Speaker at North West England Conference Explores Relations
Between Pagans and Christians
The North West England District of Britain's Pagan Federation held its 1997 conference on October 25 at Blackpool, Lancashire. Andy Wilkinson, editor of the PFNW's newsletter, took these notes on the conference's talks.
CELTIC CULTURE IN THE NORTH WEST OF ENGLAND
The first speaker of the day was Mark Olly from an interfaith unit, Door, in Warrington; he spoke on "Celtic Culture in the North West of England." He started by explaining the presence of Celtic culture from earliest times, 5000 B.C., up to the present day, suggesting that the Celts did not in fact die out but are amongst us today. What happened, Mark explained, was a cultural integration. He went on to suggest that the Celts were the founders of lay-line tracks; which type of lays was unclear, track or Earth energy? It was further suggested that the Celtic Segantti tribes of the North West extended much further than previously thought, covering much of Lancashire and even as far as Cheshire.
Mark now turned to the Church. He suggested that a proof had been uncovered that the early Church had in fact taken over much Celtic culture to promote belief in Christian ideology and establish a power base. He quoted from a letter to the Christian missionaries of the West from Pope Gregory the Great, 601 A.D.:
"If these temples in Britain are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts and knowing and adoring the true God may the more freely resort to places to which they have been accustomed."
Thus the Church's taking over existing sanctuaries was officially approved policy in establishing Roman Christianity.
Mark ended his talk with the idea that the future holds much change for both the Christians and Pagans. He invited us to consider what the Lady and the Lord was saying to us as 21st century Pagans. Mark considered the possible fragmentation of the Church and that the Goddess and the God should be re-united with the Christianity
HERBS AND THEIR ANCIENT AND MODERN USAGE
The second speaker of the day was Lynn Wilkinson. Lynn's talk focused on herbs and their ancient and modern usage. Lynn gave us an idyllic vision of an English herb garden full of colour and smells. A warm breeze flowing upon waves of tall sunflowers, as the lark slowly rises and sings to the sun. Remembering those lazy summer days of our childhood, we venture into the secret garden of our dreams.
Reawakening from my daydream, I found that Lynn was giving us a history of herb usage. In the past, Lynn told us, herbs were used for air purification and often used to purify bad sanitation. Women who used herbs as an everyday remedy for general ills were often named as Witches and thus persecuted by the Church and local magistrate.
Herbs where also used, remarked Lynn, in last rites of burial to purify the dead before their journey home. And in Egypt herbs were used to culture a mould and used as a penicillin for a multitude of aliments.
Interestingly, Lynn told us, herbs were placed in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs, which might account for the legend of the curse of many Egyptian tombs – the air was spoilt over time and made poisonous by the herbs.
Finally, Lynn reminds us that herbs became part of Britain's institution by the passing of a law to protect herbalists, initiated by King Henry VIII. As a consequence, one may conclude that this is the reason why herbal remedies are universally accepted in modern medicine today.
DANCING ON THE EDGE
The third and final speaker of the day was Gordon the Toad. Gordon (and I hesitate to label him) is a Celtic/Briton Shaman; he is a well-known, charismatic figure in the Pagan Federation and in the Pagan community as a whole.
Gordon got us all to stand up and shake ourselves awake and to move about. Sitting without moving, Gordon said, was unnatural and causes us to fall asleep and be stiff.
Gordon went on to tell us about his form of Shamanism. The Shamanistic perspective of modern Shamanism in Britain is, in Gordon's view, "rooted in and on the land I walk on". Shamanism is not an inherited tradition, no one founded it, no one controls it, no one says what must be done in a certain way. Work and do rather work with ideas, which work.
Shamans are not nice, Gordon told us. Shamanism is a way of life; all that exists lives. You don't have to like it, it simply is there. Shamans can be Pagans, Buddhists, Christians, etc. There are no rules, no books, only being.
All that we eat to survive, tells Gordon, is full of Souls. Shamans walk the line between the human and animal worlds. Shamans are go-betweens and sing the Soul back home.
Everything interacts. Be aware of the Web of life. The Web is growing and changing all the time. Our modern society breaks the Web. It blocks the right for other things to live.
Gordon continues, Shamans often operate in a trance-like state; this is called the Path to Ecstasy. It is expressed through music, dance or silence, and awaking in the other world.
Apprentices to Shamans find their own way. Visions are for using; are we using a vision? The test for the Shaman is out there – taking the vision and working with it. Never promise anything.
Shamans belong to the community as a whole. Shamans tend to work ecological projects, in schools and the community. Shamanism chooses you. A Shaman tries not to impose a view on others, but tries to interpret his/her view via the other's view.