On Saturday The Pagan Federation held its 40th Anniversary celebrations in the magnificent setting of the Royal Geographical Society in London. Here is the text of the talk I gave there:
THE FUTURE OF PAGANISM
It would be usual in a talk about the future state of a movement to begin by saying “Well of course we don’t have a crystal ball…” But in Paganism we do! And we have other devices that can help us peer beyond the veil of the Present, so if we want to explore the future let’s make use of them.
Unfortunately I left my crystal ball on a train the other day, so we can’t use that. Instead let’s use that wonderfully sophisticated tool beloved of Pagans, the Tarot.
I remember being at Clonegal Castle in Ireland about twenty years ago when the founder of the Fellowship of Isis, Olivia Robertson, emerging from giving a Tarot reading, cheerfully announced: “I don’t hold with the modern way of doing a reading – treating it like counselling or psychotherapy – I just tell the person what’s going to happen in the future!” I profoundly disagree with this approach, and will only ever use the Tarot to gain insights and never as a predictive tool, but I admired Olivia’s chutzpah that flew so brazenly in the face of our modern sensibilities.
And while I don’t like the idea of fortune telling for an individual, I think we can indulge ourselves in this risky activity when it comes to considering a movement.
So in using the Tarot to peer into the future state of the Pagan movement in say, forty years’ time, I figured the best way to do this would be to use a three card reading: one to give us some ideas about the current state of Paganism, another to inform us about its future condition, and – to give us something to sink our teeth into and to get involved in – a third card to suggest what we can do to help the future we’ve just glimpsed unfold in the best possible way.
The reading that emerged when I considered this question seems so pertinent I’d like to share it with you now.
The card that offered insights into Paganism as it stands today was the Seven of Pentacles – a card associated with the harvest. Here’s what The Druidcraft Tarot says about it:
SEVEN OF PENTACLES – Keywords: bearing fruit, harvesting, clearing. You can now start to take a break and appreciate the results of all your hard work and effort. Often we spend so much time trying to reach goals or just cope with life, we rarely pause to simply enjoy what we have actually achieved. Just as a farmer might take pleasure in their harvest, so we can gain a deep satisfaction in knowing that our work is bearing fruit. Whether it is a relationship, a project or a business that we have been nurturing, it may well have reached a stage where it can grow by itself. Once we have prepared the ground and planted the seed we need to stand back and let the growing take place without our interference or worry. It is possible that the harvest has not yet arrived, in which case the card counsels patience and a trust in the natural cycles of growth. When the time is right you will be able to reap the rewards of your effort.
Well I reckon this is spot on: the conference today feels very much under the influence of the Seven of Pentacles, representing as it does for the Pagan Federation a time of celebration, of taking stock, and of enjoying the fruits of 40 years work.
The card drawn to depict the state of Paganism in forty years’ time was the Queen of Swords, and as I drew it another card tried to pop out too: the Six of Pentacles. Often these ‘rogue cards’ can bring a special message, so I took it too.
Now Queens symbolise a deep understanding and awareness of the essential quality of the element that they represent. Whereas the King manifests the characteristics of the element in social action, the Queen experiences and understands its nature and its power in the depths of her being. For this reason she represents the experiences of awareness, inner knowing, receptivity, nurturing, and compassion. She inspires rather than commands, and conveys the sense of fully appreciating life and its gifts. She is the archetypal parent figure, and is also associated with the Goddess, and Her powerful qualities as the source of created life. The Keywords for Queens are: Creativity, Compassion, Awareness, Nurturing.
How appropriate that the future state of Paganism is represented by an image associated with the Goddess. Some of us may have preferred both God and Goddess to be present, but the card here is saying the Divine Feminine, the Goddess, is going to occupy the central position – and as Beyonce says ‘The cards never lie’.
But we’re seeing here the Feminine not in the figure of the Lady, or Empress, or High Priestess, but as the Queen of Swords. What does this suggest?
THE QUEEN OF SWORDS – Keywords: Independent, Graceful, Analytical. The Queen of Swords is a lover of truth and freedom, a strong independent woman, who above all is in control of the powers of her mind. Often graceful, she is able to use both charm and logic to succeed in the world. The sword she weighs in her hand demonstrates her potential power: she understands the paradoxical nature of reality, and is able to be discerning, accurate, and if necessary tough. She is naturally adept at analysing issues and situations, and for this reason makes a good lawyer or scientist. She is a discriminating and perceptive woman with high ideals, and she displays a wisdom that comes from her having known suffering and conflict, as well as joy and happiness.
If the card does not refer to a person in a reading, it may suggest a need to be objective, or it may augur favourably for any intellectual endeavour. Success in communications, exams, writing, politics and debates are all indicated.
This suggests to me that Paganism will continue on its path of becoming more widely recognised and respected as a path for intelligent, enquiring individuals, attracting rigorous thinkers, scholars, scientists and philosophers. Success in communications, writing and debates augurs well and suggests that it will harder to level criticisms at it of sloppy thinking or inadequate philosophical depth.
So to summarise our glimpse of Paganism 40 years from now, think of an independent, graceful, highly intelligent woman. She is wise, discerning, tough but charming. She sounds fabulous!
But what extra insight does the Six of Pentacles offer?
SIX OF PENTACLES. Keywords: Generosity, Patronage, Gifts. In Wicca the ‘Law of threefold return’ teaches that whatever we give out we will receive back in greater measure. The harvest of our thoughts, feelings or actions often yields far more than we imagined. The practical use of magic is based on an understanding of this ‘law of the returning tide’. The magician consciously sows seeds of love, healing and generosity without thought of personal gain, knowing that over time part of that harvest will go towards creating the optimal conditions for their own fulfilment. It is possible that you are now experiencing such a beneficial time.
The six of pentacles often indicates the process of either giving or receiving benefits. You may be the one harvesting gain, and you could be in receipt of patronage, or of gifts, generosity, financial or other assistance. Or you could be the one doing the giving: you might be involved in a philanthropic project, or you could be sharing profits. Whether you are giving or receiving, or both, there is a sense of balance and fairness. A benefactor may have entered your life, or you may find yourself dealing with someone who is generous but restrained in their giving, but if this is the case, there is a sense of just measure in their actions.
I reckon this suggests two things: that the Pagan movement, or perhaps the Pagan Federation itself, might receive patronage or philanthropic aid, but also I hope it means that Pagans will become involved in more service work. At the moment, the established religions engage in far more charitable work, and this is due in the main to their greater number of adherents, but it would be good to see this imbalance redressed.
Finally, what can we do to help the future these two cards have revealed unfold in the best possible way? The card that was picked was The Magician: one utterly appropriate for a Path that is at heart magical, and one that immediately offers us an insight that is empowering.
The Magician. Keywords: Creativity, Awen (Inspiration) and its manifestation, Direction, Will-power, Nwyfre (Life-force), Flow, First steps, Empowerment.
Now may well be the time for action. You know you have the potential to realise your dreams, and it is just a question of using your will-power and your focus to start taking the first steps towards achieving your purpose. Don’t forget that to make your life magical, and to work effective magic in the world, you need to combine the abilities of being both focussed and open. The magician is powerful because he knows how to be open to inspiration, to Spirit, and how to let this inspiration flow through him into the world through his decisions and actions. Doubt and preoccupation with Self (often referred to as Ego) inhibit this flow of energy. If you can trust and let go of worries about your life, creative energy can start to flow through you and you can get to work on important and meaningful projects. At the same time, the Great Work, the goal of uniting God and Goddess within you, can begin as you feel empowered to act in the world rather than being reactive. A powerful way to do this is to communicate – with different parts of your own being, with your partner, friends and work colleagues, and with the world of Nature and of the Spirit. The magician is master or mistress of the Word – a Bard in the deepest sense of the term, who knows the sacredness and the creative power of the word and the voice. The magician sings their world into being. The message of this Arcanum is: ‘Open yourself to the power of Awen and Nwyfre, of inspiration and life-force, and let it flow through you and into the world.’
In the end Paganism will become what each of us makes of it. The magician stands as a Hermes figure mediating between this world and the Otherworld. I don’t think this card is necessarily saying that we have to engage in specific magical rites to attempt to bring about a positive future – instead I see it as suggesting that we adopt a fundamentally magical attitude to life – opening ourselves to the creativity and inspiration that flows from the Otherworld. This might even mean doing less rather than more: being still and listening to the voices of the gods and goddesses of river and hillside, to the voices of the animals and all those species who are under threat of extinction or have already become extinct on earth. Rather than rushing to do or create, perhaps the Magician here is inviting us to stand at the threshold of the worlds, and to open ourselves to the responsibility that this entails, open to the promptings of those beings who are wiser than us: to participate in a way of being on the Earth that respects all of life.