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Pagan Community Notes: Women’s March, Coru blood drive, Nigel Bourne, and more!

Mon, 2017-01-23 09:32

TWH – Saturday’s historic Women’s March on Washington has reportedly set records for attendance around the world. The estimated numbers are still being tallied for both the main march and the reported 673 sister marches. News media is currently reporting that the organization’s original prediction of 200,000 marchers in Washington D.C. alone was more than exceeded with numbers now estimated to be around 500,000. Similarly, other cities are also reporting larger crowds than predicted.

Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists were in attendance across the country, reporting in throughout the day over social media. Due to the unexpected size of the crowds, some of the organized events did not happen as planned. The Washington D.C. Witches Contingent, for example, had difficulty coming together. Firefly House organizers said, “Most of us couldn’t get anywhere near each other in time. But that’s ok – we were unified by intention and collective presence! It was an honor to have you all, seen and unseen, marching with us.”

Peg Aloi, who was also in Washington, reported the same problem. Due to transportation holdups, Aloi was unable to get to the park to host her Pagan Circle for Protection. However, her event was held by another witch, who was able to make it to the location by the specified time.

We have gathered photographs taken by Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists during the marches. We will be posting a gallery in the coming days.

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SAN JOSE — The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood announced that it will be sponsoring another blood drive at PantheaCon 2017. Coru is reportedly “joining forces with Solar Cross Temple, Blood Centers of the Pacific, and the Red Cross [to] once again” hold a blood drive at the biggest Pagan-themed indoor winter conference in the U.S. Organizers wrote, “Let’s make this year another successful drive for life.”

The drive is typically located outside the hotel. The organizers are asking that all interested attendees register to donate blood prior to coming to PantheaCon so that the Red Cross and the Blood Centers of the Pacific know how many staff members will be needed for the weekend.

Coru organizers see this annual service as part of their devotional religious practice. As they explain: “We are holding this blood drive as an act of devotion in honor of the Morrígan, the matron goddess of the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood. We’re encouraging folks to donate blood in the Morrígan’s name as an offering to her and an act of kinship with our fellow human beings. But the blood drive is for all, and if you happen not to want to give in her name, feel free to give in the name of your own deities, or just give without devotional intent, in honor of humanity.” Directions for participating and other criteria are located on a Facebook event page.

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LONDON — Musician and Witch Nigel Bourne has launched a crowdfunding campaign to replace stolen musical equipment. Among that gear was his beloved Fender Stratocaster and his Gibson J200 acoustic. On his new campaign page, Bourne wrote, “I am left with only a classical guitar to play, which is totally unsuitable for my style of music. I am hoping that my friends and colleagues will be able and willing to help out. The loss of these beloved instruments is almost unbearable.”

Bourne worked as a session musician in the 1970s, toured folks clubs around England, and has also recorded four albums of Pagan music. Most recently,  he recorded a solo album entitled Path of the Magician – a musical journey on the Tree of Life. The goal of the crowdfunding campaign is to raise £2,000 in order to replace the guitars, so that he can resume playing his style of music once again.  

In other news

  • It was reported last week that the Awen symbol, commonly used in Druid practice, has been added to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ list of emblems of belief. The symbol can now be requested for gravestones and other memorial markers. Th Awen is number 65 on that list, joining the many other emblems of significance for people of minority religions or no religion at all. The first gravestone with an Awen is reportedly already in production. It will honor the life of Air Force Captain Wayne Laliberte of Texas (1954-2013). We will have the full story this week.
  • Pagans will soon be descending on Claremont, Calif. for the 14th annual Conference for Current Pagan Studies. For 2017, the academic-based indoor conference is themed: “Visions of our Future.” Author Ivo Dominguez Jr. and anthropologist Amy Hale are this year’s featured speakers.The conference is held over two days, Jan 28-29, at Claremont Graduate University.
  • As we move into February, Pagan conference season begins in earnest. Many people are making their plans to go to PantheaCon, one of the most well-known and certainly the biggest such conference available. Held each year in San Jose California, PantheaCon is a four-day indoor conference offering workshops and events from “varied Pagan, Heathen, Wiccan, reconstructionist, indigenous, spiritual and magical groups.” This year’s PantheaCon will be held Feb. 17-20.

[Courtesy A. Spiers. All Rights Reserved]

  • Photographer Allan Spiers has launched his “Esbat” project. Born in Peru, Spiers is a self-taught graphic-designer and professional photographer. In his spare time, he creates evocative projects that merge art and photography in a way that reflect his occult and spiritual beliefs. In our interview with Spiers, he spoke about these projects and, specifically, about “The Sabbat,” which focuses on representations of the male body. As we noted at the time, he was preparing to launch a new project, “The Esbat,” which would focus on women and women’s bodies. The beginnings of that portfolio are now available.
  • Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox will be facilitating a live, call-in forum, Pagan Voices on the Women’s March on her weekly podcast, Nature Folk. The special two-hour podcast, which will held Tuesday Jan. 24 beginning at 7 p.m. CST. Rev. Fox said, “Pagans will share their experiences and perspectives on the Women’s March held on January 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C., and other places across the USA and around the world.”

Witches at the Women’s March on Washington

Fri, 2017-01-20 07:31

WASHINGTON D.C. – On Friday Jan 20, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Then, on Saturday Jan 21, an estimated 200,000 women will march on Washington in protest against an administration that they say is hostile toward women and unwilling to protect their civil rights.

The march organizers’ mission statement begins: “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

Among those thousands of people marching in Washington will be a contingent of 64 plus Witches, who plan to frist meet at the Museum of the American Indian at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, and then they will join up with the larger event.

[Courtesy Witches’ Contingent]

The Firefly House, an organization of Witches and Pagans based in Washington D.C., has called for this gathering. According to Firefly High Priestess Lady Akilah Bloomwild, the group is looking to gather other Witch and Pagan organizations, covens, groves, and solitary workers from all around the country to stand together to “…end racism, sexism, hate; and to spread love, joy, positive energy and good vibration.”

Brandon Blair and his husband Mike, two Witches living in Providence, Rhode Island, are traveling to take part in the Witches march. Blair says he wants to make sure everyone in the Trump administration knows that women’s rights are human rights.

“As are the rights of the LGBT community, people of color, and every other human,” said Blair in an interview.

He noted, “Given the results of the election we will most likely need to stand stronger and fight harder in the coming years, and I wanted to be a part of one of the first events in that fight.” He believes that what he is doing will help to inspire hope and bring forth equality for all, no matter who is in office.

Gwen Walsh, a Solitary Witch from Maine, is also attending the Witches Contingent event. She posted on its Facebook page, “I’m so excited to participate in a Pagan-focused event – can’t wait to meet all of you and raise some energy together.”

Lady Bloomwild doesn’t think the Witches Contingent will stand out too much from the many other groups joining in the march, although she says, “It is possibly that we may start chanting to raise positive energy or call on the elements so that bring some attention to our group.”

Sign that the Dirty Mothers plan to carry as they take part of the Witches Contingent. [Courtesy Photo]

The attendees will carry Firefly House signs and any additional signs participants may bring.

Lady Bloomwild says she hopes the event supports women in what she calls their greatest time of need, “We are coming out to be seen, heard and we will not be silenced. We will raise the spirit of the great Goddess to remove hatred, vileness, and negativity and replace it with love, peace and positivity.”

In addition to the Witches Contingent, blogger Peg Aloi will be leading a ritual for “protection and power to resist.”  She invites, “all earth religion followers (witches, pagans, druids, etc.) and anyone of like mind” to join her at Hancock Park at 10am. In blog post, she wrote, “[The ritual] will consist of a few moments of silence and some vocalizing and a simple grounding. Wicca 101.”

Outside of the Washington D.C. march, there are now a reported 616 sister marches happening around the world. The organization’s website also reports an estimated 2,053,370 marchers will be participating in those sister events, which are sponsored by different local organizations and people. Included in this global day of action is an online “Disability March”  for those people who are unable to get to a live event due to, as it specifies, “a variety of physical limitations as well as chronic illnesses.”

Witches, Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists from all over the country will reportedly be in attendance at many of the corresponding events. Author Byron Ballard, for example, said, “Mother Grove Goddess Temple [has] groups representing at the Asheville Women’s March and the national March in DC. Come find us and walk with our banners.”

To follow the Firefly-sponsored Witches Contingent in Washington D.C., the organizers are encouraging participants to use #witchesatthemarch on Twitter and the group has also said that it will be posting photos of the rally and march as it occurs on their event page.

Community volunteers offer safe rides

Thu, 2017-01-19 11:37

WINNIPEG, Man.  – A Facebook group is taking the issue of women’s safety and transportation to a new level. Ikwe Safe Rides (Women Helping Women) is a private, members-only Facebook group based in Winnipeg, Canada. It has a mandate to offer its membership a safe, donation-based alternative to using taxis.

The group is managed by six administrators and has more than 14, 600 members participating. Two of the administrators are Dana Williams, a self described tree-hugging Witch, and Christine Brouzes, a Metis woman who follows a Christian spirituality. Both Williams and Brouzes devote their free time and energy to administering the group, and to driving other women in need of safe transportation around the city.

Winnipeg is a sprawling city of more than 700,000 people. Despite the population and geographic size, it lacks an efficient mass transportation service. The primary options available to citizens are private cars, taxis, and a bus system, which does not adequately serve all areas of the city. Further complicating things is a long and frigid winter, with a great amount of snow. Moving freely throughout the city is challenging, with long distances between amenities such as grocery stores, schools, medical facilities, and shopping destinations.

Many residents find they need to use a taxi service in order to haul groceries or attend to personal business. For women and children, particularly Indigenous women and girls, taking a taxi ride with one of the commercial companies in town can be a risky and frightening experience. It has become a regular occurrence that the local media will report an incident of sexual violence or harassment by taxi drivers against these groups, and other marginalized people.

The problem has become so intense that the Southern Chief’s Organization (SCO), a First Nations group representing thirty-two First Nations communities in southern Manitoba, issued a November press release, calling attention to the safety concerns and problems experienced by marginalized groups using taxi services. SCO has also created a Taxicab Community Complaint Advocate position in order to assist victims in navigating the system.

Reports of sexual assaults by taxi drivers are common. In May 2016, a transgender man was attacked, and then offered money by the taxi driver to drop the charges. The driver is now charged with sexual assault and obstructing justice. In August 2016, a 37-year old driver was charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year old girl. In December, it was reported that a 19-year old university student was drugged by a taxi driver, sexually assaulted, and woke up the next morning in bed with a man she did not know.

Ikwe Administrator Dana Williams (courtesy photo)

It is reported cases like these and the many other anecdotal stories from community members that led to the founding of the Ikwe Safe Rides (Women Helping Women) Facebook group January 31, 2016. In the Ojibwe language, Ikwe means “woman”, and this group is open to all who identify as women. Men may accompany women on trips, but membership is reserved for self-identified women only.

For Williams,who also co-facilitates the Winnipeg Pagan Pub Moot, serving her community through Ikwe is just part of being a conscientious human being: “I don’t want to live in a city where people don’t help each other, this is the right thing to do.”

As a mother of two, grandmother, and full-time worker at an animal shelter, Williams does not have a great deal of free time, and as she speaks to The Wild Hunt, she regularly checks her phone, monitoring requests for rides coming through the Ikwe Facebook group.

“We work really well together without having many rules” says Brouzes, stressing that Ikwe is not a business, but a private, volunteer based, donation sponsored alternative to taxi services.

“We are not a free ride service, donations are encouraged. Elders can ride for free.” With a chuckle, Williams adds: “Alot of our members aren’t willing to ride for free” and she went on to explain that donations are often greater than what a taxi fare would have been, as members are so grateful to have a safe and cheerful ride with an Ikwe driver.

“What I enjoy most about giving rides to people is sometimes exposing women, who because of the fear, have a limited access to this world.’ says Brouzes, sharing a story about a young inner city mother, who wanted to pick up a television she was purchasing through Kijiji. It was to be collected from a far-flung suburb, in a part of the city that the young woman had never seen before.

“She had the money for the TV, and needed safe transport. She felt safe with Ikwe Safe Rides and a woman driver, to do that.”

The Ikwe team is planning to expand the group next summer, and will have a larger vehicle to use in order to provide rides for women and their families who would like to participate in recreational and cultural activities outside the city.  Brouzes explains: “Birds Hill (Provincial Park) is close enough to do a few runs back and forth a day.”

In addition to this, members will be able to access a family-friendly powwow and day trips to the beach.

Ikwe Administrator Christine Brouzes [Courtesy Photo]

Brouzes understands the value of the experiences and is grateful for the privilege of owning a car. She takes great satisfaction from the ability to share it: “To see the wonder and ability in families eyes, to plan ahead for that, is something really special. Imagine if your life was only 10 blocks wide, and you felt trapped?”

Drivers for the group are screened to ensure that they have a valid drivers license, and up-to-date vehicle insurance. Appropriate car seats are available for the children of the members taking rides.

Members are asked to post to the group when they need a lift, stating the area of town they are leaving from and traveling to. A driver will then respond to the post, requesting a private message with details from the member. When the request is booked, the driver will post “booked” to the wall post, and “completed” when the trip is done. Members and drivers can work out if a return trip is needed, or another trip on a different day.

Ikwe is not the only safe ride service in Winnipeg, but it is the largest. The demand for safe and affordable transportation is increasing as people learn about this particular alternative. Brouzes explains: “Of the 15,000 or so rides we have provided to women, and the several hundred that I have personally provided, every single woman, when I ask them, have you ever had an Ikwe ride before? Whether they say yes or no, they follow up that statement with ‘I’m so glad you exist because…’ and all of them have a negative story to tell about taking a taxi in Winnipeg.”

This grassroots approach to solving the transportation gap in Winnipeg has been successful so far, thanks to the hard work of many community-minded members. The model is being honed and expanded as the group develops and gains capacity. Other community-based approaches to transportation in Winnipeg includes Peg City Car Co-Op, a carsharing program, other safe ride programs. Additionally, Uber is expected to expand into the city once hurdles with the Taxicab Board and public insurance are solved.

“Whiting 41” use hearing to protest Trump picks

Wed, 2017-01-18 10:01

HAMMOND, Ind. –Eight months after 41 protestors were arrested for trespassing at a BP Oil facility in Whiting, Indiana, the so-called “Whiting 41” had to appear in court Jan. 13 to accept their plea bargains. Pagan blogger John Halstead took part in that 2016 demonstration, as we previously reported, and was eager to assist fellow activists turn this 2017 moment into a larger action.

John Halstead reading solidarity statement. [Courtesy Photo]

The video included below is one of several taken during the Jan. 13 demonstration and posted on the Facebook event page. In a different video, not available for embedding, Halstead explains the motive for participating. He says, “We are living in one of the most […] environmentally devastated regions in the country […] It is all part of a petroleum industry that has shown no care for the people in the communities where they are located.”

The 41 people who were arrested last May had been participating in a worldwide day of action against the use of fossil fuels, with events taking place on six continents. As a condition of their case being dismissed, the protesters had to agree not to get into further trouble. However, they had to travel to Hammond in order to enter their pleas in person.

With that many activists gathering together in one place, it would easily seem to many an opportunity for those involved to orchestrate another event. Having that gathering happen just one week before the presidential inauguration, the protesters reportedly felt a greater urgency to speak out. Many of Trump’s cabinet picks are considered climate-change deniers, and that became the focus of last week’s action. Said Halstead:

We had over 100 people there (felt like more), in spite of wind chill temperatures in the teens and a sheet of ice covering everything. We gathered in front of the Lake County Superior Court. Inside, the Whiting 41 were heard by the judge and the order was entered to dismiss their cases contingent on our not committing any criminal offenses for six months. Outside we were met by cheers and applause and the sound of Queen’s “I Want to Break Free.”

Exactly how far these activists can go without revisiting this case is a question that Halstead, himself an attorney, answers more liberally than the lawyer who represented the Whiting 41. “There is some disagreement (between me and our lawyer) whether that means we can’t get arrested or whether than just means we can’t get convicted. I think it means convicted,” Halstead explained. “People want to be able to risk arrest next week at the Women’s March and in April at the big environmental march in [Washington] D.C.”

Whiting 41 protesters. [Courtesy photo]

After emerging from the courthouse, members of the Whiting 41 and others made a further splash by engaging in some street theater to drive home their demands, not least of which is not confirming climate-change deniers Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, and Rick Perry as members of the incoming president’s cabinet. That message in particular was delivered to Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, but protesters also had their current governor — soon-to-be-vice president Mike Pence — in their sights.

Halstead, who felt that the theater action very much resembled Pagan ritual, explained:

We began with flowing blue water represented by streaming blue cloth. The villains — climate change denier nominees for Trump’s cabinet and justices protecting corporate interests (played by my daughter and I) — enter the scene. Lady Justice is blinded.The villains are followed by the giant pipeline of death, which surrounded the water, breaks open, and turns the water black.

And then, as [Dave Stocker,] our art director and narrator said, “We invite the sacred in,” through the words of a representative of indigenous [people]. Lady Justice’s eyes are unveiled and and the water is healed, as we sing, “People gonna rise like the water, gonna tear this system down, I hear the voice of my great grand-daughter, saying keep it in the ground!”

“You Can’t Drink Oil” from Jim “Rock” Quattrocki on Vimeo.

Halstead took at least one other prominent role when he read the list of demands and a solidarity statement before an enthusiastic audience and a bank of news cameras. Those same demands were delivered to a representative of Senator Donnelly, who apparently was not in his office when the activists arrived.

< > John Halstead (right) with his daughter Katya (left) during march. [Courtesy photo]

Column: The Need For Magic in 2017

Tue, 2017-01-17 22:30

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

New years resolutions, new life goals, savings plans and losing weight are a few of the average January chats that tend to circulate social media. The transition from 2016 and to 2017 has been anything but average or the norm though. From the highly intense political climate to the most recent celebrity death;, sliding into 2017 has clearly been a much bumpier ride for many people. Some have expressed relief from what felt like a year of death, while many others have expressed concern and fear in the coming year. From preparation of protests throughout the United States, to a highly contested inauguration, to lots of knitted “pussy hats”; the start to 2017 has been anything but normal.

Transition itself is challenging, whether it is a welcomed transition or one that is dreaded. People often fall back on their religious or spiritual beliefs in times of change, and practitioners of Modern Paganism or magic related practices often utilize…. Well, magic. In speaking to the power and necessity of magic, I am referencing it in all its different forms, not just the visuals of candle lit spellcasting rituals. (Not that candle lit spellcasting is ineffective either).

The action of participating in the outcome of our personal lives, situations in society and even political change can be empowering and effective in a myriad of ways. However one puts energy towards change can constitute a magical intervention,  but how are people seeing the role of magic during these troubling times in society?

Many people are openly talking about and wrestling with the political angst from the incoming administration, a marked increase in hate crimes, continued political unrest, police brutality, and the momentum of attack against policies that protect people of color and women. Is 2017 shaping out to be a year of action and magic?

I know my own reaction to the increasing need for protection and safety brings me to have a lot of varying thoughts about my own magical practice. We know that various forms of witchcraft, folk magic and magical intervention come from a lineage of response to current needs of protection and safety.  Are others asking themselves the same questions about how their spiritual path and systems of magic apply to today’s climate?

I reached out to a variety of practitioners to ask if they feel that there is a need for magic in 2017 and what role they see magic playing.

Lupa

I am a naturalist pagan, so I don’t personally take magic literally in the sense that it’s a supernatural force where you do a spell here and something over there changes in response. I see magic in the power of bonding as a community, in the power of collective action and will. I see magic in the wonder and awe experienced when we remember our place in the greater ecosystem of nature, whether in a wilderness setting or a tiny urban garden. I see magic in a person’s resilience when they’re able to keep moving forward in spite of great adversity. I see magic in the rituals we create to bring us together, to celebrate the world we share, to state our will for all to hear. Do we need that sort of magic in 2017? Absolutely. – Lupa Greenwolf

California, U.S.

Every magical action gives us an inherent opportunity for transformation and that is the basis of witchcraft in its most poignant form. Magical action requires us to first recognize the world as it truly is without illusion, artifice, or self deception and then call into existence a new vision, or way of being which is divorced from restriction and all forms of domination. Political engagement and magical action are inexorably intertwined in that the political body becomes the form through which magical action manifests. If we want to not only resist the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy but become liberated from it, it is our duty as medicine holders and witches to continually work our magics in order to enact new possibilities for the worlds we inhabit. – Lou Florez-Tanti

Laura Tempest Zakroff

It seems to me that so many signs have been pointing to more and more folks embracing non-traditional spirituality and the practices inherent within – magick, spellcraft, ritual, meditation, ecstatic movement, etc – all in the last few years.  That includes all the various P-word branches – witchcraft, Wicca, Druidry, polytheism, pantheism, animism – getting back to roots, in touch with our bodies, and connecting with the world around us.  I remember the last big growth spurt in the late 90’s, but this time around, there’s an even deeper sense of social issues, historical context and research, examining ethics and practices.  I believe it’s a response to what we need as a global society to make the changes necessary for the survival of the planet and everyone on it.  

And when I look at the current political climate and how the usual protocol has lead us here – it’s hard to see or believe how more of the same will get us out of this insanity. Witchcraft in its many forms has long been a way to bring power to the marginal, the disenfranchised, the ignored voices.  It’s a way to take the matter into our own hands when all other methods have been exhausted.  Or is it? If we consider magick to be the power to cause change with our will, to influence the word around us – then there’s no better time to start putting that practice into action on a large scale.  So perhaps magick will be the flapping of the butterfly’s wings to cause the new revolution of change that is needed.  With a heck of a lot of butterflies involved I hope. – Laura Tempest Zakroff

I very much feel that there is a need for magic in 2017. For me magic is not just about communicating my intentions about something I’m trying to accomplish, to the universe. Magic also encompasses feeling connected and offering thanks and Counting blessings. It helps me to remember that I absolutely have a place in this world. So for me really the role that magic plays in the coming year is to remind me that I am connected to all things. And I really need that at this time because lots of things seem to feel so uncertain. Magic allows me to have a sense of peacefulness. – Sarah Penn

The need for magic is multiplied in troubling times, and the political climate of 2017 is shaping up to be quite troubling. Those of us in magical communities will need to fortify our relationship to both our magic and our community, following whatever spells we might do in candlelit rooms with actions taken in soup kitchens and the streets. We should not shrink from using magic to target those who oppress us, and never hesitate to use our powers for the betterment of our kindred. I hope to see folk coming together to plan collective magical actions against those who would deny us our rights and endanger our land. And in coming together I hope we can create spaces in which to share our fears, express our outrage, and renewed each other with laughter and bold plans for better days ahead. – Chas Bogan

I think there is always a need for magic, and given the instability and uncertainty I’m feeling at all levels of society, I think we need magic now more than ever!

For me, “magic” is the act of increasing the possibility of some kind of change occurring, of influencing the odds of things happening (for good or ill). “Magic”, as I understand it, won’t guarantee a result, but will influence the likelihood of an outcome. In my experience as priest and witch, uncertain times are the times when magic has the greatest potential for influence. It’s harder to influence something that’s already a done deal, but it’s comparatively easier to influence things still in motion, and there is an awful lot in motion right now.

We are gearing up for hard times. We are already in hard times, and the trajectories are looking pretty grim for a lot of us individually and collectively. Magic won’t single-handedly change this, but magic can give us hope, and hope is necessary to keep us fighting to make things better. Hope can help to strengthen faith, and faith keeps us in loving dialogue with our Blessed Powers and Ancestors, however we understand them. Magic may be the thing that can tip the balance, keep despair at bay, bring a little more safety and a little more peace and a little more stability to our own families and small immediate communities. If enough of us throw good strong magic, in coordinated ways, that positive impact may be even stronger and wider reaching.

We need magic. We need faith, however we define that for ourselves. We need real prayer, both the kind where we ask our Blessed Powers and our Ancestors for their blessings and help, and the kind where we sit still to receive their advice and wisdom. We need to do our living human parts too; the Powers and Ancestors will do a lot for us but we have to meet them part way. Magic, faith and prayer are not an alternative to calling our government officials, protesting, working our contacts with folks with more power, protecting and caring for our communities in all the ways we do so with our feet and hands and creativity and voices, but it is a powerful supplement to all that other needed work.  Magic may just help tip the scales towards keeping us and our loved ones in a good way, and help move us out of knee-jerk reacting or shutting down, and into sustainable, positive and effective action. – River Devora

I sometimes struggle with the word magic. I used to say it’s just science we don’t understand yet, though the main definition I use these days is, all the work I did behind the scenes that you didn’t see. And I think that we very much need that in 2017, Work with a capital W. Personal and spiritual work to transform who we are, work to shift our own consciousness at will, and work to shift the consciousness of many others. However, there’s another more intangible essence of the word; it evokes a sense of wonder, of transcendence. We need that too, that inspiration, that connection to the divine, that sense that we are part of the universe, that connection to our own power and life force. We need magic to transform ourselves; part of that magic (and behind the scenes) work for me is I’m seeking out therapy to deal with my anxiety. A number of factors, including the current political climate, have consistently triggered me and I need to be able to cope with it, to be able to function, so that I’m a useful servant of my community. We need magic to sustain us, to give us the life force to get through difficult times. And we need magic to help us resist. Advertising and political rhetoric is powerful magic, and there are few people better at enchantment and trance language than people trained in politics, the media, and advertising. Words are magic. I believe there is absolutely a need for magic right now, a need for each person to level up, so to speak. To gain skills, to gain strength, and to serve our highest selves and our communities, and the generations that come after us. – Shauna Aura Knight

[Photo Credit: pixababy]

The overwhelming theme that came from those who shared their words in this piece include the reality of “needs” and that the definition of magic extends beyond any one practice or action. And while many different circumstances, practices, political views and experiences lead people in different directions with different perspectives, the need for change couldn’t be more evident than it is in today’s society.

As the year unfolds it will be interesting to see how practitioners within the Pagan and Polytheist communities utilize their spiritual practices and various forms of magic to shift the balance of what seems like a very unbalanced world. Whether for protection of those who are the most marginalized, women’s rights, affordable health care, or justice in the courtrooms, it is clear that there are really important reasons for us all to stay present and invested in the outcome of our society and where we are going together.

Once again there are many different questions to continue to ask within our individual belief systems and within our communities. What are we willing to utilize to create a shift towards a healthier society? How can we collectively engage as community to manifest the 2017 that we feel we want?  Complicated questions for a complex climate and an even more complex community.

UPDATE: the Rectory loses its space, founders clarify reasons

Tue, 2017-01-17 08:28

MONTREAL — It was announced Jan. 11 that the Rectory, a newly-created Pagan ritual and learning space, would be closing its doors as of Feb. 1. Located in an historic building owned by an Anglican church, the Rectory was to be an inclusive facility welcoming Pagans of all practices and as well as providing safe space to other organizations and their work. However, once the plans were made public, the founders were forced to close the project down.

We spoke with founders T. Scarlet Jory and Robyn about what happened in order to clarify the situation.

“Prior to [publication of The Wild Hunt article], there was nothing to suggest that we needed to hide who and what we were. We were not concerned about the diocese finding out that we were renting the rectory space,” said Robyn, who is co-founder and the daughter-in-law of the church’s reverend.

The women originally located the available church space through this family connection, and Robyn added that her mother-in-law is open-minded and knows that she and Jory “are Pagan and deeply spiritual.” However, the reverend reportedly did not know the full plans for the rectory space, nor did the diocese.

Robyn explained, “When we signed our rental agreement with the church, to rent space within their rectory, it was with the understanding that we were opening and running a tutoring centre, and that we would also run some workshops on the side.”

When asked why they didn’t reveal the full scope of the project from the get-go, she said, “We didn’t know that things would take the direction that they did, or that the workshops and community events would become such a focus for us, until suddenly there was no tutoring happening, but lots of very excited Pagans and others who were interested in coming out.”

As we noted yesterday, it was TWH article, which is published and available unedited, that led to confusion among the organizations involved. Members read our article and alerted the Anglican Diocese of Montreal, who reportedly became angry and immediately contacted the church.

The reverend, who was at the time on her way to India, contacted Robyn and Jory about the news. The very next day, the women contacted us about misinformation and the anger coming from the church community. Additionally, Robyn reported to an Anglican blog site that we had taken quotes “out of context,” reiterating that the space was only for tutoring. She said:

Yes, I am a witch by faith, and yes, I rent an office space at the Rectory. What I do there is tutoring, and offer some small spiritual services to a small group of people. We are an interfaith group. The Church itself is Anglican, and friendly, but not involved in my personal activities, or that of my business partner Scarlet. Further, a lot of what Scarlet is quoted as saying in the original article, was taken out of context from a conversation between her and the writer.

When we recently asked exactly what was out of context and wrong in our report, Robyn simply said, “That is difficult to answer. I think Scarlet said some things casually that she did not realize would go on the record. She was also distracted and caring for her baby while doing the interview, which I was also told.”

When we contacted Jory for her input on the alleged misinformation, she asked that we speak with Robyn on the matter.

Robyn also added, “I was not asked about the TWH interview – but rather was informed that it was happening. [..] I was not available to join the Skype interview that was done, so I had no idea what was being said.”  Additionally, at the time and now, the reverend has been unavailable for comment due to her trip.

But she did confirm that their plans for the Rectory, as we accurately reported, included far more than tutoring.

While Jory wouldn’t speak to us again directly, she did post on her blog about the Rectory’s closing. She wrote, “It is with great disappointment that we must announce that we will be leaving the Rectory as of February 2017. […] This past Friday, January 6, 2017, we were given notice that we will need to leave our stay at the Rectory, due to some very awful miscommunication that led to a lot of anger on the part of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal. Ultimately it was their decision, and not that of the church from whose Rectory we have been operating, that we needed to leave.”

Robyn and Jory are now looking for a new location to restart their project. Robyn said, “You can only begin to imagine how sick of talking about this I am. It is all anyone wants to talk about and I just want to move on and focus on finding the new space and moving there.” She added that they now have a potential new location and will be making an announcement soon.

“A teacher of mine once said that you run into the most adversity when you are doing the best work,” Robyn added. “I believe this, very much, and I think that if anything, this has galvanized our purpose and resolve that what we are doing is good and necessary, and that we should persevere.”

On her blog post, Jory wrote:

We would like to be clear that the matter of our leaving is not a case of Christians vs Pagans. It is a matter of human error. Please be kind and understanding to everyone involved on both sides of this situation. […] The decision for us to leave was made to try to keep things from getting out of hand and to try to ensure no one is hurt moving forward. Rather than fight to stay where we are not welcome, we would like to move forward peacefully, with dignity, and respect for our present hosts who have been perfectly lovely with us to this point.[…] That said, we would like everyone to keep 2017 positive…

After this experience, we asked Robyn what advice she’d offer to others: “I think the most important thing I would pass on, in terms of advice, is to be as utterly transparent with everyone, every single step of the way. Never hide anything, never omit anything, keep people as up to date as you can.”

Robyn explained, “I doubt that [the reverend] would have even minded [about the full plans] had things not suddenly gone explosively public before she had the chance to talk to her church council, or to the diocese to wean them on toward the idea.”

“I can’t help but wonder if we’d done things more slowly, with baby steps, if it would have gone differently.”

  *     *     *

Editorial Note: The Wild Hunt article that led to the reported public outcry was never deleted, but only removed temporarily while we clarified the reports of misinformation and learned what in fact was going on. We apologize to the readership for the confusion. 

Column: Resiliency and the Spirit War

Tue, 2017-01-17 01:41

“6-3-6: The concept of politics has then become completely absorbed into a war of spirits.” Nietzschemanteion

The Star, Tarot de Marseille, Jean Noblet. Public Domain.

Or as Diane di Prima wrote, “the war that matters is the war against the imagination/all other wars are subsumed in it.” The enemy is despair, but secular ideologies of progress will never be enough to keep the enemy at bay. It takes a certain kind of sympathetic magic to counter despair.

The seeds of what one is fighting for must be contained in one’s actions. If you want to live in a world where the relationships between the gods, the ancestors, the land and human beings are in harmony, then you have to put effort into strengthening and balancing those relationships right now.

We need to solidify our relationships with those who are closest to us first. Small numbers should not be seen as a deterrent to action, but an asset. In the words of the anonymous authors of At Daggers Drawn:

The method of spreading attacks is a form of struggle that carries a different world within it. To act when everyone advises waiting, when it is not possible to count on great followings, when you do not know beforehand whether you will get results or not, means one is already affirming what one is fighting for: a society without measure.

This, then, is how action in small groups of people with affinity contains the most important of qualities–it is not mere tactical contrivance, but already contains the realization of one’s goal. Liquidating the lie of the transitional period means making the revolt itself a different way of conceiving relations.

If we refuse centralization we must go beyond the quantitative idea of rallying the exploited for a frontal clash with power. It is necessary to think of another concept of strength–burn the census lists and change reality.

And if your motivation is love, then your actions in defending your loved ones must contain that love within them. Morpheus Ravenna expressed this concept well:

In answer to the questions about why I urge us to fight, and whether I am devaluing love by focusing on battle readiness, here is my answer. What I am encouraging – strength in kinship, survival skill, and ability to defend what we love – these things are of benefit whether we ever meet trouble or not. My answer is that to fight for love is love in action.

Walls and Eyes

“To make the force of your army’s attack like a grindstone crushing an egg, you must master the substantial and the insubstantial.”
—Sun Zi, The Art of War

Formation with two eyes. Public Domain.

In the Chinese board game 围棋 (wéiqí, more commonly known as Go in Japanese and English), formations are captured by being surrounded by enemy stones. To make capture impossible, a formation must contain two empty spaces, or “eyes,” within it. Formations with no eyes, or only a single eye, are vulnerable.

When surrounded by enemies, walls are necessary to delineate and defend one’s community. But more important than the walls is the space within it, the space that makes room for the gods and spirits, that makes room for worship and dancing and feasting, that makes room for the hearth fire for which one fights.

In my article on Tupac Shakur, I compared Thugz Mansion to the Isles of the Blessed, an afterlife where one meets ones heroes (in the ancient Greek sense) face to face. But upon relistening to the song in a ritual setting, I realized that the song also contains this message: given the failure of political attempts to seize physical space, our only recourse is to seek spiritual refuge, to seek out Thugz Mansion while still living: “Will I survive all the fights and the darkness?/Trouble sparks, they tell me: ‘Home is where the heart is.'”

Trump’s wall contains a single eye, but it is the eye on the back of the dollar bill, the eye that surveils an empire built by the labor of slaves on land whose sovereignty has been and continues to be violated. America’s empty space is a spiritual vacuum, a severance from the spirits of the land, and its walls are destined to fall.

The American empire is the direct descendant of the Roman, tracing the legitimacy of its imperium from Protestant England to the Vatican to the Western Roman Empire. The American republic consciously modeled itself on its Roman predecessor: fasces flank the flag in the House of Representatives, and are featured prominently throughout government architecture and insignia. However, Roman myth and history also contain many interesting stories that partisans on the other side of the spirit war can learn from as well.

The collapse of an empire is an opportunity for new communities to emerge and carve out their own spaces, like the Kurds of Rojava have done in the Syrian civil war. To survive, however, these new communities will need sources of strength and resiliency.

Resiliency

“I know my gods are real. They have enabled me to withstand you.”
—James Baldwin, No Name In The Street

The English word “resiliency” is derived from the Latin resilio, meaning “to leap or spring back.” The Latin verb salio, “to leap,” is also the origin of the name of the Salii, a priesthood of twelve youths who served Mars Gradivus. Livy writes that the Salii were ordered by Numa to bear arms and “to carry the celestial shields called ancilia, and to go through the city singing songs, with leaping and solemn dancing,” and that the time period in March “during which the sacred shields are moved” was considered “too holy for marching,” at least for the Salian priests themselves. The same taboo is also mentioned in the histories of Polybius, Tacitus and Suetonius, and also applied during October, which was also when the festival of Armilustrium was held for the purpose of cleansing weapons. The Salii were also associated with lavish banquets, as can be seen in one of Horace’s odes.

The association of the leaping and dancing priests of Mars with annual religiously-mandated periods of peace and banqueting suggests that this ritual distinction between war and peace is important to the “springing back” intrinsic to resiliency. The ability to set down shields and armor and weapons is crucial. It also calls to mind the temple of Janus, the doors of which theoretically also marked a distinction between war and peacetime, but in practice were almost always open. Plutarch writes:

There is a temple to him in Rome, which has two doors, and which they call the gate of war. It is the custom to open the temple in time of war, and to close it during peace. This scarcely ever took place, as the empire was almost always at war with some state, being by its very greatness continually brought into collision with the neighboring tribes. (XX)

Aeneas carrying Anchises. Public Domain.

The United States, too, has remained in a continuous state of emergency for many years. Rome’s permanent war traced itself to two different foundation myths, one involving the wolfish fratricide of Romulus and Remus (which finds a strange parallel in the Icelandic Prose Edda story of Loki’s sons Váli and Narfi/Nari), and the other claiming descent from Aeneas, the son of Venus and Anchises, who escaped Troy with his father and his household Gods on his back, a model for pious resiliency if ever there was one.

The latter story is particularly ironic considering how many other tribes and peoples Rome conquered, but like Aeneas, many of those tribes found ways to continue the worship of their gods and goddesses even in defeat. For example, hundreds of inscriptions to the Matronae and the Matres bear epithets that are clearly derived from Germanic or Gaulish languages. River Devora writes about how the Matronae act as a collective of many individuals:

The Matronae and Matres were a collective of many deities, each one specific, regional, local, and distinct. Each individual goddess had her tribe, her land feature, her individual relationships with others from her specific pantheon etc. Each goddess was a unique, standalone goddess. The Matronae functioned as a collective of individual goddesses, each of whom had their own separate stories, attributes and even pantheons. The individual goddesses crossed regional and tribal lines to function as a multi-cultural, multi-regional, and multi-traditional collective.

The collective which supports and strengthens the individual rather than effacing their identity, and which operates across cultures and traditions respectfully, holds another important piece to the question of resiliency. One of the Matronae epithets that combines Latin and Germanic elements, Veteranehae, again recalls the transition between war and peace discussed above. Roman veterani, retired soldiers, were often recruited from conquered tribes, and their worship of the multi-cultural Matronae makes perfect sense given this context.

In China, the syncretic Daoist-Buddhist-Manichaean White Lotus Society overthrew the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty, then continued to wage clandestine insurgencies against the Ming and Qing (Manchu) Dynasties for centuries, all the while advocating the abolition of gender. “Its practices included medical healing, sitting and breathing exercises, martial arts, and the chanting of spells and charms.”

Collapse

“And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far/ancestral voices prophesying war!”
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kubla Khan

Hunnish chamfron, bridle mounts and whip handle. Public Domain.

Many cross-cultural formations arose during the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, most famously the Hunnic Empire, a confederacy of Huns and Alans and Germanic tribes including the Ostrogoths and the Gepidae. Attila bears the unique distinction of being attested to in Roman histories, in the Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith, in the Norse sagas Atlakviða, Volsunga saga and Atlamál, and in the Medieval German poem Nibelungenlied.

The Huns intermarried with other tribes, and allowed Christian missionaries into their territory “in a spirit of religious tolerance,” despite maintaining their traditional religious practices, such as divination by “entrails of cattle and certain streaks in bones that had been scraped,” possibly a form of scapulimancy similar to that practiced in Shang Dynasty China.

The Armenian chronicler Moses Daskhuranci, who visited the Huns of the Caucusus, described tree-worship, burnt horse sacrifices to “Tʾangri Khan, called Aspandiat by the Persians,” self-inflicted lacerations (also attested to by the Roman historian Priscus) and sword fights during funerals, and “sacrifices to fire and water and to certain gods of the roads, and to the moon and to all creatures considered in their eyes to be in some way remarkable.” It was not until the 680s that the Huns of the Caucasus converted to Christianity, destroyed their sacred groves and idols, and promised “to burn the sorcerers and wizards who will not adopt the faith, and [to] put to the sword any person who acts like a pagan.”

The Saxons fought as Roman foederati against the Huns at the battle of the Catalaunian Plains, but following the withdrawal of Roman forces from Britain, they and the Angles migrated to and settled in Britain. Bede’s On the Reckoning of Time gives a few fragments of information about the religious practices of the Anglo-Saxons: they conducted ceremonies on Modranicht, mothers’ night, which coincided with Christmas Eve; March was named Hredmonath after the goddess Hreða, who received sacrifices that month; and April was named Eosturmonath after the goddess Eostre, whose feasts were held at that time.

Interestingly, the name element “Hreð-” also appears in the term Hreðgotan, a name used in two Old English poems to refer to the Goths, who are described as fighting against Attila in Widsith and as fighting with the Huns against (anachronistically) Constantine in Elene (87-89). The possibly related terms Hreiðgotar and Reiðgotaland are found in an Eddaic poem and in numerous sagas respectively, and an inscription from Rök in Õstergötland, Sweden, mentions the Hraiðkutum in conjunction with Theoderic and the Maerings, whom the Old English poem Deor also link together (90). These parallel transmissions remind us that power of poetry for the preservation of historical and mythical memory should never be underestimated as another factor contributing to resiliency. The oral tradition of the Rigveda and the Homeric recollection of Bronze Age boar’s tusk helmets that were long gone by the time the Iliad was written are yet further examples of poetry’s miraculous endurance.

The Huns and the Anglo-Saxons were both in turn violently converted themselves, but nonetheless, they provide historical precedent for polytheist, animist, tree-worshiping tribal confederacies “springing back” and seizing space from the collapse of a monotheist empire. Nietzsche wrote that “there will be wars such as the earth has never seen.” He may well be right, but we would do well to study the lessons of our ancestors.

Pagan Community Notes: Martin Luther King Jr., The Rectory, King Arthur, and more!

Mon, 2017-01-16 08:00

UNITED STATES —  On this day each year, the U.S. honors Martin Luther King Jr. Public schools, government offices, and many businesses are closed in order to recognize his work and sacrifice, as well as the staggering influence that his message has had on American society. Many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists across the country participate in local activities, both small and large, and privately in ritual to recognize Dr. King and his influence.

After a contentious presidential election cycle, this year’s day of honor has found itself at the helm of what promises to be an interesting and tense political week, culminating in inauguration day.  While there have been celebrations and parades throughout the country focused specifically on King and his legacy, much of this year’s political energy and focus is on the coming week, as the U.S. is poised for a political shift with unknown consequences.

Some Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists, hailing from all walks of life, are preparing to participate in the week’s schedule of marches, actions, and other activities specific to their political and social concerns. These events include the past weekend’s rallies to save ACA, the Women’s March on Washington, and the reported large number of inauguration protests.

While none of these actions are directly related to Martin Luther King’s own powerful work in social justice, they all originate from the same spirit – one of speaking up or out against perceived injustices, and working toward radical social change. Since his death, King’s message has been distilled down and come to permeate American culture in an iconic way. Its meaning now exceeds the focused goals of his particular decade and inspires a new generation of Americans to action bringing renewed vitality and forward momentum to his work. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

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

*   *   *

MONTREAL —  On Jan. 11, T. Scarlet Jory, co-founder of Crescent Moon School of Magic and Paganism, announced that The Rectory would be closing down as of February 2017. “This past Friday, January 6, 2017, we were given notice that we will need to leave our stay at the Rectory, due to some very awful miscommunications that led to a lot of anger on the part of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal.”

On Jan 5., TWH reported on a story about the birth of The Rectory, a new facility serving the Montreal Pagan community. According to the founders, Robyn and T. Scarlet Jory, the space was imagined as a place of inclusivity for a very diverse Pagan world, as a well as a proponent of interfaith community support. They had a successful soft opening in the fall, and were preparing for the full launch in January. What happened?

The trouble began after the TWH article was published and members of the greater Anglican community alerted the Diocese to the activities going on in the church. The Diocese and the church were under the impression that the space was being rented for a tutoring program, and neither organization knew of The Rectory founders’ full plans. After the Diocese learned about the scope of programming through internet reports, it immediately contacted the Reverend, who then called Robyn and Jory. In response, the two women asked us to temporarily remove our article in order to allow them to ascertain what exactly was happening. We agreed to do so based on the information we had, but the story was already public. Within hours, the founders had to remove all references to The Rectory in social media, as well as take down the new Rectory website.

In her Jan. 11 announcement Jory states that, after consideration, the Diocese asked them to leave, but it was not the church’s decision. Jory added, “We would like to be clear that the matter of our leaving is not a case of Christians vs Pagans. It is a matter of human error. […]. Rather than fight to stay where we are not welcome, we would like to move forward peacefully, with dignity, and respect for our present hosts who have been perfectly lovely with us to this point.”  Robyn agreed, saying that they are not blaming anyone for what has happened and that they are trying to just move forward.

Our article is available again, and we are currently in touch with the founders to learn more specifically where and how the communication broke down, as well as where the two women are going from here. Tomorrow, we’ll bring you their candid responses and what they have learned from this incident.

*   *   *

UNITED KINGDOM — The BBC and the Guardian are reporting that King Arthur Pendragon has gotten a court date for his Stonehenge cause. As we reported in June 2016, King Arthur, an English Druid and activist, has been fighting “against English Heritage’s introduction of a car park charge of £15 (roughly 21 USD) at the summer solstice.” The solstice ritual is one of  the most popular for Pagans, and he calls this new levy a “pay to pray” tax.

“English Heritage make money off Stonehenge for 360 days a year. They receive 1.3 million visitors per year and charge them approximately £20 each per entry,” he told TWH in that June interview.  King Arthur believes that they shouldn’t need to ask for more money on worship days such as the solstice, “when only Pagan communities are given access.”

According to The Guardian, King Arthur “has petitioned the court to revoke all fees, citing articles nine, 10, 11 and 14 of the European convention on human rights.” He will reportedly now receive a hearing in small claims court.

King Arthur was unavailable for comment in time for publication, but we are in touch with him and will have more on the story as the court case unfolds.

In Other News

  • The Washington D.C.-based  Firefly House continues its planning for the Witches contingent at the Women’s March on Washington Saturday, Jan. 21. The group is reportedly meeting at the “great waterfall in front of the Museum of the American Indian” at 10am. Through its Facebook event page, it is sharing data on what to bring and not bring to the march, as well as planning for other side activities.
  • As we reported last May, blogger John Halstead was arrested with 40 other people at at “Break Free” protest in Indiana. After eight months, his court hearing was finally held Friday, and the judge agreed to dismiss the case if the protesters “commit no criminal offenses” over the next 6 months. We will have more on this story in the coming week.
  • A new survey has been launched to “explore women’s experiences at the crossroads of Pagan or Goddess Spirituality and American homeschooling motherhood.” Survey creator Kate Brunner explains “This research will be used for a published essay in a forthcoming Demeter Press project.” The survey can be taken either anonymously or not.
  • The Conference for Current Pagan Studies is less than two weeks away.  In its 14th year, the academic-based indoor Pagan conference takes place in Claremont, California, and its 2017 theme is “Visions of our Future.” Author Ivo Dominguez Jr. and anthropologist Amy Hale are this year’s featured speakers. The conference is held over two days, Jan 28-29, at Claremont Graduate University.
  • For our readers in the U.K, the Children of Artemis (CoA) will be hosting the first ever moot for Pagans living in the mid-Sussex. In Canada, the U.K. and other parts of the world, moots are popular ways of bringing Pagans and Heathens together socially. They are not quite as regular in the U.S., outside of some American Heathen communities. The new CoA Mid Sussex moot will be held at the Beechwood Hall Hotel on Feb. 2.

 

SCOTUS denies review of Buddhist temple case

Sun, 2017-01-15 10:42

NEW YORK –  Since 2011 the China Buddhist Association (CBA) has been involved in a legal battle over the excommunication of members and the management of its organization.  The original 2011 Tung v China Buddhist Association went through the New York courts, landing it at the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court. However, on Jan 9, certiorari was denied, allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand.

“The court will not intervene in matters that are predominantly religious disagreements.” (New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Nov 13, 2014)

The China Buddhist Association was formed and incorporated in 1963 by Master Mew Fung Chen to support the Chinese immigrant population in Manhattan and, eventually, the growing community in Flushing, Queens. CBA thrived, and in 1970 the organization was granted tax-exempt status as a religious organization. It purchased property: the Fa Wang Temple in Manhattan and, later, the Chi Hang temple in Flushing.

Today, the Chi Hang temple serves as the organization’s headquarters. Its services are reportedly offered in Mandarin and English. CBA is recognized as an important Dharma center in the region. In 2013, CBA celebrated its 50th birthday with a two-day celebration, including a number of other Buddhist leaders and members of the community. The organization was presented with gifts and congratulations for its “historic milestone.”

2013 50th celebration parade [Courtesy http://en.lingyinsi.org/]

During one of CBA’s growth periods in the mid-1990s, Master Chen hired Master Ming Tung to be the resident monk at the organization’s Manhattan location. According to the 2014 court ruling, “Among Master Tung’s duties were teaching new members the manners of worship, praying, chanting, worshiping, preaching and conducting Buddhist ceremonies.” Master Chen resided at CBA’s newly-established headquarters in Flushing.

According to the same document, Master Chen reports that Master Tung eventually “went rogue,” which what eventually led to the legal complications. ” [Master Tung] showed a lapse in faith, promoted disharmony within the CBA, disobeyed his (Master Chen’s) authority, strayed from the path of righteousness and engaged in wayward behavior contrary to Buddhist tenets. This struggle has, at times, escalated into violence, necessitating police intervention, and there have been protests at the Manhattan temple.”

In 2010, Master Chen, on behalf of CBA, severed all ties with Master Tung. Then, in 2011, he closed down the Manhattan temple, and excommunicated its members, after allegedly holding a CBA members meeting and vote.

Those actions prompted a lawsuit, in which Master Tung claimed that Master Chen had overstepped his authority, not abiding by the bylaws of the organization. The 2012 ruling by the New York Supreme Court (Judge Geoffrey D. Wright) affirmed that conclusion. Judge Wright declared the 2011 meeting and any associated temple decisions invalid, and required CBA to hold a new all-members meeting, inviting Master Tung and all those excommunicated.

According to court documents, Master Tung and his followers’ only goal was to convene the entire organization in order to legally split CBA and its holdings into two distinct temples.

CBA appealed the 2012 ruling, arguing: “The petition [by Tung et. al.] should be dismissed because the relief sought by petitioners cannot be decided through the application of neutral principles of law, and that by invalidating May 2011 meeting and election, and directing that petitioners be permitted to participate in a future CBA meeting, the court interfered with religious matters which are constitutionally protected.”

In 2014, the case was reviewed by the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, who overturned the lower court’s decision. Delivering the opinion, Judge Judith Gische writes, “The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which is binding on the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees religious bodies ‘independence from secular control or manipulation — in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine’ ”

In that 2014 decision, there was one dissenting opinion by Judge Tom Peter.  He agreed with the lower court, believing the matter to be purely organizational and not religious at all. In his dissent opinion, he writes, “The presiding monk Master Tung was in charge of the Manhattan temple and had been conducting the affairs and business of the temple for many years. Significantly, the unauthorized actions of the purported trustees in closing the Manhattan temple and expelling its congregants deprived the resident clergy of both their ministry and their residence, and the long-term congregant of her place of worship.”

He concludes that Master Chen demonstrated “utter disregard of law and the association’s bylaws,” and violated the corporation’s own rules, which are not religion-based.

However, the other four appellate judges disagreed. Judge Gische wrote, “Although a court may determine whether a religious organization has adhered to its membership requirements by examining corporate documents, such as the bylaws, here the bylaws are unhelpful because they are silent on that issue.” The decision notes that a ruling in favor of Master Tung and an overturning of the CBA’s own May 2011 meeting would naturally include an overturning of the excommunication, which places the court in a position of making an ecclesiastical judgement.

Not satisfied with that decision, Master Tung sent a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Jan. 9. declined to hear the case, letting the appellate court’s ruling stand.

Within the appellate court’s summary, there are a number of cited cases that involve the interplay between court action and religious organizations. These cases demonstrate decisions made concerning if, when and how the secular courts can interfere in debates within religious communities. The cases range from problems within Jewish temples to Catholic churches. The specific religion itself is not of primary concern. In fact, the Tung v China Buddhist Association case was just cited in a more recent 2016 case, The Bronx Islamic Society Inc. v. Terence H. Ally, Mohammed Raffeek, Bakesh and Mohamed Shabir Khan, which also involves membership concerns.

While these specific cases do not involve Pagan, Heathen, or polytheist practices, they could have. The CBA lawsuit and others like it point to the ongoing push and pull within the nuanced relationship between secular law and religious organizational administration, and these rulings do demonstrate what could potentially happen, in varied situations, if a Pagan or Heathen nonprofit organization took one of its own internal disputes to the U.S. courts.

Editorial: Texts, Lies, and Propaganda

Sat, 2017-01-14 11:24

This is not fake news.

Over the past six months, there has been increasing concerns about the validity of news media content. A report might come out, for example, discrediting a politician or a government program. This article is then followed up by reports discrediting that report, which is then followed by reports discrediting the writers discrediting the original report. Then, a day later, another report comes out discrediting the media outlet that didn’t report on the discredited report, and so on and so forth, until president-elect Donald Trump takes to Twitter and types the words, “Fake News!” as if he were still on The Apprentice firing a hopeful contestant.

[Pixabay]

In recent days, this situation played out, more or less, after BuzzFeed released documents that detail president-elect Trump’s alleged dealings with Russia. While BuzzFeed did report that these found documents were not yet corroborated, the frenzied media circus began with the public engaging in a type of speculatory ping pong. BuzzFeed itself has offered its own play-by-play with a bit of color, including retaliation articles, criticisms of the writer and the outlet, and even the exact date and time of the requisite “Fake News” tweet.

Outside of the framework of current politics and the recent shower of potentially incriminating evidence, that scenario, and others like it, illustrate a very serious cultural issue concerning truth in media. In December, Facebook announced that it would be implementing new systems to ostensibly curb the sharing of so-called fake news on its platform, beginning with what it labeled “the worst of the worst.”

The social media giant has been under scrutiny for its role in the spread of false news stories and, in fact, this has recently gotten the company into legal trouble. According to a Jan. 12 BBC report, Syrian migrant Anas Modamani has filed a lawsuit against Facebook for not removing posts and reports that falsely accuse him of being a terrorist. He told the BBC, “Not all fake news is illegal, but where it amounts to slander, as I believe this does, then it should be taken down.” A court date is set for Feb. 6 in Wurzburg, Germany.

Facebook is not alone in this problem. Twitter, Tumblr, and others have all been implicated as accessories, if you will, to gossip. In fact, Reddit and 4chan have been directly implicated in the recent controversy concerning Trump’s doings in Russia. On Friday, BBC director James Harding said that his agency would be stepping up its own “Reality Check” processes to curb the spread of fake news.

But this problem isn’t one that the social media giants can control; nor is it one that journalists and the media industry as a whole can solve alone. In fact, the creation and sharing of fake news or the misinterpretation of media output are not issues even unique to our contemporary digitally-infused world. Such issues have been ongoing, most assuredly, since even before the days of the town crier and the posted community news bulletin.

Regardless the problem is real and quite serious, and now it is exacerbated by digital media’s ease and fluidity of production and distribution. In other words, the internet has taken our traditional news culture, injected it with steroids, and placed it on the front porch to wave at passersby. The intrinsic good and bad in our very basic human communication skills are now supersized and prancing around with wild abandon.

If we look more closely at this fake news issue, it can roughly be broken down in to three main areas: Propaganda, Falsehoods, Misreads. Propaganda is generally created and used by a government to manipulate the populace. Falsehoods can be outright lies, sensationalism, or simply errors within news articles. Misreads are just that, misinterpretations by the reader.

“Propaganda (or how we learned to stop worrying and love Stalin)”

Let’s go backward in time to another moment in history during which the U.S. government colluded with Russia in order to manipulate the American populace. I don’t mean the past few days or even years. While recent reports point to Russian influence affecting a presidential election, there was a time when the government created a Russian-based mythology in order to help start a war.

Prior to 1938, the American public was not interested in getting involved in World War II, and it generally held a low and even fearful opinion of the Soviet Union, which was at the time tightly controlled by Joseph Stalin. In Film Propaganda and American Politics, James E. Combs writes that the United States made a “quick and effective mobilization of propaganda […] to shore up morale in the citizen and military populations, to demoralize the enemy”and to gain support for the allies, including the Soviet Union.[i]

One way it accomplished this was through film, a popular art form that was readily recognized for its ability to influence the masses. Stalin himself has been quoted as saying, “Film is the greatest means of mass agitation.”[ii]

Through its Office of War Information (OWI), the U.S. government leaned on Hollywood, as well as other cultural industries, to support and encourage the war effort. When the propaganda campaign began, OWI set up a film bureau, which by 1944 was reportedly reviewing nearly all films being produced. It was a time of extreme censorship for an industry that was already manipulating American culture through its own tight censorship controls. (But that’s another story for another time.)

While there were virtually no Soviet-based films made prior to 1939, Hollywood produced a number of pro-Soviet films during the war era. The most notorious of these was called Mission to Moscow (1943), based on a 1937 book of the same name written by the United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph Davies. The book and the film justified many of the atrocities known to have been committed by Stalin, and they ignored those that were unable to be spun in a positive way. Soviet officials provided stock footage and applauded the film.

Through Mission to Moscow and similar pro-Soviet films, the OWI falsified a reality in order to create a digestible myth that would allow an American public to accept the Soviet-American alliance during WWII. However, when that war ended and the Cold War set in, the Stalin myth was quickly tossed out, quite literally with regard Mission to Moscow. The film was ordered destroyed.[iii]

“But then again maybe we don’t”

In its place came a new propaganda. As early as 1947 with the birth of the CIA, the wheels turned quickly as U.S. government reportedly began to use art and culture to wage war against its former ally. In a 1995 article for the Independent, journalist and historian Frances Stonor Saunders explains, “Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations.”

The new CIA propaganda agency placed agents in various cultural industries to promote and sponsor American products, from musical performances to the famous Fodor’s travel guides. For example, the CIA reportedly subsidized the animated production of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1954).[iv]

While this may begin to sound like a conspiracy theory, Saunders reports that former CIA case officer Donald Jameson eventually “broke the silence” and admitted that the agency did, in fact, promote cultural products, specifically abstract expressionist art and the avant-garde movement. Jameson said, “It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism [popular in the Soviet Union and parts of Europe] look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.”

Saunders goes on the detail just how the CIA accomplished this propaganda roll-out, soliciting the help of American millionaires and a variety of national leaders. She quotes Jameson, saying:

We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War.

These are just two historical accounts of how media and culture were manipulated in order to sway public opinion for the benefit of political movements. While they are not the only instances, together the two provide an interesting example of how the propaganda engine can swing to extremes in only a few short years.

“Remember the Maine!”

Falsified mythologies or exaggerated reports are not always the product of government propaganda. This leads us directly to a discussion on yellow journalism, a term now being used quite liberally to define modern media. Just like propaganda, yellow journalism is a real thing, but it is not a new concept.

What is it? Yellow journalism is defined by its sensationalist headlines followed up with limited and poorly researched content. It is also categorized by exaggerated and even false reports, all with the aim of emotionally manipulating the reader to increase following. The term, “yellow journalism,” was coined in the late 1800s when two New York newspapers, The New York Journal and The New York World, began sparring. “Yellow” reportedly comes from the name of a character created by the popular cartoonist who sparked the battle.

In an article for The Big Think, writer Paul Ratner details the historic developments that, at that time, were blamed on the proliferation of yellow journalism. Ratner writes, “To draw in more readers, Hearst and Pulitzer resorted to other methods like sensationalist headlines (which today we call “click-bait”), often misreporting or exaggerating the impact of events. The headlines would often try to scare the reader, while the content hit hard on emotion, fake interviews, pseudoscience, often offering some kind of anti-establishment fight, investing the reader with the plight of a supposed underdog.”

Ratner goes on to explain how the newspapers, whose focus was the Cuban political crisis, helped lead the country into the Spanish-American War, which in turn led to a new American colonialism and more war. He writes, “Newspapers pushed the situation onto the American public in such dramatic, often untrue terms, that they were eventually seen as responsible.” However, as Ratner rightly remarks, it is hard to say how much actual influence the two main papers had because they were both part of the New York-based news industry and, unlike today, there was no internet sharing.

While the internet didn’t create this click-bait problem, it has certainly supersized it. The yellow journalism of today manifests in thousands of sensationalized titles leading to little or no depth of text, to reports without corroboration of evidence, and to the erroneous insertions of moral judgments and opinions into what claim to be objective news articles. In fact, BuzzFeed has been criticized for this very thing in its sharing of the Trump dossier.

In an article titled, “BuzzFeed drops a Trump bombshell, irresponsibly,” Poynter‘s Kelly McBride discusses the issue, saying, “The act of publishing the dossier in its entirety isn’t journalism.” She wished that BuzzFeed had offered a more nuanced approach to its presentation and work.[vi] Was it yellow journalism or was it serving the American public? BuzzFeed says it was its responsibility to the public; others disagree.

In her article, McBride discusses the contemporary and legitimate ethical issues facing journalists and editors on a regular basis. Similarly, on Jan. 4 Wall Street Journal article, editor-in-chief Gerard Baker also dives into ethical dilemmas, focusing on the use of the word “lie,” which he notes implies a judgment by the writer on the speaker’s content.  As Baker writes, “editors should be careful about making selective moral judgments about false statements.” He advises using the term “falsehood” or “false statements” rather than “lie.”[v]

Ethics and transparency in journalism is crucial, but it is not always easy.

“Chicken Little reports on the falling of the sky. News at 11.”

Finally, there is one more component to the fake news problem, and it lies with the general public: misreads, misinterpretations, and confusion. This is the one of the biggest pitfalls found in our fast-paced social media world. We move too fast. For example, readers don’t stop to observe an article’s date before sharing, or users may even re-post something based only on the headline. Still there are other times when a reader won’t notice that an article is farce, satire, fiction, or opinion.

Over the years, The Wild Hunt has reported on a number of cases in which a story went viral simply through user misinterpretation, including the 2014 Union Witch Trial that actually happened in 2000, or the false assumptions that murder victim Jacob Crockett was an occult practitioner. The former was caused by date issues, and the second was created by false assumptions on the part of a well-meaning Facebook public.

This happens regularly, and is also illustrated by the German lawsuit mentioned earlier.  In our social media driven world, these accidents of understanding are hyper-realized, because anyone can manipulate and replicate data. And once something is out, it spreads fast. However, again, this problem is not new to our time.

Before looking at some historic examples, it must be noted that these misinterpretations or misreads can also be, in part, the fault of the producer – accidentally or not.

Orson Welles explains to reporters that he didn’t intend to cause public panic. [Photo Credit: Acme News Photos]

The most well-known historic case of public misinterpretation happened in late October 1938, when Orson Welles broadcast H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds. After the radio broadcast, the public reportedly panicked, assuming that aliens were taking over the planet.

There has been speculation on whether Welles and his collaborators crafted the radio broadcast specifically to trick listeners by removing key parts that would tip them off. However, Welles always denied it, and many people do believe that there were enough markers to indicate the show was fiction. There is also evidence that “the public panic” was not nearly as big or widespread as the contemporary newspapers originally reported. Either way, some listeners did go wild, the FCC and CBS reportedly received complaints, and Welles made history.

Another similar case happened in 1999 when indie filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez released The Blair Witch Project and the SyFy Channel mockumentary Curse of the Blair Witch. In this case, the goal was to manipulate the audience, and it worked perfectly. The Blair Witch Project became an instant success, and is still recognized as a brilliant media experiment in public manipulation, demonstrating how easily it can be done.

In the above examples, the cultural products were not well marked, either by accident or on purpose. Hyper critical readers may have noticed that they were fiction, but the vast majority did not, causing confusion, excitement, or frenzy. In both cases, trusted media modalities — radio news broadcast and documentary film styles — were used to convey a feeling of reality to a fictional piece, but both failed to keep enough fictional markers to properly inform their audiences.

If something is not clearly marked as fiction, satire or advertising, which legally has to be done, readers will become confused, leading to the propagation of fake news.

[From The Blair Witch Project media material]

Let’s look at a Pagan example: in an Aug. 2016 post, blogger John Halstead posted a story admitting that he was really a spy for the Mormon Church. He begins, “So I have done all the damage I can possibly do to Paganism, and it is time for me to come clean.” That article was taken for fact and shared around the community. After it was finally established that the article was indeed satire, the buzz died down. However, on occasion, someone stumbles into the article and re-shares it as fact, which just happened in early January 2017. It is not clearly marked to be satire from the get go.

“Fake news. The biggest fake news.”

In whatever form it takes, fake news is a serious concern, and it is one that all of us must manage; writers, readers, editors, artists, and leaders. That is a tall order, especially in a digital world where emotions drive content and where the immediacy of response, absent all discretionary controls, supersedes reasoned research and composed reaction. The speed of digital sharing, the ease of creation, and the ever presence of digital devices is what has made a very age-old problem a supersized monster.

Fake news is a subjective term on its own perhaps and can be thrown about “willy-nilly.” We need to watch that too. Mistakes and errors, whether by a reader or by a writer, can happen and do happen innocently. Evidence can be uncovered presenting a new side to an older story. That is not fake news, but rather human error and time. Discretion must be had in all directions – both in the identification of honest work and the labeling of something as fake news.

While there is no single solution to controlling this seemingly growing monster, there are two things that we can all do when engaging with any type of media. First, think more critically. If  a story “make you hmm….”, find a second, third, or fourth source. Second, and perhaps most importantly, in our reactions to what we read and see, slow down (before you text, post, share, and tweet). If we do, so will the spread of fake news.

Sources:

[i] Combs, James E. Film Propaganda and American Politics. (1994)
[ii] Nimmo, Dan. “Political Propaganda in the Movies: A Typology.” Movies and Politics: The Dynamic Relationship ed. James E. Combs. (1993) p. 271-294.
[iii] Greene, Heather. “Political Mythology in Film: a comparative study of the Stalin myth in American and Soviet Filmmaking.” (1998)
[iv] Saunders, Frances Stonor. “Modern Art was a CIA weapon.” The Independent. (21 Oct. 1995)
[v] Baker, Gerard. “Trump, Lies, and Honest Journalism.” The Wall Street Journal (4 Jan. 2017)
[vi] McBride, Kelly. “BuzzFeed drops a Trump bombshell, irresponsibly.” Poytner (10 Jan. 2017)

Column: Solstice at Stonehenge

Fri, 2017-01-13 11:31

My first impression of England came in a solstice ritual put on by the Cotswold Order of Druids at Stonehenge several weeks ago. This struck me at the time as the single most clichéd way for a Pagan pilgrim to begin his visit to the country, but then things become clichés often because they are so perfect that they can’t help but become obvious.

Stonehenge [Photo Credit: garethwiscombe/Flickr]

During my stay in England, I had the good fortune of having many wonderful magickal experiences, but the ceremony at Stonehenge stands out. For one thing, the sheer size of it: dozens and dozens of people in cloaks and robes, circling the stones, our steps in time with drums from the Morris players toward the back of our line. I felt the same sense that I felt at Thingvellir when I visited Iceland: that mixture of wonder, curiosity, smallness, transience that we call the sublime.

Then our ceremony’s leaders opened the gateway into the center of the henge. I passed under one of the archways, aware of the threshold between the worlds outside and in.

This is the circle, this is the space between the worlds… I’ve said those words many hundreds of times in my life, but never with that kind of potency.

The ritual itself, which included a Morris dance, a naming ceremony for an infant, and several initiations into the Druid order, was lovely and welcoming, but we were all aware that the unique power of the ritual came from the setting. Though I have often struggled with my own understanding that our Paganism of today bears little resemblance to the paganism of the past, the sense of timeless connection between what the Druids do at Stonehenge today and what the long-lost henge-builders did in the Neolithic era pervaded my senses at the ritual.

I really did have the sense of being part of something millennia old. Standing beneath those ancient arches, it’s hard to feel any other way. (I wondered, as well, how different my experience was from that of my British fellows, who after all have a cultural and national relationship with Stonehenge that I, an American who had come off the plane only a few hours before, simply could not match.) Stonehenge is often described as timeless; indeed, it is that sense of eternity which draws us to things from our deep human past. It seemed like a thing that would never change.

Therefore it was shocking to read that, in fact, serious changes are afoot at Stonehenge: the British government has given the go-ahead for a tunnel to be built beneath the complex, replacing the A303 highway that currently passes close to Stonehenge. The tunnel will not pass directly under the Stonehenge circle itself, rather passing a bit farther out than the current highway is; however, it will pass through the roughly 10-square-mile area that is considered part of the Stonehenge complex.

The reasoning, says the UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, is “cutting congestion and improving journey times.” The A303 is only a single carriageway, so it is often jammed, and the noise of the highway, as I know from my visit, can be heard from Stonehenge itself. The benefits, so they say, also include boosting the local economy, “linking people with jobs and businesses with customers – driving forward our agenda to build a country that works for everyone and not just the privileged few.”

Well, perhaps. But the costs are significant. The local Chamber of Commerce official, Andy Rhind-Tutt, calls the current tunnel proposal “a time bomb of irreversible destruction.” Archeologists in particular have reacted with shock and anger at the proposal. Historian Tom Holland notes that Stonehenge is a unique link back to the stone age, with no equivalent landscape anywhere else in Europe. “The idea that we would obliterate that archaeology and destroy the chance of discovering about the very origins of people on this island,” he told Time, “all in the cause of speeding journeys up by 10 minutes, seems monstrous to me.”

As a bush-league scholar myself, my sympathies are with the archaeologists. Although I am not an archaeologist myself, my work as a medievalist owes an enormous debt to them, and there are a few basic principles of archaeology and material research that I have picked up over the years. The most fundamental is this: a site, once dug, is gone forever. If there is more to be learned about the people who built Stonehenge in the grounds around it, as there almost certainly is, this tunnel will destroy it forever.

The Cotswold Order of Druids at their 2016 winter solstice ritual. (Your author is in there somewhere.) [Courtesy of the Cotswold Order]

I spoke to a few of the Cotswold Druids about their feelings on the tunnel. “Personally, I feel it is a sacrilegious act for Stonehenge to be excavated [for the tunnel] at all,” said Claudia Fae, who goes by the Druidic name of “Rue” in the Cotswold Order.

“There are archaeological treasures buried all around the site still, and having huge machines digging up the land will disturb the earth, its findings, and its ancestral lineage,” Fae explained. “I feel they will be very unhappy about this change. It will be corporations in charge of the operation and ultimately in charge of making even more money out of tourism. Stonehenge has already gone from standing alone on the landscape without a fence to its present form with its huge shop, car parking, and café. And whilst many have welcomed these developments, one can wonder about it ever being left alone in peace in its beautiful landscape as it once was, for us to marvel at its magnificence and beauty.”

Cotswold Druid Rex Tyler, meanwhile, expressed his feelings in a poem, Tunnel Vision:

…The myriad miracles that once were here

Bury the past in the concrete and fear

It’s all about us now driving our cars

Getting to wherever these violent scars

 

On humanities past will be felt in the hearts

Of our children and their children

Yea the upstarts

Were more into materialistic pursuits

They sacrificed history and their true roots…”

As modern Pagans, we have an obligation to our forebears. The preservation of Stonehenge, the enhancement of our ability to learn from it, and the ability for modern people to visit, enjoy, and worship at the site without causing it undue harm should be the foremost concerns for any development nearby. (This applies to many, many other sites besides just Stonehenge, of course.) There are other proposals for expanding the A303 and moving it further from the Stonehenge site which meet with more approval from scholars and locals; they should not be ignored in favor of a quicker, cheaper, and less considered approach to the area.

As I passed under the arches into the center of the stones last month, I was deeply aware that I was standing in the presence of something holy; something made holy both by its human construction and the passage of so much time. That holiness grows with knowledge; it diminishes with the destruction of that knowledge for short-term gain.

* * *

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Robin Hood rises to oppose fracking in Sherwood Forest

Thu, 2017-01-12 12:13

And if Robin should be cast
Sudden from his turfed grave,
And if Marian should have
Once again her forest days,
She would weep, and he would craze:
He would swear, for all his oaks,
Fall’n beneath the dockyard strokes,
Have rotted on the briny seas …

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, U.K. — The poem above, by John Keats, reveals three things about English folklore: the power of the figure of Robin Hood, the sacred nature of the oak tree, and the indelible link between the two of them.

[Photo Credit: Marcin Floryan / Wikimedia]

Writing in 1818, Keats was invoking these powerful images as he railed against the Royal Navy’s plundering of the nation’s forests to take oak for shipbuilding.
Today, the figure of Robin Hood is again being invoked as his very heartland of Sherwood Forest, and the great ancient oak, fabled to be his hideout, are now facing a very contemporary threat. Anti-fracking campaigners in the UK recently learned that chemical multinational INEOS has been in discussions with the UK’s Forestry Commission to carry out seismic surveys in Sherwood.

If agreed, the survey will allow INEOS to spend up to two years burying charges and using other seismic equipment to search for shale gas in the forest, which is designated as a National Nature Reserve. Additionally, Friends of the Earth have obtained documents under the Freedom of Information laws that reveal INEOS could be active within 200 metres of the Major Oak.

Sherwood Forest, as many know, is at the heart of the Robin Hood legend and a huge part of English mythical lore. The 1,000 year old Major Oak is a pivotal part of that legend as it is reputed to be where Robin and his Merry Men took shelter from the Sheriff of Nottingham. As recently as 2014, the oak came top of a Woodland Trust poll for ‘England’s Tree of the Year.’

Major Oak [Wikimedia Commons]

The recent facking move has angered and incensed the anti-fracking community. Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole, speaking to FrackFree Nottinghamshire, said: “I can’t think of anything more iconic in the English mindset to go for. You’d have thought they’d have learnt from the mistakes of some of the other fracking companies to avoid it, but they’ve gone straight for it.”

His comments suggest there is a belief that this latest step may touch broader public sentiment as well as galvanising existing anti-fracking movements.
Beyond the Robin Hood mythos, oaks are very synonymous with England and even in mainstream culture are given special reverence. It is still common for people to use such terms as “stout as an oak” or “hearts of oak/oak-hearted” as an epithet for bravery or courage.

Of course, oaks have a special relevance for Druids too. Some scholars speculate that the word Druid is a derivative of the Gaelic word/s for Oak (Welsh: Dar, Darwen Irish: Dair, Scottish: Darach). The Roman historian Pliny speaks of how Gaulish Druids worshipped in oak groves and cut mistletoe from their boughs with golden sickles.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, INEOS was quick to emphasise that “any decision to position a well-site will consider environmental features such as the Major Oak.” The company has yet to decide if fracking will go ahead at the National Nature Reserve.

Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth are concerned that even stand-alone seismic surveys could damage the forest. Part of Sherwood is designated a site of special scientific interest. Not only is it home to some of the most ancient woodland in Britain but also to rare species of bats and other protected animals.

The company INEOS was founded by British chemical engineer turned industrialist Jim Ratcliffe in 1998, and it currently employs 17,000 people. Last month, the company transferred its headquarters from Switzerland to the UK. This move was welcomed by the UK Government as a “vote of confidence in the UK economy”, due to INEOS’s promise of a £1.6billion (roughly $2 billion) investment in businesses including shale gas. Given the backdrop of Brexit, this may go some way to explaining the Sherwood discussions.

Not all public bodies in Nottinghamshire have been as keen as the Forestry Commission to allow seismic surveys. The National Trust, which manages nearby Clumber Park, has blocked attempts by INEOS to frack there.

Anti-Fracking Protest at Sherwood Forest Jan 2017 [Courtesy Frack Free Dee blog]

For many British Pagans, the move to test in the Major Oak area is a shocking decision that has already spurred the anti-fracking community into action. On Jan 7, a 300-strong protest took place in Sherwood Forest. Organised by Friends of the Earth and Frack Free Nottinghamshire, a coalition of various anti-fracking groups and protestors, including The Warrior’s Call, came to demonstrate opposition to any such moves by INEOS or the Forestry Commission.

Greg Hewitt, a campaigner with Frack Free Nottinghamshire, helped organise the protest. Speaking to The Nottingham Post, he said: “I’m really happy with the turnout today. I thought it would be 50 to 100 people but it’s double that at least. It just goes to show that people all around the country are very concerned about the impact on this area.”

“We are here to raise awareness of the future threat this forest has from INEOS and fracking companies. The aim is to get people to talk to each other and hopefully leave here connected and starting to take action.”

[Wikimedia Commons]

Perhaps with the exceptions of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, it is difficult to imagine a more contentious site in the UK to consider for fracking than Sherwood Forest. Many historians and folklorists agree that Robin Hood is based on an older Green Man tradition, who is known by many names in the UK including Jack in the Green, Herne the Hunter and Robin Goodfellow.

There is a striking symbolism in this latest development in UK fracking expansion. Robin Hood is the eternal outlaw and rebel, who stood up to tyrannical King John and his enforcer, the Sheriff of Nottingham. He was a “friend to the oppressed,” as the Warrior’s Call put it.

In addition, The Warrior’s Call has noted the importance of the symbolism as something sparking outraged reaction to the INEOS bid.  On its blog, the group explained, “This is due to two strands of folklore fundamental to the consciousness of Albion coming together. One is the oak tree, and the other is the legends of Robin Hood.”

The Warrior’s Call organizers were unable to respond directly in time for publication. However, we are in touch with them and will bring you their full reaction and plans in coming days.

 

ADF Druids donate to plant more trees

Wed, 2017-01-11 10:58

TUCSON, Ariz. –In what could be the first gesture of its kind, members of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship’s (ADF) mother grove have committed to sponsoring American Forests in the name of the organization.The $1,000 donation comes personally from the board members, not the organization’s treasury, and Archdruid Jean Pagano has additionally committed to planting a tree for every new member that joins ADF in 2017.

According to a statement released from the ADF offices: “American Forests was established over 140 years ago, and they have planted over 150 million trees since 1990 alone. In fulfilling our values as an organization to honor the Earth Mother and be of service to the land, ADF will be able to make a positive impact on our environment through this partnership.”

The idea came from Rev. Jean “Drum” Pagano, who is now in his first year as archdruid. Pagano chipped in $250 himself, and intends on matching that gift each year he is in office. Archdruids can serve three three-year terms, meaning Pagano could be in office for up to eight more years, provided his members choose to re-elect him.

According to Pagano, American Forests was selected for a track record of fiscal management, “and quite frankly were not afraid of a Neopagan Druidic church.” Also, he added, “We can plant trees through them.”

Planting trees is exactly why this appears to be an ideal match. Druids are known for holding trees to be sacred, and the mission of American Forests is to protect them. From its web site: “We can’t live without forests. They are the source of the air we breathe and water we drink. Forests provide a home for most wildlife and are critical to our planet’s biodiversity. And they provide one of our primary defenses against climate change.”

Angel Oak, Charleston [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

ADF Druids incorporate trees into their rituals as a matter of course, and there is much writing on trees to be found on ADF’s own site. For example, in one article, Judith Anderson-Morris writes of her experiences with “The Angel Oak,” and the “tiny affirmations” she receives during visits with that tree in Charleston:

Sometimes it comes in the form of a visiting hawk; sometimes a horde of butterflies; sometimes I find unique feathers at its base. It provides acorns, moss, and ferns for my spellwork and, of course, a deep sense of peace. I always leave three shiny copper pennies in its hollows in return.

Rev. Sean Harbaugh, public relations director for ADF, laid out exactly what this support entails.

The sponsorship allows ADF to use [American Forest]’s logo on our website and vice versa. The $1,000 pays for 1,000 trees to be planted on ADF’s behalf. It’s a way for us to show that we are serious about the environment and putting our money to good use.

Neither Pagano nor Harbaugh are familiar with any similar effort by a religious organization, Pagan or not. “It’s kind of groundbreaking,” observed Harbaugh.

“The intent was to partner with an organization outside of [our] own group that shared a part of our vision,” explained Pagano. “We are not insular, and I am honoured to have a board of directors that are forward-thinking. I also wanted to give a gift to our membership. We get a lot from them; this is a gift for us all.”

That gift has benefits on multiple levels, and the American Forests web site provides detail illustrating his point:

  • Water: More than half of the drinking water in the U.S. originates in forests, where each mature tree controls runoff and flooding by filtering more than 36,000 gallons annually.
  • Air: A tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, with a forest acre offsetting the emissions of two typical cars. Two trees can provide enough oxygen for a human to breathe all year.
  • Earth: More than five million terrestrial species depend upon forests for survival, including black bears which can roam up to 2,800 acres and red-cockaded woodpeckers, which need 500 acres of territory to live.
  • Fire: 60% of forest fires are human-caused, while natural fires clear out underbrush that can lead to out-of-control blazes. Many tree species only propagate after fire. Climate change is increasing the likelihood of fires, but forests in turn mitigate climate change and can keep that danger in check.

According to Harbaugh, “ADF has enough resources to carry this indefinitely if it turns into a positive thing. So far the member responses have all been positive.” A number of members have asked how they can participate, indicating that the gesture truly resonates with them.

Archdruid Jean ‘Drum’ Pagano at an ADF ritual  [Courtesy S. Harbaugh, 2016]

Pagano dug into the nitty-gritty of what long-term support might look like. “As the Mother Grove, we wanted to lead by example without altering the flow of donations to ADF. If this idea is a popular one, I would envision an annual fundraiser, perhaps GoFundMe or the like, and if there is a shortfall then the archdruid or Mother Grove makes up the difference; if the amount is raised entirely, the Mother Grove and myself would earmark what we would have given to [American Forests to donate to] ADF instead.”

Donating an additional tree for each new member that joins the organization this year is entirely on Pagano’s dime. The 2016 goal set out for American Forests was to plant 2.7 million trees; the organization accepts donations to support that work specifically.

*     *     *

The work of journalist Terence P. Ward was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

Sidewalk shrine by homeless family sends a powerful message

Tue, 2017-01-10 11:28

PORTLAND, Ore. – Stumbling across a spontaneous shrine is a common experience in the United States. It may be a cross on the side of the road marking the place where a loved one died in a car accident, or a photos, card, and flowers stuck in the links of a fence where a recently passed celebrity lived. Throughout history, humans have created these shrines to remember and reconnect with the dead.

On Sunday, Alley Valkyrie passed a sidewalk shrine that was very similar, yet very different, than most spontaneously created shrines. This one, created by persons currently homeless, was to honor and thank the living, not the dead.

[Courtesy A. Valkyrie]

The shrine was created by three men who live together as a group and refer to each other as family. The shrine is on a sidewalk, a block away from a Safeway in a wealthy neighborhood. It is a secular shrine but, as some experts might say, it has a wealth of spiritual meaning built into it.

One of the men, named ZKAH, told Ms. Valkyrie that they built the shrine to reflect and acknowledge how much people in the neighborhood are caring for them and helping them. ZKAH said, “We can’t survive without our brothers helping us out and we want to show that.”

Universality of Shrines
At first glance, the items left as an offering have some superficial elements in common with African diaspora spiritual systems such as what are commonly called Santeria and Voodoo. There is tobacco, alcohol, and food. Yet Carlos Munoz, an initiate in Olorisha in La Regla de Ocha, says there is a glaring difference. In Santeria, there would be a statue of the Orichás being honored and the statue is the materially present divine spirit, not a representation. “When we make an offering, will there be food? Yes. Will there be alcohol? Sure. In this [shrine], some elements are there, but context is everything. The context is not Santeria.”

Mr. Munoz did see a common ethic behind the offerings in this secular shrine to living benefactors and a traditional offering to the Orichás or ancestors, “It’s similar in that it’s a thank you for help and sustenance.” He says that he gives to deities because they give back to him. He sees a similar impulse in the secular shrine created by ZKAH and his family.

Rev. Kevin Marquardt Bradley, an interfaith counselor, hospice Chaplain, and Daoist says even though American culture separates the physical and the spiritual, we continue to find ways to bring them together through rituals such as building spontaneous shrines. “This creates community and a common identity,” Rev. Bradley says. This is why humans, as he explains, have engaged in shrine building through every era in every culture and religion.

Bradley said that this particular shrine isn’t trivial, but rather complex and full of meaning. “This is a celebration of life. They are parting with things that are very valuable to them. Look at how the fresh vegetables are center. The hand warmers, which are like gold. Life giving items and they’re sharing them.”

Rev. Bradley went on to say that one of the themes in most world religions is that those who have the least and still give to others, are closer to enlightenment.“It’s the parable of the Widow’s Mite.”

Both Munoz and Bradley thought the shrine reminded them of Day of the Dead offerings. “The placement is reminiscent of Day of the Dead altars or Reclaiming altars you see in San Francisco for the honored dead,” says Munoz. Bradley says Day of the Dead altars aren’t as much about remembering the dead but about maintaining a connection to them. He believes that this could be the feeling behind this shrine, to stay connected in a positive way by giving back things they believe others would appreciate.

Day of the Dead shrine created by the boy friend of a murdered young woman [Credit: Drew Crecente / Wikimedia]

A Big Difference
Dr. Angela Brakstone, a sociologist specializing in religion, says persons who are homeless are living on the edges of our society. A liminal population who are treated, in some ways, as if they are already spirits. “They are present all around us and yet aren’t seen. Just as it’s a taboo for the living to look upon the dead, we don’t make eye contact with homeless persons.”

In her 2014 essay Invisible Among Us, Valkyrie discusses this very issue, in relation to her own lived experience. “I walked past another corner and saw a homeless beggar sitting in a doorway, an older man that I realized that I had walked by dozens of times before, and yet I had never actually seen him. I stood there, staring at him, processing what I had experienced in the past three days. I realized that not only did this man experience that same invisibility every single day, but for him it was a fixed condition, not something that ended when the work day was over.”

The reason, as Dr. Brakstone speculates, for people not wanting to interact with homeless persons is the same reason humans generally don’t want direct experiences with spirits – magical contagion. Magical contagion is the belief that a person’s essence or status can be transmitted through objects or by being in proximity to the person. Dr. Brakstone says it is logical to not want to be homeless or dead. It is not logical, yet common, to believe you can become homeless or dead through simple eye contact.

Brakstone adds that this shrine is an attempt to remind people that this family is still very much within the community and flips the normal paradigm around. “Usually, a shrine is for the living to communicate with the dead.To thank them or ask them for help,” she says.

“This shrine is the living attempting to communicate with the living.”

CORRECTION 3:22 pm 1/10/17: The shrine is located in Portland, Oregon. The original article said Eugene, Oregon.

Pagan Community Notes: Women’s March, Chaplain Conference, Jerry Fandel, HUAR, and more

Mon, 2017-01-09 08:51

WASHINGTON D.C. — Beginning 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, women will unite and march on Washington to, as organizers say, “stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families — recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

Although it is called the “Women’s March on Washington,” organizers say that everyone who supports their purpose is welcome. They wrote: “In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new administration, Congress, Senate, state and local governments on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.”

Many of those in the Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities have already been outspoken about attending the upcoming march. Members of the Washington-based Firefly House will be on hand and are also organizing a “Witches Contingent” for the event. Those that can’t make it to Washington D.C. are reportedly joining the many worldwide sister marches that are now being organized in conjunction. We will bring you the full story next week.

*     *     *

ALEXANDRIA, Va.– Circle Sanctuary and Sacred Well Congregation are currently participating in the 2017 Annual Forum of the COMISS Network, an interfaith chaplaincy organization involved in national and international initiatives. Also now known as the Network on Ministry in Special Settings, the organization holds an annual forum each year to discuss and promote multi-faith chaplaincy programs.

We caught up with Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox between workshops. She said, “Although as part of my work with Circle Sanctuary, I have collaborated with chaplain endorsers and others connected with COMISS Network in a variety of settings over the years, this was my first time attending the conference. I enjoyed being with old friends and meeting new colleagues, and being part of sharing experiences, perspectives, and ideas about educating and supporting chaplains with others of many religions and beliefs.” Since its inception, Circle Sanctuary has been working with interfaith organizations toward growing Pagan chaplaincy in a variety of service industries.

As we reported in spring 2016, Sacred Well Congregation had the distinction of earning EEO status with the Department of Veterans Affairs, marking “the first time that any Pagan group has been approved as an Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization for the VA.” The designation not only opened the door for more Pagan and Heathen acceptance within organizations like COMISS. The annual January forum wraps up in Alexandria, Monday, Jan. 9.

*    *    *

The Las Vegas Pagan community and the Officers of Avalon lost one of their members Sunday. Paramedic Jerry Fandel was reportedly admitted to the hospital Jan. 1 after suffering a heart attack. According to his partner’s daughter Bekah Lynn, the doctors were unable to remove two clots that had already hardened. He was moved to the intensive care unit, where he went into cardiac arrest and remained there in critical condition.

Lynn and Fandel’s place of employment, AMR-Las Vegas, announced his passing Sunday, Jan. 9.  In an update to a GoFundMe campaign set up to offset family medical expenses, Lynn thanked all of those who had already donated, saying “I know it would have meant a lot to him.” In only three days, that fund raised $3,120.

AMR-Las Vegas made its annoucement on Facbook, saying: “Jerry started at AMR in the California area working for both Oakland and Alameda County starting November 29th, 1989. [He] transferred out to Las Vegas several years ago. [He] was a great paramedic that always brought comfort to those he encountered. Jerry will be missed and remembered in those lives he saved and those he changed. Rest easy sir, we have the watch.”  What is remembered, lives. 

*    *    *

Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) published a statement Sunday in response to the Jan. 8 rally in Whitefish, Montana. The “Love Not Hate” event was organized locally after the Montana town’s Jewish population was reportedly targeted by neo-Nazi groups via statements made on several websites. While officials are not clear on whether those statements pose any further threat, or whether or not the advertised Jan. 15 march will actually happen, local Whitefish police have reportedly increased their patrols.

HUAR, an international Heathen organization that monitors such actions, offered a solidarity statement after learning of the weekend’s “Love Not Hate” rally. It reads in part: “We stand with Whitefish. We stand with the Montana Jewish community. We stand with all who fight organized bigotry in their homes & communities.” HUAR urged locals to stand with the organizers of the rally event, and also for people to donate to the Montana Human Rights Network.

In Other News:

  • Here is a quick update on two court cases that we are currently following. First, Kenny Klein, whose case has continued to be delayed since his arrest in spring 2014, is now scheduled to be in court Jan. 23. The second and unrelated case involves Daniel Scott Holbrook. His original court date, Nov. 22, was postponed and the trial date was rescheduled for February. We will continue to follow these stories and update as needed.
  • Pagans Tonight Radio program Voces Paganas hosted its 100th episode Jan. 8. This radio program is a successful all Spanish-language broadcast that looks at “issues and trends in contemporary Paganism,” and includes “rituals, interviews, news and community.” Although the day-long 100th episode celebration has already aired live,  it can be streamed over Blog Talk Radio.
  • Cró Dreoilín and the Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Pagans of Jefferson Unitarian Church are getting ready to host their annual “Paths and Traditions” fair. Held at the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado, the event is for “Pagans, Witches, Heathens, Polytheists, and believers in alternate spiritual traditions. For anyone seeking fellowship or spiritual growth in that community.” Chris Redmond of Cró Dreoilín, and co-host of the fair, said that “The Paths and Traditions Fair provides a unique opportunity to meet face-to-face with teachers and leaders of a wide variety of religious and spiritual traditions.”
  • While winter snows keep some people indoors and near fireplaces, members of the Massachusetts-based EarthSpirit Community were out participating in an age-old seasonal tradition:

Religious accommodation or discrimination in health care services

Sun, 2017-01-08 11:57

PATERSON, N.J. – It was announced Jan. 5 that Lambda Legal had filed a federal lawsuit against New Jersey-based St. Joseph’s health care system, after “the hospital refused to allow Jionni Conforti’s surgeon to perform a routine hysterectomy because he is transgender.” St. Joseph’s maintains four top-ranked teaching facilities in northern New Jersey, but it also is “a Catholic faith-based institution” founded in 1867 by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth. It is the medical center’s religious affiliation that has now come between Conforti and his medical procedures.

“No hospital should be allowed to decide who their patients are, particularly when they receive government funds. Denying care to someone at their time of need because of their sex or gender identity is not only dangerous and humiliating, it’s against the law,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan in a press release.

Founded in 1973, Lambda Legal is one of the top nonprofit organizations the mission of which “is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV.”

According to Lambda Legal, in June 2015, Conofti received a letter from hospital representative Father Martin D. Rooney stating that the request to “remove all female parts” for the purposes of “gender reassignment” would not be permitted at its facilities due to St. Joseph’s being a Catholic hospital.

In its 2017 lawsuit, Lambda makes the argument that the denial of services is illegal on multiple counts. It argues that not only is Conforti’s procedure medically necessary, but also that it is contractually obligatory. The hospital allegedly violated expectations previously set, as well as ignoring the language in its own patient bill of rights, stating that patients have the right:

To treatment and medical services without discrimination based on race, age, religion, national origin, sex, sexual preferences, gender identity or expression, marital, domestic partnership, or civil union status, handicap, diagnosis, ability to pay, or source of payment.

Furthermore, the Lambda lawsuit goes on to state that the denial of services also violates both federal and state laws. Attorney Gonzalez-Pagan said, “In the United States, one in six hospital beds are in Catholic hospitals. These health-care providers must comply with federal and state anti-discrimination laws so that the health of LGBT people who walk through their doors is not endangered.”

The New Jersey lawsuit comes on the heels of a recent case heard in the U.S. district court in Wichita Falls, Texas. In that hearing, eight states and three private health-care providers challenged a rule change made to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Prior to July, section 1557 of the ACA’s nondiscrimination rules did not include language regarding gender identity or expression. The original provisions only included “race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.”

In a July 2016 memorandum, HHS expanded that language to include “a new prohibition of discrimination on the basis on sex in health programs and activities outside of educational institutions, which includes discrimination on the basis of sex stereotyping or gender identity.” It was this updated language with its new definition of “sex discrimination” that became the precipitous for the Texas hearing.

Franciscan Heath Crawford [By Huw Williams / Wikimedia]

Like St. Joseph’s in the New Jersey lawsuit, all three private health-care providers in the Texas case are faith-based;  they include the Franciscan Alliance, Inc, its subsidiary Specialty Physicians of Illinois, LLC, and the Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDA), which has locations across the country. All three reportedly receive some amount of government funding.

The individual states involved are Texas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Arizona, and Kansas.

Judge Reed O’Connor recognized the complexity of the case, saying that “while this lawsuit involves many issues of great importance—state sovereignty, expanded healthcare coverage, anti-discrimination protections, and medical judgment—ultimately, the question before the court is whether defendants exceeded their authority under the ACA in the challenged regulations’ interpretation of sex discrimination and whether the regulation violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as applied to private plaintiffs”

Seeking an injunction, the plaintiffs claim that “the new [HHS] regulation will require them to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender transitions and abortions, regardless of their contrary religious beliefs or medical judgment.” (p. 2) They went on to argue that the change is inconsistent with other federal definitions of “sex discrimination,” as well as a being a violation of the federal RFRA. By forcing faith-based medical facilities to perform such procedures places a substantial burden on their sincerely held religious beliefs and, they argue that the enforcement of the new rule is an administrative overreach.

In the end, Judge O’Connor sided with the plaintiffs, granting them a preliminary injunction and enjoining the HHS from enforcing the new ACA rules. Why did the judge rule that way? We spoke with Pagan lawyer and author Dana Eilers, who explained: “At several crucial points in his analysis, Judge O’Connor points out some failings in the brief submitted by the defendants.”

Two of those failings are written as such:

Defendants have failed to brief the basis of its compelling interest, leaving the Court unable to determine whether Private Plaintiffs’ religious practices jeopardize its purpose. (p. 40)

The government has failed to demonstrate how exempting Private Plaintiffs pursuant to their religious beliefs would frustrate the goal of ensuring “nondiscriminatory access to health care and health coverage,” and the government has numerous less restrictive means available to provide access and coverage for transition and abortion procedures. (p. 42)

Judge O’Connor also points to the inconsistencies within the federal government’s definitions and positions with regard to these particular medical procedures saying, “The government’s own health insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid, do not mandate coverage for transition surgeries; the military’s health insurance program, TRICARE, specifically excludes coverage for transition surgeries; and the government’s own medical experts reported “conflicting” study results of transition procedures.” (p. 41)

The Franciscan case was rushed through the courts in December so that a decision was made prior to the start of the 2017 insurance period. Now with injunction in place, these faith-based medical facilities can reject requests for transgender procedures and abortions based on their own religious belief.

Moreover, this new ruling could set a precedent, similar to that of the 2014 Hobby Lobby SCOTUS ruling. As noted by Lamda Legal, one in six U.S. medical facilities are faith-based. Health care and religion have been comfortable bedfellows since potentially the dawn of humanity, and a legal resolution will not come easy.

Returning to the New Jersey lawsuit, there are key differences in it and the Texas case, all of which could affect the outcome. First, there is an alleged contractual element between the patient and hospital. Secondly, and regardless of that point, there is a state sovereignty component suggested by the filing – one that was even suggested by Judge O’Connor.

While the HHS only recently added “gender identity” language to the ACA rules, some of the states already had it within their own discrimination laws. The New Jersey discrimination law, for example, is extensive and includes, in part, “race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy, sex, gender identity or expression, disability.” Not all states have the same regulations with regard to public accommodation.

Not surprisingly, the states involved in the Franciscan case do not have the same extensive language written into law. In fact, Texas doesn’t have discrimination laws at all. While the other seven states do, their laws do not include “gender identity” or similar language.

In addition, all eight states, with the exception of Nebraska and Wisconsin, have their own RFRAs, preventing the government from burdening “sincerely-held religious beliefs.” While Nebraska may not have an RFRA, it does include a religious preference clause protecting places of public accommodation, owned by religious entities, from being prosecuted for discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs.

[Pixabay / Public Domain]

Why should Pagans, Heathens, and others in the minority religious sector be paying close attention to cases like these? Outside of the fact that there is definitive member crossover between such religious communities and the general LGBTQ+ community, the faith-based components alone could potentially pose future problems. Eilers explained, “This is about whether a health care provider can give you health care based on their beliefs. Suppose your Catholic doctor finds out that you are a Dianic Witch or a member of The Satanic Temple and says: ‘You are a devil worshiper, and I cannot treat you.’ ”

Eilers goes on to say, “This is the same kind of slippery slope that we were at in the Jim Crow era when we were talking about black people being able to eat at lunch counters. We all have to fill out those intake forms at doctor offices. What religion are you? Can we tell the truth, or do we have to say other in order to get medical treatment?”

While neither the New Jersey lawsuit nor the Franciscan hearing involve Pagans specifically, there are strong religious undercurrents in many of prominent social battles being waged at this time, all of which could potentially affect members of minority groups. These legal wranglings demonstrate a teeter-totter, push and pull with religious belief at the pivotal point, and they bare watching as the overall U.S. political climate shifts.

Eilers went to on to say, “Suppose that I, as a Pagan doctor, believe that having more than two children is a sin against the planet because Mother Earth cannot support the population? According to this Franciscan case, I could refuse to treat the presenting parents and child number, number four, et cetera. I could refuse to treat the Duggars and all their brood.”

These laws go all ways. She then added, “If the court were to say, ‘no, Pagan doctor, you must treat the Duggars,’ then we have a violation of the First Amendment establishment clause, because a Christian viewpoint is being exalted, whereas my Pagan viewpoint is being ground into the dirt.”

As Eilers best said, this is a slippery slope, one that is not going to go away any time soon. Not only was a precedent set by the Franciscan case, it also clearly illustrated the inconsistencies within the federal government itself with regard to defining “sex discrimination.” That is a matter that, as Eilers said, would ultimately have to be addressed and clarified by Congress.

Could the decision in the Franciscan hearing affect the New Jersey lawsuit? At this point, it is unknown. Eilers speculates that if the two decisions are in direct conflict, there a small potential that the subject could eventually be taken up by SCOTUS. Time will tell.

In all the above discussions and the legalese, there is nothing that addresses something more basic: the ethics of denying medical care to someone in need, or even in crisis. How would an emergency situation play out? That is question that still needs to be asked of these hospitals. Would you deny life-saving medical care to a transgender patient?

For the time being, the only solution for those, like Jionni Conforti and others who could face denial of services due to the religious convictions of a local hospital or medical center, is to know your patient rights, know your doctor and the facility, and get everything in writing.

 *   *   *

The Wild Hunt would like to thank Dana Eilers for her time and expertise in the analysis of the noted legal hearing and lawsuit. Eilers is a retired lawyer and the author of Pagans and the Law.  On WitchVox, she offers a white paper detailing “Brief Points for Modern Pagans.”

Column: Toward a More Sustainable Paganism

Sat, 2017-01-07 10:14

Respect for the Earth, however that may be interpreted by a practitioner, is one of the common hallmarks of Paganism. The concept of following an “Earth-based” religious path is a common attractor for seekers, and — perhaps in an effort to make Paganism palatable to monotheists — interfaith communities often refer to the Pagan representatives as “Earth-based.” While there are a large number of Pagan paths, and not all would describe themselves in this way, most would at least acknowledge that respect for the Earth, its changing climate, and its long-term health is a value to them.

[Pixabay / Public Domain]

Pagans have played a prominent role in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, allying with the local native community to defend sacred land from being desecrated by oil interests. Pagans of multiple traditions have fought against other pipelines, fracking, strip mining, clear-cutting forests, and pioneered sustainable living practices. Support for the Earth can be interpreted in many ways, but Pagans, regardless of tradition, tend to lean toward a love for the planet and advocacy for its preservation.

Yet there is a contradiction here. Pagan practice can be very consumerist and environmentally damaging. It often contains a large arsenal of accouterments: statues, candles, cauldrons, blades, herbs, matches, lighters, oils, even plastic utensils for festivals. Practice often involves fires and the burning of spells, incense, or offerings which, despite their sacredness, contribute to the carbon in the atmosphere. Objects are often buried, released into rivers, or scattered to the winds; practices that, if done on a larger scale, would be environmentally unsustainable. As practitioners of religions that often claim to respect the Earth, it seems vital to be aware of our own damaging practices and modify them into more environmentally friendly versions wherever possible.

“I think much of Paganism runs the risk of becoming materialistic,” says Katrina Ray-Saulis, self-described kitchen Witch, writer, and artist from Maine. She gives the example of spell books instructing the purchase of certain candles, knives, and other objects for a spell. “And then,” she adds, “the spell says ‘let the candle burn down completely to make this spell complete.’ But do you know where that candle came from?” Are we aware of how these items are produced? “And when you’re done with it, adds Ray-Saulis, “what happens to the cup? A lot of waste goes into spell craft…If we’re going to be Earth-worshipers we need to truly be worshiping the Earth and caring for her, right?”

Sparrow Anderson, the co-host of the Wigglian Way Pagan podcast who also been on the front lines of the fight against Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain oil pipeline through Burnaby Mountain in Vancouver, Canada, tries to compensate for this by utilizing natural objects in her spell craft. “I find myself using natural objects more often, or none,” says Anderson. She still struggles with candles, though. “Paraffin wax is a problem. It’s made from fossil fuels. We try to purchase mostly beeswax and plant-based waxes, but again cost becomes an issue.”

Sparrow Anderson sends a message to Kinder Morgan. [Courtesy Photo]

“I am reminded,” says Anderson, “that in spiritual practice we should be using the very best we are able.”

Trisha Morey, Ray-Saulis’ wife and a Native American/theosophical practitioner puts the problem simply, “Pagans are harvesting from resources in ways that are not sustainable. Unless people start growing their own and harvesting is sustainable ways, we’re going to run into issues. We’re already running into issues.”

Morey cites the difference between native and non-native harvesting practices. Where native practice is to “take the smaller” and less healthy plants while leaving the seed for future growth or to hunt the less healthy deer from a hunt, non-native cultures take the largest plant and the healthiest animals.

Morey further cites the popular Pagan tool of the drum, which often requires animal hide for the skin. “As far as I’m aware,” she says, “non-native cultures throw [out] the hide of the animal that they hunt instead of using that hide, or they’ll [obtain it] from someone who uses the animal just for the hide and the meat gets wasted. The bone is wasted,” she concludes, “and a bone knife is sharper than a metal knife and doesn’t dull for years.” This pattern of single use and disposable, along with fact that few Westerners give much thought to the sourcing of the products they purchase in New Age stores or anywhere else adds to the unsustainable nature of much of Pagan practice.

Trisha Morey at Idle No More in Portland, Maine [Courtesy photo]

Because of this, Ray-Saulis advises that the first step toward a more sustainable Paganism is awareness. “Awareness,” she says, “is how we modify our practice first and foremost. Learn where your things come from.” As an example, she suggests that we “follow the path of how that piece of fabric got to your house. It may have only cost $1.50, but what did it cost to make it? What chemicals were dumped into a river of some country with poor environmental practices?” Ray-Saulis advises reuse, noting from her own practice that, “I needed a piece of black fabric for a spell, and I had a pair of old black work pants with a hole, so I cut the fabric from the pants. Small things like that,” she says, “can make such a big difference.”

“I’m all about reusing things,” states Ray-Saulis. “When we write spell books, it should be with the idea that nothing need be purchased for the spell. When we are are building public ritual it should be eco-friendly. I can’t even count the number of Pagan celebrations I’ve been at where I ate off of Styrofoam plates!”

Morey agrees, and looks to her native culture for inspiration. “When you take from the environment,” she says, “you should use all that you take.”  She gives the example of one plant: “We use sage plants,” Morey explains, “to make sage tea [for] women. We use the leaves to extract infection from in the mouth or open sores, almost like a band-aid. A lot of people don’t realize that plants have more than one use, so they’re picking a lot of different plants when one plant can do three jobs.”

Morey also advises a more balanced approach to diet, noting that lack of balance in diet leads to a lack of balance in the Earth. “The problem I and a lot of Native Americans see with not eating meat,” she says, “is if you’re only eating plants those plants have to be renewed somehow, because otherwise you’re over-consuming one resource, which the plant-eating animals also eat.”

She continues, “So if humans are only consuming plants and plant-eating animals are only eating plants you’re stripping the plants from the Earth, which also produce oxygen, and you’re setting off the balance. She notes that the same is true of humans only eat meat. For us,” Morey finishes, “all life has equal value: rock, plant, animal, fish, human…the trick is always balance.”

Travel is another aspect of Paganism that can damage the environment in unsustainable ways. Pagans travel into nature for celebrations, to festivals, to small gatherings, and all of that involves the use of fossil fuels, the same substances sold by the companies Pagans helped resist in North Dakota and elsewhere. Anderson says that “travel is a constant concern” for her because “many of [her] coven mates travel from other nearby cities for esbats, sabbats, and other events.” She often travels to the U.S. to attend festivals. “That’s a lot of fuel.” Many other Pagans have experienced similar concerns.

Large public events such as Pantheacon, which takes place every February in San Jose, Calif., have taken measures to reduce their environmental damage. Pantheacon offers a carbon offset purchasing program with registration, and it provides water to attendees while encouraging them to bring refillable bottles to the event instead of using plastic cups. TempleFest in New Hampshire does the same with water, and next year the festival will be held in a retreat center with cabins, so participants do not need to drive back and forth from hotels during the weekend.

Ray-Saulis advises other steps that people can take on their own to mitigate the environmental damage of their travel. “I am really big, first and foremost, on bringing our own food.” She cooks a whole chicken and uses the meat for sandwiches and other meals while on the road. She also likes to “take gallons of water which I can refill at springs along the way.” While refilling water at natural springs is not an option for everyone, using large refillable bottles of water to diminish the use of plastic is possible for everyone. “I am far from the greenest person,” she says, “I struggle. But I think just being aware and taking notice helps.”

“Anything that burns less fuel is going to help our environment,” says Morey. Inspired again by her native culture, she suggests the idea of “runners” to obtain supplies. In the past, “instead of everybody traveling, two people from one tribe would pack a canoe full of supplies.” That way, “anything that was needed outside of the home environmentally the energy of two people was utilized.”

She suggests that if local spiritual communities did something similar, “there wouldn’t be any need to use up so much gas.” Ultimately, she says “what we need to do is stop thinking of ourselves as little individual islands and start going back to living as communities.”

Above all, Ray-Saulis advises a mindset that looks toward the future rather than bemoaning the past. “When I first began thinking specifically along these lines, I was upset with myself for past actions,” she says. “I think it’s important to be okay with our past and work toward a better future at the same time. We don’t all need to move to yurts in the middle of the woods and catch our own dinner, but we do all need to be warriors for Mother Earth in one way or another.”

“We should be looking toward being more selective and mindful and consume less,” agrees Anderson. “It’s time to join the Minimalist Witchcraft Movement. Is that a thing? Or did we just start it?”

 

CORRECTION 1/17/16 7:15pm: The original article stated that Sparrow was involved in protests against the Keystone Pipeline. However, her work is directed at the TransMountain pipeline. The correction has made in the article.

*   *   *

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Velvet Rieth 1954-2017

Fri, 2017-01-06 10:19

Velvet Rieth [Courtesy Photo]

It was announced Thursday that Wiccan priestess Velvet Rieth had died in her home Jan. 4 at 12:30 am. For years, Rieth was an outspoken member of the Louisiana Pagan community. However, in 2008, she developed a rare condition called Pick’s disease. She was forced to retire from the spotlight, but not before she made a significant mark on the world and people around her.

Velvet was born on Nov.15,1954 in New Orleans to parents John and Dorothy West. Like many in Louisiana, she had a Catholic upbringing but, growing up in New Orleans, she was also exposed to magic and various forms of Witchcraft. Her father was also reportedly a very spiritual man, who did not turn away non-conventional or non-Catholic ideas.

She began practicing Wicca in high school. In 1968, she enrolled in the newly-established public Grace King all girls high school in Metairie, where she met a group of friends who were all interested in Witchcraft and Wicca. In a 2008 interview for The Times-Picayune, Rieth spoke candidly about her first Pagan group, explaining that the girls all shared the common experience of being victims of child abuse and pedophilia. As a result of their traumas, as she told the reporter, they formed the Crescent City Swamp Witches. This group of women stayed lifelong friends and practicing Pagan colleagues.

Although her introduction to Witchcraft came at an early age, it would be another 20 years before she took her place as a leader in the Louisiana Pagan community.

After leaving high school, Velvet attended the Charity School of Nursing at Delgado Community College. She owned a bar for some time with her mother, Dorothy. After several marriages and the birth of her four children, she eventually moved into a successful career as the director of counseling at Causeway Medical Suite, an abortion clinic in Metairie. In that work Rieth became an outspoken local activist in support of a woman’s right to choose. She was even interviewed for and quoted in a 1997 Simon and Schuster’s publication: The Abortion Resource Handbook.

It is also around this time that she met and married Gilbert Rieth, which would begin marriage that would last 25 years.

Velvet praying at Marie Laveau’s tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 [Courtesy D. Morrison]

As her work in community service was taking off, Rieth also began to step out as a leader in the Pagan community. She was fondly known as the Swamp Witch. In 1994, she co-founded the Covenant of the Pentacle Wiccan Church (CPWC), which became affiliated with the Aquarian Tabernacle Church based in Washington state. CPWC performed both public and private rituals, legal weddings, hospital chaplaincy, and interfaith services. The group eventually operated teaching circles in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Shreveport, and hosted a a food bank. CPWC members followed Velvet’s lead in being very active and public in community support.

In 1996, through CPWC, Rieth began a successful Pagan prison ministry service, through which ordained members of her group could enter the state prison system to help Pagan inmates. In the 2008 Times-Picayune interview, she explained “One day, the Goddess thumped me on the head and told me to start a prison ministry.”

CPWC’s program was reportedly the only Wiccan-based prison ministry service in the state. Velvet first spent over a year working with only the Allen Correctional Center in Kinder. Then, she added five more prisons to her program, including the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. By 2003, CPWC’s Pagan ministry had to grown in size to support federal facilities as well, and she began teaching other Pagan chaplains about the work.

“My mom was happiest when she was working on something that benefited someone else,” said one of her sons, who requested not to be named. “She had a passion for humanity and believed that people could be their own salvation if they worked together.”

As the years went by, Rieth continued her service work in both the Pagan community and greater New Orleans area. She was regularly found volunteering at soup kitchens, in homeless shelters, and with other similar services. Her son said, “[My mom] wasn’t just the person to give a homeless person five dollars. She would take them home, shower them, feed them, and help them find a job. […] People I didn’t know would come up to my mom and say ‘Hey Vel. You helped me 20 years ago when I had nothing and now I’m getting out of college, or have a family. She wanted every path she crossed to be successful.” In 2000, Velvet received a commendation by the mayor of New Orleans for her work in the community.

Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit. New Orleans and the region were devastated. As someone devoted to community service, Velvet got immediately to work. After evacuating herself, she pledged to help rebuild. Christopher Penczak first met Velvet during this time. He said, “Velvet was a force of nature in her community work, going above and beyond and not letting anything get in her way.”

Along with Penczak, authors Dorothy Morrison and M.R. Sellars, Rieth helped to organize relief efforts toward the rebuilding of the area, including the Pagan community. In her interview with The Times-Picayune she speculated that, prior to the hurricane, there were approximately 3,000 Pagans in the New Orleans area. After the hurricane, she said that the number dropped to around 1,000. That number has since grown over the years.

Trixie Davis, Dorothy Morrison, and Velvet Rieth at the Goddess Rising Conference.  The first Pagan event in NOLA after Katrina [Courtesy D. Morrison]

Through those efforts, Morrison said that they ended up raising $10,000, all of which was sent to Rieth who “bought chain saws, heaters, cases of water, food and other supplies, and doled them out to those in need.” Morrison added, “It was quite a job, but she managed it.”

Rieths devotion to community service and family did not end when the clean-up efforts were over. In 2007, Velvet published My First Little Workbook of Wicca. Originally creating the book for her own grandchildren, Velvet decided to self-publish it so others could benefit.Then in 2009, she was appointed the curator of the Buckland Museum. Raymond Buckland is a family friend and looked to her to help him reestablish his museum. For several years, Rieth carried his memorabilia to Pagan events, showcasing the various pieces and sharing Wiccan history.

However, her dream of a New Orleans-based Buckland museum was not to be. It was at this time that Rieth began to show the signs of the debilitating disease that would eventually take her life. She had to retire from all public works and, over the next few years, her condition only worsened. Her son said, “My father and I did our best to keep my mom’s dignity intact despite her illness.”

In 2014, Rieth was given the official diagnosis that she had Pick’s disease, which, as defined by WebMD, is “a kind of dementia similar to Alzheimer’s but far less common. It affects parts of the brain that control emotions, behavior, personality, and language.”

Eventually, the illness affected her physically, and she had to be placed in a nursing home to receive proper care. In October 2016, Rieth was given two weeks to live. Her family brought her home on hospice.

On Jan. 4, Rieth died surrounded by her immediate family. At the exact moment of her death, the group performed a special ritual. It was led by her spiritual adviser Charlotte Pipes. Her children, husband, and sisters all participated. Her son said, “It was intimate and beautiful. We felt it was enough.”

Since announcement came of her passing, friends and colleague have been sharing memories:

Author Christopher Penczak, a colleague and friend, recalls, “My last visit with her and some friends was at the New Orleans airport. She couldn’t meet any other time during our visit, so she got up at an ungodly hour to have breakfast with us at the airport before we left. Even at dawn she was funny, smart and inspiring. I will miss her.”

Local witch Cairelle Perilloux, fondly remembers Velvet as an inspiration for her own work, calling her a tough lady but very generous. Perilloux recalls, “She took me to brunch and I told her about my plan for the Witches’ Ball and she was very supportive and handed me a $100 bill and said, ‘I believe in you and your vision. Get it going.’ She was a great motivator.”

Dorothy Morrison, a long-time family friend, said, “The Velvet I knew, though, was not only my friend, but the sister I wasn’t granted at birth. We shared secrets and laughter and tears. We shared praline cheesecake, frozen Irish coffee, long walks through the French Quarter while singing, ‘I Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans,’ and never hugged goodbye without saying, ‘I love you more than biscuits and gravy.’ She was, without a doubt, one of my most cherished blessings, and I will miss her sorely.”

Her son said, “I once told my mom, if I had to use an object to describe her it would be a piece of slate. Initially, she didn’t understand or like that answer. Then I explained. Slate is sedimentary. It is the culmination of many things that creates something stronger. Slate can be marked up and covered in anything and will always wipe clean. Mom was loved by many. I will miss her every day.”

A public memorial service will be held 5:00 – 8:00 pm Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 at L.A. Muhleisen & Son Funeral Home in Kenner. The family says that all are welcome.

Although her life was cut short, Velvet Rieth lived it to the fullest. As Morrison best said, she “was many things to many people.” Velvet was a high priestess, a magical practitioner, a teacher and lecturer, an activist, a prison chaplain, a dear friend, mother and wife. Her legacy is held steady by the many people she touched over the years, and it is entrenched in the vibrancy and growth of the New Orleans Pagan community.

That legacy will live on in the very spirit of community service and the devotion to family, both which were at the heart of her Velvet Rieth’s life.

“Now I lay me down to rest.
I know today I did my best.
Into the God and Goddess’s care I’ll be.
With the guardians watching over me.”
– Rev. Velvet Reith,  My First Little Workbook of Wicca

What is remembered, lives. 

Old Montreal rectory welcomes Witches

Thu, 2017-01-05 12:17

MONTREAL – The Pagan community in Montreal, Quebec has a new community space called The Rectory. It is the brainchild of T.Scarlet Jory and Robyn, two witches who identified the need for a new venue for Pagan classes, rituals and events.

Located in the actual rectory of an Anglican church, The Rectory is promoting itself as “a multifaith sacred space aimed at supporting community.” The adjacent church is St. Thomas’ Anglican Church and part of the diocese of Montreal.

[Courtesy Photo]

The story of The Rectory began last August when Jory received a phone call from the landlord who was renting space to the literacy program for whom she was working at the time. That program was sharing rent with Jory’s own Crescent Moon School of Magic and Paganism. The landlord was calling to give them notice that effective October 1, 2016 both programs would no longer be able to rent the space.

In need of a new venue, Jory and Robyn began the search. They eventually chose the main floor of the old church rectory, which features a large temple room and adjoining office space. Additionally, they have access to a communal kitchen and a bathroom.

The building itself is a 175-year-old stone structure with period charm and interesting features, including leaded windows, hardwood floors, and an impressive fireplace. The exterior has the old-world charm right out of a Harry Potter story.

It is uncommon for Pagan groups to be operating out of an Anglican church facility, which begs the question: how are the Pagans and Anglicans getting along as neighbours?

Jory cannot say enough about how accommodating and cooperative the relationship has been. “They are fine with us doing our Pagan stuff indoors, they just say please don’t do rituals outside, because not everybody will understand. So, that’s our respect for them, we are on their ground.”

This relationship has provided opportunity for both sides to work together on interfaith projects. “They do a bunch of interfaith stuff. They wanted to do something that would help build community,” Jory explains.

“Some of the projects that we do are community building specifically. We are going to petition to clean up their tea garden. They have an old tea garden in the back yard that hasn’t been touched in decades. We want to refurbish it, and replant all the roses, put in more tea garden related stuff, put down more flagstones and host tea services and things out there.”

The duo took possession of the space on October 1, 2016, and a soft opening followed. “We haven’t made it very public until just recently,” Jory says.

Period features inside The Rectory [Courtesy Photo]

“The first few months have been very rocky, getting set up, figuring out what we want to do and what the plans are, and what the gods want of us. As December rolled through we saw this is really working, this is the direction things are going to go. We will run with it! The gods have said: “Here is what you can do, if you follow this, it will go well!” And I think it really has.”

Other groups have joined the team at The Rectory, to share space and operating costs. These groups include: Etudiants Savoir Faire, a tutoring service, offering support to children in English, French and math; the Maplestone Academy a monthly, Hogwarts-like magical immersion program for children and adults; Sophia Rising, a Wiccan coven; The Sisterhood of Avalon, a non-profit, international Celtic Women’s Mysteries Organization; Montreal Reiki; The Crescent Moon School of Magic & Paganism; and the Temple Oracle, a French eclectic Wiccan group.

This wide spectrum of groups and individuals represents both of Canada’s official languages: French and English. In Quebec, French is the most commonly spoken language; however, in the Pagan community, it is not always easy to find events that are held in French or that are bilingual.

“Montreal is very much two Pagan communities” explains Jory. “The language is such a big issue in Quebec as a whole. It almost divides the things that are going on. We have two very distinct Pagan communities and on occasion they cross over, like for the public Sabbats, but they don’t have any other cross over points.”

The Rectory is poised to fill that need. Jory adds, “One of the women in [Temple Oracle] is one of my level two students and they were looking for a space as well, so they were not bouncing all over from one person’s house to another; they wanted something central. She wanted to get into community stuff, so I said why don’t you tap into the French community, because they have nothing. So that’s what she did. She is hosting French workshops and French rituals and that is working really well.”

Many forms of divination will be available at the Divine-In Fundraiser [Courtesy Photo]

With the new year comes the grand opening of The Rectory, and there are many different types of events in store for visitors. Jory explains, “When we were setting up our calendar of events, October through to the end of December was kind of scarce with just dark moons (ceremonies), Crescent Moon School and the odd workshop. Then we looked at our January calendar, and it is so packed.“

The calendar holds an array of classes, workshops, healing opportunities, and fundraisers. The next big event will be held Saturday, January 7 when doors will open to the public for a Divine-In Fundraiser to help support the organization. Tea & treats are on the menu, and guests will be able to get a tarot, tea leaf, lithomancy, or rune reading, to name a few, from one of the students or teachers of the Crescent Moon School.

The fundraiser held in October has already become a tradition for The Rectory. Just before Samhain, the organization hosted an Elder’s Tea, in order to get people together to see the space, and listen to the stories of the Montreal community’s elders. Participants were encouraged to dress up Downton Abbey style, and antique tea sets were used to serve tea and dainties to the guests, who were waited on by Crescent Moon School students. Invited Elders were entertained for free and encouraged to share their stories.

“It was such a beautiful experience, we were asked if we could do something like this every year. So now every year, we will hold an Elder’s Tea.” explains Jory. The next one is already scheduled for October 22, 2017.

Teacher and Rectory organizer, T.Scarlet Jory [Courtesy photo]

For Jory, running this venture has become a full time job, but is it supporting her as well as the community she serves? With a sigh and a laugh, she says “Running all of the community stuff, that is my day job. Does it pay for things? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Paying the rent on that space comes first and then whatever is left over becomes income.”

So what motivates her? “When I got to 3rd Degree, one of the vows that I took was to be in service to the community and to the divine. We do rituals here; we do healing services; and spiritual counseling and the workshops. We also provide space.”

The Rectory is not the only Montreal Pagan space operating. Sacred Cauldron is back after closing its old location and relocating to a new address. It also offers classes and workshops. And while Jory’s former business, Melange Magique, a keystone of the local community was forced to close its bricks and mortar location in 2013 (it is still operating online), another shop, Charme & Sortilege continues to cater to the French-speaking community.

But the size of the population, language barriers, and large geographical spaces dictate that this small sampling is not enough, and Robyn reflected on that, saying, “We need a place like The Rectory because our community lacked a place to gather. While we recognize and appreciate that there are other shops and a couple of centers in Montreal that do offer courses and rituals, we have seen that people feel that the distance is an issue to get to them, or else that they do not always ascribe to the same beliefs as those holding them there. We are doing our best at The Rectory to be open to all, and to renew some of the sense of community that the Montreal Pagans used to have.”

Jory and Robyn have negotiated a slight break on the rent for the first year, and are working to ensure that this new venture is sustainable into the future.

UU Pagans respond to American political shift

Wed, 2017-01-04 12:47

TWH — Following the highly-divisive election cycle in the United States, leaders in the Unitarian Universalist religion have been speaking out about what should come next. For one leader of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPs), the call to “provide sanctuary and resist” can be couched in terms of the time of the winter king, who brings hope in times of cold, dark, and despair.

Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, laid out what he believed to be necessary in a letter to UU ministers last month.

I believe we are entering dangerous times. I expect that the new administration will unleash human rights abuses aimed at migrants and Muslims shortly after it takes office. In the longer term, other marginalized groups . . . will be in danger. We are already seeing an increase in violent acts by people who see the election as validation of their hate.

Among the dangers we face is the temptation to “normalize” the situation. I pray that the incoming administration will prove to be more humane than its rhetoric and many of its most ardent supporters. I see no evidence that this is the case. None. It is irresponsible folly to act as though we are in a normal transition between administrations.

We must prepare to provide sanctuary and resist.

Sanctuary, in Morales’ view, is broadly defined to include not only safe harbors for spiritual reflection, but active protection for members of those groups likely to be targeted, including Muslims and illegal aliens. He frames resistance as a shift from playing “offense” by advocating for such issues as marriage equality and immigration reform to “defense” to oppose new human-rights abuses that he fully expects will occur under President Trump.

Amy Beltaine, presently the president of CUUPs, is in agreement with Morales. In a lengthy winter solstice video that she transcribed to the blog Nature’s Path,Beltaine placed these concerns into a Pagan context:

The short daylight and the fear and pain among my loved ones are adding layers of weight on my mind. So many of my friends have realistic fears about being able to survive, much less prosper, during the next four years. One must have food, shelter, and health before one can contribute your unique self to the world. I need them to survive.

I’m keenly aware of the responsibilities that come with my layers of relative privilege. I have responsibilities to the marginalized and historically oppressed. Not just responsibilities to interrupt bullying, to resist injustice and agitate for compassion, but responsibility to build bridges and to make connections with those who I have trouble feeling connected to.

For Beltaine, building bridges is every bit as important as building sanctuaries. “Some might argue that many who voted in frustration have little to complain about,” she wrote. “But human beings usually don’t make decisions based on dispassionate fact. We decide based on our story, our emotions, our experience. Whether this perception of helplessness and lost power were objectively true phenomena does not matter.”

[Photo Credit: thombattu / Wikimedia]

For Pagans and anyone else who acknowledges the astronomical shifting, this is the dark time in fact, even for those who don’t feel it is metaphorically. “As king of evergreens, the winter king’s gift is hope during times of despair, and incubation of new birth during times of destruction.” Beltaine argues that the common threads which bind Americans at this time — frustration with the difficulty of achieving the “American Dream,” as well as skepticism in elected leaders’ abilities to change the status quo — are a starting point for incubating that new, hopeful birth.

That means recognizing that the fears and worries of all people are valid for them, and treating each other with respect and decency. “As we wait for the sun to return we need to be intolerant of actions that harm the community or anyone in it, active in finding new ways, and calling in those who are not aware of the work that needs to be done.”

Among UU Pagans, that work comes forward in the form of resolutions passed by board members, and specific actions to back those statements up. When reached for an additional comment, Beltaine said on behalf of the CUUPs board:

CUUPs has a long history of lifting up the importance of our respectful relationship with the sacred earth and the importance of acting on behalf of the worth and dignity of all our siblings. Our current statements regarding Black Lives Matter, environmental justice (and solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux), and consent culture speak to the need to actively work against bullying, hate, disenfranchisement, oppression, and disconnection from our sacred selves and earth. Like Rev. Morales, we call upon our members and friends to take action to protect the vulnerable and to create a better world.

Beltaine’s full video message can be viewed below.