As I listened to Enda Kenny’s speech last week, I could feel the hair stand on the back of my neck. Not because Enda is a powerful orator – because he is not – but because I was aware that I was listening to history being made. I was listening to Ireland moving out of the shadow of the Catholic Church and into the light of a new dawn.

I have long struggled with my relationship with the Catholic Church. It was easy to turn my back on it completely when I was a teenager, only visiting at Christmas. The ostentatious wealth of the church with its hierarchy of celibate men living in luxury at parish level and in the splendour of palaces as Bishops, galled me and seemed very far from the life of Jesus. But as I got older I became aware of a deep need for spiritual element to my life… there was a void where the church used to be. I really deeply wanted to feel a connection with ‘my higher self’, my soul, my connection to the divine, or all that is.

Then my brother died, very suddenly and I was lost. So was my family. A local priest visited us and helped us prepare for the Catholic ceremonies of death – the removal and funeral. That priest was wonderful. He spent hours with us – learning about my brother so that on the day he delivered a homily that was so ‘right’ and so personal about my brother, it was almost impossible to believe he had never met him. To this day, I think the very best ritual of Catholic Church is the funeral Mass.

After that I thought that maybe I should stay with the church – try to affect change from within? But when my second daughter was born, almost 13 years ago I had something of a spiritual awakening. Deep in my bones I suddenly became aware in a very raw way that the Catholic Church’s attitude to women was not only wrong but deeply offending to me and indeed to God. Who was this Father God? Having just given birth I knew that God has a feminine face. I wondered should I become a Wiccan.

As my children (all daughters) got older they attended the local National School and so were ‘streamed’ for Communion and later Confirmation. As they began preparations I told them it was entirely up to them as to whether they wished to make either sacrament. I did this only to appease my conscience – not because I thought they would opt out – think of the money they would not make! But that’s another blog post. So we embarked together on the preparations with me constantly reminding them that most of what the church teaches especially around sexuality is completely wrong. “Confession is also nonsense”, I told them. It was far from ideal in my mind – a typical Irish solution to an Irish problem.

So we are now (more or less) all official Catholics in name only. We don’t go to Mass. I have tried to teach them the comfort and power of praying. I have tried to help them to imagine a different God to the Father God of the Catholic Church. I have stressed the importance of personal responsibility and of helping each other. I have told them that Jesus asked us to “love one another”. Everything else is baloney.

Had the so called ‘Princes of the Christ’ remembered this simple command, perhaps they would have handled the “rape and torture of children” and the paedophile priests who committed such horrible crimes, differently. Perhaps they would have done the right thing.

I know I am someone who has stood with one foot still inside the church door for the last 13 years. I have kept it there hoping that the Church would change. I was afraid of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And so I held on – on the edges.

But it’s very unsatisfactory to live like this, especially when I have a deep need for a spiritual dimension that is rooted in community. I can plough a lone furrow with my own brand of spiritual code, but I miss walking into my church at Christmas greeting my friends and neighbours. I know that the next time I have to face a close death, I will be looking to the only place I know in order to help me make sense of death and to facilitate a fitting send off for my loved one!

I have not entirely resolved any of this dilemma. But I no longer feel alone. Enda Kenny’s speech in the Dail last week, was powerful because he articulated the feelings of the majority of people on this island. He said what I am thinking. I was relieved to hear his anger and outrage. I was also relieved to know that our Government, unlike all those that preceded it, will no longer allow the Catholic Church to place itself above the law and beyond reproach.

I would love to think that the Catholic Church might reinvent itself completely from the top down, divesting itself of its wealth and pompous attitude, allowing women to take an equal role and proclaiming that sex is a wonderful gift from God. I wish it would because I will still miss the way Christmas hymns sound in a sacred space, the feeling of community that belonging to a church brings, and the rituals to mark life’s milestones.

I know they have no churches but I wonder do Wiccans have nice hymns.

Image of the Triple Goddess – honouring women in the three phases – Maiden, Mother and Crone (moon in her waxing, full and waning phases). By ecowitch on photobucket

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Writing and Talking.... on the radio, on the telly and in the papers. Debut book out in Spring 2022

15 thoughts on “DO WICCANS HAVE HYMNS?”

  1. Thanks for sharing this with us Barbara. I would also love if the Catholic church would “reinvent” itself.
    I don't know if it ever will. What I see today is something that has evolved into a sad remnant of what Christ founded.

  2. Thank you for this. I'm not a Catholic but I was a Christian growing up. Now I'm a Buddhist and there are still patriarchal attitudes to deal with but I can do that. I miss the hymns but not much else…
    I was ecstatic to hear your prime minister say what he did. Bravo!
    I think Wiccans do have a church – like Emily Dickinson they keep their church in nature:

    SOME keep the Sabbath going to church;
    I keep it staying at home,
    With a bobolink for a chorister,
    And an orchard for a dome.

    Some keep the Sabbath in surplice; 5
    I just wear my wings,
    And instead of tolling the bell for church,
    Our little sexton sings.

    God preaches,—a noted clergyman,—
    And the sermon is never long;
    So instead of getting to heaven at last,
    I ’m going all along!

  3. What a fascinating post, Barbara, detailing your spiritual journey and your conflict about the Catholicism that is such an ingrained part of your culture and history. I have no answers for you, but I can identify somewhat as I left the church where my father and grandfather both spent their adult lives in the paid ministry. It hurt my parents but I was young and never looked back figuring “they'll get over it.” (Which of course they finally did.)

  4. Beautiful post. I too share that split between a desire for some spiritual connection and sense of community, and abhorrence at how the institution of the Catholic Church has become so far removed from its founding principles.

    With regards to rituals, however, our family has found that a humanist ceremony can be just as personal and sacred. My nephew had his naming ceremony in our family garden last year, a wonderful occasion, very joyous.

    My father, who died six months ago, was sent off with personal tributes from friends and family, along with his favourite jazz tunes.

    It's a risk breaking with tradition, especially with funerals, when everyone's nerves are raw, but I can assure you that it was magical and I know my dad would have loved it. Why have someone do a good imitation of speaking about the deceased as if he knows them, when there are those who really knew the person who can capture his or her essence in a personal, moving, and ultimately cathartic way?

    As the curtains drew across the crematorium plinth, we had Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald singing “It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing” and everyone left my 90 year-old Dad's funeral with a smile and a tear, and a swing in their step. A humanist ceremony is tailor-made for the person. I can't recommend it highly enough.


  5. Interesting post, Barbara. Now I, as an agnostic, am an unlikely defender of the RC Church but there's a few assertions you make that I would take issue with.

    “The ostentatious wealth of the church” and “celibate men living in luxury at parish level”, for instance.

    I'm not too sure that the church is wallowing in wealth. Certainly, for most of the 70s and 80s the Vatican was seriously in debt. I'm not sure what it's like with the finances now – the accounting procedures are extremely complex given the universal nature of the institution and its myriad aspects – but I doubt very much if it is as healthy financially as you might think.

    As regards priests living in luxury at parish level: I've never come across any that would fit that description. I'm sure there are some that are financially well off but that is usually down to inheritances from parents and so forth rather than from parish funds. Most priests in my experience live fairly frugal and difficult lives and I'm sure that Bishops in their “palaces” (a ridiculous description) do likewise. “Living in luxury” is not a term I would apply to the vast majority of clerics.

    You ask for the church to proclaim that “sex is a wonderful gift from God”. It already does. What makes you think it doesn't?

    “I will still miss the way Christmas hymns sound in a sacred space, the feeling of community that belonging to a church brings, and the rituals to mark life’s milestones”.

    So, why not join the Church of Ireland? It seems to tick all the boxes on your list.Its liturgy is not unlike that of the Catholic Church and its attitude to women seems to be far more enlightened as well. You'd have the sense of community and the hymn singing at Christmas and so forth. So, why not?

  6. Hi Barbara- what a great post. Thank you for sharing what is a very personal thing – your feelings about religion especially as the very mention of same can be so divisive at times.
    I do so agree with you about funerals in particular. I lost my younger sister very suddenly five years ago & since then feel that nobody does “passing” like the Catholic Church. I am at a crossroads in my beliefs but do need and enjoy the spirituality that being a Catholic brings in spite of the clergy and their doings.

  7. A wonderful post and I empathise with much of it. I'm not Catholic (am Church of Ireland)but was brought up going to church etc and I do bring my kids to church about twice a month. What made me decide to want to bring them to church was the reaction in the UK to Diana's funeral (I was living there at the time) so many people were flummoxed and so many people queued up in churches. Yes, a hysterical reaction but I think it showed that when something like that happens esp in families, people are lost and seem to want to turn to their God for answers. I actually don't get them to say nighttime prayers or anything and they know that Genesis is total misogyny!
    I applauded Enda's speech too – at last we have a politican speaking out. It is so disturbing that this was going on as recently as 2005, it just beggars belief really.

  8. A really intresting post Barbara.
    From your post and other people's comments, I would agree we need some kind of communal spiritual home especially when it comes to death.
    I think Irish women in particular have difficulty with the Church side of it, the administration rather than our actual core beliefs.
    I can still remember as a child my mum told a story where she had to ask a priest if she could have 'permission' to wash nappies on a Sunday, a radical reform is needed.
    Thanks for sharing such a thought provoking discussion.

  9. Thanks everyone who left a comment. All your views are interesting. Its a great discussion.

    Dermod thank you so much for telling us about Humanist ceremonies… they do sound great.

    Hi John and thanks also for your thoughts. Can I answer some of the points you took issue with. My reference to the wealth of the church was one of the very first things I had a problem with as a teenager – so this would be back in the 70s. The splendour of the vatican seems to me not something Jesus had in mind for St Paul's successors. And perhaps my reference to “parish priests living in luxury” was strong but again when I was growing up in the parish of Newtownpark Ave in Blackrock we had 3 and possibly 4 priests all of whom lived in their own 3/4 bed house with housekeeper. I could never understand this – why couldn't they share. I have rarely seen a priest drive a battered micra either! Well I do know a priest who has the battered micra for parish duties but a much better set of wheels for his personal use!!!!

    As for sex – the Catholic Church only says its a wonderful gift from God if practiced between a married hetrosexual couple!!! A very narrow view!

    Maybe the Church of Ireland would be more suitable? But in my limited experience their hymn aren't great – although the congretations all sing!!!

    Thanks John!

    This is a debate that will rumble on for some time to come I think!

  10. I love this article.
    Barbara, did you ever consider returning the our own “religion” of Love with our own priests and priestesses who work in harmony with father-mother god goddess energy.? How about our ancient passing over ceremonies conducted by the Bean Sidhe- not the demonised version either.
    My daughter age 4 asked a room full of people in Eire- “why they were all paying men in dreses to talk to god when they could do it themselves for free.”

    The days of the patriarchy are over.
    It will take us a while to clear out the old patriarchal thought processes from our other state agencies too as they have been influenced by the patriarchal church of Roma.
    In our secret courts in Eire, women are still seen as FEEBLE MINDED..

    Yes, I was told this last week in Dublin by a solicitor and I am still reeling from the shock.
    So here is to the future living in harmony with our own inner male and female- the real marriage- sacred alchemy- this is what we need to remember Barbara.

  11. Barbara, your image of the Triple Goddess is perfect and describes what those seeking true spirituality is all about. It is written in the stones at Bru Na Boinne- the never ending journey of the Goddess into the ALL and the Nothing at the same time. We all retain the memory in our DNA- a memory of a time when we were complete before the Vatican patriarchy and Paddy arrived to drive the Serpent/Feminine energy from TaRa. We all seek it now at the dawn of an era of love and peace. The days of priests and gurus is over. No need for a middle man as we have direct contact with Universal love and energy in just one thought. The Triple Goddess was and is alive in Eire at Bru Na Boinne, TaRa, etc. S/he is complete.No need to belong to any flock of sheep and do as you are told. The Goddess is within every male and female and all seek her Love.

  12. Hi Barbra,

    I really enjoyed reading this and the comments. Your last comment about the riches of the chruch, I agree! They all drive nice new(ish) cars, have house keepers and their houses are in great condition.

    If that's not being rich then I really dont know what is.


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