On Leading the Pagan Prayer for COP26 Interfaith Vigil, Samhain, 2021
As National Interfaith Officer for the SPF, and prior to taking on the role, I’m frequently asked two quite reasonable questions,
- “...but what do Pagans do?” This refers to both belief and action. The latter, I must highlight, especially concerns our relationships with and contributions to the wider world in which we live. I sometimes wonder myself what others are doing.
- “How can Paganism be called a faith or religion when you all do your own thing and have no places of worship, no scriptures, and no creed?” Of course, there are Pagans who do not recognise their path or practices as a religion, which raises even more questions.
These questions are often asked by spiritual seekers and those new to Paganism and almost always come from a place of genuine curiosity and honest bewilderment.
The words that follow were shared as part of a spoken reflection and prayer (thus the format) during the evening’s post-vigil Talanoa Dialogue event at Garnethill Synagogue.
They include a version of my vigil prayer, reworked for the occasion. This piece speaks of the strength in our diversity, of the importance of being open to cooperation, and of our long-standing spiritual and practical contributions to the world. It doesn’t answer the questions directly, but that was not its purpose. It is a call for unity and justice - and an acknowledgement of our interconnectedness with the Earth and, as taught by many First Nations peoples, with all our relations.
As its name implies, modern Paganism was born from the memories, songs, and stories of country dwellers of old.
It is a tapestry woven from many different coloured strands, and its followers don’t always see eye to eye. One belief we have in common, one that guides our lives, is that the Earth is sacred, to be cared for and revered.
Pagans will variously say that now is the season of Samhain, of All Hallows Eve, and of the beginning of a New Year.
It is the season when darkness grows, before the fallow time, when the veil between spiritual and earthly worlds becomes thin, and although we follow different paths, we call upon our Ancestors of Spirit and History, Blood and Bone, to forgive us, guide us, and help us carry on.
Today, we look to the future, asking those who meet at this hallowed time, making decisions about our planet, to take into account what we already know to be true:
This Earth is our mother, our father, our source, our hearth, our home.
We exist because it exists.
It is long past time to stop taking for granted and destroying this home which gives us all we need.
Today, in rare fashion, we have come together to pray and to ask that, instead, the conferring leaders and delegates - listen - that they act with wisdom, conscience, and compassion for the sake of our Earth, its creatures, and the generations to come.
This is our continuing prayer:
O Great Spirit, O Sacred Ones!
You are the wind that breathes upon the ocean, The tide that sways and splashes upon the shore,
And the creak of the boat as it gently rocks upon the Water.
You are the beasts of field and sea communing with the Earth, Winged creatures flying through the Air,
And the Fire deep underground
You are the mountain lake and the pond in the city,
The desert sands and the lava flowing.
You are the kelp and the trees, the fungi and the fern.
You are the Arts and the discoveries of Science.
You are the beauty of the written and spoken word, and of silence.
You are Wisdom, the noblest thought, the finest deed.
You are the light of Dawn, the shadow of Dusk, Moon and Sun, seasons and stars.
You are Life.
You are us, and we are you. You are all Creation.
And in honouring you, We affirm our devotion to life on this small planet, Healing and protecting it the best we can.”
(with gratitude to Reverend Vernon Marshall, who wrote the original, and from whose work this has been adapted especially for the Pagan COP26 Vigil prayer)
The vigil was co-organised by Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow in George Square, the site of many a rally or celebration. Nine different faith groups were invited to offer a prayer on the 31st of October, and each of the nine ‘prayer leaders’ was invited to gather together nine other people from their respective faith traditions to support and strengthen the prayers. I informed the organisers that the date was either a good choice or a very bad one because, for many Pagans, it was All Hallows Eve and the beginning of Samhain. I doubted I’d have any luck at all finding anyone receptive to the idea.
After much gentle pleading, I was pleasantly surprised to have put together a contingent of eight Pagans from a variety of paths, including those who identify as animist, polytheist, Druid, Heathen, Wiccan, Hedgewitch, Sumerian, etc. A Quaker friend who also identifies as Pagan (he calls this Quagan) joined us to give us the full contingent of nine Pagans, in addition to myself. On the day, the seating area was arranged into nine different safely-spaced rays or spokes extending from a central stage set up in George Square. The running order for the event placed us between Hindu and Muslim spokes, which I knew would be ideal given the prayer leaders involved for these faith groups. The Hindu contingent was led by a fellow university chaplain and included several interfaith friends and allies (personal and for Pagans in general). The Muslim contingent was as mixed as our own, including both Shia and Sufi Muslims and lead by another interfaith friend and ally. The gods and Spirit were truly with us!
Prior to the prayers, there was much lively chat within and amongst contingents. The entire vigil lasted an hour, but it was an hour well spent. The camaraderie, the potential for good, and the powerful atmosphere generated from beginning to end was palpable and beautiful to behold.
In answer to those burning questions above, this is what Pagans can do - and what we are doing. This is how we step out from our comfort zones, model the promise of diversity, and unite under the banner of ‘faith’ with the wider community. This is how we truly work ‘together for the planet’ (the Scottish Interfaith Week theme for 2021), a cause far greater than ourselves.
Linda Haggerstone is the SPF National Interfaith Officer, speaker and a spiritual druidic leader.