Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
As one of the few openly practicing Pagans on SLU's campus I was thrilled by the opportunity to explore the country from which my spiritual roots have grown. My own beliefs are drawn mostly from the Reclaiming Wicca Traditions of Starhawk in California, as well as from the British Traditional Wicca and Faery Traditions. I was excited to meet other Pagans in the UK and see how American traditions have diverged from British traditions. Thus, I would be able to deepen my own connection to this history and spirituality and hopefully bring some ideas about religious coexistence back to campus. With the generosity of the Cabot Family I was able to use my spring break to travel to ancient Pagan sites around Southwestern England.
I began my journey by visiting places where ancient Pagan cultures had strong connections with the earth, itself. My first stop was Amesbury in Wiltshire, which is surrounded by ancient Pagan sites. I spent a day walking to Stonehenge, New King Barrows, Old King Barrows, The Avenue, The Cursus, Long Barrow, Winterbourne Stoke Barrows, Cursus Barrows, Durrington Walls, and Wood Henge. A "barrow" is an ancient burial mound. Stonehenge and Wood Henge are too monuments constructed as ritual sites, and are likely linked as places celebrating life (Wood Henge) and death (Stonehenge). I next traveled south to the New Forest National Park. Not only is this the oldest bit of forest remaining in England, it is also supposed to be the place where Paganism survived the Burning Times in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The forest was a truly beautiful place, rich with history and a feeling of enchantment. I visited these places in order to experience the places themselves and feel a connection with the ancient cultures that dwelt there.
Next, I traveled west to Glastonbury in Somerset, where I spent about half of my break. Glastonbury is located on the ancient Isle of Avalon, and is supposedly the burial place of King Arthur and Maid Marian. As a spiritual hub, however, the town is a pilgrimage site for religions worldwide. Pretty much every religion in the world is not only represented but openly practiced in Glastonbury. As such, Glastonbury is a place of unique spiritual harmony and blending; for instance, Pagans I met there included Jesus among the litany of other deities, and St. Benedict's Church, the largest Anglican church in town, had a meditation walking labyrinth in its front lawn. In terms of my own spirituality, I was anxious to visit Glastonbury Tor and the Chalice Well, as well as the Goddess Temple where the priestesses welcomed me into their ritual. I journeyed to Glastonbury in order to meet the people of Somerset and have conversations; I wanted to be a part of that thriving culture. I was lucky enough to be able to stay with a woman who herself has a Pagan resident for years and is an internationally-renowned Shamanic drumming healer; to date, she is one of the most amazing people I've ever met.
My travels taught me much about Paganism past and present in Britain, and I bring back many stories and insights to my fellow SLU Pagans. I also have a network of Pagan contacts in England, and I truly hope to meet those wonderful people again some day.