Report of the meeting on September 26th 2017
A talk by Estelle Seymour on the Pagan Faith
Estelle Seymour, of the Pagan Federation, gave us a lucid and illuminating talk about her own journey from a Seventh Day Adventist childhood to adopting paganism as an adult. She had experienced the fundamentalist convictions and lifestyle she had grown up as suffocating, and in listening to the tales of converts about their pre-conversion lives found herself thinking ‘Well, at least they have had their fun! When do I get mine?’ She did however value some elements of her upbringing, especially the emphasis on health and a knowledge of the Bible. At the age of 28 she began to research the historical contexts in which the Bible was written, and was much influenced by Merlin Stone’s The Paradise Papers. Suppression of Women’s Rites, and also by Starhawk: The Spiral Dance.
She defined a pagan as a follower of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion, and listed six characteristic Pagan Paths: Wicca and Witchcraft, Druidry, Heathenry, Shamanism, Female and male mystery groups and (simply) Pagans. The history of paganism in Britain is a sad tale, beginning with the Witchcraft Act of 1542, and the hanging of witches in England until 1684, and the burning of them in Scotland until 1727. The Witchcraft Act was not repealed until 1951. The UK Census returns recorded a doubling of self-identified pagans from 2001 (40,000) to 2011 (80,000), and there may now be some 250,000.
The Pagan Federation follows three principles:
- Love for and kinship with Nature
- A positive morality, summed up as ‘Do what you will, as long as it harms none’.
- Recognition of the Divine, which transcends gender
Pagan rituals celebrate the annual festivals, based on the solstices and equinoxes, and the times in between them, so that the ‘Wheel of the Year’ runs (in the northern hemisphere): Imbolc (February 1st), Ostara (March 21st), Beltane (May 1st), Midsummer (June 21st), Lammas (August 1st), Mabon (September 21st), Samhain (October 31st) and Yule (December 22nd).
Pagans also mark rites of passage like birth, hand-fastings (commitment to a partner for a year and a day), death and initiations, and have rituals for specific intentions. These include purification, creating a ritual space (casting the circle), and raising and directing energy. Estelle showed us some of the ‘props’ she uses on these occasions.