The Pagan Druid

Having grown up with Christian beliefs and then experimenting with Spiritualist and New Age ideas in my teens, I didn’t start an active spirituality until I discovered Neo-Paganism. Here I started to examine my previous ideas and experiment with new ones.

Modern Paganism offered me a spirituality that was non-dogmatic and experiental, leaving me to experiment and investigate various beliefs without committing myself to any particular one. Above all, it offered me a spirituality connected to nature, affirmed life and inspired me with myths and symbols forgotten after the coming of Christianity.

Pagan (or pre-Christian) religions represent a long buried source of spiritual inspiration that is not Christian or an exotic Eastern one. They are native to the Western psyche, with symbols and myths corresponding to a deeper “archeological” layer of our cultural psyche.

Neo-Paganism is often described as a Revival or Reconstruction of ancient pagan religion, but I would not describe it like that but I think of it in terms of Reconnection: we can reconnect to the ancestral traditions, which can bring us insights about ourselves, our world and the universe, insights that can reconnect us with our instinctive selves and with nature. This also means that other sources of spiritual inspiration are not precluded; Paganism represents just one layer in my spirituality, one of primal religion, connected to instincts and nature. Christianity provides another substantial layer in my thinking, as do Buddhism and science.

Aspects relating to this “primal religion” are polytheism, pantheism, Goddess worship, animism, shamanism, celebration of the seasons and reverence for the ancestors and their ways, which I’ll describe briefly here:

Pantheism and Polytheism the universe and the natural forces that comprise it are divine and so sacred and worthy of our respect, individually and as a whole.

Goddess Worship for many centuries Western culture has held fast to the image of the Divine as masculine, a significant part of Neo-Paganism is to redress this imbalance, reviving the image of the Divine Feminine. In it, women may find empowerment and respect, positive “feminine”* qualities can be given due credit, and we can find ways of living harmoniously with the Earth Mother instead of exploiting her. (*here I talk of a cultural definition of gender that is by no means pan-cultural, and may in fact belong to men as much as women).

Animism the universe is alive, as something organic and not merely mechanical. Each being and presence in nature deserve recognition and respect.

Shamanism the awareness of hidden aspects of ourselves and the world around us, we see all things as interconnected, and the human mind reveals itself to be something more than just a conscious ego, but contains upper, middle and lowers worlds through which we can “travel”.

Celebration of the Seasons a major part of modern Paganism is the use of the Wheel of the Year. With eight, roughly equidistant festivals we observe the changing seasons, celebrating them and integrating our observances into our lives, which all too often are urbanised and disconnected from nature.

Reverence of the Ancestors the past is often forgotten in the rush to get the newest, shiniest electronic devise before the next one comes along in six months. We advance in ignorance of our roots at our own risk! To know our roots or ancestors is a way of knowing the ground we walk on and the wisdom (or lack thereof) of its stability. But here we must also apply discrimination, sorting the wheat from the chaff, as not all we inherit has necessarily been for our own good or that of the future. And let us not forget Reverence for the Descendants, those who will be left with the legacies (good and bad) that we leave behind.

From this we have a life-affirming spirituality that is ecological in nature, integrating all that is organic, interdependent, primitive, wild and instinctive in harmony with our modern intellectual and technological ways. I feel this integration is an important part of gaining stability as we advance into the future.

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Samhain

Samhain is the traditional name for Gaelic festival that precedes Halloween and the Christian festivals of All Saints and All Souls. It observes the end of the “light” half of the year and the beginning of the “dark”.

Like any Celtic festival, it starts at dusk and ends at dusk the next day. So this Samhain started last night and will continue until tonight. This is because the Celtic day, like the Jewish day, starts at dusk and ends at dusk the next day. And so it is also that Samhain has been described as the Celtic New Year (some neo-Pagan groups may even sing Old Lang Syne at this time).

The symbolism is interesting, showing that the “new” starts in the darkness. Before the tree there was a seed waiting in the darkness of the soil, before birth there was the infant waiting in the darkness of the womb,  before the Big Bang there is a Mystery that lies beyond the light of our knowledge, and for a while the Universe was a soup of matter and energy long before stars came to shine, and certainly before there were eyes to see them.

We are in darkness, and it is a time to look inwards, our thoughts perhaps turning to the ancestors, death and the past. In an age of plastic, hand-held Internet technology and convenience, these must seem very unusual, and yet they have been and are important aspects of our lives, whether we heed them or not.

The neo-Pagan wheel of the year is cyclical in nature, reflecting on the turning of the natural year equating them with human life phases (Samhain with death and Winter Solstice with birth, etc.). Each festival becomes a natural time to reflect of aspects of our own lives as well as the changing of seasons.

Right now many people will be experiencing the change of the season differently, depending on climate and hemisphere, and perhaps the traditional associations of Samhain don’t always apply – Spain certainly differs from England in many ways.

Recently the black redstarts have arrived from elsewhere in the Penisula, the ash trees have lost their leaves, the fig tree is still in the process of losing its own, and the mushroom-picking season is drawing to a close. And one day shortly I will be eating chesnuts cooked over a fire!