On ancestors and our bodies

Ancestor veneration is a popular, perhaps central, part of heathenry. I have a hard time with it for many reasons, but can also see how it’s important. Besides, ancestor veneration gives yet another very good reason why we should dance.

As for venerating ancestors, it’s well attested to in the lore. People go to the grave-mounds of their ancestors to learn things. The Disir, or female ancestral spirits, are a protective force. It is perhaps most well known through the Einherjar, Odin’s honored dead who live in Valhalla.

The family and home is an important part of heathenry. And that extends to the honored dead. Our ancestors are a part of our family, and they don’t stop caring about us, and we don’t stop caring about them, once they have died. It seems that the dead can sort of hang around the house to watch over their descendents. Or cause mischief.

Anyway, venerating the Germanic ancestors tends toward a couple of things that really bother me. The first of which is, of course, the tendency to the folkish, with its overtones of racism.

I almost went into one of my diatribes about greater heathenry here, but I won’t. I am sure that my readers will understand that I despise racism. There is no need for me to go over the same arguments that have been had and will continue to be had on the subject. I will leave it that my stance on the folkish vs. universalist debate is a firm belief that anyone who wants to be heathen ought to be, paired a belief that people are probably more likely to be interested in heathenry if it’s in their cultural background, but for cultural rather than genetic reasons. So, basically, I’m somewhere in between a C and a D in this scale.

I have a hard time with ancestor veneration in what I understand is the traditional way. I’m working on it, and I have altars to both the Disir and my male ancestors. But there are a few reasons I have a really hard time.

The first reason is that my family is insane. No really. Everyone from my family, excluding my siblings and my father,  is selfish and manipulating. Almost all of them have some kind of terrible addiction. My grandmother has been married eight times to five men, and my mom didn’t find out that she was the result of an affair until she was in her thirties. All of my family members dislike their parents, all of the mother/daughter bonds are incredibly strained. My father’s mother wants nothing to do with my mother or my half-brother. It goes on and on.

I have a hard time venerating my ancestors because I have a hard time seeing them as anything else but a continuation of my family. Who probably, like my mother, would think I’m going to Hell for being a heathen.

So I look back to my “heathen” ancestory, but that’s all complete conjecture. I do know that I have both Irish and German ancestry, but that’s not very specific and could mean a whole lot of different things about who I come from. In my practice, the worship of the Disir tends to come up as a sort of Mother Goddess thing.

I have never been able to see ghosts, even though I believe they exist. I have never been able to sense them at all. Perhaps this is also why I have a hard time with it.

But then again, perhaps the biggest reason why I feel stumped in venerating my ancestors is that I have no honored dead. None of my ancestors have died since my birth. Don’t get me wrong, I count myself as quite lucky in this regard. But it does make my ancestor altar kind of sparse. I don’t have people I love (I do love my family, despite their faults) whose pictures I can put on my altar who I want to say “hello” to, who I want to remember.

My ancestor altar contains a little prayer I have for a cousin of mine I barely knew, and the program from the memorial service of a beloved college professor–I count him as one of my ancestors because he is the reason I have found the incredible joy and passion I have about my religion.

On the other hand, as I said in my “We are our ancestors” post, I am amazed and in awe at how my body and my life is the result of thousands of people working and living and loving and finding each other and coming together and marrying (or not) and having babies who went on working and living and loving. Their lives and trials and successes are played out in my body. I am not just me, and I can’t separate myself from all the generations of people who made me who I am–the brunette, skinny female with giant hands who is going gray already at 23. The people who gave me my twin sister, who is the person I love more than anyone else in the world, and her giant hands and strands of gray and brown hair and the same mannerisms I have.

She and I both say things like “my ankle hurts, so I have to go to sleep now” and we both know that that is just one of the bodily idiosyncrasies that we have, that came to us because of the lives of all the people before us. When both of us try not to fall asleep by rubbing our toes together. When I hear her toes crack when she walks just like mine do. When I see her sucking on her tongue when she’s sleepy. In all these things that I see her do that I do and that we have seen our mother do. In these little mannerisms, these little bodily idiosyncrasies, I see the generations.

Our bodies are our ancestors’ gift to the world. Their most enduring, likely. And so I like to think that by dancing, I am honoring my ancestors. I am celebrating their gift to me–my body. I am reveling in the joy that they have given me by giving me a body. I am feeling the extent of their bodies. I know, for example, that my ancestors were flexible and had high arches in their feet. These little details of them…that is what I honor when I honor the ancestors. I honor that I am them kept present. I am the remnants of their dreams.

Babies can dance

Scientists recently finished up a study that shows that dancing is an innate human activity. The study involved playing different sounds for babies–classical music, music with a strong beat, and speech. And they found that the babies danced to the beat on the music, and responded more visibly to the beat of the music than they responded to the speech.

All of the babies danced to some extent or another (this video shows some of the range of the babies’ abilities). The scientists, humorously enough, also got professional ballet dancers to watch the babies as a way to test whether they were dancing on the beat or not.

Well, I can say as a professional dancer that they’re doing pretty darn well. Those babies in the video (with the possible exception of the third one) are quite definitely dancing with the beat. Sure, they’re still babies, so their motor control isn’t the strongest. Their dancing isn’t good, but it’s definitely, definitely dancing.

This fills me with joy and reminds me once again, that where there are humans, there is dancing.

On another note, the daffodils are in full bloom here, and the trees are beginning to unfurl their solar panels to collect energy to grow this summer. And this also fills me with hope and joy–even after this winter, the snowiest in recorded history, one of the coldest, still our hope has been rewarded and the cycles move on. No matter how cold the winter, the daffodils will always bloom, the trees will always let out their green, and the children will always dance.

Photo from the German Federal Archive, found at Wikipedia Commons

Lifestyle Changes

Spring is here, and she has me joyously living and dancing! The sun is shining down on us, and all of life seems to be reaching to her, shedding the heaviness of winter.

In the spirit of everyone coming out of their heavy winter shells, I’m going to make a more personal post than I usually do. I’m going to write about how my lifestyle has changed drastically in the past year, largely in part due to my deepening spirituality.

It all started when I went back home for my brother’s wedding. I was unemployed at the time, and sad. As soon as I got back to the Appalachians–this mountain range is home to me more than anything else–I got a message in a dream from Freyja that it would be a good idea to start doing something pretty with my hair every day. So in the morning, I woke up, and did something pretty with my hair, and felt better about myself than I had in weeks.

After that, while trying to learn a library of nice hairstyles, I discovered that I wanted to grow my hair quite long. It was mid-back when I first got the message in August, and it’s now down to my hips and I’m not done growing. Having long hair makes me feel feminine. Putting it up every day makes me feel beautiful, and people are always commenting that I always have something nice done with my hair.

I feel like the hair thing is a great devotion for Freyja. For one thing, she loves beauty, and by putting my hair up everyday, I can spend just a few minutes adding a little bit more beauty into my world. But I also feel like it’s somehow a statement about how my religious views aren’t the same as other people’s–not that anyone will see me and think that. Many religions require their women to cover their hair out of modesty. But I disagree with modesty in general because it’s so body-denying. I have no interest in hiding my hair because I want to hide its beauty from other people.

In addition, in a class I took in college, there was an essay I read about religious mystics and hair. The essay was called “Medusa’s Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience” by Ganananth Obeyesekere.  The basic argument in the essay was that hair is the symbolic genitals, and that mystics, therefore, either shave their heads, like Buddhists, to purposefully cut off their sexuality or let their hair grow into dreads because, like Hindu mystics, the sexuality is just ignored. While I found the argument in the article extremely problematic for many reasons (not the least of which being that he says that hair is genitals, even while saying that not a single one of his informants thought there was any kind of connection, even after asking them directly), I can see where his argument comes from (mostly Freud). His informants did all either grow dreads or shave their heads at the same time they became mystics and at the same time they stopped engaging in sexual activity. But I am a mystic who worships Freyja.  I in no way want to remove my sexuality, symbolically or otherwise. I don’t want to purposefully cut myself out of the world or ignore it. I want to live here fully and joyfully. And so doing pretty things with my hair is a way for me to connect with that while I’m getting ready every morning. A way to pamper my worldliness.

Winter came, and with it, more changes. First my diet–I have long believed I would one day be a vegetarian for environmental reasons. I’m not yet, but I realized that I did need to make some changes to my diet. I started eating a mostly plant-based diet. Add that to the fact that I’m kinda poor, and my diet now consists of vegetables and whole grains and beans, with meat maybe once or twice a week. I’m eating better than I ever have, and the transition was so easy. I feel better and happier because I am taking care of my body and I’m not eating a diet I feel ethically opposed to.

Food takes longer to cook, and I like that. Now when I eat food that takes a short amount of time to cook, I feel a little gypped. I feel gypped by the fact that the food I’m eating isn’t real food, it’s just something to fill me up. I want those complex, earthy flavors that whole grains provide. I want to know that what I’m eating is nourishing me completely. I want to eat foods without excessive packaging I have to throw away.

I think it’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg situation with my environmentalism. I’m not sure if I favor the Vanir because I am an environmentalist or if I am an environmentalist because I favor the Vanir. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, and the two probably feed one another. But the fact of the matter is that I want to do what I can to stop the horrible way we’ve been treating our Mother, and so I eat mostly plants and try to use as little plastic as possible. I carry a set of silverware in my purse so that I never have to use plastic, and I carry around a reusable water bottle and coffee cup so I don’t have to use disposables. In my mind, disposables are pretty much the root of all evil as far as environmentalism is concerned. Things that don’t biodegrade should absolutely not be made to be used for fifteen minutes.

The final change has been in my wardrobe. I feel a strong desire to simplify. I decided to wear only skirts. I’ve always worn skirts most days in the summer, but this year I decided to make it winter as well. That way I can get rid of my drawer of pants that I’ve always thought of as excessive. Wearing skirts makes me feel so much more grounded in my body. It makes me feel connected to the generations and generations of women before me who wore them. It makes me feel happy to do my housework. It makes me feel beautiful and feminine. I’ve often said that on the gender spectrum, I’m almost as far toward “feminine” as it comes. And wearing skirts every day just fits that well for me. It’s a way for me to make my wardrobe smaller. I’m about to give away about half of it.

It’s also another way for me to fill my life with beauty. In general, people seem to equate skirts and dresses with being “dressed up” for a special occasion. If I dress every day as if it is a special occasion, perhaps I will live like every day is a special occasion.

But I also like wearing skirts all the time because it makes dancing even more sacred and set apart from my daily mundanities. I don’t dance in skirts–that would be quite impractical for the kind of dancing I do–so when I take off the skirt and put on leggings, it’s like a special ritual attire. A way to remind myself that dancing is special and wonderful. I used to just wear my dance clothes all the time when it was nice out.

I graduated from college in May, and my appearance has changed so much–I’ve grown a foot of hair, changed from pants to skirts. My college friends told me in December that I look “grown up” now, and I understand what they’re saying. Taking control of my diet and coming into the wardrobe I want to wear makes me feel so much like I have grown into myself. It’s only been nine months, but I feel so much older, so much more myself, than I did them. I’m no longer extremely stressed–in fact, I’m quite happy with the amount of activity in my life. I have the confidence to dress and act and eat exactly as I want to.

I see all of this as devotion. Ways to connect to my Lady and the gods and to spread just a little bit of beauty in the world, to remember that I am a part of this earth, that I am a part of the endless firedance that is life.

I think it is inevitable that very devoted people will have lifestyles that shift as well. When we place the gods at the center of our lives, everything else will reflect that. When I put Freyja there, shining golden through everything I do, her beauty will radiate into other parts of my life. When I put her there, the earth that she loves, that is quite literally her mother, needs to matter. I need to respect her mother, and so I need to take care of the Earth–our mother and our home.

On Bullying Newbies, Lore Thumping, and Viking Warriors

When we, as modern Americans, think of the ancient Norse, we think of Viking warriors with fur outfits and a horned helmet and bulging muscles with a battle axe, terrorizing Europe, raping and pillaging.

When we, as people reviving the religion of the ancient Germanic tribes picture the world that we’re taking inspiration from, we see a very different, more historically accurate version. Not all of the people are Vikings. Some of them aren’t even Nordic. Most of them are farmers. They don’t hate women, and indeed give their women some power.

Nevertheless, the Viking warrior thing infiltrates us anyway. Even in the pagan world, the stereotype of an Asatruar is big and bullying. They have to be right all the time, there is a right way to practice their religion and a wrong one, and they’ll beat you up if you tell them you’re wrong.

Okay, perhaps that’s an exaggeration. But perhaps not.

When I first switched from Wicca to Heathenry, I was very confused. I had never, ever heard the Norse myths before. And I was trying to learn, but it was hard. I had no grasp of who was who among the gods, except for Freyja, who I had already met, and Thor, who I thought was an angry, hateful demon-figure who just liked to go around destroying things for no reason. I was trying to figure out who were the “main” gods and who were the “lesser” ones, in the same sort of setup I had learned for the Greek gods in school. And I tried to read the Eddas and Sagas, but I was so overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know, that I had to start off somewhere else, with books that sort of tied everything together for me. Books like Essential Asatru, and Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe (which was also a bit over my head at the time).

And so I joined a popular online forum for discussing Asatru. When I introduced myself as a heathen and a dancer, I was met with shock. People were saying things like, “A heathen and a dancer? That’s not something you see every day!” as if the two were almost mutually exclusive. One man had met a heathen who was a stripper, so he didn’t think I was that weird…

At some point while I was there, I posted a thread expressing my frustration. I said that, while I enjoy reading the Eddas and the Sagas, there was just too much information all at once for my brain to handle. I didn’t know what almost any of the words meant, I didn’t know which god was who and certainly had no idea that most of them were Odin. And so I basically said that I was confused and sometimes felt overwhelmed by all the reading that’s required of heathens.

The response to my frustration was not understanding.

I was told that if I didn’t like the reading, I had probably chosen the wrong religion because this is “a religion with homework.” I was told that reading the Eddas and Sagas (I’ve only read one Saga to this day—Njal’s—and I found it quite insufferable. I have no interest in reading about battles and family arguments, regardless if there are little bits and pieces of useful cultural information tossed in) was essential for being a heathen, and that if I didn’t love reading them, I certainly wasn’t going to go any deeper than that.

I came out of the conversation feeling hurt and rejected. I knew I couldn’t be the only heathen who had ever felt overwhelmed. But it was as if feeling overwhelmed condemned me to a life of ignorance on the subject of the gods and the worldview of our ancestors.

Over the course of the time that I was at that forum, I noticed over and over new people coming in, being told they were wrong, and leaving. The prevailing attitude seemed to be that we needed to bully new people because if they couldn’t put up with bullying at the beginning, they didn’t really want it, and they wouldn’t be able to handle all the SUPERINTENSE arguing that goes on all the time in heathenry about the meaning of words and tearing apart each other’s lore references and arguing about whether or not the Hammer Rite has any place in heathenry. Basically, if we don’t bully new people, they won’t be able to handle the bullying that goes on all throughout the religion, and they aren’t really committed.

So we bully people so that they can handle our bullying. Isn’t that a bit circular?

Well, I’m questioning that. For one thing, I was overwhelmed at first, but now I’m not. I’ve read the Eddas and I’ve gone much deeper into my research, as should be evident by this point. I left that forum because I don’t like being bullied unnecessarily. And I have an unbreakable bond with my gods.

Bullying each other in our religion is not the way to go. We want to create a community. If we can’t even stop fighting with each other, can we ever hope for general acceptance?

The lore is not the Bible. We don’t have to tell other people they are wrong for reading it differently. So what if I put a slightly different spin on things than you? Yes, it’s a good topic for discussion. We should definitely be discussing the lore, playing with every angle, seeing where we can improve or deepen our understanding.

But telling people they are wrong for being overwhelmed, or that they are not a heathen because they don’t perform Sumble the same way you do is not conducive to our creating a viable religion in the coming world.

People are running away from that when they leave Christianity.

Perhaps I am wrong when I think that we choose heathenry because it brings us joy. Yes, there are manifold reasons to choose it—because you’re seeking a tie to your ancestors, because you’re seeking a tie to the land, because you loved the Norse myths as a child, or because, like me, the gods grabbed you and left you longing for them, seeking to learn more about them.

But all of these reasons come from seeking joy. When we seek to create a tie with our ancestors, we aren’t doing so because of hate, we’re doing so because we love those generations who have given us life. When we’re seeking a tie to the land, it’s not because we hate modern life, it’s because the beauty of the plants and rivers and animals is something worth revering, worth saving. When we love the myths, it is because they inspire us.

Perhaps I am wrong, and most people turn to heathenry because of a obsession with being right or a hatred of Christianity. And that that obsession and hatred makes us angry with each other.

Perhaps it’s because the Nine Noble Virtues exclude compassion, frith and moderation, values discussed in the Havamal, leaving only “macho” sorts of Virtues like Courage and Perseverance. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with all of the Nine Noble Virtues. But they are missing something.

I’m sure this will sound to some as a naïve, “hippie” rant, seeking to fill the world with brotherly love and there never be a fight again. Well, I am a hippie. And no, I don’t believe world peace is possible. We are human beings with human instincts and desires and emotions. To be human is not never to get angry. Yes, we fight. Yes, we get defensive when people tell us we’re wrong. Yes, we defend our viewpoint and our land and our people fearlessly.

But let’s not fight for no reason. Let’s remember that we do share something, that we are not trying to revive the Viking raiders who tear down churches, ruthlessly murder monks, and steal the treasures of Europe.

We are trying to revive the religion of a people we respect, who lived hard lives with courage and honor, who tilled the soil of Europe and saw it covered in a blanket of snow each winter. People who loved their way of life, who were the last to keep it safe from the ruthless spread of Christianity.

These people loved their gods, and they kept them as long as they could. And let’s remember that in Iceland, they resolved the conversion with a compromise.

Works cited and Further Reading:

Christianization of Iceland

Poetic Edda

Prose Edda

The Sagas of Iceland

All images are from Wikipedia Commons

Spring is only a few days away!

I took a walk today, and I saw Spring! She’s not quite here yet, but it will only be a few more days.

I didn’t wear a coat because the sun was shining so beautifully, and I even felt hot walking up the hill. I saw trees just barely beginning to bud–I had to look closely to see, but it’s there. I saw plants pushing their way up through the Earth to greet the sun. I saw flowers–perhaps a handful of tiny white flowers, a single orange one ready to bloom. I saw a flowering tree threatening to burst forth in color at any moment.

And in just a couple of days, about a block from my apartment, there will be a daffodil.

There is no moment that means more to me that Spring has come than the Day of the First Daffodil. The day when the Sun, in all her fiery glory, comes out of the earth and blooms.

A Worthwhile read

There is a fantastic post today at The Political Pagan about the tendency of American Heathens to believe that being politically conservative is an essential part of being a Heathen.

As a hippie, left-wing, mostly pacifist, I say bravo to Maelstrom for this post. I have many issues with “mainstream heathenry” (is there really such a thing? We’re awfully fringey no matter how you cut the pie), and one of those is the pro-war Viking stereotype. Just because the most famous of our Germanic ancestors were the Vikings does not mean that they are the majority of our ancestors. Most were not warriors. Most were farmers. War and battle were only a part of life, and fighting and claiming to always be right and that we should have no government interference in our lives and that we should all carry guns around isn’t really all that accurately historical. I have no interest whatsoever in being a Viking. I want to be a strong Germanic woman, but that’s no reason for me to want to go attack churches for wealth and fame. That’s no reason I want to strike deadly fear in my adversaries. I’d honestly rather not have adversaries, as unrealistic as that is.

My next post will be about how I feel about the Asatruar and the ultra-conservative Heathens and the “lore thumpers.” But for now, I just wanted to pop in and say “Go read that post. It’s quite good.”

The Case for a Dancing Heathenry, Part 3

Christian History and Dance

In this essay, I’m going to talk about Christianity and Dance. Mostly how the past couple thousand years of Christian culture have basically obliterated positive attitudes toward dance, and how we need to be able to look past that enculturation. But also how attitudes toward dance are generally turning around these days, even among Protestant groups.

In the early days of the Christian church, as pretty much everyone knows, much care was taken to make sure that Christianity wasn’t tainted by paganism, and, therefore, that Christianity was as different as possible from paganism. The Christians outlawed as much pagan tradition as they could and incorporated the rest. Dance was part of the collateral damage.

Dance is so embodied, so ecstatic and beautiful, so natural a part of human worship, so fully a part of paganism, that it had to be gotten rid of. Even to the point where Christians today talking about the early church redefine dance so as to exclude spontaneous worshipping Christian movements: [speaking on Dionysian dance] “Because early Christians in no way wished to be associated with such rites, they most likely avoided dancing in church, though their intense, sometimes ecstatic worship (see Acts 2:43, 1 Cor. 14:26 for examples) may well have included motions of some sort” (Christian History blog). Motions of some sort? Seriously? If ecstatic worship doesn’t include “motions of some sort,” I’m not really sure how ecstatic it can really be. And if it is ecstatic and includes motions, is it not dance?

It seems that early Christians (and indeed Christians all throughout history) were actually quite ambivalent about the subject of sacred dance. There was bad dance, which included most dancing, especially the secular kind. But also kinds written about in the Bible, like the dancing of the worshippers around the Golden Calf. But on the other hand, what becomes of the spontaneous, joyous outbursts of people seeing the bliss of God? These were good dance, and were to be allowed, as they were supported by Biblical evidence, including the Psalms. But the Church was careful that these dances remain spontaneous and not tainted by the physical world, and thus were not to be a regular part of the liturgy.

Dance was even further removed from religion during the Protestant Reformation. Along with the Protestant Reformation came a major scaling back in religious pomp and circumstance, which meant that basically all beauty in churches, all indulgences (pun intended) were out. There was to be no dancing. At roughly the same time as the Protestant Reformation came Rene Descartes and his ideas that led to the Enlightenment, which led the the idea that bodies are inferior to minds.

Then there were the Puritans, who got rid of everything and were so afraid of dancing that they basically believed it was devil-worship. In Maypole of Merry Mount, Hawthorne describes dancing around a maypole as a demonic activity, and describes the one of the dancers as a “priest of Baal.” On the other hand, it’s arguable that Hawthorne saw no real difference between the heathens and the Puritans—his stories often show a hidden dark side behind Puritan society, where the Puritans are truly heathen devil-worshippers behind the curtain of polite society (See Young Goodman Brown and Maypole of Merry Mount. Also The Scarlet Letter, but less so).

And we, at least the Americans, have inherited that Puritan tradition. I grew up in the South among Southern Baptists for whom most joyful things are sins. A professor of mine, raised Mississippi Baptist, used to tell this joke: “You know, the Mississippi Baptists can’t do anything. They can’t dance, they can’t smoke, they can’t play cards, they can’t have sex. So I asked my Dad once, ‘what do people do?’ and he said, ‘they close the blinds.’”

Our puritanical culture dirties everything that is fun. Joy should not be a source of guilt, but of joy. Sex is not dirty, it is sacred and natural. Dancing is not devil worship, it is an exaltation of our lives and bodies and souls. The Catholic Church remains committed to the idea that dance is not to be a part of liturgy. In 1975, the Church had this to say;

Here [in western culture] dancing is tied with love, with diversion, with profaneness, with unbridling of the senses: such dancing, in general, is not pure.

For that reason it cannot be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever: that would be to inject into the liturgy one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements; and so it would be equivalent to creating an atmosphere of profaneness which would easily recall to those present and to the participants in the celebration worldly places and situations.

Perhaps most heathens don’t have this problem of guilt for dancing. We’ve chosen another path—one that isn’t Puritanism. But I had this problem for a long time. And I’ve found a way to release myself from it. And that way is to love the Earth, to love my body for the pleasures it gives me in all of my senses, to love the sunshine not as a gift from God but as a goddess herself. As the pure golden warmth of enormous nuclear fission. As the force that feeds life. To love the aches in my muscles after a particularly intense dance rehearsal and know that I’m getting stronger, to be reminded in those infinitesimal tears in my muscles and that itchy pain that I have done something worthwhile. I take great pride and joy in exactly what the Catholic Church is here condemning. I want my body to be tied to love and the unbridling of the senses. And as for if it’s pure, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be. What is impure about letting go of the cultural constraints we press against daily and becoming our true selves?

It seems, fortunately, that pagans are not the only ones asking these questions. And, since I don’t want this to be a Christian-bashing blog, I am going to present the other point of view in Christianity—those modern Christians arguing for the introduction of Liturgical Dance.

Modern Liturgical dance is a new way of approaching dance in Christianity, and has appeared only since the 20th century (excluding, of course, the Shakers, for whom dance was essential, but who also didn’t ever have sex, and so they have since died out). The basic idea is that movement and performance can heighten ritual power and make even more emotionally clear the message of the sermon and the church meeting.

The best argument for Liturgical dance I have ever read is by Kathleen Kline-Chesson. She is a professionally trained modern dancer and an ordained minister. I highly recommend the first half of her essay linked at the bottom of this entry. The second half is mostly descriptive examples that aren’t clearly conveyed, due mostly to the fact that dance is poorly conveyed through text.

I find myself somehow mirrored in what she writes—she is a woman and a minister (I much prefer the term priestess myself, however) seeking a place for sacred dance in a world that looks down on dance as “profane.” Yes, we are operating in different traditions with vastly different opinions about bodies, but our goal is the same. And so I will close today with a quote from her essay that I think should be plastered all over churches and all over the internet. If more people were like her, perhaps the world could be a little bit better of a place, or perhaps I am dreaming.

Dance in worship is not a new concept. Humans have always communicated their religious questions and expressions in the language of gesture and dance… Unfortunately, dance as a language of worship has been largely forgotten.

Creatures with bodies as well as minds and souls were the crowning glory of God’s creation described in Genesis. Christ also appeared in a bodily form, suffered bodily pain and death, and was bodily resurrected. Though we celebrate the Word becoming flesh, modern Christians tend to emphasize verbal rather than physical expressions of faith and worship.

Works Cited and Further Reading:


Christianity Today: Did Early Christians dance in church?

The Catholic Encyclopedia on Dancing

Wikipedia on Liturgical Dance

The Living Word: Dance as a Language of Faith by Kathleen Kline-Chesson

The Religious Dance from Notitiae

The Maypole of Merry Mount by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne