Flying Witch

Flying-Witch-12-15-700x385If you want a peaceful, relaxing escape from the political chaos at the moment (and remember, self-care is important, especially at times like this), you could do a lot worse than checking out the new anime series Flying Witch.

I first came across this via a post by David Pollard on Nature’s Path over at Patheos Pagan, and it seemed like an interesting enough prospect to give it a watch. David describes it as being “a modern-day version of Kiki’s Delivery Service“, one of my favourite Studio Ghibli films.

The official synopsis of Flying Witch says:

flying-witch-broomFlying Witch is a simple and relaxing “slice of life” anime, in the genre known as iyashikei, “healing”, which aims to create a sense of calm. Anime Evo describe Flying Witch as “a show without plot”, where “plot” is defined as “a succession of events revolving around a central conflict”. And this is key to why Flying Witch is, for me, such a beautiful show.

There are no villains, demons, evil magicians or monsters-of-the-week to battle against, and this makes it a welcome break from the usual supernatural/magic dramas you see everywhere.

Rather, Flying Witch is utterly and wonderfully ordinary. There is very little flashy magic, and where it is used it is done sparingly. Most episodes focus more on daily life in rural Japan than on witchcraft, and simple things like picking herbs, growing vegetables, cooking, relaxing, going to school and even following a cat around the village (this takes up half an episode: nothing happens, and it’s wonderful), are depicted in such a way as to seem magical in their ordinariness. It reminds us that the real magic of life, and its real richness, is in the day-to-day details.

Flying-Witch-10-Farewell-483x276The magical and mundane elements are entwined in such a way that both seem perfectly natural alongside each other, and most of the characters take a matter-of-fact view of the fact that Makoto is a witch, and this isn’t seen as anything to be scared of.

Anime Evo says:

“One of the more interesting things that came to the foreground regarding the series was how it showed a beginning sketch of sorts of how many different types of witches there are out there. We have Makoto, a very earthy, nature-oriented, green thumb sort; then there is her older sister Akane, who is a great practitioner of the magic arts (and a bit of a genius mad scientist sort with regards to casting); we have Inukai, who specializes in fortune telling; we have the the owner of Cafe Concrucio (unnamed at the moment); we have the latter’s daughter Anzu, who is also in high school, loves archeology and is a history buff … there is a huge variety.”

As befits a show set in a rural town, the natural world is always at the centre of life. Many of the magical beings have a connection to nature, such as the Harbinger of Spring and the Veil of Darkness (who brings the night), as well as magical animals and plants. As well, we see traditional farming and orchard-keeping, foraging for food in the woods, visiting the cherry blossom festival, and plenty of good cooking (much of which is refreshingly done by Kei, Makoto’s male cousin).

Flying-Witch-10-Header-490x276Flying Witch reminds me of what life as a nature-centred Pagan, or Druid, could be like. Gentle, simple, in harmony with nature and with each other.

And above all else, the artwork is simply beautiful throughout. The fact that the town is based on a real place gives it a verisimilitude that brings it to life, and now I really want to visit!

So if you want 20-30 minutes of utter bliss, give it a go.

Flying-Witch-02-06-490x276All images from Anime Evo (http://www.anime-evo.net/2016/06/27/flying-witch-review/).

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The situation

Image from Al Jazeera.

Image from Al Jazeera.

Disclaimer: The following post is my personal opinion, and does not represent the wider community of Druids, Pagans etc.

I know I’ve been quiet lately, but I really didn’t want to write for a bit after the national disaster that was the EU referendum. There were just too many emotions, on both sides, to give me breathing space to think and put those thoughts into words.

I don’t like to write about politics on this blog, but this is such a huge decision, such a major geopolitical shift that I can’t ignore it and pretend nothing has changed. It has. The country I woke up in on Friday morning is not the country I went to sleep in on Thursday night, and it never will be again.

Already there is talk of Scotland leaving the UK and Northern Ireland facing partition. My home, the “United Kingdom” is looking a lot less united these days.

For what it’s worth, I voted to remain in the EU, because I feel that we are all stronger and better if we work together, across nations and cultures, on issues that affect us all. As an Irish citizen as well as a UK one, I am European.

I understand that the Leave camp won, by a small majority. And as much as the referendum is not legally binding, I know that the next government (whoever ends up leading it) are bound to put the so-called “will of the people” to effect.

But is it the will of the people? 51% of a 75% turnout is only 37% of the population, and even now Leave voters are starting to regret their decision.

In terms of demographics, 75% of young people voted Remain, making it clear that they see their future as part of Europe, as part of something greater than themselves.

There is a portion (by no means all) of the Leave voters that also genuinely scare me. Polls show that Leave voters are more likely to see Feminism, Social Liberalism, the Green Movement and the Internet (!) as social evils. Nationalistic and racialist messages to stop immigration and “take our country back” were prominent in the Leave campaign, an eerie echo of Trump’s “make America great again”.

Is it any wonder that racist attacks and hate-speech have risen over just the past few days? The Huffington Post has collected some shocking examples of post-referendum racism, including, I am saddened to say, my own local paper reporting that flyers saying “No More Polish Vermin” have been put through people’s letterboxes.

I myself witnessed a Leave campaigner shouting racial abuse at Asian tourists, and EU nationals I know have said that they don’t feel safe in Britain any more.

This is not the country I know, and love, and I am angry. At a time like this, we need to reach out and build bridges, but we also need to speak “Truth against the World” as the Druid saying has it.

I am angry that lying politicians with sub-Enoch Powell racist propaganda have led otherwise well-meaning people with genuine concerns for their country to vote to dismantle one of the world’s great noble international experiments in cooperation.

I am angry that my friends don’t feel safe in their own towns and cities.

I am angry that young people’s futures have been gambled with to score political points.

I am angry that fear has won over hope.

I am angry beyond words that an MP was murdered by a racist calling himself “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” and that Leave campaigner Nigel Farage then said the battle was won “without a single bullet being fired“.

As a Druidic Pagan, I believe that all things and all people are connected. We are one, and we must stand as one and not give in to division, fear and xenophobia.

So what can I do? I don’t expect to reverse the referendum’s decision, and I agree that it would be undemocratic to do so. But I can still write to my MP demanding a good deal for the future of Britain, with free trade and movement for UK and EU nationals across Europe, with guaranteed human rights for all, with robust environmental protection for our now-threatened wild spaces. I can join protests and show through sheer numbers that the decision is far from unanimous, and almost half the country don’t want this.

And I can try, in whatever small way I can, to bring peace, as Druids of old were known to do. I can show non-UK nationals that they are appreciated and that they are welcome. I can speak out against racism, and work for a better future. To that end, I have joined the Green Party, the one party to consistently and clearly articulate a pro-Europe, pro-immigrant, pro-environmentalist stance.

I leave you with the words of the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas:

Please note that due to the likelihood of controversy or abuse, comments have been closed on this post. Anyone making racist, xenophobic or threatening comments on other posts on this blog will be blocked and reported to WordPress Admin.

Peace of the Solstice

Image from livescience

Image from livescience

The Summer Solstice occurs on or around 21 June, and marks the point where the sun appears highest in the sky. This is due to the axial tilt of the earth as it orbits the sun throughout the year. On the Summer Solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is most inclined to the sun, and therefore receives the most light, making it the longest day and shortest night of the year.

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin sol sistere, meaning “the sun stands still”, as it indeed appears to do in the sky, leading to up to 15 hours of daylight. The Summer Solstice is celebrated by cultures around the world, from Scandinavia to Japan, and is perhaps the most prominent festival in modern Paganism.

This year, there will be a full moon on the same night as the Summer Solstice (20 June), a very rare event last seen in 1948. The combination of the longest day and the bright full moon will mean that the night (barring cloud cover) should hardly get dark at all. For many below the Arctic circle, this might be the closest we get to the “midnight sun” experienced by those in more Northern lands.

In some forms of Druidry, the full moon is a time for meditating on peace. The Druid Network has a full moon peace meditation on their website, which you can add into your usual Summer Solstice ritual, or do as a separate meditation.

In light of increasingly tense social and political events around the world, from the rise of the right-wing in the UK and US, to the horrific shooting in Orlando and the murder of MP Jo Cox, peace is much needed in the world today, and is an appropriate wish to meditate or pray about this Solstice.

May this moment of the bright sun remind us, as Megan Manson of the blog Pagan Tama says, “despite our differences in race, culture and religion, we are all truly children of the Sun, that same Sun that rises and sets over every nation, and gives light, warmth and life to all peoples and all creatures of Earth.”

Deep within the still centre of my being, may I find peace.

Silently within the quiet of the Grove, may I share peace.

Gently within the wider circle of humankind, may I radiate peace. (OBOD peace prayer)

Image from the Farmer's Almanac.

Image from the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

 

Deity in spiky boots: finding the Sacred at a rock festival

“Let me enlighten you, this is the way I pray” -Disturbed, “Prayer”.

So there I was, standing in a mud-soaked field in a torrential rainstorm, surrounded by people dressed in black, chanting. Upon a raised dais, three figures lift their arms to the air and make a ritualised hand gesture, directing us all to worship the Fox God.

An occult ritual? Nope, this was BabyMetal’s performance at the Download Festival!

I got back the other day and wanted to write something about how amazing Download was. Despite the weather (leading to it being nicknamed “Drownload“), four days of schlepping about in the mud listening to metal was an experience to remember.

Image from Nottingham Post.

Image from Nottingham Post.

Over 80,000 people made the pilgrimage to Donnington for the festival, which lasted over three days (of music, plus two days of camping). And it was, in a very real way, a religious experience.

If you consider to root of the word “religion” to be from the Latin re-ligare (to bind together, or re-connect), then a metal festival certainly fits the bill. Thousands of people bound together by a shared love of music, connecting through song, cheering and chanting, with a shared identity and common symbols (band logos, metal “horns”, black t-shirts). Seems religious enough for me, anyway.

But this was no monastic retreat for self-denial, although it took a lot of self-discipline and will to withstand the elements. This was a joyously, gloriously, hedonistic celebration of life in all its fullness, including its darker elements. While metal deals with death and loss, it often does so in a cathartic way, leaving you feeling healed as a result.

This was a festival where you could find alternative visions of the Sacred. From the blow-up church on site where couples of all genders could get married, to Amon Amarth belting out hymns to Thor during a rainstorm, to Black Sabbath’s invocations to Lucifer, or Nightwish’s paeans of praise to the wonder of the Universe, or indeed to BabyMetal’s devotion to the mysterious “Fox God”, a range of Sacred concepts and forms found expression in the pounding drums and soaring vocals of metal. [Sadly Ghost were unable to make it, but their sublime Luciferian cantos would have fitted in nicely here].

The great joy of it all was that what you believe didn’t matter. I felt the power of Thor in the thunder and rain during Amon Amarth’s set, but you didn’t have to be pagan to enjoy connecting with the mythology of the Vikings. Likewise, I doubt many BabyMetal fans are devotees of Inari,  and I’m sure somewhere in the thousands-strong crowd were some Christians throwing the Devil Horns and singing the Number of the Beast with Iron Maiden.

It may seem a stretch to find a genuine experience of the Sacred in the often tongue-in-cheek Satanism or Viking-Warrior machismo of metal, but it is there, if you open yourself to it. As Disturbed might say, “Liberate your mind, you motherf***er”.

This is open-source, DIY, Sacredness. No dogma, no priests, no commandments. Just a field, some people, food and drink, fellowship and damn good music. Epicurus would be proud.

In the words of Lzzy Hale, can I get an Amen?

Bonus Druid moment: I got to meet Damh the Bard! I knew he was going to Download because he posted about it on Facebook, but I was surprised to bump into him outside a noodle van on the very first day of the festival! I may have fan-squeed a bit about being a long-time listener to Druidcast, but he seemed genuinely happy to be recognised. Nice bloke!

Nameless gods

From an ancient trunk, new growth. Image by me.

From an ancient trunk, new growth. Image by me.

I’ve been thinking, since reading “The Forgotten Gods of Nature” by Lupa, and “Lost Gods of the Witches: a User’s Guide to Post-Ragnarok Paganism” by Steven Posch (originally published in Pentacle magazine: link unavailable), about naming the Sacred.

In ADF Druidry, you are encouraged to adopt a particular “Hearth Culture” to work with. This is usually one (or more) particular pagan pantheons of named deities, which are invoked in rituals. Within other forms of Druidry, the named gods and goddesses of the ancient Celts and other pre-Christian indigenous religions are frequently called upon and honoured.

Of course, such gods have their place in contemporary paganism. We are, after all, inspired by the ancient past and the deities of our ancestors and our lands before the coming of monolithic monotheism. To reaffirm our connection with this heritage, it is  fitting that we should turn to the myths and gods of the ancient past.

Yet, I have sometimes found these gods to be remote: historical remnants of the ancient world, mythic figures frozen in time and linked inexorably to a different world.

But what of the gods that are all around us, here and now? Steven Posch writes of “The Eldest Tribe of the Gods”, those who were before humans created their anthropomorphic deities and gave them names and stories. These are the Powers of Nature itself: Earth, Sun, Moon, Storm, Sea, Wind, Fire, and others. These powers have been given various names by various cultures, but they have no need of them. Nor do you need “belief” to worship them, they are objectively real. This, for Posch, is the “hardest polytheism”.

What if, instead of calling upon named gods in our own image, one were to simply call to the Sacred in this way? If instead of invoking Belenos or Lugh, one simply worshipped the Sun? Or called to the Earth rather than “The Goddess”? What would that paganism look like?

Perhaps it would be one where we can remember the “forgotten gods of nature” Lupa writes about: “the ones whose stories were never written down because their devoted ones never wrote a word in their lives”, the gods of Salmon, of Pine, of Dictyostelidal slime molds: “the unnamed gods, the forgotten gods, those who lay in the shadows of the many pantheons of humans”.

In such a practice, rather than attempting to re-construct cultures and practices of the distant past and shoe-horn them into the modern world, a task Posch describes as a “paradigm of pretense”, one may develop relationships with the great Powers of Place, those non-human beings and forces that shape and move this landscape. For me, these would be the East Wind, blowing chill and harsh over the flat fenland; the Sun that bakes the ground in the heat of summer; the Rain that falls seemingly endlessly throughout the year; the Rivers that bring life to the fields but also bring raging floods; the great trees, Oak and Ash and Pine.

Connecting with these Powers, entering into relationship with them, enacted through ritual, through meditation, through prayer and through direct ecological action, could, potentially, be an effective form of truly Nature-based paganism. You could argue that these forces of nature cannot hear our prayers, and care nothing for our rituals, but I feel that would be missing the point. I don’t do those actions because I believe they change the Sacred: I do them so that the Sacred can change me.

Posch writes: “Our mandate is to be the pagans for our own time, our own place, our own post-modern, science-driven western culture. This is the only kind of pagan we can honestly be; anything else is pretense”.

A sacred moment. Image by me.

A sacred moment. Image by me.

Book review: Godless Paganism

Godless Paganism. Image from Lulu.

Godless Paganism. Image from Lulu.

Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. Halstead, John (ed.). Lulu, 2015

I have been meaning to review this book for a while now. It’s taken me longer than I expected to read, not only because it clocks in at over 400 pages, but because the depth of thought, knowledge and experience presented in its many contributions required me to spend a lot of time thinking, making notes and digesting the ideas contained within.

I confess to being biased in favour of this book from the start, not least because I have a short article in it, but because I identify as being a “non-theistic pagan” myself, and I have often been made aware of how much of a minority opinion that is, both within wider society and within paganism as a whole, where some of the loudest voices are often those calling for a form of pagan creed or polytheistic orthodoxy.

Godless Paganism articulates an alternative approach, one where deity is not necessarily dismissed as by the so-called “new atheists”, but is reinterpreted in a non-literal, non-anthropomorphic, often archetypal way. Amongst the many contributors are Wiccans, Druids, “Godlauss” Heathens, Humanistic Pagans, Naturalistic Pantheists and even one “Zen Pagan Taoist Atheist Discordian”, so the views expressed are wide-ranging and show that non-theistic pagans are not a monolith, and that non-theistic approaches exist in virtually every pagan path.

The articles range from personal reflections to poetry, ritual outlines, autobiography, history, theology and philosophy, yet they never feel disjointed or disconnected from each other. Indeed it is striking how much the contributors have in common, and how much their non-theistic paganisms have in common with paganism as a whole.

There is so much packed into this volume, it is impossible to go into great detail in a short review, but some of the articles that really stood out for me include John Halstead’s “I Worship the Blind Goddess”, “Natural Theology: Polytheism Beyond the Pale” by Alison Leigh Lily, and “The Forgotten Gods of Nature” by Lupa.

Godless Paganism is a bold statement of “coming out” for non-theistic pagans. In his introduction, John Halstead writes of an email he received from a person who was told that they cannot be a pagan and an atheist. I’ve seen similar claims (often in more explicit language) repeated online daily, and have seriously questioned my own paganism as a result. What this book shows is that, yes, you can be a pagan and an atheist, or an agnostic, or a naturalist, or a humanist, and what is more, this doesn’t make you any less of a pagan than the most devout theist. As Joyce and River Higginbotham, authors of Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions write, “Pagans may believe anything they wish about Deity”.

I can’t recommend this book enough for anyone who is pagan, atheist, both or neither and would like to hear from a wide and diverse range of people who find meaning in the mythology, ritual, ethics, symbolism and spirit of paganism without believing in literal gods.