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Updated: 6 min 52 sec ago
[Today journalist Nathan Hall reports on a national concern that is affecting Pagans and magic-workers. If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We are now at 43% with 11 days left. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a platform for our communities’ important news. What better way to celebrate the October season: Donate to a news organization that is, in part, for and about modern Witches. Donate today.]
UNITED STATES – Kratom is an innocuous medicinal plant, a drug, and herb used in religious ceremonies, or a killer, depending with whom you speak. A woman in Florida blames the drug for her son’s suicide; addiction recovery advocates say that it can be a useful harm-reduction tool; journey-workers believe that it’s good for relaxing the mind and aiding in trance work. Additionally, there are a growing number of people who find kratom to be an enjoyable intoxicant. They drink it rather than going to a traditional bar and ordering alcohol.The plant, which originates in southeast Asia and some islands of the South Pacific, has been used for centuries as a mild stimulant or pain reliever, as well as in religious ceremony. In the last decade, kratom has found popularity in Western countries, especially through kava bars. And, as a result, it has been followed by bans and laws limiting its availability.
Liz Johnson is the owner of Magus Books, a store serving the Pagan and magick-using communities in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The store sells kratom.
“As with all the herbs we sell it is supplied for the use that the person sees fit to use it for. Our intent is to provide magickal tools and resources and that herb, like all the other herbs, certainly falls into that category,” she said.
Johnson explained that one of the issues that creates problems for the herb is that there are different strains.
“Each of them have their own effects, each of them have their own purposes. This is one of those reasons for that regulation, a preponderance of people will have a typical reaction to a given strain. This doesn’t mean it will be your reaction to that strain, which is a typical thing with any herb,” she said.
There are a number of reactions that are considered to be standard, or what you would expect to see. However, since people each have their own unique body chemistry, there will always be instances where unexpected reactions occur, she further explained.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency attempted to add the plant to the list of Schedule 1 drugs, or those substances seen as having no medical benefit, including heroin, cocaine, LSD and marijuana. On August 31, the DEA announced their intentions to schedule kratom as such by the end of September 2016.
The August announcement lead to a massive public protest, after which the DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson admitted, “I have been with the DEA for 20 years and have never seen this level of public response,”as noted by the Los Angeles Times,
In fact, 51 members of Congress, across party lines submitted their own protests to the proposed legislation, which forced the DEA to backpedal and open up a another 6 week period for discussion. That will close on Dec. 1.
At that point, the DEA will decide whether to move forward with the ban or begin discussing alternatives.For Johnson and Magus Book, a ban would have some serious implications for business.
“We’ll lose those sales; we’ll lay people off; there will be cutting of hours. It’s not an insignificant percentage. It will impact the business to lose that particular herb. But, it would impact the business [also] to lose white sage. [Kratom] is our most popular herb, make no mistake. It will have the largest impact the loss of a single herb would have. But at the same time with the number of herbs we sell, any loss we would have a noticeable impact,” she said.
As a tool for journey work, Johnson said that if kratom were made illegal, most of those folks would move on to another alternative. However, if people are using kratom to maintain a regimen where they’re attempting to not use opiates or synthetic opiates, there aren’t a lot of alternatives. Johnson said, “For the people who come looking to replace a physical pain reliever (that) they’ve become addicted to, I don’t have a great replacement for that. I have a protocol as an herbalist to help with the detox.”
Justin Kunzelman is the co-founder and director of Rebel Recovery, a nonprofit with several branches across the United States. He is based in South Florida.
“It could be used as a safer alternative replacement drug, but it depends on the individual. If an individual’s goal for harm-reduction is, ‘I don’t want to shoot heroin anymore,’ then our responsibility as a professional is to find the best way for them to do that. If it’s possible for them to do that in an abstinence-only setting then they should,” he said.
If they feel like kratom is a good alternative that could prevent them from being on heroin, then they should do that, he added.
“You also can’t tell people what their goals should and should not be and what they should believe. I don’t know that there’s really enough research to use it as a replacement therapy, but somebody that’s addicted is just looking to escape, could they use this to escape and use it as a replacement for heroin? Absolutely,” Kunzelman said.
Where he sees cause for concern is that it’s another drug and to people who suffer from addiction, trading one for another isn’t the ultimate goal.
“It has everything to do with the mindset behind using the drug,” he said. “Everything from caffeine, nicotine to kava, kratom, crack, heroin, it’s all going to set off the same cycle in their minds. It’s all gonna set off the same cycle in their lives.”
Kunzelman points to the openness of the internet as a likely source of fuel for the protests seen after attempting to ban kratom. The spread of information has lead to a lot of social change, including the attitudes of people who use kratom.
“I think a lot of them… understood the danger of putting another plant as a Schedule 1 narcotic and saying it had no value, while doing no research. […] Look at how many people could have been helped were we able to openly study marijuana in the 50’s. How many people’s lives could have been improved had we known then what we know now about CBD oil (cannabidiol, an extract of cannabis being studied for health benefits, including treatment of epilepsy)?” he said.
There’s a lot of potential research to be done with kratom, but having it as a Schedule 1 substance would prevent any of that from happening, Kunzelman said.
Liz Johnson feels that for Pagan or shamanic work, practioners should view the open access of plants and plant materials as a religious right.
“Every time we make a move to decide that we are not responsible enough as a society to handle these things, we take a step backwards evolutionarily, we take a step away from reaching those pinnacles of spirituality that we know create a better world,” she said.
As a recovery advocate and a person in recovery himself, Kunzelman sees the drug war as a failure, and the current heroin epidemic as a product of that.
“The last thing we want to do is add to that. Add one more thing to the list of things that we can kick in your door for, seize your home and your car,” he said.
Pagan Community Notes: Bryan David Zell, Good Morning Washington, Wisconsin Department of Corrections and more!
[Here are this week’s Pagan Community Notes! Each Monday we feature events, book releases, and important news stories coming out of our collective Pagan and Heathen communities. If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We are now at 42% with 12 days left. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a platform for our communities’ important news. Donate today.]
SUMTERVILLE, Fla. – Oberon Zell announced Oct. 19 that his son Bryan David Zell had died after a long battle with multiple health problems, including pancreatitis, diabetes, and liver failure. Bryan was born Sept. 19, 1953,, and grew up in and around his father and eventually his stepmother’s work , just as the Pagan community was beginning to grow. Zell described his son as a “Pagan and a Pirate.” He said,”Bryan was a magickal child, and he always maintained an altar. He would find interesting-looking rocks and identify them as having magickal functions, such as making rain, snow, or other things he determined from their markings.”
At 18, Bryan joined the Army, after which he traveled and worked with his family. In 2001, he graduated from Mendocino Community College located in Ukiah, California with a degree in geriatric nursing. Shortly after, he moved to Florida and got a job working with the TSA in Orlando, a job that Zell called “miserable.” He believes it contributed to his son’s worsening condition.
By 2015, Bryan’s various illnesses had overtaken him and, in December of that year, he was hospitalized. As time passed, the situation only worsened. Bryan was eventually placed in hospice care. The morning of Oct. 19, Zell posted on Facebook, “We discovered that the consecrated blue ‘Dreamwalker’ candle we had burning for Bryan on the ancestor altar had gone out. I tried to relight it, but the wick wouldn’t ignite. I said to Anne, ‘I can’t seem to relight it.’ She replied, ‘Perhaps you don’t need to.’ And we knew.”
Bryan died peacefully the night of Oct. 18. Zell said that he felt the passing and that Bryan’s “beloved stepmother had come to carry him home.” Zell also recounted that an owl had visited Bryan’s room at the time of his death. Zell believes this to be a family familiar that had lived with them when his son was young. Zell added, “Let these memories lessen grief.”
Pagan priestess Doreen Lavista was able to give him his last rites. Zell said that Bryan will be cremated and his ashes will be present at the Nov. 4-6 Samhain retreat at Annwfn. The retreat will include a memorial service and a telling of stories. Bryan is known among his friends as a kind and loving soul. What is remembered, lives.
* * *
WASHINGTON – The Firefly House has been invited to appear as a guest on the ABC affiliate talk and news program Good Morning Washington Oct. 31. Author David Salisbury, co-coordinator of the Firefly House, will be joined by member Caroline Gould. Salisbury said, “The main focus is on modern Witchcraft as practiced in Washington D.C. and also a little bit on how Witches celebrate Halloween religiously, and also perform some type of ritual.” The goal, Salisbury said, is to “educate the masses.”
But that is not the only public relations effort that members of the Firefly House will be making this Halloween season. The group’s annual dumb supper will be attended by local news website the DCist. The organization’s sixth annual dumb supper will be held later that same evening of Oct. 31.
If you want to watch Salisbury and Gould on morning show, the ABC broadcast will be live-streamed through the affiliate’s website, and for those who can’t watch live, clips should be available later in the day. We will update this story in our next edition of Pagan Community Notes.
* * *
WISCONSIN – There are now more Pagans on the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Religious Advisory Committee. This is big step forward for Pagan chaplains working in prison ministry in the state. According to Rev. Selena Fox, who has been involved in this type work for decades, “[This committee] advises the Wisconsin Department of Corrections on religious accommodation issues involving state prison operations.” The more Pagans, Heathens, and people of minority religions serving on such committees, the better understood the practice of such religions is, and the more likely accommodations will be considered and appropriately granted.
According to the report, the committee now has three members who follow a Pagan tradition. The members include Fox, Dianne Duggan (Minerva) and Wade Mueller. Rev. Fox has been serving on the committee since 2001, while the other two were just appointed. While Duggan is a Circle Sanctuary member, Mueller is not; he is a member of the group Deeply Rooted.
Duggan and Mueller have already attended their first meeting, and Rev. Fox said that she is glad to have them on board.
In Other News
- After the first round of formal decisions went out for PantheaCon’s 2017 presentation selections, there was brief outcry as many regular presenters were not given a space. Speculation as to why was rampant. TWH spoke directly with both PantheaCon founder and director Glenn Turner. When asked about any changes in the decision process, she confirmed that nothing had indeed changed, and that the organization is simply ensuring fresh programming and providing space to new presenters. Turner said, “We have always welcomed new presenters; many published authors have started as PantheaCon speakers. In order to make room for new faces, as we have grown, we’ve needed to rotate out some excellent presenters and welcome them back in future years.” This year PantheaCon will be held Feb. 17-20.
- The Druid College UK will be opening its application process Oct. 31 for the next set of year one classes, to begin in October 2017. Co-founder, tutor and author Joanna van der Hoeven explained, “We are opening for applications a full year in advance to allow for more flexible payment arrangements.” Now in its second year, the college “provides a three year non-accredited course in studying the tenets of the earth-based spirituality known as Druidry.” It is the sister school of the U.S.-based Druid College in Maine. The college has also announced that it has a new location: classes will be held at Messing Village Hall in the Essex countryside.
- Blogger, lawyer and tarot reader Benebell Wen has released a new book titled The Tao of the Craft. According to her website, the book “reveals the rich history and theoretical principles underlying the ancient practice of crafting Fu talismans, or magical sigils, in the Chinese Taoist tradition.” This is Wen’s second book.
- In other book news, Red Wheel/Weiser has begun its third annual Wicked Wonders Giveaway. The winner receives a “tote bag filled with books by Weiser authors Judika Illes, John L. Steadman, Courtney Weber, Crystal Judy Hall and others. The winner will also receive a galley copy of Love Magic written by author and blogger Lilith Dorsey.” Entries are being accepted through Oct. 31.
- TWH journalist and filmmaker Dodie Graham McKay was involved in project that resulted in a film titled Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees. As explained on the website, the film is a “documentary featuring scientist and acclaimed author Diana Beresford-Kroeger. [It] follows Diana as she investigates our profound biological and spiritual connection to forests. Her global journey explores the science, folklore, and restoration challenges of this essential eco-system.” Currently the film is only being screened in Winnipeg and Sarnia. It will be released on a wider scale in the months to come. Here is the trailer:
Call of the Forest – Theatrical Trailer from Treespeak Films
UPDATE 10/24 4:06pm: This article was updated with additional information about Bryan Zell as provided directly by his father Oberon Zell.
Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media or a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice or artist you’d like to see highlighted? Contact us with a link to the story, post, audio, or image.
The gods are powerful, as are many other entities and beings. They have the power to begin a series of events that culminate in a coincidence that is also a deliberate sign. They have the power to bump that algorithm and make it do what They want to give us that sign. They have the power to make the wind blow a certain way so that all those birds act in that natural but slightly unusual way that grabs our attention and makes us go, “It’s a sign!”
It’s not just these unsure signs either, but the more awesome obvious things. Consider John Beckett’s green glowing bird. A rather noticeable thing, and he admits to reaching to find an explanation for what he was seeing, some mundane reason for it. Because that is what we do – even when we believe deeply in the “supernatural,” we still reach for mundane reasons.
–Bekah Evie Bell, Maybe it’s a Sign, Maybe it’s Just an Oddly Specific Facebook Algorithm
Greed loves monopoly. Monopoly is fed by centralization. Centralization has gotten worse. The more greedy corporations can get away with centralization, the more they will, until no one creates online content except those with the big bucks to produce corporate-driven, insipid “culture.” Social media corporations want advertisers. Advertisers put their money on watered-down content, mostly. If corporate media can get away with it, the only online “Paganism” will be as mindlessly numbing as most television.
Paganism tamed! Imagine if wildly witchy articles no longer existed? Imagine only corporate media “Pagan” blogs, as milquetoast as the fake Christianity that dominates media to suppress robust, responsible Christianity?
–Francesca De Grandis, Social Media and Pagan Culture
Let’s go back to the basics: the acronym stands for Unusual (or Unverified) Personal Gnosis. It’s unusual if it isn’t corroborated by the collective past experiences of others. It’s personal if it is revealed to one person alone during the course of their active worship of the gods. But gnosis – I think we need to remember that gnosis does not mean simply an idea or thought or piece of information, it’s a (mystical, spiritual) insight, the kind that typically comes as a revelation (often after prolonged study and practice).
When you’re just pondering the ways of the gods and you have an idea about something new – maybe you think, for instance, that a god might like a certain offering not attested to in the sources, or you see a connection between one myth and another that you never noticed before and haven’t seen discussed – that idea might be entirely valid and true and interesting, but it is not really the same thing as when the gods themselves reveal something to you during ritual, or when in a deep state of devotional mind you have a sudden and profound insight into their natures.
–Dver, Some thoughts on UPG
There is no escape from yourself. There is no escape from pain. There is no escape from this moment. There is only what is in front of you and your choice of how you face it. When you are faced with a challenging person or situation, do you find yourself wallowing in the toxic miasma of the situation? Unable to let go of the muck. Do you find yourself complaining to your spouse or friend or relative? In a way, what you are doing is scooping a little of that sludge and flinging it at someone you love, hoping some of it will stick. Misery does love company.
–Rúndaingne Ash, My truth about happiness
I have never understood why, when others speak to us about our faith, it sounds like they believe that we just decided to put on the black hat and pointed shoes because we had nothing better to do. The truth is, that for many who proudly call themselves Witch, they are simply finding their way again. I have taught and known many spirited Witches over my life, and many who have recently discovered their magickal ways. They describe it as a returning to a life they knew they were a part of, rather than something new or something they just started. It is simply who we are.
–Lady Abigail, Samhain and the ‘Witch Questions’
The thing that makes deep time difficult for many people to cope with is that it makes self-evident nonsense out of any claim that human beings have any uniquely important place in the history of the cosmos. That wouldn’t be a difficulty at all, except that the religious beliefs most commonly held in Europe and the European diaspora make exactly that claim.
–John Michael Greer on the anthropocentric nature of time
There seems to be a sentiment among some Pagans and polytheists that being a good person isn’t important. That as long as we give offerings to the gods, ancestors, spirits . . . that we can be whatever kind of person we want.
I’m not here to tell you otherwise. You practice your religion in the way that you feel is right for you and your powers. But for me, personally, I believe that my religion is ineffective or incomplete if it is not making me a better person. If I am not becoming kinder or more compassionate to others, especially the poor, outcasts, downtrodden, hungry . . . I don’t see my religion as being complete. I need to be making the world a better place for others in some way, shape, or form. . . .I understand that this may seem very Christian to Pagans. Meekness and compassion are not often seen as important values to polytheists, and perhaps to ancient Pagans they weren’t.
–R.M. McGrath, Good People
To demand my vote is to demand my consent for the horror that America does in my name, be that the imprisonment of millions for property and drug crimes here or the obliteration of children to get at the oil they’re living atop in the Middle East. Insisting I must “play” in order to “win” is a sick joke at best when the jackpot is only the hope of less slaughter of others and a little less poverty for myself. At worst, it’s the language of the abuser and the rapist. If you don’t say no, it means yes–yet even if you do say no, it still means yes because they have power.
The mass ritual of voting for who will be the new face of the Leviathan sucks everyone into a vortex of celebrity-worship, displacing radical political actions onto candidates resembling our hopes and dreams. Meanwhile, some get richer, drowning in revenue from campaign advertisements, just as state coffers swell with sales from lottery tickets. That the same massive media corporations who shape our perception of the world and the urgency of our vote make the most money from the election frenzy is hardly accidental.
–Rhyd Wildermuth, Editorial: I Won’t Play
Local and state elections – who we vote for matters more than who we vote for for president. Congresscritters usually filter up from state and local governments. Presidential candidates come almost exclusively from Congress and state governments. If we want different candidates for president, we must put different candidates in office down ticket. That’s where our vote truly matters. That’s where the change begins. If we help put someone in office who turns out to be vile, we need to work to unseat them. Whenever possible, pick candidates for are for term limits for Congress. That forever candidate and seat holder is dangerous to public welfare. Once ensnared in the political machine, they spend most of their time and decision making energy on staying there, rather than doing what is best for citizens.
Change from ground up – that’s how I vote, in every election. I encourage you to do the same.
–Boneweaver, The downticket shifts the upticket
A polytheistic relationship to truth forces us to see plurality as a fundamental feature of the world. We produce truth through a process of living and engaging with the beings that surround us. Truth becomes participatory. The tension between competing truths is recognized as powerful and real, and our choices, adjudicating between these truths, have real and meaningful consequences. The world is full of complexities, and as we move through it, we only produce more and more. We make the world a stranger place with every passing day.
–Julian Betkowski, I Believe that Polytheism is Important Right Now
[Here is our October version of Unleash the Hounds, a monthly article fearing links to stories outside of our collective communities. If you enjoy this article and others like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. We have 13 days left to meet our goal, and you make it possible for us to continue. The Wild Hunt is your community news service. Donate today.]
NORTH DAKOTA — It was announced this week that a judge “dismissed the riot charges” against journalist Amy Goodman for covering the protest efforts to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. In September, the Democracy Now! producer was charged with criminal trespassing after reportedly filming “security guards working for the Dakota Access pipeline company using dogs and pepper spray to attack protesters.” At the time Goodman said, “This is an unacceptable violation of freedom of the press,” adding that she was just doing her job.
Goodman has been a very vocal proponent of free and independent news media. This particular story reached national news, as Goodman turned herself over to authorities risking jail time for her right to work as a journalist. However, on Oct. 17, District Judge John Grinsteiner rejected the charges on the basis that the state lacked “probable cause.” The ruling is being hailed as a victory for freedom of the press.
Goodman is quoted as saying, “It is a great honor to be here today. The judge’s decision to reject the State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson’s attempt to prosecute a journalist—in this case, me—is a great vindication of the First Amendment.” She then invited other media outlets to join her in North Dakota as she continues her working covering the pipeline protests.
In Other News
- Rolling Stone magazine recently reported on a triple murder within the furry community. The story went national and, as reported by the magazine, has this poorly-understood, private community worried about backlash. “The incident is causing concern among furries already sick of defending the scene from negative stereotypes,” writes Rolling Stone journalist Mary Emily O’Hara. “They worry that the tragedy will become a joke to the general public, like a 2014 chlorine gas attack at Midwest Furfest did, when MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski was unable to keep a straight face after she learned, on-camera, about furries.”
- The Gothamist reported that a woman found a cow tongue nailed to a tree in Bedford-Stuyvesant, an area of Brooklyn, New York. According to the report, this is not the first time that cow tongues have been found around the area. The article’s interviewee linked the tongue to a “wicked spell.” While the journalist did speak to a professor of religion on the possible meanings or origins of the tongue and its uses in religious work or magic, no more concrete information was provided. Was it really a spell or simply a joke? At this point, there is only speculation and accusations.
- In an AJC investigative series, it was revealed that an Oklahoma psychiatrist has been accused of “spiritually manipulating” several of his female patients over a ten-year span. He allegedly “convinced [these women] that they had multiple personalities that could seize control of their bodies, that their mothers had given them over to witchcraft as babies, and that they were powerful witches.” After one victim committed suicide in 2003, the doctor reportedly told the police a similar story about witchcraft and the occult. The investigating officer at the time “didn’t know then what he had stumbled over” and never followed up. Since that point, other women have come forward now accusing the doctor of sexual manipulation and abuse. No Witchcraft practice was involved.
- Witchcraft is also being linked to a kidnapping trial in Dallas, Texas. According to reports, a “jar containing a dark-colored liquid” was found under the alleged kidnapper’s bed. In court, the investigator speculated that this bottle was a hex spell, and is quoted as saying, “If she had to put it in context, she told the judge, it was more than a lucky nickel but not as serious as voodoo.”
- Astrologers are currently fighting over Hillary Clinton’s exact birth time in an attempt to predict the election. As Christopher LaFond told The Wild Hunt in our own report on election astrology, “the time of day for Hillary Clinton’s birth is suspect,” making certain analyses difficult. The Washington Post dives into that debate.
- According to a recent Upworthy article, a local Baltimore school has replaced detention with meditation. As reported, “Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.” The program was created and is sponsored by the Holistic Life Foundation. School officials have reportedly said that, since implementing the program, there have been no suspensions and the detention rate has dropped.
Arts and Leisure
- The New York Times published an article on Star Trek’s beloved character Spock and his “outsider role model.” As the article reports, “For years [Spock] was about the closest viewers could get to a multiracial role model on American TV.” His dual identity as both human and Vulcan is uniformly reported to be his most popular trait. Audiences identified strongly with this duality, and still do.
Witches, Witches, and more Witches…
- Bohemian.com, a site focused on California’s Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties, featured an article about the practice of modern Witchcraft in that region. “Many North Bay residents are carving pumpkins, scouring thrift stores in search of 1980s threads for Halloween costumes of their favorite Stranger Things characters, or building Dia de los Muertos altars to remember their beloved dead. Meanwhile, Preston and thousands of other witches are preparing for the Oct. 31 Pagan festival of Samhain. And, no, the festivities do not include eating babies.”
- For your enjoyment, here is a performance from the popular German dance troupe Wolfshäger Hexenbrut:
[Today, The Wild Hunt welcomes author Christine Hoff Kraemer. Over the year, The Wild Hunt welcomes guests, like Kraemer, to share unique viewpoints and practices. Doing so is an important part of our overall mission. If you enjoy articles like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt. You make it possible for us to continue to provide a world platform to a diversity of voices, and we’ve got four more fantastic writers scheduled over the next three months and more coming in early 2017. The Wild Hunt is your community news service. Donate today.]
I’m nine years old, and it’s a sunny summer day. School’s out and there’s nowhere to be, nothing I have to do. I say goodbye to my mother, grab my bike and ride to my best friend’s house. “Can Lisa come out and play?” We walk in the woods near the playground. The sunlight filters down through green leaves and dances across the wet-weather creek where we go to hunt for frogs. Birds are singing, and distantly I can hear shouts from the kids spinning the merry-go-round at top speed. My friend has walked ahead, following the creek, and for few moments, I’m alone with the sound of my breath.
Does this sound like your childhood? If you’re my age—thirty-seven—or older, it may. Most children raised in the United States in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s spent a great deal of time playing unsupervised outdoors, often in the company of a mixed-age group of other children.
My childhood experiences of encountering the natural environment on my own, without direction or interference from an adult, are part of the bedrock of my Paganism. The quiet of the woods helped me learn to listen and connect to the land around me. Outdoors, by myself, was the first place that I felt spirit. Being out with other kids also helped make me self-reliant. We knew which houses had trusted adults in them if we needed help, and we knew how to find our way home. Those senses of interconnectedness and of my own personal power are part of what ultimately made me a Witch.Today, it is the rare child that spends much, if any, independent time outdoors. Some of this shift is because so many homes now have streaming television and video game systems—engrossing entertainment that discourages kids from going outside to seek fun. But why are parents no longer kicking their kids outdoors for some healthy exercise, far away from these hypnotic screens? The explanation lies in a generational change in American parenting culture.
“You Can Never Be Too Safe”—Or Can You?
Since the 1990s, constant supervision of children has become the norm, especially in urban and suburban areas. American parents have embraced safety as the top priority for their children, to the extent that even minor risks have sometimes been deemed unacceptable. As a result, many of the useful skills that were part of my childhood—small things like learning to use a sharp knife or operate the oven—have been actively discouraged. Today, many parents (as well as police, social services workers, and other authorities) assume that pre-adolescent children are essentially helpless. Children are commonly not permitted to play outside unless an adult can be present.
Journalist Lenore Skenazy was unexpectedly catapulted to national fame in 2008 when she allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the New York City subway by himself. The media picked up the story, and Skenazy suddenly found herself being decried as “the world’s worst mom”… and invited on talk shows. Skenazy used the opportunity to write a book, found a website, and ultimately start a movement: Free-Range Kids.
Skenazy’s book Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) advocates strongly for independent outdoor play as soon as the parent judges that the child is ready. It also reflects on an important question: Why are American parents so obsessed with the idea of safety when we are, in fact, living in incredibly safe times? Skenazy rolls out statistic after statistic: after a peak in the early 1990s, crime rates are down to where they were in the early 1970s and are still falling. Yet there are widespread perceptions that American society is much less safe for children than when today’s parents are growing up.
Skenazy argues that this is due to a media culture of fear-mongering that has made parents unable to calmly and rationally evaluate risk, especially when it comes to “stranger danger,” the possibility of child abduction by a stranger. Journalists say that “If it bleeds, it leads”— stories about tragedy and violence draw viewers and, therefore, make money. This is especially true for news stories about strangers preying on children. These tragedies routinely receive national coverage and are then recycled into true-crime shows and made-for-TV movies.
The painstakingly detailed, terrifying coverage of crimes against children gives the impression that child abductions by strangers are common. In reality, they are incredibly rare. As Skenazy reports, stranger abduction is so unusual that children are 40 times more likely to die in a car accident than they are to be kidnapped and killed by a stranger. 2,000 American children die in car accidents every year, yet it is the rare parent who hesitates over strapping a child into a car.Is Skenazy arguing that allowing kids independent outdoor play is 100% safe? Not at all—but she argues that in most cases, it is safe enough considering the benefits. In Free to Learn, educational psychologist Peter Gray writes that free play is the primary way that children develop emotional resilience, learn to solve problems, and develop social skills—and that to develop these skills, outdoor play with friends is ideal.
Being able to explore freely outdoors gives kids opportunities to explore their world, make up creative new games, and build community through befriending their neighbors. Play unsupervised by adults encourages self-reliance and gives a sense of competence. Children who run their own errands or can spend an evening alone are learning the street smarts and self-care skills that they will need as adults—and today, cell phones means they can do it with their parents only a quick call or a text away.
It’s probably no surprise for Pagans to hear that being outdoors is also hugely beneficial to our health, but this fact is now becoming well-known in mainstream culture. Recent studies suggest that time spent in natural settings improves short-term memory and concentration, increases energy, encourages creativity, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, and more. Too much indoor time can actively harm one’s health as well: dangers include vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of diabetes and depression.
The Free-Range Parenting Movement in the Courts
The right to raise our children with our religious and spiritual values should be fundamental. Pagans who want their children to spend time in nature independently, however, need to be prepared to educate disapproving neighbors and deal with suspicious law enforcement. Because of today’s overprotective parenting culture, parents who allow their children to walk to school or play outside unsupervised may find themselves being interviewed by Child Protective Services or even arrested.
In 2014, Debra Harrell was arrested and jailed for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to play at a park while she was at work. According to news coverage, the daughter had a cell phone and a key to her house, which was a brief walk away. She had asked to go the park as an alternative to what she had been doing for most of the summer: playing on a laptop at the McDonald’s where her mother was employed.
Skenazy documents this and many similar cases on the Free Range Kids blog. Fortunately for Harrell and her daughter, however, Skenazy was not the only one taking notice. Media outlets as large as CNN picked up the story, noting potential racial bias against a “mother of color.” Harrell received pro bono legal assistance to secure her release, keep her job, and restore her custody of her daughter. Happily, in the summer of 2016, a Facebook group formed to help raise legal funds for the Harrells reported that the jury had declined to indict and that there will be no further action taken against Harrell.It is exciting to see that as such cases receive more media attention, government decisions are often coming down in favor of families’ right to give children more freedom. In 2015, the Meitiv family of Silver Spring, Maryland were repeatedly harassed by local authorities after allowing their six-year-old and ten-year-old to walk together in their neighborhood. After the Meitivs announced their intention to sue, Maryland officials clarified that so long as there is no specific and substantial threat of harm, children walking or playing outside unsupervised do not require the attention of Child Protective Services. This statement is a tremendous victory for the Meitivs and may help protect families with free-range parenting philosophies in the future.
Free-Range for an Uncertain Future
As reports from government agencies and scientists mount, we can no longer be in doubt: climate change is already causing volatile weather patterns, rising temperatures, and flooding. These shifts are impacting agriculture, clean water supplies, housing and more in ways that will ultimately affect us all. For those of us in the United States, our grandchildren—perhaps our children—may need to learn how to live in a lower-tech, less comfortable environment than we enjoy today. Some may be at the mercy of the elements in a way most of us have never experienced.
When my husband and I discuss the education of our son, now just a toddler, this global reality is never far from our minds. We want to encourage our son’s independence, resilience, creativity, and persistence. We want him outdoors as much as possible, learning to use his body and forming relationships with the animals and plants he finds there. We want him to feel supported and loved, but we also want him to be able to take care of himself.
Because there is so much pressure to keep kids indoors and supervised at all times, we’ve realized that if we want our child to be competent, self-reliant, and comfortable in nature, we will have to create opportunities for independent outdoor play deliberately. When I imagine my son at twelve years old, I see him able to ride his bike to the store to buy milk; I see him able to catch, clean, and cook a fish over a fire he made; I see him able to mow a lawn, operate a smartphone, care for a dog, and bandage a burn.
We’ve started out by putting him in a nature preschool where the children play in the woods and learn to recognize animal signs and identify plants. I hope that in the future, we will continue to find support for our parenting with other free-range parents, alternative schools, scouting, and Pagan groups.What Can I Do?
Are resilience, self-reliance, and love of nature some of the Pagan values you want your kids to have? Want to protect your parental rights and form communities of support for free-range parenting? Here are some positive steps to take.
- Educate yourself. Read the Free-Range Kids blog at freerangekids.com, or check out the work of Daniel Pimentel, a professor who is writing about parenting philosophies and the law.
- Get to know your neighbors, and make sure the people around you know that your child is permitted to play outside independently. You can even download a “Free-Range Kid” membership card that your child can give to other concerned adults.
- Join the National Association of Parents at parentsusa.org. This nonprofit group works to protect the rights of parents to raise their children as they choose.
- Educate your community. To head off neighbors’ concerns, offer to give your neighborhood association or community group a presentation on the benefits of free-range parenting. Distribute safety statistics, and arm sympathetic friends and fellow Pagans with them too.
- Organize a Free-Range Kids Project in your Pagan group or at your kids’ school. FRK Projects provide support for kids to do something new on their own. Parents connect with each other around their worries and hopes, and the community as a whole gets to discuss parenting philosophies and form new friendships.
* * *
 Skenazy, Lenore. Free Range Kids (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 182-183, or for updated statistics, check Free-RangeKids.com
 Skenazy. pp. 228. [For citations, see “Strangers with Candy” 209-210.]
 Gray, Peter. Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2013).
 Friedman, Laura F. and Kevin Loria, “11 scientifically proven reasons you should be spending less time in the office,” Business Insider 30 June 2015.
 Skenazy. pp. xx-xxi.
 Wallace, Kelly. “Mom arrested for leaving 9-year-old alone at park.” CNN.com 21 July 2014.
 Support Debra Harrell group, Facebook.com 30 July 2016.
 Williams, Mary Elizabeth. “A ‘free range’ family fights back: ‘The police coerced our children into the back of a patrol car,’” Salon.com 15 April 2015.
 St. George, Donna. “Md. officials: Letting ‘free range’ kids walk or play alone is not neglect,” The Washington Post 11 June 2015.
 Pimentel, David. “Criminal Child Neglect and the “Free Range Kid“: Is Overprotective Parenting the New Standard of Care?,” Utah Law Review (2012).
 For more information, see Skenazy’s article, “The Simple School Project that Sets Kids Free,” published in The Huffington Post 7 Oct 2013.
[About the Author: Christine Hoff Kraemer is a religious studies scholar specializing in contemporary Paganism, sexuality, theology, and popular culture. In 2008, she completed her PhD in Religious and Theological Studies at Boston University. Christine is an instructor in the Theology and Religious History department at Cherry Hill Seminary. Her books include Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies and the collection Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy (edited with Yvonne Aburrow). She is also the proud parent of an extremely high-energy toddler.]
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Cultures throughout the world have beliefs and traditions honoring ancestral practices. Ancestral veneration is not just a hot topic in October when the popular holiday of Halloween hits the mainstream celebration circuit, but it is also a practice routinely honored in sacred space and in many ways throughout the year.Whether for protection, wisdom, guidance, reverence, or for much needed intervention, the way that religions and communities work with the ancestors is often very personal and cultural. I have often found that discussions of ancestral work within the Modern Pagan community often neglect to speak to some of the very relevant pieces of my own ancestors stories, which do differ from the crowd. The ancestors within the African American communities tell a very different tale, one that can be neglected in the generalized perception of who the “mighty dead” are. There isn’t often allowances made or room for the discussions of our ancestors specific path.
So when I heard of a celebration honoring the very specific ancestors of the Middle Passage and slavery, I knew it was important for me to be present.
The Annual Maafa Commemoration began on Oct. 9 at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California. This event celebrated it’s 21st year of putting on the Maafa celebration in the Bay Area.
According to the Maafa SF Bay Area website, Maafa is a Swahili word for “disaster, calamity, or terrible occurrence.” It has come to be known to describe the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, otherwise called the Middle Passage. It is also often referred to as the “Black Holocaust” within communities of people of African ancestry.
The Maafa SF Bay Area group has continued to facilitate this open “commemoration ceremony and mourning ritual” to honor the ancestors that suffered in the middle passage, and to those who have continued to suffer under the weight of the aftermath of slavery into modern day. The website invites all people of African descent to come to the remembrance to support personal and collective cultural healing for those of the African diaspora. The website states:
In the San Francisco Bay Area, October is Maafa Awareness Month–it is a time to reflect on the legacy of slavery: victims and beneficiaries in the short and long term and look at ways to mend, repair and heal the damage to Pan African descendants of the enslaved and their New Afrikan societies. The toll has been tremendous: psychological, economic, social, physical, emotional and spiritual.I decided to go to the Maafa commemoration after hearing about it from a fellow African American Pagan woman. The importance of the legacy of historical oppression and the pain that many African American/Black people carry in this country, and throughout the world, is something very tangible and real. It felt like an important spiritual experience to promote a healing that is very much needed in current times, as well as being a way that Black people local to the Bay Area can venerate their ancestors whose graves are in the ocean.
I arrived about 5:30 AM, in the dark of the morning with my 15 year old son, several family members, and a couple of fellow Black Pagan friends. There were well over 100 other people of African descent gathered around a fire burning on Ocean Beach, and the air was filled with the rhythmic pounding of the drums. People were standing, dancing, and celebrating in the dark morning hours to honor the ancestors of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.
In the crowded darkness and dampness of the beach, we gathered among people we did not know. In any other context this would have been quite frightening, but among a few friends and several family members, I felt strongly comforted by the energy of the shared legacy present in the air.
What followed was a series of events that contributed to the overall experience of connection and mourning that comes with celebrating the that shared history of commiseration among the descendants of slaves living here in the United States.
The unfolding of events took up about 5 hours as the sun came up. A series of symbolic and magical moments happened, all of which were profoundly and spiritually impactful for me as a Black woman. The drums continued to beat throughout the dark and into the light of day while we went through what felt like initiatory, magical, and ritualistic honoring of the ancestors, our journey, and the legacy of those who were enslaved during the Middle Passage.As I stood there in line with my family in front of me and my son behind me, I faced the ocean, looking at the large fabricated gates that symbolized the “gates of no return.” I held the rope as the slaves would have held the chains, and there was a somber alignment in that moment with my ancestors.
Standing in line for over an hour, I was able to really contemplate what that meant to me, to my family, and to my spiritual understanding of ancestral connection.
Following our journey through the “Gates of No Return”, we gathered by the ocean to share songs, ritual, poetry, stories, and connection in remembrance. Wanda Sabir welcomed us all to the healing ceremony with the following words:
As we process through the Door of No Return give thanks for what we remember…. Trauma induces amnesia, yet the body remembers what the mind forgets. Intuition is another name for Divine Spirit. The bones which lie between Alkebulan and the West link Black people genetically through this liquid experience: sweat, blood, feces, urine, milk, after-birth, death.
The transcontinental passage, our ancestors packaged as if they were inanimate cargo, connects our souls and scarred bodies to this day. The Maafa Commemoration acknowledges this. The yokes and chains and shackles many of us still bear speak to this, as does freedom.
After 5 hours of amazing alignment in the honoring of those who came before, I took some time to consider the spiritual significance of the experience and the importance of ancestral connection. While my own path honors the ancestors all the time, this level of veneration and remembrance is radically different than what I imagined it would be.
After the ceremony, I also took a moment to speak with two fellow Black Pagans who had attended this year’s Maafa Commemoration. What motivated each of them to go this year, and how did the experience contribute to spiritual path and experience of the world?
I went to a Maafa event years ago but hadn’t been in quite a while. I decided to go this year because I felt the need to reconnect with my ancestors’ presence.
I realize that honoring my ancestors and recognizing their sacrifices is an integral part of my spiritual path. My ancestors who suffered through the Middle Passage, through slavery, through Jim Crow and all the abuses and oppression Black people suffer until this day; enable me to keep pushing forward. – M. A.
That’s a good question. I had a busy week, and was looking forward to “sleeping in” until 8 that morning when I notice a post on Facebook with a video attached from the previous year. I am a native San Franciscan and had never heard of the ritual at Ocean Beach. I am studying to facilitate Ancestor Healing, so Ancestors are extremely important to me. I had just gone through yet again another, “Dark Night of the Soul” where I questioned my Spirit Guides to why they allowed us (Black Folk) to continue to suffer. When I pulled a card to help me reconnect to my core spiritual self, I go, “When the waters of life don’t flow, we feel disconnected. Our intuition or inner compass seems unable to get us back on track. A ceremony to connect with water may be indicated, where you can consciously connect to the power of this element.” It seemed like a “no brainer.”
I got some very powerful messages from my Ancestor that confirmed the path that I’m on. When we were holding the rope and walking down the path to “The Doors of No Return” I felt a deep sense of hopelessness, fear, and regret. I actually felt the chains around my neck. It helped me to realize that we (My Ancestors) have gone through so much and survived without a sense of bitterness or hate. And looking at what we still are going through it really showed me how resilient we are as a people. I am still sorting out my feelings, and even though it was a very emotional day with sooooooo many signs that they are with us, it gave me a renewed sense of hope. Hope that we will get through this “dark time” and more importantly, we are not alone! – Luna Pantera
There is power in being able to connect with the ancestors in true, authentic, and supportive ways. While many traditions within modern Pagan and polytheist communities embrace a connection to the ancestors, how are we addressing the distinct stories of the diverse ancestry that enters into our communities and circles? How can we acknowledge the necessity of such things when we engage in community ancestral practices? How are those specific stories left out of our shared spaces?While none of these questions have easy answers, the importance of being able to acknowledge the very real history of my ancestors and the pain of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is now much clearer. These stories are uncomfortable and bring up different emotions for different people; they break through the walls of cognitive dissonance that we often have in place to protect our feelings of safety.
Yet, if there are Black people in our circles, keeping out the stories of these ancestors contribute to making those members feel unwelcome and unaccepted. The stories of our ancestors are important; our ancestors need to be heard.
I will continue to unpack my own experiences from participating in the Maafa ceremony and having a different level of connection to the very real history of my people. There is something about walking through the symbolic doors of no return together with my family, while facing the ocean, and hearing the waves hit the shore. In contemporary society, when many of us are experiencing and watching the horror of oppression and violence against ethnic and religious minorities, it is imperative that we hear what the ancestors have to say.
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GLASTONBURY, England — As the wheel of the year turns and Samhain draws ever nearer, many people’s thoughts are turning to death, release, and endings.The Harvest is gathered; the nights grow long; the weather turns damp and cold. Some would argue that this is summer in Britain.
There are some people who can easily embody the energy of a particular time, and John Awen, a Druid based in Glastonbury, Somerset, embodies the energy of Samhain perfectly.Awen’s life has been a reflection of the phoenix rising from the flames – not once but many times. He had his hopes of a military career dashed. He descended into drug abuse and crime, before suffering a near-fatal stabbing that served as a catalyst for change. Having grown into his spiritual path, Awen learned that, as a consequence of his previous life, he now has an incurable heart condition.
But ever positive and living in the moment, Awen believes the only way is up – and he has now realised another childhood ambition by becoming a published writer.
Awen’s latest offering, Baby Naming Day, is an exploration of the tradition of naming including, but not limited to, baby names. He said: “It’s a metaphysical look on how we name, what we name, popular names, gender-less names, then culminating with ceremonies around the world and given a descriptive on naming ceremonies today and devising ceremonies.”
He added, “Names are important – there’s a great power in names.”
The book comes not long after his first major published work, Journey to the Summerlands: Pagan Death and Rebirth. This is a Druidic take on a subject Awen knows intimately. Born in 1969 with a urine infection and underdeveloped lungs, Awen spent his first four months in an incubator.
“I’ve been battling to stay alive since I was born,” he said. “My parents were told I probably wouldn’t make it – yet here I am.”
Awen became interested in Druidry at a young age. Sent off to weekly Sunday school at seven, he began asking difficult questions. “After a while I was just ignored by the teachers, even though I had my hand up all the time. In the end I just bunked off and started going to the woods and asking my questions there.”
Awen’s world was turned upside down when he was involved in a motorcycle accident at the age of 19. “From the age of three I wanted to be a soldier. That was all I wanted to do. I’d been accepted into the army at 19, and shortly after I had the accident that shattered which my ankle. It was plated and pinned and I was on crutches for 18 months. I couldn’t join after that. I felt like I’d been dealt a bum hand.”
Despite his intention on being a soldier, it would seem that fate was already working through him to make herself known. As he explained, the one time that he was actually asked what he wanted to be as adult, he didn’t answer soldier. “I said ‘I want to write books!’ ” He was only seven at the time.
This early spark of the awen, however, was to lie dormant for years. Lacking direction, he drifted “from dead-end job to dead-end job.” He started using cannabis and amphetamines, and explained: “My addictive personality kicked in, after a while I didn’t just want to be buying it, I wanted to be selling it as well.”This period in Awen’s life was also punctuated with stints in prison for driving offences.
Then in 1997, his life turned again, when he discovered heroin. The following 10 years were a cycle of drug use, petty crime, and prison. He also suffered three heart attacks. Awen laughs: “I’ve crossed over so many times I’ve lost count!”
This cycle was finally broken in 2007 during an aggravated robbery in which he, once again, nearly lost his life. Awen said, “I felt someone punch me in the back and I fell to the ground. I was on my way to score some gear [slang for ‘heroin’] with my mate and had a wad of notes in my back pocket.
“I felt my pocket being touched, someone ran past me, and I knew I’d been robbed. I cried out in pain and said ‘What was that?’ My friend said ‘Hang on John, you’re in trouble here.’ I’d been stabbed in the back three times.”
The brutal incident proved to be a turning point in his life. Awen said: “As I lay there I was floating above my body, feeling warm, and content, and I thought ‘Right, I’m happy with this.’ Then something, some gear cog, just clicked into place and said, ‘There’s more to life than this.’ I don’t remember anything else for several days – I’d been rushed into hospital and had a full blood transfusion. I discharged myself a few weeks later and within two months I was off methadone and clean of all illicit drugs.”
This near-death event marked a rebirth. “When that gear cog kicked in, that was it,” Awen explained. And, it was one little sentence that he took refuge in over the subsequent months as he became substance free. There’s more to life than this.
During this change, Awen returned to his childhood sanctuary of the woods and nature. “After 11 to 12 years of not having to think much, my mind was like a tap that was totally, totally turned on. I started asking questions again, people didn’t seem to have any answers. I started walking again and asking questions, and getting them answered.
“I also started reading, I knew I felt a connection to the universe, to the land, the moon, the sun, the stars all of it. I knew about the word Pagan. I started researching the different beliefs, traditions and faiths and Druidry ticked all the boxes.
But I needed to put my own take on it. Any tradition is not about adhering to someone else’s indoctrinations and allowing them to have power over you. What you believe in and what that becomes should be a state of heart. If you can balance your body and allow your mind and body to feel the same, then that resonates on a much deeper spiritual level.”It is this hard-won balance and perspective that informs Awen’s work. However, death was not finished with him yet. He worked for a time in the funeral trade, experiencing death as it happened to others.
“I’ve been through the whole lot of it, I’ve comforted people as they’ve come to terms with the passing of a loved one, I washed and cleaned up bodies, I’ve lowered coffins into the ground and tended bodies in the burning rooms at the crematorium.
“I’ve been with people as they’ve transitioned over and seen their lives expire and I’ve supported and comforted. Even with animals as well, so it’s been a massive part of my life.”
However, it is another, more intimate knowledge of death that informed Awen’s best-known offering, Journey to the Summerlands: Pagan Death and Rebirth. Since 2015, Awen has been living with the knowledge that he has a heart condition that could stop it from working at any moment. Doctors have told him there is no treatment for his condition and every day is a blessing. It is this finality, his acceptance of this condition, that led him to write Journey to the Summerlands.
Ironically, it is this wisdom that has birthed him as an author. Journey to the Summerlands is the book in which he shares his unique, intimate perspective of death and rebirth. Awen’s life is a testament to this concept, literally and metaphorically.
He said: “My aim is to enable others to reach an understanding of the afterlife. What we’re aiming to do on all of our journeys is to know everything. Everything is there to shape and mould us. What I find important is creating a state of heart, which in turn creates a state of mind.”
Despite his condition, Awen is incredibly upbeat and at peace with life. Next March will see the publication of his fourth book, titled Ancestors.
Awen reiterated, “Ever since the age of three I wanted to be a soldier, but the one time I was asked as a child aged 7, what I wanted to be when I grew up, ‘I said I want to write books!’”
He has embraced his past and sees it as an integral part of his journey. “There’s been prison, there’s been shoplifting, there’s been all sorts of things that are part and parcel of who I am today, but it was my path and I don’t have any regrets.”
Then he added, “I have had regrets in the past, but now I’m happy with who I am. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I know who I am; I know what I’ve done and I know what I’d like to achieve. I’m a million-piece jigsaw and if I take one little piece away from that jigsaw, the picture isn’t complete. After 47 years of constantly bloody fighting, this is the best place I’ve been.”
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“Gordon only created the Pagan of the Year Award so that he could give it to himself.” — Arwen Starda
DETROIT –That wisecrack about Gordon Ireland was recounted by Arwen Starda’s daughter Gwenn, after Arwen was named Michigan’s 2016 Pagan of the Year. And, Ireland has taken great pains to be certain that Arwen’s prediction doesn’t come true. Not only will he not be involved in selecting the annual honoree for 2017 and beyond, he has also secured an agreement that he himself will not be named in his lifetime.
Awarding the honor to longtime co-conspirator Arwen Starda as one of his last official acts before his retirement may well be evidence of what Gwenn Starda calls his “sick sense of humor.”
But Ireland isn’t talking about that.What he was willing to talk about was the incredibly vibrant Pagan community in Michigan, a community that he himself has sought to improve in multiple ways. Ireland has had a hand in a number of other high-profile projects. Those include the Midwest Witches’ Ball, Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund, and the Pagans in Need food bank.
In addition, he launched the Pagan of the Year award, which is now in its fifth year. The 2016 winner Arwen Starda joins other winners: Kenya Coviak, Jacki Smith, Michael Wiggins, and David Trexler, who have all been recognized for their contributions to Michigan’s Pagan community.
Ireland and his wife Paula came up with the idea as a way to recognize those people that always seemed to be lending a hand, year in and year out. “We made a list of people, came up with 15 that we thought would deserve it,” he recalled. Honorees get a handsome plaque at the Witches’ Ball, and free tickets to next year’s soiree.
Exactly who is on that list remains a secret, but Ireland made it clear that his name isn’t among them. Pagans in the region might intuit who future honorees may be from Ireland’s description of the criteria: “must be doing something positive for the community, and we like people who do it because it needs to be done, not people who do it to say, ‘look at me.’ ”
Ireland’s list has now been delivered to the leadership of the Universal Society of Ancient Ministry. The winner will no longer be selected by Ireland and his wife, as in past years. Part of the agreement in passing the award-selection on to the church is that neither Gordon nor Paula are eligible to receive it.
“I told them that after I die, they can award me with whatever they want.”
Just the two of them picking winners has worked well, Ireland says, because the fewer people that know, the easier it is to surprise the recipient. However, the process has always welcomed nominations from the public. If no one deemed suitable is nominated in a particular year, the award goes to someone else from that original list, he explained. Others have been entrusted with the winner’s name, and it’s worked out well until this point.
“We had to give a wife free tickets to get her husband to attend, but she was good at keeping the secret.”
According to the loose criteria he provided, Ireland would otherwise be well-qualified to be named Pagan of the Year several times over. It’s been given to luminaries like David Trexler, who in the wake of Tempest Smith’s suicide founded Witches of Michigan to educate people on the Wiccan faith. Smith’s mother Danessa started a scholarship for Pagans in her daughter’s name, and when that foundation was closed, Ireland helped launch the Michigan Pagan Scholarship to continue that legacy.
Another winner, Michael Wiggins, saw to it that the Magical Education Council — host organization for ConVocation — donates $500 annually to that scholarship fund.
As for this year’s honoree, Arwen Starda, her daughter explained some of what she’s been up to.
In addition to being part of the Witches’ Ball committee for all these years and organizing all the good works that I spoke about, Arwen has also been hosting the Pagan Roundtable the first Tuesday of every month at the Mount Clemens library since 1996. I can remember myself and my brothers being hauled there as kids. This group was a lifeline to Pagans seeking to connect with one another in the days before the internet was ubiquitous. People that met there have made lifetime friendships and relationships.
Ireland might be considered worthy of being called “Pagan of the year” just for his work on the scholarship, or even for establishing the annual award alone. However, he has also done many other things to normalize Pagans as being members of a religion, albeit an alternative religion. There’s a Boy Scout troop sponsored by the Universal Society of Ancient Ministry church, as well as a recovery group and food bank that are designed for Pagans, both with his fingerprints on them.What makes it all possible, however, is the Witches’ Ball. It is the financial engine making all the other programs possible. In fact, the ball was among the first projects that Ireland worked on 20 years ago, and it is not one he’s going to divorce himself from completely.
“I’ll still attend,” he said. “I just won’t plan it.”
What makes the ball such a powerful platform, Ireland believes, is the marketing behind it. That program includes the marketing of the sponsors, who pay more than half of its budget each year. The fact that there are solid covens around, the members of which are willing to collaborate on setting up the space and the yearlong organization, certainly helps as well.
Pagans in Need — one of his proudest accomplishments — started out, Ireland explains, as “a food bank filled and maintained by Universal Society of Ancient Ministry supporters to meet the needs of those who might be turned away from other sources due to their professed religious orientation.”
Ireland put the paperwork in order to make this a non-profit agency, and he’s proud to see how it has grown. “This charity has expanded to address diverse needs such as lack of home appliances, shutoff notices, and eviction notices,” he said.
Most of these projects involve the Universal Society of Ancient Ministry, and that is no coincidence. Ireland founded the church, set up the by-laws, and made sure that it was recognized by IRS officials. He also built the web sites for the organization’s numerous programs, but otherwise says he’s not involved with it.
“I helped with it because I wanted to see if I could,” he said.
Gordon Ireland probably doesn’t have any more good ideas than any another Pagan, but he does possess the ability to follow through until they become reality. That, and he unabashedly taps into the large number of “people of like minds” to whom he has access within the Detroit area. While he won’t become the official Pagan of the Year — at least in his lifetime — the impact of his 20 years of service to Paganism in Michigan will be felt for a long time to come.
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The 13th annual Nashville Pagan Pride Day (NPPD) event was visited by three Christian street preachers who call themselves Nashville Saints. The men arrived at the Two Rivers Park with bibles, signs, and a bullhorn. They proceed to shout at the attendees for several hours before they finally left.According to organizers, this was the first time that Nashville Pagan Pride Day had attracted this type of attention. “There were three of them,” said Rev. Mary Hawk, is the local co-coordinator for the event as well as the president and secretary for NPPD Inc. “I had a part in main ritual, and they showed up while I was busy with that.”
Rev. Hawk is a longtime volunteer and attendee at NPPD. She has been part of the event since its early days in 2003 when it was still at one of two local Unitarian churches. In 2015, the organization moved the event to Two Rivers Park, because they had outgrown the indoor church space.
Rev. Hawk said that this year they saw their biggest crowd yet, topping at 739 guests.
This fairly recent change in location and the event’s growth may explain why it had yet to see any type of protesters. Rev. Hawk said, “My daughter who was present tells me that she has seen this group on Second Ave. (a major Nashville tourist destination) yelling out the same sort of stuff to everyone passing by.”
That is true. The three men make up a local street preaching group that labels itself the Nashville Saints. They are regulars in the area and travel around the Southeast with their bullhorn and signs.
Quentin Deckard is one of the two main speakers. He calls himself Saint Quentin and says that he is “Disciple of Jesus Christ.” As he explains on his Facebook page: “Who I was before this point in my life is irrelevant.” He was joined by two other men identified as Marvin Heiman and Tim Baptist.
As reported by Rev. Hawk and others, the park police escorted the three men through the event one time. “After that tour up and down the length of vendor row, they remained at the front of the event, between our welcome table and the line for the food vendor,” notes Rev. Hawk. Yelling the entire time, the men walked slowly through the space, carrying their backpacks, a sign, bibles, several cameras, and a unused bullhorn.
Their entire walk can be seen in the above 40-minute video taken by the men themselves, as well as in a Facebook live video shot by Deckard. Many Pagan onlookers also recorded videos. Ariel Marie Barnes and Carria Woodburn posted their videos on the Nashville PPD event page.
Attendees reacted to the street preachers in different ways. Some tried to reason with them, and even tried to shake their hands. Rev. Hawk said, “I approached them to ask if they would care to donate to Second Harvest Food Bank (one of our designated charities) but they totally ignored me and continued ranting.”
One woman circled them with a smudge stick and, as can be seen in the longer video, another appears to have circled them with salt. As the men walked by, Rev. Hawk and others joined their voices in a chant of “We all come from the Goddess.”
Rev. Hawk said said that a few people were very upset by the presence of the street preachers. However, most thought “it was hilarious.” She said that there were people surrounding them at all times. “At one point, the protesters yelled, ‘You are all going to die.’ Several people yelled back, “Well, so are you!'”
Lucia Jameson, one of the other event coordinators and the vice president of NPPD Inc. agreed, saying, “Most of [our attendees] treated the religious bullies as free entertainment and took the opportunity to mock them a bit.
“One attendee wearing a jester’s cap, black and red pants, and black-and-red arm bracers decided to mimic every move of the main yeller. […] A young lady and her girlfriend shared a kiss in front of them and them skipped past them, holding hands and shouting ‘We’re Pagan and we’re gay!'”Jameson added that there was no way to fully shield attendees or keep people away from the street preachers. The crowd was too large. She added, “Primarily I tried to make sure that our attendees knew not to physically touch them no matter what they said. [The protesters] weren’t leaving until they got enough video to post and our folks were not going to ignore them while they were screaming.”
However the coordinators did get help from the park police. Rev. Hawk said, “Metro Parks requires that anyone holding an event in a park pay for Metro Park Police to provide security.”
“[Officers] did closely monitor the situation,” continued Rev. Hawk. “[They] explained what we had to allow legally and saw to that that protesters stayed with in those bounds. I cannot speak highly enough of their work at NPPD, especially Lt. Houston Taylor.”
TWH reached out to the Metro Park Police, but they did not respond in time for publication.Jameson said, “The police were there the for the entire event. I spoke when them several times throughout the day. They were very helpful, keeping an eye on the incident as it unfolded. They were ready to intervene as necessary.”
In the end, the street preachers only stayed for a reported two hours, after which, Jameson said, the street preachers began to get hoarse. She explained that they could not use their bullhorn. “That may have contributed to their departure.”
Rev. Hawk speculated that a dwindling audience also contributed to their short stay. She said, “Our main entertainment, a concert by Rowena of the Glen, started. Most of those watching [the protesters] left to hear the concert.”
Despite the disruption and the shouting, NPPD saw its most successful year yet. As Rev. Hawk and Jameson both reported, the organization raised collected 369 pounds of food and $148 in cash for Second Harvest Food Bank, and 267 pounds of dog and cat food, plus treats, miscellaneous items and $230 in cash for the Middle Tennessee Pet Food Bank. The organization also raised $230 in cash for the school at the NoDAPL camp in North Dakota.
Jameson said, “Both our vendors and attendees were pleased overall with the event and let us know that they are looking forward to next year.” With that said, she added that the NPPD committee will be discussing what happened. “Based on the events this year we are looking at what we can do to have better control if a similar incident occurs next year.”
[There are only 19 days left in the Fall Fund Drive. If you read The Wild Hunt and enjoy the service, consider donating today. This drive is what funds TWH for the entire year and keeps our team serving you professional news and commentary each day. This is your community; TWH is your community news source. Donate today and share our link! Thank you.]
CHICAGO – The mid-west Pagan community lost one of its elders last week. It was announced that Lady Flora, also known as Georgeanne Hollingsworth, had died on Oct. 7 after complications due to “diabetes and numerous bouts of congestive heart failure.”
Lady Flora was trained and initiated by David Cole and Janet Berres, the leaders of the Coven of Hecate. She eventually went on to establish her own group, becoming the high priestess of the Grove of Aphrodite, which thrived in the Chicago during the 1980s and 1990s. Due to her location, Lady Flora was able to easily attend the very first modern Parliament of the World’s Religions, which was held in Chicago in 1993.
Over the years, Lady Flora taught both Wicca and tarot. Additionally, she taught shamanism with the help of her husband, high priest Rex Hollingsworth, who was reportedly part Mohegan. Lady Flora’s sister, Lady Annabelle, who is high priestess of the Pittsburgh-based Grove of Gaia, said that “Lady Flora was a dynamic and amazing high priestess and teacher and initiatrix of Wicca.” Her group is planning a celebration of life in Pittsburgh, and is also working to host a second memorial in Chicago. What is remembered, lives.
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TWH – The Troth has voted to amend the oath taken by its elected or “titled” representatives. As explained in an Oct. 16 blog post, “The new verbiage includes some small changes to the third paragraph to make it read more easily and the inclusion of a new paragraph (fourth) that reflects current Troth policy.”
The new oath will be required of all newly elected representatives. However, opportunities will be made available for current representatives to renew their oath using the updated version. The board statement continues, “We on the Rede see this step as a positive, proactive change that is aligned with The Troth’s Mission and stated positions.”
What is this stated position? The oath’s new additions reinforce statements of inclusivity with regard to race, sexuality, gender and more. This oath change coincides with the Troth’s recent re-assertions of its mission to support inclusive Heathenry. The new oath can be read in full on the Troth’s blog.
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Oct. 1 Pagan Pride Day event held in Nashville, Tennessee was visited by a group of Christian protesters. The protesting organization, which is led by a man named Saint Quentin, is called the Nashville Saints. Quentin labels himself an “open-air preacher” and frequents Nashville street corners and other parts of the city in order to share his beliefs. In this case, Quentin explained, “The Nashville Saints take up the sword of the spirit against the wicked demonic powers at work within Nashville’s Pagans.”
Fortunately for the Nashville Pagan Pride Day organizers and attendees, the protesters did remain within their legal limits, and were monitored closely by the park police. The daylong event was considered a success, despite any disruptions from Quentin’s group. We will have much more on this story tomorrow.
In other news
- If you participated in Saturday’s Warrior’s Call to action “Voices on the Wind,” the group would like to share your photos and experiences. Organizers are asking people to send them links to blog posts or any photos taken for use on its own Facebook page and website. This blog, for example, shared the Voices on the Wind event held in Cheshire, England. In December, Warrior’s Call will be hosting a single day workshop in Glastonbury, England. The goal is to “explore ways to work constructively to prevent fracking around the world.”
- Pagans in Need (PIN) has uploaded a Yule application for its holiday program. The application should be used to apply for any assistance needed during the upcoming busy holiday season. PIN hosts a number of assistance programs, including a Secret Santa service and a toy collection. PIN is affiliated with the collective of Michigan-based Pagan organizations and community services.
- Priestess and author Courtney Weber has released her second book. The new book is called Tarot for One and was published by Red Wheel/Weiser. The new book focuses on reading the cards for yourself, rather than for others, and includes a number of layouts and methods. Weber, who is based in New York City, has been reading and teaching tarot for over a decade.
- The Maetreum of Cybele radio station was mentioned in a New York Times article on local terrestrial FM radio stations. The NYT article doesn’t focus on the Maetreum’s station but mentions it as contributing to this niche industry and as part of the discussion on the value of these stations within our contemporary, digitally-driven culture.
- While many Pagans and Heathens continue to spend their fall weekends celebrating together at Pagan Pride Day events, others groups are getting ready for their upcoming Samhain observances, festivals, rituals and classes. In New York City, Rev. Starr Ravenhawk will be hosting the 11th Annual Samhain Eve’ Masquerade Ritual. Across the country in San Francisco, Reclaiming will be staging its popular Samhain spiral dance, which is both a ritual and fundraiser. In Massachusetts, the EarthSpirit Community will be hosting its annual open Samhain ritual. These are just three examples of the many public and private events being held around the world over the next two weeks.
Remember, there are only 19 days left in the Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive. If you enjoy our daily news service, please consider donating today. It is your support that makes the Wild Hunt a reality. Donate here!
[There are only 21 days left in the Fall Fund Drive. If you read The Wild Hunt and enjoy the service, consider donating today. This drive is what funds TWH for the entire year and keeps our team serving you professional news and commentary each day. This is your community; TWH is your community news source. Donate today and share our link! Thank you.]
“For anyone trying to carve out space in this world while creating the world we want to come…sometimes it is overwhelming. It feels like the floodwaters are rising, sweeping away supports, tugging the mind and body downward, until a person drowns.” – T. Thorn Coyle, from On Suicide in the New Belle Époque
ATLANTA, Ga. – Suicide. It lingers around in the shadows affecting people from all walks of life in all parts of the world. A 2016 report from Centers for Disease Control show that suicide is on the rise and considered the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2000, the U.S. rate was 10.4 and in 2014 the suicide rate was 13.1 per 100,000 individuals. Demographically speaking, the biggest shift was in the age group 45-65, which increased by nearly seven percentage points over the same time period.
According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. number is higher than the global rate, which is 11.4. Putting that into perspective, the republic of Korea has the highest rate at 36.8, and Saudi Arabia has the lowest at 0.3. The U.K. is recorded at 7.0; Australia 11.6; Canada 11.4; South Africa 2.7; and Brazil 6.0. No country or region is immune.
There are currently no statistics on suicide attempts. However, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that for every suicide there are 25 attempts. Additionally, there is much variation, even just in the U.S., in how assisted suicides affect the above statistics.Beyond the numbers and outside of physician-assisted suicides or those cases in which a fatal illness provokes the choice, the many factors leading to suicidal thoughts can be crippling. It is often overwhelming and unstoppable. When an attempt is successful, loved ones are left asking why. What could we have done better? What could we have said? Often the death or the attempt is kept quiet, and brushed under the rug.
In the past several years, we’ve reported on a number of situations in which suicide affected Pagan communities. In 2001, Tempest Smith, a Pagan child from Michigan, died by suicide after experiencing years of bullying. Last year, Elain Morria spoke to us about her suicide attempt:
“I knew coming out as transgender was going to cause me pain thanks to the small fearful minds of people who have never walked in my shoes […] I took enough medication to kill me several times over. Posted my goodbye figuring nobody would even see it until at least a couple of hours after I was already dead and then went and laid down in my bed. I closed my eyes and curled up…”
Then, just last week, it was discovered that Seb Barnett, a beloved member of the Seattle Pagan and art communities, had died by suicide. Friends have since launched a funding campaign to honor Seb’s final wishes.
Now one Pagan woman in Georgia has decided that she doesn’t want to be a statistic, and is hoping that her own experiences with depression and suicide will help others.
“It is OK to talk about this,” explained Tara Denison, a 41-year old eclectic Witch from Atlanta, Georgia. “There is already so much judgment out there. Suicide knows no race, gender or age. It affects all of us.”
Denison is originally from Vancouver, Canada, and has fought depression as long as she can remember. “The first time I can remember feeling suicidal was pre teen. […] I went to multiple psychologists, therapists, doctors; nothing fully made me feel OK. Some times were better than others, and [the depression] just continued to grow as I did.”
Her first suicide attempt was as a teen. She consumed a “bottle of booze and a bottle of Tylenol,” after which she woke up very sick. “Being a teen was a hard time for me. I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. I never felt like I fit in; I was always the weird kid and lashed out by fighting.”
Denison added, “As long as I stayed high or drunk the [suicidal] thoughts mostly stayed away until I was coming down off the drugs, then I would tell myself how stupid and worthless I was. Then, I got into a very unhealthy abusive relationship in my late teens which just fed my demons of my self-worth. ‘I was a piece of crap.’ Now not only was I saying it, I had someone else telling me too.”Denison said that she can’t pinpoint when it all started or what specifically led her down this road. It is just always there, she said. When asked how her depression felt, she called it a “place where you don’t want to live, no matter what.”
“You feel so alone and lost,” she explained. “I feel so out of control and really the best I can say is that it is almost a out of body experience. You can’t think logically. You are thinking about how you will affect others or how you are affecting others; you are in this bubble of personal hell that you can’t escape from.”
Over the years, Denison has reached out for professional help. She’s been on medication and through therapy, both of which helped “stop the suicidal thoughts.” However, these methods never prevented the “major bouts of depression.”
She said, “The pills would work for a while then stop working, so I felt like I was on so many pills in a short amount of time. I started to feel hopeless. I didn’t want to tell anyone, I didn’t want to live anymore because I was ashamed I felt like that. I didn’t feel like I could talk to my friends or family.”
At that point, Denison got pregnant with her daughter, which saved her for a while. But, as she said, the depression eventually “made its way back.” In fact, just last year, she wound up in the hospital, after yet another suicide attempt.
She had been crying for days and hadn’t showered in a week. She shared: “I had got the bottle of medication ready to take. […] I felt so out of control. I am a self-harmer in the sense that I scratch and pick my skin ’til it bleeds, I had scratched my neck so it was bleeding. […] I just wanted it to go away. I wanted to go to sleep to stop the hurt, the thoughts, the pain. I wanted to hit myself to stop the thoughts in my head telling me how worthless I am, why no one loves me, why I have no friends, why my family would be better off without me.”
Fortunately, a good friend saw what was coming and immediately called Denison’s husband, who came home and took her to hospital.
But even so, this was not the last time. Just two months ago, Denison overmedicated once again. She said, “I was in that moment, I was sick of crying; I was sick of feeling this. I was sick of my kids and husband seeing me like this. I just wanted to go to sleep. I do have a crisis plan in place but I chose to ignore it that night. I took about 6 prescription pills that help me sleep but I woke up.”
However, when she woke up this time something had changed in her. She decided it was time to speak out.
“When I came out of the hospital I decided to post about it because people asked where I had been since I am a pretty active poster online. I got a ton of messages from people saying they suffer as well but didn’t know what to do or where to go for help. I also had people saying they didn’t understand depression or couldn’t relate to how I was feeling, why couldn’t I just snap out of it. From then on I decided to be as vocal as possible.”
Denison added that she has now seen too many people suffering. As a result, she has will devote her time to making a difference. “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to live like this,” Denison explained.
“To think that there are so many people suffering like me out there makes me fight. So many people don’t know how to go about getting help. I want to be there to help them through it and help be their voice.”Denison and her family have recently joined the Out of the Darkness Walk sponsored by the American Foundation for the Suicide Prevention (AFSP). According to the AFSP website, “The community walks created a movement. Held in hundreds of cities across the country, they give people the courage to open up about their own struggle or loss, and the platform to change our culture’s approach to mental health.” These community and campus walks also serve as a fundraiser for the organization, supporting its many educational and advocacy programs.
Denison admits that, at first, this “coming out” of sorts was difficult. “I was very embarrassed about it […] ‘Oh yeah she is crazy; she tried to kill herself.’ I know people will think like that but that is why I think this needs to be talked about so much more. Mental health in itself needs to be talked about.”
When asked what the biggest misconception about suicide and depression was, she said, “That people do it for attention or that they are weak. No one who says they are going to kill themselves is doing it for fun. […] They are screaming for someone to grab their hand and help them.
“Suicide is a terrible thing. Anytime someone is successful it breaks my heart, not only for that person because I know the hopelessness they felt at that moment, but now the family and friends are left to pick up the pieces. ”
As for Denison’s own struggle, she has increasingly been relying on her spiritual practice for growth and support. She said that “going into circle and meditating is very comforting. I feel safe and protected.” She also said that she asks Athena for strength every morning.
“Sometimes I have a full on conversation with her and ask for signs to let me know that she is with me. ”
Denison also finds support with a close friend who also suffers from mental illness. “She understands and she is my go-to when I am in a whirlwind,” Denison explained. She also said that, in the end, her family has always saved her, but added, “I would like to say I save [myself].”
When asked how people can help the movement, Denison suggested donating money for education and research through organizations like AFSP. Other ways to help, she offered, would be through spreading the word about the many causes of and issues surrounding suicide,through supporting families who have lost someone to suicide, and by getting trained, where possible, in prevention and care.*
Her advice for those currently struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts: “You are not alone. If you are headed that way, please reach out to someone. Add me on Facebook if need be. Call the suicide hotline 1-800-273-8255. Talk to a friend, a family member. There are plenty of Facebook support groups, go and join.”
And, as for her advice to friends and family, she said, “If you have lost a loved one, do not blame yourself. If your loved one is living and struggling be pro active and get them help; go with them to the doctors; get them in therapy […] Find an out of the darkness walk in your area and walk, get people involved! Be the voice!”
Denison added that “If anyone in Atlanta would like to join me for the walk, it is Nov. 6 in the Piedmont Park picnic area. We are team Denison!”
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[Heathen Chinese is one of our talented monthly columnists. Monthly he brings you insight and analysis about issues coming from within or affecting our collective communities. If you enjoy his work, consider donating to our fall fund drive today. It is your dollars and your support that make it possible for Heathen Chinese and our columnists to continue their dedicated work, and for us to bring on more talented monthly voices. Please donate today and share the campaign! Thank you.]
2016 marks the eightieth anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and the Spanish Revolution. When Franco led his fascist forces against the Second Spanish Republic in July 1936, anarchist militias simultaneously fought the fascists and seized large swathes of Southern and Eastern Spain, overthrowing local authorities and collectivizing wealth. One of the most passionate and dedicated of these militias, the Iron Column, was formed largely of liberated prisoners and included women within its ranks.
While the Iron Column fought the fascists on the front lines, however, their supposed comrades were stabbing them in the back. The syndicalists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) joined the Republican government in September 1936, with three CNT members taking positions as ministers. In March 1937, the Iron Column, previously organized along egalitarian lines, was ordered to submit to incorporation into the Republican Army and accept the leadership of Republican officers hostile to their revolutionary ambitions. One of the “uncontrollables” of the Iron Column published a denunciation of this betrayal, entitled “A Day Mournful and Overcast,” in Nosotros, the daily newspaper of the Column.
The uncontrollable introduced himself as “an escaped convict from San Miguel de los Reyes, that sinister prison, which the monarchy set up in order to bury alive those who, because they weren’t cowards, would never submit to the infamous laws dictated by the powerful against the oppressed.” He had been imprisoned at the age of twenty-three “for revolting against the humiliations to which an entire village had been subjected. In short for killing a political boss.”
In this detail of his life story, he closely resembles the Chinese warrior Guan Yu, who was later deified as Guan Di and is closely associated with loyalty and righteousness. In the Ming Dynasty novel Romance of Three Kingdoms, Guan Yu explains why he left his hometown, for “there was a man from a wealthy family who was acting like a big shot and bullying everybody, I ended up killing him. I had to become a fugitive, and have been living the life of an itinerant mercenary for the past five or six years.” Like Guan Yu, the uncontrollable rebelled and fought back against injustice in his home village, and suffered the consequences for his action: he was imprisoned for eleven years before anarchists opened the gates of the penitentiary. The word “rebel,” incidentally, comes from the Latin prefix re- (opposite, against, or again) added to bellare (to wage war): thus, it literally means “to fight back.”
The uncontrollable joined the militia that had liberated him, and, like Spartacus and his fellow rebels stripping weapons from the Roman legions they defeated (Life of Crassus 9.1), he armed himself with a rifle seized from a slain fascist. While fighting the fascists, the Iron Column also “changed the mode of life in the villages through which we passed – annihilating the brutal political bosses who had robbed and tormented the peasants and placing their wealth in the hands of the only ones who knew how to create it: the workers.” The methodology and members of Iron Column, however, were denounced by their enemies:
We have been treated like outlaws, and accused of being “uncontrollable”, because we did not subordinate the rhythm of our lives, which we desired and still desire to be free, to the stupid whims of those who, occupying a seat in some ministry or on some committee, sottishly and arrogantly regarded themselves as the masters of men.
The reference to those “occupying a seat in some ministry” clearly referred to the supposedly anarchist-syndicalist CNT, for it was not only fascists but also anti-fascists who condemned the Iron Column: “Not only the fascists considered us dangerous, because we treated them as they deserved, but in addition those who call themselves anti-fascists, shouting their anti-fascism until they are hoarse, have viewed us in the same light.” And the uncontrollable knew exactly what kind of people love to shout their anti-fascism until they are hoarse: “people who wish to be regarded as leaders.”We can distinguish, then, between two types of anti-fascism. On the one hand, there is a purported anti-fascism proclaimed by aspiring politicians: one that defends the State, that participates in Popular Fronts, and that demands militaristic unity and obedience from all other factions. And it is not only liberals and Stalinists who espouse this type of anti-fascism, but also Socialists, union organizers, and even so-called “anarchists.” On the other hand, there is the anti-fascism practiced by the uncontrollables: one that is liberatory, that changes the mode and rhythm of every day life, and that refuses both to submit to authoritarianism and to enforce it in turn. The Heathen and Polytheist milieus have seen too much of the former type of anti-fascism and too little of the latter.
The uncontrollable is a pariah. And moreover, the uncontrollable is a mystic seeking to “penetrate the obscurity of the fields and the mystery of things” at night while fighting the fascists by day:
On some nights, on those dark nights when armed and alert I would try to penetrate the obscurity of the fields and the mystery of things, I rose from behind my parapet as if in a dream, not to awaken my numbed limbs, which having been tempered in pain are like steel, but to grip more furiously my rifle, feeling a desire to fire not merely at the enemy sheltered barely a hundred yards way, but at the other concealed at my side, the one calling me comrade, all the while selling my interests in most sordid a manner, for no sale is more cowardly than one nourished by treason.
On those nights, the uncontrollable was possessed by the urge to run wild and destroy all that sought to grind him and his comrades down:
And I would feel a desire to laugh and to weep, and to run through the fields, shouting and tearing throats open with my iron fingers, just as I had torn open the throat of that filthy political boss, and to smash this wretched world into smithereens, a world in which it is hard to find a loving hand to wipe away one’s sweat and to stop the blood flowing from one’s wounds on returning from the battlefield, tired and wounded.
There is an ancient Greek word for this kind of hands-on dismemberment: σπαραγμός. Sparagmos is associated in literature with the Dionysiac cults, which contained many women and slaves, just as the Iron Column was comprised of ex-prisoners. Euripides wrote in Bakkhai that the mainads needed no weapons but their hands to hunt their prey:
They, with hands that bore no weapon of steel, attacked our cattle as they browsed. Then wouldst thou have seen Agave mastering some sleek lowing calf, while others rent the heifers limb from limb. Before thy eyes there would have been hurling of ribs and hoofs this way and that; and strips of flesh, all blood-bedabbled, dripped as they hung from the pine-branches. Wild bulls, that glared but now with rage along their horns, found themselves tripped up, dragged down to earth by countless maidens’ hands. The flesh upon their limbs was stripped there from quicker than thou couldst have closed thy royal eye-lids.
But it is not only destruction that characterizes the Dionysian spirit, but “the wildly irrepressible desires we carry in our hearts to be free like the eagles on the highest mountain peaks, like the lions in the jungle.”The uncontrollable wrote that precisely in his moments of despair, he would find renewed enthusiasm in his dreams:
I would abandon myself joyfully to dreams of adventure, beholding with heated imagination a world that I knew not in life but in desire, a world that no man has known in life but that many of us have known in dreams. And dreaming, time would fly by, and my body would stand weariness at bay, and I would redouble my enthusiasm, and become bold, and go out on reconnaissance at dawn to find out the enemy’s position, and…. All of this in order to change life, to stamp a different rhythm onto this life of ours; all of this because men could be brothers and I among them; all of this because joy that surges forth even once from our breasts must surge out of the earth, because the Revolution, this Revolution that has been the guiding light and watchword of the Iron Column, could soon be tangible reality.
The word “enthusiasm” also comes from ancient Greek: ἐνθουσιασμός denotes the condition in which a god (θεός) is inside (ἐν) a person. Compare the previous quote with a passage from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy:
Under the magic of the Dionysian, not only does the bond between man and man lock itself in place once more, but also nature itself, now matter how alienated, hostile, or subjugated, rejoices again in her festival of reconciliation with her prodigal son, man. The earth freely offers up her gifts, and the beasts of prey from the rocks and the desert approach in peace. The wagon of Dionysus is covered with flowers and wreaths. Under his yoke stride panthers and tigers.
If someone were to transform Beethoven’s Ode to Joy into a painting and not restrain his imagination when millions of people sink dramatically into the dust, then we could come close to the Dionysian. Now is the slave a free man, now all the stiff, hostile barriers break apart, those things which necessity and arbitrary power or “saucy fashion” have established between men. Now, with the gospel of world harmony, every man feels himself not only united with his neighbor, reconciled and fused together, but also as if the veil of Maja has been ripped apart, with only scraps fluttering around before the mysterious original unity. Singing and dancing, man expresses himself as a member of a higher unity. He has forgotten how to walk and talk and is on the verge of flying up into the air as he dances. The enchantment speaks out in his gestures.
In both of these texts, we find sympathetic magic between the joy of the earth and the liberation of humans, the possibility of universal camaraderie between human and human, and a dreamlike transcendence that becomes incarnate within material reality.
Dionysian methodologies of warfare cannot be described as “non-violent,” but they supersede the linearity of rigid militarization by striking where unexpected, by changing the very time and space within which the “battle” is waged. Euripides’s mainads first and foremost caused disruption by abandoning the οἶκος (oikos), the household centered around slavery and gender roles, whence we derive the word “economy:” management of the οἶκος.
But when pursued, they fought “with the thyrsus, which they hurled, caused many a wound and put their foes to utter rout, women chasing men, by some god’s intervention. Then they returned to the place whence they had started, even to the springs the god had made to spout for them; and there washed off the blood, while serpents with their tongues were licking clean each gout from their cheeks.”
Another individual known for having snakes coil about his face, the Thracian gladiator Spartacus, whose wife was a prophetess, also won a battle by a Dionysian miracle. Spartacus and his fellow runaway slaves, who were primarily of Thracian and Gaulish origin, were besieged on top of Mount Vesuvius:
But the top of the hill was covered with a wild vine of abundant growth, from which the besieged cut off the serviceable branches, and wove these into strong ladders of such strength and length that when they were fastened at the top they reached along the face of the cliff to the plain below.
Descending on these ladders of wild vines, the rebels caught the Roman legion by surprise and defeated them in battle. Like the Iron Column, they were supported by the locals: “they were also joined by many of the herdsmen and shepherds of the region, sturdy men and swift of foot, some of whom they armed fully, and employed others as scouts and light infantry.” The escaped slaves and shepherds of Vesuvius were literally anti-fascists: Roman officials were preceded by lictors carrying fasces as symbols of their political authority.The pro-Dionysian spirit of the Iron Column has resurfaced lately. In June 2016, Neo-Nazis and anti-fascists fought with sticks and knives at the California state capitol in Sacramento, resulting in hospitalizations on both sides for blunt force trauma and stab wounds. In September 2016, prisoners revolted at Holmes Correctional Institution in Florida and at Turbeville C.I. in North Carolina, and hunger strikes and work stoppages have proliferated in prisons across the nation. Prisoners in Greece and in Mexico have acted in solidarity. In Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama, the prison guards themselves went on strike, not in solidarity (obviously), but due to “increasingly dangerous conditions and fears that they may be killed while on duty.” The warden at Holman was stabbed during a queer-led riot in March and subsequently quit, and a guard was stabbed and killed on September 1.
Michael Kimble, a black gay anarchist incarcerated at Holman, writes that prisoners’ struggle will not always be non-violent, echoing the Iron Column in his uncontrollability: “If your solidarity and support is predicated on prisoners being ‘non-violent,’ we don’t want or need it, because you are trying to control us.”
The Iron Column’s revolutionary war against fascism and prisons and the society that produces both is alive and well. And it is once again being fought by partisans, by people who desire first and foremost to change their own lives, “to stamp a different rhythm onto this life of ours.” Ill Will Editions writes that the concept of the “partisan” is “best understood not as a splitting of a totality into competing parts or factions each defined via mutually contested claims over the management of the whole, but rather as the intensification of asymmetrical differences that were already there within the way we live.”
The Polytheist and Heathen milieus are plagued by “people who wish to be regarded as leaders” of movements, who wish to claim “management of the whole.” Some of them wish to maintain the supposedly apolitical nature of the whole, others to defend the whole against the very real threat of fascist infiltration. Both positions accept and reify the continued existence of the πόλις (polis), which exists only in contrast to actual communities and traditions. My position is not apolitical, but anti-political.
Mujeres Libres wrote, “To be an anti-fascist is too little; one is an anti-fascist because one is already something else.” Like their syndicalist predecessors who became Ministers, those who claim to be anti-fascist because they are aspiring managers do not seek the “different rhythm” of life that I seek. The uncontrollables of the Iron Column speak from their mass graves, warning us never to trust these would-be politicians:
History, which records the good and evil that men do, will one day speak. And History will say that the Iron Column was perhaps the only column in Spain that had a clear vision of what our Revolution ought to be. It will also say that of all columns, ours offered the greatest resistance to militarization, and that there were times when because of that resistance, it was completely abandoned to its fate, at the front awaiting battle, as if six thousand men, hardened by war and ready for victory or death, should be abandoned to the enemy to be devoured.
History will say so many, many things, and so many, many figures who think themselves glorious will find themselves execrated and damned!
To get to the labyrinth, first I have to get through the maze.
The directions seem straightforward: take one main artery to another, cross a bridge over the highway, turn right, and drive. Kalamazoo’s Unitarian Universalist church is supposedly half a mile down the road, easy to find. But big orange signs warn that the way is blocked -– road closed, no thru traffic –– and indeed, not long after turning onto 10th Street, where the People’s Church is located, the road disintegrates from asphalt into huge mounds of dirt and gravel, the natural habitat of Caterpillars and other forms of industrial machinery, rather than my trusty Chevy Cobalt.
Having no choice, I turn left, hoping that with a few right turns I can find a place to cross over into the church’s parking lot. Instead, I find myself lost in a web of wide suburban curves, subdivision streets with no guideposts or markers, roads that wind and twist in ways that defy my city-boy instincts. (While I can’t claim the streets of St. Louis are perfectly logical, most of the time they at least proceed in straight lines, and the avenues go one direction and the streets go another; I have never really learned how to cope with subdivisions, the layouts of which seem practically non-Euclidean.) I find three different opportunities to exit back onto 10th Street, but each time I find the road still obliterated. Eventually I give up and turn back towards the main roads, heading back to my dorm room at Western Michigan University, where I am staying for the summer.
This is the difference between a maze and a labyrinth: though the path of the labyrinth winds and weaves, there is only one route, and with enough steps, one comes to the center and then the exit. There’s no guarantee of escaping a maze.
I have never been so good at meditation – not the seated, peaceful kind, anyway. I never developed the posture for it, much less the discipline to clear my mind of all its worries and distractions at will. But walking meditation does the trick well enough. When I still lived in St. Louis, I liked to stop by the botanical gardens and walk the perimeter, chanting the elements -– air I am, fire I am -– under my breath. With my mind taken up by the rhythm of the chant, and my body engaged in the walk, and my senses suffused with the trees and flowers, I could find my way to peace. I needed to be so embodied to become bodiless.
And that was why I sought the labyrinth: in its journey to a center, the labyrinth serves as a pilgrimage in miniature. Though its footprint is only a few meters in diameter, the path of a labyrinth is an order of magnitude longer. As we follow its contours, its sharp angles and snake-backs, we see landmarks again and again, but changed again and again by the new vantage. And when we come to the center, we can stop, survey the space around us again, and realize that the destination is only halfway through the journey. Much of my interest in the subject comes from my friend Travis Scholl, a Lutheran preacher and a fantastic writer, who has written a book on his experiences with labyrinths; I was thinking of him when I started looking for one in Kalamazoo.
After my other attempts at finding a labyrinth went bust (I’m looking for the labyrinth, I told the clerk outside a Catholic retirement community; The what? he replied; I later found the spot on the map bulldozed and waterlogged), I came back to 10th Street. It was still ripped apart, and I had no business driving on it, but I cut across a flat part of the construction into the church parking lot. The place was completely empty, unusual for a weekday afternoon. It doesn’t look like many people from the congregation manage to get out to the church thanks to the construction, nor even the staff; from what I can tell of the maps, there’s no other way into the parking lot except from 10th Street, so even the groundskeepers are shut out.
As a consequence, the labyrinth itself is overgrown, weeds poking up through the dirt. So many vines cover a trellis at the edge of the circle that at first I can’t tell that it is the entrance. Not wanting to damage anything, I press gently against the green leaves and tendrils and push them aside, stooping down low to pass into the circle of stones.
It has been a tumultuous year, for me and for the world, and though it’s a hot summer day as I’m walking this path, my mind is already turning toward the autumn, toward the winter. The things that are on my mind aren’t so different from what’s on everybody’s mind, I think: I’m worried about politics and justice, about my family and my job, about my coven and my future. And often it’s good to worry: sometimes it’s paralyzing, but it’s often the impetus for action.
Still, you can’t worry all the time: sometimes you need a long walk through the pale stones, feeling the wet afternoon heat on your skin, making your way to the center of the labyrinth. There is nothing special about that center point: here there are stones and lovely flowers, but there are stones and lovely flowers all along the path. Reaching the center is not the point, really. It’s the motion, the journey; the stillness in the movement. I can’t find the gods by sitting still. I need to walk.
SAN FRANCISCO – It has been nearly a quarter of a century since Starhawk’s seminal novel The Fifth Sacred Thing was released by Bantam Books. It was 1993 when the world was first introduced to this dystopian story, set in the not-so-distant future of 2048, where our heroes must protect their northern California ecotopia from ruthless invaders. The book went on to become an inspiration for a new generation of pagans, feminists, goddess-worshippers, activists and environmental advocates.
Never going out of print, The Fifth Sacred Thing has sold over 100,000 copies, been translated into four languages and is now being developed into a television series. And, as of August this year, The Fifth Sacred Thing has been re-released for the first time in audiobook format.“We had been trying to do an audiobook for years” said Starhawk, from her home in California recently. “So many people just don’t have time to read now, but people do listen to audiobooks – I know I do. They are a great way to pass the time on a long drive, or keep your mind occupied when you are trying to hook up your drip irrigation system” she added with a chuckle.
Working with her production partner, Maya Lilly, Starhawk entered the studio to turn the 496 pages of the story into a recording. After the original publisher declined to take on this project, Starhawk was able to regain the rights to do the project herself. Fortunately, Lilly is a experienced voice actor, and her life partner is a sound engineer. This gave them a team capable of proceeding with the project, under their own terms.
After a month of planning, the team got to work in the studio, finding time between their many other projects. The finished audiobook is 22 hours of talking, which equals 44 hours of voice work, plus 168 hours of editing. In the end, Starhawk is very pleased with the result, and Lilly’s voicing of the story.
“I think she did a great job, getting those subtle differences in the voices, so you feel like different people are talking.”
And if Maya Lilly’s name sounds familiar to fans of the book, it can be chalked up to serendipity, said Starhawk: “She happens have the names of two characters in the book. It was a pure coincidence. Plus, she happens to look exactly like my picture of Madrone. Something is at work here!”
In addition to launching the audiobook, Starhawk also recently traveled to Spain to co-teach the Earth Activist Training permaculture course with Alfred Decker. The two-week course was held at a camp near the village of Arbizu, Navarra, in the north of Spain. This area is part of the Basque Country, famous for its association with the Spanish Inquisition and the Witch Hunts that took place there in the 17th century. More than 7,000 individual cases of witchcraft were tried during this time, and this is commemorated in the local Zurgaramurdi Witch Museum, which Starhawk visited and was astounded by.
Starhawk recalled: “The bottom floor had a powerful memorial to all the witches who were accused, and burned and tortured. It went through the history of the witch persecutions. The second floor was all about the ancient religion of the Basques, which is a religion of the Goddess. I can’t even really describe how I felt there, it was this whole history that we have been talking about, and advocating for, and arguing about, in my case – for decades.”Starhawk went on to add, “People were saying that there never were goddesses, Marija Gimbutas was making it all up…..and then here it was, it’s still a living memory, ingrained in the Basque culture, and which I think for them, is very much a part of their sense of having a culture that is very distinctive. It was an amazing sense of coming home, in a very powerful way, even though I do not have any direct Basque ancestors. It was a sense of coming home to a place of spiritual ancestry.”
Almost 25 years later, The Fifth Sacred Thing almost seems prophetic, and this is not lost on Starhawk. While the streets of San Francisco have not been completely dug up to plant gardens, and we have not suffered an apocalypse, some of the books themes, both good and bad, echo in our world today.
“The whole movement toward urban gardening and food growing and urban farming is enormous. Twenty-five years ago it didn’t even really quite exist in the same way” she noted, “and we also see the forces of brutality and this upsurge in racism, in the murder of people of color by police, we see an upsurge, with Donald Trump in outright, outspoken misogyny and hatred of women and making that somehow acceptable.”
Starhawk is quick to note how our climate is changing and our environment is in danger. However, she is also sure that there is much hope, explaining that she sees many people newly embracing the practices of permaculture and how using it can effect positive change for the planet.
She said, “One of the exciting things now, is what permaculture can bring to the discussions around climate change. This isn’t just about carbon numbers. This is about ecosystem degradation on a large scale. The answer to it, is about ecosystem regeneration on a massive scale, and that is something permaculturalists know how to do. The good news is it can be done, and often doesn’t even take as long as you think it would.”
Permaculture courses will keep Starhawk on the road throughout October, with appearances in Nevada City on Oct. 14 and San Rafael on October 22 – 23. She is also preparing to lead the 37th Annual Reclaiming Spiral Dance in San Francisco on Oct. 30, celebrating Samhain.
Starhawk added that she highly recommends that anyone interested in attending the annual Reclaiming event make sure that they secure tickets in advance, as the venue has a limited capacity, and looks like it will be sold out by the actual date.
Once enough copies of The Fifth Sacred Thing audiobook have been sold to pay back the cost of production, Starhawk’s plan is to record a reading of City of Refuge, the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing, for an audiobook. There are no plans at present to make audiobooks for any of her non-fiction works, such as Spiral Dance.
The Fifth Sacred Thing audiobook is widely available for purchase online at Amazon, iTunes and Audible.
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UNITED STATES — Attempts to predict the results of presidential elections have been around as long as the elections themselves. Pundits and pollsters look to the past to predict the future, and there are some idiosyncratic methods that take such an approach to an extreme. Divination is part and parcel of the campaign cycle. Many news sites have even asked for readings to be included in their lighthearted and quirky sections.
It could probably be argued that Pagans and polytheists have the highest number of members practicing divination per capita. Some read only for themselves, while others make their living doing readings. Still many more fit into a spectrum between those points. These readers — and their clients — do not consider divination to be a parlor trick or a black-and-white way to predict which team is going to win.
We asked some practitioners to offer their predictions for this year’s contentious presidential race and what might follow. Some declined to participate at all, citing a preference not to intermingle the political and religious spheres. Two astrologers and one card reader did agree to participate. Here is what they found:Teri Parsley Starnes (astrology)
“I have to make a confession. Although I am a Witch who believes it is her responsibility to be informed about politics and world events, I have paid as little attention to the current presidential race as my Facebook feed would allow. I haven’t been doing a lot of clicking. Truth be told, I even unfriended someone I never knew in the first place because they only posted about Bernie Sanders (many times a day), even though I loved Bernie Sanders.
“I guess I am in a cynical mood when it comes to U.S. politics. The candidates and their dramas seem so removed from the actual things we need to work on in this country that I’ve kind of checked out of this race. By the way, I am not proud of this; just felt it was important to clarify. So, this request to write a prediction for the presidential race using astrology makes me smile for two reasons: my disinterest with this race and because I don’t really use astrology this way.
“For me astrology is a tool, a lens, for looking at self and the world where I am striving to be a conscious and responsible co-creator. Astrology can be used to match my efforts with the astrological weather of the moment. As a Witch, this comes in handy when doing magic. As a spiritual person, I use astrology to be mindful of my patterns and to support my prayers. I use birth charts for people, movements, moments, and institutions to better understand what makes them tick and what seems possible now.
“That piece -— what seems possible now -— borders on the realm of prediction, but isn’t exactly. Free will exists. As co-creators, our efforts shape outcome. Astrology can show what is likely, what is possible, and just what it might take to shape an outcome that we most desire. Astrology is really good at revealing where the lessons are and what the struggles will be. Regardless of who wins this next presidential race, we are in for struggle. There is a lot for all us to do.
“Even though I don’t focus on prediction, other astrologers do, and I respect that. There’s much concerning fate and free will that is a mystery, and it is fun. Of the astrologers who have been writing about the outcome of this presidential race, I am most impressed by Nina Gryphon. She has been studying presidential elections going back to 1880 using a special chart called the Aries ingress. To summarize her findings, using traditional techniques of rulership and dignity, Gryphon predicts that this presidential race will be won by the candidate of the political party that is currently in power. That would be the Democrats, and at this point, that means Hillary Clinton.
At this point, it also seems pretty clear, even to someone avoiding news about the race, that a third-party candidate will not win the 2016 election, and that even conservative Republicans are starting to lose it over Trump’s clearly non-presidential temperament. A fascinating tidbit is that Gryphon also predicts that the Democrats will lose the presidency in 2020. Looks like Hillary Clinton could be a one-termer.”
What astrological weather is in store for the U.S. and Hillary Clinton, should she be the next president?
“I use a chart for the U.S. called the Sibley chart. This is not the only possible chart for the U.S., but this chart is one of the more common ones astrologers use to reflect on the character and transits of the nation. It works for me. One prominent feature of this chart is a square between Mars in Gemini (21 degrees) and Neptune in Virgo (22 degrees). Squares are challenging connections. Mars represents will, war, and aggression. Neptune is both illusion and spiritual idealism.
“Historically, we see this aspect played out when beliefs are manipulated to rationalize war. This connection between Mars and Neptune makes it difficult to think and see clearly when the nation is engaged in aggression or defense. The U.S. has vacillated between denial about world conflicts to taking on a savior role in world events. Idealism can influence our national will but we have to be careful about telling ourselves lies.
“Hillary Clinton’s moon in Pisces is exactly opposite the U.S. Neptune, and only one degree from exactly squaring the U.S. Mars. To make matters more interesting, Donald Trump’s sun in Gemini is only one degree from the U.S. Mars, and his Moon in Sagittarius is exactly opposite the U.S. Mars. Both major candidates for president are very closely tied to the problems of war and illusion in the U.S. Both probably feel they can lead the country to fulfill its ideals. Mars in the Sibley chart rules the fourth house of the homeland. It looks like the next president will be challenged to defend national security, and could also be involved in the national tendency to fantasize our role in aggression.
“Clearly, Clinton and Trump are candidates who are being called up by the U.S. psyche to play out patterns laid at the birth of this country. Trump is cashing in on American fundamentalism and hysteria. Clinton appeals more quietly to a side of the country that needs to feel safe while maintaining liberal ideals. She is more of a hawk than Obama. We most likely will find that out about her over the next four years.
“Transits by Saturn next year will activate this pattern between Mars and Neptune in the national chart. Every reenactment of a pattern is an opportunity to evolve into more conscious expression of that pattern. As a nation, the U.S. could learn to be more accountable and realistic (qualities that Saturn encourages) when expressing Mars. These transits will give us an opportunity to experience the expression of national will in a new way, but it will be challenging. Other Saturn reactions include tamping down on excess, becoming more conservative, being tested to our limits.
“Here are the exact dates of the transits, although we should feel the pressure all year:
- Saturn opposes U.S. Mars on December 31, 2016, August 9, 2017, and September 9, 2017.
- Saturn squares U.S. Neptune on January 10, 2017, July 15, 2017, and October 3, 2017.
“Clinton will be feeling this same Saturn transit to her moon. Remember, her moon in Pisces is opposite the nation’s Neptune, and square to the nation’s Mars. Trump, as it happens, is experiencing this Saturn transit to both his sun and moon. Difficult personal transits are not unusual for a new president. During Obama’s first year in office, Saturn also squared his natal moon. As you may recall, it felt like Obama squandered all the good will that progressives had about his presidency as he made a series of conservative moves in the beginning of his presidency. Both Clinton and Trump, under the influence of difficult Saturn transits, may exhibit similar conservative behavior.
“Trump and Clinton aren’t the only ones in the race with planets around 22 degrees of mutable signs. Here are more fascinating coincidences: Bernie Sanders’ chart feeds into the same U.S. pattern. Sanders’ South Node of the moon is exactly conjunct the U.S. Neptune. Jill Stein’s Mars is exactly conjunct the U.S. Neptune, and Gary Johnson’s Mercury is only one degree from squaring the U.S. Neptune. As an astrologer, I love these moments of coincidence. They make me pay attention. Something important is happening. I wonder what it means?
“An election is a collective choice. It looks like one of the influences around this choice is about how, as a nation, we express idealism (Neptune) and will (Mars). Some questions to ask ourselves as we face this choice are: How do we work with this pattern in the U.S. birth chart? Who will we choose to enact this pattern for us? What can we learn? How can we grow? Stay tuned for more insight and choice as Saturn calls this part of the national character into accountability. May we choose wisely.”Star Bustamonte (tarot)
“In my first laying of cards with my question being: Who will win the general election? [and with] two columns of three cards each to identify the major contenders:
“First Column: The first card (3 of Cups) reflects general unhappiness, disagreement, or emotional discord. Second card (7 of Staves) is indicative of initiation, moving to new or different levels. Third card (King of Staves) can reflect someone strong of will, fiery, and refusing to back down. I feel this column represents Trump. His attainment of the Republican nomination made a great many people in the GOP quite unhappy. And his campaign has certainly initiated all of us into a place like none seen before. New levels, indeed. Trump is nothing else if not willful, fiery, and stubborn.
“Second Column: First card (Death) rarely means a physical death, but often signals an ending or being finished. Second card (10 of Circles) is all about community support and resources. Third card (Strength) often implies that whatever is your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. If the first column is Trump, then this one must be Clinton. She lost the Democratic party’s nomination in 2008, a death, if you will. Since obtaining the nomination this time around, her support has only grown and even her campaign slogan is reflected in the second and third cards–Stronger Together. Not to mention that her strength in understanding how the government actually works and in using it to the greatest advantage are also her two biggest liabilities.
“Final Column: To aid in mapping out from now until the election, I use five cards.
“1) 9 of Swords – Great stress, confusion and fear over the outcome.
“2) 2 of Cups – Two candidates, male & female. This may also reflect that the third party candidates, Johnson and Stein, will have a slight impact on the election. Another possibility here, in light of recent events, it could also mean there is more to roll out about either candidate’s past relationships. If this proves true, I would put my money on Trump bearing the brunt of unpleasant things coming home to roost.
“3) The Fool – Entrepreneur and definitely represents Trump.
“4) 10 of Swords – This is the end of Trump. The general public turns away, and/or votes against him. I say and/or because some people will just not vote.
“5) Queen of Circles – Hillary comes out on top. She wins.”Christopher LaFond (medieval astrology)
“One of the highest goals of an astrologer is to predict what will happen in the coming year in politics. Many astrologers have tried to forecast the U.S. presidential elections over the years and this year is no exception. Modern astrologers tend to rely predominantly on the birth data and natal charts of the candidates. When we have accurate birth data, these can be very revealing. However, we often just don’t know what time of day a particular candidate was born, which makes many of the modern techniques difficult to employ.
“We have no accurate birth time, for example, for Bernie Sanders, and the time of day for Hillary Clinton’s birth is suspect, which made it impossible to compare the two charts during the primaries.
“Hellenistic and medieval astrologers, however, had a different approach. To forecast the year ahead, we look at the Aries ingress chart, that is, the spring equinox chart, for the nation’s capital. The astronomical/astrological year begins at the spring equinox (and indeed, the calendar year did, too, for a very long time), so casting a chart for a specific location for the moment that the sun enters Aries is akin to casting a birthday chart for that location.
“Traditionally, if the Aries ingress chart has a fixed sign rising (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius), it is valid for the whole year. If it has a cardinal sign rising (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn), then it’s only valid until the next season, and we need to look at the Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn ingresses for each respective season. If it has a mutable sign rising (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces), then it’s good until the Libra ingress in September. However, California-based astrologer Nina Gryphon has had good success using the Aries ingress alone for all presidential elections, and after experimenting with it myself, I agree.
“In these charts, the “king” (remember this is from medieval astrology) is represented by the 10th house, or Midheaven (MC=Medium Coeli) at the top of the chart, along with its ruling planet. The fourth house (IC=Imum Coeli) and its ruling planet represent the challenger. So the MC and its ruler represent the incumbent party and the IC and its ruler the opposition party.
“In the 2016 chart, Virgo is at the MC, so Mercury will represent the Democrats, while Pisces is at the IC, so Jupiter will represent the Republicans. Jupiter happens to be right on the MC as well, in the Democrats’ house. When this happens, it means that the incumbent party “owns” the challengers, and is a pretty clear sign of victory for the incumbents. There are other testimonies as well. Mercury, the ruler of the Democrats here, will conjoin a very dignified sun in Aries in three and a half degrees, while Jupiter, the Republicans’ planet, won’t make an aspect to another planet for about seven degrees. This means that the Democrats, the incumbents, will retain control of the White House.
“I mentioned before that Hillary Clinton’s birth time is still a question. 8 a.m. has been used by many for a long time, however Clinton herself has told people on more than one occasion that it is 8 p.m. This difference in time would yield very different results. However, the 8 a.m. chart is the one that has consistently produced results at times of major events in Clinton’s life. It’s possible that she is mistaken, or that she has intentionally given a false time; after all, the 8 a.m. chart does have Scorpio rising, which would indicate a degree of privacy and a secretive nature (sounds like her). If the 8 a.m. chart is correct, Clinton is at a very high point in her career, while Donald Trump’s chart shows a far less degree of eminence at the time of the election and inauguration. There’s another testimony to the Democrats keeping the White House this year.
“This leads to the question: What happens politically in the new year? We examine the Aries ingress chart for 2017. Without giving the technical details, what I see is that the country is in good enough shape, but doesn’t realize it; the focus is on the president, who is under constant attack. It’s likely that the Congress and the president will get on somewhat better than the current Congress does with President Obama. But that will only increase the feeling that the entrenched political class needs to go in the next election. The gap in understanding increases between older and younger generations. Financially, the country does well, and attention is paid to shoring up any gaps in the Affordable Care Act and increasing it. Expect more home-grown terrorist attacks in neighborhoods and on public transit, rather than large attacks from the outside. Foreign policy will be a frustrating experience.
2018 looks like a “honeymoon” year, before 2019 and 2020 become difficult once again, leading to the next electoral cycle.”
In short, the diviners are predicting a Clinton win, but a rocky road during her term in office. Want to sway that in any direction? Vote, and pay attention to what your elected officials do to earn your trust after the fact.
UNITED STATES – “We boarded up the house and we left town because our house isn’t (concrete) block construction, it’s wood. We live in an area where there are lots of trees and we weren’t confident that a cat 3, 4, or whatever hit land that we would be safe,” said Kathy Lezon, a priestess from Vero Beach, located on Florida’s Treasure Coast.Hurricane Matthew was a slow-moving behemoth of a storm that flared up on Sept. 28 and quickly shot up to hurricane status, at one point topping off the scale as a category 5 storm with sustained winds of 160 mph before weakening slightly to a category 4 before making landfall in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and bouncing along the Florida coast before skirting north along the Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina coastline. It also affected areas well beyond those that were directly impacted.
Matthew was the first category 5 storm to form in the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007.
The biggest impact was felt in Haiti, where over a thousand people are now reported to have been killed by the storm. Haiti, which has struggled to rebuild after a massive earthquake struck in 2010, was ill-prepared to withstand a direct hit from Matthew. Without key infrastructure in place and with no protections for personal property, many Haitians were loathe to evacuate their homes. There were also some rumors that Haitians were unaware or only vaguely aware that there was a storm incoming. More on the Haitian relief efforts will follow below.
Meanwhile in the United States the impacts were variable. We spoke with a number of Pagans about their experience. Those in the very southern parts of Florida reported heavy rains and wind with sporadic power outages.
As Matthew’s forecast direction shifted west, then east, then west again with each new update, Floridians were up late into the night on Thursday watching progress. Fortunately, the storm stayed offshore for most of its track along the the U.S. coastline.
Kathy Lezon said that after boarding up her house, she, her partner, and their dog packed up a camper and headed for the west part of the state to stay at a campground.
As of Monday afternoon, she was still waiting on power to be restored at their home. Many houses in Florida, especially in more rural areas, rely on well water which is normally run by electrical pumps. That is what Lezon is facing.
“No electricity means no air conditioning, which is not a big deal if you can take a shower but when your well pump doesn’t work it’s pretty gross, no toilets, no showers,” Lezon said.
Amber Moon, who is also a Treasure Coast resident and police officer, said she worked through the entire storm.
“We had to help with evacuations and shelter security, things like that. I pretty much boarded up my house on Wednesday, sent my 11 year old son to leave the state with his grandmother and I went to work and we’ve pretty much worked straight through. I’ve been at work since Monday (October 3) and will work straight through until Saturday (October 15) which will be my first day off,” Moon said.
Lezon and Moon are both coordinators of the Treasure Coast Pagan Pride Day, which is scheduled for Saturday, October 15. There were some fears that damage to the park would prevent the celebration from happening. But a Facebook announcement on the Treasure Coast Pagan Pride Day event page said, “We hope everyone is okay after Hurricane Matthew. We have just received word that there was no damage at The Savanna’s Recreation Area!!! So, we are a go for Saturday! Spread the word. Come out, relax and enjoy a day off!”Lupa, a witch living further north in Saint Augustine, Florida, said, “Entire sections of A1A Beach Blvd are missing, and most of the businesses on the beach side (including the bar where I met my hunny) are still inoperable. Downtown, the historic district… I cried driving through.
“My home and family were safe, thank Goddess, but I’m in mourning for the town and all its history,” she said.
Lupa shared a photo of an enormous live oak that fell down, ripping up the sidewalk nearby and narrowly missing a house where a man she knows as Mr. Righter lives. She said that it’s a stone’s throw from an entrance to the nearby Florida School for the Deaf and Blind where her parents have worked for more than 12 years.
“He was actually home at the time, having stayed there through it all. My mother and I called him a crazy old coot and sat while he sung a beautiful hymnal to us, with this huge tree just sitting behind him,” Lupa added..Only 40 miles north of St. Augustine, Meg Knunya, Facilitator of Jacksonville CUUPS, was experiencing her first hurricane with Matthew. Jacksonville is
“I thought I was prepared,” she said, “we bought a solar panel system and a backup generator for when the power goes out.”
Only right before the storm did she realize that the battery was not installed with the generator, so they wouldn’t have power during or after the storm.
“My plan had been to hunker down in place but then as the storm progressed towards us I started getting a little panicky that they were saying it’s going to be worse than predicted,” Knunya said.
With few options locally, she packed up her two kids, dog, and four cats on Thursday night and tried to drive out of the path of the storm.
“I was totally unprepared for a bug-out situation because it was so last minute. There were no hotels so we slept in the car,” she said. Eventually they settled down in a campground in Georgia where they had to camp with a tarp because in the last-minute scramble to escape, they didn’t bring a tent.
“I found the whole thing very humbling, as Pagans we like to live within nature and honor nature. Sometimes, nature is destructive and nature is terrifying. It really kind of knocks you down and makes you see how insignificant us mere mortals are. I’d like to think some of the warding spells and some of the protection spells I put on my house helped but who really knows. I had no damage, it’s just scary to think that your whole life could just be uprooted in an instant, and you’re not in control,” Knunya said.
Knunya is back home now, where she had some downed branches, though she was trying to figure out how to get to work after a local bridge was down after massive flooding.Just as in Florida, people were packing up and leaving the low-lying coastal areas of South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina.
“My friends that live in New Burn, the National Guard evacuated them and they had to spend the night in a shelter, it was not a voluntary evacuation, they demanded that they leave,” said Alyce Rohan, Priestess Initiate of Triskele Rose Witchcraft. Rohan lives about 80 miles away from New Burn in Rocky Point, North Carolina.
Rohan reported that they were still without power as of Sunday night, with no word on when it may be restored.
“I work at General Electric and they closed the plant down on Saturday, which they never do. It’s an aircraft engine parts plant and they never do that,” she said.
Rohan reported that there were some trees down in her neighborhood, including one that had taken out a neighbor’s garage. She said that she placed crystals at the corners of her property and wrote runes on trees which came out mostly unscathed.
During the storm, she said, “I woke up in the middle of the night and when I went out to go charge my phone, something told me not to go outside. I’m very close with the fey in my neighborhood and had a feeling they were doing something to protect the house. It was strange, it felt like I was being protected.”
Social media ended up being a very important organizing tool for many communities.
Rohan said that Facebook was a great tool for checking in, saying, “We have done the ‘count your self safe’ post. And people have been offering help twixt each other. (Private messages) as well. Electronic age, now we all be!”
Similarly, Knunya said that her community in Jacksonville, Florida has been pretty tight throughout the storm. In addition to prayers and energy work, she said, “many have extended their homes to others, offering others in the community either a place to stay, or at the very least a place to store their food or take a shower or use their internet.”
Lezon said that in Florida’s Treasure Coast people were pitching in and offering to assist one another with prep work as well as cleanup and recover.
“People from Miami to Jacksonville kept in touch with how things were going with storm prep and then on Thursday through Friday, kept in touch with each other as the storm moved up the coast. Its really helpful to know there’s a whole line of people looking out for your safety and well being!”
Meanwhile, in Haiti, the situation is different, and remains extremely dire. More than 1000 people have lost their lives there so far and some aid officials have said that some areas of the country are up to 90% destroyed. Now, doctors in Haiti are warning that an outbreak of cholera, a disease spread by contaminated water, is imminent.
“I really left my heart in Haiti in a lot of ways, seeing the pictures that are coming out of Haiti, it breaks my heart,” said Peter Dybing, an eclectic Pagan and chief officer on a national disaster team. He spent time in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that leveled parts of the country.A close friend of his, Mandy Thody, is the administrative director for a small nonprofit in the country, on the island of Ile-a-Vache, called Good Samaritan Foundation for Haiti. He said that Thody was on the island when it got hit by the storm, and the island is decimated. Fortunately, her daughter received a text message that she was okay, however the situation on the island is not.
Dybing urged people in the Pagan community to donate, but to carefully consider which organizations they send their money.
“I would strongly urge the Pagan community that I know what’s going on with small nonprofits in Haiti. This is the place where the money’s going to make a difference,” he said.
When making donations, he said that “focused giving” is the most effective.
“Small mobile nonprofits that are already on the ground, they’re already doing good work, [they] are completely involved in the community’s rebuilding. That’s what focused giving is. A great example of how the organization I’m working with now controls costs, when they get a bunch of relief supplies now instead of spending money on shipping containers and imports and all that, they get a volunteer flotilla of boats, sailboats using wind power to bring supplies to this island,” he said.
After a joint investigative piece by NPR and ProPublica found that very little of the money donated to the Red Cross actually found its way to Haiti in the five years following the 2010 earthquake,some are concerned about how or where to offer monetary assistance.
“Large organizations like that have what’s called a long logistics tail. Which means while people are in crisis that it takes weeks, sometimes months for them to set up their infrastructure,” Dybing said.
One frequently-seen post on social media was from people criticizing those who didn’t evacuate. Dybing said that when, “we’re talking about relocating, or moving out of the way we’re talking about people who have resources, that’s a comment that comes from people who have privilege.”
There are no credit cards and if the limited amount of money that people have is needed for something else, their family may not eat for five days, he added.
“There are no soup kitchens or anywhere else you can go to fix that. The choices that people face are incredibly traumatic in staying where they are and protecting the absolute, very little that they have, versus abandoning it and knowing it will all be gone when they come back because their house will be ransacked, unprotected,” Dybing said.
He said that he’s supporting his friend’s group, Good Samaritan Foundation for Haiti.
“(It) has no paid employees except for the local teachers at the school and those are Haitians that are being paid,” he said.
“From the very first moment of the earthquake to this specific moment the small tiny nonprofit on the ground, doing the work, building the schools, feeding the children creating sustainability programs is where ethical money spent on Haiti goes,” he said.
[The Wild Hunt is your Pagan and Heathen news source, bringing you unique stories of both triumph and tragedy that come from our collective communities. Since last October, in one year, we have served you 380 original stories, both news and commentary. Today’s story is number 381. Would you like another 380? Maybe more? This work takes time and money. Your support is what makes it possible.This is your community; TWH is your community news. Donate today! Thank you.]
LA BELLE, Penn. — The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has approved one Wiccan inmate’s request for religious accommodations. Richard K. McCullough, who has been in prison for several decades, has reportedly been practicing Wicca for 30 years. In July, he was informed that the department has finally permitted his facility, SCA Fayette, to allow the “General Population inmates who identify with Wicca to communally view or listen to approved religious audio visual resources.”
In a letter to The Wild Hunt, Mr. McCullough wrote, “Ten years ago, I began a journey. One that would take me up and down, left and right, back and forth […] and in and out of the process of obtaining legitimacy, and acknowledgement of the Wiccan religion in prison.” In a 2007 article for a newsletter printed by “The Pennsylvania Prison Society,” Mr. McCullough described that journey, saying that he has been teaming up with people struggling with the same problem, and working to educate others about his beliefs.
The official letter of approval came July 8, 2016. Along with allowing Wiccan inmates to view recorded materials, the letter confirms their right to “practice [their] faith by obtaining religious, books, securing the services of a religious adviser, and participating in individual devotional practices in the privacy of his cell or dormitory quarters.” As a result, McCullough and others have formed the Alternative Spirituality Grove, using Wiccan songs and meditations “found on their tablets.”
But their struggle is not completely over. The department declined the request for “separate religious services and study groups […] until that time when an outside volunteer faith representative has been located to lead them.” However, McCullough remains upbeat saying, “What we have received thus far is a giant ‘baby step’ toward our overall goal, full ceremonies and services.” That, he says, is the next step in their work.
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SAN FRANCISCO – Aline O’Brien, also known as M. Macha Nightmare, recently attended a Table to Action meeting, a new interfaith and social justice project “co-sponsored by the New York-based Auburn Theological Seminary. When she received the invitation, O’Brien was unsure of what the event entailed. “I really didn’t know quite what to expect,” she wrote on her blog.
The Table to Action concept is based on supporting positive communication over an evening meal. The website states that the project is a “friendship-inspired initiative that brings together leaders of faith, vision, and moral courage […] to build relationships that shape and sustain movements for social change. We do this by gathering for dinner parties that involve good food, great conversation and lots of dreaming.”
As O’Brien reports, the first initiative was held in Chicago and a second one in Atlanta. The event that she attended was the first of its kind in the Bay Area. She did report that “they plan more in other cities.” In her blog post, she details more about the event as well her observations on the religious diversity, or lack thereof, present at the Bay Area forum.
In the end, O’Brien was positive about her experience and the potential for this type of interfaith work. She said, “I’m eager to see what Table to Action does and to participate to the extent that a congregation-less Pagan can.”
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UNITED KINGDOM – The Telegraph and several other U.K. based news sources have been reporting that a group of Witches in Scotland planned a magical working to force Donald Trump out of the U.S. presidential race. On Oct 7, The Telegraph reported, “Donald Trump faces new threat as witches and pagans plan to ‘exert mental influence’ to persuade him to quit.” Several other outlets have since picked up that story.
After numerous attempts,The Wild Hunt was unable to reach this particular group or its reported founder, Peter Gower. They have no known affiliations to other public groups that could be identified ,either in the U.K. or the U.S. However, we did learn that the reported call-to-action was made via a press release sent to The Telegraph and to several bloggers.
It is still unclear whether this news report was based on a true call to action, or if it was a product of a hoax, similar to the one issued in July over Instagram by a cartoon artist. Regardless, it would not be the first time that Witches or Pagans have used magic to affect elections, political processes, or even influence Donald Trump’s campaign. As reported by Jezebel in 2015, Brooklyn Witches were hexing Trump’s campaign last fall. We will report on this story further as needed.
In Other News:
- This weekend’s 2016 Atlanta Pagan Pride Day event will be holding a special celebration. Attendees will be marking the 40th anniversary of Church of Ravenwood. The tradition was founded by Lady Sintana in 1976, and eventually went on to become the first Pagan church in Georgia recognized by the IRS. Lady Sintana and Ravenwood’s early ground breaking work paved the way for the many other Pagan organizations in the region.
- Immanion Press announced that it has launched a Pagan children’s book series. According to the website, “each book in the Pagan Children Learning Series is a beginner’s introduction that allows room for discussion of your family’s own beliefs.” The first book is titled What is an Altar? It was written by Rowan Moss and illustrated by T.S. Lamb.
- For those interested in the PAEAN online conference co-sponsored by the Pagan Federational International, the deadline for submissions has been extended to Oct. 15. This year’s theme is titled: Pilgrimage in Europe: Ancient and Contemporary Pagan Pilgrimage Practices. The day-long online conference itself will be held Nov. 7.
- The Witches Almanac 2017-2018 is now available for purchase. The popular guide has been in print since 1971, making it one of the oldest and longest running publicly available Pagan print media. This year’s issue is titled, “Water: Our Primal Source.”
- Similarly, the Gerald B. Gardner 2017 Calendar is available to order. GBG “Year and a Day” Calendar has been in print since 2011, and is filled with articles, history, feast day information and more. It features photographs of Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente and other figures in Pagan history. As creator Link wrote, “this year’s the calendar features Dayonis and Jack Bracelin, High Priestess and High Priest of Gerald Gardner’s Bricket Wood coven in England. 2017 is the first year where both a HPS and HP were featured.”
- Lastly, here are some photos from the 2016 Los Angeles / Orange County Pagan Pride Day festival courtesy of LA/OC PPD official photographer, Greg Harder [All Rights Reserved]:
SEATTLE — Over the weekend, the Pagan community in the pacific northwest learned that one of its beloved members, a fellow teacher, talented artist, and close friend, had committed suicide. Since then, shock has rolled through the community, turning into expressions of deep sadness.
Writer Rhyd Wildermuth posted, “The last time I saw you, you gave me a huge hug and called me ‘big brother’ like you always did, and then said, ‘I feel like I’ll never see you again.’ I smiled and laughed it off. Of course we‘d see each other again […] I was fucking wrong.”
“Hi. I’m Seb.”
Seb Barnett was born on a farm nestled at the edge of the Pacific Northwest’s Olympic National Forest with its temperate rain forests and majestic mountain peaks. Seb’s childhood was spent in the woods climbing trees, tracking animals, building forts, fishing, and exploring.
In addition, Seb’s world was filled with creating and making art. “I have been making things with my hands since I could hold a pencil. And the more things I create… the more I want to create,” wrote Seb in their Patreon account overview.
And create Seb did. However, as noted in a 2016 Miroir interview, Seb did not define themselves as an artist until 2005. “Before 2005, art was just about me. The mentality that made it more occurred when I started thinking about the impact my art could have on others.”
In 2006, Seb earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the Cornish College of the Arts in 2006. While attending, they were awarded both the Kreielsheimer and President’s scholarships.
It wasn’t long before Seb was showing in exhibitions. Their first solo show was at the Seattle Georgetown Arts and Cultural Center in 2008, only two years after graduation. From that point forward, Seb continued to exhibit work annually, including shows in New York City and Vancouver.
Seb’s work found its way into print. In 2012, their work appeared in a book titled, “Ink on Paper: The Mary Alice Cooley Print Collection.” More recently, Seb was the featured artist for Hello Horror‘s 2015 Spring issue. Then, in early 2016, Seb’s work was published in the February issue of Miroir magazine, including a brief interview. Seb’s piece, titled “Butterflies,” graces the magazine’s cover.
Regardless of all the success and notoriety, Seb was still working to make ends meet as a professional artist. To assist, Seb opened a Patreon account through which their art could be showcased, sponsored, and shared. On the overview page, Seb explained, “One of the best things about this Patreon is that I’ll let you into my world. My world is full of magical ideas, philosophies, and lots and lots of techniques! Not only will I tell you why I make what I make, I will also tell you how.”
Along with being a prolific artist, Seb was also a practicing shaman and spiritual teacher, who “was always able to see spirits” despite a general Christian upbringing. On their website Green Stag Spiritwork, Seb explains their practice: “I do not follow the shamanic traditions of any one culture or people, as I was not mentored by another shaman or indigenous community. I feel that for me to do so would be a disingenuous impersonation. I am an American born of the temperate rainforests of western Washington.”
Seb held workshops and classes on various topics from meditation to divination. Through the Green Stag site, they sold prints depicting various gods, as well as handcrafted jewelry, medicine bags, and other items.
Seb’s upbringing and childhood experiences reflect not only their spiritual work and journey, but also in their creative work. Seb wrote, “The natural world became a great source of fascination” and it’s “tightly woven into [my] art.”
Many works feature plants growing out of the human body, or resting on it and around it. In these cases, the natural is literally penetrating humanity and engulfing it. While these images can be disturbing to view, they are peaceful and invigorating at the same time. And that is the very line that Seb’s work walked, and walked proudly: the strange and the lovely; the unknowable and the knowable.
In a blog post, Seb wrote: “What is often perceived as different, strange, unknowable or unexplainable is easy to be terrified of. However, when we have the chance to know these beings, (or people) we may find that what we thought was malice, was only them being curious. What we perceive as offensive, may just be scared of us. Act first with peace in mind, and be ready for friendship.”Seb’s success and vibrancy had no sign of stopping. In fact, Seb was hosting a nine-week S\shamanism class for beginners at the Sacred Garden Healing Center in Seattle. On October 14, Urban Light Studios was to exhibit Seb’s solo show titled De Trop. The studio advertised the event, explaining, “Seb examines what it means to be considered ‘de trop’ (in French, this translates to ‘too much’) in a vast, ever-changing emotional spectrum of day-to-day life.” And, Seb’s last post on Facebook, dated Oct. 5, demonstrates a real excitement for that exhibition.
However, something changed.
News of the suicide came on Oct. 8, shocking both the local art and Pagan communities alike. In a Facebook tribute, Brennos Agrocunos wrote that having Seb as a friend was a “fabulous prize.” Agrocunos wrote, “This world is hard and getting harder. We need more beauty, more art, more love, more wild. We need to hold each other close and make the world safer for people that don’t fit a mold. My heart aches.”
In another public tribute, Eric Angus Jeffords wrote, “Goodbye, Seb Barnett. My Big Queer Sibling. My Awkward Artist. My Beautiful Tree Person. My Urban Shaman with the Green Hair. You have returned to your grove, and I will sit under your branches and listen to your voice murmuring through the pines. I will read your words in the insects that crawl along the ground. I will smell you in the winds, and in the flowers. I will feel you in the bark and the stones. You have returned to where you were birthed. The leaves never looked so green.”
The sadness has come in waves, being expressed over social media and well beyond as people come to grips with this loss. Seb Barnett was a deeply loved person, a friend, a teacher, an artist, and a “modern shaman practicing old school shamanism.” Seb’s spirit will live on in the natural world of their birth, in their visual art, and in their words:
“I want to honor pain, grief, ‘monsters,’ the strange, and the outsiders by portraying them in a beautiful, but also honest way. […] ‘Come here, this is beautiful… but wait, it’s also painful.’
“There are some people who are so magical that we break reality. Rules don’t apply to us in the same way, and the laws of the universe warp like mirages in the heat of the intensity of us. Do not wish to be like us. We break harder, love harder, die repeatedly to only continue living, and are alien in a world that won’t believe in us. We are mythic.”
What is remembered, lives.
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A memorial fund has been set up to help cover funeral expenses. No date has yet been published for any public services, rituals or memorials
[Guest voices are a key part of The Wild Hunt’s mission. Today we welcome Katrina Messenger. Katrina is a certified archetypal and dream pattern analyst. As a Wiccan mystic, she works extensively with mythology, dreams, ritual and trance as a means of self exploration, self healing and self evolution. She believes that any attempt to change the external world must be paired with the inner work of a personal spiritual practice. If you enjoy her work and reading other guest writings, consider donating to The Wild Hunt, and when you do let us know if about other voices you’d like to see here.]
The world is changing. It is undergoing tremendous change, upheaval, growth, chaos, evolution and decay. It is a time of immense transformation. And what if you are a mystic — a mystic and a witch? What is the role of a mystic during such a madness? And what exactly do mystics do?
The last one is actually the question that I get most often. It is a fair question, I suppose, but I have no idea what mystics do. I only know what I do.
And this mystic begins her day by noticing the quality of the light. Sometimes I do it from my bed, noticing the reflections on the walls or the shelves but mostly on my books which are everywhere.I tend to inhabit at least two worlds at once, because to paraphrase Marie Louise Von Franz, “When you pay attention to your dreams, your waking world takes on the character of dreams.” And for me this means that I dream while I am awake. My waking world is filled with symbols, images, patterns, messages and meaning, and my challenge as a mystic is to experience each of them as deeply and sincerely as I can.
When I first come downstairs, I sometimes briefly open the door just to look out at the world. I notice the colors of the trees, the bushes, the flowers, the squirrels, the birds, and any late-returning raccoons or possums wobbling back to their urban hiding places. If it is warm, I leave the door open so I can swim in the sounds of the city/forest.
Besides seeking to return to source, most mystics on the surface play vastly different roles. Depending on the theology of their faith tradition, our practices may vary as well. But nowadays what was once considered mystical practices, texts and teaching can be had for a few shekels on Amazon. What distinguishes mystics from others is that as we climb up the middle pillar, we tend to all have a consensus on what is within the human heart and what is true about the world we inhabit. We all tend to be just a little off, a little uncanny — okay we tend to become crazed in our joy, compassion and grief.
When I am relatively healthy, I can be found dancing within blowing leaves, or having animated discussions with stones. My recent pain levels keep me mostly home bound, but I can still hold a vigorous debate with the local squirrels. And I have been known to snatch an intrusion off a stranger or two as I walk by. Just cleaning up the local flora I say.
The phone rings. “Katrina, do you have a moment?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“I don’t know why, but at this very moment everything seems like it is too much for me. I have been crying for no good reason. Why is my life such a mess?”
“Okay. So tell me what in your life is such a mess?”
And I listen. I am listening at multiple levels. What is said, what is felt, what flies past my door, the sounds of the birds, and trucks, the smell of the flowers and empty stoves.
“So tell me again what is such a mess?”
“Well, now that I have walked through everything…I have a lot on my plate, but nothing is actually a mess.”
“Hmmm, I think you forget sometimes that you are an empath.”
“Oh yeah. So what I am feeling is….?”
“The collective soul of this city I think. We are in the nation’s capital, after all.”
I see his energy brighten as the cardinal lands on the railing. He is relived.
Now is time for some tea. I am not sure, but I think tea must have been invented by a mystic. It is the glue that holds me together. My students always check the state of my tea cup as they enter. “Greetings, teacher. Do you need some tea?”I scan the news, the memes, the personal revelations, the jokes and even the contributions of the trolls. All of this input feeds into the flow of sounds, images, emotions, smells and body sensations. Most of us project our internal conflicts on to the world, finding suitable vessels for all our unconscious content. Empaths introject the miasma of the world inside of themselves and become infected with the madness. Mystics rely on their inner state to help them comprehend patterns in the world, and then work with these patterns within the flow of stimulus flowing in from the world all around them. The tree becomes the survivor, the truck the interloper, the crow becomes the messenger and the clouds are the bystanders.
I have refereed discussions between oil and water, the desert and the clouds, and the indigenous and the colonizer. “Where are our agreements”, I ask of fire and trees. And sometimes, as I work with my clients, I can calm a storm a thousand miles away.
“I am sitting on a wall at the edge of the cemetery. The maitre’d promises that my spot will be available very soon.”
My client looks uncomfortable with the imagery of this dream. I am uncomfortable as well. I cannot clearly see her face; it is occluded somehow.
“So what do you think it means?”
“I am not sure, that is why I brought it to you.”
“Well we know that a cemetery is where we bury our dead.”
“So dreams often begin by setting the domain of the image, so here your dreaming self is saying we are in the place where we bury what is no longer alive.”
She looks at the floor. Her eyes are glistening. “Does this mean I am going to die?”
“No. What it is saying is that you are not actually living. You are waiting to be buried.”
She wipes her eyes. “But I do not want to be buried.”
“Good.” We then discuss ways to actually engage with life on its own terms.
The whole time as I energetically hold her I am also gently rocking the families of fallen. We are sitting in my living room but we are also inside a great temple, a mosque, a church and a synagogue. As the voices are raised in song, she begins to slowly swing her feet in rhythm to the silent hymns.
Slowly her face is revealed to me. Whatever was blocking her is lifting just enough, and her spark is slightly more pronounced. This is why she returns. For now, I am her link to life. Later she will reconnect on her own. I hug her as she leaves. I see her stepping into the flow of life as the sound of her car blends into the gentle cacophony of my street.
All of the images, symbols and insights influence my teachings, writings and workings. My workings are somewhat sympathetic. When you swim inside the ethereal, thought forms have substance; I can manipulate them directly.
“I need more tea.”
As I pour the water into the kettle it becomes a waterfall and all the downstream waters are being fed by this new source of clean water. I am pushing the pollutants toward the soil that can reclaim it, transform it … over time. “Oh Mother Gaia…” and the kettle is full.
I open the back door as the birds scatter from the nest in the awning. I can smell the honeysuckle wafting on the breeze. Sweetness comes in over the mountains bringing relief to the grief stricken families. Memories of their loved ones from better times, as I reach for the almost-empty honey jar. I scrape out what I can into my mug.
The kettle water is warm enough, I think, to melt the remaining honey bits. As I swirl the jar in one hand, I reach for the cap, and it happens. The jar explodes in my hand. There are shards, glass shards, everywhere. I am extremely startled. I quickly drop the shards from my hands into the rubbish and rush to the living room.I pick up the tablet, and it is another man down. “No, no, no…” I let the tablet fall into the chair and I rush to the front door. I do not open it. Instead I press my crown into the hard wood. They have killed another black man. I can feel a wail in my chest slowly working its way up. Tears are pouring from my eyes and the entire world is spinning out of control.
Slowly I notice that a sound that was present is now gone. The kettle, the water is now hot. I slowly stumble toward the kitchen. There is broken glass everywhere. “Everything is broken and falling apart.” The wail is still rising. I grab the broom and sweep up the glass. I push the glass on the counter into the trash can.
I put the teabag in and reach for the new jar of honey. I pour a bit more honey and then the hot water into my mug. I lift the mug with my right hand, using my left to hit the timer and then the light switch. I step over the threshold, and very deliberately place my mug on the table next to my chair.
Sitting sideways I rest my head on the back cushion. In my mind’s eye, the face of current victim morphs into my younger brother, then my older brother…black men dying on the city streets. I see my brother Winfard’s face as the blood pools around him. And I am losing ground… I see my youngest brother and the fear clogs my throat. I see my nephews and their sons, uncles and friends…and then I see Sandra Bland and it is my blessed niece’s face that takes my breath away. I see my cousins, and their precious children and all the grandchildren…and I am falling. All of them, every single one of them is in danger of being murdered. I see all of them, one by one, bleeding on the asphalt with no one to hold them, to keep them safe, to comfort them… and the darkness reaches for me.
I know I need help; I am too far down. The wailing begins, I am screaming in pain, agony, rage and fear. I silently call to my patrons. I call them by name, by blood, by skin color and symbol, and they rush toward me.
We got you, sister. We got you, daughter. We got you, honey. We got you, Kathy. We got you. And I can feel them holding on as the darkness swallows me. At some point, I am only breathing. They are holding on to me, keeping me from slipping away.
And so I breathe, and for a long time, it is only the sound of my breath. Then almost imperceptibly I realize that I can actually sense the entire room breathing, then the entire house, the entire block, and soon the entire city. As I continue, I am breathing with the entire eastern seaboard, the eastern half of the U.S., the whole country, adding in both Canada and Mexico, adding both Central and South America, and finally the world. Then I am breathing with the moon, the inner planets, with Mars, the sun, the entire solar system, the arm of the Milky Way, the galaxy, ’til all of the known is breathing, in and out.
Slowly it begins to pull back until it is just my house, my room and then just me still being held within a loving embrace and breathing. I slowly open my eyes and I am back. I wipe my face and blow my nose. I notice the wisps of steam from my mug. I smile slightly and take a sip. Delicious.
There is a knock at the door. I open it smiling with my entire body.
“Come on in, welcome. Would you like some tea?”
And the work of this mystic continues once again.
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This essay was hijacked; ripped right away from me as I wrote it. This essay was supposed to have been about listening to ancestors, spirits and even deities. I started to write when I visited a web site with a podcast and, in one of the drop-down menus was the selection of “How to Listen,” and I thought that was important.
But, the veil may be pulling away thinner and faster than in other years, and so the hijacking started. The little signs appeared, whispers, finding old photos, news and texts all distracting me in different directions. This is not helpful as you try to focus. Information on the radio. The chatter of ancestors and spirit. Finally, a phone survey about dying.
Seriously, for whoever is listening, was yet another phone survey really necessary? Apparently so, because I wasn’t getting enough of them living in a big-prize political battleground state.About thirty years ago, I had the conversation about death and dying with my then-partner. He had been diagnosed with HIV spectrum disease and his death was matter of time. We didn’t know the bus number, but we knew the bus. The treatments for HIV/AIDS then were haphazard. The scientific community was just wrapping itself around the scope of the problem, let alone the concrete solutions to arresting the virus.
I was a doctoral student at the time, taking courses in advanced immunology as part of rotations in our medical school for statistical training. In one particular course on virus-host interactions, it was mathematically clear to me that my partner’s chances for managing the disease were slim at best. There was simply too much on the scales tipping them in the direction of death.
Luckily, I didn’t have to broach the death conversation. He laid it out straightforwardly. He detailed with exceptional precision the conditions under which he would take his own life, or expected the plug to be pulled.
To complicate matters, or perhaps reinforce them, he was a pharmacist. He had the full American pharmacopeia literally at his fingertips. He had already acquired the necessary cocktail should what he called the “exit circumstances” ever occur.
He was also a Christian, and was well resigned that he was going to purgatory. He had accepted that the sum of sins in his life were potentially forgivable, but his soul would — and as he would argue should — remain unclean and barred from entering heaven until his transgressions were expunged. He believed — like many in the Abrahamic faiths– that we are the stewards, but not owners, of our lives. And euthanasia, in the human context, is suicide, an essential contradiction of a life-affirming plan laid out by the Abrahamic god at the time of creation.
He was also worried about complicity. Those who might voluntarily cooperate if and when he took his own life, would also expose themselves to serious sin. Failing to intervene, or even waiting until no rescue was possible, was a contravening behavior to proactively seeking and sustaining life. Therefor, all of those around him, who knew of his plan, were at risk of corruption, and thus condemned to atone for their sins. Some of which also required a stay in purgatory. At least that’s what he thought.
To be clear, though, he wasn’t particularly worried about me; I was already going to hell. You know, the witch thing. Ultimately, the disease took his mind long before he could execute any plan. The sin, in his faith, was the thought, not that action. When his body succumbed it was from disease, not planning.
My godmother died at about the same time. She was loud, loving and irritating with a special penchant to test new recruits to our Ile, our “house,” the immediate spiritual community in Lukumi. This became especially true in the last decade of her life as her health problems started to gain prominence. She would lecture to potential members of her house and then start to complain that she wasn’t feeling well and that her back was acting up again. Then a few moments later she would say, “well, that’s that, time to” do ____” — some mildly strenuous yet wholly-inappropriate chore that she shouldn’t be doing in the first place, such as mowing the lawn. (Well, she’d say it, but in Spanish).
Inevitably, one potential member would unwaveringly come to her assistance. Then she would pull a Norma Desmond for dramatic attention to her health, but reject the help sternly, noting, “Thank you, but I don’t want your help.”
They would go to help anyway. And she would do some part of the work, shaking her head in disappointment. Others would come and in just a few minutes, what would have taken her a couple of hours to complete, was done by a group of well-meaning helpers. Then, when the task was done, she would ice the room into paralysis: “I can’t learn what I need if I’m not allowed to try but more importantly, I can teach you nothing if you refuse to listen.”
It was a comment that was met with anger and confusion, but it was also true. Embedded in that comment was single call to action that often escaped the person listening to it: Trust me that I’m telling you the truth.What my godmother wanted was to underscore that in a magical and religious community, every member has an obligation to speak their truth; and every member has an obligation to trust that a personal truth is being spoken. When she said, “Don’t help,” she meant it.
She didn’t need to be rescued from her own truth.
What my ex and my godmother were each demanding was agency, and it is this agency, an essence of self-determination, that sits as an important value in our community. It is also the easiest thing to take from those who are frail, chief among them the ill and dying. They have the least power and offer the least resistance. At the same time, they induce some of the greatest challenges in our lives.
At this time, we lack not only a substantive theological architecture about death and dying, but also an urgency to engage in that dialogue. As we involve ourselves in discussing and describing these difficult topics from a faith orientation, we not only build our theological infrastructure around them, but we also build interfaith respect showing that we are prepared to address difficult questions of life, living and dying. We convey that we can collectively offer faith-centered answers and support during critical stages in peoples’ lives. And this is a moment and a topic in which we can lead a truly national, even international, dialogue.
In general, it is safe to say that Pagans value life: our community is ebullient with life-affirming and joy-affirming events, texts and behaviors. They are ubiquitous. I think we also deeply value the fabric that nature has built over eons, and recognizing that life requires death. And while we have commissions that protect life, such as “harm none” (a statement shared by the Hippocratic oath), the Wheel of the Year, for many of us, embeds in our communities and our consciousness, a clear marking of time to honor the deceased. The wheel teaches us to take the time to reflect on death as a necessary passing. Through that, the Pagan relationship with death deviates considerably from the views of most major faiths. Life and death form a continuum over which spirit exists.
In the Yoruba religion, for example, the ancestors are intimately present. They are revered because it is their work, their sacrifice, and their love that brought each of us to the present. They are accessible through divination and our skills at mediumship. Working with ancestors is more than encouraged; it is required. It is devotional practice on a daily basis. Death is part of existence; and it is through that interwoven doorway between all worlds that we can call the living to the world of the departed.
We are encouraged to converse. This conversation with ancestors is opened by Orisha Oyá. She is the first breath of life and the last breath before death. She is close to death but not death itself. She is the Orisha that must witness every act of dying and her wind releases the spirit into eternity. She guards the cemetery gates, but not the cemetery itself. She represents the transition, opening the space from the living to to the dead. It is a view that is not dissimilar from many Pagan traditions.
As you might imagine, however, I am a proponent of voluntary euthanasia for those with incurable and terminal illness. There is nothing incompatible with affirming life while validating agency. In fact, I believe that freedom represents the most powerful testament that we have of our commitment to self-determination; what medical ethicists might refer to as autonomy, or the supremacy of a patient’s wishes over the desires of their caretakers and providers. The discourses around lessening suffering should be subordinate to this type of agency, but I have to leave the intricacies of that argument to the many gifted theologians of our community.
As the veil does thin, it is an opportunity to discuss the light and the dark, including how we might hail and transcend the more difficult and emotional moments of our time in life. These conversations can only strengthen our respect for the moment and the immanence of the spirit. Our dialogue cannot diminish the fires and fervor for life nor can they hasten or glorify a desire for death, but they can help us to better understand and cope with it. Even when we know the bus and the time, death will always remain sudden no matter how expected.