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Column: What is Pagan Music?

Sun, 2017-03-26 11:47

TWH – Welcome to the new Pagan music column for the Wild Hunt, I hope you’ll join me in the months to come through the musical underground of the great below, the stunning and oft-listened to heights of the great above and the balance that makes up our daily musical landscape in the great between.

Our lives are immeasurably enriched by music, and with the growth of the internet and the bottoming out of technology costs for recording, we’ve never had access to more of it. Pagan music especially would seem to have benefited from the boon of technology. While it’s impossible to know everything that’s happening, one can still spot trends and pick out the talented and truly creative.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

You’ll never catch me claiming to be an expert on anything related to music, I’m coming at this as a passionate fan. I grew up playing in bands, watching musicians in coffee shops (the 90’s were like that), going to concerts, catching basement shows in knock-down houses in Milwaukee, seeing DJ’s in warehouses and hanging out on grassy hilltops listening to punk musicians play the loudest acoustic music I’ve ever heard under a smattering of stars and the glow of city lights.

I don’t intend for this space to be a necessarily critical one, and while I think there’s plenty of room for professional music critics, that’s not my gig. But this won’t be an unchallenging space either.

Before we get into all of that, just what is Pagan music? A genre? A theme? An attitude? A heaping of credit has been given to Gwydion Pendderwen, for the popularization of music that he clearly branded as Pagan. A bard and early member of Victor and Cora Anderson’s Feri tradition, Pendderwen recorded his seminal album Songs for the Old Religion in 1975, and it remains a classic to this day.

Thatalbum was followed by The Faerie Shaman, and both have influenced some of the best musicians, as well as spawned a countless number of imitators. Sadly, Pendderwen died in a car crash in the early 1980’s after releasing only two albums.

However, he did write many songs to the Goddess and God of Witchcraft, to Cerridwen, Mari, and songs influenced by Welsh myth, among others. His work has been picked up by other Pagan musicians and continue to experience life within the community.

But while Pendderwyn’s songs helped to solidify the idea of Pagan music, his was very much anchored in the spirit of the folk music that had been popularized in the 1960’s and into the 70’s.

Different musical styles took longer to emerge but brought in newer crowds and appealed to the sensibilities of different audiences. Early acts like Inkubus Sukkubus and Corvus Corax,  among many others, brought eager new listeners to Paganism throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Bands that weren’t explicitly Pagan, especially in the goth, industrial, and now Darkwave scene also have been enormously helpful in exposing people to music that had a Pagan feel, if not an overt Pagan message.

“I guess to me Pagan music isn’t a genre, it’s a theme, an attitude, and a way of expressing our love for our Gods, myths, traditions, and the natural world,” Damh the Bard, musician and voice of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids podcast, said in a recent chat.

Damh the Bard [Courtesy Photo]

During his experience at CalderaFest last year, this idea became clear to him.

“You had three days of Pagan music and the genres varied from folk, blues, jazz, country, Celtic, and heavy metal,” he said.

And while the musical styles vary, “the energy, the themes, the lyrics and power of the melody, are what make the music Pagan,” Damh said.

That’s the clarity I was searching for — it’s not a genre at all, but a collection of varying styles of music, united around honoring the gods. Or nature. Or the ancestors. Or magick. Defining the term was starting to feel about as easy as defining what Paganism is.

“To me the power lies in the honesty and integrity of the songwriter. If the music and lyrics come from the heart, when they are created in expression of love for the old tales, the land, our traditions, people can feel that, and that connection lies right at the heart of the Pagan song,” Damh said.

SJ Tucker warned me that I might be setting myself up on a fools’ errand.

“Defining Pagan music is a slippery quest,” Tucker said, acknowledging that even within the community of Pagan music, their styles and sound are constantly in an evolutionary process.

Tucker noted that community feedback is generally very quick and one motivating factor that she loves.

“If the community loves you, you hear about it and you feel it!” she said.

Chris Orapello has been the host of several popular podcasts over the years, including his current ongoing project Down at the Crossroads where he intermingles interviews with Pagan authors and thinkers with some of his favorite tunes. Over the years he’s helped spread the word about Pagan musicians, bringing their music to a wider audience.

“As a fan and patron of the genre, I have a bit of an outsider’s perspective on the matter. The talent and production quality has distinctly leveled up over the years and has let go of the vibe and expectations of a bygone era that struggled for identity and acceptance,” Orapello said.

Moving beyond the “stereotypical Pagan tropes,” has been a hallmark of recent years, he said, hailing a more personal and diverse current to the types of songs that are accepted by audiences.

“In the last decade alone, we’ve arrived to a point where the music is identified as Pagan because it’s written and performed by someone who identifies as such -and mostly performs for the Pagan community- rather than being defined as Pagan solely by the content of the lyrics or the instruments used,” Orapello said.

As podcasters, both Orapello and Damh the Bard praised the influence of that medium on spreading music and ideas faster than ever before.

“Since the advent of podcasts I think lots of people are very aware of many of the European acts. Podcasts have been such a gift to the Pagan musician and Pagan music lover,” Damh said.

The ease of spreading information in a digital format has probably been one of the most compelling influencers on music in general and has breathed a new kind of life into Pagan music in particular. Suddenly people who want to experiment in the space can record and release a few songs and garner instant feedback, reaching people in ways that record labels never could.

Bandcamp, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, as well as podcasts were just a few that Orapello sited as great ways to get access to new music and discover new artists.

“This makes building an audience extremely easy for an independent artist to compete with the mainstream market,” he said. “This new landscape has opened me up to an audience of my podcast and my art that I would have never anticipated when I began podcasting in 2009.”

Damh the Bard saw the change happen for him around 2006. Before all of the platform choices opened up, “musicians had to be chosen by a talent scout or record company, and without that nobody would be able to hear your music,” he said, “that has all changed, and that’s a great thing.”

SJ Tucker at Faerieworld 2007 [Wikimedia]

The future of Pagan music will continue to be about growth and adaptation. We have a scene that features folk, rock, metal, electronic, goth, blues, jazz, even choral and period-specific-instrument groups.

SJ Tucker said that she’s always on the lookout for artists that take things in new directions.

“Anyone who fuses old and new elements in their sound, whether that’s content-based or gear-based, has something to teach us. I’m sure there was a time when Pagan music audiences & festival staff abhorred the very idea of tech on stage, but now you’ve got singer-songwriters like Celia Farran who rolls mainly acoustic, but who can also loop with the best of them,” Tucker said.

“You’ve got the better known bands from Europe like Faun, who pack traditional flutes, fiddles & bagpipes as well as sequencers & laptops. We have to be open to the fact that these digital options can be magickal tools just the same as hand drums and guitars. I think we are open, but how far are we willing to take it?”

Tucker also said that one of the amazing things about the Pagan music community is how tight-knit it can be, despite genre differences. During CalderaFest last year, she noted how some of the newer bands on the scene were happily surprised to find a music scene that thrives on collaboration rather than competition.

“Once you get over here in the witchy world, we pretty much collaborate as often as we possibly can. It’s very special, and I hope that bands encountering it for the first time continue to appreciate it, and continue to come back,” she said.

We as a community are consciously co-creating music of celebration and veneration by interacting with the musicians, creating music that reflects our varied lives and how we experience the world through Pagan eyes.

What is Pagan music? The answers are as varied as the responses you’d get to the question, “what is Paganism?” This has historically been a strength in our community and I think it’s a strength with our music, too. After all, it only takes one person to come along with some brand new concept to start a new tradition— or a new band.

A little tease of some future columns that I’m cooking up: in addition to the column I mentioned at the beginning about diversity in Pagan music, I’m going to be exploring the magick of music, what spells are woven within your favorite songs? A look at folklore and traditional folk music, digging up the Pagan themes within them.

Green Album Performers at CalderaFest 2016 [Photo credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Wall to wall coverage of CalderaFest in October, with a look at the program ahead of time and updates from the fest as it’s happening. I’m also looking to put together an occasional audio supplement, more on that soon.

In the coming months, I look forward to sharing lots of exciting new things with you all, I hope you’ll reach out and let me know if there are subjects you’d like to see covered. All of my contact info can be found in my bio.

And now, a special treat. Brian Henke has shared the title track off his soon-to-be-released album The Raven King.  Enjoy!

http://wildhunt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/the-raven-king-mastered.mp3

 

 

Column: Radical Religious Terrorism

Sat, 2017-03-25 11:45

“These are radical Islamic terrorists, and she won’t even mention the word, and nor will President Obama. He won’t use the term radical Islamic terrorism. Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name.”

So said Donald Trump back in his second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton. Leaving aside the fact that Clinton had publicly used the terms radical jihadism and radical Islamism four months earlier, is the larger point valid? To solve a problem, do we have to be able to state what the problem is? It seems logical.

Candidate Trump is now President Trump, and he is transforming his campaign promises into executive orders. Remarks that may have seemed offhand or exaggerated during the campaign have now been revealed as literal statements of intent.

Also, the president doesn’t seem to be able to leave the campaign behind, either psychologically or politically. He continues to hold campaign-style rallies and to attack both Clinton and Obama on Twitter. The issues of Russian interference in the campaign and Trump’s complicity in the meddling continue to grow and multiply.

Furthermore, terrorism continues to be a major issue in the United States. Not necessarily the committing of terror attacks, but the fear that they will be committed drives much of our domestic and foreign policy. Isn’t that what terrorism does? It creates fear and lets the fear do the work.

So, let’s take the president at his word and follow where his words lead.

Resolved: In order to solve the problem of radical religious terrorism, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name.

What is terrorism?

The federal government of the United States has several definitions of terrorism currently in use, but they largely agree on the concept.

The U.S Code of Federal regulations is straightforward, stating that terrorism is “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The USA PATRIOT Act states that domestic terrorism consists of “activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or of any state; (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.”

Since Mr. Trump was specifically speaking of terrorism in connection to a religion – and since he continues to do so on a regular basis – let’s look at two definitions that specifically mention faith.

The U.S. Department of Defense definition of terrorism states that it “is often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs and committed in the pursuit of goals that are usually political.” The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center definition of a terrorist act includes the idea that it is “politically motivated, potentially including religious, philosophical, or culturally symbolic motivations.”

We can combine all of the above and state a definition like this:

Terrorism is (1) an illegal use of violence against persons and/or property that is (2) intended to intimidate civilians and/or coerce government to (3) effect social and/or political goals and is (4) driven by political, philosophical, and/or religious motivations.

What is radicalization?

The FBI defines radicalization as “the process by which individuals come to believe their engagement in or facilitation of nonstate violence to achieve social and political change is necessary and justified.” Javed Ali, Senior Intelligence Officer for the Department of Homeland Security, defines it as “the process of adopting an extremist belief system, including the willingness to use, support or facilitate violence as a method to effect societal change.”

The philosopher Julian Baggini added a clear moral stance to his definition, writing that radicalization is “a process by which people come to freely choose a dangerously and wickedly misguided path that they nonetheless perceive to be a virtuous calling.”

We can combine these statements and define the term like this:

Radicalization is (1) the process of freely choosing a belief system that (2) accepts the use of violence as a justified and/or virtuous means to (3) effect social and/or political goals.

What is radical religious terrorism?

We are now able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. The synthetic definitions of terrorism and radicalization above clearly have much in common. We simply need to combine them and emphasize the religious element.

Radical religious terrorism is (1) an illegal use of violence against persons and/or property that is (2) intended to intimidate civilians and/or coerce government and is (3) driven by a freely chosen religious belief system that (4) accepts the use of violence as a justified and/or virtuous means to (5) effect social and/or political goals.

We’ve now stated the problem and said the name. Since the goal is to solve the problem of terrorism, let’s examine the incidents in the United States that fit the definition of radical religious terrorism.

Who commits acts of radical religious terrorism?

To make the data manageable, let’s limit ourselves to events (1) in the twenty-first century consisting of (2) completed attacks (3) in the United States that led to (4) injury and/or death and/or (5) property damage by (6) known perpetrators with (7) stated religious motives and/or allegiances.

Due to extended and repeated coverage by the media, we all know about the attacks by Muslims. We know about the perpetrators, their backgrounds, their beliefs, their connections, and their investigation by local and federal authorities. If we admit only those attacks that fit both the stated definition of radical religious terrorism and the data limitations just stated, there have been eleven instances of radical religious terrorism connected to Islam.

In 2001, the massive attacks on 9/11 were part of al-Qaeda’s declared holy war on the United States.  Similarly, the perpetrators of the shootings at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle (2006), Little Rock’s military recruiting office (2009), and the Fort Hood military post (2009) all declared that their religious beliefs and allegiances motivated their violent actions. In 2013, the Boston Marathon bombers said that they wanted to defend Islam, and the man who committed the beheading at Vaughan Foods (2014) claimed that “Sharia law is coming” to the United State. He had posted a sign online stating “Islam will dominate the world.”

Then, in 2015, the perpetrator of the Chattanooga shootings declared he wanted to become a Muslim martyr; the man who committed the University of California, Merced stabbing attack possessed ISIL propaganda and visited extremist websites in the days leading up to the attack. Similarly, the married couple behind the San Bernadino shooting were, according to FBI Director James Comey, “talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom” before ISIL referred to them as “soldiers of the caliphate.” The next year, in 2016, the shooter in the Orlando nightclub pledged allegiance to the leader of ISIL during that attack, and the shooter at Ohio University was also inspired by ISIL and the Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

I give none of the names of the criminals, because I believe we should not give these murderers the glory they so fervently sought. However, their names are well known through the in-depth and long-term coverage by U.S.mainstream media. The stories of these atrocities have been played and replayed for our consumption – not merely by the media, but by the politicians who seek to use them to further their own ends.

Who else commits acts of radical religious terrorism?

If we apply the same parameters, but broaden our search beyond acts committed by Muslims, there have been seven instances of radical religious terrorism connected to Christianity. Almost all of them were attacks on health clinics that provided abortion services.

In 2000, a Catholic priest drove his car into the Northern Illinois Health Clinic, then chopped at the building with an ax. Similarly, after watching a video of abortions on a Catholic television channel, a man drove a truck into the St. Paul Planned Parenthood clinic on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling in 2009. He then waited for police while holding a crucifix and shouting verses from the Bible. Also in that  year, physician George Tiller – who performed late-term abortions – was murdered by a writer for Prayer & Action News who considered himself a member of the Army of God, a Christian terrorist organization involved in crimes ranging from property damage to murder.

In 2013, a deacon of the evangelical Clearnote Church used an ax to smash windows, doors, and computers at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bloomington, Indiana – an act he attributed to his religious beliefs. In the following year, the perpetrator of the Overland Park Jewish Community Center shooting spree had a long history of anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic statements driven by his reported belief that “White Christians represent the best of our Race” and his desire for “a White Christian state of our own.”

The 2015 mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs was by a self-proclaimed “warrior for the babies” who was an outspoken poster of online religious screeds and who claimed that attacking abortion providers was doing “God’s work.” In 2016, yet another Planned Parenthood clinic was attacked, this time in Columbus by a woman who vandalized the building with an over-sized text reading “SATAN DEN OF BABY KILLERS GOD SEE ALL – MARK 9:42.”

[Wikimedia Commons.]

Seven is obviously less than eleven, but the number of acts is noteworthy. If Mr. Trump is a man of integrity, shouldn’t he be calling for politicians to say the words radical Christian terrorism?

The number of these incidents has been greatly restricted by the limitation to incidents by known perpetrators. When searching for terrorist acts connected to Islam, it became clear to me that the perpetrators were known, their motives were investigated, and they were either killed or apprehended by police. This was not always the case when turning to records of attacks on abortion providers – the target of 86% of the Christian-connected cases discussed above.

Since 2000, there have been four unsolved incidents of arson and two unsolved bombings. Given the clear connection between radical Christian beliefs and the incidents that have been solved, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that these may also have been acts of radical Christian terrorism. If they are, the number of incidents would be thirteen.

The amount of victims can’t compare to the mass amount of murdered individuals on 9/11 alone, but the number of incidents is not insignificant. Is this number telling the whole story?

Looking at the wider picture

The National Abortion Federation has published statistics on “incidents of violence & disruption against abortion providers in the U.S. & Canada.” We are now clearly moving beyond the data limitations set above, but the numbers should give us some sense of the wider issue of radical Christian terrorism, given the fact that – according to religioustolerance.org – “most of the violence [against abortion providers] appears to be mainly criminal activities by individual religiously-motivated individuals acting alone” but also shows “a degree of organization and conspiracy” since the 1990s.

According to the NAF, between 2000 and March 2008 (the end point of their statistics) there were 14 acts of arson, 56 cases of assault and battery, and 494 cases of vandalism, in addition to very high numbers of acts that don’t rise to our definition of terrorism like anthrax threats, stalking, and trespassing. In total, there were 3,080 incidents during the years reported.

Not all of these incidents were in the United States, and not all fit our definition of terrorism. However, even if we only count arson and assault and battery, we still have 70 cases. Since the NAF report doesn’t distinguish between Canada and the United States, let’s assume only half were in the United States (which is probably overly fair, given the American religious scene). We still have 35 incidents, which is far greater than the number of Islam-related attacks for the same period.

The fudge, you say

At this point, the thinking reader will point out that I’ve fudged what sort of data I’m discussing. The thinking reader is, as always, absolutely correct.

We started with a clear definition of radical religious terrorism and found examples connected to both Islam and Christianity. The problem is that there is a great difference between how Islam- and Christian-related acts are viewed in American society.

In general, right-leaning media outlets and politicians are comfortable using the term radical Islamic terrorism but never use the term radical Christian terrorism. It was reported last month that the Trump administration sought to change the “Countering Violent Extremism” program to “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” therefore removing non-Muslim extremists as forces to be countered. Reuters pointed out that this change “would reflect Trump’s election campaign rhetoric and criticism of former President Barack Obama for being weak in the fight against Islamic State and for refusing to use the phrase ‘radical Islam’ in describing it” – exactly the campaign issue addressed at the opening of this article. The problem is being stated and named, but only in regards to one religion. The other religion is being actively erased.

In contrast, left-leaning media outlets and politicians are uncomfortable using either the term radical Islamic terrorism or the term radical Christian terrorism – unless the latter is brought up to criticize the hypocrisy of right-wing obsession with the extremists of one religion and simultaneous disavowal that the other religion can have extremists at all.

And there is the nub of the problem. Many before me have pointed out that, when a Muslim commits an act of violence, the media and politicians are quick to point to Islam as the motivating factor. When a Christian commits a parallel crime, the same pundits refuse to even entertain the idea of belief as motivator and immediately turn to the tropes of the mentally ill loan wolf.

Yet there may be a locus of mental illness and lone-wolfishness that makes one particularly susceptible to radicalization by the extreme ends of any religion. Despite our current national dialogue, the fact that someone is struggling with personal issues in no way negates the influence of radical religion on their chosen actions.

The problem is that, in the case of Islam, mental illness is almost portrayed as part of the religion itself – someone like Trump talks about the religion as if the faith itself were a sickness, and that is exactly why the term radical Islamic terrorism can be so inflammatory and divisive; it tends to be heard as an indictment of all practitioners.

The reason I widened the scope when discussing radical Christian terrorism is that we are faced with a lack of journalistic and political will to address the issue in the same way we face incidents involving Muslim criminals. Beyond that, we are faced with what seems to be a lack of will of law enforcement to devote the same forces and attention to tracking down those who commit crimes against abortion providers as they do to, for example, those who commit crimes against military recruitment offices.

Almost every case involving Islam results in death or arrest of the perpetrator, everything about the incident is covered in detail by the media, and national-level politicians speak out to condemn the violence. In the cases involving violence against abortion providers – clearly the central target of Christian violence – we find many crimes that go unsolved, are only reported at the local level, and receive no comment from major politicians.

Without this attention, it is difficult to say for certain whether the incidents were motivated by Christian beliefs. So, we are left to examine statistics provided by advocacy groups and wonder what’s really going on.

What can we do about all this?

The old argument by all religionists is that no true Muslim or Christian would commit these violent acts. The fact remains that the specific incidents detailed above were all committed by people who were very open about their religious beliefs as the motivation for their actions.

The dictum in religious studies is that we can never truly know what another person believes; we can only go by what they do and what they say. So, if an individual blows up an abortion clinic and says he did it because God wants him to save the babies and scare women away from visiting the clinic, that’s all we have to go on. That means that the person who committed the act is a radical Christian terrorist. It doesn’t mean that all Christians are terrorists or that all Christians believe in violence as a means of expressing their beliefs. It simply means that this person committed this act and stated that his religious beliefs were a motivating force.

So, we all need to be honest and fair. We need to be able to say that religion plays a role in violence, and not always run to the excuse of mental illness. We need to be willing to say this, regardless of which religion is involved in a specific case.

But we can’t do this alone. We need our media and our politicians to focus on all cases where religion may be involved, and to report and talk about and prosecute them equally. Specifically, since abortion providers are the preferred target of Christian violence, we need to shine a light on these crimes and bring them to the same national attention and level of investigation that we do for other terrorist activities. Only then can we know what’s really going on.

Religion can be a wonderful solace to the individual in need. A religious community can provide support for the person who would otherwise suffer alone.

Religion can also be a dangerous enabler for the individual looking for a violent outlet. A religious community can enable the worst instincts of the person who might otherwise never take up a weapon.

All of us need to face the dark corners of our wider religious communities, rather than simply declare that the extremists have nothing to do with us. We must examine what we ourselves are putting out into the world with our own rhetoric, personal conversations, and public statements. We all must ask if we are sending messages that can be picked up and interpreted – rightly or wrongly – as calls to violence.

If we are not willing to do any of this, our own loved ones may be the next ones taken away in body bags.

 

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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.

Column: Come Gather ‘Round People

Fri, 2017-03-24 16:24

I have trouble watching Cabaret, the 1966 musical that choreographer Bob Fosse would direct in an Academy Award-winning film 1972. It’s a scary work of art.  Cabaret is set in the Berlin of the Weimar Republic in 1931, a city and time at the height of a joie d’vivre during a wave of liberal attitudes; resplendent with what we might think of as libertine or even Pagan approach to life and sex. The film opens with the catchy song Wilkommen by the carnivalesque master of ceremonies singing:

Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!
Fremde, étranger, stranger
Glücklich zu sehen,
Je suis enchanté,
Happy to see you,
Bleibe, reste, stay.

The words are hallmarks of hospitality, but the moment is pregnant with a tremendous dread that would culminate in the Holocaust. No matter how I use the film in class or workshops, no matter how much I enjoy the music, that gravid terror always looms for me. Some of my ancestors fled Nazi Germany; and if I had been alive then and there, there’s little chance I would have seen the end of World War II.

I recognize the fiction of Cabaret, and yet that ominous backdrop of a changing world that is inexorably shifting to the right echoes in our present moment. Now to be clear, this is not an opinion essay about President Trump and what his administration will unleash, might unleash or is unleashing. I lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and through ACT-UP, I learned what we are capable of in resisting callous administrations. We overcame, for example, the Reagan administration’s convenient blindness from regressive fervor while they witnessed hundreds of thousands — later millions — literally die around us. This essay is not about the current cabal of White House stooges and their myopic and hypocritical allies in Congress.

This essay — I hope — is about a shift away from the Enlightenment values that undergird the modern civil and secular society in which most of us live. It is important to us because all modern Neopaganism is rooted in the Enlightenment. I am certainly aware that many of our traditions invoke a lineage that predates the 17th century, but the Enlightenment is itself a culmination of political backlash against conservative forces that dictated not just social order but also the dominance of religion in controlling action as well as thought.

One major accomplishment of the Enlightenment is that it marginalized fanaticism. The period ushered in the elements of deism, the religious perspective that the universe is knowable through reason but also in concert with the presence of deity. This weakened institutions that demanded subservience and obedience. With that, the period also piloted in a worldview that personal discernment was a powerful force for learning about our world and ourselves.

[Photo Credit: Bonnie Jacobs via Wikimedia]

As the Enlightenment raged the values of dissent, self-expression, personal enterprise and thoughtful criticism were enshrined as modern ideals. The Declaration of Independence, for example, is imbued with Enlightenment ideals. These views and ideals tore at the dominance of the religious establishment in the West and validated other ways of understanding the universe as well as living an ethical life. The Enlightenment opened the well that made — in my opinion — modern Paganism possible: it heralded our Risorgimento.

But now, a backlash has begun. We are witnessing something more complicated than a retaliation against intellectualism and reason. The de-funding of the National Endowment of the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts are the first projected casualties of that war. The NEH and NEA are the modern homes of Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Melpomene, Terpsichore and Thalia, six of the nine inspirational goddesses of Hellenic religion. Solon, the Athenian poet and statesman, saw them as necessary for a good life and a good society. Clearly, destroying the muses leads to ignorance and a people easily controlled by aristocrats.

Other Pagan values are being assaulted. We are witnessing revulsion toward hospitality, consensus and inclusion, and a dismantling of the institutions charged with protecting the Earth. In a way, I feel that we are witnessing the manifestations of spiritual warfare against that Pagan resurgence.

“Spiritual warfare” is a precise term of art. It is a Christian concept referring to resisting and rebelling through prayer, anointing, exorcism and other techniques against preternatural evil forces that embolden and underpin Satanic control of the world. It is the use of techniques like exorcism that validate Christian authority over evil, as well as serve as badges of righteousness. Ephesians 6:10-18 describes the components of the armor of God — belief, righteousness truth, etc. — in preparation for spiritual battle to promote faith salvation and, ironically, peace. Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians underscore their responsibility to dominate evil by pointing to Matthew 12:27-29: “And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions, unless he first ties up the strong man?”

You, dear reader, are that strong man.

The logic of spiritual warfare has been used to subdue idolatry from ouija boards to Native American art to awens; and, of course, more famously, in the hunt and murder of women accused of witchcraft. The arsenal of spiritual warfare was invoked in the 1980s during the Satanic panic episodes of unsubstantiated ritual abuse. It use has a single objective: power.

That has set the stage for the present. The rise in liberal and secular values has been framed as an assault on the spiritual welfare of a Christian majority. While this is certainly not the philosophical position of many Christians, especially the many from liberal denominations and orders within Christianity, a vocal minority of Christian evangelicals from nondenominational traditions are decrying what they perceive is a conspiracy to suppress their beliefs, and that capitulating to that conspiracy is nothing less than rebellion against the divine. Just as there is no such thing as persecution of Christians in the West, there is no conspiracy to subvert Christianity, but the utility of that myth is not lost to evangelical leaders.

Like in Lord of the Flies, paranoia and the belief in demonic council have led to a societal retreat from reason through the fabrication of a mythic “beast” that is lurking on the island. The fictional beast is slowly adopted as reality and used to establish control and obliterate anti-authoritarian opposition, ultimately with violent consequences. That cautionary tale of tribalism is slowly becoming a documentary of reality.

You, dear reader, are also that beast.

The spiritual warfare must not relent. I have heard “I’ll pray for you” far too many times this year. It’s not a sentiment of concern, it’s an aggression, and it must be clearly and unquestionably labeled as such. Aggressive prayer is not intended as a compassionate action but rather a violent one; an action where who I am is obliterated and replaced with a “believer” who champions a specific brand of Christianity. It may be something between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives. “I’ll pray for you” is as much code for “we’re watching” as it is for a spiritual militaristic operation. It underscores our otherness and a deep distrust of our non-conformity. It says nothing less than “you are targets.”

I’ve also witnessed a rise in propaganda. Driving to a festival this past weekend, every billboard for almost 100 miles was reinforcing that submission to Christianity is the only choice for a constructive society and eternal life. One cautioned that being anti-God is a form of treason. Another one showed Jesus’ return that is prophesied in the Revelation, only this time with Marines, tanks and weapons of war. To Pagan eyes, they also said, “You are a danger.”

These are far cries from the central ministry of peace that Jesus taught, yet they now pervade the consciousness of many fundamentalist strands of Christianity, especially those with little to no history in managing diverse populations in their communion. These are far cries from the central ministry of peace that Jesus taught, yet, they now pervade the consciousness of many a Christian.

Most disturbingly, there has been a rise in anti-Semitism hallmarked by violence.  These are attacks on all communities of faith, including ours. They are nothing short of abomination.

Now, while the memories bound in my DNA from my ancestors are whispering that these are becoming dangerous times, they are also whispering that fundamentalism — in any religion — is an illness worthy of compassion. Solutions to fundamentalism like satire, education, shaming, pity and reason have been consistently failing, but I do remain resolute that Enlightenment values will guide us to solutions.

Apollo and the Muses by Baldassarre Peruzzi [public domain].

Principal in manifesting those values is our interfaith work. I am convinced that we must bring our interfaith work more solidly to our forefront. The challenge of any religion is to avoid looking inwardly to the point of blindness.

Now, I should say, that I’m personally terrible at interfaith work, but I try. I am far too quick to have my eyes glaze over when Abrahamic dogma is presented as singular, universal truth. I’m no good at prayer breakfasts, trust me, yet I also know so many nuns and sisters eager for dialogue. Not for conversion, but for conversation. They want to better understand the complexity of faith and the human experience. They are both a blessing as well as a counter pole to the religious fundamentalism pervading American evangelicalism.

These women highlight that our dialogue is not just worthwhile, but that in these times, it is critical. They recognize that interfaith does not mean just talking among different strands of Abrahamic religions and denominations; they strive for inter-religious dialogue. We might do well — on a personal level — to consider all invitations for such dialogue, accepting every opportunity as a gift from our muses. They are powerful allies, and we can add our own powerful resources. We can support and honor our Pagan elders who engage in interfaith dialogue by learning from their tremendous experience in the conducting such complicated yet essential work. They not only possess astounding experience and commitment but they also carry tremendous wisdom. Their knowledge, skill and work are forging stronger, more diverse communities of faith that are both wiser and safer.

I’m not disheartened, but I am concerned. The social climate feels like it has turned more severely against us, but we have the tools and wisdom in our community to turn that tide. It is an act of bravery to reveal oneself as Pagan, and an added act of courage to go further into interfaith work. I also think that bravery and courage are blessings we have in abundance.

Wir sagen
Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret.

*   *   * 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.

Quest for a golden goddess sweeps Cornwall

Thu, 2017-03-23 11:35

CORNWALL, UK – A real-life treasure hunt for a mystical prize of gold and jewels, cast in the shape of a goddess, is about to take place. “The Quest for the Golden Goddess Mia” will be staged across the magical landscape of Cornwall, in Great Britain from April 8-9, 2017.

This event is being held to support the launch of a new book by writer and archeologist, Jacqui Wood. Her book Cliff Dreamers is a pre-historic fantasy novel set 6,000 years ago. It tells the story of a goddess named Mia, who will changes the face of Stone Age Europe. Wood uses her expert knowledge of the history of the time to bring her characters to life, and to set the stage for the four books that will follow in this series.

Jacqui Wood with “Mia” figurine [Photo Credit:Dodie Graham McKay]

Wood has previously written two books on prehistoric cooking, Tasting the Past: British Food from the Stone Age to the Present and Prehistoric Cooking. Both books are informed by her work as an experimental archaeologist and researcher.

She is best known in Britain and across Europe for her numerous television appearances demonstrating ancient cooking techniques. Wood also served as food historian on the much loved and highly acclaimed British archaeology TV series Time Team which was presented by actor and comedian Tony Robinson.

Closer to home, Wood is director of Saveock Water Archaeology. This research centre and field school features its own multi-period excavation site, where students and amateurs can learn how to dig. This facility is located on the land where Wood lives, and was also once the site of an iron-age roundhouse – one that she has meticulously reconstructed.

The name Saveock Water refers to the 17th century hamlet that once stood on the land now occupied by Wood, her work, and her home. This is a relatively modern chapter to the expansive history of this small patch of land in Cornwall, near the city of Truro.

Witch pits dig site at Saveock Water [Photo Credit: Dodie Graham McKay]

The journey to being published as a fantasy writer began when Cliff Dreamers was written 14 years ago. “I had never written fiction before, but I started Cliff Dreamers on the 25th October and by 11th January I had finished the book of 150,000 words” said Wood in an exclusive interview with The Wild Hunt

“It just flowed from my fingers as I typed and had a life of its own.”

Visitors and students to her dig site became enthralled by the stories, but finding a publisher for her book became the next big hurdle.

“I printed a few copies to give to my archaeology students while they were on my dig for feedback,” Wood explained. “My dig is not exclusive to university students so people of all ages would come for a dig holiday from all over the world. I would give them the book to read.”

“I went down the conventional route of literary agent and publisher, but no one was interested. So I just kept writing them anyway as I sort of felt I had to get the story out.”

It was the enthusiasm of the people who read the stories that led to the first Quest, which was held in October 2007. At the time, she had hoped that this event would create enough media and public interest to attract publishers. The fans were so committed that they donated the gold, diamonds, and precious stones that were used to make the goddess figurine that is Mia.

Wood, who was recently divorced, contributed her wedding ring and diamonds from her engagement ring to the cause.

“We did not know what sort of figurine to make,” Wood remembers. “Then I had a dream at the time, of what she would look like, and sent a drawing of it to my brother-in-law, Kif Wood a brilliant craftsman and guitar maker, to make it.”

The Mia figurine, made of gold and encrusted with diamonds and gems was valued at £10,000 in 2007. Despite the value of the treasure and hard work of the organizers, there was little to no media attention, and the adventure did not attract as many participants as she had hoped.

In the end, the prize was won, and the golden goddess Mia went home with the lucky winners, who were local to the area. At the time they stated that they were merely guardians of the goddess, and that they could not truly own her.

And then, one day when Wood was doing a public presentation, she saw the winners again.

“Five years later I was giving a talk on my dig and two of the winners came up to me and said I should have her back for another quest, as she needed a new adventure, and the book was still not published,” explained Wood.

And so, the golden figurine of Mia, came back to Wood, and has been waiting with the upcoming quest. While Mia has been waiting, other donations have come in, and Mia has some new jewels.

“Years after the quest I had a Der Spiegel reporter on my dig and she read the book. A few weeks after she went back to Germany I got a parcel with a pair of beautiful diamond and gold earrings as her donation to the next quest, so she has two more diamonds on her skirt now.” said Wood.

Reconstructed roundhouse at Saveock Water [Photo Credit: Dodie Graham McKay]

Mia has even inspired a promotional short film, created, and donated by friends of Wood’s as a way to help get the word out. Shot on location at Saveock Water, the film features the roundhouse and the image of Mia herself.

Details on how to participate can be found on the Quest For the Golden Goddess Mia Facebook page. Participation is limited to 24 teams, and you must sign up in advance. There is no fee for the quest, and registration is on a first come, first served basis.

The Mia quest will begin at the world-renowned Eden Project on April 8, and participants will need to solve clues and follow them out and across the Cornish countryside. Day One will consist of five clues, ending at 6:00 pm. Participants will have the evening to rest and plan for the next day and the final three clues.

The first team back to the Eden Project on Sunday afternoon will be presented with the golden figurine of Mia in a closing ceremony at 4:30 pm that day.

Wood has big dreams for the money that could be earned from her books. The archaeological site on her property in Cornwall is abundant with layer upon layer of rich history and artifacts. The funding to excavate the site is based on whatever she can raise herself, often through the offering of workshops, presentations, and her field school. The proceeds from the sale of her books will also go toward further digging of the site.

The Pagan history of the place is compelling. It was here that Wood first uncovered the international headline-grabbing “Witch Pits.” These exciting series of finds began appearing in 2003 and revealed a tradition of Witchcraft-related ritual activity that dates back at least 350 years. Contained in these pits are animal bones, feathers, eggs, and hides, along with human hair, quartz crystals and, in one case, a piece of broken cauldron. They are believed to be fertility charms in some cases, and curses in others.

The most recent pit was dated to the 1970’s, and it is reasonable to believe that whoever buried the pit could still be alive, or at least a relative of that person could be in the area, and have a memory of what the pits meant.

Parts of the site that have been uncovered so far appear to be some kind of ancient Pagan temple or ritual site, complete with a crystal hearth or altar and a series of ritual bathing pools. But the large size of the site makes it expensive, time-consuming, and labour intensive to excavate.

“If the story of the heart in this quest spreads, the book will sell, and I will be in a position to fund my excavation on my Stone Age ritual dig and make its energy available again as it was 6,000 years ago” says Wood hopefully.

“The publishing deal I have for Cliff Dreamers is just for that book, so I hope if it takes off like it should, I will easily find a publisher for the next four I have finished already.”

Cliff Dreamers is being published by Austin Macauley Publishers and will be released on March 31.

The high-risk digital world of occult sales and psychic services

Wed, 2017-03-22 12:05

TWH –The explosion of online platforms has been a boon to many in the polytheist and Pagan communities who can now sell crafts, books, and esoteric services more easily than ever before. At the same time, owners of all-sized businesses must be able to accept electronic payments in an increasingly cash-free society. Sometimes, vendors fall afoul of rules against the sale “occult” items or “fortune-teller” services, which now seems to be near-ubiquitous in the industry’s user agreements.

[Photo Credit: Rosenfeld Media]

The Witchery is such an online business. Its owner, who declined to give a name, was unaware that the popular processor Square is one of those no-occult zones.

In a Facebook post Wichery’s owner, who is a “practicing hedge witch with Hoodoo influences,” recounted being notified of the Square’s decision to cancel the business account.  It was reportedly based on the fact that businesses are “prohibited by Section 6 of the Square Merchant User Agreement,” the most relevant section of which appears to be accepting payments in connection with “occult materials.”

One interesting variant in the regulation of occult sales is the broad text found in the terms for Dwolla, another online payment platform. That site simply forbids “activity that indicates, in Dwolla’s sole discretion, that there may be a high level of risk associated with you.”

The notable exception to the problem often faced by occult merchants is PayPal, which has become a safe harbor of sorts.

When The Wild Hunt reported on Square’s terms of service seven years ago, bloggers were largely giving it the benefit of the doubt, saying that “this is boilerplate text supplied by the credit card companies, and was most likely penned to protect them from liability in cases of fortune-telling scams.”

Indeed, the verbiage used in the Square terms of service today is reflected in that of many other providers, often down to paragraph numbering. The question on whether or not the rules will be enforced has since become clear: violation of those terms can and has led to account termination.

“I think if Square had terminated accounts several years ago before there were 10 other services just like it there would have been more impact,” observed Charissa Iskiwitch of the Pagan Business Network.

“The general consensus in the conversations I participated in years ago was they were attempting to give themselves an out for fortune-tellers.”

In the years since Pagans first raised concerns over the Square terms, selling platform updates also resulted in tightened rules that targeted mostly intangible religious and magical services. The most consequential of these were likely eBay in 2012 and then Etsy in 2015.

As a consequence, vendors must jump through additional hoops to use these convenient services: wording that downplays or specifically disclaims any supernatural benefit, the providing of some kind of “product” in association with a psychic reading (e.g., a copy of the reading in electronic form), or seeking out a high-risk merchant account and continuing openly.

While the cost for a merchant account can be appreciably higher, it is the only viable alternative if tip-toeing around rules presents a philosophical problem. Esoteric service providers may find that downplaying the effectiveness of their work is counterproductive. Not only might potential clients be turned off by the language, it could conceivably erode the power of belief-based magic.

While many people do not fully read online service agreements, a small sampling of Pagan purveyors suggests that most of them are aware of the risks. It’s why Valerie Lord won’t open an account with Square. The term “occult” is too broad, and she’s not sure if any of the Pagan items she sells online would count.

“Until they specify what they consider occult items we will either have to keep a backup available or find something else,” she wrote.

[Pixabay]

Jason Barna uses both Square and PayPal at Phoenix Rising Apothecary. He also questioned the lack of a definition for “occult,” and joked that he could run into trouble if his athames and bolines were deemed firearms, which are also forbidden for sale.

These issues were news to Ashley Hunter, and she said she’s worried about how it might impact Pagan Pride celebrations such as the one held in Conway, Ark. that she’s helped run.

“This would definitely have a negative impact on us if we attempted to organize another event in the future,” she said. “Events are kept afloat by vendors that sell things, and most people these days use cards, not cash. It would be very helpful if there was a list of alternate providers that don’t discriminate against witches and Pagans so that we would know who to turn to.”

Bernadette Montana, owner of the brick-and-mortar Brid’s Closet, uses Square and has never had a problem with it, she said, despite the many tarot readings performed at her shop.

Anti-occult terms are something Dominique Smith is well aware of, although she doesn’t feel she can do much about it, “I navigate these issues with nothing more than hope and bubble gum keeping things together.”

“I recognize that in using these platforms, service and my ability to use them may be withdrawn by the provider at anytime without notice,” Smith said. “I’ve been lucky enough that the hammer has not found me and I suspect that when other occult retailers are eventually ‘found out’ it’s because a client has complained directly to the point of sale provider and they are forced to withdraw service to avoid litigation. I believe it would be naive to think that Square in particular has any targeted axe to grind with the occult community and without a doubt they are completely aware that businesses such as mine are using their system.”

However, Smith added that because there are still anti-witchcraft laws on the books in Canada, she and other Canadian entrepreneurs “have a harder road to navigate.”

Some esoteric business owners are calling for members of the community to clean house. Commenting on the announcement from The Witchery, one user wrote, “Until the community starts policing itself and outing the folks selling ‘love sex power’ demons ‘trapped’ in rings for $300 and crap like that no one will take any of us seriously. The scammers are giving everyone a bad name.”

Smith agreed, saying, “If we do not want our communities to be associated with the assumption of fraud, we need to self-regulate. If there are individuals within our community that are committing acts of fraud we need to speak up and that typically doesn’t happen, so by association we are all painted with the same brush.”

The Witchery’s owner will be more careful about wording on the web site going forward, and is grateful to have had a backup processor already in place. It was actually only through the process of elimination that the owner determined that it was “occult materials” proviso causing the problem.

For the most part, companies such as these do not respond to customers after such a decision has been made, much less members of the press. An inquiry sent to Square’s press office did not receive a reply by press time.

Psychic Amanda Linette Meder did succeed in getting a favorable response from Stripe in 2012, leading to the conditional approval of her account with that processor. Meder opined at the time that this unfairly inflates the cost of psychic services by increasing the cost of doing business.

On one side, there is the concern about fraud, on the other hand there is the call for religious freedom. The small number of persons affected by these rules may make it difficult to redraw the fine line between the two, unless perhaps all Pagans begin doing business solely with cash.

Pagan ministers debate merits of reintegration

Tue, 2017-03-21 11:25

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Pagan clergy, prison ministers, and members of the Minnesota Sex Offenders Program (MSOP) took part in a panel discussion at a Midwest Pagan conference on Sunday. The panel was created to assist MSOP members in understanding Pagan communities’ concerns and suggestions about reintegrating ex-sex offenders after they have served their prison terms and completed a lengthy rehabilitation process. The discussion also touched on other persons released from incarceration for felony offenses.

Front Row: Ian Keller-Heikkila, Kelly Keller-Heikkila, Rev. Diallo J Mudd, and Don. Back Row: Clio Ajana at Paganicon 2017 [Photo Credit: C. Schulz]

The panel was moderated by Clio Ajana at Paganicon, the yearly Pagan conference held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prison ministry panelists included Ian Keller-Heikkila, a Pagan prison minister since 2004. Her wife Kelly Keller-Heikkila, also a Pagan prison minister. Rev. Diallo J Mudd, representing EOCTO, Don with Mother Earth Ministries and a prison minister in Arizona.

There were two representatives with the MSOP, who requested they not be named or quoted as they had not been given media clearance, who were there in primarily an information gathering function.

The panelists first discussed the need for more Pagan prison ministers as the fastest growing religion in prisons is Paganism. They then outlined why Pagan ministers are needed, in particular, in programs that rehabilitate sex offenders.

“Many rehabilitation programs are faith based and you need to accomplish extra steps to be released,” said Don. He noted the lack of Pagan clergy meant that those offenders who had embraced Paganism weren’t able to complete those steps while Christians had extensive resources.

Those challenges don’t end once ex-inmates of any type leave prison. In most states, ex-felons can’t have any contact with the clergy that ministered to them while in prison. They have to find new clergy and new Pagan groups to join. Yet many Pagan groups shun ex-felons, and that is especially true of ex-sex offenders.

One of the audience members was a former prison inmate. He said that he’d been out of prison for ten years and remembers how badly he needed to find a spiritual home. He said that he was always open and honest about his incarceration and finally found a Michigan- based group that welcomed him.

“For those who have never done a day in your life, when you walk into a Pagan event you are shunned. Most of the time you aren’t given a chance,” he related.

Concerns raised
One audience member pointed out that Pagans often meet in peoples’ homes rather than in public places. Another said some Pagans have already encountered predators and, as a group leader, they want to make sure they won’t be re-victimized.

Ian Keller-Heikkila responded, “When you think of a sex offender re-offending, that is very scary. But it’s more likely someone will re-offend if they have no support. If we don’t help them, who will?”

Don noted there is a less than 5% recidivism rate among Pagans incarcerated in Arizona. National recidivism rates for all federal inmates is at 30.8%.

Other attendees voiced concerns over allowing released sex offenders to take part in clothing optional events or be around children.

Panelists stressed that not all sex offenders are child molesters. They may have committed an offense when they were 12 years old and are now in middle age and haven’t offended since. Or a violent felon may have committed a crime years or decades earlier, but have been through counseling and are a very different person now from who they were when they entered prison.

Yet Don also said Pagan leaders need to practice discernment in whom they allow to join their groups, “Something as ministers we need to do, we need to listen to our gut feelings. We also need to listen to our congregation. We have to be willing to do the hard things and sometimes that means saying ‘No, you can’t join our group.’ ”

Pagan Prayer Service [Photo Credit: H. Emore]

He also said there are some events that ex-felons, especially ex-sex offenders, shouldn’t be allowed to attend, “If you’ve done the work [during rehabilitation] you won’t put yourself in high risk environments. If you are a high risk sex offender, if you hear of an event that is clothing optional, that is a place that a person who has done the work won’t seek to attend.”

Policy examples
Other attendees seemed more open to the idea of allowing ex-felons in their group. One said that the person needs to notify the leader of their new group and have a frank conversations about the nature of the offense and who they are today as a person. If the leader feels comfortable after that conversation, then they are allowed to join. The initial conversation is kept confidential.

In response to a questions about whether or not Pagan religious leaders are allowed to speak with a released prisoner’s case worker, Rev. Mudd said if the person signs a release form, the case worker can speak with such a leader. He said that this can offer better information toward evaluating whether or not a former prisoner is a good fit for the group.

Kelly Keller-Heikkila is a Pagan religious group leader in addition to her duties as a prison minister. She said her group evaluates every prospective member carefully and doesn’t focus on if they have been previously incarcerated or not. “When a new member wants to join our group we don’t ask if they were in prison, we ask what’s their story.”

She said they see if their story sounds good or if they feel the person is hiding something or if it seems inconsistent with their behavior. They look at the person, not if they have a prison record. “Predators can be men or women and may not have been caught yet.”

Becky Munson, who oversees programming and entertainment for Paganicon, noted Paganicon was one of the first Pagan conferences with an official safety policy. She said Paganicon doesn’t vet attendees, and they do have ex-felons who attend the event.

“Everyone is welcome here as long as they conform to our rules.”

Munson added that they do, however, check the backgrounds of any adult who wishes to present a workshop for children. Ms. Munson said, “You can layer your policy and be mindful of your more vulnerable attendees while still welcoming wider populations.”

Ms. Ajana asked how many attendees’ groups had a written policy on violent offenders and encouraged groups to create one as a best practice.

Resource allocation vs a valuable resource
Panelists and attendees both talked about the challenge of already stretched resources being used for something as time intensive as evaluating and monitoring an ex-felon if allowed into a group. One attendee said if they had to choose between evaluating and working with five non-felons or one felon, they need to use their resources on the people who haven’t been incarcerated for a violent offense.

Rev. Mudd said people have to make the call on whether or not they should deal with the issue at all. However, he said ex-felons can be valuable resources for their community, “We have guys in the prison system who have worked with one God for decades. They have valuable information and experience we need.”

Don agreed. “There’s a Gothi I know who, when he calls Odin, Odin is there!”

The Pagan prison ministers summed up what they hope attendees will take back to their groups. They said most ex-felons want to be open and honest about their background, but our community needs to do our part. “Our community needs to do our own shadow work. We need to stand up and say we will welcome them,” said Ian Keller-Heikkila.

Pagan Community Notes: Interfaith Partners of SC, Pagans in the Park, Claire Hamilton and more!

Mon, 2017-03-20 09:40

COLUMBIA, S.C. — After the rise in reported cases of vandalism and threats made against U.S. Jewish Community Centers and temples, the Interfaith Partners of South Carolina (IPSC) took immediate action and reached out to the area’s Jewish community. Pagan priestess Holli Emore is on the board of IPSC and attended a February meeting between the organization and a local JCC management team.

“As it happens, they are very worried, as nearly all JCCs are, about enrollment for the summer children’s programs. Without that income, their budget becomes very challenging, and without being able to serve children, there goes their mission, too,” said Emore. The JCC representatives informed IPSC’s board that Jewish centers around the country have had “so many parents pull their children out of the preschool that they are facing closure.”

In response, the IPSC will being help the local JCC with an April festival to show support to the local Jewish community. Emore said that IPSC is also planning to use the event to promote peace and to recommit to its statement “condemning all acts of hate speech, vandalism or violence.”

Emore is no stranger to interfaith work and has been active with IPSC for many years. In fact, it was her Pagan temple that led ritual events outside the South Carolina statehouse during Interfaith Harmony Month. Last year, she organized an event for IPSC called “Facing Fear in our Houses of Worship,” which was precipitated by the Charleston shootings. The event had special guests, including an FBI specialist, the local sheriff, and a Dept. of Homeland Security person from Washington. Emore said, “The FBI is talking to us about organizing more of these presentations.”

“While it sickens me that we must be putting our energy to such activities,” she went on to say, “I am so gratified to be in a position to organize meaningful dialogue, training and publicity that I hope will help mitigate the current wave of nationalistic hatred that is sweeping the U.S. in a way I’ve not seen in my 60+ years.”

*   *   *

VICTORIA, Aus. — Despite any concerns expressed by Australian Pagans after the release of Robin Fletcher, the local community is not letting the news get in the way of their own celebrations and spiritual work. This past weekend Victoria saw its very first Pagan Pride Day.The event was hosted by the Pagan Collective of Victoria (PCV). It included a picnic, an autumn equinox ritual, short presentations on various traditions, and time to socialize.

According to the website, PCV is “the only non-profit, incorporated association dedicated to providing state-wide community building and networking opportunities for Pagans.” It hosts a variety of events throughout the year, and Pagan Pride is now being added to that robust calendar. Held Mar. 18, the new daylong event was titled Pagans in the Park, a name that corresponds with other PCV events like Pagans in the Pub or Pagans in the Cafe. On the same day, PCV also hosted an evening concert featuring Spiral Dance and KC Guy at a local Melbourne bar.

Ryan McCleod, co-founder of PCV, said, “It was a great success.” Unfortunately, the board’s full report was not ready in time for publication.

*   *   *

LLANDOGO, Wales – Harpist, author and honorary OBOD Bard Claire Hamilton passed away in the latter part of 2016. In the final years of her life, Hamilton was writing a book titled, I, a Child. As described by her family, the unpublished novel is “a symbolic culmination of a lifetime of creative writing and philosophical thinking.” Since her death, they have been raising money to finish and publish I, a Child so it can finally be shared with Hamilton’s fans.

Claire Hamilton is perhaps best known for her musical legacy. Philip Carr-Gomm wrote, “For all those lucky enough to be present at one of Claire’s performances, she will be remembered for her gift of transporting the listener to other worlds, carried upon the beauty of her harp and the magic of her voice.”

Her bardic talents did not rest with music; she was a published writer and storyteller, specifically focusing on Celtic, Greek, and Arthurian mythology. Hamilton published more than seven books on these varied topics. The book I, a Child is a novel and, as noted on the crowdfunding page, Hamilton’s family intends to “send a copy of I, a Child to each contributor to this campaign once it is published.”  What is remembered, lives.

In other news

  • Pagan Spirit Gathering, the largest outdoor Pagan week-long festival, has announced its 2017 presenters. The featured authors include Jason Mankey, River Higginbotham, Laura Tempest Zakroff, and Kathryn Hinds; the featured musicians are Damh the Bard, Spiral Rhythm, Tempest and Nathanial Jonstone, S.J. Tucker, Arthur Hinds, and Sentinel Grove. “We are looking forward to celebrating summer solstice and Pagan community with this wonderful convergence of Pagan authors, musicians, and performers!” said PSG and Circle Sanctuary founder, Rev. Selena Fox. PSG will be held, once again, at Tall Tree Lake in southern Illinois, from June 18-25.
  • The presenters for the non-academic track of new indoor summer conference Mystic South have also been announced. The featured guests include Byron Ballard, Orion Foxwood, Katrina Messenger, Dorothy Morrison, and the band Tuatha Dea. Other presenters who will be on hand include John Beckett, Jason Mankey, Laura Tempest Zakroff, and Anomolous Thracian. As a side note, The Wild Hunt will be at the Atlanta-based event and is hosting a Thursday evening pre-conference meet and greet for all presenters and attendees. In addition, several TWH writers will be presenting, including managing editor Heather Greene, columnist Manny Tejeda-Moreno, and news writer Dodie Graham McKay.
  • Author Alex Bledsoe has just released the latest novel, titled Gather Her Round, in his popular Tufa series.The book’s write-up reads, “In Cloud County, where music and Tufa, the otherworldly fae community, intermix, a monster roams the forest, while another kind of evil lurks in the hearts of men.” Bledsoe tells another story infused with mountain magic. It is the 5th book in the series that began with the The Hum and the Shiver in 2011.
  • Organizers of Canada’s annual Pagan conference are getting ready for their May event. This year, Gaia Gathering will be held in Calgary and is sponsored by the Calgary Pagan Pride Society. National Board chair Jennifer Taylor wrote, “I want to encourage anyone that may be on the fence about attending to take the risk and just do it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anyone or up are super introverted. We are your tribe! We will smile, shake your hand and maybe even hug you as our way of welcoming you.” This year Gaia Gathering will be held at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Centre from May 19-22.
  • The Salt Lake Pagan Society is calling for submissions for its 2017 edition of Enheduanna, a Pagan international literary journal published annually each Samhain. The editors explain, “The journal is named in honor of the first poet of history, Enheduanna, who lived in ancient Sumer 4500 years ago.” Submissions are due by May 1. For those interested, more information is on the website.
  • Lastly, Happy Birthday to the Atlantis Bookshop. The London-based store is celebrating 95 years of serving the world’s occult community.

Geraldine at work in Atlantis Bookshop [Photo: the Gentle Author/Spitalfields Life spitalfieldslife.com].

A blessed spring equinox

Sun, 2017-03-19 09:38

This week marks the celebration of the vernal (spring) equinox and the astronomical beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. The actual equinox occurs Mar. 20 at 6:29 am EDT (10:29 UTC). At the same time in the southern hemisphere, it will be the autumnal equinox, and the beginning of the fall season.

[Photo: J. Pitzl.]

Many Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists celebrate the spring equinox as Ostara, Lady Day, Shubun-sai, or simply the coming of spring. Within their own varied and diverse traditions, they find ways to honor or recognize the warming days and renewed growth, as winter makes its slow departure.

In addition, Apr. 1 brings the celebration, so to speak, of April’s Fools Day, which reportedly has roots dating back to the 1500s in Europe. In 1957, the BBC published its famous spoof video documenting Switzerland’s early Spring spaghetti crop. The video reportedly garnered mixed reactions. If nothing else, the video demonstrates the levity that the season can bring.

While the exact roots of April Fool’s Day are unknown, there is some speculation that the tradition is tied to the spring equinox with the season’s changeable weather and unpredictable weather patterns. In addition the day has also been linked to the story of life’s journey found in the progression of the major arcana of traditional tarot. April corresponds to the first card, the Fool, which is considered the point of life’s beginnings.

Other early springtime festivals and holidays celebrated include Holi or the Hindu festival of color, Higan in Japan, the Naw-Rúz or New Year in the Baha’i faith, the Christian Easter, and Purim and then Passover in the Jewish tradition. There are many others both secular and religious.

The spring equinox also marks the beginning of the U.S. Pagan festival season with the opening of Equinox in the Oaks held in Florida. While much of the country is still shaking off winter and even experiencing snow, Florida’s early spring weather is ideal for an outdoor camping and ritual event. Equinox in the Oaks, now in its third year, launches the festival season, which then expands north across the country as temperatures rise and winter recedes completely.

Here are some quotes celebrating the seasonal holiday….

“However March manifests, it’s one of my favorite months of the year. The Earth feels like she is taking a long, languid stretch after the cold winter. Life begins to stir. It’s time to till the soil, to plant seeds, to make ready for the growing season.” – Susan Harper in Energizing Ostara!

“There’s no way to know how the ancient Anglo-Saxons would have felt about [Eostre], but to me she strongly retains the dawn goddess imagery. Crowned by the light of the rising sun, she ushers in the day. And what is spring but dawn writ large? As Pagans and Heathens, much of our concept of time runs in circles rather than in a straight line. Straddling the gap between day and night, summer and winter, Eostre is the goddess who turns the wheel from dark to light.” – Molly Khan in Eostre, Most Popular Goddess in the Pantheon.

“To start with, I need to remember that my relationships with the natural world are as important as my relationships with the spiritual beings who share it with me. Animism is one of the key foundations of the religion I practice. Everything has a spirit – or perhaps, is a spirit. Everything is properly understood as a person to whom we can relate, not as an object for us to exploit as we see fit.” – John Beckett in Reimagining Ostara

“With kids, employment, the house, and so much more, celebrations in my family need to be thought of well in advance if they are going to happen, […] There are several things I’ll do leading up to any of our holidays, reminding me on a daily basis of the turning Wheel of the Year, and the ongoing life we enjoy. For many of them (including Ostara), changes to the house décor (usually some decorations) and to the family altar presage a coming holiday. I also change my computer background to something related to the coming holiday as well – mostly because it is something I see often in my day to day life.” – Humanistic Paganism from The Spring Equinox Approaches

“A large part of the work at Druid College is teaching our apprentices how to re-weave the connection to the land each and every day. We cover a wide-range of topics in doing so, from conscious consumerism, political, and environmental activism, daily and seasonal ritual celebrations and more. Our focus from our last weekend was on daily connection, how we can bring everyday actions into our practice, to make the mundane sacred; indeed, to highlight the fact that there is no such thing as the mundane. It’s only in our perception.” –  Joanna van der Hoeven in Re-weaving the Connection Every Day

[Photo Credit: H. Greene.]

However you celebrate or honor this seasonal change, happy holidays to you from our family to yours!

Column: Animism and the Eternal Recurrence of Myth

Sat, 2017-03-18 12:43

The fourth century C.E. Neoplatonist Sallustius, a friend of the Roman Emperor Julian (who revoked Christianity’s status as state religion and attempted to revive polytheist worship), wrote in On the Gods and the Cosmos that the myths told in religious initiations “never happened, but always are,” and that “as the myth is in accord with the cosmos, we for that reason keep a festival imitating the cosmos, for how could we attain higher order?” (section 4) Sallustius wrote that myths which mix both psychic and material interpretations particularly “suit religious initiations, since every initiation aims at uniting us with the world and the gods.”

Kybele [Public Domain]

As an example of a “mixed” psychic and material myth, he cites the story of Kybele and Attis, putting forth the interpretation that Kybele “is the principle that generates life,” that Attis “is the creator of all things which are born and die,” and that “the creator who makes these things casts away his generative powers into the creation and is joined to the gods again.” Kybele’s priests, the Galli or Gallai (the latter term, of feminine linguistic gender, found in a fragment of Callimachus), were known for re-enacting Attis’ self-castration in their own ecstatic rituals.

There is also a cave in at Hierapolis in Phrygia, of which Daniel Ogden writes in Greek and Roman Necromancy: “The … fumes supposedly killed all but eunuch-priests (galli) and mystery-initiaties. As an initiate, Damascius ventured into the cave in the sixth century A.D., and subsequently dreamed that he was the gallus Attis, that he had been ordered by the mother of the gods to celebrate the Hilaria, and that he had been delivered from Hades.” (26) Damascius’s experience shows that even for non-galli, the myth had the power to re-enact itself in the realm of underworld-connected caves and dreams.

The connections between myth and mystery initiation run even deeper, however. Following Gregory Nagy, Richard P. Martin writes in “The Myth Before Myth Began:”

The root underlying the noun form muthos is that found in the Greek verb muô meaning ‘to close’ the eyes or mouth. From the same root we have the words mystêrion (mystery) and mystês (initiate), in both of which the notions of closure, and of being closed off or excluded, are operative. (4)

Furthermore, in Homeric poetry, μῦθος had the connotation of “authoritative utterance,” specifically a “unitary speech-act term comprising subcategories of rebuke, command, and recollection.” (2) Thus, it should come as no surprise that myths do indeed continue to unify speech and action, to violently reenact themselves in the material world and then to be recollected through storytelling.

Hermes slaying Argos, rawing of fifth-century B.C.E. Athenian vase [Public Domain]

Argeiphontes

Argos was a hundred-eyed giant, surnamed Panoptes: all-seeing. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Zeus transformed his lover Io into a milk-white heifer in the hopes of deceiving Hera, but when Hera asked for the cow to be given to her as a gift, Zeus acquiesced. Hera then set Argos as a guard over Io.

Argos was well-suited to the task, for he closed only two of his eyes at a time, “whilst all the others kept on watch and guard. Whichever way he stood his gaze was fixed on Io—even if he turned away his watchful eyes on Io still remained.” The Panopticon prison of Jeremy Bentham, much discussed by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish, is named after Argos Panoptes, for it operates by the principle that the prisoner never knows when they are being watched, and thus must regulate their own behavior as if they were being watched at all times.

Zeus, unwilling to act openly himself, sent his son Hermes to liberate Io. In Ovid’s version, Hermes lulls Argos to sleep with a long story and a touch of his magic wand, then kills Argos with his sword: “and one night filled his hundred eyes.” Henceforth, Hermes was known by the epithet Argeiphontes, “slayer of Argus.”

The helicopter program of Oakland Police Department is also named ARGUS (Aerial Reconnaissance Ground Unit Support). But what happens when you name your helicopter after the bad guy from a Greek myth, especially when you use it to surveil and terrorize the black and brown communities of Oakland, California?

In October 1973, the August Seventh Guerrilla Movement (named for the date of the martyrdoms of Jonathan Jackson, James McClain and William Christmas, whom I wrote about in “Black August”) shot down ARGUS with “two .30-caliber carbine automatic rifles fired from stationary positions on the ground at the armed copter spying on the city from an altitude of about 500 to 600 feet.” The group had previously demanded the release of the San Quentin Six by Sept. 7. In their claim of responsibility, they declared that the downing of the helicopter was a response to the failure of the Department of Corrections to respond to their ultimatum.

Such was the fate that overtook Milo

Milo of Croton, Joseph-Benoît Suvée. [Public Domain]

Milo of Croton was a sixth-century B.C.E. wrestler from Croton, an Achaean colony in Magna Graecia, whose fatal downfall was his pride. Pausanias writes:

He came across in the land of Crotona a tree-trunk that was drying up; wedges were inserted to keep the trunk apart. Milo in his pride thrust his hands into the trunk, the wedges slipped, and Milo was held fast by the trunk until the wolves – a beast that roves in vast packs in the land of Crotona – made him their prey. Such was the fate that overtook Milo. (6.14.8-9)

Far-right internet troll Milo Yiannopoulos attempted to speak at UC Berkeley on Feb. 1, 2017. His talk was shut down by masked individuals who smashed windows of the building he was inside and lit a light generator on fire, engulfing a nearby tree in flames as well.

As I discussed in “War and the Wild Hunt(s),” the scholar Otto Höfler hypothesizes that “the Wild Hunt was possibly the image of brotherhoods that consisted of masked warriors. The mask permitted them to be identified with the dead.” Furthermore, Claude Lecouteux draws parallels between these war bands and “the Latvian werewolves, the name of a secret fraternity of men who could cast Doubles who would fight the wizards who had stolen the seeds.”

The attention caused by “militant direct action” led to the exposure of comments Milo had made about pedophilia, which in turn led to the cancellation of his book deal, the rescinding of his invitation to speak at a conservative conference, and his resignation from Breitbart, where he had been a senior editor. It was the wolves who drew first blood, but it turns out that when the smell of blood is in the air, trolls are cannibals too.

Michael Israel: You Are History. You Are Legend.

Michael Israel. [Photo Credit: Dr Partizan]

At the intersection of antifascism and ancestor veneration, another hero has risen. Michael Israel, of Jackson, Calif., fought with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria against Daesh. On Nov. 29 Israel, an American citizen, was martyred by Turkish warplanes.

Michael’s friend Andee Sunderland recalls that Michael was able to see spirits, and that they reminded him of the reasons why he fought:

At the height of Sacramento’s Occupy movement, he’d become friends with an older woman experiencing homelessness. When she died on the streets, it was a gnawing revelation. “One night Mike was driving home and he started seeing her appear to him,” Sunderland remembers. “He’d always seemed kind of haunted to me. … I think during Occupy he was really affected by the terrible things going on in the world.”

Michael Israel was also an avid student of revolutionary history, tracing his lineage back to the Spanish Civil War:

In 2012 Israel met Delmer Berg, one of the last living survivors of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a volunteer force of Americans that fought in the Spanish Civil War. For Israel, meeting Berg brought a legacy of resistance to life. Later, when Berg passed away, Israel expressed his feelings in a social media post. “RIP Del,” Israel wrote. “You are history. You are legend.”

Now it is Michael who is history, who is legend. Legends, like myths, are lived and are alive, and they grant immortality to those who enact them.

Michael was present at the June 26, 2016 battle between neo-Nazi skinheads and antifascists at the California state capitol building in Sacramento. In response, YPG fighters in Rojava posted a photograph in which they held up the red and black Anti-Fascist Action flag. Antifascists like Michael Israel have traveled to Rojava to fight with the YPG against Daesh, and the Kurds have reciprocated their solidarity.

YPG fighters holding Antifa flag. [Photo Credit: It’s Going Down]

Animism

Sallustius attributes the category of myth that he calls “material” to the Egyptians, among others: “they call the earth Isis, moisture Osiris, heat Typhon, or again, water Kronos, the fruits of the earth Adonis, and wine Dionysus.” Sallustius, being a Neoplatonist, is highly contemptuous of this tendency: “To say that these objects are sacred to the gods, like various herbs and stones and animals, is possible to sensible men, but to say that they are gods is the notion of madmen – except, perhaps, in the sense in which both the orb of the sun and the ray which comes from the orb are colloquially called ‘the sun.'”

Sallustius concedes that like the ray of a sun, the “various herbs and stones and animals” do contain divine essence. He also describes “mixed” myth as being precisely a blend of psychic and material interpretations, so despite his disdain, he does not dismiss the material interpretation of myth entirely.

For animists, however, the understanding that “various herbs and stones and animals” are alive and enspirited in and of themselves is foundational. We find the recognition of animism in stories such as Sigurd learning the speech of birds after tasting the blood of the dragon Fafnir: “when the heart-blood of the worm touched his tongue, straightway he knew the voice of all fowls and heard withal how the wood-peckers chattered in the brake beside him.”

1) Sigurd tasting the dragon’s blood. 2) The birds speaking to Sigurd. [Public domain]

A similar story is told of the prophet Melampous, but rather than killing a dragon, he saves and raises baby snakes:

Before his house there was an oak, in which there was a lair of snakes. His servants killed the snakes, but Melampos gathered wood and burnt the reptiles, and reared the young ones. And when the young were full grown, they stood beside him at each of his shoulders as he slept, and they purged his ears with their tongues. He started up in a great fright, but understood the voices of the birds flying overhead, and from what he learned from them he foretold to men what should come to pass. (Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 1.9.11)

According to both Herodotos and Diodoros Sikeliotes, Melampous introduced the name of Dionysos to the Greeks from the Egyptians, reinforcing Sallustius’s association of Egypt and animism, and also brought the very myths of the gods themselves: “Melampos also, they say, brought from Egypt the rites which the Greeks celebrate in the name of Dionysos, the myths about Kronos and the war with the titans, and, in a word, the account of the things which happened to the gods.” (Diodoros Sikeliotes 1.97.4)

Melampous uses his ability to understand the speech of animals to foretell the collapse of a roof eaten by worms and termites, and to heal the infertility of Iphiklos:

Having sacrificed two bulls and cut them in pieces he summoned the birds; and when a vulture came, he learned from it that once, when Phylakos was gelding rams, he laid down the knife, still bloody, beside Iphiklos, and that when the child was frightened and ran away, he stuck the knife on the sacred oak, and the bark encompassed the knife and hid it. He said, therefore, that if the knife were found, and he scraped off the rust, and gave it to Iphiklos to drink for ten days, he would beget a son. (Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 1.9.12)

Animism necessitates a different worldview, one which recognizes that even the inadvertent the wounding of an oak can lead to the infertility of the one who wielded the knife, that vultures and woodpeckers and worms have important information to tell us, that saving baby snakes can lead to the prophetic gift.

James Leroy Marker. [Photo Credit: Sabal Trail Resistance]

A Lover of the Earth

James “Jim” Leroy Marker, pictured above holding an alligator in front of a manatee statue and smiling widely, clearly understood these truths—and the only way to understand animism is through experience, not through academic theory. Sabal Trail Resistance writes, “We have learned that he was known by friends as a lover of the Earth and humanity, that he was a military veteran, that he participated in environmental/social advocacy, and that he was a father.”

Religiously, Marker was “a missionary to a church in the Everglades serving people who struggle with recovery from drugs and alcohol,” and a friend described him as having decided “that he needed to do God’s work, to help people.” He used to run an extension cord from his RV to a homeless camp, and “if anyone had a big reptile in their yard, ‘like a boa constrictor or an alligator, he’s the one you call.'”

On Feb. 26, 2017, Marker used a rifle to sabotage a Sabal Trail pipeline construction site, a pipeline in Florida that has provoked a widespread campaign of resistance. Despite the local sheriff admitting that “no law enforcement officer was injured or fired at,” Marker was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies. According to Sabal Trail Resistance, he may have timed his action in coordination with a call for indigenous solidarity:

It is believed that he may have chosen the date and location to coincide with a call to action that STR announced to honor the anniversary of the 1973 Wounded Knee Stand-off on the Pine Ridge Reservation and to stop the pipeline from going in the ground through the wetlands and endangered species habitat of Halpata Tastanaki Preserve (a site named after a Seminole leader of the armed resistance that fought U.S. invasion of indigenous communities in the mid-1800s.)

In the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipline (DAPL), the Sacred Stone Camp writes, “When we refer to the pipeline as a black snake, we are referencing an old Lakota prophecy that speaks of a black snake (zuzeca sape) crossing the land, bringing with it destruction and devastation.” Clearly, the struggle against pipelines, whether in Florida or on Lakota and Dakota land, is one of mythic dimensions. As the tales of Sigurd and Melampous show us, some snakes and alligators should be saved, but those of monstrous proportions, such as Fafnir or pipelines, should be killed.

In the downfall of ARGUS, we see the myths of the gods, reenacted. In the end of Milo’s career, and in the struggle of Michael Israel, we see immortalized the legends of the dead, the warriors, and the wolves. In the life and death of James Leroy Marker, we see the sacred truths of the land itself expressing themselves. In all of the Three Kindreds, we find eternal recurrence.

Nietzsche Stone, Switzerland [Photo Credit: Katja Seeliger]

Eternal Recurrence

The concept of eternal recurrence is said to have come to Nietzsche while he was walking along the banks of Lake Silvaplana in Switzerland, when he was struck by inspiration at the sight of a titanic pyramidal rock. He expressed it thus:

What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

If the life of mortals is subject to eternal recurrence, how much more so the living myths, the “authoritative utterances,” the “unitary speech-acts,” the bare bones of life and death and peace and war and truth and falsehood and body and soul? And with them, Dionysos, Zagreus, and the Orphikoi.

In the words of Sallustius, “May these explanations of the myths find favour in the eyes of the gods themselves and the souls of those who wrote the myths.” This article is dedicated to James Leroy Marker and Michael Israel. May they rise in power.

*   *   * 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.

Column: When the Gods Hide in Songs

Fri, 2017-03-17 03:19

In the history of European Paganism and Polytheism, it is known that numerous Pagan concepts, gods, spirits, and ideas remained part of the people’s psyche even long after the beginning of the conversion process. While these figures did not necessarily retain their original religious place and spiritual function over the centuries, many managed to nevertheless survive by being carried on, if not through religious traditions, then through popular culture.

The Norse-Iceland sagas are a good example of this phenomenon. Even though there likely weren’t any Pagan Icelanders around after the 11th century, their descendants kept on compiling, adapting, and writing down tales of Þórr, Óðinn, and countless Pagan heroes all the way to the 20th century. While these figures had left the purely religious sphere of the Icelanders’ worldview, they nevertheless remained latent characters about which tales were told, and even created, until being finally spiritually and religiously brought back in the late 20th century.

Jens Christian Kloster and Gaute Vikdal in Bronze-Age garb at Tromsø’s protestant cathedral [Lyonel Perabo, 2017].

While the gods, the old ways, and everything surrounding them have indeed been brought back to their earlier status by some, there is no doubt that many more individuals still know of them not in a spiritual-religious sense but rather in a cultural one. Nearly anyone in the West can name at least half a dozen deities from the classical Graeco-Roman pantheon, Scandinavians know what a Jötun is, and every Frenchman who read Asterix as a child can name the Gaulish god of thunder, Toutatis.

This underlying Pagan presence within the Western worldview has become increasingly noticeable in the past couple of decades as the global entertainment industry has continued to grow and influence popular culture. While this process is maybe most apparent within visual media such as movies, series, comics, or video games due to the colorful and diverse imagery of the ancient pagan world, one could wonder if a similar process is also taking place within other media such as music.

After all, music has always explored a rich variety of topics, and masterful works such as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or Wagner’s Ring Cycle have managed to sublimate ancient myths and concepts. Yet such examples do not really fit into what one could be called popular culture per se. They cater instead more to the intellectual and cultural elites of their times. Those songs represent a learned tradition that, even given time, will likely not slip back into the general culture to an extant similar to “genuinely” popular music designed by and for the general public.

To illustrate this point, one could compare Stravinsky’s and Wagner’s works with highly introspective and hermetic contemporary cinema such as the movies directed by acclaimed, yet largely unknown, Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov. While on the opposite of the cinematographic spectrum, one can also find blockbuster pictures such as Marvel’s Thor, or Hercules, starring Dwayne Johnson.

How can one explain the dearth of similarly popular Pagan-inspired art within the realm of music? One could rightly point out specific sub-genres, such as Pagan folk or Pagan metal, but those still remain rather niche for the most part. And while some pop stars do not mind utilizing witchy aesthetics for promo shots or music videos, it remains unlikely there will ever come a day when Ariana Grande or Drake pen songs about Aphrodite or Veles.

Illustration of the premiere of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold opera in 1869 [public domain].

I had been pondering this rather complex question for awhile when, perchance, two Pagan-themed musical events took place, mere weeks apart in my hometown of Tromsø in Arctic Norway. The first one, named Tir-Alu, was a commissioned work conducted by composer Ragnar Rasmussen for the town’s classical music festival Northern Lights. The second, Fra skapelse til Ragnarok (“from the creation to Ragnarok”) was another commissioned work celebrating the centenary of the Norwegian composers’ union, coordinated by the writer Tor Åge Bringsværd and the violinist Henning Kraggerud from the North-Norwegian Symphony Orchestra. Experiencing the two Norse-inspired events within just ten days gave me some useful fodder to ponder how, why, and to which extent Pagan religions and myths might be conveyed through music in our modern age.

Tir-Alu, which took place on Jan. 29, was promoted through press releases as a commentary and celebration of the old Norse values of hospitality and solidarity, especially in the light of the recent humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. From the get-go, the Pagan-Norse elements seemed to have formed the core of the work’s message, rather than simply being shoehorned in merely for aesthetic reasons.

The evening’s performance was not lacking in the form department either: for the occasion, Rasmussen had invited the two masterminds of the musical ensemble Klang av Oldtid, Jens Christian Kloster and Gaute Vikdal, to play parts of the score with reconstructed Bronze Age lures. These instruments are the only modern reconstructions of the original bronze lures which were once used between 1200 and 500 B.C.E. throughout Scandinavia, probably for cultic purposes. It was by a combined blow of these horns that the concert started.

At first, it can be hard to comprehend how such “primitive” instruments can create so much sound, seemingly without effort; Kloster and Vikdal filled the venue with one of the most strident, yet melodic, sounds I’ve ever heard. If such lures were indeed used during pagan rituals and ceremonies in millennia past, one can wager that the attendees must have been literally blow away by the cultists’ performance. Yet, this is not 1000 B.C.E., it is 2017, and the sound of these horns did not resonate in a grassy glade. They rang in the concert venue, which surprisingly enough was the town’s Protestant cathedral.

Considering this rather unusual location (at least when keeping in mind the event in question), it was therefore unsurprising that besides the overtly Norse-inspired pieces, Christian hymns and works were also performed, mostly through the voice of the local university choir Mimas. Quite obviously, the performance’s central concept of hospitality was thought from the beginning as encompassing both the Pagan and Christian spheres of ideas, and while such a rapprochement could be said to be rather natural, I personally found that it somewhat appeared to dilute the symbolism of extolling and attempting to connect with age-old values and ideals.

I especially found the inclusion of biblical passages within a recitation of the Eddic poem Grímnismál rather gauche; it made me feel as if the performance’s Pagan elements might have merely been thought as subservient to purely Christian ones and only allowed in because they could thus be understood without Pagan referent. Nevertheless, hearing passage from various Eddic poems in modern Norwegian accompanied by the potent sound of Bronze Age horns within a Christian house of worship was certainly a sight to behold, even if in some ways it could have been handled maybe more appropriately.

The second Pagan-inspired performance I was able to attend took place just ten days after the one in the cathedral, and proposed a very different take on making use of Pagan mythology and ideas through art. Fra skapelse til Ragnarok was, to start with, a much more collaborative effort. It stemmed from a collaboration between violinist Henning Kraggerud and the author Tor Åge Bringsværd. The idea behind the project was a celebration of Norway’s pagan roots to be expressed both musically and literally.

Bringsværd’s role was to write and recite eight short narratives retelling the main events found within Norse myth, with a string orchestra performing eight instrumental pieces illustrating said passages. It was Kraggerud’s work to conduct (while performing, no less) the orchestra and coordinate the adaptation of the commissioned eight pieces, which were each written by a different composer, including himself.

From a mythological standpoint, Bringsværd’s short texts mostly drew from the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson while borrowing a few figures from other texts. While short, it was a rather well-rounded summary of these tales which wasn’t devoid of poetry or even at times, humor. Often speaking in the guise of specific characters such as, notably enough, the boar Sæhrímnir who jokingly complaining about how cumbersome and tiring it was for him to have to be slaughtered every evening to feed Óðinn’s einherjar.

This at first unexpected narrative device created an atmosphere not unlike that found in mid-20th century French dramas such as those of Camus or Giraudoux. In addition, the fact that every monologue was followed by a thematic piece of music only increased the impression of attending a theater piece, as if Bringsværd acted as the coryphaeus of a voiceless, instrumental choir, enunciating their woes and aspirations in an abstract and symbolic manner.

Regarding the music itself, the eight pieces varied from intricate, dissonant modernist works to more Romantic-inspired melodious ones, and all managed to work in concert with each other to further strengthen the underlying, unifying theme of the performance. In many ways, the fact that such a heterogeneous multimedia project could even be conceived, let alone this masterfully executed, is probably what the public appreciated the most, an appreciation they very publicly expressed through long minutes of a heartfelt standing ovation for this singular work about Pagan gods and heroes.

The concertgoers of Tir-Alu did express much satisfaction following that performance as well but, at the end of the day, how and why did these works differ in the way they conveyed their ideas stemming directly from Old Norse myth?

Tor Åge Bringsværd on stage with the North-Norwegian Symphony Orchestra [Linnea Nordström, 2017]

I believe that both projects were conceived with a similar and most appropriate idea, namely appealing to the public’s feelings of connection to ideals, beliefs, and the world of the past. After all, if art is anything, mustn’t it be the media used to express intricate feelings and sentiments to others? Another similarity between the two projects was that they were both composite works in their own right and made use of literature and music to strengthen their overall message, a message that was, in both cases, said to be grounded in Scandinavia’s pre-Christian past. Interestingly enough, it is through their approach to the written word that Tir-Alu and Fra skapelse til Ragnarok differ the most.

The former indeed included passages of poetry that were possibly composed and chanted by pagan Norsemen a thousand years ago, while the latter opted for a rephrasing of the same myths. While one could say that Tir-Alu might have had somewhat less directly to do with the actual myths, it is nevertheless notable that a lot of thought and planning has gone into presenting and interpreting the age-old tales of the pagan gods in a fitting way.

In both cases, expressing the message of the pagan myths was not only the impetus for the whole project, but was used as the main selling point of the events. Even if Tir-Alu indeed wasn’t quite an entirely pagan affair, it is telling that it was these pagan aspects that were marketed to the public, and not the Christian ones. Despite the fact that I wrote mere paragraphs ago that one could see this intermingling of pagan and Christian words and ideas as witness to what the pagan world owes to Christianity, the simple fact that this event was not publicized as a Biblical parable about hospitality with a few side-references to similar Norse ideals shows how much the appeal for Europe’s pre-Christian past has grown in living memory.

The overall feeling I got from witnessing these rare artistic showcases of Pagan tales was indeed one of respect, as if even in the alleged areligious kingdom of Norway, both onlookers and creators understood the distant echo of sacredness emanating from these tales. The fact that the spoken or chanted word (with or without accompanying bronze horns) was by most standards the media these honored stories were told and passed on through in the pagan age of old might be another reason why such a deference for the pagan past seems so singularly restricted to the musical world.

Could it be that we today still somehow feel, or understand, even unwittingly, the significance of chanting the tales of the gods and the sacredness behind it? After all, even the multitudes that do not, and likely will never identify as Pagan, can comprehend the importance of looking back to the reality and the ideals of our ancestors to comprehend more than just their world, or ours. This allure of ages past, in itself simultaneously a pivotal element of the revival of the old ways and a seemingly undying feature of our human condition was so eloquently expressed by Tor Åge Bringsværd in his introduction of Fra skapelse til Ragnarok that there could be no more fitting words to close the present piece:

It happened a long time ago…during the time the gods wandered around the earth, and the humans still had the abilities to see them. The old stories about Odin, Thor, Balder, Freyja and Loki are an essential part of our cultural heritage. They deserve to be kept alive. It is a question of having roots. In addition, myths and fairy tales never become irrelevant. Because they do not concern only “that moment” and “that time.” They can also well tell about “every moment” and “every time.” But every generation must nevertheless seize them anew. Retell them again. In their own way. Bring them towards the light of their own time.

*   *   * 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.

Saint Patrick, Druids, Snakes, and Popular Myths: 2017

Thu, 2017-03-16 11:35

[Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, so we are once again revisiting one of our most popular articles. Some conversations never go “out of vogue.” Here is the 2017 edition.]

In 2012, Wild Hunt founder Jason Pitzl-Waters published an article called, “Saint Patrick, Druids, Snakes, and Popular Myths.”* To this day, it remains one of our most popular posts. Every year as March approaches, and even as March leaves, the article is read and re-read and read again. So today, we revisit that article with updated links, information and quotes.

[Courtesy Pixabay]

“[Tomorrow] is St. Patrick’s Day, a yearly holiday celebrating Ireland’s favorite patron saint. While it’s a big event in Ireland (and used to be a very solemn occasion), in America it’s a green-dyed bacchanal where everyone is ‘Irish for a day’ (let’s not even start on the horridly stupid ‘unofficial’ St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on college campuses). For some modern Pagans (whether Irish or not), St. Patrick’s Day isn’t a day of celebrations, as they see Patrick, famously attributed with converting Ireland to Christianity, as committing something akin to cultural genocide,” Pitzl-Waters began.

This idea is based on a theory that the “snakes,” which St. Patrick (387-461 CE) allegedly drove out of Ireland in the 5th Century C.E., are actually a symbol for the Druids and their religion. This is not a far-fetched idea considering that the serpent is a common symbol for the Christian devil. Additionally, according to scientists, there weren’t any real snakes in Ireland at that time. In fact, there haven’t been snakes in Ireland for over than 8,500 years. The Ice Age performed the reptilian eviction, or the slaughter as it were, not St. Patrick.

Therefore, the offending serpents had to be something other than actual snakes. And, many modern Pagans have taken this snake as Druid metaphor to heart. For example, as Pitzl-Waters noted, “author Isaac Bonewits called the day All Snakes Day and penned songs calling for the return of the “snakes.”

[Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan / Public domain]

But that theory has also been up for debate and, at this point, completely debunked. In 2012, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan and scholar with extensive knowledge of Irish myth and folklore, said:

Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and the hagiographies of St. Patrick did not include this particular “miracle” until quite late, relatively speaking (his earliest hagiographies are from the 7th century, whereas this incident doesn’t turn up in any of them until the 11th century). St. Patrick’s reputation as the one who Christianized Ireland is seriously over-rated and overstated, as there were others that came before him (and after him), and the process seemed to be well on its way at least a century before the “traditional” date given as his arrival, 432 CE, because Irish colonists (yes, you read that right!) in southern Wales, Cornwall, and elsewhere in Roman and sub-Roman Britain had already come into contact with Christians and carried the religion back with them when visiting home.

That idea was corroborated, in part, by a 2014 television special featured on the Smithsonian Channel. In Sacred Sites: Ireland, documentary filmmakers interview several scientists and Celtic scholars who all agree with Lupus. St. Patrick neither drove out snakes or “snakes;” nor did he singlehandedly convert Ireland’s pagans to Christianity.

According to these experts, it was actually Halley’s Comet that evicted the metaphoric “snakes.”

In his book Blood & Mistletoe: The History of The Druids in Britain, historian Ronald Hutton notes that many of the details surrounding St. Patrick’s life and his work were changed and even fabricated hundreds of years after his death.

As quoted by Pitzl-Waters, Hutton wrote, “The importance of Druids in countering [Patrick’s] missionary work was inflated in later centuries under the influence of biblical parallels, and that Patrick’s visit to Tara was given a pivotal importance that it never possessed – if it ever occurred at all – to suit later political preoccupations. […] The only appearances of Druids in documents attributed to Patrick himself occur in some that are generally thought to have been composed after his death.”

Pitzl-Waters also quoted Celtic Reconstructionist Morgan Daimler, who agreed, saying:

…The rest of Patrick’s hagiography has him dueling Druids right and left, killing those who oppose him with callous righteousness, so why would the story suddenly get cryptic about him driving the Druids out? Every other page was proclaiming it proudly! No, this particular tidbit – which is suspiciously exactly the same as a story from the life of a French saint – was always meant to be literal.

The earliest reference I have found to anyone thinking the snakes meant Druids (and thanks to the friend who helped me find it) is in the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries from 1911 where someone states that he believes based on a story that because a certain place was where the Druids last stronghold was and also the place Saint Patrick drove the snakes that the snakes must represent the Druids, but it’s just faulty logic (Evans Wentz, 1911). The snakes in the story were just meant to be snakes, just as the toads were toads and Saint George’s dragon was a dragon.

In an article titled “The True Story of St. Patrick,” Ireland’s Druid School speculates that the snake story, as well as the connection to the shamrock, were fabricated simply to help convert the masses.

The article reads, “It was as if the Pagan traditions were still so strong with the Lughnasa pilgrimage to the Reek in August that something had to be done to displace the old ways and such a fantastic story as dragon/snake banishing fitted the bill. It had to be long after St Patrick’s death or else everyone would know it was just made up fantasy.”

Historians appear to agree that paganism, in some form, did “thrive” for generations after St. Patrick died. Pitzl-Waters concluded, “There was no Irish pagan genocide, no proof of any great violent Druid purge in Ireland, it simply doesn’t exist outside hagiography.”

He speculated that the snake story and other such details were added to Patrick’s story simply in order to “establish a heroic Irish saint” rather than to “eradicate traces of Paganism.”

However, despite the overwhelming scientific and historical evidence, the popular snake as Druid metaphor lives on. This is most readily seen in social media, where users perpetuate the idea that St. Patrick’s “snakes” were the country’s Druids.

In 2012, Pitzl-Waters wrote “some [people] cling to [the theory] simply because it feels right, or because they like the idea of a holiday dedicated to pagan/Pagan resistance to conversion.”

But the evidence against that idea continues to build. St. Patrick’s serpents were not real snakes, nor could they have been metaphoric “snakes.” It does appear that the story was completely fabricated for one reason or another. And the “driving out” of both types of serpents, was triggered by completely natural, catastrophic events: climate change and a comet.

2011 County Down, Northern Ireland [Photo Credit: Ardfern / Wikimedia]

Regardless, the holiday itself has grown far beyond this particular story and the boundaries of its original religiosity. St. Patrick’s Day has become both a cultural pride day for the Irish people as well as a secular extravaganza, if only in the United States.

For some the day is serious business and a day to connect with one’s ancestors and heritage, while for others, it’s simply a day to wear green, eat corned beef and get kissed (or pinched).

While it is may be easy enough to push aside the unnaturally green brew and leprechaun t-shirts, it is hard to deny the role that this holiday has played in Ireland’s history. As Pitzl-Waters noted, “To erase St. Patrick’s Day also erases a vital connection to Irish history and culture.”

But for many modern Pagans, the holiday’s connection to religion, regardless of how the “snakes” were actually evicted, still looms in the background. But Lupus offered one suggestion for those people wishing to celebrate Irish culture on this day without embracing St. Patrick’s story. E wrote, “replace St. Patrick’s day with a day to honor Cú Chulainn.”

… given that Patricius may have usurped a local festival of Macha in the area around Armagh, perhaps what could instead be celebrated is the date that Cú Chulainn first took up arms, upon which he did so in order to fulfill a partial prophecy he heard that whomever took up arms for the first time on that day would be famed forever after; he only learned later that the rest of the prophecy revealed that the famous hero would only live a very short life, to which he responded that it would be better to live but one day and one night in the world if everlasting fame were to be attached to him.

This active taking up of the heroic life and all of its responsibilities, including death (most likely on behalf of one’s people, as a warrior), was the date on which he became the protector of the people of Ulster and thus of Emain Macha and his uncle Conchobor mac Nessa’s kingship. What more appropriate occasion, therefore, to celebrate the hero-cultus of Cú Chulainn than on the day that he decided to take up the heroic life?

There are alternatives as Lupus suggests. However, it is difficult to shift associations that are so deeply embedded in the modern cultural and commercial experience. However change can happen over time. And, it has. As seen above, the story of St. Patrick itself has shifted since it was first written. The day has gone from a solemn, Catholic-based story of heroic sainthood to a secular festival celebrating Irish heritage in all its glory, and many things in between.

 *   *   *

[Editor’s Note: The original article was published in 2010, with updated versions published in 2011, 2012, and 2016. The above article pulls quotes from the 2012 version.]

Interview with Abby Willowroot, Pagan artist and writer

Wed, 2017-03-15 11:28

SAN FRANCISCO –When members of the Wilmington city county approved a new prayer for opening meetings, there was some interest in the Pagan priestess who penned that prayer, Abby Willowroot. While that name is not well-known to Pagans and polytheists who have come of age since the dawn of Facebook, Willowroot was shaping the Neopagan movement for decades.

She agreed to talk to us about her many contributions.

Abby Willowroot [courtesy photo].

“I was really thrilled to hear about Delaware,” she said, where one of her prayers will be used to open meetings for at least the next four years.

Willowroot wrote a series interfaith prayers for public meetings because she was frustrated by the non-demoninational prayers that are frequently offered; the term “non-denominational” refers to denominations of Christianity, and therefore are not inclusive of anyone following a non-Christian path.

“They all started out ‘dear Lord’ or ‘Jesus,’ and I didn’t think you can address a specific deity” and be fully inclusive, she said. This is not an issue just for the polytheists in attendance either; many Buddhists don’t revere any deity, she pointed out as an example.

As part of a larger project of interfaith prayers that were compiled into a book titled Life Changes, Willowroot wrote a handful specifically for use at public meetings. They’re intended to bolster decision-making, collaboration, and the intention to serve the greater good.

One of them was adopted by a Michigan nonprofit group, but Wilmington may be the first place where one of her prayers is being used to open a governing body’s meetings.

Willowroot has considered herself Pagan for 56 years, since she was 15 years old. However, that process began when she was much younger. Growing up Roman Catholic, she recalls hearing stories of the religion’s deity and being skeptical.

“If God was that powerful, he would not be that petty,” she said, adding that, as a little girl, “I was convinced I was being lied to.”

She had other influences as well, like her babysitter “Mrs. Julia,” who she said, “brought us to the salt marshes and taught us about nature.”

There was also a grandmother who instructed her in the ways of the “wee folk,” and why it’s never appropriate to rush back into the house for a forgotten item because that will offend them. “To this day, if I have to go back inside, I sit down, read a book, or otherwise occupy the space so that they recognize that I am not an intruder, and don’t hide my keys on me.”

However, those various influences didn’t stop Willowroot’s artist father from turning her into a cover girl for Catholic Miss magazine.

This being the 1950s and 1960s, the first organized Pagans Willowroot encountered were Gardnerians, when she was coming into adulthood. They stood in stark contrast to members of her Catholic faith from whom she learned that women were “unclean” and limited in their participation.

In her mind, goddess spirituality and second-wave feminism alike were spurred by Catholic and Jewish women frustrated by being deemed second-class people.

“It pushed a button in us,” Willowroot said of the overt sexism of the time, but “they didn’t realize what they were doing.” Women learned all that was important and powerful about religion, and then decided that they didn’t need men if they shaped their own faith.

“It was easy to turn our backs on the whole thing; we’d been pre-rejected. That’s what happens when you take people with talent and brains, and continually piss them off.”

Before the turn of the century, Willowroot identified and addressed a new need: information on the internet. While the new medium opened the doors to Paganism far wider, she felt that much of the information wasn’t as helpful to newcomers as it could be. Most web pages she found “were not useful to the beginner,” she recalled, and in her opinion were more about “talking to the converted” by writers who felt the need to “prove how much they knew.”

That’s why, in 1997, she launched spiralgoddess.com as an “on-ramp to Paganism.” She said she wanted a page for the curious, where people could “find out what Pagans believe.” The goddess-focused site is packed with information about Pagan spiritual paths, and to date has racked up close to two billion hits.

The site even includes a page on secular Paganism, which might be one of the oldest resources about Paganism without gods.

“I think we all are born with an overcoat,” she explained, “and some of them have god pockets. Those god pockets have got to be filled, or the person feels incomplete. People who don’t have god pockets don’t understand what the big deal is.”

Willowroot is proud of the fact that spiralgoddess.com has no advertising of any kind, making it a space where seekers can find information, rather than marketing.

She’s no stranger to advertising, either: she has worked in that business for many years, and is well aware of the power of branding.

Spiral goddesses by Abby Willowroot [courtesy photo].

Branding, as it happens, is why she picked the term “spiral goddess” to name her site. Willowroot is the artist who designed the popular Spiral Goddess statues that are endemic in many goddess- and Wicca-focused traditions.

“I’m the first woman in America to make goddesses as a contemporary religious icon,” she said. And, the design was intended to be a just that. She said, “It’s now been knocked off so many times it blows my mind.”

Willowroot saw it as important because ancient symbols do not always resonate. “It’s great to have Greek and Roman goddesses, but we need symbols created by a living, breathing culture,” she explained. Her design has no facial features because she wanted people of any ethnicity to be able to identify with it.

Not long after she started her web site, Willowroot recognized another trend in Paganism, namely a shift toward a more consumer culture. She feared that this would lead to many cheaply-made, poorly-designed spiritual items being marketed to her co-religionists, which she believed imperiled the entire movement.

This led her to start the Goddess 2000 Project, a 1998 grassroots effort to create sacred imagery.

“If I could get non-artists to make goddess art or nature and sacred art, I could screw with what was becoming the bible of contemporary pagan imagery. The spiral goddess was popular, but others without content were solidfying. They were created to hawk merchandise that could be made cheaply.

“I saw it as the death knell. The minute you’re designated a consumer group, you’re dead in the water. They just pitch product to you.”

Coordinated entirely online, the Goddess 2000 Project had over 25,000 participants in 56 countries. The idea, that people with a passion creating images would push out cheap consumer items, worked astonishingly well in her opinion.

It also brought together Pagans from different traditions, which was not common at that time. She lists the Goddess 2000 Project as the least-impactful of three community ventures that broke down those barriers and divisions. The others that she cited are Pagan Pride and The Witches’ Voice, both of which also began during the same time frame.

“People started coming together and talking as a community,” Willowroot said. “It was a pretty wonderful benefit that I hadn’t anticipated.”

Willowroot continues to practice her brand of Paganism, wielding the same athame she has for forty years, a kitchen knife she bought at a thrift store. “The handle was totally worn, and it was one of the most sacred objects I’d ever seen,” she said.

Her house is full of simple altars, and she spends much of her days designing goddesses, offering bowls, athames, and other objects for Sacred Source, where a wide variety of her iconic images can be found. As for her own spirituality, it was and is largely about the power of nature.

“As a kid, I saw a wave move a 30-foot sea wall a block. Nature is greater than myself, that’s the core of my Paganism.”

New site dedicated to Pagan bloggers poised to open

Tue, 2017-03-14 10:03

TWH – A new website devoted solely to Pagan bloggers is set to open its doors Mar. 21. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, founder Jaime Morgan was able to begin the project. Since that time PaganBloggers.com has attracted the attention of over 60 writers, musicians, and artists, all of who will begin sharing their work on the new site designed by Pagans for Pagans.

Morgan said in an interview with The Wild Hunt, “I hope that [Pagan Bloggers] becomes another destination for readers, because we are all readers, in the pagan community to hear our voices, debate questions, think and learn.”

The site came into being after news of the Patheos contract spread through the blogging community. Morgan explained, “Rhyd Wildermuth had posted to Facebook about the latest contract fallout from Patheos Pagan and in the comments someone wondered why there wasn’t an alternative. I commented back that I could do that then I did my own post and it was off to the races.”

The contract issues divided the online writing community with some staying with Patheos and others moving off. Patheos, now owned by Beliefnet, did amend the contract after complaints, however the change did not appease everyone.

Morgan said, “There were half a dozen people who immediately commented they would like to be authors if I did it, and it snowballed from there.”

In the days after making those comments, Morgan noted the commentary that was free flowing in social media, saying that people were frustrated that the site was being “managed outside the community.” Even though the channel manager is and has always been Pagan and part of the blogosphere, she noticed that, for many people, that was not enough.

“Reading the blog posts around the contract issue I kept seeing over and over the concerns about BeliefNet and how the content was being managed outside the community. It’s a reality of Web 2.0 that content generation of ‘free’ sites means money for someone else.”

She wasn’t surprised by these complaints. However, Morgan added, “I do think sometimes the Pagan blogging world can get caught up in itself and whip up a tempest in a teapot. It’s really easy to feed into that energy when you have a lot of persuasive and provocative speakers who know how to write to get responses.”

Regardless, Morgan recognized that she had the skills to make a new site happen. She has a professional IT background and has worked with Windows servers, managed a fiction story archive, and has been a social media consultant and community manager since the 1990s. “I have the technical know-how, the community manager background and the time in the pagan community to make it work.” She added that she’s been doing work like this for quite some time, although not directly within the Pagan community.

The PaganBloggers crowdfunding campaign began in early February, and it raised 12% of its goal within the first 24 hours. The IndieGoGo page proclaimed, “There is a need for a new Pagan portal, owned and operated by Pagans.” After a month the campaign closed, having funded 138% of its original goal.

On that page, Morgan listed the fiscal structure and her intent. The site will not be a nonprofit, and she is hoping to make project sustainable in all ways. “I hope to pay the authors and my volunteer staff starting early in 2018, which is dependent on ad revenue,” she explained. “My dream is that the site […] pays for itself, which includes all the contributors. Soon it will fall to the contributors to provide that awesome content to get us started and then keep the readers coming back.”

[Pixabay /public domain.]

The content is what will bring people back to the site, which in turns helps boost ad revenue. That is the model with which she aims to work.

The potential for diverse content is already in place. Since launch of the campaign, she has had many people sign on to fill that role. The list of contributing writers and artists can be found on the fledgling website. Some names are easily recognizable from other blogs or from the convention circuit; others are new.

Morgan said, “I have quite a few [former] Patheos authors on the site.” However she quickly added that she has “quite deliberately not engaged in debate about the contract.”

“That’s between those authors and Patheos. Not me.”

There were concerns raised about the new contributor’s contract being put in place for PaganBloggers. What expectations did Morgan have?

“Given that the site was created in direct response to the Patheos contract [issue], it is absolutely fair that they wanted to see what I had in mind.” She said that she has been upfront from the beginning. A draft contract was sent out with a two-week comment period.

Some of those expectations are publicly listed on the website, such as that relating to posting frequency, reprints, payment, ownership, and censorship of topics.

To date, no other concerns about the site have been expressed, but Morgan is not unrealistic; she said that she’s probably still in the “honeymoon phase” with the contributors. Question and issues will arise eventually.

Something that did surprise her was that president and COO of BN Media Jeremy McGee donated to the Pagan Bloggers campaign. “He had listened to my interview on PTRN and said ‘there is plenty of opportunity for us both.’ While she hasn’t talked to the Patheos Pagan Channel director directly, she said that “I don’t think there is any bad feeling on the part of BeliefNet about it.”

Jason Mankey, Patheos Pagan Channel manager, agreed. When asked about the new blog site, he said, “Any platform that puts more Pagan writers front and center is a good thing. And I’ve never seen the various blog spots as being in competition with one another. On the Pagan Patheos Facebook page I run articles from the Wild Hunt and Witches and Pagans and other places, I suspect I’ll run some articles from the new Pagan Bloggers site too.”

He believes the new site is going to have some great writers, as well as others that “have never written on a big platform before.”

“I’m really looking forward to reading those voices,” Mankey added.

Morgan, herself, is taking a similar attitude. She said, “I think there is plenty of space and more competition leads to a healthier environment for everyone. TWH, PaganSquare, Patheos, Paganbloggers. It’s all good.”

The new blogging site’s structure is still being worked out, and how it fits into the greater Pagan blogging world has yet to be seen. But Morgan said that people seem to be excited about the possibilities.

If nothing else, PaganBloggers.com will expand the offerings and accessibility of the general Pagan blogging community. Morgan believes, overall, that this one writing community plays an important role. She said, “[Pagan blogs] are a place to hear and debate ideas. Since so much of what I see in that world is exploring and carving out space, it’s vital to have that room to breathe. Next, it gives us a community outside of Facebook, conferences and festivals to continue dialogues, or start them.”

PaganBloggers.com opens its virtual doors Mar. 21.

Pagan Community Notes: Robin Fletcher, the Pagan Collective of Victoria, Pagan candidates and more!

Mon, 2017-03-13 09:58

VICTORIA, Aus. – It was decided Friday that convicted sex offender Robin Angas Fletcher would be released from his court mandated supervision. As we reported in February, Fletcher was convicted in 1998 of five different counts of sexual crimes. After serving his jail sentence, he was released to live in Corella Place, a special community with mandated supervision.

On Feb. 8, Supreme Court Justice Phillip Priest ordered Fletcher’s supervision to be revoked. That decision was challenged by the Secretary of the Department of Justice Greg Wilson, who said that “the offender posed an unacceptable risk.”

However, on Friday the Court of Appeals affirmed the Supreme Court’s ruling and released Fletcher. The justices noted, “The criminal justice system imposes punishment on sex offenders and, in the ordinary course, an offender who has served his/her sentence is entitled to be released.”

*   *   *

VICTORIA, Aus. — The Pagan community in Victoria, and Australia in general, has continued to watch this case with deep concern. Fletcher has always maintained that the acts for which he was arrested were part of Wiccan ritual.

In reaction to Friday’s announcement, The Pagan Collective of Victoria (PCV) told The Wild Hunt, “We are going to work with other Pagan organisations, such as PAN to put together more safety documentation and to try to start co-coordinating with the community to have more events to help make the community safe.” When asked if they were going to reach out to Fletcher, PCV said, “Absolutely not. He is a dangerous individual to open any doors with, and we don’t want [him] to get a foothold in anyway.”

PCV organizers stressed that they will have more safety information at their events and it “will be holding meeting specifically targeting newbies later this year.”

TWH also reached out to others in the community. However, they declined to comment at this point, stating the need to talk to lawyers before making official or public statements. We will update this story as needed. 

*   *   *

UNITED STATES – Two different Pagans announced last week that they would be running for public office: Cathy (Catt) Moritz and Tasha Rose.

Cathy Moritz is running for a trustee position for her local public library district. In an interview, she said, “I see it as a primary channel to increase community engagement. The library, as our tagline says, is the heart of the community. We have the ability to reach out to everyone, regardless of age, education, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or religion.”

Moritz didn’t think that religion would be an issue in her bid for the position. She added, “Even though it’s a mildly conservative suburb, being on the collar of Chicago provides a fairly liberal base overall.” She believes that her “non-mainstream perspective” might actually help her in the election process, adding that her unique perspective provides her with the ability to be “more understanding and build trust.”

Just to the west, in Minnesota, Tasha Rose is running for a position on the St. Paul School Board. She said, “I am running because as a parent of six children who will be educated in the district in which we live, I see a real need for the voice of an involved parent who understands the issues we are facing.” She believes there is an opportunity with the new superintendent to “entirely restructure our administration for efficiency and to reprioritize children rather than wallets of admin.”

When asked if religion will come into play for the election, she said that it would. “in a few instances it already has. There have been a few mocking comments regarding witchcraft and being a witch. I imagine people are thinking of movie witches in their mockery in doing so. Ultimately, it’s religious bigotry and whatever my religious practice is is inconsequential to having the political will to make sound decisions regarding the education of children.”

In other news

  • The Yule trademark application reported on last week has now been classified as abandoned, confirming the intentions expressed by one of the principles of Sage Goddess, Inc.
  • Kenny Klein appeared in court last week, purportedly for trial, but that date has again been pushed back. The next trial date, initially set for Mar. 28, was vacated; no new date has yet been set. Klein was charged in 2014 with multiple counts of possessing child pornography. The judge did grant Klein the right, over the prosecutor’s objection, to leave the jurisdiction to appear in a New Jersey court where he is suing is ex-wife for violating their divorce decree by speaking out about their marriage in the wake of his arrest in New Orleans.
  • The Correllian Nativist Tradition is currently holding a silent online auction. The money raised is used to support the CNT organization over the year. Items donated range from jewelry, ritual items, books, and decor. The auction runs through Mar. 17.
  • Author Joanna van der Hoeven has released the audio version of her book The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid. Joanna van der Hoeven, who is the director of the Druid College UK, reads the book herself. She said that recording “explores the wondrous nature of the Druid tradition from a solitary practitioner’s perspective.”
  • A New Orleans-based Pagan group is getting ready to host its annual Wyld Fire Beltane Hunt. It is billed as a four-day, three-night weekend of Beltane classes, entertainment, ritual, and camping. It is hosted by New Orleans Lamplight Circle and held in Springfield, Louisiana. The event is a fundraiser for the local Pagan Pride Project, and organizers describe it as “our take on the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.” This year, the event takes place Apr. 27-30.
  • In Wisconsin, the Pagan Alliance at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh is sponsoring two talks this week as part of the campus diversity education. Monday, Amanda Line will discuss Wicca and Witchcraft and, Thursday, Rev. Selena Fox will share information on Paganism. The events are free and open to the public.
  • Are you a journalism student? The Wild Hunt has an opening for an unpaid summer internship. The ideal candidate is passionate about writing, following community-based news, and working in a collaborative team environment. Contact us for more information.

A closer look at the Johnson Amendment

Sun, 2017-03-12 11:46

WASHINGTON – On Feb. 2, President Donald Trump returned for a brief moment to a recurring issue facing his administration: the Johnson Amendment. At the National Prayer Breakfast, he told the attendees,“Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of, and totally destroy, the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that — remember.”

[Public domain.]

Repealing the Johnson Amendment has been one of the main focuses of Trump’s campaign, and it continues to find its way into current political discourse with regard to religious freedom. Trump began speaking out against the tax code early in his bid for the presidency. Then, during his acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, he said:

At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community in general who have been so good to me and so supportive.You have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans.

What is this Johnson Amendment, and what is its relationship to religious freedom? How does it affect the greater Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities in the U.S.?

History of the Johnson Amendment

The now-famous tax code change was implemented in 1954, after being passed by a Republican congress and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s name is taken from Lyndon B. Johnson who, at the time, was a senator from Texas. As the story goes, in 1954, Johnson was running for reelection against 30-year-old Dudley Dougherty. While Johnson had only won the previous election in 1948 by 87 votes, he was reportedly expected to easily to beat Dougherty in the primary race.

However, during the campaign process, Johnson vocally opposed the ongoing McCarthy trials and its related fear-mongering. Contrary to that, Dougherty was running on platform that supported the trials and the government’s aggressive attempts to stop the spread of communism in the U.S.

During the campaign, several large nonprofit organizations stepped in to back Dougherty, including Fact Forum and the Committee for Constitutional Government. These wealthy secular groups avidly supported the government’s anti-communist efforts and, as result, they publicly engaged in electioneering on behalf of Dougherty.

Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) 1954 [Public Domain]

It was at this time that Johnson proposed the tax code change, and it is assumed by most historians that he did so to stop Fact Forum, CCG, and other nonprofits from backing McCarthyites. The effort also helped to ensure his own win.

In that light, his motive appears to be one of personal political profit and not one based on ideology. At the same time, the move does demonstrate Johnson’s distaste for McCarthyism and the ongoing so-called “witch trials.”

Regardless of Johnson’s motive, there is no evidence to suggest that religious freedom factored into the debates at all. The “separation of church and state” was not a founding issue. As noted above, the two main nonprofits that inspired Johnson’s action were both secular. Moreover, it appears that the introduction of the new tax code was not considered controversial in any way. In fact, there is little evidence of congressional debate.

The code

The Johnson Amendment has been part of the IRS tax code since that time, more than six decades. It limits nonprofits of all kinds from engaging with political campaigns. Originally it was written to prevent only the support of a candidate. However, the code was amended in 1987 to include activity that would directly oppose a candidate. Looking at the text itself, the IRS says:

The law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office (from www.irs.gov).

The constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment was challenged in the 1990s by the evangelical organization Branch Ministries. During the 1992 election cycle, the organization had placed advertisements in newspapers urging Christians not to vote for Bill Clinton. The IRS subsequently revoked its nonprofit status, and Branch Ministries decided to challenge that decision in court.

The organization’s board stated that they were “victims of selective prosecution” and that the IRS’ decision was made based on the ministries’ political and religious position.

In 1999, the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. ruled against Branch Ministries, saying, “The government has a compelling interest in maintaining the integrity of the tax system and in not subsidizing partisan political activity, and Section 501(c)(3) is the least restrictive means of accomplishing that purpose.”

The court’s opinion also notes that there was no evidence to suggest that the IRS decision was politically motivated. Branch Ministries appealed in 2000, but the higher court only affirmed the 1999 decision.

It is important to note that the Johnson Amendment is different from other nonprofit IRS code restrictions with regard to government or political activity. While the Johnson Amendment strictly forbids campaign involvement, the IRS itself allows for a limited amount of other politically-based work, such as lobbying and speaking out about pending legislation or court cases. The differences are outlined on the IRS website.

Johnson Amendment in practice

As noted earlier, the Johnson Amendment applies to all nonprofits, including many very well-known Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist organizations. For example, The Wild Hunt falls under this category as does Gods and Radicals; two media organizations that are not churches or houses of worship. The code affects large national groups such as the Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary, the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, and The Troth, as well as community-focused groups, event organizations, and churches such as Twin Cities Pagan Pride, CAYA Coven, and EarthSpirit Community.

Anytime a group states that it has been granted 501(c)3 status, the Johnson Amendment limitations apply. The leaders of these organizations are not permitted to speak for or against a candidate running for public office. If they do so, the organization risks losing its tax-exempt status. As legal precedent shows, the courts will support the IRS in any such challenges.

When asked in a TWH interview about the fine line between the allowable political activity and the limits stated in the Johnson Amendment, attorney Brandon Borgos explained, “Electioneering is the term we are looking for here. You can talk about issues, but once that goes into supporting or opposing candidates or specific legislation, no dice. Then we are in electioneering territory.”

Borgos goes on to say, “Organization leaders can’t make partisan comments at their official functions and definitely not in their publications.

“Now, if it was in an unofficial capacity at an unofficial event and had the caveat that this was that leader’s personal views and weren’t reflective of or intended to represent the organization’s views, that would be just fine,” Borgos adds, but that is, as he suggests, a grey area. There are risks.

Borgos noted that the IRS does, in fact, revoke tax-exempt status from “tons of organizations” each year for violating its rules.

The controversy

The question then becomes whether the tax code itself is unconstitutional by limiting freedom of speech, or is the code successfully doing exactly what it was meant to do, and “protecting the integrity of the tax system” by not allowing the government to “subsidize partisan political activity?”

That is one of the many points made by those who support the code’s protection. The government should not be “subsidizing partisan political activity” regardless of a nonprofit’s mission and purpose. Religion, in this case, is not a factor in the argument to keep the code.

However, in the most recent conversations on the topic, religion remains the focus, more specifically a clergy person’s right to free speech. That is not surprising in a political environment in which much of the division is being scored along lines of religious belief. Even though the code applies to all nonprofits and its origins are secular, the current argument remains focused on a church leader’s right to free expression.

Last week, the members of Our Freedom: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition released a statement that says, “The leaders herein undersigned oppose any effort to rescind, reverse, and/or repeal the Johnson Amendment. Since 1954 it has been a bulwark in the tax code where it has reinforced both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

The group is concerned that with the code removed many minority religious voices will be unheard due to the much larger and more populous religious majority.

Americans United (AU), a nonprofit itself, goes a step further, saying, “[Repealing the Johnson Amendment] would threaten religious freedom by opening up houses of worship to being used as political candidates’ campaign offices or as a means of funneling money to political candidates.” AU added its name to a list of 85 nonprofits that oppose removal of the code. That list includes both religious and secular organizations.

In that respect, the Johnson Amendment is not unconstitutional at all. Rather, it supports the First Amendment’s implied separation of church and state.

AU also suggested that the Johnson Amendment not only protects the “integrity of the tax system” but also the “integrity of a nonprofit.” With the code in place, it is clear that donations are being donated and used to promote the nonprofit’s stated mission and not electioneering.

Borgos expressed the same idea, saying that a repeal might result in people donating to nonprofits, religious or otherwise, just to support the leader’s political electioneering.

On the other side of the coin, there are many that do support the amendment’s removal, including Pagans. One of our regular readers said in a comment, “I’m of mixed mind on the Johnson Amendment. I agree with the reasons it was created and the reasons for trying to preserve it, but on a practical level, it has been virtually worthless because it has never been enforced.”

Is it being enforced? Can it be enforced? Large public violations, such as the efforts of Branch Ministries, can be caught. However, weekly speeches, lectures, and conversations not made in the public eye are easily overlooked and never seen. How much does that matter? And, is the problem in its enforcement rather than the amendment itself?

Either way, the opposing view point is that the Johnson Amendment limits the freedom of speech of clergy persons, and that idea is the rally cry being taken up by Trump, the Republican party, and a number of large Christian organizations. One such organization, the ACLJ, writes, “Our nation once had a longstanding tradition of church involvement in the political activity of the day. It was previously commonplace for pastors to preach about political issues and candidates.”

The ACLJ argues that, since Johnson’s original purpose was one of personal politics, the amendment is unconstitutionally preventing churches from speaking out, a tradition that is “longstanding.”

Free Speech Fairness Act

The current effort to repeal the 1954 tax code does not rest solely with President Trump, although he has been the most vocal. This intent was also written directly into the Republican party’s 2016 platform under the “Religious Liberty” subheading. It reads:

We value the right of America’s religious leaders to preach, and Americans to speak freely, according to their faith. Republicans believe the federal government, specifically the IRS, is constitutionally prohibited from policing or censoring speech based on religious convictions or beliefs, and therefore we urge the repeal of the Johnson Amendment (p. 18).

The GOP has not wasted any time. On Feb. 1, the day before Trump’s prayer breakfast speech, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) introduced to the House the Free Speech Fairness Act (H.R. 781). This piece of legislation does “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, but it does offer greater opportunity for nonprofit organizations to engage in political speech with regard to campaigns. The summary reads:

This bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to permit a tax-exempt organization to make certain statements related to a political campaign without losing its tax-exempt status. An organization may not lose its tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) or be deemed to have participated in, or intervened in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office, solely because of the content of any statement that: (1) is made in the ordinary course of the organization’s regular and customary activities in carrying out its exempt purpose, and (2) results in the organization incurring not more than de minimis incremental expenses.

In other words, HR 781 would allow nonprofits to participate and intervene in political campaigns, for or against a candidate, if the actions are part of the “ordinary course and customary activities” of the organization’s work and don’t cause the organization to incur an excess of expenses. That language modifies the Johnson Amendment but does not “totally destroy it.”

That change, if enacted, will apply to all nonprofits, not just churches. That is an important point. While religion, specifically free speech for clergy, remains the driving force behind the movement to repeal the Johnson Amendment, it is only the fuel for the fire. Churches make up only one small portion of the large nonprofit sector, and the change will affect the entire sector as a whole.

Then again, a significant portion of the largest non-profit U.S. organizations do have strong and notable religious affiliations.

Column: The Seminary and Witchdom Balancing Act

Sat, 2017-03-11 12:37

[A very common question asked within Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities is “How did you get here?” or better yet “How did you find this spiritual path?” People love telling and hearing the tales, and we all have them. This is mainly because our collective religions are made up of people who have adopted these paths, rather than having been born into them. While there are some second generation Pagans, they are still a minority – perhaps not for long. Either way, everyone has a story, and these stories are all unique. Today The Wild Hunt welcomes Pagan and Witch Dianne Daniels, who shares her journey and how she has come to a spiritual place where Witchcraft and Unitarian Universalism meet.]

I’m a frequent reader of The Wild Hunt for it’s interesting and unique perspective on Pagan life, principles and learning; I’ve learned quite a bit and been introduced to different aspects of Pagan worship and study, finding perspectives with which I both agree and disagree. Reading and learning about the diverse thoughts and practices has helped me in my own journey as I weave together my Pagan and religious lives, which are not always the same thing, and as I create a unique perspective and path that is solely mine.

Why Paganism? Simply put I have an affinity for the world of Witches. I consider myself an eclectic Witch, incorporating the principles and wisdom of Witchcraft. I began my studies as a teenager, looking for something “more.” As a child, I attended the church located at the end of the block where I lived, and I enjoyed it.

However, one Sunday, I was shushed by an older lady sitting in the pew in front of me who then told my nephew and I to “stop making so much noise.” We had been patting our feet in time with the music and clapping our hands…

We never returned.

As a teenager, I discovered Wicca and the loving principles of that faith and wanted to learn as much as I could, but – and I’m dating myself here – this was long before I knew of or had access to the Internet. There was no one in my community, as far as I knew, who could be my teacher, so I was limited to books and my imagination. After about 5 years, I set aside my interest in Wicca and most religious topics on the back burner, got married, had a child, and tried to live the best life possible while not attending services. My first husband was not a church goer, and by habit, neither was I.

After the marriage ended, I found myself inspired by The Daily Word. My mother received them in the mail, and I liked the positive messages and the lack of condemnation in them. I was happy to have a practice that we could share for a while, until I remarried and relocated.

After moving to New England as an adult, I renewed my interest in Witchcraft, finding the wealth of resources now available in the form of books, online reports, videos and audio files. This is what I needed years ago when beginning my journey – information on the different practices, areas of concentration, avenues of learning.

[Courtesy Photo D. Daniels]

I enjoyed everything that I read, listened to, and observed, but I was still unsure of my direction, and not entirely comfortable with developing a practice. I learned to cast a circle, calling to the four elements for protection and wisdom. I learned the names of the Goddesses and Gods, and became a fan of Isis and Osiris.

Several years earlier and before I knew much about her, I had been purchasing images of Isis; I was drawn to her. And, because I believe in balance, it was a natural conclusion to include Osiris, her husband, partner and consort, in my study and worship. This was not via a traditional method at all, but one that suited me in my limited knowledge and with a limited frame of reference.

Many years have now passed, I don’t have to worry about shocking my parents; they have both passed on. And, while today I am less worried about being “out of the broom closet,” I do sometimes have concerns about my path and how much I want to share. Actually, I agreed to do this article because I respect The Wild Hunt greatly, and I believe that hearing about my experience may help someone (or at least make them go “hmmm.”)

My renewed interest in Pagan spirituality, Wicca, and witchcraft finally led me to search for a teacher – someone who could assist me on my path without ordering me to leave everything else behind. I wanted someone to provide guidance, not dictate dogma. After having a couple of very interesting and revealing online discussions with my adult son, Ron, I found The Temple of Witchcraft.

I had asked my son what he wanted for his birthday, and he asked for a copy of Christopher Penczak’s book The Inner Temple of Witchcraft. He was so enthusiastic about what he had learned about the Temple and the book that I not only purchased a copy for him, but also one for myself with the companion audio CDs.

I started reading and listening, becoming familiar with Christopher through that book, which I dove into head first. I read all the chapters, did all the exercises, and felt I was making progress, but without a teacher to check in with, I didn’t know whether my experience was correct and right for me? I didn’t completely trust my own feelings, or better put I was not “leaning unto my own understanding.”

I needed verification that I was on the right path, so I decided to enroll in the Temple’s Mystery School and follow the year and a day path of the first level of Witchcraft.

The Temple Mystery School was the solution and it wasn’t too far away; I’m in Connecticut, they are in Salem, New Hampshire. However, there is also an online option. So, the first hurdle was cleared.

After further investigation, I learned that the teachers would not require me to resign or renounce any other work that I was called to do and that they would encourage me to resolve conflicts and make the appropriate decisions myself.

Essentially, if students are able to keep their commitments to the course, they can pursue an eclectic path.

Now I’m finally working with the teacher that I’ve needed. It fulfills my desire to learn in a way that’s comfortable for me, and I’m a happy online student, It also gives me the freedom in my schedule to pursue my other interests. I am a multi-tasker!

I previously served on the Board of Directors for the Norwich Arts, a local arts education organization. I also serve my community as a Registrar of Voters, because voting is one of the most critical freedoms we have. In doing that work I honor the Ancestors who gave their blood, sweat, and tears to make it possible. Finally, and very important to me, I am the current President of my local NAACP chapter. Continuing the work of this historic organization and honoring the struggle for Civil Rights is also key part of who I am.

And,I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Divinity through the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California. Many outside of our communities might wonder how a Masters in Divinity can actually work with Witchcraft studies, given that many organized religions still take a dim view of Witches and of Witchcraft. But it is possible. I am doing so as a member of a beautifully open and centered religion – Unitarian Universalism.

Along with studying Witchcraft, I am 20+ year Unitarian Universalist, having found the denomination as the result of two lovely invitations from people my husband and I knew and respected. One year, we had been invited to attend a special event – a Kwanzaa service – and after that we were hooked, so to speak.

Unitarian Universalists are warm, open-hearted, and fabulous people who believe in the search for truth and meaning. We UUs, as we call ourselves, believe that no single religion has a monopoly on the truth, and that you do not have to throw away all that you are and all that you’ve learned to become a part of the UU community.

Unitarian Universalists operate via a set of Principles that include concepts like respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are all a part. We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, strive for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and support the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

The UU theological emphasis is on spiritual growth and development, and as such UUs are free to incorporate the spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions – like Wicca and Witchcraft – through the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS). This unique organization is dedicated to networking Pagan-identified Unitarian Universalists (UUs), educating people about Paganism, promoting interfaith dialogue, developing Pagan liturgies and theologies, and supporting Pagan-identified UU religious professionals.

Unitarian Universalists respect the sacred literature and important religious texts of other religions, and believe that they can co-exist if viewed within the concept of love for one’s neighbor and for oneself. This fits in beautifully with the wisdom of Witchcraft, and my studies through the Temple.

In joining the Unitarian Universalist Church, my husband and I were particularly happy with the lack of judgment found in that environment. While they do not specifically use the words “And it harm none, do what ye will,” the sentiment is definitely there.

UUs believe in creating change – in ourselves, and in the world in which  we live. Living the principles of the faith by acting, whether it be in community with others of like mind and heart, or as individuals who take intentional and sacred time to make positive change happen. The aspect of the UU faith that most closely resonated with me, and the one I quote most often when people ask why I became a UU, is about respecting the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Every person has worth – no matter if they believe as I do, or if they are following a different path. I am not the final arbiter of what is right for anyone else, only in what is right for me. As written on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s website, “…faith is a journey we take together. Religious education takes a lifetime. It happens both within and beyond a congregation’s walls.”

UUs teach environmental stewardship and build connections with nature; we add our voices and our strength to anti-racism and justice work, and we tap into the wisdom of diverse Sources to help one another learn, grow, and find grounding and connection.

All this UU teaching can include the structures, principles, and language of Witchcraft. Both sides of my faith and religious practice encourage me to keep learning and growing, and to keep encouraging and supporting my fellow human beings, whether they are students in the same system or not.

I can learn from anyone and everyone – sometimes what I learn is what not to do, and other times I learn about the strength of the human spirit, about connection and commitment, about respecting the journey of others, and about how some people keep walking when their feet and legs are tired and they just want to stop.

Pursuing a Master’s degree isn’t easy at any stage of life  and I have a new respect for those who choose to pursue advanced education. The call to be a Unitarian Universalist Minister was strong, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to make it all work. However, I searched my heart and decided that I definitely wanted to make it happen.

But only if I could honor and include all aspects of my path in its unique and multi-faceted glory.

Dianne Daniels [Photo Credit: Well Healed Woman Campaign]

I have been able to do so with Starr King School for the Ministry, which is a member of the Graduate Theological Union and has  “roots deep in the fertile soil of Unitarian Universalism, embracing the multireligious life and learning that will matter most in this new century.”

I’ve found encouragement and flexibility there, including advisers and professors who help to me navigate combining my Pagan studies and my UU faith into my commitment toward a Master’s degree. The process has taught me much about myself and about the path that I’m on, including both areas of study.

What am I planning to do with my degree and my work at the Temple? I intend to build bridges and help people see the parallels – to keep spreading the message that there is inherent worth in every human being, and that there are multiple paths to finding, enhancing, and honoring that worth.

For those new to the journey, I advise that you do enough research to feel comfortable with your path in whatever combinations that it might be. At the same time, don’t spend so much time “investigating” that you never actually get started. There is a wealth of information available– choose a path and begin the journey!

The wonderful thing about being human is that you can change direction should you so choose. Give your studies enough time to “stick” and if it doesn’t work, move on. For me, this process meant sticking with a year-long course commitment and focusing on that. As I have continued along, I know now that I’ve found the right place for me – one that honors all that I am, and all that I want to become.

[Do you have a unique story that you’d like to share? How did you find your path? The Wild Hunt is always looking for new guest voices, unique tales, and amazing journeys from within our collective communities. Contact our editors.]

*   *   * 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.

Column: The Venerable Bede

Fri, 2017-03-10 10:32

I am standing at an overlook outside the rail station in Durham. Mist covers the city, and slow rain leaves slicks along the path to my right. Past the lines of brick houses and motorways stands the newer Catholic church, Our Lady of Mercy and St. Godric. It’s barely a century-and-a-half old; I suspect the mortar between the stones is still wet. In the distance, on a cliff above the unseen River Wear, stand the ghostly white towers of Durham Cathedral. For a moment there on the overlook, I find myself wondering: isn’t it a bit perverse for me to be here? I am a Witch and a Heathen, after all; what use do I have for churches? But I had no idea if I would ever return to the U.K., certainly not with a spare day and a spare punch on my rail pass, and I hated to turn down the chance to walk stones in waking that I have only walked before in dreams.

Overlooking Durham, England, with Durham Cathedral off in the mist [photo by E. Scott].

I take the puddled steps down and cross over a highway bridge, then go down again, past construction sites and roundabouts, past shops with names like the Velvet Elvis and the Fighting Cocks Public House, and down to another bridge, this one spanning the Wear, before I look up. Durham Cathedral, and the castle standing to its left, abut the cliff. I had seen this image before in photographs, the cathedral waiting atop the valley, the river lined with trees hiding the modern city. I take a photograph many others have taken before me. It’s unoriginal, perhaps, certainly inferior to the shots taken by professionals with actual cameras instead of cell phones, but their photographs would not be my photographs. Theirs could only be art, never memory.

Up now, into the market district, where brass Poseidon stands watch over the square; back now, in search of the hidden road to the cathedral. I find an alley off Silver Street, next to a building marked the Nine Altars Café, which leads up a long and steep hill parallel to the river. At least it’s a pleasant place to be out of breath. Eventually I come to the top, and the reality of the place sinks in.

Statue of Poseidon in the Durham Market Square [photo by E. Scott].

I have never been a Christian, and for the most part I have little use for Christian trappings. I have always preferred my religion to focus on the small, the oblique and personal: offerings of candy, cigarettes, and dollar bills at the shrines of the loa in the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple; weather-worn hammers and eggshells at Herne’s Hollow at the Gaea Retreat outside of Kansas City; coffee tables set as altars in the living rooms of my parents and their coven, lined with dishes of salt and water, incense, black iron swords. But cathedrals have their own kind of power, and despite how little I care for the religion they represent, I can’t help but feel drawn to them. Durham, in particular, has held a grip on my soul for many years.

I knew everything about the cathedral at 19, or thought I did. I loved its in-betweenness: built just after William’s conquest, Durham is the last of the great Romanesque cathedrals, already turning toward the Gothic. I studied its floor plans through textbook photographs, learned the names of all the parts of the structure: the nave and the choir, the transept, the narthex. I knew it, then, more intimately than I knew the floor plan of the dormitory I lived in, yet it existed for me only on paper, and in imagination, as opposed to the pale stone before me now.

I walk in silence down the aisle of the nave. Far above slender tendrils of stone join in pointed arches, one of the famed developments of this cathedral, portending the more famous Gothic cathedrals that soon followed it. The force of those points staggers earthward through the pillars. The pillars – yes – I remember these now, the joy I felt in examining their photographs, so many sets of identical twins: the pillars with carved chevrons, with rough Doric lines, with spiraling diamonds cut into the stone.

Books will say that Durham Cathedral has been open since 1093, when the current cathedral started construction and superseded the previous church on the site, which had been completed about 75 years prior. Workers laid carved stones together for the next fifty years until the vaults were finished, and then the cathedral was “finished.” At least that was how I understood it, but a man and a woman dressed in purple cloaks — I must admit, they look like nothing more than Hogwarts prefects — correct this. In fact, the cathedral hardly looked anything like it does today when it was “finished” in the 1130s. The far eastern end, now adorned with a rose window in the Gothic style, didn’t exist until middle of the 13th century; neither did the towers. Although an enormous door of wood and iron stands at the western end of the cathedral, seeming to lead out to the cliff face above the Wear, in fact that door has been blocked off by an altar on the other side for more than 800 years, when the Galilee Chapel was added. The stained glass in the windows now, the prefect tells me, is only a hundred years old or so, and some of it newer than that. The only place where original stained glass still exists is in the Galilee Chapel, which is where I decide to explore next.

I try to identify the old glass and do not have much luck of it; then I look at a rack of tea candles, available to light for a small donation. I sometimes light candles in churches, despite my Paganism, because my wife is a lapsed Catholic and she likes to light them for her sister. As I reach into my pocket for a coin to drop in the box, I realize that the candles are for prayers to the saint entombed behind me: the Venerable Bede.

Bede’s bones lay in a slab of black rock, his name engraved in gold letters on the top. For a moment I am awestruck. Bede was a doctor of the Catholic Church, author of the Ecclesiastical History. To call him a giant in the world of early England is to vastly understate his importance. As a middling Anglo-Saxonist, I have encountered his writings many times over the course of my studies; from just a scholar’s perspective, his tomb deserved a pilgrimage, yet I had no idea he was there. I thought Durham only held the remains of Cuthbert, a saint I knew mainly from his appearances in Dungeons and Dragons; I had no idea that the father of English history lay here too.

I walk back into the nave, still reeling from the surprise, when another of the Hogwarts attendants catches my eye, a middle-aged woman, auburn hair, glasses, a smile both motherly and mischievous. “Hello,” she says. “Are you finding everything all right?”

“Yes, yes – it’s wonderful,” I say, and mean it.

She has a name tag attached to her purple gown; Marian, it says, and below that, her title, Bedesman. Marian raises an eyebrow. “Ah, you’re not from around here, are you? An American? Are you a student?”

I nod, and tell her that I am in the United Kingdom for a few weeks to study pilgrimage. She assumes that my interest is in medieval devotion, like the journeys petitioners would make here to visit the tomb of Cuthbert. I don’t correct her; although I have long since stopped being ashamed to call myself Pagan in public, my old sense of caution remains strong in places like this monument to Christ. Some part of me holds enough superstition to believe it best to give the God of Abraham his space.

Marian takes me by the arm and guides me through the cathedral, even into places where visitors aren’t supposed to go, like the chapter house, once the place where monks met to listen to lectures, and now mainly the storage room for the choir’s coats during practice. She explains every detail, often flipping to a photograph in a small book of laminated pages to illustrate her points. There are clefts in the columns that the eye passes over, assuming them to be nothing more than the accidents of history, but Marian tells me how in the old days, before pews were brought in, there were iron scaffolds set into those clefts; how after the Venerable Bede was brought to Durham from his native Jarrow, a monk used to comb the dead saint’s hair; and how the great gold-and-teal clock of Prior Castell, which dominates the southern narthex above the door to the chapter house, originally had only one hand to tell the time. “In those days they weren’t so particular,” Marian tells me. “Knowing the quarter of the hour was good enough.”

Durham Cathedral, overlooking the River Wear [photo by E. Scott].

Marian only stops talking to occasionally check on me — “Oh, dear, if I’m boring you, please, feel free to go explore on your own,” she says — but I am rapt by the history flowing from her lips. The story she tells is of a building that is hardly a static artifact, but rather always in the process of being created again. It’s not just that the rose-windowed Chapel of the Nine Altars, which now dominates the view of the cathedral, didn’t exist until over a century after the cathedral was “finished.” Nor is it even that the tomb of St. Cuthbert was once adorned in gold and jewels, the most lavish site in England, but during the Reformation Henry VIII ordered it stripped to a bare slab. No, what makes me understand the living nature of the cathedral is to think of how the Iconoclasts broke out all the colored glass, thinking that the depiction of saints was blasphemous. Too close to little gods, I suppose. For centuries, the walls hung with only clear glass; then the times changed again, and the windows changed with it, until at last the only old glass left was in the Galilee Chapel with the Venerable Bede.

I mention my amazement at finding Bede in the cathedral to Marian. “I really should have known he was here; maybe I did know once, and forgot,” I say. “I had no idea he had been translated here.”

Translated?” Marian smirks. “Don’t be so polite. Bede wasn’t ‘translated’ to Durham – we nicked him!”

This comforts me, being a child of a religion often willing to steal from anything not nailed down, to hear that even the saints could be stolen, and that we could laugh about it a thousand years on.

*   *   * 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.

Pagan shop owner feels targeted, ignored in Canada

Thu, 2017-03-09 12:33

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Until she turned to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation last week, Dominique Smith did not feel like she was being heard. Now, the story of her Pagan-themed shop being vandalized is repeatedly being shared widely, and she’s found allies in Pagan communities. What she’s yet to gain, however, is an investigation of these incidents as hate crimes.

Smith owns Elemental Book & Curiosity Shop in Winnipeg, the provincial capital. It caters to the needs of local Pagans and polytheists, but she’s also become an “unintentional social worker,” pointing locals to resources for addiction, food insecurity, and other issues.

She’s been told that her issues might have more to do with poverty in the area, but she disagrees. “We’re open about who we are,” in the store, she said, and Winnipeg is “in a Bible belt.”

Harassment of a religious nature started almost immediately after the doors were opened, some six or seven years ago. Smith recalled being handed Chick tracts and finding pamphlets in the door decrying the Pagan nature of the Easter bunny. There are also reports that people will come to the shop just to pray for her soul.

The business improvement zone, in which Smith’s store is located, has a security team which handles that sort of thing.

But the issues didn’t escalate to outright vandalism until 2012, which saw the first of three times the store’s window was broken. No other businesses have reportedly had damage during that same period.

Sable Aradia picked up Smith’s banner, writing on her blog, “She can’t afford to replace her windows, which cost thousands of dollars, every year. If the bullies who are attacking her store are trying to drive her out of business because they don’t like what she’s selling, they’re succeeding.”

Dominique Smith [courtesy photo].

Damage like this has led to police reports being filed, but Smith told The Wild Hunt, “If I had called them every time I was harassed, it would have been hundreds of phone calls.”

The store has been egged, garbage has been shoved through the mail slot, and one night an enterprising individual covered the entire front window with spit.

“It must have taken them ten minutes to do that,” she said.

Despite the fact that some of the harassment has had a distinct religious character and that no other businesses have been damaged, the vandalism has not yet being treated like a hate crime. This designation brings stiffer penalties, because it is believed that the perpetrator is targeting a particular, minority group of people.

There are several perspectives on why the harassment hasn’t been called a hate crime. The one that has elicited the strongest reaction was the reason suggested by a Winnipeg police spokesperson, who told a CBC reporter that “witchcraft is not covered under religion.”

Leaders of the Wiccan Church of Canada have been concerned with the hodgepodge of religious protection laws found from coast to coast for some years. In an article by Richard James posted on the church’s web site, the many ways that “religion” is interpreted are laid out. Federal recognition stems from the prison system, military, and tax collectors.

Only in the correctional system is recognition “established policy;” prisoners therefore have a stronger right to practice than soldiers, whose commanders may consider requests on a case-by-case basis. No Pagan organization has received the tax-exempt status as a charity.

Provincial policies govern other areas, such as who has the right to solemnize marriage. While the Canadian criminal code defines a hate crime as “one in which hate is the motive and can involve intimidation, harassment, physical force or threat of physical force against a person, a group or a property,” according to a CBC report, and that they have occurred when the perpetrator targets an “identifiable group based on colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation,” that deference to local interpretation may influence how police officers treat a particular case.

“Hate crime legislation is harsh in Canada, which is likely why the police are so reluctant to invoke the legislation,” wrote Aradia, “[B]ut it exists for a reason. If these laws were not created to protect people like the Pagans of Winnipeg, then who were they created to protect?”

[Image credit: Dave Connor, Flickr]

Kerr Cuhulain isn’t so sure that there’s anti-Pagan bias at work in this case. “Stereotypes abounded back in the ’70s when I first became a cop. That’s one of the reasons I engaged in 25 years of educating police.”

“Are there still individual police officers out there who are intolerant of religions other than their own? Of course there are, and probably always will be,” Kerr added. “Is that the problem here? I don’t have enough information to say one way or the other.”

Rather, he thinks it’s just hard to prosecute a hate crime without a suspect. “I spent 25 years travelling all over North America educating police and other public agencies about Pagan religions to counteract the misinformation that was circulating in the ’80s and ’90s,” he said.

“This resulted in me becoming recognized as an expert in hate crimes involving minority religions. I’ve seen a lot of cases of harassment.”

There are seven legally-defined discriminatory practices that could be deemed a hate crime if one of 11 grounds of discrimination is also present; that is the list on which “religion” is found.

To Cuhulain’s mind, police might be calling it premature to classify this as a hate crime simply because they don’t think there’s enough evidence to make it stick just yet.

Cuhulain added, “I always encouraged Pagan groups to contact their local police, introduce themselves, and build a working relationship. Has the victim or her community done this? I don’t know, but I suspect that if they had we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Communication has not exactly been open, Smith acknowledged, saying that police officers “have talked with news reporters more than they’ve spoken with me,” which has been not at all since the story broke.

A spokesperson from Winnipeg Police Services reached by email agreed to look into the matter, but as of this writing has not provided a requested clarification about how hate crime laws are enforced in the city.

“I don’t believe the average cop knows very much about hate crimes except in general terms,” said Cuhulain of the complex laws. “I had this knowledge because my community was on the receiving end of hate crimes back then.”

Reaction from Smith’s local and wider religious communities, on the other hand, has been “utterly overwhelming and shocking,” she said. Aradia’s petition for hate-crime treatment has racked up close to 600 signatures as of press time, and a crowdfunding campaign has all but reached its goal in just over a week.

Florida artist Matt Nelson is auctioning off works to support the store. Smith has also received “hundreds of messages” of support from Pagans. Neighbors have also stopped in to let her know that they are glad she’s doing business in the neighborhood, including one regular customer who “shoved a hundred in my hand. I wanted to cry.”

Whether these incidents are investigated as hate crimes or not, whether the perpetrators are caught or not, one thing has definitely changed: there is a renewed sense of community and vigilance in this Winnipeg neighborhood, a solidarity that includes, rather than excludes, the Witch and her esoteric shop. If winning hearts and minds is the goal, then Dominique Smith’s trials have at least allowed her to score a few.

*  *  * The work of journalist Terence P. Ward was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

International Woman’s Day brings celebration and protest

Wed, 2017-03-08 11:30

TWH — On Tuesday morning, visitors to lower Manhattan were greeted with a new sculpture facing the famous Wall Street bull. With hands on her hips and her hair in a pony tale, a little girl stairs defiantly at the charging creature. Titled “The Fearless Girl” and created by Kristen Visbal, this new art installment was placed overnight by advertising agency McCann New York and its client State Street Global Advisors (SSGA). For what purpose? To celebrate International Women’s Day and to send the message that women play a vital role in the workforce.

[Photo Credit: Frederica Valabrega]

In a Mar. 7 press release, SSGA said that it is “calling on the more than 3,500 companies that SSGA invests on behalf of clients, representing more than $30 trillion in market capitalization to take intentional steps to increase the number of women on their corporate boards.”

While SSGA’s focus is on gender equality in corporate culture, it joins a number of other businesses, organizations, and individuals that are using this Mar. 8 International Women’s Day to send a message about gender equality and to celebrate the lasting and critical contributions that women have made to society.

One of the more well-known efforts has been the International Women’s Strike, or a “Day Without a Woman,” which was organized by the same group that staged the women’s march in January. On the website, organizers explain,

In the same spirit of love and liberation that inspired the Women’s March, we join together in making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system–while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. We recognize that trans and gender nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression and political targeting. We believe in gender justice.

The organizers are asking participants to wear red, to not engage in paid or unpaid work, and to not make any purchases. 30 groups, including the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, Black Women’s Roundtable, and Moms Demand Action, are endorsing this effort. It has reportedly created some problems around the country.

For example, as reported by a North Carolina CBS affiliate, the entire Chapel Hill-Carboro school district in the eastern portion of the state will be closed to students Wednesday. In a news release, the school board confirmed that it “values its female employees.” However, the shutdown was not “an endorsement of the demonstration.” The board press release said that “the decision was made solely to avoid operating school on a day when there are insufficient staff to provide instruction and basic school services.”

According to the district’s blog, teachers and staff started asking for Mar. 8 off weeks ago. As the date came closer, it became obvious to the board that the “number [of these requests] was significant,” and there would not be enough staff to “to safely run [the] school district.” The Chapel Hill-Carrboro area is not the only one reportedly affected by the boycott. There are similar stories coming in from around the country and from different sectors of society, even the federal government.

Like anything else, not everyone agrees with these specific actions, and there are many other ways to honor the day. Rev. Selena Fox, a longtime activist working for gender equality, discussed the movement on her radio program Tuesday evening. The special edition of Nature’s Talk, titled “My Feminist Adventures,” celebrates Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. Rev. Fox said, “I shared some of my experiences working for equal rights for women in the USA and globally over the past 50 years.” She also held a special ritual Saturday at Circle Sanctuary‘s temple in Wisconsin.

As Fox notes, March is, in fact, Women’s History Month. This is an official designation in the United States, the U.K, Australia and Canada, and it was adopted in these countries to correspond with the much older celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD).

When did IWD begin? The project’s website reports that a 1908 women’s march in New York was the first beginnings of the event. “Great unrest and critical debate was occurring amongst women. Women’s oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change.”

Then in 1909, the first National Women’s Day was held, but only in the U.S. The following year at a conference for working women in Copenhagen, German politician Clara Zetkin proposed the idea of an International Women’s Day.The concept was universally accepted, and in 1911 the first IWD was celebrated in a number of countries around the world. Since that point, the celebrations have spread.

It wasn’t until 1975 that the United Nations honored the day, but the global organization has since joined in what has become an aggressive effort to support women and promote gender equality. As written in a Mar. 8 article published on the UN’s news blog: “As the rights of women and girls around the world are being reduced and restricted, the United Nations today marked International Women’s Day with calls for empowering and educating women and girls to reach gender equality in the work place.”

Since IWD’s inception, the theme and drive behind each year’s celebration varies. The challenges and issues facing women today are not the same as they were in 1911. As noted on the IWD website, the infamous Triangle Waist Company fire in New York that killed over a hundred immigrant women became the focus of the early U.S.- based events for several years.

Similarly, the focus of IWD will also vary across cultures; the obstacles facing women in the U.K. are different than those found in India, which are still different from those problems found in Brazil. In Ghana, for example, the famous witch camps still thrive. Ghana’s first lady Lordina Mahama visited the camps in Nov. 2016, and she was quoted in Ghana News as saying, “I am looking forward to the day when society will stop accusing old women of witchcraft. I will be the happiest person in the world.” Her foundation is reportedly committed “to supporting and empowering women irrespective of where they [find] themselves.”

“Around the world, tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused to curtail women’s rights, to entrench sexism and defend misogynistic practices,” stated UN Secretary General António Guterres when talking about IWD.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka had her own message for the international community, one that focused on women in the workplace. She said, “A change in the world of work must be about creating opportunities for women to be full economic citizens.” Mlambo-Ngcuka has a doctorate in education and technology, and has been fighting for gender quality and racial justice for decades through politics and activism.

Whether marching, protesting, celebrating, honoring ancestors, or even performing a religious ritual, today has become a global day to honor the work and contributions made by women and girls around the world. The energy behind the movement appears to be growing each year. This year, in particular, it found yet a new voice and a new vibrancy within the current U.S. political climate.

As noted earlier, IWD’s focus may shift and change with time, politics, and culture. However, one of the core messages to consistently appear is the need to support women in the workplace, whether its on the farm, in the factory, at the pulpit, or in the board room.

In its statement concerning its own IWD-related efforts, State Street Global Advisors claim that there are actually numbers to back the need for this gender equality. “According to a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report, moving to a scenario where women participate in the economy identically to men would add up to $28 trillion, or an additional 26 percent, to annual global GDP by 2025 compared to a business as usual scenario.”

While SSGA, UN Women, Circle Sanctuary, the organizers promoting the boycott are all very different entities, the message seems to be the same. Let the girl stand up to the bull. As said by Mlambo-Ngcuka, “A change in the world of work must be about creating opportunities for women [and girls] to be full economic citizens.” And if SSGA’s numbers are correct, that change would ultimately benefit the entire world.

[Photo Credit: Frederica Valabrega]

Trademark application for “Yule” spurs controversy

Tue, 2017-03-07 14:51

TORRANCE, Calif. — A dispute over product packaging and branding has been raised to an unusual level for the intertwined Pagan communities, with one party filing an application to trademark the name Yule in an attempt, as reported, to protect its product from copycats. The response, which is largely driven by a that many common uses of the word would be forbidden if the trademark is approved, has come in the form of a campaign to educate the trademark examiner on the issues before any final decision is made.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

The companies at the center of the dispute are Sage Goddess, Inc. and Wyld Witchery. Sage Goddess Inc is described by one of its principals Dave Nicely, as”family owned and operated.” Wyld Witchery is a “micro business” according to partner Lila Ellwood in an interview for the Pagan Business Network blog.

Ellwood and her partner received a letter directing them to cease and desist selling two perfumes called “Yule” and “Amatus,” because the name and appearance infringed on trademarks owned by Sage Goddess, Inc. The letter was dated Feb. 14, 2017, and the trademark applications were filed the following day.

“They copy a lot of our products,” said Nicely when reached for comment. This is the why he reported taking the step to file this and other trademark applications. In a further written explanation provided by the company’s attorney Scott Shabel, trademarks are necessary to file a complaint with the platforms Etsy and Shopify.

As recounted in that letter, many Wyld Witchery products were too close for their comfort: “The bottle, cap, sari silk, stones, ingredients, and labels for several products were in most cases, identical to ours, including products we’ve had on the market for years. The marketing and descriptive copy used to sell this competitor’s products were, in some cases, lifted verbatim from our website.

“When a number of our customers wrote to us saying they were confused as to whether our products were being sold by another shop, we had no choice but to take legal action to protect our trade name, trade dress and other intellectual property rights.”

Charissa Iskiwitch, who runs the Pagan Business Network site, also received a letter herself from attorney Shabel after the interview with Elwood was posted. In it he decried various factual errors, and requested that the offending piece be taken down.

Iskiwitch’s response came from attorney Courtney Lytle, who represents trademark clients and teaches that area of law. After Lytle remarked that registering Yule as a trademark for a perfume could easily prevent any scented products to use that name, Iskiwitch started organizing the resistance. Her goal was to alert the trademark examiner — who has yet to be assigned — that this is in effect a common word, which cannot be trademarked. Her tactics include talking to business owners whose products could be impacted, and to circulate online petitions.

However, Iskiwitch took pains to make clear that she was not interested in dissecting or disparaging the reasons for trying to trademark such a term. “I am not wanting to trash a business for practices or products or any other reason,” she said.

“It is not about that one person, [and] I won’t participate in that kind of thing.” However, “This is a huge issue,” because of the many scented products with Yule in the name. As she noted, the trademark “would allow one business to stop all others from creating products called Yule.”

According to Lytle, trademarks are broadly interpreted because they are intended to protect the consumer from confusion. The example she used was a line of spices: trademarking its name would also protect an expansion of the name into baked goods, she said, or any other reasonably-connected enterprise. That means that a trademark on Yule perfume could be enforced with cologne and toilet water, but also other scented products such as potpourri and incense.

Lytle freely admits that she’s mostly unfamiliar with Pagan practice, which puts her in line with most Americans who view the word Yule as an old-time synonym for “Christmas.” That’s why she believes the application could very easily go through without opposition. With it, she’s less clear, saying that while the trademark process is more predictable than patenting an invention, there’s still a great deal of discretion left to the assigned examiner.

Once a trademark application is filed, it’s much more difficult to oppose it; for starters, there’s a $400 filing fee. That’s why Iskiwitch got to work quickly. “I do not currently have any Yule products,” she said. Rather, it’s a “battle to help save this word for the business community.”

The application process can take a year or more to be finalized, but Lytle said that if approved, it would be enforceable back to the application date. From that point, it would be a question of if the trademark holder chose to enforce their rights or not.

Elwood said that her own attorney “implored” her to file state trademarks, which in narrow situations may even trump a federal claim. “My partner was apprehensive to go this route with trademarking the names of our holidays, and I agree with her, they belong to the community. However, the lawyer has assured us we do not have to enforce these trademarks, but they are there for if/when another situation like this comes about.”

What runs through this entire issue are accusations of bad faith. Elwood has been fingered for products purportedly too similar; she in turn claims that Sage Goddess spies tried to infiltrate her Facebook groups just before she received that letter.

Nicely asserted that the petition drive falsely accuses his family of trying to trademark the holiday, and that it is being organized by friends of Elwood.

Wyld Witchery Yule oil [PBN]

Nicely did signal some good faith in the one interview he conducted prior to his attorney requesting no further direct contact. “As a show of good faith, we’re going to rescind the filing,” he said. “We’re going to pursue those other ones. [We’re] not trying to cause harm, just want people to stop” copying their merchandise.

In her PBN interview, Elwood said that she and her partner voluntarily pulled the “Amatus” products and renamed them.

As of this writing, the trademark application database does not reflect any such withdrawal. It’s not clear how quickly such an act would be reflected in the database.

Shubel, the attorney representing Sage Goddess, did not respond in time to answer questions about the cease-and-desist letter, dated the day before the trademark application. Iskiwitch’s attorney Lytle stressed that while the application date is the effective date for an approved trademark, it has to get approved first.

What’s quite clear is that a Pandora’s box has been opened. Regardless of intent or success, the idea of trademarking a Pagan or other minority religious holy day name for the purposes of selling products is now a topic of conversation, possibly even in business strategy sessions. For good or ill, Paganism is being visited with issues of the mainstream market.