Archives For Ireland

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IRELAND – In June, we reported on Pagan Life Rites (PLR), an Irish group focused on promoting its celebrancy service through local communities as a way of giving Pagans a voice. At that time, PLR was celebrating its victory in getting Paganism added as a religious option on hospital admission records in Ireland. I caught up with Rev. Barbara Lee and Rev Vinnie Woods so they could explain their specific work and how it has contributed to the overall growth of Paganism in Ireland.

PLR itself began in 2012, but was launched fully in 2015. In little over a year, it has built up a 500-strong membership. Lee explains how they came about: “We felt that there wasn’t an organization in Ireland representing the general Pagan population. There is the Pagan Federation (Ireland) but our focus is different; we wanted to focus on moots, public rituals, and providing a voice.”

In recently years, the Irish Pagan community, in general, has been growing very quickly with celebrations such as public Samhain festivals becoming increasingly well attended. Lee explains: “[A] recent Samhain celebration in County Meath drew 2,000 people, you wouldn’t have had that years ago.”

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Samhain 2016 with the PLR Wexford branch [Courtesy Photo]

Woods, who is the PLR representative for South-East Ireland, continues to say: “The Pagan voice has spread to the four – or five! – quarters of Ireland. Barbara, Gavin, and some other people decided that we needed a central pivot, if you like, for the Pagan community and to create a forum for that. In 2015-16 it’s moved at a rapid pace. I’ve seen more moots starting to happen around the country. We seem to be more coalesced.”

This has lead to another campaign recently undertaken by PLR. It wants to see Irish Pagans identify themselves as such on a national census. Lee says: “We’ve … run a campaign on the recent census encouraging people to identify as Pagan, rather than other. In the last census in 2006, there were just over 2,000 Pagans in Ireland, which is the same number as the Jewish population of Ireland. We’ll get the results of that in July 2017, so we’re monitoring that as well. No one really know those numbers, so it would be good to get an approximation.”

In addition to its general membership, PLR features 13 clergy members, all of whom are Pagan and able to perform life rites ceremonies. As all clergy members are registered with the General Register Office (GRO), they can perform legal ceremonies as well.

Lee says: “We basically worked to get legal status for our members to be able to marry people. That was our first thing, just to get the recognition out there. We said at the time that we represented a wider community, we just hadn’t taken them on as members, so we looked at a way that we could grow a membership without them having to fork out of their pocket. So, we came up with the idea of the E-zine.”

The E-zine is a newsletter that people subscribe to via the PLR website. As Lee continues: “So, as they subscribe, they could link to the E-zine, which is free, and be a part of the forum to share ideas and views, read articles, etc.”

The PLR was granted its legal status in February, an important step in building a voice. The next step is applying for charity status to give the group added legal protection and recognition.

Working with the community is at the heart of the PLR’s ethos and is embedded in its structure. The group is keen to make itself as accessible as possible. As Lee explains: “We all felt this was a very important thing for us to do, that we weren’t a faceless entity, you could look at us and see our faces and what we’re doing. Our constitution is on the website”

Woods adds: “We want for people to feel they are not having to hide in hedges but are part of a legitimate organization with a voice that has to be listened to.”

Not everyone agrees with the PLR’s open approach. Lee explains: “We’ve also heard the other side of it too, I’ve heard people say, ‘What do we need people representing us for, we’ve always been the hidden ones’. We’re there for the individuals that need us, we’re not laying down the law.”

In fact, a solid basis in community work is a requisite to becoming a PLR clergy member. “If you want to be a clergy member, you have to be involved at a pastoral level within the Pagan community. It’s about that involvement and making yourself available to general community,” Lee says.

Becoming a clergy member is a serious commitment, due to the gravitas of the work. Lee says: “We do have criteria for people becoming clergy. First is that they are a general member for at least two years. Second, they are involved in the community in some way. Third, they must have sponsors – one from the clergy membership and two from the general membership. Lastly, there’s an interview with other clergy members.”

The celebrancy is the cornerstone of the group’s work and respect for their celebrants is obviously of paramount importance. Lee says: “I’ve done hand-fastings for years but it’s great to be able to say to people that I can now do the legal aspect as well. They look so relieved! It’s about more people becoming aware that we can now do both, not just hand-fasting.”

Barbara Lee performing handfasting [Courtesy Photo]

As Woods says: “The signing of the register is an important part of the ceremony and it’s nice to do that in front of everyone as well.”

The group has also found more people requesting its services for funerals. Woods says: “To allow the relatives the scope to have the ceremony they want and write their vows is very important. A funeral I did recently wanted a Christian aspect to it, and I was asked if that would be OK, and we could do the Pagan aspect at the crematorium. I said of course that would be OK, because it’s about what the relatives wanted and what the deceased wanted as well.”

Lee adds: “It’s such a delicate balance and it’s about listening, that’s so important.”

The PLR has already provoked a lot of interest in Ireland about Paganism. Lee says: “Less than a week ago I had a girl down in Wexford who wanted me to go down and teach classes. At first, I had four people. I put up a post on Facebook to see if we could get a few more bodies along and after 18 people, I had to say, ‘I’m sorry the class is full!’.”

The PLR has also garnered support from more unexpected quarters: “One of the more left-leaning Catholic journals published a supportive article about hand-fasting, what it is was about and then linked to us and listed all our names. It was inclusive, a small thing, but a nice one,” Lee says.

This is not a surprise to the group though, as Lee goes on: “The Irish are very accepting, so we’re working with an advantage, on many, many levels, because the Irish believe in Magic and fairies and the Sidhe.”

Woods agrees: “If you just scratch the surface here, you’ll find we’re all Pagans in Ireland. You’ll see fairy trees in the middle of a field and you’ll say to the farmer, ‘Do you believe in fairies?’. ‘Not at all,’ they’d say. ‘Would you cut that tree down?’ you’ll ask. ‘No I would not!’ they’ll say. They go to mass but when they pass a certain tree or stone, they’ll cross themselves. It’s just there.”

For the future, the group is keen to start campaigning in schools to change how Paganism is viewed within the educational system. As Lee explains: “We need to do more work around education as that is still a problem for parents – they register their children in school as Pagan and the teacher responds, ‘So they have no religion?’. It will be the most difficult challenge of all, as most schools are religious (Roman Catholic) schools.”

The PLR also intends to build on its work with the non-Pagan community by performing open rituals on quarter and cross-water days across Ireland, to give people a better understanding of Paganism and what it entails.

Its membership is open to people outside of Ireland and its comprehensive and highly informative quarterly E-zine is a must for anyone with an interest in Irish tradition and legends. (The recent edition contains some very thoughtful and poignant pieces about death, including instruction as to how a body is traditionally laid out once passed over.)

As Lee explains: “We take people from birth to the grave and everything in-between, and we’re building up recognition. PLR is not just Irish, it’s also the Irish diaspora, people who are internationally connected with Ireland or have a feeling for Ireland. Our International membership is currently about 100-strong.”

Woods adds: “There’s a great feeling of openness, we’re very enthusiastic and knowledgeable of all the disciplines within the Pagan umbrella. So, it’s always fresh.”

The group has achieved much in the past 18 months, and its even more impressive considering Paganism only became legal to practice in Ireland six years ago.

Lee says: “It only came off the statue books in 2010 – but nobody paid it any mind.”

As the group looks to grow, the signs are promising for them. And as Lee and Woods point out, there is a very receptive audience now waiting since the barrier to building Pagan communities has been removed.

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UK – It’s been five days now since the U.K. had its vote to decide whether or not it should be a part of the European Union. The Leave result was close, won by an overall majority of 52%. The Remain camp — the favourites to win — was shocked, saddened, and angry. It is no exaggeration to say that this result has not only torn the nation apart, but also exposed deep rifts which have have existed for many years.

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[Courtesy Pixabay]


After the vote, social media went into turmoil with different groups of people turning on each other. There were many unfriendings on Facebook. Younger people are annoyed with the older generation for “ruining their future.” And, older people believe that the younger generation does not know what is at stake. As noted in The Guardian, the vote has torn families apart.

Even days later, there is still lots of shock; lots of pain. Much pent up hurt and rage is being released.

Due to the volatility of the debates, it has been difficult to garner any public reaction from the U.K. Pagan community, which is a microcosm of the country as a whole. Pagans, on both sides of the issue, are displaying as much anger and hurt about the vote. Many feel that the decision to leave flies in the face of Pagan values, such as tolerance and diversity. Conversely, others in the community feel that the EU is undemocratic and unaccountable. They voted to leave for freedom and independence.

However, many of those contacted were not yet willing to speak on record. In a future piece, I hope to update the situation with personal comments from the UK Pagan community. For now though, I will explain the background behind the vote.

The Breakdown of the U.K.

The vote occurred across the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Britain, also called Great Britain, refers to the countries that exist on the landmass of the island, namely England, Wales and Scotland. Each nation in the U.K. has a form of parliament to ensure its own governance. Northern Ireland and Scotland have more powers over their nations than Wales, due to complex historical reasons that are beyond this discussion.

Since Friday morning, when the results became clear, the U.K. went into a tailspin. David Cameron, our Prime Minister, resigned immediately. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, called for a second referendum on Scottish Independence from the U.K., which would allow them to re-apply to the EU. (Scotland held such referendum in 2014 and voted, by 55%, to remain in the U.K.) In Northern Ireland, concerns about peace have been raised. The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein has begun talking about a border poll for the reunification of Ireland, and many fear the possible implications and the potential for discord.

A Bit of History

The European Union (EU) was a post-World War II bloc that emerged to trade together and to hopefully bring peace to a ravaged continent. Its original members were France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Britain joined along with Ireland in 1973. Other European countries joined throughout the ensuing years. To date, 28 states are members.

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[Via Wikimedia]

Due to the EU, Europeans have enjoyed cheap holidays, a wider range of consumables, and greater work flexibility. But all of that changed with the infamous Maastrict Treaty of 1992, which pushed for both political and economic union. In Britain, the treaty was hotly contested in parliament, with the more extreme ends of both parties blocking the move by the European Economic Community (EEC). While poll tax riots were blamed for the demise of controversial Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it may have actually been her refusal to further integrate into the proposed EU.

However, time went on. And, as the 1990s progressed, Tony Blair came to power as the first Labour Prime Minister for a generation. Simultaneously, the EU expanded, and people from Eastern and Southern Europe came to Britain under the free movement of peoples legislation. The U.K. also began to see the decline of much of its manufacturing industry due to things being apportioned by Brussels, a synonym often used for the EU due to its main, but not official, base being located in that city. (Its official seat is in Strasbourg, France.)

However, the problems really began around the turn of the century when the euro was introduced. Economies in the east and south have traditionally been weaker than those in the west and north of Europe. At the time, the British media began raising concerns. However, Germany and France, the powerhouses behind the euro project, pushed it through.

As the noughties progressed with the credit crunch and austerity measures, the entire EU project began to look increasingly unwieldy. Additionally, the migrant crisis of last summer triggered unhappiness all over Europe, because it epitomised all that was wrong with the EU. More specifically, one country, in this case Germany, deciding to ignore the Dublin Regulations, rightly or wrongly, “off its own bat.”

Back to the vote and a nation torn

The situation is very complicated, and the responses are equally as mixed, without clear lines of support.

This referendum has created a perfect storm in communities that have been abandoned since the Thatcher era of the 1980s. These are the areas that were left behind in the march to globalisation. Many people from the EU came to Britain to seek work in a prosperous, business-friendly country. Many of these working class communities have resented such quick and deep global change. This was reflected by the trend for what are called the Labour heartlands voting in favour of Brexit.

Many on the left are unwilling to talk about this issue at all. Straight after the voting results were released, John Harris and Gary Younge of The Guardian ventured a couple of articles asking people to consider that side of the issue. The failure to address it, according to them, seems to be fuelling the rise of the far-right.

As if to support that point, there have been reports of an upturn in racist incidents across the U.K. These include cards written in Polish posted through letterboxes in areas with a high Polish demographic telling them to get out. People who identify as BME (black or minority ethnic) have been subjected to racial abuse in the street.

pagan federation In response to these incidents, The Pagan Federation has issued a swift response. Luthaneal Adams of PF’s London branch stated:

These are challenging times and I know full well that many people are feeling scared, shocked and intimidated by the horrible rise in racism and xenophobia that has become evident in this country. But we will not allow that bigotry to infiltrate our Pagan Federation and PF-London will do all we can to make sure that our events, groups and activities are free from such intolerance and the people who perpetrate it.

Economic reaction to the decision has also been mixed. The referendum campaign divided British economists and business leaders from the start. Mark Carney, the Canadian head of the Bank of England, stated in early May that Britain was better off in the EU, and Brexit could cause “a technical recession.” However, since the voting result he has backtracked on that. Just three days ago he announced to The Financial Times that “Brexit will not cause a financial crisis.”

Mervyn King, his predecessor, stated in April that the “economic threat of Brexit has been exaggerated,” but would not reveal which side of the debate he supported.

Business leaders have also been divided on the issue. Two days before the vote, Lord Digby Jones, the former head of the Confederation of British Industry, stated that he was a “reluctant leaver” and slammed the EU’s inability or unwillingness to reform. Other business leaders such as Virgin chief Richard Branson and Amstrad founder Lord Sugar backed Remain, whereas James Dyson (the inventor and entrepreneur behind Dyson vacuum cleaners) and another 320 prominent UK business figures wrote a letter to The Telegraph declaring their support for Leave.

Since then, much of the worries regarding the British economy have receded. Boeing has just declared that it will stick with plans to base its new European HQ in Britain. Aston Martin is due to open a new plant in Wales, which needs the jobs. And as stated above, Business Secretary Sajid Javid has rowed furiously away from his previous pessimistic outlook.  Over the weekend, Javid said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that much of the economic doom and gloom that had been forecast was “avoidable.”

Popular personal finance analyst and commentator Martin Lewis, of moneysavingexpert.com, has also downplayed any fears of economic strife. Writing in The Daily Mirror as the result of the vote sank in, his message invoked a motivational slogan from the U.K.’s iconic World War II propaganda posters: “Keep calm and carry on.” He said:

The vote result changes the way people think or act. That’s why the markets have gone down – that’s why people have asked if they should complete on their house sale, or complete their bank account change.

The danger of this ‘sentiment change’ is it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People are worried about the economy so they don’t do things that they would have done otherwise, and that hurts the economy. We have to be very careful of the sentiment change issue.

What it all means

This referendum has basically asked the British people who they are and who they want to be in the future, and this is what is at the core of this issue. Historically, Britain has never been a happy fit in Europe. In fact, one could argue that it is our relationship with Europe that defines us.

The Magna Carta came into being as a revolt against Norman oppression; the Dissolution of the Monasteries was a break from the Roman Church. World War II was a partly a conflagration against German territorial expansion. Many who are part of the Leave camp see similar themes in the EU today, but with different motivations.

Regardless, there is obviously a great split in who we are and how we perceive ourselves – tolerant, multi-cultural, freedom loving.

For some it will take a great deal of time to reconcile the enormity of what the U.K. leaving the EU means. During this time of uncertainty, Pagans are holding fast to their values of tolerance and diversity, and looking to become examples of bringing the disparate peoples of the U.K. together.

In an interview, Kathy Jones of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple demonstrated this fact in her own words, saying:

In these volatile times it’s important to remember that Motherworld crosses all boundaries of nationhood and race. We are one global family in the love of Goddess. Motherworld is the society in which Mother Earth, mothers and the values of mothering – love, care and support for each other – are placed in the centre of society rather than being left out on the periphery.

In their open letter on bigotry, the Pagan Federation wrote:

It’s more than fair to say that June 2016 has been a time of significant change and upheaval in this green and pleasant land. We can only speculate about how our descendants will look back upon this time and what they will think. Our world is changing, as all things inevitably do, though with such massive changes as we are seeing now, we are all scrabbling to deal with these turbulent currents.

I will be following the Brexit fallout very closely and intend to update readers on any developments. When the dust does settle and more Pagans, who are as shell-shocked as everyone else, are willing to share their viewpoints, we will bring you their stories, opinions and concerns

IRELAND — Pagans will no longer get listed as “other” or “no religion” when they are admitted to Irish hospitals. The change came thanks to an agreement worked out by officials of Health Services Executive (HSE), who administers 50 national acute care facilities. Leaders of the advocacy group Pagan Life Rites announced June 9 that it had successfully lobbied for the change, which is expected to be completely rolled out in the coming weeks.

[Graphic from Pagan Life Rights campaign]

[Graphic from Pagan Life Rites’ April campaign]

Pagan Life Rites co-founder Rev. Kristian Märkus told The Wild Hunt that the group started receiving reports from some of their nearly 500 members, noting an inability to record their religion as Pagan during the hospital admittance process. Märkus provided this quote, which recounts one individual’s experience.

I was asked my religion. I replied, “Pagan,” and the secretary said, “Oh, so no religion then!” I said nicely, “No, but I’m guessing you don’t have Wiccan or Druid or anything like that on your drop down,” and she went, “Oh,” and typed in “Pagan” and we carried on. It is important that we counter the notion that “Pagan” means “godless.”

In other cases, patients accepted the “other” designation without comment. According to the group’s press release, “Even when registered as ‘Pagan’ on arrival staff had twice changed the religious identity to ‘Christian/Catholic’ on the physical version of one patient’s medical records.”

It was an opportune time to raise this issue, as Märkus explained. “Pagan Life Rites received more complaints about this issue on foot of our social media campaign in the lead up to the Irish National Census of May, 2016. Through this campaign we urged community members to unite by stating ‘Pagan’ in the box provided for the ‘other’ option on the question of religious identity on the census form.”

While the overall effort to raise awareness provided the needed momentum, other important groundwork had been laid for this request in 2009, when HSE published its intercultural guide. It included an entire section on Pagan religions, laying out the value of patients being properly categorized, to wit:

Traditional religions tend to be rich in symbolism, ritual and ceremony. Life in general and major events, such as birth, critical illness and death are normally mediated with specific rituals and ceremonies. Many followers have a spiritual teacher/adviser or a personal contact to assist them in their personal practices.

All it took, according to Märkus, was to make clear that miscategorizing patients was in conflict with the organization’s stated ethos. “We are delighted that the Health Services Executive has agreed to accommodate the various categories,” he said. In addition to simply declaring oneself Pagan, Irish patients may select a subcategory of Wicca, Shamanism, Heathenry, or Druidry; these are the four main paths which which Irish Pagans tend to identify, he explained.

Another detail that may have contributed to this accomplishment is that HSE is a publicly-funded organization in a country with what Märkus calls “evolving equality legislation.” That’s not to say it was easy, however, and he added, “Nonetheless, one cannot discount bureaucratic hurdles.”

The experience of Pagan Life Rites has shown that an understanding of state mechanisms, an openness to engaging positively with public servants and a willingness to persevere with a potentially long process of consultation have proven crucial.

These factors served Pagan Life Rites well in the consultation process with the Health Services Executive, as they did in the process whereby twelve of our clergy members became legal solemnisers of marriage, through the General Register Office, a wonderful development which we were privileged to announce just before Valentine’s Day, 2016.

Outside of the small Pagan community, the HSE decision appears to be a non-event in this largely Catholic nation. Märkus is aware of no news coverage of this milestone, which is exactly what happened when the marriage credentials were achieved earlier this year. The reverend said that Pagans vary in how comfortable they are being open about their religion, and the confusion with atheism is not at all uncommon.

Overall, the problems of Irish Pagans are ones of exclusion, rather than outright discrimination.As Märkus explained,

One problematic area relates to schooling, as for historical reasons, the Irish educational system is largely dependent on religious patronage of its school network. Almost 95% of schools are state-aided parish schools run by religious-based boards of management. One common feature of enrolment policy in primary (elementary) schools is the priority given to children who have been baptised. These concerns are a key feature in public discourse around the desire for complete separation of church and state.

On the other hand, a marriage equality referendum was passed last year, and there is a general sense that Catholic influence on public policy is beginning to wane. Still, where religion is expected to have a strong part to play — including in hospitals, prisons, and at the points of birth and death — the people paid to do the work are invariably of that faith.

Pagan Life Rites has a chaplaincy training program in development, and is already making clergy available for pastoral support on a voluntary basis. There will likely be a time when an Irish Pagan doesn’t have difficulty declaring that religious preference for any number of reasons, but for now, they can at least rest assured that they will be considered Pagan when they enter a hospital.

As some Pagans and Heathens attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Ireland was inhabited earlier than thought…
A knee bone from a brown bear had been sitting in the National Museum of Ireland since the 1920s. What archaeologists didn’t know was that this bone would prove Ireland was inhabited in the Palaeolithic era. The bone has cut marks on it indicative of butchering and was originally found in the Alice and Gwendoline Cave in County Clare. Archaeologists date the bone to 12,500 BCE. Until this find, the oldest known human evidence in Ireland was set at 8000 BCE.

County Clare, Ireland [Photo Credit: Christine Matthews / Wikimedia]

County Clare, Ireland [Photo Credit: Christine Matthews / Wikimedia]

…but the Irish aren’t Celtic?
Ten years ago a pub owner in Antrium, Northern Ireland found the remains of three humans buried behind his property. The remains turned out to be a burial dating back to 2000 BCE, which makes them hundreds of years older than the oldest artifacts generally considered to be Celtic. DNA evidence from these bones revealed another fact. These are the ancestors of modern Irish people, and they are not Celtic.

Traditional theory has held that the Celts, who came from the continental European countries of Switzerland, Austria and Germany, invaded Ireland between 1000 BCE and 500 BCE. These Celtic invaders were thought to be the ancestors of modern Irish.

Instead, the genetic roots of today’s Irish existed in Ireland long before the Celts arrived. In fact, it may be that the Irish exported their culture to central Europe, where the Celts lived, rather than the other way around. It also appears Ireland was tied more to Spain and Portugal, through their DNA, culture, language, and religion, than to Central Europe.

In addition to changing how scholars view Celtic and Irish cultures, this new finding may change how modern Pagans view themselves,  their ancestors,  and their religion.

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

More Evidence Found in Search for Queen Nefertiti
In July of last year, UK archaeologist Nicholas Reeves theorized that there is another tomb hidden behind the walls of Tut’s burial chamber. His theory was greeted with skepticism, but after closer study of the tomb, Egyptian officials invited Reeves and Hirokatsu Watanabe, a Japanese radar specialist, to perform a radar scan of the west and north walls of Tut’s tomb. Initial results showed promise that there was another chamber behind the north wall.

Now the final results of the scans are in: not only is there a hidden chamber, there are what appears to be metallic and organic objects in the chamber.

So what, or who, is behind the wall? Some Egyptologists say it could be Queen Nefertiti. The tomb and Tut’s grave goods and funerary mask appear to have been made for a woman. Not only was Nefertiti probably Tut’s step-mother, the orientation of the tomb was laid out for a Queen, and the Queen who recently predeceased Tut was Nefertiti.

Finding Nefertiti could answer many questions about a turbulent time in Egyptian history and religion. Was Nefertiti not only a Queen, but a Pharaoh? And did she continue a monotheistic form of religion or revert back to polytheism?

Cherokee Farm Sacred Honey Locust Tree
Biologists now believe the Cherokee were “farming” honey locust trees centuries earlier than any form of agriculture was thought to exist in the United States.

Biologist Robert Warren says, “While I was doing field work in Southern Appalachia, I noticed that whenever I saw a honey locust, I could throw a rock and hit a Cherokee archaeological site. I knew that, in the late Pleistocene era, the main source of dispersal for honey locusts was megafauna such as mastodons. But mastodons disappeared more than 10,000 years ago. You’d expect plant species that relied strictly on extinct megafauna for seed dispersal would only exist in small, remnant populations.”

The Cherokee had a strong motivation to plant and care for honey locust trees. Not only were they a source of sugar and wood for weapons, the tree has religious value. One myth tells of the God Thunder and his son Lightening. Thunder heard a boy was looking for him and was claiming to be his son. Thunder had the boy brought to him and asked him to sit on a blanket under a honey locust tree. When the boy wasn’t hurt by the long honey locust thorns under the blanket, Thunder knew the boy was his son Lightening.

[Photo Credit: Kevmin / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Kevmin / Wikimedia]

All Dogs Go To Heaven (in Siberia)
The remains of dogs have been found in an ancient cemetery at Lake Baikal, Siberia. The dogs were buried between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago and were buried in a similar manner as the humans they were buried alongside. Some of the dogs were buried with decorative collars and had other grave goods, such as spoons. The significance of this find is that the people of this time thought the dogs had souls and would join their owners in the afterlife.

“All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.”
W.B. Yeats

Public Domain

Easter Proclamation of 1916. [Public domain.]

On Easter Monday (April 24) of 1916, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizens’ Army and Cumann na mBan launched an armed insurrection against British rule, seized the General Post Office in Dublin and several other locations, and proclaimed the Irish Republic. The Easter Rising, as the rebellion is now known, was suppressed by the British Army and sixteen of its leaders were executed. One hundred years later, numerous commemorative events have been scheduled in Ireland for Easter Week (Easter Sunday falls on March 27 this year) and following months.

I interviewed P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Morpheus Ravenna, two Polytheists living in the United States who worship gods and heroes of Irish origin, to ask their thoughts about the centennial of the rising. I also contacted two Irish Pagans who I was told had expressed interest in participating in the interview, but as of time of publication, have not yet received responses to my questions.

HC: Do you honor any of the individuals or groups who participated in the Easter Rising of 1916, religiously or otherwise? How do you frame that honoring or veneration? Do you have any plans for the 100th anniversary of the rising that you wish to share?

PSVL: Padraig Pearse is one of the Sancta/e/i of the Ekklesía Antínoou, whom we honor for a variety of reasons: his dedication to the revival of Irish culture, his role in the fight for Irish independence and freedom and his heroic death in that struggle, and also because he is what might be considered “queer” in our own terms, despite being celibate for life (to everyone’s current knowledge). He is not an entirely unproblematic figure in any of these regards, certainly, but very few of our Sancta/e/i are, and while I’d prefer not to focus on those problematic aspects at present, nonetheless I think this bears mentioning lest anyone think we have any illusions in this regard. I plan to not only mark the occasion “officially” in April, as many will be around the world, but I also plan to visit the GPO in Dublin on March 21st when I am in Ireland for a conference this year. I carry a coin in my pocket on a daily basis — which I also do for various other deities and hero/ines as a reminder of my devotion to them – -that has Cú Chulainn on one side of it and Padraig Pearse on the other, which was a commemorative piece of currency issued in Ireland in 1966; I will likely see if I can get something similar while I’m in Ireland this year, too, so that I can gift them to others who are engaged in cultus to various modern Irish heroes, Sancta/e/i, and to Cú Chulainn (if indeed they are engraved on the same pieces once again!).

Padraig Pearse. Public domain.

Padraig Pearse. [Public domain.]

MR: In my practice, I offer ongoing veneration to a group of spirits I refer to as the Warrior Dead. These are spirits of warrior and military individuals from a wide spectrum of times and places, who have been brought into my practice by way of my devotional relationship with the Morrígan as a goddess of war (among other things). Spirits of Irish revolutionary fighters are certainly among them. In other words, I honor them collectively, but not highlighting any specific individuals by name among the fighters of the Easter Rising.

HC: The relationship between a specific land and the members of cultural diasporas originating in said land is always complicated, but especially so when there are ongoing political conflicts and/or struggles for cultural preservation and survival being considered. Can you speak to that, specifically with Ireland and the 1916 rising in mind?

PSVL: I’ve always found the relationship between Irish-Americans and actual Irish history and politics to be even stranger than the relationship between the people of Ireland in modern times and their own history, culture, and mythology. On the one hand, Irish-Americans are deeply invested in “all things Irish” a great deal of the time, and their ancestry is a source of pride, which comes about from the very deep and hurtful persecutions they endured when they came to the U.S. in the post-Great Hunger period of the mid-1800s and the resulting defiant psychological stance as coping mechanism in which this can result. On the other hand, there is a great deal of misinformation, ignorance, and even a lack of desire for getting to know things better amongst Irish-Americans, which no doubt springs from similar situations, in which Irish culture, the Irish language, and other things were taken as “backwater” and detrimental baggage for their lives in the diaspora, especially in British and British-influenced cultures like the U.S. of the 1800s happened to be, and the internalized shame the persecution of Irish culture created. If it’s a leprechaun (or maybe a banshee), green beer or corned beef and cabbage, Irish-Americans love it and eat it up; if it’s Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cumhaill, Guinness and real Irish whiskeys, or soda bread and boxty, one is likely to get as little interest in these things amongst Irish-Americans as amongst the non-Irish. While 1916 represents “Irish freedom” and “Irish independence” to a large extent for some Irish-Americans, it often does so in a vague fashion, and apart from mentions of it in The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and perhaps the folk song “The Foggy Dew,” the realities of the situation and the aftermath of it are far less clear in many people’s minds. As an undergraduate, I was invited to my college’s Irish-American Student Organization trip into New York City for an “Irish cultural fair;” it turned out to be a Sinn Féin rally. To say that these things are quite different from one another, and that many people who went didn’t seem to understand that there is a difference, is an example of how difficult this situation is for many Irish-Americans, I think, is an understatement, but it is an understandable error, since coverage of Irish and Irish-American history is seriously lacking, even at the collegiate level, throughout the U.S.

MR: One of my Irish friends, in a conversation about Ireland’s history of resistance, commented to me that there was only ever one invasion, the Norman invasion from Britain, and that all the subsequent conflicts up through to the struggle for independence in the 20th century had been the continuation of that conflict. Looked at from this perspective, you can look at the Easter Rising and the Irish Revolution as the fruit of centuries of resistance. I also observe that the foundational tales and sagas that we as Celtic polytheists look to for our mythology (the Book of Invasions, the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, etc.) carry this strong theme of invasion and conflict for sovereignty, and that many of these foundational stories were committed into written literature from the oral tradition during the time period of the Norman conquest, when the people of Ireland were themselves living through a period of invasion, resistance, and conflicts for sovereignty. So this theme seems deeply ingrained in Irish spirituality as we know it today. I’m not sure you can separate Irish culture and spirituality from the historical experience of resistance.

I’m a practitioner of Celtic polytheism drawing deeply on Irish culture and history in my practice, but I’m also very aware that I’m not Irish-born, and have not lived their experience nor been part of that landscape. I’m a product of a different history. I think as members of a devotional diaspora we have to tread very carefully around this. It’s natural for people like me to have feelings and sympathies that align us with one side or another in political conflicts like the struggle for Irish nationalism, but I think we need to practice a lot of discernment about how we act from those sympathies, and to ensure that we’re not projecting our own ideas as outsiders into their struggles. I feel a lot of sympathy for the notion of Irish liberation from British rule, but I also know it’s a very complex situation that I can know only the barest outlines of. So when it comes to ongoing political issues in Ireland, I regard it as my role to support my Irish friends in their understanding of their own sovereignty.

[Courtesy Photo Brennos Agricunos]

Cu Chulainn statue with crow on shoulder, General Post Office, Dublin [courtesy photo Brennos Agrocunos]

HC: The Dublin General Post Office famously (at least in my mind) contains Oliver Sheppard’s statue of Cú Chulainn, with the crow on his shoulder. Padraig Pearce was a devout Catholic who urged the Irish people to call upon “the dear God who loves the people/For whom he died naked, suffering shame,” but he also declared the story of Cú Chulainn “to be the finest epic stuff in the world,” arguing that Cú Chulainn possessed “a love and a service so excessive that one must give all, must be willing always to make the ultimate sacrifice.” James Connolly was a socialist who wrote that socialism “leaves the building up of religious ideals or faiths to the outside public, or to its individual members if they so will. It is neither Freethinker nor Christian, Turk nor Jew, Buddhist nor Idolator, Mahommedan nor Parsee – it is only human.”

The occultist and poet William Butler Yeats, who did not participate in the rising, wrote in his poem “Easter 1916” that after the rising, “All changed, changed utterly:/A terrible beauty is born.” Yeats admitted that he had had personal conflicts with one of the leaders of the rising, but acknowledged that by his deeds, “He, too, has been changed in his turn.” And echoing Pearce’s words about Cú Chulainn, Yeats asked of the rebels, “And what if excess of love/Bewildered them till they died?” To my mind, all of these quotes speak to a certain transcendent quality of the Rising that is difficult to pin down to any single religion or ideology. Does the heroism of the rising inform your own spirituality? Do you see a relationship between your gods and powers and the rising?

PSVL: The planners of the Easter Rising did their actions on that date very intentionally, and with superlative symbolic purposes in mind, by foregrounding the implied hope and renewal of Christian resurrection and the necessity of redemptive death in that process. However, symbolism of death and resurrection, even for redemptive and what can be called a “salvational” (but in a non-exclusively Christian valence) purpose is not unknown to polytheist religions throughout the world. I think it is probably more accurate to discuss any and all manifestations of Christian symbolism, thought, and practice from Ireland, from the fifth century up to the present, not so much as “primarily Christian” but as more “primarily Irish, secondarily/incidentally Christian,” since Irish Christianity always had (and still has!) things about it which are very different in comparison to the expected orthodoxies of Roman Catholicism.

I suspect that the great Irish heroes and deities were not “behind the R\rising” in a motivational sense, so much as very happy to support and participate in it with their descendants. Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cumhaill, in addition to being idolized by Pearse and others, now both have some degree of public cultus in Ireland that they might not have had otherwise, and that has a knock-on effect for other divine beings in the Irish cultural sphere as well. Everlasting fame is an essential part of the Irish heroic ethos, and not only those who participated in the Easter Rising on the human level, but some of those on the divine levels as well, have reaped the benefits of this ever since.

MR: I didn’t connect my own spirituality to the Easter Rising much at all before visiting Ireland last year. I understood that for its participants, the rising carried these very Irish mythic themes of heroic valor, struggle for sovereignty, and sacrifice for one’s people. But until I spent time in Ireland, the rising itself didn’t figure directly into my personal practice and relationships with my gods. While there, I began having very distinct experiences with the gods, ancestors and Irish warrior dead that really centered that sense of the heroic, transcendent meaning of the rising, much more so than I expected. In Dublin, I was profoundly affected being at the battle sites, where the bullet holes can still be seen in the buildings and statues of O’Connell Street and other places. I very much felt the gods of Ireland, and the heroes of the rising, in strong and vocal presence there. I also experienced very vocal presences at the site where earlier resistance fighters had been executed, in what’s now St. Stephen’s Green. What became apparent to me in these places is that for the gods and the spirits of Ireland, this isn’t just history. It isn’t over. There is a sense of that same spirit of transcendent heroism waiting for its next moment to flower.

Bullet hole from 1916 on O'Connell Monument [Courtesy Photo Brennos Agrocunos]

Bullet hole from 1916 on the O’Connell Monument [courtesy photo Brennos Agrocunos]

I think that for practitioners in the spiritual diaspora, like myself, the relationship to Ireland’s lived history tends to be abstract ;we tend to focus on the ancient, not the recent. But when you go and spend time there, grounding your practice and devotional connections in that landscape, that abstraction dissolves. When you’re wandering around Dublin, and you encounter spirits of dead fighters of the rising who are speaking to you and saying, “You – there’s whiskey in your bag. Have a drink with me here and now,” – when you’ve shared whiskey with those spirits, you’ve entered into a relationship. I think that will be a lasting relationship for me and I’m still unpacking what that will mean.

HC: Cú Chulainn imagery has also been used by Unionists as a symbol of “Ulster’s defenders.” Obviously, this particular conflict is occurring more on the level of political propaganda than of Polytheist theology, but both sides of a given struggle claiming relationship with the same power happens to be a particular interest of mine. Do you see any theological implications in this conflict?

PSVL: I suspect that from the viewpoint of Irish heroes like Cú Chulainn, “fame is fame,” whether it is from one’s allies and devoted descendants or one’s adversaries, and in terms of his own associations and how these line up or don’t line up with modern political movements and governmental edifices, no one has a monopoly on these or a clear alignment one way or the other. “Unionist” and “Republican” have no meaning when applied to Cú Chulainn, even if “culturally Irish without foreign domination” (which would imply Republicans) and “the Ulaid” (which could imply Unionists) might apply to him. While there are traditional symbolic associations of the province of the Ulaid with “battle” in medieval Irish texts, some of which are held in high regard by modern practitioners of Irish forms of polytheism, I don’t think it is necessarily responsible nor required to view these symbolic associations as in some sense prophetic, divinely ordained, or in any way significant; especially if the people making such associations are not living in Ireland, and particularly in the areas of Ulster which have been most deeply impacted by these recent realities of violence and oppression.

HC: Fredy Perlman has brilliantly critiqued “The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism” for its premise that “every oppressed population can become a nation, a photographic negative of the oppressor nation.” He observes that “nationalism continues to appeal to the depleted because other prospects appear bleaker. The culture of the ancestors was destroyed; therefore, by pragmatic standard, it failed; the only ancestors who survived were those who accommodated themselves to the invader’s system.” Perlman was a vociferous critic of the “pragmatic standard” that he identified. As members of religions and spiritualities who do see value in “the culture[s] of the ancestors,” do you have any thoughts on this quote?

PSVL: I think Perlman’s observations are poignant; and yet, the notion of “failure” is somewhat problematic when applied to a lot of these situations, especially in mythic contexts. Heroic individuals do not get to live happily ever after; no true hero of Irish myth has their life end on a deathbed of an illness surrounded by adoring friends and family. An early death is often the lot of the hero, as the case was with Cú Chulainn. From a certain modern perspective, including those that can exist amongst modern polytheists who draw on Irish cultural elements for their inspiration, there is a deep misunderstanding of this reality, and thus a great lack of comprehension about what constitutes failure and thus what constitutes success as well. This is why so many people think that Cú Chulainn was “punished” by his death for transgressions against The Morrígan, which is as far from the reality as it is possible to get in many respects. Cú Chulainn knew what was in store for him the moment he committed himself to the warrior’s path at age seven, and his own heroic death was not a failure or a lapse in any way, it was a triumph toward which he looked forward. While this might even seem more bleak than what Perlman discusses, I think it’s important to realize this when looking at Irish — and, for that matter, any and all — premodern cultures. The appeal of some of these premodern cultures’ imagery and standards and legacy for oppressed peoples seeking nationhood is not something that can be critiqued, I don’t think, but it is also something that requires a nuanced understanding of which not many people might be capable, especially if they are not directly involved in the situations concerned and have no investments in those identities.

MR: I think there are some very problematic assumptions in this statement, both generally and with regard to the Irish nation and culture. First, I think a lot of Irish people might disagree with the notion that the culture of their ancestors was “destroyed.” This begs the question, “which ancestors?” The modern Irish population contains interwoven ancestries from the early indigenous pre-Celtic population, the Celtic or Gaelic Irish, the Vikings, the Normans, the Scots, and more. Which ancestors would we be thinking of? If the focus here is the Celtic Irish, which is what people tend to think of in terms of Ireland’s pagan past, I still don’t think it’s clear that that culture was totally destroyed. Very strong elements of ancestral belief and practice persisted in Ireland right through the Christian period and continue today, just as we often find that folk belief and practice preserve deeply pagan elements within monotheistic cultures everywhere. Ancestral folk practices like this often persist even through conquest because they provide meaningful benefit to the people, and because they tend to be far less visible than public religious ceremony. Far from being evidence of failure, it is precisely this deep resiliency and ability to persist that makes ancestral culture a source of strength and support for populations who are in a position of struggle against colonialism, erasure, and subjugation by a dominant power. The notion that “your culture, gods and traditions must be weak, or we would not have been able to conquer you” is imperialist thinking; traditional cultures would tend to measure the value of ancestral culture differently.

HC: Dominic Behan’s song “Come Out, Ye Black and Tans” links the Irish struggle against the British army and its auxiliaries to other colonial wars waged by the British:

Come tell us how you slew
Them old Arabs two by two
Like the Zulus they had spears and bows and arrows,
How you bravely faced each one
With your sixteen pounder gun
And you frightened them poor natives to the marrow.

Do you see connections between the Irish struggle and other struggles against colonization? If so, does this have an impact on your religion or spirituality?

James Connolly. Public Domain.

James Connolly. [Public domain.]

PSVL: Yes, and this is historically true today, too. There is great sympathy for the Palestinians in Ireland (though whether that is due to actual sympathy or to incipient anti-Semitism is another question entirely!), and there was also an alliance and empathy between the Irish in America and various Native American peoples and the African-American population. Peoples of indigenous mindsets and cultures always have more in common with one another, despite other cultural and linguistic differences, than with those who seek to oppress, colonize, and commit genocide against them. As a result, it is important to me in a religious setting to make those connections whenever possible, to seek to understand other indigenous peoples and their struggles, and to support them in whatever ways I might be able to, if such support is desired.

MR: I do see parallels between struggles against colonization and imperialism throughout the world. The notion of the sovereignty of a people -– the relationship between a people, its native landscape, its governance, and its autonomy relative to other peoples –- is deeply embedded in Irish myth and history, and this theme is articulated again and again in Irish literature from early mythology to works of modern literature. But these are themes that play out everywhere in our world. On the American continent, we have seen a resurgence of the language of sovereignty in the current struggles of indigenous/First Nations people against their continued erasure and subjugation by the United States and Canadian powers. The Idle No More movement speaks of sovereignty in strikingly similar terms to how I have seen it framed by Irish people in their experience of resistance. I think it’s interesting that in both of these cases, these struggles are seen by a lot of mainstream people as artifacts of history, as conflicts that came to a head and ended in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but when you talk to Native people here and Irish people, it’s clear that these struggles are not closed by any means.

For me, as a dedicant of the Morrígan and a practitioner of Celtic polytheism, this does impact my spiritual and religious life. Sovereignty as a spiritual principle and power is hugely important in my religious worldview, arising from Celtic traditions. In my understanding of the Morrígan’s role, She acts as a guardian or protector of sovereignty, and in support of the warrior function whose role is also to safeguard their society’s sovereignty. I can’t compartmentalize sovereignty as if it only existed in relation to individual personal sovereignty, and I can’t restrict it to the abstract. To fully engage with this crucially important aspect of my spiritual life, I have to also recognize it and engage with it in the world around me – in the political life of my own society, and that of others in the world.

HC: At his funeral oration for O’Donovan Rossa, Pearse said, “They [i.e. the English government] think that they have pacified half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have provided against everything: but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.” This reminds me of Walter Benjamin’s observation that “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious,” which I always pair with his thesis that the spiritual dimension of class struggle “will, ever and anon, call every victory which has ever been won by the rulers into question.” Any thoughts on the relationship between the dead and the longevity and continuity of social conflicts?

PSVL: Interestingly, Chief Seattle’s 1854 Oration seems to have some similarities with these statements as well, and many Irish people ended up in the state of Washington in the late 1800s! I would not want to state anything categorically either way on this question, since I do not speak for the dead in this case; but, I don’t think the two can be separated — easily or otherwise — either. Ireland’s past, though — in terms of its ancestors, its deities, and its land spirits — is not quiet and never will be. I think it is no coincidence that the economic crash of 2008 impacted Ireland quite severely, and it fared worse than many other nations in Europe under those circumstances, and not long before that, the Irish government built a motorway through the Tara-Skryne Valley (the very seat of the sovereignty of Ireland) and destroyed many archaeological monuments of significance in the process. If the people of Ireland and their governments, as well as Irish-Americans and other Irish abroad in the diaspora, don’t wake up to the relevance and persistence of their heritage, I foresee things like this continuing well into the future. The dead may not have the final say on many things for the living, but to ignore that they have any say at all in our lives is a grave error, I think.

218px-Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skiesOn Saturday, Ireland voted “yes” to legalize same sex marriage, making it the first country to do so by popular vote. Susan Large, moderator of the Irish Pagan Movement Facebook page, said, “As Pagans we are delighted as our small community welcomes many Gay couples and we view this vote as a wonderful vote for Love and for freedom. Ireland has shown the way for others to follow and this vote is a remarkable demonstration of how enlightened a nation can be. We hope and pray that other countries will help this small flame to burn even brighter.”

11193216_1426113094372944_669836385512419440_nTurnout was reportedly very high at 60% of the 3.2 million eligible to vote. For some, the win was a surprise in a country that is considered to be conservative and traditionally Catholic. However, the vote proves that a cultural shift has happened. In response, the Pagan Federation Ireland changed its logo and said, “A happy day for everyone, not just the LGBT community, as Ireland votes Yes to marriage equality. The Yes vote for equality benefits us all, even those who voted No. But once the euphoria of victory and the celebrations are over, we must remember that many remain to be convinced, and that will take time and patience. The fight for equality continues.”

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Last week we reported on the start of festival season and the various upcoming events. Another one that is on the horizon is The Morrigan’s Call. Although many festivals and conferences have themes, only a few focus on a specific deity. In this case, it’s The Morrigan. Organizers say, “Do you hear her voice whispering to you on the wind? Do you feel her presence in the shadows calling to you? Can you feel her warrior spirit stir within you? The Morrigan is calling to us once again …Join us for a weekend of ritual work, devotional practices, kinship and workshops dedicated to the Morrigan, the Irish goddess of sovereignty and battle.”

Similar to Reclaiming’s Witchcamp, The Morrigan’s Call is a retreat intensive to learn about this “dynamic goddess” and “how to embrace her transformation in your life.” Organized by Morrigu’s Daughters, the retreat is open to both men and women. After the 2014 event, Morgan Daimler wrote in a blog post, “We came together to honor Her, and we did; in word, and song, in ritual, and prayer, in communion with each other and by sharing our experiences and insights with each other. And it was an awesome and amazing thing to experience.”  This year’s retreat will be held at Camp Cedarcrest in Orange, Connecticut and runs from June 12 – 14. Tickets and information can be found on Facebook or at Brown Paper Tickets.

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Lapd seal

Last week’s meet and greet, held at the West Valley Area Los Angeles Police Department, was reportedly a huge success. Co-organizer Wendilyn Emrys, a Pagan Priestess and activist, said that more than thirty Pagans showed up and filled the community room at the station. From the LAPD, co-organizer Captain John Egan was joined by both a former and a current Hate Crime Detective, and a Deputy City’s Attorney. Emrys said, “Frankly, the really surprising thing about the event was how many Pagan Officers showed up.” Although she added that more didn’t come for fear of being “outed” as Pagan.

The various officers spoke on different topics of concern, such as the difference between hate crimes and hate incidents. For example, Emrys said, “The City Attorney explained how he/they handle misdemeanor Hate Incidents, and also will arbitrate neighbors disputes. That was a resource none of us were aware of.” There were many questions and Emrys described Capt. Egan as open and willing to answer each and every question. Afterward, he spoke directly to a number of people and offered assistance to those experiencing problems in other areas. Pagan Jill Weiss asked if a similar meeting could take place in the North Hollywood area. Capt. Egan said that he would try to help make that happen.

Last year, the West Valley Area LAPD was implicated in a court case in which a Pagan officer allegedly experienced religious and gender discrimination. The officer involved, Victoria DeBellis, and her husband were not in attendance at the last week’s meeting; nor did DeBellis respond to the invitation. Emrys did asked Captain Egan about the case, and he simply said that “he could not talk about it because it is still in play, but he was hopeful that the decision would be a fair one.”

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It was announced this week that fantasy author Tanith Lee (1947-2015) had passed away at the age of 67 after a long illness. Born in London, Lee was raised by two dancers. She was unable to read until the age of eight due to dyslexia. But that didn’t hold her back.

Lee published her first novel The Dragon Hoard in 1971, and became a freelance writer shortly after. Over the following 44 years, she wrote and published more than 90 novels and 300 short stories, earning her many accolades. In 1980, Lee became the first woman to receive the British Fantasy Award for best novel with her book Death’s Master.

Known for her highly imaginative work and feminist themes, Lee’s stories are very popular in many Pagans circle. Some of her more recent books were published by Immanion Press, including A Different City, which was just released March 2015. When Lee’s passing was made public, her official website simply displayed this quote: “Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all.”

In Other News

  • The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment is now over 5300 and counting. The goal is 10,000 by mid June.
  • In support of Gaia Gathering, the national Canadian Pagan conference, thirteen artists came together to record “an anthology of some of the best of Canadian Pagan music and spoken word.” The collection of works spans thirty years, including “out-of-print classics” as well as new works. The artists include: Vanessa Cardui, Tara Rice, the Ancient Gods, JD Hobbes, Brendan Myers, Dano Hammer, the Dragon Ritual Drummers, Gallows Hill, Heather Dale, Tamarra James, Raven’s Call, Sable Aradia,and Parnassus (Chalice & Blade). The album, titled Songs of the Northern Tribes, can only be purchased online, and all proceeds go to support the conference.
  • A group of women in Venice, Italy have launched a project that will potentially result in a brand new Goddess Temple. The Dee Oltre Le Nebbie (Goddesses Beyond the Mists) is a local study group made up of women representing various Pagan traditions. President Anna Bordin said, “We are going to open a permanent Goddess Temple to give the Pagan community a place where [we can] meet each other and where we can celebrate the Goddess of many names, in every aspect.” The group is now raising money to purchase a space and looking for volunteers to assist in the construction, upkeep and maintenance of that space.
  • Pagans Radio Tonight announced that Pam Kelly has taken over as station manager. Rev. Don Lewis said, “All of our familiar shows will continue … but there are also many new shows either recently premiered or soon to come!” As an example, he pointed out two new programs: “Voces Paganas” with Rev. Nube Lazzo and Rev. Eblis, and “Soapbox Witch” with Rev. Chuck Chapman. He also added that the Friday lineup has changed completely.
  • The new summer conference, Many Gods West, is on the horizon for many. The initial programme is available online. One of the scheduled presenters is the Bakcheion (Βακχεῖον), a group of Dionysian devotees, who will perform a ritual called “Filled with Frenzy.” One its members is blogger Sannion of the House of Vines. He described the event as a “celebration of the god Dionysos through wine, masks, drumming, dancing and altered states of consciousness.” It is also being touted as one of his first live events. To offset the cost of the trip to the conference, Bakcheion members have launched an Indiegogo campaign. The money raised will also be used for the purchase of ritual supplies, and anything left over will be “distributed back into supporting the polytheist community.”
Bakcheion Ritual Logo

Bakcheion Ritual Logo

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

This month the Smithsonian Channel will be airing an hour-long television pilot for a series called Sacred Sites of the World. The show was developed and produced by Tile Films, one of Ireland’s top documentary filmmaking companies. As suggested by the title, the series seeks to explore the historical, religious and cultural significance of sacred sites located around the world. As part of this process, and perhaps unique to the series, producers will also be demonstrating how these ancient sites and associated religious beliefs are still honored and held sacred by many in contemporary culture.

Beaghmore Stone Circle [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

Beaghmore Stone Circle [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

Writer and researcher David Ryan said, “Director Stephen Rooke and I, along with the rest of the creative staff in Tile Films, have a strong personal interest in history, archaeology, religion … It’s the reason why we do this work in the first place.” Tile Films has produced other successful documentary series focusing on religion and history such as The Lost Gods.

The Sacred Sites’ pilot focuses on Ireland and tells the tale and progression of religious experience through its sacred sites. The program includes striking aerial images of cairns, dolmens, stone circles and temple mounds. It moves smoothly between these images, live-event footage, dramatizations, and interviews with a variety of academic experts including scientists and historians. One of these experts is folklorist Dr. Jenny Butler whose work is focused, in part, on connections between ancient beliefs and modern day Paganism in Ireland.

The show also includes interviews with modern Pagans, including footage of an authentic Lughnasadh ritual performed by the Owl Grove, a Druidic group from Rosenallis, County Laois. Member Jane Brideson describes the experience:

[The crew] spent time with us, asked questions to further understand our beliefs and were respectful of the way that we work. We explained … that we worked within a sacred space. They respected that by filming the whole ritual from outside the circle and being very unobtrusive. Once the ritual had ended the Grove gathered to share food and drink. Later filming recommenced and parts of our ritual were filmed again from within the circle with our consent. The whole experience was very positive for everyone involved.

The Arch Druid of Owl Grove, Mel Lloyd agreed saying, “The filming was exhilarating and very interesting for us all. We met with and had several conversations with the production team prior to the filming. So by the time the day arrived they we were all on very good terms with each other.”

Owl Grove performing Lughnasadh Ritual [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

Owl Grove performing Lughnasadh Ritual [Photo Still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

During the show, the Owl Grove is performing its Lughnasadh ritual as an example of how modern day Pagans still honor the ancient Irish God – Lugh. At several points in the show, producers highlight the fact that rituals are still held to honor the ancient ways, Gods and historic sites.

The filmmakers share past footage from the Bealtaine Festival of Fires, formerly held on the Hill of Uisneach, County Westmeath. In this segment, people dance near a large bonfire of hay and wood. Researcher David Ryan says, “Different groups were present, and not all were Pagan. Large numbers of ordinary festival-goers attended for the spectacle and the popular music event that accompanied the fire performances.”

Another segment shows a crowd gathered on the Winter Solstice to witness the natural spectacle that occurs within the ancient Newgrange temple mound in County Meath. Outside this 5000-year-old sacred site, travelers gather to experience an extraordinary annual, ancient event that signifies the return of the sun. In one shot, several of the visitors appear to be performing a ritual act to herald or call-in the solstice sun.

While Sacred Sites: Ireland does explores religion and respectfully incorporates modern day Pagan practice, the show is a purely secular, academic-style program. Its focus is as much on explaining ancient religious practice and culture through history and science, as it is an introduction to the sites themselves. At points, the temples even seem to be simply a jumping-off point to discussing changing ancestral beliefs, landscape and traditions. As such, Sacred Sites: Ireland sits very delicately and precariously wedged between history, science and religion.

Carrowkeel Passage Tomb [Screen shot Sacred Sites Ireland]

Carrowkeel Passage Tomb [Photo still: Sacred Sites Ireland]

With that secular and scientific focus, Sacred Sites: Ireland ‘s may not for everyone. However the producers have made a significant effort to respectfully include the modern usage of these sites in their discussion.  They have also attempted to show the beauty and spiritual power within these ancient sites and, in doing so, have demonstrated a definite respect for both ancient and contemporary religious beliefs. Bideson believes that the program will be excellent viewing for both Pagans and non-Pagans alike. She says,

I am always interested in the way Pagans from different paths work and celebrate and I hope that the programme will give others a glimpse into the Owl Grove and how some Druids in Ireland practice … it [also] shows us doing what we actually do rather than the practices that many non-pagans would like to associate us with. 

If the Smithsonian Channel picks up the series, Tile Films plans to continue the process of exploring the many sacred sites around the world. Ryan says,

The locations for future shows still have to be finalised, but provisionally we are planning to focus on sites in Greece/ Turkey, Italy (ancient Roman sites), Malta, Egypt and Central America (Mayan sites). We hope to continue to include sites that remain sacred in the present day, and film the associated pagan rituals. Thus far we have been in touch with a number of different pagan groups in relation to the above, and so far all seem interested in participating.

When asked if they are considering any U.S.-based sacred sites? Ryan said, “Yes, we’d certainly consider Native American sites in the U.S., and the Smithsonian have indicated they’d be open to this. Any site in theory could be included so long as it is ‘sacred.'”

The pilot, Sacred Sites: Ireland, will air July 7 at 8 p.m. Eastern on The Smithsonian Channel. It will also be available to stream via the website.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Carhenge. Photo: Wikimedia.

Carhenge. Photo: Wikimedia.

  • So, hey, the Summer Solstice happened! Unless you’re in Australia, then the Winter Solstice happened (it’s complicated, but I think it has something to do with the world being round). That means it is time for everyone’s favorite question: What the heck is Stonehenge actually for? Quote: It has been called a Neolithic temple; a ritual gathering place; a royal burial ground; an eclipse predictor; even a kind of ancient computer capable of mapping celestial patterns. Yet, despite the efforts of generations of scholars, we are still no closer to knowing, definitively, why Stonehenge was built. Neolithic people gathered there, certainly, but, despite modern assumptions, they weren’t Druids – since those ancient British priests, with their white robes, sickles and mistletoe, were a phenomenon of the Iron Age, and only emerged centuries after Stonehenge was abandoned.” So the answer is: it depends on when you’re talking about. Also, ten demerits to any journalist out there who posted a link to Spinal Tap when talking about Stonehenge. 
  • I’d also like to note that Stonehenge is so cool, we will happily dance around replicas of it built outside Britain. Quote: “The monument nearly lines up with sunrise on the solstice, just like Stonehenge – though stories about Bronze Age human sacrifices there were almost certainly false. The original structure was probably one of the earliest calendars. And much like Stonehenge, the replica draws a coterie of neo-Druids, pagans and wiccans each year on the summer solstice. About 30 turned out in small groups from Oregon and southern Washington state.” I love the Pacific Northwest so much. Also: Carhenge, it’s a thing. It’s made of cars. It’s in the Midwest (and people really like it).
  • Is Hillary Clinton an advocate for “sexual paganism?” Quote: “Among the nonsense spread about Clinton’s age, looks and alleged affairs, several right-wing nuts claimed she advocated ‘sexual paganism’ during a speech condemning LGBT violence she delivered in 2011. Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, Richard Land, Southern Evangelical Seminary president, and right-wing author Richard Brown, were particularly vocal in their attack on Clinton. ‘There is no question in my mind, God is already judging America and will judge her more harshly as we continue to move down this path towards sexual paganisation,’ Land commented.” I’d comment, but I don’t want to give the appearance of partisan feeling, though I think there are plenty of our readers who would be pro a “Paganization” campaign.
  • An article on the Celtic Druid Temple in Ireland notes that modern Druids do, in fact, use the Internet (and they are appropriately wary of journalists). Quote: “A notice on the school’s website (yes, Druids use the internet) stipulates that any media coverage must be approved before publication, something The Irish Times has a policy against. Con Connor, who runs the school with his partner, Niamh, explains that this is due to the long history of misrepresentation surrounding Druidism, dating from Roman times to recent Irish schoolbooks on religion. They do not wish to be misunderstood or portrayed as eccentric cranks.” There may also be ancient wisdom involved.
  • There are approximately seven things Paganism can teach “modern man” (But what about post-modern man?). One of them, apparently, is that 1973’s “The Wicker Man” is a really good film. Quote: Seriously, if you ignore all the advice above at least see this classic British ‘horror’ film from 1973. Apart from the fact that it has Christopher Lee, nudity, people dressed up in weird animal masks and Britt Ekland having sex with a man through a wall (hey, Pagans Do It Better!), it also has a cracking Brit folk soundtrack. Don’t bother with the 2006 version starring Nicolas Cage though: that’s absolute pants.” I would make fun, but this is 100% accurate, and if he wants to credit modern Pagans as champions of this cinematic masterpiece, I’ll take it. In fact, here’s the trailer from the recently released “final cut” Blu Ray edition

  • Anna Goeldi, who was killed on accusations of witchcraft in Switzerland in 1782, was honored in a memorial unveiled as an “expression of atonement.” Quote: “Goeldi, who was 48 at the time of her death, was exonerated by the Glarus parliament in 2008. The memorial, comprising two permanently lit lamps on the side of the Glarus court house, is intended to draw attention to violations of human rights that occur in the world today, as well as Goeldi’s story.” Considering the fact that “witches” and “sorcerers” are being murdered in the here and now, perhaps this memorial can serve a purpose beyond righting an old wrong.
  • So, this film exists. Quote: “Witching & Bitching, a simple yet utterly bonkers battle of the sexes that chuckles at male chauvinism before castrating it completely.” This film looks bananas, so I can’t really tell you how well it balances its satire and the use of the horror-movie-witch-trope.
  • There are hundreds of Pagans in the modern UK military. That’s it. That’s the story. They’re just… there. Being Pagan. Quote: “Hundreds of witches, pagans and Druids have signed up to join the UK armed forces, according to the latest official figures. All three services have taken on people whose religious beliefs involve pagan rituals and casting spells. MPs fear that military top brass have been forced to hire members of alternative faiths and beliefs to halt the recruitment crisis. Recent attempts to boost regular and reserve units have had disappointing results, according to a report in the Mirror.” Note, again, that there is no story here other than that Pagans have joined military service in the UK.
  • “Monomyth” is not a term to be thrown around lightly in the Pagan community (I dare say it might even be a ‘fighting word’ in some places). But since Star Wars is revving back up, it’s time to get your Joseph Campbell groove on. Quote: “Campbell’s influence, however, extends far beyond Darth Vader and the gang. From Harry Potter to The Matrix to Happy Gilmore, amateurs and experts alike have drawn connections between multiple modern narratives and Campbell’s theory of the Monomyth, which asserts that various myths, legends, and fairy tales throughout human history share a common story structure involving a hero who departs from known reality in order to confront a series of trials and tribulations before returning home as an initiated master of both realms. The theory, of course, involves more intricacies and complexions—e.g. the call to adventure, the crossing of a threshold, the guidance of a mentor—but that’s the gist.” To be fair, they do point out that the monomyth theory actually has critics.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these we may expand into longer posts as needed.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing 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 let’s get started!

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna, co-founder of Coru Cathubodua, and one of the subjects of the documentary American Mystic, launched an IndieGoGo crowdfunding venture this week to fund a book project focused on the Celtic goddess Morrigan. In the span of just a few days, it has already managed to reach 70% of its $7,500 goal. Quote: My name is Morpheus Ravenna. I write the Shieldmaiden Blog and I’m known in my community for my service as a priest of the Morrigan, the Celtic Goddess of battle, prophecy, and Otherworld power. I’ve been studying these traditions for almost 20 years – my entire adult life. I’ve combed the volumes of Irish lore, ancient history and archaeology, and modern scholarly study for insights to help modern practitioners understand and connect with the Great Queen. My research notes encompass hundreds of pages of material, some of it never presented outside academic publications. And now I’m ready to share my years of study with you.” Here’s the Google Hangout video from the launch night event. Below, I’ve embedded the official pitch video

10378157_10202241520539235_4465347862056082361_nThe Wild Hunt’s own Cara Schulz, a member of Hellenismos, is running for a seat on the Burnsville City Council in Minnesota. In a recent post on her candidacy page’s blog, Schulz explains to voters about her faith. Quote: “Hellenismos is very family focused and primarily practiced in the home. It mainly consists of praying and burning incense. I find it spiritually fulfilling and beneficial to my life. It’s a comfort to me when I need comfort and a kick in the pants when I need that. What residents may want to know, and they have a right to know, is how will my religious views affect me as City Council member? Probably no more, or no less, than any other candidate. I have no intention of pushing my religion on anyone or allowing its tenets to dictate law. Our government is a secular government and I firmly support that.” Schulz added that “Burnsville residents have always been welcoming of cultures, faiths, and ideas, as long as you are open and honest with them. It’s one of the things I love most about Burnsville.” The Wild Hunt, as a rule, does not endorse candidates from any party in elections, Pagan or not, but we will wish our friend and colleague good luck in the race ahead. Find out more about Cara and her candidacy at the official candidate’s page. You can also find her on Facebook.

Cherry Hill SeminaryPagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has released a free media presentation called “Don’t Look Away” to help non-professionals recognize and respond to abuse within their community. Quote: “In response to growing concern about accountability in our communities, Cherry Hill Seminary has released a free media presentation called Don’t Look Away: Recognizing & Responding to Abuse for non-professionals. Don’t Look Away was created to help individuals and small groups better understand the nature of sexual abuse and appropriate ways to respond, as well as what to do if you have been abused, yourself. Numerous resources are given, such as the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, National Child Traumatic Stress Network, National Domestic Violence Hotline, and others. The presentation also references a new Emergency Resources page on the Cherry Hill Seminary web site. The page is a quick reference, not only on sexual abuse, but on domestic violence, addictions, child and elder abuse and neglect, mental health, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” You can find the CHS Emergency Resources page here. CHS Executive Director Holli Emore added in the official press release that “for far too long, we have either not recognized the signs of abuse among us, or we have looked away, assuming, hoping, that someone else will take care of the problem. But those problems don’t go away by themselves.”

In Other  Pagan Community News: 

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

On May 23rd, the 2014 Irish local elections were held, the first set of local elections since a major restructuring of local government was put into place earlier this year. In what seems to be a tumultuous outing, with small left-leaning parties and Sinn Féin largely benefitting, the People Before Profit Alliance gained 15 council seats across Ireland. One of those seats was won by Deirdre Wadding, on the Wexford County Council. Oh, and she just so happens to be openly Pagan, the first such candidate to be elected to office in Ireland.

Deirdre Wadding posting a letter to the minister for the abolition of water charges.

Deirdre Wadding posting a letter to the minister for the abolition of water charges.

“Cllr. Wadding, a long-term socialist activist, took the final seat in the Wexford district on Sunday night after a long, two-day count. A vocal campaigner, she has made her mark through her work with the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes and was approached by PBPA on the back of that. She polled an impressive 599 votes on the first count and picked up a number of large chunks of transfers later in the day. Laughing off the description of ‘white witch’, Cllr. Wadding said that she was one of 20,000 pagans across the country but, as far as she knew, was the only one now serving as a councillor. ‘I did ask the Irish Battle Goddess Morrigan for victory today and I have a crow’s feather in my hair as a reminder of her.'”

In a message posted to Facebook, the newly elected councillor thanked supporters, and her “Pagan brothers and sisters,” for their support.

“Thank you all friends, family, supporters, [People Before Profit Allicance] brothers and sisters, Pagan brothers and sisters, the shinners upstairs at the count for their help and kindness and generosity in sharing their number crunching skills especially Wally, to the absolutely amazing team who stood with me and walked with me and climbed ladders and knocked on doors!!  We are a collective and this is a win for all of us which is why when Jim Campbell of the Echo came to take the usual pic of the candidate hoisted in the air, it suddenly just didn’t feel right and I said no! We all stand together, no one of us elevated! Sorry Jim!! It felt important! Most of all thank you from the bottom of my heart to the voters who placed their trust in me. I gave you only one promise to fight for and with you. And so it begins … OIche mhaith a chairde xxx”

Nor is Wadding’s allegiance to the Irish Pagan community superficial, as she has been a presenter at Irish Pagan events in the past, including the 2013 Goddess Gathering Ireland.

“Deirdre Wadding is a Shamanic Practitioner, trained in Celtic Shamanism, Witch, and Priestess/Hierophant of the Fellowship of Isis. Her primary magical & spiritual connection is with the Spirit and Power of the Land. Her strongest devotion is to the Morrigan, powerful transformative challenging Goddess of Ancient Ireland. Inspired by her connection with the Land, Deirdre writes songs and poetry which she performs in addition to storytelling, given half a chance and an ear to listen. It is this same respect for the Sovereignty of the Land that motivates Deirdre’s activism… her medicine drum now beaten as often to keep a chant of protest going as to facilitate the soulflight of Shamanic Journeying. Deirdre lives in rural Co. Wexford, close to the sea, with her two youngest children and adult daughter who comes and goes.” 

Caroline Kenner, a Washington DC based Pagan, reached out with congratulations to her mutual Facebook friend and shamanic practitioner on behalf of Wadding’s American-based friends.

“Congratulations and best wishes to Deirdre Wadding, who has just been elected to the Wexford County Council in Ireland, the first openly Pagan member of the county council ever elected. Dierdre ran with the People Before Profit Alliance. She is a shamanic practitioner. May The Morrigan bless her term on the council: Deirdre wore a Crow’s feather in her hair during the election as a votive to Her. Your American friends send blest wishes for a great term in office. Huzzah and Hooray!”

Meanwhile, Vivianne Crowley, former interfaith coordinator of the Pagan Federation, and a professor in the Department of Pastoral Counseling at Cherry Hill Seminary, added that “many Pagans are disillusioned with governments, but if we don’t like what we see we must try to change it. Deirdre’s example is inspiring and let’s hope that in the coming years we see more Pagans in politics.”

You can follow the proud Pagan socialist’s political career at her campaign’s Facebook page, or at her official Twitter account. In the Wexford Echo piece on her candidacy and win, Wadding stressed that her win would just make her activism on the streets more effective, instead of tamed.

“My motivation isn’t that I want to be in the council. I want to affect change from the inside and the outside. I will still be getting involved in people’s problems, whether it’s a matter of civil rights, taxes and charges or anything else. That is my work and it will continue. I fully intend to be out on the street and be active. But it is a bonus that we will also have a voice on the inside.”

In many senses of the term, this is a historic moment in Irish politics, and we will be following Councillor Wadding’s career with great interest.