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My Pagan Saints

Posted by on in Paths Blogs


On Hallowe’en I carve a pumpkin and give out candy. That same night, the Pagan feast of Samhain, I honour my ancestors beyond the veil. The next day, All Hallows, I honour my favourite saints. 


Saints you ask? Oh yes. You can take the girl out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the girl. So I have saints too, just Pagan ones.


But what is a Pagan saint?


Christian saints tend to be known for their good works, martyrdom, poverty, chastity and obedience. My saints have a slightly different flavour. I admire them not so much for their self-denial as for their openness, creativity, and curiosity. I respect their pursuit of truth without fear or favour, as well as their willingness to accept contradiction in themselves and others.


And so I honour Symmachus, a fourth-century Roman senator who pled for religious toleration of Pagans with the eloquent words, “ We look on the same stars, the sky is common, the same world surrounds us. What difference does it make by what pains each seeks the truth? We cannot attain to so great a secret by one road.”


I honour Hypatia, a fourth-century mathematician and philosopher. Though she refused to convert in an increasingly Christianized Alexandria, she happily taught Christian students. Christians did not repay the favour—she was murdered by a mob of them as a result of her support of the Pagan prefect Orestes in his conflict with Alexandria’s bishop, Cyril. 


I honour Socrates, Greek philosopher of the fifth-century BC. His skillful and reasoned questioning forced his listeners to reevaluate their every belief. In the tradition of Apollo’s dictum to “Know Thyself” Socrates advised us that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And he knew what he did not know, evincing a wise humility we could use a little more of today. (Honouring Socrates I must also honour Erasmus, Renaissance humanist, Christian scholar, and lover of the Pagan Classics, who had the breadth of spirit—not to mention the courage—to say the slightly heretical phrase “Pray for us, Saint Socrates.”)


I honour Pico della Mirandola, another Renaissance figure, who wrote about the dignity and potential of the human being at a time when medieval concepts of our abject unworthiness were still powerful. Pico attempted a grand synthesis of ancient mystical practices, Judaism, Christianity and Classical Paganism, until he was silenced by authorities. Chastened, he resolved to explore monastic asceticism shortly before his early death. (Given the breadth of his attempt to build bridges in an age when divisions were deep, I won’t hold that against him).


I honour Leonardo da Vinci, who pretty much exemplified Pico’s ideal person—as scientist, artist, inventor and stereotypical “Renaissance Man.” He was a tender-hearted vegetarian, a much-loved friend but also a genius, perfectionist and enigma. Keeping his personal life and beliefs under wraps, he created masterpieces that entice but also elude us. Older and wiser than Pico, he expressed his free-thinking ideas in art, not words. (see


I honour the 20th-century scientist Richard Feynman, whose single-minded drive helped unlock quantum electrodynamics, and whose puckish charm helped him share the “pleasure of finding things out” with a broader public. Like Socrates, he reminded us of the need for humility in the face of mystery: “Nature’s imagination is so much greater than ours; she’s never going to let us relax.” Like Pico, he was open and eager to explore different ways of being, whether this meant playing the bongo drums in Brazil, learning how to draw or lecturing at Esalen.


And finally I have a fictional saint to match the more legendary saints of the church. I honour Spock, the half human, half Vulcan, yoked to the likeable but impulsive Captain Kirk. Despite his divided soul, he managed to temper his primitive emotions with logic, awakening sensible and compassionate action in himself and others. Plus, he basically knew everything—even how to survive death at least once.


My saints are saints of wisdom and intellectual ambition, people who tried to understand as much of the world as they could. They embodied seemingly opposing qualities— spiritual and scientific, human and divine, humble and confident. Maybe they didn’t see visions, but they had imagination. Perhaps the good they did was merely a byproduct of chasing their passions, but it was good nonetheless. Their works and their presence inspired, roused curiosity, and moved others to skillful action. If they were rarely chaste, not always poor, and certainly not obedient, they had the ability to enliven and enlarge the human spirit.


They offer this 21st-century pagan a way out of and beyond narrow dogmatic restrictions to a wider vision. I am grateful for their example, and I honour them as my spiritual ancestors.




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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.


  • Jamie
    Jamie Friday, 29 October 2021


    Great list! I love the quote by Symmachus, and the choices of Feynman and (the admittedly fictional character of) Spock are inspired.

    I had no idea that Richard Feynman was such a cool guy, quite apart from his genius as both a scientist and populizer.

    My additions to that list would be:

    Thomas Morton, founder of Merrymount colony and thorn in the side of the Puritans. He believed in the future of a truly multicultural America, a fusion of native and English cultures. He led the first invocation of the Greek and Roman Gods on American soil, despite being a liberal Christian. He exposed the hypocrisy, violence, and greed of the Puritan extremists we Americans venerate every Thanksgiving.

    The Christian Right will never allow itself admit that people like Thomas Morton (and us) were here from the beginning of European settlement. North America would be a very different place if his vision had prevailed...not a utopia, but vastly better than it is. As a New Englander, that man is one of my heroes.

    Julian, the last Pagan emperor of the Roman Empire. He failed to permanently revive the worship of the Deathless Ones, but his efforts paved the way for us. Who knows why the Goddesses and Gods grant victory to some and not others? We never truly disappeared. A little research shows that you can't trust the official narratives of the Christian Church. Maybe the millenia of struggle will make our movement better and stronger in the long run.

    I'd add Marcus Aurelius to my list, but I suspect that in his heart of hearts he wouldn't want to be on it. Doing one's moral duty should not be viewed as exceptional, I think he would say. It should simply be viewed as necessary.

    The guy was a killjoy, but I revere his memory.

    Thanks again! I loved it.

  • Archer
    Archer Tuesday, 09 November 2021

    I'm so excited to learn about Thomas Morton! Thank you as always for your kind words and knowledge-sharing.

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