Archives For Scotland

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans and Heathens 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. 

georgia sealATLANTA, Ga. – On Monday, March 28, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed HB 757, a notorious state RFRA legislative bill. Deal said that it “contained language [that] could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination.” He added, “I did have problems with that and made my concerns known as did many other individuals and organizations, including some within the faith-based community.”

“Religious freedom” legislation in some form has been circulating within the Georgia legislature for several years. The subject attracted national attention in Spring 2015 after Aquarian Tabernacle priest Dusty Dionne spoke publicly about SB129, one of several RFRA incarnations. Dionne thanked the Georgia state legislature for its “forward thinking” on “religious freedom issues,” adding, “This new bill will create sweeping changes that will open the doors for the Wiccans within Georgian communities to worship, work, and LIVE their religion to its fullest.” While SB 129 stalled in the house, new legislation was eventually born. After HB 757 was adopted by both the house and senate, it was sent to the Governor, where it was promptly vetoed.

In his statement, Gov. Deal said, “If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution. When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statutes can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.”

We asked Dionne for a reaction to the recent veto. He said, “Georgia’s veto of this dangerous bill shows that those that the people of GA elected to protect themselves and make them prosperous, have the hearts needed to serve the entirety of their constituents, not just a radical minority. They deserve all of the praise given to those that protect the free world.”

Other Religious Freedom News

    • Could the Christian Bible become the official state book of Tennessee? On Apr 6, the Tennessee state legislature approved the “Holy Bible” as its official state book. Within its various amendments, legislators further defined which texts were included in the term “Holy Bible.” The bill will now head to Governor Bill Haslam, where it is expected to meet some resistance. Gov. Haslam reportedly feels the legislation is “disrespectful” to what the Bible means and is. Additionally, the state attorney general has expressed concern over the unconstitutionality of the measure. Meanwhile, the ACLU of Tennessee has been watching closely and is reportedly “on ready” should the bill pass. The ACLU wrote, in part, “While the Bible is an important book to many state residents, Tennesseans come from a rich diversity of faiths. Privileging one religion over another not only tramples on the Constitution, it marginalizes the tens of thousands of Tennesseans who choose to practice other religions or not to practice religion at all.” If Gov. Haslam does not veto the bill within ten days of its approval, it will automatically become law.
    • In February, we reported on the Satanic Temple’s fight to offer an invocation before a city council meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. Shortly after adopting a moment of silence in an effort to prevent the TST invocation, the city council brought back religious invocations. However, the new policy only allows police and fire chaplains to give those prayers. TST is reportedly planning to sue the city. In the meantime, the organization has been preparing to deliver an invocation at the July 6 meeting of the Scottsdale, Arizona city council. In an interview with AZCentral, TST spokesperson Stu de Haan discussed exactly what TST plans to say in its prayer. According to the article, TST will “ask the audience to reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things while standing firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens personal sovereignty.” However, TST may never be granted this opportunity. Scottsdale is reportedly looking for a legal way out, just as Phoenix did. This story is not yet over.
    • Further north, in the state of Colorado, The Satanic Temple is taking on an entirely different religious freedom issue. Together with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the two organizations are challenging the distribution of the Gideons Bibles to middle and high school students in Delta County. According to reports, the school district ignored complaints from local atheist organizations, who finally turned to these national groups. After being informed about a similar situation in Orange County Florida, the Delta County school board relented and allowed all informational material. On Apr 1, children in the Delta County district were offered TST’s The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities, along with a number of atheist pamphlets from various organizations. While all of the pamphlets were permitted on campus, one particular one, entitled “The X-Rated Bible: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible,” was first censored with a sticker before it was allowed out for distribution. FRFF did say that it doesn’t believe schools should be a religious battle ground, but it will continue to challenge unconstitutional policies where they exist. The Delta County School District is reportedly rethinking their non-curricular information distribution policy.

[Courtesy Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers / Facebook]

[Courtesy Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers / Facebook]

In Other News

      • In a lengthy interview and full report, The Washington Post shares details about the infamous #Boneghazi story. The article is titled, “21st century ‘witch’ hunt: Tumblr sleuths lead authorities to person who took human bones from a La. cemetery.” In December, social media lit up with tales of human bones being stolen from a “poor man’s cemetery” in New Orleans. A dialog ensued, inciting rage and inviting controversy. In January, officials began a full investigation, while the discourse evolved into an serious and in-depth concern over local gentrification, race, class and religion.
      • In a recent feature, Broadly profiled “The White Witch of Los Angeles” As the article begins, Maja D’Aoust “uses her science background to examine the world through her lecture series, tarot readings, and insightful performances as the Oracle.”
      • In another article, Broadly featured a report on “The Real Witches of Salem Massachusetts.” While such a subject is not at all surprising for our readers, it may be surprising for a portion of the general mainstream population. Broadly interviewed a few local Witches from the famous “Witch City,” as well as discussing the economic aspects of the city’s unique tourist industry.
      • On the lighter side, Salem’s police ran into an all-too-common modern day problem; a digital fumble, if you will. That fumble, caused by autocorrect, was particular amusing considering Salem’s witchy reputation. The error made social media rounds and provided many people with a good laugh. In March, the city’s police tweeted the following:


Beyond the U.S.

    • According to The National, religious belief and affiliation is on the decline in Scotland. The article reads, “The Scottish Social Attitudes survey show 52 percent of people say they are not religious, compared with 40 percent of those who were asked in 1999 when the survey began.” Despite the overall decline, the article also notes that local Pagan organizations have reported an increase in those identifying as Pagan.
    • A similar article was recently published in The Reykjavik GrapevineAccording to this article, “Church membership has declined by about 10% since 2009” in Iceland. However, just as reported in Scotland, “registered Pagans [in Iceland] are on the rise.” The article reads, “Registered members of the Zuists have increased by over 3,000 over the past year. The faith professes worship of the ancient Sumerian gods, but also promises to refund government religious subsidies to its members. At the same time, members of the Ásatrú Society – which follows the rites and ethics of the Old Norse gods – have also increased, by over 500 members.”
    • According to the New York Times, the indigenous women of North Africa’s Amazigh, also called the “Berber” women, “have banded together to fight political Islamism, polygamy, child marriage, and impunity for perpetrators of domestic violence.” Their matriarchal traditions and language are currently being threatened. The article profiles their unique culture, as well as their fight against terrorism and other forms of oppression.
    • The Washington Post published an article titled, “Rare photos show the lives of Russia’s forgotten Mari Pagans.” The article reads, “The attempted suppression of the nature-worshiping Mari has a long and dark history.” The article details that history, as well as their struggle against oppression. In photos and words, the article also highlights the unique and vibrant, living culture of the Mari Pagans.
    • Lastly, Witches aren’t only for Halloween. According to The Daily Mail, “little Witches” come out to cast spells every Easter in Finland. “small colorful witches appear on Finnish doorsteps in a blend of eastern and western religious traditions related to spring. They hand over catkin branches, reciting healthy wishes in exchange for payment that is traditionally chocolate or other candies.”

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans and Heathens 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.

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

This month, author and Witch Byron Ballard found herself the center piece of a mainstream news story titled, “Meet the Appalachian spell-catcher.” Local journalist Dale Neal published his article in Asheville’s Citizen-Times, the main paper for the region.

Neal wrote, “In her travels, Ballard found many people put off at first by the idea of a pagan priestess … But when she started talking about folk remedies, or bringing out Mason jars of rabbit tobacco or mica pieces, they recognized a common spirit. ‘Oh my grandmother used to do that,’ was a common theme.”

The article focuses on Ballard’s practice, her research and her new book Asfidity and Mad-Stones: A Further Ramble through Hillfolks’ Hoodoo. It captures her love of folk magic, the region and, what Neal called, “an overlooked piece of homegrown culture.”

In Other News…

  • Also making it into the media was our own writer Terence P. Ward, who was quoted by NPR in its own discussion about the use of Daesh and other names within media. He told NPR, “as a reporter covering the ‘Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities, I am privy to reports of people being questioned by law enforcement due to being known worshipers of the goddess Isis.’ “
  • In another mainstream story involving Pagans, The Guardian picked up on the brewing controversy over Alex Mar’s book Witches in America.The article titled, “Serious researcher or ‘Spiritual Tourist: How Alex Mar riled American pagans’ quotes a number of Pagan bloggers and points to various posts about the book. The writer also interviewed Alex Mar about the controversy and includes some of her reactions. We will have more on this story in the coming days.
  • And in another mainstream article examining the greater Pagan community, writer Jaya Saxena discusses the problem of sexism within Witchcraft practice. In the article titled “There’s a Sexism Problem in the Modern Witchcraft Community,” Saxena wrote, “low-level misogyny can still be a problem in these circles, in largely the same unconscious ways it exists in the rest of society.” Quoting from a number of practicing Witches both male and female, Saxena notes a number of places where problems can arise and how that is handled. She also mentions the issues that can arise for transgender Witches, saying that some groups are now “challenging the gender binary” constructions in terms of religious practice.
  • Speaking of the transgender community, in a story out of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, a local elementary school banned the reading and discussion of a children’s book called I am Jazz.The book tells the story of a transgender child and is written by transgender teen Jazz Jennings. The facility, Mt. Horeb Primary Center, cancelled the reading after The Liberty Council, a Christian legal advocacy group, threatened a lawsuit. Author Alex Bledsoe‘s son attends the school, and he has been indirectly involved in the situation. Bledsoe said, “As a writer, I’m bothered when any book is censored. The list of historically censored books is also a list of some of our greatest literature. As a parent, I have no issue with allowing other parents to opt out their children, but don’t try to force your beliefs on the rest of us. A concerned parent has the right to say, ‘My child won’t,’ but not to say, ‘Your child won’t.’ That’s simply bullying, and any school system that gives into it loses the moral right to tell its students that bullying is wrong.” There will be a scheduled reading and discussion of the book at the local library today.

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  • In Tennessee, a Wiccan mother is claiming that her children are not being allowed to practice Wicca while in foster care. Anna Wood said her two children, each in a different home, are being forced to practice Christianity and denied the right to learn Wicca.  She claimed that her daughter was even baptized without her knowledge and her son’s books have been destroyed. According to the article, the Department of Child Services has denied any evidence of discrimination. Wood said that she is “seriously considering a lawsuit.”
  • Moving over to Australia, Victoria’s local news source The Age reported that Robin Fletcher, who “claimed his [Wiccan] religion endorses sex between children and adults,” was denied his request for more relaxed supervision. The judge said that Fletcher still poses a “unacceptable risk of committing a relevant offence.” This was based on letters found to men in Ghana describing what he was planning to do upon being released next summer and his desire to initiate young children into his religious practice. The Department of Justice is currently deciding whether it will extend its request for Fletcher’s supervision past the current end date June 2016.
  • Back in the Unites States, New York’s Rockland County Sheriff’s Department has said that a “suspicious,” “ritualistic,” package was left at the County Courthouse on the day before Thanksgiving. According to local media reports, “The bomb squad did rule that the package was a likely Santeria artifact and it was knowingly left at the building to create panic and fear.” But, in the end, there was no disruption to the court schedule. No further reports or corrections were available.

And one final note… 

 

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – On Jan. 18, the U.K. saw its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage ceremony. Tom Lanting and Iain Robertson, both hedge witches, were married in the 16th century vaulted cellars of historic Marlin’s Wynd. The ceremony was performed by Louise Park of the Pagan Federation Scotland.

[Courtesy Photo. Taken by Cherrie Coutts]

Tom Lanting and Iain Robertson [Courtesy Photo. Taken by Cherrie Coutts of cherriecouttsphotography.com]

“We felt as practicing Pagans we wanted to create a day for not only ourselves but for everyone who attended our ceremony and as Scotland recognizes love within All beliefs we were able to start our lives together bonded in the eyes of the God and Goddess and FINALLY the law,” told The Wild Hunt in a brief interview.

To date, Scotland is the only country in the U.K. that allows for legally-binding Pagan marriage ceremonies. In 2004, the General Registrar Office for Scotland accepted the Pagan Federation as “an appropriate body for the nomination of Celebrants under the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977.”  According to various reports, Pagan Federation celebrants have conducted hundreds of legal Pagan mix-sex marriages since that time.

Author and Wiccan High Priestess Vivane Crowley said, “The Pagan Federation (Scotland) has fought long and hard for equal rights for Pagans in Scotland. It has succeeded in establishing Paganism as part of the spectrum of a thriving multi-cultural country that honors the traditions of the past, while building a society of the future.”

Although Pagan marriages were legally recognized in Scotland in 2004, same-sex marriages were not. In 2013, Scotland’s neighbors, England and Wales, voted to legalize same-sex marriage. However, the two countries still did not recognize Pagan marriage ceremonies. Then, in early 2014, Scotland followed suit by passing its new Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. Same-sex marriage became legal as of Dec. 16, 2014 with the first ceremonies being performed that day. As a result, Scotland has become the first country in the U.K to legally recognize both Pagan ceremonies and same-sex marriage.

Crowley added, “The Pagan Federation joined other religious organizations in a wonderful campaigning for recognition of Gay marriage in Scotland. It is wonderful that the media, including traditional conservative newspaper ‘The Daily Telegraph’, have received the change so warmly and gave such positive coverage of Iain and Tom’s wedding.”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Lanting and Roberson’s wedding has indeed become the recent focus of mainstream media, as well as being a landmark moment in history – both Pagan and otherwise. Attending their ceremony was Tom French, the Policy and Public Affairs Coordinator for The Equality Network, a charity organization serving Scotland’s LGBTI community. French told the BBC:

We were delighted to be able to attend the UK’s first pagan same-sex marriage … Religious and belief groups played an important role in the campaign for equal marriage and this ceremony is a mark of equality and freedom of belief in Scotland.

Recognizing this attention, the couple said, “We are both delighted the world has taken this moment to the heart.”

While the significance of Scotland’s first Pagan same-sex marriage ceremony is certainly far reaching, its impact was felt all the more by the two men themselves. After twelve years of being together, Robertson and Lanting were finally able to pledge their love and commitment to each other in the religious and spiritual manner of their choosing and have it all be legally binding. They said, “We hope in time this possibility will spread worldwide to allow those of all sexualities and beliefs to be seen as equal in legal circles…Thank you to everyone who joined us on the day and to the wider world and our Pagan brothers and sisters globally.”

The Pagan Federation Scotland was unavailable for additional comments. However, celebrant Louise Parks told the BBC, “We feel that, if any couple wish to, they should be able to make their marriage vows before their own personal Gods, friends and family, in a religious ceremony tailored to suit their own beliefs.” She added, “I am absolutely over the moon to have been able to conduct Scotland’s – and the U.K.’s – first pagan same-sex marriage for Tom and Iain, who hold a special place in the hearts of Scotland’s Pagan community.”

In her comments, Crowley agreed, offer her own good wishes. She said, “Congratulations Iain and Tom, creators of the well-known ‘Gemini Wands’ company who will be known to Pagans throughout Britain from their frequent appearances at festivals. ”

The Doreen Valiente Foundation also offered its own words of congratulations saying:

Tom Lanting, one of the couple who were married in Britain’s first same-sex pagan wedding has supported the Doreen Valiente Foundation at various conferences over the years. We see this as a further historic step towards the equality of religion that Doreen and many others have struggled for for many years. That it also reflects the equality struggle of another minority group only makes all the more satisfying to see. Congratulations and blessings to the happy couple from all of us at the Doreen Valiente Foundation.

Fortunately, with all this unexpected publicity, Lanting and Robertson have not received backlash in any form. They continue to be very thankful for the outpouring of support and interest in their story. To other Pagan LGBTQ couples around the world, they offered this positive note, “Congratulations to our brothers and sisters who have received recognition and the rest WILL follow.”

[Courtesy Photo. Taken by Cherrie Coutts of .cherriecouttsphotography.com)

[Courtesy Photo. Taken by Cherrie Coutts of cherriecouttsphotography.com)

For the last year and a half, 2011 census data has been trickling out from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations, each giving a picture of the growth of modern Pagan religions and related belief systems. First out of the gate was Australia, where Pagan faiths grew, though modestly. Still, that growth was enough to underline the expanding religious diversity of the island nation.

ABS Queensland census figures. Picture: Megan Slade Source: CourierMail

ABS Queensland census figures. Picture: Megan Slade Source: CourierMail

“Religion is the only optional question on the census form; there is no requirement to give any answer. But in the last census 16,849 were happy to declare themselves as pagans, 8413 Wiccan witches, 2454 Satanists, 1046 said they were druids, 1395 pantheists, 2542 Zoroastrians, 2921 follow Jainism, 2161 Scientologists, 1485 are into theosophy and 1391 are Rastafarian. The cloak of secrecy has dropped. ‘We live in an era in which there is a religious supermarket and punters pick and choose the religion that corresponds best to their line of thinking,’ said expert in religion, Associate Professor Pradip Thomas from the University of Queensland.”

After Australia, came England and Wales, where the number of modern Pagans nearly doubled since the last census.

“Now, initial 2011 religion figures for England and Wales have been released, and while the numbers haven’t exploded into the hundreds of thousands, adherents to some form of modern Paganism has nearly doubled in the last ten years. Depending on how forgiving you want to be as to which groups are “Pagan” in some form, they now number over 80,000. In addition, the base number of people identifying as “Pagan” shot up to nearly 60,000.”

Now, Scotland has released its 2011 census data, including how many Scottish Pagans there are.

other_religions

Putting it all together, it means we have over 5000 adherents of Pagan-related faiths in Scotland. Meanwhile, the number of people claiming “no religion” continues to rise in all of these countries. As James R. Lewis might put it, Pagan faiths have continued to mature and grow at normal (and sustainable) rates after the 1990s “Teen Witch” boom. Plus, looking at new data from the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC), which looks at the religious beliefs of American college students, it seems clear that steady growth will continue for the foreseeable future, and may even expand in the next couple decades.

Worldview by Religious Identification

Worldview by Religious Identification

“Overall, the Spirituals are closer to the Religious when it comes to the supernatural but closer to the Seculars when it comes to the social and political. Most claim an institutional religious identity. They are closest to the tradition that the American religious historian Catherine Albanese calls Metaphysical in her magisterial volume, A Republic of Mind and Spirit. While Kosmin and Keysar’s survey is not a random sample of college students in a statistically strict sense, the range and size of their sample is more than sufficient to make a strong provisional claim. A dozen years ago, they transformed the world of American religious demography when they discovered that the proportion of Nones had doubled in the 1990s. The rise of the Spirituals may be next.”

As you can see “spiritual but not religious” students are far more inclined toward “other religions” than their secular or religious peers, and there’s growing evidence that this category is on the rise. In short, modern Paganism is growing, will continue to grow, and shows no signs of slowing down in the years to come.

Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt.

Publicity still from "Britain's Wicca Man".

Publicity still from “Britain’s Wicca Man”.

The hour-long documentary “Britain’s Wicca Man” has had a long, strange, trip to getting aired. A look at the life of Gerald Gardner, hosted by scholar Ronald Hutton, the program was commissioned by Channel 4 in Britain and initially scheduled to be aired sometime in 2012. That didn’t happen, and eventually a truncated 27-minute version popped up on Australian television earlier this Summer. Now, it seems the long journey is over, and the full documentary was finally aired this weekend in the UK under the new title of “A Very British Witchcraft.” Quote: “The extraordinary story of Britain’s fastest-growing religious group – the modern pagan witchcraft of Wicca – and of its creator, an eccentric Englishman called Gerald Gardner. Historian and leading expert in Pagan studies Professor Ronald Hutton explores Gardner’s story and experiences first-hand Wicca’s growing influence throughout Britain today.” Considering how rare it is for these short-form documentaries to get a DVD release in the United States, we will most likely have to wait until someone has taken the law into their own hands and posted it to Youtube, or made it available for download via BitTorrent in order to see it (not that I’m advocating piracy, simply communicating the realities of modern distribution). In any case, I look forward to seeing the whole work.

The-ConjuringBack in July I looked at the problematic thematic underpinnings of horror film “The Conjuring,” and why this “true story” could spark trouble. Since then, the film has gone on to gross more than a 100 million dollars, and the film’s insistence that they were conveying dramatized facts has already sparked some troubling results. Quote: “The author of the books that inspired the new movie “The Conjuring” is asking for help after a local gravestone was damaged in the village of Harrisville […] Local residents are upset by the vandalism. ‘I mean it’s upsetting that anyone would vandalize a grave, because I think it’s very disrespectful,’ Sara Indish, Burrilliville.” Salem Witch Christian Day, who spoke out previously about the historical revisionism of the film, noted that the “film is having an impact and it isn’t a good one.” Talks of a sequel and possibly even a movie franchise are already underway, also based on the demon-hunting exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren, and thus, even more opportunities to muddy the waters between fact and fantasy. I can only imagine that the emergence of “real” (Christian) exorcists as reality show stars will only fuel this trend. In any case, I hope this pop-exorcism fever breaks, and breaks soon.

The Weird Sisters from Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' After Henry Fuseli (1741-1825); mezzotint by John Raphael Smith (1751-1812)

The Weird Sisters by John Raphael Smith (1751-1812)

Earlier this month I posted an item about Witches & Wicked Bodies, an exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which had just opened (highlights of the show can be found, here). Now, the reviews are pouring in, all considering the portrayal of the witch, and the practice of witchcraft. Laura Cumming at The Guardian wonders if “these male artists ever met a woman who looked anything like such visions in reality? Not one of these figures is the classic old hag of medieval literature, the reclusive village spinster forced to endure the ducking stool or the stake because she was thought too weird in her ways, too sharp in her observations, too active with the herbs, or simply because she muttered to herself.” Meanwhile, Arifa Akbar at The Independent notices the strong sexual element running through the show. Quote: “These images of lewd sexual disinhibition and obscene corporeality (the women are invariably naked, open-legged, farting and with masculine features such as beards or penises) all arise from ancient fears that have surrounded women’s sexual desire, as well as the even graver fear of its ability to emasculate men.” Finally, Rebecca McQuillan at the Herald Scotland notes the recurring fear and animus towards older women in the figure of the witch. Quote: “The bile directed at ageing women in the 21st century contains unpleasant echoes of the sinister misogyny of the witch trial era. And that is deeply disconcerting.” 

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

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

Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

  • It’s always worth a mention when the New York Times takes an interest in modern Paganism. Their New York-focused City Room blog highlights the Wiccan Family Temple Academy of Pagan Studies in Manhattan, interviewing two of the program’s students. Quote: “People go to school to study the things that interest them most; some people go to law school, others to medical school,” [Shantel Collins] said. “I want to be a religious leader in my community, so the path I chose is to become a high priestess. I am learning how to counsel people in my community. No one is born a pastor or a reverend or a rabbi — you have to work at it, and that’s what I’m doing. So for me, these classes are worth every minute and every penny.” I suspect this piece came about because the New York City Wiccan Family Temple is not afraid to promote themselves to the media. I know I’ve received a fair share of press releases from them, and it’s a tactic that does succeed in breaking through to the mainstream media from time to time. 
  • Virginia Lt. Governor candidate E.W. Jackson, who I profiled recently here at The Wild Hunt, was (unsurprisingly) a big hit at the recent Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference. Quote: “Audience members clapped most intensely when Jackson focused on the rights of parents to lay down rules for their children and on the need to preserve belief in Christianity as the foundation of the United States. “Freedom is the ability to worship God as we see fit and not be persecuted for it,” he said.” Jackson, while revving up the conservative Christian base, has also been walking back past statements he made that implied yoga can lead to Satanism. In his 2008 book “Ten Commandments To An Extraordinary Life” Jackson called tarot reading and Witchcraft “wrong and dangerous.”
  • At Sojourners Magazine, Rabbi Seth Goren discusses Christian privilege and “how the dominance of Christianity affects interfaith relations.” Quote: “Even in interreligious settings intended to be neutral, Christianity retains primacy. Exchanges emphasize concepts in Christianity, such as belief and faith, and downplay the Jewish stress on action, behavior, and ritual […] In clergy gatherings, I feel the expectation that I should know Augustine and Aquinas without a corresponding expectation that Christian counterparts have heard of Rabbis Akiva or Eliezer […] Even on a relatively level playing field, I start from a defensive posture and find myself envious of what Christians take for granted that I can’t and don’t.” Go read this, and share it. I’m hoping the relatively high-profile nature of the venue will prompt some reflection. 
  • Chas Clifton reports that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has cleared the way for a suit against Oklahoma’s license plate design to move forward. Why is the license plate being challenged? Because it allegedly endorses “Indian religion.” Quote: “Cressman, who says he “adheres to historic Christian beliefs,” objects to the image of a Native American shooting an arrow toward the sky. He claims the image unconstitutionally contradicts his Christian beliefs by depicting Indian religious beliefs, and that he shouldn’t have to display the image.” The plate is based off of a famous statue depicting a sacred act, but does it really endorse a religion? It seems rather tenuous, considering the arguments we hear consistently about “secular” Christian crosses. You can’t have church-state separation absolutism without it cutting both ways. A “win” for this Christian could create ripples he may not enjoy.
  • Advocacy organization Amnesty International has condemned the rise of blasphemy cases in Egypt, saying it uses defamation of religion as a way to silence critics. Here’s more on the issue from Daily News Egypt: “Slapping criminal charges with steep fines and, in most cases, prison sentences against people for simply speaking their mind or holding different religious beliefs is simply outrageous,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director, in the report. Luther added that defamation of religion charges should not be used to “trample over people’s right to freedom of expression and conscience” 
The "Other Religions" section of the Urbana Free Library (post-culling).

The “Other Religions” section of the Urbana Free Library (post-culling).

  • The picture you see above is the “Other Religions” section at the Urbana Free Library in Illinois after a hugely controversial culling that has gained national attention from library observers. In essence, any book acquired more than ten years ago was culled from several non-fiction sections before local outcry halted the process. This has left books on Pagan religions decimated, with only 3 or 4 left visible on the shelf. Libraries are in important first step for many people exploring our faiths, and for those looking to understand us, and decimating collections like this does more harm than I think people realize. Not everyone has consistent and reliable access to the Internet, and even if they do, it doesn’t replace reading seminal books like “Drawing Down the Moon” or “The Spiral Dance.” I’m hoping to have more on this story soon, as Urbana is my old home-town, and I know several library workers there. Stay tuned. 
  • The United Nations World Conference of Indigenous Peoples is taking place in New York, September 2014. A recent gathering in Alta, Norway, home of the Sami People, resulted in an adopted outcome document for the conference. Quote: “Our purpose was to exchange views and proposals and develop collective recommendations on the UN High Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (hereinafter referred to as HLPM/WCIP), which will convene in New York, 22 – 23 September 2014. This document sets forth our recommendations along with the historical and current context of Indigenous Peoples.” I think the document is important and thought-provoking reading for anyone interested in indigenous and Native American issues. 
  • Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee writes about the holiness of the Earth for the Washington Post’s On Faith section. Quote: “I deeply feel that we need to reclaim our spiritual relationship with this beautiful and suffering planet, feel it within our hearts and souls. We need to develop an awareness that the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the energy we use, are not just commodities to be consumed, but part of the living fabric of a sacred Earth. Then we are making a real relationship with our environment, respecting the land on which we live, the air we breathe. We still carry the seed of this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth.”
  • Move over Beltane, because Summer Solstice is all about sex! Quote: “In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice has a history of stirring libidos, and it’s no wonder. The longest day of the year tends to kick off the start of the summer season and with it, the harvest. So it should come as no surprise that the solstice is linked to fertility — both of the vegetal and human variety. ‘A lot of children are born nine months after Midsummer in Sweden,’ says Jan-Öjvind Swahn, a Swedish ethnologist and the author of several books on the subject.” 
  • There are some places in Scotland where being transgendered will get you accused of being a witch. Quote: “Walking down the street I’d get a lot of abuse sometimes. They’d shout at me a lot, call me gay and even accuse me of witchcraft. I feel like I’ve lost a lot of my friends because I had to leave Johnstone. My past was almost completely wiped away.” The ugly strain within humanity that persecutes “the witch,” the “other,” is still very much a part of us I’m sad to say. 
  • The commemorative blue plaque for Doreen Valiente at her home in Brighton has gained the notice of the BBC. Quote: “Doreen Valiente, who was known as the “mother of modern witchcraft”, lived in Tyson Place until her death in 1999 and is to be honoured with a blue plaque on the side of the block of flats where she lived. Ralph Harvey who read the eulogy at her funeral, described her as ‘a very gentle lady’. ‘Witchcraft was always shrouded in mystery and medieval superstition,’ he said. ‘Doreen and Gerald Gardner brought it into the 20th century, they blew away the cobwebs and this was the renaissance of witchcraft as it truly is.'” You can read all of my previous coverage of the plaque, here

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

This is part 3 of a 3 part series on the Beltane Fire Society, a secular ritual performance and street theater group based in Edinburgh, Scotland who has rekindled public celebrations around the Celtic quarter holidays with Pagan-inspired ritual and street theater.

By Rynn Fox, Staff Writer, The Wild Hunt

While each Beltane Fire Society ritual centers on a core narrative, the performance itself has its roots in Galoshan plays, a type of Scottish medieval street theater traditionally performed on All Hallows and during winter. Samhuinn depicts the Celtic story of the Summer and Winter Kings’ battle for control of the seasons as overseen by the Cailleach. For Beltane, the ritual enacts the joining of the May Queen to the Green Man and summer’s arrival. Lughnasadh celebrates the harvest, while Imbolc symbolizes the return of spring with the putting to sleep of the Cailleach.

While the stories stay the same, performance elements are shaped by group organizers, society members who take on the responsibility for a particular character or aspect.

Members of the Beltane Fire Society's Red and White groups practice in Holyrood Park for the 2012 Samhuinn event.

Members of the Beltane Fire Society’s Red and White groups practice in Holyrood Park for the 2012 Samhuinn event. (Photo by Beltane Fire Society photographer Raini Scott.)

“Individual and group roles develop over several weeks, sharing, balancing and refining elements of a narrative and character metaphysic with the logistics of action for a good final performance flow on the night,” said society Group Organizer and Board Member Milk Miriku. “Group rituals can involve doing things to help build and better connect energies, a range of meditative, focused and excited social activities plus everything in between and around, from sound baths, sewing and crafting to games, exercise, dancing and or drumming.”

It’s up to the Blue Men, a group of senior members who act as historians and tradition keepers, to ensure all ritual elements complement each other.

“Blue Men work year-round within the society performing the same role at each event. We work together on practical, ritual and performance aspects of the festivals, and share the knowledge and experience we each have between ourselves, and with the rest of the society,” said society Board Member and Blue Man Matthew Richardson. “In the run-up, we help groups shape their performances, offering advice and tying the narrative threads together.”

Together with a paid producer who manages the festival’s production aspects, they ensure any new and interlinking narratives are aligned. This means a lot of coordination for society members. “[It takes] lots of meetings. Really, lots and lots,” said society Co-Secretary and Pagan Federation of Scotland member Zander Bruce.

The months leading up to the ritual are a flurry of activity as members prepare for roles and recruit new volunteer performers, most with no performance experience, via word of mouth or past audiences—then comes training. Depending on their role, all performers are trained in fire performance, safety, crowd control and street theater. According to society Group Organizer and Board Member Tanya Simpson, the society spends at least two months promoting, rehearsing and “coordinating and training everyone, and working closely with the producer and other group organizers.”

In order to deepen their roles some of the performers choose to do personal or group psychological work.

Winter King ritually kills the Summer King

Winter King (right, David Blumenthal) ritually kills the Summer King (left, Joe Hope) at a rehearsal for the Beltane Fire Society’s 2012 Samhuinn. (Photo by Richard Winpenny.)

“We may do some deeper or shadow work but not necessarily with a polytheistic focus, more something archetypal or emotional that everyone can connect with,” said Bruce. One such activity was particularly moving for him. “One thing I’ve loved doing is keening, whereby the group gathers and is talked through a focus or path-working, down to the bottom of their buried pain, anger and grief, to then be brought up and urged to express that pain through their voice, to share and to support one another. This has been a beautiful and transformative experience.”

In some ways though, the group has become a victim of its own success. Some critics have said that the events, especially the Beltane festival, are being coming too commercialized. A charge Sandra Holdom, owner of local Witchcraft store The Wyrd Shop, dismisses.

“The local [city] council charges a fortune for the use of [Calton] Hill and the clean up afterwards. It must also be remembered that all public events, by law, must have first aid, security, toilet facilities etc. Also, being fire festivals, there must be a fire marshall on site. There is almost no profit involved.”

But in the end, the hard work pays off—especially in terms of memories.

“[I remember] dancing with ma Red and watching the sun rise with Kings in the heat of 09. Ripping flower hearts out as a Hag six months later, smashing my staff on the stage with my crone sisters as the balance of power crossed to let the cold in,” said Miruku. “Steam rising from the Green Man as they dance and I shiver in awe and in the cold rain with a torch at the stage in 08.”

Beltane Fire Society 2012 Samhuinn Procession

Members of the Beltane Fire Society’s Red and White groups dance down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile at the 2012 Samhuinn procession and ritual performance. (Photo by Richard Winpenny.)

All holiday names are in traditional Scottish-Gaelic spelling as provided by the Beltane Fire Society.
All photos used with permission of the Beltane Fire Society and photographers Raini Scott and Richard Winpenny

This is part 2 of a 3 part series on the Beltane Fire Society, a secular ritual performance and street theater group based in Edinburgh, Scotland who has rekindled public celebration around the Celtic quarter holidays with Pagan-inspired ritual and street theater.

By Rynn Fox, Staff Writer, The Wild Hunt

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of a group of hills in the center of the city of Edinburgh, about a mile east of Edinburgh Castle. Traditionally, city residents have climbed the hill on Beltane to watch the sunrise and bathe in the morning dew.

The Beltane Fire Society began in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1988 as the brain-child of musician and artist Angus Farquhar. Though some city residents still maintained the unbroken Beltane tradition of climbing to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a local hill, to greet the sun and wash in dew, Farquhar wanted to revive the holiday as a community celebration.

“The aim was to recreate a sense of community and an appreciation of the cyclical nature of the seasons and our connection to the environment—something that is often overlooked in our modern society and urban environments,” said Board Member Matthew Richardson. This meant rediscovering the traditions surrounding Beltane and other seasonal community festivals.

Folklorist Dr. Margaret Bennett

Dr. Margaret Bennett is a respected Scottish writer, folklorist, ethnologist, broadcaster and singer.

One of the first people he enlisted was Scottish folklore expert Dr. Margaret Bennett, formerly of the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. “[Angus] came to see my colleague, [folk revivalist] Hamish Henderson and me,” said Bennett. “My role was to explain to him about the customs and then Hamish and I agreed to bring our students and to sing and take part. When we arrived we were greeted by the colorful array of key figures, including the May Queen, the Green Man and Red Men and a group of drummers beyond any expectation we might have had.”

Yet what began as a small celebration of around 100 people, including performers, quickly grew due to demand. Samhuinn was added to their festival roster in 1995 with Lughnasadh and Imbolc soon following suit. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the group’s Beltane Fire Festival with around 6,000 attendees and 350 performers taking part.

Sandra Holdom, owner of local Witchcraft store The Wyrd Shop, believes the group’s festivals foster a deeper sense of connection for city residents. “It gives a sense of community and continuity that is sadly lacking in a modern city like Edinburgh. It also draws together disparate aspects of Edinburgh’s cultural heritage, be it Celtic, Nordic, Anglo or North Saxon.”

As to why these events are so popular, Board Member Milk Miruku thinks the event’s popularity is about universality of its narrative.

“It’s a shared time and history of celebration, between the ages, places and people,” said Miruku. “I like the connections that are made between the varying values and influences, the personal and cultural aspects and metaphors that come together to celebrate not just the date but what they associate with that part of the yearly cycle.”

It’s a sentiment Richardson echoes. “[Our] Beltane and Samhuinn [festivals] are ‘all things to all men’ – while they have ties to Celtic traditions and Scottish and Northern European cultures, they also beg, borrow and steal from many others – Scandinavian, Native American, Japanese, African,” said Richardson. “We aren’t seeking to recreate an exact copy of historical events – rather we try to experience the same sense of community and spirituality that inspired those who first celebrated these seasonal transformations, and connect our modern lives back to a sense of nature, the environment and community.”

For Bennett, these types of revival festivals have a significant role in modern society.

“Even though events such as this one are a far cry from the way they were traditionally celebrated, they are important,” said Bennett. “While some of the events, such as the Edinburgh celebration, are presented as theatrical interpretation of tradition rather than a reproduction of the way things were traditionally done. They confirm, however, the genuine human need to celebrate–without celebration life would be humdrum and dull. Celebration confirms life!”

Angus Farquhar could not be reached for comment.
All holiday names are in traditional Scottish-Gaelic spelling as provided by the Beltane Fire Society.

The Reds

The Reds, symbolizing the forces of chaos, sensuality and physicality, stand oblivious to winter’s return at the Beltane Fire Society’s 2012 Samhuinn. (Photo by Richard P. Winpenny. Photo used with Beltane Fire Society permission.)

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on the Beltane Fire Society, a secular ritual performance and street theater group based in Edinburgh, Scotland who have rekindled public celebrations around the Celtic quarter holidays with Pagan-inspired ritual.

By Rynn Fox, Staff Writer, The Wild Hunt

Torchlight and fire sculpture light the cold winter night as a procession of mythical and archetypal figures writhe in the wintry dark. A cacophony of drums echo through narrow city streets. A black masked figure clutching a tall staff takes the stage. Oblivious, the Winter King swings his sword, nearly delivering an executioner’s blow to the Summer King—but the figure steps into the swords’ path, absorbing the blow without injury. With a toss of her head the figure unmasks, revealing herself to be the Cailleach, the ruling deity of Scotland‘s winter season.

The Cailleach summons the powers of the light and peaceful warrior

The Cailleach shows the Winter King that his powers of summoning can be used to call the powers of the peaceful warrior and of the light at the Beltane Fire Society’s 2012 Samhuinn. (Photo by Richard P. Winpenny. Used with Beltane Fire Society and photographer permission.)

This was the scene on Samhuinn on Edinburgh, Scotland’s historic Royal Mile thoroughfare where 150 performers and crew brought pomp, pageantry and pagan-inspired street art and ritual performance to an audience of nearly 4,000 people. The annual event was presented by the Beltane Fire Society, an organization who has been advocating for the awareness and celebration of the Celtic cross-quarter festivals for 25 years.

Street-theater Spirituality

While it is easy to assume the group is Pagan, this secular charity distances itself from religion and spirituality. According to society Co-Secretary and Pagan Federation of Scotland member Zander Bruce, the events are “as pagan as you want them to be. Generally on a scale of pony to Pegasus, we’re about unicorn.”

This doesn’t stop many local Pagans from taking part. Nearly a quarter of the society’s members are of a Pagan or New Age persuasion. “Many of the performers and organizers are involved in the magickal scene in the Lothians [area of Scotland],” said Sandra Holdom owner of local Witchcraft store, The Wyrd Shop.

For members it is a shared dedication to reawakening folk practices and creating effective theater that binds them together, not religion.

“We have a shared vocabulary of ritual, performance, character and story,” said Bruce. “Everything is contextualized around those and everyone feels able to contribute to them.” Still the events are more than theater for some in the society. “Many people [participating] report having an epiphany when at Beltane or Samhuinn and it leads to a spiritual journey.”

Summer King versus Winter KIng

The Winter King (right, David Blumenthal) prepares to dispatch the Summer King (left, Joe Hope) at Beltane Fire Society’s 2012 Samhuinn. (Photo by Richard P. Winpenny. Photos used with Beltane Fire Society and photographer permission.)

Society Co-Secretary and Pagan Tanya Simpson is one such person. She remembers her first society performance as a Torchbearer in the 2010 Samhuinn procession as being “a real catalyst for spiritual growth.”

“It helped me to feel more in touch with the changing of the seasons in a way that I hadn’t quite been able to reach with individual ritual and the combined energy of everyone taking part in the event was truly powerful,” said Simpson. “It was a new beginning for me and helped me find my place within a wider community.”

“The performance carries a strong spirituality for me – but not one that has religious connotations,” said Board Member Matthew Richardson. “For me, it’s the experience of merging performance and celebration and marking the change of the seasons in a way that involves those who might otherwise ignore their passing that it most powerful.”

“One of the most beautiful things about our events is that people – both volunteers and audience members – who are there in a spiritual context stand shoulder to shoulder with people who are there for the costumes and acrobatics or just for an amazing party, and everyone is accepted equally,” said Simpson. “Being witness to that level of inclusion is a pretty special feeling.”

Edinburgh crowds watch the performance of the Beltane Fire Society's 2012 Samhuinn ritual.

Edinburgh crowds watch the Pagan-inspired spectacle of the Beltane Fire Society’s 2012 Samhuinn. (Photo by Richard P. Winpenny. Used with Beltane Fire Society and photographer permission.)

All holiday names are in traditional Scottish-Gaelic spelling as provided by the Beltane Fire Society. All photos used with permission of the Beltane Fire Society and photographer Richard Winpenny.