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Pagan Community Notes: Kenny Klein, Cherry Hill Seminary, Climate Ribbon Project and more!

Mon, 2015-11-23 08:35

The case against musician Kenny Klein, who is accused of having child pornography on his computer, has been dragging on in New Orleans since March, 2014. One snag, which may hold up the wheels of justice, is the fact that Klein is now suing his ex-wife Tzipora Katz, for defamation of character.

The basis of Klein’s complaint is a 1997 consent order in the pair’s custody case, under which Katz “agrees she will not discuss any issues relating to any allegations of sexual abuse by Kenneth Klein with any parties other than her immediate family and mental health professionals who are treating members of her immediate family.” In return, Klein withdrew his “application for custody and visitation” of their child. That order had no listed expiration date.

Katz declined comment, saying that she was unable to speak about the current situation. The case against Katz has been adjourned while her attorney works on additional papers to support her motion to dismiss; her daughter is asking for help with legal fees to pay that attorney. Klein’s case in New Orleans is on the docket again for December 4.

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This week, Cherry Hill Seminary released a statement about its position and practices in response to a petition request to end their ties with certain instructors, who have been publicly accused of transphobia. The petition, created by Melissa Murry, is called “A Transphobic Elder is No Elder of Mine.” It was born out of and directly addresses recent online debates and tension over specific statements and actions made concerning the acceptance of transgender Pagans.

Cherry Hill Seminary responded the same day with the statement “Cherry Hill Seminary Calls For Academic Freedom, Respect and Civility.” In it, CHS responds directly saying, “Recently, one of our faculty members signed a petition that some people found hurtful and offensive.  Cherry Hill Seminary has been pressured to terminate this faculty member.” And then it goes on to remark that the community does not understand its role in high education, but welcomes open dialog on the “issues which might otherwise divide us.”

The response to CHS’ statement has been mixed with some people supporting its stance, and others withdrawing their support. The debate is on going and may continue to punctuate online conversations into the near future.

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In 2014, at the People’s Climate March, a project was born called “The Climate Ribbon” project. It is “an arts ritual to grieve what we each stand to lose to Climate Chaos, and affirm our solidarity as we unite to fight against it.” People selects a ribbon and, on it, write what they most value in life; what propels them  to protect our ecosystem and our future livelihood? After doing so, the ribbon is tied on a community board or a frame.

Climate Ribbon Project organizers were at the recent Parliament of the World’s Religions. Since that time, Circle Sanctuary members have partnered with the organization. Rev Selena Fox said, “[We] are among the partners with this global project and are among those contributing ribbons to this EcoArt project that will be part of the international Climate March taking place in Paris on November 29, 2015 at the start of the UN COP21 Climate Conference.”

Unfortunately, after the Paris attacks, the French government cancelled the 2015 Climate March due to safety concerns. The event would have brought an estimated 200,000 people into the city and out into the streets. While the cancellation may be disappointing, climate march organizers have said that there still are over 100 local events around the world scheduled for Nov. 29. And, one of those events is the Paris EcoArt installation by the Climate Ribbon Project. Organizers wrote, “The Climate Ribbon will be there to create ritual space to grieve and mourn what we have lost and are losing to climate change, and commit to courageous action, together.” The installations will be placed all over the city.

Rev. Fox said, “Ribbons we have sent to the project were created by Pagans at events at Circle Sanctuary land, including our Samhain Full Moon Circle, and at Hallowed Homecoming Samhain Retreat in Virginia the first weekend in November.” Anyone is able to participate and partner with the Climate Ribbon Project. You can send in ribbons through the mail or digitally.

In Other News

  • Druid Thaum Gordon has won his bid for re-election as Supervisor for Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District in Maine. As we reported earlier this month, Gordon has been serving in the position since 2011, and many people know that he is Pagan. Gordon believes that Conservation District positions are a great first step to getting involved in public office. He added, “Likewise, there are thousands of water utility districts, sewer districts, parks commissions, and other special-purpose units of government that need board members. These can be stepping stones to more competitive county or municipal elections.”
  • The Legacy of Tyr, a Virginia based Asatru group for military and veteran Heathens, is pushing a hashtag campaign #IAmAsatru and #IAmHeathen. The group came up with this social media campaign after the recent arrest of three white supremacists claiming to be Asatruar. Founder Carrie L. Pierce explains, “We are encouraging people to include these hashtags when posting about their everyday lives with photos and statuses on social media platforms. We do things like serve in the military, coach little league, and do volunteer work just like regular every day people. If the public sees that we are regular people with careers, families, hobbies, etc.the image that has been painted about us might change in some aspect.
  • For those following the Save Deirdre and Lily battle in New York state, Druid Cindy McGinley recently announced that the court ruled in favor of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The judge dismissed her petition. As we reported in July, the DEC had demanded that McGinley’s two deer be put death. McGinley, a trained wildlife rehabilitator, refused, taking her story to the courts. This week, she lost the legal battle. However, she has since said that the two deer will not die and that she will find a way to save them.
  • A new documentary is available titled Heksen in Holland (or Witches in Holland.).The film explores Wicca in the Netherlands through the group Silver Circle, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary. The documentary and corresponding book include interviews with Silver Circle members Morgana Sythgrove, Lady Bara, Joke and Ko Lankester, and Jana. Filmmakers also interviewed Rufus and Melissa Harrington, and Geraldine Beskin from the Atlantis Bookshop in London.  There is a memorial chapter to Merlin Sythgove, including .”an old audio fragment from the Charge of the Goddess in Dutch, spoken by Merlin and Jana.” The 90 minute documentary is currently only available in Dutch through Silver Circle’s site, but they soon will be releasing a copy with English subtitles.

  • For fans of Mark Ryan,  the actor and author is holding an online launch party for the U.S. edition of his biography Hold Fast. Ryan is known for his role as Nasir in the television series Robin of Sherwood, for his work in the Transformers franchise, and most recently for his role as Mr. Gates in the Starz series Black Sails. Ryan also is the creator of the popular Greenwood Tarot and The Wildwood Tarot. The online launch party process, which includes prizes, is explained on the event Facebook page. He will be there live answering questions about the book and its content. The event begins at 3 p.m EST/2 p.m. CST.

  • Lastly, a note from The Wild Hunt editor’s desk: The delivery of all fall funding campaign perks is underway. It takes some time to coordinate and reconcile the large amount data. All online changes to links and listings will begin in December. Thank you again to everyone who came out to support our work. If you have any questions, contact us directly.


UPDATE: The original report on Kenny Klein included some speculative information that was found to be problematic with regards to the legal case. The Wild Hunt did not intend any harm, has removed this data, and has apologized to the parties concerned. 

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Remembering Marc Pourner (1987 – 2015)

Sun, 2015-11-22 09:04

On Sunday, Nov 15, it was announced that Marc Pourner, who had been missing since Nov 12, had been found in the woods the previous night. His body was laying not far from what remained of his burned-out GMC Sonoma truck. When news was reported, family and friends had to face their worst fears.

“No parent should have to experience the death of their child, but the way that he went was more a blow than his actual death. Who would want to hurt the man who had never intentionally hurt someone in his life?” questioned Jasmine Tempest Moon, a longtime close friend.

Marc was born in North Carolina on Aug. 2 1987 to parents Mark and Jolena Pourner. During a memorial tribute, his father described Marc as a “wonderful kid,” “a force of nature,” and “unrestrainable.” Marc had ADHD, which was partly responsible for his vivacious and lively spirit. Another close friend, Patrick, said, “All he did was laugh. Since day one, all he did was laugh.”

Jasmine first met Marc in high school where they became quick friends. And, it was through her that Marc was first introduced to Wicca. She herself was exploring her spirituality and said, “Marc was enthralled.” Jasmine remembered, “We did a lot together learning about the different paths, dabbling as one shouldn’t at times, getting into trouble with those who did not approve of our alternative beliefs.”

At the same time, Marc was also discovering himself in other ways. Shortly after high school, he came out as gay to his several close friends. Jasmine said that, at first, he faced some rejection, but eventually received the needed support from those that loved him. As time progressed, Marc came into his own, seemingly unafraid to be who he was and to express himself to the fullest.

In 2011, Marc began actively engaging with the internet-based Pagan community. He became involved with the now defunct Wicca World Social Network, a forum exclusively for people following Pagan paths. After the original owners left in 2012, Marc took over as site President with the help of good friends Steve Pugh and Bryn. He paid for the site’s operation out of his own pocket, helped seekers find their way around, and created a number of corresponding online videos. In this world, he became known as Axel the Pagan.

After about a year, Wicca World’s membership began to decline and the site ran into some problems with unruly visitors. The three moderators shut it down, and moved the forum to Facebook, opening “The Cauldron – A Mixing Place for Witches, Druids, and Pagans.” Pugh said that, originally, they had imagined this space as a new home for their 2.5k members. But it didn’t take long for that number to “swell to a massive 36.5k members.” Marc remained an active participant for quite sometime before moving on to other ventures. But that was enough time for him to develop friendships and become known to many people in the worldwide, online Pagan community.

As his father noted in the memorial tribute, Marc was a “creature of social media.” He posted as Axel the Pagan on many other sites, which included You Tube, Vine, MySpace, Instagram and more.

But Marc also had life off the internet. He was solitary Wiccan practitioner and a Trekkie. He loved to sing and described himself as a outgoing, hopeless romantic. Jasmine also added that Marc loved to dress in drag. She said, “We all attended the local Pride festivities and he often went to drag shows, even showing up in drag himself.” Marc was proud of who he was and, as noted by friends over and over again, he inspired that strength in others.

So what exactly happened to Marc? According to his roommates, he received a phone call late Thurs night. After a tense conversation, he abruptly left his apartment and never came back. On Friday, Marc’s family contacted Randall’s, his place of work, and found that he had never reported for his shift. This was highly out of character. Marc’s father also noticed that his son was not posting to social media, which was also out of character.

Over the next day, through local outreach, the Pourners received a tip on where Marc’s truck might be and called the Sheriff’s department. The tip proved accurate. And, deep in some thick woods, officers found not only the vehicle, but also Marc’s body.

Within 24 hours, the sheriff’s department had a suspect and, in coordination with Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana, the suspect was arrested. According to Lieutenant Brady Fitzgerald of Montgomery County, their investigators are still in Indiana working with that local office to complete the extradition. He did not know how long that would take.

What is missing from this story is a motive? Why would anyone kill such a dynamic and well-liked person? Currently, there is much public speculation, but the sheriff’s department has not released any details to date. Although the suspect was arrested with the charge of capital murder, it has not yet been ruled a hate crime.

When asked to specifically speak to some of the rumors, Lt. Fitzgerald said that he had no further information. He wasn’t aware of a second person of interest and could not confirm the relationship between Marc and the suspect. He also said that, as far as he knows, Marc’s religion has not been discussed. Lt. Fitzgerald added that, in time, details will be released.

Similarly, Jasmine, who is in touch with Marc’s parents, said that she was also unable to talk specifically about the case. So, as for Marc’s full story, most of us will have to wait.

As that official investigation continues, the focus has turned on Marc’s life lived, rather than on his deeply tragic death. Due to his own love of social media, many people, hailing from around the world, are now getting a better look at Axel the Pagan, a man they only knew and loved through The Cauldron and other online networks.

Steve Pugh wrote:

Marc was a truly great guy, always a word to cheer you up if sad, even if his own life wasn’t too great at times he would always be there … He was a great supporter of Paganism, and proud both of that and of his sexuality.

Jasmine, who is now the keeper of her dear friend’s pentacle pendant, wrote:

Words can not fully do the man justice. He was a wonderful person, a light in this world snuffed out too soon. He wanted to help people and he did. He saved more people than I think he knew. I know he saved us a few times, saved a few friends from dark roads, some from deaths door. He loved people with a capacity that most people can’t fathom. Thats who he was. He was love. I’ll miss my dorky soul brother, and will carry his memory always.

Marc, Axel, it was a blast, my friend. May your soul find peace and when we meet again, it’ll be one hell of a party. Goodnight and goodbye for now, my friend.

A memorial vigil was held on Wed, Nov. 18 and recorded for others to watch. Near the end of the video, Marc’s mother leads the group in singing the song, You Are My sunshine. Alone her voice rings out through her tears, “The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamt I held you in my arms, When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken, So I hung my head, and I cried…”

A public Facebook group has been set up to honor his memory and share stories. Many tributes and photos have been posted. Family and friends gathered for memorial services on Sat, Nov. 21, in Spring, Texas. A GoFundMe campaign was created to help Marc’s parents with all funeral costs. However, as his mother noted, those expenses are fully covered so all money raised will be used “to establish an annual memorial scholarship in Marc’s name for LGBT teens.”

Marc Pourner’s life was cut short. But that brief life was energized and filled with laughter. He was cherished for his boldness, his caring and his generosity. He helped friends through hard times and fully embraced the good times. Marc was proud to be Pagan, to be gay, and to be himself. He clearly lived a life out loud. And, in his death, he left that seed of inspiration in everyone he touched – from his home state of Texas and beyond.

What is remembered, lives.

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Culture and Community: Restorative Practices in the Age of Social Media

Sat, 2015-11-21 09:08

Restorative and Transformative Justice are concepts we have heard more about recently in justice and criminal work, institutions, and inside of schools. Oakland, Denver, Portland, Chicago and many other cities have implemented Restorative Justice practices in their schools to deal with issues of violence, trauma, and in the building of community. Trained facilitators in restorative work have become increasingly common, and the need for such skills have become more apparent.

Yet we live in a culture that often supports response instead of contemplation, and the popularity of social media has compounded this culture of reactivity. The nature of social media and tools of expression at our fingertips promote instant responses any time of the day.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

We see the harmful side effects of such things happening daily; flame wars, Facebook threads of miscommunication, and what develops into mob mentality all over the internet. What we don’t see as much is people taking the opportunity to dialog, to restore harmed relationships, and to extend the benefit of the doubt to those with whom we share social media space.

Restorative Justice (RJ) philosophies and practices are based largely on various indigenous practices of community, communication and conflict. A recent RJ report, published by the University of California – Berkeley’s Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, states:

The philosophy of restorative justice is partially derived from the ways some indigenous cultures, such as the Maori, respond to conflict and harm. Rather than requiring retribution for wrongdoing, restorative justice seeks to encourage accountability, repair harm, and restore relationships. As a set of practices, it is best known for its use of a circle. The circle brings together the harmed, those who caused harm, and the community in which the harm occurred to respectfully share their perspectives, feelings, and concerns.

Developed from this foundational place, RJ extends a belief that all people are important and valuable within a community. RJ practices are often recognized for the ability to equalize voices within the circle, giving everyone the chance to be heard with the same about of capital. The philosophy of the RJ process is further defined in UC – Berkeley’s Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice report on school-based RJ intervention in West Oakland.

The philosophy of restorative justice is partially derived from the ways some indigenous cultures, such as the Maori, respond to conflict and harm. Rather than requiring retribution for wrongdoing, restorative justice seeks to encourage accountability, repair harm, and restore relationships. As a set of practices, it is best known for its use of a circle. The circle brings together the harmed, those who caused harm, and the community in which the harm occurred to respectfully share their perspectives, feelings, and concerns.

Catherine Bargen adapted the Restorative Justice Principles originally created by Susan Sharpe’s in Restorative Justice: A Vision for Healing and Change. These principles state that RJ is to invite full participation and consensus, heal what has been broken, seek full and direct accountability, reunite what has been divided, strengthen the community to prevent future harms. All of these elements are key to the purpose of restorative justice and restorative approaches to community.

As a trained Restorative Justice facilitator, I often look at approaches to community within the interconnected modern Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist communities and wonder how changing our culture of engagement could change the landscape of our conflicts and collective relationships. Communities that have consistent methods and practices to engage relationships, differences and conflict often change the culture around responding to challenges.

In exploring the need for more tools within the interconnected dynamics of our communities, I reached out to others who have varying levels of experience with restorative practices, and asked for their take on what impact RJ could have.

I have been reading about restorative justice from different religious perspectives, so I was interested in seeing it in action at a session at the Parliament of World Religions. The session was led by Crystal Blanton and Thorn Coyle. We sat in a huge circle and we—one by one—spoke. There was only listening, not comments, not even signs of support for each other.

I did not expect to feel the way I did afterwards: as if my perspective had stretched, grown. We did not talk, we did not process. It was weirdly powerful. I still do not know what to make of it.
Restorative justice works. I do not understand how it works; but, I see it. The Pagan community has its share of conflict and I would have been grateful to sit in a restorative justice circle with other Pagans this past week and a half, as questions we thought were answered blew up around us. Being there would help. Hearing would help. Keeping our reactions to ourselves would help.

There is a power in a safe place to hear, share and – sorry, but –sit quietly until our own perspective stretches and grows. There were many voices that I did not hear over the last week, and I wanted to hear them.  Trying to keep my own knee-jerk reactions to a minimum, trying to be fair and make space for others on Facebook is dicey at best. I failed. I would have been truly and deeply grateful to be in that restorative justice circle with other Pagans last week. – Sandy Foo

I really want to say that restorative justice practices can have a positive impact in our community. I’ve seen it work very well, situations where the process helped mature and deepen the character of the wrongdoer/individual(s) of concern. I’ve also experienced situations in which the resolution left no one happy.

So much depends on context, in particular the structure of the community. It seems to me that RJ works best when there are community bonds that create a structure and help hold people accountable. There need to be tangible incentives for remaining within the community, and respect for the worth of everyone involved (at least an openness to developing respect), if not their actions or opinions about what has transpired.

This is where it gets difficult for me to say more about whether or not I think the tools and practices of RJ can shift the culture of conflict within the Pagan community. In our online and geographically dispersed world, it is too easy to enter and exit various aspects of the community without accountability for harm/wrongdoing. If I can walk away from conversations that make me uncomfortable, change my screen names, and find different groups to attend, what’s to stop me from doing so and repeating the pattern again?

Elders and other community leaders certainly can and do help guard against this, but I think we need more folks with both the gravitas and resources to do this well – people embedded within our physical and online spaces in ways the “big name Pagans” aren’t always. This is small part of why I think professional Pagan clergy could be a big boon for our community as a whole. – David Christy

[Public Domain / Wikipedia]

Yes. I do believe that RJ can offer a positive impact in our communities. I think this works on several important levels.  It emphasizes the importance of understanding the impact we have on each other and on our communities.  It asks us to look at our selves and notice where we have impact, both positive and negative.  Encouraging this deeper self awareness we can open a door to self discovery, growth and to the potential to make choices that bring more positive impacts to our community.  Understanding ourselves and our is the initial challenge and step.

RJ also introduces a time and space for deep listening. A practice and opportunity that we need more of in every community. Why is listening so important? Especially listening in a psychologically safe place?  To help us get along better, to heal wounds from conflict, we really need to develop the capacity to imagine ourselves in the others shoes and skin, to see through their eyes and feel with their hearts.  Placing value on deep listening and safety in an RJ circle can promote more intense and effective listening which can greatly increase our ability to understand the perspective of others.  This is of vital importance.  Our journey to restore trust and health in our communities requires understanding our own impact and listing offers information that is uniquely personal and important in this process.  

RJ also offers a time and a space for voices.  Voices speaking in pain or anger but being profoundly witnessed can offer healing in ways that other exchanges cannot.  Being heard and witnessing another’s deep sharing of hurts, pains or joys can be transformational experiences.  RJ brings this to communities which may not have any models for such authentic and personal sharing and witnessing.  Further, we learn more about each other in this process and discover more and more common ground. That is a way toward healing for all. – River Higginbotham

Our communities experience with RJ was after a significant loss of trust with community leadership. It wasn’t tangible physical harm needing to be stitched up. RJ did not make some of the major sources of conflict; differences in class, income, education, gender, race, and even levels of self centered-ness disappear. What the process did do was help us to realize how undefined our sense of group values were, and motivated us to do the work to define them. With this work now behind us, when conflict arises we can rely on our shared values to see us through to resolution without being destructive to ourselves in the process.

In the RJ process we learned to recognize and acknowledge our own emotions, and the sense of having been harmed.

We learned to empathize with and support the feelings of others without judgement. Most people came into the process thinking we would all speak, sort it all out objectively and someone would then render “justice” to affirm our feelings. The “justice” we discovered was that each of us had emerged from the conflict with different “scars”, and when we validated them together for each other, we could begin to heal together as a community. – Nels Linde

As our community diversifies in numbers, ideals, values and practices, it is important to look at ways that other communities are utilizing tools of engagement to create healthy dynamics despite differences, challenges and social media. Success within communities in Oakland has had success with RJ practices within places where rival gangs share space, creating a feeling of togetherness among those who would otherwise resort to violent interactions that lead to death and trauma. Surely, if schools are using restorative practices in the most violent, challenging and dangerous subsets of society to help decrease problematic conflicts and build community, then modern Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists might be able to pick up some useful tools and practices as well.

This brings the discussion back to contemplating the skills and tools that leaders and clergy members can be trained with in order to better navigate the shifting dynamics of our ever growing communities. In light of what appears to be ongoing conflict and infighting, it seems obvious that the tools we currently have are no longer effective for what we need.

Are restorative practices the answer? Are there other tools that can open up the ideals of dialog and help to define boundaries of healthy community for those who fall under the Pagan umbrella? There are plenty of traditional conflict mediation methodologies that are being phased out for more community-based models of practice, yet not all of them have the same commitments to relationships, self reflection and accountability. The more that our greater society grapples with ways to build healthy cultures around relationships, conflicts, and differences, the more important this will become to our small microcosm. The impact of harm felt within our relatively small subset of society is magnified by the imbalance of mismanaged attempts to cope with the process of community.

In addition, the unique time and physical space constraints of our geographically diverse spaces require more than impulsive and reactionary methods of navigating challenges that come up. We may not be able to physically sit in Restorative Justice circles all the time, but we can engage in community building practices, participate in circles in our local and larger communities, and engage in restorative practices as a part of our normal operations.

Howard Zehr, a leading expert and trainer of RJ, wrote an article titled 10 Ways to Live Restoratively. In this piece he frames easy ways that we can engage in restorative practices, ones that will support healthy space despite distance. These tips are important ideas to cultivate self reflection, creating normative values, expressing empathy, and what I call “holding one another lovingly accountable”.

  1. Take relationships seriously, envisioning yourself in an interconnected web of people, institutions and the environment.
  2. Try to be aware of the impact – potential as well as actual – of your actions on others and the environment.
  3. When your actions negatively impact others, take responsibility by acknowledging and seeking to repair the harm – even when you could probably get away with avoiding or denying it.
  4. Treat everyone respectfully, even those you don’t expect to encounter again, even those you feel don’t deserve it, even those who have harmed or offended you or others.
  5. Involve those affected by a decision, as much as possible, in the decision-making process.
  6. View the conflicts and harms in your life as opportunities.
  7. Listen, deeply and compassionately, to others, seeking to understand even if you don’t agree with them. (Think about who you want to be in the latter situation rather than just being right.)
  8. Engage in dialogue with others, even when what is being said is difficult, remaining open to learning from them and the encounter.
  9. Be cautious about imposing your “truths” and views on other people and situations.
  10. Sensitively confront everyday injustices including sexism, racism and classism.

Whether on cyberspace, or in our local religious communities, we are all responsible for finding ways to support healthy options for sustainability. Creating cultural norms and values based on lifting up social capital, equalizing privilege and power, and giving everyone a voice in our interconnected relationships might just be worth evaluating.

There are many complex and justified questions about the conflict culture of our community. What are we willing to do collectively to change that?



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Transgender Day of Remembrance

Fri, 2015-11-20 07:53

Today marks the 16th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. People across the world will be holding various events and vigils, remembering those people who have been lost due to transgender violence. It is a powerful day that is a part of a larger month long awareness campaign.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is held every November, marking the death of Rita Hester, who was murdered in her Boston apartment in 1998. A year after that death, which still remains unsolved, writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith held a vigil in San Francisco to honor Hester’s life and bring awareness to the issues faced by Transgender people. The 1999 vigil became the first Transgender Day of Remembrance, which also launched the website “Remembering Our Dead” and several other awareness campaigns and movements.

Now, every November, a growing number of activities are held during the month, culminating in the Day of Remembrance. The main site for the campaign lists activities across the globe.

[From Allies&Angels; used for a vigil being held in Syracuse, NY]

We reached out to several Transgender Pagans for their thoughts. Asking only a very few questions, we allowed them to have the stage, so to speak, and tell us more about living transgender and what this specific day means to them. Our interviewees included, Luke Babb, Elain Corrine Moria and Rev. Katharine A. Jones. Babb is a transmasculine Pagan living in Chicago with an English degree from Truman State University. Pagan Elain Corrine Moria is a transgender woman living in Washtington State. Rev. Katharine A. Jones is a transgender woman of mixed racial heritage living in Florida. She is a Neo-Hellenic Priestess, minster of Fire Dance Church of Wicca and transgender activist.

We welcome our speakers.

The first question asked was whether they have seen or felt any noticeable change in awareness in the mainstream public’s understanding of transgender struggles or issues. Last June saw the very publicized “Caitlyn Jenner” story, which brought very mixed reviews from the transgender community. Has there been a growth in awareness and, if so, has it been positive?

Babb: I haven’t really been out in the community long enough to see any real societal shifts. Right now, people have access to information about trans issues. They’re able to see trans folks- real live people- living and talking and being regular folks. I was lucky enough to come out at a time and in a place where many of the people I know had already been exposed to the idea of trans identity. I’m profoundly grateful for that, and the relative comfort I live in because of it.

But I know that a lot of my experience is a byproduct of my privilege. I work in a large, fairly progressive city, and I surround myself with educated people who both have access to all of this information and the impetus to go and find it. The fact that at least sixteen trans people have been murdered in the US this year means that we cannot make any sort of claim about our society as a whole having a trend toward trans acceptance. Trans Day of Remembrance is not a time for us to talk about how far we’ve come-  if anything, that’s the Trans Day of Visibility, on March 31st. Today is about recognizing how far we have to go, how many people we have lost along the way, and how hard we must work to fight against losing any more of our brothers and sisters to hatred and bigotry.

Morria: In just the last few months I have seen a change within certain areas of society. Some good, and some not so good. Within society in general there has been a marked improvement in tolerance, acceptance and understanding for and toward transgender people. However, in some other segments of society, the hatred for us has grown and become more rabid. They use lies and demonstrable falsehoods to defeat LGBT protections, in particular, to defeat protections for transgender people. Their hatred, malice and rage all too frequently gives some of them an excuse to murder us simply for trying to be true to ourselves.

Jones: Particularly in the last year, there has been an increase in transgender visibility. This has made it easier to educate those who are willing to learn. Many who once regarded trans people with confusion and discomfort now understand who we are, and that being transgender is perfectly normal. Our number of supporters has increased, but so has the hatred we face. Some of the people who once paid us no attention now seek to attack us. This year sets the record for homicide and hate crimes against the transgender community. This year we have seen a number of attempts by bigoted politicians to pass legislation specifically against us.

In 2013, Jones organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in Pensacola. The following year, she setup the transgender advocacy group STRIVE of which she is currently the Vice President. This year, along with Debra Dubose of Safe Port Counseling Center, she is hosting a two day remembrance event, during which they expect over 50 people. 

For the next discussion, we wondered what the biggest threat to the community’s safety was. This is a difficult question, but we asked our interviewees, if they could wave a wand to change one thing that would make the biggest impact, what would that one thing be?

Babb: I strongly believe that the single biggest threat to acceptance is ignorance – and I don’t know how to explain that in a way that doesn’t sound cliched. I have a lot of conflicted feelings about Harvey Milk’s call to come out of the closet.  I don’t like the way it can be used to vilify people for keeping themselves safe in often dangerous environments. But I think the idea behind it is solid. Society will only really change when people realize that their loved ones, friends, and coworkers are trans.

If I could wave a hand and change one thing, I would make everyone realize that trans issues are not an academic interest – they affect the people you know and love. And it’s true – the current best guess is that 0.3% of the population is transgender, and the data is so hard to get that the real number is probably much higher. The odds are excellent that someone you know identifies on the trans spectrum. It’s easy to vilify a population if you think they are different from you- we see this all the time. But I have seen such change, and such love, from people who educate themselves because they know someone who is trans.The only thing I can think to wish is that more people start down that road.

Morria: I believe the single greatest threat to acceptance is conservative religious ideology, regardless of the religion it is from. We suffer from it within the Pagan community as well. A community formed on and growing around the idea of acceptance and inclusiveness. Sadly, this hatred seems to be growing and too many people who should know better, have fallen under the spell of conservative hatred.

Jones:  It is very difficult to say specifically what is the single greatest obstacle we face. I find myself struggling with this question in large part because I’m sure if you asked a hundred trans people this question you would get a hundred different answers. … In a general sense ignorance is the root of all our problems. If accurate, well-articulated information was made available to the general public, and became common knowledge, most of our problems would be solved. 

More specifically, the lack of knowledge in the medical community is a problem. If I had a magic wand that could change just one aspect of the world, I’d probably make a complete education on transgender healthcare (provided by a transgender teacher) a prerequisite for a medical degree. Too often I talk to doctors and mental health specialists who won’t take transgender patients because they don’t know how to treat us. I feel like if the medical community was educated, their influence would also effect politicians and employers.  Conversely, it is my personal opinion (though some disagree with me) that employment discrimination is the biggest problem we face. Many trans people can’t get to a doctor (or even find a place to live) to begin with because they have no job and therefore no money.

With that in mind, the third question asked was how can non-trans people can be the best allies? What should cisgender people do or not do to help raise awareness, support their friends and eliminate the barriers discussed above? 

Babb:  Educate yourself. I can’t emphasize this enough. Educate yourself. Struggle with your internalized transphobia- seek it out, own up to it, struggle to overcome it. Speak up when your privilege gives you an opportunity to defend trans lives, but let trans people speak for themselves, with their own voices, whenever possible. There are a million articles on the internet that answer this question in depth, with examples. Read them.

And accept the responsibility for your own allyship. Trans people do not owe you anything. They do not owe you their thanks for being a decent person. They do not owe you the time or effort that it would take to educate you. Trans people are incredibly busy trying to exist  in a society that tells them that they can’t, or shouldn’t. If you are going to help them, it is going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to be work. But it’s not going to approach the level of discomfort and work they go through, every day.

This is what I tell myself in my efforts to be an ally. It’s a hard thing to accept, a harder thing to internalize, and I have to keep reminding myself that the times I feel classist, ageist, racist- those are the times when I’m challenging my comfort zones, and growing. It is not up to my friends to make me a better person, or reward me for becoming one. It is up to me to make their lives better, any way I can.

Morria: Cisgender people can be awesome allies if they do three things … 1. Educate themselves about what being transgender IS … 2. Be polite, but firm in not allowing [other] people to misgender us, paint us as child molesters or deviants. Refuse to allow [the] mistreatment of us stand without a (legal) fight. 3. Promote and support legislation that protects our rights. Fight legislation that tries to deny us basic human dignity and rights (bathroom laws come to mind, we after all, #OnlyWantToPee).

Jones: Without a doubt the best thing you can do as an ally to the transgender community, is listen. If there is someone in your life who is transgender, whether they are family, friend, co-worker, or anything else, ask them what you can do to make their life easier, and do that. What each person needs will be different, so I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer.

As to how you can make a real difference on the larger scale, give trans people the stage. People don’t listen to us. Whether it’s because they think we’re mentally or spiritually ill, or just make them uncomfortable, most people want us to be quiet. The ones who do want to help often try to speak for us, which is almost as bad. If you have a microphone in your hand, pass it to someone who’s transgender. If you have an audience for a TV show, a blog, a newspaper, or an event, ask them to listen and let them hear a transgender voice. We are here, we are just like you, and we are already speaking, but many don’t hear us.

Transgender people are speaking out. This is a 2013 video by Pagan activist, author and artist Elena Rose. The video is from Girl Talk, “a critically acclaimed multi-media performance show promoting dialogue about relationships of all kinds between queer transgender women, queer cisgender women, and genderqueer people.”

Elena Rose [Still from Girl Talk Video.]

For our fourth question, we asked for words of hope. Often when talking about marginalized, oppressed, and silenced populations, we focus on the struggle, violence and pain. So, we asked them to take a moment to share something beautiful about the transgender community or about being transgender: a story or even a moment?

Babb: The problem with talking about the joy of oppressed peoples is that you’re talking about the joy of living, for a group of people who have that basic level of existence threatened every day. The stories of joy that I have are the quiet moments of being myself, and being seen as myself, being surrounded by people who love me. They don’t lend themselves well to my method of storytelling – there’s nothing exciting about them, no build up to a climax of realization. They’re the moments when I look in the mirror and recognize the person looking back. When my partner puts her arm around me and calls me by my name, holding me in myself on a level so basic that most people don’t question it. When I meet someone, and we talk together, and what we say is Yes, and Me too, and it feels vanishingly rare and extraordinarily valuable.

Then I talk to  other trans people, we share stories that are painful – moments when we were threatened, moments when we were scared, moments when someone threatened the truth of who and what we are. We share those stories and we laugh, because for a moment we are in a place where everyone knows the truth, and anyone who would argue with it is wrong to the point of being absurd. The best thing I can compare it to is the joy of ritual – being surrounded by people who are joined with you on sending out positive energy against a negative world. That sort of community, wherever it is found, is beautiful. I’m very lucky to have found other gender rebels to share it with.

The joy of being trans is the joy of being yourself, and valued, and happy. It’s no more unusual or special than the joy of being anyone else. What makes it hard to talk about, what makes it seem so strange, is that it is a joy we are told we aren’t qualified to have, and don’t deserve. When we dare to have it anyway, it is a joy that is taken from us by force.

Morria: On May 5 of this year, I felt terribly alone, terribly isolated and felt myself to be a pariah. I attempted and very nearly succeeded in commiting suicide … Three communities stood by my side. The Pagan community, who threw out a lot of energy to help me stay here. The Transgender community, who were terrified that they had lost yet another sister. And the Christian community who also prayed very hard for me and did everything they could to help me through it. All three communities, disparate as they are, rallied around one goal. Making sure I felt loved and accepted, and making sure there was a lifeline for me to find my way back.

To me this is beautiful because it shows that when we want to, we can ALL get along and work for a mutual goal. Since those 10 days I was in the hospital, all my friends, be they Pagan, Christian, Transgender, etc have shown me an amazing amount of love and support. I don’t feel nearly as alone and isolated as I did, and though I still feel somewhat like a pariah … I find that I care more about being who I am, as best I can, than the opinions or thoughts of people who have never walked a fraction of my journey …

Jones: Mostly, the pain, violence, and struggle is what needs to be talked about, but there is beauty too, and there is love. I like to say, family is the people who love the real you and are there when you need them, everything else is relatives. Most trans people have, to varying degrees, lost family because of who they are. I come from a big family. My childhood memories are punctuated by the presence of twenty to a hundred people who I saw two to three times a year on special occasions. Out of all those people, I only talk to five now. Some of us have no one at all, so we make new families– families of the heart, people who know us and love us as we are.

My transgender family is closer, more loving, and more devoted than I think any other could be, because we picked each other. When one of us needs something, we all pitch in to make it happen. When one of us couldn’t afford a medical bill a few months ago, the rest of us raised the money in less than a day. When some of us had nowhere to go for the holidays, several different people opened their homes and held potluck parties for ANYONE who wanted to come. We throw parties just because every couple of months, so we’ll have an excuse to gather and enjoy each other’s company.

Living with my blood family, I could go a day and a half without seeing people who lived in the same house with me. Now, I rarely go that long without an impromptu visit from someone who “just happened to be in the area”. I call them my people, because we are like a tribe. We take care of each other, because no one else is doing so.

As Babb mentioned earlier, Transgender Day of Remebrance (TDOR) “is not a time for us to talk about how far we’ve come” … It is “about recognizing how far we have to go.” Every year, the TDOR website includes a list of names of those people known “to have died because of anti-transgender violence.”  To end our interviews, we asked our interviewees what the day means to them.

Babb: Transgender Day of Remembrance is important because it’s our opportunity to mourn the ones we’ve lost. So many trans people are cast out of their birth families- we say their names so that someone will, because they are valuable, because they are our family and we have to mourn them

Morria: Trans Remembrance day is exceedingly important for me because it reminds me of all my transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were ended for no other reason than they were trying to live true to themselves. It reminds me that to some groups of people, my life is utterly worthless and killing me in their minds, is a service to whatever it is they believe in. It also reminds me that, while we have managed to come a long way quickly where Transgender rights and equality is concerned, we have a long way to go, and each life it costs, is a price too great and too painful to have to pay.

It makes me ask the question every time I am out. “Will I be the next statistic? The next victim? The next one whose loss is mourned by my family, loved ones and transgender brothers and sisters?” It also reminds me that our murderers are rarely ever apprehended, because our lives don’t seem to matter to investigators, and our murderers when caught, are rarely ever given sentences that match the crime. We are maligned. Hated. Lied about and treated as fifth class humans unworthy of the same protections others have and take as a given. It reminds me that society, while imroving, still sees my life as less valuable because I am Transgender … It reminds me that the fight MUST continue.

Jones: Since 1998, the Transgender Day of Remembrance has honored the victims of transphobic violence. We light candles, and we say their names, to show that they have not been forgotten or ignored. The vigil is usually followed by advocacy and activism discussions geared toward reducing violence against the trans community and moving media and law enforcement toward handling the murders correctly. They often go unreported, and law enforcement fails to investigate fully more often than not. 

The Day of Remembrance gives trans people a chance to express the heavy emotions which come from living our lives in this kind of danger and oppression, and it reminds us of what we are fighting to change. It also increases our visibility and encourages others to educate themselves, or even join our fight for equality. Last year, one of the names we read was an eight year old girl named Alex Medeiros beaten to death by her own father, for refusing to cut her hair, liking women’s clothes, and dancing. The moment I read that aloud was the last time there was a dry eye in the gathering until we came to the end.

This year it’s more important than ever, because we’ve had more violence than ever. There are approximately 27 victims right now, but different sources give different numbers because the deaths are not correctly reported and because there are no government statistics. The average homicide rate of trans people is about 1 in 12, as opposed to roughly 4.7 in 100,000 for the general population. That’s higher than any other demographic except sufferers of certain life threatening illnesses. I am currently running a petition to have the TDoR declared a national holiday … We need this event to raise awareness of these terrifying statistics. I’m more likely to die going to the grocery store than you are in a plane crash. I want this to be the last year that my identity is life threatening.

  *   *   *

For those people who are attending organized vigils today or would like to participate in their own way privately or with their own groups, we have attached here the TDoR list of 2015 victims of anti-transgender violence. There are many resources on the issues discussed above, as well as resources for both trans people and allies. GLAAD provides a short list of legal resources and other support. Now celebrating its first anniversary, the Trans Lifeline is available nationally. It helps “empower Trans people to help other Trans people in the darkest moments of their lives.” 

The Wild Hunt thanks all three of our interviewees for their time and willingness to share their thoughts.

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News Alerts: Missing Texas Man Found Dead; Isis Bookstore Vandalized

Thu, 2015-11-19 06:49
Missing Texas Man Found Dead

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas — On Nov 14, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office discovered a burned GMC Sonoma in a wooded area near Firetower Road. The partial plates revealed that the truck belonged to 28 year old Marc Pourner, who had been reported missing since Nov. 12. During a search of the area, Pourner’s body was eventually discovered only a short distance away from the vehicle.

[Online Profile Photo]

Pourner, also known as Axel in Wiccan circles, was a resident of Spring, Texas. He was a very active member in several online Wiccan groups and had helped administer the popular Facebook group The Cauldron – A Mixing Place for Witches, Druids and Pagans. He was very open and proud about his religious beliefs, and about being gay. Pourner did not hide who he was and what he believed.

On Wed, the Montgomery Sheriff’s office told The Wild Hunt that they had not yet determined a motive and could not comment on possible suspects. However, since that conversation, the department did issue a warrant for the arrest of David James Brown, a reported acquaintance and Facebook friend of Pourner.

The accused was eventually found in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, where his girlfriend lives, and was booked at 10:30 pm Wed. night. The arrest warrant charges Brown with capital murder. Brown is currently being held without bond and waiting extradition to Montgomery County, Texas.

For Pourner’s family and friends, the news has been overwhelming. A Prayer Vigil was held Wed, Nov 18 at Caney Creek Apostolic Tabernacle on FM 1485, Montgomery County, Texas.  And, there is also a GoFundMe campaign to help his father pay for some funeral expenses.

We will bring you the full story on Pourner’s life and all updates on Sunday.

  *   *   *

Isis Bookstore Vandalized

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Over the past weekend, Isis Books and Gifts was vandalized for the fourth time in the past year. In this recent incident, a brick was thrown through the lower portion of the sign.

[Facebook Photo / Isis Books & Gifts]

The book store owner, Karen Charboneau-Harrison, doesn’t know who did this. However, the reason itself is not a mystery. The vandalism happened one day after the Beirut and Paris terrorist attacks. She told a local reporter for CNN, “I don’t know if somebody walking down the street just saw our name on the sign and kind of lost it for a moment and threw a rock through it … or if it was an ignorant person who actually thought this was a bookstore for terrorists, I don’t know.”

Although confusion between the store’s name and the terrorist group is causing problems, Charboneau-Harrison has no intention of changing the name. On Facebook, Isis Books posted, “The name Isis is that of the Egyptian Goddess of women, marriage, magick, healing and more. However, with our media and politicians constantly using the word to name those in the Middle East who are the source of such horror, some people seem to get confused. Please help us to educate the media and your family and friends to call the terrorists by a more correct name – Daesh – not Islamic State, not ISIS, not ISIL.”

We will have the full story next week, including more on the ongoing controversy over the terrorist group’s name.

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Religious Landscape Shifts Underfoot

Wed, 2015-11-18 07:33

UNITED STATES –Analysts at the Pew Research Center have released a second report parsing data collected during the 2014 Religious Landscape Survey. Where the initial report “described the changing size and demographic characteristics of the nation’s major religious groups,” this second one instead “focuses on Americans’ religious beliefs and practices and assesses how they have changed in recent years.”

While the activities of those who belong to religious minorities, including those who fall under or near the Pagan umbrella, can at best be inferred from the data — out of 35,071 survey participants, only 605 are listed in the “other faiths” category, which was separate from the 92 identified under “other world religions” — the overall trends in the United States suggest a slow, generational shift away from any religious activity. However, among those who hold religious beliefs, the frequency and variety of religious activities has not appreciably changed since the first survey, conducted in 2007. Those interested in digging into the data have, for the first time this year, an interactive tool for combing through the results as well as the full report in PDF format.

While 70.6% of the survey respondents indicating that they are some type of Christian, some of the questions suggest that the survey itself was written by people who are largely unfamiliar that other perspectives exist. That includes the finding that a “growing share of religiously affiliated say they regularly read scripture, participate in prayer or scripture study groups, share faith with others” – all activities strongly associated with Christian faiths in particular.

Another section of the report notes that a “declining share of Americans express absolutely certain belief in God.” The report further indicates that six-in-ten respondents “believe the Bible or other holy scripture is the word of God.” It’s not clear if or how the wording of questions impacted responses from, for example, the 456 Hindus or responded. Additionally, while the results are parsed by gender in several sections of the report, no allowances are made for non-binary respondents.

One thing made clear by the new survey is that the number of “nones” — those who do not identify as affiliated with a particular religion, including atheists — continues to rise. This population went from 16% in 2007 to 23% in the 2014 survey. That progression has not been homogeneous: younger people are more likely not to identify as religiously affiliated than older Americans, and is more widespread among respondents who listed themselves as Democrats or Democrat-leaning.

One pair of findings which might suggest a Christian bias to the survey is the the “nones” are less likely to believe in God than they did seven years ago. At the same time, feelings of spiritual peace and wonder at the universe increased among the religious and non-religious alike. By separating “spiritual” from “religious” activities, Pew researchers may have created a distinction that only represents a difference in certain faith communities, albeit the majority ones in the United States today. Given that unspoken definition, it appears that those with a religious affiliation are loathe to give it up, but members of the millennial generation are more likely not to have picked one up in the first place. While no one appears to be abandoning religion, the percentage of people who practice one is still on the decline.

Among those who adhere to a specific religion, the survey found that the distribution from highly religious to those who are less so hasn’t significantly changed from one survey to the next. Similar percentages of respondents attend worship services, pray, and express belief in their deity as did in 2007. The bulk (57%) of those identifying as having a religion conceive of “God” as a person rather than an impersonal force, including 70% of Christians. C

uriously, 2% of atheists said that the believe in a personal deity. There’s been no appreciable change in conception of deity — among the religious — from one survey to the next.

Two highly political issues were also called out in the survey, with questions on topics such as homosexuality and abortion. Across the board, the percentage of people who accept homosexuality is on the rise, with increases shown in every faith group, including Mormons, whose church recently ruled that members in same-sex marriages are to be considered apostate, and their children denied baptism until they reach adulthood. (It’s not clear if the mass resignations spurred by that decision will change the overall attitude of Mormons in future surveys, however.)

Belief that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, however, hasn’t really changed overall since the 2007 survey was performed. What’s interesting about the abortion data is which groups trended in what direction: the nones are more supportive of the right to choose an abortion, while there was a slight downtick among non-Christian faiths, of which most of the respondents belong to another Abrahamic group. While generational trends drift toward more liberal views on issues other than homosexuality, namely the environment, immigration policy, and the proper size and scope of government. Abortion, however, has its opponents strewn throughout all age groups.

Given the relatively small number of people who practice any sort of Heathen, Pagan, or Polytheist religion, trends in these communities are impossible to track in such a large survey. It’s entirely possible that trends toward less religious involvement in younger people do impact the growth of these religions, but as they are generally adopted in adulthood, and without attempts at conversion. It’s also possible that those in the shadow of the Pagan umbrella are bucking these trends completely. Unless and until this amalgam of faith groups and solitary practitioners grows to the point of making a statistically significant blip on the national stage, focused surveys such as the Heathen census will serve to provide more meaningful data about who we are and what we do.

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From Beirut to Paris, Pagans Express Shock and Sadness

Tue, 2015-11-17 08:16

The recent terror attacks in Lebanon and France have sent shockwaves through Europe and the United States. On Nov 12, Beirut suffered a double suicide bombing killed 43 and wounded more than 200 people. That was quickly overshadowed by events the next day in France, where 129 people have died and over 100 were wounded. Daesh has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

In response, France has initiated a military campaign against suspected terrorist targets in Syria and has arrested over 100 suspects. Anti-immigration protests are taking place nationwide, and theits President has proposed changes to the French constitution that would expand his powers. Belgian officials are considering shutting down what what they call “certain radical mosques” in Molenbeek, an area that has been linked to a major terrorist attack five times in the past 18 months.  And, the Governors of 26 U.S. states have now said they will not accept Syrian refugees unless there is a stringent screening in place.

As this international crisis continues to evolve on a macro scale, these brutal attacks and their aftermath, have affected people on the micro level, including many Pagans who live in both France and Lebanon.

In Beirut, two suicide bombers struck at rush hour in a busy shopping district. Daesh said that they chose the neighborhood because it is home to Shiite and Palestinians, both of whom it views as apostates. Although Beirut has endured such attacks in the past, it had been relatively calm and peaceful for many months.

Leyla, a polytheist living in a suburb of Beirut said that the city isn’t as a dangerous a place as many Americans may think. She said, “[It] has been calm for months. Then the bombing happened. The bombing was shocking. We are shocked. We have been enjoying cafes and visiting friend, now we stay at home.”

She added that the bombing by Daesh has also increased tensions between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees living in Beirut. She explained that many homes are filled to overflowing with extended relatives who had to flee Syria. “I pray to Ashtarte to bring peace to our country and to the whole of our place. We have so many refugees from Syria, but now they are suspicioned. Yes, you trust your family from Syria, but others? Are they refugees or men with bomb belts? We do not know.”

Leyla said that she is also worried about France’s military actions, but even more so she worries that Daesh will take over Lebanon. “The attacks on Daesh by France are good and bad. Daesh must be stopped. After they swallow Syria, they swallow Lebanon.” Leyla added that she especially fears what will happen to Pagans like herself and to her family. “[Daesh] will kill all pagans, all Christians, all those not them. It is known they kidnap and keep for raping women who aren’t Islam. But bombs from France will not stop them, only kill innocents. Bombs spread sadness.”

The suicide bombings in Beirut were barely making onto the world’s radar when the Paris attacks happened. Attention was immediately diverted. Leyla said that she’s hurt, but understands, “We, too, were more shocked [of the] attack in Paris than attack here. Paris is thought so safe and Lebanese have special ties to France. If such acts happen there, how is anyone safe?”

In France, the attacks took the form of several suicide bombings and shootings. The first explosion occurred outside the Stade de France, located just outside of Paris. The attacker attempted to gain entry to the facility, but was stopped from entering. Another suicide attacker blew himself up at a fast food restaurant near the stadium. Meanwhile in the heart of Paris, gunmen attacked patrons at the Le Carillon bar, and then crossed the street to attack diners at the Le Petit Cambodge restaurant. Then came yet another attack on diners a few streets away at the Le Café Bonne Bière and La Casa Nostra pizzeria. The next reports of shootings were at the La Belle Equipe bar, further south. The final attacks happened at the restaurant Le Comptoir Voltaire and in the 1500 seat Bataclan concert venue.

French officials have said that it appeared there were “three coordinated teams” responsible for the attack. While most of the terrorists have been identified as native French citizens, one of them may have slipped into France by pretending to be a Syrian refugee.  

French Pagans, like their co-religionists in Beirut, responded to the attacks with shock.

Babette Petiot, a French Polytheist living in the Auvergne countryside, said, “Everyone is shocked, but how not to be, it is the biggest attack on France since WWII. From what I have seen, the reactions were prayer, the Ligue Wiccane Eclectique organised Saturday night a Facebook event for people to pray or have a small personal ritual. And on French blogs, it was mostly about sharing love and sending love.”

The Facebook prayer event was created for “Wiccans and pagans who want to unite to pray for the victims of the shooting in Paris of 13.11 and their families, we offer a ritual convergence tonight at 21h Paris time.” Organizers asked people to “direct [their] thoughts, comfort and peace to the souls of those shot and their relatives, and the injured of Paris.”  According to the event page, 42 people participated.

The prayer event included the following chant:

Paix en nous, paix en eux,
Paix autour de nous et paix autour d’eux,
Paix ici, paix là-bas,
Paix à [Paris] et et paix dans le monde,
Apaisons les tensions, accueillons la …

Xavier Mondon, spokesperson for La Ligue Wiccane Eclectique, said that he hasn’t sensed any fear or anger in the city. He said the mood was more one of sadness, “And, also, a willingness to be united, all together against this craziness. That will not last: French people like to argue, and are not always in agreement with each other. But for this moment, there is a willingness to unite and be present.”

Ms. Petiot said that tensions have risen in France, and that there have been some retaliation directed at Muslim communities. She said that this sentiment could affect the upcoming December elections and tilt them in favor of the far right and its anti-immigration platform. She also added that this political calculation may be affecting how the current French government responds.

Petiot explained, “France was already engaged in Syrian conflict beforehand alongside our US allies. François Hollande, our president, has a nickname: ‘Flamby’ [a very soft flan au caramel dessert]. As you can imagine, it is associated with weakness, spineless, softness … Like doormat if you see what I mean. After the refugees crisis in Europe, that is still carrying on, he mostly followed Germany’s and Angela Merkel’s opinions. Friday night, he was in the Stade de France, at the soccer match France-Germany. It is believed he was one of the targets in those terrorists attacks. Because of this, he had to react ‘strong’ and ‘hard.’ “

Mondon, who lives in Paris, said that he himself hasn’t heard much criticism of the president. “I have not heard anyone criticizing Hollande about the raids. Truthfully, there is little talk of politics. It is now a time for contemplation and for solidarity. Politics will come later.”

In a previous interview with The Wild Hunt, Petiot describes France as a very secular country, one in which religious people are somewhat looked down upon. In that article, Petiot explained that the French have a very different relationship with religion, “There has always been this vision of [religiosity] as something for the poor, non-educated, or for women. [This] explains partly why secularism is such a big deal. I’m almost sure a French person will far more easily talk you about sex than religion.”

The existing cultural divide between a small minority, who are described as overtly religious, and the over 80% of French people who do not describe themselves as religious. This may be partly what Daesh wished to exploit. The Wild Hunt asked Petiot and Mondon for some insight into how France’s cultural views of religion affect the current situation.

Mondon explained that French secularism is not an anti-religious sentiment. “On the contrary, it permits all religions to co-exist. Muslims, just like Christians, Pagans, Atheists and even followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, have a right to express their beliefs. It is absolutely permissible, except for in public schools or public administration. As far as I can see, this passive coexistence and respect for differences has not been threatened [by recent events.] On the contrary, the current feeling of national unity is moving us closer to this ideal.”

Going into more detail, Petiot had this to say:

France was a colonial power. Most Muslims [here] are second or third generation in France. They are Muslims by tradition, like most french Christians, who go to church only on Christmas and weddings and such, so do Muslims in mosques. They spend Eid with family, try to do the Ramadan but drink alcohol and live mostly like everybody else. We have 7% of the French population who declare themselves Muslim. But only a very small part of this is really openly religious, with hijab or abaya worn by women and djellabas bearded men …

This small group is [seen as] the real problem. French motto is “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” By their attitudes and outfits they negate the motto, because of religious beliefs, ‘I will not dress like you, we are not equals, we are not brothers.’ They do not realise, but it is very aggressive, especially to those born during WWII and the flower power generation. You know, something lost in translation … 

She explained how most French people feel that if you have a religion, “we are very happy and proud of you. [But] the problem begins when you show it off … I find it gross and rude, and certainly not acceptable!” Petiot further added,

As for the refugees, it is a completely different problem. Those people were living lives very similar to our own, most of those are educated and fled for their lives, they had enough money to attempt the daring trip. Unfortunately, and because of a very small proportion of visible devout Muslims, those refugees are perceived like a threat. And frankly, it is stupid …

I believe most French people don’t really recall their own history. Because of our geographic [location], we are at the center of population flows: celts, gauls, franks, romans, goths, hiberians, vikings, sarrasins … And we have been also great invaders … and not only in Europe! I believe mixing is a formidable chance. I believe in humanity.

Some Pagans events in Paris were cancelled after the President declared a State of Emergency, but outside of Paris, events are still happening. Petiot said, “As for me, this weekend, I will share an art exhibition with a few of my fellow artists. I am completely changing the layout and I will present calligraphic artwork on freedom theme. And we will share art, culture, music and obviously food! And we will drink wine, in honor of the innocents who were killed, in honor of those who survived, in honor of all our [First Responders] and for the conviviality. Because it is our way of life since the dawn of time.”

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Pagan Community Notes: Terror Attacks, Doreen Valiente Foundation, PEC-NYC and more!

Mon, 2015-11-16 09:51

On Saturday, Nov 14, La Ligue Wiccane Ecletique, based in Paris, held a vigil and ritual for its city, country and for the many victims of Friday’s terrorist attack. The ritual was organized through the Facebook event service and was to be held within the homes of each of the participants, or “chez vous.” At exactly 9 p.m. participants were told to follow the prescribed ritual outline and recite a specially written prayer for peace. The results and other words of prayer are now posted on the site.

The Wild Hunt is currently in touch with Ligue organizers in Paris and also has reached out to others affected by the recent worldwide terrorist attacks. We will be following up with more on this story as the events unfold over the next day.

*   *   *

It was just announced at Witchfest 2015 that the Doreen Valiente Foundation in association with the Centre for Pagan Studies would be sponsoring two special exhibitions of their Doreen Valiente collection and other related works. The first event, titled Mystery, Magic, Folklore and Witchcraft in the British Isles, will be presented in Preston Manor, Brighton. It will run for several months, approximately April to September. The second exhibition, titled Where Witchcraft Lives, will run later in the year at a dedicated site in the same city.

It isn’t surprising that these two events are being held in Brighton. This is the same city in which Valiente was honored with a Blue Heritage Plaque in June 2013. She became the first witch to earn such an prestigious historical honor. A year later, Gerald Gardner earned the second such recognition. The fundraising and sponsorship for the two commemorative plaques were coordinated by the Foundation and Centre. The upcoming Witchcraft exhibitions will also be sponsored by both organizations in association with the local Royal Pavilion and Museusm of Brighton and Hove.

In addition, the two organizations announced an upcoming February book launch for Valiente’s new biography, which is being written by historian Philip Hesleton. The book launch is scheduled to be held at Treadwell’s Bookshop in London, Feb. 21. For updates on the exhibition, there is a dedicated website with a digital newsletter. Updates about the book will be posted to the Foundation and Centre’s main websites.

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Over the past year, the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City has been petitioning New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto the Port Ambrose LNG project. As explained by PEC organizers, “This would have built a liquefied natural gas station off the coast of Long Island. While billing itself as an import station, it likely would have flipped to become an export station, sending fracked gas to a mirror station in the UK.”

The project’s construction and operation would have disturbed an already very busy port region. In addition, spokesperson Courtney Weber said that the project could create “a terrorist target, prevent the construction of an off-shore wind farm, and become a potential catastrophe had we another storm like Sandy.”

PEC maintained its aggressive letter writing campaign for the past year, “gathering several hundred signatures from Witches in New York State.” And just this week, the state announced that Cuomo had vetoed the Ambrose LNG project. Weber said, “Another exciting victory for Gaia. Thank you to the New York State Pagan community who has supported the effort to stop the construction of this monstrosity.  Let’s keep the momentum going! There is more work to be done!”

In Other News

  • The Adocentyn Research Library held its first ever “Friends of the Adocentyn Research Library” meeting. Organizers posted that it was successful with its small turnout of dedicated people. The library is located in the Bay Area of California, and holds a “collection [covering] Wiccan, Pagan, Reconstructionist, Afro-Diasporic, metaphysical and esoteric content.” The intent of the friends group is to help facilitate the library’s purpose and objectives, in all forms of its development. They will be hosting another meeting on Jan 10 and plan to be at PantheaCon in Feb.
  • For those readers living in the Rockies, the 2016 Colorado Celtic Weekly Planner Desk Calendar is out. Available through Denver-based Isis Books, the weekly calendar is a unique publication that maintains its focus on the local area. The description reads, “The New Moons, Full Moons, Equinoxes and Solstices are correct for Mountain Time, even for MST and MDT! It contains a treasure trove of information on following the Celtic tree path, including information on each tree for this particular region.”
  • Michigan Pagan Fest 2016 is now calling for submissions for workshops and presentations.The headlines for next year’s event include Orion Foxwood, Judika Illes, M.R. Sellars, and Lady Bona Dea. The musical guest is Lord Wrayven. The event will be held in Belleville, Michigan from June 23-26 and includes camping, drumming, workshops, vendors and more. The workshop submission deadline is Feb. 1.
  • Artist and author Kari Tauring has launched a Kickstarter campaign to finish her two latest albums. As she explains, “Ljos (Light) and Svart (Black), named after Snorri Sturluson’s above ground and below ground elves, the beings of Summer frolic and Winter’s almost complete blackness in the far North.”  Money raised will be used the complete the two albums, which were started in 2014.  Tauring expects the albums to be released by late Spring 2016.

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A Place in Tarot History

Sun, 2015-11-15 06:30

SAUGERTIES, NY — Robert Place didn’t set out to be a tarot artist and scholar. Once upon a time, he made jewelry, including the wedding ring worn by Margot Adler. Through a series of messages and signs he received from his patron deity Hermes, Place set aside that work and turned his artistic abilities to the creation of cards for divination, including tarot. Along the way, he became an expert in the history of how cards have been used for oracular purposes.

Place’s best-selling work thus far has been the Alchemical Tarot, but he has created several other decks in that style, as well as writing a treatise on the subject, called The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination. He’s also explored other divinatory card traditions, such as Lenormand; his newest project, the Hermes Playing Card Oracle, is named for his card-publishing company, as well as the two activities its creator designed the deck to be used for.

Over lunch one autumn day in the Hudson Valley, Place spoke to The Wild Hunt about his work and scholarship, which have become his life’s journey.

Robert Place [Courtesy Photo]

Place’s calling to the tarot began, as he tells it, with a dream, one that was “vivid, near-lucid” in its clarity. In it, he received a person-to-person call from a secretary at a London law firm. In the 1980s, when this tale begins, these type calls were used to avoid expensive long-distance charges; the caller did not have to pay if the individual they wished to speak with wasn’t available.

In his dream, Place accepted the call, and was advised that he had an inheritance from an ancestor coming. “They asked me if I would accept it, but warned me that there was certain karmic debt associated with it, but it had a lot of power. I remember thinking, ‘How can I resist this?'” he recalled. “They wouldn’t tell me what it was, only that it was going to come in a box from England, and is referred to as, ‘the key.’ It was so vivid that I woke up the next morning expecting the box at the foot of the bed.”

The box actually arrived with a friend, someone who wanted to show him a tarot deck he’d just purchased, the Smith-Waite deck.  Although this deck is more commonly called the Rider-Waite, Place names it Smith-Waite, which comes from long years of research into tarot. First published in England in 1909 (by the Rider Company) and first introduced into the United States, the deck was conceived by the mystic and academic A. E. Waite, but drawn by Pamela Colman Smith, who followed Waite’s instructions. Smith’s illustrations, by which the deck is instantly recognizable to so many, were given no credit in the name settled upon by U.S. Games when it acquired the stateside rights in the 1960s. “Scholars call it the Smith-Waite deck, because Pamela Colman Smith designed it,” Place explained.

Nevertheless, his friend arrived with this English-born treasure, and Place felt a compulsion on him. “I remembered the deck from college,” he said. “I realized that the trumps were called ‘keys,’ and that even the instruction book was called, ‘The Key to the Tarot.’ I decided I had to buy one of these decks.”

1909 original (left) and 1971 revisions (right) of the Rider-Waite tarot.

Buying tarot decks today is as easy as an internet search can be, but this was before Amazon was a glimmer in Jeff Bezos’ eye. There was no internet, and the closest metaphysical shop to Place’s home on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border was in Manhattan, close to a hundred miles one way. However, that’s exactly where he went and what he did.

Not long afte,r he was contacted by another of his friends, an astrologist named Ed. “He told me he had a deck [that] he had a feeling I was supposed to have,” Place said, a Tarot de Marseille, the traditional French deck that popularized tarot throughout the world. “I was never a writer, but I started making notebooks,” as he learned about the decks. Books, too, began piling high in his studio: volumes on Gnosticism and alchemy in particular.

From those, he started to see connections. The World card, in particular, struck a chord: “It opened a door in my mind, and images were flying out. Alchemical images, and how they related to tarot cards. I got out my psychology and alchemy books by Jung, to look at the images. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I was taking notes, and I would tell anyone about it who I could corner. Then it dawned on me to write it down, rather than accost people at parties with what I’d learned. Eventually, my friends asked me why I didn’t just design this deck already. ‘After all, you’re an artist,’ they said.'”

Place continued to have weird moments of synchronicity. He found a magazine called Gnosis, which he read cover to cover. He recalled, “Then, in the back of my mind, I got the idea to send in the Star card I’d already done since they were doing an issue on tarot.” When he did so, the editor called him. They had no plans for a tarot issue, despite the idea planted in his head, but could use the drawing as an illustration for an article on Sophia in an upcoming issue on the goddess. That led to a request to illustrate a tarot book by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, and further work as a ghost writer for her on alchemy, all while continuing to work full-time as a jeweler.

Finally, Guiley asked about his tarot deck. “I told her it was going slow, and she said that I needed a contract, with an advance,” and opened doors for him. That led to the Alchemical Tarot, which is still Place’s best-selling deck, in part because problems with the publisher led people to believe it was out of print long before it actually was, and the demand grew. “When I saw that thirty-dollar deck sell for $2,017 on Ebay, I decided to get the rights back, and publish it myself,” he said.

Priestess from the Alchemical Tarot

This also allowed him to correct problems he’d had with some of the creative decisions, like having to replace the original Lovers card — which showed the act quite clearly — with a chaste version depicting the couple simply kissing. Later editions have both cards, representing different aspects of love energy. He’s put out three editions himself, in runs of 1,500 or 2,000, as well as art copies which are printed on rag paper, signed by the artist, and packaged in a decorative box.

While he hadn’t set out to create a tarot deck, much less several, Place had always had a deep appreciation for art history and used that in his research. To his surprise, “All of the books on tarot were nonsense. They said things like it came from ancient Egypt, but they didn’t have paper. Some people said that things were in the primary sources that, when I finally got translations, just weren’t there.” Scholars like Michael Dummett have since raised the quality of the literature, but Place’s early research eventually led him to lecture about tarot at the NY Open Center, where he taught about its real history.

In short, the earliest known decks, Mamluk cards, found their way to Spain from Islamic sources in the 1300s. Even those first examples often included Arabic calligraphy that included divinatory meanings, suggesting that cards were used for games and divination from the get-go. Once they reached the Italian city-states, some artists added a fifth suit, the carte de triomphe, or “triumphant march” in the tradition of the Caesars returning victorious. Such parades would be organized from the least important captured soldiers all the way up to the winning army’s leaders; likewise, these cards would be ordered so that each one trumped the card preceding it.

Originally they had neither names nor numbers; the order of the trumps varied based on local preference, and all the users knew each card by sight. Once these five-suit decks made it as far as France, users unfamiliar with the images needed names for identification, and numbers so as to order them correctly. The carte de triomphe become tarocchi, and “tarot” in French.

The Smith-Waite deck was based on the Tarot de Marseille, and its wide distribution gave the sense that, not only was tarot the only type of card deck used for divination, but that the suits and trumps were standardized, which they never had been. In fact, that deck switched the order of Strength and Justice, to fit with a belief that astrological symbolism was secreted in the original tarot. Place has seen much older decks, such as one of 40 trumps that was made in Florence, which discredits that theory. He said, “It’s got astrological symbols all through it. That wasn’t considered esoteric knowledge. If they’d wanted to use astrology, they would have; the artists at the time were just more familiar with mysticism.”

Place also knows that tarot was also not intended as an alchemical tool either, despite how well the system fits. Creating a Buddha tarot was surprisingly easy once Place saw that the three groupings of seven cards each within the major arcana (not counting the Fool) paralleled the periods of Gautama’s development.

Some decks were created simply because he was hired to do so. “They were using angels to sell shoes in the 1990s,” Place joked about why he did the Angel deck in six short months. But other decks were works of love, such as the Sevenfold Mysteries, which he developed over ten years.

His research also made him realize that tarot was almost nonexistent through much of the history of cards, while the four-suit Lenormand decks were commonplace for divination. In addition to painstakingly recreating one of those decks in what he imagined was the original, vibrant color, Place collaborated with reader Rachel Pollack to create an entirely new one, the Serpent Oracle deck.

Hermes oracle cards

With Lenormand, an image was added to each of the 36 cards, and the deck could be used for games or the telling of fortunes. There were no two, threes, fours, or fives, hence the small number of cards. With Place’s most recent project, he took that idea and expanded it for the modern 52-card deck, by adding other traditional imagery to fill in where the Lenormand decks didn’t have cards. He’d already had experience with such adaptations in the Serpent Oracle deck, which included dimensions not contemplated in the original Lenormand. For example, as Place explained, in many versions of Lenormand, “The aces of hearts and spades were significators, a woman and a man, and you’d do the reading in relation to the appropriate one. We added a second man and woman, so the relationships could be more dynamic, as well as a god and goddess to represent a higher level.”

He’d originally planned on calling this latest project the “Playing Card Oracle Deck,” but that wasn’t very descriptive, so he went back to the beginning, and named it after Hermes. That’s the name of the publishing company that he created to keep his cards and books in print. And that is the name he came in time to realize, of the voice which had nudged him onto this path in the first place. “He almost always talks to me in dreams, and he’ll lie to get me to do the right thing,” Place said. “I go to Pagan events, but I don’t really fit in with other covens or groups. I’m just a spokesperson for Hermes.”

The Hermes playing card oracle is currently being funded on Indiegogo.

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Column: Magick and Protest at the University of Missouri

Sat, 2015-11-14 14:54

Graduate students protest at the University of Missouri. [Photo Courtesy of Carrie Miranda.]

Our circle clusters around an altar in a south St. Louis back yard, framed by the red brick walls of buildings in the alley and painted in the orange glow of sodium lights from the street. I am eating my piece of communion along the circle’s western edge – I always call the spirits of the west, if given the chance – and listening to the opening notes of The Doors’ song The End, playing over wireless speakers from the altar. I don’t care for recorded music in ritual, as a rule, but it works for me tonight. It’s Samhain, after all; this is the end, indeed.

An hour later, while standing in the kitchen eating a toasted cheese ravioli, I check my phone. The headline: Mizzou football players go on strike.

I may have uttered an expletive.

Let me back up. I go to school at the University of Missouri. I’m a PhD student in the English department there and, over the course of this semester, there have been large protests and demonstrations put on by a variety of student groups. I am part of the Steering Committee for one, the Forum on Graduate Rights, which has called for better conditions for graduate students.

Many of the protests have centered on racism at Mizzou, and one of the activists involved in those anti-racism protests, Jonathan Butler, began a hunger strike on Nov 2 with the aim of removing University System President Tim Wolfe from office. The football players’ announcement came six days into the hunger strike[1], a week during which there were mass demonstrations and other actions on campus. The story and the timeline are much more complicated than I have room for here; I suggest this piece by the student newspaper, The Maneater, as a good starting point.

Within 18 hours of the announcement, my organization had called for a walk-out in solidarity with the anti-racist protesters; within 48 hours, both Wolfe and University Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin had resigned their positions. The media narrative had largely shifted from the protests and their aims in general to an interrogation of the relationship between the protesters and the media.

The day after the resignations, the Forum on Graduate Rights held a rally for social justice across the street from Jesse Hall, the campus’ main administration building. I served as the emcee. We had speakers from the faculty, the graduate students, and from the group of anti-racist protesters at the core of the story, Concerned Student 1950, followed by a silent march through the administration building to the omphalos of the University of Missouri, the historic columns that stand at the center of our quadrangle. We ended our action with a chant: Mizzou, united, will never be defeated. And then we dispersed, off into interviews with newspapers and radio stations; off into figuring out how to salvage our course syllabi; off into a night of anonymous threats and wildfire rumors – off into a world we knew would be different in ways we could not fully predict.

I’m not really an activist by temperament – indeed, before August, I don’t think I had ever participated in any protests at all. Many of the people I work with now have been doing these things for years, some since they were teenagers; in that respect, I’ve had to catch up on a lot. The debates within activist circles about the best ways to organize and mobilize, the best ways to achieve our goals, and the best ways to deal with internal conflicts as well as external ones all came fresh to me. But in other ways the whole process felt quite familiar.

I know I’m not the first person to draw the connection between protest and magick – I read Gods and Radicals too – but I am struck by the correspondence. Magick seems like a sudden thing, I think, to those who do not work it: burn some incense, draw some diagrams, light a candle, and poof, watch it happen. To the outside world, what happened on my campus over the past two weeks might seem the same way – Megyn Kelly, the Fox News anchor, claimed that “in a period of 72 hours, a small group of angry black protesters managed to force the resignation of the two highest-ranking officials at the school,” for example. And if all one knew about the story was that one person had gone on hunger strike and eventually a group of football players joined in solidarity with that individual, it would look that way. Work the spell, wait three days, and watch the world change.

But when I think of the actual magick I have worked in my life – the way I meditated on the bindrune that would become my wife’s wedding ring for months, or the pact I made with Óðinn for my academic studies, or the most apt comparison of all, my family coven’s ongoing ritual of maintaining itself for the past three decades – it becomes clear to me that few forces are as subtle or deliberate as magick. Magick takes time, and preparation, and most of all, patience. As it is with activism too: the “72 hours” narrative neglects months of work by thousands of students and staff members, not to mention neglect that stretches back far beyond the tenure of those two administrators. Dramatic moments of change happen only because the will of the actor – the magician, the activist, the one-and-the-same – prepared for those moments long in advance.

Thinking back now to our Samhain ritual, I remember what my friend Tom, one of the officiants, said: that although we think of Samhain as a time to remember the dead, it is also a time to begin working through the burden of the past. A time not only to remember our ghosts, but to start moving past them. I look back on these two weeks, and everything that led up to them – at all those ghosts we’ve carried – and I hope that my friend’s words prove to be right.

[1] We celebrated Samhain a week late this year.

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Column: Australia’s Pagan Festivals

Sat, 2015-11-14 07:42

Australia does not have festivals like Pagan Spirit Gathering or PantheaCon, which draw hundreds, thousands even, of Pagans from all over the U.S. That’s not a criticism; it’s simply a difference, one that largely reflects numbers and processes. However, Australia does have important and meaningful festivals that continue to shape Pagan culture Down Under.

Australia is about the size of the U.S. with a population slightly less than that of Texas. According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the U.S. is the third most populated country in the world. Australia comes in at 52. A benefit of this is space. It’s not difficult to go to a park, to the beach, or to the bush, and discover you’re the only one there. Pagans can find private ritual spaces outdoors without much difficulty. The drawback is the small number of Pagans with whom to gather.

According to a survey by the Pew Forum on religion, there are over one million Pagans in the U.S. In the 2011 Australian census, 32,083 respondents identified as Pagan. In Australia, the population is small and the Pagan pool is even smaller.


Most Aussies, about 63%, live in Australia’s major cities along the coast, with nearly 40% of them in Sydney and Melbourne. That leaves a lot of people living in towns and regional areas. The more regional and remote you get, the worse the infrastructure. This can make it challenging for Aussie Pagans to travel to festivals, which are often held near major cities.

A major obstacle to the development of festivals, as well as other small events, is the “nanny state” – federal and state government policies that are viewed as over-regulating, overprotective, and unduly interfering. Small groups struggle to afford, for example, the $1200 needed for the insurance required to hold a gathering that is unlikely to attract more than 80 people. Earlier this year, administration changes at Parks Victoria threatened Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering, the state’s longest running Pagan festival. Organisers called the amount of bureaucracy and red tape “simply astonishing”.

Despite the odds against them, Aussie Pagans have organised festivals that have secured themselves a place in the history of contemporary Paganism in Australia.

Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering, Victoria

In 1981, Linda and Michel Marold founded Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering, and they’ve been running it ever since with the assistance of volunteers. Over 34 years, hundreds of Pagans have traveled to this mountain, which was created by a volcanic eruption about 470,000 years ago. The free weekend camping event is held at Beltaine. This year’s program included workshops, a swap/barter market, drumming, a main ritual, and, of course, a maypole.

Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering 2015 [Photo Credit: Kylie Moroney]

Shaz Lizzy has been attending Mount Franklin for over 10 years. “When I first started going it was one of few opportunities to attend a public ritual without the need of belonging to any particular group,” said Lizzy. “At the time, being a solitary Druid, it was the only place to be amongst like-minded folk. It was very satisfying as Senior Druid of Silver Birch Gove ADF, that we were able to offer the ritual this year. It was a wonderful experience and very satisfying to be able to give back to the community.”

Australian Wiccan Conference, various locations

The Australian Wiccan Conference (AWC) began in 1984 as the Annual Gathering for the Pagan Alliance of Australia, which was incorporated in New South Wales. One of the AWC’s unique characteristics is that it moves every year and a different group of volunteers organises it. Last year, it was in Victoria. This year, it was in South Australia. Next year, Australia’s capital city, Canberra, will host the event. As of 2008, the AWC has been held in every state and territory in Australia.

The AWC is traditionally held on a weekend around the Spring Equinox, and it is more eclectic and less formal than its name suggests. Past workshops have included introductions to various Pagan traditions, advanced ritual techniques, teaching methods, divination, historical examinations, and approaches in the Southern Hemisphere. Presenters and panelists have included local teachers, well-known practitioners such as Tim Hartridge, founding figures such as Julia Phillips, and scholars such as Caroline Tully.

Eostre, New South Wales

The annual Eostre gathering took place between 1985 and 1997 and was a largely driven by the well-known Sydney-based Witch Tim Hartridge. The camping event held over a long weekend in April was designed to be a small gathering for Witches and magickal practitioners that included beginners as well as Hartridge’s students and coven members. Attendees could expect to learn some of the coven’s core ritual practices as well as other techniques, and then put it all together during rituals that included a wicker man and bone-fires.

Pagan Summer Gathering, Queensland

Since 1998, the Church of All Worlds (CAW) Australia has been holding Pagan Summer Gathering (PSG). CAW’s annual general meeting takes place during PSG, and that is for members only, but the general festival is open to non-members. Held in January, the weekend program includes workshops, rituals, and stalls. Previous workshop topics have included conflict resolution, ethics, shamanic approaches, environmental workshops, Vodou, and various kinds of rituals.

In her book Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia, academic Lynne Hume describes her experience at PSG.

An entire sensory repertoire is used to convey dramatic messages: breathing, dance movements, body posture and decoration, masks and paint, olfactory stimulation, the use of light and shadow, the mystery of foreign words, tone, inflection and even silence, all of which are fully employed to heighten activity and emotional response.

In play, there is a freedom from normative constraints; one steps out of one time into another and enters an enclave within which is seems anything may happen. Paganism is not only about play, but this is the spirit of Paganism, its quintessence, and I began to look at it more along those lines rather than taking a rational, logical approach.

Euphoria, Victoria

Since the first one in 2000, Euphoria has been Victoria’s, and possibly Australia’s, most controversial Pagan festival.

Taking place over four days in bushland near Melbourne, Euphoria has offered numerous workshops on topics such as body image and body magic, ritual techniques, sacred sexuality, and trance. Rituals have included a rite that recalls the Eleusinian Mysteries where participants come face to face with their mortality, a Dark Goddess ritual of trance, shapeshifting, and ecstatic magick, and the NOX ritual, described as a trance-dance ritual of initiation with a Thelemic and Middle Eastern feel. These workshops and rituals were meant to prepare participants for the main event, that which lies at the heart of Euphoria – the Baphomet rite.

[Public Domain]

The Baphomet rite is inspired by European records of the Witches’ Sabbats from the Middle Ages to the early modern period, down to the infamous Kiss of Shame. And, it plays with Margaret Murray’s witch-cult hypothesis. The rite deliberately draws on symbols and practices that are unsettling. Described as erotic and ecstatic, as well as liberating, it was designed to be challenging and transformative.

Melbourne Pagan Gavin Andrews attended Euphoria and was twice an invoking priest during the Baphomet rite. He said it generated a lot of discussion in the Australian Pagan community. The nudity, sexual activity, and shadow work were seen as too risky for a public festival, and there were concerns about what kind of support participants had once they went home.

“Much of the controversy centred around whether it was appropriate to present dark ecstatic rituals, with the potential to facilitate deep personal transformations, within a festival format,” said Andrews. “Others found Euphoria’s presiding deity, Baphomet, problematic – not least due to the genderqueer associations of this deity, openly contrasting with the heteronormative – I hesitate to use the term ‘orthodoxy’ – accepted within the Pagan scene at the time. Personally I found the event mind-bending, occasionally frustrating, usually rewarding, and always fascinating. It worked as well as it did because a community quickly coalesced around the ritual and the event. Magick ensued.”

The last Euphoria took place in 2009. In 2013, the Baphomet rite made a brief return. At this point, it is unknown if we’ll see it again. Sociologist Douglas Ezzy immortalised Euphoria in his book Sex, Death and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival, in which he anonymised it as Faunalia.

Other Festivals of Interest

There are other festivals that are not specifically Pagan, but friendly enough. One of them is ConFest, an alternative bush camping festival in New South Wales. Another is Seven Sisters, a three-day women’s festival in Victoria.

Big festivals are only one of many ways to create and shape Pagan culture. In fact, most Pagans don’t go to big festivals at all. They connect at small, local events such as the WildWood Faery Parade and Beltane Ritual in Brisbane, Pagan Pride Days, and Reclaiming WitchCamps. And Pagans work really hard to put these events on. They struggle to keep expenses down and draw enough people to make events viable.

Tasmanian Pagan Alliance Beltaine 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

With such a small and scattered Pagan population, if Aussie Pagans want community, they have to be flexible around traditions and practices. Inga Leonora Westerberg, an animist and polytheistic Witch from Hobart, Tasmania, recently facilitated the Tasmanian Pagan Alliance’s inaugural Beltaine event attended by about 22 people.

“Some struggled with the ritual format,” Westerberg said. “For others, it totally vibed with them, and they found the sweet spot having a much deeper experience. I work a lot with Indigenous myth and story and native flora and fauna, and for some that was something entirely new. Others said how they’d often thought about it, but never knew where to start. Others confessed this was not a path they had any interest at all in. And yet, there was not a single negative moment. What a sublime creature the Pagan community can be when it is at its best! I realised that regardless of what any single person brought to the event, and how they might influence themes and rituals and talking points, which they must in such a small group, it was not possible to cater to ever path and every tradition represented there. And one didn’t need to, because all were prepared to let go and try and experience, to openly discuss their thoughts without judgement.”

It’s an approach that Combined Covens Social Club takes as well. Formed in 1996, Combined Covens is made up of covens and other groups as well as solitary Pagans and Witches. The highlight of its calendar is Spring Camp, a weekend of workshops, rituals, music, and a market. This year, it also included the first Pagan Pride Day in Western Australia.

“I really do think that festivals offer the best opportunity for people to get a better understanding of what being Pagan may mean to them in a supportive and non-threatening environment. Even better when workshops are offered so that people can learn and talk about their own experiences,” said Shaz Lizzy. “Having attended some bigger festivals, Wellspring in the U.S. and ConFest here in Australia, it would be great to have other festivals offered. Social media is helping us to communicate between groups more readily and I hope to see more Pagan festivals and Pagan Pride days in the future.”

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Heathens Respond to Media Reports on Foiled Plot in Virginia

Fri, 2015-11-13 08:06

CHESTERFIELD, Va — On Monday, two men were charged with “conspiracy to possess firearms after having been convicted of felonies,” and a third man was charged with the “conspiracy to commit robbery.” Through an undercover FBI operation, a detailed plan was uncovered to burn and bomb Black churches, Jewish synagogues and their occupants, to rob a jewelry store, stock pile weapons and more. After foiling the plot, the FBI filed an affidavit, which included a note that the men, to some unknown degree, were connected with the religion Asatru.

As written in the FBI report by Special Agent James Rudisill, “Doyle and Chaney … ascribe to a white supremacy extremist version of the Asatru faith.”

After news broke, the Asatru angle quickly went from a footnote in a long FBI report to a news maker and, in some cases, even a headline. A Richmond Times-Dispatch article, one of the first, clarified to its readers, “Asatru is a pagan religion.” And, the media cycle moved from there.

Some news agencies, such as CNN and ABC, did not ever mention the men’s religious affiliation, choosing to focus on the foiled crime. Others offered varying degrees of explanation from simply quoting the FBI document verbatim to inserting some limited facts about the religion. The Washington Post, for example, simply added “neo-pagan” into the FBI quote. Then, others went further exploring the white supremacy connection to Asatru. The Daily Beast went so far as to interview such a group with the added commentary, “Because pagans gonna pagan.”

Get Religion writer Jim Davis questioned the media’s reaction, asking whether journalists even care about implications surrounding the religious aspects of the case. The writer felt the media “missed the boat” by not better investigating the Asatru angle. He wrote:

Now, I’m not calling for some witch hunt, or Norse hunt in this case. If bigotry is not basic for most Asaturars and/or Odinists, fine. But so many media ask so little about a central question in this case. Here we have a story about members of a religion who are charged with wanting to shoot and blow up members of two other religions (and of another race). And journalists aren’t curious about that?

One Virginia-based NBC affiliate did reach out to a practicing Heathen family to talk about Asatru, rather than simply focusing on white supremacy. In that article, Asatruar Bryan Wilson told the reporter, “We’re not about destroying other religions or hurting people … Especially not because of the color of their skin. This is kind of ridiculous. It is very ridiculous.” He was later quoted as saying, “You can blame the religion all you want, but the religion doesn’t tell people to do things like that … That’s someone’s decision that they made on their own, and they just happen to be Asatru.”

As this was all happening, members of the national and even international Heathen communities watched in horror as the story fell like dominoes through the mainstream media. And, collectively, their immediate response was one of frustration and anger.

Heathens Against Hate came out with this statement:

This is an all too familiar song and dance, so it is important for the Heathen community to be proactive in our response to it. These men are criminals with a violent history. According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Chaney, he and Doyle each are convicted felons. Some of the circumstances of this case are reminiscent of virulent forms of prison Odinism that bring stigma to the rest of Heathenry. What we see in these cases is Heathenry being co-opted to advance a political and social agenda that, at the core, has nothing to do with the religion. This perversion of our faith operates against the advancement of Heathenry. This is not a way to honor or to bring bright fame to our gods and goddesses.

And, Heathens United Against Racism wrote, in part:

Such an atmosphere of fear, distrust, and cowardice is the total opposite of everything Heathenry stands for. The would-be race warriors apprehended by the FBI, distinguished by their fearful mentalities and established histories of violence, are not alone in promoting and adhering to doctrines of ethnic violence coated in a veneer of piety. Robert Doyle and Ronald Chaney are two of the worst examples of a much larger problem.

In denouncing these two individuals we further denounce the mental atmosphere giving fuel to their ideas. We denounce those who promote ideologies of fear and terror. We denounce all those who claim Asatru and Heathenry justify a life of bigotry, violence, and prejudice.

Canadian Heathen Robert Rudachyk didn’t mince words. He told The Wild Hunt, “I am personally disgusted that these pathetic nithlings would deign to even call themselves Heathens. They tar all of us with their filth when they act in a manner like this, and I hope the justice system shows them no mercy. They are not warriors, but mindless half-witted savages who want nothing more than to blame people of other faiths for their shortcomings in life rather than taking responsibility for the bad choices they have made in their lives. May Nidhogg gnaw their bones for eternity.”

These Heathen groups and individuals do not deny that these men could possibly have identified or even formally practiced some form of the Asatru religion. Steven T. Abell, Steersman of The Troth, said, “The Troth cannot prevent idiots and creeps from saying they are Heathens, but we can say that idiots and creeps are idiots and creeps. These persons are idiots and creeps, and they are not welcome in our community.”

Two of the men’s online profiles do suggest that they had an interest in or a connection to Heathenry. For example, one of the men recently lost a friend to substance abuse and, in mourning wrote, “[He had the] strength of the Old Gods. Battle and struggle is our way of life. If we lose you Valholl with will improve its ranks.”  At the same time, one of the men showed an interest in some Christian-based groups.

But these are all speculative details coming from social media. What does remain clear is that, regardless of spiritual interest, there are very clear signs of white supremacist beliefs. As pointed out in one news article, one of the men is reportedly a member of the KKK, a claim that is supported by his online profile, and he is also allegedly connected to the Aryan Brotherhood.

Writer Dr. Karl E. Seigfried of the Norse Mythology Blog told The Wild Hunt, “Something about Ásatrú seems to keep attracting this personality type. Maybe it’s incessant social media memes about defending the Folk and dying gloriously in battle. Maybe it’s endless essays proclaiming white victimhood and forwarding conspiracy theories about people of color. Maybe it’s organizations that constantly declare they’re not racist while actively promoting racist ideologies. Maybe it’s Heathens who support racist individuals and organizations in the name of neutrality. It’s probably all of these things. Together, they create a welcoming environment for the worst elements of society, and those elements are gleefully taking advantage.”

Frustration showed in his reaction to the recent incident. Seigfried went on to say, “If Heathens of positive intent are tired of their traditions being connected to racist extremists, they need to actively shut down all this nonsense and lock their doors against those who promote these ideologies.”

Rudachyk strongly agreed, saying, “It is long past time that we as a community stop coddling the racist factions of our faith and cut them out like the cancer they are before they kill our faith with their poisonous beliefs.”

While the media and cultural problems faced by Heathens are not entirely unlike the problems faced by Witches and Wiccans, the struggle appears to be more similar to that faced by Muslims. There are real factions of society who are claiming to be “true” practitioners of the religion, and who commit atrocities in the name of that religion. Overall, these factions are minorities, but they are loud, and they are aggressive, and they are violent. Like many in the Muslim community, Heathens are looking for ways to solve this problem, and protect their religious practice from the inevitable backlash, trauma and bad press.

Heathens Against Hate wrote:

The people in the churches and synagogues are not our enemies. The enemies are those who bring shame to our communities through reprehensible actions. Heathens Against Hate is thankful that the FBI thwarted the efforts of these men and that no one was injured. Issues such as this underscore the importance of In-Reach Heathen Prison Services.

Along with education and In-Reach prison services, Heathens have also been looking to become more active in the interfaith world. The Troth and the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry had their own booth at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. There were Heathen-specific workshops, and one group, the Urglaawe, maintained a healing altar.

Heathenry at the Parliament of the World’s Religions [Courtesy Photo]

In its statement, Heathens United Against Racism wrote:

We call on all Heathens who feel as we do to join us in solidarity. We must all stand together for a truly hospitable, courageous, and honorable community against those who would twist the beliefs and ideas we hold dear into a hateful mockery of everything we, as Heathens, stand for.

Back in Virginia, two of the arrested men had their preliminary hearing Thursday, Nov. 12. As reported by the Roanoke Times, the men are being held without bond due to “their ties to a white supremacist group and potential danger to the community.” According to the report, the judge felt there was very “strong evidence” in the case and would not grant the defense any special conditions. The third man is schedule for a hearing today.

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Pagan Author Pledges to Protect Water From Nestle

Thu, 2015-11-12 07:41

ELORA, Ont — After a recent move by corporate giant Nestle to extract and bottle the water from an aquifer supplying the idyllic small town of Elora, Pagan writer Dr. Brendan Myers has been prompted to put his money where his mouth is. Elora is both Myers hometown and the inspiration for Fellwater, the setting in his fantasy novel series “The Hidden Houses.” Myers has pledged to donate the profits from the November sales of these books to a community group called Save Our Water. The money will be used to help cover the costs involved in fighting Nestle’s extraction plan.

Elora Gorge [Photo Credit: Lone Primate / Flickr]

Nestlé Waters Canada, a subsidiary of the transnational Nestlé Company, has conditionally purchased a well, which is located on the Grand River across from the Elora Gorge Park. To begin operations, the company needs approval from the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment.

In a recent interview, The Wild Hunt spoke to Dr. Myers about his pledge to donate to Save Our Water and about his hometown of Elora:

The Wild Hunt: What is the most beautiful thing about the town of Elora?

Dr. Brendan Myers: The gorge. It’s a two-kilometer, 20-meter deep riverbed of limestone, topped with a cedar forest. There are always trees and cliffs to climb, little holes and blind caves to explore, and stories to tell. In the spring the oil from the cedar trees was thick in the air, so much that after a few hours you would feel like you bathed in it. In my novels I described it as “a place you could go wandering, and never care if you became lost.”

In a recent blog post, Myers wrote:

Elora’s rich, diverse, delightful, and bountiful watershed, the very flowing heart of the real-world fairyland that I still love, is clearly threatened by industrial water extraction. The company plans to take 1.6 million litres of water every day. That’s almost as much water from the aquifer as the village itself takes; effectively doubling the demand on the ecosystem. Yet where Elora residents pay $2140 per million litres, Nestlé will pay only $3.71 for the same volume.

Local residents are concerned that the aquifer will not be able to sustain the drain on the water supply, or the increased traffic on the roads that the water trucks will create, as they haul water as much as 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The water will be moved to the neighbouring town of Aberfoyle, where it will be bottled in plastic bottles and sold to the Canadian market.

The residents of Elora have banded together as the group Save Our Water and have made three demands:

  1. Require Nestle to monitor local wells for two weeks prior to the Middlebrook pumping test in order to provide better groundwater baseline data, plus a commitment from Nestle to assure transparent data collection and independent, third party assessment of the test results.
  1. Impose a three-year moratorium on consumptive water-taking permits for commercial bottling in the Grand River Watershed.
  1. Provide municipalities in the Grand River Watershed time to complete their Water Supply Master Plans and Tier Three Risk Assessments as required.

The Hidden Houses series by Brendan Myers

As a writer and high profile member of the Canadian Pagan community, Myers has decided to use his influence to help spread the word and publicize Save Our Water’s work. In his most recent blog post, he expressed his own rage and despair at what he perceives as an injustice and offers his books as a way for others to experience the magic Elora has to offer. By pledging his November book profits to the campaign, Myers is also offering an incentive for book buyers to help the cause.

TWH: What message are you trying to send out to other Pagans by making this pledge?

BM: I suppose I’m saying that each of us can do more than think we can do, and perhaps more than we presently do, to protect the earth. Modern paganism is not only about spells and rituals and honouring the gods. It’s also about social and political justice. This has been the case since the 1700’s, when the first modern pantheists published tracts against mercantilism and monarchy. It remains true today with the activism work of Reclaiming, The Pagan Federation, and so on. Squabbles about which lineage of British Wicca is “authentic”, or about the relative merits of hard versus soft theism, are in my view red-herring distractions. More important than what you believe, is what you do.  So this month I’m donating my royalties to a noble cause. So let’s all drop the hair-splitting and fight the real enemy.

TWH: What has the response to your pledge so far?

BM: The response in social media has been excellent. My blog post has been “liked” and “shared” by hundreds of people; it’s my second-best social media response since I wrote Clear and Present Thinking. My blog post was retweeted by no less a luminary than Neil Gaiman— I’m especially proud and thankful for that! In terms of book sales, however, I’ve sold no more than usual this month. Publishing is certainly not a path to wealth and fame (unless you have a million-dollar budget for marketing, which I don’t). But there’s still more month to go.

Dr. Brendan Myers [Courtesy photo]

TWH: Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?

BM: Yes, I do. I’m convinced that climate change and global warming is the most important problem of our age— socially, politically, economically, philosophically, and spiritually. I wrote my doctorate on environmental ethics and future generations; I regularly discuss it with my students; I vote with my money and my feet for economic change; in fact I sometimes lobby my government.

TWH: Are there any other causes that you are particularly concerned about?

BM: I’m deeply concerned about income inequality, the “dumbing down” of culture, the apparent rise of “men’s rights activists” (translation: anti-feminist activists), whether my books will be still be read after I die, and when Bethesda will release the next Skyrim game. (Although I’d rather create my own such game.) But mostly I want to live a good life, as a writer, as a friend to those I care about, and as a human being on this good earth and at this interesting historical time. To paraphrase Cornell West: I’m not promoting any particular political ideology, I’m just trying to live a life of integrity.

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This decision from Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment is expected by mid-November.

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Honoring Our Veterans

Wed, 2015-11-11 07:11

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It is a time set aside in the United States to honor those who serve in the five branches of the Armed Forces. On that date in 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany during the First World War. After that, the day became known as Armistice Day and was unofficially observed. Then in 1938, it was declared a federal holiday specifically set aside to honor WWI veterans. Shortly after the Korean War, the name was changed to Veterans Day and included all American veterans of all wars.

While in the past there was resistance by some prominent Pagan leaders to the idea that a person could serve in the military and be a Pagan, that sentiment has changed. Now, instead of Pagan groups barring entry to active duty military Pagans, they are honoring military Pagans during community rituals.

Warrior Blessing ritual at Hallowed Homecoming. Participants wrote down the names those who have served & are serving in the US Military. [Photo Courtesy Circle Sanctuary]

Circle Sanctuary has hosted a full schedule of events honoring Pagan veterans. Tuesday evening, Circle Sanctuary hosted two special live podcasts. One focused on Circle’s Military Ministries work, while the second podcast featured a ceremony awarding Pagan Military Service Ribbons.

Today, the group is hosting a visiting day for guests to pay their respects at Circle Cemetery located in Veterans Ridge. This is followed by a 3 pm Veterans Day ceremony during which group will award Pagans who have served, or are currently serving in the military, a Pagan Military Service Ribbon.

Circle Sanctuary Military Ministries team at Hallowed Homecoming, left to right: David Ewing, Jeanet Ewing, Selena Fox, Tiffany Andes, and Tristan. [Photo Courtesy Circle Sanctuary]

A Pagan Warrior Blessing Ritual was also hosted on Sunday at Hallowed Homecoming at Prince William Forest in northern Virginia as part of their Veterans Day activities. Several Circle Sanctuary ministers took part, including Revs. David & Jeanet Ewing of Virginia, Rev. Tristan of Maryland, and Rev. Selena Fox. During the blessing, Circle Sanctuary Minister in Training Tiffany Andes was singled out for her role in working for equal rights for Pagans serving in the US Military.  

The Wild Hunt asked several Pagan, Heathen, and Polythiest veterans and family members of veterans to share what Veterans Day means to them.

Josh Heath is the co-director of The Open Halls Project, an Army Veteran, and a graduate student at American University in its International Peace and Conflict Resolution program.

There is a sense of separation from civilian society that happens when you join the military. Veteran’s Day is one day for us to specifically acknowledge the commitment and oaths our military service members swore. It should also be a day for our service members to be welcomed back fully into their communities, for their worth to be acknowledged, and to begin to peel back that sense of separation. It is a day to acknowledge that oath has been completed by the veteran and to acknowledge their service and empower them to make an impact in the civilian world.

Rev. Dave Sassman is is an openly Pagan Air Force Veteran, member of Circle Sanctuary’s Military Ministry, and board member of Indy Vet House, Inc.

As a minority faith it is important to honor those who choose to serve in the uniformed services. Many of those who have served have become or will become community leaders who bring a wealth of experience that will guide the Earth Based Faith Community into the future.

Chuck Hudson is a Heathen, former host of Raven Radio, and a Former Combat Medic in the U.S. Army.

We are the ones that signed a blank check for the total sum of our lives and handed the check to this country. We were the ones that were lucky enough to get the check back and were able to tear it up. Some of us bear the wounds of combat, some the struggles of keeping a unit going. Being a vet isn’t about how many drops you made. Nor how many pallets you loaded. Or privates you trained, trays served or papers filed. It’s about setting aside your life and putting the country’s life ahead of yours. Being Heathen makes the task even more satisfying. Some call us a “warrior religion”  No not really. We have the gods and goddesses that teach us HOW to use violence and where and when. So we are for the most part not opposed to using violence to protect our family friends and country. Maybe that is one of the reasons so many of us serve.

Veterans Day is a day of mixed emotions for me. I am glad I made it home nor more screwed up than I am. And I am also melancholy thinking about those that didn’t come home. And furious that 22 of my brothers and sister end their lives by their own hands each day.

But Veterans Day is for us that made it back to the world. And still stand ready to rally to our nation’s side. To raise the horn to with our brothers and sisters. To have the privilege to call our brothers and sisters of the different armed forces by their nicknames. Flyboy, Dog Face, Jarhead. Puddle Pirate and Squid. We earned the right to call each other those names and their right to stomp a mudhole in someone’s chest who didn’t earn that right.

Hagl berjast menn okkar og konur. Þeir sem þjóna landið okkar og þjóð. Hagl til vopnahlésdagurinn okkar. Hail our fighting men and women. Those that serve our country and people. Hail to our veterans.

Like Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess issues service medals to its members who are or have served in the military.

Galina Krasskova is a Northern Tradition shaman, author, and vitki [wise woman].

Every year, I give the entire month of November over to honoring our Veterans. For me, this day is about remembrance and not just of those men and women who fought in our wars.

Veterans day is about remembering all the wars  that have defined and devastated us as a people. Keeping this day is a way of saying to the veterans (and all warriors living and dead):  You are remembered. Your sacrifices mean something. You are part of something so much bigger than yourselves. I wish that as a nation, as a species, we could look to you and question the devastation of war before we throw ourselves gaily forward into another one. I wish that we could see the price that our Veterans pay and allow that to inform our decisions of how much life we’re willing to expend for our nation’s dubious glory. In the meantime to every man and woman serving: respect.

Julia Ergane is a Hellenic Reconstructionist and served in the United States Air Force.

As a veteran and the daughter and niece of veterans it is an important day to me. I feel pride in completing a duty I feel that I owe to my country. Even though the mid-1970s was fairly peaceful, I was still stationed in South Korea when we very nearly did lose our cessation of hostilities. During this time, I did feel the strength of Athena and Ares come to my aid. Both of my uncles received the Purple Heart during WWII, one at the Anzio Beach head in Italy. This was an invasion like the invasion at D-Day in France. When I was twenty I visited the site. My Father attended the USCGA during WWII and was active duty during the Korean War as well as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. I have special relationships with Poseidon, the Nereids, Ares, and Athena all in regard to military matters.

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Author’s Note: As a military veteran myself, who proudly served in the United States Air Force, I’d like to thank all my fellow veterans for their service.

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Carl Llewellyn Weschcke 1930 – 2015

Tue, 2015-11-10 09:32

It was announced yesterday that Carl Llewellyn Weschcke had passed away on Nov. 7 at the age of 85. Carl was the Chairman of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd, the “the oldest and largest publishers of New Age, Metaphysical, Self-Help, and Spirituality books in the world.” He was a pioneer in the publishing world, a student of metaphysics and an author, himself.

Carl was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota into a Roman Catholic family. However, his parents did not object to spiritual and metaphysical exploration. According to the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Wicca, his grandfather was the vice-president of the Theosophical society and gave him an astrological chart on his 12th birthday. His parents were vegetarian naturalists who believed in reincarnation. This early exposure led Carl to a life long interest in exploring the many concepts found in metaphysical, spiritual. occult and New Age practices.

In 1948, Carl graduated from the St. Paul Academy and went on to study business administration at Babson College. After graduating in 1951 and a brief time working in the family business, Carl went on to study law at LaSalle University and pursue a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Minnesota. At the same time, he also volunteered with the local chapters of the ACLU and NAACP.

Then, in 1961, life would present a new opportunity. Welsh astrologer Llewellyn George wanted out of his small mail-order publishing business. He sold it to Carl, who then moved it from its base in Los Angeles to a mansion home on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. According to sources, being a publisher was always his dream. Therefore, with that one business transaction, a new life journey was about to begin.

As owner of Llewellyn, Carl quickly channeled his energy into turning visions into reality. Not only did he increase the company’s output, but he also added audio and video recordings, as well as magazines. According to Rev. Selena Fox, Carl was one of the first to ever produce Pagan music recordings on the brand new “cassette tape technology.” He was a true pioneer during the infancy of a movement.

By the early 1970s, Carl became very public in his promotion and support of the growing Pagan community. Aside from his work at Llewellyn, Carl opened the Minneapolis-based Gnostica bookstore and Gnostica School, which sponsored its own newspaper. In 1971, he helped organize a local festival, which was initially called the “First American Aquarian Festival of Astrology and the Occult Sciences.” Later it was renamed “Gnosticon.”

In 1972, he was initiated into the American Celtic Tradition Witchcraft, through which he met his wife Sandra. In 1973, he helped organize the American Council of Witches and became its chairperson. Rev. Selena Fox added, “After the American Council of Witches disbanded, He referred Pentagon staff to me in crafting the updated version of the Witchcraft and Wicca section of the US Army Chaplain’s handbook in 1983.”

By the mid to late 1970s, Carl began to pull back from from public life. He closed the stores and stopped running festivals. Carl sold the mansion and moved his family to the country. He also relocated Llewellyn to its own dedicated facility in St. Paul. From that point forward, Carl kept himself in the background, devoting his energy to two things: his family life and Llewellyn. Through the 1980s and beyond, he managed to grow the publishing house into what it is today.

At the age of 85, surrounded by family, Carl passed away in peace. But he did not say goodbye before leaving behind a legacy of work and spirit that is unparalleled in scope.

Elysia Gallo, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Llewellyn said:

It’s a very somber day at Llewellyn Worldwide. Carl touched so many lives in so many ways, we will all keenly feel his loss. He was a visionary, the hardest worker I know, indefatigable, inspired, and inspiring. He had so much enthusiasm for all our books and authors, and more importantly, for the movement itself – raising people’s consciousness in the New Age that he believed in with all his heart. We are all deeply saddened.

Rev. Selena Fox met him first at Gnosticon in 1976. She said, “Carl’s legacy is immense. He was an pioneering leader in the quest for Pagan civil rights in the USA and beyond.” She added that he was an “innovating force,” adding, “I am thankful for his friendship and many contributions to consciousness studies, metaphysics, and Paganism.”

Rev. Fox and others will be sharing their memories of Carl on a special tribute program to air Wednesday night on the Pagans Tonight Radio Network. The show will be hosted by Rev Donald Lewis and Pamela Kelly. To date, the guests include Jason Mankey, Oberon Zell, and Ed Hubbard. More guests will be added to that list over the next day. The show will run for 3 hours from 7 pm – 10 pm CST.

Additionally, Carl’s family asks that any tributes be sent directly to Llewellyn at 2143 Wooddale Drive, Woodbury MN, 55125. Or, guests can post messages on the Llewellyn blog. All of these tributes together will be placed on display at a private Gathering of Friends service to be held next week, as well as at a future public memorial service, which has yet to be scheduled.

Many generations of students and seekers have come along since those very early days when Carl first began his work. Even today, people peruse bookstores seeing the little crescent moon on book spines and devouring the many titles that have been published by Llewellyn over the years. Most of these readers are unfamiliar with Carl’s story and the tremendous impact that he made during the infancy of “New Age” publishing and Pagan culture.

In many ways, his life and his times are obscured by the endless book shelves standing in front of him. But ultimately that may be exactly what he wanted.

What is remembered, lives.

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Pagan Community Notes: Deborah Schoenfeld, Circle Cemetery, Academy of Arcana and more

Mon, 2015-11-09 08:40

Deborah Schoenfeld [Courtesy Photo]

It has been reported that the Air Force Equal Employment Opportunity office at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, has dismissed Deborah Schoenfeld’s religious discrimination complaint. In a story we brought to you in October, Schoenfeld had allegedly been subjected to verbal harassment by co-workers, and after lodging a formal complaint, was fired from her position. In response, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) stepped in as her advocate and filed its own complaint with the EEO. is now reporting that this “witch” complaint has been rejected. According to the article, the office said that “she filed too late and … the individuals she claimed discriminated against her are not Air Force employees.

However, the MRFF disagrees. Spokesperson Mikey Weinstein called the dismissal “specious, outrageous and scandalous.” He is quoted as saying, “This is gross malfeasance … We will help her find a litigator for this.”  They have 90 days to file a lawsuit.

We have reached out to Schoenfeld and will update this story as it develops.

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Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Cemetery is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this month. The “green” cemetery was established in 1995 on the Circle Sanctuary nature preserve in Barneveld, Wisconsin. As explained by Circle organizers, “The 20 acres of Circle Cemetery include a Restored Prairie & Ridgetop for cremated remains, plus a Wooded natural burial ground, plus our Stone Circle.”

Initially, the original cemetery was small and only had space for cremains burials. But soon it expanded to the 20 acres it now holds. In 2006, Veterans Ridge was opened, which is specifically reserved for military burials. U.S. Army Veteran Jerome Birnbaum became the first person honored there. In 2010, the cemetery was recognized as the first green cemetery in Wisconsin, and in 2011, it saw its first full body natural burial. Additionally, in 2014, it became the first green cemetery to be part of the “Wreaths Across America project” that honors the country’s fallen heroes.

This Samhain, philanthropist and Priestess Deborah Ann Light became the 20th person interred at Circle Cemetery. As noted on the Cemetery’s facebook page, “Her ashes interment rite including Dennis & Selena offering Chardonnay Wine she give us in 1982 from her Quail Hill Estate Vineyards on Long Island, New York.”

To celebrate the Cemetery’s anniversary and to discuss Green burials, Rev. Selena Fox did a Tuesday podcast on Nov. 3. You can find that recording on Pagan Talk Radio Network. 

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Oberon Zell recently announced that the Academy of Arcana project is now moving forward. On Oct. 14, organizers were granted “approval for a lease on the storefront.” The Academy will be located at 428-A Front St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060. The spaces 2,080 square feet will hold a gift shop as well as an “enormous library of myth, magick, science, history, sci-fi, fantasy and lore … a vast museum collection of more than 350 Goddess figurines, magickal tools and artifacts, Books of Shadows, devotional items, altar setups, theatrical and costumes and regalia, seasonal decorations, etc.”

On Nov 4, organizers and volunteers began moving the entire collection from its former location at RavenHaven to the Front Street store. The move has continued as others begin the renovations and unpacking of the new space.

The Academy is a joint project of the Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart Foundation, The Grey School of Wizardry and the Church of All Worlds. As such the Front Street store will also “house the international headquarters and business offices for the Foundation, the School and the Church,” and will serve as a “physical campus for the Grey School,” bringing in teachers for workshops.

The grand opening date has not yet been announced. Updates on the progress can be found on the Academy’s website and Facebook page.

In Other News:

  • Many Gods West has made its second big announcement for its 2016 event. The Polytheist conference will be held at the Red Lion in downtown Olympia, Washington. The room code is MANY0805. Starting today, organizers will begin accepting presentation proposals with a March 1 deadline. Tickets and registration are now open as well.
  • Paganicon has announced more of its upcoming lineup for the 2016 event. As previously shared, the guests of honor will be T. Thorn Coyle, Ivo Dominquez and Tamara L. Siuda (Mambo Chita Tann). Additionally, it was announced that additional speakers include activist and author Crystal Blanton, educator Nsasi Vence Guerra, author Jane Meredith from Australia, and Wild Hunt editor Heather Greene. As a side note, the Wild Hunt will be at Paganicon in force this year, hosting both a panel and social. Joining Blanton and Greene will be writers Cara Schulz, Terence P. Ward, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, and Dodie Graham-McKay. Paganicon 2016 will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota from March 18-20.
  • For fans of Peter Dybing’s blog Pagan in Paradise, it will be moving to Patheos. Scheduled to launch in December, Dybing is currently working with Patheos technicians to finish up the move. Why is he making this digital leap? Dybing said, “[Patheos] provides a platform that allows an inter-religious dialogue among well meaning people of many faiths. The Parliament of the Worlds religions was a graphic lesson for me in how people of faith coming together have the potential to make a global impact in spreading compassion and justice around the world.” The blog will still be called “Pagan in Paradise” and, Dybing added, “People can expect the blog to have a radical Social Justice agenda that pulls few punches!” Look for the launch next month.
  • The Aquarian Tabernacle Church is also undergoing some change. Organizers have a launched a new website that is part of a project to bring “the ATC together as a whole. From [its] legally recognized Wiccan Seminary, to [its] work helping pioneer Pagan prison ministries, and access to [its] catalog of churches across the country and globe alike.” At this time, the old site is currently still accessible. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church was founded by Pete Pathfinder Davis in 1979, and is currently led by ArchPriestess Lady Bella and High Priest Dusty Dionne.
  • Nature’s Path, a Patheos Blog devoted to UU Paganism, has published an article that may interest many readers who conduct rituals for people of different Pagan and Heathen traditions. Erica Baron writes, “One of the things I find most challenging in preparing ritual for UU Pagans is the wide variety of Paganisms that UUs bring to these rituals. In the rituals in UU contexts that I’ve either led or attended, participants have included devotees of a wide variety of pantheons and specific deities, people with a strong grounding in Wicca, Heathenism, Asatru, and other specific traditions, and people with no prior experience of any kind of Paganism.” Baron goes on to discuss the challenges and offer tips.
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Religious Literacy in the Rocky Mountains

Sun, 2015-11-08 04:48

NEDERLAND, Col. – Nestled in the Rocky Mountains and resting at an elevation of 8,230 feet lies the small town of Nederland, Colorado. It was founded in 1874 by settlers who were attracted to the lowland valleys as a outpost for their trapping work. Eventually mining became the town’s sustaining business and, when that disappeared, tourism and farming took its place. But since the 1960s, the town has slowly attracted new types of residents, including artists, musicians, and those specifically interested in the great outdoors. Being only 17 miles southwest of Boulder, the town has thrived, while still retaining its unique small town feel.

Rev. H. Wendlandt [Courtesy Photo]

Within this little town, there is a congregation called the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church (NCPC) led by Reverand Hansen Wendlandt. The congregation, like the town, has a long history beginning the with mining boom. The church building itself was erected in 1912 and is still being used today. Rev. Wendlandt, originally from Arkansas, describes how his religious beliefs are unmistakably merged with his love of the outdoors and the mountains of Colorado. In a bio, he writes, “Mountains have always made me feel small, but grand in the responsibility God gives us to steward all this creation. Whether it is through nature, or music, or arts, or gardening, or however you feel the Spirit alive …”

Rev. Wendlandt has served the NCPC community for only 2 and half years, but he is making quite an impact. Included in his personal devotion to service is a passion to help the community, both his congregation and the entire town of Nederland. With that in mind, he recently initiated a new program hosted by NCPC. He announced his concept in an article published in the Mountain-Ear, a local newspaper, Titled “Religiously Literate Citizens,” the article discusses the importance of religious literacy in an increasingly diverse world. He writes:

Religious illiteracy hurts our communities by creating distance; it hurts our political system when ignorance breeds fear; it hurts individuals who could otherwise explore on their own any spiritual ideas and practices for well-being. And to make matters worse, all of this has been magnified with each successive generation over the last century or so.

In that article, Rev. Wendlandt goes on to discuss the need to expose children to the religious beliefs of their neighbors, saying, “I believe it is time to do more for our young people, so that they can do more for our world.” He notes that there is remarkable religious diversity just in the small town of Nederland and added that, as children make their way into the bigger world, they will face even more difference. “We can help prepare them,” he writes.

Nederland Community Presbyterian Church. [Courtesy Photo]

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Rev. Wendlandt further explained that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for kids to learn about different religions – to become religiously literate. He said that he himself comes from a background of pluralism, and sees this type of education as essential for life.

So Rev. Wendlandt set out to create his own religious literacy program with lessons to be held each month. The program is aimed primarily at teens and pre-teens, and is open to anyone in the surrounding communities, not just his congregation. One Sunday each month, a period of time is set aside to teach and learn about a different belief system. Rev. Wendlandt wrote:

The plan is to have food associated with each religion, make the learning interactive and fun, look at sacred objects and texts, and have plenty of room for questions and conversation. There will be no persuasion or argument, just a chance for young people to grow.

For the first session, held Oct. 18, the Community Church welcomed Naveen, a follower of Hinduism. He brought food to share from Kathmandu, a local Nepalese restaurant. Rev. Wendlandt explained that he chose to begin with this particular religion due to the October festival of Navarati. He believes that the lessons are all the more richer if they coincide with a specific holiday.

For the second installment, held Nov. 1, the Church welcomed Kim Culver and Kimba Stefane, two local Pagans, to talk about Wiccan traditions. As with the Oct session, Wicca was chosen for this date so that the lesson coincided with the festival of Samhain.

Kim Culver and Kimba Stefane are part of a Nederland-based Wiccan group called The Five Weird Sisters. Culver is a local chef and herbalist. She has been practicing Wicca since 1976, when she lived in the Bay Area of California. She remembers the early days when Covenant of the Goddess was still forming. Stefane is the owner of the Blue Owl Bookstore, which sells a mix of items from books, jewelry, local art and music and some metaphysical supplies. It also serves as the local ice cream parlor. Both women are well-known in Nederland.

Joining Culver and Stefane in the Five Weird Sisters are Janette Taylor, Nancy Moon and Gail Eddy, all locals. In an interview, Culver explained that they each were practicing solitaries.Then, five years ago, the women began to meet for social outings and discussions, which eventually led to the formation of a group practice. In the past, the Five Weird Sisters have sponsored a public, annual Witch’s Ball, hosted open rituals and even orchestrated an spiral dance.Their next ball will be in October 2016.

Five Weird Sisters: (left to right) Janette Taylor, Kim Culver, Nancy Moon, Gail Eddy, and Kimba Stefane. [Courtesy Photo]

Rev. Wendlandt knew both Culver and Stepfane, and contacted them about participating in his religious literacy program. The two women agreed. Culver said that they saw this as a fun community opportunity and a great way of fulfilling the “service aspect of Wicca.”

The Nov. 1 session was held at 11 a.m. at NCPC. The women set up a table containing a number of religious items, which are typically used in Wicca. Culver said, “We touched on history, tools, magic, and beliefs..nothing too in-depth.” The lesson also included some traditional harvest foods and a hands-on project. The group made Fire Cider.

Since the program is directed at children, there were very few adults in the room. Culver said that Rev. Wendlandt wanted “to create a safe space for the children to learn” without adult interruption. And, he agreed saying that children are “less likely to ask questions” when adults are in the room. He wanted them to have the comfort of freedom to engage.

Culver described the participating children as being both surprised and fascinated. Laughing, she recalled that their first surprise came when she and Stefane arrived not wearing pointed hats and long robes. The children didn’t expect the visiting witches to be dressed in “normal” clothing. Rev. Wendlandt also noted how intrigued and enthusiastic the children were. He said that one nine-year old boy asked, “When did you know you were a witch?”

Of all of the presented topics, Culver believes that the history lesson provoked the most curiosity. This was particularly true when the women touched on the oppression of folk healers, in general, as well as the practitioners of old religions by the Roman Catholic Church. After it was over, Culver said that an adult women, who happened to be a Deacon at the local Catholic Church, approached her saying that she was shocked and had no idea about witchcraft persecutions. She said, “I’m so sorry. Please don’t hold that against us.”

Additionally, Culver noticed that “the young girls and even the women” were particularly surprised by the presence and even dominance of a Priestess. Culver said, “They were surprised that they could be in charge.” Rev. Wenderlandt used this moment to open a dialog about a woman’s role in other faith traditions. He asked the children, “Why do you think some religions don’t treat women this way?” He noted that a similar discussion had come up during the Hindu presentation, saying that these sessions are creating opportunities for extended discussions, and it’s the kids asking the questions.

Table with Wiccan religious items at the NCPC Church religious literacy lesson [Courtesy K. Culver]

The entire Wiccan lesson lasted for about an hour and a half. Culver said that the event was beneficial to the community, but also to herself and Stefane. She said, “The event reaffirmed my personal beliefs and made me think about who I am and who I project out into the community … It also made me realize that there are people out there who want to know, even if they don’t want to follow.”

She added that being in that church to share her religious beliefs with people, who she had thought would be closed-minded, “opened her heart.” Culver said that, after class, she and Stefane immediately went into the forest for an impromptu ritual, during which they “dug into their roots.” .

When asked if they have received any backlash or complaints, Culver said, “nothing really.” Rev. Wendlandt said the same. He has received nothing but support. In fact, next month, a local alternative high school will be sending its World Cultures Class to the Sunday session. And, he has even been asked to run a similar program for adults, to which he currently answers maybe.

Going forward, Rev. Wendlandt has scheduled a Jewish speaker for December in conjunction with Chanukah, and a Buddhist speaker for January. Beyond that, he is working on scheduling the rest of the year through May. He said that there are already plans to feature Islam, Humanism, possibly Catholicism and Mormonism, Eastern traditions and various Native American religions. Rev. Wendlandt added that he prefers to welcome local residents as speakers, which has its limits. Why locals? He said, “I want the kids to see their neighbors as diverse, not just the religions.” He wants the children to see these practices and people as normal, real and in their lives; rather than just concepts floating in space.

As for Culver and Stefane, they have decided to continue this outreach work. After witnessing the need for and interest in Rev. Wendlandt’s program, the two are now planning an independent interfaith potluck women’s group, during which people can share their religious beliefs. Culver also said that they might be doing another session at NCPC around Imbolc. She added, “This is a really good thing. There is a quest for this kind knowledge.”

Rev. Wendlandt said that his “religious literacy” program is really not very unique and that many small churches across the U.S. are doing the same thing. And, while it may not be well publicized, the trend is growing and this delights him. As he expressed in both the article and in conversation, “We’re in this life thing together. I hope these events can help our young people be a little more ready to make their lives and their world a bit more connected, peaceful and meaningful.”

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Column: The Forest That Will Be

Sat, 2015-11-07 07:06

“The Gates again open, the skies darken, the rain soaks through stone and skin.”


The rain poured through my skin. As I stood upon the pavement outside the tavern, soaked in the chill night, smoking a cigarette, the Gates opened around me.

Straddling the ford, wet up to the laces of my boots, water rushing past my feet along the river-bed: someone is laughing at me. Eddies swirl in the torrent unable to clear the leaf-clogged drains, and someone is laughing at me.

“Look at this guy,” he says, and his companions titter and jeer. “You’re being scary, dude. Is that your costume?”

It was Halloween, after all, though I hadn’t dressed up. I wore what I usually wear, thrift-store camouflage trousers, a printed shirt from my friend Alley, a maroon-and-blue flannel shirt. No more a disguise than any clothing is.

One of his companions, a gentrifying ‘woo-girl’ (anthropological note: they literally shout ‘woo’ and gentrify everything they touch), sneers at me. She turns to her friend and says, drunkenly:

“Oh my god he’s totally on drugs or something.”

Then she turns back toward me. “You think you’re being creepy standing in the rain like that?”

I shake my head. I cannot tell her about the forest we’re standing in, the elk crashing through the bramble, the endless dripping of the last-to-fall Maple leaves down upon our heads. I cannot tell her about the river in which I stand.

I smile. “Welcome to Seattle,” I say, laughing. “It rains here.

“We’re from California,” her friend says. I’m disappointed he’s such a jerk — he’s kinda attractive. “This weather’s stupid.”

I’m standing in a river. I’m standing in the road, just off the curb. A car passes; I’m surprised to see an auto in the river, the river in front of the gay bar, the gay bar on a night the gates of the dead were thrown wide open, the gates of the sky unhinged as rain soaks everything.

I am in the forest. I am in the city.

[Photo Credit: Aaron Shenewolf] (


Tip some out to the dead, to The Dead who linger forever just behind your eyes, walking alongside your step through puddles and streams over concrete.

Tip some to the dead and notice you’re not where you were. Everyone’s bumping into you, pushing against you, surprised for a moment you’re there, startled they had gotten so close.

They’re drunk, you tell yourself, but not just on vine and grain.

It made no sense to try to tell most people what I was doing for Halloween, so I shrugged when asked. I didn’t know myself, really, though I knew I’d walk with the dead.

With grave dirt and an elk tooth and crow feathers in my pocket, I biked to a bar after a shift at my part-time social work job. It was storming, rare for Seattle where the weather is, for 6 months, at least, a steady, relentless drip of rain, not a downpour. It had been dry, the earth too compacted to soak up all that water, so streets were flooded, blocked drains overflowed. For that night, at least, the streams and rivers of the Forest-That-Was could run again, un-culverted, upon the surface of the city built over them.

In many urban fantasy novels, there’s a spectral, magical city overlain upon the disenchanted mundane. Those writers know a thing or two about magic and a thing or two about cities. But Seattle’s not old enough to have a ghost-twin that looks like it, only stranger. Rather, what haunts Seattle in the Other is the Forest-That-Was, the dead forest, the waiting forest.

The dead are not always what has gone before, but also what could have been, what maybe will be. The forest-that-was haunts Seattle, but so too does a second forest; its roots slowly lifting the broken concrete of sidewalks. Plantain, horsetails and chamomile find purchase in the crevices, moss and lichen cover unattended stone. Ferns grow in gutters; aerial moss suspend from uneven brick.

Both the Forest-That-Was and the Forest-That-Will-Be are the same, and they both haunt the city. They co-exist; they merge in the frontage garden, the untended lawn, the volunteer tree. They dance; they collide; they collude in endless war against small-business owners, property developers and civil engineers.

One of my favorite writers, Octavia Butler, was said to be a casualty in this war. Newspapers reporting her death blamed a root-broken sidewalk for a fall that triggered a stroke. But this was propaganda. Later, it came out she had the stroke first and then fell, returning to the forest that seemed to inspire her. Seattle’s mayor was unpopular with the propertied classes for leaving sidewalks broken, potholes unfilled –Butler’s death was used against him.

Propaganda works like that, though. The first story is the one most remember: The forest killed a famous elderly Black fantasist. Perhaps the propagandists will do the same for Ursula K. Le Guin when she leaves us, perhaps they’ll do the same for me. Don’t believe their lies.


You weren’t from the forest, and now you are, the dark wet places, rain dripping from leaf, mud and rot slicking the paths beneath your feet, your exposed roots.

What are you doing walking when you can stand still, soak deep into the earth, reach like great pillars towards the sky?

The tension between civilisation, and nature is a bit obscured in Seattle. From my second-story balcony I see more trees than houses, Crow and Scrubjay, Racoon and Opossum eat the peanuts I leave for them just within arm’s reach, and it’s easy to forget I’m in a city at all. I’ve tolerated Seattle most of the last 16 years because of this. Gods know I can’t afford to live here, nor afford many of the things that make a city appealing to an artistic queer.

I’m the ‘degenerate’ sort against which Republicans and New-Right anti-civilisationists often complain, lifting a tired screed from the Nazis. “People like me” move to cities because we honestly like people; we like art; we like culture — all those things you can’t find in the suburbs or the rural. I live happiest when I’m among dreams and the people they inhabit.

But I’m also a Druid, a Pagan, an animist. Without raw, breathing Nature, I become parched and eventually wither. The ocean of concrete in strip malls, parking lots and massive highways that comprise the main architectural feature of suburbs, for instance, those feel like murder.

Seattle is unlike most other large American cities in that the forest was never fully obliterated. Though almost every ancient cedar, spruce, red alder and pine was killed to rebuild San Francisco after the fires or to fuel the furnaces of capitalist expansion, or to clear the way for internal migrants from other parts of the United States. Seattle is still a forest.

Though even manufacturing, then war-contracting (Boeing), then an onslaught of businesses completely reliant on near-slave labor and global coal-use (Microsoft, Amazon, Google) have joined the war against the forest here, none have ever conquered the forest.


You weren’t from the forest and now you are, the forest that was before, the ghost-trees and spectral ferns, Elk crashing through bramble, startled by a voice still echoing from the past.

You weren’t from the forest but now you will be, awaiting its birth through broken sidewalk and disused alley, hearing it growing through what will soon be your corpse.

You weren’t from the forest, but now you can’t return here. Wet pavement is river, and you wade through it, unseeing the cars unseeing you.

Pagans make much of the environment, as least romantically. We like the forests and the streams, we idealise the pre-industrial world, worship land-goddesses, divine with symbols from nature. Yet most live in cities or suburbs, drive cars, use computers, work in flourescent-lit offices or stores or restaurants. We like the idea of the forest, but live apart from it, in the urban and suburban–in civilisation.

Civilisation seems to stand against the forest, in the same way that the forest seems to stand against the city. In many critiques of civilisation, the city is the cause of the destruction of the natural world. Some anti-civilisationists, merging the bourgeois anthropology of David Abrams with the misanthropic primitivism of Deep Green Resistance, link almost all the problems of humanity to the birth of cities.

On the surface, this appears plausible. As people transitioned to agriculture and settled in one place, the fabric of human society changed. Work was divided, roles ensconced in tradition. Some say the Patriarchy arose first from the urban, men doing one sort of work, women doing another.

Abundance and settlement created surpluses, more than what people could carry with them. Surpluses meant less work, surpluses meant wealth. Surpluses could be stolen; surpluses could be hoarded; surpluses could be extracted. Some say this birthed hierarchy and class.

Gods and ancestors were worshiped in place, not in people. Shrines arose as did temples. Those who tended gods became priests rather than shamans, another division of labor in a settled civility, a class with purpose and power and economic interests. Some say that debt sprung from the need of priests (also skilled scribes) to track donations and the cost of temple labor.

Agriculture, dense living, the need to protect surplus–these, some say, led to population explosions. More people require more resources, need military classes (and conflicts stemming from that need), and need to destroy their environment to extract more resources.

If we extrapolate from what we know now of cities, this story is unassailable. The city seems an illness, a plague, the root of evil, the root of hatred.

This story’s eerily too easy, though.

[Photo Credit: Aaron Shenewolf] (


The city’s unreal, the forest gates unhinged, and you walk always along the edge, in both worlds and neither.

You are emissary.

You are saboteur.

Is the city then some den of horror, the abode of voracious monsters? Or is it just full of people?

I like people. No, I love them, gods-dammit, even when they jeer me in the rain.

People cluster together. We need each other. We want each other. We love each other. We build off each other, create with each other. What would we do otherwise?

Rugged individualism is a Capitalist lie and will get you killed. Families are great, unless you were born to a developmentally-disabled schizophrenic mother and a violent father. Tribalism is great, if you are in charge and get to choose who is in and who is out. Small villages are fine, if there’s at least one person there who you can fall in love with. Degenerates like me don’t fare so well in any of those alternatives.

If groups like Deep Green Resistance are correct, the only solution is to destroy the city and all who survive by community, rather than force.  And beside, cities are full of queers, trans people, immigrants, Jews, bohemians, libertines — independent folk who threaten those who need small worlds in which to rule.

But the city is undoubtedly sick. The destruction of the environment caused by the urban is undeniable, yet too often denied, even by us ‘degenerates.’ The ‘urban professional’ of today, working at a tech company, progressive of politics, in love with nature? Their organic and free-range foods are produced by immigrants working in near-slave (and sometimes full-slave) conditions. It takes a lot of forest to make toilet paper, a lot of coal to make electricity, a lot of oil to transport food from the farms to the city.

Both the prophets of progress and the prophets of anti-civilisation evoke the pre-historic past. It’s either nasty, brutish, and short for the one or Edenic for the other, but both groups are either awfully bad at history or betting that, because no records remain to challenge them, we’ll accept their stories without question.

Few dare mention the shorter history, a few hundred years ago. Something arose which turned the endless dance of forest and city into slaughter of one and misery of the other. A great forgetting, an archonic trick, the Demiurge’s conquest of Sophia.

Something changed in the world several hundred years ago, something so disastrous, that, like the Holocaust or the nuclear bombings of several Japanese cities, we seem incapable of approaching without shutting down or relying on Nationalist rhetoric.

The world was not always like this. The cities once could never win over the forest. And that wasn’t so long ago.


You are how the forest becomes the city you’ll betray.

You are unborn dreaming remembering the past.

You are the endless taking root in the now.

Historian Peter Linebaugh, who has written much about the intersections of 1800’s Paganism and anti-Capitalism, suggested that, because the Commons were destroyed by the Cities, the Cities must now become the Commons.

We must say the same thing of the Forests.

This must then be our rallying cry, those who have become ‘from the forest’ but refuse to accept the notion of mass urban slaughter, like Deep Green Resistance does. In fact, most anti-civilisation rhetoric has become a way of running from the true war, betraying the forest, just as the cult of progress huddles, slump-backed, over backlit screens in self-arousal and vain hope.

The forest-that-was still lives, if you bother to look through the gates on a rainy night in the city. You can be standing, soaked, in front of a gay bar and see the rivers we try to forget. You can even, like I do, chuckle when those who will never see it jeer you.

The forest-that-was lives in the forest-that-will-be, which are both a waiting now, Waltar Benjamin’s jetzt-zeit, the pregnant moment, the moment we hold in our hands.

The forest-that-was is also the forest-that-will-be, but only if we let it root through us. It is we who are the mages, the witches, the priests and bards. We are the rogues spreading seeds on the pristine lawns, the saboteurs helping trees lift concrete with their strong roots.

We were from the city. We are now from the forest. And only with our hands can the war finally end and the dance begin anew. The Cities destroy the Forests. The Cities must now become the Forests so that our lives may once again, in the end, nourish the roots of past and future, making the eternal now.

 *    *    *

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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Column: Death in the Family

Fri, 2015-11-06 07:18

“Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.”-  G. Eliot

I’ve always felt that the dead have a complicated life in Latin America. Although the Day of the Dead enters modernity through Mexico, the conversations and intimacy with death are profoundly embedded in and throughout Latino/Hispanic culture.

Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz once commented ““The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it, it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.” And it is much the same throughout the Latin world. Haitian Vodou celebrates Baron Samedi and the Guédé, the family of Loá that embody fertility and death. Brazil venerates Los Finados, honoring the dead and drawing on Christians as well as Indigenous traditions: the celebrations run from Bolivia to Cuba.

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, San Juan. [Photo Credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

Bones of the Ancestors

As an undergraduate, I remember reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude in a class on the modern fantastic. It is a seminal literary work on magical realism, a post-modern literary genre intertwining the natural and supernatural in mundane situations deeply linked to contemporary Latin American fiction.

I remember discussing the book in college and wondering why my Anglo classmates were reacting to Rebeca as a bizarre character. They were aghast. I thought it was her habit of eating earth. But, no, they cleared it up: she was carrying around the bones of her dead parents in canvas bag. And that was just too much. My reaction was “So? We did that too.”


And I mean stares, the blank, horrified kind.

Lots of them. Hinting at grave digging is a conversation stopper. But, it was also true, at least as a family story.

My aunt – her name was Gladys but we called her YaYa, the term for “mother” in Palo, an African Traditional Religion – was much older than my father by almost twenty years. Because she lived to be 101, her memory spanned to a time before penicillin, running water, and even electricity. Every year in the first week of November, my aunt would instruct me that “the dead are respected but they are not feared. They will take advantage of you if they know you fear them.”

She would certainly know. When she was a child, one of her occasional tasks in November was to remove the bones of ancestors from mausoleums, then clean and place them in ossuaries. It was a practice that would die around World War I. But before that, burial of the dead was apparently a tricky challenge in tropical Cuba where the heat was a problem and space was a premium.

The practice at many cemeteries was simple: graves were rented, not owned. For about ten dollars (about 5% of annual household income), you would have a burial plot – usually above the ground in a mausoleum-  for five years. After that time, your family could pay another $10 (or dig up and transfer the bones to chest that would be kept in the house. If you had no money to pay or “abandoned” the deceased, the bones would be disinterred and placed in a boneyard. One such boneyard is of the Colon Cemetery in Havana. There is a famous photo in the Burn’s Archive of Spanish American War soldiers holding human skulls and bones while standing on top of a 30 foot deep pile of human skeletons.

Therefore, for me as a college student, Rebeca’s bag of parental bones sounded like a practical solution to a financial problem. Rebeca’s story was neither horrific, nor alien. The conversation around death in many Latin American households is nonchalant. Death is not a topic of morbidity; only violent or untimely deaths are considered vulgar topics. Death is a reminder to live life fully not only as an act of the moment but as a collective act of preparing for death.  But more importantly, perhaps it was that act that connected Rebeca to her forebearers in and intimate and immanent way.

Death in Tradition

Latin America is a fusion of traditions, and it just basically seems like the deceased can have a very difficult time not only navigating their own funerals, but also the complexities of the Afterlife. Native American, African and Christian faiths merged to create a culture where death is multifaceted: the rituals and the understanding of the nature of death are deeply rooted to ancient traditions that span millennia and are separated by oceans. Despite the number of professed Roman Catholics, Latin Americans are often raised in a space that sees and understands death in way that is neither fully Christian nor fully Pagan.

In the Yoruba tradition, Death is a purposeful celebration of the Balance. It is neither useless nor wasteful. In one pataki, death- called Ikú – was in Heaven and the world became overcrowded. The answer to the overcrowding was a cull of humans. So, Olofí – the spirit of God on Earth-  ordered Oyá – the Orisha of the winds and change – to fly to Heaven and return Ikú to the world . She refused. Death for the act of slaughter has no purpose. When Olofi made Ikú part of the Balance, she gladly obeyed.

Orisha teach that death is simply another form of life. The dead-  called Egungun –  are revered because they are our ancestors. We cannot be here without the work of the dead, and they are still there to guide the living. But they have all the virtues and vices of their former life. If an ancestor was a drunk in life, for example, they’ll still like to drink. If they were generous with their time and opinions in life, they might choose to spend a lot of time with you, especially offering their continuous advice. It can be good or bad; but again it is intimate and immanent.

Ancestors can always teach, and we can always learn from their whispers, wisdom, and mistakes. To do that, we would set up bóvedas – altars that had glasses of water and candles carefully placed to denote balance. Sprigs of basil would be placed on the altar for cleansing to ensure that our answers were from our ancestors and that not from elsewhere.  It is a ritual borrowed from Spiritism, and versions of it are found throughout the Latin World. Regardless of a professed faith – likely Catholicism- the practiced faith of many Latin Americans blends many traditions, reminding us to keep the dead close. And that is a practice, like Octavio Paz noted, that is far more alien in other parts of the world but deeply present in the Day of the Dead.

But then, a few weeks ago, I found myself surprised. When googling “Latin American Death Traditions,” I discovered  “Santa Muerte” consistently appearing at the top of my searches. It is not that I had never heard of this entity; she came up while researching a different story several months ago. However, given the breadth and complexity of traditions throughout Latin America, it seemed odd that she would rise to such importance when researching death rituals. Because, bluntly most of us had never heard of her 20 years ago. And there’s so much more to death in Latin America than this one “saint.”

Santa Muerte is Spanish for “Holy Death.” More correctly, she is called Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte (or Our Lady of the Holy Death). She is a non-canonizedm folk saint who is venerated in parts of Mexico and United States. She is depicted as a skeletal figure often carrying a globe and scythe, and is robed frequently, but not exclusively, in white, similar to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church in one of Her Apparitions.

Santa Muerte has several eponyms including La Flaquita (the Thin One), La Huesuda (The Bone Lady) and La Dama Poderosa (the Powerful Lady). She is venerated by many individuals who experience societal marginalization and alienation; and she even has a shrine on Alfarería Street in the barrio of Tepito, an underserved neighborhood of Mexico City. But her association with delinquency is significant. Santa Muerte is often referred to as the “narco-saint” having been associated with violent and high-profile criminality. She’s even had cameos in the television shows Breaking Bad and Dexter.

But Santa Muerte is not connected with antiquity like Day of the Dead celebrations. In fact, she is completely unrelated to the Day of the Dead. The holiday is a syncretism between Mesoamerican traditional faiths and the Catholic All Saints Day. There is even some documentary evidence linking to the celebrations of the Aztec nation.

Mictecacihuatl, Queen of the Underworld

Mictecacihuatl [Public Domain]

The Codex Borgia is a divinatory manuscript in the Vatican Library believed to have been written and designed prior to the Spanish Invasion of Mexico. The manuscript is a series of very large accordion-folded sheets of stucco-covered deer skin, which ultimately creates almost eighty pages of illustrated text (Noguez, 2009). The codex contains astronomical and meteorological information detailing the seasonal variations that we would expect in the climate of modern-day central Mexico suggesting the manuscript was created in Oaxaca or Puebla.

The manuscript has a mysterious origin. It was essentially an unknown document until it surfaced in the 18th Century in Italy within the archives of Cardinal Stefano Borgia. Cardinal Borgia, by all accounts, was not only a minister and theologian, but he was also an antiquarian, publishing the first papyrus in the West documenting the maintenance and building of irrigation canals in Egypt. More importantly to our story though is his desires for acquisitions. His collecting of Pagan, Christian and Islamic papyri places him as one of the central figures of the preservation and archiving of such documents ultimately coalescing into the field of papyrology.

How Cardinal Borgia got his hands on this document is unknown. But his preservation of the document was a drastic contrast to that of his predecessors, the zealots who sought to abolish all traces of Pagan knowledge originating in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Beginning in the 15th Century, their nearly 400 years of sustained colonization and religious assimilation resulted in the destruction of many cultural cues and elements. But scholars have traced the veneration of Ancestors into pre-Columbian cultures (Miller, 2005).

The Codex itself helps the connections. It contains the elements of the Tonalpohualli, the 260-day calendar – and one of the two major calendars- used in Mesoamerica. This calendar breaks down into 20 thirteen-day periods. It is neither lunar nor solar and theories abound as to whether it aligns to a natural cycle or some abstraction within the Aztec mathematical system.  But, the 10th period begins the cycle of the Dog (apparently more towards August than November), and that cycle is marked under the Lord of Mictlan, Mictlantecuhtli, the most prominent of the gods and goddesses of the Underworld and one of the Thirteen Lords of the Night illustrated in the Codex Borgia.

What is relevant to Santa Muerte is that Mictlantecuhtli had a wife, Mictecacihuatl. She is the queen of the Underworld (Mictlan) and the Lady of the Dead. Her job is to guard the bones of the dead and preside over the Mesoamerican festivals of the dead that likely evolved into the modern tradition of the Days of the Dead. Mictecacihuatl is depicted in the Codex Borgia and prominent as far back 200 ce. Her connection to the modern Day of the Dead festivities remains speculative. But one thing is clear; despite the cursory association with death, she has nothing to do with Santa Muerte.

The Rise of Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte’s rise in popularity has taken her from a marginal cult in the 1960s to conspicuous veneration in the 2000s. Yet, at the same time, she still exists in relative obscurity to many Latinos. She remains a divisive and controversial figure. The Catholic Church condemns her as idolatrous and nothing less than blasphemy. Her adoration is considered perverse and satanic.

In 2013, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, pleaded with Mexicans to halt her adoration, describing it as a “celebration of devastation and of hell.”  In 2009, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon even launched military assaults on 40 or her shrines. But both of these were footnote events in Latin American news, which suggests that Santa Muerte’s fame may have one real catalyst: the media.

To explore that question, I spoke with Dr. Antonio Zavaleta, professor of Anthropology and Sociology at University of Texas- Brownsville. His area of research includes poverty, culture and economic activity along the US-Mexican border. This work has brought him to explore and publish works on ritual and folk-belief. He famously recorded the opening of magical work, which he disappointingly refers to as “Mexican Witchcraft,” and discusses ritual belief associated with statuary and intentional work.

While I understand his approach as an academic, the video is troubling to my personal sensibilities because I feel his objective of understanding the ritual work could have been accomplished without violating a piece of magical work. But the video does demonstrate the strength of devotion, ritual and will used to invoke Santa Muerte.

Dr. Zavaleta was generous with his time to describe how he had independently drawn similar conclusions about the rise of Santa Muerte. We talked about the complexity of the belief structure, and Santa Muerte’s rise in power and presence. His thoughts on the matter were the same: “faux-Catholicism fueled by the American media.” She may have some unlikely syncretism with Indigenous Mesoamerican and Catholic beliefs, but there is no “historical connection between Santa Muerte and the Day of the Dead,” he added. “The Day of the Dead is one thing. Santa Muerte is another thing” (Zavaleta, 2015).

Santissima Muerte [Public Domain]

Dr. Zavaleta also links part of the obsession with Santa Muerte to the training of law enforcement in the American Southwest. Since the 2000s, many police officers have been instructed to look for the imagery of Santa Muerte as clues in connection with drug trafficking. The frenzy of the last decade in both United States and Mexico over the drug war has driven the media obsession with Santa Muerte, and that coverage has given her a vigor that was unknown in the early days of her cult. Even Time magazine has given her a full spread offering her the opportunity to reach new audiences.

But those audiences have one powerful thing in common: they are typically considered outcasts. She is said to be the protector of LGBTQ persons. She is venerated by the young, often women, and the working class. She is the protector of those people who must turn to work that is often deemed deviant, including sex work, begging and counterfeiting.  And while her association with criminal elements seems probable, Santa Muerte is not defined by criminality (Peña, et al. 2009). Instead, she seems better defined by her unfailing support of the beleaguered.

Entering Pagan Space

I wrote that last sentence very carefully. Because in writing that paragraph, Santa Muerte seemed to change from an academic subject to an entity with purpose. I approached learning more about Santa Muerte as social phenomenon. But in doing so, I walked into a Pagan space. Our own traditions range from the reconstructed to the ancient. We, and I would say uniquely, understand that new and magical spaces can open at any time. That we hold keys to summoning new spirits as well as learning about old ones. The ancient and the new cannot only mingle, but they also add to our understanding of spirit. They can be venerated because the cosmos is not a static construction but a continuing revelation.

Santa Muerte is a patron of the disenfranchised to rise against the powers of order and oppression. She is an emotional backlash against the experience of marginalization. Her veneration remains strong among the groups who have been obsessively subjugated by a powerful patriarchy bent on conversion, control and humiliation. And these groups have little power, but she has entered as their ally.

Santa Muerte may be new, but she is no less immanent or relevant than any other Spirit, Intelligence, God or Faculty. The desperation of her follower, their rage of exclusion, and their rebellion to oppression have opened a potent emotional well where you can hear her murmurs with little strain. Pagans know that well. It has brought forth magic before. And I cannot help but wonder if it has borne a new goddess.


Peña, A. Alejandra, S. et al. (2009). El culto a la Santa Muerte: un estudio descriptive [The cult of Santa Muerte: A descriptive study. Revista Psicologica.

Miller, Carlos (2005). “History: Indigenous people wouldn’t let ‘Day of the Dead’ die”The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2007-11-28.

Noguez, X. (2009). Códice Borgia. Arqueología Mexicana Edición Especial: Códices prehispánicas y coloniales tempranos.

Zavaleta, A. Personal communication.  September 23, 2015.

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Salem’s Latest Witch ‘Trial’ Makes News

Thu, 2015-11-05 08:49

SALEM, Mass — An October court hearing found Christian Day facing allegations of harassment by his former business associate Lori Sforza. Due to the timing, this brewing conflict must have felt like a golden opportunity to someone at the Associated Press (AP). Leading up to Halloween, the “Witch Sues Warlock” angle proved impossible to resist, and the story achieved viral status in short order. What Sforza, who goes by the business name of Lori Bruno, actually wanted was a simple a restraining order, claiming that Day had been harassing her online and over the phone.

Downtown Salem [Photo Credit: MO Stevens]

Some of Sforza’s more recent allegations surprised Day. After the Oct 28 hearing, “the world’s most famous warlock” told local reporters that he would give $10,000 to anyone who can prove that he made these particular harassing calls to Sforza from an anonymous number. It is this specific allegation that then led a judge to sign the restraining order against Day, forbidding him from any contact with Sforza over the next year.

The Wild Hunt spoke with both of the litigants, as well as a non-legal mediator, to understand how a falling out between former friends could lead to a court hearing.

What both parties agree on is that Sforza worked in one of Day’s shops, performing psychic readings, from 2009-2012. Day charged nothing to Sforza for the use of the space. However, they have quite different recollections as to why this was the case. “He begged me to work in his shop,” said Sforza, while Day maintains, “I was doing her a favor.”

No matter his motivations, their business relationship — which had included plans for a reality television show — ended, and Sforza opened a competing business. That’s apparently when the former close friends allegedly started going at it hammer and tongs, including (if the accusations they each level against the other are true) through proxies and on the internet.

The Complaint for Protection from Harassment, which Sforza signed on September 28, lists abuses she said had been heaped upon her by Day. These abuses included “cartoons depicting me in a vicious way,” ethnic and racial slurs, allegations of organized crime involvement, and “calling me the ‘c’ word.” Sforza is Italia, and identifies herself as an hereditary witch. She told The Wild Hunt that Day had also maligned one of her ancestors.

Day downplays — but does not deny — what he characterizes mostly as “snide comments” about Sforza, and said that the judge agreed that it fell under free speech. However, in an additional affidavit signed on October 13,  Sforza alleges that for the past three years, Day has been “calling my home phone up to 3 times a week from a private number” between 2 and 3 in the morning. The most recent of the calls, which were comprised of threats and obscenities, had occurred on September 29, Sforza wrote in the document.

[Twitter: @LoriBruno]

Sforza’s attorney, Fiore Porreca, said that his client was more concerned with what she called disparaging “cartoons” — memes, really — that had been posted on Facebook. They used publicly-available pictures of her, with captions suggesting she is a liar or not a legitimate practitioner of the Craft. “They were out there for millions to view,” Porreca said.

He went on to explain that the phone calls only came up once he was retained by her, because he recognized that it was important. “My client has never been in court before . . . it’s not like she’s filed a million harassment orders.” Massachusetts law makes these proceedings informal, with no need for an attorney, so she didn’t use one to help her complete the initial paperwork. Once he learned of them, “I told her the calls were an important factor.”

According to Porreco, the judge directed them to file a supplemental affidavit on the day of the hearing, Oct 13. However, the actual hearing was then rescheduled to Oct 28, because Day could not be in Salem on that earlier date.  He now resides in New Orleans.

According to Day’s account of the proceedings, it was the phone calls that ultimately convinced the judge to sign the restraining order. That morning, the warlock’s attorney called in sick. As a result, he had to hire a new one right in the courthouse because no further adjournment would be granted. “All [this new lawyer] was able to do was rebut the plaintiff’s allegations, but not to prepare me to testify,” he said. “In retrospect, I wish I had taken a chance and done so, because the judge said he gave no weight to my side.”  However, he does not think the judge was in error. Day said, “He had 20 television cameras pointed at him, and a little old lady. What was he going to do?”

Regarding what befell Day’s original attorney, Sforza said pointedly, “I certainly did not cast a spell. He had the right to speak, as I did. He did not.”

Day said that he understands that his public persona may make it easier to presume him guilty, but that no evidence was presented. He freely admits to having made “saucy” remarks and said that he even drew an unflattering cartoon of Sforza once. But, Day said that the work shown in court was not his. More importantly, Day said, “Even my haters realize I am not the anonymous-phone-call type.” Calling himself “the Donald Trump of witchcraft,” he acknowledges that he’s “said a thing or two that people don’t like.” That includes an online spat last year that enraged many Pagan bloggers. “I never denied the mistake,” he said. “I own up to things.”

That’s how Witchdoctor Utu sees it. Utu is one of the “hundreds of mutual friends” Day said he and Sforza share. Utu once agreed to mediate between them, because their dispute was causing ripples in the community. He said that “they were inseparable” before the business disagreement. This can be seen in the many, varied public photos and media accounts of the two witches practicing together.

Christian Day [Courtesy Photo]

Over a period of time, Utu recalled speaking to each of them, hearing their specific grievances. He eventually secured an agreement from Day to stop posting about Sforza, which Utu said that Day has honored since July. However, Sforza “was less than cooperative, yelling and screaming” during phone calls which took place over a period of months. “All of these issues she had with him … from years ago.” And not once, Utu said, did Sforza ever mention the late night harassing phone calls. “If she had, I would have done my best to make it stop,” he said. Utu questions why she never mentioned them and never filed any police report about them.

But Sforza has remained steadfast in her position and claims.

Utu added that, he believes Sforza “doesn’t care about collateral damage,” including abuse heaped on people who appear at Day’s events. Utu understands that Day’s outrageous behavior causes him problems, but he said, additionally, “in the end people make [stuff] up about him. He’s the first to admit all his faults.”

There are many unanswered questions about this situation, but it is clear that its genesis is in a personal dispute between two people who, in Witchdoctor Utu’s words, “once loved each other very much.” Because the court action was seeking an order of protection, it was not a “trial” in the normal sense; the rules favor the alleged victim out a sense of caution.

As for how it may have impacted the lucrative Halloween business in Salem, Day himself expressed worry. But also said that his stores and books do better each year, whether the attention on him is negative or not. “Attempts like these never undermine my success,” he said. Nevertheless, he’s hoping to have a new hearing on that restraining order, and unless it comes around on the docket next October, it’s unlikely that his day in court will be picked up by the Associated Press.

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