Archives For Brendan Cathbad Myers

[This is a guest post by Brendan Myers. Brendan Myers, Ph.D, is the author of eight books on environmentalism, ethics and social justice, and spirituality. He has taught philosophy at six different universities in Canada and in Europe, and provided policy research for the Government of Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and various private clients. His work has been featured by the Pacific Business & Law Institute, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, as well as numerous cultural societies, environmental groups, interfaith groups, and humanist societies around the world. And he's a decent songwriter too.]

About a year ago, I was attending a semi-private gathering of pagans in eastern Ontario, Canada.  One of the people there was an atheist and we were talking about why she enjoys attending pagan events. At one point, intending to be cheeky, I called out to the group, “How many other atheists have we got here?” Eleven people, out of twenty, put their hands up.

Now, my little observation that evening is nothing like a scientific study of changing opinions in the pagan world. But that was not the only place where I’ve observed this trend. Not all of us join the pagan world because of an interest in magic, or because of a transformative spiritual epiphany, or because of a traumatic experience with some other religious group. Call it a case of observer bias on my part, but Humanist Paganism seems to be an emerging option for those who want to be part of the Pagan community, but who want to be a little more intellectual about their practices, and they really don’t care about the “woo” anymore.

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci.

From what I have seen so far, Humanist Pagans tend to be uninterested in ritual, or energy work, or developing psychic powers. Some still practice magic (you don’t have to be religious to do that), but will approach the matter with a critical, scientific eye. And speaking of science, they tend to be interested in astronomy, quantum theory, evolutionary biology, and the like, and will take inspiration from Neil DeGrasse Tyson and from Bill Nye right alongside Starhawk or Crowley. Those whom I have met tended to be in their 30′s or older, educated, earning a lower-middle class income, and raising small families. (As an aside, a lot of them are cosplayers too!) Social, political, and moral causes tended to be more important to them than supernatural ones. For instance, an associate of mine who recently declared himself a Humanist Pagan told me that avoiding genetically modified food improved his health more than reiki treatments and aura cleanings. And he felt afraid to admit that to his pagan friends! Finally, many of the humanist pagans I’ve met tend to think of themselves as artists and musicians (or whatever) first, and as pagans second – as THW has observed about artists like Austin Osman Spare, or Dead Can Dance.

But they love folklore and mythology, they love going to pagan festivals, and they subscribe to pagan moral values like the Wiccan Rede, and the Heroic Virtues. They’re perfectly happy to shout “Hail Thor!” with an upraised drinking horn. They don’t care whether the gods exist or do not exist: for as they see it, the existence of the gods is not what matters. Rather, what matters is the pursuit of a good and worthwhile life, and the flourishing of our social and environmental relations. They are a kind of pagan that perhaps has not been seen since classical Greece and Rome, and their place in the modern pagan movement may still be marginal and unclear, but they are a kind of pagan nonetheless.

(This isn’t a recruitment drive, by the way. I just thought the pagan world might like to know that these people exist, and that if you haven’t met one yet, you probably will soon.)

For those who struggle with anti-pagan prejudices and stereotypes, Humanist Paganism might be a powerful educational tool. It can show that a pagan can be a sophisticated, cosmopolitain, and enlightened person, and that a pagan culture can be artistically vibrant, environmentally conscious, intellectually stimulating, and socially just. Remember, the Acropolis of Athens, Stonehenge, Newgrange, and the Pyramids of Egypt, were built by Pagans. Complex astronomical instruments like the Antikythera Mechanism, and the Nebra Sky Disk, were made by Pagans. Our Pagan intellectual heritage includes poets and scientists and literary intellectuals of every kind, especially including those who wrote some of the most important and influential books in all of Western history. Homer, Hesiod, Pythagoras, Plato, and Cicero, just to name a few, all lived in pagan societies. Some of the greatest political and military leaders of all time, such as Alexander the Great, Pericles of Athens, Hannibal of Carthage, and Julius Caesar of Rome, were all pagans, or else living in a pagan society. And speaking of Pagan societies: some of today’s highest social and political values, like democracy, secular republican government, freedom of speech, and trial by jury, were invented by pagans. Even the Olympic Games were invented by pagans. Yet that fact is almost always ignored when people study the origins of western civilization. In the face of anti-pagan prejudices, it might be better to point to accomplishments like these, than to something mostly amorphous like “freedom”.

Finally, if I may speak personally, I also noticed that some pagans have treated me as a spokesperson for humanist paganism. Perhaps that is because my books are about universal philosophical problems like loneliness, fear, global warming, and social justice. Also, I don’t write about magic or ritual or how to talk to the gods (although I do write about Druids). The role of main spokesperson for humanist paganism probably belongs to B.T. Newberg, more than to me, because he manages the Humanistic Paganism blog and FB page. But for my part, I find that human rationality is profoundly spiritual; an instrument not just of practical knowledge but also of enlightenment. I study Druidry to be a better philosopher; I don’t study philosophy to be a better Druid. Perhaps that makes me a humanist pagan. But if so, I will still toast the Great Queen with my drinking horn. Hail!

See also:
http://humanisticpaganism.com/
http://btnewberg.com/
http://www.facebook.com/humanistic.paganism
http://paganhumanist.com/

Today is Easter/Pasha/Resurrection Sunday, when it is said that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. Rather than give a barrage of “how pagan is Easter” type stories, I thought I’d leave you with a few non-Easter related links to look over today when you’re not busy finding eggs, eating candy, or dressing up like a witch.

Easter Witches in Sweden.

The Ganges in New York: The New York Times reports on how Hindus near Jamaica Bay in Queens, New York have turned the body of water into a local Ganges, a place to leave offerings for a variety of rituals. The problem is that the large number of offerings are disturbing the local habitat and creating an eyesore for park officials.

“We call it the Ganges,” one pilgrim, Madan Padarat, said as he finished his prayers. “She takes away your sickness, your pain, your suffering.” But to the park rangers who patrol the beach, the holy waters are a fragile habitat, the offerings are trash and the littered shores are a federal preserve that must be kept clean for picnickers, fishermen and kayakers. Unlike the Ganges, they say, the enclosed bay does not sweep the refuse away. The result is a standoff between two camps that regard the site as sacrosanct for very different reasons, and have spent years in a quiet tug of war between ancient traditions and modern regulations. Strenuous diplomacy on both sides has helped, but only to a point. “I can’t stop the people and say, ‘You can’t come to the water and make offerings,’ ” said Pandit Chunelall Narine, the priest at a thriving Ozone Park temple, Shri Trimurti Bhavan, who sometimes performs services by the bay. “We are at a dead end right now.”

The article does a good job of capturing the tensions as both sides try to find a workable compromise. I feel that as religions that engage directly with nature grow these tensions will continue. I anticipate that this will not be the last story I read about religious groups and law enforcement confronting how offerings impact a particular area.

A Queer Theology: In his latest Patheos.com column, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus confronts the “queerness” of theology within modern Paganism.

“I mentioned in an earlier article in this column that some modern Pagans have suggested that theology doesn’t really have a place in modern Paganism, and that Paganism as a religion isn’t really appropriate to the concerns of theology.  It was mentioned on that earlier occasion, though, that ancient Pagans in Greece and Rome invented most of the vocabulary of theology—including the term itself. The reservations of some modern Pagans on theology are understandable, and the ways in which Christianity has dominated the discourse on theology for the past several millennia are certainly a concern and something of which any Pagans actively engaged in theological work should be aware. Nonetheless, it is an area that is not only historically relevant to Paganism and polytheism, but one that is quite necessary to confront for modern Pagans.”

As always, Lupus is thoughtful an well-worth reading. Be sure to also check out his wonderful personal blog.

Who Gets Their Religious Freedom Protected: There’s a general election being held in Canada on May 2nd after the conservative government collapsed in a no confidence vote. It is in this context that Canadian Pagan and philosopher Brendan Myers looks at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plan to create an Office of Religious Freedom, and wonders whose freedoms it will work to protect.

“…given the Christian fundamentalism that dwells in the Reform Party’s agenda (pardon me, the Conservative Party’s agenda), therefore you can bet that this office will almost certainly not be used to help voudouisants in Africa, Tibetan Buddhists in China, Jews in Palestine or Muslims in Israel, or for that matter any religion at all which is not Christian. The only exceptions, the only non-Christian religions which this office might support in other countries, would be religious communities that are wealthy and well-organized enough in Canada to pressure the government to help their co-religionists in other countries.”

It seems that conservative Christian outlook in Canada isn’t too dissimilar from their brethren in the United States.

That’s all I have for now, have a happy Sunday, no matter what your activities or beliefs.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Creating a Coalition: Peter Dybing, National First Officer, Covenant of the Goddess, who recently led a successful effort to raise 30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders, proposes the formation of a ”Pagan Relief Services Coalition” that would respond to the needs of Pagans in times of disaster.

“Is our Pagan community prepared to respond in centralized haste when Pagans face disaster? Should the worst happen and an American city is crippled are we able to come together and sustain meaningful relief for our Pagan sisters and brothers? In short, the answer is No! Responding to disaster requires pre planning in funding, logistics and operations. Waiting for the disaster to strike to take action ensures that any effort will be short on success and long on confusion and debate.”

Dybing does not endorse simply starting a new organization, since “such an approach will lead to another ‘new’ organization competing for support of its efforts.” He instead proposes something more like, well, a coalition. An agreement by various Pagan organizations to coordinate and work together in times of crisis, to pool fundraising resources, along with a “committee made up of representatives of the involved organizations” to determine when a disaster threshold has been reached that would activate funding commitments. For those interested in engaging in such a project, or discussing it, I’d recommend heading over to Peter’s blog.

Kondratiev’s Lorekeeper’s Course: Celtic Nation has unveiled a course of study created by Celtic scholar, linguist, and author Alexei Kondratiev, who passed away last year. The Lorekeeper’s Course was originally created for the now-defunct Celtic Reconstructionist group IMBAS, and was intended for a predominately CR audience. Kondratiev died before he could oversee a test-run of the course, and two different versions of the course needed to be merged. Celtic Nation has undertaken the task of recovering, preserving, and presenting this “lost” course to the world.

“In June 2010, Luder and fellow members of the Celtic Nation Yahoo Group made appeals to former members of original volunteers for help in recovering any of the pieces of the  course outline to compare to the new material.  Graciously, DubhTine, a longtime member of the IMBAS council in its heyday, volunteered his time and efforts to discover and forward a  significant portion of the languishing course outline.  His efforts were instrumental in formatting the new outline and all those who enjoy the course going forward owe him a debt of gratitude.  Pech Raithbheartiagh, also a former volunteer on the original project, recovered several important pieces from an old hard drive to help round out the outline.  Cuardai Eolais provided continuing compilation assistance as well.  With their invaluable help and generosity,  Luder was able to begin matching the sections of the original course outline to the new work started just prior to Kondratiev’s death.   As time progresses, additional material of Alexei’s will be made available and noted as it is added.  For referencing purposes, this is “Alexei Kondratiev’s Lorekeepers Course 1.0″.”

This is an exciting development, one that should help enrich the CR community, and anyone interested in the lucid, learned, and passionate work of Alexei Kondratiev. I would love to see this material, and future additions, released as an ebook of some kind. Perhaps sold to raise funds for the continued preservation of Alexei’s work?

Myers on Pagan Ethics: Philosopher and author Brendan Myers has an essay up at Patheos.com about how thinking replaced killing as social force in the ancient world, and how the “goddess” model of civilization is ultimately superior to the Judeo-Christian model of ethics.

“What I’d like to suggest is that a society that affords real priority to the goddess, and to her way of presenting the revelation of her divine presence, is likely to be a society where the values are cast not as rules or laws. It is likely to be a society in which the values are cast in the form of character-virtues. I think this is so because her message is not a commandment to be obeyed: her message is a presence to be experienced. Her message tells us who she is, not what to do. This means that following orders and rules and laws will not be what matters. What will matter instead, is finding all the places where her presence can be experienced. I think it will also matter that we live our lives in a way that embodies the presence of the goddess.

What matters is being a particular kind of person. At the most basic level, it matters that you are the kind of person who resolves problems with force of thought and feeling instead of with the force of arms. Such a person becomes able to find the goddess within her relationships, and within herself. In the culture of the goddess, there are no rules and commandments, but there still is an ethical understanding, in which some character-values reveal the goddess within, and others do not; some kinds of habits and choices are exemplary of the goddess, and others are not. Except for a few things, like gratuitous murder, there will be little need for absolute categorical distinctions. The ethical understanding can be a matter of degree. Furthermore, since the goddess reveals herself in many different masks and disguises, there can be more than one ethically significant way to embody her presence. There doesn’t have to be only one true way; there can be many true ways. The goddess doesn’t tell you what to do; but rather she shows you different possibilities for what kind of a person you can be.”

Myers is one of modern Paganism’s sharpest thinkers, I highly recommend reading the entire essay where he brings forth examples from Greek, Celtic, and Native American cultures to make his point.

Spirit of Albion Starts Production: The upcoming independent film The Spirit of Albion, a story inspired by the music of Damh the Bard, started production this past weekend. A video production diary has been started to allow people an inside look at the process.

Sunday was the first official production day of the Spirit of Albion movie. The entire cast gathered at the director’s house to record their performances for the film. Here is the first in what will be a series of video diaries of the making of the film. It was a great day, and the cast not look the part, but they all had great voices too! Enjoy the film, and why not subscribe to the channel?

I’ll be sure to continue checking in on The Spirit of Albion, and keep you posted on its progress.

Accessibility and Events: The Staff of Asclepius blog at Patheos.com is seeking the accessibility experiences of Pagans at festivals and events.

“This festival season, the Staff of Asclepius is seeking guest authors to write about their accessibility experiences at any event large or small. Writers will have the opportunity to share with the community how volunteers accommodated them and offer advice on what could be improved for next time. From the registration process to camping and attending workshops or rituals, what was the experience like? Was staff receptive to your needs and advice for improvement? Email masery@rocketmail.com

The issue of accessibility at Pagan events recently came up in the Wild Hunt’s comments section, so this may be a good opportunity to broaden the discussion. You may also want to see a recent post from Ocean at Deaf Pagan Crossroads about this issue.

Final Notes: Before I go, I’d like to quickly mention that the Pagan Newswire Collective’s main site just got a swanky new redesign, the great alternative culture magazine Coilhouse is now offering its back-issues in a digital format (see also this recent io9 interview), and Grant Morrison’s book “Supergods” has a release date.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

[The following is guest post from Brendan Myers. Brendan Myers, Ph.D., is a Canadian philosophy professor, a winner of OBOD’s Mount Haemus award for research in Druidry, and the author of “The Other Side of Virtue”, “Loneliness and Revelation”, and other titles. Find him (and his books) on the web at brendanmyers.net.]

The recent interruption to Jason’s blog service, and the generosity of the movement which raised for him the money to pay his increased costs within a single day, got me thinking about volunteerism and community building in the pagan movement.

What does it mean to ‘build’ community? Probably the simplest and broadest answer is this: to build a community is to create and sustain relationships between people. Some are the relations of teachers to students, doctors and nurses to patients, and parents to children. Some are the relations of storytellers (that includes journalists!) and their audiences. Human relationships inform the way that food lands on our table, the way books are published and distributed, the way musicians and poets and artists create things of beauty for everyone to share. The basic relationship, perhaps underlying all others, is the relation between friends: and in ancient European pagan culture, friendship seems to have been at least as important as tribal solidarity, and sometimes more so. Indeed I will argue that the sacred itself, whatever else it may be, is a function of our human relationships. But I would like to make a different point today.

All our relationships are person-to-person. They involve people seeing, hearing, touching, and speaking to each other; they involve sharing goods; and they involve moral values like generosity and compassion.

But they are also mediated and assisted by the material infrastructure: town squares, telephone networks, internet servers, farmer’s markets, schools, libraries, concert halls, and private homes. Relationships do not happen in abstraction. They need a place; they need a centre, even a home.

And infrastructure, as you know, costs money. That’s probably why there are donation drives on the Wild Hunt from time to time. A local community wants to rent a hall for regular public rituals, or rent a campground for an annual outdoor festival. An organization wants to publish a newsletter. An elderly teachers wants to talk to her geographically-distant students on the phone, or drive to visit them once in a while. These things do not come free.

I have decided, therefore, that I will donate 50% of all my book royalties, from January to June 2011, to pagan community infrastructure projects. I also invite other pagan writers to do the same.

Most people can do more than they think they can. Indeed most people can do more than they are already doing. As for myself, I volunteer my labour and sometimes donate money for various local causes, and I also write books which (I hope!) contribute usefully to the movement’s intellectual life. But it occurred to me that, like most people, I can probably do much more than I’m already doing. I would like to encourage more volunteerism. But at least some of the volunteerism has to be in the form of cash donations, for the sake of maintaining the infrastructure. This is, I think, an indirect but very important way to support the human relationships in our community, and the values which animate them.

This may not be much money. In the last six months of last year, my royalty income was less than one month of my rent. Other pagan writers are in a similar position: we write for a niche market, after all. But if people are willing to support me as a writer by purchasing my books, then I will be very willing to support the movement in return by sharing some of my royalties with projects that will benefit many others.

Some such projects are internet-based, such as the Pagan Newswire Collective. Some are pagan owned and operated campgrounds that operate year-round, such as Raven’s Knoll. Some are annual conferences that have rental costs to pay, such as the Gaia Gathering. I invite comments and suggestions from everyone about where people think I should donate the money. I wouldn’t want people to believe that by buying one of my books, they might support a project they don’t believe in. But I do hope that my position in the movement as a writer, small though it may be, can benefit more than just myself.

Communities simply cannot be built unless its members see beyond their own immediate wants and needs, and start to take care of each other in an organized way. I can do that with my book royalties. Communities simply don’t survive unless people are ready to do something selfless for others, which will benefit everyone (and yes, including themselves) in the long run. I can donate some of my money. What more, and what else, can you do? I’m curious to find out.

[The following is a guest post from Brendan Myers, Ph.D. Brendan is a professor of philosophy at Heritage College CÉGEP in Gatineau, Quebec, and sometimes an instructor at the Cherry Hill Seminary. He is a winner of OBOD’s prestigious Mount Haemus Award for professional research in Druidry, a founder of the Order of the White Oak, and the author of five books including “The Other Side of Virtue” and “A Pagan Testament”. I've invited him to write a bit about the themes in his latest book: “Loneliness and Revelation: A Study of the Sacred”.]

Paganism can be described as a religion of relationships. We speak of magical correspondences, apprenticeships with teachers and mentors, therapy work with counselors or magical healers, initiatory group membership, relations with a totem or a patron deity, and ecological relations from local landscapes to the global biosphere. Some of our best known writers and leaders also emphasize relationships in their metaphysics: Starhawk, for instance, wrote that “the primary principle of magic is connection”.

With that in mind, consider how many people in our world are severely socially isolated, and profoundly alone. A recent study found that half of all Americans have only one close friend in the world, and one quarter have no friends at all. The last United States census found that 27.2 million households, one-fourth of the total, consisted in just one person. Half a century ago, that was the case for only one-tenth of all households. A British study found that one out of every ten adults in England sought professional help for loneliness at least once in their lives.

It seems that loneliness is everywhere. Indeed I think it likely that just about everyone feels it at some point in their lives. Yet facts like these are not spoken of very often, perhaps because loneliness is a taboo topic. No one likes to admit to feeling lonely. It’s embarrassing, and sometimes humiliating. But loneliness is painful for many people. We should ask what, if anything, a spiritual point of view can offer to people who find themselves painfully lonely, and what it can offer to the counselors and therapists who assist such people.

This month, I have published a book which attempts to do exactly that: “Loneliness and Revelation: A Study of the Sacred”. This book does not describe any spells, rituals, invocations, or magic: I think there are probably too many books already on the market which address such themes. But if you are looking for a book by a pagan author which goes well above and beyond the “101” level, and which addresses a serious social and psychological problem from a spiritual point of view, then please read on.

The first thing I discovered about loneliness was that that it has nothing to do with how physically or geographically close you are to other people. You can feel terribly isolated from others, anytime and anywhere, even while hundreds of other people rub shoulders with you in the busy shopping mall. When you go to parties, or nightclubs, or other places where people gather, you get to see all the relationships people have with each other that you are not part of, and are not invited to join. We are also individuals at heart, taught to be self-reliant. But that very self-reliance can create distance between people. You might want to reach out to others, but then you would have to admit that you need others. So loneliness is not just a social problem; it also has the character of an existential crisis.

Some people try to fill the emptiness within them with food, alcohol, gambling, video games, or shopping sprees. But the relief that such things provide is always superficial, and always temporary. When it wears off, as it inevitably does, feelings of disappointment can set in. You might go back to them anyway, to try and regain the pleasure and distraction that they can create. But this creates a vicious circle of stimulus and withdrawal which strongly resembles drug addiction. So the problem is not just isolation. The problem is that people do self-destructive things to avoid isolation.

Religion promises you that you need not ever be alone, because the gods will always be there for you. But there are reasons why the gods, themselves, feels lonely, and probably feel it worst of all. Think of the distance between where you are sitting and the nearest star beyond our solar system: Barnard’s Star, approximately five light years away. We can understand that distance mathematically, using spectroscope analysis and stellar parallax measurements. The gods, if they exist, and if they inform the universe with their presence (as we often say they do), probably feel that distance right in their bones. A Hindu holy scripture, the Bhradaranyaka Upanisad, claims that God created the universe precisely to fill his own need for companionship.

But my study of loneliness also showed me reasons to have hope. Some of the world’s best known religious heroes achieved their spiritual victories in solitude: and examples are not hard to find. Siddartha Gautama achieved his Buddha-hood alone, beneath a tree, in a deep forest, far from others. Jesus defeated the devil in the desert, with help from no one else; he also took on the despair of the world while alone in the garden of Gethsemene. The founder of Bahá’í, a mystic who took the name of Bahá’u’lláh, withdrew from his family and community to live as a hermit in the mountains of Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, for two years. Odin hung himself from the World Tree alone for nine days, and at the end of his time he discovered the runes. Because of examples like these, and perhaps also because of the prevalence of individualism in our culture, most people “on a spiritual path” believe that enlightenment can only be accomplished on one’s own. Only by looking within, and attending directly to one’s own inner self, can one accomplish enlightenment. Or so the popular wisdom goes.

But how can one gather the spiritual benefits of solitude without incurring the suffering of loneliness? My suggestion is to look to the idea of revelation: this is the experience someone has when something of existential significance appears in his life. You find it in a stone dolmen, in a windy fenland in the west of Ireland, or in an Inuit cairn in the high arctic of Canada. You find it in lighthouses, clock towers, church steeples, symphony performances, rock concerts, and holiday fireworks. It’s in your voice when you say the words ‘I love you’. It appears in any activity which reveals presence, identity, and the goodness of life, and in anything which invites others to share that life. I believe this understanding of revelation is the solution to the problem of loneliness. But more than that, I believe it is the foundation of the good and worthwhile life.

My sincere thanks to Jason for allowing me to describe my book on his blog.
___

Everyone is welcome to attend the launch event at The Clocktower Brew Pub, 575 Bank St. Ottawa, Ontario Canada, on Sunday 7th November. Starting at 1pm, Brendan will read from the text, sign copies, and answer questions. He’ll also stay to share a drink or two for the rest of the afternoon.

Almost exactly a month ago, I proposed that the Pagan community create a voluntary opt-in statement of sexual ethics that individuals, organizations, and event organizers could use to educate both newcomers and outsiders as to a baseline of principles shared across our many diverse faiths and traditions. That recent high-profile cases concerning sexual abuse tied to our community, and the many unreported cases of sexual predation that have taken place over the years, were not tolerated or condoned. To educate, and hopefully also empower, abuse victims who might be fooled into thinking what was happening to them was/is “normal” or correct within a Pagan context.

This project was blessed to have Pagan author and philosophy professor Brendan Myers take the lead in coordinating the effort to produce the final draft of the statement that you are about to read. He, along with a dedicated and talented open group of collaborators, did the hard work of engaging the feedback from various parts of our community, and responsively moving forward with a document that we think a large plurality of our community could sign in good faith.

“This text came about after a vigorous, productive, and at times intense three-week process. Passing through four “cycles” in which a draft of the text was subject to the criticisms and revisions of all the volunteers, we think we have achieved about as much of a consensus on this text as we are likely to get. Integrating various important considerations, such as the variety and multiplicity of moral views within Paganism’s many communities, the need for grammatical and stylistic correctness, the need for moral decisiveness, and for rhetorical and exhortative strength, has not been an easy task. But together we have produced a statement of moral agreement which we are prepared to sign our names to, and stand by. We hope that you agree.”

You can follow the entire open process to this final draft at Brendan’s web forum.

From this point in the process, we are opening the final draft to a two-week public comment period. At the end of which we will consider any reasonable suggested additions or changes before we move forward with attaching signatories and starting our outreach campaign. Because I don’t want to simply publish a few excerpts, I will point you to a page featuring the entire statement, here. There is also a nicely-formatted PDF version of the text provided by David Shorey of the Sacramento Grove of the Oak. I strongly urge everyone to read and consider the entire document before making a comment.

Once the comment period is over, and any last-minute changes considered, the statement will be posted at its own web site. Pagans Against Sexual Abuse (PASA) www.pagansagainstsexualabuse.com, where we will begin accepting and listing signatories, offer the text in a variety of formats, and move forward with an outreach committee who will engage and dialog with various groups, events, and individuals in hopes of creating broad-based support for the statement. The site will also act as a clearing house for similar statements of ethics from other organizations, and provide tools so that the Pagan web can easily link, promote, and reference the statement.

I also want to reiterate that the ethics site will remain politically neutral, and will not advocate for or against any tradition, group, or individual in a conflict. Signing the statement will be opt-in and voluntary. No group, individual, or legal entity will be strong-armed into participating, or demonized if they feel they can’t sign on to the finished product. Coalitions that bring lasting change aren’t built by guilt or coercion, but by bridge-building and compromise. We will gladly stand by and partner with those who opt to develop alternate faith or group-specific ethics platforms, so long as they are created in the same spirit of protecting the innocent. Further, the finished statement will exist as its own entity beholding to no single faith, group or individual, and anyone will be able to “sign” or “opt-in” to it at any time so long as they support its tenets.

Update: A Note on Process and Consensus

I’m going to stray a bit from my normal routine, and propose an actual initiative for our community to undertake. Considering recent cases within our community concerning the sexual abuse of children, and the larger context of news-making abuse cases within non-Pagan faith intuitions, I feel that a voluntary statement of ethics put forward and enforced by Pagan leaders, groups, event organizers, media outlets, and organizations could go a long way towards fostering an atmosphere that would support victims, discourage would-be abusers, and potentially avert some cases of abuse. I understand that any undertaking that attempts to gain the support of any sizable percentage of the larger Pagan community can be fraught with drama, dissent, and backlash, but I feel this is something worth the effort, and the process will have The Wild Hunt’s support at every stage.

Every stage of this process, so long as I am a part of it, will be opt-in and voluntary. No group, individual, or legal entity will be strong-armed into participating, or demonized if they feel they can’t sign on to the finished product. Coalitions that bring lasting change aren’t built by guilt or coercion, but by bridge-building and compromise. We will gladly stand by and partner with those who opt to develop alternate faith or group-specific ethics platforms, so long as they are created in the same spirit of protecting the innocent. Further, the finished statement will exist as its own entity beholding to no single faith, group or individual, and anyone will be able to “sign” or “opt-in” to it at any time so long as they support its tenets.

Stage One: Crafting a draft statement. We will start with a relatively small group working together, with ongoing input from the larger community, to create a first draft of the ethics statement. Pagan author and professor of philosophy Brendan Myers has volunteered to host and help guide this stage of the process. If you are interested in being a part of this process, please join his message board, and take part. I urge folks from various faiths, traditions, professions, and walks of life, to participate. I thank Brendan for stepping forward to shepherd this initial step.

Stage Two: Feedback on draft. Once a rough draft of the statement is complete, it will be posted here, and at other Pagan media outlets, for feedback. All constructive input will be listened to, and responsive changes and revisions will be made accordingly.

Stage Three: Posting of draft, and creation of ethics statement web site. Once complete, the final ethics statement will be posted at its own web site, and all who wish may then sign on to the statement. All participating organizations and events will be prominently listed, web badges and printable materials will be made available, and an outreach committee will be formed to encourage wide adoption of the statement. The site will remain politically neutral, and will not advocate for or against any tradition, group, or individual in a conflict.

That is my suggestion for moving forward. If you want to discuss this, and get on board with this process, please visit Brendan Myers’ site to get things started. I hope this will be the start of a productive and proactive step to address this issue within our interlocking communities.

There are times when you just can’t get to the computer for several hours per day to blog, one of those is when you’re trying to pack and engage in a cross-country move. This week I’ll be pulling up stakes and moving from the Midwest (Milwaukee) to the Pacific Northwest (specifically, Eugene, Oregon). But don’t despair! While I’ll be driving through Montana with my wife and two cats (two, upset, angry, cats), The Wild Hunt will be featuring a wide assortment of vibrant, challenging, and innovative voices from within (and occasionally from without) modern Paganism while I’m gone. Here’s the run-down of The Wild Hunt’s amazing guest bloggers!

July 14thBrendan Myers

Dr. Brendan Myers, Ph.D. is the author of several critically acclaimed books on the subject of ethics and philosophy, environmentalism, Celtic and European mythology, folklore, society and politics, and spirituality. They have been used as inspirational and educational resources by college professors, social activist groups, interfaith groups, Celtic cultural associations, and even humanist societies, in many countries around the world. Brendan’s work has appeared in numerous magazines, podcasts, and radio shows (including America’s NPR). He is the 2008 recipient of OBOD’s prestigious Mt. Haemus Award for recent research in Druidry.

July 15thElysia Gallo

Elysia Gallo is an Acquisitions Editor at Llewellyn Worldwide, the oldest and largest independent New Age publisher in the United States. She acquires books for publication in such topics as Witchcraft, Wicca, Paganism, magic(k), herbalism, and the paranormal. She lives in St. Paul, MN with her husband and two cats.

July 16thCat Chapin-Bishop

Wiccan since the late ’80s, Cat Chapin-Bishop has also been Quaker since 2001. Cat’s essays have appeared in Laura Wildman’s “Celebrating the Pagan Soul”, “The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies”, the Covenant of the Goddess newsletter, and “Enchante: The Journal for the Urbane Pagan”. In addition to her work as a Wiccan HPs, Cat is the former Chair of Cherry Hill Seminary’s Pastoral Counseling Department, and she currently serves on the Ministry and Worship Committee of Mt. Toby Quaker meeting. Cat and her husband maintain Quaker Pagan Reflections, a blog dedicated to exploring the connections between Pagan spirituality and Quaker practice. They reside in Northampton, Massachusetts, where they attempt to live peacefully in the midst of chaos.

July 17thLupa

Lupa is the author of “Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic” and “A Field Guide to Otherkin”. She’s also the co-author of “Kink Magic: Sex Magic Beyond Vanilla” with Taylor Ellwood, and a contributor to the “Magick on the Edge” anthology and “Manifesting Prosperity: A Wealth Magic Anthology”. Additionally, Lupa works as an associate editor, layout tech, and nonfiction publicity/promotions manager for Immanion Press/Megalithica Books. Lupa uses the term pagan for simplicity’s sake, though more accurately she describes herself as a totemist, an animist and a pantheist. She has been studying pagan religions and magical topics for twelve years and practicing for ten years. Currently she is developing and training in therioshamanism.

July 18thJohn Morehead

John Morehead is a researcher, writer, and speaker in intercultural studies, new religious movements, theology and popular culture. He has an M.A. degree in intercultural studies from Salt Lake Theological Seminary which included a thesis on Burning Man Festival. He also has an avid interest in aspects of pop culture, particularly myth and archetype as well as the social, cultural and religious dimensions of fantasy, sci fi,and horror. John lives in the greater Salt Lake City area with his wife and two children. Be sure to check out his excellent TheoFantastique blog!

July 19th - Caroline Kenner

A longtime Washington D.C. activist in in feminism and environmentalism, Caroline Kenner now uses her skills to advocate for modern Pagans. In 2006 and 2007 Kenner called pan-Pagan rallies in Washington D.C. to demand religious freedom and equality. The 2007 rally was particularly auspicious as it celebrated the recently-won right to place the Pentacle, equivalent to the Cross, Star, or Crescent, on military grave markers. The event united several large Pagan organizations working to establish Pagan military chaplains and the approval of other specific Pagan symbols worn by Pagan and Heathen veterans. In addition to her activism, Caroline is a graduate of The Foundation for Shamanic Studies‘ Three Year Program in Advanced Shamanism and Shamanic Healing. Caroline also holds an A.B. from Bryn Mawr College and a M.S. from Boston University. She has practiced shamanism since 1989.

July 20th - Chas Clifton

Chas S. Clifton has been blogging since 2003, when he converted his Pagan magazine column, “Letter from Hardscrabble Creek,” into a blog. A widely published Pagan writer, he is the author of “Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America”. He also edits “The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies”.

July 21stJames R. French

James R. French has been interested in Magick and Paganism since adolescence. He is an Adept of the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn and a Reiki Master. (Mr. French wants us to understand that “Adept” and “Master” are titles within these respective lineages. They do not necessarily indicate anything beyond that.)

July 22ndThorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle is a magic worker, mystic, musician, and author of “Evolutionary Witchcraft” and “Kissing the Limitless.” She teaches internationally. Her blog can be found at yezida.livejournal.com or http://www.thorncoyle.com/musings.html.

July 23rdSannion

H. Jeremiah Lewis, also known by his religious name Sannion, is a Greco-Egyptian polytheist who has been actively honoring the gods since around 1993. He has lived all over the country, including Alaska, Nevada, New York, Montana, Washington and Oregon (where he currently resides), and has worked the standard assortment of odd jobs that every aspiring author needs to get by with. Mr. Lewis divides his time between an insanely intense religious practice, writing, research, helping to organize the activities of Neos Alexandria, and directing the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. There isn’t much time for anything else.

July 24thPeg Aloi

Peg Aloi is a Pagan and a scholar who works in both the academic and popular arenas. She is a writer on Paganism and the media for Witchvox, is the co-editor with Hanna E. Johnston of the new volume “The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft in Contemporary Culture” (Ashgate, 2007), and is currently co-authoring a book with Hannah titled “The Celluloid Bough: Cinema in the Wake of the Occult Revival”.

Please give all of them a warm and hospitable welcome, I’m certain they will all contribute something special to The Wild Hunt. The gods and my new DSL service willing, I should be back to my regular posting schedule by July 25th. Make sure to keep things respectful and polite in the comments while I’m gone, the assorted hells hath no fury like a vacationing blogger who has to log in to a WiFi spot in Idaho to engage in some blog moderation.

Since the Yuletide season is fast approaching, I thought I would take some time this weekend to share some new book reviews in hopes that it might make your gift-giving preparations for Yule, Solstice, Saturnalia, or other Winter Festival, a bit easier.

Have you ever wondered why “The Exorcist” is scary? Why “The Wicker Man” managed to amass such a loyal following? Why even very bad horror films can sometimes affect us deeply? Then you need to read Douglas E. Cowan’s new book “Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen”.

“Sacred Terror examines the religious elements lurking in horror films. It answers a simple but profound question: When there are so many other scary things around, why is religion so often used to tell a scary story? In this lucid, provocative book, Douglas Cowan argues that horror films are opportune vehicles for externalizing the fears that lie inside our religious selves: of evil; of the flesh; of sacred places; of a change in the sacred order; of the supernatural gone out of control; of death, dying badly, or not remaining dead; of fanaticism; and of the power–and the powerlessness–of religion.”

Cowan has written an engrossing and deeply knowledgeable book analyzing the religious elements in horror films. Of particular interest to modern Pagan readers will be his exploration of the religious “other” in many of these films, particularly the way pre-Christian religion, Pagan revivals, and witchcraft (Satanic or otherwise) are treated in cinema, from “Rosemary’s Baby” to “The Craft”. An essential tome for anyone interested in the intersections between popular cinema and the sacred. A academic sequel of sorts to Stephen King’s more populist examination of horror: “Danse Macabre”. For more on this book, I highly recommend checking out the Theofantastique interviews with the author.

When I first approached Brendan Myers’ new book “A Pagan Testament: The Literary Heritage of the World’s Oldest New Religion” I thought it would be in the vein of “The Paganism Reader”, a collection of literary texts influential to the modern Pagan movement, and while that is indeed an element of the work, it takes far greater pains to contextualize and explain the philosophy behind the included sources. It also takes more time to explore the ever-evolving literary and oral traditions that have emerged from our modern festival circuit.

Originally entitled “A Wiccan Testament”, the book pays a great deal of attention to the literary history and influential texts of that religion. Which isn’t to say that non-Wiccan Pagans won’t find anything of value here, on the contrary, the book takes a sort of “Pan-Pagan” journey through history, from pre-history to the ancient Greeks, to an examination of Aleister Crowley’s influence on modern Paganism. A sequel of sorts to his thought-proving work “The Other Side of Virtue”, it envelops the more modern Pagan texts into a larger continuum of pagan thought. A map, an idea, of what modern Paganism can offer to the world.

“The contemporary pagan community, holding the Earth in such high regard as it does, is in a position to show the world what a spiritually aware, environmentally conscious, socially just, and artistically flourishing society looks like. The pagan community can create a social and cultural space where ancient noble ideas like ‘inspiration and honour’ are still preserved and
practiced.”

This is a bold and smart work. While Myers’ ideas may not resonate with everyone, he should be commended for being at the forefront of an effort to write better Pagan books. He, along with some other authors of note, are writing those “advanced” books we all keep saying we want (also, you might find my recent interview with Brendan Cathbad Myers to be of interest here).

The final work I’d like to discuss isn’t an academic tome, or a philosophic exploration of our Pagan beliefs, but a work of poetry and art. “The Phillupic Hymns” by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a collection of devotional poems and translations dedicated to the gods of Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul and Britain, with a special emphasis on Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. These poems explore the syncretism of the ancient world, the homo-erotic natures of many ancient gods and heroes, and the cultural tensions inherent when an imperial power interacts with those it has subjugated. These works seem accomplished, sincere, and passionate, but I’m no great judge of poetry, so instead of appearing foolish, let me instead share one of the shorter poems contained in this collection so you can judge for yourself.

Roma Aeterna
She was known across the continent,
in the east and in Greece
long before the pomerium was drawn
by Romulus and Remus.

The seven hills of Rome—
the Quirinal, Viminal, and Aventine,
Capitoline, Caelian, Palatine,
and Esquiline—mere Tiberian mud

when the lady first granted
her protection to mortals,
or guided Aeneas’ barque to
the shores of Latium.

She makes her home even now
in every stone of the Eternal City,
invited by Hadrian,
given a dwelling
as neighbor to Venus Felix—

the mirror of amor—
reflecting the sunrise of the east
so that Roma Aeterna
may shine across the west.

In my estimation this is a worthy addition to the growing collection of titles to be found at the Bibliotheca Alexandria. A vital entry into a growing field of devotional literature within the modern Pagan movement. We can only hope that works like “The Phillupic Hymns” are only the beginning of a greater trend towards a modern Pagan artistic tradition.

Author, scholar, and modern Druid, Brendan Cathbad Myers has become an important emerging voice within the wider modern Pagan movement. Myers was a founding member of the Order of the White Oak, and the Convocation of Irish Druids (since dissolved and reformed as the Circle of Druids), in addition to receiving OBOD’s Mount Haemus Award for his research into Druidry. His most recent book, “The Other Side of Virtue: Where our virtues came from, what they really mean, and where they might be taking us”, is an in-depth examination and call for renewal of classical Virtue.

Brendan Cathbad Myers

Brendan Cathbad Myers

I was lucky enough to be able to conduct an interview with Brendan Cathbad Myers about his book, the nature of Virtue, Pagan morality, and tips for living a Virtuous life.

This is a very ambitious book, what inspired you to explore the nature of virtue?

The idea for this book was born while I was living in a small town in Hessen, in Germany, in the summer of 2004. I used to enjoy walking in the forests and fields outside the village every day, and I loved visiting the cathedrals and castles and mediaeval towns of the region. I had also been living in Ireland for several years at that time. I had visited many of the actual locations where the events of Celtic mythology took place. And I was also reading Aristotle, and a few contemporary philosophers of Virtue theory, such as Rosalind Hursthouse, Alasdair MacIntyre, Phillipa Foot, Susan Wolf, and Iris Murdoch. But I think the idea to write a book about virtue came the evening after my friend and I were caught in a summer storm. In part because of that experience, the philosophical work I had been reading, and the landscapes and architecture I had been enjoying, came together in my mind. I felt as if I had discovered not only the key to understanding ancient people’s ethical world view, but that I had also discovered something primordial and universal about the human spirit. That day has become one of the most important spiritual occasions of my life.

At the very beginning of the book you define virture as: “the ancient idea that excellence in human affairs is the foundation of ethics, spirituality, self-knowledge, and especially the worthwhile life.” Do you think we (Pagans) have lost touch with this idea of virtue?

It’s not well known, but Virtue was originally a pagan idea. It was not only an ethical idea, but also a spiritual idea. It had to do with the way people make choices, but also with the way people ‘held’ themselves and possessed themselves. It configured how they understood their relationship to other people, the world, and the gods. To most people today it has to do with Christian qualities like humility and chastity. But its original side, which has now become its ‘other side’, has to do with the means by which a person empowers and edifies herself, and becomes a complete human being. Pagans have virtue-concepts in some of our most important and most widely shared statements of identity. The Charge of the Goddess mentions eight of them. But when most pagans think of ethics, they usually think of the the Wiccan Rede — a highly utilitarian idea which has nothing to do with virtue. I’d like to change that.

Although I say that Virtue was originally a pagan idea, yet it is an idea that belongs not just to pagans. It belongs to the world. For the questions it poses and the solutions it offers are there to be discovered by anyone. I think it’s not only Pagans who have lost touch with the original idea of Virtue. I think that the wider “Western” society in which we live has also lost touch with it. This is a shame, as mythological virtue is one of western society’s most important and powerful sources of identity and meaning. For most modern people, religious or not, express their values in utilitarian terms. Although most pagans think of themselves as belonging to a minority, professing values that others might find strange or even repugnant, nonetheless the Wiccan Rede is perfectly consistent with the widely-held modern values of individualism, utiliarianism, and rational self-interest. I suspect that Gardner and Valiente and the other early founders of Wicca promoted the Rede in order to show the rest of society that Witches are non-threatening! But I think the time of the Rede has passed. I will not prophesize what new time is coming: but I hope it will be the time of the Virtues, and I’ve written The Other Side of Virtue to help make that happen.

You have some critical things to say about relativism and the ethic of individualism in your book. Do you think our modern culture, and modern Paganism in particular, have taken these ideas to unhealthy extremes?

“Unhealthy extremism” is not what worries me about individualism and relativism. For these are both very interesting ideas in various ways. What worries me is that if all values and choices are “relative” to the “individual”, or to the individual’s culture or time and place, then it will follow that we will have little or no means to tell the difference between nobility and banality, or excellence and ordinariness. If “do what you will” is your ethic, then the choice to become a couch potato will be neither better no worse than the choice to become, say, a medical doctor, or a concert violinist. The logic of Individualism and Relativism cannot offer a substantial idea of why we live, what things are really worth having and doing, what a noble and excellent life really looks like.

I find myself strongly influenced by the philosoher Charles Taylor in this part of my thinking, especially in books of his like “The Malaise of Modernity” and “Sources of the Self”. As he explains it, Individualism offers no means to recognise values that transcend the individual, and no means to recognise the independant significance of friendship and love, history, the environment, politics or the wider society in which we all live. Yet Taylor also affirms that there is something important and profound in the individualist idea that each person is responsible for finding the meaning of her own life. My own philosophical project is similar. Here is how I describe it in the book:

“The good life involves each person finding within herself the purpose and worth of life. But this activity of self-exploration must not cut people off from sources of meaning beyond themselves… Similarly, we should assert that some values really are ‘out there’, beyond the self, and are not a matter of personal opinions and preferences. But we must find a way to assert this without falling back on old models of conformity and obedience.” (pg. 14)

I’m well aware that individualism is a value that most everyone presupposes as a normal and natural truth of human life. Many people feel personally threatened when it is called into question. And many people (not only pagans) think that the only alternative to individualism is some kind of oppressive authoritarian dogmatism. I believe that is a false dichotomy. My criticism of individualism is intended to show the way to higher, better, more spiritual ways of thinking and living.

Your exploration of virtue, is in some ways, a call for a new sense of morality in Western culture (and by extension, modern Paganism). What do you think a virtuous Pagan morality should look like? What would it include, what would it exclude?

I’d like to see a modern pagan morality in which the mythological virtues, both heroic and classical, are just as important as the Wiccan Rede – perhaps even more i
mportant than the Rede. For it is not enough to avoid what is harmful. It is also important to affirm what is joyful! We’re here on this earth-walk not just to experience life from many different angles. We’re here to lift ourselves up, to better ourselves, to find and to create a beautiful world. I think the Virtues can show us how to do that.

A new morality would have little to do with rules and laws. For the heart of the idea of virtue is the idea that ethics and spirituality is a matter of who you are, not just the rules you follow, even if you follow an unobjectionable rule like “harm none”. Indeed a fully virtuous person isn’t interested in rules at all. She’s interested in becoming a beautiful and complete human being, able to lead a fulfilling and worthwhile life.

A new morality should include lots of room for diversity and variety, and a robust idea of the good life at its centre, just as the pagan movement already does. Yet it should also offer robust models of admirable human beings and socially just communities, and it should offer values worth defending – as the modern pagan movement could do if there were fewer “witch wars” and internal conflicts.

To the best of my knowledge, there are only two other book in the pagan market that discuss ethical issues from a point of view other than the Wiccan Rede. One is Emma Restall Orr’s “Living with Honour”; the other is a single chapter in Philip Carr-Gomm’s “What do Druids Believe?” (both of which I have read, and thoroughly enjoyed, and am happy to recommend). I look forward to more books in the future which explore our ethics in greater depth, as these books (and mine) do.

You talk about “heroic” and “civilized” virtue, what differentiates these two ideas of virtue, and what aspects did they share?

The main differences between heroic and civilised virtues have to do with the kinds of cultures that they came from. Heroic virtues come mainly from chieftain-level societies like the Celts, the Norse, and the Homeric Greeks. They are concerned with the ways a person achieves fame and renown in such a society. Civilised virtues come from city-state societies like the Athenian democracy, or the Roman empire. They have to do with the use of reason to perceive the spiritual unity of the world, and to re-make one’s character in accord with that unity.

But in both cases virtue arises as a response to given problems, and enables people to handle their realities better, and transform their problems into sources of beauty. Those in Heroic societies saw fate, destiny, transience, and impermanence as the biggest problems. Those in Civilised societies thought the biggest problems in life were social and political in nature, such as warfare. But in both cases the way to handle the basic problems in life is not to draw up new laws to follow, but rather to become a certain kind of person.

When moving to the modern era, you praise J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings” and J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series (among others) for bringing forth a resurgence of virtue. In your opinion, what do these writers teach us about being virtuous?

I wrote a chapter on Tolkein and Rowling to show that the ancient idea of virtue makes re-appearances in the most surprising places. I even wrote a short chapter on the heroic virtues as they appear in Star Wars! But I decided not to include it, since I felt my point had already been made, and besides Tolkein and Rowling are better writers than George Lucas (as I’m sure even ardent Star Wars fans will agree).

I think Tolkein and Rowling teach that anyone, from any background, in any circumstance, can find it within herself to be heroic. Virtue does not belong only to those who are born to aristocratic or wealthy families, or destined for ‘greatness’, as might be implied if one took civilized and heroic virtue at face value. Tolkein shows how ordinary people, like the Hobbits, have it within them to be noble. Rowling shows how even children can be noble. I’m particularly impressed with Rowling’s use of the language of the virtues. The various moral teachings which she puts in the mouths of Harry’s mentors, like Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin, would find a ready home in any pre-christian philosophical treatise.

It might be added that none of the heroes in these books are motivated by a desire to “harm none”, or reduce the harm that is caused in the world. As a thought experiment: think of any person, living or dead, or think of any literary character, who you admire. Next, ask yourself if he or she made a personal goal of minimizing harm. The answer will almost always be “no”. What makes people praiseworthy and memorable are their virtues: the qualities of character which make them stand out, and make them capable of great things — even if such things are, in the words of Mr. Ollivander, “terrible things, but great”!

How does the ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” provide us with the key to developing excellence and virtue?

This aphorism is an interesting one. It’s phrased in the form of a moral imperative: it tells us what to do. Yet what it demands is not obedience to a dogmatic authority. It calls for a process of mature and honest soul-searching which, if done right, produces a heroic and civilised human being. “Knowing Yourself” is not the same as accepting yourself as you are, accepting your flaws, accepting your habits and desires. “Knowing Yourself” requires “the deepest committment, the most serious mind.” As I describe it in the book, to know yourself means to know the reaches and the limits of your powers and potentials. it is to know what you are capable of. Yet the only certain way to learn this is to put your powers and potentials to the test. On such occasions, we often find that those powers and potentials are greater, or lesser, than we originally believed them to be. This is not a process of accepting yourself ‘as is’. Rather, it is a process of changing, discovering, improving, and transforming yourself into a better person. For self-discovery is also three out of five parts self-creation.

Through the Delphic motto, “Know Yourself”, individualism makes an important appearance in my text. Yet that individualism is connected to sources of value from beyond the self. For it usually takes an event or experience from outside the self to initiate the quest for self knowledge.

My book addresses existential and universal themes such as these. It is written not only for pagans, but for everyone. In that sense, it can be thought of as a book with pagan ideas in it, not a pagan book. I recently noted that it was put on the “recommended reading” list of a humanist society in Italy. Yet I hope that it will be of interest to pagans. Modern Asatruars and Heathens, Hellenic Revivalists, Druids, and Pagan Celts have been working with lists of virtues for many years now. Indeed I think that the pagan community is well positioned to show the world what a heroic, and civilised, and mythological, yet completely modern ethical idea, looks like in practice — and why it can help us respond effectively to the largest problems of our time, such as global warming, religious fundamentalism, economic corruption, racism, sexism, poverty, apathy, and nihilism.

What is “The Immensity”, and how does it connect to the idea of virtue?

While studying the myths and legends in which the ancient idea of Virtue appears, it quickly became clear to me that no one can revive that ancient notion of Virtue “as is”. The Celts, for instance, were headhunters. The civilised societies I studied, such as Rome, were imperialist societies that kept slaves. And some of the wisdom-texts I studied are profoundly mysogynist. I had to create a philosophical account that that sheds light on the logical foundation of virtue, and explains its universal power, without endorsing old pagan customs that have no place in today’s world. The Immensity is that philosoph
ical account.

In its essence, the Immensity is an event or experience which every thinking and feeling human being must inevitably face, every once in a while, in the course of her life. In the book I describe three of them: the Earth, and other people, and death. No one can live without meeting these three things once in a while. And there might be more Immensities than just these three. I explain how the Immensity has many of the features regularly attributed to God, such as timelessness and authority. Yet its power is not that of a paternal or heirarchical kind of lawgiver. Its power is more like that of a friend who tugs your sleeve and says, “Here, look at this rainbow, look at this flower, look at this curiously shaped stone”–and then doesn’t stop tugging until you look. Then when you finally look, you feel as if an itch you didn’t know was scratched, but now that you think about it, well yes, it did itch, didn’t it?

In the last three or four years, the study of the Immensity has become my life’s work. I’m presently preparing another book which will explore this idea on the social, political, and environmental planes.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to start living a virtuous life?

Well as you might expect, I would recommend that such a person should read my book. But more seriously: ask yourself what are the Immensities in your life, and examine how you have responded to them. In the final chapter I describe a thought experiment which is designed to help get the process started. I don’t want to give it away here, but I’ll say this much. To live a virtuous life, in the original, heroic and civilised sense of the word, teach yourself to recognise the Immensities when they appear, acknowledge them as you would acknowledge a messenger from the gods, and offer in response the choice which will help transform you into the person which you wish to be.

Previous Wild Hunt interviews: Rita Moran, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, Phyllis Curott, Tim Ward, Lupa, J.C. Hallman, Margot Adler.