Tag Archives: Z

Z is for… Zoo

Welcome! Come on in. Yes, I can show you around; I’m not a keeper, but I have been studying the animals here for some time, so I can tell you a little about them. It is noisy at the moment, you’re right. We just gave them tea and biscuits after their morning quiet time, and that always leads to a lot of chatter.

These are the Agendals. If you watch closely, you’ll see that each one in the group is trying to groom a specific list of others – they’re close relatives of the chimpanzee and the bonobo, and they have a very clear social structure. The important members are those who have very short lists themselves, so they don’t have to go running around, but they appear on the lists of lots of other monkeys, so they get lots of social interaction anyway. It’s fascinating how they can carry the lists in their heads when they only use them after feeding time – they’ve got very good memories for changes to the pecking order.

And in this cage we have some Perfectionists. We only have a few, because they’re very expensive to keep – tricky to feed, for one thing, we have to buy biscuits which are organic and fairtrade and vegan, which is quite a tall order. Yes, they do look a bit like giraffes; having their heads in the clouds so often, they’ve developed very long necks. It’s a wonder that they survive in the wild, really, hunting all the time for the very best food. I suppose it goes to show that evolution is blind. Still, it’s good for the zoo to have a few, it makes the demands of the other animals seem much more reasonable!

Yes, do go in there – but try to open the door slowly, there are several baby Ministers at the moment and it’s easy to scare them. Voices are okay, but a sudden flash of light can set them shaking for hours. They’ve small, you can just see them between the leaves, but… but as I was about to say, they have a very loud cry for their size. Thankfully they only speak one at a time. You’re finding it painful? I’m not surprised, it can be quite disconcerting at first. Please, go through to the next room, it’s still noisy but not quite so bad.

Now this is the wild Boar – ah, you’ve heard of these somewhere before?

Oh, I’m sorry you can’t stay – we’re about to have a shared lunch, you know, a chance to feed with the animals… no? Perhaps another day. We’ll certainly hope to see you again!

Z is for… Zealous

Zeal’s a bit out of fashion at the moment. Being too enthusiastic, especially about your religion or something else generally deemed to belong to the private sphere – sexuality, hobbies – is a bit embarrassing. The general emphasis, politically and socially, is on apathy.

I’m not going to go into the political effects of this, mostly because I trust that they are obvious – low voter turnouts, governments who feel they can ignore the needs of the people, and so forth. In education and work settings, it mostly seems to mean that we try and make things seem effortless and uninteresting, being casually dismissive about the amount of effort needed to do a piece of work and hiding any enjoyment we might feel. One of the most common characteristics, and often a very counter-cultural feature, of nerd or geek communities is that they allow for up-front enjoyment of whatever it is – comic books or TV shows or board games. (Caveat: there are socially approved spaces where things are very different. For reasons which are not obvious to me, all the examples which come to my mind are focussed on sports.)

Are Quakers counter-cultural enough when it comes to this trend against zeal? We’re naturally wary of the kind of zeal which wants everyone to enjoy the things we enjoy; but sometimes we slip into not acknowledging what we enjoy about the things we do. We are asked to serve, and in due course stop serving, “without undue pride or guilt” (A&Q 28), but enjoyment – and indeed frustration and many others things commonly encountered in the course of such service – is not the same thing. Indeed, to be “ardently active, devoted, or diligent” sounds to me like just what is needed. Are you zealous in undertaking the work that love requires of you?

Z is for… Zeal

Paganism is fortunate, I think, not to produce many people with the kind of zeal that leads you to go knocking on strangers’ doors. We have new converts, often, who can be keen, and talk enthusiastically to their friends and sometimes family; but just as often I hear about people who are scared to discuss it, or who prefer to keep their paganism secret from bosses and neighbours.

It would be better if we didn’t have to. But the choice itself, to keep it quiet, is not necessarily a bad one. There is a power in studying alone or with a very small group, for example, progressing at one’s own pace and without having to deal with the questions of outsiders. Sometimes when I’m writing, a big project especially, I can take the wind out of my own sails by discussing it too much or too soon, and I can easily see how that might happen to a spiritual practice, too.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need zeal, though. Pagan zeal is, at its best, the quiet steady kind which keeps you going on that private path of thought and discovery, even when it seems hard and you have nobody with whom to share it. Later, when you’ve worked things through, that same zeal can be used to share with those who want to hear it. (This might go some way to explaining why this blog has been largely private during the Pagan Blog Project year, but will probably be more widely shared next year as I work on Quaker topics.)

Z is for… Zoology

Zoology is the study of animals. It is also the subject my father and grandmother studied; and it is a hobby for many Pagans, even if we don’t call it by the grand academic name. Beginner’s Zoology (and of course Botany) are among the basic skills discussed in many starter books for nature worshippers. If you’ve ever chosen a totem, you’ve probably been advised to research whatever you picked, in zoology of the real animal as well as their mythology. If you’ve ever gone out to the woods, you needed to know at least how to identify and avoid a stinging nettle or your other local dangers, and what to do if faced with the local wildlife. Perhaps you’re even good enough to know where to find it!

This is one of the places where I credit Girl Guiding, as well as my family, with encouraging me along my Pagan path. At Brownies, I was asked to observe common native trees and birds closely enough to identify them; when I was a Guide, we had the chance to camp, and to go on night hikes, and to spend time in the woods. Besides that, people gave freely of their woodcraft knowledge. (I don’t know whether it was an omen that we saw a hare on the Derbyshire hill where I made my Guide Promise, but I remember it clearly!)

One of my Pagan practices is to try and be able to name the creatures I see around me. Sure, silverfish and fruit fly aren’t that exciting, but I know what they are. I can identify blackbirds and robins, and tell a magpie from a pied wagtail. A friend increased my awareness dramatically when they photographed a hundred individual city pigeons, learning to tell them apart in the process! As with so many things, there is a lot to see when you start to look – remember Darwin’s finches, which could easily have been lumped into a single boring ‘small bird’ category.