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.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

The Power of Symbols and Religious Tolerance

For those who may not have heard, a ceremonial guard on duty at the Canadian National War Memorial on Parliament Hill was shot and killed this past week.  The shooter claimed to be a Muslim and in support of ISIL, but there is no evidence he was working with any sort of organized group, and it seems as though he was mentally ill.

As a symbol, he could not have chosen a better target.  It was our National War Memorial.  The ceremonial guard was a young man who didn't even have any bullets in the gun he was armed with.  His companion tried to chase the culprit down.

I was amazed at how angry I was about it.  I felt as though someone had urinated on a temple altar.  How dare someone desecrate our national memorial like this?

You see, Canada's first idea of itself as a nation began in World War I.  More so even than Canada Day, Remembrance Day is probably the primary expression of Canadian nationalism.  Something I noticed on my book tour around Western Canada was that it seemed that no matter how small the town, everywhere we had a cenotaph.  In a way these are our tribal totems; and the National War Memorial is the Big Totem, the one that represents Canadians as a whole.

How serious are we about this?  When they brought the remains and the headstone back from Europe of an Unknown Soldier, killed at Vimy Ridge (one of the great battles of WWI and one of our defining Canadian moments, since there can be no disputing that Canadian soldiers turned the tide of that battle) we built a whole building around that headstone so that it would be illuminated in a shaft of sunlight on 11 am on November 11 each year.  We built a sort of Stonehenge for him:

Perhaps as a result, this was the response when the shots were fired on Parliament Hill:

I don't see anyone running in the other direction, do you?  Not even the reporters.

Sympathy poured out across the country.  Here are some pictures I took at the War Memorial in Victoria, BC (more than 5000 km away from the site of the shooting):

United in Remembrance

Remembered Across the Nation

The power of symbolism is very strong, and an attack on this symbol of our nationalism was hard to swallow.  This now-famous political cartoon captured our feelings about it very well.  I teared up when I saw it:

People lined the highway for kilometers and completely stopped traffic.  Yes, I'm talking about our big national highway.  Here's some scenes from the funeral procession:

But, despite immediate calls to undermine our civil liberties in the name of "security" by our government, and despite the anger and sorrow we all felt, we are still Canadian.  And one of our principles is tolerance.  So these guys decided to film a social experiment in the hometown of the guard who was killed.  This is Canada's response, no matter what our news media say.  And I am very proud of it!

So what does this have to do with Paganism?  Well, an understanding of the power of symbols is something we Pagans grasp very well.  This event pushed all our buttons.  It could have immediately had us screaming for blood out of reflex.

But it didn't.  It didn't because tolerance is a Canadian virtue.  Though our history is certainly not perfect in this regard (how we treated our citizens of Japanese heritage during WWII, and how we have treated our First Nations peoples, are certainly blights on our records), but at heart, most of us believe in tolerance. Except that we have no tolerance for intolerance. That's an important thing for a Pagan to know, I think.  And a more important thing for a Pagan to practice.

Last modified on
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.


Additional information