Question of the Week: Heroes, Saints, and Worthies

A happy and delightful and fertile Beltaine to all of you!

Who knows if I’ll be able to do this on a Sunday afternoon as I used to do, at least for the next little while, since I’m going to be on the move rather a lot in the next two months. I’ve just moved out of the house in Hamilton, and all my possessions are in storage at my parent’s house in Elora. Tomorrow I’m going to Switzerland and Italy for two weeks. And after that… well, let the winds blow high, blow low, oh…

So this week’s question messes with your reality by appearing on a Friday.

While in Montreal last weekend (see, I told you I’ve been moving around a lot!) I had a very interesting conversation with Judika Illes, author of some very large books on spellcraft. (I do mean large. One of them, “The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft” is over 1000 pages.) One of the things we talked about briefly was a future writing project she has in mind: an encyclopedia of saints, which would include pagan saints.

An interesting idea indeed. It seems to me there is already a small but growing trend in the movement to treat certain historical people as important fore-runners, whose accomplishments and life-stories are sufficiently inspirational that people treat them as saints, even if they don’t use the word ‘saint’. Judika mentioned Boadicca almost right away, as a pagan woman who many contemporary pagan women admire. I’ve put this question in casual conversation to friends a few times, and some of the names that pop up first are the ones you would expect: Uncle Gerald and Doreen, for instance. Other names that were frequently mentioned included Hypatia, Pericles, and Joan of Arc. A friend of mine who is a Thelemite said that in the OTO, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is considered an important saint.

Many communities and even whole nations already have something of a tradition of honouring the nation’s “Worthies”; this apparently begins in the middle ages with Jacques de Longuyon, who in 1312 drew up a list of Nine Worthies, historical or mythical people who exemplified the ideals of chivalry. Contemporary governments, or individuals who are rich enough, will sometimes build monuments to its best war heroes. Canada’s Fifteen Valiants include Isaac Brock, Teyendenega (a.k.a. Joseph Brant), and Laura Secord. An excellent collection of Worthies indeed, although I would have included Billy Bishop, the RCAF pilot who shot down the Red Baron.

Who are the worthies for the contemporary pagan movement? If you had to name a few worthies for our movement, who would be on your list? Why do you consider such people worthy of being called ‘worthies’? There doesn’t have to be nine of them, and they don’t have to be soldiers or military people. But they have to be historical people, and they have to be dead. 🙂

I’ll pass on the results to Judika, to help with her research.

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14 Responses to Question of the Week: Heroes, Saints, and Worthies

  1. cruitire333 says:

    There’s also an issue with the famous vs infamous characteristics of most of these figures. Off the top of my head I would say “Old George Pickingill” as an example.

  2. soulfire6 says:

    I’ll second Victor and Cora (especially). Those who knew Cora well know that she enjoyed helping others when she could, and friends say she continues to do so from across the veil. Victor was a tireless teacher, as students know. I’ve heard many reports from people who feel that he continues to instruct them in dreams and/or visions. I’ll also second Valiente. I would add Sybil Leek! Also, how about Maddalena or Charles Leland?

  3. mythworker says:

    No list would be complete without…

    Flavius Claudius Julianus (Julian the Apostate)

  4. alfrecht says:

    In the Ekklesía Antínoou, we have an extensive list of Sancti, which we define as “people of blessed memory,” whom we do not want to be forgotten, for their contributions to our historical knowledge of Antinous, and to their influence on the modern queer spiritual and artistic movements, as well as others we feel are important to our predominately Graeco-Roman-Egyptian heritage. This includes people like Hypatia, Favorinus of Arles, Polemo of Smyrna, Arrian, Sappho, Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard, Marguerite Porete, Marguerite Yourcenar, Harry Hay, and well over a hundred others…

    Interestingly, following on from what mentioned, we do not have Julian the Apostate in our list–though all of us broadly agree that what he did was a good thing, and he is an important figure, one of the things which he also happened to be was a staunch critic of the Antinoan cultus, and he even goes so far as to say he never was (and never could have been) a god. So, we can’t really have him amongst our Sancti in good conscience as a result…

  5. abbadie says:

    I second Charles Leland (who evidently was a practicing stregone) and Maddalena. I’m not sure if Aradia de Toscana could qualify, since there is no actual proof as to her existence, but I at least a couple of Italian streghe have assured me that they know of her and she was not made up by Grimassi, so I’d say she is an option.

    I do propose Isobel Gowdie, though; not only is she enormlously influential (the widespread use of the word “coven” comes from her confessions), she also gave us a lengthy and substantial testimonial (distorted as it may be) of the activities of the Nairn clan of witches from whom my own praxis draws its breath.

  6. pombagira says:

    i third victor and Corra Anderson as well as Stuart Farrar and Doreen Valiente


  7. darakat_ewr says:

    I would second Boadicca and I would also say Doreen Valiente, I might include Henry Cornelius Agrippa, and Ophiel definitely gets in for making the occult so much more accessible.
    I would also include Winston Churchill for getting rid of the outdated witchcraft laws and letting us all start to come out of the woodwork! Quite a lot of people I would like to include are still with us so they can’t be immortalized (yet) but I do have one more Isaac Newton (who wasn’t pagan but he was well into the occult as is well documented).

  8. I have people I venerate, but not because they’re pagans.

    I’m an Irish Descendant and a Fenian, so I honour Bobby Sands.

    Also Oliver Plunkett, and both of them were Catholic.

    And Pelagius– who can say where he falls?

    In terms of influencing Modern Pagan Thought, how about Jung and W.B.Yeats?

  9. marytek says:

    Is this for modern western neo-paganism? There are several for Eastern Europe, but I do find that anything east of Germany and north of Italy tends to be either ignored or forgotten.

    Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania – for being pagan, and practicing religious tolerance within the borders of his kingdom in the 13thC

    Vytautas Didysis – grandson of Gediminas, led the multi-national forces at the Battle of Tannenburg (we call it Zalgaris) which trounced the Teutonic Order in 1410 and thereby ended the Christian Crusades in Eastern Europe

    Vydunas – first ‘modern’ pagan in the Baltics

    Basanavicius/Balys – ethnographers who reignited the love of folktales during the time of the Emz Ukaz

    Trinkunas (not dead) – Krivis of Romuva, started up Romuva in the 60s in the face of political persecution by the Soviets and expulsion from University for his religious/cultural practices.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The inclusion of Joan of Arc amuses me – given her passionate denunciations of heretical Christians, I very much doubt she’d approve of the likes of us – but I second the vote for Hypatia.

    Some of the early Theosophists – e.g. Annie Besant and Anna Kingsford – were valiant social reformers, and deserve mention. Though Theosophy may be beyond the scope of what you were intending by ‘pagan’. Ms Violet Firth aka Dion Fortune may be a more appropriate addition to the list.

    I’m not intentionally confining my picks to women. That’s just where my reading has taken me recently, thus those names are on my mind.

    Ms Illes is a friend-of-a-friend, but I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her myself. Now I will know to keep an eye out for her saints encyclopedia, should it ever come to pass.


  11. darach says:

    I can’t really think of anyone who I think is worth worthiness. (As in recently dead Neopagan types- living yes)

    Personally, I’d choose… Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Alexander Charmichael, John Toland, Marcus Aurelius and Homer.

    Follow your Bliss 🙂

  12. In Performance Shamanism, we choose personal prophets whose examples provide inspiration. These are mine (with the exception, as requested, of the still-living one):

    George Carlin – the greatest Fool of the last century, whose disappointment with humanity revealed his profound love for us

    Jim Henson – a man who devoted his life to magic, and to our children

    Joey Ramone – started a revolution in spite of his psychological obstacles, did it his way always, and a genuinely sweet person

    Dr, Seuss – harnessed the power of the child’s imagination and gave it back a hundredfold

    Joe Strummer – a rager and a leader, always with an undercurrent of bringing people together, which grew as he got older

    Peace be upon them all.


  13. Ohhhhh the_exclamation, good list! I’m with you all the way!

    I’ll add to that, Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo (he’s still alive, but I assume he’ll count once he’s gone). They have taught us that the only thing we need to fear is the sky falling on our heads.

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