Knights of the Realm
Much of Britain is still pagan. Many farmers across Logres still make offerings to the fi eld and weather gods, and many kingdoms outside of Logres even have kings and nobles who sacrifice to the old gods. The local kings are advised by councilors who are professed druids, a class of bardic priests and wise men who are in touch with the ancient powers of the land. The druid leaders are appointed to their positions by the local kings. A druidic network exists, but it does not have a ruling hierarchy. Instead, druids acknowledge each other’s ranks through their exercise of knowledge and power.
Merlin the Enchanter, the Archdruid, is the acknowledged leader of the pagan religion, for no one is wiser or more powerful than he. Indeed, his power dwarfs that of all other druids, who are more advisors than magicians. Another magical organization exists whose members are not druids, but who are yet priestesses and advisors. These generally lead local covens and perform farming and fertility rites. Like the druids, they are not a single organization but acknowledge each other through recognition of power and prestige. The leader of this group is Nimue, and her organization of the Ladies of the Lake is highly respected, if only from arms’ length.
Paganism is characterized by beliefs and attitudes that differentiate it from Christianity. The most obvious is the worship of many immortal and sometimes deific entities called gods, goddesses, and spirits. These entities inhabit the landscape, the sky, the sun, the moon, and other parts of the world, and also the Other Side (also called the Spirit Realm, the Faerie Realm, or any number of other such titles). They imbue the world with a life force and consciousness. By living in harmony with these natural forces, people live happier, healthier, safer lives. Paganism believes in an afterlife, on the Other Side, and druids also taught that souls reincarnate back onto our side as well. Paganism is built upon oral tradition, shunning the written word. This grows out of a system of belief that reveres empirical experience over education. Pagans do not proselytize. Nor do they adhere to a strict hierarchy of leadership, or to a central authority. One important belief is an acknowledgment of human limitations, especially where it comes to knowing the “Truth.” Truth, for pagans, has many forms, all of which deserve respect within their limited sphere.
Paganism is a religion of nature; ceremonies are usually held at outdoor sites such as megalithic circles or ancient oak groves. The seasonal celebrations in different parts of the land are similar, although they probably invoke deities with different names. The patterns are the same, though details differ from place to place. Paganism is eclectic and acknowledges many gods and goddesses, even many from outside of Britain. British Paganism includes native deities such as Don and Beli; Roman imports like Minerva Sulis and Dionysus; and Far Eastern mysticism, such as Mithras, Isis, and Cybele. Pagans in Pendragon may be content to think that their ancient ways will
eventually absorb even the latest religion imported from Rome: Christianity.
Druid philosophy is concerned with maintaining a balance between the material world and the Other Side. It recognizes a duality in form, manifest in masculine/feminine, earth/sky, summer/winter, day/night, and light/darkness. It also recognizes the existence of several cycles, some regular and temporal, others free-willed and mythic. By interacting with these cycles, an individual can experience, and learn from, his or her god. All gods manifest an ambivalence that operates equally well within worlds of light and darkness, of life and death, of myth and materialism. The objective is to exercise the powers that are best for the communal good. The teachings of the druids outlined and guided people to the common good.
Paganism, unlike Heathenism, is not amoral. The pagan gods work for the specifi c purpose of helping the tribe, so they teach right and wrong. Paganism acknowledges good and evil, unlike the heathen faith. The welfare of the people is preeminent, and spiritual work is for the good of the people. Thus, if the tribe does something “bad,” it does so only because it might accomplish some good by that means. Thus the druids, recognizing that some of the ancient practices from which they drew their religion were “wrong,” outlawed certain heathen rites and traditions. Especially odious were human sacrifice and headhunting, both of which were outlawed, as noted in the laws of Dunvallo Molmutine, the great Lawgiver of ancient times.
Logres, on the Salisbury Plain This is the best known of hundreds of similar stone circles in Britain. It is also called the Giants’ Dance, and was once the site of a famous Saxon treachery called the Night of Long Knives. Merlin the Magician rejuvenated the site with potent stones taken from distant Ireland.
The isle of Avalon
Logres, West Country near Cornwall From within the marshes rise a group of several hills called the Isle of Avalon, or Isle of Apples. This is the central site for the Ladies of the Lake, held apart and kept secret from the uninitiated and the unwanted by the Ladies’
magic. Within its confi nes are a sacred well and a labyrinth that can bring the seeker to the Other Side.
Escavalon. A rich late- and post-Roman temple to Nodens is here, kept well by private donations of people who have been cured by its healing baths.
Bath, in southwest Logres Ancient healing springs rise from the earth in this place, sacred to the wise goddess Sulis. An ancient pagan
priest-king named Bladud was cured of leprosy here and founded the nearby temple. Holy fi res have remained burning ever since.
King Bladud preferred this place above all others to study his magic, which eventually allowed him to fly. He died in Trinovantium when his flying failed and he plummeted to the earth. Later the Romans associated the native deity with their own Minerva.
In the Irish Sea Called the Isle of Mannanan (later the Isle of Mann) by its inhabitants, this island is sacred to the god of that name.
Salisbury. This gigantic fi gure is cut into the downs, exposing the white chalk beneath. It is the place where Epona, the Great Queen, lay when her son was crowned King by the Picts and Faeries.
Cerne Abras Giant
Dorset. This huge figure is cut into the sod to reveal the chalk beneath, much like the White Horse and other figures in the Downs. It is sometimes called “the vulgar man” because of its prominent phallus. Women seeking to have children sleep on the fi gure, invoking the powers of fertility to aid them.
The Long Man
Sussex. Another figure cut through the topsoil, this one shows the shape of a man holding two long staffs. The pagans did not explain its meaning or purpose when they fled from the Saxons, who regard it with superstitious awe and scrupulously avoid it.
Pictland. Located between Loch Ness and the sea, near modern Inverness, this large wooded hill is the main place where the northern Faerie court once convened, and still holds much ancient power. It is also the place where ancient Pictish kings were crowned and buried.
Maes Howe, Brodgar and Stennes
Orkneys. A huge complex of ancient stone tombs, rings, and lines is concentrated here. Maes Howe is a very powerful ritual center. Brodgar is a large stone ring, called the Temple of the Sun. Stenness, a smaller ring, is called the Temple of the Moon. A third small ring is called the Temple of the Stars.
Pictland. Located near the modern city of Inverness, this dramatic series of tombs, stone rings, and stone lines marks a major center of ritual. Old rites of human sacrifice were once practiced here.
Pagan deities do not fall into those neat lists and categories so loved by scholars. Different parts of Britain prefer their own deities. Their mythologies, functions, and aspects were often alike, yet they were often called by different names even from one village or holding to the next. Moreover, when the old groves were searched for living spirits, the surviving gods were welcomed and mixed up further.
A.k.a. Belenos, Lug, Llud, Nudd, Llyr
The most ancient god of fire, sun, and heaven still rules over a Faerie world called the Land of Youth. Often called the Shining One, this god is he who intercedes among the gods and spirits in favor of the living. He rules the tribe of the Gods of Light and is the furious magical king who wields the thunderbolt. He is widely worshiped as a god of life and death.
A.k.a. Pwyll, Urbgen
This is the Lord of the Underworld, who keeps all riches, the ancestors of animals, and the power of Life when it is absent from the human world. He rules the Land of the Dead under the Western Sea. He is sometimes called Lord of Nourishment. He is widely worshiped as a god of life and death.
Math the Ancient is “the Overlord,” keeper of the starry night which speaks its secrets to astronomers and herdsmen. He is the Source of Wisdom, and much druidic knowledge comes from him. His young assistant, Gwydion, the Druid of the Gods, usually accompanies him.
A.k.a. Modron, Anna, Brigid, Arianrhod, Rhiannon, Epona, Gaia
This First Goddess has many aspects and is most quickly recognized as Mother (Modron or Anna), Fire and Poetry (Brigid), Moon (Arianrhod), Horses (Epona), Sovereignty (Rhiannon), and Earth (Don or Gaia). She is wife to many, and mother to the rest.
The Dark Goddess owns the magical cauldron of inspiration, life, and rebirth. She rules beneath the earth and in its dark waters, and upon its shores she may meet a young hero to test him; if he succeeds, she may give him a magical horse.
The Maiden, or Young Goddess of Springtime, is the carrier of new life to the world. She is the fl ower goddess, often called simply Wife or Bride, who carries the light of life within her. She is sometimes a treacherous temptress.
A.k.a. Owain, Angeus, Pryderi, Gwythur, Mabon
This is the God Who Comes Again, the resurrected warrior of light who arises from the darkness, rescues the flower goddess, and begins the season of Plenty. He is sometimes called the Sleeping Hero. Sometimes he is associated with a lion.
A.k.a. Gronw Pebyr, Meligraunce
This is the Dark God who terrifies men, abducts the Goddess, enchants the Light God, and brings the cold hardship of winter to the world. He is the Wild Hunter whose hounds can be heard in the wilderness.
This god rules over the Irish Sea and the magical land underneath. Especially sacred to him is the Isle of Mann, where the tailless Manx cats dwell.
No single hierarchy exists for all pagan practitioners. The relations between members of different pagan traditions depend upon mutual recognition and respect of each other’s ability and power. The druidic organization is the most standardized, so the others are compared to it.
The highest and most powerful magician in the land is called the Archdruid (or sometimes Chief Druid). Unlike other druids, the Archdruid is not examined by a superior and then appointed to his post. Instead, the must have proved himself through knowledge and experience to greater, invisible powers. He must understand the deepest powers of the world and its magic. Druidic training prepares a person for this experience. Merlin the magician is Archdruid before Arthur and well into his reign. Later, Taliesin the Poet becomes Archdruid.
Not all magicians are druids. To become a druid, a man undergoes a time of training as a bard, then an ovate, in preparation for tests whose aim is to prove him to be an accomplished practitioner of magic capable of performing the rituals, spells, and other religious activities of a community. Only men may be druids, though women may receive druidic instruction. Women usually become enchantresses or a witches. (They do not need to be druids because they, as Bearers of Life, are already initiated into the greatest secrets.)
An ovate is a druid-in-training who has already proven himself a master of bardic song and oral tradition, and who is now studying the esoteric arts of astronomy, astrology, divination, philosophy, and ritual. Ovates outrank bards.
Bards used to be only the lowest rank of druid, but many bards exist who have no ambition to progress further. To be a bard, one must have mastered the oral traditions of storytelling, poetry, genealogies, and law-speaking. True bards can perform the magical poem called a lampoon, which is so powerful that it can disfigure a king’s appearance, reputation, and health if he violates his social duties.
Other Religious Roles
Anyone who has magical ability may become a priest or priestess with the proper training; such training is usually administered by an existing hierarchy with an established traditional relationship to a deity, often linked to a specific holy place. Thus they are almost always priests or priestesses of a specific deity. Functions of the priesthood are largely ceremonial, especially concerning the seasonal festivities overseen by the priests and priestesses. Healing and magical protection are common powers and activities. These people can often work magic, but lack the depth of understanding to qualify as druids and the breadth of experience to do anything outside of their deity’s scope. Some, however, are more powerful than ovates.
The best known priestesshood is that of the Ladies of the Lake. Priestesses are often called “enchantresses.”
The native, earth-oriented magical lore of Britain is widely practiced, and organized locally by men and women called witches or wicca (“wise ones”), or occasionally, for men, warlocks. They specialize in forms of folk magic, especially in healing wounds and curing illness. Many other spells may be known (or simply claimed) by a witch. They also lead communities in seasonal rituals. Witches recognize no authority outside their covens, but respect anyone accomplished in magical crafts. Witches are sometimes called “enchanters” or “enchantresses.”