenty of us undertake to do it, though. With self publishing on Lulu and Amazon so easy, with blogs freely available, there are many ways of doing this and sharing it without incurring any personal cost – only the dedication of time and love required.
Imagine what it would be like to read a modern, sacred book written by an equally modern fellow pagan. Not a book about how to be a pagan. Not a book about what ancient pagans used to do. A book that is a living, breathing expression of paganism, in just the same way that The Bible works for Christians. And then to read another, completely different, no more right, just as important, and know there are plenty more out there. That would be something! Imagine writing one of those for yourself. Think about how focusing and empowering it would be. How would it feel to hold in your hands the expression of your beliefs? What would it be like to place that piece of work on your altar? Imagine reading it at rituals. Swapping with a friend so that you can read each other’s testaments. Maybe copying a few choice lines to add to the next edition of yours.
By ‘book’ I do not mean some epic tome requiring half a tree to print it. Your book is precisely as big as it needs to be. Perhaps in three pages you’ll have said enough. Perhaps you’ll need three hundred. There are no wrong answers here. Just write it. Do it for yourself, and for whatever you hold most sacred. Do it for a wounded world that has been battered by human war for too long. Not only is writing a sacred text and act of personal faith and exploration, it is also deeply political and subversive. Especially if you talk about it.
The more people write their own book, the more it demonstrates that people can write sacred books, and do, and that a desire to put spiritual experience into words is the only qualification you really need. People wrote the Bible, the Koran, The Talmud, the Vedas, the Tao Te Ching. How different would the world be if Jesus had written his own book and we had his words, not the things his followers remembered, or wanted him to have said? The more we point to the human element of sacred writing, the more we refuse the authority of older texts. This is a notion that carries a lot of power and potential in it.
As pagans nature is our book. We say that often. There is no one sacred book. There should be no one sacred book either, because to do that would be to try and assert authority, to claim a monopoly on wisdom, insight and truth that none of us have any right to claim. But if we all write a book, that’s a very different thing. Power is distributed. Wisdom disseminates. We increase our scope to learn from each other, and we tackle head on a thought form that has led to far more violence and cruelty in this world, than bears thinking about. Sacred books are written by humans. And so, as humans, we have the power to write them. Not to express superiority, not to control others or to demean what anyone else values, but to express our own ideas.