Oh, those pagan Irish Anglicans?

Oh, those pagan Irish Anglicans? November 19, 2013

Was it a case of good manners?

Did the editors at The Irish Times print the obituary of Olivia Durdin Robertson, who it described as, “the self-styled ‘high priestess’ of a Co Carlow-based cult devoted to an ancient Egyptian goddess, [who] has died aged 96,” without any comment or further investigation to avoid a scandal in the Church of Ireland? Or were they unaware of what they had in front of them?

The Church of Ireland is in a delicate state in terms of its unity. Divided roughly along North/South lines over the culture war issues — homosexuality, abortion and the like — the church funeral of Olivia Durdin Robertson might tip the church over the edge.

This Irish Times story marks the passing of a generation: English aristocratic eccentrics (in this case Angl0-Irish) with oddball country house antics. While Miss Durdin Robertson appears not to have aspired to the cat suits of Dianna Rigg, the conversion of her ancestral home, Huntington Castle in the Irish village of Clonegal in County Carlow, into a temple dedicated to “the Goddess” would not have been out of place in an episode of the ’60s television show, The Avengers.

The Irish Times reported:

Ms Durdin Robertson came to international attention in the 1970s when she co-founded the “Fellowship of Isis” with her late brother Lawrence Alexander Durdin Robertson – a former Anglican clergyman — and his wife Pamela.

And noted:

Her nephew David Durdin Robertson, a craftsman and sculptor who predeceased her in 2009, created an Egyptian temple for her in the dungeons of the castle. In recent years this has been opened to the public for tours at Halloween.

Intrigued? Click this link to learn more about the Fellowship, which appears to have drawn heavily from Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. The article notes:

Her funeral on Wednesday will begin with “a private ceremony in the temple, organised by the Fellowship of Isis, by invitation only” followed by a public Church of Ireland service at St Fiacc’s in Clonegal.

And then closes with odds and ends about the Fellowship and the castle.

Well, “what of it?”, you might ask. Why would the obituary of the priestess of an Irish-Egyptian cult come across GetReligion’s radar? Titillation value?

No — the two funerals notice is the clue. Anglican churches have a difficult time as it is permitting Freemasons Christian burial. But a church burial for a leader of a pagan cult, even if she is the local squire, is contrary to canon law.

Canon 32, “The burial of the dead”, of the Church of Ireland states in part:

(2)    A member of the clergy may however exercise discretion in refusing to read the burial service in full where the deceased died unbaptised or had committed some grievous or notorious sin and not repented of it or had been excluded from Holy Communion under Canon 16 and had not been readmitted thereto.

And in such circumstances:

(3)    And where this is not reasonably practicable such member of the clergy shall report the matter to the [bishop] thereafter.

I wrote to the priest in charge of St Fiacc’s (which is part of a larger conglomeration of parishes) asking whether questions had been raised about the propriety of holding a church service, and via email he responded:

Re your query, I am as alarmed as you are at the turn of events. The Christian gospel is compromised. The woman deserted Christ for paganism years ago and a Christian Church is no place for her funeral. Alas I am not the Rector, Just his assistant. I have been away for the w’end and have no details other than what you know already. I understand the Bishop was informed and his advice sought. I take it he has given permission. …

And I wrote to the bishop — and he did not respond.

This funeral has all the makings of an ecclesiastical row. The bishop in question, the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, has led the charge in the Church of Ireland on liberalizing abortion laws in the Republic and on changing church teaching on homosexuality. (He is also the brother in law of the Archbishop of Dublin, but that wouldn’t influence things would it?) In 2011 the bishops of Northern Ireland refused to participate in a ceremony where the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory would be present, due to his allowing one of his priests to enter into a gay civil partnership. That crisis appears to have been smoothed over, but the hard feelings remain.

Will the bishop’s permission, or indifference, to the church funeral of a pagan priestess reignite the fires?

The moral of the story, from a journalistic point of view, is to pay attention and to have knowledge about the subject you are covering. It could well have been discretion that prompted the silence from the Irish Times on this oddball bit of news. But a religion reporter in Ireland would know that the Roman Catholic Church, and the principle Protestant Churches — Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist, would forbid a funeral under these circumstances. An analogy might well be reporting a marriage between two persons of the same-sex in Ireland, and not noting that such a marriage would be unlawful under civil and religious law.

The Church of Ireland’s standing committee meets this week, and I expect this issue will be raised (unofficially) amongst the bishops. Let’s wait and see what happens.

Comment note: Comments discussing journalism and the questions raised in the post are welcome as is information on the issues being discussed. Helping move the story forward is welcome. Abuse, personal attacks on other commentators and the author, nonsense and loonie behavior is not welcome.

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64 responses to “Oh, those pagan Irish Anglicans?”

  1. At least the Priest in Charge understands the problem even if the *Rector* does not. I certainly hope someone gets thru to the Rector and/or Bishop why this funeral is a HORRID idea. Just think of the gullible victims of this woman…. how awful if they came to her funeral in a Church of Ireland parish and think that this means that the Church is OK with her! *sigh*

      • The people she lead into Paganism are indeed her victims. They have not heard the Gospel of Christ. It is never right to pretend that someone who obviously left Christianity for Paganism decades ago is still a Christian. She is not and her funeral should never have been in a Church of Ireland parish. Homosexuality is NOT the root of the schism in the Episcopal Church. Never has been. THAT is what journalists want many to believe as it is easy to make one side seem bigoted and the other side as tolerant and inclusive. However, The Church in Ireland has rules and they should be followed. I have a friend who is a retired Episcopal priest. He was asked to do the burial service for his own father. He agreed as long as the service was not a Christian burial as he knew his father was not a Christians.

    • I am a catholic and also was great friend of Olivia i attended the funeral yesterday. It was in my own words an honour to know this Lady and they are the only words i could use to describe Olivia. She helped me at a time when i needed help. She will be sadly missed and there will never be another like her. She never judged anyone or questioned what religion they followed Olivia deserved a good send off and thats what we gave her:)

  2. I suppose it all depends on what the “public Church service” consists of. You assume a “church burial” but if the actual interment is celebrated according to Pagan rites at the private service, the canon you cite would have no bearing on any memorial service which the church might offer afterward, not unlike the sort of pastoral arrangements which used to be made for suicides.

    Having said all that, I count no less than three gratuitous references to homosexuality and same-sex marriage in a post completely unrelated to those topics. I suppose there must be a quota in order for it to be a valid GR post!

    • Church of Ireland churches are not rented out for private pagan funerals, to my knowledge.

      I am at a loss to understand your confusion over the relevance to homosexuality as its link is clearly laid out. If the issue is distasteful for you then I suggest you avoid church news, as the issue will crop up rather frequently these days.

      • But according to the article you cite, the private service is taking place in their own temple, not in a church at all, so I don’t know what you mean by “renting out.”

        I’m afraid you may not have “laid out the link” as clearly as you intended: it reads like a fairly abrupt segue to a generalised complaint about the bishop’s perceived “liberalism.” In any case, I certainly make a habit of avoiding CEN!

    • He was talking about the rifts in the Anglican and Episcopalian church. Homosexuality is the root of that rift. It is not bigoted but actually on topic.

  3. Also, since this site seems to pride itself on its journalistic propriety, you must know that “cult” is not a value-neutral term. The Fellowship of Isis is a religious organization that has spread over the world. Honestly, I can’t believe this post made the cut of a once-respectable religion-journalism watchdog.

  4. The Fellowship of Isis is not a pagan organization neither was Lady Olivia a pagan she was isian and she never declared herself a pagan and told people repeatedly I’m not Pagan. The Fellowship of isis welcome to all religions from around the world in every country on the planet.

    • The Historical Dictionary of New Religious Movements describes the Fellowship of Isis as “an association of various Wiccan and pagan groups” p 136. The other reference book on my shelf The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects and New Religions describes the Fellowship of Isis as the “largest pagan organization in the Western world” p 330.

      When preparing the article for publication I read up on the Fellowship of Isis and was comfortable saying it was a pagan group based on these definitions. Can you point me to other independent sources that make the argument the Fellowship is not pagan?

        • Not as such. The question of claiming a name is one that has been addressed many times at Get Religion on who is a Catholic priest and such.

          I can call myself Queen Marie of Romania, that does not make it so. The value of independent sources is that they are independent. There is nothing wrong with information provided by advocacy groups or sources, but they cannot be by their nature the final word.

          • But she was not claiming any name. This is not a case of appropriation, this is a case of rejecting a certain label.

            If I call a Jew a Zoroastrian, I am making a mistake. If she did not self-identify as a pagan, there is no reason to call her that. You can note the intellectual foundations, as you did, without using the label.

            Your point is a good one, I often am upset with Christians claiming to be pagan due to their “love of nature” or such stylistic things, but this is not the same sort of case. If they claim to be neither, how can I define them without ignoring their viewpoint and prioritizing my own?

  5. Lady Olivia Robertson embodied and expressed spiritual love that not only is the essence of what Christianity should be about but which is at the heart of many world religions, including Paganism and other forms of Nature religion. For more than 50 years, Olivia helped people of many faiths, many races, many nations the world over. The world is a better place because of her, her life, her service. She deserves to have memorial services in sacred places across religious traditions. On this her funeral day, may we celebrate her bright spirit and good works.

    • How good she was is not the issue. The issue is that she was not a Christian in good standing, the only who are to be given rites of Christian burial according to the canons of the Church of Ireland.

      • John, I do not believe you are in a position to judge her standing. The priest who led the funeral decided, within his discretion according to the canon law cited above, about her standing and he deemed her worthy of such blessings,

    • Then we as Pagans should understand other religions ethical conumdrums. The answer isn’t to lecture how good she was at the author of this piece, the answer is to either find a secular cemetary or gather the funds and make sacred Pagan cemetaries.

  6. If one were an Imam, would there be an expectation of a funeral service in both a mosque and a synagogue? Or is there no longer any distinction between faiths outside of, say, a madrasa, yeshiva, or seminary? Would any possible, if archaic, distinction be of interest to a reader?

    • Thanks for proving my point. Journalistic coverage of multiple funerals and services in distinct separate traditions is a topic that can and should be covered by someone who does not prejudice their own coverage by calling a someone else’s tradition a “cult” from the outset. Instead of investigating the actual question at hand, the author has chosen to resort to exoticism and name-calling. If the author had integrity, this issue would have been covered as it “used” to be on Get Religion–where discussions involving Santeria, Vodou, and minority traditions were not prejudicially approached from the outset. Instead of focusing on the topic, the author has instead diminished his credibility and that of “Get Religion’s.”

  7. I’m a seminary-trained Anglican, and just in case anyone is wondering, it is not usual practice within Anglicanism to consider joining another religion to necessarily repudiate one’s previous religion (that is, Anglicanism permits multiple religious belonging, so there’s no reason to conclude that Lady Olivia was not a good Anglican because she also belonged to another group). Anglican-Pagan/Wiccan/etc. affiliations are actually quite common, and most parishes contain at least one person who answers to that description as regular communicant. It is also the standard, recommended pastoral practice for funerals to always err on the side of the grieving family whenever there is any doubt and to save divisive theological disputations for a less sensitive occasion, so even if someone had quibbles about this, very few priests would be poorly-trained enough to refuse a funeral if asked. Also: note that the canon _permits_ priests to exercise discretion about a church funeral for non-Christians, but does not require it, so even if she actually renounced Christianity in addition to espousing paganism, she would probably still get a church funeral from most priests. In today’s world, you are more likely to give scandal by refusing to have a funeral for someone of another religion who asks than by giving a funeral to someone with bad or non-existent Christian credentials, so the standard pastoral practice is to grant requests for church funerals no questions asked.

    • I do not agree with you on this point of it being possible to have multiple religious belongings and be an Anglican. However, there is no single definition as to what an Anglican is, and there are a great many churches and individuals who lay claim to the title.

      However, if by Anglican you mean a member of one of the Churches in communion with the see of Canterbury, no it is not possible to be have multiple religious belongings. The case of the Christian-Muslim priest from Seattle, or the new-age Episcopal priest from Philadelphia both resulted in their being deposed from the ministry. The canon law and practice of the churches of the communion requires an exclusive commitment to Jesus Christ. Individuals may not conform to these rules, but no church of which I am aware (given my definition of a church above) permits syncretism of this sort.

      • The Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding was certainly deposed in 2009 as a priest in the Episcopal Church after her conversion to Islam, but I do not know of any action of excommunication of Redding from the Episcopal Church because of her dual Episcopal Church and Islam affiliations.

        • There is no such thing as a formal excommunication in the Episcopal Church. Her removal from the ordained ministry is the only juridical action that could happen. Technically a priest could withhold communion from her if she presented herself to receive the Eucharist, but such an action is unlikely. As a stranger in a church it would be assumed she was acting in good faith when presenting herself to receive the sacraments. If in a familiar or friendly church where the priest was a friend, I would not expect a public rebuke. The only situation where it might occur is if she presented herself for communion before the bishop who deposed her — but then the assumption would be that she recanted.

          • Correct. The Constitution defines “members” as “all persons baptized by this church”, with no exceptions specified.

          • “There is no such thing as a formal excommunication in the Episcopal Church. Her removal from the ordained ministry is the only juridical action that could happen. Technically a priest could withhold communion from her if she presented herself to receive the Eucharist, but such an action is unlikely.”

            Quod erat demonstrandum. If there’s no formal canonical provision for the excommunication of lay persons with multiple religious affiliations, Lady Robertson is an Anglican in good standing and entitled to all the sacraments of the church, period.

            In some Anglican jurisdictions in communion with the See of Canterbury, priests may withhold communion at their own discretion, but in most of these they must report to the bishop within a certain number of days that they have done so and why and are answerable to the bishop if the reasons for withholding are not good enough in the bishop’s judgment. (So most priests considering such a step will consult with the bishop before they make such a move unilaterally). In the Episcopal Church we are trained that it always bad pastoral judgment and nearly always occasions scandal to withhold sacraments so it should never be done.

        • http://stpauls.dioup.org/ Kevin Thew Forrester, a famous Episcopal priest who is also a Buddhist, is still the rector of St. Paul’s in Marquette, Michigan. He was elected bishop of Northern Michigan but did not receive canonical assent to become a bishop when his multiple religious belonging was revealed, but he was not deposed from priesthood

          • Because he denied that he practiced other faiths when questioned by bishops and standing committees. The consents were withheld, according to the Bishop of Southern Ohio, for Thew’s questionable Christian teaching and changes to the liturgy. And on a practical level, removal from the priesthood is a diocesan action and with a handful of clergy and congregations in Northern Michigan such an action would not be expected.

      • “Individuals may not conform to these rules, but no church of which I am aware (given my definition of a church above) permits syncretism of this sort.” In addition to Anglicanism and most mainline Protestant denominations in the US permitting multiple religious belonging, it is permitted in the Roman Catholic Church. Sorry about my delay addressing this thread. I just got back from the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Baltimore, where several scholarly panels addressed the issue of multiple religious belonging (mostly involving Christianity and Hinduism or Christianity and Buddhism).

        • Have you any evidence of your claim that the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Churches permit “multiple religious belonging”? If so, that would be news worth pursuing

          • Syncretism is a serious problem in Latin American Catholicism. However, it’s a matter of popular piety, and is not “permitted”.

  8. I just have to wonder how the author of this article would feel about being referred to as a “Leader within the Anglican Cult.”

    • Note the answer above. The lede sentence of the Irish Times article described Durdin Robertson as the priestess of a cult.

      My advice is to read the articles and the underlying story.

  9. I
    have several opinions about this…none of which are printable. With
    that said, there are those who build bridges and there are those who
    tear them down. But, because bridges are necessary we shall keep
    building because there are those who wish to get to the other side and
    those that tear them down will only leave themselves…..well, stuck.

  10. I
    have several opinions about this…none of which are printable. With
    that said, there are those who build bridges and there are those who
    tear them down. But, because bridges are necessary we shall keep
    building because there are those who wish to get to the other side and
    those that tear them down will only leave themselves…..well, stuck.

  11. It is not unknown for those of us who are Pagans living in Ireland to have two memorial/funeral services. Please note I say services not rites. That way those who are of the same beliefs as well as family members and member of the local community who have differing beliefs ( usually christian of some denomination) get to come together to grief and remember in their own way the person who has passed.

    Such gatherings are for the living and I find it churlish that anyone would seek to forbid such comforts to people when they have suffered a loss.

    I also think that speculating about what rites may or may have not been preformed to be presumptuous and I find the tone of the article to be set only on smearing the passing of such a grace-filled and gentle soul.

    • Thank you for sharing information from the Irish scene on how pagans see funeral rites/services.

      Your assertion that this article smears the subject of the Irish Times piece is incorrect and makes an assumption about motives of which you have no knowledge.

      Whether it is churlish or not to require clergy to follow the canons is besides the point. Feelings have nothing to do with the matter. A person who has rejected the Christian faith, according to Irish Anglican canon law, is not to have Christian burial.

      The point raised is one of precision of language.

        • The relevant question would seem to be could the deceased have recited the relevant faith’s creed, and meant it, without reservation or editing. If she honestly could, the rest is paperwork and details.

          I do not know the lady and make no judgment from such a far distance but we might profit from you reading the Nicene creed (which I believe is the relevant one) and explaining exactly how that would be compatible with being a priestess of Isis. As for me, it is beyond my abilities. But I claim no special expertise so that inability is not any sort of final word.

  12. Cult is the term used by the Irish Times. It appears in the first line of the story. Its use I did not find troubling.

    • You then repeat the term, so you clearly seem to either not know, or not care, that “cult” is not a value-neutral term.

      Also, is questioning your activist involvement in this story “loonie” in some way, such that you keep deleting comments that question you on it?

      I don’t even know why I’m replying, other than that I’m shocked to see one of my comments undeleted.

      • Loonie refers to some of the comments that I have deleted — written in a tone of near derangement. Something about this post brought out the kooks. Not all posts that were deleted were from kooks though. Abuse, foul language, non sequitors, arguments about the underlying issues usually get canned. When I get a batch of questionable comments coming from the same general source mouthing the same things, I delete the lot and then work back through them, undeleting those that are worth sharing with a general readership.

        I do not agree with you on the shadings of meaning you find in the word cult. I do not find it to be pejorative in the way you do.

        • Just because you do not find the word offensive, and loaded with a particular cultural freight, doesn’t magically make it so for everyone.

          Perhaps you should check out the Religion Stylebook? Here’s what they say about the word:

          “A term that has come to be associated with religious groups far outside the mainstream that have overly controlling leadership or dangerous practices. For that reason, journalists should use it with the greatest care and only when they are certain it fits. On rare occasions, cult is an appropriate description. Two groups whose members committed mass suicide are examples: the Peoples Temple (Jonestown in Guyana, South America, 1978) and Heaven’s Gate (1997, California). Another example is the Branch Davidians, whose founder, David Koresh, died along with 75 followers in a 1993 standoff with government officials.”


          • Good point. Though there is not universal agreement here. The NY Times style guide states “suggests a group that has bizarre religious views and manipulates its members.” The Guardian and Economist style guides make no such comment — and I can’t find my Times of London style guide (the one I was trained on). That being said there is no single view, and here I plead my prerogative as author to present my perspective. I do not agree with the Religion Stylebook’s usage — I have written about Cargo Cults in the Pacific, fertility cults, the “cult of the mass” in Catholic Ireland without the scorn some seem to hear. Perhaps it is an American-centered linguistic usage — but not one I find persuasive.

        • You don’t find it pejorative because you’re on the dealing and not the receiving end of the word. It costs you nothing to be magnanimous with other people’s dignity or identity. You stand no risk of having your own faith labeled as a “cult.” Those who might do so are certainly in no position to use the word to de-legitimize or disadvantage your religion in any serious way. If you found yourself living under the Heresy Acts of Mary I or some atheist regime that labeled your faith a “cult”, I bet you’d find it pejorative in pretty quick order.

        • Thank you for this and other clarifiying comments. While I remain confused concerning the reason behind deleting my post — I can, if without real satisfaction, understand that it was just part of a general housecleaning — I want to also laud your effort to bring some background to the original context.

          I am by upbringing very sensitive (in a rational way) to differences in usage. I try to tend to offering the benefit of the doubt. I must show sympathy to the complaints of others because there is a derogatory tone in the general context of your essay. I will also ask them to reconsider their reactions in light of your futher commentary.

  13. This piece seems to suffer from quite a few value judgements that are not relevant to the stated goal of “good journalism”. It is quite possible to discuss your disagreement without making some many of those judgements in the piece.

    I have no association with the woman passed, and in general am on the wrong side of the “eclectic/recon” divide to have overwhelming sympathy, but your tone is problematic in this article. I say that as someone who often has problematic tone myself.

    • An argument based on taste is difficult to meet — you found it not to your taste. Others found the tone appropriate.

      The issue here is precision of language, syncretism, and canon law, and how these are best reported given the wider context of Irish church politics

      • I cannot see how anyone could find such a derisive tone acceptable sir. Unless you are aiming for an audience with built in hostility, it seems both problematic from an ethical perspective and fundamentally unnecessary. Again, I have often been highly critical of eclectic traditions, but in your piece resides a tone of disrespect towards non-Christians and liberal Christians in general. There is nothing wrong with expressing your views, but to do so through the lens of journalism seems to be…awkward to say the least. Your point on journalism seems fundamentally disconnected from your broader focus on syncretism and purity politics.

        In short, I would say this has nothing to do with taste, and everything to do with respect. Calling it a matter of taste is somewhat belittling.

        The issue here for many of us is that this post borders quite close on the type of hostility usually seen in many biased news sources, and that we find that problematic on a site concerning journalism. As you can expect, the representations of minority groups in the press is something of an important issue for many people.

        • You repeat your assertion about tone, but offer nothing but your opinion to counter it. Cite examples, define your terms, explain your methodology, otherwise there is little one can say, but I disagree.

          • Your use of the term cult, to begin with, which you address down thread in the same slightly condescending tone you mentioned “taste” in the one to me. Certainly you can agree the term cult outside of anthropological work carries certain connotations. Not only in American English either.

            Also “oddball country house antics” to start with. The stereotype of “those crazy pagans/witches/etc” is very damaging, and you seem to support it with that phrase. You continue it with the comparison to a television show. That stereotype alone is enough to make the piece extremely problematic.

            “The Goddess” in scare quotes might be nothing, but it’s often used in Christian papers as a delegitimizing tactic, and the rest of your tone and comments makes it stick out to me in a way it might not elsewhere.

            Further, while you make an attempt to contact Christian sources and allow them to make a comment, you make none to comment the group itself to clarify. That, especially considering this blog often complains about the under-representation of Christian views in media, strikes me as problematic.

            Following that you have repeatedly deleted comments from people who were critical without explanation, including a fair number that it would be difficult to consider offensive in any manner, and responded in a condescending manner to the concerns of myself and others. As they say, two data points set a trend, and it is an uncomfortable one.

            I am sorry to state it but I sense you are dodging the various points made here with excessive clarification and semantics. Can you truly not see how this comes off to someone not already sympathetic to you?

          • “The Goddess” refers to Robert Graves book and is a literary/religious reference.

            “Oddball country house antics” is a tie into the Dianna Rigg/Avengers theme. Building a temple to Isis in the basement of an Irish country home is odd. I need a hook for most stories and that is the one I chose for this one.

            The term “cult” was the descriptor used by the Irish Times. I did not find it inappropriate per se, and the customary usage in Irish/English/Scottish newspapers is not that of American newspapers.

            I have stated the reasons why I spike comments and I do so using my judgement. Questions of tone are matters of taste. What one may hear is conditioned on their own experiences and knowledge base.

          • Why put it in what is often considered scare quotes then? It seems to mimic the hostile usage of some rather prejudiced Christians to which I would think you’d want to avoid comparison.

            Your hook reflects a very damaging stereotype. Surely that is a problem to you? It is the equivalent of saying “all Christians are sexist, rednecks who think the earth is 6,000 years old and want barefoot pregnant wives” as a hook. That would be inappropriate. So is supporting the “crazy pagans” stereotype. Further, as a Christian you have far more power to influence perceptions than anyone using anti-Christian stereotypes. I would ask you kindly remember your privilege in that regard.

            The term is still loaded, and your tone throughout is quite different than the Irish Times. That context matters. They do use it in a sense that seems to carry no value judgement, in the sense I would in an archaeological paper. Yours is more ambiguous.

            When you state it is a matter of taste you are belittling those of us trying, honestly, to get you to understand the issues with your writing. It is not about taste. It is about a fundamental disrespect towards our identities, and the usage of harmful stereotypes.

            Your last sentence sounds dangerously close to trying to accuse us, politely, of a victim complex. You are veering very close to a certain kind of hostile Christian writing which I think you should avoid if this blog is concerned about journalistic integrity. I hope I am misreading it, but the subtext is concerning.

            I note you did not respond to my point about failing to contact the Fellowship for comment as well as the Church in question. Do you agree that was an oversight?

          • You sir, are a coward.

            You continue to delete my posts asking for clarification. Doing so is purely anti-democratic and shows troubling tendencies.

            If you want to push prejudiced Christian lines, then you should do so at a site for that purpose NOT a site concerning journalism.

            I am sure you will delete this. Which is absolutely pathetic that you are so afraid of free speech.

  14. I am commenting as a pagan, and a priestess within the Fellowship of Isis, who was brought up in the Church of Ireland, and left it because of the lack of the Divine Feminine within it. My father was actively involved in the Church of Ireland, serving communion and taking services, in Monkstown, Bunclody, Kildavin, and interestingly enough, Clonegal, for many years. Both my parents, with whom I have an excellent relationship and are now rather elderly are regular congregants in our local parish. Furthermore, my daughter, who sadly passed away 6 years ago, also had her funeral service held in our local Church of Ireland, into which she was baptised, although not confirmed by her own choice. She requested a Church of Ireland funeral out of respect for her grandparents and upbringing and a pagan service out of respect for us her parents and her own beliefs, which had a duality to them. Being pagan, does not automatically mean one doesn’t believe in God, it simply means that our relationship with Deity is different. The Fellowship of Isis has never demanded one change or cease one’s personal beliefs, just that one has a belief in the Divine Feminine. Unfortunately, the patriarchal, hierarchal system of most Abrahamic religious belief systems has difficulties with this, where the individuals practising those within those systems very often do not, and it is those individuals, amongst a variety of others, who find that the Fellowship of Isis fills a spiritual need.
    That aside, how many people whose funeral rites are carried out by the Church of Ireland can be definitely said to have been “Christians of good standing”? Surely it is up to God to make that decision. I am sure that murderers, rapists, pedophiles, spouse abusers, thieves, liars, bullies and all manner of ungodly and unchristian people have been buried within the rites of the Church of Ireland, and I don’t think the Church has come to an end yet. Therefore to condemn its actions in burying an extremely spiritually connected old woman, who taught love and compassion and equality of all religion, seems to me to be just plain petty.

  15. Lady Olivia and the Fellowship of Isis display a deep breadth of Spirit that is large enough to encompass all religions and all paths with honor and respect. I met Lady Olivia three times, in London and twice at her castle in Clonegal. She was gracious, warm, and loving. Her aim was to encourage everyone on their own path. She was a Great Lady and a shining example of tolerance and joy for all who were privileged to meet her. People like her are born to instill faith and hope in those they meet.

    • I have often heard the expression; “Scratch the surface of an Irish Catholic and you will find a Pagan”. Well worship, lighting of candles, holidays such as Easter and Christmas, all derive from Paganism. Lets honor our common roots and celebrate Lady Olivia’s life, a life well lived for the good of everyone she met.

  16. I spent almost a year with Olivia Robertson documenting her life for the film ‘ Olivia Priestess of Isis’. Olivia had no prejudice to any creed or religion, therefore she never missed out on spiritual teaching offered by the great Sages of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism nor indeed Christianity to name but a few of the great religious orders of the world, past and present, of which Olivia was well versed in.
    Olivia embraced the work of Jesus Christ and often quoted his wonderful teachings and philosophy, she was extremely scholarly as far as The Bible was concerned.
    Olivia was a very kind hearted soul with a wonderful sense of humour, a tremendous knowledge of art, history and science, always willing to help, offering solid caring advice to those in distress. It’s sad that this wonderful soul has passed.


  17. I’m afraid your first mistake in this piece was to refer to that death
    notice as Olivia’s Irish Times obituary. It wasn’t, that is due to
    appear next weekend. You should read it when you can. Your second was
    to trust the journalism and lazily copy their reference to a ‘cult’.
    There have since been obituaries in the Telegraph
    the Times
    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/obituaries/article3927108.ece and
    the (Irish) Independent on Sunday. Their research managed to ascertain that the Fellowship was neither a cult nor exclusively pagan. How disappointing for you.

  18. ‘Judge not lest ye be judged…” seem to have read that in some popular tome – oh yes – the Bible. I knew the Priestess of Isis personally and she was a kind and shining light who celebrated all spiritual paths. She was laid to rest after a lifetime of good works dedicated to others beside her brother, her parents and her sister in law. Such dignity should be afforded to all children of the gods by whatever name those gods are called. Or would you prefer we return to the days when suicides were refused burial in consecrated soil? Just so you know, as Pagans we consider all soil as sacred. AS a professional journalist, I’m also confused about your attack on the Times – they reported the passing of a woman who was remarkable in many ways, not least as an academic and author who was in demand until her final years as a speaker in some of the world’s finest institutions of learning. That’s why it’s called ‘reporting’ and not ‘commenting”. Really, does the author of this piece not have some impoverished Christian homes to go to rather than spending his time bothering Bishops and fellow clergymen about who gets buried where and with what religious rights? And has he never heard that wise Irish saying – “funerals are not for the dead – they’re for the living,”?

  19. The stream of “How DARE you?” comments put me in mind of Chesterton’s remarks”

    “There is one view very common among the liberal-minded which is
    exceedingly fatiguing to the clear-headed. It is symbolised in the sort
    of man who says, “These ruthless bigots will refuse to bury me in
    consecrated ground, because I have always refused to be baptised.”
    A clear-headed person can easily conceive his point of view,
    in so far as he happens to think that baptism does not matter.
    But the clear-headed will be completely puzzled when they ask
    themselves why, if he thinks that baptism does not matter,
    he should think that burial does matter.,,,,,
    It is as if a man were to say, “My persecutors still refuse to make
    me king, out of mere malice because I am a strict republican.”
    Or it is as if he said, “These heartless brutes are so prejudiced
    against a teetotaler, that they won’t even give him a glass of brandy.”


  20. I’m a little late to the party and,having scanned most of the quotes, will focus on something that I don’t think has been said: lives are complicated, especailly in matters of spirituality, especially in mixed spiritual-tradition marriages.

    My late wife, De-Anna Alba, a Wiccan Priestess recently named as one of the top 100 pagan leaders of the modern era, author of Cauldron of Change, and a catalyst for many, many good and cutting-edge Pagan/Dianic Wiccan works in the United States during her 59 years on earth, knew Lady Olivia Robertson in the 1970’s. It is because of that connection, and my committment to the love of the Chrisitan gospel, that I write today.

    I am a relatively recent Episcopalian (since 2010), having spent most of my life as an Anabaptist. During De-Anna’s final, very difficult year, I joined a local Episcopal Congregation. I joined because it was geographically convenient. It became one of the major blessings of my life.

    First, that congregation prayed for De-Anna and prayed for me without any litmus test on belief. They loved me and honored my loss without question. Helping someone who was in massive pain was far more important than protecting their theological biases.

    I am a seminary-trained Christian and former clergy. (Chicago Theolgical Seminary/Pacific School of Religion). I know a little bit about Christian theology–enough to know we can debate theology until the Second Coming and, in the process, completely ignore human need and pastoral care.

    De-Anna was an amazing theologian in the broad Pagan faiths. She knew what she believed; I knew what I believe. We found many, many areas of intersection and sharing, one of them being the Blessed Virgin, the “Goddess” whom Angicans and Episcopaleans properly venerate.

    Our life was 13.5 years of graduate theological debate. I came away from loving De-Anna knowing that Paganism–in its myriad forms–can be as life-affirming as Christianity at its best. And that Christianity, as the “power over” politically-empowered religion of this world, can be incredibly, horribly damaging because of our institutional power.

    It is not surprising, but it continues to be debilitating TO THE WORLD, that various Christians believe more in Triumphalism than in the completion of the gospel message through a lived New Testament love.

    Back to complicated lives: When De-Anna died, I wanted/needed very much to honor her life and my life and her son’s life and her friends love for her in a service that combined her faith and my Christian faith. This we were able to do in what many acknowledged to be the most beautiful, theologically sound service probably ever given within the California Diocese, and perhaps the Episcopal Church USA.

    I was able to do so with the help of the parish priest, a ministry intern who was also employed by the California Diocese on loan, and because of my training and De-Anna’s training of me. Rev. Selena Fox, who has commented in this forum, was a member of the clergy at the service, which also included a member of the clergy from Reformed Congregation of the Goddess.

    Anyone who was at the service or who has read the service is amazed that is honors both traditions without doing violence to either.

    Anyone who would like a copy of the service, please email me at leapierce@leapierce.com.

    The service proved that it is possible for Christians to put aside needing to be “right” in favor of the Gospel. Doing right takes a far greater courage than beating up on a dead woman’s family for holding her public service in what I assume is their home parish.

    I am purposely not naming the Episcopal clergy involved in De-Anna’s service in this forum because there’s no need for the more rabid voices on this forum to get into a twist and go after them. They did the pastoral thing, they moved into the compassion of Jesus to help everyone get through tremendous, soul-destroying loss. They were the face of Christ, the Good Samaritans who looked upon a “pagan” sister as… a sister.

    God bless them for their love. God bless them for showing Pagans and non-believers at the service that Christians rock!

    When there are mixed-marriages (such as Pagan/Christian), we owe it to our congregants and as simple human decency to honor the dead.

    Honor the dead.

    Since the first house church, Christian Churches have certainly buried quietly (or not so quietly) non-believing spouses in the church, as a blessing to the survivor.

    I cannot speak for Lady Olivia Robertson’s family, but I can speak as the one left behind with only my faith to moor me..: it was incredibly important and healing for me to be able to give De-Anna an Episcopal-informed, theologically sound service that honored her deep Pagan faith.

    Family, friends, and colleagues.were comforted on a beautiful California day in May. An amazing woman, my life and spiritual partner, was honored.

    Lightening did not strike. The Vatican didn’t fall. The roof was not blown off of Canterbury, nor did Bridgid’s Well turn red, bubble and hiss.

    In other words, a lot of the huffing and puffing going on is, I think, about the deep insecurities of the Irish Anglican Church being in a very fragile place. I have great compassion for its struggle to cope with a radical new world, where homosexuality is losing its stigma and Lady Olivia can be honored in her parish church.

    But I will stand on the Gospel promise during these days of convulsive change, which some view as a challenge to the faith. It is always correct when we open our arms and our churches with the love of God through Jesus Christ, to minister to those on the side of the road.

    Surely, no one today is more villified by the Christian Church than the Pagan believer (well–maybe Muslim’s by Franklin Graham, but that’s another issue). Vilification is an expression of hate, and that’s not the God in Christ I follow. Ever.

    I thank God in Jesus Christ that the Lady Olivia was accorded a proper service in her home parish.

    I thank God for the courage of the local priest. I thank God for Lady Olivia, for reaching out to see the Divine… and seeing it reflected back in the vision of the Mother.

    Alleulia. Alleluia. And… if you hear God’s voice… don’t harden your heart.

    Lea Pierce
    In honor of Lady De-Anna Alba and all who love and work for good.

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