A Lonely Bell
Posted on June 28, 2014
I’m sitting in my flat, overlooking a busy street, with the sounds of modernity filling my open window. It is just before noon and I just got back from a run after a particularly catastrophic Latin test. I’m hot and the room is stuffy, so my windows are open. I’m unwinding after week one of an intensive Latin course, with more studying to come and more work to do in the next two months. This is also the reason why I’m sort of quiet lately. These thoughts are disjointed, as they often are, when I get struck with them like this.
Noon strikes. A bell calls out the hour.
It’s a church bell, not the town hall in some towns or as the clock tower in my own. I’m in a particularly Catholic city at the moment studying.
It sounds weak. Hollow.
It isn’t automated. It is not on time, and it is irregular. Like a worrisome heartbeat. The chimes aren’t perfectly placed by virtue of either automation or timer-dictated sound systems. That or, perhaps, it was intended to give that “human” touch to chiming.
It is alone, there aren’t any sounds of other bells resounding elsewhere in the distance. None that I can hear, anyway. There are probably some further up the N22. Or maybe down the N71. I don’t want to detract from writing this by getting lost on Google Maps.
It struggles to be heard over the sounds of the street. I don’t know how people downtown can hear it. Presumably it has been here longer than modernity. Who needs a bell tower to tell them the time? After all, my cell phone is more accurate. More darkly: Who needs a Catholic bell to tell them their time? There are a lot of us Pagans with angst towards that religion. Unfortunately.
But it makes me sad, regardless. It sounds feeble and weak. It sounds like the call of a dwindling species, echoing with increasing loneliness in the world.
Religiosity is changing, and it’s pulling itself into the private sphere. At least that’s how it seems from my perspective. Pagans aren’t necessarily the most objective of folks simply because our experiences are usually so cloistered. We have to fight tooth and nail to get recognition of any kind in the public space – usually with a lengthy court case. Speaking of, good luck to those Pagan groups that have outstanding litigation and court appearances scheduled. I just saw an article about Huntsville blocking a Wiccan priest from opening a city council invocation with one of their prayers. And the wheel keeps turning.
America is seen as an overly religious country, and perhaps rightly so. There are numerous churches of many denominations everywhere in the various towns. The town which has my current mailing address has no less than four within a block of each other, with another two on the other end of town. There’s both a Jewish synagogue up the road and a Buddhist temple and spiritual retreat further along. But the overwhelming majority is that of the Christian traditions. And a lot of Pagans tend to get irritated at the overwhelming external pressure that can be felt from being an outsider in this world. Especially when we read click-bait articles and sensationalist news that overload us with the most recent religious controversy. The bigotry and hatred that we experience from the larger religions.
And it sometimes reflects in rhetoric and the desire that spirituality should be private, over public and ostentatious. It’s a curious juxtaposition of progressive thought (that traditions are outdated should be moved past) and a reclamation mentality (reclaiming earlier traditions).
That chime was stronger than those earlier, but still muted in comparison.
I saw an article featuring a Gallup poll about how a growing group of Americans are viewing religion as an outdated belief structure. Of course, these types of articles usually only adopt one kind of religious identity and that one is religion = Christianity or, if they deign to go more broadly, religion = The Abrahamic faiths. I feel that this trend is probably going to continue, as much as some of us cling to the idea of an organized, or visible, religious identity.
I’ve seen a lot of this kind of thinking lately with an increase of the so-called Atheistic Pagans in the past few months on various forums and sites.
I mean, of course, let’s be realistic. Traditional religion is not going to be going away anywhere anytime soon. But a big part of me laments the type of a-religious secularism that is growing, those thirty percent of the Americans who believe that religion has no place in the world or that it can actually solve things. That it is a frivolity, or ultimately a fantasy past-time. Or, worse, that it’s a large part of the world’s problems, that it is one more tool to divide us from them and give license to enact violence or disruption.
But I wonder, sometimes, whether or not Pagans should be trying to develop these senses of religious identity in the face of a growing call for the diminishment of religion in the public sphere. Religion is a very communal enterprise. It takes a lot of work to develop a community of religion, to establish the traditions that we can pass on to our children and our grandchildren to encourage our spiritual growth as a people.
I want to see Pagan temples being raised up in the world. I don’t want to have to huddle in the backyard of someone’s house, or inside a boring facade of some strip mall or area where an office had been rented out and converted. I don’t want to have to be forced into a boring room with fold out chairs, or into the back of a pub. As much as I love a beer, and as spectacular it is to find a pub owner of a like-minded faith, it gets wearisome. I personally associate religious experience with an aesthetic.
I want to see a temple raised properly so I might approach to light a candle, offer some incense, and feel that I am in the presence of Minerva. I want to see a sacred grove where I can sit under the bough of great, ancient trees and request guidance from Woden and Freo just as the ancient Germans did. I want to see a temple situated with the burial mounts of my people nearby, where our children can receive guidance from their ancestors.
And I’m afraid we’re never going to have that. Because it feels like we’re pressed between progressive modernity and fundamental religious mentality, each one working on the other and leaving those of us in the middle to be ground as if under a mortar stone.
The bell grows silent, leaving the bustle of the world again. It feels ever like a living dinosaur.