- About our Grove
- Holy Days
- Firepit Forums
The Wild Hunt
Updated: 12 hours 40 min ago
[The Wild Hunt welcomes Nathan Hall as today’s guest journalist . He makes his home in South Florida where he works for a local media company and lives with his wife and soon-to-be first child. He grew up without any real religious background but always felt connected with the spirits of the land. Because of this connection he has always felt a strong kinship with environmental causes and the primacy of nature over humanity’s exploitation of it. Nathan has followed many paths, including ceremonial magick, Norse and Druidic traditions. Recently, he has come into alignment with the Temple of Witchcraft tradition where he is a student in the Mystery School. You can find more of his writing at The Arrival and the Reunion.]MIAMI, Fla. — “I have a message for anyone who would listen to it, from the spirit of our lady, Florida,” Dayan Martinez begins his presentation, addressing the dire situation of the Everglades. He was a guest presenter, among a handful of speakers, at the Love the Everglades Summer Symposium 2016 held August 6 at Miami’s Miccosukee Resort and Convention Center. Other presenters, representing First Nations, faith groups, local communities, and NGOs, participated as well. Martinez recalled reaching out during his shamanic journey work when he first made contact with Her – Our Lady Florida. Martinez had been struggling with his own sense of powerlessness in the face of decades of over-development and environmental upheaval in Florida.
“Goddess is just a word that I use because everyone seems to get the idea that there is a spirit. But she’s enormous in a way, the entire state, from bedrock to clouds,” he said. Since meeting who he refers to as both La Florida and Our Lady Florida, his life has become more focused, with a new sense of purpose.
This is what compelled Martinez to take part in the summer symposium, as not just an activist, but also as a public Pagan. He was joined by friend and fellow community member, Mathew Sydney.
“I believe it was Dayan who in one of these journeys asked: ‘What can we do for you?’ Her response was, ‘I don’t want candles and offerings of incense and trinkets, I want you to go out there and speak for the environment and take care of the waters,’” Sydney said.
On June 29, Florida governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie counties because of the volume of blue-green algae that had clogged the St. Lucie river and adjoining canal systems and estuaries. The order did little to address the immediate problem, however, mostly just providing additional funds to test water and providing vague instructions to store water in other parts of the Everglades.
The Everglades is a one of a kind ecosystem on the planet, with water slowly moving south toward Florida Bay at a near-glacial pace. Also called the River of Grass, it historically extends from the Kissimmee River basin, just south of Orlando, down through Lake Okeechobee, continuing through the current Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve out into the Bay, which is hugged by the Florida Keys.
During the push for agricultural land in the 19th century and a development boom that was facilitated by baron-capitalists of the early 20th century, draining the Everglades became an obsession for land owners, sugar and citrus interests, keen on making money off the Sunshine State. After two nasty hurricanes in the 1920’s lead to massive flooding from Lake Okeechobee, the opportunity was seized upon and the federal government stepped in, ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a dike along the southern edge of the lake.
From that point on, the historic flow of the Everglades has been cut off. Canals jut out to the east and west from the lake, and when the water level gets too high, instead of flowing south as it has for countless millennia, it is routed out to the ocean.
This has lead to an ongoing environmental disaster that has been reportedly exacerbated by mismanagement, poor infrastructure, and climate change. It has now culminated in large swaths of blue-green algae overcoming valuable estuaries, smothering wildlife, and sickening residents. According to researchers, restoring the historic flow of the Everglades is the best solution to this problem.Both Sydney and Martinez came away from the symposium feeling like it was a great first step, but with the realization that there was a lot more work to do. Sydney said, “The speech was very well received, I think that bringing like-minded people together is more important now.” He especially felt that there was a need for more Pagan-identifying folks to be present, saying that he’d love to see an entire panel featuring earth-centered religions as part of future secular environmental gatherings.
“In my evolution I have come to feel that those of us who identify as Pagan or Neopagan, or who practice earth-based faiths, we of all people have to stand up and lead the way to speak on behalf of the manatee, the bear, the dolphin, and the honeybees and all the other creatures who are being impacted,” Sydney said.
In an effort to lay the groundwork for more Pagan-centered activism, the two men have started a new environmental organization called the Pagan Environmental Alliance. The nascent group has already held their first protest, with a uniquely Pagan twist.
“Ritual can be a protest, ritual can be a political statement. So when we gather (in downtown West Palm Beach), we will be making our political-activist point by being ourselves in a spiritual manner. Hopefully that will inspire further types of ritual protest,” Martinez said.Their first event was a small showing, but they were happy with the outcome. They used Doreen Valiente’s Witches Creed for its ritual structure and theme of stepping out from the shadows and saying what Witches are. They also poured fresh rainwater into the intracoastal waterway between West Palm Beach and the island of Palm Beach and asked that there be an awakening within the Pagan community.
But public ritual and educational symposiums aren’t the only facet of their efforts.
“Another part of what we’re doing, another strategy is guerrilla magick. We’re developing strategies whereby quietly, undercover and surreptitiously we can perform magickal acts. The purpose of which is to restore mankind’s balance with nature,” Sydney said. He said that they’ve already begun covertly utilizing sigil magick in public places.
But, Sydney added that there’s still a good bit of work that needs to be accomplished well within the public’s view. While many Pagans have gotten their start as solitaries and continue their practice alone, he said, “I think that it’s time that (we) put aside all that solitary, private practice and actually become leaders in the community.”
Restoring the natural flow of water in the Everglades system is the goal that Martinez and Sydney have been compelled to do by La Florida, but it won’t come easy. After the economic crisis and subprime mortgage meltdown, which happened between 2008 through 2010, ownership of property in South Florida has moved out of normal, working people’s hands. As home values plummeted, banks, hedge funds, and shady development corporations moved in, consolidating land ownership right into the hands of the people who created the crisis.
These financial juggernauts, as well as Big Sugar, who has actively fought Everglades restoration and contributes to the campaigns of governor Rick Scott and former senator Marco Rubio, are the opponents that Martinez and Sydney will be facing.
Despite the odds against them, the two activists both see a moral imperative to the work that the are doing. “I don’t think that we can continue to call ourselves Pagan and ignore the fact that nature is calling, you know? Nature is asking us to do something for her after she has given us food, shelter, wealth, power and faith. It’s time to give back,” Martinez said.
Sydney feels that Pagans should take a note from those who practice Santeria and indigenous faiths and begin incorporating the idea of reciprocity. “If we want the gods or the spirits or the ancestors to help us with our problems, the mature thing is to have the courage to ask them how we can help them.”
Just this week, Martinez announced on social media that he and Sydney have been asked to be presenters at the fall Florida Pagan Gathering. “We are excited to present on … November 5th,” Sydney said, “Our Lady Florida is ready for us to awaken.” Martinez also stated that he hopes to take the same workshop around the state in the near future.
Dayan Martinez presentation at the Everglades Summer Symposium 2016http://wildhunt.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/everglades-symposium.mp4
BUTLER, Mo. – The Sacred Well Congregation (SWC), a universalist, independent, non-evangelical Wiccan Church, announced it ise an Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization (EEO) for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This designation means they are now able to endorse qualified clergy from Wicca and Earth-Centered Spiritualities who wish to apply for chaplaincy positions with the VA. This marks the first time that any Pagan group has been approved as an Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization for the VA.
In a message on its official Facebook page, SWC said, “This is a tremendous breakthrough, and will enhance our standing with professional chaplains organizations such as COMISS [The Network on Ministry in Specialized Settings, formerly known as the Coalition on Ministry in Specialized Settings] and [Association of Professional Chaplains], as well as strengthen our position as we move forward in our endeavors to secure status as an EEO for military chaplains.”
Rev. David L. Oringderff, Executive Director of Sacred Well Congregation, said that due to his military background, most of his work and advocacy for religious freedom has been with the DoD and VA. He explained, “I represented Earth-Centered Spiritualities at the US Air Force Academy conferences on Religious Respect in 2010 and 2012, and was a keynote at the dedication of the USAFA Falcon Circle Cadet Chapel on 3 May 2011.”
Rev. Oringderff has been working toward the goal of a Pagan Military Chaplain since 1997. “For a non-mainstream organization to gain access to the inner circles, it takes a lot of work.” He added that his efforts are far from done, but securing EEO status within the VA is major milestone.
The Difference between Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization and a Pagan Military Chaplain
Every department and bureau in the federal government that has professional chaplains has its own EEO system and approval process. Most of those processes are modeled on the DoD system. However, just because an organization is granted EEO by one federal agency, does not mean they are granted it by any other agency.
At the federal level, the EEO must be a religious organization that holds a Letter of Determination from the IRS recognizing it as a 501(c)3 Section 170b1Ai Church or Association of Churches. Even though all churches are tax exempt, this determination letter is something a religious organization needs in order to apply for EEO status, which would allow them to endorse chaplains to serve with federal agencies and departments.A chaplain is different than an ordained minister of a particular faith, denomination or sect. Chaplains must be capable of and agree to provide spiritual care for every person under their supervision. Currently there are no military or VA chaplains who carry an endorsement from a Wiccan, Pagan or Earth-Centered spiritual organization.
The Sacred Well Congregation has been endorsing chaplains for hospitals, first-responders, and correctional institutions, and Lay-Leaders for military groups for several years. They are now formally approved to endorse chaplains for the Department of Veterans Affairs, but they have not yet received that status for military forces.
However, Sacred Well’s new EEO status means that the way is open for a Pagan chaplain to be hired by the VA and for that chaplain to begin ministering to veterans while they are patients in VA hospitals or using other VA services.
Rev. Oringderff estimates it will be still be three to four years before we see a Pagan military chaplain — someone who ministers to active cuty and reserve military members, as well as their dependents living on military bases while deployed.
The First VA Pagan chaplain?
Now that the VA has approved SWC to be an endorsing agency, this opens the door to the VA hiring a Pagan chaplain. And, Rev. (David) Oliver Kling may be the VA’s first Pagan Chaplain hire.
Rev. Kling’s background describes his religion as a syncretistic path that combines Wiccan, Druid, and Gnostic strands of Christianity. He graduated from Wright State University with a degree in Philosophy and another in Religious Studies. His graduate work is in Black Church and African Diaspora Studies and he has completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, WV.
Currently, Rev. Kling is a professional hospice chaplain in Northeast Ohio. Like Rev. Oringderff, he has a military background. “I’m a veteran of the US Navy and a Gulf War veteran so working with veterans would be an honor for me,” said Rev. Kling.
Rev. King is on the SWC Board of Deacons, chair of the Ministry, Advocacy, and Leadership Department at Cherry Hill Seminary, and was rated “fully qualified” for a VA chaplaincy position vacancy.
The process for gaining employment with the VA is difficult and highly competitive. Rev. Kling said that he has applied at over 10 different VA hospitals for employment. Each application is vetted to ensure the candidate is qualified and points are assigned to this process.
“All of my applications were rejected but one. The rejections were vague and unclear, ‘Missing documentation,’ etc. Oddly, all the applications were the same. One was sufficiently vetted and I was awarded a score. Now that Sacred Well Congregation is a recognized VA endorser it will make this process easier since we are now on the list.”
VA chaplain positions traditionally go to retired military chaplains as their applications are awarded more points, but Re. Kling says he will continue to apply to available openings.
Rev. Kling added that having Sacred Well Congregation on the list of endorsers is a huge milestone for him as a professional chaplain. “Now, no matter where I choose to seek employment as a chaplain I can point to that endorser list when anyone looks at my resume and says, ‘I’ve never heard of Sacred Well Congregation.’ I can direct them to the VA endorser list. That list has weight.”
Kling also said that when he goes for board certification as a chaplain to any of the certification organizations having SWC on that list makes the process easier because the VA has already vetted SWC as an organization.
Rev. Kling hopes the Pagan community understands how important SWC being on the EEO list is for other Pagans who wish to be chaplains. “It is not just about the VA. It opens doors in other avenues because it lets other would be employers know that Sacred Well Congregation has been vetted by the VA as an ecclesiastical organization. In my application process it wasn’t just me that was being vetted, it was also Sacred Well Congregation.”
DENTON, Tex.– Eight months after a fire damaged its building, Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship came together in a newly constructed space to celebrate and recommit to its mission. As we reported in December, the Denton church was repeatedly vandalized by a single teenager, who eventually set fire to the building. At the time, Rev. Pam Wat said, “The damage from the fire is significant, but not overwhelming.”
Since that point, members were invited to hold their services in the First Christian Church, located across the street. As noted by Denton CUUPS chapter coordinator John Beckett, “They displayed the best of Christianity.” Specifically, the CUUPS group was able to hold regular Sunday meetings at the facility as well as seasonal events, including its “Imbolc, Ostara, Summer Solstice, and Lughnasadh circles.”
Meanwhile, the damaged building was being rebuilt. Construction was completed just in time for the annual “Ingathering Service” that the church uses to “kick off its year.” Beckett was an integral part of Saturday’s event, helping to “compose two of the liturgical elements” for the service, as well as delivering a “colloquy as the Act of Reconsecration” together with Rev. Wat. Beckett, who wrote in a blog post, “It was a perfect example of collaborative ritual, and of how a UU service can be truly multi-faith without being bland and soulless.” The colloquy is posted in full on his blog.
* * *
SALEM, Mass. — In other CUUPS news, this weekend marks the start of Convocation, the organization’s annual gathering. This year’s conference event, themed “Awakening Our Tribe,” will be held at the First Church in Salem, Massachusetts. CUUPS organizers have scheduled three full days of workshops, rituals, lectures, and entertainment, inviting people to join them “for this special gathering as we return to the roots for inspiration.” The current schedule and guest speaker list is posted on their website.
Additionally, with the event being held in the “Witch City,” organizers have built time into the plans for attendees to get out and stroll the streets or take self-guided historical tours. Rev. JK Hildebrand will speak on the subject. “Why are there so many of us [in Salem]? When and how did it all come to be? What have been some of the lessons of religion vs. commercialism? How does CUUPS fit in?” There will also be a discussion and viewing of the documentary With Love, from Salem, which focuses on the practice of modern Witchcraft in the historic city.
Convocation runs from Aug 26-28.
* * *
The Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) is stirring up controversy on social media after newly-selected Alsherjargothi Matt Flavel posted a short statement on AFA’s Facebook page. Sunday night, Flavel wrote:
“Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make it clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children. The children of the folk are our shining future and the legacy of all those men and women of our people back to the beginning.”
While the post has generated some visible support for the organization and its new leadership, there has been a growing wave of protest and, simultaneously, calls to publicly denounce the AFA. One Facebook user asked for clarification, “Am I misunderstanding the message here or does this mean that if someone wasn’t white or if they were queer they wouldn’t be welcome in the AFA?” Flavel responded in part, with “You are not misunderstanding.” That comment exchange has since been deleted.
No official reactions have come out yet from other Heathen or Pagan groups, or individuals, by the time of publication; nor has the AFA made any further comment. We will continue to follow this story and report as needed.
In other news
- As noted in late July, the court case for musician Kenny Klein was due to start on Aug. 15. However, it has once again been delayed. According to the latest report, defense attorneys have hired a professional to analyze Klein’s computers and provide a report. They are also asking for copies of the photographs. However, prosecutors will only allow them to see the originals, rather than provide them with copies. With all the various motions on the table, the trial date has been pushed back to Sept. 29.
- Hellenion, a US-based religious organization “dedicated to the revival and practice of Hellenic polytheism,” has opened a new ritual group, or “Proto-Demos” located in Southeast Michigan. The new group, called the Apple Blossom Proto-Demos of Hellenion, was formed in late spring and held its first ritual July 16 at the Pagan Pathways Temple in Madison Heights. Apple Blossom joins eleven other such Hellenion groups located around the US.
- A new metaphysical store is coming to Oregon. The Sacred Well, located in the Bay Area, announced that it will be opening a second location in Portland this October. The Sacred Well employs and serves Pagan, polytheist, and Witchcraft practitioners with readings, ritual supplies, temple events, and classes. The new store will open at 7927 SE 13th Ave in the Sellwood neighborhood. To follow their progress, go to the Sacred Well Portland Facebook page.
- Don’t forget it is Pagan Pride season. Denver Pagan Pride kicks off its local festivities on Saturday as do many others around the country. Pride events associated with the Pagan Pride project are listed on its website.
- Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC), the Florida-based affiliate of Covenant of the Goddess, released its 24th seasonal podcast. The 2016 Lughnasad edition contains music by Emerald Rose, Ginger Doss, and Mama Gina. Members discuss everything from tarot tips and Nervine Tea to “getting inebriated at festivals.” The regular seasonal podcast can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Libsyn, or on the EMLC website.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our email list to ensure you don’t miss a single Wild Hunt story.
Advertise with us? Contact email@example.com
TWH – Muggle. Ravenclaw. Azkaban. These are familiar words to the millions of Harry Potter fans around the world. With more than 450 million books in print in over 200 countries, the Harry Potter franchise, including films and other marketing tie-ins, make it one of the most successful in history. This success has not subsided, as shown by the recent buzz surrounding the London opening of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is set 19 years after the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The play premiered July 30 and a print version of the story was released July 31, a date that also marks both J.K. Rowling’s and Harry Potter’s birthdays.
Over the past 19 years, the Harry Potter stories and their expansive pop culture mythos have drawn a significant amount of attention to the possibility of world filled with magic. Rowling asks, “What if…” and proceeds to answer the question with the Harry Potter world.
Due to the magnitude of the franchise’s influence, a natural intersection has formed between its fantasy exhibition of magic and the reality of modern Witchcraft practice. This cultural intersection, which does in fact exist with other pop culture witch products, is sometimes an amusement for real practitioners, many of whom are loyal Potter fans. But, in other cases, the intersection is ignored or shrugged off as silly. In other cases still, this cultural intersection between real magic and fantasy play can cause a real-life problem.
That is just what happened recently to small business owners and eclectic spiritualists Richard Carter and Jackie Restall. In April, Restall opened Mystical Moments, a metaphysical shop located on Britannia Road in Slaithwaite, England. She and Carter had been previously traveling around selling their craft works, crystals, and other items at local Pagan festivals and events. The store was the next step, and they used much of their remaining life savings to make it happen.
In an interview, Carter told The Wild Hunt, “Although we are a business, one of our main aims is to sell spiritual goods at a price that people can afford.” The couple sees their work as a service to other magical and spiritual workers. Mystical Moments offers healing services, as well as selling items such as “incense, crystals, sage, Angels, Buddhas, [their] own handmade ringed love goblets, runes, and wands.”While Restall focuses on crystal work and healing, Carter makes the wands, which he considers “a spiritual calling.” He said, “I received an urge to craft wood […] I still can’t explain it, having never had worked with wood in my life.” In 2012, Restall gave Carter a lathe, after he had suffered a heart attack and was unable to return to work.
Carter went on to say, “The first time I used [the lathe] it was like I was being guided on how to use the chisels and how the wands turn out.” Four year later, wand making is now his passion. He said, “I make wands from oak, yew, mahogany, cherry, walnut, sycamore, sweet chestnut, and sometimes a combination of woods.”
In July, the new store’s presence attracted the attention of local reporter Chloe Glover, who writes for The Huddersfield Daily Examiner. After meeting with Restall and Carter, she wrote an article titled “From Slytherin to Slaithwaite – magic wand shop opens in the village,” which was was not-so-coincidentally published July 30 – the opening day of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
While Glover’s article does provide an objective overview of the store itself, she focused predominantly on Carter’s wand making and injects language from the Potter world. Glover wrote, “Richard Carter may sound like a character out of a Harry Potter book, but his curious real-life skill is gaining nationwide fans amongst those with a spiritualist leaning.”
Despite the article’s level tone, it became the catalyst for a controversy of the magical kind. Carter explained, “The day after [Glover’s] article appeared I received a call from a freelance journalist asking if he could also do a piece on the wands. During the conversation it became apparent that he was interested in Harry Potter.”During that second interview, Carter said that the journalist asked him if he “would sell one of [his] wands to a Harry Potter fan.” It was Carter’s quoted response that captured international attention: “If I had someone come in wanting a wand just because they liked Harry Potter I would not sell them one, no matter how much they were offering.”
On Aug. 6, the Sunday Express published that quote along with a short article titled, “Real-life wandmaker bans Harry Potter fans from his shop.” Within 48 hours, both British and international media had picked up on this click-bait story:
“Man who runs magic wand shop in Huddersfield BANS Harry Potter fans for not taking magic seriously” – The Sun
“Harry Potter fans banned from wand shop for not being real wizards” – The Independent
“Witchcraft shop refuses to serve Harry Potter fans because it sells ‘spiritual tools’ not toys for young Muggles” – The Telegraph
“Expelliarmus! British Wand Shop Bans ‘Harry Potter’ Fans“- The Hollywood Reporter
“UK wand-maker bans Harry Potter fans from ‘real magic shop’ ” – The Indian Express
“Magic Shop bans Harry Potter fans” – New Zealand Herald
Without fail, each of these articles reports that Carter stated that he would not sell a wand to a Harry Potter fan. They also report that Carter can tell fans from a real magical practitioners by their auras.
However, according to Carter, much of what is being reported is inaccurate. He said, “We have never banned anyone from our shop.” In fact, Restall herself is a Harry Potter fan. The aura comment was in reference to helping customers choose the proper wood for their wands.
So what did Carter really say and mean? Both Carter and Restall “believe [their] wands are spiritual tools and not toys for Harry Potter fans to play with.” In other words, their wands are not intended to be used for cosplay, Halloween parties, or other types of pretend play. Carter’s wands are real.
He explained, “The point that I tried to make, but was misunderstood or more like misquoted, was that the wands, which I am guided to make, are for other like-minded people to partner with.” He added that they are made “to help [practitioners] with spells, to use during an healing, or to sit with in meditation. They are not toys.”
Carter believes that if Harry Potter fans want a play wand, they should “look on eBay and buy a mass produced toy, not something that has been made as a spiritual tool.”American wand maker Gypsey Teague agrees with Carter to some extent. Her wands, like Carter’s, are handmade as spiritual tools, and are not toys. In fact, Teague won’t even sell them over the internet for that very reason. She said, “No one should buy a wand over the internet. You have to match your energy to the wand.”
She added that other craft people, and even buyers, are shocked and put off by her policy. She said, “Other sellers have said, ‘How dare you not sell over the internet?’ I respond, ‘How dare you sell over the internet, as if they are toys?'”
Like Carter, Teague places a emphasis on the importance of the wood matching the user’s energy and magical needs, and, she would know. Along with being a Georgian elder, Teague has a master’s degree in landscape architecture and has been worked with hundreds of species of wood for over 35 years. She sells her wands at events and said that, in some cases, people take hours looking for the right wand match. In other cases, a customer can walk clear across a crowded field or vendor room and pick the right wand in seconds.
Teague added, “J.K. Rowling got a few things right,” one of which is the concept that the wand picks the witch. Like Restall, she is a Harry Potter fan. In fact, in her book The Witch’s Guide to Wands, Teague included a short chapter called, “The Wands of J.K. Rowling.” It begins, “Yes, I know. J.K. Rowling probably doesn’t have wands. However, her most famous protagonist does, and so do his friends and enemies.”
In the subsequent six pages, Teague analyzes the woods described as being used by several of the Potter characters, including Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Rubeus Hagrid and more. “It is not surprising that the holly was the wand of choice for Harry Potter. Harry embodies all that is good and strong in the magical world,” she wrote.
When asked if she would sell a wand to a Potter fan, Teague said, “Yes, as long as it is in person.” Unlike Carter, she doesn’t mind if they want to own a real magical wand. However, she did note that her wands don’t look like the movie wands, and most fans want replicas, which are typically mass-produced toys.
As far as she knows, she has never had anyone buy a wand specifically because they were a Potter fan. With that said, she has undoubtedly sold to Potter fans, because many real Witches and Pagans, like herself, are in fact also fans.Carter agrees with Teague. He was quoted as saying that “J.K. Rowling has obviously done her research” with respect to wands and woods. And he himself has enjoyed the movies.
Fortunately for Carter and the store, they have not received any direct backlash. Most of the negative commentary has been contained within internet-based public comment areas. In the Telegraph article, fantasy author GP Taylor was quoted as saying, “I think this is terrible. Harry Potter fans should be served. They are going crazy over the Cursed Child and need their wands. It is discrimination against Potter fans. They should go to court for justice.” Several Twitter users called for a protest outside of the store, but nothing ever manifested.
Carter said, “We have had Bento magazine in Germany, Marie Claire magazine, Dublin radio and the BBC contact us but at least that gave me the opportunity to put the facts across on what I had actually said.” Journalist Chloe Glover, whose local article about the store started the media frenzy, also did a follow-up article.
But it didn’t end there. On July 14, the entire fiasco caught the attention of J.K. Rowling. She tweeted:
Oh yeah? Well, I don’t think they’re real wands. https://t.co/CkiavJyDLu
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) August 14, 2016
Her tweet launched another round of international articles about Carter and his wand making:
Harry Potter author JK Rowling defends fans ‘banned‘ from wand shop – ABC Online
Spells trouble: JK Rowling joins row over Harry Potter fans’ right to ‘real wands‘ – The Guardian
J.K. Rowling responds to store owner’s ban on Harry Potter fans – New York Daily News
On Twitter itself, Rowling’s comment garnered many responses, many of which supported her words and ridiculed the controversy or Carter himself. However, other tweets came from Pagans, looking to correct her seemingly irreverent statement.
“Really? Mocking a man over his religion, and not selling his religions tools to just anyone?” – @Acadia Jules
“They’re hand-crafted religious objects. They deserve to be treated with respect.” – @Laina
“He’s selling to Wiccans, a proper religion. It’s like someone taking a cross from a church to go hunt vampires.” – @MystBornWoW
When asked if he had responded to Rowling’s statement, Carter said, “No […] mainly because I am not on Twitter and a bit of a technophobe.” He went on to say that if he was to respond it would be to say simply: ‘Each to their own, but like us try not to be judgmental of other people.’
Carter will continue making his wands and selling them in the new store, letting his customers choose their woods as guided by their own energy. At this time, Mystical Moments does not have a website or online presence with the exception of its Facebook fan page. Carter added, “We would like to thank all the people globally who have shown their support and respected our right to keep our tools sacred.”
The dog days of summer are here, marked by the rising of the star Sirius in the morning sky, “the star they give the name of Orion’s Dog, which is brightest among the stars, and yet is wrought as a sign of evil and brings on the great fever for unfortunate mortals.”¹ On August 13, Sylville Smith was killed by a Milwaukee police officer. In the following two nights, eight businesses and numerous cars were burned, rocks and bottles were thrown at the police, and guns were fired on multiple occasions, resulting in at least one hospitalization. Meanwhile, the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center has alleged that the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) prison gang may be planning “to kill correctional officers and Aryan Brotherhood gang members” in commemoration of Black August.Black August originated in the 1970s following the August 7, 1970 deaths of Jonathan Jackson, James McClain and William Christmas during a prisoner liberation and hostage-taking at the Marin County Courthouse and the August 21, 1971 death of George Jackson during a prison rebellion in San Quentin.
Prisoners participating in Black August “wore black armbands on their left arm and studied revolutionary works, focusing on the works of George Jackson. The brothers did not listen to the radio or watch television in August. Additionally, they didn’t eat or drink anything from sun-up to sundown; and loud and boastful behavior was not allowed. The brothers did not support the prison’s canteen. The use of drugs and alcoholic beverages was prohibited and the brothers held daily exercises.”
Black August also commemorates numerous other significant moments in black history including but not limited to the Haitian Revolution, which began on August 21, 1791 and was preceded by the Vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman on August 14, the slave rebellions led by Gabriel Prosser on August 30, 1800 and by Nat Turner on August 21, 1831, the founding of the Underground Railroad on August 2, 1850 and the Watts rebellions in August, 1965. In their article on Black August, the Malcolm X Grassroots movement writes, “if we stand tall, it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.” Like a flowering branch nourished by roots wrapped around the decaying bodies of the dead, the visible manifestations of revolt are supported by a vast invisible network of spirits and subterranean traditions.A New Birth, At Once Into Life and Into Death
In his study of “The Traditional Chinese Mourning Categories,” anthropologist David K. Jordan notes that mourning is characterized by two indicators: “distinctive mourning clothing” and the requirement to “avoid normal activities, sometimes even subsistence activities.” We see the same two indicators in the black armbands worn by prisoners during Black August, and in their avoidance of a wide range of “normal activities,” including fasting.
The need to mourn the deaths of George and Jonathan Jackson was also seen clearly by both James Baldwin and Jean Genet. The friendship of the two writers and their writings about the Jacksons are analyzed in Bædan: journal of queer time travel. In No Name in the Street, Baldwin compared the grief of Georgia Jackson, Jonathan and George’s mother, to that of the Virgin Mary:
George Jackson has joined his beloved baby brother, Jon, in the royal fellowship of death. And one may say that Mrs. Georgia Jackson and the alleged mother of God have, at last, found something in common. Now, it is the Virgin, the alabaster Mary, who must embrace the despised black mother whose children are also the issue of the Holy Ghost.²
Jean Genet also wrote about Georgia Jackson, but in his “half-waking dream” that he experienced “a few hours after [George] Jackson’s death,” George and Jonathan were reborn from a different womb:
Jonathan and George violently came out of the prison, a stony womb, on waves of blood. […] It was not their mother who gave birth to them that night, for she was there, upright, impassive but alert, looking on. If it was a new birth, at once into life and into death, who but History was delivering the two black men covered, as with every birth, in blood.³
In a strange parallel, Baldwin declared that “an old world is dying, and a new one, kicking in the belly of its mother, time, announces that it is ready to be born. This birth will not be easy, and many of us are doomed to discover that we are exceedingly clumsy midwives.” He prophesied that “there will be bloody holding actions all over the world, for years to come: but the Western party is over, and the white man’s sun has set.” We are still seeing the “bloody holding actions” today, and we have indeed proven to be “exceedingly clumsy midwives,” but these struggles are nothing new.Dance Groups or Associations Which Foster an Esprit de Corps
The Vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman on August 14, 1791 also served as a kind of bloody Caesarean birth, for the Haitian Revolution began exactly one week later. The ceremony was first written about by Antoine Dalmas, a French doctor who fled to the United States and then wrote a report in 1794 based upon the interrogation of prisoners. That Dalmas’ portrayal of the ritual is unsympathetic is an understatement that should go without saying, but nonetheless, it is the first written account of the ceremony:
[They] celebrated a sort of feast or sacrifice in the middle of a wooded untilled plot on the Choiseul plantation, called le Caïman, where a very large number of Negroes assembled. An entirely black pig, surrounded by fetishes (fétiches), loaded with offerings each more bizarre than the other was the holocaust offered to the all-powerful spirit (génie) of the black race. The religious rituals that the negroes conducted while cutting its throat, the avidity with which they drank of his blood, the value they set in possessing a few of his bristles, a sort of talisman which, according to them, was to render them invulnerable, all serve to characterize Africans. That such an ignorant and besotted caste would make the superstitious rituals of an absurd and sanguinary religion serve as a prelude to the most frightful crimes was to be expected.4
Later accounts, such as that of the French abolitionist Civique de Gastine in 1819, would add further details such as the renunciation of Christianity as “the religion of their masters” and a collective oath “to perish rather than return to slavery,” but these writers were much further removed from the actual events in Haiti in 1791. It is, however, telling that “the second Haitian president, Alexandre Pétion, in 1814 prohibited the gathering of ‘all dance groups…or associations which foster an esprit de corps.’“5 In other words, it is indisputable that subaltern religious organizations were seen as a threat by those who gained power after the revolution, which speaks to their significance and power during the revolution itself.
A quick survey of cross-cultural and historical comparisons shows that rituals intended to grant invulnerability were also associated with the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, Chinese spirit mediums in general, the Native American Ghost Dance, and the mainads of Dionysos written about in Euripides’s Bakkhai: against the mainads, “sharpened weapons drew no blood at all.”6 While Euripides was a playwright and may be accused of poetic license, the historical record shows that Dionysian worship was seen as a serious threat in Rome. Like Pétion in 1814 CE, the Roman Senate in 186 BCE banned all Bacchic cults not approved by the praetor urbanus, declaring that “henceforth they shall not form conspiracies among themselves, stir up any disorder, make mutual promises or agreements, or interchange pledges; no one shall observe the sacred rites either in public or private or outside the city, unless he comes to the praetor urbanus.”
The fear of conspiracies, disorder and oaths is obvious in the senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, and even more so in Livy. Just like Dalmas’s claim that Bois Caïman was a “prelude to the most frightful crimes,” Livy associated the Bacchic rites with criminality and violence:
With the added liberation of darkness, absolutely every crime and vice was performed there. The men had more sex with each other than with the women. Anyone who was less prepared for disgrace and slow to commit crimes was offered up as a sacrifice. To consider nothing wrong was the principal tenet of their religio. Men, as if insane, prophesied with wild convulsions of their bodies, married women in the dress of the Bacchants with streaming hair ran down to the Tiber carrying burning torches, which they dipped into the water and brought out still alight.
Like Dalmas, Livy was clearly an unsympathetic narrator, but the disapproval and disgust of these reactionary writers merely goes to show how seriously “dance groups or associations which foster an esprit de corps” have historically frightened the ruling classes.The Chaplains Corps of the War on Slavery
Rebelliously-inclined religious organizations were present in the Antebellum Southern United States as well, some of which are written about in Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford’s Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South. For example, one of the leaders in Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion testified at his trial that he was sent to recruit the “outlandish people” who were “supposed to deal with witches and wizards,”7 and thereby recruit the sorcerers as well.
Furthermore, the early black nationalist Martin Delany (1812–1885) wrote of a council of conjure men and women known as “the Head” located within the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The Head performed rituals in a cave in the swamp, where they also kept a large sacred serpent. The Head played a major role in the initiation of new conjure men and women: “in order to be ordained as conjure men or women, non-maroons were forced to (at least temporarily) escape their bondage and find the council.”8 This initiatory escape, even if temporary, served to forge ties between the maroons in the swamps and the rebels on the plantations.
The Head was involved in numerous slave insurrections and “considered themselves to be the chaplains corps of the war on slavery. The Head deeply revered the memory of Nat Turner, and claimed to have been associated with his effort. As young conjure men they had fought alongside General Gabriel and took pride in that action forty years later.”9 By venerating the ancestors of the struggle and keeping their memories alive, the Head contributed to future revolts as well.
Shirley and Stafford argue that the maroon communities that were rooted in the Great Dismal Swamp were crucial to the exceptionally high number of large uprisings that broke out in the Tidewater region of Virginia and North Carolina, and that diverse and syncretic spiritual practices were an inherent and central part of maroon social organization.10 Like the Eolh-sedge of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, the maroon community “is mostly to be found in a marsh; it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound, covering with blood every warrior who touches it.”
These are but a few of the stories and ancestors invoked by Black August. And even after August 31, the memory of previous uprisings guides the struggles of the present. On September 9, the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, prisoners are calling for a general strike of prison labor across the United States:
Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.
This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.
While the prisoners address their fellow prisoners directly, solidarity actions proliferate outside the walls of the prisons. But the conditions of imprisonment extend beyond the facilities themselves, as Milwaukee demonstrates clearly. Jean Genet’s words after the death of George Jackson ring as true today as they did in 1971:
We must look closely…at all imprisoned blacks—whether in jail or the ghetto—who are in danger at every moment of being assassinated like George and Jonathan Jackson or of being wasted away by the white world. In fact, we must learn to betray the whites that we are.11
Genet, despite declaring George and Jonathan “two black Gemini,” eschewed the language of mythology and instead called this task a “human labor directed against the dense and sparkling mythology of the white world.” Nonetheless, I maintain that the war is waged on all fronts simultaneously, and that the spiritual realms are inseparable from the social and the material.Footnotes
- Homer, Iliad 22.29-31, translated by Richmond Lattimore.
- Quoted in Bædan 110.
- Quoted in Bædan 111.
- Quoted in Elizabeth McAlister, “From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History” 9.
- Ibid 8.
- Euripides, Bakkhai, translated by Anne Carson 40.
- Quoted in Dixie Be Damned 43.
- Ibid 44.
- Hugo Leaming, quoted in Dixie Be Damned 44.
- Ibid 21.
- Quoted in Bædan 111.
This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.
In my column last month, we looked at the idea of challenging the narrative, and how this both supports and provokes community. Within this reflection, we were able to look at three different areas in which Pagans were challenging expectations within our own interconnected Pagan and Polytheistic communities. There are many ways that individuals, groups, and subsets are challenging what has become the operation of the over-culture within our community. The inevitable response to constructed boundaries within any segment of society becomes the pushing of barriers.
Marginalization and outsider politics happen within every community. Considering the impact of such dynamics can be difficult and are often based in perspective. Conversations will yield different responses from those who are connected more to a common narrative, than those who exist within the margins of the margin. As it is within most segments of society, acceptable narratives are more openly discussed and have a way of drowning out those that are not. Challenging the narrative often means identifying and amplifying the voices that are often underrepresented or too often lost in the repetitive nature of the over-culture.
What happens when people actively push against the narrative of any community? Does the common story, language, history, symbolism, and practices of the mainstream serve as a means to marginalize those who do not fit within the prescribed narrative?
While subsets of our community continue to work to define modern Paganism or Polytheism, other subsets actively push against this notion. And some just do not fit within the sometimes narrow walls of any of the common narratives at the table.
In exploring the many different areas of these typical narratives, the over-culture, marginalization and the boundaries of conformity, I reached back into the pool of voices for four different perspectives. Coming from different places within the spectrum of our Pagan and Polytheistic community, I spoke with Tamilia Reed, Karina BlackHeart, Laura Tempest Zakroff, and Langston Kahn. People from different locations, spaces, paths, cultural histories, and trainings; all a part of our evolving communities’ narrative story.
* * *
Karina BlackHeart is a longtime teacher, mentor and practitioner. Her book, A Witch’s Book of Silence, was recently published in 2015 and focuses on many aspects of power, wisdom, love and self.
Crystal Blanton: How do you feel that writing about silence challenges the narrative of our current community?”
Karina BlackHeart: I hope it encourages people to stop and think before speaking. One of the downfalls of social media is that it engenders a kind of impulsive immediacy in response to information coming in. So, when we are challenged by opinions, practices, theologies or world views which differ from our own, the instinct is to respond defensively. And, because we are using platforms which effectively erase the words we read — losing them in a sea of other posts — that compulsion to react as soon as thought arises is a strong one!
Perhaps, a more mature or self-possessed response might be to sit with the “offending” information and engage is some self inquiry. As in, “Why is this making me so angry? Why do I feel defensive about this? Does this practice or theology invalidate my own? Why, exactly, do I feel the need to defend myself or blame and shame others?”
This line of questioning requires self-reflection. It takes time. It puts us face to face with our own stuff — insecurity, doubt, persecution complexes and ego attachments. It’s uncomfortable and, in the over-culture (of which we are a part, by the way) very unusual. Taking a step back, sitting with ourselves and entering silence allows us the opportunity to question ourselves rather than attack the Other. In doing so, we may find our beliefs are strengthened. Conversely, we might actually expand our world view.
I hope my work on silence helps explain why it’s so very important for magical people to engage with. But, I also hope it gives people permission to be still and silent when their impulse and the expectations of others demand the opposite.CB: Do you feel that the common narrative of our community has impacted how you have had to navigate the intersecting dynamics of your family culture and your spiritual culture?
KBH: It’s an interesting question because when I wrote that piece about my lived experience as a white Mom parenting biracial, brown-skinned children, it had nothing to do with Paganism. I didn’t write it thinking, “I need to make a statement to Pagans about why black lives matter.” I wrote it because it felt important to me to respond in the way I could to the denial of racism in the over-culture. Again, we Pagans are a part of that and reflect many more of the values, beliefs and habits of the over-culture than we care to admit.
I needed to speak my Truth, my own lived experience in hopes that maybe even one of the “All Lives Matter” people or those holding on to the racially-biased perception that what POC report as lived experience is false, exaggerated, playing the victim etc.
As to the question of the Pagan culture impacting the way I navigate in those communities as the Mother of biracial kids, Yes. There certainly have been times when I’ve had to say to white Pagans speaking racist ideology, “Hey. My kids are black. You’re talking about my kids.” Most people respond by saying, “I’m not talking about *your* kids, I’m talking about *those* kids.” Then, I ask how they would tell my kids apart from those kids.
For the most part, though, I keep a pretty low profile with regards to my private life. My kids are my private life. Who I date is private. I was lucky, I think, to be trained in the Craft to question not only how the over-culture indoctrinates us into perpetuating systems of oppression and power-over, but to also question the ways and means Pagan subculture does the same. As a result, the way I navigate Pagan culture is to continually and purposefully keep a low profile.
* * *
Langston Kahn embodies a myriad of experiences, identities, and training that all push against the boundaries of any standard over-culture. He is a Shamanic practitioner initiated into traditions of the African Diaspora and a Black/Bi-racial man in New York City.Crystal Blanton: Common narrative within community often reinforces the boundaries of inclusion or what inevitably becomes excluded. Do you feel that your experience within the larger Pagan and Polytheistic community has been inclusive of your various, intersecting, marginalized identities?
Langston Kahn: It’s so hard to answer this question because of the multiple Paganisms and polytheisms I’ve been a part of over the years along with the multiple marginalized identities I embody– black, biracial, queer. I first came up in neo-Paganism, specifically neo-Wicca. I didn’t find any real mirrors for my blackness there, the cultural influences and depictions of divinities were all overwhelmingly European. At the time however, it didn’t consciously bother me because I was struggling with my own identity issues as someone who was raised in a predominately white community. At that time in my life, Paganism provided a basic framework for engaging with the sacred that was extremely valuable for me, but it also always felt like something was missing.
Eventually I found my way to a traditional Gardnerian coven where I stayed for four years. All my coven mates were white, but my high priest was gay so that part of my identity felt fairly seen and included. It was interesting to talk with my High Priest about how he saw his sexuality at play in the tradition.
During this time I also found my way to MAGPAGAN, a gay men’s Pagan circle in NYC. Again, this space was predominately white but it was an extremely valuable space for learning to begin to lead ritual as anyone could volunteer each month to engage the other members in whatever ritual practice they were interested in. It also lead me to Between the Worlds, a Pagan gathering for those who identify as men who love men in Ohio.
Say it with me now– predominately white (I think there was one other person of color there when I went) but it opened me up to many facets of Paganism I had not yet experienced. Expert ritualists, Druids, extremely skilled Witches, shamanic practitioners, devotional polytheists, etc. I experienced some extremely catalyzing rituals there and I realized there was a way in which queer people / men who loved men connected traditions across the usual boundaries in a really beautiful and important way. For me this felt like seeing the dream of Paganism actualized. A big umbrella where people with many different traditions and perspectives could gather in a way that was respectful of their differences and created something larger than the sum of their parts.
I began to have a series of initiatory experiences with spirits that lead me away from my coven and to begin to study (and join)some indigenous traditions and begin a four year training program in a contemporary shamanic tradition. During this time I also joined a house of devotional polytheists. While this house was also largely white– many people in the house were also intimately involved in African Tradition Religions as well as contemporary shamanisms so they were able to provide much better support for both the identity work I was doing as well as the spiritual experiences I was having.
I found that polytheists emphasized the importance of decolonization as central to the practice far more than the Pagan communities I was a part of. They gave me insight into the type of ancestor work that demanded you do the hard work of bringing all of your many identities to the table and exploring and processing the pain those identities carry with them in our contemporary western culture which was invaluable to me. Suddenly I had frameworks for engaging all of my identities intimately in my spiritual process.
My shamanic tradition was where I finally found the tools I had been looking for to truly work with life as a teacher and begin to understand some of the unique challenges of our time and gain tools to address them. The work was centered around aligning more and more with the helping spirits that walk with us and our authenticity and so the teachings brought me to engage deeper with all of my identities.
CB: How do you feel that your spiritual work pushes the boundaries of the common community narrative?
LK: This question is hard for me as I’m not sure what the boundaries of the common community narrative are. In fact– that might actually be how my work challenges the common community narrative. I am part of a shamanic community that defines community as people coming together with shared skill sets and shared beliefs and principles. We strive to be contemporary people working together in a way that mirrors indigenous community structures. We strive not just to use indigenous technologies, but do the work necessary to transform the contemporary distortions from our culture within ourselves so we can approach the technologies closer to how indigenous / pre-contact peoples do.
So I think what challenges the common community narrative about my work is that I am deeply invested in communities that mirror indigenous communities where the bar is very high. People are expected to do their work or if they aren’t willing to, to leave the community. Additionally, there is an understanding that if someone is manifesting a problem, such as mental illness or physical illness– it is often something that the entire community needs to look at within themselves and how the individuals dynamics mirror the community dynamics.
The more I have experienced the treasure of having this type of community over the last five years, the less I am invested in using the word community to define groups of people that are not willing to cultivate the skills necessary to be in true community together. This might sound a little grouchy, and that’s not how I intend it, but the more I have experienced the gift of actual community (along with all of the headaches and challenges that it brings), the less I want to use the word describe anything less. I think we need to think carefully if we really do want to come together as a community and if so, we might need to acknowledge that collectively we need to learn new skills (for personal emotional work, non violent communication, mediation, leadership by council, etc) to be able to do so effectively rather than projecting the drama that arises or the failures to come together on “a few bad apples” that happen to be in focus because they have risked stepping into leadership.
* * *
Laura Tempest Zakroff is not just a great person, but is also a someone whose work is very inspiring in showing a balance between many different pieces that come together in unique ways. Her bio says that she “can be described by many different labels: artist, author, blogger, dancer, designer, event producer, teacher, witch – to name a few. Coming from a long line of diverging cultures, she is most at ease in blending her skills and inspirations throughout all of her work.”Crystal Blanton: Your spiritual work within the Pagan community operate outside of the margins of the common Pagan narrative. How do you feel this empowers your work?
Laura Tempest Zakroff: My first response to the question started with “it does?!” Then the list of things started building up quickly, providing the clear evidence on so many levels, so I suppose that really is true! I suppose that speaks to the fact that I’m often not found comparing my path as a Witch to others, which is extremely empowering in itself. I think that’s one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in the last 20 years – that when you trust your gut, ask questions and seek to find your own answers, you can see your own path so much more clearly. I know what works for me because I have done the experimenting, I have seen the results, and adjusted accordingly. There is a huge amount of freedom that comes with defining your own path through balancing instinct and intuition, research and revelation – as well as responsibility to yourself and the Divine.
CB: Have you felt restricted by the over-culture of common Pagan narrative and how do you navigate those boundaries within larger community?
LTZ: I can’t say that I’ve felt specifically restricted, but rather have used it as a guide to affirm what I do and don’t want in my practice. As a designer and artist by trade, I’m excited by problem-solving – I’d rather find a solution then get bogged down in the frustration and angst of the problem or specific experience. For example, many years ago, I attended a ritual at a Pagan Pride event that was a huge circle, with only a handful of certain people having any sort of active role in the center, while everyone else had to stand and watch for an hour what they did. It was static, long, and felt disrespectful to everyone else there. If I wanted that kind of ritual, I would have stayed in the Catholic Church! So instead, I focused on making sure that when I held a group ritual, it was a dynamic experience for everyone, that made them feel truly included as active participants to their level of comfort. I am huge supporter of integrating movement into ritual – connecting mind, body, and spirit.
I’m not about to tell anyone that the way they are approaching or doing something is “doing it wrong”, especially if it works for them. Instead, I can ask them about the how and why they do a thing for my own education and understanding. Also, I can talk about what works for me and why – and mutual respect if that works or doesn’t work for you. Nobody can tell you that your experience is wrong, especially when it involves the Gods. If anyone has a place to tell you you’re “doing it wrong”, the Gods do, and they tend to also show you how to do it right.
I will admit to having been nervous in a few situations where I’ve presented material at conventions/festivals that could be considered “out of the box” to the general P-word world. But whether that’s been regarding my take on Sigil Magick, Visual Alchemy, integrating dance and ritual, eclectic workings, the Self Divine, etc – the response has been incredibly positive, well-received, and exceptionally enthusiastic. Which means that it is striking a chord with many people who feel the same way, but maybe didn’t feel comfortable yet in expressing or exploring those concepts. I often tend to mix in humor with what I do, which always makes it easier for folks to grasp!
Next May, my first book The Witch’s Cauldron will be coming out from Llewellyn as part of their Witch’s Tools series. I’m very excited as well to see how it will be received, as I dig deep into some of the popular cauldron myths and uproot them, as well as I propose some new and unconventional ways to look at and use the cauldron in your personal practice. It follows my personal guidelines of: critical thinking, creative freedom, and personal responsibility.CB: How does the over-culture of modern Paganism influence the subcultures that exist within our community? Does it influence you?<
LTZ: I think there’s a fair amount of Judeo-Christian residue that we’re still running into in terms of organization/structure, doctrine, and practice that trickles down. Which is fair – as Paganism (or your favorite P-wordism) is still fairly young in modern culture, and it’s common to look to models that are around you. But we HAVE accomplished a LOT in a short amount of time.
I remember at the Pagan Leaders Summit in 2001 where we discussed issues about establishing temples and churches, helping inmates, getting Pagan symbols on soldiers’ tombstones, etc – and it’s astounding to see what’s happened along those agendas since then, and so much more! Or look to the social awareness and justice issues that are hot and important topics right now – the changes I’ve seen in just the last couple of years has been inspiring – and there’s still more to come! Whether this is a movement from the overall narrative downward, or from the subcultures upward, it’s working.
In the end, no one wants to be told they’re wrong, but everyone wants to be respected – and most people do want to make sure they’re being respectful to others. It’s a matter of spreading and sharing awareness in a way that educates and inspires, instead of excludes or alienates. That mode of thinking has been a very positive and invigorating influence on my work. I appreciate ideas and patterns that challenge me, that make me think and reconsider my own beliefs and actions, adjusting accordingly to make sure I’m being respectful and inclusive. I believe that being flexible, considerate, and fluid are integral to being a Witch.
* * *
Tamilia Reed is an author that brings much more than written word to the community. She currently writes for Patheos Pagan on several different blogs and draws on reconstructed Heathen, Hellenic, and Roman practices.
Crystal Blanton: Common narrative within community often reinforces the boundaries of inclusion or what inevitably becomes excluded. Do you feel that your experience within the larger Pagan and Polytheistic community has been inclusive of your various, intersecting, marginalized identities?
Tamilia Reed: I identify as a Black bisexual woman. In my experience, those identities intersect to form a unique experience that is not well captured by any subset of the three. Within the Pagan community, I believe that there is ample room for any number of identities. Whether or not those identities will be seen, recognized, and understood is a different issue entirely. I find that my identities as a bisexual and a woman have been more readily seen, recognized, and understood by others than my identity as a Black person.
This is not surprising given that race has a long, complicated, bloody, and uncomfortable history that violates many of the love and light principles that glue many brands of Paganism together. Consequently, my blackness is more often addressed as a physical characteristic than a socio-political identity complete with unique lived experiences. Only in the wake of police brutality in the media have more Pagans come forward and expressed their desire to learn more about my lived experiences as a Black person. Even then, the reality of what it means to be Black and a woman and bisexual is grist for the mill of another day.
Within polytheistic and reconstructionist communities, there is greater awareness of concepts like cultural appropriation and depending on the degree to which my Blackness is understood as cultural I am sometimes invited to those conversations but rarely does anyone start a conversation about race in America with me, and definitely not a conversation that engages contemporary expressions of Paganism and its underlying philosophies in connection with US race politics.CB: How do you feel that your spiritual work pushes the boundaries of the common community narrative?
TR: In a way, I feel that doing anything while being Black, woman, and bisexual pushes the boundaries of the common community narrative. The common community narrative says that my Black woman bisexual identity is welcome and beautiful, but not necessarily spiritually significant beyond what can be appropriated from the cultures that I am assumed to align with. My spiritual path pushes the boundaries by acknowledging my ancestors of blood and of spirit, by honoring gods at the intersections of my identities, and by pursuing social justice inside and outside of Pagan sacred spaces.
CB: Have you felt restricted by the over-culture of common Pagan narrative and how do you navigate those boundaries within larger community?
TR: Just as I have felt restricted outside of the Pagan community due to my Black bisexual woman identity, I have felt restricted within it. Since coming to Paganism I have noticed that my Blackness, when seen at all, is treated as a credit to the diversity of the community rather than a set of lived experiences worthy of communal and spiritual attention. In my attempt to navigate those boundaries, I work diligently to share my experiences as a Black bisexual woman with my Pagan friends and acquaintances. I am committed to giving voice to my experiences – the good and the bad – as a person with intersecting marginalized identities within the Pagan community. For me, overcoming the over-culture has meant recognizing it and daring to defy it in every circle I cast and in every relationship I cultivated across those problematic boundaries.
* * *
It is important to consider the effects of a culture that becomes too rigid and unable to be flexible with the ebb and flow of community. Whether or not modern Paganism or Polytheism has grown in that direction is not mine to decide. It is an evolving paradigm that each of us need to pick apart for ourselves in order to decipher what kind of community we are creating, and what kind of community we want. Any facet of society that does not acknowledge the grey areas, the role of the challenger, the beauty of difference, or the need to acknowledge the diversity of humanity leaves little room for the creativity that comes from the fringes. There are so many people operating within the margins of any given society, creating a narrative that will inevitably push against the status quo in ways that are culturally relevant, fresh and new, or can support a new way of embracing the art of engagement.
Some of the many gifts we have to share, or learn, come from perspectives, experiences, and variations that stretch us mentally and spiritually. Challenging the narrative pushes against an over-culture that often become monotonous. Once again, a reflection on the myriad of differences within our community opens door to discussions, insights, curiosity, and magic.
* * *
This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.
The Kremlin has brought in a raft of laws on religion that Russian Pagans fear could impact their community. The legislation, which came into force July 20, was rushed through parliament under the banner of combating religious extremism.
According to Russian Pagan and activist Gwiddon, the move is “a package of changes to deal with several different laws which are anti-terrorism measures.” He added: “It increases penalties for terrorist action, it puts responsibility on friends and family to report terrorist action, otherwise there is a criminal sentence.”
The laws include making social media and mobile phone companies store all communications for six months, and a summary of each communication for three years. As this is the first move of its kind, it is unknown whether or not it is actually possible to store such a massive amount of data.
The legislation also requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of Justice and to inform the government of the nature of their group, their leaders and members, including civil names and addresses, and where rituals are performed. In addition, groups need to declare in writing that they will uphold Russian values, which includes agreeing with the military draft, upholding the law, and supporting family values. Of the latter, Gwiddon stated, “You have to write that one down, or else you will get problems.”A failure to comply is regarded as an “administrative injustice” and can result in a nominal fine – approximately 320 roubles. “It’s a small thing, but it’s a precedent,” noted Gwiddon.
For pagans, the main impact comes in the form of what is being defined as “missionary activity.” This makes expressing religious or spiritual thought to a non-member of your group an administrative injustice. It can also cover online activity and violations carry a fine of 50,000 roubles.
Gwiddon said, “Over the past 10 years there have been increasing ties between the State and the Church, the Russian Orthodox Church in particular. Even though our constitution is completely secular, we’ve seen an erosion of that concept in the past few years.”
Russian Orthodox is the official religion, and the Church has enjoyed a boom in governmental support over the past decade. Gwiddon explained, “The Church has become the ideological ministry, the ministry of thought so to speak. They promote governmental agendas and they criticise what the government wants them too.”
He went on to say, “The government uses the Church as the glue to bind society together. This came about intentionally as the government tried to find out what it means to be Russian now, what is our national identity now. They arrived at this idea, as we had so many years of Communism and before that monarchy and empire, and, as all that has gone, they think, ‘We have nothing left but the Church’. About 65 per cent of the people belong to it, not an overwhelming majority but it’s still many.”
According to Gwiddon, the new laws were established to combat all forms of religious extremism, such as radical Islamic groups and also groups like the Church of Scientology and the Hare Krishna movement.
He said: “They are trying to fight terrorism that is influenced by militant religious rhetoric. The law is there to prevent fanaticism in young people. They also want to fight cults and sects which they believe are damaging and destroying people’s lives, by giving away their money, being mind- controlled by these foreign and unusual cults.
“This change is not just to fight terrorism, but to protect citizens from dangerous cults. The government views such groups, such as the Hare Krishnas, with suspicion and are concerned.”
In fact, the first person to be prosecuted under the new legislation was a supporter of the Hare Krishna movement. Moscow was keen to demonstrate this new law in action and, on July 27, a man from southern Russia was prosecuted for handing out leaflets about the Hare Krishna group that he supports. Someone filed a complaint to the police.
It was later shown that the man was not an official member of this group, but only supported it. However, expressing such thoughts publicly, is considered proselytizing, which is forbidden.
Gwiddon said, “That’s what happens in Russia, a new law comes in and they try it out with show trials to indicate who is being punished and what for.”
The part of the law pertaining to “missionary activity” is what is so concerning for most Russian Pagans. The new laws are vague and open-ended, leaving them wide open for a variety of interpretations – especially as they also cover online activity. Gwiddon explained, “If you speak to your friend on a train, say, about a religious topic and someone overhears you, according to the new law that is an administrative violation and you can be fined 50,000 roubles. You won’t go to jail for it, but it’s a hefty fine, given that the average Russian wage is 30,250 roubles a month.”
Sharing images of deities over Facebook, for example, could also be regarded as proselyting. And, it is unknown as of yet if this law will be applied retroactively to social media.
This crackdown extends to private homes as well as public arenas and venues. Missionary activity has to be confined to a temple or a church, or lands belonging to them and are legally registered, or to cemeteries, morgues and other such sites where religious activities may occur. This is to prevent door-to-door proselytising, as performed by groups including the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Any sort of worship in public places is banned. This has obvious implications for public rituals, even solo affairs, as any such activity is now subject to the same 50,000 rouble fine. It is not even possible to hold group rituals in your own home, as it is not a designated place for religious worship. Under Russian law, you can own a piece of property personally but you cannot transform into a church or religious building unless you transfer it out of the realm of private dwelling and into the realm of religious dwelling.
The irony is that, although the Kremlin is keen to strengthen the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, few Russians actively practice the faith. Gwiddon said: “In our last National Census in 2011, only 65 per cent of Russians regarded themselves as Russian Orthodox, only 5 per cent of those attend Church services regularly and only 4 per cent have read the Bible. We are not a religious people, we are like Spain – where everyone is Catholic but no one goes to mass.”
The Russian Orthodox Church seems perturbed by the rise of Paganism among the young, echoing a trend across the Slavic nations. “These younger and more energetic group of people are not prepared to conform to an ideology which is about being meek and turning the other cheek,” explained Gwiddon. “They are attracted to Paganism partly because it is more fun. The young men in particular want something more manly and many are attracted to the old Slavic gods or Asatru, where the hero thing is going.”Gwiddon points to neighbouring Lithuania as an example of Paganism being more readily accepted by the authorities. He said, “Lithuania has Romuva – it is a reconstruction of their old faith. But some say it is a continuation. The Romuva are supported by the Lithuanian government. Instead of going to the Catholic church exclusively, they have looked at different options of what it means to be Lithuanian today and they picked up Paganism as one part of the spectrum.
“They have said, ‘This is a flavour of what it means to be Lithuanian’. They use taxpayer money to support them and help build temples in some way at least, even though the majority of Lithuanians are Catholic. In Russia, they have gone for the majority and the rhetoric is that Pagans are the bad sheep and we are lost and can still come back to the flock.”
Gwiddon added, “At the moment the law is very vague and open to interpretation. It is impossible to know how it will be implemented yet.”
TWH –The Satanic Temple (TST) is once again in the news. This time they are working to establish After School Satan Clubs in schools that already have student groups which are organized by Christian ministries. TST’s mission is largely considered a push to more thoroughly separate the functions of church and state. However, the efforts of this group has implications for members of minority religions, including Pagans, Heathens and associated traditions. To learn more about the religious clubs in the school systems, The Wild Hunt spoke with Pagans who are also teachers to find out about how religion is approached in their schools.
Ryan Denison currently teaches high school students in Georgia and has always taught at large, suburban schools. While there has never been any faith-based clubs in any of the locations in which he has worked, Denison was also once a coach and is quite familiar with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which is widespread in the South.
Those of Denison’s students who are aware of his religion — he identifies as “Celtic/Norse Pagan/Heathen,” and is a member of both the Troth and ADF — didn’t find out until after they graduated. “I do wear my Mjolnir and raven pendant, and occasionally I’ll wear my torc,” he said. “But in 17 years I’ve maybe had like two kids ask about it.”
Denison has been public about his faith for the last year, but still considers it inappropriate to bring it into the classroom. “I’m a U.S. history teacher, so I strive to be neutral religiously and politically in class,” he explained.
He is a strong believer in separating church from state, but at the same time, he recognizes that children have the need to learn about alternatives. “I think there should be multiple outlets for our kids to explore, but I’m not an authoritarian parent. Our overculture still has that Puritan-esque authoritarian parent style, although it is fading.”
The notion of someone establishing a Pagan student club would not be well-received in his district, Denison believes. “The mere mention that a mosque may be built here has thrown the community into an Islamophobia frenzy,” he added.
“There would have to be a lot of relationship-building and communication before a club like that could be proposed, especially in the current psychological climate our country is in.”
Rahne, a secondary school teacher in the state of New York, also can’t imagine there ever being a Pagan club at her school. “I absolutely have had Pagan students,” she said, “but a club needs an advisor. I don’t think many teachers would want to put their job at risk that way.”
While tenure does protect the jobs of many teachers, administrators can take steps to make life uncomfortable, such as transferring to a different school or denying a teacher their own classroom.
Cat Chapin-Bishop has seen a Pagan club in her western Massachusetts school. It was called Earth’s Religions Alliance, but it only lasted for a couple of years until the interested students graduated. There was a bible study group at the same time, and that club continues to this day. The difference, she feels, is that the Pagan students “played by the rules,” while the Evangelical Christians had more help than they should have had.
“All religious clubs have to have the same access as any other, but there are also limitations,” Chapin-Bishop explained. “They need to be student-run. Teachers cannot be involved in worship or religious activity.” The adviser to the Earth’s Religions Alliance “provided space and supervision, but could not participate.” On the other hand, “The Bible study has had active participation from staff at the school, and brought in outside preachers: it is not student-led. It’s associated with one denomination, and really run by that church.”While Denison has “heard horror stories” about school administrators using their authority to bring in religious influences, he finds that tolerance is the watch word in his own district.
Such a story of religious inclusion was witnessed firsthand by Rahne in her district. A fellow teacher at her urban school had suggested that bringing in members of the local clergy might be helpful in changing student behavior for the better. “All of a sudden, dozens of clergy were in the school,” she recalled. They were dressed in vestments or robes, walked the halls, dropped in unannounced to classes, and sat in the cafeteria.
“I had kids who expressed that they didn’t feel comforted, that they were more intimidated by these clergy than they were by police,” explained Rahne. While local papers heralded the idea, representatives of the New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter expressing how problematic that practice could be.
Chapin-Bishop said she felt “irked” when she realized that Bible study group advisers weren’t playing by the rules. However, at the same, she recognized that the members were largely already attending the Evangelical church that supported the club.
Still, she thinks that active involvement by adults would result in a vibrant Pagan club of some kind. Her district is where the Pagan supply company AzureGreen is located, and she’s aware she has Pagan students who obtain books from that company or whose parents work there. “I hear them talk, I see them wearing pentacles, and I know it from their writing,” she said, although she also won’t intrude her own religion into the classroom.
As in Chapin-Bishop’s experience, the schools in which Rahne has taught have had a Christian group associated with a local church, in this case a Baptist one. “There are fliers all over the place with crosses on them, and I sometimes wonder what the reaction would be if I did some with pentagrams?” As with the other teachers interviewed, Rahne does not mention her beliefs in class, and if asked she “tells them it’s not appropriate for me to share my religion or politics with them.”
Denison thinks that fostering a climate in which young people can explore aspects of identity is central to being an educator. “My goal is to create critically thinking self-responsible adults. That would be hard to do if questions were met with an authoritarian ‘no,'” he said.
“If kept within bounds of legality, they’re are not a bad idea,” Chapin-Bishop said of religious clubs. “Even with the outside advisers, kids who are already interested tend to join the Bible club,” she observed, suggesting that it’s not a platform for proselytizing. “Earth’s Religions Alliance ran their own study group. It’s important to have mutual support.”
While Chapin-Bishop supports the idea of equal access to religion in principle, Rahne is cautious that it could become a competition of a sort. There are some parents who she’s observed try “to out-religion each other” through open expressions of faith, such as bringing the family to lengthy Sunday services. People she’s encountered appear to consider Islam only barely a religion, she added, and anything not Abrahamic is considered mythical at best, or entirely extinct.
That experience is in contrast to what Chapin-Bishop observed when there was a Pagan club in her school. What she described as a “postering war” between members of two religious clubs included fliers that were “mildly disrespectful” of Pagans. The principal eventually responded by requiring all posters receive her approval before being displayed.
All told, Pagan teachers feel that they can only be supportive of Pagan clubs in the most hands-off way, making it difficult to help foster the supportive environment that they believe all students, including Pagans, should have available in their schools.
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Tenn. — Druid Christy Coleman didn’t win a seat on school board, but she says she’s learned valuable lessons that she’ll use in for the next election. Coleman ran for the District 3 seat in Williamson county, TN. The District 3 race featured candidates; Christy Coleman, Kimberly Little, and Eliot Mitchell. Mitchell was elected to the seat with 477 votes, Little received 332, and Coleman came in with 236 votes.In an interview, Coleman told The Wild Hunt that, although her religion was brought up during the race, she doesn’t attribute her loss to religious bigotry. She said that Eliot Mitchell had the advantage of established political ties, and this advantage was one she wasn’t able to overcome.
“There is such a thing as a good ole boy politicians club,” Colemand explained. “And it accommodates the luxury of not having to work as hard or being able to have people do your work for you. By hard work I mean personally knocking on 4000 doors like I did. Working 40-60 hours a week on your campaign on top of your day job.
“I was averaging 4-5 hours of sleep a night and I think my child forgot what my face looked like. And I guess one of my opponents, who also lost the election, probably knocked on as many doors because I would see her everywhere. I’m not judging the club. I hope one day to be in it. And most who are already club members got there by busting their tails at some point in the past. But running against someone in that club is a very big undertaking.”
In a blog post titled “My reflections on running for office,” Coleman wrote candidly about the challenges she faced as a Pagan running for office.
She said that running a campaign is more difficult than she thought. “Everyone said that running for office would be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. They were right about the physical exhaustion. I wasn’t sure I would make it to the election in August at times.”
Coleman also noted how expensive it is to run for office. She said that you should plan on spending five to seven thousand out of your own pocket for a local, non-partisan election.
“It did open my eyes as to why a lot of politicians gladly accept PAC money,” said Coleman.
In addition to dealing with the expected hate mail and political tricks faced by almost every candidate running for political office, Pagans and Heathen candidates also have the added challenge of how to disclose information about their religion. How much should they say? When should they say it? And, what to do once your opponent tries to use it against you?
“I was accused of not being transparent about that during the campaign but the fact is, if people asked if I was a Christian I said no, ” said Colemen. “It was even briefly mentioned in my bio on my website and Facebook page. I say briefly because my religion has zero to do with public education and the decisions I would make.”
Coleman added that she didn’t want her campaign to focus on religion, unlike Ms. Little, whom reportedly made bringing God back into school a cornerstone of her campaign. Instead, Coleman focused on upcoming budget shortfalls, standardized testing, and rezoning.
Yet religion played a role in her campaign in positive ways. Coleman believes in divine intervention, and said that it assisted her many times during the election.
“From the kindness I meet in the unlikeliest person my first day canvassing after receiving the most aggressive physical threat by man supporting another candidate. There are good people out there and they may be your opposite. I’m not saying he’s good for voting for me, I’m saying he’s good for showing kindness to someone he shouldn’t, by all things on the surface, get along with.
“To the random synchronicity throughout the campaign putting me in the right spot at the right time in front of the right people. These meetings may not have panned out for me in the short term, but it helped me build a solid reputation for the next time.”
Coleman said that there will be a next time, “Whatever you do, make up your mind if you will run again before Election Day. You are either all in or you are all out. I will see you in 2020.”
CALGARY, Alb. — Members of Pagan and Wiccan communities across Canada were saddened to hear of the passing of elder Margarian Bridger (1957-2016). Born in the prairie city of Regina, Saskatchewan February 7, 1957, Margarian was raised in Toronto where she attended the University of Toronto, Victoria College. She graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Geology.
In 1991, Margarian began the study of Witchcraft with the Calgary-based Covenant of Gaia Church of Alberta (COGCOA). A year later she was initiated into the Black Ring lineage of Branwen Stonecipher. She was elevated to the third degree seven years later, and went on to co-found the Evergreen Tradition, a blend of traditional and progressive Wicca, along with her husband, Stephen Hergest.
In their travels across Canada, Margarian and Stephen visited with other Pagan folk, forming connections, leading rituals and teaching workshops in ritual leadership in Calgary, Red Deer, Winnipeg Toronto ad Ottawa. Margarian served on the board of COGCOA from the 1990s through to the early 2000s, and also on the Calgary inter-aith Community Action Association board in the early 2000s.
She first became sick in 2008, and was then diagnosed with kidney failure in 2011. After that point, she lived in a nursing home, where she was able to receive regular dialysis and specialized care. Then, on Aug. 6, she died suddenly from heart failure.
Margarian loved to sing, read and write science fiction, and was talented in a number of handicrafts. She will be missed by her many loving family members and many friends around the country. What is remembered, lives.
* * *
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Covenant of the Goddess held its annual business meeting this past weekend, during which it elected the incoming 2016-2017 board. New officers include Oberon, Tabitha Pousson, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, and Morgana Raventree. Greg Harder, Zenah Smith, and Stachia Ravensdottir will remain on the board in varying capacities, along with Jack Prewett as First Officer.
It was also announced that next year’s Merry Meet and Grand Council will be held in Southern California, and the 2018 meeting will be held in Florida. The specific locations have not yet been decided.
Along with discussing the operations of the 41-year-old Witch and Wiccan organization, attending members also announced the CoG Award of Honor recipients. This award, established in 2014, is given annually at the meeting and recognizes “outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities in areas such as religious rights, international peace, environmental protection, interfaith leadership and education, the creation of lasting institutions, and the promotion of social justice and civil rights.” This year’s recipients included Rachel Watcher, Greg Harder, Starhawk, Zenah Smith, Fritz Jung, Wren Walker, Wild Hunt founder Jason Pitzl and current managing editor Heather Greene.
* * *
TWH — The Warrior’s Call: Pagans United Against Fracking has announced its fifth worldwide anti-fracking event titled “Voices on the Wind.” This new international action is scheduled for Oct. 15, 2016 and includes a “blessing and healing” ritual for the Earth. Organizers write, “We have heard the Voices on the Wind…from across the world, we have heard the people crying for the hurt done to their sacred Land by fracking, and we have heard their voices raised in resistance. Now we call on you to respond.”
Fracking has generated much press over the past few years, generating vocal protests from many diverse communities, which include Pagans, Heathen and polytheists organizations and individuals. As we reported in the past, the UK-based Warrior’s Call was born in 2013 after a group of Pagans staged a local ritual at Glastonbury Tor. Their attempt to raise awareness about fracking went global and, in retrospect, organizers said, “We felt it a shame to let the energy go to waste and so consolidated ourselves into a pagan anti-fracking pressure group; thus was the Warrior’s Call born.”
As with past actions, the upcoming “Voices on the Wind” ritual is not scheduled for a specific time. However, there are some suggested actions and workings. “Go to a windy place and create ritual space according to your own tradition,” organizers explain. “Make a sound of blessing and healing with your own voice or the voice of your musical instrument. Let the wind carry it across the Land and the World.” More details can be found on The Warrior’s Call website.
In Other News
- The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has released its most recent issue (vol. 18. No. 1). The new edition includes three articles by Christopher Josiffe, Ethan Doyle White, and Gwendolyn Reece, and seven book reviews by various writers. The three full articles are accessible by subscription only. However, the reviews are open access and can be read online or downloaded in PDF form. “The Pomegranate is the first international, peer-reviewed journal of Pagan studies. It provides a forum for papers, essays and symposia on both ancient and contemporary Pagan religious practices.”
- Mystic South 2017 has opened its registration and application processes. The new conference is now preparing for its inaugural year, to be hosted in Atlanta, Georgia at the Crowne Plaza Ravnia July 21-23, 2017. Mystic South organizers are planning a three-day indoor conference with the theme: “theory, practice, play.” There will be vendors, entertainment, workshops, and presentations. Additionally, the organizers are hosting PAPERS (a Polytheist and Pagan Educational Research Symposium), which focuses specifically on academic studies. They are currently accepting proposals for this track along with non-academic presentations.
- The Occidental Temple of the Wise Lord, “a Western Zoroastrian organization made up of Zoroastrian converts to the Mazdan Way,” has just launched its website. The new site details the group’s mission, practice, history, and writings for all those interested in its work.
- For New Hampshire residences, a new metaphysical store has opened in Nashua.The store, called Tangled Roots Herbal, is the seven-year dream of owner Sheryl Burns, who has been a longtime student of herbology. This dream became reality when the store opened this summer on West Pearl Street. Burns sells both metaphysical products and services, including drumming circles, healing sessions, and a variety of workshops.
- Dragon Con, which is now celebrating its 30th anniversary, will be opening its doors Sept. 2, 2016. Over that weekend, three familiar Pagan performers will be playing at the world’s largest pop culture convention. Emerald Rose, who has been included on the DragonCon Walk of Fame, will be reportedly be performing its last concert as a group. Tuatha Dea and S.J. Tucker will also be performing live on one of the many stages throughout Dragon Con’s sprawling venue. The official schedule of performance times has not yet been announced.
Advertise with us? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW PALTZ, N.Y. — British Witch Kate West, author of thirteen Real Witches books and high priestess of the Hearth of Hecate, has been spending the week teaching classes, running rituals, and giving readings at the Awareness Shop, a metaphysical store in the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York. Despite her packed schedule stateside, she found the time to talk some about her work for the benefit of Wild Hunt readers. During that conversation, she managed to transmit just a bit of her wit and charm.
West has been practicing Witchcraft for more than 35 years, and she has been quite public about it; so much so that she provided media relations for Children of Artemis, a prominent British Witchcraft organization. And, additionally, she has also served as vice president of the Pagan Federation.“I met my first Witch when I was six,” she said, adding that she began practicing the Craft in her middle teens. “My father comes from a line of cunning men, but that was never overtly discussed,” because her Roman Catholic mother was not keen on the idea.
West did not find her first coven until she was in her mid-30s, and the story itself reeks of magic. “I was restless at home, and decided to drive around” aimlessly, in the days before smartphones made that an all-but forgotten art. “I was just following roads, and pulled up by an old barn,” which had no evidence that it was anything but private property.
Nevertheless, “I walked ’round, and there was a little esoteric shop around back,” with no sign by the road to announce that fact. She entered and, after browsing the shelves for a few minutes, she worked up the nerve to speak with the proprietor, who invited her to the next meeting of their coven that very weekend. West has since been initiated into the Alexandrian tradition.
Because Hecate is an ancient goddess that is envisioned in divergent ways depending upon one’s tradition, we asked West to describe the goddess according to the understanding of her coven. “She’s a goddess of the crossroads,” West said, and offerings of food are left to her there. Her earlier roots are Greek, but she “found her way up to the Celtic lands,” likely thanks to the Romans.
West sees Hecate as a “working lady” (strong and muscular, or “brawny” in build) appearing old in worn — not tattered — clothes and a dark cloak. “When her horse needs shoeing, I rather imagine she does it herself,” West said. It’s a “jolly good idea” to give this protector of the young and the weak her due and not to trifle with her. “Don’t mess with me and mine,” is the message Hecate sends to the world according to West, whose understanding of this deity’s appearance and personality come largely from pathworking.
While Hecate is what her coven is all about, her personal relationship is with the Morrigan. She was born near the source of the river Raven, hand-reared a raven, and ravens either live wherever she has, or show up soon after she does. Her initials are even “K.A.W,” and it seemed natural for her to seek a raven goddess, and one with close ties to her own Celtic heritage. The Morrigan controls the birds that serve as “nature’s dustbin,” cleaning up after the mess of battle.West remembers a time when the only way to make contact with other Witches was to go to the library with your name and address on a piece of paper, and slip it into a certain Dennis Wheatley book. Presumably, the person picking them up would just show up at the door one day.
“I did not do that,” she said. “The internet age doesn’t know what it’s got.”
On balance, she considers the open access to be a vast improvement over those days, but there have been changes about which she is not so keen. “There is a difference of opinion between elders and newcomers about the word ‘silent,'” she said. “You can’t tell people secrets of the circle, even though it’s cool.”
After writing thirteen books in the Real Witches series including a handbook, a cookbook, and a book of days, she’s allowed herself a hiatus. That last, the Real Witches Year was particularly challenging, because the editor kept changing the size of the pages, meaning she had to rewrite to make the text fit. The series was named by someone at the first publisher, and she’s stuck with that decision through several more in the ensuing years.
For all the books she has written and for all the appreciation she has for internet, West believes that nothing is comparable to learning the Craft in person. “Anyone who calls themselves a Witch can practice,” she said, “but it’s ten times harder when there’s no one to pick up the pieces.”
There are simply concepts that are easier to show than write about, and there’s also the down side of the internet: “It’s harder to avoid the nutters.” She said that “all of the faiths have their own special and unique variety of idiots; Witches have some of their own.” There are also bits of etiquette which aren’t needed by solitary practitioners, like the tradition of the high priestess draining the chalice.
Still, she does what she can by telling stories of her own coven’s foibles as a warning to others. For example, she recounted a time when one coven member believed wholeheartedly in making his own magical tools. West considered this a good idea until he pointed his athame and the blade came loose from the handle, only to stick in the floor at her feet.
Another time, they misplaced an initiate because the individual was told to remain quiet in the dark as they prepared for the outdoor ritual. When it was time to begin, they couldn’t locate the person. “Of course, no one brought a bloody torch,” she said, and while the would-be initiate heard their name being called, it was interpreted as another test, so they became quieter still.
Her media expertise has also gotten her into some awkward situations. During a speaking engagement at a conference, West was recounting a time when a BBC crew was filming a ritual, and one of the producer’s asked, “Can you move the baby a bit closer to the fire?” That anecdote was part of a larger rant on the mistakes that reporters tend to make. At the conclusion of her conference speech, she asked the audience for questions. “The first person said to me, ‘Do you know how many journalists are in this room?'”
If and when West returns to writing, she said that she is pondering a book about starting covens. “It would be ‘don’t do it’ in 55,000 words,” she said.
UNITED STATES — As November looms ever closer, Americans continue to grapple with the many issues and the rheteroic surrounding the 2016 Presidential election process. The national conventions for the Democratic and Republican parties are now over, and candidates officially declared. At the same time, the smaller Libertarian and Green parties have also declared candidates. To date, this race has been one of the most contentious, and only promises to continue in that vein.
One of the most critical issues for Pagans, Heathens and polytheists is a candidate’s position on religious freedom and the protections granted by the First Amendment. The Pew Research Center recently published an overview of “Religion and the 2016 Election.” Where do various religious communities fall within candidate support? According to the June polls, GOP candidate Donald Trump finds his biggest support among white Evangelical Protestants. “Roughly eight-in-ten white evangelical Protestant voters (78%) say they would support Trump if the election were held today.” That percentage is up slightly from 2012.
On the other hand, black Protestants strongly favor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “Nine-in-ten black Protestants who are registered to vote say they would vote for Clinton if the election were held today (89%), as would two-thirds of those with no religious affiliation.” The unaffiliated is defined as the ‘nones,’ or those not connected with any religion.
Pew’s report did not record any interest in third-party candidates, nor did it analyze the responses from voters within non-Christian religious populations. Pew states, “There were not enough interviews with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and members of other religious groups to analyze their responses separately.” That includes Pagans, Heathens and polytheists, unless some were labeled “unaffiliated.” Regardless, the data aren’t there.
Another Pew study published in January discusses the value of candidate’s religion within the campaign process. Does a candidate’s religious affiliation matter to voters? According to that study, 51 percent of Americans are less likely to support a candidate who “does not believe in God.” That statement could be read as meaning simply an atheist candidate, which is how Pew analyzes the data, or it could also be read as a candidate practicing a minority religion, who does not believe in the Abrahamic god. This nuance was not addressed.
At the same time, Pew does note that the percentage of people concerned about a candidate’s “faith” has been dropping. That figure is down twelve points from 63 percent in 2007. Similarly, the number of Americans who are “less likely” to support a Muslim candidate is also down from 46 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2016.
And, this trend follows with other major religions as well. The candidate’s own religious affiliation is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the election process, paralleling the growth of the ‘nones,’ an increase in minority religious practices, and other similar trends that suggest a movement toward greater secularization.
While the candidates’ religious beliefs are of decreasing interest, their position or their party’s position on religious freedom is still a vital part of the campaign process. Religious freedom was and is still one of the backbones of the American system.So where do the parties stand? Here is a look at the official 2016 party platforms with statements by the candidate in no particular order.
“Democrats will always fight to end discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” (p. 22)
The Democratic platform predominantly addresses religious freedom in general terms. It is included in discussions of general civil liberties, diversity in the military, LGBT rights, and the condemnation of profiling and hate speech. Democrats state, “It is unacceptable to target, defame, or exclude anyone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. ” (p. 18)
The platform talks more specifically about religion in three places. First, when discussing marriage equality, Democrats say, “[We] applaud last year’s decision by the Supreme Court that recognized that LGBT people—like other Americans—have the right to marry the person they love.” They go on to indirectly reference the run of Religious Freedom Restoration acts (RFRAs) in the following statement: “We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion.” (p. 47)
The Democrats also mention religion in a section titled “Honoring Indigenous Tribal Nations.” They pledge to “empower tribes to maintain and pass on traditional religious beliefs,” among other things. And, they offer to “acknowledge the past injustices” that have led to the destruction of such beliefs. (p. 22-23)
Under the title “Religious Minorities,” Democrats say, “We are horrified by ISIS’ genocide and sexual enslavement of Christians and Yezidis and crimes against humanity against Muslims and others in the Middle East. We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion.” (p. 51)
This idea is supported by a comment in Clinton’s own book, Hard Choices, published in 2014:
Religious freedom is a human right unto itself, and it is wrapped up with other rights, including the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, associate with others, and assemble peacefully without the state looking over their shoulders. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that each of us is born free to practice any religion. (p.74)
Clinton herself is reportedly a Christian and, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, said, “[It] is our duty, to build that bright future, and to teach our children that in America there is no chasm too deep, no barrier too great–and no ceiling too high–for all who work hard, never back down, always keep going, have faith in God, in our country, and in each other.”
More recently, in an Op-Ed for the Deseret News, owned by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and with a Mormon readership, Clinton wrote, “As Americans, we hold fast to the belief that everyone has the right to worship however he or she sees fit. I’ve been fighting to defend religious freedom for years.” She ends noting the “blessings” of Constitution and promise to uphold the President’s “sacred responsibility” to protect it.
“[Republicans] oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination.” (p. 9)
The Republican Party tackles religious freedom head-on. In a section titled “The First Amendment: Religious Liberty,” the party begins by saying, “The Bill of Rights lists religious liberty, with its rights of conscience, as the first freedom to be protected. Religious freedom in the Bill of Rights protects the right of the people to practice their faith in their everyday lives.” (p. 11)
From there, the Republicans continue on to discuss the “ongoing attempts to compel individuals, businesses, and institutions of faith to transgress their beliefs” and the “misguided effort to undermine religion and drive it from the public square.” More specifically, the urge the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which removes the 1954 IRS code restricting tax-exempt entities, including religious bodies, from engaging in partisan politics. (p. 18)
The Republican Party platform goes on to endorse the proposed First Amendment Defense Act (HR 2802) that addresses “discriminatory actions against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction.” This includes the repeal of the IRS tax code as well as further protections for faith-based institutions. The Republicans explain, “[the act would] bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” As such, the platform also “condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor.” (p. 11)
Religious rhetoric can be found in other sections of the platform, similar to the party’s position on marriage equality. However, the Republicans do not directly address religious freedom again until their discussion on foreign policy with regard to Israel and Syrian refugees. In both cases, they acknowledge their support of governments and systems that “protect the rights of all minorities and religions.” (p. 47) The platform reads:
The United States must stand with leaders, like President Sisi of Egypt who has bravely protected the rights of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and call on other leaders across the region to ensure that all religious minorities, whether Yazidi, Bahai, Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant Christians, are free to practice their religion without fear of persecution. (p. 59)
Where does Trump stand specifically? He has reportedly spoken out briefly on the repeal of the Johnson Amendment. According to Time, Republican platform committee member Tony Perkins said, “[Repealing the Johnson Amendment] is a priority in the platform, and from the Trump folks, it is a priority of the campaign, and will be a priority of the administration.”
Trump’s running mate, Indiana governor Mike Pence, is a supporter of the RFRA movement, having signed one of the most publicized of such laws. Trump wrote in his book Crippled America, published in 2015, “What offends me is the way our religious beliefs are being treated in public. There are restrictions on what you can say and what you can’t say, as well as what you can put up in a public area. The belief in the lessons of the Bible has had a lot to do with our growth and success. That’s our tradition, and for more than 200 years it has worked very well.” (p. 132)
Trump’s foreign policy has been a hot topic after he suggesting banning Muslims from entering the country. However, he has since explained that his statement is about “territory” and not religion. As noted in the New York Times, Pence recently supported this idea when he stated that the campaign suggested an immigration ban on all people coming from certain Daesh-controlled territories.
In July, Trump himself was quoted in The Washington Post, saying “We have a religious, you know, everybody wants to be protected. And that’s great. And that’s the wonderful part of our Constitution. […] I live with our Constitution. I love our Constitution. I cherish our Constitution.”
“As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” (p. 1)
The Libertarian Party published its 2016 platform in May after holding its own national convention. The platform is far shorter than either of the two major parties. Similar to the Democrats, the Libertarians did not address, condone, or endorse any specific religious freedom actions or proposed legislation. They simply expressed their general position with regard to religious liberty. In section “1.2 Expression and Communication”, the party writes:
We support full freedom of expression and oppose government censorship, regulation or control of communications media and technology. We favor the freedom to engage in or abstain from any religious activities that do not violate the rights of others. We oppose government actions which either aid or attack any religion. (p. 2)
That is the only section that directly mentions religion or religious freedom; however, it is implied within other held positions affecting “personal liberty,” such as abortion, parenting and marriage equality. In all cases, Libertarians stress that government should “stay out of the matter.” (p. 3)
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson supports the platform in full. However, in his book Seven Principles of Good Government, he did note a nuance with regard to child care. He supports the use of government vouchers for child care, if and when it is within a religious facility. (p. 96-97)
More recently, The Deseret News published an op-ed with Johnson, who addresses religious freedom to the news agency’s Mormon readership. He wrote, “Given the divisiveness and pain that have accompanied several state religious freedom laws, I approach attempts at legislating religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws with great sensitivity and care.”
Johnson goes to say that he supports religious belief but fears “politically-driven legislation which claims to promote religious liberty” and is used to for discrimination. Here he is referring to the RFRAs.
In his conclusion, Johnson writes, “America is big enough to accommodate differences of opinion and practice on religious and social beliefs. As a nation and as a society, we must reject discrimination, forcefully and without asterisks. Most importantly, as president I will zealously defend the Constitution of the United States and all of its amendments.”
“As a matter of right, all persons must have the opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, any discrimination by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, religion, or physical or mental ability that denies fair treatment and equal justice under the law.” (10 Key Values)
The Green Party addresses religious freedom throughout its platform. In its Ten Key Values, the party condemnes the “systematic degradation or elimination of our constitutional protections,” and as part of that, they support the “U.S. constitutional guarantees for freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and that there shall be no religious test for public office.” The Greens go on to say that they look to eliminate laws that “discriminate against particular religious beliefs or non-belief,” as well as eliminating the use of public funds to support “faith-based initiatives.” (Democracy)
In the Social Jusice section of the document, the Greens restate their support of the Bill of Rights, and then go on to offer a call to action with regard to a number of common situations in which religious freedom enters the debate. These situations include “curricula in government-funded public schools,” the Pledge of Allegiance, displays in public spaces, courtroom oaths, Boy Scouts, abortion, tax exemptions and more.
The Greens say, “We affirm the right of each individual to the exercise of conscience and religion, while maintaining the constitutionally mandated separation of government and religion. We believe that federal, state, and local governments must remain neutral regarding religion.”
On her own site, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein reiterated key components of the party platform. She only mentions religion specifically once, and that is with regard to foreign policy. She writes, “U.S. policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to prioritize international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality.”
In a 2016 interview with OntheIssues, Stein spoke about religious freedom within the U.S. She said “We don’t live in a religious country–in the sense of having no national religion, and instead the separation of church & state–so faith should not be a public issue. […] Failing to separate church and state is a bad prescription.” Stein added that she brings a “perspective of religious neutrality,” which she believes is needed in this diverse “modern world.”
* * *
While statistics appear to tell a story of a decreased interest or concern with religion’s place in politics, the decline is still very small. Whether religion is dealt with in specific terms, as the Republican Party did, or in more general ways like the Libertarians, it will continue to play a significant role in the American political machine. Religious conviction can be found underlying many major social issues, such as marriage equality and abortion rights, and at forefront of other debates, such as in public prayer and holiday displays. The U.S. may not be a religious country, but it is a country that continues to concern itself profoundly with the practice of religion, or lack thereof, in its many forms.
Editor’s Note: The Wild Hunt Inc is a non-profit news journal and does not take a position for or against any one party.
What’s the deal with all this moss? asks the new hydroponics expert. He had heard things about the weirdos from the first Mars colony – the ones that called themselves “The Seeds” – but he figured that had all just been rumors. But now that he’s actually in their habitat, seeing thick layers of vegetation instead of sterile metal sheets lining the walls, his perceptions have begun to change. This can’t be sanitary.
Please calm down, says a voice, buried deep within the foliage. You’re making my plants feel windy.
I don’t even know what that means, says the expert, trying to figure out the source of the voice – whether it belongs to a human or, somehow, emanates from each of the plants in unison.
Of course you don’t, says the voice. A human figure rustles from deep within the web of vines. Nobody understands our language but us.
This scene came from near the end of an unusual roleplaying game called Dialect, which I had the chance to play at this past weekend’s GenCon. GenCon, for the uninitiated, is the premier convention for hobby gaming: there are a few video game events, but for the most part, it caters to those who love games with boards, cards, and dice. I’ve been twice, and both times I’ve spent the majority of my time chasing after new roleplaying games. While there are plenty of opportunities to play Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder at the convention, it’s also the best place I know of to learn about more arcane RPGs; at last year’s con, for instance, I picked up Gregor Vuga’s Sagas of the Icelanders, which I have written about before.
What I liked best about Sagas of the Icelanders was how it invited players to play with the social concerns of a historical moment: unlike a purely fantastic RPG, the theme of Sagas was to imagine oneself as a medieval Icelander, facing not only the stereotypical challenges of Viking warfare, but also resource scarcity, social pressures, and gender anxieties. (In D&D, one chooses her religion to determine what spells she can cast. In Sagas, one chooses her religion to make sure her neighbors won’t cause trouble for her at the Althing.)
Although Dialect has almost nothing in common with Sagas on a mechanical level, it shares a similar interest in playing with an intellectual field; in this case, language, in particular the intimate forms of language we build within various communities. The premise of Dialect is that the players portray characters within a society that has become isolated from the rest of the world; in our case, a Mars colony mission that got cut off from communications with Earth. Within that isolation, the characters invent, appropriate, and redefine words to suit their community’s needs and interests. By the end of the game, the isolation ends, and the community’s dialect comes under pressure to conform to the baseline of the larger society.
The structure of the game has a beautiful effect. As the game goes on, words that mean one thing in our daily speech come to take on very different shades of connotation. In the game I played, for example, the word windy came to mean something like “troubled, worried.” The word asset came to mean “traitor,” by means of a sarcastic comment: You’re a real asset to the mission, a character said to another who had a chance to escape the isolation without anybody else.
The game ties the community’s new words to the ideologies that define the community. In our case, these were statements like we are pioneers and desperate times call for desperate measures. As a result, the new language players invent in Dialect comes to personify the community as a whole. A community rises, defines itself, and falls, all with the use of just a few new phrases. I found it a remarkable experience.
Dialect –- or any game like it –- can only imperfectly mimic reality, a fact that the designers readily acknowledge. The actual process of a community creating its own jargon is much more complicated than can be replicated in a three-hour roleplaying game. But the beauty of such games comes in how they invite us to reflect on the real world. Despite the science fiction trappings of our particular session, the basic scenario –- a community is formed, defines itself, becomes submerged within the broader society, confronts the conflicting desires to maintain its individuality and to be accepted by the wider world –- is highly applicable in the real world. Indeed, since GenCon, I have thought a lot about how Dialect mirrors my own experiences as a Pagan.
Take some of our words; the words that have special meanings to us. Pagan, itself, or Heathen. The notion that these terms mean “a member of a Neopagan religion” or “a member of a revivalist religion based on ancient Germanic religion” seems so automatic to me that I get caught off-guard when I am reminded that most of humanity does not share these definitions. (When I first explained my writing to my dissertation advisor, she couldn’t stop chuckling: the notion of Heathen as a positive term struck her as utterly novel.) We could compile a list of these specialized terms –- indeed, I once wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay doing exactly that -– and observe just how many words take on different meanings in a Pagan context.
And indeed, the end of Dialect –- the encounter with the over-culture, the incentive for a community to abandon its idiosyncrasies in favor of acceptance by the outside world –- is a problem I’ve wrestled with since I was conscious of my own Paganism. The desire to be normal can be a powerful thing. I’ve made my choice by this point, but the push-and-pull of language remains ever-present. We have seen a long programme of attempts to explain Paganism in terms that are more palatable to the over-culture; recently we have seen some strong rebukes to that programme as well.
Although this process of identity-building far exceeds the scope of Dialect, I am thankful for the game giving me the opportunity to consider the issue. This is what games can do at their best: they allow us to live through the big questions in miniature, and with luck, bring some insight back with us when we return to the world outside.
 I realize we could have endless debates over whether or not these meanings actually suffice, but really, that proves my point more than anything – these are the meanings the words developed in my personal lexicon through my interactions with Pagan communities. Yours may be different, because your experience of the “Pagan community” is different.* * * The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.
An archaeological dig at the Tintagel heritage site in Cornwall, South West England, has uncovered a complex of well-constructed buildings dating to the 5th or 6th century that could have been a royal palace – fuelling age-old speculation that the area was the seat of King Arthur.In Britain’s first significant find from the Dark Ages, the team unearthed one structure with walls a metre-thick and artefacts that indicate a high and widespread level of trade. Analysis of artefacts shows the inhabitants enjoyed olive oil from the Greek Aegean and wine from Western Turkey. They ate off of plates and bowls that came from what is now Tunisia in North Africa. These details suggest that the inhabitants were of high status.
Whoever lived there is thought to have been the ruler of the Dunmonnia tribe, which occupied the entire South West region of England at the time, including Cornwall. Each area had tribal Kings, and continued to do so until the 9th century when King Ecgbert of Wessex became the King of “All-England.”
It must to be remembered that, although the Anglo-Saxons had arrived in England by the 5th century, the Western half of England, including Cornwall, was still very much under the control of the ancient Britons.
Historically, Cornwall has always been an important strategic point, due to its geographical location and its natural resources – particularly tin. The region was famous for its tin mines, which made the region very useful to the Roman Empire. The trade made the area rich, even after the Romans lost their footing in Britain in 410 CE.While dating to the 5th or 6th century, the complex is thought to have fallen into disuse by the 7th century. There is no evidence of military conquest, leading some experts to believe it was abandoned due to the bubonic plague, which ravaged the country around that time.
Win Scutt, English Heritage’s properties curator for the West of England, said, “The discovery of high-status buildings – potentially a royal palace complex – at Tintagel is transforming our understanding of the site. It is helping to reveal an intriguing picture of what life was like in a place of such importance in the historically little-known centuries following the collapse of Roman administration in Britain.”
This remains a landmark discovery regardless of any Arthurian connection. However, it has inevitably renewed debate on whether Tintagel was indeed the home of the legendary king, as told in the famous legend.
Many different regions lay claim to Arthur but most of those claims usually concern his final resting place. Glastonbury, in Somerset, has a historical claim in the grounds of its ruined Abbey, for example. A local legend at Alderley Edge in Cheshire, North-West England, claims that Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are currently sleeping under the rocky outcrop that gives the region its name. This local legend continues that when England is in dire need, they will awaken to defend the land once more.
There is also a persuasive theory from alternative historians Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett that much of Arthur’s story took place in South Wales. They argue that the legends about him represent a conflation of two historical kings, both called Arthur, separated by several centuries.
It cannot be denied that the Arthur legend is still very popular in Britain – and he is being given his latest cinematic outing by director Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which is due out next spring.
Most of conventional Arthurian legends come from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain). Geoffrey was a Welsh monk, although some think Breton, meaning from Brittany. This area in France was settled by a branch of Britons toward the end of the 4th century CE, who gave the region its name.
Incidentally, this is why Britain is referred to as Great Britain. It is not, as is commonly thought, a hangover from the days of Empire, but rather a way of distinguishing it from Brittany. Historically, Great Britain meant the larger mainland where Britons lived, and Brittany was known as Little Britain. This partly explains the confusion about Geoffrey of Monmouth, as interaction between the Britons of France – Bretons – and the ancient British would have been much more frequent than today.
Geoffrey was writing in the 12th century and claims to have translated a little-known Welsh book into English at the behest of his immediate superior Walter, the Archdeacon of Oxford.Many have claimed that Historia is merely an amalgamation of the writings of earlier clergymen such as the Venerable Bede, who wrote Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) and Gildas the Monk’s De Excidio et Conquestu Britannaie (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain), as well as other sources, including material on the Bardic oral tradition.
Geoffrey’s work has long been dismissed as mythical and fantastical, but his claims that Arthur was conceived and raised at Tintagel Castle (giving rise to the legend of Merlin disguising Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father, as the Duke of Cornwall in order to sleep with Igrainne, Arthur’s mother), have been strengthened by the recent find at Tintagel.
The Dark Ages complex is not the only ancient ruin on the Tintagel headland. There are also the remains of a much later medieval structure from the 13th century, which belonged to Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who was the brother of Henry III.
The Kingdom of Cornwall has always been prized by British royalty, and Geoffrey notes that Brutus, the mythical Trojan founder of Britain, gave Corineus, his second in command, the region to preside over and settle. In more recent times, the position of Earl or Duke of Cornwall has been held by someone very close to the Monarch. At present Prince of Wales Charles, who will inherit the throne from his mother Elizabeth II, presides over the Duchy of Cornwall.
Like Arthurian lore, Tintagel offers layer upon layer of history and meaning, and is intricately woven into the fabric of the nation’s mythic life. The latest finds may be able to offer some more concrete pictures the Dark Ages. However, they may also offer a fresh chapter in King Arthur’s story.
* * *
Meanwhile, Tintagel has also been in the news this year due to regeneration plans by site manager English Heritage intended to raise visitor numbers.
A series of artworks exploring the myths and legends of the area have been commissioned and, to date, two are in place. A sculpture called Gallos, which is Cornish for “power,” was installed near the castle ruins on the headland in April. It’s creator, Rubin Eynon, says the piece is a warrior king who represents Tintagel’s royal past in general, but it is commonly referred to as Arthur.In the cove below, a carving in the granite near the entrance to Merlin’s Cave represents his sleeping face emerging from the rock as he waits for Arthur to return. The piece, by artist Peter Graham, was unveiled in February.
But the works have proved divisive. Many visitors approve of them, but locals and supporters of the Tintagel heritage zone dismiss them as a cheapening or a desecration of the area or what has been referred to by some as “Disneyfication.”
The Merlin carving lost the end of its nose by May and, while English Heritage claimed it was due to storm damage, rumours abound of it being knocked off in protest.
BETHEL, Vt. –Whether or not there is such as thing as “Pagan community” is as slippery a concept as the definition of “Pagan” itself. The core question is whether or not people who follow vastly different traditions have enough in common to share a common label, or a common table. Some festivals are positioned to reinforce a feeling of community. For example, at the end of Pagan Spirit Gathering participants don’t just leave; they head out on a “year-long supply run.” This week, participants at CWPN’s Harvest Gathering are told, “Welcome home,” as they arrive at the camp.
This begs the question: can community exist if its members gather only once a year?One group of Pagans, who gathered in rural Vermont at the end of last month, certainly think so. They were attending the annual Lughnasad festival at Laurelin Retreat, where notions of community were reinforced by this year’s theme: “The Journey Home.”
For some, Laurelin is considered one of the most beautiful Pagan places that no one has ever heard of. It is located on over 50 acres of land that was once farmed a generation ago. It slopes gently upward from ritual fields into verdant forest. Earlier in the summer the site was descended upon by well over a thousand people who disappeared into the woods for the Firefly Arts Collective, a Burning Man regional feeder festival. But the aggressive leave-no-trace ethic makes that hard to believe.
The Lughnasad festival is a much smaller event with some 70 in attendance this year.
That number of people together for meals, rituals, workshops, and discussions for five days is small enough to form personal connections, but large enough that this bounding won’t happen widely without some effort. Attendees were randomly assigned to “houses,” color-themed groups responsible for aspects of the main ritual. Encouraged to wear their house color, they were also asked to sit together for lunch, whether or not they were on the meal plan. It’s not a new idea, but it encouraged people to forge connections they might have otherwise overlooked.
This is a far cry from the halls of Pantheacon, where people juggle massive schedules and often meet each other waiting for elevators. Only one or two workshops were held at a time, under the dining fly or the shade of the box elder tree. There were also daily guided discussions, and one of those was focused specifically on community. Since blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop — who wrote a love letter to the Pagan community — was in attendance, Laurelin host Kirk White tapped her to facilitate.
Chapin-Bishop is a teacher, she explained, and “during the school year, online is the only community [she] can find.” It was in that space that she has seen Pagans debate whether there is a community among these religions, and if it’s even important to strive for one.
“Some say we don’t share enough theology” to make that viable, she went on, but “that’s not at all my impression.”
White has been hosting events at Laurelin for at least 30 years, and said a loose definition of membership had been adopted: “If you’ve been here at least once, and identify yourself as part of the Laurelin community, then you are.”
People from many different Pagan traditions have crossed through the gate, he said, in part because of how he differentiates community from tribe in his thinking. “Tribalism is us against them,” he said, but he models community more on the annual town meeting tradition in Vermont. “People disagree with me on a lot of things, but we work together for the common good of the community.” It’s a broader concept than tradition or tribe, he explained.Walking the land and meeting the attendees reinforces that notion of community. Shrines to several deities, which were erected by a Hellenic reconstructionist group, dot the landscape in among old ritual circles used by White’s family in days gone by and sites which once held more temporary shrines to local spirits or foreign gods. The most prominent shrine is a standing stone on the cusp of the woods; this is the community shrine, where news of the year is shared as offerings are made.
High magicians and Witches alike participated in a Heathen sumbel, drinking to the many gods worshiped and honored by those around the fire. Some of the same people joined the five Quaker Pagans in silent worship. Conversations during meals or over a shared drink helped forge connections among people who traveled from as far as Texas and Michigan to be in attendance.
A common aspect of community, agreed those at Lughnasad, is the coming together over death and grief. One community member was even buried on Laurelin lands.
Not all aspects of community are tied to place, observed one traveler. “I feel a sense of community in Pagan gatherings all over the country,” she said. Chapin-Bishop characterized that as the cross-pollination which makes the next generation stronger as a result.“I don’t feel woven into a community until I return a third time,” Chapin-Bishop said, but even that depends in part on the nature of the event. She drew a distinction between what she called “consumer Paganism” — paying to be entertained at a festival — and the notion of “duocracy,” in which people who want to improve the experience simply do something to make that happen. The difference is partly cultural, and partly pragmatic. The more people in attendance, the more likely a festival will take on a consumer feel.
Another way White has tried to avoid the consumer feel is by employing something he has borrowed shamelessly from the Rites of Spring. Prior to the event, a group of village builders transform the site and make it ready for everyone else. By doing so, they create bonds which they attempt to infuse into the entire site. Then these builders are broken into different houses, so that they don’t just talk only to the people that they know for the rest of the week.
“It’s easy for the locals to hang out together,” White said, but he’s mindful that many Pagans are introverts. The goal is that it “doesn’t feel like you’re going to someone else’s family reunion.”
White’s daughter Killian has watched this community shift and change over 25 years. She likened the way people step into a central role for a time before backing away to “part of a tree breaking off.” That can happen for any number of reasons, including when it arises out of conflict.
“Are conflicts a bug or a feature of community?” Chapin-Bishop pondered.
Conflict can arise over theological differences, leadership styles, or personal relationships. One goal of community might be to find ways for people to experience conflict without one member feeling that they must leave, and never return. As one attendee said, “Real communities have ragged edges,” both as a result of conflict, and because the definition of who belongs can often get fuzzy.The community feel at Laurelin was palpable during Lughnasad. The site is more primitive than some with only porta-potties and limited running water available. But, this fact also may be considered a feature rather than a bug. It meant that worshipers of Caffeina tended to gather around the great central percolator each morning, and that dish washing after meals was also a communal experience.
That’s only possible because of the small number of people. However, White is confident that triple the number wouldn’t change that vibe or tax the facilities.
What a small festival doesn’t mean is a lack of options. A half-dozen or more vendors opened up shop for the week, and their number swelled Saturday afternoon to accommodate a psychic fair that’s open to the public. Lughnasad also has a history of attracting talented musical guests; this year Jenna Greene and Willowfire graced the stage for a concert that brought the energy levels up. Many later used that juice to climb the road leading to the fire circle in the deep woods, where drums and dancing continued until light returned.
One particularly poignant observation about community was made by Sybelle Silverphoenix. “I was one of the last 250 finalists for the Mars One project,” she told people at the community shrine. During the first round, 4,227 people applied, and she was ultimately not selected as part of the “Mars 100” finalists. Nevertheless, “It made me think long and hard about what home is,” and by extension, community as well. Silverphoenix is planning on applying to future rounds, and if she’s successful, she’ll become the most distant member of the Laurelin community to date.
This idea of community remains a moving target, particularly among Pagans who attempt to create it largely through the internet or annual gatherings. While this group of Vermont Pagans probably don’t have a universal key to the idea, they have at least found a sweet spot for creating community with Yankee flair.
MICHIGAN — Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists living in Michigan’s 9th Congressional District have a candidate they may want to take a closer look at. Matt Orlando is an Ásatrúar running for Congress as the endorsed candidate of the Libertarian Party of Michigan. And one of his campaign stops is at the All Hands Together Harvest Festival hosted by Ancient Faiths Alliance.
Orlando is facing off against incumbent Sander Levin (D) and Christopher Morse (R) in the general election November 8, 2016. Orlando said his platform is focused on jobs, gun rights, freedom, privacy, and federal taxes and expenditures.
Orlando is currently employed as a compliance analyst and is married with four children. He has followed the Ásatrú religion for 20 years and has been an active member of the local Pagan community. He’s a volunteer for Pagan Pride Detroit Inc. and serves as president of the newly formed Ancient Faiths Alliance.
Orlando is bringing his campaign to the event hosted by the Alliance as a way to connect with other Pagans and Heathens, and to let them know, “…there are candidates out there who aren’t Christian, who are from our community” Orlando hopes to spread the idea that liberty folks have a deep respect for liberties and rights as a whole.
Kenya Coviak, an organizer for the All Hands Together Harvest Festival, said that she likes the prospect of someone running who isn’t your average candidate and someone who is active in the Pagan community. Coviak said, “Though he is Ásatrúar, he has not fallen into the rutted roads that so many have when it comes to grouping Heathens and Pagans as mutually exclusive communities. This is evidenced by his involvement as a volunteer for Pagan Pride Detroit Inc.”
Coviak admitted that she paused when finding out that he was running as a Libertarian. “As far as his political party affiliation, at first I had to give it a major look because of the unfortunate infestation of authoritarian right-wing hard liner factions, but have found that he is not a part of that.”
“[Matt’s] values and my values are similar,” Coviak added. “He is a fine person, and takes no stance he does not believe in wholeheartedly. I have no concern about him standing in a Hall at the end of his life trying to make excuses, for he stands in his truth. I believe he will be that kind of candidate, and that kind of elected official if he makes it. His party has some things that don’t ring my bell or stir my cauldron, but what is good has endured to make me believe that if he can be endorsed by them, then they are worth the time to look into as a viable choice.”
Orlando explained that he has found a philosophical home in the Libertarian Party. “One day a friend showed me some information on the Libertarian Party and I met with some Libertarians. I wanted to know if it was all just talk or if it was real. They explained it wasn’t about trying to control others, and having respect for people as individuals.” He also noted that when he had a different viewpoint, his fellow Libertarians didn’t browbeat him over the differences.
For Orlando, Libertarianism and Heathenry are very compatible. He said, “Both libertarian ideals and the 9 Noble Virtues are about being part of community and caring for each other while still being able to excel as an individual.”
He added that about half of the Libertarian Party of Michigan know of his religion but it is something the party has never asked about. “It’s not been an issue, I’ve never been pressed about it, and I love that about the Libertarian Party.” He believes that is how it should be, that a candidate’s religion is not part of a campaign or party politics.
Additionally, local voters haven’t seemed to focus on Orlando’s religion. “They’ve only care if I can get things going in the right direction and they come away believing I can,” he said.
Orlando is hoping more Pagans and Heathens run for elected office. And, for those thinking about it, he had this advice: “Do your research into parties and what they stand for. Not just at the national level, but at your state level.”
He also encourages candidates to stand on their principles and be confident so their words match their deeds. “You are your deeds,” he said, adding “I’d rather have people hate me for who I am than love me for who I’m not.”
Although Ballotpedia is calling this race a safe win for the Democratic incumbent, Orlando is optimistic. “If I can get out there and my ideas are seen and heard, my chances are very good. When people from all over the political spectrum hear my ideas, they are very positive about them,” said Orlando.
The challenge is getting his name out there. Currently, Orlando has run his campaign with no fundraising and no attention from the press. The incumbent has raised over $600,000 and garners press. Orlando said that overcoming the deficit in money and media coverage is very difficult, but he has enthusiastic volunteers ready to help him go door-to-door and speak directly to voters.
The Wild Hunt will follow Orlando’s campaign and update readers as the election cycle progresses.
BUTLER, Mo. — The Sacred Well Congregation, an “independent, non-evangelical Wiccan Church,” announced Thursday that it has become an “Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization for the Department of Veterans Affairs.” The announcement reads, “We will now be able to endorse qualified clergy from Wicca and Earth-Centered Spiritualities who wish to apply for chaplaincy positions with the VA.”
The Sacred Well Congregation needed to meet a number of very specific criteria to qualify for this designation. These requirements included things such as functioning exclusively as religious ministry, being a tax-exempt religious organization, and agreeing to abide by “all federal, VA, and VHA laws, regulations, policies, and issuances on the qualification and endorsement of persons for service as VA chaplains, federal employment, and veterans health care.”
The requirements also ask that the group “Acknowledge that acceptance of an ecclesiastical endorsement by VA does not imply any approval by VA of the theology or practices of a religious organization.” There are many different religions represented on the current VA list; however, none are Wiccan or Pagan. Sacred Well’s Board of Deacons wrote, “This is a tremendous breakthrough, and will enhance our standing with professional chaplains organizations such as COMISS and APC, as well as strengthen our position as we move forward in our endeavors to secure status as an EEO for military chaplains.” We will have more on this story in the coming weeks.
* * *
LANGLEY, Wash. — It was announced this weekend that songwriter and musician Charlie Murphy (1943-2016) has died. In spring 2015, Charlie was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). At the time, a group of close friends called The Charlie & Eric Hope Well Team wrote, “[The diagnosis] was a heavy blow for him and his husband Eric. They are fortunate to have loving families and to live in a supportive community with people who are doing so much to help them cope with the reality of this disease.”
The team set up a YouCaring funding campaign to support Murphy’s husband with the mounting medical bills. Along with traditional medicine, Charlie was working with “doctors of traditional Chinese medicine using acupuncture, herbs and nutritional supplements.” The funding campaign has raised $109,400 USD since its creation.
Charlie is best known in the Pagan world for his song, ” The Burning Times,” that, as we reported last year, “weaves a captivating story of the end of matriarchal, earth-based religions in Europe.” That popular song was first recorded in 1981 on Charlie’s solo album Catch the Fire. BOver the following decades, it was rerecorded many times by Charlie and others.
Aside from his musical career, Charlie was also known for his work as co-founder for Partners for Youth Empowerment (PYE) an organization which trains people to empower children through art and the creative process. This group has set up a dedicated fund to assist his organization continue in its community service work.
Charlie died Aug. 6 at home with his loved ones present. His legacy will live on through his music, the PYE organization, and the many fond memories left with friends and family. A memorial celebration will be held September 1 at the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island. What is remembered, lives.
* * *
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — The Grove of Nova Scotia Druids is looking to buy land for Pagan worship. Founded in 2002, the Grove is an ADF (Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship)-affiliated organization located in eastern Canada. Its website explains, “Our core beliefs are in honouring the Kindreds, serving the Family, Grove and Community, living a more naturally-balanced lifestyle, and above all that the Grove should be an extension of family.”
Since its founding, Grove members have been involved in an number of public works, including rituals, meet and greets, and interfaith efforts, as we reported in June. The group is now looking to purchase and maintain land specifically for the Pagan population in the province.
On the GoFundMe campaign site, the group explains, “The Grove of Nova Scotia Druids hopes in the long term to build and facilitate a place of worship for the maritime Pagan community. We wish this place of worship to be all inclusive to all peaceful paths in Nova Scotia and the Maritimes inclusive. From either an outdoor location or a sheltered location to even a permanent structure we hope to provide all pagans of all paths a open and welcoming space.” Their current goal is set at $50,000 CAD, and they are looking into multiple forms of fundraising to earn that figure.
In Other News
- Tuesday is voting day, and our own TWH journalist Cara Schulz is running for a city council seat in Burnsville, Minnesota. Over the past few months, Schulz has been out in the community speaking with journalists and residents about her platform. If she wins Tuesday’s primary, she will move on to the general election. There are currently two open seats with no incumbents running. This is Cara’s second run for public office. TWH will report the results in coming week.
- Covenant of the Goddess will begin their annual business meeting, Grand Council, and the corresponding conference, Merry Meet, on Thursday. The four-day event is held in a different location around the country each year. San Jose, California is the host city this year, with CoG’s Northern California Local Council sponsoring the event. Nonmembers are welcome to attend.
- Another upcoming weekend event is Witches in the Woods held in Ben Lomond, California. The annual camping festival begins Friday and runs through Monday. It includes guest speakers, rituals, workshops and “witchery.” This year’s theme is “Engaging the Invisibles: Calling Forth the Helpful Spirits, Ancestors and Allies.” Registration closes on Tuesday.
- Pagan Pride Day (PPD) season is upon us once again, and people around the world will be coming out to celebrate, educate and enjoy a community of like minds. It is impossible to acknowledge the many Pride events that occur throughout the season. These festive events, or specifically those listed by the sponsoring organization Pagan Pride Project, begin in early August and run through November. Pagan Pride UK, one of the first such events, kicked off its 2016 festival Sunday morning. Held in Nottingham, the well-attended event was captured in the video embedded below. PPD events will continue to pop up around world on weekends throughout the late summer and early fall, with the majority scheduled around the equinox. These festivities attract a large diversity of Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist guests and vendors, as well as many other locals curious about the unique community, its culture and beliefs.
Advertise with The Wild Hunt? Contact our editors today.
RIO DE JANEIRO – This week the world has turned its attention to famous Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro as it has become the host of the 2016 summer Olympic Games and the first South American city to stage the “biggest show on earth.” The games opened officially in Maracana Stadium Friday with traditional Olympic ceremony, as well as a spectacle showcasing Brazilian history, religion and culture
Since the location was announced and event plans executed, the Rio games have generated controversy, concerns and outrage, which included obstacles created by a downward turn in the Brazilian economy, and reports of political corruption and instability. The infamous Zika virus, which continues to plague the South American continent, caused a number of athletes, most notably the world’s top golfers, to completely pull out of competing in the Rio games. Other issues concern poor infrastructure, inadequate security measures, crime and life-threatening pollution of the local waters. And finally, one of the biggest concerns has cycled around the serious toll that event production has had on the Brazilian people themselves, which has included mass evictions.
As if that was not enough, the opening ceremonies itself ignited more backlash as producers directly confronted, through performance art, several problems facing humanity as a whole. These included climate change, violence, and the many growing divides between the world’s peoples.
This is not the first time that an Olympic event, winter or summer, has found itself at the epicenter of sociopolitical- or economic-based problems. Being a true world stage, the modern Olympic Games generates a spotlight serving to highlight both the very best and the very worst in humanity. Over the Olympics long history, we have seen religious extremism and racism in its ugliest forms as well as well as intense spiritual devotion and personal triumph from single athletes raising their victory medals. The Olympics can both horrify and inspire.Regardless of these recent controversies, the Rio games are continuing on, and all under the watch of the city’s colossal statue Cristo Redentor, which sits atop of Mount Corcovado. As has been the case since the very first Olympic games held in ancient times, politics, economics, and religion find a place and even a voice within the sporting world.
The Ancient Games
Religion and politics weren’t always simply a sideshow at the opening ceremonies games, relegated to individual or community expression; nor were they simply a catalyst for Olympic controversy and distraction. It is believed that the Olympics themselves began as a sacred religious rite to honor Zeus. According to the Tufts University Perseus Project:
The games were held in honor of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, and a sacrifice of 100 oxen was made to the god on the middle day of the festival. Athletes prayed to the gods for victory, and made gifts of animals, produce or small cakes, in thanks for their successes.
During the games a truce was established that allowed for the safe travel for worshipers, athletes and spectators. While the truce didn’t end wars, it served as a damper. And, over time the sporting event grew into a major athletic competition, attracting people from all over the ancient world.
In Hellenic society, the lines between religion and politics were not so clearly drawn as they are today, and interactions between these areas of life happened more fluidly. Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, an Associate University Librarian and Director of Research, Teaching, and Learning for American University, said, “Our distinctions now of sacred and secular are coming out of our modern history and generally do not apply to the ancient Hellenic world.”
Reece, who is also a Witch and Hellenic priestess devoted to Athena and Apollon, noted that the word “politics” comes from the Hellenic work “polis,” translated as “city-state” but meaning community. She said, “When Aristotle says that a human is a political animal, what he means is that we, as humans, naturally organize ourselves into communities that are larger than the family.”
“One of the things that I find deeply interesting and significant as an American is the way in which ancient Hellenic Pagan culture navigated the relationship between individualism and communalism,” explained Reece. “In many ways, the Olympic Games is one of the areas in which you can see this creative tension and interplay between these two commitments.”
This interplay between politics, religion and sports find its roots not only in the ancient tradition of the Hellenic games, but in the philosophical underpinnings of the ancient society in which they were born. Reece said, “The Hellenic ideal embraces the notion that in order to live a good human life, an individual must pursue areté, which is often translated as ‘virtue’ but more appropriately could be considered the pursuit of excellence. The highest goal of a human life is to strive as strongly as one can to fully embody your perfected human nature.”
This goal applies directly to Olympic athletic competition. Reece went on to say, “This kind of striving is not only something one does for your own glory, but an individual does this also to honor the gods by striving to be as like them as possible.” In that way, the ancient games were a competition for self and for country, as well as an offering to the gods. The games were both religious and political.
While these ancient offerings, regardless of the purpose, may have included animal sacrifice, food and drink, vegetables and flowers, prayers and hymns, it was the athlete’s own risk and commitment that were an essential aspect of the overall process. At the same time, as Reece explained, “an individual can only take these risks and develop excellence through the sacrifice of his/her whole community,” which included people such as trainers, family, food growers and more. The religious act is one of the polis.
Reece went on to say, “The community released the athlete and his team from other duties so that he could train and maintain focus. He was not just presenting himself and his own excellence for competition; he was standing for his whole polis as the best his community could offer and his individual glory was also their communal glory.”
“The idea that the effort a human being gives to pursue excellence is a sacred act and a community’s effectiveness in supporting an individual human’s pursuit of excellence is profound,” Reece described, “and one of the most powerful ways to honor the gods.”
While the ancient games were rooted in the commitment to the gods and community, they were not free from greater political manipulation and strife. Reece explained that the games, in many ways, were used as a way to define who was and wasn’t Hellenic. “Only Hellenes could compete,” Reece said. “When the Dorian kingdom of Macedonia was ascending to power, its rivals tried to undermine them by proclaiming that they were not ‘really’ Hellenic.” However, the Macedonians were allowed to compete in the games, and as Reece said, “Philip II won the horse-race on the day that his son, Alexander the Great, was born.”
When Greece lost its political power, the Roman Empire kept the Olympics Games alive, and over time the ancient games developed into a more secular event. However, its Pagan origins were not easily forgotten, causing the demise of the ancient games. The Perseus Project explains:
Once the Roman emperors formally adopted Christianity, they discouraged and eventually, outlawed old “Pagan” religious practices. Since the Olympic Games were first and foremost a religious celebration in honor of Zeus, they held no place in the Christian empire. The emperor Theodosius I legally abolished the games in 393 or 394 A.D.
The Olympics were born as a Pagan religious ritual and were eventually banned for that very same reason. By 393 A.D., the games were gone … more or less.
Toward a Rebirth
According to Frank Deford of the Smithsonian magazine, there is historical evidence that small, local Olympic-style games were played around the world for many years. Some even used the name Olympics. For example, in Cotswald, England, a Roman Catholic staged an elaborate Olympick games to counter the “dour Protestantism of the time.”
Then in 1865 Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern games, traveled to Much Wenlock, England where William Penny Brookes had been holding local games for years. Together both men aimed to bring back the romance and glory of the ancient event. After much negotiation, Athens became the first host city for the modern Olympiad in 1896. The games were held in the fully restored ancient panathenaic stadium and the marathon was added to honor ancient Greece.
The subsequent Olympics in Paris (1900) and St. Louis (1904) were largely disappointments. Needing to bolster more support and publicity for the cause, Coubertin looked to the Olympics’ roots and asked Rome to be the fourth host city. Unfortunately Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 which ended that country’s bid. In 1908, London took up the reins and hosted the fourth modern Olympic Games. Deford writes, “All else had been prelude only now had the modern Olympics truly begun.”
The Modern Games
Although the games’ original religious focus had not been resurrected alongside the showcase of athleticism, the modern games were not without religious influence. According to USA Today, De Courbin himself said, “The first essential characteristic of the Olympics, both ancient as well as modern, is to be a religion above and outside the churches.” Additionally, several Olympic mottoes were coined by clergy such as “citius, altius, fortius” (faster, higher, stronger.)
Despite this joyful return, the political reality of faith-based conflict would eventually find its way into the Olympic spotlight. For example, at the 1936 Berlin games, Hitler outlawed German Jewish athletes from participating. The games were canceled in both 1940 and 1944 due to the Second World War. In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were held hostage by Palestinians at the Munich Games. This standoff ended in the death of all 11 Israelis and five of the Palestinians. Then in Atlanta in 1996, an Army of God fundamentalist detonated a bomb in a crowded Centennial Olympic Park.
Fortunately the more violent conflicts are few and far between. However, national political conflict, even absent of religion, has found its way into game play, as it did in ancient times. For example, as a reflection of the ongoing Cold War, the U.S. Olympic team staged a boycott of the 1980 summer games held in Moscow and, four years later, the Soviet team retaliated doing the same for Los Angeles games. North Korea boycotted the 1988 games held in Seoul, South Korea. The country of Georgia protested the winter games held in Sochi, Russia. These are only a few examples.For our expansive modern world, there is an increased potential for interactions and clashes among different communities, whether it be over religion or politics or both. The Olympics is a cauldron for the world’s cultural and religious diversity. The challenge for an Olympic committee is not just in the staging of an epic and expensive athletic event or the choreography of the opening ceremonies. It is also in the peaceful bringing together of the world’s people, who represent an enormous range of beliefs, experiences and cultural expectations.
Despite the continued complaints and allegations directed at Rio’s Olympic committee, the 2016 games has already attempted to spotlight that diversity, demonstrating that the world sporting event can serve as a voice against all odds, a call for peace, and a showcase for diverse cultures. Along with Rio de Janeiro being the first Olympic city in South America, the International Olympic Committee, with help of various nation sponsors, created a Refugee Team, made up of athletes who have been displaced from their own countries. The team consists of members from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, South Sudan, and Ethiopia.
IOC President president said, “This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”In this way, the spirit of the modern games is not entirely different from the spirit of the ancient games. Dr. Reece said, “There is symbolic importance to the Olympics […] Whereas the Olympics of old were a true causal force in the development of a Pan-Hellenic identity (the idea that being “Greek” meant something), I think the [modern] Olympics are a causal force in the development of cosmopolitan identity. The ideal of the Cosmopolis, which is present in Hellenic culture from Alexander the Great on, is the idea that we are not just citizens of the polis, we are citizens of the Cosmos and have a duty to each other as fellow-citizens.”
Reece added, “That doesn’t mean that we necessarily get along or agree with other nations, but it helps expand our notion of connection and identity because the type of excellence we see in a runner, for example, is not different based on nationality, race, creed or any other division. It is the excellence of a human who is a runner. In that way, I think [the modern games] have a strong continuity with the ancient games.”
While direct aspects of the Hellenic religion are mostly muted or completely removed from the modern games, we are reminded of those origins through various Olympic rituals, including the torch ceremony, which begins at the Temple of Hera in Greece, or in the athletes’ march in the opening ceremony, which is led by Greece. Yet, at the same time, the very spirit found in those ancient games, stemming from ancient sociopolitical and religious ideals, are still very much alive in the modern event. We can find this spirit in the athletes, as they stand on the winners’ podiums receiving their victory medals, or in the many personal stories of individual and family sacrifice.
It is on this world stage where we witness politics, religion, and sport merge and intermingle, for better or worse. And, within that intersection, just as it was in Hellenic society, the individual athletes, who strive and sacrifice, stand as champions and as inspirations for themselves, for their polis and the greater cosmopolis.
In an article posted May 31, Kari Paul at the Broadly channel on Vice pitted Wiccans and professional tarot card readers against popular smartphone apps that purport to offer divination to any user at the tap of an icon. To Paul’s credit, her piece was not the sort of exploitation piece you often see when mainstream journalists cross paths with Witchcraft and Paganism. Her tone comes off as that of a sincere investigator trying to discuss a real tension between two different types of people.At the same time, Paul presents a relatively black and white world where the battle lines are clearly drawn: Witches have a bone (or a card, or a rune) to pick with programmers who think they can mathematically create the randomness and relationships necessary for accurate divination to occur. For example, she quotes one professional reader named Tea Cake who calls divination apps “extremely gimmicky and next to useless.” Tea Cake goes on to question the tarot skills of app programmers, stating that their unknown credentials make it “difficult to sort out what is bullshit.”
Another Witch in the article, Maria Palma-Drexler, tells Paul that “technology has its place in witchcraft, but only as an aide,” while another, known as Blue June, states emphatically that “practices like divination are better carried out the way they have been traditionally: by humans, not apps.” She stresses that “there is no need to add technology.” While Paul does quote author Mary K. Greer in support of apps toward the end of her piece, the overall picture is one of Witches and readers distrusting the skills and sincerity of software developers. It is right there in the headline: “Covens vs. Coders.”
Is that picture correct? Pagans are often less black and white in their thinking than other people and, much like the rest of the industrialized world, most have embraced the digital culture we live in today. Smartphones and the apps that go with them are just another part of that culture. According to some professional and experienced readers, there may actually be a much more complicated relationship between them and the new experience of divining by tapping an icon.Fiona Benjamin, who reads tarot and bones professionally at modernfortuneteller.com, believes the apps can be used for divination, especially in public situations. “Sometimes you need to pull your cards out in a location where you can’t shuffle your cards,” said Benjamin. “I don’t see it as an ‘evolution’ of the physical cards so much as a welcome alternative.” As a parent of young children, she also notes the convenience of being able to answer a question for herself “without fear of ripped cards in the hands of babies.”
Lupa, a professional reader, blogger and author, believes these apps are useful for answering a querent’s needs. “I don’t see them as less effective than paper cards or carved runestones,” she said. “After a certain amount of experience the exact tool you use is kind of like Dumbo’s feather—it’s just a way to trick your mind into getting in the right place for divination.”
While some professional readers are on board with smartphone divination, others are not so certain about it. Yet their criticism does not come from the “extremely gimmicky” place mentioned by Paul. Their concerns are little more nuanced.“I would love to say these apps are completely useless, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” states Mat Auryn, who reads tarot at shops throughout New England as well as on his own website. “Do they work for divination?” asked Auryn. “Yes and no.”
Basing his theory of the tarot on Carl Jung’s ideas of synchronicity and the collective unconscious, he said that, “The collective unconscious is always trying to communicate psychic information to us via symbolism.” He stressed that, “the cards that are drawn are the cards meant to be seen.” Divination, by that theory, is admittedly possible.
The trouble, according to Auryn, comes both with how the software is developed and how it is used. The apps rely “on computer generated algorithms instead of randomly shuffling,” a weakness which harms the random nature of card pulls. “Both are random,” he explained, “but one is based on preset coding, which will eventually repeat.”
A further concern, according to Auryn, is that “most of the meanings are set and short,” which means that, “without a deep understanding of the cards, the answer is totally out of alignment with the question and the position in the spread.” The cards, then, may be providing the correct message, but the finite number of keywords available to the user may not be able to accurately convey the intended message. The implication here is that one must already be experienced in the tarot in order to accurately interpret the messages on the screen. Of course, an appreciable number of users do not have that expertise.Auryn concluded that, while the apps are not useless, they need to be used wisely. “A legit psychic is tapped into the collective unconscious,” says Auryn. “The professional reader is an expert in their field.”
“The difference,” he said, “is the same as going to the doctor and having a WebMD app.”
In Paul’s original Vice article, the lack of person-to-person energy was a major concern. “Each client comes in with their own energy,” Blue June was quoted as saying. “The problem with an algorithm is that it’s just random—it has nothing to do with intuition.”
Auryn only partially agreed with that statement. “It is important to feel the energy of a client,” he admitted, “but that doesn’t have to be in person.” Since we are all connected by the collective unconscious, in his view, “distance has no bearing on a reading.”
Mary Paliechesky, who has been reading tarot for over 30 years, agreed. She said that, “I used to agree that you needed to feel the energy of the person that you are reading. However, I think that was an artifact of my skill level and training. The energy is all around us. You can connect to a person across space as long as you know their energy.”Lupa said that she does prefer to check in with clients during a reading. “Any reader, no matter how good,” said Lupa, “is by necessity projecting some of their own biases into the reading, and it’s important to make sure that they match up with the client’s experiences.” The ability to check in with a client, a capability that is difficult to obtain through an app, helps to eliminate a reader’s bias.
In her professional life as a reader, Benjamin is more concerned with communication than with energy. “I can feel the energy all day long,” she explained, “but if I am failing to meet the needs of the client or if I don’t communicate the message in a way that is clear, the reading will not be useful.”
To be fair, the Golden Thread Tarot app, which is featured in Paul’s article, does contain some emotional interfacing to address this concern, but it allows only a limited number of emotional responses from the user, leading back to the criticism of being finite. It’s not useless, and some professionals even say they use this app regularly, but as experts it is much easier for them than it would be for a typical client. In the end, perhaps unsurprisingly, the relationship of professional readers and experienced Witches to electronic divination is a much more complicated picture than Paul seems to paint. While there are some reservations in the community, there is not an attitude of wholesale rejection, and there is a definite strain of recognizing their value.
Auryn cautioned that, “It is important to remember that you always get what you pay for. There is no app that can ever replace a talented psychic or an advanced student of the tarot.” Others, however, are much more positive. “Divination apps are genius,” concluded Benjamin. “A tarot reader’s skills will never be diminished because of technological aid.” In the same camp, Paliechesky put it simply: “Times change and energy is all around us. If it works for you, it works.”
Political conventions are designed to entertain us while they mount a grandiose manipulation of the viewer. They are spectacles of power. And they give us insights into the American political machinery, which ranges from the hopeful, to the patriotic, to the bizarre.
And yes, I did it. I watched the broadcast portion of both major political conventions. I watched the videos, listened to the commentaries and the pundits, as well as the speeches and the occasional creepy chanting. Well, I really should say, I watched most of the broadcasts; mojitos only go so far.In a way, conventions are elaborate rituals. Their process is both intentional and highly orchestrated. They have invocations of ideals and invocations of ancestors. They raise the energy of the room and that of the delegates, slowly cresting then releasing it to imbue their nominee with the mantle of leadership and launch them into the general election bubbled, empowered, and ready. And this ritual serves as an investiture, as we might make a high priest. They are making a new avatar: a leader of the party that embodies the party. It’s all very magical, and actually very Pagan.
The conventions invoke a series of archetypes to create that investiture as they heighten the patriotism and amplify the positive energy onto the candidate. The speakers and leaders call upon our own American “mythology,” which echoes a series of Pagan deities from Roman Religion, iincluding Iustitia (justice), Libertas (liberty), Aequitas (equality), Hestia (individualism), and Mercury (commerce).
The leaders align their rhetoric to party platforms and national values. In doing so, they try to align themselves with these gods and ancestors. It is magical and ceremonial manipulation at its grandest. And it’s the most hypocritical; the politicians, who enthusiastically invoke these gods, also cling to their superficial monotheism to placate their constituencies.
Pagans and Polytheists see their energies at work in the world today. Much of our own ritual work and self-reflection involves understanding and communicating with these aspects to better relate to the world around us. It is familiar. It is an act of changing perception.
Like ritual, what conventions are designed to do is shape our beliefs. Our social world — the world of our interpersonal interactions — can only be understood through our perceptions. That is to say, our perceptions shape our social world. We take in sensory information, like speeches and imagery, then organize that material using our experiences to help us make sense of it all. It is a process that is exploited in ritual to help us understand ourselves and our world more fully.Some of our spell work employs these same processes. When we engage in guided imagery to manifest our wishes, we are lining up the future with our desires. When we cast a spell to be more open to love, for example, we remind ourselves through phrases and imagery of our desire. And in doing so, we also hone our perception to make ourselves aware of moments when love is available.
As a result, we enable ourselves to be more conscious to accepting love when it’s offered, even in unlikely ways and places. We become active managers of our perceptions. And through that, actively change our interactions with the world to get what we want.
The politicians and their endorsers are doing the same thing. Through speeches and imagery, they seek to confirm our perceptions that their nominee will make the best leader. They rely on our beliefs of what makes a great leader, managing our expectations through character witnesses, symbolism, and behaviors. They are using the ancient craft of bards and the modern tools of social psychology to build that better leader and pull our vote.
They are also taking advantage of something termed Implicit Leadership Theory (ILT: Fischbein & Lord (2003)). ILT suggests that we have preconceived ideas about the qualities that make a great leader. These qualities are built within our cultural archetypes of leaders, and they are active all the time.
Our assumptions about leadership (the “implicit” part of ILT) guide our perceptions and ultimately our responses to our leaders. Would-be leaders exploit ILT to “look the part” of leadership. Much like wearing a Triple Goddess headband, the leader adopts the symbols and colors of their party and nation to validate their leadership. But they also involve themselves with the symbols and language of leadership to manipulate our belief in them as being effective.
I often explain this theory and its application using the film Excalibur (1981). The film illustrates the Arthurian symbols of power, like Excalibur, Merlin’s staff and the knights’ armor, as demonstrations of authority. The story also explains the divine selection of Arthur to lead Britain, while also illuminating the important values of fairness, justice and duty. His mortal, spirit and fairy contemporaries attest to his prowess and preparation. All gods select him to lead. Pagan gods embrace Arthur and underscore his Celtic origins. And, as the Fisher King, he is Christianized gaining the favor of the god of Abraham and a follower of Jesus. The myth of Arthur as king becomes a metric to measure the worthiness of a leader.
The designers of conventions are keenly aware of the power of these metrics. They craft the party message with intense precision. They craft the candidate’s story to build their mythic leadership. They engage in the subtlest of mythopoeia –– the construction of myth — to build a compelling story around their candidate.
We learn of each candidate’s heroic voyage to the moment. We are given a frame-by-frame accounting of each candidate’s life that foreshadows their greatness as well as readiness to lead. This includes an accounting of accomplishments, deed after deed, carefully chosen to reinforce our perceptions of their greatness.
The speeches of the nominees are road maps into the future. They become prophets distilling their messages to explain their visions. And like prophets, they recount the signs, sometimes of doom and sometimes of success; sometimes of fear and sometimes of hope. They are looking to manage our perceptions so that their specific vision becomes the shape of our world. They each want to become our leader, our Arthur, our Odin.
The designers want us to recognize in their candidate the capacity for leadership and greatness. They want us to see in their candidate the grace of an exceptional leader who, like Odin, is intensely concerned with responsibility and wisdom. A leader who, again like Odin, is powerful in battle and powerful in reason. A leader who values knowledge so fully that to gain it, as the Rúnatal attests, painfully becomes his own oblation to further it. They want us to see in their leader the face of Odin embracing the role of service and teaching us that leading demands sacrifice.
Seriously, they really want this, and they bring to bear the science of persuasion and leadership to accomplish that aim. More than 70 years ago, social scientists discovered that authoritative stances did not result in effective leadership; they only made someone do something.
In a landmark study at the Ohio State University, two dimensions emerged as critically important to effective leadership: (1) organizing people toward goals while (2) being trustworthy and compassionate (See Bass (1990) for complete discussion). The artificers of the candidate myth will infuse a candidates’ stories with evidence of these dimensions and more. Myth-making is full-time and full-on. We’re expected to just sit back and enjoy the spectacle with popcorn and Kool-Aid (or a mojito, as it were).
But conventions are not just about the past and a leader. Like ritual, they are also about the future: the manifestation of a future state. As I watched speech after speech end in “God Bless the United States of America!” what each speaker actually could have easily added was, “So mote it be!”
These speeches are not prayers. They are not supplications to greater powers. They are arrangements by expert craftsmen carving word upon word on the mind of the listener. Each word conveying a meaning and sentence altering perception. Their purpose is distortion. Political speeches are attempts to re-organize the universe of facts to promote a platform and garner a vote.
They are attempts to bend the will. That very thought reminded me of the Magician, the first trump card of the Major Arcana. In divination, as many will know, it is the card that follows the Fool. What strikes me about this card is how it informs us of the strengths and risks of a great magician. If it appears in divination upright, it represents that noble power of orchestrating magic toward change, holding space between the earthly and divine realms to bring forth that divine immanence and energy on present problems. The Magician becomes the fulfillment of potential and the challenge to use our energies to continue evolving the world around us.
The Magician card also exposes that the symbols and artifacts of change are themselves sources of manipulation. The card shows us how the minor arcana are left on the table. They are used as prisms to bind our perception so we see the world in only one way, and that latter outcome is inconsistent with how Pagans conduct our lives. As a community we strive to unhook ourselves from the judgments and mechanical perceptions that limit our ability to live genuinely.
In reverse form, that first trump card represents the egotistical intoxication of power. It augurs miscommunication and the negative aspects of manipulations. The reversed Magician uses his art to hook us into symbols and tropes that create a fragmented life where our awareness is tinged with fear and our hope is managed through hate. This is very seductive; because this Magician also gives us selfish solutions that end up being easy answers. The Magician reversed suggests power for personal gain and control. This Magician is a fraud.
The recent political conventions also showed me why they are attempts at magic but fail to be magical. Conventions are triangles: they look like ritual but lack the circle. Conventions are designed as giant megaphones to change perception. But despite the rhetoric of community and the people, the pageantry and power are all top-down. They are voices on a stage cast into a receptive audience. There is no balance, only lip service to it.
Through circles, we remind ourselves that no one has more voice than the other, no one has more power than the other, no more rights than the other- even if those others are presidential candidates. We remind ourselves that magic happens when working in balance, facing and respecting each other, much like that famous table.
Bass, B.M. (1990). Bass and Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership. New York: Free Press.
Fischbein, R. & Lord, R.G. (2004). Implicit leadership theories. In Encyclopedia of Leadership. Burns, J.M., Cho, K., Goethals, G.R. & Sorenson, G.J. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.