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Pagan Reactions to Presidential Veto of Keystone XL

Thu, 2015-02-26 08:10

WASHINGTON – On Feb. 24, U.S. President Obama vetoed a bill that would have approved construction of the final phase of the Keystone XL pipeline. After installation, this pipeline system would carry 830,000 gallons of crude oil from oil sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The current legislative battle is over the final phase of 1,179 miles of pipe that are part of the entire 3,200 mile project.

Installed Keystone Pipeline [Photo Credit: Public Citizen / Flickr, CC lic.]

In January, Keystone proponents won three significant victories. Both the U.S. House and Senate approved the project. At the same time, Nebraska’s state Supreme Court removed the remaining blocks preventing the pipeline from being constructed in its state.

Then, in mid February, the approved federal bill was sent to President Obama, who promptly vetoed it, saying in a message to Congress:

The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.  And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.

Experts do report that this veto may have dealt a fatal blow to the Keystone proposal, at least in its current form. Congress doesn’t appear to have the votes necessary to block the veto. In addition, legal battles have re-surfaced in Nebraska, which have halted Trans Canada’s acquisition of needed land. Does it mean an end to the project entirely or just delays?

For those unfamiliar with Keystone XL, CNN has published a short digest on the issues being debated. Briefly, proponents argue that the new lines will bring temporary and permanent jobs, boost the economy and make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. Opponents cite numerous environmental concerns, as well as the destruction of lands owned by Indigenous populations and the potential threats to those communities.

As has become quite commonplace, this battle pits economic stability and growth against environmental safety and community protection. It is an old struggle dressed in new clothes. However, as pointed out by Chris Mooney of The Washington Post, the conversation may be changing, which makes the veto particularly significant. As Mooney points out, past cultural debates have centered on finding ways to make production safer or cleaner. This may be the first time at this level of government that the conversation focuses on stopping production entirely. The message isn’t “do it cleaner;” but rather “don’t do it all.”

We talked to a number of Pagans who are, in some form, significantly engaged in environmental activism. As expected, they all were very pleased with the veto. Courtney Weber, co-founder of the Pagan Environmental Coaltion of NYC, said:

It’s certainly very exciting and encouraging for the environmental movement. This pipeline is never going to supply a large number of permanent jobs and its oil was never meant to support the American people–it’s been an export-only plan from day one! A few will get rich and many will run the serious risk of contaminated farmland and drinking water…

As a member of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC, this news is very encouraging. Our work focuses on encouraging sustainable green infrastructure and opposing fossil fuel infrastructure. I hope that this will encourage Governors Cuomo and Christie to veto to the Port Ambrose LNG port, which would have the same dangerous impacts on the Tri-State coastline as Keystone would to middle America.

Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), Witch at Large and co-author of the CoG environmental policy, said:

I’m heartened by the President’s veto. After all, he has two daughters who will have to live in the world. I think he knows how serious our environmental problems have become and feels, as I do, that all the jobs in the world cannot justify the risk of such disastrous environmental degradation that Keystone could generate.

I fail to see how imperiling our lands with a pipeline does anyone any good. This proposed pipeline would be 36″ in diameter; the recent broken lines in the Northern Plains and elsewhere were only 4″ diameter. I shudder to think of the devastation a broken pipe could wreak. Not to mention the fact that plans call for it to traverse sovereign Native American lands. Furthermore, exploiting our Earth for petroleum-derived energy sources ignores the bigger problems.  Instead, we should be cultivating alternative energy sources.

I hope it’s the end, because I know the Congress doesn’t have the votes to overrule Obama’s veto. This allows more time to educate more people who’ve had their heads in the sand or who’ve been convinced otherwise about our environmental crisis.

O’Brien and Weber point to the typical concerns raised by pipeline construction, which include leaks, spills, the acquisition of “sovereign Native American lands,” exploitation of oil sands, the impact on coast lines and climate change. Blogger and Druid John Beckett said:

The Keystone XL Pipeline is troublesome on many counts. Much of the recent debate has focused on the risks to our water supply – the pipeline would run over the largest underground aquifer in North America and leaks are virtually inevitable. But there’s been little talk of the fact that the pipeline was designed to transfer oil from the Canadian tar sands. Tar sands extraction and refining are some of the dirtiest operations in the entire petroleum industry – some have called it “Canada’s Mordor.”

Beyond that, this project extracts additional fossil fuels to drive additional consumption, which will dump additional climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere. The entire tar sands project needs to be killed, not just the pipeline.

Beckett went on to say:

I have been critical of many of President Obama’s decisions and I want to acknowledge when he does the right thing. I’m very happy he vetoed the bill approving the construction of the pipeline. But I’m disappointed he didn’t use the occasion to emphasize the need to reduce carbon emissions and to encourage the Canadians to leave the tar sands in the ground.

Instead, his veto statement focused on procedural issues: “this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest.” This leaves open the possibility that his administration or that of the next President could decide the pipeline is an acceptable risk. It is not.

His skepticism is justified, considering that Keystone proponents in Congress have pledged to overturn the veto or attach the proposal to other legislation. Beckett’s sentiments were echoed by others interviewed. Weber said:

This veto is not a coffin nail on tar sands oil. This veto doesn’t get rid of it, it only keeps it in limbo. It is likely to come back attached to another bill. In addition, that oil can still flow through numerous other pipelines being built or already built. But it’s an important symbolic action in which public health and environmental concerns are given consideration before profits of large companies. 

James Stovall, who was recently elected to the board of directors for the Jackson County Conservation District (JCCD), offered his personal opinion, saying:

I do think the veto was the right call, but sadly it is not the last of the issue. The President vetoed the Legislative attempt to pass the pipeline but could still approve it after State Department studies are completed. Be it by pipeline or rail we need to make environmental safety is paramount. Make sure to keep speaking to the White House on these matters.

Similarly, Wild Hunt columnist and activist Alley Valkyrie, who has extensively written about and researched oil sands and the transport of energy resources, said in reaction:

While I’m glad that Obama decided to veto Keystone XL, it’s definitely not a victory. This veto is far from the end of the Keystone XL fight, and I have no doubt that the current Congress will try again and again to revive Keystone, most likely in the form of attachments to other bills. And meanwhile, while everyone is focused on and distracted by this one pipeline and this one federal approval process, other pipelines are being built all over the country, literally in our own backyards. While stopping Keystone XL obviously has importance to both the environment as a whole and especially those who are individually affected by it, stopping this one pipeline will not halt nor reverse the consistent damage that industrial capitalism is wreaking upon the earth. It’s the entire destructive system that needs to be stopped.

I wish I could be more hopeful, but unless and until the industrialized nations of this planet collectively decide to radically alter how they produce and consume fossil fuels, and until the people decide that the ability to live on this planet is more important than engaging in a never-ending cycle of producing and consuming, all the effort put into stopping individual projects like Keystone XL will be in vain.

John Halstead, Managing Editor of HumanisticPaganism.com and organizing member of the working group for the Draft Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, wrote:

I applaud the President’s veto and the work done by groups like 350.org that have opposed the pipeline, recognizing that there is still work to be done to oppose the pipeline. But as important as this victory is, it is the tip of an iceberg, one which expands to include an unsustainable system of resource extraction and consumption, which is rapidly making the earth uninhabitable for human beings, as it has already been made uninhabitable for countless species. [This] expands further to include an economic model — global capitalism — which has failed in its promise to reflect the true value of that which is consumed, and expands still further (largely beneath the surface of our consciousness) to include a spiritual hegemony which alienates human beings from the material source of our being and from all life.  We must attack this iceberg at all of these levels; at the points of consumption, production and destruction (economics), the point of decision (politics), and the point of assumption (ideology/religion). 

Whether the veto stops construction completely or simply delays it, there are currently other pipelines in operation, as noted by Valkyrie and Beckett. This includes the other TransCanada lines that make the trip from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. In order to end oil sands operations entirely, there must be a collective shift in our relationship with energy use. In addition, there must be a simultaneous and significant economic shift to prevent a catastrophic structural social collapse. Our world economies are deeply tied to the current energy industry, its operations and its products. This is a complicated venture that will require far more than a single piece of legislation, as suggested by Halstead and others interviewed.

However, this presidential veto may be a sign that the global conversation is evolving from “do it, but do it cleaner” to “don’t do it at all.” As is often discussed, those people who follow environmentally-centered religious practices may now have unique place in helping to shift this conversation. Beckett said:

One of the core principles of modern Druidry is that the Earth is sacred. The value of the Earth does not come from the benefits it provides to humans. Rather, the Earth is a living thing and it has the same inherent value and worth as all other living things. Druids seek to live in a respectful and reverent relationship with the Earth.

Halstead echoed that sentiment:

It is in this last area that I believe Pagans have the most unique contribution to make to this fight. We can lead the way in effecting paradigm shift away from from a mode of consciousness which is linear, atomistic and disenchanted — which lies at the root of all of these failed systems — to one that is cyclical, interconnected and re-enchanted. We need to personally and collectively cultivate the spiritual and psychological resources to sustain us for a prolonged struggle on all of these fronts.

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Modern Paganism in Thailand

Wed, 2015-02-25 08:51

BANGKOK, THAILAND – In the heart of the Southeast Asian peninsula lies the Kingdom of Thailand. Once known as Siam, Thailand is now considered a constitutional monarchy the size of Spain, with a population 65 million. The country lies only a short distance north of the equator, which allows for its lush, green and tropical climate. Within Thailand’s rich and vibrant Southeast Asian culture, there lies a very small, but growing, Pagan community.

Thailand Pagan Pride Ritual [Courtesy Photo}

“I found Siam Wicca in 1999, and the people there were so open-mind and loved to share their experiences. The community grew wider and wider. We had many beliefs, not only Wicca [but also] Native Thai, Druid, Shaman, Asatru, etc. After the founder of Siam Wicca left the site…the remaining people, including me, ran a new webboard and started meeting once a month. The community has grown since then,” said Atiwan Kongsorn, a Pagan living in Bangkok and co-owner of the only witchcraft store in Thailand.

Kongsorn explained that Siam Wicca was originally founded by Thitiwat Netwong, known in the community as Fianne. The site was part of the “first wave” of Paganism to arrive in Thailand via the Internet in the late 1990s. At that time, Siam Wicca was simply a website that, as Kongsorn said, “provided knowledge about Wicca’s beliefs translated into Thai.” The site also hosted “web boards” for community discussion.

After a few years, Fianne left the group, and as Kongsorn noted, it was later discovered that he had died. However, Siam Wicca continued to operate for a period of time, eventually moving to Facebook. Followers began meeting more frequently, and a new group was formed called Thailand Pagan Pride. Eclectic Wiccan Thanchai Jaikong, also known as MasThander, said, “We only use the [Facebook] page to promote events or news that can be posted in public.”

Like many places in the world, life as a Pagan in Thailand has its obstacles. MasThander said, “Being a witch or a pagan in Thailand will make you [a] deviant. Most people don’t understand who you are and what you do. So you have to stick to your own people who share the same spiritual understanding. That is what makes our community strong. We have to stick together.”

However, the assumption of deviancy is not exactly the same as experienced by Pagans in other parts of the world. Why? As reported by the tourism department, 96.4 percent of the population is Buddhist, which fosters a very different religious cultural environment than in countries dominated by Christianity. Kongsorn said, “Most of scholars say the main religion in Thailand is Buddhism (Theravada Buddhism to be precise). In my opinion, people believe in native Thai animism mixed with Buddhism. It is like animism disguised as Buddhism.”

Ace of Cups Witch Cafe [Courtesy Photo]

As such, both Kongsorn and MasThander agreed that the general population’s attitude toward modern Paganism is fairly positive or, at the very least, open. There are no religious-based hostilities embedded within Thai culture. They even note that the term “witch” is not really considered a negative. Kongsorn said, “The sweetest thing for Pagans in Thailand is that you can freely tell everybody that you are a Pagan. Thai people are open-minded. ‘Every religion leads people to good deeds.’ Thai people always say this. So as long as you have something to believe or something to worship, everything is fine.”

Despite this religious tolerance, there are still, as noted by MasThander, many cases of misunderstandings that have lead to accusations of deviancy. However, these negative experiences not based on religious expectations but on cultural differences. As MasThander explained, “Thai people at almost every level lack the knowledge about Paganism and Witchcraft, especially when we talk about the western Paganism or witchcraft that is now growing in Thailand. People think about Harry Potter or that kind of fictional thing. That’s our main hurdle; to explain the right identity to the community.”

Kongsorn agreed, explaining that while the term “witch” is not negative, it does conjure, so to speak, images of “silliness.” He said, “Thai people here know the term “witch” (the western witch) from movies, cartoons or books. Not quite evil but something far from their everyday life.” MasThander added, “These points of view are not troublesome or harmful, but it is irritating sometimes.”

Along with Buddhism, Thailand’s culture is also influenced by “Vedic Hinduism, Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism from India. Taoism, Confucianism, Mahayana Buddhism from China.” As Kongsorn said that because of “the existing belief in animism, [the belief in] magic still exists nowadays. [Thai people] like the Shamans, or witch doctors, who help people using herbs, rituals or talismans.”

While both Kongsorn and MasThander acknowledge and celebrate these rich aspects of their country’s culture, they do not regularly include the religious details do not directly influence their own modern Pagan practices. This particular growing Thai Pagan community is predominantly focused on western Pagan practice. The dominant religion is currently Wicca. However, Kongsorn said, “Some are Druid and Asatru. I met a guy who practices Santeria once … and there other are solitary pagans, like myself.”  There are several Wiccan covens, but the number of practitioners is unclear. Kongsorn said “maybe hundreds” and most are under the age of 35.

The majority of their educational material, including mythology and writings, originate from Europe and the U.S. Access to the Internet has not only launched the Thai Pagan movement, but has also continued to play a vital role as the community grows. MasThander found Wicca through witchvox.com and, as noted earlier, Kongsorn discovered his path through the Siam Wicca’s website. Today there is far more material available to them online, and more people have Internet access.

In addition, there are several English-language book stores in Bangkok, such as Kinokuniya and Asiabook, which offer small number of “new age” books. In 2013, Kongsorn and his business partners opened the Ace of Cups Witch Cafe in Bangkok, which is described as the “perfect place for any pagan and individual who interested in Pagan, Witchcraft and Spiritual development.”

Thai Pagan Pride Altar [Courtesy Photo]

Because Thai Pagans are not living in U.S. or the U.K., from where most of these materials originate, Thai Pagans have had to adapt the works and suggested practices to reflect their own ecology, culture and natural experiences. Kongsorn said, “As you know we live in a tropical climate with actually two seasons, wet and dry. There is not much difference between the seasons. It always green here … It’s a bit struggle [to follow the Western practices] if you stick with the concept of the physical world. In my opinion, the Wheel of the Year not only represents the cycle of Mother Nature, but also represents the cycle of one’s own spiritual improvement. If you stick with this concept [instead], there is no struggle at all.”

MasThander agreed, saying, “We try our best to follow the original rituals. But it’s somewhat difficult or impossible due to the geographical differences. But we try to focus on the spiritual meaning of the rituals and symbols; what everything in the ritual really means and does to our both physical and spiritually life.”

Both MasThander and Kongsorn expressed excitement about the growth of the modern Pagan movement in Thailand. Both are both doing their part to support and welcome anyone who is interested in the community and their practices. MasThander said, “For non-Pagan people, we try to offer a better understanding of who we really are. And for other Witches or those who are interested in the Craft, we try to bring them into our community, so we can help and support them.”

Kongsorn uses his shop as a place to welcome the community and to “provide information to the public about Pagan beliefs, mysticism and occultism.” He added, “We are trying to set up a Pagan Association here in Thailand … There will be a meeting here about setting it up this Ostara. Pagan beliefs in Thailand are just a little sprout. We now need the support and guidance from other countries.”

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Turning the Wheel of the Year with Jubilee!

Tue, 2015-02-24 04:59

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA –At the beginning of this month, when the darkness and cold of winter seemed to be at their darkest and coldest, a group visited a shrine to the goddess Brigid, clearing away blockages to a spring and making offerings of flowers and milk. While that isn’t particularly remarkably in the Pagan community — many northern hemisphere practices include devotional acts at midwinter — it’s a bit more unusual when the practitioners are Christian.

Members of the Jubilee! Community Church take “interfaith” to a level that is not commonly seen within an Abrahamic faith. Rather than seeking to understand basic tenets of other religions, they incorporate practices that are seen to tie into their interpretation of Christian faith, including celebrations of quarter and cross-quarter days. The church is based on a concept called Creation Spirituality, and led by Howard Hanger, a former Methodist minister who has turned a few heads, and attracted a fair number of congregants with his theology.

“When we first got started, we were definitely suspect,” Hanger said, and considered a cult by some. “There was a street preacher outside saying that we were sending people to hell.”

Now that the church is more established, “people mostly just leave [them] alone.” And, since they are no longer being actively condemned, they have joined Asheville’s vibrant interfaith community. “We find out commonalities with Baptists, Catholics, Jews . . . we all believe in making the world a better place, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, all that sort of stuff. We’ve tried to connect with local Muslims.” he added, but without much success as yet.

Area Pagans, however, have been more than welcoming. “Pagans have been very wonderful,” Hanger said. “We’re pretty closely aligned with Pagan celebrations of nature, celebrating creation is our big banner, a big connection with the earth-worshipping community.”

Asheville Author and Village Witch Byron Ballard agreed with that assessment. “Jubilee began here as a funky Sunday evening service at one of the largest Methodist churches in town. They borrow from all sorts of places,” she said, and the children’s educational program “goes to a lot of sources for inspiration.”

Even with all of this “borrowing,” there have been no accusations of cultural appropriation. Ballard noted, “Pagans don’t own the agricultural year, and I certainly wouldn’t go to the stake over the Wheel of the Year.” Rather, she said, “it feels interfaith rather than appropriative, as [the church’s Nurture Coordinator, Vicki Garlock] gives plenty of credit and doesn’t try to pretend it’s an old Christian concept. [She] often attends Mother Grove events, and I have spoken in her classes several times.”

Garlock wrote this about the program:

Some may wonder why a Christian congregation would focus so much attention on Pagan resources, so let me share our educational perspective. We’ve developed a Bible-based, interfaith curriculum that we use with kids from preschool through 8th grade. They learn the basic Bible stories and then use these themes and narratives to connect with other faith traditions. For example, when they learn about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, they also learn about prayer mats, prayer flags, prayer wheels, and prayer beads. We want the kids in our program to be grounded in our Judeo-Christian culture, but we also want to provide them with the tools they need to follow their own faith path.

In addition, we actively foster relationship with the Earth. We want youngsters to find the sacred in nature, to understand their connection to the environment, and to celebrate all of creation. These values are found throughout the world’s faith traditions, and many religious holidays coincide with seasonal changes. Kids understand seasons. They feel the changes in temperature, see the changes in plants, and associate certain events with certain seasons. Pagan wheel-of-the-year festivals offer us another opportunity to highlight the shared principles that all faith practices glean from the Earth’s wisdom.

In short, Jubilee’s philosophy, while grounded in Christianity, honors the similarities among traditions. Its credo encourages children to “follow their own faith path,” recognizing the divine in everything. A spiritual journey that begins at the Jubilee! Community Church could well take many directions. As Hanger pointed out, “We don’t worship Jesus. He never wanted that. We follow him. He was into that.”

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Pagan Community Notes: Patheos Pagan Channel, PantheaCon, Manannan mac Lir, Brian Golec and more!

Mon, 2015-02-23 09:14

On Feb. 20, it was announced the Christine Hoff Kraemer was stepping down from her position as Managing Editor of Patheos’ Pagan Channel. She wrote, “With a mix of excitement and sadness, I am writing to announce my resignation as Managing Editor of the Patheos.com Pagan channel. I will very much miss the way this job brought me into daily contact with such thoughtful, dedicated people—both Pagans and people of other religious traditions.”  She added that she plans to dedicate her new found free time to her family.

Raise the Horns Blogger Jason Mankey will be taking up the reins as the channel’s new managing editor. In his own announcement, he wrote, “I hope I can continue the good work Christine’s done as the channel manager here. One of the reasons I love Patheos Pagan so much is that it’s mostly a positive place. I think we tackle big issues and involve ourselves in the big conversations, but I think we do so in a respectful manner.” Mankey doesn’t expect to make any changes to the channel’s direction. He also added that he will still be posting to his own blog, but with less frequency. Kraemer will also continue blogging on occasion at Sermons in the Mound.

*   *   *

The beloved missing statue of Manannán mac Lir  was finally found exactly one month after it disappeared. According to the Derry Journal, on Feb. 21, the 6 ft. sculpture was located “by ramblers” who then “advised members of A company 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment soldiers.” Together with police, they were able to recover the statue. As told to the BBC, the statue had been lying among rocks of the same color, making it very difficult to spot from a distance.

The statue did sustain some damage to the back of its head. Regardless, the local community and others across the world are happy to know that the quest is over and the statue is in one piece. Local photographer Mari Ward, founder of the popular Facebook fan page Bring Back Manannán mac Lir the Sea God and a representative from the local police (PSNI) were interviewed by BBC radio about its return. Ward said, “I am completely over the moon about it.” Local officials now plan to consult the statue’s creator and discuss a re-installation.

*   *   *

Over the past week, there has been continued discussion on the controversy that erupted at PantheaCon 2015. As we reported last week, blogger Jonathan Korman published an open letter to the creators of a satirical flyer called PantyCon. In that article’s comments, the anonymous writers issued an apology. In addition, Glenn Turner, the founder and organizer of PantheaCon, offered her own public response to all related recent events as well as an apology for any pain caused during PantheaCon. She said, “With the dawning of a New Civil Rights movement this is the question for our times. I’m glad this issue is front and center.”

Since our report last week, there have been a number of additional blog posts discussing these events and others. One of these posts was the recording of the “Bringing Race to the Table” panel, during which the controversial flyer was brought to public attention. This panel discussion can be heard through T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcasts.

*   *   *-

On Feb. 13, the Akron, Ohio Pagan community lost one of its members. As reported by the local news, 22 year old Brian Golec was fatally stabbed outside of his Akron home. His father is now accused of the crime. After his death was made public, there was quick and viral media response in which Brian was identified as a trans woman. However, that fact was later proven to be inaccurate. Golec’s gender identification was eventually clarified by close friends and family, and was proven to have nothing to do with his murder. Unfortunately, the media frenzy only added additional pain to an already tragic circumstance.

The family, the community and Golec’s fiancee have requested privacy in order to mourn his loss. In our initial investigations, we were able to speak with several area Pagans who knew Brian. They called him “likable, easy going, highly spiritual and helpful.” He was a regular at Cleveland Pagan Pride and attended local Pagan community events. Carrie Acree, the owner of Dragon’s Mantle metaphysical shop, said that many people have been buying supplies for memorials, rituals and other workings in Brian’s honor. There is also, reportedly, a benefit planned for May. In addition a close friend has setup a GoFundMe campaign to help off-set the family expenses and a Facebook memorial page to honor his life. What is remembered, lives.

In Other News:

  • Author John Matthews has begun a new project to tell the story of the “the iconic Scottish bard, Robin Williamson.” The proposed film Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave will follow Williamson around “in his 50th year as a storyteller, singer and musician, performing his beloved epic poem about the legendary history of Celtic Britain.” This will be reportedly the first time that the epic poem “Five Denials” will be filmed “despite its thunderous import within our poetic tradition.” To fund the project, there will be an Indiegogo campaign. It’s progress and all updates can be found on a Facebook fan page and on twitter @fivedenials.
  • It was announced yesterday that documentary filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky had died at the age of 58. Sinofsky is best known for his work on Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), a film that tells the story of the West Memphis Three. Over at Patheos’ The Witching Hour, Peg Aloi shares her thoughts on the Sinofsky’s work, his influence on the West Memphis case and offers a tribute to his life.
  • Along with a new managing editor, Patheos Pagan Channel also announced the edition of a new blog titled “Energy Magic.” Writer Katrina Rasbold said, “This column will explore the dynamics of magic using the movement of energy, both from a spiritual and a scientific perspective.” She will be updating the blog twice a week beginning today.
  • This past weekend, ConVocation was held in the Doubletree Hotel in Detroit Michigan. ConVocation is an indoor Pagan conference that has been bringing people together from many mystical and religious backgrounds since 1995. As the week goes by, organizers and others will be pulling together photos, posts and retrospectives on this year’s event and festivities.
  • Witches and Pagans Blogger Natalie Zaman announced that Llewellyn Worldwide will be publishing her book Mapping The Magic about [the] sacred sites in America. She wrote “[It] will explore the magic of Washington, D.C. and the states of the Northeast: Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine–as you can see it will hopefully be the first of four books, each covering a different area of the country.” To celebrate, Zaman is hosting a giveaway of either her book or a 2-year subscription to Witches & Pagans Magazine.

That’s it for now! Have a nice day.

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Book Review: Devotional Polytheism by Galina Krasskova

Sun, 2015-02-22 06:30

Review: Devotional Polytheism: An Introduction, By Galina Krasskova (Independent, 2014, 210 pages)

Often when picking up a book that calls itself an introduction, I expect to find pages that skim the surface and give a smattering of very basic information. In her book, Devotional Polytheism: An Introduction, Galina Krasskova does something different. She provides a deep focus and reflection on the foundations of devotional practice or, at least, of her practice. As she writes, “…part of developing a devotional practice is figuring out what works best for you and then putting it into productive practice.”

Krasskova is a Heathen (Norse polytheist) and priest of Odin and Loki. Over the past 20 years, she has received multiple ordinations and degrees in religious studies. She is well-known in Heathen circles not only for her years of experience, but also for her contributions as a blogger, author, editor, and teacher. Krasskova brings her years of teaching and devotion to her newest book in order to introduce seekers to the art and practice of devotional polytheism.

Rather than spending multiple chapters defining various forms of polytheism or dwelling on lengthy theological dissertations, Krasskova states very early on that everyone’s experience with the Gods is different and, as with any other aspect of life, experiences can alter our approach. As such, she repeatedly encourages the reader to find a way that works for them and says, “The only things that I have found to be universal are the need for respect and the benefit of consistency.”

Being someone who believes that there are many paths up the same mountain, I agreed with her position wholeheartedly. However, I also found myself confused, at times, when she referred to some practices and beliefs as being watered down “feel good pablum.”  While a part of me understands what she is saying, I found some of these comments off-putting.

Despite that nuance, Krasskova’s book holds a wealth of wisdom and inspiration for anyone interested in developing a devotional practice. In this society where goldfish have better attention spans than mere humans, Krasskova provides concrete ideas and methods for creating a devotional practice to “maintain right relationship with the Holy powers” through “cultivation, time, and energy.” In what could be a hard sell for many people is her statement that the Gods are her greatest priority and that “nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of our devotion.” If a seeker does stick with her past that personal roadblock, Krasskova then tells us that devotional work is hard and can be terrifying.

Terrifying. Sounds awesome. Where do I sign up?

After this skilled management of reader expectations, Krasskova shares more about the primary (as I see it) benefit of devotional work: a personal connection with Deity. As a newcomer to Pagan or Heathen practice, it can be easy to become wrapped up in gathering information about Sabbats, ritual-writing, tool-consecrating, and so on, that actually developing a relationship with the Gods is overlooked. As a mentor to seekers and neophytes in the past, I have noticed this happen in the rush to prepare for exams. Students work hard to memorize the names of Goddesses and Gods, their myths and associated elements; but if you ask them about their experiences with those same deity, there is little to report.

The information presented in this book offers opportunity to fill in these gaps, in order to prepare the new student for a different level of spiritual connection. The ideas of devotions for the week and for the year are concepts that can be used to strengthen any practice of any tradition. If you can follow her suggestions to “make the choice every single day to put the human ephemera aside,” this could guide you in a transformative spiritual practice.

The book is composed of two distinct sections. The first is a discussion on the basics, including grounding and centering, altar and shrine work and rituals. The second part consists of rites, prayers and offerings that can be used in devotional work.

What is consistent throughout the book, and something that I found myself to be quite ambivalent about, is the author’s voice. Krasskova has a writing style that is informal, casual, and very colorful. For the most part, I enjoyed this aspect of the book. I felt connected to her, comfortable, willing to consider my vulnerabilities in response to her sharing her own. There were times that I startled my cat with sudden laughter. In fact, there were a couple of phrases that I enjoyed so much that I am certain they will flit through my mind (and perhaps out of my mouth) in the future.

However, there were moments when I felt disappointed in the informality of the writing. After some thought and consideration, I came to realize the reason. The book is about developing a relationship with the Gods, as such I expected a more formal writing style. Respect is something that is fundamental in the development of a meaningful relationship with the Gods. And I associate formal writing and speaking with that type of respect. Therefore, when picking up this book, I had some expectations, valid or not, about the level of formality and seriousness in the book’s written presentation.

Regardless, the language did not ultimately detract from experiencing Krasskova’s message. There are many gems in this book that are invaluable regardless of a person’s path or tradition. The book contains important discussions about shielding, cleansing, overcoming obstacles, and meaningful relationships with the Gods, all of which can be used by anyone. Her warning about potential spiritual trauma is another example of an excellent discussion, specifically for seekers approaching initiation. Even if the exact rituals and prayers do not fit with your specific path, the book offers they keys to developing a spiritual practice that leads to deeper connections.

There are elements of the book that I did not find particularly useful, simply because my path and focus differ from the author. For those readers not familiar with Heathenry, you may have to look up some words if you intend to follow the conversation. It’s another world of vocabulary. However, that shouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it. These places of disagreement and learning are great beginnings for further discussion and personal spiritual exploration.

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Devotional Polytheism: An Introduction, as well as numerous other publications by the author, can be found through Createspace.com and Amazon.com. More thoughts and writings from Galina Krasskova can be found on her blog Gangleri’s Grove, and on her radio podcast, Wyrd Ways Live on Blog Talk Radio.

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Around the World: Frances Billinghurst and the Australian Sacred Wheel

Sat, 2015-02-21 06:37

One of the biggest discussions among Australian Pagans is how to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. In the Southern Hemisphere, we are largely working with material crafted in the U.K. and America. Comparatively, there’s been little research, and even less writing, on the subject of the Sabbats in the Southern Hemisphere.

Frances Billinghurst [Courtesy Photo]

Long-time Witch and priestess, Frances Billinghurst is the author of Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats. We sat down to have a chat about the challenges that Aussie Pagans face, and how we can create a unique Wheel that is better suited to Australia.

The Wild Hunt: For Pagans that observe the Wheel of the Year, many of the ritual myths associated with the Sabbats don’t apply easily to areas beyond where these traditions were born. Even within Australia, just as it is within the U.S., the climate varies tremendously from one end of the country to the other.  That may be the most obvious challenge to celebrating the Wheel of the Year in Australia. What are other challenges do Aussie Pagans face?

Frances Billinghurst: There seems to be an increasing number of people that have a vague understanding of various myths that have found their way into modern Paganism. They don’t know the myths in their original forms, where they originated, much less develop a deeper of them. I believe that developing this personal knowledge base assists when looking at the deeper meaning of the myth and attempting to adapt that to one’s own environment.

As a lot of modern Paganism seems to have European roots, it is important to realise that the myths vary across the European continent with many areas also incorporating their own localised versions or interpretations. It’s not a case of one size fits all. Also, as these myths often told a story, it is important for us to gain an understanding of that story and an interpretation from the peoples who it related to.

When we have developed this knowledge base then we realise that the myths form part of a bigger story and, whilst on the surface this story may not fit exactly into our own environment, when we begin to strip back the layers to expose the underlying symbolism, then this does.

Naturally, of course, this also depends greatly upon one’s own spiritual path and how that is developed. Mine, for example, is one built on symbolic meaning and myth where the journey through each cycle of the Wheel reveals a different level to the previous one.

One of the biggest challenges around the Wheel of the Year is this lack of poetic or symbolic understanding – where things are merely look at from the surface or superficial level, where people tend to take things at face value (often based on assumptions), and are not encourage to explore things for themselves. For us living in the Southern Hemisphere, we have long been told by Northern Hemispheric writers that we only need to move the Sabbat dates around by six months. That assumption is grossly incorrect. There is more to working with the Wheel of the Year than that.

You raise one issue as being climate. While the variation of this may appear to form stumbling blocks, again if you familiarise yourself with the seasonal myths and in particularly, the underlining psychological meaning,  then more often than not the myth can be adapted in order to create something that reflects what is occurring within our own environment at that particular time. Changes in our climate are always going to play havoc to our interpretation of the original myth. However, we need to keep in mind that four of the Sabbats relate to the cosmic relationship between the earth and the sun, whereas the remaining four are agricultural. Depending on what tradition you follow, there may not be four agricultural markers in your area.

Coming from a more traditionally-based tradition, my personal preference is to adapt as opposed to throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, should one prefer to follow a more eclectic form of Paganism, there are no reasons why they need to stick to the traditional Wheel of the Year.

To answer your question about other challenges that face the Australian Pagan, I guess the apparent lack of published information or at least the accessibility of such information about the Wheel is a big one. Despite modern Paganism having been practiced in Australia for well over 40 years, there are still very few books that have been printed solely on this topic, resulting in the majority of information that seekers first come across being from the Northern Hemisphere.

Further, due to the smaller population of Pagans that are scattered (many extremely isolated) across a country the same size as the USA, there is not the availability or accessibility to teachers and/or those who have been confident enough to explore this area properly. I have met with a degree of resistance from my Northern Hemisphere-based elders in my desire to adapt my tradition more to what is happening within my local environment. Yet it needs to be done. If I am to work with the energies of this land, then I need to understand its underpinning cycles, which is what the Wheel of the Year is. When I am able to do this, then I am able to adapt the traditional or ritual mythos more appropriately to each Sabbat.

TWH: Here in Melbourne, people like to say we have four seasons in a day. With what seems like a volatile climate, how can we celebrate meaningful Sabbats? What are some of the different approaches that Pagan communities in the Southern Hemisphere have adopted for celebrating the Wheel of the Year?

FB: In order to celebrate meaningful Sabbats, you first need to establish a basic understanding of what the Sabbat is about. Once this basic understanding is achieved, then we can attempt to adapt it into what is happening around us.

It’s important to remember that regardless what is happening in our environment that the Lesser Sabbats (Equinoxes and Solstices) were traditionally aligned on the earth’s relationship to the sun whereas the Greater Sabbats were more agriculturally orientated. This means that technically the deeper meaning of the Equinoxes (times of balance) and the Solstices (zenith power of light or dark) do not change regardless of what is happening with the climate. If you are caught up sticking with the seasonal myths from another land/culture and are getting disheartened that such myths are not reflecting what you see outside your window, then you basically have two choices: strip the myth down to what it represents to you or create something new.

In order to achieve the latter, you would need to get out into your own natural environment and see what is happening around you. If possible, get into the countryside or your closest nature reserve or park if you don’t have a garden. Get outside and observe what is happening around you. Observe significant local seasons and learn as much as possible with respect to localised folklore and or Indigenous folklore.

As to different ways of adopting the Wheel of the Year within Australia, again this comes back to environment.  In the Top End, it is pointless to follow a European-based Wheel of eight Sabbats when there appears to be only two seasons – the Wet and the Dry. Alternatively, the eight Sabbats may be highly influence by the local Aboriginal seasonal wheel which acknowledges six seasons.

Some traditions only acknowledge either the Lesser Sabbats due to their relationship between the sun and the earth, whereas others I know of only acknowledge the Greater Sabbats as the gateways to each of the seasons.

TWH: In the Northern Hemisphere, Pagans who observe the Wheel of the Year just finished celebrating Imbolc. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we celebrated Lughnassadh. What are the markers of the Summer Solstice and of Lughnassadh in Australia?

FB: Here in the South Australia around the time of the Summer Solstice, it is our grain harvest which is usually associated with Lughnasadh/Lammas. In southern central Australia, Lughnasadh is usually marked by the arrival of bushfire season. The temperatures easily climb into the high 30s and 40°Cs (high 80s to well over 100°F) and can stay there for weeks. This year, the fires arrived early and, as I write this, to date our summer has been on the mild side with only a couple of really hot days. The season is not over yet and we could be heading for a hot and dry autumn instead. In adapting the Sabbats to reflect what is happening within our local environment, we need to know what the traditional story is about and then have the confidence of being able to shape it to ensure that its underlying meaning reflects that of what is happening around us.

How my coven has been approaching this Sabbat has changed over the years. For example, within my tradition the Summer Solstice is about the bountiful Mother Goddess and the God as his guise of the Sun God. Here in South Australia this mythos can still be used yet expanded upon so that the Goddess is not only a bountiful Mother, but she also holds the scythe as she cuts down John Barleycorn, the Lord of the Grain which the God has also become along with his solar aspect.

Where I live, it is at the Summer Solstice, not at Lughnassadh, when the God offers to his abundant beloved his head, his life, and soul as the ultimate sacrifice. As the Wheel turns to Lughnasadh, as the wielder of the scythe, the Goddess starts to stalk the land in her grief and longing for the God, and in a similar manner to how when Demeter despaired for her beloved Persephone after her abduction by Hades, the land becomes dry and barren. The God, almost as a split personality, has sacrificed his life as the Lord of the Grain, but also now becomes a Lord of the Corn as Lughnasadh is usually the time when corn is ready to harvest. The Lughnasadh harvest is not always bountiful and productive depending on how hot January has become, and usually what is offered up at this time of the year is a representation of what has not been successful.

Bushfire [Photo Credit: Black Saturday Bushfires.com.au]

Instead of celebrating the harvest and its bounty, due to the heat, lack of rain and the land often being dry and scorched with bushfires abounding, Lughnasadh becomes a fire festival of purification and also regeneration. The fires that tend to arrive at Lughnasadh reflect the regeneration that this land needs as the life of specific plant species tend to lie dominant until they are scorched. On a deeper personal, psychological level, my coven explores the purification from and removal of deep-rooted obstacles that only the force of something like a destructive fire can eradicate.

Speaking back to Imbolc, one aspect Brighid that tends to often be overlooked is her fire aspect, which is appropriate at this time of the year here in southern central Australia.

In Aboriginal lore where the solar deity is a goddess, there are a number of stories about the land being scorched by sun. The Wotjobaluk people of south-eastern Australia, for example, had a solar Goddess by the name of Gnowee whose torch was the sun, and after her young son went missing while she dug for food, she climbed into the sky with her torch in order to get a better view of where to look for him. To this day, she still wanders the world with her torch looking for her son.

From the Northern Territory, comes the story of Wala (or Walo) who was also a solar goddess who would travel across the sky every day with her sister (or daughter) Bara until she realised that the two of them were drying out the land and making it parched. Wala sent Bara back to the east so that the earth could become fertile and bloom.

TWH: A question that many Aussie Pagans ask: Why do we keep on trying to fit the European Wheel of the Year into the Australian seasonal cycle?

FB: This is a question that I have been asking myself for years and one which led me to write, Dancing that Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats.  It could be simply that the majority of information that Pagans have access to is from the Northern Hemisphere coupled with the overall generalisation that Pagans within Australia are often very solitary by nature and spread out by location. There is not the access to networking that is found in other countries. While Australian Pagans don’t mind travelling, the cost of travel here is expensive as are books, so we are limited largely to the Internet and, once again, the influx of information is Northern Hemispheric and, more often than not, American.

Due to the lack of localised resources, it is little wonder that newcomers can take a while before they gain the knowledge and even confidence in trying something different. Even for those within a tradition, it can be intimidating to attempt to step outside the boundaries.

While modern Paganism has reportedly been active in Australia since the 1970s, there are still relatively few resources available with respect to working with native flora and fauna. Whether or not people have actually have explored such areas and it is merely a case of them not publishing their work, or maybe their work has been published but it is not easily accessible, who can tell. All I know is that when I was researching my book, I often had to go to non-Pagan resources and then apply a Pagan interpretation. Maybe this is how the correspondences of say the Ogham came about; the Celts looked at the oak and saw strength. Yet for a lot of us, there appears to be a hesitancy to step across that line and explore our local flora and fauna in such a manner.

TWH: Australia has fascinating Indigenous cultures and traditions. Why don’t Aussie Pagans work more with an Aboriginal understanding of the seasons?

FB: There are a lot of cultural sensitivities surrounding Aboriginal teachings. There is discomfort in using such information without the proper consent, and there is the issue of who to approach to gain the proper consent. There is not always a lot of information made available especially when it comes to localised observances as a lot this knowledge has been forgotten or even lost.

What is important to realise that in a landmass that is the size of Australia there are over 500 different clan groups or nations and each have their own stories and seasonal myths, and a lot of these clan groups were very nomadic. Some of these are better known and others have been blended into an overall generalisation.

The Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia, for example, make up some 77 family groups in an area that includes the lower Murray River, western Fleurieu peninsula and the Coorong of southern central Australia. Some of their folklore and seasonal myths can be found in A World That Was: The Yaraldi of the Murray River and the Lakes, South Australia by Ronald and Catherine Berndt (John E. Stanton, 1993) as well as Ngarrindjeri wurruwarrin: A World that is, was, and will be by Diane Bell (Spinifex Press, 1998). Yet the works of the Berndts has been criticized and also doesn’t represent the environment away from the Fleurieu and southern lakes.

I live in the land of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains who had their culture and language almost wiped out within a short time after the arrival of the European settlement in the 1830s. While great attempts have been made in recent decades to re-establish their language and culture, a lot of this knowledge is not available to the public.

Bushland Royal National Park [Photo Credit: Proimos / Flicr CC. Lic]

TWH: How can Aussie Pagans learn to better adapt their Sabbats to the local climate and landscape?

FB: Simply by moving away from the computer and getting outside into their gardens, local park, bushland, whatever is convenient. Feel the sun and rain on your skin and the wind in your hair. Even in the middle of suburbia, this is possible. Take note of when plants flower, when fruit comes into season, strike up conversations with green grocers about seasonal fruits, and nursery owners about plants.  Visit the botanic gardens. Many have free walks and botany guides, especially when it comes to the local flora. This was one of the first exercises that I gave students when I ran a correspondence course in the late 1990s and early 2000s prior to online schools, and something that I still teach within my outer course classes for my coven.

Don’t only rely on Pagan material. While knowing the background and myths of the Sabbats is important, look into local Aboriginal myth and even, if possible, local folklore that can be traced back to the European settlers. This latter point may require some digging, but you will be amazed at what you discover.

When you start to collate your notes, patterns emerge and these can assist in constructing a unique Wheel of the Year.

TWH: You have written one of the few books about the Wheel of the Year in Australia. What has that process been like for you?

FB: Coming up with a Wheel of the Year that is uniquely Australian can very well be a long process and indeed one that will differ from region to region. In the eight or so years that it took me to research and write Dancing that Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, one of my biggest surprises was simply the lack of information written by Pagans in offering an alternative to the traditional, eight-spoked Wheel of the Year. On Yahoo groups and now Facebook groups, despite a lot of discussion, few people have taken the bull by the horns and actually put something in writing.

My book is far from complete and, when I was finishing the second edition, I was still not 100% happy with it. The Summer Solstice and Lughnasadh are the two Sabbats that really need addressing here in southern Australia. Yet, if I wrote about dramatically changing these two Sabbats, I could be alienating some readers. Instead, I left hints to encourage readers to look deeper at the Wheel and what it means to them.

I want to publish a follow-up to Dancing that Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, probably an anthology of what people actually do in order to acknowledge and celebrate the Sabbats in the Southern Hemisphere, including New Zealand, South Africa, and even South America if possible. The more writings we get out there that address the revamping of the Wheel of the Year, the more confidence people will have in adapting to find something that they personally resonate with on a deeper level.

TWH: What else are you working on?

FB: I have a number of projects that I am currently working on at the moment. The first is the editing of my first anthology, Call of the God: An Exploration of the Divine Masculine within Modern Paganism, which I hope to publish later this year.  This anthology will balance out my second book, In Her Sacred Name: Writings about the Divine Feminine, which contains a selection of articles that I have written over the years on various aspects of the Goddess.

I also have contributed to a number of other people’s anthologies which are in the process of being published this year, in particular The Bosom of Isis by Sorita d’Este and Avalonia, as well as a number of anthologies by Neos Alexandria/Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Behind the scenes, I have a further two more books that I work on when I get a bit of time that I hope to have published by the end of this year or early 2016. One is on the darker aspects of the Goddess, which is based on the workshops I have been running since 2006, as well as an instruction manual on working with respect to a modern traditional form of the Craft. Based on my own teachings and kind of a 101 book, it will offer some “meat on the bones” for the more solitary practitioner.

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More information about Frances Billinghurst, including her books and upcoming projects, can be found on her website at http://francesbillinghurst.blogspot.com.au/.

 

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Culture and Community: Do Pagan Bloggers Help to Shape Pagan Culture?

Fri, 2015-02-20 07:10

The use of the internet in modern Paganism has changed the way that people access information and express themselves in modern culture. One of the most widely used mediums for information sharing has become the blogosphere. Pagan blogs range from having an academic theme to the purely personal, and everything in between. The popular transition from reading books to reading blogs has created a culture of fast information gathering and the ability for everyone to have a format. This has also contributed to the idea that everyone is a potential “expert,” making the distinctions of reliability challenging.

This type of fingertip access to information has many benefits in modern day culture, but how do those benefits affect the overall culture within modern Paganism, or does it at all? Different groups of people may have different opinions on the benefits and problems created with Pagan blogging and the instant access to this version of the Pagan world.

[photo credit: pixabay.com]

The social sciences often point out how pieces of any social system affect and rely on one another. As the overarching community approach creates a social structure that encompasses many different moving pieces, the increase in blogging as a common form of communication and information exchange has the potential for long standing cultural changes. The ecological theory explores the interdependent relationship between different elements of any community, grouping, or construct, making the idea that the rise of a blogging culture in modern Paganism has changed the landscape of our cultural connection.

What does this mean and what does that look like in community culture? Who are our leaders, experts, and resources in the community, and how does this change the landscape of how we access popularity? How are leaders and experts chosen, and how does the blogging culture influence who gets attention?

The following are some thoughts from a variety of Pagans on this concept of whether blogging culture has an impact on Pagan culture, and our community.

Jason Mankey

I think the short answer is that sometimes it does. Recent discussions about race, gender, transphobia, and creating safe spaces at festivals and conventions have transcended their origins online. I think these are all issues we are currently confronting within our circles, covens, and groves. I think we are still far away from the lasting and permanent change many of us wish to see, but the dialogue is encouraging and moving in the right direction.

The issues of theology that often dominate the internet discourse rarely to never come up in the terrestrial groups I’m a part of.  However, I think some of those conversations represent the inevitable schisms that will one day divide the Pagan umbrella.  As a result it’s possible that we will feel their influence in the future, though I think that future is still far on the horizon.

One of the problems with the Pagan blogosphere is that it represents only a small slice of Pagandom. Those who follow most of the “trending topics” that arise within it are a fraction of a fraction. It’s an engaged fraction to be sure, but it takes awhile for ideas to work their way through a community as large and diverse as modern Paganism. In that way the influence of blogs is a bit more subtle and hard to see, but those of us who engage in it on a day to day basis can see its influence. – Jason Mankey, blogger at “Raise the Horns,” Patheos Pagan Channel

David Salisbury

I think that some blogs are influential and that others identify what is influential on the community. Pagan blogs tend to follow trends of topics, even across various sites, and I find that interesting. Identifying trends (and what isn’t trending) feels like a helpful gauge for what our community thinks is important and what isn’t. Sometimes those realizations are exciting and sometimes they’re very disappointing. – David Salisbury, author Teen Spirit Wicca

Erick DuPree

Blogging connects people from all over the world and provides a platform to humanity’s deep need to be heard. For Pagans, I see that blogging provides the opportunity for people to come together holding widely varied belief and create community and build identity, while using technology as the ‘magic.’ There is an equal playing field in blogging, at least in the beginning, that like the core of our diverse spirit has the power to build bridges and spread Pagan values and ideals.

Personally, blogging changed my life, by allowing in me the freedom to seek wisdom and explore it interactively with people from all walks of life. My ‘covenstead’ has in many ways become the blogosphere where the dialogue is rich, meaningful, sometimes contrary, but always an invitation to more. More magic. More Wisdom. More love.Erick DuPree, blogger at “Alone in Her Presence”

Clio Ajana

Blogging is an act of justice that gives voice to those who are not often heard. In Peggy McIntosh’s “White People Facing Race: Uncovering the Myths That Keep Racism in Place”, a few of the myths that blogging destroys are the myth of white racelessness and the myth of monoculture. Blogging by Pagans of Color eradicates the stereotype that those who worship the Gods are, of necessity, uniform by nature and white by class, race or upbringing. Blogging makes it possible to see the corners,what is hidden from the rest of the world. Each myth destroyed, each level of resistance challenged and each open discussion about privilege in Paganism brings the overall community closer together. We are able to reveal what we know about ourselves to those who might not see beyond the once or twice a year encounters with those who embrace some level of paganism as a person of color. Blogs are a necessary counterbalance to the blandness that stereotypes the definition of “Pagan” in 2015.Clio Ajana, blogger “Daughters of Eve,” Patheos Pagan Channel

Cara Schulz

I think it does for a very small minority. If there are a million Pagans just in the USA, give or take, and even a really well read blog only has a few hundred or even thousands of readers, that is a very small percentage.

But if we’re talking about the Pagan community, that’s a bit different. The Pagan community is both a small world and a very segmented “community.” Large segments exist almost as islands, rarely if ever interacting with the wider community. Plus, most Pagans are still solitaries and while some are connected to the wider community, most aren’t.- Cara Shulz, staff writer, The Wild Hunt

Tim Titus

Blogging tends to have an influence beyond its readers. While even the most read blogs attract only a small percentage of the total pagan community, those it does attract tend to be engaged in the community. As a result, their reactions set a course for discussion. That discussion has the ability to steer the movement. The influence is indirect, but it is real.Tim Titus, blogger at “Intersections”

Niki Whiting

I consider blogging a method of discussion. Blogging can often respond to, create, or steer the discussions that various groups are having, or provoke ones that we need to have. Is it the only means of influence? Of course not, but as social media becomes more and more a part of the way our communities interact, I think blogs can distill topics, teach wisdom, amplify certain voices or issues, that are present in the community at large.  – Niki Whiting, blogger at “The Witch’s Ashram,” Patheos Pagan Channel

Aaminah Zulu Shakur

Blogging has made it possible for solo practitioners and others who feel isolated to find community with people all over the world. For those of us from marginalized backgrounds, it has helped us to find and connect with other marginalized people and to increase our understanding of our practices and incorporate new ones. One of the really exciting things that I think blogging has done to influence Modern Pagan culture is to provide opportunity for marginalized communities to speak about what it means to be marginalized both in the broader Pagan community and the world at large.

Blogging is where useful discussion of racism, homophobia, transantagonism, and cultural appropriation is able to happen in ways that allow us to see the human face of these issues. Cultural appropriation is one thing that blogging, and the internet in general, have brought to a wider discussion. To a degree, the internet has made it easier to culturally appropriate, as practitioners can google and find so many things that they wish to cobble together into a practice without thinking about the origins or privileges they may have that make it easier/safer for them to use them. On the other hand, blogging is where we are able to talk about those origins, what it feels like to watch someone make money off of something that may still be illegal or at least discouraged for us to retain of our own culture, what it means on a personal level, and what it means on a larger cultural level. Blogging creates accessible avenues for education, and for personal engagement and relationship building.Aaminah Zulu Shakur, artist and healer

Anomalous Thracian

The internet is a fascinating thing. On the one hand, it is a tool that has created space for platforms — such as blogging — which allow for international connections and communications, bringing diverse groups together in ways that they would not be able to otherwise. The internet is also a place, in the true sense of the word, wherein spaces are hosted and guested and the rules of hospitality must by necessity apply, else the worst kinds of harm are allowed to happen. Blogging, however, can be a lot like any other colonizing land-expansion: it allows equally for people with valid dreams and visions to find a respectful place for these to be seen into fruition as it does for those with nothing but greed and hunger and disillusionment with what they are ultimately turning away from in turning to a blog.

There are some who were using the internet in the “glory-days” of exclusivity, before it was fully mainstreamed, who harken back to those nostalgic times where it took a certain level of know-how to stumble into such places, trailblazing or at least “knowing the right people.” These days anyone can hop on their phone and become a digital “land-owner” and that can be both good and bad. A person can hungrily devour a corner of the blogsphere to espouse hatred at others over things like disabilities or race or religious experience and identity, just as easily as they can stake out a territory and declare it a safe-zone for progressive human-rights and religious-rights oriented work, dialog, and endeavors.

A person with a blog can be a force of change or a force of flaming trollfire, rubbing up on everything and leaving it stained, soiled, and ruined for whoever else might come along next. In terms of how this influences the Pagan community? Well, thanks to all of the above — good and bad — we now have a landscape to not only settle some of our differences, but even identify what they are in the first place, and iron out the nuances of language and identifiers — Polytheists from Archetypalists, for example — and from there we can forge the spaces and the rules to navigate those identifiers, those boundaries, and thereby defend the perimeters of the unimpeachable rights and freedoms that we all must, at the end of the day, agree as paramount to our collective doings.Anomolous Thracian, founder and editor of Polytheist.com

Aine Llewellyn

Yes and no. Part of me says ‘yes’ because I’m biased. I’m a blogger, I read other blogs, I live a lot of my life online. Online Paganism, the blogosphere, influenced my own religion and how I approach in-person communities.

What I see in the blogosphere are conversations about theology and boundaries and where Paganism might go. Of course those conversations are going to affect the wider community. The people writing these blogs are going to go out into their own communities and take these ideas with them!

I think the idea that blogging doesn’t matter comes from some complex ideas. There’s the idea that online interaction isn’t ‘real’. Then there’s the idea that people who blog or read blogs regularly are not ‘actually’ involved in their communities. This is true in some cases! However, some people don’t have offline community, or the one they do is toxic or unsafe in some way, or it simply doesn’t fill their needs. And these are just two ideas, both of which need a lot of unpacking to understand…

I think to understand why blogging can change our culture, we have to remind ourselves that people, real people, are writing these blogs. They are going to bring these ideas with them wherever they go. We don’t know how blogging is going to fit into our history yet. But I think the resentment and snark directed at blogging itself – the mere act of writing and engaging with other Pagan bloggers or readers – is misplaced.

But I have to also say no, because the petty drama and attention-mongering that we see? That’s not important, that’s never important. Online or offline. But that’s exactly it – the sort of ‘me me me’ that we see online can happen offline too, and it seems we’re very bad at acknowledging that.Aine Llewellyn, artist and blogger at “of the Other People.”

[Photo Credit: www.jisc.ac.uk]

The internet is a tool. It is easy to forget how tools can be used to help shape culture and community, how the interlocking pieces influence the outcome and change the trajectory of what is to come. How does blogging culture influence the way that we communicate with one another? How do we connect to leadership or the celebrity status of people inside of the community? How do we identify reliability in our sources when the blogosphere is not monitored, fact checked or screened?

The energetic exchange between blogger and reader is just as important as the words on the screen. We cannot deny the impact of information; whether it is academic, social or personal. The reciprocal nature of communication, and the medium in which it is given in, means that the receiver is just as affected as the giver.

Does the impact of blogging on culture rely on numbers or is it more dependent on the way that people internalize information and take it out into the world? Erick DuPree mentioned to me that, “Blogging might only touch a few people’s lives in the grand percentage of the world’s populace, but one person reading about compassion, about self care, about magic, or about social justice, is one more person than had there not been a blog.” I tend to agree.

How discussions are shaped, how problems are identified and how popular trends are accessed in community largely rely on the blogging community and the conditioned behaviors that the internet fosters. The way that the blogosphere affects the other elements of our community in the long run has yet to be seen, but we do know that the culture of communication and connection has changed greatly since blogging has become a more common means of expression among modern Pagans.

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Whispers and Speculation: American Council of Witches 2015

Thu, 2015-02-19 07:38

UNITED STATES – In recent weeks, an anonymous group claims to be reviving the American Council of Witches (ACW). In doing so, the group has raised questions from the wider Pagan community concerning their motives and secrecy. Someone has even created Facebook page, mimicking the American Council of Witches 2015’s page, adding the word “SRSLY” to the logo. Who is organizing this council? What is their purpose? The Wild Hunt looks closer at this group and its goals, interviews one of the council members in waiting, and finds out how other Pagans feel about its possible rebirth.

A Brief History of the American Council of Witches
In 1973, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, owner and chairman of Llewellyn Worldwide, helped organize the American Council of Witches. The group convened in Minneapolis, Minnesota but disbanded shortly after, allegedly due to internal divisions. Before disbanding, the group managed to put together the Thirteen Principles of Belief, which was a general set of principles for Witches. That material was subsequently incorporated into the 1978 edition of the Army’s military chaplain’s handbook.

In 2011, a new group calling itself the U.S. American Council of Witches attempted to form. This new council said it was coming together after receiving a request from the U.S. military to update the Thirteen Principles of Belief.  However, almost from the beginning, there were questions raised about the goals, structure, and secrecy surrounding the renewed council. The main Pagan media outlet investigating and reporting on the 2011 council was The Modern Witch Podcast, hosted by Devin Hunter and Rowan Pendragon. They questioned the new council’s founder, Kaye Berry, about concerns raised by the wider Pagan community. After intense scrutiny, several prominent members of the council resigned and it disbanded.

A New Council Forms
Now another attempt is being made at resurrecting the American Council of Witches and, similar to past years, questions are being raised about its goals, structure, and secrecy.

One of those persons raising questions is the very one who asked the tough questions in 2011. Devin Hunter said:

We do not know the voices behind this new attempt but we do know they are planning to do something with the principles according to their logo. There are a two definite similarities between this new attempt and the previous which immediately surface.

The first is that there is a deep lack of transparency from these organizers. From posts on their Facebook page they claim a council already exists and that they are investigating murders while waiting to convene on March 1st. All this but no website, no organization, no community outreach, just a Facebook page and a single webpage with a logo.

The second is that there appears to be from my perspective a lot of similar language being used, which got the previous organizer in a lot of hot water. The previous organizer did not like questions from the media nor the general community, even going as far as to delete inquiries so that no one could see them being challenged. Currently they are not taking questions because they are awaiting the completion of a website. Mind you, this meeting is suppose to take place in less than two weeks.

As Hunter notes, the available information about the group, its goals, and even who is organizing it, is scarce. On its Facebook fan page, the group has stated that no official council members have been selected and that all information will be released on March 1st.

However, as shown by their Facebook posts, organizers do claim there are already council members in-waiting, nominated by the group’s Chairwoman, a webmaster, a legal team, and a person designated to review future council members. They recently announced they are accepting an open call for people interested in applying to join the council.

In a response post, Cathy Fia Moritz said: I’m not trying to be contentious. But, I would at least like to know who is posting these [Facebook] updates and who will be behind any press releases or any other actions, external or within our community.”

In a direct reply, Brandon Erickson said,First I’m going to address the need to know “who” it is, you don’t know these people they are not famous, nor are they seeking any kind of notoriety, so “who” it is does not matter, What matters is that they are qualified for the job, and have the craft’s best interests at heart with people like you and myself and others in mind. … So please stop worrying about something that has no bearing on anything that is going on here. As for your concern about behind closed doors, it is up and coming things are being put together and worked on to be made public. I have never seen an organization bother other people with how it is being put together beyond those that are directly involved with putting it together, you have all been notified of the goings on’s and workings of this council and such by this page’s statements. Nothing is going on behind closed doors that is of any concern to anybody but those directly involved in the steps to get this running.”

According to the fan page, ACW2015 has reached out to “Authors, Musicians, Counselors, and even a Publisher or two.” Organizers said, “We have established that this council will not represent just Wicca, but all facets of Paganism that we can…” They added that, after March 1st, they will list the names and bios of each council person on their website. Additionally, the group has said that they plan to revise the Thirteen Principles of Belief and to write at least one book.

However, none of this has eased community concerns. There are too many unanswered questions. In one Facebook post, the group said that Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, chairman of the last council (1974), gave “his permission to relaunch the Council.”

However, Mr. Weschcke, through Llewellyn employee Elysia Gallo, disputes that claim. She said, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke has obviously seen a lot of Wiccan and Pagan groups come and go in his time, and he receives requests for his personal involvement in different organizations all the time. At this point in his life, he is concentrating his energy on writing his own books, passing the torch to others as far as organizing and action goes. He was contacted by a person calling for the formation of a 2015 American Council of Witches, asking for his advice and his recollections of the instigating spirit and goals of the original 1974 Council. Carl, always the professional, always interested in furthering the “New Age,” gave a polite response to the effect of “good luck but I can’t take on anything else,” as he has a full plate. Such a response should not be construed as an endorsement of this association or its goals.

Who is Behind the Council?
The Wild Hunt attempted to contact the ACW2015 and was directed to Elwin La Fae Herman and Heath Keeper. Heath Keeper said our questions would need to be answered by a Lady Rhiannon Martin, one of the founders of a Seax Wicca line called SerpentStone. Unfortunately, Lady Rhiannon was unavailable due to personal circumstances.

After repeated attempts to contact Ms. Herman, we were sent a message stating:

I regret to inform you that with such a short time we are unable to answer all of these to a satisfactory solution; however, all of this information will be on our Facebook page come March 1st. At which time we will have a chair person for public relations and gladly be able to address as many of your questions as we can if you would like to set up an interview then.

In addition, we were told to “refrain from contacting [the] council further.” Like 2011 Council, the organizers won’t talk to the media.

However, the Council has stated that Kaye Berry, who lead the 2011 revival, is not associated with this attempt. Beyond that, the group has not given out any membership information despite repeated questioning on their Facebook page by members of the community. For example, Don Wildgrube wrote:

I was in the original Council of American Witches in Minneapolis in 1973. It was open as far as membership and knowledge of each other was concerned. I am concerned because the only way that we know who is in this group is by occasional postings. Make the membership public to the rest of us. If necessary, make this a closed group, so we can see who is a part of this group, so we can contact each other. Also the web page only has the illustration that is on the upper left of this group and nothing more. If we are to cooperate, let us do so.

Other than Elwin La Fae Herman, Lady Rhiannon Martin, Brandon Chaffinch (web designer), and Donna Clifton (Council Member in Waiting) not much else is known and all details highly guarded.  Another unnamed source wouldn’t release the name of the person spearheading this effort, presumed to be the Chairwoman, but did offer a few extra details. The council’s goals are to “update the 1974 tenets and release the discussions in a book form under a pen name.” The organizers do not appear to be affiliated with any larger organizations and meetings will be held over the internet to allow “witches from all over the country to participate.” The organizers have also allegedly said that the idea for the 2015 revival was discussed over social media and in podcasts, and that many people supported it happening. 

Interview with Council Member in Waiting
Fortunately, The Wild Hunt was able to talk with one council member-in-waiting. Donna Clifton is an eclectic solitary Pagan who goes by the craft name of Lady Belladonna. She said that she first heard of the effort to resurrect the council back in January.

“I was conversing with someone who was aware that it was forming, and the person asked me if I would be interested in becoming a part of it.” Unfortunately, she declined to give the name of that person, saying that she didn’t have permission and would feel uncomfortable passing it along.

Donna Clifton [courtesy photo]

The Wild Hunt:  Why do you want to be part of the council and about when did you hear of it?
Donna Clifton:The reason I accepted the nomination was because I have experience, and I feel that I can represent the voice of the Solitary pagan. I feel that in this modern day time frame that many other kinds of Pagan faiths have surfaced, and there is much more diversity being expressed in today’s Pagan world than represented in the mainstream.

TWH: What do you know of the council’s goals?
DC:  The goals are basically to address witchcraft in the present day and help to address modern day practitioners to help and guide those of future generations.

TWH:  How do you see the council as helping guide future generations?
DC: It is not to re-define anything, but to address the issues of the modern day practitioner. This council has the vision of things taking place in the modern times, and the issues that we face in our own day and age, and we hope to be able to address those things and find solutions that our continued freedoms can go forward.

TWH:  How do you think this council will be different from the effort in 1973 or the failed attempt in 2011?
DC: This time more planning and organization will have gone into the efforts.

TWH: What kind of planning and organization? Is there an example that illustrates that?
DC: Nothing that I can elaborate on at this present time.

TWH: When and how will you be confirmed as a council member? What’s the process?
DC:  March will be the time frame that the council will be formed and, at the moment, I do not have the authority to go into that explanation, I will be happy to go to the people who are for you if you would like, and let them explain what can be explained right now.

TWH:  Are you excited? Scared?
DC: I am. Wow, perhaps all of the above. Hoping that I can accurately represent the solitary practitioner this is a big responsibility.

TWH:  I can understand that. The group is already getting quite a bit of attention by the greater Pagan community. And people have been asking why there’s so much secrecy around the council. How do you respond to that?
DC:  Because nothing is set in stone at the moment. Answers given at this present time could possibly change.

TWH: But why keep the names of the organizers secret? Is there a purpose for that?
DC:  When everything is in place all things will be revealed. It’s a matter of timing. Once more, that too is subject to change.

TWH:  Is there anything you can say about the council? Or wish to say? Anything you’d be excited for our readers to know?
DC:  I would say that those within it have pure intent and the highest hopes of coming together in a united purpose of representing modern Witchcraft at its best.

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Will this attempt pan out better than the failed 2011 attempt, as Clifton believes? Hunter gave this advice:

The last time an attempt was made it was so unorganized and immediate that there was no possible way for it to take off and be successful. It fell under scrutiny because it was unable to provide basic and important information, gain the favor of the community by actually courting it over a period of time, and because in the end it was the ego driven dream of someone with a keyboard.

I think that for something like this to ever happen it would need to be something new and gain it’s reputation by real work and ingenuity. It would need to start off with a small grassroots community that would grow over time and momentum. It would need to shed the term council and there would need to be an actual effort beyond a computer screen. The organization behind it would need to seek real legitimacy within the community before even attempting to convene such a group and there would need to be an actual need for it to begin with.

Time will tell. March 1 is less than two weeks away.

UPDATE: The Wild Hunt has learned that The United Pagan Radio has scheduled a live broadcast with council members at 4:30pm EST today Feb. 19. They will then replay bits of the afternoon show and more at 10:00pm EST tonight.

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What is PantheaCon?

Wed, 2015-02-18 10:35

SAN JOSE – This past weekend, close to 3000 Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists and others of diverse religious beliefs descended on Double Tree Hotel in San Jose, California to attend the annual PantheaCon event. This is the largest indoor conference of its kind in the United States. Held over President’s weekend in mid-February, PantheaCon boasts “more than 200 presentations that range from rituals to workshops and from classes to concerts.”

While PantheaCon is very popular and attracts an international following, there are far more people who do not know what it is, don’t care to attend, or do not have the time and means to attend. As observed by Jason Mankey in his post “Pagan Festivals and the .25%,” the number of people who actually attend PantheaCon and other community-based large events is relatively small compared to the number of Pagans and Heathens in world. While it is impossible at this point to assess whether his figure of .25% is statistically correct, Mankey’s assessment provides a perspective on the place of large festivals and conferences within the global Pagan movement and within our collective communities.

So for those who wonder “What is this PantheaCon?” Here is look at this year’s event.

PantheaCon is held in a Doubletree Hotel near the airport in San Jose, a city located in California’s Bay Area. For decades, this region has been the birthplace of and provided the nurturing soil for many influential American Pagan works and organizations. It is, therefore, not surprising that the largest such conference has grown up in this area.

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

PantheaCon began as a small, local event, but quickly expanded under skilled, experienced management and teamwork. Today, the conference fills nearly the entire hotel, including 48,000 square feet of “function space,” guest rooms and hospitality suites. There are only a few people roaming around the hotel, outside of the staff and personnel, who are not with the conference. And, these people could easily feel overwhelmed by the conference’s crowds, bewildered by the community, or just simply confused when Krampus strolls by their breakfast table.

This year’s theme was Pagan Visions of the Future: Building Pagan Safety & Social Nets. PantheaCon didn’t always have a theme, and the event is so large and diverse in its offerings that it really doesn’t necessarily need one. As organizers will say, this diversity is very calculated and scheduled. They aim to provide a healthy range of representation – a little bit of something for everyone who attends. For example, this year the events ranged from practical application workshops, such as A Witch’s Guide to Wands by Gypsey Teague, to intense panel discussions, such as Honoring or Appropriation? What is the Difference? hosted by T. Thorn Coyle. There were many rituals, such as CAYA Coven’s Wake up to Spirit, Ekklesia Antinoou’s Teenage Gods and Heroes, and Victoria Slind-Flor “Grandmother Ritual.”

There are also a significant number of hospitality suites offering their own workshops, presentations, rituals and parties. Organizations and religious groups, such as Coru Cathubodua, Church of All Worlds, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Covenant of the Goddess, The New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, The Temple of Witchcraft, provide a comfortable place for their members to relax, connect and greet visitors. In addition, there are non-group affiliated hospitality suites that serve as a safe spaces or learning centers. Such rooms included the Pagans of Color suite, Reiki Explorers, Pagans in Recovery, Pagan Scholars Den and more.

PantheaCon officially opens at noon on Friday with a ritual led by Glenn Turner and friends. After that, attendees make their way from scheduled event to event, through meals, socializing, and shopping in a packed vendor room. The bustle of activity begins at 9 am and doesn’t end until well after midnight. The entire conference comes to a close on Monday at 3:30, when Turner leads the final ritual.

Over the course of the next week, many bloggers will detail their personal experiences from PantheaCon 2015 and share their takeaways from the weekend. Social media is currently flooded with talk of PantheaCon; what happened and what didn’t. Each attendee’s experience is different because there is no way for one single person to absorb the conference as a whole.

Despite the weekend only just having ended, there are a few posts already published. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has posted several articles written throughout the weekend, all of which detail the ups and downs of eir experience as both a presenter and attendee. On Saturday, John Halstead published an inspirational post from his hotel room at 5 a.m.

Patheos Pagan Channel’s Niki Whiting and Jason Mankey have both shared their accounts of this year’s conference, including highlights from presenting and socializing. Whiting wrote, “But Pantheacon, guys. I’m still high as a kite, giddy, and ready to fall asleep on my feet after five days of friends and travel and provocation and heart-expanding discussion.” Whiting plans to expand her PantheaCon discussion over the next few weeks, as many others will.

In addition, three other writers have published PantheaCon inspired articles, but in all of these cases, the writing is on a single, very focused topic and event. These blog posts include Jonathan Korman’s “open letter” to the “mysterious writers of the PantyCon schedule” and Taylor Ellwood’s “Pantheacon, Bringing Race to the Table, and Racism.” Finally, Shauna Aura Knight also published an article on this topic. For The Pagan Activist blog, she wrote:

This weekend I was proud to be part of a panel discussing Racism within the community. Unfortunately, that panel began on a sour note as I learned that there had been something hurtful and racist written in one of the various newsletters distributed at Pantheacon.

What happened? This discussion panel was called Bringing Race to the Table and inspired by Immanion/Megalithica’s newly published book of the same name. However before the panel began, a PantheaCon volunteer informed the panelists and attendees about a problematic write-up in a satirical newsletter called PantyCon. This flyer, written and published each year by an anonymous group, is a mock-up of the convention schedule and pokes fun at the entire event and the community itself. Although originally created by PantheaCon, PantyCon was abandoned by the organizers years ago. It was, then, picked up by an anonymous group and has no affiliation, sponsorship or association with the organization.

The offending write-up in the satirical PantyCon schedule was titled: Ignoring Racism: A Workshop for White Pagans. As noted by both Korman, Ellwood and Knight, many attendees and the PantheaCon organizers felt the joke was simply not funny and that it had violated the conference’s strict anti-harassment policies. Organizers very quickly attempted to collect and remove all copies, and they also welcomed everyone to an impromptu discussion session on Monday at 11am. Detailed in Knight’s post, the Monday talk allowed for a far deeper discussion of the issues at hand.

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

After the announcement and apology was made, the schedule panel, “Bringing Race to the Table,” was able to continue successfully. However, it ended with Luna Pantera standing up and delivering an emotionally powerful speech on safe spaces, race and the pain she experienced, specifically caused by PantyCon. When she was finished, the room of attendees rose up in speechless applause and support.

Through his post, Korman is now asking for the anonymous writers to apologize. He has also welcomed others to sign their names to the letter in the comments.

As is seen from the multitude of accounts both in social media and in these blogs, PantheaCon is not always easy and not always fun. Although it can be both of those things as well as many others. While only a small percentage of the population attend the conference, the experiences are carried back into the smaller regional communities, through the travelers, blogs and social media. In this way PantheaCon becomes bigger and more influential than ever would be possible with the limitations of its actual time and space.

For those few who can attend each year, the journey to San Jose is a type of pilgrimage, as noted by Whiting. Through this pilgrimage, one can meet old and new friends; network and share experiences; learn and expand horizons; be put in uncomfortable situations and comfortable ones; find a connection through religious culture; and possibly even build an extended community.

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Business Networking for Pagans in its Infancy

Tue, 2015-02-17 07:17

UNITED STATES — As the Pagan and closely-aligned communities continue to evolve, the desire to run profitable businesses within those communities has tried to keep pace. There are no shortage of people who dream of supporting themselves solely by providing divination, healing, wedding ceremonies, magical consultations, books, jewelry, clothing, or any of a number of other products or services to people in their Polytheist, Heathen or Pagan community. But only a few can do so.

Such dreams are sometimes accompanied by plans for temples or community spaces to serve that community, but not always. Certainly it’s safe to say that anyone who lives under the Pagan umbrella, or its shadow at the very least, knows somebody who is trying or planning to support themselves without venturing beyond that umbrella’s coverage area.

The idea is not without challenges, but it’s also not without precedent. There are many insular groups which require little or no support from the outside world. For example, some of the more rural Amish communities have demonstrated that it is possible to support oneself entirely in one’s own community. But even this tightly knit community is finding it increasingly difficult.

Religious groups that have a visible self-identity, or way of advertising that identity, don’t need to be physically cut off from everyone else in order for its members to prefer to do business with one another. The practice is common among any number of ethnic and religious groups. Even membership in an organization can open economic doors: ask an Eagle Scout, Mason, or Beta Theta Pi member if his ring hasn’t provided access over the years.

But Paganism is not like a fraternity, with its secret handshakes and rings, nor is identifying as Pagan the same as identifying as Jewish. A multitude of beliefs and practices, some in direct conflict with each other, are found sporting the “Pagan” label. In addition, there are plenty of people who get lumped in who don’t consider themselves Pagan, don’t want to be called Pagan, and don’t know what to do when their co-religionists wear the word “Pagan” with pride. While similarities and shared experiences do exist, they pale in comparison to the cultural shorthand of European Jews or the look of acknowledgment between two Masons meeting for the first time.

Layered on top of the vast diversity within and near Paganism, there lies a stereotype that Pagans and money do not mix well. The perception is that Pagans don’t manage money well, or don’t believe in paying for spiritual services offered by their fellows, or they believe money is evil and to be avoided, or that the really rich Pagans are tight-fisted and not willing to plunk down cash for a cause the way a Christian might. Whether or not these stereotypes have a kernel of truth, the perception is enough to be discouraging to hopeful business owners. Starting a venture to serve a community that is believed to be poor, money-averse, and/or plain cheap can seem a fruitless goal.

Stepping into the breach is the Pagan Business Network. While it is by no means the only group attempting to help self-identified Pagans find a market for decidedly Pagan products and services, it has a strong loyalty base among its members, and it’s not difficult to see why. In addition to providing a free Pagan-specific advertising space and periodically spotlighting individual enterprises, the PBN also offers advice on many business skills, such as bookkeeping, search engine optimization, and social media marketing.

We asked members about their experiences with PBN. Author and artist Lupa captured why many similar Pagan networking groups may struggle:

I heard about PBN when it was mentioned on TWH not too long ago and joined up out of curiosity. In my experience, pagan business networking groups and forums usually devolve into “Buy my stuff!” groups pretty quickly. Since this is still a small and relatively new group people are pretty enthused about discussing relevant topics, and it’s got good momentum in that regard. If it can keep that spirit even as it grows, I foresee it being a really good resource.

I don’t do a lot with groups specifically for networking, again because it’s often just people trying to sell stuff to each other (or, in person, trade business cards they never do much with). I prefer to engage directly with my customers and clients, and they’re often really helpful in letting me know about other people, places and things that I should know about. So the most effective networking I do is generally more casual and grassroots in nature.

Jamie Magpie Mortinson, proprietor of the Etsy shop The Gilded Spork, explained the value that she finds in the site.

The Pagan Business Network has been a huge motivator for me. I see all the wonderful things everyone is working on and I can’t help but feel inspired towards my own craft. I would defiantly put an emphasis on the business end of the network. Having so many questions answered, especially those I never thought of, has been an indescribable blessing.

Others describe the sense of community found with PBN, including the support members give to each other through encouragement and social-media bumps, as well as the benefits of circulating dollars within the Pagan community. But while the PBN is given props by its members for creating a beneficial environment, and may even represent the vanguard of Pagan business acumen, the site has limits.

What’s almost entirely missing from the PBN are Pagan-owned businesses which do not provide Pagan-themed services. Imagine a world in which the only time that a Christian business owner announced their faith was while running a shop selling Bibles, vestments and stained glass. Just as there is much more to Christian life than attending church services, Pagans also must also spend money on products and services unrelated to their religious practices.

Among the twenty or so businesses that have chosen to advertise on PBN, only one is listed under “Non-Pagan Businesses.” Another similar, but older, website called the Pagan Black Book contains considerably more ads, but also only has one listing that’s decidedly secular in its appeal. This demonstrates that the failing is not within the methods of the Pagan Business Network. Rather, there’s a dearth of Pagans who choose to market their mundane businesses to others under the umbrella.

While impractical in many places, it may in fact be possible to hire a Pagan plumber or accountant, if that’s the service one needed, in a major metropolitan area. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be easy. The idea that there simply aren’t any Pagan excavators, medical doctors, roofers, tailors, or hairdressers strains credibility and, also, runs counter to this reporter’s personal experience. Even in the Twin Cities, often called “Paganistan” due to the high concentration of Pagans, there doesn’t seem to be a way to find a business owner or professional who also happens to be Pagan.

Within the sphere of Pagan-centric businesses, there still remain opportunities to develop a more robust market. Lupa expanded upon that theme, saying:

I’d like to see more review sites and media, quite honestly. As an author of pagan nonfic, a fairly niche genre, the list of places I can send review copies of my books is relatively short, especially if I actually want the publication to consider reviewing it. And the list of places that review pagan-made artwork and other products is even smaller. I’d even be happy if someone kept an *up to date* list of sites, bloggers and others that do reviews relevant to the pagan community. That being said, I ran a now-archived review site for almost a decade and I know how much work it can be to run such a site.

In a similar vein, I’d love to see more media interviews and features on pagan artists and other creatives. Usually it’s authors who get featured, occasionally musicians, and maybe an artist who illustrated a well-known tarot deck now and then. Pagan shop owners usually only get profiled during Halloween, or when someone throws a brick through their window. So more opportunities for people to find out about what’s out there would be great!

Perhaps Pagans don’t cleave to one another the way some groups do, or the multitude of traditions shoved under the umbrella are simply too unlike one another to generate the sense of community identity needed to take this next step. Maybe it’s true that there are just too many Pagans who don’t have money, don’t want money, or are scared or distrustful of money to make any sort of Pagan economy gel quite yet. Whatever the reasons, as it stands, the state of the Pagan economy is that of an infant, or perhaps a precocious toddler; somewhat immature, but eager to grow. The contributions of the Pagan Business Network ,and its like, are the contributions to that growth.

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Pagan Community Notes: Coru Cathudbodua, Dr. Karl Seigfried, Alabama Pagans and more!

Mon, 2015-02-16 07:14

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

The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood issued a statement last week on “Hospitality and Safety.” It begins, “Everyone should feel and be safe. Creating a welcoming, safe, supportive, inclusive, consent-based space for all peoples is just one of the necessary ways hospitality must manifest in today’s society so that all people everywhere may thrive in safety. It’s our responsibility to leave this world better than we inherited it through mindful, thoughtful, and heart-filled care and stewardship.”

The purpose of the statement is to provide attendees of any Coru Cathubodua sponsored event with a clear understanding of the organization’s stance on expected behavior within that space. This includes “events, conference hospitality suites and temple spaces.” The statement reads, “We have an individual and shared responsibility to guard against behaviors that demean or otherwise harm individuals.” They also added that anyone who violates this policy within one of their spaces will be asked to leave. The statement was hanging in the organization’s PantheaCon hospitality suite this past weekend.

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Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

Last week, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried challenged the accuracy and ethics behind an article written by Joseph Laylock for Religion Dispatches. After reading Laylock’s article on the Icelandic temple, Seigfried contacted the publisher with concerns of plagiarism. In a tweet, editor Evan Derkacz responded curtly, which Seigfried took as a challenge to prove his point. He did so in a blog post published Feb. 4, which included accusations of plagiarism and the misrepresentation of minority religions.

On Feb. 11, Religion Dispatches (RD) responded by editing Laylock’s article and including a note that says, “RD regrets the errors.” Some of the other changes included the adding of credits to photographs, hyperlinks and text citations. Seigfried also notes that RD removed the quotations around “faith of their own.” He considered this a win for his own work, and for Heathenry, in terms of media representation.

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On Feb. 9, marriage equality arrived in the conservative southern state of Alabama. Despite legalization, the issue has remained contentious with state judges and entire counties openly ignoring the new law. According to the Huffington Post, a federal judge had to remind any defiant counties that same-sex marriage was in fact law. Over the week more counties did begin to comply. To date 43 of 67 counties are issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Despite these hostilities, the Alabama Pagan community has not only been celebrating the legalization but openly supporting and enforcing it. Priestess Lilith Presson, a Birmingham resident who is performing marriage ceremonies in a public park, was featured in an article in Al.com. She told the reporter, “It’s about time we had marriage equality …There are a few people stomping their feet because they don’t want people to be treated equally as humans.Tough.” Similarly, in the Auburn area, Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren is doing her part. She said, “In response to some of the fear and anxiety that several couples expressed at public ceremonies, I offered the privacy of my land for officiations.” The struggle is ongoing, and we will be following this story closely as Alabama Pagans continue to work publicly to ensure their government upholds the new law.

In Other News:

  • A new survey, titled “Sons and Daughters of the Northern Tradition: A Survey for Contemporary Heathens,” is being conducted by Amsterdam University graduate student Josh Cragle. He is currently researching Germanic Paganism and asking for community help. Cragle wrote, “The survey is completely anonymous and will not be used for any malicious purposes, and is in no way meant to offend anyone. I would greatly appreciate your input. Thank you.”
  • The latest issue of Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies was just released. It includes articles written by Michelle Mueller, Kimberly D. Kirner, Morandir Armson, James R. Lewis and Dr. Gwendolyn Reece. The publication also contains a number of book reviews. As noted on the site, “The Pomegranate is the first International, peer-reviewed journal of Pagan studies. It provides a forum for papers, essays and symposia on both ancient and contemporary Pagan religious practices.”
  • The Order of Bards Ovates (OBOD) will be adding a new magazine to their publication list. The upcoming Druid Magazine “will feature articles, opinion pieces, and facilitate discussion on topics of interest to” members specifically living in the Americas. The editors are still in pre-production and are looking for contributing writers, layout and graphic designer and more. They ask anyone interested in contributing to contact them via their email at druidmagazine@druidry.org. OBOD other regionally-focused publications include Serpenstar (“Australasian & Oceanian”), Dryade (Dutch language), Il Calderone (Italian language), and the general Journal of the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids.
  • Rhyd Wildermuth and Alley Valkyrie have written and published a “Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer.” Originally created to accompany their 2015 PantheaCon presentation focused on the same subject, the 32 page primer “presents a brief overview on Capitalism, why any Pagan should make beautiful war against it, and some suggestions on how to start fighting it.” Due to its popularity, the two writers have made it publicly available for download.
  • On Feb. 10, the Limavady Borough Council agreed that they would like to see the Manannan statue replaced. However, the Council has yet to decide how to fund it. According to resident Mari Ward, operator of the Facebook fan page Bring Back Manannan mac Lir, the council will spend the next month researching funding options and presenting their findings at the next meeting. Ward wrote, “In the meantime it is heartening to hear that it may be re-installed at some point.”
  • Over the past week, Huffington Post Live has featured panel talks focusing on attitudes toward sex and sexuality within various religious cultures. On Feb. 14, the site posted “Pagans Discuss The Truth About The Role Of Sex In Their Faith.” Included on the panel was Carol Queen, Blogger Black Witch, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, Rev. Amy Blackthorn, and Author Lasara Firefox Allen. Black Witch has since written a blog post about the experience.
  • Steven Dillon, “a South Dakota based author who primarily works on researching and developing theoretical foundations for Pagan ideas,” released his first book called, A Case for Polytheism. Published by Moon Books, Dillon’s work has been described as “a thoughtful and incisive exploration of polytheist belief as a live option for modern people.”

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

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A Fertile Lupercalia to You!

Sun, 2015-02-15 06:12

Today is the festival of Lupercalia, the ancient Roman observance of fertility and the coming of spring. Not to be confused with a the overly commercial celebration held yesterday, Lupercalia is a holiday sacred to the god Faunus, and the mythical she-wolf who reared Romulus and Remus the semi-mythical founders of Rome. It was considered an important holiday of religious observance and purification.

“Representation of Lupercal” From the portico of the Piazzale dei Corporazioni in Ostia, Antica. (98-117 CE). [Public Domain]

There are many lurid accounts of what goes on during Lupercalia, some make it seem like an excuse for copulation and frivolity. One description comes from W. J. Kowalski’s Roman Calendar page.

The rites of this day included the sacrifice of a goat or a dog at the cave-grotto known as the Lupercal. With the sacrificial blood wiped across their foreheads, the youth partaking in this ceremony would then run the circumference of the Palatine hill, perhaps about 5K, tracing the traditional route of the city boundary traced by Romulus the day he founded Rome. In the process, girls who approached the runners would be brushed or splattered with the februa, thongs of sacrificial goatskin, presumably bloody, symbolically blessing them with fertility. Red is the color of the day as it is with Valentine’s Day, the day invented to replace the Lupercalia. Fertility and sexuality were likewise replaced with the puritanical pipedream of sexless Love.

Most (non-Pagan) people wouldn’t even know about Lupercalia if it were not for the constant stream of Valentine’s Day articles in the press. The favorite trend amongst news-writers and editorial columnists seems to be talking about the ancient pagan influences of a particular holiday. While this has increased awareness of Lupercalia, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a modern expert on the festival and its celebration, has pointed out that the two holidays actually have little in common.

The fertility here involved is not necessarily sexual fertility in women, though it was often thought to be such when the origins of the festival were eventually forgotten. It was fertility represented by the goat skin itself, a fertility of an agricultural and livestock sort. The young men running the race were symbolically committing themselves to the protection of their communities, thus their race around its boundaries which indicated their area of influence and the “home territory” they were protecting. The young men who were Luperci underwent a part of the ritual earlier in which the blood from the sacrificed goat and dog were mixed together, dabbed on their foreheads with a knife, and then wiped off subsequently with wool dipped in milk, signifying their transition from a lawless, wild state into a settled and civilized mode of life. The founders of Rome, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were raised by the Lupa (“she-wolf”) in the cave where this ritual took place, and in their lives after this, they were lawless hunter/raider warriors until their eventual foundation of the city. This ritual commemorates this entire situation. The success by speed and martial prowess that used to come to Romulus and Remus when they were hunter-warriors in taking anyone and everyone’s livestock–including goats!–while in that phase of their existence becomes the success of those same skills and abilities being put toward the protection of their community in their settled state. The fertility of the community’s resources, through this protection, is what is being celebrated, not necessarily (nor exclusively) the fertility of humans in reproduction.

The distinctions between Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia are also touched on by scholar Leonhard Schmitz.

“Modern attempts to relate the Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day because of the mere (approximate) date are at best very suspect. That the two occasionally get equated seems rather to be an indication of late 20c mentality, according to which a lovers’ festival must necessarily derive from the titillations of ancient fertility and flagellation by goats. More to the point, there is not the slightest shred of historical evidence for the connection.”

As for modern celebrations, Ekklesia Antinoou will be holding a public Lupercalia celebration at 3:30 today at PantheaCon in San Jose.

A very blessed and fertile Lupercalia to you all!

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Asatru Dating Service Helps Unite Heathen Singles

Sat, 2015-02-14 05:31

The optimal situation within a family, is when both parents share the same religion. This avoids conflict, confusion, misunderstandings, and all manner of problems. When two spouses have two different religions, there are differences in world-view, priorities, goals, how to raise one’s children, how to live one’s life, the seriousness of the marriage oath, and all areas of your life together… For single Heathens, meeting another Heathen that you want to marry can be difficult at this time of Reconstruction for our Folkway. There aren’t a lot of Heathens to choose from. – Temple of our Heathen Gods

Finding a suitable partner is difficult for anyone. When you’re part of a minority religion the search for a compatible partner can be even more difficult. How do can that challenge be overcomed?

You could attend regional or national festivals. Have a co-religionist set you up on a blind date. Or, if you’re a Heathen, you could join a new online dating service created just for Heathens.

Asatru Dating was launched by U.K. resident Vincent Stagg on January 5, 2015. By the end of that month, he had over 200 members signed up. The service has some basic free functions, or members can pay £4.99 per month ($7.62 US dollars) or a premium membership.

Asatru Dating is available worldwide, and has members from the U.K., U.S.A., Canada, Turkey, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Norway and other countries.The gender split on the site is about ⅓ women to ⅔ men and allows for a third gender designation – gender fluid.

Heathen religions, like many other revived religions, place a strong focus on family and worship as a family unit. They honor their ancestors and want their children to continue in their ways. If your spouse isn’t also a Heathen, that could complicate matters.

It was for this reason that Mr. Stagg says he created the site to, “…provide a place where single Asatruars could find one another.” He says the process of joining is simple. There are features to make users more comfortable, such as being able to block or report other users for inappropriate behavior.

Kameron Smith, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, has joined the dating service. He said that he’s interested in, “…the possibility of finding a committed relationship with a woman who thinks and believes similar to me.” He says while it isn’t absolutely necessary to find another Heathen to marry, it would make the relationship, and raising children, easier in the long term.

Mr. Stagg hopes that by making it easier for Heathens to find Heathen partners, this process will also contribute to reviving Asatru as the vibrant religion it once was. He said, “We may be seen as dreamers but we wish nothing more than to see temples built to the Aesir and for people to recognise what Asatru is.”

No matter if you’ve already found your true love, or loves, or you’re still looking, The Wild Hunt wishes you a very Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

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Column: North

Fri, 2015-02-13 05:05

Photo by the author.

[Warning: contains carnivorous behavior.]

The voice begins buried in the undertones of the voice before it, slowly rising through the sonic gradient until their roles switch and it becomes dominant. It is a man’s voice, recognizably Canadian, and even though we are only a few seconds into the presentation, his words already express doubt at the theme:

Let me say this, though – I don’t go for this ‘northmanship’ thing at all… I’m not one of those people who do claim that they’ve been farther north or so on, but I see it as kind of a game, this ‘northmanship’ thing. People say well, you know, ‘have you ever been up at the north pole on a dogsled trip for twenty-two days?’ and the other fella will say, ‘well, I did one for thirty days…’

But just as that voice rose from the depths of the mix, so does another, this one with more romance in its words:

I can’t conceive of anyone being in close touch with the north, whether he lived there all the time, or simply traveled there month after month and year after year – I can’t conceive of such a person being really untouched by the north…

These are two of the first voices heard in Glenn Gould’s experimental radio documentary, The Idea of North, part of his so-called “Solitude Trilogy.” In the beginning of the documentary, several voices – a woman describing her voyage north on a train, a man grousing about how ‘northmanship’ has become just another test of machismo, another man waxing poetically about the spiritual power of the northern landscape, a woman talking about walking out onto frozen lakes and feeling at one with the setting – are overlaid on one another, the music of their voices intermingling to bring at once a sense of the multitude of reactions these travelers have to the subject of the production – the concept of “north” as landscape and ethos, home and pilgrimage: the idea of “north,” whatever that might be.

Gould’s work was specifically about the north of Canada, but I found myself thinking about the subject too, especially after a member of my writing group – an Alaskan who writes about the environment and is invested in the idea of north – made a comment about one of my essays. (I believe it was the work that eventually became Njord, one of the first of my Iceland columns here at The Wild Hunt.)

“This character has that distinct Northern voice,” she said, referring to the Icelander’s clipped yet expressive demeanor. “Anyone who has been around that part of the world would know it.” It struck me that my friend’s “north” and my “north” were very different places — Alaska and Iceland – but she still observed some kindred nature between them. I suspect Glenn Gould might have seen it too.

I was thinking about this the other day while making a dish – marinated salmon and baked apples with rosemary – from Andreas Viestad’s Kitchen of Lighta Norwegian cookbook I recently bought. I’m not a “kitchen witch” by any means, nor honestly do I know what it would mean to be one[1], but I have been working through cooking as a kind of sacred practice since last summer, when I returned from Iceland. Before then, I belonged to the stereotype of young men who barely know how to boil pasta; I occasionally mustered up the will to commit an act of chili, but that was as far as I went.

But prepared food was expensive in Iceland, and I had to learn how to cook or starve (or perhaps live exclusively on hot dogs, as several of my classmates did.) I don’t mean to make this sound overly important, since, after all, cooking isn’t an extraordinary skill – but, probably because it was something I learned how to do while in Iceland, I’ve attached this special significance to it. It’s something I’ve brought back into my regular life from the heady experience of pilgrimage.

Viestad is no Heathen to the best of my knowledge, but part of what I have loved in working through his book is the connection he draws between the recipes and the landscape and history of Scandinavia. When I make this food, it too draws on the idea of north. Sometimes, especially in very tactile moments of preparation – slicing away the hard skin of a rutabaga, patting down chicken with spices, shaking the pan to make a bed of onions jump and sizzle – I find myself slipping into a light trance, meditating on the connection between food and religion.

I have never achieved a state of emptiness in my meditation, I’m afraid. My thoughts are ever-present. In my daily life, my job is to critically examine literature, texts, ideas of all sorts, and that’s just as true of my own thoughts. So it is in my meditation: what is ‘north,’ anyway, and why should you bother to romanticize it? It’s a question I have pondered often. It is easy to romanticize a place, especially a place so far away. I was raised in a city, and so I long for the wilderness; I was raised in the middle of a continent, and so I long for an island; I was raised in the middle, and so I long for the north. That doesn’t necessarily make that a worthy desire, though, and runs the risk of turning the idea – and more importantly, the people who actually inhabit that idea – into some kind of spiritual Disneyland than an actual place that exists independently of one’s desires for it.

The voices of both of the men from Glenn Gould’s documentary run through my head at once, the pessimist and the romantic, the one who puts no stock in this “northmanship” business and the one who feels no one could resist being touched by the place. I try to keep them both there, with all their static and their crosstalk, to keep myself in balance.

I am running a side of bright pink salmon under cold tap water. My station at the sink looks out through a window onto my back yard, which is bounded by a shallow creek and a barren collection of spindly trees. While the icy water flows over our skins, mine and the fish’s, the gray February sky begins to turn dark. I stop for a moment and meditate on the winter, on how the silence and the cold of the season remind me of places far away. I take the fish from under the stream and pat it down with paper towels until it dries again. The process contradicts itself: soak the fish in water, then pat it dry. I wonder why I am asked to handle the salmon this way.

This is a new recipe; I have never cooked a side of salmon before, with this method or any other. But I trust in it, in the physicality of the meat and the chill of the water and the texture of the dry paper becoming wet. I trust it because, in its small way, preparing this fish connects me to my gods; I trust it because, in its small way, this fish, too, connects me to the north.

[1] I have some explicitly Pagan cookbooks, but I never made it past the psychic pasta.

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“What do Pagans do?” An Interview with Dr. Gwendolyn Reece

Thu, 2015-02-12 04:51

WASHINGTON D.C. – While Pagans and scholars often grapple with what Pagans, Witches, and Heathens believe, Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, an Associate University Librarian and Director of Research, Teaching, and Learning for American University, is looking into what we do. Are we far more alike, under this fractious umbrella, than previously thought? The answer turns about to be a resounding yes.

Dr. Gwendolyn Reece [courtesy photo]

Dr. Reece undertook a survey of United States adult residents who self-identify as Pagan, Witch, or Heathen. She then used the results to complete one article, which was published in the latest issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. This article is titled Prevalence and Importance of Contemporary Pagan Practices. A second article, Impediments to Practice in Contemporary Paganism, is currently in the works.

The survey for the study was posted online from January 2012 to May of that same year. All respondents had to certify that they were at least 18 years of age, and were able to choose one or more than one category to self-identify. For example, a person may identify as a witch, a Wiccan, and a Buddhist. It also asked other questions, such as the year they began their current religious path and if they consider themselves a beginner or more advanced. In the end, 3318 people completed the survey

As for what the respondents do, most every person taking the survey had these practices in common: we engage in individual rituals (96%); we celebrate the seasonal rituals (95%); and we meditate (94%).

The Wild Hunt talked with Reece about the survey, the published article, and the follow-up article that she’s currently working on.

The Wild Hunt:  Why did you undertake this study? What were you looking to find out?
Gwendolyn Reece: Most mainstream religious thinking in the United States focuses its conception of religion on belief and doctrine. However, this emphasis seems to me to be an approach that is more suited to Abrahamic traditions than other religions, and I am concerned that if belief is the primary standard for determining religious rights, then adherents of those religions for which doctrine does not hold the central place are at risk of having their freedom to exercise their religion curtailed.

There is no clear doctrine in contemporary Paganism, just as there wasn’t in classical Paganism in ancient Greece, for example, but the practice of religion is crucial. I wanted to know, on a large scale, what it is that people are doing as part of their religious practice as Pagans and I wanted to know what kinds of obstacles they encounter in pursuing their practice.

I have multiple reasons for wanting to understand these two topics. First, I don’t think we really know what activities people are engaged in to make up their overall practice and how these activities relate to each other. Secondly, I don’t think we know how important the various practices are to those who perform them. The answers to both of these questions are essential if we are going to defend our rights to practice. And finally, as a Witch and a Pagan myself, I want us all to be strategic in how we spend our scarce and valued resources, including both money and time. I want us to focus our efforts on addressing obstacles that are significantly inhibiting our collective ability to practice. We have not had adequate data to inform strategy and I am hopeful that this survey will be useful as people consider projects and initiatives. Certainly, there is much more data that needs to be collected to enrich the picture, but I hope to make a worthy contribution.

TWH:  What was the most surprising or intriguing bit of information to come out of the study?
GR:  There are categories of practice that are so prevalent that almost everyone is engaged in them, although the forms and the meanings constructed may be highly variable. There are also categories of practice appearing to be specialties that are not as common but those who practice them rank them as highly important, and those specialties are independent of tradition. This gives a different potential way of viewing Paganism as communities of practice and, frankly, of organizing support structures. So, for example, structures for sharing expertise and support amongst those who do curse-breaking might be beneficial but would not be tied to a particular tradition. Communities of practice, such as those in medicine and education, for example, focus on the work, the common enterprise, and come together to further the work.  It might give us an additional and complementary way of interrelating and organizing.

TWH:  In “Prevalence and Importance of Contemporary Pagan Practices” you take look at the practices in which modern Pagans, witches, and Heathens engage. You note that there are some practices so common that it is difficult to find Pagans who don’t perform them. Does this mean Pagans could be more easily defined by what they do rather than what they believe?
GR:  Given the lack of doctrine, it would be easier to define them that way, however it would still be incomplete without some additional information, for example, that they take inspiration from pre-Christian traditions. However, I certainly think that ways of defining Pagans, Witches and Heathens without addressing practices are also grossly incorrect. Definitions are inherently challenging, especially when there are no institutional structures that can determine membership. This is why my sample is made up of anyone who self-identifies with the title “Pagan/Witch/Heathen.” If they think of themselves in that way then as far as I am concerned, they qualify.

TWH:  It seems Pagans have much in common with other religions, when it comes to religion. In what significant ways are Pagans different in their practices than the Big Three of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism?
GR: That is not something that can be answered from the data in my survey, but there are excellent qualitative studies that can address those issues. I will point out that the two most ubiquitous practices are both ritually oriented, including individual ritual. I think the ritual element may be more heavily emphasized than in some other religions.

TWH:  Performing magic was high on the list of practices, although it didn’t break the top 5 in practices. Was there a difference between different types of Pagans regarding magic? In other words, is magic more important to Witches and less important to Heathens?  And, because there are more witches taking the survey, did that raise the percent of those who practice magic?
GR: The differences were not statistically significant. I, actually, did not necessarily expect that performing magick would be as high as it is, but expectations are often colored by the experiences of the perceiver. When I became a Pagan in the 1980s, the Witches I knew were all hardcore occultists. It seemed to me as though after the increasing in popularity that occurred in the 1990’s that magick was declining in importance within Paganism. However, in this sample, it is evident that magick continues to be an important aspect to most Pagans in their practice.

TWH:  Over 65% said they attend festivals. Does this surprise you? Do you think the number is high? Why?
GR:  Because Pagans are a hidden population and Paganism is not institutionally based, there is no way to generate a sample frame from which you can draw a probability sample. This survey was conducted using a type of snowball sampling, in which people forwarded it to people they knew, shared it on Facebook, and it was covered in a number of blogs, so the sample is drawn from people who are, in some way, plugged into the greater community, so this may be an instance of sample bias. There are no strong relationships with any of the other characteristics in the sample that would lead to the conclusion that this is inflated. However, realistically, if the American Religious Identification Survey estimate for Pagans and Wiccans is accurate, it is clear that the ticket-take doesn’t add up. I have no way of knowing for certain if the problem is my data or the methodology used to generate the estimate for the number of Pagans in the country.

TWH:  The numbers for volunteering, social justice or activism were also very high. And yet there aren’t many Pagan organizations where people can volunteer or get involved in such activism. Does this look like a need that is going unmet for modern Pagans, a place for volunteering and activism within Paganism?
GR: It is pretty clear that if people are self-reporting accurately, most of them who are doing volunteer work, activism, and social justice work as a part of their practice are conducting these activities outside of Paganism, but understanding their work as an expression of their religion. I know I, for example, support a number of environmental organizations as a part of my religious practice. Given our small numbers, it is not clear whether Pagans could agree upon a limited enough range of topics and approaches to build viable Pagan charities and activist organizations. As I will discuss in my next article, lack of opportunities for meaningful volunteer work was identified as a barrier for a substantial number of Pagans. Again, whether or not specifically Pagan charities would meet this need would require further study.

TWH:  In one section of the second article Impediments to Practice in Contemporary Paganism,”  you cover the obstacles experienced by Pagans as a result of the dominant culture in the US. What was one result that was out of the ordinary or something people may not consider?
GR: I was surprised by both the relative importance and number of people who identified that the dominant culture’s educational system was in conflict with their beliefs and practices.

TWH:  What about obstacles for Pagans within Paganism?
GR:  At least among my sample, there are clearly not enough appropriate and accessible groups to meet the needs of the current Pagan population. This is indicated by how many people identified the lack of a group to join as a barrier, the importance that they gave to this as an obstacle and, especially, the percentage of solitaries who indicate that this is a significant hindrance to their practice. Most Pagan groups operate on a home church model, which means they are never going to get particularly large and someone looking for a group often requires an invitation. There are many challenges with this model, and it’s clear that in terms of sheer numbers, there are Pagans who want to belong to groups that cannot find an appropriate and accessible one.

TWH:  What else will you be covering in the next article?
GR:  The other thing I’m currently analyzing and am concerned about is the long-term viability of the volunteer leader/clergy model that is currently the norm within Paganism. There are a host of serious challenges related to the fact that leaders and clergy, with only a small handful of exceptions, must rely on income from another source.

*   *   *


Reece’s new article is titled “Impediments to Practice in Contemporary Paganism” and it is uses the same data set. She plans to submit it to The Pomegranate by the end of March, where it will be reviewed for publication.

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Odinist Inmate Claims Religious Freedom Violations

Wed, 2015-02-11 09:34

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – On the morning Feb. 10, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court heard arguments in the case of Dennis Walker v. Matthew Cates. Walker is an inmate at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. His claim, which was originally filed in 2011, is that prison administrators violated his religious rights by forcing him to have a “non-Aryan” cellmate.

As noted in the case text from a 2011 court document, Walker “is an Aryan Christian/Odinist, ethnically white without gang affiliation.” In 2008, he was assigned a “non-Aryan Muslim” cellmate. When he resisted, Walker was disciplined. After further complaints in 2009, the administration reclassified him to be celled with only his own race. But that action was later “rescinded” per the 2008 California Integrated House Program, which prohibits segregation.

As a result, Walker, together with prisoner Robert Glover, filed a complaint against the state. The court asked the men to file their complaints separately. They did, and in July 2011, Glover’s case was dismissed. However, according to one source, it is still hung up in the system somewhere. However, Walker continued on with new arguments being heard yesterday in a motion from the defendants to dismiss the case.

According to Walker’s assigned attorney Elliot Wong, he claims that he was “denied the setting under which he performs a quintessential religious exercise, namely a solitary religious ritual, in which he prays to his gods, and subsequently being punished for refusing to yield to his religious beliefs. The religious ritual in this case is referred to as a spiritual circle of Odinist Warding, which is a ritual in which he prays to his gods and communicates with his gods. According to his sincerely held religious beliefs, he draws and activates this circle within his cell and he believes that this circle may be open or breached, by what he believes is spiritual pollution that emanates from individuals of another race.”

Almost immediately, the judges move to the heart of the issue. Is Walker’s request to be celled with only white inmates based on a “sincerely held religious belief” or simply based on racism? As the judge notes, the original filings did not include any mention of this ritual or other specific religious requirements. Wong did admit that these details were left out, but could be included in a new amendment.

The original filing states in part:

the application of the IHP violates plaintiff’s right to the free exercise of his religion protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, his Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process, and his Fifth Amendment right to due process. (FAC at 5-6).Plaintiff seeks damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

As the attending judges note, there was no mention of the ritual. In these original documents, Walker did not address, in concrete terms, the “substantial burden” placed on his free exercise of religion by the presence of “alien spiritual pollution,” as noted in yesterday’s hearing.

After some discussion, Judge Sidney Thomas said, “I gather from the answers to the questions that [Walker] is not willing to amend his complaint to say that he can perform the ritual outside his cell and perform be housed with a non-white inmate.” Wong answered, “I believe that would be correct.”

Rev. Patrick McCollum, who has worked closely with the California prison system for years, said, “In this case, the inmate can still practice his religion in a number of venues besides his cell even if he had an inmate of color in his cell, so his religious rights are not being violated, at least not under the spirit of the law. Also, there is a long history of non-white participation in Nordic religions which has a been around for over a thousand years, and there are Odinist groups in a number of prisons that already welcome people of color, so the racial argument is shaky to begin with. That is not to say that the inmate’s beliefs are not sincere, it’s just that they don’t meet the standard required by law.”

Judge Thomas said, “We are not going to segregate our prisons.” However, this was only a hearing; no final decision was made and no further dates given.

While the specifics of the Walker v. Cates case are focused on race, the situation goes to the heart of a very recent dialog on the boundaries of religious freedom within a defined social structure. It is struggle that is currently plaguing courts and lawmakers. At what point does society substantially burden religious freedom? And, at what point does religious freedom substantially burden society?

In Georgia, Rep. Sam Teasley just proposed to a new RFRA to protect the “rights of people of faith.” In opposition to this bill, a county commissioner  was quoted as saying, “If, for example, a Wiccan believes their religion does not allow them to render any payment to any entity but God, do they have to pay their taxes?” While the tax comment is outlandish, there are many related issues, such as the recent debate over the allowing inmates to have facial hair, when required by their religion.

In terms of Walker v. Cates case, Ryan Smith, co-Founder of Heathens United Against Racism, noted, “The real key point made in this case by the defendant is that the plaintiff has to show these desires are motivated by genuine religious belief and not some other motive.” The plaintiff does have the burden of proof. As noted by the judges in the hearing, Walker has not provided any such proof. In addition, as detailed in the 2011 case text, “[Walker] failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing the instant action recommdations [sic] noted.” In other words, if his concerns were purely based on the practice of religious rites, he had other options.”

McCollum explained, “In current practice in correctional facilities, only a small amount of time is allocated to religious practices for all faiths. This is based on past court rulings that religion must be accommodated by the least restrictive means, while at the same time balancing the manageable operation of the institution. If the Odinist is given a short period of worship time of equal duration to that of other faiths that would be meeting the standard set by law and not violating his rights.”

But Smith doesn’t believe that Walker’s claims are religious at all. He said,”[It is] definitely something but it isn’t religion from where I sit and its history is not religious in nature. I don’t think this case being dismissed would be a problem for the vast majority of Pagan inmates as what the plaintiff is asking for here is not justified by religion but by bigotry and based on what I understand of the issue is seeking an exemption that has never been applied in a religious context.”

McCollum added that he doesn’t believe that the Odinist can win this case. He said, “If the court were to rule in the inmate’s favor to segregate him from other races or faiths for religious reasons, they would also have to segregate the Jews, some Christian traditions, and a number of other faith groups under the same arguments, as many teach in their doctrines or practices, separation by faith or ethnicity also.”

As Judge Thomas said, “We can’t do that.”

Conversations are on-going; for this particular situation and others. Politicians and individuals are continually challenging the boundaries of our rights to practice religion or not. At the same time, the courts wrestle with the test used to determine a “sincerely held” religious belief and how it should be upheld, ignored or negotiated within the established laws and regulations of society.

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The Spiritual Path of Wicca with Vivianne Crowley

Tue, 2015-02-10 08:25

NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS –Climbing trees. Gregorian chants. Black velvet clothes. These are elements of author and priestess Vivianne Crowley’s personal spiritual journey, as told to a room packed with attendees at A Feast of Lights on Jan. 31. Weaving her own experiences and those she has observed together with cards from the Rider-Waite tarot deck, she posited a pattern of spiritual development that many modern Pagans and polytheists might find familiar.

[Photo Credit: Carmel Sastre, CC/Flickr]

“I was the only child of older parents,” she explained. “We had no electricity at first, no radio or television, so I played for hours on my own each day.” Much of that play was out in the woods, and early her conception of “people” included trees and animals as well as her parents. It was through the trees, she said, that she found Paganism, although it would be many years before she connected her beliefs with that word.

One tree in particular got the young Crowley’s attention in quite a literal way. “I like climbing trees,” she said, in particular, “one that was split by lightning, but still growing.” Her foot could fit in the cleft created by that lightning bolt, but a shift in the wind would close the opening and hold her fast. Rather than panicking, it was an opportunity for her to learn patience and trust. She “let the tree decide” when to free her foot, leaving her to spend considerable time with it. Eventually, she recalled, “I let my consciousness merge with the tree, so that I felt my blood was green, and we communed without shared language.”

Vivianne Crowley

Those, together with many other experiences had before she was old enough for school, were formative in creating her own path toward Wicca, and she believes that is not unusual. “Childhood experiences are often the beginning of learning to connect the self and other,” she said. Her own experiences, which included spontaneous lucid dreaming and psychic images from her mother asking her what she wanted for lunch, molded her worldview before she had language to articulate it. That caused a bit of conflict when school began. At that time in England, the curriculum included “religious studies which were really Christian studies, and included frightening stories about a god who killed people.”

“Our reality and what we’re told don’t quite match,” she said of herself and other people who started on a Pagan-like path in their youth. “Animals don’t have souls? I didn’t believe that. Animal as deity made more sense to me. I saw The Ten Commandments, and cheered for the golden calf.” In addition to an awareness of nature spirits and a then-radical alternative concept of deity, Crowley said that by the time she was eight years old, she could get out of playing sports by making it rain. This is something she attributes to the altered state of consciousness that she learned communing with that tree. Her classmates were already calling her a “witch.”

Around that time, Crowley was baptized a Roman Catholic, which excused her from “religious studies” because they were considered a violation of the tenets of Catholic doctrine. Instead, Crowley was exposed to Latin mass at a local monastery, complete with Gregorian chants. As a result, “for the first time I got a sense of that other state [of consciousness] while in a building.” She continued to identify as a witch as well as a Catholic, and by the time she was eleven she had formed a coven, which lasted only “until the headmistress found out.”

It wasn’t until she was 14 years old, and the 1960s were unfolding, that Crowley learned a name for what she was feeling. “I saw witches on TV, and they called themselves Wiccans — it was a revelation to me!” Soon thereafter her family moved to London and, after a number of false starts, she was able to discover and be initiated by a coven.

Vivianne Crowley

“I wore a lot of black velvet clothes, and was attracted to stepping out of the ordinary,” she said. This entire portion of her journey she likened to the Fool card, which usually depicts the titular character setting off alone. “Something protects us at this point. I couldn’t find Wiccans at first, so I tried Buddhists, and mediums, and avoided some pitfalls” before finally meeting “kind witches.” She was clear that she wasn’t claiming that the young are always safe from harm on this quest, only that mistakes borne of that ignorance seem to be softened or minimized to some extent.

While the seeker is under the mantle of the Fool, Crowley likened the spiritual awakening to the Star. Talent in esoteric disciplines blossoms. Interests in incense, tarot, astrology, healing, herbalism, crystals, and a variety of such activities and paraphernalia are sparked by the emerging sensitivity a newcomer to the Pagan path experience.

“The first spells we try often succeed,” she said. As mastery of these ideas and powers grows, an initiate enters into the spiritual adolescence. Crowley compares this to the Sun and Magician cards, something she jokingly called “second-degree-itis” in her own Wiccan path. It’s a period characterized by “youthful arrogance and enthusiasm,” she said. And, it is often a time when one begins to attract students. “The first time you are asked for initiation, it is humbling,” she said, “and ego-inflating.”

Power is illusion, however, and in time the Sun card is replaced by the Moon, the Magician with the Devil. This is a stage many might find familiar, with relationships going wrong and a desire to “own” one’s group often gaining strength. “We realize that there’s no perfect people,” she said, and “we can be angry that our leaders are not perfect.” For small-group traditions, such as Wicca and other practices that fall under the shadow of the Pagan umbrella, she frames the problem in alchemical terms, saying that the challenge is to “accept the lead as well as the gold. People fall out because of relationships, not the path.”

From Rider-Waite Deck [Photo Credit: Julia Mariani / CC lic. Flickr]

In the following stage, Crowley said the Devil and Death come to the forefront as best representatives of the experience. “Which tradition is best?” she asked. Some people decide that their own traditions are the one true way, even looking down on other choices or dismissing them “rather than realizing that the path is for the person, just one part of the jigsaw puzzle, not the be-all.” She continued, saying “Some people just drop out” when faced with these obstacles. And if interpersonal challenges aren’t enough, “Sometimes there comes a time when the gods do not speak.”

That is the time of the Hanged Man and the Wheel of Fortune, which Crowley said is characterized by uncertainty and often when “change falls out of one’s pockets.” New ideas don’t fit preconceived notions, leading one’s world to be turned upside-down. “It forces difficult questions,” she said. It is a critical juncture when those, who have long been on a particular path, decide it’s the wrong one.

However, it may be too soon to make that judgment call. Eventually one may “reach a point of understanding,” a point represented by the Hermit and High Priestess, strength and mystery. “You can have your own gods,” Crowley explained, and they are not threatened nor blocked by the gods of others.

When looking back, Crowley said, a person should be able to recognize that they are not the same person who began journey. It is important, she said, to “send our younger selves love and care, and messages of encouragement,” in order to complete the more difficult parts of that journey as “our future selves guide us.”

She explained that such guidance can help one negotiate what to do if one’s student surpass the teacher. This can happen if one’s role is that of a point of strength, rather than a leading light. Such points are more replenishing than ritual in some cases.

“The point of the journey is to bring things back,” she said in closing. “We must give to move things forward, and we all have something to teach.” In that way, the partial knowledge still held about Paganisms of old can, like a phoenix, rise from the ashes in a new form, one that is relevant and vital for the spiritual, environmental, and political challenges of today.

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Pagan Community Notes: Manannan mac Lir, Solar Cross Temple, Druid College UK and more

Mon, 2015-02-09 09:06

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

According to the Londonderry Sentinel, “the Limavady Borough Council is considering” replacing the missing Manannan statue with one that “would be made of mild steel and would stand two-to-three times as tall as the original.” The paper reports that Development Services Officer Valerie Richmond reported, “In all probability, despite extensive searches it is unlikely that the sculpture will be returned. Council’s views are sought on how they would wish to progress.”

Speaking to the Derry Journal, councilman Gerry Mullin said that he would ” ‘absolutely’ be supporting a proposal to replace the iconic statue of Manannán Mac Lir.” But he added that he doesn’t believe it needs to be 2-3x the size. The issue will be discussed tomorrow at a Feb.10 Council Meeting.

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The Solar Cross Temple, based in California, has announced that it no longer is seeking to create an urban temple space. As the Board explained, the economic downturn “dried up” the fundraising efforts for several years. As a result, the Board put the entire project on hold. After several of years of waiting and watching, they have concluded that the community “doesn’t really want to support a physical structure.”

However, as written in the announcement, “[Their] work continues, and temple members study and honor the Gods in their own homes, and gather together monthly in backyards and rented spaces.” Any money raised in previous years will either be returned to the original donors, if requested, or will be given to the New Alexandrian Library and used for special Solar Cross projects.

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On Feb. 6, the Druid College, originally founded in New York, announced the opening of its UK branch. The new location will be led by Joanna van der Hoeven and Robin Herne. Together with its sister site in Maine (U.S.) the Druid College will host a “three-year, intensive study” for those interested in taking their spiritual studies further.

In a press release, organizers said, “We saw a need for a programme for people who desire to go deeper, for those who wish to be in service, to fill the role of priest for their community and the land they dwell in.” The college accepts people of “all walks and intent” into their first year studies program. The Druid College is not accredited and offers no degree program.

In Other News

  • Green Egg has announced that it is now under new management and will no longer be publishing in a print format. In a recent press release, new editor Hollis Taylor and
    Ariel Monserrat said, “Hollis plans to modernize Green Egg bringing the magazine into the new millenium. Green Egg will not be publishing printed issues, as in the past, but will have a large team of volunteer writers who will be contributing to carrying on the legacy of Green Egg.” Once up and running, they hope to publish an article every day.
  • Documentary filmmaker Sam Carroll has produced a 66 minute film that tells Wiccan Priestess Darla Wynne‘s story. The film, titled Bedevil: Never Back Down, details the horrific challenges that Wynne faced after moving from Alaska to a small town in South Carolina, and how she eventually overcame her fear and stood up to the city council. Bedevil is entered in the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and will be screened on Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 9 p.m.

  • Shekhinah Mountainwater’s popular book, Ariadne’s Thread: A Workbook of Goddess Magic, is now available in digital format for the Kindle. This release is part of a larger project to capture and share “Shekhinah’s wonderful legacy … music, writings, creations of any kind.” The organizers of this project are asking anyone who might have such things to contact them at shekhinahmemories@gmail.com.
  • The Pagan Educational Network has published the Feb 2015 edition of its newsletter “Water.” In its pages, PEN makes a call for books to assist in its Prison chaplaincy work. While the organization welcomes any book donations, it is specifically looking for copies of Raymond Buckland’s The Complete Book of Witchcraft and Christopher Penzack’s The Sons of the Goddess.
  • Patheos has started a new blog series focusing on art and religion. Christine Hoff Kraemer, Pagan Channel editor, explained further, “In this interfaith series, writers explore how visual art may persuade, proselytize, or reveals truth. Pagan contributors include visionary painter Paul B. Rucker, Zen Pagan Tom Swiss, and mixed media artist Aaminah Shakur.”
  • PantheaCon, the largest such conference in the U.S., begins this Friday, Feb. 13 and runs through Monday, Feb. 16 in San Jose, California.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

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Art, Religion and the “Gods of Suburbia”

Sun, 2015-02-08 07:02

In 2014, artist and pop surrealist Dina Goldstein finished her third large-scale project called “Gods of Suburbia.” The series is comprised of 11 photographs that depict gods, goddesses, prophets and other figures of religious import within a thoroughly unexpected composition. Each photograph challenges the dominant visual and narrative concept of deity by tearing down religious stagecraft and putting up something completely mundane. In other words, Goldstein takes these sacred or celebrated figures and drops them into the framework of contemporary Western society.

Dina Goldstein [Photo Credit: Robert Kenny, 2011, CC. lic. via Wikimedia]

“‘Gods of Suburbia’ is a visual analysis of religious faith within the context of modern forces of technology, science and secularism. The series plays with narrative and religious iconography in order to communicate how organized belief has become twisted within a global framework driven by consumerism and greed. The project challenges the viewer – religious or secular – to embark on a journey of self-reflection as they contemplate the relevance of dogmata in modernity.” – Dina Goldstein, Gods of Suburbia

Goldstein’s concept, as illustrated in a “making of” video, is not to mock religion, but rather to illustrate its precarious place within modern society. For example, in “Ganesha,” Goldstein presents the Hindu God sitting alone on a bench in an elementary school play yard. He is being bullied by two young boys, while other children play in the background. Using Ganesh as a bullied minor is particularly poignant due to his marked physical difference and his role as a representative of a minority culture and religion. In this piece, the Hindu God symbolically embodies the outcast child.

While religious figures have been subjects for the arts since before antiquity, not everyone is comfortable with visual representations of the divine. For many, there are limits and rules. Some are personal and some are created by religious law.

Within his own personal practice, Hermeticist Jonathan Korman demonstrates this difference. He said, “In the context of modern Pagan culture: I am an enthusiast for visual representations of the gods as a matter both of magickal technique and of cultural taste, and on my altar I keep a cast marble statue of Hermes to honor him as my personal patron deity. On the other hand, being an ethnically Jewish modern Pagan, I honor the god of the Torah יהוה as my personal tribal deity, so my altar also has an empty space for that god, whom I honor by not speaking the name or making any visual representation.”

The issue becomes more complex when the depiction of a deity is presented outside of what might be considered a “proper” proscenium of culture, reverence and religiosity. This brings us back to Goldstein’s work. The Israeli-born, Jewish artist has created images of gods that are not of her own belief, and that lack expected, reverent iconography and religious narratives. The photographs are purely cultural commentary and not meant for worship purposes.

Ryan Smith, co-founder of HUAR, uses visual representation of the gods within his own Heathen practice and also enjoys such expressions outside of a religious framework. But he said, [Non-religious] uses should also show respect to the cultures they came from … I only take issue if it’s being used to reinforce negative stereotypes held regarding marginalized groups. Punching up is always good, punching down not so much.”

Not surprisingly, Goldstein has been criticized for “punching down.” In a press release, Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism expressed concern that Goldstein’s work “trivializ[ed] the highly revered deities of Hinduism, Ganesh and Lakshmi … Artists should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects.”

After looking at Goldstein’s “Voodoo Queen” composition, Patheos writer Lilith Dorsey is only left with questions. She said, “The accompanying website says the images are supposed to inspire ‘self-reflection,’ it’s a little naive to think this isn’t part of most devoted people’s daily practice. The image itself leaves me reflecting instead on Goldstein herself, why did she choose to represent my religion with what looks like phantom ghost children and are those chicken feet on the ceiling? It’s a stunning image visually, but I’m not sure exactly why she felt moved to take it in that direction.”

Additionally, due to current global politics, Goldstein herself is unsure how or whether to include “Muhammad the Prophet” in the upcoming March show. In a January interview, she said, “I figured out a way to [depict Muhammed] in a way that adhered to their laws.” As she notes, his face is not shown, and he has a supernatural glow.

But Goldstein knows her art is provocative. She told the Vancouver paper, “Of course, people are going to get insulted, but that’s what happens when you start discussing religion because no matter what you say about it, it’s an extension of magical thinking.”

Pagan artist Valerie Herron enjoys Goldstein’s work, adding “Religion is supposed to evolve with social change, and I think this is one of [her] assertions with this series. It’s nothing very avant garde, putting ancient deities in the context of modern life is a concept well familiar to contemporary Polytheists. In addition, good art is supposed to create dialogue through pathos, catharsis or humor. While I can see the potential for some folks of the faiths represented in Goldstein’s series to decry a flippant representation of their deity/deities, I think [her] work has always been about starting uncomfortable conversations through visual juxtaposition.”

Like Goldstein, Herron also depicts the divine in her art. However, in her case, the imagery is within or close to her own belief structure, and often used as devotional images. She said, “At this point, I find it impossible to keep my creative practice and my spiritual practice separate.” In describing the process of visually capturing a deity, Herron said, “As soon as I begin to envision the specific visage of a god, I begin a conversation with them. I don’t really know how else to explain it, especially since I don’t consider myself a hard theist, but the God’s input becomes crucial to the piece.”

Valerie Herron’s Isis [Reprinted with permission]

From inception to presentation, “Gods in Suburbia” does not have the same inspiration, purpose or goal as Herron’s work. Despite that difference, Goldstein’s photographs do evoke strong reactions. Rather than spiritual reverence, these responses are, as Goldstein suggests, meant to “inspire insight into the human condition.”

In this exploration of the human condition, she did not omit Paganism. The photograph titled “Horned God and Moon Goddess” depicts a nude, pregnant woman atop a white horse and a horned male figure resting within a stereotypical suburban backyard. The accompanying text reads, in part, “Wicca is a modern witchcraft religion that draws upon a diverse set of ancient pagan motifs and ritual practice … [Wicca] is something we associate with people who are on the fringe of society, which is why my Wiccan god and goddess are living outside the mainstream, along the periphery of Suburbia.”

All interpretive meaning is subjective, and the narrative understanding of this particular image can evoke other ideas. For example, the photo recalls the reality of religious ritual practice in home environments or notes society’s need to control natural space. It also suggests that Witchcraft, “associated with people who are on the fringe,” does exist in what is largely considered normative cultural space.

These readings correspond to Goldstein’s assertion that the series explores religion’s existence in contemporary society – one that has become increasingly secular, increasingly separate from the natural world, increasingly consumer-focused and increasingly distance from a depth of meaning. In a number of her photographs the religious figures appear lost, forlorn, overwhelmed, disillusioned and simply out of place. The prophet Muhammad, for example, is ignored by a classroom of children absorbed in social media and texting.

In the photographs titled “Buddha” and “Elohim,” Goldstein tackles the uncomfortable intersection of commercialism and religion. “Buddha” is ignored as blindfolded shoppers purchase overpriced groceries in a Whole Foods market. In “Elohim,” a forlorn “God” sits with a Santa suit in the background. As she notes, he’s forced to “take odd jobs to survive.” Both photographs depict the sacrifice of meaning to the glory of consumerism.

As an extension of that concept, these two photographs, along with others, indirectly suggest concerns raised by the commercialized depictions of the divine, such as in movies, television shows or comic books. Writer Karl Siegfried of the Norse Mythology Blog said, “I’m old enough to be able to tell the difference between entertainment and religion. Marvel’s Thor has built up its own internal mythology over more than half of a century … I think that’s great, just as I think Tolkien’s Middle-earth mythos is fantastic. It doesn’t mean that I blót to Frodo of the Nine Fingers.”

Korman agreed saying that he’s “not above” enjoying representations of divinity outside of religious practice. He added, “Nathan Fillion’s Hermes in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters may not be much like my Hermes, but it still tickles me, and if it helps get a few kids saying his name, that suits me just fine.”

Dorsey, expressed some reservations, saying “My fellow Vodou practitioners and myself were quite upset at a commercial clothing chain using a veve as a window display to gain sales and most certainly attention. The American Horror Story television depiction of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau left a bad taste in my everything, but I still have high hopes for the Marie Laveau comic book character. This is because girls today so strongly need a positive female superhero with kickass pagan powers, not that she has been written that positively yet, but I can dream.”

Although humanity has a long history of visually depicting gods and other sacred figures for many purposes, there clearly are limits of tolerance, some personal and others created by culture and religious law.

As for Goldstein, her “Gods in Suburbia” series is certainly provocative and pushes hard on many of those boundaries. The use of photography alone mirrors her message. As a relatively newer technological art form, the camera symbolizes modernity’s own pressure on religious practice, and demonstrates the hyper reality of our over-dependence on images. It turns this modern visual technology, and by association the observer, into a voyeur, who violates the privacy of the spiritual world – a world that isn’t necessarily comfortable existing in that way, in being viewed.

Whether you like her work or whether you’re offended by it, Goldstein ultimately leaves you with many questions about religion’s fit within contemporary society.

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Column: The Fires of Brighid

Sat, 2015-02-07 06:49

Hearthfire (Photo: R. Wildermuth)

I celebrated Imbolc before a hearth-fire with a Christian.

Not a ‘pure’ Christian, mind you. One learns in Druidry that purity isn’t something that can exist within Nature, let alone human belief. What’s purity anyway, except a violent stripping away of flesh and bone to get to the very ‘pure’ and perfect core of existence?

And by then, all you’ve got is a pile of shredded skin and muscle and hair and no life left.

The search for ‘purity’ is what gave us the Puritans and the Iconoclasts, riotous men and women shattering ancient statues and art-work to remove every last vestige of Pagan idolatry from the churches of Europe. It’s the same ‘purity’ which torched the Library of Alexandria, what led the Taliban to destroy ancient statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan. It’s even our modern fetish for purity that’s helped create antibiotic-resistance strains of bacteria through anti-bacterial soaps.

We built this hearth-fire, this impure Christian and I, on Imbolc. He’s not a ‘pure’ Christian, as I said. He reads Tarot, has seen ghosts. Cavorted with psychics in New Orleans, has a tattoo of the triskelion on his arm. Comes from a line of Scottish matriarchs, who inarguably possessed a ‘kenning’ sharper than all my recent training has been able to hone.  But…he believes Jesus is pretty awesome, and he worships the Christian’s god. But doesn’t blink when I tell him of mine.

We built this fire on Imbolc, or what some Christians call “Candlemas.” He knew nothing of Brighid. And, as I’ve sworn to be one of her Bards, I told him of her, or the hers, the many Brighids and Brigs and Brides and Brigites and then of St. Brigid of Kildare, that saint whose stories change most quickly according to the teller. A Christian convert or a hidden Druidess, a Catholic cover-up or a Pagan survival. Women tending ancient flames to an even more ancient goddess, or nuns helping remember the Light of Christ. The stories blend into each other so messily that the ‘pure’ Brigit can’t be found by stripping back her tales without throwing away the wrong stuff.

But we’re both in front of a fire – a fire built to her and a fire built for warmth, a fire for poetry and a fire for light – stumbling over the meanings of our beliefs as the flames consume the wood in her hearth.

I watched his face in that flickering light, and I listened to his laughter as he spoke of what fire means to him, just as I laughed as I spoke of what her fire means to me. Between us, fire, illuminating belief.

We told each other stories, recited others’ words. It was he who quoted Tom Robbins’ discussion of fire from Still Life With Woodpecker:

“Three of the four elements are shared by all creatures, but fire was a gift to humans alone. Smoking cigarettes is as intimate as we can become with fire without immediate excruciation. Every smoker is an embodiment of Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and bringing it on back home. We smoke to capture the power of the sun, to pacify Hell, to identify with the primordial spark, to feed on them arrow of the volcano. It’s not the tobacco we’re after but the fire. When we smoke, we are performing a version of the fire dance, a ritual as ancient as lightning.”

“I need a cigarette, and then need to tell you a story,” I said, “and not just because of that quote.”

II.

“Mom’s talking to herself again.”

I’m still haunted by the voice of my little sister saying those words. She’d come to me, panicked, looking for reassurance, and I’d try to calm her.

Our mother is developmentally disabled. ‘Mentally retarded’ is what they used to call people with her intellectual capacities. Now we have more clinical and less loaded (and also less descriptive) terms for her condition.

Most kids probably experience a time when they’re certain that they’re smarter than their parents. Adolescents certainly do, and they’re usually wrong. Unfortunately for my sisters and I, it was true, and it was much more unfortunate when our mother became schizophrenic.

No one diagnosed her until several years after her ‘break.’ Neither my sisters nor I knew anything of mental illness, and the only community we had–a sprawling and very wealthy mega-church in southeast Florida–refused to believe us when we suggested she was a little ‘crazy.’

“No, your mother’s a wonderful person and ‘really kind.’ ” they’d tell us whenever we sought help. “You kids are so fortunate to have such a sweet and generous woman as a mother.”

She was generous, yes. And that was the problem. She’d sign over her entire paycheck to the church every week. I remember something else the elder of my two sisters would say. “There’s no food. I’m really hungry.” Those are the worst words ever, especially when you’re 14 years old and the only one around to fix that problem.

III.

Graffiti on church entrance (Photo by R. Wildermuth)

The First Baptist Church of Naples, Florida had just gotten a slick new pastor, and we were all excited.

I remember when Hayes Wicker came—the church we’d attended for a few years was suddenly becoming a different place, full of’ ‘promise.’ Things were gonna change, we were told. Our Church was destined for greatness.

Soon after he arrived, a new fund-raiser was announced called “Reclaiming the Land.” There was a painted wooden box up by the altar named the ‘war chest,’ and people were encouraged to fill it with money, jewelry, stock-notes and other valuables all toward the building of a new, bigger, and better church. Special music and performances, lots of quotes from Exodus, and an ever-increasing emotional furor whipped up the congregation to give until ‘it hurt.’

My mother gave until we hurt. She’d had her first schizophrenic break a year before that. She’d started talking to herself, to angels and demons and God, unable to differentiate between them. We’d be in her car as she drove, sitting in terror as she shouted back to invisible voices commanding her to drive my sisters and I off a bridge into the sea.

Despite her condition, she was able to hold on to a job for awhile. She was the really kind and sweet woman behind the bakery counter at a grocery store, the one who’d offer endless samples of cakes and cookies to anyone who came by.  And she was eventually fired for passing out too many samples, entire cakes and boxes of cookies, because she didn’t quite understand how Capitalism was supposed to work.

She also didn’t understand that signing over entire paychecks to a mega-church with a $30,000/week budget meant that her children would have no food. But who could blame her, really? Other church members openly praised her for her selflessness and berated me when I once tried to stop her from giving all of her money ‘to God.’

Soon after, a deacon of the church lectured me on how I should ‘man up’ and get a job to support my family.

“You gotta be a man of God,” he’d told me. “Stop expecting your mother to take care of you like you’re a welfare black.”

The church was full of whites, most of them from money, all of them Republican, and this was what being Christian was about. Capitalism and Christianity were so intertwined that when pastor Hayes Wicker violated IRS regulations by telling the congregation during a presidential election that “anyone who voted for Clinton was voting for their wallets not for God,” no one reported it

So I got a job just after turning 14, first at a Christian bookstore where my mother regularly bounced checks. Later, I worked at an ice-cream shop managed by a woman from our church. I started paying rent, buying groceries for myself and my family, but also started missing school—190 days in all. Others skipped school to do drugs; I skipped because I was exhausted from work and taking care of a household.

All this to help a group of rich white men build a bigger church. And we were told never to apply for food stamps, because that was socialist and anti-Christian.

Tree on sacred hill (Photo by R. Wildermuth)

IV.

I felt a bit bad telling this to my companion by the Imbolc fire.

None of what happened to my family was his fault, nor even the fault of the particular god he worships. There’s no verse in the sacred writing of any religion which demands a mentally-ill, developmentally-disabled woman give all of her money to a god and never once apply for government assistance.

He was understandably angry, though, but not at me. We both know the Bible quite well. I surprised him by reciting the first chapter of the Gospel of John from memory (but then added ‘even the devil can quote scripture,’ so he didn’t get the wrong impression).

We both know there’s nothing in the mythic lore of the desert god (he’d call him something else, certainly, and it’d be capitalized) lauding Capitalism, America, and all the other cringe-worthy propaganda one hears from the pulpits of some Christian preachers. Despite this, the sick alliance between American Christianity and exploitation is undeniable.

But there are several Christianities now, just as there have always been. Historians, theologians, and most of us often divide and classify these Christianities according to schisms and organizational structures, but there’s another axis of belief that we often ignore.

Consider. When Christianity came to the British Isles, for instance, it did not destroy the indigenous religions of the others who lived alongside them. It wasn’t until certain political powers arose, donning the religious trappings and divine justifications of the Monolithic Other that strife, oppression, and murder followed the priests of the One-God.

Religion isn’t always just religion—it’s also a mode of governance. Christian Rome slaughtered Druids and Heathens in the name of their God, yes, but they also killed at the behest of their Empire. When Rome fell, the political structures of the Empire remained. Later, the inheritors of Roman power also inherited the political and bureaucratic structures of parish and bishopric. Priests and monks were not just devotees of a Creator-God, but political emissaries and advisers and sometimes rulers themselves.

With the imperialist enforcement of a monotheistic religion upon the peoples of Europe came the foundations of modern mono-culture, the annihilation of difference to make governance easier.

One can argue that this wasn’t ‘pure’ Christianity, but what then is pure Christianity?

Like Paganism, like Nature, like humans, there is likely no such thing. The true essence of monotheistic belief cannot be gotten at without stripping from its structures so much that it is no longer recognizable, reductio ad absurdum, perhaps, or reductio ad nihil. If anything, Monotheism is reductionism in itself—starting from the henotheistic tendencies of early Semitic peoples, worshiping one god among others (‘no other gods before me’) until deciding that one god was the Only God. From many, to few, to one.

This reduction led not only to a new sort of religion, but to a new form of Empire. The Roman Empire struggled to rule over many disparate peoples, and its answer was the syncretic absorbtion of other gods into its own (Interpretatio Romana). Monotheism, however, offered an easier route–the annihilation of all other gods as false and replacement with a True (One-God). And, this has been the model for all Western empires since, whether that one-god be the God of the Christians or the God of the Capitalist Market.

Reducing the myriad beliefs, cultures, traditions and gods into one easily-governed People is no simple task, nor really is annihilation. People keep being born; keep encountering gods and spirits; keep creating new traditions or recovering those that were lost. Pagan beliefs never went away, despite the damming of holy wells and cutting down of sacred trees, but neither have the many heresies the early Roman Church attempted to stamp out by edict or fire. Only one system of control seems thus far to have succeeded where so many political seizures of religion failed: Capitalism.

V.

American Christianity has an awful relationship with those of other religious beliefs, whether they were the Animistic and Nature-Revering religions of the First Nations, the Catholics of Spanish and French tradition, or even the aberrant heretics within its own colonies. This has not changed one bit, even if the ‘enemy’ has changed–America’s new ‘barbarian’ is the Muslim and their imagined ‘existential threat’ to the even more imaginary ‘free-world.’

Christianity, particularly, provided the theological and philosophical justifications for the destruction of many so-called enemies. European Paganisms were conquered only a little less quickly than other indigenous and varied beliefs through Christianity but not because of it. Without ideological and cultural control, no Empire can last very long, and Christianity just happened to be quite well positioned to fulfill this role.

Too many Pagans miss this point when we speak of Monotheism: the destruction of indigenous beliefs may have been ‘in the name’ of the Christian God, but it was actually done for the purpose of profit and power. The gold and silver stripped from South and Central Americas, the precious woods and ores (and slaves) hauled from Africa, and the tea, textiles, and spices of Asia were not just the bonus-prizes garnered from colonization by Christian empires—they were the very point. Catholic and Protestant clerics merely helped assuage the guilt of the many who needed convincing that killing others for king and commerce was not a horrible thing.

Any Christian can rightly protest that Imperialism, Racism, and slaughter are hardly in the spirit of The Christ, and they’d be correct. But such things don’t matter when power is involved, and there’s a frightful thing which happens when you add wealth into the mix.

“Cleansing of the Temple” (painter unknown, c 1570) [Public Domain]

VI.

That Southern Baptist church whose new building was partially funded by a schizophrenic, mentally-disabled single mother was affiliated strongly with American Republican and Libertarian political causes. Oliver North (of the Iran-Contra affair) was a featured speaker, as was Charles Colson (of Watergate) and many other right-wing, pro-Capitalist speakers. Evening sermons often included ‘business meetings’ where people spoke about the threats of gays, socialists, and welfare-moms to God’s plan for America.

The night that I remember best was when a women came to talk about the godlessness of San Francisco. At one of these talks, I learned why one should never go to San Francisco.

The hospitals are full of men with punctured lungs and ruptured livers,” she’d told us, solemnly. “They’re all gay men, and it is because they’ve turned away from God’s plan for procreation.”

She went on to speak of a peculiar depravity, common among the Sodomites of California. Because gay men could not experience ‘God’s plan for procreation,’ they tried to find other ways to experience pleasure, and the most dangerous of these involved ‘squeezing the liver’ through the digestive tract. “Because they don’t have sex the way God intended us to,’ she’d explained to the gathered devoted, “they reach their arms into each other’s rectums so they can crush each other’s lungs and pinch their sex-partner’s livers to mimic sexual orgasm.”

I was 14 at the time, gay but closeted, and I was terrified despite the anatomical absurdity of her sermon. And I avoided San Francisco for the next two decades, just in case.

Her tale of fear was hardly the only propaganda I heard. We were urged to oppose voter registration at DMV’s (‘Motor-Voter laws’), since this would ‘increase the amount of godless people abusing the electoral process.‘ We were urged to support the first invasion of Iraq, to ‘get out the vote’ against Clinton, and to push hard in local politics against inroads of ‘godless’ socialism such as welfare and food-assistance to immigrants.

Of course, not all Christian churches are like this, though the influence of evangelical churches on American politics has always been profound. But we should be cautious, again—who’s influencing whom?

Because for as many Christians who advocate unbridled Capitalism, rally for foreign invasions, and oppose worker-protections and union activities, there are also those churches who have protected illegal immigrants from deportation, who support picket lines, who protest environmental damage, and who advocate an end to the Capitalist system. In places where Capitalism is doing the most damage, Liberation Theology has a strong hold over priests, pastors, and believers alike. Priests gunned down protecting their people from machine-gun wielding landlords in South America, nuns laying themselves in front of bulldozers and tanks, and solidarity marches of workers holding crosses are all still common occurrences in South America.

Consider even the current leader of the Catholic Church, once a steady and dependable bastion of pro-Capitalist, pro-authoritarian government. Pope Francis is hardly a revolutionary, of course, but one cannot help but think he’s doing certainly more on the side of St. Francis and Dorothy Day (the founder of the Catholic Workers) than on the side of the Capitalist

VII.

Really, though–how do religions become lapdogs of Empire?

Likely, the same way anyone does. For some, investment in the systems of power means privileged positions and the ‘ear of the king.’ Like the courtiers of medieval monarchists, being in the halls of power grants access to that power, even if it merely ‘trickles down’ or falls from authority’s table like scraps for dogs.

Governments are hardly naïve in their use of the faithful and the faithless alike. In the U.S., Christian leaders lend moral and ideological support to each new war against another Middle-Eastern country, but so, too, have anti-religionists like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. ‘Men of Science’ standing alongside ‘Men of God’ like Pat Robertston and Jerry Falwell, together proclaiming Islam to be the greatest threat to civilization, urging America to claim its moral right and duty to conquer and subjugate these primitive, violent societies.

And between Government and the Religious are the Wealthy, playing each other deftly, wisely investing in both sides. So much of American Christianity defends Capitalism that I suspect many have confused the ‘invisible hand of the market’ with the Holy Spirit; add to this both Democrat and Republican politicians refusing to restrain the rich, and one can’t help but think this new Capitalist trinity is actually One God united in its war against the poor.

And the poor are the multitude, and they are everywhere. And who stands for them?

VIII.

There’s a story I didn’t tell my companion that night of Imbolc, before Brighid’s fire. I guess I’m telling him now, as I’m telling all of you. It’s not a story, but a dream, a vision I can never shake from the time I first met the gods.

We were standing in a light rain, standing in that Other light.

The crowd was so large before me, anticipating, thronging, so many of them I could not make them all out. And they were all different, people from every nations, drest foreign, beautifully, gaily, but not in high fashion or decked in wealth. Rather, we were the poor of the worlds.

I remember the colors of their garb, bright and vivid, carnivals of hued scarves and robes and cloaks. Some were drab, yes, but as intoxicating to the sight as the gaily-dyed costumes of the others.

Many had skin like mine, but we were a scant portion of all these peoples gathered before the gates, waiting to enter. Most were darker, skin colored like deer hide, or like coffee with cream, or sepia, or sunlight against tree-bark, or rich humus.

I didn’t know where we were going.

I watched the procession pass through great doors before us, opening into a veneer of the modern, impenetrable entrances to inscrutable skyscrapers. Each entered after answering a question, a pass-word, it seemed, or a pass-name.

I worried. I didn’t know what was needed as I approached the gate. I watched the beautiful myriad walk through those gates with wonder and sadness—I did not think I could join them.

“You look worried,” said a man beside me, his face kind, curious, calm. “What is it?”

“How do I get in?” I asked, glad of his offer to help. “I don’t know the code.”

He smiled back at me as a light spring rain began to fall around us. “Oh,” he said, his voice kind. “It’s Brighid.” He paused, appearing to scry through the drops falling from the sky. “See? You can tell by the way the rain is falling, and what’s in-between it.”

I then said her name, entered, and saw we were in a temple far larger than all the earth, full of the poor and faithful of many peoples, many races, and many religions.

Were they all there for Brighid? I don’t think so. But I was there because of her.

Dublin, Ireland (photo by R. Wildermuth)

IX.

I’m an Anarchist, Anti-Capitalist believer in many gods, and I’ve more allies than I’ll ever know what to do with.

It’s easy to see the similarities of my beliefs to those of the Haitian revolutionaries who asked Erzulie’s blessing against their French masters, or to the anarchist Catholic Workers who fought exploitation of the poor by the rich, or to my many anarchist Atheist friends who are fighting Capitalists, not because their gods demand it, but because they refuse to live in a world where rich get more power than the poor. In the resistance of Buddhist monks fighting Western colonization and the First Nations rituals against the destruction of their peoples, I see the same faith to gods of the earth and the forests instead of gods of kings and commerce.

The reason for this, I think, is that the monolithic force of Capitalism is the worst thing that’s ever happened to the earth or her inhabitants. In the martyrdom of a Catholic priest protecting his people from foreign land-grabs I see the same Love as the First Nation’s tribal leader fasting until a government stops exploiting her people. In her Love and his, I see the resistance of South American indigenous groups against American investment, and in their Love I see Pagan radicals in Oakland risking arrest and potential death to protect vulnerable people from brutal police repression.

And in their Love I see the opposite of the First Baptist Church of Naples, spreading fear, racism and Capitalism in the name of ‘their’ god. I see the opposite of the hateful justifications of Imperialism and Capitalism in the writings of Atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Pinker.

And, too, in their Love I see the opposite of the Pagans eager to support government repression of minorities, foreign invasions of Muslims, those eager to justify their own pursuit of wealth and fame, the opposite of the Pagan who refuses to question the suffering of others and the destruction of the world.

I do not believe there is a one-god, or a one-goddess. I also know for certain there is more than no-god, or no-goddess. Gods and Goddesses are many, perhaps as many as the peoples who have known them.

But the gods that I worship, to whom I’ve been called and to whom I’ve answered, seemed to also be inside that temple in my dream, because they are the gods and goddess of peoples, not of governments or of Capitalism. And I think there were other gods there too, gods of others whom I shall never know.

And so it is easy, then, to recognize the gods of others, even when they call him The One God, or the all-god, and even the no-gods. How they speak of them matters much less than what they do in their names.

X.

Within that hearth on Imbolc were the fires of Brighid, and also the fires of others. The Christian next to me perhaps only saw the flames themselves, and what those flames have meant to humans, the light and warmth and will ‘stolen’ for us from the gods. But I think I saw something else on his face, burning in his heart as the wood burned in that hearth.

Sometimes fire destroys; sometimes we need to burn it all down. Barricades and dumpsters burning in alleys and streets as police approach. Parliaments and banks also burn when they are of no use to us.

And just as often, fire creates. It is not surprising there’s a Brighid of poetry and a Brighid of the forge and a Brighid of the hostel. There are hearth-fire waiting for any who need it.

And I think, in both kinds of flames, of destruction and creation, are the flames of Love.

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