Being a dual-language Pagan

I am Dutch and I pray in English, well, also in English.

When I pray spontaneously, I generally do so in Dutch. But especially recently, due to my  new membership of SDF, I do ritual in English. I like being part of a community and at the moment that community is the Solitary Druid Fellowship. The glue that binds us solitaries together, is a shared liturgy and this liturgy is written in English. I am sure the creator, Teo Bishop, would be fine with me translating the whole thing to Dutch, but I have objections of my own. Firstly, the liturgy would lose its poetry and secondly, speaking in English is also a way to congregate with my fellow solitaries. If I would speak solely Dutch, I would break a one of the (few) strings that connects me to them. What is liturgy if not a religious language?

Yet praying in English does feel rather strange.
But why?  I prefer reading novels in English. I write in English.
And all my communication with fellow Pagans is in English.

In The Apple Branch: A Path of Celtic Ritual, Alexei Kondratiev argues that if one speaks in a different language, one thinks thinks in a different cosmology. Maybe Dutch and English are just too similar – being both Germanic languages – , but I never experienced anything as strong as that. This isn’t why praying in English feels so very different.

Maybe, it’s just one bridge too far. My interaction with Pagans takes place on-line, and almost all on-line correspondence is in English. I don’t mind. I love English. I am a complete Anglophile. I know more of Tudor history that the Dutch Golden Age. And since my German is rusty, and my French atrocious, I am as much to blame as anyone else. Yet the American (and to a lesser extent British) bias of the Pagan blogosphere, does mean that I read a lot of stuff that is directed towards an American audience. I enjoy reading The Wild Hunt, but news stories on sectarian Christian prayer make little sense outside American context. It is odd I know so much about California’s Five Faith Policy, as my own secularized country has neither recognized religions or non-recognized religions. And only this week I read a Pagan blog post on the Super Bowl!

By praying in English, I connect to a fellowship
But Dutch, connects me to this land and my own heritage.

But this, I feel, is also not the heart of the issue. Perhaps the main issue is that paying in English makes me, more than before, aware of the words I choose. Maybe this is a good thing. Yvon, at Sermons of the Mount, asks how we Pagans use the words ‘sacred’ and ‘holy’, either interchangeably, or preferring one or the other. Click here for the full article. I answered her by writing the following:

When I speak or write English I prefer to use ‘sacred’, as it seems the more commonly used among Pagans, but when I speak Dutch I use ‘heilig’. Oddly enough, I have completely accepted the common English understanding of these terms, but I discard it when I use my native language, which is odd, even the more so since ‘holy’ and ‘heilig’ do stem from the same root. So I speak of a sacred place, but of a ‘heilige plaats’.

Writing ritual in English, makes clear the extent to which I am conditioned by native language. And at the same time it shows how easy, perhaps too easily I switch between them.  Have I been perhaps too little reflective about my use of either the English or Dutch language? Is my discomfort a good thing after all? Or should I perhaps learn a third language, as Kondratiev would have me do,?


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