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Posts Tagged ‘documentaries’

A friend asked me what my favorite Pagan movies are.  I asked whether he meant documentaries about Paganism, or fictional movies about content that would inspire Pagans.  He said both, so I decided to make a list and share it on my blog!  There are some movies that didn’t quite make my list because they either didn’t feel Pagan/animistic/Earth-Centered enough, because they cast such characters or religions as evil, or because the elements were not developed enough to be meaningful.  There are probably many more films I could have included, but I simply haven’t seem them yet!  I’m sure I’ll need to do a part 2 down the road.  I’m already plotting a list of favorite Pagan and Pagan-inspired television shows!

Documentaries

American Mystic – Focusing on a variety of minority spiritual practices in the US, “American Mystic” examines how individuals in the modern US explore, maintain, and strengthen bonds with the spirit realm.  Included is Morpheus Ravenna, a well-known practitioner of witchcraft and founder of the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood, which is dedicated to An Morrigan and her sisters.  Currently, you can stream this movie via Amazon Prime.

Glenafooka – If you’re interested in the living spiritual tradition of Ireland and authentic Irish folk belief in fairies, definitely watch this film!  Included are interviews with people of various ages as they discuss their experiences and traditions.  Click the name of the film, and the link will allow you to stream on your computer.

I Am – This documentary follows one person’s search for the purpose of life despite all the suffering and hardships.  I chose this because, in light of the various environmental problems we face, this film advocates taking responsibility and embracing optimism in doing so. It felt very spiritual without being religious, and could be part of a bridge building, inter-religious workshop or discussion group. “I Am” is available to stream on Netflix.

Modern Druids – Since I’m listing documentaries, I might as well include this 20-minute introduction to ADF Druidism.  Made by Buccaneer Pictures, it explains some of the history and practice of my Druidic tradition.  It’s really a must for anyone interested in exploring ADF and modern Druidism.  If you click the title, it will take you right to youtube!

When the Iron Bird Flies – I’ve talked about this documentary before, and I highly recommend it if you are interested in Buddhism as well as Paganism.  While the focus is entirely on Tibetan Buddhism in the West, I couldn’t help but notice some parallels between my spirituality and theirs, particularly the emphasis on respecting nature and study.  It gave me much to contemplate.

Entertainment

Agora – Based on real events, this film depicts the famous female astronomer Hypatia in Roman-ruled Egypt.  In particular, it shows the conflict between Christianity and the older beliefs.  It can be hard to watch at times, but history isn’t always pretty.  Best save this for when the kids visit the grandparents! If you’re like me and will cry at what was lost, keep the tissues handy.  Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

A Letter to MomoI reviewed this film before, so check that out for a more detailed description.  This is an anime and the focus is on Shintoism and how the spirit world interacts with the human realm.  In particular, it explores how we can commune with the beloved dead.  Although there are cultural differences, I’ve noticed many similarities between my modern Druidic practices and Shinto beliefs.  Films like this inspire me.  Set in modern Japan, I can’t help but imagine what Western countries would be like if Paganism hadn’t been so interrupted by Christianity.  You can stream this through Amazon Prime.  A great film for the whole family!

Avatar -Yes, I’m talking about James Cameron’s science fiction movie with blue cat people.  Although many chuckle about it now, when I first saw it, portions of the movie had me in tears because it just captured the deep adoration many of us have for nature, right down to communing with a sacred tree.

Brave – Although this Pixar animation doesn’t delve deeply into Scottish lore, it is a child-appropriate introduction to magical ethics as well as transformation stories which appear in many cultural myths.  Also – will-of-the-wisps!

Labyrinth -Classic Jim Henson, a deliciously whimsical David Bowie, and goblins inspired by Froud – this movie was an influential part of my childhood.  It was probably my first exposure to traditional fairy tale elements such as helpful and trickster spirits, a journey through the underworld/fairy realm that symbolizes growth, overcoming the goblin/fairy ruler, confronting our shadow selves, etc.  If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and fix that!  Although it can be a little scary, it’s a muppet picture most can enjoy!

Pan’s Labyrinth – Directed by the talented Guillermo del Toro, this modern fairy tail embraces the darkness so often abandoned by other contemporary works inspired by older tales.  A girl must confront a shadowy realm to save her mother and herself.  Pan is a difficult teacher, and the lessons are hard, but such is life!  Malevolent and helpful spirits, screaming mandrakes, and spectacular visuals will surely inspire but have you looking over your shoulder the next time you pray at night.  Unlike the previously discussed “Labyrinth,” this is definitely not a family film due to some gore and violence.

The Lion King King – Another childhood favorite, it would take me several years to realize how deeply this movie influenced my belief system in regards to revering our ancestors.  It’s an excellent introduction for little ones.

My Neighbor Totoro – A must-see for little ones in a Pagan family as well as anime nerds!  Studio Ghibli’s “Totoro” is a heartfelt exploration of how the magic of nature can help people weather life’s difficulties.  More Shinto and Japanese mythology will delight you and warm your heart as soot spirits float through the air and Totoros make trees grow in our hearts and minds.

Practical Magic – Sure, this isn’t an entirely accurate portrayal of witchcraft, but I feel like Hollywood got really close here.  A lot of the philosophy behind what the aunts teach their nieces will be recognizable to most Pagans.  Unlike many films that show witches and folk magic in a more negative light (like “Wicker Man” which, despite the amazing music, I really don’t like very much), it depicts a town accepting their hometown witches.

Princess Mononoke – Another anime and another classic Studio Ghibli film – this is among one of my favorite movies ever.  Once more, it is greatly influenced by Shinto beliefs and the intersection between the human and spirit realms.  Of interest to many who follow an Earth-centered path, “Princess Mononoke” explores what happens when humans throw off the balance of the natural world.  Tree spirits, talking wolves, a heroic wild woman, and a honored guardian of the forest -what’s not to love?

Song of the Sea – Made by an Irish animation studio, this beautiful, moving family film incorporates many themes and spirits that adult Pagans who follow Irish-inspired traditions will recognize.  It’s a story about siblings, love, and selkies.  It’s available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

Do you have any suggestions?  What should I watch and consider for a future list?

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I recently watched a documentary called “When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West.”  It was both informative and inspirational.  Although Druidism, largely informed by Gaelic Polytheism, is my spiritual home, Buddhism has always interested me.  I often find myself watching documentaries about it and reading about it when I can (although I remain a novice on the subject).  One thing I found particularly fascinating about this documentary was that it wasn’t so much about the history of the religion/philosophy; the focus was on how Tibetan monks brought the practice to America, and how that practice looks here.  Many of the tensions that exist in modern American Druidism can, in some ways, find a parallel in Buddhism in America.  For example, how much value should be placed on cultural traditions versus the central tenants?  How can we create spaces for our religious practices that don’t compromise our values?  How can we take a very old tradition from another land or culture (even one that belonged to our ancestors), and make it relevant to modern people in a different land?  How much time should be spent studying versus practicing? I think modern Pagans of many traditions can learn a lot from the movie.  It’s also especially inspiring to see how this minority faith has been able to build beautiful centers for its adherents around America.  In short, the Buddhist community in the US seems to exist because there are very devoted and serious members who spend a lot of time and, yes, resources on their spiritual passions.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about what drew me to Druidism through comparing my “conversion experience” to those shared on the camera.  Like the Americans drawn to Buddhism, I embraced Druidism because the messages I was receiving from the dominant culture did not resonate with me or my values.  So often, business and money are elevated above health, the environment, and true self-improvement.  “American Culture” is so influenced by monotheism as well as a tendency to generalize “exotic” concepts from other cultures.  So much of that is often watered down until it’s as useful as an advertising slogan.  It’s no wonder so many people like myself look outward or even backwards to a time many have forgotten.  I sought something different, fully willing to get my feet muddy and be transformed.

In Buddhism, part of the central focus has to do with suffering.  Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths address the reality of suffering and how we must come to terms with that and find peace. Druidism, as we know it, doesn’t really emphasize that so much, but in some ways, it could be argued that the suffering of Nature brought me to it.  In recognizing that my brother and sister Nature Spirits suffer, that we are all connected, and therefore their suffering is my suffering, I embraced Paganism and eventually modern Druidism.  Did the ancient Druids have teachings on suffering?  Perhaps.  The closest I can get to it right now is through the reported belief in life after death and the heroic way mythic warriors ran into battle, even when fate was against them.  Yes, you may have broken a geis – a taboo – that will lead to your downfall, but there is still honor in fighting because there’s integrity in it, courage in it, and people will sing of your perseverance despite the suffering you may endure.  So, I suppose, suffering is indirectly addressed in Druidism, but it doesn’t seem to be a central focus (nor does my attempt at finding a parallel mean that there has to be one).

So what is the central focus of Modern Druidism?

Harmony.

After a lot of thought and meditation, I’ve realized that my own concept of Modern Druidism’s central focus is harmony.  Again, I want to stress that this is just my opinion and only applicable to Modern (Neo) Druidism, though influenced by my fledgeling studies of Gaelic Polytheism.  Perhaps others would disagree, and my thoughts will likely evolve as I grow.  Right now – harmony.

So why harmony?

Many in the Druidic and Gaelic Polytheistic communities will agree that the concept of reciprocity is huge in Indo-European cultures.  The lore shows us that there must be an exchange of something in order for the cosmos to stay in order.  Rulers must protect their subjects and fairly distribute resources.  In exchange, everyone in the realm continues to work hard so that resources are obtained and everyone receives the services they need.  Culture can flourish.  When the ruler mistreats his or her people, as Bres did the Tuatha Dé Danann, there is disharmony that must be rectified.  In some stories, even the land herself rebels, hence accounts of sacrificial kings and symbolic marriage to the land.  In ADF Druidism, our liturgical tradition is based around reciprocity.  “A gift calls for a gift,” it is said.  When you are in a productive, healthy, meaningful relationship with another, there is mutualism.  The tall oak may appear to be the most important being in the forest, but such an ecosystem flourishes because of the give and take of the collective.  There must be harmony.

How can harmony, as a core concept of Druidism, apply to our practice?

For the Buddhists in the documentary, suffering influenced people to go through great lengths to improve themselves and their ability to find peace.  Obviously, there is a lot of meditation, but there is also a lot of study.  Whereas the stereotypical monk spends much of his or her day in meditation, in reality, he or she is also involved in a deep study of philosophy and, as Druids would call it, lore. Several of the Western Buddhists were also engaged in studying the Tibetan language to better engage with the culture that inspires them – something many modern Gaelic Polytheists can understand. At one point in the film, some of the monks discuss the importance of memorizing whole texts in Tibetan.  One man explained that there may come a day when someone will ask a question, and rather than make an excuse such as, “Oh, well, I don’t have my books with me right now,” you become the book.  That reminded me of the ancient Druids and their emphasis on oral history; they were said to activity discourage the written text.  Modern Druids have taken the pendulum and swung it the other way.  I think the Buddhists are on to something with regards to studying texts but then working to memorize them – to internalize them.  There’s a harmony there.  Furthermore, they have to find a harmony between their book studies and their spiritual practice of meditation.  A reoccurring discussion in Pagan circles often involves the need to find a balance between how much time one spends studying and actually working or experiencing.

Looking to a very successful minority religious practice for inspiration, one can see the benefits of finding harmony between both. In addition, Modern Druids must also find a harmony between doing that individual study and work, and then serving the community.  In my opinion, based on the historical basis, Druidism is a religion in service to others – the tribe, the spirit world, and the land.  Thus we nourish harmony within ourselves, then cultivate it around us in our relationships.

Harmony with Nature

As explained above, working with Nature was a driving force in my coming to Druidism.  While I wouldn’t describe our ancient predecessors as environmentalists, there’s evidence that they had animistic-type beliefs such as a deep respect for the land and the reciprocity needed to maintain harmony. The rich lore about Nature from Celtic nations inspired me, and the landscape reminded me of my own in certain ways. The modern world is so out of harmony with Nature. It only seems natural for people who strive to cultivate positive relationships with the spiritual world -including the spirits of Nature all around us – to embrace a lifestyle that at least attempts to live in better harmony with the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits. Historical precedence will only take us so far. The necessity for modern Druids to embrace environmentalism (of some breed) is based on contemporary needs. Many in the modern Buddhist community are doing the same. Their meditations on the beauty of Nature have moved several to act. The documentary gave some examples of how modern Buddhists are out picking up litter, marching in protest of environmental degradation, and speaking out for more sustainable practices. Seeing that was really inspiring.  Again – harmony between the desires of the self and the needs of the community.  Druids should also embrace that.

How do you find harmony in Druidism or Gaelic polytheism?  If you feel differently than I do about the central focus of Druidism, what is your opinion and why do you think that?

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If you live in America and have a Netflix account, you’ll be able to check out a Nature documentary called “Ireland’s Wild River.” It follows the narrator, Colin Stafford-Johnson, as he shares the beautiful Shannon River.  I watched this recently on a lazy evening while my little one napped in my arms.  The visuals are stunning and immersive.  I  caught myself wistfully sighing more than once as I imagined myself there.  Many of the documentaries I watch about Celtic lands, particularly Ireland, are concerned with history.  This program was dedicated to the plants and animals that live in and around the Shannon’s meandering waters.  While we modern folk learning about Druidism in America must explore our own local flora and fauna, it is also important that we understand the land that our ancestors came from.  We may find helpful similarities between our lands and the Nature Spirits that live here which may further inform our understanding of lore, art, holiday observations, and other folkways.  Don’t expect a lot of depth, and especially don’t look for much discussion on the old magical beliefs of Ireland, though.  However, it could be just what you need to inspire a new prayer for the Nature Spirits.  If you need to relax and have 52 minutes to lounge, why not indulge in some beautiful imagery of Ireland’s lush Shannon River?

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I recently watched “Ghosts of Murdered Kings” on PBS.  If you follow the link, you’ll be able to stream it on their website.  This documentary focuses on the research surrounding the various bog bodies that have been uncovered throughout much of Northern Europe.  I was able to see some bog bodies in person, first one at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and then in the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland (which I blogged a bit about here).  The later has several on display.  I felt a bit odd typing the previous sentence because there is something deeply humbling and even troubling to me about displaying dead bodies, especially if they were meant to be in the bogs…  But on the other hand, they have taught us so much about the Celts and their beliefs.  They also communicated something almost ineffable about mortality that stayed with me after seeing them.

“Ghosts of Murdered Kings” is another wonderful addition to the NOVA library.  It explores the most recent theories surrounding these bodies.  The prevailing theory seems to be that the bog bodies were usually royalty sacrificed to the land following poor harvests which relates back to the old ritual marriages between rulers and sovereignty Goddesses.  Even having been exposed to this theory before in history books and the National Museum of Ireland, the refresher was welcomed.  I learned several new things about how these theories came to be which gave me a greater appreciation for the scientists who work so diligently.

I recommend this documentary but caution that children might be frightened by it as it shows real corpses and features some minor dramatized violence and discussions of “triple murder” and “overkill.”  It will definitely make you reflect on the practices of our Celtic ancestors and their relationship with the natural world.  Whether such a sacrifice was or still is necessary is not the point – rather, why aren’t we taking our relationship with the land as seriously?  Each of us is married to the land whether we like it or not.  If we fail to respect her while also meeting our needs, what we will we have to give up to change the situation?  What habits should we commit to the bogs to better ourselves and society?

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A grovie recently brought a documentary on Hulu to my attention.  It’s called “The Celts” and you’re able to watch it free online!  With six fifty minute episodes, I decided to give it a go while marathon nursing my little one (growth spurt, I guess?).  Narrated by John Morgan, it spans Celtic history from that civilization’s cradle to modern times.  Because I am, admittedly, new to the Druid scene, I can’t claim this is the most accurate documentary ever made about the Celts.  I will say, however, that nothing struck me as contrary to the historical reading I’ve been doing.  There were even some fascinating tidbits that matched up with what others who have been studying longer have shared with me.  For example, I learned a lot about the salt mines in the Hallstatt region – something Michael Dangler brought to my attention in past musings about the Celts, modern Druids, and natural resources.

The documentary also asks some compelling questions such as who are the Celts?  What does it mean to be Celtic?  This question is explored in the final installment – the episode I thought would be least interesting considering it was about the modern era*.  There is no fluffiness about this series.  It teeters between respecting modern Druidic practices in Celtic nations as revivals of national pride – a way to celebration cultural and linguistic heritage in a modern way – and as anachronistic nonsense that continues to confuse modern folk about the historical facts.  Also questioned are kitschy elements that so many modern folk, especially the diaspora who make pilgrimages back to the old country, think represent the Celtic identity.  The conclusions are that defining “Celticness” is difficult to do outside of the usual reliance on linguistic groups alone.  I think all modern Druids and Gaelic polytheists who live outside of Celtic nations should check that episode out and think on it.

The best part of this production are the visuals.  Not only were there the usual views of seaside cliffs, standing stones, and rolling green hills.  I was able to delve into the aforementioned salt mines, visit a people in China who are believed to be descended from an ancient Celtic people, and examine a wide variety of artifacts in exquisite detail.  Although the music was a bit odd at times, I think they were going for a Celtic sound that wasn’t obviously Irish.  Otherwise, I enjoyed hearing different examples of Celtic languages spoken.  The episodes about modern Celts also feature some very interesting stories about how those languages were suppressed – something we should not forget about when we go to honor our ancestors in ritual!  I also really enjoyed seeing a carnyx for the first time.  I had read about them in history books and saw them illustrated upon photos of artifacts in books.  The Gundestrup Cauldron  features some, for example.  This show included a man who reconstructs and plays them.  I had read of their sound and the belief that they brought fear into enemies.  To hear one was truly wonderful!  I don’t know why I never looked them up for more detail, but here’s a start**.

I definitely recommend this documentary.  I believe it would be very accessible to people who are new to Celtic studies and Druidism, and after ten years of learning, I also got a lot out of it.  I’m sure old hats would enjoy it just as much for all the beautiful footage!

 

*This is, of course, something I want to study more to have a better understanding and appreciation for my ancestors and the hearth culture I’ve embraced.  It’s just sometimes difficult to get into because there are so many political and imperialistic aspects to wrap my head around.  I’m more intrinsically motivated to learn about the ancient Celts, their religious practices, and their customs.  I’m trying to learn more about Christian and modern Ireland in baby steps.

** Now how cool would it be for a Druid grove to have one during Lughnasadh games?

 

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