Seekers and Guides: The Importance of Remembrance

Flander's FieldsForgive me: I lied to you in my last column.  I said I was going to write an article about embracing contradictory truths in the Craft.  I’m moving that to the next one because I didn’t realize that this column would appear on the 11th of November.  In Canada we call this day “Remembrance Day,” and it’s a pretty big deal for us culturally.  It’s not just a bank holiday, like Veteran’s Day in the US.  Though it is that, we also take time as a culture, in our schools prior to it and at our daily grind otherwise, to observe a moment of silence for the dead of our many World Wars, to which we now must add the Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan.  As children in school, we make construction paper poppies and listen to the stories of soldiers.  As adults, often we stand in the rain with our veterans, solemnly clad in their uniforms and their medals, and we try to give their experience meaning and find hope in a time of darkness.

I think as Pagans, it is especially important that we engage in this practice of remembrance.  Whatever your view on war (some traditions strongly respecting the warrior path, such as the Asatru; some being adamantly opposed to war, such as Reclaiming Witches), our empathy for the experience of it is a valuable service we can contribute to our culture and the world.  The many reasons connect to the uniquely Pagan experience of our spirituality.  Now granted, these are all generalizations; and as such, not everyone will fit these moulds.  But we seem to have these commonalities that make remembrance, especially of powerful and terrible events such as war, much more immediate and intense.

Respect for Our Roots

Many of us are called to Pagan paths because we feel a strong ancestral connection.  Even the modern religion of Wicca draws its roots from the ancient Pagan practices of Europe.  All but the most dedicated Reconstructionists agree we can’t exactly practice the same religion that our ancestors did; cultural and historical context, technology and needs are completely different.  But something about those “Ancient Ways” draws us anyway.

For that reason, we have a natural connection to those ancestors that I believe gives us a special respect for the reality of their experience.  To Pagans, history isn’t an intellectual exercise.  It is a process of evolution that shapes who we are now as much as personal history and psychology do.  Historical events aren’t just a series of statistics for us, and our ancestors aren’t just names; we know they were real people, just like us, who suffered and bled and loved and lived.  So we internalize and appreciate some of their experiences in a way that many paths, especially in North America, often do not.  And because we look to our roots to understand why we are the way we are, we also ask ourselves why our ancestors were the way they were.  This particular approach seems to be unique to the shamanic and earth-centered paths of the world.  The other faiths who do it are the one we would often include among our definitions of “Pagan.”

Strong Ethics of Warfare

Most of us have a strong ethical code regarding war.  Either we tend to embrace the code of the warrior or we tend to be strongly opposed.  This alone makes the remembrance of war a more vivid experience for Pagans, as we either honor the brave dead or mourn the horrific suffering; and often, both at once!


Much of the modern Pagan movement is informed by (and rooted in) the spiritualist movement.  Spiritualism postulates that we continue after death and can communicate with the living, especially those trained in (or born to) mediumship.  Spiritualism also postulates that we reincarnate.  Most Pagans share these beliefs (but certainly not all) and we have a great deal of respect for that element of our tradition(s).  I don’t know of any Pagan tradition that does not make a point of having at least one holiday that honors the dead, whether that is Samhain or Einherjar.

I’ll be frank: I believe both in ghosts and in reincarnation.  My personal experiences have borne up this belief.  And I had a metaphysical store which happened to be located next to a place called “Cenotaph Park.”  Around this time of year, the spirits of dead soldiers often wander by.  I help them as best I can.  Sometimes it’s about making contact with loved ones.  Most often it’s about recognizing that they are dead and accepting that.

At a Samhain festival last year, after a whole weekend of ritual we had a Dumb Supper.  Both of my grandfathers, and my great uncles, all of whom were war vets and only one of whom I really knew when they were living, came to hang out with me and let me know they were proud of me.  It was a powerful ritual that I will not soon forget.

Because of these experiences, the reality of war is perhaps more real to me than those who have not had such experiences.  Even if you haven’t had such things happen to you, if you’re a Pagan you probably know someone who has (or believe s/he has, if your beliefs don’t support that.)  And that makes things a little more immediate.


Let’s face it: as Pagans, we’re highly empathic and we believe in personal gnosis and value personal understanding and practice.  This is entirely my observation, but I believe that as a general rule, we experience life and emotion more intensely than the average soul.  We’re pretty good at walking a mile in another’s shoes.  We’re not very good at emotional distance.

Willingness to Face the Dark

It’s a thin line, and again it’s based in my personal observations, but I believe that Pagans are often more willing to accept the dark than many other paths of faith.  Many others with spiritualist leanings are so adamantly opposed to warfare that they are opposed to warriors.  For the most part, even the most dedicated anti-war activist among us can accept and understand that soldiers sometimes have no choice but to fight – or, at the very least, believe that they don’t.  We accept that there is suffering in this world and embrace it as a crucible of the soul and a chance to become better people, rather than deny it and try to pretend it doesn’t exist.  And that makes it possible for us to truly grasp (some might say “grok”) the circumstances of the people who lived in those times, and to communicate that tragedy and experience of suffering to other people in a way that makes it real.


I mentioned in my last article that the Druids knew that the part of the mind that inspires bards and holy people is the same part, and they called it Awen.  Consequently, Pagans are creative.  Visualization is a skill that we teach and practice; and so many of us engage in artistic pursuits.  That means that rather than reciting statistics, we can make a story live and breathe; and whether we do it through music, writing, or intensive ritual, the result is the same.

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Make sure you spend a moment today to honor your beloved dead, and the Mighty Dead if your tradition accepts that.  Lest we forget.

Next column: Your Mileage May Vary – Embracing Multiple & Contradictory Truths in the Craft (I promise!)

Seekers and Guides is published on alternate Mondays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

About Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. Her passion is teaching self-empowerment through study of the Craft. She makes her living doing psychic and Tarot readings, writing, and teaching workshops, and she is also a speculative fiction writer and a musician. Sable is the author of "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power: A Complete Course in Magick and Witchcraft" (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2014). She continues to write "Seekers and Guides" at her new blog Between the Shadows here at Patheos Pagan, and she also writes a column called "49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives" at PaganSquare. For further information, please visit her website or her YouTube channel

  • Pat Fraser
  • Pat Fraser
  • Pat Fraser
  • Pat Fraser

    Just a bank Holiday in the US? I think not. You can delete my posts, however…. You won’t be able to delete all of them once I pass this article onto others. I hope you edit your article. Blessed Be.

    • Sable Aradia

      I didn’t delete your post: our moderators did. Actually, I rather wish they hadn’t: my response to you has lost its context. But there are rules here about rude behavior and I suppose they must be equally enforced. I won’t edit my article. I believe in owning what I say – badly chosen phrasing or not. By all means please pass the article on to whomever you wish. Don’t forget to include the link to read my comments as well. Blessed be to you also.

  • Guest

    Wow you are not only ignorant but very closed minded and terribly misinformed!
    As an american born and raised as well as a proud pagan I am appalled and dissapointed in your claims that the american citizens treat veterans day as simply a bank holiday!
    Truly please promply remove your head from the sand and stop spreading misinformation. As a daughter of a 3 war veteran…. a cousin of two 3 war veterans…. a niece of a 2 war veteran… a grand daughter and great granddaughter of 8 multi war veterans I can tell you for us americans, it is NOT just a bank holiday. It is observed for no less than 4 days every year… schools, churches, businesses, cities and towns celebrate it… honor it and give thanks and rememberance to all service men and women… past present and future.
    You truly speak from where you have no experience or true knowledge.

  • Pat Fraser

    History of Veterans Day

    World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

    In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

    The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

    The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:

    Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

    Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

    Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

    An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

    Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation” which stated: “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.”

    On that same day, President Eisenhower sent a letter to the Honorable Harvey V. Higley, Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), designating him as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee.

    In 1958, the White House advised VA’s General Counsel that the 1954 designation of the VA Administrator as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee applied to all subsequent VA Administrators. Since March 1989 when VA was elevated to a cabinet level department, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has served as the committee’s chairman.
    The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

    The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.

    Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

  • Sherman

    Actually ma’am, you’re a bit off there. Americans of all stripes love and cherish our vets.

    Yes, our government takes further advantage of our soldiers by not working for them on their day, but make no mistake, the citizens of the U.S. honor our vets no matter the day. November 11 is simply the day we speak the loudest.

    • Sable Aradia

      Wow! Forgive me sir, and everyone else too: I did not mean to imply that the US does not value the experience of their war vets, or the suffering that results. I believe that Memorial Day is given more cultural focus in the US than Veteran’s Day, and this is portrayed as a time of celebration of courage and honour (which war certainly is as well,) and not treated as a time of grieving. We do not have Memorial Day (or big parades, or the yearly opening of the barbecue). We have Remembrance Day only, and it is a solemn time of funeral parades, wreath offering, and respect. When searching for a blog image to use for this post, I found all kinds of images that had Canadian flags and poppies. I did not find a single one that had an American flag and a poppy. Make of that what you will. I am sorry you all seemed to think I meant that the US does not honour their veterans, but that’s not what I said at all. But as to my personal observation about the “cultural focus” of the holiday and the weight it is given in our two nations – I stand by my original statement that Canadians seem to give it more focus than Americans do (though “bank holiday” probably implies contempt, and that’s not at all what I intended.) I hope that someone has a comment about the actual message of my post – that Pagan spirituality makes us uniquely equipped in many ways to deeply empathize with and respect the experience of war – and that people will be a little less defensive about what was, I see in retrospect, an admittedly bad choice of phrasing. Mea culpa.

  • Lesley Stephens

    I think you are confused! I am sure you didn’t mean to misinform people about our American Veterans Day! We DON’T treat this as a bank day infact this is the day for us to remember what others do in order for us to be free! Please don’t continue to make light of our day to remember our Veterans!

    • Sable Aradia

      You are right, I do not intend to make light of the holiday at all. I just don’t think that the US gives it quite the same focus that Canada does. But that could be because you guys have two holidays to remember your veterans, and we just have the one. I have no doubt that America remembers its veterans – as we all should! My poorly chosen phrase seems to have implied something that I did not at all mean. Thanks for (sort of) coming to my defense.

  • Pat Fraser
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  • Sable Aradia

    Oh honey, statements like this say far more about your brain power than mine. This kind of trolling is so silly. If you disagree with me, by all means say so, and argue why, and I will read and take note (such as your helpful links, which refute me quite well and I am glad for it); but don’t waste your time with personal insults. They are unnecessary and they mean you have already lost your debate.

  • Christine Kraemer

    Sir or Madam, while it is appropriate to correct misinformation, your abusive comments are not appropriate. We do not tolerate name-calling here. Please conduct yourself respectfully in this space.

  • Pat Fraser

    I served in the United States military, and saw this great Nation of ours through four wars. I was there, in Afghanistan helping my wounded Canadian brothers in arms in the spring 2003. You have no idea, what it takes to defend ones nation. And by the Gods, I hope you never will. Because, to serve means to have honor. I’ve seen none, in your previous posts. You’ve taken the liberty to call me honey. I find that very offensive! You have not earned that right. Someday, I hope you come to the United States on Veterans Day, and I will personally show you what our “Bank Holiday” is like.
    To my Canadian Comrades, Thank you for your service. Thank you for standing with us. Thank you for being our brothers and sisters in arms!!!

  • Pat Fraser

    Hello Christine, I did not do any name calling. Just noticed a medical symptom… ;)

  • Sable Aradia

    Sir (or Ma’am; I am sorry, Pat is a gender neutral name), you have chosen now to willfully confuse my feeling about the importance that the civilian cultures of our two countries puts on the holiday itself with a) a lack of respect for veterans among Americans (not what I said,) b) a lack of respect on my part for the sacrifices of our veterans (*clearly* not the case, if you read the rest of my article,) and c) some kind of attack on veterans, or on you personally (and it is neither). Insulting me does not change my opinion and I have already apologized for my choice of phrase. You are now doing nothing but being a troll and an agitator. Thank you for your sacrifice in defending freedom. I respect that. But it does not give you license to be rude. I suggest you turn the page off now, give it a few days, and re-read what has been written here when you have had an opportunity to calm down and be a bit more rational. Good day to you.