HP Pride: Meet Debra Macleod

HP Pride is a new monthly column where we interview members of the Humanistic Paganism community and other like-minded friends. One or more interviews will be published every month. If you are not a “Big Name Pagan”, or if you have never written online before, all the better! We want to hear from everyone! If you’d like to be interviewed, just click this link and follow the instructions.

Today we are interviewing Debra Macleod. You can visit Debra’s private practice at DebraMacleod.com or her Vesta website at NewVesta.com.

What do you call the religion you practice? 

New Vesta.  It is a re-introduction and renewal of the ancient Roman cult/tradition of Vesta, goddess of the home and hearth.

If you call yourself “Pagan”, what about your religion is “Pagan”?  Why do you choose to call yourself “Pagan”?  If you don’t call yourself “Pagan”, why not? 

I do call myself pagan.  For me, it’s simply an identifiable, widely recognized term that distinguishes my worldview from an Abrahamic or monotheistic worldview.

What other words (i.e., humanistic, naturalistic, atheistic, pantheistic, witch, druid, shaman, etc.) do you use to describe your religion and why? 

I think the terms humanistic paganism or secular paganism are great ways to describe the New Vesta tradition.

What is your religion of origin?  What religion were you raised with? 

I was raised as something between an agnostic and an atheist.  My parents were not anti-religious as such, but they were – and still are – opposed to the anti-science, sexist and hypocritical elements of the religion around them, which was Christianity.

How did you transition to your current religion? Tell us a little about your faith journey. 

I’ll make a very, very long story short: When I was 20 years old, I traveled to Rome where I met a woman who claimed to be a Vestal priestess at the ruins of the ancient Temple of Vesta.  She was burning an old Vestal candle and, after we talked for a while, she gave it to me and asked me to light it every March 1st (the traditional date the ancients renewed Vesta’s fire in the temple).

When I returned home to Canada, I packed the candle and memory away while I went on with my life, going to university where I studied the classics, then on to law school.  I got married and had a baby which, to put it bluntly, derailed my career as a lawyer.  I went on to start my own couples mediation practice.  Vesta was completely irrelevant to me at the time.

Although I had – and still have – a wonderful husband and child, I did at times feel that marriage and family life weren’t living up to the expectations I had for my life.  My career – which saw me sitting in a room with miserable, scrapping couples every day – didn’t help, either.  It was at that time that I found myself, for the first time in my life, really thinking about the Vesta tradition and how it had for so many centuries brought meaning, solidarity and happiness to marriage and family life.

I then dug the old Vestal candle out of my parents basement (where it had sat in an old backpack for over two decades) and renewed it on March 1st, 2013.  I’ve now renewed it three times – 2013, 2014 and 2015.  I use the melted wax to create new Vestal candles that I give to women who wish to burn a Vestal candle in their home.

What makes your religion a good fit for you? 

New Vesta is a personal spirituality that is practiced in the privacy of one’s home.  I prefer that to public spectacle and gatherings.  Can’t stand those, to be honest.  It also reflects my values by extolling the family unit above anything else (including a deity – which is unlike the Abrahamic religions, all of which prioritize their god over the family).  New Vesta is progressive and reflects humanist values, including science, gender equality, environmentalism, etc.

As a classicist, I love the ancient elements of this renewed tradition.  Embracing Vesta’s history and tradition brings a sense of constancy and symbolism to life.  My family and I are traveling to Italy next spring to visit the Temple and I think that will be amazing.

As a writer (I have authored ten relationship guides), I have very much enjoyed writing my New Vesta book series, and am currently researching and writing the third book in the series.  This gives me a good reason to indulge in research and Latin translation, which I love to do.

Finally, as a couples’ mediator I am able to incorporate elements of the home-based, family-focused New Vesta tradition into my practice to help couples bring more meaning to their marriage and family life.  Considering the current rates of divorce and family breakdown, I believe this ancient tradition can help modern couples and families stay together.

How do you practice your religion? 

Most simply, we have a lararium (family altar) in our home and we make meal-time offerings / libations into the flame of a Vestal candle. I practice in other ways during special events or festivals, such as the Lupercalia.  And as mentioned earlier, I honor the traditional renewal of Vesta’s fire in the temple by handcrafting Vestal candles every March 1st.

Do you observe the Wheel of the Year?  If so, how? 

No.  With the exception of the solstices, this is largely irrelevant to the Vesta tradition, past or present.

Do you believe in or work with “gods” or “deities” or “spirits” in any sense of those words?  Why or why not?  If so, how? 

No.  I do not believe that deities/spirits are real in a literal sense, but are rather symbolic ideas that represent what is most important to us.  To me, Vesta is a beautiful “face in the flame” that makes the universe just a little more … personal.

Do you believe in or work with “magic” in any sense of the word?  Why or why not?  If so, how? 

No.  I do not believe in magic, spells or the supernatural.

How does your religion affect your daily life or your state of mind? 

It brings me focus, perspective, gratitude and patience. It lets me indulge in the things I love – such as amateur astronomy (there is a significant asteroid named after Vesta), Latin, history, collecting antiquities – in a more meaningful way.  It also provides a focus for my family life.  As a family, we all like making meal-time offerings/libation and it has become a ritual with great meaning and symbolism – by nourishing Vesta’s flame, we are nourishing our family solidarity.

Do you interact with theistic Pagans in religious community?  Do you share ritual with theistic Pagans?  What has been your experience in this regard? 

I am the world’s leading proponent of the New Vesta tradition and so I do interact in ways that spread the knowledge and the flame of this ancient spirituality in the modern world.

I share knowledge, information and advice – however, I do not engage in public ritual or public gatherings.  Vesta’s origins were as a simple, home-based spirituality and it is my hope that the renewal of this tradition will see ritual and worship remain completely private.

My opinion is that public ritual tends to breed rigid doctrine that ultimately alienates people and results in a hierarchy that makes people feel subordinate and excluded.  The New Vesta tradition is a faith and spiritual practice that has a few specific private rituals as handed down from antiquity, but its strength is its ability to adapt and fit the needs/beliefs of individuals.

How do you engage other Pagans online?

Although I don’t really focus on engaging with other Pagans, I am just as interested in introducing the New Vesta tradition to the “spiritual but not religious” demographic.

Are you “out of the closet” about your Paganism? To what degree?  Why? 

Yes, I am “out of the closet.”  Completely.  I openly blog, write and talk about what the New Vesta tradition and other expressions of modern Paganism have to offer.

What is the thing you love the most about Paganism? 

I find that most Pagans are very open-minded when it comes to science, medicine, other beliefs and worldviews, and progressive/humanist social values.  Pagans do not tend to proselytize, either.  It’s great to be excited by your worldview and want to share it with others, but there’s a difference between “sharing” and “shoving.”

What is one thing you would like to change about Paganism or the Pagan community?

I would like to see Pagans use their real names, instead of names like Moonhawke or Fairieladie or BlackCauldron.  I understand people are hesitant to face ridicule by others and I am sensitive to that; however, Paganism will never be accepted as a mainstream worldview until people are willing to take this risk and openly represent their faiths.

I would also like to see the Pagan community steer clear of negativity and the need to constantly inject self-righteous opinions and assumptions into conversations (although I guess we can complain about this across all demographics!).  I think Pagans tend to be more educated than other religious communities and, while that is great, I also think too many Pagans are excessively eager to “show up” each other in terms of their knowledge about their and other traditions.   It’s great to contribute, clarify and question; however, this is often done with an obnoxious degree of snarkiness.  I expected more from a relatively enlightened crowd.
Thank you!

Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B.



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