Out of the Broomcloset
While I feel secure in saying that we all, gentle readers, are happy to see 2018 rapidly passing from view, it wasn’t all bad… well, actually, it mostly was. All manner of social progress, our march towards a new and better, more inclusive future, ran into a wall, which we had to mount, to beat back those who wanted us to return to some bizarre version of a golden age. Golden, at least, for them, in their dim minds. The same has been occurring, to varying degrees, in other countries. As storm clouds seemed to be building, something else old-timey seemed to be coming back to the light of day. Across Europe, this was a year the “old” Gods really began reasserting themselves. At least their devotees were standing proudly.
Some never really went away; members of the Hindu pantheon were jostled by the Raj, but are still proudly with us wherever a population of believers resides. The same holds true for the indwelling powers of Yorubaland, coming to the New World in chains, but thriving both here and in their homeland. These are traditions with continuity of practice. Others faded away under the influence (to be charitable) of newer faiths. So, it has been possible to vacation and travel to locations or ruins where they were once honored, but not possible to experience how they were honored.
It is time for a revival
Today, the newer kids on the block (who are not new) are those who may not have been forgotten, but had been relegated to being, perhaps, cultural touchstones to the present day, but no longer honored on their native soil. It’s the sort of tension between the past and the modern world which author Neil Gaiman delineated so well in “American Gods.” Is the past ever really, truly dead and buried, relegated to quaint curios on the shelf?
The template for these “revivals” is the birth of Wicca in the United Kingdom in the midst of the 20th century. Whether you subscribe to the idea that Gerald Gardner (and a few friends) developed this alone, or that it was something just under the surface of Anglican England that was waiting for the right time to return, the results were the same. When our own Editor Emeritus visited Glastonbury in the mid 1970’s, while the witchcraft revival was flowing across the Atlantic, there was nothing “witchy” to see (the same would have been true visiting Salem Massachusetts). Both are now overwhelmed by visitors, seekers, tourists seeking an experience, full of places to engage in all manner of festivals and rituals.
It’s been a long time coming in the rest of Europe. Most countries do have celebrations, tied to the Christian calendar of events, which may have some connection to a pre-Christian past, but these really are, at best, remnants. In Greece, the Orthodox Church has been sputtering over the government permitting a group, Hellenismos, worshippers of the Greek Gods, to have official recognition, and to actually be allowed to conduct rituals at what the government still considers archeological sites, but they consider places of worship, naturally.
It will be interesting to see how the dynamic shifts in the next few years. Even Poland, Catholic Poland, is experiencing a Native Slavic Faith revival, with its practitioners having land on which they hope to someday build a temple, based on archeological excavations. This, like the re-creation of Witchcraft in the U.K., will require nimbleness, sources of information being so scarce.
Iceland is a shining example to all, particularly in regards to letting the “old way” come back into the light. This is not surprising in a country that, despite having an official religion, the Icelandic Lutheran Church (which is financially supported by it), decriminalized same-sex activities in 1940, had the first openly gay Head of State in 2008. The pagan path of honoring Thor, Loki, Odin and the rest of Aesgard has grown exponentially these past few years (with about 4,000 people out of a population of under 400,00 declaring themselves as such). Unlike other cultural groups, an extensive body of written texts survives, and are part of the world’s cultural patrimony (including magical texts). Unlike in the U.S. and elsewhere, where interest in the Norse Gods is often co-opted by fringe groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood and other hate groups, in Iceland, the elders of this path are firmly, and vocally, inclusive.
After a few (very few years) of fundraising, work is almost complete on building the first temple to honor all the Gods in Iceland in over 1000 years. I think, this summer, no matter what happens, it’s time to go to a revival, and give testimony!