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Metaphors For Walking Through Doors

Thu, 2014-10-30 05:00

Last week I was watching the documentary “Radio Unnameable” about famous New York radio personality Bob Fass, when I saw Margot Adler. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, after all Margot had a long and storied career in radio that overlapped with Fass, and even though she had recently passed, the documentary footage was no doubt shot years earlier. Still, the moment brought into focus that while Margot Adler loved the Pagan community, played an important role in the development of modern Paganism, and enjoyed attending Pagan events, she also had a rich, complex, rewarding life completely outside the context of her religious preferences. That seems like a somewhat small revelation to have, but I found it profound all the same, because sometimes it has seemed like modern Paganism was my whole wide world.

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl

I’ve been working on The Wild Hunt on a nearly daily basis since 2004. Two years ago, I realized I was burning out. When you reach your limit doing something like this it isn’t like hitting a wall, sudden and immediate, it’s more like running out of water in a desert. You wish you could simply quench your thirst and continue your journey, but there’s not a drop of relief in sight. So you stagger forward as best you can, until you can’t even do that. Meanwhile, my public profile within our religious movement had never been more pronounced, and I found that a growing number of people saw me as some sort of leader, or perhaps more accurately as a public intellectual who was expected to hold forth on the issues of the day. Both of these developments made me increasingly uneasy, and I started looking for a way I could keep The Wild Hunt intact as a service to modern Paganism, while also allowing myself the freedom to leave. To re-orient my life in a new and different way.

Your humble-ish author.

I have been extremely fortunate that a group of like-minded media professionals, most notably Managing Editor Heather Greene, came at just the right time to step forward and help me. Over this last year I have been slowly transitioning out of my responsibilities in a gradual manner, while Heather, our staff reporters, and columnists, took up my old mantle. For the last few months I’ve been more of a symbolic presence and editorial advisor than avid contributor, and I think that this new team has managed to create something that honors the spirit of what I intended with The Wild Hunt while setting it up for a long future as a journalistic outlet for our interconnected communities. Heather now holds “the keys” to The Wild Hunt, its finances, the domain, and all other aspects. I trust her and the rest of the staff implicitly in their ability to carry out our mission. They may not please everyone all the time, but then neither did I.

So this is my “last post” post. This is where I get to walk into the sunset, and decide what I want to do with my life after ten years of active service to my religious community. I suppose I could take this opportunity to pen a “goodbye to all that” type kiss-off, but that has never really been my style. I would much rather hold on to the wonderful experiences and friendships that formed while I was doing this work. I would much rather say thank you to everyone who has supported me over the years, and to ask all of you to stay with The Wild Hunt as they continue their transition into a bright new era. I know they will do good work.

This is about as close as walking into the sunset I get. Photo: Jason Thomas Pitzl

As for me, I’m not sure what, exactly, my future holds. I’ll still be around, here and there. I haven’t stopped being a Pagan, nor do I have plans to stop any time soon. I’ll still use social media, I’ll still chat with my friends. So I won’t completely disappear. However, after I complete a few last obligations, I plan on my Paganism returning to being one facet of my larger whole. I need a break, and I’d much rather focus on things I had put aside in the name of that work for awhile. I look forward to introducing myself in a different way in the not-too-distant-future. I will leave the unique brand of religious micro-notoriety I haphazardly obtained over the years to others, though I would warn them against coveting such a prize (seriously).

So goodbye, and thank you for reading my writing.

Yours,

– Jason

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Pagans Join the Protests Against Fracking

Wed, 2014-10-29 08:25

In March 2014, the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City (PEC-NYC) formed after being inspired to action by Gasland (2010), a documentary on the U.S. fracking industry. It became their mission to pro-actively promote the development of renewable, clean energy alternatives.

In 2013, a group of U.K. Pagans held a ritual at Glastonbury Tor to raise awareness about fracking. The event turned global with Pagans around the world joining the ritual from their own space.The organizers wrote, “We felt it a shame to let the energy go to waste and so consolidated ourselves into a pagan anti-fracking pressure group; thus was the Warrior’s Call born.”

Both the PEC-NYC and The Warrior’s Call are dedicated to passionately campaigning against fracking. They have joined a fervent and outspoken global movement to end this relatively new process of energy extraction. Collectively these people are often refer to as fracktavists. But what exactly is fracking? Why is there so much controversy around its use?

“Rig wind river“ Wyoming. [Public domain via Wikimedia]

What is Fracking?
Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking,” is the extraction of fossil fuels from subterranean shale rock. The complicated process involves the injection of a high-powered fluid, containing water, sand and chemicals, into the earth. The combination of chemicals and pressure cause the shale to fracture and release trapped fossil fuels, which are then collected at the well site.

The basic technology behind fracking has been around for decades. According to Wall Street Journal senior energy editor Russell Gold, the concept on making wells more productive through fracturing rock began in the 1800s. However, the “modern age of hyrdraulic fracturing” did not begin until in 1998. And it has only been in the last 10 years that the United States has seen a surge in the use of fracking wells.

Fracking processes are found in areas where geologists have identified trapped fossil fuels within the subterranean shale beds. In the U.S., hydraulic fracturing is mostly used in Texas, Oklahoma, Pensylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Other countries with identified shale beds, such as Canada, Bulgaria, China and Australia to name a few, have also been using this new fracking technology.

Why Frack?
At its base level, the push to employ hydraulic fracturing is driven by society’s dependence, or overdependence as it were, on fossil fuels. As the world’s population increases the demand increases, and alternative energy processes have yet to become viable replacements for these traditional modalities, due to economic, technological and practical reasons. The industry is desperate to find new sources of fossil fuels to feed our insatiable need. Fracking answers that call.

“US Natural Gas Production 1990-2040″ by US Energy [Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

While fracking does pull oil from the shale rock, it is more commonly known for its use in extracting natural gas. According to the EIA, as noted by writer Brad Plummer, the U.S.natural gas stores “have reached historic highs.” The data show the fracked gas has increased 5x since 2007 alone, while coal and other traditional wells have decreased production.

Proponents argue that this boom is helping decrease our dependency on international energy. It has also reduced the price of natural gas, even at the consumer level. Due to the lower cost, many industries are converting their coal burning plants to natural gas, which burns cleaner. Experts believe that this change has contributed to the moderate decrease in overall U.S. carbon emissions since 2007. And finally, proponents also argue that the fracturing bonaza, as it has been called, has bolstered local economies and created new jobs.

Why the controversy?
While there are a Pagans who are conflicted with regards to the use of fracking, we could not find one who was decidedly pro-fracking. If they exist, they appear to be a non-vocal minority. The majority of Pagans who are publicly talking about the fracking boom, are vehemently opposed. The Warrior’s Call and PEC-NYC are just two examples.

Courtney Weber, a member of PEC-NYC, spoke with The Wild Hunt about her organization’s position and recent actions. She said, “I can’t imagine Pagans allowing their temples to be smashed. The Earth is being damaged…We have to fight to protect it.” Weber is one of key organizers in the PEC-NYC’ mobilization against fracking and for renewable energy – specifically wind. PEC-NYC is working on a petition to ask New York Governor Cuomo for his support of wind energy. The group is also sending members to a Nov. 1-7 Beyond Extreme Energy rally in Washington D.C.

“Witches Want Wind” Courtney Weber at a Cuomo Rally, 2014 [Courtesy Photo]

For Weber and others like her, the reported benefits of fracking do not justify the known environmental and economic damage, both immediate and long term. With the help of Food and Water Watch, PEC members visited fracking sites in Susquehana, Pennsylvania. Weber said, “They had headaches in 15 minutes. There was no wildlife. No insects. No birds … It smelled as if you put your face in a gallon of glue.” What she describes is not a thriving metropolis living off industry profits, but a broken region gutted and stripped of life.

Opponents believe that the economic claims are wrong. Jobs are not being created, roads are being destroyed by industry vehicles, and the townspeople are reaping no benefits. They add that, even with the increase in gas stores, the U.S. will not ever be energy independent as is often claimed.

Additionally, opponents point to some serious and very immediate environmental concerns. There have been cases in which the local water has been tainted with the toxic waste fluid from the shale gas extraction, and the air has been polluted with both methane and benzene gases. Weber pointed out the number of trucks needed to transport the millions of gallon of water. She noted that these trucks increase the carbon footprint of entire process and the water usage itself can potentially strain resources in many drought-ridden areas.

From PEC-NYC Pennsylvania trip. [Courtesy PEC-NYC and George Courtney]

Finally, opponents will also quickly point out that, while natural gas does burn cleaner, it still does produce “greenhouse gases.” Weber says, “It’s kind of like quitting smoking and then starting heroine instead.” She questions the wisdom in supporting an industry that appears to be just another dangerous substitute. Like others opposed to fracking, she fears that any support given to hydraulic fracturing will only detract from the development of economically viable, clean and renewable energy solutions.

Weber added that, as an activist, she can’t fight every battle. She says, “I can’t fight for bees, deforestation and the black rhino. Philosophically I can. But practically I can’t.” Energy is what she picked and says to others, ‘Pick what’s local. Pick what makes you mad.” Fracking made her mad.

So where do we find an answer?
Fracking is happening and at an increasing rate. The U.S. is on its way to having record natural gas resources. While that will not make us energy independent, it will increase U.S. exports, decrease prices and help the national trade deficit. Coal-based plants are closing down and the U.S. has lowered its overall carbon emissions. And, there is talk using natural gas reserves to help countries still struggling to control their own carbon emissions.

However, those benefits are measured purely in numbers and do not take into account the negative externalities of fracking.They do not measure methane cleanup; water pollution; property damage; local economic fallout; road maintenance; water resource limitations and the many environmental unknowns. What are the long-term affects? Will the progressive fracturing of subterranean shale rock create ground instability, leading to earthquakes?

While the Environmental Protection Agency and other private organizations are studying these issues, debates rage on in the world’s political arena. Many states and countries have banned or severely regulated the process or, like New York, have placed a moratorium on fracking until further data are collected. At the same time, organizations like PEC-NYC and The Warrior’s Call join The Sierra Club, Green Faith, Sane Energy Project, Food and Water Watch and others continue to oppose the process altogether.

This article only grazes the surface of a very complex global problem. Due to our society’s addiction to its fossil-fuel based energy infrastructure, we are stuck, so to speak, between a rock and hard place of our own making. We have yet to find a perfect solution that will allow us to maintain both a healthy ecosystem and our current energy-hungry systems. There is no easy button; no magic wand; no panacea … no injection drill that will extract that solution.

 

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Prison Ministry 2.0: Emailing Inmates

Tue, 2014-10-28 07:22

As the United States and its free citizens hurl through the second decade of the 21st century, most of its ample prison population is solidly rooted in the final decade of the 20th, with regards to email. While inmates in some prisons have had limited access to email since as far back as 2005, when the messages would be printed out and included with other mail for review and distribution, most are limited to old fashioned snail mail. But more recently an increasing number of prisoners have been allowed to send and receive messages through an officially-sanctioned service called CorrLinks. The Wild Hunt posed the question: how has this impacted Pagan prison ministry?

CorrLinks, a web site run by Advanced Technologies Group of West Des Moines, Iowa, is an intermediary between prisoners and those on the outside with whom they wish to contact. Federal prisoners, as well as those incarcerated in Iowa, may apply to use the system, but can be rejected for any reason, including having used a computer to commit crime. The inmate can only send messages to people on an approved contact list, which is populated with email addresses provided by the inmate. Those addresses are vetted and included only after the address owner consents. Prisoners can use designated computers, which have no internet access, to receive and send emails at a cost of five cents per minute. Incoming and outgoing messages are reviewed by prison officials, as is the case with any other mail to and from inmates.

Inquiries directed to CorrLinks customer service department about aspects of the service received unhelpful replies. Those questions, probing how inmate fees are set and whether the software itself provides monitoring tools, got a one-sentence reply: “You would need to contact facilities for that information.”

[Public Domain Photo]

The system has been in place since at least 2005, but only one of the Pagan ministers asked indicated any familiarity with it. That one is River Faeron, who is a member of Everglades Moon Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess and has been involved in prison ministry in the Tallahassee area for the past seven years. “I’ve been active in prison ministry,” he wrote, “but I’ve never been active in email-correspondence-ministry through CorrLinks or anything similar. I only used CorrLinks by sheer coincidence, when a single inmate from my Florida ministry was transferred into Federal custody and he and I kept in touch for a brief period of time.”

What happened with that one correspondent could be indicative of a larger, underlying problem in prison ministry. Inmates have a lot of time on their hands, and a minister may be the only outside contact that the prisoner has. “Unfortunately, sometimes inmates write lengthy correspondences, and he became distraught/frustrated when his long emails went unanswered for days or weeks,” Faeron conceded. Eventually the prisoner broke off contact completely.

Long letters are typical on paper as well, and as a rule Faeron spends his time visiting in person, rather than responding to correspondence. However, he did say that email is a good way to write without having to reveal one’s address to an inmate.

That time component is something that Ashleen O’Gaea, with Mother Earth Ministries, mitigates by going old school. She doesn’t use email, just the postal service. She said that “a paper letter can be considered for some time before an answer’s made, whereas e-mail time tends to be limited, so, it seems to me, there’s less time for thought to go into the process.” She also finds paper letters easier to refer to while writing a response, and harder to alter without detection than email.

While CorrLinks is the only sanctioned system for federal prisons, there are other similar systems. Reverend Dave Sassman, a member of Circle Sanctuary, said that he uses JPay to email inmates in his state of Indiana. That system charges Sassman a per-page fee for emails, but he was unaware if inmates also must pay. Typically prisoners don’t get anything without paying for it out of their commissary accounts, which must be funded by people who are not incarcerated. Even basic toiletries like toothbrushes and soap may not be provided to an inmate with a zero balance. It is likely that JPay users do get charged on both ends.

The prisons in the United States might be slowly approaching the 21st century, but Pagan ministers don’t appear to be in any rush to adopt electronic communication with inmates. At this point, CorrLinks and similar services seem poised to collect fees for the right to keep in touch using a method that is taken for granted by free people, and Pagan ministers, in particular, don’t see it as a useful tool for improving their work.

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Pagan Community Notes: Maetreum of Cybele, Pantheon Activist Conference, Brian Dragon, Silver Ravenwolf and more!

Mon, 2014-10-27 08:36

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

On Oct 24, Brian Dragon (Tony Spurlock) passed away. He was a beloved member of the Feri Tradition, an active participant in many Bay Area Pagan groups, an occult scholar and talented Bard, who loved to sing and tell stories. The loss has been felt by many in the local community.

To help fund funeral expenses, his friends launched a GoFundMe campaign to pay “for the cost of an urn and cremation so that Rhiannon can find comfort amongst family and friends and closure as she mourns the passing of her partner in life and magic.” Less than 3 days later, the goal of $2000 was reached and exceeded.This show of support demonstrates the true coming together of community for the care of a family in tribute to a treasured friend and spirit. Organizer Maya Grey expressed her heartfelt thanks on the funding site.

*  *  *

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

On Oct 21, the New York State Court of Appeals began hearing oral arguments in the Maetreum of Cybele case. As we have reported in the past, the Maetreum of Cybele has been caught in an eight year legal battle with the town of Catskill over its property tax-exempt status. In 2013, the Appellate Division of the state’s supreme court ruled in favor of the Maetreum, but the city would not relent, and appealed once again.

The day after the oral arguments were heard, the organization said,The Maetreum exists because of one miracle from the Goddess after another. We never should have been able to buy the property but did … never should have been able to stay in the legal battle to the end but did. We view the property as belonging to the Goddess.” Currently, the Maetreum reports that it still owes $1360 in legal fees and its fundraising efforts are ongoing. However, once those bills are paid and legal processes are over, the organization hopes to return to the project of getting its “community low powered FM radio station on the air.”

*  *  *

The Pantheon Foundation will be hosting the first annual Pagan Activism Conference Online (PACO) Nov 22-23 2014. The conference will take place entirely online, allowing for global participation and attendance. According to the website, “The goal of the Conference is to equip Pagan activists from all over the country with the tools necessary to advance the goals and aims of their own activist efforts, and to build bridges between Pagan activists for mutual support.” The keynote speaker will be T. Thorn Coyle. Registration, information and a schedule of events are currently listed on the site.

*  *  *

[Courtesy Photo]

With frustration mounting, Silver Ravenwolf has responded to the Facebook name controversy with a new blog post. A few days earlier, she told The Wild Hunt, in part, “As the days progressed I’ve received many e-mails and posts about individuals who have been targeted — radio show hosts, tattoo artists, writers, singers, Native Americans, etc. — but, more worrisome? Many of the individuals indicated they fought and lost, that the experience was painful and upsetting, and that they were treated unkindly by FB employees.” Ravenwolf added that she will fight this because, “FB is purposefully putting the safety and security of individuals at risk — and that is unconscionable.”

In Other News:

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Column: Island of the Forgotten Dead

Sun, 2014-10-26 06:53

[Reminder: our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. We have  only 8 days left!  Your support is what make our work possible. If you like columns like the one below and our daily coverage of news, please consider donating today. Your donations will help us grow and expand our coverage. Donate here. Thank You.]

It took me a few hours to find the girl whose face had appeared to me so clearly that morning, but as soon as I spotted the figure sitting on the bench out of the corner of my eye, I immediately knew that I had found the right person. She had a pile of cards, a handwritten cardboard sign, and, as my eyes met hers, she broke into an impish grin. She was definitely the one.

I handed her five dollars and sat down on the blanket.

“What is your question?” she asked me.

“I need to know what story to tell,” I answered.

She drew three cards, turned them over in front of me, and started to study them. As soon as I glanced at the cards, an old friend flashed through my mind, and instantly my question was answered. I quickly glanced at the cards again, snapped a picture of them with my phone, and then gently interrupted her thought process.

“No need,” I told her. “All I needed was to see the cards. I’ve got everything I need to know now.”

She looked at me, puzzled. “If all you needed was to see the cards, why did you pay me for a reading?”

“I was supposed to seek you out,” I answered, momentarily drifting back to the vision I had on the riverbank that morning and remembering that I had neglected an important detail. “I was also supposed to compensate you twice what you asked, so here…”

I reached into my pocket, handed her another five dollars and started to get up.

“Wait,” she said. “I have to ask. What’s the story? What are you writing about?”

“Its about the dead,” I quickly answered, realizing as the words left my mouth that she deserved more of an explanation than that. I took a breath and tried again. “I’m being nagged to write about the dead. But I’ve got too many possibilities in my head and I was drowning in an indecisive fog. Those three cards made it perfectly clear who and what I need to write about.”

She smiled and nodded. I thanked her again and headed home, ever so grateful for the simplicity of that exchange.

*  *  *

It was Samhain, and we had dedicated the day to honoring the forgotten.

We had started the afternoon at Washington Square Park, on the east side of the park where an estimated 20,000 bodies were buried and forgotten beneath one of New York City’s most well-known landmarks. The park was packed that day with children and adults alike in Halloween costumes, milling about in anticipation of the parade that would pass through Greenwich Village in just a few hours.

Jim and I stuck out for our lack of costumes and, yet instantly, attracted attention as we spread flowers throughout the east side of the park and sang songs and left offerings for the dead, purposefully ignoring the confused and questioning stares from passers-by. The crowds of people dressed as ghouls and ghosts hadn’t a clue that they were atop one of the city’s largest graveyards, and observing the depths of that ignorance only fueled our energy towards the task at hand. If only they knew what lies beneath, I thought to myself as I sprinkled flowers along the perimeter of the park.

From Washington Square, we walked uptown to Madison Square Park and then Bryant Park, performing the same ritual again in both places, and then briefly over the pedestrian bridge to Ward’s Island and back before taking the 6 train up to Pelham Bay in the Bronx and hopping a bus over to City Island.

The day before, I had arranged to borrow a boat from a friend whose family lived out on the island. It was a rickety old skiff, perhaps 12 feet long with a sputtering old Evinrude motor, that had seen better days but was sufficient for the purpose of our voyage. I was given a quick lesson on the boat’s quirks and operations before dragging her on the dolly down to the dock. I looked out into the water and focused my eye towards our destination in the distance.

City Island (left) and Hart Island (right). Photo by Bjoertvedt.

The sun was just starting to set as we strapped on our life jackets, grabbed a few flashlights and a set of oars, and headed out into Long Island Sound with a large plastic bag filled with fresh-cut flowers. It was a clear night, the water was still, and Jim piloted the boat while I helped navigate us northeast past Rat Island, the nautical map of this stretch long committed to my memory. I had been out on the Sound only a few times before in years past, but I had taken this trip many times in my mind, to the point where I felt a definitive déjà vu while we crossed the sound, despite the fact that I had never taken this exact route before.

A short time later, we stopped the boat and shut the motor off a hundred feet or so away from the shoreline near the northernmost tip of Hart Island. We carefully stood up in the boat and gazed out towards the island, immediately noticing that the land formation before us was literally shrouded in mist against an otherwise clear sky. Without a word we each grabbed an oar and slowly rowed closer in silence, drawn to the eerie, numinous energy that was emanating from the shoreline. Before us was a literal island of the dead, a 101-acre tract of land that held the distinction of being the largest publicly-owned burial ground in the world.

Over a million of New York’s indigent, forgotten, stillborn, and otherwise unclaimed dead are buried on Hart Island. The island has served as New York’s potter’s field since 1868, when the city purchased the island and designated it as “a public burial place for the poor and strangers.” Prior to the city’s acquisition of Hart Island, potter’s fields had been maintained throughout Manhattan from the time of the city’s inception. The area that is now Madison Square Park was the first large-scale potter’s field, until the city purchased the area that is now Washington Square Park in 1797 and designated that tract as a potter’s field until 1825. Bryant Park was used to bury the indigent from the 1820s until just before the Civil War; Ward’s Island was then used for burials for several years prior to the purchase of Hart Island in 1868.

In addition to a potter’s field, Hart Island had also alternately housed an insane asylum, a drug treatment center, a boys’ reformatory, a tuberculosis sanitarium, prison dormitories, and a Nike missile base. The island was dotted with ruins from these various incarnations – ruins that were left crumbling and unexplored as the island had been closed to the public for as long as anyone could remember. The burials on Hart Island were performed by prison inmates from nearby Rikers Island. The inmates and employees of the New York City Department of Corrections were the only living souls legally permitted on the island. Signs warning the public not to land ashore were scattered all around the perimeter of the shoreline, and anyone who did step foot on the island was potentially subject to arrest.

A trench at the potter’s field on Hart Island, circa 1890. Photo by Jacob Riis.

Before I had met Jim, I had never even heard of a potter’s field, let alone had any thoughts of ever visiting one on Samhain night. I had occasionally wondered in the past what became of those who died and were unclaimed, or those whose families could not afford a burial. But I had never taken those thoughts to their logical conclusion until I started spending time with the segment of society that tends to end up in such places. I understood why nobody ever spoke of potter’s fields, as poverty and death are equally uncomfortable subjects as far as society is concerned. And yet, I found that once it truly sunk in – that there were untold thousands of the forgotten dead scattered throughout New York City – I couldn’t ignore or look away from the implications of that knowledge. I felt a need to honor them, and I wasn’t alone in that feeling.

Jim was unusually familiar with Hart Island, having worked as a prison laborer on the island during his last stint at Rikers some years back. A long-time petty criminal, he consistently credited his experiences at Hart Island with scaring him straight and setting him on the right path. Burying the indigent dead had moved something in him, forced him to examine his life and the hand that he was dealt. He spoke of the dead redeeming him in the same emotional manner that so many others spoke of Christ and, while I hadn’t known him prior to his prison experiences, I could regularly sense the deep changes that were continually occurring within him. He was homeless, struggling with sobriety, and stumbled regularly in that struggle, and yet there was a consistent fire within him that lifted him through his struggles, a fire that was deeply connected to the sense of purpose that he found while working with the dead on Hart Island.

“I got at least ten or eleven friends out there, that I know of, anyway,” he had said to me a few weeks prior to our trip. “Two of them died while I was locked up that last time, and for all I know I helped to bury them. It’s literally an island of forgotten souls out there for the most part. Most folks don’t even know its there.”

He told me of the memorials that the prisoners would build after they finished filling a trench. Altars of sticks and rocks, left in corners and crevasses throughout the island, built out of a sense of solidarity and empathy with those inside the simple wooden coffins that they stacked into the trenches day after day. “After a while, you feel a responsibility, an obligation to the task,” he told me. “Being locked up is a lesson in what it means to be forgotten. and most everyone who ends up on Hart Island is forgotten, whether you’re out from your cell for the day or freshly arrived in a wooden box. The forgotten in boxes, after a while, you realize that you’ve got perhaps a little too much in common with them.”

I thought of Jim’s time out on the island as we rowed close to shore and, as I looked over at him, I had a feeling that his thoughts were in similar places. We steered the boat eastward through the still water, and slowly started to circle around the island. I grabbed the bag of flowers and started to sprinkle them out of the side of the boat as we moved through the water. Jim rowed, and I sprinkled flowers, and we sang songs and prayers, rowing a full circle around the island of the forgotten dead as the sun set behind us.

As we made our way around the island, serenading the dead, the mist over the island started to glow in the  moonlight. We felt shifts in the air as the island seemed to respond to our presence. A whistling breeze picked up, and it was almost as if the dead were singing along with us. The veil was thin, time and place started to blur, and there was a sense of ever-strengthening connection as we slowly rowed through the water.

By the time we had completely circled around Hart Island, it was well after dark and both of our voices were hoarse. The island was pitch black, the moon was half-full, and we sat in the boat staring out at the island, watching as a sudden gust of wind stirred the mist that had been hovering throughout our journey around the island. We looked at each other and without a word spoken we decided it was time to depart. Jim started up the engine, which promptly sputtered and died, and we took it as a sign to maintain our silence as we gently rowed back to City Island without a word said between us.

As we landed back on City Island, the sky opened up and it started to pour, and as we looked back towards the opposite shore, the island of the dead was still eerily glowing.

*  *  *  *  *

In the time since our trip out to Hart Island, which took place in either 2002 or 2003, the island’s existence and the mystery around it has become much more well-known and widely publicized.

Among those buried at Hart Island are an untold number of stillborn children who died in city hospitals, many whom were buried at Hart Island without the knowledge or permission of the mother. Many of those mothers, along with the help of a local filmmaker and advocate, steadily fought the city and the Department of Corrections for the right to visit Hart Island. The department had always refused all requests to access the Island, from grieving relatives to filmmakers and journalists alike, but over the years their fight has gained traction, and the department gradually started to soften their position. In 2007, the department allowed ‘closure visits’ for the first time, which they granted only to family members who could legally prove that they had a relative buried on the island. The families were restricted to a gazebo next to the dock at Hart Island and had no view of the actual gravesites.

After eight women threatened to file suit against the Department of Corrections in 2010, seeking to visit the actual grave sites of their children, the department finally relented and allowed the women to visit the graves under tight security. The Department simultaneously lifted the overall requirement that visitors to the island need to legally justify their request through burial records. According to the Department of Corrections website, Hart Island is currently open to the public on a limited basis, although the visits are still restricted to the same rules that govern visits to Rikers Island, which means that no photographs, flowers, or mementos are allowed.

I lost touch with Jim a few years after our trip, and learned from an acquaintance several years later that he had died of cirrhosis in the hospice ward of Bellevue Hospital after a long battle. I was told that his body was unclaimed after his death, which means he was undoubtedly buried on Hart Island.

I put this story to words in the spirit of honoring his memory, and in the hopes that others will take it upon themselves to remember and honor the otherwise forgotten dead. What is remembered, lives.

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Peter Paddon, 1964 to 2014

Fri, 2014-10-24 08:07

It was announced Thursday that Peter Paddon, author, teacher, Witch, and Cunningman, had passed away quietly during the night. His family posted the following on his public Facebook account:

As you can imagine, there just aren’t words for things like this, at a time like this. Our beloved Peter has passed away peacefully in his sleep. We know that he has touched so many of you, as he has touched us, and we know that you share our grief this morning. We’ll share information on the plan as we’re able to put a plan together. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

Peter Paddon was a beloved figure in the Pagan world. Raised partially in the shadows of Stonehenge, he spent many hours playing and learning among its stones. At the age of twelve, he began experimenting with the Occult, but it wasn’t until after finishing school in 1983 that Peter engaged in any formal training. That journey began as a student of Alexandrian Wicca.

Over the next two decades, Peter studied a number of different traditions, including Egyptian Mysteries, Rosicrucianism and Enochian magick, and worked with many different people along the way. In 1997 Peter moved to Los Angeles to begin a new adventure with his wife Linda. In 2004, they started a group called Briar Rose, a Companie of Cunningfolk, which is still in operation today.

Peter has been the spirit and energy behind many projects and creative ventures.Through his work, he has shared his love of the Craft and his vast Occult knowledge. In 2011, Peter began the popular Crooked Path podcast. Shortly before that, he launched an independent publishing imprint called Pendraig Publishing, whose focus is to produce “quality books … covering subjects like Traditional Witchcraft, Wortcunning, The Art of the Cunning Folk, and Ancient Mystery Traditions.” Since its founding, Pendraig has published Peter’s own books, The Crooked Path Journal and the works of other authors. Its newest release is Peter’s Traditional Witchcraft: Visualization.

In 2012, Peter suffered a major heart attack and underwent surgery, from which he fully recovered. That setback didn’t slow him down and, once able, he continued on with his work.

Throughout his life, Peter was a creator, an artist, a storyteller and a visionary. Along with his podcast and writing, Peter performed tarot readings and produced the Craftwise series of spellcasting DVDs. With his wife Linda, Peter enjoyed creating Pagan-inspired art and crafts. Most recently, the couple’s work, including Peter’s custom glass etchings, were being offered at the Northridge Mall open air market.

After Thursday’s announcement was made public, it became very clear how many lives Peter and his work have touched over the years. The Brothers of the Unnamed Path wrote:

Peter was a gifted witch who brought humor and great personal passion to his work. He was a friend of ours and of our dear Hyperion and provided great comfort to us after his passing. We offer our Love and deepest condolences to his wife Linda, son Ben, and Peter’s entire family and community of friends.

Close friend Orion Foxwood said:

Peter’s legacy is a multi-threaded beautiful tapestry of loving husband, loyal father, wise witch, treasured friend, and esteemed author and teacher. His brushstrokes on our lives have made the world more beautiful and magical….forever.

Peter will be missed as he begins his next journey. But his spirit and wisdom have been preserved in the many and varied works that he has left behind for future generations, from books to podcasts to etchings. In that way, Peter will continue to touch lives as he has always done; just as he will continue to live on deep within the hearts and memories of his students, friends and family.

What is remembered, lives.

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Column: The Citizen and the Idiot

Thu, 2014-10-23 07:51

[Our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. We have 9 days left!  Your support is what make our work possible. If you like columns like the one below and our daily coverage of news, please consider donating today. Your donations will help us grow and expand our coverage. Donate here. Thank You.]

In our era of deep individualism which produces such horrors as the 1% oligarchy that rules our nation, we have a society that places individual benefit, greed, and self-centeredness at the acme of life. In ancient Athenian society, a person who behaved in this way was called an idiot.

“O Partenon de Atenas” by Steve Swayne [Lic. CC Wikimedia]

Individualism is a strong force within the Pagan community. If Helen Berger is correct, 70% of us are solitary, which is very unusual for a religion. Of course, we are all used to the chorus of, “I joined this religion to get away from religious authority!” This is an understandable sentiment given the authoritarian religions that surround us.

Even the defensive assertion of being a ‘small-group religion’ is another aspect of this individualism. In this case, it is slightly extended to the local crew. While I am a fan of the small group, individualism has a centripetal force that isolates and disempowers us in our solitude and small circles. It makes it hard for Pagans to join in a coordinated action in response to opportunity or oppression.

One of the most important tasks of religious leadership is to critique, challenge, and deconstruct the religion or a spirituality’s beliefs, perspectives, and practices.Today you are invited to contemplate Pagan solidarity, or civitas, and what the ancient Athenians called the idiot. Reclaiming the word ‘idiot’ and contemplating the criticism it embodies is hereby commended to you for discussion. The ancient world provides us with insight.

In ancient Athens those who gave no thought to the public life, the needs of the Polis, the community, were called ‘idiots’ and considered deficient in honor. This was contrasted to ‘citizenship,’ or civitas in the Roman. This is a life which is dedicated to community and which had to be inculcated by education.

[Public Domain; Pixabay]

If you read the Wikipedia listing for it, citizenship arose in opposition to slavery. The military defense of the City by citizens was to prevent enslavement by conquest, which was the normal outcome of war in the ancient world aside from death.

With so much to lose, the Athenians, like many other people in the world, banded together to defend and strengthen themselves against oppression, and for mutual prosperity. Those who did not participate, seeking only their own benefit, were called idiots. Citizenship was considered a virtue and accrued honor to those who gave up some personal benefit for the sake of the community. The respect of one’s fellows was considered ample compensation.

So, at times we should ask ourselves, are we a bunch of idiots? Do we Pagans see things that benefit our community as a whole and beyond our immediate circles (regional, state, national) as something worth our effort?

Admittedly we are in an era of speciation, spawning off new religious practices and traditions like Reconstructionism, [Hard/Soft-] Polytheism, Humanist Paganism, Heathenism and other culturally focused forms, and many more. We are in a centripetal mode. Diversity is good for us overall; diverse ecologies are healthy and robust. This also pulls us apart into our many factions or sects, too often painfully at odds with each other. A necessary phase of development, but solidarity need not be ignored.

So, what of our civitas, our awareness of being a community? There are none like us in this world. We are a new, rising, vigorous, religious movement, only a few hundred years old. Contemporary Paganism is twined with the origins of modern science and liberal governance (freedom of speech, press, rule of law, etc.), but also with a revival of ancient forms of religiosity with their insights and Deities. Altogether a more wholesome form of religion, better suited to today, I warrant, than any other. But we are not a very powerful or effective one; the poster child for disorganized religion.

The Maetreum of Cybele is struggling to get tax relief for their monasteryThe Seekers Temple in Beebe AR is being attacked for trying to operate its Pagan church by a Christian church across the road). And I’m sure there are more such oppressions in the U.S. and abroad. Our ability to come together to support each of these members of our community, or failure to, constitutes a measure of our civitas, our citizenship as Pagans.

Two positive examples of civitas are the Lady Liberty Headstone Project, which lobbied the Veterans Administration so that deceased Pagan Military could be buried with headstones marked with Pagan religious symbols, and the recent fundraiser for The Wild Hunt. This vital Pagan news outlet was able to reach its basic funding goal with two weeks to spare. We can, as a community, put it together at times.

But is it a virtue to us? Is civitas a value in our sub-culture? How do we embody our solidarity in action? Pitching in and helping out is especially necessary when we don’t have institutions and paid leadership to take on the skut work. It’s not glorious, but it is necessary. Will we honor and respect, and support, those who labor on behalf of our community? What of those who set up our spaces and clean them afterwards? What of those who handle the accounting and book the sites — those not out front and visible leading ritual? Civitas is that special unity that comes from finding ways of joining together to achieve our hopes and dreams. In it, there is honor, respect, and support, for those who shoulder the burden. The alternative is sheer idiocy.

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Around the World: Samhain in an Occult Bookshop

Wed, 2014-10-22 10:24

[We have changed the monthly "Walking the World" column to "Around the World." Today we return to the UK with Christina Oakley Harrington, the founding director of Treadwell's Bookshop in London. Do you like this column and others that feature perspectives from outside the U.S.A.?  If you do, please consider donating to our ongoing Fall Funding Drive. All of the money donated goes back to building The Wild Hunt and expanding our reach so we can feature more international stories and columnists. Please donate today!]

Hallowe’en approaches. Here in London we are in autumn at last. Golden brown leaves are underfoot on the sidewalks of our tree-lined streets here in Bloomsbury, my neighbourhood. Yesterday I walked down to the open market on East Street to buy ten yards of orange fabric to decorate the front window of my occult bookshop. We’re scouting for pumpkins to carve to put around on the display tables amidst the books.

[Courtesy of Treadwell's Bookshop London]

Halloween is a time for remembering ancestors and, this week, I am honouring the ancestors of the wonderful tradition of the magical store, where ancient tomes, kindly conversations, and recommendations come together. Pagans and mystics of the western traditions historically don’t have churches or congregations. We’ve found one another in these book-lined spaces. It’s from the occult bookseller that we’ve received our guidance for reading; we’ve got our introductions to the local coven or the address of the local magical lodge.

In my own city of London, the ancestor booksellers are many and indeed illustrious. John Watkins, a friend of occultist Helen Blavatsky, set up his bookshop on Charing Cross Road in the early 1890s. His occultist customers used his shop as a meeting place and pressed him into publishing some of their work. Among them were members of the Golden Dawn, including WB Yeats and MacGregor Mathers and, of course, Aleister Crowley. Eventually Watkins’ son Geoffrey took over for his father. Carl Jung was a friend. Aldous Huxley was also known to be a bookshop regular. The famous poet Kathleen Raine wrote this of the son who inherited the bookseller mantle:

He welcomed his customers as his guests, assuming that we were seekers for wisdom, and meeting each of us at the level of our learning (or our ignorance) as he was well able to do. He seemed always to have time to listen.

The Atlantis Bookshop [Courtesy Photo]

London’s Atlantis Bookshop was founded in 1922 by Michael Houghton, a Jewish immigrant with a passion for the mysteries and poetry, and who reputedly held ceremonies in the basement room of his shop on Museum Street. Caroline Wise, who owned the shop through the 1990s, related to me that, during the second world war, Houghton took in refugee Jewish children who had been smuggled out of Nazi Europe. Houghton’s customers included Gerald Gardner, for whom he kindly published his book on Wicca – which apparently took a while to sell.

Atlantis and Watkins are both still flourishing in London. We at Treadwells, having opened in 2003, are the new kids on the block. We are honoured to have such predecessors as those booksellers. This is my town, these are my ancestors of place. I owe them honour for their help in cultivating the traditions of my spiritual vocation and my bookselling profession.

The young Christina visited the occult bookshops of London for the first time in early 1990, when still fresh off the overnight train from Northern Scotland. The noticeboards listed groups, meetings, conferences. These scrappy bits of paper and cards were a key to the places I would find real witches, real magicians. The booksellers at these shops looked knowledgeable and kindly, but I was always too daunted to strike up a conversation. In those days I was embarrassed to be the new kid. So I hid behind the books as I’d done since childhood, silently bringing my purchases to the check out and equally silently scribbling down the phone numbers and addresses of the contacts on the community board  I’ve learned that my story is a common one for that era.

Magickal Childe [Public Domain]

This summer I traveled to New York City and looked along the streets for the site of the old Magickal Childe, where so many gathered in the seventies and eighties, to find one another, find adventure and misadventure, and to connect for magic, for withcraft, and for personal explorations. Here, gay men met up and gave birth to a men’s initiatory tradition of witchcraft known as the Minoan Brotherhood. Here teenagers came through the doors to nervously browse and buy their first black-covered paperbacks – Michael Bertiaux’s Voudon Gnostic Workbook or Doreen Valiente’s ABC of Wicca. And although the bookshop’s doors closed years ago, its precedent continues to inspire those of us who run esoteric bookshops today.

When I travel around America or around the UK, I can’t help but pop into every small city’s esoteric shop. Whether it’s Nottingham or Norwich or Albany, I have to go in. Usually I end up having a chat with the owner, who is commonly the friendly person behind the cash register. We talk about “how business is” and about the effect of the internet on bookstores. But, most of all, we talk about our spiritual calling – to have an open door for the community of Pagans, magicians and seekers in the place where we live. It’s a hard life. We commiserate with one another, but all our conversations come back to the fact that we feel we have to do it.

In our conversations, we reminisce about the good old days, remembering those who did it before us. And, though we don’t always say it to one another, I get the feeling that we all look to the ancestors of the occult bookshop tradition for strength when we don’t know how we’re going to make the rent this month. They give us patience when obstreperous occultists lecture us on what we’ve known for years. They hover as benign presences over our book launches and watch over us from the upper corners of the dusty book cases.

[Courtesy of Treadwell's]

And so, as I unlock the door of my own shop this morning, this prayer is in my mind:

Bless us, ancestors of the occult bookshops, and we in turn bless you and thank you for all you did in your lifetimes. We try to do you proud, and stand in your shoes as best we can. May the bookshop continue to be the circle between the worlds, a meeting place of joy and peace and communion.

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Review: CBS’ CSI and The Book of Shadows

Wed, 2014-10-22 09:19

As we reported Friday, October is a popular time for interview Witches. The season also brings a flurry of Halloween-inspired television programming. From the holiday specials to the classic horror films, the entertainment industry capitalizes on our cultural love for all things related to the secular holiday.

[Credit: MANSOUR DE TOTH via CC lic. Wikimedia]

This phenomenon is nothing new. In the 1930s, Betty Boop appeared in a short called Hall’ween Party (1933). In 1948, Mighty Mouse saved the world in The Witch’s Cat. Many readers will remember looking forward to the yearly October airing of The Wizard of Oz (1939) or, more recently, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). One of the newest Halloween-inspired offerings,Book of Life (2014), capitalizes on the growing popularity of the Mexican Dia de los Muertos aesthetic and tradition.

As we get closer to the actual Oct. 31 date, producers begin offering Halloween-themed episodes of TV series. In its lineup this year, CBS aired a Witch-themed episode of its popular, long-running show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. While the secular Halloween holiday was never mentioned, the show’s title “Book of Shadows” and its subject matter were not arbitrarily chosen to appear in a late October episode.

Sunday’s CSI episode has set off some intense discussion within the Wiccan community. While many believe the show demonstrates a step forward in the depiction of Witches and Wiccans within mainstream entertainment, others were not easily convinced. Massachusetts Priestess Laura Wildman-Hanlon remarked:

I’m annoyed my religion was again dragged out and used as a means to scare people on Halloween. I’m angry at the disrespect paid to my beliefs and my God & Goddess. I’m furious at the writers who could have used the opportunity to debunk these untruths instead of playing to them. 

Was the show a simply a means to “scare people” as Wildman-Hanlon suggests? Was it yet another serving of insulting television fare perpetuating the historically-ingrained, sensationalistic construction of Witchcraft? Or was it positive? Did the writers demonstrate any cultural sensitivity?

Before looking at the specifics of the episode, it is important to be aware the CSI program is very formulaic like most TV dramas. “The Book of Shadows” episode was no exception.The aesthetics and narrative structure fell well-within the CSI storytelling boundaries, including the sensationalism, campy humor and graphic displays of internal anatomy.They didn’t stretch the show’s artistic reach to tell this story.

“Book of Shadows” opens with a teenager filming a video while walking through school hallways. This scene is important because it establishes the main characters of the “who done it?” plot. After we are introduced to the players, a burning body comes running down the hall and then falls dead. Interestingly, this dead teacher is labeled “the Burning Man” and, although not known at the time, is a practicing Witch. While just a minor point, this detail, death by burning, becomes the second reference to Witchcraft. The first, of course, is the title.

Although the show is filled with subtle phrases and imagery maintaining its connection to the theme, it isn’t until the second segment that the narrative really delves into subject of Witchcraft. The coroner discovers a “Life Rune” symbol, which he links to Nazism, gangs and crime and which eventually leads investigators to the coven’s temple space.

The temple scene, itself, was filmed in the classic CSI aesthetic while also recalling elements of the horror film. As CSI Nick Stokes enters the dark room, everything is visually obscured by shadow and a tight camera angle. The limited lighting is blood red and, as the slow-moving camera pans across the space, the only recognizable images are a skull and a pentacle.

In typical CSI fashion, the horror-style scene is followed by scientific explanation and visual clarity. In this case, there is a brief dramatic reenactment that parallels the horror-scene.  Then the director abruptly cuts to a non-engaging, medium shot of the temple room in nearly full light. Everything is visible. CSI D.B. Russell has joined Stokes in exploring the space.

As they investigate, Russell educates Stokes and the audience on what they are seeing in the room. When referring to the pentacle, Stokes says, “I always thought it was the sign of the devil.” Russell replied, “Well you were wrong.”

Along with other similar type comments, Russell says, “[Wicca] is a Pagan religion.” Putting these two temple scenes together, the show plays first with what the viewer expects and then says, “well you were wrong.” This juxtaposition demonstrates a clear step forward in the representation of Witchcraft and Wicca within a modern context of its own making.

Moreover, the writers also note the important distinction that Wicca is a “Pagan religion.” This statement is critical because it moves popular discourse away from the simple point that “Witchcraft is real” or “Wicca is Witchcraft” to “Wicca is one of many religions.” Although encapsulated in a bucket of typical CSI sensationalism, the show’s narrative does demonstrate that the writers did some real homework.

CSI: The Book of Shadows [Courtesy: CBS Television]

The next important detail to examine is the lab scenes, in which tech David Hodges is dressed in a “relic Druid robe.” To Wildman-Hanlon, these scenes were extremely off-putting. She said, “I was furious to see one of the main characters wearing a silly robe, waving a wand over a cauldron bubbling with fake smoke and obviously making fun of my beliefs.”

David Hodges is largely present for comic relief within the more serious CSI drama schematic. He always takes a campy and comical attitude toward any subject. However, in this case, he was mocking a religious practice, which proves problematic. Along with his robe, Hodges called his lab a “Wiccan Altar” and mentioned a past Wiccan girlfriend who was “a little too earthy” and didn’t have a “bathing spell.” In addition, Pagan viewers may have been offended by the God and Goddess statuettes on his table. Although meant as harmless comedy, the writers went too far for many Pagan viewers as demonstrated by Wildman-Hanlon’s comment.

While the show’s middle portion largely diverts its attention from Witchcraft and Wicca, the narrative returns to the theme by the end. It is at this point the writers’ attempts at sensitivity fall completely apart. We find out that the killer is a Wiccan mother and teacher; the dead coven member was a teacher and drug dealer; the Wiccan principal was sleeping with a student and the High Priest and school janitor had once been a criminal. While the show doesn’t posit any of these characters as purely evil, they are all framed as damaged goods.

However, more problematic than any of that is the “who done it?”conclusion and various subtle details used to intensify and color the story. First, both murders were done by a Wiccan woman, who had been attempting a healing spell. She apparently needed the blood of a “sacrificed youth.” In once scene, the coroner notes that the dead boy’s blood was removed after his murder, which “suggests a Wiccan ritual.” Considering this line alone, it appears as if the writers fell face first into a vat of cultural stereotyping.

All the earlier positive elements and demonstrations of sensitivity become buried by the failings of the conclusion and other narrative details, such as the janitor brandishing his athame in a threatening manor. Through lines such as “Druid spell” to gain “more power” or “May the blackest of darkness smite you down,” a viewer’s preconceived notion of Witchcraft and Wicca are confirmed.

Why pay attention to shows like this one? CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a fictional drama that posits its universe as real. For viewers, the CSI environment could be their world. There is no fantasy or mythology here. That is the nature of the genre. As such, it presents Witchcraft and Wicca as something real; something the viewers might witness in their daily lives.

This attempt to bring Witchcraft and Wicca out of a fantasy world and into reality is exemplified by the following exchange. Stokes says, “What happened next? No, let me guess, lightening bolts.” Russell replies, “No. a coven meeting.” This is notable change for the construction of Witches and Wiccans within American entertainment. Where most shows, even live-action, posit Witches and magic as elements of fantasy, this shows says “No they are real. They are parents, principals, janitors and science teachers.”

At the same time, CSI‘s realistic nature makes the mistakes all the more difficult to digest. Wildman-Hanlon remarks:

A couple of sentences muttered by a character that ‘Wiccans are peaceful people who work with the energies of nature,’ is lovely but not when the plot heads immediately back into the fiction line saying beneath our practices of harmony actually lies a darker stance where murder/human sacrifice is, according to our beliefs…our Book of Shadows…an acceptable practice if we deem it warranted. 

“The Book of Shadows” was a notable effort with some very positive forward steps in the representation of Witches and Wicca. Unfortunately the writers didn’t go far enough and wound up relying too heavily on good old fashion Halloween entertainment lore for the sake of a scream.

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The Shifting Landscape of Marriage Equality

Tue, 2014-10-21 07:23

The movement towards marriage equality in the United States has taken on a different tone in the year 2014. The term “marriage equality” itself is a seismic shift from the debate over “same-sex marriage” of only a few years ago, indicating that the question being asked is not one of gender, but one of fairness.The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) declined the opportunity to address the issue, apparently preferring to let it play itself out socially, and playing out it is.

“Rainbow flag and blue skies” by Ludovic Bertron [CC lic/Wikimedia]

As of today, it is possible for same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license in 32 out of 50 states, including those places where it was banned by constitutional amendment or voter referendum.* To understand what’s been going on in recent weeks, The Wild Hunt decided to talk to Buddha Buck for a fresh voice and “Pagan on the street” perspective.

Buck is effectively a lifelong Pagan, having been reared that way since he was a child in the early 1980s. He’s not personally impacted by the question of marriage equality, since, “I have no desire to marry and am not gay, but I have been actively paying attention.” For Buck, following important legal struggles is a life-long hobby. Perhaps its because he’s a computer programmer; Buck’s “paying attention” involves a very close focus on the extreme details and complexities of a given case – including this one.

First, he was quick to point out that the ways this legal environment impacts people is quite nuanced: “I know folks … who have moved so as to be able to get married, who married primarily to get health insurance and other benefits, who live in pro-equality jurisdictions but don’t plan on marriage, etc. How each of those react to the developments is more nuanced than, ‘have been or are being denied marital rights.'”

For many people, what happened this month was anticlimactic. SCOTUS simply chose not to get involved in the debate. Five states, in which marriage bans had been overturned by federal courts, had those rulings effectively ratified by the decision of SCOTUS not to hear an appeal. Six other states with bans were drawn in by virtue of sharing a federal court district with the affected states. A flurry of legal activity followed and, when the dust finally settled, 32 states allowed same-sex marriage. That number has changed several times and could again soon.

“They took more action than I expected,” Buck said of the court. “For each of the 7 cases, their choices were (a) grant cert, (b) deny cert, or (c) hold on to them, doing nothing. I expected (c), a true lack of action. After no case was announced as being granted cert on Friday, I expected them to hold onto all of them, re-listing them for a later conference or generally waiting until a circuit split. I was surprised that all 7 were denied certiorari.”

The road to this point has been anything but smooth. A 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, received strong support in Congress as well as the signature of President Bill Clinton. This marriage act protected states and the federal government from being forced to recognize same-sex unions performed in other states where it was legal.

In 2000, Vermont was the first state to grant any sort of legalization for the union of same-sex couples. However, the legislature acted under a court order and called the product civil unions, rather than marriage. In 2004, another court case led Massachusetts to open marriage to same-sex couples. That year also saw protest marriages performed by the mayors of San FranciscoNew Paltz, NY and others.

In reaction to the perceived “war on marriage,” state legislatures passed a number of laws expressly forbidding gay marriage, indicating a strong backlash to the trend. At the same time, several states either passed laws in support of civil unions or domestic partnerships, or were forced to accept full marriage by the courts. The year 2008 saw intense activity on this front, with actions in two states standing out. On the east coast, New York governor David Paterson signed the first-of-its-kind law to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages from a state that hadn’t legalized them. On the west coast, California’s residents voted to amend the commonwealth’s constitution to ban same-sex weddings, making it the first state to overturn court-imposed same-sex marriages.

In the following year, Vermont’s legislature took a leadership role by passing a same-sex marriage bill and overriding a gubernatorial veto. Other states, largely on the coasts, followed in using the word “marriage” in legislation. But the biggest blow to the fight to preserve so-called “traditional marriage” did not come until June 26, 2013, when SCOTUS hit it with a double whammy. The court invalidated a key provision of DOMA and turned away an appeal on behalf of California’s Proposition 8, which had been found unconstitutional by a lower court.

The court’s 2013 ruling on DOMA is an area the Buck was quick to clarify, saying, “Not all of DOMA has been struck down, just some of the more important bits. DOMA still says that states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Striking down DOMA was an important event legally, and certainly made the subsequent court cases across the country easier to argue. Without it, advancement of marriage equality through the courts would have been much slower (especially as the alternative to saying DOMA is unconstitutional would be saying it is constitutional, and thus making it harder to strike down the bans). More importantly, it got rid of the federal ban on marriage recognition, which for actually married couples was immensely important.”

From one perspective, the recent flurry of court rulings seems quick, but in context, the fight has been going on for decades. On the other hand, Buck points to a recent and eye-opening xkcd comic, comparing the acceptance of same-sex marriage to that of interracial marriage:

 

 

While same-sex marriage seems long overdue, particularly for those who have waiting a lifetime to marry, the trend towards general popular acceptance reached the mainstream in record time when compared to the popular acceptance of interrracial marriage. And this happened despite the deep ideological divisions in this country. Could full nationwide legal acceptance of same-sex marriage now be close-at-hand? Could nationwide acceptance of true marriage equality, across and between any social divisions, be not far behind?

 

 

*32 States include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina,Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming (as of Oct 23 2014)

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Pagan Community Notes: Facebook freezes Pagan Accounts; PEC challenges Cuomo; An Art Competition and more.

Mon, 2014-10-20 07:58

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

In recent weeks, we reported on the Facebook name controversy that hit the drag queen community in September.  The issue highlighted a problem with the social media giant’s name policy – one that that could affect anyone who uses a non-legal name. Despite the company’s Oct 2 apology, accounts continue to be frozen. Over the last two weeks, Pagans have joined the ranks of people who have been adversely affected.

Author Silver Ravenwolf ‘s personal account has been flagged and she is now forced to use her legal name. On her public author page, she wrote, “FaceBook is going through and telling magickal people that their pages with friends are not legit because they are not using their legal names. This is causing great harm to our community.”  Ravenwolf is asking that anyone who uses a non-legal name to unlike her fan page or unfriend her. She is worried that her connections will be used to flag others. She also encourages people to sign a Change.Org petition.

Another person affected was Storm Faerywolf. He told The Wild Hunt:

I choose to use the name Storm Faerywolf publicly as both a magical and political act; magical, because it reminds me that I have chosen to be an open resource for the Craft, and political because it is my work to help others to live a magical life. Being forced to use only the name on my official ID interferes with my ability to freely express myself and my work.

Storm contacted Facebook immediately but has received no response. He also contacted Sister Roma, who is currently acting as a liaison for anyone dealing with this problem. Since making that contact, he has been informed that his account will be fixed within the next 48 hours but he’s not holding his breath.

According to various reports, the Facebook controversy has not only affected drag queens and Pagans, but has also hit the Native American community.  Sister Roma told the Guardian that “every time one or two get fixed, a handful get suspended … So we really feel like we’re swimming upstream, and while I’m hopeful that Facebook is doing the right thing, it’s discouraging.”

For anyone who has been affected by this ongoing problem, LilHotMess, one of the activists working with Sister Roma, has extended her offer to help restore accounts.  The instructions on how to reach her are listed here.

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York

In other news:

That is all we have for now.  Have a great day.

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Unleash the Hounds! (Link Roundup)

Sun, 2014-10-19 05:00

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

  • A prison beard ban case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) could have far-reaching implications for religious freedom in our prisons. An anaylsis at SCOTUSblog of Holt v. Hobbs notes that SCOTUS have already ruled that corporations have the ability to avoid complying with some government mandates that they believe infringe on their religious beliefs, but what about prisoners? Quote: “Having ruled that a corporation can rely on the devoutly Christian beliefs of its owners to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate, will at least five Justices be equally receptive to an inmate’s desire to comply with his Muslim religion by growing a half-inch beard? Throw in yesterday’s announcement that the Justices will review the case of a Muslim teenager who alleges that she was not hired for a job at a popular clothing chain because she wears a headscarf, and it looks like it could be another significant Term for religious freedom at the Court.” The Becket Fund frames the case as whether prison officials can arbitrarily ban a religious practice (in this case beard-growing).
  • Is religion on the wane in the West (say that ten times fast)? There’s some recent evidence that it might be. Ben Clements at British Religion in Numbers analyzes the latest British Election Study (BES), which shows a huge growth in “nones” (those who don’t identify with having any particular faith identity). Quote: “The most common response is that of not belonging to any religion, at 44.7%.” It should also be noted that “other” faiths are also on the rise among younger respondents. Meanwhile, in the United States, a growing majority thinks that religion is losing its influence over American life. This is according to a Pew Research poll. Quote: “Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade.” 
  • Religion News Service covers the latest iteration of people over-reacting to Halloween, in this case a school district in New Jersey that banned, then un-banned Halloween parties. Quote: “For years, Christian evangelicals have objected to what they see as Halloween’s pagan origins. Some churches have adopted alternative harvest celebrations, while others have constructed elaborate “Hell Houses” designed to depict the torments of hell and the promise of salvation through belief in Jesus. But a day after canceling the in-school Halloween celebration, parents received a note home from Acting Superintendent James Memoli saying the cancelation has been reversed, and the event would take place as it has in the past.” Of course, Halloween is NOT a Pagan holiday, it’s a Christian holiday that was thoroughly secularized over the last 100 years. Now, Samhain (and other pre-Christian harvest/Winter festivals), that’s a different matter. Anyway, what’s truly ironic is re-labeling Halloween as a “Harvest Festival” just makes is sound MORE Pagan, not less. Stick with the jack-o-lanterns and candy.
  • Catholicism is slowly losing its grip on Brazil, but that hasn’t dimmed the popularity of an annual processional in honor of the Virgin Mary. Quote: “An arduous public display of devotion, Cirio (pronounced see-rio) has persisted and thrived as a centerpiece of Amazonian regional culture — maintaining consistent levels of participation year to year — even as Catholicism loses ground to evangelical faiths in a dramatic transformation of Brazilian society.” Why the enduring popularity? Because the festival goes deep into the cultural history of their society, quote, “in Brazil, where African and indigenous traditions melded with Christianity for centuries and where Catholicism has deep cultural roots, religious identities are not so clear-cut.” Indeed, indeed. Meanwhile, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian faiths feel under attack.
  • Affirming belief in a higher power, or going back to jail? Thanks to a lawsuit in California, that may be a choice that’s on its way to extinction. Quote: “The real victory here is that California will no longer be able to force anyone into a faith-based treatment program. It’s fine to have different rehab programs available to drug offenders – even if they’re faith-based – but religious ones must remain optional.”
  • The Miami Herald reports on how two prominent Santeria organizations (Kola Ifa and Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé) have joined forces to, quote, “establish a central and very visible hierarchy for a faith often associated by outsiders with mysterious rites, colorful deities and animal sacrifices.” Here’s a video report on this new agreement. I’m thinking this move could have significant ripples into the wider Santeria/Lukumi world.

That’s all I have for right now, as always, some of these stories may be expanded on in future Wild Hunt posts. Thanks for reading, have a great day!

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The Wild Hunt Book Review: Voices of the Sacred Feminine

Sat, 2014-10-18 05:54

[We are excited to introduce our newest column: The Wild Hunt Book Review. Each month writer Lisa Roling will offer a review of a new release that may be of interest to our readers. We hope to include a wide variety of topics that highlight the current trends in thought and expression. Remember our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. If you like this new column and want to see The Wild Hunt grow by adding new voices and columns, please consider donating today!]

In September 2014, Emma Watson stood before the UN and delivered a speech that inspired and touched many. Announcing the kick-off of the HeForShe initiative, she offered an invitation especially to men to join this movement and to help bring about true gender equality worldwide. Not only does she point out the ongoing daily struggles that women world face, such as poverty, lack of education, lack of authorship in their lives, but she also reminds us that feminism is not only about women and women’s rights. Feminism is about human rights. The right of women to make decisions regarding their own bodies. The right of men to be sensitive and in touch with their emotions. The right of women to earn as much as men when they do the same work. The right of men to be valued equally as parents. To those who are reluctant to join the cause, Watson reminds us of Statesman Edmund Burke’s statement: “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”

Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to Re-Shape Our World is a collection of essays, interviews, and calls-to action by people who have refused to do nothing. Much of their work goes beyond simply bringing about equality.  It reaches farther into what they see as the root of sexism, violence, and the decline of the environment’s health: the lost connection with the sacred feminine.

Edited by Rev. Dr. Karen Tate  and featuring the voices of some of the most well-known advocates of the sacred feminine, this anthology highlights the important work that has been done and insight into the work that still remains. Starting with an essay by Amy Peck, MA (aka Amalya) of the Goddess Studio, the book first defines the paradigm of the sacred feminine: one which “restores the balance of the spiritual, cultural, and pragmatic relationship between Feminine/Masculine, Mother/Father, Women/Men and Earth/Spirit ideals.” From there, the book shows the myriad and creative ways that men and women are bringing about change in the world, whether through ritual, education, publishing, media outlets, environmental activism, or political change.

Many readers will recognize the names of several of the book’s contributors. Reverend Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary makes an early appearance to introduce us to Lady Liberty – the Goddess of Freedom – and her many incarnations through time. An interview with Starhawk offers the opportunity to learn about her writing and work in permaculture as a means to change. Reverend Patrick McCollum speaks to the importance of breaking down class divisions and creating avenues for partnership and conversation. Gus diZerega makes a call to Pagans to vote Democratic, arguing that the Republican party’s assault on women is an affront to spiritual paths that venerate the Goddess.

The evidence of patriarchy, a system that gives control and power to men, is overwhelming. In her piece “Sekhmet: Powerful Woman,” Candace C. Kant of Cherry Hill Seminary and Goddess Ink points out:

…War is an ongoing fact of life. Poverty is endemic to almost all societies to a greater or lesser degree. The climate is warming, the waters are polluted and our land is soaked with deadly chemicals.Commercial agricultural areas have a continual haze in their air, the result of toxic pesticides and fertilizers, and this air is breathed by living beings, while the food that is produced in this way is fed to our children. We are eating genetically modified food with no idea of how that will affect us. Species are being extinguished at an alarming rate. The top soil is disappearing. Human rights are suppressed. Animals are tortured than slaughtered. Women are subjected to rape and what is euphemistically called ‘domestic violence,’ a clever way to hide the reality of many women’s lives… (p. 46)

The contributors of this book contend that these global problems are not separate and distinct issues, but rather they are all symptoms of the subjugation of the Goddess to the God. In her piece titled “Honoring Goddesses Reawakens Women-Honoring Multiculturalism,” Elizabeth Fisher explains:

Patriarchal religions… often suffer from a split between matter and spirit. These religions honor a male god –a father – with no female aspect of the godhead. Spirit is often perceived as limited by the body. Nature is a demon to be overpowered, contained, and re-directed. As a result, around the globe we are struggling with violence, wanton destruction of ecosystems, a social climate of disrespect for women’s rights, and over-production of goods at the expense of service and creative expression. Much of this results from a profound feeling of human alienation from nature. Death, if we are lucky, is an escape to Heaven after living a pure life untainted by the realities and callings of nature. (p. 125)

Many of the writers call upon everyone to look at what religion teach us about God and Goddess, and to consider how this shapes our relationship to nature, life, and the qualities we perceive as “feminine” vs “masculine.” While the Abrahamic faiths arguably have more work to do than other religions, the Goddesses of the monotheistic traditions, such as Sophia, Lilith, and the Virgin Mary, are not alone in their suppression.

As psychotherapist and author Rev. Shirley Ann Ranck Ph.D. points out, the story of Persephone and Demeter changed following the introduction of patriarchy to ancient Greece. Whereas early stories about Persephone speak to her decision to descend on her own merit and accord, later versions have her kidnapped and forced into the underworld and into a marriage with her captor. Some say her father, Zeus, was even complicit in her abduction. Her mother, rather than grieving her daughter’s decision, becomes angry and bitter and curses the earth. In her piece titled “Persephone Returns: Worshipping the Divine Mother and Daughter,” Dr. Ranck challenges us to ask, what impact does this newer story have on relationships with our mothers? With our Goddesses? With nature? What influence does it have on our beliefs about the “nature” of men and women?

In the forward, Ms. Tate states that a paradigm shift is in the making.  However, those who subscribe to the ideals of the sacred feminine are what she refers to as the cognitive minority. As Tate points out, all important and significant changes occur over time, as ideas are shared, ridiculed, rejected, reconsidered, and finally accepted as true. A shift in consciousness is needed to restore balance to humanity, and the Earth requires that we each use our own unique strengths to create waves. This collection will inspire and energize many to find their own way to tilt the world toward the ideals of the Sacred Feminine.

The book’s variety of voices, stories, and points of view make it likely that most readers will find something that speaks to them within its pages. Some of the essays are so thought-provoking that their brevity is unfortunate, seemingly ending just as they have begun. For communities that find themselves inspired to start a Transition Movement or a Red Tent Temple, the essays will be a way to start productive and important conversations. Due for release November 28, 2014, it will be available through the standard internet book sellers. But in the spirit of the book’s message, look for it in your local bookstore or purchase it directly from the editor.

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The Media’s October Love Affair with Witches Presents Educational Opportunities

Fri, 2014-10-17 09:21

[Our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. Your support and your donations are what make our work possible. If you like reading our articles, like the one below, and commentary on a daily basis, please consider donating today to help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. We are now very close to our goal. Will you help us reach it? Donate here. Thank You.]

October means many things to many people. It brings apple picking, pumpkins, falling leaves and a bevy of journalists looking to interview a Witch. October is the month that mainstream newspapers around the country feature stories about Witches and the Craft. Although this media attention may seem off-putting to some, others view the seasonal interest as a golden opportunity to dispel myths and demonstrate the beauty and breadth of their spiritual beliefs.

Public Domain Photo

In New Mexico, the Daily-Times published a story titled “Wiccan group in Bloomfield celebrates nature and a shared path.” The story features Janie Felix, the High Priestess of The Order of the Cauldron of the Sage and, as noted in the sub-heading, “the woman behind the Ten Commandments lawsuit.” After Felix, the local witch, made headlines in the spring, it perhaps seemed only appropriate for the local paper to feature her in an article in October.

A Daily-Times reporter visited Felix and other coven members at her home and covenstead, where they shared information about Wicca and their tradition, as well as stories from their own personal spiritual journeys. Felix told The Daily-Times, “I was exploring my spirituality after the Christian church just did not appeal to me. I sat there and turned the pages [of Starhawk's Spiral Dance] and said ‘Yes.’ Everything she said worked for me. It spoke to my feminism and my soul.”  The news article even includes a video of part of a ritual.

In addition to an exploration of Wicca, the Daily-Times reminds readers about Felix’ involvement in the town’s recent religious freedom battle. The article reads, “The [Ten Commandments] case sparked a fair amount of vitriolic reaction, mostly online, which some coven members feel is as unfortunate as it is unnecessary.” The City of Bloomfield is currently appealing the court’s ruling, requiring the removal of the monument. Unfortunately, this legal battle and the accompanying “virtriolic reaction” appear to be on-going, which means that Felix, the local witch, may find herself in the news once again.

Similarly the Gainesville Times interviewed author Lydia Crabtree, a Wiccan living in Buford, Georgia. In this small town paper in the Bible Belt South, the reporter focused on the religious nuances of Wicca more so than the New Mexico reporter. Crabtree answered a number of questions touching on subjects such as “What is Wicca?” “Are there pastors?” and “Why do people confuse Wicca and Satanism?” When asked if she wanted to share anything else about “the Wiccan faith,” Crabtree said:

That it is just as deep and meaningful and daily and present as any other sacred belief someone might hold. And just because I may do it a little differently doesn’t take away how serious it is to me. It’s my life breath.

In Utah, Weber State University‘s student-run newspaper, The Signpost, published an article entitled, “Wiccans, Pagans Worship the Earth.” It opens, “Come Halloween, witches, wands, cauldrons and pentagrams seem to pop up everywhere … For students who practice Wicca or Paganism, wands, pentagrams and magic aren’t just meant for Halloween, they’re a lifestyle.”

The Signpost spoke with Wiccan student Austin Toney, event planner Kirsten “Fluffy” Blake, and Cecilia Delgado, the owner of As Above, So Below metaphysical shop. All three Pagans answered questions about Wicca, in general, and touched briefly on the broader concept Paganism. In this article, Delgado encourages Weber State students “who have questions” to visit her store and to “not just assume that because TV and popular culture has painted one image or another about Wicca that that image is reality.”

Pagan Pride Day logo.

The secular holiday of Halloween, in all of its commercial glory, sparks a definite type of mainstream news story, which often leads to directed interviews with individuals who identify clearly as Witches or Wiccans. However, the season also throws a spotlight on a population of people who practice a broader spectrum of minority religions. Pagan Pride Day often becomes the launching pad for many of those seasonal media stories.

In Nevada, the Reno Review offered an expansive look at its local Pagan community. Titled “Pagan it Forward,” the article introduces the reader to the diversity of practice in the Reno area, rather than focusing on one person’s or group’s tradition or opinion. The Reno Review first attempts to answer the very difficult question, “What exactly is Paganism?” and then adds, “It really depends on who you ask.” From that point, the article discusses common misconceptions, highlights community activity and features a discussion with Misty Grayknight the co-owner of the Reno Magick Store.

After attending the Northern Nevada Pagan Pride Day, the Reno Review reporter describes the event as “easily overwhelming, sparking sensory explosions from the wafting smells of incense, multiple symbols prevalent around the booths …” But she then adds that, as an outsider, she felt welcomed by the unexpected diversity of people and feeling of acceptance. The article concludes, saying:

Northern Nevada is home to a wide range of Pagan practitioners, from shamans to druids, wiccans to polytheists. Shattering clichéd renderings of wickedly deviant devil worship, mastery of cheap parlor magic, and conventions for naked treks through forests, the diverse Pagan population of Reno has broken down cockamamie notions of evil and established itself as a positive force.

Similar to the Reno Review, a California-based newspaper, the Redlands Daily Facts, focused its fall article on the spirit, community and diversity of Pagan Pride Day. The article opens with details from a past legal entanglement, which forced the Inland Empire Pagan Pride Day event to move from Redlands to Riverside. According to the paper, city spokesman Carl Baker created problems when he noted “a [Redlands] city ordinance prohibiting fortunetellers, card readers and other prognosticators from operating without a license if they receive some kind of compensation.” Organizers moved the festival to a state park where they have had no further problems.

After noting that past hurdle, the Redlands article turns its attention to Pagan Pride Day, highlighting the many reasons people attend the event. The reporter featured comments from attendees of various spiritual backgrounds, including a few non-Pagans who were there just to enjoy the fall festivities. One of the interviewees, Sheri Wells explained to the Redlands reporter that she was Pagan because “being close to the Earth makes me a better person. It keeps me grounded. It keeps my life in perspective, and it makes me appreciate more the blessings that I have on a daily basis. When you respect the land, you respect life. When you respect life, you respect humanity.”

[Public Domain]

The mainstream news also turned up at the Central Puget Sound Pagan Pride Day held in Tacoma, Washington. Like California’s Redlands Daily Facts, the Bellingham Herald gave a general overview of the day’s event. However, the Herald provided a more expansive look at the population’s religious diversity. The reporter interviewed PPD organizer and Wiccan Angela Wehnert, African-Caribbean Witch Uwanna Thomas, Heathen Dan McDonald, Druid Karen LaFe and others.

In Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal turned out for the city’s 17th annual Pagan Pride Day event. Reporters sat down to speak with Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox and PPD coordinator Jessica Maus. The article begins with, “There were no apparent Patronus Charms or any such sorcery going on at Winnequah Park Saturday as believers of various alternative stripes gathered for the 17th annual Pagan Pride Day.” Fox and Maus discuss their own practices, Paganism and the role of Pagan Pride Day within the community. Fox later told The Wild Hunt that she believes that this fall season “is a good time to do public education about the Craft and Paganism.”

The listed articles are certainly not the only ones currently circulating; nor will they be the last. Halloween turns the general public’s attention to witches, for better or worse, presenting an opportunity to share the reality of Witchcraft. As Fox suggested, “it’s a good time for education.”

Moreover, Pagan Pride Day events fall during the same season, which helps to capture the attention of a news industry already interested in related topics. Once again, an opportunity presents itself to openly discuss misconceptions, the distinctions of practice and, more importantly, separate the public’s passion for fictional Hollywood fare from, both the reality of Witchcraft and the reality and diversity of Pagan and Heathen traditions. While the published results of these interviews are not always perfect and often contain arguable points, the intent is generally positive, which can ultimately benefit Pagans and Heathens throughout the rest of the year and into the future.

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Book Review: Season of the Witch by Peter Bebergal

Thu, 2014-10-16 05:00

Casey Rae

[The following is a guest book review from Casey Rae. Casey Rae is a musician, public policy wonk and the editor/publisher of The Contrarian Media. An in-demand speaker, he gives frequent talks at conferences and campuses on issues at the intersection of creativity, technology, policy and law, and is a go-to source for major media outlets from NPR to the New York Times. Casey works alongside leaders in the music, arts and performance sectors to bolster understanding of and engagement in key policy and technology issues, and has written dozens of articles on the impact of technology on the creative community. Casey is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and VP for Policy and Education at the Future of Music Coalition. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Media & Democracy Coalition and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture.]

I’ve told the story more times than I can count. Five or six years old, hanging out with my high school-age uncles in a town just a couple of clicks from Stephen King‘s place and a few hurried steps through a creepy wooded path to the university where he once taught English (in the same department where my grandmother worked). Actually, “hanging out” with my uncles is probably an overstatement. More like “invading the personal space of.” The adult me is grateful either way.

Already a monster movie fanatic on the prowl for anything scary, I would pore through my uncles’ LP collection looking for cool covers. this was the late 1970s; a golden age for outré album sleeves. On this particular afternoon, I recall pulling out a pair of records—Alive II by KISS, and Some Enchanted Evening, a concert from Blue Öyster Cult. My parents had decent taste in music, so this wasn’t so much a rock ‘n’ roll epiphany as it was an opportunity to make choices based on my own interests—in this case, horror stuff. To be honest, I wasn’t even all that curious about the music, but my uncle said we could listen.

First up was KISS. I was definitely impressed with band members’ demonic kabuki gear and sensational makeup. The music, not so much. Even as a rock ‘n’ roll tadpole, I recognized what a shitty band KISS are. Nothing in the intervening years has changed my opinion.

Blue Öyster Cult was next. Frankly, the cover was a little too scary, depicting a black-robed skeleton astride a satanic steed, bony fingers gripping a scythe. Beast and beastie canvassed an angry Martian landscape beneath a cruel midnight sky. I had no idea what any of this was meant to symbolize, but I grokked its heaviness.

From the first needle drop I was in love. “Godzilla” was my favorite, but I was also taken by “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which even in its live embodiment possessed a haunted quality that I couldn’t put my tiny fingers on. Still can’t.

My uncle and I subsequently had a conversation about what a “reaper” is (“he collects vegetables at harvest time”); later I went back to my own burg to ruminate over the connections between these uncanny sounds and images.

And I’ve never stopped.

I’m not alone. I can name several books by legitimate occult scholars that make some attempt to trace these ley-lines; music scribes often hint at the witchier aspects of the rock Renaissance (roughly 1964-1982). But given that each camp has limited sightlines into the other, there is an opportunity for someone to bring focus to a topic that is too often tawdry or incomplete.

Peter Bebergal‘s Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll [Tarcher/Penguin 2014], is an admirable attempt at uniting the tribes. First, we need a common vernacular. To Bebergal’s definition, “the occult” is less a fixed system and more of a worldview that encompasses many spiritual traditions operating outside of mainstream religious practices. Bebergal’s interest in the subject appears to be fairly similar to my own—we both became enamored of rock music as a form of escapism at a time when other entertainment options were scarce or unbearably straight-laced. Rock, with its otherworldly visual language, coded lyrics, symbolic imagery and strident musicality, provided a perfect vessel for the projections of pre-adolescents and teenagers—largely male, definitely “gifted,” and lacking an outlet for our own creative impulses. We constructed elaborate mythologies around rock, populated by a pantheon of musical heroes and villains, wizards and warriors. Record albums became a kind of palimpsest, an (un)holy writ that only the initiated could hope to discern.

And some of us never grew out of it. Which is why it’s great to encounter a fellow traveler like Bebergal, who brings a scholar’s discipline to this esoteric quest. Bebergal is a lively writer who nonetheless resists hyperbole—quite a feat given the breathlessness this topic tends to elicit. Perhaps more impressive is the book’s comprehensiveness—from Delta blues to beatnik bluster to acid evangelists to metal overlords, Season of the Witch puts the hellfire in highbrow.

Season of the Witch is strongest in its examination of the history of African Americans as they endured the cruelties of slavery only to experience the anguish of segregation. Yet even under these injustices, black Americans preserved elements of their original musical and spiritual traditions, some of which were channeled through Christianity. It is difficult and often ill-advised for those outside a specific cultural group to construct a narrative around the real struggles of a people. Especially when the topic of investigation has been used by the socioeconomic and political elite to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. To his credit, Bebergal avoids many common pitfalls. His comparative analysis of early rock ‘n’ roll and its cultural and spiritual foundries compels examination of the African-American experience. To sidestep these histories is to ignore America’s own troubled past and potential for a better future. Key to the latter is for today’s generations to become more familiar with America’s musical and cultural legacy, including its abuses.

Those who enjoy cultural anthropology and religious studies will find plenty to appreciate in Bebergal’s account of how West African trickster god and “guardian of pathways” Eshu connects to Papa Legba, the guardian of the spirit world in Hatian (and later Louisianan) Voudon. When confronted with the all-pervasive Christian dichotomy of good/evil, these spirits took on a more sinister shape, one that to Bebergal’s reckoning informs the devilish stereotypes found in Delta blues, and later, rock.

But this is hardly a singular ethnomusicology. For his next trick, Bebergal pegs Greco and European mythologies (DionysusPan) to the pagan urges present in 1960s American and European counterculture. This flowering—which ultimately inspired the civil rights agenda along with the LSD-soaked technolibertarians of Silicon Valley—paved the way for a fuller exploration of the occult by progressive rockers of the 1970s, some of whom made a serious study of such metaphysical thinkers as Paramahansa Yogananda and G. I. Gurdjieff, among others. Acting as an accelerant was The Beatles, whose fraternization with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi served as a cosmic permission slip for legions of seekers.

It’s clear that Bebergal has done real investigation; the ideas of such occult luminaries as Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley are given more serious consideration than is common to your average rock tome. For example, Bebergal does not refer to Crowley as a “satanist”— an inaccuracy common to pretty much every book on Led Zeppelin I’ve ever read (and I’ve read them all). And even occult scholars make mistakes; a recent book on Crowley noted that the Zeppelin LP on which “Do What Thou Wilt” was inscribed was IV, not III. This may not seem like a big deal to the average reader, but if I can’t trust you to get a detail like that right, can I trust you to illuminate how Rosicrucianism came to Europe?

While it is clear that Bebergal has done his homework, he hasn’t fully soaked in the hermetic traditions of the West (aka magick and its many offshoots). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are other writers, such as Erik Davis, who hit that groove. Bebergal is forthright about how he has less of an interest in the occult as a standalone topic than exploring how the symbols and associations found in rock got there to begin with. To me, this makes his occult research that much more impressive. I’ll take Bebergal’s even-keeled examinations over dilettantism or pedantry any day.

My only real complaint with Season of the Witch—besides jealousy over having not written it—is that its informational organization is a bit awkward. Not much of a gripe, given the difficulties in synthesizing and systemizing such a broad range of concepts and histories. Bebergal’s presentation is like a particularly awesome grad school lecture—it occasionally meanders, it’s not entirely concise, but is rich in context and conviction. (Apparently, we also share a lecture style.)

Some may grouse about what the book leaves out, but let’s give Bebergal a break—it would be fundamentally impossible to catalog every tributary that connects such massive bodies of water. That said, it would be interesting to teach a class in rock and the occult in a manner that could capture even more correspondences. If I were to design such a course, I’d readily assign Season of the Witch as the introductory text.

Kudos to Bebergal for taming the wily spirits of rock long enough to capture their essence in this fascinating book.

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Mauna Kea and the Battle to Preserve Sacred Space

Wed, 2014-10-15 08:33

There are many surviving ancient and sacred spaces around the world. Some are protected and used for spiritual practice; some have become popular tourist destinations; and some are left to the whims of a changing culture. These sacred spaces range from human constructions to natural lands built only by the elements. From the ancient Greek temples in Agrigento, Italy to the ruins in Arizona’s Wuptaki National Monument, these spaces resonate with many contemporary people in their work to honor, reconstruct, practice and celebrate time-honored religious traditions, the associated cultures and surrounding ecology.

Unfortunately, many of these unprotected spaces, whether purely natural or human-engineered, are open to threats posed by modern construction in the name of so-called “progress” and industrialization. One such place that has recently drawn international attention is the mountain of Mauna Kea on the “Big Island” in Hawai’i.

“Mauna Kea from the ocean”[Credit: Vadim Kurland, Lic. CC Wikimedia]

Mauna Kea rises over 13,000 feet above sea level and is a dormant volcano with surrounding lands that feature native species of plant and animal. The area has long been held sacred to the native Hawaiian people and is a definitive part of ancient religious beliefs and practices. At the same time, the mountaintop was discovered to be one of the best places on Earth to study astronomy. These two realities have to come into conflict.

Today, Mauna Kea has 13 observatories on its summit funded by over 11 countries. It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists discovered Mauna Kea’s optimal conditions for telescope viewing. When it was finally possible to reach the mountain, the University of Hawai’i (UH) was granted a 65-year lease to develop the land for research. By the late 1970s, other organizations began to request authorization to sub-lease that property. Those agreements are what has led to the large number of telescopes on the mountain today.

Protests began almost immediately after the first UH telescope was completed. Locals were concerned not only about the destruction of a sacred religious space but also about disturbances to the indigenous wildlife, some of which is native only to that area. In the 1980s, the state published a development plan and environmental impact report. In 2000, the plan was updated “to include community involvement” and the Office of Mauna Kea Management was established.

However, it was only a few short years later that a new $1.4 billion Thirty-Meter Telescope was proposed for the summit of Mauna Kea. This colossal telescope, called TMT, would be the largest and most advanced in the world with an optical ability 10x greater than any working telescope. According to an AP report, “The telescope should help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.” Headed by Caltech and the University of California, the project is being funded jointly by interests from the United States, Japan, Canada, India and China.

Proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope [Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation via Wikimedia]

In 2011, the Hawai’i Board of Land and Resources gave preliminary approval for the sub-lease and construction of the telescope. Despite legal actions and protests from locals, the Board gave its final approval in April 2013. The date for completion would be 2022.

Opponents filed an appeal in May 2013 in yet another attempt to stop the project. The appeal reads:

Mauna Kea advocates are seeking justice in Hawai‘i courts … It is unfortunate when public citizens are forced to go through court proceedings when developments such as the TMT Project are systematically granted permits by the BLNR despite these projects not meeting the criteria as outlined in Hawai`i State law … We must proceed ahead and be idle no more. Mauna a Wakea is still sacred.

One of the laws that is being broken is a building height code. The proposed TMT would become the tallest building on the island. Along with environmental concerns and a destruction of sacred space, opponents also point to a direct violation of state codes.

The first appeal was eventually denied when the courts upheld the Board’s decision to allow the sublease. According to reports, four individual opponents, Kealoha Pisciotta, Clarence Ching, Paul Neves and E. Kalani Flores, were not giving up and have since decided to take the issue back to court in four separate cases representing only themselves. Despite the threat of future court action, the TMT Observatory Corporation felt comfortable moving forward and set the groundbreaking ceremony for Oct. 7.

What the TMT Observatory Corporation didn’t expect is what happened on that day. Protestors blocked the road leading up to ground-breaking ceremony site. They spoke out, chanted and held signs that read things like “Your Mother is Not a Commodity” or “Too Many Telescopes.” The vans carrying attendees were forced to slow down or stop entirely. Much of this was captured on video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=458DYEHHVeY

Later the same group of protestors interrupted the ceremony itself. Led by Pua Case and Joshua Lanakila Mangauil, they stood before the crowd of attendees and addressed investors. In a desperate emotional appeal, one woman says to a group of Japanese men, “You let Mount Fuji stand; Mount Fuji is sacred. Our Mauna Kea is just as sacred as Mount Fuji. Please hear us. Hear us … She protects us.”  This was also caught on video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZ4Gt35hs-s

The protests were echoed in Palo Alto, California where a group of people stood outside of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation offices. The Foundation is one of the American investors backing the TMT project. The California protest was led by Kauʻi Peralto, a Hawaiian cultural educator at Stanford University, and was also supported by the Santa Cruz Indigenous Solidarity, the Wintun tribe of Northern California and many other concerned individuals.

In a blog post, Kealoha Pisciotta a native Hawai’in, local activist and president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, described best the meaning of the mountain and why all of these people have come together to stop a project that would otherwise seem beneficial to human understanding and scientific discovery. Pisciotta describes Mauna Kea as the “temple of the creators,” which is home to the deities that gave birth to the Hawaiian people. It is the meeting of Earth Mother and Earth Father. She writes, ” Mauna Kea in every respect represents the zenith of the Native Hawaiian people’s ancestral ties to Creation itself.”

The mountain is featured in many Polynesian myths and religious stories. It is considered a place of calm and a place of peace. She writes:

When we look to Mauna Kea, we look from Mauna Kea and we look within ourselves to find our responsibility to Mauna Kea and hence our place in the world. We move through time and space back to our beginning, to the time when the Pō (darkness of creation) gave birth to the Ao (light of creation) … We feel honored that we are allowed to be there, humbled by the majesty and greatness of Mauna Kea.

Another activist, one of the protest leaders, and a Hawaiian cultural educator, Pua Case regularly incorporates the mountain into her own personal spiritual practice. She told a San Francisco reporter:

Almost no matter where I look, there’s something foreign there. I can never just pray as you would in a forest where there are just trees — where no matter where you faced,  it would be just you and your forest, you and your gods, you and your spirit. I’m afraid if there’s one more thing, I can never really look at my mountain and pray without having to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ 

Case was unfortunately unavailable for interview but did briefly say that the spiritual practices of her native people are very complex and connect deeply to this mountain.

Last week’s protests did successfully halt the TMT groundbreaking. However, the project is still moving forward, if only delayed. Case, Pisciotta and many others pledge to continue the battle to save their mountain, their sacred space, their protector and, in doing so, preserve a specialized local ecology and a piece of native Hawaiian culture.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUSVUQK9Bq4

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Circle Sanctuary Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Tue, 2014-10-14 06:23

[Our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. Your support and your donations are what make our work possible. If you like reading our articles, like the one below, and commentary on a daily basis, please consider donating today to help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. We are now very close to our goal. Will you help us reach it? Donate here. Thank You.]

“I didn’t really set out to be a priestess for a living . . . that’s what happened.”  — Selena Fox

Indeed, that’s what happened. Selena Fox is the High Priestess for Life at Circle Sanctuary, a legally recognized Shamanic Wiccan church that will be marking its 40th year this Samhain, October 31 and is celebrating with events and online reflections all month. The Wild Hunt spoke with Reverend Fox and several longtime members of Circle, as it is alternatively known, to get a sense of what Paganism looked like in 1974, and how Circle Sanctuary has participated in its evolution.

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle is aptly named, as circles are particularly significant in Wiccan theology, serving as both the border of sacred space and a metaphor for the repeating cycles of life. Over the past four decades, the group has focused a lot of its energy on the beginnings and endings of life. Its Lady Liberty League was instrumental in efforts to get the pentacle approved as a religious symbol on military headstones; the group’s retreat center now includes a Pagan cemetery; and Reverend Fox has performed dozens of baby blessings, including one for this reporter’s long-since-grown stepson. The church’s calendar begins each year at Samhain, around which time some of the most significant milestones in its history tend to congregate.

In late October 1974, Fox “had a vision of starting Circle Sanctuary, the name and logo came to me, as well as the concept of having a rurally-based center that would help humans of different nature religion paths connect with each other, as well as the circle of nature of which we are all a part.”

Before the explosion of online social media, Paganism was a very different group of religions. How diverse the religions were under the Pagan umbrella is difficult to say. Solitary practitioners were very isolated, while some people practiced together in circles, covens, and groves. In the days before Drawing Down the Moon and The Spiral Dance, books were rare and publications, such as Green Egg, were the best source of knowledge. Fox had been traveling and working with Pagans around the country, “but it was not very public,” she recalled.

CIRCLE Magazine’s incarnations over time

With a vision clear in her mind, Fox put an ad in the Witches’ Almanac, inviting like-minded individuals to write to her at a Madison, Wisconsin post office box. From those early responses she formed a core group that rented some land and lived together. Networking locally wasn’t quite enough to satisfy her desire to connect across traditions.

So Circle began publishing a two-sided, typewritten newsletter and, together with her partner at the time Jim Alan, Fox became one of the earliest traveling Pagan musicians in the United States. She said:

Now it’s common for Pagan musicians to travel, and for there to be festivals, but in the 70s there was not much in the way of face-to-face communication across traditions. We felt called to do that.

There were other calls, as well, and other things for which Circle found itself at the forefront. Fox’s chants became a songbook, for which there was an incredible demand. They experimented with radio and television before most other Pagan groups, and still produce podcasts today.

First edition of Circle Guide

But 1979 was the year that Paganism in general — and Fox in particular — got pulled into the public spotlight. It was the year that Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon was published on the east coast, and Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance was released in the west. Circle began putting out the Circle Guide to Wicca & Pagan Resources to help Pagans find each other. It was also the year that Time magazine set out to write about Paganism for its religion page, which was a significant departure for the staid publication. To that end, Time staffers went to the Pan Pagan Festival in Indiana to learn more.

“I happened to be doing a handfasting, and that got their attention,” Fox said. “Maybe it was the broom.” A picture of Fox, holding the broom aloft, accompanied the Time piece on Paganism, and led to her being “bombarded with media requests,” including an interview in People magazine. The coverage was largely positive, and “really positive things came out of it.”

While the seventies were a time of change, no change comes easy. After four years in the same place “with no problems,” Circle’s landlord decided to evict the group due to the media interest. The eviction came from the sheriff right after Samhain, and they were faced with finding a new place with the Wisconsin winter looming before them.

With her typical optimism, Fox explained what went through their minds when dealing with the big pile of lemons that life had dealt them. She said, “Sometimes, you really just have to make lemonade. We found an opportunity to rent month-to-month, and we moved up the timetable to buy our own land.”

Acquiring land for Pagan use was also a new idea. But in 1980 Circle Network News evolved from a two-page newsletter to a newspaper, and carried in it the announcement of the ambitious project. The network of Pagans, who had been corresponding through Circle’s network and meeting at the occasional festival, responded with half-throated support. “There were a lot of different opinions about that,” Fox said. A vocal portion of the Pagan community raised concerns about adopting an institutional model. Circle had incorporated as a church just two years earlier, and acquiring land raised a red flag for some. But several years later, in time for Samhain 1983, those who supported the idea had their way, and the land, destined to be the Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, was bought by the organization.

Circle Sanctuary bought their land in 1983, and by doing that Circle transformed the community and their organization: people put down roots here, and some portion of the organizational energy flow shifted toward maintenance and stewardship of the land. That exerted a powerful stabilizing influence.– Bob Paxton, a 20+ year Circle member

That stabilizing influence allowed the organization to start focusing on helping people whose problems stemmed from being Pagan. “It does help to have some kind of institution when you’re fighting for Pagan rights,” Fox explained. The land allowed Circle to ramp up holding festivals of its own, such as Pagan Spirit Gathering, and use those events to fund other activities, which included public education and assistance for those being discriminated against.

That work was increasingly needed as this was the time when the United States was gripped by a “Satanic panic.” In Fox’s mind, it also led to what happened next. But the events she described are complex, so it’s not easy to draw clear lines of cause and effect.

  • 1983:  Circle members began remodeling buildings on their new property, including the conversion of a barn into the church’s headquarters. “In the 1980s, people were running businesses and non-profits out of barns . . . it seemed to be common practice,” Fox said.
  • 1984: A zoning administrator from the county came by to inquire into the work being done. “He starts asking questions, So I ask him some back,” Fox recalled, such as, “Are you asking people having boy scout meetings in their homes?” She adds, “I was polite, but it was really clear somebody was opposed to us having a Pagan center on that land. The administator couldn’t find anything to charge us with, so we did not hear for awhile.”
  • 1985: Circle applied for — and received — the necessary permits to do additional work, to remodel part of an old, historic barn into offices. “We had no building inspectors in that rural area back then, and started remodeling,” Fox said.
  • 1985: In September, three amendments were circulating through Congress with the aim of stripping tax-exempt status from organizations that “promote witchcraft.” One of these was attached to a tax-reform bill by unanimous voice vote of the Senate. Originally introduced by North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms to an appropriations bill for the postal service, the bill got the attention of many Pagans including those in Circle. “We got very involved in battling that,” Fox said. “We sent out thousands of fliers, urging people to contact their congress people about this.”
  • 1985: Just in time for Samhain, the amendment was laid aside in joint conference, having been deemed “not germane” to the bill.
  • 1986Local zoning officials sent Circle a notice of violations that could result in fines of a hundred dollars a day. In Fox’s words, “The zoning wars began. We got an attorney, went to the first meeting, which should have been a discussion of traffic patterns and sound, but it wasn’t — it was about religion. Government officials were attacking our religion in a government meeting. The room was packed with people riled up and concerned.” She later learned that much of that concern came from an earlier meeting, held without notice in violation of open meeting laws. In that meeting, attendees were shown a Geraldo Rivera special about Satanic crime in America, spliced in with some footage of Fox on the Phil Donahue and Today shows.
  • 1987 An “intense religious battle” continued to be waged with the press reporting on discrimination, while Circle Sanctuary was subjected to trespassing and threats of violence and death. Reverend Fox called this: “close encounters of a problematic kind.”
  • 1988:  The “zoning wars” ended when Circle Sanctuary received the church zoning designation that local officials had said it needed. Fox attributes the success in large part to the network of Pagans and others who rallied to support the church. But, in the end, the ACLU attorney working on the church’s behalf was able to secure a settlement without going to court, “when [local officials] realized we knew they were doing illegal things.”

Whether the “zoning wars” were directly connected to the fight against the Helms amendment can’t be corroborated either way, but it felt that way to Fox. That time was also a test for the nascent Lady Liberty League, which Circle had formed in the wake of that federal fight to defend Pagan rights. “In its earliest days, it was involved in our own Pagan rights cause,” Fox said.

The reason the land purchase was, and still is, so important to Circle’s success, is because it established a place where shared activities could occur and collaborative activities could occur. Over the many years I have been involved with Circle, it has become plain to me that people working together on projects, helps people form bonds. The more passionate people are about the work and the results of the work, the stronger the bonds. Wherever I go now, that is one of my primary mantras; collaborate together on projects that deliver real consequences in our own lives and to the benefit of the many outside of our own selves. — Nicholas Sea, Circle member since the 1970s

The first Pagan-Christian VA marker was placed in 2007.

The years since have been perhaps less turbulent, but no less active for Circle Sanctuary. Its cemetery project began in 1995, after the land was paid off, and now has about 25 people interred on the grounds. Lady Liberty League led the charge to get pentacles onto military headstones to honor the Wiccan fallen. Although Fox’s role is enshrined in the by-laws, the organization includes its members in decision making. It recently completed developing a strategic plan that sought input from all community members, and is now surveying users of its lands for their input into the nature preserve’s future.

And Circle is active in interfaith dialogue, including that which takes place within Paganism. “Our world is not a monoculture,” Fox said, “and neither is Paganism. It’s a beautiful diversity. Everyone can be enriched by being part of a larger community. We do have to problem solve around issues having to do with language in different traditions, there are some challenges  but it’s still a really exciting thing.”

Rev. Selena Fox may not have set out to be a full-time priestess, but as High Priestess for Life at Circle Sanctuary, Selena Fox has had close encounters of the historic kind. For four decades, Paganism has unfolded around this organization, much of which is not included in this remembrance. On Oct 22, Circle Sanctuary will have a call-in radio show celebrating its anniversary, providing another opportunity for interested readers to hear more of Circle’s story.

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Pagan Community Notes: BBC Reports on Witchcraft, CPWR Calls for Programs, Starhawk says “Vote!” and more

Mon, 2014-10-13 08:49

[Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. If you enjoy this series and our other recurring entries, please consider donating to our 2014 Fall Funding Campaign. Your support and donations make it possible for us to keep sharing the news and these important stories with you. Now let’s get started!]

In recent weeks, the BBC and other media outlets have published articles on the increase in Witchcraft related violence in the UK. As a BBC article reports, police have had “27 allegations” this year alone which is up from 24 in 2013. After reading the reports, a senior Religious Education official contacted the Pagan Federation with concerns that the stories might cause misunderstandings with respect to Pagan religious practice in the UK. 

In response, Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal said, “I was particularly grateful to him for drawing my attention to the article.” In a public statement, Stygal explained, in detail, his deep concerns with the way mainstream media and officials have handled these child abuse cases. He said, “I’d quite like another opportunity to meet with … the appropriate government representative to see if we can find a way to highlight the issues whilst limiting the potential for misunderstandings about modern Pagans.” Both the Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Centre for Pagan Studies have both come forward to endorse Stygal’s statement. To read it in full, click here

*   *   *

Planning is underway for next year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions to be held in Salt Lake City. In the last week, the Council put out a call for programs, saying, “Everyone who attends the Parliament has wisdom to share – from those who are having their first interfaith experience to those who are steeped in interfaith. The purpose of this gathering is to support relationships, connections, and inspired calls to action which can then ripple out from the Parliament into hundreds of grassroots organizations, networks, and communities.”  Of the thousands of submissions, only about 10% will be selected for inclusion in the program. The application and submission guidelines can be found on their website.

*   *   *

While many people are focused on Pagan Pride, fall festivals, Samhain and Halloween, another day sits just over the horizon. On Nov. 4, the U.S. will hold its general elections. On her blog Dirt Worship, Starhawk offers a post entitled, “Why Vote?” in which she lists “the practical, political and spiritual reasons” to get off the couch and head to the polls. She says that after you vote,”the world will not have transformed overnight. The Great Turning won’t have turned. The Good Guys will not have completely triumphed over the Bad Guys. But the world might just be a slight bit better than it would have been otherwise. And that small difference might be the divergence in the path that heads us away from destruction and onto the road to hope.”

In Other News: 

  • The struggle to keep religion out of schools is not only a U.S. problem. As reported on Oct 6 by SAPRA’s Damon Leff, the South African government has conflicting and problematic policies with regards to the teaching of religion within its public school system.
  • Around Samhain, Wild Hunt columnist Rhyd Wildermuth will be releasing his new book Your Face is a Forest, “a collection of prosaic wanderings and essays.” All profits from the book’s sale will be used toward funding his trip to the UK in December. Rhyd was selected to attend the Winter Solstice festivities at Newgrange. When he returns, he will be reporting on that unique experience here at The Wild Hunt.
  • The Patrick McCollum Foundation has announced an opening for two interns. The positions are for volunteers, preferably graduate students, who want to work with the organization in its mission “to further world peace, planetary sustainability, environmental protection, and human rights, including the advancement of women’s rights.” For more information, contact executive director Nell Rose Phillips.
  • In the coming weeks, the organizers of PaganPro.org will be launching a new website with a series of public surveys that will eventually become the basis of a new online service. Chairperson Lydia M N Crabtree says,”PaganPro.org will be the first site to offer real and verified information about Pagan and occult leaders.” The surveys are the first step in building that database.
  • This month, Red Wheel Weiser Books is releasing a book called The Hedgewitch Book of Days by Mandy Mitchell. The book is “aimed at the practicing or would-be witch whose life is more jeans, chaos and the never-ending question of what’s for dinner, instead of black-robes, cauldrons, and incantations.”
  • Here’s a brief update on our own Fall Funding Drive. You have helped us to reach 96% of our campaign goal. Amazing! To all of those people and organizations who have already donated, thank you so very much. We can’t do this work everyday without your support. If you haven’t donated yet, please consider contributing today. If you have already donated, won’t you share our link and give us the extra boost needed to raise the remaining funds.

The Wild Hunt Fall Fund Drive. Donate Now!

That’s all for now! Have a great day.

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Religion in Public Schools: a continuing struggle

Sun, 2014-10-12 07:33

[Remember our Fall Fund Drive is still going on. Your support and your donation is what make our work possible. If you like reading our articles and commentary daily, please consider donating today and help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Thank You.]

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rejected the appeal of Ohio science teacher John Freshwater, who was fired for teaching Creationism in the public school system. The case, Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, first made its way through the Ohio courts, where it was ultimately ruled that “the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education had ‘good and just cause’ to terminate John Freshwater’s teaching contract.” When the appeal reached the Supreme Court, the justices rejected it, thereby, allowing the Ohio court’s opinion to stand.

This case is a recent example of a public school system becoming the playing field for a tug of war match between secularism and religion. According to Americans United (AU), the teacher not only taught Creationism in the classroom, but he displayed and handed-out religious material, and also performed surveys of students’ religious beliefs. AU also notes that the teacher was “accused of using an electronic device (a Tesla coil) to burn a cross into a student’s arm.”

Although the Ohio courts ruled that it was legal for Freshwater to place his personal Bible on the desk, his actions were otherwise out of line. AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan said, “Freshwater was using his position to foist his religious beliefs onto impressionable students. The courts rightfully put a stop to that.”

For Pagan and Heathen parents or others practicing minority religions, there may come a time when religion is “foisted” upon their children within the public school environment. In most cases, the situation is likely an unthinking act, and indicative of a changing culture or shift in demographics. Minor missteps do happen and can often be remedied through conversations, education and awareness. Unfortunately, in some instances, such as the Ohio case above, the acts are blatant attempts at promoting a single religion.

Created by The Satanic Temple

Last year, Florida’s Orange County School Board allowed The World Changers of Florida to distribute Bibles to their students. After being sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Central Florida Freethought Community, the school board approved the distribution of other religious material, which now includes pamphlets on Atheism and the Satanic Temple’s coloring book called “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

Similarly, the Madison County School Board in Georgia allowed a privately funded religious monument to be erected outside a high school football team’s field house. According to local news, the statue reads, “Romans 8:31: ‘If God be for us who can be against us?’ and Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ ” Last month, the school board was contacted by both the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and is now facing a potential lawsuit.

In all three of these cases, the intention and, therefore the violation, is very clear. However, not all cases are quite as “cut and dry.” Over the past fifteen years, a national organization called “The Good News Club,” has been establishing after-school enrichment programs within public school buildings. With the growing number of working parents, these in-school extracurricular programs have become increasingly popular, serving a very needed purpose for modern families.

However, The Good News Club is a division of The Child Evangelism Fellowship and has a clear and direct religious initiative. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that the club, and others like it, can legally hold after-school meetings within public school buildings. (The Good News Club v. Milford Central High School)  Despite that ruling, the club’s presence continues to spark controversy.

In Portland, Oregon, a large coalition has recently formed with the aim of stopping the Good News Club’s in-school activities. According to The Oregonian, its formation was sparked when Katherine Stewart published her book called The Good News Club: The Religious Right’s stealth assault on American Children.

Due to the SCOTUS ruling, that situation is not easy to legally negotiate. In an interview with The Oregonian, ACLU David Fidanque said, “I don’t know that there is a bright line anymore.” While acknowledging the club’s legal right to be in the school, he expressed real concern saying:

Keeping the government out of religious affairs is the single most important thing we can do to protect religious freedom in this country. If we allow our government institutions to endorse particular religious viewpoints, or even to promote religion in general over non-religion that is a threat to every form of religion.

Even if The Good News Club is staying within its constitutional rights, Fidanque’s concerns are justified when looking at other similar situations. Growing in popularity in Georgia is another after-school religious club called Rise UP. The organizers make no effort to mask their affiliation with area schools. The website advertises, “Several other local elementary schools expressed interest in starting a similar program. We were excited about the possibility of partnering with these other parents and schools… there are new schools joining the RISE UP! Team as each school year starts – RISE UP! has a total of 9 elementary schools participating!” Did the schools ask to join or did the club ask to use the space?  Does that distinction matter?

Another way school systems intentionally or unintentionally allow religious speak into their public space is through visiting authors. Schools often hold assemblies during which a writer might speak, entertain, and read from his or her latest book. It is a very common occurrence and, in most cases, quite innocuous.

However, when that author writes with a strong religious directive, like popular Christian author Bryan Davis, the assembly could become problematic. Davis’ books reflect a deep connection to his own personal theology. While his work is certainly fitting for church assemblies, is it appropriate for public school children? Is it constitutionally legal for Davis to be speaking about and selling books that openly promote the celebration of one’s “God-given talents” and overtly discuss “faith, prayer and redemption” within the public school system? Interestingly, two of the participating middle schools are in Orange County, Florida, where the Bibles are being distributed.

These are only a few recent examples of cases in which an uncomfortable situation could arise for Pagan, Heathen or other families practicing a minority religion. There are many others situations from the minor missteps by a well-meaning teacher to the blatant promotion of a single religion. On Polytheist.com, parent Niki Whiting described her own encounter:

For a few brief weeks when we sent my son to the neighborhood kindergarten we had to deal with his confusion around the Pledge of Allegiance. I was surprised that this was still said in schools. He came home and asked why the school was trying to make him Christian. Already, in his (then) 5 short years of life, he knew that when people say ‘God’ they are mostly referring to Yahweh. “Don’t they know that the world is full of gods?” he asked. No, no, my son, they do not.

While every situation doesn’t need a lawyer, there may be times when a friendly email is just not enough. What should a parent do in such situations?  In her book Pagans and the Law, lawyer Dana Eilers suggests, “A basic understanding of the Constitution, the First Amendment, and their history is essential to grasping the enormity of religious freedom.” Her book lays out the basics as they pertain specifically to Pagans. She writes, “It is highly recommended that everyone read this document, boring as it appears. It is what stands between you and 10 thousand years of discrimination, persecution, and darkness.”

Another resource is Lady Liberty League. Co-founder Rev. Selena Fox has this recommendation:

Documentation is essential. Keep a log with dates and details of what has happened and what has been done to express concerns and get positive resolution. Check into the school’s policies and processes for filing complaints and voicing concerns. Keep a copy of every written communication you make and receive regarding the situation. Share this information with individuals and organizations you contact for help.

While fighting these battles may be difficult, costly and time consuming, not every situation leads to a lengthy court battle. Byron Ballard, who has worked extensively and very successfully with North Carolina’s Buncombe County School Board, found herself in the middle of such a situation in 2011. As reported by The Wild Hunt, the school board allowed Bibles to be distributed to students and a Pagan mother protested. Ballard was an integral part of resolving the tensions and finding workable solutions. Ballard advises looking for allies, adding that some may “come from surprising places.” Some of her allies  have been leaders from mainstream religious institutions. She says:

My best advice is to stay grounded, be persistent and try to really listen to all sides of the issue at hand. This work is about rights and responsibility, about shifting cultures. But it’s actually about making public schools safe places for all children to learn and to grow into caring, compassionate adults.

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic]

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Culture and Community: The Impact of Real Name Policies in Paganism

Sat, 2014-10-11 05:58

[Crystal Blanton is one of our talented monthly columnists. If you like her work and want to support her writing here at The Wild Hunt, please consider donating to our fall funding drive and sharing our IndieGoGo link. It is your continued support that had made it possible for us to feature Crystal and her insightful column, Culture and Community, each month. Will you donate now? Thank you.]

Facebook’s “real name” policy has caused a recent storm of responses from many social media consumers, increasing the number of people who have started the process in taking their social media loyalty someplace else. The resulting controversy and consumer response to the deactivation of accounts under this policy have caused many people to question staying on a social media platform that does not appear to care about the needs of its consumers.

As The Wild Hunt reported on Wednesday, Facebook recently issued an apology, specifically to the LGTBQ community, about the way that the policy was enforced this past month. While Facebook said that the policy will remain in effect, they also said that they are re-evaluating the way that the name policy is enforced because it disproportionately affects those from the drag queen, transgender and LGBTQ communities.

[Photo Credit: Emily Rose / Tako Fibers, Flickr]

For some people using a real name does not pose the same problem as it does for others. This issue has highlighted some of the safety risks and challenges that the social media world poses to different people. Whether due to personal preference, performing with a different persona, taking protective measures for marginalized communities, or the safeguarding one’s personal life for professional reasons, there are a lot of circumstances in which a person might use a pseudonym on social media.

Pagans are among some of the marginalized groups that utilize alternative names on social media. Sometimes this is a protection mechanism from judgment that would affect their ability to thrive in their physical community and sometimes this is a spiritual choice. The change in the name policy and the enforcement of this policy could have a big impact on the Pagan community and others.

The responses within the Pagan community to Facebook’s “real name” policy and the subsequent apology has been quite varied. It has ranged from people completely leaving Facebook and transitioning to other social media outlets, like Ello or Sgrouples, to being resistant to a social media switch.

Author and Activist T Thorn Coyle has been one of the Pagans speaking out and actively transitioning her personal social media needs away from Facebook. She said:

T. Thorn Coyle

Facebook has never been a good fit for me. While I appreciate the conversations I have with people on my public page, the way the private pages are used has never appealed. Also, in the last couple of years Facebook has made it very difficult for grassroots organizations and independent artists, musicians, and authors to reach the very people who want to hear from them. The shifting algorithm and the push to pay for “views” to people who have already signed up for public pages has made it an increasingly less useful tool.

The controversy over the “real name” policy looked like a great opportunity to finally make the transition away. I already use Twitter far more than Facebook – keeping in touch with on the ground activists around the world, and with thinkers I don’t otherwise have exposure to – and I am liking Ello even in beta form.

Facebook made all the right noises regarding their meeting with the drag queens, but frankly, that was only after the exodus began. When 40,000 people swamped Ello in one week, Facebook took notice. Facebook had already met with the queens earlier and discounted their concerns. The turnaround came after concrete action was taken.

I don’t trust Facebook to do the right thing, and never have. I don’t think they care about the concerns of people who have very good reasons to not use legal names whether it is from religious choice, self-expression, shift in identity, or because of personal safety issues. What Facebook cares about is money and information exploitation. Making money is fine, but not at the expense of the well being of the people who provide you with the means.

Facebook is a tool that I will still use – my public page has around 5,700 people – but I’m quite happy to be shutting down my private page.

Elizabeth Rose, a social worker that deals in clinical services, mentioned the complexities of this professional field and the challenge of choosing a name on social media profiles. There are professional reasons within certain fields, and in conjunction with being a Pagan that makes this process more complicated than just using your “real name.”

Elizabeth Rose

I think there are two main points to be made: 1. Many workplaces have a “no Facebook policy.” Mine did not, however it did have a policy, however “unofficial”, of not being critical of the institution. I’m a social worker. As much as I like the population I work with, and I’m grateful to my workplace for giving me a job and for existing, I was trained to criticize the institution. That is to say I was trying to analyze where systems fail, and what to do about it. Trust me, large bureaucracies don’t want you expressing this to them or to anyone else.

2. My life is my business. Particularly as a Pagan, who works with a population that contains a lot of evangelical Christians, I have no desire to be subject to personal criticism, nor do I wish my life and or my religious beliefs to be an issue for my patients. I’m there to facilitate THEIR healing process, neither to discuss nor to defend my personal religious beliefs, which would be a major distraction from this process. In fact knowing I was Pagan would probably inhibit, if not actually frighten, a number of my clients to the point where they felt they couldn’t trust me with their personal information. As a therapist creating a sense of safety and my clients is paramount. I have no intention of letting any poorly thought out or invasive policy threaten that. A pseudonym addresses this issue very effectively. And I have no intention of using my “real name”. In fact, I’m thinking of de-camping to Ello for this very reason.

Sister Krissy

Sister Krissy Fiction is a queer Gnostic Pagan drag clown nun, a fully professed Sister of Perpetual Indulgence and the Prioress of the Order of Benevolent Bliss in Portland, OR. She previously was quoted in the Wild Hunt piece on the Facebook chaos this past week. In her interview with Heather Greene, she discussed feelings about the apology:

I do believe that Facebook’s apology was sincere.  I’m not sure if the apology was offered as a result of activists taking action against Facebook or because members were flocking to other social media platforms, but I do appreciate and accept the apology.  However, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.  I appreciate the apology, but I’ll appreciate some real changes even more.  I’m hopeful that Facebook will do the right thing.

Other community responses gave insights into personal agency to identify as one chooses and the spiritual impact of not being able to use a spiritual name in social media.

Stephanie Kjer

There are a lot of problems with a “real name” policy in Social Media, not the least of which is safety – many people in the Pagan Community, and other marginalized communities, adopt pseudonyms for a myriad of different reasons, not the least of which is safety or concern about how people in their family or professional life might feel about their affiliations, and how that could affect job opportunities, advancement, family interactions, etc… While I don’t think that real name policies are intended to be harmful, I definitely think it’s coming from a place of privilege and ignorance about how other people may find it necessary to keep parts of their lives separate or private from each other. Additionally, in a lot of traditions, it’s quite common for someone to adopt a name that has personal significance for them, and their interactions with the gods. One might even call it on par with a marriage or baptism, whereby someone takes a name as a sign of devotion or of a higher calling, and even though that is not the name they were born with or legally assigned, it is WHO THEY ARE, and denying people the right to choose for themselves who they want to be in their interactions is an act of forcing them to deny themselves and their connection to their spirituality. I also believe that a real name policy is invasive and seems more about profiting on data mining rather than a genuine intent to enable honest interactions between the users of a social platform. People can be disingenuous using their real name just as much as they can with a pseudonym.

I am open to exploring different ways to connect with people, and a requirement of real name is not a deal breaker for me, per se. I’m more interested in whatever platform allows me to interact freely with the people who matter the most to me. I do find the idea of being data mined to be a bit repugnant, and so a media platform that values my privacy but that still fulfills my desire to connect with people would be ideal. – Stephanie Kjer, Priestess and Advocate

Yeshe Rabbit

If Facebook requires me to use my legal name, I will likely leave altogether. Now, there is nothing wrong with my legal name, Jessica Matthews Robles, nor is there anything wrong with people knowing it, on my part. However, when I made my formal commitment to Paganism and the host of spiritual practices that came along with it, one of those practices was the taking of a new name. The name Rabbit symbolizes my connection to the Earth and the Mother Goddess, my choice to be a healer, my lunar practices, my playfulness, and humor. I took this name because I meant it. I use this name every day in all areas of my life, and each time I see or hear it, I am reminded of my commitment to walk this Earth-based, Goddess-centered path. I do not think it is appropriate for Facebook to attempt to set my priorities for me. I know who I am and why I chose the name I chose. That ought to be enough.

I have largely stepped back from Facebook for several reasons. 1) a personal reason: because of the commercialism and spamming that I am experiencing there. I do not like all of the ads and assorted game requests, for starters. But also, 2) a political reason: I have noticed many articles about Facebook’s violation of peoples’ privacy, manipulation of emotions, and other general creepiness. That’s not right. So, while I really value the connections I have made with some good people on Facebook, the environment is no longer to my liking. In switching to other sites, I am stepping into a new teahouse, so to speak. I figure that those of us who were in our discussions in one teahouse will eventually encounter one another in similar discussions in a new teahouse. Because we are in love with tea and discussions.  - Yeshe Rabbit

The recent Facebook apology has brought about much discussion and question of Facebook’s intentions, and it appears that there are a lot more communities that have also been affected who were not included in their apology. Pagans and members of other marginalized groups, are continuing to surface and talk about being forced to change their name or lose their accounts. And while Facebook is not changing the policy itself, the understanding and enforcement of the policy, it appears, suggests a larger problem than one created with just one social media giant.

The changing trend within today’s functioning society includes the use of social media profiles as a means of conducting business, engaging socially, connecting with family and even participating with society on multiple levels. In today’s electronically driven culture, decisions around the use of social media are as important as the communities with which we choose to engage and the friends with whom we decide to build relationships. The power of personal choice and agency in the world of social media is as important as our choices in the use of any other tool for life; the importance of the power to choose is not lessened by the fact that it is an online format.

While trust in Facebook’s policies and intentions continues to be of question, the reality is that this situation has pushed some people to move towards a more consumer driven social platform. And maybe it is time to really ask ourselves what we want from social media, and how this can be used to serve the Pagan communities in the future.

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