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Pagan Community Notes: Nathan Smith, AFA, Niagara Cannabis Club, and more

Mon, 2017-05-22 09:29

The Temple of Witchcraft lost one of its members this weekend. Nathan Smith (1990-2017) died suddenly and unexpectedly of causes that have not yet been made public. Smith was originally from Raymond, New Hampshire, and attended Great Bay Community College. He was most recently working as the manager at a local retail store, Rue21.

Nathan was Wiccan, and a regular member of templeevents and classes. According to reports, Nathan was “a third of the way through Witchcraft IV and making plans for earning a degree, completing the mystery school, and starting an exciting new job.”

Temple teacher Alix Wright wrote, “I cannot find the words to describe what a beautiful person this man was, but I can attempt to show you a little of how I saw him. His humor, sassiness[sic], his intelligence and his drive were always present. In classes, his wit and his wisdom combined, showing a man of true compassion […] My mind hurts to think of the loss of his light in this world, my heart mourns the loss of an incredible student and friend, and my soul is filled with hope that he passed peacefully into the arms of his mother.”

Those thoughts are being echoed by other temple members in social media and beyond. The Temple of Witchcraft is hosting a memorial ritual May 23 at 7 p.m. for anyone, regardless of location, who would like to honor Nathan’s memory. The organization will also host an informal in-person gathering in Salem, N.H. What is remembered, lives.

*   *   *

The original Ásatrú Folk Assembly (AFA) Facebook fan page was taken down, after the group posted a controversial Mother’s Day statement from Alsherjargothi Matt Flavel. The statement read, in part, “The Ásatrú Folk Assembly would like to wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to all our mothers. You ladies literally birth our future, with every Aryan child you secure our existence and you bring light and hope into the world.”

Shortly after that posting, the page was taken down by Facebook. According to member Clifford Erickson, the organization did request reconsideration, however that request was denied. The page has been permanently removed.

Undeterred, leaders of the group have since launched a new fan page, saying that they will “diversify [their] social media presence so that we can keep getting our message out. We didn’t do anything wrong and we’re just going to keep doing that.”

*   *   *

In a follow-up to a story we brought to you in December, the Niagara Cannabis Club has been permanently shut down, and its owners were arrested. The Canadian-based cannabis club was to host a Yuletide Dragon Ritual Drummers event, complete with ritual and music. When manager and owner Kelly Kush discovered Witchdoctor Utu’s private Voodoo practice, she shut the event down only hours before it was scheduled to start.

Since that point, local police had reportedly received multiple complaints about the club, forcing them to launch an investigation. According to the official statements, the owners were “not licenced by Health Canada to sell these products,” which is therefore considered drug trafficking. The police reports note that the Niagara Cannibis Club was the fourth to be closed in the past month. Owners and founders Kush and Timothy Robitaille were charged with “2 counts of Possession of a Schedule 2 Controlled Substance, 2 counts of Unlawful Production of a Controlled Substance, and 1 count of Possession of Proceeds of Crime.”

A police spokesperson told local reporters that until the laws are changed to allow anyone to sell marijuana, the department will continue to enforce the current regulations.

In other news

  • AFA was not the only one with Facebook issues this past week. Artist and polytheist Markos Gage was banned from the social media for three days after posting a link to the TWH interview article. At first Gage wasn’t sure why he had his posting rights taken away. Although the imagery used in the article link did contain nudity, no other Facebook shares had been removed or caused user problems. Gage has since concluded that the temporary ban was caused by local protesters who, in recent weeks, have been harassing him. Gage is now back on social media.
  • Heathens United Against Racism has issued a public statement denouncing the Sweden-based organization Ásatrú Nordiska Asa-Samfundet. According to the statement, HUAR and other investigations have provided “incontrovertible evidence” of the groups embracing of fascist ideals. “We, the members of Heathens United Against Racism, denounce them for what they are. We oppose them.” The entire statement is posted on the organization’s website.
  • The Atlanta-based Mystic South conference is gearing up for its inaugural event in July, only two months away. The new indoor conference is now sharing the names of the many workshops, entertainment, and presenters, who will be filling the time and space over its three days. Mystic South will be hosted at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia in Atlanta from July 21-23.
  • Wild Hunt columnist Karl E. H. Seigfried reached a milestone this week, becoming the first Heathen to publish a work in Sightings, an online journal for the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The article is titled, “Denouncing Discrimination, Enforcing Inequality.”
  • The U.S. will be commemorating Memorial Day this coming weekend. Not only does this secular holiday mark the beginning of the non-seasonally-based summer period, but it also is a time when people get together together with family, cook-out, and honor the many fallen soldiers. On May 16, Circle Talk hosted a special radio program called, “Warrior Rites for Military Pagans.” The two hour program was aimed at “supporting Pagans serving and who have served in the US Military and their loved ones with Warrior blessings, honoring, & healing rituals. This show included Armed Forces week audio presentations of the Pagan Military Service Ribbon by some of Circle Sanctuary’s Military Ministers.” It can be streamed on the Blog Talk Radio site.

Review: American Gods

Sun, 2017-05-21 11:22

Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel American Gods is a popular read in Pagan circles, and the new Starz television series was greeted with excitement by many of the book’s Pagan fans. Debuting on April 30, the series has aired three episodes as of this writing.

The story revolves around the riveting premise that the old gods, being immortal, still exist. However, due to a lack of worship in the modern world, they are old and haggard and blend into American society, having arrived there when their followers immigrated, sometimes involuntarily. At the same time, America’s new gods, or the gods that represent the targets of modern worship such as media, computers, and globalization, are strong, vibrant, and at war with their predecessors.

In the middle of the two sits Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), an ex-convict who finds himself working for Odin (known as “Mr. Wednesday”) and unwittingly pitted against the new gods.

Much like the novel, the series opens with Shadow’s release from prison and sudden thrust into Mr. Wednesday’s world. At least in the early episodes, the audience finds itself in a similar situation as Shadow: attempting to put together the pieces of who these gods are, what they represent, and what role the sudden death of Shadow’s wife plays in the story.

Viewers are slowly introduced to both old and new gods as the narrative gradually pieces itself together.

In the first episode, “The Bone Orchard,” we meet Mr. Wednesday, played by Ian McShane. McShane is faithful to the novel’s portrayal of Odin in disguise – a clearly wise and wily, yet aging and tired, con-man. Whittle’s Shadow Moon is not given much to do at this point except wonder at Wednesday’s strange behavior and the odd companions that seem to surround him. The audience is left in the same position.

Pablo Schreiber rounds out episode one as the violent Mad Sweeney, a volatile leprechaun with pockets full of gold. Schreiber’s portrayal is appropriately simmering and mysterious.

The first new god to be introduced is Technical Boy, who is the young and flashy god of modern technology played by Bruce Langley. There is not much to go on yet, but Langley succeeds in contrasting his vibrant, limousine-riding character with the almost sepia-toned old gods.

 Although the first episode is a bit slow and a touch confusing for those who have not read the book, it clearly promises more and radiates the unmistakable feel that storm clouds are beginning to gather.

That storm continues to gather in the second episode called “The Secret of Spoons.” Much like in the first installment, viewers are introduced to a small number of gods on each side. On the old gods side, the Zorya sisters played by Cloris Leachman, Martha Kelly, and Erika Kaar, effectively add more mystery and give Shadow something to quest for.

But it is Peter Stormare’s dark and murder-obsessed Czernabog who steals the spotlight and brings the series its first true moment of fear over a game of checkers. On the other side of the fence, Gillian Anderson, dressed convincingly as Lucille Ball, is adept at adding to the conflict as the new god of media.

The third episode “Head Full of Snow,” centers less on the conflict between the old and new gods and more on one of the series’ most effective tropes: the introduction of old gods of various cultures into the story. Each episode begins with one story of a culture’s immigration to America and the story of bringing their gods along with them.

In episode one, for example, Vikings are shown making an offering to Odin during their exploration of North America. The second of these vignettes is perhaps the most touching and powerful of these stories. It depicts the suffering of slaves being transported to America.

Portraying the African god Anansi, Orlando Jones delivers a powerful and moving speech about the African experience in America both during the slave trade and into future centuries. This speech, paired with the somewhat horrifying sexual actions of the Bilquis (Yetide Badake), are some of the most fascinating portions of the series to date.

To continue this trope, episode three focuses on the immigration Arab cultures to the New World. This includes a graphic sex scene between two Muslim men, and the introduction of Mousa Kraish as an Ifrit (Jinn), a succubus-like Islamic demon who seems to steal the identity of his victims.

Although it is currently unclear what purpose these vignettes serve in the overall narrative, these scenes are some of the most intense and interesting portions of the series so far. Additionally, they do a wonderful job in exploring the various cultures and religious practices, new and old, that make up the tapestry of American culture.

And, really, that is the driving force of American Gods: The question of what, exactly, is an American god? In a culture commonly known as a “melting pot,” a culture filled with mythologies, histories, and religious practices that is at once highly materialistic and secular as well as deeply religious in various ways, what counts as a deity? Can those deities, each given their own praise by their own set of worshipers, coexist, or must they battle for supremacy?

Although the TV series is new, and it is developing at a slow pace, the cauldron of conflict represented by this gurgling melting pot of religiosity is clearly brewing.

There are many new deities on the way, including Crispin Glover as the new god Mr. World, Demore Barnes as Thoth (AKA Mr. Ibis), and Wicked favorite Kristen Chenoweth as Easter. The ingredients are available. Where the cauldron boils over, and how closely it resembles the direction of the source material, remains to be seen.

* * * The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Column: Loki and Dionysos

Fri, 2017-05-19 21:01

“Have I been understood? Dionysus against the Crucified!” —Nietzsche, final line of Ecce Homo

Drawing by Hans Olde [public domain].

On Jan. 3, 1889, Nietzsche witnessed a horse being whipped in the streets of Turin, Italy. He embraced the horse and collapsed to the ground, and was subsequently accosted by two policemen. In the days immediately preceding and following this incident, he wrote a series of letters signed “Nietzsche Dionysus,” “Dionysus,” and even “The Crucified.” Some of these letters were addressed to Cosima Wagner as “Ariadne,” another declared his divinity and listed his various incarnations in human form (including Buddha, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Francis Bacon—whom he understood to have authored the works attributed to Shakespeare, Voltaire, Napoleon, perhaps Wagner, and Jesus), and several decreed that all anti-Semites should be shot.

Nietzsche’s relationship with Dionysos far predated 1889, stretching back to The Birth of Tragedy, published in 1872. In “Does the Acéphale Dream of Headless Sheep?,” Jeremy Biles quotes Georges Bataille on the source and essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy:

Writing in a 1937 issue of the short-lived journal Acéphale, under the double heading “Nietzsche Dionysus,” Georges Bataille proclaims, “The very first sentences of Nietzsche’s message come from ‘realms of dream and intoxication.’ The entire message is expressed by one name: Dionysus.

In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche wrote of the Apollonian sphere of influence as “this deep consciousness of nature, healing and helping in sleep and dreams,” and of the Dionysian as irrationality and intoxication:

Schopenhauer has depicted for us the terrible awe which seizes upon man when he is suddenly unable to account for the cognitive forms of a phenomenon, when the principle of reason in some one of its manifestations seems to admit of an exception. If we add to this awe the blissful ecstasy which rises from the innermost depths of man, aye, of nature, at this very collapse of the principium individuationis, we shall gain an insight into the nature of the Dionysian, which is brought home to us most intimately perhaps by the analogy of drunkenness.

It is either under the influence of the narcotic draught, which we hear of in the songs of all primitive men and peoples, or with the potent coming of spring penetrating all nature with joy, that these Dionysian emotions awake, which, as they intensify, cause the subjective to vanish into complete self-forgetfulness.

Terracotta figurine of a mask of Dionysos [public domain].

As the Dionysian combines “terrible awe” with “blissful ecstasy,” it is closely related to the existential terror engendered by fate, which the Greeks coped with by means of art, whether Dionysian or Apollonian or both: “the Moira enthroned inexorably over all knowledge, the vulture of the great lover of mankind, Prometheus, the terrible fate of the wise Oedipus…all this was again and again overcome by the Greeks with the aid of the Olympian middle world of art.” Thus, in the preface to Birth of Tragedy, he wrote, “I am convinced that art represents the highest task and the truly metaphysical activity of this life.”

Nietzsche saw tragedy as the synthesis of the antitheses of Dionysian ecstasy and Apollonian dream. He wrote that Dionysos was the original hero of early tragedy, and that “until Euripides, Dionysus never once ceased to be the tragic hero; […] in fact all the celebrated figures of the Greek stagePrometheus, Oedipus, etc.are but masks of this original hero, Dionysus. There is a godhead behind all these masks. And indeed, according to Arthur Pickard-Cambridge, Dionysos was worshiped during the Lenaia “in the form of a bearded mask set upon a pole, pillar, or column, often apparently of wood.”

The Birth of Tragedy was originally addressed to Richard Wagner, whom Nietzsche admired and was friends with at the time. By 1876, however, as he wrote in Nietzsche Contra Wagner, he had come to despise Wagner for his anti-Semitism, his turn toward Christianity, and other irreconcilable differences. “I regarded German mythology as a solvent, as a means of accustoming people to polytheism,” he wrote.

Nietzsche was absolutely right to see the potential for polytheism within the retelling of old myths. Wagner did not share Nietzsche’s interest in “accustoming people to polytheism,” but the gods are able to use even negative portrayals to make themselves known. Certain gods are particularly well known for this type of cleverness.

The Cunning God

“Behold the good and just! Whom do they hate most? The man who breaks their tablets of values, the breaker, the lawbreaker—yet he is the creator.” —Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Snaptun Stone, public domain.

In Playing With Fire: An Exploration of Loki Laufeyson, Dagulf Loptson notes that “the source which most famously portrays Loki as a fire god wasn’t written in the ninth, the 10th, or even the 15th century. It was in 1876 that Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (“The Nibelung’s Ring”) was first performed in its entirety” (136). Loki’s identity as a fire-associated deity is suggested by older sources as well, such as his possible association with the fiery world of Múspellheimr (Völuspá 51), his incendiary curse upon Ægir’s hall (Lokasenna 65), the Snaptun Stonea Danish bellows-guard depicting a figure with sewn lips (Loptson 145), and various Scandinavian folk sayings explicitly invoking Loki in relation to flame and heat (ibid. 147).

Loptson specifically argues that Loki was “originally responsible for carrying burnt sacrifices to the gods and freeing the souls of the dead via cremation,” and that therefore “it is only natural that the Catholic Church would have found him particularly deplorable,” perhaps even adding an additional layer of meaning to post-conversion depictions of the binding of Loki (153-154).

In Wagner, however, Loge (the Germanized form of Loki) is never bound, or perhaps, in Loki’s return to the stage, he and Dionysosthe god of theater, as well as Lusios (Loosener) and Eleutherios (Liberator)broke those chains, and began acting as a “solvent,” began “accustoming people to polytheism.” But not a polytheism of historical reenactment. A polytheism that overturns the world we live in, that reevaluates all values, that breaks old tablets and inscribes new ones.

Arthur Rackham [public domain].

Loptson quotes a particularly striking passage from the libretto of Das Rheingold, the first opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, in which Loge not only references his fiery nature, but describes his unique relationship to fate and the gods:

They are doomed to disaster, though they think they are invulnerable. I’m almost ashamed to have anything to do with them. Changing back to flickering flame is a tempting prospect indeed. Consuming those who tamed me instead of stupidly sharing their fate, however divine they may be. That might be the wisest course. I’ll think it over. Who knows what I’ll do? (qtd. Loptson 136)

In Wagner’s portrayal, Loge foresees the impending doom of the gods, and calculates his course of action accordingly. His prescience allows for rational action, following the “wisest course,” which ultimately means acting as an agent of fate. From the perspective of any who do not see “the Moira [or Erda and the Norns, in this case] enthroned inexorably over all knowledge,” however, Loge’s actions may seem unpredictable or even random: “Who knows what I’ll do?” Similarly, in Skáldskaparmál 16, Loki is given the kenning inn slægi áss, “the cunning god.”

In Das Rheingold, Wotan does not know the dangers of the ring, and it is Erda, whom Wagner makes the mother of the Norns, who warns Wotan:

I know whatever was;
whatever is,
whatever shall be
I also see:
the eternal world’s
first ancestress,
Erda, warns you.
My womb bore
three daughters,
conceived before the start of time;
what I see,
the Norns nightly tell you.

In the Icelandic lore, the völva of Völuspá, who proclaims, “Widely I saw | over all the worlds” (30), gives Óðinn, Loki’s blood-brother (Lokasenna 9), whose name means “fury,” a similar knowledge of Ragnarök.

Loki’s burning cunning, like Dionysos’s ecstatic tragedy, like Óðinn’s frenzied wisdom, serves fate, and thereby transcends the distinction between the rational and the irrational. The truly rational being accepts that they cannot escape fate, the wholly irrational creature follows fate through instinct. The sacrificial and crematory fire, like all fire, is neither rational nor irrational in human terms, and even when suppressed or contained, can never be truly “bound.”

In the Jahrhundertring, the centennial production of the Ring Cycle in 1976, Loge closes the curtains at the end of Das Rheingold, staring at the audience while he does so. In his mastery of the scenery of the stage, a fundamentally Dionysian landscape, and his breaking of the fourth wall, he recalls Puck from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Remember that Nietzsche Dionysus, in one of his 1889 letters, listed Shakespeare (or more precisely, Francis Bacon) among his previous incarnations on earth. Incidentally, “fairy” is derived from Latin fata, the plural of fatum, “that which is ordained; destiny, fate.” The etymology is mysterious, but perhaps it relates to a similar “irrationality” embedded within a larger web of relationships.

Arthur Rackham [public domain].


“Precisely this is godlike that there are gods, but no God.” —Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

In Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound, we learn that even Zeus is subject to the Fates:

Chorus : Who then is the helmsman of Necessity?
Prometheus : The three-shaped Fates and mindful Furies.
Chorus : Can it be that Zeus has less power than they do?
Prometheus : Yes, in that even he cannot escape what is foretold.

Paradoxically, however, fate includes chaos. Fate is simultaneously the act of weaving, with all its messiness, and the weavers themselves, and all that which is woven and unwoven. In “Loki’s Goatse’an Mysteries (We’re Going Deep. Goatse Deep),” Loki proclaims:

I am the force of chaos. I am the luck bringer who disrupts the order, who breaks the rules, who violates the taboos. I bring choice and free will. I insert the wild card threads into the weaving. And I pull apart the threads that have become too binding, I dissolve the threads whose time is done (whether you believe their time is done or not, your belief does not factor into this very much, except for when it does but that’s another mystery for another day).

The old order’s threads have become too binding, they are dissolving, their time is done. What will take their place? Nietzsche describes a world of many gods, a world of dancing and playing, a world where necessity and freedom are one and the same:

Arthur Rackham [public domain].

All becoming seemed to me the dance of gods and the prankishness of gods, and the world seemed free and frolicsome and as if fleeing back to itself—an eternal fleeing and seeking each other again of many gods, as the happy controverting of each other, conversing again with each other, and converging again of many gods.

Where all time seemed to me a happy mockery of moments, where necessity was freedom itself playing happily with the sting of freedom. (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “On Old and New Tablets”)

Such a world is already—continuously—in the process of becoming, of fleeing back to itself. It’s simply a matter of learning to see it and live in it. And to defend it, both against the death throes of the old world and against the emptiness of nihilism.

* * *

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Column: Coping With Community

Fri, 2017-05-19 11:23

The definition of community continues to be largely debated in many different circles. I am not here today to define that for anyone, but rather to look at related issues that are seldom debated, such as the challenges and ongoing tensions that appear to exist within the “umbrella” of the Pagan and polytheist communities, and within the interpersonal relationships found in groups, covens, groves, and organizations.

The so-called “Witch Wars” are not a new thing, neither are the ongoing moments of intensity based on different views, approaches, and methods of engaging with our diverse practices. There are historic Witch wars of which we are all aware. Some were between individuals, and others were between different factions of this very diverse and nuanced community.

[Courtesy Photo: Wikimedia]

There often seems to be a lot of bandwidth, quite literally at times, expended on the latest conflicts, and there continues to be high levels of leadership burn out, strained relationships, and an undercurrent of anxiety that often finds it’s way into the fabric of our shared spaces. We read blogs, social media posts, and even podcasts that work to unpack some of a conflict’s dynamics or the issues surrounding an incident in the community. While much of these conflicts play out on the internet and social media, they are not limited to those forums, and many of us find ourselves carrying the discomfort and stress into our personal lives.

Additionally, it appears that there is a surge in such things right before or after a Pagan convention or festival.

While there is not any official empirical data to point to about the correlation between this ongoing phenomenon within modern Paganism and the level of discord that people begin to harness toward concepts of community, it would be irresponsible not to look at how one impacts the other. Irresponsible? With the mounting socio-political pressures in today’s culture and the complexities of life that people are already balancing, it seems vital to take a look at the role that our spiritual community plays in the wellness of its members in the efforts toward maintaining spiritual health.

Community can be complicated and there is always talk about how to make the challenges and dynamics less stressful, and less harmful to the overall functioning of the group mind. But we also know that, while this is a noble and worthwhile thing to contemplate, there are certain tensions that are bound to create levels of conflict due to a power imbalance within society.

Conflict Theory teaches about some of the more natural elements of conflict found within factions of society, and it demonstrates how the politics of power and social capital contribute to the way in which groups engage and struggle against each other. As the Pagan community expands and an overculture is formed, it makes sense that we are in a place of growth within this community. The friction of movement is more constant.

Many different science disciplines have explored the impact of stress on our physical and mental health. We know that stress impacts the physical body, including increasing the release of chemicals, such as cortisol, that directly impacts the way we function in our physically, mentally, and spiritually. We know that stress is a killer, which gives us more reason to identify ways we can mediate the amount of the tensions we carry and identify how stress comes into our lives.

While I am sure plenty of people would agree that our spiritual communities should not be a source of stress, we know that community in any capacity has that potential. The more we explore the ongoing dynamics of this particular spiritual community as a whole, the easier it is to see that even coping with the ebb and flow of tensions can create it’s own challenges, and lead to the development of new skills.

As in any area of life, coping with the myriad experiences found within this spiritual community helps us to endure and to formulate how we will continue to connect.

So what does it mean to cope? What type of skills are common for coping with various elements of individual and collective experiences? Coping skills are found at the heart of many social sciences, and widely talked about when referencing stress and mental health.

A simplified answer can be found on the Good Therapy website where they define coping mechanisms as “the strategies people often use in the face of stress and/or trauma to help manage difficult and/or painful emotions. Coping mechanisms can help people adjust to stressful events while maintaining their emotional well-being.”

Mindful Occupation outlines a more in-depth description that accounts for adaptive and maladaptive strategies to coping. It reads:

We all develop defense mechanisms to avoid or lessen psychological pain. Coping skills are ways in which we learn to deal with various stressors. Each person copes with stress differently. Over time, we all construct coping strategies that are “right” for us as thinking and feeling individuals. “Right” is in quotes because many people often do not realize that how they deal with life stressors is not only unhelpful, but also destructive, negative, and painful for not only themselves but those around them.

Coping strategies can be both constructive/adaptive or destructive/ maladaptive. Maladaptive coping skills are ways of dealing with stress that usually make things worse. These types of coping strategies can hurt your social relationships, make pre-existing problems worse, and even result in new symptoms of a stress-related injury. Many of us have known someone who has overreacted to something which resulted in them losing touch with a friend or loved one.

Maladaptive coping strategies put pressure on your relationships with friends, family, comrades, and coworkers. They can damage your body or create more emotional pain in the long term, even when they seem helpful in the short term. In extreme cases, maladaptive coping skills can ruin lives. Through the information in this booklet, and psychological activism, we can lessen the impact of negativity in our lives, including that which we inflict on ourselves through learned maladaptive coping skills.

Depending on what websites you read, or who you ask, coping skills can range from gardening to therapy. Meditation, mindfulness, exercise or yoga, prayer, being in nature, or even having a glass of wine are some of the common ones that are often thrown around. It begs the following questions:

How do Pagans cope with their own community? What tools do they use to manage the ongoing stress and challenges that are inevitably a part of a community experience? Does everyone experience this “stress” from community or does the drama get brushed off the shoulder like a Jay Z song?

I anticipated that these questions would elicit very different responses from different people; and I was right.

Chris Orapello

In everyday life, I don’t have to cope with all that much drama in the local community because the groups I organize are cultivated and the people involved have been vetted. This approach creates a pretty pleasant environment, generally free from conflict. The only challenge which remains is what topic to discuss and what to order for dinner. If problems do arise, I have learned to have a no-nonsense approach. Life is short and my time, my partner’s time, and the time of my friends is all too precious to waste on bickering. Community happens. It can be cultivated and guided, but it certainly can’t be forced. – Chris Orapelo

Mat Auryn

In my personal community at The Temple of Witchcraft, we have a whole ministry devoted to conflicts among people through mediation. Mediation is to resolve a conflict that the parties can’t solve on their own, with the result being an agreement between the parties to move forward in a specific way, which can vary depending on the circumstance. I have had mediation in the past and found it tremendously healing. The main aspect of this is having a safe space for the two people involved and someone who’s completely impartial to mediate the conflict. In this space, each person is given time to talk uninterrupted and then to have a conversation about what was said. Just having the chance to clearly communicate with an emphasis on listening is something that should not be overlooked and often you’ll find that conflict arises out of miscommunication and misunderstandings.

In the context of larger community I have tried to take these tools with me. This mostly occurs online, as I see more conflict on the internet than in person – shocking, I know. But a large factor in that once again is the inability to communicate face to face, read nuances, understand personalities of strangers and listen. The internet tends to be one giant network of people trying to scream over each other and being focused on what they’re going to say next, not actually listening, sitting with what was said and responding based on that.

As Witches on a personal level, it’s important to understand where we’re putting our focus, our will and our energy. We can leave these types of difficulties and conflicts feeling drained, overwhelmed and frustrated. I guess this is the magickal equivalent of “choosing your battles wisely.” Having spiritual cleansing practices of inner purification, taking a break to gain distance for a different perspective and meditating on where we’re directing our time, attention and energy can often help us figure out which conflicts are worth engaging, and which are fires that can be put out on their own. – Mat Auryn

Sabrina Taylor

As one of the few POC Pagans in my area, I have often felt my path is different from the roads frequently traveled and look outside my community and coven for aid and inspiration.  I often look to those I consider the actions and words closely fit my ideals – my role models, other POC pagans and leaders in my local community. My coven itself was formed after events that happened in a local organization (ATC) that ripped apart our local Pagan community here in the Seattle area.  During the turmoil, I was told repeatedly that this was not the first time the Seattle area Pagan community had splintered and it probably wouldn’t be the last.  I try to look to what I feel is the center of my practice and the center of my faith – love, equality and justice for all.  I constantly remind myself through the infighting, the conflict and the change that if we grow deeper as individuals and as a community, then it is all worth it. – Sabrina Taylor

The best advice I can give on coping with conflict inside the Pagan community is to keep hold of perspective at all costs.

Fire Lyte

It is important for me to remember that the Pagan community is not the only community of which I am a member. I am not just Pagan. I’m a gay man. I’m married. My husband and his family are Mexican immigrants. I am an active citizen engaged in local, state, and national issues. I feel it is important to never be a citizen of just one of my communities, for that leads to a slow blinding of the ways in which my needs in each of these communities intersect as well as blindness to the needs of communities of which I am not a member.

Having a healthy relationship with my Pagan community means, to me, to understand each issue in its proper context so that I do not give it more weight than it deserves. Is the drama of the day a would-be reality star making a play for more TV time? Or, are we dealing with intrinsic racism inside one of the faiths under our umbrella? One of these is important to our community, and one of these is less so. Sure, it is important to our community’s future to have a good public image, but it is more important that we police xenophobia among our own. To ensure that all those that would walk a Pagan path can find it a place of welcoming spiritual respite.

I encourage others to not just keep up with Pagan news and events and social media, but to take in non partisan news, to be aware of what is going on in the over culture. Get off the computer from time to time, where the Pagan blogosphere tends to catastrophize issues that are, at times, much smaller when put in proper context, and engage with your real world brick and mortar, flesh and blood Pagan and non-Pagan community. – Fire Lyte

Karen Krebser

The times we live in now and the ready availability of public platforms for airing all kinds of grievances have taught me to be very assiduous about taking a pause before responding to challenges and difficulties, and I have come to use that technique within my communities as well as in my social media presence. There is great value to be found in “taking a breath” as a regular practice because it allows me time to take in multiple flows of information, ideas, or opinions and to sort through them as much as I can to see what makes sense to me, what I agree with, what I believe in, and what I want to respond to before actually responding.

A wise friend once told me, “Just because someone takes a dump on the sidewalk outside your house doesn’t mean you have to pick it up and wear it around like a hat.” Taking the time to breathe, to realize that nothing is ever personal even if it’s aimed directly at me with my name on it and tied up with a nice pink bow (that’s occasionally on fire), has been invaluable in learning to deal with conflicts large and small with personalities large and small (at events and in circles large and small). In those times when things don’t run smoothly, when someone is in my face about something I’ve done or something someone else has said, or things are otherwise challenging, I’ve found it crucial to remember that on a foundational level, we’re all reaching for the same thing, connection, and some folks just express that desire differently than I do.

Some folks advise doing a social media fast now and again, and that’s wise; I just don’t find it practical sometimes, especially when really important news is coming down that has real-world effects on people I love. Disconnecting in those instances can have the unintended consequence of waving the lofty white-lady flag of privilege in the faces of those who are affected by rapidly changing governmental and authority-driven policies, and I feel that if for example women of color can’t disconnect, it would be tantamount to kicking someone when they’re down for me to. And in those cases, I find that giving myself time to pause and process is most useful so that I can deal with my own crap and then be present to center and aid others in my community in dealing with theirs. – Karen Krebser

Healthy coping mechanisms support individuals in many ways and often are transferable skills that are utilized in different environments and different circles. Spending time purposefully developing such skills, identifying what works, and tailoring them to your style and circumstances is one of the most productive things we can do to forecast dealing with stress.

In the ongoing stress of society, increasing our arsenal of coping skills individually and as a community seems necessary and is sometimes a matter of survival. It begs us to answer questions for ourselves about how we personally are coping, and if our coping mechanisms are healthy.

While our answers and mileage may vary, I am sure we can agree with the social sciences in that coping skills are essential to healthy and sustainable mental health.

What if the power of sustainable community really boils down to our ability to pass on worthwhile skills like this to our new leadership and the next generation? Wouldn’t that be fascinating to explore…..

* * *

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Texas House passes religion-based child care services bill

Thu, 2017-05-18 10:46

AUSTIN, Texas —  The Texas House of Representatives passed HB3859 Wednesday, moving the state one step closer to enacting a law that, as it reads, aims to protect the “rights of conscience for child welfare services providers.” The bill was authored by Rep. James Frank (R) from Wichita Falls and, as he stated in a recent comment, “One of our biggest challenges is a lack of adequate, quality foster homes. […] A substantial part of any answer to this problem will be found in the faith-based community.”

[Photo Credit: Jason Rosenberg / Flickr]

Rep. Frank’s comment was made after the bill was passed and directed at mainstream media, who generally began calling the bill discriminatory. Frank responded, “At a time when we need all hands on deck, we face the real risk of seeing a large number of [faith-based] providers leave the field, as they are forced to make the choice between devoting a substantial amount of resources in fighting litigation and other adverse action, or using those resources on other services to fulfill the tenets of their faith.”

Texas has come under fire recently for not adequately protecting or providing for children placed in foster care. In March 2011, Children’s Rights, Inc, a national child advocacy group, sued the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) on behalf of children in permanent foster care, alleging that policies and standard practices exposed children to “unreasonable harm.”

In December 2015, a federal court ruled against Texas and concluded that Texas children “uniformly leave State custody more damaged than when they entered.”

The court cited abuse, suicide, poor supervision in institutional care, and lack of home placement options.

Since that 2015 ruling, Texas has attempted to address the situation by changing which outcomes are measured, and by increasing the number of participating private organizations providing foster care placement and adoption.

The outcomes being measured include placing children in a safe, home environment; not splitting up siblings; establishing respect for the child’s culture, and keeping children in their own communities in order that they can maintain ties with family and friends.

How does the new controversial bill fall into the state’s efforts to improve their child care services system? What does it say, and does it allow for discriminatory practices, as some claim?

Supporters of the bill say faith-based organizations are willing to help with the foster care crisis, but they have concerns that the state would force them to act in ways that would violate their beliefs.

The bill says the State of Texas will not take any punitive action against private child welfare organizations that:

Place children under guardians that provide or refuse to provide children with a religious education, including private schools.

Do not provide, facilitate, or refer a child for medical services they have a religious objection to such as immunizations, abortions, and contraceptives.

Place or refuse to place a child under a guardian that the organization has a religious objection to.

As it stands now, foster children in the state of Texas must be enrolled in public school. The bill would allow foster parents to enroll the child in any type of private school, including a religious one, as long as the foster parents or the supporting private child welfare organization pays the cost.

The religion of the child does not appear to be a factor in the decision, only the religious wishes of the foster parent.

[Photo Credit: Klaus27neu / Wikimedia]

Although the bill says guardians do not have to take their foster children for specifically defined medical services such as immunizations, abortions, and contraceptives, any of which might violate a sincerely held religious belief, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) does have to ensure that someone else is available to take the child for such services.

DFPS covers the cost of these medical services, plus the cost of finding an alternative person to take the child to and from any such providers.

The section of the bill which has raised the most objections is the portion which allows child welfare organizations to discriminate based on religion, marital status, or sexual preference.

Presently, no tax funded child welfare provider can refuse to take in a child due to religion or sexual preference, nor can they refuse to place a child with a foster family due to the religion, sexual preference, or marital status of the foster family.

HB3859 would allow a tax funded, private child welfare organization to do just that. For example, a Christian foster care agency could refuse to allow a Pagan family to foster a child or may refuse to allow them to adopt the child at a later date.

However, the bill also states every region in Texas must have at least one non-religious foster care agency available. The bill does not say how they will ensure this, especially in the more rural areas of the state.

Should religion have any bearing on adoption or fostering? The Wild Hunt spoke with blogger John Beckett, a Druid and Unitarian Universalist living in Texas. In response to our questions, he wrote entire essay, which can be found on his blog in its entirety.

Beckett said that although he understands the sentiments behind the bill, he stands in opposition, “Its real world impact will be to make it harder for LGBT families, Pagan families, and other non-Christian families to adopt children.”

He also notes the issue is complicated. He explains:

Assume, for a moment, you’re working for an adoption agency. You place children with gay couples and straight couples, poly families and single people. You place them with UUs and Buddhists and Pagans, with Episcopalians and Methodists and atheists. If they’re loving and supportive and stable, orientation and religion just don’t matter.

And then a Southern Baptist couple walks in. They’re happy, healthy, and stable. They’re good people who no doubt will love a hold dearly and will do their best to give a child a good home.

But you know what their child will be taught: the few will go to heaven no many will burn in Hell. The Bible is perfect and without error. Being gay is a sin. Wives are to be be submissive to their husbands.

Do you still think that religion shouldn’t matter?

Current DFPS contracts with private child welfare organizations include explicit instructions on children’s rights, pharmacy services, behavioral health, psychotropic medications, trauma informed care, minimum standards for nutrition, minimal standards for clothing, discipline, education, immunizations, travel, religious activities of the child’s choosing, facility requirements, and civil rights.

However, with the state’s current child care services crisis, the court directives, and the need to keep children within 50 miles of their original home, Texas legislators are looking for options.

The controversial bill was approved by the state House of Representatives, and has cleared the state Senate committee, but has not yet been scheduled for a vote.

Canadian bill strengthening hate crime protections moves to Senate

Wed, 2017-05-17 11:09

OTTAWA, Ont. – In May 2017, a private members bill was read for the third time and passed by the House of Commons in Canada’s capitol city, Ottawa. If it is successful in becoming law, Bill C-305 could greatly change the way hate crime mischief offences are addressed by the Canadian Criminal Code.

The bill was proposed by Liberal Party member Chandra Arya, Member of Parliament (MP) for Nepean, Ontario. The purpose of the bill is to amend a sub-section of the criminal code which deals with damages to property due to crime motivated by hate based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation or mental or physical disability.

Canada’s Pagan, Heathen and Witchcraft groups are watching with interest to see if C-305 makes it to law, as the changes would provide enhanced protection from hate related mischief for these communities

The Canadian House of Commons [via Wikimedia]

At present, mischief relating to religious property only covers buildings, structures, or parts thereof primarily used for religious worship, including churches, mosques or synagogues. Hate-based mischief against such places can result in a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, compared to just two years for general mischief.

With the new law, the stiffer penalties could be dealt out for hate-based mischief in a larger range of cases.

The proposal seeks to expand the definition of what constitutes a property under the law. Bill C-305 would criminalize hate-based mischief aimed at schools, day care centres, colleges, universities, community centres, seniors residences and cultural centres in addition to the currently recognized places.

For Toronto-based Gythia and activist Jade Pichette, the scope and potential of Bill C-305 to enhance protection for Canadian Pagans is timely. “In many cases Pagans and Heathens in Canada don’t have physical spaces, increasingly though we are starting to have these spaces,” Pichette says.

“It is only a matter of time before there are attacks or mischief done upon them.”

Mythwood Campground & Private Retreat (courtesy photo)

Dedicated Pagan places of worship, ritual and gathering in Canada are still rare, but they do exist. Khaman and Alyx Mythwood are the owners and operators of Mythwood Campground. Located in Grey County, an hour and a half northwest of Toronto, this 61-acre facility offers private retreats, living history events, art, music and spirituality camps.

Known as “Pagan Paradise” by regulars, Mythwood and also Raven’s Knoll, another Ontario-based Pagan camp, would be covered by this proposed law. Khaman and Alyx Mythwood told The Wild Hunt, “As a nature and art sanctuary, and polytheistic sacred space, Mythwood Campground supports processes that promote tolerance and inclusivity.

“We are hopeful that Bill C-305 will help safeguard these basic human rights as a reminder of what brings us together as multicultural and multi-faith Canadians.”

But one question still remains: would Pagan shops, which often serve as temples, teaching places, and community centres, be protected if they were confirmed to be objects of hate-related mischief?

The bill as it is now written specifies that the property must be primarily used for religious worship, or used by an identifiable group as an educational institution, or for administrative, social, cultural or sports activities or events.

An argument could be made under this definition in defense of Pagan stores, but that still remains to be seen.

A shrine area at Mythwood Campground (courtesy photo)

Fueling interest in this bill at the governmental level, are a number of recent hate-motivated incidents, such as the mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque last January, which touched rallies and vigils across the country.

There has also been an increase in the number of anti-semetic, racist, and anti-Muslim graffiti and vandalism attacks reported on places of worship and private residences from coast to coast.

Pichette addressed this, saying, “I am consistently concerned with the violence that seems to be targeting institutions.”

“I was personally in support of the original version of the bill that would provide added charges against those desecrating religious institutions as we have seen with the hate-based graffiti on Synagogues, Mosques, and other religious spaces.”

Further to this, Pichette wrote a letter to Parliament. and shared it on social media, encouraging other Pagans to do the same. The letter read:

Dear MP Dabrusin,

I would like to express my support of Bill C-305 to amend the criminal code regarding the mischief desecration of Religious items and places of worship. In this time of increasing attacks on Mosques, Jewish cemeteries, and other places of worship I am in full support.

As a note I was part of a project for Neo-Pagan and Heathen religious and spiritual groups to come together to decry bigotry in all of its forms. Including the desecration of places of worship. Though the organizations listed would not take a position necessarily on this specific bill, their declaration against such acts speaks to support of many peoples against these acts within my own faith community:

Jade Pichette
Active Constituent of Toronto Danforth

At this time, only religious institutions are protected under hate crime law, but this  new proposal will also fully include LGBTQ communities.

In his speech before the House of Commons, in February, when the bill went for second reading, MP Arya said, Bill C-305 would recognize that hate motivated by bias based on gender identity and sexual orientation would carry the same weight as crimes committed against religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin.”

This added piece is of particular interest to Pichette, who adds: “This would mean a place like my workplace, the Canadian Lesbian + Gay Archives would receive better protection under the Criminal Code.”

Bill C-305 has been passed by the House of Commons, and will now proceed to the Senate. Presuming it receives Senate approval, it will be presented for Royal Assent, and then on to become law.

It is very unusual for private members bills to make it that far, but this one does have strong support across party lines.

The proposal of Bill C-305 marks a turning point in the attitude of some Canadian leaders. While it does not include every concern held by Pagan communities specifically, it does begin to address many concerns found in the general Canadian population.

In a May 3 speech acknowledging the proposed amendments to the bill, MP Arya stated: “While Bill C-305 would not solve every issue related to racism and discrimination, it would take important small steps in protecting those most vulnerable, strengthening the Criminal Code, and acting as a strong deterrent.”

Home-schooling help for Pagan parents

Tue, 2017-05-16 11:14

KINGSTON, Ontario –Any Pagan or polytheist who opts to home-school children quickly discovers that much of the support material available is explicitly Christian in character. That can make an already difficult task all the more challenging. This is the struggle that inspired Terri Wilson to step up Little Pagan Acorns, a site with materials Pagan parents can use in their home schools.

Wilson, who describes herself as “an Earth-centered, Goddess-worshiping eclectic Pagan,” home-schools her own 12-year-old daughter, and has created materials that she  uses herself. She spoke with us about how she got her own home school started, and why she has chosen to develop materials for others.

The Wild Hunt: What’s your interest in home-schooling? Do you have an education background, or did you learn as you go, as many parents do?

Terri Wilson: I first got interested in home-schooling when I saw the very weak curriculum that my daughter was dealing with at public school. A lot of fill-in-the-blank work, and no spelling or reading. Science was sporadic at best, and didn’t go too far beyond a handful of new vocabulary words each unit. I wanted her to have a more solid and engaging education.

No specific training on my part, though I did go on to post-secondary education myself and consider myself to be somewhat “academic.” I am learning as I go, which is pretty normal in the home-schooling world.

TWH: Why did you decide to put together home-school activities with a Pagan emphasis? Is it common for home-school resources to include a religious component?

TW: The home-schooling world is predominantly Christian without a doubt, with many people specifically choosing to home-school because they want to teach a Bible-based format rather than the secular material you see in school. It’s the whole reason they home-school. And so, most of the big curriculum packages are Christian. Some just include references here and there, and some are truly Bible-centered (like science that literally teaches a seven-day creation as “fact”).

Printable Pagan-themed “fortune-teller” toy [courtesy image].

Problem is that these are often weak on real science and facts, not to mention the moral conflicts a lot of non-Christians come across. History materials are also suspect because they use Bible tales as historical events, whether they happened or not.

This is what I was finding as I looked for resources. It was a struggle enough just to find good secular material, but Pagan material was absolutely nonexistent. Part of me just wanted to thumb my nose to the Christian-heavy home-school world, but I genuinely saw a need for it.

TWH: What are some of the most popular offerings you’ve got on your site?

TW: The sabbat pages are always popular at their times of the year, but it’s hard to say that anything is more popular than anything else. The Norse crosswords and the Greek mythology lap books are my top pages right now, and as a category, the coloring pages do very well.

TWH: What are some of the most-requested resources?

TW: I don’t get a lot of requests actually. Sometimes people will want more preschool stuff but then someone else wants more for older kids. Nothing specifically is requested enough to stand out. Oh, sometimes different Pagan traditions are asked for as well. I am looking at adding more Native American material at the moment.

TWH: It appears that you offer a lot more for free than you do for sale. How do you support this effort?

TW: The main source of revenue is through ads, but even that is just a token amount that pays for the domain and space. That’s about it. I’ve expanded out into another site that will focus on larger projects and publications for sale.

TWH: Do you have any other people helping you with this work?

TW: Nope, it’s just me. Some times I get my daughter to give puzzles or coloring pages a test run.

Pagan matching game [courtesy image]

TWH: Do you think it’s more important to provide tools to help instruct one’s children in their Pagan faith, or broader educational materials that help them see the world in a Pagan context? “Blessed Be A to Z” appears to fall into the latter category, and the kids’ tarot guide the former.

TW: That’s a big question, and one that I often see when talking to followers about what they are interested in. There is a clear divide between teaching actual Pagan topics and teaching broader subjects with a Pagan point of view. Which is more important? I’m not sure there is an answer.

I would say that teaching Pagan materials themselves should come first so that a child has the background or framework to understand a Pagan viewpoint. But that may be splitting hairs a bit, too.

TWH: More generally, is home-schooling a way to tackle challenging issues that can intersect with Pagan theologies, such as gender dysphoria, environmental stewardship, and cultural appropriation?

TW: I think so. I mean, these topics may be found in mainstream public school but not very often, nor very well done. That’s the great thing about home-schooling is that you can tackle any issue from any perspective. These are fairly complex and sophisticated subjects and quite contemporary as well. That can make it difficult to find materials for home-schoolers. More and more people are asking for them, and you can find the books/videos if you look. New material is being published all the time.

* * *

Kids’ tarot card [courtesy image]

As for the material published for Little Pagan Acorns, the variety is wide. Wilson has produced a number of “pantheon packs” of puzzles and games; thus far they include Norse, Greek, Egyptian, and Hindu. The Native American material she referenced in the interview is likely to her biggest project yet.

“That is such a huge and varied area that I’m not quite ready for it,” she wrote in April, indicating a desire to avoid the oversimplification which often plagues interpretations of those cultures.

That same sensibility is shown in a post announcing her Celtic deity coloring pages: “Though I am naming this batch ‘Celtic,’ I have made a bit of a mix of Irish, British, Gaulish, and other similar regions here.”

The Celtic pages are among a broad category of printable materials which also include calendar pages and tarot cards. Some are available free, while others, such as the tarot decks, have a nominal charge.

Kids can also color common Pagan symbols online using the free tools on the site.

The Christian influence found in homeschooling materials is not likely to disappear any time soon or perhaps ever. For those who want to home school and desire alternatives more appropriate for Pagan and polytheist children, Little Pagan Acorns can be used as a place to find resources and seeds of inspiration.

*  *  * The work of journalist Terence P. Ward was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

Pagan Community Notes: ADF; Kenny Klein; Witchcraft Museum, and more!

Mon, 2017-05-15 08:07

NEW ORLEANS —  Pagan musician Kenny Klein was sentenced to 20 years in prison after his request for a new trial was rejected. As previously reported, Klein, who was first arrested in 2014, was convicted in April on 20 counts of child pornography charges. According to local reports, the judge called the case difficult, saying “Any type of incidents involving juveniles, particularly as it relates to child pornography, are not good.”

After his conviction, Klein’s attorney requested a new trial on the grounds that the court had made numerous errors in several of the pretrial rulings. Criminal District Judge Byron C. Williams rejected that request after receiving an flurry of letters from both his supporters and his opponents. Williams told local reporters that he did not find any credibility in the arguments requesting the new trial.

Williams sentenced Klein to 20 years on one count and five years for each of the other counts, to be served concurrently. Klein will also pay a $2,500 fine and, after serving the sentence, be required to wear an ankle monitor for the remainder of his life. Neither Klein’s attorney nor anyone from the prosecutor’s office responded to requests for comment in time for this story.

*   *   *

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) responded to news of member Scott Holbrook’s hearing, which was held last month. Holbrook was arrested in November on charges of disseminating obscenities. He pleaded no contest to the charges, avoiding a lengthy jury trial.

When the hearing had concluded, ADF said that it did not “automatically ban people with convictions from membership, as we believe everyone should have access to our church and public worship.” It also noted that, while the organization does have strict policies regarding leadership positions within its organization, Holbrook was no longer in a such position and that the didn’t “anticipate him holding one in the foreseeable future.”

When the details of his hearing were made public last week, ADF issued a new response. Once again, they did not ban his membership, but they made a stronger statement regarding his ability to resume a leadership role in the organization.

Discrepancies between public statements made by Mr. Holbrook and information contained in the publicly released court transcript from his conviction were cause for immediate concern. After careful consideration of the information available and with regard to our current policy concerning convicted and registered sex offenders, the ADF Mother Grove has unanimously voted to indefinitely ban Scott Holbrook from holding any position of responsibility in ADF locally or nationally.

The ADF Mother Grove board added, “ADF leadership remains committed to protecting our members and the organization and considers actions resulting in the exploitation of children to present considerable risk.”

We have reached out to DA’s office for more information on the court hearing, but have not yet heard back. We will continue to update you with any new developments on this story. 

*   *   *

BOSCASTLE, England — The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, located in Boscastle, Cornwall, has publicly distanced itself from the Pagan folklorist Carolyn Emerick. A spokesperson stated, “The Museum […] does not accept extreme views which align the morally repugnant politics of the far right (anywhere in the world) with folkloric custom and practice. Nor can it recommend writing which originates in circles which debate Facism[sic] and conflates it with Pagan belief and magical practice.”

In response, Emerick has accused the museum of launching “a witch hunt” against her. Not at all deterred by the museum’s actions, she said in a tweet, “I write about my ethno-cultural heritage because I love it. Because I love it, I will fight for it.”

The museum, whose focus is on witchcraft, magic, and British folklore, has since removed all links or references to her work from its various sites.

In other news

  • The Sidhe Brewery, located in St. Paul, Minnesota, closed its doors early this year, after nearly two years in operation. According to local reports, brewery co-owner Kathleen Culhane is currently looking to rebuild in a different location under a new name. She reportedly will be launching crowd sourcing campaign to make to that happen. We will bring you more on this story in the coming month.
  • Ellen Evert Hopman has launched a Patreon account to support the production of her upcoming film, Priestess of the Forest – A Druid Journey. Based on three of Hopman’s books, the film will begin shooting this summer in Massachusetts. She hopes to film in Ireland in the coming year. The film stars Elyse Poppers and Robert Brettenaugh.
  • Ninth Wave Press, the publishing arm for the Sisterhood of Avalon, is looking for submissions for a new anthology devoted to the Welsh goddess Arianrhod. Editors are looking for both written and visual works. Specific requirements and deadlines can be found on the website.
  • Pagan Unity Festival gets underway this week in the “rolling hills of Tennessee.” The child-friendly outdoor event begins Thursday and runs through Sunday.
  • Following that festival further north in western Massachusetts, EarthSpirit Community will be holding its annual Rites of Spring event, beginning May 24.

Got news? Contact us.

Mother’s Day: the radical, the spiritual, and the secular

Sun, 2017-05-14 08:51

TWH – Today is the second Sunday in May, which means its Mother’s Day for Americans as well as others around the world.  Writers often attribute this modern celebration to ancient festivals honoring the mother goddess, or to Christian tributes to the Virgin Mary. While most religious cultures did or do celebrate maternity in some way, the connections between any of these sacred celebrations and our modern secular holiday are tenuous at best.

Some believe that the American holiday finds its earliest roots in an old English religious tradition called  Mothering Sunday.” On the fourth Sunday of Lent, Christians journeyed far and wide to a “mother” cathedral rather than worshiping in their local “daughter” parish. Over time the day evolved into a secular holiday during which children gave gifts to their mothers.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s that there was a call for a uniquely American Mother’s Day celebration. 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.

We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience….The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

Not only did Howe call for a national holiday, she also called for a women’s council that would “promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, [in] the great and general interests of peace.”

The celebration of Mother’s Day, therefore, was first birthed in radical response to the horrors of war, then, propelled for ten years by female activists. To modern ears, Howe’s words almost has undercurrents of Twisted Sister’s rock anthem “We’re not gonna take it.”

Unfortunately, Howe’s dream never came into being. For ten years, she personally funded most of the Mother’s Peace Day celebrations. When she died,† so did Mother’s Peace Day.

Around the same time, in a small town in West Virginia, a similar idea was being cultivatedAnn Maria Reeves Jarvis, a Civil War nurse, had actively organized a series of “Mother’s Day work clubs.” Their mission was to teach women proper child care, provide war relief, curb infant mortality, and tend to the battle-wounded.

Like Howe, Jarvis advocated for peace and neutrality. She insisted that her mothers’ clubs treat both the Union and Confederate soldiers. After the war, Jarvis and other women created a Mother Friendship Day when mothers and former soldiers, from both sides of the war, came together in reconciliation.

After Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter Anna decided to honor her mother’s work. In 1907, on the second Sunday of May, the younger Jarvis held the first Mother’s Day celebration in her own home. Then, in 1908, she convinced leaders of two churches, one in Philadelphia and one in her hometown of Grafton, West Virginia, to celebrate the new holiday. Each mother was given a white carnation, her mother’s favorite flower.

[Photo credit: David Blackwell/flickr.]

Jarvis began a campaign for a national Mother’s Day celebration. By 1911, people in 47 states were celebrating Mother’s Day. Then in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson named the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, a nationally-recognized holiday.

Unfortunately, success brought way more than Jarvis ever wanted. Mother’s Day fell victim to commercialization. Themed cards and other products were produced and sold en masse. The post office printed stamps depicting Anne Reeves Jarvis with a white carnation. Mother’s Day was big business. By 1940, the disillusioned Jarvis had turned her back on the holiday completely. She was even arrested for protesting a few Mother’s Day events. Jarvis reportedly died poor, blind and alone in a Philadelphia sanitarium.

While modern Mother’s Day contains only tenuous connections to spiritual practice, the holiday is not without its own profound importance. Anna Jarvis conceived the holiday as an intimate day to thank one’s own mother for her sacrifice  For activist Julia Ward Howe and Anne Reeves Jarvis, Mother’s Day was a symbolic celebration of motherhood. They saw women, specifically mothers, as the healers and peace makers.

Additionally, people of different religious beliefs will extend a spiritual thread into this otherwise secular holiday by extrapolating upon its basic meaning. For many Pagan and Heathen women, Mother’s Day is a unique opportunity to connect a mainstream secular tradition to their own spiritual journeys as mothers. On this day, such mothers can reflect on their maternal roles in society, examine their mundane responsibilities, and witness how their experience is mirrored within theology and religious practice.

In May 2014, Starhawk wrote:

On this Mother’s Day, let us also remember the many, many types of mothering: stepmothers, wicked and otherwise, adoptive mothers, birthmothers {sic], 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?

Despite the holiday’s secular nature and over-commercialization, it has 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.

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.

While much of Mother’s Day’s radical beginnings have been lost in time and buried under pounds of tulle and floral bouquets, some Americans do find ways to connect with a deeper meaning, even if its just a few moment to stop, to witness the sacrifices of mothers, of all kinds, and to say, “Thanks.”


[The above article was adapted, in part, from previous articles, originally published in 2014 and 2015]

Devotional street art: an interview with Markos Gage

Sat, 2017-05-13 10:21

In the heart of Melbourne, Australia, Markos Gage works and lives creating public art inspired by mythology and his own personal spirituality. Gage identifies as an Hellenic polytheist, Dionysian artist, and Bacchic Orphic. He said, “I’m a devotee to Dionysos and claim some kind of initiation into his mysteries. I identify these mysteries as Dionysian Artist.”

The Funeral of Medusa [Copyright Markos Gage, used with permission]

Gage grew up in Frankston, and was reared by his mother and grandmother. He said, “My memory is a blur in this period as a result of child abuse from my disabled and alcoholic stepfather.” His mother, who he described as a exceptionally kind, was the “sole bread-bringer of the family” and worked long, exhausting hours. He’d often hide away in his room and just play with his toys.

Gage’s mother eventually left his abusive stepfather, which was a life-changer for him. “I felt free to explore what I wanted to do in life, including art.” He added, “My childhood has undoubtedly left emotional scars, ones that I am dealing with now, but it also shaped the person I am today.” He holds no grudges for what happened, and he uses his past to shape what he does today.

His difficult early years were not the only challenge in his youth. Gage is also dyslexic. “I don’t like thinking that dyslexia is a disability or a hindrance,” he said, “but a different function of the brain, especially in regards to visuals.” This condition also led him down a creative and visual path. “I was inclined to art, attracted to it because I could understand it directly.”

Today Gage and his partner are a fixed presence in Melbourne, creating devotional sidewalk art dedicated with direct connections to mythological stories, Renaissance paintings, and Pagan spirituality. For eight years, they have been creating sidewalk art downtown or on the Southbank promenade along Melbourne’s riverfront. They have also visited other cities along the east coast of Australia.

Artist Markos Gage [courtesy photo].

We spoke with Gage about his work, both past and present, and how he integrates and manifests his beliefs into his life.

TWH:  When did you first start creating as an artist? 

Markos Gage:  My first serious attempts at art came about when I was 13 or so. My sister is interested in New Age and has some talent for herself, so we both attended drawing classes for what is called “intuitive drawing.” This was influenced by New Age artists like Carole Bourdo. This style of drawing was very popular at New Age festivals, and obvious cultural appropriation.

The actual process of intuitive drawing is allowing your subconscious or spirit guides to control the art, which is usually planned out in abstract shapes then rendered over with pastels, eventually drawing animals or people. This was my introduction to spiritual art and pastel drawing.

TWH: Did you eventually study art in school or professional institute?   

MG: I studied art at Frankston TAFE (technical and further education). This was, at the time, semi-free vocational training for two years. Attending TAFE for two years equals to a portion or unit of a Bacherlor’s in visual art.  While I now appreciate the time spent there and people I met, I found TAFE to be lacking in artistic technical training and more focused upon art theory, especially modern , post-modern art. I consider my skills as an artist as self-taught. The most important feature of attending TAFE was meeting my life partner Wayne McMillan.

TWH:  Do you have any specific artists that have inspired you?

MG: I honestly don’t think I would be an artist (or at least the artist I am today) if it weren’t for my partner Wayne. We are unique in that we work collaboratively in almost everything. Be it input into each other’s works, actually co-painting, drawing, co-designing, sculpting,  mould-making. From when we met we started working together as one artist, thus when I talk about my art I refer to it as our art. We often credit our art with both our names.

TWH: Tell us more about Wayne and how your unique artistic partnership works.

MG: There is a usual generalisation of artists being egotistical and individual. Instead, we’re an artistic partnership and work as one individual. Apparently, our relationship is so interesting a short documentary has been made about it.

After coming together there has been no art made by either of us that isn’t influenced by one another. This is done though input, directly drawing/painting on each other’s work, inspirational insight, suggested subjects and learning together. So I can’t speak of my art without speaking about Wayne’s influence, the same can be said of Wayne regarding myself.

As for Wayne, he’s a bit of an acquired taste. He can be a clown, outlandish, loud, vulgar and absurd. In many aspects his personality is opposite of my own. His background is similar to my own, coming from a broken family. He has a very unique heritage with one side of his family originating from the tiny Pacific republic of Nauru. I’m unsure of the extent of it, but I suspect this tribal background influenced him as a person.

Wayne is a naturally-talented artist, in terms of technique he has always been more advance[d] from myself, thus he has taught me everything I now know. Though Wayne has a respect for the gods, he refuses to categorise or identify himself as anything religious. That said, I’m often amazed by his profound insight into the gods and taps into the spiritual realms without the knowledge/education and study that I maintain.

Intuitive drawing 2001 [© Markos Gage, used with permission].

TWH: Do you have another job? Or are you a professional artist?

MG: I’ve never had a “real” job.  Things have changed since I was at TAFE, but I was very lucky to be entitled to student welfare while attending school and also the schooling was mostly free. That is not to say that I was living well off, there were many times Wayne and I were literally starving artists, but we both refused to get a job – thus focusing solely on our art.

During art school I came up with plans for when we completed school, one was an statue business. We established Hephaestian Studios (H-Studios) in 2006. This was made possible by a government business grant system that sponsored our business for a year. It lasted into its second year when we decided to do chalk art, which we’ve been doing since.

TWH: What forms of expression does your work take right now?

MG: It’s best to divide this question up, as our art is separated between street and studio. Until this year our street art has focused on Greek mythology, including esoteric and strange elements that involve personal cultus. However this year we have decided to go back to reproductions of old masters, still attempting to keep it in theme. This is because doing original work on the street is really hard on both of us. It is consuming to much of our time in the studio. It’s either dedicate all our time to the street or keep the street apart from our studio art.

Our studio art is typically dedicated to oil painting, [although] we’re both proficient in digital art and currently learning acrylics. The statues are an on-off venture, we need serious funding to restart them. The studio work is usually the same themes of Greek myths, there is typically a darker flair to it, including mystery elements, symbols. Most are Dionysian in nature. Lately, I’ve been working on paintings directly inspired from Greek pottery.

TWH: If money was no object, what is your favourite type of artistic expression?

MG: I think we’ve already done it. Between October 2011 to January 2014 we embarked on one of the most ambitious independent chalk/pastel drawing in Australia called The Awakening of Pan. This drawing is dedicated to Pan and Dionysos and comprises of eleven two-by-three-metre canvases all linked together to make one big drawing that is 22 metres (72 feet) long. This was made possible solely through donations off the street, thus proving the power, freedom and sacredness of the street itself. That all said, I would be happy to spend the rest of my days making small icons for the gods. It’s something I feel is a duty and honour to do as a devotional artist.

TWH: Let’s talk about your religion now. Tell us about your journey to polytheism.

MG: Religion was never a thing for me growing up; my family are mostly agnostic. My grandmother always had a dislike toward any religion and installed that into her children and they unto us. Later, after my stepfather left, my mother and sister developed an interest in New Age, including attending festivals, crystal parties (think Tupperware party but with crystals), meditation, Reiki, tarot, I Ching, neo-shamanism, aromatherapy, healing, cleansing, etc. I was exposed to this stuff but it never clicked with me, but otherwise I grew up in an open-minded and religiously liberal family. No-body cared when I ‘came out’ as a Pagan.

I can’t recall when I started being interested in mythology, most likely it was some kids books or claymation film or something. When I was 15 I got my first computer and thus the internet was opened to me. I still had a lot of problems reading at that time, but I fell in love with images of gods. This is when everything started changing for me; it was at this time I discovered my sexuality, when my reading skills went from pre-school equivalent to near my current grade level, and when I started seeking something.

I would often skip school and read myths all day on the computer, first Norse, Celt, then Greek. I fell in love with Greek myths and started experiencing spiritual encounters with the gods through dream. Half-jokingly, I searched to see if there were people who worshiped the Greek gods (honestly thinking I’d get no results), and bang, Yahoo groups with active members. Hellenic Pagan was the first group I joined and I have been an active member of it since. This was my serious starting point where I was introduced to basic concepts and begun reading more on Greek religion and history.

Poseidon statuette [© Markos Gage, used with permission].

TWH: Will you tell us about the moment you became a devotee of Dionysos?

MG: When I was 25 Wayne and I decided to go homeless, not due to financial reasons, just a desire to travel and live freely. We discarded all our possessions and walked away from our apartment with nothing but backpacks with some clothes. (I still practice asceticism to this day.) This was when a Greek god, one I had given little cultus towards in the past, literally burst into my life. I still don’t know the exact time this happened, or how, but he became a massive presence in my life, I became a devotee of Dionysos.

TWH: You call yourself the Gargarean and the Dionysian Artist. What do these terms mean?

MG: The Gargarean was a moniker I developed in 2010. Gargareans are a mythical tribe of men, counterparts to Amazons. The inspiration came from a fiction that Wayne and I have been working on for many years. In that fiction, Gargareans featured as a homosexual tribe of men directly inspired by the historical Sacred Band of Thebes. It was a name I kept until I had an initiation experience at the end of 2015. This experience totally reformed who I am today, thus giving rise to the Dionysian Artist known as Δ (Delta). I no longer use the Gargarean as a name, nor identify with it.

The Dionysian Artist is derived from the Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai (or Tekhnitai Dionysou). This was a historic guild and cult of theatrical professionals of ancient Greece; think Hollywood and the Vatican joined as one. The Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai became a powerful guild and is often considered the first trade union, first international religious organisation, and also ancient diplomats equivalent of the UN. They were religiously apolitical and stateless, granting actors immunity from taxes, free travel and freedom of imprisonment. The reason why they were granted such powers is that art was recognised as a holy duty, one that would be hubris to suppress due to political boundaries and philosophies. Likewise, it was expected that these artists perform for everyone, even those deemed enemies of their native homeland. Historically this didn’t always work out in practice, but it was the Tekhnitai ambition and goal.

I relate to the Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai due to their function as devotional artists and as a public performer, thus it is my aim to replicate their practices, identity and re-establish their cultus including giving devotion to the Dionysian artists themselves. I therefore have strict rules in which I engage on certain topics, I attempt to remain neutral at all times, I’m apolitical, I do not vote, I do not hold nationalistic ideas, I don’t express political opinions, and avoid related conflict. This can be difficult at times.

TWH: Explain the use of the symbol Δ in you work.

MG: Δ is the name of the Dionysian artist – which is me – but it is a role I play as a devotee to Dionysos. This role is not mine, it has been granted to me by the gods. There may be other Δs who are different people in the future. Δ functions as a sacred link between artist and the divine, meaning all my artwork and writing is signed Δ as an indication of my devotion and lack of credit ownership of the work. Thereby I am the creator of this divine work, only that, the work itself is owned by and credited to the gods. Anyone who purchases my devotional art is a custodian of the art, I strongly encourage the buyer it to understand that.  Admittedly, this is out of my hands once I sell the work.

TWH:  Beyond the obvious connection to religious expression, your work stylistically recalls ancient works as well as renaissance art. When did you decide to go in that direction?

MG: The style of our work is really something that developed naturally. Before meeting one another, Wayne and I had unique styles in art that was quite opposite of each other. The back-and-forth artistic exchange between us over many years developed into the Renaissance, Botticelli-like cartoon style you see. The Renaissance and the pre-Raphaelites being massive influences on us both. Lately we’ve been focusing on Roman fresco and adopting the Apelles palette (red, white, black and yellow) to achieve similar effects.

As for why do we draw or paint in this style, well I don’t put much thought into the artistic process and allow it to develop naturally. That said, the Mannerist style was historically a deliberate avoidance of the real and influenced by Greek and Roman art, the focus is on the classical line, which is rooted in Egyptian artistic aesthetic.

[© Markos Gage, used with permission.]

TWH: Are there particular ancient works or renaissance artists that compel you?

MG: There is so much art that really inspires me, but overall I don’t think there is any other artist greater than the divine Michelangelo. The entire Sistine Chapel, David, The Slaves, Moses, Christ Carrying the Cross, The Pieta and Bacchus being my favourite pieces.

TWH: Even with this influence, your works aren’t copies. What is you thesis in rooting your art in these older images and evolving them to manifestation through spirituality? 

MG: Apart from the obvious reproductions (and call them such), the artwork attributed to us are not copies, it is also not pastiche art. It’s all original from basic composition sketches to full completion. Although there are some style choices that are similar to the Renaissance, Mannerism, the work is unusual in terms of aesthetic and standards of that epoch. Thus this is contemporary devotional art.

TWH: Do you believe your work fits within a particular genre?

MG: Our art does not fit into any modern genre of art. Nor do we identify it with any art movement. It is all devotional in nature, thus not even applicable to human definitions/labels. It’s for the divine to decide what it is.

TWH: Outside of your public street art, what other types of art have you done?

MG: I started with spiritual pastel drawings, including totem animals and basic portraits of spirit guides as a teen. In high school my finals in art was a modern western mandala based upon the Buddhist mandala, this piece inspired by naïve concepts of unified religious ideals. During art school I focused on figurative sculpture, icons for gods and oil painting related to urban decay.  Apart from the latter art, religion has been a continued focus of my art.

TWH:  Let’s talk more about the street art. Do you need licenses or legal permissions?

MG:  Melbourne is the most liberal, tolerant and supportive city in the world for buskers. I’m proud of that fact. … I have been involved in developing some of the permit rules, including granting artists the right to sell work on the street, opening new areas for artists to work, and also discarding some of the more nonsensical rules.

The rights that the council has to regulate buskers are a legal grey area. Technically the rules are deemed by-laws, not laws, and were not developed by lawyers or politicians. Thus the policing of the rules could be subject to legal or lawful query. Busking is not illegal so the council must regulate via public safety and amenities, which only include fines equal to littering, smoking in non-smoking areas, drunken disorderly, disturbing the peace etc …

Melbourne’s permit system is complex, yet, often cited as a good model for other cities… Each [type of] permit has rules designed around the act performed … The pavement art permit allows us to remain on the “pitch” (spot we busk on) for the entire day. Initial payment for the general area and pavement art permit is $20 for a year and $10 for yearly renewal; the prices of other permits range.

TWH: For these public works, what medium and process do you use? How long do they last?

MG: For a few years we just worked directly to the pavement, using chalk and pastels. In these cases how long it lasted depended on weather and street cleaners. Some would last up to a week, others less than a day.

We began working on canvases when we started developing plans for The Awaking of Pan. We wanted to do something big, but knew it would be impossible to do direct to the ground. So we developed a technique for pastels on canvas. This is done via a priming paint I mix up with pumice powder, to give the canvas an adhesive sandpaper-like surface. The pastels are then applied in layers working from light to dark body colour with final colours applied on top in successive layers. This application of pastel is very sculptural and allows easy alteration if required.

The techniques we use are relatively new, some we have developed by ourselves. So in terms of longevity, it is unknown. However there are pastel drawings from the Renaissance that have held up better than oil paints. Pastels are a non-volatile medium and many of the pigments we use are made from earth tones. In theory, and if cared for properly, the artwork could last hundreds of years, maybe thousands.

Clash of the Tides [© Markos Gage, used with permission].

TWH: How does it feel to be working while people watch and walk by? 

MG: I have to admit that it can be nerve-racking. The street is a beautiful thing, something I worship and regard as the source of all arts. It is the agora, the open forum of the city and thus life. It is chaotic, dangerous, kind, powerful, seedy and splendid. It is Dionysian. The street has been very good to us, but also we have suffered from physical assaults, gang bashing, stalking, and regular petty theft.

When we work we enter into a meditative state and focus on our work. This disconnects us, to a degree, we enter a zone where we’re totally engaged in art making. But in the back of our minds we are also aware of our surrounding, it can make us a bit paranoid. I tend to place up personal barriers, both in my attitude of dealing with people and spiritual barriers. There is a lot of miasma we have to wade through on the street which can be spiritually detrimental to us.

Then there is the positive, of all the negative this is counteracted a thousand fold by the support and praise and beaming smiles of the street. Seeing people engage with our work, seeing them take photos, us receiving constant compliments (and coin!) is a great encouragement to making art. I sincerely feel this is an honour and I’m proud that we are able to brighten up people’s lives.

TWH: One notable aspect found in some of your works is the presence of Phanes, which can appear to many as a visual subversion  with regard to the body. Tell us about this image. 

MG: Wayne and I happen to be in a homosexual relationship, but one thing we avoid and strongly discourage is being labelled gay or queer artists. It’s simply not what we’re about. We don’t identify with gay culture and live apart from it.

Phanes plays a very important role in the personal mythos that Wayne and I have. Phanes is the first god in many Greek creation stories, the god that binds the universe together and creates union between heaven and earth, thus he is also known as the Elder Eros. As a supreme deity he is a mixture of male or female, in flight and grounded and of animals – that include predator and prey, essentially he is a paradox of extremes. In my mythos and cultus Phanes is one of the first form or incarnations of Dionysos, the purest form.

The Awaking of Pan [© Markos Gage, used with permission].

TWH: Have you had backlash with regard to this image or to any other evocative works?

MG: I don’t expect the public to understand what we’re doing. The times we are working on ‘evocative’ images is deliberate means of opening spiritual doorways and reintroducing what has been forgotten back into reality. It is direct and powerful. In these instances our ambition is to produce something spiritual, how people interact with this work is consequential and not the main ambition.

The Awaking of Pan and The Epiphany of Phanes are both related drawings in that they mean the same thing and feature Phanes. How people react to this is up to them, some find it awe inspiring, some have cried in joy, others are offended and yell abuse (Christian fundamentalists love us!). However it’s the street, a chaotic mess of random madness, I expect nothing more or less.

We’ve been producing street art since 2008, as of writing almost nine years. In that time we have completed hundreds of drawings of various subjects, themes, levels of nudity. In that time we’ve supposedly offended people by doing fully clothed figures, characters dressed in fur clothing, images of women, images of men, images of children, images of nudes etc. People will find anything to be offended.

That being said, the city council has received a total of four complaints against us (at least what I’m aware of). So far it has resulted in no action because our work fits into standards of nudity of other public artwork throughout Melbourne. It also has historical, cultural value. In terms of Australian law, censoring us would be difficult, we’re entitled to free speech and expression based upon implied rights in the constitution and the UN charter. Busking is not illegal and only governed by by-laws regarding public safety and amenities.

TWH: Why do it? What is your mission?

MG: This is a question asked a lot. The most superficial and basic answer is money. Wayne and I could have “real” jobs: working for some art store, teaching, or working at a café. Or we could work on the street making art for free to the public and generate a similar (or more) income as those supposed “real” jobs. It’s difficult being a professional artist, but we have found a niche that enables us to make a full time income without constantly selling our work, or catering to corporate businesses.

The other reasons as I’ve touched on in previous answers is that this is a spiritual act; this is more of a personal philosophy and function. It is our way of bringing our gods back to the people. But also passive enough that it is not in the face preaching or seeking to convert people.

Lastly is the impact we have on people’s lives. There is[sic] countless times where a typical middle-class Australian bloke will come up to us and say, “I’ll never set foot in an art gallery, but this is bloody beautiful!” People walk away with something that they would never of had if we were not there, it is memory, experience. Through our art with give the ultimate gift to the public completely free, in some cases this changes people’s lives. I can’t claim this is an ambition, but certainly something that is an incredible side effect of our presence. I find this to be a very beautiful correspondence and uplifting as an artist.

Sketches for their Sea Thiasos [© Markos Gage, used with permission].

* * *

Gage said that the coming year will be “massive transition” for both he and McMillan. “I’m experiencing spiritual nudges to get myself to Italy. This is why we’re becoming a little more commercial, i.e., producing reproductions of old masters.” Gage said he’d also like to visit the U.S. and see if he’s “eligible for initiation into the Starry Bull cult.”

As for projects, they are in the process of developing a tradition centered around a modern expression of the Dionysian artists, including a book project. With that, he continues to work on devotional paintings, ” especially inspired by Greek pottery and Roman fresco,” and his partner McMillan has started exploring chthonic deities and daemons, as well as a project based around the sea gods. Gage said that many of these project are worked on over years, so who knows where they’ll be or what will develop as time goes on?

Column: Isle of Glass

Fri, 2017-05-12 09:59

The sky has begun to purple above Glastonbury. The water from the White Spring has mostly dried from my body by now, though I doubt this pair of socks will ever really be wearable again. My friend Claudia, her son, and I stand now at the bottom of a very tall hill, one that looms even larger in the Pagan imagination than it does in reality: Glastonbury Tor.

Glastonbury Tor [photo by E. Scott].

I tell Claudia that it amazes me to see how well the tor hides itself: the path to the top begins at the cobbled street outside of the White Spring, but nothing advertises the hill except for a few small signs. It occurs to me that in America, something like the tor would have much more fanfare about it, or at least a dedicated parking lot, rather than the gravel lot down the block designated for the Draper Factory to which we trusted Claudia’s car, hoping that nobody would mind us parking there after hours.

Our new friends from the White Spring, the lovely people who convinced me to jump naked into the chill January water, have gone on ahead of us. As we begin to make our way up the tor, I squint, searching for them, two dark shapes against the mass of the hill, but I cannot find them. They may have already made it to the top; we spent too much time dallying at the car, eating graham crackers and changing boots. This searching also gives me the chance to take in the size of the tor: about 500 feet, so I have read. 500 feet does not strike me as being so tall in absolute terms — barely a fourth of the height of an official U.K. mountain — but it seems huge by comparison to the landscape around it. Perhaps this comes from it being barren of trees; much like my beloved Icelandic landscapes, being able to see the shape of the tor with only the grass covering it emphasizes its character and weight, and makes it strange.

I realize at this moment that although it should not be a hard climb, it will still be a climb, and I am dreadfully out of shape.

A few moments after we start to climb the hill, Claudia’s son stops, pats himself down, and panics. “Where’s my phone?” he asks, and begins to look around with a mania reserved for teenagers.

“Well where did you put it, dear?” asks Claudia, and they start their mental pilgrimage back to the parking lot, trying to remember where he might have dropped it. Claudia grimaces at me while her son takes off back down the hill. “You should go on ahead,” she says. “We might be a moment.”

While my instincts tell me to help look, the gloaming continues to set in, and I worry that before long it will be too dark to enjoy the view from the top. I nod and continue climbing.

The mists have started to settle on the tor. Ahead, the black spike of the tower of St. Michael wavers in and out of vision, hidden by the cloud-fall. I am not sure if the scene is a literal Fata Morgana — the mirage named for Morgan le Fay, where an object appears to float upon the mist — but the tower, beautiful and foreboding, seems like something out of another world regardless. I want to chuckle — I am literally entering the mists of Avalon — but the scene fills me with solemnity. My feet clack against the concrete path that cuts across the seven terraces of the tor, and with each step, I feel myself being pulled further across the threshold.

(And yet – there are sheep, grazing, sleeping, playing on the terrace. What does the milk of the otherworld taste of?)

The tower of St. Michael [photo by E. Scott].

Except for a single curve, the stepped path up the tor runs straight, which has the curious effect — especially when combined with the mist and the approaching darkness — of making the trail seem endless. The tower never seems to get closer: always it lurks in the distance, never quite coming into focus. I lose my breath vaulting up the thick concrete slabs that trace the hill, and stop to look back at Glastonbury. House-lights peer through the haze, gold light and violet earth, complementary colors as perfect as an artist’s wheel.

I can see Claudia, far below, walking up the steps alone, and I wonder if her son ever found his phone, and what the tor means to him, who sees it once a month.

There is a point where the steps end and the concrete flows straight up the hill; it’s at that point when it finally seems to be a place one can reach, where one’s feet could stand. The tower comes into view, enough to finally make out some details: its crenelated top and its arched entryways. Despite appearing out of time, the tower itself dates to only the 15th century’ “only,” I say, as though 600 years were a mere holiday jaunt.

But that is the feeling of deep time I have had since I arrived in England and stepped through one side of the threshold back at Stonehenge. I felt it there, and at the Rollright Stones, and here: these places bring to my mind a connection to a time unknowable. Not inexplicable, for our archeologists and our historians and our anthropologists of religion have done so much to uncover what can be uncovered, to theorize on what pieces of the jigsaw have survived. We can explain, but we cannot know, really.

I know that before this hollow tower sat alone atop the tor, it belonged to a church, and that at one point, it was the new church, built atop the ruins of one before, and perhaps one before that; and long before the Christians built churches here, there were heathen burials, metalworkers, collectors of pottery. Some of them terraced the hill, and some built homes, and some built churches; and I am conscious, in this moment, of my footsteps tracing their footsteps, of the mists descending on the tor before them, of the holy mystery that existed before even the Neolithic peoples came to Glastonbury Tor.

Inside the hollow tower [photo by E. Scott].

I stop with just a little further to go, intending to wait for Claudia. Up ahead, I hear something: music. A woman’s voice, calling out from the tower of St. Michael. I listen to her singing, her long and wordless notes. It’s the voice of Jenny, my friend from the White Spring. I stand there for awhile, waiting for one friend, listening to the other, lingering in the twilight of my last day of pilgrimage. * * * The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Graduate student teaches and studies Western Paganism in Japan

Thu, 2017-05-11 06:46

KOBE, Japan —  Eriko Kawanishi first came to Glastonbury as a graduate student, working on Western paganism for her thesis. Impressing the locals with her understanding, her courage in coming alone to a small English town on the other side of the planet, and her good humour, Eriko soon became an integral part of the Glastonbury community and has taken her knowledge of the UK Pagan scene back to her home country of Japan.

Eriko is a researcher at Kyoto University and will be teaching at Konan Women’s University in Kobe as a part-time lecturer beginning September 2017. She said that Western Paganism isn’t studied widely in Asia, and although Shinto, for instance, shares some common themes with Pagan paths such as Druidry, there is currently little formal exchange between the two.

Shinto shrine inside a Japanese magic shop in Osaka, [Courtesy Photo]

As the work of academics like Eriko expands, however, a more in-depth understanding of the spiritual analogies between the cultures is likely to develop. We asked Eriko a few questions about her cross-cultural endeavour:

The Wild Hunt: How did you become involved in a study of Western paganism?

Eriko Kawanishi: I first encountered contemporary Witches through the anthropology class by my supervisor when I started my masters course. He showed us a DVD about the contemporary Goddess Movement Full Circle (1993) and lent me the other two Goddess Remembered (1989) and The Burning Times (1990), all directed by Donna Read.

TWH: How much awareness is there in Japan of Western paganism?

EK: Almost nobody knows the word Paganism. But witch is a very famous word because we have a history of anime programs about witches. Also many Western novels are translated. But almost nobody knows there are people who practice Witchcraft and call themselves Witches in the West. So Witches are generally considered as figures in fantasy here.*

TWH: Are there any connections between Japanese paganism or religion and the Western spiritualities?

EK: Many people who are involved in Western spiritualities or Paganism are interested in traditional Japanese religion They usually prefer Shinto to Buddhism. They like to visit the shrines and like the divinities. But they don’t follow the traditional way of practicing. The form of current Shinto was organized after the Meiji restoration in the late 17th century. Of course Shinto was used to authorise the emperor, especially during WWII, so it always has a political side.

TWH: Do you think there is potential interest in Japan for Western Paganism? 

EK: As a culture, yes. But as a faith, I don’t think so. Because compared to Western countries, we don’t have enough chances to think about faith or religion. For example, the Japanese census doesn’t have a section of “religion.” Japanese schools don’t have classes on religion except the ones founded by Christians and Buddhists. I asked the same question of the students. They said they are interested in witches in anime or games, but not as a faith.

But always a certain amount of people are interested in spiritual things. For them, Western Paganism may spread more.

Wands, staffs, athames, and other magical items in a shop in Osaka, Japan. [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: Does the media in Japan (e.g., anime) address Western witchcraft? (I’m thinking of Clamp, for example)

EK: And Studio Ghibli? There are many comic books and TV animes too. Somebody says witches in Western anime are usually ladies; witches in Japanese anime are usually girls because we have a tradition of admiring girls (e.g., Takarazuka Revue). I don’t know Western anime so much, so I am not sure.

TWH: Where do you think Japanese indigenous spirituality heading in the future?

EK: If you are talking about Shinto, people will use it more freely, creatively, and openly in the future. Elderly people have a very negative image of Shinto, because that was a dogma to die for the emperor during WWII, and they lost their families and friends. It is not a dogma now, but it easily connects to nationalism. If you say you worship Amaterasu, for example, you will be considered right wing immediately. But those elders are dying, so the situation has been changed.

As I wrote, Japanese Witches like Shinto, but not in its [traditional] form. So for me, they use the framework of Western Paganism and compose the framework with Japanese indigenous elements. For example, one Witch likes to have four elements, earth, air, water and fire, on his altar, but all the elements are local (e.g., sacred trees, incense, sacred water) So indigenous spirituality may be intermingled with spiritualities from different cultures.

TWH: What’s the Japanese attitude toward nature in general?

EK: That’s a difficult question… Because it’s very dependent on the individual.

It’s just my opinion, but many people want to leave nature now. They like vegetables without worms and want to live without worms and insects. They like nature only as provided for humans (e.g., parks). [In that opinion], nature and daily life should be separated.

Painted Shinto Shrines sold in Osaka magical shop. [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: How might we foster connections between Japan and the UK/USA/West in this respect? 

EK: I find Japanese people like Japanese things. If they can’t find any connection, many of them (except anthropologists) lose their interest. So it is important how [something] connects to Japanese culture. Japanese people also love to hear how Japanese culture is accepted in different countries. They like to hear how Shinto, Ninjas, Amaterasu, for example, are known in the West, and they want to know the differences between Western ways and Japanese ways.

This might be a good place to start!

*   *   *

As UK-based paganism continues to foster links with other countries, exchanging ideas, practices and concepts, a future in which highly diverse cultures interact around pagan issues appears increasingly likely to be on the cards. Exchanging information with academics like Eriko can only enhance this process, both ways.

As for herself, she says that it is best to describe her as ‘walking her own spiritual path.’ She does converse with a deity, but she does not put a name to it, and does not currently follow any particular religion.

Eriko will recommence teaching in the autumn term in the anthropology department of Kyoto University. She will also be taking classes on Contemporary European and Pagan Study in the school’s Institute for Research in Humanities.

From seed to compost: a conversation with Paul Beyerl

Wed, 2017-05-10 11:56

KIRKLAND, Wash. –Not all Pagans have the opportunity to live closely attuned to the cycles of nature. Paul Beyerl and his partner Gerry were able to realize that dream 24 years ago when they purchased the land which became the Hermit’s Grove, a botanical garden of just over an acre in size that’s now surrounded by upscale homes in this small city adjacent to Seattle. The Rowan Tree Church, where Beyerl teaches the tradition called Lothloriën, is also rooted to this land.

Hermit’s Grove Stone Circle [From website]

Beyerl said, as a child, learning came a bit too easily for himl. “I coasted through the educational system,” without the lesson of hard work to guide him.

“The Beatles told me to read books, meditate, and take acid; I did all of the above many times, and it changed my life quite radically.”

He found himself as part of the “back to the land” movement working on a northern Minnesota farm, which is when his serious studies began. Working at a bank to support himself, he learned about herbalism and Wicca. Three years later, he quit his job and became a full-time priest and author, articulating transdisciplinary truths such as how astrology impacts the growth of certain herbs.

“Modern physics, old religion; I was transcending worlds,” he said.

Living according to the times of planting and reaping, Beyerl has written multiple books informed by his attunement to nature. “Those things are supposed to be part of being Wiccan,” he said.

“I’m always a little amazed how many Pagans and Wiccans don’t really grasp these things as realities,” rather than intellectual concepts.

This idea, that the natural world is very much the primary reality for the longtime Wiccan priest, is evident in his newest book, On Death and Dying, which is subtitled, “There’s nothing wrong with being compost.” Death in his mind is just one more thing which fits into those cycles about which he has intimate knowledge.

The Hermit’s Grove “ties into my views of many things,” he explained; everything from herbalism to astrology to tarot “has to be relevant to your daily, practical life.”

He helps clients make that connection by choosing his words with care. In astrology, he focuses on the querent’s day-to-day business rather than the jargon of that discipline. Beyerl also ministers to prisoners, who are limited in the tools they can possess; to them he explains that magic is only as effective as one’s word, but those words can be powerful indeed if it is how the individual lives.

He considers his own life an example of that principle.

“I’ve had cancer twice, and both times it was diagnosed at just the right time. My spleen ruptured, but the best surgeon for the job just happened to be at the hospital, and free at that time.”

Paul Beyerl [Wikimedia Commons].

The good timing comes from living naturally and magically, he believes: “It means things just happen in my life.”

One maxim that stems from his belief about magic is a strict avoidance of negativity, which invariably ruins the spell. “Negativity is like a virus,” he said. “People love to be negative. It makes them feel important to have drama to talk about. Our unwritten rule is, ‘no drama, no politics.’ ”

To some extent, Beyerl may be inured to such influences by virtue of the life he’s led, fingers in the soil and nose filled with the smell of blossoms and loam. He’s noticed that some Wiccans that he meets don’t draw upon the energy of the Earth in the same way he does.

“People talk about being ‘drained’ after an initiation or intense ritual,” he observed, while he himself feels invigorated by that sort of work. “If you draw from the natural world, you should be full of energy.”

Beyerl is also skeptical of what he calls “Pagan poverty issues.” While he is poised to have a healthy bank balance once this land is sold, he is no stranger to a lack of funds.

“If you really believe what you say about magic, you wouldn’t be complaining about not having enough money. When I needed money, I just worked hard, scrubbing toilets or doing anything I could find.” He points to the disconnect from nature caused by the Industrial Revolution as the likely culprit.

To explain his views on money, he uses the six of pentacles from the tarot deck, which represents generosity. “Poor people are always more generous,” he said. “My parents were poor, but you only think of yourself like that if you want more than you can have.”

On the other hand, he looks to history and sees that two thousand years ago, “Pagan religions were corrupt, and all about money.”

He imagines that most Pagans today, if living in that time, “would have been underground Christians. It’s not about the denomination, its about who you are.”

While Beyerl is proud of the work that’s been accomplished in the grove, he and his partner have come to recognize that the land’s use will not outlive them, and they must take steps to ensure that the Lothloriën tradition does.

“We have to sell,” he explained. “It’s too expensive to maintain with the property taxes.” The neighborhood which has been built up around them is one of million-dollar homes on large lots; most of the space at the Hermit’s Grove, in contrast, is reserved for the gardens themselves. Their home is “tiny” with a porta-potty; a far cry from what the area has become.

“There’s nobody to take this over,” he said, because “it’s too much labor and expense,” and difficult to make a living working that land given the high costs in the area.

Hermits Grove [From website]

The plan is to move back to Minnesota, where the proceeds could purchase a ten-acre parcel suitable for retreats, with “a lot of money left over” to support church programs and the septuagenarian’s eventual retirement.

Minnesota is where the Lothloriën was formed, and the upper Mississippi valley is the “sacred heart of the cosmology” of that tradition. That’s in part because of the region’s “driftless” character, having not been touched by glaciation in the last Ice Age.

The decision to move is one Beyerl said has been in the back of his head for at least ten years, but he was reluctant because of the effort already expended working on and relating to the land. “We kept thinking we could make it sustainable,” he recalled.

The last time they received an unsolicited offer, he said, “we sat on it for two months,” and then he took a look at land prices back in Minnesota. “I was shocked” by the difference, he said.

“Over 25 years living on the West Coast, and I didn’t realize it’s pretty expensive here.”

Being less than three miles from the Microsoft campus certainly has put upward pressure on land prices, Beyerl admits, and on their attempts to live an agrarian life in an urban setting. “It’s been challenging, but quite wonderful,” he said.

“We live the cycles of the Earth,” with pollination determining the crop, organic pest control keeping it alive, and a grey system that’s used for hand-watering many of the plants.

In addition to the lower cost, Minnesotan land, as Beyerl believes, will make it easier to cultivate community as well. The Rowan Tree Church has 10-15 core members that worship together in Kirkland at a local Unitarian Universalist church, as there’s scant room for gathering at the grove itself. Adding to the space issues, “the entire suburban area is 75 feet wide and 25 to 30 miles long,” meaning that even those stalwarts must travel a fair distance to gather.

Around North America, the Lothloriën tradition boasts 40-50 families, and Beyerl is content with that.

“Some traditions hope to grow quickly,” he said. “Ours grows like a tree,” and where it lacks breadth it certainly has depth. More than a third of his students have been with him for 20 years or more, which comes as no surprise since completing the work in the tradition’s mystery school can itself easily take 18 years or more.

“I don’t know of any more difficult,” he said. “It’s more modeled on the Buddhist idea of lifetime study.”

Beyerl looks back at his lifetime unflinchingly, and is similarly unafraid of what’s to come. Having lived with HIV for close to three decades has helped shape his acceptance of his own inevitable end, an ethic which is reflected in On Death and Dying.

“People don’t live mindful of death anymore,” he said. “We used to be accepting of that, but now we want to pretend it’s not going to happen. It’s hard to get healthy again if you’ve got that fear. People are afraid of the fool card, of stepping off into the unknown.

“Making it to the eighties would be interesting,” he said. “Many people don’t pass through that milestone.” While he does not deny that his body is slowing down, “Being old is also really wonderful.”

Once he’s gone, Beyerl expects to be reincarnated and have to seek out his tradition all over again. The move to Minnesota will make it all the more likely to survive, he said, complete with funds and space for retired members of the clergy among the 4,000 rare books they have accumulated in the church’s library. Compost he will become, and from that compost he hopes to feed the tradition well enough that it’s there to welcome him back in his next life. Such is the circle of life, Lothloriën style.

Uncovering the Past: Funeral Garden, Hathor, the Kingdom of Sudan, and more!

Tue, 2017-05-09 10:35

As some Pagans and Heathens attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Egyptian Funeral Garden Finally Discovered

A 4,000-year-old funerary garden, the first to be found, was uncovered on the Dra Abu el-Naga hill in Luxor, Egypt. Archaeologists had long suspected that funeral gardens existed in Egypt, since there were depictions of them on on tomb walls, but until now, one hadn’t been found.

“Aerial view of the funerary garden discovered by CSIC’s research team. Credit: CSIC Communications”

The garden has a small, rectangular section with 30 raised beds and two trees planted nearby. The plants in the garden are expected to have symbolic and religious meaning and could have played a role in funeral rites. The trees could possibly be palm, sycamore, or Persia trees as those three are associated with resurrection. A small offering bowl containing dates was also found in the garden.

Archaeologists are working with botanists to identify the plants and trees in the garden rough their seeds. The information gathered could be of great use to modern Kemetics as they plan for their funeral rites.

Who gets to claim Hathor?

The goddess Hathor is one of the preeminent deities Egyptian pantheon, but is she Egyptian? New finds are strengthening the case that Hathor was a Semitic deity long before the Egyptians started to worship her.

In addition to more well known aspects of Hathor, such as welcoming devotees to the afterlife, Hathor was worshiped by turquoise miners. The earliest evidence of turquoise mining in the Sinai starts in the 4th millennium BCE and was done by nomadic Semitic peoples.

The main buyer of turquoise was the Egyptians, and around 2600 BCE, the Egyptians took over the turquoise mines, moved operations to to west-central Sinai, and built a shrine to Hathor.

What has archaeologists wondering about Hathor’s origin, and even her name, are the inscriptions found at the shrine. Some of the inscriptions appear to be dedicated to Baalat, a female form of Ba’al, a Semitic God. On other temples, Baalat and Hathor were synonymous and were called Heavenly Matriarch.

The combination of the early inscriptions at the shrine at the turquoise mine, along with the presence of Semitic miners who worked the mine, have Egyptologists theorizing the shrine was built by the miners, who then brought this Goddess into Egypt with them.

Did the Sudan rival Egypt in scope?

The Egyptian Kingdoms have long been thought the zenith of ancient African culture, but could the Kingdom of Sudan been equal or even surpassed it? Swiss archaeologist Charles Bonnet thinks that may be the case after his discovery of three temple in the Sudan.

The round temples date back to 1500 to 2000 BCE and were found near Kerma in Northern Sudan. Round temples in any part of the world are very rare, so the structures stand out for their unique architecture. The temples do not match any known temple structures in Egyptian architecture.

Statuettes from Ancient Sudanese Kingdom [Public Domain photo]

The prevailing theory, for many decades, was that the Sudan was a satellite state of Egypt. That theory fell after Bonnet found evidence of a coalition of free kingdoms who defended against the neighboring Egyptians. Bonnet was also credited with finding the granite statues of seven of Sudan’s Nubian rulers. The ancient kingdom of Nubia was rich in ivory, gold, and ebony.

Bonnet believes Sudan’s Nile Valley is the home of several successive large kingdoms that rivaled Egypt.

So you want to be an archaeologist? Now you can!

If archaeology is your passion, but you don’t want to leave the comfort of your home, new technology lets you join in. Space archaeologist Sarah Parcak has created a new online platform that lets anyone with a computer search for new places to dig or to protect those already found.

The program, called GlobalXplorer,. Allows people to flag unusual features that may be an undiscovered structure. To keep people interested and searching, the program is run in a game format. Users can unlock rewards, have access to exclusive YouTube content, and receive other perks.

Parcak’s space archaeology techniques have already helped locate 17 potential pyramids, 3100 potential settlements, and a possible 1000 tombs in Egypt. She hopes, by opening this up to every day people, those numbers can climb still higher.

Pagan Community Notes: Scott Holbrook, Dr. Lucie Marie-Mai Du Fresne, and more.

Mon, 2017-05-08 09:24

GASTON, N.C. — A transcript of Daniel Scott Holbrook’s plea deal in court last month doesn’t jibe with his version of events. Holbrook pleaded no contest to charges of disseminating obscenities after, by his account, an attempt to download a movie from a file-sharing site yielded hundreds of illegal images. However, the prosecutor asserted during the proceedings that Holbrook had admitted to the officers who arrived at his home to not only downloading the images in question, but using them for personal gratification.

Rev. Tony Brown, who was in court and shared his account with The Wild Hunt at that time, omitted that information because he wasn’t sure he heard it correctly, saying only, “Some of the details in [Holbrook’s and others’] accounts differ from what I heard in court.” Brown is also the person who originally obtained the hearing transcript as verification. He now says, “[I] can verify that it comports with my memory of the proceedings.” Brown added that he is urging caution in interpreting this information.”It is also worth considering that no evidence or testimony was presented in the case. He pled[sic] out. All the transcript provides is the DA’s summation of the case.”

That’s a point brought up by Maria Fergus, who was part of Holbrook’s ADF protogrove and was also present in the courtroom that day. She said that “the accusation that he admitted to masturbating to the images was made as part of the DA’s statement after he had entered the plea of no contest and could not refute them. I was shocked.”

Fergus added that she later confronted Holbrook on that point, saying that she “demanded he look [her] in the eye, and questioned him explicitly.” She said, “I am 100% confident he told the truth about the allegations.”

Fergus, Brown, and Holbrook’s wife Amber all confirm that Holbrook vehemently shook his head in reaction to the prosecutor’s characterization.

When asked about the transript, Holbrook told TWH that he was blindsided by the prosecutor’s comment, which was made during summation and therefore was not subject to an objection. “I can say that my lawyer informed me beforehand that while this prosecutor was generally fair, in cases that related to underage sexuality, no matter the context, she could be especially vicious—and again, she was by no means bound to tell the truth, and may have wanted simply to drill the point home just how seriously she takes cases like this, which she would ordinarily prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, provided she had evidence (e.g. a confession) to do so. I was not prepared, however, for any statements to be made like the ones she did.”

While Holbrook did not include those hearing details in his written account, he said that he had told “numerous people in the local and broader Pagan community” what was said during the summation.  We will continue to follow this story and updated if needed.

*   *   *

OTTAWA — Dr. Lucie Marie-Mai DuFresne, an elder in the Canadian Pagan community, died Sunday, Apr. 23, 2017. DuFresne had been fighting both breast and liver cancer. Very suddenly and unexpectedly, at the beginning of April, she was rushed to the hospital with liver failure. She was given months to live, but that would not be so. A few short days after returning home, Lucie died, in her own bed as per her wishes. She was 65.

DuFresne was well known in the Pagan community for her work as a founding member of the Pagan Federation/Fédération Païenne Canada (PFPC) where she championed the cause of Pagan chaplaincy. She was also  the previous owner and proprietor of a popular Pagan emporium known as the Hungry Eye, located in downtown Ottawa.

An anthropologist by training and a teacher by preference, DuFresne was a longtime sessional lecturer at the University of Ottawa in the departments of Classics and Religious Studies, Sociology and Anthropology, and Women’s Studies. Her recent work focused on the history of lace in Canada, based upon her knowledge of religious orders, women’s participation in the French Canadian, Métis and Aboriginal economies, and the religious history of Québec and Ontario.

DuFresne was actively involved in the local committee for Walking With Our Sisters, a travelling commemorative art installation for the missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada and the United States. She was also a member of the Lacemakers Guild of Ottawa and the Ottawa Herb Society. She was an active supporter of, and participant in, La Triennale Internationale des Arts Textiles en Outaouais, a tri-annual textile exhibition.

A celebration of DuFresne’s life was held Apr. 30 in Ottawa. Friends and family from Ontario and Quebec participated in a ritual, which was a blend of Pagan and native traditions which acknowledged her as both Pagan and Metis. Altars for each of the four directions were decorated with DuFresne’s personal collection of ritual tools and goddess figurines, as well as her own hand-blended smudges which she created based on her anthropological work in the Yukon, Canada.

A GoFundMe campaign has been started to raise money to assist the family in transition, to cover funeral costs, legal costs, and the expenses associated with getting Lucie’s archival research to the right people and places. What is remembered, lives.

In other news:

  • Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The four-day outdoor camping festival is held annually at Montgomery Bell State Park in the Tennessee mountains. It offers workshops, entertainment, shopping, and a children’s activities. This year’s special guests include Rev. Selena Fox, Christopher Penczak, Oberon Zell, Alex Bledsoe, Gypsey Teague, Rowena Whaling, Fr. David, Tony Kail, Kiki Dombrowski. PUF runs May 18 through 20.
  • It was announced that the First Hermetic International Film Festival will be held in Venice, Italy in March 2018. Festival director Sara Fero said that FHIFF is interested in screening films related to “esoterica and the hermetic sciences.”  The festival is looking for submissions now in a number of categories. Information is on the festival website.
  • The sixth annual WitchsFest USA, billed as “a Pagan street faire,” will occur in Astor Place, New York City, on July 14-16, 2017; it is hosted by Starr Ann Ravenhawk. The long list of presenters includes Christian Day, Lilith Dorsey, and Queen Mother Imakhu; among the performers will be the Dragon Ritual Drummers and Witchmaste.  Vendors — including psychics — will be open and workshops ongoing for the entire time.  For more information, consult the linked web site.
  • Silver RavenWolf will be releasing a new book in fall 2017. Her latest offering is titled The Witching Hour, and is subtitled, “Spells, Powders, Formulas, Witchy Techniques that Work.” The book is being published by Llewellyn Worldwide.
  • Brython has launched a new project to “develop a body of Brythonic polytheist devotional material.” Brython is a group of polytheists aiming to research, recover and redistribute this form of Celtic spirituality. The organization has already published four books on the topic. Brython is now looking for submissions from the great community to help “develop and enhance the existing devotional material.” The work will be published on their blog.

Editorial: Religious Liberty or Religious Bigotry?

Sun, 2017-05-07 11:42

UNITED STATES — President Donald J. Trump’s latest executive order is titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” While some readers may be scratching their heads wondering why the current administration feels the need to promote the U.S. Constitution’s guaranteed First Amendment rights, others may feel that the little age-old document needed a good dusting off, and a signal boost.

However, the executive is order is not aimed at simply lifting up what is already clearly written into national law, but rather it is aimed, theoretically, at defining it, directing it, and, as some believe, suffocating it.

“President Donald J. Trump is applauded by gathered religious leaders, Thursday, May 4, 2017, as he displays his signature on the Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen).

During the election process, Trump and running mate Mike Pence advocated for the dismantling of the now infamous Johnson Amendment. As we reported in the past, the Johnson Amendment was implemented in 1954 to prevent nonprofit organizations from influencing politics. All organizations with federal tax-exempt status are limited in their ability to engage in various election and lawmaking processes. This includes both secular and religious institutions.

At the 2016 Republican National Convention, Trump said:

At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community in general who have been so good to me and so supportive.You have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans.

Since that point, the Johnson Amendment has become one of the focal points of the administration’s work. It wasn’t until Thursday that Trump acted on his campaign promise, or at the very least, moved toward acting on that promise.

Despite this recent push, the debate over the need for additional religious-freedom legislation did not begin with the 2016 election cycle. In fact, Vice President Mike Pence was embroiled in such a battle in 2015 when he was still governor of Indiana.

During that state legislative session, Pence signed into law what was then considered the most controversial state religious freedom restoration act (RFRA). However, after signing, Pence was pressured by both state Republicans and Democrats, as well as national organizations and private corporations, to amend the act with language that would prevent discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

Since coming to the White House, Pence has reportedly been pushing for Trump to enact a religious-liberty executive order. Thursday’s signing is considered a “key win” for the Vice President’s own personal agenda.

The RFRA debate itself is older than Pence’s state legislative efforts; it has been ongoing since the 1990s. While not all U.S. states have RFRAs in place, the federal government as a whole does (U.S. Code 42, chapter 21B § 2000bb). That RFRA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The basic premise of these acts is to “restore” religious freedom which, in and of itself, is an odd concept. “Restoration” assumes that something is deteriorating or is completely gone. With the exception of perhaps the paper on which the Bill of Rights was originally written, the First Amendment is still very much intact.

Regardless of that point and the overarching presence of constitutionally protected rights, the federal RFRA seeks to clarify or more specifically direct religious freedom actions within the public sphere. Why? As explained in the 1993 federal RFRA’s findings, “laws ‘neutral’ toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise.”

Therefore, as it posits, RFRAs are needed to ensure that the government, state or federal, does not burden a person or organization with its standing neutral laws and constitutional protections.

That is where the problem lies. One man’s expression is another’s burden.

For example, this issue applies directly to cases of prayer in school, invocations before legislative meetings, or religious monuments on publicly-owned property. While some people might feel compelled to openly pray before a class or a city council meeting, a neutral law aims at creating a neutral public environment by placing restrictions on these types of religious expressions.

Those people who do enjoy such prayer may, in turn, believe that they are burdened by the legal restrictions and even go so far as to say that their constitutional rights have been violated. However, if the practice is allowed, the expression becomes equally a burden to those people not of the expressed religion. The question then becomes, whose burden is more important?

The neutral law, as a result, stands as a means to maintaining a peaceful and safe public square and, thereby, is a sacrifice to living in community.

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

RFRA debates aside, the efforts to micromanage religious freedom legislation continues on as is evident by Thursday’s executive order. Before the document was made public, the ACLU was poised to sue again. But after the order was released, an ACLU spokesperson said, “We thought we’d have to sue Trump today. But it turned out the order signing was an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome.”

Americans United agreed, saying, “In reality, this section of the executive order doesn’t really do much. The false rhetoric Trump continues to spread about the Johnson Amendment, however, is dangerous. It is intended to shape the public’s understanding of the law and is a setup for repeal efforts.”

So what does the new executive order say? What changes did the new law put into place?

The answer is: not much.

Section two does speak to the administration’s concerns over the Johnson Amendment. It prohibits executive departments, particularly the Department of the Treasury, from taking “any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”

Religious nonprofits can no longer be penalized, necessarily, for speaking publicly in support of or against a candidate for public office. However, it is important to remember that the Johnson Amendment is still in place. Trump cannot repeal the 1954 tax code. That would take, quite literally, an act of Congress.

It is also important to note that the executive order does not excuse secular nonprofits, which are also limited by the Johnson Amendment.

In section three of the executive order, Trump asks “the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services [to] consider issuing amended regulations […] to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandates.”

This gets into RFRA language regarding burdens, and could potentially lead to the bigotry most feared by minority populations, specifically the LGBTQ+ community with regard to health care. Using language like the protection of “conscience-based objections” creates a dangerous grey area – one that plagued Pence and the Indiana RFRA law in 2015.

However, section three of the document is merely an advisement, and not an action. The order only requests that these federal agencies consider amending their mandates. Nothing has actually changed.

What is more interesting and troubling is the wording found in section one of the executive order. Using national nostalgia and invoking the “Founding Fathers,” the document nicely suggests that the U.S. has always been a place where “religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government.”

That is well and good. Warm and fuzzy, even.

However, the sentence prior reads, “The Founders envisioned a nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square.”

This statement alone proposes a national ideology that allows for the integration of public space and religious space. It moves in the exact opposite direction of the First Amendment’s spirit of separation of church and state.

This is what Americans United might consider part of the administration’s “continued false rhetoric.” The executive order employs patriotism and a connection to a collective history to suggest the presence of a national ideology that does not exist.

While people of all ilks know that faith, ethics, morality, and belief cannot be fully separated from action in any sphere of life, there is a sacrifice that must happen for the sake of the greater community to thrive. The dangers of an ideology based on the integration of church and state, or church and the public square, move closer to a government based on a dominant theology.

That, in the end, would become a substantial burden for anyone outside of the religious majority.

As of this point, watchdog organizations largely believe that the executive order is just, as the ACLU said best, a publicity stunt to appease conservative Republicans. However, they are guarded, because the order does appeal to a “false rhetoric,” and may be paving the way for a more aggressive action of this kind in the future.


Column: Pagan Women Respond to Unbalanced Dress Codes

Sat, 2017-05-06 10:50

As spring gets into full steam and the weather gets warmer, clothing often tends to become more revealing. Men begin to wear more shorts and t-shirts while women move their wardrobe toward sundresses, skirts, and tops that reveal both midriff and shoulders. It makes perfect sense given the warming weather, but different expectations for how men and women dress can often be disproportionate and inappropriately sexualized.

Hollywood has weighed in on the problem.The 1992 film A League of Their Own touches on the very real and quite dangerous practice of requiring female professional baseball players to wear skirts. 2016’s Hidden Figuresstepped into questioning the requirement of skirts and high heels. But, while those movies covered historical topics, the issue is just as current today as it was in the past.

The dangerous dress codes of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League [Wikimedia Commons].

In March, NPR reported that United Airlines prevented two young girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing leggings. Another, who appeared to be around 10, had to put on a dress to board. At the same time, a man wearing shorts was allowed on the plane. It turned out that these passengers were flying for free on employee “buddy passes,” but the appearance remained that the women in the situation were subject to a much stricter set of dress codes than the man.

You also can often see this tension play out in high schools this time of year. Through the spring, stories start to pop up in news feeds about dress expectation for girls in both the classroom and at events such as school dances. A recent story told of a dehumanizing dress code poster aimed at keeping prom-going female students from being too revealing. A story last year told of graduates writing in their yearbooks’ “final message” thoughts to the effect of, “I’m sorry if my spaghetti straps distracted all the boys from their education.”

Often, as in the spaghetti strap message, the problem is less about having a dress code and more about placing the responsibility for boys’ sexuality onto women. If boys are too distracted by bare shoulders to attend to their studies, people argue, why is that the girls’ fault? Why should girls have to change their wardrobes for the comfort of the boys? How is this learned?

Since Paganism is often thought of as both a sex-positive and a nonconforming set of religions, The Wild Hunt spoke to a group of Pagan women to uncover their experiences with dress code standards, sexualization, and conformity. Some of these women work in the corporate world, others work for themselves. They represent both the cis- and transgender communities. Each of them has their own perspective on dress, gender, and the professional life.

*    *    *

TWH: Growing up, what were you taught about how to dress, and why were you supposed to meet those standards?

Christine Hoff Kraemer:The only teaching I recall was that I was meant to dress modestly by modern American standards (T-shirts and shorts in the summer, but bathing suits were meant to be one piece — no tiny bikinis for four-year-olds like you sometimes seem today). I was given a lot of purple and pink clothing and I remember liking those colors a great deal. I’m sure I had some awareness that those colors were gendered female, but in my own mind, those colors were just my personal preference. On special occasions or to go to church, I was supposed to wear a dress, because dresses were considered formal clothing for little girls, and dressing formally showed respect.

In high school, I recall student dress codes that, although they did not specify anything about gender, were functionally all about young women’s clothing. Shirts had to have sleeves, shorts had to be a certain length. Supposedly, sleeveless shirts or short shorts were revealing, and revealing clothing was ‘distracting’ (to boys, it was implied). Interestingly, the cheerleaders’ costumes did not meet these standards, but nothing was ever done about it. I remember high school being a time of gender experimentation, where I tried on and then abandoned many typical female clothing markers: high heels, pantyhose, makeup, nail polish, all things it was considered ‘normal’ for girls to wear.

I’ve been lucky in my career in that I’ve always worked at a university, liberal nonprofit, or other business that has been profoundly disinterested in how I dress. There has been an expectation that I show up clean and neatly dressed in some version of business casual, though whether that involves a skirt, pants, a suit jacket, a frilly shirt, or a tie hasn’t mattered at all. This is evidence, I think, that feminism really has made some progress; 30 years ago, I think I would have been considered unprofessional for coming to work in an office without makeup, heels, or shaven legs. All those would have been signals that I had a nonstandard sexuality and gender, and in many workplaces, that would have been considered inappropriate or even threatening to reveal. Now, I can dress in a very gender-neutral fashion and yet I’m still uncomplicatedly accepted as a woman. Times have changed.

Hannah: My mom was a hippy so she tried to always let me express myself. School was a whole different matter. I remember in first grade they would let kids line up first according to how they looked. ‘All the girls with their nails painted can go first,’ etc. Everything that I wasn’t. So I learned pretty quick if I wanted to get anywhere I had to conform.

As a young adult I rebelled and did the punk rock thing in the ’80s. But that got me shunned at most respectable places. At work there is always a dress code. If you don’t look a certain way (even in scrubs) you are not taken seriously. Right now we have a long list of what not to wear and most of them pertain to women. Skirt not too short or neckline too low, no leggings, etc.

Stella Iris: As a child, I wore whatever I wanted. I was the only girl in the family, even among my cousins, so all my clothes were new. I remember having special occasion clothes, and being taught when it was appropriate to dress up, versus wearing everyday clothes. I remember shiny shoes and lacy socks.

When I was in high school, there was more pressure to look cool. I was not considered ‘hot’ by my classmates and I never got told I was dressing ‘too sexy.’ I was often told I looked like a ‘poser’ when I wore band T-shirts or gothy-darker things. I think because I got good grades, my witchy-ness was invisible. In college, I began to wear men’s clothes exclusively, mostly as an act of rebellion, I think.

Lasara Firefox Allen [courtesy photo].

Lasara Firefox Allen: I was raised in the Pagan and hippy subcultures, so I was pretty much allowed to dress as I wanted to, with a lot of nakedness thrown in there as a lifestyle component. I was home-schooled, so I didn’t have to worry about school dress codes. As an adult in my career(s) I have been predominantly self-employed. As a Pagan priest/ess and teacher I get to decide how to dress. As a sex educator, same. I have mostly not needed to to[e] any line regarding dress conformity. Well, with one exception: as a sex worker there is an informal dress code. The level of expectation regarding gender-compliance in dress in sex work is pretty high.

I am currently working toward a degree in social work, and know that at some point I will likely need to dress a bit more to a standard than I am used to, but as far as that goes, social work is, in my experience, one of the more flexible fields as far as dress compliance goes. At least in the area I live in.

Katharine A. Luck: As a child, being raised as a boy, I routinely heard ‘don’t do that! Only girls do that!’ I even had my hands slapped a couple of times for what was perceived as feminine behaviours or interests. I was not allowed to have an interest in jewelry. My paternal grandmother threatened to cut my hair without anyone’s permission because I wasn’t ‘supposed to have long hair’ when I was very young and my mother had an enormous fight with the entire family over it. I always had to dress and act a certain way or my own family would ridicule me.

In high school that behavior at home continued, and it was picked up at school, because children had to become teens before they internalized those toxic ideas about gender roles. I was teased for being ‘girly’ throughout middle school and high school, at the same time that I watched cis girls struggling to conform to unrealistic beauty standards while simultaneously being shamed for doing so. None of us could win.

My experience remained the same right into adulthood. I was too girly, guys weren’t supposed to dress/act like/enjoy whatever I was doing. While women were shamed for not meeting ‘beauty standards’ and shamed when they did. It didn’t matter. When I transitioned, it happened to me. You get shamed no matter what you do. Women get shamed.

At most places of business, there are dress codes. These dress codes are the same as the rest of society in terms of their abusiveness. In the name of ‘professionalism.’ In retail and other professions, they’d be in legal trouble if they made nail polish, jewelry, makeup, et cetera, mandatory. But they can damn sure forget to promote any woman who doesn’t use them.

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TWH: In what realms of your current life do you still contend with those dress codes? How do you conform and why? How do your resist and why? What makes you choose whether to resist or comply?

SI: In my current life, I do not care if the garment is men’s or women’s. I definitely feel the pressure on women to look ‘made-up’ or ‘put-together,’ and I try to navigate that without giving myself a complex. As a business woman in a new place, it’s just true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

LFA: I resist gender-based compliance for the most part. I dress the way I want to. Ways that make me feel comfortable. In my day-to-day life I dress mostly for comfort. My style is often at least somewhat androgynous.


Katharine A. Luck [courtesy photo].

KAL: I am constantly hammered with beauty standards for women. Every single detail which is not exactly the right kind of feminine is an excuse for ridicule and hatred from a large portion of society.

[E]very time I go to any public space I feel judgmental eyes and sometimes even hear the whispers from people who think I can’t hear them. But here’s the important part: it’s usually not because I’m transgender. I pass, which means much of the time no one knows I’m trans unless I tell them. It’s because of how I choose to express femininity. I’m “doing womanhood wrong” as it were.

I don’t conform at all. I don’t really resist either. I frankly don’t care about the standards or what people think of me. I dress, act, and speak for me, the way I want. If I don’t consider someone family, I don’t really take their judgment of my appearance into account beyond deciding whether or not I want to willingly associate with them. I wear what I want, when I want, because I like it.

The closest I come to any standard is to assume an aspect which makes me as compelling and persuasive as possible when I’m engaged in public speaking, education, or politics. My style then is as much glamour in the metaphysical sense as it is in the mundane sense. Just enough of the expected to earn the respect of people obsessed with appearance, and just enough of the unexpected to catch them off guard and command their attention. I do this because I want to, because it changes how I feel and therefore how people respond to me, not because I have to.

I do nothing because society demands it. If I did what society demanded, I’d be a different person altogether in almost every aspect of my life, and I’d be rather boring.


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TWH: In what ways do you see dress code expectation differ between women and men, especially in the same job?

KAL: I did fast food for a while, and that was the most strict of all the jobs I’ve done. Interestingly, the standards were more strict for men than women. No long hair, no facial hair, no long nails, no nail polish, no jewelry. Women were not subject to any of these requirements. Of course the reason was pretty obvious from my perspective. All those rules were about hygiene and food safety, but this society considered a woman’s appearance to be so important that it overrides public safety. Asking a woman not to paint her nails is an unreasonable hardship, because whether or not her nails look nice will actually affect her quality of life in terms of how people treat her.

SI: Jeans. Jeans on a man are acceptable in many, many more contexts than on a woman. It’s like the world expects that men have no formal clothes!

In many careers, and in this culture in general, women are expected to dress more stylishly, to keep up with fashion trends, and to wear makeup. In many professions, even today, a woman can be fired for not wearing makeup. Women and girls spend copious amounts of time and money on makeup.

I wear makeup, but it’s minimal, and I do it because it makes me feel more confident and more attractive. I wholeheartedly support women not wearing makeup if they don’t want to though, and think it is barbaric that women are required to wear it in many professions.

Many professions also require bras and stockings for women, and high heels are a big expectation. This is obviously, [in my opinion], an unfair expectation. For some of us, heels are out of the question. But many just suffer through wearing them.

Also, women’s clothing costs more than men’s, and women are expected to change out their styles more often. Even stockings are an example of how women’s dress compliance costs more than men’s. And add to that the fact that women make less on average and it’s really insult to injury. And then there is the expectation of gender-based compliance and how that affects trans and non-binary people.

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TWH: Do you feel that dress codes for women are based on either the shaming of women’s bodies or the sexualization of them? If so, in what way? If not, why?

Christine Hoff Kraemer.

CHK: I am aware that outside of the progressive bubbles in which I’ve tended to work, there are much stricter expectations for women’s dress than I’ve experienced. I do think — like with the dress codes at my high school — they are often in place to attempt to control the apparent threat of women’s sexuality, or more to the point, men’s reactions to that sexuality. Too often, women are expected to take responsibility for men’s reactions to them, which does not in any way solve the fact that it is the reactions that are problematic.

That being said, I’m not against social norms. We don’t need to be able to show up to work nude just to show everyone how enlightened we are about sexuality, consent, and bodily autonomy. But I am more comfortable when dress codes are set uniformly for all genders rather than focusing on women’s styles.

H: Definitely. To see too much cleavage or any leg above the knee is enough to drive any boss mad, and I mean that sarcastically. The dress codes for men are about appearing neat and well kempt while for women it is more about making sure they cover anything that may excite someone else. It is the same at the schools my children attend. The boys need to look presentable while the girls need to keep covered.

SI: I would say that it’s often a commodification of women’s bodies That part of how women are valued is how they appear, and men are valued for how they speak or otherwise contribute. I think that dress codes in schools are very much teaching the sexualization of young girls, to kids of all genders. That to be a girl is to be practicing to be a woman, and that being a woman means to be constantly marketing oneself in a sexual way.

LFA: I believe that the requirement of bras and stockings is a form of sexualization. And high school dress codes, which my children had to deal with though I did not, are absolutely both shaming and sexualizing. The languaging of many high school dress codes is aimed at girls, and is demoralizing at best.

KAL:[W]omen are shamed for meeting the beauty standards and being “too sexual,” and shamed for not meeting them. Men are shamed for being too much like women, and women are shamed no matter what.
From all this I can only conclude that in this society, it’s being a woman that is considered shameful.<

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TWH: Do you have any other thoughts or opinions to share on this topic?

H: What bothers me the most is restrictions that are based on how a man will react to an outfit. A girl’s/woman’s outfit needs to conform to what makes men comfortable. If a man can’t stop staring at the cleavage, that is the woman’s problem for some reason and not his.

SI: I think that in the Pagan community, we have the opportunity to express ourselves through dress and appearance, and to break down some of the commodification that occurs in mainstream culture. If we emphasize a culture of consent, especially our teens and young adults will be able to own the way they present themselves, and not have it be dictated to them.

Stella Iris [courtesy photo].

KAL: I think it’s about time that as individuals and as a society, we start retiring these toxic meaningless stereotypes and gender roles, and just start being ourselves, and judging people based on their actions and their character rather than any aspect of appearance.

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Nonconformity is perhaps one of the strongest hallmarks of the Pagan community. Through holding up that mirror of rebellion, the community has the ability to reflect the damages and question the value and morality of mainstream norms of religious practice, ethical guidelines, and values pertaining to sex and gender. Through standing up, and often standing out, many in the Pagan community show younger people who may be feeling crushed under the weight of mainstream expectations, that there is another way. Perhaps a healthier way. A way that, in Iris’ words, “our teens and young adults will be able to own the way they present themselves, and not have it dictated to them.”

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Column: Healing the body, mind, spirit during retrograde

Fri, 2017-05-05 12:12

Release the past to rest as deeply as possible.”

The last tweet from Charlie Murphy the night before he died.

For many Pagans, Mercury Retrograde carries the reputation of being a time to expect communication, traffic snarls, computer problems, and overall worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. How many times do you wonder why everything seems to be going wrong, only to relax when someone says, “Mercury’s in retrograde”?

[NASA / Pixabay]

Pagans in general learn early about the stars, astrology, and the impact that times of delay can have in general. Venus in Retrograde asks us to think hard about who and what we value: who do we let into our lives, what or who do we treasure and how, what means the most to us overall? Old lovers – the source of emotional wounds – may stroll back into our lives. We may be tempted to take a dip into past familiar relationships.

Yet both of these retrogrades are excellent times to stride forward with healing and repairing wounds of all types.

Sometimes it seems that it is easier to stick a label on the period of time, like retrograde, than it is to dig deep and challenge the self to heal wounds that bubble to the surface during these times. For example, I recently had a sebaceous cyst suddenly appeared on my chest. It had remained dormant, until one evening it swelled, burned, and required medical treatment. During those initial three weeks, I reconsidered the spiritual significance of having a wound suddenly appear. Antibiotics would take care of the infection eventually, but it was the realization that this was happening during retrograde period that required a serious look at what I ate, what I drank, and what I stressed over.

During Mercury Retrograde, finding where the stress appears in life is key to healing the wounds that are found. Mercury Retrograde, for example, demands that we stop and look at how we communicate with the self. In my situation, it was time to take a hard look at how I communicate with my own body. Was I honoring what it was trying to tell me? Or, like so many people, was stress blocking my ability to hear or to see due to working too many hours, drinking too much coffee, getting too little sleep, and saying “yes” to too many causes, committees, colleagues?

Often, modern life seems to require the “go, go, go” mentality for fear of missing out on the latest trend before collapsing into furtive bits of sleep when the body is worn out and beyond insomnia. Sometimes an actual visible physical wound that requires care is the method of hitting a large “STOP” on the fast-paced road of everyday life.

When caring for a wound, you have to focus on yourself and your own needs. For those who give constantly, this can be a slightly strange feeling. As a result, the devotion to caring for the self and wound healing during retrograde periods is a built-in method of slowing down and taking stock of what matters to you – the individual.

If you have a broken wrist, you learn to adapt to a cast and, if necessary, to write or type with the other hand. If you have a broken leg, the use of crutches is a signal to others and to your own body that you have to slow down in performance of everyday tasks. Other people will see the visible sign of self-care and pause to assist you by helping out when possible.  No one expects someone with a broken wrist to use both hands until the wrist is healed.

Similarly, wound healing during retrograde works because we accept that healing itself is a process and not an instant fix. We are more gentle with ourselves in looking at physical wounds, and we grow from being the same during retrograde periods.

But what if you notice that Mercury is in Retrograde, and you just don’t have a physical wound to remind you to slow down? Your legs and wrists are not broken;you don’t have ailments that require antibiotics and, by your own standards, you are rolling along physically as you always have been?

Wounds are not just only physical. Some of the deepest ones that Mercury Retrograde addresses are emotional.

How many times have you stopped talking to friends, family, or lovers due to an argument just before or during a retrograde period? You want to find the right words, to make the perfect gesture, or to even get the best gift to smooth things over. Maybe things are a bit uneven, despite an apology or two. How do you heal such wounds during retrograde? Should you even bother?

[Public Domain]

When you feel overwhelmed and when you are on the outs with your loved ones, maybe taking the time of retrograde to remember why you like someone in the first place. Instead of attacking the outside issue, try taking time for sharing a relaxing meal in a neutral location is a place to start. Retrograde healing starts with the self, the acknowledgement that there is a wound to be fortified and restored to vitality.

Rejuvenation is also an aspect of wound healing when Venus is in Retrograde. While Mercury Retrograde is three to four times a year, the eighteen month cycle for Venus Retrograde gives a longer span of time in between pauses. Communication is a daily ritual. Who and what we love changes.

Healing the emotional wounds of past loves, of lost valuables, and who we claim as friends or associates is tough work.  We sometimes say “time heals all wounds” as a reminder that the passage of time can make a painful breakup, divorce, or lost friendship just a tiny bit less painful. Love songs urge us to give things time. During retrograde periods, we get that time.

What helps heal wounds more than having a former boyfriend or girlfriend make an effort months or years post-breakup to get you back? For a brief moment, perhaps a date, or a bit longer, you get to review and recoup perceived losses. You might wonder if the relationship should be given another chance. Would trying again with a more complete awareness of what went wrong?

For some, all it takes is a bit of space to consider what each person values. For others, a return just gives a chance to put a final end to the hopes of a renewed relationship.The beauty of Venus in Retrograde is that the timing works really well in making space to explore the past with another without having to make a final commitment.

Other wounds to address during retrograde period might include what happens during the day at work. Recently, I spoke with a friend who was struggling to deal with one person in her professional life. The irony was that my friend had found and helped this other person get the very job where the problems were occurring. During the retrograde period, the two individuals have a chance to re-examine whether their friendship could survive the working relationship. Maybe it will or maybe it won’t.

We have work friends and we have work disagreements. While it is not necessary or possible to check the chart to see if Venus is in Retrograde to solve all problems, the retrograde period does remain a good time to think about what work and the work environment means.

Wounds related to professional life could be many thing: a boss who seems to be against you, the perception that no one listens to you at work. During retrograde periods, it is a good time to make a checklist of what you need from a profession or any job.

If it is just the money and nothing else matters, then you have time to reflect and be open with what you are willing to do and accept for that money. If you find your livelihood to be temporary, you can work out your own contract regarding how long you expect to be in that particular job or field. If you suddenly find that nothing seems to make you happy at work, healing this wound during retrograde may involve finding a career assessment test or simply time to sit with yourself or someone who knows you well to talk about your strengths and weaknesses.

Maybe the result will not a complete job change, but rather a lateral transfer to a similar field or even the same job, but in a different location.

Addressing wounds of occupation and how we spend our time is important; however, the base for all wound healing is remembering what matters. What do you value most and in what order? The premise of a television series Famous in Love surrounds what happens when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is presented to college student Paige Townsen. Overnight, she goes from obscure to a glamorous Hollywood life. Does she make the goal of completing college to please her family, keep her best friend, and stick to her original expected plan or does she grab the unexpected and hope for the best?

To make the series work, the drama comes from traveling the unexpected road of decisions that challenge the character’s values. Paige is ordinary, until good fortune changes her life. The series explores personal values and what happens when you get what you think you want: fame, fortune, and fantasy.  Like many dramas, viewers watch because they have similar problems or dilemmas. How often do we dream of winning the lottery, so that we don’t have to work?

Perhaps the desire for monetary excess is not to stop working but to have the ability to spend time doing what we crave and cherish freely. For some, a lifelong dream might be to travel or to give back by starting a dream business or to have the means to give money to causes that have the same ethical and personal values as the individual donor.

[Photo Credit: Easa Shamih / Flickr]

During times of Venus in Retrograde, looking at the manner in which we earn our keep is important, but re-examining the fire that drives us to committing ourselves to our chosen profession is even more important. How many times do you see someone who is a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer, a bus driver, a trucker, a teacher, or construction worker  just because a parent or some other family member worked in the same profession? What about those who only take a profession because a parent or loved one was not able to fulfill his or her professional dream?

I knew a woman who desperately wanted to be an architect, but her father had been unable to fulfill his dream of working in the health care field, so she took his place. Her older siblings became an accountant and an artist, so she was the father’s last hope. During Venus in Retrograde, it is a good time to ask whether one’s values, occupation, and company are in line with the self.

Overall, wound repair during retrograde periods is the best benefit of reconsideration, renewal, and review. The hardest part of healing the wounds is the act of letting go, the need to release control in order to let the healing happen. Retrograde periods provide a space and time to separate from the hectic pace of everyday life for the purpose of rejuvenation.The choice to examine openly appears to be easy. The pain of exposing the wound to the healing process means giving up control. For humans, this is difficult. What if the wound does not fully heal, or what if we need additional treatment beyond what we expect?

Whether it is an emotional wound, a physical wound, or psychological wound, healing can start during the retrograde period, but we cannot control when it ends or how it will end. In short, we cannot steer or regulate how our wounds will heal or in what form. My cyst is now a small flat oval with a teardrop in the center. It reminds me of a time of pain, but also how retrograde periods are more than just reasons to get upset over computer glitches, communication problems, and horrible traffic jams. Retrograde periods can bring much renewal and strength through enforced rest and healing.

* * * The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Toronto set to host 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Thu, 2017-05-04 11:13

TORONTO – The organizing committee for the Parliament of the World’s Religions held a press conference at Toronto city hall Tuesday, and made the announcement that the 2018 gathering will be held at Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Nov. 1-7, 2018.

The seven-day event is expected to draw more than 10,000 people, and offer more than 500 programs, workshops, and dialogues. In addition to this, there will be exhibitions of dance, photography, music, art, and various related events presented by representatives of religious communities and cultural institutions from around the world.

Left to right, parliament board chair Dr. Robert Sellers, Toronto mayor John Tory, Andras Corban-Arthen, parliament executive director Rev. Larry Greenfield [Twitter].

Toronto is the largest city in Canada, and the seventh largest in North America. It was recognized by the United Nations as the most diverse city in the world with more than 140 different languages and dialects being spoken by its inhabitants. It is also known as a city of immigrants with half of the population being born outside of Canada.

In a statement to the press, professor Mark Toulouse, co-chair of the host committee, declared, “As one of the most international, multicultural, and religiously pluralistic cities in the world, Toronto provides a perfect venue for the Parliament of the World’s Religions.”

The lone Pagan representative on the Parliament’s board of trustees is Andras Corban-Arthen. Based out of the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, he also serves as chair of the site selection committee. Additionally, he is spiritual director of the EarthSpirit Community, and president and international interfaith liaison of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions.

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, he said, “Toronto has become a model for how cities can successfully address the tensions and problems that can arise from having large immigrant populations. It seems only fitting, then, that the most diverse interfaith gathering in the world should come to the most diverse city.”

The Parliament began in 1893, at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was brought back to life in 1993, once again in Chicago. Since then it has been held in 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa, 2004 in Barcelona, Spain, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia, and most recently in 2015 in Salt Lake City, United States. Toronto 2018 will be the seventh parliament, and is anticipated to become the largest to date.

The mission statement of the parliament is to “cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.”

The topics that will be discussed cover many that are hot in Pagan communities right now, as Corban-Arthen describes: “climate change, economic justice, human and environmental rights, religiously motivated violence, the survival of indigenous traditions, equality for women, the elimination of racism, upholding the rights of LGBTQ people, promoting the leadership and involvement of the younger generations, etc. – will continue to play a central role in our programs.”

It is too early to say who the guest speakers for 2018 will be, but past years have featured such luminaries as Dr. Jane Goodall, President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Chief Arvol Looking Horse. Periodic announcements will be made over the coming months as special guests for 2018 are confirmed.

The 1993 Parliament in Chicago was the first major interfaith event to include a substantial number of Pagan programs, and as Corban-Arthen recalls, it introduced Paganism to the world interfaith community. Many of the presentations were standing-room only, and some were repeated in order to fulfill the demand.

“We showed people of other religions various facets of who we are – they took it all in, and left with a new understanding of Paganism that countered whatever stereotypes they had previously held,” he said.

Looking ahead to 2018, there will be a full week of programming to fill, providing Pagans and Heathens with many opportunities to participate. The number of programs allotted to any religious grouping is determined by how many representatives from that group register to attend. If Pagans and Heathens want to be represented on the program, registering and showing up will be key.

As Corban–Arthen sees it, there are two main reasons to attend, to teach and to learn.

“Most of the people who attend the parliament are not just individuals, they are also members of many religious, spiritual, and cultural networks. As we have continued to share our practices and beliefs with them, the image of paganism has changed around the world. The interfaith movement is one of our biggest and most effective allies.”

As for learning, Corban-Arthen points out, “Pagans are not immune from harboring prejudices, and the Parliament provides a place where we can challenge some of our own misconceptions.

“And we can learn how other religions manage internal conflicts, for instance, or how they develop community, or find ways to create infrastructures that help to insure continuity and permanence.”

Toronto, Ontario, Canada [Pixabay].

Response from the local Pagan communities in Toronto has been enthusiastic so far. Ross Carter, a Wiccan chaplain who serves within the prison system in Ontario, was excited to hear Tuesday’s announcement.

“I am looking forward to this and I trust that the Toronto Pagan community will be involved in some fashion. I work with chaplains of many faiths and will do my part to raise awareness of this event among my colleagues. I would encourage people of all of our pagan communities to be involved in this.”

Also enthusiastic to learn about the coming of the parliament to Toronto is local Pagan storyteller and professional spiritual care specialist Brian Walsh.

“I’ve just met with one of the Parliament’s organizers, and I think this will be an opportunity to discover commonalities amidst religious diversity. It’s also a unique stage on which to highlight Paganism’s unique contribution to how humanity understands the world and its problems.”

Registration to attend the event is already open for the general public, and program proposal information will be announced in the near future.

For Pagans looking to discuss the gathering, and network, a Facebook group called “Pagans at the Toronto Parliament of the World’s Religions” has already been set up for registered attendees.

Pagans march for the planet

Wed, 2017-05-03 10:47

TWH –Last Saturday, Apr. 29, a second People’s Climate March was held in Washington, D.C., with related rallies and other events occurring around the world. The protest — a follow-up to the 2014 march in New York City — was announced in January, coinciding with both Earth Day weekend and President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office.

The president has begun to roll back regulations that were put into place to slow climate change, which he has called a Chinese hoax. According to organizer estimates, 300,000 joined in nationwide, with 150,000 on the National Mall alone. Other estimates peg the Washington attendance as high as 250,000.

Indiana protesters in Washington [courtesy photo].

As was the case in 2014, earth-centered Pagans made their presence known, and some of them shared reflections of the experience.

John Halstead helped organize a bus of participants that came to Washington from Indiana, and together with members of 350 Indiana-Calumnet, helped get people there who have been victims of environmental damage.

“Though fundraising we were able to sponsor several residents of the West Calumet Housing complex in East Chicago, Indiana,” Halstead explained.

“The West Calumet residents are facing a Flint-like lead poisoning crisis and have been evicted from their homes due to contamination of their soil and water.”

Halstead found the event to be incredibly focused. “Walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, with the Capitol Building at our backs, was invigorating, in spite of the heat (over 90 degrees) and physical exertion. Everywhere I looked, people seemed to be exuberant.”

While he didn’t make contact, Halstead spied the EarthSpirit Community contingent from a distance. According to that group’s spokesperson Donovan Arthen, by committing early and publicly to attending, they were able to provide a Pagan focal point for those who wished to join them. In addition to a highly-visible EarthSpirit banner, members brought drums and led chants from the spot among the interfaith groups.

Signs by EarthSpirit [Photo Credit: Moira Ashleigh].

One thing that struck Arthen was the fact that, without making a request, there was a “Pagan” spot reserved in that interfaith contingent, which he feels is a testament to the work done by his community and other Pagans among the greater religious communities. The EarthSpirit group was relatively small — about a dozen, compared to the Massachusetts Unitarian Universalists, who fielded two busloads — but he believes their energy was unmistakable.

Arthen believes that activism is a critical part of Paganism, because it is a recognition of the interconnected nature of all life. While he gives similar weight to sacred acts, such as gardening and cleaning up polluted rivers, “Activism is one of the ways I think Pagans can contribute most to the human side of nature. It’s an opportunity to create community, which is core to many Pagan beliefs.”

EarthSpirit members also attended a rally in Greenfield, Mass., one of the many other events which took place across the world.

Across the country in San Jose, California, Rowan Fairgrove reported on another one of those local events. She said there were about 1,000 people in attendance. While she was the only Pagan she knew of at that event, she found solidarity among Green party members, as well as the Raging Grannies activist group.

As to the impact of such events, all three of those interviewed agree that it’s about sending a message: there are more people who support regulation to rein in climate change than lawmakers necessarily believe. It also helps activists recognize that they are not working in a vacuum, even when they later are working alone.

“We who care for our planet, our environment, our neighbors, our children and the future of all living things, need to stand together,” said Fairgrove.

Arthen agreed. “When I choose to take a step, I know that there are 250,000 people at my back.”

“These marches create a new normal, and help shift the conversation,” said Halstead.

For those seeking to change that conversation permanently, that motivation is likely needed; by all accounts, that work is far from over.