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Growth in Pagan Pride Movement Causes Struggle With Outreach

Tue, 2014-09-30 06:48

[Terence P Ward is one of our talented weekly staff writers. He brings you the news and issues that most affect the Pagan and Heathen worlds. If you like his work and that of our other weekly reporters, help us by donating to our fall fund drive. Bringing you news and stories is what we love to do. Your continued support makes it possible for us to continue. Thank you very much.]

The recent equinox not only marked the change of natural seasons, but also the midpoint of the official Pagan Pride season, which runs from August 1 to October 31, 2014. Pagan Pride Days have been held for at least sixteen years, and probably a lot longer than that. The popularity and success of these events continues to rise, according to some metrics. However there’s an ongoing debate over whether or not the movement is achieving its softer goal – outreach beyond of the Pagan community.

According to reports from the Pagan Pride Project (PPP), the organization behind many of these events, the numbers look great. Carla Smith, Vice President/Membership Director of the PPP provided these statistics:

We have 110 events scheduled for 2014 and 15 of these are new events. We have events in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Mexico, Italy and Austria. In 2013, we had 98 events across the USA; Canada; Mexico City; Brazil; the Dominican Republic; Rome; and Vienna, Austria. Our 2013 attendance was 65,717: an increase in attendance by over 20,000 when compared to 2012. We collected 39,962.80 pounds of nonperishable food and donated $6,918.48 to charities including the Wounded Warrior Project. We donated 1,262.60 pounds of pet food as well as dog collars and leashes along with other necessities for animal rescue groups. We collected and donated items for Operation Circle Care for Pagan military personnel, clothing and baby items to a charity for infants, coats for the homeless, [and] 53 pounds of sugar for a bee apiary. Our attendees donated 54 pints of blood for the Red Cross and local hospitals. We donated 78 books to prisons for Pagan inmates to further their knowledge.

The events which were new this year included nine in the United States, half a dozen in Brazil, one in Colombia and another in Canada.

Charitable donations, specifically food drives, are a requisite part of any Pagan Pride Day event supported by the PPP. Organizers must also agree to coordinate “a public gathering where Pagans can network with each other and celebrate an Autumn Equinox ritual.” In addition, they are charged with reaching out to local news outlets with press releases for “media coverage of [the] events in order to present the truth about Paganism to our communities, refute common misconceptions, and draw political attention to Paganism in order to try to prevent legislative discrimination against Pagans.”

The success of that public outreach is hard to measure, and that may be what has spurred a discussion about the purpose of PPD events in the Official Pagan Pride Project Facebook group. One member expressed a concern that many PPD events seem to be geared towards Pagans alone, not the wider community. He wrote:

I have gone to many PPDs over the last several years all the activities, workshops, rituals and etc. are geared towards Pagans. No what is Paganism workshops, no this is what and why we do what we do. Rituals take place unexplained. Advertising is strictly to Pagan groups. Media involvement has become unwelcomed. Have we given way to PPDs just being another Pagan exclusive festival?

The Wild Hunt reached out to the Pagan Pride Project, and spoke with several PPD local coordinators to get their take on the issue of public outreach. While it’s basic to the PPP’s mission, the implementation can be complicated.

Location, Location, Location

Where a pride event takes place can determine if it’s a Pagan party or public outreach event. Public parks are the venue preferred by the Pagan Pride Project, but between fees and insurance requirements, they can be cost-prohibitive. Some events are hosted at Unitarian Universalist churches, but an indoor location never has as much visibility as a similar outdoor one, which means extra efforts are needed to draw people in who wouldn’t normally stop by a UU church.

Changing locations worked well for Gina Leslie, who said:

Three years ago we moved our Los Angeles/Orange County event to a much more public location for that very reason. We loved where we were and the park personnel were great to work with but it wasn’t something the public would see driving by and stop to investigate. Now we are in the middle of a very active tourist area in Long Beach, on a very busy main street and we have lawn banners announcing that the event is free and open to the public.

A visible location hasn’t been the sole solution in Kansas City, according to local coordinator Sam Shryock. “We are in a Farmer’s Market shelter,” he said, “so I believe we are on neutral ground and easily accessible.” However, he added, “I struggle to find the angle that would make people want to come to this event.”

In Morgantown, West Virginia, Marc Roney reported that it was difficult to get local Pagans to show up for something in a public setting at first. However, the PPD there has grown from about a dozen people in 2009 to about 110 this year.

Preaching to the Choir

Concern about religious persecution is very real for some Pagans, and none of the local coordinators interviewed actually tracks whether attendees identify as Pagan, seeker, or something else. While the lack of data is understandable, it can lead to suppositions about whether or not the public is actually involved.

“This year we are trying something new, and providing name tags that state, ‘I’m a Proud Pagan because…,” said Shyrock. We will see how well that turns out.” At the same time, the Kansas City event has de-emphasized the word “Pagan” and instead markets itself as a harvest festival. His experience has taught him, “People do not seek out different [sic], they avoid it. I think most people are not interested in knowing about Paganism, they would prefer to avoid it or argue with it.”

Roney said that “some courteously curious Christians” have attended, and he adds, “a small part of our funding for this year came from a Catholic couple who were curious about our event.” But most of those who show up at the Morgantown PPD are, indeed, Pagan themselves. Roney attributes the rise in the number of Pagan attendees to the fact that fears about “trouble with Christians” have not manifested.

Timothy Anderson and his group, the Hellenic Temple of Apollon, Zeus, and Pan, have been involved with the Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day as both vendors and main ritual organizers for several years. “[I'm] not sure how many non-Pagans are getting involved, [but] it seems like it is mostly if not all Pagans,” he said.

Limited Promotional Outlets

With small budgets, local coordinators rely on as much free publicity as they can muster. That means much of the advertising and publicity comes through Pagan-owned businesses like metaphysical shops. It can be an effective way to reach local Pagans and seekers, but not for reaching those people who may have the preconceived notions that PPD is intended to dispel. Free web sites and event calendars bolster those efforts. However, without a means to track the religious affiliation of attendees, determining who actually shows up continues to be a challenge. Privacy concerns will likely keep that from changing anytime soon. This leads to a frustrating irony. When the day comes that all Pagans are comfortable acknowledging their religion publicly, Pagan Pride events might no longer be needed . . . but, in order to reach that day and overcome false assumptions, the impact of such events on the community is needed.

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Pagan Community Notes: Huntsville Alabama, PAEAN Conference, Oberon Zell-Ravenhart, Witches in London and so much more!

Mon, 2014-09-29 08:36

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. If you enjoy this series and our other recurring entries, please consider donating to our 2014 Fall Fund Campaign. Your support and donations make it possible for us to keep sharing the news and these important stories with you. Now let’s get started! 

Blake Kirk

The Interfaith Mission Council (IMS) of Huntsville, Alabama has announced that Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk is scheduled to offer an invocation before the Nov. 6 city council meeting. In June, Kirk was removed from the schedule due to complaints from local residents. After much discussion, the Huntsville city council opted to maintain its inclusive prayer policy prayer rather than removing invocations entirely. The executive director of IMS, the local organization charged with coordinating invocation speakers, Jeannie Robison told AL.com, “We [IMS and the city council] want to honor Huntsville’s commitment to being an Inclusive City and to meet Constitutional standards regarding freedom of religion.”

This past Thursday, the council demonstrated its commitment to diversity by inviting an Atheist to speak. Following that meeting, IMS announced that Kirk had been invited back. In response to the city’s actions, Kirk said, “I think it’s an extremely positive development for Huntsville, and it suggests that people have learned something from the unfortunate situation in June, and are really trying to do better.” You can watch Kirk’s invocation live on Nov. 6 through Huntsville’s live streaming site

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

On Sept. 28, Oberon Zell-Ravenhart posted a call on Witchvox for information about “Pagan Lands for Pagan Burials.” He wrote, “Since Morning Glory’s death, I have been inspired (nay, “assigned!”) to co-author a handbook for Pagan Final Passages—including green burials.” In the spring, the Church of All Worlds’ sacred land of Annwfn was legally-secured as an “officially-recognized cemetery for full body burials.” Morning-Glory was the first to be buried on that land, and Oberon is thankful to those who helped make that possible. Now he wants to turn his experience into, what he describes as, a “how-to manual.”

To accomplish this work, Oberon is looking for input from anyone who maintains Pagan land, a green cemetery, or anyone who is planning to build a cemetery space. He adds, “Previously, virtually all members of the modern Pagan community who have died (at least in the United States) have been cremated, as this seemed to be the only option other than the impossibly expensive and distasteful mortuary practice of embalming and burial in a fancy coffin in a concrete vault. But for many of us, cremation is a repellent choice, as we remember the Burning Times, and have no wish to consign our flesh to the flames yet again!”

Pagan/Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN) will be holding its 2nd online conference on October 9, 2014. The event is held in coordination with the Pagan Federation International (PFI) and is focused on “a variety of topics around the subjects of Paganism and Witchcraft.” This October’s theme is “The changing of Magic: Modern and Ancient Witchcraft.” There will be two panels on the following subjects: “Ancient Witchcraft and its adaptation” and “Western Esotericism practices and the academy.”  

The online PAEAN conference is held twice a year, in the spring and fall. Coordinators hope that the unique online platform, which allows a diversity of people to engage in dialogue and interaction, will “increase learning, understanding and developing from the combined discussions.”

Spelcastor [Courtesy: EMLC]

On Sept. 20, the CUUPS chapter of Fort Lauderdale, Florida presented local Pagan Spelcastor an award for “his long time service of 19 years as the gatekeeper and facilitator” of Pagan Pride Day held at the Unitarian Universalist Church. Spelcastor is now officially retired but, as CUUPS organizers said, “he will long be remembered for keeping the flame alive.” In response, Spelcastor remarked, “I am deeply honored by this outpouring of gratitude and reminded how persistent service to the Craft year after year pays off.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

That is all for now.  Have a great day!

 

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Fall Fund Drive Update: 49%!

Sun, 2014-09-28 17:46

Hello to everyone! I wanted to let you know how our annual Fall Funding Drive is going just six days after we begun. We’ve raised a little over $6000 dollars, which is 49% of our $12,500 goal! 

This is incredible progress in such a short time. Of course, it is all due to the continued support, and the generosity of individuals, like yourself, and organizations within our community.Through a donation to our 2014 Fall Fund Drive, you are saying that the The Wild Hunt is a valued service and you’d like to see it not only continue for the next year, but also grow and expand in its coverage. With your help, we can do just that.

100% of our budget comes from this drive, and 100% of that money goes back into running this news site. It pays for hosting and other technical fees as well as paying the incredibly talented writers who make up our Wild Hunt team.

This year, thanks to the fiscal underwriting of the Pantheon Foundation, all donations will be tax deductible.

We have so many people to thank for their donations up to this point. Here are just a very small handful of our most recent supporters:

Danaan.net, Mary Ann Somervill, Kasha and Ray, Witches & Pagans, Thalassa Therese, Sabina Magliocco, Denver Handmade Alliance, Kim Bannerman, Concrescent Press, Chas Clifton and Karen Foster

I hope you’ll join them in supporting our mission, which is to continue providing you with thought-provoking columns and relevant Pagan news from your communities. Your support makes it all possible. Please consider donating now. Check out our new $5.00 donation perk courtesy of columnist Eric Scott.

And help us spread the word! Here’s the link to the IndieGoGo campaign site:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-wild-hunt-2014-fall-funding-campaign/x/497880

Thank you to all those people who have donated so far, who have shared our campaign link and, of course, who have made The Wild Hunt a part of their lives by visiting and enjoying our work.

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Praying With Their Feet, Pagans Join People’s Climate March

Sun, 2014-09-28 06:00

[Articles like the one below take time, research and money. If you like our work and want to help us continue to share stories like this one and more, please consider donating to our fall fundraising efforts and sharing our link. It is your wonderful and dedicated support that makes it all possible. Thank you very much.]

Wielding signs and drums and offering chants and dance, Pagans joined the nearly 400,000 people who jammed the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March on September 21. Scheduled to take place just ahead of the United Nations 2014 Climate Summit, the event was the largest in a worldwide series of protests that may have brought out more than half a million people calling for action.The Wild Hunt spoke with several of the participants about how they organized, what they were trying to accomplish, and what may come out of this historic event.

The march couldn’t have come at a better time for Courtney Weber, High Priestess of Novices of the Old Ways and member of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City (PEC). Weber said the PEC was “a baby group that just started in March” when she and others “realized there needed to be a Pagan group in the work to make New York, and New York City specifically, an environmentally viable place.” Talk of “a big rally or march” was bouncing around on various activist email lists as early as May, and it seemed like a natural fit for the new group. She said:

“It started with us agreeing that we would be going to the march, then we were talking about organizing it, then it turned into organizing an entire weekend, and bring Pagans from out of town and house some of them, and getting some big speakers and making sure there’s a Pagan presence, and it turned into something really large.”

PEC’s efforts included a crowdfunding campaign to pay the travel costs for several Pagans who wanted to join the event. Seven people had their expenses covered so they could participate in the march. “That doesn’t seem like a lot to members of other religions,” Weber said, “but to have seven Pagans march with us thanks to the support of the community is a very special thing.”

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit: Groundswell Movement)

On the night before the march, PEC held a ritual and fellowship-gathering in Central Park, during which participants were encouraged to share how climate change had impacted their lives. What emerged, Weber said, was, “a message of deep concern. People spoke about droughts in their area and, for the New Yorkers, Hurricane Sandy was on our minds. We had a group coming down from Canada, which has been working really hard to fight the pipeline construction up there. We showed up as a community of faith, to say that this was a spiritual calling to be part of this march, because we regard the Earth as sacred and divine, and it was important that we be there and lend our presence and witness.”

Across the Atlantic, the Pagan Frontiers of London  organized its own presence for that city’s march. Dr. Vivianne Crowley joined the group for the event.  She said, “We thought it very important that there should be a Pagan presence at the pre-march multi-faith meditation, as well as at the march itself. We wanted to show that this was an issue that united faiths and we were delighted to say together (with a small Pagan adaptation) Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s prayer.”

Back in New York City, Andras Corben-Arthen offered an invocation for approximately 5,000 people just before the march began.

//

Post by Andras Corban-Arthen.

 

In the Spirit of the Earth, we are coming together;
in the Spirit of the Earth, we are one…” *
We come from the north, and we come from the south;
we come from the west, and we come from the east.
We gather from all directions
to march for this living planet
who is our home, who is what we are.
But we do not march only for ourselves,
we march for all beings of the Earth.
And so we call to sun, to wind and rain;
we call to mountains and glaciers;
we call to all who walk and crawl, who fly and swim;
we call to our ancestors, both seen and unseen;
we call to oceans and streams,
to trees, and grasses and stones
to guide and bless every step we take,
that we may once again live in harmony
with our Mother the Earth.
As it was, as it is, as it ever shall be;
with the flow and the ebb, as it ever shall be.

© 2014, Andras Corban-Arthen
*© 2000, Deirdre Pulgram-Arthen

Corban-Arthen also participated in the Religions for the Earth interfaith conference, which was held in conjunction with the march. He and members of the EarthSpirit community joined the interfaith section of the march alongside PEC.

Another Pagan organization in attendance was the Pagan Cluster, whose members gathered further north on the route. Here’s their account of the interplay between the two Pagan groups:

The group [Pagan Cluster] decided to participate in the ‘We Have the Solutions’ part of the march, bringing the earth-based energy to the midst of the food justice and big NGOs section. Another contingent of pagans organized by the Peoples Environmental Coalition marched as part of the faith block. Midway through the march the pagan groups ran into each other, played with each other’s energy a bit, but ultimately brought different energies to the streets and separated out again.The Pagan Environmental Coalition had a boisterous, high-energy vibe dominated by drums.The Pagan Cluster intentionally brought an energy deeply grounded and expressed through chants, carrying the sacred woad-dyed cloth of the Living River that has been at countless actions over the past 15 years. Both energies were needed in the march and valued by those around them. At the end of the march the Pagan Cluster, having been on their feet for over eight hours and 2.5 miles of pavement, ended with a spiral dance, bringing in bystanders and raising sweet energy to feed the work needed to fight climate change.

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York (credit:  Charles Beisser)

In the interfaith section, Pagans were “wedged between the Universalists and Humanist Jews,” Weber recalled, where “Jews marched to the sound of drums and Pagan groups followed close behind.” At one point, in what she called “a perfect moment of interfaith action for the planet,” their musical talents combined:

“Our chants were quickly adopted by members of other faith groups because they’re earth-centered, inclusive, and easy to learn. At one point, while we were singing the ‘Air I Am’ chant, a Jewish guy in a bicycle cab next to me started playing along on his clarinet.”

In London, Crowley experienced the same kind of solidarity, noting in her statement, “For us, one of the outstanding aspects of the march was the diversity of those who came. It wasn’t only dedicated environmentalists and Pagan Earth Warriors. It was all ages from 0 to 90, demonstrating a solidarity for the Earth that cut across divisions of faith, class, race, and politics.”

Historic as the Climate March was, what comes next is more important still.

“We’re all very, very tired, and there’s a sense that we want to take a break,” said Weber, “but I think that would be the worst thing we can do.The march had a carbon footprint of its own, so we have to make this count for something so that carbon we put in was not wasted.”

Credit: Charles Beisser

Crowley had similar sentiments, writing, “Climate Change marches have impact if they are linked to events like the UN summit that help give them high profile – political and business leaders are sensitive to public opinion. But marches are showpieces. It’s the actions we take every day to lessen our impact on the planet that also make a huge difference, and what we spend our money on. Consumer choices can make ‘People Power’ real.”

The summit itself was full of rhetoric but short on action, which was widely predicted. Weber reacted afterwards with a statement saying, “The words were encouraging, but what was missing were the concrete plans. President Obama pushed the need to reduce carbon emissions yet his administration is railroading the construction of dozens of liquefied natural gas export stations along both US coastlines. Natural gas is worse! Its extraction belches methane into the air which is a worse greenhouse gas than even carbon. It felt synonymous with the march in many ways: encouraging and hopeful. But like the march, the summit is a failure if specific action does not follow. I personally don’t want to hear any more leaders talk about the need to reduce climate change pollution. I want to hear specifically what they plan to do about it.”

Pagans don’t appear to be ready to rest on their laurels. New groups have emerged, such as Pagans Defending the Earth, and there are events on the horizon that can be used to continue the momentum, like the Global Frackdown on October 11. While the earth-centered religions are not able to force lightening-quick change, they are at least demonstrating the relentless pressure of a tectonic plate.

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Accountability in Pagan Leadership

Sat, 2014-09-27 06:11

[Sam Webster is one of our talented monthly columnists. If you like his articles and want to support his writing at The Wild Hunt, please consider donating to our fall fundraising campaign and sharing our IndieGoGo link. It is your continued support that had made it possible for us to feature Sam and his work each month. Will you donate now?Thank you.]

Accountability is a critical aspect of leadership in any community. For Pagans, this is a special challenge because our structure and power dynamics are neither the norm, nor easily shaped to produce accountability.

Ordinarily, there is a strong dimension of economic and regulatory reciprocity in the relationship between leaders and the communities they serve.The CEO is hired by the board of directors. The minister is called by the congregation (in congregational polity) or placed by the hierarchy. The president is elected by the people. If a leader does not perform to expectation or to standard, he or she can be fired or replaced. In the case of the president, the standards for malfeasance are high, but so are the consequences: impeachment, removal from office, or simply not being reelected.

[Graphic by lumaxart - CC lic. via Wikimedia ]

Pagan leaders are unusual in that they are often ‘self-called’ to their role. They decide to form a group and do so by collecting people around them. They are generally not paid, and often the group meets at the leader’s home. Generally, they are the principal teacher, and likewise, the sole initiator. This makes censuring or dismissing the leader very difficult. It usually disbands the group and, only sometimes, will a fraction of the group continue without the leader. The usual penalty of loss of pay simply does not apply.

Shauna Aura Knight recently wrote about the difficulty of holding leaders, or ‘elders’ in her frame, to account. In a previous and cited work on whistleblowers, Shauna describes the painful reality of individuals speaking out against the abuse of leaders and elders.They are regularly disbelieved and punished, while the accused is often powerfully defended. Many instead choose to remain silent.

The economic dimension of mutual control is only the most obvious lack in Pagan groups. When viewed per their power dynamics, most groups are (hopefully) benevolent and consensual autocracies. Besides being the founders of the group or the event, the leaders are the bottom line, and the one who maintains the commitment to making it all happen. Flakey and unreliable as many Pagans are, without firm leadership events fail and groups fade away.

Basic funding for them also tends to come out of the pockets of the leaders as well, bringing back the economic aspect, but without checks and balances. On the other end of the political spectrum, in consensus-based groups there can be a problem assigning accountability (not to say blame).  However, there can be an advantage in being accustomed to group decision-making, which provides its own kind of accountability. But when the consent breaks down, so do the groups.

There are alternatives but these require significant effort on the part of the group-members and real courage on the part of the leaders. In the Facebook thread on her page commenting on Shauna’s above mentioned post, Samuel Wagar (09122014) pointed to the way our society as a whole has worked out how to solve this problem:

I have created lasting groups (the festival now twenty years old, the church ten years), using democracy and congregationalism as the keys. And one such group fired a leader, and has disciplined others. It can be done, with a model that is not centered on the charismatic leader.

Here, democracy is the power structure, congregationalism is the social structure and ownership model, and not being centered on the charismatic or celebrity leader is crucial to long term success. Since groups of all kinds are most commonly started by charismatic leaders because they are the ones with the chutzpah to make it happen, we need to build models for migrating start-ups into long standing organizations. The leaders themselves need to take the lead in this transformation, and the members have to step up and take on the load.

[Photo Credit: Chris Beckett/Flickr]

This is not easy in a corporatocratic and consumer society. We don’t believe we have the power to govern the institutions in which we are embedded and, in many senses, we believe we should just be delivered good services without our having to work to make them good. This is reinforced by the belief that the ‘invisible hand of the market’ will just provide.

Experience does not support this notion. The iron law of oligarchy (Robert Michels, 1911) painfully shows that, without considerable will, power and authority accrue to the few or the one. The challenge is that leaders need to empower the membership and then give up power and authority to those they empower. Then the membership needs to not develop a new oligarchy. It’s not easy.

We can begin by building feedback-mechanisms. Starting with something as simple, if challenging, as setting up a council of advisers, leaders can begin to establish true two-way communication with committed members. Asking the difficult questions like, “What am I doing wrong?” and “What is the worst thing I have done?” are not fun to ask, hear, or even reply to. Doing this before crisis and developing a de-escalated methodology in a low emotional charge atmosphere can be a significant part of building an organization that learns, corrects its mistakes, and figures out what it is doing well so it can do more of that.

A powerful technique used in businesses committed to being learning organizations is to perform “Plus/Deltas” at the end of each meeting. It is often worthwhile for someone other than the meeting’s facilitator to run. A fresh facilitator steps up at the end of the meeting, draws a line down the middle of the note-taking surface (e.g., white board or easel pad) headed by a plus sign (+) on one side, and a triangle (∆) for the Greek letter Delta on the other. Then the facilitator asks the group what went well in the meeting (plusses) and what should be changed (deltas). Even simply taking down the list of these plusses and deltas  and seeing them on the page leads to improvement.

Building feedback and accountability into organizational structures is a serious challenge, but the laws of our country support a powerful means. This is the board of directors in a corporation. Corporate structure allows for the design of governance structures that can reflect the values of the community that creates the organization and give them the force of law. The community owns the corporation, selects the board of directors, who then empowers the executive officer(s) to run the operation.

[Photo Credit: rrafson CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

How this is done is up to the community. The board can be elected with a limited term. The executives could have very specifically defined powers. The Unitarian Universalist Association and its member churches are built this way, and something like this structure is what Samuel Wager is referring to in his above comment. When started by a charismatic leader, the leader has the task of setting up the organizational structure on behalf of the future, designing in democracy, and then subordinating themselves to its authority. Incidentally, this is what the Founders of the United States of America did, and why they deserve the honor in which are held. They easily could have set up an oligarchy.

Besides having the right structures, when there is a (potential) problem or abuse, the right procedures have to be in place. There is a reason why we have developed the justice system that we have in the meta-society. Humans are awful at determining guilt. Due process, worked out over innumerable errors and injustices, has produced the body of jurisprudence that governs our courts. While we neither need nor want that level of complexity, we do need to learn from its wisdom. Besides the general idea of innocent until proven guilty, three specific items are critical:

  1. If someone is accused of malfeasance, the person bringing the accusation has to have ‘standing’“ the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party’s participation in the case.” This protects the system from frivolous suits and acts of power from outside of the community in which the offense occurred. This is where the whistleblowers are crucial; they alone have the standing to bring accusation. It also means they need to have access to proper representation and counsel.
  2. The body (court) to which the case is brought must have ‘jurisdiction,’ meaning “the practical authority granted to a formally constituted…body or to a…leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility.” They must have authority over the parties involved and the actions claimed to have been done. Otherwise, one organization is asked to rule over another organization’s problem, without explicit agreements that they can. Naturally, all parties may ask an otherwise outside group to adjudicate a matter but, in that case, they are intentionally submitting to that authority.
  3. A case must be presented. The accuser must produce a defined accusation, preferably in writing, which states that the accused did some specified action at a particular time and place. Without this, the accusation can be a vague claim of misbehavior or abuse which becomes impossible to prove or counter. What is left is a vague air of impropriety; the besmirching of a reputation. No resolution is possible without a specific and clear case.

Instituting structures and procedures like these, appropriately informed by our Pagan culture and values, is part of the long process of maturation that we are undergoing as a community. Our increasing diversity also signals the need to find ways of working out our differences as well as managing conflict and misbehavior. Building the right structures and procedures are foundational to justice and fairness. By Maat, Themis, and Forseti, justice must be duly applied or it becomes a vendetta when we bring accusations against anyone, leader, follower or whistleblower. With time, I pray we can find our way to suitable means in which we can live in justice, correct our errors, and find methods that helpfully support and hold our leaders to account.

Accountability is a mutual relationship. It is not automatic or assured except with effort. Organizations have to be designed with built-in accountability. All parties in the system must fulfill their roles with energy and diligence. The ad hoc approaches that we have used in our small-group religion are reaching their limits, and our community is showing the strain. Hopefully this brief exploration of the common means of accountability and adjudication can provide some guidance for advancing the quality of Pagan leadership.

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Dispatches from River Mile 11

Fri, 2014-09-26 06:05

[Alley Valkyrie is one of our talented monthly columnists. If you like her stories and want to support her work at The Wild Hunt, please consider donating to our fall fundraising campaign and sharing our IndieGoGo link. It is your wonderful and dedicated support that makes it possible for Alley to be part of our writing team. Thank you very much.]

I came across the marsh last spring on my very first walk through the new neighborhood.

Three blocks from my building I stumbled upon it, flourishing within the confines of a city block in sharp contrast to its immediate surroundings. Overshadowed by condominium complexes on three sides, a vacant lot sits to the north, and then another park on the other side of that lot which stretches to the riverfront. The vacant lot allows for a breathtaking view of the Fremont Bridge gracefully arcing over the Willamette River.

Tanner Springs Park, as the marsh is officially known, is a modern recapture/recreation of the creek and wetlands that flowed through this area up until the late 1800’s. The original creek was filled in to make way for industrial development, which dominated this area from the turn of the century until approximately twenty-five years ago. When the industrial cover was eventually stripped away in order to plan the neighborhood as it stands today, the city was presented with an opportunity to restore a small piece of the natural topography, which eventually manifested as a thriving, swampy ecosystem contained within the boundaries of a city block. The park is not only specifically designed to capture storm water as the native environment once did; the storm water is then treated and pumped back into the spring as opposed to simply being directed back into the river.

Since that first encounter with the marsh, I’ve visited the spot nearly every day, sometimes only for a minute or two and other times for the better part of an afternoon. The marsh feels very tucked into itself; there is something very grounding and psychically cohesive about the block that is not felt among its surroundings. There are strange spirits among the grasses and ponds here, spirits both old and very, very new, and their presence seems to magnify the more I pay attention to them. The marsh is both beautifully out of place and also completely fitting as it stands. Its surroundings protect and isolate it while highlighting it at the same time, and the open space between the block and the river creates a positive aesthetic flow that opens up the surrounding neighborhood in a very distinctive and pleasing manner.

The wonderful marshiness of Tanner Springs Park

At the marsh, I can hide in plain sight. The more I pay attention to the everyday details, which are contained within its borders, the more the everyday details outside of its borders become more obvious to me. I have developed an energetic reciprocity with this spot, and the spirits have made it clear that they welcome my presence. In a sense, it’s the only block in this neighborhood where I feel at ease.

*  *  *

For the past seven years, I had been deeply engaged in a close relationship with a small section of the Willamette River, specifically the curve that defines the border of Alton Baker Park in Eugene; a spot that the State of Oregon defines as River Mile 183, and that I could never quite define myself.

Nowadays, I live exactly 172 river miles north of that spot in a building that sits a few hundred yards away from the west bank of the Willamette in Portland at River Mile 11. While the mile markers of the Willamette generally don’t carry a specific connotation, River Mile 11 is significant and often referred to by name due to the fact that it marks the furthest point upstream where the Willamette has been designated as a Superfund site. From the Broadway Bridge downstream several miles to Sauvie Island, the river suffers from highly elevated levels of toxicity due to well over a hundred years’ worth of industrial activity on the waterfront. The banks and waters of River Mile 11 are specifically noted for their toxicity apart from the rest of the Superfund site. The area from the Broadway Bridge downstream to the Fremont Bridge is the only stretch of the Willamette in Portland where swimming is not only ill-advised but advisory groups caution against even walking barefoot on the riverbank.

The toxic effects of a century’s worth of industry was not confined to just the water itself. The housing complex I live in was built on top of formerly toxic brownfields, as were many of the surrounding buildings and current features of the neighborhood including my beloved marsh. But while the toxicity on the land has been cleaned up to an extent over the past twenty years, any substantive cleaning of the river itself has yet to begin.

The view at River Mile 11

I have learned that she is both the same river I knew in Eugene and a completely different character at the same time. I feel as if I’ve gotten to simultaneously know her in two separate stages of her journey. The youthful exuberance of the Willamette at Mile 183 is largely absent from the river that now sits across the street from my building. Here, the river has been altered into submission, industrialized to a point where the energies that I easily sensed in Eugene are almost unrecognizable.  And yet, she is my old friend all the same. And, while I miss dipping my feet in, the understandings and lessons that I am quickly gaining from living on this stretch of the river far outweigh what I used to take for granted.

*  *  *

I stood in front of the statue, keeping in mind that the imposing woman before me was the second-largest copper repouseé statue in the country after Lady Liberty herself. Hunched down, she reaches out to me with her right hand as she wields a trident in her left. I take in her essence, both fierce and inviting.  In the tradition of Columbia and Brittania as well as Lady Liberty, she is intended to embody the persona of this city. I feel that she does in many ways, although not necessarily in the ways that were originally intended. For me, she is a powerful symbol of what is held back as much as what she inspires to push forward.

Symbols hold tremendous power, and one of the reasons that the Statue of Liberty is such a powerful symbol is that she can be seen everywhere. One does not have to visit her in person to quickly conjure up her likeness in the imagination. She appears on everything from birthday cakes to snow globes, and to step inside of any New York City tourist shop is to be visually assaulted with countless versions of her likeness.

The statue I stood before at that moment, however, is barely a recognizable symbol at all. Her likeness is restrained under threat of litigation. Despite the fact that the statue was built with public funds, the statue’s creator retains the copyright to the statue’s image, in contrast to most publicly funded art, which is generally in the public domain. Not only does the artist retain the copyright, he aggressively enforces it, which means that commercial reproductions of the statue’s image are practically non-existent. You will not find a cheap postcard with her image in a tourist shop.

Interestingly enough, despite its failure to become a symbol of any sort, the statue’s name is instantly recognizable among the American public, albeit the association is far removed from its original source. When people hear the name “Portlandia,” they generally think of a television show, not the beautiful copper goddess that kneels before me at that moment.

Standing before her, it struck me as strangely fitting, in a depressing sense, how the name of this statue has come to be primarily associated with a show that satirizes the very real tendencies and excesses of hipster capitalism, as opposed to being associated with the statue itself, a powerful and potentially iconic image that has been intentionally repressed and held back from mainstream recognition on account of its creator’s excessive love affair with capitalism.

Portlandia

I left a flower for Portlandia at the entrance to the building that she hovers over, and bid her adieu. As I walked away, I deliberately tried to picture her in my mind as I had just seen her, but strangely enough, or perhaps not strangely at all, her specifics had already become a bit of a blur.

 *  *  *

The cargo trains are often close to a mile long, and several times a day they slowly roll past less than a hundred feet from my bedroom window. When the cargo is mainly lumber, my throat occasionally tightens as I think of the forest, but my throat tightens much more when I spot the ominous black tanker cars that I know to be carrying crude oil, mostly from the Bakken region of North Dakota en route to a refinery near Clatskanie, Oregon.

The oil trains have been a subject of controversy, especially since a tragic accident in Quebec last year when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed, killing 47 people. Oil trains started running through Portland a few years ago without public notice or input, and oil train shipments have increased 250% just in the past year. Railroad companies are not required to report the entirety of their oil shipments through Oregon; only trains that are carrying over a million gallons of Bakken crude on a single train, the equivalent of approximately 35 cars, must report.

Oil train crawling past my building complex

Aside from the dangers of transporting crude oil in the first place, the frequency and slowness of these cargo trains creates additional environmental and quality-of-life issues on a local level. Vehicles are stopped several times a day for the trains to pass, and dozens of cars sit idling, sometimes for the better part of an hour, while stopped in a narrow traffic corridor lined on both sides by residential apartment buildings. Especially in the summer, and when the air is already stagnant, the build-up of car fumes as the train crawls past is noticeable and unpleasant.

There’s a cruel irony in witnessing all the refined oil being wasted as cars just sit there in frustration. These cars, which are often covered in pro-environment bumper stickers, idle away, waiting for the trains carrying Bakken crude to pass on the final stage of the journey towards becoming refined oil.

*  *  *

A block south from the marsh, I walked down Lovejoy Street and once again couldn’t ignore how new the corridor felt. The entire neighborhood feels new to an extent, which makes sense in that most of the development is less than thirty years old. But Lovejoy Street radiates newness in a way which truly captures the feel of the neighborhood.

In relation to the surrounding neighborhoods, I can’t help but to liken the Pearl District to an ultramodern bathroom in an otherwise old Victorian house. From the turn of the last century until the late 1980s, this area was simply known as the NW Industrial area.  Then rezoning and the removal of the viaduct that towered over Lovejoy Street opened up the area for development. The classic gentrification pattern followed: artists moved in, developers followed, artists were then priced out, and today the Pearl District is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Portland. It’s a neighborhood that reminds me more of SoHo in New York City than anyplace else.

The Portland Streetcar one block north from Lovejoy Street

I did not choose this neighborhood — this neighborhood chose me. My ideal vision of living in Portland consisted of a cute little bungalow in the southeast with a garden in the backyard, but the Gods had other plans. I surrendered once I realized what was at work and, while there is something awkward and distressing about both the newness and the lack of standing history in the area, the why part of the “why here?” question is starting to become clearer to me by the day. Right now, within that one question, my task is to simply bear witness and take notes.

*  *  *

I was sitting at the edge of the dock at the marsh last month when I first heard the sound of the pile driver. I looked over at the vacant lot in horror, and noticed that overnight the lot had been surrounded with fencing and filled with construction equipment. I realized immediately that my beloved view of the Fremont Bridge was about to disappear.

And though I’ve only lived here since last Spring, it feels very personal and very raw in its effect upon me.

The view, interrupted by a wall and a pile driver

Every day since, I’ve watched as the hole in the ground expands, and the pile driver has just recently been replaced by a crane as concrete paneling is quickly ushered in. Most who walk by seem much more affected and upset by the sound of the construction itself than the fact that another huge mega-building is about to go up in the vacant lot, destroying the open feel of the park. Part of me, the small part that tends to envy the bliss inherent in ignorance, wishes I was as unaffected as everyone else who walks past. But I just can’t shake the inevitability and the reality of the impending loss.

Slowly but surely, developers are stealing a little piece of my sky.

The spirits in the marsh seem unsettled and anxious; their feelings mirroring my own, affected by not only the construction but by the utter disenchantment in everyone around us. Sitting in the marsh, it feels like the spirits and I are the only ones who feel that there’s something subtly disturbing in the acceptance and normalization of urban development as it occurs before us. For everyone else, it seems to be business as usual.

This neighborhood has many impressive features: three well-designed parks, several coffee shops, countless yoga studios and art galleries, Portland’s first dog gym, a spiffy new streetcar line, and more “sustainable” restaurants than one could possibly track. But what it notably lacks is what stood out for me the most at that moment.  It lacks both a collective memory as well as a cohesive community spirit.

 *  *  *

I came back from lunch to learn that activists from Portland Rising Tide had temporarily blockaded the train tracks leading to Clatskanie as a protest against the shipment of crude oil.

I sat with this for a moment, silently honoring anyone and everyone who potentially puts themselves in harm’s way in the name of environmental justice. At that moment, I heard the train signals clanging outside my window, and I could tell from the sound against the tracks that it was a cargo train.

Quickly, I ran out of my building to see the black oil tanks snaking their way down the tracks towards the Steel Bridge. At the end of the side street, I saw vehicles backed up over a mile in each direction from the tracks, most of them idling away as the oil train crawled past. I looked behind me, and something on the light-post caught my eye.  It was a faded sticker that read “Portland: America’s Greenest City.”

I glanced out across at the river and, as the sun reflected off the water, I remembered hearing that there was currently a rare and toxic algae blooming on the Willamette. The advisory not to enter the water now reached far past the confines of River Mile 11. The oil train made its way across the Steel Bridge as I looked on; an ugly feeling grew in the pit of my stomach as I watched the dangerously toxic train cross the dangerously toxic waters.

I walked back in the other direction and headed over the pedestrian bridge that crosses the tracks at Union Station. On the bridge, I looked out at the train. Its black cars stretched eastward as far as the eye could see. A few tourists walked by, snapping pictures from the overpass, and then stopped to stare at a map for a few moments. I asked them what they were looking for.

“Do you know where we can find that big statue, the one that you see in the intro to ‘Portlandia’?” they asked me.

I pointed to a spot on the map. “Just so you know, Portlandia is actually the name of the statue itself,” I told them. “That’s where the show got its name from.”

They looked at each other, surprised. I smiled and nodded and continued walking across the bridge. At the bottom of the stairs, I paused for a moment. My original destination had been the marsh, but I suddenly felt the urge to bring a flower to Portlandia once again.

I took off in the direction of the statue, tuning out the sound of the oil train in the background as I conjured up the image of Portlandia in my mind’s eye and, for the first time, I was truly able to picture her clearly.

 

 

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Thoughts on Death and Burial

Thu, 2014-09-25 09:31

[Articles like the one below take time, research and money. If you like our work and want to help us continue to share stories like this one and more, please consider donating to our fall fundraising efforts and sharing our link. It is your wonderful and dedicated support that makes it all possible. Thank you very much.]

Persephone Queen of the Underworld Artist: Kinuko Y. Craft

“Be to her, Persephone,
All the things I might not be:
Take her head upon your knee.
She that was so proud and wild,
Flippant, arrogant and free,
She that had no need of me,
Is a little lonely child
Lost in Hell,—Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee:
Say to her, “My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here.”

Laura LaVoie wishes that this poem by Edna St. Vincent Milay to be read at her funeral

What will happen when you die? This isn’t an esoteric pondering of where your soul resides in the afterlife, if you believe you’ll enjoy one, but the nuts and bolts of your funeral or burial. Have you planned it out? Does your family know your wishes? Will they follow your wishes?

For some, death is something too uncomfortable to contemplate. For the Pagans that The Wild Hunt talked with, it brings them peace of mind knowing they’ll be eased beyond the veil with rites which fit their religion and show honor to their Gods.

Kathryn Fernquist Hinds [photo by Fox Gradin, Celestial Studios Photography]

Kathryn Fernquist Hinds has a congenital heart defect and has already had four open-heart surgeries. She says that she’s always felt the proximity of death and, before each of her two most recent surgeries, made sure her wishes were known to her husband and her chosen family.

“I’ve wanted a Viking funeral ever since I first read about it as a kid,” says Kathryn. She notes her father’s family is Swedish and very proud of it, and that they always had books on the Vikings in the house.

Although a Viking-style cremation is legal in North Dakota, that’s too far away from Georgia, where she calls home. So she’s opts for a more practical solution, “…I will probably request normal cremation and then have some of my ashes taken to Lake Ontario, where I grew up.” She’s also impressed with the green cemetery at Circle Sanctuary and may have some of her ashes buried there along with a location near her current home. She wants her friends and family to have the comfort that comes from having a burial site they can visit.

As for her funeral? “I would like my service to be very open, with my friends and family of all faiths sharing memories and stories about me. Music, dancing, and good food and drink would hopefully feature as well,” says Kathryn. She hopes that her Pagan family will honor and remember her in the Samhain ritual following her death, according to Wiccan tradition.

Jeremiah Myer [photo provided by Myer]

Jeremiah Myer is a Minnesotan witch who started thinking about his funeral because he’s getting older and death is part of the natural order of life. “I’m not afraid of the next step in my journey nor am I afraid of what that step will bring,” says Jeremiah. He says, when the time comes, he’ll leave with a smile on his face.

He also realizes that his funeral is, in many ways, the last time he’ll have to speak with family and friends and allow them to experience the depth of his faith. He wants his ashes to be taken up to Baker lake, near the boundary waters canoe area. Once there, his oldest son will take his ashes by canoe to the middle of the lake and pour them in. Jeremiah says, “The water from the lake flows north and I’ll travel back to the great Mother.”

Jeremiah’s funeral ritual will be a blend of Wiccan Goddess Celtic practices with his daughter-in-law and a local witch casting the circle. “I’ll write my own ritual, my ritual tools will be used and when the ritual is over they [sic] are to be gifts to these women,” says Jeremiah. He wants his patroness, Danu and her consort the Greenman, invoked during the funeral rites.

Nicholas Sea

Nicholas Sea also wishes to be cremated without any body preparation or viewing. He has asked a friend to scatter his ashes in a designated location, but says the friend can change the location if circumstances warrant it.

He wants to keep things very simple. “My view regarding memorial services is that friends and family can arrange memorial services if they would like,” Nicholas says. He goes on to say,”My family back east is not much a part of my life and generally follow a more involved funeral process than I. Since my desire is for very little funeral process, simple memorials are best in my view.”

Nicholas says his practical and simple view came from assisting in a number of funeral services, burials, and cremations over the past 35 years. Additionally, he doesn’t have any children or a partner, and most of his friends live all over the country.  He says, “From experience, allowing for several small memorials in different places seems best.”

Several small memorials would allow the people in different parts of his life to have a memorial that best fits them. “For example, Circle Sanctuary would likely include my passing in a PSG and a Samhain memorial,” says Nicholas. “My local friends and adopted family would likely have a small local memorial and my family back east would likely have a small memorial as well.”

Simple and adaptable doesn’t mean Nicholas is without preferences. He says there are two core elements of his religious practice that he’d like to see in his memorial services. “First is the notion of letting go. In our lives we experience a recurring cycle of engagement and release. When someone passes from our lives, we go through a period of transition and ultimately release. So, as with the small things in our lives through the seasons each year, so too with the larger endings,” says Nicholas. That reminder of letting go is what he’d like to see as a part of the memorials.

The second element involves reincarnation and the awaking of our inner selves through each life we live. Nicholas says, “I have every expectation of returning in a coming generation and I am looking forward to the future world we create and evolve, day by day in our lives.” Nicholas is appreciative of the Tibetan approach to guiding individuals in their departure from life into the Bardo between lives, but doesn’t have any friends versed in that process, so he’ll do what he can ahead of time.

Nicholas says it’s important to have everything in writing so clear guidance is available to everyone. He isn’t worried about what his family will think of his last wishes. He says his sister and brother understand his wishes, and he believes they would be very supportive. He also thinks family and friends would do their best to carry out his requests but knows unexpected circumstances can pop up. He explains, “I know full well that many people are not in the same harmonious situation I am in, and that many times legal difficulties arise.”

Dawn Marshall takes a different approach to her funeral rites. She’s leaving it up to her partner and children. She says that funerals are for the living to help them grieve or say goodbye. So although she’s shared her ideas about cremation and green burials, her family can decide what to do. “Even if I pre-arrange and pre-pay for all funeral goods and services, those actually making the arrangements can change them when the time comes. Why put them in the position of having to blatantly oppose choices I made in a time they are likely to be under a great deal of stress.”

She likes the idea of a more generic Pagan-style service for her public memorial but envisions something different for those closest to her, “For those close to me spiritually and magically, I like to imagine a ritual specific to the tradition I practice, Feri.” She wants those grieving her loss to experience a service and practice that eases their pain, helps them find closure, feels like they have honored the relationship they had with her.

Because she’s leaving all decisions up to her loved ones, she’s not worried about any problems that may happen if those arranging her funeral don’t agree with her suggestions  Dawn says, “I have communicated with them that I want them to do what will help them most.”

Laura LaVoie, near her home in Asheville. [photo credit, Laura LaVoie]

Laura LaVoie recently started thinking about what she’d like for her funeral after the daughter of a close friend passed away after a lifelong battle with illness and disability. She says, “It didn’t take long for it to stir up conversations in our home about death and funerals.”

Laura has a clear idea of what she wants, and doesn’t want, at her funeral. For starters, she doesn’t want people to be too sad, “When I die I want people to remember how much fun I liked to have and celebrate that.”

As for what she wants? She would like her favorite poem by Edna St. Vincent Milay, quoted at the top of this article, read at the service. She also wants to incorporate Pagan elements that everyone can appreciate.  Laurea says, “I once saw a suggested ritual for a funeral where the family petitions a representative of Kharon for safe passage into the underworld by offering coins. I love that and would love to incorporate that.”

In addition, she’d like to have a big party with lots of drinking and fun. “I want my funeral to reflect who I was in life, Pagan or not.”

She thinks her wishes will most likely be carried out. As her parents are getting older she feels the chance that they would outlive her are slim, “Even still, I don’t expect that they would fight it much.” She doesn’t have any children and has a living will and power of attorney which designate her partner to make these decisions.

Maggie Beaumont is a Pennsylvania Wiccan who has been thinking about her funeral since she was in her 30′s, after losing a couple friends. She says her views have changed over the years, “I started out with ‘cremation’ because I didn’t want to use up a lot of financial and geographic resources by claiming a burial plot. Later I learned how energy intensive cremation actually is, and began looking for something else.”

That something else has included donating her body to medical science, as that was what her mother chose to do. But now she has a different plan.  Maggie says, “Nowadays my intention is for my body to go to one of the ‘Body Farms’ where it can be laid out in an outdoor site to add to forensic knowledge of how a body decomposes under different conditions.” If this isn’t an option for her, she’ll opt for a green burial, which returns the body to nature. She says all life feeds off of life and since her body has been sustained by eating plants and animals, she wants her body to feed them in turn.

By Bs0u10e01 [CC-BY-3.0 Wikimedia]

Maggie’s views on the service or ceremony have changed, too. Just a year ago she wanted a life celebration “with people invited to share their memories of [her], and a little bit of drumming or chanting.” She says, “I was clear that I would want a cast circle, but as a good number of the folks who would want to be there are not Pagan I wouldn’t want the circle to be obtrusive.” Now she’s considering a home funeral and has begun preparing her family and covenmates to assist.

There are some challenges to a home funeral. Maggie lives alone and her children are widely scattered, so they most likely wouldn’t be able coordinate a home funeral. If willing, that may be handled by her fellow coveners.

The home funeral she’s envisioning would have evening ‘calling hours’ during which folks can sit beside her body, if they like, or gather in another room, if they prefer. The next day there would be a more formal ritual of leave-taking. Maggie has not yet written out the ritual she’d like used, but says she will do so since otherwise her family and coveners would need to create it during a time of grief and stress. She adds that the local Unitarian Universalist congregation would also hold a memorial service for her.

Maggie says the leave-taking ritual would be a mix of Wicca and Feri in the tradition of Victor Anderson. It would involve opening the Gates of the East, South, West and North and inviting each Element to contribute its powers and invoking her coven’s Patron deities. She’d also want someone to invite her power animals and guides: Bumble Bee, Dolphin, Wolf, and Chiron. She’d like her body blessed with salt water and incense and anointed with sage and rosemary. An important part of the ritual would include telling her that it’s time for her to leave her body,”Telling me, explicitly, to go to the light and look for guidance as to my next steps. Telling me, explicitly, that I am forgiven for my assorted wrongdoing and offenses against others; and telling everyone there present that I offer my global forgiveness to anyone who feels they need it.”

She wants her funeral to reflect her spiritual stance in this life and bring the most comfort to the people who are most important to her. She doesn’t anticipate any problems with carrying out her wishes.

As for my thoughts on the rituals of death?

Rituals have to have meaning, they have to serve a purpose, or they are discarded. Even when the religion that gave birth to the ritual is forced out, powerful rituals remain. In the US Military there is a ritual that is played each and every time a military member dies in combat, and it’s a ritual from the burial rites in Athens.

Centuries ago, in Athens, when someone died the body was taken by procession to the burial or cremation site. A family member would say the dead person’s name three times to see if they would answer. It was to show the person was really dead, to bring the reality that they had crossed to the land of the dead and will never be coming back.

The US military does the same thing. They take a final role call of the squad or element the military member belonged to and they call the dead person’s name last. Then they call it again adding in the first name. Then they call it a third time, using the person’s full name. When the person doesn’t respond, it is announced they person is dead and where they died. It’s as powerful a rite now as it was 2 or 3 thousand years ago, which is why it is still done. Which is why this will happen at my funeral.

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Fall Fund Drive Update: 33%!

Thu, 2014-09-25 07:16

Hello everyone, just thought I’d check in and let everyone know how our annual Fall Funding Drive is doing two days in. I’m pleased to report that we’ve so far raised a little over $4000 dollars, around 33% of our $12,500 goal! That is amazing progress two days in, and it could only happen through the support of the individuals and organizations within our community pitching in to make a statement: That the The Wild Hunt is a service they value, and want to see continue. 100% of our budget comes from this drive, and 100% of that money goes back into running this site, paying for hosting, and most importantly, paying our contributors for their work. This year, thanks to the fiscal underwriting of the Pantheon Foundation, all donations will be tax deductible.

 

I’d like to take a moment now to thank just some of the amazing people who have donated so far:

Melissa McNair, Ashley Atkinson, Anna Korn, Joann Keesey, Angus McMahan, Frater Arktos, The New Wiccan Church, Hecate, Columbia Protogrove of ADF, Keepers of the Flame TV, Burning Brigid Media, Morpheus Ravenna, Ashleigh McSidhe, Gerald B. Gardner ‘Year and a Day’ Calendar, the amazing folks at The Witches’ Voice, and many more!

I hope you’ll join them in supporting our mission to produce Pagan journalism and bring you thought-provoking columnists for another year. It only happens with your support. So please, consider donating now, and help spread the word! Here’s the link to the IndieGoGo campaign site:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-wild-hunt-2014-fall-funding-campaign/x/497880

Again, THANK YOU, to everyone who has donated so far, let’s wrap this drive up quickly so we can continue to focus on the work that brings you here.

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Former Instructor Accuses Auburn University of Religious Discrimination

Wed, 2014-09-24 10:17

[Articles like the one below take time, research and money. If you like our work and want to help us continue to share stories like this one and more, please consider donating to our fall fundraising efforts and sharing our link. It is your support that makes it all possible.Thank you.]

Part of Southern culture is a deep loyalty to one’s Alma mater. That loyalty is often synonymous with kinship, sister or brotherhood and community. Although this deep attachment is most obvious during big sporting events, it lasts long after the lights are dimmed on any playing field.

“William J. Samford Hall” at Auburn Univ. [Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan, via Flickr/Wikimedia CC. lic]

For that very reason, Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren was all the more devastated when she found out that her position as an english instructor at Auburn University (AU) had been terminated without a given reason. Not only was she an employee but also a three time Auburn graduate. When she was in her 30s, with a GED, three children and divorce papers in hand, she earned a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. She says:

As an alumni, myself, I cannot reconcile such an action against my deep loyalty to my university …  I have been, in effect, disowned by the very institution that created me as a teacher and a scholar without any more ado than that given to a stranger.

In the local Alabama Pagan community and in the blogosphere, Dr. Privett-Duren is better known as Seba O’Kiley, the Southern Fried Witch. She has been a spiritual leader, Pagan teacher and blogger for years. However, until May, her two identities were, more or less, kept separate. Religion is generally not discussed. A former English Department colleague Dr. Robin E. Bates said:

In the Auburn English department, faculty and staff don’t discuss religious feeling openly. I think that, for  most, this is because it is a publicly funded school and many feel that faith has no role in the workplace there … No one discusses religion with students, because it’s outside the purview of the job as teachers of English, and discussion of anything personal like religion would be considered unprofessional.

While some colleagues, like Dr. Bates, knew Dr. Privett-Duren’s religion and even followed her Pagan blog, the College of Liberal Arts administration did not. Due to the alleged “hush hush” circumstances surrounding her termination, Dr. Privett-Duren believes that her religion was, in fact, the cause. She explained:

They [administrators] found out when a colleague complained about me to the Dean’s office. I have never been allowed to know the details of that complaint and it (apparently) was unfounded and dropped. Soon thereafter, the Dean asked that I not accompany my committee of which I was a member for our meeting with the Dean. He did not want me there. From that moment, it escalated.

Seba O’Kiley or Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren

The initial problems arose in the fall of 2013 but, as she noted, appeared to have been dropped within a month. In fact, in April 2014, Dr. Privett-Duren was honored with the English Department’s teaching award for the 2013-14 school year. In addition, she was being considered for a promotion to a permanent lecturer and for a grant to establish online class material.

However, things turned sour that very same month. On April 4, the administration sent Dr. Privett-Duren an email informing her that she was “was not selected” for the grant. Her department chair admitted that he was “surprised by the decision which was made outside the department.” She was unable to obtain any further information about the decision-making process.

A month later, Dr. Privett-Duren was sent the termination letter with no further explanation. Within days, she contacted her chair, the administration and the Affirmative Action/EEO offices. During that time, she was neither able to gain an audience with the Dean, nor learn the conditions of her termination.

Frustrated and confused, Dr. Privett-Duren turned to the American Civil Liberties Union. Within days, the organization returned her letter stating, “We have reviewed your request for assistance and concluded that your situation raises serious questions about the possibility of discrimination with your company.” However the ACLU also added that her complaint did not constitute a civil rights issue and recommended that she contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

On June 16, she filed a charge of religious discrimination and ageism with the EEOC in Birmingham. The organization is currently investigating her case and, she is waiting for a response. She says:

How do I feel about the whole thing. I feel betrayed–not by my department, as I understand that their hands were tied, nor by my students, who didn’t know nor care about the status of my religion. I feel betrayed by the red tape of administration that did not protect me from the machination of Dean’s Aistrup’s decision and by the refusal of the Provost’s office to investigate it. The unprecedented act of terminating an employee without regard to work record, the opinion of the supervising faculty or the simple (ethical) step of allowing that employee the right to meet with the dean of the college is nothing short of a witch hunt. 

While Dr. Privett-Duren was communicating with officials at the school and with these outside agencies, her students launched their own protest in the form of an online petition. By June,142 students of many faiths digitally signed a request to “Bring Dr. PD Back to Auburn University.” While the petition doesn’t directly address the reason behind her dismissal, it does highlight her reputation as a popular, well-loved teacher. Former student Sam Christensen said, “I don’t know anyone who disagrees with the petition. I can say that I would be surprised if there was serious student opposition to it, I haven’t known many professors as universally liked by students as her.”

Many of these students didn’t find out that “Dr. PD” was Pagan until the petition was made public. Former student Casey Jo Berland, a practicing Christian, said, “Kat kept her religion completely hidden from her students. I had absolutely no idea until after the semester was over and I called her for advice. And even then she was hesitant to open up about it.”

Dr. Privett-Duren’s hesitation to discuss her religion was more about professionalism than about fear of discovery. All of the interviewed students and faculty agree that Auburn’s climate is generally more progressive as compared to many other locations in Alabama or the Southeast. The University was even home to an active Pagan student organization, Pantheon, for years.

More recently, the town itself has become host to the only Pagan Pride Day event in the state. In fact, Auburn Pagan Pride Day is held at the Arboretum on the University campus. APPD organizer and longtime resident Linda Kerr says, “I’ve lived here since 1983, and have been Pagan here since 1988, and have never had any issues due to being Pagan. I worked at Auburn University for 25 years, and never had any trouble there either.” She holds the Pagan pride event on campus because, “the site is beautiful and lends itself well.” However, APPD is not endorsed or sponsored by the University in any way.

Kerr’s comments, however, were corroborated by other Pagan residents and students. Former Pagan AU student, Jillian Smith, actually applied to the university upon encouragement from Dr. Privett-Duren. She said:

Kat told me how open-minded and accepting AU was, allowing for a great deal of personal expression, pursuance of personal interest and acceptance of differing viewpoints when well presented. She spoke of AU as forward-thinking, encouraging of new ideas, and a supposed melting pot of creed, race, color, religion, sexual orientation, and so forth. This was not only a driving point for my application to AU, it was also the kind of community environment in which I wanted my son to be raised — an environment of AU “family” and “All in.”

Despite this progressive climate and academic environment, Dr. Privett-Duren still maintains that her termination was related to her religion. She says that the University is located in the very conservative South and that administrators are sometimes not as open-minded as the professors working in the departments. As she points out, her termination came from the college administration, who didn’t know about her religion prior to last fall, and not from her department head, who did.

Unfortunately, the University declined to comment due to this situation being “a personal employment matter.” Both the AA/EEO department and Dean’s office responded similarly saying that they are unable to speak publicly in such cases.

Dr. Privett-Duren in her garden

Therefore, the investigation into Dr. Privett-Duren’s termination and her allegations of religious discrimination now rest entirely with the EEOC. In the meantime, Dr. Privett-Duren has begun other projects. She will be teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary and at another online university. She is writing a memoir about life as a witch in the south and has already sent a fiction project to a publisher. In addition, she is the newest, regular writer at Crone Magazine. Her column, which begins this October, is aptly called “Southern-Fried Crone.”  Dr. Privett-Duren says:

As a direct result of my termination, I have been forcibly outed by the process. For over a decade, I existed in fracture:  Seba O’Kiley, the country witch versus Dr. Privett-Duren, the academic. That fracture has healed from the chaos.  What I am now is quite a force of nature, and for that alone, I am grateful. I am now whole, a witch/teacher/mother/academic with no apologies.

Regardless of the outcome of the EEOC investigation, Dr. Privett-Duren says that she will keep fighting. She loves Auburn University and the students that call it home. With the spirit of “War Eagle” in her tone, she says, “I just want my job back. I just want to teach.”

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The Wild Hunt’s 2014 Fall Funding Drive Begins!

Tue, 2014-09-23 08:11
Help fund another year of Pagan news and journalism at The Wild Hunt! Your support makes it happen!

We are now in the 10th year of The Wild Hunt! What began in 2004 as an experiment run by an enthusiastic novice, has slowly morphed into one of the most widely-read news magazines within modern Paganism. I am still taken aback by the fact that thousands daily read not only my work, but the work of a growing number of reporters and columnists dedicated to a vision of journalism and accountability within our family of faiths. It has been a distinct honor and privilege to oversee this project, and I believe that good work has been done, work that has helped define who we are, and what we value.

What has been instrumental in shepherding our transition from a small blog into a project with a editorial structure, staff, and a selection of columnists who challenge and enlighten us has been your fiscal support. This year’s Fall Funding Drive will be vital to the future health and growth of The Wild Hunt. As you may know, I recently announced that I was transitioning away from the daily running of the site, and passing on the duties of Managing Editor to the capable shoulders of Heather Greene, who brings to the job deep experience working directly with a variety of Pagan organizations, and an impressive professional media background. Likewise, our two staff reporters, Cara Schulz and Terence P. Ward, also have backgrounds in professional journalism, and are moving The Wild Hunt closer and closer to an ideal of providing top-notch primary source journalism on a regular basis.

Today is the beginning of a new Fall Funding Drive, and we’re asking for a base budget of $12,500 dollars to run for another year, and we’re hoping that you will help us not only meet this goal, but surpass it and allow us to do even more. The more we raise, the more we can do. Want to see more regular columnists? Want to see more staff writers? Then I would love to see us push well past that base goal in the coming month. I know that there are many thousands of readers out there, and I know it would only take a fraction donating to not only fund us, but help us greatly expanding the coming year.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO OUR INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN!

$12,500 dollars will allow us to pay our hosting bills for another year, pay our staff, and cover other expense related to running the website. In addition, thanks to fiscal oversight from The Pantheon Foundation, all your donations will be tax deductible. 100% of our budget goes back into The Wild Hunt.

Over the years many have said our community has a hard time supporting institutions and services that benefit them. I don’t believe that is entirely true. I think we can come together if something is worthwhile, and goes to the trouble to ask. I believe The Wild Hunt is giving something unique to our community, and I am asking you, please help us expand and grow into an independent institution that can serve your daily news and information needs. Our success won’t just be for us, it will be for you, and for those who follow us.

If you can’t contribute now, you can still help! Just share this campaign on Facebook, on Twitter, on Tumblr, on your favorite Pagan email list, and let them know why this is important to you. The more people speak out, the better we can do!

AGAIN, HERE IS THE LINK TO OUR CAMPAIGN, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT! 

As an addendum, during last year’s campaign, we promised we would start a special mailing list with exclusive announcements and content. For a variety of reasons, that never materialized. However, we have now created a mailing list! So if you are a fan of The Wild Hunt, and would like to get exclusive content and announcements on a semi-regular basis, please sign up with the following form.

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Happy Autumnal Equinox

Mon, 2014-09-22 05:00

September 23nd, 02:29 UT, will mark the Autumnal Equinox (the evening of the 22nd in North America) which signals the beginning of Fall in the northern hemisphere (our friends in the southern hemisphere are celebrating the Spring Equinox). On this day there will be an equal amount of light and darkness, and after this day the nights grow longer and we head towards Winter. In many modern Pagan traditions this is the second of three harvest festivals (the first being Lughnasadh, the third being Samhain).

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

“In the U.S. this equinox comes on September 22 at 10:29 p.m. EDT, 9:29 p.m. CDT, 8:29 p.m. MDT or 7:29 p.m. PDT. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is rising later now, and nightfall comes sooner. This is our autumn equinox, when the days are getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere. At this equinox, day and night are approximately equal in length. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, people are enjoying the cooler days of autumn even as preparations for winter are underway. South of the equator, spring begins.”Deborah Byrd, EarthSky

The holiday is also known as “Harvest Home” or “Mabon” by Wiccans and Witches, “Mid-Harvest”, “Foghar”, and “Alban Elfed” by some Druidic and Celtic-oriented Pagan groups, and “Winter Finding” by modern-day Asatru. Most modern Pagans simply call it the Autumn Equinox. Here are some media quotes and excerpts from modern Pagans on the holiday.

“Autumn is my favorite season. As the Autumnal Equinox/Mabon/Alban Elfed approaches, I’m thinking of how this season has always carried a sense of magic and spirit… of descent into the sacred secrets of time… a place of reckoning, with a wise power that can see you as you go, while all the foliate cover falls away… a place where truth can’t hide. Truth is powerful and healing and terrible and cleansing and undeniable, and this is the cathartic season where you feast on it, and it feasts on you. Then you journey deep into winter to rest and wrestle and plan, and in spring rebirth comes and you assemble yourself anew, incorporating your truth, with summer being the field to practice it on and cultivate its fruits. It’s a powerful cycle. It’s a part of life for us humans, whether we’re aware of the process or not. It’s nature, and we come from the Earth and her seasons – our psyches formed by our environment… our home… our mother.”Lia Hunter, PaganSquare/Sage Woman

“Despite the bad publicity generated by Thomas Tryon’s novel, Harvest Home is the pleasantest of holidays. Admittedly, it does involve the concept of sacrifice, but one that is symbolic only. The sacrifice is that of the spirit of vegetation, John Barleycorn. Occurring one quarter of the year after Midsummer, Harvest Home represents midautumn, autumn’s height. It is also the autumnal equinox, one of the quarter days of the year.”Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

“On the equinox, everyone helps to make the feast, often with veggies harvested from the garden.  Little ones are given simple tasks like mashing the potatoes, and my oldest daughter loves to help roll out the pie crust for the apricots and apples collected at Grandma’s house.  Like most days, we like to talk about where our food comes from – the cycle of life that provides for us all.  But on this day, things are a little quieter.  There’s important questions to contemplate. Once the bounty is on the table, beginning to cool off, we begin.  First, I take down the special Harvest glass from the cupboard – a simple goblet engraved with fall leaves and wheat stalks.  It’s filled full of grape juice, a reminder of all the fruits and vegetables we harvest in this season.  We pass it carefully around the table, hand to hand, each family member toasting the things for which they are thankful.  In a way, it resembles a Heathen sumbel rather strongly; but instead of separate rounds, the Gods, ancestors, and spirits are hailed haphazardly along with love, family, and many of the other things we appreciate in our lives.”Molly Khan, Patheos.com

“Although the specific date of the Autumn Equinox was not marked by any ritual in Celtic tradition, there is evidence that, at some point roughly halfway between Lughnasadh and Samhain, communities would involved themselves with a ceremony that reflected the processes then at work in the Year. This was usually a conclusion to ritual themes invoked at Lughnasadh, and focused on the end of the main harvest activities (i.e., the grain harvest), although it did not imply the end of the entire Harvest season, which continued until Samhain.”Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual

“The English holiday Harvest Home was a very real holiday for centuries. There was no set date for Harvest Home but the things that were celebrated on the holiday are what most of us would expect in early Fall. There were games, ritual celebrations of the harvest, corn dollies, feasting, and parades. Many of these may or may not be “ancient pagan” in origin but they certainly all feel pagan, and are at the very least pagan in the sense that they revolve agricultural cycles.”Jason Mankey, Patheos.com

May you all enjoy the fruits of your harvest this season.

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People’s Climate March

Sun, 2014-09-21 08:18

Today is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. It was declared in 1981 and then first observed in 1982. The day is meant to be a reminder for all nations and peoples “to strengthen the ideals of peace.” Celebrations are being held all over the world on every continent. As we noted last week, this year’s New York event will include a Pagan Youth Delegate as well as a Central Park vigil using Rev. Patrick McCollum’s Peace Violin.

While much of world is observing Peace Day in some form, another event is happening just a few city blocks from the doors of the United Nations. People are gathering in midtown Manhattan to march through the streets in order to send a message to world leaders about climate change. It has been called the People’s Climate March with twitter hashtag #peoplesclimate.

The People’s Climate March is scheduled to attract over 100,000 attendees including celebrities, politicians, faith leaders, and scientists. It is being billed as the largest climate march in history and reportedly includes corresponding events in over 166 countries. The organizers say, “To Change Everything, We need Everyone.”

March leaders have constructed an organized lineup that extends from 59th Street at Columbus Circle to 86th Street, several blocks north of American Museum of Natural History. The lineup is designed to separate the types of people and organizations based on their reasons for walking. Beginning with those people most impacted, the gathering extends backwards through indigenous groups, students, activists, scientists and ends with the rest of the world’s community. In this way, the lineup becomes its very clear message of who is speaking out against the mechanisms that have lead to climate change.

Included in those gathering masses are a number of New York City Pagans. The Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City (PEC) is currently gathering at 58th street between 8th and 9th Avenues with other interfaith organizations and leaders. To find them, organizers say, “Look for the pentacle signs.”

The PEC is a faith-based action group that “aims to organize, educate, and coordinate action in the Pagan community in New York State and beyond to address environmental issues.” Its members represent many traditions and practices. 

PEC and members of EarthSpirit live at People’s Climate March in NYC [Via Twitter @PEC_NYC]

Through an Indiegogo campaign, the PEC was able to raise enough money to sponsor travel for 5 additional marchers from outside of the New York City area. Courtney Weber, PEC organizer and High Priestess of Novices of the Old Ways, said, “We don’t know if it’s too late to stop climate change or even if we can minimize the effects of it. But we can’t skip the opportunity to try. Human beings are fighters. We’ve survived as a species because we take risks, we fail, we fail again, only to get up and try once more … Let’s do this thing.”

Another Pagan group in attendance will be the Pagan Cluster. The organization is comprised of “a loose gathering of individuals and affinity groups who bring an earth-based spirituality to global justice and peace actions.” Many of its members have roots in the Reclaiming tradition of feminist Witchcraft.  

The Pagan Cluster will be gathering at 71st and 72nd Street in the “Solutions” section of the march. To find them, organizers say “Look for the rising sun.”

The Pagan Cluster live at the People’s Climate March in NYC [Via Twitter @PaganCluster]

The March is being held ahead of Tuesday’s 2014 U.N. Climate Summit. While the U.N. may be focusing on Peace Day today, it will turn its attention to the subject of climate change in just two days. While the march goes no where near the U.N. building and the council itself is not in session, the impact of today’s events will not go unnoticed. The People’s Climate March has drawn worldwide attention.

Along the route organizers have setup a number of stages on which organizers are holding press conferences, interfaith services, and rallies led by a number of grass-roots activists. The march itself begins at 11:30 am EST.

Marchers will head through midtown to 34th Street and 11th Avenue. At 1 p.m. organizers will ask for a pause in the action and moment of silence. After that, the festivities continue as organizers will encourage music, drumming and song.

Both Pagan organizations are tweeting live from the event. PEC is @PEC_NYC and the Pagan Cluster is @PaganCluster. For a broader live look, follow the Twitter hashtags #peoplesclimate, #peoplesclimatemarch and #climatemarch for photos and reactions.

If you were in attendance, please share your experiences in the comments below. Who else was there?

[Update (4:10pm EST 9/21/14): Earthspirit has contacted The Wild Hunt. The Massachusetts-based organization had 20 members in the march, some of whom are in the photo with PEC. They estimate that there were well over 300,000 people total. Additionally, Andras Corban-Arthen gave a Pagan blessing during the interfaith service]

 

 

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Walking the World: Canadians in Print

Sat, 2014-09-20 05:00

For many pagans, books are the gateway to knowledge. They are our first teachers of magic and offer a new world of esoteric lore and knowledge. If you enter the home of just about any modern pagan you will no doubt find a bookshelf (or many bookshelves!) piled high with books written by English authors such as Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente or the Farrars. There will no doubt be more than a few by high profile American writers, names like Margot Adler, Isaac Bonewits and Scott Cunningham or maybe the more contemporary Orion Foxwood or Christopher Penczack. Both Britain and the United States both have successful and high profile publishers of pagan books, Minnesota based Llewellyn Worldwide LTD. being easily one of the most prominent. But north of the border, up in Canada, a growing number of writers are finding their way into print and injecting a Canadian influence into the pagan publishing world. But does being from Canada influence pagan writing?

Kerr Cuhulain, Grand Master and founder of a Wiccan order of Knighthood called the Order of Paladins and author of several books including “Pagan Religions, a Diversity Training Guide “and “Full Contact Magick” had this to say about being Canadian:

Kerr Cuhulain 

“I think that it’s given me the opportunity to stand outside of the US and UK Pagan communities and observe what they do. I’ve always been more interested in doing what works than doing what is traditional.”

Lady Sable Aradia, author of the newly published “The Witches Eight Paths to Power: A Complete Course in Magick & Witchcraft adds:

“I’m very proudly Canadian. We are products of our culture and environment, and I think that our particular style of understatement and ability to laugh at ourselves is one of my strengths as a writer. Being Canadian also puts me outside of a lot of the politics of North American Paganism, which allows me the luxury to comment on them from the position of an observer in many ways.”

But are Canadians really different from our American neighbours? Aside from spelling some words differently (yes, we spell it neighbours.) and pronouncing the last letter of the alphabet as zed, not zee, Canadians are culturally different as well.

Brendan Myers, a prolific pagan Canadian writer, with more books under his belt than many people read in a year, had this to say about cultural differences between Canada and the US:

Dr. Brendan Myers

“… Canada is really a fringe country. We may be a rich, developed, industrialized nation, with the world’s second-biggest playground, but we’re not very populous, nor especially influential in world affairs. Standing in the shadow of our larger neighbour to the south, we are easily overlooked, or assumed to be culturally the same as that larger neighbour. Our history is not that of a conquering empire-builder, except perhaps by proxy of two of our founding nations, England and France. What is more, Canada arguably has no national mythology. One can easily point to other countries with big stories like “The American Dream”, or “The French Revolution”; these stories might be objectionable, they might have dark sides, and they may even be illusions, but they are definitely glamorous. We Canadians have no equivalent. A transcontinental railroad, a national public health care service, “peace, order, and good government”, and other “Canadian dreams” we’ve had over the centuries, don’t really deliver the same glamour. Ours is a wholesome but boring national brand. (Mind you, that might be okay.)

In that respect, as a Canadian writer, I find myself pulled in two directions. In one way, I want to write something that shows I come from a truly independent and unique nation, a distinct society (know what I mean?), and that we’re not just Americans with funny woolen hats. But in the other way, I want to write something that non-Canadians might still find interesting, and I worry that painting my stuff in red Maple leaves will turn people off.”

One of the biggest challenges for Canadian writers trying to get published is the lack of a big name publisher of pagan books in our own country. So how do these books make it to bookstore shelves? Response to this was varied between these three authors and all answers revolve around our close proximity of our neighbours to the south. Carving out our own distinct Canadian paganism is a tough one when so much of our culture, both pagan and mainstream, is overshadowed by the United States. So, is it hard to get published?

Sable:

“I would have to say not in my experience, actually. At least, not as long as you’re willing to deal with American publishers. The truth is that with such a big market just south of us, it’s very difficult for an independent Canadian arts scene to develop, and I would say that the Pagan market is more difficult still since it’s so small.”

Brendan:

“There are very few Canadian publishers who will carry a book about paganism in their catalogue. All the publishers I’ve ever worked with have been based in England or the USA. Publishers outside Canada often assume that no one outside of Canada will be interested in a Canadian perspective. I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that writers in countries with larger populations, richer economies, and empires in their history, don’t need to worry about that. They benefit from a macro-economic and geo-political privilege, and a glamorous national mythology, which allows them to reach an international audience with a lot less effort.”

Kerr:

“I do not find it to be a problem at all. I’ve a large audience in the US, so it is pretty easy to find publishers for my works.”

As a former police officer/dispatcher and former Preceptor General of Officers of Avalon, an organization representing Neo-Pagan professionals in the emergency services (police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians), Kerr’s books reflect a Warrior spirit so often perceived from the outside of United States paganism through the work of groups like Circle Sanctuary’s Lady Liberty League or Order of the Pentacle.

Brendan’s books come from his academic background. Dr. Brendan Meyers earned his Ph.D in philosophy at the National University of Ireland, and now serves as professor of philosophy at Heritage College, in Gatineau, Quebec. His philosophy background informs his pagan writing. This theme of academia is also reflected by other Canadian writer/academics such as Shelley Rabinovich Ph.D (The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism (with James Lewis, and ‘An Ye Harm None’: Magical Ethics and Modern Morality (with Meredith Macdonald), and Sian Reid Ph.D (Between the Worlds: Readings in Contemporary Paganism)

What resources exist to promote sales and expose writers to new readers? Canada is a huge country; 9,984,670 square kilometers (3,855,101 square miles) stretching from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east, yet the population is just over 35 million, less than the state of California. Our pagan population is thinly and widely scattered. In this dispersion is a sense of camaraderie and support that is essential for our combined success:

Brendan:

“I get excellent support from the Canadian public, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve attended pagan events to promote my work in seven out of ten provinces now. The administration of the college where I work has supported my publishing efforts: even the Director General, my most senior manager, read Loneliness and Revelation.” 

Kerr:

“Most of the members of my Order of Paladins are Canadian. I just got back from teaching at PanFest in Edmonton. The support is there, I’m happy to say.”

Sable:

Sable Aradia

“Well, my local community has certainly been supportive! And the shop owners I’ve contacted through Western Canada have generally welcomed me with open arms. There’s a strong East/West divide so I don’t think many people have heard of me on the other side of the country yet, but I think there’s a general “us Canucks gotta stick together” sentiment, and I know that the friends I made at the Canadian National Pagan Conference in Montreal in 2010 have been making a great effort to spread the word. So, I would have to say that I feel very supported!”

Taking advantage of this support, Sable Aradia is about to embark on a book tour of western Canada. The tour will span four provinces, no small feat as it can take six to twelve hours to get from one city to another. Packed in her van will also be musical equipment as Sable is an accomplished singer and musician. She will also be doing house concerts to help supplement her travels. Her adventures started off close to home so far and she had this to say about how it is going:

“It’s off to a good start! I started in my hometown of Vernon, BC for the book launch and I sold out. The following weekend I went to Nelson, Castlegar, Enderby and Kelowna for World Goddess Day. This weekend I was at a Kelowna bookstore and a metaphysical store in Penticton (all towns in the province of British Columbia). Then at the end of the month I’m heading eastward.”

T. Scarlet Jory

For books with very distinct regional flare, T.Scarlet Jory has released “Magical Blend: Book of Secrets (BOS)” and “Magical Blend: Book of Spells & Rituals (BOS) (Volume 2)”. These books celebrate landmark Le Melange Magique/The Magical Blend, a pagan shop in Montreal Quebec. This shop, which sadly has closed its doors, served customers in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French. It was known for its selection of in-house made teas, bath salts, incense and more.

Scarlet reminisces: “When the store’s physical location closed and the reference books of shadows developed by all the staff suddenly were no longer available to the public, I felt it was important to compile them and print them. That way everyone can access them again. The knowledge is a collection of gems from dozens of experienced staff members who helped the community.”

One curious book, written in 1989 by Kevin Marron, a reporter from The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper, “Witches, Pagans & Magic in the New Age” was the story of the people he met while investigating allegations of Satanic ritual abuse (remember the Satanic Panic folks? It happened in Canada as well!). While not a pagan himself, Marron provides a rare and sympathetic peek at the Canadian Pagan scene in the late 1980’s.

Many other voices have contributed to recording the story of Canadian Paganism. Some of the books may be harder to find, and unlikely to show up in foreign book or occult shops, but have value and interest to Pagans everywhere. The rise of e-readers and online shopping may put a Canadian book in your own collection soon.

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Culture and Community: Technology in Modern Paganism

Fri, 2014-09-19 05:00

Technological advances and access to technology have greatly changed the everyday experience of many communities around the world, especially here in America. Everything from access to information, training, and the ability to connect with people in different geographical areas, have made the process of connection much different than it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.

According to Internet World Stats, 84.9% of the population in the United States have internet access or are internet users. Avenues of communication in greater society have been largely replaced with social media platforms, email, video chats, and online learning systems; these same systems are translating to Paganism as well.

The impact of living in a booming technological age on Paganism has shown how interesting advances can enhance or hamper community connectivity. Building community looks much different when there is access to smart phones, iPads and computers, and the ability to generate connection among people can become more about branding than about personable connection that we find in consistent face to face engagement. As technological advances continue to thrive, so does the Pagan community in numbers, yet the freedom that the internet provides can add to misinformation, increased access to rumors, and national attention to otherwise local issues that happen within the Pagan community. Everyone can be an expert in the age of the internet, and all problems are at the fingertips of people around the globe. The increased access to training, research and information does not erase the potential problems that come from the use, and abuse, of technology in Modern Paganism.

The positive and negative impact of increased advances affect areas of community building, publishing, entertainment, small magical or metaphysical shops, organizational structures, information exchange, the media, and a host of other areas in our everyday world. Communities and organizations within Paganism are adjusting to the new ways of functioning efficiently within our modern times, which often highlights differences in cultural aspects of age and socioeconomics. We have seen this, for example, with how some organizations are moving towards the use of online telecommunication formats to incorporate more effective mediums for business, and national communication among members.

In exploring a few of the many areas that technology reaches within modern Paganism, I spoke with several people for perspective on the impact that these changes have had, and are having. As the circumference of the Pagan community has expanded, intersecting interactions have increased the usefulness of different methods of communication, connection and business.

Rachael Watcher

Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Representative for Covenant of the Goddess (COG), has been doing a lot of work within Pagan and interfaith organizations on a national level. In addition to interfaith work with COG, she is the North American Interfaith Network Regional Coordinator (NAIN) and works with the United Religions Initiative. Her work expands to areas of the world that require technology to access.

How have you seen technology incorporated into Pagan organizations and how does this contribute to the organizational function?

Over the past, umm, say twenty plus years, technology has changed a great deal.  As people have become more accustomed to using the internet, attitudes too have changed.  I remember a gathering of one of my traditions back in the, possibly early nineties.  I suggested that we develop a list to share information and make communications easier among us.  Such a hue and cry you have never heard.  “Oh we can’t do that.  Everyone would be able to see what we are discussing…even the secret stuff wouldn’t be safe anymore.  No absolutely not!”  So of course I purchased a domain name, put up a simple web site and put together a list making it clear that if one wished to be on that list an individual would have to let me know.  Well pretty soon everyone was on the list.  A few years later the list went down for some reason and once again a hue and cry went out, this time because the list was down and OMG how was anyone going to communicate, accompanied by appropriate hair pulling and teeth gnashing.

Today, the term “Google” is a household word meaning “to go out and search for”; the first thing on a new organization’s to do list is put up a website, and list serves are a mandatory part of doing business.  As the technology improves, so does our ability to communicate virtually, without the need for carbon footprint.

How do you feel that the use of technology has changed the Pagan organizations you work with?

With the advent of virtual communications the face of paganism has changed drastically. Before the use of electronic connections anyone interested in becoming an “official” pagan had to ultimately connect with others doing the work.  You will hear many stories from the fifty plus set about how they became pagans because they picked up one of the old magazines and found contacts, or were inspired to search for contacts and training.  People knew one another and knew who they were.

The up side to all of this is our new ability to gather for meetings without the necessity of even leaving the house.  It allows us to come together in greater numbers and have a larger say in the structure of our organizations allowing parents, the less abled, and those who must work, to join in meetings as never before and all without leaving such an oppressive carbon footprint.

Organizational bylaws are changing to allow virtual attendees to count for quorum where such issues are important and the alarming trend for organizations such as the Covenant of the Goddess, who meets once a year somewhere in the United States, to become an organization controlled by those with the funds to travel is certainly mitigated.

Perhaps best of all, people are coming to know us, at worst as harmless, and at best as people with serious theological underpinnings. In my work as an interfaith representative I have often referred folks to various web pages that saved hours of explanation, and frankly a quick bit of research during lunch in my hotel room has saved me serious embarrassment when dealing with religions with which I had not been familiar.

 

M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), elder and Pagan author, works as an interfaith activist and works in several different capacities within the community. In her work as a member of the Cherry Hill Advisory Board member, and as a web weaver, technology plays a vital role in her work.

Aline “Macha” O’Brien

As an elder in our community, I imagine you have seen a lot of technological changes that are now incorporated in modern Paganism. What are some of the largest changes within in the past 10-20 years that now are common uses for technology in our community?

Change has come so fast and furious that I’m dazzled by its variety and complexity.  Media have combined to give us immediate updates and gales of opinions of every little topic that sparks a flame.  I try to stay current.  I have a cellphone and laptop and am on Facebook.  I subscribe to lists and groups where discussion can be rich.  Just as readily discussion can become heated and obnoxious.  As a social person, I find I have an appetite for engaging in civil discourse.   I find I’m easily seduced by all those virtual venues where ideas are shared.  The downside of that is such engagement can be a time-suck if you don’t maintain strict limits.

Do you think these changes have had more positive or negative impact on the current state of our community?

I definitely think these changes have had a positive effect overall.  Before the advent of the Internet, we had only fragmented communities and a tendency towards mistrust.  Over the years since Internet access has become more common, especially among younger people, we have used electronic communication to build virtual communities as well as to fortify and enhance efficient communication regarding our terraspace communities.  Further, we are able to mobilize quickly if we choose to.

Today we have news sites and networking sites, music and podcasts, special interest sites, as well as scores of blogs and vlogs — anything on everything.  Of course, there is the matter of discerning what sources warrant our trust for their accuracy, reliability, and thoroughness and which tend to be more superficial and inflammatory.  But you have that with any media.

As for teaching, while some kinds of magic-spiritual teachings must be in person, many kinds of teaching and learning can be done effectively online.  Plus, online learning is greener.  We now have institutions of higher learning where all or most of the campus is virtual.  Cherry Hill Seminary, for instance, except for annual in-person intensives, is entirely online, with cool Moodle classrooms, a virtual library, online bookstore.   We Pagans are a small, widely spread demographic, making conventional terraspace learning environments (i.e., schools with classrooms) impractical.  Thus, a teaching and learning institution’s cyberspace presence has made scholarly online learning more readily available to Pagans wherever they may live.

Dr. Amy Hale

Education and research continues to be a major aspect of need within the Pagan community. Access to training, information and education around the many different intersecting areas of study has always been a source of discussion, but the methods for attaining such things has drastically changed. We have also seen an increased emphasis placed on higher education, and an importance placed on the value of academic study. Professor Dr. Amy Hale has worked extensively in designing and teaching within online academic formats.

As a professional that works in higher education, do you find that the use of technology in learning modalities are more accepted today than say 10 years ago?

Absolutely!  Educational technologies are becoming ubiquitous, and are found in all sorts of environments in addition to strictly educational settings.  We are seeing the use of technology to support everything from on site and contextual training for businesses to the use of mobile phones to educate children in combat areas.  As technologies develop, we figure out how to teach and learn with them, and as ever, the first to benefit (which may surprise some) are frequently underserved populations and women. Of course, not everyone is an educational technology advocate, some prefer the low tech approach, but I believe the benefits are clear.

How do you see the changing role of technology influencing modern Paganism and what can we learn from higher education institutions in this area?

Technology is, in my view, the driving force behind modern Paganism.  Communication and information technologies give us a way to learn, share and create community.  While I have occasionally heard concerns about “internet solitaries” who some believe may not be as connected to live Pagan communities,  I see no reason to assume that Pagans connected primarily by the internet are any less genuine or living their Paganism in a way that is any less “authentic”.

But technology is changing the way we think, and we need to be aware of how. As when the printing press first came into use, many modern information technologies have the great ability to challenge our relationship with authority and promote a democratization of information. This, however, does not mean that all information is good and that all opinions are equally valid.  This is why we have a much, much greater responsibility to foster critical thinking and a need to understand how to assess the mountains of information we have access to.  We are well past the time when the professor or teacher or church is the ultimate authority, and certainly in many educational settings we are embracing this development.  We need to have the tools to think for ourselves and to know how to craft solid arguments, and we need to learn to do this with respect and civility.   I would like to see Pagans become more rigorous thinkers and better assess their sources.  So many Pagans out there on the internet seem to lack basic information literacy in that they don’t know how to tell if a source is valid or if an argument is well supported. I think this is the challenge that all educational professionals face today, and this is the direct result of the free flow of information.

Cherry Hill Seminary is one of the ways that we have seen this method of higher education exchange take on technology to facilitate learning. Cherry Hill is currently teaching in an all online format.

Tim Titus

Blogger Tim Titus wrote a recent piece about social media and the way that negative engagement can influence how people engage. Some of the unintended consequences of social media and the influx of online communication has contributed to emerging patterns in the development of community building. In Tim’s piece, Surviving Social Media’s Ocean of Negativity, he discusses some of his observations.  “But the problem I have is that most of the nastiness that circulates around social media, both within and without the pagan community, is petty and exhausting. There’s always someone complaining about life, the universe, and everything. They complain about their work day; they beat dead horses about situations that were resolved long ago; they call out friends for silly things.   We have all this amazing technology to build community around the world, and we use it as our personal bitching platform. If anger and argument were a drug, we’d need a national 12-step program.?”

In a small snapshot of how technology plays an intricate role in Modern Paganism, we see that there these forms of communication and engagement have become an intricate part of the format that we now exist within. The continued growth of our community will rely heavily on how these forms of technology are used and instituted in our functioning practice.

While there are a lot of positive connections that are made with the use of technological advances, we also have some interesting consequences that are a result of the fast paced environment that is created with immediate access to so much information, and lightning fast responses. As much as we thrive as a community with the use of additional methods of research, education, connection, and organizational options, we are also faced with the concept that this level of interaction moves a community into a fast paced momentum that can add to some steep learning curves and promote additional division in the ranks.

This is a large topic that could benefit from continuous unpacking. Exploring this topic brings us to some interesting questions we can ask ourselves in the process of community exploration. Has technology replaced some of the need for interactive personal contact within the Pagan community? How has the definition of community evolved with the use of this level of technology? Does technology give us the chance to connect more often, or does it create a barrier to genuine connection that builds healthy interpersonal relationships?

All very important questions to consider as we are enjoying the access that our various devices give to us, and that we are able to use in our experiences of Modern Paganism.

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The Oklahoma Black Mass: Controversy, Confusion and Religious Freedom

Thu, 2014-09-18 07:36

Amid a flurry of controversy and confusion, the Oklahoma Civic Center Music Hall in Oklahoma City will be become the setting for a public Black Mass this Sunday, Sept. 21. The event, which is being billed as “enlightening and educational,” is reportedly now sold out. The purpose of the public staging, as written in the Civic Center’s blurb, is to bring a feared ritual “into the light.”

Just as problems arose when a Harvard University Extension club attempted to sponsor a Black Mass, the Oklahoma event has inspired local protests that began immediately after the Civic Center listed the Black Mass on its schedule. However, in this story, the ensuing controversy took a few unexpected twists and turns that go well-beyond typical outrage from the city’s Catholic community.

Oklahoma City Skyline [Photo Credit: Urbanative, CC - Wikimedia]

Oklahoma’s Archbishop Paul Coakley was the first to react publicly. On July 1, he issued a news release that read, “We are astonished and grieved by this proposed sacrilegious event.” He called on the Civic Center to cancel the event and on Oklahoma Catholics to pray.

A month later, after getting no response from the Civic Center, the Archbishop published an open letter asking all Christians to pray for protection, saying, “I am certainly concerned about the misuse of a publicly supported facility for an event which has no other purpose than mocking the Catholic faith.”

Despite public pressure, the Civic Center maintained a position of neutrality. Recently, general manager Jim Brown explained to a Christian news network, Aleteia:

Since we’re a City of Oklahoma facility we’re required to abide by all First Amendment rights to the Constitution, which don’t allow us to turn away any productions … As a public facility, we’re required to rent to organizations and individuals as long as they abide by our policies and procedures.

None of this public pressure is new to the Civic Center.  In 2010, a Satanic church called Four King Princes, originally The Church of IV Majesties, held a exorcism in the same space. At that time, the Center made clear that it upholds the city’s policy of non-discrimination. And that policy still stands today.

Governor Mary Fallin [Courtesy of the State of Oklahoma]

While the Civic Center itself has remained neutral, Oklahoma’s state officials have not. On Aug. 13 Governor Mary Fallin released a statement in which she said, “It is shocking and disgusting that a group of New York City ‘satanists’ would travel all the way to Oklahoma to peddle their filth here. I pray they realize how hurtful their actions are and cancel this event.”

Unfortunately, in making that public statement, Fallin not only demonstrated religious bias but also managed to muddle an already volatile situation. She assumed that The Satanic Temple was responsible for the upcoming Black Mass.

This may seem like an easy mistake. The Satanic Temple is a very active, vocal and public organization that works aggressively in defense of religious freedom. The organization is behind the quest to place a Baphomet statue in the Oklahoma courthouse and assisted the Harvard Club with its Black Mass in May. Just this week, The Satanic Temple announced that it would begin distributing religious materials to students in Florida’s Orange County Public Schools. The news release reads:

In response to a recent School Board decision in Orange County, Florida that allows for the dissemination of religious materials in public schools, The Satanic Temple has announced they will follow suit by providing Satanic materials to students during the new school year. Among the materials to be distributed are pamphlets related to the Temple’s tenets, philosophy and practice of Satanism, as well as information about the legal right to practice Satanism in school.

However, The Satanic Temple is not behind the upcoming Oklahoma Black Mass. Representative, Lucien Greaves told The Wild Hunt that it has “nothing to do with the event” and said:

There was some confusion about this when Gov. Fallin specifically, erroneously, denounced The Satanic Temple in relation to this Black Mass prompting us to disseminate a press release making clear that we are not involved, and asking an apology from the governor’s office. The governor never replied.

Sunday’s Black Mass was organized by a local Oklahoma Satanic church called Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. When asked about the church’s intentions, co-Founder Adam Daniels told ABC News that “One of the dictates of the church is not only to educate the members but to educate the public … and to debunk the Hollywood-projected image of our beliefs.”

Adam Daniels [Photo Credit: A. Daniels, Flickr, CC lic]

Despite this and other attempts at explanation, Daniels was unable to mollify the community. Confusion and frustrations only mounted. Then, Aug 20, the saga took a twist when Archbishop Coakley filed a lawsuit against Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. He did this after learning that Daniels planned to use a consecrated host in ritual. Archbishop Coakley said:

Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the form of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. The local organizers of this satanic inversion intend to use a stolen consecrated Host obtained illicitly from a Catholic Church to desecrate it as a sacrifice to Satan. Through this lawsuit, I hope to avoid the desecration of the Host.

According to reports, Daniels claims that he didn’t steal the wafers and that they were mailed to him by a Turkish priest. He then accused the Church of attempting to defame his character and planned a countersuit. However, after days of negotiations, Daniels agreed to return the host to the Church and, in return, the Archbishop dropped the lawsuit.

While that portion of the conflict ended, other protests continued. The conservative Christian TFP Student Action organization launched an online petition asking both the Civic Center and Governor “to stop the sacrilege.” The petition now has over 85,000 signatures.

To complicate matters, this summer’s national publicity has also dredged up problems from Daniels’ past, providing more sensational fodder for protesters for local media. Daniels is on Oklahoma’s sex offender registry. Although he has publicly addressed the offense in 2010, he has reportedly developed a reputation that has led to several group conflicts and mistrust within his own religious community.

It was this reputation and associated conflicts that triggered, in part, the The Satanic Temple’s quick response to Governor Fallin’s error. Greaves explains that there are certainly many different interpretations of Satanism. He is unfamiliar with Daniels’ particular beliefs so he could not “condone nor condemn” his work.  However, he said:

We do know … that Mr Daniels has developed a very poor reputation in his community, one that further encouraged us to make clear his lack of affiliation with us. We have built a great deal of goodwill among Oklahomans who understand the importance of our attempts to preserve an environment of religious liberty/pluralism in their home state. We certainly don’t want activities beyond our control to compromise that in any way.

Despite the flurry of concerns, both personal and religious, the Black Mass will be staged as planned. After the lawsuit was finally dropped, the only remaining issue was to ensure that the ritual itself would uphold all state laws. As noted on the site, Daniels assures the public:

The Black Mass being performed at the [Oklahoma] Civic Center has been toned downed as to allow it  to be performed in a public government building. The authenticity and purpose of the Black Mass will remain in tact [sic] while allowing for slight changes so that a public viewing can occur without breaking Oklahoma’s laws based on nudity, public urination and other sex acts.

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach Daniels for further comment. However, if “preserving religious equality” or educating the public are indeed Daniels’ goal, the extraneous complications, stories of theft, and a dubious past may have muddied his mission. It can be very difficult to spot religious freedom activism through lawsuits and accusations of impropriety. Regardless of any these issues, the event will go on and the city-run Civic Center will uphold Daniels’ constitutional right to free expression of his religion. In that way, Dakhma of Angra Mainyu has ultimately managed to test the boundaries and soundness of religious tolerance and freedom in Oklahoma City.

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Comic Book Gods: The Wicked + The Divine

Wed, 2014-09-17 05:00

Almost from the beginning comic books have lent themselves to repurposing mythology in order to tell stories. Usually this process was indirect, with new characters like Superman and Batman acquiring mythic resonances over time. However, the riches of ancient cultural myths and stories were far too tempting to simply borrow elements from, and soon you had figures like Thor and Hercules fighting alongside more down-to-earth heroes. In the late 1980s and through the 1990s this dive into ancient myth and religion took a more serious turn as writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Jamie Delano, and Grant Morrison grappled with increasingly complex notions regarding the narrative reality of fantasies they were producing. Comic books, many started to argue, were the conveyers of the new mythologies.

“Promethea is, from the very first issue, described as a fictional character. Now there’s a strange loop of self-reference going on there, because you’re reading about this fictional character who is perfectly aware that she is a fictional character and indeed that is the source of her occult power. So it’s kind of more or less saying that, yes, this emblem of Promethea that you are looking at—this is the actual goddess Promethea. That this is an actual embodiment of the imagination. In fact for one panel I thought that we pretty much manifested the god Hermes. How would a god of language and communication manifest in a physical universe? And of course, just as a goddess of dreams would manifest through dreams, then a god of language and images and communications, and, if you like, comic strips, would probably manifest through a comic strip.” – Alan Moore

For those embrace a polytheistic belief system in the modern world, who take seriously the “old” gods and goddesses, these philosophical twists and turns within the comic medium (not to mention the quality story-telling) started attracting a lot of attention. Soon, works like Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles” were being used as inspiration for real-life occult and religious practice with Morrison himself taking gleeful part. The role of religion in comic books and how it has influenced the people reading them was now something being seriously studied and written about. Now, a new generation of books are continuing this process, most notably “The Wicked + The Divine” by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. 

“Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critically thermonuclear floor-fillers Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to start a new ongoing superhero fantasy. Welcome to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, where gods are the ultimate pop stars. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.”

What’s interesting about “The Wicked + The Divine” is that it portrays a world where gods seemingly walk among us, but in a manner that leaves plenty of ambiguity as to what’s really going on (all wrapped up in a murder mystery). The divine beings take seat in ordinary mortals, instantly changing them into celebrities, at least until they die. A reporter, who happens to have studied mythology in college, gives voice to the natural skepticism towards such a phenomenon, critiquing the strange appropriations and contortions of these “gods.” This is mythology in a post-modern world, as pantheons and cultures are jumbled. Where The Morrigan and Baphomet do underground performance art to a select group of followers, and Lucifer is locked in jail claiming to be framed. As seemingly miraculous things continue to pile up, the series looks at the thin line between fame and faith.

“I’ve always thought that if comics are a part of pop culture [then] they should reflect pop culture, but a lot of the time comics, superhero comics especially, just feed on themselves. For me, comics should take from every bit of pop culture that they can; they’ve got the same DNA as music and film and TV and fashion and all of these things.”Kieron Gillen

This series isn’t the first time that Gillen and McKelvie have traveled mythic territory. The series Phonogram dealt directly with the idea of music as magic, complete with aspects of gods who oversaw different musical epochs (the goddess Britannia, for example, oversees British guitar pop). Both series, by fusing pop-culture and fame with myth and magic, allow for the creation of a new tapestry of ideas. Making us see how the revels we read about in ancient texts might truly manifest in our modern world.

“Phonogram was explicitly about our world. It’s a fantasy which is happening around us all, unnoticed except for those who’ve fallen into its world. In a real way, it’s real. Conversely, W+D is much more overt. The appearance of the gods changes the world, and has changed the world going back. There’s the strong implication that certain figures in our world simply didn’t exist in The Wicked And The Divine‘s world, because they were replaced by a god.”Kieron Gillen

“The Wicked + The Divine” like Moore’s “Promethea” and Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” gives us another context through which we can think about the numinous world; About gods, magic, and how we interact with both of those concepts. While the depictions may seem irreverent to some of the devout, an interesting and vital exploration is taking place, and I think it’s a journey worth taking. Issue #4 of the series is out today, available digitally and in most comic book stores. Digital back-issues can be purchased at Comixology and other digital comic outlets.

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Shedding Secrecy, Vodou Becomes More Public

Tue, 2014-09-16 07:27

Whether it’s spelled Voodoo, Vodou, or Voudoun, this frequently-misunderstood religion of the African diaspora is starting to get a makeover in the American consciousness. A traditionally secretive religion, Vodou has long been represented in movies and television shows as being focused on sticking pins in dolls and making people into zombie slaves. That image is starting to change, however, in ways that could make members of the Pagan community sit up and take notice.

In contrast to the Hollywood vision of Vodou, an exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago seeks to present an accurate picture of Haitian Vodou through its artifacts. According to a press release about the exhibition, “Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti looks beyond myths and manufactured Hollywood images – exhibition visitors will see no dolls with pins

© Canadian Museum of History, Frank Wimart

stuck into them. Instead, the exhibition explores the underground history and true nature of a living religion and reveals Vodou as a vital spiritual and social force which remains an important part of daily life in Haiti.” Text and video of members of the religion are used to explain the symbolism behind, and uses of, the more than 300 objects, many of which are on loan from the Marianne Lehmann Collection in Pétionville, Haiti.

Patrons of the Field Museum will come away with some understanding of Haitian Vodou, one of the major branches practiced in the United States today. The other is Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo, a tradition which evolved in that southern city thanks in part to the fact that slave families were more likely to be kept together than they were in the East. Followers of the two paths kept mostly to themselves in the city, according to a profile of the religion in Newsweek, although initiation into both wasn’t entirely unknown. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina changed all that; many Vodou practitioners lived in the Ninth Ward, which bore the brunt of the damage when the levies broke:

“After Katrina, the remaining members began to forge a new, cross-faith community. The mixed ceremonies and social gatherings served a support network for participants from both sides of voodoo as they rebuilt their lives. “We became more close-knit. Those of us who stayed and didn’t evacuate opened what lines of communication had been closed,” says Michael “Belfazaar” Bousum, an employee of Voodoo Authentica and a priest of New Orleans voodoo.

“The new scene has also encouraged members of the ancient religion to create a web presence —- forums such as “Vodou, Voodou, Vodoun, Vodun” on Facebook and “A Real Voodoo Club” on Yahoo Groups are popular —- as well as welcoming outsiders to their events for the first time. “Before, you really would have had to know who a mambo or a houngan was to participate in a public or private ceremony. You would have to be in the inner circle. Now it’s accessible with a few keystrokes,” says Parmelee. “Plus, people who left are returning. The community is definitely coming back.””

New Orleans Healing Center

The most impressive demonstration of this new face of Vodou is surely the New Orleans Healing Center, a 55,000-square-foot complex which has become a focal point for the religion since it opened in 2011. The center hosts public ceremonies, a bustling shop, and has gone a long way towards normalizing perceptions of this religion in New Orleans. It cost a reported $13 million to build, including both public and private funds, and represents the type of infrastructure many Pagans yearn for, and others shun.

There are many reasons why such an massive project was possible in the Vodou community, while similar ideas remain dreams for Pagans. For one, while there are different schools of thought, Vodou is not an “umbrella” of often unrelated faiths, as Paganism is. For another, Paganism is wrestling with questions of money that Vodou has mostly put to rest.

Lilith Dorsey

“Gardner said not to charge for spiritual services,” explained Lilith Dorsey, who writes the blog Voodoo Universe, but “Marie Laveau was the first to charge for services.” She was referring to Gerald Gardner, whose contributions to Wicca in the 1950s set the tone for many conversations in the Pagan community today, and 19th-century Vodou priestess Laveau, whose impact on New Orleans Voodoo was equally seminal. “Some people may have no other way of making a living,” she said, “they might be uneducated, or crazy, or this is just the only skill they have.” Instead of having a cultural bias against accepting money, in Vodou it’s expected.

One of the interesting details about this mainstreaming of Vodou is the monotheistic bent it’s taking. The Newsweek article is quite clear on that point, saying that both New Orleans and Haitian Vodou “are monotheistic (the highest god is Bondyè, the “good lord”), are mostly oral- instead of text-based and celebrate thousands of cosmic and natural spirits (akin to Catholicism’s saints).” Since Dorsey writes about Vodou for a Pagan site, The Wild Hunt asked her if Vodou is a monotheistic religion.

“That’s a sticky question,” Dorsey replied. “It’s more acceptable to be monotheistic in this culture. I approach it anthropologically: if you offer to it, it’s a god or goddess. I consider lwa and oreshas to be gods. In the Catholic Church they call them saints, but they function like gods.” However they function, though, in her experience, “People don’t want to have a lot of gods.”

Dorsey, who maintains connections to the Vodou communities in New Orleans and New York City, also said that not everyone is happy with the public face of Vodou that is emerging. “Will it be good? I can’t say. On one hand, the more neighbors you have who practice Voodoo the more okay it seems. I have neighbors who are okay with Voodoo but not with ‘evil Santeria.’ On the other hand, public ceremonies mean cameras, and there are things one should not be taking pictures of. “That’s hard for the average person to determine. I do a class on ritual blessings for camera, and once you start talking about photography, that’s another whole level.”

Art museums and shiny new healing centers are signs that the face of Vodou is changing fast. Dorsey said that, like water, it will find its own level. When it does, it could be possible to draw some conclusions about how Pagan religions may change as they become more normalized, for good or ill.

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Pagan Community Notes: Pagan and Polytheist Portals, Abraxas, I:MAGE, and much more!

Mon, 2014-09-15 05:00

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Let’s start off this week by taking a tour of the ‘big four’ Pagan/Polytheist portals.

First stop is the recently launched Polytheist.com (see our news story about the launch), which has debuted columns by P. Sufenas Virius LupusConor O’Bryan Warren, Niki WhitingTamara L. Siuda, and many more. Helenic Polytheist artist Markos Gage (aka The Gargarean) captures a bit of the general buzz and excitement of the launch of this new site. Quote: “Something like the PLC is a privilege, a gift. Although you dudes went to some hotel in a town with a weird name, gave lectures to one another for a weekend and went home, it has affected people outside. Reading and hearing the fallout of this event has really set a spark in my heart that makes me *want* to be part of the community. This is why I am honoured to be invited to write on this site and sincerely hope I contribute some insight to the beauty of polytheism into the future.” From what I’ve heard, this is just the beginning, so be sure to keep an eye on this site as it develops!

At the Patheos.com Pagan channel, John Beckett writes about the commodification of humanity, Sarah Thompson shares a prayer of compassion for Z. BudapestSterling shares on de-colonizing ourselves so we can help others, and T. Thorn Coyle writes on becoming leaders. Quote: “We can surround ourselves with a cloak of righteousness, or with sycophants, or just friends who won’t be honest with us, in hopes “oh please oh please oh please” that we won’t be honest with them, in turn.Sometimes I say that my primary work as a teacher is to help those who work with me to become better adults. A martial arts instructor I know often comments that what he really wants to teach is adulthood. I think he does. It just takes a long time. Why? Because of the process of becoming. We learn a little bit today, and the rest slides by, until an event happens, or we learn enough other things, and then all of a sudden, that thing we saw or heard four years ago makes sense. And those of us who are teachers or leaders or parents are involved in that same process. Continuously.”

At the Witches & Pagans hosted PaganSquare, Steven Posch shares a proverb from his favorite dystopian novelsKai Koumatos describes being a Witch in seminary, Taylor Ellwood talks about anthropomorphic assumptions that show up in magical work, Deborah Blake extolls basil, and Aline “Macha” O’Brien discusses when consensus decision making is not truly consensus decision making. Quote: “The most common problem I’ve encountered is what I will indelicately term the ‘bully factor.’ It’s always deliberate, if perhaps unconscious. It’s simply a fact of life that some voices carry more weight than others. And it has nothing to do with volume. I’ve just experienced, once again, decision-making by the ‘bully factor’ trying to pass itself off as consensus. When there is a call for a sweeping decision that doesn’t allow for individual voices to speak on different perspectives on an issue, it’s extremely difficult for one or more individuals to voice an objection. Even when the facilitator asks for any objections or concerns, anyone voicing such concerns risks derision and disdain, resulting in one’s concerns being dismissed. That person (or persons) may be viewed as being an antagonistic malcontent rather than a valued contributor to the process. Hence, alienation and a breakdown of communal trust.”

Finally, at The Witches’ Voice, the normal selection of weekly essays is replaced by a special response to the “New Atheists” by Mike Nichols, author of “The Witches’ Sabbats.” Quote: “In this essay, I plan to analyze the following TWO questions: “Do you believe in God?” and “Do you worship Nature?” Although in my culture, the first is usually asked with reference to Christianity and the second is usually asked with reference to Paganism, I have come to realize the two questions are eerily parallel. And they both share the same crop of problems. Let’s start with ‘Do you believe in God?’ I have been asked that question with surprising regularity for almost as long as I can remember. It didn’t take me too long (high school, perhaps?) to come to the conclusion that this was one of the most absurd questions anyone could ever ask me –or anyone else. What could such a question possibly mean? In order to answer whether or not I believed in ‘God’, I would obviously need to know what my questioner meant by the term.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

  •  Óski’s Gift, a scholarship funded by the household of Galina Krasskova and Sannion, is quickly nearing its deadline for submissions. Here’s what Sannion had to say about the initiative: “Óski’s Gift is a scholarship our household is contributing $300 towards twice a year, awarded to people who are doing work on behalf of their gods and communities. All that one has to do to be eligible is send a short (900-1300 word) description of what that work is to Galina at krasskova@gmail.com. Anyone, from any polytheist tradition, can enter. If you would like to contribute money in addition to what we are offering for the scholarship contact Galina.” Deadline is September 20th.
  • The Emergent Studies Institute is holding a webinar on the subject of eco-spirituality featuring Luisah Teish, M. Macha Nightmare, ecopsychologist Ginny Anderson, and several others. Here’s a quote about Luisah Teish’s presentation: “Examining the myths that have shaped our attitudes toward Woman as representative of Nature (Goddesses, Mermaids, Demons etc.) and to physical environment (Forest, Ocean or Earth). We delineate the ways that these myths have impacted our lives as individuals and as members of the global community. After exploring alternative myths from variety of cultures we discuss the worldview they represent and their effect on Woman and Nature.” The webinar takes place on October 4th.
  • Just a reminder that the I:MAGE London 2014 show is coming up at the end of October. Quote: “In most magical and esoteric traditions the end of October is a sacred time of year, a time for honouring the dead and communicating with the spirit world. It is a time to acknowledge the winter months and delve into the darker part of the year and of the self. The boundaries between the familiar and what is Other shatter. The veil is thin. The magic begins. For I:MAGE 2014, artists will explore what it means to communicate with spirits through art. They will give us a glimpse of a unifying theme across different esoteric practices and offer us the perfect opportunity to introduce you to a truly international show.”
  • September 26th will see the release of a new issue of the always excellent Abraxas Journal. Quote: “Abraxas journal Issue #6 offers more than 160 large format pages of essays, poetry, interviews and art. Printed using state-of-the-art offset lithography to our usual high standard, contributions for Abraxas #6 include an interview by Anna Dorofeeva with the artist, Penelope Slinger, who also kindly designed the cover for this issue; an evocative photographic essay by Victoria Ballesteros of Marjorie Cameron performing a Chen-style sword form of tai-chi, published here for the first time; Matt Marble explores the Hermes of Harlem, Robert T. Browne; Kelly Hayes shares with us a powerful series of images documenting the spiritual lives of an Afro-Brazilian community just outside Rio de Janerio; and we are especially pleased to offer a special feature on Leonora Carrington, with essays from two leading scholars; Susan L. Aberth and Wouter J. Hanegraaff.” 

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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The U.N. Invites a Pagan Youth Delegate to International Peace Day

Sun, 2014-09-14 09:57

On Sunday Sept. 21, the United Nations and others around the world will be honoring the International Day of Peace, a 32-year-old yearly tribute, recognition and call for peace worldwide. Just as last year, Rev. Patrick McCollum will be attending multiple events in New York City. He was asked to bring his World Peace Violin for an evening vigil in Manhattan’s Central Park, and he was also asked to bring a youth delegate to represent Paganism.

The U.N. has long sponsored youth outreach programs. This year will mark the first time a Pagan youth delegate is present at the organization’s World Peace proceedings. To find a candidate, McCollum turned to Mills College in Oakland, California, which boasts an active Pagan student association. After giving a workshop for the group, McCollum spoke with its president about the Peace Day opportunity.

Rowan Weir, a junior studying biopsychology and the current treasurer of the organization, was quick to apply for the job. After the application process was complete, Weir was selected to be the U.N. Pagan youth delegate. She is now making her final plans to attend the U.N.’s World Peace conference, which has included a crowd funding campaign to pay for the trip. We caught up with her morning last week before class.

A native of San Diego, Weir is not at all new to Paganism. While her mother never used the term Pagan, she grew up with a definite “earth-centered” spiritual understanding. For example, Weir’s family has always held a yearly Winter Solstice ritual; her grandmother would, on occasion, refer to herself as a witch; and her mother regularly talked about their inter-connectivity with nature.

Although the family didn’t identify its religion using the word Pagan, Weir now sees a connecting Pagan theme in her family’s ethics and beliefs. Weir says, “The solstice ritual was a recognition of the transition of the year and as a kid it was an interesting thing to observe.” She still returns to San Diego yearly to attend that family ritual.

Now a college student in Oakland, Weir labels herself as simply a Pagan. She feels that she is still learning and growing spiritually. That education is being nurtured through her involvement with the Mills Pagan Alliance (MPA). The group sponsors workshops with leaders and elders from the area, field trips, seasonal rituals and school events. Through attending and helping to organize MPA functions, Weir is able to, as she says, “learn all the different forms that Paganism can take.”

Rowan Weir

Weir’s role as a U.N. youth delegate is an extension of that religious learning. She says that she “loves to make connections” and hopes that the majority of time spent in New York will be doing just that. She looks forward to engaging in conversations with people very different from herself. She says, “It’s all about the learning.”

At the present time, Weir has not received the specifics of her schedule or duties as a delegate. There was a call put out for presenters but Weir didn’t apply. She felt that she didn’t have anything specific to present and that she would better serve her community as an observer. She explains, “I feel very strongly that the majority of my opportunities will come from connecting with people on a personal level.” That, she adds, will be the most fulfilling.

Weir also hopes to learn more about the many “new aspects of the peace process and global social justice.” She wants to take that information back with her and figure out where her role is within that dynamic. She asks, “Where can I fit myself in? What can I give? What does the world need of me?”

While these questions won’t be answered in full at the peace conference, Weir hopes to get glimpses of the possibilities. As a U.N. youth delegate, she will have the opportunity to discuss social justice within a global context and to see the Earth as one social unit. This is what she is most interested in doing. She says, “This experience will expand my viewpoint and show me the bigger picture and then I can bring it back into my personal work.”

One way in which Weir will “bring back” the international conversation will be through a blog. She says, “I will be writing about my experiences through the blog to make sure the [Mills College] club can see [the event] through my eyes and stay involved through me.”

Weir Haleakala National Park [Courtesy of R.Weir]

When asked if she was nervous or fearful about possible negative reactions to her presence or conflict, she said that hadn’t really considered that. She explains:

I grew up in a sheltered community. Everybody I’ve met is liberal. My only exposure to opposition has been in the form of protestors at events. I haven’t been forced to engage in that kind of very direct opposition personally.

However, she adds that she is ready for anything because of her “strong sense of self” and her connection to her family and her community at Mills College. She says:

I always felt as though I carry them with me. I carry with me their positive intentions and their protection. My community will help me to a engage without reservation or being held back by fear. 

While Weir isn’t clear on what the youth delegates will be doing, she does believe that the U.N. is very conscious of the need to connect with younger generations. She, herself, sees a very marked benefit to combining the energy and proactive nature of youth with the experience and learned wisdom of age. She believes that having the generations work together is the key to accomplishing more and better things. She says:

Paganism has always relied heavily on the connection of young and old. Traditions are passed down. The passing down of these traditions is a type of transformation.

However she did acknowledge that there are serious barriers to overcome in that work. Both generations often feel alienated from each other. Weir believes that it is the responsibility and burden of the older generation, the current leaders, to break that barrier. She says, “Extend [to youth] an invitation to the table; to the conversation … Youth want to connect and want to see as many news things as possible. But it is difficult to know how to approach older generations.”

She also has a message for other young Pagans.  She says, “Keep asking why?” She explains:

I know youth are already predisposed to asking questions, but it is perhaps not yet often enough, or it may be they do not see the resolution of their query through to it’s ultimate resolution. I try to incorporate this idea into both my daily life and deeper philosophies, as an aspect of personal development as well as social investigation. Pagans are natural protectors and activists, what they consider to be absolute truths are often the very things we must pursue if we want to better our relationship to the earth, and to each other. But the first step in translating ideals into actions is the asking of why. Why do these issues exist? And asking it again: why do they not improve? You continually delve deeper into the very essence of human suffering, of international conflict, of ecological devastation, and you discover your personal relationship with. It is imperative also that you apply a similar system of analysis to deconstructing the self. Young pagans want to know where they fit and what part they can play in change, but they need to know themselves implicitly, to pursue introspection as a path to inner strength, so when they approach that change, it is from a foundation of solidity and security. In addition, I implore young pagans to connect, in whatever ways are available to them. Our greatest resource is each other, and it is together that we will attain our greatest triumphs. We are a circle, we are open, we are unbroken.

Weir  sees the U.N.’s youth delegate program for World Peace Day as this type of invitation or barrier breaking. She sees the time that she will spend with Rev. Patrick McCollum as a valuable connection between two generations. With all of that sitting before her, she is both overwhelmed and excited to be included to the world table and to an international conversation about achieving global peace.

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Guest Post: Ending Silence to End the Bigotry

Fri, 2014-09-12 19:20

[The following is a guest post from Ryan Smith. He is one of the co-founders of Heathens United Against Racism and a graduate student studying modern history. He practices with his kindred in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He has been a Heathen for seven years and a Pagan for seventeen.]

In Pagan and Heathen communities, topics related to discrimination, prejudice and bigotry are often uncomfortably avoided with a telling silence and knowing glance. After all, as goes the common narrative, we are, as a community, accepting of everyone. We welcome people of different walks of life, religion, perspectives, Gods, and forms of worship so how could racism possibly be a problem?

Heathenry in particular has something of a dubious reputation on this subject; one that has been made worse by the refusal of many Heathens to even discuss it in any way. The continued quiet emanating from active Heathen organizations in the United States and Canada is made even more stark by the statement issued by Asatruarfelagid of Iceland in response to a recent split within the Danish national organization between proponents and opponents of Stephen McNallen’s theories on spirituality and genetics..

The refusal to discuss this subject is fed by many hands, which all flourish on a combination of growing up in American society and all that goes with it; the desire to not rock the boat; the perception that a lack of visible tension is the same thing as peace; the continued failure on the part of institutional American Heathenry to confront the problem in a decisive fashion; and the cold hard fact that, at the core of the racism, bigotry, misogyny and homophobia, is an organized, cohesive movement, which thrives off these cancers. Only when this problem is shoved in the collective face of Heathenry does any discussion happen, much of which is then greeted with the common urgings to “show respect,” “not tear people down,”and “stop being so negative.”

The recent case of Norsewind is one such instance. On Aug. 23, Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day released a statement regarding a change to the event schedule for that day. Norsewind was removed from the lineup. As it clearly states, Philly PPD was ensuring the mission of Pagan Pride Day was honored, and the safety of the patrons was not endangered. As would be revealed Aug. 29, this decision was based on information provided by Philadelphia Antifa who uncovered evidence leader singer Danjul Norse and his band were closely connected to Keystone United.  Philly PPD organizers have informed me, as they did The Wild Hunt, that they stands by the decision and will be making no further statements on this subject.

From L to R: Anna Hagalaz, Danjul Norse, Paul Fredericks [photo credit Norsewind facebook page]

For those unfamiliar Keystone United, it is hardly what one could describe as an innocent cultural group or anything similar. Formerly known as the Keystone State Skinheads, Keystone United is the largest single-state racist skinhead crew currently in the United States of America. With branches throughout Pennsylvania and ties to other white nationalist groups like the Vinland Social Club, Hammerskin Nation, Blood and Honour, and the National Alliance, Keystone United is easily one of the most notorious organized hate groups with a history of violent activity ranging from assaults to murder. There is little question from its activities and official website that Keystone United is a dangerous racist organization..

In the information presented by Philadelphia Antifa on Tumblr, a number of specific charges were made. During an interview with The Wild Hunt, Danjul claimed to have performed only two paying gigs for Keystone United. Antifa found this video from a Keystone United gathering in 2009 clearly showing Danjul Norse in attendance marching with them and holding a Norwegian flag (0:32-0:46).

According to Daryle Lamont Jenkins of One People’s Project, “As far as we and Philly Antifa were aware Norsewind was a mainstream Pagan band.” The discovery of this video was, while surprising, not sufficient enough to claim Norsewind had any real connection to or sympathy for racist skinhead ideology. Antifa did not act until further photos surfaced of Danjul wearing a T-shirt from Keystone United’s 2013 Leif Erikson festival, which prompted further investigation.  Those further investigations, according to Daryle, uncovered Norsewind had not only played for two private KSS parties but also at the funerals of KSS members. According to Danjul from his interview with the Wild Hunt:

It was a job and we decided to do it. It’s a business for us and it was a festival dedicated to Leif Erikson and his voyage. There were no signs of White Supremacy or neo-Nazi or hate. It was just a barbecue and they treated me with respect and enjoyed our music. That was it. So when they asked us to play again last year, I thought, OK.

As to his views and his music Danjul Norse told the Wild Hunt:

 Our message is for everyone. I don’t pick and choose. Not politics and not skin color. I just want people to hear my message of tradition and family. Perhaps it’ll influence them toward something positive. Or just make them laugh or be happy.

When I contacted him, he further added:

The band performs music based off our love for history and culture in Europe and North America, as well as other places around the world. We write and love folk songs that sing of ancestors and bravery as well as traditions that our early settlements and tribe’s have sung about in early scripts. We have chosen this path of art so that we may portray a positive message as well as a non-judging stance as a band…..which is why we play pretty much anywhere we are respected!!!

On the surface one would think that claims of being nonjudgmental, accepting, and totally not racist would fly. After all Philly Antifa did concede there was nothing in Norsewind’s body of work that is overtly racist. Many are asking what is the problem with a band with an established history and connections with a gang of violent racists playing at Pagan Pride Day when they themselves claim not to be bigots?

To understand what is going on here requires some brief explanations of neo-Nazi organizing tactics and philosophy. One key concept at work is what is known as metapolitics. As defined by white nationalist distributor Counter Currents Publishing, metapolitics is the practice of bringing about social change by using nonpolitical means to establish a new dominant cultural frame, also referred to as cultural hegemony. The intent is not to challenge people’s politics but to find other ways to win them over through means like music, art and events organized under the banners of cultural preservation and tradition.

Stripping away the philosophical meandering, the result of this strategy is a pattern of deliberate obfuscation, misrepresentation and deception. People, for perfectly understandable reasons, would want nothing to do with a group openly advocating for the establishment of a fascist, jackbooted dictatorship. This is where metapolitics comes into play. An example is the concept of apple pie words, such as the substitution of terms like “racial supremacy” with more innocent ones like “identity” or “culture,” to conceal true intent and win over the unwary. The BNP, KKK, and other white nationalists are not alone in using this approach, as can be seen in the three tiers strategy of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany who focus on cultural, community and electoral activism. This is the reason many white nationalists will claim they are totally not political. They just want to hang out with people who share the same race-based culture and who also happen to think Jim Crow was a good idea and the Holocaust was a hoax,.

Along with metapolitical tactics is another approach used by white nationalists known as the Bob Whitaker mantra, a pithy rebuttal that is essentially a crude, ham-fisted attempt at political judo used to deflect accusations of racism and bigotry. This, like the deceptions used in metapolitics, is rooted in very ruthlessly practical concerns. Just as most people would have nothing to do with a person seriously proposing we all put on jackboots and start heiling Hitler, the same can be said of those who openly identify as racists and bigots. It is from this observation that Bob Whittaker first conceived his witty line: “I know you are but what am I?” According to a rather unusual understanding of cultural diversity and tolerance, the true culprits are those who dare to call out others on their hateful words and deeds, turning  the opponents of racist groups and organized bigotry into ” the REAL racists.”

Such an argument traces right back to core concepts in modern white nationalist ideology. According to whitenationalist.coms FAQ and advocated by individuals like Julius Evola, Miguel Serrano, and Stephen McNallen all culture is inherently biological and a factor of genetics. A culture only exists as long as its genetic legacy remains intact, untainted and pure. Achieving that requires ethnic segregation in which each race would be able to exist without fear of degeneration. Some might see no harm in such goals if, of course, you think bantustans and reservations are totally fine, having no drawbacks whatsoever.

For those who feel otherwise, the broader pattern of apartheid apologism; the unspoken implication it would be the white nationalists determining who goes where; the obvious racism in their rampant miscegenation phobia; and the baseless claims of an ongoing genocide against all white people says far more than any lip-service offerings of multicultural understanding could ever conceal.

Getting back to Norsewind, adding further weight to the argument are certain things found floating around social media that directly contradict Danjul’s claims of tolerance. For example, he has Mein Kampf and March of the Titans: History of the White Race under his book “Likes.” Burzum, one of infamous neo-Nazi musician Varg Vikernes early projects, is number two under his music:

One Peopel’s Project also uncovered a comment by Norsewind band member Poul Augustsson, who said, “Torden Stamme and Norsewind raised a horn to you last night” in a post thanking fans for supporting a skinhead counter demonstration in response to a community demonstration against hate and racism in Philadelphia.

Another point was raised about the band’s use of the black sun symbol. This was part of Philly Antifas case, which cited the repeated uses of the Wewelsburg black sun in Norsewind’s album art and promotional materials.

Many apologists have claimed that anyone making accusations of racism toward those using the symbol are ignorant, prejudiced, and mean to harm all Heathens and Pagans. After all, as they argue, the black sun is an ancient pre-Christian, Germanic occult symbol and is on close to the same level of importance as the Valknut or the Hammer of Thor.

Funny how it seems the ancient Germanics never got that memo.

The only evidence we have of a black sun design existing in ancient times comes in the form of a handful of belt buckles and broaches found at dig sites in western Germany and eastern France, and dating from around the time of the Roman Empire. The black sun is simply has not been found in even remotely the same context, importance, or focus as the Valknut on the famous Hammar stone in Gotland, the numerous Mjolnir pendants, and plenty of other examples of sacred symbols.

The first place this specific design has been seen is the North Tower of Wewelsburg Castle in northwestern Germany. From the 14th century until it fell into ruins in the 18th, the castle was the property of the Prince-Bishop of Paderborn.  It had a largely unremarkable history ranging from an old ruin to a youth hostel . Then, in 1934, the castle and grounds were purchased by Heinrich Himmler. He intended for the castle to serve as the new center of the cult of the SS. The room with the Wewelsburg Black Sun was a meeting and ritual hall for Himmler and his generals during the Second World War.

Casting doubt on the already dubious antiquity of the Wewelsburg Black Sun is the lack of documentation showing when it was installed in the North Tower floor, with no mention in both the SS or older castle records. Between the lack of clear evidence as to when this design was installed, the castle’s long history as the property of a bishop, and SS renovations, there is no question that the popular Wewelsburg black sun is not an ancient Germanic occult symbol.

[Photo Credit: Sunnydog [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Its first use postwar by esoteric Hitlerists and neo-Nazi occultists, coupled with its questionable origins, leaves little doubt as to what the real meaning behind this cryptic design is. In many ways the widespread, unquestioning adoption of the black sun by well-meaning, inclusive Heathens and groups is easily the best example of how incredibly insidious and effective metapolitical tactics can be.

This leaves us at the same place we always end up. When the question of racism, bigotry, and organized hate rear their hydra heads,what is to be done?

If we are to look to the recent past, one preferred way of handling this case would be to seek some way to justify or minimize the significance of the skinhead connection, claim Norsewind does not represent Heathenry at all, and claim they are just an outlier. Another would be to attack anyone who dares to bring it up or ask questions about it, arguing that anyone who does is breaking frith or tearing someone down. The end result of both has also been a very consistent: silence.
Whether by refusing to address the bigger questions of why stuff like this keeps happening or through shouting down those who bring it up the end result is the same. Without open discussion, education, and confrontation, the situation in American Heathenry is never going to improve and may get worse. When bigoted, narrow-minded sentiments rear their heads they need to be called out for what they are. Excuses and misdirection must be challenged for what they are.

However, it is not enough to call out the obvious symptoms, the co-optation, and the work of the organized groups seeking to use Heathenry as a launch-pad for their twisted fantasies of race war. We must dig deeper and confront the greater problems that gave them ground to work from in the first place. As much as Heathens and Pagans try to keep broader society at a distance, there are elements of modern life in North America that are simply inescapable.

The greater patterns of misogyny, racism, fundamentalism, homophobic and transphobic words and deeds do not solely exist in the mainstream. Many of these assumptions are at work in our communities and in our movement. If we dig out the organized, most egregious examples of these toxins by root, stem, and branch, but leave undisturbed the soil in which their seeds first took root, then we will be passing this terrible burden on to the next generation of Heathens. Without decisively removing the ubiquitous influence of systemic prejudices against the marginalized in our society, then any immediate success over organized hate groups will be at best a fleeting victory.

The course ahead will not be easy and will take everyone well past what they find comfortable. But in that challenges, struggle and toil, there is an opportunity to truly prove ourselves. We can, and we must, show the often quoted words from the Havamal:

Cattle die, kinsmen die
And so dies oneself
One thing I know never dies
Is the fame of a dead man’s deeds

It is more than just a nice idea but a principle that we stand for, fight for, and will make real no matter the obstacles arrayed against or within us.

For those who feel as I feel and agree this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, I urge you to educate yourself ask questions, speak out and call out these actions as you see them. Give those fanning the flames of hatred no peace, and most importantly reach out to all those who seek a practice in which they are truly free, equal, welcome, and able to truly explore spirituality without fear.

 

 

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