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The New Alexandrian Library: One Step Closer to Opening its Doors

7 hours 35 min ago

The New Alexandrian Library, a research and reference facility focused on magic and the occult, is another step closer to opening its doors. In early December, the library received its certificate of occupancy and is now ready to move its collection of rare papers, artifacts, and artwork onsite. The library is located near Georgetown, Delaware and is named after the Great Library of Alexandria famed throughout the ancient world as a seat of knowledge and a gathering place for intellectuals. The New Alexandrian Library (NAL) hopes to follow in those footsteps.

James Welch at the doors of the New Alexandrian Library [courtesy photo]

It’s taken the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the group spearheading the creation of the library, 14 years to raise the funds and build the first building in the library complex. The lengthy dedication needed to sustain an effort for this long was praised by Peter Dybing in his post on 10 Pagans Who Made a Difference in 2014.

In activism, it is always tempting to move from one popular cause to another as time passes. Few individuals have the dogged determination to take on a project that many see as “undoable”. Ivo [Dominguez Jr., Elder in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel] has done just that, with his unwavering efforts in manifesting the New Alexandrian Library. This is no small task, building real infrastructure that will last for generations. In this library a legacy has been manifested for Pagans around the world. It is an outstanding accomplishment that will benefit the entire community. Let me also say that there were many people involved in these efforts, but being a list of “Ten Pagans” Ivo gets the nod for this effort. I suspect he will share the recognition around widely. The Pagan community will be filled with gratitude of their own for decades to come.

Michael G. Smith [courtesy photo]

The Wild Hunt talked with Michael G. Smith, an Elder of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and Treasurer of the ASW’s Board of Trustees about the library, its upcoming opening, what precious and rare items patrons will be able to see, and what future expansion plans look like.

The Wild Hunt: The physical space is ready for shelves and books, how long has it taken, from conception, to get to this point?

Michael G. Smith: While the concept of the library began before then, we made the first announcement to the larger community at our 2000 Between The Worlds Conference. At the time we had a ten-year plan. Unfortunately, with the economic crash in 2008 many organizations experienced a sharp drop-off in donations and the NAL felt the pinch. This created a delay in our start of construction by several years. We held our groundbreaking ceremony in December 2011, poured the foundation in July 2012 and received our Certificate of Occupancy in December 2014. So, from the first announcement to completion of construction took 14 years.

TWH: The building was built in a modular fashion, so this building is just the first of several planned – what will be housed in this building and what will be housed in future sections?

MGS: The initial building will house the Library’s collection, its museum, space for meetings, workshops, and rituals along with space for the restoration and preservation and administrative functions. The plan, as time goes on, is to expand the Library collection into its own building(s) and the museum into its own building. There are ideas for housing for visiting scholars and practitioners, separate spaces for ritual and other magical experimentation, and additional meeting space. With this anchoring building as a foundation, the Library will expand to meet the needs of the community and the collection. It will be interesting to see what the future both brings and requires.

Interior space [courtesy photo]

TWH: What do you consider some of your most precious pieces the library will house?

MGS: That is a very difficult question to answer. We have been given so many rare and one-of-a-kind pieces that it is hard to say what is most precious. How do you compare the elemental paintings created by Dion Fortune for her first Temple to 3000 year old Egyptian votive statuary? How does one compare the Rosicrucian Edition of Manly P. Hall’s “Secret Teachings” to a Monica Sjoo original painting of the Goddess Brigid? How does one compare decades worth of private newsletters and documents of long-gone pagan organizations to each other? All of the items that the Library will house are precious in their own way.

TWH: You are planning on cataloging the library books, pamphlets, etc. Do you have staff that are librarians? And are they paid staff?

MGS: Fortunately there are several members of the ASW who are professional librarians. Their services and guidance will be invaluable in the coming years. At the moment all people working to get the NAL set up are volunteers, though there is a plan to have at paid Chief Librarian sometime in the future to more directly manage the Library’s collection.

TWH: I’ve read on your website that you plan to accept, and restore, rare documents. Document restoration is a very specialized field. And preserving documents creates special challenges. What resources do you have to do this?

MGS: The NAL is within easy access to the University Of Delaware which offers a superior art and document restoration degree. We have been in contact with UD in hopes of creating a working partnership between the NAL and that program. In addition, the NAL currently as several friends who do the kind of restoration work we that is an important part of our function. We must start off slowly, of course, and it will take time to get such a program up and running now that there is a facility which can house the needed resources.

Top floor of the New Alexandrian Library [courtesy photo]

TWH: How much has been raised, and spent, in total for the NAL so far?

MGS: As for raised and spent so far, I am doing a final construction audit at the moment for the Board of Trustees. That said, it has taken approximate $250,000 to build the NAL building to fulfill the environmental and structural requirements needed to house such a collection. This has been done solely with the donations over the past 14 years and the ASW has no loan against the facility. The building itself sits on land donated to the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel which is currently valued at around $300,000. Both the building and the land are free and clear of any lein or debt.

TWH: Although several people have planned to leave the proceeds from their estate to the library, the NAL may not see those funds for several decades. How will the library keep its doors open in the meantime?

MGS: There is still a need for ongoing fundraising and we will continue to do that work. The ASW hosts a variety of smaller events each year and the 2015 Between The Worlds Gala is a fundraising event for the NAL, for example. There are also people who make regular monthly and annual contributions to the Library. The nice thing about all of these donations is that now construction is completed such funds will be shifted over to the functions and maintenance of the Library proper. There are also plans for more permanent income streams, such as the launch of a small press and building relationships with other organization to provide services. In the near term, with volunteer help and very low maintenance costs, we have the income to fulfill our responsibilities and plan for the future.

TWH: How soon until the library has its Grand Opening?

MGS: A good question! We are looking at sometime in the Spring 2015 though an exact date has not been set. If anyone would like to see the Library before then they should contact us and we will see if we can arrange something.

TWH: Is there anything you wish to add?

MGS: In our Tradition the hard work that a person does in preparation for initiation brings that person to a new beginning. The Initiation is the start of the work, not the end. All of the hard work that so many people have done in support of the New Alexandrian Library, to bring this dream to life, has brought us to Initiation of the real work of the Library. This is a beginning, not an end, and there is so much work for the NAL to do for the broader magical communities from which it sprang. We are certain that the NAL will provide much needed resources and that in doing so will encourage more and more people to be a part of its work, both for themselves and for their communities. Let us be about it.

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The library has launched a new fundraising campaign for its 2015 Gala to be held at Sacred Space on Mar. 7 at the Hunt Valley Inn in Maryland.

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Unleash the Hounds! (Holiday Edition Link Round Up)

Wed, 2014-12-17 09:34

There are many articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. Therefore, The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

At this time of the year, perhaps more than any other, it becomes very apparent that we live in a multi faith world. Whether the shows of diversity are in public displays leading to debates on religious freedom or the variety of holiday wishes and celebratory rituals, December brings a very visible demonstration of the breadth of religious belief in the U.S. and, even, worldwide. With that spirit, we have collected a number of religious news stories that have been making headlines over the past few weeks.

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[Public Domain]

At a Dec. 11 meeting at the United Way of Greater Cleveland, the Ohio Department of Education hosted an information session on the state’s new Community Connectors program. Established by a legislative vote in the spring and then signed into law by Gov. John Kasich (R), the program aims to bring together community organizations and businesses with school systems in order to assist at-risk children and strengthen districts with high poverty and dropout rates. The underlying belief is that direct community involvement and mentorship will help children succeed in school and in life.

However, directly after the United Way meeting, the program drew criticism because of its alleged new focus on faith-based organizations. According to The Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Buddy Harris, a senior policy analyst for the Ohio Department of Education, told the gathering of church and non-profit representatives that each application must include a school district (or charter school) plus a business and a place of worship or faith-based organization in its partnership.

The original legislative bill, HB 483, did not include this requirement. According to the state’s website, the law reads, “Eligible school districts shall partner with members of the business community, civic organizations, or the faith-based community to provide sustainable career advising and mentoring services.”  To date, the program’s promotional material also doesn’t suggest any religious requirement. However, according to news reports and Americans United (AU) the Governor only recently changed this detail.

If the news reports are correct and this new policy is in place, then, as noted by AU, “this is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.”  The organization goes on to suggest, ” … if he really wants to improve the lives of Ohio’s students, he can start by respecting their right to an educational environment free of religious coercion. ”

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As reported by The New York Times, the U.S. Senate approved, in a 62-35 vote, the appointment of Rabbi David Saperstein as Ambassador-at-Large, or head of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom. When Saperstein was nominated in July, Secretery of State John Kerry said, “Religious Freedom is human freedom. … When it comes to the work of protecting religious freedom, it is safe to say that David Saperstein represents the gold standard.”

Why is this particular appointment significant? Rabbi Saperstein is the first non-Christian to hold that particular office. His initial nomination happened during the buildup of tension and violence in Gaza. This suggests that the choice may have been a calculated political message or move. However, the Senate’s approval, which came Dec. 12, may also demonstrate something more significant about the U.S. cultural landscape. Judaism may be a monotheistic faith; but it is still a minority religion. How will having a member of a minority religion in a prominent position change U.S. religious freedom policy both nationally and internationally? Time will tell.

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Mt. Soledad [Photo Credit: Kathleen Gorby [Public domain], via Wikimedia]

In another religious freedom battle, U.S. Senate approved a “defense policy bill” that may allow a large cross to remain at the top of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, California. According to the L.A. Times, the legal battle over this cross has been on-going since 2006. Proponents claim that the bill will end the conversation because the Senate approved the sale of the property to private investors. Once sold, the cross can no longer be considered a “church-state violation.” However, opponents don’t agree and promise to continue the fight.

For Pagans and Heathens, religious freedom in the Military has always been a major concern. This month, AU released a response document called “Clear and Present Falsehoods: The Real State of Religious Freedom in the Military.” This publication mentions a number of religious freedom cases, including one in which a cross was “placed inside the Wiccan circle used by Wiccan cadets.”

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As this is a holiday season roundup, it would not be complete without a few stories on religious displays in the public square. Each year this particular conversation is reborn, ironically, with the erection of nativity scenes, menorahs, Fesivas poles, gigantic illuminated letter As and the like.

As is typical, Atheist organizations have been sponsoring billboards around the country to counter overt religiosity. For example, in Arkansas, American Atheists sponsored a billboard that reads “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON.”

As we reported last week, The Satanic Temple takes part in this holiday tradition. Along with its Florida display, the organization is preparing one for the Michigan capitol. To be erected on Dec. 21, this particular holiday presentation is called a “Snaketivity Scene” and will contain a snake, a book and sign that reads “The greatest gift is knowledge.”

While most of this activity centers around conflict and debate, the Wisconsin legislature has chosen to take another more positive approach to holiday displays. Since 1998, it hosts a yearly “Interfaith Awareness Week,” during which representatives of organizations can sponsor an informational holiday display in its capitol’s rotunda. Circle Sanctuary has been part of this tradition for 16 years. This year was no exception.

[Courtesy Photo]

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Do dogs go to heaven? After a Dec. 11  New York Times article, many Catholics believed that the long theological debate was finally settled. Dogs do go to heaven. However, The Times and other media outlets have since corrected their original articles saying that the Pope never made any statements about seeing our pets in eternity. In its correction, The Times admitted that it had not verified the quotes with the Vatican before publication.

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Replica of Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando [Photo Credit: Rstoplabe14 en.wikipedia]

While that particular theological question may still be unanswered, another, far less theological one has been definitely cleared up. There are no Wiccans at Hogwarts. When a Harry Potter fan asked via Twitter if there were Jewish characters in the popular series, author J.K. Rowling tweeted back, “Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard.”

Apparently, this set off a discussion on the religious views represented by students at the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In response to that debate, Rowling tweeted:

To everyone asking whether their religion/belief/non-belief system is represented at Hogwarts: the only people I never imagined there are Wiccans.*

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Finally, last night was the first night of Hanukah. Many Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens with Jewish heritage enjoy celebrating the Festival of Lights or simply spending time with their Jewish families. May those readers enjoy the warmth and light of the holiday.

 

* UPDATE 1:50pm EST: Rowling defended her tweets about Wicca. The Independent quoted her as saying, “It’s a different concept of magic to the one laid out in the books, so I don’t really see how they can co-exist.”

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Pronouns and Gender: Together Forever?

Tue, 2014-12-16 07:45

The English language is in the midst of a gender revolution – one that began the first time someone questioned why the default state of every noun and pronoun was masculine. Since that point, “humankind” has gradually replaced “mankind,” and the male-centric generic “his” has given way to “hers or his” or (the still grammatically incorrect) “theirs.” Gradually, the language has moved toward treating both genders equitably.

However, the preceding statement presumes that there are only two genders, and highlights a very real gender gap remaining in the language: the presumption that gender has only two variants, and thus requires two, or perhaps three, pronouns to reflect reality. Like the generic “he,” the use of these gendered pronouns is so commonplace that it’s all but invisible, except to the people who don’t fit either one and their allies. These people have chosen a more suitable set of pronouns, either based on existing words or new ones that have been invented for the purpose.

Perhaps it makes more sense to call it an evolution than a revolution, since it has been in-progress for decades and isn’t likely to be settled in the near future. To get a sense of what the language might look like once the question of pronoun use is settled, The Wild Hunt asked a number of Pagans and polytheists about their own use of, and attitudes about, pronouns in English. Because the Polytheist and Pagan communities are generally more supportive of transgender people, than what is seen in the overculture, it is possible to speak to a selection of people who have, at least, a passing familiarity with the issues involved.

Generally, it’s considered polite to ask a trans* person what pronoun e prefers. E, em, and eir comprise one set, the old Spivak pronouns, which have the advantage of sounding similar to common English pronouns, unlike zie and hir, which are also deemed too feminine-sounding by some. On the other end of the spectrum is the use of the word “one” to denote a person without referencing gender. While this has been argued as perfectly practical, no one interviewed for this article uses that form. There are those who use “they,” despite the fact that it sounds incorrect to many a grammarian’s ear, and others think “it” is the most appropriate descriptor.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

While seemingly inconsequential to the cisgendered, binary-gender pronouns have a very real impact on those who don’t identify as one, or the other. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a metagender person, said that the simple act of filling out an online form can be incredibly frustrating. E explained:

[A]ny online form that forces me to choose either male/man or female/woman for a gender, and does not allow me to proceed without making that choice, isn’t something I can fill out … I do not mark them on forms at doctor’s offices and such any longer, either.  Any online forum, survey, or anything else which requires it isn’t something I can participate in. This is what kept me from joining the Polytheism Without Borders project last year when it started; when I raised this point with the creator of the group, I was told, ‘Can’t you just pick one for convenience?’ Nope.

To take this trend to its natural conclusion, the expectation would be that all people have the right to choose the pronouns that are most suitable, and the assumption that the preference is “he” or “she” unless otherwise stated would have to fall away. Is that a realistic or practical outcome?

Melissa ra Karit, a genderqueer priest/ess in CAYA Coven’s Wildflower tradition, said:

Personally, I would love to see preferred pronouns becoming an automatic part of introductions. ‘Hi, I’m Mary, I use she/her pronouns,’ and, ‘I’m John, I use e/eir pronouns’ seem simple enough to add. I don’t actually think remembering someone’s pronouns would be much if a stretch once we got beyond the assumption that someone who appears female uses female pronouns and someone who appears male uses male pronouns. (What do we mean by “appears female/male” anyway?) We routinely remember all sorts of information about people, such as jobs, their families, their food allergies, their birthdays, and so on. For those who tend to forget such details, I imagine they would use the same sorts of memory aids, such a cell phones and calendar reminders, that they do for everything else. (Can you imagine if your phone popped up a message that said ‘John, e/eir, is texting you?’ I can!)

While zir may feel that learning preferred pronouns is simple, not everyone agrees. Autumn Pulstar, who identifies as a cisgender woman, admits, “I find it hard to use the nonstandard pronouns, even when referring to someone who prefers them. Being in my 50s, old habits die hard. I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but it is something that does not come naturally … and the awkward pause is often more unsettling than saying what comes natural. Fortunately, I have very cool friends.”

Shauna Aura Knight

Speaker and ritualist Shauna Aura Knight, a ciswoman, also admitted that she finds the various pronouns confusing. She added, “One piece of advice I was given by a genderqueer activist was to just use people’s names.” That advice is helpful, but Knight has other limitations that reduce its usefulness: she’s not terribly good remembering names. And while she didn’t say so, avoiding all pronouns in lieu of a person’s name can lead to speech or writing that feels clunky or contrived.

Lupus recalled a relationship that went south over eir desire to use Spivak pronouns to describe emself. It was a surprising case, e said, involving “a trans*woman, who was also not going to go through with any surgical interventions or procedures, who said that I confused her and that the mental gymnastics required to conceptualize my gender as non-binary were not of enough interest to her to do to make any effort toward, and therefore she’d just consider me however she wanted to despite my asking otherwise.”

Diane Verocchi, a cisgender woman, does make sure she uses pronouns of choice, although some of them feel more awkward to her than others. “I don’t know if ‘hir’ would stand out less to me if it were in common use,” she wrote. “I encounter zie/zir online a lot, so they don’t particularly jump out at me. Hir looks like a typo for either him or her and sounds closer to her, so I find it puzzling that some prefer it, but if I know that is their preference, that is what I’ll use.”

Familiarity breeds comfort to ciswoman and writer Jolene Poseidonae, who acknowledges that she doesn’t have much occasion to become familiar with alternative pronouns. She said:

If they were more widely used, I certainly believe that gender-neutral pronouns would be easier for me to see and use and not feel like I’m making up words. If they were something that were more widely used just in my own life, it would be easier — but again, it’s not a huge issue. I won’t say that most of my friends are cisgendered, but those who are not have expressed the desire to be referred to by one of the two gender specific pronouns. That very well may be because those are what’s available, but I couldn’t say for sure.

Jaina Bee, a metagender priest/ess of the CAYA Wildflower tradition, added, “If we really care about each other, we will pay attention to the things that matter to each individual, whether it be a religious observation, a dietary restriction, a differently-abled physical or mental condition, or a set of pronouns. This is not inconvenience, this is common courtesy.”

An alternative to personalizing pronoun choice is to adopt a more inclusive set, one that either ignores or more fully embraces gender variation. Given that the spectrum of gender includes metagender, intersex, feminine cismales and masculine cisfemales, androgynes, genderqueers, and gender-fluid people, among others, a theoretical group of pronouns that acknowledged all possible genders may be too large to be manageable. Pronouns that do not acknowledge gender at all can also be used if the gender of the person is not known or is irrelevant, but that doesn’t mean there is anything like a consensus to adopt that particular standard. And which ones should become the norm?

“When I look at myself in the mirror and think of what I’d most like to be, I don’t see ‘he’ or ‘she,'” said Lupus, “nor do I see ‘ze/sie,’ I see ‘e.'” Others, however, “prefer the plural-as-singular, which actually has Victorian precedents. Still others I know prefer to be called ‘it,’ since that is a de facto neutral pronoun.”

Hearthstone, a ciswoman writer, remarked, “You’d think it would be possible to adopt a neutral pronoun since English uses natural gender rather than grammatical gender.” She added that she would be fine with being addressed using a neutral pronoun, “if it was a pronoun understood to mean a human being. I would feel dehumanized if someone called me ‘it,’ but that’s because “it” is so strongly contextualized as non-human.” Pulstar also said she would be offended if someone were to call her “it.”

Poseidonae was mindful that, as part of the cisgendered majority, she has choices others do not. She said:

In theory, I’m not sure that I would care if someone referred to me with a gender-neutral pronoun. As much as I’m cisgendered, it is mostly something I’m not overly attached to — which I understand is part and parcel of the privilege of being cisgendered. I wouldn’t hate for us to be more gender neutral when talking about people we don’t know well, but that’s me wanting more of a clear delineation between the public and private realms in our lives than what society currently tolerates.

Verocchi said that her reaction would “depend entirely on situation and context.”  She said:

If they didn’t know which pronouns I prefer, then it I think it would be no different than correcting the pronunciation of my last name (something I do all the time) to respond to that, if I even felt it was worth doing so.  If they knew that I am a cisgender female who prefers feminine pronouns and were using neutral pronouns with the intent of misgendering me, I’d be annoyed or possibly offended.  In either case, I don’t think I’d be as offended” as transgender people have told her they feel when others misgender them, out of disinterest or malice, “probably because I don’t experience it on a regular basis.

A cisgender woman who identified herself as Juni also didn’t want to be misgendered, saying, “I would be fine with it if someone used [a neutral pronoun] to refer to me, though it would probably feel a little odd; I think the only pronoun that would actually make me uncomfortable would be he/his. I would be perfectly comfortable with gender-free pronouns as a general rule.”

Knight agreed that context is important in accepting someone’s use of a gender-free pronoun for herself. She said:

For instance, when I’ve gone to a store or answered the phone and been referred to as ‘sir,’ I’ve been offended. I don’t think I particularly look male, but I’m pretty tall and I have a deeper voice. In retrospect, I’m aware that that has much more to do with my body image issues around weight/attractiveness to men. It was a hit to my self esteem since it told me, in a nutshell, that I was obviously not attractive (as a woman) to these men.

If I were at a Pagan, spiritual, or activist event and I were referred to by gender-free pronouns, I probably wouldn’t necessarily have any negative feelings around it, since it doesn’t really impact my identity in that context. I grew up in a gender binary environment so using the gender-free pronouns might itch a little. That’s the best word I can use to describe it.  It’s not me being offended so much as me not being used to something.  It’s like moving into a new house and I’m not sure where things are and I have to think about everything more.

Knight also said that she wrestles with how to incorporate gendered language into ritual. “There’s a general axiom that multi-syllable words that come from a Latin root tend to have a more clinical sound than the more onomatopoetic words that come from the Germanic,” she explained. “The problem is that Latin has better gender neutral words.” The Germanic words are more primal, and help participants get out of “thinky headspace” but are less inclusive. She cited examples such as “parent” instead of “mother” or “father,” and “siblings” as a more clinical but also more inclusive substitute for “brothers and sisters.”

CAYA Coven Wildflower initiate Verity Blue said:

I would love to see us collectively move to a inclusive/neutral set of pronouns. I think the hard part would be changing habits, but we aren’t really getting any useful info out of she/he her/him. Gender is not the physical sex of a person, it is not the chromosomal sex of a person, it is a complexly layered part of identity that is often beyond describing. Basically our current system is ones and zeros when what we need is more a robust, elegant language. Personally, I enjoy what I call ‘zednouns.’ Zie walked down the street singing zir favorite song quietly to zirself. In my understanding it is the evolution of creating pronouns that start with xy, like the human sex chromosomes. Zie is the collective of all gender expression.

Others are not so sure that separating gender from pronouns is preferable, much less possible. “As for moving the language toward an all-inclusive, neutral-gender pronoun system, there are many considerations that lead me to think this goal is not only improbable, it is also undesirable for many reasons,” said Bee.  “As we’ve seen in recent public discussions of racial issues … [there has been] essentially a denial of the distinctions between people, their diverse concerns and needs, and tends, in practice, to lead to a default that erases those who don’t fit into the conventional definition.”

Ruadhán J McElroy

Trans*man Ruadhán J McElroy also isn’t sold on divorcing gender from pronouns.

Every language [that] I have some familiarity with acknowledges gender, and most societies pre-Christianity, in some way, recognise more than two genders. Ergo, it really upsets me when I see others, especially my fellow trans people, talk about abolishing gender from society. While different cultures recognise a different range of non-cis genders, and hold different standards for all genders recognised, one thing is clear: human beings are a gendered species …

Furthermore, it strikes me as highly dismissive of the issues faced by people based on gender, and the suggestion to ‘abolish gender’ as little more than a cop-out to justify doing nothing; it’s ridiculous and potentially evidence of deep internalised transphobia coming from other trans and non-binary people, and infuriating coming from cis people — the former people are saying that gender for non-cis people only makes life harder, potentially to the point that giving up on a central aspect of a person seems preferable to the headache it causes, but the latter group is basically saying that the former group’s concerns aren’t worth addressing in any way, much less a productive one.

Like the use of preferred pronouns, adopting a set that does not take gender into consideration would require buy-in from the cisgendered majority to gain traction. Hearthstone pointed out, “There needs first to be willingness on the part of cis-folks to use nongendered pronouns and so forth for ourselves, I think, rather than only using them for non-binary folks. Otherwise, it’s still exclusionary.”

Karit agreed, saying that even zir idea of introductions that include pronoun preference that ze imagines needs a generic option. “I see the second part of such a system as moving to a gender-neutral set of pronouns to describe anyone whose pronouns we don’t know. That, I think, would take a big cultural shift. I think anything like that is a ways off in the future.”

Knight looks to altering the entrenched rules of accepted sentence construction. She said:

I think that one part is doing whatever is necessary to change the rules of grammar that say that his/her is appropriate and ‘their’ is not. Going further, if we’re going to use gender neutral pronouns, I really feel that there needs to be a consensus on which ones.  I see ‘hir’ with some frequency, probably because it’s the most [common], but that doesn’t bear up in speech because hir and her are virtually indistinguishable. I kind of like the old Spivak ones because they sound like ‘their,’ but without the consonant. Speaking as a language nerd, the lack of initial consonant makes it a little more difficult for English speakers, or more specifically, it’ll sound like we’re mispronouncing him/her, etc. However, to my eye they look and sound good.

High-school English teacher and ciswoman Robin Ward resists the idea that “their” can or should be used as a singular pronoun, but pointed out the important role teachers play in any change in the language. “People didn’t start accepting ‘his or her’ in place of ‘his’ until teachers started expecting it,” she said. “I’ve thought about introducing my students to alternative pronouns, but to be honest I’m worried about pushback from the parents.”

Changing language changes how the speakers of that language think. Whether those thoughts are guided by an implicit assumption that individuals get to control what pronouns are associated with em, a widespread agreement to adopt one set of pronouns over all others, or a combination of these approaches, it seems apparent that such change will only occur when the cisgendered majority adopts it with intent. So long as these alternatives are only utilized by transgender people and a few allies when referring to those trans* people, it will not be a movement, but the quirk of a small subculture.

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Pagan Community Notes: Pagans Join Protests, PEN Proposed Conference, Wreaths Across America and much more!

Mon, 2014-12-15 08:55

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

Pagans in WDC March Dec. 13, 2014 [Photo Credit: Jen Huls]

Protesters continue to fill the streets of cities, large and small, across the county. Many Pagans, as collective units, have been joining these efforts in order to lend their own voices or assist those protesting. As noted last week, the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood used very strong words in their public call-to-action. Over the past three days, the group has taken their own words seriously and has been attending the protests in both Berkeley and Oakland. In addition to marching themselves, members of the Priesthood have also brought medical aid and similar services to those in need.

On the other side of the country, a group of east coast Pagans organized themselves into a unit to join the Dec. 13 march on Washington D.C, which is now estimated to have included over 25,000 people. The photo shows several of these marchers. The small group of around 15 Pagans stood with that crowed, holding up signs and chanting for change.

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The Pagan Educational Network , based in Indiana, continues its preliminary research for a possible new “clergy” conference. Organizers want to create a focused event that will help “teach clergy to become better at their calling.”

The idea was originally announced last summer, when PEN informally asked for feedback on the concept. Now organizers are asking for proposals from potential presenters. They said, “Examples of workshops would be/but not limited to: Life transitions, Hospital visits, grieving, counseling both individual and couples, interfaith,group administration, community relations, just to name a few.”  All proposals should be sent to: Rev. Dave C. Sassman, Pagan Clergy Conference, PO Box 24072, Indianapolis, IN 46224 or RevDavecs@gmail.com

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Circle Sanctuary logo

On Sat. Dec. 13, Circle Sanctuary participated in the national “Wreaths Across America” program that “lays wreaths at grave sites honoring deceased veterans.” Circle Cemetary is listed on the main website among the many other sites that also participate in this yearly interfaith memorial event.

Circle Coordinators said, “At Veterans Ridge of Circle Cemetery, wreaths [were] placed at grave sites of Pagans from across the nation who served in the U.S. military. These Pagan veterans include those who served in national guards of several states and those who did active duty service in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.” The wreaths themselves were blessed inside the temple space before being carried out and placed on the graves.

In Other News:

  • On Nov. 20, the San Francisco Chronicle published an obituary for Louise Muhler born in 1920. The obituary caught the eye of several Pagans, who shared it on blogs and social media. As it turns out, Muhler’s birth name was Astarte Lulu Panthea. She was the daughter of famed occultist Aleister Crowley. According to the obituary, Muhler, a practicing Christian, lived a full and very active life that took her around the world and back. May her family find peace in its loving memories.
  • Over the past month, The Earth Spirit Community, based in Massachusetts, has been holding its annual fundraiser to support events, interfaith outreach and other community-based work. To kick off the drive, the organization published a Samhain newsletter detailing a year’s projects, including those done locally, nationally and internationally. Since that point, it has been sharing photos and testimonies on its Facebook from new and longtime supporters.
  • On Dec. 5, shortly after author Raven Grimassi’s personal page was challenged Facebook, he and his wife, Stephanie, were in a car accident due to ice and snow. According to reports, his car flipped twice after sliding down an embankment. When he was finally able, Grimassi announced that both he and Stephanie were physically fine, aside from a few aches, but their car was totaled. He has since launched a Go Fund Me campaign to help offset the financial burdens caused by the accident.
  • There are many Yule events being planned for the next week. One of the, perhaps, more unusual celebrations is organized by Chalice of the Willow, a CUUPS chapter. The group is holding an overnight event starting at 6 pm on Dec 20 through 8 am Dec. 21. Organizers said, “The popularity and great response from last year’s event has brought on a new tradition. We will be having food, fun, and friendship! There will be workshops and discussions on various topics through out the night.”  Details, admissions costs and a schedule are posted on its Facebook event page.
  • For fans of Pagan Singer/Songwriter Arthur Hinds, his song “Set Your Spirit Free” is available for free on his CDBaby site. He says that he has released this song as a yuletide gift to his fans.
  • On Nov. 26, Sannion at The House of Vines blog announced the release of his latest book Thunderstruck with Wine: the hymns of Sannion. Now, just 18 days later, Sannion has posted that he has only two copies left. But he says, “I plan to order more copies of Thunderstruck as well as my other Nysa Press titles after the new year, so don’t despair if you miss out on this batch”  Thunderstruck with Wine is a collection of “31 poems honoring the god Dionysos in his multitude of forms.”

That is it for now.  Have a nice day.

 

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Niklas Gander 1959 to 2014

Sun, 2014-12-14 05:26

Niklas Gander [Courtesy Photo]

[The following memorial is a guest post written by Niklas Gander’s husband and partner of 23 years, Willow Moon]

Dr. Thomas Johnson, also known as Niklas Gander, died Oct. 5, 2014, in Seattle, Washington. As he took his last breath, Willow Moon wiped the tears from his eyes and immediately performed the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Powa. This was to ensure Niklas’ rebirth in the Buddhist paradise of Dewachen or “The Land of Great Bliss,” a place of solace and comfort. There, he will meet his teachers and peers to gain greater knowledge and peace before moving on to another, better life.

As per his wishes, Niklas’ body was kept at home, undisturbed for three days while his spirit finished a Buddhist meditation on death. Friends visited during the day, and Willow Moon kept him company at night, performing regular Buddhist prayers and meditations. When a slight warmth over his heart area moved to the top of his head on the third day, Willow Moon knew that he had completed his meditation.

Niklas was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts, Oct.13, 1959. He was the son of Swedish immigrants Elmer and Britta Johnson. After high school, Niklas attended North Park College in Chicago, where he earned a B.A. degree in music and Swedish. He then went on to receive a master’s degree from the University of Washington in 1986, in German Linguistics and Swedish Literature; and a Ph.D. in Swedish Folklore, Old Norse Language, Literature and Culture from the same institution in 2010.

Niklas was fluent in several languages including English, Swedish, Old Icelandic and German. He taught Swedish language classes at UC Berkeley, the University of Washington and privately. He could communicate with just about anyone who spoke a Scandinavian language. He could translate Old Norse immediately as he read it; he also learned some Faroese and worked hard to acquire an intermediate fluency in Tibetan.

Niklas was also gifted musician. He started playing the violin in the seventh grade, and after one year, he made the district orchestra. In addition to winning competitions and receiving awards, he played with the civic orchestras in Attleboro and Chicago, where he eventually acquired the second violin chair in the Chicago Symphony orchestra and toured the country.

The violin was not the only way he expressed his musical talent. Niklas had a rich, trained baritone voice. Consequently, he was instrumental in starting the singing group “Our Pleasure” which still performs to this day. One of the reasons he liked the Anderson Faery Witchcraft tradition so much was because there is so much music and singing during the creation of sacred space.

Although Niklas was a gifted linguist, musician, teacher and scholar, his real love was the study and practice of Witchcraft. When he was asked what he would like to do for his dissertation, he immediately replied that he wanted to collect, translate and analyze Swedish Black Art books (svartkonstböcker).

In 1992, as a visiting fellow at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, Niklas found the remnants of many Black Arts books in both libraries and homes throughout Sweden dating from 1693 to the 1950s. None of these books had ever been completely translated or even published. No studies had been done on these books for over 50 years and they were rotting away.

Niklas rescued a huge portion of Swedish folklore for future generations. He brought his insights gleaned from the old books into his own teaching of Swedish, Swedish folklore, sagas, the Eddas or Old Norse literature, archaeology, religion and mythology. He was even known to sing Swedish songs in class to teach his students “the language of the soul.”

After completing his research, Niklas gave two guest lectures on the material: one at the Folklore Society in Stockholm and one at the Swedish Women’s Educational Association in San Francisco. Additionally, he presented a conference paper at the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study Annual Conference in Salt Lake City. This paper was titled, Something Queer in Images of Old Norse Myth and Magic. It focused on a philological study of the concept of ergi (queerness) as a constellation of related concepts throughout the Germanic region, all of which suggest a greater semantic field than a simple description of unprivileged sexual behavior.

His other writings include: Klokskap eller Häxeri?, which contrasts the traditional cunning folk and the archetypical Witch in Swedish folklore; the book The Graveyard Wanderers (Kyrogårdsgångarna): The Wise Ones and the Dead in Sweden; and his dissertation titled Tidebast och Vändelrot: Magical Representations in the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition.

Niklas’ love and knowledge of Witchcraft was profound. He received full initiations, elevations and training in the NROOGD tradition, the California Gardnerian tradition, the Gardnerian tradition, the Alexandrian tradition, the Minoan tradition, Bill Love’s hereditary tradition and the Anderson Faery tradition.

Of all these traditions, Niklas preferred to practice and teach the Anderson Faery tradition. He felt that, with the Anderson Faery tradition, there were no gender checks. He could give back by teaching and creating new material based on previous work, and also be respected as an equal. He and his husband could form a coven together. They never had to pretend to be something they weren’t; they could just be themselves and no one ever said they could not stand or work together. In private, the couple continued to practice their own hereditary tradition.

Niklas was the kind of person who easily made friends, and who was always willing to help. He also loved people as much as he loved the subject he was teaching, which made it a fantastic instructor. Whether he was teaching music, language or Witchcraft, he would learn and experience as much as he could before passing on knowledge, in order to give his students the best possible education. He didn’t teach things in isolation but pointed out the connections between diverse subjects to create a richer context for understanding. Niklas was a true scholar with a true heart.

All this demonstrates why he had such a profound impact on so many people. Many have said that, although it was obvious that Niklas was talented and knowledgeable, he never made them feel any less than himself. Niklas learned early on that the secret of truly touching people is to show respect. He practiced that and, in return, people respected him. Niklas changed so many people’s lives for the better, not for fame or money but out of love and kindness; so by any measure his was a life well lived.

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Wild Hunt Book Review: Rewilding Our Hearts

Sat, 2014-12-13 06:38

My initial approach to this book was … ambivalent. Putting a finger on what caused that reaction was challenging. I was nearly finished with the book by the time I sorted it out. Before I explain, let me get back to the book for a moment.

Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence is another well-researched and well-written book by Marc Bekoff. The idea of rewilding as a means of conservation has become more popular in recent years, and this book is a good introduction into the concepts and work being done. If nothing else, it has more than 20 pages worth of references to books, journal articles, and other sources of information that would arm a person with the knowledge needed to truly understand what is happening to our planet and to the beings that are residents of it.

Nothing about this book should have been difficult. I am Pagan and take my vows as a steward of the Earth seriously. By no means am I perfect, but I do care, and I continue to make changes to how I live and spend my money. I seek information about the impact that my activities, or proposed activities, have on the Earth and Her residents, in an effort to educate myself.  I care. I’m invested. This book should have been an easy read for me.

Bekoff says that rewilding our hearts is about:

…becoming reenchanted with nature. It is about nurturing our sense of wonder. Rewilding is about being nice, kind, compassionate, empathic, and harnessing our own inborn goodness and optimism. In the most basic sense, ‘rewilding’ means ‘to make wilder’ or ‘to make wild once again.’ This means many things, as we will see, but primarily it means opening our hearts and minds to others. It means thinking of others and allowing their needs and perspectives to influence our own.

In contrast, “unwilding” is “the process by which we become alienated from nature and non-human animals; it’s how we deny our impacts and refuse to take responsibility for them; and it’s how we become discouraged and overwhelmed, and thus fail to act despite the problems we see.”

Enter the 10-day break I took from reading. During that time, a broken song lyric began to tease me as I spent some time soul-searching my resistance to Bekoff’s newest publication. It took a while for it to come together enough to pin down but I eventually found it within the words of an Ani Difranco song:

the mighty multinationals have monopolized the oxygen
so it’s as easy as breathing for us all to participate

And therein lies the problem that I had with reading this book. In those words, I found the reason it took me nearly three weeks to finish barely 150 pages of content of which I support. The problems discussed by Bekoff are so big, so pervasive and so ingrained. Is the change that is needed even remotely possible?

Do the small changes really make a difference or am I deluding myself into thinking that those adorable cloth “paper” towel rolls I saw on Pinterest will really save trees, wildlife and the climate on which we all depend? Is my decision to start a vegetable and flower garden for the first time in my life (using heritage varieties of course) really going to make a difference in reducing fossil fuel consumption, improve the health of my family and support healthy environments in which bees can thrive?

Bekoff says small changes help, and he is not alone in this message. Before I picked up this book, I felt comfortable that I was making a contribution, and that my upcoming changes would be increasingly impactful. Now I’m not so sure.

Fish Creek in Hyder, Alaska. [Photo Credit: Matt Lemmon via Flickr]

In psychotherapy, a theory that is popular in the short-term treatment crowd is Solutions-Focused Therapy. Arguably, the most well-known intervention is the “miracle question:

Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice that would tell you life had suddenly gotten better?

In my own practice as a psychotherapist, I have often used this with positive results. It takes the client from being completely mired in their difficult situation to being focused on the things that make them feel better that make their life better that give them a sense of control. People who struggle coping with difficulties often feel powerless and see no way out of their dilemma. Often that powerlessness is an illusion though. As Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

For the past decade or so, I have lived in a solution-focused way where environmental and conservation issues are concerned. I research ways that I can make a difference and implement lifestyle changes. I focus on what I can do and let go of the details that form the bigger, more dismal, picture. But in doing so, I have lost sight of the enormity and entrenched nature of the problem. Reading Bekoff’s book was like hitting a “zoom out” button and seeing the whole complex tragedy at once. Calling this experience overwhelming and discouraging would be putting it mildly and wholly inadequate.

To be clear and fair, Bekoff’s focus was not on everything that is going wrong. Instead he wanted to offer a solution, or at least a pathway to various solutions. He says:

Rewilding Our Hearts is a positive and inspirational book about what we can do, as individuals within a global community, working in harmony for common goals, to deal with the rampant and wanton destruction of our planet and the innumerable and awe-inspiring residents and their homes. We really do need wild(er) minds and wild(er) hearts to make the changes that need to be made right now, so that we can work toward having a wild(er) planet.

Bekoff goes on to explain how his “Eight Ps of Rewilding” – a social movement that is “proactive, positive, persistent, patient, peaceful, practical, powerful and passionate” – will help us all engage to create a “contagious and long-lasting” movement.

It sounds lovely. It sounds like something that I would naturally and easily get behind. Except that I see and hear the motives that so many have for money, to maintain their perceived superiority, and to kill animals exclusively for sport without guilt. How could we possibly create a paradigm shift in those people in order “to make compassion, empathy and peaceful coexistence a social value?” Can we even do that in ourselves, let alone others, to make it lasting?

Bekoff provides some suggestions such as, increasing our awareness of how words and media are used to support agendas that “unwild” us; bringing such words to light; working to change our own use of language, photos and videos.

Adding to that, he suggests that children can be raised with less unwilding if we allow more unscheduled, unsupervised, unmanaged play and incorporate “nature time” during school hours. Finally, he also observes that participants in the conservation circles have become more interdisciplinary, creating pathways for professionals in social work and psychology to become more involved. The insights of these professions can shed light on the complex social, economic, and personal issues that act as barriers to change and bring a new perspective on how to rewild humans.

These more tangible interventions felt more manageable to me and helped me remember some of the changes that have already been made. Dam removals, reintroduction of wolves, and the granting of equal rights to nature are just some examples of the changes that have occurred recently. A few days after I completed the book, I searched out hopeful stories about rewilding, conservation, and environmental activism to bring me back to my center; to bring me back to the place where I feel comfortable that my efforts mean something.

Perhaps this is what Bekoff means when he says, “…we know that being positive and hopeful are important for getting people to care and act. Concentrating on successes, on what works, is important for overcoming hopelessness.”

Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence was published in Nov by New World Library. It is available in paperback and electronic formats. Berkoff can found as a regular columnist in Psychology Today and through his regular appearances.

 

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Column: A Walking Tour of Asgard

Fri, 2014-12-12 07:52

Óðinsgata street sign, Reykjavík, Iceland. Photo by the author.

Hallgrímskirkja sits at the center of downtown Reykjavík, a massive gray slab of church that has, to me, about the same level of architectural charm as the Potosi Correctional Center. It rises up from the street in a concrete wave meant to look like the basalt pillars found elsewhere in Iceland; it has no color to it, and given the cloudiness of Iceland’s skies, often it forms a gray wall against a gray curtain. Although Hallgrímskirkja is probably the most famous building in Reykjavík, I found few reasons to visit it. I am told that for a handful of krónur one can go up into the spire and enjoy a wonderful view of the city, assuming that the fog isn’t too dense. Some of my classmates did this, and reported having a lovely experience, but I never made the trip myself. This was, in part, because my Heathen character found the idea distasteful – I mean, I didn’t come to Iceland to spend time in churches. The other part is that I didn’t have any handfuls of krónur to spare.

But I spent quite a lot of time in the neighborhood around Hallgrímskirkja, all the same. The neighborhood around the church is called Goðahverfið, or, as a handy placard notes, “The Neighborhood of the Gods.” The streets to the west of the church are all named for the Norse gods. Not 500 feet from the doors of the most impressive Christian edifice on the island sit streets named for Thor and Freyja. The metaphor almost seems too obvious. I remember something that my friend Kári, a member of Ásatrúarfélagið, said: I think the reason Ásatrú comes so easily to us is because we were never very good Christians in the first place.

I made an afternoon of walking the Neighborhood of the Gods one day after my morning Icelandic class let out, taking pictures of every street sign that bore some relation to the myths. (I justified this as a way of studying noun declensions. Freyjugata – weak feminine noun; you can tell by the way Freyja becomes Freyju. Njarðargata – the ö in Njörður becomes an a in the genitive.) The selection of deities seemed to me odd and fragmentary. Most of the major deities have streets – Óðinsgata, Þórsgata, and so on – and so do many of the more obscure figures – Fjölnisvegur, named for Fjölnir, a son of Freyr named in Ynglinga Saga, and Sjafnargata, for Sjöfn, a goddess mentioned a few times in Snorri’s Edda. But some others are looked over. Freyr himself, for instance, has no street. Neither does Frigg. Urður gets one, but not Skuld or Verðandi. I don’t pretend to have an explanation for this, except that perhaps having Freyjugata, Freysgata, and Friggjargata within a three-block area would have made giving directions to foreigners a nightmare.

Other than the signs, there’s nothing especially significant in the Neighborhood of the Gods to draw the eye of a mythology buff. Even the signs themselves are mostly just fun to look in a scavenger-hunt kind of way, though there were a few intersections and parallels that caught my attention – the intersection of Baldursgata and Nönnugata is sweet in a sad way, and, as Karl Siegfried at the Norse Mythology blog has pointed out, it’s amusing that Lokastígur is hidden behind Þórsgata, just as Loki always seems to be working at something behind Thor’s back. But I never found any hidden statues or secret shrines there; it is, for the most part, just another neighborhood in Reykjavík.

And yet there is something in it that pulls at me. It’s the magic of the names. Óðinsgata is Óðinsgata; it’s a street named for the god I spend the most time thinking about. I wanted to see that street sign with my own eyes almost as much as I wanted to see Þingvellir or Skógafoss. It’s just the name of the street. But that name was enough to lure me to it.

The name was also enough to make me visit Odin, Minnesota, a postage-stamp of a town about 35 miles north of the Iowa border. Odin was about two and a half hours out of my way on the drive from Minneapolis to Missouri, which was otherwise a straight shot down I-35. I took the country highways out past St. Peter and Mankato and found myself approaching Odin a little after noon.

Nothing in Odin drew a connection between the town and its namesake, except perhaps for a yellow “NORWEGIAN X-ING” sign hanging on one of the electric poles. The Neighborhood of the Gods at least had a plaque and the Guesthouse Odinn; Odin, MN, just had a cheery red-on-white sign that read “WELCOME TO ODIN.” I wandered around for a few minutes, taking pictures of the Odin Community Center and Fire Hall, the Odin State Bank, the Odin Post Office. (Alas, no First Church of Odin, which was of course my real desire.) The town seemed empty – nobody on the streets at all.

I walked over to the Odin General Store and Bait Shop. I opened the door and found that apparently everybody in the city was there too, standing around folding tables; it looked like they had just finished lunch. Perhaps it was a regular Sunday gathering. The room was dark, and even though it seemed like it was the closest thing to a grocery store around, there were only a couple of shelves holding dry goods and a freezer with sodas and Hot Pockets. I drew stares. I don’t think they saw many tourists there. I paid for a Cherry Coke and left.

It’s been six months now since I returned home from my trip to the north, and I still think about that seemingly uneventful visit to Odin, MN, nearly every day. We give things names to connect ourselves to them, because the name has meanings beyond what it appears to signify. Odin is a one-eyed god, and Odin is a town of 100 people in southern Minnesota, and Odin is a street in downtown Reykjavík. And Odin is the space in my mind where these three things, and three thousand other things, intersect, meld, and are sent forth again.

I remember driving away from Odin, a few moments after I took an obligatory selfie next to the welcome sign. I watched that sign recede into the distance in my rearview mirror as I began my journey southward, signaling the end of one pilgrimage, marking the beginning of whatever came next.

#odinselfie

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Was the Quest for the Golden Fleece a Real Event?

Thu, 2014-12-11 06:05

A recent article in the Quaternary International suggests that the myth of Jason and the Argonauts took its inspiration from an actual voyage that occurred sometime between 3,300 and 3,500 years ago. A team of geologists, led by Avtandil Okrostsvaridze from Ilia State University in Georgia, report that they have found evidence that the Golden Fleece was real and was the product of ancient gold extraction techniques.

But did these scientists find definitive evidence? The Wild Hunt turned to a Ph.D. Candidate in the Centre for Classics and Archaeology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a London-based archaeologist and historian of religion to take a Pagan-friendly look at the paper.

Jason seizing the Golden Fleece. From a fragment of a sarcophagus, National Museum of Rome. [Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen, cc. lic. Wikimedia]

Mythos of the quest for the Golden Fleece
Although there are different written accounts of the quest, the basic myth is as follows. Before the Trojan War, Jason gathered together a group of heroes known as the Argonauts to sail to Aietis’ palace in the Kingdom of Colchis [modern day Georgia] to take the Golden Fleece. The fleece was thought to be from the famed golden-haired, winged ram of Zeus. Jason needed the fleece to restore his father as king of Thessaly in Greece.

Jason and the Argonauts faced many challenges – and fathered many children – during their voyage and received help from Gods and mortals. The most famous person who assisted Jason was Medea, King Aitis’ daughter. After they returned home, Jason sets Medea aside to marry another woman. Medea kills that woman and the children she bore to Jason, and then flees to Athens. Jason’s father takes the throne, but Jason dies, lonely and unloved.

Gold mining theory
In the academic paper, geologist Avtandil Okrostsvaridze stated that the quest was a real voyage to the kingdom of Colchis to learn how they extracted gold from rivers, streams and sand deposits.

The team of geologists carried out an eight-year study to test the theory. They compared geological data and archaeological findings with the myths the kingdom of Colchis. The locals in this region have been using wooden bowls to pour water and sand mixtures over thick sheep’s pelt for thousands of years. The sand, being lighter, washes out, while the heavy gold particles become trapped in the sheep’s wool.

This was not the first time that the “gold mining theory” has been suggested. Back in the second century AD, Roman historian Apian Alexandrine put forth this very theory. Since that time, it has been periodically entertained by archaeologists and historians. Yet this is the very first time that geologists have done a thorough examination to test the theory. Will it hold up to scrutiny?

Ethan Doyle White, is a London-based archaeologist and historian of religion currently engaged in PhD research at University College London (UCL). He has “a particular research interest in the pre-Christian belief systems of Europe and the manner in which they have been interpreted and utilised by contemporary Pagan new religious movements.”  He said:

Having read the original research paper, I’d say that the ScienceAlert article does a fairly good job of accurately summarising its conclusions. However, I must express some concerns regarding the original research paper itself. While I certainly would not go so far as to claim that the arguments presented are invalid, I am concerned by the fact that the paper has been written by geologists and then published in a geological journal. Now, without meaning to knock geology as a discipline, the study of rock strata really doesn’t provide the sort of theoretical and methodological basis needed to analyse the development and origins of ancient mythology, for which a blend of history, archaeology, folkloristics and perhaps also linguistics would be required.

Further, I would pay close attention to the statement in the paper’s acknowledgements: “The authors would like to thank the general director of the mining corporation “Golden Fleece”, Dr Mustafa Mutlu, which has funded this research”. I think that that is potentially very telling; a company with a vested interest in the name and concept of the Golden Fleece was funding the entire project.

Caroline Tully [Courtesy Photo]

Caroline J. Tully, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Centre for Classics and Archaeology at the University of Melbourne, primarily focuses on Aegean Archaeology. However, she is “also interested in the reception of the ancient world, particularly the reception of ancient Egyptian religion.” She said:

Like many non-Classicists, when talking about Classical Literature these authors are clumsy and rather cursory. I don’t think there is any point in trying to match the Argonauts’ journey with the alluvial paning for gold in Colchis using wooden utensils and sheepskin. I don’t think there is any point in claiming that the Argonauts’ journey was “real” – it may have been, it may not have been. As far as I’d go would be to say “The story of the Golden Fleece in the Jason and the Argonauts myth sounds like it may have been inspired by actual techniques of gold collection, using a wooden utensil and a sheepskin, by people who lived in the region of ancient Colchis and who still use that method today.

So, I’m saying that the description of a “golden fleece” in Colchis as it appears in the myth of the Argonauts’ voyage may certainly have been inspired by the actual method of collecting gold in ancient and modern Colchis – as Tim Severin suggested in 1984.  

When asked specifically about the geologists’ research approach, Tully said:

While they are rather cursory on their Classical literature, on the other hand, where the authors of this article have expertise, in their sciency approach to the subject, they seem fine and I would cite them myself. They seem to have done the work and know the topic. I, on the other hand, have no science background so I have to take their word for it. But the article is in a peer reviewed journal, which would suggest that it was of a reasonable scholarly standard. I would trust the authors in their expertise re the geology and mineralogy of Georgia / Colchis. What they’ve said in regards to the sciency angle seems reasonable to me.

I’m not saying their claims about the mythology are wrong, just that they shouldn’t bother trying to specifically match Jason and the Argonaut’s voyage – especially because they are not specialists in Classical Archaeology or Classical Literature… They should stick to their specialty – science.

Tully then went on to speculate more deeply on the theory from both a mythological or historical standpoint. She said:

Surely lots of Greeks went to the corners of the Black Sea. There were Greek colonies all around the Black Sea. That is well known. So, Jason and the Argonauts could be a sort of generic adventure that combines stories from all those sailors’ adventures. I mean there might be evidence of “Jason” over there in Colchis, I don’t recall any inscriptions saying “Jason was here” but there might have been and that would be mentioned in Severin’s book

Jason is quite interesting. His name comes from the root for “medicine” or “doctor” or “healing”, that sort of thing, the root being “Ia” as in “Iatros, or any mediciney word that derives from the Greek root “Ia”. thats “i”, not “L”. Anyway, there is talk that perhaps Jason was originally the magical one who had knowledge of herbs and poisons, rather than (or as well as) Medea.

What Tully is referring to here is a theory proposed by scholar Yulia Ustinova in 2004. In her paper titled Jason the Shaman, Ustinova claims that Jason’s mythical biography define him not only as a hero and a father, but also as having a “shamanic personality.”  She concludes, “The most important functions of a shaman are healing, retrieving of the souls of the sick from the malevolent powers, and escorting the souls of the dead to the nether world … These major elements, initiation period under the tutelage of a skilled shaman and seer, a horrible ordeal, healing talents and a voyage to the netherworld in order to bring back a dead soul and a magical object are present in Jason’s mythic personality.”

The Goddess Athena helping Jason’s ship, terracotta relief, British Museum [Credit: Townley Collection, cc. lic. Wikimedia]

Tully went on to say, “The idea that collecting gold with a sheep skin influenced the story of Jason and the Argonauts is perfectly feasible…” because, as suggested earlier, myths can be based in historical fact. She added as an aside:

Speaking of myths being real.. there’s a great new book out by Adrienne Mayor called “The Amazons.” Classicists have always thought the Amazons were completely mythical, but Mayor, who is a classical scholar, interprets archaeological remains of female warriors from around the Black Sea and into Central Asia as what probably were … the “Amazons” of Greek myth. Of course “myth” doesn’t mean “untrue”… but we mainly tend to think that the bulk of myth is just a story. But its perfectly feasible that myth has components of actual events in it.

While Tully believes that the geologists do make a reasonably good case from a scientific perspective, she said that their work would have been more convincing if they were “better writers” or knew more about “classical literature and archaeology.” Tully also would have liked to have seen a photo of one of the collected fleeces. However she also noted that this failing is not unusual in the academic world. She said:

This is a bit like the spate of articles that came out with varying degrees of dry sciency language when it was discovered that there indeed was a crevice that produced psychoactive gases under the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Because the scientists verified it.. but they aren’t very evocative writers.

In the end Tully summed up her discussion of the topic by saying, “Yes, it is a perfectly reasonable claim which seems to be backed by science. (Well, except that I think they can’t possibly say that it is “proof” that the Argonaut’s story was ‘true”. It’s suggestive that  some of the Argonauts’ story may have had factual components).”

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#blacklivesmatter: reaction and response

Wed, 2014-12-10 10:05

On Dec. 4, Crystal Blanton, a Wild Hunt columnist, author, Priestess and activist, issued a challenge to the Pagan community, as a whole, after noticing “the silence of the Pagan organizations in light of recent unrest.” She said, “This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community … Tonight, I am saying to the Pagan community, I see you. The question is, do you SEE us?”

//

Post by Crystal Blanton.

 

That single Facebook post was a catalyst for an avalanche of response from individuals, small groups and organizations across the nation. Over the past six days nearly 50 public statements and articles have appeared in blogs, websites and Facebook status updates, making this, quite possibly, a historic moment of unprecedented solidarity. Moreover, the responses aren’t limited to the so-called Pagan community. Responses have come from Heathen organizations and Polytheists, as well as a large variety of Pagans from a diversity of traditions.

“The response of many organizations and leaders over the last week has shown something we haven’t really seen before in our community; a willingness to speak up and speak out about the needs of Black people and ethnic minorities,” Crystal said, expressing her surprise.

Due to the number of reactions, it is impossible to share in detail each and every statement or article. It is even more difficult to encapsulate the grief, anger, frustrations, power, hope and even confusion expressed in many of these statements. A full list is included at the bottom. Of course, it is important to also remember that this list is not comprehensive. More statements and discussions are published every day.

Before Blanton issued her call-to-action, several Pagans had already made public statements on the #blacklivesmatter national protest campaign On Nov. 25, T.Thorn Coyle, who wrote an “Open Letter to White America.” In that statement, Coyle called for empathy and compassion, saying, “I pray that we remember: We are responsible for one another’s well-being.” On Nov. 29, Peter Dybing posted a photo of himself holding up sign that read, “White Privliege is real. Stay calm and listen.” Like Thorn, he was speaking to white Americans, asking them to stay silent and listen to those oppressed.

[Courtesy Photo]

Following Dybing’s lead, author Christopher Penczak also posted a photo of himself holding the same sign. He issued a heartfelt statement, saying:

I have tried to take the advice of a friend who said one of the best things we could do, particularly those of us in a place of privilege, is to listen …  I know sometimes I don’t want to, but its so important, particularly at this time. So I thank Peter Dybing for asking me and others to let people know that listening while keeping calm in uncomfortable situations is absolutely necessary at this time. Blessed be.

These statements came shortly after the Ferguson grand jury decision. However, after that announcement was made, other similar incidents made headlines, including the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City and the shooting death of Tamir Rice in Ohio. At that point, the tone of the public conversation changed from simply “stay silent” to “act and acknowledge.” Additionally, the messages, which were originally aimed predominately at white Pagans, also changed direction. This wake-up, so to speak, was expressed by Jenya T. Beachy, who wrote in a blog post, “I’ve fallen prey to the ‘nothing is right to say so say nothing’ theme.”

Crystal Blanton [Courtesy Photo]

After Blanton’s facebook post, most of the first responses came from the blogging world. Similar to Beachy, the writers opened up discussions of the issues, as each of them personally grappled with the reality of the national crisis. Not all of these posts were specifically in response to Blanton’s challenge, but all deal with the situation head-on. Polytheist blogger Galina Krasskova  discusses her obligation, and that of other white citizens, to speak out. Drawing from her religious practice, she wrote that we have an “ancestral obligation to take a stand against racism.”

Other bloggers and writers who responded include Shauna Aura Knight, Jason Mankey, Anomalous Thracian, Sarah Sadie, John Beckett, Kathy Nance, Rhyd Wildermuth, Peter Dybing and Tim Titus. Patheos Pagan Channel has posted a static link list of all posts that reflect on Ferguson and Police Brutality.

Some of the topics raised within these varied articles include white privliege (e.g., Tim Titus and Anomalous Thracian), how it all relates to Paganism (e.g., Jason Mankey and Shauna Aura Knight), and the need for decisive action (e.g., Peter Dybing). Some bloggers, like Tom Swiss at The Zen Pagan, also incorporate a discussion of spirituality. Swiss wrote, “If you’re not outraged by all this, you’re not paying attention.” He goes on to say, “Buddhism realizes the place of wrath, and assigns significant deities to its proper function — the “wrathful deities.”

In addition to bloggers, there was a flood of solidarity statements from individuals and leaders (e.g., Ivo Dominguez, Patrick McCollum, Starhawk); from small groups (e.g., CAYA coven, Circle of Ancestral Magic, Bone and Briar, Vanic Conspiracy) and from national organizations (e.g., Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess, Ár nDraíocht Fein, Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Cherry Hill SeminaryThe Pantheon Foundation and Heathens Against Racism).

Some of these statements were specifically meant as calls-to-action in support of the public protests around the nation. The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood used powerful language saying, in part:

We are angry … We want justice … We who are the priesthood and war band dedicated to the Morrigan stand and take our place in the streets as allies to justice.”While they used strong language in their call to action, the Priesthood also said, “We have hope.

Similar to the Priesthood, Free Cascadia Witchcamp organizers used potent language saying, “We will not be complicit through silence.” They added, “We grieve the irretrievable loss of integrity for all those who participate in, and uphold structural opppression, and we grieve the tragedy of those impacted by it.”

Not everyone used forceful words in their calls for action. The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) asked its membership and friends to “act as partners in the work to create more justice in our broader communities.” They added, “None of us can be truly safe or free when some lives have value and others don’t.” Other similar calls to action, both strongly worded or not, came from Bone & Briar in Pennsylvania, Solar Cross in California, CAYA coven, Patrick McCollum, Cherry Hill Seminary, and others.

Some goups focused their words on recognition and awareness. These statements were in direct response to Blanton’s statement “Do you see us?” In these public expressions, organizations and groups acknowledged bearing witness to injustice and are essentially saying, “We see you.”

This was well-expressed on Polytheist.com, where representatives stated, “We see the harm. We see the fear and the hatred. We see the injustice … Together, we stand for something better.” Circle of Ancestral Magic, Blanton’s own coven, wrote, “We say this most of all to the people most affected by these atrocities. We see you. We hear you, and honor your lived experiences.” Other similar treatments were made by groups such as Vanic Conspiracy and Immanion Press.

Rather than make a comment, Circle Santuary chose a different route. It opened up its regular Tuesday night Circle podcast to host a round-table discussion on racial equality. In retrospect, Rev. Selena Fox said:

Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League are committed to working for a world with freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all, and where people can live in harmony with one another and with the greater circle of nature of which we are all a part.  It is our hope that this solution-focused Pagan community conversation can enhance awareness, inspire considerate communications and encourage effective, collaborative actions to help manifest racial equality

In a statement for Ár nDraíocht Fein (ADF), Rev. Kirk Thomas ended on a spiritual note saying, “We must all look deeply inside ourselves to root out prejudices we have been raised with that linger in the dark. Only then can injustice end. Only then may we all live in peace.”

Several organizations, due to internal processes and the distance between its board members, were unable to issue their statements in time for publication, but told The Wild Hunt that they were currently working on words. These organizations included The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, The Officers of Avalon and The Troth.

Lou Florez

In response to all this activity Lou Florez, a spiritual counselor, rootworker, Orisha priest, told The Wild Hunt,

I wish I could say that these acts of violence, racism, aggression, and brutality on black bodies were rare, but unfortunately, they are not. These experiences are the lived reality for a vast majority of People of Color. While it is very touching to see the outpouring of support, discussion and commitments, I see this as just the beginning of a first step. As witches, Pagans, magicians, conjurers, and clergy we are mandated to transform the world as we transform ourselves. It’s time to awaken to the ramifications and reality of power, privilege and oppression in our circles, and communities.

Turning back to Blanton, we asked what she thought of this flurry of reaction to her Facebook comment, as well as the opening up of conversations and the calls to action. She said, with a hopeful tone, “I am so humbled to see such clear, fast and strong responses and it renews my hope that we might be able to actually do something together with that energy in our community.”

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The following is a list of the public (only) statements, posts and articles that were issued since Dec. 4 and referenced above. This is not an exhaustive list and more statements will undoubtedly surface over the days to come.

Coru Cathubodu

Bone and Briar

Free Cascadia Witch Camp

Immanion Press

The Family of the Forge in the Forest

The Firefly House

Shauna Aura Knight

Hexenfest and Pandemonaeon

Vanic Conspiracy

Heathens United Against Racism

Polytheist.com

The Troth

CAYA Coven

Solar Cross

Anomalous Thracian

Starhawk

Pantheon

ADF

Circle Sanctuary

CUUPS

Peter Dybing

T. Thorn Coyle

Jason Mankey

Courtney Weber

Patrick McCollum

Officers of Avalon

Jenya T. Beachy

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel

Covenant of the Goddess

Christopher Penczak

Tea & Chanting Sangha/Dharma Pagans

Lykeia

Galina Krasskova

Cherry Hill Seminary

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Tim Titus

Lydia Crabtree

John Beckett

Rhyd Wildermuth

Kathy Nance

Tom Swiss

Circle of Ancestral Magic

Sarah Sadie

Aquarian Tabernacle Church

The Pantheon Foundation

 

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Can The Satanic Temple Teach Pagans About PR?

Tue, 2014-12-09 06:42

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA –The Satanic Temple struck another blow for religious equality when it secured the right to erect a Satanic holiday display in Florida’s capitol. It will sit alongside a display celebrating the birth of Jesus, the noodly appendages of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and a pole marking Festivus. This is the same Satanic organization that has previously offered to make a bronze statue of Baphoment for the Oklahoma capitol, announced it would distribute Satanic literature to Florida schoolchildren, and performed same-sex weddings over the grave of Fred Phelps’ mother. Reviled by stalwart Christians and mistrusted by other Satanists, The Satanic Temple invariably makes a media splash when it comments on the separation of church and state.

So many Pagans have spent time either rehearsing or actually having conversations explaining how Paganism differs from Satanism. Therefore it is no surprise that The Satanic Temple has received negative reactions from Pagans. But is there anything this group can teach Pagans about public relations or defending religious freedom?

To find out, we first asked how this organization relates to Pagans, if at all. The spokesperson for the temple, who goes by the name Lucien Greaves, explained that there’s always been a bit of push back from Pagans:

It happens less now — probably because of our apparent successes — but in the beginning, we would receive occasional messages from Pagans and Atheists, both concerned that our activities were attaching their own values or symbols to a caricature of ultimate evil. The concern seems to be that, by invoking Satanism, we serve to justify the worst fears born of superstitious bigotry.

The notion that we should coddle such divisive witch-hunting impulses by maintaining a taboo against Satanism is, I feel, a completely backward approach. In fact, there is a culture of Satanism, culled from various elements, including Pagan symbols. The identification with Satanism isn’t arbitrary to the point that we feel it could simply be exchanged for a more palatable label. Satan symbolizes unsilenced inquiry, rebellion against tyranny, and personal freedom.

For a Pagan, or any other minority religion, to openly engage in efforts to distance themselves from Satanism serves only to affirm the misguided notion that Satanism stands for cruelty, abject depravity, and unabashed evil. As Satan, mythologically, stands in opposition to the Biblical God’s authority, Satanism too is feared to challenge Biblical doctrines of faith. To concede that such opposition must, by its nature, be corrupt and criminal is to conversely affirm that traditional religious institutions hold a monopoly on moral virtue.

In fact, we feel our campaigns embrace the highest of moral callings — from gay rights, to women’s rights, to the protection of children against institutionalized abuse. In each of these cases, we fight against regressive mainstream religious thinking. I think that by embracing Satanism, we represent another phase in our civilization’s social growth. This is another step toward ensuring that each individual is judged for his or her actual actions in the real world, free of fear from persecution for symbolic crimes and/or “blasphemy.” If our past has taught us anything, it’s that the most cruel and evil acts are committed not at the hands of secret religious minorities, but by the witch-hunters whose paranoia allows them to imagine such minorities are willfully acting against the common good.

With that background, we asked a few Pagans and Polytheists the following question. What can Pagans learn from The Satanic Temple? It turns out that they had a lot to say.

Author and activist T. Thorn Coyle recognizes the activism in the temple’s work:

T. Thorn Coyle

The Satanic Temple is approaching the public square head on, with no apologies. I appreciate that. Their take on things is, “OK. Religious materials in schools? Here’s an educational children’s book that we are handing out. You ruled that it was fine,” and, “Monumental religious statues at the state capitol? Here is one of our own.” They are also mobilizing around issues such as reproductive rights and the rights of children to not suffer corporal punishment.

The Satanic Temple are unapologetically themselves and move ahead by assuming they already have the same civil rights as other religions. In approaching the public sphere in this way, they serve to highlight where the real cracks in the wall of “separation of church and state” are. The Satanic Temple, by acting forthrightly, are taking a hammer and chisel to those cracks. For this, I applaud them.

Philosopher Hannah Arendt spoke of the need to become ‘conscious pariahs’ rather than parvenues (assimilationists) or pariahs outcast by society. The conscious pariah rejects and directly challenges the status quo, not from petulant rebellion, but because the status quo is corrupt. There is great power in choosing to be a conscious pariah. I see some Pagan groups wishing to be “just like everyone else” and that can take away some of the power and bite we have in not being like everyone else. The role of the conscious challenger is important to society. I think that Pagans could take some lessons from the ways the Satanic Temple are issuing their challenges and refusing to assimilate. They are acting from their power, rather than begging for it or giving it away.

Their most recent holiday display, though? I find it offensive. Why? It’s bad art.

Kirk White, author and (now unaffiliated) founder of Cherry Hill Seminary also appreciates that The Satanic Temple is true to its path:

Rev. Kirk White

I have long been an advocate for Pagans walking a middle path. On the one hand, I think it behooves and benefits us to resist being cast as ‘other, outcast, the antithesis of normal.’ On the other hand we absolutely must retain our integrity and not sell out those features of our beliefs and practices that define and distinguish us just to gain respectability and acceptance. And of course, we must always be willing to stand up against institutional oppression.

What the Satanic Temple is doing greatly benefits religious freedom across the spectrum and Pagans should support those and similar efforts. Their outrageous, funny, ‘in your face’ approach is proving effective. But they do so purposefully building on their otherness and with no expectation of being accepted or even taken seriously as a religion. Their social power is in their marginality and their oppositional approach. If Pagans decide to replicate their ‘in your face’ approach we allow the overculture to define us in contrast to themselves rather on our own unique qualities and merits. We become the enemy rather than the neighbors. We should support them, but I do not believe that we should replicate their methods.

Boeotian polytheist and Neo-Cyrenaic Ruadhán J McElroy would like to see more people pushing boundaries:

Ruadhán J McElroy

I pretty much only know the highly publicized activities of The Satanic Temple, but from that alone, I think between that and the later, philosophy-focused writings of LaVey, it would do the Pagan Community, and all pagans, polytheists, and others involved in alternative religion, a lot of good to do more questioning of the status quo and pushing boundaries of both society and oneself. Sometimes comfort zones exist for a reason, but a lot of times we construct them as a crutch, which does us no good.

If a person who can walk chooses to instead live in a wheelchair, their muscles atrophy and they come to need extensive physical therapy to be able to walk again, and if a wheelchair bound person doesn’t get certain physical therapies and daily time in a standing frame, they open themselves up to all sorts of health issues, from muscle spasms to potentially fatal blood clots. With my chronic back pain, you have no idea how much I want to just give up and get a wheelchair, some days, but if I can at all walk through the pain, I make myself cos it’s better for me to walk than to not. Since we clearly need to do physical things every day that push our boundaries, lest we risk atrophy or worse, we also have to push our boundaries mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and of the culture we are in. Or as the Cyreniacs might say, sometimes you gotta make a little rough motion to make a big smooth motion.

It’s good that The Satanic Temple is willing to push those boundaries of the culture in such a public way, though I wish I could say at this point that I’m disappointed that I’ve not seen as many pagans and polytheists doing similar –I’m too used to pagans (and especially Pagans) who are content with the status quo and too fearful of rocking any boats, even if someone set the starboard on fire and you gotta douse it (like what’s been going on in Missouri), to be disappointed in pagans, anymore.

Ritualist and speaker Shauna Aura Knight thinks it’s worth learning how The Satanic Temple handles the media:

Shauna Aura Knight

The Satanic Temple effectively uses shock and the legal system to their advantage. There are few Pagan groups out there with much media savvy, and fewer still able bankroll lawyers. I have a background in marketing work, and I’d say that The Satanic Temple is cleverly using the fact that many people think that Satanists are about the worst thing ever. Specifically, they’re using the outrage to call attention to infringements on the separation between church and state.

It’s pretty clear that the dominant religions want those infringements—so long as it’s their own religion. When TST introduces themselves into that infringement they appall people. It’s incredibly effective tactic as an activist. You want prayers before city council meetings… religious holiday scenes…statuary at public buildings? You want to give out religious texts at school? You want your religion to provide a legal loophole supporting your beliefs on contraception and abortion?

Ok. Then Satanists can do that too. People rarely see a problem with the status quo until provoked.

This strategy of contrast doesn’t work quite as well for Pagans because most Pagans have been trying hard to put out the PR that we’re not that bad, we’re good people. Satanists don’t seem afraid of their own bad press and use it to further their goals.

However, Pagans can still effect the same legal pressuring which could provoke the, “If I have to include you, then we just won’t have any prayers at all.” However, that still requires us to have professional media and PR folks as well as lawyers on retainer.

What we can learn from The Satanic Temple is that with trained media professionals and a legal budget, we too can combat the system. TST understands a strategic aspect of activism; sometimes you have to play the legal game. TST grasps the rules of the system and is willing to exploit those rules and find the loopholes. We can do this too with enough budget and expertise.

Knight’s comments about being able to “bankroll lawyers” was not a unique sentiment, but Greaves says it’s not entirely deserved.

Our cadre of lawyers (from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) representing us in Florida were pro bono, working for us at no charge, simply because they believed strongly in our position. To be clear, it would be a mistake to think that these lawyers were motivated by the prospect of receiving compensation in the form of monetary damages from the lawsuit. In fact, we weren’t seeking monetary damages at all, only to secure the right to place our holiday display in the Capitol Rotunda. And this, largely, is how we’ve managed to get so many things done: our campaigns have resonated deeply with people who support our positions, to the point that they will volunteer their efforts, even if many of them don’t care to identify as Satanists themselves.

In the case of the Baphomet monument, we crowd-funded around $30k through Indiegogo, after which we found an amazing sculptor who was willing to work on the project at-cost. Even with that solid foundation, the monument ended up costing 10s of thousands more. I, and the other core membership of The Satanic Temple, have consistently put significant amounts of our own money into our campaigns. It seems we’re always scraping up the bottom dollar to push things through, but we keep moving forward. Despite the heavy burden this imposes, we think that the imposition of dues for religious affiliation is inappropriate. We sell merchandise in hopes of generating revenue toward our campaigns, but this hasn’t proven lucrative by any means. We clearly have the beginnings of some enormous legal battles now in the works, for which we have set up a legal fund.

As for Greaves’ advice for Pagans talking to the media, he recommends, “Stay on point and control the dialogue. Don’t be pulled into superfluous and irrelevant arguments. If you’re asked an unreasonable question, simply answer with whatever message you wish to put forward, whether it addresses the question in any way or not.” He might file all questions about theology under ‘unreasonable,’ because he also says, “Move away from meticulously describing what it is you believe and practice. Your material has long been publicly available to the genuinely curious. You simply do not have to justify your religious perspective to anybody to assert your rights as equally regarded citizen[s].”

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Pagan Community Notes: Community Statements on Justice, New Alexandrian Library, The Druid Network plus much more!

Mon, 2014-12-08 08:35

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

On Dec. 4, Crystal Blanton, Wild Hunt columnist, Priestess, writer, and long-time activist, issued a challenge to the collective Pagan communities, saying “This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community, and society, by saying… we see you. We are not ignoring you, we are not staying silent.” Over the past four days, a growing number of individuals, groups and organizations have responded by publishing statements of solidarity, open letters and personal blog posts.

The Wild Hunt will be covering this story in detail in the coming week as others organizations and individuals are currently finalizing their own words. Some of statements already published include those by Starhawk, T. Thorn Coyle, Pantheon Foundation, CAYA covenSolar Cross, Ár nDraíocht Féin, and more. Stay tuned for more on this subject.

*   *   *

The New Alexandrian Library announced that it has received its certificate of occupancy. The statement read, in part, “This means we are now ready to do the final walkthrough with the contractor; to begin the process of moving in shelves, furniture, books and artwork; and to think about a grand opening. We want to thank everyone who worked so hard and so long to make this dream a reality, who believed that the ASW could create such a resource for the Magickal Community.”

Additionally, the library has launched a new fundraising campaign for its 2015 Gala to be held at Sacred Space on Mar. 7 at the Hunt Valley Inn in Maryland.

*   *   *

The Druid Network announced that it has compiled and recreated the shared liturgy of the now closed Solitary Druid Fellowship (SDF). Shut down in September, SDF was an experimental project for solitary Druids and an extension of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). As explained on the Druid Network website, “The Fellowship provided free liturgies for each of the Eight High Days of the Pagan Wheel of the Year, each based on ADF’s Core Order of Ritual.”

In the spirit of digital archiving and preserving important work, members of The Druid Network have uploaded all of these liturgies in one location for easy download. Organizers said, “It was such an excellent resource – not only for ADF druids – but for the whole community.” They also added that, if SDF should re-emerge, they will be happy to pass on the files to the new founders.

In Other News:

  • Over the past two weeks, Facebook has shut down several Pagan accounts as part of the enforcement of its “real name policy.” A number of people were targeted in this sweep, including authors Raven Grimassi and Storm Constantine. Speculation continues as to how and why this happens.
  • Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the opening of registration for spring classes. This registration is for both the masters courses toward a degree, as well as they four-week insight classes for non-seminary students.
  • Rootworker and Orisha Priest Lou Florez will be taking a pilgrimage to Nigeria. In an interview with Erick DuPree, Florez said, “…an invitation has been extended to travel to Nigeria in February with an esteemed elder and teacher, and to take the high priesthood initiation in IFA, the root of all Orisha religions. In addition to receiving this once-in-a-lifetime spiritual elevation, I will also train in traditional medicine making, and herbalism from elder priestesses and priests.” Florez has started a fundraising campaign to help fund the trip.
  • The deadline for submission to Paganicon 5 and Twin Cities Pagan Pride annual Third Offering sacred art exhibition is drawing near. As organizers explain, “Inspired to gather and create beauty as our third offering to our Gods and our community, this exhibition welcomes all types of visual media by artists who are capable of expressing a Pagan or polytheistic aesthetic.” The deadline is Jan. 1. The exhibition will be held at Paganicon, Mar.13-15.
  • Tea & Chanting Sangha is “is doing 100,000 recitations of OM MANI PADME HUM to create healing and change regarding police brutality:” The organization “integrates Pagan and Tibetan Buddhist practices.” Throughout the month, organizers will tally the number of recitations, whether recited together or individually. They encourage people to participate or join them on line. As of Dec. 7, they have done 13,075 recitations.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

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Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Citizen Archivist

Sun, 2014-12-07 07:09

On Nov. 15 at the Witchfest International, the Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) launched a new program to capture the history of the “mother of modern Witchcraft in the United Kingdom.” Over time the Foundation’s trustees have been collecting fragments of Doreen Valiente’s legacy, through her possessions and writings. Now they are looking to the public. They have asked people to digitally record their memories and stories to demonstrate “What Doreen Means to Me!”


“It’s so important that newcomers to Witchcraft and Paganism are aware of their heritage, if we don’t keep talking about Doreen and Gerald and the people who put their life into creating the Pagan community we have today then who will?” said Ashely Mortimer, a trusteee of DVF. He continued to say that DVF organizers felt that “this was a great way for people to express their feelings about one of the founders of our modern traditions and to help new people come to learn about the roots of modern Paganism.”

Currently, DVF has a play list on You Tube Channel with an introduction video starring trustee John-Belham Payne. In his short 1:45 intro, Payne shares one of his own memories, as well as asking others to join him. He says, “all of these little stories will help make a larger picture of Doreen the person, as well as Doreen the witch and poet, and High Priestess.”

DVF began filming these segements themselves at Witchfest, but has received more since. The trustees are currently uploading the new videos as fast as possible. At this time, there are eight available segments, each ranging from 2-4 minutes and each containing a short story about a personal encounter with Valiente.

Included in these videos is one by Janet Farrar, who reveals Valiente’s love of football (soccer). The amusing tale includes the unlikely combination of Ray Buckland, a bouquet of flowers and the World Cup. Through this video, we get a peak into Valiente’s own life through Farrar’s eyes, as well as a look at Farrar’s own personality as a storyteller.

The other seven videos include stories from Gavin Bone, Melissa and Rufus Harrington, Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal and Colin, who drove Valiente to an event and ended up befriending her. The DVF trustees are pleased with the early response to the project and are looking forward to hearing more from the extended community. The Foundation’s website says, “The first way to contribute is to make a short video of yourself telling the world what Doreen Valiente means to you personally.”

Why are they doing this now? Mortimer said, “Simply because we thought it was a great idea and one we’d not had in detail previously. We’re a small team, and we like to think we always deliver beyond our resources. We just hadn’t thought about doing this until now.”

Not only will the acquired information, memories and stories be available online or in a future DVF museum, but they will also be incorporated into a future biography. Author Philip Hesleton has recently taken on the role of Valiente’s official biographer. According to DVF, Heselton “has been researching through the Foundation archives and many other sources.”

The Doreen Valiente Foundation is using is a relatively new technique in archiving and recording history, one that takes full advantage of the proliferation of digital technology and internet connectivity. Such projects, which began popping up ten years ago, use crowdsourcing methodologies to build, update and enhance their catalogs of the human experience.

For example, The National Archives is currently looking for “citizen archivists” who have previously taken digital photos of some their logged material. The website says, “If you have taken scans or photographs of records you can help make them accessible to the public and other researchers by sharing your images with the National Archives Citizen Archivist ResearchGroup on Flickr.” At many archives, museums and libraries, the hired professionals do not have enough time to digitize all the stored materials. To speed up the process, they’ve turned to the public for help.

According to Jan Zastrow, an archivist and librarian in Washington D.C.:

Crowdsourcing in archives and special collections can take the form of transcribing handwritten documents, indexing genealogical records, identifying people and places in photos, correcting optical character recognition (OCR) errors in digitized newspaper collections, tagging or captioning historical images, adding pictorial content to maps, transcribing oral histories, and much more.

Similar to the DVF, the Atlanta History Center has asked the public for personal photos and videos, in order to better tell the city’s rich history. The Center maintains a community database to which people can upload their images of Atlanta. This database is part of an album, which already “contains 16,000 photographs from 84 collections of the Kenan Research Center … The images document people, places, and events in Atlanta, and the state of Georgia from 1863 to 1992.”

The Atlanta History Center is also part of wider movement to record people’s stories, part of the StoryCorps initiative. Since its inception in 2003, StoryCorps has facilitated, “collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with over 90,000 participants.” The digitally captured tales are stored at the American Folklore Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps has also partnered with NPR to air many of these tales. According to the website, the organization is one of the “largest oral history projects.”

The Doreen Valiente Foundation’s newly launched video project is another example of an oral history project. This is a uniquely contemporary method of capturing human experience through the everyday person before it gets lost in time. In fact, there is now even a push to create digital archives of one’s own personal history. Columbia University Libraries has a resource guide to personal archiving.

While opponents are quick to point out that one digital error can “can obscure a document from researchers forever,” as noted by Zastrow, digital archiving and oral story projects are becoming more prevalent. The format allows libraries to house more material, offer research over the internet and capture a greater amount of human history with, perhaps, a never before seen level of detail.

For relatively new religious movements with short histories, citizen archiving and digital oral recordings may prove beneficial, even crucial, to preserving the past. At this point, there are only a few places in which someone can perform any archival research specifically on Pagan, Polytheist, or Heathen collective religious practices, traditions, organization, events and groups. Much of that data – that history – is still scattered around the world, in personal homes and in basements, and much of it is not even written down.

Could citizen archival projects and “oral history recordings,” as being used by the Doreen Valiente Foundation, provide a way to capture that history for future generations? Julie Belham Payne, a trustee of the Foundation, believes so.  She says, “For me it is an important project and these testimonies must be recorded before they are lost forever.”

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Column: Grey is Every Blue

Sat, 2014-12-06 03:50

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  G.K. Chesterton–Orthodoxy

I.

Over the past few years, there’s a place I’ve frequently gone to think. Or rather, not to think. Or not to think in that way; the way required of us to go to work every day, to pay bills, to negotiate living in a city full of others so close that their thoughts become your own for a little while.

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

It’s a rectangular pool, shallow, framed by a low stone wall. It’s just beyond a chapel on a Catholic university campus, and ever since I first came upon it, some 15 years ago, it’s always “felt” sacred.

The surface of the water reflects the sky near perfectly; the sort of mirror that we’ve always had before we learned to polish glass. And the reflection, in perpetually sodden Seattle, is grey-blue; greys made of every blue, the ocean of the sky.

I’ve come to this place hundreds of times, at all hours. I work a quarter-mile from the campus where it sits, and I sometimes suspect my job would be much more difficult without the lunch breaks where I sit at its side and forget the stress of being a social worker.

II.

I was gone from Seattle for a year, first on pilgrimage, and then a few months to visit family, and then a few more months in the strange, spirit-drenched town of Eugene, Oregon. I returned early this summer. The pool was one of the first places I made certain to visit, a call upon an old, dearly-missed friend. Like all such returns after distance and time, I feared the place might have changed somehow, or I had changed and would not find it quite as comfortable, quite as sacred and calming now that I’d seen 1500 year-old wells and 4000 year-old standing stones.

Perhaps I would find it to be not quite as numinous, less magical, maybe a mere plastic Disney version of the old world.

But then I saw the undine rising from its waters, the spirit who’d dwelt there long before I ever knew it was there.

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

This is maybe the part where you stop reading and decide I’m crazy, even though you’re a Pagan and sorta believe in things like undines. Or it’s the part where you begin to sort of rationalize my words, translating them into something which fits slightly better into your beliefs.

Or maybe, you’ve met one as well; or nymphs or dryads, perhaps one of the Fae, or even if you dared (and also, in my experience, even if you didn’t dare) a god.

To describe precisely what I saw is not exactly easy. “Saw” implies vision, the faculty by which light (and only light) is translated into signals in the human brain. To “see” something, then, is to visually identify the way light reflects and refracts off surfaces, and by this we verify that something is in front of us, or is a certain color, or is a tree or a building.

If that were the only faculty by which we could verify the existence of something, however, no blind person could know anything except as relayed to them by others. I could tell a blind friend there was a step in front of them, and they would have to have faith in my words in order to know this.

But there are other ways of finding out if the surface before you is uneven. Touch works quite well for this as does falling, though the latter is much less preferable. This would be the same if a car was coming at my blind friend. Fortunately, hearing could confirm this fact as well, before the touch of impact was required to verify this truth.

If I am not dishonest, the vision-impaired companion can rely on my statements. And I am no jerk. I would not intentionally trick a blind person at the top of a stairwell.

[Credit: R.Wildermuth]

Lacking a particular sense is no barrier to comprehending the world, though it can sometimes be a barrier to conversing about the world. Certain perspectives considered universal cannot be fully understood, but only accepted. If I’ve never seen “blue-grey,” I would have to rely on the descriptions by (or, better, the emotions evoked in) others when they speak of that color.

But even among eyes, colors are hardly universal, nor our aesthetic preferences regarding them. Few people I know call a grey sky blue, but I do. Grey clouds seem to me composed of so many blues together that one cannot possibly call them not-blue.

But to speak to someone about all these brilliant and otherworldly blues together can turn, sometimes, into an argument.  Someone might only see grey, might ‘know ‘what grey is, might be certain that grey cannot be anything else, or definitely not blue unless it is specifically grey-blue, or blue-grey. If they tell me I am wrong about those blues, I might respond with anger or defensiveness.

“No,” I might say. “I see hundreds of blues which make grey.” 

Or more truthfully “I see both hundreds of blues making many greys.”

And if I could not convince that person, it’d be wisest of me to shrug. Perhaps some people just don’t see as many blues as I do, or see grey as some monolithic color and cannot see the myriad of blues behind them.

III.

What did I see at the pool?

With my eyes I saw likely what everyone else sees, though maybe they don’t see so many blues in the grey clouds reflecting upon its surface. I saw the same thing that I “saw” for years, sitting by that pool on lunch breaks, when I needed to think or not to think.

Sometimes I’d take friends there, a lover or another, staring at the sky-on-water while talking, or not talking at all. I’m sure we all saw mostly the same thing, though one or two of my companions hinted about some presence in the pool. It seemed likely; they seemed trustworthy, the sort of people who I’d believe if I were blind and crossing a street or climbing a hill with them.

I didn’t see anything, though. Not till a few months ago.

I didn’t start out trying to see gods and spirits and the dead. The gods just sort of appeared, a sudden presence re-arranging everything in your mind so severely, a flood of different impulses which made me think I was going crazy.

Brighid was like a strange light and constant laughter, the source of which I could never find; a kind and inexplicable warmth from the “universe” around me despite how chill and otherwise despairing my circumstances seemed.

Brân felt like a force or a physical push; a “feeling” of black and red; an occasional unheard voice telling me that the car about to hit me wouldn’t, and the relentless inability not to notice every crow I came upon on the streets.

Dionysos sort of exploded around me in revelry. Everything seems to go “right” when He shows up, but it’s toward something, some meeting, some relentless repeating encounter. Faces change around you. You see a face and also another face. You sit in a crowded room and make sense of the patterned laughter or are alone and feel the trees breathing on you. More than any of the gods I’ve met, he makes words seem no longer to fit, like they’ll collapse under so much contained meaning.

But to say all these things makes me sound “crazy” or it may seem I’m trying to hide my meaning behind too many words. You’ll have to believe me that I’m doing the best I can here.

After so many gods, the Dead might have seemed easy, but they weren’t. When the dead surround you and flow through you, into others to get their attention, you (I mean me) think you are going to die, or think you want to die. There are sudden thoughts of suicide, which were so foreign I knew that they were “outside” me. So many strangers mistake me for someone they knew that even very cynical companions found it bizarre. Then one stranger asks me to take a drive with him so he can tell me about his friend’s suicide, and then others tell me about how I remind them of a dead friend for some reason, and….

There were no dead in my vision. That is, with my ocular senses, I could not “see” the dead. But they were undoubtedly there.

IV.

So…this undine.

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

I turned the corner, and it rose from the pool to greet me.

I heard it, though not with my ears, the water spilling off its form back into the pool. I felt the gravity of its presence; the sense of another being nearby, just out of your sight. It’s like the feeling you get when someone stands behind you; the feeling of being watched just before you turn to see them.

And what I “saw?” I saw both the pool without the undine and also the pool with the undine.

I closed my eyes, and it was still there. I opened them, and it was there again.

That “image,” or “sight” or “vision” both utterly surprised me, but also didn’t. I’d been coming to that pool for more than a decade, taking in the presence of the place, finding my mind wandering always to thoughts of otherworldly things, receiving insights and sometimes visions as I watched students interact with it, or the play of clouds upon its surface. Why wouldn’t such a thing dwell in the pool?

I feel little need to convince others of what I’ve seen, because I myself hadn’t seen it for so long. And I don’t always see it, and I don’t think I need to. I know when it’s there and we talk. It tells me things, and I do things for it. But mostly I just sit and listen, and continue to watch the play of light upon the surface of the water.

To see something that isn’t “there” to the eyes is a strange thing. Relying only on our traditional senses, one could certainly suggest I’m making such a thing up, or because no-one else standing with me has “seen” it (regardless of how many have “suspected” it’s there), one could insist that empirical evidence would be needed to verify its existence.  Confirmation from independent researchers might work, or perhaps an evaluation of my mental health, the testing the chemical make-up of the water or using other instruments to try to see what cannot be seen with the eyes.

This is where “belief” comes in, but it isn’t what we mostly mean when we speak of belief.

Before I saw the undine, I did not believe there were undines. Enough people I trust had attested to their existence that I suspected it was quite likely. The world that I live in allows for such things, just as it allows for the possibility that there are no such things.

But when I met one, it no longer mattered to me whether or not I “thought” they existed or “believed” they existed. Nor did I need to do much work to fit its existence into what I already understood the world to be.

That is, I don’t “believe” there’s an undine in the pool, but I’m a lot more likely to believe other people when they tell me they’ve met undines in other pools. It’s been the same thing for gods and the dead–I no longer start from a place of doubt or need to translate their accounts into something more palatable to my own understanding of the world.

I choose to accept their existence, having seen one myself.

[Credit: R. Wildermuth]

V.

Others might believe it’s there too, even if they do not get such a clear vision of its presence. Perhaps reading this, you accept my story as-is, finding it comparable to experiences of your own. Or you’ve already formulated your commentary; your way of transcribing my experience to fit into your idea of what the world is, to seal off my aberrant experience into wishful thinking, mental instability, or just grand poetic metaphor.

Or maybe, hopefully, you’re inspired to go sit for years by the reflective surface of a sacred pool to meet one, too.

My experience is likely not your experience, and that’s fine. Also, the consequences of the existence of this particular undine matters little to the everyday lives of most people. My life’s rather enriched by meeting it — the conversations we’ve had and the gifts we’ve given each other have certainly made my world much larger.

But it makes me wonder. When others tell me things I haven’t experienced, how often do I seal off or quarantine their accounts so they do not change my beliefs on how the world works?

How much do we do this even with experiences of humans to with other humans, let alone the Otherworld?

When a black friend tells me they get harassed by cops daily, do I accept their account as true, or do I dismiss it because I don’t want to accept the implications of such a world? When I hear people telling me that America is a very racist place, do I discount their stories because I’m white and don’t experience it first hand?

I’ve seen black friends and First Nations friends get harassed by police. Once, a bi-racial friend of mine was thrown to the ground in an intersection as police with assault rifles aimed at him (mistaken identity, they told us later). We stood, unable to help him. My gay friend started filming, and I stood helpless as a police officer bashed his head against a wall, shouting, “I said stop filming, faggot.”

So, I guess it’s a little easier for me to accept the accounts of others, even if I’ve never personally been victim to that violence. My world is big enough to comprehend such a thing occurs, and I do not need to dismiss others’ stories, even if I haven’t witnessed their experiences.

Violence against blacks is much more common than seeing undines, unfortunately, but should be easier to believe.

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Hashtag Pagan: Enter the Millennial Generation

Fri, 2014-12-05 07:18

[Today we welcome our newest columnist, Mary Shoup. Mary lives in Washington State, where she volunteers for the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. She recently graduated from Western Washington University’s Huxley College with a degree in Environmental Studies/Journalism and currently works full-time as an editor. Her monthly column #Pagan will focus on the youngest sectors of our collective communities, with articles that highlight their work and discuss their concerns. Welcome, Mary.]

Millennials have grown up in a constant state of change. With the seemingly never-ending release of the newest and biggest gadget, and the steady influx of information, we have become accustomed to changes that appear to come out of nowhere.

Having grown up in that near-constant flux, we have learned that it’s not hard to push for change one way or another. It only takes a few people standing up and saying “This isn’t the way it should be” to get others moving in a new direction. Through our history books, we saw this happen with Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X – cases in which a few strong voices motivated a nation into action.

[Photo Credit: Kyle Mooney, Jess Debski / Flickr]

As a generation, Millennials have started to address issues of money in politics, empowering the homeless, and much more. We’ve been vocal in the big issues and not backed down, demanding change in response to tragic events, such as the events currently in Ferguson, Hong Kong and Mexico.

Change has become an integral part of the millennial generation through embracing it, much like how Wicca, as I learned it, embraces change as a core tenant.

With the recent deaths of Margot Adler and Pete Pathfinder Davis, many Pagan communities have been forced to see the changes that they have gone through over the past few decades. We are no longer made up of the same groups of people that were once fighting for the right to exist. We exist. We are, in many ways, recognized. Now we need to look forward into the future, and see what more we can do.

And that’s where we are headed. The newest generation of postulants and dedicants are Millennials, those who have embraced the ever-changing nature of our world and have tried to fill whatever needs are seen. My own college group Western Washington University Pagans holds quarterly fundraisers, donating half of what is raised such as, Planned Parenthood or the Whatcom Humane Society. The group also has representatives sitting on the WWU interfaith panel, Ask Us Anything. We saw a need to reach out, to donate and to have more representation, and we fulfilled it.

At the same, Millennials have never known many of the early leaders in their prime. People exploring, dedicating or beginning clergy-training now will never have known Isaac Bonewits or Morning Glory Zell-Ravenhart, or if they have met them, it wasn’t quite in their glory days.

I met Pete Davis a handful of times before his death. And, from all accounts, I never really met him. By the time I did, he no longer had the energy to talk for hours on the phone with community leaders. I will always be left saying, yes, I knew him, but not as well as I would have liked.

However, these elders and leaders of the past have left behind a legacy, one that will write their history. Millennials will learn from that history, through the rose-colored glasses of their students. While we’ll never know exactly what they would have said in response to current events, we can speculate. And, the generation in between, our current leaders, can be both our greatest ally in this or one of our biggest hurdles. Hopefully they will bridge the gap and enable Millennials to make their dreams possible.

It’s a daunting prospect, to be moving forward not quite knowing if the direction we’re taking is the direction that those early leaders intended.

Circle Sanctuary. [Photo: Paula Jean West]

But that’s okay.

Because while we should never forget what those early leaders struggled through to get us to where we are today, there is a time to move forward. Millennials will bring the concept of change, one that we’ve grown up with, into our spiritual practices. We will form our own ideas, and voice our own opinions with regards to the present. When we’ve done that, we will grow and expand beyond our founders’ and leaders’ wildest dreams.

Belladonna Laveau, the archpriestess of the ATC, has a saying, “When you see a need, it’s the Goddess’ way of saying it’s your duty to fill that need.” Millennials, as a generation, have already internalized this. We’ve come to realize that change is possible, and that if we want it to happen, we need to step up and fill that need.

So what needs do Millennials see? There are so many, varied and determined by the community around us. We will find the needs specific to our own areas, like WWU Pagans did. We will be that change we wish to see in the world. And we should never forget – it’s our world, our religion, now.

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Wiccan Inmate Suing Massachusetts Department of Corrections

Thu, 2014-12-04 06:44

Unfortunately, the case will not be whether he should get ten kinds of cake, but rather whether it is legitimate to ask for cake as a part of Wiccan ritual. If the court rules against him, it will be taking away the rights of all Pagans in Massachusetts prisons to celebrate the ceremony of cakes and ale which is a fundamental Wiccan practice with a long history. – Pagan Chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum

A Wiccan man serving time at MCI-Norfolk since 1987 for a  triple murder is suing the Massachusetts Department of Corrections for allegedly infringing on his religious rights. Daniel LaPlante says prison officials are interfering with his ability to practice the Wiccan religion by preventing him from obtaining specific ritual oils, herbs, teas, medallions, and a variety of cakes for his faith. He also says they are preventing him from practicing his faith in the “time, place and manner” that the Wiccan religion requires.

Wiccan Altar [Photo Credit: Angie Armstrong/Flickr]

Without those items, LaPlante claims he won’t be able to stay in the Coven Communal Wicca Group, which meets weekly in the prison. LaPlante also maintains he also needs to be able to worship during certain moon phases, such as new and full moons.

In 2013, LaPlante’s attempt to sue the DOC failed. In recent weeks, both LaPlante and the Department of Corrections (DOC) have filed motions for summary judgment, asking the judge to end the lawsuit by ruling in their favor. There is no date set when Judge William G. Young will make a decision.

Prison officials do admit that they haven’t provided some of the items, but quickly add that many items on LaPlante’s list are considered contraband. They also say that they are following guidelines in the DOC’s Religious Services Handbook, which is used to evaluate inmate religious requests for commonly practiced religions. Wicca is included in the handbook.

The Wild Hunt spoke with Pagan Chaplain and activist Rev. Patrick McCollum about the case, and what it means for the religious rights of Pagan prisoners. Rev. McCollum trains state and federal prison religion directors each year, and he says accommodating Wiccan and Pagan practices is the number one request.

Patrick McCollum [Courtesy Photo]

We first asked Rev. McCollum how important are things such as candles, incense, and teas to the practice of the Wiccan religion. He responded:

As you know, there are many different traditions under the category of Wicca. To many of them, especially the earlier traditions, things like candles and incense and observances of the phases of the moon are critical to their practice. For example in my tradition, access to actual fire, water, earth, and incense, are fundamental to any working or ritual. And as for ritual teas, that practice is common among many in the Wiccan community. Also, medallions and ritual oils play a big part.

However within a prison context, the question as to whether or not these things are required or supported by our practices is irrelevant. Under RULUIPA, which is the law of the land regarding religious practices in correctional institutions, prisons are required by law to provide all of these items to Pagan inmates if requested unless they specifically create a threat to the safety and security of the institution. The majority of the items requested in this case cannot be seen as creating a security risk, as they have been approved previously in other contexts in the past. Therefore the state should be trying to find a reasonable way to accommodate them.

In the end, one needs to recognize that while it’s possible that the inmate is pushing volume-wise for more than might be reasonable, his actual requests are clearly within reason under the law. Unfortunately, the case will not be whether he should get ten kinds of cake, but rather whether it is legitimate to ask for cake as a part of Wiccan ritual. If the court rules against him, it will be taking away the rights of all Pagans in Massachusetts prisons to celebrate the ceremony of cakes and ale which is a fundamental Wiccan practice with a long history.

When asked if he felt prisons have become more accommodating to Pagan religious practices in recent years, he said they were nationally. He added:

There is no question that prisons are becoming far more accommodating to Pagan religious practices in recent years. Twenty years ago when I first started challenging prison systems for discriminating against Wiccans and Pagans, prisons wouldn’t allow Pagan religious practices period! Now the prison systems in almost every state in the U.S. have designated Pagan religion programs or have procedural manuals on how to accommodate them. I have attended services in prisons in various states across the country where candles, incense, May Poles, BOS, Thor’s hammers, chalices, and even Athames [cardboard or wooden replicas] are common. Also outdoor ritual space and even small bonfires.

While things are getting better across the nation, Rev. McCollum sees this particular case in Massachusetts a continuation of a long standing policy to restrict the religious rights of Pagan prisoners. Yet even there, he sees some progress.  He said:

I advised the Massachusetts DOC on the basic requirements of Wiccan practices at least 15 years ago, and they took the position that they would fight every request, legitimate or not. This case, no matter how frivolous it may seem, is really just the end result of many years of religious discrimination coming to a head.

This case like many others, will likely never see the light of day on the real issues presented. Instead, the state will seek to get it thrown out on technicalities so that they are not forced to comply with the law.

To give credit, Massachusetts has made some progress in this area and have established some Pagan accommodations, but they are generally about ten years behind everyone else in the country on accommodating Pagans.

Rev. McCollum wanted to caution Pagans outside the prison system on how they can unintentionally set these hard fought gains backwards. He said:

Some in our community take the position that nothing is really necessary to practice our faith in prison other than our personal connection with magic. We need to be careful in making that assessment, especially when speaking for others (especially those in prisons). It’s important to remember that all that is necessary to practice Protestant Christianity according to the very definition of Protestant, is the person and a Bible! They do not require Sunday services or Bible classes or a chaplain or minister, or all of the other paraphernalia that they have been given to accommodate them. It is only when Pagans or other minority faiths ask to be accommodated equally, that denials persist.

The Wild Hunt will continue to follow this story and report as things change.

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Russian Orthodox Priest Seeks to Outlaw “Neo-Pagans”

Wed, 2014-12-03 07:46

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin

MOSCOW –An influential figure in the Russian Orthodox Church has said he’d like to see “neo-paganism” made illegal in that country. In remarks at the international congress of Orthodox youth, as reported by Interfax, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin declared, “Let’s say that three things – Wahhabism, Nazism and aggressive neo-paganism – should be removed from the country’s life at the level of the law. Let’s not try to be friends with any of that.”

We spoke to Gwiddon Harvester, the national coordinator of the Pagan Federation International Russia. He provided some context for this statement for Western readers.

The Wild Hunt: Is Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin credible enough that his suggestions might be considered by the authorities?

Gwiddon Harvester: Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin is the Chairman of the “Department of External Relations of Church and Society” in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). He is also a member of the National Civic Chamber, a hand-picked counsel of 126 persons, who are supposed to be advising the Kremlin on issues important to the Russian people. He is a member of the “President’s Committee on Liasons with Religious Organizations.” He serves as a parish priest in Moscow. Unofficially, he is regarded by many as a “Church spokesperson.”

Whether he is considered credible enough by the authorities or not is a very open question. Russian internal politics are extremely opaque … Despite a formal separation of Church and State in the Russian Constitution, we have seen a general trend over the past twenty years of gradual merging of the Church into the fabric of Kremlin’s power system. It is not a great stretch to claim that as far as everyone is concerned the ROC is the Kremlin’s “Department of Spiritual Ideology.”

ROC receives significant state funding and forced “shotgun donations” from businesses; holds monopoly licenses on certain sectors of the economy, [and] receives vast grants of land and buildings. The State conveniently allows the ROC to maintain non-transparent accounting and hushes up any scandals related to money-laundering, corruption or pedophilia in the ROC. The Kremlin in turn uses the Church influence on the common folks to translate certain ideas and messages.

I do not believe that everything Chaplin says is sanctioned by the Kremlin. It is not quite as simple as that. There have been times in the past, when Church rhetoric provoked significant public backlash, and Chaplin was forced to backpedal or refuse ownership of his words.

Considering that this particular speech was presented at the “International Forum of Orthodox Youth” in Moscow, this could be an unsanctioned, personal or a ROC-sanctioned only attempt to tie-in religious extremism of various kinds (except for the Orthodox extremists, whom Chaplin conveniently omits) with political risks … Whether or not the Kremlin makes a fuss over it, we do not know yet.

Considering how often Chaplin says outrageous things, I doubt that much will come out of this particular speech. Then again, as the Kremlin becomes increasingly unpredictable, anything is possible.

TWH: On what basis does he lump together these three concepts? What do you think he means by “aggressive neo-paganism?”

GH: I am unable to do any sort of analysis on how he lumps up these concepts. The only clear description is that of Wahhabism, which Chaplin calls, incorrectly, “pseudo-Islamic.” He also talks about Nazis, but whether he means the Russian nationalists or actual followers of Nazi ideology, I cannot wager a guess.

I do not know precisely what he means by “aggressive neo-paganism,” as this turn of phrase is new to me. I have not seen this [term] being used by anyone in the past. However, if I were to speculate, the main theme may be an extremist ideology … and the potential for using violence.  Chaplin says that these extreme groups are more likely to cause a revolution than the liberal democrats, which the Kremlin fears the most at the moment. Therefore, he proposes to pass a law banning the extreme ideology.

By the way, extremism is already a criminal offence in Russia, meaning that anyone publicly calling for extermination of certain members of society or claiming their own superiority gets jail time … Chaplin’s suggestion to ban the ideology is redundant, as extremism is already a criminal offence.

[In] another article, dated Feb. 2014, as a response to the shooting in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Chaplin says that there is a danger from “pseudo-islamic extremists, Neo-Nazi and Neo-Pagan groups.” It means that he was working on developing ties between these three categories for some time. In that article, Chaplin also refers to the Church Counsel of 1994, where a resolution was adopted regarding danger of Neo-Pagan cults, because these cults, in the opinion of the Counsel “aggressively destroy the Russian traditional values and attack the position of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

Russian Cathedral in Moscow [Public Domain]

TWH: Are there extremist Pagan elements in Russia? Alternatively, do people perceive this as the truth, whether or not it is?

GH: This really depends on our definition of Paganism. There are several Russians who identify themselves as Pagans and at the same time espouse a philosophy of hatred towards the society at large, members of other ethnic backgrounds, or homosexuals, or women, perhaps. Their numbers are very small .. but I cannot simply say that they do not exist.

As a national coordinator for Pagan Federation International Russia, I use the following rule of thumb. Iff someone hates others and calls for violence against others, then they are violating the second principle of PFI, and as far as I am concerned, they are not really Pagan, but rather psychopaths, abusing Pagan symbols…

Over the years, we had several incidents, involving such individuals.

  • The largest one was over the “Ancient Russian Inglian Church of Orthodox Old Believers-Inglings” – a group, registered in Omsk in 1992 by Alexander Khinevich, [who] published several books and formed a brain-washing cult, which mixed elements from Scandinavian Sagas, Hindu mythology, Slavic folktales, science fiction (aliens), Mormonism, with rituals from Orthodox sects of Old-Believers (starovery) … Every other Pagan group in Russia considers Khinevich a charlatan, a fraud and someone who abuses the very name of Paganism.
  • In 2009 there was a much-publicized murder of Daniil Sysoev, a parish priest of ROC in Moscow. Sysoev was famous for hateful and extremist rhetoric, as well as dubious efforts of converting Muslims, protestants and Neo-Pagans “back to the flock.” He was shot to death in his own church by an unknown gunman. Interfax widely distributed news, that an unidentified informer told the police that Sysoev was murdered by Pagans … The police currently consider that Sysoev was most likely murdered for converting Muslims to Christianity.
  • In February of 2014 there was a shooting in a church in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. An armed security guard, Stepan Komarov, killed a beggar and a nun, as well as wounded six worshippers, while shouting for everyone to get out of the church. He was detained by police and is currently awaiting trial … [Komarov] had a nazi swastika and a pseudo-Pagan symbol of the sun tattooed on his torso and back … ROC Bishop of Sakhalin Tikhon claimed that this was an attempt to scare people away from the Church and shared that he believes Komarov is a Neo-Pagan.

From time to time, the police detain certain individuals and ban published materials of small Pagan groups for violating the law on extremist literature, usually due to anti-Semitism or anti-government rhetoric. However, in all cases that I am aware of, these individuals were also members of right-wing nationalist groups, so their arrests were not connected to Paganism, per se.

Based on the facts of the matter, I cannot find any aggressive Neo-Pagans out there, who Chaplin alleges are so dangerous, that they can start up a revolution. If there were, we certainly would have knowledge about them in one way or another … The majority of Pagans seem to be happy where they are and don’t feel the need to insult others, or insist on their own superiority. They are doing their own thing and often don’t really know much or care about what others are doing. A growing minority also wants to create ties with Pagans from other countries and recognize common European Pagan heritage. These are the sort of people, who are willing to work with PFI, the more open-minded kind.

TWH: If ROC does has so much influence, why is ROC specifically so concerned?

GH: The reason why ROC is so concerned about Neo-Paganism, and why it thinks Neo-Pagans are aggressive, may be due to the fact that over the past twenty years or so, the ROC is working on monopolizing Russian religious thought. Since 2009, the Church repeatedly stated that Christian Orthodoxy is the only faith for ethnic Russians, in fact, they credit Christianity with the creation of the Russian nation. Therefore, Russian Neo-Pagans are a threat to their monopoly.

How can you be an ethnic Russian and suddenly not an Orthodox Christian? To ROC this is a very dangerous idea. A young and head-strong ideological rival threatens ROC access to State funding and support. This is a question of survival for ROC, as the State may just as easily decide to ditch its support for archaic and poorly-attended ROC, and switch to supporting the young and growing Russian Pagan movement. In the early 1990s the State ditched the communist ideology to support the ROC, so, who is to say that the same thing will not happen again.

Now, the irony of this whole situation is that every Pagan I talked to really dreads any sort of State support or involvement in Pagan affairs, including State funding. The idea of having a national Pagan religion as part of the State ideology will be a disaster for us. Our strength is in being true to our own vision of spirituality, growing organically … What Pagans need is for the State to provide a level playing field, and not to play favorites.

The reference to 1994 Church Counsel in Chaplin’s Feb. 2014 article is revealing, in that Chaplin appears to refer to a very specific Neo-Pagan “aggression” in his speech. Namely, the critical or humorous references to ROC in writings and internet messages posted by some Pagans. Now, Pagans all over the world like to poke a bit of fun at Christianity’s expense now and again, and I personally find it quite in poor taste to do so, as I know quite a few devoted Christians, who are very sincere and actually help others.

[But] ROC is a bit thin-skinned about any sort of criticism, I think in a way, because they are not at all sure of themselves, of how stable they are. Some humor is just too close to the truth for their comfort. ROC would like to position this criticism and humor as sacrilege and aggression. However, I can hardly envision the public buying that idea.

TWH: What is the general public attitude toward Pagans in Russia?

GH: [The Public] is largely unaware of the Neo-Pagan movement altogether. Most Russians are not religious at all, although many are superstitious. Hardly anyone ever goes to Church. The only well-attended Church celebration is Easter, and even then people go to Church just to get the eggs and the bread blessed and leave immediately after…

According to the National Census in 2012, 41% of Russians identified themselves as Orthodox Christians. Fewer than 4% of all Orthodox Christians regularly attend mandatory Church services and fewer than 5% belong to a parish. Fewer than 8% have ever read the Bible and fewer than 1% believe that following a different religion is a sin.

Whenever I speak with non-Pagans about Paganism, they mostly think this is a role-playing club or an Eastern religious cult of some sort, something like the Society of Krishna. However the vast majority simply have no idea what it is, or vaguely remember something from school about Christianization of Rus in the tenth century CE and find it surprising. I have never heard any members of the public, other than ROC officials, refer to Neo-Pagans as aggressive or dangerous.

TWH: Was PFI familiar with Chaplin’s recent statements? Do they come as a surprise?

GH: PFI was aware of this talk by Chaplin, as it was mentioned on national news. We decided not to pursue this matter, as there appears to be no specific harm done, and the matter is not new.

TWH: Can you briefly characterize the types of Pagan religion practiced in Russia?

GH: The National Census in 2012 identified that 1.2% of all Russians adhere to Pagan faiths. About half of them belong to native non-Russian ethnic groups … It is estimated that Russian modern Pagans number around 600,000 people in total. PFI commenced an ongoing poll in 2014 held at vk.com, where Pagans may report their tradition or path. Over the past six months 3,049 Pagans participated in the poll, which makes up for about 0.5% of total estimated Pagan population. This percentage is significant enough for statistical purposes to draw an estimate of relative numbers of Pagans in each path.

  • 31.4% Slavic Paganism (reconstruction)
  • 25.8% could not identify themselves with any particular path or were newcomers
  • 18.7% Wicca
  • 15% Asatru
  • 3.2% – Neo-Shamans
  • 3% – Other Reconstructionists (Celtic, Hellenic, Khemetic, etc.)
  • 2.2% – Hermetic (Western Occult) Pagans or Thelemites

This data needs to be adjusted for the fact that not all Pagans are on the internet or have accounts at VK and that many chose not to participate. At present, we have not determined a multiplier robust enough to present credible figures.

I estimate that at least half of all Pagans, or 300,000 people, follow a Slavic path in some way, shape or form. They are inspired by written accounts of old Slavic practices, ethnography, folk traditions, fairy tales, modern Pagan books, as well as their own insight … There are several large associations of Slavic Pagans at present, and many individual groups in various Russian cities.

Many Pagans do not want to be confined to a specific tradition or path, and are happy to pursue their own thing, gathering information and experimenting with various concepts and ideas, including Hindu religions, Tao, Tantra, Dzen-Buddhism, the left-hand path, new age concepts. There are also those who would research the ways of old Russian vedma.

Most Wiccans in Russia are solitary eclectic witches, learning from books and the internet. There are open groups available in Moscow and St Petersburg that we know of. Many Wiccans are university students or young adults.

Asatru and other Norse path practitioners have been practicing for some time in Russia, although I do not know when or where the first groups started. There are groups of Asatru in several cities now, the; the largest ones are in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Other traditions and paths include Neo-Shamanic practices, both Siberian and Castaneda, reconstructions of various ethnic Pagan traditions, Celtic being most popular, followed by Khemetic and Hellenic or Roman. Some reconstruct the Germanic traditions … There are Hermetic groups in Moscow and St Petersburg, mostly of French Masonic or Rosicrucian background. There is an O.T.O. camp and quite a few followers of Thelema.

Russian Pagans cleaning public sacred stones 2014

TWH: What is the climate for those practicing minority Pagan faiths in your country?

GH: The climate, generally speaking, is quite neutral. I cannot in all honesty claim that Pagans are being persecuted at the moment in Russia. We are free to set up any internet presence we want. We are free to report the creation of local Pagan groups to the Municipal government, and nobody makes a fuss. We cannot register religious organizations at the moment, unless a religious group has been in continuous practice for 15 years. But these rules are the same for all newer religions, not just Pagans. The public is generally not aware that we exist, however, both Slavic Pagans and Wiccans participated in TV documentaries on National TV over the last few years, and we heard hardly any feedback from the community.

We generally gather in public parks in Moscow or at private dwellings, and I have not heard of any trouble. I personally lead a Wiccan ritual in robes in the middle of a busy lawn in Gorkiy Park after work and not a single passerby even stopped for a gawk. Slavic groups set up permanent altars and open-air temples with statues of Gods in public parks from time to time around Moscow. Occasionally these statues get vandalized, usually by fanatical extreme Orthodox youth groups, or perhaps just deranged individuals, one may never know.

Overall, we try to go by the rule of “live and let live,” not to be too much “in your face” of the establishment, and at the same time not hiding from anyone.

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Pagan Studies at the American Academy of Religions 2014

Tue, 2014-12-02 09:51

The American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in sunny San Diego, California from Nov. 22-25. The event attracted thousands of professors, students, writers, religious leaders and others from across the globe to participate in workshops, lectures and events related to religious studies and theology. In attendance and presenting were a growing number of Pagans.

“The AAR annual meeting is a huge intellectual energy infusion, not to mention a social occasion with Pagan Studies scholars from around the world,” said Chas Clifton, co-chair of AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group. “There are literally dozens of sessions happening at any one time-slot, so people are always having to compromise.” He added that the Pagan-focused programming, which began in 2005, attracts an average of 40-50 attendees per session, which he called “respectable for a small sub-field.”

The sessions, which were run in part or in whole by the Pagan Studies Group, included such topics as, “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World” (Michael Houseman, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes); “Evolving or Born this Way: Conversion and Identity” (Hannah Hofheinz, Harvard University); “New Paganism(s) around the Globe” (Chas Clifton, Colorado State University); “Animism and Paganism: The Dialog Continues” (Jone Salomonsen, University of Oslo) and “From the Charmed Circle to Sacred Kink: Theorizing Boundaries in Religion and Sexuality.” And those are just a few highlights.

Dr. Wendy Griffin, Professor Emerita and Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality at California State University and Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary said, “As the founding co-chair of the Pagan Studies group at the AAR years ago, I have seen the attendance grow with real pleasure. The reception has always been positive.”

Co-Chair of AAR’s Pagan Studies Group [Courtesy Photo]

Clifton agreed, saying, “The question of “reception” never was cast in religious terms, in other words, some kind of discrimination against Pagans — despite the AAR’s roots in Protestant Christian theology.” He explained that the founders had to prove that their programming didn’t fall under another already established category, such as “New Religious Movements.” AAR rejected the application in 1997, but than accepted the Pagan Studies group in 2005. Its been going strong ever since.

Clifton added, “The academic study of Paganism is not about either explaining Paganism to others or teaching Pagans how to be better Pagans. For the latter, I suppose you go to PantheaCon.” The discussions at AAR fall more into the academic realms of mapping emerging practices, presenting trends or vital discourse.

M. Macha Nightmare has been attending AAR off and on since 1998. She said, “I [went] mainly to support the group that was then formulating the implementation of a Pagan Studies section … Since that time, I’ve joined the Academy and have attended as many meetings as possible. During that time, I’ve seen the proposals and acceptance of the Pagan Studies section flourish. ”

Part of her connection to AAR is through her work with Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS). Nightmare said, “In fact, on my way to the 2009 annual meeting in Atlanta, I encountered Wendy Griffin in the women’s room of the Dallas Airport where we both had a layover on our trips … She asked what I had been up to and I replied that CHS was seeking an Academic Dean.” After several discussions with Director Holli Emore, Griffin was hired. Now, Griffin admits that one of her motivations for going to AAR is to “promote Cherry Hill.” She added, “This year, I believe, we found 2 new international students.”

People attend AAR for a variety of reasons. Amy Hale, Ph.D., Undergraduate Director of Instructional Technology and Teacher Excellence at Golden Gate University, has been “delivering workshops for AAR’s Employment Services on the theme of career transition away from academia.” Hale also sits on the Pagan Studies Steering Group. Of this year’s event, Hale said:

AAR can be huge and overwhelming but the conversation is lively and stimulating. I particularly loved the Esotericism in African American Religion session which included some excellent scholarship that rightfully expands the boundaries of Western Esoteric Studies.

Jeffrey Albaugh attends, in part, to help his own work for the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. He said that attending AAR “helps in how [he] thinks about how the conference is run.” He added, “My work occupies the confluence of psychology and religion, so attending AAR offers me new perspectives to consider.”

Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, only attends on occasion since her “primary professional association is the American Folklore Society (AFS).” Fortunately, this year’s meeting was close to her home and, therefore, she was able to easily attend. Additionally, Magliocco was invited to be a respondent on a panel about folkloristic approaches to the study of religion. She said:

I also had recent research results from my project “Animals and the Spiritual Imagination” that I wanted to present and get feedback on.  AAR fits with my work as a folklorist and anthropologist because of my focus on vernacular religion and expressive culture.  I can network with others who share those specific interests, as well as ones in ritual studies, Pagan studies, and new religious movements.

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

As Clifton noted, this year’s Pagan Studies presentations included an international element. Clifton presided over a Global Paganisms panel that included scholars from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Israel, Norway and the Netherlands. In addition, Clifton presented a paper by Dmitry Galtsin, a researcher in the Rare Books Department of the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, Galtsin was not able to raise enough funds to make the trip himself.

Israeli Ph.D candidate Shai Feraro said, “It was first time at AAR, after attending several conferences in Europe. I decided to attend the annual meeting due to its status as the largest and most important conference dedicated to the study of religion and spirituality.”

Douglas Ezzy, Ph.D, associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania in Australia, was attending the annual meeting for the 4th time. He said, “The AAR is a very important forum for me as a Pagan Studies scholar. It is one of the few places where I can meeting a large group of other academics who share my interests and have a detailed familiarity with the Pagan Studies literature.” Ezzy’s paper and recent work focus on “Relational Ethics, Ritual and the New Animism.”

Of this year’s AAR meeting, Ezzy said, “I heard some wonderful papers on ritual studies, mysticism, gender and religion and Paganisms. I also renewed some friendships and developed new ones.” That sentiment was echoed by several of the attendees. Feraro noted that a Pagan Studies group dinner was held at a local restaurant, where he was able to finally meet some American Pagan scholars whose books influenced his own research.

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Hale agreed, saying “Another highlight is spending time with my colleagues, who are cherished friends. AAR just creates community.”

Next year’s American Academy of Religions annual meeting will be held in Atlanta Nov. 21-24. Clifton says that, over the next few weeks, the organization will be setting the 2015 themes. The call for papers will be issued in January.

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Pagan Community Notes: Many Gods West, Rev. Patrick McCollum, Tents for Ferguson, and much more!

Mon, 2014-12-01 08:40

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

Many Gods West FB Photo

Last week it was announced, via Facebook, that a new Polytheist conference was being planned for the summer of 2015. Today, organizers launched the official website for Many Gods Westwhich will include “three days of presentations, workshops, panels and rituals.” The keynote speaker is Morpheus Ravenna of Coru Cathubodua.

The website details the conference’s goal and purpose. In a statement of inclusion, organizers say, in part, “Many Gods West is intended as a safe, welcoming, and convivial forum for polytheists to share knowledge, practices, rituals, and other learning experiences with each other.”  The event will be held from Jul. 31 to Aug. 2, 2015 at the Governor Hotel in downtown Olympia, Washington.

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[Courtesy Photo]

Last week, Rev. Patrick McCollum co-facilitated a meeting with U.S. state and federal officials to discuss “discrimination against minorities and minority faiths by government.” Held in conjunction with the American Academy of Religions, the meeting was the 11th annual event of its kind, and Rev. McCollum said, “It is unanimously agreed that the meetings and associated training have directly changed governmental policy across the country and have greatly widened the opportunity for the practice of minority faiths in prisons, veterans institutions, and mental health facilities to name a few.”

At this year’s meeting, the U.S. Military approached meeting facilitators about setting up a new chaplain program, to be launched in 2015, based on Rev. McCollum’s work in prison ministry. In response, Rev. McCollum said, “When I first conceived of this idea, it seemed like an impossible task. One which could never come to be. But with a clear objective, committed partners, and a refusal to give up, we have pulled it off.” The Wild Hunt will continue to track this story as the program is put into place.

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T. Thorn Coyle and Brennos of the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood [Credit: G. Sidhe]

Since last Monday’s Ferguson Grand Jury decision, protests have stretched out across the country, reaching communities of all kinds, including Pagan and Heathen. These protests have manifested in many forms both in real life and in the digital world, and continue on today and, most likely, well beyond.

However, prior to last week’s announcement, there were Pagans and Heathens already involved in supporting the Ferguson community. Several weeks ago, a local organizer sent out a tweet asking if anyone would be willing to donate tents “to be used to keep peaceful protesters warm.” Led by T. Thorn Coyle, a group of Bay Area Pagans took up the call and raised enough funds to purchase and ship two 10 X 20 tents with sidewalls. Coyle said, “Glenn Turner of Ancient Ways and Pantheacon, Ryan Smith of Heathens United Against Racism, Yeshe Rabbit of CAYA Coven, Crystal Blanton, Jonathan Korman of Solar Cross Temple, and Rhett Aultmun all donated to make this happen … I pray that love, equity, and justice will prevail.”

In Other News:

  • Many individual Pagans and Pagan organizations have already indicated that they will be attending next year’s Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City. For those that haven’t purchased tickets, the Council just announced an extension of the “super saver” pricing. The discount is extended through Dec. 10.
  • Photographer Richard Mann has posted photos of Reclaiming’s 35th annual Spiral Dance held on Nov. 1, 2014 at the Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco. The organization’s own site has more information about the event, the organization its history, and feedback on this year’s festivities. Please note that all photos published on Mann’s site are under copyright (C) 2014 Richard Man.
  • Israeli Ph.D. candidate Shai Feraro published an article on his blog called “Wicca and the Israel Connection.” In this short essay, he draws connections between Wicca’s beginnings to the sacred lands in the middle east. He says, “…while modern-day Israel occupies virtually no place (or at least none of importance) in the mind of most Contemporary Pagans worldwide, some early British Wiccans and other figures which influenced the Wiccan movement spent considerable periods of time in the region.”
  • Popular band Tuatha Dea announced this week that member Tesea Dawson would be leaving. Lead singer Danny Mullikin wrote, “Since our inception, [Tesea] has been a constant driving and create force but she has admirably decided that it is time to put all her energies into raising her two incredible children.” Dawson will be making her final public appearance with the band Dec. 20, during a Tuatha Dea “musical party at the place it all started -The Fox and Parrot in Gatlinburg Tennessee.”  The band invites its fans to come out and celebrate with them.
  • Over the past week, a number of Pagan and Heathen sites published gift guides, including The Wild Hunt. In response to ours, Of Thespiae posted one specifically geared at Polytheists. Raise the Horns posted one called “Pagan Things Made for Pagans by Pagans,” and here is another one from The Serpent’s Labyrinth. As the season goes on, more of these gift lists will popup to awe and inspire.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day.

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Book Review: This Should Change Us

Sun, 2014-11-30 07:12

[To close out this American holiday weekend, we welcome our own columnist Rhyd Wildermuth to share a review of the book This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein.Tomorrow we return to our regular Wild Hunt schedule. ]

Review: This Changes Everything–Capitalism vs. The Climate,by Naomi Klein (Simon &Schuster, 2014, 566 pages)

Journalist and author Naomi Klein may be known to some of you through her previous works, including her creedal call against corporate branding No Logo and her ponderous and depressing book, The Shock Doctrine, which discusses the political games played by corporations and governments in order to ram through neo-Liberal, anti-democratic policies.

In This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Klein has done something very few journalists, policy makers, or even environmentalists have been willing to do for the last few decades. She reconnects environmental devastation and the warming planet back to capitalism itself.

The last 25 years have seen, what started out as a critique, all the logics of profit taking, extraction, and private property become untethered from their foundations, and instead become an attempt to treat symptoms caused by destructive human behaviors, rather than the cause itself. Instead of demanding an end to economies based on greed, oil, and the destruction of people and land, environmentalism, at least as far as both the public consciousness and the major environmental NGO’s portray, is now about composting, recycling, and buying the right sort of shoe, car or light bulb, rather than about anything that might actually inconvenience the wealthy.

But why does addressing capitalism even matter? And why have the last two-and-a-half decades seen a shift from cause-based solutions to a symptomatic approach?

According to Klein, the answer’s simple. Connecting capitalism to climate change unveils an awful consequence. She writes:

The only kind of contraction our current system can manage is a brutal crashing, in which the most vulnerable will suffer most of all.

So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.

…By posing climate change as a battle between capitalism and the planet, I am not saying anything that we don’t already know. The battle is already under way, but right now capitalism is winning hands down. It wins every time the need for economic growth is used as an excuse for putting off climate action yet again, or for breaking emission reduction commitments already made. (p 21-22)

More “inconvenient” than Al Gore ever let on, the only way to stop this is not just to change our habits, but to radically alter the very system by which we live.

Our Leaders Have Betrayed Us

If capitalism is responsible for the behaviors which cause climate change, than climate deniers and right-wing ‘think tanks’ are technically correct in some of their estimations. Many of them repeatedly warn about the consequences of the environmental movements’ attacks on Capitalist economies. In one of her first chapters, Klein posits that much of the vitriol lobbed at environmentalists as being out to ‘destroy the American way of life’ are quite correct, or would be if the “Big Green” groups were honest about the problem.

But why haven’t they been? Naomi Klein devotes several chapters to the treachery of modern environmental groups, such as the Nature Conservancy (which drills for oil on some of its land in Texas) or the Environmental Defense Fund (which financed and pushed studies to cast doubt on the dangers of Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking”).

Reading Klein’s journalistic extractions of such assimilation and collusions, which began in the 1980’s is quite difficult, but not because of her writing.  Rather, one wants to throw the book across the room repeatedly at these points; or, better yet, throw it at the ones who’ve taken so much money from the fossil fuel industry while telling individuals that they should switch their lights off more often.

Concurrent with the rise of neo-liberal, free-trade polices in the 1980’s and 90’s, particularly pushed by the Democratic Party in the United States (President Bill Clinton signed both NAFTA and the WTO treaty into law), major environmental groups shifted their tactics from urging less consumption and extraction to cheer-leading so-called “Green Capitalism.

Green Capitalism, Klein notes, shifted the responsibility from large polluters and the systems which favored them to individuals, advocating for personal consumption changes over systemic changes. She writes:

It would be one thing if, while individuals were being asked to voluntarily “green” the minutiae of their lives, the Big Green NGO’s had simultaneously gone after the big polluters, demanding they they match our individual small cuts in carbon emissions with large-scale, industry-wide reductions. And some did. But many of the most influential green groups did precisely the opposite. Not only did they help develop complex financial mechanisms to allow these corporations to keep emitting, they also actively campaigned to expand the market for one of the three main fossil fuels. (p.213)

No Longer Playing By the Rules of the Rich

But a large question remains: Why did the “Big Green NGO’s” betray us?

Klein’s answer is pretty clear–capitalism, and specifically the massive-scale implications of capitalism’s connection to climate change. Besides those with the most money are doing the most polluting. and “Big Green” gets its money from them.

In page after brutal page, Klein unknots each connection between climate change and our economic activities. While Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, did much to raise awareness of the issues of human-caused climate change, it did little to address precisely how much of our human activities would need to change in order to stop the damage those activities have caused. The actual “inconvenience” of that truth is staggering, but only if one is heavily invested in keeping Capitalism around. Klein says:

Climate change pits what the planet needs to maintain stability against what our economic model needs to sustain itself.  But since that economic model is failing the vast majority of the people on the planet on multiple fronts, that might not be such a bad thing. (p. 155)

Climate justice and social justice are related, and she devotes an entire chapter to “exclusion zones,” or places of great poverty with little political power to resist, and the particularly heavy burden rising seas, droughts, floods, and stronger storms will have on the people who have contributed almost none of the carbon pollution which has caused this.  Addressing climate change also means addressing the capitalist system which favors small groups of rich people over the teeming masses of poor throughout the world. In essence, it’s a revolutionary moment and one for which even the U.S. government is preparing.

This is particularly where Klein’s book is most hopeful. She devotes 157 pages of the book to tracing what she, and others, have named Blockadia, defined as the distributed network of protests bringing together disparate groups to fight fossil fuel companies, developers, and corporate interests who are intent on pillaging the land under our feet. While it’s not immediately apparent that protests against austerity and the destruction of a sacred ancestral forest in Greece are related to, let’s say, blockades against the Keystone XL pipeline by the Cowboy Indian alliance in America, Klein threads those events together seamlessly.

For her, these interconnected resistance movements are linked not just by their shared enemy, but also by a determination to revive the spirit of direct democracy. Klein writes:

The process of taking on the corporate-state power nexus that underpins the extractive economy is leading a great many people to face up to the underlying democratic crisis that has allowed multinationals to be the authors of the laws under which they operate….It is this corroded state of our political systems–as fossilized as as the fuel at the center of these battles–that is fast turning Blockadia into a grassroots pro-democracy movement.

…And yet the most jarring part of the grassroots anti-extraction uprising has been the rude realization that most communities do appear to lack this power; that outside forces–a far-off central government, working hand-in-glove with transnational companies–are simply imposing enormous health and safety risks on residents, even when that means overturning local laws. (p. 361)

This loss of faith in inherited leadership structures, and the betrayal of the movement by Big Green and those political parties claiming to be on the side of the planet provides fertile soil for a radical populist movement - one that unites both “left” and “right” as well as a myriad of peoples across ethnic, cultural, and national borders.

Nature’s Revolt

But another loss of faith is necessary before such a movement can be effective and affective: the notion that technological fixes can be found to patch up past damage so that we can keep on polluting. Even as a Luddite myself, I was not prepared for some of this, particularly the horrific problems with geo-engineering, which is adding sulfur into the atmosphere to mimic a volcanic eruption, or seeding the ocean with chemicals to reflect light or bacteria to reduce acidification, as a way to cool the planet.

Cyril Mann, “Dark Satanic Mills” 1925  [Public Domain]

Throughout her book, Klein dashes every single hope, even my own, that we might be able to stop the damage done without too radically changing the world. Not only are technologies like geo-engineering untested, they are largely funded by billionaires, such as Bill Gates in particular, and come with further political problems. Artificially cooling the earth will cause droughts in some of the already poorest places, and flooding in others, which leads to the potential of a cooler United States and Europe causing suffering elsewhere.

She builds a narrative of human technology any Pagan familiar with “disenchantment” will find quite familiar. Men in the enlightenment, bloated with the certainty they could transcend natural limits, developed theories and technologies which would help them do just that. Francis Bacon, the founder of Empiricism, spoke of conquering the Earth as if by rape; James Watts, the inventor of the coal-fired steam engine, spoke of humanity’s final liberation from Nature. These fathers of Modernity get particular attention. Klein writes:

..these are the tools and the logic that created the crisis geoengineering is attempting to solve–not just the coal-burning factories and colonial steam ships, but Bacon’s twisted vision of the Earth as a prone woman and Watt’s triumphalism at having found her “weak side.”  Given this, does it really make sense to behave as if, with big enough brains and powerful enough computers, humans can master and control the climate crisis just as humans have been imagining they could master the natural world since the dawn of industrialization–digging, damming, drilling, dyking? (p. 266)

Modern Myths and Ancient Struggles

In reading this book I was struck with the strange irony of attempting to explain to Pagans why they should read a book linking capitalism to the destruction of the Earth, as if this were a new theory.

But it wasn’t always like this. Both environmentalism and the peculiar forms of modern Paganism birthed in the 1700’s always made links between the destruction of the earth and the industrialization that comes along with capitalist arrangements of society. Early Naturalists, the European Romantics, and early modern-Druid societies could physically see the link between coal-powered factories, the soot and smog choking the town and cities, and the poisoning of their rivers. When one considers Willam Blake’s assessment of the new industrialization of the British countryside (“those dark satanic mills”) and the Luddite rebellion (with their mysterious patron god/leader “King Ludd”), it’s easy to find a Pagan, anti-capitalist environmentalism.

The 1960’s saw these connections converge again. Environmentalism again became a critique of capitalism, rather than the conservationist hobby of rich white men in the American west. At the same time, Paganism seemed to arise into public consciousness with the embrace of Wicca and other forms of Witchcraft, all oriented towards a reverence for the earth and distrust of those who would destroy it.

Profit-motive was destroying the forests and killing the birds through chemicals like DDT. This much was a given to an environmentalist. And because Paganism revered the earth, it was against the profit-taking that destroyed the earth. That is, Paganism was largely Environmentalist and critical of Capitalism.

So what happened? Klein has written a near perfect call to war from a deeply Pagan perspective. Her last chapter, particularly, reads like the poetic musings of a Druid or Shaman, and yet she is not a Pagan.

How came we to the position we’re in now, where I’m a writer trying to explain to Pagans why they should care about capitalism? Or why I’m reviewing a book written by a non-Pagan journalist whose words are soaked in the very Pagan understanding that we’ve abandoned?

I can’t help but wonder if Paganism has undergone the same shifts as the major environmental movements, abandoning its innate critique of capitalism’s divorce from nature in favor of begging for recognition from the powerful. Perhaps at some point we understood the awful, world-changing implications of our thoughts and practices, and opted instead of the nicer, more polite, and toothless manner of creating the world we see is possible.

I’m glad that in Naomi Klein’s book, a non-Pagan journalist has called us back to our beliefs.

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Guest Post: Religion in America’s Football Pastime

Sat, 2014-11-29 06:43

[The following is a guest post written by Jason Mankey. He is the writer and podcaster behind Patheos Pagan Channel’s blog Raise the Horns. Jason has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest, and can often be found presenting on the Pagan festival circuit. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two cats.]

For many Americans the Thanksgiving holiday is about food, friends and family, but for some of us there is a fourth “f” in there too: football. I know that football is not all that popular in Pagan circles, but it truly is America’s pastime. In 2012 over 216 million Americans tuned in to at least one college football game. The ratings for the National Football League (NFL) are even stronger, with this year’s Super Bowl attracting 111.5 million viewers for a single (noncompetitive) game. For many of us Thanksgiving is just as much about football as it is about turkey.

[Photo Credit: ishutterthethought, cc lic. / Flickr]

My own football fandom both exhilarates and terrifies me. I enjoy the highs of seeing my team win and often slip into a funk when they lose. Away from the emotional roller coaster there are other, more serious problems, with football. It’s a violent game, and we are only now beginning to realize the true extent of how much it injures not just the body but the brain. Football players often engage in violent unspeakable acts, such as running back Ray Rice punching his girlfriend in the face early this year. Though it is important to point out that arrest rates for NFL players are actually lower than for the majority of men in their age group.

In addition to brain injuries and bad behavior, there’s another troubling aspect of football that bothers me as a Pagan. It’s an extremely conservative institution from a political standpoint. In the college ranks, football and Christianity mix freely. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a coach is a tactician of the game or a missionary, and some will proudly admit to being both.

Today’s Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) is a good example of this. At Ole Miss, football and Evangelical Christianity often walk hand in hand. Head coach Hugh Freeze wears his faith proudly on his sleeve. Players and coaches meet every Sunday for church services and Bible study. Attendance isn’t mandatory, but they are certainly made aware of it. In a recent Washington Post story the coach is quoted as saying: “I tell them, or our position coaches will: ‘We have worship on Sunday,’ ”

Freeze’s Twitter account feels more like that of a minister than a highly paid head football coach. On Nov. 9 Freeze tweeted:

I am really excited to listen to some of our players lead @ FCA service today. Come join us worship the only one Worthy of our praise. 11:00

— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) November 9, 2014

Not surprisingly many of his followers chimed in with comments like “So excited for what the Lord is doing there,” and “Thanks for leading well and pointing them to God.” Freeze isn’t alone in using Twitter as a missionary tool, Mississippi State’s coach Dan Mullen has been know to tweet out a little scripture too.

In some ways the Mississippi schools and their coaches are outliers, but only a little. In many parts of the country the walls between team, religion, and coach are much thicker, but those walls have all but crumbled in America’s South. Much of that can be laid at the feet of cultural shifts in the region. While Christianity is in decline in many parts of the country, the religion remains a dominant part of South Eastern U.S. culture. Couple that with the rise of “Tea Party” style politics and you’ve got a recipe for in-your-face Jesus testimony on the gridiron.

As a former Southerner, I can attest to the quasi-religious fervor many of us feel towards our football teams, but the insertion of actual religion into the game has been more noticeable in recent years. Much of that is likely due to the rise of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in college football. Over the last nine years, seven of college football’s “national champions” have come from the SEC, with the other two winners from states like Texas and Florida.

Even in the Midwest, aside from Notre Dame, coaches are sharing their Christian faith rather openly. A recent USA Today article profiling Michigan State University coach Mike Dantonio highlighted both the coach’s faith and that of his players:

“He puts God first,” MSU freshman running back Delton Williams said of Dantonio in the   euphoric locker room after the win against Ohio State ‘And we put God first. Why do you think we’re doing this?’ . . . ‘You can talk about your faith or you can live your faith,’ he (Coach Dantonio) said. ‘You can talk about this program’s culture, or you can be in this culture, live this culture. There’s a difference there. Is it smoke or is it real?’”

Perhaps no college football coach has been more open about his faith than Clemson University head coach Dabo Swinney. Two years ago Swinney stopped practice early so one of his players could be be baptized on the practice field. That story was included in an article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education last November:

Last season, Dabo Swinney, the head football coach at Clemson University, gathered his team on the practice field one day for an important announcement. ‘Someone is about to turn their life over to Christ,’ he said …

DeAndre Hopkins, a star wide receiver, stepped forward. A livestock trough had been placed near the 50-yard line and filled with water. Mr. Hopkins, still wearing his uniform and pads, climbed in. As several dozen teammates and coaches looked on, he was baptized.

At Clemson, God is everywhere. The team’s chaplain leads a Bible study for coaches every Monday and Thursday. Another three times a week, the staff gathers for devotionals. Nearly every player shows up at a voluntary chapel service the night before each game.

If the baptism wasn’t enough to stop you in your tracks, “nearly every player” showing up for a “voluntary chapel service the night before each game” most likely did. Many coaches seem to lead religious services, though all of them go out of their way to share that attendance at such things is voluntary. I can’t help but wonder if “everyone showing up” for something keeps it truly voluntary. Peer pressure (and pressure from coaches) is most certainly going to influence young men.

Overt displays of religiosity are a bit more toned down in the professional game, but many NFL players are extremely open about their religious beliefs and often sound like missionaries. Most teams also have team chaplains, and you can bet all of those chaplains are Christian.

On the eve of this year’s Super Bowl, then Seattle Seahawk Chris Maragos credited Jesus for the team’s success. He said, “We understand that we can’t do any of this on our own. You look at what guys have been able to do and the strength that He gives us — that’s really where we draw everything that we have. That’s a cornerstone of what we rely on.” Comments, like Maragos’s, are rather commonplace in today’s NFL.

George Wilson in Prayer [Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon, Flickr via Wikimedia]

Many team owners and players are also politically conservative. Though Peyton Manning doesn’t say much about politics or religion, he has given money to Republicans such as Richard Luger’s and Bob Corker’s Senate campaigns in 2012. Former Broncos quarterback and current General Manager John Elway is also a big Republicans supporter.

Coming into this piece I had assumed that most NFL owners donated overwhelmingly to Republicans, but that’s not always the case. Many do support Democrats. However, I have yet to find a player or owner interested in donating to the Green Party.

Just after World War II, sports leagues were ahead of much of the rest of country when it came to social issues. While Jackie Robinson is famous for breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball back in 1947, that barrier was actually first broken by the NFL in 1946. However, since those days, football has been slow to embrace change. The NFL’s first African-American coach didn’t take the field until 1989, and hiring of minorities was so behind the times that the NFL was forced to institute the Rooney Rule in 2003 requiring teams to interview minority candidates.

This year saw the NFL almost take a major step forward with the drafting of an openly gay player – Michael Sam of the University of Missouri. Sadly Sam was cut before the start of the season, and then cut a second time after landing on the Dallas Cowboy’s practice squad.

Reaction to Sam was mixed, with former coach Tony Dungy saying that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because he might have been a “distraction” to the team. Dungy, an outspoken Evangelical, went on to say that Sam deserved a chance to play in the league and that he would “not have a problem” with Sam on his team. Sam was a big half-step forward for the NFL and I hope that he ends up on an active roster next season.

Muslim players have been a part of the pro-game since 1972, but even those forty years were not enough to gift the NFL with an understanding of Islam. Just this season Kansas City player Husain Abdullah was penalized for going to the ground while praying after an interception returned for a touchdown on Tom Brady of the Patriots. Players aren’t allowed to “go to the ground” when celebrating a touchdown, but religious observances are supposed to be exempt from that rule.

After much public outcry, the NFL admitted that the official on the field had made the wrong call, and with good reason. Abdullah wasn’t just praying he was performing sujud. The position calls for toes, knees, hands, and forehead to all be touching the ground while facing towards Mecca. Former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow is well known for taking a knee and praying after a touchdown, and his actions have never drawn a penalty. The NFL often looks a little lost when dealing with religious traditions outside of Christianity.

As a Pagan I often feel like an outsider while watching the NFL. The players, coaches, and many of the fans would probably find me hard to relate to. At this point I have yet to hear of a college Pagan player, let alone a Pagan NFL player. I’d like to think that I’m capable of retiring my football addiction but I realize it’s hopeless. I’m a sucker for the game and would much rather watch the Super Bowl then attend an Imbolc Ritual, and the two are often on the same day. Now if you’ll excuse I’ve got an Egg Bowl to go watch that will most likely end with one of the coach’s thanking Jesus. Pray for me.

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