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Updated: 11 hours 34 min ago

Fire Destroys Historic Home of New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple

Sun, 2016-02-07 09:56

NEW ORLEANS, La. — In the early morning hours of Feb. 1, an electrical fire broke out at the Voodoo Spiritual Temple of New Orleans. Located on N. Rampart Street in the French Quarter, the Temple sustained severe damage to the structure and contents. While no one was injured, the incident has left the Voodoo Spiritual Temple, which has been serving the community for 26 years, with an uncertain future.

Voodoo Spiritual Center [Photo Credit: Francesco]

“This horrible situation is new and unprecedented, its more catastrophic than what was dealt by Katrina and is so much so that the temple’s very legacy is in jeopardy,” said Witchdoctor Utu, a student of the temple, the founder of the Niagara Voodoo Shrine, and a member Dragon Ritual Drummers. He has been a member of the temple for nearly 14 years, studying under both co-founder Priestess Miriam and member Priest Louis Martine.

Utu added that this learning “is something that is continual, there is no plateau, and its lessons learned though the trials of life and community, much like what is before us now, and what was before us after Katrina, no amount of spiritual or magical training is complete without truly having to enact them when real life challenges face us.”

The New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple was founded in 1990 by Priestess Miriam and her husband Priest Oswan Chamani. It was originally located in a building a few blocks west of its current location, but after only one year moved into 828 N. Rampart Street. The temple has been there ever since. As advertised on the website, it is the “only established Spiritual Temple with a focus on traditional West African spiritual and herbal healing practices currently existing in New Orleans.”

While the temple is only twenty-six years old, the building, a traditional Creole cottage, is far older and is listed on the city’s historic registry. It was built in 1829 by property owner Pierre de Vergès and has largely remained well-preserved as it was handed down and sold over the years. Utu said, “Much of [the cottage] from floors, walls, stairs and balconies are still original. The courtyard out back is unique and beautiful. There are several living quarters in the outbuildings that surround the courtyard, and two apartments above the temple too.”

He also added that the courtyard, one of the largest in the area, was once used for ritual. Priestess Miriam has continued that tradition over the last twenty-five years, hosting an array of services and events in that historic space from weekly religious rituals to full weddings.

Priestess Miriam in the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple [Photo Credit: Sandy Wholuvsya]

Priestess Miriam’s own story and spiritual journey also run far longer than that of the temple itself. Born in Jackson, Mississippi to a family of Baptists, faith healers, and gospel singers, Miriam spent most of her youth engaged in that community’s spiritual life. However, as the story goes, she was aware of other spiritual forces and “their ability to heal and help a person transform.”

Miriam eventually left the South, spending time both in New York City and Chicago, where she further explored her spirituality. In 1975, she left her Baptist church and joined the Angel Angel All Nations Spiritual Church, eventually becoming a Priestess. While in Chicago she also met her husband, Priest Oswan Chamani, a Belize-born herbalist and diviner.

After they were married, Miriam and Oswan moved to New Orleans and began doing bone readings on Jackson Square. Charles Gandolfo, also known as “Voodoo Charlie,” was impressed by their work and invited them to do readings and facilitate ceremonies at his famous New Orleans Voodoo Museum. Priestess Miriam said that this was the “turning point” for her.

She remembers Gandolfo fondly, recalling that he once visited the temple with a kitten found at the tomb of Marie Laveau. Utu said that “this kitten is now a full grown cat and a strong one too, still out there causing trouble. She survived three weeks on the roof of Miriam’s house when they had to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina.”

In May 1990, Miriam and Oswan decided to leave the museum to venture out on their own. In doing so, they birthed the Voodoo Spiritual Temple and opened up shop on N. Rampart Street. In 1991, the couple move their operation a few blocks down into to its current location at 828 N. Rampart Street.

But it wasn’t long before Oswan became ill. In 1995, he died from pneumonia, leaving Miriam to tend the temple by herself. For one night, Oswan’s body was returned to the property for his funeral rites, which were performed by Priest Louis Martine. During that night, Temple members drummed beside the body until the morning hours. Utu said, “Priest Oswan is one of the spirits that protects the temple, and in all reality, considering the fact that the most sacred and pertinent items of the temple were spared fire, we know he was doing his work yet again.

Despite the loss of her partner and husband, Miriam continued the temple’s work, building a community and what Utu describes as “cultural center celebrating not only west African and African American spiritual practices but the New Orleans tradition of drum and dance, song and trance much like what was practised across the street from the temple in the historic Congo Square.”

Over the past 26 years, the temple’s influence has only increased. Priestess Miriam’s students now live around the world, practicing the tradition and sometimes even opening their own religious centers. Blogger Lilith Dorsey has been a longtime student of the temple. In a recent post, Dorsey wrote, “Priestess Miriam has been a teacher, a godmother, and a friend to me for over two decades. She presided over the funeral of my daughter, and then, as always, she helped to save my life.”

Priestess Miriam with Aiyda [Courtesy Photo]

On the morning of Feb. 1, at 3:30 am, the tenants living above the Voodoo Spiritual Temple smelled smoke and called the fire department. An electrical fire had broken out. It wasn’t until Priestess Miriam arrived for a day of work, hours later, that she learned what had happened. The botanica and cultural center were completely destroyed in the fire. But the actual temple space, which was badly damaged by water and smoke, had not been harmed by the flames. Fortunately, for that reason alone, the temple’s beloved resident python Aiyda made it out unharmed.

When it was finally safe to enter, volunteers helped Miriam in recovering what was left of the temple’s rare artifacts and religious items. That work is ongoing with many people arriving to assist. In fact, in her blog post, Dorsey wrote that she would be helping out this weekend.

However, Utu added that, “Mold is an issue at the best of times in NOLA, after a few hours of being continually soaked by water, well it’s a recipe for disaster […] Its already face-mask time.” A good portion of the temple’s property has been lost.

Damaged Temple [Courtesy Photo]

According to Utu, there is no insurance to cover any of the damage, and the building itself is now being condemned. However the owner, reportedly, is determined to rebuild. And, Miriam herself is equally as determined to keep the Voodoo Spiritual Temple in that space. While at first she thought she would have to shut down completely during this rebuilding, it may now be possible for her to continue offering some services while construction goes on.

However, officials and building experts still need to assess the full extent of the damage to determine what can be saved and what exactly needs to be done next. Nothing is final at this point. And, with the coming of Mardi Gras on Tuesday, all talks and decisions have been put on hold.

In the meantime, Priestess Miriam and Utu have launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help offset the cost of reestablishing the Temple. In just four days, the campaign has raised nearly $11,000. Utu said, “One way or another we will overcome this and again be celebrating the spirits of New Orleans with drum, song and dance at the temple on 828 N. Rampart St. Come hell or high water it will be done.  High water already came via Katrina, hell has come via fire, but the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple gods willing will still triumph and be anew again.”

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Column: Essence

Sat, 2016-02-06 10:11

Two powers, bright, heavy, warp the Abyss around them,
twins birthed from the moment of Love
birthed into the moment before Love.
They pull they desire
They push, they fear.

–From Notes From The Abyss, IV

Photo by Ales Krivec (CC0 1.0)

Perhaps you’re aware of some of the recent conflicts between Traditionalist strands of Pagan and Heathen thought and more ‘liberal’ strands. Maybe you’re not. Either way, the differences between them seem impossible to reconcile.

For the Traditionalists, the revival of our ancient religions requires a return to other ‘traditional’ ways of thought, including an embrace of ethnic and racial identity, and disavowal of ‘modern’ conceptions of gender. For the more ‘liberal’ Pagans, rebuilding an earth-based spirituality requires an embrace of ‘progressive’ ideas about race and gender foreign to our ancestors.

For the Traditionalist, the views of the more Liberal parts of Paganism involve denying ancient truths about humans; for the ‘Liberals,’ the Traditionalists hold to primitive or regressive ideas that humanity no longer needs. And it would seem nothing could bridge the abyss between them. One side seems hopelessly racist and backward-looking, while the other side seems too New Age-y, arrogant, and blind to the real conditions of modern life.

Two opposites, twin polarities…there’s a magic for this.

Essentially Wrong

The apparent ideological gap between Traditionalist/Folkish strands and what some call the ‘Social Justice’ strands isn’t rooted in the personalities or really anything fundamental to the people on either side. No one is inherently ‘racist’ or ‘multicultural’ — these are just adjectives. And, actually, the beliefs about what is ‘inherent’ to humans cause most of the conflict between the two sides anyway. It’s where both sides are right and wrong.

To understand this, we need to look at our ideas about what is ‘inherent’ or ‘essential’ about humans, and look at a uniquely modern lie: Essentialism.

Essentialism is the belief that there’s something physically innate about humans which determines their identity. That is, there is a fundamental ‘essence’ which makes a human male or female, Black or white, European or Asian, or gay or straight.

It’s pretty easy to see how Essentialism applies to the Traditionalist strands of Paganism. But, as I said, it’s a mistake both sides make.

Gender Essentialism

Let’s first take one aspect of Traditionalist-thinking, seen in the writings of writers like Heathen Male-Tribalist Jack Donovan. From thinkers such as him, we have the idea that there is an innate man-ness to men which has been diminished by modern civilization and the emergence of feminism. In such a view, men are unable to fulfill their essential masculine characteristics (often: strength, protection, and warrior-hood) because of the feminization of society. They claim society demands they apologize for being men in the first place, and become victimized by rules against certain essentially male behaviors. Their answer to this problem? We must ‘return’ to an older, ‘traditional’ view of masculinity, usually somewhere in a mythic—and often ‘nordic’–past.

If this sounds ridiculous or wrong to you, please wait. You are probably doing the same thing.

“Goddess” spirituality, especially beliefs associated with Dianic Witchcraft or other matriarchist ideas are exactly as Essentialist as Male Tribalists. Is there something ‘essential’ and inalienable about women? According to this other side, women have an ‘innate wisdom’ (usually through the ‘mystery of childbirth’ or an innate connection to Mother Earth) which stands in opposition to the ‘masculine’ qualities which have caused the destruction of nature. In this view, male-dominance (“The Patriarchy”) has caused war, oppression of peoples, pollution, and other societal ills, along with enchaining women into subservient roles to men. Thus, men are inherently violent and destructive, or at least have strong innate tendencies to be those things that must be restrained by society.

Both sides come to the exact same conclusion—that the ills of society and the inability to realise one’s own potential is caused by the other gender.

Racial Essentialism

But before we look at more of the problems with these conceptions of gender—and where they come from–let’s look at another place where Essentialism is the cause of the divide between these two apparently polar opposite strands: race.

‘Whiteness’ has become a rallying cry for many ‘blood-and-soil’ Traditionalists, though they sometimes describe their actual ethnic or racial identity as European, Germanic, or Nordic. And this makes sense, of course, since they are attempting to bring back the culture, beliefs, and spirituality of the indigenous European religions. So, in essence, they’re reclaiming their racial, ancestral beliefs, just like any other racial group, right?

The problem is, of course, race. In order for there to be a racially-white religion, there must be such a thing as a category of humans called ‘race,’ and a category of race called white. And there must be certain qualities which are inherent or innate (that is, Essential) to whites which are not present in other races.

Thing is, those who oppose racism in the Liberal strands of Paganism often re-affirm the essentialist idea of race. If a blood-and-soil Traditionalist Heathen is claiming a racial/ethnic heritage unique to themselves, calling it white-supremacist only re-affirms the idea that there’s such a thing as ‘whites.’

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to just drop the idea of a ‘white race’ because of the experience of Black folk in the United States. Since most on the liberal end of things have some idea of the history of slavery in the United States, you’re probably familiar with the idea of ‘white privilege.’ White privilege is seen by many as an inherent or Essential aspect of white people that cannot be gotten rid of, can not be washed off or exorcised. That is, whites are essentially a privileged race, and no white, rich or poor, anti-racist or racist—can claim otherwise..

So, while the blood-and-soil Traditionalist is being Essentialist by claiming that there’s something innate and inalienable about their ancestry as ‘white’ (or European, or Nordic, etc.), those who wish to fight racism are just as Essentialist by claiming that whites have inherent traits like privilege. In fact, it’s precisely upon this hypocrisy that some of the more political and ideologically fierce “New Right” theorists who influence many Traditionalists are happy to pounce.

Problem is? They’re kinda…right. The way most social justice activists understand privilege (like ‘white male privilege’) is indeed Essentialist. They treat these negative traits of being male or white as something that can’t be undone. White Privilege can only acknowledged, confessed and constantly guarded against … much like Original Sin

Fated Flaws

Original Sin is the Christian idea that some ancestral flaw was passed down from Adam and Eve which makes every human descendant of them inherently (that is, essentially) inclined to sin. In this idea, no human can avoid this primary flawed attribute, and nothing can ever eradicate this trait. It’s an essential aspect of every human, and it means each person is fated to commit sin.

This idea that anyone, because of some part of their Essence, is fated to do something, is called Determinism. It’s the insistence that Essential aspects of people determine and predict the way they behave, what sorts of decisions they make, and other characteristics of their being. In a way, they become ‘enslaved’ or at least bound by aspects of themselves they cannot change.

Gender and Determinism

We can see how this functions pretty easily in Gender Essentialism, which proclaims that men always act in certain ways toward each other, toward nature, and toward women. In some Matriarchist or Progressive thought, men act rapacious (the root of this word is the same as ‘rape’) towards the natural world, taking, using, and consuming without care for the things they harm. Essentially, it is in a man’s nature to harm.

The same sort of determinism happens to women, too. Women are said to be ‘slaves to their biology.’ For instance, an old conservative argument about women is that they are unable to see outside the needs of their family. Therefore, women cannot make self-sacrificial decisions for the good of a people or a nation. Basically, women are so innately nurturing, protecting, and life-affirming that their instincts would prevent them from engaging in a violent war against a foreign enemy.

Male ‘Tribalists’ and other Traditionalist theorists on the ‘man’ side accept these categories readily. They embrace the idea that men are innately rapacious, and even glorify male violence and sexual conquest. But those on the other side embrace these categories just as thoroughly.

We can see this best when a man commits a violent crime. “Women wouldn’t do that,” goes the argument. I’ve personally heard, “women don’t kill large groups of people” or “women don’t rape,” because it is not in a woman’s nature to do this.

Of course, instances of women murdering, raping, or ordering the State murder of others (think Margaret Thatcher or Queen Elizabeth) get completely ignored, just as all the examples of men acting nurturing rather than rapacious get ignored, too.

Counter-examples musts be ignored or explained away in order to protect the Essential gender category. This allows those with the most strict beliefs about Men and Women to entertain fantasies that, were they allowed to be more their essential selves, the world would be a better place. From the “Men’s Rights” crowd we get arguments that, if men were allowed to be the brutish, strong, conquering males they were born to be, there would be less violence against women (since, in their ridiculous reckoning, ‘feminism’ is the reason they are compelled to become violent). And from the other side we find the fantasies that global warming, pollution, and most social inequality would end if women were in power instead of men.

Race and Determinism

Determinism is an important part of Racial Essentialism, too. It holds that people in specific racial categories cannot help but act according to the essential aspect of their race. This is the root of Race-Theory itself; Blacks are ‘genetically inferior’ to other races, Asians are inherently mathematically-oriented, Caucasians are strong, privileged, and civilization-minded.

Because of its history, most of the negative essentialist qualities are assigned to Blacks rather than whites in the United States, including ‘criminality.’ That’s why, when a police officer shoots an unarmed Black man, the officer is given a greater benefit of the doubt when she defends the shooting. Blacks are seen to be Essentially and Deterministically prone to violence and criminality.

The result of all this determinism is that each person becomes bound and imprisoned to the Essentialist category. Men, who wish to act other than how they are told they are supposed to act, are still judged according to what men actually are, rather than what the individual man has done. Similarly for women, for whites, and for Blacks. And each polarity is bound in perpetual conflict to its opposite.

If it seems that what I am saying is coming from my own (Essentialist, Deterministic) existence as a ‘white male,’ we should remember that this is precisely the point that post-colonialist theorists like Frantz Fanon, as well as Malcolm X, made repeatedly. The essentialism which created a racial category called Blacks also created whites, binding them both into perpetual conflict that cannot be transcended or resolved by the categories themselves.

Racial conflict must exist as long as we accept Essentialist Race theory, just as gender conflict must exist as long as we accept essentialist categories of man and woman. Worse, the categories actually cause the conflict.

Now, let’s look at why and how those Essentialist categories were created in the first place, and then look at the magic which can undo this perpetual conflict.

Photo by Padaruria Alexandru (CC 1.0)

Humans in The Machine Age

This is hard to wrap one’s head around, but the way humans view each other and themselves in the modern age is actually quite new. Race and Gender were not Essentialist categories for the vast history of humanity. There was a time—not very long ago—where no-one considered that there was anything innate, inherent, intrinsic, or ‘essential’ about certain groups of humans rather than others.

The Birth of the Homosexual

Maybe the best way to understand what it was like to not believe that there are Essential characteristics of Race or Gender is to look at the sexual Essentialism, particularly the ‘homosexual.’

Gays and lesbians often describe themselves as innately ‘born this way,’ just as heterosexuals might define themselves as biologically ‘wired’ to only have sex with people of the opposite gender. This results in situations where a man who doesn’t call himself gay or homosexual, saying something like, “I’m just a guy who likes to have sex with other guys” actually receives quite a bit of trouble for his statement. He is often said to have ‘internalized homophobia,’ or declared ‘in denial’ about his true nature.

Essentialist ideas of sexuality are much, much newer than essentialist ideas about gender, but only a little older than Race-Theory. Up to the 1800’s, it was never argued that a man who had sex with another man was innately inclined to do so. In fact, there was no word that described someone who desired sex with the same gender, only labels that described what that person had done. Words like “Sodomite” or ‘Buggerer’ were the equivalent of “Murderer” or “Thief,” defining not what a person is, but what act they had committed.

While the sort of person who has committed murder or stolen might be likely to do it again, we don’t tend to believe that there is some Essence of them that has always been a murderer or thief. Nor do we generally think that a person who has stolen was ‘fated’ by their genetics to steal.

It was once the same thing with people who we now call gay or homosexual.

The way our understanding about the innate/essential nature of sexuality changed occurred not through religion or philosophy, but through legal strategy and changes in the scope of scientific theory. There’s no space for the entire story in this essay (and Foucault has described it quite thoroughly already), but it’s important to keep in mind that our conceptions of what is innate about humans can shift, and often do so through external forces.

So, let me tell you about how our understanding of Gender and Race changed recently.

Women Make Bad Workers

Essentialism arose as part of what is often called ‘the mechanistic’ world view. Mechanistic-thinking was a shift in the understanding of the world from earlier, pre-industrial societies to one dominated by industrialisation, capitalism, and machines. It marked the end of an Animistic world-view where everything was seen as having soul or spirit.

You’ve maybe heard this idea already, especially if you’re familiar with “Neo-Animism,” Dianic Witchcraft, Deep Green Resistance, or many other ideologies. Forget what they say about this for a moment. Most of them place this shift very far back in time with the birth of agriculture and cities, basically so far back into prehistory where nothing can actually be done about it, and there’s no historical evidence to argue against them.

There was plenty of animism in Europe during the middle ages, as well as Pagan and Heathen beliefs. In fact, there was a Pagan kingdom in Europe up until the 13th century, and part of the Catholic reconquest of Spain up to the 15th century involved converting Pagans. Alchemists and astrologers continued to exist in courts up to the 19th century, and one of the fiercest criticisms of the Catholic church during the reformation was that it never fully eradicated Pagan and Heathen beliefs (as well as Witchcraft) from the common people.

The Age of the Machine was also the birth of modern Science and secularism. Both claimed that the world was not a magical place but one that was run by mechanistic laws which determined the behaviour of everything in the world. Before this, humans understood the natural world to consist of ever knotted threads of relationships and incomprehensible mysteries. If there were natural laws, they were either from the god(s) or the stars, and these natural laws were also magical laws.

Now, we approach the world, each other, and ourselves as assemblages of component parts, reducible to the physical material which comprises existence. The new science which arose during that time fixated on plumbing the inner secrets of the natural world, finding out what it was about a plant or a human that made them act certain ways. Starting from their own personal theories of difference, scientists, philosophers, doctors, and engineers dissected, disassembled, and otherwise took apart dead and living things to get to the core of their being—that is, their ‘essence.’

These attempts to determine what precisely made a woman different from a man—or what made someone from an African culture different from someone in an European culture—were no longer just a matter of curiousity. We must never forget that knowledge of all sorts—be it the court alchemists and astrologers of the middle-ages, the priests and augurers around Emperors, or the scientific advisers to world leaders today—has always been crucial to the powerful.

Most important of all, knowledge of how humans ‘worked’ during the start of the Age of the Machine was not just to understand how they ‘ticked.’ It was also to understand literally how humans work, because learning how to exploit human labour (and the wealth derived from it—also called Capital) unlocked the key to more wealth.

The mechanistic worldview accompanied the birth of factories for a reason. Factories were ways the wealthy could arrange human workers in such a way to maximize the wealth they generated. Because factory owners needed certainty in order to predict profit and expenses, the humans who became workers had to act like machines, too. They needed to stop doing things which were useless and counter-productive in a factory setting–like carousing, resting, social interactions, as well as activities involving family, like breast-feeding or caring for children.

This last part is really important, because it helps us understand how women became essentialized. Certain activities of women got in the way of a smooth-running factory. Pregnancy, menstruation,and breastfeeding all required breaks from working. It kept women from fitting perfectly into the new Machine-Category of ‘worker.’ Though there were plenty of other such human activities which got in the way of the creation of the worker (like resting and eating), women were the only ones who could successfully argue a natural, impossible-to-overcome limit.

Male workers weren’t able to claim the same natural limits that women could, so they had a harder time resisting the demands of their bosses. The only limits they could claim were the ones that all human had, like the need to sleep and eat. Also, because population had decreased significantly after the Plague and factory owners needed a steady supply of workers, birthing children (that is, more workers) was an important activity that factory owners couldn’t argue against.

So, women became an essentially different sort of person from men because they did not make ideal factory workers, and men did. But as I mentioned earlier, one of the things men could claim as a natural limit to work is one common to all humanity—the need to rest and the need to eat. Add to this all the other activities any human needs in order to survive and you can see how any factory owner would have a problem. A male worker couldn’t work 16 hours a day in a factory and still feed himself—all machines, after all, wear down.

This is how women got shunted into the ‘traditional’ (which was actually mostly new) gender role of housewife. To exploit male workers—to make them act like machines—men needed someone to perform all the tasks they no longer could do for themselves because they were working in the factories. Women thus had to become exploited by men in order for men to be exploited as workers.

Here we can see how to dissolve one of the primary complaints of the Male Tribalists, that modern men are forced to act less like men, less natural, less themselves. They’re actually almost right: men have been forced to act less natural, less like themselves. They’ve been shaped by the same social and political forces which forced them into factories in the 1700’s. They were forced into an essentialist gender role where they could not claim natural limits against the demands of the machine, as well as finding themselves now requiring a wife to perform all the activities necessary to keep them alive. But they didn’t lose their ‘maleness,’ they lost part of their humanity.

The exact same problem has occurred for women. Preference for male workers in the factories (again, no ‘natural’ limits to their ability to work) meant women got paid lower wages than men (as continues to the present). Worse, the Commons (land available to all in a community for grazing, foraging, fishing, etc.) were being destroyed, divided up fenced off and sold to individuals, so women had no access to the way to support themselves. They became bound into a position of reliance upon men to labor on their behalf, trading household work to men (husbands, lovers, sons, fathers, and also to domestic employers) in return for a share of the wage earned by the men.

So, when either side of the gender essentialists (male tribalists or matriarchists) look to the ancient past to construct their views of ‘traditional’ gender, they are accepting the Machine-Logic which was foisted on humanity during the birth of Capitalism.

Black and white, or Revolt

What about Race, then?

Race-thinking did not first become a ‘thing’ until late in the Age of the Machine, when scientists, theorists, philosophers, and others began trying to determine the relationship of the bodies of Africans and indigenous people to their culture. This involved an awful lot of dissection of the dead (and some vivisection on the living), particularly studying the shapes and sizes of human skulls through ‘Craniometry.”

Before the 1700’s, while the conception of difference between peoples existed, ‘race’ didn’t mean a separate line of humanity. To anyone familiar with European slavery, then, this fact presents an intriguing problem. The enchainment and forced-labour of peoples from the continent of Africa is seen by liberals as an inherently racist act. And while it was certainly justified by theories that Blacks were of an inferior race than Causasians, the slave trade wasn’t actually racist.

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t horrible, only to state that race-thinking was not a justification for the subjugation of people from Africa by the early slavers, because they had no conception of race as an essential category of human being. Race-theory (or ‘scientific racism’) actually came later, and was empowered significantly because it helped justify the continuation of slavery to those who thought slavery was immoral.

Just like the demands of the rich and powerful required the Gender Essentialism which brings us to think that women are innately one thing and men are innately another, Racial Essentialism arose to maintain another sort of labor: unwaged, forced, slave-labor.

There was another reason for the creation of Race-thinking. In the European colonies (including what is now the United States), poor people from Europe (particularly the British Isles), working in conditions as awful as the poverty from which they fled, started to befriend and make alliances with slaves. Neither group liked their rich masters/bosses very much, and both groups could see that they were paid much less (or not at all, in the case of indentured servants and slaves) than the wealth they created with their work. For both groups, the difference in their ethnic backgrounds, culture, and ‘race’ were much less important than their common enemy.

The workers from Europe weren’t considered ‘white’ until law-makers and bosses saw the potential revolt. Laws were passed which defined those workers as ‘white,’ and gave them different rights and privileges than the slaves from Africa or the indigenous people in the colonies.

Privileges were something actually granted to whites, rather than something essential or innate within them. And ‘white’ was a created category of human being, a new racial and judicial category of human being. An entire group of people, a small subset of Europeans, woke up one day to find they had no colour.

Transgressing The Essential

We can see that all these Essentialist categories require an opposition. The racial category of ‘white’ required there to also be a category of ‘black,’ otherwise white was a meaningless category. Women were not the only victims of Essentialism, because an Essentialist category of one gender required an opposition—Man—to also be essentialised. Even if one category (Black, woman) became subjugated by the division, its opposite suffered as well.

And unlike class categories which describe changeable characteristics (think “rich” and “poor,”) gender and race categories are seen as completely static. A Black person cannot become white, nor can a woman become a man…right?

Actually, this is the last important thing we need to understand about Essentialism; any attempt to escape, transgress, or transcend the dichotomies is punished severely by those who’ve built ideologies (or religions) around Essentialism.

Transgressing gender categories can be done multiple ways. Since heterosexual sex was originally an important part of Gender Essentialism (‘heterosexual,’ by the way, is also a new category, actually coming after the term ‘homosexual’), gays and lesbians were early targets of hatred, both by men and women.

A man who has sex with men is doing something non-essential to male-ness (despite, of course, ancient societies which saw same-sex relations as signs of higher manhood), so he inspired hatred from conservative Christians and Muslims who saw what they did as a transgression. Similarly, the existence of gay men erodes one of the core doctrines of matriarchist thinking, that all men treat women as sexual objects.

A sort of peace has been made with the queer man or woman now, because both sides have another enemy: the transperson. Transmen experience quite a bit of hatred, certainly, but the majority of the ire has been aimed at transwomen on all sides.

In fact, hatred of transwomen might be the only thing that unites matriarchist traditions and political groups (including Deep Green Resistance) with Fundamentalist Monotheism and New Right Traditionalist Heathenism. In fact, they’re all in perfect agreement with these words, written by Male Tribalist and Heathen Jack Donovan (but just as easily by Ruth Barrett, Lierre Kieth, or Pat Robertson):

The only way to prove you’re not afraid of trannies is to agree that transsexuals are not only sane, but heroic, and should be welcomed into any women’s restroom.

The transperson transgresses the Essentialist categories of male and female by moving from one to another, utterly eroding all social foundations for Essential Gender.

The same ire is levied against those who attempt to transgress race. “Miscegenation,” or the mixing of racial lines, is considered anathema by racial essentialists because it erodes the very concept of race. If a Black man has a child with a white woman, what race is that child? And if that child has a child with another such child, where did the essence of race go?

This question led to authorities who needed race to be essential to come up with bizarre calculations of what made someone actually Black. One drop of Black blood (one Black ancestor) was, in many places, enough to make a child Black, no matter how many white ancestors they had.

Similarly, though, the attempt to transgress whiteness by calling yourself “European” or “American” rather than white meets with anger both from those who believe in white separatism and those who believe that all whites bear a sort of Original Sin for the historic crimes of slavery. Is there a difference in culpability and privilege between a U.S. born woman of Irish immigrants who came to America in 1980 and a woman of the same age whose great-great grandfather owned and beat slaves in Mississippi? By the logic of Essentialism, there isn’t.

But you may by now be asking if there’s really an equivalence between all these positions. Is a goddess-loving matriarchist who believes transwomen aren’t women really equivalent to the Male Tribalist Heathen who believes the same thing? Or the social justice activist who believes all whites have inherent privilege and responsibility for slavery—are they really equivalent to the white Heathen blood-and-soil Traditionalist who believes in the existence of a Nordic race?

Yes.

They are equivalent, at least ideologically. I’ve my own moral preferences, of course, and those who’ve read me for awhile know which side I take in these arguments and which side I’d fight on if I had to fight. But ideologically, there’s no difference, and we need to stop pretending there is.

Anyway, this whole war is stupid.  Besides, the rich and powerful started it, not us.

Photo by Caleb Ralston (CC0 1.0)

From Conflict, A Weapon Is Born

There is another way past these oppositions. Not many will like this answer though, because it involves giving up something we all believe to be essential to ourselves. But there’s a certain magic trick most of us know, one of the most powerful Mysteries in any of our traditions.

Think about the problem we’re in. If male and eemale are essential, unchangeable categories, then there’s no way to end the modern war between them. Likewise with race—Blacks and whites will always be at war with each other if Blackness and whiteness are divinely-ordained categories of human that can never be transgressed.

And who benefits from this relentless conflict? Governments and the rich: literally non-essential classes of humans for whom the rest of us are just workers, consumers, expendable soldiers in their wars.

There’s another way of looking at why we cling so tightly to Essential categories of race, gender, and sexuality. Something Essential about us as humans was taken away with the birth of the Age of the Machine. Our beliefs, our relationships to the earth and ancestors and gods and each other, our traditions, and our ways of life were severed, cut and ground down by the coming of machines and factories, waged-work and alienated urban life.

Our ancestors, Black or white, man or woman, lost their connection to the world and to themselves, lost what was most essential to our existence as humans. What was left to us was the drudgery of the long work day, cheaply-made products in faceless markets, and a deterministic Science that told us we are not what we decide we are, only what we have no choice but to be.

The Matriarchist and the Male Tribalist are looking to recover something essential about themselves, but all they have left to them is the false category of essential gender and deep, obsessive hatred of their opposite. The white Heathen and the Black activist are both trying to heal an ancient wound done to their ancestors, but cannot ever fully regain what was lost until both are liberated.

We’re caught in these polarities, neither side ever able to give in to the other, neither twin able to be complete without the other.

And therein’s the deep magic we need.

The alchemists knew this secret. Witches know what happens next. Astronomers have seen this in the stars. Druids study this mystery for decades. Even atheist Marxists know this trick, but would never admit that it’s a kind of magic.

When two stars meet, get caught in each others orbit and don’t slingshot each other out into the Abyss of space, they begin to revolve around each other. Their gravities conflict, both pushing and pulling each other until they hit a sort of equilibrium. But they don’t actually revolve around each other, but around a third center that arises from their conflict.

Druids know this to be the secret of triads, how two things which exist as opposites generate a third that is the resolution of their polarity. Hegelians and Marxists know this as the dialectic, how a condition generates its opposite that can only be resolved by a synthesis arising from the gulf between the two.

Esotericists know this by many names, including the lunar current and the Grail mystery. When the solar current and the telluric current arise in equal proportion, a third current arises, one only possible because of the other two. Alchemists and Wiccans know this by many names, as well—it’s the pursuit of the divine androgyne, or the Chalice rite, opposing principles of feminine and masculine, or lord and lady, birthing a new state of existence when united.

And Witches know this to be the secret of the Divine Twins. Two equal yet opposite beings, born of a severed unity. First the one, then sundered into two who both fear and desire each other, and between them rises the winged serpent, the peacock angel, the light-bearer.

It’s also the secret of love. When your fear of someone is equal to your desire for them, you are caught in their orbit. When their desire of you is equal to their fear, they are likewise caught, and you are both in love.

It is impossible for the damage done to women in the Age of the Machine to be healed without the damage done to men to also be healed. The same is true of Blacks and whites, and the colonizer and the colonized.

We can remain in perpetual conflict, clinging to our ‘essential’ difference, never finding ways to resolve the wounds wrought on our peoples by the archons of the Age of the Machine. And if so, the forests will die, the oceans rise, and wars will rage on.

Or maybe we’ll remember that it takes two to create a third, and perhaps take up the powerful weapon which arises in from this Mystery, finally wielding it against those who have actually stolen our Essence.

*   *   *

[Author’s Note: My second book, A Kindness of Ravens, is now available in print or digital. It includes several essays originally published here at The Wild Hunt.]

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

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Column: Abrázame

Fri, 2016-02-05 10:21

We have a hugging problem, and it is probably not the one you think.

First, I am not going to go on about the benefits of hugging here, and there are many. But, my original article for this month was derailed yesterday when I noticed the creation of a new set of hugging ribbons for Pantheacon.

[Courtesy Free Hugs / Wikipedia]

These ribbons offer a gradation of interpersonal hug-comfort from “No Touchy!!!” to “Ask First!!!” to “Hugs are like Oxygen!!!” The intent to underscore the importance of consent is an outstanding idea. Reinforcing the urgency of consent will help individuals who are uncomfortable with certain levels of social expression to make others aware of that fact. Some people are uncomfortable being assertive and others have a real psychological (haphephobia or aphenphosmphobia) or physical (dysesthesia) challenge that make hugging problematic and even painful. Some people have faith traditions forbidding interpersonal contact with strangers of opposite sex. Some people are not neurotypical; some might be pregnant. And others may have experienced sexual or interpersonal violence in their past, which makes intimate contact difficult if not impossible. These individuals command our support.

And some may just not like hugs. It’s all good.

The intent of the ribbons is to help people proclaim a desire to maintain a wide personal touch space for any of those reasons. This underscores why these ribbons are good idea. Their use is also optional.  So – and this is particularly important – those motivated to use these ribbons will likely have a vital reason for adopting them. Moreover, I would put my hand in a raging fire to affirm that these ribbons were never created with any other intent than to help people.

I am, however, skeptical that they will help. Not only will the ribbons be in a sea of other ones; their use makes a critical assumption about the reader. For those who behave inappropriately, are ill-mannered or simply interpersonally violent, the presumption of the ribbons is that those guests will have the wherewithal to review and respect the ribbons before approaching with a hug or a touch. It’s a stretch in my mind, but still it’s all good.

But here’s the thing. They are also disappointingly Anglocentric and accidentally enabling ethnocentrism. I get the fact that this is not the intent. But as a Latino member of our society, my first reaction was, “so you want me to act like an Anglo?” Let me just repeat what I wrote before: I get the fact that this is not the intent.  But the focus on salutation behavior and the added exclamation points to emphasize greeting expectations convey an unintended message about what is an appropriate means of greeting others. The greeting distance and the behavioral expectations are subtly centered on northern European/Anglo expectations. But, appropriate greeting – in the greater scheme of things – is not that, nor is it standard American.

I have difficulty navigating around the fact that, while I understand that my culture has vastly different rules about interpersonal space and the importance of touch, these ribbons promote a secondary message that subordinates how many people I know – including myself –- greet one another. Hugging and cheek-kissing – or a combo maneuver of both of them including the air kiss – is the standard greeting for more than two billion people who not part of the Anglosphere. Some 50 million of whom live within the US; which, by the way, makes United States the second-largest Spanish-speaking Latino nation in the world exceeding the population of Spain and surpassed only by Mexico.

The gesture of cheek-kissing, often with a hug, is the de facto greeting in Latin America, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean nations. It has also become – as Time magazine noted in 2004 – a common greeting in the larger cities of the United States: that’s code for foreign, specifically Latin American. Among Latinos, cheek kissing and hugging is a universal form of greeting, even between heterosexual men.

The counterpole to these behaviors is the Victorian salutation etiquette, which continues to pervade our collective culture and, more insidiously, presents itself as the authority on expectations of proper behavior. Greetings – as still expected in parts of the United Kingdom – should be light handshakes at a distance. And this has a powerful cultural effect. It identifies how “proper” people interact and codes what is elegant, classy and cultured, while also highlighting who is uncultured, uneducated and uncouth. It lays out our roles in interpersonal behavior, guiding us to accept Anglo behavior as normative. You might even say there is a craving for it because there is a palpable pining among some people for the good old days of Downton Abbey, minus the classism. The reflected behaviors of etiquette are often seen as quaint, and when they are violated by those not of the right class or culture, it evokes Sarah Miller’s famous speech in Addams Family Values: “Remember, these savages are our guests. We must not be surprised at any of their strange customs. After all, they have not had our advantages, such as fine schools, libraries full of books, shampoo.”

[Courtesy PROMetropolico.org / Flickr.org]

It’s an issue, because this “quaintness” hides the bigotry. Chatham House recently surveyed British men and women asking them which countries they had good feelings about. They reported most favorable feelings toward Australia and Canada, followed by the United States, which tied with the Netherlands and then Sweden. There’s another code there, too. The countries of greatest comfort are more fluent in English. Not only that, there is another active code here, as they report, that the USA is moving linguistically, culturally and politically more toward Latin America. And those survey participants are echoing that shift as increasing discomfort with United States.

There’s nothing like having codes that tell us who is the “in-group.” At an unconscious level, we are all looking for in-group codes that allow us to discriminate among individuals and identify who we can trust. Intentionally or otherwise, we broadcast those codes not only to reinforce the dominant culture, but also to remind the “out-group” how its members are expected to behave in the presence of the majority. That anticipation of behavior, that reminding of how we should act, and those gentle cues to assimilate are nothing less than the arsenal of cultural warfare.

Cultural dominance coding is a dangerous game that can easily and elusively slip into racial segregation, social exclusion, and cultural assimilation. It often moves unnoticed, but with surgical effect. It can combine the tools of politics and economics to create an underclass of individuals who fail to “pass” for those in power. And we promote that cultural dominance coding in many ways that range from the grotesque to the subtle. The English-only movement that occasionally rears its head is little more than an attempt at linguistic domination. I’ll leave that as the grotesque example.

More subtly, we use mimicry and humor in combination to marginalize non-English languages as somehow inferior. Mock Spanish is such an example. Terms like “no problemo,” “hasta la vista, Baby,” or “buenos nachos” create a palimpsest of humor over racist language to disguise the latter. We see a different form of linguistic domination in the absurd belief that English is universally intelligible if spoken slowly and loudly.

We also make ignorant claims about culture and language. I remember one conversation many years ago with a colleague who was 30 years my senior. He was an educated engineer who held multiple biotech patents and even served in an organization to promote inter-cultural dialogue. Yet he explained to me how English will one day become the only language on the planet because it has an inherent economy of word use. His reasoning was that, in English, the possessive is created with the “apostrophe s” instead of the word “of.” Therefore Spanish, German and Chinese speakers, among others, would abandon their languages to adopt a quicker way of expressing ownership.

Now you may read this and laugh, but he was serious. To this day, I have yet to figure out how much time I have saved using the English possessive. And by the way, to add some more perspective, when I asked him if he spoke other languages, he answered, “No.” He spoke only English because his parents had warned him that learning Spanish might damage his natural intellect. He told his children to go to a college that didn’t require a second language or else he wouldn’t pay their tuition. But he liked Cuban food, so, as he explained, he wasn’t a racist.

By contrast, multiculturalism invites minorities to become visible while retaining their culture. It attempts to weave that culture into a mosaic where no culture remains dominant and all cultures are respected. It’s a utopic model whose origins are both in American and Canadian political philosophies, most prominently emerging from the Canadian Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.

As a society, we’re not there yet. Though I will state with some personal bias and only anecdotal evidence that Pagans seem to be among those most committed to multicultural values. Yet, we still have our moments of tribalism. We often presume English. We’re surprised by Latina Heathens and White Nebraskan Santeros. We’re disappointed, even stressed when our cultural cookie-cutter doesn’t behave like we want it to. But most of us also do not shy away from the difficult dialogues that allows us to strengthen our community with that cultural mosaic.

Pagans are the vanguard of multiculturalism and acceptance. I remember reading an observation by Alvin Schmidt the author of The Menace of Multiculturalism: Trojan Horse in America (1997) that Pagans represent the worst of the lot because we have revived pantheism in such dastardly films as Pocahontas (1995) and The Lion King (1994). Not just that, we unleashed even more heresy. Our multicultural beliefs were destroying the Judeo-Christian components of Euro-American culture and “endangering America’s soul.”

Y’all are awesome. And he is right, in a way. Pagans generally reject oppression and celebrate difference. We have lived as the oppressed and the reviled, often worship and congregate in secret and our sensibilities have been honed to recognize persecution. Neopaganism has grown in parallel to and in support of the sexual revolution and the civil rights movement. We recognize how cultural domination works, and we have become a bulwark against it.

Now back to those ribbons.The real issues here are manners and fear.

First, it is sad that we need those ribbons. Those of us from cultural backgrounds where interpersonal touching is normative are taught to carefully read body language indicating discomfort, and then unwaveringly apologize should we misread it. I and other Latinos were taught some very simple rules about hugging and kissing that I think remain important during first contact, or any contact.

  1. Don’t kiss or hug strangers.
  2. If you just met, no hugs or kisses. Unless you ask if it’s okay to hug or kiss.
  3. If you’re not sure, let the other person lead.
  4. If the other person says no, they mean it. You’re not entitled to a kiss or hug. Get over it.
  5. All hands above the waist at all times.
  6. No lingering.
  7. No saliva.

Did I really have to list those? We add for other Latinos, air kiss people you know; air kiss plus hug people you know well. That’s it. Culture and consent together.

Second is the fear part. As a community, we know fear offers nothing. And we know fear is the tool of oppressors. So, there must be no tolerance, no apologies and no succor for abusers. Period.

None of us should live in fear. And all of us should live in choice. Period.

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When Pagans Get a Seat at the Table

Thu, 2016-02-04 10:06

NORTHAMPTON, Mass — When the Parliament of the World’s Religions was staged in Salt Lake City last year, thousands of people gathered for this interfaith event. Being first held in 1893, the parliament is the oldest event of its kind, and others, which have emerged since, have not yet stripped it of its unique characteristics. One way the parliament stands out is in the fact that minority religions, including indigenous and Pagan ones, are given a seat at the table and a voice in the discussion.

The Wild Hunt sat down with vice-chair Andras Corban-Arthen during A Feast of Lights to talk about the parliament, his duties within the organization, and what he sees in its future.

[Photo Credit: G. Harder]


Among his several responsibilities, Corban-Arthen is chair of the site selection committee, which is responsible for assessing potential sites for the next session. “It’s a big deal,” he said, and a job he takes quite seriously. The official invitation to submit proposals has not even been released, and already there has been interest expressed on behalf of several cities.

He said. “People think it’s a great idea to bring it to their town,” but not every city can handle the sheer number of people who show up, such as the near 10,000 which attended in Salt Lake City. That pressure depends in part on location: when it’s in the United States, where the parliament held its first and second sessions (in Chicago, 1893 and 1993), many more people attend than when it’s elsewhere in the world. However, there’s a clear desire to maintain the international scope of the organization by not restricting host cities to just one country.

It’s understandable why it’s appealing to bring the Parliament of the World’s Religions to town. The event translates into $15-20 million dollars spent by those visitors. That could offset any infrastructure improvements made to accommodate the crowds.

Corban-Arthen is also part of the nominating committee, which is arguably even more important. “It shapes the direction of the board,” he said, which impacts the overall tenor of the organization. It is because of the makeup of the board that such efforts as its indigenous task force even exist; he’s been part of that since 2008. That might be enough to keep him busy, but Corban-Arthen also is a delegate to the United Nations, representing the parliament as a non-governmental organization in the interfaith field.

“One thing that distinguishes the parliament is that minorities play a big role,” he said. “People ask where the Christians are,” he added, despite the fact that in Salt Lake City they were indeed the majority of those present. “It didn’t feel like it,” he explained, even though they are also a majority on the board, because they are “respectful and conscious, and let us be out in front. It’s a very healthy thing.”

Andras Corban-Arthen

An area that Corban-Arthen has worked in since long before the parliament was reinvigorated in 1993 is that of indigenous European religions. With the parliament now holding sessions regularly, skepticism that there might be survivals of those traditions has fallen away, as members of those traditions have come forth to participate. Indeed, the 2009 parliament in Melbourne generated a small controversy about how that might affect the very definition of Paganism. While Corban-Arthen believes it proved to be a hot topic among Pagans largely due to misunderstandings, at the same time he feels that 2009 represented a seminal moment when the larger interfaith community recognized indigenous European traditions into the fold.

The very concept has sent ripples throughout Paganism and the interfaith community, he said. “I was told that Paganism has nothing to do with indigenous traditions,” he recalled, while some tried to expand the definition of “indigenous” to include religions like Wicca, which while it did emerge in Europe, is generally considered newer than what’s referred to as indigenous. At the same time, he remembers a Presbyterian minister who was excited at the idea of indigenous European survivals, but “it bothered him that they turned out to be Pagan.”

Representatives of those indigenous traditions were included in the plenary session, he recalled, and “people had a huge, positive reaction” to the idea that Christianity didn’t wipe those traditions from the face of the Earth, as has been widely believed. “It felt like a vindication for them.” That’s a key role for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in his view: to support minority and indigenous traditions.

The parliament is where the modern interfaith movement started, and it continues to hold the largest events of that kind in the world. “Other groups may feel it’s not what it should be,” he said. “One major organization has criticized the parliament because it has Pagan members on its board.” That’s part of why it has such a large impact, he believes: minority voices being given the chance to be heard.

The Pagans sitting at that table didn’t get there by chance, though. “They didn’t really invite us” in 1993, he recalled, and he characterized the organizers at that time as being “reticent” to include them. His own Earthspirit Community, together with Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess, combined their efforts into what he called a “three-pronged approach” to convince those organizers to grant them admission. Then, they set up one joint information table in the area reserved for that kind of educational outreach, and disabused many attendees of the notion that Paganism was a thing of the past.

[Photo Credit: G. Harder]

One interesting effect of having a parliament in a city, Corban-Arthen noted, is that the local Pagan community tends to thrive in its wake. That was true in Cape Town, Barcelona, and Melbourne, where local Pagans got a seat at the table and it opened doors for them into interfaith work. He said that new Pagan groups formed in those cities, and new leaders emerged. Time will tell if the “parliament bump” helps the Salt Lake City Pagan community find its footing.

Big names at the parliament typically include figures such as the Dalai Lama. However, a Roman Catholic Pope has never attended. That might well change with the next session, although Corban-Arthen isn’t sure it would be a benefit. He noted that among the potential sites is a city in Europe where the erstwhile organizers hope to extend an invitation to Pope Francis, who has proven himself to be more popular — among Catholics and people not of that faith alike — than any of his predecessors in recent memory. “That might be counterproductive,” Corban-Arthen said, because Francis has a following of his own that could distort the character of the parliament. “It might be all about the Pope,” he said. “We might not want that.”

Despite the fact that Vatican City is there, as well as members of those aforementioned indigenous traditions, Europe is a tough place to sell the parliament as an attraction, because “so much of the society is secularized.” That, more than other factors, could be why attendance is higher in the United States: there are more religious people here, despite recent downward trends.

What Corban-Arthen finds gratifying about the parliament is that “people don’t spend time arguing theology. They present their beliefs and observances, but we focus on social issues and trying to solve them, especially when religion is the cause.” That’s why he believes it’s so important for Pagan voices to be part of that conversation, as they have much to say about issues such as the environment and women in the priesthood. They can also be an important part of any dialogue about money, much of which is dominated by the Christian model that presumes it’s the root of all evil(and, seemingly at the same time, an earthly reward for living a good life.

Money is something he’s often found himself at odds with other Pagans about. He recalled a disagreement he had with Judy Harrow in the 1980s on that topic. “She felt that Christians put their model on us, but that small community-based Pagan groups couldn’t build mega-churches,” he said. “I told her that if a thousand people contributed five dollars a week for a year, that would be $260,000, which would be a good start” toward any goal that they established, including paying for staff, programs, schools, films, legal defense, and buying land. “We need to create infrastructure,” he added, echoing his side of an argument which is as old as the modern Pagan movement. “Until we do, we won’t be real to ourselves.” That’s a perspective other parliament members have shared with him: Pagans don’t take themselves seriously enough.

One thing that Corban-Arthen has learned in working with the Parliament of the World’s Religions especially is that his words are sometimes interpreted by members of his own community as speaking for them. “I don’t speak for all Pagans,” he said. “I’m just expressing my opinion. I represent the community that supports me,” not those who see things differently. That’s true for all board members of the parliament: they do not serve as formal representatives of their traditions. If other Pagans were to “step up,” they might also get elected to the parliament’s board. But with the ground work that he and others have helped to lay, perhaps it won’t take as many years of consistent effort to make that happen.

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Unleash the Hounds! (Link Roundup)

Wed, 2016-02-03 09:31

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans and Heathens 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. 

In Religious Freedom News...

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Announced in late January, The Satanic Temple was given the go-ahead to prepare an invocation to be read before the Feb. 17 Phoenix city council meeting. After that announcement was made, there was immediate backlash. On Fri Jan 29, council members Sal DiCiccio, Jim Waring, Bill Gates, and Michael Nowakowski proposed legislation to prevent TST from being able to deliver an invocation. DiCiccio tweeted, “Political correct PHX pushing satanist to speak at city invocation about to get pushed out. This is not about “diversity”but about stupidity.” They issued a request for “emergency measures” to block the TST invocation.

However, according to local news sources, the Mayor and other council members do support TST’s inclusion. The other council members are quoted as saying, “every religious group has the right to take a turn delivering the invocation.” Mayor Greg Stanton stated that, although he disagrees with the group’s message, “the Constitution demands equal treatment under the law,” and the city attorney agrees. In response, DiCiccio tweeted, “Given City Atty ruling next step by politicians supporting satanist prayer is to BAN all prayers giving satanist win.”

The Satanic Temple itself has not remained quiet during this weekend’s scrambling. On Feb 2, the organization tweeted, “[The Satanic Temple] will sue if not allowed to deliver the #Phoenix city council invocation.” However, TST is ultimately expecting a positive outcome from the vote on DiCiccio’s emergency proposal. TST explained that it will be pleased with two of the three outcomes – a full ban on religious prayer before meetings or with the right to deliver the scheduled Feb. 17 invocation.

The council is due to vote on the emergency measure today, Feb. 3.

In Other News:

  • Turkey is hoping to increase tourism by preserving the “oldest temple in the world.” The ancient site at Göbekli Tepe is believed to be more than 12,000 years old. Led by German archaeologists, initial excavations began in 1995 and, according to National Geographic, “changed the way archaeologists think about the origins of civilization.” Since that point, better roads, a gift shop and a parking lot have been added to the area so tourists can easily visit the ancient site. Now, there are new plans to encourage more tourism and protect the site itself. According to the article, plans include “building a new, larger visitor’s center and protective canopies for the structures that have already been uncovered, along with walkways and fencing to help manage tourism’s impact on the ancient enclosures.” This all comes during at a time when Turkey has been struggling with the Syrian refugee crisis.
  • Fires have been raging across Tasmania’s central plateau, an area recorded as a World Heritage Site. The fires have completely devastated 1,000 hectares to date which have impacted local animal life as well as “unique alpine flora including pencil pines, king billy pines and cushion plants, some more than 1,000 years old.” According to the local news, many of these plants do not come back after fire. They are simply gone. Ecologist Jamie Kirkpatrick is quoted as saying, “We need for people to understand that this is not a natural event.” At this point in time, the full extent of the damage is not yet known, but experts are calling this a possible “system collapse,” and are saying that this incident is a “sign of a changing climate.”
  • Speaking of forests, The New York Times recently interviewed Peter Wohlleben, a German forest ranger, who believes that “trees are social beings.” Wohlleban wrote a book about his observations called, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World. Written in a casual and simple tone, the book shares Wohlleban’s experience and notes on tree behavior gathered from his many years of being a forest ranger. At the beginning of the Times article, Wohlleban is quoted as saying, “These two trees are friends.” And then he explains, “You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light.” To date, his book has sold over 320,000 copies worldwide.
  • In other international news, the Chiefs of Cameroon’s East Region have asked President Paul Biya for permission to use Witchcraft against the extremist group Boko Haram. According to a regional news source, a regional Governor Miyazawa from the North has also publicly called for the use of Witchcraft to stop the violence. In recent years, Boko Haram’s grip has tightened on the region, which is now causing heightened alarm among the local chiefs in the country. Cameroon is one of several countries in a coalition, led by Nigeria, to stop the extremist terror.
  • On Sunday, we reported on three women who are using Witchcraft to stop predatory housing practices in Chicago, Illinois. Interestingly, WITCH, as they are called, is not the only activist group capitalizing on the spirit embedded in the ‘witch’ to inspire social justice actions. In New York City, a group of young women have named themselves the Brujas, or Skate Witches. In an article in Dazed, this all-women’s skateboarding collective formed in order to support “friendship, and the radical potential of sisterhood to foster real support systems, outside the mainstream social norms. They see the preventative and healing power of friendship as a source of collective empowerment, especially in the context of Western medicine and philosophy, where it’s discouraged to tap into extra-spiritual realms.” According to the report, the skate crew is working to open doors for “Latino and POC skaters” as well as protesting “aggressive gentrification” in the Bronx.
  • The state of South Carolina has a long history of “Voodoo” practice, more specifically the Gullah Tradition. Last week, The State featured an article on its history and its place in modern South Carolina’s culture. The article concludes that, while there aren’t many rootworkers left in the state, the belief remains with many of those people living in low country. As quoted in the article, Dr. Elijah Washington, who is both a conventional doctor and a rootworker, said, “It’s not going away. It will never go away.” During this time of year, there are a number of Gullah Tradition festivals and events going on throughout the coastal regions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
  • An article posted on the blog ZenGardner.com explores “The Occult Universe of David Bowie and the Meaning of “Blackstar.” The singer and artist died of cancer on Jan. 10, leaving behind a legacy of 28 albums, film credits and more. In that blog post, Bowie’s work is explored with an eye for the occult including photographs and quotes. The ZenGardner writes, “While many of Bowie’s eccentricities could be attributed to drugs and rock and roll, one cannot paint a complete picture of this artist without mentioning his most enduring obsession: Western occultism.”
  • For those that follow the Pope’s activity, he’s due to star in a feature film. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film will be the “first-ever big screen role for the Bishop of Rome.” Pope Francis will play himself in the AMBI film Beyond the Sun, which will begin production this year. The article also notes that “all profits from the film will be donated to two Argentinean charities, El Alemendro and Los Hogares de Cristo, which aid at-risk children and young adults.”
  • On Feb 19, the latest Witch-related horror film will be released.  Rogers Eggers’ The Witch received accolades at the Sundance film festival and is being called “2016’s scariest film.” The Satanic Temple (TST) is also touting the film and will be offering advanced screenings on Feb. 10 in four cities. Why? In a press release, TST spokesperson Jex Blackmore said, “The Satanic Temple believes the movie will signal the call-to-arms for a Satanic uprising against the tyrannical vestiges of bigoted superstitions, and will harken [sic] a new era of liberation and unfettered inquiry.”  Here is the film’s trailer:

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Happy Imbolc

Tue, 2016-02-02 08:35

This past weekend is when many modern Pagans celebrate the fire festival of Imbolc sacred to the goddess Brigid, patroness of poets, healers, and smiths. Yesterday was also the feast day of Saint Brigid of Ireland, the patron saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies. In Kildare, Ireland’s town square, a perpetual flame is kept lit and housed in a statue that pays homage to Brigid. Festivities for La Feile Bride in Kildare started on Jan 31 and will continue through Feb 7.

Brigid: Saint and Goddess.

There are many other notable observances held during these first few days of February. For example, in some Celtic Recon traditions, this is a time to honor Cú Chulainn’s three-day combat with his foster-brother Fer Diad. According to the chronology in the Táin Bó Cúailnge, the epic battle happened during these dark mid-winter days.

Additionally, the Shinto Festival of Setsubun is held on Feb. 3. This holiday is more commonly known as the Japanese bean throwing festival. Around Japan and the world, people visit their local Buddhist or Shinto temples to toss soybeans, in order to drive away the evil spirits of winter. Setsubun is translated as “seasonal division” and is considered to be the final day of winter on the Shinto calendar.

That seasonal theme is carried through in many Pagan Imbolc observances. This weekend Earth Spirit Community’s Feast of Lights, held in Northampton, Massachusetts and honoring a similar spirit.  And, of course, there is Groundhog Day.

Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, Pagans are celebrating Lammas or Lughnasadh, and enjoying the beginnings of the harvest season.

This year several Imbolc-inspired articles were published in the mainstream media. The Huffington Post featured “Imbolc 2016: Facts, Dates, Traditions And Rituals To Know.” World Religion News published, “Pagans Celebrate Coming of Spring with Imbolc Festival.” The International Business Times shared, “Imbolc 2016: Facts, Traditions And Foods To Celebrate The Pagan Holiday.”

[Photo Credit: Philip Chapman-Bell / Flickr]

Here are a few quotes on mid-winter observances:

“I’ve never seen a purple crocus shyly peeking its fragile bud through virgin snow. Where I live, [we] have colorful roses into January and the citrus trees are heavily laden with fruit, coloring our land in shades of lemon yellow, lime green, and orange, well, orange. Fresh snow will never make it onto my altar. The winter, with its sabbat of Imbolc, is a hard season to attune to here in California. Yet, as a native southern Californian and a Witch, I can feel it in the land. It’s subtle, and most people from other parts of the country would never notice it, but there are little signs of winter even here in the LA Basin.” – Tim Titus, “Virtues of the Goddess: Beauty

*   *   *

“In my Reclaiming tradition of Witchcraft, we celebrate a Brigid ritual every Imbolc. It is one of my favorite rituals, if not the favorite. Up to two hundred people gather to make their pledges for the year, witnessed by their community. In the center of our circle we tend the cauldron of Brigid, flames hissing and burning throughout much of the ritual. Each of us has the opportunity to step up to the cauldron. If we wish, we can anoint ourselves with the Waters of the World. Waters collected from melted arctic snow, the Chalice Well, spring water from Germany, San Francisco tap water, and hundreds of other places. We then speak our pledge over the flames and wait until a hammer rings on the anvil, sealing our words. –  Annika Mongan, “Imbolc is My New Year”

*   *   *

“Each year I use this traditional welcome to invite Her into my home, by opening the doors wide and calling in Her blessings for the whole family, ‘The bride has come! The bride is welcome! Goddess Brighid, this is your day, I welcome you to our home, beloved guest. Blessed be!’ I also light the fire in the hearth afresh asking for Her blessings and put a glass of milk out in a special place for Her as a thank you. Then I also put a special white cloth, or Brat Bhride (mantle of the bride) outside on a bush for the Goddess to bless as she passes, to be imbued with Her healing powers, for use throughout the year ahead.  I use this cloth to cover sleeping children, as well as anyone unwell or in distress in the house as a magical comfort blanket.” – Danu Forest, “A Wisewoman’s Imbolc.”

*   *   *

“Back when I was a beginner pagan, I participated in Imbolc rituals, making Brigid’s Crosses and putting little corn dollies in little beds and so on. It was fun to participate, but it never resulted in a connection with the goddess like I have with Odin, or any of the other Germanic deities I worship. I do have a Brigid’s Cross on my mantle now, given to me by one of my Brigid-worshipping friends as a housewarming gift, but that’s about it. How does this time of year between Yule and Easter fit into my own personal practice? Can I have Imbolc without Brigid?” – Amanda at Heathen Naturalist “Looking Into Imbolc”

*   *   *

“Imbolc is coming. My altars are all packed away, along with art and books, photos of ancestors, and most of my clothing. I have a computer, some client files, two paper books, and two suitcases. But poetry moves through my blood. Stories tap out from my fingertips. I march in the streets, strong and true. And after pounding rain, there comes the sun. I have no altar to Brigid, except the altar in my heart and of my life.” – T. Thorn Coyle, “Well, Forge, Flame: an Imbolc Essay

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Pagan Community Notes: Patrick McCollum, PFI-Ukraine, Mills College and more

Mon, 2016-02-01 09:56

[Courtesy Photo]

Patrick McCollum has announced that he will be awarded the 2016 Ralph Bunche Medal For Peace by the International Human Rights Consortium. He will be receiving the medal at the UN’s Commission for the Status for Women held in March. McCollum explained that the Peace Medal was named after Ralph Johnson Bunche, who was “an American political scientist, academic, and diplomat who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s mediation in Israel.”  It was designed and sculpted by Alex Shagin, the world-renowned metal sculptor and coin designer best known for designing Olympic medals and other similar items.

In his announcement, McCollum also said that he will be the last recipient of the award and that he is thankful to “the many friends and colleagues who have supported and encouraged [his] work for World Peace over the years.” He added, “I share the honor of this award with all of you.” McCollum also said that the collective work done by himself and many others in Pagan communities around the world has “shifted the consciousness of people across the planet toward a more peaceful and sustainable future.” Now he asks that people join him in raising “the status of women” and creating a world that “we can be proud of.”

  *   *   *

It has been recently made public that the head of the Pagan Federation International – Ukraine is suffering from multiple sclerosis, and her condition has gotten worse. In early January, Fialkora Mykytenko was hospitalized and has remained there. According to several announcements, Mykytenko is undergoing extensive and regular treatments. Her community has reached out to the extended family of PFI members and Pagan practitioners for both emotional, practical and financial support.

The Pagan Federation International (PFI) is an organization made up of small satellite groups throughout the world, from France to the Philippines. It shares a “common heritage” with the UK-based Pagan Federation, which “was founded in 1971 to provide information on Paganism and to counter misconceptions about the religion.” Mykytenko is the National Coordinator for the Ukraine branch, based in Kiev. PFI members are posting updates on her condition on both the PFI – Urkaine website and in the Russian-based social media outlet VK.

*   *   *

The Mills College Pagan Alliance (MCPA) has run into a very unfortunate situation. The college had to cancel its “special request funding” due to an unforeseen and undisclosed circumstance. This decision has left a number of student groups, who were depending on these special funds, in quite a bind. The Mills College Pagan Alliance is one of them.The group was depending on the special request funds to host its suite and two other guest rooms at PantheaCon 2016.

The MCPA suite caters specifically to college-age Pagans, offering a safe space for discussion and expression. Unique to this year, the group was was offering a special talk by Mills College alumna Diana Paxson. In addition, the MCPA suite and two other rooms play host to a number of the attending Pagan students, who otherwise cannot afford a hotel room on their own. As of now, there are ten students scheduled to take advantage of this opportunity. Member Kristen Oliver said that attending PantheaCon is important for many of these students as it provides a unique environment to “develop their leadership skills in the Pagan community.”

When MCPA organizers found out that the funds had been revoked, they immediately held an emergency meeting and have decided to launch a crowd funding campaign Monday, Feb. 1 to pay for the three spaces. The organizers are currently working on the campaign. Oliver said, “[The college] feels pretty bad about the whole thing,” and she stressed that MCPA was not the only group affected. Additionally, she is currently in talks with the administration to see “if there is any other source [she] can tap.” For an update on the situation and the campaign, visit the MCPA Facebook page.

In Other News:

  • Every wonder what it takes to keep The Wild Hunt going? Or maybe you’d like to talk to one of our regular writers or learn what’s on our drawing board for 2016? The Wild Hunt will be hosting a meet-and-greet at PantheaCon in the Hexenfest suite on Saturday from 5-6 pm. There you will have a chance to talk to several of our columnists, including Crystal Blanton, Alley Valkyrie, and Heathen Chinese, as well as our new strategic planning director, Yeshe Matthews. And if you miss that or won’t be attending PantheaCon, we will also be doing another social event and a formal “Meet the Wild Hunt” panel at Paganicon in March. Attending that event will be writers Cara Schulz, Crystal Blanton, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, Dodie Graham McKay, and editors Terence P. Ward and Heather Greene. We look forward to seeing everyone come out to these events to talk Pagan news, journalism or just to say ‘hello.’
  • Three Drops from the Cauldron has announced that it will be putting together and publishing a paperback anthology of “the best writing [they] receive on witches, rituals, and spells.” The title and release date are still to be decided. However, they are currently calling for submissions. The editors included the following suggestions for topic ideas: “Pagan rites. Magic. Hecate, Morgan le Fay, Rhiannon, Cerridwen, Circe, Medea, Mother Shipton, Salem, Pendle. Gingerbread and poisoned apples. A hut with chicken legs. The full moon, wise crones, rare beauty. Black cat familiars.” The submission deadline is Sunday May 29. For more information, go to their website.
  • A new subtitled version of the documentary Heksen in Holland (Witches in Holland) has been created, offering both Spanish and English subtitles. This new version will include a booklet filled with articles and interviews translated into English. As described on the site, the documentary, which was produced by Silver Circle, depicts a “journey through the wheel of the year and 35 years of Wicca in the Netherlands.” It features interviews with a number of witches including” Morgana, Jana, Nemain, Lady Bara, Joke & Ko, Mae, Rufus & Melissa Harrington, Geraldine Besken, and Gwiddon Harveston. The subtitled film will be available for purchase soon through the Silver Circle webshop. The original version, with no subtitles, is currently available for purchase.

  • Air n-Aithesc has published its Imbolc edition. Air n-Aithesc: Our Message,is a “peer-reviewed magazine that hopes to offer well researched material for Celtic Reconstructionists and others who value the role of academics as much as they value the role of the spiritual in their practice.” The magazine’s first issue was published in February 2014. Back Issues, as well as the current one, are available digitally through its website.
  • Rhyd Wildermuth’s new book A Kindness of Ravens was released today.The book “is a collection of forest-edged words arrayed against the theft of meaning and the death of dreams.” The contents are pulled from a number of sites that host Wildermuth’s work. It is available through Lulu.com or digitally through Gumroad.com.
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WITCH Stages Ritual to Protest Housing Inequalities in Chicago

Sun, 2016-01-31 11:01

CHICAGO, Ill. — On Feb. 6, a performance collective named WITCH will be hosting a ritual protest in Logan Square in support of local housing rights.The organizers describe the event as a “hexing and protective spell action,” which will include recognizable elements of Witchcraft practice. Due to this design, the protest has been attracting both mainstream media attention and social media backlash. We spoke with the group’s founders to find out more.

WITCH protest action, Nov 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

“Gentrification has been affecting Logan Square for the last 15+ years. Our action is concentrating on the increasing lack of affordable housing, which is certainly affected by gentrification, but far from the only issue surrounding it. We have all been impacted by housing speculation and insecurity, though our personal experiences vary,” explained Jessica Caponigro, Amaranta Isyemille Lara, and Chiara Galimberti, the three women who make up WITCH.

Jessica Caponigro is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and activist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she is currently working as an adjunct instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago. Amaranta Isyemille Lara is a student, poet, and single mother. She is working toward a master’s in linguistics and has lived in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood since 2004. And, Chiara Galimberti is an artist, activist, parent, and educator. She is currently working toward becoming a herbalist and acupuncturist.

Galimberti said, “My relationship to Chicago has been very difficult as housing insecurity has deeply affected me and my daughters. I have been working multiple jobs since moving to Chicago and I have never been able to afford rent without public assistance. I know that my situation is by no means unique and that the vast majority of people in the city is negatively impacted by housing speculation, especially as that reality combines with endemic racism and sexism.”

This is the type of personal experience that inspired the three women to come together and form the performance collective. Their first organizational meeting was in October 2015 and, at that time, they chose to name the group WITCH. The acronym stands for Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell and was used by a number of affiliated but separate women’s groups within the broader feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The original WITCH organization was formed in New York City on Halloween 1968. Its members created a manifesto that began:

WITCH is an all-woman Everything. It’s theater, revolution, magic, terror, joy, garlic flowers, spells. It’s an awareness that witches and gypsies were the original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression – particularly the oppression of women – down through the ages. Witches have always been women who dared to be: groovy, courageous, aggressive, intelligent, nonconformist, explorative, curious, independent, sexually liberated, revolutionary … [From the WITCH Manifesto, 1969]

This group of feminists chose to adopt the image and concept of the Witch to represent female empowerment in a way that was antithetical to socially-constructed, traditional gender roles and that flew, pun intended, in face of the patriarchal expectations. Several Pagan writers and historians, such as Chas Clifton, Margo Adler and Ethan Doyle White, have mentioned the 1960s WITCH organization in their writings, highlighting the similarities between that movement and the early modern Pagan movement in the U.S. In his book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America,Clifton wrote, “WITCH was not religious, yet as Eller, and before her, Margot Adler note, it was a small step from the intense, intimate feminist consciousness-raising discussion group of the early 1970s to the Witches’ coven.”(Clifton, p 120)

Forty-seven years later, Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara decided to resurrect the name, capturing that energy, history and legacy for their own work. While their Chicago protests are not embedded in any specific organized feminist movement, the three modern women have found empowerment and purpose within the original group’s message. They explained, “We think of Witches as historically being women (and some men) who were at the forefront of resistance against oppressive systems, and we strongly believe that there is not one way to be a Witch. We are interested in looking at the connection between social justice, feminism, and the figure of the Witch.”

In November, the women staged their first protest action. It was held in front of Chicago’s Thomas Center on Randolph Street. Similar to the upcoming event, the November action was staged to “protest disparities caused by inequality, chanting to hex those who cause it and protect those who suffer as a result.”

Then, on Jan 3, WITCH announced its second action and created a corresponding Facebook event page. Unlike the November action, the new Feb 6 protest would be held in conjunction with a local art festival called 2nd Floor Rear 2016, a “DIY” event that features art in “experimental contexts.” The protest is listed on the festival site as one of the featured happenings.

Since that Jan. 3 announcement, the group has received media attention from various mainstream outlets, as well as backlash from the online Pagan community. Jezebel and the Chicagoist each published an article titled, “Chicago Witches Will Exorcise ‘Gentrification’ Demons.” The online site Dazed titled its article,”Chicago Witches Hoping to Cast Out Gentrification.” As is often the case for mainstream Witch articles, all three included flashy stills from the The Craft (1996)

Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara expressed disappointment in the treatment of their story within these news articles, calling them “unfortunate and misleading.” And, it may have been this misrepresentation that is at least partially responsible for the subsequent social media backlash predominantly found on Facebook. One user wrote, “So you fight colonialism by using cultural appropriation … For many this is a way of life, and you mock it as merely a public art spectacle.” Comments like this one continued on with accusations that the women were disingenuously appropriating Witchcraft or Pagan traditions to serve their own artistic or political objectives. Another user posted, “YOU are not WITCH! You have no concept. I and many like me are witches. The real deal. How about you mock some other group inappropriately.”

But are they? The issue of their own religious or spiritual identity, or practice, was not publicly addressed. So we asked them, “Do you identify as Witches in a religious or spiritual sense? Are you Pagan?”

Caponigro said, “I most certainly identify as a Witch. I come from a long line of independent Sicilian women who strongly believed in holistic medicine and the powers of the earth and intuition, and passed down their spirit and knowledge to me and my sibling. Though I’m not currently practicing, there are parts of my life when I have identified as Wiccan.”

To this question, Isyemille Lara said, “I identify as a Witch. To me, being a Witch has to do most with using an honest and balanced voice to impart support, empathy, protection and power whenever necessary. Witchcraft is personal and adaptive. My family is from the northern deserts of Mexico. I carry this stoic intuition in my veins.”

And, Galimberti said, “I grew up in Italy, where the tradition of Witchcraft is different than in the United States. The memory of Witch hunts and persecution is still present, mixed with a classism that sees Witchcraft and Paganism as part of working class practices, and thus not taken seriously. I was raised largely by my grandmother who practices Malocchio, which mostly included a healthy skepticism for authority (whether of the state or the church), and a rich knowledge of herbs for healing and daily practices that allowed a connection with the spiritual world. I am studying Herbology and Acupuncture and I think of myself as a healer-in-training, with spirituality being a component of that identity.”

The three members of WITCH added that they are not in anyway mocking anyone’s system of belief. “We are empathetic to those who are angry because they mistakenly think we are appropriating their beliefs,” they said. “Those accusing us of being disingenuous or culturally appropriating Witchcraft are working under the assumption that because we do not practice in their particular way, our sincere connection to Witchcraft is somehow less valid.”

They added that Witchcraft has long and varied history, saying, “Witches were and are healers, spiritual workers, subversive independent thinkers, in addition to the definition of “witch” in the Pagan religious sense. The figure of the Witch is present in most cultures around the world, and can come to signify many different practices and beliefs.”

1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [Courtesy WITCH]

As for the group’s mission, the women explained that the Feb. 6 action will hopefully attract the attention of “politicians and companies that are profiting from housing development at the expense of most Chicagoans and especially working class people.” They were quick to add that they are no experts and can’t speak for everyone who has been “impacted by predatory housing” practices. However, they do hope to give voice to those who have such stories.

“During the action people will be invited to speak out about their experience with housing insecurity, the impact of high rents, and speculative development on their lives,” they explained. “We will then perform a protective charm that acknowledges the people and organizations that have been working on these issues for decades, including the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and the Grassroots Illinois Action.”

Galimberti, Caponigro, and Isyemille Lara described the upcoming protest action as a “combination of both magical ritual and performative gesture” that will be based on their collective “experiences and knowledge.” They welcome anyone to come and join them, Pagan or not. It is not a private or restricted event. They said, “We take our relationship with spirituality, Witchcraft, and social justice very seriously,” adding “Nothing scares the patriarchy more than a non-conformist, sexually liberated, independent thinker. Nothing scares the patriarchy more than a WITCH.”

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Guest Column: Religion and Politics in Ásatrú and Heathenry

Sat, 2016-01-30 06:49

[Karl E. H. Seigfried is the author of The Norse Mythology Blog, named the world’s Best Religion Weblog in 2012, 2013 and 2014. He wrote all Ásatrú definitions in the Religion Newswriters Association’s Religion Stylebook and has written on myth and religion for the BBC, Herdfeuer, Iceland Magazine, Interfaith Ramadan, MythNow, On Religion, Religion and Ethics, and Reykjavík Grapevine. He currently teaches courses for the Newberry Library’s Continuing Education Program while working on his fourth degree, an MA in Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School.]

In the online world of Ásatrú and Heathenry, the reprimand “stop mixing religion and politics” is a regular refrain. On Facebook and Twitter, on blogs and websites, in discussion groups and comment sections, accusations are often made that a given individual or group is polluting the religion with personal political bias. This phenomenon is not specific to a particular position; invective is hurled from both ends of the political spectrum.

From one side come cries of “SJW.” Given the ideologies of many who favor its usage, I long thought this stood for “Single Jewish Woman,” but it is actually used to accuse an opponent of being a “Social Justice Warrior.” Logically, this implies that the accuser is a “Social Injustice Defender,” but logic is not often strong in online confrontations. “Cultural Marxist” is another term popular with the same social set. I assumed it was used for people who demand free streaming music as a basic human right, but it refers to those who supposedly aim to destroy “Western culture” by promoting democracy, intellectualism and protection of minority rights – despite the fact that many would consider these to be bedrock ideals of “the West.” Ironically, those Heathens who decry multiculturalism are arguing for a society in which members of marginalized minority faiths like Ásatrú are denied their rights by members of majority faiths whose prejudices are pandered to by corporate candidates and corporate media.

From the other side comes the No True Heathen fallacy, which asserts that no Heathen would subscribe to extremist philosophies such as “white nationalism” or conspiracy theories such as “white genocide.” When Heathens repeatedly pop up who promote these concepts, the boundaries of the assertion are reset to state that no true Heathen would hold these beliefs. This is parallel to the meme stating that members of ISIS are not true Muslims and that members of the KKK are not true Christians, despite the fact that ISIS clearly declares itself to be thoroughly Muslim and the KKK has long been rooted in Protestantism. Likewise, the intersection of Heathenry with extremist ideology has a lengthy and continuing history that has been well documented by academics. Declaring that agreement with liberal politics is the litmus test to be considered a “true believer” strangely puts progressives in the position of arguing for a reactionary notion of religious purity and identity policing.

The one thing both sides agree on is that the other is injecting politics into religion, while they themselves are simply expressing the true spirit of Heathenry. Each accuses the other of hijacking Heathenry to promote their political views. However, the idea that religion and politics are somehow separable goes against Heathen history, mythology and theology.

History
Before the conversions to Christianity, variations of the term goði were used in the Nordic lands. The title, dating to the fifth century or earlier, referred to an individual who held dual secular and sacred roles, who was both chieftain and priest. The goðar (plural) in pagan Iceland traveled each year to the national Althing, the island’s version of the great assemblies that were known throughout the Germanic world. Throughout the north, these meetings ranged in size and jurisdiction from local to national as they straddled the sacred and the profane.

1930 postcard of gathering at Thingvellir, site of the historical Althing [Public Domain]

Archaeological and written sources from the first century through the thirteenth attest to the sacred nature of the cultural institution that decided political, economic and legal matters. A third-century votive inscription on Hadrian’s Wall in England set up by Frisian auxiliaries in the Roman army refers to Mars Thingsus (Mars of the Thing), the god who presided over the assembly. The large annual assembly of the continental Saxons appears to have featured large-scale religious rituals. The ninth-century Life of Saint Lebuin, most likely written by a Saxon author, mentions that the meeting included prayer to pagan gods.

Given this history, is it so odd that modern Heathen leaders who have appropriated the ancient title of goði speak on secular issues? The allsherjargoði (very roughly translated as “high priest”) of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélagið (Ásatrú Fellowship) has spoken out in support of gay marriage rights in Iceland, which has drawn the ire of right-wing Heathens and the support of left-wing ones. The alsherjargothi (an Americanized spelling) of America’s Asatru Folk Assembly has publicly spoken out against Muslim immigrants in Germany, which has brought down the fury of left-wing Heathens and the cheers of right-wing ones.

In both cases, supporters insist the leader they like is expressing the deepest ideals of the religion, and opponents declare that the leader they don’t like is perverting the religion for political ends. At root, this is a basic human inability to see faults in ourselves that we observe in others. This tendency tends to terminate any attempt at decent discussion by degenerating into denunciation and name-calling.

I am not in any way suggesting a moral equivalency between the two leader’s positions or arguing that we should not speak out strongly against those who we believe promote troubling views. Instead, I am offering the idea that responses to statements such as these should move beyond what amount to accusations of heresy and demands for silencing that sometimes become what the media calls fatwas.

Historical goðar were involved in both religious and political matters, and they arguably would not have made much distinction between the two spheres. Members of the community sometimes strongly disagreed with prominent people, just as they do now. If historical Heathens could argue issues at the assembly without calling for excommunication or declaring someone anathema for holding a political view they found distasteful, maybe we can likewise respond to opposing opinions without demanding that there should be no discussion allowed.

Mythology
Referring to mythological lore to support one’s political ideas has always been popular. The poems of the Poetic Edda provide problems for both sides of the political aisle, yet both happily quote them to shore up their positions. One oft-cited verse from Hávamál (“Sayings of the High One,” i.e. Odin) has been read in radically different ways.

Away from his arms in the open field
A man should fare not a foot;
For never he knows when the need for a spear
Shall arise on the distant road.

Some Americans read the text fairly literally, arguing that it gives a Heathen stamp to the notion of gun ownership and carrying rights. Some Icelanders read it metaphorically, suggesting that it is a poetic image about being intellectually prepared for the struggles of life. The literalists argue that they are following what the text actually says, the liberals that they are finding what it really means.

[Public Domain]

The argument between these two modes of reading religious texts is nothing new. Just ask your local rabbi. In the fourth century, the Christian bishop Gregory of Nyssa famously wrote on the difficulties of choosing between literal and allegorical readings. Interestingly, allêgoria posed a bit of a problem for early Christians, since the method was associated with the old pagan philosophy. In any case, both readings of the Hávamál verse owe more to modern cultural concepts than they do to ancient Heathen views. One side is justifying conservative American ideas of gun rights, the other is expressing liberal Icelandic ideas of intellectual life. Both use the same verse from the Old Icelandic literary heritage as a touchstone for their modern views.

The poem Rígsþula (“Lay of Ríg,” a god usually taken to be Heimdall) causes some political problems for both right and left. It tells how the wandering god fathers the social classes of slaves, free farmers and nobles before tutoring Konr ungr (“young kin,” but a word-play on konungr, “king”) in the way of a ruler. Is this a religious or a political text? For those who argue against multiculturalism, the poem presents a god with a Celtic name in a narrative that – with its religious endorsement of a caste system and a descended god who teaches royal behavior – is closer to the sacred social structures of the ancient Hindu epics than it is to the Protestant work-ethic expressed in the Nine Noble Virtues. For those who champion progressive Heathenry, the poem shows that the gods gave social inequality to you. Rígsþula is awkward for both sides, but it clearly mixes the sacred and the social. Like those in so many other religious traditions, we pick and choose which parts of the lore to emphasize and which to minimize.

Another poem that is problematic for all concerned is Hárbarðsljóð (“Song of Graybeard,” i.e. Odin), which features a verbal sparring match between Thor and a disguised Odin as they compare their accomplishments. One of the best-known moments is Graybeard’s taunt that “Odin owns the nobles who fall in battle | and Thor owns the race of thralls.” The rugged individualist crowd is faced with a poem portraying Odin himself stating that class warfare continues into the Heathen afterlife. By rallying the slaves in Þrúðheim (“Home of Power”), is Thor acting like a Social Justice Warrior? By hosting them in his hall, is he providing public assistance to the poor?

On the other hand, the progressive pagan crowd is faced with the inconvenient truth that the one thing the wise god and the protecting god agree on is that it would be fun to rape a young woman together. Somehow, this section of the poem doesn’t get publicly mentioned very often. The victim the gods discuss is a “linen-white girl,” which (if the internet was a logical place) should lead to protests and petitions against Thor and Odin by the far-right crowd that rants against Idris Elba playing Heimdall (“the whitest of the gods”) and thinks there’s an international conspiracy against white women. Even leaving an in-context interpretation of “white” aside, the fondness of the gods for rape is problematic for both sides. Should we pretend this poem never existed? Should we tell the gods to stop talking about hot-button political issues?

Theology
Contemporary Heathen theology also argues against the separation of religion and politics. To say that Heathenry is a “world-accepting” religion is to say that Heathens move in the world. Our focus is on the lived life, on the world around us as we move from the past through the present and into the future. If we disengage Heathen life from the wider world and insist that Heathen action only happens in religious contexts, then we are drawing a hard line between the sacred and secular much stronger than that in any ritual hallowing.

If “Heathening” only means participating in and discussing ritual and belief, then it also means disengaging from the world – the very antithesis of “world-accepting.” Few seem to argue for any such extreme disengagement, but it is not uncommon to come across use of the Old Icelandic term for “within the yard” to state “not my innangarð, not my problem.”

Sacrifice to Thor by J.L. Lund (1777-1867) [Public Domain]

The Heathen mantra that “we are our deeds” asserts that what matters is what we do. Like the Hindu concept of dharma, the Heathen idea of right action defines the making of a good life. What is important in life is how we act in the world, not just how we behave while participating in blót. If Heathen ethics only affect our behavior around other Heathens, we imitate “Sunday Christians” by becoming “Sumbel Heathens,” and we imitate the “churchy” by becoming “kindredy.”

It would be quite odd for members of a religion that seeks to reconstruct or reinvent practices of the wide-ranging wanderers of the Migration Period and the Viking Age to turn inwards to innangarð insularity. To say we have a “Heathen worldview” suggests that we see the world beyond our doorstep and take action within it.

None of the above argues against the separation of church and state, which most of us agree is good policy, despite the fact that it owes more to the Enlightenment than to the Heathen Age. Rather, this article addresses how we address the interaction between the religious and political beliefs of both ourselves and those with whom we disagree.

For Heathens, religion and politics are always already linked. By acknowledging that, maybe we can move beyond the childish name-calling and purity inquisitions to discuss the issues and challenges of living in the world today – and how we can each take action that is consistent with our own diverse Heathen worldviews.

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Column: Pagan Handfastings Legal in England and Wales

Fri, 2016-01-29 05:28

London — Many Pagans dream of being able to say ‘I do’ in a handfasting and have their vows recognised in law. ‘Why can’t a handfasting be legal?’ is a complaint we heard around the UK for decades. Well, in 2004, the Scottish Pagan Federation addressed it first and then, finally, England and Wales followed suit in a groundbreaking case. 

[By Kam Abbott / Wikimedia ]

The Glastonbury Goddess Temple was licensed for legal weddings after a whirlwind one-year process. In a first for Paganism, the Temple’s marriages are legally binding. The approval can now be used in precedent, which is incredibly important for the long term.

The journey to approval started when trainee priestess Dawn Kinsella started her celebrant training as part of her work toward ordination at the Glastonbury Temple of Avalon. While shadowing a wedding registrar (the UK equivalent of a Justice of the Peace) she learnt that a non-legally binding ceremony can be a legal contract if it takes place in a ‘permanent place of worship.’

Uniquely in the UK, the Glastonbury Goddess Temple is exactly that. Dawn realised this and started asking if her temple would be eligible. ‘I can’t see why not,’ said the registrar. And so the process began.

Not many peope know it, but handfasting itself is a ceremonial element – just as a church service is just a ceremonial element; the legality depends upon a few lines of legal wording and the proper paperwork. There are other requirements, too, set by the General Registrar’s Office (the national body for registering marriages). If it is a religious place, then it has to be a permanent place or worship. It must be licensed in a particular way; the building has to be inspected; the place solemnised. And, locals have to give approve approval.

In the UK, Christian priests or ministers can only perform legal marriages in their own church buildings; their name is tied to a specific licensed religious location. It’s just the same for the Temple of Avalon in Glastonbury. If they are doing a legally-binding ceremony, Dawn and sister priestess Sharlea Sparrow have to do it inside the Temple premises.

Once Dawn had gotten the approval of the Temple founder Kathy Jones, she approached local official bodies to see how the Temple could fulfill the necessary requirements. She quickly got the needed 40 signatures of local residents’ affirming that the Goddess Temple was known to be a place of worship throughout the locality.

[Courtesy Photo]

Then Dawn learned how the official paperwork had to be submitted, as well other details of the bureaucratic procedure, such as the witnesses and timings of sending off the forms. The Goddess Temple ceremony template was approved – such that it contained within it some key wording (‘I am lawfully free to take X…’ etc.).  

Lastly, Dawn herself was approved as the person in charge, trusted with the bureaucratic and legal elements. Much rests on her shoulders. If the ceremony is not done right, you are not legally married. Years from now, none of us want to find out that we were never a legal spouse when tying to get our widow’s pension, applying for child custody in a divorce, or trying to collect on our insurance. This is why the UK’s General Register Office and its local branches are so careful in giving out approvals to new organisations.

Dawn convinced the governmental bodies that the Glastonbury Goddess can and will do all these things. They have a physical building acknowledged as a permanent place of worship by the entire local community. They have a permanent office which can store the paperwork, forms and a bank account to handle the payments. They have a priesthood that is trained for three years in public ceremonies. They have the necessary office-based structures and people who keep careful administrative records. And, the locals know just where they are, and that they are traceable, tax-registered and accountable.

Dawn and Sharlea set up the Temple’s web page, got ready, and lo – the requests came rolling in. The first marriage was, fittingly, that of the temple founders Kathy Jones and her partner Mike. The Temple can marry couples from all over the UK and Europe, and even abroad (though it’s a longer application process from outside the European Union). Same-sex marriages are legal here, and same-sex couples are welcomed at the Temple.  

In the UK most of us will carry on happily with our non-legally-recognised handfastings held in fields, clearings and homes. Then, later go down to the Registry Office (the UK’s equivalent to the Town Hall) and take a simple oath there and sign the forms – the ‘legal marriage’ bit.  

But now there is an option for the legal and the religious strands to meld together. Dawn, Sharlea, and the Glastonbury Goddess Temple priests and priestess are proud to be in the vanguard of the legal handfasting movement. They made an historic breakthrough, and have done British Pagans proud.

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New Hellenic Temple Theophania Forms in Nation’s Capital

Thu, 2016-01-28 10:01

Washington, D.C – On Monday, it was announced that the Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon, a new Hellenic organization, had officially become “a legally recognized and incorporated entity within Washington, D.C.” Priestess and founder Gwendolyn Reece has been working toward this moment for over two years after receiving instructions directly from her gods. Although the structural process is not completely finished, Reece is enthusiastic and ready to begin this new adventure.

[Courtesy G. Reece]

“I am responding to a call from these two Great Ones, this isn’t about me … I am working on setting this up so that it survives me,” wrote Reece in the public announcement. The Wild Hunt spoke with her further about the project, its origins, its purpose and its future.

While Theophania is new in its public inception, Reece has been working on “laying its foundation” for several years. She is a Witch and a Priestess devoted to Athena and Apollon. She has been facilitating rituals and workshops for many years. As one of the organizers for the popular Sacred Space conference, Reece helps maintain the presence of Athena, who is one of two deities asked to bring protection to the weekend event.

But, as she explained, it wasn’t until her trips to Greece that she was divinely inspired to birth the new temple. Reece said that her first trip was impactful, explaining, “Greece felt familiar to me. That didn’t surprise me. But it did surprise me how comfortable it felt.” However, it wasn’t until the second trip that she was given the specific direction to create a sacred space in Washington. She received this message from Apollon while simply touring the country. Those specific moments are highly personal; however, Reece did share that her mission became most clear while in Athens and Delphi. She added, “We had omens. Eagle Omens.”

When Reece returned home, she knew what Apollo and Athena were asking. “They are very concerned about our world,” she said. “They are real beings and want to have a relationship with us. They have an agenda just like we have an agenda.” And it’s this divine agenda that she is now helping to serve with the creation of Theophania.

Gwendolyn Reece [Courtesy Photo]

Reece has spent the last two years carefully constructing a viable and lasting internal temple structure that will serve the mission placed before her. Why the name Theophania? As she wrote on the website:

Theophania was an annual festival at Delphi in which Apollon returned from His time in the hidden lands and made Himself directly known and visible to the people. A “theophany” is when a deity makes himself or herself immediately known and visible to a mortal. Apollon selected this name because He and Athena are coming back to make Themselves known directly to humanity once more. Theophania strives to serve these Great Ones by providing structures through which mortals may have direct experiences with Them as They return to us. They want to be in close relationships with us once more.

Along with completing all the necessary legal paperwork required of incorporation, Reece has also been working on the ecclesiastical structure. She said, “I am using the old Hellenic form, rather than a congregational one.”

This structure may feel unique to modern Pagan temples in that Theophania is not a membership organization. She said that the Temple is a place “to keep relationships with the gods flowing” and will be maintained by a core Priesthood. But that is it. Rituals will be open to anyone and not at all exclusive. It doesn’t matter whether attendees are Hellenic polytheists, Wiccans, Heathens or the like. The Temple will be there for anyone to experience a relationship with both Athena and Apollon.

As for the temple’s mission, Reece explained that Theophania will have three main “lines of activity.” The first is public ritual. She explained, “The temple’s ritual work will be devoted to the ‘good of the polis,’ which is why the gods wanted the Temple in the nation’s capital. A federal city.They are interested in democracy.”

The second line of activity will be oracular work. Reece said this is more complicated because Apollon will have to select which priestess or priest can actually perform this activity. It is up to the God, himself. And, as of now, Reece is the only priestess. But she said that this will change soon enough.

Finally, the third line of activity is for Theophania to “rebirth the Neoplatonic philosophical tradition within the context of contemporary Paganism.” As Reece explained briefly, Neoplatonism, a modern term to describe a mode of philosophy that was prevalent during the late Hellenistic period, was made up of various lines of thoughts all present during that era, including from Aristotelian, Pythagorean, Stoic, Egyptian, Chaldean, Buddhism and more. Neoplatonism was able “to harmonize” these very different philosophical traditions, pulling the best ideas from each one.

However, as Reece further explained, this Neoplatonic philosophy was virtually eradicated around 529 A.D. when the Athenian Academy was destroyed by Justinian I. The surviving concepts were eventually incorporated into a monotheistic framework and have lived on within that context.

One of the goals of Theophania is to return Neoplatonic philosophical concepts into a polytheistic context. As Reece wrote on the website, the results will offer “a truly Pagan approach to the quest for wisdom and Truth that blends logic, mysticism, abstract thought, and practical life applications for the individual and the polis.”

[Courtesy G. Reece]

Reece is very optimistic about the project. When asked if the Theophania had its own physical space at this point, Reece said, “no.” She will be using rented space or her own home for rituals and workshops. However, she added that in her “hopes and dreams” Theophania will eventually have its own dedicated physical temple. Then, she laughed, adding, “I’d like one of the old Hellenic-style churches on 16th street in Washington. The street dead ends into the White House and is on the old meridian. It is a power line.”

Until that time, she and the future temple priesthood will be maintaining the sacred space elsewhere, and she will continue building the temple’s legal and fiscal backbones. On Jan 26, she submitted the IRS paperwork to earn temple’s 501(c)3 status.

When asked how people can learn more about her work, the temple’s mission or working with the gods, Reece said that Theophania’s website was a good place to follow the temple’s progress. As of now, she plans to lead the temple’s first oracular ritual in March or April. She can also be reached through the website.

More specifically, for Sacred Space attendees, Reece will be offering a workshop on Hellenic oracles, which is tied in to the creation of the new temple. The workshop blurb reads:

Hellenic Oracles: The Oracle of Delphi is, rightfully, the most famous oracle of the Ancient Greek world, but there were quite a number of other oracular cults in ancient Hellas as well. As part of her work as a priestess of Apollon, Gwendolyn is working with Him to found an oracle in the nation’s capital. As part of her preparatory work, she has conducted extensive research on Hellenic oracles. This workshop provides a summary of the historical research

Reece also offered some spiritual advice to those people interested in understanding more about how and why she is taking this journey and how they can go about doing the same. She said, “Be open to pursuing relationships with the gods. Learn how to give and to receive. Develop the ability to be a good friend. And to embrace this as a virtue.” She stressed the need to develop loving and spiritual relationships both between humans, and between humans and non-humans. She said, “Approach Them,” adding “[Apollon is] incredibly compassionate. He will talk about global issues, such as climate change, as well personal problems … They want to be heard. They want to be in relationship.”

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South Africa’s Witchcraft Suppression Act Ruled Unconstitutional

Wed, 2016-01-27 11:05

SOUTH AFRICA — After years of lobbying by Pagan groups in the country, the South African Law Reform Commission has determined that portions of that nation’s Witchcraft Suppression Act are unconstitutional. Witches should be able to identify themselves as such, the commission found, as well as practice divination. However, the proposed replacement law still has its problems, according to members of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, because it singles out “harmful witchcraft practices” for regulation on the basis that they can cause “intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror.” SAPRA members are drafting a response to the bill and hope to see changes in it before it becomes law.The Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957 is, like most similar laws in African nations, based on 1735 Witchcraft Act of the United Kingdom, which was itself repealed in 1951. SAPRA requested a review of this law in 2007, an effort which was joined by the South African Pagan Council and the Traditional Healers Association. That slow process has finally resulted in the release of a lengthy issue paper by the SALRC, an independent body created in 1973 to investigate South African laws and make recommendations to the national and provincial governments for reform.

In that issue paper, members of the SALRC agreed that by making it illegal to identify as a Witch, the act violates the right to religious expression guaranteed in the South African constitution. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that there is no definition of Witchcraft in the legislation. In other words, Wiccans and other Pagans fell into the same category as those who are more traditionally considered Witches in sub-Saharan Africa, a place where the word “witch” is often associated with people who use supernatural powers to cause harm.

Where the SALRC paper deviates from the hoped-for outcome is in how it tries to make distinctions between the different uses of the word “witch.” According to Damon Leff, who has been working on this cause for years, “The draft bill is focused on preventing accusations of witchcraft and witch-hunts, human mutilations and ritual murder, and what the Commission calls ‘harmful witchcraft practices.’ ” In Leff’s view, that lumps together actions which should be unacceptable for any person to commit with beliefs that are protected.

We believe that existing laws may be used to deal with human mutilations and ritual murder – we already have a Human Tissues Act which prohibits the harvest and sale of human body parts, and murder is already illegal. We also believe that what the Commission calls ‘harmful witchcraft practices,’ in the absence of actual demonstrable criminal activity, cannot be proven in any court of law to exist without reference to belief, and since the Bill of Rights protects the right to belief, ‘witchcraft beliefs’ aught to play no role in the determination of actual criminal guilt.

The bill has apparently been structured to address concerns that the widespread belief in malevolent magic makes it possible for one person to cause very real harm to another by convincing them that they intend to cast such a spell. Leff provided a copy of the response that SAPRA is drafting, which lays it out thus:

Whilst certain crimes may indeed be motivated by belief, those crimes identified in the Commission’s definition of alleged ‘harmful witchcraft’ practices, specifically, intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror, may be committed by a member of any (or no) religious faith. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence to show that some Christians and Traditional Healers have in the past attempted to justify their criminal acts by appealing to their beliefs as motivation for such acts.

Traditional healers may also underlie muti murders, committed to obtain a specific human body part for the purposes of healing another. Children, the elderly and disabled are most susceptible to these kinds of attacks. The draft response reads:

SAPRA must argue that since the perpetrators of such practices, specifically those who trade in human body parts, do not self-identify as Witches or as practitioners of Witchcraft, but have in the past been identified as traditional healers or as practitioners of traditional African religion (who do not self-identify as Witches), the application of the term ‘witchcraft’ to such practices constitutes an equally inaccurate misnomer. Muthi murders have nothing to do with Witchcraft, because actual Witches are not the perpetrators of such crimes.

Instead, they argue, such crimes should be enforced under the existing Human Tissues Act, which was passed specifically to prevent such crimes.

From the SALRC issue paper, it appears that the Traditional Healers Organization has pushed for a clear definition of Witchcraft in a new law, and regulation of the harmful practices associated with it. Traditional healers, according to Leff, would never identify as “Witches” because of the strong cultural bias against the term, which has only been challenged recently with the spread of Wicca and related religions.

Pagan Freedom Day in South Africa [Photo Credit: Ginney May / Wikimedia]

Another problem with the replacement bill, insofar as Pagans are concerned, is that while accusations of Witchcraft are banned, it doesn’t go far enough to protect those accused. The existing law has even been flouted by public officials. SAPRA’s draft response asserts, “Such a Bill must however not merely prohibit accusations of Witchcraft and punish those who do make accusations of Witchcraft which lead to harm against the accused, it must also provide the victims of accusation, living refugees of accusation, with access and means to victim support and restorative justice,” Since the lifting of apartheid, restorative justice has become a powerful concept in South Africa.

In short, SAPRA’s position is that laws should be based on verifiable evidence of wrongdoing, and no crime should be associated with a belief system such as Witchcraft, since heinous acts can be committed by anyone regardless of their religion or lack thereof. The comment period on the draft bill and related issue paper ends in April, and it could be another year before it is presented as a white paper, and submitted to parliament for consideration.

“If the SALRC goes ahead with the proposal, the Bill will be sent to Parliament for review before it is published, and only after that, could it become an Act of Parliament,” explained Leff. “We plan to stop that from happening.”

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What will Paganism look like in 100 Years?

Tue, 2016-01-26 10:55

The Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist communities are in a very dynamic time and who knows what the future for these religions may be. The Wild Hunt asked community members to guess the future by having them answer this question:

“What do you think Paganism in the USA will look like 100 years from now?”

[Courtesy Photobucket]

Phaedra Bonewits, 60’s, Occult Generalist

“I think about where we were a hundred years ago, still in the throes of German Romantic Neopaganism, folklore obsessions in Britain, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn fallen apart, and America still fascinated with 19th-century Spiritualism and Theosophy, plus the Eastern religions to which they’d been exposed a scant 23 years earlier at the first World’s Parliament of Religions. Wicca wasn’t yet a gleam in Gerald Gardner’s eye, and Heinlein was still in rompers. Magical lodges were still popular, but a vast amount of occultism and magical practice was firmly rooted in a Christian paradigm.

“Now, we’ve got hard polytheists, public rituals to the old Gods, major conventions, scholarly works, Internet research, and more solitaries than at which you could shake a stang. All were unimaginable 100 years ago. Heck, I couldn’t have imagined the Pagan world looking like this forty years ago — forty years ago, we didn’t even have camping festivals!

“Here’s a few guesses, though, assuming our overpopulating, invasive species hasn’t driven ourselves to extinction by then! A hundred years from now, the Neopagan/Pagan umbrella will be a thing of the past. It’s fragmenting even now, and in a century, those fragments will have taken up independent lives. Generic, nature-focused Pagans may be seen as a quaint artifact from the 20th century. Those who attempt 20th-century coven-based, initiatory mystery religion Wicca will be a tiny minority, just as members of magical lodges are today. The Wheel of the Year may become quaint, too, lost in favor of holy days specific to deities being honored.

“Occult practitioners in general may be pushed far to the outside of Paganism as worship-focused Paganism becomes more the norm. Bad news for old-fashioned occultists such as myself, but great for hard polytheists. Temple or shrine-based Paganism may become unremarkable, just as it is now on continents that are not historically dominated by Abrahamic religions.

“About twenty-five years ago, I was walking up the steps of the Field Museum in Chicago, a spectacular example of neoclassical architecture, with a small child in tow. He the son of the high priestess of our little magical working group. As we trudged up the sweeping outdoor staircase, I said to him, “Did you know we used to worship the Gods in buildings like this instead of in our living room?” He looked at me with big eyes and a wondering expression, and said, “We did?” Since then, I’ve wished for the day when one can tell a child, “Did you know we used to worship the Gods in our living rooms instead of in buildings like this?” and the child will respond with the same startled wonder, “We did?” Maybe in a hundred years.”

Selena Fox, Wiccan, 60’s

 “As I reflect on what Paganism in the USA will look like in 2116, here are some thoughts:

  • Paganism will continue to grow in size and forms with more practitioners and paths.
  • There will be more Pagan sacred places established, owned and cared for by Pagan organizations — more stone circles, shrines, temples, retreat centers, libraries, cemeteries, groves, and Nature sanctuaries.
  • There will be chaplains of various Pagan paths and organizations serving in the military, hospitals, hospices, universities, prisons, and other institutions.
  • There will be more Pagans serving in elected public office in local, state, and federal forms of government. Having one’s Pagan orientation known will seldom be a concern raised as an issue during elections as it has been in the 20th & 21st centuries.
  • There will be more understanding and acceptance of Pagans and Pagan paths in society as a whole, and less need to fight religious freedom battles in courts.
  • Paintings, films, music, theater, and other forms of art with Pagan imagery created by Pagans will be more widespread in society.
  • New forms of Pagan ritual practice and meditative imagery will develop as Pagans venture forth and live off planet.  
  • Croning, Saging, and other forms of Senioring Passage rites developed within Pagan communities will be more commonplace among people of many spiritual and philosophical orientations.
  • Pagans and Paganism may be also known by other terms.

“I think it is important to reflect on possible Pagan futures and to have conversations about this. To contribute to this process, I have been facilitating Visioning the Pagan Future workshops, rituals, and discussions at festivals and conferences around the nation. In addition to envisioning the future, may we find ways to share our visions and work together to help Paganism in all its colorful diversity to thrive.”

[Image By: Stgspi / DeviantArt]

John Beckett50’s, Druid

“The environmental and social factors that gave rise to the emergence of Paganism in the 19th century and to its explosion in the 20th century will continue in the 21st and 22nd. Paganism will continue to grow in both breadth and depth over the next 100 years.

“Paganism will grow in breadth as more and more people begin to recognize the sacredness of Nature and begin to pay attention to the natural world. Pagan concepts and holidays will become generally recognized in the mainstream culture. Witchcraft will continue its growth, as increasingly disenfranchised people look for ways to influence their world. Paganism will remain a minority religion, but it will become a significant minority, even if much of its growth will be at the pop culture level.

“Paganism will grow in depth as a few dive deeper into their beliefs and practices. The witchcraft traditions will focus on individual growth and personal power, while the polytheist traditions will focus on developing robust devotional practices and building strong communities around them.

“But two things are sure about predicting the future: something we think is certain will fail, and something we aren’t even considering will arise. If we are wise, we will focus on being the best Witches, Pagans, polytheists, and such as we possibly can. Strong practices and resilient communities can succeed in any environment.”

Jason Mankey, 40’s, Gardnerian Witch:

“Imagining Paganism one hundred years from now is difficult. I think it will still exist (at least as we define it today) and probably in greater numbers, but I think it will be extremely fragmented. Today we sometimes talk about the Pagan umbrella having some ‘leaks,’ in one hundred years I think the umbrella will be long gone, with many groups and traditions distancing themselves from the word ‘Pagan.’

“I don’t think that’s all necessarily bad. Many traditions under today’s Pagan umbrella will undoubtedly grow because of these changes. Out there, on their own, many communities will create new infrastructures, mythologies, groups, and festivals; those are the good parts. On the downside, the break-up of the umbrella will make us even less strong politically, and limit the give and take that comes from being a part of wide-ranging coalition. (Think of all the things we share right now: festivals, blog-space, magazines, ritual space, etc. I for one find those shared moments beneficial.)

“I love my own tradition (Gardnerian Witchcraft), but the traditions of my friends (Druidry, Heathenism, and many more) have made my Pagan experience all the stronger, and richer. I think we will lose something when Re-constructionists no longer dance under the moon with Witches and Neo-Pagans. I think we are far stronger together, but see the divisions that are emerging among us as unfortunate but probably inevitable.”

[Image By: Stgspi / Deviantart]

Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, 30s, polytheist with initiations in a variety of traditions:

“It’s hard to imagine but when I do I hope that it’s in a place where the current struggles against oppression are no longer as necessary or as vital as they are now to the engagement of pagans who identify as part of communities typically marginalized by the overculture.

I hope that my tradition is thriving and handling their rites and their W/work as best as they can with the guidance of the Elders who came from my teachings and from the guidance of Spirit (of which I hope I am called on). I hope we’re in a place where the ability to care for each other extends beyond what we do in circle to outside of circle.

I hope that polytheists, pagans, Wiccans, ceremonialists, heathens, ADR/ATR practitioners, and myriad of faiths have found strength in each other from a place of mutual respect and admiration versus the grudge that we seem to have when forced to interact with each other now. I hope there is a space we carve out for each other and for the G*ds. I hope that we think outside the box of who shows up to really look at how we can be the kind of movement where there is no hierarchy of faiths, but rather a mutual understanding and solidarity in struggle.

I hope for a lot, don’t I? Well, why not? It’s good to want things. It builds character, I’m told.”

Lāhela Nihipali, 30’s, Indigenous Hawaiian polytheist:

“If paganism bucks the trend and learns to be USEFUL to their fellow human, *and* gains a foothold with regards to public policy (ie. better enforcement of environmental and citizen protections) then it can have a huge impact on where the country and the world will be in 100 years. Better health and better land management for one. Polytheists will continue to be an insular but growing part of the population of the US with its own personalised political goals and groups. More often than not, at odds (if only in principle) with pagan politicians/civil servants/policies. Polytheists will bridge the gap over the course of the 100 years with Indigenous and First Nations peoples whereas pagans will not. This will be important in the political divides of the century after the first 100 years.

“If paganism continues on its pursuit of USELESSNESS to general society and the country itself, we could very well see a rise in harmful but technologically manageable environmental disasters as well as civil liberty breaches manageable by political pandering continue. Simultaneously the US will see an increase in divisive groups nationwide as clean resources lessen and prices increase. Paganism and pagans in general become easy targets as they did zero realistic community building and will by this time be rejected by Polytheist organizations which have prepared by becoming more and more insular as resources have diminished.

“Pagans will now finally try to flower power their way into activism, now that they are being used as the boogeyman to rile up the populace. Lack of genuine organization is their downfall; their activism is labeled as unpatriotic troublemaking. Pagans will be politically and socially targeted as perfect scapegoats for the newly elected (some flavour of fascistic) ruling party. Lynching type incident occurs which sets in motion a general notion that its the patriotic thing to target pagans and other “undesirable trouble makers”–itʻs important to clean up the streets after all. Polytheists will by the end of the 100 years, in an act of self preservation, also reach out to other Polytheist organizations as well as Indigenous & First Nations. The next 100 years start with an uneasy tension between the allied Polytheists and the now heavily indoctrinated populace, by the end of this 100 years civil war looms.”

[Image By: Stgspi / Deviantart]

Elizabeth Zohar, 20’s, Wiccan:

“I can only hope that Paganism will continue to spread knowledge to anyone who wishes to learn the practices as we are now. However, I feel that in the changing world we live in that it may become more of a trend than an actual look on life. With the up coming generations, being who you want to be without being judge is what the new teachings are. However that also allows people to take advantage of that. They may begin to look at Paganism as something that is “cool” or “in” instead of actually learning the practices of the different religions or doing it to find peace and spirituality in yourself. 100 yrs from now we may have young adults assuming that Paganism is cool because it’s not Christianity or any other common religion. All I can hope is that our generation now will continue to teach the generations after us what Paganism really is and how it can help them in their day to day life.

Aubri, 20’s, Hellenic Pagan:

I believe that in the next 100 years Paganism will flourish because of how attractive it is for people of all ages, sex, race, etc. The thing with being Pagan is that your journey is your own, you can choose what path you want to follow. You can figure out what you want your focus to be as you learn. That’s very refreshing and comforting especially for the younger crowd, myself included. As a young adult your life is cluttered with all kinds of pressures and deadlines that it can be overwhelming. So I think that the biggest attraction to Paganism is the community. I’ve gone to Pagan festivals and picnics my entire life. They’re like vacations from the ‘muggle’ world where you can focus on yourself and your own growth. With the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere of the Pagan community, I believe that Paganism will continue to grow throughout the globe and one day make a come back as one of the top “religions” of the world.

*   *   *

But what about you? What do you think your religion, or our collective religions, will look like 100 years from now? 

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Pagan Community Notes: HUAR, Lily and Deirdre, Black Witch, and more!

Mon, 2016-01-25 09:46

Last week, Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) issued a statement concerning a public Facebook comment made by the Asatru Folk Assembly director Steven A. McNallen. On Jan. 10, McNallen wrote, “Germany – that is the German people, not sellout traitors like Merkel – deserve our full support…Where are the Freikorps when we need them?” The Freikorps were “private paramilitary groups” created after Germany’s defeat in World War I. They were used to stop uprisings and were consider to be largely nationalistic and conservative.

McNallen’s comment was made in reaction to recent reports of violence in Germany. It triggered a wave of reactions and controversy to which he eventually responded that he would not apologize for making that statement. In one response he wrote that he “stands with Germany.” Since those initial comments, there has been a host of blog posts on a variety of Pagan and Heathen sites that either speak directly to his statements or revolve around the related issues.

HUAR’s own statement was released late Monday, Jan. 18. It read, in part: “Calling for the revival of groups of armed, bloodthirsty reactionary killers as a solution to ongoing tensions in Germany related to the Syrian refugee crisis is inexcusable and unconscionable.” The HUAR statement goes on to include a number of calls-to-action for Heathens to stand up against McNallen’s words and includes several links to background material. McNallen has not directly responded to HUAR.

 *   *   *

For those following the Deirdre and Lily story, Druid and licensed wildlife rehabilitator Cindy McGinley announced the following, “We have been in negotiation with the DEC through the Attorney General’s office to find a reasonable settlement on the matter of saving Deirdre & Lily.” In Nov, we reported that the Judge ruled in favor of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). McGinley would have to release or euthanize the two deer. It seemed to be the end but she vowed to not give up the fight. And that may have paid off.

McGinley recently reported the following: “In exchange for being allowed to soft-release the girls together right here on Rivendell Farm (where I believe they will both be able to make it), I have agreed to withdraw my appeal and to forfeit my rehabilitator’s license. I have also had to agree to several other conditions, including carte blanche invasion of my privacy for a short period of time.” She added that she only agreed to these conditions in order save the two deers’ lives, especially Lily, who has been blind from birth.

McGinley has begun the soft release and said everything is going well, adding, “Lily is really amazing in the way that she maneuvers around obstacles even better than most sighted deer. Is it possible that, with the court proceedings, I gave her enough time to actually heal?” McGinley is content with the deal and thanks everyone for their support. She also promised to continue to “shine a light on the wildlife issue in NY and elsewhere.”

 *   *   *

Black Witch

Blogger Olivia Haynes, also known as Black Witch, has openly accused John Hopkins University of discriminatory practices. On Jan 15, she wrote, “I usually don’t like to intermix my personal life with Black Witch because this is not a personal blog but this is pretty outstanding…and in a bad way.” Haynes then went on to describe the situation in detail. According to that account, on Dec 15, she was fired from John Hopkins after only working at one of its libraries for 3 months. Haynes published the termination letter online which discloses the reasons, including “suspicions regarding [her] involvement in the theft of the lunches of other staff.”

In her initial blog post, Haynes wrote, “The whole firing is being investigated by the Office of Intuitional [sic] Equity.” And, she also noted that she has called a lawyer, the ACLU, the EEOC, and the NAACP with little to no results to date. However, in her most recent update Haynes said that there is now a third party lawyer, not representing her or the school, looking over the situation. Additionally, the school’s initial investigation is still ongoing. She also said that she will escalate the case, if necessary, stating that the issues present at the school are more than just the firing.

In the meantime, Haynes is trying to make due and opened a crowdfunding campaign to help bridge the gap until her new job begins in February. She is posting updates to the situation on her Twitter and Tumblr accounts as well as her blog.

In Other News:

  • Gavin Bone and Janet Farrar have announced the preliminary dates of their U.S.tour. They will be traveling in April and May, attending a number of festivals and running workshops in various locations around the eastern portion of the country. According to the preliminary schedule, Bone and Farrar will be attending both Florida Pagan Gathering in Florida and Beltania in Colorado. The workshop cities include Cornwall, NY, Miami, Atlanta, and Denver. They said that more locations will be added over the next few months.
  • Pagan Pride Detroit announced today the date for its annual spring event. It will hold its Community Earth Day April 23 at the Madison Heights Senior Center. It is currently taking applications for vendors.The free day-long spring festival is one of two events the group sponsors. Its fall event, Pagan Pride Day, will be held Aug 9. And, for those readers who are in the Detroit area, don’t forget that ConVocation is just around the corner.
  • T. Thorn Coyle has released a reader-sponsored free fiction short story called Salt. It begins, “Once the random itching settled down, the water soothed him,” and tells the story of 52-year-old Jasper, who spends his life in and out of magical experience. Coyle, as well as other Pagan writers and artists, have taken to the site Patreon to help sponsor their work. In her blog, Coyle thanks some of her sponsors including a link to her Patreon site, which explains how the process works.
  • Mercury went direct.
  • The Labrys Community in Greece has posted a video of its annual Lenaia ritual, which was held Jan. 24. As explained on the Temenos site, “The Lenaia was a three-day festival in honor of Dionysos and the maenads, perhaps the origin of the City Dionysia in the Classical Era. Like many festivals, there was a procession carrying a representation of Dionysos, dancing by Athenian girls with castenets and carrying the thyrsus and dramatic competitions. It may have included a midnight revel by women.” The video, as posted below, only shows the ritual portion of a bigger festival.
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East Coast Pagans and Heathens Endure a Winter Blast

Sun, 2016-01-24 09:51

Over the weekend, the east coast was hit with record snow falls, blizzard conditions, white-outs, thunder snow and more as a Winter Storm “Jonas” came in for a visit. According to The Weather Channel, who began naming these winter storms in 2011, Jonas is the “largest snowstorm on record for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Baltimore; and JFK Airport in New York City, with all of those locations receiving over 2 feet of snow.” As far south as Georgia through New York, the snow fell in varying degrees, and Pagans and Heathens took to social media to report the conditions at their locations. We reached out to a number of them to get a better idea of the conditions.

Winter Storm 2016 as seen from the Space Station [Courtesy NASA] www.nasa.gov

Hardest hit was the New Jersey, Washington D.C. and New York City metro regions. Author David Salisbury reported going out to stores in preparation for the storm event and seeing goods lying on the floor and empty shelves. He said, “It looked liked a Walking Dead supply run.” Salisbury lives in the D.C. area and reported that he hadn’t seen a blizzard warning like this for six years. After making his own preparations to be stuck inside for several days, he posted the following public announcement on Facebook:

I’ll be stuck inside until at least Sunday so we might as well make the best of it! I’m offering deeply discounted rune and tarot readings until ‪#‎Blizzard2016‬ is over.

On Saturday, he did venture outside and took the following photo of adults and children enjoying the snow:

[Photo Credit: David Salisbury]

Not far away in Delaware, author Ivo Dominguez Jr. was watching the snow come down near his home. Dominguez is one of the founders of the New Alexandrian Library, located in Georgetown, Delaware.  He said that the library was safe, adding, “This was nothing. Hurricane Sandy went over it with zero damage.”  He shared this photo of his home at Seelie Court:

[Courtesy Ivo Dominquez Jr.]

Farther north in central New Jersey, Elder Priestess Lady Pythia was watching the snow fall from the comfort of her home. She said poetically, “Noreaster sweeps. Cats eyes widen at ephemeral windy prey just out of reach, and we Witches toss herbs into the small cauldronfire, sip cinnamon creamed coffee, joke about animating shovels to tackle hip-high arctic drifts rendered in A Whiter Shade of Pale.” Pythia shared these photos as the snow piled up on her back deck:

[Photo Credit: Lady Pythia]

Lady Pythia added, “A Witch sends out safe vibes for all in the storm’s path, with awe at the Mother’s wild Full Moon brushstrokes.”  As she and many other Pagans have pointed out, January 23 at 8:46 pm ET marked the full moon. NASA satellites captured the beauty of the moon’s light on the storm in this photo:

[Courtesy NASA]

Over in Pennsylvania, Robert Schreiwer of the Urglaawe Kindred was also watching as the storm dumped more than 30″ of snow in his yard with sustained winds of 40 mph and gusts of up to 50 mph. Taking a spiritual look at winter’s process, Schreiwer said, “Many of us hail those associated strongly with snow: Skadhi and Holle. Being an Urglaawer with Holle as my patroness, I look at the snow blowing in the whirlwinds as a reflection of Her power. She has shaken her featherbed for over a day here, and the land is covered in the down. Although small, the first hail of the new year has fallen.” He shared this photo taken from his window:

[Photo Credit: Robert Schreiwer]

Not missing an opportunity for some traditional religious work, Schreiwer added, “Per Deitsch tradition, I have collected some of it. One little stone I added to my drink; another I have retained for luck. The hail represents luck and opportunity for transformation and change. In the Deitsch healing and magical practice of Braucherei, the focus during this early time of the new year is on fixing that which needs repair, conserving the resources we have for last year, and planning and organizing the changes we need in order to make our lives better throughout the year. While we hail the snow, we also honor those who put their lives at risk to ensure the safety of others in this weather. Hail!”

Also in Pennsylvania, Priestess BrightFlame said that she was “snowed in” with  about 30″ of snow on the ground. But the resultant downtime caused by the weather has allowed BrightFlame to rest her sprained wrist and “reread The Fifth Sacred Thing ahead of allowing [herself] to indulge in Starhawk’s sequel, City of Refuge : the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing.”  This quiet time has also offered her the opportunity to prepare for an upcoming workshop that she is hosting in New York City with Starhawk,on February 20. BrightFlame shared this woodland photo from her home:

[Courtesy Bright Flame]

In New York City, Priestess and author Courtney Weber reported having a “perfect snowday.” She said that she also spent Saturday, “catching up on reading, writing the next book, and doing it all in pajamas because real Witches know how to multi-task. And do things better in pajamas.”  She shared this photo taken from her apartment window as the snow fell:

[Courtesy: Courtney Weber]

The storm’s reach stretched down the east coast forcing a number of governors to declare states of emergency and warning against travel. New York City shut all bridges and tunnels down through Sunday morning. Even as far south as Georgia, offices and schools closed early on Friday in preparation for the worst. And this wasn’t an unnecessary act. As the news has reported, at least 18 people have died in the wake of the storm with most of the deaths caused by slick roadways.

Star Bustomonte, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, has been stuck inside due to the weather. Although her area was not hit as hard as the coastal mid-Atlantic region, Bustamonte did report that she had over a foot of snow. She also said, “I’ll be several hours digging out once it starts to warm up. But I’m not even starting until it gets about 30 degrees.” She’s spent the weekend, like many, watching television and hanging out with her cats.

[Photo Credit: Star Bustamonte]

Due to this reportedly historic storm, there have been many store closures and event cancellations. For example, Asheville’s Raven and Crone was closed yesterday and has canceled today’s workshops. Brooklyn’s Catland Books was also closed yesterday with plans to open today. However, Sunday morning owners posted on Facebook, “BROOKLYN! Take another day to build snow altars and leave offerings for blizzard spirits – we’ll see you on Monday, and back again next month for Black Mirror Salon!”

We contacted EarthSpirit, the organizers of Feast of Lights to see if they were at all concerned that this mega storm would damper attendance at next week’s conference. EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen said, “No.”  The event takes place in Amherst, Massachusetts which was not in the storm’s path. However, he did say that they are watching weather, adding “Living in New England, we have to do that every year. So far, things look pretty good for next weekend, and in the 18 years we’ve been putting on Feast of Lights, we’ve never had to cancel once.”

Back in Washington D.C., Salisbury looked out of his window on Sunday morning. The storm had passed and the skies were clear. He shared this photo of his courtyard:

[Courtesy David Salisbury]

Over the next few days, as the weather warms above freezing and the snow begins to melt, the east coast will get back to its normal activity with schools back in session, businesses open and travel schedules on track. Until then, much of the east coast will be gathering by fires, digging out and finding ways to enjoy the quiet of a winter’s storm.

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Column: Star Wars and the Power of Nostalgia

Sat, 2016-01-23 10:13

[Important Note:  For today’s Saturday column, we have decided to share editor Heather Greene’s analytical essay of the new Star Wars movie. Greene has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Film Studies, and has been writing about film for over twenty years. The following article contains spoilers. If you have not seen the movie, do not continue reading. You have been warned. ]

Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.

– Albert Camus

[Photo Credit: Rob Ketcherside / Flickr]

Nostalgia is a very powerful force. It drives us, surrounds us, binds us. Wait. No. That’s another force.

Let’s start again.

Nostalgia is a power that exists as romanticized remnants of our past, pieces of memories clinging passionately to our emotional reserves, controlling our dreams, wishes and the way we inhabit our present. Nostalgia can connect us to our ancestors in religious ritual or bring us to tears as we walk down the streets of our youth. It also can seduce us into a dangerous point of complacency and prevent us from moving forward. Nostalgia exists in the parts of our mind that remain slave to the heart, craving a dream-like innocence.

It is this very human connection that can drive and influence the popularity and production of pop culture, even bringing music and fashion back into vogue after years of retirement. And, it is this power of nostalgia that has made Star Wars: The Force Awakens the mega hit that it is has become.

On Dec. 18, Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened to record box office sales after Disney, in typical fashion, created a fully-saturated, oppressive merchandise marketplace. From Star Wars Lego to Cover Girl’s Dark Side Mascara, nothing was seemingly left untouched. The film’s shadow became so big that even Santa Claus felt upstaged during his big day, as parents reported that their children were watching for flying Wookiees rather than reindeer.

Tennessee DOT gets in on the act. [Courtesy H. Greene]

The force certainly did awaken. And, to fully understand and appreciate why and how that happened, we need to go backward in time.

The Star Wars franchise began in 1977 with Star Wars: A New Hope. Filmmaker George Lucas grew up loving television, cars and comic books, and sought to recreate this joy in his films. This is particularly evident in his first big hit American Graffiti (1973), which celebrates 1950s youth culture. In fact, Star Wars, itself, was first produced as a comic book. The original series was published by Marvel Entertainment beginning in early 1977 as a marketing tie-in to the new film. (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 524).

In their book Film History, historians Kirsten Thompson and David Bordwell wrote, “Star Wars offered chivalric myth for 1970s teens, a quest romance in which young heroes could find adventure, pure love and sacred cause.” Later they add, “Lucas believed he was spinning a simple tale grounded in basic human values.” Those values and that sacred cause were often labeled as “New Age.” (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 523)

Star Wars: A New Hope was an attempt to revive something innocent and universal that had been lost when the Hollywood Production Code was finally dropped in 1968, and film subjects began to venture into more challenging realms in terms of violence, sexuality and horror. Lucas, a film-savvy, young storyteller, was driven by a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era, the innocence of childhood and the purity of human experience.

The whole narrative, in fact, begins as an exercise in mythic nostalgia. “A long, long time ago…”

As Thompson and Bordwell remark, Lucas was trying “to recover [his] boyhood pleasure in movies” and “to recreate the uncomplicated fun of space opera.” Even the visuals contained nostalgic elements. Thompson and Bordwell write:

In making Star Wars, Lucas pulled together the most exciting portions of several air battles from Hollywood combat pictures, storyboarded the compiled sequence, and then shot his space dogfights to match older footage. (Thompson and Bordwell, p. 523)

And the concept worked; the film’s sensibility held great appeal. Since their release, the three original Star Wars episodes combined have grossed over 1 billion at the domestic box office. Nostalgia, in a way, put Star Wars on the pop culture map.

Nearly two decades later, the second set of films was released. The prequels generated excitement, and brought in 1.2 billion dollars to date. However, they were ultimately not nearly as popular. The three films were plagued with multiple, complicated plot twists, poor acting and large amounts of exposition. And then, of course, there was the very unpopular Jar Jar Binks.

But more importantly for this discussion, the sense of belonging or the sense of nostalgia – to a time long, long ago – was not the focus. Unlike the originals , which felt like an adventure that could end anywhere. The prequels had a goal. They had to answer one important question: How did Annakin become Darth Vader?

In the process of getting to that answer, the nostalgic romance woven into the original three films was buried. The prequels rush through their stories in short segments, cutting from sequence to sequence. The films are packed and detailed, containing interesting new characters and ships, epic battles scenes, and complicated politics. However, the stories rarely slow down long enough to let a character, or a viewer, breathe. Nobody stands poignantly in the sands of Tatooine, under in the light of three moons, contemplating the future.

Granted, these prequels were partially a product of their time. They were released in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and were competing for box office realty in a market that was drunk on CGI technology. Shots were shorter; scenes were cut faster. And, computers were used at every turn. Lucas enjoyed this new technology and even remade his original films with updated CGI imagery – some of which worked, and some which didn’t.

That being said, the three prequels served their purpose. Fans got the needed back story and were not left ungratified when, in the final scenes of Revenge of the Sith (2005), Darth Vader rises up in his full costume as smoke swirls around his head. “Lord Vader, Can you hear me?” asks the Emperor. And, in the voice of the recognizable James Earl Jones, Vader responds, “Yes, my master.” Here, and in following end sequences, the prequels hit a moment of emotional nostalgia that sends a shuddered excitement down the spine. It took a lot of talking and fancy film transitions to get there; but we got there.

Jump forward to 2015, The Walt Disney Company now owns Lucas Films, Inc. and has promised a third trilogy, along with a few standalone stories. To date, The Star Wars: The Force Awakens has grossed $863,148,249 at the domestic box office, making it one of the top grossing films of all time. Interestingly, if you adjust for inflation, Star Wars: A New Hope is at No. 1 according to some charts.[i]

So what was it that made the new film so palpable? The answer was expressed by one viewer’s response, “When I saw the Millennium Falcon for the first time, my eyes leaked water.”

Unlike the prequels, The Force Awakens capitalizes on the viewer’s deep nostalgic connection to the franchise and the its mythic universe. The production does this in both overt and subtle ways, creating a brilliant dance with its audience. Lucas himself used a similar concept with the original three, in that he was attempting to “recover his boyhood pleasures.”  However, The Force Awakens isn’t working to connect viewers to the specific bygone cultural era of Lucas’ childhood. The new film’s “long, long time ago” is defined by the viewer’s own experience with the first six films and the virginal joys of experiencing them.

The more overt nostalgic elements are found in scenic details and props, including the Millennium Falcon, the blasters, the Skywalker light saber, and the derelict ships laying in the sands of Jakku. It also is found in the presence of characters like C-3PO and R2-D2, Han Solo, Princess Leia and, of course, Luke Skywalker. The story methodically introduces these beloved figures throughout the narrative so as not to lump all the nostalgic candy into one place. In the opening we meet storm troopers and then Han Solo and Chewbacca. As the story plays out, we are reintroduced to C-3PO and Princess Leia and then finally, at the very end, R2-D2 and Luke. It’s a nice steady nostalgic drip.

And the movie enjoys these movements, slowing down the pace of action to savor each introduction, which allows fans to drink deep from the cup of their own Star Wars memories.

Even the original series’ distinctive color palette (red vs. blue) is honored. [LucasFilms]

But the film did not stop its “walk down memory lane” with props, sets and characters. The narrative itself frequently rehashes portions of the past six films. Just as Lucas was said to have compiled fight sequences from old combat pictures, The Force Awakens seems to be compiled from pieces of the older Star Wars films.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”[ii]

Many of the major moments were adaptations from the older films. For example, when Rey is standing with Maz Kanata after discovering the light saber, Maz explains the power of the force. “It flows through us and binds us… ” Time slows down and the shots go back and forth between close-ups of the small nonhuman creature and the young adult. It parallels the scene from The Empire Strikes Back (1980) in which Yoda explains the same mystical premise to Luke. Interestingly, in this case, the two figures are female with a crone passing on wisdom to a maiden. But that’s another discussion…

The sequence is familiar, despite the gender difference.

Many other similar parallels exist. For example, the destruction of the Starkiller Base is reminiscent of the Death Star’s destruction in A New Hope. In both cases, the precision flying of X-Wings and B-Wings is needed to hit the target. Another example? At the beginning of the The Force Awakens, a determined little BB-8 droid, carrying an important resistance message, rolls across a desert planet in search of its owner. This is similar to R2-D2’s quest at the beginning of A New Hope. Another one? In the final battle, Kylo Ren is left for dead after a light saber battle, as the land surges from inside and breaks apart. At the last moment, his master arrives just in time to save his student and transport him to safety. We’ve seen this in Return of the Sith.

And it goes on from major sequences, like those above, to minor moments, such as the Imperial ships passing in front of a planet  or Han asking if the Starkiller base has a trash compactor. Even the unstable characterization of Kylo Ren is based on a misguided nostalgic-like yearning for his grandfather’s dark glory. The movie winks, nods and treats the viewer like an in-the-know guest at an exclusive party.

A striking thematic example of this nostalgic-based adaptation happens during Hans death scene. During his mission on the StarKiller Base, Han confronts Kylo Ren. Chewie, Finn and Rey notice this confrontation from across a room that is defined by a constructed metal space. Rey, unable to get to them, must watch Kylo Ren kill Han. The scene parallels the one in which Luke watches Darth Vader kill Obi Wan in the Death Star or the scene in which Obi Wan watches Darth Maul kill Qui-Gon Jinn on Naboo. In all three cases, the child witnesses the surrogate father’s murder. This is a thematic element often present in the typical male coming-of-age story, and is paralleled visually and narratively in the stories of these pre-Jedi heroes (Luke, Obi Wan, Rey).[iii]

The narrative and thematic parallels, along with the presentation of familiar elements, create a film that is comfortable and feels like a big high-five. Of course, it probably isn’t surprising that one of the members of the film’s writing team was Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on both the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

While the film banked on this nostalgia (and was handsomely paid out for it), there were certainly some new elements. The Nazi references were far more pronounced than in the past, with the First Order’s speech scene eerily similar to images from Leni Reinfenstahl’s 1935 propaganda film Triumph of the Will and other images from the Nuremberg Rallies.  And, the introduction of the silver female Storm Trooper, Captain Phasma, recalls the robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Still from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”

Race and gender are newly treated. The film’s two main characters are Finn, a black man who manages to escape his Storm Trooper enslavement, and Rey, a white woman who was languishing on a sandy planet waiting for her family.[iv] While the two seem to be developing a romantic interest, it never plays out. However, near the end, Finn lies unconscious on a platform. Rey leans over to kiss him. We are momentarily caught in what looks like a Snow White story, in which Finn could wake up from “love’s true kiss.” Hey, this is a Disney movie, isn’t it?

Well, that never manifested. But R2-D2 does wake up, and “water leaked from our eyes.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been criticized for being a “mediocre” movie with little redeeming cultural value. However, the value of any cultural product is always subjective. Are its elements a rehash of what’s been done? Yes. It rides on the waves nostalgia, manipulating our love of Star Wars for its own applause. The film is charlatan, in that way. And its methods are cheap.

But like the 8 mm home movie, The Force Awakens is only worthless if you don’t allow it to take you on that journey back in time – to your first attempt to use mind control on a teacher or “force” choke the annoying kid popping bubbles on the bus. The film takes us back to a time when we first saw the Star Wars crawl and heard the theme song with eager anticipation of going on its mythical journey. Is there no cultural meaning or value in that?

Nostalgia is a force. It drive us. It surrounds us. It binds us. It is a romantic force that connects mind to heart, allowing us to find peace in our present through our memories. It is the creator of stories that become legend and myth. And, at the same time, it fuels the continued recycling of pop culture through remakes, adaptations and reboots. X-Files, anyone? Nostalgia was the driving force behind the birth of the very first Star Wars trilogy beginning in 1977, and that very force awoke in 2015 to create the new one.

As they say: May “the Force” Be With You.

Notes:
[i] Inflation adjustments are typically based on tickets sold. In some adjusted charts, Gone With the Wind (1939) still ranks at the top.
[ii] This is phrase said in every Star Wars movie, which can be used as a nice seek-and-find game for the uninitiated Star Wars fan.
[iii] The film operates with a male coming of age structure despite the presence of Rey. The narrative resists converting into a traditional female coming of age story. While this is an interesting point, it is beyond the discussion of this particular essay.
[iv] Race and gender politics within the Star Wars franchise offer another important point of discussion, however they are also beyond this article’s subject matter. The choices made in The Force Awakens are certainly worth noting and observing as they play out in the next two films of the new trilogy.

Book Sources:
Thompson, Kirsten and Bordwell, David. Film History. McGraw Hill: New York. 2003.

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Guest Column: Ritual as Action, Action as Ritual

Fri, 2016-01-22 06:50

[Today we welcome Liz Cruse, a poet , passionate environmentalist and Druid in the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. Cruse has worked as a nurse, health educator and trainer and has a profound interest in plants for healing, magic and food. She has Degrees in History and English and a Masters in Art History. Cruse facilitates workshops in the areas of Druidry and protection of the land. Recently she participated in the Generation Hex: Paganism and Politics at Cambridge University Department of Anthropology.]

I am standing in a field holding the northern gateway in a ceremony. Due to recent relentless rain, the centre of the circle is marked by a pool of water. Wind blows into my face and low December sun blinds my eyes. It is December 20, 2015 at the OBOD ritual of Alban Arthan.  The Mabon has been reborn and progresses around a circle of some forty people bearing her lantern of hope. She allows every individual to light a candle from her flame. The small lights blow out quickly but nevertheless the sun has been reborn.

So far, it’s predictable. Variations of this would have been enacted throughout Britain and in all countries where Druidry is practiced, in groves and gardens, in stone circle, and even in sitting rooms.

Upton Winter Solstice ritual 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

But this ritual was taking place near Chester, in the field where dedicated individuals have maintained a camp to prevent iGas from carrying out an exploratory drilling aimed at fracking the area for shale gas. The pool of the water at the centre of the ritual marked the point where the drill would penetrate the earth if the testing went forward.

Paul Beer, a member of Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and one of the founding members of the Frack Free Dee Coalition, is a untiring supporter of the camp. Beer organised this ritual to add to the magical protection surrounding the camp. But also, in line with a point that he makes in a recent Touchstone article, Beer wanted, as a Druid, to be visible and to be seen as active in expressing his spirituality in support of the struggle to prevent this technology from being used here.

To support the cause, some of us who are part of The Warriors’ Call had come from across Britain to stand and be counted in the fight against unconventional gas extraction. There were also many people present in that circle who were not members of OBOD and who did not identify as Pagan. They were there simply to express solidarity with the protection camp. And that particular opportunity would not have existed without the ritual.

As Druids we claim to love the land and many of us relate to deities we find in the landscape. We gain insight from the woods and ancient monuments of Albion, or our local environment. Surely then, we should make our presence visible when the integrity of our environment is threatened? Why is the Druid and Pagan voice so muffled? We say the Druid prayer, and ask for the knowledge and love of justice. Climate change and other environmental threats are creating and founded upon injustice. What are we doing about it? What are you doing?

This was the concern voiced by Jonathan Woolley recently in an account of his attendance as a researcher at the COP21 climate change talks in Paris. Describing the visibility of Christians, Muslims and other faith groups in the civil-society focused “Green Zone,” Woolley recounts how he tried to find other Pagan activists in the Green Zone but could not.

Are there any other Pagans / Nature Spirituality Groups at #COP21 ? @COP21 I haven’t seen / met any…

— Jonathan Woolley (@aboymadeofsky) December 9, 2015

This was also my experience when I attended the Climate Change Lobby of Parliament at Westminster in August 2015. CAFOD and other Christian organisations were very evident, but there was no Pagan presence. Woolley summarises, “Our [Pagan] organisations have shown a puzzling lack of initiative; failing to capitalise upon the almost unique relevance of our philosophies to climate change.”

To return to the Winter Solstice at Upton, as the Mabon lit the lights and before the Oak and Mistletoe bearers spoke, I walked around the circle giving everyone a button badge bearing the Warrior’s Call protective sigil. I explained its function, asking people to meditate on it when they re-lit their candles at home. One individual is weak but together, acting in the world, we can be strong.

The Warriors Call sigil.

In his article on the OBOD website titled “Done fracking,” Beer wrote, “Being Pagan or Druid should not be about what you do in retreat or hidden away from the world. It should be about what you do in the world.”  As one of the founders of The Warrior’s Call and one who took part in what Philip Carr-Gomm called “The Biggest Magical Operation on Earth” (the 2013 public ritual to protect Albion against fracking in Glastonbury), I need no convincing of this. While some might argue that it is our role to throw pure spiritual and magical intent secretly into the mix as Dion Fortune did in the Magical Battle of Britain, I would argue, as did Woolley, that this is not enough. As Druids we are in a unique position to show moral leadership in the struggle to protect the environment and slow down Global Warming.

When speaking of my resolution to stand up and be counted with a non-Pagan friend, he retorted,  “Who’s counting?” For one, the people of Upton are counting. The Solstice Ritual was reported in the local press. Secondly, iGas is counting. Though eviction has been imminent since Dec. 4 2015, the camp remained in its field surrounded by venerable oak trees through Jan. 8.

Upton J16 Rally [Courtesy Photo]

Then, on Jan. 12 the camp was evicted by bailiffs with some three hundred police from Cheshire, Manchester and Wales Constabularies in attendance. But four days later, on Jan. 16,  hundreds of people, including Druids following The Warrior’s Call,  attended the J16 Solidarity Day at Upton.  A rally was held outside the ruined camp to reassert community opposition to fracking at Upton and everywhere.

To paraphrase the words that we often use to close our rituals: The camp has gone from the apparent world, but our memories retain what our eyes and our ears have gained. The fight goes on; Pagan participation goes on. And, I, for one, feel that Druid and general Pagan involvement should become more visible in all areas where our lands are threatened.

   *    *    *

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

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Remembering Morgan McFarland, Pioneer Dianic Witch

Thu, 2016-01-21 08:46

DALLAS, Texas –Last month we reported that Morgan McFarland, founder of what eventually came to be called the McFarland Dianic tradition, had died. As she chose a solitary practice for herself nearly 40 years ago, few people today are familiar with her contributions to Wicca. In fact, McFarland helped shape a debate over the nature of the Dianic path which continues today. The Wild Hunt sought out those who knew her well, to better understand how her influence continues to be felt in the 21st century.

Morgan McFarland (1941-2015) [Photo Credit Mark Roberts]

Also known as Johnnie Lee Myrick-Haynes, McFarland was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1941. While it’s unclear what first put her on that path, she was already performing rituals on her own thirty years later when, in 1971, she met Mark Roberts, a man who had been initiated into a British family tradition by his former wife. The two began a partnership that was to last for several years, combining Roberts’ contacts in the nascent Pagan movement with McFarland’s willingness to be the public face for their covenstead to build the new tradition.

According to a chronology provided by Monica Granath, a member of the tradition, it was Roberts who discovered the term “Dianic cults” in Margaret Murray’s The Witch Cult in Western Europe, and McFarland chose to adopt it because “it spoke to her beliefs and practices.”

Both McFarland and Z. Budapest have claimed to be the first to use Dianic to describe their work, but no matter who deserves that credit, the two traditions have clear differences. As it is said in the McFarland tradition chronology:

Although McFarland Dianic covens espouse feminism as an all-important concept, the exclusion of men from any coven is solely the choice of its individual High Priestess.People of all genders have always been welcome initiates to Old Dianics, a designation used by some to separate the two Dianic philosophies.

Shari Tripp was one of the earliest people initiated into the tradition. After having been introduced to McFarland by her sister Renda, she joined the mixed-gender coven. “Renda was Morgan’s ‘first born,'” she said. “I was living in Houston working with a gentleman with Craft connections and Renda told me about Morgan and her tradition and covenstead. I met her and began training in early 1973. At that time I traveled from Houston to Dallas once a month and trained directly with Morgan and sometimes Mark. I was initiated in December of 1973 and started passage to become a High Priestess in January of 1975. Renda went through passage earlier than me and was Morgan’s first High Priestess. I was Morgan’s 2nd High Priestess.”

Granath, who knew McFarland well, said that she “was an amazing woman, my dearest friend, my Craft Mother and mentor. I miss her every day, but I know she was welcomed into the Summerland with open arms and her memory will always be in my heart.”

Tripp observed that the gender dynamics definitely changed how the 13 moons were celebrated. “I can say that the energy between the covensteads was quite different. Neither was ‘better’ but as you can understand, women create a different energy than adding the masculine aspect to a circle. When I hived off and started my own circle, it was a mixed one as I had men that wanted in and those men were definitely an asset to the group. Later, I ended up with only women but would have been open to a man coming in if all was right [with] the man and the timing.”

Part of how her presence is felt is in the rituals and mysteries which she handed down to all the high priestesses of the tradition she founded. That information is copied by hand from one book of shadows to the next, preserving and oral tradition that McFarland kept until she decided to write it down when she began working with Roberts in 1971. They created the tradition with just one other person joining their original covenstead, called Morrigana, but it soon grew into three groups: one was exclusively female, a second was mixed gender, and the third catered to families with children.

Roberts opted to take a different path in 1977, but the Morrigana covenstead continued until 1979. McFarland had always expected its existence to be limited to training high priestesses for descendant covens, and there were six of those in existence when Morrigana finally did dissolve. That was also the year that McFarland opted to retire as leader of the tradition.  In her honor, tradition members decided to dub themselves McFarland Dianics to distinguish themselves from other Dianic paths. Even after retiring, McFarland continued to serve as an advisor on the McFarland Dianic Council.

While she took a back seat in the tradition in her later years — largely interacting only through Granath and by monitoring emails, according to Tripp — McFarland did continue to care about tradition members. Tripp shared an anecdote, from when the Bastrop wildfires destroyed her own home in 2011. ” I only had 30 minutes to leave my home which only allowed me to take some of my animals. All my Craft/Wiccan things were lost along with everything else in the house. Morgan took on the task of organizing the members of the tradition to help me with the things I needed. Specifically, to replace and restock my Craft things which meant a lot to me. Morgan called in energy and love for me subordinating her own needs and situation. A selfless, pure action. She wrote me letters which I still cherish. She also sent me a blank book and copies of the rituals so I could re construct my Book of Shadows. Morgan had a talent in writing of conveying emotions and transferring love and energy; her writings touched anyone deeply.”

What is remembered, lives.

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Should England Replace ‘God Save the Queen?’

Wed, 2016-01-20 10:13

UNITED KINGDOM –In the United Kingdom, “God Save the Queen” (or king, depending upon the current monarch) has been considered the national anthem since the early 19th century. It is used for the combined kingdom by custom only and for England alone when referred to during athletic competitions and the like. The other three portions of the United Kingdom — Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland — already sport their own anthems.

[PHoto Credit: Maurice / Flickr]

Recently, members of Parliament have agreed to consider replacing the song as the anthem for England alone. Under the new proposal, “God Save the Queen” would continue to be used when the four act as one body, such as during the Olympic games. The Wild Hunt asked some English Pagans what they think of the current debate, and what they might like to see “God Save the Queen” replaced with, if anything.

In supporting the idea, Labour minister Toby Perkins said it would “re-establish the idea that the United Kingdom is a union of four separate nations with their own identities,” and that he personally favors “Jerusalem,” with words written by William Blake. Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg fears it will lead to “individual nationalism” within the United Kingdom, and told reporters:

What greater pleasure can there be for a true-born Englishman or true-born Englishwoman than to listen to our own national anthem —a national anthem for our whole country, our whole United Kingdom.

Readers in the United States may be familiar with periodic attempts to remove “under God” from the pledge of allegiance, or “in God we trust” from the currency; these movements — sometimes supported by Pagans — are often led by atheists and have typically resulted in court decisions supporting “secular deism.” In the United Kingdom, while some of the Pagans commented on the use of the word “god” from a monotheistic perspective, others were more focused on the fact that the song is royalist in character.

“This kind of thing comes up on a regular basis,” said scholar Michael York. “As a royalist, I would be opposed. And I agree with Rees-Mogg that it would splinter British unity even further. I would not expect Perkins proposal to have the majority of the English behind it. They tend to favour the maintenance of tradition.”

While York was born in the United States and now resides in England, Anton Stewart has made the opposite journey. Stewart is High Priest of the Church of the Eternal Circle, and he largely agreed with York’s assessment, saying:

Not the first time this issue has raised its head. Unlikely that there will be any change. Sure the bill can be proposed, but I wouldn’t rate its chances through the House of Commons, let alone the House of Lords. As long as the United Kingdom remains a united kingdom, then the UK’s national anthem is not likely to be usurped. There are lots of other patriotic, quasi-anthems that are used at various sporting events and rallies where the individual ‘nations’ that make up the UK are participating in their own right… Men of Harlech is actually the Welsh National Anthem and Scotland The Brave is far more commonly used than Flower of Scotland.

Jo Hollingsworth, one of several English Pagans asked their views on Facebook, is of a different mind than York, saying, “The national anthem should not be about a single person. It should be something that people are proud to join in with. I think the current anthem is irrelevant and depressing. It has no meaning to most people these days. As someone who would be very happy to see the end of our monarchy I will not sing this song. Ever. But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud to be British or English or indeed both.”

Sarah Kay of the Nottingham Pagan Network canvassed those in her group to find out their opinions. She reported that in general, members feel that the anthem “is relatively inoffensive unless you have especially strong political feelings about the monarchy. Certainly ‘God’ is only mentioned in passing and even then only in his capacity to strengthen and fortify the Queen so that her reign may be stronger and longer.”

For her part, Helen Clipson also thought this sounded very familiar. “This comes round at least once a year, usually at the time the rugby is on telly and people realise that the England Rugby team sing Jerusalem.”

While most interviewees focused on the royalist implications of “God Save the Queen,” some were troubled by the Christian sensibilities of “Jerusalem.” Kay said:

The Pagans we canvassed were more concerned about the suggestion of replacing ‘God Save The Queen’ with ‘Jerusalem’ by William Blake where the Christian religious overtone is far more overt and in fact carries the implication that should Jesus have actually visited England it would be cause for celebration that Christianity should gain supremacy over the nation, presumably by the use of might and power. The pagan view seems that it was England’s own pagan heritage that was once already usurped by such heavy handed Christianity and countless pagans have suffered under that yoke for centuries since. Although some of the pagans we asked did prefer ‘Jerusalem’ to the current national anthem but with changes to the wording make it less Christian.

Straddling the royalists and monotheist concerns were views like those expressed by Jackie Palman, who wrote on Facebook, “I would prefer a national anthem that was about our country rather than about our monarchy. I wouldn’t like Jerusalem as it feels to Christian to me. I used to think Land of Hope & Glory would be a good national anthem, but some of the lyrics are rather colonialist. I can’t think of an existing song which I think would fit the bill but I would like it to be something that doesn’t exclude people of different religions or none, or people who think we should be a republic.”

Megan Mills, however, likes “Jerusalem,” albeit ironically: “I wouldn’t mind ‘Jerusalem’ as our English national anthem. I like William Blake, the tune is good, and it brings back fond memories of singing it in school and making sure we roared ‘chariot of FIRE’ as loud as possible and did our best scary black metal voice for ‘SATANIC mills!'”

The question got Joanna van der Hoeven of the UK Druid College to thinking. “As a landed immigrant to the UK, I find this an interesting question. When I first came across the lyrics, I saw how terribly outdated they were: they were about saving a different Queen long dead, and helping Marshal Wade to destroy the Scots. What relevance does that have today? An anthem that has relevance to today, and without reference to crushing rebellious Scottish folk, might be a nice change. It’s odd though, that such a secular country albeit with a strong religious past still holds onto its outdated anthem. If they truly want to separate religion and state, then this needs to be addressed.”

While many of those who weighed in believe it’s not at all likely that this will get any traction in the houses of Parliament, it didn’t stop them from suggesting alternatives. In addition to those who think “Jerusalem” might work, there were also suggestions like “Land of Hope and Glory,” and many that ranged further afield. Some that stand out: changing the words of the current to be “Goddess Save the Queen,” the Sex Pistols version of “Freedom Come All Ye,” “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen. Then there was this observation by Hywel James: “Whatever the lyrics,” he said, “I want it to the tune of ‘Nelly the Elephant.'”

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Pagans Participate in the Bay Area #96Hours of Action to #ReclaimMLK

Tue, 2016-01-19 09:02

OAKLAND, Calif. — Over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, California’s Bay Area played backdrop to a number of different events as part of the second annual #96Hours action organized by the Anti Police-Terror Organization. Many of these events were attended by local Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens. The weekend action, consisting of everything from protests to vigils, culminated in a march through the city of Oakland.

March through Oakland and Emeryville 2016 [Courtesy R. Smith]

T. Thorn Coyle, who had been involved with the Anti Police-Terror Organization all year, helped to coordinate the first #96Hours action in 2015. This year was no different. In an email, Coyle told The Wild Hunt, “It is important to us that we honor the radical legacy of Dr. King – as called for by Black leadership – rather than upholding the whitewashed and sanitized Dr. King that so much of white America insists on remembering. King grew more and more radical before his death, when he had close to 30% approval among white Americans. This is around the same amount of approval white Americans currently give to Black Lives Matter and anti police brutality movements. We need to rethink what we value in this country. As a Pagan, I value justice, beauty, equity, and love. I try to act towards those qualities and join in community with others who uphold them.”

As she noted, the #96Hours action is part of a larger movement to reclaim Martin Luther King Jr.’s radical legacy. The common hashtag being used is #ReclaimMLK.

The Oakland #96Hour weekend events began on Friday, Jan. 15 with 7 am meditation and, then, continued on from there. At 4 pm, Coyle participated in the “Can You See Me?” Interfaith Procession in Remembrance of Black Lives in Oakland. As she described, the service was led by a Rabbi, Imam, and two Christian ministers, with Buddhists leading meditation. Then, there was a processional of nine coffins, representing those killed locally by police in 2015. That ended at Lake Merritt, where a tenth coffin was floating to represent those people whose names were not known.

While at the lake, Coyle led the group in song and prayer, asking them “to call upon the ancestors and [their] beloved dead, naming those killed by police.” She explained that “Pagan and polytheist traditions it is important to many of us to remember and call upon our beloved dead, asking them to walk with us.” 

#96Hours Interfaith Service [Photo Credit: Mollie Costello]

Brennos Agrocunos, Vice Chief, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood, was in attendance at the Friday evening service. He said, “We choose to stand alongside local Black Lives Matter activists as an act of service to our Gods, our ancestors, and our communities. As Coru priests committed to core values of sovereignty, kinship, warriorship, and service, one of the ways we enact these values is in the streets standing shoulder to shoulder with members of all faiths in our communities, calling for justice and an end to oppression, and providing medical and logistical support to other activists.”

Agrocunos and other members of Coru Cathubodua were also in attendance at Saturday’s action at the Oakland airport. Starting 6 p.m., terminal passengers were “greeted by activists chanting the names of People of Color killed by the police in the Bay Area, holding signs reading ‘Welcome to Oakland.’ ” This same action was then repeated on Sunday at the San Francisco airport, a much larger and busier facility.

Morpheus Ravenna, Lore Chieftain, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood said, “In the San Francisco Bay Area, nonviolent Black Lives Matter demonstrators have often been met with excessive force and violence. We find that the presence of clergy people acting in solidarity can help protect the community while underscoring the moral and spiritual imperatives of the movement.”

Oakland Airport Action [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos ]

The events noted above were only a few of the many that were organized over the 96 hour period that culminated in a Monday march through the streets of Oakland. This final action attracted the largest Pagan, Polytheist and Heathen contingent, many of whom walked behind a large banner reading, “Pagans United for Justice.”

Kristen Oliver and Rose Quartz of the Mills College Pagan Alliance were two of those walking. Oliver said, “Rose and I went to the march to honor MLK and stand with the people who he died to raise up who are still dying in our streets. I have always been an out and proud Pagan and so was happy to join the group of Pagans marching today under the ‘Pagans United for Justice’ banner. As someone who works to raise the visibility of Pagans in the public eye I have always said I would love to see more of our community out there working for social justice. And yet I have to admit that today I felt a bit disingenuous about identifying myself as anything other than just a person who wants humanity to learn to understand each other and stop hurting each other. Dr. King’s legacy and the Black Lives Matter movement is far too important to dilute or hijack with personal agendas and yet it is so important to show that support comes from many different places. I am still grappling with this question of intention tonight.”

Marching along side the Oliver and Quartz were members of Coru Cathubodua, Solar Cross Temple, Golden Gate Kindred, Reclaiming and more. Ryan Smith of the Golden Gate Kindred posted on Facebook: “Our kindred puts our words into action!”

Oakland MLK March 2016 [Courtesy Brennos Agrocunos ]

Beginning around 11am, marchers walked from “Oscar Grant Plaza,14th & Broadway, to the Bay St Mall in Emeryville” and were reportedly close to 1000 people strong.

Then, as the march neared its end, an unscheduled action took place on one side of the Bay Bridge. Around 4 pm, 25 Black Lives Matter protesters stopped a line of cars, chained themselves and the cars together, blocking the entire side of the road. Their original intent was to remain in that position for 96 minutes in honor of the #96hours of action. However, the protesters were only there for 30 minutes before being arrested. The entire event was reportedly peaceful.

The #96Hours and, more specifically, the #ReclaimMLK actions were not limited to the Bay Area, attracting attention and inspiring action throughout the country. While the national Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend is now officially over, the #ReclaimMLK movement will undoubtedly continue into the future as more groups and people, from all walks of life, join and support this growing social justice movement.

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