Posts Tagged With: Druid

Will Paganism Survive Beyond Us? We Must Pay It Forward.

Will Paganism Survive Beyond Us? We Must Pay It Forward.

Author:   Beth Owl’s Daughter  

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. – Pericles

Throughout my life, I have been a passionate spiritual seeker. In fact, I might have been born with an extra “God gene.” When I was school age, I would have given almost anything to be able to answer what I felt was my calling – to be an ordained minister. But at that time, such a thing did not exist for girls in the Episcopal Church (my childhood religion) .

After years of exploring many religions and paths to the Divine, (and having no inkling that there were actual living, practicing Druids!) , I declared that I was a “Shamanic Druidic pantheist mystic with Hindu and Buddhist overtones.” And that was pretty much that. Or so it seemed.

As the years passed, however, I gradually discovered that there were thousands, maybe millions, of others on a similar path. And happily, they had a much easier name to call themselves (and, I might note, one that is far easier to fill in, in the small space allotted on medical forms) .

We are “Pagans.” It’s a broad term, so, as I am using it here, it includes Wiccans, Heathens, Witches, Druids, Goddess worshipers, Hellenic devotees, Kemetic practitioners, and so on.

But there are some real challenges that we face as Pagans (surprise!) . The obvious, dramatic one has to do with the many ignorant people who consider us to be evil, in league with the Devil (their creation, not ours) , or, at best, damned for eternity.

Yet there are other, more irksome issues we face. Ours is a new religion. In some cases, we are trying to reconstruct it from antiquity. Much of our liturgy is founded on creative conjecture, old remnants and historic bits and pieces, and wisdom from a long ago world that is nearly alien to the one in which we now live. By and large, we do not enjoy the unbroken, ever-evolving lineage of most other religious paths.

Of necessity, obviously, we are finding ways to address the life passages and events that spiritual people need to deal with – birth, marriage, disputes, illness, divorce, death and so on. But many Pagan groups find themselves having to make it up as they go along, probably knowing they are often re-inventing the wheel. And for others of us, even if we have created structures of initiation and scholarship within our tradition, recognition, respect and cooperation from the mainstream is still in short supply.

Furthermore, we are extremely lucky if our Circles and Groves have people who are skilled counselors, or inspiring ritualists, or pragmatic, proactive leaders. To grow and mature, and to survive beyond only a generation or two, it seems to me that we are going to need our people to have actual training in such things.

Imagine if we had leaders who had learned pastoral guidance skills specific to Pagan beliefs. What if our scholars and facilitators trained in the history and development of human interaction with the natural world and its ecosystems, directly from an Earth-based spirituality point of view?

Wouldn’t it be great if we had our own institutions of higher learning that could train our Priests, Priestesses, Bards, and Leaders to competently, creatively facilitate our devotions in harmony with our tradition’s values, and guide us across the thresholds of our life’s journeys, and speak knowledgeably to the media, and nurture our relationships with other spiritual groups?

But then, I offer another question…

Is modern Paganism sustainable?

Our traditions are only now beginning to be tested beyond the lifetimes of the original founders and those directly taught by them. With a wildly diverse number of beliefs, Gods and Goddesses, sacred texts and forms, will our practices have relevance for those born in a completely different context than the elders who established them?

Will modern Paganism grow, deepen and flourish for many generations as a strong, meaningful alternative to the major players now dominating the world’s religions? Or will it simply end up being a footnote to our turbulent historical milieu?

I believe that our ability to survive and thrive as a viable spiritual path for the future depends in large measure on whether we have wise, competent, skilled and well-trained leaders, priests and priestesses.

We need a dedicated clergy that is recognizable, both from within the many traditions of Paganism, as well as to mainstream government and religious institutions. We need highly professional, accomplished, seasoned scholars, leaders, teachers, and chaplains who have been educated at the graduate level – in a Pagan learning environment, by Pagans, and for Pagans.

Of course, many of our traditions are building their own internal systems for training future leaders, and, certainly, such programs are important in ensuring the endurance of their particular customs.

But please — let us not repeat the insularity of Christianity’s denominational systems, which have contributed to centuries of misunderstanding and bloodshed.

Instead, it seems to me that an Earth-based spirituality should see the obvious advantage of the cross-pollination of ideas and practices for its budding Priests and Priestesses. Instead of cultivating a monoculture within each tradition, I think we should encourage diversity and exploration.

Consider how much richer our own traditions could become if, say, our Reclaiming tradition Priestesses and Heathen godhis were also fluent in “Dark Green Religion, ” experienced in Voudon, animism and Druid rituals, and formally trained as grief counselors and dispute mediators.

But how can this be accomplished?

Cherry Hill Seminary is the world’s first and only graduate-level education for Pagans of all traditions. Cherry Hill Seminary offers online distance-learning classes, regional workshops and intensive retreats in religious studies and topics at a professional and graduate level. It is where Pagans from all walks can be nurtured and taught the topics so vital to a sustainable Pagan ministry. We offer courses within a degree program, and also on an ad hoc, elective basis.

Because it is not a “bricks and mortar” university, its students are from all over the United States, as well as other English-speaking countries. This means that as long as they have Internet access, qualified individuals can receive a quality higher education not available anywhere else.

Many of Cherry Hill’s students are already accomplished professionals who are ready to deepen their Pagan practice. They seek both the theory and practical skills that will make them more effective in their communities, within the context of their own traditions.

But Cherry Hill Seminary, like all other institutions of higher learning, needs more than student tuition to support its existence.

It needs you and me.

If you believe, as I do, that the time has come for the next generation of Gaia-loving men and women to have access to higher education that honors their beliefs; that teaches them the critical, sometimes complex skills for serving their communities; that hones them into outstanding, creative leaders and scholars, please become a part of history. We need your donations.

Your gift – large or small – will change lives now, today, by ensuring that students who desire this training have it available at an affordable price.

But please know also that your gift will ultimately help shape the legacy of today’s Paganism. Help us build the first living, breathing Pagan-oriented seminary in modern times.

This is an opportunity for weaving enormously important money magic. You can make a gift for our future generations by supporting their mission.

Please pay it forward.

Blessed be.

_____________________________________

Footnotes:
The God Gene:
http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/002916.html

Cherry Hill Seminary:
http://www.cherryhillseminary.org/

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Let’s Talk Witch – Christmas and Yule Customs

The “Let’s Talk Witch” is a little longer than most. I don’t know about most of you but when the mainstream Religious holidays roll around, I have to stop and shake my head.  For our Religion to have been so hated, what in the hell would the rest of the religions did without us? I can see all the similarities between our Religion and their religions. But we didn’t come up with those practices or beliefs they stole from us, they did. We are nothing but Evil, we have never had a good idea even come in our head.

I know the older I get it makes me angry. I just want to climb to the highest mountain and scream, “TELL THE TRUTH WOULD YOU, YOU DAMN THIEVES!” Wouldn’t do any good but it would make me feel much better. I have leaders of other faiths write me and want to know, “why are so many people turning to Witchcraft?” Perhaps they are finally learning the truth and coming to the realization of what they have been really following for so many years.

The following article is one of my favorites. It drives this point home and then some, I hope you enjoy it.

Christmas and Yule Customs
by Rick Hayward

Now that Christmas is fast approaching and the year has once more come full circle, most of us will soon be busy adorning the house with brightly coloured decorations, a Christmas tree and all the other paraphernalia that goes to create a festive atmosphere.

Holly and mistletoe will almost certainly be included in our decorations as evergreens have been used in the winter festivities from very ancient times and definitely long before Christianity appeared on the scene.

What Christians celebrate as the birthday of Christ is really something that was superimposed on to a much earlier pagan festival–that which celebrated the Winter Solstice or the time when the Sun reaches its lowest point south and is reborn at the beginning of a new cycle of seasons.

In Northern Europe and Scandinavia it was noted by the early Christian scholar, Bede, that the heathens began the year on December 25th which they called Mother’s Night in honour of the great Earth Mother. Their celebrations were held in order to ensure fertility and abundance during the coming year, and these included much feasting, burning of lamps, lighting of great fires (the Yule fires) and exchanges of gifts.

The Romans, too, held their great celebrations–Saturnalia– from December 17th to 25th and it was the latter date which they honoured as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The Saturnalia was characterised by much merry-making, sometimes going to riotous extremes, with masters and slaves temporarily exchanging roles. The use of evergreens to decorate the streets and houses was also very much in evidence at this great winter festival.

That we now celebrate the birth of Christ at the same time is largely due to the early Church Fathers who found it was much easier to win converts to the faith by making Christ’s birthday coincide with an already long established pagan festival. In fact, it wasn’t until the 4th century that Pope Julius I finally established the 25th as the official birthday of Christ; earlier Christians differed widely as to this date– some choosing September 29th, while others held that January 6th or March 29th were the correct dates.

As we have seen, the pagan element in Christmas lives on in the festival at the Winter Solstice. But these elements are also very much alive in our use of evergreens as decorations at this time of year.

Like most evergreens, the holly and mistletoe have long been held to symbolize eternal life, regeneration and rebirth.

Holly, with its bright red berries and dark spiky foliage, has been revered from ancient times as a symbol of life everlasting. It was associated with strength and masculinity and was considered useful in the treatment of various ailments which were seen to lower the vital spirits.

In old England, a decoction of holly leaves was considered a cure for worms; but most of all this prickly evergreen was looked upon as a luck bringer–particularly in rural areas where a bunch of holly hung in the cow shed or stable was thought to favour the animals if placed there on Christmas Eve. Many people used to take a piece of holly from the church decorations at Christmas as a charm against bad luck in the coming year. Holly was also considered a very protective tree which, if planted outside the house, was believed to avert lightning, fire and the evil spells of witches.

An old holly spell describes how to know one’s future spouse. At midnight on a Friday, nine holly leaves must be plucked and tied with nine knots in a three-cornered cloth. This is then placed under the pillow and, provided silence is observed from the time of plucking until dawn the next day, your future spouse will come to you in your dreams.

In certain areas of Wales, it was thought extremely unlucky to bring holly into the house before December 24th and if you did so there would be family quarrels and domestic upheavals. You would also be inviting disaster if you burned green holly or squashed the red berries.

Turning now to mistletoe, it seems that this is by far the most mystical of the plants associated with Christmas and has, from very ancient times, been treated as magical or sacred. It is often included in modern Christmas decorations simply for the fun of kissing beneath it and, though this seems to be a peculiarly English custom, it probably harks back to the mistletoe’s association with fertility.

The real reason why mistletoe is now associated with Christmas is very much a carry-over from ancient practices, when it was considered as somehow belonging to the gods. The Roman historian, Pliny, gives an early account of how the Druids would hold a very solemn ceremony at the Winter Solstice when the mistletoe had to be gathered, for the Druids looked upon this unusual plant, which has no roots in the earth, as being of divine origin or produced by lightning. Mistletoe which grew on the oak was considered especially potent in magical virtues, for it was the oak that the Druids held as sacred to the gods.

At the Winter Solstice, the Druids would lead a procession into the forest and, on finding the sacred plant growing on an oak, the chief priest, dressed all in white, would climb the tree and cut the mistletoe with a knife or sickle made of gold. The mistletoe was not allowed to touch the ground and was therefore caught in a white linen cloth.

On securing the sacred mistletoe, the Druids would then carry it to their temple where it would be laid beneath the altar stone for three days. Early on the fourth day, which would correspond to our Christmas Day, it was taken out, chopped into pieces and handed out among the worshippers. The berries were used by the priests to heal various diseases.

Mistletoe was considered something of a universal panacea, as can be gleaned from the ancient Celtic word for it–uile, which literally translated means ‘all-healer’. A widespread belief was that mistletoe could cure anything from headaches to epilepsy; and indeed modern research has shown that the drug guipsine which is used in the treatment of nervous illnesses and high blood pressure is contained in mistletoe.

Until quite recently the rural folk of Sweden and Switzerland believed that the mistletoe could only be picked at certain times and in a special way if its full potency as healer and protector was to be secured. The Sun must be in Sagittarius (close to the Winter Solstice) and the Moon must be on the wane and, following ancient practices, the mistletoe must not be just picked but shot or knocked down and caught before reaching the ground.

Not only was mistletoe looked upon as a healer of all ills, but if hung around the house was believed to protect the home against fire and other hazards. As the mistletoe was supposed to have been produced by lightning, it had the power to protect the home against thunder bolts by a kind of sympathetic magic.

Of great importance, however, was the power of mistletoe to protect against witchcraft and sorcery. This is evident in an old superstition which holds that a sprig of mistletoe placed beneath the pillow will avert nightmares (once considered to be the product of evil demons).

In the north of England, it used to be the practice of farmers to give mistletoe to the first cow that calved after New Year’s Day. This was believed to ensure health to the stock and a good milk yield throughout the year. Underlying this old belief is the fear of witches or mischievous fairy folk who could play havoc with dairy produce, so here mistletoe was used as a counter magic against such evil influences. In Sweden, too, a bunch of this magical plant hung from the living room ceiling or in the stable or cow-shed was thought to render trolls powerless to work mischief.

With such a tremendous array of myth, magic and folklore associated with it, reaching far back into the pagan past, it is understandable that even today this favourite Christmas plant is forbidden in many churches. Yet even the holly and the ivy, much celebrated in a popular carol of that title, were once revered as sacred and magical by our pre-Christian ancestors.

In view of what has been said, one could speculate that even if Christianity had never emerged it is more than likely that we would still be getting ready for the late-December festivities, putting up decorations, including holly and mistletoe, in order to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun, the great giver and sustainer of all earthly life.

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What it Means to be Pagan

What it Means to be Pagan

Author:   Orion Guardian-Elm 

I have been thinking recently about what it means to be Pagan, and how one can be defined as Pagan. Some would say anyone who is part of an ‘Earth-based religion’, and yet I have met many Pagans who are not Earth-based at all (except that they live on it perhaps) . Some would say anyone who is a member of a polytheistic religion, and while I would agree that practically all polytheists are Pagan, what about the ones who pantheistic, pane theistic, monotheistic (yes, there is some) , or even agnostic or atheistic?

One of the things I love most about Paganism is its diversity. I love that it is such a broad category. I mean it would be pretty boring if we were all exactly the same right? There are Witches, Shamans, Druids, Reconstructionists, Wiccans, Heathens, Christo-Pagans, Eclectics, possibly even Hindus and Buddhists, and many others, all of whom are Pagan. I have even come across a number of non-religious Pagans before (and a non-religious person is one of the dictionary definitions of what a Pagan is) .

Some of us love Nature. Some Witchcraft and Magick, others mythology and ancient history. And some of us love all of them and more! Some Pagans are practicing, others non-practicing. Some would consider themselves Neo-Pagans, others Meso-Pagans, and others yet, Recon-Pagans. The diversity within Paganism may mean that sometimes we will disagree with one another on a certain subject but hey, we’re all individuals – that’s what makes us special.

I have always been Pagan, though I didn’t know it until recently. As a child I was fascinated with Celtic mythology and the ancient Pagan sites of Britain (my homeland) , such as Glastonbury Tor and Stonehenge. I felt a strange connection to the sites, which I still can’t explain. I always felt at home among trees, and loved to go for solitary walks across the field near my house (which was, ironically, on a Bible College campus!) . I felt a connection to the Celtic god Cernunnos and the goddess Morrighan, and often found myself wondering what it would have been like to worship them in the old, pre-Christian days.

It was not for some time that I came across Neo-Paganism. My Christian mother was convinced I was a worshipper of the devil (Yes, even before I even looked at Magick and Witchcraft) , due mainly to the heavy metal music I was into. She started to buy Christian books about Witchcraft and Satanism, including one called Protecting Your Teen from Today’s Witchcraft (1) .

Surprisingly, it was this book that got me into Wicca (after a brief period of Satanism which I mainly got involved in to freak out my parents) . One of the first sites I came across on Wicca was “Witch School”, and I instantly signed up for a few of the courses. I searched through all the sites I came across on the subject, devouring as much information as I could find. I was amazed that such a movement as Neo-Paganism existed! I had been brought to believe that Paganism only existed in the ancient, pre-Christian days, and that all that survived of it now were the superstitions and old wives tales.

I went to my library where I came across a copy of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance (2) . Despite the feminist sentiments, I found the book gave me a foothold in understanding what Wicca and Witchcraft was actually about. That was the real beginning for me, the transition from the religion that my parents wanted me to be a part of to the religion that my spirit cried out to embrace.

To cut a long story short, I turned from a fluffy bunny to a devout Witch in a short amount of time, and read everything I could on the subject of Witchcraft and Paganism (mainly online due to a limited access of books on the subject in my area) . After six months or so I became drawn to Asatru and Odinism, and for a while followed the Heathen path. It was then that my deep interest for my ancestry and for the traditions of Northern Europe developed. However, I still felt drawn to Wicca and Witchcraft at the same time, and found myself unable to choose between the two.

For a short while I considered Druidism, having always been intrigued by the ancient Celts and their religious practices. However, I was unable to find any groups of Druids here in New Zealand, and most of the online courses cost a lot of money. For some time I was simply unsure of my beliefs, knowing that I was definitely Pagan, yet unsure of what specific tradition to claim.

Eventually I decided to return to my old path, yet to continue working with the deities I had come to see as my patrons and matron (Odin, Thor and Freya) . I decided that the best way to define my path would be ‘Eclectic Pagan’, seeing as I drew from more than one source in my practice.

And so this is how I came to be where I am today. I still consider myself a beginner, and know I have a LOT to learn. I read a lot more than I practice, though I do try to pray every day and to be aware of the Nature around me. I have come to love being a Pagan, and the diversity of it, and have realized that one of the most beautiful things about Paganism is the fact that you can follow your own path, and do what feels right to you.

You don’t need a certificate to be Pagan, nor a degree, nor the approval of anyone else – you can just be. What makes one Pagan is their identification with the term, and that’s what’s so great about it. You don’t need to be an adept at Magick, nor a scholar of ancient history – if the term Pagan resonates with you, then you can claim it. All you need to be Pagan is to feel that you are in your heart.

_____________________________

Footnotes:
1 Steve Russo, Bethany House Publishers, 2005
2 Starhawk, HarperCollins Publishers, 1979

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Freedom of Religion?

Freedom of Religion?

Author:   Raven Song 

As citizens of the United States of America we enjoy many luxuries and rights. One of these rights that we hold dear is the right to freedom of religion, a right that many people all over the world do not have. So you may be surprised to find out that I am writing about people right here in the US, people who are harassed, and discriminated against because of what they believe. I am talking about people of pagan faiths.

The Problem
So what is paganism? A good definition is “paganism represents a wide variety of traditions that emphasize reverence for nature and a revival of ancient polytheistic and animistic religious practices” (McColman) . Some of the common traditions that pagan people follow are Wicca, Heathen, Pagan, Druid, and Kitchen or Hedge Witches. You may be wondering why I’ve used both pagan and Pagan, let me explain; Pagan usually refers to people who practice the ancient Celtic traditions, while pagan is a broad blanket term that refers to the above definition of paganism.

Now it is true that pagans are not the only ones who are discriminated against, many other minority religions are also harassed. What sets paganism apart is how widely it is misunderstood. This misunderstanding leads people to have all sorts of outlandish ideas about what pagans do; leading many people to believe that paganism is unclean and evil. The other common misconception that arises from lack of understanding is that pagan traditions are not real religions but made up ones that allow the believer to live in a fantasyland. As I will point out in the rest of the paper, these problems could be resolved through education and an attempt at understanding.

The Effects of Discrimination
The discrimination that pagan people face comes in a variety of forms that affect their day-to-day lives. They face discrimination at work, in the military, from their neighbors, from their family, and horrifyingly enough at school. There are countless cases were a student is harassed because of pagan beliefs either by a teacher of by fellow students without intervention from teachers.

A fairly recent example of this that got a lot of news coverage happened when 11 year-old Christopher Turner was harassed by his teacher back in October 2011. It all started when the boy missed school to spend Samhain, a holiday that worships ancestors and the fall harvest, with his family. The next day he was pulled out of class by his teacher who “proceeded to drill him about Paganism, ending the conversation with ‘Paganism is not a religion’ ” (“Children Have Rights Too!!!”) . When Christopher’s mother found out what happened she called the board of education and was transferred to the superintendent who apologized and “promised that a meeting would be set up between the teachers of all three of her children with the principal of the school present, but she was never given the opportunity to also be involved in these discussions” (“Children Have Rights Too!!!”) . Thinking the situation was over Christopher’s mother sent him back to school, where everything seemed to be going fine until November.

“ On November 29th Mrs. Ross informed her class that they would be doing an essay on ‘How Christmas started’. In the good ol’ fashion of history, she informed the class that they couldn’t have anything on their report pertaining to Paganism. Intrigued, a female student in Christopher’s classroom asked what paganism is. In response to the question, Mrs. Ross looked directly at Christopher, not the student asking the question, and replied ‘anything that is non-biblical is paganism.’” (“Children Have Rights Too”)

Eventually the situation was resolved when the Lady Liberty League, a group dedicated to helping those facing religious intolerance, stepped in. If Christopher’s teacher had known anything about the Pagan religion she would have realized that, that is where many Christmas traditions, and the traditions of other Christian holidays, got their start. Also she would have realized that while the Pagan religion is very different from mainstream religions, it is in fact an actual religion.

While doing research for this paper I decided to ask the members of the Forest of the White Stag, an online pagan community that I belong to, if they had any personal experience with discrimination. Many of them did and a man named Noah, who preferred to keep his last name anonymous, agreed to a full interview. Noah, who believes that everything contains a soul/spirit, that the soul is reincarnated, that everything is connected to each other, and that though we are predators we should only kill animals in order to survive, said he first encountered discrimination when he was young.

“My first dealings with discrimination was after my father remarried to a very devout Christian, and once learning that I was interested in paganism as well as other religions outside of the Abrahamic faith-groups, she forced me to attend Sunday school. I think I was about 13 at the time. She would berate me for not believing in her God or Jesus whenever we had our scheduled visits. This lasted for about 3 years.” (Noah) .

Later on Noah joined the military and was transferred to Korea where he faced discrimination from his platoon sergeant who “threaten[ed] to kick [him] out after he inspected [his] room and found [his] altar in a wall locker” (Noah) . After the sergeant found out that religious beliefs were not a cause for discharge he proceeded to make Noah’s life as miserable as possible. Noah said this was resolved when he was transferred elsewhere. When asked if he believed these issues could have been avoided and how he replied:

“Compared to things nowadays, I think the misinformation is being cleared up by a better understanding of who pagans really are, which makes issues like the one in Korea rarer. That is probably our best weapon against ignorance and prejudice.” (Noah)

Noah’s is also “excited for the upcoming years, as we are growing dramatically in terms of numbers and acceptance, hopefully this will bring about a change in society that hasn’t been seen in well over several hundred years” (Noah) . Hopefully Noah is right and as the pagan movement grows so too will the understanding and tolerance.

Noah wasn’t the only one from Forest of the White Stag to help; two other members also agreed to tell me their experiences in a sort of partial interview. The first one is Kristen Timofeev, whose story is a nice example of how an attempt to understand paganism can help in situations of harassment. Kristen has been practicing paganism since she was young and her mother had never reacted well to it. One day her mother agreed to sit down and talk about it with Kristen.

“We sat down and she asked me questions and then finally said that she wasn’t upset as she was before. She still wished I was Christian but now she understood it more and wanted me to be happy.” (Timofeev)

The other person whom we shall call Balthesaur, like Noah, experienced harassment in the military. Balthesaur who is Wiccan said that while in the military he kept ‘No Religious Preference’ on his dog tags because he was one of the only pagans in his unit and wanted to avoid harassment. One day during an in-ranks inspection his platoon sergeant, who was a known Catholic, gave him some trouble over his tags.

“He proceeded to me and looked at my tags. He asked what my religion was, to which I replied, ‘My tags say no preference.’ ‘I know, I know. But what religion are you?’ ‘Wiccan, ’ I replied. He stepped closer to me, and just barely audible for me to hear, asked, ‘Do you sacrifice goats to your Pagans Gods?’ I can take allot of stupidity, but this a**hole struck a nerve with me. The audacity of my ‘superior’ to ask such a ridiculous question prompted me to respond without thinking. ‘I’m looking for a human sacrifice. You want to be it?’” (Anonymous)

While this was probably not the best way to deal with the situation it did get his sergeant to leave him alone. Balthesaur “found out later that [the sergeant] began asking a Pagan from another unit civilized and inquisitive questions without a drop of distain” (Anonymous) showing that at least some good came from this incident.

These are just the stories of a few. There are countless others out there where people of pagan faiths have been discriminated against for their beliefs. Almost all of these can be chalked up to a lack of education and understanding. If people would just do a little research then maybe we wouldn’t have these misunderstandings.

The Misconceptions
A common misconception is that pagans are devil worshipers. This is completely false but it is understandable as to how people could be confused by this. First of all pagans, unless they practice a form of Christian-paganism, don’t even believe in the devil. However their deities have been demonized over the years by the largely popular Christian religion. An example of this is the entity known as Baphomet, a well-known Christian ‘demon’. While many pagans see this entity as dark or as a fictional being, some Witches worship him as a powerful spirit. You may think the idea of Baphomet is ancient and is perhaps mentioned in the Bible but he actually got his start during the trials of the Knights Templar.

The Templars were accused of abandoning their Christian faith and worshiping an idol called Baphomet. “Material that has survived from French troubadours active in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries suggests that the name Bafomet was originally a corruption of the name Muhammad which at the time was rendered Mahomet” (Belanger) . If this was the case with the Templar trials, then the order was actually being accused of being Muslim, the enemy faith at the time.

Another way the pagan deities have been demonized is by what the Christian devil supposedly looks like. Everyone knows that the Christian devil has goat horns, a goatee, cloven hooves, and a pitchfork, and probably many people believe that this description comes from the Bible but in fact the Bible does not offer a physical description of the devil. The Christian devil actually sounds a lot like the horned nature deity Pan with a little bit of the water deity Poseidon thrown in. Pan who is a satyr has the upper body and head of a man, usually depicted with a goatee, and the lower body and horns of a goat, while that pitchfork the devil is often depicted as carrying looks a lot like Poseidon’s trident. So if someone were to see an image of Pan or a trident on a pagan’s altar they might wrongly assume that they worship the devil.

Another thing that links pagans to the devil is the Wiccan symbol of the pentacle or pentagram. This symbol is actually quite ancient and predates Christianity because it is “rooted in ancient Greek and Roman paganism, with ties to goddesses such as Hygeia and Venus, the pentagram has been associated with occultism, [and] ceremonial magic” (McColman) . Today it is still occasionally associated with Goddesses but it more often associated with the five elements of spirit, earth, air, water, and fire. While this symbol is common among the pagan community it is not even used by everyone so while it is first of all not even a symbol of the devil, it is also wrong to damn all pagans because of it.

When many people think of pagans they think of sacrifices and sex rites, which many people view as morally wrong. Both sacrifices and sex rites were common in ancient times but have largely fallen out of practice in the modern world. Nowadays sacrifices are usually inanimate objects or food that is often burned or buried as offerings to deities and while animal sacrifices are rare when they do take place the animal is treated gently and killed quickly, the same can’t be said about most of the meat products we consume. Sex rites are even more rare than sacrifices and are now often done symbolically since it’s the symbolism behind the act that is more important that the act itself. Also yet again all pagans do not practice these so it is wrong to make the generalization that all pagans are evil because of two acts that many don’t do and many more do in a symbolic fashion.

The final main thing that ties paganism to devil worship is magic. When people think of magic they “recall scenes from movies, television shows, or fairy tales…in the popular imagination, magic is about getting things that you want through forbidden, dark, or dangerous forces” (Roderick) . In actuality magic, often spelt magick so as not to confuse it with the stage variety is a lot like what many religions consider prayer. Through magic pagans are asking there deities to aid them in some situation, not unlike how Christians pray to their God when they need help. The main difference between magic and prayer is there is a lot more ritual behind magic including but not limited to, dancing, singing/chanting, burning candles/incense, invoking deities, playing instruments, and meditating.

The other common misconception is that the pagan traditions aren’t real religions. This idea is often believed because pagan belief systems are so vastly different that pagans don’t agree on any one set of deities, holidays, codes of ethics, etc. They also don’t have any holy books, which is unusual among most religions. Just because pagans don’t have a holy book or an agreed upon code of ethics does not make them immoral because:

“magic and spirituality play an important role not only in the practice of many forms of Paganism, but also in the shaping of Pagan ethics. Magic is grounded in a recognition that self-interest and care for one’s own family and tribe are acceptable principles of action; in this sense, Pagan spirituality functions quite well within a democratic capitalist economy, where self-interest is a foundational social principle. However, some magical communities impose restraints on the morality of self-interest, whether in terms of the Rede’s “harm none, ” in terms of classical or mythological concepts of virtue, or in terms of balancing the competing interests of personal self-interest with the mandate for environmental responsibility and sustainable living.” (McColman)

The Rede in which McColman is referring to is the Wiccan Rede in which three of its main points state ‘obey the Wiccan Rede ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust’, ‘an it harm none do what ye will’, and ‘follow the three fold rule ye should, three times bad and three times good’, the three fold rule here referring to karma in which whatever you do comes back to you three times as great. You can tell from this that anyone following the Rede would have to try and lead a good life by loving and trusting others, not doing harm to anyone, and making sure they do good deeds so good will come back to them. The Wiccan Rede is not only followed by Wiccans by but other pagans as well. Another reason people believe paganism is a made up religion is because of the practice of magic, which was discussed earlier in this section.

If people would just do a bit of research they would find they above information repeated in a variety of places. As the pagan movement gains ground people are being forced to reconsider what they thought they know about paganism. These misconceptions are common but they don’t have to be.

What Can Be Done
I wrote this paper with the intent of showing others that through education religious discrimination of pagans, and other religions too, can become a thing of the past here in the US. Part of the problem, and possibly why discrimination in school is common, is the blocking of access to ‘occult’ site in school and public libraries. An example of this occurred in a Missouri public library:

“On January 3rd, 2012, The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri announced the filing of a lawsuit charging the Salem Public Library with u unconstitutionally blocking access to websites dealing with minority religions, and ‘improperly classifying them as ‘occult’ or criminal’.’ It’s alleged that Salem Public Library official refused to change their filtering policies when challenged and that library directory Glenda Wofford intimate that ‘she had an obligation’ to alert the authorities to report those who were attempting to access blocked site. This new case not only raises the issue of web filtering in our public institutions, but why and ‘occult’ category is even an option for secular and government-funded filtering clients where such control is unneeded or even illegal.” (Pitzl-Waters)

With access blocked to information in public and school libraries it is no wonder people are ignorant to the beliefs of pagans.

In order to truly be the land of the free we must allow the public access to educational materials so that they may learn about paganism and attempt to understand it. This goes for pagans too, who are often unwilling to discuss what they believe because of years of fear and harassment they have endured. If we all communicate and share knowledge with each other then freedom of religion no longer has to be a question in the United States of America.

____________________________

Footnotes:
Works Cited:

Anonymous. Personal Interview. 26 Jan. 2012.

Belanger, Michelle. Dictionary of Demons. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2010. Print

“Children Have Rights Too!!!”. atlanta.indymedia.org. Atlanta Independent Media Center. Web. 19 Jan. 2012.

McColman, Carl. “Paganism”. pantheos.com/library. Pantheos. Web. 20 Jan. 2012.

Noah. Personal Interview. 25 Jan. 2012

Pitzl-Waters, Jason. “Filtering and Free Exercise: ACLU vs. Salem Public Library”. pantheos.com/blogs. The Wild Hunt. Web. 24 Jan. 2012.

Roderick, Timothy. Wicca: A Year and a Day. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2005. Print.

Timofeev, Kristen. Personal Interview. 26 Jan. 2012.

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Celebrating Our Spirituality 365 Days A Year – Samhain

Samhain Comments & Graphics
October 31st

Samhain, Halloween

Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) marks the end of the agricultural season and the beginning of Winter. For the Celts, who inhabited the British Isles more than 1,000 years ago, Samhain was the beginning of the year and the cycle of seasons. It was a time when they turned to their Gods, seeking to understand the turning of the cycle of life and death. For the Celtic people, Samhain was a time when the gates between this world and the next were open. It was a time of communion with the Spirits who were believed to roam free on this night. It was a time of divination, when the ancestors were contacted for warnings and guidance through the dark Winter months.

In medieval Ireland, Samhain was the major festival that marked the opening of Winter; it was sometimes spelled “Samain” or “Samuin,” although still pronounced the same. It was believed that Samhain was a time of unusual supernatural power, when all manner of fairies, goblins, and monsters roamed the Earth. It was unfavorable to walk about on this night, lest one might stumble onto an open fairy mound and fall victim to the fairy’s enchantment.

Samhain was also a time of truce with no fighting, violence, or divorce allowed. Hence it was a time of marriage. Acounts were closed, debts collected, contracts made and servants hired. Magickally, Samhain is a time of reflection, ending thing that are not producing results, and releasing negative thoughts. Samhain is the perfect time to make a talisman for self control and protection of the family and home.

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It Is Time for Paganism to Get Its Due

It Is Time for Paganism to Get Its Due

Author:   Zechari the Serpent   

The idea of pagan seminary is not a new idea, and I easily know that I am not the only one. Sad thing is, this dream and idea I tried to stir support for in my own community died quickly when I tried to get people to rally behind it. The few pagans I had spread word to in my community stood for it but others in power and government would not, laughing at my attempts to raise some form of awareness upon the matter.

Even some of the community colleges I tried to talk to about this only looked at me with a sidelong glance, like I was crazy for even thinking this. They told me there was “not enough support from the community.” I was rather insulted. I did not believe it but that reason was all it took to shut it down before it even left the drawing board.

I do not see the reason why this concept should fall by the wayside and why private groups or government groups cannot offer aid to such students. I am not alone, nor am I truly one of a few.

I have heard voices speaking up all across the country and even in other countries, wishing to have a program or programs such as these. The silence is here to be broken, and others shall join the ringing of one voice. I say to any and all who read this, who support and think why not, to stand behind this cause.

If a Catholic, a Hasidic Jew, a Sunni, A Buddhist or a Sikh can have such open and funded for them, why not have such a program for us pagans. We are not few, we are not small and with this we can truly show you our voice. Not in some tyrannical oppressive speech or in violent actions against others…but in a peaceful way, a proper way and a way that speaks to all our brethren and sisters.

The age of isolation, of covens, circles, and clans hidden away as small little islands, needs to end. It is time for all of we pagan teachers and thinkers to step fully out and reveal the world OUR thoughts. It is our right.

With that said, I am a college student, a hard working blue-collar background college student. In college I am planning to do a double major in Philosophy and Religious Studies, which is part of my goal to create a pagan based seminary. Thusly I have done the obligatory research for funds, grants and whatnot to help pay for my college (seeing as I am poor, every little bit helps).

In my research I have found and noticed things that are rather…disturbing. The main thing I have noticed is that of all the religious based scholarships and grants, I have found next to NONE for ANY on one of the many paths that fall under the branches of paganism.

Seeing as paganism is a collection of the oldest religions in the world and also one of the peaceful groupings of religions, I find it highly odd that there are very little to no offerings of scholarships or grants given. The Abrahamic faiths, Ba’hai, Sikh’s, Buddhists, Jain’s, even some of the newer religions like Scientology or Spiritualist Christianity have scholarships or grants in their name.

I am a pagan, been practicing for two years now. My blend of paganism is a mix of Navajo and Hopi (my ancestors) paths, shamanism, with ritualist magick. I feel it is not right that every other religion has these opportunities given while we pagans are not afforded such opportunities.

There are many Wiccans, Druids, Asatru, ritualists, shamans, revivalists, and eclectic pagans of many paths. We are not a small group and we are growing, so it is insulting that we students of pagan faiths are given so little in the name of our faith while others in the names of their faiths are given so much.

I’m tired of seeing pagan communities have their attempts to start scholarships be drug under or have it dry up because of outside pressures. I’m tired of the government not caring when it is their job to care, which we pay them to do with our tax dollars.

I’m fed up with being jeered at or given a funny look because I wish to do a pagan seminary and start a program so I can teach and aid others, show them that there are many paths and to find their own truth.

In one place, a year back, I tried to gain some information from in searching for a way into seminary I was asked what my faith was. The moment I said “Well ma’am, I am an eclectic pagan.” I could see the look in her eye as her smile faded a bit.

Those thin pressed lips and that replying question “And what exactly is your purpose here?” was just like a dagger in my chest. In three minutes my dreams and aspirations seemed to be crashing down.

I did not see why she needed to be this way; I merely wanted to explore the question of faith and how it relates to the world. I do not let my pagan faith bias me in the slightest and in fact I wondered why I could not be allowed. Thus I was turned away, turned away with bitter disappointment on my face.

Luckily though I was able to apply for a more secular school to pursue my goal. What happened was not right in the slightest, and yet it is not an uncommon thing to have happen. I talked to a few students whom I knew, other pagans I know. They pointed into directions that painted a very sad portrait.

I had been one of a growing number of students who was shuffled off. To this day it sickens me still

There are many seminary branches out there, ranging from Jewish to Unitarian Universalism. It is high time for paganism to be given it’s due. The spectre of fear or intolerance must not be allowed to stifle out these dreams, these hopes for the future. As long as but one of us stands here and fights then they cannot ignore us, they will not ignore us, and we should not let them ignore us. Not anymore.

So I ask those of us out there to help those students, you know who they are or have seen them. Covens, circles, groups of all kinds, this is the hour where we must start banding together and letting our voice be heard.

It’s time we started getting our fair share and our fair do. This is the modern era where ideas can be freely exchanged; there is no excuse to back down when it is our right to have our way freely expressed in seminary setting like every other faith.

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“An Autumn Chant”

“An Autumn Chant”

by Karen Bergquist

 
I will dance
The dance of dying days
And sleeping life.
I will dance In cold, dead leaves
A bending, whirling human flame.
I will dance As the Horned God rides
Across the skies. I will dance
To the music of His hounds
Running, baying in chorus.
I will dance With the ghosts of those Gone before.
I will dance Between the sleep of life
And the dream of death.
I will dance On Samhain’s dusky eye, I will dance.
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WICCA AND WITCHCRAFT – The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide

WICCA AND WITCHCRAFT

The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide

Steven S. Sadleir

Wicca, or Witchcraft is the old religion of Europe, which apparently evolved from Druidism.  Wiccan is generally a term applied to a “Wise One” or “Magician”, and Wicca is the practice of “magic”, which is the application and utilization of natural laws.  As Witchcraft competed as a religion with Christianity (the ‘new’ religion) in the Christianized Western World, witchcraft became repressed as a form of paganism (i.e., a Primative Teaching) and was given an evil stigma, and therefore was not practiced openly.  However, with the repeal of the English Witchcraft Act in 1951, many covens, or congregations, have opened up to teh public and many new groups have formed. There are now dozens of Wiccan orgnaizations in the United States and Europe, with perhaps, thousands of active Wiccans and Witches.  Most witches practicing the craft publicly are considered ‘white’ witches, that is, they yse their knowledge for good ends and practice the Wiccan Creed: “Ye hurt none, do as ye will.”  Black Witches (which has recieved most of the notoriety, but are considered a minority) are generally not visible to the public and use thier knowledge for selfish or evil means.  Satanism is NOT considered a form of witchcraft, but was created by people who believe there is a Satan, or Devil.

Wicca/Witchcraft generally involves some form of God or Goddess worship, and many involve the workings of spiritual guides as well.  Wicca/Witchcraft is a very individualized religion, and each person chooses his or her own deities to worship.  Generally, the supreme being is considered ‘genderless’ and is comprised of many aspects that may be identified as masculine or feminine in nature, and thus a God or Goddess.  Originally, the horned God of hunting represented the maculine facet of the deity, whereas the female qualities were represented in the fertility Goddess.  The Gods and Goddesses from the personalities of the supreme being, and are a reflection of the attributes that worshippers seek to emulate.  Wiccans may draw upon the ancient civilizations of the Druids, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, or other polytheistic cultures to commune with the particular aspect of the deity that they identify with.  Some favorite gods include Osiris, Pan, Cennunnos, and Bacchus.  Facotie Goddesses include Isis, Caridwen, Rhea, Selene, and Diana.

Wiccans generally observe the four greater Sabbaths of Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Laghnasadh; and the lesser Sabbaths – the Spring and autumn equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices.  There celebrations are typically free-spirited, and are sometimes held ‘skyclad’ (naked) or in various styles of robes.  Other services include handfasting (marriage), handparting (divorce) and wiccaning (birth rite).  Regular meetings, called Esbats are also held, at which magic and healing are performed.  Wiccans/witches meet in small groups (up to twelve) called a coven, whcih typically join with other covens to form a ‘Grove’.

Rituals are typically held outside and consist of forma a circle and erecting the temple (consecrating the circle); invoking, praising, and soliciting assistance from gods, goddesses, and elementals; observing the change of season and energies represented by the various seasons; singing; dancaing; ‘cakes and ale’ (sharing of bread and wine); and clearing the temple. Personal practive includes meditation and prayer, divination, development of personal will and psychic abilities through spells and various forms of healing.  Most Wiccans/witches have altars where they burn candles and incense and practice thier rites.  To perform thier rites, other tools of the craft are used, such as an athame, yag-disk or, seaux (a handmade and consecrated knife), a sword, a wand, and sometimes special jewelry, amulets or talismans (magically empowered objects).  Sometimes these objects are inscribed with magical writings. Joining a coven or grove typically involves an initiation, which is stylized by each individual group, but generally involves the confirmation that the initiate understands the principals and an oath of secrecy.

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