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Review: All Acts of Love and Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca. Written by Yvonne Aburrow (Avalonia Press, 276 Pages)
Early in my studies I spent a lot of time pouring over books to learn how to be a witch, and those introductory books were plentiful. I absorbed so much information about the elements, circle casting, the deities, and magic during that time, then relearned most of it when I later entered formal studies.
The “New Age” section of the bookstore has since lost its appeal. Most of the books sitting there are more additions to the Wicca 101 genre, with one recipe after another for invocations and spells. While some of these books offer beautiful and inspiring poetry and ritual ideas, few of them inspire critical thinking and practice examination. However, this is exactly what I found in Yvonne Aburrow’s All Acts of Love and Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca.
Aburrow begins by stating “[t]he aim of the book is to act as a guide to existing initiatory covens who want to make their practice more inclusive.” She says that inclusive Wicca is not a specific tradition but is “about including all participants regardless of sexual orientation, disability, or other differences, not by erasing or ignoring the distinctions, but by working with them.”
Why would Pagans need to read a book like this? The assumption is that we’re so accepting. We’re so open-minded. We’re so progressive and enlightened and… well, cool. Compared to other unnamed religions, absolutely. However, there is always room for improvement, though, and awareness is the first step.
Early in the book, Aburrow tackles the issue of sexuality and gender. To illustrate her point that Wicca tends toward heterocentrism and genderism, she explores the duotheistic belief that “all Goddesses are one Goddess and all Gods are one God.” She writes:
As the divine couple are then understood to be lovers, this again excludes LGBT practitioners. It is also a problem for those people of either gender who do not particularly identify with or relate to the predominant archetypes associated with the divine couple.
Aburrow goes on to say “the gender binary is the notion that cisgender heterosexual pairs are the norm and that everything in the universe resembles a cisgender heterosexual couple. We need to expand the model to include different genders and sexual orientations.” It is common, in my experience, for people to encourage practitioners to think of this as the union of “masculine” and “feminine” energies, but regardless of metaphysical semantics, it can still feel exclusive especially since “masculine” and “feminine” are so often used interchangeably with “male” and “female.”
Polarity, however, is such a foundation in Wiccan practice – how could we displace the sexual union of the Divine Couple to be more inclusive and still function? Aburrow suggests a focus instead on the dance of light and dark as seen in the seasons or making the primary polarity the “interaction between self and other, lover and beloved (rather than as male and female),” or even primordial ocean and lightning bolt. I found myself wondering how much rituals, especially at Beltane, would change if groups wholeheartedly embraced “[t]he ultimate polarity is not male and female – it transcends gender.”
While the entire book could have been written on LGBT inclusiveness (indeed, there are several), Aburrow ventures into the idea of inclusiveness on a number of other topics as well. One that stands out is the chapter called “The Nature of Truth.” In this section, Aburrow explores the meaning of truth, scientific truths, mythological truth, and absolute truth, leading up to the conclusion that truth is uncertain. She writes:
Because we are not certain about the existence or the nature of deities, it is good to allow for a diversity of views, including atheism, agnosticism, monism, pantheism, duotheism, polytheism, polymorphism, and so on. Many Wiccans hold more than one of those beliefs at the same time, or change their minds about the nature of deities… Wicca is primarily an existential religion, so there is no real imperative for everyone to agree on theology.
I sat with this idea for a while. A long while. I had never considered that some Wiccans could be duotheistic while others were polytheistic or monistic. I (perhaps wrongly) assumed that all Wiccans were pantheistic or at least animistic. After reading this chapter, I found myself wondering if we could still consider Wicca a religion if we had no generally agreed upon idea of what deity was, and especially if deity even existed. I realized at that point that it had been nearly two decades since I had my head buried in my Sociology of Religion text books, and that perhaps I needed to refresh my memory on the current working definition of “religion.”
The Oxford Dictionary defines religion as “the belief and worship of a superhuman controlling power.” That seemed too limiting and rigid, and does not really apply to Wicca. Merriam-Webster defined it as “the belief in a god or in a group of gods, an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods, or an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.” This seemed too broad. I really love spinning yarn, and I particularly love doing so in a group of other spinners, but that does not make it a religion.
Then I came across this page of definitions on Religious Tolerance.org, and remembered why I disliked sociology with all of its rambling academic ponderings. I ultimately gave up on my quest for an operationalized definition. But I still wondered, what would I do as a teacher and coven-leader if someone who identified as an atheist wanted to be initiated into Wicca?
As open as I am to students having their own idea of deity and of their idea being different from my own, and as open as I am to the idea that a person can be Pagan and atheist, I don’t yet know how open I would be to initiating a person into Wicca who felt certain there is no Goddess or God. At what point can we draw the line in the sand and say “This is what it means to be a Wiccan?” Then I recalled a New York Times article about the decline of Christianity being partially due to changes occurring in the some of the more liberal branches. Writer Ross Douthat argues:
…the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world. Absent such a reconsideration, their fate is nearly certain: they will change, and change, and die.
I wondered if this could be the fate of Wicca should our quest for inclusiveness leave us without a central and uncompromising set of beliefs?
I don’t have the answer, just a whole lot of questions. This, however, was my favorite aspect of Aburrow’s book: it inspires critical thinking about my own beliefs and practices as a Wiccan and a teacher. And, my comfort with the uncertainty it evokes is a compliment to the sociology major I so despised.
Yvonne Aburrow is the author of eight published works, of which All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca is the most recent. The book is published through Avalonia press and is available on their website, www.avaloniabooks.co.uk, and through major online retailers.
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When I was in my early twenties I had a rabbit, a sixteen-pound French Lop that had free rein of parts of the house and succeeded in both equally fascinating and terrifying every houseguest I ever had. From her ability to clear a seven-foot gate to her skill in severing any cord or wire ever laid out in her path, Gwendolyn was much more akin to a troublesome toddler trapped in a four-legged body the size of a Corgi than what the average person pictures when they think of a pet rabbit.
Similarly to humans, rabbits have both quite the sweet tooth as well as a noted lack of self-control around what we would call ‘junk food.’ Carrots are the most popular example of this tendency, as rabbits crave them specifically due to their sweetness, but they will also obsessively seek out candy and other treats meant for humans, and will often make themselves sick if they gain access to an unattended stash of sweets. Animal trainers often take advantage of this tendency in rabbits by using papaya tablets as a reward, as rabbits are quick learners and will happily comply in exchange for the treat.
I did not know this when I called my vet about Gwendolyn’s digestive issues and she suggested giving her papaya tablets as a dietary aid. I bought a bottle of the tablets, shook it just for the sound and then opened the bottle in front of her and gave her a few, and put the bottle up on a shelf. A few hours later, I took the bottle off the shelf and shook it without really thinking, and she immediately came running at the sound. I gave her a few tablets, shook the bottle again, and she responded by jumping for the bottle. From that moment forth, every time I ever shook that bottle she immediately came running.
The association was advantageous in many ways. Any time I needed to find her, she would come immediately when I shook the bottle, which helped greatly at times for rabbits find great hiding spots. But over time I discovered that she responded in kind to the sound of any bottle, not just the papaya tablets, which is why over time everyone in the house took great care every time they opened a pill bottle. More than once, a guest opening an aspirin bottle in the bathroom was suddenly rushed by an enormous rabbit who would then occasionally jump at the exact source of the noise itself. This once resulted in a spilled bottle of aspirin and an immediately dangerous situation as the rabbit then desperately tried to eat the pills.
Its not that I hadn’t recognized the tendency in animals before. Nearly every house cat jumps at the sound of a can opening. But there was something about watching it click in the rabbit – the intensity and instantaneousness of the rabbit’s reaction, propelled by an addiction to sugar that I could clearly empathize with – that really opened my eyes to both the effectiveness and potentialities in how intelligent creatures of any persuasion can react to sound.
* * *
Two summers ago, I unexpectedly ended up with a sickly, four-week old kitten, having plucked her off the shoulder of a street kid after realizing that she would die without proper care. Although I wasn’t planning on adopting her when I first took her, I bonded closely with her as I nursed her back to health and after the first couple of days it was clear that she was my new cat.
My living situation at the time didn’t allow me to leave a kitten at home unattended, so for the first month that I had her, the kitten I ended up naming Squirrel stayed on my body for the vast majority of any given chunk of day, usually either on my shoulder or in the hood of my sweatshirt. Our constant state of mobility made me quickly realize that I needed a way of immediately calling her back to me if she was to jump off my shoulder in a public place.
I thought back to my rabbit with the pill bottle, and then to the way that a cat responds to the sound of a can opening, and decided to integrate those examples with minor changes based on lessons from the past. I decided on a glass jar rather than a pill-bottle, hoping that the sound was distinct enough so that the kitten would not conflate a bottle of aspirin with cat food. I filled the jar halfway with dry kibble, and the next time I fed her I shook the jar before doing so. It took only a little more than a day for her to learn that the shaking sound meant food. A few days later, she jumped off my shoulder at a busy intersection in downtown Eugene, but only took two steps before being coaxed back by the shaking sound.
To this day, no matter where she is hiding, if I want her to come out all I have to do is shake the jar.
* * *
I tried forming relationships with crows when I first moved to Eugene with little success. They didn’t actively avoid or scorn me as I know they do to some, but they never seemed interested in my presence or my words. I didn’t push the relationship, especially considering that there were many other creatures and entities in that town that were actively seeking my time and attention.
In Portland, however, the crows have been a constant feature from the very beginning, living in great numbers both throughout downtown Portland in general as well as specifically in the area near Union Station where I live. They made their presence very obvious to me from the moment I started to move furniture into my building.
Time has also been a hovering constant from the very beginning. For the first time in my life, I found myself without a routine, without a reliable daily activity, without a proper or useful way to spend my time. Time is a reliable foe in that too much and too little can both effectively destabilize and eat at the soul, and in from moving to Eugene to Portland, literally overnight I went from a situation where I had absolutely no time to myself to a situation where I had more time than I knew what to do with. I had a bicycle, I had a fresh terrain to explore, I had ideas and thoughts and urges, and yet without direction, time still stood as a presence in a way I had never experienced before.
And while I know that the idea was seeded in my head by seeing the crows fly around the Union Station clock tower so often, crows and time became strongly and immediately linked in my mind. It’s a link that over the past year has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, as the presence and behavior of the crows eventually became my antidote to the ever-looming curse that time held over me.
* * *
I usually don’t remember my dreams, and I’ve learned from experience that if I am remembering my dreams, there’s something very important that I need to be paying attention to. Which is why a certain red flag went up once I started dreaming of crows for several nights in a row.
After the third or fourth night, I woke up at the crack of dawn, trembling, the images of crows seemingly seared into the darkness behind my vision. Without really consciously understanding what I was doing, I quickly threw on some clothes and stumbled down to the riverbank, seeking out a familiar dark and still spot on the water. Still half-asleep, still seeing crows when I closed my eyes, I stared into the water and briefly fell into a trance. The crows that were burned into the darkness of my vision were suddenly reflected in the water, appearing larger than life. I looked up and noticed that two actual crows were circling. They flew down at me, almost touching the riverbank, and then took off towards the west.
I followed them for as long as I could keep track of them. They led me throughout Northwest Portland, touching down repeatedly at corners and intersections that I tried desperately to mentally note while also desperately trying to keep up with the flying pair. I finally lost sight of them underneath the 405, and yet as I was headed back home I could hear them nearby and I had the distinctive feeling that I was being watched.
That night my dreams felt like a trap, a pull, a call, a maze of repeated imagery in which crows shifted into a dark-clad woman, who then shifted back into a crow. I recognized her immediately; we had been chatting on and off for years with no serious commitments on either side. And yet it was still all rather vague. I woke up not sure how to proceed. There were still too many pieces missing.
A few days later, when Rhyd Wildermuth posted a blog about bees and bestowing kindnesses towards ravens, I knew better than to shrug it off as mere coincidence. I made a mental note to buy a container of unsalted peanuts the next time I was out and to keep an eye out for crows.
And then a few days after the blog post as well as another series of crow dreams, my partner and I were on our walking down First Avenue just north of the Burnside Bridge, only a few feet away from edge of the buildings, when I noticed a crow standing still in the corner by a window. Thinking he was hurt, I approached the crow slowly and stooped down. The crow stared me right in the eye, less than two feet away, and immediately I could tell he was not actually hurt at all.
“What’s up? Are you OK?” I asked the crow, and suddenly I was flooded with a stream of thoughts and visions… from Rhyd’s blog about feeding ravens, to the crow dreams I had, to the crows on the riverbank the other day…and then thoughts and images of my old rabbit Gwendolyn and the papaya bottle, and of Squirrel and her glass jar of cat food, of myself on my bike riding through downtown, and then of peanuts and more crows. Suddenly, it all clicked.
I had meant to buy peanuts. I looked at the crow, feeling terrible that I had nothing to give to it at the moment. I thanked the crow for the information and apologized for my lack of a treat. I wouldn’t make such a mistake again, I said to myself.
I looked at my partner. “I think I get it now, I think I finally get it,” I said. “I’m supposed to be watching the crows, making friends with the crows. Like as a regular thing, a daily thing. I think that’s what I’m supposed to be doing with my time right now. ”
He looked at me and nodded. “That makes sense,” he said.
* * *
Once you train your eye to notice specific features within the landscape, it’s often impossible to un-see them. The feature becomes encoded in both one’s conscious awareness as well as the subconscious, and creates a hiccup in one’s latent inhibition, unwillingly interrupting any given moment of observation in order to announce its presence. This tendency is why many graphic designers can’t help but to constantly complain about fonts, or architects about the eaves or arches of any given building. The graphic designer can’t not notice the painful use of Papyrus in the storefront sign, nor can the architect not notice the cheap and brutal travesties that are de rigueur in modern design.
This same tendency comes forth pretty quickly when one consciously decides to notice and acknowledge every crow that they come across. I poured some peanuts into a plastic box with a lid and started setting out daily, following the crows while shaking the box to announce my presence and feeding them whenever I got their attention. I was trying to attune myself to their perspective while at the same time paying close attention to what is taking place in my own world as well.
And within the space of a few weeks, I realized that I couldn’t not see a crow, I couldn’t ignore a crow, I couldn’t relegate a crow to a feature of the landscape anymore no matter how hard I tried. I’m not sure how long the sound of a crow prompted an immediate reaction in me before I consciously noticed that it was happening – but I know now that I can’t tune it out any more than a mother can initially tune out the cry of her baby. Every time I saw a crow fly above me, I couldn’t not look up. Riding my bike in downtown traffic presented a bit of a challenge.
Unlike fonts and arches, however, what’s different about attuning oneself to noticing crows is that the gesture is reciprocated, especially when you offer them treats. The crows start to notice you as well and, even in a dense urban area such as downtown Portland, one quickly starts to realize that they’re always being watched to an extent. I may be constantly looking for crows, but I also get the strong sense that they don’t have to look for me. They know where I am as soon I leave my building. They know where I am even when I have no idea where I actually am.
The more I think about the vastness of a crows-eye view, the more I start to think that the crows know this city much better than any of its citizens ever possibly could.
* * *
It also didn’t take me long to realize that the pigeon-crow relationship dynamics are at least as interesting and complex as most of the human relationship dynamics that I observe while downtown. Other than Canadian geese on the waterfront, crows and pigeons are the only two sizeable birds that inhabit downtown Portland, and they are constantly interacting with each other on nearly every corner or rooftop.
The differences in their pack habits and their mannerisms stood out immediately. Rarely do I see a solo pigeon, and rarely do I not see a solo crow. Pigeons generally go about their business in flocks on the ground, while crows often fly in pairs or trios. When foraging for food, they are usually on their own. The pigeons are braver and much pushier in seeking out food in the presence of humans, but not nearly as observant or sensitive to the subtle goings-on, as the crows are. A crow will spot a hipster discarding a sandwich from half a block away, while the pigeons often miss bread that tourists throw directly at them. The more populated the area, the more the crows hide in plain site while the pigeons bobble in a flock in the middle of the commotion. On the food cart blocks in downtown Portland, one practically trips over the pigeons in their path while the crows watch from the light-posts, unnoticed for the most part.
And yet despite their shyness and altogether lack of aggressiveness when compared to the pigeons, a single crow will fend off a whole flock of them in defense of his claimed prize, using a wide assortment of noises, dances, and aggressive gestures in order to chase the intruding birds away. On the campus of Portland State University, I watched a crow aggressively fight off pigeons for several minutes in order to defend a half-eaten burrito in the bottom of a take-out container that the crow had dragged out of an overflowing trashcan. At one point, the crow grabbed the fork out of the container with his beak and threw it towards the pigeons. After the flock finally left, the crow carefully and expertly tore the excessive pieces of tortilla off the side of the burrito before taking the remainder of it in his beak and flying off to a nearby rooftop.
“What you got against pigeons?” he asked me.
“Nothing, really. I’m just more interested in the crows, that’s all.”
“What, you think crows are better than pigeons?”
“No, it’s not a contest, but I’ve been working with crows, not the pigeons. Its nothing against the pigeons, I’m just not seeking them out.”
He seemed intent on challenging that. “Don’t you think that’s a little unfair?”
I took a deep breath. “Look. I’m not in the mood for an argument about bird rights and bird equality, OK? If you think I’m being unfair to the pigeons, give them a little attention yourself. There’s nothing personal here. I just work with crows.”
He gave me a dirty look and walked off, himself shooing away the pigeons as he left. I was reminded that within a downtown urban landscape, even the subtlest of solitary activities are not really solitary. One always has an audience.
On my way home I took a longer route, up and around through the Pearl District. As I was riding through, it occurred to me that I rarely ever see a single crow north of Glisan Street, in the newer part of the Pearl. I thought about what I found distasteful about the neighborhood – not enough trees, too many boxy buildings, way too much construction, too many dogs, and very few places to deposit trash – and I laughed out loud, realizing that the crows most likely avoided the Pearl for the exact same reasons.
* * *
I feel like a Pied Piper of sorts, riding through the streets of downtown Portland every day around lunchtime, shaking the peanut box as I ride past corners where I know crows to congregate. After a few months, I find myself in a steady routine along a specified path throughout downtown, a path that was overall dictated by the crows themselves. What first started as simply following their caws quickly turned into a dedicated route with expected interactions on both sides, often taking several hours out of my day. I approach the location, shaking the peanut box, and more often than not a crow appears a short time later. I then toss some peanuts, back up a bit, and the crow usually advances and starts to snack.
I quickly find that there are subtle maneuvers and tendencies that make a world of difference. Tossing peanuts underhand is best – overhand startles the crows and they often fly away. They don’t appreciate my sunglasses much, nor the squeakiness of my rear brakes. But they very much like being talked to, and they make quite the show of knowing that they have your attention.
Without deliberately meaning to do so, I realized that I’ve started to give the crows nicknames in my mind based on the locations in which I tend to find them.
The “Bud Clark crows” hang out in the trees across the street from Bud Clark Commons, a “Housing First” shelter and homeless day center that sits a block from Union Station. The Bud Clark crows are noticeably both louder and braver than any of the other crows that I come upon regularly. I can’t help but to think that this is a very specific co-adaptation to their specific location, as the folks who regularly hang out on this block themselves tend to be noticeably louder and braver than what one would generally expect in this neighborhood. The crows have adapted to other the rhythms of the local residents, swooping in daily around the same time just after lunch to pick up the food scraps from the patio and the surrounding sidewalk.
The “yoga crows” are a bonded pair who live on the rooftop next door to a yoga studio a few blocks north of Burnside. At least one of them spends nearly every day perched above the studio, watching the action below while scolding and mocking random passers-by.
He was obviously showing off, and I was quite impressed.
The “parking lot crow” often acts as a supplemental security guard for a parking lot on an unusually deserted and empty block in Old Town. This crow paces back and forth at the entrance, warily observing the pigeons while keeping an eye peeled for any scraps that the flock may come across. When the actual security guard steps onto the property, the crow often jumps on the cars, hopping from rooftop to rooftop while cawing in a mocking tone. The parking lot crow was the very first to start to respond to my shaking the peanut box, and is the least timid of all the crows that I regularly interact with.
A few blocks from the parking lot crows are the “ODOT crows,” who hang out in the trees around the employee headquarters for the Oregon Department of Transportation. They scavenge for scraps dropped by employees on their cigarette breaks, and they frequently take over the parking lot once everyone has left for the day. Recently, one of the ODOT crows has taken to swooping above my car when I drive past the building, and he’s not the only crow to start flying past my car as I drive through the neighborhood.
When I go by the ODOT building at other times separate from my crow route, I often see one of two crows in the side-street, comically dancing and waving around twigs or food scraps while a passer-by stands and watches in amusement.
And if I shake my peanut box, they usually pause and look right over at me.
* * *
I had noticed the man watching me from the roof of the homeless shelter almost daily as I interacted with the parking lot crow. This time, he was standing in the middle of the parking lot as I approached on my bike, shaking the peanut box towards the parking lot crow who was perched on the pole. He watched us for a few minutes, and once the crow had his fill of peanuts and flew off, he approached me.
“Why are you feeding the crows?” he asked me.
I looked at him for a moment and decided to tell him the simplest version of the truth.
“Because a rather intimidating deity-type who came to me in my dreams asked me to and I couldn’t really say no, and I also really needed something to get me out of the house. I’m still don’t have a solid grasp on the entirety of the why part yet, but its making more and more sense by the day, I’ll tell you that.”
“Can you really make friends with crows? Why do you shake that box for?”
“If you want to make friends with them, just feed them. And talk to them. And be nice to them, and calm. They shy away from loud noises and yelling. They will learn to remember you quickly, and they will trust you the more you show kindness. I started shaking the peanut box with the idea that they would learn to respond to the sound, expecting a treat. At this point I’m pretty damn sure that it works.”
“Huh…” he said, his voice drifting off a bit.
I looked at him for a moment, handed him my peanut box, and pointed towards the crow. “Here, take this,” I said. “The crow expects me in the afternoon. I’ll bet you that if you start coming down here in the mornings, shaking the box, and scattering some peanuts, you’ll have a crow friend by the end of the week.”
I smiled at him and then started to ride off the long way towards my building. A block away, a crow flew above me and landed in the street ten feet or so ahead of me. The crow looked at me expectantly.
I pointed back toward the man from the shelter. “I gave him my peanut box, man,” I said. “You gotta go ask him. I’m going home to put together another one.”
I doubt the crow actually understood what I had said, but nevertheless I watched him look over and then fly to the pole at the edge of the parking lot. I shook my head, amazed at how vastly my perception of this city has shifted over four months’ worth of paying attention to crows, and I continued on my way home.
* * *
This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.Send to Kindle
The ancient Pagan festival of Thargelia is once again being celebrated publicly in Greece by members of The Supreme Council of the Greek National (YSEE), an umbrella group working to restore the traditional polytheistic religions of Greece.This isn’t the first time YSEE members have celebrated the Thargelia, a celebration honoring the Gods Artemis and Apollon. The Thargelia was celebrated May 17, which roughly corresponds to the 6th day of the month Thargelion in the ancient Athenian calendar. In pre-Christian Athens, the observance took place over two days. It focused on driving bad things out, such as diseases that affect humans or crops, and bringing good things back in, such as healthy children and the first barley harvest.
The rituals took place near Athens at the foot of Mount Parnitha and on the Greek island of Rhodes. Approximately 60 people attended Athens ritual, while a much smaller group attended the one in Rhodes. Vlassis G. Rassias, priest of Zeus and Apollo, and the General Secretary of YSEE, said that attendance for a YSEE ritual can vary from 50 to 200 people.This rituals began with a procession to the sacred site, led by two young girls bearing flowers, which symbolize the good that the community would like to bring in. During ancient times, these two children would have been twins in honor of the divine twins of Zeus and Leto, Artemis and Apollon. On the banners, the symbol for ΣΥΛΛΑΤΡΕΙΑ, which means reverence of two Gods, is seen. Other important imagery for the twins include an Apollonian tripod standing between Artemis’ crescent moons. The attendees are already loosely gathered on the other side of the altar. The acting priest then declares the altar as operating and protected, and then, the altar fire is lit. “We light the altar fire invoking [the] Goddess Hestia, but only with the flame of our hearts as our holy flames remain extinguished under the Christian rule, and then we uncover our cult statues,“ explained Mr. Rassias.
Artemis and Apollon are honored with hymns and prayers. Next libations of oil and wine are poured. Community members are also invited to place offerings on the altar. Finally the central wish of the community is spoken to the Gods, the Gods are thanked and saluted, and then the ritual closes.While the whole ritual is considered sacred and spiritually fulfilling from its first moment till its last, sometimes “tears come to the eyes of newcomers at some very certain moments of the whole ceremony,” said Rassias. He explained that the basic ritual outline, which is different from what most American Pagans and Wiccans are familiar with, remains virtually unchanged from classical times.
Rassias said, “Our ritual outline is given to us by the people that brought the Hellenic Religion to our times, through the dark ages of persecutions, from the end of the Eleusinian Mysteries and the closure of our philosophical schools to Georgios Gemistos-Plethnon, Marullus Tarchaniotis and the “Stradiotti” and then to our secret societies in the 18th century in Northern Italy and the Ionian Islands.” He said that the Hellenic ethnic religion, commonly called Hellenismos in the USA, has had a continuous existence from the Late Antiquity until present day. He is thankful those practices were never fully eradicated by the Christian church.YSEE hosts many public rituals to support its mission of reviving the Greek ethnic religion and supporting the rights of those who practice the religion, in Greece and abroad. They have member groups and branches primarily in Greece, but also have an active branch in New York.
To see videos of other Pagan rituals performed in Greece by Labrys, another traditional Hellenic organization, go here.
* * *
[Editor’s note: All photos used in this article were taken by Irakis Patramanis, Yiannis Bantekas and Costas Kehagias. Permission to use the photos was granted by YSEE.]Send to Kindle
Festival season is now underway as the wheel turns and the weather continues to get warmer. Pagan and Heathen communities around the country are stepping outside for daylong, weekend long and even weeklong adventures and community-building. While the early festivals focus on a re-connection to the outdoors after months of cold weather; the midsummer events celebrate the high season of long days and hot sun; and the fall festivals welcome the harvest.Although festival season begins in earnest in May for most of the country, the state of Florida gets an early start due to its climate. Leading off in March are festivals such as the newly created Equinox in the Oaks, held near Ormond Beach, and Phoenix Phyre, held in Lakeland. Florida’s warm temperatures and sea breezes allow for comfortable camping in early Spring.
As the Florida festival season continues, other areas of the country join the fun as the warmer temperatures slowly move north. States in the Southeast begin to see festivals in April. These include daylong events, such as the Atlanta Marketplace of Ideas, in Georgia, or longer camping events, such as ADF-sponsored Trillium Spring Gathering in Virginia. The Washington-based Aquarian Tabernacle Church holds its Spring Mysteries festival at this time. While it is run similar to a festival, Spring Mysteries is mostly held indoors due to the weather.
As April turns into May, festival season truly takes-off across the country. Whether it’s Beltane, May Day or another reason entirely, the first weekend in May seduces people into coming outside and connecting to nature and to their communities. As explained by the Beltane Fire Society, based in Scotland, “the growing power of the sun … provides an opportunity to cleanse and renew the conditions of a community – both humans and their animals – that had spent the dark months indoors.” Since 1988, the society has hosted its annual Beltane Fire Festival on this weekend, as a marker of community-building in that region.
Here in the United States and Canada, the beginning of May sees an extraordinary number of festivals, both big and small; ranging from local celebrations hosted by individual covens to bigger region-wide events. Many of these early May festivals are Beltane-inspired. In Pittsburgh, for example, Grove of Gaia hosts a daylong festival called Grove of Gaia Fest. This year’s event attracted over 400 attendees, hailing from many religious practices. Further south, Florida Pagan Gathering, run by the Temple of Earth Gathering (TEG), holds its weekend long Beltane festival; in Connecticut, the Panthean Temple runs Beltane: Pagan Odyssey Festival; and, in Colorado, Living Earth Church hosts Beltania: a Pagan Celebration and Musical Festival.
There are also many non-Beltane events during May. These fesivals simply encourage people to get outside and come together in community. The Bay Area Pagan Alliance rebooted its popular, daylong spring festival this year. Over Memorial Day weekend, many people head to Kansas for the Heartland Pagan Festival; while in Massachusetts, Earth Spirit Community celebrates the Rites of Spring. During May, Southern Pagans and Heathens drive through the Tennessee mountains to attend Pagan Unity Festival. During this year’s event, Tuatha Dea ran its group drumming workshop. After a rousing grand finale, Danny Mullikan said to the group of drummers sitting in a circle around him, “You all were just communicating. That is community.”
As spring moves into summer and the days get warmer, the population of festivals increase. June sees as many events as March, April and May put together. The biggest, and arguably most well-known, festival is Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois, sponsored by Circle Sanctuary. Beginning in 1980, PSG attracts over a thousand attendees and hosts over 400 events. As Circle Magazine editor Florence Edwards-Miller said, “Like Brigadoon appearing from the mists, Pagan Spirit Gathering is essentially a bustling Pagan town that manifests the week of the Summer Solstice every year.” This year’s PSG marks its 35th anniversary.Nearly as old as PSG is Canada’s WiccanFest in Ontario. Despite its name, the popular five-day festival is open to all Pagans and Heathens. Canada also sees the Sun Wheel Music and Arts Festival held in Alberta near the end of the June. And, it is impossible to talk about Canada’s spring events without mentioning the biggest one: Gaia Gathering. Held annually over Victoria’s Day Weekend in May, this event is actually an indoor conference that changes cities each year and attracts attendees from around the country. Gaia Gathering’s mission is to bring people “together to talk about who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we might be going as a religious community in Canada.”
Other popular events in June, include the two-day St. Louis Pagan Picnic, now in its 23rd year; Wisteria’s Summer Solstice retreat; Free Spirit Gathering, Michigan Pagan Fest and EarthHouse’s Midsummer Gathering. The Troth holds its own national event in June called TrothMoot. This year’s four-day festival will be held at Camp Netimus in Milford, Pennsylvania. Next year, TrothMoot will be on the West Coast. Additionally, for Heathens, the Volkshof Kindred sponsors the four-day Northern Folk Gathering in Minnesota.
New to this year’s June festival season is Pan Gaia in California. Sponsored by the North Western Circles Association, the festival will take its “maiden voyage June 20.” Organizers describe it as, “a delightful event of vendors, performers, and presenters distilled down from the best of the best of magical festivals over the past 15 years.” The two-day festival will be held in Fair Oaks, California, and will feature vendors, workshops and a Jim Morrison ritual by Patheos editor Jason Mankey.
The endless opportunities to be outdoors celebrating with fellow Pagans and Heathens continue throughout the summer months. In July, for example, there is Kaladeiscope Gathering; Free Witchcamp; Sankofa Festival; Chrysalis Moon, and Sirius Rising. Wisconsin sees a nine-day Summerland Spirit Festival, described as an “Earth-reverent spiritual retreat where you can experience personal growth, connect with nature and make new friends. And, in Ohio, the long-running Starwood Festival, which began in 1981, kicks off its seven day extravaganza of music, vendors, workshops and more.
In August, there is Pan Fest in Alberta, DragonFest in Colorado, Festival of the Midnight Flame in Michigan and Coph Nia in Pennsylvania. At this point in the year, the festivals begin to take on a harvest theme, such as Harvest Gathering, hosted by the Connecticut Wiccan and Pagan Network, or Sacred Harvest Festival, hosted by Harmony Tribe in Minnesota. Additionally, one of the longest running Pagan events occurs in August. Now in its 39th year, Pan Pagan Fest, sponsored by the Midwest Pagan Council, is held in Monterey, Indiana and this year’s five day festival theme is “Open Spirits, Open Hearts.”
By August, the schedule begins to shift, providing a array of new community opportunities. The Pride season begins in many areas as the longer festivals disappear. Additionally, this is the month that Covenant of the Goddess hosts Merry Meet, its annual meeting and conference. Over its many years, Merry Meet has been both an outdoor festival and an indoor conference. And, finally, this year marks the launch of a new indoor conference, Many Gods West, to be held in Washington. It is one of the few indoor summer events.
Regardless, the U.S. and Canadian festival seasons wind down quickly in September as the focus turns to Pagan Pride Days, Witches Balls and other autumn fun. However, there are still a few remaining festivals left for those who cannot get enough of camping. Lightening Across the Plains, the biggest Heathen-focused event, is hosted in September and held at Gaea Retreat outside of Kansas City. Dubbed a “regional Midwest thing,” the four-day festival includes “Asatru and Craft workshops, Viking Games, a Heathen auction” and much more.Many of the groups that sponsor early spring events also host autumn events. In September, Wisteria invites guests to attend a four-day festival called Autumn Fires. Earth Spirit Community holds an October retreat called Twilight Covening. In Canada, the WiccanFest organizers stage a second festival called Autumn Fest. And, Phoenix Festivals, Inc. hosts Autumn Meet in Lakeland, Florida. Then, finally, in November, TEG hosts a second Florida Pagan Gathering to close out the year.
It is not surprising that Florida, and other southern regions begin and end the festival season. This cycle is wave of warm-weather fun that migrates just like birds. Of course, the many festivals listed above are only a small sampling of what is actually available every year across the country. There are floating festivals, like Hawkfest, and outdoor intensive retreats, such as Reclaiming’s Witchcamp, that appear in multiple places across the country at different times. In 2016, there are already new festivals scheduled, such as the Dragon Hills Pagan Music Festival to be held in May in Bowden, Georgia.
Additionally, there are many smaller very local and private festivals and outdoor events during the entire season. Together with the winter conferences, the Balls, the Moots, the Picnics, the many Pagan Pride days, the year is filled with opportunities to connect to community, find inspiration, enjoy creativity, shop or just kick-back within spaces dedicated to the Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist religious cultures.Send to Kindle
Rebecca A Phoenix lives in Ferndale, Michigan, and recently graduated from Ferndale High School. Rebecca Phoenix is a die-hard history, mythology and art buff. Put these passions together you get a direct line to studying museum sciences. Rebecca will be attending Oakland Community College in the fall for her associates and then will finish her degree at Wayne State University. In the summers she will be performing with the Legends drum core marching band, competing all over the Midwest.
Phoenix’s essay was selected by the Board of Governors of the Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund, and for that she will be awarded $500 a year for the next four years. This commitment is a significant step up from its predecessor organization, the Tempest Smith Foundation (TSF), and seeks to widen the trail that was blazed by that non-profit. TSF provided scholarships as part of a mission focused on encouraging religious tolerance. As reported by The Wild Hunt in late 2013 as TSF was winding down operations, teaching tolerance was important to the foundation’s late founder, Denessa Smith:
Before passing away, Denessa’s dream was to award TSF college scholarships. The recipient would be chosen through a contest in which students would submit a 300 word essay on the meaning of ‘tolerance.’ Annette [Crossman, who succeeded Smith in leading the foundation] fulfilled this goal. Since 2010, TSF has given out 6 $500 dollar scholarships to Michigan high school seniors. At ConVocation 2014, TSF will award three more scholarships – its last action before closing down operation.
Gordon Ireland, administrator of the Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund, told The Wild Hunt how this one aspect of TSF’s work has been carried forward. “I took over doing this because I also run the Midwest Witches Ball . . . and the Ball was always a strong supporter of TSF, in donations and promotion. When they closed down, [I] just hated to see it go away,” he said.
Actually establishing a scholarship according to IRS requirements is by no means an easy feat. However, it was completed timely enough so that there was no gap in offering a scholarship opportunity for Michigan Pagans. Specifically, the eligibility criteria are:
- Resident of Michigan
- Self-identify as Pagan for at least one year
- Minimum age of 16 at time of application
- Senior in high school, or equivalent education
- GPA of 2.85
- Acceptance to an accredited college or university.
Applicants must be able to provide proof of the above requirements, including such things as school transcripts and letter of recommendations by a religious leader or other responsible adult. They must also write a 500-word essay on how Paganism has changed their life, as well as a 250-word explanation for applying in the first place. That’s one of the differences between the new scholarship and that offered by the Tempest Smith Foundation. TSF’s essay requirements focused on the exhibition of tolerance, reflecting the organization’s mission.
Once the new scholarship is awarded, the recipient can renewed it annually three times for a total of $2,000 as long as they maintain a 2.5 GPA and otherwise comply with requirements set forth by the Board of Governors. That’s another big difference from the TSF program, which awarded a single amount each year.
According to Ireland, this longer-term commitment was made possible through the support of a number of other organizations. The Witches Ball committed to a dollar per ticket, which averages $500 in funding a year, and the Magical Education Council (organizers of ConVocation, where TSF’s founding ritual took place in 2003) has committed to a straight $500 annually. Pagan Pride Detroit organizers promised the proceeds from the raffle held at its annual event, and additional support has been provided by the Universal Society of Ancient Ministry, which provides the non-profit legal framework and local business sponsors. In addition to this ongoing local support, the scholarship is also the focus of two of its own fund-raising events each year.
“Creating a scholarship is about raising funds,” Ireland said. “If you cannot guarantee a certain yearly income do not bother, as all you end up doing is disappointing some kid.” With two scholarships to award, the organization will be doling out a thousand dollars this year, ramping up to the $2,000 annually to be divided among four recipients when it reaches its peak. Together with operational costs and publicity, the Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund expects to need $2,500 a year. Ireland recommends that anyone wishing to copy this model take heed of the work-load, adding that having “a business networking model of raising money” is helpful. He also said “it takes a village to raise a child, or at least put one through college.”Send to Kindle
Pagan Community Notes: Barb Moss, West Valley Area LAPD, Pagan Community Statement on the Environment and more!
The Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) family is mourning the loss of one of its devoted members, Barb Moss (1969-2015). Barb was also a facilitator of the Daughters of the Dark Moon coven as well as a member of the Open Circle Unitarian Universalist congregation in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. In addition, she was a working artist, known for her enthusiasm and creativity. Last October, Barb were interviewed for a local paper’s bi-weekly feature: “The Artist Next Door.” According to the report, Barb had overcome many obstacles in her life including addiction, failed pregnancies, and divorce. Many of these struggles were featured in her paintings.
Barb’s latest struggle was with breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2011. After various treatments, she went into remission. Then, this past summer, doctors discovered that Barb’s cancer had spread to her liver and bone. On May 11, she lost the fight. As her friend Cathy Fia Moritz shared, “My friend, Barb, squeezed the last bit of life out of that paint tube yesterday. Even though I only knew her for a short time, she touched my life greatly. Her creativity, welcoming attitude, and her unflagging optimism were just a few of the bright qualities that made her a wonderful woman.”
The Open Circle Unitarian Church held a fundraiser and memorial service this past weekend. Then on Sunday, there was a second service at her parents church – Salem United Methodist. PSG will be “honoring her … as part of [its] Circle of Remembrance on the opening Sunday, June 14.” In addition, since Barb was scheduled to co-lead this year’s Daughters of the Dark Moon ritual at PSG, coven members decided to include an honoring of her life as part of the rite. Rev. Selena Fox said, “She was beloved by many. [I am] glad to have connected with her as part of my life’s journey.”
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On Thursday, May 21, the West Valley Area, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is co-sponsoring a meet-and-greet with local Pagans. The focus of the event will be on how best to handle and report “Hate Crimes/Speech” against the Pagan community. As the flyer notes, “This is also an opportunity to get to know your local officers.”
The idea for this community meet-and-greet was born last year when Pagan Wendilyn Emrys, a local activist, attended the LAPD Hate Crimes Forum in Encino, California. She said, “I was attending in my capacity as a Pagan Priestess, and because I am a member of a number of political groups that often get attacked by right wing psychos. I wanted to know my rights...” After asking a few questions, an officer approached her and offered to meet with her and other Pagans.
Although the event took some time to coordinate, Emrys and the current facilitating officer Sergeant II Frank Avila were finally able to secure a date. Emrys is enthusiastic about the opportunity, saying “I think it is essential for Pagans to get to know their local Law Enforcement Professionals, and Governmental Representatives … It is also important for us to know what is and is not a Hate Crime, or Hate Speech, and how to get in touch with our local Law Enforcement should someone inflict such a crime or criminal speech against us.” She is hoping for good turnout. The meet-and-greet will be held at the West Valley Area Police Station at 7 p.m., the event is open to anyone interested in the subject matter. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment has garnered 4,249 signatures in just one month’s time. The signatures hail from all over the world and from nearly every continent. There also now eight translations of the statement available, including Spanish, French, Italian, Hungarian, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese. More translations are currently in the works.
In a recent blog post, coordinator John Halstead wrote, “If you peruse the list of signatories of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”, you will see a lot of names you may recognize…” but many you do not. Then he featured an interview with the person who signed directly before Starhawk.
Since that blog post, Halstead has noted that the group’s goal is to get 10,000 signatures by mid June. Why June? This is the scheduled time of Pope Francis’ publication of an encyclical on the environment. Halstead views this as “an ideal opportunity to share a Pagan vision of sustainability with the world.” Patheos blogger John Beckett agreed, saying, “If the leader of the world’s largest Christian denomination can issue a progressive statement on the environment, why can’t Pagans – most of whom hold Nature in much higher regard than do Christians – do at least as much?” Halstead and the many people involved are now asking others to pass along the statement through social media and other sources. Where can it be found? The statement, its history and all the translations are available at Ecopagan.com.
In other news:
- On May 25, the Pagan/Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN) will be holding its 3rd online academic conference. Held in cooperation with the Pagan Federation International, the PAEAN Conference will “focus on the different aspects of development of Contemporary Paganism and its challenges.” The online platform allows “scholars, lecturers and attendees to engage in meaningful discussions to “hopefully increase learning and understanding.” This year’s theme is “The Future of Contemporary Paganism.” and will include lectures by Mr. Stanislav Panin, Dr. Lila Moore, Mr. Shai Feraro, Ms. Martina Capuleti and Mr. Gwiddon Harveston. There will also be several group panels. Information can be found online.
- T. Thorn Coyle has just released her first fiction novel, titled Like Water. Nayomi Munaweera, author of Island of a Thousand Mirrors, described the book, “Like Water is a love letter to both the streets of Oakland and the youth who walk them. It tells of the city’s history as well as the conflagrations threatening to devour it. These are characters attempting to love through the fire.” Inspired by her social justice work, Coyle calls the book “visionary fiction.” It s now available in both paper or electronic forms from online and local bookshops.
- The Norse Mythology Blog has begun its annual midsummer art competition. This year’s theme is based on “an excerpt from the Old Norse poem Sigrdrífumál (“Sayings of Sigrdrifa”) from the Poetic Edda.” The specific except is posted on the site along with project suggestions. In addition, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried also wrote, “Throughout Northern Europe, there are local traditions that celebrate midsummer. Some of these practices preserve very old rituals. Your original piece of visual art should capture the midsummer spirit of Norse mythology.” Past winners and their art are posted in the blog’s archives. The submission deadline is midnight June 19.
- On May 11, Molly Khan launched the Heathen at Heart blog on Patheos Pagan Channel. In her opening post, Khan wrote,”Hello, and welcome to Heathen at Heart! Here I hope you will find a thoughtful commentary on Heathenry, polytheism, and Paganism in general; as well as practical information, prayers, and rituals.” Khan is member of a local Kindred as well as a Scribe for an ADF Grove. She is also a wife and mother of three, and a strong supporter of her local Pagan community.
- The Wiccan group Silver Circle, founded in 1979, has commissioned a film on Witches in Holland or Heksen in Holland. The project is part of the group’s recent 35 year anniversary celebration. The organization has established a foundation that is “committed to expanding and evolving Wicca to an ever growing public.” To help fund the project organizers have launched an Indiegogo campaign. However, they have already begun production with the help of a variety of volunteers
That’s it for now. Have a great day.Send to Kindle
Over the past few weeks, Pew Research has released its findings from two major studies on the religious composition of various populations. In April, the center released “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,” which projects the religious makeup of future global populations based on current statistics, including “age, fertility, mortality, migration and religious switching for multiple religious groups around the world.” Released just last week, the second study titled, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” is an analysis of the current religious composition of the U.S. population based on data collected in 2007 and 2014. Both reports have been generating some buzz, as the numbers and projections suggest marked changes in religious populations.Looking at the American study first, Pew summarizes its finding in the first sentence:
The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing.
According to the data, the Christian population of the U.S. declined 8 percentage points from 2007 to 2014. The biggest loss was to mainline Protestants Churches. The Christian share of the overall population went from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. Despite the drop, Pew notes that “the United States [still] remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world” with an estimated 174.3 million followers in 2014.
At the same time, the “unaffiliated” population significantly increased, rising six percentage points from 16.8 percent to 22.8 percent. It is important to note that Pew defines “unaffiliated” as Agnostics, Atheists and “people who do not identify with any particular religion.” That latter designation includes those persons who are spiritual but not religious; and religious but not labeled. Pew clarifies this definition in Appendix C of its world projections study, saying:
Surveys have found that belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7 percent of unaffiliated Chinese adults, 30 percent of unaffiliated French adults and 68 percent of unaffiliated U.S. adults.
This is an important point when reviewing the data. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, titled “The Future of Religion is Bleak,” Tufts professor Daniel C. Dennett suggested that the rise of the “nones” or “unaffiliated,” is evidence of the decline of religion. The author’s reasoning is based on the definition of “unaffiliated” as solely Atheists, ignoring the growing population of “spiritual but not affiliated.” While Pew statistics do indicate a decline in traditional organized religion, they do not necessarily indicate a decline in personal religious belief or ritual practice. This is something easily understood and seen within the collective Pagan, Heathen and Polytheists contexts. People can be religious and unaffiliated.
So where do the alternative religions fit into the Pew study on American trends from 2007-2014? Pew uses a series of eight categories, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Unaffiliated, Other World Religions and Other Faiths.
“World religions,” which include “Sikhs, Baha’is, Taoists, Jains and a variety of other world religions,” have, as a groups, increased slightly to 0.3% of the current American population. The “other faiths” grouping includes “Unitarians, those who identify with Native American religions, Pagans, Wiccans, New Agers, deists, Scientologists, pantheists, polytheists, Satanists and Druids, just to name a few.” This category has remained stable at 0.4% of the population.
While the “other faith” basket is quite diverse, there are a few interesting statistics to pull out of the study. For example, in 2007, the gender distribution for the “New Age” sub-category, under which they placed Wicca, was evenly distributed. Since that point, there appears to have been a slight surge in female adherents. The 2014 data shows 61 percent of the population is now female. In addition, the Southern and Western U.S. have the largest population of “other faiths” at 31 percent.
The study also demonstrates that the “other faiths” and “unaffiliated” categories both have the largest “Millennial” populations. This may account for the large number of “New Age” respondents claiming “some college,” as well as the largest income bracket being “under $30,000.” Pew itself concludes that the religions and religious groupings that experienced the most growth during this period have larger populations of young people.Turning to Pew’s world projections, the story is slightly different. From 2010-2050, the Christian population is projected to increase at the same rate as the world’s overall population, maintaining its 31.4 percent global share. While some countries do show a decline, as the United States, other areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa, will increase.
At the same time, the Muslim population is expected to skyrocket. By 2050, Pew estimates that Muslim population will be equal to the Christian population, and by 2070, the center projects that there will be more Muslims than Christians worldwide. As noted earlier, Pew bases these projections on current fertility rates, migration patterns, life expectancy and other statistics that indicate population shifts.
As for minority religions, the changes are marginal at best. As with the American study, Pew uses eight groupings, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Unaffiliated, Folk Religions and Other Religions. Folk religions are defined as “African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions;” and “other religions” are defined as “the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, Zoroastrianism and many other religions.”
While the American study demonstrates a recent increase in the unaffiliated, the world projections suggest a future overall drop. Of course, these shifts are largely location dependent. Pew projects that, by 2050, three countries will have an “unaffiliated” majority, including France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. As noted earlier, “unaffiliated” is defined as Atheists, Agnostics and “people who do not identify with any particular religion.” While these countries may no longer have a formal Christian majority, it does not mean that they are “losing their religion.” France, for example, is a fiercely secular country. The growth of the “unaffiliated” may simply indicate a surge in religious individualism, as fostered by the specific culture, as much as a surge in Atheism.
Where does the global study project “other religions” going by 2050? While the study suggests a slight decline in population from 0.8% to 0.7% in global share of the population, the total number will rise from 58 million to 61 million. Unfortunately, this grouping of religions is far too broad to pick out any data specifically on Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist trends. As recorded by Pew, “The growth trajectories of specific religions in this category could vary greatly.” However, Pew did note that Wiccans and Pagans, along with Unitarians, featured largely in a previous landscape survey concerning the switching of religions.
For our purposes, Pew’s results are too broad to provide any concrete data on trends in Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist practices. However, the studies provide a sense that these minority religions could gain momentum within the United States and other cultures where “unaffiliated” populations are expanding. Even if the “other faiths” or “other religions” are not expanding themselves, acceptance may become easier in those areas; unlike regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, where Pentecostal Christianity is on the rise.
Returning to the Wall Street Journal article, Professor Bennett suggests that “religion recedes whenever human security and well-being rises,” and when people have increased exposure to information. This may be true, as many people do tend to rely on spiritual belief and religious practice when faced with crisis or the unknown. However, as noted earlier, religion doesn’t appear to be “receding.”
Bennett’s analysis is based on the more traditional monotheistic models of organized religion and does not take into account the individual-based models that we often find in Paganism, Heathenry and Polytheist movements and beyond. Pew’s research does appear to show a decline in adherence to the older models of religious practice within the U.S., as exemplified by decline in specific Christian affiliations. However, there is also an increase in the more individual-based models, as shown by the increase in “other faiths” and “unaffiliated” categories.
Regardless, even this decline is limited to by regions and cultures. While Bennett may be absolutely correct in noting a religious shift based on security and access to information (or education,) the conclusion that religion’s future is bleak is not exactly accurate. The future of the older models of religious practice may be uncertain; but not religion as a whole.
One last point to note is that Pew indicates that the reporting on religion and projections is complex and often flawed. Religious surveys can be significantly influenced by politics, social or family pressures, cultural expectations and other external factors. Ultimately, the Pew studies provide broad suggestions of shifts and trends.But they do not indicate true religious belief, something personal that can be deeply hidden and something that is constantly changing.Send to Kindle
I’m not a historian and I don’t play one on the Internet. I do think it’s good to have some knowledge and understanding of the history and development of our religious traditions, as mysterious, complex, and convoluted as they are.
There’s an increasing number of material available around the history and development of historic and contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft in Europe and the U.S. Ronald Hutton and Margot Adler, for example, have given us valuable scholarly insight.
We don’t hear very much about Australia, and I wasn’t sure where to start looking. Thankfully, a few Aussie friends have pointed me in the right direction, sharing some fascinating stories that highlight a few of Australia’s most important and colourful characters.The Witches
Rosaleen Norton (2 October 1917 – 5 December 1979) may be Australia’s most famous Witch. Norton scandalised conservative Australia during the 1940s and 50s. Her art, which contained supernatural and sexual themes, was treated harshly. Police removed her work from exhibitions, confiscated books that contained her images, and attempted to prosecute her for obscenity. She was arrested countless times.
When Witchcraft was still illegal in Australia, Norton openly declared herself a Witch and a Pagan. She was an occultist devoted to Pan and led a coven in the bohemian area of Kings Cross in Sydney, where she lived. She was often at the centre of police and tabloid scrutiny.
Norton died in 1979 from colon cancer. Interest in her life and her work hasn’t waned. A number of books about Norton have been published over the years. Most recently, Sonia Bible has written and directed a new documentary called The Witch of Kings Cross. Norton remains a key influence in Australia’s Pagan landscape. For more on Norton, read the two-part Wild Hunt series published last month.
Rhiannon Ryall is the pseudonym of an English-born Australian Wiccan who established a coven-based tradition in Australia. Ryall asserted that, at the age of 16, she and other youth in her village were initiated into a local, pre-Gardnerian, Wiccan tradition in West Country, England during the 1940s. However, as I’ve been told, historians and Aussie Witches are skeptical of her Ryall’s assertion. Her tradition appears to be a blend of Gardnerian and Alexandrian practices.
Ryall published a number of books, but her most important and best known work is West Country Wicca: A Journal of the Old Religion. Like Norton, she was no stranger to the media. After the unexpected death of her daughter in 1991, Ryall and her husband abducted their granddaughter. The saga lasted for years, and the couple, already in their sixties, served some jail time. It garnered media attention and public praise for the father, the man who rescued his daughter from the Devil-worshiping witches. The event inspired a made-for-television movie in 1999.
I don’t know when Ryall passed away. Despite having been known as “a bit of a fibber,” and her legacy being tarnished by the kidnapping, Ryall was involved in several traditions and left behind a number of students and initiates. I’m told she was a lovely woman who is missed by many.
Simon Goodman (16 September 1951 – 23 September 1991) may be one of the most enigmatic figures in Australia’s magickal landscape. It’s hard to separate the facts from mythic history, but it’s safe to say that Goodman was the main promoter and initiator of Wicca in Australia in the late 1970s and 1980s.
It appears Goodman was initiated into Alexandrian Wicca in Sussex. He met and corresponded with Alex and Maxine Sanders, who gave him their blessing and a charter to initiate others. Goodman made good use of the photocopier at his workplace, copying entire books for his network of covens across Australia. When he died, he left his collection of documents to Murdoch University. According to Douglas Ezzy, in his essay “Australian Paganisms,” Alexandrian Wicca is the most numerous initiate tradition in Australia mostly deriving from individuals who trained with Goodman.
The Scholars and Storytellers
Douglas Ezzy is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania. His contribution is mainly academic with a number of studies and essays appearing in other works aside from his own books. His work includes Sex, Death and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival, a look at one of Australia’s more well-known and controversial festivals, Faunalia.
Lynne Hume is a University of Queensland anthropologist who published the first and major defining academic study of Australian Paganism. Unfortunately, Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia is out of print, but can sometimes be found from second-hand book dealers.
Nevill Drury (1 October 1947 – 15 October 2013) was an English-born Australian editor, publisher, and author of over 40 books on subjects ranging from shamanism and western magical traditions to art, music, and anthropology. He has many titles worth exploring, but one book of special interest here is Other temples, Other Gods: The Occult in Australia, which is also out of print. He is also the author of “The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton,” published in Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies in 2010.
Peregrin Wildoak is the blogger behind Magic of the Ordinary. He is doing important work cataloguing material that Simon Goodman left behind, as well as recording memories and wisdom from Perth Wiccan elders from the 1970s and onward. His work will be invaluable to those collecting the history of Paganism and Witchcraft in Australia.
Brittany McCowan is a young aspiring documentary filmmaker from Lennox Head, Australia. She is currently working on directing her first feature length documentary called Modern Witches and Paganism in Australia. You can read my interview with McCowan on my blog and find out more about this project by visiting her website or her GoFundMe page.
Australia does have a story to tell. It has people worth knowing, and a history worth recording for future Pagans and Witches.Send to Kindle
[Today we welcome guest writer Lilith Dorsey M.A. Dorsey hails from many magickal traditions, including Celtic, Afro-Caribbean, and Native American spirituality. Her traditional education focused on Plant Science, Anthropology, and Film at the University of R.I, New York University and the University of London, and her magickal training includes numerous initiations in Santeria, also known as Lucumi, Haitian Vodoun, and New Orleans Voodoo. Lilith Dorsey is a Voodoo Priestess and is the editor/publisher of Oshun-African Magickal Quarterly, filmmaker of the experimental documentary Bodies of Water:Voodoo Identity and Tranceformation, author of Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism, 55 Ways to Connect to Goddess, and The African-American Ritual Cookbook, and choreographer for jazz legend Dr. John’s “Night Tripper” Voodoo Show. You can find on her blog Voodoo Universe.]
Possession seems to be all the rage lately, well maybe it always was. People are in awe of the power to connect with the divine. As a Voodoo/Vodou practitioner and priestess for over two decades I have seen many possessions both real and exaggerated. I have seen possession as a way to connect, to heal, to receive blessed messages from the divine, and unfortunately I have also seen people feign trance in an effort for attention.
One particularly powerful ritual I attended many years ago was for Ogou, the Vodou Lwa of Iron and the white hot forge. Ogou is a warrior, and I knew the night was going to be an interesting one. I stepped on a carpet tack fairly early in the evening, and the blood coming from my foot was a “red flag” for me.There were several possessions that night. The first, I remember, was from a friend to whom I had passed the ritual machete. He later recalled that he was instantly transported to the trenches of World War I with his life on the line, like he was living out an old film. He felt a great insight into himself and into the past after that moment.
Another incident that I recall from that night was even more powerful. I probably wouldn’t even be speaking of it had it not occurred so many years ago and with such healing results. The next person to wield the machete had been experiencing some powerful transformations the week before. Unknown to most of us, he had tried to take his own life with a blade only days before. As he held the ritual iron, he later said, that he felt not the damage the weapon could do, but only the good. This force had changed for him in that single moment to one of protection and healing. I am happy to say he is still with us today.
I have also been party to many ridiculous possessions. At one Lucumi (more commonly referred to as Santeria) ceremony in Harlem, a few of the women in attendance grabbed their breasts, shouted unintelligibly, and demanded everyone’s complete attention. Attending Santeros and Santeras called these “possessions” visitations by Santa Borraccha or Saint drunk woman.
Unfortunately, these type possessions are not limited to the Afro-Caribbean pantheon. One fond memory comes from a Pagan event where a friend and I listened to someone perform a session of amateur mediumship and, then, answer questions from the crowd. My friend fell asleep., Then, woke up several minutes later and said out loud, “This is crap.” That was one of the best moments ever – hands down.
These are humorous moments; however, they bring up real questions about spiritual possession. Who are we connecting with? Why? And, how are the safest ways to get there in a genuine and respectful way? Entire books can and have been written on this subject.
In anthropology the phenomenon of possession has been studied almost from its very beginnings. It is an elusive topic however, and how people create magick and meaning from it is always changing as well. Some like to academically classify it by its function, comparing it to a form of group therapy where public witnessing can perform a public good. There is an argument there, but for those who have actually been party to it, it is so much more than that.
Avant-Garde filmmaker, anthropologist and Vodou Priestess Maya Deren called possession the “white darkness,” and positioned it as the ultimate goal of practitioners. It is truly both a fusion and a blessing with and from the divine. For her it is about sacred thresholds and entrances.
As someone who has experienced it first hand, possession is a reciprocal, mutual, and inter-dependent abiding. A genuine blessing for those to watch and experience. Many of my colleagues feel the same, and I am fortunate enough to be able to share their experiences and thoughts about possession, proof, and prophecy with you here.Lou Florez (Awo Ifadunsin), an internationally known speaker and lecturer of folk magic traditions of the South, is a deeply rooted spirit worker, priest, medium, and witch. He has studied with indigenous elders and medicine holders from across the globe. Florez shared:
I view the practice less as “possession” and more as form of spiritual incorporation. Meaning that the experience isn’t about the violation of my inner sense of sovereignty, or dispossession, but rather that Spirit and I become incorporated into each other. For a brief moment there is a permeability and a dissolution of the boundaries that signify my individuated sense of self and that space allows for the reunion to occur.
Author Diana L. Paxson, an elder of the Covenant of the Goddess,The Troth and the American Magic Umbanda House, pioneered the recovery of “high-seat” seidh, the oracular tradition of ancient Scandinavia. Paxson has written works on various aspects of Pagan spirituality, including Trance-Portation and The Way of the Oracle and Possession, Depossession and Divine Relationships. Paxson said:
The fact that possessory experiences are found in every culture suggests that the capacity to experience such states is wired into our brains. What distinguishes possession as an ecstatic religious experience from possession as a personality disorder is the community context. For it to be productive, however, both the medium and the supporting team need training. With practice, it can be a valuable addition to the ways in which we connect with our gods.
Gavin Bone and Janet Farrar, Pagan legends and authors of the upcoming Lifting the Veil: A Witches’ Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual, said:
One of the things that has surprised us most since we went down the path of exploring Trance-Possession is the level of fear that surrounds it; and this is not just coming from people who are new to the pagan path. Often suggestions that what we are teaching is ‘dangerous’ in some way has some from experienced leaders and teachers in the community.
We believe that much of this fear stems from the christian culture which many of us have grown up in. As hard as many try, it still bubbles up from our own shadows on occasion when that emotive word ‘possession’ is used. We believe the lack of experience and knowledge gained from exploring this area derives from the Judeo-Christian influenced western occult tradition which has labeled it as ‘left hand path'; as something evil and to be avoided.
To compound this misunderstanding further, film and television has regularly portrayed possession as process of violation where a spirit attempts to ‘own’ us body and soul. The reality is of course very different as anyone who has experienced it knows. It is in fact a deeply spiritual act where the spirit does not so much ‘possess’ the body but briefly makes use of it with the permission of the individual. In over 20 years of teaching Trance-Possession both privately and publicly, we have yet to see any form of genuine possession which resembles anything like the imagery described by the church or the media. But what we have seen is disturbed individuals in a psychological fugue state, which is very different to a genuine case of ecstatic communion with the divine – true possession.Tehron Gillis, a poet and New Orleans Voodoo devotee, added:
The term is misleading. Ownership, to who does a body or its actions belong to are irrelevant. Possession is not a physical state of being but a settlement between the self within and the self without on a common goal that neither can accomplish without the grace of the other. The cup is without purpose without water, the water is without form without the cup. Only when they are in service wholly to each other can they accomplish something greater.
Who knows where possession will take us next? At best it is a transformative ride for both the horse and rider, or human and Gods respectively. May your rides be smooth, informed, and lead you just where you need to go.Send to Kindle
GREAT LAKES, Illinois – The Great Lakes Naval Recruit Training Command (RTC), where enlisted Navy recruits go for Basic Training, has stopped religious services for six minority religious designations. This includes “Earth-Centered” worship. In place of the weekly community worship service led by a volunteer civilian faith leader, trainees have been told that they will have an hour of private “contemplation and reflection.” In response, Pagan civil rights group Lady Liberty League is working to change what they, and other religious rights groups, consider a discriminatory practice.
Other trainees affected by the change are those of the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian Science, Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist faiths. Religious services for more mainstream faiths have continued uninterrupted.
Not the first time that the Navy has stopped minority faith services
This is the second time that the Great Lakes Command Chaplain Ted Williams has dismissed civilian volunteers who lead minority faith religious services for recruits. The first time was in May 2014. At that time, the Muslim and Seventh Day Adventists were affected, in addition to the six affected now. The May 2014 decision was rescinded by the Base Commander less than a month later.
Then, in June of the same year, a new Base Commander took command of the training facility. On April 3, 2015, the civilian faith volunteers were again notified the services would no longer be offered by civilian volunteers. Unlike the previous time, the Muslim and Seventh Day Adventist were not included.
“Oh no, not again,” thought John Chantry, the volunteer who lead services for over 100 Earth-Centered recruits each week. “We’ve been through this already,” said Chantry, who describes himself as a Christian Druid. He has led services for Pagan recruits for over four years. He is a member of the Lake Spirit Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and Ár nDraíocht Féin, A Druid Fellowship (ADF).
Chantry said that worshiping with other Pagans is important to trainees. “Trainees have told me they’ve been practicing Wicca or Asatru or Paganism privately because they were afraid to be more public about their faith. This is the first time they’ve been able to worship in community and they said it’s such a joy.”
The Navy said that its new policy is temporary. They will first check to see if there is a Navy Chaplain able to lead those services for recruits. If not, then it would look for a uniformed military member who is certified by their faith to lead the religious services. If those options aren’t available, then the Navy would once again bring in volunteer civilian faith leaders.
The Navy hasn’t given a time estimate of how long this process will take. Until these minority religions have a designated faith leader, trainees cannot meet in a group to practice and do not have a place to practice.
It’s unclear if this policy is being applied across the board as there are unconfirmed reports there is still a civilian faith leader allowed onto base to minister to a smaller Christian denomination. As of publication, Navy Public Affairs has not responded to The Wild Hunt’s requests for comment or clarification.
Chantry said that the Navy believes solo prayer time is equal to the multitude of services led by Christian Chaplains offered in chapels. However He doesn’t see it that way, explaining, “It would be the same as saying to Roman Catholic trainees that praying by yourself for an hour is just as equal as attending a Mass led by a priest in a chapel, taking communion, and going to confession. That isn’t equal.”Pagan leaders work to change policy
Rev. Patrick McCollum, Minority Faith Chair for the American Correctional Chaplains Association and Chaplaincy Liaison for the American Academy of Religion, said that while the main problem is the unequal treatment of minority faith trainees, more troubling is that the Navy doesn’t appear to understand inequity.
McCollum spoke with the Head Chaplain at the Great Lakes facility and, while the conversation was warm and cordial, he said the Navy’s perspective was that “…one trainee having access to a community worship service in chapel lead by a leader of their same faith was the same as a Pagan only allowed to say a prayer by themselves in their own free time.” McCollum said the Chaplain told him that the Navy wants to give their uniformed Chaplains and other uniformed personnel an opportunity to learn to minister to minority faiths.
McCollum said that Williams offered to set up a phone meeting with the Base Commander, but that meeting hasn’t materialized. Since then he’s not had any further contact with Great Lakes officials.
Rev. Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League, a Pagan civil rights group most known for assisting in the VA Pentacle Quest, is one of the organizations working with the Navy to modify the policy to allow all Naval trainees the same ability to practice their religion. They first became involved last May, when the Navy cancelled worship services for minority faith trainees. On Tuesday, Rev. Fox spoke with Chaplain Williams by phone. “We discussed religious accommodation possibilities for supporting recruits of diverse spiritual backgrounds, including Nature religions. We are continuing to be in solution-focused dialogues with individuals and groups,” said Rev. Fox. She added that she is cautiously optimistic that a solution can be found.
Lady Liberty League (LLL) is also asking for help. They are seeking U.S. Navy contacts at Great Lakes Naval Station and in U.S. Navy administration, who may be able to give them further information and support. They’re also looking for partnerships with other religious freedom organizations in resolving this situation.
Listen to this podcast by Circle Talk concerning LLL’s involvement in the Great Lakes situation
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has also offered assistance and is threatening to sue the Navy, saying, “We have never seen a commander authorize such a sweeping abuse of the religious freedoms of those under their leadership.”
ADF also had strong words about the situation. In a statement to The Wild Hunt, ADF Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas said:
It is with great apprehension and concern that we in ADF have learned about a new exclusionary religious policy at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station.
Apparently, the policy of allowing civilian minority faith leaders to lead services when no uniformed leaders are available has been discontinued. This has happened even though Navy regulations specifically allow for such activities. These civilian volunteers have been providing religious services for years and now they have come to an end, with only a small room for reflection and contemplation provided to the trainees instead.
We strongly support the US Constitution’s provisions for religious freedom and suspect that the current rule change is based upon an exclusive religious belief. We are concerned that this new interpretation of the regulations will not allow our service men and women to actively practice their faiths, with services now only available for the traditional Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
We call upon the Navy, the Commanding Officer, and the Chaplain at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station to reconsider their actions and allow civilian minority faith leaders to once again provide spiritual and religious support for all those who follow minority faiths.
Chantry said that he doesn’t know what the next steps are, but is hopeful Naval Command will see how harmful this policy is to all recruits at the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility, “Recruits can see the difference in how the minority faiths are being treated as compared to how the Christian faiths are being treated. Before they felt accepted and worthwhile as human beings, now it’s as if their religion is treated as something shameful.”
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See related articles on how the other military services treat minority faiths:
Pagans find warm welcome at “Gateways to the Air Force”
Air Force Academy creates culture of religious respect
US Army adds Heathen and Asatru to religious preference list
James was born in 1949 in Oakland California. He attended Skyline High School, graduating in 1967. From there, he went on to San Francisco State University where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science. Then in 1978, James graduated from the New College of California School of Law, one of the oldest public interest law school’s in the country. After passing the Bar Exam, he began practicing law in 1979 and has continued to do so ever since.Over the past three decades, James built his personal practice and became a vocal community activist. During the Vietnam war, “he operated the largest draft counseling center West of Chicago that freed over 15,000 men from the War. He later worked to help returning veterans at Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco.” In addition, he served on various boards and commissions, some Pagan and some not. He worked with “homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, sexual assault programs, drug treatment programs, legal aid offices, and after school programs for elementary school children.” His most recent work included advocating for Pagan chaplaincy in California prisons.
Outside of his professional career and activist work, James was also a dedicated and active member of the local Bay Area Pagan community and the extended national community of Druids. In 2001, he helped establish the Bay Area Pagan Alliance, becoming its first president. In 2008, he was one of the founding members of The House of Danu, a “fellowship of solitaries, seed groups, and groves of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD).” James was the Ovate of Taliesin in San Francisco, a former core member of The Spark Collective and a council member of Phoenix Fire.
For over ten years, James was also a dedicated member of the Cherry Hill Seminary faculty. His signature course was “Religion and the Law,” during which he discussed the post-911 legal structure, how to combat discrimination, First Amendment rights and more. He was scheduled to begin a new course called, “Moral Advocacy: Overcoming the Divide.” In the description, James wrote, “We are a nation divided by disinformation. Such polarization is not sustainable if we have any hope of solving the serious problems that confront our people.“
Cherry Hill Seminary Director Holli Emore said, “He was excited about the new summer course he had developed … He helped CHS set a standard for excellence in our very early years. We will all miss him more than I can say.”
If all of that work wasn’t exhaustive enough, James was also a talented musician and visual artist. He was most known for love of drumming. Trained on 23 instruments, he has a long list of credits performing at festivals and events throughout the Bay Area, including Mission Creek Music Festival, the Pagan Festival, Burning Man, the local Renaissance Festival, and the Harmony Festival. He recently performed in a House of Danu ritual at PantheaCon 2015.
In addition, James was a singer, receiving training from The Jazz School in Berkeley. He was a member of Reclaiming’s popular Spiral Dance Chorus and could sing in Latin, Lacume, Spanish, Portuguese, Zulu, Sanskrit, and Arabic.
James was a true renaissance man. He acted as a theatrical music director, a videographer and filmmaker. His film La Masquera, was screened by The San Francisco Film Society (formerly Film Arts). In addition to all of that, he was also a loving husband and father.In mid-April, James went into the hospital to check his health and medications. He was admitted immediately and found to have a MRSA staph infection that had spread to his heart. He was sent to ICU and, eventually, put on life support.
At the time, hope remained high for recovery. The House of Danu sponsored a healing event April 18, which was supported by people from all over the country. Candles were lit; prayers were said. As would be expected, there was also drumming and chanting. His son Andrew posted on the event page, “We are so very thankful for the love and energy you all are providing.”
At the same time, his wife Susannah set up a Caring Bridge account to share news and updates on James’ illness. Over the following weeks, reports continued to be promising as James seemed to be recovering from the condition. On April 24, his wife reported, “Jim is improving slowly but surely. He is receiving less sedation and is more alert.”
But then, last week, everything changed. James was taken off all life support and moved to a comfort care facility. On Monday, May 11 at 7:15pm PST, James passed away. He was surrounded by his family and closest friends. As was reported, “A Harpist played in the corridor, Druids anointed an Awen upon his forehead with the water from St Brigit’s well, and Oak branch was upon his lap. The magic mists surrounded him for his peaceful journey to Tír na mBeo (The Land of the Living), Mag Mell (Delightful Plain), and Tír na nÓg (Land of the Young),Orbis alius(Otherworld).”
Since the announcement, there as been an incredible outpouring of prayers, stories, blessings and love for a man, who had so many talents, touched so many lives, and simply dedicated himself to making the world a better place.
Druid Priest and CUUPS member John Beckett said:
James was a good friend who had big dreams for the Druid community and worked hard to make them real.
The Bay Area Pagan Alliance posted:
James was an integral part of the Pagan Alliance as our in-house counsel as well as our spiritual advisor and a commited community leader. He has helped our organization thrive as well provide services and guidance to many around the country when they were in dire need of legal and spiritual guidance … And for all of his personal outreach, he was always present and made himself available to anyone who needed help with just about anything.
Coru Cathubodua Priest Rynn Fox said:
James L. Bianchi came into my life because he heard I needed a lead drummer for my first [PantheaCon] ritual. He didn’t know me; he only knew I needed help. This is the kind of person he is.
Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) said:
James was a giving, kind man, who always took time to help others. His efforts in promoting the growth of west coast Paganism cannot be overstated. I became friends with him through the Druid community, and I will miss him greatly.
The family is currently maintaining its privacy. There has yet to be any word on a public memorial. For those who wish to send wishes and prayers, the Caring Bridge site does have a place for tributes.
What is remembered, lives.Send to Kindle
KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Attorney Robin Martinez has the cultivated voice of an old-time radio news anchor – just deep enough to be resonate, clear diction, and a confident tone. It’s undoubtedly a valuable tool when he is called upon to make oral arguments in a case, but it’s just as easy to imagine him using that powerful voice in the context of ritual magic, which is part of his Pagan practice. The values that led Martinez to Paganism are, in fact, the same ones that led him to now be involved in one of the many local court battles being fought over the Keystone XL pipeline.
Over the years, The Wild Hunt has followed the proposed tar sands pipeline, which would stretch from Alberta to Texas when completed, through the eyes of Pagans, watching from afar. Most visible to them and the rest of the public is the permit that operator TransCanada needs in order to bring the pipeline over the international border and whose fate lies with President Obama and the State Department.
Martinez has a different perspective. He is fighting on the front lines of a local skirmish that is attempting to block Trans Canada’s ability to pass through the state of South Dakota. States’ rights are alive and well in the Western US and, while Obama can halt the project in its tracks, his blessing won’t necessarily stop the ground war.
Martinez describes himself as Pagan, but not following a particular tradition. “I have a strong environmental ethic,” he said, “and a strong sense, like a lot of us who are Pagan, of the interconnectedness of all beings. It’s so much bigger than us; we’re just a part of that web.”
It’s that belief in protecting the earth and all its creatures that led him to oppose the Keystone XL personally, and his profession gave him the opportunity to do what many Pagans can’t: take it to the courts. “I have been lucky enough to have been blessed with a set of skills and abilities — and a law license — that allow me to do whatever I can to help protect the Earth from being degraded and polluted.”
Fossil fuel use and the consequences of extracting and processing it, are top on Martinez’s list of things humanity needs to stop doing if the planet is to survive, not to mention the species. The Keystone XL pipeline represents, what he considers, a particularly egregious form of fossil fuel to extract, because the thick tar sands of Alberta can’t even be put into a pipe without a lot of work. This type of oil, bitumen, is designated “sour crude” because it has a high sulfur content, and is embedded with a lot of sand. It’s extracted through a strip-mining process. Then, the sludge is heated up, so that the sand can be removed. Finally, diluents are added in order to get it flowing. According to the American Petroleum Institute, the mixture includes “natural gas condensate, naptha or a mix of other light hydrocarbons.” .
“What bothers me about the Keystone XL is that it’s an enabler of tar sands exploitation,” Martinez said. “It’s an awful process, and the tailings from separation are leeching out into what were pristine waters. It’s easy for large energy companies to engage there, because only indigenous peoples live there, and they’re bearing the brunt. The land and water damage is heinous. It’s flat-out evil.”
In South Dakota, there are also indigenous peoples in the cross hairs of history. Four Sioux tribes, among others, have joined the court case, in which Martinez is representing the organization Dakota Rural Action, a grassroots group focused on protecting agriculture and promoting conservation. “One thing I never want to lose sight of is that this is a life or death matter for them. Being an outsider to that culture, I never want to lose sight of that. They’re the ones that would bear the brunt if something were to go wrong. That’s the physical nature of pipeline slicing through those states, and what might happen to water resources in that region in the event of a breach.”
One of the causes of pipeline breaches is the corrosiveness of the product shipped through them. Industry documents on tar sands maintain that diluted bitumen, or dilbit, is not more corrosive than other petroleum products. However, according to Scientific American, the processes, which remove sand and add dilutents, create “the most viscous, sulfurous and acidic form of oil produced today.” That is one reason that the physical nature of the pipeline is of great interest.
To make matters more worrisome, Martinez calculates that, between federal and state regulators, there will only be one inspector for every 5,800 miles of pipeline. In addition, the highly-specialized skills needed to become an inspector make the regulators subject to the revolving door known as “regulatory capture.” Consequently, Martinez refers to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration as “the little agency that couldn’t.” He is focusing on the engineering aspects of the pipeline, and will seek to make the case that the risk of breaches is unacceptably high.
This is not Martinez’s first time defending ideals which are aligned with his world view. He’s an active member of the National Lawyers Guild, first set up in the 1920s when the American Bar Association refused admittance to Jewish attorneys, and those of color. From the guild’s website, “We seek to unite the lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective force in the service of the people, to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests.” Martinez said that he met his co-counsel for this particular case, Bruce Ellison, because they served together on the NLG’s environmental committee in the Midwest region. Ellison has considerable experience representing indigenous tribes.
In South Dakota, a quirky law interacting with national politics provided Martinez with a legal opportunity. “The permit was granted in 2010 with very little opposition from the public utilities commission.” he explained. However, “if work was not started within four years, it must be recertified.” Work on that section of pipeline was likely delayed to see if Obama would approve the permit to cross the border.
“All of a sudden, there was grassroots opposition. Farmers and ranches, four major tribes, Bold Nebraska, my client Dakota Rural Action” rallied in the interest of property rights, water security, and in defense of cultural heritage, which would be disrupted by this massive project. Even so, it has been an uphill battle against a well-entrenched opponent. Martinez is working the case pro bono, which he admits has “taken a chunk out of my income for this year.”
South Dakota is one of the poorest regions in the country, so there is still a big difference in how much money each side can bring to the table. “We’re scrambling to find $20,000 to pay for expert witnesses,” Martinez said. “The CEO of TransCanada can find that in his couch.”
There’s also the hurdle of the “Chevron deference,” a legal standard which arose from a 1984 Supreme Court decision. The EPA under George W. Bush began using a more relaxed interpretation of the Clean Air Act, prompting the National Resources Defense Council to sue. The court determined that, so long as the interpretation is reasonable under the law, courts should defer to the administrative expertise of the body doing the interpreting.
In this particular case, the administrative body is the South Dakota Public Utilities Board, which must balance the public interest in the energy security and jobs promised by pipeline supporters against the risk of environmental and socioeconomic damage highlighted by opponents. Preparing for the case includes wading through thousands of documents provided by TransCanada, many of which the company wants kept confidential. “Some of them I agree on, like the details of cultural surveys of paleolithic sites, because they’d essentially become a treasure map. Other, like worst-case spill scenarios, we’re arguing over.”
Look for a media push from the South Dakota tribes. Members of the four major Sioux nations will be riding into the state capital from four directions on horseback and gathering for a huge rally. The effort is in recognition of how difficult a fight this will be, but even while the deck may seem stacked against the local effort, President Obama can change all of that with the stroke of a pen. “If Obama denies the permit, I would file a motion to dismiss the next day,” Martinez said. How victory is achieved doesn’t matter to this attorney, who is confident that “the fight would go on without me.” What does matter, and guides him as he sifts through documents and develops a legal strategy, is a simple concept: “Our Earth is a sacred place.”Send to Kindle
It was recently announced that writer and teacher Rachel Pollack was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Pollack is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Tarot and has written numerous books on the subject, as well as many fiction novels. In addition, she is a respected comic book writer who, according to one report, gave DC Comics its first transgender character in the Doom Patrol series. Pollack’s next book, a novel titled The Child Eater, is due to be released in July.
In addition, Pollack is a regular and welcome presenter at the annual PantheaCon conference in San Jose. In 2012, she offered a class called “Tarot–Prophecy, Catastrophe, and Rebirth.” In 2013, her talk was titled, “Who are the Gods and Goddesses of Tarot and How Do We Honor Them.”
On May 6, Charles Hale began a GoFundMe campaign to help cover Pollack’s medical bills. He wrote, “Living with cancer can be expensive, even with health insurance. Because Rachel is too sick to work, she needs help paying medical and living expenses. Anyone that has known anyone with cancer knows how expensive even the most basic care and medication can be.” In just five short days, the campaign has raised nearly $16,000 dollars of the $25,000 requested.
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In March, we reported that the Conway Pagan Pride Day (CPPD) had run up against significant problems that threatened its future. The new Arkansas-based organization had just hosted its first Pride Day in October. The event was reportedly very successful. However, in the following months, the town of Conway instituted new ordinances that prohibited vendors from selling on city park property. Because the group does not have the means to rent private, more expensive facilities, CPPD organizers were fearful that they would not be able to host a 2015 event.
This past week, CPPD happily announced that the issues have been resolved, and Pagan Pride Day will be held on October 24. The organization reported that “Conway’s current mayor was an advocate for us and gave us voice in the political arena. We are so fortunate to have the support of the area and beyond the borders of Conway, Arkansas.”
In an email to The Wild Hunt, organizers explained, “Arkansas at times can be difficult to navigate in terms of beliefs and support,” pointing to the perception that the state is inhospitable to Pagans. However, they stressed that they have seen the opposite in this struggle, with interfaith groups, government, law enforcement, food banks and residents, helping them in their cause. CPPD added, “There is a new hope for the community in Arkansas. It takes one brick at a time, but as a family we will lay the foundation for generations to come.”
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This past weekend marked the return of the Pagan Festival in Berkeley, California. Hosted by the Bay Area Pagan Alliance, the event hasn’t been held since 2012. After a three year hiatus, the organization revived it for 2015.
Held in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park, the festival was themed “Spirituality through Service” and featured the 2012 Keeper of the Light, T. Thorn Coyle, ritually passing the staff and lantern to the 2015 Keeper, Crystal Blanton. The Pagan Alliance explains that “The magical intention of the passing of the staff and gifting of the lantern is to lend strength and support to Priestess Crystal Blanton to enable her to continue her work –not only for our Pagan community, but all of the communities she serves throughout the Bay Area– and to do this work in good health, integrity, prosperity, and love.”
Throughout the day, current and past Keepers spoke including Blanton, Coyle, M. Macha Nightmare, and Yeshe Matthews Rabbit. In addition, there were performances, dances, talks, book signings, vendors and more. The event was reported to be a huge success. On her blog, Annika Mongan wrote about her own experiences from the day, saying, “To me the festival was a celebration of the beauty of our community, a call to action, a promise of renewal, and a testimony to our city that we are here, we care, we invoke Justice and in service to this city, the Bay Area, and beyond.”
In Other News:
- The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment now has 3,630 signatures, hailing from all over the world. In addition, the statement has been translated, to date, into six languages, with more in the works. People of many religions have digitally signed the document, including a variety of Pagans, Heathens, and Polytheists, as well as non-affiliated people and even Christians. Organizers are aiming for 10,000 signatures by mid-summer.
- Writer and artist Gypsey Teague unexpectedly found her latest book listed as a “top summer pick” for 2015. On May 3, New York Daily News published its buying guide, “Summer cool new books and hot summer looks for a smart summer.” In the “young adult” section, Teague’s book, titled The Witch’s Guide to Wands: A Complete Botanical, Magical, and Elemental Guide to Making, Choosing, and Using the Right Wand, made runner-up. Ironically, the book that beat it out for first place is a young adult novel titled, The Witch Hunter.
- In another mainstream news article, Four Quarters Farm was featured for its unique community. The Washington Post wrote about the sanctuary the article, “The 250-acre church nurturing faith and free spirits in the foothills of Pennsylvania.” The Post included a large number of photos depicting daily life and worship at the sanctuary. Readers might remember Four Quarters from its March 30 announcement of the purchase of an additional 110-acres of land.
- Ian Corrigan’s blog, Into the Mound, has moved to the Patheos Pagan Channel. After eight years of blogging independently, he joins the group of respected bloggers who make up the Patheos forum. In his first post, Corrigan wrote, “There will be a bit of a jar for me, as we move from that comfy burrow to new digs, and I hope many of my long-time readers will find this new setting pleasant. Please bear with me as I ken the new platform’s formatting, and learn to make pretty posts.”
- Coru Cathubodua and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus have announced that they will be teaming up to host an online course called, Poetic Ways: Cultivating the Practice of Filidecht. The four month course, starting in July, will include “basic fili poetic practices, history, and arts, including poetry, prophecy, extemporaneous song, and much more.” Information and registration is currently live and online on Coru Cathubodua’s website.
That’s it for now. Have a great day!Send to Kindle
Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. The widely celebrated secular holiday is one that honors mothers, mothers-to-be and any mother figures in our lives. For some, this may include grandmothers, aunts, teachers, guardians, Priestesses and anyone that has taken on that maternal role. Last May, Starhawk wrote:
On this Mother’s Day, let us also remember the many, many types of mothering: stepmothers, wicked and otherwise, adoptive mothers, birthmothers, mothers who have lost their children, mothers of projects, plans, movements and creative ideas, aunties and mentors and advisors, mothers of fluid and changing gender, and of course, that mother who sustains and nurtures us all, our Mother Earth! What will it take to create a world that truly honors mothering, nurturing, caring in all its forms?
In past years, The Wild Hunt has reported on the holiday’s fascinating birth story, which began in the late 1800s. Early in that history, the Mother’s Day celebration succumbed to excessive American commercialism, which drove one of its founders, Anna Jarvis, into isolation and depression. And, that commercial appeal has not waivered over the last century. Stores across the United States and online have been happily advertising sales on everything from jewelry and shoes to plane flights and alcohol. All in the name of mom!
Despite this fact, the holiday does have roots that are far deeper and more soul stirring than the simple niceties of white carnations and overpriced orchids. Mother’s Day was originally born out of the early Feminist and Women’s Rights movements. It was fueled by American women’s need to stand against destructive political powers, while simultaneously uplifting the role and value of women in society. As written in The Wild Hunt 2013:
After seeing the horrors of the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe, a suffragist, abolitionist, writer and poet, began an aggressive campaign for a national Mother’s Day. On the second Sunday in June of 1870, Howe made a passionate plea for peace and proclaimed the day Mother’s Peace Day.
Howe was specifically pushing for a national peace day, asking women to take a stand against the patriarchy or what she termed “irrelevant agencies.” Mother’s Day was first born from the horrors of war and, then, propelled for ten years by women activists. In the original Mother’s Day protest letter, Howe wrote, “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience.” To modern ears, the phrase almost has undercurrents of Twisted Sister’s rock anthem “We’re not gonna take it.”This spirit and this voice can be heard today in the cries of many women living in both the Unites States and around the world. It is a primal defiance, living at the root of motherhood, in order to protect the future.
Mother’s Day’s radical beginnings have largely been lost in time and buried under pounds of tulle and floral bouquets. Despite the aggressive commercialism, some Americans do find ways to connect with a deeper meaning. For many families, it is simply a day to come together and honor the contributions and sacrifices of the mothers in their lives; to say, “Thanks.”
For others, it is also a day to take stock of how motherhood has changed their own lives. Just as the celebration itself was born of radical intent, motherhood is often accompanied by radical personal transformations.
Blogger Niki Whiting, a student of the Anderson Faery tradition and Tantra, explained how giving birth and motherhood drastically altered her life. She said:
My first pregnancy grounded me in surprising ways. My theology was no longer abstract and mental gymnastics – it was rooted in my body and physical being. I grew a human being and the mystical understanding of the line “in you we live, move, and have our being” unfolded for me.
Birthing, even my uncomplicated, straightforward births, was a walk between the worlds, an edge-walking that opened my senses to the mystery of life and death that is ever present.
Whiting has as three children, a nearly 7 year old son, and two daughters, 4 and 1. She said that, since having the children, her priorities have been “refined.” She added:
My spiritual practices take new shape, but still exist. I stopped working with one deity, because she was not amenable to children; I have found that other deities that love children and some don’t care one way or the other. I also have to walk my talk in a new way. What I really believe about the world – about trees, spirits, ghosts, spiders, you name it – is reflected in how I teach my kids about those same things. They watch what I do, they hear what I say.
Author Christine Hoff Kraemer is a practitioner of religious Witchcraft and mother to one nineteen-month-old. Like Whiting, pregnancy and motherhood have significantly shifted her priorities and daily focus. Kraemer said:
For me, mothering is all about the mysteries of flesh. I mean that literally — my days are all about dealing with a tiny person’s bodily fluids while making sure he eats, drinks, and gets enough exercise. But it’s profound, too, to be so close to a new consciousness that’s encountering the world for the first time — and no one shapes his environment as profoundly as I do. It’s a huge responsibility.
I find I’m not able to do much spirit or psychic work in this phase of my life, because I have to be so focused on the present moment and on what’s materially in front of me. And also, I can’t overstate how much becoming a mother has changed my priorities, even changed my interests. Parenting is the most satisfying work I’ve ever done, so everything else in my life has had to make room for that focus.
Rayna Templebee, a Witch and mother of two boys ages 17 and 19, commented on the powerful connections made when becoming a mother. She said:
I was a Witch before becoming a mom, but motherhood deepened my connection to spirit in so many ways. First, just the birth experience itself–knowing how many cultures around the world and through time have honored the creative force of the female body to bring forth life gave me extra determination to have my babies born naturally at home…I built altars to all the mothers in my ancestral lines and called on them to help me birth healthy, happy babies …
As the boys have grown up, it has been amazing fun to share the wonderment of nature together, and eventually to do ritual together as part of our Pagan community. Parenting is a deeply spiritual growth process …
Like Templebee, Jessica Mortimer, a Wiccan member of the Willow Dragonstone Community, was a Witch prior to having her two daughters ages 5 and 8. Mortimer said:
I always knew I wanted to raise my family with an open mind and heart to all paths. Once I had my first daughter it was clear to me what my purpose in life was – to be a mom and make a difference in the world by teaching them to have that open heart and mind.
In the last two years my practice has changed from just a personal practice to a family coven path … our life style has changed in a way that we live and breathe our path each day from having dinner together to our involvement in the Pagan community, to bedtime stories of the very different religious paths.
While the process of becoming a mother and the experiences of motherhood are deeply spiritual in many ways, only one of the women said that her Mother’s Day celebration includes any religious-specific observance. Mortimer explained that her family performs a small ritual to honor the Mother Goddess, during which everyone has to give thanks. Her young daughters typically express thanks for trees, animals, food and family.
In addition, Templebee did note that she observes a unique Mother’s Day tradition, albeit non-religious, “to drink a margarita with as many other mothers as [she] can, and toast [their] collective accomplishments.”
Motherhood is a journey shared across time and even species, which can radically alter one’s life many times over. And, at the same time, motherhood or mothers can influence and even radically change society through both subtle and overt methods. Howe wrote, “Arise, all women who have hearts … Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.” She adds, “Let [mothers] meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…”
In recent years, there has been ample discussions about rewilding our lives, rediscovering the radical elements in our religions or the Craft and unleashing the unbound nature of humanity. This push is not limited to the collective Pagan, Polytheist and Heathen movements, and can be found in others sectors of today’s society. Mother’s Day and its radical history provide yet another opportunity to embrace this philosophy as it applies to an otherwise commonplace, secular, annual event. Along with the cards, flowers and even Motherhood Margaritas, this celebration offers the space needed to consider the radical nature of Motherhood, both at the personal and social level. Because within the essence of its history and near to its very core, Mother’s Day is as much about revolution as it is about roses.Send to Kindle
With the start of May, students are looking toward what they’re going to do this summer. Perhaps it’s an internship or, with June graduations looming, a full-time job. Which means that (if you haven’t already started) it’s time to update resumes and portfolios.
Common sense dictates that you leave any mention of religion off a resume. Common sense also dictates that if you’re unemployed, or if your portfolio is lacking, that you should volunteer to develop new skills and fill in holes in employment.Online resume writing tips spout the same advice. “Don’t talk about religion,” suggests CBS in the article “How to Write a Resume: Dos and Don’ts.” But do talk about volunteer work. Some of articles, like one at The Muse even touch on both. However, they often fail to recognize that that these two things can be at direct odds.
This problem isn’t specific to one generation, or even one group of people. However it is something that affects a lot of young people and those right out of college. Job opportunities are scarce; especially if you don’t already have job experience. Volunteering with a local church, coven, or grove can be a great way to connect with people who share your faith while developing the skills needed for your professional life.
But when it comes time to write your resume and build your portfolio, what do you do? Include religion-based volunteer work, or not? Maybe you skirt around the issue? For example, you might include “Webmaster of a religious club at college,” or “Volunteered as an accountant at my church.” These statements can be true and relevant to the position you’re applying for without going into detail.
What about times that require that you to be more specific? The Artisan Blog recommends that nothing older than five years be shown to your potential employer, and that you put out new work regularly. Do you include the poster you designed for a sabbat? Could that be slipped into the mix without raising any questions? What about if you write a column for a Pagan publication,like The Wild Hunt or Patheos, that talks about your experiences as a Pagan?
As for me, I have chosen to currently display all of my written work on my digital portfolio. It’s a risk.
In the United States, It’s illegal for employers to discriminate based on religion, in either the workplace or during the hiring process. As stated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “the law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring…” But that does not mean it doesn’t happen. Some places just throw out or ignore resumes and portfolios that mention religion at all to avoid having the EEOC checking in on their hiring practices. If your resume makes it past that stage, you still might trigger prejudice in a hiring manager.
When talking about her decision to include information about her religion in her resume, Rose Quartz, a graduate student at Mills College and founder of the Mills Pagan Alliance, said: “Anti-discrimination legislation stipulates that to refuse someone a job based on religious affiliation is illegal, but we all know how that can play out in real life. Statistics and studies have shown that biases remain strong.”
The book Pagans and the Law by Dana D. Eilers discusses a Pagan’s employment rights under the First Amendment. However, Eilers only talks about what happens after you’re employed with regard to job-based discrimination. More specifically, she talks about the burden of proof required to successfully file suit. If you end up filing a lawsuit against a former employer, you have to, among other things, prove that the company knew you are Pagan. Eilers writes:
The problem that most Pagans struggle with in a case of job-related religious discrimination or harrassment is actually standing up for themselves, which will mean coming out of the broom closet and being aggressive in the pursuit of their rights,
This begs a question. How does a resume or portfolio with a religious affiliation clearly laid out factor into this burden of proof?
Going back to the original discussion. What happens when a Pagan is denied a job due to being Pagan? If you can prove that a potential employer knows you are Pagan, you then have to prove that you did not get the job because you are Pagan. It is not enough to say “I am Pagan and I did not get the job.” You have to be able to prove “I did not get the job because I am Pagan.” Correlation does not imply causation.
Outing yourself on a resume is a personal choice that must be carefully considered. Many factors go into making that decision. Location will factor into it, for example. II would never do so in my home town in North Carolina, but I didn’t think twice when presented with the same choice in western Washington.
Another factor might be the type of company to which you’re applying. There are situations when companies design products for churches, and, while they may not specifically be a religious, their roots may run deep with a specific religion.
But this raises yet another question. If do you have the choice, do you want to have to hide who you are to be able to work at that company?
In the end, Rose Quartz, had this to say about her own decision to stay “out of the broom closet” on her resume, “Ultimately, I am proud of what I have accomplished at Mills – every single part of it – and refuse to be any less than I am, even if that meant taking the risk of keeping that club name on my resume.”Send to Kindle
[Author’s Note: Before we get into the column: this summer I am looking for second-generation Pagans of all stripes for a series of profiles. Much of my material comes from thinking through my own life as someone who was raised by witches, but I’m interested in getting the stories and perspectives of other children of Pagans. The profiles will, of course, respect the wishes of anyone who chooses to remain anonymous or only known by a craft name. Interested parties should send an email to email@example.com or on my Facebook page. Now, on with the column.]
I have never known much about saints, nor have I worried about my ignorance of them. They belonged to a religion that was foreign to my own and were bound up in traditions that meant nothing to me, so I had little incentive to study them. Although I grew up in a Catholic city and had many Catholic friends, I never had reason to engage with Catholicism itself. But I do study Old English, and the way my university is set up, there would only one graduate seminar in Old English literature offered during the two years of my PhD coursework – and that seminar was about the lives of saints. In particular, the course studied a group of obscure Old English texts with no authors, simply called the anonymous saints’ lives (as opposed to the body of saints’ lives written by Ælfric, one of the best-attested authors in the literature.) It sounded painful. I signed up anyway.
My apprehensions weren’t assuaged by the class’s first readings. “Certainly Ælfric regarded himself as the apologist of the universal church,” says Michael LaPidge, an expert on these texts, “and it would have been no compliment to tell him that his hagiography imparted individual characteristics to individual saints. On the contrary, Ælfric would wish his saints to be seen merely as vessels of God’s divine design on earth, indistinguishable as such one from the other… hence it did not matter whether the saint was tall or short, fair or bald, fat or thin, blonde or brunette. In a sense it did not matter whether he was named Cletus or Clement, Narcissus or Nicasius.”
No wonder nobody wants to read these stories, I remember thinking. They’ve stripped out everything interesting for the sake of uniformity. Come to think of it, this has been my critique about everything involving monotheism.
Thankfully the texts weren’t quite as boring as I anticipated – the anonymous saints’ lives actually feature a variety of strange goings-on, perhaps because their authors did not share Ælfric’s love for universality. We read of time-traveling saints, cowardly and lazy saints, transvestite (and perhaps transgender) saints, even one saint who literally exploded out of the belly of a dragon named Rufus.
That said, although there was novelty to be found, most of the saints’ lives tended to follow a formula: the saint, born to noble pagans, rejects paganism and turns to Christianity. There the stories divide into two broad camps. In the passio genre, the saints are brought before a cruel pagan ruler, who offers them the choice to renounce their Christian faith or die; inevitably they choose to die, because that is what makes them saints. In the confessio genre, instead of martyring themselves for their faith, the saints go into solitude, denying themselves the temptations of this world. They earn their sainthood through asceticism, which is often represented as an attack by demonic forces which are repelled through their faith, in imitation of the first saint of this type, St. Anthony.
Reading literature like this is always difficult for me – it reminds me of my own otherness. The point of a saint’s life is to imagine oneself as the saint, who is in turn an emulation of God, a winding chain of models to base one’s own existence around. But I do not find connections with the saints; I know too well that they don’t belong to me. When I read these stories, I find myself thinking only of the fallen world surrounding the saint and seeing myself in that image: my face on the head of the saint’s noble-yet-damned father, my hands holding the pagan executioner’s tools. Saint’s lives are supposed to invite the reader into their moral universe, but instead, I find myself reluctantly siding with the saint’s enemies, no matter how cruelly they are described. I can’t help it. They – the fiends, the heathens – are my people.
Intellectually, I know that the “paganism” represented by Christian literature is at best a distortion of actual ancient paganism, and more often just slander – and that, in any case, the paganism of the ancient world is not the Paganism I have grown up within. I can counterfeit dispassionate analysis of these subjects in conversation and writing. But the truth is that the whole process is tremendously alienating. Perhaps this is the danger of investing so heavily in a single world to describe oneself: I can’t help but associate with the villains of these stories, even if they are vicious caricatures. They still remind me of myself.
As I write this, morning birds are singing in my back yard, which makes me think of an episode from a poem about St. Guthlac, one of Anglo-Saxon England’s home-grown saints. Guthlac, like St. Anthony, wanted to deny the world of man and goes off to live in seclusion on a hill in the wastes, so that he can better contemplate God. He is, like the other hermit-saints, assaulted by hordes of demons who hope to tempt him away from the righteous path, and failing that, to assail, torture, and distract him from his holy purpose.
Guthlac, being a saint, endures their attacks, and with the help of another saint, Bartholomew, he expels the demons from his land. Once the demons are gone, his only companions are birds, many kinds of them, who bless Guthlac with their songs. One of the poem’s final images is of Guthlac feeding the birds, perhaps anticipating St. Francis, who would preach to those same creatures some centuries later. “So that gentle spirit detached himself from the joys of mankind,” the poem says, “served the Lord, and took pleasure in the wild animals, after he had rejected this world.” Guthlac the Saint lives in a world populated by demons and songbirds; and I suspect I must be one of these things myself, but I cannot say which.Send to Kindle
“I’m doing this ride because I can,” Erik Walton
Twenty-six years ago, Erik Walton, an eclectic Wiccan living in San Diego, received the most dreaded diagnosis of the time; he was HIV positive. By 1996 his health had deteriorated to the point that he collapsed at work with viral pneumonia. Walton had lost a great deal of weight and his t-cells, a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight off infections, had dropped to fifty-five. He could barely walk, and his doctors didn’t hold out much hope.
Then Walton decided to take his health into his own hands. He explained, “Due to my being open to alternative therapies, I went to see a friend who was part of the Holistic AIDS project in San Francisco. She was an Acupuncturist/Reiki master and gave me moxa/electro therapy three times a week for the next six months.” Walton recovered, but he was no longer able to be on his feet for long periods of time.
During this time, Walton watched his close circle of friends die from AIDS. “Little by little, one by one, people started becoming ill and dying. I’d say at least 90% of the original group is gone because of AIDS. By about 2005, myself and [my best friend] Paul were the only two left of the original group that we knew from that time.” Then, in 2008, Paul died.
During this tough period of time, Walton had joined the Circle Angkur, part of the eclectic tradition. He strengthened in his spirituality and eventually was Priested in that tradition. He started taking on leadership roles, including counseling others, with the encouragement of his High Priest.
By 2011, Walton weighed 250 lbs and could not lose any weight due to abnormal fat distribution, lipodystrophy, a side effect of the medications which had saved his life. Between the extra weight and the pain from standing too long, he said that he’d pretty much resigned himself to being inactive.
Then his doctor put him on a new drug, which helped to reduce the extra fat. He said, “I lost weight, so I decided if I couldn’t jog, dance, ski, etc, I would buy a bike. I started riding everywhere, longer and longer and the weight came off.”
Spurred on by his growing leadership in his tradition, continued grief over losing his best friend, and a need to regain his health, Walton did something incredibly challenging. He signed up to participate in a 7 day, 545 mile bike ride called AIDS Lifecycle: Riding to End AIDS/HIV. This event is a fundraiser, and the 2500 participants ride their bikes from San Francisco to Los Angeles.The AIDS Lifecycle ride isn’t a race; it’s a rolling campground of 2500 riders and 500 staff. Riders average 80 to 100 miles per day. “You wake up at 4:30 pack your gear into the truck, which takes it to the next stop. You eat breakfast and are on the road by 6-6:30. There are rest stops every 15-20 miles each have a “theme” such as Star Wars, My Little Pony, Disney princesses,” Walton explained.
He added that everyone has a good time and receives encouragement from the locals. “People hold up signs, pass out refreshments, while passing through the farms, workers bow and take off their hats to us. There’s the “cookie lady” who starts baking in March, she gives out homemade cookies to all of the riders. Her son passed from AIDS in the 90s so she does it to honor his memory. There’s the “Chicken Lady” who is a rider who lost his best friend. He dresses up that way because his friend said he was “too chicken” to do the ride. He leaves eggs with words of encouragement on people’s bike seats so you see them before you start your ride in the morning.“
Walton does the AIDS Lifecycle ride to honor the over 200 friends that he has lost to AIDS, but especially to honor his best friend, Paul. “Paul was an amazingly talented, creative person. He was a special effects designer who had worked for the studios and later had his own business. He introduced me to so many people, and we shared so many amazing experiences together. He was the older brother I never had, even [though] he was 9 months younger than me! He had a bad break up in the early 2000s and never really recovered from it. He got involved in some self destructive behaviors and didn’t take care of himself. When he passed in 2008, we had known each other 27 years, I was devastated. When I started [Riding to End AIDS/HIV], I knew it was something he would have egged me on to do. He was an avid skier, even until the end. I know we would have had a blast doing it together so that’s why I dedicate every ride to him. I know he’s watching over me and helping me when I get discouraged.”
Walton said that the camaraderie and shared positive energy is amazing and the ride has been a life changing experience for him. “Knowing that I’ve done this, that I’ve endured heat, wet, rain, cold, wind,and kept on going, has truly made me a much stronger person. The energy from the elements, there’s nothing like it. Feeling the wind at your back, I feel like I’m flying. The elements and I do have conversations when things are difficult to deal with, [but] being on a bicycle you experience so much more of nature, the mountains, vineyards, the amazing California coastline, you’re never so close to nature. You can forget all about your discomfort and just be amazed by the beauty of it all, and being a part of it.”
Walton has only missed one year of the ride, in 2013, due to challenges with his health. He said that it was a bit of a wake-up call regarding the state of his health. He had health issues again this year, but has been training hard. This year he is a Team Ride Leader, responsible for the safety and well-being of other people on training rides.
Since the event is a fundraiser to help find a cure for AIDS, Walton is also responsible for raising $5000 in donations prior to the May 31 start to the ride. As of publication, he’s 25% of the way to his goal.
“I want to do this until we don’t need to anymore,” said Walton, “That’s why the fund raising is equally important.”Send to Kindle
There are lots of articles and news of interest to modern Pagans out there – more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.
On May 1, VICE Media published an article titled, “How a Thor Worshipping Religion Turned Racist.” Writer Rick Paulas writes, “Together, Odinism and Asatru constitute the largest non-Christian religion in Iceland, officially recognized by Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It’s gaining steam in America, too, where Thor’s Hammer is now allowed to be carved onto military gravestones and prisoners are granted special accommodations to carry out rituals … But there’s a dark side, too.” He goes on to discuss “the way that [Odinism] became a religion entangled with racism, exclusion, and American prison culture.”
Within hours of publication, the article triggered responses from a number of Heathen individuals and organizations. For example, in the article’s comments, Steven T Abell, steersman of The Troth, called the piece “poorly-researched, poorly-written.” Josh Heath, co-director of the Open Halls Project, agreed, saying, “There is so much wrong in this article.” He also pointed out that interviewee Josh Rood was misquoted.
Rood himself confirmed Heath’s assertion. In a Facebook post, Rood said, “There are a few huge things that I want to publicly make as clear as possible….and this is the only venue I really have to do that. I do not ‘teach an Old Norse Religion MA program’ … I am a student…” Rood also added that he had tried to be as clear as possible in the interview, suggesting that some of his words were used out of context.
Heathens United Against Racism voiced its own objections through an open letter to VICE, which was published and shared over social media and sent directly to the news outlet. The letter asks the editors to retool the article because “the problem is much more complicated” than expressed. HUAR has not yet received a response.
In other news…
- In 2011, the Queen of Norway unveiled The Steilneset Memorial located in the small town of Vardø. The monument was erected to honor the 91 witches who were killed “nearly 400 years ago” in the town’s notorious witch trials. Although built and opened four years ago, the town’s history and news of the monument have once again captured media interest and generated a few news stories.
- The Indian Network reported last month that more than a dozen Native actors and actresses walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous Six. They felt that “the satirical western’s script repeatedly insulted native women and elders and grossly misrepresented Apache culture.” Over the past two weeks, the story gained momentum and hit many major news outlets. The Indian Network continued to follow story. On May 1, it published an interview with Apache Culture Consultant Bruce Klinekole, who “was one of the key dissenters.” Klinekole explains why he joined the walk-out. In another article, The Indian Network reports that Native actor Ricky Lee called the entire controversy “overblown.” Additionally, a Care2 petition was started by protestor Allie Young, asking Sandler to change the script. It’s goal is 56,000 signatures of which it has already earned has 55, 611. Sandler has not made any public comment on the issue.
- On April 15, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled “that a small town in Quebec may not open its council meetings with prayer.” In direct contrast to last year’s ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, Canadian law now prohibits any prayer or invocation before a state body. According to the RNS report, the Canadian Supreme Court explained that “the country’s social mores have ‘given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favor nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non belief.'”
- In other religious freedom news, Tennessee lawmakers have attempted to push through HB615, which would designate the Bible as the state’s official book. On April 15, the House approved the bill 55-38, advancing it to the Senate. Despite a strong show of support, the bill was then sent back to committee, putting it on-hold for at least another year. According to the local Knoxville News-Sentinel, Senator Majority Leader Mark Norris said to his fellow committee members during the debates, “For God’s sake, think about where you’re headed.”
- Continuing on the religious freedom theme, a Missouri woman is attempting to use RFRA laws to be exempted from the state’s abortion regulations. “Mary,” as she is publicly known, is a member of the St. Louis branch of the The Satanic Temple, and reached out to the national organization for help. In a press release, the organization explained,”that [Mary’s] deeply held beliefs would be violated if she is forced to receive inaccurate information as required by the State, and if she is forced to endure a mandated 72 hour waiting period.” The Temple is also raising funds to help Mary through the process.
- Choreographer and dancer Keith Hennessey has been travelling with a new exhibition called Bear/Skin, which confronts recent social and political problems in the United States. In this piece, Hennessey uses his own Pagan and feminist beliefs to construct the performance’s narrative. He also uses parts of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring,” to which he said that he had “to reconcile his relationship” through his spiritual beliefs. The next and final performance will be in Toronto as part of a trio of dance exhibitions titled, “Capitalism, Sex and Magic.”
- During spring, many small towns engage in, what the media often label, “ancient Pagan rituals.” These are regional and traditional folk celebrations that typically mark the changing of the seasons. Two that were recently featured include Germany’s “Osterraederlauf” in Luegde and Poland’s ‘Smigus-Dyngus‘ festival. Both are annual festivals that have been, reportedly, celebrated for centuries. During Osterraederlauf, locals set fire to six large wooden wheels and roll them down a hill. The wheels and fire are said to bless the farmers with good luck. For Smigus-Dyngus, or Watery Monday, locals dress in festive clothing, while young boys throw water on young girls and spank them with willow branches in hopes of increasing their marriage chances.
- In Florida, Rollins College Provost Carol Bresnahan has developed a continuing education class on “the history of witchcraft and magic.” The course, taught for the Rollins College Center of Lifelong Learning at the Hamilton Holt School, has no grades or homework. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, “During class, [for example] they talk about how people believed witches slept with the devil. They read through a 15th-century witch-hunting manual [Malleus Maleficarum] …” The class has been very popular, which initially surprised Bresnahan. One student is quoted as saying, “I’ve always been interested in witches, and I don’t know why.” On its site, the Sentinel published a short video interview with the provost.
- And, the Beltane celebrations are well-underway. The Grove of Gaia Fest was held last weekend in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with record levels of attendance. In addition to its traditional May Pole dance, festival goers happily participated in a wild color toss to welcome the Merry Month of May.
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KIEV, Ukraine –On April 30, two thousand witches were expected to gather publicly to work for peace in a land that has been rocked by Russian-backed rebellion. Despite the size of the event, only minimal information about it made its way out of the Ukraine. Fialkora Mykytenko, national coordinator for PFI Ukraine, posted an announcement of it in her native Ukrainian. Here is a translation:
On April 30, Walpurgis Night, a (witches’) sabbath will be held in Kiev, with the official approval of the Defense Ministry, and with two thousand people in attendance.
The organizers’ web page indicates that this will be the first such massive gathering of practitioners of magick, psychics, healers, and representatives from a wide range of esoteric cultures.The ceremony will be directed toward the restoration of peace and harmony in the territory of Ukraine and the adjoining nations, and be based on the time-honored rituals of civilizations throughout the world. The venue will be Mikhalovskii Square.
Everyone who values the destiny of Ukraine, everyone who wishes peace in our land is urged to attend, and bring protective charms which they have created with love, using their own hands. After a mass energetic charging of these charms, they will be sent to areas of Anti-terrorist Operations. Over 2,000 of the strongest magickal masters will come to call on the highest powers to put an end to the war.
This action is officially supported by the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine and “the union of veterans of anti-terrorist operations.” Registration and individual gatherings of witches, sorcerers and others will take place on Mount Shchekavits, on the site of an ancient abandoned cemetery of plague victims, which the organizers describe as a place of unimaginable power.
The event, organized by shaman Sergei “Sabirius” Grechishkin, was scheduled to take place in Mikhailovsky Square, which is nestled between St. Mikhail’s Golden-Domed Monastery and Saint Sophia’s Cathedral.The ritual itself was described by one source as a moleben, which is a “traditional Eastern Orthodox prayer service . . . widely practiced in Russia and Ukraine.” Sabirius told the news site Vesti more about the event’s structure and intentions:
It will be a joint appeal to the higher forces. Each of us will do it in his own way. We will ask them to help people to recover from this bloody attack of anger and hatred and save those who found themselves in this wild bloodbath. The second ritual is a “charging up” of protective amulets for the warriors and residents in the conflict zone, which will then protect people from bullets, frags, knives and batons,” he says.
While the Defense Ministry may have sanctioned the gathering, reports in advance of it indicated that the mayor of Kiev had not officially acknowledged it. Father Ivan, deacon at St. Mikhail, wasn’t aware of the plan until contacted by reporters. When asked, he is quoted as saying, “There’s nothing bad about people planning to pray for peace in Ukraine. … [but] people pray for peace in church. . . . You mustn’t forget that apart from God, there is also the devil, who can, via [psychics, shamans, witches and warlocks], create what at first glance looks like good things which then turn out to have been made using dark powers.”
According to local reports, only few dozen practitioners actually showed up. But those that did come out were surprised to find that the city had scheduled a concert in the square for the same time, and they were also reportedly met with hostility from bystanders. Their prayer for peace, drowned out by music, only lasted a few minutes.
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The Seeker’s Temple, based in Beebe Arkansas, has announced that it is closing its doors. In a Facebook statement, High Priest Bertram Dahl said, “The city of Beebe has not only managed to make things too difficult to stay open here, but are also attacking us personally and threatening the life of our family.” Tonight will be its final public meeting.
As we reported in June 2014, Dahl, with his wife Felicia, had moved to Beebe, where they re-established the Seeker’s Temple. After some time, the Dahls found themselves at the center of a local controversy due to ongoing conflicts with both the town and a neighboring church. As noted by the Temple’s announcement, those problems never ended. In a recent post, Dahl reports that many of his outdoor statuary were vandalized.
Despite the closure of the Beebe temple, Dahl did suggest that his days as a High Priest are not over. After the Dahl family relocates to South Carolina, he will reopen the Seeker’s Temple. In addition, he and his wife will be “appearing” at Tennessee’s Pagan Unity Festival and, as he noted, the “online pages will remain the same (Beebe can’t stop that).”
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The Patrick McCollum Foundation has provided further detail on its work to help victims of the Nepal Earthquake. Rev. McCollum said that the group has “forwarded all donations made so far to our team members in the area” where relief is in progress. “All monies are being used to purchase tents, blankets, medical supplies and food. The process of delivering these to the remote mountain villages is difficult, but we have people in place that are able to do so.”
More specifically, the Foundation has partnered with the Helambu region and is one of the only NGOs providing relief to this particular area. Rev McCollum explained that most organizations are focused on Kathmandu where there are “armies of aid workers and supplies.” The remote villages are less likely to be served or served quickly. Rev. McCollum goes on to say, “Helambu is a difficult to reach region of numerous remote villages and they have been hit exceptionally hard.” The most recent death toll for the entire country is now over 7,000, of which 500 are estimated to be from the Helambu region alone.
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The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) has announced that it is reviving its annual “Continental Gathering.” This summer the organization is sponsoring its first convocation since 2004 and the theme will be “Awakening Our Tribe.” As noted in The Nature’s Path, a blog devoted to UU-Paganism, “It is time to awaken the spirit of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.”
Convocation will be held in Salem, Massachusetts and hosted by the First Church Unitarian, a 377-year old congregation with a wealth of history. Organizers announced, “Our guest speakers include people who have been long-time and new UU voices in Paganism and local voices in the New England region who bring new energy to the mix.” Those speakers include Rev. Shirley Ranck, John Beckett, Gypsy Ravish, Jerrie Hildebrand, as well as musical guest Silver Branch. Convocation will be held on July 24-26.
In Other News
- Polytheist Priest and spirit worker Anomalous Thracian has announced the purchase of over 3 acres of land, situated in a private wooded area not far from the New Hampshire border, on a small river, within Essex County, Massachusetts. The goal is to rebuild “a permanent polytheist Temple and oracular serpent sanctuary.” Thracian said that, in time, the space will host community rituals and be available for educational events and retreats. He also emphasized that the land “will see full-time religious use, with future opportunities for students-in-residence, guest priests, and visitors.” For anyone interested in volunteering or donating to the temple project, contact him at nomadicwisdom at gmail (dot) com.
- Wyldwood Radio has announced a fundraising campaign to purchase new equipment to cover more festivals and events. With new equipment, the station can grow and expand its media presence within the country. They said, “Our dream goal is to be able to raise enough to also cover the costs of buying suitable transport” to get their teams to and from the various locations. Wyldwood Radio is an “independent Pagan radio station based in the UK.”
- Beltane’s ACTION is out. In this issue, Blackwell interviews Pippah Hall, Lilith Dorsey, Sylveey Dawn, Crystal Blanton, Jay Bearden, Lou Florez, and Lady Sky Dancer.
- Everglades Moon Local Council, Covenant of the Goddess has published its Beltane Podcast. The Florida-based local council has been using podcasts for several years to share the experiences and talents of its members. The latest podcast includes several songs, tips for reading tarot, information on medicinal spices and more. Additionally, podcast creators included a recording of a workshop given at the brand-new Florida spring gathering, Equinox in the Oaks. The EMLC podcasts are typically published at every sabbat.
- Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) will be hosting its first ever midsummer camp-out event. The goal, as stated on the event page, is to gather “as a community not only comprised of Heathens that are united against racism, but as a wider Pagan community coming together to discuss what goals we’d like to achieve, and how we will continue to make our visions of safe space within our communities a more common practice.” Sponsored by Solar Cross Temple, the HUAR event will be held at Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California on June 19-21.
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