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“Perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind.” - Thomas Babington Macaulay. What is “pagan” poetry?.

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“Perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind.”

- Thomas Babington Macaulay

what is pagan poetry
What is “pagan” poetry?
  • Although there will always be poems specifically labeled “Pagan” or “Christian,” for the most part this is a subjective classification. (You know: It just feels right. ;))
  • However, poems popularly associated with paganism tend to have “pagan” themes -- nature, the seasons, the afterlife, mysticism, mythology, ancient history, magic, teenage angst (online only), etc. There are poems about all sorts of “pagan” entities, ranging from the Cthulu to the FBG Herself.
major types of poems associated with paganism
Major Types of Poems Associated with Paganism
  • Sagas, eddas, epics and other Classical / Ancient works from various cultures
  • Bardic / Celtic poetry
  • Wiccan Charges / Rede
  • Litanies
  • Chants and songspells
  • Miscellany (whee)
  • Germanic, Norse, Northern; 12th-13th century and beyond; many actually prose
  • Some considered sacred texts -- some Christian-themed, some pagan-themed, some mixed (Arthurian legends)
  • Quasi-historical, often explorations of mythology, culture, hero legends
  • Some sagas: the Kalevala (Finnish), Egil’s Saga (Icelandic), Beowulf (Olde English, Scandinavian), etc.

(Supposedly this is Beowulf and Grendel)

  • “Edda” comes from the word for “great grand-mother”
  • But it refers to collections of heroic, mythological poetry from Iceland dating back to the 11th/12th through 13th century
  • Two of them – Prose Edda (by Snorri Sturleson) and the Poetic Edda

(by Sæmund Sigfusson the Sage)


“…Nine lays of power

I learned from the famous Bolthor,

Bestla' s father:

He poured me a draught of precious mead,

Mixed with magic Odrerir...”

The Poetic Edda

Odin 

-- Contains poems such as the Hávamál, the Sayings of Hár, which provides wisdom sayings and the story of how Odin learned the runes (see above), as well as Voluspa (the "Prophecy of the Vala"), etc.

Loki ;)

  • Broad genre of poetry in the form of a long, heroic narrative outlining the stories of people and events of great mythological or historical significance
  • Think Homer’s Iliad, the Odyssey;

Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Inferno,

the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ovid’s

Metamorphosis, etc.

“Invoke the poet

That he may cast a spell for you.”

-the Song of Amergin

celtic poetry
Celtic Poetry
  • Celts wrote (well, spoke) records of their battles, genealogy, history, customs, and even laws in poetry; poetry was a huge part of their culture
  • Importance of Ovates, Druids, and Bards
  • Three classes: the Brehons (dealt with the law), the Seanacha (recorded history), and the Filea (poetry, music, the glorification of gods)
  • Ossian, Amergin

Amergin's ChallengeI am a wind across the seaI am a flood across the plainI am the roar of the tidesI am a stag of seven tinesI am a dewdrop let fall by the sunI am the fierceness of boarsI am a hawk, my nest on a cliffI am a height of poetry I am the most beautiful among flowersI am the salmon of wisdomWho but I is both the tree and the lightning strikes itWho is the dark secret of the dolmen not yet hewnI am the queen of every hiveI am the fire on every hillI am the shield over every headI am the spear of battleI am the ninth wave of eternal returnI am the grave of every vain hopeWho knows the path of the sun, the periods of the moon,Who gathers the divisions, enthralls the sea,sets in order the mountains, the rivers, the peoples.

wiccan poetry
Wiccan Poetry
  • No official doctrine, but the most popular “guidelines” could be considered the Rede (code of ethics) and the Charges (explorations of diety.)
  • Multiple versions of the Charges, some poetry and some prose, written by Dorian Valiente, Starhawk, etc. God, Goddess, Crone…

Charge of the Goddess (Valiente/Starhawk):“…Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you…”

Charge of the God (Jan & Stewart Farrar):“…Let there be desire and fear, anger and weakness, Joy and peace, awe and longing within you…”

Charge of the Dark Goddess (Lynn O’Connor):“…I am the Bottomless Pit, the never-ending struggle to reclaim that which is denied. I am the Key that unlocks every Door. I am the Glory of Discovery, for I am that which is hidden, secluded and forbidden…”

Charge of the Dark God (Christopher Hatton):“…I am the strength that protects, that limits. I am the power that says No, No Further, and That Is Enough. I am the things that may not be spoken of, and I am the laughter at the edge of Death…”

  • A prayer, often lengthy, taking the form of a list
  • Often repetitive; intended for meditation or memorization
  • Very popular in Catholicism – pagan roots?

“Beaver and gopher,

Cattle and kine.

Badger and fox,

Cattle and kine.

Antelope, jackrabbit,

Cattle and kine.

Walrus and muskox,

Cattle and kine…”

-- excerpt from Patrician Monoghan’s “Litany of Earth”

  • The ritual “calling-in” of a power; invocation or prayer inviting an energy to join one’s working
  • May involve gods, goddesses, elemental directions, ancestors, nature spirits, powers of inspiration and protection, etc.

Invocation to Cernunnos (Gatekeeper)(fromCeisiwr Serith’s A Book of Pagan Prayer)Cernunnos, lord, sitter in the doorway,God of equilibrium, terrible, merciful:You who hold the opposites apart,You in whom all opposites unite,My prayer goes to you to open the passageTo clear the threshold,To make the way clear.

chants and songspells
Chants and Songspells
  • Ritualistic, creative
  • Meant to raise or focus energy, facilitate meditation, trances, ecstatic states
  • Ranging from soothing and poetic to primitive and tribal – importance of rhythm, dynamics
  • An art – praise offerings
we approach the sacred grove
“We Approach the Sacred Grove”

by Sean Miller, Stone Creed Grove, ADF

We Approach The Sacred GroveWith hearts and minds and flesh and bone;Join us now in ways of old,We have come home.

things to consider
Things to Consider:
  • “Poetic language honors polarities. We use the language of poetry to provide the many levels of feeling, facets of knowing, simultaneously, so we can examine them and move forward.” - Peggy Osna Heller
  • "Freedom is poetry, taking liberties with words, breaking the rules of normal speech, violating common sense."-Norman O. Brown
  • “Poetry is the deification of reality.” - Edith Sitwell
we can only approach the gods through poetry thomas moore
“We can only approach the gods through poetry.”- Thomas Moore
  • Poetry is an elevation of language that breaks all rules and conventions regarding words; this lends it a quality of the abstract, a magical and esoteric dimension
  • Poetry transcends ordinary patterns and helps us open our minds
  • Poetry is an art and craft (which is fun)
  • Poetry harnesses the power of language