WHAT IS SAXON PAGANISM?

Saxon Paganism is a spiritual path inspired by pre-Christian English beliefs and tradition. Or perhaps I should say "paths", because there has been a growing revival of interest in Saxon spirituality by different groups and individuals since the early 1970's. These paths sometimes resemble other northern European traditions such as Forn Sed (Swedish Paganism) and Forn Siðr (Danish Paganism). I use the term Saxon in its broader sense to include all of the Germanic peoples who migrated to England from the 3rd century onward: Angles, Jutes, Frisians, Swabians and Franks, as well as the Saxons themselves.

Paganism is an umbrella term which includes all religions other than Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The word comes from the Latin paganus, meaning a country dweller. Pagan is synonymous with the word Heathen, which comes from the Old English hæðen, meaning a person who lives on the heath. Today many people use the word Heathen in a more specific sense to mean a polytheist who follows a northern European tradition. Both of these words – Pagan and Heathen – originally had the implication of “hick”, but are now being reclaimed by people of many religions who are proud of their earth-centered spirituality.

The first manifestation of Saxon spirituality to become widely known was the Seax Wica tradition, founded by the Gardnerian witch Raymond Buckland and first announced to the Pagan community in the Yule 1973 edition of a periodical called "Earth Religion News". Months later, Buckland's book The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft was released to the public by Weiser Books. (This book came out again more than thirty years later, in 2005, under the title Buckland's Book of Saxon Witchcraft.)


Seax witches Juan Espinoza and Freddy Obregon of Lima, Peru showing off
their Seax tradition pendants.

From the start, Seax Wica differed significantly from the other Wiccan traditions at that time. The new tradition had none of the hierarchy found in Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca and related traditions. Even the leaders of the coven were elected officers holding temporary positions. Seax Wica was also one of the first traditions to openly welcome gays and lesbians. Perhaps the most significant difference was the Seax ritual of Self-Dedication. In the early 1970's it was widely held that a person had to be initiated to practice Wicca. This does not mean that there were no uninitiated Wiccans, but these were routinely viewed with disdain by most covens. Seax Wica still encouraged initiation but, with the publication of The Tree, one of the leading figures in Wicca gave his blessing to anyone who wanted to worship the Old Gods, whether or not that person could find a willing initiator.

Despite these differences, the emphasis of Seax Wica was more on the Wica than on the Seax. Buckland never pretended otherwise. "I was not trying to reconstruct an original religion," he says, "So I took the Saxon culture only as a bare skeleton on which to hang the rites and practices I devised." In Seax Wica the rituals are duotheistic, with worship directed in the Wiccan paradigm towards a pairing of a male God and a female Goddess. This pairing is usually Woden and Freya (Fréo), however in the introduction to the 2005 edition of his book, Buckland states that any God and Goddess can be revered so long as they are both Anglo-Saxon.

Another Saxon path known as Theodism (or Theodisc Geléafa) was founded in 1976 in Waterstown, New York, when former Gardnerian witch Garman Lord organized the Witan Theod. I have heard it said that the creation of the Witan Theod was "in reaction to" Seax Wica, but Garman Lord had been exploring Anglo-Saxon spirituality since at least 1971 when he founded the Coven Witan of Anglo-Saxon Wicca, several years before The Tree was published.

Theodism attempts to recreate not only the rituals but also a reflection of the early Anglo-Saxon tribal social structure. Theodsmen (the term used for both men and women) place the needs of the theod (a word meaning tribe) over those of the individual. Swain Wodening, a prominent figure in the Theodish community, believes this may be the most defining characteristic of Theodism. He has told me, "If I had to identify one difference (between Theodism and other Germanic paths) it would be in the strong sense of tribal identity. Theodsmen tend to identify very strongly with the group they are a part of, and the community is put above the individual." The leader of each theod, whatever title he may assume, is considered an intercessor between the Gods and the members of the theod. For this reason, a Theodsman in his or her own home is more likely to give personal offerings to ancestors and local spirits, but leave it to the leader of the theod to make offerings to the Gods.

Like many other forms of contemporary Pagan expression, Theodism has changed considerably over the years. Swain also says, "Much of the formal, almost feudalistic structure is gone. If you know little about Theodism, or all the information is from many years ago, try to get updated information." Theodisc Geléafa today is not the same as Theodism forty years ago.

In 2007, the Lyblác tradition went public when Capall Bann Publishing released the book Lyblác: Anglo Saxon Witchcraft, by Wulfeage. In the words of its founder, Lyblác was developed "to put more Anglo-Saxon meat on the bones of The Tree." Wulfeage says he intended Lyblác to be a progression of Seax Wica; to present a tradition "more poetic and involving".

Lyblác is without question witchcraft, with a heavy emphasis on magic, but the rituals tend to have more of an Anglo-Saxon ambience and less of a Wiccan feel. Extensive use is made of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) language, both in the rituals and in the tradition's terminology.

When I asked Wulfeage why he chose to do this, he told me, "Lyblác harkens back to a time when the very words spoken in Anglo-Saxon were magic themselves. When recited in their true form they lend themselves to a wondrous connection with our Gods, the landscape, the earth and our kin." This is something that he and I agree on. Although it is important that participants in rituals understand what is going on, the use of the Anglo-Saxon language can deeply enhance those rituals.


Although Stonehenge is the best known, numerous sacred
Pagan sites like the smaller henge in this photo are found
throughout the English countryside.

As you might expect, there are also many Saxon Pagans who do not follow any of these paths, and still others among us who feel an affinity to one of them but do not constrain ourselves to its praxis. More people are hearing the call of the Old Gods of the Saxons every day. Some join national organizations like Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) or the Troth. In 2011, I was honored by being appointed as the first Anglo-Saxon Vice Chieftain of ADF's Germanic sub-group, Eldr ok Iss (ADF is an inclusive, international organization for Pagans of all Indo-European traditions). Others find like-minded individuals in their local communities.

 

 

 
 
© Copyright Alaric Albertsson & Wolfden Designs 2008 - 2017. All rights reserved.