Four legs good, two legs bad?

Much has been made recently of the latest guidance document released by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (not, as some media organs have suggested, the European Court of Human Rights ECHR) concerning Religion or Belief in the workplace- ‘Religion or belief in the workplace: a guide for employers following recent European Court of Human Rights judgments’. The document can be downloaded here: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/guidance-for-employers/religion-or-belief-new-guidance-february-2013/
Popular media commentary has focused on a notion that the guidance insists that Druids, Pagans Vegans and Vegetarians are now entitled to special privileges such as time off for festivals and reason to avoid having to clean out fridges that contain meat products. These ‘special privileges’ are identified by the media as loony, wrong and a step too far.
Putting aside the inaccuracy of identifying the guidance document as enabling ‘special privileges’, I feel drawn to comment on what appears to be an issue felt by the media with the concept of equality. In the wake of the Leveson enquiry, I have to wonder if any lessons have been learned by a media that clearly felt it was above the law in pursuing and presenting a story. The latest outbursts from our media, in targeting Pagans, Druids, Vegans and Vegetarians as the main thrust of their ‘outrage’ , seem to be of the opinion that a) those groups should not have equal rights in the workplace and b) are fair game for grabbing the headlines. The Leveson enquiry indicated that there were concerns with unethical behaviour in the media. These media outbursts seem to confirm that and to suggest that the media does not feel an ethical approach to presenting ‘information’ is something that should concern them. ‘All animals are equal unless you are a journalist, in which case you are more equal than others’ seems to be the attitude. How the media hopes to convince us that they should be self-regulating is beyond me.
But getting back to the document that has so animated the media- The title of the document should give the first lie to the media outrage. Religion or belief in the workplace: A Guide for employers following recent European Court of Human Rights judgements. So, this document seeks to help employers understand the implications of judgements made in the European Court of Human Rights with regard to region or belief. That would imply it isn’t intended to dictate, but to guide. You would think journalists would understand the difference between ‘dictate’ and ‘guide’, as they make a living choosing language appropriate to deliver the news of the day. You would also think that they may be able to make a distinction between the European court of human rights (especially as they had already reported on those judgements by the ECHR) in the past and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Perhaps they were confused by the reference to one organisation by another.
The document itself suggests:
This good practice guide aims to help employers understand how to comply with the Court’s judgment when recognising and managing the expression of religion or belief in the workplace. It specifically addresses the following questions:
• How will an employer know if a religion or belief is genuine?
• What kind of religion or belief requests will an employer need to consider?
• What steps should an employer take to deal with a request?
• What questions should employers ask to ensure their approach to a religion or belief request is justified?
• Do employees now have a right to promote their particular religion or belief when at work?
• Can employees refrain from work duties?
And goes on to provide some examples of requests and how employers might deal with them.
The very next paragraph of the document states:
The Equality and Human Rights Commission supports individuals’ right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to conditional protection of the right to express religion or belief. It seeks to promote a balanced approach to recognising and managing religion or belief issues at work and to help employers and employees find reasonable solutions, wherever possible, and avoid complex, costly and damaging litigation. It is in the interests of all parties to try to find reasonable solutions through discussion, mutual respect and, where practical, mutual accommodation.
To me, that seems to suggest that the remaining sections of the document are likely to indicate ways to ensure that employees are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and that a conditional right to express religion or belief in the workplace exists. That conditional part seems important in that the document refers to seeking to promote a ‘balanced approach to recognising and managing religion or belief issues at work and to help employers and employees find reasonable solutions wherever possible…’
Ok, so maybe it is just me completely failing to understand this document and the media have the right of the matter. I have to be honest and say I am not in the slightest bit convinced that is the case. My feeling is that this is another case of the media picking up on some news and twisting it to create sensationalism. However, in doing so, I feel they are throwing into question the entire concept of employees having rights…. Except, perhaps for journalists. ‘Four legs good. Two legs bad’ indeed!

By Mike Stygal

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    Foxy and Cinders (and other stories)

    by S. Ceanadach

    Over the last three months I have been working for at least one day a week at a place that produces the spoken word for the blind. It’s called ‘Cue and Review’ and has its studios in Bishopbrigs, Glasgow, UK. It turned out that although quite a lot was being done for adults, there was no children’s material, no children’s stories available so I sat down and began to write some.

    Other members of the community, Pagan mostly have also sent me stories and either me or one of the actors from the studios have been reading and recording the stories.
    We have no idea how many people have found the stories, or who listen to them but we carry on. There are up to 2000 wireless sets that can receive the service here alone.
    As this is a charity which works for Wireless for the Blind in Britain, we think it’s a good idea to produce these stories and make them available to anyone with children, to play at bedtime perhaps or simply to sit and listen while having a quieter moment.

    I’d welcome any new stories for the children, so if any of the writers out there would like to ‘gift’ a short story for the blind that would be wonderful. And perhaps we can put them together and raise some money for the charity?

    Some of the stories can be listened to via my website:- www.foxyandcinders.co.uk

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      Personal thoughts on Logos and Mythos By Rhys Chisnall

      There is an old maxim that knowledge is power and one possible way of understanding spirituality and religion is through the epistemological position suggested by the historian of religion Karen Armstrong.  Armstrong (2010) and (2005) argued that the ancient Greeks recognised two equally valued types of knowledge referred to as Logos and Mythos.

      Logos is knowledge that describes the way the world is.  There are two types of logos knowledge; things that are necessarily true, e.g. 1 +1= 2, or ‘all bachelors are unmarried’ and things that are contingently true, such as elephants are grey or the theory of natural selection.  Logos knowledge operates in the domain of true or false; it is the knowledge of science, analytical philosophy, mathematics, history etc.  Logos knowledge is useful for manipulating the world but it does nothing to help people find meaning or assuage grief or despair (Armstrong, 2010).

      Mythos on the other hand makes ‘sense of’ the world and in a culture that is use to thinking in terms of facts is much harder to understand (Armstrong, 2010).  It does not operate in the domain of true or false, but rather is evaluated by its aptness.  This knowledge brings meaning and tends to be highly allegorical and figurative in nature.  It is the experience of meaning found in the arts, mythology and music and so is engaged in at the subjective level.

      The Oxford Philosopher Gilbert Ryle (2000) argued that we commit a category mistake, when we assign inappropriate properties to an object, or mistake something as belonging to one category when it rightly belongs to another.  So if we were to say that the colour purple is furious, we are inappropriately ascribing the property of being furious to something that does not have it (unless you have synaesthesia) .  Likewise if we take a piece of Mythos knowledge, say the creation myth of Genesis and ascribe to it the property of being true, we have made a category mistake.  The myth was never meant to be in the domain of true or false; it is about subjective meaning.  As such when fundamentalist Christians make that mistake, biologist, palaeontologists, archaeologists, historians and physicists can go out and look for the evidence, and of course the evidence shows that it is false.  The point is that it was not meant be taken literally in the first place.  The fundamentalist have mistaken myth for history.  No one in their right minds would describe a piece of music as being true; it is evaluated in a different way and so it is the same for myth.  Now what is true of Christian mythology is also true of Pagan mythology.  Its purpose is figurative and allegorical, it is about making ‘sense of’ and creating meaning rather than being either true or false.

      Problems occur when mythos is reified meaning we mistake something abstract and figurative for something concrete and material.  When discussing the ‘non physical’ it is easy to imagine Gods, fairies, energy and spirits to be some kind of quasi-physical thing; as a ghostly presence.  However, ‘non-physical’ means it does not exist in time and space; it is not made of anything.  To my mind, these entities are about ‘making sense of’, they are a way of forming meaning from numinous experience; they are not physical but allegorical although they can still exert powerful influence.   The unreal can influence the real.  Just think of abstract concepts such as fairness or justice.  You won’t find a single atom of justice in the Universe as it is a convention, part of mythos, but it still exerts a powerful influence and informs societies.

      Reification of mythos knowledge puts it into the domain of being subject to evidence.  So those who believe a myth is literally true, despite all evidence to the contrary, will have to rely on blind faith, or in extreme cases retreat into fundamentalism.  Likewise, neo-atheists make a similar category mistake where they enthusiastically demolish mythos, using evidence to prove it is false (Dawkins 2006).  Admittedly, in some respects they provide an important service, shattering our illusions, but they go too far in arguing that mythos knowledge has no value or power.  Taking mythos as being fact is what Armstrong (2010) would describe as unskilful religion.  To my mind it is better to walk a middle road as in a world of literal religionist and neo-atheists the middle ground is the home of the maverick and free thinker.

      Category mistakes also occur when we conjoin two categories inappropriately.  Ryle (2000) gives the example of a foreign visitor watching a game of cricket.  The foreigner says I can see the batsmen, the bowler, the fielders, the umpire, but I can’t see the player responsible for the team spirit.  The foreigner has mistaken team spirit for another role in the game rather than the way the game is played.  It is a bit like saying; I have a left glove, a right glove and a pair of gloves.

      To my mind it would be a category mistake to say I see animals, plants, mountains, lakes, oceans, space, stars and the Goddess.  This is because the Goddess is not another being in the world, but rather how we make ’sense of’ it; or perhaps how we experience its character.  The Lord and the Lady are not other beings that we can go out and literally find in the world.  As Gardner (1982) said they are not persons.

      However language can sometimes lead us astray.  It seems perfectly reasonably to say,” I feel the wind, I feel the rain, I feel the standing stones and I feel the energy” but we mean something different when we use the word feel in the latter sense.  Another analogy might help clear things up.   When we say the tide is rising and the stocks are rising we mean different things by the word rising.  The tide literally rises, but do the stocks?  Rather we are using the word as a conceptual metaphor.  Stocks don’t literally rise.  It is the same with feeling the energy.  We literally feel the wind and the rain, but feeling the energy is our subjective experience of the place; it is the meaning and relationship we ascribe to (and have with) it.  It is mythos knowledge and not Logos and so it is no surprise that a scientist checking with an energy detecting device will find nothing.

      Magic breaks down the dualism between logos and mythos.  When new logos discoveries are made corresponding new mythos is created to make sense of it.  Likewise mythos meaning influences logos.   People use mythos knowledge, such as the meaning associated with religion, or prayer, or crystals, etc. to recover from certain illness amenable to the placebo effect.  The mythos provides meaning which transfers through real scientifically attested robust phenomena, influencing belief and expectation through authority, to facilitate recovery.  Placebo does not work for all illnesses but mythos can always provide a way of creating meaning which helps people to cope with them. Mythos has a profound influence on peoples’ actions.  While it is a simplistic generalisation most religious wars are fought at least partially over differences in mythos.  As Campbell (1988) says, “people are dying for metaphors all over the place”.

      Magic works through the interaction between mythos and logos.  It deals with symbolism, mythology and the manipulation of meaning (mythos) but produces tangible effects in the phenomenal world.  One kind of magic achieves this through belief.  The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant reasoned that we could not know the noumenal world (the objective world as it really is).  Rather we take in information from our senses which is coloured by our beliefs, concepts and cognitive biases and so we have a subjective phenomenal experience (Kant as cited in Beaney 2007).  Witches argue that symbolism, mythology and meaning can be used to transform belief and so the phenomenal experience of reality.  Supposing someone comes to you for a love spell.  If you use authority, suggestibility, meaning and symbolism which hint at numinous experience to transform their belief to a confidence that they can find love the chances are they will.  Placebo works even when we know it is placebo, so this kind of magic will work on you as well, especially when backed up by the authority and numinosity of mythos.  In Terry Pratchett’s Disc World novels this is Headology.  It is claimed the difference between headology and psychology is that a psychologist will try to convince you the monster chasing you isn’t real, while the headologist on the other hand will give you stick to hit it with (Wikipedia, accessed 12th April, 2012).  It is important to remember that just because we have a rational explanation for this kind of low magic; it is still none the less magic.  Other kinds of magic may be more speculative in how they work, but they will still have an underlying mechanism.

      Daniel Dennett (1991) and discursive psychologists, suggested that humans are the story telling ape; that we see the world in terms of narratives.  When you tell people what you did during the day or what you will do tomorrow, you tell it as a story.  Dennett (1991), Baggini (2011), Hollway (2007) argued that we construct our sense of self as a set of narratives.  Story is largely mythos, making sense of, hence the influence of mythology and the role of the psychology of Jung for some in the Craft to make sense of their personal narratives.  It you can control the story is experienced then you are the master of phenomenal reality.

      Once we understand the distinction between Logos and Mythos we can start to speak meaningfully about Gods, myths, spirits, energy etc. not as facts but as ways of making sense of profound numinous experience.  The ancient mystery schools and renaissance esotericists accorded to humankind a special place within the cosmos in their Hermetic and Neo-Platonic mythology (Goodrick-Clarke, 2008).  They saw humans as a conduit between the logos material world and the mythos world of meaning and so it is for the Witch.  A talk by Derek Wood on Norse mythology at the East Anglian Leaping Hare Conference summed this up beautifully with a metaphor.  He said that there were two infinite universes.  There is the infinite material universe outside and the infinite universe of meaning and imagination existing within our minds.

       

      References and Further Reading

      Armstrong, K., (1999), A History of God, London, Vintage Books

      Armstrong, K., (2010), The Case for God:  What Religion Really Means, London, Random House

      Armstrong, K., (2005), A Short History of Myth, Edinburgh, Cannongate

      Baggini, J., (2011), The Ego Trick, Granta Books

      Beaney, M., (2007), Imagination and Creativity, Milton Keynes, The Open University

      Campbell, J., (1988), The Power of Myth, New York, Anchor Books

      Dawkins, R., (2007), The God Delusion, London, Transworld Publishers

      Dennett, D., (1993), Consciousness Explained, London, Penguin

      Gardner, G., (1982), Witchcraft Today, Magical Childe

      Goldacre, B.,  (2008), Bad Science, Oxfordshire, Harper Collins

      Goldacre, B., Accessed 5th April 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsFTgirKXHk

      Goodrick-Clark, N., (2008), The Western Esoteric Tradition A Historical Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press

      Hollway, W., (2007).  Self.  In W. Hollway, H. Lucey, & A. Phoenix (Eds.), Social Psychology Matters (pp. 119-144).  Milton Keynes:  The Open University

      Pratchett, T., (1988), Wyrd Sisters, Victor Gollancz

      Ryle, G., (2000), Concept of Mind, Penguin

       

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        Shadows in Blackpool – What do you see?

        What do you see/make of the shadow in the middle of this picture taken 2012 in Blackpool.

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          New Year

          I wish everyone a happy, more accepting and peaceful new year.

          1st January has become a date when communities around the world speak of world peace. 1st January, and our calendar system of dating is, of course, a human construct, rather than the natural calendar of solstices, equinoxes and seasonal changes that indicate a shift in the growing season. But it is a construct that is accepted and made use of by our diverse human tribe- a construct that unites that very inclusive species known as Homo sapiens. The Pagan community is no stranger to diversity, containing within its number, a wide range of spiritual worldviews, people of all races, colours, ages, abilities, genders, sexual orientations- a cross section of humanity, in fact.

          Diversity can be challenging. As humans, we have a tendency to tribal behaviour. In identifying ourselves as part of our tribe, we also identify those we perceive to be ‘other’. We may not know much about the ‘other’. But we note that they’re not us. They are different in a bad way. We demonise the ‘other’, suggesting they are all that is wrong with the world, that they seek to bring an end to our ordered world, even that our concept of the divine finds the ‘other’ an abomination and their existence and acceptance will lead to the end of our world. We create divisions, platforms for conflict and animosity. We create obstacles to understanding and peace.

          The Pagan community is no different to other communities in this. Whilst we acknowledge, and fairly successfully manage the diversity within our number, we still identify the ‘other’, and sometimes choose to demonise that ‘other’. But that other is still part of the inclusive species known to us as Homo Sapiens, still part of the tribe of humans that will be marking the turning of another calendar year, hoping that the new year will bring good things for our tribe, hoping that the ‘other’ will change their ways and be more like us.

          So what might this Pagan wish for 2013? We have heard World Peace day statements from some ‘other’ communities that appear to mark some within the species known as Homo Sapiens as a threat to the world simply for being who they are and wanting to be accepted. This Pagan would hope that those ‘other’ communities might realise that their words could lead not to world peace, but to conflict, harm and even the death of people simply because they are different.
          I have been following the Human rights issue of ‘accusations of witchcraft’ and subsequent abuse and murders. http://www.paganrightsalliance.org/ In our globalised world, this issue is no longer isolated to small communities in rural areas of nations struggling to survive. The results of these crimes against humanity have accompanied human migration around our planet and have appeared in the most cosmopolitan cities around the globe. I would hope that much greater attention is given to putting an end to such horrors.

          The Pagan community is, by its very nature, aware of many environmental issues. Even within our own community there are different views on the issue of a possible badger cull to combat bovine TB. We are aware and concerned about the continuation of whale and dolphin hunts, fracking procedures engaged in to extract more fossil fuels, but at the expense of our natural landscapes and the health of our land. We are concerned about deforestation and the continuation of policy to create more space for housing and agriculture at the expense of the healthy biodiversity of the planet. I would hope that these environmental issues were reviewed in ways that considered the wider implications for our species and for all species that inhabit our world.

          I am very aware of conflict between people of different faiths and spiritual perspectives. I would hope that respectful dialogue will be more apparent as this can reduce tensions and improve understanding between people who perceive the world in different ways.
          I am aware of our global period of austerity and the threat it poses to peace and equality. We would hope that a desire for peace and equality could help in coping with austerity. By choosing not to demonise the ‘other’, but to seek understanding with the ‘other’, we might discover that together we can support each other through testing times. We may find that combining our strengths can balance out our weaknesses. But this will not be possible if we see difference as a threat. This will not be possible if we choose to put the continuation of our artificial differences above the artificial differences of others. I would hope that we might all find a way to fear the ‘other’ less and to try to understand and appreciate the range of diversity inherent in being part of the community of living things on our planet.

          I wish the world peace and a happy and more accepting new year.

          Mike Stygal

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            Why I Love My Pagan Practice

            I get to play!

            Reverence and Mirth, are a much more powerful combination for me, than Reverence alone.

            I get to dress up and imagine I am somebody else; use tools and props, which I have enjoyed choosing or making; invent prayers, songs and ceremonies, and investigate their effectiveness.

            I get to continually challenge myself to higher levels of mental and physical dexterity (e.g. meditation leads to clearer concentration. Breath exercises improve lung efficiency and energy utilization).

            And so, I build on my creativity and self-confidence (self-empowerment). I reach for greater heights of self-understanding, and work towards a broader outlook on the human process ­ across borders and cultures.

            To paraphrase a chap called Scott Sonnon – “You start getting old, when you stop having fun”. My Spiritual practice is, amongst many other things ­ fun!

            I wish you all an enjoyable and youthful Spiritual practice, whatever it may be. :-)

            - The Chanting HedgeWitch.

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              A Toe In the Water

              By Nimue Brown

              Experienced Pagans have a variety of responses to those who dabble. When a person is new to Paganism, It’s only reasonable to expect that you will need some time to look around and get your bearings before making any kind of commitment to a path, course of study or working group. I would suggest to anyone new to Paganism, that if you come under pressure to commit before you are ready, it’s probably a sign to step back from the person in question. Dedicating to a path is a huge personal commitment, and not to be done lightly. We are not birds jumping out of the nest, we do not need to be pushed and you should have the space and freedom to jump in your own time.

              Many people who come into Paganism take a little time to look around, work out where they fit and settle down to doing that thing. I have every respect for the Pagan Federation in its role as portal, allowing people to come in and look around, facilitating the sharing of good information, and making the transition from dabbler to dedicant much easier. Having open spaces where exploration is safe and easy, is very important. I’m a huge advocate of open rituals, for this reason. Open rituals do not allow the kind of deep work and tight bonding of closed gatherings, but they enable exploration. Some Druid groups – ADF in America most noticeably, have a public service requirement to provide open ritual to all comers. I think this is a great idea. Even if you only do it once or twice a year, it gives the curious a chance to come along and have a look. Open rituals dispel negative myths, strengthen bonds across the wider community, and allow groups and individuals to check each other out without any pressure on either side. If you aren’t sure where you fit, then these open rituals will give you opportunities to explore, and I can’t recommend them enough.

              There are also people in the Pagan community who never settle down to a specific path. I would include ‘walking my own path’ as a clear and defined path – because it is! We don’t all fit neatly into other people’s designations, some of us are happier alone, and some of us need to dance to our own tune. A commitment to explore the countryside of Paganism by leaving all the known paths and delving into the undergrowth is a perfectly valid choice and is the means by which new paths are formed. Not having a specific path means spending a while learning about wicca, and then six months with a Heathen group, before going off to study Buddhism, then Reiki, Druidry, chakras, Shamanism and so forth. There are some who refer to this as spiritual tourism, seeing it as an unwillingness to go deeper, to accept the challenging parts of a path, or to make a commitment.

              I’m not sure that’s a fair or helpful perspective. The only way to find where you fit is to keep looking. Who am I to stand on the outside and judge what it is another person needs or why they have not yet been able to settle? The person who travels from one system to another learns comparative religion. They learn about the overlaps and the spaces in between, which gives them a different perspective. It’s worth noting that in chaos magic, people deliberately move through different systems to avoid developing excessive attachment to one way of working, and with a view to freeing up their own thinking process to make themselves more powerful and capable.

              It’s very easy to criticise others, or to view their way of doing things as lacking substance, commitment or other virtues. Looking in from the outside, you never know what motivates another person, what they are questing after, or where their own, unique journey is supposed to go. The primary message of all polytheistic religions is that there can be no one true way. And surely, if nothing else, then a toe in the water of spirituality is better than nothing at all.

              We all have opportunities to help or to hinder each other, to judge, or to try and understand. None of us are responsible for anyone else’s choice or how they develop spiritually. It doesn’t matter if we think they are doing it wrong. It matters if we think we are doing it wrong. The only right answer in Paganism is to be following the call of your own heart, your own inspiration, inner deity, higher self or whatever it is you respond to. The path under your feet is the only one that matters, and if it doesn’t go where you expected to, or other people told you it should, that doesn’t invalidate it in any way.

               

              Nimue Brown is a Druid, author of Druidry and Meditaiton and Druidry and the ancestors, and blogs most days at www.druidlife.wordpress.comshe is passionate about non-dogmatism and inclusivity.

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                Ritual

                 A Harvest Moon o’er Kernow tonight

                As upon the Carn I stand

                A view out toward the distant sea

                Across this ancient land

                A fire burning embers low

                Ochre stain upon Pagan face

                And words of Cornish chanting out

                Atop this rocky place

                The granite menhir tales to tell

                Of birth and life and death

                A thousand flint arrowheads upon this hill

                Ephemeral spirits called on Wiccan breath

                Guardians of East, North, South and West

                Athame held aloft above chalice bright

                Hands grasped in circle secured sound

                As steel blade flashes in Blood Moon’s light

                And rituals continue on solitary mound

                Just like past times far gone on by

                As Druidic ways and words unbound

                Beneath thundery Celtic sky

                © Myghal, Map Serpren.

                Devos

                Lor Trevas a-ugh Kernow haneth yn nos

                Del savaf war an Carn

                Gwel yn mes troha’n mor pell

                Adrus an hendyr-na

                Tan ow lesky lusow ysel

                Dyslyw meles war enep dyscryjyk

                Ha geryow a Gernewek ow curgana

                War ben an tyller carnak-ma

                An menhyr-growyn a lever drollys

                A dhenethyans, a vewnans, a vernans

                Myl pyl callester war an bre-ma

                Spyryjyon anbarhus gelwys war wragh-wheth

                Gwythyas a Yst ha North ha Soth ha West

                Athame synsys a’ban awartha kelegel lenter

                Lufyow dalghennys yn sawder a’n kelgh

                Del lughes an laun dur yn golow Goslor

                Ha devosow a bys war knogh dygoweth

                Kepar ha termyn us passyes pell tremenys

                A’n par na fordhow ha geryow drewydhnek dygelmys

                War woles ebren Gelt taranek

                 © Myghal Map Serpren

                Gweresys gans ‘My Ha’m Ros’
                PF member

                JPG shows my athame, chalice and Book of Shadows on a granite stone bounding one of Cornwall’s ancient sites where rituals are frequently held


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                  Religious Education and Paganism

                  Earlier this year, our national media proclaimed ‘And after double maths it will be… paganism: Schools told to put witchcraft and druids on RE syllabus’.  (Read more: http://tinyurl.com/bt5yaqv)

                  This article, and others like it, was in response to the publication of the agreed syllabus for Religious education in Cornwall. As part of that syllabus, the Cornish SACRE (Standing Advisory council for Religious Education) had included a unit of work reflecting on the religious landscape of Cornwall- alongside many churches, there are also a number of pre-Christian standing stones. A logical inclusion if RE is to help students to understand and appreciate the religious diversity in their local area. It was a typical example of media sensationalism, demonstrating a lack of understanding about the nature and purpose of religious education as well as Paganism.

                  The journalists seemed to be under a common misapprehension that RE in schools is about teaching young people what to believe.  That may have been the case, many, many years ago. But for a very long time, RE has aimed to provide young people with an understanding of the religious beliefs reflected in the wider community, teaching students about religions and giving them an opportunity to consider what they might learn from different religious traditions.

                  The Pagan Federation is one of approximately fifty organisations of the RE Council of England and Wales. The RE Council of England and Wales was established in 1973 to represent the collective interests of a wide variety of professional associations and faith communities in deepening and strengthening provision for Religious Education. The reception I’ve had as a Pagan Federation representative at RE council and National association of Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education has been one of a combination of interest and enthusiasm.  Indeed, a number of senior representatives of the RE community approached me to indicate that there was interest in providing some education about Paganism in schools- particularly with regard to teaching children between the ages of 3 and 11. Clearly, many schools and teachers are not under the same misapprehension as a few journalists seem to be suffering!

                  What the Pagan Federation hope to produce in response to the request for resources, is a complete range of downloadable curriculum materials including lesson plans, Power Point presentations, images and stories that can either be used as they appear, or using elements within lessons devised by the local SACRE or teachers themselves. Lesson plans will be designed so they meet the latest OFSTED guidance statements for RE as well as the level appropriate assessment targets of learning about religion and learning from religion. These materials will be presented to a range of Pagans and RE professionals for consultation prior to launching them for download from the Education section of the Pagan Federation website.

                  Lessons on Paganism, as with lessons on other religious traditions, are not expected to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of Paganism and the different paths under the Pagan umbrella. They will provide an overview that can be explored beyond the classroom, should students become interested. Paganism in RE lessons is highly unlikely to be given the same amount of timetable time as religions already covered by the R curriculum. However, as a significant religious community within the wider community, it may well follow a similar pattern to that of the Cornwall agreed syllabus for religious education, forming part of a unit looking at religious traditions found in the wider community.

                  Every local authority has a SACRE and once our RE materials are made available to teachers, SACRE and the public, it would be very helpful if every SACRE had connections to the local Pagan community and, ideally had a Pagan representative as a member of the local SACRE. If you would like to represent Paganism on your local SACRE and would like support and advice about how to go about joining please get in touch via our enquiries email: enquiries@paganfed.org

                  Our greatest challenge as Pagans, has been a lack of knowledge and understanding about our beliefs and practices. It would be nice to think that, in a relatively short space of time, RE lessons about Paganism will have made that challenge a very rare occurrence. Imagine the implications for the future. Children will be educated to recognise prejudice against Paganism and misinformation about Pagans for what it is. Journalists of the future may be less inclined to print sensationalist articles that they know are a false representation of Pagans and Paganism. Now is a perfect time for Pagans to be seen to be active in their community.

                  Mike Stygal

                  Vice President
                  Pagan Federation representative to the RE Council of England and Wales
                  First published in the Samhain 2012 edition of Pagan Dawn magazine. Pagan Dawn is the journal of the Pagan Federation. Further information about Pagan Dawn can be found at http://www.paganfed.org/pdawn.shtml
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                    A Pagan on the Paranormal

                    David Lee, Ghosthunter, shares his article, originally posted on pfsouthmidlands.org:

                    With the time of Samhain and the dark half of the year quickly approaching, People’s thoughts often to of departed loved ones, ancestors or just the things that go bump in the night. This is historically a time when it said that the veil between the world of the living and dead is at its thinnest and the dead walk amongst the living. As Pagans, we are probably more predisposed to hold such beliefs than people of other (or no) belief systems, our path will usually require us to have some acceptance of the presence of gods, goddesses, de(a)mons, magically created entities and the like in our lives, so why not the presence of ghosts?

                    The concept of ghosts and ghouls seems to be an intriguing one for us humans. Throughout history people have been telling tales of the paranormal, whether they are spectral forms of grey ladies, invisible forces moving objects, strange lights, odd noises or even strangely reminiscent phantom scents. These tales have provided fascination and fear for their audiences across the globe. Every culture has some form of what we would class as a ghost story, and no matter how advanced a culture becomes, the fear associated with unseen or mysterious beings lurking in the dark has never lost its ability to terrify.

                    I started ghost hunting about ten years ago, I approached it with a scientific and sceptically interested point of view. I wanted to be able to prove there was something more out there than the mundane, physical world we live in. For the most part the ghost hunts I have run I would say that around ninety percent of all incidents experienced on such ghost hunts or in vigils have had natural and boring explanations, pipes expanding, wind howling and the like. There are other not so obvious, but equally natural explanations for such seemingly unexplainable events; presence of infrasound, electromagnetic energy or presence of fumes in the air, all of which have been shown to have physical or psychological effects that can trick a person into believing that someone is watching them or passing them by.

                    So (if you want to) you may feel reassured that any experiences you may have had can potentially be explained scientifically.

                    Other readers might be equally happy to hear that, in my experience, there is still that 10 percent of occurrences that require more investigation, things that happen, are seen or experienced, which defy any logical explanation.

                    Let us start with some definitions…

                    Types of Ghost

                    I believe that what people often refer to as a ghost can, at a high level, be broken down into three distinct categories. The first is what I refer to when I say the word ‘Ghost’ it is also often called by ghost hunters a ‘Residual’ entity. These forms are what can be considered ‘replay’ type ghosts, those that appear at the same time in the same place over and over again, such as soldiers still walking the battlements of abandoned castles or monks seen gliding across fields. These entities appear to have no knowledge of us and do not respond to any attempt to make contact. They appear to only be replaying past events either continuously or on certain anniversaries. These types of presence can be seen to pass through walls, not because they have supernatural powers but usually because there were probably not present whilst the person lived.

                    One theory to explain this is known as the ‘Stone Tape Theory’. Working similarly to an old style video camera, the rock or stone of a building or the land on which it stands could have magnetic properties and under certain conditions, events may be recorded onto the stone in the same way that a video camera records images and sounds onto magnetic tape. The theory states that given the atmospheric conditions these images and sounds can play back. Ghosts from events of particularly high emotional energies such as battles, murders and suicides are often reported and it makes sense that it is these events that seem to be captured by the ‘stone tape’.

                    The second type of entity is known as an ‘Active’ presence, sometimes also called a ‘Spirit’. These ghosts appear to have some form of awareness, They are often believed to respond to questions by knocking for instance. This type of entity can also include the Poltergeist or Trickster energy that can reportedly move objects around and have sometimes been known to interact with humans by way of a poke, the feeling of something holding a hand or sometimes a push. Not only do these energies display a form of intelligence but also have some form of memory. The cause of these types of phantoms is unknown but explanations are often along the lines as “departed souls of humans trapped on earth” I am not sure I buy into this explanation is it tends to fall in line with certain religious beliefs.

                    Lastly there is a stranger kind of entity which I describe as an ‘Elemental’. For a pagan these might seem strangely familiar, They are sometimes called an Earth Energy or Guardian Spirit. These entities are not of human origin, and are often seen as swirling black masses (similar to dense black smoke), black dogs with red eyes, inhumanly large humanoid forms (often with glowing eyes and/or wings), snakes, wolves, and generally anything considered fearful. These energies are often experienced at ancient sacred sites such as Iron Age burial mounds or other locations of historical significance. They tend to be able to shape shift and would seem to be guarding the area, making people want to leave by taking the form of something frightful and/or filling the atmosphere with a feeling of malevolence. Some believe that these are energies caused by natural energy crossings on the earth such as Ley Lines, and that ancient folk were aware of the energy so chose these as their sacred places, but it is my belief that these entities could have been created by ritual means. The magicians of ancient times may well have been performing some kind of ritual during their funerary rites which may, either purposefully or unintentionally, created a kind of guardian spirit at a location. For those that have not had experience of creating magical entities, this might sound far-fetched, but experiments have been carried out to discover if it is possible to create magical entities.

                    In Tibet there is an ancient magical rite that can create a ‘being’ of this sort called a Tulpa. Reports have claimed that some Tulpas have even been so real and believable that villagers think that this entity is a new visitor to the village. In 1972 the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) began a similar experiment to create a ghost. They conceived of a man named Phillip, a Scottish nobleman with a fictional and purposefully false and impossible history, drew a picture of him and meditated on all of this for a year, after which time they tried to see if anyone could detect the presence of the ghost of Phillip. They did this by using séance techniques and mediums from other groups with no prior knowledge of the experiment. They did indeed report making contact with a man named Phillip and stated that his history made no sense. The entity also started moving objects around the room and answering questions by way of tapping in front of the group, guests and a film crew, supplying answers from this purposely inaccurate history. (A Google video search for “Toronto Society Psychical Research Phillip” should produce some video clips from the original footage of the table tipping experiment and interviews with people who were present).

                    So what causes a ghostly experience?

                    It is my belief that entities are able to use energy in the atmosphere to “power” whichever perceived phenomenon is experienced. I am sure that everyone has heard a story where just before a ghost appears in the room it becomes freezing cold and people can see their breath. This is an example of energy exchange where the heat in the atmosphere is taken to power whatever is about to happen.

                    An example which illustrates this need for energy by ghosts could be the infamous and oft reported ‘Grey Lady’ or ‘White Lady’. There have been many instances of this type of phantom reported from all over the country, and one that I would like to relate was a reported sighting of a translucent figure of a woman, grey in colour in a cobblers’ shop. This report came from the 1950s but a similar report from the same location in the 1900s described a “white lady” with no report of it being transparent. My suggestion is that over time, ghosts lose their vivacity Starting as something as indiscernible from you or me, gradually their colour fades until they become just white, then grey, then transparent, until finally they no longer have any form.

                    Sleep paralysis

                    One more type of ghost that may be experience and might be of interest to the Pagan reader is that of the Night Visitor. Many cultures all across the globe share very similar stories of night terrors, the usual experience happens like this; you wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to move, aside from your eyes. You also may feel as though there is a heavy weight pushing down on your chest or legs. In the corner of the room you see a dark figure sometimes reportedly with red eyes. It quickly moves towards you and in some cases has been said to lay or sit on top of you. These experiences are often extremely disturbing.

                    Much research has been done on this subject, and what might appear to be an incredibly frightening experience may actually be able to be explained. One explanation is that when a body goes into REM sleep, your muscles relax and your body attains a form of paralysis, this is purported to prevent you from physically acting out dream scenarios and hurting yourself in the process. Sometimes it is possible to wake and become aware before the REM cycle of sleep is complete and the body is therefore unable to move until the body comes out of its paralysis. To explain the visions, the entities reported are believed to be the overlaying of dream images over the normal vision, similar to hypnagogic hallucinations.

                    An interesting thing to note is that the word ‘Nightmare’ actually derives from these ‘Night Terror’ type experiences; the word ‘Mare’ being a derivative of a Norse or Germanic word for demon, as folklore would have you believe that the night visitor is in fact a demon. Although research may have attempted to put pay to Night Terrors being a paranormal experience, there has been nothing that has been able to explain the similarities in the visions that are experienced during this experience. The description may seem familiar to some of you, for me the ‘Night Visitor’ seems to be a dweller on threshold, a form of guardian or a kind of gate keeper between two worlds, those of waking and sleeping or of the conscious and unconscious.

                    During the years of research I have to say that there have been a few occasions where I honestly believe that I have had an encounter with a non-corporeal being. Three that stand out are: An apparition of an old man sitting in the Judge’s chair at the Galleries of justice in Nottingham, a large wolf type spirit (I think an elemental) at Warwick Castle, both of which were independently verified by at least one other person, and a floating translucent apparition of a young girl at Coal House Fort in Essex. These experiences were so obviously paranormal that I had to reconsider my entire take on the subject, and more than that, these experiences made me question the Atheist standpoint on religion to which, as a scientist, I held dear. This was the start to me discovering and pursuing a magical path in Paganism.

                    I still approach my paranormal research with the presumption that none of this is real, to enable me to have an objective viewpoint on matters, but now with the hope that the truth is able to be captured and shared. I have examined carefully my beliefs and feelings on these matters over the last ten years and they can be summed up like this: If you were to ask me “Do you believe in ghosts?” I would now have an answer, and I would have to say, “I believe that most ‘ghostly activity’ can be explained by science, however let’s just add that I am more afraid of the dark now than before I started my research”.

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