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Pagan Art Featured in Successful ‘Doorways to the Underworld’ Exhibition

Thu, 2014-11-20 09:52

Pagan and mainstream are not two terms you often hear together, but they were a winning combination for a local art show in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists presented Doorways to the Underworld in a mainstream art gallery called Stevens Square Center for the Arts, Oct. 25 through Nov. 15.

The show was aimed at two audiences: Pagans who would understand the Samhain theme, and non-Pagans who were made more familiar with this spiritual path. Approximately 150 guests attended the show on opening and closing night, with an average of 50 guests attending on the other evenings that the show was open. The exhibition received positive and considerate coverage from mainstream and Pagan press.

Paintings displayed at Doorways to the Underworld art show [c schulz]

Doorways to the Underworld
As Samhain is one of the best known Wiccan holidays and has the most built in visibility and interest for the general public, the Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) decided this would be a good time to launch into the public eye. The group also felt the theme, Doorways to the Underworld, was auspicious.

Roger Williamson, one of the founders of the MCPA and also one of the artists, said, “Doorways are forms of machines that allow us to move from one reality into another. My paintings are machines that move a viewer from one realm of reality into another. In the context of the show, the Doorways of the title can be understood as machines that move us from outer to inner space, inner space generally being accepted as the region of the Underworld.”

The MCPA was formed in 2014 and consists of Roger Williamson, Ali Beyer, Helga Hedgewalker, and Paul B. Rucker. The MCPA had exhibited at last year’s Paganicon, a Pagan conference held in Minneapolis, but hadn’t yet exhibited in a more mainstream setting.

Paul Rucker says Roger Williamson, who was a long time member of the Stevens Square Center for the Arts, was instrumental in helping secure the exhibition space for the MCPA. Rucker adds that the group crafted a proposal for their debut show and were pleased it was accepted by Stevens Square Center for the Arts.

A non-Pagan attendee takes in a video art installation piece [c schulz]

Helping non-Pagans understand Samhain
The show used longer than standard descriptive labels on many of the works to help non-Pagans understand the symbolism and metaphorical language with which Pagans work. A person who has no grounding in Pagan ritual, belief systems, or traditions could understand what they were seeing. Rucker, who also exhibited at the show, said, “They can go beneath the surface of the art and grasp more of how these Pagan experiences and values shape the work. Viewing art is a form of cultural transmission that allows the viewer to learn about the artist’s intent and have a completely personal, intimate experience at the same time.”

The show has changed peoples’ perceptions about Paganism. Rucker related how a young man, who attended the closing event by chance, came away with a different view of Paganism, “He had associations with Pagan and Paganism as being about Satanism or evil, but that experiencing our show totally turned his head around.” Rucker said the young man was so enthusiastic about this experience he signed their guest book with his email, so that he could be notified about future shows.

Paul Rucker’s Witchfire on display [Credit: MCPA]

A Pagan view of the show
For Pagans, the show experience was different. Many of the Pagans attending said that the pieces spoke to them on a personal level. Penny M said, “I fell in love with Paul’s Witchfire piece at Paganicon last year and was immediately drawn to it at the show this weekend. The red, black, and gold entwined with jewel tones spoke to me. Life and death, the finality of skeletal remains with the vibrant colors. The first time I saw it I literally stopped breathing.”

Penny added that the theme of the show was appealing to her, not just because Samhain was so close, but because of what was happening in her personal life, “A close family member died recently. Art exploring the Doors to the Underworld called to me.”

Curating the show
In addition to being one of the MCPA founders and having pieces in the show, Ali Beyer was also the curator. Since the 1990s, she has worked at art galleries and museums along side curators at places such as The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Her work experience, combined with a master’s degree in fine arts, led other members of the MCPA to ask her to curate the show.

As a foundation for the show, she started with works from four members of the MCPA, and then looked for guest artists to round it out. “As curator, it was important to me to include a variety of different types of art,” said Beyer, “… I was looking for artists who self-identify as Pagan whose work was quality but who worked in different mediums than we do, and I was especially interested in finding more 3-dimensional work.”

Other guest artists included in the show included Katie Clapham’s photography, Rmay Rivard’s narrative collage-sculptures, and Alana Mari’s dance performance piece for opening night. Beyer says for future shows, she’ll look to include poetry and storytelling as well as more dance and other types of performance art.

Not only were the artists working in different mediums, but Beyer also wanted the artists to be at different points in their career. “When I saw the pottery of Ellie Bryan I was very excited to include her. She recently graduated with a BFA in ceramics from the University of Minnesota and she is also in the band Crow Call which performs regionally at Pagan events,” said Beyer. Not only was Bryan’s ceramics in the show, her band performed at the closing night event.

Ellie Bryan’s ceramics on display [c schulz]

Attendee Traci Amberbride was particularly taken with Bryan’s pottery. She said, “Ellie’s pottery is magnetic. The colors and etchings are inspired and reflective of divinity on the micro and macro level. That Ellie’s such a young artist who already has a profound voice promises many years of her offerings and the chance to watch her work grow and morph into new and inspired pieces.” Amberbride, who lives in Wisconsin, traveled to attend the closing of the show as part of her birthday celebration.

A dream come true
MCPA founder Helga Hedgewalker said her largest piece on display, “Bear Mother,” was already started when the group began discussing themes for the show. She said,”It was a happy coincidence that the painting I was currently working on fit the Underworld theme so perfectly: a priestess wearing a mask, sitting in a cave among the bones of the ancestors.” She went on to say that having a looming deadline of a show motivated her to complete the piece and she feels it’s her best painting to date. She asked Minneapolis Pagan wood-worker craftsman, Christopher Odegard, to build a special frame for her to display the piece at the show.

Bear Mother by artist Helga Hedgewalker [courtesy photo]

Hedgewalker says this was her first time showing her works in a mainstream gallery space and she didn’t know how attendees, especially non-Pagans, would react. “I just took a leap of faith that we had to try. Now that it is all said and done, I can look back at the tremendous effort, and know that it was worth it. I feel tremendous pride at having pulled off a huge success, far beyond my original hopes and expectations.”

She says the experience was a dream come true and she enjoyed watching the expressions on peoples’ faces as they viewed the art. She says it has renewed her soul and she, “…want[ed] to deeply thank the Pagan community and everyone who took the trouble to come out and be a part of something that means so very much to me, building Pagan culture through the arts.”

Two attendees gaze on a piece by Roger Williamson [c schulz]

Penny related a story about one of the other attendees, a young woman, who was excited to meet the artists, most of whom were in attendance. “I think we, in the local Pagan community, who are so blessed with so many talented artists of all sorts, sometimes forget just how fortunate we are. Not only with the depth of talent and experience in our community, but with our freedom to express our religious ideologies in art, worship, or identity. We stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Future shows
The MCPA is currently looking at other mainstream venues to host other shows. They are looking mostly at universities, galleries, and art centers. Rucker says, “It’s very important for us to present our work to the general public as well as to the Pagan “in-crowd”. In fact, it’s critical to the process of legitimation for ourselves as artists who, while grounded within this specific community, are also conveying ideas about what this Pagan experience means to the larger world.”

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N.Y. Top Court Rules In Favor of the Maetreum of Cybele

Wed, 2014-11-19 08:14

Yesterday, the New York Court of Appeals issued its final decision in the case of the Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, Inc. v. McCoy, (The Town of Catskill, N.Y.). In a unanimous decision, the court ruled in favor of the Maetreum, thereby ending a lengthy legal struggle over property tax exemption. In reaction, Rev. Cathryn Platine told The Wild Hunt, “I’m still in shock as this has consumed my life for eight years now.”

In Tuesday’s short 3-page decision, the Court of Appeals referenced the previous 2012 judgment made by Judge Richard Platkin of the state’s Supreme Court. As noted, that earlier decision rejected the Maetreum’s petition, concluding “that the religious and charitable uses of the subject property were incidental to [the Maetreum]‘s primary, non-exempt use of providing affordable cooperative housing.”  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Town of Catskill.

However, in 2013, the Appellate Division of New York’s Supreme Court “reversed [the decision] and granted the [Maetreum's] petitions, holding that the testimony at trial by [the Maetreum]‘s witnesses demonstrated that [the Maetreum] ‘uses the property primarily for its religious and charitable purposes’ and was therefore entitled to a property tax exemption…” On Tuesday, the New York Court of Appeals agreed, saying, “The Appellate Division properly granted the petitions.”

Along with Maetreum attorney Deborah Schneer, Rev. Sister Viktoria Whittaker and her husband Gary Whittaker were in attendance at the Oct. 21 hearing at the Court of Appeals in Albany. Those arguments were summarized in an article published in the Albany Times Union. After that hearing, Rev. Whittaker told the Times-Union, “If we weren’t 100 percent sincere in this, we wouldn’t be standing here today.”

In that same article published in October, Catskill lawyer Daniel G. Vincelette explained the town’s position, saying, “It’s no more than if you or I had a crucifix or Star of David in our homes. That doesn’t entitle us to the exemption.” He also noted that the legal battle has cost the town approximately “$30,000 to $35,000″ but added that “The importance to the town isn’t dollars and cents. It’s precedent.”

After the release of Tuesday’s Court of Appeals decision, Rev. Platine told The Wild Hunt, “The town wanted to drive us out that is now impossible as there is no further legal action possible on their part.” With this new decision, the Maetreum has been automatically granted its property tax-exemption. However, like all other similar organizations, it will have to re-apply every year. Rev. Platine isn’t worried and explained that the process will now involve just “a simple form rather than the major 3 section multiple page one [they've] been forced to file every year up to now.”

While the long battle has left the organization tired and broke, Rev. Platine appeared more relieved than anything. “We won the battle,” she said enthusiastically, adding, “This will be the case cited in all future religious legal actions in the state of N.Y. That’s how important it was and it has been cited at least twice since the Appellate win already.”

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

Rev. Whittaker echoed Platine’s statement, saying  “It was a very, very important case, not just establishing equal protection under the law for Pagans, but it also emphasized the importance of establishing and maintaining Pagan congregations in the real world.” Whittaker also emphasized the importance that her spiritual beliefs played in this journey. She said:

The Great Mother Cybele brought us to the place, made sure that we were not only able to purchase it and maintain it over the last 12 years, and also to win a lengthy and expensive court case like this.  With her support and guidance, we did what few would have thought possible.  Through Her, indeed, nothing is impossible. I truly feel that this is one of the most important things I have done with my life.

When asked what is next for The Maetreum of Cybele, Rev. Platine said, “Personally, I plan to return to my research writing and theology studies. The Maetreum will commit to get our community radio station on the air by April of next year and resume our charitable work once we get our financial feet under us again.”

The Town of Catskill informed us that it has not yet issued any public response or reaction to Tuesday’s ruling.

For more history on this case, go to our April 2014 report.

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Fundraising Pagan Style

Tue, 2014-11-18 07:27

Despite the strong countercultural thread that runs through many Pagan religions, there has long been a concurrent drive to develop the infrastructure and tools of the overculture, and turn them to our own ends. Arguments over owning land, creating seminaries, forming churches and other not-for-profits have been hashed out for decades, and this will likely be the cause of lively discourse for many years to come.

At the same time, those in the community who do forge ahead with these projects continue to speculate why one idea might flourish and another fail. For example, some posit that Pagans are too poor to support these works or perhaps too cheap. Others claim that Pagans want all the nice things but don’t wish to pay for them. Still others assert that Pagans are scarred by the experiences of their birth religions and, therefore, will not donate to any cause which promises to lift up religious hierarchies.

[Photo Credit: Kathryn Harper, Flickr]

None of these arguments hold much water, because no meaningful research has be done that focuses on financial attitudes and security within Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or any similar communities that fall under the shadow of the Pagan umbrella. However, even without that research, it is evident that anything from feeding the homeless to building a library requires money to succeed.

Online communication makes it easier to connect with donors. As a result, the internet has made older donation platforms more accessible, and allowed new ones to emerge. In recent years, crowdfunding platforms have become the method of choice to raise funds from the dispersed Pagan communities. Sites such as IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, and Kickstarter have not only helped individuals secure funding for everything from burial expenses to pilgrimages, but they have also become invaluable to organizations such as The Wild Hunt, which is bankrolled by its annual online fund drive. Indeed, the egalitarian nature of crowdfunding makes it a popular way to promote a cause or rally community members to support one of their own.

Crowdfunding sites provide tools for social engagement and promotion, making them the media darlings that garner a lot of visibility. One aspect of these platform’s popularity is that, for the most part, they do not discriminate about the worthiness or the motivation for a campaign. If someone can successfully promote making potato salad, it does not matter if that someone is an individual or a corporation; or whether that someone is seeking profit or not. This is particularly beneficial to the individual, because many other sources of money are closed to all but non-profits, which have the blessings of the national government. Here in the United States that means the approval under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Logo Aquarian Tabernacle Church

Dusty Dionne marketing director for the Aquarian Tabernacle Church said that when it comes to raising money “we as Pagans can’t hold your immortal soul up against your wallet — we have to give you something in return.” To that end, ATC’s founder Pete Pathfinder was always seeking things that could be given in return for donations, such as cookbooks and The Other People, which took the text of an Oberon Zell article and transformed it into a parody of a Chick tract. Dionne said, “My job is to find something to give you, the Pagan,” in return for a donation.

During the last two years of his life, Pathfinder “grew increasingly concerned with the financial stability of the church,” Dionne recalled, and he spent considerable time “finding ways to raise money without badgering the community and trying to make them feel that it was their responsibility only.” Aware that many organizations don’t successfully transition beyond the founder’s death, Dionne is now focused on finding as many revenue streams as possible for the ATC.

Those include passive revenue streams, such as Kroger Community Rewards and Amazon Smile. The latter is a portal set up by Amazon.com that allows shoppers to direct 5% of their sales to a not-for-profit. and the former is a similar program for customers of Kroger’s and Fred Myers, which are regional grocery stores. Corporations benefit from such programs by creating goodwill in the community, providing tax write-offs, and increasing brand loyalty. Often the store’s presumed support of a particular cause alters shopping habits to match.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

Another church which avails itself of the Amazon Smile program is the Maetreum of Cybele, which has long been raising money for an interminable court battle over the tax-exempt status of its property in the town of Catskill, New York. Neither the Maetreum nor the ATC has seen a lot of money streaming in from this source. Dionne said that ATC’s first check was for thirteen dollars and, according to Reverend Catherine Platine, “It yields a small amount of donations but also allows us to purchase for the Maetreum items from Amazon with a cash back. We haven’t really promoted them outside occasional reminders on our FB page.”

PayPal’s Giving Fund (formerly eBay’s Mission Fish) is an independent 501c3 organization that helps for-profit businesses set-up and maintain similar giving programs. Non-profits can register with the program in order to be listed as a potential recipient of donations. Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) has been a registered recipient with this program for several years and has received small donations through eBay purchases.

Corporations do other kinds of giving as well, such as those listed in the Whole Foods community giving program, which isn’t restricted to non-profits. In-kind donations of products and services can often be obtained through a conversation with a local store manager, or by completing a simple application, but typically some amount of advance notice is required. CoG took advantage of this program for its 2014 Merry Meet event in Atlanta. Whole Foods donated $50.00 worth of groceries, which were used to help feed attendees at its day-long leadership workshop.

A pattern for much of this corporate largesse is that it doesn’t fully hit the company’s bottom line. In-kind donations cost less than the retail value that’s declared, and anything that can be written-off softens the fiscal blow, and is frequently encouraged by bean-counters in the back office. Passive programs, such as Amazon Smile, only generate donations based on customer sales, which may not have ever happened without those fundraising programs. Many of the largest companies may match donations made to certain charities, or have employee giving programs, which provide a convenient mechanism for those donations (in the form of payroll deduction) to translate into regular checks sent to a chosen charity.

SEFA logo.

Perhaps the most alluring employee giving campaigns are those set up by the government itself, because there are a lot of people employed in public service. Mistakenly called “United Way campaigns,” because that charity was once the only administrator of such programs, these campaigns are generally created under the auspices of a governing body, but operate independently of it.

For example, in New York, a program called the State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA) is run by a council of state employees and retirees, who divide the state into a number of regions, which are then managed by local volunteer committees. Each of those regions hires a fiscal manager – a non-profit organization – to work with the local committee in order to promote the campaign and ensure that the donations end up where they’re intended.

These programs have certain advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that it’s easy to receive a donation from employees of that government. But on the down side, if that government makes decisions which are unpopular with its employees,such as pay freezes and layoffs, it could impact what given. Donations can also dry up if employees feel that the charity is reflecting well upon an undeserving boss. In other words, these programs can be terribly political.

There are many local governments with campaigns, and about twenty states have them. However, the biggest one is the combined Federal campaign due to the large number of people who can potentially be reached. However, these campaigns all have different application standards and reporting requirements, which may not be worth the effort if there aren’t employees standing by ready to donate to a cause. The first step that any organization should take, with regards to government programs, is to find out how many members or supporters actually work for the body in question.

Even if all the necessary hoops are jumped through, donations are rarely received from anyone who isn’t actually asked to give one. No matter the size or structure of the organization, regardless of what tools are available for raising money, and whether or not that money is going to a non-profit or just someone trying to deepen a personal spiritual practice, there’s never going to be anything that replaces the need to ask.

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Pagan Community Notes: CUUPS, Asa West, Fairy Investigation Society, HUAR and so much more!

Mon, 2014-11-17 08:57

On Nov. 8, the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Inc. (CUUPS) has announced its new structure and officers. Long time member, David Pollard, was hired as executive director, and the organization welcomed Jessica Gray, Maggie Beaumont and Martha Kirby Capo to the new board. Nominations are being sought for the position left open by Pollard. The organization says, “If you are a currently paid member of CUUPS for a year and would like to serve on the board please contact President, Amy Beltaine.” CUUPS is also in the middle of their revisioning process, which was put into place in order “to identify our common principles and values, create a shared sense of identity and purpose among Pagan-friendly UUs and UU-friendly Pagans, and develop a mission and vision for CUUPS for the next ten years.”

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Thich Nhat Hanh

On Nov. 11, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, suffered a severe brain hemorrhage and was in intensive care. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, poet, author and peace activist. When the news was announced, Asa West, writer of the new Patheos Pagan Channel blog Shekinah Calling: Reclaiming Witchcraft with a Jewish Twist, offered a healing blessing in her second blog post. She discusses the energy of mindfulness and healing work in the Buddhist tradition, as requested in the announcement concerning the Zen Master’s condition. West adds, “I hope Thich Nhat Hanh makes a full recovery. May all beings be happy, well, and safe from harm.” The worldwide call for meditative energy healing may have worked. Reports are now indicating that Thich Nhat Hanh condition is stable and he is on his way to recovery.

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The Fairy Investigation Society has published a new survey asking people to record any encounters they’ve had with fairies, as well as opinions and experiences on the subject. F.I.S. explains, “The Fairy Census is an attempt to gather, scientifically, the details of as many fairy sightings from the last century as possible and to measure, in an associated survey, contemporary attitudes to fairies. The census was inspired by an earlier fairy census carried out by Marjorie Johnson and Alasdair Alpin MacGregor in 1955/1956, a census that was published in 2014.”  The survey and more about the organization can be found on their website.

In other news: 

  • The Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) has published a statement “denouncing Irminfolk as racist” based on the Irminfolk bylaws. The HUAR statement reads, “We denounce them for their blatantly obvious support for such ideas, and we move that all members of Heathens United Against Racism disassociate with the organization, its officers, representatives, events, functions, and all affiliates.” The statement in its entirety can be read online as well as the Irminfolk bylaws.
  • A video taken at Margot Adler’s memorial service has been posted on You Tube. The video includes speakers, tributes and songs. The memorial was held on All Souls Unitarian Church in NYC, on All Hallows’ Eve 2014.
  • Circle Sanctuary’s Pagan Spirit Gathering has launched is registration for its summer festival 2015. This will mark PSG’s 35th year. Rev. Selena Fox said, “I am thankful to all who have contributed to PSG and its community over the years. This is the earliest we have opened PSG registration — we hope that this will give us more time to share ideas and plan for PSG 2015.” The event will be held at Stonehouse Farm in Northern Illinois from June 14-21.
  • Courtney Weber, organizer of the Pagan Environmental Coalition – NYC, has announced the upcoming publication of her book Brigid: History, Mystery and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. Due out May 2015, the book is already listed on Amazon for pre-sale. Weber is also planning a book tour.
  • The Universal Society of Ancient Ministry is celebrating the acceptance of its trademark, including the phrase Pagans in Need and PIN. Gerrybrete Leonard, CEO and HPS, wrote, “One year ago Universal Society of Ancient Ministry absorbed Pagans In Need to run under the Churches 501(c)3 … This now means that we can now publish and print our name with legal support.” The organization has also recently launched its Toys for Yule holiday giving program. Information can be found on its website.

That is all for now. Have a nice day.

 

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Witches, Entertainment and Time Magazine

Sun, 2014-11-16 08:23

On Oct. 28, Time magazine published an article called “Why Witches on TV Spell Trouble in real life.”  It was part of the avalanche of articles on Witches and Witchcraft that typically appear in October. As suggested by the title, the article’s intent was to examine the social factors surrounding the popularity of TV witches. After publication, Time and the writer, Jennie Latson, were hit with a wave of backlash from Pagans and Witches.

The article contains two sentences that became the target of those reactions. The first is a quote from Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University. He writes, “Witches, like terrorists, ‘threaten to wipe out everything you believe in.’ The article’s second offending sentence is “The difference, of course, is that terrorists are real, while witches are not.”

On Oct. 30, Silver Ravenwolf published a brief response:

I am shaking my head.  I am wondering what rock these people are crawling out from under.  How about you actually take the time to interview a real Witch, to live their life for 30 days, and then I dare you to come back and tell me that I’m a terrorist.

Jason Mankey posted a longer response titled “Dear Time magazine, Witches are Real!” on his blog Raise the Horns. His tempered response included:

 I don’t think Ms. Latson’s article was intentionally insulting. She was simply trying to rationalize the explosion of Witch-themed shows on cable television. Fair enough, that’s the kind of article we all expect this time of year, but her execution was exceedingly poor.

Adam Osborne of Salisbury, North Carolina began a change.org petition asking Time magazine to apologize. He wrote,”The article, although seemingly benign, puts Pagans and those who practice witchcraft in a bad light, and could encourage others to “punish” us as they would deem fit.” The petition has received 5,078 supporters to date.

While Pagans sent angry tweets to both the magazine and writer, several online media outlets reported on rising tension. The International Business Times wrote, “Many practicing Wiccans were not amused, and some accused the magazine of comparing witches to terrorists.” The Inquisitor published an opinion piece on the subject and Religion Dispatches posted a reaction from religion professor Joseph Laycock. On Nov. 10, Latson linked to that response in a tweet:

How I (inadvertently) evoked the wrath of modern-day witches: http://t.co/CRbVTcxEzK. By @joe_laycock.

— Jennie Latson (@JennieLatson) November 10, 2014

Although the backlash was notable, Pagan reactions were not uniform, and many felt the article wasn’t a problem. Osborne’s petition has yet to receive the requested number of signatures. Why? Because the Latson article focused on fictional witches and the legends surrounding Salem. When she said, “Witches aren’t real,” she was referring to the type of witch found in most Hollywood representations (e.g., Maleficent,2014; Witches,1990; The Chronicles of Narnia, 2005).

The word witch is, and has always been, a very loaded term. Outside of fictional representations, the word has many meanings, each of which evokes a very different culturally-dependent reaction. When someone says “witch” in a small Nigerian village, the meaning is entirely different from a person using the word while relaxing at Treadwell’s Bookshop in London. It means something different within the walls of the Vatican than it does at a Pagan Pride event in California. And, it means something different today than it did 100 or 500 years ago. Contextuality is everything when using the word “witch.”

Considering the reactions, Latson’s article failed to adequately contextualize its subject matter in order to avoid criticism. The sentence “Witches are not real” was not encased in language that demonstrated an understanding or sensitivity to the term’s varied contemporary usage. This resulted in outrage.

Limiting her statement to Hollywood cinematic language, Latson’s statement about witches is mostly true. However, the article makes other claims, beyond those two statements, that prove problematic from a cinematic and historical viewpoint. The article suggests that fictional witches are more popular during times of trouble. This statement is not supported by film research. As with the word “witch” itself, the iconic meaning of the cinematic witch needs better contexualization in order to understand its popularity.

1957, The Undead. Dorothy Neumenn as Meg Maud. [Courtesy of Acidemic.blogspot.com.]

Quoting Baker, the article compares current U.S. social climate to that of colonial Salem. He posits that the interest in witches:

…may have its roots in the post-9/11 panic over terrorism and what could be seen as a Salem-like erosion of civil rights in the name of security — or, more recently, in the revelations that the National Security Agency seems to be spying on ordinary citizens as stealthily as neighbors spied on neighbors in colonial Salem

However, fictional witches were not only popular in times of trouble. Witches were prolific in American films at the turn of century because filmmakers, who wanted to showcase a new entertainment product, used popular stories, such as fairy tales and histories, to draw in audiences (e.g, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1910; In the Days of Witchcraft, 1913; Joan the Woman, 1917). Similarly, witches were popular in times of economic stability such as the 1950s and 1990s.

Film scholars believe the popularity of witches is less about social instability and more about the negotiation of gender roles. When discussing witch films, theorists focus on female agency and sexuality. As noted by Tanya Krzywinska in A Skin for Dancing in, “Witchcraft [in film] has become a language of resistance to the cultural norms of femininity…” (Krzywinska, p.117) These norms include beauty, family roles, career paths and power held within society.

While this very specific cinematic codification is consistent across time, it doesn’t explain everything. The use of the filmic witch as an icon of radical femininity is wholly dependent on time and genre. In the 1920s, when women were experiencing unprecedented social freedom, witches nearly disappeared from the American screen. In 1934, witches returned as the Depression took hold and traditional family structures were celebrated. At the very same time, the Catholic-based censorship office began its control of the Hollywood production (e.g., The Wizard of Oz, 1939; Spitfire,1934; Maid of Salem, 1937). In this case, witches were an example of what not to be.

By the 1970s and after the social revolution, the horror film began incorporating versions of the witch figure. In these films, the focus is more on aberrant female sexuality than conventional social roles (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; Carrie,1976; Witches of Eastwick, 1987; The Craft, 1996). And, in today’s market, the narrative positioning of the Hollywood witch trope has changed again as society plays with the acceptance of non-traditional cultural modalities. This can be seen in thematic and narrative complexities playing out in recent shows such as Salem, American Horror Story: Coven, the Witches of East End and others.

WGN America’s Salem Poster

In addition, most discussions of cinematic witches, like the Time magazine article, fail to take race into account. Most Hollywood cinematic witches are white. The female, brown-skinned witch has a very different role and cinematic meaning within Hollywood language. Analysis of this type of witch reveals threads of racism, colonialism and the unfettered objectification of the “other” (e.g., The Devil’s Daughter, 1939, The Crucible, 1996; Salem, 2014)  This is an entirely different story.

The popularity, or the lack of popularity, of the witch in TV and cinema proves to be as complicated as the use of the term “witch” itself. In both cases, scholarship is not complete without acknowledging those complexities even on a small scale. Muddling this matter further are the many blurred lines between the various meanings – both fictional and real. There are shared details, such as black hats, cauldrons, magical work, healing and aspects of the Occult, that underlie our cultural understanding of the witch. These elements are often what lead to frustration and anger for those that identify as modern-day real Witches. Many people, non-Witches, don’t or can’t see the distinctions between the purely cinematic and fictional, the historical legends, the accusations in Africa, and the real, genuine practice of Witchcraft around the globe.

UPDATE 11/17/14: Prof. Emerson Baker, who was quoted in the original Time article, did issue his own apology on his site for the confusions that were generated by Latson’s story.

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Around the World: Aboriginal Australia

Sat, 2014-11-15 04:27

In my previous article describing my experiences with Paganism in Australia, particularly in the state of Victoria, I mentioned that the local Pagans, who I have talked to, are interested in exploring Aboriginal culture and spirituality. American readers also seemed interested in hearing more about this subject as well. As I have mentioned, this subject presents some special challenges. Today, I explore some of those challenges.

didgeridoo [Photo Credit: betta design via Compfight CC BY-NC 2.0]

Let’s begin by acknowledging a basic reality. It is no easier or less complicated for an Australian Pagan to get authentically involved with Aboriginal spirituality than it is for an American Pagan to get involved with Native American spirituality. You’ll see this isn’t the only parallel.

While we use the term ‘Aboriginal’ to refer to the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands, we ought to remember that there has never been a single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. The broad term includes 900 regional groups with distinct languages, beliefs, and practices.

British colonisation of Australia began with the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay in 1788. We don’t know with certainty how large the Aboriginal population was at that time. Some ecologists estimate it may have been 750,000 to a million (1). What followed is the familiar story of colonialism and colonisation: the spread of virulent diseases, the appropriation of land and water resources, the introduction of alcohol, opium, and tobacco, violence, exploitation, dispossession, the spread of European settlements, forced religious conversion, the establishment of racist institutions, and the general obliteration of the languages, literature and culture of native peoples.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, by 1900 the recorded Indigenous population of Australia had declined to approximately 93,000 and the belief that the Indigenous Australians would soon die out was widely held. While Australians are well aware of what happened next, most Americans know little about the Stolen Generation.

Up until as recently as the 1970s, the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments removed Indigenous children from their families. Newspaper articles, reports, and other documents suggest that motivations included child protection and fear over the mixing of racial groups. Aboriginals were referred to as blacks (they still are) and the government wanted to “breed out the colour by elevating female half-castes to white standard with a view to their absorption by mating into the white population” (2).

In Australia: A Biography of a Nation, Phillip Knightley wrote:

This cannot be over-emphasized—the Australian government literally kidnapped these children from their parents as a matter of policy. White welfare officers, often supported by police, would descend on Aboriginal camps, round up all the children, separate the ones with light-coloured skin, bundle them into trucks and take them away. If their parents protested they were held at bay by police.

The exact number of children removed is unknown, but the Bringing Them Home Report stated that “not one family has escaped the effects of forcible removal”.

On 13 February 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology to Indigenous Australians.

Kevin Rudd on screen in Federation Square, Melbourne [Photo Credit: virginiam via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0]

Fast forward to today. Aboriginals have not recovered from the atrocities they experienced. In June 2013, the estimated Australian Indigenous population was 698,583 people. That’s about 3% of the total population in Australia. The Overview of Australian Indigenous health status confirms what many can imagine. Aboriginals live in remote communities, and have poorer health, lower education, greater problems with alcohol abuse, earn less, are at greater risk for self-harm and suicide, and die sooner than non-Indigenous persons.

It’s a bleak picture, but it’s not a hopeless one. A great number of Australians care very much about the state of Aboriginal people and there are many private and public efforts to improve Aboriginal health and well-being as well as promote reconciliation.

Wurundjeri: Traditional Owner Acknowledgement Plaques by ANTaR Vic

As I mentioned above, there is no single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. I use the term “Aboriginal spirituality” only for convenience. How to pin-point it? We can talk about the creation, ancestral, and totemic beings, but that misses the point. There is next to nothing I can tell you about what’s left of Aboriginal ceremonies because I am not privy to them. It is “secret business” as one reader commented in my last piece. What we’re really talking about is culture and one that is inextricably tied to the land.

Aboriginal Australian groups had a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land. Their forcible removal by European settlers severed them from the cultural and spiritual practices necessary to maintain the cohesion and well-being of the group. All the Dreaming stories, the tales of timeless time, tell significant truths within each Aboriginal group’s local landscape and these establish the structure of their societies, the rules of behaviour, and the ceremonies performed to ensure continuity of life and land.

Many Aussie Pagans would love to have greater access to Aboriginal wisdom. I’ve met one Pagan man that traveled to remote areas of Australia and spent time with some Aboriginals and learned a great deal.  There are opportunities to visit cultural centres, public events, and there’s volunteering. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult and there is an invisible line in the sand. Aborigines are distrustful, and who can blame them. Australians are sensitive to the plight of Aborigines and often paralyzed by a sense of helplessness. I rarely hear Pagans here talk of cultural appropriation, but they all know what it means and they know Aboriginal spirituality is mostly off limits.

In Australia, we’re often working with inherited materials from the Northern Hemisphere that don’t always apply well. That’s why I love the science and technology publications from CSIRO and why one of my favourite Pagan bloggers down under is Inga Leonora at Australis Incognita who studies native Australian Flora and Fauna in her Craft. I’ve taken up bird-watching, which gets me out in nature and has helped me learn more about the native wildlife and the seasonal shifts through their migration and breeding patterns.

In the U.S., Pagans balance the myths and rites of a foreign Pagan religion with those of the land we inhabit. It’s no different here in Australia. The best way to learn about native spirituality is to learn about native land.

Sources

  1. Neil Thomson, pp153, “Indigenous Australia: Indigenous Health” in James Jupp (ed), The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their Origins, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  2. C. E. Cook to Administrator of the Northern Territory, 7 February 1933, National Archives of Australia, Commonwealth Records Series, Department of the Interior file A659/1; 1940/1/408
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Culture and Community: Appropriation, Exchange and Modern Paganism

Fri, 2014-11-14 06:48

Cultural appropriation is not a new issue and definitely not new within Paganism. The story of American capitalism has created a strong foundation for what has continued to be one of the most important, and yet challenging, discussions underlying the modern Pagan experience. Conversations of cultural appropriation reach outside of the boundaries of this spiritual world and intersect with various other aspects of our everyday society, leaving a complex web to untangle.

For example, the New Age sector’s use of various aspects of Native American* cultures, as well as the selling or misappropriating of that culture, has continued to drum up controversy. Indian Country Today Media Network recently published an article called Selling the Sacred, exploring the objectifying of Native religious and cultural “secrets” in New Age arenas. The article highlights several places that claim to certify people as Shamans or even award a Masters Degree in Native American Shamanism.

[Photo Credit: Media123 CC lic. via Wikimedia Commons]

Native Americans are not the only marginalized culture to be openly appropriated in the United States by New Age practitioners and even Pagan communities. Hindu deities and traditions have become more popular among some people, along with aspects of African heritage as well. It is just as common to find djembe drums in a Pagan fire circle as it is to find candles in a ritual. The line between appropriation and cultural exchange can be a very fine one. It is not only about the intersection of capitalism, but also colonialism enters into the equation.

There are many things to consider. When does exchange become more about honoring another culture rather than just adopting it while leaving its roots behind?

The growing eclecticism of Pagan practitioners make these distinctions more challenging to unravel. How do we determine the boundaries of respectful cultural exchange within modern Paganism when individual understandings of this concept are so vast and varied?

The complexity of exploring the nuances of cultural appropriation versus exchange are not easily defined by one set of criteria. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University – Northridge, answered questions about the layered intricacies of the often controversial concepts of appropriation and exchange.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo Credit Tony Mierzwicki)

… while on paper one can try to distinguish appropriation from exchange, in practice, it’s much more complicated. Cultures come into contact with one another in many different ways, and some of those involve violence. Nonetheless, cultural exchanges do emerge from those contacts — all the time. Think of cultural exchange as a crossroads. In folklore, the crossroads is a liminal place of magic, but it’s also a dangerous place, a place where death and destruction can happen. Crossroads deities are tricky (Eshu, Loki, Odin) and fierce (Hekate). Yet from that destruction and trickery, new life arises. It’s kind of the same with cultural contact and exchange.

Usually, when defining cultural exchange, the premise is that the two cultures entering into the exchange are on equal terms: neither is more powerful than the other. Cultural material — narratives, verbal lore, music, material culture, foodways, magical techniques — are shared as part of the process of intercultural contact. Thus, for example, when the Irish settled in New York City after fleeing the potato famine in 1848, they found that all the storekeepers in the neighborhoods where they could afford to live were Jewish. They didn’t have any lamb or pork, but they did carry Kosher corned beef. Thus, corned beef substituted the kinds of meats they had eaten in their homeland. That’s the reason we think of corned beef and cabbage as “Irish” food today — it’s really Irish American food, born of that cultural exchange.

Appropriation happens when one culture conquers another, destroys or damages their culture and substitutes its own as the dominant culture, then borrows elements of the subjugated culture, re-contextualizing them for their symbolic value.

So, for example, the destruction of Native American cultures by European Americans, followed by the use of decontextualized elements from those cultures (feather headdresses, sweat lodges, jewelry, fringed clothing, architecture styles, concepts such as “spirit animal”) as icons of authenticity or spirituality is an example of appropriation.

All this is easy on paper, but more challenging on the ground, because in reality, cultures are seldom on equal footing in terms of power. Moreover, cultural borrowing and exchange happens constantly. We are moved to adopt elements we find attractive or advantageous through a process called “mimesis” (imitation).

Attempting to keep your own culture “pure” and free of any appropriated or borrowed elements is just as noxious as free-wheeling appropriation: it leads to a kind of cultural fascism, like what we see now developing among certain kinds of right-wing, nationalist Paganisms in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Basically, avoiding blatant cultural appropriation is about respecting the feelings and rights of other cultures with which you co-exist. It’s about recognizing when there’s a history of power-over, exploitation, and cultural destruction, and being mindful of that … It’s about power dynamics — and those are frequently subtle.

In light of the complicated, interwoven and challenging prospect of analyzing what might be culturally appropriative and what might be considered respectful exchange, several other people have shared their thoughts to this complex topic. The personal insights of these practitioners show a myriad different angles and ideals that mirror such diversity in thought and practice.

Lupa Greenwolf is an author and artist that has worked with shamanic aspects in her personal practice. She is the editor of the 2012 anthology Talking About the Elephant: An Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation published by Immanion/Megalithica Press. Lou Florez is a Rootdoctor and Orisha Priest in the San Francisco Bay Area. His spiritual work focuses on the liberation of the body, and he works as a southern-style Tarot and Dillogun reader at a metaphysical shop in Oakland, California. Kenn Day is the author of several books on post-tribal shamanism, including Post-Tribal Shamanism: A New Look at the Old Ways published in 2014 by Moon Books. Janet Callahan is an author of several published works and is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Tribe.

Lupa

The problem in a more practical sense is that, in the U.S. at least, there is no established shamanic path in the dominant culture, and so people who come from that culture (like me) have to choose either to try to shoehorn ourselves into an indigenous culture that we may not be welcome in let alone be trained in, or research cultures of our genetic ancestors and find that we are no more *culturally* German, or Slavic, or Russian than we are Cherokee or Dine’. Or we take a third road, which is to try to piece together from scratch some tradition that carries the same basic function as a shamanic practice in another culture, but which is informed by our own experiences growing up in the culture we happened to be born into.

As to how to realistically avoid appropriation to the best of your ability, while also honoring your own need for spirituality and the spirits/community you serve? A lot of it is a matter of educating yourself on where you’re coming from versus the origins of the traditions you may be inspired by, and how your own cultural experiences inform your own practice of similar-but-not-the-same traditions. One of the problems I have with core shamanism is that it claims to be “culturally neutral”, or at least a lot of the practitioners thereof claim it is. And that’s basically impossible. Your culture ALWAYS affects how you approach everything, from spirituality to communication to food. So try to be a shaman of your own culture, not of someone else’s (unless specifically invited).

I think the biggest problem is when non-indigenous people wholesale take indigenous practices, and then claim to be indigenous themselves. That’s part of what makes it tougher for people who are genuinely trying to create a practice for themselves while remaining as culturally sensitive as possible, because we get lumped in with those who outright lie about who they are. So you need to be honest and clear about where your practices come from and what inspired them, what’s your own creation and what came from others.

I’ve had people tell me everything from “You shouldn’t use the word ‘shaman'” to “You shouldn’t use a drum with a real hide head” to “You shouldn’t work with hides and bones at all”, all because I’m a European mutt. For a while I kept backing up and backing up and acquiescing to whoever criticized me–and then I realized that if I gave in to every criticism, I’d have no practice left at all. So I very carefully reviewed what my practice entailed, did my best to claim that which I created myself while also being honest about how other cultures’ practices inspired me, and that’s where I drew my line, where I would back up no farther. I don’t consider myself a neoshaman any more, mostly because I don’t use specifically “shamanic” practices like journeying, and use the term “naturalist pagan” for what I currently practice, but I still work with hides and bones, I still have my totemic practice, all in ways that I have developed for myself over the years. – Lupa Greenwolf, Author

Lou Florez [Courtesy Photo]

Experiences of appropriation have left me alienated and displaced in community. At its core appropriation is a form of violence and aggression against brown bodies and brown communities. It is a minstreling, a racist caricature that tells more about the frame of mind of the performer [appropriation is a performative act] then it does about the original practice or cultural significance. Not only does it cause harm through this mimicking of symbols and actions, but it further creates difficulties for seeing real images of brown people and our gods on community altars due to the fear of appropriation.I think that honesty is of utmost importance in these matters because there is a difference between a ritual inspired by a different culture versus one that claims a lineage in that specific tradition. My litmus test is this question, have you been given license to do ceremony and teach from these communities? Just as I would never read a book and pretend to be an authority in Gardenarian Wicca, you can’t read one book and think that you are a rootworker, conjure doctor, or a First Nation “shaman.” – Lou Florez, Rootdoctor and Orisha priest

Kenn Day [Courtesy Photo]

Cultural appropriation is damaging both to the culture that is being taken from as well as the one who is taking pieces without context. The loss to the culture appropriated is obvious. The damage to the one doing the taking is more subtle.Back in the late 80’s I coined the term “post-tribal shamanism” to differentiate between the teachings I received and those of tribal cultures. However, many people make the assumption that, if you are practicing ceremony with ancestor spirits, then you have taken your practice from a native tradition. This is no more true than it is to assume that only tribal people have ancestors. The call to practice shamanism is found in every culture. Just like everything else, it appears differently in each culture, yet it is still recognizable.The most important difference I see between the shamanism practiced in tribal cultures and what I teach and practice is that the tribal practices are focused on supporting, healing and maintaining the most import unit of that culture: the tribe itself. Our situation is dramatically different, in that the most important unit of our culture is the individual. This is where our practices need to be directed. Too many traditional practices are simply not appropriate for use with individuals, just as what I do would not be appropriate for tribal people. – Kenn Day, Author and Professional Shaman

Janet Callahan

The history of cultural appropriation makes me more cautious when I encounter a new group or teacher or situation. I ask more questions about what is planned, look more at the history of who they’ve learned from, and so on. I want to make sure I’m not walking into a situation I can’t ethically support.

I think people really need to do their homework. They need to understand not just the physical aspects of a practice, but the bigger picture in terms of culture and language and what is really going on (and to do that, frequently you realize it’s not actually possible to take it out of context).

My immediate family is not “Traditional” (which is generally used to mean those who follow tribal ways rather than being Christian and otherwise following white ways), but portions of my extended family are. And what I understand now, that I think is lost outside of the culture, is that religion/spirituality and culture are woven together. They are not separate entities. And that means that taking something out of context loses much of the value of it. – Janet Callahan, Author

As the framework of culture continue to evolve and change, so does the black and white definition of what constitutes appropriation. The context of how something is regarded, shared, explored or used may vary within different cultures and different time frames. This means there is not a clear definition of what is and is not an acceptable with regards to the use of elements from another culture. Context is everything.

Instead we are left with a list of considerations that should be given to cultures, people and histories that are not our own, and a level of awareness that reminds us that everything is not open property just because we wish it to be so. Releasing the conditioning of post-colonialism in America reminds us that everything is not ours to take, everything is not ours to sell and everything is not free. What prices are paid when cultural treasures are taken from a people?

Kenn Day spoke to the complexity of learning to navigate our relationships with living cultures. He said, “These living cultures can be dealt with respectfully in much the same way as many modern seekers have approached native traditions of shamanism, by approaching them with humility and asking to learn from the lore keepers of that people. This means recognizing that their traditions are not yours to take. They can be gifted, but even then they remain within the territory of that people. It is demeaning to have elements of your culture taken out of context and displayed for the entertainment of those outside your community.”

How do we as modern Pagans respectfully exchange with other spiritual cultures? What are we giving in exchange for the knowledge that we gain and using for our own spiritual experiences? How can we respect the context, culture, history and people of the cultures we are exchanging with? All of these are questions that should be evaluated on an ongoing basis within any spiritual community that is growing and evolving.

 *   *   *

*Author’s note: I am very aware that many of the different names and labels, which are commonly used to refer to the indigenous of this land, come with traces of colonialism. Since there is no universally-respected term that can possibly fit all native indigenous/Native American/American Indians/First Peoples, I want to acknowledge this fact and communicate my sincere desire to be respectful.

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Pagan Non-Profit Helps At-Risk Teens Through Dance

Thu, 2014-11-13 07:17

Minneapolis Witch Tasha-Rose knows the power of belly dance and how it can transform. She’s hoping to use that transformational energy to help at-risk girls break the poverty cycle through the empowerment found in learning a cooperative dance style know as American Tribal Style belly dance. To achieve this goal, Tasha-Rose has formed a group called Our Dancing Daughters and is seeking funding for a larger studio space and for scholarships for young women in need.

Tasha-Rose instructs students at the Kamala Chaand dance studio. [courtesy photo]

Although Our Dancing Daughters hasn’t officially launched yet, the group hopes to start taking scholarship applications in January. While they received their Minnesota non-profit status as of Nov. 2, they are currently taking the needed steps to achieve 501c3 status in order to be eligible for more grant opportunities. In the meantime, Tasha-Rose, who is also the troupe leader for Kamala Chaand Dance Company, turns to crowdfunding to raise the initial funds needed to launch the program.

While Our Dancing Daughters is not a religious organization, Tasha-Rose is assisted by a board made up all Pagans and Witches. Board members include LaDonna Bartol, Laurie “Remedy” Howard, Breana Larson, and Becky Munson, with Tasha-Rose as the Executive Director.

So far they have raised $1,314 of their $10,000 goal on their GoFundMe site. Stacie Braford, who made a donation to Our Dancing Daughters, says, “This is an awesome thing you are doing! Love it. I wish we’d had access to something like this when I was young.”

The Wild Hunt talked to Tasha-Rose about her plans for Our Dancing Daughters, how her Pagan ethics guides her in this project, and why she believes this could be a valuable resource for at-risk teen girls.

Our Dancing Daughter’s Executive Director Tasha-Rose

Cara Schulz: Why did you start Our Dancing Daughters? What was the inspiration?

Tasha-Rose: Our Dancing Daughters is a concept I have had for a lot of years. I have daughters and it initially started as a way to get daughters dancing with their mothers. Slowly it evolved in concept to where we are now.

CS: How will Our Dancing Daughters have a positive impact on at-risk young women?

TR: Our Dancing Daughters is designed to teach young women to dance cooperatively using the American Tribal Style format that I and two of my troupe mates are certified in. There is so much emphasis put on at-risk youth that they are on their own. We want them to learn interdependence. Additionally we are all taking crisis intervention training eventually, in order to better mentor these girls. Other components will be financial literacy, education accountability and getting into college. We hope to team up with other groups on occasion as well, namely The Emily Project, for education on healthy body image.

CS: Paganism and non-western styles of dance seem to go together. Why do yo think that is?

TR: I think it has a lot to do with the ability to trance out in this dance form. In ATS you have to be in the moment and communicating with the others dancers. That in itself is a form of trance I feel.

CS: How do your religious ethics come into play with this effort?

TR: My religious ethics have everything to do with this. I believe firmly in helping people to achieve their greatest self whenever possible. It can sound selfish I suppose, like I’m seeking accolades, but really I’m not. Self-empowerment comes from oneself. No one can do that work for anyone else, though I believe it’s each of our duties to be instrumental in the lives following ours, to make for a better world. Altruistic? Maybe. But I do what I can anyway.

CS: Who is Our Dancing Daughters open to and how will you assess eligibility for scholarships?

TR: We will open our applications up to anyone who wants to apply. There will be some focus on family income, since this program is in part focused on breaking the poverty cycle through empowerment. We will also be asking for teacher recommendations, hold a panel interview and ask that they write an essay for us. It isn’t necessarily only about those of limited financial means, however. There are young ladies from wealthier families who may not have involved parents and are suffering. We want to reach them, too.

CS: How long is your funding effort going on? How are the grant seeking efforts going?

TR: We have been working on raising funds for about 4 months now. We are just over 10% funded. We don’t have to raise the whole of it though, which is nice. Our grant research has opened lots of doors for us.There are lots of people who love to give money to projects like ours. We have two of our Executive Board going to a grant information meeting tonight in fact.

*    *    *

Tasha-Rose says the organization is at a major crossroads right now. Next week they have the opportunity, through the East Side Arts Council, to get into Washington High School to teach American Trial Style dance for a week. Tasha says, “It’s a really big foot in the door that we are all really excited about.”

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Editorial: Into a Brave New Tomorrow

Wed, 2014-11-12 09:33

This editorial was originally slated to be published two weeks ago, on the last day of our fund drive and a few days after Jason announced his retirement. However, life happened. As a result, we had to move with the news and not with our own agenda. I consider this a “take two” or perhaps even a “take three.” I have lost count. So before time escapes anymore and the world is lost beneath a flurry of silver solstice cheer, I now squeeze this article into the rotation. Please sit back and relax as I welcome you to join us as The Wild Hunt begins its new journey…

I remember as a child standing in the expansive LAX airport, tears rolling down my face, as we readied to board a jumbo jet and to wave goodbye to my grandparents. The pain of leaving was always oppressive. The bonds, which had been forged over a week’s vacation in sunny California, were now stretching, buckling and tearing under the weight of those goodbyes. Before stepping out into the jetway, my grandmother would always kneel down and hug me one last time. I would muddle out a little “goodbye” between sobs and, she would always say back, “This is not goodbye, Heather. This is just a ‘see you later.'”

[Photo Credit: Andress Kools, Flickr]

Of course, the time eventually came when the ‘see you later’ didn’t happen. My grandmother died around Samhain 1999 before I could have one last hug. As painful as that was, the spirit of her yearly wisdom remained with me. Even before she died, I began to better understand the power in those words. When I embraced Paganism, their meaning deepened and eventually evolved into a profound truth. There is never truly a “goodbye.” There is always a ‘see you later.’

This concept is particular powerful at this time of year, as the veil thins and we honor our dead. As one road ends, another is always waiting. The memories and imprints of past journeys, good or bad, remain with us as we embark on new roads. The past becomes the archives of our lives – ready to guide, ready to remind, ready to influence. Although it may be hard to let go and frightening to continue, the journey does continue.

After landing back in New York City and returning to my daily routine, I carried with me the memories of our California vacation. I remember picking lemons off the tree while listening to my grandparents’ tales of working in Hollywood during its golden era. I remember my grandfather’s woodshed and my grandmother’s bright pink lipstick. Memories of those summer days made my childhood richer and stronger. They undeniably shaped my future. Furthermore, the bonds between us never broke no matter how far we traveled; even beyond the veil.

So here I am, at Samhain, facing another transition. The Wild Hunt has said goodbye to its founder and turned its attention to a new era. For me, this change is quite profound. Samhain not only marks my transition to full-time editor but also my start as a weekly Wild Hunt writer. My first article, an interview with actor Mark Ryan, was posted Oct.27 2012. Now, almost exactly two years later, I find myself taking on the role of steering this crazy ship or, better yet, leading this proverbial “wild hunt.” As it has always been for me, Samhain brings ends and beginnings.

When I started writing for The Wild Hunt, Jason said, “Write a post introducing yourself.” I never did. So I suppose this will serve partly as my introduction. Who will be managing The Wild Hunt going forward? Being a Gemini that is an extremely complicated question. What day is it?

Perhaps you would prefer to know what led me to Paganism? Last year, I was asked to write that story as a guest blog post and can still be read online. It has something to do with Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, high school angst, social anarchy and Manhattan.

What I can say now, in clarity, is that it all started with that book – The Heart of Darkness. There in that place, where all the social constructs are gone, there is nothing but raw, unbridled, animalistic humanity – body and blood, love and lust, hate and rapture, and spirit. It is the elemental point of beginnings. It is only from that point that we can see the world for what it is – a stack of cards. It is only from that point we can see ourselves, explore our past and find our motivation. It is honesty at a critical level. Deep within the Heart of Darkness, we are pure. Coming out from that space is the journey of a lifetime – and it just may blow your mind.

But that saga has already been written.

So let me begin at Samhain 2012. When Jason first asked me to contribute, I was very surprised. “Who Me? Why? Are you certain that you dialed the correct phone number?”

Deer in Headlights [Photo Credit: Roger Smith, Flickr]

I had just ended a freelance job writing for an L.A. public relations firm. Sculpting articles for the wireless technology industry had become less than inspiring. I desperately wanted to produce something meaningful; something with more substance than could ever be extracted from stories on “converting old routers to access points” or “the right settings for optimal wireless streaming.”

Do I really need to elaborate on how Jason’s invitation presented a very welcome change?

Now exactly two years have passed and the best part of the entire experience has been in the learning. Before writing for The Wild Hunt, I was only moderately aware of the myriad colors, details and diversity present within the collective communities for whom we write. I did not personally know anyone practicing Asatru, or a Polytheism or Hellenic Reconstructionalism. Now I work with one of each. You can’t get that writing publicity materials for wireless corporations – at least not yet.

Last spring, when Jason asked me to take over as editor, I was equally surprised – honored but surprised. Stepping into the editor’s role brings with it new obstacles that will, no doubt, be difficult and, at times, grueling. However I’m willing to stand in that space and take up the reins, because I know that the work will ultimately be rewarding for me personally, for our writers and for our readers.

While the entire staff was sad to see Jason leave, we recognize and embrace the need for change – both his and ours. We are collectively thankful to him for providing us with the opportunity to be a part of this wild journey.

On Samhain, we finally closed that door and, in doing so, I was reminded of my grandmother’s words: “See you later.” Although one era is over, the cycle of influence never ends. Jason has left an enduring legacy and a strong foundation here. That influence remains no matter where he travels next or where we go. In that way, our “goodbye” is only a ‘see you later.’

This year’s fall funding drive was a huge success. With your generosity and help, we reached our goal in just two weeks and, then, far exceeded it. Thank you. All of those donations and words of support have empowered us to maintain and hopefully expand our work. Our columnists will be returning at their regular times to explore and discuss the issues of the day. Our two weekly staff writers will be covering the news as it happens. Next month, we will be welcoming our eighth and final weekend columnist, who will be focusing on the issues and subjects important to the youngest members of our communities – the college and high school students.

As editor, I will strive to uphold the ethical standards, sensitivity and substance, which has been the hallmark of The Wild Hunt. Our mission will not change. We will aim to provide a broad spectrum of news and poignant commentary as we have always done since The Wild Hunt‘s inception as one man’s blog and through its evolution into a respected independent news organization.

[Public Domain Photo]

As we usher in this new era, I welcome everyone to join us on the journey. Every day as we publish, we will be leaving new footprints along the path.Those marks will eventually become the memories of tomorrow – ones that will linger in a liminal presence waiting to inform, remind and advise our future writers and editors. And, as such, the cycle will continue on.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting us. And most importantly…see you later.

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Jesuit University in Chicago Approves Pagan Club

Tue, 2014-11-11 07:22

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — In a move that has raised eyebrows — and some ire — in the online Catholic community, Loyola University of Chicago recognized a student group that promotes Paganism. The club was approved by the university’s student government, a step which is necessary in many colleges to become eligible for funding and for the use of school buildings, not the school’s administration. When the administration became aware of its existence, the club was told to remove “Pagan” from its name. Administrators were apparently unaware of the new club until the story was picked up by the national news site The College Fix.

That’s the story as told by club founder and president Jill Kreider:

I started the club in the hopes of letting people know that there are Pagan students on campus. My friend and VP is a Celtic pagan and he and I both wanted this club to at least acknowledge our existence, even if we didn’t make it past the initial interview stage.The upper administration had little to do with the original process and only came into the picture after the [College] Fix article alerted them of our existence.

Kreider, who also serves as an interfaith advocate on campus, didn’t share much with The Wild Hunt, citing a desire to “tread lightly” and a heavy school workload. In an email to The College Fix about the club, she shared some of her vision:

Loyola’s mission states that, ‘seeking God in all things’ is one of the main [tenets] of the university. While the mission primarily focuses on the Abrahamic God, there is no reason a Pagan student (or a Hindu, Baha’i or Sikh student) cannot seek using his or her own faith, regardless of which god they are doing it for.

Loyola University Chicago is one of 175 run by the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, of which Pope Francis is a member. The school is named for the Jesuits’ founder, Ignatius Loyola. Kreider’s remarks resulted in a firestorm of comments, articles and posts online, especially attached to that original story.

While some equated Pagan religions to Satanism or defended those faiths, a larger number of the posts speak to the internal conflicts within Christianity itself. Based on the comment threads, Roman Catholicism is deemed suspect by many other Christians, in part because of the veneration of saints and the Virgin Mary, which critics equate with Pagan idolatry. Defenders of Paganism, using well-worn arguments about the Pagan symbolism underlying many Christian festivals, have been met with agreement from those who wish to denounce Catholicism as a tool of the Devil. Here’s a typical anti-Catholic diatribe from another Christian in the thread:

The Catholic cult is the largest organization of homosexuals, pedophiles and anti-christs on this earth. Their doctrine is pagan and the Word of God identifies them with over 20 points of identification that THEY ARE INDEED THE BEAST OF REVELATION AND DANIEL. –Jennifer Chronister

University officials appear to be treading lightly themselves in this case. In response to inquiries by The Wild Hunt, spokesperson Steven Christensen provided the same statement given to The College Fix. Here is that response in its entirety:

I can confirm that the Pagan Student Alliance was granted recognition by the Department of Student Activities and Greek Affairs (SAGA), which is a unit within the Division of Student Development, on October 9, 2014. Requests to form new student organizations are accepted at the beginning of each semester, and a number of factors are considered before recognition is granted to an organization. Those factors do not require a potential organization to identify with the religious views of the University.

Following the SAGA approval, other leaders within Student Development expressed concerns related to the organization’s name, and the breadth and lack of definition of its constitution. During the week of October 13, the president and vice president of the Pagan Student Alliance met with Student Development leadership regarding these concerns and the group agreed to modify the name of the organization to the Indigenous Faith Traditions Alliance. As with all student organizations, a clear sense of purpose is required, and the group has been asked to further define their purpose on campus. The group has agreed to this request.

Related to this, and all student groups, at Loyola we welcome and foster an open exchange of ideas and encourage debate and sharing differing views and opinions to advance education. We believe that discussion around complex topics results in deeper critical thinking skills and well-rounded citizens.

According to the university website, “The search for truth is carried out in an atmosphere of Academic Freedom and open inquiry based on two fundamental assumptions of the Catholic faith. First, that the truth will set us free. Second, that faith and reason ultimately bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.”  Welcoming a Pagan, or rather an “Indigenous Faith Traditions,” club appears consistent for a university that already has Muslim and Hindu clubs on campus.

In editorial on Christian blog site Aleteia.org, Susan E. Wills prodded at the new name of the club, saying, “. . . one can’t help but picture a group meeting of Buddhists, Taoists, Santeras . . . Wiccans, and pagans all arguing over whether Wiccans should even be allowed in the club. It is not an ‘indigenous’ religion at all. It was basically created in the 1950s by the self-proclaimed Druid Gerald Gardner, an Englishman.” Wills goes on to question how Wiccan theology fits into a Catholic worldview, saying:

“Wicca is a religion only in the loosest sense of the word, having been cobbled together from various sources in the 1950s, having no defined doctrine (as each practitioner is free to believe what he or she wants) and largely practiced alone … While individual Wiccans may be ‘good people’ and ‘good citizens’, it is difficult to see any nuggets of truth or goodness in Wicca itself.”

While the original College Fix article points out that Wicca is one of the better-known Pagan religions, it’s the only reference to the Wiccan faith in connection with the club. It’s not clear why Wills chose to fixate on Wicca in her remarks. Kreider identifies herself as Hellenistic Pagan and her vice-president as a Celtic Pagan. The group’s original mission as posted on Facebook was, “to unify Pagans, the spiritual but not religious, those seeking faith or religion, minority faith students (including but not limited to: Buddhists, Taoists, Shinto practitioners, Santeras, etc…) pluralists and those students interested in New Age religions on Loyola’s campus. If you don’t have a faith group on campus, we’re here to fill that gap!”

In an article published in the Oct. 17 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Beth McMurtrie discusses the new problems facing Catholic colleges today as the religious climate of the United States changes. According to the article, in 1973 82% of full-time freshmen at Catholic colleges identified as Catholic. In 2013, that number was only 50%. Loyola’s acceptance of the new Pagan club appears to be one example of a Jesuit university being forced to wrestle with its own identity in modern society and, as such, making an effort to adjust to an evolving student population.

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Pagan Community Notes: Prayers in Huntsville Alabama, Honoring Transgender Dead, PACO, Veterans Day and much more!

Mon, 2014-11-10 09:20

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. Our 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!

Blake Kirk

On Thursday Nov 6, Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk returned to the Huntsville Alabama City Council chambers to deliver the pre-meeting invocation. As we reported last June, Kirk had been removed from the schedule due to complaints by various citizens. After that news was made public, the Huntsville city council opted to continue opening meetings with invocations that reflect the city’s religious diversity.

Kirk was placed back on the schedule and, last week, delivered the prayer before the council meeting. He opened with, “Let us pray. O gentle Goddess and loving God, we thank You for the beauties and the wonders of the day that You have given to us, and for the opportunity we have this evening to assemble here and work together to make Huntsville a better city for all of its residents. We ask that You grant to the councilors and other officials present here tonight the wisdom they will need to make the best decisions that they may for the governance of our city.” 

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From Nov. 12 to Nov. 20, a “group of radical trans activists and spirit workers” will be holding a nine-day ritual to honor beloved transgender dead. Others are welcome to participate. Organizers say “Our dead deserve to be remembered and elevated, and we are humbled by and grateful for the encouragement we have received so far.” They have set up a tumbr blog with specifics and suggestions for participation. They also welcome questions and submissions of photos and prayers.

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The Pantheon Foundation has made two new announcements regarding its upcoming online activist Conference, PACO. The weekend event now “includes an Earth Activism panel, to be held on Friday, Nov. 21.” This bonus panel will include Celia Alario, Andy Conn, Laurie Lovekraft and Starhawk.

Organizers have also decided to cut the conference ticket price. In a statement, they said, “We’ve had a few sensitive queries about the ticket cost of PACO … A few folks have let us know that this cost is just too far outside the means of an activist’s budget for their comfort … We have decided to cut the ticket cost for this event dramatically, to allow more people to attend. Starting today, tickets for the entire event will be $40 instead of $100, with individual panel tickets being $10 instead of $20.” PACO 2014 will be held the weekend of Nov 21-23, completely online. More detail on the new panel and the ticket price change can be found on Pantheon’s website

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Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the U.S. and Circle Sanctuary has launched its annual Operation Circle Care program. In a recent release, the Circle organizers state, “For the eighth year in a row Circle Sanctuary will be sending Yuletide gift packages, including pentacles, CDs, crystals, copies of CIRCLE Magazine and other items, as spiritual support to Wiccan, Heathen, Druidic, and other Pagans on active duty in the US Military who are stationed overseas and on deployment.

They are currently calling for donations of both funds and items to support the yearly Yuletide care packages. However, a more urgent need is the contact details for Pagans serving overseas or on deployment. To ensure a Yuletide delivery, organizers have asked that this information be sent by Nov. 29. Further details and instructions are listed on the OCC website. 

In Other News:

That is all for now.  Have a nice day.

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Students Create “Old Faith Community” at University of North Georgia

Sun, 2014-11-09 08:09

Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, there is small town called Dahlonega. This quaint southern town is home to wineries, apple orchards, antique shops and picturesque views. It is also home to a small college called the University of North Georgia (UNG), which is made up of both a traditional university and one of only six prestigious senior military colleges in the entire U.S.

Downtown Dahlonega [Photo Credit: Gwringle, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

Demographically speaking, the college is quite typical for the Dahlonega area. According to City-Data.com, the town is 89 percent Christian. The dominant religious practices are Southern Baptist, United Methodist and Old Missionary Baptists.This is echoed in the makeup of the student body as shown by the represented faith groups on campus. Of the 9 religion-based clubs, all are Christian except for the Interfaith Alliance. Additionally, there is a Secular Student Alliance or Skeptics Society.

As such, UNG is not a place that one might readily expect to find a Pagan or Heathen student. However, not only are they there, but they just earned official status as a formal university club.

The story begins in the fall of 2013 when a Heathen soldier, who is enrolled in the cadet program, applied for admission to the Corps Cadet Chaplaincy training program. At first the program administrators ignored his application. Then he applied again in the spring of 2014 and was informed that, in order to be accepted, he had to be Christian.

This allegedly was not an isolated case. According to multiple reports, other non-Christian cadets have been rejected in the past. While these other cases could not be confirmed, the accusations are plausible considering the program website. The Corps Cadet Chaplaincy advertises itself by opening with a biblical passage and, in secondary document, quotes a cadet chaplain saying, “Keeping the Lord’s purpose as our goal that should be our purpose our drive.”

UNG senior Trevor Graham, a civilian psychology major and Hellenic Reconstructionalist, heard the Heathen cadet’s story in August 2014 after meeting him for the first time. In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Graham said that he was not at all surprised. However, he was surprised to find another Pagan or Heathen on the UNG campus.

Graham, better known on campus as the kilt-guy, spent three years not having any Pagan community. Over this past summer, he decided that it was time to look for like-minds. So when school started back, he placed a letter in the campus non-denominational meditation center. Inside this former evangelical church, students can engaged in contemplative, quiet thought and peaceful correspondence. Graham’s letter, which invited other Pagans to contact him, sat with other correspondance on a desk within the space.

Trevor Graham, UNG Student, co-founder of the Old Faith Community [Courtesy Photo]

At the very same time, the cadet had been posting fliers around school with a similar intent. Frustrated by what had happened to him, he made up his mind that it was time to try organizing. Unfortunately, he declined an interview due to complications with his position and pending deployment. However, he did say,”I can’t change anything for myself [being a senior] but maybe I can make this better for the next students and cadets that come in behind me.”

Within hours of Graham placing his letter in the meditation center, the cadet answered the call and the two met. Graham said, “It felt amazing to have somebody to talk to.He may not do what I do but it’s somebody.” Shortly after, the two launched an advertising campaign to build a Pagan club and establish a community. Graham took the lead and began chalking the sidewalks and posting flyers.

Within a week, they had a response. By mid-October, the group had grown to 16 students. It was, and still is, comprised an eclectic mix of Wiccans, Hellenic Reconstructionalists, Asatruar, Naturalist Pagans, Polytheists and others. Graham said that their goal is simply to build a comfortable and welcoming place for any student that practices any of these alternative religions.

As one might expect, the newly formed club experienced some backlash from the conservative religious community. Fliers were removed and chalked signs were washed away. Around Halloween, the group placed a cauldron with candy and a harvest blessing message inside the university meditation room. Within 24 hours, the candy was completely removed and, in its place, were Christian pamphlets that read “Atone for your sins.” Despite all of that, Graham did add that he has yet to experience any real personal backlash or threats.

Although the new Pagan group was formed by mid-October, it was not an official university club. They could only meet off-campus or discreetly on campus. However its goal was ultimately to earn university recognition. Both the Interfaith Alliance and Secular Student Association reached out to offer guidance to the fledgling Pagan organization.

During the final weeks of October, the group prepared paperwork on its structure, constitution and mission. Due to club diversity, it was renamed The Old Faith Community of UNG. Then, with the support of faculty member Dr. Michael Bodri, Graham presented its application to UNG administrators on Oct 31. Several days later, the Old Faith Community was awarded its official student club status. The UNG Pagans, as they are still known, have become both the first Pagan group on campus and only the second official non-Christian religous club.

UNG Campus [Photo Credit: Hermione1980, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

But the story doesn’t quite end there. While the group was preparing its application, Graham decided to reach out to the Corps Cadet Chaplaincy program. He asked the administrators if they would consider accepting a student from the fledgling Pagan club. To his surprised, the Chaplaincy agreed and the aforementioned Heathen cadet was finally accepted into the program. He was able to walk into his first training meeting openly without compromising his own Asatru beliefs.

Why did the chaplaincy administrators change their minds only six months after rejecting the Heathen candidate?

During this period of time, UNG came under fire from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an advocacy group that seeks to “ensure that members of the United States Armed Forces receive the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.” According to UNG school newspaper, The Vanguard, the Secular Student Alliance invited MRFF’s Mikey Wienstein to speak at the school. On Aug. 18, he addressed a large crowd about the problems with school-sanctioned prayer at Corps Cadet events, saying:

We were asked to come here …We want to express in no uncertain terms that we do have a constitution. This is our founding document of this country. In this country, unlike North Korea or Saudi Arabia, we do separate church and state. It does not mean you cannot have your religious faith.

On Oct. 1, the MRFF sent a letter to UNG after learning that the state school had allowed a Christian prayer during a mandatory Corps Cadet 9/11 memorial program. The letter’s intent was to “to make the University aware of its’ “illegal actions.” As an aside, MRFF also did note that the college was only allowing “Baptists into the chaplaincy program.” On Oct. 29, MRFF announced “plans to take litigious measures against the university.”

In response, school President Bonita Jacobs stated:

There is no substance for a complaint against the University. MRFF has provided the University with supplemental information regarding their concerns, and the University is examining those claims.

Jacobs also stressed that administrators respect MRFF’s opinion, saying that “the university should not endorse religion” but that ” it is equally important that we strike a balance that also protects the constitutional right of genuinely student-initiated speech afforded by the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment.”

While Graham and the other members of the Old Faith Community had absolutely no involvement, or even knowledge, of the mounting tensions with MRFF, it is not insignificant that these two situations happened simultaneously. It may very well be that the attention brought to UNG by MRFF helped facilitate the acceptance of the UNG Pagan club. It may have also spurred the Chaplains into finally accepting a non-Christian cadet.

Regardless of that influence, the work done by the UNG Pagans cannot be attributed simply to opportunism or luck. The club’s beginnings, including the dream behind it, began long before MRFF ever came to campus. When we asked Graham what he might tell other students facing a similar environment, he said, “You are not alone. We are all a community.” He specifically wants that message to be heard by any other UNG Pagans or Heathens that have yet to find the Old Faith Community.

As for the cadet who was unable to be interviewed, we asked if he would be willing to, at the very least, offer a few words of wisdom to other Pagan or Heathen cadets or civilian students who may feel alone. He said this: “If there is no local community, be the local community. If you aren’t going to do it, who is.”

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WH Book Review: Seasons of the Sacred Earth by Cliff Seruntine

Fri, 2014-11-07 10:35

In 2005, Richard Louv introduced an emerging theory that many of our modern children’s ills – obesity, depression, behavioral problems – are caused by their lack of interaction with nature. In his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, he brought together research and information from several sources to support the idea that reconnecting with nature was the antidote for many of these struggles.

His work was inspirational and influential in several ways including the founding of the Children and Nature Network, an organization with a vision of creating a world “where every child can play, learn and grow in nature.” This is a stark contrast to the reports of children who spend endless hours inside watching television and playing video games.

Increasing numbers of people, either out of support for the environment, concerns over rising food costs, or the desire to feed their families higher quality foods, are creating urban and suburban gardens and (re)learning how to preserve food, brew beer, make cheese, and raise chickens. Other people, including many who have been inspired by Louv’s work, are doing so for the healing that nature provides. Still others turn to nature in their search for deity and a meaningful spiritual connection to the Earth that we share.

In Cliff Seruntine’s most recent book, Seasons of the Sacred Earth, he argues that in “this artificially rational, industrial era … it is important that folks remember the truth of a deeper reality.” Seasons of the Sacred Earth is a collection of thoughts, stories, and magical experiences that take the reader from the Louisiana bayou to the Alaskan wilderness and, finally, to his family’s Novia Scotia homestead. Seruntine’s storytelling and vivid imagery make the magic of forests, raging storms and even a struggling vegetable garden come alive.

Raised in Louisiana, Seruntine recounts the many childhood hours spent in a “vast, rambling, lazy realm of forests and farms,” losing all sense of time on river banks while deepening friendships on forest floors and becoming mesmerized by the natural magic surrounding him. After leaving this magical environment for college and career, he and his wife moved to Alaska where he learned the ethical hunting of caribou, the way to fish for salmom, and the process for harvesting wild mushrooms.

When his chosen career path as a psychotherapist took a toll on his spirit, he and his family moved to Nova Scotia and began setting up a homestead called Twa Corbies Hollow (“Two Raven’s Hollow). There he “found again the truth [he] knew as a child—the natural world is enchanted, powerful, healing, and ultimately vital to our wellbeing.”

Arranged by months, Seruntine’s book takes us through the Wheel of the Year and highlights the lessons that his family has learned by living close and in rhythm with the Earth. The most important lesson, it seems, is to “live in harmony with life’s weave and Nature keeps you.”

Seasons of the Sacred Earth is rich with stories and ideas that many practitioners of earth-centric religions will appreciate. He does not include spells, scripted meditations, or devotional prayers; nor does he include any history and interpretations of various deities across culture and faith traditions. Seruntine set out not to write a homesteading how-to book, but rather to offer a book about this “knowing,” about finding our spiritual journey in Nature rather than in books. He recalls,

… the more I studied the various paths, the more I realized their essential foundation in Nature was slipping from the experience of modern folk. Most modern witches I had met had never picked a wild herb in the woods. Followers of Norse lore were more concerned with casting runes than wandering the wild mountains in search of wisdom, as their god Odhinn had done. The British druids, who come from a path firmly rooted in the green world, had become an almost entirely urbanized and academic lot. I recall a discussion I once read on an online druid mailing list. A new person asked what he should study to become a contemporary druid. Every person on the network referred him to enormous reading lists on Celtic history and culture. Not one thought to advise him to immerse himself in the green world for a spell. How very odd for a path that is considered a Nature religion to entirely neglect the essential need of Nature.

In many popular seasonally-based, Pagan books and you will find crafts, spells, and meditations for each sabot or rite of passage. The writings often seek to inform us of the harvest of Samhain, the bitter cold and promise of Imbolc, the explosion of life at Beltane, and the hard work and toil of Lughnasadh. Seruntine’s stories take us beyond the meditations and workings that many of us perform in our climate-controlled temples with store-bought bread and wine, which are often followed by a feast of food shipped in from all over the globe.

Through his stories, Seruntine offers the reader the experience of enormous hauls of ripe sweet fruit from Grandfather Apple, blinding blizzards, stir-crazy humans and animals, balefires with friends, home-brewed cider, frighteningly violent electrical storms, and a soggy-turned-wildly-abundant vegetable garden. Along the way, Seruntine weaves in conversations and experiences shared with his daughters on magic and spirit folk, communication with other species, and sightings of the barn bruanighe and the Green Man.

Ban Falls, Novia Scotia [Photo Credit: M. Seely, CC lic. via Wikimedia]

Between the talks of magic are seemingly practical, mundane discussions of archery, soil improvement, and goat milking, through which he brings validity to his belief that “[m]agic comes in many ways, and there is enchantment in so many things. All you have to do is really open your eyes. It’s everywhere.” The few family recipes that he does share, such as making cider, cheese, and cough syrup, feel like spiritual processes full of tradition and the wealth of the seasons.

He acknowledges that it may be difficult for many people to leave the comforts (and discomforts) of the cities and suburbs in order to set up a self-reliant homestead like Twa Corbies. He writes:

You don’t have to launch off deep into the wilds as we have done, but you do have to go out your door. The trees and grass, the animals and brooks and sea, and earth and sky have much to teach any who look at them. There is magic and wonder beyond your door, and it is happy to enrich you if you walk its way.

As it is for many Pagans, Seruntine’s relationship with deity and with nature is highly personal. This book is an intimate peak into his own experiences and interpretations. There are times when he has profound epiphanies that will easily stir excitement, despair, and understanding. There are also moments that, in his wanderings through the forest and farm, his explanations are so particular to his observations and experiences that readers may find it challenging to follow his logic. But logic is often not the stuff of enlightenment. Seruntine’s overall message is that, if we take care of the land and its spirit folk, they will take care of us in return. There is wisdom is in the dirt, in the trees, in the animals and in the Great Cycle.

The development of deep spiritual relationships with the land is not a new idea. It was over 150 years ago that Henry David Thoreau built himself a tiny house by Walden pond as an experiment, the experience leading to him famously writing, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” His explorations became an inspiration to many who value and advocate for the environment. Seruntine, like Richard Louv, is newer contributor to a continued movement toward a simple life embracing nature for both health, balance and spiritual connectivity.

Seasons of the Sacred Earth is available through book retailers in paperback and electronic formats. Seruntine’s ongoing musings and activities can also be found on Facebook and on his blog.

 

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Column: Mise en scène

Fri, 2014-11-07 07:31

Deryk and Carrie Alldrit, the founders of the coven that would eventually become my coven – my great grandparents, in a sense.

It begins with a woman holding a candle. She is walking around the room, a guide for the priestess, who is casting the circle for Samhain. But don’t look at the priestess just yet; hear her, yes, hear the words that begin every circle in our tradition, but watch the woman with the candle. The first bit of magick walks with her – for she is not only a woman with a candle, but an Evening Star, a psychopomp, the leader on a path down into the underworld. In the double-sight of ritual, she is both physical and mythical, both our friend and an unfamiliar star. Long before we make an open invocation to a god or a spirit, the magick has already begun.

A few months ago, I had a discussion about one of my essays with my doctoral committee chair. In the essay, I talked briefly about writing rituals – the choices we make in what to include, what to leave out, and what to invent anew. My advisor was surprised and delighted by this passage, because she had never heard of such a thing: the idea of writing a ritual struck her as a novel concept. She had never thought that a religious practice could also be a creative act.

I’ve thought a lot about that conversation, because it had never struck me that religion could be anything else. Ritual writing has always been at the heart of Paganism for me, so much so that I had always assumed that was just how Paganism worked everywhere. You might keep certain touchstones from year to year – the kings of Oak and Holly, the burning of John Barleycorn, the Maypole, and so on – but the actual form of the ritual changes every time, and even those touchstones find new shades of meaning as the ritual surrounding them changes. Now I know that there are actually many Pagans who dislike the idea of “new rituals,” and prefer that the word ritual be taken more literally: a ceremony repeated year-in and year-out, a constant in the turbulence of the rest of our lives. I understand that sentiment, and even sympathize with it, but I still reject it – at least for my own purposes. For me, much of the point is to be found in adding something new that still fits into the tradition. The hard, joyful work for me is in writing a ritual for, say, Samhain, that is not the same as any Samhain ceremony my coven has ever done before, but still feels right for the occasion.

In this case, the ritual started with one image: take a dark room – a basement, somewhere literally under the earth – and turn it into the underworld. Light it with a single candle; make that candle the center of the universe. Whenever something important happens, the candle moves to that actor; when the candle moves, the circle moves with it. That idea – the candle, and the darkness surrounding it – was the first thought I had when I began thinking about a Samhain ritual a year and a half ago. Even at that remove, everything in the ritual revolved around that single point of light.

I wanted to do this in deliberate contrast to the last sabbat my friends and I had performed at last year’s Beltane. That ritual was very much about light and color. We held it outside during the day, wore bright, ostentatious costumes, and danced a Maypole covered in a spectrum of pastel ribbons. We never brought up the way we used these visual tools to reinforce the message of our ritual deliberately – there was no point at which Sarah, my friend and priestess, announced that we were wearing bright colors to subconsciously reinforce the themes of creativity and hope found in the words of the ritual. She didn’t have to; the light did that work in silence, the way the cinematography shapes a film. Our Samhain would try to do the same with darkness.

I have written elsewhere about the project Sarah, I, and the other second-generation Pagans in my family set before ourselves: a grand cycle of sabbats, one a year for eight full spins of the Wheel. I suppose I have never worked on one thing for such a long time; eight years is long enough ago that, between here and there, I’ve finished two degrees, moved to three different cities, written two books, and gotten married. To say that I’ve changed in that time is such an obvious statement as to be absurd; every cell in my body has been shed and replaced since I first drew a pentagram into salt and water at Lughnasadh. This Samhain was the final ritual in our cycle; everything else had been leading up to it.

I wanted our ritual to be thoughtful, and, if possible, kind. Samhain is, necessarily, about death. While we could have made our ceremony a hard and unflinching one – the kind where you’re reminded that death comes to everyone, that there’s no escaping it and no ameliorating it – that felt cruel to me. We have had a lot of death in our family in the past few years, and I didn’t want to hurt the grieving any more than necessary. So instead, we focused on the memory of the dead. We always walk in their footsteps, I said at one point in the ritual, but only at Samhain do the dead stand next to us in the circle. As the ritual began, I tried to visualize those members of our family who had passed on into the next world standing among us: Deryk and Carrie, Ailene, Stephen, Image, Deborah, Kelson, Tom, others whom I knew I would inevitably fail to recall. They felt closer in the darkness, in the flickering candlelight.

I don’t know what other people do at Samhain. At ours, we call the names of the dead, just before the Great Rite. It’s one of the touchstones I mentioned earlier, like the Maypole or the Holly King; it’s the moment when we give voice to our memories. I like to think of it as the holiest moment in our Wicca: the time when we remember those who have walked before us, the time when others will someday remember us. In the darkness, we call to the past. Go if you must, but stay if you will, we tell the ones who have gone before. Hail and farewell, until the next time we call their names at Samhain.

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Heathen Runs for Liberal Party Nomination in Canada

Thu, 2014-11-06 08:41

Robert Rudachyk is seeking the nomination to become the Liberal Party of Canada‘s candidate for the federal riding of Saskatoon West. What makes this run for office unusual is that Rudachyk appears to be the first openly Heathen candidate to run for public office in Canada.

Robert Rudachyk [Courtesy Photo]

The nomination meeting is set for November 12 and the political process is very different, and much more complex, than what may be familiar to U.S. readers. In order to be nominated as a candidate, Rudachyk needed to first collect at least $1000 in donations and get the signatures of 10% of the party members in the riding (a area similar to an American electoral district), or recruit enough new members to sign his nomination papers to meet that number.

Since Rudachyk was able to do that, he then went on to fill out a detailed form about his background, financial status, education, every job and address he’s had for the last ten years, along with several work and personal references. All this information was reviewed by national and provincial committees for accuracy. Once past this step, Rudachyk signed a contract agreeing to abide by party rules and Canada’s election rules. He also agreed to be responsible for all costs associated with his campaign.This was, then, followed by an interview with the chair of the National Green Light committee.

Rudachyk has passed all these steps so he can now begin selling party memberships and try to gain support from party members at the nomination meeting. If Rudachyk were the only person running, he would simply be named the candidate at the meeting. However, since three other people have successfully completed all of these same steps, the party must hold a vote. Once a candidate has over 50% of the vote, that person becomes the candidate, subject to a final review by the party and its leader, as well as a thorough audit of their financial statements for the campaign.

If Rudachyk beats out the other three people running, he’ll be the official candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada running for a seat representing the riding of Saskatoon West in the Canadian Parliament in the October 2015 election.

So who is Robert Rudachyk?

Rudachyk is 47 years old and was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. He has a B.Sc. degree is biology and is currently an Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator with NSC Minerals. He is married and has two children, and is active in his community, recently finishing a two year term as President of the local community association. He’s also been very active within his religious community and has worked for 24 years in community building. He is also a founding member and current admin for Heathens United Against Racism.

He describes the Liberal Party as a progressive centrist group, which has held power in Canada for most of its history. On his Facebook page, he’s been writing about his approach to different public policy issues, such as this post about his views on crime and punishment.

In the course of this career I have come to see all crimes as an incident no different that a workplace incident, and behind these incidents is a Root Cause. If you can eliminate the Root Cause, you can eliminate future incidents like this. It is the same for crime. Find the root cause of what is causing the individual to commit these crimes, and you will prevent them from re-offending.

He says that while he agrees with much of the platform of the Liberal Party, the views he writes about on his Facebook page are his own personal views.

Logo for the Liberal Party of Canada

The Wild Hunt talked with Rudachyk about his attempt to be named the Liberal Party candidate for a Parliament seat.

Cara Schulz: Is it true you could become the first openly Heathen candidate in Canada?

Robert Rudachyk: It is true, that I am the first openly Heathen/Pagan ever to be green lit to run for a nomination of a major political party at the federal level. Other Pagans have tried to run provincially or for fringe parties, but I am the first to do this at this level

CS: What challenges do you expect in your candidacy? Is religion as big a deal in Canada as it is in the U.S.?

RR: If I am able to become the candidate, I intend to run my campaign on the issues facing all Canadians, not on my faith. I will never hide who I am, but I will also not whip my hammer out in public and shove it into people’s faces.

Religion and politics are not so intertwined here as they are in the U.S., and we have strong laws protecting people’s rights to worship as they see fit. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that is enshrined in the Constitution of Canada gives us a greater degree of protection from religious persecution than most places, including the U.S. By the same token I need to show the general public that Heathens are regular people just like them so that I can earn their support.

To this end I have been very active in my community by taking on the role of the president of our community association for the previous two years, and I have worked hard to make my neighborhood a better and safer place to live and work. The political system here in Canada is also very different than in the U.S. We are a parliamentary democracy, and the fortunes of the party, in no small part, rise and fall with the popularity of the party leader. My purpose is to represent the interests of the people of my riding, the interests of Canadians, and the interests of Heathens and Pagans to ensure that they have a voice at the table when it comes to the affairs of governing this country.

CS: How does your faith affect your ethics?

RR: My faith is my ethics. I live by a code of honor that binds me to keep my word at all costs. I have long stood against the scourge of racism that has been a cancer for the Heathen faiths for a long time, and I carry that attitude through to my real life. I would rather die than compromise these ethics, and over my lifetime, this has caused me a great deal of suffering because I was not willing to bend my personal ethical code to suit others. I will take this with me if I win the nomination.

CS: Why did you decide to run for office?

RR: In many ways, I feel this is a calling for me, and my whole life has led me to this place. I come from a family that has been active in politics for several generations. My grandfather was a reeve in his local Rural Municipality, and my father was a long time city councilor in my home town. I was raised with the idea that to serve your community as a leader is a very high calling. Also my life experiences, which are many and varied, have given me a deeper empathy and understanding of what people need in a leader and how to listen to those needs.

CS: What does your local religious community think about your run?

RR: It varies. There is not a large Heathen community here in Saskatoon, but there is a well-established Pagan community overall. Back in the early 1990’s, I helped start the process of networking, which brought many of the solitary practitioners of this community together to meet and talk. Since then, others have taken up that role.

I did the same thing in Vancouver where I spent a large part of my adult life. In the early 1990’s, I also played a role there in getting the first Pagan organization recognized to perform legal marriages in Canada. In fact I attended the first legally recognized Pagan marriage ever done in Canada, and I am very proud of the role I had in helping our community achieve this.

The community has grown far beyond those early accomplishments and, looking back at all of it now, I am proud to have helped plant the seeds that these communities have grown into. As for how the local community feels about what I am doing, there are Pagans of all political stripes here, albeit mostly on the left wing. While many of them do not necessarily agree with my stances, they are overall encouraging that one of us has made it this far. I see that excitement growing if I achieve the nomination next week.

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According to the Liberal Party announcement, “the candidate selection meeting will be called to order on Wednesday, November 12th, at 6:00pm at Westmount Community School, 411 Avenue J N, Saskatoon, SK S7L 2K4. Speeches from nomination contestants will commence shortly thereafter.” Rudachyk says that if anyone wishes to send him positive energy to overcome his opponents in this race, he’d appreciate it. He added, “Let’s ask the gods to help make this a reality.”

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An Overview of the Debate on Animal Sacrifice in Modern Practice

Wed, 2014-11-05 07:28

Many modern Pagans and Heathens shy away from — or are downright horrified by — the idea of animal sacrifice. Arguments against the practice generally come from a place of concern for the animals involved, or a fear that it would result in an “othering” by mainstream society. On the other hand, the sacrificial priests say that the practice is rooted in compassion and community, and that criticisms of their work reveal a fundamental disconnect with the food system, and perhaps a smoldering of racism as well.

In recent weeks, a debate has heated up around this topic. It is clear that the very idea of killing animals in a sacred ritual evokes strong emotions among proponents and opponents alike, which can obscure the arguments and factual details as well as the religious reasons for carrying it out. Today we take a closer look at this difficult topic.

Technical details of sacrifice

Anomalous Thracian

. . . under optimum (e.g. correct, humane) circumstances of animal sacrifice, the animal has been raised in small farming set-ups (rather than industrial meat factories), handled by people it is familiar with interpersonally who regard them with respect and dignity from the start, and in the time leading up to the ritual, treated as living kings. A distressed animal, which is the standard state of industrial slaughter, is literally unfit for most sacrificial rites: the calmness and comfort of the animals is the primary logistical concern. — Anomalous Thracian

Trained as a sacrificial priest, Thracian argues that modern standards of sacrifice demand specialists who understand how to end life without suffering. As in the Kosher method of animal slaughter, the throat must be cut with a single stoke that slices through the arteries, veins, esophagus and trachea, but leaves the spinal cord intact. The reason for this precision was explained by another sacrificial priest, Tēlemakhos Night. He said:

A single cut is made at the neck, severing all vitals instantly, without compromising the central-nervous-system (the spine and neck bones). By leaving the CNS intact, the animal’s natural and biologically programmed response kicks in, which settles the animal into a state of euphoria and death, rather than agitation or panic. (Severing the CNS prevents necessary full-body signals, including hormonal release signals, from being delivered.)

Such exactness in the act was also stressed by Galina Krasskova, a Heathen priestess trained in sacrifice, who said:

Galina Krasskova

 . . . the animal is carefully chosen. It is cared for, pampered, fed well, and on the day of the sacrifice decorated, soothed, and kept calm. When the sacrifice is made, it is done with a scalpel-sharp blade and a clean, quick cut. Compassion is not what I look for in a sacrificial priest. I look for training and skill. Having the proper skill guarantees that the animal will not suffer, whereas if one approaches the act of sacrifice awash in strong emotion there’s actually a greater likelihood that a mistake will be made, the priest will hesitate, and as a result the animal will have pain.

The idea that an animal that has suffered physically or psychically is unsuitable for sacrifice may be a modern convention. Did the ancient practice of drowning horses as a sacrifice to Poseidon take into consideration the feelings of the animal? Did those people have the same 21st-century understanding of anatomy?

While a portion of the animal itself is often part of the offering, usually the bulk of the meat is consumed, a tradition which is described by Australian Hellenic polytheist Markos Gage:

In Greece when these sacrifices happened people would had been used to life and death. As a community they raised the beasts themselves, they saw them born, they fed them, treated them when ill, they killed them, they ate them. There was an intimacy that only livestock farmers know today. We live in a time of decadence where our guilt for killing an animal is non-existent because the creatures are slaughtered somewhere else and we see their meat as nothing but a product.

Many who support sacrifice see the disconnect from where our meat comes as being the driving force in the pushback against the practice this rite. Conor O’Bryan Warren, in a column on Polytheist.com, speaks of growing up in an agricultural family, and how his view of the killing of animals differed greatly from many of his college classmates:

Most of the people in the class are inculturated with a Western Protestant worldview which sees the exploitation and torture of animals for profit (and thus a cog in the machine of Corporate Capitalism) as being completely acceptable but which views their sacrifice for religious purposes as being terribly barbaric and backwards.

Rev. Kirk Thomas

The Druid organization Ár nDríaocht Féin does not permit any form of blood sacrifice in public rituals. Archdruid Kirk Thomas said that it’s fraught with problems for the inexperienced practitioner and from a public relations standpoint.

The reasons are many. One is it would be bad public relations — most people are more than happy to eat meat slaughtered in abattoirs in inhumane ways as long as it’s cheap and they don’t have to witness the killings. But to kill an animal in front of them would bring the horror of violent death far too close for comfort. Also, none of us are trained in the art of killing an animal in a painless and humane way. In the end we’d probably end up with a bloody mess.

However, we don’t regulate non-public rites. We actively discourage animal sacrifice but should some member own a farm and be trained in the slaughter of his or her own herds, then who are we to stop them from praying over their animals before dispatching them? Personally, I’d rather the poor creatures be commended to the Gods before their deaths than not, with forgiveness asked and, hopefully, given.

While it was often a public event in antiquity, modern sacrifice is largely a private affair, noted Night in his explanation of the mechanics of sacrifice.

Ritual context

The traditions which include sacrifice vary widely, crossing racial, ethnic, and religious lines. While there are sacrificial practices in all of the three major branches of Abrahamic religion, discussing them could distract from understanding the Pagan context. That includes sacrifice as it is understood in polytheist and African traditional religions, both of which categories have some participants who identify as Pagan. Confining the discussion in this way still results in a huge diversity of sacred practices, but clear similarities emerge.

Consent seems to be universal among these religions, and it must be obtained from the participants, the deities, and the animals involved. No one should participate in animal sacrifice if it makes them uncomfortable or violates taboos. This act is also not performed simply to do it; divination is generally used to confirm that a particular deity wants such an offering in the first place. Divination is also one of the ways that the consent of the animal is established. Although, an experienced priest may also observe the animal’s body language and ascertain the emotional state of the creature.

Lilith Dorsey

While sacrificed animals are often offered in part (or, in some cases, entirely) to the god or gods in question, that is not the only reason these rites are performed. This is a detail touched on by Lilith Dorsey, author of the blog Voodoo Universe, when she spoke to us for this story:

I understand that this is a very difficult topic for many, and is obviously one that I could speak about for volumes. Let me start by saying I am an anthropologist, filmmaker and author in addition to being an initiated practitioner of Haitian Vodou and La Regla Lucumi (more mistakenly known as Santeria), both of which include animal sacrifice as part of their rites.

Sacrifice is performed for annual feasts and also to heal individual issues.The way I explain it to people is that if you went to a medical doctor and was told that in order to save the life of a loved one you needed to give them medicine that came from a chicken gizzard, would you do it? If you would offer up the human life refusing on moral grounds, then my hat is off to you.There are several African Traditional Religious houses you can join that do not practice sacrifice of animals. Most people would choose their daughter, their father, or their true love over a chicken, and then the issue really comes to light, which is one of faith.This is a spiritual prescription, you can choose to take it or not. People put much more faith in modern medicine than they do in “scary” (meaning unknown and stereotyped) magicks that may, in reality, be much more effective.This is just one reason we perform these sacrifices, to heal. Another reason is for feasts where the ritual animals are very often eaten, which seems to quell a lot of peoples’ fears. For practitioners, myself included, the animals for ceremony are just what the Orisha or Loa (divine forces) eat. The same way lions are fed steak, the energies call for this type of offering.This is substantiated by time, tradition, divination, and success rate. People who perform these sacrifices are also highly trained, both in the spiritual art and practical design of carrying out these sacred rites.The implementation in most cases is much more humane than your friendly neighborhood slaughterhouse.

While the ADF does not advocate for the practice, Archdruid Thomas is familiar with its place in religious observance:

If we look at the ancients, we see that the sacrifice was seen in a variety of ways, such as the shared meal and as a form of reciprocity. In the shared meal we are sharing our food with the Gods, and this brings about the sense of community. And for animal sacrifices then, it was the chance for a great barbecue. According to Walter Burkert, in ancient Greece the only animal protein available for most people was from the meat of the sacrifice. Even today we often refer to our holidays as ‘feasts’. This is where that comes from.

Jason Mankey

But even as some find the practice of sacrifice life-affirming, it’s a clear violation of what other Pagans feel is expected of them by their gods. That’s where Jason Mankey is on the issue.

As a Wiccan I do not practice animal sacrifice, nor would I ever consider such a thing. In the Charge of the Goddess, it’s all spelled out pretty clearly: ‘Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold I am the Mother of All Living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.’ If the Lady demanded sacrifice She would have said so, instead she said it was not required. If it was good enough for Gerald and Doreen then it’s good enough for me.

In addition to my Wiccan practice, I also participate in Hellenic Ritual from time to time.The Ancient Greeks sacrificed animals, like most ancient pagans, and they did so with reverence towards the gods and with a sense of practicality. People often sacrificed to the Greek gods in order to get a good meat dinner, and it was also rare (the practice, not how they cooked the meat). People were far more likely to leave the god Pan honey cakes and wine than they were to sacrifice a goat in his honor.

Should people be free to practice animal sacrifice in 2014? Of course. Eating and hunting are both legal practices, and there is a long tradition of animal sacrifice within many different pagan traditions. As long as the animals in question are being slaughtered humanely and their meat is being eaten, I don’t personally have a problem with it. In addition, if people are sacrificing animals, I hope it’s from a real place of devotion and not simply to ‘prove a point.’ If everyone’s intentions are honorable, I don’t think it’s my place to tell people what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ To some degree we’ve all got to figure that out for ourselves.

Legal and cultural context

In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that animal sacrifice is legal in the landmark decision of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, in which decision Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”

That said, many Pagans, such as David Salisbury, object to the practice on moral grounds, or because it may lead to connecting these religions with “Satanic panic”-style hysteria associated with the abduction and unwilling sacrifice of house pets. Others maintain that all life is sacred, and that taking any life is never acceptable. In his recent blog post, Salisbury concluded:

Animal sacrifice boils down to ego. Our human egos want us to think that taking a life in our own hands will impress our gods and show them that we’re willing to do big things to appease them. But we must get over ourselves. Animal sacrifice serves only to tell our minds that we’re more important than the majority of other living beings who we share this planet with.

Sannion

Sannion is a Hellenic polytheist who, while is does not perform these rites himself, is an outspoken champion of the practice. He questions the notion that animal sacrifice is less ethical than consuming supermarket meat, or even a vegan lifestyle:

Unless you get all of your meat from local-sourced, free-range, organic farms who practice ethical slaughter you’ve got no room to object. Animals are tortured, raised in filth and never permitted to move about, pumped full of dangerous chemicals and antibiotics, shipped ridiculously long distances so that their meat can end up at your neighborhood supermarket or fast food chain. How is that preferable to what we’re doing? And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you do realize that you’re still responsible for the taking of life, right? Life that science is increasingly coming to recognize as sentient and capable of suffering. All you’re doing is prioritizing one form of life over another — a form of life, by the way, that unlike all other forms of life derives its nutrients from sun, soil and water, and therefore causes no harm to other living creatures. If you’re strictly approaching this from an ethical position, plants are the most innocent things on this planet and so should be spared from predation.

Anomalous Thracian was willing to tackle the question of perception in the overculture:

Whether a person supports or is uncomfortable with animal sacrifice, none of us wants to see the evangelical right come with pitchforks. I guarantee that in the list of ways to strategical prevent this, coming after our own with pitchforks is not a suitable answer.

If anyone on any side of this issue is serious about wanting to see peaceful, progressive, enlightened resolution take place, the issue needs to be framed as it is: a topic of prejudice against certain lawful and protected practices, which is definable as religious intolerance and discrimination. It is never acceptable to attempt to pathologize people whose cultures or religions call for the ethical slaughter and sanctification of animals. Instead we should as a movement be examining the pathology of intolerance, prejudice, and panic.

Thracian also raises the thorny question of racism as it has manifested in dialogue around animal sacrifice, a subject which River Devora addressed in her own piece on Polytheist.com about the practice:

I have heard the argument made that reconstructionist Polytheists who engage in ritual animal sacrifice are problematic, while those who are part of African Diasporic or Derived Traditions and African Traditional Religions get a ‘pass,’ as though somehow letting us ‘off the hook’ for our practice of animal sacrifice makes the speaker ‘enlightened’ or more ‘understanding’ of traditional religions.These kinds of arguments are racist and offensive. It is as though you are saying to us,’European traditions, and the (mostly) white people who practice them, should know better –- Europeans are supposed to be more enlightened.Traditions primarily being practiced by African, African American, and Latino folks can get a pass because we already know those folks are unenlightened savages.’ This is far more offensive than if you simply condemned the practice of animal sacrifice across the board.This may not be what you mean, but this is what we hear when you say it.

While animal sacrifice is legal and, in modern America, generally more humane than industrial slaughter, it evokes strong reactions in many Pagans and Heathens. We may never agree on whether or not animal sacrifice has a place in religious practice. However, the dialogue is opening up, as individuals carefully examine their own feelings toward sacrifice within their own belief structures and within their relationships with the gods.

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Who was Jacob Crockett?

Tue, 2014-11-04 07:14

On Oct. 29, the unthinkable happened in Stillwater, Oklahoma. A 21-year-old man nearly beheaded his brother’s roommate during an afternoon card game. Within 24 hours, the story hit local papers and was rapidly spreading through social media and making national headlines. Isaiah Zoar Marin had confessed to the brutal murder of Jacob Crockett.

Jacob Crockett [Courtesy of RIP Jacob Crockett]

According to the police reports, the incident occurred the afternoon of Oct. 29 in the apartment occupied by Jacob, his twin brother Jesse and Isaiah’s brother Samuel Marin. The Marin brother’s were playing cards during which Isaiah stood up, picked up a machete and murdered Jacob, who happened to be in the room at the time. Samuel allegedly ran out of the apartment after seeing what had happened, and Isaiah followed.

Isaiah called 911 himself and confessed to the crime saying, “I hacked them to death with a machete.” The police have released portions of that 911 call.  In addition, the officers described Isaiah as “confused and disoriented.” He reportedly admitted to “fantasizing about killing several people, at least four” and mumbled something about “sacrifice and magic.”

As shown in the affidavit, Jesse called Isaiah a “religious zealot” and “heavy drug user.” The police reportedly did find evidence of methamphedamine use. When Samuel, the only witness, was interviewed, he confirmed that Jacob and Isaiah had argued in the past. He said that they “had disagreements because Jacob and Jesse were practicing witchcraft.”

By Halloween, the media was capitalizing on the seemingly well-timed story. On Oct. 31, Raw Story reported “‘Religious zealot’ nearly beheads teen ‘witch’ after watching Christian videos.” The New York Post wrote, “Man busted for beheading warlock after dispute over witchcraft.” And, The Washington Times publshed: “Oklahoma Christian man arrested in near-beheading of warlock.”

However, it was never confirmed that Jacob was practicing witchcraft. None of these media outlets ever checked to see if Jacob was a “warlock” or “teen witch.” Samuel’s interview, as written in that single affidavit, was all anyone had. Were the brothers actually Witches or something similar? Did they engage in any form of Witchcraft? Or were these assumptions based on the accusations and ramblings of Isaiah’s troubled mind?

Shortly after Jacob’s murder, his friends and family set up a Facebook site called RIP Jacob Crockett. On that site, the public got a better look into his life. Jacob, the son of a Oklahoma State Trooper, was a metalhead and the lead vocalist of the band Hurik.

As the story spread, many Pagan and Heathens posted sincerely felt condolences and words of support to the RIP Facebook page. Several people indicated that they included Jacob in their Samhain rituals. Others spoke of religious freedom and “never again the burning times.”

However, on Oct 31, Jesse Crockett posted the following from his friend’s Facebook account:

//

Post by Kevin Thorsen.

Supporting this assertion, Jacob was in fact a member of Christian Metalheads Facebook group. He also liked several other Christian-based fan pages including The Catholic Association, God Loves You, Jesus Christ and The Digital Bible. In his obituary, Jacob is called a “Born Again Christian and member of a Life Church in Stillwater.”

Why did Samuel claim that the brothers were practicing Witchcraft? Was this simply a misinterpretation from an angry religious debate? Or were they actually interested in Witchcraft? Or perhaps Isaiah, through his zealotry, was making assumptions about Jacob due to his music, his dress and his piercings?

Several anomalies do suggest that Jacob may have been interested in counter-cultural thought outside of his music world. He did “like” a Facebook page called “The Ancient Witch.” In addition, yesterday, a member of The Satanic Temple posted a note suggesting that Jacob was a supporter of the Oklahoma Baphomet statue.

When we asked The Satanic Temple if Jacob was a member, spokesperson Lucien Greaves said that he had heard the same rumor. However, like the claims of Witchcraft, any association was simply hearsay. It is possible that the entire story was spun out of control by the media’s October obsession with Witches.

Unfortunately, we were unable to directly reach any close friends or family members to confirm or deny Jacob’s involvement in Witchcraft.  At this point, the Police are still saying the “motive for murder is … unclear.” Isaiah is being held from first degree murder and will be in court Dec 1. Jacob’s memorial was held yesterday, Nov. 2 and the family has asked to be left alone during their time of grieving.

In his post, Jesse did thank all the Pagans, Witches and Heathens for their outpouring of support and heartfelt condolences. At the age of 19, Jacob may have been exploring ideas and practices counter to his own upbringing, whether it be for his own benefit or for his music. Or perhaps he was simply an open-minded Christian who strongly supported religious freedom and artistic expression.  In the end, it may be found that religion played absolutely no part in Jacob’s death whatsoever; that the murder was more a product of Isaiah’s drug-addicted, angry mind.

Either way it is tragic story with no good ending. RIP Jacob Crockett.

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Pagan Community Notes: Margot Adler’s Memorial, Time Magazine, Religion in Politics and more.

Mon, 2014-11-03 07:53

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. Our 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! 

We’ll start off Pagan Community Notes with a big thank you to all those people and organizations who supported our 2014 Fall Fund Drive. You helped us meet and exceed our goal, and for that we are very grateful. Over the next month, we will be contacting those people who requested perks. Columnist Eric Scott is already hard at work on those Panda drawings.  Again thank you from all of us at The Wild Hunt.  Now on to the news….

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On Oct 31, Margot Adler’s closet friends and family gathered in a private memorial service to honor her life. The event was held at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New York City. Andras Corban-Arthen was in attendance and has posted several photos on his public Facebook page. In her will, Margot had requested that EarthSpirit’s ritual singing group, Mother Tongue, perform at her service. Corban-Arthen said, “We were all very glad and honored to perform a few pieces in her memory.”

Starhawk has published the words she wrote for the memorial service on her blog. She ended the piece saying, “As [Margot] takes her place among the Mighty Dead of the Craft, she becomes even more fully what she has always been: an ally, a friend, a wise guide, a challenger and a refuge.”

On Oct 30, Rev. Selena Fox, another longtime friend of Margot’s, announced that Circle Sanctuary was “dedicating a memorial stone for Margot and placing it at [it's] green cemetery, Circle Cemetery, a place that Margot visited and loved.” The stone includes the words, “Drawing Down the Moon, Inspiring Pagan Voice.”

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On Oct 28, TIme Magazine online published an article entitled, “Why Witches on TV Spell Trouble in Real Life.”  The article has generated a storm of controversy that has led to a petition on Change.org and numerous other mainstream articles outlining Pagan response. Blogger Jason Mankey wrote, “I don’t think Ms. Latson’s article was intentionally insulting. She was simply trying to rationalize the explosion of Witch-themed shows on cable television. Fair enough, that’s the kind of article we all expect this time of year, but her execution was exceedingly poor.” We will be following up on this story later in the week.

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Tomorrow is election day in the U.S. As we have already reported, Wild Hunt staff writer Cara Schulz is running for Burnsville City Council. In recent weeks, she ran into some conflict over her religion. Although Schulz hasn’t hidden her beliefs, a local resident only recently discovered that she was Pagan, and sent a concerned letter to the editor. After it was published, Schulz responded by saying “The letter wasn’t explicitly degrading towards Pagan religions, but it’s clear the motive was to induce fear and sensationalism about my religious beliefs and encourage people to vote for my opponents specifically because they aren’t Pagans.” She called the situation laughable, adding, “Religion is irrelevant to a person’s fitness for public office and is private.” Schulz has called on her opponents to denounce the letter’s intent. However, that has yet to happen.

In Other News:

  • The organizers of Paganicon have announced that Lupa will be the 2015 Guest of Honor. They wrote, “We at Twin Cities Pagan Pride are extremely excited and honored to have Lupa join us.” They added that she’s a “perfect fit” to help explore the conference’s theme: Primal Mysteries. Paganicon 2015 will be held March 13-15 at the Double Tree in Saint Louis Park.
  • As announced by the Polytheist Leadership Conference, the New York Regional Diviners Conference is coming up this month.  As written on the site, “For one day in November, diviners from a plethora of traditions will gather in Fishkill, NY to discuss their art, network, exchange knowledge, and learn new techniques.” The conference is held on Nov 29 at the Quality Inn in Fishkill.
  • Treadwell’s Bookshop owner and Wild Hunt UK Columnist Christina Oakley Harrington was interviewed for a short film called “Witches and Wicked Bodies: A ZCZ Films Halloween Special.” The 9 minute film focuses on the British Museum‘s current exhibition of “Witches and Wicked Bodies.” Toward the end of the program, the host visits Treadwell’s and talks to Christina about modern day Witchcraft and Pagan practice.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary announced the start of a new class called, “Indigenous Traditions of the Sacred.” The class is being taught by Leta Houle, who “is Plains Cree from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan.” The program’s goal is to introduce students to the “meaning of what is sacred to Indigenous peoples, including the issue of cultural appropriation.”
  • This October the Northern Illinois University Pagan Alliance decided to try something entirely new. They ran a Pagan Spirit Week from Oct 27-31. President Sara Barlow explains that the purpose was “to raise awareness of and celebrate the presence of Pagan students at Northern Illinois University. We invited others on campus to learn more about aspects of our culture through activities such as meditation, anti-stress charms, divination, runic magic, and our open Samhain ritual.”  Barlow said the response was excellent and that they even picked up a few new members. Now the group hopes to make Spirit Week a yearly tradition.

That is all for now.  Have a great day.

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Pete Pathfinder Davis 1937-2014

Sun, 2014-11-02 06:54

On Oct 31 at 6:00pm PST, Pierre Claveloux Davis, also known as Pete Pathfinder, passed away. The announcement was made by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church:

[Pete] was surrounded by loved ones, and went peacefully in his bed. Today, on our most holy day, when the barrier between the Worlds was at its thinnest, and on the 35th anniversary of the founding of his life’s work, The Aquarian Tabernacle Church; our Grandmother Hekate, Patron Goddess of our Order came across and brought home with her one of her most devoted sons. Founder of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Panegyria Magazine, Spiral Scouts, The Pagan Information Network, and Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, Pete’s contribution to Wicca, and Pagan rights can never be overstated. From prison ministries, to Veterans rights, and his ability to standardize our faith through the Government, Pete’s legacy, and the freedoms enjoyed from his actions will be felt throughout the duration of Wicca on Earth.

Pete Pathfinder was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1937 to a Catholic father and Pagan mother. However it wasn’t until he was 37 years old that he himself fully entered into the Pagan world as a Wiccan initiate. Then in 1976, he relocated to Index, Washington — the place he would call home for the rest of his life.

Once established in Washington, Pete began to realize his dream of creating an oasis for local pagans. On Samhain 1979, Pete established the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC). In 1983, he himself initiated into the New Wiccan Church (Kingstone) tradition. Then, in the winter 1984, ATC members performed a ritual dedicating their own newly built MoonStone ritual circle, located on Pete’s property. From that point on, ATC began to grow and Pete’s dream evolved into something new; something bigger. He wanted to establish a legally-recognized Wiccan church.

Over the next two decades, Pete worked tirelessly to legitimize and formalize his organization. ATC received tax-exempt status and, eventually, a special designation as an umbrella organization with affiliates. By the mid 1990s, ATC was expanding beyond state boundaries and even beyond national boundaries. Today ATC is a legally-recognized Wiccan religious organization in 5 countries with affiliate organizations in several more.

While ATC was growing, Pete dedicated himself to public outreach and to the quest for religious equality. Locally, for example, he worked with law enforcement and in the courts as a expert in cases involving the occult. Those relationships led to ATC facilitating the establishment of a worship ring of stones at the Washington Twin Rivers Correctional Center. He participated in the Washington State Interfaith Council and acted as its President for two terms. During that time, he met the Dalai Lama, which he marked as one of the highlights of his life. And nationally, Pete was directly involved with the successful Pentacle Quest.

But the story doesn’t end there. Pete believed in the importance of internally strengthening his community. ATC established a children’s scouting program for Pagan children in the Seattle-area. The response was overwhelming positive. By 2001, the program expanded nationally, becoming its own organization known as Spiral Scouts. In 1998, he founded the Woolston-Steen Wiccan Theological Seminary, or the Wiccan Seminary, which has since received authorization from the Washington State Department of Higher Education to issue academic degrees.

From the moment he took his initiation to his death, Pete dedicated his life to raising awareness, educating the public and building bridges that would help bring legitimacy to his own religion and to the community of its followers. In an interview  in the Spring 2014, ATC’s current Archpriestess BellaDonna Leveau said, “He’s no-nonsense when it comes to protecting our faith and making it safe for us to worship Goddess.” In that interview, she also remarked on Pete’s failing health, saying that “he was on oxygen all the time now … This world will sorely miss him when he makes his final assay to the summerlands.”

Those words now ring true. The Circle of the Ancient Sisters posted this:

We offer condolences and much sadness this great loss to the Pagan Community.. we shall place a sacred candle on our alters around the world for yet another blessed elder.

Jacqueline Zaleski Mackenzie wrote:

Like me, I am sure there are many Elders who have gone on to help seekers on their life’s pathway to spiritual enlightenment because Rt. Rev. Pete Pathfinder Davis was their Elder’s guide. The gifts that this teacher gave to me can neither be explained or even named on this plane. May his work be forever remembered in the hearts and minds of his students. May ATC continue to grow under those who he trusted to carry on n his physical absence regardless of what the future holds.

After the announcement was made, Archpriestess Belladonna herself said :

Pete Pathfinder has crossed over. Mother came for him, and his spirit flew away. We sang as his body stopped working. We sat with him and held sacred space as he took his leave. He was my mentor. In many ways, he gave me new life, and birthed me into the person I am today. I loved him. I will miss him. Goodbye Pete Daddy

ATC has asked that everyone hold all phone calls until after Nov. 2nd to give Pete’s family and the church the time needed to grieve. All condolences should be posted on Pete’s Facebook page. In addition, ATC will be holding a public candlelight vigil for Pete on Sunday Nov. 2 at 7pm PST at the Tab. Organizers added, “Bring your drums to play, food to share, and spirits to toast and we will sing Pete across the veil.”

What is remembered, lives

Never forget that life is a journey, not a destination. You will never build a reputation on what you are going to do, and unfortunately, it’s never too late to do nothing. Only those who can see the invisible can accomplish the impossible, so go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have, right now! If you can dream it, you can do it, so do the things you think you cannot do. Luck is nothing more than good planning, carefully executed. Wisdom is knowing what comes next, and knowing just when to jump off the swing. You are only young once, but if you don’t pay attention to life’s lessons, you will be immature forever. - Pete Pathfinder Davis, ATC founder & Archpriest

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Column: The Violent and The Dead

Sat, 2014-11-01 04:48

For a couple of hundred years we have been telling ourselves that we can dig the midnight black remains of other life forms out of the bowels of the earth, burn them in massive quantities, and that the airborne particles and gases released into the atmosphere–because we can can’t see them–will have no effect whatsoever….

…At every state our actions are marked by a lack of respect for the powers we are unleashing–a certainty, or at least a hope, that the nature we have turned to garbage, and the people we have treated like garbage, will not come back to haunt us.

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (p.166)

Is it any wonder that a society which denies the Dead is destroying the earth?

Excrement and Exclusion

In Lacanian psychoanalysis, there’s the concept of the Excremental Remainder – the thing which fails to fully integrate into the total. Yes, I’m gonna be talking about feces here, but bear with me a little.

When you eat something, your body digests what it can, and uses what has been broken down to build, repair, and otherwise ‘create’ itself. Those calories, nutrients, minerals, and all other ‘usable’ parts are taken into the totality of the body to become part of the body.

Something is always left, parts that cannot be used or transformed into the whole. I need not get into a description of what’s left over, as you’ve certainly seen it yourself. That left-over mass, that undigested remainder, is the necessary excrement of your survival, your existence.

The Excemental Remainder is sometimes also called “the bone,” after the dialectical philosophy of Hegel (‘”the spirit is a bone.”) That ‘bone’ is what is left over when all the consumable meat is stripped off. It is the thing left over, the excrement, and yet it is also the very thing which kept all the flesh there in the first place, the unusable but necessary structure or foundation. It is also the thing we exclude. We don’t eat the bone; we don’t digest the feces or re-consume it. It is both the thing that is left over and the thing we choose to rid ourselves of. And, in both cases, we do an interesting thing with it — we bury it.

We bury the bones of what we’ve eaten and we bury our feces; although the fate of both is obscured through modern waste management. We exclude both from our lives. The Excremental Remainder is the necessary and buried secret of human existence. There is unlikely any place in your home where you store or display corn husks, onion skins, turkey carcasses, the intact bones of your great-grandmother, or your poop; rather these go outside, away, either into a compost pile, a trash can, a cemetery or a sewer.

The Excremental Remainder is what we look away from, what we do not examine. It is not just physical waste. There are social, relational ‘s*%ts’ as well — aspects upon which society is predicated on which we do not want to look. Likewise, we cannot ‘include’ these remainders in our conception of society without threatening the very foundations of our society.

What Capitalism S*%ts Out

Consider carbon pollution, the necessary by-product of our high-consumerist lifestyles. The phone or computer by which you are reading my words, and I am writing them; the servers which create the connections we call “the internet;” and the electricity which powers all of these connections dumps significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. To look directly at the excrement of our technology would ruin the ‘magic’ and might challenge our behavior, just as a clogged toilet or a waste-collection strike forces us to confront what’s left over from our activities.

There are other Excremental Remainders of society and of a Western Capitalist society in particular.The homeless are the excrement of an economy based upon private property. They are both created by and excluded from Capitalist exchange, left to ‘rot’ on the streets of cities as a necessary s&#ting-out of our consumption. They must be excluded if housing is not considered a universal right; they must be homeless if housing is something that can be bought and sold rather than just had.

In this way, a shelter counselor is akin to a waste-management worker or a mortician. A homeless shelter is like a landfill or a cemetery; except in one particular way: the ‘waste,’ which is managed, is still alive.The homeless person is the excess carbon in the atmosphere that doesn’t need to be there; the cardboard or plastic bottle buried in the landfill rather than recycled or re-used or, more importantly, something that didn’t need to be created in the first place.

The position of the homeless person, who is shunted to the outside of society, is illusory just as the magical disappearance of our excrement into a water-filled porcelain basin is chicanery. The feces goes somewhere; we just don’t see where. All the trash we produce, all the carbon we spew into the air, doesn’t go away. It goes back to the very foundation of our existence.

In other words, the excrement of our lives actually feeds back and becomes the center of our existence, the very foundation upon which we live. The homeless person lives at the very core of the city, invisible except to those of us who notice. Similarly, the CO2 of industrial production doesn’t disintegrate into the atmosphere, it becomes part of the atmosphere itself. The Excremental Remainder is actually the Excremental Center — the founding horror of our modern lifestyle.

Breathing is easiest when you don’t think about it. Feces is unnoticed once it’s flushed. Capitalist existence appears seamless and harmless until we are confronted with what we treat like s&#t. The riots and protests in Ferguson, for example, are just one of the many examples of what happens when people refuse to be flushed down the polite and pristine toilets of Capitalist exclusion. Likewise our warming planet, the dying species and the drowning cities are the build-up of the excrement we defecate by living modern and ‘free’ lifestyles.

There are ways we find to manage our excrement such as recourse to free-market platitudes and Calvinist ethics (“the homeless just haven’t earned a better life,” or “humans are greedy by nature”), delusional messianic hopes (“Capitalist technology can fix the problems that Capitalist technology caused,” or “It won’t happen here”), or the most popular solution of all — denial.

This last solution is the easiest precisely because it is a foundational aspect of Western Capitalism. Denial, distraction and oblivion are significant products of high Capitalist society, endlessly varied according to preference. There are thousands of video games, television channels and films, hundreds of sports competitions, an array of new products and vacation getaways, and the omnipresent availability of any sort of noise you’d like. Each distraction itself becomes a carrier for advertisements and injunctions towards engaging in the very behavior which creates the problem we hope to deny.

Denial, Distraction and Violent Enjoyment

There’s also an inherent violence to this last option, what Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek point to as jouissance. Jouissance is supreme, excess enjoyment; enjoyment at the expense of all else; pleasure and joy that give no thought to anyone harmed in the process of amusement. Jouissance encompasses both the sadistic pleasure of the child who shoots small animals ‘for fun,’ and the sated and oblivious pleasure of a good meal at a restaurant cooked and served by underpaid and miserable workers. Jouissance is the very engine of denial, the machinery of Capitalist consumption.

That violent and oblivious enjoyment can be seen best in the wars that Western societies fight to secure their oil addictions. It should have been no surprise that a U.S. President would have chosen to hide the shipments of coffins containing dead soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade; nor should we really think it odd that so many deaths in the last few years have been through remote-controlled drones. As oil becomes more scarce, the inherent violence required to get more of it might be too unbearable, like the excess feces after eating an entire pizza or the creation of more homeless to make way for an Olympic Village or new stadiums.

That is, the consequences of our excess, the violent enjoyment, our jouissance, must be obscured and hidden in order for us to enjoy it.  Images of mutilated children in Iraq, stories of the conditions of workers in iPhone factories, tales of flooding cities all ruin the enjoyment of our addictions and jolt us back to the very reality of the human activity behind the experience in the same way as a human hair found in a restaurant meal or a bone found in a chicken sandwich.

Homelessness is also a condition of violence, as is global warming, deforestation, pollution, and war. You cannot have private property without exclusion, any more than you can have industrialized production without global warming. And that ‘excess’ or that waste product is one of violence. Cutting down a forest to make room for a highway is a violent act. The ripping off of a mountaintop or the bombing a country to get at their resources is an assault. What is left behind, the ‘bone’ or ‘excrement,’ doesn’t go away anymore than the victim of a rape disappears after the act.

But like the silencing of a rape victim, the censoring of war images, or the flushing of a toilet, there are ways in which we specifically try to ignore the necessary consequences of our actions or the Excremental Remainder of human activity. Seeing the mounds of trash we create destroys the illusion of consumption-without-consequence. Seeing the victims of our wars weakens support for military expansion. Making a connection between global warming and the car we drive to work would force us to confront the very violence of an activity we consider foundational to a ‘good life.’

When we do acknowledge the violence, we create hierarchies to excuse some actions while vilifying others. We consider the razing of a forest for a highway or suburb less violent than the eco-activist who torches a bulldozer. Developers are awarded tax breaks and profit from their violence, while the ‘ecoterrorist’ goes to jail. The homeless squatter in a foreclosed house is beaten and jailed while the real estate agent is given a commission for selling that home. The plight of the victims of our daily violence are ignored when they try to speak of their villages flooded or their children bombed. At the same time, we throw parades for our military and line up for days to buy the next big i-thing.

We celebrate and reward the violence at the very foundation of our civilization and then dole out more violence in pursuit of maintaining our cherished, modern, ‘way of life.’  And to do this, we ignore the Dead.

Photo by Rich Simpson (http://strihc.wordpress.com/) Used by permission.

Paganism and the Return of The Dead

Consider how, after Hurricane Katrina, a common lament of the poorest New Orleans black communities was about the water-logged, bloated, decomposing corpses left unattended for weeks. No image made clearer to me the connection between Capitalist exclusion and ignoring the Dead. How much must we ignore the Dead in order to maintain our skewed and oppressive violent enjoyment of inequality?

Cut down a forest to build a shopping center and you do not just have an absence of forest, you also have a dead forest. Bomb a village in the Middle-East and you do not only have an absence of a village and its inhabitants; you also have a dead village and dead people. The mountain doesn’t go away when we strip it for coal, nor does the gasoline we combust to drive our vehicles.The bones of the raped mountain litter the earth, just as the carbon from our consumption litters the sky.

The Dead don’t go away. They are always with us, even when we refuse to notice.

When Capitalism sweeps through a formerly non-Capitalist people, one of the first things to get destroyed is the ancestral traditions and reverences of those people. Witch persecutions in Africa, Asia, and South America mirror the same persecutions in Europe that required us to divorce from an understanding that included the Dead in life-activities. It does so because Capitalism must sever people from a recognition of the Dead, must obscure and displace the excremental effects of its exploitation. For peoples who remember the destroyed forest, the wound of Capitalism is ever-present. Its ghost still haunting the place it once stood. The rape remains even though the rest of us have forgotten just as the dead child remains in the bombed village, out of sight but never fully flushed away.

Western, particularly American, Capitalism denies the Dead in order to erase our memories, and we play willingly along with this Forgetting — this exclusion.

But the Dead persist, no matter how hard we try to ignore them. Consider our fascination with ghost stories, or more precisely, the peculiar Anglo-American fascination with zombies. These are depictions of shambling men and women, shuffling through the streets in torn clothes, reeking of death, moaning incoherently without substance to feed upon the ‘living.’  Zombie films remarkably depict our fear of the “living dead,’ the homeless, the immigrant, the prisoner, the refugee — that is, the very people we exclude from our society in order to enjoy it, those who continue to live despite being ‘dead to us.’

Few people like to look at their own feces, or even talk about it. In fact, we consider it perverse to do so, just as we consider those who speak of the dead as ‘morbid.’  Similarly, any calls to change or abolish the Capitalist system, which is warming the planet and ruining lives, are considered ‘extremist.’ The few brave souls willing to actually do something about this matter are called ‘radicals’ or ‘terrorists.’

The return to a way of thinking which doesn’t ignore the Dead might be the only chance we have to build societies which create less excrement. The various Paganisms which acknowledge the dead can return to our denialist society precisely what it refuses to notice.

The destroyed forests remain as Dead forests, and we must insist they be remembered. Only by doing this may we learn not to destroy them.

The burned oil and coal are the compressed remains of our earliest ancestors, and we must acknowledge them as Presences melting our ice-caps and flooding our cities. Only in this way might we finally admit the consequences of our consumption.

The poor, the homeless, the downtrodden all live on as ‘walking dead,’ and we must again see them as the excluded foundation of our very societies. Until we do so, we will meet their rage and horror with malevolent, brutal fear.

And the Dead themselves, the gathered ancestors of all our peoples, stand before us, just on the edge of our sight. If we learn to acknowledge them, to see them, to accept what they have to teach and listen to what they have to say, we may finally learn what it is like to truly live.

 

[Thanks to Rich Simpson for use of his photography: (http://strihc.wordpress.com/)]

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