49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives

Canadian Paganism has a style all its own. Have a look at events, issues, celebrations, people, trends and events north of the border from the eyes of a Canadian Wiccan and Witch.

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It's a Canadian Thing

Tonight Canada had a moment kind of like the moon landing or Woodstock or JFK's assassination.  Years from now we'll be telling our grandchildren where we were when we watched The Tragically Hip's farewell concert.

Yeah, you probably don't even know who they are, do you?  At the most you're scratching your heads and muttering, "Yeah, that's some Canadian band, right?"  Yeah, okay, you're right, and you're horribly wrong too.  For about thirty years the Hip has been writing Canada's soundtrack for life.  We often wondered why they never seemed to catch anywhere outside of our big-but-small country, especially since they would fill every stadium to standing room only when they played in any major Canadian city.  But now we know the answer.  It's because they're as Canadian as mounties, beavers and inukshuks; as Montreal steak and poutine; as curling and lacrosse and hockey. Probably it's just that no one else but us could fully appreciate them.

The Hip burst on the scene in the mid-eighties, writing songs about our lives; deep lyrical poetry in the tradition of Leonard Cohen, much of which told the Canadian stories that you don't learn in history class.  I remember them being some of the only music worth listening to the year I graduated high school, which was 1993, while the music world was still hung over from the death of Kurt Cobain.  I remember them being some of the only music that the radio regularly played that I would stop and listen to.

But it's all over now, and we can feel the end of an era passing.  You see, Gord Downie has terminal, inoperable brain cancer.  So what did he do when he found this out?  Take a nap?  No.  He booked a national farewell tour, ending tonight in Kingston, Ontario, which is where the band started.  He joked about that; joked about playing to an audience of 13 people, then an audience of 28, and then an audience of 6.  That's Gord for you.  He's always been as much about his sense of humour as his wise, insightful lyrics, screamed in a hard rock voice over bluesy or hard rock guitars that people used to mosh to.  Yep, that's Canadian.  I aspire to be that awesome someday.

How much of an impact did The Tragically Hip make on us?  Our national, public broadcasting corporation the CBC streamed the whole concert, all three hours and three, count them, THREE encores, on every medium they had, from TV to radio to website livestream to YouTube.  They did it in its entirety, with no announcers, no commercials, and never to be shown again.  If you weren't there, you've missed it.

It was perfect.

How much of an impact did The Hip make on us?  Our Prime Minister and his family were standing in the audience with everyone else, rocking one of the band's T-shirts.  In an interview with CBC after the concert, Justin Trudeau quoted some of the band's lyrics completely off-the-cuff, describing how, for him, they were the soundtrack of his college years and how important he thought they were to Canadian identity.

How much of an impact?  When the concert started, the entire crowd started singing our national anthem completely spontaneously.

In a way, it's perfect that they never caught anywhere else.  They remain something that is completely our own.  And the truth is that it's hard for Canadian Anglophone artists to make it without oozing into the U.S. a little.  You guys dominate our music industry just by virtue of the size of yours.  You've got literally ten times our population.  It's hard to make our voices heard when you drown us out so completely.  But The Hip made our voices heard.

Gord wore enormous hats which covered the scars in his scalp and skull as he strutted, preened, joked, laughed, screamed and cried in three different outfits of shiny pants and jacket, worn over a Jaws T-shirt (jacket and T-shirt otherwise known as "the Canadian tuxedo") and we did all of that with him.  Some of us watched from enormous, standing-room-only viewing parties.  My city, Vernon, BC, probably wins the prize for the most Canadian viewing party ever; we did it in a curling rink!  But I wasn't there; I was at home, gathered around the computer with my partners and my nephew.  My nephew is 19, I'm 41, and my partners are 44 and 58.  How many other concerts have you been to where everyone in the family can sing along with at least some of the lyrics?  Disney, maybe . . .

The crowd was full of Canadian flags, The Hip's hockey jersey, and signs that quoted their lyrics or simply thanked them.  CBC's crowd shots included women my age in tears, twenty-something women jumping up and down and screaming, working class guys and office guys and retired guys, a mosh pit, and a man with his boyfriend on his shoulders, both of them screaming with joy.  Every racial combination was represented too.

Yep, that's my country.

And at the center of it all, Gord Downie, dying in the bravest way I can think of to die, giving his all to his art and offering words of hope and encouragement even as he said farewell.  Just after singing "Ahead by a Century," which I'm sure was meant to be the end, before the unbelievable third and final encore he said simply, "Thank you for listening in the back.  Thank you all for listening.  Have a nice life."

I think all of us aspire to do life - and to face death - in exactly this way.  Honesty and humility; humour and hope; and to leave something greater than ourselves by touching people in a meaningful way, while in the meantime one of the biggest wakes in history rages around us, in which literally millions of people have taken part.  Or, as we would say: beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence.

Indeed, there is no dress rehearsal.  This is our life.  Rain falls in real time.  And thank you so much, Gord, for reminding us of that.

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Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) has been a traditional witch most of her life, and she is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. Author of "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power" (Red Wheel/Weiser 2014) and contributor to "Pagan Consent Culture" and "The Pagan Leadership Anthology," she also writes "Between the Shadows" at Patheos' Pagan channel and contributes to Gods & Radicals. Sable is just breaking out as a speculative fiction writer under her legal name, and a new serial, the Wyrd West Chronicles, will be released on the Spring Equinox this year. Like most writers, she does a lot of other things to help pay the bills, including music, Etsy crafts, and working part time at a bookstore. She lives in Vernon, BC, Canada with her two life partners and her furbabies in a cabin on the edge of the woods.


  • Mylène Chalifoux
    Mylène Chalifoux Sunday, 21 August 2016

    ...it is in total amazement that I am reading your post now. I woke up this morning, needing to connect with my spiritual essence somehow, trying to define what it is for me. I am profoundly convinced that I have a "Canadian Native Soul" that sometimes feel quite imprisoned in her "normal reality" of a "white pure laine" Canadian.

    I was watching The Hip's live concert yesterday through Facebook, alone in my house, candles burning and some tears flowing as I thought it was an incredible "moment in time" to be connected to so many people sharing the same emotions and feelings of sadness yet of hopes and resilience through the journey of the soul's lead singer, Gord Downie.

    I live in Quebec. I have French roots and culture. Our country is often divided by this fact: English versus French. Yesterday, it felt like we were one as it should be, in respect of all the differences because before being "French" or "English", we are only human beings with a soul to grow.

    Today, it is pouring rain outside and I am sitting in front of my computer, trying to get some work done but my thoughts keep wandering to other realms and wondering what it is that I have to get from this moment of pure synchronicity...

    Thank you for writing this post about The Hip on this site; it speaks to me and certainly means something that I have yet to discover.

    Warm wishes from the other side of our country,


  • Jamie
    Jamie Wednesday, 24 August 2016

    Ms. Morrison,

    Thanks for sharing! I have always been fascinated by Canadiana. I've heard of The Tragically Hip, but have never listened to any of their stuff. I'll give it a listen.

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