Monday, 17 February 2014

THOUGHTS ON MY RETIREMENT


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.



PAGAN PRIDE 2013

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:






THE PERCEIVED CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND FAITH

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