Malta is a predominantly Catholic country, and although we get other mainstream religions here like Islam and Buddhism, we also find more uncommon religious beliefs like those of Paganism, Spirituality and Witchcraft. Some of us know about them through second-hand accounts or from people we’ve actually met, but most of the population only has urban legends and heresy to go by. We decided to sit down with seven individuals from these groups to discuss their beliefs and to shed some light and create more acceptance and awareness. If you’re curious, grab yourself a cup of coffee and some biscuits — you’re in for quite the ride.
Paganism, Spirituality and Witchcraft have always been a thing on this minuscule island.
If you don’t believe us, you can see proof of this for yourself at the Inquisitor’s Palace in Birgu — they have a whole room full of witchcraft and Pagan relics which were confiscated by the Church. Or ask your nanna if she’s still into tbaħħir. While you’re at it, ask her to tell you more about the għajn, l-skonġura and is-saħta. These customs although disguised as being Catholic, are heavily Pagan in nature. The country is Catholic, sure, but most people’s customs aren’t. Especially those of our forefathers. “Paganism never left Malta – it was always here, just underground and undercover because of the prejudice on the island,” Ryan*, a practising pagan told Lovin Malta. One of the thing that impressed us the most is that the mara l-ħoxna, a figure so familiar to us as we grew up — is still venerated nowadays. The Sleeping Lady, a figure so familiar to us through our school trips to museums, is still a popular deity among local Pagans, as Malta’s very own Mother Goddess.
“I hide it and pretend that I am Catholic, even though I hate it a lot.”
There seems to be a certain fear among people, mostly spread by the predominant religious movement in this country.
“I hide it and pretend that I am Catholic, even though I hate it a lot,” Ryan told Lovin Malta. “People are afraid because the Church is always saying untruths about Paganism, like that it’s the Devil’s work and stuff like that.”
Anthony* grew up as a Catholic and went to a Catholic school and attended mużew like almost everyone else who grew up in Malta, but his beliefs helped him overcome the Catholic framework. “People question why religion is so non-inclusive and get angry about it, but I’m grateful that I grew up in this indoctrination because at the same time it has helped me overcome it,” he explained. “Christianity for me was a stepping stone to a higher spiritual awareness.”
“I still think that Catholicism and Paganism can cross over each other in a very complex way.”
Steve* first discovered Paganism 24 years ago, and it resonated with a lot of the feelings he had been experiencing at the time. “I felt that being in nature made me feel closer to the Divine,” he told Lovin Malta. “World mythology is not just made of pleasant stories told by ancient cultures, but something we can all learn from today; and that the ancient temples of this land still retain a strong sense of the sacred.”
Not everyone we talked to, however, discovered this all on their own.
“I discovered Paganism and Witchcraft through friends,” Gerald* said. “We shared ideas and helped each other. I try to separate my public life and spiritual life.” All things considered, though, Gerald doesn’t see himself as a Pagan.
“I am not a big fan of labels, but I can gladly say that I am someone who has practiced Paganism for the last two years.” he said. He grew up within a very strong Catholic background, and still attends Catholic feasts and celebrations like Good Friday, and sometimes even goes to mass. “I feel like I need spiritual celebration through a community and obviously in Malta this is the easiest way to do it.” he said. “I still think that Catholicism and Paganism can cross over each other in a very complex way.” Even though his family are Catholic, Gerald tells us that they still practice Pagan rituals like tbaħħir and they hold a very strong devotion to statues.
Rose, on the other hand runs a local spiritual page on Facebook, Magic Touch Malta, which offers informational blogs and videos and also organises events.
Her main focus is to organise Women Circles — group events organised for women, to reconnect with themselves in a safe and sacred space where they can meditate and be among nature. “I established one of the first Pagan communities in Malta twenty-five years ago — The Children of the Silver Light,” she said. “Along the way I met a lot of foreign mentors, and I worked with them on a one-on-one level. With their knowledge and my persistence I started trying to find ways to apply the lessons and wisdom they gave me to the Maltese way of life. Previously we were following a foreign paradigm, but I felt like we needed to develop one of our own — and we did.”
The women’s circles Rose organises are not just something people seek out because of spirituality, but also for empowerment and transformation which happens to the women who attend. She also hones a special connection to the Sleeping Lady of Malta, which is oftentimes seen as a Mother Goddess to many people.
“People sometimes really want to identify themselves with certain groups, so they tend to also identify themselves with all the stereotypes that come with that identification, involuntarily putting themselves in a box.”
Leigh grew up as a Methodist, but her family was never particularly religious “For me it was my own discovery of wanting to know more, which lead me to this path.” She told us “My interest in the alternative field always felt very natural and I just became an avid reader and researcher of esoteric subjects.”
“I grew up in a very Catholic background, and I still have a lot of respect for Catholicism as a whole,” Steve said. Although he thinks that the Church as an organisation seems to carry a lot of baggage, he still feels that like every religion, it helps one to gather wisdom and feel closer to the Divine.
Anthony doesn’t define himself spiritually and does not conform to any religion. “I discovered Buddhism first, and I subscribed to that belief because it was one that really resonated with me, but I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist.” Anthony said. “I have studied Psychology and I understand that people sometimes really want to identify themselves with certain groups, so they tend to also identify themselves with all the stereotypes that come with that identification, involuntarily putting themselves in a box.”
“I would just say that perhaps I’m very spiritual. But I’ve been practicing for around five years,” Sarah* told us. She wouldn’t really give any name to her beliefs, as although they differentiate from the mainstream religions, she still does not consider herself to fit in any of the boxes. “If I took it in the sense of what the word Paganism means today, that I don’t follow the same religious path as the majority than yes, I’m a Pagan.”
“Sometimes I meet people and something tells me to trust them with this, other times I meet others who I feel like I need to hide it from,” Sarah told us.
She feels afraid that maybe people would judge her harshly over her beliefs. Gerald seems to have less of a problem with this, as he tries to stay safe when it comes to talking to people about his beliefs. “I generally only tell people who are inclined towards these beliefs and practices,” he said. “Some people still find it weird though.”
“I think one thing that has become very important to me over time is to actually walk my own talk — and while rituals and spirituality are important, they are meaningless unless we are also trying to do our bit about helping the environment,” Steve told us. He went on to say that the importance of preserving our historical temples and sites is our job, and would be beneficial for us all at the end of the day.
“It’s a paradox. My family knows but doesn’t at the same time. It’s not negative at all or anything, they just think that I’m strange.”
“It’s not something I can share with everyone and at times have felt very isolated,” Leigh, a local medium and spiritual guide, told Lovin Malta when asked about the experience of telling people about her beliefs. “It’s not always an easy conversation to have with people. However, as it’s my business, the more mature I get, I feel more able to stand stronger in my own beliefs.”
Anthony’s experience on the other hand was very different. “When I first told them, my dad thought it was weird. He just sort of thought that I’m ‘off the wall,’” Anthony told us. “It’s not negative at all or anything, they just think that I’m strange. Initial reactions sometimes are quite negative, but than people understand that it’s what you are and if you are authentic, they will accept it.”
“It’s a paradox. My family knows but doesn’t at the same time,” Gerald explained to us that his family see him practicing his rituals sometimes and it does not seem to make much of a difference for them since they grew up within a branch of Catholicism where certain practices are very similar with Pagan ones.
“I believe that you need to put your ideas forward, and people can make of it what they want,” Anthony told us.
Not everyone in Steve’s family know that he’s a Pagan.
“They do know I practice meditation, have crystals and Tarot cards openly lying about, but they might misinterpret the word ‘Pagan’ as we have often been taught to consider that word as meaning ‘godless’ or ‘barbaric’,” he told us. “I try to be as honest as possible about what I believe, and do not hold back from views others may find controversial, but very often I express myself in language that people can relate to and understand.”
Steve went on to explain that when he talks to people about magic, which people have been conditioned to think of in a negative light “But what if we think about it as something empowering? About how we create our realities through our perspectives and choices?”
“I am who I am, all loud and proud.”
“I was raised up in a Catholic family. Catholic school, stuff like that. My family was never terribly religious though either,” Sarah told us. However, although she was brought up in a Catholic family, she remembers her great-aunt reading tarot cards for people who lived on her street. “But I never saw that as being weird, I just grew up in it and thought it was a normal thing everybody did,” she said.
“I guess it really hit me when I got older and being taught about the occult during Religion at school. It was quite shocking at first.” Sarah continued by saying that she never really took notice of it, and even though she grew up in this background, it took her a very long time to embrace it and start practicing for herself.
Rose was raised in a Catholic community and her parents are both religious. “Really they had to accept me, I am who I am, all loud and proud,” she laughed. “But I was very challenging for them as a child.” When she was older, Rose read a book called The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley — this book was a catalyst for her, inspiring a lot of Goddess communities around the world like the one in Glastonbury and the one here in Malta. “When I was fifteen years old I remember skipping school and sneaking out to go to Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra instead,” Rose recounted.
“The biggest issue is people’s fears and, it would seem, an unwillingness to read, learn and explore.”
Anthony tells us that if he was ever shunned by anyone it was not directly. “People are quite loving and open towards me. I do feel like some communities have shunned me, but I just disassociated myself from them anyway.” Anthony said that these communities generally shun him because he challenges their beliefs.
Leigh, on the other hand, said that Malta still has a long way to go when it comes to acceptance of her beliefs. “The biggest issue is people’s fears and, it would seem, an unwillingness to read, learn and explore,” she said. “It does not bother me as I stand strong in my belief and without it I’m not sure what would have happened to me.” She does not feel shunned by the people around her but she did tell us that there is some prejudice, “I do feel there are times when people just think of witches and the dark side, so they assume I am dancing with the devil.” she said
“It’s a mixture really. sometimes you meet people who just can’t stop asking questions at all. They’re genuinely interested in it and want to know more.” Sarah said. She thinks that mostly people are just curious “I feel like most people are open minded and accepting. But other times, you meet people who are really one-track minded when it comes to religious beliefs and only think that they’re dogma is right. Those are the people you’re afraid to speak to about it.” Sarah believes that she is not shunned only because she is very careful about who to confide in “I was never shunned because I choose who to tell, but I would be if I wasn’t careful.”
“Malta is a two-faced country. Sometimes it’s better to go with the flow rather than express your beliefs.”
Pagan practices seem to help you become a better person, and the community is acceptant of other people and very respectful.
“Paganism teaches us that all things are sacred and you automatically respect all living things, even the people that you disagree with,” said Ryan. “But Malta is a two-faced country. Sometimes it’s better to go with the flow rather than express your beliefs.”
Anthony has had no problem with integrating his beliefs with his public life. When asked about his literary work he explained that “They are very personal poems, stories and illustrations which are extremely candid. If I have an opinion about anything I will not shy away from speaking my opinion about it. I really do integrate my beliefs with my public sphere.”
Anthony spoke to us about the time when he experimented with spell craft for the first time. “It was during a time when I was working with energies as reiki practitioner. I had told one of my friends about it casually later on, and she started showing me all of these books and telling me about how she too practiced spell craft.”
“I honestly had no idea about it. The thing about spell craft is that you need to keep your intentions pure and never do anything negatively.”
“A Pagan ritual may not look very different to a picnic to a casual observer.”
Steve told us that most Pagans pray as a way of saying thanks, to celebrate the cycles of nature, the moon and the seasons too.
“A typical Pagan ritual usually involves creating a sacred space, invoking the elements and the Divine, doing meditation, making magic to fulfil a positive intention which can be individual — like bringing abundance into your life” he said “We also bring in music and food a lot as they are reminders that life is there to be enjoyed. In fact, a Pagan ritual may not look very different to a picnic to a casual observer.”
According to Leigh, personal development and spiritual practice can only help us become better individuals, whatever our background is. There are a lot of things which can be of benefit — meditation is one of them. Gerald tells us “It really helps you to get to know yourself, to be closer to nature. Not to mention the fact that meditation is good for you both mentally and physically.”
The system within the Pagan community, although supportive, will still leave members on their own to experience first-hand and learn about their own personal paths and journeys.
“The friends you have within the circle will tell you to keep to yourself and practise in secret,” Ryan told us.
“The few Pagans I know are really helpful and supportive so I can safely say that it’s a very friendly community,” Gordon said. He continued to explain that throughout the community, people still have different beliefs from one another. “There are a lot of branches in Paganism, but nobody tries to shove their beliefs down your throat. They let you believe what you want to, they will not judge you.”
“I find that being with people in a sacred circle and doing rituals together creates links that run deep between individuals, and that the circle itself provides a safe place for people to let go of their masks and speak what they feel without fearing any judgement,” Steve said. But he still thinks that it’s very important for people to reach out for help when needed, even within the community.
“I think there’s a portion of Maltese society that is very accepting and welcoming, but others are still living in a bubble.”
Steve thinks that the Church has opened many doors in the past few years.
“I have found some Catholic priests to be very understanding when it comes to reaching out to other religions, including Paganism – often more than their followers may be.” he says.
“It is true that many rituals in the Church go back to pre-Christian times and link up to the cycles of nature. For instance, the Pagan feast of Imbolc, at the beginning of February, where we see the first indications of the day growing longer, was translated into the Christian feast of Candlemas, where candles are blessed in churches around the world to celebrate the presentation of Christ in the temple,” Steve said.
“I think there’s a portion of Maltese society that is very accepting and welcoming, but others are still living in a bubble. I’ve lived in many different cities and countries so I can compare Malta to them,” Anthony said. But that does not mean that he was not accepted here.
“Some people in Malta are really small-minded — I lost a lot of friends because of it, but at the same time I gained a lot of amazing people who are accepting and loving. I am very open, and that’s very liberating for me but if someone doesn’t like it I just move on.”
“I see Malta as being split 50/50 when it comes to their feelings about it,” Rose said. “Some people are trapped, but others are collective and conscious and they are very connected and aware. It seems like things are changing. I used to get a group of around 10 people every three months maybe? Now I get a group of 15 to 20 people every month, which says a lot.”
“I feel very accepted with the few people who know. But at the same time, that also means that I do not feel accepted, because I am not free to tell everyone I meet.”
Gordon’s experience seems to resonate to the others’, but in a lighter way.
“Maltese people, mostly the popolin, they tend to accept Pagan practices, but not all-out Paganism and Witchcraft because they see it as something sinister or related to the Devil,” he said. “But they don’t understand that there’s positive magic too. I feel very accepted with the few people who know. But at the same time, that also means that I do not feel accepted, because I am not free to tell everyone I meet.”
“Maltese people are generally very interested in spirituality,” Rose said
“There has been a rather startling rise in spiritual exploration in Malta,” Ryan says.
“There is a thirst for a spirituality that is closer to the Earth, for a more personal understanding of ourselves and our health, for a religious experience that is more open and accepting.” However, he still thinks that there are a lot of negative connotations attached with being a Pagan.
“From the way in which, in the Catholic context, ‘paganism’ is used to mean ‘godlessness’ and scientifically oriented people might see it as a delusion.” He is very selective about who he tells about his beliefs, as he has experienced both scepticism and suspicion from those around him. He tries his best to change the negative stereotypes by explaining to people what his beliefs entail. “When negative stereotypes are addressed and more information is given, usually I find the reactions change to curiosity and interest,” he told us.
When asked about any particular deities he worships or prefers, Anthony surprised us with his reply.
“I really like St.Anthony. I’m a big fan of his and I sort of talk to him sometimes, I don’t really call it praying, though.”
Steve had a very interesting insight about this, and told us that at certain points in his life, he felt like he could relate to different deities. He does not see it as a process of worship however, but more as a way of relating to them. “Mighty Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love and beauty, is important to me because she provides the challenge of looking towards life as a beautiful thing and living in joy. Gaia, Mother Earth, is she who sustains us all. Cernunnos and Pan, both Gods who represent the life of all living creatures.”
He told us also that in his circle they also recognise “The One” — a deity from which all things are born, and to whom they shall return to at the end.
“Angels got me through a very dark phase in my life so I thank them. So angels, spirit guides, the divine higher energy… all resonate for me.”
Although Leigh does not really practice any rituals, she tells us that everyday she writes a gratitude list and calls in on the angels and uses essential oils for her wellbeing. “Angels got me through a very dark phase in my life so I thank them. So angels, spirit guides, the divine higher energy… all resonate for me,” she said.
Sarah, on the other hand, seems to have a more varied outlook on the subject. “I believe in a lot of different deities. All Gods are real for me, Gods from the Maltese, Greek, Celtic and Roman mythology for example, they’re all real. I just go with those that feel familiar, the ones I feel a connection with.” When asked about the Maltese part she was referring to, Sarah told us that it’s the Mother Goddess — Il-Mara L-Ħoxna to those of us who know her by that name. “Malta has had a stream of different Gods and beliefs throughout the ages, we had the Phoenicians here and the Romans, Carthaginian rulers too.”
“I am monotheistic and believe that all the Gods can be seen as being one,” Gerald said. “It doesn’t make a difference to me. I still need to decide for myself.”
* some names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals