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Posts Tagged ‘movies’

I recently shared a list of some favorite Pagan-related movies, and “My Neighbor Totoro” was on there.  Creating that list reminded me that the movie was part of my collection.  My daughter watched it several months ago, before her attention span was ready for a feature-length film.  I took it out again and she’s obsessed with it.  Of course, she calls the titular forest spirit “Totyoh,” witch is adorable. We’ve probably watched it every day.  Once more, I think it’s a fabulous film for children.  It shows the childlike joy of exploring nature right outside your door, a deep respect for local spirits, and relishes in the everyday magic of growing plants.

I decided to put my talents to the test and make a little Totoro plush for my daughter.  I mixed crochet with sewing, and I think he came out really well!  Bee absolutely adores him.

Totoro_Plush1

My first ever Totoro plush.  Photo by Weretoad, 2016.

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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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Yes, yes, I can already hear your impatient mutterings, wondering what “The Lion King” is doing on a blog about Celtic spirituality.  Well hold your horses (or zebras).

Earlier in the day, my daughter followed my husband into the garage to “help” him with something.  She emerged carrying my large plush adult Simba.  He’d been in a bag with my other “Lion King” toys, patiently waiting for the right time to come out.  We have limited space in the apartment, after all… Well, I took this as a sign that it was time to initiate her in the mysteries of my childhood. (“It is time,” as Rafiki would say.)  My husband and I grew up loving “The Lion King.”  I spent much of my childhood watching it, reading related books, singing along to the soundtrack, playing with the toys, and acting out various scenes with my friends.  You could say I was obsessed.  I had been eager to share it with my little one and continue the great “Circle of Life.”  I actually got a little emotional as that song played over the opening scene.  My daughter excitedly pointed out each animal, oohing and aahing over the presentation ceremony.  As the movie progressed, I brought out more of my old toys, and she excitedly engaged with them.  She danced to the songs and reacted emotionally to Mufasa’s death – more than I thought a two year old would.

As I watched, it hit me that this movie was probably my first exposure to ancestor veneration and the concept of how interconnected everything is.  Sure, “Bambi” had an equally emotional death scene, but “The Lion King” really went beyond death simply as a fact of life, and infused such spirit into the experience.  Not only are our beloved dead still with us in the natural world, passing through the food chain, but they are in the stars and even in us.  It can seem so obvious, but it’s really rather profound when you look at your reflection and see familiar features from ages past looking back at you.  When Mufasa tells Simba that he forgot who he himself was and, therefore, forgot his father, it’s quite profound.  We like to think of ourselves as individuals, but our actions and morals are something that are passed down to us, that we will pass on ourselves.  We honor our dead by living in a way that they would be proud of, and we hope our children will continue to live in a way that brings the whole family honor.  When I was older and more worldly, the Broadway musical version came out with even more songs to add further depth to the story.  One of the songs explored how intimately connected we are to our Ancestors and all life.  I remember starting to explore ADF Druidism, thinking on my Ancestors, and automatically singing “They Live in You.”  I thought of my grandmother, my great grandmother, and all the people I never met who had shaped my own parents.  They truly are alive in me – genetically and even in my value system.

As Samhain nears, and my daughter grows, it is good to know that an old childhood favorite can be a tool for discussion.  From the “circle of life,” to ancestor veneration, “The Lion King” is a great option for a Druid Movie Night with the little ones.  And hey, the Broadway song is definitely one you could add to your repertoire when giving offerings to your Ancestors.

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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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Film poster. (Fair Use)

 

Many of my favorite anime titles involve spiritual elements.  The Hayao Miyazaki films, such as My Neighbor Tototor and Princess Mononoke, were greatly inspired by animistic beliefs native to Japan.  The interaction between the human and spirit world are important elements to the stories, and I find a lot to compare to Druidism – old and new.   Someone online suggested to my husband that we check out A Letter to Momo.  While watching the preview, we couldn’t help but compare it to Miyazaki’s style.  It wasn’t just the whimsical art or the coming of age story – it was the thin line between this world and the next.  We had to watch it.

In the film, a young girl named Momo is dealing with the unresolved argument she had with her father right before his untimely death.  The dramatic change in her life, and her need to adjust, are made concrete when she and her mother move to the small island of Shio, where her grandparents live.  Along for the ride are three spirits on a mysterious mission.  Unlike just about everyone else around her, Momo can see them.  While this chance encounter with the Otherworld creates (often comical) challenges, it ultimately helps both Momo and her mother heal.

One element that intrigues me with A Letter to Momo, and indeed the same element that helps to endear Miyazaki films to me, is the proximity between this world and the spirit world. Set on a rural island, there are scenes at shrines, examples of ancestor veneration, and discussions of Japanese mythology.  The spirits, comparable to Irish lore, are neither totally benevolent nor malicious – they simply are.  They have their own histories, motivations, biases, and faults.  What separates them from the humans they interact with are their powers and Otherworldly jobs.  The three take a shining to Momo in part because of how she comes to interact with them – which includes some offerings of food.   Less obvious but still there, mixed in with all the modern farming equipment, phones, and Japanese snack foods, are little spirit homes people built once upon a time.  One of the major scenes of Momo features an old community tradition in which the families send straw boats with lanterns that they made as offerings into the sea.  I’m assuming it is part of the Japanese Obon celebration, a festival for the dead.  It’s never really explained – it’s just there, part of the culture.  The movie’s purpose is not to explain Japanese customs and beliefs to curious Americans, after all.  They just exist, as they have existed in some way for generations, embedded in the story.

In watching these films, so full of Japanese customs and folklore, I can’t help but find things to compare to the living fairy faith in Ireland, or think about how things could have been if the Pagan tradition there had not been so altered by Christianity.  What can we, as modern Druids, learn from cultures who have living animistic traditions?  It’s something to contemplate after watching the film.

I highly recommend A Letter to Momo.  It’s heartfelt, humorous, and appropriate for the whole family.  It would be especially appropriate to watch near Samhain because of the ancestral veneration.

 

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When I first started this blog five years ago, it was originally called “North Country Pagan” because I wanted it to reflect my experiences finding things relevant to Paganism and Pagan culture in Northern NY.  My blog title eventually changed because I wanted to narrow my focus more on my spiritual path of choice, but I’d like to revamp and revive it as a subtopic within my blog.  As the Druidic community here grows, I thought it would be nice to discuss different events that are not organized by Northern Rivers Protogrove but, nevertheless, relate to, nourish, or engage us as Druids in training.  Much of what I discuss will likely be relevant to other Pagan paths as well.

Like many good little Druids in the modern era, I was called to my path out of a deep love and reverence for Nature.  I’m naturally drawn to organizations and activities that also embody that love and respect, regardless of religion.  The Thousand Islands Land Trust is such a group.  They work hard to put aside and preserve land along the Thousand Islands, build and maintain trails, plant trees, and install nesting grids for common terns.  They have also organized hikes and kayaking excursions.  Over the last few years, they have expanded their selection of community activities to involve people who may not be willing or able to engage in such physically demanding activities but still want to learn and engage with the local environment.  They now offer children’s programing, a community garden, yoga for all levels along the river, and now – “green movie nights!”

The first featured film was called “Chasing Ice.”  Part of the synopsis reads:

In the spring of 2005, acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change. But that first trip north opened his eyes to the biggest story in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.

 

The film was exciting as it sounds and did not dissapoint. It was emotionally moving, intellectually stimulating, and visually spectacular.  The icy, glacial landscapes he and his team visited were as magical as they were distant to me.  It’s amazing how the glaciers are all at once mighty and fragile in our changing world.  Even if you are already convinced of global warming and of the urgency for us to make changes in our lives, the film is still worth seeing as it demonstrates the possibility for skeptics to change their mind which is uplifting.  If you consider the Earth your mother, you won’t want to miss seeing a side of her most of us take for granted.

I hope the Thousand Islands Land Trust hosts more green movie nights, and I hope that more Pagans in the area take advantage of them to expand their knowledge and awareness.  After all, our devotion to the Earth Mother shouldn’t stop with ritual.  We must remain educated on environmental issues and make practical changes in non-ritual contexts.

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Birthing from Within: An Extra-Ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation: Pam England, Rob Horowitz: 9780965987301: Amazon.com: Books.

Back in December, my dear friend Daughter RavynStar sent me Birthing From Within by England and Horowitz as a Winter Solstice gift.  Knowing that she got a lot out of it from her two births, and that we share similar values, I delved into it right away.  It was a difficult book to put down!

When you become pregnant, your reading list is filled with suggestions – most of them about the medical side of birth, and usually focusing on the developing baby.  While those aspects are very important, Birthing From Within takes a different perspective and examines the physical, emotional, and spiritual journey of the mother.  Any medical aspects (such as the differences between midwives and OBGYNs, the pros and cons of drugs during pregnancy, the realities of cesarean births, good diet, complications) are handled in a way that empowers the mother.  I never once felt talked down to.  The authors are honest – sometimes you have to change your plans, for example, for the sake of your survival and the baby’s – but they do so without judgement.  Although the authors are clearly fans of natural birth (especially in the home), they emphasize that 1) everyone has a right to make their own, educated decision and that must be respected, 2) a woman knows her own comfort levels better than anyone, and 3) women should not feel guilty because of something they were cohered into or forced into because of outside influence.  Sometimes there are birth complications and our “plan” must change.  One thing that really stood out to me was the author’s belief that forming a birth plan will set you up for disappointment.  It’s important to know what you want and why, and this book definitely informed me so that I feel better able to speak up and out against anything unnecessary, but the authors warn that if you cling too closely to an idea you may be in for depression and guilt afterwards.  They instead preach a balance between advocating for a desired birth scenario and accepting that which cannot be changed if everything else fails.  In short, “You can have a fantasy or birth plan, the hospital has its ideas, but Mother Nature may surprise all of you” (97).  That said, the authors were very clear about the differences between pushing drugs to make pain, a necessary part of birth, go away, and pain killers prior to a cesarian birth due to a legitimate complication.

Some of the tenants of “Birthing From Within” can be gleaned from this short overview.

One of the more unique aspects of this book is Pam England’s work with parents on “birthart.”  It’s a very therapeutic approach that forces you and your birth partner to explore the spiritual and emotional side of pregnancy and parenthood.  The book is filled with poignant examples, providing a deeply intimate window into other parents’ hopes, fears, regrets, and joys.  I suddenly felt relieved at the range of emotions I was feeling – including fear which is natural.  Birthing From Within includes several suggested activities for you to try on your own, with other expectant mothers, or with your partner.  Weretoad and I tried some birthart – something he resisted at first.  In the end, we created pieces that shared some of our feelings and brought us closer together.  It’s definitely an exercise I would like to repeat as we near delivery.

Other exercises are intended to prepare women and their partners for pain management naturally.  Many are meditative, and some actually include introducing an uncomfortable stimulus that you have to deal with for the length of a contraction (an ice cube).  The authors are quick to explain that nothing can fully prepare you for the pain of childbirth, but it is important to come to terms with pain prior to the experience.  They argue that childbirth pain is necessary because it tells your body what to do – how to move, how to vocalize, when to push.

Nature’s blueprint for women giving birth includes pain, and this pain is purposeful.  Pain is experienced when stretch receptors in the dilating cervix send signals to your brain, calling for more oxytocin to be released – which in turn fuels labor and increases dilation.  The sensations … are part of an ingenious feedback mechanism which is essential for normal labor and birth” (240).

It’s impossible to say what I will do in the end.  This feedback look doesn’t always work, for example.   Even under normal circumstances, the temptation could be very great, but I am confident my husband will help be stick to my guns unless an epidural becomes absolutely necessary.  And if that becomes the case, I will have to accept it with grace.  That said, this book and the documentary “The Business of Being Born” have helped me become more aware of the negative side effects of using epidurals and pitocin – negative side effects on the mother and the child.  (Definitely watch the documentary on Netflix.  In addition to learning about the history of midwifery and obstetrics, you’ll learn more about natural birth and the negative side effects of drugs on labor.  One of the best and most compelling parts is seeing and hearing real natural births.  When all you’ve ever seen is Hollywood hospital births, it’s eyeopening, inspiring, strengthening, and beautiful.)

I recommend this book to anyone having a baby or trying to conceive.  There is plenty in here for new mothers, mothers who are having another child, as well as fathers.  Pagan readers will be delighted at the spiritual approach, particularly at the author’s emphasis on birth as a rite of passage for baby and parents, one worthy of ritual and deep meditation.  I am now convinced that I want some sort of Mother Blessing ceremony at my baby shower.  It’s also hard not to smile at the Goddess imagery placed throughout the book.  Birthing From Within has made me very proud of my ancestral mothers, my living mother, and what my own body is capable of.  This remains the most empowering pregnancy book I’ve read and has helped me form a deeper connection with my inner feminine energy.

Are you having a baby?

Get.  This.  Book.

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