A New Kind of Retreat

Imagine waking up at dawn every morning to hike up a mountain, nonstop, to pray to your god or goddess on an altar that you built out of stone and wood. Or running around a giant stone circle as a form of raising energy and then releasing for sacred ritual. Imagine competitive archery, knife throwing, martial arts, and sword fighting in the woods. Building bonfires with wood you chopped, identifying edible plants and practicing agriculture, climbing trees older than anyone you will ever meet, sleeping under the stars. Imagine hunting game with nothing but a bow and an arrow, and preparing its meat for food, fur for blankets, and bones for tools- giving gratitude for its sacrifice. Imagine tapping into the consciousness of plants, stones, trees and carrying full on conversations and relationships with them. Kayaking to the deepest of waters to swim below and retrieve that which the water spirit has hidden for you. Climbing the face of a cliff to see what the goats see and hear what the birds hear. Sacrificing your blood, your sweat, and your tears to the soil in your nails. Imagine a bonding brotherhood that learns how to treat women as equals, as humans, and with respect. Imagine a bonding sisterhood that learns how to push their limits beyond any they’ve ever known and overcome every obstacle.

Imagine a pagan retreat where you don’t just camp, sing songs, and cast Circle amidst all the creatures. You become the creature. You go to the call of the god, not the other way around. Sacrifice. Appreciation. Religion. Love. Trust. And the reality of Nature. Part boot camp, part spiritual retreat, part obstacle course, and part campsite. This is my dream for the Pagan community. This is what I feel the future of our religion needs to sustain itself in our modern world, with temporary reminders and rehabilitation. Today, sacred knowledge isn’t learned by listening to the trees; it’s found on the printed pages made from their wood waiting to be shipped from an Amazon distribution center. Sabbat rituals are held in the temperature controlled confinements of a carpeted living room with scented candles and gas fireplaces. We wear our beliefs by buying jewelry of our symbols made by countries we’re politically against trading with, so we can have an identity. The ironic marriage of indigenous capitalism. Herbs to be used for spellwork are delivered with already picked, cleaned, and labeled produce at your door. You bought a soapstone statue of Kali for your altar at the New Age shop that came from India in boxes of Styrofoam (that’ll end up in the ocean forever), but have you ever gone to India? Have you backpacked through the country and walked through the slums of Mumbai where her name is still whispered in devotion?

I am a practicing Neo-Pagan after all so obviously my modern religion can be very fulfilling at times, but there are times I am enveloped within my community with all that it has to offer and I still feel like it’s lacking, diluted, and anticlimactic. As though we emphasize our attention more on appearance, books, and historical accuracy, than we do on the relationships we have with our deities, ourselves, and our craft. We concentrate more on what’s behind us and at our feet than looking to where we’re going. So newsflash my community, our planet’s falling apart. Human habitual dependency on a lack of responsibility is destroying our oceans, our land, and all the balance found within. Global warming is rapidly the new fear of the Devil. Alternative energy is being ignored while finite fossil fuels are extracted in strengthening numbers. Organic farms are being forced to spray pesticides on their crops by companies that pay the counties to do it, and then charging the farms afterward. Our women are still drastically underpaid and disrespected in the workforce, and many of them expect it and take it because they’re taught to do so. We eat dramatically huge, unnecessary portions of food in this country like it’s your last meal on Earth. And many of that is pumped full of chemicals and artificial flavorings because the manufacturers can get more bang for their buck that way.

When was the last time you bit into the sweetest tomato you ever tasted right after you picked it from its vine? When was the last time you summited a mountain, in pain and exhausted, and watched the sunset with tears in your eyes? Have you ever carved the face of your god out of wood or clay, carefully and respectfully widdling away every shaving to reveal that face you see every day in your heart? In the song, Silvera by Gojira, Joe Duplantier sings, “When you change yourself, you change the world”. I am a big believer in this concept. I believe a pagan boot camp retreat could help change people in our community for themselves and for the planet. I hope someday I can make this dream come to fruition, because not only do I believe the future of our religion could benefit from it for its survival, but also for our democracy.