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Clifton, Chas S.  Her Hidden Children The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America.  Lanham:

AltaMira Press, 2006.

Many of us come to Paganism with an interest in ancient history.  We wonder who and how our ancestors worshiped and we attempt to follow in their footsteps.  I can speak for myself when I say that when I began studying Wicca in high school I was not interested in Paganism’s modern history until I reached a point in my spiritual journey where I started to wonder why certain things were done.  Her Hidden Children the Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America by Chas S. Clifton attempts to explain the evolution of modern Paganism in ways that are both respectful and honest.

The important thing to remember when studying Paganism is that it is a spiritual path made up of many different religious outlooks.  Not everyone can agree on what Paganism is as a whole and so the movement must be looked at as an organism made up of many smaller cells.  Clifton successfully compares modern Paganism to an island teeming with diversity.  Just as everything is connected and dependent on one another in an ecological biosphere, so too are the modern Pagan movements connected.  Each Pagan path shares certain commonalities, whether it is a group of founders, cultural inspiration, similar ritual patterns, or the similarity of existing outside of the major five world religions.  Clifton’s goal is to examine Pagan literature as he believes that a study of the writing is the only way we have to map the evolution and growth of the movement. It is in this way that he is able to piece together the history of modern American Paganism.

Clifton’s main focus is Wicca.  It cannot be denied that Wicca has played a significant role in popularizing Paganism in general.  Like many forms of Paganism, its history starts outside of America – in Europe – with a man named Gerald Gardner who, by publishing Witchcraft Today, allowed for society to start thinking about Paganism (14).  Since then, numerous authors have written on “the craft” including Raymond Buckland, Doreen Valiente, and Cunningham.  Clifton argues that literature has been paramount to the spread of Wiccan thought and practice (13).  Since so many Wiccans are solitary practitioners, they rely on the written word to teach and learn more often than not. Clifton’s discussion on Wicca’s history is worth reading due to Wicca’s influence on Paganism as a whole.  The elders of the movement, dead and living, possess such interesting characters that one cannot help but admire them for their eccentricity.  Just as interesting is the transformation that Wicca has undertaken from a coven-centered religion to a diverse buffet of traditions with many eclectic solitaries.  The availability of literature has played a significant role in this growth and change, but the increasingly sexy portrayal of witches in the media, as discussed in the chapter “The Playboy and the Witch: Wicca and Popular Culture”, has helped as well.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book takes an in-depth look at Paganism’s relationship with nature.  I read this chapter shortly after taking part in a heated forum discussion on just that topic.  My experience on the Pagan forum was a revelation – not all Pagans identify with the title “nature religion.”  Many felt that their religion did not focus on nature but rather on magic or cultural heritage.  Others, like myself, argued that all of those things were part of nature.  Clifton explores this situation and suggests that there are three categories of “nature religion.”  He calls these “Cosmic Nature,” “Gaian Nature,” and “Erotic” or “Embodied Nature.”  Simply put, Cosmic Nature is concerned with magic and energy, Gaian Nature explores the philosophy of the Earth as a deity, and Erotic Nature involves sexual pleasure.  It is interesting to explore the different approaches to nature taken by other spiritual paths within Paganism, but the inherent message from Clifton is that concept of Paganism being a Nature Religion is  largely an American phenomenon with connections to the growing environmentalist movement (41).  However it must be understood that not all Pagan faiths are concerned with nature in the same way that some Wiccans and Druids are.

The book includes a chapter dedicated to other modern Pagan movements, but the discussion is very limited.  Clifton summarizes such movements as The Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia, The Church of All Worlds, The Council of Themis, and, finally, modern Druidism.  I was surprised that there was not a larger discussion on Reconstructionists (although they received brief mentions scattered throughout the book), Asatru, Modern Shamanism, or Chaos Magic.  Some of these movements, especially Asatru, have become incredibly influential in the Neo-Pagan world.  Clifton’s discussion on Druidism, while very interesting and helpful in understanding the development and inspiration for Ár nDraíocht Féin, seemed to fall short of other Druidic traditions.  The Henge of Keltria is only mentioned, and the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids seems nowhere to be found despite its having American members and an obvious influence on the modern Druidic movement.  If Clifton were to release a later edition, my suggestion to him would be to include a chapter on Druidism as well as a chapter on Astaru and Heathenism.  His chapter on other Pagan paths should be dedicated to the less understood, less discussed paths such as chaos magic and Christian Witches.

Despite the minor quips I’ve expressed, Her Hidden Children was an immensely enjoyable book with a lot of important information.  The writing style was very straightforward and easy to understand.  At times, the book was a page turner simply because of Clifton’s narrative style and the interesting facts he presented.

Her Hidden Children has been helpful in understanding the development of Wicca, Druidism, and Paganism as a whole within the United States.  It does not change my spirituality in any way, but it does make me a wiser, more informed, more tolerant person.  I think that, if Paganism is to remain a strong, growing religion, the diverse paths will have to celebrate their differences while embracing their similarities in order to unite for the common good.  This book serves as an excellent starting point for just that.

 

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The latest post on The Wild Hunt inspired me.  Today I did a formal ritual to honor, well, the spirit of America*.  Most people who know me realize I’m not the most patriotic person in the world.  I’m proud of my country, but not blind to its offenses.  I also don’t fly a million little flags around my yard like some of my neighbors **.  That said, I’m not afraid to say that I feel lucky to live where I live.  I read a lot of environmental and human rights news and, frankly, so many people have it way worse than us.  We have our faults, that’s for sure, but at least most of us are relatively comfortable and, well, safe!  It’s a shame that we have corporations who exploit developing nations and our own environment, and it’s a shame that some of our ancestors did unspeakable things to the indigenous people who lived here first, but there’s also a lot of good in America and I can think of that and celebrate it today.

Just as in my ritual, let me post it to my blog:

Hail to the spirits of America!
Hail to its Nature Spirits!  Hail to the high-flying, majestic bald eagle!  Hail to the forest turkey!  Hail to the river otters, moose, white tailed deer, squirrels, chipmunks, black bears, mountain lions, wolves, and bobcats!  Hail to the kangaroo rats, the coyotes, the scorpions, and roadrunners.  Hail to the great blue herons, the salmon, the monarch butterflies, the black widow spiders, and the alligators.  Hail to the sea turtles, the dolphins, the tuna, and the pelicans.  Hail to the ants, the bees, and the bats!  Hail to the unseen spirits who were here first and who came over with our ancestors!  Hail to you all and may we live in better harmony with you!

Hail to America’s ancestors!  Hail to the Native American ancestors!  May we grow in friendship.  Hail to our immigrant ancestors!  May we remember where we came from.  Hail to the friends and family we knew in America, and hail to those who fought for our country – especially those whose intentions  and actions were honorable.  May we learn from your triumphs and mistakes.

Hail to the Gods of America!  Hail to the Gods of the Native Americans, and hail to the Gods of our ancestors!  Hail to Lady Liberty!  May we bring honor to you in all we say and do.

May we admit to our faults and work to improve them.  May we help the less fortunate, and welcome them to our country.  May we celebrate our diversity and learn to live together in peace.  May we develop better technologies so that we can live in harmony with nature.

So be it!

* As you may recall, I’ve been doing one formal ADF ritual a week.  I was cutting it close by leaving it until today, but I made it!

** Ahh…military towns…

( For My LJ Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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When I was a jaded high schooler, newly converted from Catholicism to “Wicca,”*  I didn’t have a good understanding of ancient or medieval history.  I knew quite a bit about American history thanks to years and years of emphasis in school, but otherwise…  I knew a bit about feudalism, I knew that the Egyptians were some sort of polytheists who built the pyramids and believed in an afterlife, and I had a vague idea that the Druids were from Ireland.  For years after, even into my earliest Druidic studies, I was convinced that St. Patrick’s Day was a crappy holiday because it celebrated how mean old St. Patrick kicked the Druids (aka The Snakes) out of Ireland.

Fast forward to the last … oh, year and a half.  My interest in Druidism has grown so that it’s an incredibly important part of my life.  I read about it a lot.  Inspired by Celtic Reconstructionist methodologies, I read history book after history book, even the dry ones, to obtain a greater understanding of my ancestors and the culture I feel most inspired by.  It is impossible for me to wag my finger at St. Patrick after reading as much as I have.  I’m not alone in this revelation.  Several Pagan bloggers have been discussing their feelings and understandings of the holiday.  To make a long story short, St. Patrick has been framed.  He’s a scapegoat among the Pagan community – a largely innocent Christian victim to our community’s “Waaaa, you stole my toy!” attitude.**

In other words, I have less of a “bah humbug” attitude about St. Patrick’s Day.  A couple years ago, a friend of mine (I swear, I think it was one of my sister-in-laws), who is neither Pagan nor Christian, told me that she prefers to celebrate St. Patrick’s day in the spirit of her Irish ancestry.  I’ve come to feel similarly, especially when considering what my immigrant ancestors went through.  I come from a proud, strong, spiritual, creative, and tenacious people.  I am honored to have Irish blood flowing through my veins.

That said, St. Patrick’s Day cannot escape my criticism entirely.  Although I don’t get very “into” St. Patrick’s Day,***  I’m not against celebrating my culture.  I also recognize that many minority groups join in because the Irish are, more or less, a success story in America.  Although they were persecuted and abused, they climbed the social ladder and many of us are successful and happy today thanks to their efforts****.  However, the celebration is just way, way too commercial.  There are too many crappy, plastic trinkets that end up in garbage limbo, too many styrofoam shamrocks, too many greasy attempts at Irish food, and too much ignorant debauchery.  I use such language because it’s true!  I love a good drink and a reason to party, but on St. Patrick’s Day, at least I know what the hell I’m celebrating.  It’s unfortunate how many Irish wannabes and, even worse, Irish descendants haven’t a clue what their ancestors went through.  Worse yet, most don’t care.  They just like the excuse to drink.  The only reason St. Patrick’s Day continues to thrive is, in my opinion, because of its association to booze.  Why do you think St. Joseph’s Day isn’t a big deal in the States?  Why is Cinco de Mayo a hit  but Chinese New Year isn’t?  It’s the booze.  The ignorant masses just want to drink.  Any excuse.  If you asked them what they were celebrating and why, I bet they wouldn’t be able to explain.  Bah humbug to that!

So roll on my Irish loving friends!  Have a fun (responsible) time but remember what the day is about.  Sláinte!

*I put Wicca in quotations because I’m coming to the conclusion that, while I read about it and attempted to practice Wiccan liturgy, I wasn’t really a Wiccan.  This has nothing to do with initiation or anything.  I simply wasn’t living a Wiccan life.  I called myself one, but I was more akin to a Catholic who rarely prays and only goes to church on Easter.  I should expand on this in a future entry…

**It’s obviously more complicated than this.  There are other stories the Patrick myth has grown out of, and people do love to perpetuate falsities or hyperboles.

*** It’s still a Catholic holiday and has a history of solemnity in Ireland.  I’m not Catholic, don’t care to celebrate the St. much, and prefer to let Catholics do their thing in peace.

**** Before anyone points this out, yes I’m aware this was facilitated by skin color.

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