Thinking About – A Moment that changed Modern Paganism

When the Pagan community comes together with an open heart amazing things can happen. I have witnessed it at the OBOD Summer and Winter Gatherings in Glastonbury each year, at many Pagan gatherings around the world, and I felt it again this past weekend at the Pagan Federation Devon and Cornwall conference.

I have been going to the PF D and C conference since it was in a tiny little pub on the high street of Tintagel in February 2000 and have played my music there at pretty much every one since (apart from the one when I cracked a rib just days before, chasing Oscar around the garden and slipping on some wet decking…). As some of you may know I was born in Cornwall, so a chance to go back each year and spend time with friends in a place I love is a gift to me.

This weekend was their 20th Anniversary event with speakers including Julian Vayne, Penny Billington, Marian Green, Suzanne Rance and Professor Ronald Hutton. Most of the speakers’ talks were about Paganism, the changes over the past 20 years, and where it could be going. Absolutely fascinating perspectives on my beloved Path. There was also a panel on which I sat as we answered questions from the audience. A Gemini’s dream quite frankly. The more challenging the question the better, with no time to think. I loved it.

There is literally so much to write about but I will focus on just one thing in this article.

During the panel the question was asked,

“What is one thing or moment that changed Paganism over the past 20 years?”

I wasn’t the first to answer so had a little time to consider it, as it wasn’t something I had been asked before. Some answers included the affect the reverence to the Goddess has done for women and feminism, another answer was the influence of the internet and that can’t be argued with either, but there, right next to me, was Ronald Hutton. I had my answer.

Of course there have been many important changes over the last 20 years, but what I said was that there was one book, that was written by the gentleman sitting next to me that changed almost everything, and that was his book Triumph of the Moon. It seemed to me before that book was published the dominant story was the one written by Margaret Murray, of the surviving Witch cult, and the 9,000,000 Witches put to death during the Burning Times. But here was a book that put all of that into context. It took us through 200 or so years of story that could be traced with some kind of historical accuracy. It looked at the people involved in the birth of Wicca, and it came to pass that what many had said was an ancient surviving religion, was actually something that had taken its inspiration from the past, but was actually about 50 years old.

Ok. This did not go down well with some, and the response to the book was, shall we say, not entirely 100% positive. But time moves on, and over the years more books have been written by modern historians looking directly at the path modern Paganism, including Druidry, has taken. Years later that moment, when Triumph of the Moon was published seems to me like a watershed moment. When we were given the permission to take off the burden of trying to find ancient, unbroken, authenticity, and accept that we were here, right at the very beginning of something miraculous and wonderful. Modern Paganism is not the result of unbroken ancient lineage, it is the result of the needs of people to reconnect directly to the Earth, to rediscover their stories, to see the sacred in the falling rain, the sunrise, the river, and hill. A path that speaks directly to the soul with no need for an intermediary clergy.

I find that all so exciting. One day, unless we do something particularly stupid, we will be the ancestors. In 3000 years time we will be the ancient ancestors, and the people who were there at the beginning of what will by then be an ancient spirituality. Crikey! We hold it in our hands. It’s fragile, and beautiful. Maybe like an egg that is yet to hatch we hold it, incubating it, to pass on to future generations who will then take it further. Apparently, after Christianity was founded it took at least 200 years of debating, arguing, falling out, making up, exploring, to find any kind of coherence and direction. If modern Paganism is indeed only 60 or so years old, then we are in that same position as those early Christians.

What an exciting time to be alive!

20 Comments

  1. Paul Pearson March 13, 2018 at 11:23 am - Reply

    I remember being on of those being underwhelmed by Triumph of the Moon – our beloved beliefs were being put to the test, and facts did not tally with what we *wanted* to believe. Of course, we grow older and, hopefully, wiser and it became very clear that Ronald was giving us a reality that is far more interesting than the fictions we used to believe – fictions that were often pure fantasy or wishful thinking.
    Sadly, there are still some who refuse to accept the history, preferring the fictions that most appeal to them. I feel sorry for them, as they will never experience the hard but more rewarding reality.

    • Damh the Bard March 13, 2018 at 1:17 pm - Reply

      After the initial shock, I too found it wonderfully liberating, to be able to own my experience, and be part of something new and wonderful Paul.

  2. Leonore Newson March 13, 2018 at 11:35 am - Reply

    Now that does take some thinking about it ….. not the actual thought process, but the awakening and realisation of this enormous , fragile concept … WOW ! What we do now is going to have some influence on the future , good, bad or indifferent. I’d like to think we can be helping to shape it for the good …… literally holding the future in our hearts and hands …….

    • Damh the Bard March 13, 2018 at 1:18 pm - Reply

      Finding our way, exploring, experiencing, sharing.

  3. Sandra Laing March 13, 2018 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    Once again you have moved me to tears…not tears of sadness but tears of relief and excitement and a sense of “coming home”.

    Having been, for most of my life a “Christian”,a follower of Jesus and his teachings of love and creativity and acceptance of all ,I battled with being told I had to conform to the teachings of the men and women who led the church. In other words I had to come under their authority. Many times I questioned and was made to feel unworthy or rebellious or not “in the right place” or having a wrong attitude.
    Now I have discovered that what I believed all along, that the Earth is sacred, that creation is full of the Divine spark, that I am a child of that creation and that I am loved for who I am ,not what I “should” be, most of all that I am accepted.
    All of that is because members of the Pagan community showed me what Modern Paganism is about.
    I am free to follow the path my heart has led me to without fear of devils or demons or a god who would send me to Hell because I do not conform to the beliefs set down by man.
    Thank you Damh and all members of the pagan community that I have encountered.
    I would agree Damh ,it is an exciting and miraculous and precious time and I am thankful that I am walking the path of a Druid with so many wonderful people by my side.

    • Damh the Bard March 13, 2018 at 1:20 pm - Reply

      What a wonderful, open, and honest comment Sandra. Thank you for posting x

  4. Hennie March 13, 2018 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    All too true. But I hope we will not fall for the road Christianity took, with so much institutions and top-down hierarchy. There is a kind of benevolent anarchy in today’s paganism, that I hope will never disappear.

    • Damh the Bard March 13, 2018 at 1:23 pm - Reply

      I’m sure, over the years, you too have occasionally come across a Pagan or two who act as if theirs in the ‘One True Way’. Thankfully they tend to either calm down, or back off, when they realise nobody is doing as they are told and falling into line. I love that benevolent anarchy too. Long may it continue!

    • Sandra Laing March 13, 2018 at 1:52 pm - Reply

      Hennie ,I so agree!

  5. Kevin Rowan-Drewitt March 13, 2018 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    Beautifully and eloquently put Dave and I couldn’t agree more – see you at Pagancon!

    • Damh the Bard March 13, 2018 at 1:23 pm - Reply

      Thank you! See you there brother x

  6. Sonia Smith March 13, 2018 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    I will be frank, and say, I do have a bit of a bias, because Ronald Hutton, to me, makes a lot of sense when he does sound research, then writes with passion on his findings.

    My own thoughts and feelings are that stasis is never good, that everything is ever changing. That open hearts, and open minds make the best of humanity, and of Paganism or any other belief system. If we feel love of Nature in our hearts then probably we may be ‘Pagan’ somewhere inside. As for Christianity, are we talking dogma and brainwashing, or was Jesus a magician? Can a lot of stuff that proclaims Wicca as the Old religion, be dogma?

    What if we can make and re-make what our hearts and minds tell us, what if we follow the path of love, of wisdom, of wanting to care for each other, and for the earth and all the creatures? What if our thoughts and feelings and beliefs are as individual as ourselves? And yet, that somewhere, in some way, we meet with others in that love and understanding?

    Freedom of thought, of word, of deed, makes man and woman a sovereign creature. And more so if it be to the benefit of all living things.

    Thank-you for this post Dave. Oh I envy you your trip to Cornwall, the North Cornish Coast is a balm to my heart.

  7. Jason W Mankey March 13, 2018 at 9:49 pm - Reply

    I loved it from the start, and was really taken aback by the negativity directed at both him and his book. As a Witch I found his portrayal of Gardner sympathetic and likable, while I had friends who were just horrified by it. A lot of those people who took issue with “Triumph” now love it, and there are few people in our greater community held in higher esteem than Hutton.

  8. Robert Messier March 14, 2018 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    For me, it would have to be the MUSIC!!! Over the last 20 years, the pagan music keeps getting better. Speaks less to my mind and more to my soul. Damh, you’ve been a catalyst!!! Also another Cornwall sensation, pagan folk stars Steve Sic from Omnia and his Dutch wife Jenny Evans-Van der Haarten and British rock icon Ritchie Blackmore and American wife Candace Night for taking rock to the roots of the ancient past and making something fresh with Blackmore’s Night and all the other new artists featured in this spiritual genre of bardic roots and lore for the last couple of decades. Just want to personally thank you for making DruidCast. Other than Youtube, I have found the pagan sounds and monthly new artists to turn me on and remind me of the Lord and Lady. Even the “talkie bits” on your show are interesting! Blessed Be. Wish more Americans could appreciate the broader range of European music and spiritual Renaissance, instead of focusing on the crappy, greedy, destructive corporate hip-hop of the American radio scene.

  9. Sylvia March 14, 2018 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    You put my thoughts into words so eloquently!….I remember reading the ‘The triumph of the moon’ and feeling SO happy that we are at the very beginning of a new path…no need to justify ourselves with imagining ancestral roots….Prof Hutton gave a talk for our local Moot some time ago and was just so engaging and funny…more power to him….

  10. JJ March 18, 2018 at 11:17 am - Reply

    I loved being witness to what you describe – it was a joy to share the weekend – and there was definitely something special about this year – that ‘benevolent anarchy’ enjoying itself without judgement or shame

  11. Francis Joy March 18, 2018 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    Thank you Dave and greetings from Sámiland, Finland. I have Ronald’s book here with me..

  12. roselle March 20, 2018 at 10:54 am - Reply

    Thank you for this upbeat account. I don’t know how the PF Devon and Cornwall conference passed me by (I too come from Cornwall – West Penwith, Damh – didn’t know you did – but live across the border in Devon) – and since I rarely make things further afield I’m sad I missed this.

    And thank you for once again turning my attention to Hutton’s Moon book, which I still haven’t read. About to remedy that.

    Equinox blessings to you and you all

  13. […] This article really continues the theme set by a recent post about a moment that changed modern Paganism. […]

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