By Jennifer Hemler
Background: Born in Salzburg, Austria, the land of the first Celtic civilization, Ellen Evert Hopman has the ancient Celtic religion, Druidism, a strand of Paganism, in her blood. She’s been a Pagan since 1986, and is the author of several books —Tree Medicine, Tree Magic, and the videos Gifts of the Healing Earth Vol. 1 and Pagans. She is also the vice president of the Henge of Keltria, an international Druid Fellowship, and is a professional member of the American Herbalist’s Guild. She teaches herbalism and Druidism.
Her new book, People of the Earth: The New Pagans Speak Out, is a collection of interviews with a variety of Pagans sharing their experiences and dispelling myths about Paganism. It also includes an extended list of resource books, e-mail accounts, zines, etc. for further study of Paganism.
Hopman’s future plans include giving tours of sacred places in Britain and Ireland where she will instruct followers on Pagan rituals — she even has permission to practice inside Stonehedge.
First of all, can you give a definition of Paganism, to clarify all the mystery?
I guess a broad definition would be non-monotheistic, although there are exceptions to that because there are goddess worshipers who are very monotheist, they only worship the goddess so even there, there are contradictions. But I think with very few exceptions most pagans will tell you that there is a feminine aspect to deity — that’s very basic — that nature is important if not sacred. Paganism is an umbrella term, and it encompasses witchcraft, Druidism, Germanic Paganism, Italian Paganism. It encompasses all of it. It’s kind of like when you say Christianity, within Christianity you have Lutherans, you have Catholics and you have Baptists and…so Druidism would be considered a branch of Paganism.
What kind of training do you need to become a pagan, or don’t you?
(laughs) That’s a very controversial question.
Because it seems like Paganism is not a religion, but it is…
Well, it is a religion. Anyway you look at it, it is a religion. The controversy comes in with some people who believe they can just read one book and then call themself a witch. Other people believe that to call yourself a witch implies training and standards of competence which you can’t get unless you do go through training… You talk to different people and you get different opinions.
Have you had any mystical experiences?
I’ve had many mystical experiences. One day I had been fasting and I walked up a hill that St. Francis used to hang out on. I think it was Mt. Subasio. I walked up to the top and all of a sudden there was this big storm that came up. It was thunder and lightning and hail and snow. I was up above the tree line and there was just this one little tiny pine tree and so I wrapped myself around this tree which is probably the silliest thing I could’ve done. But it was the only living thing up there and I was scared. When the storm subsided I came down the hill completely exhilarated, singing at the top of my lungs. I walked into the Romanesque church, sat there in the dark and a voice came to me. The voice said, you’re supposed to be working with plants. And the weirdest part is I knew that that was absolutely true, I mean here I was getting my masters in art history and that was not my calling. Anyway, I went through a period of about six months after that where I had a lot of energy and just kind of a state of ecstasy and sometimes the ecstasy was so much I didn’t know what to do with it so I would give it to people who were sick, I would just kind of send it to them…
Wait… how do you send it to them?
Well, I can only give you an example. When I went back to Rome, there was this women who used to bring me my breakfast every morning, and every time she came she would put down the tray she would say, “Oh, my liver hurts” [in Italian]. One evening I woke up in the middle of the night and I was just in this ecstatic state filled with all this energy and I didn’t know what to do with it and I thought of her. I mean it was so intense it was almost painful and I didn’t know what to do with it so I thought of that woman and I said, send it to her. The next morning when I sat down to breakfast, and I swear to god this is what happened, she walked in, she looked at me, she said, my liver doesn’t hurt anymore, and you did it. That’s the kind of thing that was going on, it was very interesting.
Do you think that most people could have this voice, could have this calling, but are just tuning it out?
Yes, I do. I think the circumstances that I went through are very similar to a Native American vision quest. It was the fasting and the prayer, and I was hanging out with nature. I was just extremely open. I lost weight, my clothes were falling off, but I mean, I became very light and very open, and I think you need a protected community — a spiritual community that can foster the right environment for that to occur, but of course I think that anybody can do it, since we’re all connected.
Why do you think there are so many strange myths and misconceptions surrounding paganism?
I think it’s the media. Newspapers and Hollywood and magazines, all try to sell “ookie” witch stories because they know it captures the popular imagination. Unfortunately what happens is you have people like fundamentalist Christians who buy this stuff and they bring it back to their congregations and they’ll make really outrageous statements — you know, most of the kids who have disappeared in America, it’s because witches have stolen them to kill them for rituals. It’s been going on since the 12th century, a little thing called the inquisition, remember that? There’s this huge propaganda machine and unfortunately it’s fed a lot by the media. every time you see a story about a bad witch it reinforces the whole idiotic conception.
Why do you think they fear Paganism?
People want to have a scapegoat. In the early part of this century it was the Jew… people love to think that the evil is outside of themselves, something out there and then they don’t have to look at their own behavior.
What is going on now, what are the rituals?
Well I think there are probably more witches than any other kind of Pagan. I think a lot of people are attracted to the word “witch” because it implies some kind of power. Witches will typically call in the Four Directions, the Sacred Four Directions, which is something they have in common with Native Americans. They’ll call in the north, south, east and the west. They will usually honor a goddess and a god — unless they happen to be Dianic, in which case they only worship a goddess. There’s what’s called power raising, which is actually exactly the same thing you would get in a Pentecostal church. It’s the same thing, working yourself up to an emotional state, then bringing the energy down. They ground it so that people don’t get psychologically unbalanced. Then they thank the deities, thank the direction and share what’s called cakes and wine, which helps to bond the group.
Where should people go here to practice Paganism?
If you’re really looking for a personal, mystical kind of revelation, as a Druid, I say beware of books and buildings. We do all of our ceremonies outdoors, we try to be close to nature.
Originally Published at http://citypaper.net/articles/020196/article001.shtml February 1–8, 1996