Encounters in nature, part 1: Sharing of Paths

Left to right: B. T. Newberg, Urban Haas, and Drew Jacob

Left to right: B. T. Newberg, Urban Haas, and Drew Jacob

Encounters in Nature: An Open-air Dialogue in the North Woods

with Celtic polytheist Drew Jacob, Vodou priest Urban Haas, and Humanistic Pagan B. T. Newberg

Part 1: Sharing of Paths

Recorded with a Blue Yeti microphone on a Macbook

The first step in a dialogue is getting to know each other.  In today’s segment, the first in a 5-part series, we share our very different spiritual paths.

B. T. explains what Humanistic Paganism is, Drew is challenged to answer why he’s not a Pagan, and Urban comments on whether Vodou is a Pagan path.

All this and a crackling fire today on Encounters in Nature.

And now a question for you:

What does “Pagan” mean to you?  Are you a Pagan?

Note: Should you experience troubles with the Flash player, you can also get the show free on iTunes Store.
Vertebrae found in the woods during a hike

Vertebrae found in the woods during a hike

photo by B. T. Newberg

16 Comments on “Encounters in nature, part 1: Sharing of Paths

  1. Pingback: A Path with A Heart | Essential Knowledge

  2. Awesome conversation! I *so* wish I could join in. You guys remind me so much of the story about the Buddhist, the Daoist, and the Confucian that was used as an allegory for Neoconfucian integration in the 13th century: “One Truth, Three Paths”… Congratulations, and keep it up.


      • Sure! Disclaimer: it is a Daoist story, of course, given to me by my teacher…

        A Daoist, a Buddhist, and a Confucian are trying to determine who amongst them possesses the true teaching that reveals the truth of existence. They basically start out discussing the differences in their teachings (the Confucian is aghast that the Buddhist sees ancestor worship as irrelevant, the Daoist thinks that the Buddhist’s preparations for purifying the mind and renouncing the natural world are misguided, the Buddhist thinks that both Confucian and Daoist are deluded, anchored to Samsara, etc.). Over the course of the discussion, they discover that they’re all from Hanzhou. Finally they decide to travel to the Flower Market in Hanzhou and look for the flower that best represents the truth of their teaching. They agree to meet after the market in the same place where their discussion started. The Confucian and the Buddhist set out the following morning, while the Daoist is still deep in meditation.
        The Buddhist and the Confucian walk together, and as they help each other on the road (over rocky outcroppings, across a river), they start warming up to each other. When they reach Hanzhou, the Buddhist observes: “Why, sir, you have been most compassionate to me on the road.” The Confucian replies, “it is the teaching of the ancestors, to show in all things propriety and courtesy, good sir. I thought you didn’t hold with these beliefs”. The Buddhist laughs and says “to me, dear sir, this is the compassion that comes from the Buddha-mind”.
        After agreeing that maybe their beliefs aren’t all that different, the two enter the market and set out to find the flower that best represents their teaching. At the end of the day, they meet at the entrance to the town and share their findings.
        “This,” says the Confucian, visibly delighted, “is a Red Peony, which best represents the beauty and perfection of the world. It is simple and pure, delicate and silent. It represents the silent elegance of courtesy and filial piety, which every human being owes his ancestors, his parents, his elder brothers and sisters, and which makes the world an orderly place to live in”.
        The Buddhist smiles and nods, then presents his own flower. “This is the lotus, which grows out of the murky depths of the swamp. Like the soul of the human, it must grow past the impurities of its birth to the surface, where it can blossom and attain its full potential. It is gentle, and delicately beautiful, and impermanent, like life itself.”
        The Confucian is awestruck and agrees that it is beautiful.
        The two then look at each other and wonder where might their Daoist friend be, and decide to return to the place where they’d agreed to meet.
        After a long walk, The Buddhist and the Confucian arrive, only to find the Daoist still sitting in meditation, for all appearances unmoved from where they left him.
        “Why, dear sir, we have gone and returned from the market, and brought flowers. Have you been here all day?” asks the Confucian with some exasperation.
        “We thought we would find you in the market. We have both brought the flowers, as agreed. How about yourself?” asks the Buddhist.

        The Daoist opens his eyes and looks at both of them with a smile.
        “I sat here, my friends, all day, in silent meditation, and I thought about the flowers I saw in my many years visiting the market. I thought about the red peonies, which are beautiful and elegant, and the images of beautiful lotuses came into my mind, blossoming amidst the muck. But you know which flower I recalled the most, that made me think about the teaching of my teacher, and his teacher before him? The Chrysanthemum, wild and beautiful, growing by the side of the road. Its many petals signify the beauty of the myriad things, which the Dao follows as they rise and fall without cease, and I realized something.”

        “What?” asked the Buddhist and the Confucian with curious looks in their eyes.

        “That your flowers and mine blossom in the same place, and I needn’t travel far in order to find them.” With that he opened his hand, and the Confucian and the Buddhist were amazed to find the red peony, the lotus, and the chrysanthemum in the Daoist’s hand, freshly picked and beautiful, as if taken from the most beautiful bunches in the Flower Market stands…

        • Thanks for sharing, Cintain. The difference in paths toward the goal isn’t clear till the end, then it hits you all at once.

          I like the structure of stories like that, comparative philosophy through story. I’ve used it myself to try to express my feelings on Paganism. The two below are from my “Stories of Old Joe.”


          A priest said, “Christ died to redeem this world.”

          A monk said, “Life is full of suffering, but there is a way out.”

          Old Joe said, “My lover is here! My lover is here!”


          Three teachers–a priest, a rabbi, and Old Joe–were having an interfaith dialogue. The priest said, “Surely there must be something we all have in common.”

          “Yes, ” said the rabbi. “Perhaps if we state the essence of our teachings?”

          The priest said, “Great! I’ll start. When asked what is the highest commandment, Jesus said: Love your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. All other commandments are manifestations of these two.”

          The rabbi said, “When asked to distill the essence of the Torah, Rabbi Eleazar said, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”

          The priest slapped his knee and said, “There! Surely that is something we have in common! What do you say, Old Joe?”

          Old Joe, who had been watching a squirrel outside the window, said, “I’m sorry, what are we talking about?”

          “We’re summarizing the essences of our teachings, ” repeated the priest. “What is the essence of your teaching?”

          Old Joe replied, “We are human.”

  3. The thing that Urban talks about in relation to the spirits of those who came before resembles a lot what my teacher explained to me about ancestor worship in China, and what the old Daoist beliefs are about reincarnation: basically, he said “everyone who has ever been anything or done anything that changed the world, is an ancestor”… Not everyone transcends, according to the traditional, shamanistic views that later became a part of Daoism and, much later, Neo-confucianism. However, those who become ancestors are purified and sublimated by their long. virtuous lives, to become channels for the divine powers to bless their descendants. To hear my teacher tell it, that’s the origin of feng shui: siting ancestor tombs where they will channel the energies of the Heavens and the Earth to be a blessing to their descendants (thus acting as intermediaries between “God” and the living).
    Fascinating, simply amazing. I really wish I could talk to you guys more.

    • >I really wish I could talk to you guys more.

      Well, you certainly can! Drew and Urban will likely check in on the comments periodically, but you can be sure to get their attention by going to their blogs and commenting there. 🙂

  4. I really liked how no one person was interviewing the others and was more of each asking their own questions of each other. I personally felt like it was quite brief for the topics that were covered. I certainly learned more on Vodouism and have a bit of a better understanding on Drew’s background and outlook. What was his priestly path called again? I’d like to learn more on that personally.

    Glad the weather was favorable for that night, sounded quite beautiful, and the bit of humor toward Urban sticking pins in a doll during recording was good fun.

    Looking forward to hearing more.

    • Glad you’re diggin’ it, Rua. If I can speak for Drew, he is a Celtic polytheist, but he considers his religion to be the Heroic Life.

      • Yes, I know those, but he briefly mentioned something else about the priestly order he was trained under in the audio recording that I didn’t catch.

        • Oh! Right. He mentioned Sean Creideamh. He co-founded Old Belief Society, and organized the building of Temple of the River.

        • That sounds like it. Although I can’t find anything that talks about it in English. Do you know of any resources on it that I don’t need to translate?

        • Hi Rua,

          It’s actually Seancreideamh, all one word. The reason you can’t find info is because there is no name for it traditionally – it was just what people did in Ireland. It’s only in modern times that people need a name for it to distinguish it from other religions, and every organization out there calls it something slightly different.

          There are no books about the Old Belief that have ever been published. I’m trying to change that, but in the meantime you can get good information about Irish polytheism by reading these scholarly books:

          Celtic Heritage by Rees & Rees
          Warm Death & Sacrifice by Bruce Lincoln
          The Year in Ireland by Kevin Danaher

          I also recommend the Celtic Nation yahoo group for great discussion or to ask questions about Irish, Gaelic, and Celtic religion.

          Maith thú

        • WOOT! Thanks Drew, much appreciated! This will definitely help me in learning more on the spirituality of the Celtic side of my roots (the other side is Anishnabe – AKA Ojibway, and am fortunate to finally be learning the spirituality of that side, and have it be completely hands on. It is surprisingly difficult to learn much at all otherwise)

          Hope to see your contribution to fixing the lack of book on the Old Belief soon!

  5. Pingback: Encounters in nature – episode 1 « Encounters in Nature

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