A PAGAN WOMAN

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Last summer my past came back to haunt me.  It  may have been either a past life memory or it was a re-awakening. But from that moment on there was no going back. Back, that is, in terms of where I was before that moment at the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

 Back in the early 1990’s, I had visited the Salem Witch Museum where they have stage sets – thirteen in all – depicting the events leading up to and including the nineteen innocent people who were hung because they were believed to be witches. So, last summer, my family and I were vacationing in the area and stopped in for a visit. My daughter had just studied Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible”, in school that year and learned how the story was based partly on the Salem Witch Trials, and she wanted to find out more about this tragic event. There is also something newer at the museum since I was last there in the ‘90’s, and that is an exhibit called, “Witches: Evolving Perceptions”. It was here that I came face to face with my past. Literally.

The first scene of this exhibit shows a mannequin that is dressed up as a Pagan woman. The tour guide pressed the button for the audio and a disembodied voice told us how she was an ancient Celtic woman, that she and other Pagan women were actually midwives, they used herbs and were respected healers in their community. Then the tour guide moves on and everyone follows her except me. I cannot take my eyes off the the ancient Celtic woman mannequin’s face. It was as if I was staring into my past and my past self was looking at my future self. A real “Back to the Future” moment.

 The transition from Pagan woman to Witch,  was no doubt brought on by fear – and fear is at the root of everything. According to the Salem Witch Museum’s website,  salemwitchmuseum.com on the “Witches: Evolving Perceptions” exhibit, “…the strong Celtic woman, diminished and demonized by the church fathers in the middle ages. She speaks of her role as the troublemaker in society on whom all evil things are blamed.”  The remainder of the exhibit shows how Witches were Hollywood -ized; other witch hunts in history such as the McCarthy hearings on Communism and what became known as the Red Scare, and the persecution of the gay community at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. The museum uses this formula for a witch hunt: Fear + Trigger = Scapegoat. And finally, the exhibit ends with two more figures, a man and a woman, practitioners of Wicca, or witchcraft. “…descendants of the Celtic midwife, looking to the earth mother for healing and spirituality.”

Back in my hotel room, I thought over the exhibit and could not shake off the hold this Pagan midwife had over me.  The transition to evil wrongdoer, to Hollywood’s Wicked Witch of the West was unfair. I felt the Pagan woman or Celtic midwife was seriously maligned. As always, when I feel this strongly about something, I become passionate to the point of obsession and wanted to educate myself and understand not what was done to the Pagan woman, but rather who she really was and my connection to her.

 At the outset, I explored what Paganism is.  Before modern Europe, before Judaism and Christianity, there was Paganism, a religion that worshipped nature.  Now, I want to say that I do not now believe in organized religion. However, I was brought up Christian. I learned from that period in my life that Pagans were heathens, ungodly, basically Satan worshippers. Naturally, as a young child I was taught to fear them. There’s that word “fear” again. Hmmm.

 I took out books from the library, read articles on the Internet, and educated myself.  According to the website  paganfederation.org, the definition of a Pagan is :   “…  a follower of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion.”  Pagans respect nature; a religion that “pervades the whole of everyday life…Pagans usually believe that the divine world will answer a genuine request for information….healers are common throughout Pagan societies…Pagans pursue their own vision of the Divine as a direct and personal experience.”  Paganism, they say, “is the ancestral religion of the whole of humanity.”

All religions descended from Paganism, so why do Pagans and Paganism get such a bad rap? As I read this, I thought to myself I love nature, I believe that the universe, God force, or divine helps me when I  put the intention out into the universe.  I’m a Pagan. Maybe we are all pagans – we just don’t remember our divinity.

 Statues that we see or use in gardens and in our homes originated with Pagans. Wedding rings and the wedding service, funeral services, and the holidays that come at the winter solstice and vernal equinox – Yule ( pronounced U-elle) which is commonly known as Christmas (Remember the Yule log burning on a TV channel at Christmas?  That’s a pagan ritual.) and Ostara (or Easter) are all traditions that come from the Pagans. All of these traditions originated with the Celtic Pagans  and have been passed down through the centuries.

In October, Samhain (pronounced Sow-inn) is the Pagan New Year. It is at this time that the veil between the physical world and the spiritual world is the thinnest . While the veil is thin, we will be able to connect to our loved ones who have crossed over.  We can, of course, hear our loved ones and angels anytime, but  the frequencies may make it easier  to hear them at this time. Listen and watch for their messages.

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Author: Leslie Sheridan

Writer and nature photographer

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