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Pagan Community Notes: Heather Freysdottir, PFI-Ireland, Lifting the Veil, Pagan Coming Out Day, and more

Mon, 2016-05-02 08:42

LAKE WALES, Fla. — In an update to a story that we previously reported, Heather Freysdottir has come forward to say that she has backed out as a headliner for this coming week’s Florida Pagan Gathering (FPG). Freysdottir explained to The Wild Hunt, “I heard the rumor about the Frosts appearing recently, and when I inquired FPG management, I was told that there were no covert workshops and that the Frosts were attending, that’s all. [Then] I was presented with a handbook for this years’ FPG Beltaine that includes the Frosts as presenters and teachers. […] They have since retracted this and released a new handbook, but the fact that this was changed due to public outcry tells me that the Frosts were originally planned as presenters. I would not have consented to headlining with them on the bill anywhere.”

Freysdottir went on to say that she does not “bear FPG any ill will; there are many wonderful people who contribute to it every year, but the fact that the Frosts keep getting invited back disturbs” her. She also wrote on her blog that she is concerned over the “subterfuge about their attendance and amount of participation.”

The Wild Hunt has since learned that this lack of transparency has become its own issue, outside of any questions surrounding the Frosts attendance at the popular Florida event. A former volunteer, who has asked that his name be left out of this report, has not only issued a cease-and-desist letter to stop FPG’s organizing board (TEG) from using his software and other intellectual property without proper authorization, he has also contacted the Florida State Prosecutor’s office, alerting them to what he called “black-letter extortion.” He expects this “criminal case” to take a long time. But he did say that the board has since admitted to using his work without permission, and he hopes that this part of the conflict can now be put to rest.

As of publication time, Freysdottir is still listed as a headliner on the FPG website, but she did confirm, “I will not be headlining and I am sorry for anyone who was hoping to meet me there.” Her full response and explanation is posted on her blog. As we reported previously, FPG’s organizing board (TEG) has declined to comment on the situation.

Florida Pagan Gathering will be held this coming weekend in Lake Wales, Florida.

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NAAS, Ireland — The Pagan Federation of Ireland recently made social media waves when its response to a marriage inquiry went viral. The original April 23 email, written by a person named Sarah, stated that she and her finance were a newly engaged American couple looking for clergy to marry them while they were in Ireland. Sarah stated that they were practicing “odinists” and that they wanted a clergyperson who only “performs heterosexual ceremonies” and “refrains from marrying those of mixed races.”

The next morning, PF-Ireland responded with “We are most happy to report that none of our clergy subscribe to your views on mixed race or gay marriage, and so we cannot assist you in your upcoming visit to Ireland. Fuck Off. Yours very sincerely, Everyone at the Pagan Federation of Ireland.”

The response was posted publicly as an image, and it quickly began to make the digital rounds. While the group reportedly received some backlash and concerns about PF-Ireland’s openness toward Heathens. The group responded simply by saying, “Pagan Federation Ireland operates a zero tolerance approach to racism and homophobia, both of which were abundantly clear in the initial communication.” And showing off more of its dry wit, the group offered to send to the querent a laminated and even framed copy of its policy statement in exchange for a small donation to any Irish Pagan organization.

The original “viral” image can be found in a number of places in social media, including this original Facebook post.

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Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone

TWH – Wiccan Authors Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone‘s long awaited book Lifting the Veil is now published and will be available by the end of this month. On their newly designed website, Farrar and Bone wrote, “Written to fill an existing gap in the current available knowledge on trance, prophesy, deity-possession, and mediumship within the neo-Pagan and Wiccan communities, Lifting the Veil was developed from [our] personal work and public workshops on trance-prophesy and ecstatic ritual over the last 20 years.”

They are both currently on a speaking and workshop tour in the U.S. They recently attended Brid’s Closet’s annual Beltane festival held at Palaia Winery in Hghland Mills, New York. Next, they will be making their way  to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  After that, they will stop in Atlanta, Georgia and Englewood, Colorado. Wild Hunt Journalist Terence Ward met up with them this weekend to talk about their work, their practice and the new book. We will be sharing that interview later in the week.

 *    *    *

TWH – Today marks the 5th year of International Pagan Coming Out Day. It was first recognized in 2011 and encouraged by a non-profit organization called International Pagan Coming Out Day (IPCOD). Events are being held locally around the world, some of which are noted on the Pagan Coming Out Day Facebook group and across social media.

The purpose of the organization and the day is to encourage “Pagans who are ready to come on out.” The website reads, “Coming out to someone is a decision only you can make and it’s a decision best made when you are ready to do so. There are benefits, personally and for our religious community as a whole, as more Pagans come out. Some of these benefits include the reduction of anxiety caused by living a double life and creating a climate of greater acceptance for all Pagans.”  IPCOD provides a number of different resources to help in the decision and the process.

In Other News

  • The article that prompted the Global Conference for University Chaplains to invite Mary Hudson to its event in Australia in now available online. It is called “The Voice of the Other” and can be found in the digital version of The Journal of Tertiary Campus Ministry Association. Hudson is now only $1400 away from her funding goal. Due to the success of the online campaign plus a few local fundraisers, she said it looks as if she’ll be headed to Australia. Hudson added, “Trust is a beautiful thing when it comes to stuff like this and honestly magic really does happen.”
  • The Pagan Federation’s Pagans with Disabilities group has launched a week-long online Beltane celebration. On the event page, organizers explain, “Here at the Pagan Federation we’re trying to combat the loneliness and isolation that the disabled in our community feel. Too large a number of our brothers and sisters are finding it increasingly difficult to make it to moots and events. So, we’ve decided that if we can’t take them to the gatherings, we’ll bring the gatherings to them.” The online Beltane began on May 1 and will run through May 8. Photos and videos are being shared, along with stories and other community details. PF encourages anyone feeling left out to contact them. They want this event to be accessible to all and are listening.
  • Pagans in Oregon made the local paper this weekend. Oregon Live interviewed Jonathan Levy about the founding and community value of the Columbia Protogrove ADF. Writer Melissa Binder attended the group’s Beltane festival, and interviewed two of its members. Binder quoted Amber Reed as saying, “Coming here is like coming home.”
  • Touchstone Advocacy and the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has re-launched its 2015 campaign to encourage people to remember the victims of what it calls “wiccaphobia” or witchcraft-related violence.

  • Festival season is now underway. Many Pagans are preparing to attend to two Southern-based festivals that will conveniently run on back-to-back weekends. First, the Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) kicks off its 2016 event in the mountains of Tennessee. Held at Montgomery Bell State Park in the city of Burns, PUF is a four-day family-friendly camping event that will begin on May 19. Each year PUF has a playful theme, and this year, it is Star Wars. Next year, PUF will be celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the organizers have chosen a Harry Potter theme. PUF includes rituals, music, food, workshops and vendors.
  • One week later, over Memorial Day weekend, the new musical festival Caldera will open at Cherokee Farms in Lafayette, Georgia. It is also a four day event with 30 Pagan acts, plus vendors and workshops. Caldera is currently running a “Beltane” special, noting that no tickets will be sold at the festival gate. And for those interested in both? Caldera and PUF are only a short four-hour drive from each other through the Appalachian region of the Southeast.
  • The group Nemuer has announced the release of its first music video. The song is called “Caves of Damnation” and comes from their 2015 album Chapter V: Labyrinth of Druids. The group said that the new video, directed by Jakub Řehoř, and the track’s vocals were all recorded “in the darkest caves of the Czech Republic.” Nemuer is described as an “instrumental dark-folk music project, oriented on ancient civilizations and mystical atmosphere.”

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Don’t forget! If you have a community announcement or a news tip, let us know. We also take submissions, pitches and proposals for articles. We love hearing from our readers. Contact us.

Column: Familial Spirits and Old Furniture

Sun, 2016-05-01 13:53

I.

If determined enough, the dead can assert themselves to appear nearly as present as the living.

And if one who is noticing and interacting with them does not know they are dead, and/or they are too young to comprehend what dead even is, the distinction between dead and living becomes rather confusing if not at times completely irrelevant.

This was my experience, anyway.

What I believe to be my earliest memory, for example, seems quite average on its surface.

I am a toddler, just old enough to walk and talk. My grandparents are sitting up in their bed, facing the television that was perched on their dresser, and I am sitting at the end of their bed, playing with a pile of coins, babbling enthusiastically to my grandpa about my stacks of pennies. On the television is a rerun of ‘Matlock’, and my grandpa is engrossed in the show, not paying much attention to me. But my grandmother keeps reaching her hands out toward me, trying to get me to sit on her lap. And I keep looking over at her and smiling at her, but I am too distracted by stacking pennies and the sound of my own voice to go to her.

Me at 2 1/2 in the yard where I sometimes saw my grandmother.

It’s a notably clear memory, right down to every little detail. And it wouldn’t strike me as unusual at all if not for the fact that my grandmother died of cancer when I was only a year old, well before I was old enough to climb onto the bed and babble in sentences and recognize Andy Griffith’s face on television.

And yet nobody had told me directly that she had died, and everyone else in the house still talked about her as though she was still there. So it didn’t seem all that out-of-place to me as a toddler that I would see her around and occasionally interact with her. My clearest and most sustained memory of her is of that day in the bed, but I can also clearly recall seeing her hovered over the counter in the kitchen, sitting in one of many antique chairs in the living room, hunched over the dryer in the laundry room, sweeping on the back patio, or in the backyard near the doghouse.

Our dog also had been dead for quite some time, having been my mother’s childhood pet. The backyard had seemingly been abandoned once the dog had passed on. By the time I was a toddler, the backyard was so overgrown with ivy it was barely navigable, and the doghouse still sat in the corner, rotting and collapsing, with a metal bowl still poking out from the ivy. But just as I did not grasp that my grandmother was no longer on this plane, I similarly did not completely grasp that we did not actually have a living dog. I never saw the dog quite as I saw my grandmother, but I sensed that she was there all the same.

It wasn’t until I was around four years old that it started to occur to me that my grandmother was not a current member of our household and that my sightings of her were not shared by my mother or my grandfather. I had overheard a phone conversation in which my grandfather mentioned “the summer before Betty died.” I still didn’t understand what death was, but I could sense what it meant on one level, and it meant that the person was said to no longer be here.

And yet she was. She was all over the house.

My grandmother in the kitchen, exactly as I remember her.

II.

One afternoon not long after that, my mother and I were in our front yard, sitting on the sole boulder that graced the edge of the yard. My mother was watching the road in front of us, waiting for a friend, while I scrambled up and down and around the rock. There were etchings – crude letters carved into the side of the rock, which I had always noticed for their texture but which suddenly held a greater interest to me as I was just learning to read.

“What does it say?” I asked my mother.

“It says ‘Here Lies Elroy’, she said.

“Who’s Elroy?”

“Elroy was my brother’s gerbil.,” she explained. “When he died, Jay buried him under this rock. That was when we were kids, long before you were born. This rock is Elroy’s gravestone.”

“So Elroy is dead like Grandma?”

“Yes, and like your uncle Jay.”

All I knew about my uncle Jay up to that point was that my bedroom was once his room. In a sense, it was still his room. It was often referred to as “Jay’s room” by my mother and my grandpa, and I had always felt that, while it was my designated space within the house, on another level it was not my room at all. I had somehow always felt more like a guest in that room than its primary inhabitant. But unlike Grandma, who was talked about regularly and often as though she was still present, Jay was rarely mentioned, and I had always sensed not to ask questions about him. My room was his room, and that had been the extent of my understanding.

But now, at least I knew he was dead. And on one hand, that knowledge only deepened the mystery, but on the other hand for the first time I felt as if I had some concrete understanding about who was still here and who was not. They were all dead – Jay, Grandma, Elroy and my mother’s old dog who still seemed to live in the backyard. At at that moment the fact that they were all dead was suddenly real where before it had only been abstract.

III.

As I reached grade school age, the sightings of Grandma became much fewer and farther between. And while I couldn’t deny to myself that I was still seeing her occasionally, the part of me that knew that I wasn’t supposed to be seeing her would very actively kick into gear, resulting in a tug-o-war in my head between experience and reason every time I thought I spotted her.

‘Ghosts aren’t real’

‘But I saw her!’

Part of me didn’t want to be seeing her at all. Part of me just wanted to believe I was imagining things. And part of me also wanted to tell the world, or at least to talk to someone about it. But part of me also knew that it was very real, and that I was best off keeping my mouth shut.

And so I did keep my mouth shut about Grandma. I also knew to keep quiet about what was in the garden.

My mother had built a garden in the side yard the year before. She would sit me out in a tiny lawn chair with books-on-tape as she worked for what seemed to be hours on end, weekend after weekend, tilling and planting neat little rows of flowers and vegetables.

Within a few months, we had a glorious garden, and it quickly became a favorite spot of mine. I would spend hours out in the garden, examining flowers and bugs and stealthily rescuing/relocating the snails from the saucers of beer that my mother would leave out to drown them.

Garden slug. [Photo Credit: I. Colae]

But eventually, I sensed something else there too. Unlike Grandma, I couldn’t see anything concrete, but after a while I felt a constant presence every time I was in the garden. I could sense her; I could hear her,

Maybe this is God, I thought to myself more than once. But God is a man, I would then reply to myself. I knew little about religion or God, other than that my mother had referred to our family as “lapsed Catholics” when I asked her once. But I had taken enough in from the wider culture to know that ‘God’ was also the ‘Father,’ and while I couldn’t see whatever was in the garden, I felt very strongly that it was female. So she couldn’t be God.

But what was she?

I didn’t know, but she was definitely there. And I liked her, and I could tell she liked me back.

Around that same time, I had started to read the book Anne of Green Gables. In the book, Anne refers to God several times as ‘Providence,’ which stood out to me as unusual as I had thought that Providence was a female name. At some point, I was reading the book in the garden, and when I felt the presence of the yet-unnamed entity in my garden, a potential connection stirred in me.

I asked whoever was there if I could call her Providence. And I sensed immediately that the answer was yes.

IV.

When I was ten, my grandfather died.

My mother and I had moved out of the house three years earlier. She had remarried, and they were able to by a house of their own, a small Cape Cod-style bungalow about ten miles away from what then became known as “Grandpa’s house.”

Grandpa had continued to live in ‘his’ house for the next few years until a heart attack rendered him unable to live alone, and he ended up moving in with us for what ended up to be the last few months of his life.

My grandfather, six months or so before he died.

I grudgingly surrendered my bedroom, not really grasping that his life was coming to an end. He recognized my frustration at losing my space and invited me to share the bed with him if I wished. I took him up on it a few times a week.

And it was on one of those nights, when I crawled into bed with him in the middle of the night, that he died peacefully in his sleep with me sleeping right next to him. When I woke in the morning, I turned to shake him awake, and he was cold. I knew instantly that he was dead.

After the wake and the funeral were over, what remained to be reckoned with was nearly as emotional and painful as my grandfather’s death in itself. We needed to do something with Grandpa’s house.

I had assumed when he died that we would be eventually moving back into that house. After all, not only was it bigger and nicer, and in a much better neighborhood, it was our home. My grandparents were the original owners, and both my mother and I were raised in that house. While I didn’t recognize it so distinctly at the time, I considered that house the closest thing I had to an ancestral home, and the land around it was the only piece of land with which I had ever had a real relationship. I wanted to live where I was born and raised, where Grandma and most likely now Grandpa still remained. I wanted to replant the garden where I first met Providence. I wanted to clean up the backyard and fix up the doghouse so that it was a more proper place for the dog that I sensed was still there.

My mother, on the other hand, had absolutely no desire to live in the house again. And while in retrospect I can completely understand why she felt that way, as a ten year old this decision sparked nothing but anguish, anger, and resentment on my part. I sullenly tagged along as she slowly emptied the house. At times, I flat-out refused to help, as I watched her emptied it of the antique furniture with which I had grown up. She eventually put the house up for sale.

By the time prospective buyers were beginning to look at the house, it had all become so painful for me that I started to emotionally detach from the process, not able to bear the thought of losing it. During that period, I often took refuge in what was once the garden, by then overgrown with grass and weeds, crying my eyes out to Providence and anyone else who would listen. At one point, it occurred to me that in losing the house I would be losing my relationship with Providence as well, which only brought more tears.

It wasn’t until a few months after the house had been sold, as I finally started to recover from the numbness and grief associated with the entire episode, that I started to notice an occasional and familiar presence as I went about my day-to-day, unmistakably the same presence that I first met in the side garden as a child.

V.

My mother quit smoking the year I started. Ironically enough, her quitting and my starting were both directly related to the same event. She became pregnant with my sister and quit for the obvious health-related reasons. And then a few months later I started it up as a coping mechanism, wanting no part of a life with a younger sibling. I was fourteen years old and an only child, and was dreading the changes that were sure to come.

When my mother was a smoker, she always kept a pack or two occasionally stashed in random places, a fact I remembered one day when I was home alone. Inspired by the idea of found treasure in the form of nicotine, I rifled up and down the sides of my mother’s dresser drawers, hoping to find that prized, half-empty pack of stale smokes.

But instead I found an old envelope in the crack of her sock drawer that had a piece of newspaper poking out of it. I generally wasn’t one to pry in such a way, but my instinct told me to look inside, and so I carefully and gingerly opened the envelope and pulled the piece of newspaper out.

It was a clipping from the local paper dated April 1982, summarizing the death of my uncle Jay. He had been killed in a car crash, having driven into a telephone pole only a few miles away from where we lived. The article stated that alcohol was a probable factor in the crash.

I thought of the uncle I never knew, whose room I grew up in, whose death was never mentioned once throughout my entire childhood. I felt a sudden and strange relief, as a mystery that had grated me on for years had finally been answered without my having to actually ask.

My uncle’s college ID card. He died a year before he was set to graduate.

I also immediately understood why it was never mentioned, especially given my mother’s penchant for avoiding uncomfortable subjects. And as I took in and processed this new discovery, I also forgave my mother for her silence.

VI.

I had been living on my own in the city for a year or so at that point, and had decided to drive out to Jersey to visit my parents for the day. On the drive out, my mind drifted to thoughts of my grandfather’s house, which I realized hadn’t seen since it was sold nearly a decade earlier. Out of curiosity, I decided to take a detour through my old neighborhood before heading to my parents’ house.

I parked on the street and stepped out of the car, and the moment I stepped onto the property I felt a distinct chill. Instantly, this place and I recognized and remembered each other despite many years of absence. The yard and the house had both been altered with much of the original flora removed, but Elroy’s rock remained as did the tree I planted as a small child. I walked toward the side yard, toward the garden where I first met Providence. The garden was gone.

“Hey, what you doing?” I heard a voice yell behind me. I turned around and found myself face to face with my former next-door neighbor, whose expression went quickly from anger to a smile as he recognized me. I knew him quite well; he and his wife had lived next door to our family since my mother was a small child. My mother grew up playing with their daughter, and I grew up playing with their granddaughter.

“Oh my God you’re all grown up. Look at you. I knew you’d come back one day.”

Without exactly knowing why, I burst into tears.

He reached over to hug me. “You know,” he said, as I tried to calm down. “Maureen talks to your grandpa and grandma constantly. She sees them all the time.”

I immediately stopped crying and jerked back in shock. Maureen was his wife.

“She does?”

He nodded. “Oh yes. Her and Betty have long conversations. I don’t know the details, but she says they’re both quite loud and active.”

I spoke before realizing I was speaking, before realizing that I had never said what I was about to say aloud before.

“I used to see Grandma all the time. She even tried to play with me once. I remember it quite clearly.”

He nodded again and pointed to the house. “Since your mother sold it, its changed hands three times in eight years. I swear, your grandparents are so loud over there that nobody wants to stay for long. The last folks remodeled the entire kitchen and patio before they left… I watched them just pour thousands into it but then just pick up suddenly and leave anyway.”

I thought of Grandma in the kitchen, and suddenly it all became a little too much.

I explained to him that I was on my way to see my mother and that I had just taken a quick detour and should be going.

“Come back anytime,” he said as I quickly walked towards my car. “I’m sure Maureen would love to see you.”

*  *  *

“I went by Grandpa’s house today,” I casually mentioned over dinner.

My mother looked up immediately. “Oh yeah?” she asked. “Does it still look the same?”

“Not really,” I answered, uninterested in talking about the aesthetic changes. “But I saw Bill. And he told me that Maureen talks to Grandma and Grandpa all the time.”

My mother laughed a bit and then was silent for a moment. “Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. Its funny, I always felt like Mom had never quite left that house.”

I stared at her for a moment, not quite believing what I just heard. Until that moment, my mother had never acknowledged anything of the sort to me, had never given any indication that she ever sensed the presence of anything at that house. Suddenly, between Bill’s words earlier and my mother’s words just then, my experiences were validated after nearly a lifetime’s worth of questioning in silence.

“She never left, Mom, trust me. She definitely never left.”

Still stuck on the idea that my mother held any kind of religious belief or superstition, I decided to go all or nothing and ask one of those questions I had never before dared to utter.

“Why are we lapsed Catholics as opposed to regular Catholics?” I asked.

It was almost as though she was expecting the question. “Well, your Grandpa’s mother, your great-grandmother, she drowned in the ocean when your Grandpa was a teenager. And even though she drowned, the Church insisted it was a suicide, and they refused to grant her a Catholic burial.” She paused.

“And then they turned around and said they would bury her for a price. Which the family somehow paid, but once she was buried the family didn’t want to have much to do with the church after that. And so neither do we.”

I had never really thought much about my grandfather’s life growing up, other than the knowledge that he had lived through the Depression. But something hit me hard the moment that my mother told me that my great-grandmother had drowned in the ocean. Our family had spent nearly every summer at the beach as I was growing up, a yearly trip which I always dreaded due to a lifelong and unwavering discomfort of being in the ocean. I could never fully enjoy the water no matter how hard I tried and I could never quite understand why, and I couldn’t help but to reflect on that discomfort in light of what I had just learned.

“What was her name?” I asked. “My great-grandmother, I mean.”

“Her name was Providence,” my mother answered.

VII.

A friend and I had spent the day endlessly talking and catching up, and trying to plan out the pilgrimage that we would be taking in just a few months. Both of us were under a lot of stress, both coming off of traumatic experiences, trying to piece together what had happened with our lives and what was being triggered by our upcoming journey. After hours and hours of back and forth, he eventually passed out on the couch. I passed out in my bed not long after, and slept better than I had in weeks.

And when I woke up, I felt a strange familiar presence, which I noted but didn’t put much thought into until he woke up a few hours later.

“I felt so safe,” he told me. “Safer than I had in ages. And I actually slept. And when I woke up early this morning, I heard this lovely voice telling me that I could go back to sleep, that it was safe. And I did. And I feel so well-rested. And whoever that was, it was such a wonderful feeling. Do you know who or what that was?”

I thought back to the presence I sensed when I woke up and I smiled. “Yes,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that was Providence.”

“Who’s Providence?” he asked.

“I’m not exactly sure,” I admitted. “I once thought she was a land spirit, or more specifically a garden spirit, nowadays I think she might be an ancestor spirit but again I’m just not sure. What I know is that she’s been around me since I was very small and she’s always nurtured and protected me. She’s just… around. I don’t think about her for a long while and then she’s just there and reminds me she exists. I’ve never seen her, but I feel her and I hear her and that’s been a constant for most of my life. She never wants anything. She’s just around, and she’s warm and she’s wonderful.”

“Yes, she’s quite wonderful,” he said with a smile.

VIII.

I woke suddenly, not knowing why. It was the middle of the night, but I couldn’t remember anything that I was dreaming which could have stirred me awake. I sat up and looked out the window, and immediately felt the urge to be outside.

Quietly so not to wake my partner, I slipped on my shoes and my coat and went downstairs. I stepped out the front door of my building, and felt myself being pulled toward the river. A minute later, I was lying on by back on the dirt by the riverbank, suddenly overtaken by a stream of visions and messages that seemed to be pouring out directly from the full moon above me.

Full moon over Portland. [Public Domain]

Under the Scorpio moon, just a week before Beltane, the dead filed through and thoroughly between my ears. I closed my eyes and saw generations’ worth of flashes through my mind, scenes that I can only assume were connected to my ancestors. And then, my grandparents. And then, my uncle Jay. And then the scenes changed sharply, and I was back at the house in which I was raised complete with all the familial spirits and old furniture, and as I saw myself as a child in the garden. I felt the presence of Providence nearby.

I opened my eyes for a to stare at the moon, and then closed them again. This time I saw what I only can assume to be the future, with flashes and aerial scenes of myself and a dear friend backpacking over mountains as the dead stirred beneath our feet. Every step we took echoed both above and below, an echo I physically felt in my feet throughout the course of the vision.

It then morphed into darkness, and we were in a cave-like setting. And then, he is gone, and it is only I. And there she is. Not a ghost, not an ancestor, but a god.

I knew what she was about to tell me. I also knew why he had suddenly disappeared, as he had not only received this exact message from Her before, but had related it to me only a few weeks prior. There was also a small part of me that knew that if I opened my eyes at that moment, that it would all disappear, that I technically did have a split-second option to escape this moment.

But I also knew that, while I may be able to escape the first-person utterance, I didn’t get to escape its consequences. And I realized in the moment that the message, though delivered before, was incomplete in its overall meaning until now. For the words were not just about the future, but also about the past.

So I kept my eyes closed and stayed, anticipating her words.

“Do not look there, unless you’d leave.”

*  *  *

I returned home and back into my bed. When I fell asleep again, I deeply and vividly dreamed about the house for the first time in years.

We were all sitting at the dining room table, all having what looked like Thanksgiving dinner. And when I say all of us, I mean all of us: Grandpa, Grandma, my mother, my uncle Jay, and myself as an adult. In my sleep, straddled between worlds, we were talking and laughing and drinking wine and breaking bread without any concept of the barriers between life and death. We were just together, enjoying life, as the family that never quite was.

Even the dog was there, in the corner, patiently waiting for scraps.

 

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth. 

Merry May Day

Sat, 2016-04-30 10:57

For many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists around the world, this weekend is one to celebrate. The days surrounding the first of May mark many traditional spring festivals and religious holidays recognized around the world. Of these the most well known is Beltane or Bealtaine, which, in some traditions, honors the union of goddess and god or marks the beginning of a Celtic summer. In many secular and non-Pagan religious communities, the day is still celebrated as May Day, complete with the iconic Maypole.

[Photo Credit: Jengod via Wikimedia]

However, that is just one of the many holidays appearing at this time. Walpurgisnacht, celebrated the night of April 30, is closely associated with Witches and also called Hexennacht. The eve of May Day was consider the night when witches gather and meet.

In ancient Greece, the holiday of Anthesteria was celebrated. Today it is more commonly called ProtomagiaIt is a day that recognizes the rebirth of nature and is associated with the well-known story of Persephone’s ascent from the Underworld. While some modern Hellenic polytheists celebrate this day in February, many celebrate it on the first of May. And, not long after, as spring continues its dance, some modern Pagans celebrate Thargelia, which is a birthday celebration for Apollon and Artemis.

These festivals and others herald the coming of summer or the apex of spring – a time of merriment, awakening and bounty; a liminal time when the barriers between our world and the other world are thinned. In many traditions and cultures, it is also a time of divine union and fertility.

But that does not apply to Pagans everywhere. Our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are readying for winter. The first of May marks the height of autumn and the end of the harvest season. The celebration of Samhain and other similar holidays that honor the dead or the Ancestors are now upon them.

And, finally, there is one more celebration happening this weekend, and it has nothing to do with seasonal events. The Pagan Federation, based in the U.K., is celebrating its 45th anniversary. Members and supporters have planned a gathering to honor the organization’s commitment to supporting Pagan rights in the region since 1971.

Here are some quotes for this season:

“On Beltaine we dance with the fairies, we give thanks to the nature spirits for their abundance and growth, for blessing us with nourishment and beauty. We honour the living God and Goddess energy. We call upon the most enjoyable aspects of the Taurus energies, the ability to fully experience the pleasures of this realm, the love of the body, the sensual thrills of lovemaking.” – Candise, “The Sweetness of Beltaine

“Beltane has always been a holiday for me since childhood because it is my birthday. I sometimes saw maypoles growing up in Germany, but I never knew what they were. As a child, I always begged my parents to host large parties outdoors, preferably under trees, with lots of games, singing, and dancing. That hasn’t changed. Nowadays I like celebrating Beltane and my birthday together and dancing the maypole at public rituals. Dancing with friends and strangers is a perfect mix of hilarity (up? under? under again? really?? oops! wait, what?!?) and deep magic.” – Annika Mongan, “On Beltane

Two young girls lead the procession to the altar. [photo provided by YSEE]

“It is springtime on our farm! Small white flowers start appearing in the axils, the angle between the trunk and the leaves of the olive tree, emitting a very pleasant scent. Our trees will soon start blooming and bearing fruit […] The first day of May in Greece is associated with the custom of Protomagia (May 1st), a celebration of the awakening of nature after a long period of winter. With its origin somewhere between pagan rituals pre-dating the Olympian Pantheon and later folklore traditions, this celebration highlights the beginning of the spring, the victory of life over death.” – From “Oliveology

“Mirth seems to explode around us as we approach the season of Beltane. Nature seems to be slipping on her best dress and looking for a good time. […] Mirth is an expression of gratitude to whatever gods you believe it. It is enjoyment of the gift the universe has given you. To ignore it is to waste that precious gift and thumb your nose the gods, God, the Universe, or whoever you believe gave it to you. In this way, mirth may be the highest and most spiritual virtue I can think of. So dance, sing, feast, make music, and love. For the sake of the gods, open up a bottle of mirth any time you can!” – Tim Titus, “Virtues of the Goddess: Mirth”

“As I grow older, I find it is the simple things that keep us on the good path – waking with gratitude for the day, honor our food, lighting a candle daily for our ancestors, rooting into the Earth finding presence in our breath, calling to the spirits in all the directions asking to make good relationship. It is these small things that make the difference over time, guiding us to live immersed in the sacred, dwelling in a world that is enchanted and holy. […] The river tonight was as beautiful a thing as I ever seen. The night sky reflected on its still surface, as mist moved over it dividing the river from the land, the three worlds sliding into one another, earth, sea, and sky. It was simplicity that brought me to this place, the little things guiding my steps. And that made all the difference in the world” – Snowhawke, “You Do What You Can

A Very Merry May from The Wild Hunt!

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Column: Shamanistic Echoes in the Arctic North

Fri, 2016-04-29 11:04

[Today we welcome guest writer Lyonel Perabo joining us from Northern Europe. He is a MA student currently enrolled in the Old Norse Religion program at the University of Iceland. He has written for various news websites, blogs and student magazines in the Nordic countries Lyonel is currently working on his Master’s thesis, which seeks to analyze the way North-Scandinavian populations were perceived in Saga Literature and works as a tourist guide and local History blogger in the town of Tromsø in North-Norway.]

The Sjamanistisk Forbund, or Shamanic Union, was established in 2012 in the city of Tromsø located in the far north of Norway. It was founded by Kyrre Gram Franck, a native of the region. Since then, the organization, which aims to rejuvenate the age-old shamanic traditions of Northern Europe, has experienced a steady growth and now has members over the whole country. I was able to meet with Franck, who assumes the role of regional chairman and vision-leader in the organization, to discuss the group’s spiritual vision, challenges, and role in the 21st-century Norwegian religious landscape.

The coast of the island of Kvaløya near Tromsø, North-Norway. [Photo Credit: L. Perabo]

The Northern edge of Norway was historically the country’s last Pagan stronghold. While the Christianization process, kickstarted by kings Ólafr Trygvasson and Ólafr digri, met with little resistance in the south, the inhabitants of Norway’s northernmost constituency Hálogaland resisted the longest. They were even able to successfully defeat and slay Ólafr digri, who would later be made a Saint for this martyrdom. While the Church progressively became increasingly influential among the Norse population of Arctic Norway throughout the Middle-Ages, the indigenous Sámi people were, for the most part, able to retain their traditional religious beliefs and practices, most of which revolved around the figure of the noaidi, or the shaman.

Considering this rich and complex history, it is understandable that lately, natives of the region have been willing to engage with their pre-Christian roots and heritage while keeping an eye on other traditions and practices for help and inspiration. While the Sámi shamans Eirik Myrhaug and Ailo Gaup started to develop their practices in the 1980s and 1990s, there were no organizations gathering those interested in shamanism until fairly recently when Kyrre Gram Franck established the Sjamanistisk Forbund.

Franck had a spiritual connection with Nordic nature and its spirits since childhood, and had been engaged in discovering and researching shamanism since his late teens. He developed his practice over the years through personal meetings with shamans of various traditions. However, it was only after a rather singular spiritual experience that he came to establish an organized group centered around the practice. Franck explained:

One night in 2009 a vision came to me in my dreams that showed a lot of people sharing what they had of knowledge with each other. The spirits showed me that the tradition we once had could be revived, through sharing. There were men and women from all continents there, who showed us things while we showed them others. Since I am an empath a lot of emotions also came to me then beyond just the information. Right before I woke up there was a clear voice that told me to start something called the Norwegian shamanic Federation

Shortly thereafter, Franck had a talk with Ronald Kvernmo, the organizer of the Isogaisa Shamanic Festival and decided to drop the “Norwegian” from the name of the organization in order to display a greater acceptance of shamanic cultures beyond Norway or even Scandinavia. In 2012, The Sjamanistisk Forbund was registered as an official religious organization in Norway.

Kyrre Gram Franck drumming in Southern Norway in 2014 using a drum and hammer made and offered to him by the Hungarian shaman Regös Sziránszki József [Courtesy Photo]

From the beginning, Franck had the idea to develop Sjamanistisk Forbund around both Sámi and Norse shamanism. As exemplified in the Medieval Norse-Icelandic sagas and later folkloristic material, Norse and Sámi Pagan practices and beliefs have indeed likely influenced each other for centuries, thus mirroring the close relationship the Sámi and the Norse populations have had since the late Iron Age. However, according to Franck, the organization focuses on reconstructing shamanic practices from much further back in time when the boundaries between the future proto-Sámi and proto-Norse cultures were at best dim, if existent at all.

However, having been in contact with shamans and Pagans from many cultures and traditions, Franck stresses the fact that individual members and affiliates are free to engage and develop their own practices. He said:

As a organization our focus is on Norse and Sámi shamanism and creating a living, vibrant culture for it in Norway, but we welcome all aspects of shamanism. A member’s own practice is between him and The Creator and and is not up to us to define as correct or not. The spirits showed me that it is important to emphasize the spiritual in tradition rather than the technical aspects.

As an organization, Sjamanistisk Forbund has over 250 members distributed all over Norway and many more sympathizers. For the moment, the group’s focus is on celebrating of the full-moons and the solstices as well as organizing weddings, funerals, coming of age and naming ceremonies. Franck also underscores the fact that by being an established organization, Sjamanistisk Forbund has many more opportunities to reach out to the public sphere. He said:

SF has served as a means to inspire others but also to create an understanding for both governmental organizations as well as people who have no previous experience with “Alternative” religions or shamanism. In addition, by creating public acceptance of shamanistic beliefs and faith we will also be able to create space  for the development of the individual. Together we will protect and create a vibrant culture, bringing life to what we have lost

There is no denying that the emergence of the organization has to be seen in the context of a shifting Norwegian religious landscape in which, according to Franck, being associated with and even engaged in “Alternative” or Pagan groups is much more accepted than before. Sjamanistisk Forbund has also had the opportunity to cooperate with some domestic Pagan organizations such as the Heathen congregations Bifrost and Forn Sed, as well as with a few international ones including the Ural–Altaic traditional culture festival Kurultaj in Hungary and the The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids in the United Kingdom.

A meeting of the Sjamanistisk Forbundet. From left to right: Morten Storeider, Christoffer Skauge Eid, Louise Degotte, Kyrre Gram Franck, Gro Hilseth and Tone Johnsen. [Courtesy Photo]

Since its inception, Sjamanistisk Forbund has even had contact with the Norwegian Lutheran State Church, which used to behave in a mostly dismissive and antagonistic way toward non-Christian or non-Abrahamic congregations. Such a mitigating demeanor is a symptom of the dilemma the Church is faces when an increasing number of Norwegians no longer identify as Christians. Last month, the hierarchy of the Norwegian Church was shocked by a nation-wide poll published in the leading Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten, which revealed that the majority of baptized members do not identify with the faith. While many commentators have interpreted this study as a sign of an increasingly secular and nonreligious civil society, Franck does not believe that spirituality is on the wane in the Kingdom. He said:

Most humans have a spiritual part in them, when we don’t express it we get sick or as I would say it, ourFylgja(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fylgja)(Norse name for protective spirit) gets sick. We have tried to turn that part of us away for a long time. But people are rediscovering their spirituality at an increasingly rate. I cannot count the times that people have come to me, people I have never regarded as spiritual, and told me about their spiritual experiences. I foresee a revival age where shamanism isn’t just a belief but also a part of our proud heritage, a part of our culture.

Franck very much embodies this idea and does not see his spiritual practice as separated from his daily life and activities. He is a musician, a member of the ethnic-ambient band Bålfolket, and the World-Trance outfit Northern Lights Sound Project.

Both through his art and the organization he founded, Franck sees his spiritual engagement as a means to bring about a greater understanding of and acceptance for not only the Sjamanistisk Forbund but also for the greater Pagan and shamanic worldview in order to, according to him create a living, vibrant culture for it in Norway. May he, the organization, and all of its members and representatives, be successful in this endeavor.

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Break Out at Academy of Arcana

Thu, 2016-04-28 11:13

Santa Cruz, Calif. – At 11:30 pm on the night of Sunday, April 17,  police in Santa Cruz responded to an unusual call. Somebody was breaking out of a business at 428A Front Street in the city’s downtown area. This is the location of the Academy of Arcana, the latest venture of Oberon Zell and business partner Anne Duther. Founded in October 2015, the Academy is the physical campus of The Grey School of Wizardry, the magickal education center founded by Zell in 2004. The location also includes the Museum of Magick and Mysterie, a library and reading room, and a gift shop offering magickal items, ritual supplies, books and jewelry.

Academy of Arcana proprietors Oberon Zell and Anne Duther [Courtesy Photo]

The shop itself is located in the front of the establishment. Anthony Starr, aged 20, was caught on video, bashing a hole through the tempered glass of the front door. A passerby with a cell phone captured the escape on video as another passerby called 911 for police assistance. Starr used a large athame to bash a hole at eye level in the door. He then managed to climb head first through the ragged opening of broken glass, sliding to the ground. The video then shows him jumping to his feet and looking directly at the camera before making his escape by running away, down the street.

In a recent Skype interview with The Wild Hunt, proprietor Oberon Zell has this to say about the incident:

Clearly he snuck in hoping to have a place to just crash for the night. He did not apparently come in for the purpose of theft or anything. How he got past us, we still can’t figure out. The place was full of people, but somehow he did. And when we locked it all up, he was locked in. When he woke up in the middle of the night hearing voices, which he attributed to the ants when he talked to the police about it.

We have got a shop that is full of images of angels, fairies, dragons, Goddesses, all kinds of guardians, you know, magical stuff all over the place and skulls and strange sigils. That anybody would even dream of coming in to a place like that with hostile intent is kind of amusing in the first place. So apparently the voices sort of told him he had to get out and not touch anything, don’t mess with anything, just get out of there, whatever you do! Of course he couldn’t get out, because the door was locked.

Anthony Starr (Police photo)

It is assumed by Zell and the staff of the Academy, that Starr entered the building sometime on the evening of Saturday April 16. It is not known where he was hiding when the staff left the building, locking him in. Zell explained that the store, library and temple space was designed so that there are clear sightlines with no hidden corners. Starr may have been able to make his way to one of the back offices. Police were able to inform Zell that Starr did use the shop phone to call his mother at some point in the night. It is presumed by Zell that he did not use the phone to call 911 for help getting out because he was afraid of being arrested. Whatever Starr’s mental state may have been, his physical state was affected by the glass since he had to crawl through it to get out. Blood was found on the door. Zell reports:

To go up and over (the broken window), scraping himself on the broken glass edge of this – he messed himself up pretty thoroughly. But on the other hand, he did not do any damage inside, he didn’t even take money out of the tip jar. He just didn’t touch anything except the blade he used to break through the window, which he left behind. He just got out of there.

Aside from the broken glass in the door, nothing in the Academy of Arcana was harmed. This came as a tremendous relief to Zell, who rushed to the scene to meet staff and assess the situation. The large museum collection of more than 360 Goddess statues, devotional items, magickal tools, Books of Shadows and regalia, as well as the vast library of myth, sci-fi, fantasy, history and magick books belonging to Zell, and his late life-partner Morning Glory Zell, are on display at the Academy.

The break out has proven that any publicity is good publicity. When the video of Starr slithering out of the hole in the door went viral, curious people made a point of visiting the store that had featured in it. Zell said:

This happened Sunday. Monday and Tuesday we were closed, these are our normal closed days. When we opened Wednesday, we were mobbed. All the rest of that week, people had to see the place – they had seen the video. The reporting officer came down and brought one of his friends, another officer, to show them the thing, and discuss it and have a few laughs about it. I went out and we visited. It has been fantastic for business! You can’t buy advertising like that. When we opened up, the first thing we did was a little prosperity spell. Within about a half an hour, we had sold over $250 worth of stuff, that’s our half of the window.

The Academy of Arcana, Santa Cruz, CA [Courtesy Photo]

The landlord of the building is covering the other half of the cost of replacing the glass. The small amount of damage did not warrant an insurance claim.

Starr was located the next morning by officers from the Santa Cruz police, sleeping in a nearby doorway. He was suffering from cuts to his hands and body and had several bloodstains on his clothes. He is now in the custody of the Santa Cruz Police. He has been charged with felony vandalism for this incident. This was his fourth arrest in three weeks. The state of Starr’s physical and mental health are not known at press time, but Zell has stated he will be speaking to police to learn more about what happened and find out how Starr is doing.

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Pagan Chaplain’s Voice for Change is Heard by Global Conference

Wed, 2016-04-27 10:40

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Mary Hudson made waves when she became the second Pagan chaplain at a higher education institution in the United States, continuing a service that began with the advising the Syracuse University student Pagan club. Two years after that chaplaincy appointment, Hudson decided to attend the Global Conference for Chaplains in Higher Education, which was being held at Yale that year. Unfortunately, the experience left a decidedly bad taste in her mouth, which she shared with the conference organizers. They took her feedback to heart, and asked her to return this year as a presenter.

Mary Hudson preparing a handfasting altar. [Courtesy Photo]

Hudson would like very much to return to the conference to do so. However, “global” means that the conference moves around, and this year it will be in Brisbane, Australia. She has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the needed travel expenses. As of this writing, her campaign has raised nearly 60% of the $5,000 she expects the trip will cost.

Hudson’s history of working with college students on questions of religion dates back some 14 years, as she told The Wild Hunt. The position fell into place because she was already a university employee and practicing Pagan:

Many years ago I was sitting in my office when a student, non-trad, walked in. We had met at a small Pagan gathering a couple of months earlier and they had a request: would I consider being the advisor for a student Pagan group registered at the chapel? This student had been working with the Lutheran chaplain to get Pagans recognized, as it had become evident based on the amount of students looking for such a group that something needed to happen. I asked what my duties would be and I was told all I had to do was sign the paperwork. Well, that wasn’t exactly true as I came to find out. I stuck with it because the students needed to find community someplace and they needed to learn, from elders and from each other, that they were part of a larger community and not alone.

When in 2009 Hudson was preparing to leave that job, she began to look for another adviser for the Pagan students, whose club was called Student Pagan Information Relations and Learning, or SPIRAL. What she learned from some of the campus chaplains was that she was qualified to become one herself, partly because she belonged to the legally-recognized Church of the Greenwood. She worked with the church’s president and university officials to create the first Pagan chaplaincy. Then, she was appointed to the newly established position.

The University of Southern Maine had already created such a position in 2002, but Hudson understands that the original chaplain there, Cynthia Jane Collins, has since left and no replacement has been found. As TWH reported at the time of Hudson’s appointment, “Not everyone is happy with this growing ethos of interfaith cooperation, both Free Republic and conservative Anglican site Virtue Online have gotten the vapors over this development.” Despite those complaints, the overall reaction was positive.

Three years later, TWH reported tha,t under Hudson’s guidance, Pagan students had obtained and built their own sacred space on the Syracuse campus.

The project was approved with relative ease. On October 14, the school installed four permanent altar stones in the main quad, each representing the cardinal directions. Coincidentally, while the stones were laid, a Native American student group happened to be performing a ceremonial dance across the quad. Mary says,“[This] is a true symbol of the dedication that the university has to supporting all people in a diverse world.”

But it was in 2012, attending the chaplains’ conference at Yale, when Hudson experienced firsthand what it can sometimes feels like to be a Pagan in a predominantly Christian world. It is not that she was openly discriminated against, as she explained. However, the overall impression she received was that Paganism was a surprising oddity. At one workshop in particular, which was focused on crafting a common language for spirituality, she found the intolerance towards non-Abrahmic paths quite overt. She said:

The workshop leader started by declaring that they had found, based on research they had done on their own campus, that spirituality was a word that should be done away with; it was not a viable way to talk about connection to anything. Religion had to be based in longstanding tradition and practices and that is what was needed to be built on in the schools so that students “have a foundation of belief.” This attitude and belief was cheered and it was stated that only religions with texts which tell people how to live, and the organizations which hold those texts, are valid. It became worse as the participants began to snicker and mock the idea of [the] “other religious” designation in the program. I was the other religious designation – literally. I wasn’t listed as Pagan but as Other.

The mocking grew more vociferous when the workshop presenter talked about a student in her study that identified as Jewish Wiccan Quaker. These three faiths were what the student grew up with in her household. Participants openly mocked the student’s self-identification and attempt to claim a multi- and inter-faith tradition. The man seated next to me openly stated that the terms multi-faith and interfaith should done away with as there were no such things and never would be. I was seething with anger, and at the same moment felt attacked. No one in the room other than my friend knew my faith practices; no one knew the other was sitting amongst them and so there was a comfort in belittling and mocking anyone not part of the norm – meaning Christian.

Hudson said that this was just one of the many experiences she had at that year’s conference.  When organizers called for a reflections paper, she provided some strongly-worded feedback, and it was that paper that led directly to an invitation for her to participate again, including sitting on a panel.

[The feedback] was scathing, and I called it what it was – a horrible event that wanted nothing to do with anyone other than Christians. I was contacted immediately and told that my paper would be published in the journal dedicated to the conference and asked permission to share it with the forming committees so that they could change. The individuals in charge had no idea how the “other” faiths were treated or felt. It was eye-opening. This request to participate shows and effort to change and I think it is imperative to attend and show those that are willing to see what true hospitality is about. I firmly believe it takes just as much courage to accept change in others as it does to try and change the self.

The panel, on which she will be sitting, has the curious title of “Pulling Apart a Platypus.” The focus will be four different models of chaplaincy in use today. Hudson will be sitting beside a Catholic priest, a Buddhist, and one other person whose religious designation — if any — Hudson didn’t know.


After her emotionally bruising experience at Yale, Hudson does have some advice for other Pagans who feel put upon. First, she said that what you do and say really depends upon the situation. Then she offered:

I don’t normally “hide” and after the first three workshops that is exactly what I did. I was in “hostile” territory and I didn’t feel safe. I did find two friends that came with me. They were allies with whom I could talk to about what was going on and what I was feeling. I think it is important for people to have someone to talk about what is happening and how they are feeling.

I have to stress that no one is alone. They may feel that they are at times but truly they are not. Look to the local shops, PPD websites, Witchvox for local groups, and other such places for contacts that might be able to give you support and healing kindness. I would also stress that help doesn’t have to come just from other Pagans. Someone being mistreated for their faith will find allies in people who dislike injustice. Talk to people of faith, minority on non-mainstream traditions, to seek out an ally if you need to. You would be surprised at where help can come from.

Those interested in helping Hudson with her triumphant return to the Global Conference for Chaplains in Higher Education can contribute to the GoFundMe campaign here.

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Nikki Bado 1954 – 2016

Tue, 2016-04-26 12:40

[Courtesy Iowa State University]

“The casting of the Circle is complete. You are led to the edge of the Circle, where Death, your challenge, is waiting for you.” – Nikki Bado, excerpt from Coming to the Edge of the Circle

After a long illness and sudden heart attack, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Iowa State University Nikki Bado died April 22. A noted scholar and Wiccan Priestess with over 40 years in the Craft, Ms. Bado was perhaps most well known for her book Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual. The book was written as a “challenge to the commonly accepted model of ‘rites of passage.’ Rather than a single linear event, initiation is deeply embedded within a total process of becoming a Witch in practice and in community with others.”

Bado straddled the difficult line between being an academic and a practitioner. She faced criticism from colleagues for being a participant in the field she studied. An article she authored in the Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies addressed this criticism, which is often faced by Pagan academics. She wrote:

Witches say you never forget your own initiation into the Craft. Mine remains vividly alive to me, even though almost forty years have passed. I am no longer a newcomer to the Old Religion, but a high priestess who is well seasoned in performing rites of initiation for others. Yet according to a kind of thinking still common in religious studies—and painfully evident in Markus Davidsen’s 2012 article “What is Wrong with Pagan Studies?” —the above statement becomes an admission of guilt, one that marks me an “insider,” or in Davidsen’s curious phrasing someone who has “gone native in reverse,” and immediately makes my scholarship suspect.

As both a scholar and a religious practitioner, I felt compelled to confront the dilemma of the insider/outsider issue more than thirteen years ago when I started writing on Wiccan initiation, a manuscript that eventually resulted in the publication of my first book Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual.

At that time, I reasoned this was an issue that needed to be confronted head on, and early in my academic career, well before my work on ritual and on material and popular culture in religion established my legitimacy as a scholar. By 2013, I had hoped our field would have moved beyond such facile distinctions as insider/outsider and developed a more finely honed sense of reflexivity, or at least a more sophisticated understanding of perspective, location, and place.

I am profoundly disappointed that we are here today, still talking about insiders and outsiders.

Chas Clifton, author of Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Contemporary Paganism in America and editor of the Pomegranate, posted a remembrance of Bado on his personal blog. He wrote, “I have forgotten just when we met, but it must have been at the American Academy of Religion meeting. She helped build the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group and worked with me as a co-editor on our book series for Equinox Publishing. She wrote on Paganism, religion in popular culture, Japanese religious festivals, the body in religion, and pilgrimage, among other topics. Her longest work on Pagan religion was the book Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual. Good friend, priestess, hard-working scholar. She will be missed.”

In an email to The Wild Hunt, Clifton went on to say, “I would see her only once a year at [the American Academy of Religion], typically, but I got lots of late-night phone calls, which I will miss. Her medical problems gradually made it harder and harder to teach and write the last couple of years — she suffered a lot — and I am glad that she is free of that. But now that she is a professor emerita on the other side, she may still be of assistance.”

Macha NightMare, author and Priestess, said, “I will miss Nikki’s keen mind, her hearty humor, and her ardent commitment to her work. I knew her as a prominent presence in the fields of ritual studies and Pagan studies at AAR (American Academy of Religion). Her book, Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual, is well worth being more widely known and read. May her merriment echo in the lives of those who knew and loved her.”

Wendy Griffin, Ph.D, Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary, also knew Bado through the AAR, as well as through Bado’s time as President of the Board for the seminary. They became friends over many conversations, and, like the others, she most remembers Bado as an excellent scholar and having a “wicked sense of humor.”

Bado’s last Pagan conference was January’s Conference on Current Pagan Studies, where she was a presenter. Jeffrey Albaugh, organizer for the conference, remembers, “Although Dr. Nikki Bado taught philosophy and religious studies at Iowa State University and served as president of the board for Cherry Hill Seminary, I personally knew her from my work with the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, where we were blessed to have her as keynote speaker this past January.  Nikki was a gracious sport, and was the first keynote we had participate remotely, from her hospital bed, via Skype. Despite some minor technical issues that had not occurred during our testing of the equipment and internet connection, she engaged the audience warmly and authentically regarding issues of social justice and our Pagan communities.”

Albaugh continued on to say, “This last CCPS was my first dealing with her, but I bonded with her immediately. Her goal in her recovery was to dance again, I think it was ballroom dancing. I promised to dance with her, but that will have to be in the Summerland. She is on my afterlife dance card.”

In addition to her book on Wiccan initiations, Bado also co-authored Toying With God: The World of Religious Games and Dolls, with Rebecca Sachs Norris along with many articles on Wicca, Goddess worship, and Japanese spirituality. Among her many editor credits includes Pop Pagans: Paganism and Popular Music, which includes a contribution by The Wild Hunt founder, Jason Pitzl-Waters.

What is remembered, lives.

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Pagan Community Notes: David Babulski, HUAR, The Greenwood Pagans and more!

Mon, 2016-04-25 09:57

David Babulski, 1944-2016

ATLANTA, Ga. — The Georgia Pagan community lost one of its elders this month. David Babulski, more commonly known as Papa Bear, passed away on April 11, 2016 at 71. David was an internationally recognized artist, as well as an author, educator and musician. He is most well-known for his mineral paintings, which have been featured in exhibits around the country and have been the subject of numerous books. David said that growing up “in the Sunland/Tujunga of Southern California” made him “intensely curious about the natural world” and inspired his love to draw.  He also noted that he grew up next to an avid mineral collector, which intrigued him at a very young age. By the time David was in college, his interest in art and science merged into a lifelong career, spilling over into his hobbies and his spiritual beliefs.

David practiced Wicca, studying and circling with a number of Pagan groups in the Atlanta-metro area. Lady Arsinoe of the House of Oak Spring wrote, “Because of his love for nature and science, he studied the energy that binds the universe and brought the scientific method to his magical practice.” She continued on to say that he loved dowsing in particular, and crafted new tools for that very purpose. Lady Magdalena of Temple of the Rising Phoenix remembered David’s “warm personality, his far-reaching intellect and his wicked sense of humor.” She said, “He was always there to share what he knew openly and support whatever we were doing.”

David’s talents were many, and he was always up to something. He loved storytelling through creating, music, poetry and the written word. He was an accomplished harpist, and wrote two children’s books about an elf named Piffles.

In recent years, David had been coping with debilitating muscle spasms. His ability to circle with his Pagan families declined over the years. Some members were able to visit him at a rehab center in his final weeks, offering to keep him stocked with art supplies. Then, on April 11, he suffered a heart attack. A memorial service and life celebration were held in April 17 at the Eternal Hills Funeral Home. In the announcement for the memorial, David’s daughter told attendees, “Aloha Shirts or SCA garb optional,” which speaks directly of his everlasting and unforgettable whimsical and warm spirit. What is remembered, lives!

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LODI, Calif. — Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) is involved with an anti-fascist action to be held in Lodi, California. In recent weeks, HUAR assisted in the research and writing of an article detailing information about an international group called Soldiers of Odin. The article itself is posted on a blog called Anti-Fascist News, and begins “A big thanks comes to Heathens United Against Racism, who did a large amount of research for this article.”

The article goes on to describe the Soldiers of Odin as a “new phenomenon” and a “group of people who are trying to ‘defend’ European nations and the U.S. from […] refugees.” Soldiers of Odin was reportedly born in Finland and now has small groups in multiple countries throughout the world. As is noted, the group uses elements of the ancient Nordic Pagan religion to support its political stance and related work.

The Anti-Fascist News article ends with a call-to-action, asking for activists to join them on April 30 for a protest event at Lodi Lake Park, in Lodi, Calfiornia, where the Soldiers of Odin have reportedly planned a private “meet up.” HUAR is currently working with non-Pagan Antifa Allies on this action.

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SYRACUSE, NY. — Mary Hudson, president of the Church of the Greenwood in Central New York and the Pagan chaplain at Syracuse University, recently launched a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for a trip to Australia. In the campaign letter, she wrote, “In 2012, I attended the Global Conference for Chaplains in Higher Education held at Yale University. It was a unique experience that I had hoped would help create better understanding of Earth-based faith traditions ..” However, as she goes on to say, it didn’t turn out that way. The experience was “abysmal.”

Hudson was invited back to the conference after submitting an account of her 2012 experience. She was offered the opportunity to present. Hudson wrote, “My voice, a tiny voice, has been heard and it has been acted upon by those that had the power to facilitate change.”

The 2016 conference will be held in Bendigo, Australia. Hudson and her fellow Greenwood Pagans are raising the money needed to fund the trip. As of publication time, Hudson has already passed the 50% point. She said, “I am truly humbled by the generosity of all of you.” We will have more on this story in the coming week. 

In Other News

  • For those Wild Hunt readers interested in coloring, Red Wheel/Weiser has released The Witches’ Almanac Coloring Book. Written by Theitic, a member of the New England Witchcraft community, this coloring book is inspired by the many images featured in past Witches’ Almanacs, and also includes “images that have not been presented.” The coloring book is “neatly packed into seven distinct sections,” with titles including Woodcuts, Constellations, The Planets, Egyptian, Americas, Tarot, and Creatures. The publisher writes that book is meant to “allow the inner artist to emerge in a meditation of color.” The Witches’ Almanac Coloring Book sells for 12 USD “wherever books and eBooks are sold.”
  • This spring, Cicada Magazine published what has been called “a wyrd & witch edition.” The March/April 2016 issue of the children’s publication is “rife with magicks, moons, familiars, fellowship…” Pagan blogger and author Sara Amis is one of the featured writers in this issue. Her short fiction story called “The Witch’s Egg,” begins on page 19.  Along with her work is a test called, “Does your mom suspect that you’re a witch?” and “Rooted in Feminine Power: An Interview with Nnedi Okorafor.” Cicada is a literary publication aimed at pre-teen and teen girls.
  • Wild Hunt columnist Alley Valkyrie has released her first published work, called Night of a Million Stars. Valkyrie has been a Wild Hunt writer since 2012, and her new book takes its cue from the column. It contains 19 essays in which Valkyrie “shows us the worlds we miss, the worlds we forget to look for, and the worlds we bury in memory.” Digital copies are now available through gumroad.com. Print copies will be available in May through Lulu.
  • Last January, Mike Rodgers, also known as The Fluid Druid, began a community radio broadcast focusing on Paganism in Arkansas. This show, called The Fluid Druid’s Medicine Show, is one of the few Pagan-dedicated programs on broadcast radio in the U.S. It airs on 97.9 FM Sundays from 10-11 am CT. For those outside the listening area, the show can be heard live at KUHS Radio.
  • From the blogosphere, John Halstead has written a two-part article based on his presentation at the Greening of Religions symposium in Columbia, South Carolina. In the two posts, he contemplates the relationship between the many diverse Pagan religions and the modern environmental movement. He asks, “What exactly [does] the word ‘nature’ really means to Pagans?”

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Don’t forget! If you have a community announcement or a news tip, let us know. We also take submissions, pitches and proposals for articles. We love hearing from our readers. Contact us.   

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Ár nDraíocht Féin elects Rev. Jean Pagano (Drum) as new Archdruid

Sun, 2016-04-24 10:53

TWH – This month, the Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship membership voted on a new board of directors. Included in that process was the election of a new Archdruid. This position serves as the president of the ADF board and is considered to be both the organization’s administrative and spiritual leader. This year, members chose Rev. Jean Pagano, also known as Drum, to take the organizational reins from outgoing Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas.

Rev. Jean Pagano, also known as Drum [Photo Credit: S. Harbaugh]

In a press release, Drum said, “I am touched and honored that people have chosen me to be their Archdruid – it is not a challenge that I take lightly and I promise to be Archdruid to all members.” He thanked the membership, the other candidates, the officers of the Mother Grove as well as the “Earth Mother, the Kindreds, and all of the people who have made ADF what it is today.”

Who is Drum? What is his background, and what does he envision for the future of ADF? In August 2015, fellow druid, ADF board member and priest, Sean Harbaugh interviewed Drum specifically about the organization’s work and his role as the Vice Archdruid. In the wake of the recent election, we caught up Drum to learn more about the man who will now be leading ADF for the next three years.

Raised in Chicago by French parents, Drum is both an American and French citizen. He went to a Catholic high school and then to the University of Illinois, where he received an undergraduate degree in philosophy. In time, he also earned both a master’s and Ph.D. in the same field. Drum said, “I was a young child of the ’60s, and I think a lot of the things that were happening at the time had an effect on me. I remember seeing lots of people in Grant Park in Chicago doing tai chi together, moving as one. I have never forgotten the image of a diverse group of people moving as one.”

Drum was raised Roman Catholic, and attended mass until he left for college. He said that this religion did not “resonate with [him] in the least” and that he wanted to find something “closer to his western European roots.” Drum explained, “I […] was attracted to stories of the ancient Gods and Druids. I believed that Paganism was still alive and well.”

Drum went on to say, “I was told in grade 8 that the Gods and Goddesses were no longer alive. I did not believe it.” Then, as a freshman in high school, he performed his first magical, Pagan working in the Hellenic tradition  He said, “I never turned back.”

Drum continued to practice his newly-adopted beliefs. However, at that time, he had no name for what he was doing or what he was. He had no general term to use for any of it. Then, he read John Mitchell’s book The View over Atlantis. Drum said, “[Mitchell] called what I was ‘paganism.’ Finally, I had a name for what I was. I read Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler and further understood who I was and what I believed.”

Around 1982, Drum reached out to Isaac Bonewits about the New Reformed Druids of North America. Drum recalled, “[Isaac] told me about a new group he was starting called ADF or Ár nDraíocht Féin. I joined ADF on March 10, 1984 and have been a member ever since.”

Drum [Courtesy photo]

Drum is also a third order Druid of the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA), a Druid Order member of OBOD, a second circle member of AODA, and an elder in various other organizations. When asked what drew him specifically to Druidry, Drum said, “I was drawn to [it] because of the connection to the Earth, to the Earth Mother, and to the Gods and Goddesses of the Indo-Europeans. I believed (and still do) in Isaac’s vision.”

Drum remained solitary for nearly 20 years of his time with ADF. However, he eventually decided to join a group. Over the past 12 years, he has been a member of Michigan-based Shining Lakes Grove and Cedarsong Grove. He said, “I have visited many groves in ADF. I like grove practice, but I also understand what has to be done as a solitary.”

Although his practice has been largely solitary, Drum has been an active and very busy member of ADF and the many other organizations in which he has been involved. For the past eight years, Drum has been ADF’s “List Master.” Additionally, he has served as the Upper Midwest Regional Druid, the Chief of the Council of Regional Druids, and the Vice Archdruid. Drum said that he has also been “the Chief of the Liturgist Guild, the Preceptor of the Naturalist Guild, the Registrar of the Seers Guild, the clergy adviser for the Order of Bardic Alchemy, the Preceptor for the Order of Manannan, the Treasurer for the Bardic Guild, the Coordinator for the Morrigan SIG.”

Drum is also an ADF master bard, an initiate, and a senior priest. He said, “I wear many hats because there are many hats to wear and not always enough people to fill those spots.”

During his service as Vice Archdruid, Drum carefully watched Rev. Kirk Thomas in order to learn. Drum said, “I wanted to be Archdruid after he left and when the opportunity presented itself, I stepped up to work for the position. […] I am one of the original members and I have seen ADF through the many years, in good times and bad, and I want to use that experience to help move us forward, keeping to Isaac’s Vision, which is vitally important.”

When asked about his interpretation of that vision going forward, Drum said, “I will try to lead the ADF Clergy Council and the Folk to continue to do the work and to help refine not only our message and our purpose, but to further Isaac’s Vision and let the world see what ADF is all about by letting them see what we do.” He explained further:

ADF is orthopraxic and not orthordoxic. We will talk about what you do – as far as ritual is concerned – and not tell you what to believe in. This is one of our great strengths. If you do these 18 steps known as the Core Order of Ritual then you have done an ADF ritual. We have certain parameters, such as no blood sacrifices, no Lord and Lady, no calling quarters or watchtowers, and Indo-European pantheons for High Day rites. Our rituals are broad and inclusive enough to fit the bill for many neo-pagans. Our High Day rites are open to the public because we want people to see what we do and be welcome. Our concept of hospitality requires that we be good hosts and good guests. I would like to believe that all of our members like to be good hosts and good guests.

Drum added that he would like to see ADF specifically focus on “hospitality.” He said, “I think we need to be open to people and able to welcome differing viewpoint[s] without devolving into bad behavior, whether it is on social media or around the campfire. Hospitality is the greatest of virtues because it requires others. Others might describe this as Right Action.”

Those positive works and “right actions” can come in many different forms. As this is Earth Day weekend, we asked if he felt that Druids have a unique role to play in the modern environmental movement, addressing topics such as climate change. Drum said, “I think that Druids -– of all stripes -– have a part to play […] and it is a positive one: first, we must work our magics to support the Earth Mother, helping to heal her and helping to fix the damage that has been inflicted upon her. Secondly, we must do what we can to exhibit and express nature awareness. We can help green by being green.” Drum then returned back to the notion of “hospitality,” saying “Being a good guest and host extends past our own doorways into the natural world beyond.”

When asked if he has observed significant changes in Paganism or the Druidry since he joined the newly formed ADF many years ago, he said “yes,” adding, “I am pleased at what I have seen. Druidry and Paganism have grown away from the acquisition and manipulation of personal power to the use of ritual and magical activities to work for positive changes in the world and for the protection of the Earth, which we call our Earth Mother. I realise that there is great diversity in the many different pagan and neo-pagan groups, but there is also a great commonality as well. ”

Drum will become ADF’s sixth Archruid since its founding in 1983. Outgoing Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas expressed his support for Drum, saying “I pray that the Gods and Spirits bless our new Archdruid and all his endeavors so that ADF will continue to grow and thrive in the future. And I give my blessing to him and to all the members of our church.”

On April 16, Rev. Thomas performed his final “official festival ritual as Archdruid at Trillium.” He has served as Archdruid for six years, or two terms. Although ADF bylaws allow for someone to serve for three terms, Rev. Thomas opted to not to run again, saying that “it is time to move on.”

Rev. Kirk Thomas [Courtesy Photo]

While he still has a few more rituals to oversee in May and other duties to perform, Rev. Thomas’ time will soon be freed up to devote more energy to other commitments and pursue new projects. When asked what we might find him doing in the near future, he said, “I plan to continue my prison ministry and I have a couple more books in me waiting to get out. I also plan to spend more time working on my White Mountain Druid Sanctuary here in Trout Lake. I will also be attending festivals and giving workshops as I deepen my personal spiritual work.”

Rev. Thomas added, “I’m not going away!”

As for Drum, he is looking forward to the upcoming challenge. He noted how smooth the entire transitional process has been to date. going back to the beginning of the organization. He said, “We are able to transition power respectfully and properly – through the ballot box and not necessarily by fiat. We were able to transition from a charismatic leader like Isaac to Ian to Fox to Skip to Kirk and now to myself. After myself, I expect the transition will be a smooth one.”

Drum also added, “I envision a female Archdruid will follow me.”

Leading the large, international Druid organization will undoubtedly take up much of Drum’s free time over the next three years, or longer. When asked what we might find him doing when he’s not working at his day job as a systems administrator or tending to his ADF duties, Drum said, “My hobbies are reading about history and working on liturgy. I love creating small altars in many places in my world and working with them. Heraclitus said the gods love to hide and I like building altars where they might be. I enjoy travelling and attending festivals to not only talk about my Druidry, but to learn about other people’s practices. I try to find magic in the world and to appreciate the amazing beauty and power of the Earth (Mother) around us.”

Thinking about the future of ADF, Drum said, “I would love to see Neopaganism become a choice for people when choosing a religion. I believe that we must lead and attract people by example. People are drawn to Nature and the Earth Mother – perhaps by different names – and I want them to know that there is a choice when you come to choose a religious organisation.”

Drum takes office May 1, 2016 and will hold the position for a term of three years.

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Column: Nine Heathens Speak of Spring

Fri, 2016-04-22 09:22

[Courtesy John T. Mainer]

Since the beginnings of the modern Heathen era in the early 1970s, the revival, reconstruction, and reimagining of a wide variety of religious beliefs and practices rooted in northern Europe have spread across much of the globe. The Worldwide Heathen Census 2013 received responses from ninety-eight countries, ranging from a single practitioner in Algeria to nearly eight thousand in the United States. That’s an amazing spread of a new religious movement in a relatively short period.

As spring finally arrived here in Chicago, I began to wonder how Heathens around the world welcomed the change of seasons. I contacted Heathens in Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, Scotland, and the USA and asked them a few simple questions: How do you celebrate the arrival of spring? Do you have a specific ritual? Do you use specific texts? Do you honor specific deities, wights, or ancestors?

In order to avoid any sense of preference, I present their responses in alphabetical order by country. I have not listed any organizational affiliations, since I asked each person to write about what he or she thinks is important as an individual, not necessarily about what any organization they belong to says or does officially. These nine people do not serve as representatives or spokespeople for their national, regional, or local communities. They are simply Heathens offering personal perspectives on the coming of spring.

The diversity of Heathen worldviews and practices shines strongly through in this small sampling. From the philosophical to the spiritual, from family tradition to sacrificial ritual, these answers show how much individual difference exists within Heathenry today. On the other hand, there are commonalities both subtle and overt that weave through the tapestry of these thoughtful reflections. Whether or not you believe that there is such a thing as a larger Heathen community, there are certainly common touchstones that are shared across wide distances.

I hope you enjoy the words of these Heathens as much as I do, and I welcome you to share your own ways of celebrating the arrival of spring in the comment section below. I look forward to reading about your practice!

John T. Mainer (Canada)
The celebration of spring for me has always been not a single action or event. Like our ancestors, I mark the turning of the seasons less by the liturgical calendar and more by the state of the land.

The mudding of the fields is the beginning of spring, the point at which you can break the ground with the plow. It is at this time that we gather to do a few things in group ritual. We prepare the tools that we will use in the harvest, sanctifying them at Dísirblót [Old Norse dísablót, “sacrifice to the female deities”] that what we gather be gathered with full awareness of the price paid. We reach out to our dísir [“female deities”], call to those dísir who are closest to us, and ask their guidance for the year to come. Dísirblót is a powerful but somber ceremony, about turning away from the dark, counting the cost of the season past, and making sure we face the season to come with due reverence for what we are given.

Easter is less somber. When the rabbits dance, Easter is come. Quite literally, when the rabbits hit mating season and begin dancing – it’s not a metaphor, they really do it – then Easter is come. We celebrate the way the secular society does, as they stole it from us, and such things as chocolate that have snuck in we gleefully vike back. Easter is for the children. It is the bright face of spring; the renewal, rebirth, the rising of hope; and the giving of thanks for the promise of life that explodes around you.

On May Day or Walpurgisnacht, the last act of spring is the eternal dance at the maypole. Symbolic of the phallic male renewing power of Freyr, the maypole is the rising potency of the earth that we seek to bind to the needs of the folk. The dance at the maypole, the crowning of the May Queen to echo bright Freyja is to give thanks, to celebrate the wild love and passion of renewal.

There is a soul-deep connection between humanity and the land. The turning of the world, the cycles of life are not alien to us. They are a part of us, and in springtime, for our own mental and spiritual health, we need to renew those ties and ground ourselves in the earth that sustains us, that we may better hear the gods, wights, and ancestors.

Esteban Sevilla (Costa Rica)

Estban Sevilla Quiros [Courtesy Photo]

One of the main problems is that in my country the weather is extremely tropical. We don’t have spring or winter. So I celebrate it around the time the rains should start, some time around mid-April. I don’t celebrate Ostara, since I am mostly centered on the Norse gods.

What we do is a mix of Sigurblót and Várblót; an offering to the agricultural deities such as Thor, Freyr, and some other fertility gods like Freyja; and for victory we honor Odin. Also, we honor some vættir [“wights”], since we consider them important during this time of change. The spirits will nurture with the rains, and nature will flourish again after the dry season.

We try to read some poems from the Poetic Edda, but this is a thing we are still trying to define, since we still haven’t found a specific reading that matches with the blót’s theme.

Mathias Valentin Nordvig (Denmark)
I used to celebrate the arrival of spring by going to the well of the largest river in Denmark. It is called Gudenå, which means “River of the Gods,” and it most certainly was an important holy river to our ancestors. Along its course, there are several important historical sites such as the city of Viborg, its name meaning “Holy Citadel” or possibly “Holy Mountain.”

Giving offerings to the well of the Gudenå in late April or early May, my celebration of spring is not just a celebration of the cycle of nature, but the health and wealth of the land and nation of Denmark. There are several ancient burial mounds there, and the old Iron Age highway that cuts through the Jutland peninsula runs close by there. This is a site of immense historical, religious, and national power in Denmark where nature, our ancestors, and our land become one.

I have typically given offerings to Freyja, Frigg, and Sága. In this context, they represent a kind of trinity of fertility comparable to the Matronae of the early Germanic cult in the Rhineland. They also represent a trinity of time comparable to the Nornir.

Sága represents history and the iteration of the past. She drinks with Odin every day in her court at Sökkvabekkr [“sunken bank”], and I see this as a variation on the theme of Odin drinking from Mimir’s well to gain knowledge. It is also a variation on the theme of Odin retrieving the Mead of Poetry from Gunnlöð inside the mountain. Mead is therefore shared with the well of the Gudenå.

Freyja is known as the goddess of our land. For two hundred years, our national anthem has repeated this idea. We sing, “There is a wonderful land; growing with broad beech trees; and it is the Hall of Freyja.” Freyja, to me, represents my country with its lush green growth, fertile rolling hills, and imposing wetlands. The physical, the concrete, is that which is present now, not something that exists in the past or the future.

Frigg is associated with the future. This is because she has foresight, and, in my opinion, a hand in the creation of fate. It is her purpose to secure the future and our fate, and I give her offerings for that.

I typically use a combination of Grímnismál [“Sayings of the Masked One”] and Hávamál [“Sayings of the High One”] for my rituals, as I find the idea of using Skírnismál [“Sayings of Shining One”] out of the question. Many would like to see Skírnismál as a romantic love story about the marriage of Freyr and Gerðr, but the fact is that the story is not about marriage and love, but rather coercion and sexual dominance.

Úlfdis Haraldsdóttir (France)
Usually I do a simple blót to celebrate spring, with some food and drink to offer. For this occasion, I usually invoke the landvaettir [“land spirits”] to celebrate the return to life of the earth. I adapt the ceremony each time depending on the current situation of me and my relatives. I have no specific ritual outside from the opening and closing of the ceremony.

The opening is made by invoking different deities at each cardinal point. I usually have at least Odin and Freyja, and I adapt the others depending on the ceremony – Freyr in addition to Freyja, of course, and usually elves, too. I invoke them and offer to each of them some mead. For the closing I just redo a circle around the place, thank them all for their presence, and declare the ceremony is closed. Quite simple. I don’t use any specific text but do it fully on improvisation, depending on my mood at this moment.

[Courtesy of Úlfdis Haraldsdóttir]

Ulrike Pohl (Germany)
I do not celebrate the arrival of spring in a ritual manner at home. Around the twenty-first of March, what I do is to bring some forsythia twigs and decorate them with painted eggs – empty ones – and place them on the altar. I save eggs, and we dye them. In some years, I get up very early on the twenty-first and collect Osterwasser [“Easter water”], which is supposed to be collected in silence and at dawn. We wash our faces with it, and the rest is sprinkled in the garden. Other spring traditions around here are usually placed around the Easter holidays, for example the Osterfeuer [“Easter fire”].

My community meets around the equinox date to celebrate Ostara. We have a big blót and three very full days. Apart from the blót being in the morning and that we sometimes incorporate a blessing with freshly cut twigs like hazel, it isn’t overly spring-related. Some of us feel like Ostara/Ēostre is a goddess, or at least a goddess name, like a byname of Freyja. I’m not sure.

For me and my family, the arrival of spring is marked by transitions in nature, not necessarily a date like spring equinox. So we enjoy seeing “firsts,” more light and warmth, but we mark it by traditional actions like egg dyeing and bringing twigs inside to force blooms – not so much actions with religious meaning.

Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir (Iceland)
We have a very special ritual in spring. It is called Sigurblót, blót of victory. We call upon Freyr and Freyja and Mother Earth and celebrate that summer has won over the winter. Our celebrations are especially for the children and for the young growth of spring.

There are always the same actions to beginnings of all blóts and ceremonies: light the fire, have something in the horn. I always use the oath ring for the ceremony’s start. I hold it up, sometimes I move it over my head – first left, then right, and at last just straight upwards.

After reciting from Sigurdrífumál [“Sayings of the Victory-Inciter”], I talk about sigur [“victory”]. Not always the same text; it depends on what is on my mind; usually the coming of spring, children, the beginning of the Ásatrúarfélagið [“Ásatrú Fellowship”]. Poems, stories and that sort of thing are absolutely something that I always use, but that is just the spur of the moment. We are living people, and we must do things our way and follow the moment.

We end by having a feast where we eat, drink, talk, sing, and are happy. Otherwise, we are acting upon what is going on in society, with our people, in nature, and so on.

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano (Mexico)
We celebrate the arrival of spring on the spring equinox within the Ostara celebration. We offer blót to the gods and goddesses like Freyr, Freyja, Jörð, Sunna, Ostara, Eir and Óðr to have fertility, health, prosperity, and much work.

Our blót includes some mead, our blood, and blood from a sacrifice -– in this case a rabbit -– offered to the gods and goddesses, irrigating the ground. The meat of this sacrifice is eaten, and the skin used to make bags for our runes, hats, or shoes. We also burn a representation of a sun-wheel.

We use the Sigurdrífumál, and sometimes we read some text from the Edda talking about the gods and goddesses included in the celebration.

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano [Courtesy Photo]

Páll Thormod Morrisson (Scotland)
Spring in Scotland is humorously expected to be heralded in with a snow flurry, but whenever the sun does show itself, natives like myself are possibly inclined to grump a little less, but acknowledge any seasonal change with a hearty drink.

I don’t really do much ritually beyond a libation to gods and relatives on the other side, and readings from Celtic or Norse myth and legend, being more philosophically minded than religious. As someone who has studied both Celtic and Nordic tradition in a country that had people following either of these paths –- and sometimes a combination of the two -– the deities I honor are reflective of this mixture of traditions.

Jennifer Snook (USA)
Spring is very exciting for us in Iowa. The snow has melted -– finally! –- and we can see the earth again. Our trees start to leaf out. We can get the garden tilled and compost mixed and begin to plant our vegetable seeds indoors. The ice on the pond has melted, we can see the fish again, and be outside without our faces freezing.

Our family ritual this year, and for years to come, centers around our garden and working outside, during which I think deeply about the land spirits on our property. I do sometimes speak to them when I’m working in the yard, or walking by the garden, or sitting by the pond. We just moved here, so everything is very new, and we are all still getting acquainted.

My experience of Heathenry is outside of texts and deity. For me, it is much more about teaching my girls to think of nature as alive and to celebrate the changing seasons by being mindful and deliberate about how we interact with the natural spaces around us.

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Column: Where is community when illness strikes?

Fri, 2016-04-22 09:09

Modern Paganism has matured to where we now have rituals and specialists to help us deal with many of life’s changes and challenges from a religious standpoint. The happy events were first. We have clergy ready to help us get married or handfasted; midwives to assist us in giving birth, and perform naming ceremonies for babies. We also have rituals and spiritual specialists for the tough times. There are ceremonies used for divorce; and we have specific funeral rites. We also have prison and military chaplains, and a growing number of death midwives to help ease us from this world to the next.

[Courtesy Photo]

However, one area is still lacking. How do Pagans navigate through a life threatening or terminal illness? Where are the specialists to help with that? Where are the ceremonies? We do have rituals to send healing energy to a person in need, and those are always greatly appreciated. Just this week, The Wild Hunt featured an article about the emerging Pagan hospital chaplains. Their presence alone would certainly be a sincere comfort in many situations.

We are headed in the right direction. However, as a Pagan facing a life-threatening illness, I can personally tell you that. as a community, we’re not there yet. Let me first share my experience, and then I’ll contrast that with what happens with patients from mainstream religions.

On January 4 I woke up after a colonoscopy to a very somber-faced doctor. He said, “I don’t have good news for you. I have really bad news, in fact. I found a tumor and it was so large I couldn’t complete the procedure.”

I felt my husband take my hand. The surgeon paused and then went on: “We need to be aggressive about getting you to a surgeon. Immediately. I’m sending you out for some scans today.”

He said more, but I don’t remember what. I can only recall the look in my husband’s eyes as he heard the news with me. He was stricken, strong, determined, and trying to hide how frantic he felt.

I was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer, and that is when my whirlwind started: tests, blood draws, meetings with doctors and surgeons. It’s difficult to explain what that time is like unless you’ve experienced something similar. Time warps. A month seems like both a day and a year. Your decision making and ability to focus on anything for more than a few minutes is heavily impaired. Yet at the same time you find yourself lost in thought for hours.

You also have the stress of telling loved ones, and it hits harder each time you say the words, “I have cancer.”

When I told my parents, my mother was plainly in shock. My father couldn’t even look at me; he was so sad. I was ripping the hearts right out of their bodies. I was ripping my own heart out, too.

When this happens, you are vulnerable, and emotionally and spiritually weak. While your family will attempt to help, they are also going to be in shock. Everyone involved needs support. 

What happened to me next is very different for Pagans versus someone within a mainstream religion. In most mainstream religious communities, the moment word leaks out about the diagnosis a well oiled machine swings into action. A clergy person calls or visits to not only check on your spiritual well-being, but also on the family’s needs. The community Prayer Circle is alerted, and weekly prayers begin. Your name is brought before the congregation, where additional prayers are offered.

Colon charm used in offering. [Courtesy Photo]

If you are unable to attend your house of worship, the clergy person brings the service to you. A calendar is drawn up, and volunteers bring meals to your house; your lawn is mowed; your kids are shuttled to volleyball practice; your dishes and toilets are scrubbed. Everyone knows what to do, and they will do this for months without even being asked. The patient can focus on survival, and their family can focus on their loved one.

Now let me relate my experience.

On my the first visit with the surgeon, he asked me if I’d like to talk to a clergy person. I didn’t know what to say. I desperately wished that were possible. I also wished there was some place to pray and leave offerings. Where were the people flying into action? Where were the people leading a team to help me and my family through this ordeal?

I told a few close friends, of different faiths. I had Lutherans in Nebraska and Pagans across the U.S. praying for me. David Salisbury’s coven in Washington D.C. did some seriously magical shit to pull the cancer out of my body. Catholics lit candles and Methodists knit me a blanket. Atheists in Colorado and Arizona kept me in their thoughts. These are just a few examples, all of which touched me to my very soul.

Yet I realized that if I wanted the comfort of the rituals of my faith, Hellenic polytheism, I’d have to figure it out for myself at a time when I had the least capacity to do so. I needed to get a handle on what to do spiritually beyond the simple prayers and offerings at my home altar. When I could get out of bed, I strengthened my household boundaries, and I pulled from my memory what Hellenics did when they became seriously ill back in a time when our religion flourished.

I put out a call on Facebook to my co-religionists in Greece, asking if someone could please make an offering to a temple of Asklepios on my behalf. My plan was simple. I’d send them the offering and they would just need to leave it at the temple with a note that I’d send along. Gwendolyn Reece was able to connect me to a friend of hers, who was able to deliver my offering.

Then, I began preparing. Ancient Greeks would leave replicas of the body part that they needed healing as an offering at the temple. I found an Etsy artisan who made a small silver replica of the intestinal tract. Although it was meant to be hung on a necklace, I thought it perfect as an offering. I contacted the seller to make ensure that the charm could be sent to Greece in time. I included this note, “Asklepios, I have made many offerings to you in the past and will do so for years to come. I’m having surgery to remove the cancer and part of my colon and I ask you to guide the hands of my surgeon. Please accept this offering. Cara Schulz, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.”

The Etsy seller contacted me with the following note:

With that done, I began to take care of the pragmatic things, because making sure your household is in order is important to Hellenics. I updated my Medical Directive. I put people’s’ names on some of my belongings so they could have them if I died. I designated my son to handle my social media accounts. And I wrote my own obituary for The Wild Hunt because there was no way I wanted anyone to write that I lost my battle with cancer.  

At this point, My cat Willow, who had long been ill with lymphoma and FIV, took a turn for the worse. She had survived a year longer than expected under our meticulous care. One day, my husband noticed that she was looking sad and tired so we took her into the vet. The news stunned us. “It appears she has developed colon cancer,” said the vet.

I started laughing and crying at the same time. I couldn’t believe it. Colon cancer.

There’s a thought, in some hearth religions, that beloved pets and family members will draw in a disease to spare another member of the family. A kind of expiation. In the Christian sense, expiation means an atonement for wrong doing. But in Hellenism, it’s a way to get rid of miasma or the ill fortune brought on by a bad spirit.

Over the past few years, we had moved around a bit, never able to truly set up our household boundaries as we should have. Could a bad spirit have entered our home and allowed the cancer to grow in my body? Was Willow trying to make up for that by sacrificing herself so I would live? All I knew, at that moment, was that my soul simply couldn’t bear the weight it felt. I held Willow as we drove her home and whispered “I’m so sorry” into her fur.

It was not mid-January. I’d had two failed procedures that left me weaker than before. I was down below 100 pounds and in constant pain. For over a month, I had consumed only clear liquids, and the stress was causing me to lose all mental focus. I needed an operation to remove the tumor and a section of my colon. The surgeon didn’t want to perform the surgery because of my condition. However, if he didn’t, I wouldn’t survive.

[Courtesy photo]


As my surgery drew near, I prayed silently alone. I held tightly to the coin bearing the face of Asklepios sent by my friend Lamyka, a Hawaiian Pagan. My family was with me around the clock, and I needed them there. However, there was still a gulf because I could not have a comfortable discussion of faith.

One night a nurse came into my room to do her usual checks. She noticed that I was crying, that I was scared and in pain. I was tired of throwing up and weak from hunger. The nurse, like the doctor, asked me if I wanted to talk to clergy person. I explained that there was no clergy there for me. Then I explained a bit about my religion and, since she had some knowledge of the classics, she understood the importance of making offerings. She asked if I’d feel better if, when she got off duty, she took some of my flowers and put them on the statue of the Mayo brothers.

It was a perfect idea. The Mayo brothers founded the world famous Mayo clinic, where I was being treated. They are almost considered demi-gods in the medical profession. We may not have a temple to Asklepios here in the United States, but that statue of the Mayo brothers comes close. The nurse said that they often find flowers or notes on the statue, either asking for healing or giving thanks for a successful procedure.

[Courtesy Photo]

During that time, I received an email that my offering in Greece had been made. Gwendolyn’s friend had left the package there, unopened, and said a prayer for me. I also received a note from Gwendolyn herself saying that she had libated a bottle of wine from Crete and had a candle going for me on her altar. Other friends, Pagan and Christian and Jewish and Atheist, were all praying for me or wishing me well.

On the day of surgery, I taped the coin of Asklepios to the underside of my arm, asking the surgical assistant that it not be removed. He didn’t want to do it. But I explained that it was a religious thing and that I knew that my surgery was very risky. So he added more tape and agreed to leave it there. I also wrote the surgeon a note across my chest that read: “Good luck, Doc.” A little levity can’t hurt, right?

The surgery was a success and, after a few days, I went home. I couldn’t make it down to the family altar in our basement so my husband, an Atheist, brought my incense burner up to the bedroom. He had even gone out to buy the best incense he could find to give thanks for my surgery. It was so touching that he understood the importance of giving thanks immediately when I got home. I didn’t even have to ask him. He was the one who lit the incense and said how happy he was to have me at home, safe. Willow didn’t like the hospital smell, but eventually curled up with me.

[Courtesy photo]


I had complications. I had ER visits. My husband struggled to meet all of his obligations – to work, to me, to our ailing cat Willow – and at the same time eat something other than fast food at odd hours.

I wound up with another 6 day hospital stay, and we just had to let the housekeeping go. But once I was back home, it was clear that I was on the mend from all the complications. Then Willow died. She held on just long enough to see me through. I have never felt so sad or so guilty in my entire life as when I held her little limp paw. Willow died so I could have the best chance at life. All I could do for her was to write an epitaph, a short poem for the dead popular in ancient Greece.

We are as sad at your passing,
Little Girl,
as we were happy to have you in our lives.

You had a kind heart.
Caring for us when we were sick
and comforting us when we cried,
wrapping your little white arms around our wrists.

Now our tears fall
and there is no comfort to be had.
No soft fur to stroke or gentle purr.
You’re simply gone though you fought to stay.

It’s not right that your reward
for sixteen years of love and devotion
is to be ashes in a vase.

After surgery comes healing. I am working to get to the exercise classes for chemo patients so Apollon can bless me with strength. I spend time in the sun for Helios to give me his energy. And I rest within the boundaries and protection of my home, struggling to wash the sheets, to have clean underwear, and to eat real food. Everything takes me 4 times longer than it once did. I often have to stop in the middle because moving can cause me to vomit.

Now, my husband is back working full time. It’s pretty rare for him to come home and have a real dinner. It’s rare that we even have the makings for a real dinner.

I am also enjoying the thrills of chemotherapy. Lots of chemo, with delightful side effects like nausea and painful blisters on my hands, feet, and in my mouth. This all means prayers and offerings to Hygia asking that she help the chemo clear out any leftover cancer cells before they attack my other organs and to please lessen the side effects.

Friends living near Hot Springs, South Dakota have placed offerings at the statue of Hygia there. Hot Springs was a place of recovery for Civil War veterans due to the healing waters that bubble up from its many springs. There is still a large VA medical center there, along with healing pools and springs from which you can drink. As soon as it is possible, I will plan my own trip to Hot Springs so I can make offerings in person and take in its waters.

[Courtesy Photo]

I’m hoping the waters can offset a horrible omen. On my first day of chemo, I went to take my pills, and the very first one fell out of my hand and landed on the floor. I stood there staring at it. In my religion, food or other items that fall through the air and hit the floor have passed through the realm of the living and are now with Hekate in Hades. To ingest something that has fallen on the floor is to literally eat death. I threw that pill away and took the other three. But the feeling of dread hasn’t left me. Was that an omen that chemo won’t work and my cancer will come back? Is it already back? How am I to deal with this? What should I do? Who can I turn to with these questions?

In this entire process, which will continue for a long time, I’ve had to muddle through, dig, guess, and make do with all the spiritual aspects of navigating a serious illness. People of all faiths have to do this. But Pagans, in particular, are at a disadvantage. When we are at our weakest, and most vulnerable, we have be our own anthropologist, clergy, and spiritual advocate. We lack the mundane services that the more mainstream religions enjoy.

There aren’t, for the most part, Pagan clergy and congregations that step in to help during times of serious, chronic, or terminal illness. There wasn’t a Pagan Chaplain or clergy visiting me to hold my hand the night before surgery; to pray out loud with me; to visit me during the long hours when I was at home alone, recovering and just happy to be alive . There wasn’t someone there while I openly wept over the death of the future I once had.

We don’t have any established systems to make offerings at significant places, or to even know where those places would even be. There is no community of co-religionists, as there would be in a church, to bring my exhausted husband meals after driving the two hours back and forth to the hospital while still trying to work a full time job and care for our cat.

It’s not just clergy or concentrated numbers of local Pagans that we lack. It’s a lack of cohesion. Mainstream churches, mosques, and synagogues are a true local-based community with a high degree of cohesion. Even small congregations, with an active clergy person, are able to mobilize and support members in need within hours. In talking with other cancer patients, several said they had casseroles delivered to their door before family could arrive. One related how their church arranged for their children to stay overnight with friends before she and her husband were even done at the colonoscopy center, in order that the parents could have a night to pull themselves together. That church has less than 25 members.

Yet, as a community, we are getting there. I was able to find people to make offerings for me. When I asked, people immediately stepped up to help. I’m pretty sure on the day I had surgery, there were enough candles lit that you could have seen them from the International Space Station. Boxes of snacks and treats, cards, restaurant gift cards, books, things to help with nausea and talismans have poured into my mailbox. And, when I have asked the tough spiritual questions, my friends have answered. Most often the answer was, “I love you.”

So yes, we are getting there. But we’re not there yet.  

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Earth Day 2016: When Do Words Meet Action?

Thu, 2016-04-21 10:12

TWH — Tomorrow marks the 46th anniversary of the celebration of Earth Day. This holiday is considered to be the largest secular celebration recognized throughout the world, with “more than a billion people” honoring the day every year. It is considered to be “a day of action [to] change human behavior and provoke policy changes.” While Earth Day has always had its detractors and critics, it is regularly acknowledged in many diverse ways, both small and big, around the globe. And, in that way alone, it could be considered an Earth Day.

[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]

The actual celebration of a national Earth Day wasn’t marked until 1970 at the height of the American cultural revolution. Founded by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Earth Day was born from a buildup of tension and cultural events occurring over time. This began with the 1962 publication and popularity of Rachel Carson’s landmark book, Silent Spring. 

More directly, according to reports, Sen. Nelson was personally propelled to launch his mission to create an Earth Day “after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California.” A 2014 article at ClimateProgress explains how that one spill “changed everything.” The article explains, “The scope of attention focused on the spill grew along with the mess of oil […]” As reported, then-President Richard Nixon said, “It is sad that it was necessary that Santa Barbara should be the example that had to bring it to the attention of the American people …. The Santa Barbara incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American people.” The article goes on to say:

In the years that followed, the lasting impression of the spill on the public, government officials, and the private sector led to coordinated action unheard of in today’s starkly partisan Congress. Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, which led the way to the July 1970 establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Water Act passed in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

As a result, the American Earth Day was born. Interestingly, Canada launched its own Earth Day ten years later, September 11, 1980, but neither caught on in global terms at that time. The Earth Day idea reportedly “limped along” with limited acknowledgement until the 20th anniversary of the American version in 1990. Nelson spoke to a crowd of “800,000 gathered on the National Mall in Washington D.C.” and said, “I don’t want to have to come limping back here 20 years from now on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day…and have the embarrassing responsibility of telling your sons and daughters that you didn’t do your duty—that you didn’t become the conservation generation that we hoped for.”

Earth Day was then celebrated again in 1995, 2000 and, by that point, had garnered increasing international attention as climate change moved to the forefront of global concerns. By 2010, April 22nd had become internationally recognized as Earth Day. And, just as it was back in 1970, the celebration still has its critics. Is it all “just words?” Has the “holiday” become too commercialized, losing its purpose and activist roots?

[Image Credit: Beautygala.com]

Since its beginning, Earth Day was not propelled by global organizations and large advertising campaigns. It was grassroots operation, encouraging small local actions, cleanup events, and educational efforts, all created by a diversity of people and communities. That idea continues to this day.

Many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists have been participating in the Earth Day experience since its inception. Not only did the environmental movement and the modern Pagan movement in the Unites States come into being around the same time, but many Pagan religious beliefs are deeply Earth-centered, or at the very least, land-driven. This marriage seems logical.

Consequently it is not surprising that, over the years, Pagans, Heathens and polytheists of many backgrounds and traditions have closely worked within the environmental movement, speaking out, hosting actions and even attempting to contribute to the environmental stewardship movement within the global religious sphere. This has become particularly pronounced in recent years.

EcoPagan.com

In 2014, blogger and former editor of Humanistic Paganism John Halstead was inspired to bring people together to create A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment. Critics said that it could not be done. But, less than one year later on Earth Day 2015, the diverse group of internationally-based Pagans, Heathens and polytheists launched that statement. It now has 8,173 signatories from over 80 different countries.

But, looking back, is it all just a bunch of words?

We asked Halstead about the statement and whether he’s seen any tangible results stemming from its creation. While being involved with the process was “transformative” for him personally, Halstead said, “I hope that it has awakened or helped focus an ecological consciousness for those who have signed it, and even for some who haven’t.” But more tangibly speaking, Halstead added, “I have also seen signs that the statement is already helping to increase the credibility of Pagans in the interfaith environmental community, as evidenced by the interest shown in the statement by the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology and other interfaith groups.”

However, Halstead also said that he was disappointed by some in the interfaith community. “I had hoped that the Pagan Statement would be added to the collections of similar statements gathered by Interfaith Power & Light, GreenFaith.org, the Alliance of Religions & Conservation, and others, but so far we have not been successful. Unfortunately, some interfaith environmental groups are still only interested in working with certain religions. I think we Pagans still have work to do to improve our credibility with the interfaith environmental community.”

When asked what most surprised him about the statement project, Halstead noted the number of people who have signed the document over the past year, from well-known figures and organizations to “ordinary individuals” from every continent. The organizing group was hoping to reach 10,000 signatures by April 22, but Halstead said, “Even if we don’t meet that goal by Earth Day, we will soon.”

In conclusion, Halstead added, “Having said all that, [the statement] is just a statement of intention, and without corresponding action on our part, our words will be meaningless. It remains to be seen whether we Pagans will live up to the challenge the Statement sets before us.”

Greening of Religions Symposium

In early April, Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) took this Earth stewardship conversation one a step further and sponsored a symposium focused on the intersection of religion and the environmental movement. The keynote speaker was Bron Taylor, professor of Religion, Nature and Environmental Ethics at the University of Florida. Taylor is the author of several books, Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future. The event was held from April 1-3 at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

Dr. Wendy Griffin, CHS Academic Dean, explained why they picked this particular topic:

In 2015, the American Academy of Religion discussed the need for religions to become involved in the challenges we are facing because of climate change. There is much discussion involving rising seas and their impact on populations in terms of coming displacement, famine and war, but very little on the spiritual crises and needs we will be facing as these devastating events occur. We see climate change as the greatest moral issue to ever face humanity, as it brings into question our relationship with the entire web of life and its future. The greening of religion is a phrase that suggests the growing awareness of religions of our responsibility to and dependence upon nature.

As a seminary, we chose this theme for the symposium because scientists tell us there is a window of opportunity in which we can make some significant changes and prevent the worst of what may come. For this reason, we made the symposium an interfaith event, because it will take all of us together to take the necessary action.

Both Griffin and CHS Executive Director Holli Emore put together this unique Pagan symposium that attracted people from a number of different religions, backgrounds and countries. Griffin said, “For me one of the highlights was getting to meet, spend time with, and learn from people who are passionate and doing something about this issue. From the Salvation Army researcher in Australia to the Pagan scholar from Canada, there were many different approaches to action. All of them are needed. ”

Emore added, “For the first time, CHS hosted a truly interfaith and religiously-diverse event. At the same time, that event had firm footing in a Pagan seminary (with a public university), underscoring the importance of the ideas and values we Pagans can bring to the coming environmental crisis.”

[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]

As we reported in the past, Pagan attendees spoke highly of the symposium, its content and of its importance, but they also noted the low Pagan turnout. When asked why she thought that was the case, Griffin said, “To be fair, at least half of those attending we knew to be some form of Pagan, but the low response was a real disappointment for me.” Then she added:

Symposiums are intellectual forums, and even though we included a strong activist element, perhaps this appealed more to scholars, whose institutions  are reluctant to pay travel for small conferences. Perhaps the topic of climate change seems too distant (polar bears and Micronesia) or too huge and overwhelming to inspire people to attend. The fact that it was designed to be interfaith may have made it less attractive to some. People tend to argue that Pagans have no money, but we know that Pagans make choices in how to invest their resources and that their demographics are not that different from other people. […] A symposium on climate change doesn’t sound particularly fun or magical. And if people feel overwhelmed or helpless by the issue, it simply won’t attract, however vitally important it may be.

Emore said, “As Pagans, we accept that change is a given, but as humans we are seldom prepared for it, and still less often are we prepared to take action that will serve others experiencing change-related distress.”

Emore and Griffin will be evaluating how and if to move forward with the symposium in the future. More specifically, they are hoping to offer their unique standalone 3-hour environmental leadership workshop at other venues, Pagan or interfaith. In addition, CHS will be publishing the entire symposium’s content “as Cherry Hill Seminary Press, with Dr. Jonathan Leader of the University of South Caroline leading the editorial team.” That book will be available in paper and digital formats through CHS and other online retailers. The specific publication date is not yet known.

But, with only two weeks gone since the symposium ended, CHS has already made strides in the continuation of this dialog. The seminary has just announced the launch of a new Environmental Leadership Certificate program. Griffin explained, “It covers a range of information: human and non-human living systems, the science of denial, advocacy and organizing, earth congregations and nature spirituality, fundraising and nonprofit skills, leadership, and more.” CHS is currently taking applicants and, although it requires college-level work, students “do not have to have any kind of degree to take the classes, just courage and determination to change the world.”

But is it all just words? Did any tangible work come out of the CHS weekend event? Like Halstead, Griffin noted the important connections being made on an interfaith level. For example, she cited that she was able to “link up with the Green Seminary Movement.” She believes that “Pagans can make a unique ‘green contribution’ in Interfaith and in the events these communities sponsor.”

But, like Halstead, she also doesn’t believe that “we are doing enough.” Griffin said:

Many of us recycle, but that is just a very tiny part of what is needed. We need to make the issue of climate change, the causes of it, and the possible remediation actions more visible. Pagans are immensely creative, and we need to use that creativity in bringing the issues to the forefront. We can’t all make movies like “Avatar,” but we can tell stories and make music, create and share rituals, develop video games and children’s play, and a million other things. We need to make the discussion of climate change commonplace. And we need to march and lobby and petition.

That very concern was directly raised at the symposium. Halstead, who was at the CHS event, explained, “At the Greening of Religions conference in South Carolina last month, Bron Taylor asked the Pagans present whether there was a Pagan environmental network in existence.” The answer was no. As a result, a new group was formed. Halstead said that Taylor’s question “prompted Wild Hunt columnist, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, to create a Facebook group by that name (Pagan Environmental Network), which has taken the Pagan Community Statement as a starting point.”

Tejeda-Moreno explained further: “The keynote speaker said that there didn’t seem to be a group for intergroup dialogue […] so, I set up the Facebook group, added the conference attendees and then we started to add others based on suggestions.” This new group is small with the objective to serve as a “clearinghouse, link source and dialogue center for environmental issues and Pagan-centered responses to them.” Tejeda-Moreno added that they already have talked about migrating from Facebook when and if they grow.

As Earth Day approaches, global attention is being diverted to our planetary ecosystem and our role as stewards. Some of that attention is genuine; some of it is talk; some of it is purely commercial. Griffin said, ” Of course it is becoming commercialized. At the same time, it raises awareness. Personally, I’d like to see large public rituals on Earth Day that we design and lead.”

Roadside trash found during a cleanup action [Public Domain]

Many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists are doing just that. They are preparing to celebrate or honor Earth Day, as well as the unique role their own spirituality plays within the larger interfaith environmental movement. From local communities to national organizations, actions, events, prayers and rituals are scheduled.

For example, in Michigan, the Ancient Faiths Alliance is sponsoring a “Plant Your Dreams Earth Day Event.” In Virginia, Spiral Grove is hosting a Saturday lake cleanup event, saying: “In addition to keeping the lake areas clean, the experience allows us to focus on the simple and natural education that the lake environment provides to both adults and youth.” And similarly, as we posted Monday, the Jean Williams London Earth Day cleanup action and picnic tradition will go on as it has in past years.

The New York Environmental Pagan Coalition has posted an article listing general New York-based Earth Day events for its membership to attend. In Wisconsin, where Earth Day was founded, Circle Sanctuary will be hosting a full moon circle Friday, and Rev. Selena Fox will offer a “Earth Day Every Day” Sunday Service April 24 at the Open Circle Unitarian Universalists in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

For those who are unable to join a live community event but would like to participate in the conversation, Pagan activist and author Starhawk will be speaking at a free online conference called Earth Day Summit 2016. The event, held Apr. 22, is described as “an unprecedented gathering of esteemed green experts, innovators, activists, scientists, visionaries and spiritual leaders coming together to unite their wisdom for you.” Registration is required.

You can also hear Starhawk speak about her environmental work with Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox on the Circle Talk podcast called “EcoPagan EcoMagic,” which originally aired Tuesday night at 7 p.m. CT. Additionally, Rev. Fox has also offered for free download her “Nature Pathways guide with Environmental themed rites, meditations, actions.”

We welcome all of our readers to list their local, public Earth Day activities and events in the comments below.

Happy Earth Day from The Wild Hunt!

[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]

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Healing for the Spirit: Pagan Hospital Chaplains

Wed, 2016-04-20 11:14

TWH — Chaplains tend to work in places where religious needs are felt strongly: military bases, prisons, hospitals. In the past, The Wild Hunt has spotlighted some of the work of Pagan prison and military chaplains, but it is the hospital chaplains that most people are likely to encounter at some point in their lives. As the need for Pagan Chaplains grow, more people are doing this very specialized work. Cherry Hill Seminary, a Pagan-specific learning institution, and other interfaith-based seminaries have well-established programs and classes that train people in this area.

We reached out to a number of Pagans who work are working as chaplains in the health care field, and we received responses from four members of Circle Sanctuary. Rev. Selena Fox aired a podcast focusing on hospital chaplains just a few weeks ago, which includes in-depth discussions with several such chaplains affiliated with Circle Sanctuary. Michelle Castle and Tiffany Andes are both studying health care chaplaincy at Iliff School of Theology, and will soon hold Masters of Divinity degrees. Fox’s own experience as a public Pagan minister predates Pagans serving in official capacities, and she’s had to develop a wide variety of ministerial skills as a consequence of being a pioneer. Additionally, we spoke with Cernowain Greenman (Rev. Tim Staker), who is reportedly the only full-time Pagan hospital chaplain currently in the field.

[Photo Credit: rolensfx / youtube]

The Wild Hunt: Prison and military chaplains have experience in working with specific populations. What is unique about the hospital population, and the needs you’re asked to serve there?

Rev. Selena Fox: I have done ministry service in prisons, at military installations, on campuses, at hospices, and in a variety of healthcare settings as part of my work through Circle Sanctuary. . . . In addition to providing direct spiritual care to those in need in various institutions, part of my work today involves doing diversity education and Pagan religious accommodation training with chaplains and administrative staff in various types of institutions.

Each category of institutional setting has its own types of protocols and considerations. It is essential in doing spiritual care in an institutional setting that you learn about the system and its regulations and that you abide by them.

In doing work in a hospital setting, in addition to providing support to a patient and interfacing with staff, it is common to also connect with the patient’s support network of family & friends. Both the patient and her/his loved ones are usually impacted by the hospitalization and in need of spiritual care. When I do ministry in a prison or military installation, rarely do I connect with loved ones of those there.

Tiffany Andes: Hospital populations are unique in that their needs can vary greatly, but are also almost always directly related to health concerns. Either they are in an inpatient situation of some sort, or they may be receiving long-term treatment for cancer or other similar cases. The questions and concerns that come up around these criteria generally have to do with managing illness, family connections, trauma, and in some cases, moving into hospice and end of life situations. As a chaplain you have to be open to holding space for those discussions and being a companion to patients and their families without judgement during some of the most stressful times in their lives.

Michelle Castle: Hospital chaplaincy is unique in that we are able to be present for individuals, families, and staff during times of physical crisis. Care is variable depending on whether the crisis is acute and emergent, or if they have been dealing with long-term illness. We also are in the midst of all stages of life, being present when life comes into the world and at the end of life.

Cernowain Greenman: By definition, chaplains are clergy to people who have been displaced from their home, whether because of military deployment, illness, prison, education at university, government service, etc.

Hospital chaplains serve the spiritual needs of people who find themselves in medical institutions because of a serious illness or injury. Patients can be lonely, afraid, anxious, frustrated, angry, etc., and often without emotional support. They are sometimes disconnected from their spiritual family as well, missing ritual gatherings and in need of spiritual support. Chaplains are specially trained spiritual leaders who help facilitate the meeting of these needs.

TWH: Given how important it is for a chaplain to be able to serve someone of any religion, how important is it to have Pagan hospital chaplains specifically?

SF: Those serving as a chaplain in institutional settings, regardless of their religious orientation and religious organization endorsement, need to be skilled in communicating with and providing support to those of different religions as well as those who consider themselves spiritual and not religious and those who are humanist, atheist, agnostic and/or freethinkers.

However, it is important to have Pagans in chaplaincy work for several reasons: (1) to be available to share information as needed about Pagan religions/spirituality to other chaplains and staff in an institution that may providing support to Pagan patients and/or Pagan family and friends of a patient and may be interacting with Pagan ministers visiting patient and loved ones, (2) to help Pagans not in the hospital understand effective ways of working with hospital systems as a whole and chaplains and spiritual care staff in particular in getting needs met for themselves and loved ones when the need arises, (3) to diversity and educate the profession of chaplaincy in an increasingly pluralistic world, and (4) to help Paganism achieve equal rights and respect in society as a whole.

TA: Having Pagan hospital chaplains speaks to the higher goal of true interfaith representation within institutionalized ministry. While it can be argued that chaplains of any faith should be able to serve patients regardless of faith orientation, the fact remains that as a minority faith Pagans still feel stigmatized in many common societal settings. Having chaplain representation in such an important location emphasizes equality among faith traditions.

MC: I think that Tiffany answered this question beautifully.

CG: While many chaplains are willing and able to provide emotional support to Pagan patients, if the chaplain is Christian or of another faith, they usually are unable to meet the spiritual needs of a Pagan, since they lack the understanding of Pagan spirituality and ritual. A Pagan chaplain can understand and help meet the spiritual needs of other Pagans much better than non-Pagan chaplains.

The Pagan community has grown to a point where many find themselves hospitalized, sometimes far from home, and in need of spiritual support. Pagan hospital chaplains are needed now, especially for Pagan patients.

TWH: What do you do if you’re completely unfamiliar with the religion of a new patient? Is it different if the unfamiliar religion is a Pagan one?

SF: When I worked as a psychotherapist in a hospital and in an outpatient mental health clinic and had a new patient, I invited the patient to share religious, spiritual, and/or philosophical perspectives and orientation as part of intake. I used the same approach whether the patient was Pagan or not.

TA: In the majority of cases, if a patient has a specific religious request (communion, priestly sacraments, etc) the requests will go directly to the representative of that denomination. In general settings, you may come across a religion that isn’t common, but one that we have received education on and we are familiar with. If I need clarification I always ask the patient how I can best serve them–is it through prayer, reflective meditation, chanting, etc? Would they prefer I put them in contact with a community representative of their own faith? I have yet to come across a Pagan patient that I could not connect with or assist in some way to meet their spiritual needs.

MC: I consider this to be an opportunity to learn, and that even when we are familiar with a specific religion or tradition, that each person has their own unique beliefs and values within the traditions. I love to learn more about how others experience their faith and as a chaplain, I am able to be present to listen to how one processes a crisis and how that intersects with their faith. For me being able to be present to one and meeting them where they are is important and I can find points of connection with any tradition.

CG: When I meet new patients, as I am talking with them, I do what is called a spiritual assessment to determine the patient’s sources of inner strength, how they make meaning of their illness, and what resources they have to help them through this difficult time in their lives. I help them get in touch with whatever it is that strengthens their spirit—which may or may not be religious.

I keep a number of apps on my phone of different religious traditions to help me—from rosary prayers to recitations of the Qur’an to Buddhist meditation timers. For Pagans I have apps that utilize Tarot, Runes, bird songs and Nature sounds, and even one for candle lighting (since most hospitals do not allow real candles to be lit). But I also have battery candles, as well as a collection of healing stones. In addition, I have created printable booklets with words of encouragement for a dozen different faiths, including one for followers of Earth-based religions. If I am unable to meet specific religious needs, I will invite a religious leader from the community to come in to help, with the patient’s permission.

Most importantly, I also offer to be a supportive companion with patients in their healing journey, no matter what spiritual path they are on.

[Photo Credit: Ahs856 / Wikimedia]

TWH: Are you prepared in case you are yourself unexpectedly hospitalized?

SF: My hospital ministry work has helped me prepare for hospitalizations, anticipated as well as unexpected for me and for loved ones. I have been able to take my understanding of healthcare systems to get my needs as a Pagan accommodated, such having a small healing altar in my hospital room & having soothing Pagan Celtic harp recording played during an operation. I also have been able to interface with the spiritual care department at the hospital to make certain that ritual with friends could happen in my room.

TA: I was in fact unexpectedly hospitalized in July of last year for a week. I refused any visits from the chaplain’s office.

MC: I have a great support group, from family and close friends that I can reach out to if I am in need. I feel that being in the healthcare field for many years, that I am uniquely prepared from the medical aspects of care, having a living will and directives. I know how to navigate the healthcare system as well as how to incorporate my specific spiritual needs.

CG: I have an altar at home that can be taken in to the hospital with relative ease, if I were to be hospitalized for a lengthy period. And I have in my contacts phone numbers of local Pagan friends, some who are clergy, for my support. When I have been registered as a patient, I let the hospital clerk know my spiritual preference is Wiccan and ask that my beliefs be respected since my spirituality is my main resource for getting well.

TWH: Could you describe what you’ve done to prepare for your own spiritual wellbeing?

SF: For those of us involved in ministering to others, it is essential that we also do spiritual care for ourselves. For me this includes beginning each day with a series of spiritual practices. I reflect on dreams and I do a Greet the Day Sacred Circle, Sacred Sphere ceremony. I also endeavor to spend time outside each day, usually in the form of a meditative nature walk. And, I take time away from mobile devices, screens, and other technology each day to commune with nature.

TA: Knowing how chaplaincy can take a lot out of you emotionally and physically, it is essential to have a self-care regimen for when you are not seeing patients. I try to rest as much as possible and get plenty of sunshine. I also do reflective meditation, spend time with my family, and exercise. I find it is absolutely true that we cannot be there for others if we have not first taken care of ourselves–and there is no shame in admitting that is a necessary component of the caregiving process.

MC: I think that having core spiritual practices that occur daily is important. My morning prayers and meditation help to keep me grounded and centered. The daily practices keep me connected with the Divine within me as well as without. The importance of self-care and creating space to take care of myself is highly needed. I have developed techniques that build in the time to breathe and to check in with myself throughout the day. This includes taking the time to reground and center before entering a room and after leaving a care conversation. This helps me to discern my own emotions and thoughts that are kept separate from the care-seekers. This also creates space for me to energetically clear and take only what is mine and to release what energy isn’t mine.

CG: In order to be a support to others I’ve found I have to keep a daily ritual time, usually in the morning. I make sure my chakras are in balance before I meet with any patient. I also find reading prepares my spirit, and lately I’ve been reading ancient Gnostic texts and the new biography of Doreen Valiente for inspiration.

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Growing Up Pagan: an interview with Avens O’Brien

Tue, 2016-04-19 10:29

TWH – Most Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists were once something else, and then converted to whatever flavor of Pagan they currently enjoy. Many of us have to unlearn, study, and translate the religious beliefs tucked within our brains, almost as if we were speaking a second language. While this eventually may become natural for some, it is never the same for people raised within Pagan homes. In those cases, Paganism is the norm, and they are totally unself-conscious about their religion. This shows in ways both large and small.

What if you were not only raised as a Pagan, but you were raised in a household where some of the most famous Pagan authors often dropped by? Where you could learn, through casual interaction and observation, from the founders of major traditions?

Avens O’Brien had just such an upbringing. Her mother, Domi O’Brien, was friends with some of the most well known Pagans of the era as well as some of the top intellectual luminaries of the budding libertarian movement. Magic and monetary policy, a person’s Will and the right to self-agency were part of O’Brien’s home life and festival vacations.

I met up with Avens O’Brien while looking for younger libertarian voices, who were also second generation libertarians, to fill a keynote slot for the Libertarian Party of Minnesota State Convention. A fellow Pagan suggested Avens. This piqued my curiosity. Then I looked at Avens Facebook friends list which reads like a Who’s Who of both the Pagan and libertarian communities. A video of her dancing with Jeffrey Tucker? Childhood friends with Arthur Lipp-Bonewitts?

I booked her for the convention, but I was also intensely curious about her childhood and how growing up Pagan is different from converting. She agreed to talk with me. 

Avens O’Brien and Domi O’Brien [Courtesy Photo]

The Wild Hunt: When you spoke in front of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota as their keynote, you talked about how your childhood, although normal to you was a bit different. You related how your mother made dinner for Murray Rothbard, which drew some envy from the crowd. You also mentioned during your keynote your mother was a Pagan High Priestess, also not mainstream. Can you tell me a bit about what religion, or religions, you were raised in?

Avens O’Brien: My mother’s a Druid High Priestess, former Preceptor for ADF, who honors a fairly reconstructionist path of Celtic & Norse pantheons & rituals. She started her own grove in New Hampshire and her own group called the Druidic Association of North America. My father is Pagan clergy as well, more eclectic Wiccan, I believe. I’m less familiar with his variation of the faith because my parents divorced when I was fairly young, and I rarely spent religious holidays with him, but he leads rituals even now in a fairly eclectic Pagan circle called Hands of Change in New Jersey.

I grew up with Pagan Yule Carols, and going to festivals where my parents would often speak on Pagan rituals or traditions, and going to events centered around usually Druidic practice. One of my mother’s long time friends was the late Isaac Bonewits, and he was at times a bit of a mentor to me. His son is like family to me.

Mum really likes ritual and trying to incorporate what we know historically about the cultures we draw from. Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain were celebrations with feasts, offerings, and rituals and stories pulled from what we imagine or speculate our ancestors did. For equinoxes and solstices we followed a more Norse set of rituals, with an Oath, Toast & Boast. We gave blood to the fire on Imbolc to put ourselves under the goddess Brigid’s protection; we raised a Maypole during Beltaine; we played funeral games in honor of Lugh’s mortal foster mother at Lughnasadh and built a great fire and honored our ancestors at Samhain. Yule, we stayed up through the night with the fire, to make sure the sun would return on the other side of the longest night

TWH: At what point did you realize that not everyone raised a Maypole or celebrated Imbolc?

AO: I was probably 6 or so. We had some Christian neighbors, and their kids found it simultaneously interesting and mock-worthy. Mum let them come to ritual with their parents’ permission (or with their parents). I was interested in their beliefs, so they promptly told me about the devil and Hell and not believing in Jesus would send me there.

Mum explained that there are many Gods out there and the Christian one is a bit jealous and can be cruel to his followers, and she had no interested in worshipping that God. We were protected by our own.

I had Jewish friends and Catholic relatives, so I actually got heavily exposed to their faiths. I didn’t ever believe in them, but I thought some traditions were kind of neat. I always wanted to know what Communion bread tasted like. I went to Catholic Mass with my friend and almost pretended to be Catholic just to try it.

TWH: How do you think being raised in Druidry affected your world view?

AO: Sometimes I am not sure if my religious faith or my political chances that I was raised in had more of an impact or if they simply worked very well together. I’ve always felt Paganism and libertarianism were natural bedfellows.

Because my mother was polytheistic I embraced the idea that there were many gods and many different ways to worship them, and there was no one true way to believe in something sacred or divine. The gods that I believed in were gods of my ancestors, and it didn’t make sense for everyone to worship them so I never thought to convert anyone. I have taken a similar stance in my life in my respect for other people’s beliefs and choices. My moral codes have always surrounded respect for an individual’s agency in making their own choices and the idea that consequences for those choices should simply be whatever the natural consequence of that happens to be and not some arbitrary rules in a book.

I was raised that honesty was honor, word is bond. My mother has a saying, that “Work as worship, service as sacrament, and hearth as altar.” I’m sure there are many ways to interpret what she means, but even as an adult, [now] as an agnostic atheist, I think of my service to others and my ability to help others as an expression of my faith in community and other human beings, I think of the work that I invest myself in as honoring that which I value, and I think of my home and my dinner table as the place to offer food, drink, rest and shelter to those I respect.

I find that many of the lessons I was raised in, and traditions we had, have an interpretation I can still utilize without theology.

[Courtesy Photo]

TWH: You had many well known and well respected people in Libertarianism and Austrian economics in and out of your home as guests. Was the same true for well-known Pagans? And did the two groups ever mix?

AO: One of the weird factors of childhood immersion into this stuff is sometimes people come into your life when you’re a child and you don’t actually realize how significant they are to the outside world.

When we were attending events like Rites of Spring and Starwood and other large Pagan gatherings, we knew most of the people there, including well-known authors and speakers. Every once in awhile, I forget that not everybody is Facebook friends with individuals who literally wrote the book on modern Paganism, or run the largest Pagan organizations in the country. The late Margot Adler heard me sing Isaac Bonewits’ song the “Hymn to Brighid” and loved it. She actually used a recording of it on NPR when he passed away.

Our religious community was mixed in terms of their political beliefs – mostly liberals and libertarians. But we had a significant enough group of libertarians I always assumed the two worlds came together more than they actually do.

I don’t remember anybody “famous” within the two groups intersecting, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t, especially in the 70s before I came along.

TWH: What anecdote best shows what it was like to be raised as a Druid?

AO: I have so many random stories. I was side by side with my mother through much of my childhood. She didn’t shield me from realities of the world; she just made sure she was there to explain the sad and the weird and the hardships. She raised me as a bit of a priestess-in-training. To this day, I can draw tarot, tell you about your sign, walk you through a tree meditation, or even lead a proper Druidic ritual if I was so inclined. She brought me with her during prison ministries, visiting local schools with Druidic groups, and going to Costco to purchase bulk food supplies to give to people who had less than we did. 

When my dearest fellow-Pagan friend got her first period, I was maybe 10, she was 13 or so. Our Grove (the term for a group of Druids) incorporated a womanhood ceremony into our normal ritual, and she was presented with a dagger, which she was told could be used to protect her. The symbolism of the dagger was cloaked in euphemism (some dirty jokes and some very tactful statements) during the ritual but it was effectively “you’re now an attractive young woman, and if someone tries to rape you, cutting him is entirely acceptable.”

That young woman is actually one of the most vocal advocates for consent and for rape victims I know to this day. I didn’t like the ceremony though. As I mentioned, there were plenty of bawdy jokes, and I found it uncomfortable with a Grove of mixed gender, to commentate on a woman’s budding sexuality and fertility. I asked my mother not to do the ritual for me when it was my turn, and she respected my wishes, which I was very glad of. My mother felt, beyond religious preference, that my agency and comfort were important, and she wouldn’t force me to participate in a ritual I didn’t desire.

I knew a number of other Pagan children – I’d say I probably had 4 or 5 kids I spent a lot of time with who were also Pagan (besides my two older brothers). I knew a lot more though. There’s a Pagan group out in Western MA that does a lot of events and rituals, and there were more kids there; some I was close to at different times in my childhood, depending on how well our parents were getting along. When other kids attended the rituals, we were always given jobs to do to help with the ritual and the feast and the gathering in general. It was a lot of fun.

TWH: How do you think it’s different, to be raised as a Pagan, rather than converting?

AO: I think much like my political affiliation, I feel much less compelled to “defend” it or prove myself. I know a lot of young Pagans who convert and go through a very anti-Christian stage or “persecuted Pagan complex.” I never really had that stage. I have always known my rights, and I never looked at Paganism as a rebellion. It was just standard.

To be fair, there are many people who do not fall into that “anti” stage at any point, and I hate mass generalizations. I think it just comes down to a natural comfort with the “weird” Pagan stuff. I always said things like “oh my gods” and sang Yule carols, which were practically Christmas songs with Pagan lyrics. I realized recently I don’t even know the lyrics to the Christmas carols.

I think the main difference is simply just what one is most familiar with. My childhood memories, in retrospect, seem filled with magic. Maybe everybody’s do, mine was just more literal about it.

Speaking at LPMN Convention [Courtesy Photo]

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Pagan Community Notes: Florida Pagan Gathering, Ár nDraíocht Féin, Voodoo Spiritual Temple and more!

Mon, 2016-04-18 09:51

FLORIDA – While putting the final touches on its upcoming festival, Temple of Earth Gatherings (TEG) has found itself, once again, at the center of community controversy. TEG’s Florida Pagan Gathering (FPG) is a popular festival and has been one of the most well-attended Pagan events in that state since its inception in 1995. But, in 2014, the TEG board hit a snag, when it invited Yvonne and Gavin Frost, two teachers considered controversial, to present at that year’s spring event.

Since that point, FPG has be staged biannually without incident until recent months. In January, the Frosts announced that they would be returning to the festival circuit and attending FPG 2016, but the couple made no mention of offering any workshops. That comment went largely unnoticed. Then, two weeks ago, an anonymous person emailed an unpublished FPG 2016 festival booklet to a large group of people. The booklet listed the Frosts as workshop presenters, which immediately launched a public conversation, raising old concerns. Rumors and stories began quickly circulating.

When TEG became aware that the booklet was out, it announced that that circulating booklet had not been approved nor was it official. Within one week, TEG provided a new one that did not list the Frosts as presenters. The TEG Board would not confirm or deny any of the rumors and declined any further comment.

Sage. a former FPG staff member, told The Wild Hunt that he and several others resigned over this very issue. Until recently, Sage was the FPG workshop coordinator and he said, “I resigned largely because I was instructed that it was my job to keep secret certain workshops that the Board of Directors was aware would upset some portion of the community. This deceit came in direct conflict with my moral and ethical codes of conduct.” There are also reportedly some legal copyright issues involving the printing and publication of the two festival booklets, which have nothing directly to do with the workshop issue itself. Sage added that he personally will not be attending the event.

At this point, FPG is still moving forward. Several scheduled presenters have confirmed that they will be attending after speaking privately with the board about raised concerns, and no protests against TEG are currently in the works. As for the Frosts, they typically communicate via “snail mail” and could not respond for comment in time for publication. But we will update this story as needed.

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TUCSON, Ariz. – Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) announced the election of its new Archdruid Rev. Jean Pagano. Effective May 1, Rev. Pagano will “take the reins” from Rev. Kirk Thomas, who has been serving as ADF’s spiritual and administrative leader since 2010. Pagano said, “I am touched and honoured that people have chosen me to be their Arch Druid – it is not a challenge that I take lightly and I promise to be Archdruid to all members.”

This past Saturday, Rev. Thomas led his final ritual as Archdruid at Trillium. He said, “I think that it’s been a good six years, and it has always been my intent to serve ADF well, but it’s time for me to move on. I shall, of course, remain highly involved in ADF, and perhaps even hold some minor leadership roles in the future, but I shall also be taking more time for myself. I want to thank everyone in ADF who has supported me in my journey as ADF Archdruid, and I know that ADF shall continue to grow and thrive in the future.”

Rev. Pagano will served as Archdruid for the next three years. He was thankful to be chosen and said, “He added, I want to thank the Earth Mother, the Kindreds, and all of the people who have made ADF what it is today. May the Gods always provide.”

*   *   *

Priestess Miriam with Aiyda [Courtesy Photo]

NEW ORLEANS – Priestess Miriam of the Voodoo Spiritual Temple has announced the new location for her famous New Orleans temple. As we previously reported, on Feb 1, the historic building, which had been the temple’s home for twenty-four years, was destroyed by an electrical fire. At first Priestess Miriam had hoped that renovations would allow her to move back into the classic Creole cottage. However, that was not the case. Damage was too severe.

She began searching for a new location, which was reportedly “not an easy task in one of America’s most fastly gentrifying and expensive cities.” However, she was finally able to locate a space at 1428 North Rampart near its intersection with Esplanade. Witchdoctor Utu reports, “The New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple will begin a brand new era.” He also said that the temple is “not out of the woods yet.” Most of the renovations and moving tasks are complete but the setup and “sense of normalcy” has yet to return.

On behalf of Priestess Miriam, Utu added, “We cannot thank everyone enough who have contributed to the still existing GoFundMe campaign, this would simply not have been possible with out the beautiful people who continue to support, promote and contribute to the various fund raising efforts, much of it from around the entire North American Continent. Lots of work ahead but we continue to count our blessings and gratitude abounds. Soon enough we will be able to share some photos of the new building as it begins to settle into its new home.”

In Other News

  • Earth Day is coming up Friday, Apr. 22 and people around the world are planning their events. In dedication to that day, several Pagans in London are reviving a yearly tradition formerly run by Wiccan High Priestess Jean Willams (1928-2015). On Apr. 23, organizers and attendees will gather at 1 pm at the Highgate Tube Station, Priory Gardens exit. They will then walk from the “tube to the wood.” The group will collect “rubbish in Queens Wood till about 3:30 pm.”  After that, the group will picnic and a have an “attunement in the clearing.” Organizers look forward to seeing everyone come out for this London Earth Day tradition.
  • Similarly, Tuesday Apr. 19, Starhawk will join Rev. Selena Fox on her weekly podcast to discuss current environmental issues, climate change and ways to incorporate eco-activism in daily life. Additionally, Starhawk will talk about her “Earth Activist trainings, her permaculture work, and her visionary novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing and its long-awaited sequel, City of Refuge.” The podcast, titled “EcoPagan EcoMagic,” will air Tuesday night at 7 pm CT. 
  • The Troth is preparing to host its annual event called Trothmoot. This year’s four day camping festival will be held in Port Townsend, Washington at Ft. Flagler State Park. The organization writes, “Heathens from all over the world are invited to gather in the Pacific Northwest for a celebration of Heathen diversity and spirituality. Hosted by Hrafnar and Heathen Freehold Troth KAP Kindreds, and our Washinton and Pacific Northwest Troth members, come for fellowship, ritual, workshop, skaldship, and of course Northwest hospitality.” Trothmoot begins June 9 and runs through June 12. Registration is open on the Troth’s site.
  • On May 1, Heathens United Against Racism will be hosting Light the Beaconsa worldwide action calling “on all Heathens around the world who stand for inclusive, tolerant, and diverse practice to light a beacon in solidarity with all other Heathens who stand for these values in our spirituality.” HUAR asks participating individuals to light a candle, or some other form of light, at any point during that day. They also ask for photos of that light to be posted on the event Facebook event site. Organizers write, “Together we will ignite a fire in our hearts and homes that will push back the shadows of fear & ignorance, shine light on our honor, and rally the hopes of Heathens everywhere.
  • Athena: Sharing Current Research is still looking for presenters for its June conference in London. The site explains, “This conference will share current research on a deity that has been a topic of interest since the dawn of classical scholarship and through its various ‘turns.’ The event will appraise various ways to approach the goddess by drawing together current researchers from the UK, France, Italy, and, we hope, elsewhere.” Submissions are due by Apr. 30. The conference will take place on June 3 at the “Adam Room, Grove House, University of Roehampton, London.”

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

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A Spectrum of Beauty: Living with Autism

Sun, 2016-04-17 10:42

TWHOne average hot summer day, a 30-something woman and her 5-year-old boy entered a suburban public pool space. Brimming with youthful excitement, the child, who was unusually large for his age, awkwardly bounced around his mother’s legs in anticipation of a good swim. As the woman unloaded her bags, filled with toys, snacks, towels and other pool needs, onto an unoccupied reclining chair, the child approached a sunbathing adult and introduced himself.

[Photo Credit: Drink Hoist / Flickr]

“Hi. My name is Matt. I’m going to go swimming,” he said with a cheerful smile. Then, he proceeded to look through the stranger’s bag for pool toys. The mother quickly came over, redirected her son and apologized. Fear, desperation and helplessness were written into her face and underscored her apology.

“I’m sorry. He has autism,” she said and led him away. She had done this many times before. It was a common happening, and she was clearly exhausted. While that seemingly benign moment may have been a daily occurrence, it was not this particular type of interaction that had etched the many stress lines into her face and justified her daily caution. But her underlying fear and nervousness were justified only a few short hours later. 

On that hot Saturday afternoon, the small community pool had become increasingly crowded. Adults and children were everywhere, eating, talking, playing and listening to music stations. The stereo, from where the music came, sat high on a shelf in an open pool house and could be heard throughout the space. In the past, it was not uncommon for the stereo to be a source of tension as adults argued over station and volume. But on this particular day, the stereo became the catalyst for a much bigger and more difficult community battle.

The music had been upsetting Matt, the autistic child. Throughout the day, he repeatedly climbed onto a dangerously high counter top to shut the stereo off. In response, the mother had to retrieve him, expressing apologies, offering explanations and making repeated requests that the stereo be left silent. Many of the pool-goers had personal iPods or were reading books, so to her this seemed like a reasonable request. And, at first no one cared, but eventually, as more people arrived, that changed.

“You need to control your child,” said one newly arrived older man.

The rising tensions between the crowd and the family only worsened when a woman left the pool’s front gate open, while she went to smoke. The autistic child saw the opening and excitedly ran out into the parking lot. Once again, the exhausted mother quickly retrieved him, and then shut the gate. This angered the woman outside, who promptly returned, yelling at both the mother and her newly-arrived husband.

“You don’t belong here,” she screamed. “We are not going to change our rules for one child. You need to control him.”

By this point the father had had enough. He was yelling uncontrollably at this woman and her husband as well as the group wanting to control the radio; his pain and frustration seethed through his pores as he shouted profanities into the crowd. The mother was left cowering in a corner crying, and the entire pool deck was held hostage by a volatile situation, which only ended when the police arrived and escorted the family from the public space.

That is a true story. It is an extreme story, and one that didn’t need to end that way.* 

April is autism awareness month. It’s an opportunity to focus on the realities of living with an autism spectrum disorder, either as a parent or as an affected person. During this month, advocacy groups and individuals hope that communities will not only take a moment to become more educated about the limitations and needs of those with autism, but also recognize the unique beauty that emanates from these lives.

[Image Credit: Kentucky National Guard / Flickr]

Vicky Bailey, a Pagan, Reiki master and poet, was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. She said:

This diagnosis came as a blessing. It helped me to begin to make sense of my life experiences, and to appreciate who I am. As I teenager I was seldom interested in meeting up with friends and going shopping. I much preferred my own company, and that of my books. This withdrawal from social interactions allowed me to pursue my childhood fascination with ancient mythology and ancient cultural practices. […]I later learned that autistic children will often have an extremely obsessive fixation with a particular interest, and display a deep fascination and in-depth knowledge of the interest that appears beyond their years.

What exactly is autism or the autism spectrum disorders? The Center for Disease Control defines it as “a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines it as “a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and difficulties with social communication and interaction. The symptoms are present from early childhood and affect daily functioning.”

These are simplistic clinical definitions, which define the conditions as “disorders.” But autism is far more than that. When you are part of a world affected by autism, you are forced to make difficult life adjustments, anticipate problems, find creative solutions, and equally appreciate the unique and brilliant qualities that can emerge.

We spoke to two Pagan parents who are raising children “on the spectrum,” as it is termed. Allyson Szabo is a White Winds Wiccan living in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. She is a licensed minister and is self-employed. Szabo is the “step-mum” of four children on the spectrum, as well as living with a husband on the spectrum. Pauline Kennedy, better known as Potia, is a Polytheist Druid, and member of the Druid Network living in Glasgow, Scotland. She is part-time university administrator and the mother of two children on the spectrum.

Szabo talked specifically about her two sons Dale (22) and Mike (10), who both have formal diagnoses. Because the family had already been through the process with Dale prior to Mike being diagnosed, they were somewhat prepared. Szabo said, “It was stressful, as any ‘deviation from the norm’ is stressful. You want your children to be ‘like everyone else’ because it just makes things easier. But it didn’t phase [sic] us, and we all worked to make sure that Mike got everything he needed to be successful at whatever he tried.”

Kennedy’s two children, Rose (8) and Rowan (14), were both diagnosed at age six. She said, “My initial reaction on having the diagnosis confirmed in both cases was complex.” She first gathered all the data and information that she could. But emotionally she said that she “felt a combination of relief and a form of grief.” The relief was in the confirmation of her suspicions and her ability to move forward in helping her children. The grief was in the letting go of the many “dreams and aspirations” that she had for them. She added, “Being a Polytheist was helpful in reminding me that there are many ways and many paths.”

“Autistic way to play” [Photo Credit: By Kevinfruet via Wikimedia]

Parents of children on the spectrum must learn an entirely new language, so to speak, to help their children interpret a world that is not made for them. And vice versa, they have also have to help the world understand their child. Bailey explained:

For me, as is for most autistic people, human beings are an enigma. At times speaking to another person is like having a conversation in two separate languages. I cannot recognize certain types of humor, and often have trouble detecting sarcasm. I also take terms and phrases literally. For example if someone said to me ‘If we don’t finish this in time we’re done for.’ I would panic. Feeling as if the whole world would end.

Most autistic people have to learn how to communicate and cope with the world through non-autistic parents and educators. Szabo’s son Mike had an advantage. Szabo explained, “[Mike] learned how to deal with the world by watching [an autistic] parent.” She said that he doesn’t feel “set apart” from his family, and she added, “The worst thing he’s had to deal with is sometimes we have to say, ‘Hey, let’s go talk to Daddy, ’cause I’m not getting what you’re saying and Daddy translates from autism to norm pretty well.” Now, her son will often go directly to his father for communication help.

The personal and family challenges abound as adjustments are made to living with an autism spectrum disorder. Kennedy said, “This is my life; this is our life as a family. You grow, you change, you adapt. I can’t really compare it to anything else as this is what it is for us.”

One of these adjustments, common to any family, is the decision when and how to introduce spiritual traditions and religious teachings to the child. That is no different for autistic children. Both Szabo and Kennedy have exposed and included their children in many aspects of their personal practice. As an interfaith minister, Szabo celebrates many religious holy days in her own home and also runs a small coven. She said that Mike has “grown up knowing a great tolerance for all religions and rituals.” However, she said the only thing that “has stuck that is even remotely Pagan” is meditation. And Szabo believes these technique, which Mike now uses on his own, have helped him better cope with the world.

Like Szabo, Kennedy is also open about her practice and emphasizes religious tolerance. She said, “My son has never shown much interest in spiritual matters. My daughter has chosen to join me in some of my home based devotions, in particular she enjoys taking part in devotions to Brigantia and Maponos […] She helps me arrange libations and offerings and usually dances around me while I sing songs of love and praise.”

But neither Szabo or Kennedy feels comfortable taking their autistic children to public Pagan events. Although they both feel their Pagan communities are compassionate and tolerant, they don’t feel these crowded forums are healthy for the children. Kennedy said, “My son has problems meeting new people […] My daughter loves meeting new people but it would currently still be very difficult to manage the level of disruption that would result in her running around, aggressively hugging everyone and her need for a high level of attention.”

It is common for autistic children to have difficulty understanding personal boundaries, making public situations all the more trying. Bailey has experienced this as a adult. She said:

While many pagans attend social gatherings or are part of a coven. I have never been able to do these things because of my lack of social understanding. I would not know where to begin For this reason,  I walked my path without human company for many years, and for a while that was OK. I have never craved social interaction, yet I could not shake feeling of loneliness.

While Szabo hasn’t taken her son Mike to big events, he has been around her small coven. She said, “I think that there is a lot more acceptance of spectrum people in the Pagan community, at least around me. I’ve never had complaints from anyone, and I’m always told Mike’s a joy to be around.” She added that her coven mates are also “understanding of her husband.”

But Szabo did have one recommendation for event organizers. She said that it would be beneficial to have a “low sensory input” area. These places ideally would not be filled with the typical drumming, talking, incense, color, music and fire. She said, “Knowing there’s a place quiet and less overwhelming can be a real help to people on the spectrum, and we parents as well.”

Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Festival. [Photo by P. Seftel]

Despite the limitations and the hurdles, the three women with whom we spoke, continually remarked on the beauty, intelligence and love that emanates from the people affected by what the medical community has called a “disorder.” Bailey spoke of how her own condition has led to a unique ability to spiritually engage with the faery realm. She said:

I have an inherited gift for communicating with other realms. I am a natural medium, and am fortunate enough to have been made aware of the Faeries that exist in a realm parallel to our own. When I speak with them I have no difficulty understanding their meanings at all. Unlike humans, they seem to get right to the point, and if they cannot make themselves understood with words they are able to use mental images, and the transference of ’feelings’ and sensations to make themselves understood.

Bailey attributes this gift of communication directly to her Autism, and also thanks her partner, who also is affected by Asperger’s syndrome, for helping her “discover and appreciate” her gifts.

Szabo and Kennedy speak of their children’s compassion, intelligence and fascination with various difficult and complex subject matters. Kennedy said, “Autism is an integral part of them both but it does not define them.” Szabo said, “Our children have grown up knowing that autism is a super power, and that one has to use it for good or evil, just like any other super power.”

All three women also stressed that the biggest hurdle for them, going forward, is simply awareness. That includes awareness within Pagan communities as well as within society in general. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.5 percent of the American population (1 percent of the entire world) is affected with the condition, and they do not know at this time whether that rate is still increasing or if it has leveled off.

Szabo said, “I think tolerance is the greatest thing we offer our children.” She believes that her own religious journey has helped her become more tolerant, and has made it easier to adapt to and appreciate the unique worldviews of her autistic family members. “In Paganism, we should find it technically easier, because we’re wanting tolerance for ourselves and therefore should be practicing it at home.”

She added, “Please understand that when my kid walks away while you’re talking to him, it’s not because he wants to be rude.” He is just overwhelmed. She added that autistic children need more time, respect and understanding. She also stressed that, when they do want to talk, “it’s just as important to let [them] get their ideas out. Often times, you’ll learn more from them by listening, than normal children will learn by your teaching.”

Similarly Kennedy emphasized that we need to educate ourselves. She said, “How do we improve things? By asking what we can do to help and more importantly listening to those in our communities who are autistic themselves, willing and able to explain their challenges and to those who care for an autistic friend or family member.” And she added that we need to “accept and value our differences.”

[Courtesy Autism Speaks]

There are many organizations that are out there working to foster awareness and breed tolerance. In the U.K., Kennedy recommends the National Autistic Society and Autism Triage Scotland. And, she added, “as a self-diagnosed adult autistic woman, I’m also a member of the Scottish Women’s Autism Network (SWAN).” In the U.S., there are organizations such as Autism Speaks Inc., the National Autism Association and many more. Szabo’s family steers clear from big organizations. She feels that they are more interested in a “fix” than growing acceptance. Instead, Szabo recommends becoming involved in local play groups and small, community-based organizations that are run by people affected by autism and that provide concrete family support and safe spaces for education.

Bailey, who has since become a published poet and embraced her condition, concluded by saying, “I feel that [autism] has had a distinctive impact on my journey as a Witch, be it for better and or worse, although overwhelmingly I believe that it the impact has been positive. It is a part of me, my strength and my weakness. Everyone has both inside them – strength and weakness, light and darkness. We are after all only human, and the trials we face both as Witches and as people help to make us who, and what, we are today.

* This incident took place July 2015. Names have been changed or omitted for privacy sake. 

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Column: Apple in a Cup or Memories of Detroit Hoodoo

Sat, 2016-04-16 06:16

[We welcome guest writer Kenya Coviak, also known as Mistress Belladonna. Coviak has been a practicing Pagan and student of metaphysics and magick for over 30 years. Practictioner, Teacher, Coach, and Counselor, she has shared her knowledge and skills with many in the southeastern Michigan community. Additionally, Coviak has served as past Children’s Coordinator, Presenter, and Public Relations for Pagan Pride Day Detroit, is an editor at PBN News, was a member of FOCASMI, Third Degree Oak Moon Coven, and a founder of the Great Lakes Witches’ Council.]

It seems that all over the magickal worlds in the United States, that Hoodoo is the thing to do right now. People make claims to “Aunties” and “friend’s Grandma’s” with abandon when referring to their expertise and prowess in this practice. But for me, I grew up with it not being a separate thing to be studied, but something that one simply does.

Spell working, folklore and magickal traditions were the rhythm of life. Along with listening to the Blues and to Rock and Roll, I grew up thinking that everyone’s Daddy let them play with their extra lodestones. Everyone kept their brooms turned upside down, and the root store was always in the address book, along with the “street numbers” policy dream books and two dollar bills.

[Photo Credit: K. Coviak]

My early years were filled with stories of haints, dream books, and psalms. The latter being curious, as neither of my fictive kin’s parents attended church. As for me, Sunday’s began with church, until I got too mouthy, and were followed by floor wash and incense on Sunday evenings.That was a regular routine. My “god family” attempted valiantly to put God in me through ordeal-length services. But my invitation to these sermons eventually ended when I made a wisecrack questioning why the same women who were hit with the Holy Ghost every weekend were not holy enough to get hit with it at Farmer Jack’s supermarket. My preteen years ended with me being cut loose from the family of the Black Church.

It was 1986, and I was in my early teens. The wind played with my mess of hair as I happily walked toward the bus stop with my “blood sister.” We lived on opposite sides of town, so I had already arrived at her house, also by bus, and was ready to hit the free festivals of downtown Detroit.

Back in those days we took the buses everywhere. I lived on the North End, and she lived on the West Side. It was necessary to ride these bus lines back and forth when we wanted to hang out. And if we were going downtown, we had to take the Dexter bus. That monster was an adventure of experience with every type of character you could have imagined. I can still smell the mix of cigarette smoke from the passengers, and the Pink Oil and Ultra Sheen in my hair.

But this particular time, we had barely left her porch steps when her mom told us that she needed to make a quick trip.  And, we, of course, had to go along. Where did we go? Straight to Goodwill Candle near Grand Blvd. While her mother picked up “a few things” from the clerks, we busied ourselves looking at the genuine goat parchments and pre-made cursing dolls. My favorite was always the red and green greeting cards that came with a curse inside. A recipient was informed that if they had received such a card  they were already crossed. The severity varied. I got a real kick, and a chill, out of those cards.

After leaving the shop with my hands covered in a fine residue of Three Kings powder and charcoal, we were off to my friend’s house again. We waited while music played, tapping our feet on the blue carpeted floor. No shoes, of course. My friend’s mother did her works, and then finally we were given a brown paper bag to take with us on our way to the festival.

“Throw this in the river,” her mother said. The bag was heavy and a little damp. We were told not to look inside.

So of course, we did. We were teens after all, and in the bag was a small paper cup, an apple with the top cut out in a wedge, and some fish hooks. The apple was filled with honey and other things that will not be discussed here. This whole affair was to be thrown into the river. We were not to look back.

There we were, two teen girls headed to a summer festival for fun and excitement with a side trip of spell work. This was not a strange event to us. This was simply what one did. My friend’s mother was trying to keep a gentleman who was very angry. He was a real piece of undesirable work. My sister found the man vexing so she really did not want to do this. But there was no getting rid of her mom’s decision to keep him around. Therefore, we threw our parcel into the Detroit River, just like thousands of Detroiters have done for years and continue to do today. The water takes the spells for good or for bad.

Detroit River [Photo Credit: Gary Muehlenhardt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain]

While in high school, my book bags continually smelled of orange blossom oil and success oil. I blended these often for other girls in band class to help them. We never spoke of it, but they never stopped coming to me for it. No questions were ever asked, except by the sanctified girls who judged everyone. They always inquired after the state of my soul, but I ignored them.  

Friends, school, church, all these magickal parts of my life intersected and found a central point in my home and with my family. One time, my Daddy asked me to help him put in a concrete path leading from our back gate. In order to make a smooth foundation, he gave me what seemed to be a mundane task with a sledgehammer and a pile of red bricks. He had me crush those bricks into the dirt. The dust completely covered the soil; which he then covered with concrete.

The foundation that I was spreading was actually to keep burglars away from our property until two years after he died. They could not pass the gate post. We needed no alarm system. We were safe. At the time, I never thought about it as protection work. To me, it was just what you do when you lay concrete at your fences. But later, I would find out what it really was.  

I always looked forward to helping my father with his soil balls each year. They would be kept in the milk chute. He would go out to the yard and “test the soil” with the balls. But the balls always had something else in them, and it was sometimes sparkly. They were kept by the house and in the chute, except on occasions when they were in his room as he “doctored”  them. This also never seemed strange to me.

When I was at the beauty shop getting my hair relaxed, I would listen to the church ladies enjoying the gospel station. They would laugh and talk of rinsing their sheets in lavender to keep their men faithful. These women would also discuss which Psalms and seals to use on their husbands or on other women who were interested in their husbands.

Keeping the Bible open to the 91st Psalm and using holy water with people’s names in the bottles was common. Throwing a Psalm on someone to harm them was not strange. And, the minister giving you something to bind another was not unheard of. In fact, some even pronounced death to parishioners if they did not mend their ways in a set time.  

While at the beauty shop, my Mama would get a lovely silver rinse in her hair and smile. Then, back at home, as the pins came out, hair would inevitably come out as well. Our strands would get caught in the wires of the rollers. The only way to dispose of this hair was to burn it. You never threw away hair, it must always be burned so no one could get it. You didn’t want to go crazy like “such and such” person. This was “fact” just like the Law of Gravity; it was just truth.

Little mysteries filled my life in that house. The brass bottle that was painted blue was said to contain a djinn. Yes, that was the exact word. It had a dark wax seal, and I was told to never touch it or open it. The tiny jar with my Mama’s fingertip, which she kept in the basement dresser, was also something odd but normal as well. It had been severed at her workplace, but it was re-purposed for “works” that happened in the dark of the night. She used it for different things that were secret, but protective.

But that is another story

Then there were the times that things went very badly. All actions did not lead to desired outcomes. Damage control was another key skill to have. When I accidentally burned the wrong candle in my room and conjured up something I could not put down, a mom from our band boosters club came to my rescue. She had used her “eye,” which was in her hand, to look at me. She saw something was not right. 

This mother, then, went with me to the candle shop and fixed a set of herbs and had me take home seven candles to solve the problem. The appropriate verse was opened at the new testament, and my room was a sauna for a week as they burned.

Inside a Candle Shop [Photo Credit: K. Coviak]

My own Mama was annoyed, because another woman had come into the business of her house. She did not like active practice and only used prevention. I was grounded for two weeks. Not just for the candles, but because I had conjured without talking to her first. Although we never spoke of it again, she flustered when I would try to bring it up and spoke of haints overrunning the house if I wouldn’t listen. This is probably why she painted the bathroom blue.  

As a teen and into early adulthood, Anna Riva books were scattered across my floor next to those of Scott Cunningham. My practices “eventually” expanded.  A friendly Sikh taught me even more about the powers of oils and showed me how to use them to control. Eventually, Tarot cards and herbalism from different traditions were as much a part of my daily life as Faygo, Park’s Barbeque, and Stroh’s ice cream.

When I learned to drive, I was a mobile menace. Every month, I traveled to the banks of the river. Sometimes it was to toss in bottles filled with Four Thieves Vinegar and an unfortunate name on a parchment. Other times I stood on its banks and made fires. After these rites, the ashes were thrown in or buried on the banks. Again, none of these acts were thought of as exotic or strange, just something one does here in the “D”.

But to be clear, it was also not uncommon to go to church the “very” next morning and sing just as loud as everyone else with a smile on the lips and a swing in the hips. However, for me, church was a conflicted issue, because I have always been a witch. I did not reconcile my realities until my thirties, after the requisite excursion into the world of Black Consciousness-based liberation cults of various flavors.

Growing up like this, in a world of magicians, was something I took for granted. We never made a big issue out of it. We understood that there were certain things you either knew or did not know. And most of us knew them.

This common local lore of magick continues to be passed from generation to generation, even today. The Hoodoo stores stay busy with new customers of every age and background. Like clockwork, auto plant workers and civil servants visit twice a month to buy cases of candles, roots, and oils at the local shops. The traditions practiced in my childhood are the same ones that are practiced today.

For example, Belle Isle is the literal graveyard of spells, tricks, hexes, and personal concerns. Each and every willow tree on that island has probably been used by at least one person to remove and “take a cross” (also known as giving it to the tree). Visitors may notice that certain tree groves are avoided by native Detroiters. This is, because after you “remove or take a cross,” you are not to revisit that tree … ever.  

Another practice that reminds me of our unique magical culture is the midnight wanderings that many new Detroit “carpetbagging gentrifiers” sometimes find threatening. It is the Hoodoo tradition of walking around in the middle of the night with no clear destination. We seem to be hanging about sidewalks and corners aimlessly and furtively, which makes many “newcomers” suspicious and assume that we are engaged in criminal activity.

However, in actuality, we are often looking for a suitable crossroads. We do magic in these places. We dump items in these places. We make petitions. We leave offerings. We do all sorts of things that have not even been written, and will not be written … here or anywhere.

But one of the main requirements is that we be secretive. It is important to not be seen. Therefore, we become masters of the blink of the eye action.I credit many of the things that have saved my life in my motorcycle club days to having performed quick getaways from spell work in my teens.

Interestingly, a woman in that very “motorcycle club” once made a doll baby of me. It was a beautiful porcelain doll that contained some of my personal concerns. Unfortunately, this was done without my consent, and I only found out after the woman had a falling out with the inner group. One of the other sisters exposed her and offered to destroy the doll. After its destruction, my life picked back up to a better pace, and I eventually drifted away from that life. But before that, the compulsion had been strong enough that I could not escape.

None of this was strange to me or to any of us. This is what life was. This is how it is. This is what one does. We do workings. Even the most holy of rollers may have a Seal of Moses in their purse from Discount Candle near Eastern Market. Even the most steadfast Moor has been known to carry High John root in their pockets in my circle.

The smells of sulfur, oils, powders, and novena candles take me to my childhood home. There is no stronger core for me than this “reality”. There is no taking the this out of me, any more than one can take that cup back out of the river.

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Culture and Community: Spirit of Place in Regional Magic

Fri, 2016-04-15 11:32

The land has its own magic. The whispers of the rolling hills of Northern California speak in a different tongue than that of the long flat lands of lower Alabama. The spirit of place can greatly contribute to the culture, presence and practice of magic in any one regional area.

Northern California [Photo Credit: Nigelpepper / Wikimedia]

There are different terms, traditions and beliefs that encompass concepts of regional magic or spirit of place. Different cultures relate to it in unique ways; yet there is continued historical significance to the practices of cultures and of people who have a reverence for the specific magic of local lands and regional areas. The spirit of place often refers to physical characteristics of a location, and can also reference attributes that have to do with myths, history, ancestors, spirits, art, stories, communities, superstitions or even collective memories. The energy and associations changes from one regional area to another.

Today, many modern magic practitioners work with regional magic as a part of their normal practice.

The pulse of the land tells many stories. People of many different Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen and earth worshiping traditions tap into the mysteries of place, looking for the soul of the space in which they work. The regional stories of particular areas can be a significant link between spirituality, home, worship, and belonging. These regional differences often contribute to rituals, observances, practices, and cultures all of which, as a result, are very personal to the specific area or a specific group of people.

I became increasingly fascinated with what I refer to as “regional magic” after my own trip down south to the birthplace of my mother. The magic I felt there was unlike anything I experienced at home in California; the magic of the land in Alabama was vastly different. when I touched and worked with the soil in my mother’s hometown, I was able to connect to such a sense of survival, history, culture and intense historical significance. The magic in the land moved me immensely, and I made a point to touch and collect a piece of it throughout the city while I was there. This brought up a lot of questions about my relationship to the land, the way that regional connections impact practice, and how the spirit of a place can connect to us in ways that we cannot always anticipate.

[Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

How does the spirit of place influence magical practice? I reached out to a few others who have varied traditions and are from different places in order to see what they thought.

Many polytheists of revived religions honor spirits, gods, and other divine beings tied to particular places. I, and many other polytheists, worship Old Man Mississippi, the nymph of Cold Water Springs, and the good spirits of our particular neighborhood. – Cara Schulz

I’m blessed to live in Michigan, home of the Great Lakes. These are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, containing more than a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. The inland of Michigan contains about 11,000 lakes, 300 rivers and more than 12,000 miles if fresh water trout streams. Michigan is water, and water is a primary sacred medicine in my magical path.

Protecting water is an essential part of the magic I do. There are many threats to Michigan’s fresh water. This sacred resource is threatened by agricultural runoff, large scale factory farming, hydraulic fracturing (fracking)/injection wells and privatized water companies to name a few. I chant songs about the water, offer up prayers with a Pipe, offer my thirst and sweat in the Lodge and put my boots on the ground when it’s time to stand up and be heard. I do all this practical and esoteric magic in the name of water.

I am also blessed to live on the Chippewa River, where the sounds of water and the life it sustains are abundant. Next to the river, a large patch of sweetgrass grows each summer.  Sweetgrass is another sacred medicine to me and it is heavily dependent upon water. Harvesting it to give-away and sell at spiritual gatherings is a yearly ritual that ties me to the people, land and water. Michigan’s bountiful waters have guided my path much like the banks of the river guide the flow of sacred water to the sea. Water connects us all! – Jim Esralian

Chippewa River [Public Domain]

We celebrate the Pachamama in Argentina and we do offerings to her such as fruits, grains etc. I think this is one of the reasons why I love connecting with Mother Nature and a great part of my practice has that orientation. For me is important because it connects me with my roots and my ancestors by continuing connecting with the land. When I go back, I usually bring back soil and water to use in my magical work here in USA. The Spirit of the place is very powerful and very different from the spirit of the place I live here. My magic does not seem impacted but the support and the vibrations are different. There is more than one way to lead you to rome so the destination may be the same but the way you get there is different. – Carolina A. Amor

Outside of First Nation’s Spirituality there is not really any kind of regional based magick in my local area, although Canada is quite vast and depending on where one lives, experiences can be quite diverse. Seeing as Manitoba is located in the bible belt of Canada and Winnipeg is primarily land locked (Minneapolis is the closest major centre), magickal practices are slow moving in coming to the area, which is one of the major reasons why serious local magickal practitioners tend to travel.

In my local community you have two choices for regional based magic: First Nation’s Spirituality or the surrounding land itself becomes the source of magick and spiritual inspiration. Being acutely conscious of not wanting to contribute to colonization and mis-appropriation of First Nation’s Spirituality, the land becomes hugely important in my personal practice and in the practice of my working group. Last year, I spent the entire summer building an outdoor temple space with a cairn that acts as a permanent altar and shrine for the local land spirits. While I do have an indoor temple space, the outdoor space allows for a connection to the land and spirits while still being located in a heavily populated core area of Winnipeg. It truly becomes a world between worlds.

Photo of a cairn by Dominique Smith

Winnipeg is located where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River (called The Forks) and for centuries was a major trade centre and Aboriginal meeting place. The land has seen much; is rich with history and energetic presence, in the end, most of the magickal practices here are imports that are superimposed or assimilated into the landscape that creates a patchwork quilt of experiences for the individual practitioner.

The influences of the land  and the events that have occurred in the area have affected everything about my personal magickal practice. It has created a strong need for environmental and anti-racist activism. It has also allowed room for much healing work, which extends to myself personally, to others and to the land. The Winnipeg magickal community is still quite young and still trying to find itself. This unfortunately means that my explanation on regional magick doesn’t come in a nice neat bow. – Dominique Smith

For lack of a better explanation, I am a city priestess. I connect to the energies of land, human history, and geologic/meterological history in densely populated places and use it to weave connective tissue between city and citizens. To me magic happens in several different spheres. But to truly prosper you must do your best to become symbiotic to your environs. This can take a long time and is an imperfect process.

As the connection to a city deepens, it reveals more of its secrets and mysteries. San Francisco is bombastic – wants to show you everything all at once. Minneapolis has trust issues and offers a little bit more at every gesture of curiosity. It isn’t quite the same as land magic as we usually know it because to some degree you accept the environmental damage and try to make it into a greater good rather than trying to heal it into its original form. A little more repurpose and recycle, though reduce still has its place. It also involves seeing all politics as a system of illusions – even my own. To part the veil of the city is to see through its history, to understand its fights, and thus to see its heart. – Diana Rajchel

As an activist, my regional magic is focused on creating societal change. As a nexus point of change for this country, working magic like that allows me to tap right into the core of decision-making in this country. Most witches in DC take our role as stewards of positive change, activism, and healing very seriously because of that.

DC’s spirit of place is very complex and working with it is challenging. Historically, there is much misery connected with this place. All around me I see land that for so long was poisoned with slavery, systemic economic depression, and unfair labor conditions. But it also holds a spirit of hope, opportunity, and democracy. This requires magic-workers here to both hold space for the injustices that continue to occur here while also doing what we can to push the needle towards fairness. This land requires an acknowledgement of history if one is to work with it with any success. – David Salisbury

Lands of Alabama [Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

People all over the world have different associations with the land, and the interpretations of the spirit of place is vast. The spiritual implications of a particular place, how it contributes to practice, and people’s association with regional spirituality is complex and often layered. Working within the elements and needs tied to a region can bring forth a myriad of specific magic and connection that only make sense within the context of its location. Working with the magic of the land to heal from the drought makes a lot of sense in California, where it does not make sense in Minnesota.

Whether in the politics of Washington D.C., the dry lands of California, or the waters of the Great Lakes, the land talks and has many stories to tell. Our connections to where we are planted will help to dictate our response to our communities and how we see our responsibility to local needs. It also helps us to shape who we are, and where we are in our spiritual practice and our personal sense of self.

How does your physical location impact or influence your magic or practice? Thinking about our relationship to regional magic and the spirit of place within our own regional communities can give us critical information about culture, spirits and what influences mold our personal practices.

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Goddess House Open in Glastonbury

Thu, 2016-04-14 10:41

GLASTONBURY, England  – The Glastonbury Goddess Temple has opened the doors on its latest offering to the public: The Goddess House. This facility is a spiritual and educational place of healing, dedicated to promoting Goddess awareness.The Goddess Temple organization and its affiliated ventures support the vision of Motherworld, a society that places Mother Earth, mothers and the values of mothering – love, care and support for each other – at society’s centre rather than at its periphery.

The Goddess House [Courtesy Photo]

The Goddess House is located in the market town of Glastonbury, Somerset, England on Magdalene Street, directly across from the historic ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. The house itself is a large and impressive Georgian building complete with treatment rooms, workshop space and other group-use rooms. The Goddess House offers a large menu of natural healing options, provided by therapists and other professionals, including several types of massage, spiritual consults, counseling, yoga, tarot and meditation training.

The original Goddess Temple space, located in the Glastonbury Experience Courtyard, at 2-4 High Street, was opened on Imbolc 2002. The following year, the space was recognized officially as a Place of Worship, and is believed to be the first such place to receive official recognition like this in the UK for 1500 years.

Then, in 2008, The Goddess Hall, located on nearby Benedict Street, was opened. It offers more space for larger gatherings and educational offerings. Additionally, the organization runs Goddess Temple Gifts, also located in the Glastonbury Experience. The store provides financial support to the Temple and features a range of Goddess themed items for sale.

The newly opened Goddess House, with its many opportunities for healing of the body, mind and spirit, will expand the outreach of the Goddess Temple organization to the immediate community and even beyond. Kathy Jones, teacher, Priestess and co-founder of the Goddess Temple, described the community effort to make the Goddess House a reality. She said:

Over the last few weeks we have been painting and decorating this lovely house. Lots of people are helping, each person offering their skills and creativity to this Motherworld venture. Something very beautiful happens when people come together to put their love and energy towards a good cause, in this case the creation of a Healing Temple, which will offer healing therapies of many different kinds to people in need. Lots of people have helped to clear out wires left by the previous tenants, filled holes, sanded down and painted the many walls of the building. We have also received generous gifts of chairs, tables, carpets, kitchen equipment, cups, plates, pots and pans, as well as images and statues of Goddess. This is a big venture and we are very blessed.

On March 28, the Goddess House hosted an open day, featuring mini-workshops, tours and opportunities to sample some of the services available. Free talks on a range of topics were given, such as Soul Healing, Ecstatic Pregnancy, Goddess Yoga and Herbal Medicine. These talks ran every 30 minutes from 11:00 until 4:00 pm. In effort to remain accessible to the community, a fundraiser was held  Apr. 12. An outreach stall was set up, and donations were collected for the Anam Cara Counseling fund, which provides free counseling to people in need.

Goddess House Kerredwin Room [Courtesy Photo]

Glastonbury is a town with a population of just under 9,000 residents, and its economy is strongly affected by religious and spiritual tourism. Seekers come from around the world to explore the unique landscape that includes the dramatic Glastonbury Tor, Chalice Well Gardens and the White Spring. The High Street is an occult/new age/metaphysical shopping mecca offering specialty bookstores, occult paraphernalia, crystals, herbs, incense and magical supplies, not to mention interesting restaurants and historic pubs.

This reality makes it an ideal location to successfully support the four busy Goddess Temple establishments and related events. This success is also thanks to the dedicated Priestesses and Priests of the Temple, as well as the Melissae, or volunteers, who attend to the two temples and the Madrons, who support Temple work through financial donations.

The Goddess Hall, on Benedict Street [Courtesy Photo]

The need for healing in the world and a place to focus such healing work brought Kathy Jones and Angie Twydall together to launch the Goddess House. Twydall said:

Priestess Healer Kathy Jones and (I) got to know each other as (we) worked together with others on the special Ceremonial Healing days held by Glastonbury’s Goddess Temple. On these healing days healers and melissae create a dynamic healing space, in which several healers work with one patient, in ways that have benefited many people. We recognised each other as priestess healers of old who had worked together before in different times and places. Healing is so needed in the world and we decided to create a new holistic Goddess Healing and Educational Centre, which can be open to the public everyday. We began to look for suitable buildings and it quickly became clear that the vision of a Goddess Healing Centre was going to manifest! After viewing several buildings on the High Street, we found our new venue. It felt right as soon as we walked in the door. It is called Goddess House and is set over 4 floors combining healing and treatments rooms with educational and workshop spaces.

We asked both Twydall and Jones what it meant to be a part of something as meaningful as the Goddess House. Twydall said, “I feel it is part of my soul’s path to put my energy and passion into co-creating something of beauty, something for everyone, where we come for renewal, re-birth of our physical and spiritual selves.  It is an opportunity in this lifetime to serve, to heal, to love and share sacred space of Goddess with others.”  

Jones responded, “As a priestess it is part of my soul’s calling to bring healing to as many people as I can. I am a Soul Healer and a teacher of healers. I believe in the power of healing to help us become whole.”

In the few short weeks the Goddess House has been open, it has already provided comfort, healing and awareness to visitors. Twydall added, “Everyone who enters Goddess House loves it. There are tears of joy, smiles, gratitude. People sense it is a Temple space and they begin to relax and feel safe. In a short time we have welcomed many new visitors to Glastonbury, who may not have been to anything relating to Goddess before. Goddess House is opening new doorways to Goddess and to Motherworld.”

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[Editor’s NoteThe Wild Hunt welcomes writer and filmmmaker Dodie Graham McKay to its weekly news team. For nearly two years, Dodie has been providing commentary from a Canadian Pagan perspective for our monthly Around the World column, and her hard work has been a welcome addition to the team. Now, she will be joining us more regularly as a dedicated news correspondent and journalist, reporting on both Canadian and world news.]

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South African Pagan Council Reaches 10-Year Mark

Wed, 2016-04-13 11:26

SOUTH AFRICA — Members of the South African Pagan Council are celebrating the organization’s decennial this year with a variety of festivities. It is also an opportunity for Pagans worldwide to learn about the efforts of this one organization, and to gain a greater understanding of the nature of modern Paganism in South Africa. Leaders of the SAPC opted to answer questions from The Wild Hunt as a group because of their organizational structure, which they explain in their responses.

The Wild Hunt:  How does SAPC fund its activities?

South African Pagan Council:  Currently it is done through contributions and payments by individuals, regional events that fund successive events, and the SAPC 10 year Commemoration T-Shirt, the sales of which will go towards funding bigger things.

TWH:  What benefits does someone gain by becoming a member?

SAPC: The members of the SAPC have at their disposal expert advice, trauma councillors who regularly assist members of the community, lessons, intervention on part of the organisation in cases of religious discrimination at school and in the work place, committees and subcommittees that take care of the spiritual needs of the community, spiritual and moral support, discussion groups, lessons from the high priestess, Pagan Freedom Day celebrations as well as the opportunity to take part in the advancement and upliftment of the Pagan banner through personal involvement in the various committees and subcommittees, becoming RMOs [registered marriage officers] for an officially recognised and registered religious organisation, having officially designated clergy to solemnise legally binding marriages and civil unions and affiliated groups to choose from when networking. The SAPC is run on the Arthurian round table principle. We advocate power with, rather than power over. Community building, bridge building, education, academic research and the presentation thereof in summits and conferences presented by the authorities, involvement with the media, are amongst some of the benefits the members of the SAPC enjoy.

TWH:  Has the face of Paganism in South Africa changed in the past ten years? If so, how?

SAPC: The key role players are still there, but there are a myriad of people out there, solitaries and independents that have met on forums/cyber and which have banded together as small covens and those who have maintained their solitary status but exchange ideas and request for assistance over the internet.

TWH: Is the membership of SAPC racially diverse? If it isn’t, is that something that you’d like to see change? Why or why not?

SAPC: Yes, we have several African, Indian and Coloured members but would (without proselytizing) see more folk from various backgrounds, identify as Pagan and join our organisation. We are not Eurocentric or neo-colonialist as many have intimated. The statistics are what they are because we’re still in a phase of education and introduction, but it is already clear that more and more folk find that they find themselves at home under the Pagan banner irrespective of their cultural or racial background. They find that the possibility of eclectically marrying their ways to the celebration of the days in the wheel of seasons and rites of passage, opens up new horizons.

It is for all of us (the Rainbow Nation) a matter of “coming home.”

TWH:  Do you have any information on the number of Pagans in South Africa, and whether that number is growing or declining? How does that compare to the number of members in SAPC?

SAPC: No proper census has ever been done by the authorities as this alternative option is not present in census forms. Any census done on line, between the various groups, is therefore only a marginal indication and cannot be considered to be accurate. Not all Pagans are cyber active. What we have noticed is that there are more and more applications and more and more online members, in our and in other groups. It is evident, therefore, that the movement is growing by leaps and bounds, but we cannot provide exact figures. I would be comfortable in saying, however that the numbers have trebled in the last ten years.

TWH:  Where in South Africa is Paganism most highly concentrated, to your understanding?

SAPC: We would say in the big cities, because there are more people in the cities, but we have members even in the remotest little towns in the countryside. Paganism is said to be the fastest growing religion in our campuses, but once again, we have no figures. Just some sporadic reports in newspapers at University Cities.

TWH:  As for the Pagan Freedom Day Movement events, how many people do you expect to attend these?

SAPC: This depends on many things from weather, the political climate within the Pagan community, funds available (our country is currently in a bit of pinch) and where people decide to attend the event. Some folk have taken to travelling to far-away events in order to meet friends for the first time, to see how it is done in that part of the country, etc. Some travel because they are curious about the activities advertised and decide that because these appeal to them, that they will support those regional organisers on a particular year. Johannesburg is by far our best attended event, every year. Ryan Fallon Young and his wife Nicki Lunawolf Young are absolute gems and the true experts at event organising.

TWH:  What kinds of activities will be involved? Is there included some kind of education component, such as what might be found in Pagan Pride Day events in the USA?

SAPC: The activities include stalls, meditation, competitions, sword fighting, musical entertainment, dancing and drumming around the bonfire, ending off with a circle and spiritual gathering. Talks on Paganism open the event and continue, in the form of demonstrations and lectures during the course of the day.

The events take place in open and public areas so the public at large joins the crowds, participate and of course learn from the talks and from making acquaintances with the Pagans at the event.

TWH:  For those of us unfamiliar with South African geography, would it be possible for an individual to hit all six event sites in one day?

SAPC: No, not unless he has mastered instant teleportation.

South Africa is a medium-sized country, with a total land area of 1 219 090 square kilometres, or roughly equivalent in size to Niger, Angola, Mali or Colombia. It is one-eighth the size of the US, about a third the size of the European Union, twice the size of France and over three times the size of Germany. [Ref: www.southafrica.info/about/facts.htm]

TWH:  What would you say the major SAPC accomplishments have been in its first ten years?

SAPC: SAPRA were the first officially registered organisation in Africa and the SAPC second. We were the first officially registered Pagan Religious Organisation to have a designated Marriage Officer. Clients of the LHRC and key interested party and role players in the field of equal religious rights along with SAPRA, CRL and SALRC. We have taken on schools and corporate companies on the matter of religious equality and succeeded. Our membership has loyally supported our endeavours, such as the exhibition of Art for Human Rights in 2013, part of our support for SAPRA’s 30 Days Advocacy Against Witch Hunts campaign, which we have supported since its very start. We have alongside SAPRA, also been instrumental in stopping the Mpumalanga Witchcraft Bill in 2007 and in working towards the CRL’s proposal this year, for the scrapping of the 1957 WSA. We have published several volumes of Pagan Literature, ipods and mini videos.

We can proudly say that we have spent the last ten years educating people in matters Pagan and occult, participating in symposiums and publishing papers with University Departments of Missiology and Religion countrywide, fighting against human rights abuses, standing up against misinformation in the media, fighting off the waves of Satanic panic, addressing with SAPRA smearing campaigns by religious extremist and the statal bodies which support them and within which they operate, as well as the cancer of exclusivity within our own community, in order to function as the intended umbrella, and operate as per our motto of “Unity Through Diversity,” a reality in which every affiliated group has autonomy and manages itself independently.

TWH:  What would you like to achieve during the next ten years?

SAPC: We would like to continue striving to outdo what we have so far delivered but most of all, of having a central place where we can run a community garden, a soup kitchen and offer low cost accommodation for Pagans and their families who have been hard struck by unemployment and homelessness.

The Convener has also gathered a library of over 5000 Pagan and Esoteric books which would be housed in a library at this centre.

A Pagan temple is also our oldest yet not forgotten dream.

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