My trip to the British Isles started out as a blind grope for an opportunity for a free (or at least cheap) trip to Europe this summer, a way to prevent a blooming intellectual (that may be stretching...) from acquiring a droll, tedious, soul-sucking, time-wasting, minimum-wage job over the holiday. It then evolved into a "study abroad" plan that included taking hours of classes in Dublin while waiting for the real fun to begin. I've decided to (try to) teach a class in Fall 2010. Originally, I was going to teach it about Paleolithic death-rituals, and other mortuary rites from around the world, but I soon abandoned that premise for two main reasons: one, I realized that people generally don't like focusing so intensely on death, as a confrontation with death is tantamount to realizing the finality of mortality, and two, I have little to no knowledge on the subject, but merely wanted to know more about it. For some odd reason, I thought that teaching a class about it would be a great way for me to learn. I'm glad I have thought this (mostly) through, and I have ditched the idea.
However, I read, over the Christmas holidays, many books about Neo-Paganism. In short, it has begun a fascination with the subject. The two main books were Drawing Down The Moon by Margot Adler, and Sacred Sites, Contested Rights/Rites by Jenny Blain and Robert Wallis. This alerted me to the strange problems of Neo-Pagan identity. Although, by it's own admittance, and by the intense study that Margot Adler has done on the subject, Neo-Paganism is a very new religious tradition, completely different than previous religious patterns, Neo-Pagans themselves often declare that they are part of an ancient tradition, indeed the ancient tradition. Although, undoubtedly, many aspects of the ancient traditions survived, and some imported into Neo-Pagan belief and practice, the simple fact is: no one knows.
That, to me, is frightening. If once, at least in Northwestern Europe, there existed a religion that was the metanarrative of all living humans, and if that religion manifested itself in the customary outpour of cultural artifacts that last to this day (dolmens, megaliths, barrows, etc.), then why don't we know the finer points of the belief system? Many would answer, "Christianity," but that doesn't answer every question, especially since Christianity is actually responsible for preserving many ancient sites and basic rituals, even if they do use the name Jesus. While in ignorance of the beliefs of these ancient people, how may Neo-Pagans claim to have "re-founded" paganism? I want to find the answer. I need to find the answer.
This is, then, what I suppose & propose: I suppose that the thousands of people flocking to Stonehenge on the summer solstice and other such "Pagan Pilgrimages" are in search of identity that they feel has been lost somehow in the shifting soil of the ages. I propose that I go to Stonehenge on the summer solstice and ask these pilgrims "From whence?" "For which?" and "Wherefore?". I propose that, in the wake of a recent personal upheaval, I make my own pilgrimage across the sacred sites and tombs of the British Isles, alone and unhindered by hotel bookings and formal wear, to rediscover something of myself which has been lost, or rather, never has been. I propose that after the summer is over (in other words, when I run out of money) I come back and share what I found or didn't find with others, through the class that I hope to teach at Rice University and perhaps by other means as well. In short, I propose that I make the Pagan Pilgrimage.
Tally-ho and all that jazz.