Sunday, 14 March 2010

Vancouver Unitarians' Paganism 101 course

Paganism 101: A Unitarian Exploration of the New Paganism
by Louise Bunn with Fritz Muntean and Kara Cunningham

Today’s Pagans revere the Earth and all its creatures, seeing all life as interconnected, and striving to attune ourselves to the cycles of nature. Pagan practices are rooted in a belief in immanence – the concept of divinity residing within.

The many contemporary Pagans who have found a home in the Unitarian community are grounding our work in the rational structure, the intellectual balance, and the humanist core values that have descended to us from the Enlightenment. We’re working to develop a religiosity that is entirely compatible with, and complementary to, modern Unitarian rationality.

The new curriculum represents contemporary Paganism as:

  • A thoroughly contemporary and well-tested approach to Mystery.
  • A performative, lively way of attending to the rhythms, wisdom, and demands of Nature.
  • A way of using the richness of myth and ritual to build religious community.
An interactive curriculum in 10 sessions including:
  • student lesson plans
  • leaders' guides related articles
  • reading lists
  • an audio selection of chants

A Review of Paganism 101

Paganism 101 is a religious education course produced by Vancouver Unitarians. The course can be run along the lines of an engagement group, as time is allocated for check-in at the beginning of each session, and the production of a group covenant.

The CD contains notes for students, notes for leaders, audio files of the chants used in the sessions, and appendices with articles, further reading, and instructions for rituals.

The learning objectives are clearly outlined and cover most aspects of Pagan practice. The course should be suitable both for people who are just interested in learning more about Paganism, complete newcomers to Paganism, and more experienced practitioners seeking to deepen their knowledge.

Each section of the students’ workbook contains introductory material, further reading, an article, a chant, questions to reflect on, and a practical spiritual exercise. The authors reckon each session will take about three hours, which seems quite long for an engagement group or evening session.

The leaders’ workbook contains an outline of each session (with approximate timings). Sessions include activities, discussion, and are opened with a chalice lighting and calling the quarters, and closed with a time for personal reflection.

The Foreword by Rev Dr Steven Epperson points out that Unitarians have diverse beliefs but shared values, so Paganism can be included in the life of a Unitarian community; Unitarian Pagans participate fully in the life of the Unitarian community and its shared historical narrative; and that the course is a valuable contribution to the rich diversity of Unitarian spirituality. It is interesting how this differs from the introduction to the first edition of 1998, which addresses different concerns – the nature of good and evil, the possible irrationality of Paganism, and Biblical narratives about ancient pagans.

The course sets the scene historically with an overview of the revival of Paganism and the reasons for its popularity: feminism, nature and eco-spirituality, and the counter-cultural aspects of Paganism. Many of these themes resonate strongly with Unitarians.

The material focuses mainly on Wicca, because the authors are Wiccans themselves (as well as Unitarians). However, it does touch on other Pagan traditions, and explores the theological diversity among contemporary Pagans – polytheism, animism, pantheism, and polymorphism. It is also realistic about the Pagan community, describing both its virtues and its flaws.

I would recommend this CD to anyone looking to lead a religious education course about Paganism or earth spirituality. Even if you don’t use all the materials on offer, it is a rich resource that you can draw on.

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