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Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

A friend asked me what my favorite Pagan movies are.  I asked whether he meant documentaries about Paganism, or fictional movies about content that would inspire Pagans.  He said both, so I decided to make a list and share it on my blog!  There are some movies that didn’t quite make my list because they either didn’t feel Pagan/animistic/Earth-Centered enough, because they cast such characters or religions as evil, or because the elements were not developed enough to be meaningful.  There are probably many more films I could have included, but I simply haven’t seem them yet!  I’m sure I’ll need to do a part 2 down the road.  I’m already plotting a list of favorite Pagan and Pagan-inspired television shows!

Documentaries

American Mystic – Focusing on a variety of minority spiritual practices in the US, “American Mystic” examines how individuals in the modern US explore, maintain, and strengthen bonds with the spirit realm.  Included is Morpheus Ravenna, a well-known practitioner of witchcraft and founder of the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood, which is dedicated to An Morrigan and her sisters.  Currently, you can stream this movie via Amazon Prime.

Glenafooka – If you’re interested in the living spiritual tradition of Ireland and authentic Irish folk belief in fairies, definitely watch this film!  Included are interviews with people of various ages as they discuss their experiences and traditions.  Click the name of the film, and the link will allow you to stream on your computer.

I Am – This documentary follows one person’s search for the purpose of life despite all the suffering and hardships.  I chose this because, in light of the various environmental problems we face, this film advocates taking responsibility and embracing optimism in doing so. It felt very spiritual without being religious, and could be part of a bridge building, inter-religious workshop or discussion group. “I Am” is available to stream on Netflix.

Modern Druids – Since I’m listing documentaries, I might as well include this 20-minute introduction to ADF Druidism.  Made by Buccaneer Pictures, it explains some of the history and practice of my Druidic tradition.  It’s really a must for anyone interested in exploring ADF and modern Druidism.  If you click the title, it will take you right to youtube!

When the Iron Bird Flies – I’ve talked about this documentary before, and I highly recommend it if you are interested in Buddhism as well as Paganism.  While the focus is entirely on Tibetan Buddhism in the West, I couldn’t help but notice some parallels between my spirituality and theirs, particularly the emphasis on respecting nature and study.  It gave me much to contemplate.

Entertainment

Agora – Based on real events, this film depicts the famous female astronomer Hypatia in Roman-ruled Egypt.  In particular, it shows the conflict between Christianity and the older beliefs.  It can be hard to watch at times, but history isn’t always pretty.  Best save this for when the kids visit the grandparents! If you’re like me and will cry at what was lost, keep the tissues handy.  Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

A Letter to MomoI reviewed this film before, so check that out for a more detailed description.  This is an anime and the focus is on Shintoism and how the spirit world interacts with the human realm.  In particular, it explores how we can commune with the beloved dead.  Although there are cultural differences, I’ve noticed many similarities between my modern Druidic practices and Shinto beliefs.  Films like this inspire me.  Set in modern Japan, I can’t help but imagine what Western countries would be like if Paganism hadn’t been so interrupted by Christianity.  You can stream this through Amazon Prime.  A great film for the whole family!

Avatar -Yes, I’m talking about James Cameron’s science fiction movie with blue cat people.  Although many chuckle about it now, when I first saw it, portions of the movie had me in tears because it just captured the deep adoration many of us have for nature, right down to communing with a sacred tree.

Brave – Although this Pixar animation doesn’t delve deeply into Scottish lore, it is a child-appropriate introduction to magical ethics as well as transformation stories which appear in many cultural myths.  Also – will-of-the-wisps!

Labyrinth -Classic Jim Henson, a deliciously whimsical David Bowie, and goblins inspired by Froud – this movie was an influential part of my childhood.  It was probably my first exposure to traditional fairy tale elements such as helpful and trickster spirits, a journey through the underworld/fairy realm that symbolizes growth, overcoming the goblin/fairy ruler, confronting our shadow selves, etc.  If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and fix that!  Although it can be a little scary, it’s a muppet picture most can enjoy!

Pan’s Labyrinth – Directed by the talented Guillermo del Toro, this modern fairy tail embraces the darkness so often abandoned by other contemporary works inspired by older tales.  A girl must confront a shadowy realm to save her mother and herself.  Pan is a difficult teacher, and the lessons are hard, but such is life!  Malevolent and helpful spirits, screaming mandrakes, and spectacular visuals will surely inspire but have you looking over your shoulder the next time you pray at night.  Unlike the previously discussed “Labyrinth,” this is definitely not a family film due to some gore and violence.

The Lion King King – Another childhood favorite, it would take me several years to realize how deeply this movie influenced my belief system in regards to revering our ancestors.  It’s an excellent introduction for little ones.

My Neighbor Totoro – A must-see for little ones in a Pagan family as well as anime nerds!  Studio Ghibli’s “Totoro” is a heartfelt exploration of how the magic of nature can help people weather life’s difficulties.  More Shinto and Japanese mythology will delight you and warm your heart as soot spirits float through the air and Totoros make trees grow in our hearts and minds.

Practical Magic – Sure, this isn’t an entirely accurate portrayal of witchcraft, but I feel like Hollywood got really close here.  A lot of the philosophy behind what the aunts teach their nieces will be recognizable to most Pagans.  Unlike many films that show witches and folk magic in a more negative light (like “Wicker Man” which, despite the amazing music, I really don’t like very much), it depicts a town accepting their hometown witches.

Princess Mononoke – Another anime and another classic Studio Ghibli film – this is among one of my favorite movies ever.  Once more, it is greatly influenced by Shinto beliefs and the intersection between the human and spirit realms.  Of interest to many who follow an Earth-centered path, “Princess Mononoke” explores what happens when humans throw off the balance of the natural world.  Tree spirits, talking wolves, a heroic wild woman, and a honored guardian of the forest -what’s not to love?

Song of the Sea – Made by an Irish animation studio, this beautiful, moving family film incorporates many themes and spirits that adult Pagans who follow Irish-inspired traditions will recognize.  It’s a story about siblings, love, and selkies.  It’s available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

Do you have any suggestions?  What should I watch and consider for a future list?

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I recently watched a documentary called “When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West.”  It was both informative and inspirational.  Although Druidism, largely informed by Gaelic Polytheism, is my spiritual home, Buddhism has always interested me.  I often find myself watching documentaries about it and reading about it when I can (although I remain a novice on the subject).  One thing I found particularly fascinating about this documentary was that it wasn’t so much about the history of the religion/philosophy; the focus was on how Tibetan monks brought the practice to America, and how that practice looks here.  Many of the tensions that exist in modern American Druidism can, in some ways, find a parallel in Buddhism in America.  For example, how much value should be placed on cultural traditions versus the central tenants?  How can we create spaces for our religious practices that don’t compromise our values?  How can we take a very old tradition from another land or culture (even one that belonged to our ancestors), and make it relevant to modern people in a different land?  How much time should be spent studying versus practicing? I think modern Pagans of many traditions can learn a lot from the movie.  It’s also especially inspiring to see how this minority faith has been able to build beautiful centers for its adherents around America.  In short, the Buddhist community in the US seems to exist because there are very devoted and serious members who spend a lot of time and, yes, resources on their spiritual passions.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about what drew me to Druidism through comparing my “conversion experience” to those shared on the camera.  Like the Americans drawn to Buddhism, I embraced Druidism because the messages I was receiving from the dominant culture did not resonate with me or my values.  So often, business and money are elevated above health, the environment, and true self-improvement.  “American Culture” is so influenced by monotheism as well as a tendency to generalize “exotic” concepts from other cultures.  So much of that is often watered down until it’s as useful as an advertising slogan.  It’s no wonder so many people like myself look outward or even backwards to a time many have forgotten.  I sought something different, fully willing to get my feet muddy and be transformed.

In Buddhism, part of the central focus has to do with suffering.  Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths address the reality of suffering and how we must come to terms with that and find peace. Druidism, as we know it, doesn’t really emphasize that so much, but in some ways, it could be argued that the suffering of Nature brought me to it.  In recognizing that my brother and sister Nature Spirits suffer, that we are all connected, and therefore their suffering is my suffering, I embraced Paganism and eventually modern Druidism.  Did the ancient Druids have teachings on suffering?  Perhaps.  The closest I can get to it right now is through the reported belief in life after death and the heroic way mythic warriors ran into battle, even when fate was against them.  Yes, you may have broken a geis – a taboo – that will lead to your downfall, but there is still honor in fighting because there’s integrity in it, courage in it, and people will sing of your perseverance despite the suffering you may endure.  So, I suppose, suffering is indirectly addressed in Druidism, but it doesn’t seem to be a central focus (nor does my attempt at finding a parallel mean that there has to be one).

So what is the central focus of Modern Druidism?

Harmony.

After a lot of thought and meditation, I’ve realized that my own concept of Modern Druidism’s central focus is harmony.  Again, I want to stress that this is just my opinion and only applicable to Modern (Neo) Druidism, though influenced by my fledgeling studies of Gaelic Polytheism.  Perhaps others would disagree, and my thoughts will likely evolve as I grow.  Right now – harmony.

So why harmony?

Many in the Druidic and Gaelic Polytheistic communities will agree that the concept of reciprocity is huge in Indo-European cultures.  The lore shows us that there must be an exchange of something in order for the cosmos to stay in order.  Rulers must protect their subjects and fairly distribute resources.  In exchange, everyone in the realm continues to work hard so that resources are obtained and everyone receives the services they need.  Culture can flourish.  When the ruler mistreats his or her people, as Bres did the Tuatha Dé Danann, there is disharmony that must be rectified.  In some stories, even the land herself rebels, hence accounts of sacrificial kings and symbolic marriage to the land.  In ADF Druidism, our liturgical tradition is based around reciprocity.  “A gift calls for a gift,” it is said.  When you are in a productive, healthy, meaningful relationship with another, there is mutualism.  The tall oak may appear to be the most important being in the forest, but such an ecosystem flourishes because of the give and take of the collective.  There must be harmony.

How can harmony, as a core concept of Druidism, apply to our practice?

For the Buddhists in the documentary, suffering influenced people to go through great lengths to improve themselves and their ability to find peace.  Obviously, there is a lot of meditation, but there is also a lot of study.  Whereas the stereotypical monk spends much of his or her day in meditation, in reality, he or she is also involved in a deep study of philosophy and, as Druids would call it, lore. Several of the Western Buddhists were also engaged in studying the Tibetan language to better engage with the culture that inspires them – something many modern Gaelic Polytheists can understand. At one point in the film, some of the monks discuss the importance of memorizing whole texts in Tibetan.  One man explained that there may come a day when someone will ask a question, and rather than make an excuse such as, “Oh, well, I don’t have my books with me right now,” you become the book.  That reminded me of the ancient Druids and their emphasis on oral history; they were said to activity discourage the written text.  Modern Druids have taken the pendulum and swung it the other way.  I think the Buddhists are on to something with regards to studying texts but then working to memorize them – to internalize them.  There’s a harmony there.  Furthermore, they have to find a harmony between their book studies and their spiritual practice of meditation.  A reoccurring discussion in Pagan circles often involves the need to find a balance between how much time one spends studying and actually working or experiencing.

Looking to a very successful minority religious practice for inspiration, one can see the benefits of finding harmony between both. In addition, Modern Druids must also find a harmony between doing that individual study and work, and then serving the community.  In my opinion, based on the historical basis, Druidism is a religion in service to others – the tribe, the spirit world, and the land.  Thus we nourish harmony within ourselves, then cultivate it around us in our relationships.

Harmony with Nature

As explained above, working with Nature was a driving force in my coming to Druidism.  While I wouldn’t describe our ancient predecessors as environmentalists, there’s evidence that they had animistic-type beliefs such as a deep respect for the land and the reciprocity needed to maintain harmony. The rich lore about Nature from Celtic nations inspired me, and the landscape reminded me of my own in certain ways. The modern world is so out of harmony with Nature. It only seems natural for people who strive to cultivate positive relationships with the spiritual world -including the spirits of Nature all around us – to embrace a lifestyle that at least attempts to live in better harmony with the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits. Historical precedence will only take us so far. The necessity for modern Druids to embrace environmentalism (of some breed) is based on contemporary needs. Many in the modern Buddhist community are doing the same. Their meditations on the beauty of Nature have moved several to act. The documentary gave some examples of how modern Buddhists are out picking up litter, marching in protest of environmental degradation, and speaking out for more sustainable practices. Seeing that was really inspiring.  Again – harmony between the desires of the self and the needs of the community.  Druids should also embrace that.

How do you find harmony in Druidism or Gaelic polytheism?  If you feel differently than I do about the central focus of Druidism, what is your opinion and why do you think that?

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It’s Pagan Values month in the blogosphere and, while I’ve been doing my best to keep up on some of the contributions, I’ve stayed on the sidelines as far as participation is concerned.  I don’t know what I have to say that hasn’t been said.  I also don’t know if I could articulate it very well.  I suppose, if anyone is really interested in what I think, they can get an idea by reading my essays on Druidic virtues.

I was going through my reader this morning when I came across a link to a Pagan’s blog – an entry about suffering in regards to Wicca by Diana Rajchel.  Really, I found it to related to Druidism as well.

She begins by talking about the horrific things people do to each other.  I agree with Rajchel about evil.  Some humans have moments or lifetimes of evil.  My hearth culture has examples of possibly evil people or spirits.  Many cultures do.  It doesn’t have to be a devil.  So many Pagans throw up their arms in disgust about the concept of evil because they worry it brings them back to some form of Christianity.  Perhaps they are uncomfortable with the idea of evil…  Be that as it may, there are people out there who do horrible things such as rape, mutilate, torture, and commit genocide.  Those happen because someone is psychotic or makes a very bad choice.

But back to “natural” suffering – disease, tornados, tsunamis…  The things that Rajchel rightly point out impact everyone – humans, plants, and animals.  She states, and rightly so in my opinion, that suffering is a message to us that, to the powers that be, humans are not above the natural world.

The first time I remember thinking about suffering was when my 40 year old aunt slowly died of a rare form of cancer.  Now, I think of it whenever there are major disasters.  I think of it when I see animals on the side of the road.  I thought of it at the doctor’s office, scared that – maybe – something was wrong.  That last time was of particular interest to me because it was me.  My desire for an answer became more insistent.  I wondered what the point of life was if there would be suffering.  I watched and read a bit about Buddhism for answers since suffering is what drove Siddhārtha Gautama on his quest.  In the end, I basically decided what Ms. Rajchel states – that suffering is the price of life.  Perhaps it is part of some great cycle of reincarnation or a process of initiation into the Other World.  Perhaps it is just a price for existence and when the ride is over that is that.  Who really knows?  But suffering exists and life ends up being about how you deal with it and the beauty you find despite it.  The grace of my aunt as her body decayed around her is something that continues to inspire me.

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