TAG | Pagans
Writing in The Guardian, Alex Mar explains how making a documentary film “about a handful of fringe religious communities around the country” led her deep into the pagan world.
The article is an interesting account of where the search for meaning (whatever that may be) can take the credulous and the restless, and, beyond that, of the eternal appeal of the divine – and the break from the banality of everyday existence that comes with celebrating it.
The ritual was a devotional to the Morrigan, the heavyweight Celtic goddess of war, prophecy and self-transformation. In the center of the circle, surrounded by her ritual crew, stood Morpheus, with all eyes on her.
At the time Morpheus’ day job was working for a federal environmental agency, not, perhaps the most thrilling of line of work. Being possessed by an ancient Celtic goddess on the other hand….
Dressed in black, in a leather corset and a long skirt slit up each side, she wore her hair in elaborate, heavy braids that hung to her waist. She stalked the circle’s edge, flapping the vulture wings she’d strapped to her arms and staring into the crowd. Her slender body doubled over, as if suddenly heavy, and began bobbing up and down as if something was bubbling up inside her.
The sight of a possession, for those who’d never witnessed one, was alien, impressive. After what felt like a long time, she raised her head up and in a growling voice not her own, announced that she was Morrigu! Badb Catha! The roomful of witches circled closer, tightening around her, and a fellow priestess lifted a heavy sword above our heads: she directed us to take a vow. “But only if it’s one you can keep. Don’t take it lightly.”
As Morpheus (or the goddess she was channeling) continued heaving, breathing hard, hundreds of people crowded in, taking turns to raise their hand up and touch the tip of the blade.
I was one of them.
Mar, who also went on to write a book (Witches of America) on this topic, argues that there are now as many as a million “self-identified witches (typically called pagan priests and priestesses)” in the U.S.
In the past, it may have been tempting to dismiss this community as Earth-loving crystal collectors or velvet-wearing goths. In fact, the dozens of esoteric but related traditions share a spiritual core: they are polytheistic, worship nature and hold that female and male forces have equal weight in the universe. Pagans believe that the divine can be found all around us and that we can communicate regularly with the dead and the gods without a go-between. They don’t believe in heaven or hell; many subscribe to some version of reincarnation, or a next world called the Summerland.
In other words, it’s nonsense, but to each his (or her) own…
And then we get to the key point:
Throughout my life, most of my friends have been fashionable atheists of the creative classes, but it was becoming clearer to me that this does not exempt anyone from the very human need for meaning. As someone with a strong “religious impulse” but without a practice to relate to, I’d long been envious of people whose lives are structured around a clear system of belief. It seems like a tremendous relief, to be able to wake up everyday with a shared sense of purpose versus the low-level existential pain of living without something to believe in, a religious tradition to guide and ground you.
Most people, it seems do indeed feel that way: It’s hard-wired within and some of the more evangelistic atheists (for whom, I suspect, atheism is, in all probability, a surrogate religion) would do well to remember it. Religion will always be with us. What matters is the form that it will take.
But note my reference to ‘most people’. There is another group, a happy few (or perhaps not so few) who find the absence of any overarching ‘meaning’ to be something of a relief, and that, far from being a source of “low-level existential pain”, “living without something to believe in” (at least ‘believe’ in a capital B sense of the word) can be a pleasantly liberating experience.
Transcendence, no thanks.
A Pagan Soccer Mom writes:
Friday, September 21 has been declared Covered in Light International Day. This event has been started by the group Covered in Light, a group of Pagan/Polytheist women who choose to cover their hair as a part of their religious observance. As stated on their website:
“ In no way are we oppressed, objectified, suppressed, or made to feel like a second class citizen. The covering of our hair is a sacred act of devotion to our chosen Deities and therefore is approached with devotion and reverence.
We welcome all women from all walks of life to join our Sisterhood if they feel led to do so. Trans-women and women of other faiths who are Pagan/Polytheist friendly and who embrace the Divine Mother are also welcome amongst us with open arms.”
Covered in Light International Day encourages women to “put yourself in their scarves” by wearing a headscarf in support of women of any religion who choose to veil. This act not only shows support of women who choose to veil, it is also a stand against the discrimination faced by so many women who cover.
Where to begin?
It’s been well over 350 years since the death of the unlikable Matthew Hopkins but should Britain ever get back into the business of hiring a Witchfinder-General (check out the 1968 movie of the same name, incidentally, for some beautifully filmed, if thoroughly nasty, Hallowe’en viewing), he will, if this Sunday Telegraph story is anything to go by, be considerably more sensitive than this psychotic predecessor:
It is Hallowe’en and the witching hour is drawing nearer, but don’t be alarmed – [British] police officers are on the case, having been issued with official guidance on how to deal with witches. The advice is contained in a 300-page “diversity handbook” which gives officers a range of “dos and don’ts” when approaching followers of a range of religions and other beliefs, from atheism to Zoroastrianism. Instructions include avoid touching a witch’s “Book of Shadows”, which contains their spells, or handling their ceremonial dagger. The online handbook also advises officers not to jump to conclusions if they encounter a situation where a blindfolded, naked person is tied by their hands – they could merely have stumbled upon a pagan ritual, where such activities are normal practice.
And yes, there’s more. Please read the whole thing – and do have a very happy Hallowe’en, or, for that matter, Samhain.
Cross-posted from the Corner:
It’s not every day that I give thanks to the folks over at the Huffington Post, but today is one of those days. Take it away, Sam Stein:
…A spokesperson for the neopagan network “The Witches’ Voice” who goes by the name “Diotima Mantineia” reached out to the Huffington Post to offer further condemnation of O’Donnell’s initial witchcraft remarks. Making the point that there is a “very large pagan community in Delaware,” Mantineia called the Delaware Republican’s conflation of witchcraft and Satanism “disappointing.”
Perfect at so many levels