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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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Jones, Prudence, and Nigel Pennick.  A History of Pagan Europe.  New York: Barnes & Noble,

1995.

 

A side of history that has remained silent for many years is finally revealed in Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick’s work A History of Pagan Europe.  Through exploring the tomes of history, lore, and archaeology, the authors have put together an impeccable overview of the various ancient people of Europe.  In doing so, they exhibit not only how Europe became Europe, but how modern Paganism came to be.  A History of Pagan Europe is an excellent source for Pagan students.  What I found most fascinating were the similarities shared by the various cultures discussed.

Many people of European descent know very little about their ancestors.  The authors begin their work by stating that most people “are more familiar with native traditions from outside Europe than with their own spiritual heritage” (1).  This is sad, particularly so because many European descendants vehemently distance themselves from Paganism even though it has always been there and continues to exist, as Jones and Pennick argue, within our modern society, intertwined in some of our most seemingly secular institutions (1) such as democracy the celebration of Christmas.  The authors set out to debunk the misconceptions about Paganism held by society and show that we really aren’t so different from our ancestors.

The authors attempt to define what Paganism actually is.  I’ve found that it’s difficult to do so in this modern age because so many people, in particular Pagans themselves, refuse to be defined.  I feel that Jones and Pennick come to a satisfying conclusion.  If Paganism is ever to become unified (even though, again, some modern Pagans would argue against this notion), we have to unite under a name and group definition.  The authors first describe how people have defined Pagans in the past.  From country bumpkins to “non-combatants” (as opposed to the “soldiers of Christ”), the word “Pagan” has had a more or less pejorative meaning for the past few hundred years (1).  Jones and Pennick then look at the modern, spiritual definition and conclude that Pagan religions, past and present, share some common traits: polytheism (or some form of worshiping more than one deity), the view of nature as a theophany, and the recognition of Goddesses as well as Gods.  While some Pagans will argue with this, I feel that it covers many of our past and present traditions.  In my opinion, the authors do Paganism at large a service by providing a positive and academic definition.

We then delve into the history of the Greeks and the Eastern Mediterranean, the Romans and the Western Mediterranean, the Celts, the Germanic people, the Baltic people, and the Slavic people.  I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between these different cultures.  For instance, sacred trees kept revealing themselves in each culture.  The authors explain that in Greece “[m]any sanctuaries in later Greek culture centered on a sacred tree…”(6).  Later they explain that “[n]o temple was dedicated unless there was a holy tree associated with it” (20).  The Celts were said to worship in groves of trees (81) and some Germanic tribes also met in such places (116).  The Baltic people had celebrations revolving around ritualized trees that Pennick and Jones argue represented the “axis of the Earth’s rotation” (174).  In Lithuania, there were also sacred groves that were not to be cut  (176).  Everyone seems to have had a sense of the importance of the forest.  I was surprised, however, that the authors did not discuss the world tree of Norse tradition.

Nature was repeatedly venerated in some way from culture to culture. Sacred springs or wells played central roles to many of the old religions.  Slavic Pagans had rituals in which ceremonial dancers “undertook a nine-day ceremony [in which they] visited nine boundary-points, filled a ceremonial vessel with water from nine springs, and prayed to their patron goddess Irondeasa” (190).  The Celtic tribes felt that springs were sacred places as well.  There were springs at Bath associated with the Goddess Sul and “[s]sometimes these springs were thought to cure eye diseases, bringing the light of the Sun to the eye of the sufferer” (88).  In Ireland, “well-worship continues in a modern form, sometimes as a local folk-observance but more often by adoption into Christianity in the form of ‘well-dressing’” in which the well is decorated by the community and then blessed by a local priest (83-84).  The Greeks also recognized sacred springs (10).  The various cultures covered also had strong beliefs associated with fire and/or solar powers, nature spirits, agricultural festivals, and honoring the Earth.  It was interesting to see that, although the cultures venerated nature, they also exploited it. Unlike our modern world, however, our ancestors were very aware of the balance and the need to give back to nature and the Gods.

The dead and the Otherworld were also a common theme.  In Rome, “the remains of the dead were elaborately honored and they were housed in elaborate necropolises…” (26).  Obviously, there existed a concern with the afterlife. We know from Celtic lore that there were times of the year when the dead and other beings of the Otherworld could commune with the world of the living (90).  We know of some Germanic funeral traditions, some from direct observation.  While we may not know the meaning behind the traditions, it is, again, obvious that the dead were being taken care of and that they seem to have been sent into the Otherworld fully prepared for renewed life (138).  In addition, Pennick and Jones point out that the Germans were a bit different from other European Pagans in that they actually felt that their tribal ancestors were Gods (116).  In my opinion, this adds a whole new layer of sacredness to ancestor worship.

There were so many common themes that it would take pages and pages to discuss them all.  Reading about the various similarities helped to reinforce the customs of Ár nDraíocht Féin.   The creation of our altars and what goes on them makes more sense when viewed as a continuation of our ancestral religious traditions.  The tree represents the sacred tree that reveals itself again and again throughout the pages of the book.  The well represents the many sacred springs.  The cauldron represents the sacred fire.  We give offerings to the nature spirits because, like our ancestors, we believe that we need to give back to nature in thanks for what it gives us.  We honor our ancestors like our forefathers and mothers did.  We set up temples and worship in or around sacred trees.  Having read A History of Pagan Europe, I’m filled with a more academic understanding for all that we do in our tradition and it fills me with pride. It almost seems that through practicing as my ancestors did I am honoring them.

Reading the book hasn’t really changed how I practice my religion.  I’ve been recognizing the importance of the sacred tree, well, and fire for awhile now, and have been observing the other customs of ADF because they felt right. Reading about the historical background of everything only reinforces my spiritual practices and gives me a better understanding for other cultures that I may otherwise have never read about.  As someone who has clergy aspirations, it is useful to know that many of our practices are universal throughout Europe.  If I was required to do a Norse ritual, for instance, I wouldn’t feel too out of place after doing the appropriate amount of research on the pantheon.

The book ends by discussing how Paganism has been reestablishing itself, first through the Renaissance, and finally through the various modern movements.  The authors briefly touch on Druidry and Ásatrú, however I felt that they were more favorable of Wicca.  While Ásatrú has more of an honorable mention, Druidry is made to look like a fantasy-based fraternity (211).  Some of the first modern Druids do have Masonic roots, but the authors have failed to take note of other viable Celtic-inspired traditions that do more research and rely less on romantic fancy.  Perhaps it’s because the book was written before Ár nDraíocht Féin and Celtic Reconstructionism were as known as they are now. Meanwhile, Wicca is praised as the “kind of Paganism [that] looks ahead, offering a new philosophy, more strongly than it looks to its roots in the past” (220).  While I’ll never condemn Wicca, I do think that the authors have ignored the fact that many groups, including Ásatrú groups, take on the Reconstructionist principal that religions should be updated for our modern world while holding onto those traditions that are still applicable.  Meanwhile, many branches of Wicca have become just as fantasy-driven as the old Druidic orders.  I believe that having an understanding of history is very important, especially where religion is concerned.

A History of Pagan Europe should be read by every Pagan and history student alike.  Modern Pagans should have a firm understanding of where their traditions have evolved from.  Even Pagans who do not have European ancestry should give the book a try, especially if they live in a Euro-centric country like America or Canada. It can give a lot of perspective on our culture, especially where holidays and our calendar are concerned. Meanwhile, history students should appreciate the other side of the story and see the many examples of how Paganism was not necessarily stamped out, but rather absorbed into our modern world.

 

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We spent Thanksgiving with our parents this year.  Weretoad’s mother visited us and we all went down to my parents’.  Weretoad and I brought the tofurky.  I cooked it in a crock pot surrounded by sweet potatoes and carrots.  Oh my Gods, it was delicious!  We don’t eat many processed faux meats.  We tend to stick with straight beans or homemade bean patties.  When I’m feeling a bit lazy, or when Thanksgiving rolls around, Tofurky is relatively guilt free.  While it’s still a processed product, it’s not made from genetically modified or non-organic soy.  I feel pretty good about eating it. 

I’ve been learning more about Buddhism recently.  I don’t know why, but my interest in it has increased.  There are obvious differences between it and modern Druidism, but there are also similarities.  It fascinates me, especially in regards to compassion.  There is a story about The Buddha attending a planting festival.  Instead of watching the dancers, he focused on the bugs and their eggs.  He thought about how the people digging into the soil had to disturb them, possibly kill them, in order to grow their crops.  This event is said to have helped inspire his philosophy on compassion.  This, in turn, inspired many Buddhists to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently.  No matter how hard I try to be compassionate towards the natural world, I can only do so much without killing myself.  Even the most dedicated fruititarian will inevitably harm one creature, if only through the cultivation of vegetable matter to consume.  Some may look at this and say, “Well then why give up meat?  You cannot escape the circle of life entirely.  You might as well embrace it.”  The thing is, I’m not trying to escape the cycles of nature – I am still a part of them but in a different why than a meat eater.  I experience the cycles differently now that I try not to consume the flesh of my fellow brother and sister animals.  I do what I can  – I seek a balance. There must be a balance of compassion for the Nature Spirits and ourselves.  That balance will be different for each of us depending on the lessons we need to learn and the diet our bodies need.  We should not punish our bodies.  Even The Buddha recognized that killing our bodies for spiritual goals was not healthy.  Everything must be balanced.

We have entered to season of death.  Our ancestors culled the herds and this tradition continues to this day with hunting season.  Since moving to the North Country, I have seen more deer hanging from trees in front of homes.  Every time I see one, I think of Odin hanging from the World Tree, starring down at the roots, seeking wisdom.  I wonder where the deers’ souls have ventured as the blood drains from their bodies.  I marvel that the corvid family is not there to taste their flesh.  As the nights grow colder and hunters work to stock their freezers, I’ve seen them peel the flesh from the deer.  I’ve seen the gleaming muscles and tendons revealed.  Weretoad looks away.  He has his reasons and I respect them.  I stare.  I find myself fascinated with the process.  I feel for the deer, but there is something fundamentally more sacred about the relationship between the hunter and the hunted than the shopper and the package of meat. I think of that as I stare.   That is not to say that I don’t respect the people buying locally farmed and butchered animals – that is also better than buying factory farmed meat.  But one must admit – when it is you hunting/raising, killing, and then skinning the animal…  you enter an intimate dance with the forces of life and death.  It is more than simply being in touch with the land and the agricultural cycles – you are getting in touch with the real essence of mortality. Some of this may be my romanticized, Paganized, outsider perspective, but have talked to people who hunt or raise their own food – some of whom are very close friends and family – I am not alone in thinking these things.

It seems obvious, but there is a difference between killing a plant and an animal.  The only difference is that we can relate more to the animal because of its similarities to us.  I stop and stare at the gutted, dripping, shimmering corpses.  They are like me.  That could be me.  I am reminded of Ricky Fitts from “American Beauty” and his facination with dead people and animals.  When asked why he films them, he says, “It’s like God’s looking right at you, just for a second, and if you’re careful… you can look right back.”  He admits to seeing beauty in what is otherwise uncomfortable and grotesque.  I still feel uncomfortable, but I look anyway and try to feel what the hunter might have felt (if he was the respectful sort like my soon to be brother-in-law).

I read a blog entry recently about what is arguably the most humane way to kill a turkey.  The author described the event, how the animal’s brain died before its body.  The convulsions made a woman who had never seen this cry and feel for the animal.  Even the author admitted to always feeling something of pity for the creature.  He explained that being there to witness the death of the animal is the price a human should pay for eating it.  To eat the fruit of death, a human must pay the price of being reminded of his or her own mortality.  It was a fascinating perspective, and one perfectly in-line with Druidism’ belief in a gift calls for a gift or sacrifice. 

I think that is why I stare.  I don’t experience that exchange as vividly in my garden.  If I kill anything as I till or dig, I do not see it.  I move anything large enough to see.  I experience the death of flesh distantly, but I still feel I must somehow experience it and whisper soft prayers for the departed.  I must be reminded of my own mortality – not through animal activist videos – but through the vivid dance of the hunter and the deer.

In some ways, I suppose I stare for the same reason I stare in awe at the multitudes of stars at night.  I like to be reminded of how small I really am.  For some reason, that feeling is like a hug. 

Gods bless the deer and other game who have fed the multitudes this season.  May you run wild in the Other World!

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

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My most recent post about ahimsa and Druidism sparked some conversation with prophet_maid on Live Journal.  We talked about vegetarianism, eating meat, the food chain, and the hierarchy implied by Jainist ahimsa.  It helped me sort through my thoughts better and I realize that that isn’t the best way for me to express my reasons for what I do.  Many of the ideas surrounding ahimsa still resonate with me.  I am very inspired by Gandhi’s application of it

A hierarchy naturally implies that I feel I am better and more privileged than other creatures.  As I’ve expressed to others before, I really don’t think that.  I don’t believe that humans are any better or worse than the other Nature Spirits.  I believe we all have natural talents and that some of us are better at certain things.  Framed by human-centric values and aspirations, I can say that we are more creative and innovative than other creatures (sometimes for better or worse), but there is a bit of hubris to that.  I am proud to call myself creative and artistic, but I am not close-minded to the possibility that some other creatures have a different definition of art and think of themselves as more capable in that area than us.  Who really knows?

In the end, I have made a spiritual decision about what I will and will not eat.  It almost seems like a hierarchy in that I am choosing to eat some things and not others, but I feel no true superiority over the plants I eat.  I have a great respect for plants.  I talk to them, ask permission before I harvest, leave offerings, sing to them, and thank them frequently.  I hug trees and am not ashamed to admit that.  I do not feel as closely related to plants as I do those in the animal kingdom, but I fill a kinship nonetheless.

In talking more about it to prophet_maid, I compared myself to herbivores like rabbits and deer.  I explained that I didn’t feel removed from the natural cycles of life or somehow less human because I was denying myself participation in a common human act.  I said that I was just as connected to the cycles of life as a deer.  I don’t see it as the denial of basic human needs; I see it as another way of experiencing humanity – a way just as valid as eating sustainable meat.  Thinking of it this way in combination with the end of my previous post, in which I discuss spiritual prohibition and life lessons, it makes so much more sense to me.  I am feeling more comfortable simply saying that it is a spiritual choice I have made connected to the lessons I must learn at this time in this life.  Perhaps there will come a time when I am meant to learn the lessons of eating meat again.  Who really knows?

Comparing myself to a deer, though, opened up a new door – one that has been slowly opening for years.  I’ve had different spiritual experiences with deer.  I could say it started as a child as I delighted at seeing the deer outside my home, but what child wouldn’t feel that way?  Truly, the first time I felt spiritually tuned in to this creature was when I started college.  I was in a rough place emotionally.  Although I was experimenting with Wicca before a breakup, it was after that I really became a practicing Pagan.  It was then that I started to work harder and develop my skills.   I went into the woods to meditate.  One day, after meditating, I opened my eyes and was surrounding by a herd of deer.  It seemed like a buck and a harem of does.  I looked at the buck and I remember that I wasn’t afraid.  I was in awe as he stared me down.  I remember saying to him in my mind, “I’m not here to hurt anyone.”  He made a noise – the first time I ever heard a deer speak in anyway – and stamped a hoof.  The herd moved away, dissolving into the woods.  I felt such a rush and instinctively felt like, after so many years of playing in the woods as a child, I was finally formally allowed there.  Was the spirit of the Horned God in that deer?  I’ve never been sure, exactly, but it was one of the most spiritually important events in my life.

The second time I brushed with the spirit of deer came during meditation.  I met with a spirit of the forest – a fair woman who called herself a lady of the deer.  I was then obsessed, for a short time, with Flidais.  I tried to research her and seek advice from others.  There is little on her, and some people seemed dismissive of it.  Yet I felt so drawn.  I still do…  I let that fall by the wayside because I didn’t want to seem too “New Agey” to Celtic Reconstructionists and scholarly folk who seemed to think she was just a literary character in the tales and little more.  I wasn’t as driven or emotionally strong then.

Most recently, I was in the woods making offerings.  I called to the spirits of the forest and asked for their teachings.  In that moment, a deer ran through in the distance, vanishing into the darkness.  I wanted to follow it, but was also frightened for some reason…

I don’t think of myself as the sort to attach oracular significance to every natural event I witness.  Most of the time, if I see a raven, fox, or such, I just hail it as a passing nature spirit.  There might be a lesson, but most of the time it is simply a blessing to see them.  I feel lucky for that alone.  The deer though…  I cannot shake the significance of those times.  I feel that this is something I should really work through and explore more.  Perhaps I have another spirit guide I should be working with in addition to Breeze the Lynx?  Perhaps I should start walking into that darkness and facing the fears.

The doll above, “Flidais,” was made by the extremely talented Forest Rogers.  
( For My LJ Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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If you are a Pagan and have not read ‘Polytheology: Syncretism, Process Theology, and “Polyamorotheism”‘ by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, you absolutely must.  This well-written and very thoughtful article about cultural appropriation, syncretism, Pagan theology, and religion in general is amazing.  It certainly gave me a lot to think about in regards to the nature of the Gods.  I love the beautiful image he weaves of Gods evolving and/or creating other Gods through romantic or sexual meetings that we have not considered, discovered, or sung about yet.  It almost makes me envision deities as spider plants.  Have you ever had one?  They grow smaller versions of themselves that can be removed and planted as normal.  Are the Gods like that, each a spider plant that creates similar plants (Gods) for different places or even purposes?  It can make sense when considering it in light of the various Celtic triple deities.  Hello American Gods!  Oh the possibilities…

It causes me to look at syncretism a little differently.  Truthfully, I have softened to it already as of late, though I think it must be done with care and for well-considered purpose.  The author himself cautions against doing so without respect, understanding, or proper involvement with the culture.  That is very reasonable, I think.

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

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From Friday to Saturday, I underwent the vigil to become an official “folk” of Muin Mound Grove along with Candee.  What this means is that, along with having a history of attending the grove and a good relationship with everyone there, I am taking on more responsibility.  If need be, I could be asked to lead a significant part of a ritual.  I’m expected to do more for the grove.  It’s really exciting for me.  I love everyone there and I’m proud to be a part of it.   I want to do more for my Grovies of my religion in general.

Muin Mound has various traditions that are part of becoming a folk.  Along with staying up until just after sunrise, we made Muin Mound pins to wear at ritual, underwent a long guided meditation, participated in a ritual, were formally welcomed during the main worship service, and watched the Wicker Man.

Now, I’d never seen the Wicker Man before.  It’s not the sort of film my parents would have had around the house.  It also has the reputation as a horror film and, for all my recent posts about ghosts and zombies, I don’t often watch such things.  When I found out what becoming a folk entailed, I decided to put off watching it until my vigil.

Why is the Wicker Man part of our vigil tradition?  Well, it’s a hugely popular movie in the Neo-Pagan community.  Everyone seems to rave about it.  Groups are even organizing Rocky Horror-like parties where people watch the movie and sing along to the beautiful songs.  I suppose we watch it because it’s become such a huge part of our Pagan culture and to become so involved in said culture is to experience its art*.

So what did I think of it?

Let me just get it out right now and say that I didn’t enjoy the end.  If you’ve never seen the movie, look away right now.  Did the uninitiated leave?  Ok, good.  Now, the movie is called The Wicker Man because, at the end, the investigator, who also happens to be a virgin Christian, is sacrificed to the Gods by being burned alive (along with various animals) to ensure the fertility of the land.  The residents of the all-Pagan island of Summer Isle, known for their apples, had a poor harvest the year before and wanted to give a really large sacrifice to aid them.  Now, I always knew this was going to happen because of the movie’s reputation and my background knowledge.  Julius Caesar wrote about the Gauls use of wicker men but, other than that literary blurb, no other evidence for the practice exists.  We know that the Celts did sacrifice people and animals, but the wicker man method was either incredibly rare, a one-time event, or a rumor that Caesar noted/created.

The film, over all, did not meet my definition of a horror film.  It simply did not “horrify” me until the very end.  I’m sure it’s more horrible to Christians who are easily offended by nudity, sex, and polytheism.  I spent most of the film giggling at the protagonist’s discomfort (or growling at his rudeness) and wishing that I lived on an island of Pagans.

And this brings me to why I didn’t like the end.  As stated, I know our ancestors sacrificed animals and people to the Gods.  I don’t feel that we have to do that any more.  Our society has evolved and, while I know some people still maintain such practices, I feel that we are in an age that requires less killing and destruction. We ravage our environment enough.  We kill too many factory farmed animals.  We have too many hungry humans in the world to justify killing animals to use up other important resources like grain and water.  Human sacrifice is now murder and animal sacrifice is now arguably unsustainable.  A better sacrifice to the Gods in this day and age would be to give up something you worked hard on, or, better yet, an environmentally damaging practice that is convenient to you (I could do more of this).  There’s also giving up time for community service.  There are many types of sacrifice and all are appropriate, in my opinion.  If you really feel that the Gods desire blood, put a razor to your own fingers.  If you must offer an animal, buy an animal to feed an unfortunate family in the name of your Gods.

Some people giggle at the sacrifice of the Christian at the end.  Me…  I was uncomfortable with it.  In the modern sense, it was a murder.  The Pagans of Summer Isle claim that he was a willing sacrifice because he came to the island by his own free will, but that isn’t so.  They tricked him and then sabotaged his means of escape.  I worry that many Pagans love the film because of their own bitterness towards Christianity.  As much as the religion makes me uncomfortable, I know too many good Christian people.

Now, I know that most Pagans wouldn’t dream of doing an actual wicker man.  Most are level-headed enough to know that such practices are best left to ancient history.  Hopefully most are aware that The Wicker Man is fictitious and that modern groups just don’t do that (knock on wood).**  After watching it with some of my grove mates, we had a brief conversation about how it was fictitious.  I think the key to Pagans watching and enjoying the movie is that it must be followed by discussion because it can be educational and inspirational.  When showing it to new Pagans or the highly impressionable, it should be prefaced in some way so as to cushion the blow.

Ending aside, I actually really liked the movie.  A level-headed person should know that it’s all fiction and that it’s not an accurate portrayal of modern Pagans (Are any movies?).  The music was beautiful.  I was familiar with a majority of it.  Damh the Bard does an excellent cover of “Gently Johnny,” and Mediaeval Baebes produced a playfully melodic “Maypole Song.”  Also present was the traditional “Sumer is a Cummin In” that I so loved from MVPN’s Beltaine rituals.

http://www.youtube.com/v/7pwXFVCsuvU&hl=en_US&fs=1&color1=0x234900&color2=0x4e9e00

Mediaeval Baebes’ “Summer Isle (The Maypole Song).”


In the end, and after a night to think about it, I really did enjoy “The Wicker Man.”  The ending made me uncomfortable, but that is the point of horror films, I suppose.  Even though the movie wasn’t much of a horror film otherwise, it gave me something to reflect upon.  “The Wicker Man” can be a useful educational tool, is fun to watch as a fictional piece***, and has a lovely soundtrack.  I think I would like to add it to my DVD collection.

*I say this is Pagan art because I’ve read that the crew consulted with Pagans for ideas and traditions.


** My brain would explode if someone showed up for a Beltaine rite with an animal to put in a wicker man.  “But I thought that’s what you guys did!”  Oh that would be so weird…


*** …as opposed to a basis for practice or belief.

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Despite the lazy spell I’ve been going through this week, I’ve recently become more health conscious than I ever was.  One of my new doctors (everyone is new since I’m so new to the North Country) had a short discussion with me about heart disease.  She looked over my family history, saw that it has occurred in my tribe, and wanted to emphasize what I could do now to try and prevent it down the road.  She validated my diet but encouraged me to exercise more.  I also know that my metabolism will not be what it is forever.  To stay healthy I need to become more active.

I was running (and intend to get back into that once my foot feels a little better), but my mainstays have been yoga (through the Wii fit) and belly dancing.  Now, between trying to develop a better spiritual grasp of vegetarianism and my growing interest in yoga, I’ve started to read more about Hinduism and Jainism.  How timely, then, that today’s Wild Hunt post is about how yoga is Hindu.  Now, I already knew this, but the point of the post is that many people do not.  The dominant American culture has been stripping away the spiritual significance of yoga for years (hence Wii Fit yoga!…er, I guess that’s Japan’s fault…).  This is nothing new.  The Pagan community is well aware of the term “White Indian” and the negative consequences associated with it.  Is the same thing happening with Hindu practices?

One could argue the same thing about belly dancing.  Many in America have embraced it as a workout.  To others, it’s viewed as a burlesque dance.  The history of belly dance seems to be part mythology – it’s so hard to figure out exactly where it came from and why.  A popular belief I’ve is that it was developed by women for women; mothers would pick out wives for their sons based on birthing shape.  Whatever the true origin, you cannot remove the Middle Eastern heritage of belly dance.

This brings me to a new spiritual quandary: how can I practice yoga, belly dancing, and Druidism while being respectful of each practice/history?  I know I’m not the only one dealing with these issues.  In the end, I think the key is, as the linked article relates,  to be respectful and mindful of the heritage of a certain practice.  Try to learn about its roots, engage in the community, or at least give credit where it is due.

What do you think?

[ For my LJ friends, please visit me at: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ ]

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