Monday, 17 February 2014
As many reading this will know, I retired from all official roles within the East Midlands Pagan Federation on the 30th of September 2013. Looking back now at some twenty years of membership, with the last ten as an officer and representative, I can see lows and highs, successes and failures. I spent the first eight years of that last ten year period as Regional Coordinator for Derbyshire and the last two as the EMPF Deputy District Manager.
On a personal level I can look back with pride as the organiser of twenty seven of the thirty Elvaston Castle Pagan Picnic in the Park, as the lead on the planning committees behind the All Fools Gatherings of 2007 and 2008, together with the Derby Witan 0f 2011. I look back on the latter as my high point as although not as financially successful as the All Fools Gatherings, it was perhaps the most satisfying both intellectually and professionally, coming as it did after a period of illness.
Chattering Magpie by Jane Burton 2013
During the last ten years I have also seen a great deal of change, as we the Pagan community have adapted to change within our more secular community and I dare to suggest, the Pagan community nationally has forced some of these changes. I have represented the Pagan Federation as many other officers have, on television, on radio and in print. I have liaised with local government, religious leaders and Inter-faith charities. Twenty years ago when I first joined the Pagan Federation, the involvement of our officers in such activities was sporadic and always worthy of note. Today such activities are almost commonplace and often ignored by the Pagan Community, yet the work the Pagan Federation and other community organisations carry out, is becoming increasingly important.
I feel that the great turning point came in 1998 with the passing of the Human Rights Act, as this amazing piece of legislation gave many organisations and individuals the leverage to finally push for change. Today the representatives of many Pagan organisations continue to work behind the scenes, protecting our rights, pushing forward our own agenda and taking an increasingly important role in influencing our greater non-Pagan community.
Although I have now retired from my position of Deputy District Manager having as part of my role the responsibility for the coordination of policy within Interfaith and Hospitals, I sincerely hope that others will come forward, to take up the flag of the Pagan Federation and push on to even greater successes.
The immense strides that have been made within the religious and civil rights movement over the last twenty years; benefit not simply the Pagan and Occult community but also our mainstream society. Yet today, we see our rights threatened increasingly by a secular society and those in Government who neither value the rights of the individual or the environment.
To protect our rights and to further them, the Pagan community needs volunteers, people with dynamism and vision. Are you who are reading this, an individual with such qualities? If the answer is yes, get involved.
Chattering Magpie speaking at Pagan Pride 2013
Picture copyright Mike Mason © 2013
In August 2013 I performed one of my last official functions as East Midlands Pagan Federation Deputy District Manager, prior to my retirement from the organisation. I like to think I went out on something of a high note, delivering a talk entitled ‘In defence of Interfaith’ in which I addressed briefly, the reasoning why Interfaith is an important part of the Civil and Religious Rights movement within our Pagan community.
For many within our community Interfaith is unimportant, a side issue, it is dismissed perhaps as joke but this is an underestimation of the importance of our involvement. As I have explored in articles previously published in magazines such as The Pentacle, The Hedge Wytch and Deosil Dance, Interfaith has a political element. Interfaith Dialogue is not about breaking bread with the ‘enemy’ or allowing ‘Christian Trojan Horses’ to corrupt some fantastically ‘pure’ form of Paganism. Interfaith is part of a political agenda within the Pagan community in which we assert and demand our equality within a modern society. It is an absolute recognition that the Pagan Community be treated with the same respect and consideration as any other social group, religious, ethnic, sexual or otherwise. It is not part of a request for special treatment but it is a demand for the same treatment, the same status as other social groups. Importantly, there is also an element of standing together with other minority groups, unified in dialogue and demanding equality for all.
Pagan Pride is a manifestation of the Pagan Community, in its desire to gain recognition and equality. Importantly is it also a celebration of what it is and what it means to be Pagan. It is a social group asserting its identity, whatever the definition of Pagan is to the individual and its associated meaning, the community acts as a unified body in celebration. Pagan Pride is both a political demonstration and a community festival. As such it as much in common with other Pride marches and events such as Gay Pride, combining two complex requirements in one event.
Pagan Pride has at times faced criticism from within the community, ranging from the outlandish clothes worn to the use of chants and slogans. Yet these are all part of any similar event, whether a demonstration or a carnival to celebrate a particular culture, they are the ubiquitous elements that display the emotional energy of the participants. Perhaps as time progresses and mainstream society becomes more accepting of cultural differences; the celebratory and festive elements of events such as Pagan Pride will become increasingly dominant and those elements associated with demonstration will decrease.
Yet while we live in a world that still has prejudice and displays that prejudice, whether it is against Pagans and other religious groups, persons of a different Ethnic origin to the dominant culture, those who are Lesbian, Gay or Transgender, the elderly, the sick, the homeless or the disabled. Then the need for minority groups to demonstrate their community strength will exist. Pagan Pride is a manifestation of a much broader movement than simply being ‘something’ for Pagans; it is a celebration of diversity within our British society.
For details of Pagan Pride (Nottingham) 2014 see the website:
Detail of a window Lichfield Cathedral by Griffith 2012
There has recently been much discussion across the Internet regarding a televised debate that admittedly I did not see, between a scientist Bill Nye and a creationist Ken Ham. The reader should perhaps make note of the fact that until now, I had never heard of either. The basis for this debate was it seems the perceived conflict between science and religion, specifically the ongoing and futile debate of creationism versus evolution as a scientific theory.
I find myself bemused as to the point of such a debate. They generally highlight what the differences are between the two camps rather that what they have in common. However, I am of course in a very favourable position. I do not perceive or experience a personal conflict between science and my own religious beliefs, they exist both separately and complementary. I find watching a sunset a spiritually moving experience, in the full knowledge that the sun is a ball of fire many miles away.
I can only assume that the Christian representative here is of the literalist school of thought and as such he would naturally fail to see the esoteric value of the Bible, which in my opinion should be interpreted in a Gnostic context and not as actual history. The early books of the Bible are an attempt by a nomadic culture to make some sense of their world, providing a legal and moral framework for their existence. They were on the cusp of developing into a civilisation but were not yet civilised themselves, the wonders of the Solomonic civilisation lay in their future.
The literalist school of Biblical studies fails in their interpretation, because they fail to appreciate the cultural and historical context of the books they claim to understand. This unfortunately means that certain outmoded legal judgements that may have been of enormous value to a nomadic proto-culture, are inappropriately imposed upon a developed Western World.
Interestingly, during my time working within the interfaith environment as part of my charity work for the Pagan Federation, I met several Humanists. I did not meet Christians of the evangelical or literalist school. They do not approve of Interfaith Dialogue and decline to participate.
The premise of this debate is built upon the suggestion that there are people who believe that science and spirituality are in conflict, that they are incompatible. That some Evangelical Christians may actually believe that the Earth itself is flat, that it was created in seven days and that their Truth is the only Truth. They choose to reject science. There are others who may seek to accommodate their spirituality with science, possibly adapting and diluting their belief to gain scientific acceptance. Some elements within the New Age movement may be representative of this group.
As previously stated, I belong to neither group nor body of thought. I do not see science and nature, science and spirituality as being in conflict. I see them in parallel and perhaps even at times, complimentary. I am aware that the Earth is round and that we orbit the Sun, that the Sun is one of many stars within a galaxy that is in turn, part of an infinite and expanding universe. I am even aware of the theory, that there may be more than one universe. None of this changes my being a Polytheist. None of this changes my spirituality, in that I derive wisdom, insight and inspiration from the Sacred Land, from works such as the Edda or from other but related Mythological Streams.
Both participants in this debate most likely left in the genuine belief that they had ‘won’ their argument. So whilst the rest of us quietly forget this nine day wonder and move on with more important things, the supporters of each delegate will I presume, hotly debate the result for a very long time.
I recognise Christianity as a valid comparative spirituality and while I am aware that that many within the Craft incorporate elements of esoteric Christianity, taking what may possibly be called a 'Gnostic' approach. My own approach within a Pagan religious sphere is perhaps edging towards an idiosyncratic construction, reflecting certain English cultural themes. That is not to say I ignore or am unaware of the Christian influence upon English society over the past two thousand years and therefore upon my path. Rather that I am perhaps more aware of what lies beneath the veneer and as a result the actual Christian influence upon my own path is and remains negligible.
This in no way devalues Christianity and I find the fashion in some Pagan circles to denigrate true Christian teaching, as much a puzzle as the perceived conflict between Science and religion. Perhaps when criticising Christianity they refer not to the teaching but the interpretations of a few who may indeed fail our society.
It is said that Pilate asked of Christ, ‘What is Truth? Is your Truth the same as mine?’ This search for Truth whatever Truth is, it is in a sense the history of civilisation. Are there therefore, factual and scientific truths that differ from poetic Truth? Perhaps I am in a truly fortunate position, whereby I recognise elements of this ‘Truth’ in science and religions, this being no mere New Age platitude of ‘it’s all one’ because as a Polytheist I neither seek nor desire religious syncretism. Rather it is an awareness of a thread of common humanity throughout and that Truth can manifest in many different ways, that there can be different Truths.
The literal interpretation of any sacred text, whether it is the Torah, the Gospels, the Koran or the many and varied Pagan Mythologies, is an error. So much is lost and so much is ignored by those that fail in a more esoteric interpretation. The door to wisdom is allegory, the key is metaphor and sadly the pearls of true gnosis; are overlooked by those that do not have eyes to see.
Detail of a window Southwell Minster by Griffith 2011
Thursday, 16 January 2014
Stanton Moor Derbyshire February 2010
DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).
The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter's eve appear.
Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.
Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.
Herrick, Robert. Works of Robert Herrick. vol II.
Alfred Pollard, ed. London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1891. 104-105.
Stanton Moor Derbyshire February 2010
Sunday, 5 January 2014
Chattering Magpie atop the Cork Stone, Stanton Moor Derbyshire.
Picture by Simon Large 2012
In the first half of 2013 I heard the sad news that a gentleman and he was a gentleman; whom I had only met twice but after corresponding via Email I had the pleasure to call a friend, had passed. His death was sudden, unexpected and I felt deeply that sense of loss associated with the tragic realisation, that I would now never get to know him better.
My original intention was to produce an informal obituary for November 2013, as it was a year almost to the day since I last met Simon. Furthermore, it is natural that with the coming of the Hallowtide, for our thoughts to focus on those that have departed. In my own mind were memories not only of friends such as Simon but also family. For this latter reason I found myself unable to write, as the anniversaries of the deaths of both my brothers lay only a few weeks either side of the Hallowtide. Since both my brothers passed under tragic and unexpected circumstance, I have until now been unable to face emotionally, the prospect of writing about this dear man, Simon Large.
My first contact with Simon, a retired archaeologist and his artist wife Isabelle Gaborit, came via a mutual friend in the Clan of Tubal Cain. From this networking and exchange of emails including Facebook private messages, developed a communication that eventually would lead to Isabelle writing an exceptionally glowing review of a book I had edited on behalf of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, for the Irish magazine Brigid’s Fire.
An important factor in our networking was the global electronic communication wonder of Facebook. Now many who know me, will know that I near despise Facebook or at least many aspects of the social phenomenon. Yet I recognise that Facebook has opened up a new area of networking and that via the social networking site that we all love to hate, I have made genuine and warm friendships.
I count amongst these my friendship with Simon and Isabelle and in the summer of 2012 as my girlfriend and I made plans for a trip over the water, it was natural for us to message our friends in Ireland. We sought advice on our arrangements and suggested that if possible, we should meet in the flesh, to finally put faces to Internet names.
So it was arranged that they would journey into Dublin to meet us soon after our arrival in Ireland. We arrived by ferry via Wales a little later than planned and made our way to the Dublin Youth Hostel, a little north of the city centre and up the hill from the well known, Black Church. Even though our arrival was later than expected, that evening Simon and Isabelle were collecting us from the hostel, their plan being to take us out for dinner.
They arrived to collect us on foot and bearing gifts. For me in particular and based on knowledge gleaned via Facebook and friends, a bottle of spiced mead, home made by Simon himself. I cradled that mead, it travelled up Eire, across Ulster and home across the sea to Derbyshire wrapped in towels deep in my suitcase. It was a very good brew and greatly appreciated as a gift.
We left the hostel that evening, the four of us and headed south down Parnell Square, Cavendish Row and O’Connell Street towards the city centre, with me taking snap shots and Simon pointing out places of particular interest for us to visit during our stay in Dublin. We passed the Garden of Remembrance and I made a mental note to return in a day or two and take better picture. We noted the General Post Office and Trinity Collage, places that we would later visit.
Finally we arrived at Cornucopia on Wicklow Street, a well known Dublin venue and a fine vegetarian restaurant. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation, this being the first time we had heard each other speak and it brought up a few surprises. Isabelle being of French origin spoke her English with a soft accent but Simon was a surprise. He who was not of Irish birth, had by having lived many years in Eire, developed a quite beautiful, almost musical Irish accent. So natural was his manner of speech that one could easily assume that he was a born Irishman.
The evening was friendly, relaxed interspaced with archaeological anecdotes provided by Simon and artistic discussion overseen by Isabelle. We walked back to their car for a lift back to the hostel, parting as firm friends with a sincere wish to meet again.
A few months later we received the news that Simon and Isabelle planned to visit the UK, first to enjoy a brief stay in London to visit the British Museum and Treadwell’s Bookshop, before journeying on to Glastonbury for the ‘Day of the Dead’ weekend in early November. Although meeting the couple in Glastonbury was impractical, I began making arrangements to journey to London to meet them once again. This proved unnecessary when it was revealed that the plans included a trip north to visit our mutual friends in Derbyshire
This would necessitate a temporary stop over in Derby and I remember checking out their suggested hotels on foot, prior to them leaving Ireland. At least one of which filled me with dread when I realised it was on the edge of an area of town of dubious reputation. Ultimately we settled on their first choice, a safe venue close to the city centre. This time is was our turn to meet Simon and Isabelle and take them for dinner, walking through Derby an admittedly less glamorous city than Dublin but still historically important, with me pointing out the Green Men on the Anglican Cathedral and the nearby Catholic church designed by Pugin before arriving at Ye Olde Dolphin Inne. This public house is said to be the oldest in the city and also the most haunted.
So once again we enjoyed a pleasant evening meal, this time with a log fire, oak beams and real ale, real English ale that Simon enjoyed contentedly. Coincidently the Derby Ghost Walk was passing through that evening, hosted by the television celebrity and local historian Richard Felix. Knowing Richard through my work with the Pagan Federation I popped outside to say hello and he graciously but briefly, popped into the snug to meet Simon and Isabelle. An added bonus was when I persuaded the staff to allow us to see the haunted upper restaurant room.
That was not where the trip ended as since our visitors from Ireland were staying with our friends, we were therefore able to enjoy a group trip into the Peaks, exploring both Stanton and the Big Moor. Here once again, Simon’s historical and archaeological interest was well catered for as we explored Neolithic remains on both moors. It was on Stanton Moor that Simon took the picture that illustrates this BLOG and it was on Stanton Moor, much to my embarrassment but to everyone else’s amusement; that I succeeded due to my inept map reading skills in getting us lost in the fog. I may never live that down.
So what are my lasting memories of this dear sweet man? The answer is a complex and wide ranging mixture that includes his soft voice, his air of calm, his humour, his intelligence and thirst to learn about areas of the Craft that were new to him. His friendliness and generosity set him apart, as a man whose friendship was worth discovery. He made being happy a virtue.
All of this began with an email and I recognise that without the Internet I would never have met Simon and Isabelle. I would never have had the pleasure of being able to call either a friend and in the case of Simon that was for a regrettably short period of time. Without the modern wonder of this medium that we call the World Wide Web, I would not now be writing this BLOG or be able to share with anyone who cares to read, what a kind of man and friend Simon was.
Saturday, 4 January 2014
Picture copyright D.B.Griffith 2013
On the fourth of November 2013 I posted the following on Facebook:
I am heartbroken.
I have just received in the post what could be the last ever edition of the The Hedge Wytch Magazine. Due to falling subscription rates it is no longer financially viable to continue publication.
Let me be honest about this, The Hedge Wytch Magazine one of only two top quality magazines in the UK that deals with matters of a Traditional bent and is actually worth reading. The other is obviously The Cauldron Magazine.
There is some possibility that if enough interest is generated there may be a re-launch in the future. I urge people to consider expressing an interest in this and contacting the publisher.
If the Cauldron follows suit all that will be available in the UK will be generalist Pagan magazines and a lot of New Age Garbage.
Details of the The Hedge Wytch Magazine and this latest development can be found here:
Some may think it strange that the closure of a magazine should affect one so deeply or move anyone to post such a message on an Internet board. Yet the closure, even a temporary one, is a sad loss for the Pagan and Occult community at large.
Founded in 1997 The Hedge Wytch Magazine was the journal of the Association of Hedge Wytches, a loose association of Craft practitioners without a formal membership system. Over a period of time the AHW became increasing decentralised and informal in this regard.
The magazine also changed, perhaps originally influenced by the philosophy of the author Rae Beth, whose works postulated an unconventional and modern definition of Hedge Wytchcraft. In time the magazine became increasingly traditionalist and folklore root orientated, appealing not only to the solitary practitioner but also the traditional covenor. As such the magazine became an alternative and a complementary periodical to the long established Cauldron Magazine; sharing at times readership and contributors, many of a scholarly approach to the Craft.
The real issue in my opinion; is that with the loss of each magazine such as the Hedge Wytch or for example the White Dragon magazine that closed some years ago, is that the diversity and therefore quality of material available is diminished. The material available to the Pagan, Magical and Occult fraternity is polarising. At one end of the spectrum we have specialist journals such as Clavis, Pillars or Abraxas, published annually or twice a year, they are costly and often available only in limited number. At the other end of this literary spectrum we have some rather light weight, new age magazines, suitable only for those who seek comfort and not at all challenging. Nearer the middle a few quality but generalist Pagan magazines such as Pentacle, yet they are all thanks in part to the Internet, feeling the squeeze. Few journals of a Traditionalist leaning survive today and it is with a sense of irony that I write this lament for the printed word, on an Internet BLOG.
Yet the printed word is in reality far superior to what is generally found upon the World Wide Web and that is because quality suffers on the Internet. The individual is their own safety valve when it comes to quality and the editing of a web post. In a magazine or a journal the editor provides this important function, to put it simply there is a peer review. It is with good reason that the majority of universities in the UK have banned the use of Wikipedia references in assignments, recognising that in general an Internet source is a third rate one.
So the loss of a magazine such as the Hedge Wytch, White Dragon or to give another example the Wytches Standard, is a symptom of neglect by the community as magazines that appeal to the lowest common denominator proliferate at the expense of quality. In a sense the community has only itself to blame as there is an element here of casting pearls before swine. The Pearls of True Gnosis are ignored in favour of the quick gratification of the New Age Guru.
For details on the current situation, possibilities of a re-launch and for the purchase of back issues please see the website: http://sothisstar.co.uk/
Other journals of note are:
The Abraxas Journal http://abraxas-journal.com/
The Cauldron Magazine http://www.the-cauldron.org.uk/index.html
The Clavis Journal http://www.clavisjournal.com/
The Deosil Dance http://www.deosildance.co.uk/
The Pentacle Magazine http://www.pentaclemagazine.co.uk/
The Pillars Journal
The Silver Wheel Journal http://www.merciangathering.com/
Friday, 19 July 2013
Picture copyright Pagan Pride 2012
This year, Sunday the 4th of August (2013) will see another Pagan Pride event in Nottingham. Pagan Pride is a localised event with a national importance and an attendance that continues to grow each year. The organisation’s website will tell you that contrary to the generalised perception, Pagan Pride is more than just a one day festival. There is a philosophy behind Pagan Pride. The aim of Pagan Pride is to make a statement, to emphasise and support the place of the Pagan community within our greater mainstream society. By liaison with other existing Pagan Community service organisations, Pagan Pride seeks to raise public awareness of Paganism as an alternative but viable spiritual path, correcting misconceptions through education. The festival itself is a celebration of Paganism in both diversity and as a cultural identity.
Picture copyright Pagan Pride 2012
The Nottingham Pagan Pride was founded by Esme Knight in 2009 and the first Pagan Pride parade and festival took place the following year. Although officially a free event, like all free events someone does have to pay. Numerous events are organised throughout the year to raise funds for the single day event itself, to cover the ‘rent’ of the Arboretum and the necessary insurance.
Picture copyright Pagan Pride 2012
The event itself now follows a set format, with a gathering of several hundred Pagans and well wishers on the market place. An organised and carefully supervised if noisy march through the city then takes place, to eventually gather at the Arboretum and the site of the main event itself.
Picture copyright The Newark Pagan Community 2012
In 2012, I as the current East Midlands Pagan Federation Deputy District Manager had the very great honour to join Esme Knight, Charlotte Heloise Kingsbury and the other organisers in leading the parade through Nottingham. This I did in full black and white jester costume, complete with horn. I am highly qualified to play the Fool or a rather unseasonal Lord of Misrule.
Picture copyright Chris Nortan 2012
The 2012 parade was the largest gathering so far, seeing a doubling of numbers on previous years, with an estimated six hundred persons taking part. Many chose to walk in full costume or ritual dress, bringing musical instruments such as horns and drums. As a celebration of the diversity within Paganism, the parade offers a fine example of our community spirit. Many Pagan groups, based around moots or actual ritual working groups choose to parade in number, often bringing a specially made banner for the occasion.
Amongst those that marched was the Folk-rock Band Serpentyne, as usual dressed in full medieval costume and playing their amazing acoustic instruments. Later at the main site where several other bands were gathering, this amazing group would play their own acoustic set using replica medieval instruments.
Picture copyright Pagan Pride 2012
The main site at the Nottingham City Arbouretum was divided between the band stand acting as the main stage, a bar, a open air food area, an open air market, display areas for Belly and Morris dancing, together with meeting points and areas set aside for informal talks and lectures. The list of speakers, bands and dance troops is simply too long to list here. Several Pagan organisations had a presence at this vitally important community event, including the British Druid Network, Nottingham Pagan Network and the East Midlands Pagan Federation. The estimated attendance at the main site was put in the region of two thousand people.
Picture copyright Amanda Caroline Douglas 2012
This year however, I will not be marching as I have been asked to give an informal talk, which I will do on the subject of why Interfaith matters. Nor will I appear in my now famous Lord of Misrule costume, as to give such a talk; I must on behalf of the Pagan Federation present a more professional image. Horror of horrors, I’m being made to wear a tie.
Picture copyright Jean D. Cook 2012
So if you are free on Sunday 4th of August (blatant plug), come over to Nottingham and join the parade, let us make it even bigger that 2012!
USEFUL LINKS AND INFORMATION
For more information on the work of the East Midlands Pagan Federation please see the website: http://paganfedeastmids.co.uk/
and the related Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/EastmidsPFgroup/
For information on Pagan Pride and related events please see the website: http://www.paganpride.org.uk/ and the related Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/PaganPrideUK
For details on the group Serpentyne, please see the website http://www.serpentyne.com/
and the related Facebook group
Polite reminder: the next Pagan Pride (Nottingham) Festival will be Sunday the 4th of August 2013.
Thursday, 20 June 2013
Baldur by Johannes Gehrts
The Summer Solstice, a date decided by the movement of our nearest star and not by a fixed artificial calendar, is one of the primary eight festivals observed today by contemporary Pagans. Festivals and rituals are held nationally, the most famous being Stonehenge and Avebury in Wiltshire. However, there are perhaps many more Pagans who rather than travel to a national shrine, will choose to observe the festival locally.
The symbolism of the Solstice as a religious event of deep spiritual significance is almost too personal for many Pagans to express in words. The individual is far more likely to be touched deep inside and will therefore, feel intuitively an inexpressible union with the Divine, in whatever way they may perceive it.
The Summer Solstice marks the point of greatest light, a promise of the warmest months, growth and harvest. Yet by being the Sun’s highest point this also marks the moment when the hours of daylight will no longer be greater than the hours of darkness. Just as night must follow day, darkness must follow light and invariably, winter must follow summer.
This realisation that life is a cycle, that there is a balance of light and dark, that the waxing and waning energies are part of that cycle, lies for some at the heart of Paganism as a spiritual path.
In an earlier published work (Pagan symbolism within the Sherwood Legends, in the Hedgewytch issue 50 May/Beltane 2010 pp20-23), I have sought to explore the symbolism of the Sherwood Tradition and its relationship to the division of the light and dark halves of the year. In doing so, I offered the example of the Sherwood Legends as a valid reason for dividing the year at the equinoxes in comparison to the Arthurian Cycle and the division of the year at the solstices.
The mythological key of the Arthurian Cycle that is comparable to that of the Sherwood Legends previously mentioned is the relationship between Arthur, his sister Morgan of the Fay and their son by an incestuous liaison, Mordred.
In the final battle, Arthur and Mordred meet in combat and although Mordred is slain, he gives his father a mortal wound. Here Arthur is the Sun King representing the light half of the year, while his son Mordred is comparable to Guy of Gisbourne in the Sherwood Legends and a representative of the dark half of the year. Arthur is also the Christ, the Sun King sacrificed for his people and suffering a mortal wound.
The battle between Arthur and Mordred is a representation of the Summer Solstice. Arthur is a king at the height of his powers but he is delivered of a mortal blow, so that although neither dead nor defeated, his powers now begin to wane. So it is at the Summer Solstice; as the Sun reaches the height of power and then begins to slowly diminish in strength. Mordred is defeated but only for a time, for as his father’s strength wanes his will increase until finally, in the Autumn, the hours of darkness are greater than the hours of daylight.
Morgan le Fay by Frederick Sandys
Morgan of the Fay as sister and mother of the two protagonists, here provides a link between the two and is a manifestation of the Goddess of Fate. Her very title “of the Fay” shows here very clearly her true identity as the Queen of Elfland. At the end of the battle, Arthur is taken by ship on a journey to the Otherworld accompanied by three queens, representations of the Fates found in both Classical and Norse Mythology. In some versions of the story, one of these queens is Morgan of the Fay herself. This paradox, that she is in part responsible for his defeat, yet is also his saviour is an illustration of the detached impartiality of Fate.
There is however, a third mythological stream or cycle that is very much worth exploring when discussing the division of the light and dark halves of the year. This third mythological thread lies within Northern Mythology and has as its focus the death of Baldur and his relationship with two of his brothers, Hodur and Vali. Northern Mythology is unfortunately a somewhat lesser known mystical stream with regard the general public but it is certainly no less significant than the Arthurian Cycle.
Woden (better known as Odin) and his wife Frigga (who is perhaps better known as Frig), have had many children. Two of these children are the twins Baldur the Fair and his brother Hodur the Blind, each equally devoted to the other. However, the Northern Gods are subject to fate and it is discovered that Baldur is fated to die. An attempt is therefore made by his mother to avoid fate and an agreement is sought in which all of creation shall swear an oath, not to harm Baldur the Fair God of Light.
Frigga by Amalia Schoppe
One plant, judged too young to swear an oath, is exempt from the agreement and this is mistletoe. It is such a small and insignificant plant, what possible harm could it cause to man, beast or god? However, the identity of this one plant is kept a secret and once the agreement is made and the oaths are sworn, the Gods celebrate by playing a throwing game with Baldur as a willing target.
Carl Emil Doepler
Baldur is at the height of his powers, truly invincible or at least, believed to be. Ashen spears, oaken staves and granite blocks either veer away when thrown or bounce harmlessly off Baldur causing him no hurt. Here Baldur is an embodiment of the Summer Sun at its height on the day of the Summer Solstice. Historically we are aware that celebrations and the worship of Baldur, took place in Scandinavia on the very day of the Summer Solstice.
Another God however, Loki has discovered the identity of the one plant that can now cause harm to Baldur and end the merriment of the Gods. He rides to Valhalla where mistletoe grows upon an oak close to the entrance. Here those familiar with the Celtic Tradition will note the symbolism of the mistletoe growing close to a doorway, drawing a link to both the Winter Solstice and the oak itself. However, it is worth considering that the mistletoe motif may be a later addition to this mythological cycle.
Using magic, Loki fashions a full size spear from a piece of mistletoe and returns to the celebrations. Here he finds Hodur, alone and feeling rather left out as being blind, he is unable to participate in the games. Loki kindly offers to help and to provide a missile and leading Hodur into the crowd, assists him in taking aim. Hodur throws the spear but instead of hearing yet more laughter there is a shocked silence, followed by a lament. Loki has made by now a discrete withdrawal, leaving Hodur heart-broken at the tragedy and mourning the loss of the brother, he loved so.
Carl Emil Doepler
There is much more to this myth; which continues the story with an attempt to persuade Hel to release Baldur from the underworld and it is of great significance to followers and practitioners of the Northern Tradition and Wiccecraeft (Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft). We however, must jump ahead to the birth of the third brother featured here, Vali the Avenger.
John Charles Dolman
Vali is a son of Woden (Odin) but not a son of Frigga (Frig), as his mother is often identified as a giantess called Rind. On the same day of his birth, he grows to full manhood and enters Asgard with a bow and a quiver of arrows. It is with these weapons that he goes on to slay his elder brother Hodur and so avenge the death of Baldur. With this act of revenge, which is in part a requirement of the Norse concept of Fate, the tragedy finally ends.
Odin by Johannes Gehrts
Vali the Avenger is quite obviously the returning light, the re-born Sun of the Winter Solstice and his arrows represent beams or shafts of light. His part in the cycle brings to a close the darkness of Winter, represented by that tragic figure, the blind god Hodur.
Baldur is here shown as a vegetation God that is cut down or harvested at the peak of his virility and therefore, parallels can be drawn with the symbolism of the sacrificial king. The king that at his height, must step down before his powers and therefore the power he shares with the land and the people will begin to wane.
The mythology of Baldur and his two brothers Hodur and Vali is a beautiful and powerful story and provides perfectly, a valid reasoning for the interpretation of the change at the Solstices. Which mythological cycle one favours Saxon, Arthurian or Northern, is a matter of personal gnosis and mythological interpretation. The death of Baldur and the birth of Vali, like the death of Arthur; presents us with an ideal symbolic representation of the death of the Summer Sun on the Summer Solstice and then the return of the light and the rebirth of the Sun at the Winter Solstice.
Vali as the returning light is both the Green Man and the Hunter. Furthermore, as a Divine Archer he equates symbolically with Robin Hood as a Saxon God of the hunt and in doing so, he brings us back full circle to the Sherwood Legends.
Further and recommended reading
Ellis Davidson H.R. (1964) Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Pelican Books.
Griffith D.B. (Chattering Magpie) (2010) Pagan symbolism within the Sherwood Legends. The Hedgewytch. Issue 50 May/Beltane 2010 pp20-23.
Griffith D.B. (Chattering Magpie) (2012) Pagan symbolism within the Sherwood Legends. Hearth of the Turning Wheel: Private publication.
Guerber H.A. (1909) The Norsemen. George G. Harrap and Co. London.
Howard M. (1994) Mysteries of the Runes. Capall Bann.
Jennings P. (2007) Heathen Paths: Viking and Anglo Saxon Pagan beliefs. Capall Bann.