European Pagans Convene in Rome

A report on the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, which recently met in Rome.

A great four-day event, with the participation of delegations from fifteen European countries and a representation from the US, culminated in an intense and luminous common ritual on the sacred hill of the Palatine on the 2771st anniversary of Rome foundation, the “Dies Natali”. So it was the sixteenth Congress of the ECER – European Congress of Ethnic Religions, organized by the Movimento Tradizionale Romano on the theme “The pagan rituals and their sources” (19 – 22 April 2018), concluded in Rome with great success, thanks to the synergy of prestigious doctrinal and scientific contributions and an impeccable organization.

In fact, the ECER, that brings together the main representative associations of European ethnic religions, had asked MTR to hold the prestigious event in the Italian capital: the MTR accepted and decided to celebrate the Congress on the occasion of the Natal [Birthday] of Rome.

The Pagan-focused archeological tours sound fascinating too.

In the early morning, in fact, most of the participants met in Via di S. Gregorio for a visit to the Palatine Hill and the Imperial Forums. It was not, however, a mere archaeological walk, but a true spiritual itinerary on the Sacred Hill of our Tradition. . . .

Accompanied by the archaeologists Marina Simeone and Sandra Mazza, the participants were able to immerse themselves completely in the environment and at the same time feed themselves from the most sacred sources of our Roman Tradition. The in-depth illustrations and the direct vision of the still impressive architectural evidences, such as the huts of Romulus, the temple of Apollo, the house of Augustus, the palaces of Domitian, were the setting for the presentation. In particular, the amazement has caught everyone in learning that the Christian birth was born under their feet, in the fourth century, in the church of St. Anastasia, on the expropriated trunk of the feast of the Invincible Sun (Sol Invictus) and on the forgotten roots of the Lupercal – our only , true, Cave of the Nativity.

“The World is Very Different from a Pagan Perspective”

How do you explain it them?

A couple of days I sat down with an interviewer who had read an old essay of mine, “The Hunter’s Eucharist,” also published as “The Nature of the Hunt.” (It  appeared along with works by writers more articulate than I in A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport, edited by David Petersen, one of the best nature writers out there.

When I wrote it in the early 1990s, I was maybe more sure of how to talk about the universe than I am now. At least, that is what I ended telling the interviewer, giving him the old story about how the American anthropologist Irving Hallowell, after learning that in the Ojibwe language stones are grammatically animated (treated as alive), asked a tribal elder, “Are all stones alive.” The man thought a moment and replied, “Some are.”

(Or maybe they are experienced as alive some of the time, depending on many things—that is me talking, not Hallowell.)

This interviewer was all right—not capital-P Pagan, but someone who had thought about nature, hunting, and spirituality quite a bit. To be  honest, “spirituality” is not a term that I fully comprehend, but I have to use it here.

The more I live, the more complexity I sense in the seen and unseen universe. This makes it harder and harder to talk to monotheists, who think that we merely replace the True God with a set of inferior replacements but otherwise think and worship much as they do.

At the Pagan Square blog portal, Guz diZerega has started a series of posts called “Viewing the World through Pagan Eyes.” He puts the communication problem this way

Christian-derived views see the world as a collection of things initially created and ordered by God. Secularists accepting this distinction replace God with predictable laws. There is a deep distinction between human subjectivity, and the objective nature of everything else. Some secular scientists accept the dichotomy but reject consciousness as a fundamental property of reality, hoping to reduce all subjectivity to impersonal objective processes. The ‘illusion’ of mind is a side effect of determinism, and not an active part of reality.

A Pagan outlook implies what we call subjectivity and objectivity both exist ‘all the way down.’ People can be studied as if they were simply objects and there is an element of awareness in even the simplest phenomena, but reality includes both. This view is not unique to Pagans, some physicists share it, for example. But it is rarely treated seriously in many other sciences, particularly the social sciences. The social sciences usually incorporate the distinction between people and the rest of the world or, alternatively, seeks to understand us using the same ‘objective’ approaches used to understand all else.

I took the title of this post from Gus’s first post, and I am looking forward to reading them all. We need to realize how different we are.

 

Pentagram Pizza: The Second Generation

1. I like to point out Pagan writers who are doing more than “how-to” writing, so click over and read Kallisti’s piece on “Some Reflections on Being Second Gen Pagan/Polytheist.”

Most of the issues boil down to how different it is to grow up within something versus convert to it. Unlike many adult converts, I had to deal with religious bullying in the rural Midwest as a child.

2. Norse settlers cut down most of Iceland’s sparse woodlands. Restoring them appears to be harder than it is in other ecosystems. Note to the New York Times, “Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity.

3. Last weekend M.’s and my old home of Manitou Springs held its annual coffin races. They started right after we moved away, but we met in Manitou, bought our first slightly-more-than-tiny house there, and have lots of memories.

The [Manitou Springs Heritage Center]  will be the starting point of “ghost tours” featuring “spirit guides” who will show people around town for 45 minutes, stopping at sites where actors will play out tales of the colorful past.

“Manitou was full of witchcraft,” [Jenna[ Gallas says. “Not that it is anymore, but I think people still like to believe ooky-spooky happens here, and if we’re gonna celebrate Halloween, we’re gonna do it in Manitou, where the freaks come out every day.”

What is this “was,” Ms. Gallas? Yes, we did our part in the 1980s. Rituals upstairs in the Spa Building? You bet. Rituals outdoors downtown around the mineral springs? Those too. I have to think that someone else has carried on!

4. The obligatory pre-Hallowe’en news feature, this one from the NBC affiliate in Washington, DC.

Images of witches being veiled in darkness, casting spells over cauldrons endure, but a new generation of Wiccans and witches have established growing communities in D.C. and across the country.

Yada, yada. But this good:

“[Hallowe’en is] a celebration of the witch. You can have sexy witches, you can have scary witches, but it’s still a celebration of the witch. Even if the witch isn’t shown in a positive light,” said Stephens, a 37-year-old Wiccan who also practices witchcraft.

Large-Group Ritual: Magic, Worship, or “Just What We Do”?

A friend in Poland sent a link to this music video, adding that it looks a lot like the Midsummer celebration in his village but needs the volunteer firefighters, more kielbasa, and more vodka, except, “Our river’s a fair bit wider, too.” He describes the St. Nicholas Orchestra as “Pagan-friendly,”  and into  the “anti-clerical stratum” of Polish folk culture. Note the procession!

My post from the 18th, “What Is Wrong With Large-Scale Ritual,” got a lot of responses (thanks!) here and on Facebook, but I noticed that the responses could be sorted into several categories without too much hammering and shoving.

  1. Lots of large-scale rituals are boring, and it’s time someone said so.
  2. #1 might be correct, but we do them right.
  3. Yes, let’s forget Wiccanesque circles and do processions instead, which is my current position. It’s about religion, not magical self-transformation.

Jim Dickinson argues that worship and magic(k) are not incompatible at large rituals:

Relative to the other commenter’s statement that we ‘should emphasize worship over magic-working’…I believe ritual should be both worship and magick, as often as possible. Magick is the tool that is used to create a space in which the likelihood of spiritual experience is increased. Magick, religion and spirituality are equal parts of the process. Magick helps creates spaces (physical, mental , energetic…etc.) in which spiritual experiences are fostered (against all the anti-spiritual energies in our modern worlds) and religion is the negotiated language we use to try to communicate (albeit imperfectly) to one another the essence of those mystery/spirit experiences. The synergy of religion and magick is what humans use to try to foster those mystery, spiritual experience for one another. All three are needed for a community to advance together. And a huge part of large-scale ritual, IMHO, should be providing a community bonding component.

But there is a reason that I posted the music video above. It’s about community too. And in any community you have the 80/20 rule, meaning that eighty percent of the people are not magical specialists and don’t want to be. They just want a little “juice” in their lives now and then, as well as a blessing on their important life moments.1)When they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched,” as the Anglican vicar says.

In the 1980s when American Pagan festivals were newish and still somewhat small, almost everyone participated in group ritual. As the attendance grew, so did a tendency that I have noticed a big festivals for people to camp in groups, decorate their camps . . . and then just stay there. Do you want to get them out of their lawn chairs and into the (temporary autonomous) community?

Here’s another large-scale summer solstice ritual, Russian Rodnovery (Native Faith) this time, via the French newspaper Le Figaro:

There is a circle again—it is hard to say how big it is or how long the circle ritual lasted. Children are involved, and there is movement, which are good signs.

Notes   [ + ]

1. When they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched,” as the Anglican vicar says.

What Is Wrong with Large-Scale Ritual?

Maypole procession at Colorado’s Beltania festival, 2011. (Photo by Robin Vinehall.)

When it comes to large-scale ritual, the traditional Wiccan circle does not scale up well. It was made for a small-group mystery religion, where twelve or thirteen people really is the maximum.1)OK, maybe up to twenty or so, but that is more than enough, especially if they are skyclad and all waving athames.

That Wiccan circle, as far as I can tell, was based on the magic circle of the ceremonial magician, designed to hold one, maybe two, possibly three individuals—but usually just one. And as many teachers will tell you, the magician’s circle was supposed to give the Bad Stuff out, whereas the Witches’ circle is supposed to keep the Good Stuff in.

But like a balloon that can be inflated only so far before it pops, the magic circle seems to lose cohesion when it grows too big. Its fabric tears, and, for all I know, the Good Stuff leaks out.

It may still worth with large groups as a way for a maximum number of people to have a good look at some theatrical event happening in the center. Make a son et lumière production out of calling the Quarters—that helps when you have a large outdoor gathering.

On the negative side, I have attended large rituals where people brought folding chairs to sit in because they knew that they would wait a long time for anything to happen—for the oracular priest to make it around to where they sat, for instance. It was deathly dull.

Last month at the Heartland festival, held at a 160-acre site with a network of internal gravel roads, I saw a small procession passing ahead of one of the main evening rituals. I perked up at that, but the participants were more like camp criers: “Come to the ritual.”

No no no no no. The procession should BE the ritual—for most people. That is when you bring the gods out of the temple and take them down the street. It’s interactive, and it involves the bodies of the participants. Let everyone join in! Consider what is done in India or in Catholic countries and urban neighborhoods on certain saints’ days.2)Saints, gods, what’s the difference. We are trying to raise energy.

Instead of the procession being a warm-up act, I modestly suggested to two members of the Sacred Experience Committee (in other words, the ritual producers), it should be the Main Event. Idols! Musicians! Costumes!

If a more conventional ritual follows, that’s fine, but don’t expect everyone to come. But bring the procession past their campsite and entice them to join it because it is loud, colorful, and physical.

I remember one New Mexico festival in the late 1980s where the rituals were pretty good—maybe because the group was not too huge. But then one evening a handfasting was announced, and the campers spontaneously grabbed torches and lanterns and drums and flutes and processed behind the officiants to the site—and there was more “juice” in that procession than in the official circle-style ritual.

I’ve attended a few Pueblo Indian rituals since my dad used to drag me down to Zuni when I was three, and I have noticed something: The tribes don’t expect everyone to participate. The specialists—the appropriate religious society or priesthood—will perform both the hidden parts and the public parts—dances and so on. Many people will just be spectators. The important thing is that the ritual is performed for everyone’s benefit, whether they pay close attention or are off seated on an adobe wall eating watermelon or chatting up a potential romantic partner.

Likewise the old-time Pagans had used processions as a major large-group activity. Sometimes they ended, for example, at a sacrificial altar, and then the specialists took over. (Everyone ate later.) They did not make everyone sit in rows inside a temple—most activity took place outside the temple. Making you stand or sit around indoors while the specialists do their thing is the Christians’ mistake.3)Yes, the liturgical churches—Orthodox, Catholic, fancy Anglican—will give you visualization exercises etc. to do during the service, and there are postural changes—sitting, standing, kneeling—in some churches, but it is not what I would call movement.

Right now, we are in the middle of summer festival season in the US and elsewhere. Tell me what you see. Are people getting away from the “Let’s just make a big ol’ circle and call the Quarters” model? There has to be something that works better.

Notes   [ + ]

1. OK, maybe up to twenty or so, but that is more than enough, especially if they are skyclad and all waving athames.
2. Saints, gods, what’s the difference. We are trying to raise energy.
3. Yes, the liturgical churches—Orthodox, Catholic, fancy Anglican—will give you visualization exercises etc. to do during the service, and there are postural changes—sitting, standing, kneeling—in some churches, but it is not what I would call movement.

Something So Ordinary That It Was Lost

From the Moongiant calendar

I left for the Heartland Pagan Festival at the new Moon, and the first time that I noted the crescent was Saturday night, as the Moon rose over the Pavilion where Tuatha Dea was playing.

So I made my usual gesture, which is just blowing a kiss to Her.

But there used to be a different gesture that people used in Greece and elsewhere. I have asked several Classicists, but no one has yet told me what it was.

From an old book on Neoplatonism comes this story of the philosopher Proclus when he was a young man studying in Athens, which in the early 5th century was still a polytheistic enclave in the increasingly Christianized Roman empire:1)C. Bigg, Neoplatonism. Chief Ancient Philosophies (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1895), 319–20.

For life at that time no small courage was wanted. But Proclus did not lack resolution. When he paid his freshman’s call upon Syrianus [head of the Platonic Academy], it was the evening of the new moon, and the old professor dismissed him rather curtly, being anxious to get to his devotions as soon as possible, and not knowing what manner of man he had to deal with. But happening to catch a glimpse through the window, he saw Proclus take off his shoes, and do obeisance to the crescent moon in the open street.

In other words, Proclus made it clear that he, like Syrianus, was a devout Hellenic Pagan at a time when that was becoming riskier and riskier.

One friend thought that the obeisance might be a raising of the arms, but what about the taking off of the shoes?

Obviously this was once a commonplace gesture, like (in the USA) placing your hand on your heart when the national flag goes by at the beginning of a July 4th parade.

Now no one seems to know how it was done.

Notes   [ + ]

1. C. Bigg, Neoplatonism. Chief Ancient Philosophies (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1895), 319–20.

No “Neos” Here, We’re “Ethnic”

The flag of Romuva (Wikipedia).

A letter from one of the leading Hellenic Pagan groups to the government of Lithuania supports a request by the Lithuanian Romuva for state recognition.

Just as the Hellenic Ethnic Religion, Romuva is by no means a “neo-pagan movement” or a “new religious movement”. It belongs to the category of religions that the Religious Studies of the last 150 years name “ethnic” and “indigenous”, as it consistently refers to the recorded in the historical sources ancient Lithuanian traditions and, most importantly, to the living tradition of the indigenous religion, values and symbols, carried forward from generation to generation through the customs, songs, folklore and polyphonic ritual singing – sutartines. Romuva promotes the ancient Baltic Religion, cherishing in our days the traditional culture of the ancient Baltic ethnii as a spiritual, cultural and social heritage.

Do I buy that? Not totally. It’s a reconstructionist movement, making the claim that the folk songs contain encoded Pagan spiritual content. Is every tree a World Tree? In other words, it was started in the early 20th century but claims access to the 13th century, when German knights brought Christianity to Lithuania at the point of the sword. (And ended up controlling the land, oddly enough.)

To a scholar of new religious movements, Romuva would in fact be a new religious movement — and all religions are NRMs at some point.

It would be like saying that the English song “Greensleeves,” which goes back to the 16th century at least, contains encoded goddess religion. Or maybe it’s just a love song.1)OK, a lot of popular songs unwittingly invoke Aphrodite, I grant you that.

But let Baltic Paganism bloom. As a friend of mine noted, one day “Romuva are going to get their own Hutton,” and some of these historical issues will be sorted out.

Notes   [ + ]

1. OK, a lot of popular songs unwittingly invoke Aphrodite, I grant you that.

The BBC Interviews Iceland Heathens

You can download this episode (27 minutes) of the BBC’s Heart and Soul program on the Heathens of Iceland:

Priestess at Icelandic blot (BBC).

Floating in a hot spring, snow falling from the night sky, John Laurenson meets Teresa Drofn. A 25-year-old Heathen, Teresa describes her return to the religion of her Viking forebears as a renewal of a unique spiritual relationship with nature.

A millennium after it was banned in exchange for Christianity, John explores why Icelanders are returning to the faith. At a ‘blot’, or sacred ceremony John hears a priestess read aloud from the Eddas, an ancient Icelandic text serving as scripture for the new heathens of Europe. In the old days at a ‘blot’, there’d be animal, even human sacrifices. Today they share in traditional Viking food, horse and whale, sheep’s head, puffin pâté and rotten shark.

Visiting the site of a newly planned Heathen temple John meets high priest Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson. Hilmar has presided over hundreds of weddings and seen his own congregation increase six-fold within a single decade. This new Heathen house of worship, the first in a thousand years, will be aligned with the sun’s path and burrowed deep into a hill near the city’s airport.

Not mentioned: a conversation with a Lutheran bishop who claims not to be concerned with the rise of traditional Norse Paganism because (a) the movement is “very small” and (b) they are sort of proto-Christian anyway, as shown, for example, by their abandonment of animal sacrifice.

New Pagan Temple in Latvia

Photo: Ugis Nastevi?s / www.ugis.info

A new Pagan (Dievturi) temple has been built in Latvia, according to this article (in Latvian). Relying on Google Translate, I read,

Crowded opening event alongside Latvian pagan exile pagan representatives and sanctuary creation of the people involved was also attended by other ancient white dievest?bas common to both the Latvian and Lithuanian and Belarus, as well as the folklore group “curbs”, “Werewolves”, “Delve”, ” boat, “” torque “and” P?rkonieši “.

“Monasteries and environmental objects layout vision developed by the pagan organization working group Valda Celma lead. Building architect is Ainars Markvarts, sculptor – J?nis Karlovs, room design authors – Andrejs Broks and Egons Garkl?vs, the costs incurred by the operator Dagnis ??kur, “reveals the organization’s representatives.

Lokstene temple keeper of the Latvian Dievturu Sadraudze that combines ancient white dievest?bas successors contemporary Latvian.

Sources tell me that the temple is on an island in the Daugava River. “Operator” Dagnis ??kur is a businessman who owns a group of bakeries and who paid for the temple. That is very traditional, if you think about it.

I Lived in Magic: A Video Biography of Oberon Zell

Produced and directed by Danny Yourd (Animal Studio), this meditative interview with Oberon Zell (co-founder of the Church of All Worlds and the man who put “Neo-Pagan” into the American religious vocabulary in the 1970s) is a valuable piece of American Pagan history. (It can also be viewed at the Vimeo site.)

Interspersed with video clips from the 1970s, 1980s, and on to the present — including the quixotic New Guinea mermaid quest — it pivots on his relationship with his life partner, the late Morning Glory Zell. (Their lives are also examined in John Sulak’s  The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism, which might be the best inside look at the American Pagan scene ever written.)

Oberon reflects on his life, on his loss of Morning Glory, but he is not giving up. “Don’t let it die,” were among her last words, and so the grey-haired wizard carries on. I know that he will do so until he is gone, and something like the mythic cry of Merlin is heard in the redwoods of California.