Archives For Scotland

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.

If you have over 160,000 Euro (235,551 USD) to spend, have I got a hot property for you! Wouldn’t you like to build a cabin right next to the famous Boleskine House on Scotland’s Loch Ness? Hadn’t heard of it? Well then, you must not be up on your Aleister Crowley-lore, for it once belonged to the master-mage and is apparently considered to be the Thelemic Qiblah, the direction O.T.O. Lodges, Profess-Houses and Gnostic Mass Temples are ideally to be oriented towards.

“A beautiful plot on the shores of Loch Ness, next to Jimmy Page and Aleister Crowley’s old property Boleskine House is for sale. A wonderful plot on the shores of Loch Ness with planning permission for a three-bedroom log cottage has come onto the market. The plot, which comes to just under two acres, used form part of the Boleskine House estate which was previously owned by Aleister Crowley, the famous master of the occult, and subsequently by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.”

Oh, and some lad in a rock band once owned the place too. Once there you can build a nice three-bedroom cottage, enjoy the tranquil scenery, go Nessie spotting, plan major Thelemic workings, and try to avoid “King Kevin” as he traipses about Loch Ness drumming up publicity in a red bathrobe.The only real drawback is, well, it’s only accessible by boat.

“The only drawback is access which is only available by boat from along the shore and materials to build the property must also be transported by barge; on the plus side the property is guaranteed to provide peace and quiet amongst the hills.”

But if you’re into privacy while you pursue the Great Work, that’s an asset not a drawback! So contact Strutt and Parker today to make your bid.

Now that I’ve safely arrived in the Pacific Northwest (the journey was only a little like this), unloaded my relocubes, and started the long and arduous process of unpacking my books, it’s time to resume my duties here at The Wild Hunt. I would first like to deeply thank all the wonderful folks who filled in at my blog while I was gone, they made my life much easier, and raised the bar for the writing on this blog in the process. I hope you’ll continue to follow their work at their own blogs and web sites. As for me, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, it’s amazing how much Pagan news you can miss in eleven days. So here’s a quick catch-up of some news of note that emerged during my sojourn.

Professor Ronald Hutton (author of “Triumph of the Moon”), scholar of modern Witchcraft, Druidry, and the English ritual year, has been named a Commissioner of English Heritage.

“The Minister for Culture has appointed Professor Ronald Hutton as the historian to sit on the commission that governs English Heritage. The commission has overall charge of the affairs of the official national body concerned with heritage, and its members act as statutory advisors to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (and so effectively to the government) in all matters that involve the understanding and conservation of England’s past. As such, the appointment carries with it a broader responsibility of acting as an advocate for the importance of history in national life. It will commence in October and last for four years with the possibility of renewal.”

Pagans for Archeology called the news “fantastic” and a “well-deserved honour”. To have such a sympathetic voice for the modern Pagan movement advising the government on England’s heritage could change the existing dynamic over issues of access and preservation for sites like  Avebury and Stonehenge.

Speaking of Ronald Hutton, he makes a brief appearance in a preview for a new documentary about Druids (ancient and modern) produced by the Holistic Channel (no doubt to be re-edited soon for a History Channel program).

This, among other recent developments we’ll get to in a moment, have really peeved off a British academic blogger who calls for more discrimination of modern Pagans (they must, in his mind, prove themselves worthy of “respect”), and resorts to quite a bit of name-calling. He also describes Ronald Hutton as Paganism’s “brain in a jar”, excusing the rest of us from developing critical thinking skills. I personally think my “intellectual depth and rigour” is doing just fine.

Before we leave the isle of Britain, I would be amiss in not noting the fact that there are now enough Pagan police to necessitate the formation of a Pagan Police Association, complete with time off for the various high-holidays (oh, and two official Pagan chaplains serving officers on the force).

“Most recently, the Pagan Police Association has been created, allowing police officers to explore their beliefs with other officers. Alongside this, in some forces, officers are being allowed the opportunity to move away from traditional Christian holidays. In practice this means that Pagan officers, rather like those from more mainstream faiths, can take their holidays on the dates which support their beliefs.”

Not everyone is happy about this, but the growing prevalence of Paganism in Britain seems unavoidable lately. Even the Scottish government has more Pagan civil servants than it does Jews, Sikhs, or Hindus. Maybe the British soul really is Pagan.

Turning our eyes back to the USA, specifically Philadelphia, sensationalism seems almost unavoidable in the case of a trans-gendered woman who died while at a three-day Vodou cleansing ceremony in New Jersey. While no charges have been filed, and no apparent wrong-doing has yet been discovered (nor did any harm come to the six other clients undergoing the same process), that hasn’t stopped the press from airing requests from friends of the deceased for “accountability” from “Houngan Hector” over the matter.

“Her friends there say they want answers and an apology from Salva, who goes by the name “Houngan Hector” on his Gade Nou Leve Society Web site. “I’m certain no one meant to hurt anyone, but she was in their care and there has to be some accountability,” said Randi M. Romo, executive director of the Center for Artistic Revolution, a Little Rock-based nonprofit agency for which Hamilton worked as a youth counselor. “They haven’t even contacted her mother.” No one answered at the door of the Loch Lomond Drive townhouse yesterday, and Salva, who claims he was initiated as a senior priest in Haiti, did not respond to e-mails for comment.”

Considering they may not know why she died, going around and taking responsibility for her death seems a little premature. Plus, with the press running headlines like “Voodoo became a fatal obsession”, and the health department and child services being called on them, I doubt the residents of that house are feeling like opening up. I wonder, if tests reveal that this poor woman died of a brain aneurysm, heart defect, or some other natural cause that had nothing to do with Vodou, will the Philadelphia Daily News vindicate Houngan Hector, or simply move on?

In a final note, for years many Pagans have been trying to separate themselves from the “New Age” label, but in an increasingly shifting economy and world, it looks as if  some New Agers, like The Edge editor Tim Miejan, want that seperation to happen too (much to the chagrin of some).

“Miejan favors articles on stress reduction and spiritual quests … But even Miejan’s open mind sometimes snaps shut. Channelers — people possessed by spirits of the dead — are out. So is the belief that reptile-like aliens have taken over the bodies of celebrities, including Queen Elizabeth and — according to one Web site — former Minnesota U.S. Rep. Bill Luther. Paganism? Out. “I am not saying that because paganism offends anyone,” Miejan said. “But it is a complete niche by itself.” Other New Age leaders are appalled. “He is excluding channeling? Yikes. Or pagans? He should not be doing that,” said Kathy McGee, editor of the Washington-state-based magazine New Age Retailer.”

Call it a result of the Oprah-fication of the New Age section, it’s all about personal growth (and “The Secret”) now, not Atlantean masters or Pagan gods. Those who want to keep Pagans (and Chiropractors, and organic farmers) under the “New Age” rubric are probably more concerned about a shrinking pool of markets to target, rather than if we truly belong with the newly-mainstreamed gurus of self-actualization.

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

Back in 2008 I reported on the innovative theater company, The Motion Group, and their efforts to put together a stage musical of the classic 1973 film “The Wicker Man”. While they’ve only sold about half of the “shares” they made available to help fund the project, it looks like the ambitious play is hitting the stage in Scotland this August.


In the woods there grew a tree…

“Previews, opening and tour all coming into shape…. Previews at the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh: 4th and 5th August. Previews at the Pleasance Two in Edinburgh: 7th, 8th and 9th August – 11pm – 12.30am Run at the Pleasance Two in Edinburgh: 10th – 31st August (apart from the 18th) – 11pm – 12.30am Then Perth Rep, Eden Court in Inverness and the Glasgow Citizens Theatre in September and October….”

If you want to see the previews, you have to buy a “share” of the play, but tickets for the Edinburgh performances are on sale now. I can only hope, that if this adaptation is successful, it will end up in America someday. In the meantime, I urge my UK readers to catch the show, and tell me how it was.

A near-fatal horse mutilation in Fife, Scotland has the local authorities scrambling to find a culprit.

“A four-day-old foal has been slashed across the neck at a farm in Fife. Police and the Scottish SPCA said the black and white mare is lucky to be alive after the incident near Cupar. Authorities believe last week’s attack was deliberate. Fife Constabulary have launched an inquiry and are considering whether the attack may have been carried out by pagans…”

How terrible that this has… wait a minute, did he say “pagans”? Why would he think it might be Pagans?

“…the attack may have been carried out by pagans dabbling in the occult ahead of the summer solstice on June 21 – a key date in the occult calendar. A police spokesman said: ‘We certainly will not be discounting the line of enquiry that it is related to satanists.’”

So is it Satanists or Pagans, I’m confused. They must have some evidence other than “near the Summer Solstice”, right?

“It is one isolated incident at the moment and we can’t immediately tie it to anything specific.”

Ah, so it’s merely a theory then. No actual evidence. Not that this stopped a sensationalistic (and slanderous) story from getting printed, or police from basing possible suspects on a random guess instead of actual physical evidence. Then again, maybe Pagans and Satanists roam the countryside in Scotland slashing at horses in the run-up to the Summer Solstice, and I’m just missing out on this well-known tradition.