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Cracks in the Cauldron: Covenant of the Goddess Wrestles with its Role

Tue, 2015-01-27 09:48

SAN BERNARDINO –In the forty years since Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) was formed, its members have been on the front lines of battles for equal rights as prison chaplains, as veterans, as parents, and as people. The organization has helped to define the Wiccan and wider Pagan communities, has weathered the Satanic panics and the infamous Helms amendment, which threatened to remove tax-exempt status from “occult” churches, and endured the more recent attacks launched by such luminaries as George W. Bush and Bob Barr.

However, in recent months, this venerable collective of covens and solitary practitioners has faced an internal upheaval, which has since become quite public, and could be one of its most difficult struggles to date. The spark which ignited the firestorm was the very current ignition point: race.

Early in December, Pagan and polytheist individuals and groups issued statements of support and calls to action in response to the treatment of people of color in American society. As the Wild Hunt coverage at the time noted, its own columnist Crystal Blanton was the catalyst of this show of solidarity. CoG was among the organizations that released a statement, which began with this paragraph:

We, the members of the Covenant, acknowledge and share the concern that many in our world and within our Pagan communities have voiced regarding inequalities in justice. We find that all life is sacred, and as such, all lives matter.

To say the statement fell flat is an understatement. Critics quickly noted that it avoided any reference to specific events, such as the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri or Eric Garner in New York City. The statement replaced the viral phrase “black lives matter” with the more inclusive “all lives matter,” which was interpreted by a number of Facebook observers to be code for white privilege.

In that social media venue, comments ranged from people decrying the “whitewashing” of systemic racism to others who took great umbrage at the idea that broadening the scope was inappropriate. A similar debate was also taking place, out of public eye, on one of the Covenant’s internal email lists. These lists were not made available for review due to the expectation of privacy by members.

Tiffani Thomas Parker [Courtesy Photo]

In reaction to that first statement, several members resigned from the organization in protest. CoG Member Tiffany Thomas Parker, who was not one of those to leave, offered her own perspective. She provided further insight into what led to such a strong pushback:

First of all, I will say that I am happy of some of the things that CoG has done for Pagans as a whole. But with that said, I was very disappointed with them with the statement they originally gave.

My first initial reaction was to reread what I read. Then came disappointment and anger. I was thinking to myself “Of all people, Pagans as a whole should know what it is like to be stereotyped and singled out. They should be behind the movement to ensure that ANYONE doesn’t get targeted like this.”

They should have consulted, asked, or even suggested to get opinions from those of color (regardless of race) to get a better understanding of what was going on to get a better perspective. It may not have happened to those who are the head of the organization, but it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. To simply ignore an issue such as this was a slap in the face.

Furthermore, I do think that if they had acknowledged the issue, it would have shown the Pagans of Color that they have our back and it would have given them a light of hope that they felt supported and could have joined CoG. CoG isn’t as diverse as I would have liked it to be, and it would have been a HUGE opportunity and they blew it.

Yvonne C. Conway-Williams, an assistant to CoG’s National Board, also felt the statement came up short, and said so on the internal CoG list. However, Conway-Williams understands the limitations of the organization’s consensus-driven process, saying that “. . . there was a sense of urgency, which is why I think they did not send it to a committee and instead chose to deal with it as a national board.”  She added, “My stance has long been that we are not truly hearing from a vast majority of CoG members on the private elists. One person is required to be on our announcements list per member coven. Other members of a coven might wish to subscribe… Even fewer people are signed up for our discussion and debate elist. What this means is there’s only a select few who are having say and input on these issues. By doing so, I personally do not feel all members are being heard. I think it would be great if more members were involved at a deeper level with national activities such as this statement.”

Public Information Officer Gordon Stone echoed Conway-Williams’ concerns about how representative an e-list can be, saying, “I think it is also important to mention that not every member of CoG is on the e-lists. This is why CoG does not set organizational policy through email discussion.”

Outside of the organization, the board’s statement was also attacked as generic and meaningless. Devotional polytheist Caer said:

The only way we can win this fight is to actively engage in it. We must commit. As above, so below. As without, so within. We can’t just say the words and make the gestures and leave them both hanging there, unsupported. That won’t accomplish anything, brings us no closer to our goals. We have to acknowledge the problem, clearly state our intent, and we have to move from problem to goal by actively doing something.

Longtime CoG member Marybeth Pythia Witt, also known as Lady Pythia, commented more recently about that initial statement, saying in part, “We also learned too late that the all lives matter hashtag is used by a conservative anti-abortion group, ergo, the original post was incorrect for more than one reason.”

Lady Pythia during a Wiccan event in which she did media outreach for CoG [Photo Provided by Lady Pythia and published originally in the Independence-Ledger of Kentucky, © August 15, 1987]

The discussion appears to have continued on, largely unabated on the Covenant’s internal debate & discussion e-list. Members of the national board recognized that a different approach was needed to address these widespread concerns. According to First Officer Kasha, after the initial statement was published,

We immediately received feedback from individuals inside and outside of the organization and began to reconsider the content of the statement and its impact on our members. On December 11, we issued an apology, published on our internal announcement list, to those members who were hurt by this statement, explaining that the original statement was created in an effort to express the opinion of our diverse membership, and we realized we had missed the mark.

At that time we solicited members for a committee to draft a new statement to be released internally and then potentially approved at our National Meeting in August. In the following weeks, Gordon Stone, our Public Information Officer, and a committee of volunteers developed the new statement.

That revised statement was released in draft form on Jan. 20 with a note of explanation about the process for formal adoption. It stated, “In order to allow the membership of CoG a chance to have input on this new statement, it was released internally on our organization’s e-mail list last week. The membership will have the opportunity to review, revise, and adopt it as a statement made by the entire organization at the annual meeting in August 2015.”

Peter Dybing

However, any fanfare that might have accompanied this new draft was deafened by a blog post written by former First Officer Peter Dybing and published the day before. Writing under the title An Indictment of Covenant of the Goddess, Racism Exposed, Dybing lambasted his fellow members, asserting that his comments on the private list had been censored as part of a wider effort to silence dissent over these issues. He further claims that one of the individuals guiding the discussion was known to use racist epithets in casual conversation.

Let me be clear, there are many great people in CoG that I have worked with over the years. What this post represents is an indictment of the power structures that at all costs will engage in ensuring that the organization does not change. When truth is spoken to power the result is oppression. It is evident that those engaging in these behaviors have little insight into their actions, yet it remains that their actions are sheltering racism within the organization.

Not surprisingly, considerable outcry resulted with some taking to social media to applaud Dybing’s words, and others claiming he had breached CoG’s code of ethics. The two points of that code which appear to speak most closely to that questions are, “All persons associated with this Covenant shall respect the traditional secrecy of our religion” and “Members of this Covenant should ever keep in mind the underlying unity of our religion as well as the diversity of its manifestations.” Dybing maintains he has not violated ethical standards because he has not named anyone.

Whether Dybing was “censored” or “moderated” is also a matter of internal debate. The organization does have a policy covering e-list discussions, and Kasha said, “We did apply our policy uniformly. Many Members were warned about inappropriate posts and, rather than removing members from the list, those not complying with the Net Coordinator’s (Netco’s) requests for civility were placed on moderated status. Posts that continued to violate the Netco’s request for civility were not put through to the list. After 2 or 3 days, when calmer conversation and cooler heads prevailed, the moderation of all subscribers was lifted and the discussion list was reopened to courteous discussion of all topics.” The policy actually allows the Netco to remove offenders from the list entirely, pending an appeal to the national board, but that allegedly did not occur.

CoG member Daryl Fuller, a participant in those e-discussions, publicly published a point-by-point refutation of Dybing’s post, calling much of it “half-truth and rumor-mongering.” In that response, Fuller took particular exception to the allegations being tossed around about another unnamed member. He also admits to being moderated himself, adding “No one is currently being censored on any COG email list.”

When asked about this controversy, NPIO Stone said, “I would respectfully request that your readers bear in mind that these two CoG Members were speaking as individuals rather than as official representatives of the organization. CoG also has ethical standards outlined in our bylaws, and all members are expected to know and adhere to these standards.  I encourage your readers to make a decision about what CoG stands for by speaking with several of our Members, or contacting the nearest local council for more information.”

The second statement, a draft, has also received considerable Facebook attention, and again, reactions were mixed. Comments range from gratitude to expressions that it doesn’t go far enough to complaints that saying that black lives matter discounts the struggles of other groups.

As part of a lengthier commentary, Cat Chapin-Bishop observed, “I am in no way surprised to hear statements from CoG members that seem to deny and minimize the reality of racism today. From the ‘Irish people were discriminated against, too,’ to ‘I don’t see color,’ the whole range of well-meaning white cluelessness is on display. But I’m not surprised or shocked by that, because I have come to understand, since the events in Ferguson this past summer, just how out of touch I, and other white people, truly have become on this subject.”

Penny Novak, a former Second Officer of CoG, acknowledged that there is surely racism within the ranks.  She said that “any organization without a political filter on it has racists in it.” However, she characterized Dybing’s behavior on the e-list as “really off the wall” and “very obnoxious.” What he failed to understand, Novak thought, was that many older people with racially-biased world views are unaware of that fact. “Give them a break, Peter, they don’t even know!” she said. While some of her contemporaries haven’t exactly kept up with the times, she didn’t believe that his “kicking and screaming” approach was likely to change hearts and minds. She explained further:

I’ve been thinking about the many ways in which language around the issue of race has changed during my lifetime. You may feel it’s obvious but it really isn’t. It isn’t even obvious between the generations of the Black Community.  Believe me, when I was young calling a person Black was disrespectful …  Those of us who were white and didn’t want to further the blot of what had been done to those of African-descent in our communities were very particular about the language we used…  

I’m not excusing the use of disrespectful language but when social use of language changes rapidly from generation to generation there will be bleed-over and sometimes what was socially acceptable positions become anathema. If you’re not keeping up, if you don’t keep an eye on the young folks you’ll miss when things start switching …You need to be very careful and you need to step lightly. 

More significantly, Novak thinks that, while questions over race caused this controversy, the issues run far deeper, saying that CoG “has basically been ruined by a few people who want power, and it’s ridiculous because CoG is an organization without power.” The decisions lie with local councils and member covens, she explained, and the national board has little sway. “Look what happens when they try to make a statement like big organizations do,” she said, “complete wimpdom.”

It still remains to be seen what kind of statement this organization will finally release on the subject and how it will move forward with tackling the accusations of racial inequality and systemic racism within the organization. Consensus must be achieved, and that won’t happen until the national meeting in August. That’s what Novak means when she says that CoG has no power.

This is a thread picked up by Kirk White, a former co-first officer who wonders about the covenant’s future. He said:

Rev. Kirk White

Part of the underlying problem is that CoG is adrift in its purpose and seeking to regain its relevance. Its foundational purpose was “to increase cooperation among Witches and to secure for Witches and covens the legal protection enjoyed by members of other religions.” Back in 1975 it was hard to connect with other Witches, get ordained, and we were still establishing our rights as a valid, legal religion. It was easy to rally the members around clearly Witch issues but now these battles are mostly won, ordination is laughably easy and we have the internet. So there is a struggle in CoG over how to restore relevance and attract younger members. The few younger members we do have and the more liberal members want CoG to be more activist to regain relevance.

But without clear Witch issues, the political polarization of our secular world is invading CoG’s inner processes over which causes to support. Environmental issues, women’s rights, gun rights, and racial inequality have all been split into “liberal” or “conservative” views by today’s media and CoG’s membership, being politically diverse finds itself unable to find consensus — which is how CoG operates — on just about anything. Thus, issues like #blacklivesmatter — originally seen as a “liberal” cause — are almost impossible to agree on quickly, if ever. This is frustrating to those more activist members, and combined with some bad blood left over from previous conflicts, has led to the recent resignations and bitter fighting within some of the more vocal parts of CoG.

Others see hope for the organization’s future. NPIO Stone said:

CoG as an organization is strengthened by the dialogue of our diverse membership. Sometimes that dialogue is easy and sometimes it is challenging; however, in my view, it is always educational. All Board members maintain an open door policy, and members are welcome to email the Board directly when they have concerns or questions. The appropriate Board Member will reply, usually in a relatively short time frame. Keeping that dialogue going is one of the best ways for CoG to insure that the organization will continue for many years to come.

While describing the process of examining issues such as social justice and the path to membership, First Officer Kasha said, “Clearly, the needs of CoG’s membership have evolved over the past 40 years, and our go forward plan is to continue to assess our needs, and ultimately, potentially revise our mission …In a consensus driven organization like CoG, this can take a long time, but our committed membership has been through several tides of change and will weather this one as well, being stronger for the work.”

“CoG is ready to evolve,” said Lady Pythia. “We’re not Witches for nothing.”

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Pagan Community Notes: The Pagan History Project, Interfaith in South Carolina, Red Grail Spiritual Retreat Center and more

Mon, 2015-01-26 08:17

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! 

On Jan. 21, the Pagan History Project announced its official launch on its public blog site. Organizers wrote, “It was a long time coming, with several false starts, usually hindered by finances and time.” Despite delays, they have pushed forward, and the project officially opened just in time for the 11th Conference for Current Pagan Studies.

Director Murtagh anDoile explained further, “Last year, 2014, was a record year for deaths in the wide Community. And, while this site’s purpose is not solely to commemorate those who have passed, it just brings forth the need to record our history, now, before we get too far from our primary sources. All Pagans are storytellers …Small moments and ideas that, planted in the fertile soil of the Modern Pagan movement, have gone on to change what was once a set of small spiritual communities into a growing social force.”  Over time, the organizers will share details on how to get involved and how to share personal stories.

Holli S. Emore

For the third consecutive year, Holli Emore, director of Cherry Hill Seminary, has attended an interfaith celebration and meeting held by South Carolina’s Governor. Emore is the Pagan representative for the Interfaith Partners of South Carolina (IPSC), a state-wide advocacy group promoting interfaith dialog. Three years ago, Governor Nikki Haley declared January “South Carolina Interfaith Harmony Month.” The IPSC has been helping to facilitate actions or events surrounding that declaration.

As part of this work, Emore was invited to speak about Paganism during a panel called “How The Earth Speaks To Us,” held at the McKissick Museum of the University of South Carolina. Held on January 22, she was joined by representatives from other religions including “Judaism, Native American spirituality, Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity.” She said, “It’s impossible to overstate how important it is for Pagans to get out there in their own communities … When people from other faiths get to know us, they gain a respect for our beliefs and practices.”

A Nebraska-based Wiccan organization has set out to establish a new physical spiritual center. In December, the Order of the Red Grail began raising funds to build The Red Grail Spiritual Retreat Center. The initial plan, as it notes, is to purchase 5 or more acres “of woodland to define this sacred space.” They also hope to include a barn that can be used for “rituals, classes, feasts, weddings, and other community functions.”

Red Grail organizers believe that their current community-based work needs to evolve to meet contemporary needs. They noted that, over the past two decades, members have been performing hospital and prison ministry, volunteerism, community outreach education, military support and donating time and money to local charities. They added,This [current] work is established and stable. However, progressing into the 21st century requires taking the next step – bridging differences by strengthening spiritual community among life-affirming pagans and non-pagans alike.”

In Other News

  • Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press, announced the release of a new anthology Bringing Race to the Table: Exploring Racism in the Pagan Community. Published on January 23, this latest anthology was edited by Taylor Ellwood, Brandy Williams and Crystal Blanton. It includes essays by “Xochiquetzal Duit Odinsdottir, T. Thorn Coyle, Crystal Blanton, Clio Ajana, Erick Dupree, Amy Hale, Lilith Dorsey, Lasara Firefox Allen and many others.”
  • Bloggers and Authors Sannion and Galina Krasskova announced that they will not be hosting another Polytheist Leadership Conference (PLC) in 2016 as previously announced. In a blog post on The House of Vines, they stated that their original objectives had been met as seen through the success of past conferences. They explained, “There are things our community needs even more than [the PLC], and that is where we will be putting our attention in 2015.”
  • Speaking of Polytheist conferences, the new Many Gods West conference opens its early registration on Feb. 1. The registration continues through July in tiered format.The conference will be held in Olympia, Washington from July 31 – Aug. 2.
  • Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone are “revamping” their website, including new information, writings and appearance dates. Included on the site are a number of rare slides taken by Stewart Farrar “for use on the cover of the LP Legend of the Witches.” The photos include images of Alex and Maxine Sanders, initiation rites, cord magic and more.
  • For those interested in the work done at the American Academy of Religions’ yearly meeting, M. Macha Nightmare is posting detailed reports and stories based on her experience at this year’s event. Along with short personal notes and observations, she shares some of the information learned in various panels such as one called “Writers and Artists as Agents of Cultural Change” or “The Shifting Boundaries of the Secular, Spiritual, and Religious” At this time, there are only three published articles; however, she has promised more as time allows.
  • Modern Druidry takes center stage in a mainstream news article for The University Times, the student-run newspaper of Trinity College Dublin. Written by a non-Pagan writer, the lengthy article describes the writer’s journey exploring modern Druid culture and community in Ireland. She ends by saying, “Although not converted, I enjoyed the experience. If nothing else the Celtic symbols reminded me of a world that once existed and of which we are all descended from … Perhaps as a country we don’t need to look abroad for ways to progress but inwardly, at small groups like this who seek to revive something from our Pagan past that has long been lost.”

That’s it for now. Have a great day.

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American Witch Prepares for Pilgrimage to the Homeland of the Orisha

Sun, 2015-01-25 06:54

For many people, Nigeria is a country only known through stories and news reports. Most recently, the country has taken center stage as Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group, continues its violent campaign in the North Eastern portion of the country. In 2014, Nigeria faced a health crisis during one of the worst Ebola outbreaks ever recorded. The country is also home to the famous Pentecostal preacher Lady Apostle Helen Ukpabio, and others like her, who regular speak out against Witchcraft.

Lou Florez

But there is another side to the West African nation – a vibrant, indigenous spirituality and history that calls out to many Americans. Next month, Lou Florez, an American witch, rootworker, priest and Olorisha, is headed to Nigeria to experience that side firsthand.

As a student of IFA, the religion of the Yoruba culture, Florez told The Wild Hunt that he’s looking forward to “to encountering the Orisha in their homeland.”  He said:

“Earth-centered traditions engage and conceptualize the divine in unique ways, for us divinity is not exterior to our environment but emerges from and is encountered as the physical landscape itself.  In Orisha traditions there is divinity named Oshun who is known as the mother of the sweet waters, and specifically of the Oshun River in Osogbo, Nigeria. … To go to her river is to meet her face to face and be changed by the encounter. Imagine the ability to meet and engage several of these Orisha and teachings all in one journey.”

Florez was chosen to take this trip by the communities of practitioners involved. He described the experience as a “whirlwind.” Through friend and fellow student Shantell Herndon (Iyanifa OyaDara), Florez met a community of people with whom he now studies. Both the U.S.- based group and its sister group in Nigeria had been discussing sponsoring a pilgrimage for some of their American students. The planning itself took three years, and names were finally selected in the fall 2014.

Florez said, “During the last round of divinations my name came up and I was extended the invitation. I think that part of why this is so important for me at this time is that these types of opportunities aren’t give often or repeatedly.”

Like his friend and fellow traveler Herndon, Florez has launched a fundraising campaign to cover the costs of the trip. The majority of the money paid goes directly back to the Nigerian host community. He sees this as an integral part of the journey. He said, “It is about honoring, supporting, and giving back through my labor, service, and capital to communities who have continued this liberation work despite the oppressions and genocides that continue to happen. The money I am raising goes directly to these communities and makes a difference in their lives.” Most of the funds will be given to the host temple, which will then be distributed to the local people.

After leaving the U.S., Florez will arrive in Lagos where he will remain in the hotel for one night. The following morning he will be taken to the initiation site and, as he said, “be in Igbodu (initiation grove) for 10 to 14 days depending on divination.” He added, “The ritual part of this journey is to solidify the connection between the feminine divine and myself through specific ceremonies and initiations which are meant to seed this wisdom within me. I will also undergo the initiation rites of the high priesthood and study with priestesses in medicinal and magical herbalism.”

Florez and another celebrant making offerings and prayers [Courtesy Photo]

Making such a journey to Nigeria is not entirely unusual. In Florez’ case, the emphais is on religious learning. However, religious instruction is not the only reason Americans, in particular, have made the pilgrimage to Nigeria. In an article for Grio.com, Nigerian journalist Chika Oduah describes a journey in which African-Americans find solace in reconnecting to their ancestral heritage. In such cases, she writes that the travelers “underwent a ritual cleansing from what they call the stigma of slavery.”

This process, which Oduah describes as spiritual as well as cultural, is something Florez, himself, also touched upon. He said, “I was called to these [religious] paths for my own spiritual healing and upliftment and to bring light to all the transgenerational trauma and oppression held within my body. The vestiges and scars of colonialism, racism, and oppression are not only experienced individually but transmitted in our DNA to the next generation. Part of indigenous practice has been to identify and release those narratives in order to move toward liberation.”

While Nigeria may hold the key to spiritual tradition and transformation, travelers must also remain mindful that it is still a modern land with modern problems and a modern culture – one that might not fully embrace their spiritual undertaking. For example, Christianity and Islam are the dominant religions in the region. While many Americans may be turning to the African Tradition Religions, Nigerians are holding tight to these monotheistic worldviews. Only a small percentage of the population practices IFA, or similar traditions. In many cases, those that do are considered “backward” by modern Nigerian standards.

Additionally, there is the very public and strong national anti-gay sentiment in the country. In 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan signed an anti-same-sex marriage bill into law. The bill was backed unanimously by the legislature and by popular sentiment. In a March 2014 article, Oduah explained that, on this subject, Nigerians are “united under a banner of patriotism and what many perceive as a fight against Western imperialism.”

Florez with friend Yeshe Rabbit pouring libation and honoring the sweet waters at Lake Merritt [Courtesy Photo]

Florez isn’t worried, saying that he “implicitly trusts the teachers and communities that I will be staying with.” He added that he has “been very clear, transparent, genuine, and honest that I am a gay man.”

However, in preparation, he has been taking the necessary medical precautions. He said, “I’m in the process of getting all my immunizations in order such as Typhoid, Hep A & B, Yellow Fever, Rabies, to name a few. In terms of Ebola, Nigeria was deemed free of new cases … I will also be staying in pocketed communities and not in general public in terms of transmission. Other than these precautions and usual travel items such as a water purifier, I have no idea what I am walking into.”

Despite any obstacles, Florez is determined to make this trip, one that he knows will benefit his own spiritual journey as well as his community of practitioners and students. He said, “the biggest thing that I’m expecting is having to surrender control both physically and spiritual to the process and to these communities.”

Outside of the initiations and education, Florez hopes to have a bit of leisure time for “personal projects such as reading, writing, listening to music, or watching fuzzy Nigerian soap operas.” He plans to visit the local market, meet artisans and others in the community. He hopes to bring back some “Orisha statues, herbs and sacred tools.” He said, “My curiosity is peaked and I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of things that we don’t have access to here in the states.”

While in Nigeria, Florez will be tweeting and updating his public social media for anyone curious about his experiences. His Twitter handle is @louflorez and he has a public Facebook page and blog.

When he returns, he is planning to share what he has learned and his experiences through readings, workshops, conversations, teachings and lectures. He said, “This trip enables me to help open the door a little bit further for future generations to touch into the history, magic, and birth place of the Orishas.”

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Column: Magic vs. Religion?

Fri, 2015-01-23 11:05

Are magic(k) and religion contrary? One of the ongoing debates in our Pagan Community is the place of magic. Some gather to ‘only’ celebrate and worship. Some find magic central to their practice. Being heterodoxic, Pagans revel in the diversity of opinions we hold, so the range held on this topic is vast.

We are not alone in the discussion. There is a very long standing argument in the academic community about what magic is and how it is different from religion. Attempting to coerce the God(s), which they call impiety, or rites performed outside the customary space, time, and staff for them, which they call illegitimacy are among the more consistent elements. Often this shades over into magic meaning any expected result of a ritual action. [1]

Harvest altar [Courtesy Photo].

Historically, we get these values from the Romans, which were then taken over by Christianity and became dominant in Western civilization. In history, even these ideas are problematic. Going back to Egypt, the use of Heka, more or less what we call magic, was available to anyone with the skills and will. Unless you were using it for crime, the act of magic was in no sense a crime.[2] Contrast this to Europe, through most of its history in the so-called Common Era, where imprisonment, torture and death were the common punishments for magic.

With a life potentially on the line, one might think we would have a very clear definition of magic, but that has yet to be produced. Scholars, starting from their Eurocentric foundation, discovered it was much harder to separate magic from religion when they were looking at cultures other than the West. Whereas for us, Christianity supplanted the ancient traditional religions of Europe, but did not come with a substitute for all of the common magics that folks used to potentiate medicine or bring a little luck. (Actually early on it had a number of traditions of magic, taken over from older practice, but these were suppressed in the first centuries.)

To fill this void, spells and techniques from the ancient world were reused, often but not always with a change in the divine names empowering it. The Kyranides text containing elements from the Greek Magical Papyri shows the enduring nature of these ancient spells well into the Christian period.[3] Naturally, biblical resources were deployed, such as using the Psalms for magic. Misunderstood elements of the Mass were taken out of context for magic, giving us the famous “Hokus Pokus” arguably from ‘Hoc est corpus meum’, meaning ‘This is my body,’ the Latin words of consecration.

However, as we well know from our inheritance, many other elements of the classical world came over into Christian culture to provide for the needs of magic. The most obvious ones being the Elements, and the names and character of the Planets. But when we look at the world over, this is unusual. We are possibly unique in that the (once) dominant religion of the West, Christianity, is not the religion we take our magic from. (There may be structures like this in Islamic and Buddhist countries.)

In most cultures the main religion also provides for the deployment of spiritual resources to accomplish the needs and desires of its adherents. Mantra (spells), talismans, all manner of rites of blessing or expiation exist to heal, to help, to make things a bit better. But when they perform these rites, they call upon the names of the Gods they regularly worship. This posed something of a problem for scholars in that it made it hard to see the difference between a prayer and a spell.

While allowing for a few exceptions, most of us who practice magic think what we are doing is good. When we look at how magic is viewed from the perspective of non-magic users (muggles, cowans, normals, etc.), magic is generally seen as bad. Much of the discussion about it in the academy, or among ourselves, really comes down to a value judgment. It is all the harder to discuss since the topic is being variously valued by the participants in the debate: what is the value of magic?

[Photo Credit: by Leila Darwish ]

The rub is that the definitions of magic, centered in coercion or legitimacy, run into trouble when very similar actions are found in not obviously coercive modes or performed under legitimate conditions. If a need is being addressed through supplication or prayer, the ‘spell’ (such as the Pater Noster or ‘Hail Mary’) is religious, but if presented in a more aggressive mood, it is magic. If done by the right person under the right conditions it is religious but if not it is magic.

We might be able to make these distinctions in our own culture, but they are much harder in other parts of the world. When looked at overall, any given action, such as the repetition of a phrase, would be considered holy japa (mantra repetition) in India, but ‘vain repetition’ in Biblically dominated cultures. (but then there is the Rosary…)

It has become very hard to find an objective difference between magic and religion. So, much of the judgment is actually subjective. It begins with the idea that magic is bad and that religion is good. This is, of course, not universal. The Atheists and Humanists often think of religion itself as bad, but then for them magic is even worse, being vain foolery or failed science. However, the larger society holds to this pattern.

The other major distinguishing factor is the outcome. Are any boons asked, are any supplications made? Is there any hope or expectation that after performing this action spiritual power will be deployed to accomplish what is asked for? If worship is without expectation, but magic expects results, we have an even worse problem separating magic from religion. It is very easy to make the case that the Catholic Mass is magical. It gathers spiritual force and then propitiates the God for benefits for the congregation and beyond. Indeed most worship includes prayer for those in need. If you think about it, even the hope for spiritual improvement or a good afterlife state is still an expectation of result.

What about the ecstasy that comes in worship itself? Is this not an effect or a benefit? When this analysis is applied it becomes very hard to find an example of ‘pure’ worship that has no expectation of result.

I propose that part of the problem with the argument is that we have such a hard time distinguishing between magic and religion that what we are really talking about is a value judgement: is this given spiritual activity good or bad? Calling it magic just becomes a way of saying to someone that their spirituality is bad. Irritating, I know…

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[1] A selection of sources that deal with this problem: Ruth Benedict, ‘Magic’, in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 10 (1933), pp. 39-41; ‘Religion’ in Franz Boas (ed.), General Anthropology (Boston: Heath, 1938), pp. 64-67; William J. Goode, ‘Magic and Religion’, Ethnos, 14 (1949), pp. 172-82, and Religion among the Primitives (Glencoe: Freepress, 1951), pp. 52-55.

[2] Robert K. Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization). (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago; 2008 reprint edition, 1997). 322 pp.

[3] One example is a spell for getting one’s lover to say who they have been having sex with by putting the tongue or heart of a frog or bird on their breast while they are sleeping. It shows up in all three texts: Hans Dieter Betz, ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), LXIII. 7-12 p. 295, and another version VII. 411-16 p. 129. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa Von Nettesheim, The Three Books of Occult Philosophy: A Complete Edition, ed. Donald Tyson, tr. Jame Freake, (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1993) p. 47, and Anonymous, Kyranides, On the Occult Virtues of Plants, Animals & Stones (Renaissance Astrology Facsimile Editions, 2005) p. 67.

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Column: Searching for America

Fri, 2015-01-23 08:01

The first time I ever drove cross-country, my only real objective was to get it over with as quickly as possible. I was moving from the East Coast to the West Coast, and I wasn’t looking forward to the long hours and days behind the wheel. I mapped out the quickest route that I could find, and took off in a precariously packed minivan full of my worldly possessions with the goal of reaching Oregon in five days.

It turns out that the route that I thought would be the easiest was also the route that those who blazed trails long before me found to be the most practical as well. By the time I hit Nebraska, I quickly realized that I was following the general route of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Following the railroad, with the train in my constant line of sight, it occurred to me that there was an entire history there that I knew very little about, a history that was crucial to the successful settlement of America. Prior to that moment, I had understood the importance of the railroad in theory, but there was something about literally keeping pace, face-to-face with that history that emphasized its significance in a way I had never considered before.

It wasn’t long after I diverted from that route north into Wyoming that I discovered that I was traveling the same route as the Oregon Trail. Similar to the railroad, I was again faced with an essential piece of American history that I knew little about. The farther west I went following the Oregon Trail, the more the rest stops started to double as historical markers. By the time I approached the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon, learning about the horrors of westward migration become synonymous with stretching my legs. A layer below the initial digesting of that history, the colonial perspective of that telling also gnawed at me, as I knew that there was a whole other story within the saga of westward expansion that had not been inscribed on state-owned plaques at rest stops.

The Oregon Trail. [Public Domain]

There was also something in the land itself that was commanding my attention– something unexplainable, a pull entrenched in the power of the wounds and stories and spirits of America. In connecting briefly to the history of the land, as one-sided as it was being reflected, I was quickly realizing my overall disconnect to these places as a whole. They themselves seemed to reflect that disconnect to me quite clearly, and the closer I got to my destination, the more I felt the urge to backtrack and explore.

By the time I made it to Portland, I felt like a stranger in my own country, but a determined stranger who wished to understand and befriend the unknown. That small taste of America had suddenly stirred up an enormous yearning, and my new surroundings in Oregon quickly started to relate and reflect the same themes and realizations that I had stumbled upon during the trip. Immersing myself in history wasn’t enough. I needed to meet the land, to understand these places from the bottoms of my feet. I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to find, but I knew that I needed to search for it, and that need only grew stronger as time went on.

A few years later, time and money finally conspired in a way that was too precise to ignore, and I threw an old mattress into the back of my van and hit the road. I left with the intention of connecting with place and with history, of trying to understand my own complex relationship to the America I felt that I didn’t really understand. I wanted to learn from the places that made me feel as a stranger. I wanted know this land by its nooks and crannies.

I decided that my path would be dictated by both fate and curiosity, by signs and invitations alike. I was guided by paragraphs and articles in books and magazines, by roadside markers, by suggestions from friends and strangers and gas station attendants all the same.

From the time I first started out, those same people often asked me where I was going and why, and I quickly found that, while I understood my intent and motives, I didn’t necessarily have the language to express that to others. It was part pilgrimage, part adventure, part surrender, part obligation, part reconciliation, part sequel, and yet none of those things sufficed on their own as an explanation. After a few days of trying to explain it a variety of ways and seemingly failing every time, I simply told folks that I was “searching for America”, which seemed to be an acceptable answer no matter where I went.

Astoria, OR

The mouth of the Columbia River has been known among sailors for well over two centuries as the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific.’ One does not have to be schooled in sailing to sense its treachery; simply standing at the edge of the mouth on a windy day puts one quickly in touch with the intensity, the enormity and mortality that emanate from this crucial intersection of river, sea, wind, and sky.

It is a notable place of both power and history, both as a port in itself and as part of the story of American expansion as a whole. The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter of 1804 bunked down at this spot, and a few years later a party funded by fur magnate John Jacob Astor founded Fort Astoria, the first permanent American settlement on the West Coast. Reminders of that history and the wealth that accompanied it are reflected in the mostly well-preserved Victorian architecture dotted throughout the town. The town reflects both history and modernity, feeling neither gentrified nor stuck in time.

Mouth of the Columbia River as seen from Astoria, circa 1912. [Public Domain]

As I stood at the mouth, watching the bar pilots guide a cargo ship through the treacherous channel, I thought back to something I had read about Concomly, the Chinook chief who served as the original bar pilot for the Columbia in the early 1800s. Aside from the obvious technological advances, what I was currently witnessing on the river was essentially an unchanged ritual that had been performed regularly in this same spot for over 200 years now.

Thinking of Concomly, the question that approached me seemed to come from outside, from the mouth itself. What did Concomly call this river? This graveyard, this mouth of ghosts – what was her name?

I was only a few days into my trip, but it was already apparent to me that actively decolonizing my surroundings whenever possible on this journey was both a challenge and an obligation on my part, an obligation to the land and the ancestors as well as to myself. I knew from prior research that there was no single indigenous name that the Columbia was known by, and most of the names that had been recorded were badly translated and phoneticized. Nonetheless I wished at that moment that I had one of those names at the tip of my tongue. I wanted to greet the river properly without also invoking the name of a colonizer, but I resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t have the ability to do so at that moment.

But while that specific name may not have been known or available to me at that moment, I also knew that the indigenous place-names of numerous lakes, rivers, and mountains throughout the country were well-known and were easily accessible information. From that point onward in my travels, I took it upon myself to revert to the indigenous names of the places I visited whenever possible, and to make notes and research specific places and place-names when the information wasn’t readily available.

Fargo, ND

“We’ve been staying here for well over two months now. My hope is to get back to New Mexico by the time school starts.”

She paused for a second, looking over at her two daughters across the table, who were distracted by a set of crayons and the activities on the diner placemat.

“But we need to stay for long as there’s decent work. School will do them no good if we can’t afford to eat.”

I had met Marcela and her daughters the night before, at a rest stop right outside of Fargo. Their family had been sleeping in the van next to mine, and it had been immediately obvious to me that they had been living at the rest stop for quite a while. I saw the father leave on foot before dawn and, instead of taking off immediately, I felt pulled to take Marcela and her kids out to breakfast.

I learned over breakfast that her husband was a migrant worker who was currently working in the local sunflower fields. She also worked in the fields on days when she could find someone to watch her girls, but she hadn’t been able to find anyone for at least a few weeks. They had been living out of the van for nearly two years at that point, with brief periods spent on and off with relatives near Santa Fe.

The sunflowers were the focus of my attention the day before, stretching for miles as I was driving down I-94 towards Fargo. When I first saw the sunflowers, I had spotted a few people out in the fields as well, and I had been thinking about the relative invisibility of migrant labor in this country on the drive into Fargo. So it seemed fitting that Marcela was the first person I found myself interacting with when I stopped.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. [Photo Credit: Hephaestos.]

I knew that there were an untold number of families just like Marcela’s, skirting on the edges of existence and survival, but there was something in listening to Marcela’s story that brought that struggle home for me. Hers was a story that so many know abstractly and yet so few actually hear. I was grateful for the opportunity to share this space and time with this family, as heartbreaking as it was.

After breakfast I took them back to their van, said goodbye, and headed back out. A few miles down the road, I stopped at a roadside stand to buy a bunch of sunflowers. I looked out towards the farm and saw small dots out in the fields that I knew to be humans, and I couldn’t help but to wonder if one of the men out in the field was Marcela’s husband.

Sparta, WI

The first time I drove past the sign I though I must had read it wrong. I did a literal double-take as I passed it, somewhat convinced that I had just seen a sign for an astronaut and bicycle museum and concerned that my eyes were playing tricks on me.

A half-mile later right before the exit, I saw the sign again, and it was no mistake. “Astronaut Deke Slayton and Bicycle Museum”, the sign said. I laughed out loud and turned off towards the exit.

Neil Gaiman has suggested that America’s roadside attractions are America’s most sacred sites, and I was finding more and more by the day that there was a deep truth to that sentiment. I had passed up on several other similarly quirky roadside attractions prior to that morning, but I had no immediate destination. It seemed the perfect day for such a detour. I wasn’t sure what bicycles and astronauts had in common and how or why this was being presented to the public, but I was curious to find out.

It turned out that what the two had in common was the town of Sparta itself. Sparta, Wisconsin was the birthplace of Deke Slayton, one of America’s first and most famous astronauts. Sparta is also known as the “Bicycling Capital of America,” and the museum was a rather impressive (and surprisingly cohesive) expression of those two aspects of transportation. I spent the afternoon unexpectedly immersed in the histories of both bicycles and space, appreciative of both the actuality of what was in front of me as well as the process that led me to this point. While the phrase “only in America” is so often reduced to meaningless cliché, it was the defining thought on my mind as I walked back from the museum to my van.

In finding that museum, not so much the exhibits themselves but the very existence of the museum itself, I found a piece of the unexplainable that I had been itching to immerse myself in.

Lincoln, NE

I pulled up at the gas station, parked in front, and went inside the convenience store to grab a bottle of water. The front door was partially propped-open, and taped to the door was a huge sign. “No hoodies. No exceptions.”

I was wearing a hooded jacket. I pushed open the door the rest of the way to enter, and I immediately started to take off my hoodie as the bell on the door sounded my entrance. The woman behind the counter spotted me and waved me off. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said with a smile. “I’m not worried about you.”

I stood for a moment in discomfort, wondering who she was ‘worried about.’ I then walked to the back of the store to grab a beverage and as my back was to the door the bell went off again. I looked over behind me, and a young Hispanic man was walking into the store. The woman looked up at him sternly and immediately pointed to the sign on the door. “Please remove your hoodie”, she said to him firmly.

I looked at her in horror, gave him a sympathetic look, and quickly made my exit without purchasing anything.

Back in the van, I tried to shake off my anger. I had been on the privileged end of racial profiling before, but there was something about the bluntness of that experience that caught me off-guard. I zoned out on the highway, driving what was quite possibly the straightest stretch of road that I’ve ever driven, to the point where my elbows started to ache for lack of movement. My heart ached along with my elbows, albeit for a different reason.

Pike County, KY

The roads are quite narrow through Appalachia, and navigating them requires a very specific attention to detail that I wasn’t used to in my travels. I spent so much time hyper-aware of my position on the road that I nearly missed a key aspect of my surroundings. Winding through the heart of Hatfield-McCoy country, I was quite taken by the stark contrast between the various rock formations and the lush green beauty.

It wasn’t until I pulled over to stretch my legs that took a wide-range inventory of the terrain that I noticed that I was at the base of a mountaintop mining operation, surrounded by what used to be mountains. While I had been aware on some level that mining companies actually remove the tops of mountains, it had only affected me as an abstraction until that moment.

This is ‘progress’, I thought to myself. We remove the tops of mountains.

Mountaintop removal in Pike County, Kentucky. [Photo Credit: ilovemountains.]

I walked up a gravel path into the woods at the base of the mountain, and I was quickly overcome by how angry the woods felt. It was as if a mist of despair and sadness and rage had enveloped this place around me. I felt angry back; I also felt absolutely heartbroken and disgusted. The actual brutality in how this practice affects not just the land itself but the people and the creatures who live here was all I could focus on as I stood there observing the the beauty around me, a beauty which emanated so strongly despite the sadness of the woods.

Later that afternoon, I stopped off for lunch. When I parked the van, a woman was getting into the car next to mine. She had a bumper sticker that read “I Love Mountains”.

“Are there any mountains left?” I asked her, nodding towards the sticker.

“Not for long at the pace they’re going,” she replied, the sadness evident in her voice.

Medora, ND

The distance from the parking lot to the comfort station was less than fifty feet, but by the time I got to the entrance of the building, I had seen at least three separate signs warning me not to try to touch the bison. Inside the restroom, there was another prominent sign, and by the time I made it out of the building and up to the main patch of land overlooking Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the number of bison warning signs I had seen had approached the point of repetitive absurdity.

Who in their right mind would try to touch a bison in the first place? I shook my head in amusement as I climbed up and looked out upon miles of badlands, the untouched wilderness peppered with picturesque herds of bison.

Then I noticed people out on the bluffs, trying to touch the bison.

And I realized that a dozen signs are no more effective than one or none or a hundred when it comes to overcoming the mentality of entitlement that so many feel in terms of our wild places and the creatures that inhabit them. I was furious, watching the display of utter ignorance and disrespect in front of me, not to mention the danger. Suddenly I had no desire to stay and explore this place.

Bison at Theodore Roosevelt national Park. Photo by Matt Reinbold.

Walking back, I remembered a talk I had seen by a Native woman who spoke of the prevalence and pervasiveness of ‘settler mentality,’ especially in the American West. I glanced around at the parking lot, at cars bearing the license plates of at least a dozen states and thought back to the bison and what I had just witnessed. That entitlement, that defiant exercise of blatant disrespect, right there was a painful example of the pervasive behavior that she had spoken of.

Rock Springs, WY

I’ll admit that there wasn’t much that caught my eye as I drove into Rock Springs, but I also wasn’t there for the scenery. I was there to pay my respects to the victims of the 1885 Rock Springs Massacre, where at least 28 Chinese immigrants were murdered and mutilated among an ugly backdrop of racism and greed. While the West is dotted with countless massacre sites, the Rock Springs Massacre had always stuck out in my mind as especially significant both in its barbarism and its political implications, and Rock Springs was one of the destinations that I had in mind from the very beginning of the trip.

My mistake was in assuming that there was a memorial.

I asked first at a gas station, and then I asked a few residents who had no idea what I was talking about at all. Eventually I came across the local history museum, where the man at the front desk embarrassingly assured me that there was no such memorial, although he “personally felt that there should be”.

I came here looking for something that did not exist, and the fact that it did not exist was extremely unsettling. Outside the museum, I watched the people walking to and from, realizing that they were mostly clueless about the horrifying carnage that once took place on these very streets.

I thought again of history and of colonization, and of the oft-repeated adage that history is written by the victors. I suppose that going to work each day is much easier when you’re completely unaware that there was once a massacre in the middle of your downtown. I suppose that to publicly recognize such a history would be more than a little inconvenient and uncomfortable, to say the very least.

The wind suddenly blew rather harshly as I stood there, and I could feel something extra in that wind. It was as though the land and the spirits themselves were screaming for recognition, screaming for justice.

Afterword

I spent nearly six weeks on the road, visiting at least twenty states and traveling over 10,000 miles. When I finally got back, it took nearly as long to recover. I spent the next several months processing what I had taken in over the course of the trip. To this day, I find myself often drifting back to some of the people and places that I had come across along the way.

While I can’t say definitively that I found all the answers to my questions or discovered all I was looking for, it was an eye-opening and life-changing experience that greatly influenced my understandings and attitudes about this country, for better or for worse. Looking back, part of what I was searching for was a unifying energy, a linking thread of sorts that I never did find, but in not finding it I also came to see why it was not there in the first place.

More than anything, I came into and remained in touch with the anger and trauma of this land itself, one that is continuous throughout with so many of her wounds unacknowledged. That trauma, and the strong undercurrent of denial that feeds and sustains it, quietly expresses pain and consequences in ways that no history book could ever truly convey.

*   *   *

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth. 

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Uncovering the past: Ancient drinking games, lost scrolls, & more!

Thu, 2015-01-22 06:34

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

You, too, can drink ancient booze
Looking for the perfect drink to offer your Gods or ancestors? Why not serve them (and you) a fermented beverage recreated from ones that existed thousands of years ago? Dr. Patrick McGovern is the Director for the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health for the University of Pennsylvania Museum and he’s been breathing new life into ancient brews.

McGovern tests the residue left behind in ancient vessels used for making, storing, or drinking fermented beverages and identifies the chemical markers that the drink ingredients leave behind. If he finds traces of tartaric acid he knows grapes were used.

Some of the beverages he’s recreated are the Midas beverage, Theobroma ale, and Etrusca ale.

The Midas beverage was based on residues found in the Midas tomb in Turkey, from about 700 B.C.E. It fermented grapes, barley, and honey along with common Mediterranean spices like saffron and cardamom.

The Teobroma ale was based on a Honduran beer from around 1400 B.C.E. and has bitter chocolate notes. And, the Etruscan ale was recreated from a find in a 2,800 year old tomb in Italy and was fermented from wheat, barley, hazelnut flour and flavored with pomegranates and myrrh.

All three of these beverages, plus five more, can be purchased from Delaware-based Dogfish Head brewery.

How to Play an Ancient Greek Drinking Game
Forget quarters and beer pong, kottabos could be the hot, new drinking game. Kottabos was played in ancient Athens during evening get togethers called symposia. Symposia had a social and religious purpose. It involved male guests reclining on couches, while drinking, discussing civil and philosophical topics, playing games, singing, and enjoying the company of flute girls.

Heather Sharpe of West Chester University of Pennsylvania and a few of her students attempted to figure out how kottabos was actually played using a replica of a kylix (a drinking cup) and grape juice. According to images on pottery, there were two ways to play kottabos. One way was to try to knock down a disc balanced on a tall stand placed in the middle of the room with the dregs of wine flung from a cup. The second version of the game depicted players throwing their wine at small dishes floating in a larger bowl of water in an attempt to sink them.

A man plays kottabos on this kylix, Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Creative Commons, Marie-Lan Nguyen]

The students quickly learned that an overhand flicking-style throw was more successful than underhand or sideways throws. The students also learned that if you missed the target in the middle of the room, you were apt to hit another player laying on the couch right across from you. Just imagine how messy it would get if you were playing this game after several hours of drinking. Good thing the floors of Athenian homes were stone or packed earth.

So Easter Island didn’t collapse?

[Public Domain]

Archaeologists have long thought that Easter Island’s native population collapsed due to farming practices which damaged the environment of the island. A new study shows that the Rapa Nui people might not have been the object lesson of overpopulation and the over-farming of a fragile environment as environmentalists originally thought.

An international research team has used a technique known as obsidian hydration dating to test various artifacts found around the island. What they discovered was that, although the population declined on some parts of the island at various times, the population increased in other areas during the same time period.

So far the group has been unable to find any evidence of a dramatic population decline, or collapse until Europeans reached the island in 1722 A.D. and promptly infected the Rapa Nui with smallpox and syphilis.

The Easter Islands are famous for the large stone heads called moai that dot the island and the Ivi Atua religion which is still practiced today. This religion is polytheistic with a strong focus on ancestor veneration. It’s thought the moai were representations of deified ancestors and were the living faces of the past.

The Fading of Paganism in ancient Cyprus
While the Cyprus area maintained Pagan beliefs alongside the official Christian religion for longer than most other areas of the Roman empire, well into the 7th century, Polish archaeologists excavating at Nea Paphos found a 1,500 year old amulet which sheds light on the fading of Paganism in the 5th century.

The amulet has a palindrome inscribed on it, which is an inscription that reads the same forwards as it does backwards. In English, the inscription reads “[a god] is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine.”

Bottom, Egyptian god Osiris. Above, Harpocrates.
[Photo Credit: Marcin Iwan, artifact from the excavations of Jagiellonian University in Krakow at Paphos Agora]

Yet it is the carvings on the front of the amulet that show the fading of Paganism. There is a depiction of the Egyptian god Osiris lying in a boat along with Harpocrates, the Greek god of silence. Harpocrates is erroneously shown covered in bandages, which suggests that the artist, and presumably much of the surviving Pagan population in the area, no longer fully understood the gods who they were still attempting to worship. 

Carbonized scrolls live again in Herculaneum
The library at Herculaneum, which contained between 600 and  700 scrolls, may finally be excavated. Buried by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD, the library was first uncovered in 1752. However, the papyri scrolls contained in the library were so badly burned and fragile that there has never been a safe way to unroll and read them. As a result, the full library has never been uncovered.

But now the Institute of Microelectronics and Microsystems is using a new method of x-raying the scrolls, combined with special software to digitally “unroll” the scroll, so they can finally be read.

The first scroll examined is thought to be the work of a scribe from around the first century B.C.E. copying a work of  Philodemus defending Epicurean philosophy. The other scrolls could possibly contain lost works by Greek or Roman philosophers. Additionally, prior excavations at the site have revealed more rooms, which means that even more scrolls may be found in the future.

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The U.K. Sees First Legal Same-Sex Pagan Marriage Ceremony

Wed, 2015-01-21 07:50

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – On Jan. 18, the U.K. saw its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage ceremony. Tom Lanting and Iain Robertson, both hedge witches, were married in the 16th century vaulted cellars of historic Marlin’s Wynd. The ceremony was performed by Louise Park of the Pagan Federation Scotland.

Tom Lanting and Iain Robertson [Courtesy Photo. Taken by Cherrie Coutts of cherriecouttsphotography.com]

“We felt as practicing Pagans we wanted to create a day for not only ourselves but for everyone who attended our ceremony and as Scotland recognizes love within All beliefs we were able to start our lives together bonded in the eyes of the God and Goddess and FINALLY the law,” told The Wild Hunt in a brief interview.

To date, Scotland is the only country in the U.K. that allows for legally-binding Pagan marriage ceremonies. In 2004, the General Registrar Office for Scotland accepted the Pagan Federation as “an appropriate body for the nomination of Celebrants under the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977.”  According to various reports, Pagan Federation celebrants have conducted hundreds of legal Pagan mix-sex marriages since that time.

Author and Wiccan High Priestess Vivane Crowley said, “The Pagan Federation (Scotland) has fought long and hard for equal rights for Pagans in Scotland. It has succeeded in establishing Paganism as part of the spectrum of a thriving multi-cultural country that honors the traditions of the past, while building a society of the future.”

Although Pagan marriages were legally recognized in Scotland in 2004, same-sex marriages were not. In 2013, Scotland’s neighbors, England and Wales, voted to legalize same-sex marriage. However, the two countries still did not recognize Pagan marriage ceremonies. Then, in early 2014, Scotland followed suit by passing its new Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. Same-sex marriage became legal as of Dec. 16, 2014 with the first ceremonies being performed that day. As a result, Scotland has become the first country in the U.K to legally recognize both Pagan ceremonies and same-sex marriage.

Crowley added, “The Pagan Federation joined other religious organizations in a wonderful campaigning for recognition of Gay marriage in Scotland. It is wonderful that the media, including traditional conservative newspaper ‘The Daily Telegraph’, have received the change so warmly and gave such positive coverage of Iain and Tom’s wedding.”

[Courtesy Photo]

Lanting and Roberson’s wedding has indeed become the recent focus of mainstream media, as well as being a landmark moment in history – both Pagan and otherwise. Attending their ceremony was Tom French, the Policy and Public Affairs Coordinator for The Equality Network, a charity organization serving Scotland’s LGBTI community. French told the BBC:

We were delighted to be able to attend the UK’s first pagan same-sex marriage … Religious and belief groups played an important role in the campaign for equal marriage and this ceremony is a mark of equality and freedom of belief in Scotland.

Recognizing this attention, the couple said, “We are both delighted the world has taken this moment to the heart.”

While the significance of Scotland’s first Pagan same-sex marriage ceremony is certainly far reaching, its impact was felt all the more by the two men themselves. After twelve years of being together, Robertson and Lanting were finally able to pledge their love and commitment to each other in the religious and spiritual manner of their choosing and have it all be legally binding. They said, “We hope in time this possibility will spread worldwide to allow those of all sexualities and beliefs to be seen as equal in legal circles…Thank you to everyone who joined us on the day and to the wider world and our Pagan brothers and sisters globally.”

The Pagan Federation Scotland was unavailable for additional comments. However, celebrant Louise Parks told the BBC, “We feel that, if any couple wish to, they should be able to make their marriage vows before their own personal Gods, friends and family, in a religious ceremony tailored to suit their own beliefs.” She added, “I am absolutely over the moon to have been able to conduct Scotland’s – and the U.K.’s – first pagan same-sex marriage for Tom and Iain, who hold a special place in the hearts of Scotland’s Pagan community.”

In her comments, Crowley agreed, offer her own good wishes. She said, “Congratulations Iain and Tom, creators of the well-known ‘Gemini Wands’ company who will be known to Pagans throughout Britain from their frequent appearances at festivals. ”

The Doreen Valiente Foundation also offered its own words of congratulations saying:

Tom Lanting, one of the couple who were married in Britain’s first same-sex pagan wedding has supported the Doreen Valiente Foundation at various conferences over the years. We see this as a further historic step towards the equality of religion that Doreen and many others have struggled for for many years. That it also reflects the equality struggle of another minority group only makes all the more satisfying to see. Congratulations and blessings to the happy couple from all of us at the Doreen Valiente Foundation.

Fortunately, with all this unexpected publicity, Lanting and Robertson have not received backlash in any form. They continue to be very thankful for the outpouring of support and interest in their story. To other Pagan LGBTQ couples around the world, they offered this positive note, “Congratulations to our brothers and sisters who have received recognition and the rest WILL follow.”

[Courtesy Photo. Taken by Cherrie Coutts of cherriecouttsphotography.com)

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Enter the Trickster: Mercury Returns to Retrograde

Tue, 2015-01-20 07:27

NEW YORK, NEW YORK –In astrology, the planet Mercury begins moving retrograde again on January 21, meaning that the planet will appear to be moving in the opposite direction of other heavenly bodies. This optical illusion occurs three times annually, and usually inspires a plethora of social media posts blaming communication and other blunders on the condition. This time around, Mercury’s reversal has caught the attention of writer Kristin Dombek, who in an essay in the New York Times magazine writes:

On Jan. 21, at 10:54 a.m. Eastern Time, Mercury will begin its first pass by Earth of the new year. For about three weeks, it will appear to move backward across our sky and will, according to astrologers, disrupt technology, communication and human concord. Facebook and Twitter will clog with reports of appointments missed, important email sent to the spam folder, wars between nations, cars crashed and iPhones dropped in toilets, all followed by some version of the hashtag “#mercuryretrograde.” Advice from astrology blogs will arrive in unison: Back up your computer, expect miscommunications, don’t make agreements or important decisions and don’t sign contracts — and hide.

Teri Parsley Starnes

“I thought the article was kinda great,” said Teri Parsley Starnes, an astrologer who writes on the topic for PNC’s Minnesota bureau. She braced herself for a slew of misconceptions, saying, “I figured, ‘here we go,’ someone’s going to make fun of us, but I learned some stuff, like the fact that the craters are named after artists. That’s brilliant.”

While Starnes feels that Dombek’s treatment wasn’t as terrible as it could have been, she does think people with only a passing familiarity with astrology may not quite grasp the concept. “Saturn return and Mercury retrograde are the two things most people know,” she said, and as a result, “It’s easy to blame Mercury” for any mishap that occurs during the retrograde period. As a Pagan, though — she’s a member of the Reclaiming tradition — Starnes looks at the skies through a spiritual lens, and considers what is known about the gods associated with the heavenly bodies.

Mercury and Hermes (Starnes used the names interchangeably during the interview) are gods of communication, but they are also tricksters. “I’m very inspired by the trickster aspect,” she said. “Whatever we expect to do, during retrograde the result is often something we didn’t expect. I think of it as a mirror: what’s my intention? Now, we must do it another way.”

She went on to explain that this is a period where being mindful and present is important. “I think his mission during retrograde is to integrate all of our minds, we often use just our ‘left brain’ or our ‘right brain;’ he encourages both.”That kind of integration is the opposite of how many people move through the day. We often space out, we’re not present,” she said. “I don’t caution to not do things, it’s a really good opportunity to enhance our focus be more present.”

One of Starnes’ clients has exploratory surgery scheduled during this retrograde, and asked if rescheduling was the best option. “No, I would take a little extra care talking to the nurses and surgeons,” she counseled the client, and “express confidence to remind them to be thoughtful. We can actually invoke Mercury as an ally, getting deeper in the surgery,” she explained. “I work with Mercury that way.”

Blaming Mercury may be easy, but it misses the mark. Starnes said, “It’s easy to just blame him and not recognize that we are involved. It’s easy to send emails you regret later. Easy to incite arguments, or get in trouble. I don’t blame Mercury, he’s just showing me I need to be more careful. It bothers me when I hear people blaming Mercury.”

Instead, she sees retrograde as a “real chance to enter sacred time,” and looks to the myths about this messenger god for lessons. “[The] myth of the birth of Hermes [tells how] as a day old baby, he hatched plan to become a major god. He invented the first musical instrument, stole Apollo’s cattle, hid their tracks by walking backwards, [and] invented sacrifice,” she said. “It got the attention of Zeus, and he became one of the pantheon. Mercury is eternally crafty, and we’re also trying to get something we want.”

For those who feel they are getting a little more divine attention than they can handle, “You can appease him,” Starnes said. “Sometimes I will do that, leave offerings at the crossroads, tell him he’s a great god, ask him to be gentle with me as he helps to relink the parts of my mind that need to be linked again.”

Perhaps it’s not enough to simply acknowledge that Mercury is in retrograde when one’s plans run afoul. Perhaps a better approach is to ask, “What point is Mercury trying to make?” and take the lesson seriously. If nothing else, Starnes recommends cultivating a sense of humor for the duration.

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Pagan Community Notes: Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and more

Mon, 2015-01-19 08:00

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. 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! 

HUAR Banner [Courtesy Photo]

For Americans, today is Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday during which the country acknowledges and celebrates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Due to the current social and political climate, this year’s events have been or will be bigger, and far more poignant than in the past. Several Pagan and Heathen activists have indicated that they are participating in and even organizing public demonstrations, marches and vigils.

For example, on Friday morning, Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR), Solar Cross and Pagans United Against Racism together dropped a banner over the University Avenue footbridge in Berkeley. The banner contained Dr. King’s quote “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” and included the hashtag #MLKalsosaid.

Today, HUAR, Solar Cross, Coru Cathubodua and other area Pagans will be joining a march in Oakland, California to “celebrate the radical legacy of Dr. King.” One of their banners reads “Pagans United for Justice” and “Will we be extremists for hate, or extremists for love? – MLK.” The march begins 10:45 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

According to the PNC Minnesota Bureau, Minnesota Pagans are joining a big #ReclaimMLK march being held in St. Paul at 1:00 pm CST today. Although the article doesn’t indicate any specific names, the groups attending will be marching together and holding signs. The article reads, “Words are wind and many Pagans hope to change that with action.”

[public domain]

In Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Pagan shop owner, Kristin West, is using her monthly “Witch’s Night” to honor King with a discussion on freedom. According to a news report, the popular themed meeting, which usually focuses on religious practice and the Craft, can draw up to 30 people from around the state. This month she changed directions, deciding to connect King’s work to her freedom to practice Witchcraft.  West said “If we didn’t have freedom of religion, we wouldn’t be here.

Others have been discussing or honoring King through their writing. For example, T. Thorn Coyle, who has been actively involved in the above California-based events, published a blog post titled “Disturbing the Peace.” The Humanistic Paganism blog offered a dedicated meditation in its post, “Beloved Community.VooDoo Universe writer Lilith Dorsey considers the complexities of historical remembrances and the honoring of Dr. King. The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel has published its official statement on the #blacklivesmatter movement. HUAR released a solidarity statement for “the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend actions.”

While King’s message and his life had a very specific purpose during a very tumultuous period in U.S. history, over time his message has been distilled down and come to permeate U.S. culture with a meaning that far exceeds the focused goals of that particular decade. In the wake of Ferguson, that message has returned with force, in many ways, to its origins, regaining a new vitality and forward momentum.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. – Dr. Martin Luther King, a Letter from Birmingham Jail

In Other News:

Alane Brown in Peru [Courtesy Photo]

  • The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, located in Iowa, has begun a new earth-based traditions program. According to reports, organizers kicked off the new program with a Yule Sabbat last month, and will continue with monthly meetings and eight yearly sabbat celebrations. Organizer Lana Long told reporters, “We are an umbrella for a little bit of everything — Pagan, Shamanism, Wiccan, etc. One of our goals is to offer a place for people like that to be able to meet in a community.”
  • Pagan Todd Bernston has launched a new “Relationship Survey that “explores and compares relational dimensions such as emotional bonding, anxiety, caregiving, and sexuality, between monogamous and consensual non-monogamous couples.” Bernston is a couple’s therapist who “does a lot of work with couples in non-traditional relationships, such as polyamory and consensual non-monogamy.”  He said that many past studies have not adequately looked at the bonds in non-traditional relationships.  He hopes that “the results [will] help shape our cultural and therapeutic understanding of the growing number of couples who are involved in non-traditional relationship styles.”  The survey is online at Relationship Study.

That is it for now.  Have a nice day!

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A “Fresh Start” for the First Church of Wicca

Sun, 2015-01-18 07:47

DUXBURY, MASSACHUSETTS – The First Church of Wicca (FCoW) has reopened its doors, which has reopened questions about its past. The Wild Hunt talked to Rev. Dr. Kendra Vaughan Hovey, founding Elder High Priestess of the First Church of Wicca, and to some of her congregants about the church, its closing in 2009, and their goals for the future.

To understand why the reopening has caused such controversy we have to look at the history.

In early 2007, the First Church of Wicca and its High Priestess broke onto the national scene when they were featured on an hour long TLC reality tv show, My Unique Family. While the show didn’t portray the family or the religion as freaks, many Pagans were surprised and curious. FCoW followed a Christian format, complete with sermons and congregants sitting in rows, and its High Priestess wore a clerical collar similar to what Christian priests and ministers wear.

The show depicted Hovey as being very dedicated to her church and to the local community. FCoW appeared to thrive with an estimated in-person membership of 200 people. The town of Duxbury, initially suspicious, seemed to accept them as part of the community.

Although everything appeared to be going well for FCoW, its sudden growth and scrutiny brought on by the show may have taken a toll on its leader. According to the April 2007 issue of Grey Matters, an e-zine for the Grey School, Hovey sent an email out to church members saying she was taking a two week sabbatical and all church activities would be canceled during that time. In the fall, the church restructured in an attempt to lessen Hovey’s duties. Then, in January 2008, Hovey took another two week sabbatical. Over the following months, church events were often cancelled on short notice.

What many people didn’t know at the time was that Hovey was not just a typical overburdened High Priestess battling burnout. By 2008, she was considering converting to Christianity.

After seeing the TLC special, Sarah Jayne joined the FCoW. She said that she loved going to the FCoW and had made many friends. After being solitary for years, she had found her spiritual home.

For that reason, when Hovey confided she was considering converting to Christianity, Sarah Jayne was devastated. She said, “I remember that day, vividly. We were at dinner following some event … 4th of July parade, a Pagan Pride Day, the event escapes me, and she told us that she was being baptized. I have personal issues with Christianity, so I was devastated because I didn’t know what it would mean for the church. Sure enough, it led to the eventual closure of FCoW.”

In January 2009, Hovey closed the FCoW. She sent at letter to all members of the church explaining her conversion from Wicca, pointing out her former faith’s (perceived) shortcomings.

I have come to see the serious failings of the Wiccan faith. A major problem with the faith is that there is no unity among the followers of the faith which makes it very challenging to define exactly what Wiccans do and do not believe in. Wiccans have a very open “do what you will” or “live and let live” perspective in life which very easily can cause harm to oneself and others without one actually knowing it until it is much too late. Additionally, there is no unified moral code of ethics. This puts up huge red flags for society-at-large because no one can really be quite sure of what any group’s intentions are. Society would have no way of knowing, for example, if you are a Wiccan that practices the Great Rite or polyamory, to name only two examples. Also, they would have no way of knowing just what “Do what ye will and harm none” means, and quite frankly, neither does each individual Wiccan. – from email sent by Hovey to church members, January 2009

The closing of the FCoW not only stunned its congregants, but it stunned the wider Pagan community. Once it was made public, her email angered many Pagans who saw it as a misrepresentation and a bad-mouthing of the Wiccan religion.

And then the accusations came – accusations of excessive monetary charges for classes and inflated egos. In a 2009 comment on a blog, Linda, claiming to be an FCoW member and participant in the TLC special, said that the FCoW started out with a fantastic group of people, sharing joys and sorrows while taking a Wicca 101 class. Then, after the TLC special aired, things began to change.

When our Wicca 101 class went from being free to the middle of the 52 week course, she announced that we would have to pay for it, I almost lost my friggin’ mind. The “Church” had also decided that all true members were to send a monthly payment as well for the services rendered to us. I could pay for one but not for both. It was insane! Money was needed for everything and of course we were given the sermon of “give until it hurts.” I was also told that if it hurt me to give, then I was truly giving, but if it didn’t hurt then my spiritually was in question …

I really could go on and on about the messes that were created, the hostility that began to grow. And because I was one of the first to verbally express my dissatisfaction I was one of the first to be “rejected” among the other members. It turned out to be a total nightmare, ruining the relationship that I was in as well as the entire home life. I watched as others who were involved in a relationship become disenchanted and more breakups were occurring than anyone staying together.

The angry blog comment ended with “The First Church of Wicca may it burn as ashes in her christian hell.”

Hovey went on to become a minister of a Christian church for a short time, then returned to her cultural Jewish roots before gradually working her way back to Wicca and reopening the FCoW in fall 2014.

So what happened?
Hovey said that several months before she decided to leave her church, an ongoing situation involving polyamory came to a head. She said that she was asked to take a positive and public stand on polyamory and, after contemplating it, she agreed.

Hovey recalled, “I held a class and taught the entire concept, along with the very clear boundaries that needed to be adhered to, in order for it to truly work among any couple exploring it. Everyone seemed to understand, at least until they didn’t. To say that things got complicated, ugly, and out of control is an understatement.”

She said that people ended up splitting up or divorcing, which caused stress and turmoil in the church. She was then asked to speak about polyamory for a Pagan Pride Day in Maine. She said, “Hindsight being perfect vision, I should have canceled; instead I spoke against it. Needless to say, things were spiraling down.”

Rev. Dr. Kendra Vaughan Hovey [courtesy photo]

During this same time she became friends with a local Christian Pastor. As she came from a Jewish background, she hadn’t much experience with Christianity and wanted to learn more. Over the course of two years, they emailed back and forth daily. “I had learned so much about Jesus and his teachings, that I saw nothing but metaphysics all over it. It spoke to my beliefs, and added a level of dimension that I had never before experienced,” said Hovey.

It was then, in August 2008, that she asked him to baptize her, but she planned to stay with her church. Yet Hovey’s plans changed. “When the whole polyamory mess happened in our church, I thought it might be a sign to move on, and so I did, to Christianity,” she explained.

She said that she was surprised by the reaction from the wider Pagan community when she closed the church and sent out her explanation to church members. “…I had no idea the letter would go viral. I was actually addressing some very serious issues that were taking place in our church, and wanted to be sure my congregation knew what was driving me to leave. However, after all of the backlash from the wider Pagan community, I think the point was lost.”

There and back again – a spiritual journey
Hovey opened Living Waters Community of Hope in the same space as her former Wiccan church. She said it was tough being a progressive minister in a born-again community and her struggle wasn’t so much with the religion, but with other Christians.

By 2011 she had had enough. Although she loved the teachings of Jesus, it wasn’t enough. However, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to return to Wicca, but she knew she was a Witch and she missed magic.

In October 2013 her mother died. When Hovey attended her mother’s funeral, it was the first time she had been to a Jewish event in decades. She said it felt incredibly comfortable and familiar to her, saying, “My children have over the past several years identified themselves as being Jewish, and I thought to honor my mother, I would take my children back and re-embrace my heritage.”

In a December 2014 blog post, Hovey detailed how she underwent a ritual bath to re-embrace the Jewish faith.

December 31, 2013, wasn’t just the start of a new year and new religion for me. It was the end of a very long spiritual journey that had led me in a complete circle. As I immersed in the living waters, I was met with a full gamut of emotions. My journey was complete and G-d was right there in the center of it all embracing me in His loving arms. Then I heard Him whisper, “Welcome home, Shifra, my dear prodigal daughter. Welcome home.-  Rev. Dr. Kendra Vaughan Hovey, writing as Shifra Hovey in her now deleted blog MyJewishness.com

Hovey said that she and her children attended a synagogue for about three months, but the experience only reaffirmed that she had been right to leave Judaism when she was young. That’s when she returned to Wicca.

While Hovey was on this spiritual journey, her former Wiccan congregants were traveling their own paths.

Sara Jayne tried attending Hovey’s Christian church, but soon stopped. She then attended a liberal Christian church that didn’t mind a Wiccan sitting in the pews. “I actually love the Christian philosophy of loving everyone and spreading God’s love, which led me to be baptized myself ultimately,” said Sarah Jayne. She eventually served as an Elder in the Presbyterian church, and she thought that was it, “My Wiccan “phase” was over, and I was very spiritually filled.”

But it wasn’t. Sarah Jayne explained, “I missed being a Witch, and having a bunch of other Witches to worship the God and Goddess with. I wanted to go back to FCoW then, and every time that thought crossed my mind, I would strongly remind myself that that was in the past, and FCoW was gone.” She said that lasted about ten months. Then she came back from a vacation saw a message on Facebook about the FCoW reopening for a Samhain ritual.

Delia joined the FCoW back in 2006. She enjoyed finding like minded people and felt she was growing by learning from others. She said that she was upset when the church closed and tried attending Hovey’s Christian church but it didn’t feel like home to her.

After that, she continued with her solitary practice and “… took time to reconnect with the Goddess and God on [her] own.” She also kept in touch with other former members of the FCoW. Once she heard the church had reopened she joined back up, happy to once again see her old friends. “It feels like home,” said Delia.

Hovey said that her journey has taught her many things. She said that she’s always been willing to look for answers and doesn’t fear exploration. “I will forever be a seeker, but that doesn’t mean that my seeking needs to be explored by jumping from religion to religion. I have found that the Goddess supersedes all religions, but that I best fit where I am today,” said Hovey. She added that one of the beautiful things about eclectic Wicca is the freedom it gives to seek and experience other faith beliefs.

Allegations from the past
When asked about the allegations that she had excessively charged congregants for classes and tithes, Hovey said that these allegations were false. She explained that the church hosted an annual meeting where members voted on the budget. She said that one year they voted to pay her a salary of $200 a month, adding “a very small salary, but it showed me that I was appreciated.”

In order for FCoW to meet its budget, each member agreed to tithe $40 a month. Hovey said that she understands that for some $40 a month is large amount of money. However, she felt church goers received quite a bit for that voluntary donation. She said that she was a more than a full-time minister who held services every week. There were church outings, religious education for children, and pastoral counseling and healing treatments Monday through Friday from 8am to 8pm. She welcomed church members to eat meals with her family anytime they wished and took in congregants who faced temporary economic hardship.

As for monetary gain? Hovey said her husband donated over $200,000 to the church, and it caused them financial difficulties.  She added, “We ended up having our home foreclosed and currently live in a small two bedroom apartment.”

According to the former FCoW website from 2007, there is no required payment for church membership. It does list the available classes that members can take in order to advance in their initiation degrees or to simply gain basic knowledge. They range from $30 to $100 per class.

And what about the clerical collar and the congregational model of worship?

Hovey said her model for FCoW came from the Unitarian Universalist Church, where she and her husband attended for several years as Wiccans. As for the collar, she said that she had noticed one of the UU ministers wearing one and asked “why.” The minister explained, “because I am a minister and I have every right to wear one if I choose to.” That answer stuck with Hovey. “At the time I was doing both hospital and prison chaplain work as a Wiccan minister and the collar worked out well in providing credibility to our faith,” she explained.

In addition, Hovey makes no apologies for running a church rather than a coven. “We are a public Wiccan ministry and I want anyone who comes to our services to feel something that they can identify with that gives them a level of comfort,” she said. Although FCoW’s metaphysical services look and feel somewhat like a traditional church service, its ritual observances are done in a coven-like setting.

FCoW reopens
Hovey said that she didn’t make the decision to reopen FCoW lightly. She remembers how challenging it was to be a solitary practitioner and not have anyone “standing in her corner when she was ready to come out of the broom closet.” She said that there are Wiccans out there who want a spiritual community, but aren’t trusting of a coven environment. “The First Church of Wicca is public. We have nothing to hide,” said Hovey, adding that FCoW “… encourages people to bring someone they trust with them to check us out—a friend, a family member, anyone. We’re a safe place to explore, and welcome anyone who is curious.”

The church reopened November 1 to host a Samhain ritual and is currently being run out of Hovey’s home. She said that they have already outgrown the space and so they are looking to return to Tarkiln Community Center in Duxbury. Old members, like Sarah Jayne and Delia, are returning and new members are joining.

Hovey noted that their private Facebook group has already grown to 70 members in just two months and that she receives inquiries by phone and email daily. She hopes that the church is so successful in meeting the needs of their members that people forget the past six years.

Sarah Jayne is one of those hoping for success, if not quite able to forget the past. She said, “Life in FCoW 6 years ago wasn’t always sunshine and roses, and there were things that happened there that gave me pause. It took a lot of prayer and meditation to decide to return. I decided to go back for the Samhain ritual and get a feel for the new FCoW, and I think that’s where I’m at right now. I’ll stay as long as it’s a positive thing in my life.”

Hovey invites people who have questions to contact her directly at KVHovey@gmail.com. She said that she’s made mistakes in the past and apologizes for the hurt she may have caused. She also added that “…even though our name is the same, our leadership is the same, and our church mission is the same, there have been many things that have changed and are very different here. So, I don’t even view the First Church of Wicca as the same church anymore. It’s something new, and we’ve all been given a fresh start.”

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Around the World: Solstice on the Hill

Sat, 2015-01-17 05:00

England is small, green and – apart from a bit in the East – rolling. So hills are plentiful. English Pagans are great clamberers up these hills. However it’s less than half of all sunrises that we will see from these green and luscious vantage points, because the sky is clear so rarely. We stand attentively and enraptured; though a little disappointed on those many visits when the overcast British ‘sunrise’ is actually just a gradual lightening of the sky from a dark grey to light grey over a slow meditative hour.

Hass Hill [Photo Credit: Charlie Kennedy / CC via Wikimedia]

In England, Pagans greet the solstice sunrise on their local sacred site, or at a local hill with a good southeastern view. Often people do it alone, or with their partner, sometimes with a small group of friends. Most often people stay local.

When I lived next to Hampstead Heath, I once went to the Whitestone Pond to watch a winter sunrise. When I had a boyfriend in Chalk Farm, I watched the spring equinox sunrise on Primrose Hill. When I lived in Richmond, I went to a dip behind a spot called King Henry’s Mound in the Richmond Park. That’s just a bit of my history around London neighbourhoods.

It’s even stronger across the country, in the more rural areas. Down near Glastonbury my pals lived in a tiny village by Ham Hill. When I went to visit, they regaled me with the origins of the name, the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon settlements found upon it, and described to me the strange lights that were sometimes seen upon it. Of course we had to trek up it.

My witch friends in Gloucestershire always went with their coven members up the hill behind their house. Almost every Pagan in England has an adopted hill. I promise that if you visit on or around one of the sabbats, particularly a solstice, you’ll hear all about a sacred site, and they’ll take you there if they’ve half a chance.

The English learned to write in the Dark Ages and immediately began writing about lore associated with every bump and dip in the landscape. Medieval writers Gerald of Wales and Geoffrey of Monmouth are two of those who recorded the lore of the land. The tradition kept up through the Tudors and Stuarts. Then the 18th-century antiquarians made an encyclopedic project of English landscape lore. Pagans today use the resources at hand to get hold of the earliest information they can about their local hill. Once that’s under their belt, they find which deities are local, and of course – which ghosts may haunt it.

Then there’s the logistical side to master. In other words, can you get up the hill? And can you see the Southeast from it? For Pagans, ‘accessible’ means you can find a way to get into the grounds and up to the top in darkness, and descend in daylight. Accessible may or may not mean technically legal.

Summer Solstice on Breton Hill [ © Copyright Philip Halling / CC lic. geograph.org.uk]

Many a time I’ve been taken by a friend to a place for a solstice dawn that’s accessible. Well, sort of accessible because you can easily get in if you climb under a gap in the fence at the right spot. ‘We’ll just park in a layby down the road then approach quietly, sticking to edge of the road by the trees’ says the friend. And the farmer never need know as long as we leave it spotless. Sometimes the landowner is the National Park Authority, sometimes the National Trust.

Sometimes a Pagan meets another Pagan atop a hill, purely by chance. It’s a funny moment, that meeting. It’s always cold, dew-damp and dark, and we approach gently, so as not to startle. We then always nod at one another. Then we might offer a little advice as to where the sun’s due to come up, or ask if they came up by the wire fence down the left, just to break the ice a little. Then we separate, to find our own spots, and settle into our respective solitude.

After it’s over, an hour or so later, a few more pleasantries are offered with a query of a local pub in the region that might serve breakfast. When parting, one waves and mumbles unsurely ‘Blessed be.’ In that very English way, one doesn’t want to presume it’s appropriate. On the other hand, it would be rude not to extend the traditional good wish.

We’ve just had the winter solstice here, and I’ve recently moved to South London. For the very first time, I didn’t climb a hill as there isn’t one nearby. It feels all wrong. Tonight I’ll be getting out a local map and finding the nearest one, and tomorrow I’ll be digging out the local folklore. Solstice 2015 will see me climbing a hill again and I’ll feel properly pagan once more.

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Culture and Community: Kickstarting the 2015 Pagan Conventions Season

Fri, 2015-01-16 05:53

[Photo Credit: W. Guy Finley/cc. lic. via wikimedia]

The upcoming convention season brings about much celebration, many learning opportunities and face to face community interactions with other Pagan practitioners. Paganicon, PantheaCon, ConVocation, Sacred Space, Between the Worlds, and the Conference on Current Pagan Studies all happen between January and March. These large convention-style Pagan events have become an essential part of the community landscape.

While these conventions can be more costly than camping festivals, they are packed full of programming and bring a diversity of people to the forefront of our community expansion. Part of the beauty of events like this include the combination of Pagan authors, speakers, practitioners, ritualists, healers, musicians, and emerging or locals talents. And, of course, no one can deny that these events provide an opportunity to shop at incredible Pagan markets.

So what can we expect this year from the upcoming conventions? How do these conventions serve the community in 2015? What are people looking forward to the most?

All conventions have their own cultures. Each one appeals to different people for different reasons. Whether it is the presenters, concerts, merchandise, or the chance to engage with others, conventions seem to serve a multitude of community needs within modern Paganism. Thousands of people pay the entrance fees and hotel costs, and some even purchase plane tickets tickets, just to attend these conventions from the west coast to the east coast. In many ways, these events serve as a pilgrimage for many Pagans and have value in the larger picture of community.

The myriad reasons why Pagans seem to go out of their way to attend conventions are just as diverse as the responses below.

Author and artist Lupa Greenwolf will be presenting at PantheaCon and is an honored guest of Paganicon this year. Over the year, Lupa has been an avid participant and presenter at many pagan conventions.

Lupa Greenwolf
[Courtesy Photo]

There are a few different things that draw me to conventions. Some of it’s business, some of it’s fun. On the business end, I go there to present workshops and other activities, both to share neat things I’ve been working with spiritually, and to promote my writing and artwork. I also vend my art and books at a lot of local conventions, Pagan and otherwise; a lot of these things I simply wouldn’t be able to afford to attend if I weren’t selling my work to pay my way. Conventions are always a great networking opportunity, especially larger ones where you may have people from all over the place.

But that’s the work end of things.I wouldn’t go to these events if they weren’t also fun. I’m a really, really busy person, and conventions are sometimes the only significant social time I get during the craziest parts of the year. They pull together a bunch of people I might not get to see in person otherwise, and they get me out of the apartment! I don’t get to attend as many workshops as I’d like most of the time, just because I’m often preparing for my own presentations, or attending to a booth, or catching up with long-distance friends. But there’s usually something that I absolutely must go see while I’m there, and it’s nice to just sit back and absorb someone else’s wisdom and experience for a while.

I’m really looking forward to PantheaCon next month; I’m already making plans to see people there (and maybe do a little hiking out in the wilder areas out of town.) And then I’ll roll right into MythicWorlds in Seattle, which always has some of the best energy and people-watching. I also just sent in booth applications for both the Northwest Tarot Symposium and Sister Spirit’s Pagan Faire here in Portland; the first one is shiny and new, while the latter is an old, well-loved favorite. And I’m always happy to be with my Faerieworlds folks in the summertime. Closer to home, I’m already making plans for the third year of my own event, Curious Gallery, which while it isn’t blatantly pagan, it is deeply inspired and informed by my dedication to nature.

Taylor Ellwood [Courtesy Photo]

As an author, practitioner, and publisher, Taylor Ellwood participates in multiple conventions around the United States both as a presenter and as an attendee to simply connect with community.

I like to participate in conventions because it gives me a chance to meet other Pagans and magicians that aren’t local to my area. Additionally I enjoy the opportunity to interact with people who like my work and might not otherwise get to meet me.

I’m most excited about attending Between the Worlds, which is a conference that is only held every few years. The next one won’t be until 2020 so I’m excited to go to the one happening this year.

Brenda Titus is a professional hypnotist in Orange County, California, and a regular participant in the annual PantheaCon festival held in San Jose, California. This year Brenda will be adding to the event’s workshops with her own slot, bringing her skills to the participants of the festival.

Brenda Titus [Courtesy Photo]

I first attended PantheaCon 5 years ago having no idea what to expect. A friend had been going for years and suggested I go. My first experience was CAYA Coven’s “Wake up to Spirit” ritual. It moved me so deeply, I felt like a part of me had in fact “woken up” well beyond what I expected. I filled myself up to the brim that weekend with workshops, rituals, energy beyond my understanding at the time. I went home with an energy hangover and a deep desire to return!

Over the years, my motivation to return has changed. While I have Pagan community and family at home, people who are deeply part of my personal growth and my life throughout the year, my once a year visit with people that I only see in person at PantheaCon is also a very important part of my motivation to participate. I have had profound experiences at PantheaCon that were propelled by well crafted rituals, performed by people that I have grown to trust, and fueled by serious group energy.

I don’t know if I can pick one thing that I am most excited about, so I’ll have to pick 3:reconnecting with people (at rituals, parties and on the fly), rituals & workshops that will help me on my path for the year … The thing I’m MOST excited about is that this year, for the first time, I get to give back as a presenter. The experiences that I had at PantheaCon over the last 5 years have definitely propelled my career as a Hypnotherapist, so I am thrilled to present “Connecting to the wisdom of the soul with hypnosis.” 

Lisa Spiral Besnett  [Courtesy Photo]

Lisa Spiral is a long time Priestess and the author of two books through Immanion Press. She goes to Pagan festivals routinely and has flown from the midwest to California for the past several years to participate in PantheaCon.

I really enjoy seeing old friends and the opportunity to network. There is often interesting programming and I find it useful to learn and grow outside of my “comfort zone.” As an author I also think it’s important to put my name and face out there in the community.

This year I’m very excited about the expansion of the discussion of Race and Paganism. I think we have a unique community mindset that is ready to actually examine privilege and look for ways to move forward in this area.

While there continues to be a lot of disagreement and confusion around the concept of community and Paganism, these conference are some of the few times Pagans get to practice community in action together. Having collective experiences and shared space among the many different groups underneath the large umbrella of Paganism appears to foster a feeling of community that we often lack otherwise.

So how do these conventions serve the Pagan community? I find this question to be vital in most of the things we choose to do, and conventions are no exception.

They’re a coming together time. We get to have a temporary space where we can share ideas, catch up with people, and let new movements find their footing. It’s a great seedbed for zeitgeist. And for some people, conventions are one of the few opportunities they may have to interact with other Pagans, particularly those of a similar tradition. It’s easier to hit a critical mass that can make great changes in the community at a convention because of the sheer volume of attendees and the relatively public nature of the setting. You may only know a few people there really well, but they know people, and those people know other people, and an idea can spread very quickly, especially if it’s sparked by something in the moment. Look at the situation with transgender women and Z. Budapest at PantheaCon a couple of years ago; that probably wouldn’t have had nearly as much of an impact if it had been one transgender woman being told “No, you can’t join our small Dianic coven, sorry. - Lupa Greenwolf

I do feel conventions serve the community. They provide a space for Pagans to be openly Pagan and have the experience of meeting and working with other people who share their interests. – Taylor Ellwood

These conventions (all, not just PantheaCon) serve the Pagan community because they bring people from various regions, varying traditions and philosophies together to learn with and from each other. What I learn at Pantheacon, I bring back to my own community. This is also a time for regular “coming together” to focus on community issues in order to bring about change. I’ve seen this over the years in regards to gender issues, leadership, safety, people of color, etc. One con does not set the agenda for the entire Pagan community, however important conversations that need to be made in person take place, which help carry forward into growth and paradigm shift. – Brenda Titus

I think the conventions serve the community in a number of ways. They are a very public event, and therefore make an opportunity for new people to see there is a community and for the larger community to acknowledge our subgroup. I think it’s a great chance to touch base with people we don’t get to see regularly and it’s easier for some of us than camping at festivals. I think it’s incredibly important that these conventions represent the diversity in our communities. It’s very easy to see Paganism from our own practice or tradition lens and forget about all the variations that are out there. Intra-faith work is just as important to me as interfaith and these conventions are strong intra-faith opportunities. – Lisa Spiral

January starts the convention season and 2015 is shaping up to be a fascinating year. The Conference on Current Pagan Studies, PantheaCon, ConVocation, Paganicon, Sacred Space and the Between The Worlds Conference all span across a 3 month period. As this year’s convention season unfolds, we get to see the best and the worst elements of community come together in small moments of time that become memories, spark ideas for collaboration, shed light on the need for continued activism and more. Friendships are formed; opportunities for networking or birthing new ideas come to the forefront; and problem areas within them modern Pagan community are often exposed.

Conventions have become part of the foundation of the modern Pagan culture. Good or bad, every year we tend to learn something new about ourselves individually and collectively. We get the chance to ask ourselves how participating in the greater Pagan community, or culture, supports collective goals and advancement. How do we use these opportunities to promote understanding and intrafaith dialog? How can we create a collective culture of tolerance, inclusivity, excitement and respect among the many different, unique and viable parts of our modern Pagan experience? How do these very moments shape the community at large? These are important questions in today’s time.

Descriptions of the five mentioned conventions are listed below, including links for more information.

The Conference on Current Pagan Studies will be held January 24 – 25 in Claremont, California. This year’s theme is Fecundity and Richness of the Dark. There will be two keynote speakers. Vivianne Crowley will present “Stepping out of the Shadows and into the Light: Evolution and Tensions in the Future of Contemporary Pagan Witchcraft.Orion Foxwood will be presenting “Consecrating the Underworld: The Eco-Spiritual and Co-Creative Implications of Faery Tradition”. Other presenters are included in this two day conference, which highlights some of the academic areas of Pagan research.

PantheaCon will be held February 13 – 16 in San Jose, California. This year’s theme is Pagan Visions of the Future; Building a Pagan Safety and Social Net. This four day event will feature a wide and diverse array of workshops, panels, concerts, and rituals. The schedule is packed with anywhere from five to eleven workshops in each time slot. With several thousand participants each year, this is the biggest Pagan convention in the United States. This year’s schedule includes authors and performers, such as Jason Mankey, Selena Fox, Rhyd Wildermuth, Alley Valkyrie, Taylor Ellwood, Shauna Aura Knight, David Salisbury, Courtney Weber, T. Thorn Coyle, Christopher Penczak, Pandemonaeon, Lou Florez, Orion Foxwood, Celia, and many, many more.

ConVocation, located in Detroit, will be held on February 19 –  22. This year’s theme is Journey’s End:  A New World Begins and the guests of honor include Andras Corban-Arthen, Kerr Cuhulain, Dorothy Morrison, Diana Paxon, M.R. Sellars and Mother Moon. The featured presenters include Jason Mankey, Ellen Dugan, Michelle Belanger, and others. ConVocation, which has been run annually since 1995, boasts about 100 workshops and presentations, and has approximately 35 vendors for Pagan shopping.

Minnesota’s Paganicon, now in its fifth year, will be held between March 13 – March 15. According to the website, “Paganicon is organized by Twin Cities Pagan Pride and a host of volunteers to provide an educational and social venue for Pagans, Wiccans, Heathens, Druids & other folk, craft, indigenous or magickal traditions.” This year, Selena Fox and Lupa Greenwolf are the guests of honor, along with performances by Tuatha Dea. The program schedule has not yet been released and there are still several upcoming deadlines should anyone want to be involved. Presenter registration deadline is February 1, and the final schedule will be released February 15.

Between The Worlds

For this year only, the Between the Worlds and Sacred Space Conferences have merged. One admission price will give you a joint experience including the list of guests from both conferences. The joint event will be held March 5 – 8 in Hunt Valley, Maryland. This year, there will be presentations by T. Thorn Coyle, Aeptha, Ivo Domínguez, Jr., Katrina Messenger, Dorothy Morrison, Christopher Penczak, Kirk Thomas, Michael G. Smith, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Judika Illes, Diana Paxson, Literata Hurley , H. Byron Ballard, and more.

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Treating Depression in a Pagan Context

Thu, 2015-01-15 09:49

UNITED STATES — It’s become fairly commonplace for articles about “Blue Monday” to come up at this time of year. According to a formula concocted for a now-defunct travel network, the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year. While that designation was most likely created to sell vacation packages, it does serve to focus attention on a complex, often intractable condition.

[public domain]

Pagans are certainly not unusual in suffering from depression, but since their worldviews can differ widely from that of the overculture, the tools and techniques for treating depression may also differ. To learn more, The Wild Hunt spoke with Pagan mental health professionals, as well as those who have struggled with depression.

Reverend Selena Fox, founder of Circle Sanctuary, has been a practicing psychotherapist for most of her adult life, and most of the people she works with in that context are Pagan. “It’s important one takes a holistic approach to healing and wellness,” she said. For Pagans, she added, that means “to be able to tap into their spirituality as part of working on getting better.”  That is only one part of a successful treatment plan for depression, she stressed, for two main reasons:

  • Selena Fox.

    A biochemical imbalance may be contributing to one’s depression, and often the best treatment in such cases involves biochemical support. “It’s really important to deal with the physical-plane dimensions of the condition, as well as the spiritual ones,” Fox said. That may mean medication, or one of the many herbal supplements which are used to lift mood. Determining which is best should be left to a trained professional.

  • There is a tendency among depression sufferers to constrict one’s social life as these interactions and activities stop giving pleasure. “It’s important to be aware of those tendencies and get help shifting out of holing up like that,” said Fox. Again, that help can take the form of a professional, such as a social worker, counselor, or therapist, or that help can be observant loved ones who are able to recognize depressed behavior.

Fox actually likened depression to a common cold in that it’s a relatively common condition, which should be resolved within a couple of weeks with self-care. Like the cold, though, if it persists longer than that, outside treatment should be sought. She recalled working in a clinic where some patients would only decide to seek help after having suffered for six or eight months. “It’s much easier to treat depression when it’s addressed earlier,” she said, noting that there are always treatment options available, no matter how serious the condition has become.

Some ways to find a suitable mental health professional include asking for references from Pagan friends and organizations in the local area, or contacting a professional association, such as the Association for Transpersonal Psychology that recognizes the importance of holistic approaches.

Tony Rella.

Taking all of that into account, there are Pagan-specific approaches to handling depression; all of which can be incorporated into a larger treatment plan. Both Fox and Tony Rella, a mental health counselor in the Seattle area and a student-mentor at the Morningstar Mystery School, use the elements of earth, water, air, and fire in their treatment plans.  Fox also includes spirit in her approach.

While not every Pagan incorporates these concepts into their own religious practice, these elements can be used to present the information and recommendations that we have gathered from Fox, Rella and others.

Earth

Earth, the body, can take a beating during depression. Sleep patterns can be disrupted, and an attitude of, “What difference does it make?” can lead to poor self-care. Fox likens this to a passive form of suicidal ideation. “Someone who has the flu might not have the energy to get it treated, and it turns into pneumonia,” she explained.

Rella said activity and diet are very important earth aspects. “Am I getting exercise? Am I spending time outside? Am I getting regular doses of sunlight or Vitamin D? (A big problem in the Pacific Northwest!) Is my diet promoting health? There is emerging research that indicates a relationship between depression and inflammation in the body, leading some professionals to suggest experimenting with reducing or eliminating foods that might promote inflammation, like foods high in sugar.”

Foods are an important part of Shauna Aura Knight‘s personal strategy:

About a decade ago, I started noticing certain foods seemed to impact me. I was focusing more on reducing my migraines and acne, but (as it turned out) those foods also impacted my depression. I used to live off hot pockets, mini pizzas, and soda. Carbs, sugar, dairy. It took years to finally make the switch to a (roughly) paleo diet. No grains, no added sugars, no dairy, no calorie free sweeteners. Part of what helped me to make the switch was my belief that the divine is in each person, and that my body is divine. ‘My body is a living temple of love’ is a line from one of my favorite chants. My sacred body is worth the extra effort. Eliminating certain foods reduced the exhaustion/depression symptoms, and helped me to lose a hundred pounds which has significantly reduced my foot pain and joint pain. Taking Vitamin D, B, and my prescribed thyroid medication also helped.

Factors like sunlight and physical activity can be difficult to manage in northern climes. When reached for this story, Fox reported that it was 40 below outside her Wisconsin home. “Some days, sitting by a sunny window is all you can do,” she acknowledged, but she suggests supplementing limited exposure to sunlight with full-spectrum light boxes, and visualization exercises. Weather permitting, she also recommends nature walks for a number of reasons:  exercise is known to improve depression in its own right, changing one’s environment can interrupt a cycle of negative thinking, and Pagans in particular tend to respond well to exposure to the natural world.

One very pragmatic approach comes from Heathen Cara Freyasdaughter.

I take my depression meds regularly. I also get them refilled and checked on a regular basis by doctors who are qualified to do this. I see this as part of a larger technique for dealing with depression called “taking care of myself.” My Goddess has Strong Opinions on whether I (or others) take care of ourselves enough or love ourselves enough. It’s a constant message that I, and others who work with Her, get. So I find that when I take care of myself, I honor Her as well.”

Water

Regarding the element of water, Rella asks questions that are tied to mood, including “Can I give space and permission for painful emotional experiences to emerge? What deeper wisdom might these feelings point toward? What difficult truths can I see in my heart?”

Feelings about others also feed into the water element. Fox pointed out that loved ones can be among the first to recognize depression. “If you are encouraging a loved one who seems to be in the funks and talks negatively day in and out, it’s a really good idea to have some conversations with that person hoping it will encourage or motivate them to get some additional help.”

Blogger Alyxander Folmer, writing about his own struggles with depression, said that his loved ones serve as a source of motivation:

Alyxander Folmer

. . . during the hardest points of depression just mustering the energy required to express emotion can be daunting. When just getting out of bed feels like it takes more energy than you’ve got in the tank, it’s hard to care enough to put on music (or fight laundry monsters). On those days, the only thing that gets me moving is remembering that people need me. I have a wife who deserves a functioning partner. I have approximately 1/3 of a child who needs me to to provide a safe and stable life for it to grow. I have friends that need to know they can call on me when times are hard. This has become my morning mantra for those days when I’m just to exhausted to muster up will to function. It doesn’t matter how I feel, or how little I care about anything else. That one thought will get me moving.

Jolene Poseidonae spoke about a technique she developed for herself:

Detached compassion is something I developed not initially to cope with depression but as part of shadow work years ago as I learned how to drop the tools that had helped me survive a violent, abusive upbringing but were then getting in the way of my being a functional adult with healthy relationships. It was something I developed so that I could trust in my gods and in the people who loved me, and it spilled over into dealing with depression. It’s a sort of stepping back from the emotional ups and downs that hit so fast they leave me dizzy, it’s the practice of disengaging from one’s emotions. Emotions are always in a state of flux for me, and they are often untrustworthy. It’s harder when the emotion is a constant, steady stream of a conviction of unworth, of wretchedness, and the knowing that nothing will ever get better, and this burning desire to cease existing will go on and on and on with no relief, but having the practice in place helps me turn my connection to those emotions off. It’s like I sort of side-step them. I watch them, I hear them, and I feel them, but I turn aside so that the feeling of them isn’t as direct. I’m not as engaged with them. Usually, this helps shorten the duration of my being mired in the black. The days I have when I lose all interest in my projects are fewer, and it’s been a long time since I’ve lost months like I used to.

Knight noted, “When my depression was at its worst, I couldn’t acknowledge I had depression because that would mean I was ‘bad,’ ‘worthless,’ ‘hopeless.’ Admitting I had a problem — looking into that dark, shadowy mirror of my own fears — was the first big step. Getting help was more difficult as I have no health insurance, and I was alone without much income. I did manage to get some help via therapy at a cheap clinic, but even that cost too much. I was introduced to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, though, and I realized that I had done personal work similar to that when I was doing leadership training at Diana’s Grove.”

Air

Air is associated with the intellect and thoughts. “What kind of story is my depression telling about me?” asks Rella. “What harmful self-beliefs are coming to light? How could I rewrite those stories to promote more ease and self-acceptance?”

Fox suggests monitoring self-talk to identify the onset of depression, which can otherwise begin without detection. On paper or electronically, jot down one’s thoughts over the course of a day. “If a person is finding a great propensity for negative thinking that is often an indicator that there’s some kind of depression going on. Phrases such as, ‘Well, what’s the point, I’m failing at this, nothing’s ever going to get better.’ If there’s ideation indicating hopelessness, sorrow, putting oneself down, that’s a sign you need some help.”

[public domain]

S. Jade Gribanov said that distracting herself from negative thoughts works for her. She added, “Music. Anything that makes me feel good. A brainless inconsequential activity to occupy my conscious mind. My brain will run itself in circles for a few hours. Most of it will be garbage but I always come up with a couple of things to keep me going for a while longer.”

Music works for Knight, as well. “I sometimes also sing to manage depression, and I’m trying to work singing into a daily practice. While I still struggle with occasional ‘pit of despair’ days where I am utterly exhausted, and I am still trying to find ways to feel emotions like joy and happiness, my life is far better than it was.”

Freyasdaughter embraces her own thoughts from times when she felt better. “I read my past writings. There are times when I am full of faith and trust in the Gods completely, and when depression hits I lose most of that. So it’s good for me to go back and see these hopeful things, written by my own hand, and remember that the depressive funk I’m in can and will pass. It has before.”

Poseidonae also uses her writing, but slightly differently. “Writing is a huge part of coping. Going easy with myself when I need to is also a part of it. Losing myself in fiction. Sometimes throwing myself into my devotional acts helps, and sometimes it makes it worse. Sometimes I have to retreat away from all my gods — Poseidon being the sole exception — and just be.”

Fire

“In my observation, qualities of Fire are particularly challenging for people with depression,” said Rella. “The depression says, ‘I don’t care about anything and I don’t have the strength to do anything.’ Engaging the will to act on something important to me is a powerful coping strategy. Sustaining a daily practice, even when you don’t ‘feel it,’ helps. For some people at the height of depression, getting out of bed to take a shower is a tremendous act of will, and worth validating. Those who have never experienced a deep depression might have trouble understanding how much courage and strength it takes to do these daily tasks, and it is the enactment of these that helps the person work through and move out of their depression.”

For Fox, action can often break the patterns that feed depression, as has been touched upon earlier. Fire can also be utilized literally, in the form of candles or exposure to sunlight and other full-spectrum lighting.

Spirit

Fox uses spirit in the context of “one’s practices and understandings” when speaking about depression. “Some daily spiritual practice can be a really important component,” she said. That could take the form of “being at a home altar calling on the Divine, Goddess, God, Great Spirit, or a particular pantheon, depending on the tradition. Actually call on the sacred and ask for assistance as one goes through life and the day.” Further, “a ritual for self-healing involving chanting, candlelight, incense, [or] affirmations . . . is really a complement to whatever else one is doing.”

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia, a Pagan clergyperson, provided some specific actions for depressed Pagans to take in her second post on The Downward Spiral — Depression and Suicide in Paganism, including the use of banishing pentagrams to dispel negative moods, witch bottles to get rid of bad luck, and seeking council of the gods.

I believe that if you keep your eyes open for them, the gods send you signs also. When my husband was in a major car accident and in the ICU for a month, the phrase “this too shall pass” continued to be sent to me. People would say it on the bus to me; I saw it tattooed on the wrist of one of the kinder nurses. You get the idea.

Hellenist Conor Davis finds that religious ritual sometimes works for him. “I have found that, when I can manage it, prayers and devotionals can help me with some of the milder symptoms of depression. On bad days where I don’t want to get out of bed much less leave the house, nothing seems to help and everything seems feeble.”

Freyasdaughter said, “I make a gratitude list. By that point or so, I’m in a place where I can move easily into a state of worshipping my Goddess, and in return She gives me back love. It’s a great feedback loop. When I’m depressed it’s often very difficult to reach out to the gods and trust that they are there, or to trust that anything I’m feeling or hearing from them is real or true. So, the gratitude list, where I sit myself down and make myself look at the things that are going well in my life, helps me to get back into that connected, hopeful headspace again.”

Dver, a spirit-worker on the margins of Hellenic polytheism, made this observation: “I have come to the conclusion over the years that my chronic depression is actually a recurring shaman sickness, essentially (I’m not actually a shaman, but a spirit-worker, and this concept seems to apply to various sorts of mystics). When I hit my worst point many years ago, I began delving into spirit-work (though I didn’t call it that at the time) and things got much better. To this day, when I am experiencing any longish stretch of depression (more than a few days), it is almost always a call to pay attention to what I am neglecting, and once I begin doing my Work again, the depression lifts.”

[Photo Credit: Martin Gommel/Flickr]

Many of those who reached out or wrote about this topic have compared depression to an underworld journey, in which the traveler must confront difficult truths, or even discern truth from self-lies. Given the complex and powerful symbolism in this area, it’s worth further study.

Depression is a condition which can alter one’s own perceptions of self-worth, which can lead to neglect of the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life. A holistic approach to treatment might include physical activity, monitoring self-talk, performing regular spiritual practice even if it seems pointless, and changes in diet and medication. Because it can be a serious illness, and particularly because it changes self-perception, outside help should be sought for any depression which lasts for more than a few days.

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U.S. Army Adds Heathen and Asatru to Religious Preference List

Wed, 2015-01-14 09:07

The U.S. Army has finally added Asatru and Heathen to its religious preference list after a five year effort led by the Open Halls Project. The Army is now the second branch of the U.S Military to include these two religious options. The Air Force led the way in July 2014. With these changes made, Heathen soldiers serving, or having served, in either of these two branches can accurately communicate their religious preference and, by doing so, earn a host of benefits and protections.

[Photo Credit: Ian Britton/FreePhoto.com]

“This is a first step into showing how deeply integrated with serving our country Heathens are. We represent a significant minority of the world, but the large majority of Heathens have served their countries in some form or another. Taking care of our community is a Heathen worldview trait, serving in the military is one way to serve those communities. I hope that this recognition helps to encourage more Heathens to serve their communities in all ways,” said Josh Heath, co-founder of the Open Halls Project in an interview with The Wild Hunt.

It is currently estimated that there are around 500 Heathens serving in the U.S. Army alone. That number is purely speculative based on Open Hall Project registrations. Heath said, “I’m hoping that getting the religious preference added will allow us to eventually ask the military to do an official census.”

Heath’s quest began in 2009 after he and his wife Cat joined The Troth. At that time, Heath was on Active Duty with U.S. Army, and wanted to see both Heathen and Asatru added to the religious preference list. Since that application required the backing of a 501c3 organization, he asked the Troth for help, which they gave. Unfortunately, the Army made an error and put The Troth on the list, rather than Heathen or Asatru.

As a result, Heath had to begin the process all over again. This time, however, he looked for support from a group whose name contained the word Asatru, as advised by Army officials. With the help of Vince Enland of the Asatru Alliance and Patricia Lafayllve of The Troth, he submitted a second application in 2010.  This was also the year that he and Cat formally established the Open Halls Project.


A year went by with little to no response. In 2011, the team decided to submit a third application. This one contained a petition with the signatures of over 30 soldiers. But, once again, they were simply told that the application was being reviewed.

After two years of waiting, the Army had still made no decisions, and the team was faced with two new challenges. Heath said, “In 2012, we were told by the Chaplains Corp that a new system to request Rel Prefs was being developed and would take some time to get anything new approved.” Additionally, Heath himself was no longer on Active Duty. Therefore, they “would need to get someone [else] who [could] reprocess the whole request.”

Over the next two years, they put the project on “the back burner.” They periodically checked in with Chaplain Bryan Walker, personnel director of the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. They also worked to garner more support and allies for the mission.

By 2013, momentum began to build in the form of both interest and corresponding actions. In terms of earning increased support, Josh Heath credits a 2013 interview with Dr. Karl Seigfried, published on the Norse Mythology blog.  While the article is predominantly about the couple’s personal history and religion, it does mention the Open Halls Project and its deep involvement “in American Heathenry and … the struggle for its recognition as a religion in the U.S. military.” In fact, that very interview is what inspired Msgt. Matt Walters, the Air Force NCO, to seek out the Open Halls Project for help in getting Asatru and Heathen added to the Air Force religious preference list.

While support increased, other serendipitous events began to happen. In spring 2013, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs added the Mjöllnir, (the Hammer) to its list of symbols available for gravestones and markers. Then, in early 2014, the Army added Humanism to its religious preference list, and the Air Force added Heathen and Asatru.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

In a recent interview with Dr. Karl Seigfried, Heath admitted that the adding of Humanism, “riled him up!” He said, “I’d been working on this issue for Heathens for five years, and they still hadn’t approved us! I threatened a lawsuit, politely, and even contacted the ACLU and the humanists that won their campaign to ask for some guidance on how to proceed.”

Due the increase in support from the Heathen community, Heath was able to find four new Active Duty soldiers willing to work on the project. The team consisted of Christopher Gibat, Omar Bailey, Andrew Turner and Daniel Head, who would became the new principle point of contact. In a recent interview, Head told Dr. Seigfried that after some “back and forth” and questioning the chaplains signed off. Asatru and Heathen were added to the list.

While this designation is purely administrative, the benefits can be far reaching in the experiences of a Heathen soldier, and in the education of military officials. Heath said:

Some Heathens will still have a hard time getting the right to worship, but having their religious preference added will mean the Chaplains Corp, MUST, assist them within the regulation requirements. That is a huge advocacy pool, even a chaplain that doesn’t really want to help will have to or face disciplinary action for failing to uphold their oath. I think this will help, when good soldiers, are seen as good soldiers, and then someone finds out they are a Heathen, this will hopefully show that we are good for our units, good for the Army and good for our country.

He also noted that Heathen Veterans can apply to make a change to their religious preference. Doing so will help with any official census taken, as well as supporting Heathen specific needs for funerals and other religious-based services.

[Public Domain]

After the announcement was made, Open Halls members were asked for reactions and thoughts. Heath shared some of those responses:

I have [had] to choose ‘other’ as my religious preference, that makes me and many others feel excluded. I will no longer have to worry, “Will there be someone who understands what I believe, and to speak for me, if the worse were to happen.” – Daron Regan

It is a great feeling not to be marginalized as “that weird guy that believes in comic book characters.” – Andrew Turner

I am thankful for those that have stayed the course, it seems to have paid off and brought honor to us all.- Omar Bailey

This is the seed from which something great may grow. Whether it be something as simple as full recognition or a full chaplain representation. Our deed will feed the well that feeds the seed.- Joshua Spencer

A few members were skeptical on how much this will really affect their day-to-day experience, but most reactions were celebratory and focused on the next chapter of the project. Heath said, “We are planning on pursuing the Navy and Marines next, as they use the same system for Chaplains, a win there will affect both branches at the same time. I seriously doubt they would add the preferences themselves without prodding, but I do not think it would be hard for personnel to make those requests now.”

For more extensive detail on the entire process and experience, turn to the recent interview with Daniel Head and Josh and Cat Heath at the Norse Mythology Blog

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Maureen Wheeler (1938 – 2015)

Tue, 2015-01-13 09:42

Maureen Wheeler

On Jan. 8, Maureen Wheeler, fondly known as Aunty Bunty, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Maureen was a Witch, High Priestess and Elder member of the U.K.’s Pagan community. She trained and was initiated by Gavin Bone in the early 1990s. By 2001, she had birthed a legacy of more than a dozen covens around the country. As noted by Bone in his personal tribute, “Magically [Maureen] was a witch, not a Wiccan, not any particular tradition, she was a witch. She was a witch before I met her and she died a witch above all else.”

In a video titled Witchways 1, Maureen describes her first experience with Witchcraft. In 1955, at the age of 17, she was introduced to a man wearing an inverted pentacle and, out of curiosity, accompanied him to an event. But it wasn’t what she wanted, and many years passed before she once again encountered anyone practicing Witchcraft.

That year was 1990. Maureen discovered that her daughter-in-law was studying Witchcraft. Once again, Maureen’s curiosity was piqued, and so she attended a meeting. This is where she met Gavin Bone, who would become her initiator and good friend. Bone said, “I still remember the first time I saw her; she was in battle dress! Dressed in leather jacket, dark glasses read to wrestle her daughter in law from us evil satanists! The reverse happened in stead she stayed.”

Soon after, Maureen became an initiated Witch, studying with Bone and eventually with others, including The Fellowship of Isis. As time passed, she formed her own coven and became a High Priestess, a respected teacher, a skilled Tarot reader, and an active member of UK’s Pagan community.

Maureen Wheeler [Still from Witchways 1}

Maureen never hid her practice, and was willing to be filmed and interviewed. Along with the two short Witchways videos, Maureen participated in several BBC programs. In 2001, she was featured on a show titled ‘Rush,” which includes a dramatically-filmed bit on modern Witchcraft. In 2005, she consented to be part of an episode of the BBC TV show called “Inside Out.” Focused on the magic in Kingsley Vale, the segment shows Maureen with her coven performing a ritual in a Yew grove and ends with a brief interview.

In 2011, Vogue UK did an editorial, titled “Merrie England,” exploring the folk revival in the region. Included in the twenty photographs taken by renowned photographer Tim Walker is the striking image of Maureen in ritual dress. The article’s subtitle appropriately reads, “Tim Walker captures its practitioners at their most magical.”

Unfortunately, this past October, cancer caught back up with Maureen after being in remission for nine years. The treatments were difficult and eventually took their toll on her body. Maureen passed into the Summer lands in the presence of her daughter at 8:50 a.m. on January 8.

Maureen’s daughter, Louise Hilborne, was initiated by her mother and said, “From a very early age she told me I was a witch as she was but it would be many years later that I was woken to this. It terrified me.”  She added, “I will do my best to carry on her good work in the way I know how. ”

Maureen’s son, Dave Hilborne wrote this tribute:

My dear mum was the most remarkable woman,it didn’t matter if you were 16 or 66 she could and would make a connection with people. My greatest pride was that she took enormous joy from watching me perform and even more so I would love to make her laugh until the tears rolled down her cheeks. My mum saved me from almost intolerable hardship as a child,she taught me the value of saving and being grateful for all that I have. She taught me to be tolerant. She taught me life. (reprinted with permission)

Simon Costin, director of The Museum of Witchcraft, said:

She had a remarkable life and a very unique take on the craft that was very much her own. I learnt more from Maureen over a cup of tea than from any number of books. Hers was a meaty, no nonsense kind of magic and all the better for it….I will miss her dearly.

At the end of his tribute, Gavin Bone said:

She was my friend as well as my initiate. Alex Sander’s said (stolen of course from someone else): ‘If the initiate does not surpass the initiator, the initiator has failed!’ I did not fail, she surpassed me and I am proud of it. But I will not take any credit for this as Maureen was a witch from the day she was born, I learnt as much from her as she did from me; we initiated each other. I will miss her but know we will ‘…meet again’!

Maureen was a dedicated and passionate Witch, Priestess, teacher and guide. She was deeply respected and loved. She will be missed by her family, her friends and her students. Her legacy will live on through her work, her teachings, and the impact that she had on the modern practice of Witchcraft.

What is remembered, lives.

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Pagan Community Notes: Army adds Asatru, New temple in Iceland, Coph Nia and much more!

Mon, 2015-01-12 08:45

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!

Last week, it became official that the U.S. Army has added Heathen and Asatru to its religious preference list. The efforts to get this added were spearhead by members of the The Open Halls Project. Josh Heath, co-founder of the organization, told The Wild Hunt, “I think this is a first step into showing how deeply integrated with serving our country heathens are. We represent a significant minority of the world, but the large majority of heathens have served their countries in some form or another. Taking care of our community is a heathen worldview trait, serving in the military is one way to serve those communities.”

The Norse Mythology Blog published an interview with Heath and co-founder Cat Heath, as well as Daniel Head, an active duty soldier who was part of the effort. We will have a full report later this week.

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In Iceland, it has been announced that a new Pagan temple will be constructed in Reykjavik. According to the Iceland Magazine, “This will be the first pagan temple to be built in the Nordic countries in nearly a thousand years.”  The project began in 2006, when the application for the land plot was filed. Nine years later, construction is finally ready to begin.

According to the report, the structure will be 350 square meters and will hold 250 people. It will serve the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélag organization and its community. Columnist Eric O. Scott is currently researching the project and will have more on this story later in the month.

*   *   *

As registration opens for Coph Nia, the organization announced two more of its guest presenters for 2015. Joining author and activist Michael Lloyd, will be guest presenters Devin Hunter and Storm Faerywolf. The guest musical performer will be Brandyn Metzko. There year’s theme is “Chrysalis.”

Coph Nia is a “mystical gathering for gay and bisexual men.” Held in Artemas, Pennsylvania, the event is held over five days and includes rituals, concerts, vendors, workshops, bonfires, drumming and more. This year it takes place from Aug. 5-9.

In Other News:

  • A Georgia-based Pagan group has recently started a website called the “Pagan Business Network.” Its goal is to “bring Pagan business owners together to share knowledge and help promote each others businesses together.” The website and companion Facebook page offer basic business tips and promotional advice.
  • Amanda Morris is looking for participants for her Pagan Health Survey. She writes, “The responses will be used for my lecture at Duke University Hospital.” As she explains, she was asked by the hospital’s director of pastoral services to help provide a Pagan perspective on various topics. She wrote, “this fabulous opportunity to help educate doctors, nurses, social workers, staff members, psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals about Pagans, Paganism, their health and their religion.”
  • Megalithic Books, an imprint of Immanion Press, is seeking submissions for its upcoming anthology The Pop Culture Grimoire 2.0. According to the website, “This anthology explores pop culture magic and Paganism in the 21st Century.” The deadline for rough drafts is Mar. 15.
  • On Jan 30, the Manx National Heritage Museum will hosting a lecture by historian Dr. John Callow titled, “Gerald Gardener, Witchcraft and the Isle of Man”
  • Patheos Pagan writers contributed to a Patheos’ series called The Best Practices for Peace 2015. The introduction to the project says, “Instead of reflecting on personal goals, Patheos has invited contributors to consider some ‘resolutions’ around faith-based practices that could lead to greater peace in 2015.” Contributing writers include Holli Emore, Cat Chapin Bishop, Rev. Selena Fox, and Sable Aradia.

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

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An Interview with Christopher Blackwell

Sun, 2015-01-11 07:09

Since 2004, the Alternative Religions Education Network (AREN) has produced a regular seasonal newsletter called ACTION. For 6 of those years, the pages of the newsletter have been filled with interviews with Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists from around the world. To date, the newsletter has published around 560 interviews that catalog, record and share the memories, practices and work of a huge diversity of people.

Since the beginning, one man has been behind the newsletter from the writing of articles in the early days to producing the detailed interviews that we see today. That man is Christopher Blackwell.

Christopher Blackwell

Blackwell has been a solitary Wiccan for thirty years, and currently lives in New Mexico. He began following AREN around 2000, shortly after it changed names from the Witches Anti-Discrimination League (WADL) to the Alternative Religions Educational Network (AREN). The organization was formed in the 1970s by Leo Martello and, for many years, worked for the protection of religious rights. However, the organization had to be dissolved after the Anti-Defamation League threatened a lawsuit over use of the name. Shortly after, AREN was born.

In those early days, Blackwell spent his time interacting on the organization’s internet forums from his home in New Mexico. Then, in 2004 his life changed. He was asked to create and grow an AREN newsletter. The rest is history…

Today we turn the tables, so to speak, on the man who interviews the Pagan world. This is Christopher Blackwell.

The Wild Hunt: Most people know you as the guy behind ACTION. Tell us what you did before AREN.

Christopher Blackwell: Being that I had been traveling for years mining agate, my first contact [with the Pagan world] was through letters by snail mail to people writing in to Circle Network News newsletter back in the 80s … I had five post offices in three different states that I would have mail forwarded to as I moved with the wheel of the year mining from Eastern Oregon to Southern New Mexico, and back to Oregon again…

It was also through Circle Network that I took part in my first letter protest when a certain Jessie Helms tried to attach a rider to a the Post Office appropriation bill that would deny any non-profit group, tied to either Witchcraft or Satanism, the bulk rate postal rates allowed to all other non-profits groups. As this was before the Internet, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary sent, I believe, post cards to every one on Circle Sanctuary’s mailing list and then it was up to us to flood congress with letters against the rider. Primitive as that would seem today, the rider was dropped before before the Post Office appropriation bill left committee.

TWH: You are Wiccan? When and how did you find this path?

CB: In 1985 I literally got trapped selling at  a flea market in Tucson Arizona and never could earn enough to move on with my partner. So when I had time off I started looking for a teacher. There was a sort of New Age book store and in it a bulletin board. I found a notice about a high priestess, called the phone number and she wanted to meet me first in a public coffee shop. We talked, I was asked why I wanted training and  I passed and started training. I was initiated [into the Alexandria Tradtion] on Yule of 1985.

[Shortly after his initiation, sales picked up and he returned to mining. Then in 1993, his “mining days ended” after a severe illness. He settled returned to New Mexico, where he has lived ever since. After four years of medical care, he began writing. His only connection to Paganism was through Circle Magazine, Green Egg, Pagan Africa and a few other international newsletters. He submitted articles and letters as well as interacted with the community from his home. This is how he found AREN]

TWH: How did you get involved with AREN and what led to you becoming its newsletter editor?

CB: It was not until the late 90s that our local library got its first public used computer. It was slow, hooked to our phone system. Learning as I went, I usually crashed the computer once or twice a day. The librarians took pity on me and did not throw me out. I started exploring. I found a few online bulletin boards and Witches’ Voice.

I am not sure exactly when I connected with AREN … I just started posting on their forum taking part in various subjects. I became a regular … It was at this time the idea of an in house newsletter was suggested and I was asked to take it on. Now I did not like newsletters, first for being boring and second for being quarterly. I set out to create one. Bill Kilborn, who still acts as web guy, tried to find me free editing programs.  [The first two didn’t] even have page numbers, with often many mistakes and only about ten pages long.

TWH: How has the newsletter changed over the last ten years?

CB: I have often said it is fortunate that I never realized what I was getting into for I might not have never done it. Anyone, that has run one, knows how hard it is to get enough to post, to keep it going.

It was a busy time for AREN with the whole Bush Administration. So I began looking for stories on the internet about Wiccans, or about things that might effect Pagans. When I found something, I checked out the story in a variety of newspapers … until I had enough for a much longer and more detailed article. Sometimes  these articles of mine would run up to a page or two.

But there were two problems, even by 59, I had had a case of Pancreatitis and been diabetic for about a decade. I was already losing energy yearly and the newsletter was not succeeding … I doubt we had reached even 75 people reading it. Bill decided we should  open ACTION to the public and I decided that I could not do researched articles and that I would shift to interview format.

This started on Samhain of 2008. The change was noticeable and we soon topped two hundred readers, then three hundred readers, then eight hundred and a thousand readers. Not only did I interview people in the different communities, but in different countries and continents. Now there was new problem, where to find people to interview?

[Blackwell added that today readership runs as high as 3500 per issue. His first interviewees were friends and readers. Then he turned to the forums. Eventually, he expanded outward. Blackwell said that every issue starts with who he is going interview, will they accept and “how much longer can [he] keep this going.” He said, “I ask my gods to either give me inspiration or a kick in the butt, whichever is most effective. So far they have not let me down.”]

TWH: What was your most memorable interview?

CB: Goddess that is hard because they are many. One of my first real enjoyable interviews with a well-known Pagan was Oberon Zell-Ravenheart. He was an original. He has been in so much of our American Pagan history, and is a born story teller. I think his interview was something like eight pages long.

Now, probably, the youngest and most controversial interview was with a boy who published an essay in Witches Voice years ago …He got more reads than any other essay, even those by adults, which meant even the adults were reading him. The controversy came from the fact he wrote an essay on introductory Wicca in simple straight forward words and did it well. He turned out to be thirteen years old. He wanted to be a Wiccan author someday …

But a 13 year boy is vulnerable and there are people in our society who would hurt him, and I didn’t want him to get in any trouble. I only knew his first name, Mike, and never even asked what part of the country he was from. Otherwise, it was just an ordinary interview and damn I hope he does become that writer.

TWH: Through your interviews, what changes or significant trends have you noticed over the past ten years?

CB: Wicca was the big community here in the United States, the best known, and the most recognized with the most books … [Now] there has been more research published books showing up. The Polytheists have got very good at researching not only the Gods, variations of each god’s sacred story and practice depending where it was being done, and by which people. … The Heathens are again publishing more books and creating more groups and a lot of them are fighting against racist ideas successfully… I have seen Druids in charities and civic actions in England. They are showing up in remarkable places.

In Wicca, more of us do interact with other communities and definitely are developing all sorts of things, including charities, continuing civic action the environmental action. But we are also fighting against sexual exploitation of women and children in society and in our own community. So all of our communities are growing and filling  more of the gaps. More of us are becoming openly active in our society.

TWH: The Pagan media world has changed significantly since 2004. What role do you see yourself and the AREN newsletter playing in today’s digital media world?

CB: The world has changed greatly since the days that Witches’ Voice first start posting links to newspaper paper articles of interest to Pagans. They inspired Jason to create The Wild Hunt, and I to create ACTION and many other people. The Pagan media has grown a lot since, each filling different niches.

ACTION will last only as long as I and Bill care keep it going. I had hoped to have more helpers but that never happened. I am coming to the end of my life. I have already out lived most of the men in my family… Ironically I think I am happier being an old geezer than at any other part of my life. How amazing that is. Meanwhile my role is to remember each stage of my life and be gentle on the younger folk.

I have accomplished two goals with ACTION. One to eventually open more connections between the different communities and prove I can give a fair interview to anyone with their own words and none of my opinion. No spin from me … Somewhere down the line, my reader will hit a “Ah Ha moment, I could do something like that.” I have played my part, an old disabled Marine Vietnam Veteran, a Wiccan solitary who rarely leaves his home in the desert.

The mountains near Blackwell’s home in New Mexico [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: Sometimes we see your interviews on Penton Independent Alternative Media. Are these different or are they republished from ACTION? Where else can we find your work?

CB: My job is to find the story, write the questions to help the person tell it, and to get it out. One of the things that encourages people is their story will get out around the world, at least as far as I have readers. Afterward they are free to repost it anywhere as often as they want.

Penton asked to reprint older articles. And when they find one that  they think will interest their readers, I gave the the permission to do so.  I, so far, have had a couple of other Pagan organization in other parts of the world do the same, and I give the the same permission. I have had some Russian Pagan friends translate a few of them into several Eastern European languages. I have been told that some of those much newer Pagans consider my interviews as a window onto the rest of the Pagan World.

No one makes any money out of this, and more readers get to read the stories. One, Greek Gods -worshiping Pagan Group in Russia, was having a bit of  harassment by local officials. They showed them my interview of them and said it was published in the outside world. The harassment stopped. My tiny bit of the Pagan media, dinky by world media standards, actually had a tiny bit of political clout.

Can you imagine what that felt like for a person never trained in the media, who only learned by the endless mistakes I made and sometimes still make. It is magic and a gift of the gods. So I have had a chance to affect the Pagan communities. One old man in the middle of nowhere. What more could I want?

TWH: You talk about retiring from ACTION. Do you have any other plans or projects?

CB: A model railroad. I have wanted to build one for over fifty years. But I had no space, no money, and none of the skills. Railroad history has been my great love since high school. My second library in my sanctuary is railroad and model railroad [books]. I have many of the kits needed and a fair amount of material for its construction, but that is as far as it has gone…

As I often say, I am in good shape for 79, unfortunately I am only 69. So I make no predictions about anything any more, and live very much in the present. I try to avoid worrying, as worry stops nothing but uses up much limited energy that I have … Life is still interesting, often fun, and I get by.

[The unedited interview is one of the hallmarks of ACTION’s pubication. It is a standard that Blackwell set back when he changed to that format in 2008. He did not want his opinions, his spin, to overtake the words of the interviewee. Unfortunately, our space here is limited, and the above interview is only a taste of our conversation with Blackwell. However, in the spirit of ACTION, we will be posting the full unedited version in the next few days. Please check back for a direct link to that document.]

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Editorial: Je suis Charlie?

Sat, 2015-01-10 07:11

This past Wednesday, three Islamic extremists carried out a deadly attack on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, leaving 12 people dead. A national hunt for the terrorists came to a violent end when French police caught the two remaining suspects, and simultaneously ended a connected hostage situation in Paris.


Within hours of the initial attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French government, its people, and much of the world demonstrated outrage, denouncing the act as an assault on freedom of expression. Cartoonists around the world flooded Twitter with their own work in support; international media outlets reprinted or retweeted the drawings of Charlie Hebdo‘ artists. Others spoke out in solidarity with the murdered journalists. Even one of France’s most famous cartoonists, Albert Udezo, came out of retirement to join the movement.

The French government announced that it would give the magazine almost 1 million euros to continue operations. A Google-backed Press Fund is donating $300,000 to Charlie Hebdo. The Guardian Media Group has also pledged £100,000.

Je suis Charlie” quickly became the words of solidarity.

Mais nous ne sommes pas tous Charlie. We are not all Charlie. The 45- year old satirical magazine has built its reputation through the regular mocking of national and international figures and institutions, including religion. Their most publicized target was, of course, Islam. While the magazine’s cartoons were, at times, politically poignant, others were just simply offensive, or provocative at best.

Babette Petiot, a French Polytheist living in the Auvergne countryside, said, “Je n’aimais pas particulièrement “Charlie Hebdo,” je ne l’ai jamais acheté, parce que je trouve que c’est vraiment de mauvais gout…” [I did not specially like Charlie Hebdo, didn’t buy it even once, because I thought it was really of bad taste.]

Slate‘s Jordan Weissman, as well as others, have gone as far as labeling the magazine “racist.” Weissman writes, “This, in a country where Muslims are a poor and harassed minority, maligned by growing nationalist movement that has used liberal values like secularism and free speech to cloak garden-variety xenophobia.”

This complication provokes a necessary recalibration of the expressions of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. Can we stand in silent vigil for the victims, but not necessarily endorse their work? Can we create an allegiance with the movement “Je suis Charlie,” speak out against the violence wrought by religious extremism, while ignoring the fact that Charlie Hebdo is what could be considered journalistic extremism?

Satirical writing and cartoons, like those produced by Charlie Hebdo, are meant to provoke, to challenge and often to incite. Satire raps on the door of decency and often just knocks it completely down. Satirists cross cultural lines of acceptable rhetoric with the intent of creating discomfort and provoking reaction. It is what’s expected of that genre and, within a free press, it is allowed.

With that said, quoting the famous American broadcast journalist, Walter Cronkite, “Freedom is a package deal – with it comes responsibilities and consequences.” As demonstrated in a recent New York Times article, Charlie Hebdo’s writers were willing to shoulder the responsibility for crossing lines and knocking down doors, and fully exercising their freedom to express.

In the Times article, the Charlie Hebdo staff is depicted not as radicals, militants or doctrinaires; rather they are described as fierce defenders of and believers in the freedom of expression. The article quotes Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker as saying, “They weren’t hiding behind their drawings. They knew the dangers. There had been firebombs and threats. They were actually defying a gag order given to them by extremists.”

She added that the publisher, Stephane Chardonnier, had once equally defended the rights of local Muslims to protest his paper. At the time, Chardonnier said, “We have a right to express ourselves. They have a right to express themselves, too.”

Charlie Hebdo’s Editor talks to media after 2011 fire bombing [Photo Credit: Coyau / Wikimedia]

The editor’s fierce defense of free speech is admirable. In our pages here, we write about topics and share points of view that are considered provocative outside of our collective communities. I am grossly aware that, in some countries and communities, and in many past eras, The Wild Hunt would never have been permitted to thrive. Our ability to publish, without fear of arrest or worse, is founded on the very same freedom of expression.

Regardless of the Charlie Hebdo’s content, the deadly attack was still unthinkable. No act of journalism warrants an act of extreme terror. No act of journalism warrants bloodshed.

Petiot said “Je ne vais certainement pas supporter que des fous qui furieux attaquent et tuent des journalistes et des dessinateurs pour leurs idées! Pour quelques dessins idiots?! C’est totalement et proprement inacceptable! Oui, je suis avec le mouvement “Je suis Charlie” parce que c’est une attaque contre la liberté d’expression.” [“I will not stand for some crazy people attacking and killing journalists and cartoonists for their opinions! For their silly cartoons! This is totally and utterly not acceptable! Yes I stand with “Je suis Charlie” because it was an attack on liberty of expression.]

Siannon, a Wiccan living Paris, expressed a similar thought, “Je suis bien sûr choquée que l’on tue des dessinateurs, que certains s’attaquent avec une telle violence à la liberté d’expression.” [“I am absolutely shocked that someone would kill cartoonists that people would attack freedom of expression with such violence.“]

Over the past few days, French Pagans have been attending the spontaneous vigils in public squares and lighting candles for the victims. Cogann Moran is collecting signatures on a statement from members of the French Pagan community.

Although she supports the movement, Siannon has not felt compelled to pray, saying, “Une païenne a fait une remarque qui a attiré mon attention: elle rappelait que les principales victimes étaient athées, défenseurs de l’État laïque, et n’auraient peut être pas aimé qu’on leur fasse des prières.” [“One Pagan made a remark that really got my attention. She remembered that the main victims were atheists, defenders of a secular state, and would never have liked anyone praying for them.”]

[Photo Credit: Valentina Calà/Flickr]

I also spoke with a third Parisian, who is vehemently opposed to the “Je suis Charlie” campaign, but not because of the magazine’s content. Mariane, an Asatruar living in Paris, said:

Les deux frères ont eu davantage de couverture médiatique qu’un homme politique français ne pourrait rêver d’obtenir. Les chaines d’infos ont littéralement parlé d’eux 24/24. D’autres chaînes leur ont consacré tous les bulletins d’infos, comme si rien d’autre ne s’était passé entre-temps dans le monde entier. Même Obama parle d’eux! Il est allé à l’ambassade française avec les meilleures intentions, j’en suis sure, mais j’ai peur qu’il n’envoie un message indésirable à quelques tarés qui rêvent de devenir des héros… Personnellement, je ne me joindrai pas à la mouvance “Je suis Charlie,” parce je pense que, moins nous parlons de ces gars-là, moins nous risquons d’inspirer d’éventuels imitateurs.

[“The two brothers are getting more news coverage than any French politician could ever dream of. News channels literally talked about them round the clock. Other channels devoted all the newscasts to them, as if nothing else had happened meanwhile in the whole world. Even Obama is talking about them! He went to the French Embassy with the best intentions, I’m sure, but I’m afraid he is sending the wrong message to some crazy bastards dreaming of becoming heroes… I’m personally not joining “Je suis Charlie” because I think the less we talk about these guys, the less we risk inspiring copycats.”]

Both Siannon and Petiot noted the presence of real fear in the country as well as a notable surge in Islamphobia. Siannon said, “Les plus sages soulignent l’importance de ne pas nourrir la haine.” [The wisest and most important point to stress is to not nourish hate.”]

With that, we are reminded of the original question. If we stand in solidarity with a magazine noted for mocking religion, are we nourishing hatred or, at the very least, supporting an indifferent tolerance of it? Or is it possible to surgically separate Charlie Hebdo’s satirical work from Charlie Hebdo’s philosophy on free expression? Can we separate the content from the belief?

This brings us to the Ahmed Merabet, the French police officer who was murdered defending Charlie HebdoAccording to reports, Merabet was a French Muslim, who was guarding Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters, while those inside mocked his beliefs. When news of this spread, a second solidarity campaign was born. Je Suis Ahmed. While there is still speculation on whether he is actually Muslim, the new solidarity statement has gathered its own power, meaning and momentem. It says, “I don’t agree with what you say. But I defend your right to say it.”*

While Charlie Hebdo‘s approach to journalism is not one that I, personally, would endorse. As a writer and editor, I can’t help but approve of its fierce support of freedom of expression and of the press. Non, je ne suis pas Charlie. Peut-être, je suis Ahmed. Mais, je suis certainement la liberté.

 

* This is statement is inspired by a sentence out of a Voltaire biography written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in 1906.

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Column: Some People Are Not Joiners

Fri, 2015-01-09 07:18

The cover of The Magical Confluence #19. Image by Penny Ochs.

I have a box of papers in my office that I like to look at every now and then; it’s an archive of sorts, a collection of artifacts from what seems to me like an entirely different era of Paganism. The box contains old rituals, festival invitations, newspapers, zines, and even a few decades-old picnic leases for public parks, the sites of sabbats that were held when I was only a few months old. I am a child of the internet, and it can be hard for me to think of what “Pagan community” meant, exactly, in the time before it. But my box gives me a glimmer, sometimes.

One of my favorite items in the box is a run of a zine, The Magical Confluence, which was published by the Earth Church of Amargi quarterly in the late 80s into the early 90s. The average issue runs about 16 pages, all black and white, most of the text obviously produced on a typewriter rather than a word processor. Clippings from local newspapers and national publications like Green Egg tend to make up about half of the content, with the rest submitted by Pagans in the St. Louis community. There are occasionally Far Side cartoons for which I am not entirely convinced Gary Larsen received royalties.

Looking through Magical Confluence #19, published in Spring 1990, I found an article by none other than my father – “AMER: AN OPPOSITION VIEW,” an open letter published in a forum that reached, I’m guessing, maybe a couple of dozen people. He was weighing in on his general distaste for the Alliance for Magical and Earth Religions, an organization that tried to counter anti-Pagan misinformation through pamphlets, press statements, community meetings, and so on. AMER was founded in 1986 and lasted for twelve years before being disbanded. Despite his role as high priest of a long-standing coven in the St. Louis area, my father had little patience for community organizations; he compared AMER’s attempts to bring him and his into their fold as being “bludgeoned with a club.”

Much of my father’s article is inside baseball to a local controversy that happened almost 30 years ago, and even after I asked him for context, I’m still baffled. (It was something to do with Satanists.) But there’s a one section that I have been chewing over since I read it:

If true that AMER’s purpose is “to insure the individual’s right to privacy” then why do you seem to be so hell-bent to convince me that I am wrong to abridge my right of free association. Free association, you understand, is not only the ability TO associate, but also the ability NOT TO associate. It seems inconceivable to some of you that there are individuals and groups who simply ARE NOT JOINERS.[1]

Just that turn of phrase: “some people are not joiners.” My father certainly isn’t one – not just in terms of religion, but everywhere in his civic life. He has never claimed affiliation with any political party, never joined the PTO when I was younger, never been a part of an Elks Lodge or the sort. He is part of a union, but his career compelled him to join it. Even in his magical life, he eventually left the OTO exactly because it was too much of a “joiner” institution for him. If my father bowled, he would bowl alone. That inclination seems common in his generation of Pagans – and perhaps for many Pagans across the board. Our religions, after all, are made up primarily of converts – people who, for the most part, had a reason to reject the institutions of their parents. It’s not really surprising that people who turned away from organized religion might prefer not to join organizations – especially those which try to organize their new, previously unorganized religions.

But – and I realize this is something of a refrain for me – I am not a convert; I didn’t turn away from anything. And just like it can be hard for me to understand how publications like The Magical Confluence connected the Pagan community before we all had the internet, it can be equally as hard for me to understand the way that those who turned away see the world. I struggle with this. Some people are not joiners. Am I?

The covers to both volumes of Our Troth, from The Troth’s website.

For Yule, my parents got me a copy of Our Troth, the handbook published by the Heathen organization The Troth.  I haven’t had the chance yet to read through it, as I’m in the middle of preparing to teach the entire history of British literature[2], but just flipping through the book has made me think again about joining the organization. It was a thought I had when I first started thinking of myself as a Heathen in addition to a Wiccan, and had only been reinforced by getting to know some of its members a few years ago at Pantheacon.

But I have never actually gone through with it, even though I see the obvious upsides – a connection to a larger community, the support of an organization that more or less aligns with my beliefs, and a pretty, pretty journal. I suppose part of the reason for my prevarication is that it could end up being an empty gesture – would it mean anything other than a stamp of approval, a sign that I am a Certified Heathen? The other part is the general philosophical stance I have inherited from my parents: some people are not joiners. “Some people,” of course, means “us.” We keep to ourselves; we do our own thing. We keep to the edges, because the edges are free.

I see a debate in the Pagan community – at least the one I can see from my tiny window onto the internet – about what direction we are moving in, whether it’s towards more robust and public infrastructure or a move to remain with the largely decentralized nature of the movement as it currently is. I find myself, as ever, hedging about the middle. I grew up in the relative isolation of a handful of covens, and I know and love that environment; I also remember being a 13 year old kid who wished he could have just gone to a normal kind of church, except with Horus instead of Jesus.

My questioning over whether or not I want to join some organization is, I admit, a rather inconsequential element of that debate. But it’s those little decisions that, ultimately, pull us all in one direction, towards one definition of progress or the other.

 

 

[1] Sic.

[2] My department’s British Literature seminar is one semester, Beowulf to present. We go from John Donne to Oscar Wilde in about five weeks. I may keel over at some point.

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Attempted Petrol Bombing of Pennsylvania Spiritual Center

Thu, 2015-01-08 08:10

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA – Police are investigating an attempted petrol bombing of a metaphysical shop. On New Year’s eve day, someone tossed a Molotov cocktail through the window of Shooting for the Moon Spiritual Development Center.

Owner Kathy Brown said that she was on the second floor of the building when her dog’s barking alerted her that something was wrong. This happened just after 9 am. When she went down to investigate, felt a cold breeze in her shop.

That’s when she saw that the window at the front of her store was broken. Laying on the floor was a bottle filled with liquid with a scorched wick. Realizing that what she saw was a petrol bomb, more commonly called a Molotov cocktail, she immediately called police.

Thankfully, the petrol bomb had failed to ignite. The only real damage was to the window. In a telephone interview, Brown told The Wild Hunt, “Something extinguished that flame. There was protection, a Higher Power protected us.”

She said that she doesn’t know if this was a hate crime or if it was just kids acting up on the holiday.

Brown has owned and operated this holistic spiritual center and store in Hamilton Township for over 12 years. She has been at the same location for just over seven. The center doesn’t cater to any specific religion and has as its mission:

….provide a place where people can grow and learn and expand their awareness and understanding of others. Education and knowledge is power. Fear is what you experience when you do not understand something or someone. By understanding another’s Spirituality, you can link with that person to form a stronger bond, one that leads both individuals closer to the Divine.

Brown said that she has always enjoyed the support of the local community of just over 8000 people nestled in the Poconos. “All positive, nothing but love and light,” she added.  As an example, she said that the local Lowe’s lumber store donated a scrap piece of ply-board to cover the broken window until she could arrange for new glass to be installed.

Wood covers the broken window at Shooting for the Moon [courtesy photo]

So far police don’t have any leads, but Brown is hopeful the person or persons will be caught, “I’m still trying to process this, why this happened. We are very much universal light.”  The Wild Hunt will report updates as they are available.

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