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For Pagans of all paths, and for Pagans of none.
UK Pagan has been an online home and discussion place since being founded in 2001. We pride ourselves on providing a safe space for active debate and conversation, and a place where followers of other religions are welcome providing they show respect and tolerance.
We strive to be a place for all Pagans, whatever path, whatever stage of their learning; a place where Pagans discuss issues with tolerance and respect for others; and a neutral forum with no "site line" or "site view".
We are made for the community and by the community.
After taking a good long look at the why we follow this path, what we do to express our path, and the importance of the Mystic and the Magician, maybe it’s a good time to think about authenticity and validity.
There was a time not so long ago, certainly in the late 80s and early 90s, when the story told by Margaret Murray in her book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe was almost desperately held on to. That the practices of modern Witchcraft were the end of an unbroken lineage of Witches that had survived since far-off ancient times. Even as a newcomer I could see that this couldn’t be true – our magic was created from folklore, mythology, ceremonial magic, herblore, astrology, the Kaballah, old Medieval Grimoires, and more recent New Age thinking. It seemed that people were clawing for authenticity by dreaming up great grandmothers who were Witches, but who might have only dabbled in reading tea leaves every now and then (my Nan did that, but she was certainly no Witch).
I totally understand the romance of it all. Druid Orders weren’t exempt from these fancies either, but I guess none that I came across tried to say their Druidry could be traced back to the time of the ancient Druids. Most were quite happy going back to 1717 with William Stukeley and John Toland, but even those lineages included people like William Blake as Chosen Chief. The date of 1792 is probably the date for the rebirth of the Druid tradition. When Iolo Morganwg held the first Gorsedd, placing his nine stones atop Primrose Hill in London, and declaring the Gorsedd of Bards of the Island of Britain.
I regularly heard arguements about lineage and authenticity, with this being expressed in ‘Celtic Reconstructionism’ – a valiant attempt to re-create Druidry purely from ancient sources, and disregarding all of the writings of Iolo and his consorts, but that path was never for me.
Then something happened.
A book was released by Professor Ronald Hutton called Triumph of the Moon, and it kind of changed everything. I remember getting it on the day of release and avidly consuming the words held therein. It looked at the development of Wicca through the lense of verifiable history. To say the reception of the book was varied is putting it mildly. There were those who loved it, and there were those who despised it. Long-held onto sacred views were definitely challenged, and for some that was too much. I was in the loved it camp. As I read the book it felt like years of baggage was falling from my shoulders. Although this book was primarily about Wicca, Wicca was the dominant Pagan path at the time, and it very much influenced the rest of mainstream Paganism. The Wheel of the Year, that dance and Journey of the Grain God, and the Earth Goddess spoke of in Frazer’s The Golden Bough, had been taken to the heart of Wicca and had then influenced the wider Pagan Way, and I had experienced it as a modern Druid through the close links between Gerald Gardner and the founder of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, Ross Nichols. I felt a wave of acceptance and calm that what I had been living was, in fact, something very modern – something created, it seemed, very much from the minds of those two individuals.
Now I’m not saying that everything we do as modern Pagans is new. Far from it. But the Way all of it is expressed together, that is new. Well, when I say new it sprang into life in the 1950s.
I want to tell you, this is a Good Thing.
Before Gardner and Nichols there was, of course, the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society. Modern Paganism didn’t grow from a vacuum. It grew because that seed had been planted, had been watered and cared for, and it then began to grow. It grew from the Victorian love of the Occult, Spiritualism and Magic, the 60s Hippy movement and the Civil Rights movement in the USA, CND, Greenham Common, the road protests of the 90s, the New Age and New Age Travellers, and now the Environmental Crisis we find ourselves in is encouraging more people to explore ways to have a closer spiritual relationship with Nature. What was held onto as ancient authenticity has been replaced with modern validity? Things don’t have to be ancient to be of value and work. At some point, all religions were new and freshly born. To me it’s an incredible privilege to be here, right at the very beginning of something beautiful. I’m more than happy to own that, and join hands with my fellow Pagans of all paths and walk forward together to see where it all goes, and gently guide it as much as we can.
How exciting is that?!
And here’s a thing. That tiny seed is still a very delicate seedling. It hasn’t yet grown into its full potential. It’s still small, and that delicate living thing is held in the palm of all of our hands. I see that some want it to grow faster. They want worldwide recognition of Paganism as a Religious Path – now. Some want us to be perfect in all of our environmental choices – now. Gardeners use fertilizer to help their plants grow, and some of these wishes are indeed fertilizing the soil for growth, but this seedling will not be a fully grown tree in my lifetime. It’ll be something I nurture and love my whole life, but I will, in the end, pass it on to others, who will take over its care. Who knows when it will grow to fruition? If there are indeed another 3000 years, one thing is for sure – one day we will be the Ancient Pagans. One day we will be the Ancestors. Those hereditary Pagans so many wished existed in the 80s and 90s actually exist right now as some of our children, who have been raised at Pagan camps and conferences, and with Pagan parents, choose to walk in our footsteps, and take that seedling to their hearts.
It’s a beautiful thing. A valid, empowering, modern, Pagan Path. Needed right now more than ever before.
So how do we nurture it, and encourage its growth? That’ll be for next time.
So mote it be.
Janie Gray 0
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A word that frequents occult, historical, and scholarly texts of all varieties is "Hermeticism." What exactly is Hermeticism, and how can we apply its practices to our daily lives? In this excerpt from Llewellyn's 2020 Magical Almanac, Raven Digitalis explores the history and principles of Hermeticism.
What do you think of when you hear the words, "Hedge Druid?" Someone who works with the green and growing things, of working with nature, with the seasons and the tides? Yes, Hedge Druidry is that—but it is also so much more. Here, Book of Hedge Druidry author Joanna van der Hoeven discusses the power of the liminal and putting the "Hedge" back in Hedge Druidry.
The term myth can sometimes be seen as a derogatory word. If something is labelled a ‘myth’, in this broken, reductionist world we find ourselves, it is seen as untrue, maybe as a quaint story, sometimes as a way of taking the power away from beliefs that someone holds dear.
“Oh, that’s only a myth.”
“You don’t believe any of that was true do you?”
Only a myth.
Indigenous peoples all over the world have looked at the natural world and seen within it stories of energies, Gods, powers that are so much more powerful than us little apelike creatures that walk on the back of such an incredibly diverse and living being. How did that mountain come into being? What of the great lake that gives us clear water to drink? Or the animal that howls at the moon and to whom we should show respect and avoid? What great power moves the tides? Where did our people come from, and who gave us fire? Can we sing the songs of the hills and valleys? Can we sing the songs of the eagle, the dove, the fox and the bear? When we breathe out our last breath, where does it go? Where do we go? Why do other birds despise the owl? What mysteries lay beneath the surface of that dark lake in the mountains?
I could go on. It seems that progress has tried to show us that we don’t need these stories. That a reductionist world is the only true way forward. Maybe that is right for some people, but it’s never been right for me. These old tales bridge a gap between logical understanding of how things work, and a poetic and beautiful way to develop relationship. Progress has done wonders, don’t get me wrong – as I look back I would far rather be alive now than at any other time in history – but it is obvious that there is also a vast separation between people and the land. That separation is causing our own modern Wasteland.
But I am getting ahead of myself…
Myth is said to be the second level of story. The events within the myth may have been inspired by actual historical events, but often that is not the reason for the existence of the tale. Or at least the tale contains so much more than simply a way to remember history. I love the books by Stephen King. I’m a great fan of Lee Child and his Jack Reacher novels. They’re great entertainment, and entertainment is important, but they aren’t myths. They are stories. Now of course myths are stories and they can indeed be approached as nothing more than entertainment, but that is the first level of story. Look a little deeper and the occult mysteries held within the mists of the story begin to reveal themselves.
Let me give you an example.
In the Second Branch of Y Mabinogi, Bran, the High King, gives a magical cauldron as an honour price for an insult given by his half-brother to Matholwch, the King of Ireland. The property of which is that if a slain warrior is placed inside, they will be reborn the next day, fully armed for battle, yet without the gift of speech.
Without the gift of speech.
When my second son was born it was an arranged caesarian. The doctor made the incision behind the green screen and literally pulled his head back and said, “Oh! Hello!” My son was there, open-eyed and ready, looking out at him. The midwife took him away to be weighed and then brought him back. Smiling, she said, “He’s an old soul.” And as he looked at me and his mother he began to cry, as babies do.
He’s an old soul. Reborn without the gift of speech.
As he lay there crying, what if he was desperately trying to say, “Mum! Dad! You won’t believe where I’ve just been!!! It was amazing! High mountains with waterfalls, great lake valleys, a warm Summerland of bliss!! And Dad! The mmmmmeeeeeaaaadddd! The Mead was incredible!!”
But what could he say?
Without the gift of speech. And as we age, so maybe our memories of that place between fades, until we are left once again wondering what lay beyond the veil. So the reborn warriors of Matholwch stood, ready for battle, fearless, for they had just seen the Otherworld, and knew what lay beyond death. But could they tell of where they had been? No. They made just inordible sounds or stood in silence.
The second level of story.
Are we so full of superiority that we can discard our own myths and folklore? I don’t think that’s wise. Time and again I see a longing in peoples’ eyes for a more magical and mythical relationship with the world. On the TV we hear Aboriginal peoples telling their story of the Rainbow Serpent and The Dreaming, we hear the Native American tales of Coyote, or the Maori prose tales of creation, and many of us yearn for our own stories, yet we have them. For instance, all across this little island there are myths of lakes, mountains, rivers and seashore, but many people would never know. For instance, it astounds me every time I visit Bala in North Wales, the site of Llyn Tegid, the origin of one of the most influential myths told on the island – the home of Ceridwen and the creation of Taliesin. I have not seen one sign, not one tiny little sign that lets visitors know. I know that many Pagans make pilgrimage to the lake, and we know of that connection, but so many do not. Tell a visitor the story when they visit that lake and see their eyes change. Suddenly it is more than a big body of water. It has myth attached to it, and for some that changes the relationship to the lake.
Here is another example of the power of myth. The town of Worthing has a rather remarkable tree. It’s called the Midsummer Tree and is said that skeletons rise and dance around it on Midsummer Eve. In 2006 it was scheduled to be cut down and removed, but so strong was the story among local people that it was saved. It was cut back but stands to this day.
The Midsummer Tree, an oak, stands near Broadwater Green and is said to be around 300 years old. Until the 19th century, it was believed that on Midsummer’s Eve skeletons would rise from the tree and dance around it until dawn, when they would sink back into the ground. The legend was first recorded by folklorist Charlotte Latham in 1868. Since 2006, when the oak was saved from development, meetings have been held on Midsummers Eve there.
It is said that gateways to the Otherworld can be found between two trees, or two standing stones, under that blackthorn tree in the woods, but it is also said that the gateway is open to poets. To help heal this modern Wasteland we could do worse than stepping out on our own mythic Grail Quest. The Knights of myth travelled the land in search of the Grail to help heal the land. There is no doubt that if we in the west had a mythic relationship with our own landscapes then we would not be so quick to further its destruction with quarrying, building, fracking. If that valley held stories that had been passed down to great grandparents, to grandparents, to parents, to children, and we held those stories close to our hearts, we would not so readily fill it with so-called ‘affordable’ new homes.
Myths and folklore tales help heal that Wasteland.
So if you are on this Grail Quest with me, explore the tales of your local area, find the stories behind the landscape, and begin to heal the Wasteland through a re-enchantment of the land.
How do you relate to myth, to local folklore?
There is an ebb and flow to our lives; the sun rises, the sun sets; tides rise and fall; the moon waxes and wanes. We can find balance in our yoga practice and in our life by connecting with nature and the cycle of the seasons. Here, Yoga Through the Year author Jilly Shipway illustrates 7 ways we can integrate our yoga practice with the seasons for a better life.
"Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back." -Proverb"HUMAN BEINGS MAKE LIFE SO INTERESTING? DO YOU KNOW, THAT IN A UNIVERSE FULL OF WONDERS, THEY HAVE MANAGED TO INVENT BOREDOM."-Terry Pratchett "Hogfather"
My curiosity takes me on the wildest tangents. A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through a science abstract site reading through the science news as it was, and I got interested in an article about birds. My reading made me remember there was a bird I wanted to look up, which reminded me of the work of one of my mentors in archaeology who studied the Bay Area's Native American rock art and determined that they cataloged many, many bird species. This got me thinking about sacred spaces, which is where he had done this work. Then I wondered about maps of sacred spaces. Google can take me on some interesting journeys.
I stumbled across an article about the biodiversity of sacred sites. Someone had figured out that sacred places, like old churchyards, have a slightly higher biodiversity score than other areas around them. I wonder if this would hold true throughout human history, and I'm fascinated by the idea.
Another tangent has led me to the conclusion that the world's sacred places, both past, and future, need a map. Maybe, if we could connect the plentitude of sacred places with landscapes around us, maybe we could connect more easily with the land, with our neighbors, with our inner landscapes, and with our ancestors. I haven't the faintest idea about how to go about this, but I'm certain the map generated would show us something about us, as humans, that we hadn't known before.
The universe is a neverending source of interesting wonders to ponder, and the Earth, as a part of it, is no exception. I come across so many fascinating things each day that I can't possibly pursue them all. I bless you today with a drop of curiosity. May you find yourself enraptured by the thirst of knowledge, if only for a moment, and may it bring you a sense of awe at the universe around you.
Ceremonies and rituals are powerful; they create sacred space, invite healing, and connect us to our ancestors. And, during the summer months, we can celebrate the bounty and abundance of the season with our ceremonies and rituals. Use these ideas and a guided journey from Celtic Tree Rituals author Sharlyn Hidalgo as we go forth into the summer months.
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