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Religious Freedom Updates: Arkansas, Alabama and Virginia

Thu, 2014-07-31 07:25

Over the past few months we have been reporting on several stories involving religious freedom challenges. Here are updates on those stories:

Beebe, Arkanasas makes national news

On June 17, we reported that Arkansas resident Bertram Dahl had been denied the necessary permits to open a Pagan temple on his property. In addition, he was harassed by a neighboring Pentecostal church and, eventually, arrested on charges of disorderly conduct.

Bert and Felicia Dahl, along with their children. [Courtesy of the seekerstemple.com]

This past week, the national news picked up Dahl’s story. On July 28, The New York Times published the article, “Pagan High Priest Finds Few Believers Inside City Hall.” The writer recounts Dahl’s situation, including the standing-room only June 23 Beebe City Council meeting, in which the issue was publicly debated. As reported by The New York Times, Mayor Mike Robertson told the crowd that this was a zoning issue only and had nothing to do with Dahl’s religion.

However, Dahl remains unconvinced and has pledged to continue his fight for the right to openly practice his faith. As proof, he cites a 2010 government newsletter in which the Mayor Robertson says:

It is my opinion and the Beebe City Council’s that government leaders must pray to God as the true leader of the nation and that a nation cannot exist if they are not one nation under God trusting in God as the leader. It is my opinion government has allowed non-believers far too many liberties taking God out of our daily lives … Please remember in the coming November election for leaders of this nation to elect only those who will stand firm doing the will of God and not their will. If placing God or the simple mentioning of his holy name in this newsletter is offensive to some; so be it. I do not and will not apologize, ever, for giving him the praise he is due for all that he has done for our blessed country. Not now, not ever in the future, should we turn our backs to our creator.

Due to continued conflicts with the city and the church’s harassment, Dahl has recently been denied entrance into a local prison to offer clergy services to inmates. On the Seeker’s Temple website, he writes::

This has left the inmates in this prison without teachings and without religious representation. We are reviewing other avenues to help them during their incarceration, but until this is resolved, we are unable to carry on with our normal responsibilities to these inmates. We are very saddened by this news and by the ripple effect the actions of the city and the church are having.

Despite the hostile atmosphere, Dahl has not backed-down. He currently is “selling Pagan items out of his garage and holding the Seeker’s Temple meetings in his own home.” He wrote:

The crowd of people who showed to support us [at the meeting] was impressive and we are grateful and humbled by it … We want to also say think [sic] you to all of you who have called and written and donated to show your support.  We are not giving up!

On Aug. 3, the Seeker’s Temple will be hosting a First Harvest Celebration (Pagan Family Reunion) in Beebe City Park. The invitation to this family-friendly event says, “All Pagans and groups are invited to show our Pagan pride and unity to this town.”

Huntsville, Time magazine and making a stand

On July 22, Time online magazine picked up Carol Kirk’s Wild Garden post on religious freedom in Huntsville, Alabama. Carol is the wife of Blake Kirk, the Wiccan priest who was excused from reading a prayer before a town council meeting.

 

Huntsville Alabama [Photo Credit: City of Huntsville]

As we reported in June, the city of Huntsville recently adopted an inclusive legislative prayer policy in order to keep within the legal limits of constitutional law. It had been operating under this policy for at least a year. However, when “concerned citizens” discovered that a Wiccan Priest would be speaking, they pressured the council into removing Blake from the agenda.

On July 18, Carol, who writes for Patheos’ Wild Garden, published an article called, “Here I Stand.”  Near the end of that post, she says:

At some point one needs to decide whether or not something is worth fighting for and whether you can afford the consequences of that fight. As Martin Luther said in his famous speech; “I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other…”  My husband and I decided that this was a battle worth waging and that, like Luther, we could not back down and go against our own conscience in this case.

Time magazine Online republished this article within its Patheos news feed.

Carol Kirk [Photo Credit: C. Kirk]

In the shadow of this very public city council story, Carol was also making her own headlines. On July 12, she received her Masters of Divinity in Pastoral Counseling from Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS). Carol is now the second student, after Sandra Harris M.Div, to be conferred this degree. Dr. David Oringderff, department chair and her adviser, said, “Having worked with Carol as a professor and academic adviser for much of her academic career, I can attest to her diligence, dedication and academic excellence.”

As stated in the CHS announcement, Carol is no stranger to hard work and taking a stand. During the Vietnam War, she served as a nurse in a MASH unit. In 2013, she spoke at a “storytellers” ceremony at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington D.C.  Her dedication to community service, local interfaith work and pastoral counseling were partially the inspiration that led to Blake’s decision to offer his own services to the city council.

On July 10, Huntsville held its first city council meeting after the controversy began. At that time, the council opted to continue with the inclusive legislative prayer program despite continued debates. At the July 24 meeting, a local Hindu man read the opening invocation. Whether or not Blake will be invited back in the future remains to be seen.

A Virginia city council speaks out in favor of diversity

Back in May, we reported that Priestess Maya White Sparks had been excused from reading tarot at a local Front Royal, Virginia store. Several “concerned citizens” felt that the readings were inappropriate for the town’s main street and put pressure on the store’s owner. In contemplating the situation, Sparks found an outdated town code that prohibited fortune-telling and other magical practices.

When she challenged this code, a new conversation began in Front Royal. Should that antiquated code be removed or rewritten?

Main Street, Front Royal VA [Photo Credit: milknosugar/Flickr]

Over the past few months, a variety of residents, as well as councilmen, have spoken for and against removal of the code. As we reported on June 11, opponents were most vocal during the May 27 town council meeting. Then on June 23 town attorney Douglas Napier recommended the “removing” of the ordinance. Councilman Hrbek said that he had issues with it due to its derogatory language. He added, “It was written in a different time; a time that thankfully has past.” These speeches and comments can all be seen on Front Royal City Council’s Vimeo channel. 

During those first few meetings, the council pointed out another city ordinance, which actually permits fortunetelling with the proper licensing. This ignited a secondary debate. Can the city tax and regulate spiritual counseling?

At the July 14 meeting, Kelyla Spicer, a local Druid, addressed that very question. She points out that priests and ministers are not required to pay licensing fees in order to provide spiritual counseling. Why should Pagan spiritual counselors have to pay that fee?

At this point, the council has agreed that the original offending code, which bans fortune telling, should be removed immediately. The second issue is still being addressed. However, town attorney Douglas Napier told a local paper, “There are other court decisions around the country that says [sic] it cannot regulate [fortunetelling] as a professional occupation because there’s no commonly accepted standards that fortunetelling is any sort of profession.” Councilman Eugene Tewalt was quoted as saying, “I’m tired of listening to these people talk about it.”

On Aug. 11, the City Council will hold a public hearing to discuss the issues at hand.  The announcement reads: “All interested citizens are invited to attend these hearings to express their views.”

 

 

 

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Dan Halloran Convicted of Fraud and Bribery

Wed, 2014-07-30 05:29

Former New York City Councilman Dan Halloran was convicted Tuesday on corruption and bribery charges. The jury deliberated for just under an hour and a half to return a guilty verdict on all five counts. Halloran was the highest elected official in the US who is openly an adherent of a Pagan or Heathen religion.

In September 2012, Halloran, along with state Democratic Senate majority leader Malcolm Smith and ex-Queens Republican Party leader Vincent Tabone, was the focus of an FBI sting operation. He was recorded taking payoffs to facilitate a plot to get Smith, a Democrat, on the GOP line for the 2013 New York City mayoral race. Halloran testified during his trial that he expected Smith to appoint him as first deputy mayor.

Halloran says he was trying to uncover corruption when he took the bribes and would have turned evidence over to authorities for investigation. He also said he thought a second bribe was a legal retainer fee for his services to broker meetings with GOP officials.

Dan Halloran

Halloran faced a tough campaign in the 2009 election when local press, allegedly instigated by his opponent, outed his religion. His beliefs were often sensationalized by the press, including Village Voice cover art depicting Halloran with a dead sacrificed goat, ceremonial robe and runic cloak. Halloran was at one time a prominent member of the Théodish belief system, a faith that seeks to practice Germanic pre-Christian religion.

Dan Halloran leading a Theodish ritual.

See Nick Ritter on Theodish Belief
See Nick Ritter on on Dan Halloran’s History Within Theodism

Despite rumors to the contrary, the GOP and Tea Party groups stood by Halloran after his religion was mocked in the press. While he never lied about being a Heathen, Halloran’s initial response to the attention was to downplay his Theodish faith and stress his Catholic heritage in an open letter titled I Believe In God.

I took comfort in my family’s history and our heritage, yet through all of this pain and hardship, I never lost faith in God. Last week, I was attacked for my faith in the Queens Tribune. These attacks happened on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year for the Jewish people. Having been raised in a Catholic household that shares its religious roots with the Jewish faith, I was deeply offended that religion would be used for political gain. [...]I am a man of faith– and now my faith is under attack by a newspaper working for my opponent. I call on my opponent to disavow the Queens Tribune’s attack on religion. I am running a campaign on the issues.

The tactic, and a possible backlash against Halloran’s opponent for allegedly attacking his religion, worked and Halloran was elected as Queen’s representative on the New York City Council. He went on to a failed bid to the US House of Representatives in November 2012. Just five months later, on April 2, 2013, Halloran was arrested for bribery and corruption. A month later he announced he would not stand for re-election for his City Council seat.

Democratic Senate majority leader Smith and ex-Queens GOP leader Vincent Tabone, alleged co-conspirators with Halloran, face trial in January. Halloran remains out on a $250,000 bond pending his sentencing scheduled for December 12. He faces 45 years in prison.

Follow all Wild Hunt coverage of Halloran here.

 

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Margot Adler 1946 – 2014

Tue, 2014-07-29 04:00

“I don’t believe in objectivity, but I do believe deeply in fairness.” – Margot Adler

The first time I met author and journalist Margot Adler in person, we were having lunch together at PantheaCon in San Jose, and she was showing me pictures of an Occupy protest that were on her iPad. It didn’t sink in at the time, but I later realized that she was generously acknowledging me as a part of her journalistic tribe. That she was sharing an emerging story she was excited about. During that weekend I wanted so much to transmit to her how important she was to me, to what I had become, but I didn’t really have the chance. On reflection, it seemed to me that for Margot the reward was doing the work, documenting her experiences, and sharing it with others.

Margot Adler

Like many, I learned of Margot’s death yesterday morning, via Facebook.

“Old friends, long time fans, today at 4am Margot breathed easily for the first time in two weeks. Later today, at 10:30am she was pronounced deceased.

Her condition had been getting much worse over the weeks and months and the brain radiation (which she had a treatment of scheduled today, tomorrow, and wednesday) was thought to help her double vision, since it was the cause.

Well, Margot and John both won’t be seeing double anymore, but they will be seeing each other for the rest of time.

With much love and difficulty do I write this,

Her son, Alex”

Margot Adler was a noted journalist who worked for National Public Radio (NPR), and they have paid a moving tribute to their colleague.

“Margot once wrote in an e-mail that she absorbed the values of many of her colleagues in developing her own view of life – a belief, she said in a world without snark, of deep values, and that despite everything she’d experienced and encountered and covered, an abiding belief that people were basically good.”David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

For almost every Pagan, former Pagan, or would-be Pagan, she will be largely remembered as the author of “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America.” It is truly hard to over-state the importance of Adler’s book, as it had a hand in shaping what many of us call “Pagan community” today. While Adler was not the first person to attempt an overview of the emerging groups of modern Pagans in America, her 1979 book was by far the best, the most read, and it helped catalyze the move towards a community/movement consciousness among the Pagans reading it. A largely small-group and regional assortment of religious adherents shifted towards a broader umbrella identity.

Margot Adler and Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary sharing breakfast together.

“Blessings to Margot Adler in her journey to the realm of the Ancestors. She died this morning from cancer. Support to her son Alex, and to all of us mourning her passing. Margot and I were close friends since we first connected 36 years ago and had many adventures together, including conducting each others weddings and rooming together at PantheaCon. The world is a better place because of Margot. Let us remember and give thanks for Margot, her brilliant mind, her loving heart, her beautiful voice, her activism, her writings, her news reporting, her other works, her magic, her bright spirit. May we take comfort in knowing that she lives on in our memories, in the many people, organizations, endeavors she blessed. Hail & Farewell, Margot! We honor you, we remember you, we love you. Blessed Be.” - Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

“Drawing Down the Moon” was also important because Margot Adler was truly one of us. She was a member of The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), Covenant of the Goddess (COG), and other groups, she attended Pagan festivals, led workshops, and loved to lead Pagan chant sessions. She was not an outsider sampling our religious wares then making snarky asides during the book tour, she believed in our potential, loved us, flaws and all.

“Margot Adler was a brilliant, loving and passionate voice in Unitarian Universalist Paganism. As a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), she stood for a democratically, inclusive organization that embodied Unitarian Universalist thinking and voices. She also brought to the denomination the joy of ritual, music and dance that celebrated our humanity, our place on the planet and our connections with the God/dess and Universal energies. Her voice, wit and liveliness will be missed deeply. We honor the gifts Margot brought to UUism and to CUUPS.” - Jerrie Hildebrand, Corporate Secretary, CUUPS

The last time I saw Margot Adler I said to her: there would be no Wild Hunt without your example, without your work, without your kindness in giving an emerging Pagan blog an interview back in 2006, and that I know you are fighting your cancer and are planning to win, but I’m truly thankful and didn’t want to miss this opportunity to tell you that. I didn’t think it would truly be the last time I would speak to her, but I’m glad I said those words, and I’m glad she attended the gathering for Pagan media practitioners that I co-hosted that year at PantheaCon so she could see how a journalist traveling the country, documenting an emerging religious movement could ripple out into a diverse and thriving ecosystem of Pagan media-makers.

“We are all part of the life cycle. Like a seed we are born, we sprout, we grow, we mature and decay, making room for future generations who, like seedlings, are reborn through us. As for the persistence of consciousness, deep down, I thought, ‘How can we know?’ Perhaps we simply return to the elements; we become earth and air and fire and water. That seemed all right to me.”Margot Adler

Margot Adler was a kind, generous, funny, talented, dedicated, and wickedly smart person. She gave us all so much. I have no definite answer regarding the persistence of consciousness either, but if she has simply returned to the elements, well, that seems all right with me too.

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Faerieworlds: Leaving Emerald Meadows

Mon, 2014-07-28 10:38

“This is a Pagan event” a visiting California-based Pagan exclaimed to me at Faerieworlds this weekend, and she was not wrong. I replied as I have often replied: It’s a Pagan event, but it isn’t a Pagan event, which allows it to become something unique and special. Over the years I’ve been attending and working at the little faerie-themed mythic festival in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon many have tried to sum up what makes this event so special. How it isn’t a transformational festival, or a Pagan festival, or a music festival, or a fantasy festival, but contains elements of all of these. Perhaps like those magical fairy markets depicted so often in literature, it is the undefinable collision of everything that creates the liminal magic.

Fox Firemaker at Faerieworlds.

Though Faerieworlds has traveled to a few homes in its history, I have only known it existing at the foot of Mt. Pisgah, in an area dubbed the Emerald Meadows. Due to NIMBY-motivated political fights that I won’t get into, all large-scale events were forced out, and this past weekend would be the last year Faerieworlds would create its special magic in my “back yard.” Though I knew the festival had found a new home outside Portland for next year, and that Faerieworlds would rise again, I couldn’t help but feel a certain melancholy of an era ending. Here, I had encountered a new community, new friends, new family, and had been blessed with the opportunity of opening the doors to this realm to others.

Raven and Stephanie Grimassi at the Faerieworlds opening ritual.

While Faerieworlds is not an explicitly Pagan event, and is open to all who want to enjoy it, there is so much there for the Pagan soul. The opening spiral dance ritual, the workshops this year by individuals like Raven Grimassi, T. Thorn Coyle, LaSara Firefox, Morpheus Ravenna, S.J. Tucker, and Lupa, the main stage altar, the music of bands like The Wicker Men, Woodland, and Omnia, and much, much, more. All part of a liminal creative explosion of color, sound, and intense creativity.

T. Thorn Coyle and Stephanie Taylor Grimassi

I mention the bands and workshop presenters, but really, the spirit of Faerieworlds is how it inspires those who attend it, and how they create an event the goes beyond the easy borders of classification. There are very few passive viewers here, and instead, everyone is a part of the show. A cascade of costumes, wings, horns, fabric, and hide that can make you wonder if you’ve truly stepped through a gateway into another reality. Attending Faerieworlds, and then, being a part of the team the helps make it happen, has changed me, and my expectations of the festival experience. Faerieworlds is the flowering of thousands of souls that feel safe together, and that is powerful magic.

Spiral dance at Faerieworlds.

I know there are other great festivals out there, but I also know that the energy and excitement built here is unique. So, until next year, when the Realm rises again, please enjoy some photos I’ve taken in my travels through faerie this year. You may also want to read my coverage from years’ past.

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Honoring the Sacred Spirit from Ancient to Modern at the Carlos Museum

Sun, 2014-07-27 07:34

When people think of anthropological museums, they might recall the famous British Museum in London, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the Smithsonian in WDC, or New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. Very few people would consider Atlanta, Georgia home to a place that cradles any of the treasures of ancient civilizations. But it is. Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum is one of the country’s top small anthropological museums. Its area of focus has captivated local Pagans and Heathens for years.

Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University [Photo Credit: Monika&Jim/Flickr]

Founded in 1919, the Carlos Museum has been growing its collection of art and cultural artifacts for nearly a century. Its beginnings can be found with a collection of Asian works brought back by Methodist missionaries in the 1870s. Over time, Emory University grew and along with it, the museum. Today it houses over 16,000 art objects from “ancient Egypt, Nubia, Near East, Greece, Rome, ancient Americas, Africa, and Asia as well as a collection of works on paper from the Renaissance to the present.”

In displaying these pieces, the museum says, “[We show] meticulous care for the legacy of ancient civilizations and the learning opportunities innate in each artifact.” In its Greek and Roman exhibit, you might see a marble “Statue of Venus” (Roman, fourth century B.C.E.) In its Asian exhibit, you might find the red sandstone “Figure of Ganesh” (India, eighth or ninth century).

Over the last 15 years, the Carlos Museum has become known particularly for its impressive and sizable ancient Egyptian collection. Originally, the exhibit centered on artifacts acquired in the 1920s, including the oldest Egyptian mummy in the Americas. Then, in 1999, its collection grew substantially after the purchase of 145 artifacts from the now-closed Niagara Falls Museum.

Most of new pieces were funerary in nature including, in part, 10 mummies and 9 coffins. The items had originally been acquired by a collector in the 1850′s and placed on display with what, National Geographic called, a “tacky, freaks of nature”  exhibit at the old museum. After examining the pieces, Emory professors discovered that one of the artifacts was the lost mummy of Ramses I. Emory returned the mummy to Egypt “as an act of goodwill.” An Canadian Egyptologist told National Geographic:

Ramses was from northern Egypt, and the family’s god was Seth, the god of storms. The night of the reception [to open the new exhibit] there was a powerful storm, with thunder and lightning and hail; a tornado just missed us. It was a very unusual storm for Atlanta. I think it was Rameses, letting us know that he’s happy to be going home.

In addition to its remarkable permanent collection of ancient cultural artifacts, the Carlos Museum also sponsors exhibits that celebrate contemporary cultures through art. For example, in 2012, the museum sponsored an exhibit on Tibetan Sand Mandalas created by Buddhist monks. A talk was given called, “Reflections on Artistry, Spirituality and Community.”

In a similar exploration of spirit and expression, this year’s visiting exhibition is called “Grandfather Sun; Grandmother Moon: Wixárika Arts of Modern Western Mexico.” In a press release, the museum says:

[The Wixárika's] stunning beaded objects and pressed-yarn “paintings” span the sacred to the secular, from prayer bowls used on their pilgrimage ceremonies to masks made expressly for collectors. Brightly colored, precise, dynamic and detailed, these works depict their sacred sacrament, the peyote cactus, the deer, the sun and the moon, shamans, maize plants, jaguars and scorpions.

 

Prayer Bowl [Courtesy of the Carlos Museum]

This new exhibit celebrates the Wixárika people, “often known as the Huichol, the indigenous people of modern western Mexico.” The museum explains that local artisans often sell copies of their sacred objects in order to maintain their lifestyle and culture, and to remain on their lands. The museum goes on to explain:

The Wixárika strive toward balance in themselves, between humans and nature, and in the spirit world. Their ritual life is oriented toward maintaining harmony. All phenomena are considered interrelated– particularly humans, maize, deer and peyote– and interchange forms. For instance, in mythic times deer became the peyote cactus, which now is “hunted” on the annual pilgrimage to the northern deserts. Shamans (mara’akame) mediate the natural balancing of the cosmic realms and the transformations that occur in other realities. Art is used in rituals, its bright colors meant to attract the attention of the spirits that are believed to control all natural phenomena including rains, the crops, time, and the sun and moon.

As the literature and its employees will remind you often, the museum’s primary purpose is one of education and conservation. With the help of Emory University faculty, museum curators work to provide a public resource and learning center, as well as a student research and teaching facility. The museum offers regular lectures, symposia and brings in special exhibits, like “Grandfather Sun; Grandmother Moon.” For children, they offer camps and classes. This fall’s lineup includes subjects like reading Egyptian hieroglyphics, an introduction to the sacred heroes of Mayan culture, or the Manifestations of Vishnu.

For those not in Atlanta or those not able to attend events, the museum sponsors blogs managed by archaeologists in the field. Currently the museum’s website is hosting “iSamothrace: Framing the Mysteries in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods.” In June, several archaeologists blogged from Israel on “iTell Halif.” Last winter, the Senior Curator of the Egyptian collection and the assistant curator of Egyptian Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, both blogged from a dig “iMalqata.”  In addition, the museum maintains an online in its digital gallery.

Pre-Columbian incense burner, Costa Rica [Photo Credit: Madman2001/Flickr]

It doesn’t stop there. The Carlos Museum also sponsors podcasts that “use works of art in [its] collection to spark conversations between distinguished members of Emory’s faculty … Each podcast brings together experts from different disciplines to look at museum objects in new and unusual ways.” Past podcast topics include: “The Shock of the New: Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and the Religious Imagination,”  “The Power of the Goddess,” “Seeing Shamans,” and “Drinking with a Siren.” These interdisciplinary podcasts have won local awards. For the younger set, the museum has created Odyssey – an interactive journey into the ancient worlds.

Not everyone has the means or ability to visit the sacred sites of the ancient worlds in order to enhance religious practice, or to experience the beauty of distant cultures. Not everyone can witness first-hand the lands that were once, and still are, attributed to their own Gods, or experience the powerful rituals and cultural expressions of indigenous societies. Fortunately for those living in the American southeast, the Carlos Museum attempts to bring a taste of those wonders to Atlanta. Through the the cultivation of ideas, conversation and research, the museum gives locals and visitors the opportunity to explore and to be inspired by the spirit and culture of ancient worlds and modern cultures through its art.

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Walking the World: The English Pagan and the Pub Moot

Sat, 2014-07-26 06:05

[Walking the World is a new monthly weekend column. It features different Pagan and Heathen writers from outside the U.S.A. bringing varied perspectives to The Wild Hunt. Today we feature Christina Oakley Harrington, the founding director of Treadwell's Bookshop in London.]

In 1989, when the 26-year-old me turned up in London looking for fellow Pagans, I was directed to a strange thing I’d never heard of – the pub moot. Moot is an old English word for meeting, and the pub, well, is an institution. In 1989, everyone met in the pub – rich, poor, women, men, dogs, and children. Women in suits jostled alongside punks in mohicans, and the kids chased the dogs. No one had friends around to their homes as that was a bit too private.

‘Let’s meet at the pub.’

Pagans, since the 1970s at least, had a tradition of corralling off at a corner table, an alcove or even the upstairs room. Virtually all pubs have upstairs rooms. If you turned up on the requisite night, as mentioned in the classified ad in your Pagan magazine, you would see a bunch of people, anywhere from 3 to 20, with a copy of the magazine on the table as your subtle clue.

[Photo Credit: Photos by Phoenix at photosbyphoenix.com]

I remember this process well: dressing up to be recognised (patchwork skirt with droopy hem); taking the tube to an unfamiliar neighbourhood; clutching directions to an unknown street and pub (The Rose and Crown? Damn, or is it The Black Horse.) Doubts arise. Is this the third Tuesday of the month? Entering shortly after 7 p.m., I look around nervously, edging over to tables with groups where the women seem to be wearing medieval-ish dresses and blokes are in green tee-shirts. A bearded man drinking a mug of ale says ‘Looking for the moot, love? Have a seat here.’

“Where you from?’ slowly turned into “What have you read?” and even more slowly to, “What are you looking for?”  I respond, “Kindliness, a good dose of paternal advice, and stern instructions on what books were ‘rubbish.’” An older woman named Moira, if I recall, launched in with a tirade of advice about who to stay away from, who did it all wrong, and what I had to watch out for. They all gave me names, phone numbers, and lots of things to do and events to attend. “You’ll be all right, love. We don’t bite.”

It’s 2014. Times have changed. Pubs are going out of business at an alarming rate. Brits are drinking at home or drinking coffee, and pub culture is said to be dying. As a Pagan, I can chat and debate from the comfort of my own laptop. There is no need for me to get wet or lost, or to go up to a table of four strangers in a bar. I don’t really need to meet anyone in person in order to ask a hundred questions to determine if I am suited better to Druidry or Heathenism. Facebook is at my fingertips.

Is the pub moot dead? I did an informal survey of Pagans across England and Wales, and the results fascinate me. Some have seen their area’s moots grow in number and size over the past 15 years. This is the story in Gloucestershire and parts of the Southwest, where one informant speaks of monthly gatherings of 20 to 30 people. In London, we used to have one very large moot of about 80 people. Now there is a handful that attracts under 10 each time and are loved by their regulars. In a few places, the whole moot thing is dwindling away, say those who live there.

[Photo Credit: Photos by Phoenix at photosbyphoenix.com]

It looks like the pub moot as an institution is possibly in danger, but not across all regions. To quote Monty Python, “It’s not dead yet.” The Pagan Federation and the Centre for Pagan Studies have both recently been encouraging people to start a local moot if there isn’t one, and to support those that are still going. Pagan Dawn has committed to keeping its moot listings up-to-date.

I found myself asking, “What does it matter?” After all, if Brits generally are using the pub less, then why should we keep trying to keep alive our meetings there?

The answers spring to mind the moment I conceive of a Pagan Britain without the pub. It is, first and foremost, a ‘public house.’ It is homey without revealing your home address. It is inexpensive; a person on welfare is as able to be there as a millionaire. There is privacy; both the privacy of the quiet alcove or, if your group is large, the upstairs room. The secrecy of the pub meeting has a wonderful history. Revolutions were planned in the upstairs rooms of English pubs. Secret societies founded, and civil rebellions plotted.  In more recent times, those rooms have housed Pagans and occultists. It’s a tradition.

Just after I’ve roused myself all up about the greatness of the pub, I talk it over with my friends. One is a recovering alcoholic who doesn’t drink, and the other has two children. These Londoner Pagans hang out in warehouse art galleries and coffee bars with frequent trips out to parks. “The pub is not my scene, man.”

They don’t stop there.  They paint vivid images for me, which bring back flashbacks of my own pub moot days. When it goes wrong.

[Photo Credit: Photos by Phoenix at photosbyphoenix.com]

When the pub moot goes wrong, it is not good. The organisers can attract a regular, creepy guy who is a know-all, old-timer who bigs himself up to the new starry-eyed young women. There is always the monotone bore and the raging alcoholic who starts emitting random shouts. Then, after a few folks have had a few too many, the arguments about the arcana of occult trivia can get quite heated. (Tzaddi is not the star, anyone?) My friends rightly point out, too, that the pub makes not only bores but also armchair experts. Paganism may be cultivating bulls*t artists by the very structure of its social patterning.

After sleeping on it for a night, I’m going to vote to put my weight behind the efforts to revitalise the British pub moot here in my home community. It is something we’ve given to the world. Brits didn’t invent pride marches; didn’t champion military headstone rights; but we did invent the pub moot.

In doing so, we’ve taken up a long British tradition which says, “Mate, here’s a private space, with good ale, in which your lot can be as eccentric as you like without frightening the horses. Good on ye.”

[Photo Credit: Photos by Phoenix at photosbyphoenix.com]

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Premonitions of Melissa

Fri, 2014-07-25 06:54

Two summers ago, I was standing in the central plaza in Arcata, California, admiring some flowers when a small bee landed right on my wrist. I looked down and cautiously said hello, and the little bee looked up at me, and then turned around and made itself comfortable, literally nestling into the cuff of my coat. For the next hour or so, the bee stayed firmly planted on my cuff.

Prior to that moment, I had never interacted much with bees, and had always gone out of my way to give them respect, but more importantly their space. As a child, I had been badly stung on the inside of my cheek when a bee had landed on my lollipop as I was putting it into my mouth. My face swelled up and stayed that way for over a week, and my childhood peers taunted me endlessly over what had happened. I walked away from the incident resenting other children much more than I resented the bee, but nonetheless, from that point on, I was extremely cautious and wary whenever I saw a bee in my presence.

But when the bee landed on my wrist and decided to stay, I immediately felt obligated not only to host it, but to protect it as well. For the next hour or so, I went about my normal business, but completely aware at every second that there was a tiny little creature on my wrist, one that could sting me if it chose and one that I could crush if I wasn’t careful. Within that hour and in holding that balance, twenty years’ worth of fear and caution around bees completely melted away and transformed into a feeling of fear and caution out of concern for the bee itself. When the bee finally turned around, looked up at me again, and flew off, I was truly sad that it had left.

A few days later back in Oregon, I was at a gathering with friends in downtown Eugene’s Kesey Square when, once again, a bee landed on my cuff – on the other wrist this time. And, once again, it made itself comfortable and stayed for quite a while. The second time it landed on me, I noticed that the caution and fear that was usually present in my gut was absent. Instead, it was more akin to visiting with an old friend.

Another old friend of the human persuasion walked up to me at that moment and quickly snapped a picture of the bee on my cuff, expecting it to immediately fly away. He then stared at the bee incredulously upon realizing that it was staying put, looked up at me, and grinned.

“What are you, the bee whisperer?” he asked.

A bee on my cuff. Photo by Gregory Walker

I walked off with the bee for a moment for a little privacy, and then thanked the bee out loud for both the visit as well as for the lesson on fear from the first bee. A few minutes later, the bee flew away just as the first one did, but the bees definitively tagged me that day and never truly left me from that moment forward. Since that day, I constantly see bees; I regularly talk to bees. The bees have staked out a permanent place in my thought processes, and bees are a recurring theme in my dreams.

*   *   *

I found the sheet at a Goodwill in downtown Eugene, searching for patch material at a hurried moment during the beginning of the Whoville encampment last summer. It was a queen-size vintage bed sheet from the 60’s or 70’s, ivory-colored with yellow and orange flowers on it, and was a pink-tagged item that I happened to find on a day when the pink tags were half-off. Score, I said to myself.

As I walked to the register with the sheet, a wild-eyed homeless man started shouting loudly right outside the entrance on the sidewalk. As the cashier rang up my purchase, his screams became louder.

“Blessings and curses, loaves and fishes, loaves and fishes, blessings and doom,” he screamed, over and over, pointing a stick at passing cars. I left the store and, as I walked past him, he turned directly toward me. I froze and smiled at him. “FISHES!” he hissed at me, and immediately turned away. “DOOM” he then screamed at a passing car.

I’ll take fishes over doom, I thought to myself as I walked to my car.

I don’t know exactly where coincidence, enchantment, and belief intersected in this specific instance, but I slowly noticed, over the next few months, the vintage floral sheet, which I had paid less than two dollars for, seemed to multiply again and again. I printed series after series of patches, ripping strip after strip off the sheet, and every time I opened up the sheet again it seemed to be the same size as it had been the last time I ripped fabric from it.

I often have nicknames in my head for the different kinds of patterned fabric I buy, usually in reference to the design and/or color, especially when I have a large amount of any one print and it ends up hanging around for a while. The flowered bed sheet quickly became known as the “sheet of fishes”.

Patches from the sheet of fishes

*   *   *

I knew that I was dreaming and, yet, I couldn’t force myself awake. In the dream, I was hunched over a whirling pool of water, in a trance, staring into the abyss. Suddenly a spirit-woman appeared in the whirlpool. She opened her eyes at me, opened her mouth, and swarms of bees started to fly out. As they flew away, the spirit-woman started to rot away before my eyes, quickly turning to bones and decomposing flesh.

I suddenly snapped awake, my heart pounding. Death has never been a stranger, but themes and thoughts of dying and the underworld have been much more present in my dreams since being tagged by the bees. I looked at the clock. It was the middle of the afternoon and I had overslept by many hours. I made my way to the kitchen for some coffee and, as I fumbled with the machine, I heard my landlady talking loudly on the phone outside my window.

“Twenty-five thousand bees?” she said alarmingly. “How? What? How could that have happened?”

I immediately felt a knot grow in my stomach, and my thoughts went to the dream I had just snapped out of. I ran to my computer and quickly learned that there had just been a massive bee die-off that morning in Wilsonville, right outside of Portland. A landscaping company had accidentally sprayed neonicotinoid pesticides on linden trees, in violation of state regulations and labeling instructions, and as many as fifty thousand bees were dead or dying. Ironically, it was the first day of “National Pollinator Week,” which was designed to bring public awareness to the issues around pollination and bee deaths. News reports said that it was the largest known die-off in the United States.

Not knowing what else to do, I grabbed a piece of chalk, went downtown, and started drawing little bees on the sidewalk near Kesey Square, in the same place where the bee had visited me. At one point, a man stood over me as I drew, watching me carefully.

“They say we’ll be dead in four years if the bees disappear,” he said to me.

I looked up and nodded. “Most folks don’t understand what’s at stake,” I said.

He nodded in return. “Keep drawing those bees,” he said. “We need those kinds of conversation-starters. It’s the only way we’re ever gonna wake people up.”

I need to start printing bees, I thought to myself.

*   *   *

I finally sat down and drew the bee for a silkscreen last January, and it took me still a few months after finishing the first screen to realize that the “sheet of fishes” was the perfect fabric to complement the bee graphic. Not only in terms of the visual, but also in the spirit of multiplying and never running out. As soon as I printed the first bee, I immediately decided to dedicate the rest of the sheet to printing small bees. I methodically tore square after square, three inches by four inches, printing well over two hundred bees in an afternoon.

I divided the bees into three piles. One pile I gave to Rhyd Wildermuth with the request that he disseminate them among the attendees of the Polytheist Leadership Conference. The second pile was set aside for randomly giving out to strangers I ran into on the street. The third pile was initially left undecided, until I saw a bee land on a tree in front of me the following day, and immediately pictured my bee patch where the actual bee was. I decided then that I was going to simply pin the last pile of bees onto trees throughout downtown Portland.

*   *   *

I was pinning a bee to a tree near Union Station in Old Town when I heard a small voice behind me. I turned around to see a very small woman who had been obviously living on the street for a long while.

“I think I’m going to die today,” she said to me calmly.

I did not quite know how to respond. “Is there anything I can do?” I asked, and she shook her head no.

“I was supposed to tell you, that’s all,” she said.

I looked down at the disabled transit pass around her neck. The name on her pass said “Melissa”. She looked at my bee on the tree and smiled, nodded in the affirmative, then turned and walked away.

The bee on the tree near Union Station.

I spent the rest of the day out and about with my bees and finally arrived back home many hours later. When I logged onto my computer, I was horrified to learn that, while I was out pinning bees, there was another massive bee die-off at an apartment complex in north Eugene caused by yet another erroneous application of neonicotinoid pesticides. It was almost a year to the day after the Wilsonville die-off, and it was yet again the beginning of National Pollinator Week.

I immediately thought of the street woman, and suddenly her words took on a different meaning. Melissa was the Greek word for honeybee, and I realized her message had truly been a premonition.

*   *   *

Four boys were killed on the beach in Gaza.

I headed out to photograph a protest and “die-in” at Senator Merkley’s office in downtown Portland that was being staged in response to the senseless carnage in the Middle East. I walked south from my building under the Broadway Bridge into the heart of downtown and across the parkway from the river.  Glancing at the Willamette and the beautiful blue sky, I tried to distract myself from the images seared into my mind of the tiny bodies on the beach. I pinned bees to trees, and as I stuck each pin into the bark of the tree, I whispered a brief prayer for the dead.

Among the sky and the glare of the sun, I looked down for a moment. A baby bird was lying dead on the sidewalk directly in front of me. I picked it up and it was still warm. I stood up and looked around. The sidewalks were empty and I was surrounded by concrete. There was nowhere to bury the bird in the immediate vicinity; nowhere to set it aside respectfully. I looked up at the bee on the tree, and down again at the bird. I scooped the bird up in my left hand and continued on toward the protest.

The bird in my hand.

I arrived, and quickly mastered the art of maneuvering my camera solely with my right hand. The energy of the bird in my left hand was calming, centering, anchoring me in the moment as I stood and snapped photos among the emotions and passions in the square.

Suddenly, I needed water. I walked into the closest coffee shop, slightly opening my left hand as it had become clammy in cupping the bird. As I was filling my bottle, a group of tourists behind me looked at my left hand.

“Oh, my”, a woman said. “That bird looks like it could be real!”

I simply smiled and made a quick exit.

I went back to the protest for a moment, said goodbye to a few friends, and then walked back toward my building along the riverbank, looking for a suitable spot to bury the bird. As I walked, images of birds and bees and dead children kept flashing through my mind. Overwhelmed, I tried to shake off the thoughts and concentrated on finding a place for burial, the bird in my hand still grounding me in the moment.

I eventually stopped at a landscaped area on the bike path just north of the Steel Bridge on the west bank of the Willamette River. I sat down in the dirt, placed the bird next to me, and started to dig with my hands. Bikers and joggers going by turned and stared at me as I calmly finished digging the hole, placed the bird in the makeshift grave, and covered it. I whispered prayers into the mound and then got up and dusted myself off. I started down the riverbank path again toward home.

Only a few feet down the path from where I had buried the bird, I stumbled upon a breathtaking display of cairns on the riverbank. I stopped and stared at the piles of rocks, and something in the moment simply broke me. I collapsed in front of the cairns and sobbed – for the bees, for the dead children, for Melissa and her message, for all the folks on the street, for all the tragedies in which I am functionally helpless and yet still bear witness. I let everything go in front of the cairns; everything I had been holding for months.

In the midst of my sobbing, I heard a buzzing sound. I looked up and saw a single bee circling the cairns. Have your moment, the bee said very clearly to me, but then you must keep going forth with your work.

I nodded toward the bee and wiped my tears. After a moment, I pulled myself up, left a bee patch under a rock at the base of the cairns, and slowly made my way home.

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Uncovering the Past: Nero’s Revolving Restaurant and more

Thu, 2014-07-24 08:42

As some Pagans 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.

Previously unknown ancient culture found in Peru
Archaeologists working in the Atacama Desert in Peru discovered more than 150 burials belonging to a previously unknown farming culture dating to between the 4th-7th century CE.

Artifacts found in one of the graves. [Photo: Archives of the Tambo Project of the University of Wrocław]

The graves didn’t have any stone structures or other ways to mark them, and experts think this may be why they were not looted by grave robbers or found by earlier explorers. The desert conditions also preserved the graves, and many artifacts were discovered with the bodies. The items found in the graves show that there were clear social divisions. Some of the items uncovered were headgear made of felted lama wool, decorated weaving tools, jewelry, bows, and arrows with obsidian heads. The differences in quality show that some persons were more powerful than others and could afford to take such treasures into the afterlife with them.

The bodies were wrapped in woven mats, cotton burial shrouds, or nets. What was most curious was the reeds attached to the ears of the bodies which poked up out of the graves. Archaeologists think the reeds may have enabled the living to communicate with the dead.

 

Controversial sale of Sekhama statue completed
A statue of an Egyptian scribe named Sekhama was recently sold to a private buyer by the Northampton Museum. The museum said the sale was necessary to raise funds to reinvest in other cultural projects. Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh El-Damati opposed the exchange saying private sales of ancient artifacts are against the values of museums world wide as they should act as vessels to spread culture, rather than businesses searching for a profit.

[Promotional video by Christie's Auction House]

The 4500 year old limestone statue stands only 30 inches high, but is considered culturally important due to the detailed scroll on his lap listing his funeral offerings.

Due to the sale, the Northampton Museum may be found in breach of the Museums Association Code of Ethics. If it loses its Museums Association Accreditation, public, charity, or lottery funding may be cut off.

The statue was put up for auction by Christie’s Auction House on July 10 and sold for a reported $20 million.

 

Newly uncovered Roman tombs display different funeral rites
Archaeologists uncovered a new cemetery in the old Roman port of Ostia. The funeral rites included cremations and burials. The variation wasn’t limited to a specific time period and all remains are from a single extended family. The cemetery “shows the free choice that everyone had with their own body, a freedom people no longer had in the Christian era when burial became the norm,” said Paola Germoni, the director of the sprawling dig.

Ostia was a bustling, cosmopolitan city dating back to the 7th century BCE and was Rome’s main port. The city was also quite large – larger than Pompeii.

 

Fabled city Thonis-Heracleion found
Like Troy,Thonis-Heracleion was once believed to be a myth. In fact, archaeologists thought Thonis-Heracleion were two separate cities. But Thonis is its Egyptian name and Heracleion is the Greek name. Found by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio in 2000, this ancient city near Alexandria is revealing that it not only existed, but played an important role in ancient Egyptian religion and commerce.

Click this link for spectacular photos

Founded in the 12th century BCE, Thonis-Heracleion was the port of entry to Egypt for all ships coming from the Greek world. It also had a religious importance due to the grand temple of Amun and his son Khonsou (Herakles to the Greeks). Also discovered was the head of a colossal statue of the god Hapi. Hapi is the god of the flooding of the Nile, who granted abundance and fertility. That large of a representation of Hapi has never been found before and casts new light on his importance in Egyptian religion.

Thonis-Heracleion had its peak occupation from the 6th to the 4th century BC and is thought to have been destroyed over 1,200 years ago, possibly due to major earthquakes and floods. It now lies 4 miles off today’s coastline.

Although the excavation has been going for over 13 years, new and well preserved discoveries are being made constantly. Keep your eyes open for more news on Thonis-Heracleion and how those discoveries are changing views on ancient Greco-Egyptian culture and religion.

 

70,000 year old African settlement shows they did it first
The first permanent living structures were thought to have been made by humans as they left Africa for colder areas of Europe or Asia. A 70,000 year old northern Sudan village is challenging that long held assumption.

Archaeologists say Affad, the name they are calling the dig site, not only had wood living structures, but also had a large flint workshop and a space for cutting hunted animal carcasses. They’re also trying to pin down a more exact date for when the village was inhabted. So far they know Affad existed some time during the Middle Palaeolithic period when the area was a wetlands. However, the region was a wetlands during two different time periods; about 75 millennia and about 25 millennia ago.

Remnants of the Palaeolithic settlements in Affad. [Image: M. Osypińska]

 

Did Nero really have a revolving restaurant?
It appears he did.

The dining room was first discovered in 2009, but it took them years to figure out what it was and what it was designed to do. Archaeologists at first didn’t know what they had under their feet. They were on an artificial terrace constructed by the Flavians, which they built over the top of Nero’s famous palace. However, the retaining wall was too thin to hold up the terrace. They wanted to know why it hadn’t collapsed, so they did what archaeologists do – they started digging.

They found a round 39 foot tall tower with a 13 foot diameter central pillar and eight arches supporting two floors. Along the top of the upper arches were holes filled with slippery clay. This was the clue needed to uncover the purpose for the room. The holes would contain ball bearings and the slip was a lubricant, and this supported a revolving floor. The floor’s constant movement may have been powered by a system of water and gears.

Model of the parts of the revolving dining room [Credit: Francoise Villedieu and Edikom]

Roman historian Suetonius had written that Nero’s “main dining room was round, and revolved continuously on itself, day and night, like the world.” However most historians thought this was exaggeration typical of early ‘historical’ accounts.

Lead site archaeologist Francois Villedieu says the proof that this was Nero’s revolving dining room isn’t definitive, and the claim caused enough controversy that funding for the excavation was delayed for several years, but he feels the clues are convincing. Now that funding is secured, the work can continue. 

Nero, best known as the emperor who fiddled while Rome burned, is emerging as more complex man. Most of what’s known about him comes from those who opposed his populist economic policies which favored the poor. He was a patron of the arts, and if the revolving dining room pans out, he may have been more involved with furthering science and technology than originally thought.

 

 

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New Italian Pagan Organization Begins Work For Legal Recognition

Wed, 2014-07-23 08:39

On July 11, the Italian organization Unione Comunità Neopagane (UCN) was born after 2 long years of planning. A result of Progetto articolo 8 (Project Article 8), the UCN brings together a diversity of Pagan associations under one organizational structure in order to support Pagan practice within the greater Italian culture. Its ultimate goal is to establish official legal recognition for “Neopaganism as a heterogeneous religion” according to the laws of the country.

Dolomite Mountains, Italy [Photo Credit: philipbouchard Flickr]

Italian Pagans are, generally, solitary practitioners. However, over the last decade, there has been an increase in community building and public events. UCN President Anna Bordin, a priestess and initiate of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple, explains, “We started gathering together and forming Associations and Study Groups on many subjects related with Paganism.”

Bordin lists some of this work as including “the annual meeting of Trivia in Milan, the annual Council of Witchcraft and Druidry in Biella, the Beltane Festival,” and the birth of many new groups and covens of different paths such as Bordin’s own Cerchio Italiano di Avalon. Many associations have supported workshops with international teachers, such as Phillys Curott, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, Kathy Jones, Vivianne and Chris Crawley. She adds:

Something that happened in these last years has been the constant increase of demand from the pagan community of ‘services’ such as handfastings, sacred unions, wiccanings, baby namings, requiems etc… many Italian pagan authors have written several books on Paganism that have been published by the newborn pagan publishers.

Paganism has grown in the country and the demand for resources and community has increased accordingly. Bordin says, “Following this thread two years ago we started working on a project for the recognition of Neopaganism as religion, or as a composite religion, bonded by principles, festivals and practices.” This work led to the formation of the UCN.

UCN President, Anna Bordin [Photo Credit: Martina Pace]

The organization was founded by the coming together of nine distinct associations and groups, including Argiope (Venice); Circolo dei Trivi (Milan);  L’Antico Trivio (Naples); Corvo Nuvola (Milan); Clan Duir – Antica Quercia (Biella);  Il Cerchio delle Antiche vie (Arezzo); La Ruota d’Oro (Rome); Le Intagliatrici (Milan); and Il Corvo e la Civetta (Piacenza). These groups range in religious practice but agree on three founding principles, as borrowed from the Pagan Federation International, and other organizational guidelines.

At this time, the group is home to mostly Wiccans, Druids and electic “Neopagans.” However, membership is open to anyone who agrees to the organization’s ideals. UCN recognizes that Paganism in Italy is quite diverse. Bordin notes that the country has a very unique and rich history that nurtures a connection to its long religious roots. She says:

It is not rare that some groups celebrate their rites in pre-Christian, Celtic or Roman, but also Etruscan or Greek, places of worship … Our territory was a melting pot of ancient cultures, a crossroad among Romans, Greeks, Etruscan, German populations and many others. Here we have also had the Mysteries of Mithra, Isis, etc. Ancient mystery religions and ethnic practices were melted at that time, as it happens now with Neopaganism. So also the Wiccan and Druidic practices are strongly integrated with the local folklore. Italian magical traditions have now found a new frame to express themselves in

None of these minority religious practices have recognized status in Italy. While the country does have a deeply embedded religious history and various entanglements with the Catholic Church, modern Italy supports the religious freedom of its citizens. In legal terms, the state and the Catholic Church are two entirely separate entities, as stated by the 1948 Italian Constitution and reinforced by legal revisions in 1984.

Italian Pagans of any kind are free to practice privately or publicly provided they do not break any secular Italian law. However, this practice is largely considered an activity, like a sport or party. Bordin says, “We can meet in public and celebrate our own rites and ceremonies, asking permission [from] the town Council only if the rites are performed outdoors in public places. Sometimes for bigger events we need to ask permission as a ‘cultural’ meeting.”

Bordin doesn’t like that. She does not want to have to hide the religious nature of her festival or ritual. That is where the the UCN comes in. A organization can enter into an agreement and become the representative of a “denomination” allowing for legal benefits, including the operation of schools, access to state funding and the right to perform legally-recognized marriages. In 2012, both a Buddhist organization (UBI) and Hindu organization achieved this coveted status.

Handfasting [Photo Credit: Michela Horvath]

However, not everyone believes that legal credentials are important. Pagan Pride Italia (PPI) has opted not to join the UCN and, additionally, is now protesting its work. PPI believes that the formation of the UCN is unnecessary and counter to the eclectic nature of Paganism. President Vanth Spiritwalker says, “There are the reasons why we don’t want to adhere to it, and then there are the reasons why we are taking action to protest against it.”

PPI doesn’t want to join because, in its opinion, the benefits to be gained through organizational formation are negligible. Italian Pagans already have religious freedom as stated in the Italian Constitution. Pagans can already freely practice, organize and hold public events. PPI also points out that all lawful marriages are ultimately civic, regardless of a religion’s legal stature, even the Catholic ones.

Spiritwalker adds, “What the project is actually doing is something different. They are creating a church” that requires certain hierarchical structures and limitations on practice that conflict with the eclectic nature of the Pagan experience. In addition, PPI is concerned that, with a country full of solitaries, the UCN is only allowing groups and associations full membership status.

Those are the reasons that PPI is not supporting the UCN. However, the organization is also actively protesting for an additional reason. Spiritwalker says:

It is in anyone’s right to create a church … the problem arises when they are doing so choosing a name for themselves that says that they are speaking for every Pagan in the country. This is not only wrong, but creates a lot of potential problems by conveying a representation of the community which is different from the truth. Since we believe that what really gives you rights is social recognition, which means educating people so that they are aware of your existence, of what you do and of your rights. Giving out wrong information can only hinder social recognition, not helping the community in general.

PPI is encouraging Italian Pagans to use the hashtags #nochiesapagana #freepaganism and to post a photo of themselves saying, “I am Pagan. UCN doesn’t represent me.”

The UCN Board is aware of PPI’s complaints. In response, Bordin says, “We are using the word Neopagans to avoid misunderstandings, as there are many Pagans in Italy that don’t follow the principles of the PFI. We don’t want to unify all the paths in one, but to be strong in our differences working on a common base.” The UCN only claims to represent a “heterogenous denomination,” to use the government’s language, that is based solely on or limited only by its three founding 3 principles and its mission.

Bordin also adds that UCN does have plans to add a stronger solitary membership program. The Board is inspired by the structure of the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and its full inclusion of solitary practitioners. In fact, UCN has taken many of its cues from international organizations. Along with CoG, the UCN plans to model its teaching practices and festival organization around the work of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. As mentioned earlier, it borrowed the Pagan Federation International‘s membership principles.

At this point, the UCN is a nonprofit organization. Over the next 3-4 years, it will attempt, as Bordin says, “to become a juridical personality (or charity.)”  She says, “If we gain the juridical personality, Neopaganism will “exist” as a non-recognised religion …The next step will be moving from a non-recognised religion to recognised religion, with the start of a long process.” This process could take as long as 20 years.

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Update: AP Stylebook Initiates Journalists To Term Wicca

Tue, 2014-07-22 05:00

Last month, Wild Hunt Managing Editor Heather Greene reported on the new Stylebook put out by the Associated Press, pointing out that despite a large number of new definitions and entries regarding religion, the influential guide for working journalists neglected to include any entries relating to the modern Pagan movement.

“The 2014 AP Stylebook does indeed have an expansive in-depth chapter on religion which includes definitions and details on a variety of minority religion terminology such as Brahmin (Hindu) or gurdwara (Sikh). The guide includes short informational entries on Baha’i, Buddhism and other non-Abrahamic faiths as well as minority sects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It says that Christmastime is one word and suggests using Hanukkah as the standard spelling for the Jewish holiday. However, it says nothing about “Paganism.”

In fact the updated religion chapter makes no mention at all of modern Pagan or Heathen religions. It does not include Druidry or Druidism, Wicca or Asatru. With the exception of Yule, it does not recognize the names of Pagan sabbats or other important festivals and holy days. The word “pagan” only appears once in a recommendation to capitalize the names of mythological gods and goddesses such as Zeus, Athena and Poseidon.

When asked if the inclusion of modern Paganism had been considered for the chapter, the editors responded immediately saying that the Stylebook uses the dictionary for such groups. So what does Webster say? The online version includes a definition for Neo-Pagan and Neo-Paganism both of which use a capital letter. The same dictionary, however, does not include an individual entry for the term “Pagan” with capitalization. The two “pagan” entries define the term as those people who are anti-religious or polytheists from ancient Greek or Rome. Webster does include an entry for Wicca but no other practice.”

Well, it now looks like things might be changing. Maewyn, a copy editor and Witch who uses the AP Stylebook online, alerted me that an entry for Wicca was added on July 14th. Here’s the full text:

Altar from the Edwards Air Force Base Wiccan service.

“Wicca: Religion shaped by pagan beliefs and practices. The term encompasses a wide range of traditions generally organized around seasonal festivals, and can include ritual magic, a belief in both female and male deities, and the formation of covens led by priestesses and priests. Wiccan is both an adjective and a noun. Uppercase in all uses.

Stylebook Editor’s Note
2014-07-14: Added to stylebook”

This new addition was then tweeted out on the AP Stylebook’s official Twitter account on July 16th.

AP Style tip: Wicca is a religion shaped by pagan beliefs and practices. Wiccan is both an adjective and a noun. Uppercase in all uses.

— AP Stylebook (@APStylebook) July 16, 2014

 So that’s a start! So far, according to sources, that’s the only modern Pagan term to make it into the online AP Stylebook proper. Other terms, like Druid, Asatru, or Pagan and Neopagan, are absent, with an official policy of using the dictionary standards for terms not in the Stylebook. Whether the recent campaign by a coalition of Pagan Studies scholars for the capitalization of “Pagan” in major journalism stylebooks when referring to our religious movement will eventually bear fruit remains to be seen.

Why is this issue important? Because as Heather Greene said in her initial article, the AP Stylebook’s decisions change journalistic conventions.

“If you are not a writer, you may ask, “Why should I care?” The AP Stylebook does not affect you directly. However, it does affect you indirectly. The guide is used by journalists and editors all over the country as a writer’s “bible,” if you will. While the AP Stylebook is not the only guide of its kind, it is one of the front-runners that establishes a style standard for journalism that is dependable and regular.

The guide, for example, solves those ever-frustrating grammatical debates over commas and semi-colons. It recommends date and time abbreviations, fixes transition words, and clarifies what should be or should not be capitalized. All of its suggested rules and information are absorbed into the articles published in American newspapers and magazines since the 1950s.”

Guides like the Religion Stylebook, produced by the Religion Newswriters Association, are more comprehensive regarding Pagan faiths, but they are also less influential. I take this new addition as a sign that the AP Stylebook editors are listening, and hope this is a good omen for further entires to come. We’ll keep you posted as this story develops.

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Pagan Community Notes: Polytheist Leadership Conference, Polytheist.com, Cherry Hill Seminary, and More!

Mon, 2014-07-21 05:00

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

As mentioned last week, the recently concluded inaugural Polytheist Leadership Conference was considered a success by all who attended. Conference co-organizer Galina Krasskova has been rounding up thoughts and reactions from attendees here, here, here, and here. Do check them out for a fuller picture of what went down. In addition the conference has already announced dates for next year, and who their keynote speaker will be: Morpheus Ravenna. Quote: “I’m delighted to announce that Morpheus Ravenna will be our key-note speaker at the Polytheist Leadership Conference in 2015. We just confirmed with her last night. An initiate of the Anderson Feri tradition, Morpheus is a Celtic polytheist, an artist, spiritual worker, and devotee of the Morrigan. She is the leader of the Coru Cathubodua, a priesthood dedicated to this mighty Goddess and was recently featured on the documentary ‘American Mystic.’” For further updates, check out the PLC’s official website.

Anomalous Thracian

In other Polytheist community news, a new website, Polytheist.com, will be launching later this Summer. Spearheaded by Anomalous Thracian (aka Theanos Thrax) the new site plans to be safe, dedicated, home to an incredibly diverse Polytheist population. Quote: For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals, without inviting the targeting and resistance often experienced in spaces not dedicated to this specific aim.” In a recent editorial published at PaganSquare, Anomalous Thracian endorsed an ethos of “And, Not Or” when it comes to Polytheist-Pagan relations. Quote: “A Polytheist and a Pagan. Not ‘either/or’. No war implicit between the two. That does not mean that there is not conflict, and that there is not a need to fight for the rights of identification, of religious and social difference and differentiation; but it does mean that I can dually wield both of those identities. I am never not one, never not either; they do not compete, nor cancel one another out.”

Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the graduation of Carol Tyler Kirk, awarding her a Masters of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, the second such graduation since Cherry Hill Seminary first opened its graduate program in 2009. Quote: “Kirk served the U.S. Army as a nurse in a Vietnam MASH unit from May 1969 to December 1970, then returned home to a career in nursing management. Kirk’s master’s thesis addresses the needs of the ‘wounded warrior,’ those returning from deployment overseas and whose war wounds may be non-physical, running deeper into the soul. Publication of the work is in planning. Kirk has also led several covens, and currently serves as a hospital chaplain and interfaith activist in Huntsville, Alabama. A July 2013 article in the Cherry Hill Seminary newsletter relates Kirk’s role in establishing the Women’s Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., where she spoke at the dedication.” Kirk’s department chair and advisor, Dr. David Oringderff, said that Kirk set “high standards of excellence for all of our students who follow.”

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • A new biannual print journal concerning polytheism and spiritwork, Walking the Worlds, has debuted and is looking for submissions. Quote: “Walking the Worlds is a new print journal that will be debuting on the Winter Solstice. Devoted to an exploration of spiritwork and polytheism from a variety of traditions, ancient and modern, we are seeking essays, reviews and poetry on topics such as: gods, ancestors, spirits, spirit-animals, heroes, land-wights, prayer, devotions, offerings, sacrifice, ritual, ritual tech, festivals, temple and shrine-keeping, music, dance, ecstasy, madness, trancework, cleansing, entheogens, healing, initiation, ordeal, divination, oracles, inspired and channeled works, magic, witchcraft, herblore, science, history, mythology and so forth.”
  • Yeshe Rabbit and Erick DuPree have launched dharmapagan.org as a free online resource that fuses their work with the dharma and Buddhism through a Pagan lens. Yeshe Rabbit and Erick host Dharma Pagan Dialogues and Discussion videos with guests like Sam Webster and Dylan Thomas, invitations to online sangha and practices such as Tea and Chanting and Chanting Green Tara, as well a guest blog. For more information visit: www.dharmapagan.org
  • Artist, writer, and scholar Sasha Chaitow is seeking crowdfunding help to attend and participate in the upcoming OCCULT art salon in Salem, Massachusetts. Quote: “I’ve been invited to the OCCULT Art Salon in Salem, MA this September to participate in the art exhibition and present a workshop on [visionary author Joséphin] Péladan’s work. I am preparing a painting for the exhibition, but I need your help to get there, as the travel expenses are well beyond what I can afford as a (barely graduated) ex-grad student.”
  • A Bad Witch’s Blog reports on the recent “Witchcraft Today” 60th anniversary event. Quote: “The tabloid papers often gave particularly lurid, sensationalist and inaccurate accounts of what went on in the Craft. Gerald Gardner was one of the few Wiccans willing to speak to the Press at the time and his book Witchcraft Today was partly written to try to redress the balance and give the public a genuine insight into what witches do.”

 

  • At PaganSquare Cat Treadwell reports on the first Pagan Symposium in London, organized by the Pagan Federation. Quote: “Since the discussions over the Census and the PaganDASH project, there has been a need for cohesive voices and a mature approach to the representation of Pagans across the country, as many of our international fellows are already doing. We would try to accomplish this, as individuals and within groups sharing identities and diverse beliefs under the Pagan umbrella. Even just for today, to see if it worked… these few hours would be a test, of sorts.”
  • The Moon Books blog interview Christine Hoff Kraemer, Pagan theologian, author, and manager of the Patheos Pagan channel. Quote: “I think the strength of Patheos Pagan is that it exists in an inherently interfaith context. One of our writers, Julian Betkowski, recently commented on the dangers of accidentally creating “echo chambers” rather than functional religious communities — small cliques of people in which an agenda is enforced and genuine dialogue is discouraged. Hosting a community of Pagan writers in an interfaith environment helps combat that in a number of ways. It forces us to continually refine our own viewpoints in dialogue with each other *and* with people of other religions. Having regular contact with thoughtful non-Pagans keeps us in mind that despite Pagans’ differences, we still have a great deal more in common with each other than we do with the other major Western religions.”

 

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

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Religious Requirements to Hold Public Office?

Sun, 2014-07-20 06:45

It may not surprise anyone that the word “God,” “Almighty God,” or similar, is written into the constitution of all 50 states. In most cases, such words are found in the preambles and in the, often required, oaths of office. The mention of “God,” or the like, is used predominantly in reverent thanks or acknowledgment of a divine goodness.

However, what most people do not realize is that eight of the states also include a religious component to a citizen’s eligibility to hold public office and, in two cases, to testify in court or serve on a jury. These states include Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. While the language of each state’s “religious test” is slightly different, the ultimate idea is the same. In all cases, the laws exclude the Atheist from participating in officials roles. Beyond that and depending on one’s beliefs, these constitutional regulations could potentially exclude many citizens of minority faiths, including Pagans and Heathens.

[Photo Credit: roberthuffstutter/Flickr]

The states of North Carolina, Maryland and Tennessee use language that most closely connotes a Christian or an Abrahamic religious worldview. Maryland’s constitution reads, “no religious test shall ever be required” to hold office, “other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God.” The other two constitutions state that persons who “deny the being of God,” or “Almighty God,” as termed in North Carolina, are ineligible for public office. Tennessee goes a step further saying, “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” A “future state of rewards and punishments” refers to heaven and hell.

In four states, the constitutional restrictions are worded with a more expansive concept of deity. In South Carolina, Texas and Mississippi, persons are ineligible for public office if they “refuse to acknowledge” or “deny the existence of” a Supreme Being. In Arkansas, the limitation is imposed on people who deny the “being of a God.” In all four cases, the language used allows for a broader interpretation of deity and, ostensibly, could include some Pagans and Heathens.

Pennsylvania‘s constitution deviates from the other documents in that it reverses the burden. It states:

No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.

In this case, the state does not explicitly exclude persons who deny “a God.” However, it does imply that it could potentially happen. An acknowledgment of the “being of a God” and a heaven and hell secure one’s ability to be appointed. In that sense, the statement is a legal warning or even a compelling suggestion.

Additionally, two states include a religious test for jurors and those testifying in court. In Maryland and Arkansas, the constitution prohibits any persons who deny “the existence of God,” in Maryland, or “the being of a God,” in Arkansas, from testifying in court or serving on a jury.

While all of this may be frustrating and troublesome, the reality is much less bleak than at first glance. In Article 6, the United States Constitution clearly states:

no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States

Additionally, the 14th Amendment states:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In 1961, a Maryland Atheist challenged the “religious test” requirement after being excused from his appointment as a notary public.The famous case, Torcaso v Watkins, worked its way through the courts and eventually landed at the Supreme Court of the United States. The justices ruled in favor of Torcaso stating, “This Maryland test for public office cannot be enforced against appellant, because it unconstitutionally invades his freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the 14th Amendment from infringement by the States.”

The 1961 Supreme Court ruling rendered the state religious tests unenforceable. However, the constitutions were never changed. Fifty-three years later, Maryland’s Declaration of Rights still makes the following statements:

Art 36 … nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor either in this world or in the world to come.

 Art. 37. That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Much of this language appears to be legal “left-overs” and wording from the original state constitutions; some of which were adopted prior to ratification of the U.S. Constitution (1787) and the Bill of Rights (1791). In fact, some states, such as Arkansas, still disqualify people from serving in public office if they have have engaged in a duel. This evolutionary editing process may explain, in part, the oddities and religious language still found in many of the constitutions

“Hamilton-burr-duel” by Illustrator not identified. From a painting by J. Mund. – Lord, John, LL.D. (1902). Beacon Lights of History. Vol. XI, “American Founders.” (London: James Clarke and Co Ltd. Republished as a Project Gutenberg eBook, 2004-01-08. eBbook no. 10644..[Public domain via Wikimedia]

As Pagan lawyer Dana Eilers points out in her book Pagans and Law, there is a common misconception that America was colonized to grant religious freedom to all minorities faiths. Unfortunately, the difficult reality is that our country was filled with much religious intolerance, exclusivity and violence. Eilers says, “Given the dark and barbaric miasma of our past, the enormity of the American experience in separating religion and government represents a landmark event in human history.” In this statement, she not only refers to American history, but also to world history. (Chp. 8, God and Government)

Eilers then quotes a Supreme Court statement saying, “The Fathers of the Constitution were not unaware of the varied and extreme views of religious sects … They fashioned a charter of government which envisaged the widest possible toleration of conflicting views. Man’s relation to his God was made no concern of the state.” (Chp. 8, God and Government)  While Founding Father Thomas Jefferson may have mentioned the Muslim, Jew, Hindu, pagan and Christian in his work, other early lawmakers may not have been as progressively aware.

During that early period, the use of the word “God” or “a God” or “Supreme Being” may have seemed inclusive enough to satisfy the new American concept of religious diversity. For example, Maryland’s original 1776 constitution required a person interested in public service to declare “a belief in the Christian religion.” This was later changed to “God” in 1851 in order to be more inclusive by contemporary cultural standards.

While these historical details do explain why religious language, like “in the year of our Lord,” appears sporadically in state constitutions, it does not explain how 8 state constitutions have maintained a religious test to qualify someone for public office. Regardless of the historical aspect, such a test has been unconstitutional for centuries.  How, in the early revisions of the state constitutions, did those religious tests survive? How have they been overlooked all these years? More importantly, how have they remained unchecked since the 1961 Torcaso case or more recent legal contests?

Eilers explains, “they need to be tested individually…that is … each of them must be challenged.” Furthermore, each state has to be willing to engage in its process to change the constitution, a task that is long and difficult. That has yet to happen.

 

 

[Author's Note: Special thanks to Pagan lawyer Dana Eilers for taking time to offer insight and expertise on the subject.]

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Lady Loreon Vigne 1932 – 2014

Sat, 2014-07-19 09:41

Local papers in Geyserville, California are reporting that Lady Lorean Vigne, founder of Isis Oasis Sanctuary, passed away on July 15th at the age of 82.

Photo: Geyserville Press Democrat.

“Lady Loreon Vigne was a successful business woman who brought an animal sanctuary, Egyptian Temple and retreat center to the agricultural town of Geyserville.  She brought new ideas and welcomed all to be a part of her journey by opening Isis Oasis one Sunday a month to visitors. A local Geyserville personality, Vigne opened her Isis Oasis home to the community for many years.”

Lady Lorean Vigne founded the Isis Oasis Sanctuary in 1978, and it was officially recognized as a church in the state of California in 1996. Dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, they followed the principles of the Fellowship of Isis, as stated at their website.

“We generally follow the principles of the Fellowship of Isis, out of which our temple was born. The FOI was established by Lady Olivia Robertson and her brother at Clonegal Castle, Enniscorthy, Ireland, which has thousands of members in over 80 countries. Those who are members of the FOI are connected only by their love for the Goddess as each practices in whatever way they wish. The idea is to create balance by incorporating the feminine in deity. We all need the nurturing, forgiveness, and compassion that the Great Mother provides, as we seek to integrate and strengthen both our lunar and solar qualities. Those who become Priestesses and Priests of Isis, within this Temple, pledge to honor all life and commit to help the earth and her people’s not only for her preservation but to bring to our lives and the lives of future generations more light and wisdom.”

Lady Lorean Vigne, in addition to overseeing the temple, was an artist and craftsperson, and was married to the Beat-era experimental filmmaker Dion Vigne. A larger than life personality, she was known for her famous pet ocelots, and patronage of the arts in Geyserville. The Temple of Isis at Isis Oasis Sanctuary released the following statement on her passing.

“It is with sad tidings that we announce today the passing of Lady Loreon Vigne into her journey beyond the veil on July 15th. As she enters the care of Anubis, on her journey to the land of Osiris, we have been holding her noon ceremonies and vigils here at Isis Oasis HQ. She has taught and touched many, and continues to do so with her spirit, within the Temple of Isis and beyond. As co-hostess of this Symposium, Loreon had a hand in creating each and every aspect of it, and we will continue her work throughout the event, being true to her spirit and zest for knowledge, and the sharing of that knowledge. In addition, we will have a special High Holy Ceremony honoring the life and work of our Great Lady, celebrating her life and artistry. This formal ceremony will be a precursor to a second honoring at our Annual Convocation, where new Priestesses and Priests are ordained into the Temple of Isis and Fellowship of Isis.”

A formal ceremony honoring Lady Lorean Vigne will be held at the Temple’s annual Inner Sanctum Symposium at the end of August.

“I am sad to hear the news of the passing of another Great Soul, but I know that Loreon knows the way home. Her life was such a blessing to so many others. I met Loreon at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago so many years ago now, yet it feels just like yesterday and though we never had the opportunity to meet again, her work and achievement remain an outstanding inspiration. Thank you Loreon, for blazing the trail that others might follow in your footsteps.”Naomi Ozaniec

For more on the life of Lady Lorean Vigne, she wrote an autobiography entitled “The Goddess Bade Me Do It” that’s available for purchase through the temple. May she rest in the arms of her goddess. What is remembered, lives.

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Culture and Community: Exploring The Pathology of Reactivity in Modern Paganism

Fri, 2014-07-18 08:00

This past week ­ several pieces hit the internet that focused attention on Paganism and gathered a response from Pagans. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic priest and blogger on Patheos, wrote two pieces discussing views about Paganism and judgments about those who follow the path. Many Pagans interpreted Longenecker’s writing to be an attempt to poke fun at Paganism, which has led to the discussions, comments and angst often seen when misinformation is published about the community.  The Huffington Post also posted an article this week about Paganis; it was a small piece about Pat Robinson’s most recent blaming of Witchcraft, or the Occult, for a child’s painful stomach pains on a recent episode of the 700 Club.

courtesy of pixabay.com

The internet has a way of broadcasting many different types of drama far and wide. Anyone’s opinion can become the talk of a community, an “expert opinion,” and it sometimes travels far beyond the boundaries it was originally intending to reach. The internet has it’s perks; it has greatly increased access to information. Yet it has also contributed greatly to spreading misinformation as well. The Pagan community is no stranger to being on the receiving end of misinformation, and the challenges of being a minority religious group can be exacerbated as a result.

While the content of articles like those mentioned are not really the focus of my discussion, the effect that they have on the tone of the Pagan community are. Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s blog, Standing On My Head, received in excess of 150 comments between the two posts on Paganism, and many of them exhibited what we see happen when this type of issue arises on the interwebs. Posts and incidents like these are not new for the Pagan community; yet they gather the same level of intensity in response repeatedly. What happens for marginalized communities when they feel disrespected, misrepresented, undervalued or intentionally called out? Are the responses we see coming from a place of anger, worry, fear, anxiety, or even hyper-vigilance?

The functioning of the internet can act much like a vacuum, making it hard to conceptualize the range of responses and feelings that are triggered when all we can see is what is on the screen. In light of this understanding, the responses and chaos generated on the internet may not be the only response but it is often the predominant one in the community for those who choose to engage.  It appears that a large majority of those who do respond to these types of posts come from a position of frustration. It is important to explore how feelings of marginalization challenge healthy and productive relationships that further connectivity within greater society, and how it impacts community sustainability.

There were many responses on the recent blog posts at Standing on My Head that appeared more informational than emotional in nature, but a large majority of the comments were what we often see during these types of triggering events. Here are some examples of the range of responses posted on one of the pieces.

This post is unworthy of someone who calls himself a priest. That a religion doesn’t look like yours doesn’t mean it isn’t deserving of respect and protection for its followers. – John Beckett

Your mistake is that you assume you understand the motivation of a pagan, and you are sure it can’t be an actual spiritual belief. It must be attention-seeking behavior. This is just ignorance on your part. Ignorance CAN be fixed, if you’re willing. – Michael Hardy

I am disappointed in the tone of this article, its lack of tolerance, and its complete lack of research and fact-checking. hardly a great contribution to interfaith dialogue. – Yewtree

It seems that you are under some misconceptions regarding Neo-Paganism. Neo-Paganism (Or just plain Paganism, if you will) is not something practiced by those “looking for attention”. In fact, what we do, we do simply because it seems right to us – in very much the same way that going to confession once seemed normal to a Catholic. – Deirdre Hebert

How do these types of attention-arousing incidents harm the overall tone of the Pagan community and why do we feel that they garner so much momentum on the web? David Dashifen Kees was one of the bloggers from the Patheos Pagan channel who engaged in the comment sections of the post. He took a different approach to the dialog. I reached out and asked David some questions on why he was inspired to approach the discussion the way he did.

Crystal Blanton:  It appeared from your comment on the recent Catholic blog that you chose to take the educational route with the blogger. Is this your normal approach when responding to inaccurate information published on the web?

David Dashifen Kees: Inaccurate information is just that:  inaccurate.  The people who believe it are simply wrong.  Further, inaccuracies can, and should, be corrected and so my response is always to reach toward education before denigration.  This is actually why I like the Patheos model of allowing posts like the ones in the past week that caused such a stir; they create a teachable moment and every visitor to those articles, and others like them, might learn from it.  The key is to try and identify when a person is deliberately, willfully choosing to remain misinformed. In these cases, I’ve found that there’s little you accomplish via direct, verbal communication and appeals to reason.  Instead, experiential education — what the Interfaith Youth Corps calls common action for the common good — usually works better but obviously the Internet cannot facilitate that sort of thing.

CB:  Why do you feel that the Pagan community often reacts to such information with anger? Do you think this is similar to the way that other marginalized groups respond within greater society?

DDK: This is a harder question for me to answer because, other than my religious community, I’m not really a part of a marginalized group in society.  I guess, back when nerds weren’t cool, that was a thing, but these days even my profession and hobbies have a certain cachet.  That being said, I think that it’s perfectly natural to react defensively, with anger or not, when facing intolerant or objectionable behavior.  In fact, I think to stand up against such behavior is at least as important as trying to educate those who are performing it.  My only worry related to this sort of interaction is that it might simply dissolve into a series of ad hominem declarations rather than focusing on the situation at hand.

CB: What do you often want to see when responding to pieces that give out misinformation about Paganism? Do you have an objective in mind that informs your response tactics?

DDK: My objective, whenever I try to engage someone else a topic I care deeply about — religious or otherwise, is simply to be able to state my case.  I can’t really control whether or not they believe me or find my points compelling, though I do spend a lot of time online crafting my responses to try and make them as appealing as possible.  Especially in situations like the ones that arose from the Patheos Catholic channel in the last week, I know that my comments are going to be attached to that article for as long as that content remains online.  They, therefore, stand as a testimony not just to my points, but all the moments when Pagan and others stood up to the not just the author of the posts, but also the others who, frankly, said far worse things in the comments about non-Catholic religious communities than even the author.

courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/wavyday/4557938166/

David gives interesting insight into what motivates many people when facing broadcasted inaccuracies: a chance to tell the story. It is quite common for marginalized groups to have a collective response to triggering things, and a shared experience of being “othered,” stripping the chance to feel heard and a part of the actual conversations that need to happen. Is this the same type of hyper-vigilance and response that we see in populations of people who have a history of marginalization, oppression and engagement in protective measures as a part of their cultural experience? It is quite possible that the pattern of responding to intolerance within the Pagan community correlates with many other groups that find themselves in similar positions within the greater societal framework.

The Pagan community goes through periods of recycling the many different ways that collective harm has been perpetuated onto its members from the overculture of society and from within the Pagan community itself. Yet, we do not often look collectively at how patterns and cultures are developed, in part, by being continuously subjected to environmental factors. In social work we refer to what is called “PIE”, Person In Environment, illustrating how behavior, response, thought process, beliefs and culture are co-created by the environment in which people live. It is much like a pressure cooker, and the internet has the ability to create concentrated environments that perpetuate hostility and can be quite triggering.

Jason Mankey, author of Raise the Horns on the Patheos, wrote a rebuttal to the Catholic blogger’s article, and this is not unheard of in the pattern of community response when said incidents occur. In his piece he stated:

Catholicism is not my faith, but I don’t feel any animosity towards it. People should be feel free to choose whatever faith works for them as long as it it’s not harmful to anyone around them. I’d love to live in a world where everyone respected the choices of others, and barring that I’d be happy just to be left alone. Right now I mostly feel sorry for Mr. Longenecker, who knows what sort of wonderful things he’s missing out on by making unwarranted judgments?

While many Pagans express wanting to be left alone, we see behavior within our community that might suggest something altogether different. Validation, respect, acceptance and inclusivity are something that our collective behavior shows we are willing to engage in with others to obtain, and even fight for among ourselves. Yet we struggle in stopping to ask the very questions that might be the most important.

What do we want and why? And who are we willing to fight to get it? When do things become a part of the pathology of a certain culture? Is it a part of the collective Pagan pathology to ride the momentum of reaction to support something we feel is done unjustly to us? What does our behavior suggest?

In Mr. Longenecker assessment of our behavior, he states:

There’s the same kind of ‘Look at me. What are you staring at??’ double think within not only the neo pagans, but also among all the radical, revolutionary types.  They love to be revolutionary, challenge the status quo, shock people, scandalize ordinary folks and do crazy stuff, then they turn around and blame everyone else for marginalizing them, making them feel persecuted and not granting them equal rights. Like a petulant teenager they do everything they can to be weird, then when normal people raise eyebrows they get all surprised like a house dropped on them or something.

Maybe it is time to ask ourselves how much of this quite unfair assessment is laced with big pieces of truth.

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A Declaration for European Indigenous Religious Traditions

Thu, 2014-07-17 08:05

For only the second time in its 16 year history, the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER) issued a Declaration. ECER is an international body composed of delegates from 12 different countries which assist European ethnic religious groups in opposing discrimination. The organization focuses on ethnic or indigenous religions, not modern occult or syncretic neo-religions. ECER was founded in 1998 and drew up its first declaration, with a second addition, in the same year.

ECER decided to write a new declaration after the death of krivis (supreme priest) Jonas Trinkūnas of Lithuania, who was ECER’s founder and first president. The group wanted to restate its mission and renew its commitment during a time of transition. It also wanted to address some of the problems that ethnic Pagan groups in Europe still face.

The Wild Hunt spoke with Andras Corban-Arthen, current President of ECER and delegate from Spain, about the declaration. We placed the full declaration below in bold; intersected with it are excerpts of our interview with Mr. Corban-Arthen which clarify or address the section preceding it.

Andras Corban-Arthen addresses the ECER meeting held in Lithuania [Photo Credit :Mapiva Yapakn ]

A DECLARATION FROM THE EUROPEAN CONGRESS OF ETHNIC RELIGIONS (English Version)

We, the delegates from twelve different countries convened at the European Congress of Ethnic Religions in Vilnius, Lithuania, on this 9th day of July 2014, join our voices together to make the following declaration:

We are members of diverse European indigenous ethnic cultures who seek to revitalize and reclaim our ancestral religious and spiritual traditions. We honor those who went before us, who gave us our life and our heritage. We are bound to the lands of our ancestors, to the soil that holds their bones, to the waters from which they drank, to the roads that they once walked. And we seek to pass that heritage to those who come after us, whose ancestors we are in the process of becoming – our children, our grandchildren, and the many generations yet to be born. We send solidarity and support to those other indigenous nations, races and religions who are also engaged in the struggle to preserve their own ancestral heritages.

Our ethnic religions are the product of the history of this continent; they are the living expressions, in the present, of our most ancient traditions and identities. At a time when the world is precariously balanced on the edge of environmental and economic upheaval, largely as the result of imbalanced individualism and rampant greed, our religions promote very different models of spiritual and social values: living in harmony, balance and moderation with the Earth; the importance of family and cooperative community; and respect and honor for all forms of life.

Yet, in many countries of Europe, the practice of our religions is impeded, restricted, and sometimes forbidden.

Cara Schulz: In the declaration you note that, in some European countries, the practice of indigenous religions is impeded. Are there particular countries where this is so? And what challenges, specifically, are faced?

Andras Corban-Arthen, President of ECER: The situation in Europe is complicated. On the one hand, in some countries — such as Greece, Russia, Lithuania — opposition against paganism is spearheaded by mainstream religious entities, particularly the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The impediments can range from the purely bureaucratic — religious authorities privately pressuring government officials to deny legal status to a pagan religion; to the publicly hostile — vitriolic condemnations of, and false accusations against, pagan religions by prominent Christian clergy, often right from the pulpit, which can profoundly sway public opinion; to outright physical violence against pagan individuals as well as sacred sites by religiously-fueled groups of thugs who, in some cases, appear to have been (unofficially) incited by the churches, as has happened in Italy, Poland and Ukraine.

On the other hand, in countries such as Germany and especially France, which have become largely secular, there has developed a widespread cynicism and mistrust toward religion of any sort, including paganism. The impediments found in such countries have more to do with apathy and dismissiveness than with outright hostility, but they are impediments just the same.

We urge all European governments to fully comply with, and actively enforce, the provisions guaranteeing freedom of religion to all citizens as stipulated in the Treaties of the European Union, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention of Human Rights, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other similar conventions and agreements, and to refrain from granting preferential treatment to some religions over others. We also ask that this equality of religious preference be reflected in the European educational systems.

CS: Do you think the EU will take practical action to help those who practice indigenous religions?

Corban-Arthen: That is certainly one of the outcomes we would love to see. For a nation to join the European Union, its constitution must first meet the Copenhagen Criteria, which ensure the freedom of religious choice and practice. In theory, a country which fails to comply with the protection of such a fundamental human right can be sued in the European Court of Justice. In practice, that’s far easier said than done. The EU is much more of an economic than a political union, and the enforcement of human rights has been very selective. A pagan group would need to have incontrovertible evidence, a large enough organization and membership, really good legal resources, and substantial funding for such a lawsuit to be successful. Needless to say, there don’t appear to be any pagan groups in Europe — certainly no ethnic ones — that meet those criteria. Part of our plan for the ECER is to start compiling some of the necessary resources so that eventually we might get to the point where some agency of the EU will respond favorably toward us.

We urge all our governments to actively engage in the preservation and protection of European indigenous sacred sites – be they human-made structures or natural settings. We further ask that free and open access to those sites be given to ethnic European religions which seek to use them for the purposes of worship and spiritual celebration.

CS: You’re asking for access to religious sites – are there specific sites you have in mind that you can’t access for religious purposes?

Corban-Arthen: There are lots of sites in many countries which, while open to the public for educational or touristic purposes, are off-limits for religious observances — any who attempt to engage in ceremony are customarily forced to leave by the police, and in some cases have even been arrested. Then there are those sites which remain completely unavailable, mostly because they are controlled by the churches. An example that comes to mind right away: the largest known altar dedicated to Perkūnas — the Baltic god of thunder — in Lithuania, lies in the basement of the Roman Catholic cathedral in Vilnius, and the church refuses to grant access to it (even just to see it) to anyone, often to the point of denying that it actually exists. Romuva has been lobbying for years to gain access to it, without success. A couple of years ago, a large number of young Romuva members organized a flash mob to temporarily block access to the cathedral, in the hope of galvanizing enough public sentiment that the church would be forced to grant access to the shrine; unfortunately, that didn’t work, either, though it did start some public debate about the issue.

We do not seek ownership or exclusive rights to those sites – the land does not belong to us, we belong to the land.

We object to the use of the term “pagan” by extremist political groups of any kind, as it reflects negatively on our reputation.

CS: You object to the term Pagan – why is that?

Corban-Arthen: We don’t object to the term “pagan” — in fact, both the ECER as an organization, as well as many of the ethnic member groups, have been using it for a very long time. Our objection is to the misappropriation and misuse of that term by extremist right-wing groups throughout Europe (neo-fascists, white supremacists, anti-Semites, skinheads, etc.) When such people openly label themselves as “pagans,” the churches, the politicians, and the media have a field day tarring religious pagans with the very same dirty brush. We felt that it was important to include some allusion to this in the declaration, if nothing else to create some distance between us and the extremist factions. I understand that the language we chose has been somewhat unclear, since I have now fielded this same question several times. Unfortunately, when you have a group of people who speak a variety of different languages, and you are trying to come up with wording that is understood by and acceptable to everyone involved, sometimes the result will be less than ideal. I hope this clarifies our intent.

Finally, we urge all peoples and all nations to place the well-being of the Earth – who is, literally, our Living Mother – above any and all other priorities.

We send this message in kinship, love, and respect.

Andras Corban Arthen (President), Anamanta, Spain/U.S.A.

Ramanė Roma Barauskienė, Lietuva
Martin Brustad, Norway
Nina Bukala, Werkgroep Hagal, Netherlands
Alexander Demoor, Werkgroep Hagal, Belgium
Valentinas Dilginas, Kuzšei Žemaicĭai, Lithuania
Sören Fisker, Forn Siđr, Danmark
Federico Fregni (Board Member), Societas Hesperiana, Italia
Marianna Gorronova, Czech Republic
Lars Irenessøn (Board Member), Forn Siđr, Danmark
Irena Jankutė-Balkūnė (Board Member), Romuva, Lithuania
Runar Kartsen, Forn Sed, Norway
Daniele Liotta (Board Member), Movimento Tradizionale Romano, Italia
Silvano Lorenzoni, Federazione Pagana Italiana, Italia
Anna Lucarelli, Movimento Tradizionale Romano, Italia
Sachin Nandha, United Kingdom
Zdenek Ordelt, Czech Republic
Elisabeth Overgaauw, Werkgroep Hagal, Netherlands
Eugenijus Paliokas, Šventaragis Romuva, Lithuania
Staško Potrzebowski, Rodzima Wiara, Polska
Prudence Priest, Romuva, U.S.A.
Marina Psaraki, Y.S.E.E., Greece
Vlassis G. Rassias, Y.S.E.E., Greece
Valdas Rutkūnas, Romuva, Lithuania
Ignas Šatkauskas (Board Member), Romuva, Lithuania
Øyvind Siljeholm, Forn Sed, Norway
Dovile Sirusaitė, Lithuania
Eleonora Stella, Societas Hesperiana, Italia
Inija Trinkūnienė, Romuva, Lithuania
Ram Vaidya, United Kingdom

In our interview, Mr. Corban-Arthen discussed ECER’s focus on ethnic religion. That focus can make Americans uneasy as media reports often conflate anything that focuses on specifically European ethnicity with racism or antisemitism. Corban-Arthen says that’s unfortunate, because “while there are certainly some people who fit that pattern, there are far many more who don’t.”

Ritual at ECER, [photo credit Vytautas Daraskevicius]

He also says that many people are unaware of just how much of indigenous Paganism survives in modern Europe. “…particularly in remote rural areas, which are not only outside the typical tourist routes, but also quite outside of the modern mainstream culture of the countries in which they exist. Some of them have been, to varying degrees, syncretized with Christianity, though it is often not difficult to separate the two. Some have survived as folklore. Some, much harder to find, appear to be unbroken survivals largely untainted by Christianity.”

Identifying and preserving those remnants of ethnic religions is important not only to those reviving the religions, but also to those wishing to incorporate indigenous practices in various forms of neo-Paganism. Corban-Arthen says that we need to realize the changes brought about by modernity which threaten to destroy what remains of European indigenous traditions. He says, “The Lithuanians and the Basques, for instance, are struggling to preserve their cultural identities, including what survives of their ethnic religions and their sacred places, just as the Lakota and the Wurundjeri are struggling to do the same.” Corban-Arthen sees hope, though.

He says indigenous peoples from around the world have started to invite representatives of European ethnic traditions to their gatherings and conferences. Large interfaith organizations such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions are now including European ethnic traditions in their indigenous assemblies. The same goes for intergovernmental, social justice and human rights organizations such as the United Nations.

“We may see, in coming years, an increased awareness of the survival of European indigenous religions, of the difficulties they face, and of the circumstances that led to their near-extinction. The European Congress of Ethnic Religions is committed to help that happen,” notes Corban-Arthen.

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Religion and Public Schools: a new round of laws

Wed, 2014-07-16 10:05

The cultural negotiations concerning religious freedom in the public sphere are continuously peppering America’s daily socio-political dialog. As our country becomes more diverse, or more open about its diversity, with respect to religion, the violations or perceived violations of the “separation of church and state” become more numerous and more of a burden on any given population. Most recently legislative prayers were the focus of this debate. SCOTUS ruled and the dialog shifted.

[Public Domain Photo]

However legislative prayer hasn’t been the only point of contention in the past month. While town meetings stole the spotlight for a time, the debate over religious expression within public schools has recently flared up in several states. Here are two issues brought to the forefront this summer.

Student Religious Liberty Act

In June, both North Carolina and Missouri adopted a student religious liberty act, similar to one already in place in Mississippi. According to the North Carolina legislature, its Senate Bill 370 is:

An act to clarify student rights to engage in prayer and religious activity in school, to create an administrative process for remedying complaints regarding exercise of those student rights, and to clarify religious activity for school personnel.

Missouri House Bill 1303, known as the Missouri “Student Religious Liberty Act,” has the similar aim. It states in part:

A public school district shall not discriminate against students or parents on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression. A school district shall treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the district treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject and shall not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject.

The two bills were hotly debated over a period of months. Regardless of any complaints, they were eventually passed and signed into law. On June 19, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrary signed SB 370 after a landslide victory in both the state House and Senate. Similarly, on June 30, the Missouri bill was passed with overwhelming legislative support and then signed by Governor Jay Nixon.

In both cases, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) made the same protest statement:

Students’ rights to voluntarily express and practice their faith in the public schools are already well-protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Students already have the ability to pray and express religious viewpoints and attempts to statutorily protect those rights is unnecessary. (Press Statement May 6, 2014, ACLU – NC)

The ACLU contends that the additional law will only add confusion and potentially lead to “the excessive entanglement of school personnel in religious activity while ostracizing students of different beliefs.”

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]

Byron Ballard, a North Carolina resident who has worked very closely with her local school districts on issues of religious freedom, agrees adding:

It will change things because it will embolden people to be even more belligerent than they already are. It will make the school day more difficult for teachers … This is an “open carry” prayer law. Certainly it applies to anyone who wants to pray, so there are Pagans in the state who are pleased to see it. But we are such a minority that this law will continue to serve the majority Protestant Christians in the way they have always been catered to in NC and elsewhere. It codifies the Protestant Christian privilege that is endemic in the public square.

Credits For Religious Education

On June 12, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 171, an act that “permit[s] public school students to attend and receive credit for released time courses in religious instruction conducted off school property during regular school hours.” In a guest post on Cleveland.com, State Rep. Jeff McClain – R applauded the passage of the bill saying:

The Ohio legislature made great gains last week when it comes to protecting the moral and educational rights of our students … these types of programs have a positive impact on children. They help to create a constructive outlet where students can learn morals and manners in an educational environment. I would argue that it makes one a better student and certainly a more respectful one.

The ACLU of Ohio disagrees. In December 2013, they testified against the legislation, calling HB 171 “misguided.” They clarify that the law allows credit for “purely religious instruction, whether done via a private school, place of worship or other non-entity.” The complaint goes on to say, “A public school providing credit for purely religious teaching unquestionably violates [the First Amendment government neutrality] mandate … House Bill 171 is replete with practical and constitutional problems.”

In 2012, a similar statue brought legal action in South Carolina. In the case Moss v. Spartanburg Cty School District, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenged the City of Spartanburg’s issuing of credit for religious education during “released time.” The case worked its way through the courts to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the city issuing credits for religious instruction. In the summer of 2012, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case leaving the lower court’s ruling as final.

Ohio is now the second state behind South Carolina that will issue educational credits for religious classes attended off-campus during “released-time.”  While no-school funds can be used to support the religious instruction, the schools do have say on which external classes quality for credit. Could a Pagan or Heathen organization offer such education to its own children for school credit? As pointed out by the ACLU of Ohio, the potential for legal entanglements is very high.

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Religious Minorities and Presidential Polling

Tue, 2014-07-15 05:00

When Barack Obama won his presidential reelection bid in 2012, the biggest story about the immediate aftermath was how America’s shifting demographics had delivered the victory (and that Nate Silver was right all along, but that’s a different story).  A big sub-headline was the rise of religiously unaffiliated voters (“nones”), who now rival the evangelical Christians in size, but also important was the difference between the religious coalitions that supported the presidential nominees. Sarah Posner called it the “great religious realignment.”

“A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s “support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians. Romney draws just 3% of his base from Latino Catholics, 2% from non-Christians, and an unmeasurable portion from black Protestants.”

In short, Republicans rely primarily on conservative Catholics and evangelicals, while Democrats make up that demographic shortfall by relying on a diverse array of religious voters, including religious minorities and “nones.” Now that we are in the second year of Obama’s second term, with partisan politics seemingly as divisive as they ever have been, Gallup polling revisits religious groups and finds that the faiths who still approve of Obama’s performance has remained relatively stable.

“Seventy-two percent of U.S. Muslims approved of the job President Barack Obama was doing as president during the first six months of 2014, higher than any other U.S. religious group Gallup tracks. Mormons were least approving, at 18%. In general, majorities of those in non-Christian religions — including those who do not affiliate with any religion — approved of Obama, while less than a majority of those in the three major Christian religious groups did.”

Gallup points out that overall approval in each group has cumulatively dropped between 5-7% over the last 5 years but that Muslims, Nones, and Jews have largely remained supportive.

“Similarly, Muslims have been the most approving among the religious groups in each time period. Jewish Americans and Americans with no religious preference have also exceeded the national average job approval in each time period, tracking each other closely.”

Gallup ends its analysis by stating that: “Clearly, members of various religions view the president quite differently.” However, I would state that, aside from Mormons, who closely ally themselves with evangelical Christians socially and politically, religious minorities in the United States generally see Obama as someone who isn’t beholding to a particular socially conservative strain of Christianity. So even though Muslims, “nones,” “others,” and Jews aren’t as happy with Obama’s performance as they were, it seems that they are mindful that a Republican replacement might be less well-disposed regarding their concerns.

Considering the power and influence conservative Christians maintain in the Republican party it seems unlikely that comprehensive efforts to woo religious minorities will be forthcoming, despite that fact that a fiscally conservative but socially liberal candidate could theoretically perform very well on a national level, not only with some religious minorities, but with Millennial generation voters as well. That said, barring major shifts in tone and policy, it looks like religious minorities are sticking with Obama, and the Democrats, at least for now.

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Pagan Community Notes: PantheaCon, Lupa, Great Queen Tour, and More!

Mon, 2014-07-14 05:00

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

We may be in the midst of Summer outdoor festival season, but the engine that drives West Coast Pagan mega-convention PantheaCon churns ever forward towards February 2015 as it announces that they are now accepting programming proposals. Quote: “The PantheaCon Programming team would like to inform you that the online programming form for PantheaCon 2015 is available on our website!  We invite anyone interested in presenting at PantheaCon 2015 to go to https://pantheacon.com/wordpress and click on one of the links to Submit a Presentation Idea or Resources for Presenters.  Our theme this year is Pagan Visions of the Future. [...] Our Round 1 deadline is September 1, 2014.  Submitting your ideas by September 1 increases your chances of being scheduled and may result in some helpful feedback!  After our Round 1 review, we will ask some presenters to revise their submissions for consideration in Round 2.  In addition, presentations not scheduled during Round 1 will be considered during Round 2.” So get your best on-theme ideas ready, and perhaps you be the giving the talk to see this coming February.

Lupa

Artist, author, and shamanic practitioner Lupa Greenwolf has announced that she will be trying out the artist support service Patreon, where individuals commit to a monthly donation in exchange for exclusive perks. Quote: “What do I get out of this? Not just money. I get stability and more of an ability to budget from month to month. And that’s a huge benefit. Knowing that I am guaranteed to get a certain amount of money coming in from my patrons, regardless of whatever other sales and income I get, helps reduce the stress of chasing after dollars. Moreover, it tells me that those who choose to become my patrons really want to see me keep making creative things. I love making art and writing for myself, don’t get me wrong, but it takes other people loving my art and writing enough to compensate me for it that allows me to keep creating at the rate that I do. And at the end of the day, it feels really, really good that enough people like what I do to enable me to be a full-time creative sort. It’s a great motivator to keep making cool things happen.” She’s already reached over $100 dollars per month from 8 patrons, and it looks like it might be an interesting way for several creative people in our community to help make ends meet.

Morpheus Ravenna

I’ve written a fair bit about the massive success that has been Morpheus Ravenna’s IndieGoGo campaign for her book-writing project “The Book of The Great Queen,” which has now raised more than double its $7,500 goal. In response, Ravenna has proposed a book tour that will grow as further stretch goals are reached. Quote: “The good news is that as of today, we’ve already raised enough to do two cities and just on the verge of a third. That means the book tour is already happening! You, my readers, still get to decide how extensive it will be and where I travel. I’ll be planning my tour sites based on where there seems to be the most active interest, so if you want me to visit your city, drop me a line to let me know! So far I’ve heard from folks in Seattle, Atlanta, Houston, Madison, and upstate New York. Where would you like to see me travel to? I’d also love to hear from people as to good venues in your area for a workshop and booksigning, or if there are events such as festivals or conventions you’d like to suggest as part of the tour. You can email me your suggestions.”  I suspect that several Pagan authors might start taking notes on what Morpheus Ravenna did right in this endeavor.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • This past weekend was the Polytheist Leadership Conference, and we’re looking forward to our own Rhyd Wildermuth’s report, but we hope to do a round-up of news and reflections from the event soon. Until then, Rhyd has been posting updates to his personal blog. You may also want to keep an eye on Anomalous Thracian, and his blog (that’s good advice in general, really).
  • Druid leader Philip Carr-Gomm has a launched a new spiffy-looking website.
  • Our fiscal sponsor, The Pantheon Foundation, was successful in raising slightly over $1000 dollars for their Diotima Prize, which will benefit a Pagan seminarian. Quote: “The Pantheon Foundation announces The Diotima Prize to support the educational goals of one Pagan student who is currently in at least their second year at an accredited seminary program.” Congrats!
  • Over at the Patheos Pagan Channel we find out the burning question: Who’s reading John Halstead’s blog? Quote: “Over of [half] you identify primarily as Pagan/Neo-Pagan (35%) or Wiccan/Witch (17%). This was not surprising, considering the makeup of the larger Pagan community. There is also the fact that I identify as Neo-Pagan and my practice and my thought is sometimes Wiccanesque, so it’s not surprising that my readers would be reflective of this. Eleven percent (11%) of you identify primarily as polytheist.” You gotta respect someone who does a survey.

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

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Pagans on Campus 2014, part 3

Sun, 2014-07-13 06:34

“It is clear that Pagan elders need to listen to the young and new, or the young and new will bring change regardless.” – Jeff Mach, Rutgers University alumnus.

In the final article of our series “Pagans on Campus 2014,” we discuss the challenges and hurdles that lay before young Pagans as they reach out beyond campus life and beyond the comforts of the Pagan Student Association. If backlash is not the biggest problem, what is? The students also share their thoughts on the future of Paganism as a whole. What would they like to see as they continue their religious journey over next twenty years?

[Photo Credit: Visha Angelova/ Flickr]

What is the biggest obstacle facing young Pagans as they explore their chosen spiritual paths?

Mary Hudson

Syracuse University Chaplain Mary Hudson says, “Being young and not finding teachers or mentors that are willing to work with them. Students are hungry for learning and they are full of energy. I have heard many young Pagans talk about being frustrated for not be treated well.”

Hudson’s comment was echoed by other advisers who regularly interact with college Pagans. Jeff Mach, a Rutgers University graduate, says, “It is incredibly hard to get taken seriously while you’re young and everyone in a position of power tends to assume you don’t have enough life experience to know what you’re doing.”

Interestingly, Pagan students did not cite this as an issue at all. The biggest obstacle for most of the them was the attaining of valid religious and spiritual information. Nick Nelson, president of Ball State University’s Society for Earth-based Religions (SER), said, “Young pagans need access to quality and accurate information on Paganism. That means more than just books.” He believes that young Pagans have limited opportunities to experience ritual or interact with other Pagans outside the small campus sphere. He adds, “The leaders of Pagan [organizations] have to be creative in how they are getting information out there for younger members.”

Sarah Morgan, UGA [Photo credit: S. Morgan]

Sarah Morgan, a Druid at the University of Georgia (UGA), wishes there was more available information on non-Wiccan practices. She says, “I think the biggest obstacle for young Pagans is for them to find a Path that truly fits them … You don’t have to follow a specific path word for word. You don’t always have to be Wiccan.” Morgan says that most authors who write specifically for young people are Wiccan. She adds, “We need more options out there.”

It may seem surprising that in a so-called information age it is the information itself that is the biggest obstacle. Several Pagan students specifically said that the Internet is as much of an hurdle as it is an asset. Jackson Elfin, a Heathen studying at BSU, explains “The Internet can breed things that are erroneous and dangerous, and teens have a risk of finding things that are unsafe/untrue … a big need in Pagan education is learning how to sort out the good stuff from the bad.”

Sabine Green, adviser of New Mexico State University (NMSU) Pagan Student Association, notes, “Students are at a pivotal point in their spiritual journey … it is so important to find valid teachers and traditions. It is vital that [elders] help steer the up-and-coming generation to explore and stay safe.” Green feels that guidance is absolutely essential because one of the biggest dangers for young Pagans is exploitation.

Looking at the greater Pagan experience, what would you like to see happen over the next 20 years?

Suretha Thacker [Photo Credit: S. Thacker]

Several of the students would simply like to see global acceptance of the various religious practices that fall under the Pagan umbrella. Wiccan student, Suretha Thacker, says, “I would like to be able to say, ‘I’m off to celebrate Lughnasadh,’ and have no one give me a puzzled look.” Heather Sky Cybele, a recent Purdue graduate, has a similar dream saying, “I would love to see Pagans be open about their religion, just as Christians and Jews are, without being considered crazy.”

Morgan adds, “Many Pagans are becoming a lot more comfortable with coming out … this allows young Pagans to not only feel accepted but also lets them have the resources to grow on their Paths.”

Jackson Elfin [Photo Credit: J. Elfin]

Elfin would also liked to see greater acceptance. He adds, “The establishment of spaces for Pagans is important … I know that gaining land is a way to survival because no matter how much we talk about legislation or representation, the religion game is ultimately landocratic.” Looking into the future, Elfin sees Pagans gaining more prominence by owning more land on which to practice and celebrate.

With land ownership and event sponsorship come structure and organization. Most of the young Pagans interviewed want to see cohesion and community-building in the coming years. Nelson says, “It will be much easier for a united Pagan community to gain public acceptance rather than every denomination working individually.”

UGA student Angela Riverio adds, “I feel that part of the reason that we hide so much is because we are divided and that makes us more vulnerable. Separation of practices is perfectly fine, but when a group is being pressured by an outside force, making allies really helps.”

Nick Nelson [Photo credit: N. Nelson]

Many of these students, like those at UGA or BSU, are coming from a campus environment that supports a well-structured, supported Pagan association that thrives within a cultural microcosm. Such a level of community organization may be difficult to find or replicate beyond campus life. However, with the growing development and interest in campus Pagan groups, this next generation of Pagans might be “growing up” with an entirely different understanding of community-building, including the benefits and downfalls of such work.

Caity Wallace, president of Drexel University’s Pagan Association (DUPA), says, “Pagans tend to be a decentralized, somewhat religiously anarchist lot, which is great for a lot of things, but it doesn’t lend itself to helping a new cohort enter the community.” She would like to see more strides in community organization that assist new seekers, both young and old.  Wallace adds, “Right now I’m seeing the community splintering a bit … However I’ve also been seeing the community be more aggressive about policing itself … and that gives me hope. So in the next 20 years, I see us becoming a much more diverse group, with more accountability.”

Paul Blessing [Photo Credit: P. Blessing]

Paul Blessing, former president of Rutgers University Pagan Association, says:

Honestly Paganism appears to be simmering down … It’s becoming more of an accepted form of religion, and with that comes a sense of mundanity. This could be good or bad. On the good side, it will allow more people to explore Paganism without fear of negative social and familial consequences … On the other hand, I have to admit, I’m kinda afraid of Paganism getting “old and fat” like the rest of mainstream religions.

There were several other wishes for the future, including the embracing of technology and the building of community centers. Two students turned a critical eye on their own generation in expressing the hope that more young Pagans develop an interest in learning. Veloblom Vigjaldrsdottir, an Asatru student at Nazareth College, explains, “The more you understand your faith and beliefs, the more you understand yourself … Sadly younger Pagans that I meet don’t tend to share that ideology.” She finds that trait primarily in “elderly adults” who convert to Paganism. Vigjaldrsdottir hopes to see a strengthening of the bridge between the various generations so that “we can learn collectively.”

As the African proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Dr. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, adviser to the Pagan Student Union at Skagit Valley College, Whidby Island Campus, says:

To anyone who considers advising such a group … never underestimate what might be possible if you simply ask. We have been able to secure funding [from the school] for attendance of some of our students [to] the Polytheist Leadership Conference … It has been an excellent opportunity to … do something of lasting importance and meaning for members of our community.

Chaplain Mary Hudson adds, “The young Pagans are the future and what we teach is what we will harvest. The students are smart, they are informed in ways that we never dreamed and they are eager to be full, productive members of Pagan communities. Accept their enthusiasm and be honest with them (not brutal) and enjoy the ride.”

 

To read the previous two articles:

Pagans on Campus 2014, Part 1: Community and Pagan Student Organizations

Pagans on Campus 2014, Part 2: Practice and Resources 

 

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Editorial: Wagging the Dog

Sat, 2014-07-12 05:00

Depending on how you want to crunch the numbers there are around one million modern Pagans in the United States. Some have argued it’s a bit less than that, some have argued that the figure doesn’t even scratch the surface of our true numbers, but for now, I’m going to use “one million” as a reasonable middle ground for the purposes of this essay. It’s an impressive number, it means we are no longer confined to “thousands” or even “hundreds of thousands,” we’re in the religious big leagues. Using estimated affiliation numbers has long been a tool of minority groups to emphasize their strategic importance in reaching consensus on political and cultural matters in our society. For example, when you’re the head of a religious group that boasts over a billion members worldwide, newspapers create whole sections just to cover you.

Terence Spencer—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

So it’s little wonder that Pagans are collectively proud to be in the million+ club, but there’s a hitch. These numbers mean very little in terms of ability to organize, fund projects, or influence legislation. It hasn’t even translated into the religious infrastructure (buildings and money) that many Pagans say they want. There are loads of theories as to why this is, but the simple truth is that “Paganism” (however you want to define that) is an umbrella term for a phenomenon, a movement, a religious impulse, that is deeply individualistic, eclectic, decentralized, and hugely diverse. It is like classifying bike-riders as a religious group. Sure, they all ride bikes, but the reasons for doing it, the kinds of bikes they ride, how much they ride, and how much money they’re willing to devote to that pastime varies.

There’s been a lot of public soul-searching recently as to what our religious community is, what its future should be, and what is expected of “big-name” individuals within our community. To give just a quick overview: Ivo Dominguez Jr. wrote about the importance of alliances within modern Paganism, David Oliver Kling wrote about paid clergy, T. Thorn Coyle pulled back the curtain on how much the “big” Pagan authors actually make, and Jason Mankey pondered if the current crop of high-profile writers on the Internet are even reaching anyone aside from a small but dedicated assortment of invested readers.

“How many Pagans really care? This is a trick question because it means thinking outside of the blogosphere for a second, remember there are perhaps two million Pagans in the United States and only a fraction of those people are regular readers of the Pagan Blogosphere. So is monism something the average Pagan wants to spend hours debating? Is a continued debate over monism really essential to their belief structure? Are extended, and often far too personal, debates really accomplishing anything or are they online pissing contests?” 

Mankey gets at something important: How many Pagans really care about what prominent writers, organizers, and activists really do in the name of the community? I’ve heard the old joke about how organizing Pagans is like “herding cats,” but I think a better analogy for the state of our movement is the tail wagging the dog.

“A minor or secondary part of something controlling the whole.”

Think about the biggest explicitly Pagan festivals and gatherings out there right now, your Pagan Spirit Gatherings, or your PantheaCons, you’re talking around 1000 people at one, and pushing 3000 people at the other. While there may have been outdoor Pagan festivals that were once bigger, the median attendance now seems to hover in the middle hundreds, topping out around 1000. Smaller indoor conferences often see registrations in the low hundreds. The point being: these are not huge events, drawing multiple thousands of people. They draw from what one might call the “engaged” class of our movement. The people who want ongoing in-person lessons, who can afford regular interaction with Pagan adherents outside an immediate circle of friends and family, and who may be seeking to become a “name” (or earn a living) within this class.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary leading a Lammas bonfire ritual.

This engaged class, and I want to note that “engaged” doesn’t mean “better” or “more religious,” it simply denotes a level of participation in what one might call “meta” or “interfaith” Pagan movement events, is the small tail of a “dog” that consists of a conceptual class of people who many expect to start helping the engaged class realize various dreams of establishment.  You already know how this pitch goes: If only a mere fraction of our million gave x number of dollars we would be able to fund our temple/clergy program/school/event. The answer, it seems, is that if we only reached out to these Pagans and fellow travelers we could wag our dog towards whatever our ambitious goal is. However, I fear that the “dog” isn’t all that interested in being “wagged,” and has even less interest in propping up the ambitions of their would-be thought leaders.

Why do I think this? Because I live in a region (the Pacific Northwest) where modern Pagan theologies and rituals are seen largely as a resource for building a highly personalized belief system, and I have worked for a music and arts festival (Faerieworlds) that draws a number of Pagan and Pagan-friendly people into a space that while not explicitly Pagan, provides bands, workshops, and activities that many Pagans in the engaged class would recognize. I’ve talked to friends of my step-daughter (who is in her mid-20s) who go to politically anarchic Witch-camps led by Reclaiming-trained teachers but would likely never attend a larger pan-Pagan gathering. They have no interest in our debates, or our ambitions, they are only interested in the spiritual technologies that they can learn that will fit into the lives they are leading.

I could go on, and list other examples, like the people who once bought books by Cunningham or Starhawk 20, or 30 years ago (when the Pagan/New Age book market was a lot stronger), and nominally consider themselves Pagan, but have little interest in more books, or engaging with a broader Pagan movement. The travelers who attend “transformational festivals” as a lifestyle, and find their needs entirely met with that context of practice. Our collective movement is full to the brim of people and groups of people who are entirely satisfied with their current level of engagement in however you want to define “Pagan community.” If you talked to them about your temple, or paid clergy, they may nod their head approvingly, they might even donate a few dollars if they had the extra cash to donate, but we must stop pretending they share our priorities.

That leaves us with a largely undetermined population of Pagans who number anywhere from the tens to the (low) hundreds of thousands who are connected at some level to the engaged class. They might read Pagan media and Pagan blogs, they might regularly attend larger events, they may be dedicated book-buyers or academics.  They are not, short of dedicated income tithing from a large percentage of them, going to fiscally support a new more robust Pagan infrastructure. The stuff we have now? The thriving events, the magazines, the websites, the 100% funded crowdfunding campaigns, that’s them. We are, I predict, nearing the limits of how much this group is willing to shell out for in the name of community. There are only so many times you can pass a hat per year before the discretionary income for Pagan stuff is spent.

The Dragon Ritual Drummers, live at Wic-Can Fest 2014 [Photo Credit: D. Graham McKay]

Is there a remedy to this problem? Well, some would argue there is no problem. That grass-roots, decentralized, and impossible to pin down is how we thrive, but let’s entertain the notion. I was asked recently at a talk I gave on how “the tail” can appeal to “the dog” to make bigger infrastructure projects happen. How do we engage more of the million? I realize this is a porcupine telling people we should stick them with quills, but my answer was more, and better, Pagan media. Journalism gives people a sense of connectedness to a world outside of themselves. I don’t mean endless editorializing, I mean information. I mean narratives about what is happening the next state, or the next country, over. Actual journalism within the Pagan media sphere is still a tiny percentage of what you find, and without actual journalism, the editorial writers are forced into a cycle of reviving the same 10 or so debates every year.

If we want to engage more people, then the tip of the tail, the big-name movers and shakers should, were I giving advice, robustly fund media that works to reach out to communities, groups, and demographics they have not bothered to reach before. That means local reporting, that means real festival reporting, that means real engagement with the lives of people who really don’t care about the dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin discussions we sometimes get wrapped up in. We keep spending money on building stuff, when we should be spending money on speech to reach. You raise money by reaching people. That’s fundraising 101 stuff, yet I see a number of very smart people hoping that if they build the fundraising site, the money will simply come. Yes, we can raise five or ten thousand dollars here or there, if the people running the campaign are sufficiently engaged, but we will never get to the big leagues with those kind of budgets.

I believe that The Wild Hunt has a loyal audience because we have never strayed too far from our simple purpose: give Pagans news. Now, some people don’t like our site, or think we don’t do enough in various areas, but I believe our relative success points to a larger blueprint. Think about if there was an ecosystem of Pagan media that was more dedicated to writing about what’s happening, instead of writing about what they think should be happening. Yes, there’s a place for editorial, and for theological musings, but there must be a balance with authentic engagement outwards. Short of Pagan itinerant preachers hitting the road, shifting to journalism is the best way, in my opinion, to get that dog actually interested in what the tail is doing.

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