Modern Paganism in Spain
Article ID: 14683
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: August 14th. 2011
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I’d like to share with you my memories of a daring leap I made last Litha, of my solo trip to a mountain retreat in the mountains of Gredos, Avila, in Spain to celebrate the solstice, and the subsequent research I carried out on modern Paganism in Spain to accompany what I’d learned from my experiences.
It began about two years ago, while pottering online and discovering what a powerful draw I felt to Starhawk's Reclaiming tradition of Wicca. Reclaiming focuses on combining Goddess spirituality with global and local political activism, and with its strong, happy network of people, an abundance of unique chants and songs, an ever-questioning attitude and gallant allegiance with the Wiccan Rede, I have yet to find anything at all I don't like about the Reclaiming tradition. I discovered that weeklong 'witchcamps' are run in several countries throughout the world, and I casually searched the European list, just in case, such is my love for the Spanish language, there might be one in Spain. When the camp in Gredos, Avila came up, I couldn't believe my luck. But nahh. Too far away. Too scary!
It wasn't until only a few short weeks ago, when gap year plans of going to the States to work before starting University fell through that I was in need of a rapid rethink. I revisited the Reclaiming Spain website in vague hopes of finding an upcoming event, and stumbled upon a most perfect 5 day retreat around the time of the solstice, with a ritual and herbal workshop. The catch? No one speaks a word of English. But that's ok! I speak A Level Spanish! Be coolly cool, Sophie!
After multiple mad flaps trying to find various planes, trains (on which I was robbed on my first day) and elusive buses, I somehow miraculously managed to make it to the meeting point in the local town on time to be taken to the mountain camp. And what a beautiful place.... a little tipi haven shrouded in pine forests halfway up the mountain, with a crystal clear river gently trickling through. The first 24 hours I was there I was having less than a good time; there were fifteen of us, all of them were Spanish, most of them seemed to know each other and I began to feel increasingly like I was gate crashing a weekend jolly in the woods of Pagan friends.
The mental stamina required to think and speak in Spanish all day every day was gargantuan, and settling into this group was no easy task. But when workshop number 1 got under way I began to feel much more at home. We were divided into a women's workshop and a men’s workshop; the men disappeared up the mountainside and the women gathered in a circle to discuss our perceived life stage and what major changes were happening at this point in our lives, which I managed to cobble together in Spanish surprisingly successfully.
After this we went down to a particularly secluded spot by the river with a bowl and took turns to stand in the waterfall and cleanse ourselves of any negative crap that might be swirling around in our minds and bodies. I asked the Goddess to return to me in some way some of the money that was stolen from me (and that she did, about a week later, through a dozy cashier who gave me 47 Euros change for a salad paid for with a 10 euro note, and shooed me away before I could argue.) Following the cleansing, we partook in a 'feast of abundance', and set up the ritual space. There were separate altars for each Element in each quarter, all beautifully decorated. We began by raising a circle, and some of the young women adorned in greenery purified us individually with smudge sticks.
We invoked the Gods Helios and the Green Man, and the Goddesses Litha and Brigid, and invoked the Elements. We sang some traditional Reclaiming songs, and it wouldn't have been a proper Reclaiming ritual without the awesome Spiral dance that followed. We lit and jumped over a balefire and shared what summer means to us, and what we hope to nurture within ourselves (I went for safety on my travels) . What happened next was like a huge party; drumming and song and dance prevailed in the circle for many more hours, and I think the idea was to stay up all night and watch the Sun rise the next day but everyone hit the sack before then.
The next morning we welcomed the longest day with more drumming and singing. We then climbed to a clearing in the highest point in the camp, which had spectacular views, and completed the ritual with a dance around the maypole of abundance. I did wonder about the significance of having a maypole at Litha but figured that the symbolism of the merging of male and female energy at the height of power made just as much sense. The women dug a hole in the ground and decorated it with flowers, and the men carried the pole up the mountain and stuck it in the ground. We did a group meditation with more dance and drumming, followed by blessings and prayers. When dismissing the quarters at the end, I was surprised to find that they actually said 'Hail and farewell', and when I asked Morgaine the Priestess about this, she told me that she hadn't found an accurate Spanish translation for it and everyone was happy to use the English. But for 'so mote it be' they say 'que así sea'.
These people, I found, all want to go to England to visit the sacred sights and attend the rituals in Avebury, Stonehenge and Glastonbury, but I'll be frank, this ritual made the one of the Druids in Avebury seem quite dismal by comparison. I've attributed it to the party attitude the Spaniards have; the Spanish, like Pagans, will take any excuse for a festival, and I think this may be a major factor in the growth of Paganism in Spain today. Morgaine also told me that she thinks the land in Spain is very masculine, dry and dominated by mountains and pine forests, but loves visiting England because the land is so feminine, with hills and lakes, which gave me food for thought.
The next two days consisted of a workshop on the magical and medicinal uses of herbs which I really enjoyed, and had ensured that I'd learned as many of the Spanish names for herbs as I could before I went out there which proved invaluable. We had a theory lesson, then went down to the river to collect herbs, and I discovered that they had many of the same herbs as we do in Britain but the leaves were much thicker or a different shape, to adapt to the dry climate. I'd wondered why, on the first day, we'd collected so many mountains of St. John's wort from the mountainside only to discover in my very own Earth Pathways diary that this is exactly what one does at summer solstice to make oils and vinegars from it.
The next day we continued the workshop, the table strewn with all manner of herbs, fresh and dried, jars and oils and vinegars, and to my amusement, herbs that won't grow in the dry climate were purchased from Star Child in Glastonbury. I now have recipes and worksheets to translate, and never having had a full practical herbs lesson I was surprised how much I gained from this. On the final night, when I must've eaten something a bit dodgy and had an unhappy tummy, everyone leapt in to help; within 10 minutes I'd had Reiki done for me and a specially made mug of digestive tea shoved into my hands. All in all, once I got into it, a very enjoyable experience that I'd love to repeat someday (when my Spanish improves.)
One thing that was really reinforced in my mind during this witchcamp was the importance of intent in prayer and magick. These people wouldn't have fully understood my prayers and invocations, and I came to the conclusion that words are pretty much meaningless to Spirit. How could the people upstairs learn so many thousands of human languages? Many spells and invocations have rhyme with the intention of giving the conscious mind something to focus on while the subconscious gets to work. But something so simple as humming a single syllable is potentially equally as effective. I was reminded that if your spells were simply spoken words (which when in Spanish, when I wasn't fully awake, didn't mean much to me at all) , you wouldn’t get far at all. In our moments of silent prayer and meditation, I realized that while in different languages (not everyone had Spanish as their first language) , everyone's intent was heading in the same direction, which is what really makes all the difference.
When I returned home I began to research the background of what I’d seen and experienced; the information I’ve summarized here is of-course the briefest of outlines, so please feel free to suggest additions or amendments. In my research I discovered that there were a wealth of different deities beloved in the Iberian Peninsula, before the invasion of the Moors and then eventual Christianization, the goddesses mostly concerned with agriculture and the changing of the seasons, and the gods with weather, storms and war. With the invasion of the Roman Empire, it seems that many of the popular Iberian deities of the time were syncretised with those of the Roman pantheon who shared similar characteristics, for example the god of war, Cariociecus, overlaid by Mars, and the weather god Eacus blended into Jupiter. Most revered seem to be the goddess Ataegina, who ruled over Spring and seasonality, worshipped throughout Spain and Portugal, and Mari, a Basque goddess, also in charge of the weather, who lived in the mountains. Interestingly, it's the Basque region of Spain that seems to have retained its native culture and heritage the most, owing I think to the resilient and fiercely protective nature of the Basque peoples.
Ásastrú and Odinism are closely-linked Germanic-based Neopagan religions, following the teachings of Norse deities. These Pagan religions have been growing rapidly in Spain in the last 30 years, helped by the creation of the "Círculo Odinista Europeo" in 1981, an organization dedicated to the growth of Odinism in Spain and the rest of Europe. In 2007, the Spanish government recognized it as an official religion, and thus was able to perform 'legally binding civil ceremonies.' It has been the fourth Odinist/Asatru religious organization to be recognized with official status in the world, after Iceland, Norway and Denmark.
On December 23, 2007 the first legal Pagan wedding in Spain in 1, 500 years took place on the beach of Vilanova, Barcelona. Jordi and Francesca, members of Confession Odin-Asatru, united their lives under the Rite Odinist Continental led by Ernust, Godi of the COE. Pagans of all faiths in Spain, as well as members of the Pagan Federation attended the ceremony.
While I was at the witchcamp, I found two paths were followed side by side; the Reclaiming tradition of Wicca, with which I'm very familiar, and El Camino Rojo, which translates as 'the path of the red people', or more simply, 'the Red Road', an Iberian tradition of Native American origin. When I asked Vicente, the local tradition leader, what the differences were between El Camino Rojo and Shamanism, he replied adamantly that Shamanism was a Siberian word and that Native American belief and practices were very much different. The workshops he runs are in honor of the ancestors of the world and of the Father Sun and Sky and the Mother Earth, and include learning Native American invocations, songs and chants, making tobacco offerings, instruction of the use of sacred and medicinal plants, purification of the body and spirit in sweat lodges and the use of drumming for worship and to induce trance state. I admired his steadfast dedication to keeping alive the memory and teachings of the ancestors of the Iberian Peninsula.
As aforementioned, there isn't a huge amount for Pagans to do in Spain, I was told, and they all want to visit the sacred sites of England, as Morgaine called it, the 'Land of the Goddess.' But twice annually there is a Goddess conference in Madrid, founded by members of the tradition of Avalon and of Reclaiming. It's a four day event of songs, workshops and presentations with the aim, according to the website, of regaining lost knowledge of female deities, the cults and cultures associated with them, and facilitating that knowledge to Spanish and International society; to establish a virtual and physical sacred space to teach and practice together; and to work to promote and defend the rights and dignity of women and men through the visualization of a model of Divine Feminine denied for over three thousand years; working for the health of the planet as a physical manifestation of Divinity, and for multiculturalism and diversity, through work with goddesses from many times and places.
It's a great shame I missed this latest conference in July during my stay in Spain, as when I look through the pictures that come back I see faces filled with joy and the love and light of the Goddess. May this love continue to spread, and the work done by all the melissas, priests, priestesses and contributors bear fruit in the growth of this great phenomenon in Iberia, and throughout the world.
Location: Madrid, Spain
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