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Correction Services Canada
Chaplaincy Manual
on Religious and Spiritual Accommodation

Paganism section (updated 2005)

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) Chaplaincy Branch has produced its first national Manual on Religious and Spiritual Accommodation in federal prisons, in part in response to the growing diversity of faith communities (including minority faiths) represented in the inmate population.PPO Elders contributed material on Paganism (the umbrella term) and Wicca, as well as arranging for material on Asatru and Druidry. (formatting is specific to this site)

On this page:

Paganism
1. Definition and Background of Paganism 2. Paganism in CSC



Wicca

1. Basic Beliefs
4. Contacts
7. Diets
10. Gender Issues
13. Religious Law
16. Searches
Misconceptions
2. Birth
5. Conversion / Initiation
8. Divorce
11. Health / Illness
14. Leadership / Practitioner
17. Symbols
3. Cell Effects
6. Death
9. Dress
12. Holy Days
15. Marriage
18. Worship
References

 

ÁSATRÚ

1. Basic Beliefs
4. Contacts
7. Diets
10. Gender Issues
13. Religious Law
16. Searches
Misconceptions
2. Birth
5. Conversion / Initiation
8. Divorce
11. Health / Illness
14. Leadership / Practitioner
17. Symbols
3. Cell Effects
6. Death
9. Dress
12. Holy Days
15. Marriage
18. Worship
References

 

icc

Druidry

1. Basic Beliefs
4. Contacts
7. Diets
10. Gender Issues
13. Religious Law
16. Searches


2. Birth
5. Conversion / Initiation
8. Divorce
11. Health / Illness
14. Leadership / Practitioner
17. Symbols
3. Cell Effects
6. Death
9. Dress
12. Holy Days
15. Marriage
18. Worship


Appendix A : Memorandum of Understanding from Warkworth Institution


Paganism

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1. Definition and Background of Paganism

Modern people in North America and Europe who call themselves Pagans are participating in a relatively new religious movement that finds it inspiration primarily in the religious traditions of pre-Christian Europe, although 'pantheons' or approaches from other parts of the world may also be included. [FN 1 - Some people who practise Wiccan or other Pagan traditions follow an Egyptian or Sumerian pantheon, or even incorporate some Hindu expressions of the Divine]Whether the practices of modern Pagans are based on ancient traditions, modern interpretation or invention, they generally hold four features in common:

1. Nature is seen as sacred.
2. The Divine is represented by multiple 'faces', both female and male, though not necessarily as 'Goddess' and 'God'.
3. The cycles and features of Nature are the basis for worship, spiritual growth and/or modern cultural and ethical responsibility.
4. While not necessarily adopting the specific practices of the ancestors, ancient wisdom is revered and re-explored for relevance to the modern world.

As such, most indigenous traditions around the world - for example, Native American, Japanese Shinto, Australian Aborigine, African tribal traditions - fall under the general category of Pagan.In common practice, however, those traditions that have been practised in a relative continuum since ancient times are generally referred to as 'aboriginal' traditions; while those which are distinctively modern interpretations of ancient traditions are referred to as 'neo-Pagan' or simply ' Pagan'.

Pagan spirituality is considered to be "manifest", that is available to all people through their direct connection with the Divine manifested in Nature, as distinct from "revealed".In this sense, the most common interpretation of the term 'pagan', especially in Western countries, is someone who does not follow the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the more commonly known Oriental religions (such as Buddhism), or other 'scripture-based'/'revealed' traditions.

Originally the term 'pagan' meant 'country dweller'.Likewise 'heathen' originally meant 'those who live on the heath'.The original European pagans were those rural people who were the last to be converted to Christianity, the early Christian tradition having primarily spread through urban centres.Because rural people preferred their Nature-based traditions, and were therefore resistant to conversion, the term 'pagan' took on a derogatory meaning within the growing Christian tradition, culminating in dictionary interpretations such as: non-religious, blasphemous, materialistic, and self-indulgent.

While many, if not most, modern Pagans are urban-dwellers, they seek to reconnect with Nature in a distinctly spiritual way.Neo-Pagans base their practices on the cycles of the sun and moon, the agricultural seasons and the Divine as manifest in Nature.For some, Nature is celebrated as Gaia, a Living Mother, and ecological responsibility is seen as a sacred vocation.The movement can be roughly equated with Native American spirituality, both in the similarity of their themes and the variations in local practice.They also share a lack of any centralized authority.However, 'Elders' or other leaders establish a following and are generally recognized and respected.

i. Distinctions between Paganism and Satanism

Because the early Christians who converted Europe were opposed to the old 'pagan' ways, they considered people who followed them to be sinful and, therefore, demonized the pagan gods.As a result, the idea lingers that modern Paganism can be equated with Satanism.In fact these two spiritual traditions are different in origin and their adherents do not consider themselves at all related.Paganism in current usage refers to re-constructions of European tribal traditions.Satanism is, at least in its origins, a Christian heresy. [FN 2 - The former celebrates access to the Divine in nature; the latter opposes itself to Christianity by rejecting and/or distorting its teaching. It is important for correctional staff to understand these distinctions in order to prevent inappropriate decisions based on incorrect information.]

Pagans do not believe in a malevolent entity, such as Satan.They do recognize that evil exists in the world but do not personify it, considering it to be the result of people persistently making choices - as distinguished from 'mistakes' - that come out of, and progressively cause a greater, lack of balance within themselves, their society and the natural cycles of life.For example, cooperation and exchange of goods is beneficial for all concerned, while stealing constitutes taking without giving in return and so is harmful to the individuals involved and to society.

ii. Varieties of Paganism

The largest group under the umbrella term of Paganism is Wicca.Other identifiable groups are Asatru (reconstructed Norse), Druidry and Goddess Worship.Each of their categories comprises a variety of sub-categories or traditions, comparable to denominations within Christianity.The Wiccans, being the most numerous, have the most variations.

At the present time, virtually all Pagan spiritual visitors to CSC institutions are Wiccan, but this could change in the foreseeable future.Even Wiccans of one tradition may or may not choose to attend circles led according to another tradition.Finding community leaders of Asatruars and Druids is difficult and followers of these traditions may choose to attend Wiccan circles or practise as 'solitaries'. [FN 3 - Definition of 'solitaries': Pagans whose practice of spirituality and ritual practice is undertaken as private devotion, without reference or access to a group setting or faith leader.]

There are also an unknown number of people who call themselves simply 'Pagans'.Many, though not all, have beliefs and practices that are generally akin to those of Wicca, though some consider 'divine energy' not to be personified and/or find their own 'sense of the divine' or spirituality in Nature without defining it as a 'deity'.However, there is no specific common belief system or set of practices that is 'Pagan' as such.As a result, since most of the Pagan spiritual visitors to CSC institutions are likely to be Wiccan, an inmate calling himself or herself 'Pagan' will have to accept ministry from a Wiccan leader or practise as a solitary, unless and until Pagan visitors from other traditions become available.

iii. Paganism and Christianity

At various points throughout history, Christian leadership has strongly condemned 'pagans', believing them to be living in a manner contrary to the will of God as revealed in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.This often led to wide-spread persecution and large death tolls of those deemed to be 'pagan', the best known being the 'burning times' of the 15th to 18th centuries in Europe.In fact many of the victims were killed for policital or economic reasons or as scapegoats and were accused of being 'pagans' or witches or of 'following the devil' as a justification for their death.This led to centuries of justified fear, amongst real pagans in acknowledging their faith.

On the other hand, observance of the seasonal pagan rituals was so strongly established that the Church ended up co-opting a number of festivals and celebrations and dedicating them to certain saints and/or events in the Christian worship cycle.

Increased religious tolerance in the latter part of the 20th century has meant that modern-day Pagans (neo-Pagans) can practise their spirituality more openly, although negative attitudes toward them, based on ignorance and in some cases narrow Christian teaching, persist in some places.

In some of its expression, Christian 'creation theology' reflects the Pagan principle of the Divine as 'revealed' in Nature, but places this spirituality within the context of scriptural revelation.Some parallels can be seen between Christian celebrations of God in the natural order and some approaches of 'eco-pagans'.

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2. Paganism in CSC

[FN 4 - The information above was provided by spiritual visitors to Wiccan inmates housed in CSC institutions and other Canadian sources of information. What follows are general observations from the Manual's editor.]

Although the general public has misconceptions about what 'Pagan' and 'witch' mean, this Manual is providing correct information regarding the beliefs and practices of people who use those terms for themselves today.Since nothing in the practice of Paganism as described in this Manual contravenes the law, Pagan offenders are free to practice their religion and CSC is obliged to provide appropriate accommodation.

i. Functional Distinctions between 'Paganism' and 'Wicca'

In present practice, the term 'Pagan' is used in two ways:

Firstly, to designate a particular category of spirituality.Thus, people practising Wicca, Goddess Worship, Druidism, Asatru and various other spiritual traditions are all Pagans.So for example, the Pagan Federation of Canada (PFPC) is an association of people who practise a number of spiritual traditions under the umbrella of Paganism.As a result, individual members of the Pagan Pastoral Outreach (pastoral offshoot of PFPC) may offer different traditional practices in institutions; however, since the only PPO members currently visiting the prisons in Ontario are themselves Wiccan, they offer Wiccan practice to the inmates.


Secondly, to designate people following a specific tradition falling under the category of Paganism.In the community people who call themselves Pagans usually practise as 'solitaries', but may also attend groups and rituals of specific traditions (such as Wicca)."Paganism" as such does not connote any defined beliefs (equivalent, as a category, to "monotheism") and practices in the way that Wicca or Druidry do, for example.

For the purposes of this Manual the terms 'Pagan' and 'Paganism' will refer to both the category of spiritual tradition within which other specific traditions - such as Wicca - fall and the people who identify their spiritual practice a Pagan but do not choose to belong to the other traditions listed above. [FN 5 - This is not unlike the general term 'catholic' (meaning "universal") applying to a number of Christian denominations at the same time that it is used in designating specific traditions, such as the Roman Catholic Church.]

These distinctions are important when it comes to ensuring that inmates' religious affiliation (as it appears in OMS) corresponds to the tradition endorsed by visiting community leaders.In some cases, Pagans will feel strongly about practicing their own specific tradition, and therefore attempts should be made to find a visitor from that tradition.

On the other hand, some feel comfortable participating in whatever tradition is being offered in that particular institution, including by multi-traditional organizations (whose members may be from any one of the major traditions).However, since 'Pagan' is not a defined tradition in itself, inmates who identify as such will need to practice as 'solitaries' or attend the gatherings of whatever Pagan tradition is presently practiced within that institution.

Wicca, in particular, is divided into distinct sub-traditions with different practices, as different as those between Christian denominationsAs a result, inmates may not accept the specific practices of available Wiccan visitors in the same way that a Protestant would not necessarily accept the leadership of a Catholic pastor.

Another way in which these distinctions may affect the management of institutional religious groups is in inmates' willingness (or unwillingness) to recognize a spiritual leader from the community as representing their beliefs.Unless a Pagan group clearly defines itself as belonging to a particular tradition (or sub-tradition) that the outside leader does not, this must be taken as rejection of the individual visitors, in which case it is up to the inmate group to find another leader acceptable to them and CSC.

ii. Variations in Belief and Practice

Unlike most "Western" religious traditions, the practice of Paganism is shaped to a large extent by the individuals within small, local groups.There is no authority structure responsible for establishing and upholding generally held beliefs, authenticating valid practice or making decisions in the name of the tradition at large.

As a result, the practice of the traditions within Paganism varies greatly from one group within the community to anotherSuch creative freedom is only limited by the preferences of group members and provisions of the law.The same cannot be said of the practice of Paganism within CSC institutions.Not only are a number of the "tools" used in Pagan rituals forbidden in this setting, but certain limits on creative expression are deemed appropriate in the interests of the safety and good order of the institution.For example, some time limits on rituals must be observed, outdoor rituals may be approved only under certain conditions, and rituals must normally be carried out during the day (even though the tradition may normally hold some of them at night in the community).

Also, Pagans in the community may choose to design their rituals on the basis of any beliefs held by one or more individual, without approval of a designated leader.However, a spiritual leader from the community is required in order for a Pagan group to function in CSC institutions, and such a leader must take responsibility to ensure that the teaching and practice of his or her group conforms to institutional regulations.In many cases the leader must adapt the spiritual practices for use in the correctional setting.And since each leader is independent (meaning that there is no central authority) and each institution may have reason to impose certain restrictions, practice will vary from one institution to another.

Wicca
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1. Basic Beliefs

i. Origins

Wicca as it is currently practised is a modern reconstruction of European tribal, Nature-based religion.The movement was largely started by Gerald Gardner (aided by Doreen Valiente) in the 1940's and '50's and is based on surviving pagan folk customs with some Masonic and ceremonial elements.Since the 1950's, feminism, Jungian psychology, the ecological movement, and other influences have brought about many variations, some of them very different from "traditional" practice, but all authentic for their practitioners.

The "European tribal" reference has to do with the origin of the practices only, and in no way limits practice to people of European descent.Wicca is practised by people of all ethnic and racial groups, sexual orientations, etc.

Other names by which this spiritual tradition is known include Witchcraft, Earth Religion, Old Religion, and the Craft.It is sometimes also referred to as Neo-Paganism, which actually includes more than just strictly Wiccan practice.

ii. Theology

Some Wiccans understand the faith to be polytheistic, others pantheistic or 'panentheistic'. [FN 6- Ontario Multifaith: "There have been and continue to be very many Gods and Goddesses. They are distinguished by the times and places in which they are worshipped and by the natural forces or human endeavours over which they rule. Deities who rule over human works are held to be exemplars of excellence in their areas of expertise; human efforts in those areas are considered as offerings to those deities." However, many modern Wiccans understand the various Goddesses and Gods as archetypes, and multiple faces of a One Divine (that may not be deified at all].In more general terms, however, Wiccans understand the Divine as being a cosmic unified One-ness (somewhat similar to the concept of 'godhead'), which is intrinsically beyond the ken of human beingsNature is considered to be the Divine's primary expression.Worship focuses on 'faces' of the Divine, that is, multiple forms that people can identify with and/or relate to personally and which are personifications of the reality that we all live within - time, space and this planet.The most common and central 'faces' that represent living reality are Mother Earth and Father Sun, who together produce life.Attribution of the feminine as well as the masculine to the Divine is a basic feature of Wicca.

Wiccans believe that no single path to the Sacred is right for all people and see their own religious pattern as only one among manyWiccans respect all religions that foster honour and compassion in their adherents, and expect the same respect of their traditions from others.Members are encouraged to learn about other faiths and are permitted to attend the services of other religions if they wish to.

"[Wiccans] seek to control the forces within him - or herself that make life possible in order to live wisely and well, without harm to others and in harmony with nature.[They] acknowledge that it is the affirmation and fulfilment of life, in continuation of evolution and development of consciousness, that gives [sic] meaning to the Universe we know and our personal role within it. " [FN 7 - from Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler, p. 101, quoted in 'A Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca', Kerr Cuhulain, Wiccan Information Network, Vancouver, B.C., 1989, p.3.]

Many Wiccans believe in reincarnation, but the tradition does not require such a belief.There are a variety of concepts about the 'afterlife', some of which include a paradise, place of transformation and/or reincarnationFor most Wiccans, the specifics of the 'afterlife' are not of primary importance; rather, living one's present life in an honourable and responsible way in regard to all life is more focal.

iii. Practice

Wiccans focus on the poetic/symbolic significance of Nature rather than on any scripture or creed.They celebrate the cycles of Nature the progress of the sun around the Wheel of the Year and the resulting seasonal changes, as well as the phases of the moon.Both literally and metaphorically, Wiccans see the seasons of the year (or cycles of the moon) as reflecting the seasons and cycles of their lives.

A group collectively committed to each other and to a specific tradition is called a coven and its members join by invitation only.Wiccans think in terms of not only going around the cycles of their lives, but of spiralling deeper (or higher) and progressing in their spiritual understanding together.Traditional covens mark this by initiations, or degrees, by which every practitioner is made a priestess or priest. Prison ritual groups (or 'circles') cannot operate like exclusive covens and have to be open to a variety of participants.'Initiations' and taking a priesthood role in relation to other inmates are not appropriate.However, dedication rites, which celebrate an individual's personal dedication to the Goddess and the God, are appropriate.They serve to encourage further spiritual development and help the inmates feel they are part of a larger community that exists outside the prison.

Goddess Worship is a derivative of Wicca with the focus on the Divine as mainly or entirely Goddess, the Great Mother.Practitioners are usually women, though male practitioners do exist.The teachings of Wicca generally apply to Goddess Worship.

For specific ritual practice see below: Worship and Cell Effects.

iv. Adopting Wiccan Names

Some Wiccans use a special 'spiritual' name.In the past such names served as a pseudonym to protect their identity. [FN 8 - Law Enforcement, p.15.] Although this is still sometimes the case in modern culture, it more often represents a personalised commitment to the individual's faith and tradition.In many traditions this name is only used by the members of one's coven or circle; in others, it may be used within the community at large.

v. Common Misconceptions

There exist many common misconceptions about Wicca in the minds of Wiccans and non-Wiccans.These will be addressed in a section dedicated to the subject at the end of this chapter.

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2. Birth

There are no actions required on the part of Wiccan women who give birth.

Recommended practice, however, includes:

  • For the expectant woman - three rituals, one in each trimester of gestation, focus on adjusting to the changes in body and life and on developing commitment to the child;
  • A Wiccaning ritual, similar to a christening, for the child;
  • Encouragement for fathers to attend birthing classes and the birth itself, and to have an on-going bond with the child (whether or not he and/or the mother is incarcerated).

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3. Cell Effects

There is nothing absolutely necessary to Wiccan religious expression, but the use of candles is central to practice.

i. The Use of Candles

Staring into a candle flame is very effective for meditation purposes, particularly for inmates who are surrounded by much noise in the cellblocks.Where an inmate is denied access to candles (see Fire Safety SOP [FN 9 - See Infonet/Bookshelf/Manuals or http://infonet/techservice/engservices/fire-safetye.doc )], the Pagan Prison Outreach [FN 10- Affiliated with the Pagan Federation/Fédération païenne Canada] agrees that the play of light through a crystal might serve as a substitute.Due to the refraction of light, crystals can provide a visual aid for meditation somewhat similar to a candle flame.

However, for religious purposes other than meditation, i.e. personal rituals, a crystal is not a substitute for a candle.The candle embodies the element of Fire or 'light in the darkness', whereas a crystal embodies quite a different element, namely Earth.Candles are universally central to Wiccan worship, while personal meditation practices may vary considerably.

See the Appendix at the end of this chapter for a Best Practice from Warkworth Institution on managing the use of candles.

ii. Sacred Objects

Required: An altar with candles and incense is an integral part of Wiccan practice, which inmates should have wherever possible.The altar can be any flat surface.A standard set-up would include a cloth, three candles (for Goddess, God and Cosmic Source), incense, water or juice in a cup (a chalice), and salt in a bowl.

Recommended: Wiccans also like to have natural objects - such as shells, feathers, stones, crystals, a small tree branch, etc. - on their altar, representing the four elements of Air, Earth, Fire and Water.

The wearing of a symbol or talisman (or other religious jewellery) is common amongst Wiccans, as it is amongst people of other faiths.These symbols represent a general commitment to their faith, a spiritual dedication, and/or specific commitment to a particular group/tradition, and especially if blessed by one's priesthood or circle group.

Although not sacred objects, many Wiccan practitioners wear robes or other particular items of clothing, such as a special shirt, for personal or group worship.

Unless particular security considerations exist that would curtail access to these items, inmates should be permitted to use those already mentioned and/or the following in the practice of their spirituality:

  • Braided cingulum (a coloured cord or sash worn around the waist of simple robes); the colours vary according to the tradition
  • Assorted candles and candle holders
  • Two small bottles of consecrated oils
  • Incense stick and burner
  • Assorted ceramic and wooden chalice and bowls
  • Tarot cards and/or rune stones (ceramic or wooden)
  • Stones and ritual jewellery (rings and pendants)
  • Altar figurines
  • A wooden wand (length traditionally from elbow to tip of index finger, but is often a small blunt stick)


iii. Sacred texts, literature, study material

Wicca is traditionally more an oral than a written tradition.There is no common sacred text.

Recommended: Practitioners usually have a personal notebook, listing their rituals and working notes, commonly called a 'book of shadows' (in many traditions, 'shadows' refers to private reflections).They are encouraged to collect books on Wicca and related subjects, together with study material supplied by the authorised spiritual visitors from the community.Most Wiccans use tarot cards (or similar decks of cards) for meditation and self-knowledge.These should be permitted for personal or group use.

Some examples of Wiccan literature commonly referred to are:

Adler, Margot, Drawing Down the Moon, Beacon Press, Boston Mass., 1987.
Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, Harper & Row, NY, 1979.
Cunningham, Wicca, a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, Llewellyn Publ., St. Paul MN. 1988
Weinstein, Marion, Positive Magic: Occult Self Help, Phoenix Pub. Inc., Custer WA, 1981.
Crowley, Vivianne, Wicca - The Old Religion in the New Millennium, Thorsons (U.K.) 1996, and Principles of Wicca, Thorsons (U.K.) 1997.
Farrar, Stewart & Janet, The Witches Way and Eight Sabbats for Witches, republished in one volume as A Witches Bible Compleat, Magickal Childe Publishing, NY, 1984

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4. Contacts

As of 2002, the following groups provide spiritual services to inmates in CSC's custody:

  • The Pagan Prison Outreach (affiliated with the Pagan Federation/Fédération païenne Canada) provides visitation to inmates where possible, contacts potential Wiccan prison visitors elsewhere and provides a correspondence study program, especially where there is currently no Wiccan visitation.Contact information: Box 8312, Station T, Ottawa, ON K1G 3H8; 613-299-3327 directors@ppo-canada.ca

  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (or ATC) is based in Seattle, but has branches in British Columbia.Members of this group have visited Pagan inmates (men and women) in the PAC region in the past.The address is ATC Canada Headquarters, P.O. Box 20048, Duncan, BC V9L 5H1; atccanada@seaside.net or phone (250) 746-7646.

  • The Wiccan Church of Canada provides leadership to some institutions in the ONT region.The address is 106 Vaughan Rd., Unit 201, Toronto, ON M6C 2L9, info@wcc.on.ca, , (416) 656-6564.

Some Further References

5. Conversion / Initiation

Wicca specifically prohibits proselytising, but Wiccans are obligated to answer questions from sincere seekers.Circles are generally open to anyone who is genuinely interested and willing to participate in a Wiccan form of worship - whether the person presently identifies him or herself as pagan or not.

Although it is not appropriate for inmates to be initiated and act as priesthood (as is common in traditional practice), dedication rites, which celebrate an individual's personal dedication to the Goddess and the God, can be offered, and are usually a significant element in the inmate's spiritual journey.

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6. Death

Required: There are no general customs as regards the handling of the body, nor any prohibitions against autopsies or organ donations, etc.

If the inmate's family is aware of and sympathetic to his or her religious practice, the religious cell effects should be given to them.Otherwise the effects should be given to the Wiccan visitors, who will give them to other Pagan inmates for their use during their incarceration or return them to the earth (usually this means burying or burning them).

Recommended: The deceased's priestess or priest usually conducts a memorial service with his or her fellow inmates, with family and friends present, if desired.

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7. Diets

Required: Wicca has no general dietary requirements beyond a preference for 'seasonal foods' for sabbats.Individuals may decide on personal religious grounds to be vegetarian, but it is not a requirement. [FN 11 - Some traditions practise the belief that the Divine protects animals and, therefore, observe a vegetarian diet. The community leader supervising the Wiccan group at the institution should be able to assess whether an inmate’s choice to be a vegetarian is based on an authentic spiritual belief.]

Recommended: High holidays - in particular October 31st and May 1st - are generally celebrated with a feast, preferably featuring seasonal foods, which can either be ordered from a caterer in the community or prepared in the institutional kitchen.For the other six sabbats, a token feast (e.g., sabbat cake - note: "cake" is an old fashioned term for round bread and doesn't mean something sweet) can be arranged by the inmates. (See Holy Days and Holidays, below.)

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8. Divorce

Required: There are no rules pertaining to divorce.

Recommended: A 'hand-parting' ceremony is often done to mark this passage/change, either for both parties (if they are willing) or with one partner. (See the section on Marriage below.)

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9. Dress Requirements

Required: There is no required dress code for Wiccans.

Recommended: The use of robes or some other special item of clothing - for example, a special shirt - for circle/ritual is optional.However, a change of dress can help a person achieve a certain state of mind different from that of everyday reality, which is conducive to meditation and worship.

Wiccans often wish to wear a pendant in the form of a pentacle (an interlaced five-point star within a circle) as an expression of their faith and a constant reminder of their communion with the Divine and their search for an authentic, responsible relationship with the living Earth.Many covens have a symbol that identifies members and provides spiritual connection. (See Sacred Objects, above, and Symbols below.)

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10. Gender Issues

There are no obligations regarding prayer, dress or leadership based on gender, except that, while priest and priestess are equals, the priestess is considered 'first among equals'.The more traditional Wiccan rituals are usually led by both a priestess and a priest, thereby reflecting the feminine and masculine 'faces' of the Divine.

In other traditions or more eclectic practice, members of either gender (singly or jointly) can lead a ritual.This by no means precludes homosexual leaders or participantsSolitary ritual, in which there is no leader, only the single participant, is a practice included in most traditions, whether or not the person has access to group practice.In solitary ritual practice, the individual (of either gender) commonly does the ritual parts that traditionally the priestess and priest would do in group worship.

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11. Health / Illness

Required: The acceptance or refusal of care, including transfusions, is a matter of individual conscience since Wiccan policy on medical restrictions does not exist.

Recommended: In the case of illness, the person's coven and spiritual leader should be notified. Whenever possible, the religious visitors should be permitted to visit seriously ill Wiccan inmates, whether in the institutions or a hospital. [FN 12 - However, “Wiccans generally believe in the efficacy of spiritual or psychic healing when done in tandem with standard medical treatment. Most Wiccans believe that healing energy can be sent from great distances.” The U.S. Army's Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains, (pp.231-236), date of publication lost.]A healing ritual should be allowed.It is recognised that some reasonable restrictions of tools used in the bedside ritual may pertain in some cases.

Hunger Strikes: Even if spiritually motivated, hunger strikes remain a personal choice.Inmates considering such a choice are encouraged to seek spiritual counsel, but cannot necessarily expect support for this course of action (or its stated cause) from their prison visitors.

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12. Holy Days and Holidays

The dates of specific celebrations or 'sabbats' are based on the progress of the sun through the wheel of the year and the agricultural/natural cycles.While some Wiccans insist on celebrating the sabbats on the proper day, most wait for the weekend or some other convenient time.In CSC institutions, sabbat celebrations are often held in the course of regular get-togethers for ritual with the religious visitors; it is therefore not necessary to celebrate the sabbats on precise dates.

The primary holy days are Samhain (Oct. 31/Nov. 1) and Beltane (April 31/May 1), marking the beginning of winter and summer respectively and reflecting the ancient Celtic division of the year into two seasons, the Dark and the Bright.Inmates and their religious visitors often celebrate these with an all-day visit and special ceremonies.

The sabbats serve as life lessons derived from Nature: There are hard times, but they eventually give way to good times, and vice versa.There are different kinds of necessary work to be done in the dark times and in the bright times.The wheel turns and change is the only thing constant in life.But each turn of the wheel is an opportunity to do things better, based on experience of the past.

Besides Samhain and Beltane, the other two major sabbats are Imbolg/c (Feb. 1/2) and Lughnasadh or Lammas (Aug.1/2), marking the time to prepare for spring and harvest respectively. Together they divide the year into the four agricultural seasons.The four major sabbats are called the 'cross-quarters' because they fall in between the astronomical markers of the year, the solstices and equinoxes.The four cross-quarters and the two solstices and two equinoxes together constitute the eight sabbats celebrated within Wicca.

The agricultural year cycle is a progression and has no clear seasonal markers.Although tradition has given the shifts specific dates (with a day or two variance between traditions), the actual day is less important than a recognition of the progression of the year cycle, and this reminds practitioners that the change of seasons is a process and not a particular date or event.The four major (cross-quarter) sabbats celebrate the seasonal changes and mark a shift in approach to one's own life, including those within the psyche, and the world around, eventually coming full circle within each year.

On the other hand, the minor sabbats (the equinoxes and solstices) mark the shortest and longest days, and the point at which day and night are equal.The actual date changes (20, 21, 22) according to the rotation of the earth around the sun each year, although the 21st is generally held as the sabbat date.Still, the effects of these celestial events upon the world lag behind.For example, 'Midsummer' is celebrated on the summer solstice, usually June 21st, because it is the longest day and the sun is at its height.However, the effects of the sun in terms of heat and growth do not reach their height in the Northern hemisphere until a month or more afterward, and are celebrated at the major sabbat of Lammas on August 1.

i. Ritual Food

The Wiccan wheel of the year is based on the agricultural cycles, and therefore it is traditional for seasonal foods to be included, either in the ritual itself or in a celebratory feast afterwards.Some traditions attempt to include a specific list of foods for each sabbat (where available), but most focus on what is seasonal within their own geographical area.Of particular significance would be any food that inmates have grown themselves.

ii. Solitary Observance

Wiccan inmates who are isolated will need to celebrate the sabbats in a solitary ritual.Those who do have Wiccan groups and visitation available may want to do a solitary observance on the actual date of the sabbat if the group's celebration was either before or after that date.Although these solitary rituals would have a particular focus, they would not be significantly different from other solitary practice (and CSC limitations thereof), except for the inclusion of seasonal foods (if the inmate requests them).If they need direction on solitary observance for regular or sabbat worship, isolated Wiccan inmates should request contact with the Wiccan service providers, either directly or by correspondence, through the institutional chaplains.

What follow are brief descriptions of the main festivals observed in most Wiccan traditions [FN 13 - A list of specifics for those inmates practising within the Wiccan Church of Canada’s tradition is available at the Ontario Multi-Faith website.]:

  • Samhain (on which the cultural holiday Hallowe'en is based) - October 31st - originally marked the 'death' of the year, the apparent death of the natural world, the end of the harvest, the culling of the herd.It is the time to remember ancestors, say final farewells to friends and family who have 'passed over' during the year, and to acknowledge one's own future death.This sabbat is sometimes called the 'third harvest', when root vegetables and squash are brought in and animals slain.Samhain heralds the shift of attention from one's external world to the internal reality, thus a time for reflection, contemplation, and preparing for internal metamorphosis.Blessings are requested for safe passage through the long night of winter and its transformations in the wheel of life.

  • Yule: The night has reached its zenith and days begin to lengthen.Held on the winter solstice (December 21), this is the celebration of the re-birth of the sun and the waxing of sunlight, as the short days of winter begin to get longer.The evergreen tree and holly, which stay green throughout the winter, unlike deciduous trees, are honoured as representations of 'life everlasting' despite the cycles of birth and death.The Yule tree may be dressed with fruit or other decorations, representing the promise of spring and a fruitful summer to follow.Candles are lit to represent the sun; the Yule log is lit to bring warmth.The exchange of gifts symbolises how people must give to each other in order to survive.Attention is focused on the re-birth of light and its promise of a new year.Blessings are requested to remain strong through the barren times of one's life, and to encourage 'new light' in one's directions.

  • Imbolc: Usually observed on February 1st or 2nd, this is a festival of light and fire.The increase of warmth and light, and the promise of spring that are both present even in the depths of winter, are celebrated.In some traditions, 'corn' dolls (from last year's straw - note, corn is the European term for grain; it does not refer to maize) are burned as offerings to the sun, to speed its return. In the meantime, Brigit, the ancient goddess of the hearth and arts and crafts, as well as knowledge, smithing and forging, is honoured.She, like many other goddesses, represents the cauldron of transformation (death to life) from which all life comes. [FN 78 - Remnants of this Pagan festival are found in Christian worship as the feast of St. Brigid.]It is a time to prepare for the coming agricultural season and an opportunity to study during times of confinement.Attention turns to new directions for the coming year and whatever preparations are necessary (physically, emotionally, and 'in spirit').Blessings are requested for these new directions - that they be wise and held with determination.

  • Ostara (or Ladyday): The spring equinox celebrates the coming of spring (March 21), which is often envisioned as a Maiden Goddess who returns from the land of the dead where she spent the winter.One of her names is Eostre, from which the word 'Easter' is derived.Eggs and rabbits are eaten, marking the return of life and fertility.Attention turns to the beginning of actualising new projects or directions in one's life.Blessings are requested for the 'seeds' of growth and a wise stewardship of them.

  • Beltane: Celebrated on April 30th or May 1st, this is widely regarded as the mating day of the Earth Goddess and Sun God (representing the fertility and virility of Life, respectively), whose marriage will eventually provide the fruit of the harvest.It marks the full return of the bright season and the time to plough the land in readiness for planting.Maypole dances today are holdovers from pagan fertility rites.This time is for hard work in gardens and fields.Attention moves to developing healthy 'fertile' relationships in all areas of one's life.Blessings are requested for fertility (both physical and mental) and fulfilment of new directions.

  • Litha (or Midsummer): The summer solstice (June 21) is a celebration of the sun at the height of its power.The festival marks time out from hard work, but at the same time any adjustments that might need to be made now at the first signs of 'fulfilment' (such as weeding).Some people also mourn the beginning of the sun's dying, as sunlight begins to wane after this date. [FN 14 - Different traditions acknowledge the ‘death of the sun’ on Midsummer, or one of the three harvests – Lammas, Mabon/Harvestide or Samhain.]Attention focuses on the strengthening of one's will in the choices made and testing original plans.Blessings are requested for the 'ripening' of one's personal directions, skills, relationships, etc.

  • Lammas (or Lughnasadh): Usually observed on August 1st or 2nd, this is a celebration of the first harvest of grain, marked by a special loaf of bread to be shared (Lammas means 'loaf mass').The people who did not mourn the 'death' of the sun at Midsummer may do so now, as it still lingers but is weakening.The grain king is honoured for his sacrifice on behalf of Life as he is cut down in the harvest.Attention shifts to re-evaluating the specific plans of a new project (or new direction within an existing one), and any adjustments that need to be madeBlessings are requested for a healthy harvest in one's own life.

  • Mabon (or Harvestide): A celebration (September 21) named after the sacrificed god, who is the harvest.This is the 'second harvest' when vegetables and fruit are gathered and the major grain crops cut down.It is a time for preserving food and making other preparations for the long winter months.This sabbat is considered the pagan Thanksgiving.Attention focuses on giving thanks for the 'harvests' of the past year in one's own life.Blessings are offered for the Earth's abundance, and requested for new seeds that may be planted now or stored for spring.

The 13 full moons (Esbats) of the year are also celebrated (particularly in solitary ritual, but also within a group, if circumstances permit), but are not considered 'high holidays'.The new or dark moon phase (moon absent from the sky) may be also observed.

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13. Religious Law

Required: There are no abstract 'religious laws' in Wicca generally, although specific traditions may include some distinctive expectations. [FN 15 - A copy of the code of laws commonly used by the Wiccan Church of Canada is available upon request from Ontario Multifaith. Note, however, that they only apply to that particular tradition.]Where they exist, they provide rules to settle disputes, instructions for maintaining the security and privacy of one's fellow Wiccans, procedures to create new covens, limits on acceptable uses of money within the religious community, and instructions for caring and maintaining sacred objects. (See Contacts, below, for more information.)

In general, Wiccans base their actions (as best they can) on the moral imperative of the 'Wiccan Rede', "If it harms none, do what you will".This means each person has the responsibility in all actions both to avoid any deliberate harm to others or oneself and to consider the possibility of unintended harm resulting from choices one makes.The Rede is seen as an obligation to think carefully about the potential consequences of an action before one acts.On the other hand, Wiccans are encouraged to make the best and most creative use of their life and talents.In the phrase "what you will", the word "will" is considered something more profound than mere want, i.e., "true will" or tuning in to the Divine will.

The 'Charge of the Goddess', a central piece of Wiccan liturgy, exhorts practitioners to live in "strength and beauty, honour and humility, power and compassion, reverence and mirth", and to seek within rather than look for someone outside to tell you what to doAny further interpretation and application of these precepts are the responsibility of each individual.

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14. Leadership / Practitioners

Wicca has no overall central authority.Some traditions have an internal hierarchical structure, while others function on a more egalitarian basis.

A traditional Wiccan group or coven usually consists of a high priestess and high priest, and a handful of other people.Renowned to number thirteen people, covens are usually made up of fewer.Once the coven has initiated more than thirteen members, and at least one is capable of leading a coven on his/her own, a new group usually 'hives off'.Covens are seldom permanent arrangements, but tend to include close relationships for the duration.

Within a traditional coven, the high priestess, usually assisted by her high priest, serves as leader in the rituals, teacher and counsellor, for coven members and unaffiliated 'pagans'.'Eclectic' covens tend to share leadership more equally.

With the growth of Wicca in recent years, more and more people do not follow the coven model and practise as solitaries, in casual groups, in open circles or in long-standing groupsFor reasons noted above (see Beliefs and Practice), the latter models are more appropriate to prison settings.

In prison, groups practising Wicca should be accessible to any interested inmates.Wiccans and people from other Pagan traditions (Druidry, Asatru, etc.) often circle together.Wiccan groups should not function with an inmate leader who has religious authority, as that would be the equivalent of conveying the status of 'acting priesthood'.All responsibility for religious authority should remain with the visiting priests/priestesses who are accountable to the Pagan community, CSC and the general public for maintaining acceptable standards of practice.

Wiccan priesthood or spiritual advisors are bound by the same rules of confidentiality regarding personal information as any other priests or counselors.Since rituals are participatory and often involve a revealing of deeply personal information, all participants are expected to maintain the confidentiality of the ritual circle.In either case, however, this does not extend to anything regarding security, violence or suicide threats.

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15. Marriage

Required: There are no rules concerning marriage, beyond those set out by the government.

Recommended: A Wiccan wedding is called a 'handfasting' and is performed by the priesthood of one's tradition or another acceptable Wiccan priesthood.Only a few provinces have licensed pagan 'clergy' to perform legal marriages.In places where such is not the case, a 'legal' marriage can be performed before or after the handfasting; or, alternatively, an authorised clergy person or a Justice of the Peace can attend the ceremony and legalise the marriage.

In the difficult matter of prison marriages, marriage counselling prior to any confirmation of the ceremony is strongly recommended.

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16. Searches

i. Personal Searches

Wicca has no policy relating to searches of inmates and visitors, the use of 'drug dogs', the taking of blood/urine samples, or the use of any technology.Wiccans acknowledge that the rules of the institution prevail. [FN 16 - Some Wiccans have refused to give urine or blood samples. (See Common Misconceptions Among Wiccans #3 at the end of this chapter.)]

ii. Cell Searches

CSC policy allows inmates to be on hand when their cell/room is searched in order to show their religious items to the correctional officers, who do not actually handle themIf the inmate is not on hand, the chaplain can handle and show the items.It is preferable that staff not handle the religious items; but if it happens, as is bound to occur from time to time, the items can be re-consecrated. (Also, see Misconceptions Among Non-Wiccans #6, at the end of this chapter.)

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17. Symbols

Required: None

The universally recognized Wiccan symbol is the pentagram (or pentacle), in which a five-pointed star is interlaced within a circle (with the fifth point on top, not at the bottom of the circle).


Many Wiccan inmates wear a pentagram pendant or ring.While this practise is not required, those who wish to should be permitted to do so, unless there are security considerations to the contrary.Unfortunately many non-Wiccans tend to regard the pentagram negatively despite its being a simple star, familiar in many other contexts (see Misconceptions, below).Wiccans may display other symbols (e.g. a triskel) to acknowledge their particular Wiccan or pagan tradition as a matter of personal choice.

If institutional staff have questions relating to the use of a specific symbol by a Wiccan practitioner or group, they are asked to contact NHQ-Chaplaincy, who have resources describing some of the symbols and their meaning. [FN 17 - Law Enforcement, p.4. Providing a list of symbols related to Wicca can prove problematic because "a given symbol may have a specific meaning for the group that uses it, while another group may use the same symbol to represent something completely different. […] Certain symbols are traditionally used in Wiccan practice. Unfortunately, some of them have been borrowed by Satanists, just as they have borrowed magical, Qaballistic [sic] and Christian symbols, changing the meanings to suit their purposes."]

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18. Worship

Because Wicca is a very physical expression of spiritual practice, a variety of "tools" are generally used, particularly in group rituals, but also in solitary practice.(See Cell Effects, above.)These tools are useful in maintaining ritual focus and should be available to inmates if they pose no security risk.Strictly speaking, none of them is required, but their use is characteristic of the practice.

All objects found in nature, including stones, serve as aids to meditation as the goal is to 'get in touch' with the natural world, and clearly if Wiccans have a choice they will have such things at their disposal.That being said, however, no physical object is actually essential for Wiccan worship.Wicca teaches that adherents should be able to maintain their spiritual discipline if circumstances preclude the availability of candles, crystals, etc.

The eight sabbats (see Holidays) are usually celebrated as close to the actual day as possible.Esbats (moon rituals) are usually done at the full moon, but sometimes at other lunar phases.

i. Solitary Practice

Worship can be either solitary or collective, and may take on more or less of a formal ritual mode.Though many Wiccans worship in groups, all of them also do personal rituals and meditations as part of their work towards spiritual development.

Solitary practice can happen at any time, while the timing of group circle practice is only restricted by the presence of the spiritual visitor from the community.In the absence of a service provider, incarcerated pagans should be solitary practitioners.

ii. Group Rituals

Formal worship usually consists of invocations of Goddess and God and elemental energies, meditations, chanting and dancing or moving around the circle, personal contemplation, and healing and/or divination work.Frequently, though not always, an altar is set up for group worship (see Cell Effects, above).A ritual usually includes use of a broad range of tools (candles, etc.); however, these are primarily symbolic and not essential to worship itself.Non-participating observers are not generally welcome at Wiccan rituals.

Some Wiccan spiritual visitors who offer leadership to Wiccans incarcerated in CSC institutions sometimes adapt rituals from the normal practice of the outside community to forms that take the limitations of the correctional setting into account.

Ritual style ranges from quite informal to highly structured between different traditions and differs considerably in how focal personal/individual development is incorporated in the ritual (somewhat comparable to the 'range' between the rituals of Quakers and Catholics).

iii. "Sacred" Space

Group worship is referred to as a 'circle', which can be done at any time or on any day.Where possible, Wiccans do their circles outside on the earth, under the sun or moon, and Wiccan inmates should ideally have a dedicated growing space, such as a garden plot.

"A Wiccan does not have any formal temple, though they may have some room or field reserved for ritual use.Outdoor worship is preferred.A Wiccan creates a sacred space whenever and wherever by "casting a Circle", which is traditionally nine feet in diameter or larger to accommodate larger groups." [FN 18 - Law Enforcement, p.8.]

Traditionally, the 'casting of a circle' is done by an athamé (ritual knife) or sword.However, various sorts of 'wands' (including those handmade from a tree branch) can also be used, or the person could simply use a pointed finger; this is generally more appropriate for both solitary and group practice within a prison. [FN 19 - However, some groups have made a wooden model of a sword for ceremonial use.]'Casting' creates a defined sacred space equivalent to a physical temple - holding any untoward energies outside of the circle and any intended ones within the circle until the appropriate time to release them 'into the world' (such as is done with a 'power-raising' for healing, a physicalized equivalent of 'prayer').


iv. Robes/Candles/Incense

These items are used to help a person achieve a certain state of mind different from that of everyday reality, one that is conducive to meditation.Their use is a valid option within the Wiccan tradition.Inmates often request to use these things because of how difficult it is to achieve a state of mind conducive to worship and meditation in a prison environment. (See Use of Incense in Section II)

v. 'Magick'

Wiccans understand magick as part of the natural/dynamic forces of the Universe that are not physically manifest or easily recognisable.'Working magick' in a ritual may include dance, chant, creative visualisation and/or focus of psychic energy for the purpose of healing, protecting and aiding members in various endeavours.In this sense there are some similarities between 'magick' and more physical expressions of prayer. Many Wiccans spell the word "magick" to distinguish their practice from sleight-of-hand entertainment.

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Common Misconceptions

I. Among Non-Wiccans

1. Misconception: Wicca is universally understood to be polytheistic.

Correct Information: Generally, the Divine is understood as a 'One-ness' that can been seen in its many 'faces'. (See Theology, under Beliefs and Practice, above.)

2. Misconception: Wicca is uniformly anti-Christian.

Correct Information: Wiccans are not necessarily anti-Christian.Although there is recognition of the particular historical issues, based in politics of dominance that pitted Christianity against Paganism, the general acceptance of diversity of faith within Wicca encourages Wiccans to respect all faith traditions.

"Even today "some people have suggested that Wicca must be anti-Christian simply because it isn't Christian.The same individuals who make this suggestion often accuse any faith or Christian denomination other than their own of being anti-Christian or Satanic. […]We believe in good and evil, just as Hindus or Buddhists do. But we do not have a Zoroastrian forces-of-light vs. forces-of-darkness concept such as the one adopted by Christianity and Satanism.We are not anti-Christian.We are simply different." [FN 20 - Law Enforcement, p. 3]

3. Misconception: Wicca is indistinguishable from (and, therefore, equivalent to) Satanism.

Correct Information: "Wicca is not Satanism.Satanism is a deviant and perverted Christianity with the same God and Devil.vA Satanist must, by definition, believe in all the Christian mythos.It is only through that belief that the Satanists' blasphemies [claim to] have any power. […]We Witches do not believe in the Christian God or Devil, so the whole question is outside our religion." [FN 21 - ibid. It should be noted that this is particularly true for “gothic” or “classical” Satanism, but not necessarily for contemporary philosophical Satanists.] (Also see the chapter on Paganism, above.)

4. Misconception: Wiccans reject the Judeo-Christian scriptures.

Correct Information: Wiccans do not revile the Jewish and Christian scriptures (the Bible), although they may disagree with its premises.They simply regard it as one among many of the world's mythic systems deserving of respect.

5. Misconceptions: Wiccans symbols have hidden, anti-Christian meaning.

Correct Information: Some Wiccan symbols, notably the pentacle or pentagram, are also used by other groups (such as so-called Satanists) and sometimes given other meanings, particularly threatening ones.As such, the pentagram (five-pointed star) is often thought to be a symbol of evil.When this is the case, it is unfair to attribute this new meaning to Wiccan faith.

The pentacle or pentagram is considered to be in the upright position when a single point is at the top.In the reverse position it simply means materialism (as opposed to spirituality), and this is why that form is used by Satanists.Some traditional Wiccans use the reverse (materialism) pentagram as a 2nd-degree symbol, meaning they have mastered the form but not yet the spirit, and the 3rd degree is symbolised by an upright pentagram (spirit presiding over the other four points of mind, emotion, energy and action).However, because of the bad reputation of the reversed pentagram, most Wiccans at present use it only in the upright position.

While there are a variety of interpretations of the pentagram among Wiccans, they all centre around life-affirmation.

6. Misconception: The items on a Wiccan altar are not, by their nature, 'sacred'.

Correct Information: Sacred objects, such as stones, do not have quite the same significance as an Aboriginal medicine pouch because all objects can be considered sacred in Wicca and take on specific sacred connotation.However, since naturally occurring objects are seen to be representative of the Earth (Nature), they are valid sacred objects in Wiccan practice.

If a stone, for example, does not present a security risk, incorporating one into personal devotion by placing it on one's altar is a legitimate Wiccan practice.It is, therefore, appropriate for CSC staff to be respectful of such items if the inmate is authorized to have them in his or her possession.

II. Among Wiccans (especially those new to the faith)

1. Misconception: Some Wiccan inmates have a tendency to take the idealistic representations in books as the way 'real-life' Wiccans do things.There is also a strong tendency to take mythology as literal or to attempt to recreate ancient practices exactly.Furthermore, it is often the case that a newcomer to Wicca will read a book based on one tradition, and assume that its specifics hold true for all Wiccan traditions, thereby becoming a 'religious right'.

Correct Information: Wiccan leaders encourage reading a variety of books by credible Wiccan authors to learn about the range of true Wiccan practice.

2. Misconception: Some Wiccans believe that Non-Pagans can contaminate ritual tools by touching them, or that rites of purification are required when this happens.For example: "Our religious items and our robes constitute a 'portable church'.Therefore, they are considered sacred and having non-believers rummage through them is comparable to people desecrating a church, temple, or mosque." [FN 22 - Citation lost.]

Correct Information: While some traditions do not allow ritual tools to be handled by non-pagans or even other members of their group, this belief is not inherent to all Wiccan traditions.However, since Wiccans generally believe that tools hold the residual energy of their users, it is appropriate for tools to be re-consecrated if handled by others, when such is the wish of their owner.

3. Misconception: Some Wiccans have claimed that their bodily fluids are sacred and, therefore, cannot be taken for drug testing.

Correct Information: There is no basis for this stance in Wiccan thinking.When everything is considered sacred, bodily fluids have no special status.
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Bibliography

Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca, Kerr Cuhulain, Wiccan Information Network, Vancouver, B.C., 1989, 33 pp.)

Multifaith Information Manual, The Wiccan Church of Canada, Ontario Multifaith Council on Spiritual and Religious Care, Toronto, ON M3C 1T5, pp.221-231. Omcsrc@omc.on.ca )

ÁSATRÚ
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Section II of this Manual contains information that is common to all religious traditions; this chapter only attempts to provide information specific to Ásatrú.
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1. Basic Beliefs

[FN 23 - Information provided by by Gary Penzler with contributions from Dan Miller and Terrie Renwick]

i. Origins

Ásatrú is one name for the modern-day revival of the pre-Christian religion of the Germanic tribes of northern Europe.Its inspiration comes from the Bronze Age through about 1300 C.E., and from surviving literature and current history, archaeology and sociology.Other names include Vanatru, Heathenry/Heathenism/Heithni, Odinism/ Wodenism, Irminsul, Theodism, Forn Sed, Germanic/Teutonic Paganism, The Elder Trow, The Folkway and The Northern Way.For the purposes of this document, Ásatrú will refer to the faith, and Heathen to a follower of this tradition.

ii. Theology

Ásatú is polytheistic.Many Heathens do not like to use the word worship, as they feel it implies subservienceHeathens see the gods as their elder kin, and therefore treat them with honour and respect, but meet them on a much more equal footing than many other faiths.

Heathens follow an ethical and moral system derived from the surviving literature, which many Heathens codify as The Nine Noble Virtues: Courage, Honour, Truth, Fidelity, Hospitality, Industriousness, Perseverance, Self-Discipline and Self-Reliance.

Heathens often gather in small worship groups, variously called kindreds, hearths or garths.These groups often become like extended family and can become very important to the Heathen.Family, close relatives, ancestors and community are very important to Heathens and form the very foundation of their lives.Troth and frith are very important concepts to Heathens.Troth refers to loyalty, staying true, in the way that one might refer to staying true to one's spouse or one's ideals.Frith refers to peace and the interconnected web of a healthy community.Frith is enhanced by such things as friendship, gift exchanging and coming to the aid of one's community in times of need.

Ásatrú does not believe in sin in the Christian sense.Rather, Heathens believe in a natural cause-and-effect relationship between wyrd and orlog.Wyrd is the sum of the deeds of each Heathen's life, the lives of their ancestors and of anyone to whom they have sworn an oath.Orlog is the process of natural laws by which wyrd is re-balanced: Those who do good deeds can expect good to come to them in turn, and ill deeds will bring ill of one kind or another, either to the individual or their children if their debt is not paid in their own lifetime.In this way, the past leads to a most likely future, but through their conscientious effort of rebalancing wyrd, Heathens can affect their own orlog, choosing to voluntarily pay their own debts.

Oaths are sacred in Ásatrú. Any promise made, especially in the context of a holy ritual, is a serious commitment to the gods, as well as to the people concerned.The words spoken go into that Heathen's wyrd; if they are not lived up to the resulting orlog can be quite negative.Oaths sworn within a community, even for small things, are the bonds that tie a community together in frith.They are the bonds of friendship, trust, marriage, responsibility and dependability.Without oaths, community cannot exist.Many of the ancient tales tell of people who broke oaths suffering what others might call streaks of incredible bad luck, and others tell of Heathens who would rather die than break an oath.Heathens today are less extreme and more practical, but nonetheless take their promises very seriously.

iii. Practice

Priests exist in this faith - gothi is the male term, gythia is the female - but are not necessary for Heathen to speak to their gods.Gothar (plural) chiefly exist to be the experts in leading rituals, though individual Heathens may lead their own.

The basic rite of Ásatrú, the blót (rhymes with 'boat'), which means an offering, is a ceremony of the exchange of gifts.The faith teaches that a gift demands a gift in return and the blót ritual provides an offering for the gods in exchange for their blessings.A secondary rite, called sumbel, is a ritualized drinking of toasts, a holy setting in which all that is spoken passes directly to the gods and into wyrd. (For further details, see 18. Worship, below.)

Many Heathens, but not all, use magic (in the sense of exerting one's willpower to create changes in the world) as a part of their religious practice.One of the most popular forms is the use of runes for divination or magical writing.Runes, often called futhark, are the ancient characters that formed the first written language among the Germanic tribes.

The basic tools required for the faith, which are quite simple, include a Thor's hammer pendant or other symbol of the faith (see 17. Symbols, below) and books and/or photocopied material for learning and study.Most worship rituals require a drinking horn or other vessel, and often a bowl for sacred offerings.The swearing of oaths, prominent in some rituals and even throughout life, requires a large metal ring (an oath-ring) upon which the oaths are sworn.The ring symbolizes the unending nature of the oath.To use an oath ring one simply holds it and says aloud the oath being sworn.If two people are swearing oath together (as in a marriage rite) both would hold the ring.It may also be held by a gothi or gythia.

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2. Birth

A naming ceremony is often held nine days after birth, whereby the parents formally name their child and bring him or her into their community.Often, this consists of consecrating water in the names of the gods, anointing the child and providing birth-gifts.Sometimes a full blót is held to request blessings for the child.

Required: Short ceremony. Water, bowl and other basic tools.
Recommended: Evergreen twig as aspergillum, a meal as a sacred feast, with exchange of gifts and an offering to the ancestors.

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3. Cell Effects

Required: A Thor's Hammer pendant or other Ásatrú symbol (see 17. Symbols, below) and a set of runes (usually written or carved on small stones or wooden tiles), as well as books and photocopied material.

Recommended: An altar (flat surface called a "stall") and cloth, with drinking horn, offering bowl, images or statues of the gods and goddesses, candles and an oath-ring.

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4. Contacts

The Pagan Pastoral Outreach association can provide visitation in some areas and will attempt to locate Ásatrú prison visitors elsewhere.A pen-pal program is also available. Box 8312, Station. T, Ottawa ON, K1G 3H8,
directors@ppo-canada.ca , (613) 299-3327.

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5. Conversion/Initiation

Ásatrú accepts converts from any faith (including atheists) without restriction.However, Heathens do not seek to convert others, nor do they proselytize.Generally, one discovers an attraction to the faith on one's own and then finds others to help one learn about it.

No special ceremony is required for initiation, though many Heathens choose to swear holy oath on an oath-ring that they will be true to the gods and goddesses of the North.If they are joining a pre-existing kindred, the members may wish the new member to swear an oath of peace and respect to the others.

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6. Death

Cremation or burial, personal or family preferences are respected.A standard memorial is not inappropriate, but there may be a request that other faith symbols be removed.

Required: A service by someone trained in Ásatrú ways (or sensitive to them) and willing to respect the wishes of the deceased.
Recommended: Blót, feast and sumbel (see 18. Worship, below) to remember the deceased.

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7. Diet

There are no specific dietary requirements associated with this tradition.For blót and sumbel, fruit juice can substitute for mead or other alcoholFoods for sacred feasts are general rather than specific, usually derived from European cuisine, including hearty, home-cooked dishes such as roasts and stews, desserts and apples.Often a portion of the food is left on the ground or in the wilderness as a gift to the gods, ancestors and nature spirits (see 18. Worship, below).

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8. Divorce

Marriage vows are considered holy oaths, and one who break a vow without very good reason courts disaster (see 1.ii. Theology, above).Therefore, people considering divorce should do so with great thought and deliberation and an awareness of potential consequences. However, both historically and today, divorce occurs and not particularly looked down upon.

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9. Dress Requirements

There are no specific dress requirements.Some adherents prefer historically-based attire for rituals, but this is not strictly necessary.
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10. Gender Issues

Men and women have equal status in Ásatrú.Any position of importance, including priest, can be held by either gender, and either gender (or both) may lead a ritual.Sexual orientation is likewise of no issue in Ásatrú.These issues are of no concern in the doctrines of the faith itself, though some individual Heathens may hold specific stances.
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11. Health/Illness

Most Heathens use standard Western medicine, sometimes opting for naturopathy/ homeopathy or magical healing practices when available.Medical matters, such as autopsies, are not strictly a religious matter.Hunger strikes are not in any way considered a religious activity.

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12. Holy Days/Festivals

In the historical period, holy tides and feast days were greatly dependent upon a given community's local customs.Even where the same festival was held in two different places, differing climatic considerations often changed its timing.Today, most Heathens follow a general guide that includes the following:

1. Yule-tide or Júl celebrates midwinter, a week on either side of winter solstice, usually December 21st.Some Heathens celebrate on the full moon closest to the equinox, and some celebrate for thirteen nights beginning the night before the equinox.

2. Easter-tide, Eostre, Ostara or Summerfinding celebrates the beginning of summer, at any time during the lunar cycle following the spring equinox.It may vary according to local tradition from March 21st to May 1st.

3. Litha or Midsummer may be celebrated as a day, a two week period, or in some traditions a lunar month, bridging the summer solstice (around June 21st).

4. Winterfinding, Winterfylleth or Harvest celebrates the beginning of winter at any time during the lunar cycle following the fall equinox.It may vary according to local tradition between September 21st and November 1st.

There are additional holy-tides which may or may not be observed by individual Heathens or groups, depending on their tradition, including Thorblot or Disablot in early February, Hlofnact or Loaf-Night in early August, and other feasts commemorating the heroes, gods or ancestors.

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13. Religious Law

There are no written laws in this tradition.Most Heathens strive to follow the Nine Noble Virtues or a similar code (see 1.ii. Theology, above), and the advice from the historical literature, such as Hávamál ("the Words of Odin").In addition to this all believe that mistakes and ill deeds become debts which must be paid.Therefore, responsibility for one's own choices and actions is of paramount importance.

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14. Leadership

Ásatrú has no supreme leader.Many Heathens are lone practitioners, responsible to themselves and their gods.Kindreds may have a gothi or gythia to lead rites and/or a secular leader ("chieftain," "lord," or "lady") to provide a sense of leadership to the group; but such leaders do not have power over other individuals, nor do they usually decide matters of faith.They act more as elected leaders, subject to the group's will.

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15. Marriage

Required: A marriage solemnizer trained in Ásatrú ways (or sensitive to them) and willing to do as the couple wishes.Oath-ring for the swearing of vows, normal blót equipment (see I.iii. Practice, above).
Recommended: Blót and feast (see 18. Worship, below) to celebrate the occasion.


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16. Searches

Required: No strict requirements.
Recommended: The inmate's faith symbol/pendant and runes should not be handled by others, if possible; but if this is unavoidable, they can be re-consecrated.

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17. Symbols

The most common symbol of the faith is Thor's Hammer, often worn as a pendant.Also common are the valknut, the runes themselves, the solar wheel/Odin's Cross, and the Irminsul.See images below.

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18. Worship

Blót involves giving something up in exchange for the blessing of or particular help from the gods.It usually takes the form of a drinking-horn of mead dedicated to the gods, requesting the blessing, sharing the drink among the group, and pouring out the rest on the ground.Because mead is contraband in CSC institutions, juice, milk or water can be used.During blót food, craft items or money can be offered.A blót can be elaborate - with many props and poetry in ancient languages, begun with the symbolic erecting of sacred space (similar to a Wiccan circle) - or a lone practitioner with a cup of juice can say a few words to the gods, taking a sip and pouring the rest out.This rite is best performed in a group, led by a gothi or gythia, but if necessary it can be performed as an individual ceremony.

Required: Basic tools, bowl and/or horn.
Recommended: Group setting, evergreen twig for sprinkling the group instead of drinking, outdoor location.

Sumbel, a series of ritualized toasts, often follows a sacred feast.A horn or other single vessel is passed and the one who holds the horn may speak in this most holy context.In some cases, all hold their own drinking vessel and the speaking turn passes without an obvious visual cue.This may be preferable if there are any health concerns.The first round of toasts is offered to the gods and goddesses.The next round is to those gone before (literal ancestors, those who followed the faith of old, or even personal heroes).The third and any subsequent rounds are open, for oaths, boasts (promises of worthy deeds to come), brags (tales of worthy deeds already done), stories, poetry and song.Sumbel ends with the pouring out of the remainder, as in blót.This rite requires a group.A gothi is not necessary to the rite, but some practitioners may prefer an official leader.

Required: Basic tools, group setting, cup or drinking horn, fruit juice or other drink.
Recommended (additional): Outdoor location.Some prefer for all participants to have their own drinking vessel.

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Common Misconceptions

1. Misconception: Ásatrú is a racist faith, exclusive to "white" people.

Correct Information: Among those who identify themselves as Heathens (or any of the other names associated with this tradition, (see 1.i. Origins, above) there is a minority who feel that race is a factor in their faith.This approach may range from "anyone of any background can follow this faith, but one wonders why they haven't found a connection to the ancestral faith of their own people" to "this is the faith of northern European Germanic people, and is only for those people," and even to "this faith is a white people's faith, and it teaches that they are better than others."

All available scholarly information on the faith as it was and the cultures it came from disagrees with the more extreme of these views.The ancient peoples welcomed outsiders into their societies and families.The extant stories of the gods themselves tell us that they welcomed individuals from other groups, even from among their greatest enemies (and some of the gods themselves have mixed ancestry).

Those who believe that Ásatrú is a faith best suited to those of Germanic descent, but anyone is welcome, are generally just proceeding from a strong feeling of cultural identity.The cultures from which Ásatrú is descended are a very important part of the faith and form the basis for its beliefs and observances.

However, any Heathen who claims that feelings of racial superiority are a part of his or her faith or wants to actively keep non-Germanics out of it is either proceeding from a poor understanding of it or actively using it as a smokescreen for a pre-existing predilection to racism.

2. Misconception: Ásatrú and its symbols are related to Nazism and skinheads.

Correct Information: The Nazis appropriated some ancient Germanic symbology, but they were merely using the old symbols for political purposes, and did not follow the old religion at all.

The swastika ("fylfot") was a holy sign, but one of luck and personal power, not really a symbol of the faith.A small movement of modern Heathens wish to reclaim its original symbology, so the presence of this symbol does not automatically indicate a more racially-oriented mindset, though it often does.

3. Misconception: Ásatrú is tied to gang activity.

Correct Information: While Ásatrú has sometimes been used as an excuse for gang-related activity, and while close-knit communities are very much an element of the faith, there is no legitimate connection between the faith and this type of behaviour.Individuals associating together for reasons of power, even if the Ásatrú name is used, are in no way pursuing a religious activity.Those who associate for such reasons but who are also honest practitioners of the faith should have no trouble separating the two.

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References:

"The Eddas" - The Elder, or Poetic Edda and the Younger, or Prose Edda constitute the greatest extant repository of the old stories of the gods.Although not equivalent to a Bible, these two are generally considered the must-have books for any Heathen, and tell more about the faith than any others.

  • A Book of Troth, by The Troth (see website, below)
  • Teutonic Religion, by Kveldulf Gundarsson
  • Northern Mysteries and Magick, by Freya Aswynn

The Troth is an international organization based and incorporated in the United States, serving as an umbrella organization to help Heathens everywhere get in touch.It generally allows members (individuals and groups) to make their own choices and set their own policy, but it does have a strong stance against a racial interpretation of the faith.Though exact numbers of Heathens are not known, the Troth appears to be the largest Ásatrú organization worldwide.


Druidry
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Section II of this Manual contains information that is common to all religious traditions; this chapter only attempts to provide information specific to Druidry.
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1. Basic Beliefs

[FN 24 - Resource information in this chapter has been provided by practitioners of various Druid paths, edited by PPO (see Contact, below).]

i. Origins and Modern Expressions

Originally the word 'Druid' referred to the priestly class of ancient Celtic cultures.While some modern groups do the same, in practice most followers of this religion are known as Druids.In this chapter, ordinary followers will be referred to as 'Druidic practitioners'.

Knowledge of the ancient Druids comes from archeology and classical writings as well as stories, myths, poems, etc., preserved in medieval manuscripts.

Ceremonial Druidism originated in the secret societies of the eighteenth century, such as Freemasonry.Some modern orders are strictly cultural, rather than religious.Others promote historical scholarship and participation in ecological and social issues; they can have a more religious or philosophical focus.Some may draw upon earlier traditions such as Gnostic Christianity.In addition some orders - such as the British Druid Order (BDO), and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) - draw the inspiration for their practice from extant literature, history, and archeology.

Celtic Reconstructionists, Traditionalists and Revivalists are distinctive traditions, differing on issues of the use of a priesthood caste, specifics of organization and leadership, and the degree of tribal orientation.However, all attempt through archaeology, historical research and comparative anthropology to reconstruct and practise the religion of the ancient Celtic peoples.

The most common groups in North America are those who have self-consciously created a new Neo-pagan religion inspired by the ancient religions of Europe with a stress on Celtic culture, customs and cosmology.One example of this is the ADF (Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship).These groups are most likely to refer to all participants of the tradition as Druids, rather than reserve that term for a specific priestly class.

It should be noted that Druid groups, while looking to Celtic tradition, do not seek to exclude those without Celtic ancestry.One's own ancestors are generally revered, but in some groups (OBOD, for example), there is an acknowledgment that all members of the Order who have passed to the Summerlands are their "ancestors" and are still present on several levels, ritually and otherwise.Such groups also hold that all humanity is really one tribe and has a common heritage and future.

ii. Theology

Druid practitioners are generally polytheistic and tend to honor Deities from within a specific Celtic cultural pantheon.Their relationship to Deity may be variously expressed in the following ways:

  • Gods are seen as real beings who participate both in this world (Nature) and realms beyond (the Otherworld). They can therefore bring knowledge and powers from the Otherworld into this one.
  • Gods are aspects of a Transcendent Divine Force or Being.
  • Gods are human archetypal representations of Divine Energies that exist in the world.

There are Three Sacred Realms: Earth, Sea and Sky.All beings are considered sacred, be they Gods, Spirits of Nature, Ancestors or any other form of life on the planet.The spirits of trees and springs are considered particularly sacred.Sacred beings are seen as knowable, and relationships between them and the Druid practitioner can be cultivated by means of an exchange of offerings for favours and blessings or through meditative communion and reverence in ritual.

The Otherworld is the home of the Gods and heroes.It intersects with this world, enabling the Gods and mankind to interact with one another.The Summerlands, or Underworld, is the Realm of the Dead.

iii. Practice

Druidic practitioners seek the divine and sacred through a connection to the Natural world and, for some, their ancestors.

They celebrate the cycle of the seasons, and their major holidays mark the major events of the agricultural and solar years.The natural world and everything in it is seen as sacred, and the divine/spirit is seen as immanent in all things.As such, the natural world is to be revered and treated with great care and respect.Practitioners consider themselves to be part of a complex web of interrelationships that connects everything on the planet.

Religious practice can be solitary or within a group, sometimes called a 'grove', 'fellowship' or 'seed group'.Such groups are usually open to newcomers.Ideally, ritual is performed outside in contact with Nature, but may be done indoors in an appropriate setting.Group rituals can be facilitated by a single person; alternatively, any or all participants can take active roles.

Some practices that ordinarily would not be seen as religious (such as academic study, music, artistry, craftsmanship) are considered by most practitioners to have a religious significance. (See 3. Cell Effects, ii. Sacred texts/study material, below)

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2. Birth

Required: There are no required practices related to the birth of a child.

Recommended: A ritual called a Saining is commonly performed for the purpose of formally naming the child, introducing him or her to the community, the Ancestors and the Gods.It involves an anointing, with the recitation of traditional prayers and appointing God-parents for the child. In some traditions, guests bring gifts for the child.

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3. Cell Effects

i. Sacred Objects

Required: Wherever possible, inmates should be allowed an altar - any flat surface or a special box - with symbolic representations of the three realms:

  • Land (a bowl of earth)
  • Sea (a bowl of water)
  • Sky-Fire (the Bile, pronounced "bill-uh")

The Bile may be any one of the sacred trees in the Ogham (Irish) alphabet.(See Sacred Texts, Literature and Study Material, below) and is associated with the sky-fires of sun and lightning.When a small branch of one of these trees is inserted into a bowl of earth, which is then nested in a bowl of water, it is considered to traverse and connect all three Realms, and therefore represent them.For practice in prison, any kind of cut branch or artificial representation of a tree or branch can be used.

A candle for fire, representing the Primal Force of Creation, is at the center of Druid ritual, together with the Bile.Incense may also be used in ritual.

Recommended: Other religious items can include ritual garb (a robe or special shirt), a tree branch with bells and other items from Nature.The use of items evocative of the seasons and seasonal practice is also very common, for example:

  • Samhain: Pictures of ancestors or friends that have passed away, or other items that signify the ancestors
  • Lughnasadh: Sheaf of wheat or other harvest-related items
  • Beltane: Flowers in bloom, other items that signify fertility and growth
  • Imbolc: Early spring plants, especially bulbs

As these four celebrations are Fire Festivals, a candle should be permitted where possible.


ii. Sacred texts, literature, study material

Required: There are no required texts.However, some groups may view the myths and other writings as sacred Ancestral lore, especially in groups in which Ancestor worship is central.

Recommended: Recommended texts include:

  • Scholarly material describing Celtic culture, languages, mythology and religion, as well as other ancient Indo-European cultures and history.
  • Divination tools are also sometimes used (e.g. small sticks inscribed with the Ogham alphabet or Tarot cards).
  • Scholarly materials for the three types of training- Bards, Ovates/Filidh and Druids (See # 14 Leadership/Practioners below).

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4. Contacts

The Pagan Pastoral Outreach association can provide visitation in some areas and will attempt to locate Druid prison visitors elsewhere, or suggest appropriate correspondence study programs.Box 8312, Stn. T, Ottawa, ON K1G 3H8, (613) 299-3327, directors@ppo-canada.ca , or

Druid Network

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD)

Henge of Keltria

Grove of Danu, Pagan Church of Alberta

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5. Conversion/Initiation

Druidic practitioners have no interest in proselytizing.While the practice itself is based on Celtic cultural traditions, it is open to people of any ancestry.

There is no rite of entry into Druidism/Druidry, but a ceremony welcoming a new person to the religious community is commonly performed, often followed by a social gathering.

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6. Death

The passing of a Druidic practitioner from this world is regarded as a continuation of the spirit's journey; part of a continuing process, rather than an ending.Most practitioners believe in a form of reincarnation, in which the spirit will return to the temporal world to continue its journey through more than one lifetime.In addition, it is believed that there are times of the year, known as Holy Days, on which the barrier between the Otherworld and the temporal world is particularly thin.At these times, the spirits of the Ancestors and the dead are especially honoured, communion with them being more easily effected at such times (particularly Samhain).

Required: There are no general customs regarding the handling of the body, nor any prohibitions against autopsies or organ donation, etc.The body and religious effects should be disposed of according to the wishes of the deceased.In the absence of such a statement, the inmate's religious community should be consulted with regard to the disposal of religious artifacts.

Recommended: Druids believe that the deceased journeys to the Summerlands or Underworld, a joyful event to be celebrated by the community (a wake).Candles are lit and traditional prayers said.Traditionally, these activities took place in the presence of the body, but today it is customary to provide a picture of the deceased, with a candle and shot of liquor or substitute drink beside the photograph.The drink is later poured out on the ground as an offering to the deceased's spirit.

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7. Diets

Required: Although not a requirement, many Druidic practitioners choose an organic vegetarian or vegan diet out of respect for animal life and general desire to minimize their impact on the planet. This is considered a diet of conscience only.

There are no specific dietary rules for Druidic practitioners.However, the body is understood to be sacred and should be cared for and not abused.

Juice mixed with honey is an acceptable substitute for mead, ale or whiskey (which are considered particularly sacred), as an essential libation to the Gods, Spirits of Land and Place, Nature Spirits and the Ancestors.Honey, hazelnuts, salmon, oatcakes or bannock are commonly eaten.

Recommended: Holiday celebrations are usually accompanied by eating certain traditional foods associated with the season or considered sacred to the specific celebration:

  • Samhain: Ham, pork,
  • Imbolc: Milk and milk products esp. butter
  • Beltane: Honey
  • Lughnassadh: Cereal grains, ale (or juice)

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8. Divorce

Required: For many Druidic practitioners there are no rules pertaining to divorce.

Recommended: A 'hand-parting' ceremony is often done, either for both parties (if they are willing), or with one partner to mark this passage/change.Though the bond between partners is dissolved, responsibility for any offspring remains.

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9. Dress Requirements

Required: There is no required dress code for Druidic practitioners.

Recommended: The use of robes (or some other special item of clothing, such as a special shirt) for private or group ritual is optional.

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10. Gender Issues

There are no gender or sexual orientation distinctions in Druidic practice or ritual.

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11. Health/Illness

Required: The acceptance or refusal of care (including transfusions) is a matter of individual conscience.

Recommended: Whenever possible, the religious visitors should be able to visit a seriously ill inmate, whether in the institutions or a hospital.A healing ritual should be allowed, recognizing that some restriction of the tools used may be necessary.

Hunger strikes have a long tradition in Celtic law, where they were a means of redressing grievances and compelling justice.An inmate making such a choice can expect spiritual counsel, but cannot necessarily expect support for their cause from Pagan prison visitors.

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12. Holy Days and Holidays

All Druidic practitioners celebrate the Celtic Fire Festivals, which mark the midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes.

  • Samhain - October 31st
  • Imbolc - February 1st [FN 90 - Imbolg is always celebrated indoors, around the hearth fire, which may be symbolized by a candle flame ]
  • Beltane- May 1st
  • Lughnasadh - August 1st

The Celtic year ends and begins at Samhain (as the Celtic day begins and ends with sunset).The dark half of the year is from Samhain to Beltane; the light half from Beltane to Samhain.

Some Druidic practitioners also celebrate the Equinoxes and Solstices. They are generally held on the dates below, but shifting each year to a day earlier or later:

  • Spring Equinox/Mean Earaigh/Ostara/Alban Eilir - March 21
  • Midsummer/Summer Solstice/Litha/Comhain/Mean Samhradh/Alban Hefin -June 21
  • Fall/Vernal Equinox/Mabon/Mean Fomhar/Alban Elfed - Sept 21
  • Midwinter/Winter Solstice/Yule/Mean Geimhriuill/Alban Arthan- December 21

It is preferred, but not strictly necessary, to celebrate group rituals on the exact days.Celebrations within a correctional institution may be held in the course of regular get-togethers for ritual with the religious visitors.

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13. Religious Law

There is an underlying concept of personal honor and a strong sense of justice in Celtic tradition.Truth, Honor and Duty are the three highest causes.Individuals must take responsibility for their actions and make appropriate restitution, preferably in this life, to those one has wronged.If one fails to do this, the responsibility for restitution will be carried into the Otherworld or the next life, if need be.

Many groups base their moral behavior upon the precepts of Brehon Law and cultural custom.Brehon Law is a body of law texts that governed all social interactions recorded in 7th-8th century Ireland.It has its foundations in the much earlier oral and social traditions of pre-Christian Ireland.Because of its archaic context and language, only a council of fully trained Druids and Brehons are authorized to interpret it for a modern day environment.

As well, many groups adhere to the Irish and Welsh Triads, which are three-line maxims and proverbs that serve as memory tools to help the practitioners remember the spiritual and social laws they live by. While written to address the specifics of ancient Celtic culture, they are essentially variations of 'perennial wisdom' similar to the moral directives of other religions, and are more appropriate to incarcerated practitioners. [FN 25 - See   http://www.illusions.com/rowanhold/mainpage.htm for an example of the Triad's interpretations.]

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14. Leadership/Practitioners

A Druidic organization or order can confer "Priesthood" confer as a recognition of accomplishment following an extended period of study or considerable practical experience (12 to 20 years would not be unusual).There is status or authority inherent in the title by virtue of the higher level of learning and training achieved in each Grade.However, groups differ in terms of how formal this authority is.In some it grants special power over other practitioners; in other, it does not.

Scholarly pursuits are central to most Druidic orders, which are usually divided into three major areas of study:

1. Bards: the arts and cultural history
2. Ovates/F'ilidh (pronounced 'fee lya'): healing, herbalism, divination, as well as the deeper spiritual meanings of the arts and law)
3. Druids: philosophical issues, administration of legal issues, mediator of disputes, transmitters of knowledge

The leader of an organization may be referred to as "Arch Druid" or "Chosen Chief".

In the prison setting, outside leadership should be respected in matters of the tradition and teaching. Although some outside groups may have strict hierarchies, hierarchy within inmate groups is not recommended.

Druidic spiritual advisors are bound by the same professional ethics of confidentiality as other Priesthoods or counselors, concerning personal information.Participants in Druidic rituals should respect the privacy of their fellows.In either case, the security of the community at large and the welfare of the individual in question should be the paramount concerns.

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15. Marriage

Required: There are no rules concerning marriage.Some groups may choose to adhere to traditional marriage law, which does not, however, supersede the law of the land.

Recommended: Traditionally, a Celtic marriage or 'handfasting' (a term borrowed by other Pagan traditions) is an explicit agreement between two people stating their responsibilities in their relationship.The parties may agree in advance to a temporary or permanent arrangement or may set conditions for its dissolution.Legal (permanent) handfastings are officially witnessed as a matter of law. Non-legal (or temporary) handfastings need not be officiated by a third party, but must include a witness.

Marriage counseling beforehand in the difficult matter of marriage during incarceration is strongly recommended.

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16. Searches

i. Personal Searches

Druidism has no policy regarding searches of inmates and visitors, the use of 'drug dogs', the taking of blood/urine samples, or the use of any technology in this regard.They acknowledge that the rules of the institution prevail.

ii. Cell Searches

If the inmate is not on hand for cell searches to show their religious items to the guards, the chaplain can handle and display the items.It is preferable that the religious items not be handled by staff; but if it happens, as is bound to occur from time to time, they can be re-consecrated, if desired, by "smudging", burying in salt, immersing in pure water, or exposing to the rays of the sun or to moon.

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17. Symbols

Required: None

Recommended: Some symbols commonly associated with Druidism are:

The Triskel The AwenBrigid's Cross


Other symbols include the Ogham alphabet and Celtic knotwork.Trees are central to the symbology of Druidism, especially the leaves, acorns/seeds or branches of Rowan, Apple, Hawthorn, Elder and Yew, or Oak.In some Orders, there are symbols associated with specific Grades, or levels of study.

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18. Worship

Worship can be either solitary or collective, and may take more or less of a formal ritual mode.Druidic practitioners may choose to worship together with other Pagans and should be allowed to attend open circles with those of other Pagan traditions.

Solitary ritual may include a period of meditation employing visualization techniques to facilitate and develop a connection and communication with sacred beings.This may also occur in group ritual work, but it is not required.

Wherever possible, Druidic practitioners worship outside in contact with the earth and close to trees and natural sources of water.If weather is not conducive or other restrictions apply, ritual may be celebrated indoors.Druidic practitioners should have access to a growing space/garden plot, if possible.

Rituals can take place at any time or on any day, alone or with the religious visitors.However, observation of the Fire Festivals, Equinoxes and Solstices ideally should occur at the customary times or as close as possible.

Generally, Druidic rituals involve first establishing a symbolic microcosm within the ritual space mirroring that of the cosmos as perceived in the Celtic tradition.After this components of ritual include:

I. the acknowledgment of the sacred beings;
II. the making of offerings to Spirits of Land and Place (food and drink, precious items, poetry, dance, music, stories, essays, etc.;
III. invocations of the beings with whom one wishes to relate, which may take the form of requests for favours and blessings, work (e.g. divination, meditation, healing);
IV. thanking the beings invoked; and
V. closing.

A ritual can last for anywhere up to three hours, depending upon the number of participants and the content of their offerings.


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Appendix A : Memorandum of Understanding from Warkworth Institution
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Memorandum of Understanding between Warkworth Institution and the Wiccan Community re: the Use of Candles in Inmate Cells

All Wiccan inmates holding a valid Wiccan Property Card can use candles in their cells, as stipulated by the Human Rights Commission and C.S.C. providing the following conditions are met:

a. Candles are to be used in inmates' cells.

b. For safety considerations, the candles must be approved 'votive' type.

c. These candles must be in approved brass votive candle holders.

d. Inmates are limited to 5 candles and holders at any given time.

e. The metal base of spent candles must be returned to the Chaplain before new candles are issued.

f. The inmate must not be residing in the E.M.U. (Eighty Man Unit) because this Unit is not only smoke-free but also allergens-free.

g. No Wiccan inmate may give candles to non-Wiccans.

h. The candles are issued strictly for religious purposes.

i. The Warden of the Institution reserves the right to cancel the permit of individuals for infractions of the above rules.


Chaplain Inmate/FPS

Date Warden


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Blessed Be