(Beyond the Pall is a continuing series following missional engagement with the Neo-Pagan community in Salem, MA and beyond. The story began with the death of a friend who was a prominent Witch in Salem. I was a pall-bearer at his funeral, and so this series carries the title with its not un-purposeful similarity to the term “beyond the pale.”)
Photo by Christine Cleere found at The Druid NetworkWe were six in number. They were 250. I've been out numbered by far larger odds in ministry outreach settings before, but these numbers were more intimidating for the average Christian than when I was one of 12 Christians among 5,000 Mormons. We were six Christians among 250 Druids. Some pastors would have felt like Elijah among the prophets of Baal. I felt at home and among friends. The five others with me would feel that way at the end of three days.
We offered to hold a Dream Interpretation booth at the Lammas Games. They accepted, and we planned the first few days of our mission trip to join the Druids in South Oxfordshire. Daniel interpreted dreams in Pagan Babylon. Certainly we could try to do so in a Neo-Pagan gathering in Britain.
We arrived early, and found a campsite location in the afternoon shade. We helped haul the roughhewn wood, and put our hands to building the stage. We got to know the leaders of the event, and then we built our own booth from the same roughhewn lumber.
From our shady location we could watch all the happenings for the event. The food and ale were to the left of us, and ferret racing was near the stage directly across from us. The sound system was powered by two stationary bicycles, which volunteers took turns pedaling.
In the center of the event a circle was formed with eight tall flags. This would be the location of the ritual at the end of the day.
As people began to fill the site, we interpreted dreams for a few. Others simply wanted to know what we were doing there. They heard we were Christians, and asked us how it was that we could attend the event. Each time this question was asked, I asked in return, "do you think Jesus would avoid coming here?" Of course, no one thought that Jesus would have avoided the event, and we began to wonder how it was that Christianity and Jesus were not perceived in the same light.
As the day wore on, a small cadre of vendors and attendees began to gather around us. They sat and talked with us, and shared their life stories. With some regularity, people shared their interest in, and sometimes even their love for Jesus, but their dislike, and wholesale rejection of Church and Christianity was evident. Again we wondered how Jesus and Christianity became so detached from one another in the eyes of those outside the church.
Our little troupe was relatively comfortable in this strange setting of hippies, spear chucking, the mention of Pagan deities, and ale drinking. The booth next to us heard me play my guitar and sing. They asked if I was joining the competition for the "Spear of Lugh." The holder of the Spear of Lugh would stand as the Druidic Bard for the year. I put my five pound entry fee into the pot, assuming that a Christian Pastor would not be allowed to hold the Spear of Lugh, and become the Druidic Bard, but it would be fun to perform for a large gathering of Druids nonetheless.
In the late afternoon, a ritual was held. They formed a circle and gave thanks for the events of the year, for the giving of the harvest, for the gentle breezes, for the warmth of the sun, and for the rains. They laughed about the rains, because floods had happened all across the UK that year. They called to the East, South, West, and North, but nothing in their gathering required a person to declare allegiance to Pagan gods or goddesses. It was simply a remembrance, and celebration of life. A few of us from the missions trip joined the circle, and gave thanks with them.
In the early evening, while the sun was still fairly high in the sky the eisteddfod began. The eisteddfod was the competition of musicians and poets. The current holder of the Spear of Lugh, the first Bardic champion of the games, and a leader of the Druid Network sat as judges. The crowd gathered in the circle of flags, and faced the stage. Poets recited, and musicians sang - some quite professionally, and others joyously in need of a shepherd's crook, or a final buzzer. Much like a church talent contest it had a wide range of skills.
When my turn came, I sang a song about a Gargoyle. I wrote it in response to seeing the cathedrals in the UK some years before. Its theme was that of a mysterious message long forgotten by people, despite the fact that they walk under its shadow every day - a bit like the Gospel itself. Treeman, and Spacegirl thought that I most certainly would be the winner, even though we had been bantering in good jest about who was going outperform whom.
In the end Treeman won, and our little cadre of Pagan friends felt I got shafted. I smiled knowing that a Christian Pastor holding the Spear of Lugh for a year would be a weird experience.
Later that night we sat around the fire with our new Druid friends. People were drinking, and songs were sung, stories told, and poems recited. Everyone got involved, and we laughed, and sometimes we cried, and somehow our little Christian troupe felt strangely at home.
In the morning Paul was still sitting by the fire. He kept it burning all night as the tradition warranted. Paul had been the winner of the Spear of Lugh and the Bard for the previous year. I learned that Paul was a Druid, and a Mormon. He shared how he had been a Christian minister at one time, and that I had encouraged him to return to prayer, and to considering ministry once again. I smiled, and wondered how a person could be a Mormon, a Christian Minister and a Neo-Pagan Druid. He smiled, and I am sure he wondered how an Evangelical Christian Pastor could hang out at the Lammas Games.
As we left the Lammas Games to travel to our next location we considered how this event would change our reading of the New Testament. We were among the few people in America who would read the writings of St. Paul, and know exactly how he felt when he spoke of struggling over eating meat offered to idols, and dealing with the celebration of Pagan holydays. Paul the Apostle lived in a Pagan world, and if only for just a few days - so did we.