Sunday, 21 July 2013

Celtic Christianity and Pagan Survival

 St Peters Chapel

Christianity was introduced to the Celtic Britons around the 2nd Century AD due to the current Roman occupation. Conversion was a gradual process that obviously began to take root with the soldiers and those in direct contact with the Roman Christians. When the Roman's left Britain these new converts were free to develop their own form of Christianity, known as Celtic Christianity which was also adopted by the Anglo-Saxons. 
A main difference between Celtic Christianity and Roman Christianity was the Celtic emphasis on the grace of God's gifts in life and nature. The Celts were very much connected to nature, agriculture and the seasons - their lives revolved around it; it is therefore natural that when converting to a new religion, this important aspect of life would continue to be honoured. Women were also respected and allowed to take an active role in religious services, and clergy could be married. Conversion appears to have come due to peaceful evangelism rather than through warfare, and so the Pagan converts would have made the spiritual decision for themselves. 
The Pagan agricultural festivals were still celebrated but were Christianised, such as the harvest festival, LuchnasadhLammas, or the spring festival, Imbolc - Candlemass. Sacred sites were still believed to be sacred - after all, why would that change? So in the beginning Celtic communities worshipped outside with simple wooden crosses, possibly at these sacred sites, but eventually (perhaps due to rekindled relationships with other traditions putting the pressure on) they mimicked the building of Roman churches in a later attempt to separate God and Creation. Magic and healing crafts were still performed, but again with Christianised with prayers to God, Jesus, Saints and Angels, rather than a Pantheon of Celtic deities.
After hundreds of years in peace, more pressure was put upon the Celtic Church and it was criticised by the other churches and accused of being Pagan in its origins. 
Modern Pagans like to belittle Christianity and boast of Christianity's Pagan origins, commonly seen in the usurped festivals. It is easy to imagine a group of staunch, stiff-necked clergy-man gathering in a dark building and plotting world dominance, and destruction of the Pagan ways, usurping festivals out of desperation for converts and hypocrisy. In some cases, especially later on, I imagine that this was close to reality. True enough, the Pagan ways were hard to eradicate and so compromise was needed on the side of the Christian clergy; but I think it unfair to point the finger this way. A possibly more accurate picture is of a small Pagan farming community who welcome the presence of a missionary and hear what he has to say; some things they think are too alien for them to accept, others seem reasonable and similar to their own current beliefs already. They choose to become Christian and follow the peaceful message of Jesus and celebrate their promised salvation; but they also decide that it is unnecessary to lower the status of their women, and stop celebrating the bounty of the harvest festivals. They were free to continue in their own ways, with their new beliefs too.
This story of the growth of Christianity has captured my imagination. This wasn't the case everywhere and for everyone and every time. But early on this is the story of the conversion from at least where my ancestors originate. I learnt it from visiting two Anglo-Saxon churches recently, one of which was the mesmorising Chapel of St Peter in Bradwell-on-Sea, England. Here is a place that was founded in AD654 and still functions today. I saw prayers written on paper and stuffed into cracks in the ancient stones; I saw handmade wooden crosses and stones at the altar with people's names on for prayers. Outside the North Sea greets you, and fields stretch out behind you. There is no doubting that this place is a sacred one, no matter what religious belief one may have. We're all more similar than we realise, or wish to accept.

St Peters Chapel, inside.

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Thursday, 11 July 2013

Dedicating to the Goddess

On the last new moon, on the Sun's day, I stood beside the river Thames by 'Cleopatra's Needle' with four others and became a Priestess of the Fellowship of Isis. As I have explained from previous posts I have been undergoing training through online correspondence for the last two years now. Distant training is hard because there isn't someone to hold your hand, or prompt you in ritual and meditations. All you have is the arrow to point the way to the printed liturgy, and the rest is between you and Spirit. After doing the 'work', the words of encouragement and advice from my online guide after each rite were valuable in pushing me forward on wards. After two years she decided to meet me in London and ordain me as a Priestess of the FOI.

I dedicated to a primary Goddess and two support Goddesses that day. It took a lot of hard decision making but I feel that I made the right choice - a choice that is always guided by the Goddess Herself/Themselves. You don't just randomly select a Goddess, of simply pick the one you like the look of most; every connection you feel is from Her. When you look at a statue or image of the Goddess (or God) and feel drawn, inspired, and admiration, that is from Her. If you feel that you can relate to the Mother/Huntress/Mage/Crone ect archetype, that is Her energetic pull. Many things can trigger this attraction. You should follow it. It may lead you a short way and teach you what you need to know, before moving you on; it may lead you throughout life. Just listen and follow the ebb and flow.

So on that day (and even before then) I dedicated to the Goddess Nut  (Egyptian), Aphrodite (Greek) and Great Mother (Earth).  I am now a Priestess of these Goddesses. What does this now mean?

Each of the Goddesses have something in common, that links them to the Priesthood of the FOI: The FOI teaches unity, equality and love. No one is higher than another, all are a part of this universe and Divinity and peace and love are promoted. Each of these Goddesses represent this for me and as a Priestess of them and the FOI I believe that I should uphold this attitude. I wish to unite people, promoting peace and understanding; I want to help people to recognise the beauty of this world and each other and help people to love others including themselves; and I want to be creative and express the Goddess's love through my actions, art and rituals.

At this time in my life, Priestesshood is between me and Her. I of course represent the FOI and have a role to play in the community in helping to spread the Goddess's love, but I do not have any higher status than another person. It is my way of expressing my dedication to Her and others may have just as much a connection (or more) but choose to express it differently. As a Priestess I have formally dedicated to Her and this is a very personal thing for me. This is the beginning of a new start for me and I wanted to record it on this blog. 

Blessed Be!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

My Native Sacred Landscape

When you grow up somewhere the places around you may seem mundane, ordinary and unexciting; when you move away somewhere this new place may be the very opposite, because it is different. When I left home to go off to University hundreds of miles away (both in the UK) I found exactly this; however, each time I returned home I found that home became more and more interesting and now I feel a great fondness towards it.

At my University home (locations will be kept private for this posting) I am surrounded by a rich area of cultural, historical and natural beauty and intrigue. I am in love with the place; but, when I walk through the woodlands and hills, and look upon the historical sites I don't feel a sense of personal identity and belonging. My own ancestral and cultural heritage has been an uncertain void for me, since coming to know Paganism. I thought I had left home and been given all I needed from that place, to move on, but I was wrong. Now when I come home and walk in the familiar fields and modest remaining woodlands I feel a sense of pride and belonging; this is my land, my heritage, the place where my roots are planted.

Upon traveling from one land to another and entering the familiar surroundings of home I definitely sense a different energy in each area. This is beyond explaining in words and really is something you have to feel (and that through connecting to the earth, everyone can learn to recognize with time). All I can say is that the feeling of the different places, the places spirit, ancestral memory, gods, energy - whatever you wish to call it, is noticeably different. 

The gods of my birth place are for the most past unnamed due to being lost by history, contrasting to the gods and mythologies of my University's area, which are largely known. But naming these gods is not necessary. My home county is actually very rich in history and has been occupied for thousands of years - but this is why comparatively little ancient remains, remain; constant occupation, industrialization and population increase has removed many ancient sites. Pagan myths were not written down by their followers and only the Christian clergy much later were able to record their religious teachings in writing. So what is left here?

There is something so obvious yet so under-appreciated that I have only just seen it for what it is. Behind a suburban area where our past school is located is a relatively steep hill, overlooking a gently rolling landscape and the villages lining the river. Already in this gentle landscape this hill stands out today, and it must have for our Prehistoric ancestors too because upon this hill is a round barrow mound, possibly of the Iron Age. For most people (myself previously included) the mound is not much to look at, and the view is not one of outstanding beauty, but this site is indeed significant to our local cultural (and for some, Pagan) heritage. When so many other sites are buried beneath houses, industry, and even water, here we have a site from our earliest past still standing high up overlooking it all. It appears to go unnoticed by locals, vandals and Pagans. I, myself, in my early Pagan years thought little of it. Now it is fueled with meaning for me. A beacon of our past stands there atop that hill, surviving the test of time, overlooking us upon the belly of the Mother Goddess in the landscape.

Currently for me this is the most noticeable site of interest, but there are many more places that I am yet to explore further. Many areas are rich in history, ancient and modern which could be discussed elsewhere, but little physical actually remains to visit (the area was a particular spot for the witch hunts of the 17th Century; the village nearby to my home village is still a famous 'witch haunt' today). There are no stone circles, but I have traced recorded Saracen stones, of which are unfortunately dismantled, privately claimed or discarded. A few later ruins exist, such as old churches and a particular castle overlooking a river that I rather like! I have also traced a holy spring that I plan to visit. Less attached to a historical sites is the local landscape living today. Aforementioned is the hill with the ancient mound upon it; local to me is also a sacred river, and I am surrounded by humble farm land, and remember being greeted by the sun shining through the clouds over the yellow fields as we travelled towards a our house at the end of each day. This is very simple, yet familiar and special in its own right.

There are many more sites of local significance for me. Local fields, local churches, local rivers (however muddy!) and other special sites remain, to be discussed elsewhere. It is a shame that I have not found this information until I had moved away (without intent to move back honestly), but it means I can soak in the energy in my treasured trips home.

I am looking forward to learning more about the home of my family and birthplace.