Merry Part

Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve yammered on about how the brunt of mainstream knowledge on Paganism is dubious at best. This week, I will continue to do so– but with a twist!

This time around I’d like to tackle how Paganism might be perceived as some distant, secretive club, when we’d really love anyone interested to come give our faith a try. But instead of just taking my less-than–authoritative word on it, I think this is something best experienced first hand. As such, I’m dedicating this post to some of the festival and ritual spaces I’ve come to know and love.

One common ritual ground is Vincent Massey Park, home to a lovely forest clearing with a fire pit and sturdy benches perfect for potlucks. Even if you’re not interested in the Pagan experience, the park is a great place to have a picnic or go hiking surrounded by nature.

Close to Eganville, Ontario lies Raven’s Knoll, a campground dedicated to the yearly Kaleidoscope Gathering. I’ve been going to this festival longer than any others – however, these days it’s a bit too large for my socially awkward tastes. But if you enjoy big parties, the Knoll is a great place to start your Pagan education.

And dearest of all to my heart is Whispering Pines Campground in Curran, Ontario, previous host to Kaleidoscope Gathering and now home to Music in the Pines, a fantastic celebration of arts and spirituality. There have I spent many days hearing Bardic tales, and sleeping bag-occupied nights hearing the distant pounding of drums.

These are just some of the places I have been to so far, however. There are plenty of other fine Pagan gathering places all across Ontario and far beyond, and I’m sure each and every one of them would be an equally good starting place for any interested in this religious path; one far less terrifying than our numerous societal myths would suggest.

Take care now, my fair readers. There is nothing more I can teach, and yet so much to learn.

 As it is said in my faith;

Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.

Cover by Leahm Chenry

Nathan Mulcahy

Is a student in the 2013 Professional Writing program at Algonquin College, and a proud lord within the Principality of Sealand. He has a passion for editing, and assisted with The Secret Promise: Return of the Wishing Star by Kristin Groulx and his sister Daphney Beaulieu.

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Feelin’ Huggy?

Last week I talked about to the importance of respect in the Pagan environment when it comes to freedom of dress. In this post, I’ll be examining this idea as it relates to the complex world of social interaction.

When you go to the average social gathering, how do you greet new people, or acknowledge friends of yours? A quick handshake? Maybe a bro-fist, or even a half-second pat on each other’s backs? If so, then your first Pagan gathering might be slightly shocking, as up to hundreds of people begin hugging like they all just won a sports medal.

 Photo by  Andres Kudacki, from the Guardian

Photo by Andres Kudacki, from the Guardian

It’s not that the average Pagan greets every person they meet with a touching caress. But the many festivals I’ve attended throughout my life have always been a great judgment-free zone for those who want to get their hug on with old and new friends.

On a similar note, most rituals call for the gathered circle of people to hold hands for parts of the proceedings. As attendance can easily range from 10 to more than 100, depending on a number of factors (especially weather), this almost guarantees you will be touching a stranger.

For those of you who feel a sense of discomfort or embarrassment about this, I see where you’re coming from. After all this time, I still feel nervous reaching out to someone I’ve never met before. What if I hold this person’s hand too tight, and they think I’m a creep? Or too loose, giving the impression I’m an aloof jerk? Oh, the complexities of social interaction.

But, as many authorities in the Pagan community work to make clear, you never, ever have to take part in any form of closeness you don’t want to. After all, self-respect is a major part of our religion.

That’s not to say there are never issues surrounding disrespectful behaviour within the community – as in any other. However, these behaviours are met with swift repercussion, and go deeply against our beliefs.

The main deital figures of Paganism are the God and the Goddess - two beings of equal power and importance. This equality is mirrored in our structure; rituals are performed together by a priestess and a priest, and can be led by either a high priest or priestess.

All of this goes toward creating an environment of tolerance and connection with others. I am proud to be a part of this community.

Nathan Mulcahy

Is a student in the 2013 Professional Writing program at Algonquin College, and a proud lord within the Principality of Sealand. He has a passion for editing, and assisted with The Secret Promise: Return of the Wishing Star by Kristin Groulx and his sister Daphney Beaulieu.

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Dancing Naked In the Snow

If you browse through Google image results for “pagan ritual,” you’ll notice two patterns in the garb. (Also, it’ll offer up the additional words “sacrifice” and “satanic.” Again with the interesting rituals I must have missed.) Either the participants are naked, or they’re adorned in enormous full-body cloaks.

This might have been the case in ye olden days, and some groups still follow that dress code, but I doubt it’s as common as the stereotype. 

Think of it like going to modern-day church -- you might still wear a suit, but it’s more about personal choice than dress code. The winter rituals I’ve gone to look a little like this:

 Photo from starisloveni.com

Photo from starisloveni.com

Notice the lack of naked people? That’s because they’re sane. We’re here to share a spiritual experience, not lose toes. Ditto for those giant cloaks in the middle of a hot summer -- heat stroke is a sucky way to get in touch with nature.

That’s not to say we’re always a plainclothes bunch. For one, the priests and priestesses conducting the ritual will almost always wear ceremonial garb, such as a light cloak or robe. In addition, attendees certainly won’t be in business suits, but more likely something loose and flowing. But it's still nothing out of the ordinary.

All the festivals I have attended, on the other hand, have actually been more eccentric than the stereotypes themselves. Expecting a sea of cloaks or nudes? How about swaggering pirates clad in kilts? Or Vikings, swords sheathed in their belts and horns of mead in their hands? People wander by in everything from billowing robes to Technicolour sarongs. In the right hands, a pagan festival is a bastion of cultural celebration and personal expression, the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else.

But creating this is not easy – as with any get-together, coordinators and seasoned security teams work around the clock to keep these festivals safe and free of prejudice. It’s thanks to them that attendees feel safe to be nude, or skyclad, as they sunbathe or dance around the fire.

Having this freedom of clothing (or non-clothing) is tied to the ideals of neo-paganism; respect for oneself and each other. It’s about respect -- something I’ll address in detail next week.

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Nathan Mulcahy

Is a student in the 2013 Professional Writing program at Algonquin College, and a proud lord within the Principality of Sealand. He has a passion for editing, and assisted with The Secret Promise: Return of the Wishing Star by Kristin Groulx and his sister Daphney Beaulieu.

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"BYOB" Means "Bring Your Own Baby"

There’s about 20 of us standing in a circle around a forest clearing. I wait for the proceedings to begin, shaking with anticipation. Maybe it’ll finally happen this time, I think. Soon, the Solstice celebration kicks off. A man dressed as Winter tries to convince the kids in the circle to keep Spring asleep this year. In response, they arm themselves with ice cubes and giddily chase him away from the space. There’s singing, laughing, a small potluck, yadda yadda.

Another ritual has come and gone, and we’ve still failed to eat a baby or sacrifice a virgin. Either I’ve spent my life around all the really boring Pagans, or the stereotypes were wrong.

Being a Pagan (or, rather, a Neo-Pagan, or even more specifically a follower of Odyssean Wicca, if you care for semantics) in 21st-century Canada is significantly easier than it has been in previous years. The occasional raised brow or bemused shrug when I proclaim my faith is an improvement on being burnt alive or crushed under rocks.

But there’s still some residual stigmatization. I don't mind the occasional harmless conversation where someone asks if I sacrifice people or animals, usually as a joke. But other incidents, like when Fox News declared that Paganism was an attack on America by lazy people trying to scam vacation days off every full moon, are less amusing.

Now, all religions have a long and glorious history of calling each other sexually deviant baby eaters, but we’ve moved on from the war of the orange and the green since then, at least in mainstream society.

But these same allegations launched at Paganism still seem to hold a certain weight.

This is particularly problematic for a culture where we strive so hard to keep ourselves accurately informed on social issues. There might not be attacks on Pagans in the streets as there are on members of other religions, especially hot-button ones such as Islam, but when animal shelters express concern that followers of my nature-advocating religion are out killing cats on Halloween, there is clearly an issue of misinformation.

So I, Nathan Mulcahy, as a member of the Ottawa Pagan scene, will do what I can to showcase my experience at rituals and festivals within this fun little community. 

I apologize for the hilariously backwards myths I might ruin in the process.


Nathan Mulcahy

Is a student in the 2013 Professional Writing program at Algonquin College, and a proud lord within the Principality of Sealand. He has a passion for editing, and assisted with The Secret Promise: Return of the Wishing Star by Kristin Groulx and his sister Daphney Beaulieu.

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