Friday, November 16, 2007

Beyond the Pall (Part 8): Living in a Pagan World

(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.


cern said...

Cool. That bit about Jesus and Christianity being detatched from one another- it is to Jesus credit. 'Christianty' is seen through the acts and attitudes of its followers, both today and historically. Sadly, much hasbeen done and is still being done in the name of Christianity that doesn't seem to reflect the words and acts of Jesus as described in the NT. All too often this will be why people leave Christianity and seek out other paths. Too much emphasis is placed on being part of the 'Christian community' and not enough on following Jesus. Too often Christian leaders are placed on a pedestal associated with their office and their human failings within that office justified with a twist of scripture. Honest human failings repented for would probably be much more readily accepted. Too often people who don't 'fit' are squeezed out, again through twists of scripture and closing of ranks. None of that fits the portrayal of Jesus in the NT.

Of course many Pagans just didn't really find faith in Christianity, but were expected to be part of the 'Christian community', and left that community as soon as they could. Many Pagans were never a part of the Christian community and found their own route to the spiritual. Generally among those Pagans you will find a respect for Jesus the man.

When a Christian is seen to be acting like Jesus, they're more likely to get the respect of Pagans.



Pam Hogeweide said...

great writing phil. you took me there.

are you going back next year?

Nate B said...

You give me hope for the future of what it means to be in relationships for the kingdom. THank you for the inspiration. At this point in the journey, I hope for these kinds of relationships to be built, but they are slow in coming.

Pastor Phil said...

Cernie bro,

Thanks for good description of a Pagan response to Christianity,

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Pam,

I believe the event is not happening next year, but some of its components will occur at another event. You can check it out at the Lammas Games website and the Druid Camp website. I am planning on going to the Druid Camp. Its on the Welsh border this time! Yes! Land of my fathers! ;-)

Pastor Phil said...

Nate - slow indeed. We have centuries of mistrust to break down.

Sally said...

love this Phil- just one question- how do you set about interpreting dreams- I asume this is a Spirit led action, but am curious as to what you do.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Sally,

We begin with assumption that the interpretation to the largest nuimber of dreams lies in the dreamer themselves. It is their life, their hopes, frustrations, and goals, and they have personal feelings about the elements in their dreams.

So we ask questions to understand how they feel about the things in their dreams, and then we place an interpretation into the context of their lives. Unless, as some dreams do they have quick and obviously direct attachment to spiritual truth.

That is how we begin, and we have found that God is indeed speaking to people in their dreams today.

john heasley said...

Enthralling read, real actions of where Jesus would be, had some good conversations off the back of this. Love it. Really encouraging.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey John,

Thanks, and thanks for popping into square no more. You're not Brian's brother are you?

john heasley said...

Yes, I am Brian's brother.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to read this article.
Having been raised in the 'christian community' I can testify to the closing of ranks, the isolation.
As I am in the midst of exploring where I fit, my walk with God, the exploration of other faiths..I feel peace when I read this.
As a recovering pharisee, I am questioning much about life and the world around me.
Neo-Paganism draws me, as does Druidism. However, I would like to know how it fits together with God...somehow I think there has to be a way..I just don't know how.
So I read, and listen, and hopefully learn...

Bryn Colvin said...

I didn't say hi on the day, but I did enjoy your guitar playing! If you delve around a bit, you will find there are a significant number of people doing Christian Druidry, mixing the two traditions.


Pastor Phil said...


Thanks for popping in to Square No More. I had such fun at the Lammas Games. I know that there is a growing network of people who consider themselves Christians Druids, and met a few in person at the Games. An environment such as the Lammas Games is one of my favorite places to be. To bad the games are on hiatus for this year. Perhaps though I'll be able to come to the Druid Camp instead!

Gwyn dy fyd,

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil,

John here, wild and wooly, sooner or later headless...I think we met.

I'm the current Treasurer of BPSISR, who hosted Lammas Games is the link.

What you're doing is right on...Braziers' kind of border smashing integrative wholism.

My personal rejection of 'The Christian Church' (I cannot call what is sold today Christianity) hinges mostly on 'the one true god'

As a thinking person I cannot accept that Billions of just, moral, spiritual souls are not going to experience a blissful hereafter simply because they have been born into cultures that do not preach from the 'Holy Bible'

It is this intolerance that seems to start crusades...

Any thoughts? Can a good Christian tolerate good pagans, and will they meet hereafter?

A million thanks for the blog.


Pastor Phil said...

Hey John,

Sorry for responding to your post so late. It's really good to have pop in here. I am sure we did meet.

I really love your place, and hope that we get to meet again in the near future.

Tolerate? Dang I hope so. Without that as a starting point I am not sure I even have a Christianity to hold onto.

Meet in the hereafter? I think that the hereafter is going to be the biggest surprise to all of us - Pagans and Christians.

Dane said...

Hi Phil,

just found your blogg through a link on the Druid Network.

We met at Lammas Games, I'm the Pagan silversmith who came over and chatted briefly with you - I was wearing a rather old straw stetson at the time :)

It was great to chat and meet such lovely people as your group, too often we find ourselves accosted by intollerant people claiming to bring the word of Christ to enlighten us. Who then seem quite bemused and shocked that many of us Pagans have read the Bible and the gnostic gospels and know much about Christianity.

again I'd like to say you and your friends were a breath of fresh air and your guitar playing was great :)

as to you coming to Druid camp -the Spear of Lugh Eisteddfod works on a 'cycle', returning on its 4th year to the Camp where it was created and so the Eisteddfod will be held at Druid camp this year.

so come over, look for a blue flag with a silver oak leaf on it - that's my tent- and I'll pour you a mug of mead or put the Coffee pot on if that is your preference.

in friendship

Pastor Phil said...


I remember you by the straw hat indeed! and a mug of mead will beat the pot of coffee any day of the week.

I sure hope we can make again this year.