November 2018

Asatru Weddings: Marrying the Heathen Way
Followers of Asatru draw inspiration from contemporary practices to create their own beautiful and meaningful nuptial celebrations.

Followers of Asatru draw inspiration from contemporary practices to create their own beautiful and meaningful nuptial celebrations.

While Statistics Canada doesn’t explicitly count our country’s Norse pagan population, Heathenry continues to gain popularity. As new followers join local kindreds and adopt in-home religious practices, they learn about and pass on the faith’s rituals and traditions. With more Asatru weddings occurring in Canada, Norse pagans delve into older source materials and draw inspiration from contemporary practices to create their own beautiful and meaningful nuptial celebrations.

Religious and Ceremonial Customs Can Be Diverse

Modern Asatru’s origins began more than four decades ago. Washington Post reporter Terrence McCoy explains that the revival of old Norse religious traditions started with the 1972 founding of the Asatru Association in Iceland. While many cultural customs were transmitted through word-of-mouth, present-day pagans have derived some worship and ceremonial practices from a few key source texts:

  • The Poetic Edda, a vast collection of epic poems sourced from a medieval Icelandic text known as the Codex Regius
  • The Prose Edda, a 13th-century volume of narratives about Norse mythology and religious beliefs compiled by Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson
  • Heimskringla and Landnámabók, two historical sagas also penned by Sturluson

Contemporary scholars mostly regard much of these works’ content as historical fiction rather than factually accurate accounts. BBC Religions points out that they were composed or compiled after Scandinavian Europe had converted to Christianity during the 11th and 12th centuries. However, they still provide cultural insights. Heathens today have developed diverse kinds of spiritual, ritual, and ceremonial practices from these writings and other folk traditions, with details shifting and changing as they’re transmitted from person to person. 

Common Ceremonial Elements 

Two organizations based in the United States, The Asatru Community and the Kindred of Ravenswood, have documented modern Heathen wedding customs. The Asatru Community published a detailed description of a typical Norse pagan wedding in a March 2018 blog post, while Kindred of Ravenswood member Chris Haviland offered a basic ceremonial outline along with some common traditions.

While there are a few differences between Haviland’s and the TAC’s versions, both follow a somewhat similar order of services. First, a Norse pagan wedding usually begins with the officiant hallowing the ceremonial space. The Asatru Community explains that this can be done by blowing a calling horn and smudging the area with sage, while Haviland mentions that the officiant may perform a blessing rite before the wedding party and guests arrive.

Once the couple has processed in, the ceremony itself begins. It generally includes readings, followed by the couple’s recitation of vows and either an exchange of rings or a handfasting ritual in which their wrists are tied together by the celebrant. Haviland’s account mentions a few additional elements:

  • The couple ritualistically eating a small cake and drinking mead
  • An exchange of keys or swords, which is based on an older Norse practice of the bride and groom trading each other’s ancestral swords
  • The clergy member blessing the bride with a Thor’s hammer

Modern documentation of Norse wedding customs usually mentions heterosexual couples tying the knot. Nevertheless, they have been adapted for same-sex unions. A May 2015 Reykjavik Grapevine article mentions that many same-gender couples marrying in Iceland have traditional pagan ceremonies performed by Asatru Fellowship officiants.

Revived Customs With Deeper Meanings

Like marriage rites from other cultures and faiths, Norse pagan weddings are packed with traditions, symbolism, and meaning. When each couple comes together, they bring their families’ histories and legacies with them. At the same time, their loved ones’ hope for their good fortune is conveyed through the officiant asking for blessings from the gods, spirits, and ancestors. Although different versions of Heathen nuptial rituals exist, the final intent is similar: witnessing a new union’s beginnings in front of their larger communities.

Trickster Deities in Canadian Religions
Trickster deities bend or outright violate rules or norms of social order and play important parts within several religions observed by Canadian people.

Trickster deities bend or outright violate rules or norms of social order and play important parts within several religions observed by Canadian people.

Just as real life is not without its tricksters, these individuals play important parts within several religions observed by Canadian people in modern times. Broadly speaking, trickster deities either bend or outright violate rules or norms of social order through their clever and cunning ways, often with humorous results. In his writings, psychiatrist Carl Jung spoke of this trope within First Nations mythologies, describing it as an archetype that apparently combines qualities seen as divine along with human tendencies. According to mythology, tricksters are usually deities, human folk heroes, anthropomorphic animal characters or some combination of the three. 

“Let There Be Light,” or Raven Steals the Sun 

As the Canadian Encyclopedia reveals, trickster deities frequently appear in the creation stories of many First Nations cultures. You might be familiar with Raven, a figure present in the tales of multiple groups such as the Inuit, Nisga’a and Haida. One famous account depicts Raven bringing light to a dark world by stealing the sun, a feat he accomplishes by turning into a hemlock or pine needle that’s swallowed by the Sun Chief’s daughter. She gives birth to a child strangely resembling the brazen bird who then begs to see the sun, which has been secreted away in a box. Once the Sun Chief obliges the child, the avian god steals the sun and flies away. Some editions of the story insist that Raven’s feathers were white prior to his theft and that the burning sun turned them black. 

Baron Samedi: Lord of the Dead 

Canada’s National Household Survey doesn’t include Haitian Voodoo as a separate religious category. Nevertheless, a 2010 piece in the Globe and Mail disclosed informal estimates that its practitioners make up between 30 and 80 percent of Haitian nationals in the country, which numbered more than 248,000 according to the 2011 survey. Significant spirits in most versions of Voodoo are called “loa,” and Baron Samedi is a charismatic loa said to dig the graves of the newly departed and escort them to the afterlife.

The Baron fits the “trickster” idea in both his demeanor and behavior. He’s described as having a jovial cheekiness manifesting itself in his liberal use of profanity, indulging in scandalous humor, frequent flirtations with mortal women and love of rum and tobacco. Such irreverence matches the “trickster” profile, but it’s his ability to defy the forces of death that’s most notable. The Baron has been known to refuse to dig some graves, which effectively saves the individuals in question from dying. 

Loki and Mohini: Breaking the Gender Binary

As many trickster tales include some sort of physical transformation, it’s no surprise that some tricksters shift genders. Loki, a well-known charlatan from both ancient Norse legends and modern-day Heathenry, aids Valhalla’s finest in several stories while bringing ruin and death in others. One gender-bending account shows him shifting into the form of a mare and giving birth to Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged steed. Some texts from Hinduism speak of Mohini, a goddess and avatar of Vishnu whose ruses include the following:

  • duping a group of demons into handing over an immortality elixir
  • charming another demon into mimicking her dance moves until he turned into a pile of ash
  • causing Shiva to be overcome with lust and temporarily lose his cosmic powers

As long as humanity has existed, people have been fascinated with “trickster” characters. Within many cultures, these personae have often manifested as deities who frustrate plans of humans and gods alike. Although their mischief is sometimes meant in fun, in other cases it breaks the rules or challenges authority to accomplish their own agendas. Whether these actions have altruistic, selfish or more complex motivations, examining the stories of divine beings with a trickster disposition becomes a fascinating study in human nature.


Stand Up and Be Counted: Numbering Canada’s Pagan Population
As issues of political representation and religious freedom remain salient, some pagan Canadians grapple with how to be counted and recognized.

As issues of political representation and religious freedom remain salient, some pagan Canadians grapple with how to be counted and recognized.

How many Neopagans make up the Canadian population? That’s a hard question to answer. Even worldwide, the pagan community is hard to estimate due to a wide variety of factors, so estimates often come from third-party sources. As issues of political representation and religious freedom remain salient, some Canadian pagans grapple with how to advance the positive recognition of their faith.

A Minority in Many Nations

In most Western countries, Neopagans usually make up less than 1 percent of the population. Organizations such as the Pew Research Center in the United States have attempted to assess these numbers. Yet according to Religious Tolerance, even Pew has not been consistent in its analysis and classification of adherents to modern forms of paganism. Around 0.4 percent of respondents answered “Pagan” or “Wiccan” on Pew’s 2008 Religious Landscape survey, yet Pew classified some of these same responses under the “New Age” category in other years. Pew’s own 2010 estimates stated that 0.8 percent of the world’s population belonged to “other religions,” but it includes faiths such as Zoroastrianism, Sikhism and Jainism alongside various pagan paths such as Wicca, Kemetic paganism and Norse Heathenry.

The Impact of the “Broom Closet”

Depending on where they live, many pagans contend with outright persecution. Some individuals keep their chosen faiths quiet among family, coworkers and acquaintances to avoid discrimination and harassment. In a 2015 Vice article, contributor Leonie Roderick cited examples of the prejudicial actions that practitioners of Witchcraft and other pagan paths face. For example, an English witch named Charlie Mallory Cawley documented years of bullying and abuse both in her workplaces and at school. Her tribulations included accusations of animal sacrifice and being cornered in a women’s restroom and called names.

Problems With the National Household Survey

Statistics Canada incorporated several religious categories for respondents to select in its 2011 National Household Survey. However, a 2013 HuffPost Canada article reveals much of the criticism expressed about the instrument, namely its low response rates among marginalized populations such as the poor, immigrants and indigenous First Nations communities. The 2011 survey listed the following classifications for religious faiths:

  • Roman Catholicism
  • Other Christian
  • Non-religious
  • Islam
  • Hinduism
  • Sikhism
  • Buddhism
  • Judaism
  • Other religions

The Pagan Business Network also mentioned the lack of options for Neopagan respondents in a 2016 blog post. Nevertheless, one possible factor influencing lack of recognition may be the vast range of spiritual paths existing under the banner of Neopaganism. For instance, the Canadian chapter of the Pagan Federation International mentions many different iterations on its website, such as Wicca, Druidry, Heathenry and Shamanism.

Furthermore, PBN writer Mark J. Newby opined that “the Canadian Government is at a loss about how to recognize religions that do not have a centralized, hierarchical structure.” At the same time, he pointed to a recent chaplaincy guide available from Canada’s governmental publications as an example. While it offers an extensive amount of information about Wicca, Newby mentions that Wicca is the only Neopagan faith in the guide and that it seems to consider the Wiccan Church of Canada as a central authoritative body. As pagans themselves can attest, many contemporary Neopagan spiritual movements do not have centralized hierarchies.

What Does the Future Hold?

Pagan participation in politics and other aspects of Canada’s public life is increasing, as evidenced by growing membership in pagan organizations and the growing number of chaplains at higher educational institutions. However, a variety of factors still contribute to the difficulty in determining how many people follow Neopagan spiritual traditions in our country. With the eclectic nature of modern pagan movements and social stigmas that keep their practitioners “in the broom closet,” the future of pagan social and political representation remains to be seen.

The Christian and Pagan Roots of Halloween
Halloween blends Pagan and Christian traditions.

Halloween blends Pagan and Christian traditions.

Halloween is a billion-dollar industry in Canada, ranking only second behind Christmas among profitable holidays. As with many modern holidays, it appears to be a mingling of Christian religious observances and Celtic pre-Christian traditions originating in an older festival known as Samhain. So where does Samhain end and Halloween begin? Keep a dish of sweet treats nearby to nosh on as you read through the mysteries behind this popular spooky celebration.

Is Halloween a Celtic Import?

The Canadian Encyclopedia reveals that Halloween’s most popular traditions came to North America sometime in the 1800s. The first documented instance in Canada of costume wearing occurred in Vancouver in 1898, while “trick or treat” was first recorded in Alberta in 1927. The Canadian Encyclopedia’s entry further suggests that these customs likely migrated here with Irish and Scottish immigrants. South of the border, the United States Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center appears to back up the assertion that Halloween came to us from Celtic Europe, with its observance rooted in older Samhain practices.

Samhain: A Time for Harvests and Spirits

The modern Irish term “Samhain” (pronounced “SOW-in”) refers to end-of-harvest revelries. It’s hard to ascertain when ancient Celts began marking the end of autumn, but the oldest documented example appears in Irish literature from around the 10th century C.E. Prior to that, Irish mythology mostly existed as spoken word traditions. Samhain’s festivities were held starting at sundown on October 31 and ending at dusk on November 1, a date that originally lined up with the Celts’ New Year. It’s also one of the four major seasonal holidays, along with Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasadh, on the ancient Celtic calendar.

Besides heralding the arrival of the cold season, these pre-Christian Celtic peoples believed that the barrier between the land of the living and the realm of the dead thinned at Samhain, allowing the souls of the dead to enter the waking world. Bonfires were lit to honor them and encourage their return to the Otherworld, a vast supernatural plane in which fairies, demons, deities and departed souls dwelled. Because these beings were thought to wander around on Samhain, offerings of food and drink were left out so that they’d leave the living alone.

Christianity and All Hallows’ Eve

Multiple sources have pointed to Catholicism’s adoption of pagan holidays into its own liturgical calendar. For instance, the December 25 date of Christmas also coincides with older celebrations of Saturnalia in ancient Rome and mid-winter celebrations across the rest of Europe. The American Folklore Center remarks that Pope Gregory I actively sought to absorb older customs and celebrations from non-Christian cultures in hopes of converting more people.

As Church leaders demonized native Celtic beliefs and condemned their Druids as devil worshippers, the All Saints feast was also moved to November 1. The day before became known as All Hallows’ Eve, yet the association of October 31 and November 1 with the mythology of Samhain never completely faded. Older Celtic practices of playing pranks, wearing disguises to confuse the dead and leaving out treats to mollify malicious spirits continued. 

Modern-Day Celebrations in Canada

While some fundamentalist Christians condemn Halloween as evil, the Canadian Encyclopedia disclosed that 68 percent of Canadians participate in its festivities every year. Followers of Celtic Neopagan spiritual paths might mark the day with bonfires, magical and ritualistic celebrations, and gatherings with friends and family. Moreover, the people who buy candies, dress up for trick or treat and throw Halloween parties come from many different faiths. With pagan and Christian contributions to the modern holiday and the childlike wonder and fun it can bring, there’s little surprise as to why it remains popular with Canadians in the 21st century.


Commemorating the March Equinox
During the spring equinox, the days and nights are equal.

The Spring Equinox is the point in the year where the Earth’s tilt is perpendicular with the sun.

This year, spring officially begins on March 20. This is the day when the earth’s axis is not tilted away from the sun’s rays but rather is perpendicular to them. The equinox is thought to be the day the earth gets a day and night of equal lengths, but in reality, it depends on how the sunrise and sunset are defined. Legend says that the spring equinox is the only day of the year that an egg can be perfectly balanced on its end. It’s not true, but its fun to try.

The spring wakes us, nurtures us and revitalizes us. How often does your spring come? If you are a prisoner of the calendar, it comes once a year. If you are creating authentic power, it comes frequently, or very frequently. Gary Zukav.

Holidays and Festivals Around the Equinox

Around the world, spring is celebrated in different ways. In North America, Easter is a rite of spring that is calculated based on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. This is why the date of Easter changes every year; it’s a lunar date. Another Abrahamic tradition of spring is the Jewish Passover, which generally falls on the first full moon after the spring equinox. In Mexico, visitors attend spring equinox in Teotihuacán, because legend says that portals of energy open at this place.

Burn Your Socks

In Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., the spring equinox brings in the boating season. Boat owners and employees celebrate by burning socks, because the boating community only wears socks through the winter. Astrologers see the vernal equinox as the beginning of the astrological year. They celebrate the day as International Astrology Day.

Ring in the New Year

In Iran, Nowruz, the New Year, occurs during the March Equinox, based on the Persian astronomical calendar. Jamshid, a mythological king of Persia, is said to have ascended to the throne on this day. He is remembered with two weeks of celebration. The day is a secular holiday for Iranians, but it’s a sacred day for Zoroastrians. Nowruz has also been added to the national calendar of Canada since 2007. It’s a time for spring cleaning, then decorating houses with garlands of roses and jasmine. New clothes are made for the celebration.

Honor Your Ancestors

In Japan, the spring or vernal equinox day, is an official public holiday. It’s a time to visit the graves of your ancestors and pay homage to them. Grave sites are cleaned. Offerings might be made to the ancestors. Homes are cleaned up. Many people use the spring equinox to make life changes. It’s also a day to celebrate nature after the long winter. Families get together, because many people have the day off.

See the Shadow Disappear

There are two days of the year when you can see a shadow disappear. Calculate the latitude of your location then subtract that number from 90. This is the angle measure you need when you put a stick in the ground. Using a compass, find south. Point a stick or ruler in that direction. Use a protractor to measure the angle to put the stick in the ground. At noon on March 20, the shadow of the stick will disappear. It won’t on any other day except the September equinox.

Tell Stories

March 20 is the day people around the world celebrate the culture of oral history. In 2017, the theme is “transformation.” The day had its roots in Sweden, but other countries picked up the tradition. It has taken time to become more common in Canada, but many organizations do recognize the day. Tell a story to your family as you await spring. Even if the trees aren’t budding or the flowers blooming, the spring equinox marks the time when you will soon see the first signs of renewal.

World Interfaith Harmony Week
World Interfaith Harmony Week is about peace between religions.

World Interfaith Harmony Week is about bringing different religions together.

Seven years ago, H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan proposed a week for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in dialogue based on common elements of their religions. The King made this proposal to the United Nations, and it only took one month to be unanimously adopted by the organization. The first week in February is now observed as World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Common Elements in Monotheistic Religions

Muslims, Jews and Christians have two commandments that are common in each religion:

  • Love of God
  • Love of the Neighbor

The idea is that these two commandments are at the heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Looking at these two philosophies, we can find solid theological ground without compromising the tenets of our own faith.

Leaders came together and published “A Common Word” (ACW) as a way to bring religions together. “ACW is a document which uses religion as the solution to the problems of inter-religious tensions. By basing itself on solid theological grounds in both religions ACW has demonstrated to Christians and Muslims that they have a certain common ground (despite irreducible theological differences) and that both religions require them to have relations based on love not on hatred.”

2017 Events Around the World

Countries around the globe plan events to bring people together to find world peace. According to, in 2017, there are currently 472 events on the calendar. While Western countries plan activities smaller countries have activities listed on the calendar.

King Abdullah believed that society could use infrastructure to bring harmony and peace between individuals, thus leading to peace between countries. Although we still have a lot of work to do, it is evident that more people want to see respect and tolerance between religions, governments and communities.

2017 Theme

The theme for 2017 is “The Gift of Love”. Although he is a direct descendent of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, the King is funding the restoration of Christ’s Tomb in the Church of Holy Sepulchre. His gift is thought to be worth about $4 million dollars. King Abdullah believes in the true message of Islam, but he also promotes interfaith dialogue. He has proven his worthiness as custodian of both Muslim and Christian holy sites through his words, deeds and actions. He truly has given the world a gift of love by respecting a faith not his own.

Take Part in World Interfaith Harmony Week

World Interfaith Harmony Week for all the world’s religions. While religions have common ground, it’s up to us to engage in dialogue and find that common ground to bring us together.

The United Nations has many declarations for world peace, cultural diversity and tolerance. World Interfaith Harmony Week is just one more time that is dedicated to finding common ground between faiths. We may not be able to change the entire world by being friendly, but we can change our community by encouraging diversity and tolerance.

ULC Monastery celebrates Beltane

May Day Celebrations

Girl with flower crown next to May Pole

Dancing around the May Pole

The transition from April into May marks the end of spring and the beginning of summer. During this time, the northern hemisphere is flourishing with new growth and warmer weather. The memory of winter is melting away, being replaced with brighter prospects. During this time, the earth is fertile and ready to foster the animals and crops which in turn sustain us all.

Beltane, or May Day, is a celebration of this new season, traditionally held on May 1st. This originated in pre-Christian times with the festival of Flora, a Roman goddess of flowers. Beltane originated as an ancient Gaelic festival, which was observed in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. These celebrations, and various other festivals held all over Europe, are closely related as they all celebrate the same thing.

As a cross-quarter day, Beltane marks the midpoint in the suns journey between spring equinox and summer solstice. According to myth, during this time the goddess and the god are united in holy matrimony and their relationship consummated. This symbolizes the fertilization of the earth and animals for the coming year. As part of the celebration, many earth-centered religions perform a ritual known as the Great Rite.

The Great Rite is the union of the male and female forces in creation. During this union, two halves become whole and bring all things into existence. The rite is performed by placing a male ritual tool into a female ritual tool, and couples are encouraged to perform the act de facto.

The holiday can be celebrated in other ways as well. Children, or those wanting to participate in ways other than the Great Rite, can make paper baskets by folding a piece of red or white decorative paper in half from one corner to the other; and string yarn through holes punched in the two connecting corners. Then, by placing a motley of spring flowers inside and leaving it on doorknobs, celebrants can spread the good will to friends and neighbors. This can be especially fun for children because you have to be sneaky and not let anyone know who brought them May flowers.

Another May Day celebration is the dancing of the May Pole. In this rite, many colored ribbons are woven around the pole, symbolizing the union of the goddess and the god. This is accompanied by the jumping over bonfires and making wishes.

While this celebration originated in Pagan and earth-centered religious, we all share the same home, and anyone can celebrate the changing of the seasons and the bounty that is provided by the Earth.

Spirituality in the Twitter Age

Devotion to technology is a form of modern-day spirituality

Twitter is one of the predominant social media platforms available today. The company was founded in 2006 and has grown exponentially since then. More than 350,000 tweets are posted per minute, and over 500 million are sent per day. In addition to everyday people, politicians, movie stars and spiritual leaders are also finding it an effective way to communicate with and inspire their followers.

Dalai Lama: @DalaiLama – 11.8 M followers

The Dalai Lama is a Buddhist monk who won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. He has one of the largest Twitter followings of any spiritual leader and tweets every couple of days. His posts are filled with messages of peace, happiness and compassion. Some recent tweets are:

  • “The use of force and violence inevitably entails unanticipated consequences, but rarely yields a solution.” – August 21
  • “To create a happier humanity we have to pay more attention to our inner values, whether we are religious or not.” – August 3
  • “To cultivate genuine compassion we need to take responsibility for our own care and have concern for everyone’s suffering, including our own.” – July 27

Pope Francis: @Pontifex – 6.89 M followers

The papacy of Pope Francis began on March 13, 2013. He has had a profound effect on the religious and secular alike, and is proving to be a religious force with whom to be reckoned. The pontiff has also amassed 6.89 million Twitter followers, which is a far cry from his predecessor’s (Pope Benedict) 12,700. Every two to four days, he tweets messages of benevolence and God’s love. Some recent tweets are:

  • “A Christian too attached to riches has lost his way.” – August 25
  • “Reading the Gospel each day helps us overcome our selfishness and to follow Jesus our teacher with dedication.” – August 21
  • “Hospitality in families is a crucial virtue today, especially in situations of great poverty.” – August 1
  • “We are all sinners. Let us be transformed by God’s mercy.” – August 8

Joel Osteen: @JoelOsteen – 3.89 M followers

Joel Osteen, a preacher and New York Times best-selling author, is the pastor of the biggest Protestant church in America. Every week, more than 44,000 people fill a former basketball area to watch him live, with another seven million tuning in on television. Osteen is also extremely active on Twitter and typically posts twice per day. His messages are inspirational and motivational. Some recent tweets are:

  • “You were created to overcome every obstacle, to rise above every challenge. Not just to survive – to thrive!” – August 26
  • “You may have a negative past, but you don’t have to have a negative future. This is a new day. Make the most of it.” – August 25
  • “You didn’t just happen to show up on planet earth. God had a plan for you long before you arrived.” – August 21

Deepak Chopra: @DeepakChopra – 2.57 M followers

Deepak Chopra is a renowned author and public speaker; he is also a doctor and vocal proponent of alternative medicine. Chopra was born in India and immigrated to the United States in 1970. He is prolific on Twitter (presumably, he has someone helping him), sometimes tweeting up to eight times per day. He interacts with his followers and frequently retweets messages. His posts are filled with New Age spirituality. Some recent tweets are:

  • “Each one of us is created with an inherent light within – a light made up of limitless spiritual power.” – August 27
  • “Yoga is the connection to the source field beyond space and time.” – August 25
  • “A compassionate heart, tapping into the inner ocean of unconditional acceptance, flows in waves of love.” – August 23

Much can be said in a 140-character tweet. Spiritual leaders who have jumped on the Twitter bandwagon are making the most of every post.

Shakespeare In the Ruins Puts Modern Twist on Classic Tale

anthony and cleopatra

Mark Antony and Cleopatra are one of most legendary couples of all time. Their doomed relationship was the subject of the William Shakespeare play Antony and Cleopatra, first performed in the early 17th century. In June, Manitoba theater company Shakespeare in the Ruins is staging a uniquely Canadian dramatization of the famous Shakespeare tragedy.

Mark Antony and Cleopatra

Mark Antony and Cleopatra ruled around 40 B.C. In Shakespeare’s play, they have an ill-fated, illicit relationship even though Antony is married to the sister of one of the most powerful rulers of the Roman Republic. Antony and Cleopatra both ultimately commit suicide due to the collapse of their empire and a series of misunderstandings.

The setting of the Shakespeare in the Ruins production is Canada’s pre-Confederation period, which was prior to 1867. Indigenous Canadians of the era portray the roles of Cleopatra and the ancient Egyptians. Antony and the Romans are represented by European fur traders. This interpretation of the literary classic emphasizes the themes of colonization and empire building, which was as applicable in 19th century Canada as in the time of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

Other Famous Literary Couples

While Mark Antony and Cleopatra were real people, they are a popular literary couple as well. In addition to Shakespeare’s play, their lives were dramatized in other plays, operas and film. There are numerous other famous literary couples. Some who lived happily ever after and others who suffered tragic endings like Antony and Cleopatra.

  • Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe, Anne of Green Gables Series

While not as famous as Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe are probably one of most well-known Canadian couples of all time. Their relationship gets off to a bumpy start in Anne of Green Gables, the first book in the Lucy Maud Montgomery authored series, set in early 20th century Canada. Their affection blossoms to love and they have numerous ups and downs over the course of their early lives and later marriage.

  • Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice, written by British author Jane Austen, was originally published in 1813. The novel has become one of most beloved romances of all time and was set in 19th century England. The story revolves around the relationship of Elizabeth Bennett, the second daughter of an English country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a wealthy aristocrat. The two originally despise each other, but end up madly in love despite a variety of obstacles to their relationship including coming from different social classes.

  • Romeo and Juliet

Another tragedy by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet is the story of two star-crossed lovers from the warring Capulet and Montague families. The couple meets by accident at a ball and later secretly marries. Juliet’s parents arrange for her to marry someone else, not knowing she is already married to Romeo. They threaten to disown her if she does not go through with the wedding. Juliet takes a drug that puts her sleep before her arranged marriage so her family will think she is dead. Romeo finds her and, believing she is dead, kills himself by drinking poison. Juliet awakens and finds Romeo dead. Not wanting to live without him, she stabs herself with his dagger.

  • Hermonine Granger and Ron Weasley, Harry Potter Series

Hermonine Granger and Ron Weasley don’t officially become a couple until the very end of the seven-book series by J.K. Rowling. At first, they seem like an unlikely pair because Hermonine is the smartest student in the class and a goody-two-shoes, and Ron is more of a slacker and a lot less concerned about following the rules.

Love stories are one of most popular literary genres. Whether the couples are from ancient Egypt, pre-Confederation Canada, present day or anything in between, a well-told story will always captivate an audience.

Saint-Jean Baptiste Day and the Summer Solstice

Lighting bonfires on Saint-Jean Baptiste day
Saint-Jean Baptiste Day, also known as La fete Nationale, is a public holiday in Quebec and occurs each year on June 24. It always falls around the same time as the summer solstice, or Midsummer, which has been celebrated since ancient times in France and other European countries including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Pagan History

In Europe, Midsummer, also called Litha, traditions have been observed since pre-Christian times. The main focus of Litha celebrations have always been centered on the power of the sun, and were particularly important in agricultural societies. The holiday, which usually occurs on June 20 or June 21, is the day of the summer solstice and the longest of the year. The sun reaches the highest point in the sky, or its zenith. The word solstice is derived from the word solstitium, Latin for “sun stands still.” The lighting of bonfires, which stood for the lightness and warmth of the summer, was a common way to mark the occasion.

The ancient Romans honored Juno, for whom the month of June was named, during this time of year. She was the goddess of women, childbirth and marriage. June was (and still is) a popular month to be married.

Christian History

While the Midsummer holiday is pagan in origin, Christians associate it with the birth of John the Baptist. This prophet and saint predicted the arrival of Jesus Christ. John’s own birth was considered by Christians to be a miracle and has many parallels to Christ’s life. Zechariah and Elizabeth, John’s parents, were past childbearing years when he was born. The Archangel Gabriel came to Zechariah and told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son and they were to name him John. John’s birthday was six months before Christ’s, whom he would eventually baptize.

Canadian History

The first Saint-John the Baptiste Day celebration in Canada is believed to have occurred on the night June 23, 1636 on the St. Lawrence River. A group of French colonists are thought to have commemorated the occasion with cannon shots and a bonfire on the St. Lawrence River.

In the 19th century, the holiday rituals were mostly religious and backed by the Catholic Church. Bonfires, a tradition that dated back to pagan times, were lit and there were also parades. Pope Pius X declared St. John the Baptist the patron saint of French Canadians in 1908. June 24 officially became a public holiday in Quebec in 1924.


Saint-John the Baptiste Day celebrations became more secular in the 20th and 21st centuries. A bill was introduced in the Canadian Parliament in 2011 to make the day a federal holiday throughout Canada, but it has not been passed.


Modern Day Traditions

In modern times, Saint-John the Baptiste Day and the Midsummer are celebrated in a variety of ways.


Saint-John the Baptiste Day

The people of Quebec look forward to this public holiday every year. Some of the following ways they commemorate the day have historical origins and others are more contemporary in nature:

  • Bonfires
  • Parades
  • Musical performances
  • Art Exhibitions
  • Fireworks



Litha is one of the most important days of the year to pagans. Here a few of the ways people celebrate the occasion. Even for non-pagans, the holiday can still be a fun way to mark the summer solstice.

  • Take a hike and enjoy nature
  • Host a bonfire for family and friends
  • Build a Litha altar and decorate it with flowers, vegetables and lit candles
  • Learn and grow by reading a new book or taking a class such as yoga.


Saint-John the Baptiste Day and Litha are connected by thousands of years of tradition and rituals. The holidays honor one of the most important figures in Christian history and celebrate the sun and summer.