The ongoing quest for autonomy from neo-paganism

It’s hard to believe that such a long time has elapsed since my last post here. Admittedly, I’ve made a couple of posts to the now-finally-defunct Pagan Monastic blog, but even so…..time really does slip away.

In a previous post I tried to make it clear why it is that I no longer wished either to self-identify or to be identified by others as ‘pagan’, or neo-pagan. Since then, Mrs M and I made a decision in January to resign from the Pagan Federation, in which I had had an active role. We took this decision because we no longer felt that the PF represents us or our interests as Polytheists – in fact, as will become clear, we felt just the opposite.

An email was duly sent to our area co-ordinator, with copies to the Secretary and President of the PF, and in return I received, almost immediately, emails from both Secretary and President expressing extreme disappointment, saying that the PF was there to represent all groups within modern paganism, and that no group should feel excluded.

Shortly after this I received a further email from the President of the PF asking me to give more details of how it was that we felt excluded, and of the reasons for our resignation, and in response I sent the following:-

“Hi xxxx

“As promised this will be my attempt at a proper response to your kind emails. Since it will probably end up being written over a few sittings, I hope you’ll forgive any repetition or occasional incoherence, which I’ll try to keep to a minimum!

“As I’ve said previously, I don’t regard myself, and am not, a spokesperson for anyone or anything, so these are purely my personal thoughts, in the nature of a private and personal communication, and certainly not for publication!

“I don’t propose, either, to ‘pick over the bones’ of the brief-but-sharp disagreement which occurred among the committee in          last year. I think the certainty of many conflicting accounts springing up of what occurred would make doing so unedifying, and that it wouldn’t solve anything. Also, I’m sure I played a part in generating the disagreement in the first place! Rather, I would prefer to get ‘under the skin’ of the issues generally, and try to shed what light I can. As I’ve again already said, I’m just an ordinary bloke who worships the Greek Gods. I’m a trained theologian and my approach is theological – sometimes overly-so – so I’ll try to bear that in mind as I write.

“Although unable to find the PF article or reference to the Pagan Symposium which you mention, I have been able to find and read a very full account of the event via, and it sounds as if it was an interesting day. It’s interesting to note that if the author’s account of  the attendees is correct, then there was very little representation from Polytheist groups, beyond the Kith of Yggdrasil on behalf of Heathenry, which is, of course, by far the largest and best-represented Polytheist grouping in the UK, if not the western world.

“This brings me to the point that, as you have already mentioned, Polytheist groups are a very tiny minority within UK Paganism generally, and as a Hellenist, I am part of a tiny minority within that tiny minority. I seriously wonder how realistic it is for Polytheist groups to expect, let alone demand, equal representation alongside the Wiccans and Druids who make up much of the PF’s membership. I think, therefore, that (in your words) understanding is much more realistic a goal than representation. In fact, the question of understanding goes to the heart of things. It seems to me that most Polytheists (if one discounts the recently-emerged and frankly unhelpful ‘ranting Polytheists’ in the US who prefer to spend all their time raining down polemic on everyone, fellow Polytheists included), do not expect to be represented so much as to be understood at events and meetings. Rather, it is a question of feeling not so much misunderstood as not understood at all. My impression is that there is a tacit assumption within PF circles (as well as local moot circles) that to identify as Pagan is more or less equivalent to identifying as Wiccan, Druid or (more recently) Heathen. I have therefore largely stopped identifying myself as Pagan when asked, and started using the term Devotional Polytheist (which is what, in fact, I am). It’s interesting to see that on the rare occasions when we (my wife also being a Hellenist) attend Pagan meetings, there is little or no interest in knowing more about what that means, and therefore presumably little or no interest in understanding. Obviously there is such a majority of Wiccans and Druids that that assumption of identity is tacitly made unless challenged, and challenging it tends to lead directly to being seen as ‘difficult’ or ‘a trouble-maker’.

“As a Polytheist I believe in the autonomous, sentient agency of a diversity of Deities. This makes me uneasy when I’m expected to participate in Wiccan-style open ritual, often without being asked, and the assumption being made that because I am Pagan, I am either also Wiccan, or at least willing to ‘join in’. Polytheistic belief renders me unable to tacitly sit by while ‘the Goddess’ (which Goddess exactly?) is honoured, or while quarters are called. I have good theological reasons for believing that there are a multiplicity of Deities, and I can give an account for them if asked. I have yet to find a Duotheist who can do the same, and the whole Duotheism project seems to be ‘Monotheism in disguise’, and an attempt to make Paganism acceptable in a theological landscape which is accustomed to offering monotheism or atheism as the only options available for consideration.

“A common response we’ve received from others when all of this has come up is a variation of something along the lines of “some Wiccans and Druids are also polytheists so we’ve got it covered, you can stop complaining now”, or words to that effect, without the person making that comment seeming to realise that We Do Things Differently in Polytheist paths. It’s not just a case of having a Wiccan ceremony and calling upon Greek Gods (or Greek aspects of The God and Goddess as I suppose they’d see it). The whole process and theology is utterly different.

“On a more mundane level, it also concerns me to receive emails from PF representatives or members suffixed with ‘BB’ or ‘Blessed Be’. Clearly since I am (in their eyes) Pagan I am also Wiccan. Likewise, it seems anachronistic that an organisation which represents (in the wider sense) people of all Pagan paths should publish a magazine with issues linked to specifically Wiccan/Druid festivals. Would not Spring, Summer etc be just as informative without driving this wedge of expectation in further?

“Conscious of the fact that I am descending rapidly into ‘rant mode’, let me recount something which happened to us during the Summer when we were invited to the handfasting of two friends of ours (of no specified Pagan path). This was clearly ‘flagged up’ as a handfasting (following a lovely legal registry office  wedding the same day) so we went dressed in a Pagan ‘way’. The handfasting was conducted by a lady whose name I do not recall, but who is apparently well known in the South West as an officiant. It was a lovely ceremony, and as we posed for photos afterwards, alongside a group of people dressed more for the registry office than for the handfasting, this lady was heard to say, “I’m going to stand with the Wiccans”. She didn’t know we were (not) Wiccans, and she hadn’t asked. It was an assumption made on the basis of either probability or laziness. Oh dear.

“One further observation which might supply reasons why the current situation has come about is, in my opinion, that most Pagan groups appear to have some kind of membership organisation. Druids have OBOD, the BDO, the Druid Network and others. Heathens have the Troth, and now the KoY for UK representation. Hellenists have Hellenion and other (very) small groups, all at this time predominantly US-based, although open to members internationally. However, there seems to be no equivalent for Wiccans since the decline in influence of the CoA in the noughties (I have my own theories concerning this). This might leave Wiccans to regard the PF as a membership organisation for Wiccans. I suspect that if there *were* such a group, representation issues might be less problematic than they currently are – and, of course, the natural propensity for members of *all* these groupings, Hellenists included, to generate five opinions for every three people present should not be under-estimated!

“I suppose I should therefore ask, what can we, generally, and as Polytheists, do? Can we do anything to address this? Should we even want to? Is equal representation possible, or even desirable? Probably not, in my opinion (certainly in the case of possibility). is equality of understanding possible? Almost certainly.

“What *would* be helpful is for Polytheists to resist raining down polemic on others (although as I have said, this is happily mostly a US-based phenomenon for now), and for Wiccans and Druids to be willing to take the time to stop and realise that not everyone else in the PF is also a Wiccan or Druid, and that there are not just issues of preference, but also issues of theology which need to be engaged.

“Practically, it would certainly engender a feeling of greater understanding if 98% of ”in house’ PF emails were not signed off ”Blessed Be’, and even more so if Pagan Dawn didn’t arrive emblazoned with a Wiccan/Druid festival name as its issue identification. It would be lovely to feel that people were genuinely interested in what Polytheism actually is, and if they took the same time to understand Polytheists as the time they expect Polytheists to spend in Wiccan-style ritual without being understood first.

“Obviously I speak as someone who is currently ‘outgoing’, and I have equally obviously ranted on for long enough! I do hope these thoughts will be of interest, or even of help, and I would be very happy to discuss further if you wish. Please forgive any hubris which may have crept in, and I certainly look forward to hearing from you again in due course. Comments and criticism always welcome!

“With best wishes once again”

Entirely co-incidentally, the following day I received the following ‘routine’ email from the press officer of the PF:-

“Dear all

“The Imbolc PD goes to press on Monday.

“For those of you with conferences and similar events between Imbolc and Beltane, do you want a batch of PDs to sell?

“It’s best if I know now so I can make allowances in the print run and send you the issues direct from the printer.

“Usual deal: you pay the actual print cost (approx £1.70 per issue) sell the issues for whatever you want and pocket the difference for your District.

“Thanks & bb”

I forwarded this to the President with the following comment:-

“Hi again

“Further to my long and rambling email yesterday, I think the email from          below illustrates the point rather well. Is there anything about this email which *doesn’t* scream ‘Assumed Wiccan Culture’? “Imbloc edition…..between Imbolc and Beltane….thanks and bb….”

“Small wonder that Polytheists feel ‘alien’ within this culture.

“I don’t think        , or anyone else, is doing it deliberately to alienate people. It is a classic case of institutional bias.

“Just my two-pennyworth, but I hope it serves to illustrate the point.

“Best wishes as always”

Since that time I have heard not a word from the PF, so I can only assume that institutionally they are happy in their exclusion of all of us who are not content to accept Wiccan culture and jargon as the standard for all pagans. I have a Big Problem with this, and am very glad to be out. The Pagan Federation neither represents, nor, it would appear, wishes to represent the interests or hear the views of those of us who are not content to endure the institutionalised bias against us. This wouldn’t be tolerated in the case of gender exclusion or racial bias, so I wonder on what basis the Pagan Federation thinks it can act in this way towards those of us who happen not to be followers of Uncle Gerald or Uncle Scott. We have already arrived at (and beyond) the point where to identify as Pagan is to send the message that we are Wiccan/Druid, and now (although this is a separate matter for another day) it seems that neo-pagans are busy obfuscating and confusing Polytheism with generic wicca-druidry, stating that they are Polytheists when in fact they are to Polytheism what Nero was to babysitting.

So here is a message for neo-pagans everywhere: You may have successfully hijacked and stolen the meaning of ‘Pagan’, but you will not do so with the word ‘Polytheist’.

More in due course.

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Shrine update!

We’ve made some changes to our shrines which I thought I would share here. Mrs P-M’s practice has become more Dionysian and Hekatean in its character, so she now has here own dedicated shrines downstairs, and the altar screen – previously pictured in the ‘Space to Pray’ post of 14th January – has moved to the downstairs back room, which is now completely given over to her working altar and pharmakeia, which leaves the upstairs area, which is my ‘main’ shrine, looking a little less ‘fancy’. However, we have lots of images of Greek gods, and I’m planning to add more in due course. At the moment the images are all printed 6″ x 4″ and framed, but I plan to add some actual busts in due course, when funds permit, as well as more elaboration in terms of materials associated with the Deities themselves. It’s a work in progress (again), but it’s getting there.

Once I’ve sorted out one or two of the more major adjustments which I need to make, I’ll post pictures of my updated shrine….meanwhile I plan to post a little about my breviary and horarium (such as it is) in the near future, thus ensuring that it’s a little less than the current several months between posts!

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Book review – ‘How to be Alone’ by Sara Maitland

Some readers may be familiar with the name Alain de Botton, wit, author, philosopher and general populariser of the philosophical disciplines. One of the more recent expressions of de Botton’s passion for philosophy (not to mention his seemingly endless enterprise) is the establishment of The School of Life in London, offering philosophically based classes, materials, publications and ephemera all dressed up in young, hip and trendy clothes, fresh from the marketing department.

If I sound sarcastic, that isn’t my intention – philosophy has long had a bad reputation as being the province of obtuse, boring, irrelevant and often old men (usually men), and it’s time something was done to remedy that. Perhaps one day soon someone will do the same for theology – or even polytheology. Who knows? We live in hope.

The point of all this rambling is that among the publications of the School of Life are an excellent series of books, all mercifully short, dealing with various modern day philosophical questions. You can find books on How to Age (Anne Karpf), How to Connect with Nature (Tristan Gooley) and How to Develop Emotional Health (Oliver James), but the book which really caught my eye from a monastic standpoint is titled How To Be Alone by Sara Maitland.

I bought the book (for Kindle). I read the admittedly-short book in the course of two two-hour train journeys to and from London on business, and I must say it is excellent.

I’ve got previous form with Sara Maitland, having very much enjoyed her previously-published A Book Of Silence, and she begins How To Be Alone by referencing the previous, and much longer, work and admitting to the criticism that it is more a book about solitude than it is about silence.

Onwards and upwards. In a world which values social skills as almost the sole signifier of normality, it’s unfashionable to be alone, much less to want to be alone. At best it’s an admission of social failure, at worst an indicator of downright sinister intentions. Just notice how quickly the media rush to brand anyone caught doing anything anti-social: ‘S/he was a loner‘ whisper the neighbours, for the benefit of the world’s assembled and socially-obsessed media. Yes, it’s poor form to enjoy your own company, let alone to freely admit that you are called by the Gods not to swamp your life with so-called ‘friends’ you’ve never met, on Facebook and the like. It’s a poor show to be an introvert as well, in a world where extroversion rules, a Susan Cain has observed so wisely in her excellent book Quiet.

Sara Maitland tackles this, and tackles it brilliantly, challenging the socially-obsessed to take the leap and sample their own company. For those of us called to a more solitary life, or at least a less socially-overbalanced one, her words will be welcome.

Alain de Botton is, so far as I know, an atheist and Sara Maitland a Catholic, but some kind of strange alchemical reaction has taken place here, and the result is superb. Solitaries should be encouraged. Just to know (as I have for some years) that’s it’s OK to enjoy your own company is liberating, and it’s worth remembering that the Facebook friend-count is not the only, or even a needed, form of validation. It’s how we react to the call of the Gods, whatever that call may be, whether it is to establish schools and hospitals in the style of the original Franciscans or to ‘quietly remain in our cells’ as do the Carthusians, which is the arbiter of how obedient we will be found to have been.

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A new address……

Welcome – especially if you’ve found you way here from the old address at! As promised there, I will try to explain why I’ve chosen to continue posting under this address, and what it means in terms of self-identity.

Lately there has been much debate, and a little polemic, among the online pagan community, and also at some larger gatherings in the US, on the subject of what is being termed Wiccan (sometimes termed Wiccanate) Privilege. There is ample (and varied) explanation elsewhere of what this comparatively newly-coined term means, but for the sake of clarity I’ll state my own definition, necessarily condensed and therefore obviously in danger of not doing the subject justice, as a sort of ‘institutional prejudice’ whereby those of us who identify as polytheists, particularly hard polytheists, are encouraged to engage in the ‘pagan community’ but given the option of doing so only by participation in Wiccan-Druid style public ritual, programming of moots etc., and generally being politely received but then ignored so far as our specific beliefs are concerned. There is a real problem here for those of us who believe (as I do) that the Gods are real and many, which is for me the core definition and identifier of my polytheistic belief.

I do not believe the Gods to be psychological constructs (substitute ‘figments of the imagination’ if you wish, for it really makes no difference), Jungian or otherwise. I do not believe the Gods to be ‘energies’ or beings one picks and chooses to ‘work with’ as if they were stall holders at some cosmic bring and buy sale. Neither do I believe the Gods to be ‘aspects of the one’, or indeed ‘aspects of the two’ if you take on board the often-encountered and mystifying (to me) neo-Wiccan entities ‘the God’ and ‘the Goddess’. ‘The God’? Which god? This sort of cosmology is so spectacularly out of kilter and out of sync with the recorded beliefs of every civilisation of antiquity to which we have any kind of access that even the fact of its existence, let alone popularity, beggars belief.

I believe the Gods to be real, and I believe them to be many. This makes sense to me, and accords with my own experience. Mental and imaginative gymnastics I can do without.

There is no doubt that for many readers and potential readers, ‘Pagan’ will in almost every respect equal ‘Wiccan’, or at least ‘Wiccan-Druid’ in praxis, which poses impossible demands on devotional polytheists, despite the fact that by definition (and here I’m referring to the Pagan Federation’s definition) Paganism is an umbrella term which is meant to identify a wide variety of non-Christian belief systems rather than a homogenised Wiccan-Druid ‘soup’ boiled down to the lowest common denominator to enable a false inter-religious dialogue and ‘unity’ to emerge.

For this reason I have decided to stop identifying as Pagan, and instead to use the term ‘Devotional Polytheist’, which is in fact what I am – devotionally committed to the many Gods and Goddesses of the Greek pantheon, and respectful of the many Gods and Goddeses historically worshipped in various other parts of the world. What I am not is committed to any kind of nebulous ‘Great Spirit’, ‘the God and Goddess’ (Wiccan or otherwise, or any of the more woolly-headed notions of ‘gods’ as energies, psychological constructs’ or other inventions of the modern mind.

I’m convinced that what we need more than ever before is good and intelligent polytheologians to reassert the validity, value and place of polytheistic belief in a world that has too often offered only monotheism or atheism as available choices for religious consideration, when the large part of human history has been a history of polytheistic belief and worship. To that end I greatly recommend John Michael Greer’s excellent book, A World Full of Gods, and its bibliographical sources. Whether such polytheology becomes my calling or not, I remain a believer in the world of many Gods, and it is the worship of (some of) those Gods to which I am called.

Again, if you have made the journey from the old address, thank you. I hope and trust that you will continue to follow, continue to comment, to challenge and to encourage. I really do value your readership and your companionship as together we try to remake monastic life and principles for a polytheistic world.

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A space to pray

Just a short post to provide me with a (flimsy) excuse to include a photo of our main shrine area.

When we unexpectedly moved in November of last year we found ourselves with a large upstairs landing area complete with steeply sloping ceiling which didn’t look good for much…..until we put our altar screen in place. The space then looked immediately as if it had been ‘just waiting’ to become our main shrine and prayer area. This is where we say our daily office, sitting on meditation cushions in front of the screen, which we bought from a wonderful Cornish craftsman back a couple of years ago, and which likewise never really ‘found its space’ until we put it here.


Most of what you can see here is Mrs P-M’s work….she’s the one with the creative artistic ability. A big thank-you to her for all her devotionally artistic work on this. She has her own burgeoning blog at which you are welcome to visit at any time. In case you’re wondering (and experience teaches us there are always people who are wondering), the cupboard to the left is our little sacristry, and holds our stock of candles, charcoal, incense, matches and general paraphernalia. It’s nice to see IKEA furniture doing a turn in support of religious devotion!

I’ll post something about the prayers and hymns we are using, and the horarium we have adopted, over the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, an additional thank-you to Mrs P-M for her work in revamping the header and background of this blog!

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In memoriam John Lane, July 10 1930 – 17 August 2012

As part of my New Year reflection and refocusing I will be re-reading Timeless Simplicity and The Spirit of Silence by John Lane, who died in 2012, aged 82. If time permits I may also read his The Art of Ageing.

As someone who has trouble finishing even the most engaging books, it should speak volumes that I have read Timeless Simplicity from cover to cover  at least half a dozen times in as many years, given away one copy (having thought my original copy lost and having bought a duplicate by mistake), and read The Spirit of Silence at least three times over the same period. These books, and the former in particular, ought in my opinion to be required and compulsory reading for anyone who cares about the erosion of society and mental health by the encroaching forces of materialism, consumerism, the false utopian promises of economists and politicians and what I will term ‘lowest common denominator-ism’.

John Lane is best known (and that by only a few) as a Trustee of the Dartington Trust in Devon and one of the creators of Schumacher College. Throughout his adult life he was an artist and writer, and it is through these few very slim volumes (plus a couple more aimed more squarely at artists) that he will more likely be remembered. John was one of those rare people (may the Gods grant us more of them) who saw through the sham of consumerism and was able to critique modern society with great precision, showing that promises of continually increasing wealth and (material) prosperity, fuelling ever increasing production and consumption and being driven by ever-increasing advertising, ‘The dissatisfaction creator’, just is not sustainable as a way forward, either for society or for the individual. It speaks volumes that over the past half dozen years we have seen the wheels fall of this particular bandwagon with spectacular effect, and more telling still that politicians, advertisers and the bulk of world societies seem to have learned nothing more than the misguided idea that the best policies now are those which will most quickly get us back to the way we were before that time, on the path of debt (corporate, Governmental and personal) and over-expansion.

Lane’s critique of modern values, and his unashamed promotion of simplicity, creative silence and measured solitude stand as a reminder that there is a better way. Lane was never, to my knowledge, a religious man of any persuasion, but his writings will be appreciated by anyone who sees through the empty promises of materialism, and anyone who wants to.

Thank you John… death you still speak. 


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The year in review……

Well, they say hindsight is a wonderful thing. I’ve never much enjoyed receiving ’round robin’ Christmas newsletters from people I only hear from in December, but it may be that setting down the main events of the year in a reflective way may enable a degree of learning – or maybe just provide a few laughs for the reader. I don’t know…..

What a lot has happened. We have moved house, not once, but twice, firstly from Wales back to Somerset, and latterly, and completely unexpectedly, to a slightly (OK considerably) larger property, also in Somerset and about 15-20 miles from property one.

As I’ve said elsewhere, you just never know what Fate (or the Fates) is/are going to bring you.

Our second house move involved not only transporting our reduced worldly goods from the Tiny Cottage to our latest dwelling, but also a weekend retrieving the furniture we had originally been obliged to leave in Wales, but are now able to accommodate. It’s a sad and vaguely terrifying thing to admit that you’ve actually got ‘Moving home’ as one of your core skills, and I very much hope for  a year (and the rest) of stability, thoroughly devoid of house moves, and that enough time will now elapse for those skills to become ill-used and redundant.

We have now moved home twice in a year, thrice in just a few weeks over two years and seven times in ten years. Enough.

Practice-wise, it’s been a frustrating year of Nothing Much Happening, but events right at the end of the year show that the aspiration is still there – to take the best of monastic spirituality and apply it to Pagan – or I should now say Polytheistic – life.

Elsewhere, if you care to go through the archived comments, you’ll find that I have decided to commit myself to the worship of the Greek Gods in 2014 (and well beyond, I very much hope). My other Resolution is not to court controversy, so I won’t be commenting further in public about this decision, except to point out that the lovely Mrs Pagan-Monastic has been a devotee for a number of years, I have lived in the presence of Hellenic Polytheism for a fair time, and there has been ample opportunity for me to do the stubborn thing and cut my own path. From now on we hope and aim to be co-religionists on the path of Hellenic Polytheism, and I am very happy about it. We’ll be adopting the two-fold Office devised and proposed by Drew Campbell in the first instance, and although there are some additions I could easily imagine making, it seems like a good starting point.

Wherever you are, whatever your interest in the idea of Pagan monasticism, from experienced practitioner to interested onlooker, may the Gods bless you richly in 2014 and beyond.

With every good wish for the year ahead


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