49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives
Canadian Paganism has a style all its own. Have a look at events, issues, celebrations, people, trends and events north of the border from the eyes of a Canadian Witch.
25 Most Influential People in the Birth of Modern Paganism (Canadian Wing)
A lot of people have been reading and circulating the recent articles that were written by my fellow Patheos.com blogger, Jason Mankey, about the “25 Most Influential People in the Birth of Modern Paganism”. He wrote an “American Wing” article and a “European Wing” article, and I thought they were excellent, but the sum total of his mention of those of us north of the 49th Parallel was “sorry, Canada!” Well, naturally that got my dander up a little. It gives the impression that what goes on up here is an appendix to the greater American scene. But in the founding of modern Paganism, in many cases it was the other way around. Here’s my list of 25 Canadians who helped mold the modern Pagan world; without whom, nothing would be as it is. If you ranked them along with the members of the other two lists to create a list of “The 25 Most Influential People in the Birth of Modern Paganism (All-Time Champions,)” some wouldn’t make the cut . . . but many of them would. Just as Mankey did, I’ll list them in alphabetical order, since prioritizing is very difficult. Mankey said that the American list was harder than the European one because everyone was “second generation”; I find that my list consists of either proto-Pagan contributors, or people who are doing very interesting things right now; perhaps a third generation, still active.
Brother XII (Edward Arthur Wilson) (1878-1934,) Proto-Pagan Cult Leader – Colourful cult-leader Brother XII founded one of the first spiritual communities in North America, in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. His organization, the Aquarian Foundation, was a proto-Pagan one, founded in Theosophy but speaking of the Osiris/Isis male/female polarity as gods within. Eventually personality conflicts with his followers led to investigation, criminal charges, and fleeing to Switzerland after destroying the colony, where he may have feigned his own death.
Kate Slater, Influential Pagan Writer – Kate Who? – That’s probably what comes to mind. But this lady was one of the founding members of the Reclaiming community, and if you have read a Reclaiming book or done any work with Dianic Witchcraft during the past three decades in North America, you’ve read something she wrote; which included the first ever dissertation about how to handle sexual harassment and abuse in the Pagan community. This lovely lady now lives quietly in a small town called Hedley in my neck of the woods.
Dodie Graham McKay & Amanda Strong – The friendship between these two ladies has entirely transformed Canadian Paganism; which is why I had to keep them just shy of making the list, since I’m not certain their actions have affected anything south of our border. McKay is an initiated Alexandrian Witch from Winnipeg, Manitoba; Strong is an Anglophone (English-speaking, English ancestry) Witch with Feri-ish leanings from Montreal, Quebec. They transformed the Canadian Pagan landscape from the mostly Reclaiming-influenced West Coast, dotted here and there with some conservative Theosophist holdouts and a smattering of Heathens; and the mostly BTW-influenced East Coast with its handful of Heathens and Druids, into a truly national movement and community that joins East and West, Anglophone and Francophone, all Wiccan traditions, Druids, Heathens, Neo-pagan Shamans, Reconstructionists, Hedgewitches and Eclectics. The Canadian National Pagan Conference was the vehicle for this change, which is a unique, nationally organized, primarily academic conference as opposed to a festival, and they were, and are, the heart of it.
Richard Maurice Burke (1837-1902,) Pioneer in Metaphysics and Mind-Body Medicine – Burke was a prominent Canadian psychiatrist who came up with the concept of “Cosmic Consciousness” in his book by the same name. This is a foundational concept in most modern metaphysical paths, including Paganism. Spiritualism and Feri Wicca also refer to it to this day by the term he coined; the “Higher Self”. He was a close friend, and literary executor, of poet Walt Whitman.
ByThor & Selene, Organizers, Ritual Magicians and Scholars – The most significant Pagans that history will never be able to confirm anything about next to Dafo. ByThor was a prominent member of the O.T.O. who spread their teachings all over the continent and taught thousands of North American students and initiates. Also Witches, together they founded the Circle of Ashteroth, a large, influential Wiccan tradition in Alberta and BC. They own one of the largest occult libraries in North America and are part of a particular group of Pagans who actively support scholarship in the Craft. They are also among the founders of the Canadian National Pagan Conference. Forcibly outed in the early 1980s during the height of the “Satanic Panic,” ByThor is now very firm about keeping his occult and mundane lives separate. Many years from now, they’ll have all the mystery and controversy of Dafo (who were they? Did they really exist?) and for that reason I will attest that I have met them in person and I know them reasonably well. I even know their mundane names – and no, I’m not telling you.
Kerr Cuhulain, Pagan advocate – Kerr Cuhulain was a 29 year member of the Vancouver Police Department and recipient of the Governor General’s Exemplary Service Medal, during the “Satanic Panic” who also happens to be a Wiccan. His book, “The Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca” and his subsequent educational and advocacy work with other emergency services and government organizations, along with a series of well-read articles called “Witch Hunts” on The Witches’ Voice distinctly lessened the persecution of Pagans all over the world. He and his group the Order of Scathach currently organize Vancouver Pagan Pride which sees regular attendance from local governmental figures and politicians, who give it the same respect they would give to any other major religious or ethnic celebration (which, in Vancouver, is a lot.)
Flora MacDonald Denison (1867-1921,) Pioneer of Women’s Spirituality – A suffragette and feminist, and one of several significant occultists in Canada to embrace the poetry of Walt Whitman as a guide to living life, she was a believer in free love, birth control, and spiritualism, which she wrote about in her column in the Toronto Sunday World (and please note the date!) Her work, well ahead of its time, significantly influenced the goddess spirituality movement in North America.
Tamarra & Richard James, Organizers and Teachers – The Jameses are British Traditional Witches who founded the Wiccan Church of Canada (the first Wiccan religious organization in our country and one of the first in North America,) the Odyssean tradition, Wic-Can Fest, and the first occult supply shop in Canada. Tamarra is an accomplished Pagan musician who produced several other Pagan musicians back in the early 80s, before it was a genre and before anyone else wanted to produce Pagan work. Richard helped to found and continues to chair the board for the Canadian National Pagan Conference. Many Canadian Witches and a generous helping of Witches in the Northeastern US were trained by these two or their students. They also own the largest library of Wiccan primary documents (including most of the works of Gerald Gardner) in the world. Incidentally, though the WCC incorporated more than 25 years ago, the Canadian government has, to this date, failed to recognize them as a religious charity, and therefore they still do not hold marrying credentials in their native province of Ontario. While these two are, without a doubt, among the most influential Pagans in Canada, they are humble and even shy.
Charles Stanford Jones (Frater Achad) (1886-1950,) Not Quite a Messiah – The “Magickal Childe” (and intended successor) of Aleister Crowley, Frater Achad was the founder of the O.T.O. in the English-speaking world (British Columbia Lodge #1 and Agape Lodge) which he built in North Vancouver, BC in 1915. He was also a prominent Theosophist and he went on to found his own organization when his disagreements with Crowley led to a parting of ways and the spawning of numerous other magickal orders. Most of the O.T.O. lodges in North America can be traced back to the Agape and British Columbia lodges to this day. I don’t know if this gives him precedence over the founders of the O.T.O., who didn’t quite make Jason Mankey’s list, but he made mine. I guess I think the O.T.O. had a greater influence on modern Paganism than he does, and we’re both entitled to our opinion, right?
Dan Ralph Miller “Dano Hammer” (1963-present,) Heathen Advocate and Musician – The former Speaker of the Heathen Freehold Society of British Columbia, Miller probably did more to publicly advocate for Heathenry in North America than anyone, both in the Pagan community (which was largely Wiccan-focused) and the general public. Removed from the society due to allegations of misconduct, he disappeared for a few years, only to re-emerge as “Dano Hammer,” a Heathen hip-hop artist! His deep voice and brilliant lyrics are building him a name not only in Heathenry, but in mainstream Canadian music as well.
Mo Jo (1966-present,) Podcasting Pioneer and Musician – Mo Jo founded The Wigglian Way podcast, one of the three Pagan podcasts that entirely changed how we communicate. He was also one of the founding members of the very professional Pagan bands Parnassus and Chalice and Blade. He continues to bring all kinds of Pagans together under his banner and his and his partner Sparrow’s podcast have a huge following.
Dr. Brendan Myers (1974-present) Druid, Author, Philosopher & Podcaster & Juniper Jeni (1980-present,) Pioneer Blogger and Podcaster – A prolific author with a doctorate in philosophy, Myers has been perhaps the greatest driving force towards clarifying and establishing a theory of Pagan ethics that extends beyond “An it harm none, do what thou wilt.” His work also contributed significantly to the practice and ethical values of modern Druidry in North America. If that weren’t enough, he and Juniper Jeni created the Standing Stone and Garden Gate podcast, one of the three Pagan podcasts that changed the Pagan world (the other two being The Wild Hunt and The Wigglian Way.) He continues to actively work with and promote the Canadian National Pagan Conference, and he’s a talented painter and singer/songwriter too. As to Jeni; her blog Walking the Hedge is probably the most well-read blog next to the Wild Hunt and has made “Hedgewitchery” into a household word. The pair are no longer together but they still collaborate on their podcast.
Robin Skelton (1925-1997) Poet and Pioneer Witch – British-born poet and Witch whose writings have influenced an entire generation of Witches in a variety of traditions. He was teaching Witchcraft in Britain and Canada at about the same time that Buckland was initiated into and began teaching Wicca (though I can't confirm who did what first,) and he taught the generations who came after him how to write poetic ritual.
Albert E.S. Smythe (1890-1940) “The Poet of Theosophy” – Smythe was the father of Theosophy in Canada. He popularized Theosophy and occultism in North America through his poetic works. Crowley cited him as a source of inspiration and he is specifically mentioned in the Gnostic Mass to this day.
Samuel Wagar (1956-present,) Wiccan Politician – Wiccan Church of Canada and Reclaiming trained Witch Sam Wagar was always an organizer in the Lower Mainland Pagan community, founding organizations, magazines, festivals and traditions. He made history in 1994 when he was a Member of Legislative Assembly candidate for the New Democratic Party (NDP.) Stripped of his candidacy by the Party when his Wiccan faith became public, he challenged them in court for religious discrimination. His challenge united the Canadian Pagan community and helped bring Wicca into the mainstream media in North America. Wagar was involved with the Temple of the Lady, the first Pagan organization in Canada to hold legal marrying credentials, and when that organization fell apart, founded the Congregationalist Wiccan Association, the BC branch of which is one of two Pagan organizations (the other being the Aquarian Tabernacle Church) in BC to hold that credential, and the first to achieve it in Alberta (as of a few days ago.)
The Group of Seven, Pioneer Artists, Free-thinkers and Occultists
The Group of Seven consisted of Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley, and honorary member Emily Carr. They were a collective of famous Canadian painters who were significant in defining the modernist movement in art. Their works featured pristine Canadian landscapes (even if they weren’t when painted,) Aboriginal peoples (never done before by European descended artists,) and occult symbolism. Four of them were Theosophists, and their work popularized occultism and naturalism. The most significant of them in modern Paganism were:
Lawren Harris – 1885-1970 – The influential Theosophist painter who founded the legendary “Group of Seven.”
Frederick Varley – 1881-1969 – Also a famous war artist, he is best known for reproducing his self-portrait as a postage stamp.
Emily Carr – 1871-1945 – famous feminist, advocate for indigenous peoples , occultist, and early student of Theosophy and indigenous beliefs North American and European, Carr’s legacy lives on in modern feminism and the women’s spirituality movement.
I would like to thank master historian, Witch and friend Sam Wagar for collaborating with me on this article.
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