March '09 Seminar-Contemporary Western Paganism

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Art
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March '09 Seminar-Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Art » 01 Mar 2009, 06:10

Contemporary Western Paganism…as we know it…has found footing on the world stage within my lifetime. In terms of world spiritual traditions, it is the new kid on the block with roots extending into the dim distant past, an emerging maturity born of the social upheavals of the 20th Century, and a future yet to be realized. Contemporary Western Paganism as manifested in the cousins Druidry and Wicca and the variegated personalities of each, may turn out to be the single most pervasive British export of all time.

It is tempting to say that the foundations of Contemporary Western Paganism rest firmly in conversations between two friends; Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner. While to some extent that is true, the source underpinnings reach far beyond two men and the historical circumstances that lead to their philosophical alliance. It is the story of the emergence of a primal spirituality given renewed vigor through the thoughts, actions and writings of a great number of men and women. In some respects, it is the story of an emergence that could not have taken place at any other time in history.
Gerald Brousseau Gardner, arguably the inventor of Wicca, died on February 12, 1964 while returning to England on a ship from Lebanon. For all practical purposes, his passing was unnoticed outside his own circles (no pun intended). He was given a proper Christian burial on the shore of Tunisia. I was a senior in high school at the time.

Gardner published two works of fiction; “A Goddess Arrives (1939)”, and “High Magic’s Aid (1949” under the pen name Scire. He was to later claim that “High Magic’s Aid” was a veiled attempt to portray witchcraft without violating any existing laws. After the repeal of the Witchcraft Act however, he published two non-fiction works; “Witchcraft Today(1954)” and “The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959).”

Philip Peter Ross Nichols, Cambridge Scholar, historian, teacher, author and naturist founded the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids in 1964 as a breakaway faction from the Ancient Druid Order. Nichols introduced a renewed interest in Celtic mythology to Druidry. He arranged the teachings into three grades (Bard, Ovate and Druid) in accordance with classical accounts and (in concert with Gardner) revived the four fire festivals (Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain and Imbolc which had not been previously celebrated along with the Solstices and Equinoxes. Nichols’ work, “The Book of Druidry” was finished in 1974 however his untimely death in 1975 came before the book was published. (“The Book of Druidry” was however published in 1990 by Ross Nichols’ successor, Philip Carr-Gomm.)

It appears that whilst Gardner was busily promoting Wicca, Nichols was busy reforming Druidry.

None of that is to say that these two seminal figures were the sole proprietors of western Paganism. Certainly there was a continuous evolution of Druidry from the 17th Century onward through what is called the “Revival” period and certainly there were other forms and manifestations of witchcraft. None of those however seem to have had the long term influence on Paganism as we know it today. For more comprehensive information regarding Gardner, Nichols and the various manifestations of western Paganism, please consult Google.

As of 1960, Wicca and Druidry…as we know them…were still virtually unknown in the United States. Of course there had been fraternal Druids in the US since colonial times. In the August 13, 1884 edition of the New York Times an article appears noting the 25th Annual Conclave of the Druids of the United States. There were 156 subordinate lodges with a total of 14, 500 members! The Ancient Order of Druids (yep.. same one as in the UK) established the First Grove of Druids in New York in 1830. But again, these were fraternal orders not terribly dissimilar to the Order of Moose or Masons.

The first pagan organization using the term Druid appears to be the Reform Druids of North America which was founded in 1963 at Carleton College in Northfield Minnesota. It was originally a formed as a student protest of a college requirement that all students attend religious services, the RDNA did over time become a serious spiritual organization. From that beginning, several other Druid organizations found voice including ADF.

Wicca arrived in the US in 1963 via the voice of Raymond Buckland, an employee of British Airways. Buckland apparently became interested in witchcraft in 1962 after reading books by Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner. He began corresponding with Gardner and in 1963, was initiated into a Coven in Perth Scotland. Soon after, he established a coven in Long Island, New York, and the rest (as they say) is history.

Ray Buckland went on to become a prolific writer with much of his work devoted to espousing Wicca and reinventing it for an American audience. Not only was he the first to introduce Wicca as such to the United States, he set a standard for subtle proselytizing that has been the hallmark of Wicca since its introduction.

After a hiatus of some years, in 1988 an exceptional young man named Philip Carr-Gomm was called to take over Ross Nichols’ chair as chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Under Philip’s leadership, OBOD has become the largest Druid organization on earth and a benchmark candidate in the world of Contemporary Western Paganism. With a keen devotion to truth, whether metaphorical or literal, OBOD has trained a world-wide cadre of fully contemporary Druids some of whom have gone on to establish other Orders or stand as major voices in Druidry today.

In the years since Nichols and Gardner western Paganism has exploded on the world scene. Certainly much of that growth can be attributed to the social and cultural upheavals of the last half-century and some of it to a prolific and oft times bewildering market for published materials relating to Paganism. Some publishers are even noted for being willing to publish anything relating to Paganism as long as it reads fairly well and with little regard for truth…literal or metaphorical.

Wicca today has evolved into the beautiful and charming cousin who comes for dinner and delights all with a sparkling personality, quick wit and vivid imagination. While we are compelled to realize that she is likely to pilfer the family treasure, bend it to suit her needs, and call it her own, she is a charming dinner companion and social activist who has done much to make Paganism acceptable in the broader community.

Druidry today is something of the elder cousin or family patriarch with feet planted firmly in a Celtic past and colored by opinions both great and small. We owe much to Reconstructionists who work diligently to ferret out the details of history in hopes of finding a golden key to unlock the mysteries. We owe even more to the great voices of our time such as Philip Carr-Gomm, Emma Restall-Orr, and Ronald Hutton whose hard work, insight and devotion yield food for thought and inspiration. Yet the Druid community has challenges as well and a long history of having to separate the wheat from the chaff. Our common voice is a cacophony of ideas and practices none of which would be recognizable to one of our Druid ancestors.

As we enter the last part of the first Century of what we know as Contemporary Western Paganism we find we’re faced with many challenges and boundless opportunities. We can give thanks for the people who brought us this far and for those whose continuing work will take us farther. We can debate practices and ethics, ferret out history as it was lived as opposed to as it was writ, and we can be assured that new voices will emerge with new ideas to carry us farther along the path.

I would submit that the essence of our faith is quite contemporary but certainly not new. The moon that shines on us is the same moon that shone on our ancestors, the sun that warms our skin is the same sun that warmed the skin of men and women now long dead, and the voices of the land, spirits of place, and eternal divine mystery is the same today as it was yesterday. Our practices and approaches may be modern yet our faith is the enduring faith of mankind and with that in mind, Western Paganism will endure… contemporary in every age.
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pworrell
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Re: Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby pworrell » 01 Mar 2009, 07:19

As one of your reconstructionist and scholarly types, I truly appreciate your post. It coincides with my own conclusions after 10 years of research and study.

It is nice to know, while there is a wide assortment of views here on the boards, there are others who share the same beliefs.

Thank you!
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"I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different." - Kurt Vonnegut

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Re: Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby raveighen » 01 Mar 2009, 07:28

Beautifully spoken after much digging into various pagan religions, I have found that much of it is created and stolen from other beliefs. This I know works for many and I support that decision of freedom with my life but I do not share it. This post was refreshing after studying Gardner's wicca among others. Faith is what we make of it and the Pagan movement owes a lot to the Wiccan movement for putting us on the map so to speak. I was a High Priestess but after much research I had to step down for it disillusioned me to the point of no longer being able to preform my rightful duties. I miss my coven but I have to find the right path to follow and it needs to be as historicallly and anthropologically correct as we can get. I hope not to offend anyone with my words for as I stated I will fight for your beliefs with all my heart. The path of religion is the path of following your heart and at times your head.
Blessings,
Raveighen Blackwing


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Re: Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Attila » 01 Mar 2009, 15:48

i know some greeks on other boards who are getting into their ancient beliefs, there are many such movements [if often small] throughout the world. personally i think that the greek philosophers were on the right path, they questioned the then religion and socrates paid for this with his life. if druidry had continued as a religion, i am sure it would have gone through a period of questioning just as christianity has.

this is why i am contemporary, some of the old ways are not acceptable in a modern context. even though i understand somewhat the reasoning behind ancient practices, as an anarchist i find any kind of societal conditioning that determines the way we live and die as abhorrent. what we can take from the ancients [at the very least] would be universal respect ~ something we have lost but must gain back again if humanity is to survive.

nice op.
the truth is naked.
once it is written it is lost.
what is life; life is not a question.
genius is the result of the entire product of man.
death cannot be experienced.
life is not brought to us in slices of unrealised perfection, we get the whole cake.

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Re: Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Bracken » 01 Mar 2009, 15:55

Thank you, Art for this welcome addition to the Speaker's Corner seminar series.

For up and coming attractions this year and next, click HERE.
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Re: Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Donata » 01 Mar 2009, 16:22

Hi Art,

Your article is very good and overall I agree with you.

However, with all due respect, you said:
Wicca today has evolved into the beautiful and charming cousin ...... While we are compelled to realize that she is likely to pilfer the family treasure, bend it to suit her needs, and call it her own, she is a charming dinner companion and social activist who has done much to make Paganism acceptable in the broader community.
and
Druidry today is something of the elder cousin or family patriarch
Wicca certainly isn't looking for a family patriarch :o so Druidry is welcome to this role if it chooses! Wicca is goddess oriented, with god and goddess working together in a complementary polarity of equals. We may be cousins, but of equal branches of the family. Our relationship isn't hierarchial.

IMO, the above defines Wicca once again as lesser, fluffy, not a serious spiritual path, etc. Actually this may be a description of general Pagans, even if they call themselves Wiccan - to be a Wiccan, you must be an initiated member of a Wiccan Tradition. Most Wiccans don't care about general acceptance, we're not a public order as is OBOD, and we generally prefer to be somewhat anonymous. We don't have a mission as community leaders, but work in our own family groups or covens. 'Pilfer the family treasure'? 8-) Druidry and Wicca may have a great deal in common, but as a Wiccan HPS, other than the 8 Festivals (celebrated in a different manner with a different purpose) we don't share much. We have our own traditions, harmonious with Druidry, thus we have no need to pilfer from it. It's a good thing Wiccans don't care much about acceptance if we're still so misunderstood by our Druid cousin! The difficulty is that it's nearly impossible for non Wiccans, including other Pagans, to understand what Wicca is because we're a mystery religion that must be experienced. No amount of books can give this experience.

Wicca is a strong family member, with a different focus. It would be like comparing more public family members who become CEOS, or heads of their family business, etc., with members who choose an academic life, more removed and less well known, studying in a smaller group, with no overall head or chief. Neither is less, as is suggested, IMO, with the analogy above.

BB
Donata
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Re: March '09 Seminar-Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Corvin » 02 Mar 2009, 02:24

Thanks Art. Appreciated.

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Re: March '09 Seminar-Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Aelfarh » 02 Mar 2009, 12:33

Nice Article Art, a very good way to sumarize western paganisms, although I think there are some left behind (Nordern, Roman, Greek) speak of western paganism for sure is far more extend than wicca and druidry. But I can understand that it will be a very long article otherwise.

BTW
Our common voice is a cacophony of ideas and practices none of which would be recognizable to one of our Druid ancestors.
I couldn't help myself to laugh at this.... is so true. :-)
Bennacht Dé ocus ainDé fort!
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Re: March '09 Seminar-Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Attila » 02 Mar 2009, 15:31

Our common voice is a cacophony of ideas and practices none of which would be recognizable to one of our Druid ancestors.
they wouldn’t understand the awen? grey spirits? gods? ‘tis only the language that has changed magic is what it is ~ timeless. i think the language and perceptions should change as they are part of the transient nature of things.
the truth is naked.
once it is written it is lost.
what is life; life is not a question.
genius is the result of the entire product of man.
death cannot be experienced.
life is not brought to us in slices of unrealised perfection, we get the whole cake.

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Re: March '09 Seminar-Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Corvin » 02 Mar 2009, 20:51

they wouldn’t understand the awen? grey spirits? gods? ‘tis only the language that has changed magic is what it is ~ timeless. i think the language and perceptions should change as they are part of the transient nature of things.
Yes. Beyond the changes of the landscape, politics, and time, doesn't magic still abound? We have Awen, Nwyfre so we are consciousness... we have connection to the sky, we need air and are stardust... we have connection to the land and sea, for we are water and minerals also. So it seems we are magic ourselves, in the forever connected change. If magic exists, we ourselves are magic...

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Re: March '09 Seminar-Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Attila » 02 Mar 2009, 21:40

good point, :) the fact that humanity and the universe exists is magic. that we live in a continuum with no beginning nor end, and both we and our lives are mirrored in the eternal ~ that is magic. druidry is simply the ability to read that, thence to tell stories write poetry, make art, and perform the deeper magic’s. where life is a ritual and all within, it changed before, it changes now.
the truth is naked.
once it is written it is lost.
what is life; life is not a question.
genius is the result of the entire product of man.
death cannot be experienced.
life is not brought to us in slices of unrealised perfection, we get the whole cake.

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Re: March '09 Seminar-Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Beith » 18 Mar 2009, 20:58

HI Art,

I'm coming in late to this thread and just wanted to say I enjoyed reading it, particularly the background details on Gardner and Nichols as you bring them to life again by including a little of those.

In the paragraph:
Philip Peter Ross Nichols, Cambridge Scholar, historian, teacher, author and naturist founded the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids in 1964 as a breakaway faction from the Ancient Druid Order. Nichols introduced a renewed interest in Celtic mythology to Druidry. He arranged the teachings into three grades (Bard, Ovate and Druid) in accordance with classical accounts and (in concert with Gardner) revived the four fire festivals (Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain and Imbolc which had not been previously celebrated along with the Solstices and Equinoxes.
I think that it's fair to point out that he was reviving the notion of celebration of these festivals within his new organization- OBOD as distinct from reviving them generally. These festivals are still celebrated in Ireland as they have been from time immemorial. Not in entirely the same ways as the ancient past, but there is an unbroken line of traditional celebration of these Celtic calendar festival times - with modern and ancient celebrations from pilgrimages to sacred places, ancestor memorials, well veneration,fires, Imbolc /St Brighid's day customs, parties, arts and crafts, ritual circuits on holy mountains, wells, "stations" etc.
by Corvin on Mon Mar 02, 2009 7:51 pm
attila of nazareth wrote:
Our common voice is a cacophony of ideas and practices none of which would be recognizable to one of our Druid ancestors.
they wouldn’t understand the awen? grey spirits? gods? ‘tis only the language that has changed magic is what it is ~ timeless. i think the language and perceptions should change as they are part of the transient nature of things.
Yes. Beyond the changes of the landscape, politics, and time, doesn't magic still abound? We have Awen, Nwyfre so we are consciousness... we have connection to the sky, we need air and are stardust... we have connection to the land and sea, for we are water and minerals also. So it seems we are magic ourselves, in the forever connected change. If magic exists, we ourselves are magic...
I think the statement by Art rings very true - re: Cacophany of voices and practices which would not be recognizable to a Druid of the past. While of course we can say we still have 'magic' or a perception of it, or entitle it "spirituality" if one prefers, we do not have the same ideas about it, about cosmology, natural order, liminality, magical practice and druidic training as in the past. We do not have a training environment which continues imparting knowledge from long times past. We do not have a common framework between druidic orders-practices today, other than perhaps, a common "internal" one within an order (where for example, there may be some standardization of rituals, or festival celebrations, or philosophical concepts or visualization practices etc), but it would be far from what the druids of former times practiced, or how they were organised, or how important their role was in their times.

Further, while I agree with the points you both make - Attila and Corvin, regarding the same influences are on us now as in the past, I think some of the concepts of modern druidry are very modern and would not be understood even in terms of common languages with those from earlier periods - such as cases of adoption of old words for relatively modern concepts

eg. the word nwyfre. Though not a student of Welsh or neopaganism, my understanding of the word is that it has been co-opted into modern day druidry as a synonym for "life-force" or something implying a universal force or power (would that be correct? I have to ask for info on its use by those who use it) but in older Welsh language, it refers to the sky or "heavens", cognate with Old Irish nem? (welsh linguists/Middle Welsh folks is that right?)

Ditto the way ogham is perceived in much modern druidry as a divination system based on groupings of trees and plants. This isn't borne our in Irish tradition or literature regarding ogham. Though in myth yes, indeed there is a reference to a druid using ogam inscribed yew sticks to divine the whereabouts of a missing woman (Story of Etain and Midir), it's not clear that ogham (ogam is Old Irish spelling) is an essential ingredient to that divinatory practice, although certainly as mnemonic or cryptic language inscription it could have been used. Also it does not comprise an alphabet of trees, though the largest common theme of letter names is indeed trees, but not all letters have tree names - some are qualities, colours, implements, soil, happenings like "wounding", metals or chemicals perhaps inferred in some names, A sound, emotional states like "fear" or "embarrassment", etc. Yet the common misperception that these are all tree names is the generally held and taught scheme in modern druidry, from what I've seen over the years.

These are just examples of how we use terminology and traditional lore out of context with its original or earlier ancestral forms and I think that's always important to recognise and acknowledge - So while it's absolutely correct that we do have the same things influencing our lives as in the ancient past - birth, death, relationships, needs for sustenance, shelter, security and income, awareness of the world around us - land, sea and sky and other lands, concepts of life after death or spiritual beliefs, I think that these things are expressed very differently in our time than in theirs in terms of a "re-interpretation" of druidry as a personal rather than organised standardized practice, and further, that we have created - through novel ideas but also through misperception, mistranslation or rewriting of existing information - a modern jargon and 'dogma' (there's that word everybody hates!)to some degree in modern day paganism that differs substantially from the meanings or interpretations of former times from which it was adopted. That statement is not a negative indictment of modern druidry or paganism, but a simple statement of fact because we are not able to follow an unbroken line of knowledge from ancient to modern times - we have fragments of the jigsaw but not the big picture, and while there is a fair bit of information around in terms of folklore, history, languages, tradition etc, not everyone has access to that, so gap-filling, re-creation and reinterpretation is natural, as are adoption and definition of language terminology and of course the development of a new vocabulary through natural cohesion of common means of phraseology etc (Ritual stock phrases and the like) as ideas spread further and wider in an internet age.

I think though it's always good to know what comes from where and when, so that if something has a defined meaning already, and that has a length of history and context that exists, then there's no need to re-write it or re-define it (incorrectly), we simply need to be aware of it and utilize it. We can build on it and add more to it, but buildings with strong foundations are more solid than those without!

Thanks for the interesting discussion Art and contributors thereafter. It's very interesting in our times, now that we have the benefit of a few hundred years of resurged interest in paganism(s), to see how it is developing in a modern age as a "Contemporary Western Paganism".
I would say many Wiccan eyebrows raise at some points! I think Donata will be after you with her broomstick shortly! (just make sure she returns the family silver! :grin: )

regards to all,
Beith

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Re: March '09 Seminar-Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Attila » 18 Mar 2009, 21:10

beith, hi

you outlined as to why i am a contemporary, we have the same world [hmm although drastically changed, ~ if that can still be the 'same world'] and magic along with the same eternity. all we can do is reinterpret our understanding by our own language. not just that but many of the old ways would just be wrong in our eyes.

shave the surface off and don’t we have something very similar to that of the ancients? at least the the beginnings of it. :)
the truth is naked.
once it is written it is lost.
what is life; life is not a question.
genius is the result of the entire product of man.
death cannot be experienced.
life is not brought to us in slices of unrealised perfection, we get the whole cake.

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Re: March '09 Seminar-Contemporary Western Paganism

Postby Dryadia2 » 22 Mar 2009, 16:16

Well done Art! :clap:
Very thorough seminar, and I really enjoyed it. :)

Peace and Blessings,
:dryadia: /|\
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