The Earth is Magick. And Bloody Cold.
Posted by spritzophrenia on December 22, 2009
For those who have an interest in paganism/wicca. I originally wrote this in 2007.
|It’s been a few years since I did a little reading around modern paganism (also called neo-paganism), notably Margot Adlers’ sympathetic overview Drawing Down the Moon.
For those who are unfamiliar, the wikipedia article is a useful place to start, bearing in mind the dangers of relying on Wikipedia too much. (There are Wikipedia articles on other topics I’ve read which have, if not error, a misleading use of language.)
My experience and feelings while there
Disclaimer: I’m well aware that a non-adherent of a religion usually makes mistakes in emphasis, nuance and understanding when writing about it. My apologies for any factual errors.
There were about 70 people or so there for the whole weekend, and i imagine with visitors the numbers would have been over 100. The whole thing reminded me of a slightly tacky christian church camp of the kind I used to go to. Note, i do not identify as a christian any more, although even that simplifies things too much.
Most people camped; it was nice to be out under the stars drinking wine or cider and chatting. There was lots of free time to socialise, communal breakfast and evening meals, seminars and workshops and a sort of market where people were selling items like herbs, candles, jewelery and old-style “witchy” brooms (seriously). This was derided as Pagan ‘bling’ or ‘tack’ by one or two I was at the festival with. Pentacles abounded. (Star-like symbols, they can be six sided but the 5 sided pentagram type was more common. Not upside down tho’ – only naughty people wear those.) I went to 3 seminars that were focused on the academic or theoretical end of things which I really enjoyed. It was clearly stated several times by one seminar leader: “Modern Paganism/Witchcraft was invented by Gerald Gardner in 1954”.
Each night there was a ritual, followed by drumming and dancing around a fire. The rituals were not well received by a minority. Some had issues with the ritual elements themselves (eg, “I didn’t like it ‘cos they used four watchtowers which is from Freemasonry and they had a priest and a priestess leading it”). To be fair, the organisers were trying to do their best to make the rituals inclusive of the diversity that is neopaganism (see below.) Some people simply found the rituals tacky, contrived, unconvincing, fake or couldn’t respect those leading them. I was in this second group. Whatever its failings, one thing Episcopalian christianity has learned is how to do robed-up liturgical rituals well. The second night’s ritual was very late, and long. Fortunately I missed that as the second two nights a small number including myself chose not to go to the rituals because of our dissatisfaction.
The second and third nights were used to celebrate Samhein (pronounced “Sow-win”) two weeks early, the organisers acknowledged. The third night, the ritual was led by someone else and appeared to be much more satisfying. I liked the sitting around the fire talking, drumming and dancing and joined in that afterwards, tho’ it was much more restrained than i would have liked. For Samhein in remembrance of my Irish Celtic ancestors I painted my face and arms with woad. OK, it was acrylic paint and mud. Needs must. I thought it was cool, but no-one else did it. I must be a freak. No-one was nude (“skyclad”) at the fest by the way.
At Magick Earth I was trying to understand paganism, participate where I felt comfortable and simply experience, not to criticise. Sometimes that was hard as some of it seemed rather silly to me. But then much human behaviour is silly, and certainly other religions do silly stuff. What matters, is whether it is true. “True” is a loaded word, for some. More on that another time.
Robes were the fashion du jour, although mainly at night. At first I thought the robes were a bit laughable, but they’re very practical when your religion involves standing outside in the Autumnal cold for hours. Some robes were in crushed velvet. I saw one woman in a native South American traditional costume. I should also add the couple of women who were into belly dancing and dressed er… pseudo Persian at night. (There was a seminar on belly dancing too.)
It’s fascinating, i am at a unique point in history where i can watch a religion birthed and develop. Neo-paganism is a young spirituality, with the concomitant challenges baby religions face. Or rather, it’s a family of religions as Paganism is not a single unified entity.
Paganism is fairly diverse, although the Wikipedia article above does mention common threads. There are wiccans, who are pagan, but not all pagans are wiccans, and druids who can be pagan, but also can be christian or buddhist or other. Most people seemed to believe in a goddess. The goddess is often paired with a god. The exact cosmology, and how the world got here I can’t comment on. I got the impression some believe the goddess/god are like Jungian archetypes “made real” somehow. Some seem content to acknowledge their beliefs are “made up”, but it’s obviously still valid to them. I’d like to hear more of their opinion on that.
Some happily derive their beliefs and practices from a mixture of sources. Others are “reconstructionists” following mainly one type of spirituality, eg Celtic reconstructionists who are trying to reconstruct what we know of ancient Celtic religion. A small number were Christopagans and/or Christian Wiccans, trying to syncretise Christianity and Pagan beliefs. I learned New Age beliefs are not necessarily pagan, but many practices of New Age followers are also used by some Pagans, eg the tarot, astrology and the belief in the beneficial powers of crystals. No pagans are practicing satanists as such; nor do most believe in satan as they don’t believe in the christian worldview. These were generally what might be called ‘humanitarian’ pagans, although I’m interested in how a “dark” or “shadow” side might fit with this, and why it is not also practiced. There was the occasional belittling and discussion of christianity, with varying degrees of accuracy. Which might be expected if christianity is considered the dominant religious influence in New Zealand – a thesis which is arguable in my opinion.
And then there’s the sociocultural blends which are not explicitly pagan – or are they? Many festivalgoers seemed to be into tie dye or medieval clothing – 1 or 2 there were part of medieval reenactment groups. A few were in jeans and heavy metalish clothing. Plenty of tattoos and piercings, so i fit right in 😉 A few dressed pretty plainly. I couldn’t help thinking Paganism’s dress sense is remarkably similar to Boganism. Or hippiedom. Oh, and many of the pagans there at least had a sense of humour about all this.
I did think, if Magick Earth is representative of modern paganism, the people who write scaremongering books have nothing to fear.
Another thing I came away with was a renewed conviction that religion, spirituality and belief is something that should be discussed in the public domain. There is something in Kiwi culture that says it should be private in the same way most people don’t discuss their sex lives. I think open, respectful and frank discussion is vitally important both for society and to enrich/critique those who hold spiritual beliefs. Which, let’s face it, is the vast majority of people, much to many atheists’ disgust.
So much for this limited account of my experience. Overall I enjoyed myself, especially the chance to socialise and relax, and learn something new. Something I want to explore further is the concept of integrity and how it relates to pagan ethics. And perhaps a few other things.
I will save that for next time. Come back for Part Two. What’s your experience of modern paganism? Did I get it wrong?
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