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What lies ahead: preparing Pagans for long-term care

Tue, 2017-06-27 10:53

TWH –Pagan and polytheist religions, or at least the modern versions of them, have only been publicly practicing for a few decades at best. Therefore, a relatively small number of practitioners have entered into an elderhood which requires residence at a nursing home or other long-term-care facility. Those numbers are only likely to grow in the coming years.


Timothy Anderson (Timotheos) is a program director for an assisted living facility, and while he isn’t aware of any Pagans or polytheists at his job, the issue is close to his heart. Anderson recently made a presentation on Paganism at a conference of the National Certification Council for Activity Professionals, to help his peers recognize people who practice one of these minority religions.

“By law, they must be allowed to practice their faith,” he explained, but ignorance of what that entails can be an impediment. Indeed, staff members must even assist residents unable to practice without help, so long as that doesn’t interfere with the rights of others. That might mean allowing a resident to maintain an altar in their room, or perhaps helping that resident lift an athame to salute the directions.

Gloria Cummings (Vesta Brightstar) spent the last 25 years of her nursing career in long-term-care facilities, before retiring in 2011. “As a community, I don’t think we understand how the environment is,” she said.

“The spiritual supports available are overwhelmingly Christian.” Lacking a specifically Pagan nursing home, she expects that the growing number of Pagan residents will have to advocate for themselves more than their monotheist neighbors.

“Paganism is so very young,” Cummins notes, that that there are far fewer practitioners past their 70s. “We really don’t like to think about aging.”

Like many life activities, religious ones to be curtailed by other rules governing such facilities, which is why Anderson recommends giving thought to what’s most important ahead of time. “Make a list of the bare minimum needed to practice, and tell them,” he said. “It’s like going back to college, with no candles or incense allowed. People must be prepared to adapt.”

When one is making a list about what’s critical to one’s practice, it is also appropriate to consider what advance directives might be desired when it comes to extraordinary life-saving measures, end-of-life care, and disposition of one’s sacred items and estate. Anderson sees all these questions as part of the systems to put into place to guard against a time when making decisions itself is impossible.

He notes that any of these documents “can be changed at any time.”

Cummins didn’t recall ever encountering a patient who she knew was Pagan or polytheist, and she has two competing theories as to why. On one hand, many of her contemporary co-religionists may simply choose to identify as “spiritual, not religious,” which she has herself claimed on forms to avoid a hassle.

On the other, many elders she’s known have simply passed on when the time comes, without the need for extensive care of this type. “That’s what I want to do,” she admitted. “With a lot of Pagans, when it’s time to check out, we check out.”

Not everyone is public about their religious practices, and many people are not even out to their children about what they believe and do. In the long run, becoming more open about that information may become very important when it comes to geriatric and end-of-life care. “If family dynamics are an issue be clear about things like not allowing family members to pray over you,” Anderson said. “The tough reality is that we are not going to be independent for the rest of our lives,” and may need assistance not only practicing, but advocating as well.


Cummins feels that coming to terms with being open about one’s religion can make a big difference, especially for those who belong to spiritual communities. “Perhaps their high priestess can visit,” she said, or a resident can take advantage of the occasional overnight stays out of the facility to stop into a festival or observe an important rite. “A lot of people don’t realize that’s an option, without losing their benefits,” she said. When it comes to advocating for religious expression, “It’s important to weigh the benefits of being public.”

Questions Anderson suggests asking include, “How would my practice change if I couldn’t walk, or couldn’t see? What if I am not allowed to have a knife? What religious care would I need if I were to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease? What can we not live without?” When it comes to practicing one’s religion, “What services are we looking to get?

As for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, Cummins didn’t recall any patient on those wards “who talked about their goddess, or anything like that.” It can be tricky to recognize Pagans who were private about their faith prior to being stricken, as they frequently respond to music they were familiar with in youth, which may include Christian hymns. “It may be that the elders who are able to set up altars in their rooms are cognitively intact, and don’t need our help.”

“They may not know what we do,” Anderson explained. “Be blunt. Ask, ‘Can I do that here, or do I need to look elsewhere?’ It will save the rigamarole if, for example, they have a ‘no altars’ rule.” He said it’s also important to remember that private rooms are a rarity in all types of elder-care facilities, and that other accommodations might be necessary for even solitary observances. For groups visiting to practice together, it might even be necessary to rent a room. Again, it’s important to confirm the rules around what’s acceptable in such a space, such as the presence of open flame.

Healing and other magical work is also something which should, if at all possible, be discussed in advance of admission to a facility. Practices such as entering altered states and the usage of herbs should be hit upon, and it’s possible that a waiver may need to be signed whether or not the staff doctor approves them from a medical standpoint.

Cummins and her husband are in their 70s, and should she have to move into a long-term-care facility she has every intention of availing herself of all healing modalities, both medical and spiritual, that she can. However, home care is the option that they would prefer.

It’s not uncommon for Pagans or polytheists to be in non-traditional relationships, either. “You should explain those dynamics before you walk in the door,” said Anderson, again to avoid expending effort justifying them after the fact.

Staff members at facilities should also be asked about spiritual matters, in Anderson’s view. “Do they have a spiritual care coordinator? A chaplain? What does person do?” He estimates that in perhaps 90% of facilities, the activities director is given oversight of spiritual nurture among their many other duties, rather than hiring either of those specialists instead. It’s not inappropriate to find out if the person in charge of spiritual activities understand the needs of a polytheist or Pagan. “Can a non-monotheist have option here?” is what he suggests finding out.

Preparing for this silver tsunami in Paganism should not solely fall on those who are themselves aging, either. “The Pagan community needs to be available to people who can’t get to circles and services,” Anderson said.

Pagans and polytheists should also be working on outreach now, Anderson said, before too many more community members have need of such services. “We are a minority,” he said, and “we need to have this conversation from a place of education.” That should include an explanation that there are many different Pagan faiths, else even those who have a passing familiarity may make incorrect assumptions. “If you’re not Wiccan, say so,” he said.

Given the number of people whose practice is entirely solitary, Anderson is of the opinion that “all priests need to be ready for phone calls from strangers,” even those who practice an entirely different Pagan faith. While members of the community have made inroads into chaplaincy, finding a Pagan one in a nursing home is still nigh unto impossible. An alternative he’d like to see is a resource list of chaplains willing and able to visit via Skype or another video platform.

An alternative to living in a facility is aging in place with some sort of home care provided, such as Cummins desires for herself. Even then, Anderson cautions, it’s important to ask questions before retaining a service. “Does the system support the right to practice?” he asked. “Will the aides assist in getting to the home altar or reading prayers? I’ve heard horror stories of conversion by home-care professionals, which is illegal and wrong.” That’s a case where filing a grievance should be done as soon as possible, in his view.

Cummins and Anderson agree that these conversations need to be happening more often in the various Pagan communities. The success of a religious revival can in important ways be judged based on how its elders are honored and cared for.

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

Pagan Community Notes: Astra Star Goddess, Four Quarters, Bayview Cross and more!

Mon, 2017-06-26 10:16

SANTA CRUZ, Calif — In a recent announcement, Oberon Zell has made the claim that the producers of the Hulu show Handmaid’s Tale (2017- ) stole his Star Goddess design to be used as “the symbol of the oppressive patriarchal theocracy.” In a recent Facebook post, Zell said:

“You can imagine my shock and outrage when I discovered that my iconic design of ‘Astra, the Star Goddess,’ which I created in 1987 as a quintessential symbol of women’s divinity and empowerment […] appears prominently and ubiquitously throughout the series as the symbol of the brutal oppression and subjugation of women in a totalitarian patriarchal theocratic regime.”

Zell has since said that he is building his case and has engaged a copyright attorney. He invites anyone who has been using his image to share their story with him. TWH reached out to the producers of the show but have received no response date. We will update this story as it develops.

*   *   *

ARTEMAS, Penn — In response to health concerns at Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary, Orren Whiddon released a statement indicating that over a dozen Pennsylvania state representatives from the departments of Environmental Protection, Sewage Enforcement, Food Service Licensing, Township Authorities and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Epidemiology have completed a day-long round of inspections and testing of the facilities. Whiddon’s statement goes on to detail both the positive reports and the citations, stating that any known problems have either been corrected or will be soon with new inspections already scheduled.

However, the investigators are still analyzing data and their conclusions on the site’s overall safety has not yet been published. Whiddon said, “Pending confirmation, the general consensus is that we have suffered outbreaks of norovirus. It may possibly be a fast-moving variant taking advantage of surface, to hand, to mouth transmission; and traveling the transportation corridors.” As a result, site owners are taking situation seriously and making changes to ensure better health while on property.

Whiddon continued, “Moving forward the following recommendations have been made: our registration process will include affirmations of present good health and prompt notification to our EMS of any emerging symptoms. We will temporarily quarantine two suspected entry-point epicenters as a precaution to preserve those campsites as test results are analyzed. We will provide even more hand-wash stations and we will aggressively educate in the critical importance of their regular use. We will continue and expand our policies of education and awareness, including detailed workshops at both Drum and Splash, and BigDub.”

“We wish to again express our sympathy and concern to those people who have experienced this contagion, and our appreciation to those who have shared with us their medical histories.”

*   *   *

Bayview cross

PENSACOLA, Fla. — The American Humanist Association (AHA) has successfully sued the city of Pensacola after it refused to remove a cross from state grounds. The AHA is led by David Suhor, who is best known in the Pagan community as the head of the local chapter of the Satanic Temple and the man who delivered a Pagan blessing at local government meeting. Suhor is well known locally for his work championing religious freedom.

In this particular case, he is listed as one of the plaintiffs on the complaint filed April 21. Their conclusions reads, “The undisputed material facts lead to the inescapable conclusion that the city’s massive Christian cross violates the Establishment Clause. Plaintiffs therefore respectfully request that the court grant their Motion for Summary Judgment in its entirety.” Federal U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson agreed, ruling June 19 that the 48-year-old cross in Bayview park must be removed within 30 days. In a statement, AHA senior counsel Monica Miller said, “We are pleased that the court struck down this cross as violative [sic] of the First Amendment […] The cross was totally unavoidable to park patrons, and to have citizens foot the bill for such a religious symbol is both unfair and unconstitutional.”

Since the decision was announced, locals have rallied to force the government to reconsider and “save the Bayview cross. Miller has reportedly been harassed, and a rally is scheduled for Tuesday night. Suhor, who can’t be at the event for a counter-protest, has since said, “Feel free to show up, take the stage and counter dominionist [sic] arguments, right along side the pro-cross speakers. I suggest a sound system or megaphone. […] There needs to be a counterpoint.”

In Other News

  • Hellenion has announced the forming of a new proto-demos. It is called Dodona Mouseion Hyperboreoi, and is located in Tennessee. Hellion is a “Hellenic-based religious organization dedicated to the worship of certain Hellenic deities and the advancement of Hellenism.” The organization is led by founder Hekataios Pindaros Amerikos.
  • New York City’s WitchsFest USA will now include a Witch Pride Parade for the first time. Organizers say, “Come join us at 9 a.m. Union Sq. dressed in your Witchiest outfits or the Spirits of the Solstice Sprites, Pixes, Fairies, Wood Nymphs etc and Walk down on Broadway to Astor Place.” The parade will be led by Lady Rhea and Dragon Ritual Drummers. The WitchsFest USA parade will take place the morning of July 15.
  • The Mystic South conference has listed its three-day program, which includes rituals, workshops, academic presentations, and two evenings’ worth of entertainment. Conference organizer Star Bustamonte has said that the goal was to get as diverse a group of offerings as possible, and that she was pleased with the response considering this was the maiden voyage of the event. Mystic South kicks off in less than one month, running from July 21-23 at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Oberon Zell was the subject of a new video short produced by Danny Yourd and Animal Studios.The film is called The Wizard Oz and features Zell’s life story and his in the magical community since the 1960s. It includes old footage as well as recent interviews filmed as the Academy of Arcana. The film, 22 minutes long, is embedded below and available to stream via Vimeo.

The Wizard Oz from Animal on Vimeo.

Column: First Pagan music awards recognizes Pagan artists

Sun, 2017-06-25 14:09

The first annual Pagan Music Awards were held this month on June 8, just outside of West Plains, Missouri about two miles off of the Arkansas border. This first-of-its-kind event in recent memory was held at the Wyte Ryvan Retreat Center.

“The International Pagan Music Association grew out of that station and Sacred Grove radio, International Pagan radio, which are all newer stations that are playing 24/7 this kind of music. We just wanted to help those kind of musicians get recognized so that we could give them some satisfaction and something to hang their hats on that says they are doing a good job,” said Alfred Willowhawk, who sits on the board for Wyte Ryvan and also serves as the vice president of the International Pagan Music Association (IPMA), which was organized as a nonprofit to put on the Pagan Music Awards.

Willowhawk, himself a DJ on the Cauldron, noted that many of the current IPMA board members are radio personalities on various Pagan streaming radio networks, and with the aid of IPMA president Melissa Anderson, they brought the event to life.

Mama Gina [International Pagan Music Association].

Taking inspiration from other music awards, Willowhawk said they “thought about how to recognize esoteric and Pagan musicians in an environment that is very similar to the American Music Awards, for the purpose of enhancing their reach within the mainstream and Pagan community.”

The association and the awards were created after Anderson got a flash of inspiration from a dream. She says she quickly reached out to several people and within six hours, they had a website.

Part of her love of Pagan music is that it is often better than what you get from mainstream musicians, “they sound better than the ones I hear on TV, and not only that, they sing about things that matter to me,” she said.

Ginger Ackley [International Pagan Music Association].

Couple that passion with how hard she sees Pagan musicians — many of whom are her friends— working, she felt that as a community, more needs to be done more for them.

“These artists book themselves, they are their own roadies, they look for their own places to stay, they do it all. And then they have to show up and smile after driving all day. Some will throw up a tent and sleep on whatever mat they can get and I think that’s just ridiculous that the community can come out and listen to them and that’s it. They download their music from YouTube, we have to get people to understand that they need to get a loaf of bread on their table as well. That’s what IPMA will hopefully do,” she said.

The organization is member-sponsored, granting all members one vote for each of the respective categories. Artists who join are likewise eligible to vote and automatically entered into the competition. Non-artists who pay the yearly fee of $29 can vote and are given complimentary entrance to that year’s Pagan Music Awards. For those who don’t want to join the IPMA but are still interested in casting a vote, they can do so for a $5 fee.

This year there were three professional categories— best male artist, best female artist and best group— as well as a category honoring the hard work of a community member to aid musicians.

Left to right: Mama Gina, best male artist David Wood, best female artist Rowena Whaling, Ginger Ackley [International Pagan Music Association].

Best female artist was won by Rowena Whaling of Rowena of the Glen, best male artist was taken by David Wood, and best group was won by U.K. artists Serpentyne, a symphonic/folk/metal act who were unable to attend.

The “Nine Toes the Bard Community Service Award” is selected by Mama Gina Lamonte (aka Nine Toes the Bard) who recognized Amanda Bell of St. Louis, Missouri.

Lamonte said that Bell “had been wrangling Pagan musicians/bands for the St. Louis Pagan Picnic when I met her, and I have witnessed firsthand her opening her home, her heart, and quite often her pocketbook, to help musicians as they travel through her area.” She further said that Bell has been a tireless promoter of Pagan music at local venues, and in her own back yard.

“My hope as the Pagan Music Awards grow each year is to raise up someone who is not necessarily one of our big name Pagans, though they are certainly deserving. Rather, I hope to recognize those who serve our community who aren’t always seen regionally, nationally or internationally. Next year’s award will likely go to someone who serves community in a very different way,” Lamonte said.

“I didn’t expect to win, it was a great honor to be nominated by the committee and as much of a surprise as winning,” Whaling said. She added that it’s important to see an awards ceremony for the Pagan community come together because it helps lend a sense of legitimacy and can aid musicians in bringing more Pagan music into the mainstream.

Wood agreed, saying, “it is important to honor the hard work of Pagan musicians and their dedication to the community.” While people rarely think twice about paying for books, he said he feels that people “rarely spend a dollar for their favorite Pagan music download that comes from the heart and soul just as well. There are plenty of our communities’ artists on many Pagan radio stations worthy of recognition. The IPMAs really are about bringing Pagan music to a level of equality in the community.”

Wood went on to say that he was humbled to be among such artists as Bran Cerddorion and Jack Montgomery. “I didn’t expect to win, but love that my fans voted for me. I want to thank them, especially,” he added.

Left to right: Sue Balaschak, David Wood, Gina Lamonte [International Pagan Music Association].

There were some impromptu pre-show performances that Whaling said turned out to be a wonderful addition to the show. Ember from Rowena of the Glen performed with Sue Balaschak of Burning Sage, and there were also performances by Wood, Whaling and Ginger Ackley.

As to the future, Anderson says that it’s going to be a yearly thing. They are committed to moving the awards ceremony around to a new location each year so that it’s more accessible to different people. There was some talk about combining it with existing festivals, but the logistics of doing so are complicated and ultimately they decided against it because “it just puts a lot more on the (existing) festival.”

While they’re kicking around ideas for where it will be held in 2018, Willowhawk said the final decision wouldn’t be made until their November board meeting.

Both Willowhawk and Anderson expressed their satisfaction with the awards. “For the first year, I feel like it did better than I would have imagined,” Anderson said.

* * *

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

Column: the Troth Meets for Moot in Missouri

Sat, 2017-06-24 12:16

The Troth held its 30th annual Trothmoot at Crowder State Park in Missouri from Thursday, June 1 through Sunday, June 4. To provide members in different regions equal opportunity to attend, the international Ásatrú and Heathen organization rotates the location of the gathering between western, midwestern, and eastern regions. This year, attendees arrived from 13 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, with Illinois and Washington making the strongest showings.

On Thursday afternoon, attendees performed a blót to the god Tyr. The central ritual of Heathenry, blót is focused on the making of offerings to gods, goddesses, land spirits, and other figures. To open Trothmoot, participants honored the god described as presiding over community gatherings in the organization’s monumental text Our Troth, Volume One: History and Lore:

Tyr simply established a framework for managing the struggles and conflicts inherent in any community such that the community, rather than being torn apart, emerged stronger. To call Tyr, therefore, a god of right, after the German Recht, would come nearer to the truth, although perhaps the most accurate term would be Þing-god, after the institution with which Tyr was most closely identified in later Heathen times.

The Troth flag flies over Trothmoot [Lisa Cowley Morgenstern].

Robert L. Schreiwer, beginning his second year as Troth steer (roughly equivalent to chairperson of board of directors), led both the blót and a ceremonial “land-taking.” He explains the significance of the rituals:

We followed the Troth’s traditions of honoring Tyr in blót and asking for his aid in maintaining the fellowship and frith [“peace”] of our community. Traditionally, we use a spear and a glove both as his hallowing tools and to represent the establishment of the frithstead and of a vé [“shrine”] to Tyr. We located the shrine by a flagpole and raised the Troth banner as an announcement of the taking of the land by the Troth.

We then walk the entire premises that we will utilize for our business meetings, rituals, workshops, and fellowship and honor the land wights in each of the cardinal directions, moving in a clockwise circle. This year we also stopped and hailed other deities along the route, particularly when we came across plants that bear an association with one in particular. For example, we hailed Thor at an oak tree and Holle at an elderberry bush.

On Sunday, we walked the same route counterclockwise, honored Tyr and other deities in a closing rite, disassembled the shrine, and took down the banner.

In one of the buildings of the campsite, members also set up individual shrines to Odin, Frigg, Holle, the Matronae, and several others.

Thursday night featured a presentation on “Speakers to the Dead” by Allvildr in fägra, author of Sheathenry, Volume I: Ritual Practices of Modern Heathen Women. When I asked her to explain her work, she said,

Whether they study their genealogy, construct ancestor shrines where they give offerings, follow a predecessor’s career path, or visit the graves of their forebears to commune with the dead, Heathen women endeavor to create or continue relationships with their relatives who have gone to the afterlife.

This presentation utilized the voice recordings of many of the women I interviewed for my book in order for the audience to hear how various Heathen women honor their ancestors in their own voices.

Ben Waggoner, the organization’s shope (publications director), discussed the “Germanic Night Sky” late Thursday night. He explained names of specific stars and constellations in various Northern European societies and stated that “the shope will someday publish [his research] as a book, once he gets everything else out of the way, which is not likely to happen soon, so don’t hold your breath.” A lot of people — Heathen and not — are interested in learning more about Germanic star lore, so hopefully he will be able to publish some form of his work sooner rather than later.

Waggoner also presented an introduction to Old Norse language on Friday morning, preceded by Schreiwer’s introduction to Urglaawe, which the Troth steer defines — in his Dictionary of Urglaawe Terminology, written with Ammerili Eckhart — as “a Heathen path that is derived from the living, pre-Christian traditions of the Deitsch [Pennsylvania German] nation.”

During the rede (board) meeting on Thursday night and during the general business meeting on Saturday morning, several officers swore new or renewed oaths regarding their official roles. Last fall, the Troth amended the oath taken by all titled representatives so that it would to be more closely “aligned with the Troth’s mission and stated positions.” Reaffirming the organization’s commitment to inclusive Heathenry, the new passage in the relatively length oath reads:

With the Troth I stand against any use of Germanic religion and culture to advance causes of racism, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, ableism, or any other form of prejudice.

Rede members renew oaths: Amanda T. Leigh-Hawkins, Lagaria Farmer, John T. Mainer, Robert L. Schreiwer [Lisa Cowley Morgenstern].

Lonnie Scott — the Troth’s Illinois steward, a member of Thor’s Oak Kindred in Chicago, and now a member of the Rede — was one of those who publicly made the oath. He explains the personal significance of the act:

I didn’t know if I won a seat on the High Rede until the first evening of Trothmoot. I felt the weight of history associated with those who’ve held this office and the organization itself. It was a welcome feeling. I knew I would take my oath of office, and since I had only made a written oath as Steward, I knew I would speak my oath for that as well.

I stood in the Hall surrounded by members of the Troth as I grabbed the Troth oath ring. The High Steward and the Steer held the Ring as well. Each took a turn repeating the Troth’s officer oath that I spoke in return. That moment is one of the proudest achievements of my life that I shall never forget.

On Friday night, Winifred Hodge-Rose led a walk through a large maze that was constructed to represent the journey to Mimir’s Well of Wisdom at its center. Jamie Juliansdatter describes the experience of walking the maze:

Intentionally moving into the maze was an unexpected gift. It was both a shared experience in community and an individual journey that was perfectly orchestrated by Winfred Hodge-Rose and kindred members.

Participating in the maze (and Trothmoot) gave me permission I rarely give myself in the midst of so many mundane commitments – the permission to slow way down, enter into sacred space according to my own rhythm, and listen deeply for much needed wisdom.

The maze was an opportunity to connect and reflect, as well as a reminder that I need these experiences much more often than I get.

Late the same night, Diana L. Paxson led a ritual of “Spae (Oracular Seiðr),” which she calls “Germanic oracular practice” on her website, Seeing for the People: High Seat Seið and the Core Oracular Method. Trothmoot programmer Lorrie Wood describes Friday’s rite:

Every year on Friday night of Trothmoot, Diana reaches out to the local and regional Heathen community, and asks them to help her put on her oracular ritual. Here, attendees of the moot are encouraged to bring their most important questions, and the seers answer them.

Without tools, but as the result of talent, skill, and training, answers are direct and immediate, although there’s often Heathen imagery involved in an answer. Sometimes a question is asked directly of an ancestor or a god, and the seer will get their point of view of the answer, if possible.

Throughout the day on Saturday, Rosten (Dean Michael Rose) led a forge demonstration and helped interested people make Thor’s hammers and other objects of pewter. He reflects on his work:

So far as I can remember, I have nearly always showed up to Trothmoot with a forge. It is an activity that many find interesting, and some are even eager to give it a try! Usually there are a few that leave the gathering with a new skill.

In this line of work, one learns quite a bit as creations “whoosh up” in a communal setting. I brought a variety of tools and a few ideas but left it to the folk to actualize their ideas. I had not done much with the white metal before, but we all had fun, and a number of interesting works resulted. I left with more ideas than I came with.

This moot was different in that I did very little forging. However, a couple of members were busy at the fire, so the opportunity was theirs for the taking! It was a friendly crowd, so I was able to be a bit more relaxed leaving tools lying around.

Paxson led a blót to the goddess Idunn on Saturday afternoon. Attendees had been asked to bring water from their home regions to add to a bowl of “the waters of the world.” When each person or group’s turn came, they walked forward, explained where they had collected the water – stream, lake, well – and added it to the bowl. Schreiwer added water preserved from the Idunna blót of last year’s Trothmoot, and Paxson poured the water on the roots of the oak tree that stood over the main meeting area.

Diana L. Paxson prepares to pour the waters of the world on the roots of the oak tree [Karl E. H. Seigfried].

When the blót had been completed, Rede member and Communications Officer John T. Mainer officiated at the wedding of Kentucky steward Amy Kincheloe and Ethan Dunbar in a beautiful ceremony surrounded by trees in the campground’s amphitheater. The married couple has decided to combine their last names into a new family surname of Dunloe.

After the final feast prepared by Tanya Peterson and her staff of volunteers, the entire group met for the grand sumbel. In A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru, former Troth steer Patricia M. Lafayllve defines sumbel as “a ritualized drinking ceremony which is meant to strengthen bonds within a community.” Two large drinking horns — providing a choice of mead or apple juice — were passed around the assembled participants. In the first round, each member hailed a god or goddess by giving a short or long speech and drinking from the horn. In the second round, ancestors or other departed individuals were hailed. The third round was open to whatever the participants chose to address.

Robert L. Schreiwer (center) opens the grand sumbel, with Lisa Cowley Morgenstern (left) and Lagaria Farmer (right) [Karl E. H. Seigfried].

Trothmoots have notoriously had defining conflicts. This year was no exception. During the sumbel, one longtime member gave a passionate and heartfelt speech in strong opposition to current organization rules on oaths made during the rite, insisting that oaths should be allowed in front of the assembly without being first discussed with the Rede. He was opposed by the fiercely determined guest of another Troth member, who asserted that witnessing oaths made by those outside of one’s own worship group would necessarily have a negative effect on the individual, and who insisted on walking out of the building to avoid hearing any oaths made. Schreiwer, possessed of an impressive ability to lower tempers while hearing all sides, was roundly applauded for his quick-witted resolution of the conflict. In relation to past blowups at Trothmoot, this was relatively painless.

Several attendees told me that attendance was noticeably down from previous years. In 2016, there were nearly two dozen more participants, and some earlier Trothmoots have had nearly three times as many attendees. Given that there has been a steady increase of new memberships in the organization, Wood suggests that the lower numbers this year may be due to a lack of current members in the midwestern region. She says that this year’s location was deliberately chosen to build a stronger presence in the area: “Trothmoot hasn’t been held in the Midwest since 2010, but as a committee we felt it imperative to hold the moot there to help grow our membership in that part of the country.”

Members of the Trothmoot planning committee are already looking at locations near Baltimore, Nashville, and Philadelphia as possible sites for next year’s event. There was a feeling among some members that, after many years of Trothmoots held at campgrounds, it might be nice to finally meet somewhere with a swimming pool and air conditioning.

* * *

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

Column: Sweat, Tears or the Sea

Fri, 2017-06-23 11:33

Welcome to the other side of the solstice: light is waning but abundant, still at its strongest and letting us stare deep and long into the world and into ourselves. This solstice is the triumph of life to its fullest, heralding the certainty of harvest in a moment of lavish light.

In my family’s traditions, midsummer meant a bonfire: the Bonfires of St. John. But not just a fire anywhere, a bonfire at the beach. Family members would make an ajiaco, a stew of root vegetables, plantains, corn on the cob and pumpkin that is cooked with tasajo, a Latin beef jerky. The ajiaco is a rich dish eaten with rice or bread but always sprinkled with lime juice at the last moment. The dish was reserved for big dinners and it accentuated the confluence of African, European and Indigenous cultures. We were taught that eating ajiaco connected us to the summer — the warmth of the world — and to our ancestors.

While I was growing up in Florida, we only celebrated one afternoon and evening but I was constantly told stories that the festival was supposed to last five days, creating a carnival-like atmosphere. It included costumes, dancing, parades, pageantry, a presentation of bulls, and the usual recounting of stories. Finally, on the fifth day — the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul — everyone would go to the giant straw and wood “doll” that had been built in one of the town plazas and burn it down, ending the festival celebrations With the burning of the doll, went all the negative energy in the town.

By the way, this is all totally not Pagan just, you know, traditions from the “Old Country.”

For us in Florida, though, when celebrating midsummer, there were three things you were supposed to do over the course of the day and into the night besides eat the ajiaco. The first of these was to jump over a small fire at least once. A small burning log was separated from the fires for us to jump over for the kids. The second thing was to bring herbs like basil, rosemary and oregano to wash in the surf. They were then bundled together and hung to dry at home, forming little salt crystals all over them. They were to be used during the next few days for both culinary and spiritual purposes.  The third thing we were supposed to do is to stand with your back to the ocean and fall backwards into it seven times.

Let me just note one more time that this is all totally not Pagan. They’re just fun traditions, you know, from the “Old Country.”

The Blue Hole at Ichetucknee Springs [S. Ciotti].

The last of these tasks has always stuck with me: falling backwards into the ocean. Now, just to be clear, I don’t recommend this without looking first, especially where I live.  Every Floridian knows not to go into any body of water — no matter how small — without a thorough inspection. Florida is constantly trying to kill you. No need to help it along.

But the act of entering water is spiritual, and falling backwards into it is both an act or trust as well as respect. While midsummer often focuses on bonfires, gardens and hikes — the stuff of the fire and earth — this is also the time of the year when many of us immerse ourselves in the waters of the world. We return to ocean, to beaches, to rivers and lakes, and creeks. It is a time when we need water the most. The heat of the summer demands we drink more to stay safe; and bathing in it cools us from heat.  This is a time of year that brings an opportunity to reconnect with the one substance that seems to be required for all life; the essence of the summer solstice.  There is no “us” without water, and in a very real way, we are water; we must return to it. As a shaman told me decades ago, “They like to tell us we are dust, but the truth is, we are water.”  We all go back to the water.

Despite its necessity for our survival and our spirit as a species, we seem to take every opportunity to collectively and consistently abuse  and ignore water. We do not revere it because it is common. In fact, we waste it will little regard. We pollute it specifically because of its abundance; we try to control it because of its utility.

Water exposes our human obsession with control.  We hear the echoes of our controlling nature in how we speak of water. We try to isolate it, keeping it away from us but allowing it to approach only on our terms, to what we choose: energy, art, or tea . We describe it as dangerous and irrepressible, and it is.

Offshore on the Atlantic Ocean [M. Tejeda-Moreno].

Its danger to us is not about its properties; it’s about our abuse of the world around us. Floods are not dangerous if we stop demanding to live where water belongs. The same is true for storm surges, even flash floods. In that sense, it is us prescribing to the planet where and how we will live that causes the damage.

Water floats our human gifts and aspirations. We learn to use water for communication and navigation. We sail for discovery and understanding, and use water to craft the world around us. Our buildings are possible because of water. Harnessing electricity became possible because of water.

Likewise, water drowns us in our human failures. The water crisis of Flint, Michigan exposes the environmental racism that plagues our civilization. It is through water that we witness how power, politics, and money continue to subordinate and even sacrifice communities of color. Our colonization was first made possible because of water. We also witness, in places like Fiji, how some of the purest waters on the planet are commodified to favor a hegemonic class. We see that social privilege in the most egregious wastes of water, lawns and golf courses; two spaces that exist only to mark class status.

As a species, we have been very busy destroying our water resources. We have decimated the Aral Sea, and we’ve been busy pressuring the North American Great Lakes ecosystems with urban and agricultural runoff. There are fewer and fewer unadulterated bodies of freshwater on every continent from streams, to rivers to lakes. It will come with a cost to our collective security and survival.

I’m reminded of a pataki about Orisha Olokun, the Orisha of the abyss. S/he is an androgynous Orisha separate from the better-known Yemaya of Yoruba religion, the Orisha of ocean surfaces and patron of the Ogun River in Nigeria. Orisha Yemaya is the mother of all, and she is present in the calm of the sea. But it is Olokun that is the power of the ocean and the rage of the maelstrom. Olokun is the water of life and the wellspring of all riches. S/he is the place where no one — not even fish — can go. The pataki is about two of his/her servants, one humble and the other arrogant. When Olokun asked the servants what they wished for, the humble servant said, “only to serve,” and so the servant was brought into the depths to learn Olokun’s secret wisdom and live in his/her riches. The other servant said he want only to live away from Olokun, and so Olokun cast him onto the land where he would only witness the famine and suffering of humankind, denied the greatness of waters. That servant cries endlessly to this day.

I think summer reminds us of that bargain. While the solstice brings the blessings of the sun, reentering Earth’s waters gives us a moment to reflect on Olokun’s choice.  Honoring water can offer us security, health and abundance but disgracing it will offers only the fate of the arrogant servant.

* * *

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

Witchcraft law closer to being stricken from Canadian criminal code

Thu, 2017-06-22 12:00

CANADA – In March of 2017, legislation was introduced to Canadian parliament which could remove outdated and antiquated laws from the Canadian criminal code.

On June 6, the next step in this process was taken: bill C-51:An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act, was tabled in the House of Commons.

While this bill is designed to bring the criminal code closer into line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it’s what’s buried deeper in the text that makes for interesting reading.

Under the higher-profile sexual assault provisions and other amendments is a list of outdated laws have been deemed obsolete and irrelevant. These are proposed to be stricken from the criminal code with the bill’s passage. They include:

  • Challenging someone to a duel (section 71);
  • Advertising a reward for the return of stolen property “no questions asked” (section 143);
  • Possessing, printing, distributing or publishing crime comics (paragraph 163(1)(b));
  • Publishing blasphemous libel (section 296);
  • Fraudulently pretending to practise witchcraft (section 365); and,
  • Issuing trading stamps (section 427).

Many of these laws are from Canada’s distant past, and holdovers from when Canadian law was codified in 1892. This system was adapted from English law, which inspired Canada at the time.

The bill was introduced by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and includes the removal of Section 365, which is of particular interest to Canada’s Witchcraft and Pagan communities.

Section 365 has been a sore spot for many Witches and Pagans in Canada, and has caused much confusion. It does not make it illegal to be a witch, or practise witchcraft, but it does specify that it is illegal to “fraudulently pretend” to practise witchcraft.

In an interview with The Wild Hunt in April 2017, Kerr Cuhulain, a retired Vancouver police officer, prominent Pagan author, hate crimes investigator and anti-defamation expert stated, “This law has to do with pretending to provide a service for money. The word ‘witchcraft’ in this law doesn’t refer to religion, it refers to magic. The courts really can’t interpret this as a religious law because then they’re crossing into human rights laws, that protect people’s rights to choose their spiritual path.”

While is has been recently reported by other non-Canadian media sources that “it is now legal to practise Witchcraft in Canada”, it is important to note that it is not illegal to be a Witch in this country. Section 365 of the Criminal Code of Canada clearly states that it is the element of pretending or fraud that is the problem:

Section 365 – Pretending to practise witchcraft, etc.

Every one who fraudulently

  • (a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
  • (b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
  • (c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Another important distinction to make is that the bill has not yet passed, but it has just been presented, and is “in committee” and being considered. The law will not be stricken from the books until it is passed by members of parliament.

Charges under section 365 of the criminal code are usually added to the more serious charge of fraud. During a plea bargain, the fraudulent witchcraft charge is typically dropped.

For example, in March of 2017, Murali Muthyalu was charged with fraud over $5,000, extortion and “pretending to practise witchcraft.” He extorted $101,000 Canadian dollars (approximately $75,305) from a desperate parent, who believed that Muthyalu would be able to cure his mentally ill daughter. Muthyalu told the parent that his daughter was possessed by evil spirits, and that for a fee, these spirits could be banished over several healing sessions.

During his plea bargain, the charge of pretending to practise witchcraft was dropped. Muthyalu, a visitor to Canada, was charged with fraud, ordered to pay restitution of $67,100 and ordered to leave the country

Crimes, such as the one committed by Muthyalu, are effectively covered by general fraud law in Canada. This makes the 125-year-old law citing witchcraft redundant.

The penalty for fraud can be a sentence of up to 14 years, whereas the penalty for section 355 (pretending to practise witchcraft) is a summary conviction of six months in jail and/or a fine of $5,000, which is why it is occasionally used in the plea-bargaining process.

For the general Canadian public, bill C-51 is most notable for the sexual assault reforms it contains. In addition, the bill would impose a new duty on the Minister of Justice to table a Charter Statement with every government bill. It will repeal or amend several criminal code provisions in order to better align them with the charter, and/or update them so they continue to be relevant in the 21st century. Finally, it clarifies the sexual assault provisions of the criminal code to reinforce protections for sexual assault complainants throughout the trial process, while preserving trial fairness for the accused. The inclusion of Section 365 is merely a curious and amusing leftover from a bygone era, along with the sections pertaining to dueling and publishing crime comics.

For Canadian Witches and Pagans, particularly those who may charge for their services, the removal of section 365 will potentially bring an end to the cloud of confusion over what constitutes a crime in our country.

No date is set at present, for the passing of bill C-51. The Wild Hunt will continue to update this story.

Efforts made to quell disease concerns at Four Quarters

Wed, 2017-06-21 10:43

ARTEMAS, Penn. — A popular festival venue for Pagan events recently experienced an outbreak of suspected dysentery. Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary says it’s working with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to investigate the outbreak and is taking steps to ensure the safety of future events, such as the upcoming SpiralHeart WitchCamp.

On the weekend of June 15, the Mad Tea Party took place at Four Quarters. According to Maryland Our Community Now, “By Sunday morning, reports of horrifying conditions began to emerge from festival attendees. The event page on Facebook has become an active forum for complaints as attendees report ambulance rides, hospital visits, and over 20 hours of illness after an apparent viral outbreak.” The report also says prior events this spring at Four Quarters have also experienced similar outbreaks.

Four Quarters quickly put out a message saying they were seeking answers to what caused the outbreak and asked attendees to report any health issues to the Pennsylvania Board of Health.

The venue is a popular site for Pagan and New Age events because of its central location, beautiful scenery, and modern facilities such as flushing toilets. The next Pagan event to be held at Four Quarters is SpiralHeart WitchCamp.

WitchCamp is “a week long, magical, intensive in the Reclaiming Tradition” and is scheduled to begin July 10.


Gwion Raven is teaching at WitchCamp, and has been to Four Quarters for previous WitchCamp events. He describes the venue well-maintained and remembers seeing signs posted in key locations which warn about viral infections and what can be done to prevent them.

He says although the reports of illness concern him, he’s still planning to attend the event.

SpiralHeart WitchCamp messaged attendees saying they are aware of the problem: “Hello campers! In just under 3 weeks (20 days) we’re convening for our annual Summer Intensive at 4Quarters Farm. There was a recent outbreak of a viral GI illness at that venue. The PA Health Dept. has been involved, and it appears the virus was brought by recent attendees. Four Quarters is working with the PA Epidemiological Dept. and will be visiting onsite with them shortly. Our organizers are in contact with Four Quarters staff and we will update you when we have information.”

Raven says he’s going to take common sense precautions like bringing his own water and packing Pepto-Bismol, but is interested in knowing what caused the outbreak. “If the recent outbreaks have to do with the actual water system, hand-washing won’t help much,” he said.

Raven notes that viral infections at large gatherings aren’t that uncommon and says smaller events, like WitchCamp, place much less stress on a venue’s facilities.

Four Quarters put out a statement detailing what they know and the steps they put in place to limit viral infections from spreading during an event:

Recently we have suffered at Four Quarters outbreaks of a very contagious viral GI illness that is following the pattern of the 2008 season outbreaks. We have been in contact with our public health officials about Viral GI prior to the outbreak at the Mad Tea Party and have been in continuous contact since Sunday morning, June 18. We have been forwarding contact information, hospital information, test reports and samples directly to the PA Epidemiological Dept, and will be meeting with them on site shortly.

[…] In working with the PA Health Dept after our experience with Viral GI in 2008, we put into place policies and improvements under their recommendation. We believe these policies prevented a much wider outbreak at Mad Tea Party.

  • We quarantine campers and campsites that display symptoms of any kind of GI distress, until it is known they are not infectious, and we supply these camps with chlorine wash-down supplies. We track arrival times, travel histories and first symptoms of cases reported to us.
  • We educate through signage and publications about the nature of Viral GI. Much of our staff has passed Safe-Serve educational certification.
  • During high risk events we continuously clean and chlorine wash-down all potties, water spigots, hand-wash stations and smooth public surfaces many times during the day.
  • Our water supply is tested and licensed with daily chlorine readings and monthly sampling. We volunteered for this highest level of testing.
  • Food vendors are safe-serve certified and are Health Dept. inspected prior to events. Our own kitchen is licensed to the commercial level with safe-serve certified staff.

Experts suggest the first line of defense against catching some type of illness at a festival is to get adequate sleep. One study suggests people who get less than six hours of sleep a night are four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to the virus than those who get seven or more hours of sleep.

Getting sleep reduces the chance of some viral infections [Pixabay].

They also say attendees should limit or avoid alcohol, wash hands frequently with soap and water, bring bottled water, and not share food utensils or beverage containers.

Happy summer solstice

Tue, 2017-06-20 07:13

TWH – For many people around the world, this week marks the celebration of the summer solstice, also known as midsummer or Litha. It is at this time that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted closest to the sun. The astrological date for this year’s solstice is June 21 at 04:24 UTC (or 12:24 a.m. EDT).

In honor of the abundance of daylight and sunshine, communities have long used bonfires, music, dancing, and outdoor festivals as traditional features of both religious rituals and secular celebrations. In some modern Pagan practices, it is believed that this holiday represents the highest ascendancy of masculine divinity.

[Public domain].

At the same time, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are experiencing the exact opposite. They are coming together to celebrate and mark the winter solstice; a time of darkness, candles and inward reflection.

There are several international secular holidays that correspond to the midsummer holiday. In 1982, Make Music Day, held annually June 21, was established in France and has since spread to become a global solstice celebration of sound. On that same day, others will be honoring the United Nations’ official International Yoga Day, while still others will be taking to the warm summer mountain trails to celebrate Naked Hiking Day.

June also marks gay pride month — officially proclaimed this year as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month — which has grown in popularity over the past few decades. Events are specifically held in June to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, which happened in New York City on June 28, 1969.

As we noted this weekend, June is the month in which many countries honor fathers and father figures, and in the U.S. it marks the end of slavery.

While those celebrations mentioned above are all examples of secular-based traditions, there are just as many religious holidays that occur at this time, many of which are honored by modern Pagans, Heathens and polytheists. As already noted, there is the celebration of Litha or midsummer, or conversely Yule and midwinter.

The Fires of St. John festival, a Christian holiday, is also held at this time in many countries and is closely associated with the older midsummer solstice’s traditions, including bonfires and feasts. Similar celebrations are found in many European countries, often known by different names.

In Vodun, Lucumi and other African diaspora religions, there are a number of feast days celebrated around this time, including the Feast of Ochossi and Feast of Eleggua.

In modern Hellenic reconstruction, the festival of Promethea occurs on June 21. One of the traditions is to eat fennel, which this is what Prometheos used to smuggle fire to man.

Here are a few thoughts on the season:

If you’re like me and don’t feel like lots of merriment this Litha, it’s a good time to reflect on the significance of this turning point in the wheel of the year. Wait for the cool of the evening if that’s possible. Light some candles. Pick an incense with a floral or citrus scent. Have a nice glass of wine or other relaxing beverage. Then take time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished since Yule. Have the seeds of ideas and projects you planted during the first part of the year been able to grow? If not, is there anything you can do to help them germinate during this time of the year that is focused on the greening of the earth? – David Taliesin, Litha (Summer Solstice) for Introverts

 *   *   *

The energy of Midsummer night is a long-understood atmosphere in Western culture. It means air warm enough for all-night goings-on outdoors. It means woods and meadows and moon-dappled hilltops. Nights for mystical and amorous adventures! Wherever you live, I suspect you know what I mean. The long, lovely evenings. – Mark Green, Hail the Magnificent Sun.

 *   *   *

The longest day and the shortest night of the year. This is a time to celebrate the completion of the cycle that began at the winter solstice – the sun is at the height of its power and although hopefully the hot days of summer are yet to come this is the point when the year starts to wane. Connect to this moment by taking time to stop, be still and look back over the past few months, celebrate your achievements and acknowledge your failures, make sense of your actions and learn from them. Focus now on what you want to nurture and develop during the coming months. – Rachel Patterson, Magical Food for Summer Solstice

*   *   *

This is the time of year to be harvesting a lot of plants including yarrow, mugwort, elderflower, rue, comfrey, lavender, plantain, and St. john’s wort. The last is actually named specifically because it blossoms at the same time that midsummer occurs. Often European midsummer festivals were recast as festivals for St. John so that all the merriment and harvesting could continue to occur under the auspices of a Christian saint. – Melissa Hill, Harvesting the Verba for Midsummer

Pagan Community Notes: Texas adoption bill, Piaga Paganism, Juneteenth, and more.

Mon, 2017-06-19 09:55

[Wikimedia Commons].

AUSTIN, Texas — Governor Greg Abbott signed into a law the Texas adoption bill that aims to protect “the rights of conscience for child welfare services providers.” As we reported in May, the controversial bill has generated both national support and criticism. Proponents claim that the new law will help an ailing child care system by protecting faith-based service organizations, which make up a sizable bulk of the potential child welfare providers. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. James Frank (R), posted on Facebook: “HB 3859 bans no one.” The aim, as he has said, is to improve the system and find stable families for troubled children.

Contrary to that, critics say that the law will allow for open discrimination based on religion, marital status, or sexual preference. Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said, “With his signature [..], Gov. Abbott has joined the lieutenant governor  and other lawmakers in taking Texas down a dark and cruel road.” Miller added that the bill is a “clear attempt” to discriminate against not only the LGBT community but “also people of other faiths.”

In May, we spoke with blogger John Beckett, a Texas-based Druid and Unitarian Universalist. He said that while he understands the sentiments behind the bill, he stands in opposition, saying, “Its real-world impact will be to make it harder for LGBT families, Pagan families, and other non-Christian families to adopt children.” However, he did note that that the situation is complicated.

The new law will go into affect September. Several LGBT organizations have reportedly planned to challenge the new law.

*   *   *

BRAZIL — Members of the Piago Paganism organization inaugurated a new polytheistic temple dedicated to the religious traditions of the area. Located in the Piauí in northeastern Brazil, the temple is located in a “large rural area dedicated to the preservation of polytheist cultural and religious preservation: Vila Pagã.”

Held May 28, the inauguration ceremony was attended by members of the Pagan community, as well as political and religious leaders, including those from the Catholic, Neopentecostal, and World Messianic churches, as well as Candomblé  and Umbanda.

According to organizer and leader of Piaga Circle, Rafael Nolêto, the “event was started with a presentation of children from the community, who [presented a theatrical piece] representing the formation of Piaga Paganism, a polytheistic tradition that celebrates the spirits and deities native to Piauí and Brazil.” Piaga Paganism also honors the gods of 15 foreign pantheons.

*   *   *

UNITED STATES – Today is June 19th, also known as Juneteenth. As columnist Crystal Blanton noted in a June 17 article, “Juneteenth is just that – an historic day of freedom for Black Americans. Filled with celebrations, festivals, and remembrance, the date June 19 marks the end of chattel slavery in all of the states within the U.S.”

Celebrations are taking place throughout the country. Blanton lists a number of ways that Pagans can celebrate the holiday with the help of several websites, one of which is Lilith Dorsey’s Voodoo Universe. In a 2015 post, Dorsey discussed the honoring of ancestors with food. She writes, “Many of the recipes I feature here on this blog Voodoo Universe would be suitable dishes to make this Juneteenth for your own illusion. For at it center Juneteenth is about celebrating our hard won freedom on every level…. nourishing ourselves no matter what illusions life dishes out. Enjoy this Juneteenth and your freedom.”

In other news

  • Where did everyone go? Circle Sanctuary’s Pagan Spirit Gathering, one of the biggest and oldest week-long Pagan camping festivals, got underway yesterday. Look for blog posts and updates in social media from that community over the next week.
  • Speaking of festivals, Eight Winds is less than a month away. This four-day festival is ADF longest-running event. Held in Trout Lake, Washington, Eight Winds will offer “great food, rituals, workshops, fireside chats, and lots of bardic shenanigans.” Featured guests include: Lupa Greenwolf, Phaedra Bonewits, Shauna Aura Knight, and Rev. Kirk Thomas. The festival runs July 13-16.
  • Another summer Pagan event is New York City’s popular WitchsFestUSA: A Pagan Street Faire. The three-day-long annual event happens near Astor Place in the West Village. Last year, the event drew loud protesters, who irritated some attendees but did not stop the festivities. This year’s event will take place Saturday July 14-16.
  • Pentacle labyrinth [Google Maps].

    While it’s not news to labyrinth aficionados and Google Maps fiends, a Wiccan in Enola, Pennsylvania has built a pentacle labyrinth with his own two hands. Lord Fairy Bottom Educifer, high priest of the Coven of the Mighty Oak (part of the Blue Ridge Mountain Clan tradition) told a Wild Hunt reporter that he first created it in 2006, but upgraded and expanded it in 2014 over two months to make it usable in wheelchairs. Visible in satellite photography, the new version is 60 feet in diameter with paths lined with limestone dust three inches thick. More details about the labyrinth are available here, including the address and details on how to make an appointment to walk it.
  • A new issue of the Dolmen Grove Chronicles is available online. The midsummer edition features articles, reviews, and photographs that capture a Pagan spirit. For example, Rachael Moss offers seasonal sowing charts and Andrew Cowling writes about St. John’s Wort. The digital journal is the publication of the Dolmen Grove, a UK-based organization of mixed spiritual paths that was established in the 1990s.

Honoring the spiritual journey of fatherhood

Sun, 2017-06-18 10:58

TWH – Every year on the third Sunday in June, many people around the world set aside time to honor and celebrate the fathers and father figures in their lives. Father’s Day has become a day to recognize the unique and important contributions that men make to the rearing of the next generation.


The history of the American secular holiday does not have the same radical roots as its counterpart, Mother’s Day. In 1908, a Washington state woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, who had been raised by a widower, wanted male parents to be honored in a similar way as mothers. Dodd’s own mother had died giving birth to a sixth child and, consequently, her father was forced to raise all six children himself.

In 1910, Dodd was able to convince Washington state officials to establish an official Father’s Day. She had hoped it would be on June 5, the day of her father’s death. However, the state made it the third Sunday in June.

The idea spread very slowly, meeting much resistance. Some local communities, such as one in Fairmont, West Virginia, picked up on the idea through its church community. After a catastrophic mine tragedy in which many men lost their lives, the community began celebrating Father’s Day on July 5.

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommend adding the holiday to the calendar. According to Library of Congress’ wise guide, Coolidge believed that it would “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children” and “impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”

But the idea was quickly rejected. Many Americans felt that the holiday was silly, and still others protested against the establishment of yet another commercially-focused celebration. By this point in time, Mother’s Day, which was declared a national holiday in 1914, had already become quite commercialized, upsetting founder Anna Jarvis and drawing some controversy.

Despite these objections, the idea to establish a national Father’s Day got a significant boost by World War II and Cold War nationalism. An unofficial version of the holiday began to spread throughout the country and, by 1970, it was widely embraced. Then, in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the proclamation that made it an official U.S. holiday. Today, many countries around the world honor fathers on this same day.

While Father’s Day is certainly secular, the celebrations do not need to be. The original idea reportedly came to Dodd during a church service. Moreover, becoming a father itself, similar to becoming a mother, can be deeply transformative. And the experience as a whole transcends the mundane drudgery of child-rearing, leaving an indescribable lasting impression.

“[Fatherhood] deepened my stewardship and guardianship instincts overall, and solidified my sense that humanity is – and is supposed to be – a part of nature capable of enacting sacred partnerships with each other, plants, animals, and spirit/diety,” said Canu, a Witch, Wiccan and Faery Seer in Florida.

Canu has raised two “amazing humans,” who are now 19 and 21. “It has been humbling to help foster growth for my children’s own health and goals.”

EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen also found his journey to fatherhood transformative. “I was in my late thirties when I became a father. By then, I’d been in many deep and complex relationships, and I was pretty confident that I knew myself emotionally, that I knew what love was all about.”

“It turned out that I was totally unprepared for the outpouring of feelings I experienced with both of my children: the depth, the intensity, the absolute sense of unconditional love, the knowledge that I would give my life for them without a moment’s hesitation,” he said. Corban-Arthen has a daughter age 26 and a son about to turn 30.

“[Having children] probably changed me more than any other experience in my life.”

Canadian Heathen Robert Rudachyk agreed, saying that his life has been changed since becoming a father. “I looked out for myself primarily. I focused on what was best for me. Since my kids were born, I have focused on what is best for them and put myself in second place.” Rudachyk has an 8 year old daughter and 10 year old son.

Wiccan Priest Matthaios Theadoros is at the very beginning of his own journey as a father; his son will be two in August. Theadoros said, “Before my son was born, I was heavily involved in my coven. I was not prepared for how much I would be giving up when we had a baby. [Becoming a father] has taught me a lot about time management.”

More practically speaking, he added, “It’s taken me out of a lot of online interactions, so I’ve been much happier. Less unimportant drama.”

[Photo Credit: By Djembayz / Wikimedia]

ADF Druid Sean Harbaugh has four children ranging in age from 10-22. He said that becoming a father had not altered his spiritual journey, but added that his religious beliefs definitely influence the way he raises his children.

“As an ADF Druid, we have a really complete cosmology and set of virtues.There’s nine of them, and then all other values and virtues fit within those. I’ve reinforced those virtues with them as they have grown, and hopefully it has stuck with them into adulthood. I think they are really good humans with big loving hearts.”

The other men interviewed agreed with Harbaugh, stating clearly that their personal beliefs and religious practices have informed the way they view fatherhood and have chosen to raise their children.

“We are a religion that honors life’s changes and cycles,” explained Wiccan Priest Theadoros. “Here’s a front row seat life’s changes and cycles. It’s a beautiful chaos that has shaped my spiritual path which, in turn, shapes my approach to being a dad.”

Like Harbaugh, Rudachyk described how he calls on his religious background to directly guide and teach. He said “I often use different stories from the Eddas to help teach the kids about proper behaviour and have quoted the Havamal many times for simple life points.”

Anecdotally, Rudachyk added: “Just last week when my kids and I were fishing and we hooked a five foot long river sturgeon. My son was holding the rod when the fish launched itself completely out of the water. It freaked him out more than a little bit, and afterwards I was telling the story of how when Thor went fishing he caught the Midgard Serpent. That really resonated a chord with both of them and became a great teaching and bonding moment with my kids.”

When asked how his beliefs informed his parenting, Corban-Arthen focused on the importance of community. He said, “Community is one of the three foundations of the spiritual practices I follow. Because of this, I think of myself more as a parent than I do as a father. My wife Deirdre and I have always parented as a team, and have traded roles and responsibilities back and forth over the years, so that our children would not see either of us as one-dimensional, but experience the fullness of who their parents are.”

Corban-Arthen and his wife made a “very deliberate choice” to raise their children within a rural and spiritual environment. He explained, “These were, for us, distinctly spiritual choices. Both of our children were born within a ritual setting, with several other members of our family in attendance. From day one, they’ve had a sense of being part of a tribal family which includes many aunts and uncles in addition to their parents, and they’ve had a very direct experience of the natural world, of wilderness, of living in harmony with the land.”

In discussing this subject, Canu said, “My main dieties in practice are Herne, the Green Man, and Oshun. The strong stewardship and guardianship roles of Herne and the Green Man guided me in raising my children with awareness of the sacredness and value of the human, plant, animal, and spirit lives all around us, as well as our responsibility to understand how we affect our environment.”

He added, “Oshun has really helped guide my sense of how to instill respect for our own and other’s expressions of beauty, relationship possibilities, and sexuality. That’s a challenge to convey as a parent, but she has helped!”


Like motherhood, fatherhood has its profound moments of joy, fear, pride, and frustration. When asked to share a special moment, Harbaugh said, “Witnessing the birth of my son Zane was by far the most profound moment I’ve ever witnessed. Words cannot describe the feeling of amazement as I witnessed him joining us here. Birth is just an amazing thing to witness.”

Fatherhood also brings moments of unforgettable comedy and deep laughter, as only a child could inspire. Theodorus recalled his son’s recent Wiccaning. “It was magical, in all senses of the word, watching my fellow Third degrees offer their blessings. My son insisted that I hold him during the ceremony. Pretty early in the ritual, his diaper leaked and he peed all over me. We had a good laugh over that.”

Whether it is a birth, a Wiccaning, a first day of school, or simply a quiet moment in the house, fathers and grandfathers, as it were, play an important role in the raising of the next generation. This is exemplified in an NPR article titled “Why we need Grandpas and Grandmas,” which uses elephant society as an example. The guidance and lessons that fathers bring to community are integral to children’s well-being and their future in community, whatever that may turn out to be.

Not all these vital teaching moments are planned; sometimes guidance is needed at odd times, and a father must be ready. Canu recalled an unexpected, but very touching moment between himself and his oldest child. “I had the privilege and responsibility of having the first talk with my older child about coming out while he was in junior high,” he explained.

“It wasn’t planned or voluntary (an inadvertent interruption of computer use while getting ready to leave in the morning), but our first talk unfolded as a basic expression of support and trust, love, and support for his own growth and desires, not mine or mine by proxy.”

Fathers don’t only play a pivotal role in guiding of sons, but they also provide valuable assistance in guiding their daughters. Corban-Arthen’s own daughter reminded him of an important message the he gave to her as a child.

“Every so often when she was little, and it was just the two of us together, I would tell her to always remember that she was the equal of any boy or man; that she could do whatever she wanted to do, and be whatever she wanted to be. That if her brother got to do certain things that she wasn’t allowed to do, it was only because she was younger, not because she was a girl. And that, in time, she too would be able to do those things, and probably do them at an earlier age than her brother.”

Corban-Arthen explained that his daughter was growing up with two older boys in the house, and he felt that this message was very important for her to hear. “It would have been easy for her to internalize the wrong message, the message of inequality that our culture tries to imprint in young girls from the moment they’re born. I’m glad it meant something to her, meant enough that she remembers it.”

Fatherhood is not at all a uniform experience; there is no playbook or manual. And the job is not always an easy one. Canu said, “My father-in-law said to me once that each of your children will take something you hold dear, twist it into something unrecognizable and confront you with it. Fathers will be called to face that moment, their children, and their Gods.”

All five men of the men interviewed have participated in the transformative journey of fatherhood in their own way, guided by their beliefs, spirituality, and their children. We asked what advice that would be willing to offer to future fathers, Pagan, Heathen or otherwise.

Corban-Arthen said, “Give your children the very best you’ve got at every moment, even if it isn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean just saying ‘I gave them my best,’ and leaving it at that. It means actively engaging in an ongoing quest to always reach for what truly is best in you, even if it takes an effort, even if it means a struggle.”

“It will make you a better father – and a better person – in the end.”

Echoing that statement, Theadoros said, “Be present, be supportive of baby and mama, and enjoy the ride.”

Harbaugh stressed that there are no rules to parenting. He said, “Try the best you can. Seek advice from your parents or friends with children. Always approach your children with love, even when they do something wrong. Through them you are immortal, so think about that when you look into their eyes.”

Rudachyk said, “Remember son, it is no longer about you.”


Rudachyk went on to say, “Your role is first and foremost to protect your kids until they can stand on their own, then it is your role to guide and advise them so that they can find the path which they will succeed at. It is not your role to hide them away in a bubble of fear and mistrust that stops them from venturing out into the wider world, but rather it is your role to teach them about the wider world in such a manner that they can bravely go forth to find their own success.”

Like Harbaugh, Rudachyk also had a broader message – one that illustrates a parent’s obligation to community and a better tomorrow.” Do not teach them hate or fear of those different from us, but rather teach them to find understanding of those who are different from us so that we can build friendships, alliances, and trust in such a way that we all prosper. Your kids are your future and if you must lay down your life for any cause, let it be in the protection of those who will carry on your legacy.”

When asked his advice, Canu echoed the other men’s words, saying, “Foster and nurture the unfolding of life and beauty that your children embody. Our role as fathers isn’t to show our children their paths, but to be open to stewarding their own paths, no matter how different from our own.”

Canu then added, “May all fathers have the strength and wisdom of their many ancestors, their father’s fathers, and their Gods when they face the crucible of living in partnership with their children, when they confront the transition of guiding a child’s development to participating in their child’s own path rather than their own

“There is sacred wisdom and strength in a fatherhood that can uphold the diverse and beautiful unfolding of the life of our children that blesses the men that can embrace it.”

*   *   *

A very Happy Father’s Day to the men who were interviewed and to all those celebrating!

Column: The Magic of Juneteenth

Sat, 2017-06-17 11:19

“Juneteenth isn’t just a celebration of emancipation, it’s a celebration of our commitment to make it real.”Jamelle Bouie

This time of year is associated with the heat, vacations, and the Summer Solstice. Kids are out of school; people are preparing for the 4th of July and many are  giving a collective sigh of relief as summer marks a milestone in the evolution of the calendar year.

But for a portion of Americans, there is a milestone in June that has nothing to do with any of these things and instead is solely about freedom.

Juneteenth is just that – an historic day of freedom for Black Americans. Filled with celebrations, festivals, and remembrance, the date June 19 marks the end of chattel slavery in all of the states within the U.S.  According to the Juneteenth historical website:

“Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863.”


There are many different versions of the story for why it would take two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation for enslaved African Americans to become free. It was rumored in one such story that the man sent to give the message was killed in route.

We do know that there was a mass migration of slave owners from Southern States to Texas in order to avoid the news of freedom. In a Slate article,titled The Black American Holiday Everyone Should Celebrate but Doesn’t, the author mentions how many slave owners moved to avoid losing their slaves. The article reads:

“News of emancipation would move slowly, which would be compounded by the mass migration of slave owners, who fled their holdings in Louisiana and Mississippi—slaves in tow—following the Union victories at New Orleans in 1862 and Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863. Tens of thousands of slaves arrived in Texas, joining the hundreds of thousands in the interior of the state, where they were isolated from most fighting and any news of the war.”

It is said that General Granger, upon arrival in Texas, recited General Order #3 to inform the people of the new  legal status of formerly enslaved people. That statement reads:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Today 45 of the 50 states in the United States now recognize Juneteenth as either a state holiday or a day of Celebration, and Galveston, Texas has become a destination to celebrate the execution of freedom for all slaves. As one of the longest celebrated days of remembrance in our country, it is surprising that there is not a lot of discussion within the magical community about the importance of honoring the ancestors of slavery during this celebratory time.

For many of people of color, and specifically Black people, Juneteenth has become a symbol of empowerment and a reflection of resilience from our past. I have found some of the most profound moments of ancestral connection and reverence by celebrating and engaging with the spirit of Juneteenth. There is a lot of magical significance in the resulting resiliency from slavery and the slow process of freedom.

The lack of discussion about such holidays points to a larger systemic issue of how our history and celebrations are filtered by the norms of the over-culture. There are often distinctions made within marginalized cultures of what is just for that group to celebrate and what is a celebration of larger society.

What makes this particular holiday different than other culturally-based celebrations is the historical importance of this moment for all Americans. This specific day in time acknowledges a very important step in the shift of what was to become the next level of fight for freedom in this country.

When reading this one might ask why this may be important today. While there are a lot of ways to answer that question, one of the most relevant things we could talk about is how important it is for us to connect to the fight for freedom and justice. That discussion is still very relevant in many segments of society and has been an ongoing need for the Black community specifically.

We are aware that neither the Emancipation Proclamation, nor the activities of June 19, 1865, ended the legacy of slavery in this country. Legalized forms of slavery continue to this day in the U.S. even if federally-approved chattel slavery came to an official end.

Celebrations hosted in cities around the country are open to the public for observance and participation of this monumental moment in American history. There are some people that make their way to a local Juneteenth celebration in order to enjoy moments of prayer, good food, and music. Others might find themselves desiring a introspective moment with their families and their ancestors.  

Author and Priestess Lilith Dorsey has written several pieces on her Voodoo Universe blog discussing the many celebrations of Juneteenth. In her piece Juneteenth Recipe Roundup, she speaks to the importance of food in celebration. Dorsey writes, “For at it center Juneteenth is about celebrating our hard won freedom on every level…. nourishing ourselves no matter what illusions life dishes out.”

Despite the horrific conditions of slavery and the lack of access to things very necessary for survival, food became a shared symbol of celebration and hope; this makes food a natural way to share, reflect, and spend time with our loved ones. In the following article, Dorsey shares Juneteenth celebratory recipes for fried chicken, strawberry lemonade, and collard greens.

In addition to the celebratory qualities of food, different ancestral folk magic and beliefs were tied to the properties and symbolism of things that were ingested into the body.  Many of these folk remedies or “southern wives-tales” continue to be passed down from generation to generation, carrying our history in the customs we have inherited – black eye peas for prosperity; honey for sweetness; lemons for cleansing.  

[Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes]

What are some other ways that a community can observe, celebrate, or acknowledge Juneteenth this weekend? There are many suggestions on the Juneteenth website. The ideas listed are useful but not extensive, and are not inclusive of spiritual or religious practices:
  • Reflection and mindfulness about the price of freedom.
  • Light a candle to honor those who suffered and for those who are still fighting
  • Spend the day educating others about the reality of systemic injustice and our history
  • Do magic for protection for those who are the most vulnerable today from systemic and structural racism.
  • Ancestral reverence as your practice allows
  • Cook a meal, share a meal, and spend time with others in the name of freedom
  • Recite poems, writings, and reflections from those of African descent in your workings and rituals.

This year for Juneteenth I will light up my altar, recite a piece I wrote a few years ago, and cook a good meal for my family. I plan to talk about and deeply reflect on the price of freedom back then, and today. It has become an integral part of my practice and my connection to the ancestors to honor the journey to freedom and to give voice to their pain. I got the chance to briefly ask Dorsey what she will be doing this year for Juneteenth. She told me she would be “feasting and celebrating what it really means to be free.”

It is clear today that the necessity of freedom and the power of one’s own agency continues to be an important thread connecting our fight for justice, equity, and survival.May we all remember that freedom is often slow in it’s delivery, and is never free.

Juneteenth Poetry

Justice delayed from fringed time frazzled cry
Until the DREAM can heal itself and broken trust
Negroes shackled minds in the velvet shadows try
Evolving with a nation drunken in bloody lust
Trapped in tragedy of a blurred emancipation line
Edged to the margin of Reconstruction, it tells
Empty enactment lagging that Constitutional hell
Nattering historic lies, blood and tongue dispels
Truth against the moral lie, all brotherhood a shell
Heaven’s rich cause stumble in raged hearts to fill.

© David Smalling


“Regardless of where they went, they were followed with freedom’s challenges;
These challenges came from making decisions and environmental changes.
They never forgot that joyous 19th day of June;
When people once enslaved could finally sing their freedom tune.
The celebration started with reassuring and praying;
The adults were eating and drinking while the children were playing.
It was also a time for the reuniting of family members;
It was one of the happiest days many of them remembers.
Today it is a day of pilgrimage to that town;
Let the shouts of freedom for all make a holy sound.
Soon the day will come when in unison we say;
“Forever and ever all Americans will celebrate Juneteenth, the freedom holiday”!

By Arthur Kroll


A poem and essay by Jupiter Hammon, an 18th century slave


Writer’s Note: I cannot write a piece reflecting on freedom of Black people in the United States on this day without mentioning the recent verdict of not guilty with regard to the death of Philando Castile. I cannot ignore the horrific irony that on the weekend of Juneteenth we are reminded that freedom is still subjective to circumstances and we still don’t have it.

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

Column: A review of Star.Ships

Thu, 2017-06-15 22:30

Gordon White’s Star.Ships: A Prehistory of the Spirits, published by Scarlet Imprint in 2016, challenges the overly materialistic shortsightedness of both academic and “ancient aliens” theories regarding the development of human “civilization” during the late Paleolithic and early Neolithic periods. As the subtitle of the book suggests, White offers a spirit-working chaos magician’s perspective on the question of of “civilization” and its relationship to spirits and star lore, utilizing data from a wide swathe of scientific disciplines. “Instead of measuring a civilisation by its density of sprockets, what happens when we consider civilisation to be a collection of values, thoughts, mythologies?” White asks, “What happens when we count up the non-physical sprockets?” (9)

White begins his book with a chapter on the limitations of scientific answers to this question, ranging from methodological problems such as the non-publication of findings due to political or careerist reasons, the deliberate limitation of access to evidence, and blatant fraud, to thornier issues of interpretation: the inevitable gap between facts and interpretation, confirmation bias towards exclusively materialist explanations when dealing with spiritual or mythic subjects, and racist assumptions about “primitive” cultures “progressing” into “civilizations.” He declares:

Science excels at generating facts, but magic has been generating meaning for perhaps fifty thousand years […] We are wholly justified in turning the question on its head and asking the scientists what it is they think they are doing swimming in our pool in the first place. (14)

Göbekli Tepe

Having fired these opening shots, White turns to the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe in Southeastern Turkey, discovered by Dr. Klaus Schmidt in 1994. Göbekli Tepe consists of numerous circular enclosures comprised of carved stone pillars, and is at least 12,000 years old, predating agriculture, cities, and the other usual defining features of “civilization.” Thus, its simple existence demolishes the theory that temples are built only when agricultural surplus allows the establishment of cities and priestly castes: the first enclosures at Göbekli Tepe were built by gatherer-hunters.

Furthermore, each enclosure was deliberately buried around the time the next was built, and southern-facing entrances of the enclosures each seem to align at dawn with the constellation Orion—each successive enclosure’s entrance drifts further to the east, as is to be expected due to precession. The relief carvings are mostly of various animals such as foxes, snakes, boars, vultures, and cranes, while the central T-shaped pillars are shaped like headless humanoids.

Göbekli Tepe was clearly a major trading hub, with obsidian from up to 300 miles away being found at the site. There is no evidence of permanent settlement at the site, but there is evidence of feasting and very possibly the consumption of beer brewed from wild grains. The central pillars “hum” when struck with one’s hand, and fragments of human bone raise the possibility of excarnation “sky burials.” In short, there is strong evidence for the theory that Göbekli Tepe was not merely constructed and used by a single band or tribe, but “an episodic gathering place for nearby (and possibly quite distant) tribes sharing the same cosmology” (37).

Göbekli Tepe [Teomancimit].

Shared Cosmologies

The idea of shared cosmologies underpins Star.Ships. White notes that if similarities between different world mythologies were purely the result of neurology, then the distribution of those similar beliefs would be random, just like physical variations. However, the motifs that White follows are not randomly distributed, which is hardly surprising given that belief systems spread culturally rather than biologically.

White draws heavily upon the work of the Indologist E. J. Michael Witzel, author of The Origins of the World’s Mythologies. Dr. Witzel suggests that by comparing similarities in world mythologies to the movement of human populations, tracked through archaeological and genetic data, some of these similarities may be traced back to common ancestors. Dr. Witzel broadly categorizes world mythology into two groups, which he names after the super-continents that formed when Pangaea broke apart: Gondwanan and Laurasian. Gondwanan mythologies, which are older, are described as a “forest of stories” without a creation or destruction story, whereas Laurasian mythologies are characterized by a more linear narrative including the creation of the world, the separation of heaven and earth, the killing of a dragon, a golden age and a flood, and the eventual destruction of the world.

According to Dr. Witzel’s framework, Gondwanan mythologies are around 65,000 years old and are largely found in sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, and New Guinea (which were both early destinations when humans first migrated out of Africa), while Laurasian mythologies are around 40,000 years old and are common in Eurasia, North America, and North Africa. From these two families, Dr. Witzel also tentatively reconstructs the broad brushstrokes what he calls Pan-Gaean mythology, the original African ancestor of both families of mythologies. Common themes within Gondwanan and hypothetical Pan-Gaean mythology include a distant high god, a trickster teaching culture to humanity, and an Otherworldly “well of souls.” The importance of serpents, local spirits, and stone worship are other likely features.

A Gondwanan “well of souls?” Illustration in Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales. Public domain.

Using Dr. Witzel’s model, White mocks the folly of searching for the physical location of Noah’s srk or Atlantis or the garden of Eden: these are clearly just recent iterations of much older mythological motifs. White also discusses Dr. Witzel’s distinction between “grandmother stories” and “grandfather stories:” the latter are the official narratives of Laurasian cultures, whereas the former are survivals of Gondwanan themes found within fairy tales and folklore. For example, the German story of the stork delivering babies is similar to the “well of souls” motif found within Gondwanan mythologies.

White applies the “grandmother” framework to the western magical tradition:

While Laurasia may be the ‘containing narrative’ for Western magic, many of its spirits are at least Gondwanan and potentially Pan-Gaean […] ‘true’ Western magic, devoid of its much, much later onboarding of Neoplatonism, is a practical application of a Pan-Gaean worldview: God may exist but its existence is materially irrelevant; the Trickster/Devil is the gatekeeper and lord of culture; and it is recourse to local spirits and the dead by way of sacrifice that is the most commonly performed action. (59-60)

Sic Itur Ad Astra

In subsequent chapters, White traces the non-random distribution of flood myths to Southeast Asia (where more than half of the world’s flood stories originate) and to cataclysmic climatic shifts at the end of the Ice Age, examines Polynesia’s sidereal knowledge, engages in a re-calibration of the dating of the Vedas in conjunction with Harappan archaeology (which then has implications for the antiquity of the astrological information found in the Rig Veda), and brings Sumeria back “into alignment with the geology, genetics, and astrotheology of contemporaneous cultures” in order to “permanently banish the aliens back into the sky, and [free] up modern esotericists to look anew at Sumerian star lore and what it might mean for contemporary practice” (149).

Across this vast array of cultures, White finds certain common themes, including the importance of Orion, the Pleiades, and Taurus, a lunar calendar, alignment of buildings with constellations, kingship descending from the stars and the requirement of the king to return to the stars for his own immortality and for the benefit of his people, and the near-simultaneous appearance of this magical “proto-Hermetic” technology in multiple geographically disparate locations.

He devotes an entire chapter to Egypt, attacking the idea that the pyramids were constructed within the lifetimes of individual pharaohs for the exclusive purpose of serving as tombs and instead arguing for a much more complex inter-generational ritual function related to kingship, immortality, and the stars.

From Egypt, White follows the multiple vectors of transmission of Hermeticism into the western magical tradition, from the the Greek Magical Papyri and the Alexandrian diasporas fleeing Christian and Muslim rule, through Moorish Spain, Constantinople, Venice, alchemy, Sufism, the grimoire tradition, and the fascinating city of Harran, located only a few miles away from the long-buried site of Göbekli Tepe. The Harranians left Alexandria when the Christians gained power, and under Muslim rule, adopted the guise of being “Sabians,” one of the three “Peoples of the Book” mentioned in the Quran: “for their book, they chose the Hermetic texts, and for their prophets, they chose Agathodaimon and Hermes, adding that Hermes is also ‘Idris,’ the Muslim name for Enoch.” (233)

White also traces continuity (which he distinguishes from the idea of a pure “survival”) from Göbekli Tepe and Laurasian cosmology to the Yezidis, noting that the peacock is associated in Vedic mythology with the Pleiades.

Non-Human Logic

As the story reaches the modern day, White allows for the possibility that extraterrestrials may have physically visited the Earth at some point, but finds that the theory that such beings were responsible for human civilization to remain “hamstrung by materialism.” (247) White posits a “capricious, sporadic spirit contact” model, reminding magicians and spirit-workers that this is our area of expertise:

Magicians have personal experience of non-human logic; what it feels like, how it manifests in life and culture, and so on. It is characterised by atemporality, high levels of coincidence, repetition of motif and symbol in entirely unrelated contexts, and a quasi-fractal capacity to look weirdly resonant at whatever level you observe the phenomenon, from the micro to the macro. (248)

Sound familiar to any of the readers of the Wild Hunt? Paradoxically, “atemporality” is one of the characteristics of gods and spirits. Thus, to follow the footprints of the spirits through linear (Laurasian) time, we must look further and further back, and expand our perspective as much as possible. This is what White does with Star.Ships.

Star.Ships turns the racist and materialist narrative of progress on its head. Long before Leviathan, humanity had many millennia of complex relationships with the spirits and the stars, as expressed in physical form at Göbekli Tepe and many other sites. Many cultures have never ceased to cultivate those relationships. As Leviathan dies, it is time for those trapped within its corpse to come out under the stars once again. Let new Göbekli Tepes arise!

Geb and Nut [The Gods of the Egyptians Vol. II, public domain]

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

UK News Briefs: two unrelated criminal cases both end in jail time

Thu, 2017-06-15 08:01
Andover man jailed after using Pagan beliefs to justify criminal acts against children

ANDOVER, Hampshire, Eng. —  It is jail for paedophile who used ‘pagan’ beliefs to justify his crimes. Steven Lawrence Coatsworth, 52, of High Street, Andover, was sentenced in June to four and a half years in jail for paedophiliac offences, including attempting to arrange a sexual offence and making indecent images .

Coatsworth was arrested by an officer who posed as the grandfather of an imaginary online 11 year old girl. Arrangements were made for him to travel from Andover to the north of England in order to meet both the girl and a 12 year old boy. However, his car broke down halfway, and it was at this point that he was arrested.

Since his January 8 arrest,  Coatsworth has continued to protest that his ‘pagan’ beliefs justified his sexual interest in children.

He has also  maintained that the ‘important issue’ for him was not age but consent. The legal age of sexual consent in the UK is 16. However, Coatsworth has also suggested in online messages that the children should be induced to drink alcohol if they were not compliant.

Police stated, “[Coatsworth] does not suggest that his beliefs required him to perform sexual activity with children.” However,  they said, “The probation reports suggest that he misrepresents Paganism to justify his desire for sexual conduct with children.”

*    *    *

Pagan man sentenced to jail time after being convicted of crimes against an elderly woman

SWINDON, Wiltshire, Eng. — In an unrelated case, Andrew Newman, aged 47, who recently described himself on Facebook as ‘a Pagan Christian’ and who has been active in the Wiltshire Pagan scene, was sentenced to 10 years and 6 months in jail Monday June 14 for sexual offences against an elderly dementia patient in his care.

At his 2016 trial at Swindon Crown Court, Newman was charged with two counts of sexual activity with the woman and two of causing or inciting sexual activity with her. He was also charged with possessing an extreme image portraying bestiality and one of possessing five indecent pictures of children.

A statement has been posted on his Facebook wall on behalf of the victim’s family. It describes Newman as ‘evil personified’ and states how devastating this has been for the woman’s relatives.

The statement also remarks that the victim is now in a safe place.

There has been no suggestion that Newman sought to use his beliefs as a justification for his crimes.

Since news of the incident was made public, the UK Pagan community has expressed shock and outrage the crimes and has offered its support to the victim and her family.

Old Swindoon Town Hall [Photo Credit:My another account via Wikimedia]

Wiccan man files lawsuit claiming religious discrimination

Wed, 2017-06-14 10:51

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – A Pennsylvania Wiccan alleges he was fired by Health + Hospitals Corporation (HHC) from his custodial job due to religious discrimination. In a lawsuit filed May 22, Carl DeLuca says coworkers and supervisors harassed him for over two years for being what they called a “Satanist and terrorist.” Then, in February 2016, he was terminated from his job.

In an interview, DeLuca told The Wild Hunt that he had been harassed over his religion since shortly after starting the job in 2014. Examples of this harassment are outlined in the lawsuit. They include the head of security telling DeLuca to remove his Greenman pendant, although Christian and Jewish employees are allowed to wear symbols of their faith.

Likewise, as he explained, many employees decorated their lockers with religious messages and drawings done in crayon. Yet when DeLuca drew a pentacle on his locker, he was reportedly made to remove it because it was “hate speech toward Christians.”

In spite of the alleged continuous harassment by coworkers and supervisors outside his department, DeLuca says his relationship within his department was cordial. He says that he did not have any disciplinary issues, and his work evaluations were excellent.

DeLuca says the firing came as a complete shock. “I showed up to work one day and security grabbed me at the door and would not tell me why. They took me to my locker then told me that people reported I had weapons and other paraphernalia in my locker.”

DeLuca says that, although nothing illegal or problematic was found in his locker, his personal effects were packed and he was escorted off the premises. He says that hospital administrators have never articulated a reason for the firing and they have claimed that they do not need to provide a reason.

DeLuca has said that even his direct supervisors were shocked by his termination, calling him on the evening that he was fired and asking him what had happened.

DeLuca believes that he was fired because hospital management misunderstood and feared his religion.

“There were rumors about me. …that I worshiped the devil. That I would bring weapons to work and hurt people. That I was a Satanist and a terrorist,” says DeLuca. He believes those rumors about his religion were why his locker was searched, culminating in termination.

DeLuca’s attorney William Perniciaro told The Wild Hunt that DeLuca was terminated due to a lack of understanding and fear over DeLuca’s Wiccan religion: “Wicca does not have formal places for worship, like churches and temples, and is focused on more natural settings such as the outdoors. This evokes fear in non-Wiccans.”

“It seems like every horror movie these days always involves ‘the woods’ and all the creatures lurking therein,” Perniciaro went on to say. “By contrast, Wicca embraces nature and recognizes our part in it. The outdoors is not scary at all to Wiccans, and it is this very focus that people do not understand. Also the religion has deities or objects of respect or worship that are reviled in other religions such as horned or hoofed animals. Thus, Christians especially, immediately think of Satan and that all pagans are ‘devil worshippers; embracing all that is evil. It may be that early Christianity was promoted by means of reviling pagan beliefs and this revulsion has become part of our culture.”

DeLuca and his family [Courtesy Photo]

DeLuca, now employed as a plumber in Pennsylvania, says this entire incident has been a very difficult experience for him and his family: “I lost everything over my beliefs. A great job. I was promised big advancements at the hospital. I have two children who lost medical coverage. Over what I believe in.”

Mr. Perniciaro says, ”Carl’s religion is no different than any other in our country yet many believe it involves dangerous practices. I know this is not true. He has every right to practice it since it is harmless and protected by law.”

Health + Hospitals did not respond to The Wild Hunt ‘s inquiries, but  hospital management did comment to Staten Island LIVE , saying that Health + Hospitals “doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion or sincerely held religious belief. Religion is never a factor in our employment-related decisions.”

DeLuca is seeking $10,000,000 in damages, reinstatement to his position, and attorney’s fees.

A parting of companions around you: Pagans and divorce

Tue, 2017-06-13 10:57

TWH –Much of modern Pagan practice is barely half a century old, which means there’s only a fraction of unbroken traditions to draw upon to address life’s problems. That’s particularly relevant in the case of ending a romantic relationship via divorce of some other mechanism. The institution of marriage has changed considerably in the centuries or millennia since some Pagan and polytheist religions were last widely practiced, and how to end those arrangements must also be adapted to remain relevant.


“When relationships break apart,” said Rev. Sean Harbaugh of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, “the experience is mostly traumatic. Dealing with divorce and the end of a committed relationship is like dealing with death. The emotions are the same. When there are children involved, then the pain is that much more amplified.”

Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister and high priestess of Circle Sanctuary, is called upon more often to help begin a relationship than to end one, but she believes both steps should be honored ritually.

“I do think it’s important to have some options available for those whose marriages have ended, or are ending,” she said.

“People who get married, across all traditions including Pagans, put a lot of time and attention into planning a wedding. How many people spend even part of that time and attention to plan a divorce ritually?” Fox asked. It’s important, she explained, because “often rituals are a way of deepening connections, and in divorce they can help change the relationship” for the better.

Fox’s rhetorical question is borne out by Diana Rajchel, author of Divorcing a Real Witch: for Pagans and the People Who Used to Love Them. 76% of respondents to a survey she executed did not perform a hand-parting at the end of their marriage.

“We as Druids like to ritualize as many things as we can,” said Harbaugh, and “divorce is no different. In times when we need support, our extended family — the Kindreds — are there to lend the spiritual help only they can bring. By entering into ritual and making offerings, we ask the Kindreds to lend their magic and blessings. We ask them to help show us a path out of the wilderness during troubling or dark times,” including during divorce.

According to Nicholas Ritter, a Theodish practitioner, Icelandic sagas indicate that time was spent addressing such matters.

“Divorce was not merely a private matter. Since marriage was a social contract that governed things like loyalty, inheritance, and the recognized kinship to any children that might result, divorce — as something that threatened to damage the social fabric — had to be handled through the þing, the legal assembly, in order to tie up the loose ends.

“Divorce occurred in occasions of infidelity, lack of ability or willingness to consummate the marriage, infertility, physical abuse or insult, feud between the husband’s and wife’s families, cross-dressing, or numerous other reasons for the breaking of marital frith,” Ritter explained.

In Fox’s opinion, whether or not the joining was legally binding, there are nevertheless ties that should be severed. Working with someone who has experience facilitating that process can make it much more productive, she believes.

“In some cases both people in the relationship meet with” the ritualist to plan the ceremony. In those cases, often they “are able to have communication that will aid the divorce process.” Sometimes, only one partner is interested, and meets with the facilitator alone. That might lead to a ritual where the other person is represented by a photograph only.

Perhaps it is the influence of the ancient Greeks that lead to the notion that marriage is sacred, but not so divorce. Blogger Elani Temperance is of that opinion.

“As far as I am aware, there were no rituals involved with divorce. Divorces took place, though. When a woman didn’t produce offspring for ten years, a man was forced to divorce her, and he could do so as well when she committed adultery. A woman was allowed to file for divorce herself if she could show her husband had neglected her (especially sexually). A divorce was a legal affair. There was no need to include the gods; nothing to hope or pray for was involved. If and when the people involved married again, they celebrated again.

“I suppose it’s much the same today.”

Fox is of a different mind and has given considerable thought to how divorces can be memorialized in ritual. “Another factor in rituals,” she said, is “what are the dynamics in play that have led to the divorce? Is this a case in which they have grown apart and recognize divorce is best?” In that case, the couple may remain friends after the marriage is over.

“The other end of spectrum is a couple whose marriage has died, and they are having difficulties even communicating with each other, much less plan a ceremony. Most divorce rituals I’ve helped facilitate are somewhere in the middle,” she said: some challenges communicating, but a shared recognition that some form of counseling and ritual would be helpful for healing.

Fox has developed a number of symbolic acts, which she offers as options for divorce and hand-parting rituals she’s facilitating. For example, the couple may return wedding rings to each other, or exchange something else that’s representative of the relationship ending.

They might also write letters of farewell which touch upon good, the challenging, the valuable, and the life lessons; these could be read aloud or exchanged for private review later. A wedding picture might be ritually burned, or the couple may reverse some steps of a handfasting: dropping clasped hands, turning away, and leaving in different directions.

Handfasting cords, for those who have them, are equally powerful symbols for when that relationship is ending. They may be untied or cut, with the pieces ritually buried or burned either separately or together. In contrast to returning gifts of the marriage such as rings, the couple might choose to exchange parting gifts.

Heathens who, like Ritter, try to apply the old sagas to modern practice, will find that it’s easier for a woman to get a divorce than a man, who must pursue legal action. All a woman needed do, at least in the Icelandic sagas, is “announce it at the threshold, at the marriage-bed, and at the chest wherein her dowry was kept.”

While this ritual’s significance can be debated, it does appear that when a woman did so and removed herself from the home, she took her dowry with her.

While divorce rituals in Pagan practice aren’t as common as weddings, Fox nevertheless sees Pagans as leading in this area. “[Pagans and polytheists] look at rites of passage,” she said. “In addition to birth, death, and union, we can celebrate coming of age into adulthood or elderhood . . . many Pagan traditions do have the option of a ceremonial parting of the ways for a couple getting divorced. When I’m at conferences, I often am called to share some of my spiritual experiences working on divorce, because many world religions don’t have divorce rituals.”

Fox, a clinical psychotherapist as well as minister, emphasizes the importance of working through the emotions of this transition with techniques such as counseling and journaling. Issues might arise which can be addressed in the ritual itself.

One example she gave is the fact that marriage alters one’s identity, which is sometimes reflected in a name change. A divorce ritual might include a renaming or other act to demonstrate that those who were part of the relationship now have new, individual identities.

Rajchel writes in her book, “We look at the paper informing us that a marriage has dissolved and that perhaps our name, address, and social status has changed. The wounds usually remain when the papers arrive.” The coping strategies she recommends also include writing in a journal, as well as attending support groups, meditation, and prayer.

Harbaugh agrees that an opportunity for emotional healing is important.

“In ADF we have a diverse group of priests and non-priests who can refer people to get the proper help when they are in need. We have clergy who are ready on the other end of the phone when a member needs to talk or vent. Knowing that there are people there to listen and act as a support system through this difficult process is something our members can count on in their difficult time,” he said.

The specific details of a divorce ritual depend upon the dynamics of the relationship first and foremost, but the tradition followed for the wedding or since can also factor into decisions about the style of ritual, need for an officiant, whether and which deities to invoke, who to invite, and whether it’s followed by a celebration or period of mourning. Even the most amicable partings require some level of healing, but exactly what’s necessary is intensely personal. What may be most important is that the journey is better taken in the company of counselors, clergy, community members, or deities rather than to attempt it alone.

Pagan Community Notes: NCIS investigation, Paris Accord responses, and more

Mon, 2017-06-12 09:05

UNITED STATES – On May 22, Huginn’s Heathen Hof (HHH) published a post suggesting that the Department of Defense (DoD) would be placing the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) on a hate group list. According to the original report, the NCIS was investigating the group after its Facebook page was taken down. However, on June 10, HHH removed the story from the website. In its place is a statement saying that, due to new evidence, “the story has been temporarily pulled until further notice.”

What happened? The HHH story was based on a Facebook post from Bonnie Hoppa, a retired first class petty officer of the U.S. Navy. In a May 17 Facebook post, Hoppa wrote, “[AFA] is in process of being added to NCIS’ list of white supremacist organizations, subsequent to their public page being flagged as belonging to a hate group.” Hoppa also stated that she was “actively working with NCIS to address the military-related issues with AFA.”

After Hoppa’s post and the HHH report were published, AFA fired back from its new Facebook page: “After contacting NCIS headquarters and those departments tasked with the investigation of hate groups and white supremacist organizations, it was concluded that the Asatru Folk Assembly is neither listed as currently being investigated for such offenses nor has it been investigated for such offenses to date.” Since that point there have been questions regarding the viability of Hoppa’s original claims, with people coming down on both sides; some believing her story and others not.

A spokesperson at the NCIS Public Affairs Office told The Wild Hunt directly that it “does not maintain a list of hate groups,” adding, “Before your email, we’ve never heard of the Asatru group and there is no ongoing investigation.” Several other unrelated military contacts corroborated the point that NCIS does not maintain such a list. However, NCIS declined to answer any other questions, and the DoD pubic affairs department did not respond  to any TWH inquiries.

HHH writer Xander Folmer confirmed that he himself has since received a similar response from NCIS, and will continue looking into the situation. Additionally, the Department of Defense’s . We also reached out to Hoppa, but she did not respond to questions in time for publication. We will continue to watch this story, and update with any more conclusive evidence as it is discovered.

*   *   *

INDEX, Wash. — A statement released last week from the Aquarian Tabernacle Church condemns the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. It reads in part, “Wicca is a religion of knowledge. We embrace science as well as faith, and as such we honor education. We do not honor the path of the willfully uneducated as a sign of faith, or of dedication. As we see humanity as a part of the earth, instead of apart from the earth, we consider the actions today as an affront to the very core of our beliefs.

“We cannot sit by and allow the current course of climate science to be derailed without comment. The actions of current administration in reference to the Paris climate agreement are abysmal. Partisanship aside, this is the move of an ignorant and greedy government looking to exploit the planet while ignoring the best interests of the world in the pursuit of the personal interests of the few.”

Other Pagan groups, and groups with Pagan ties, have also made opinions about this decision known. The environmental issues statement approved by members of Covenant of the Goddess in 2014 was reissued as a response. It reads in part, “We know that climate change presents an imminent threat to humanity and other life on Earth. Since this imbalance is caused by human activity, we humans must accept responsibility for our actions and seek to reverse the damage and restore the balance.

“We support local, regional, national, and global efforts to conserve natural resources, to seek clean, sustainable sources of energy, and to rebalance our world.”

Similarly, a statement put out on the website of the Parliament of the World’s Religions begins, “The 21st century presents no greater moral challenge than addressing the threat of human-caused climate change. President Donald Trump has utterly failed that test.”

We will continue to update this story as it develops.

In other news:

  • In the wake of the Portland MAX stabbing attack, musician Victor Johnson was moved to write a song dedicated to Rick Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, who were killed trying to protect two teen Muslim girls. The song’s title is “Tell Everyone on this Train I Love Them,” after the last words Meche reportedly spoke before being loaded on an ambulance. He later died at a hospital. Johnson, who was in Portland the night of the attack, writes: “It was a couple of days later, back in Bend, I read the story of Taliesin’s last words. I was already consumed by everything that had happened and I felt this was the most powerful expression of love I had ever heard. It really stuck with me and spent much time in meditation and deep thought on them.”

  • Users of Android phones now have a new, free resource: the Witch Digest app. Created by Summer Song, who has been practicing Witchcraft for some 20 years, the app includes information on sabbats and esbats, moon phases, magical correspondences, and a number of Song’s articles on related subjects. On her website, Song writes: “This Witch Digest is intended to be helpful to those who are exploring the possibilities of Witchcraft, new to the craft, alone as a solitary practitioner and who already know the very basics of witchcraft such as what magick actually is and how it works. I hope to answer questions about using spells and performing rituals. It is not fun sometimes as a solitary walking the path alone, not having anyone to talk to about a spell you did or someone to get advice from when it comes to magick.” The app can be downloaded from this link.
  • A scholarship is being offered through Land Sea Sky Travel for a Beltaine pilgrimage to Ireland, which will take place Apr. 28-May 6, 2018. According to owner Vyviane Armstrong, the scholarship fund was created after a successful Morrigan-focused trip last year. Applicants must be unable to afford a similar trip in the next three years, have at least two recommendations from others in the community, and explain why such a pilgrimage would be personally significant. The application period closes Oct. 1, and the winner will be announced Oct. 15. Some meals, as well as appropriate insurance, must be paid for by the recipient.
  • Chicago’s Witch community is getting a new ball. To be held Oct 7, Chicago’s First Annual Witches Ball will be hosted by the owners of Spiritual Vibes & Soul Sisters. According to the event page, they have “rented a castle” and will be hosting a DJ, open bar, raffle, food, and games. The organizers also noted that they can only sell 100 tickets. The ball will be held at Royalty West Banquets in Willow Springs.
  • Mystic South conference has released its programming for upcoming summer conference. For those attending in July, several Wild Hunt writers and administrators will be presenting during the three day event, and will be on hand to chat about Pagan media. Additionally, The Wild Hunt will also be hosting a Thursday evening pre-conference meet-and-greet for all attendees. Mystic South will be held July 21-23 at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia in Atlanta, Ga.

Of gods and love: a discussion of DC’s new film Wonder Woman

Sun, 2017-06-11 12:37

[SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains details that may spoil the film for readers who have not yet seen the movie. ]

DC Entertainment’s new film Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot, has been captivating audiences since its release June 2. Opening weekend, the film grossed $103.2M in the United States alone, and is on track for record numbers in its second weekend.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman is the first female-centered superhero movie to be produced in twelve years; the last one being Elektra (2005) starring Jennifer Garner. Additionally, Wonder Woman is only the second comic book-based film to be directed by a woman; the first being Marvel Studios’ Punisher: War Zone directed by Lexi Alexender.

The new film is a non-stop, action-packed origin story for the famous DC superhero. It combines elements from the original comic book series, merged with an updated narrative, integrated (and somewhat overused) CGI, and a love story.

This is not your mother’s Wonder Woman. Jenkins’ film is of this time with messages and visuals to satisfy a contemporary generation of film goers.

Along with capturing the feminist aspects present in the original comic book series as imagined by psychologist and writer Dr. William Moulton Marston, the new movie also includes her backstory – one that has always been loosely based on ancient Greek and Roman mythology. However, the recent evolution of her origin tale with respect to mythology has provided a new modern vitality to the characterization of world’s most popular female superhero.

Wonder Woman is no longer simply an Amazon endowed by the gods with divine power; she is divine. This difference significantly alters the reading of her narrative and her character as a developing hero.

Feminist Origins

Wonder Woman was born into comic books in February 1941 with an embedded feminist spirit. Dr. Marston created her for DC Comics, and her story was debuted that year in its All-Star Comics series. She was featured on the cover of the first issue of DC’s Sensation Comics in 1942.

Wonder’s Woman’s release came a pivotal time as the U.S. had just been pulled into World War II.  As a result, women were being called out of their homes and into the workforce in order to support the national war effort. This was the era of Rosie the Riveter.

DC publisher Maxwell Gaines opted to take risk on publishing Marston’s female character after years of enduring complaints about the content of his comic books. According to Smithsonian Magazine, these comic books were considered a “national disgrace” and, as one journalist wrote, “Ten million copies of these sex-horror serials are sold every month.”

Wonder Woman was essentially an experiment in the comic book publishing world. Gaines was hoping that his female heroine would be non-controversial and even be celebrated for her show of patriotism. However, that wasn’t the case. Concerns were immediately raised over her costuming, and eventually over the narrative expression of what was considered to be bondage, submission, permissive sexuality, and other similar subject matter.

Despite these complaints, Dr. Marston was not at all deterred. He claimed to understand what lines not to cross, adding that “You can’t have a real woman character in any form of fiction without touching off a great many readers’ erotic fancies.” As Smithsonian Magazine reveals, many of Marston’s opinions were based on his own unconventional lifestyle choices with regard to marriage, sexual relationships, and women, none of which were known at the time.

In addition, it was later revealed that he was had ties to and was deeply affected by activist and early feminist Margaret Sanger. He reportedly vowed to uphold her legacy.

Regardless of any early push back, DC continued its run of the series, and since that point, Wonder Woman has become one of its leading characters, and the most popular female superhero in American entertainment.

Considering Wonder Woman’s feminist roots, it is not at all surprising that the 1970s, a decade filled with woman-centered narrative entertainment, saw a rebirth of the superhero in the form of a popular television series starring Lynda Carter.

From Rosie to Demigod

While Wonder Woman has continually made appearances in various entertainment forms over time, DC’s new movie has given the character new life for new audiences. In this modern reboot, writers did not entirely use the same origin story found in Marston’s original narrative. As the story was originally conceived, Diana was an Amazon given special powers by a number of different gods, including Demeter, Artemis, Hermes, and Zeus. Those gifts include superhuman powers, the magical bracelets, the lariat of Hestia (magic rope), and her crown.

In other words, Wonder Woman, although an Amazon, was not the owner of her powers and magical paraphernalia.

The writer’s of the new film, in contrast, decided to capitalize on DC’s 2011 reinvention of the Wonder Woman origin story. In November of that year, DC revealed that Diana is a child of Zeus, which makes her a demigod. DC co-publisher Jim Lee said, “In this case, making her a god actually makes her more human, more relatable. We’re approaching all the classic characters in a way that feels true to their origins but thoroughly modern.”

Lee’s comments speak more about modern viewing trends than anything else. Since 2010, there has been an increasing output of mythological and fantasy films that rework and re-imagine a hero’s or villain’s history, explaining their motivations (e.g. Deadpool 2016; Suicide Squad, 2016; Dr. Strange, 2016; Maleficent, 2013).

By changing the source of Wonder Woman’s powers, writers not only grounded the character in something relatable for readers, as suggested by Lee, but also altered the nature of the character herself. She is no longer an agent of the divine, but is divine in her own right. Her powers are internal to her and a part of her very existence.

Allegorically speaking, in her thoroughly modern incarnation, Wonder Woman is no longer Rosie the Riveter. She is not the empowered woman of the 1940s, given tools by society, read that as patriarchy if you wish, in order to step beyond the conventional sphere to fight for justice.

The contemporary Wonder Woman is her own person, powers and all. As such, she can choose her journey, and she can choose whether to fight or not to fight – a theme that plays out consistently throughout the film. “You can do nothing, or you can do something,” Steve remarks to Diana.

As an aside, the mythological aspects of Wonder Woman’s story, both old and new, are only loosely based on Greek and Roman mythology. While some viewers may enjoy the creative use of the ancient stories within this fictional play, others may find it frustrating. The back story, for example, involving the Greek gods is, more or less, structured on a Judeo-Christian duality pitting good versus evil with humanity at the center. Ares is evil and Zeus is good, and Diana is the savior. While the gods Ares and Zeus do play on opposite sides in classic mythology, they are not pitted against each other in a moral war to the end.

Suspending all expectations for mythological accuracy will help a viewer enjoy the film.

The Heroine on the Hero’s Journey

Structurally speaking, the new film is built on a traditional male superhero movie, and uses a classic man’s coming of age story to propel the narrative. (e.g., Star Wars, 1977; The Lion King, 1995; Spider-Man, 2002).

Diana lives a peaceful but restless life with her aunt and mother. When her aunt dies at the hands of men, Diana is compelled to take her place in the war. From that point on, she embarks on a hero’s journey to find herself, to learn about the world, and to discover her power as it connects to a larger universal narrative. By the end, Diana has learned her purpose and, through an epic battle against evil, she accepts her role as the chosen one or god-killer. She becomes the savior of man.

This is a very conventional hero’s story, not one commonly given to a heroine. She could be likened to Joan of Arc in that way, who has been depicted in a similar way (e.g., Joan of Arc, 1948).  However, we all know what happened to her.

It is important to remember that Joan’s story is not fiction and the end is based on a legendary reality.  Regardless, the comparison provides an important point in understanding the “woman as hero” construction within this contemporary narrative. Unlike the Joan legend and other similar stories, Wonder Woman’s power is never questioned or considered evil, by herself or others. The film fully allows her to be the hero with minimal attention to the fact that she is a woman.  Any and all references to her gender are minimal at best and serve more as comedic tension as she enters the human world (e.g., the clothes shopping scene, the government meeting).

Additionally, Diana is not objectified by the camera. In other words, the film does not focus on her beauty or sexuality outside of a direct narrative purpose and the defining of her relationship with her love-interest Steve. With that said, the film also does not hide from Diana’s defined beauty; it simply lets it lie comfortably within the storytelling. As Dr. Marston might have suggested, you can’t create a true female hero by ignoring or covering up aspects of feminine expression.

Part of this feminine expression can also be found in Diana’s apparent interest in children and babies. While these brief moments do seem a bit abrupt and almost out of character at times, this choice adds a depth to her character in conventional terms. Diana can both fight and love children. She is both warrior and mother.

Love and a New Type of Hero

DC’s new Wonder Woman film does offer a heroine for our age, and it attempts to address a variety of very current social concerns regarding issues like basic morality, gender dynamics, war, racism, and hate.

With that said, most of the film’s attempts to tackle these subjects are done through jokes, a few somewhat contrived speeches, and off-handed comments made by a prototypical multi-cultural band of followers.”Who did that to your people?” she asks The Chief.  “His people,” he replies.  Or, “I wanted to be an actor, but I have the wrong color skin,” says Sameer.

In the end, the film posits that every human contains both dark and light, and that we must choose which path to go. To make the world a better place, we don’t really need any heroes; all we need is love.

(Cue the Beatles)

While this conclusion certainly allows for a feel-good ending, it is somewhat hokey after a 140 minute cinematic sensory-overload. However, it must be noted that Wonder Woman is by no means a hyper-intellectual expression of socially-relevant topics, and it doesn’t try to be that. The social concerns as well as others are only lightly treated, although perhaps sincere in their presentation.

But what the film lacks in depth, it makes up for in pure entertainment.

Wonder Woman is a cross-pollinated classic American war and superhero genre film with a woman plucked into the conventional hero role, complete with her own journey story and crowning. The film provides all the speed, explosions, slow-motion martial arts, and weaponry that can be found either of those two genre films, as well as other common elements such as the motley platoon, World War, poison gas, personal sacrifice, a love story, and an epic battle between good and evil.

But perhaps more importantly, the film attempts to find a new space for the representation of the self-empowered woman. Where once such a character was constructed as a trangressive danger to men and society, this new independent woman is now the accepted savior of man.

But yet, in the end, Wonder Woman sends a different message, albeit in a somewhat stilted and sappy fashion. It is not Wonder Woman at all who we need to save our world; it is us. In that respect, Wonder Woman embodies her role as a demigod, becoming a new type of hero – one of pure inspiration.

Column: The Dance of the Arctic Fairy

Sat, 2017-06-10 11:30

For over a hundred years, from the middle of the 19th century to the postwar period, the indigenous Sámi minority of Norway was the target of an official policy of forced assimilation, essentially an attempt at genocide, which brought the Sámi language, way of life, and society to its knees. The painful process, very similar in many ways to the boarding school system of Canada, was however fiercely challenged by a new generation of young Sámi activists that ultimately brought the government to acknowledge the rights of the Sámi nation and the need for official representation. This liberation movement, which arose in the ’60s and ’70s, ultimately lead to a dynamic revival of Sámi culture that can still be experienced today: from summer arts festivals to academic representation and the spread of traditional crafts, contemporary Sámi culture, despite still facing numerous challenges, is more vigorous than ever before.

[Photo credit: Sveinung Gjessing].

In this teeming milieu of cultural development, numerous young Sámi figures have sprouted up in the past couple of years to showcase the intersection of their unique artistic vision and their traditional background. It is in this context that Elin Kåven, a singer, artist, and dancer from Karasjok in Arctic Norway has grown and developed her artistry, all the way from the frozen expanses of her hometown to the country’s most famed stages. Now in the process of recording her fourth full-length album under the moniker Elin and the Woods, Kåven agreed to talk to the Wild Hunt about her music, her life between Sápmi, her Sámi homeland, and the city as well as the profound links that bind her to the ancient Sámi beliefs and spirituality.

Since she was a little girl in her home village of Karasjok (population 2,696) in the county of Finnmark, Kåven was drawn to music and singing. As she grew up, the artist who had the biggest influence on her was without a shadow of a doubt Mari Boine. Boine, another native from Karasjok, was then all-but-unknown to the general public, but later came to be one of Norway’s most revered folk singers, going on to be knighted by the king of Norway for her dedication to the arts. Seeing this almost rags-to-riches story develop as she watched made Kåven all the more inclined to develop her musical tastes that grew to be rather eclectic. “My all-time favorites where Nirvana, Bjørk and Fiona Apple. My teenage dream was to play in a rock band,” she said.

Yet, it took her quite a few years to fulfill her music ambitions. By her early 20s Kåven, like many young Sámi and country-folks, had moved to Oslo, Norway’s bustling capital. Far from home, and even though the city harbors a significant Sámi diaspora, she experienced a growing detachment from the Sámi nature and the wilderness of her native Finnmark, something that acutely impacted her for the years to come. “In Oslo people are all the time chasing something, I feel. The cities can drain you if you are not in the flow and focused, they are like a jungle actually, it can eat you alive if you don’t know what you are doing there.”

[Photo credit: June Bjørn].

It was in this context that, after a few long years, Kåven decided at the age of 24 to finally kick-start her music career. Released in 2005, Lahka was a four-track rock album which not only served as an artistic stepping stone for Kåven, but also as a way to reconnect with her native Sámi language that she felt had been neglected since moving down south. Lahka, just as each and every song on Kåven’s future releases, was sung entirely in Northern Sámi, the regional Sámi idiom from her home district. Despite being professionally recorded, produced, and distributed nationwide, Kåven ended up not fully satisfied with the final product: “In the end, I realized that I didn’t want to be a rock artist…I wanted to be something else, but didn’t know exactly what.”

It was during this period that Kåven started being involved with dance, more particularly belly dancing. As she went on to join dance showcases in the United Kingdom, the young Sámi dancer from the far north became the target of quite a bit of attention. One day, a fellow dancer even came up with a nickname that would prove most enduring, the arctic fairy. Kåven recalls, “As I did a lot of dancing in England, I once got feedback that said I looked like an arctic elf that has been under the tundra for over a hundred years to come out dancing.”

This encouraged Elin to both develop her art and reflect upon the folklore and traditions of her homeland. “I took all this feedback as a compliment, and after awhile, I understood that my own magic skill in life is to look like some kind of otherworldly creature, like a huldre (forest fairy), elf or other kind of nature spirit. I am very fascinated with fairy folk, and I connected with them especially the realization that I actually have the power to remind people of such creatures.”

This experience inspired Kåven to bring her artistry closer to her own Sámi and Nordic roots, which materialized in the form of her first full-length album, Jiknon Musihkka (Frozen Music) in 2009.

[Photo credit: Iris-Egilsdatter].

Produced by renowned Norwegian jazz-man Ole Jørn Myklebust, Jiknon Musihkka was a complete departure from Kåven’s first album. Instead of sharp electric guitars and energetic drumming, the album presented ethereal, almost-ambient soundscapes in which Kåven’s distinctive singing hovered over waves of piano, electronic effects and various folk instruments. This dreamy atmosphere, that one could maybe place at the intersection between New Age, world, and pop music, was both truly refreshing in its form while deeply traditional in spirit and would prove to be a defining feature of Kåven’s music from then on. This well-thought-out musical brew proved popular among connoisseurs of folk and Sámi music across the country, and the album was met with positive reviews. This ultimately fostered Kåven’s drive to create and since then, she has released a further two full-length albums; Máizan (Thaw) in 2012 and Eamiritini (Rimeborn) in 2015, produced by Finnish multi-instrumentalist Juhani Silvola. In these she was able to voice her visions of the wild Nordic nature, and her connection to her ancestors’ ancient spirituality.

Being brought up in mostly-rural Finnmark, which can claims just 75,000 inhabitants for an area twice the size of New Jersey, Elin has since her childhood been fascinated by the invisible forces that shape our world. “I always wanted to find out more about the things that are not easy to understand. Ultimately, I realized I had the ability to remind people that there once were other beliefs, and we are not the only ones who have lived on this earth. I found that very intriguing, and I felt that it could be something that people will appreciate and would be an honorable work for me: everyone has a right to know where they come from, what our society is built upon, and how we became who we are now.”

Kåven’s bonds with the magic in this world weren’t just born out of the mere contemplation of nature, but actually run deep in her family. Her great-grand-uncle, Johan Kåven, born in 1835, is still spoken about in Finnmark to this day for being the last great Sámi shaman who carried on aspects of Sámi spirituality from before the time of his people’s forced conversion. Unsurprisingly, the figure of her ancient kin has been a tremendous source of inspiration for Elin. “Many people in my family have different kind of powers similar to Johan Kåven’s, the power still runs in the family. I don´t think I will ever be a shaman in the traditional way of thinking of a shaman and healer, but I think the force of the universe is available to everyone who respects it, and my shamanistic heritage could shine through in my music.”

Besides singing in her native North-Sámi tongue, Kåven has been progressively integrating more and more mythical and folkloric concepts and figures in her lyrics and concept art. In the video for her song Lihkku Niehku (Dream of Fortune), Kåven personifies a beguiling spirit who pursues and curses a lone musher in the frozen plateau of Finnmark. Living up to her nickname of arctic fairy, she also reprises the role in Ulda niktá (Ulda’s allure) in which she lures unsuspecting children into the woods where they mysteriously vanish. For Kåven, who studied interior design and decoration, utilizing multiple media to showcase her artistic vision is an obvious choice. She herself designed the cover and sleeve of her second album, Máizan, as well as her numerous and colorful stage costumes inspired by her years as a dancer. “I got so much inspiration for my outfits and costumes from the dance scene, where there are actual costumes, not just clothes or outfits as music artists use. I have so much inspiration from the dance community in my concerts and visual arts.”

Kåven’s peculiar costumes, which most often mix traditional Sámi handicrafts (duodji), alternative fashion, and natural materials such as reindeer horn, are a central part of her dynamic live shows which often aren’t just entertainment but also serve as a way to promote and educate about Sámi culture.

As she released her second album, Máizan, Kåven signed with the German label Nordic Notes, which specializes in traditional, jazz, and folk music from the Nordic nations. Soon after, she began touring outside of her native Norway, especially in Germany, where she had to take up the challenge of showcasing Sámi culture for people who most often had very little knowledge of it: .“I have been touring in Sápmi, Norway and abroad and I notice a big difference between these: abroad, Sámi culture is very exotic and exciting, people are very interested in learning more. During concerts I tell a lot about Sámi culture and values, and the background for joiks and so on. If I don’t tell it onstage people will ask me after the concert. People are interested in the authentic sound and music from Sápmi, and want to learn more about us and our lifestyle.”

As it turned out, being thrust into the limelight as a representative of sorts for a whole culture brought about even more interest in the subject for Elin herself. “When I started with music, I did not anticipate that I would have to be some kind of history and cultural teacher as well as an artist: All I wanted to do was to sing. But it turns out all the questions people ask me are so interesting questions, and it makes me wonder and find out more about my culture and other cultures as well. My audience have, in many ways, inspired me to seek this information: I feel like they have been pointing out the way for me and seek answers to questions I had never thought about before.”

[Photo credit: Kihle Photo].

Yet, even if people abroad often know next to nothing about Sámi culture, many people in Norway have only very little knowledge about the systematic oppression Sámi faced up to less than half a century ago, and in some cases, to some extent, still do: “The biggest challenge for me is the lack of knowledge about the history, lifestyle, life values, and actual life situations of the Sámi people today. So many people who never have been in the north of Norway have no idea what it means to be Sámi. It was hard for me sometimes when I realized that a journalist who interviewed me had no idea what I was talking about and had no understanding of the concepts I was trying to explain.”

As an indigenous nation that was affected by colonialism and state-sanctioned dispossession, the Sámi tend to be very aware of the struggle other indigenous peoples around the globe face such as the recent Dakota pipeline controversy. “We, here in Sápmi, have experienced the exact same thing, and we are still experiencing this kind of ignorance from the government. We had a big demonstration in the Alta-Kautokeino canyon in 1981 after the government decided to build a dam. This ended up as a big demonstration with hunger strikes and police and military forces came from the south. The demonstrations didn’t help, they still built this dam, and it has affected the environment here i Finnmark a lot. But this huge demonstration started a process for the indigenous peoples’ rights to land and water here, and the establishment of the Sami Parliament as an advisory council.”

Even though — just like in the Americas where relations between native and latecomers can often be difficult — tensions between Norwegians and the Sámi still exist, art can and is used as a bridge between different groups to foster cross-cultural understanding and cooperation. For Kåven, who has played both in front of mostly Sámi and Norwegian crowds, both in the south and in the north of the country, it is the common folklore, mythology, and history of Norwegian and Sámi which is the most fascinating.

“The Norse and Sámi gods have a lot of similarities in their characteristics and legends, for example Dierpmis, who is basically the same as Thor with his hammer,” she said. “There are many theories regarding how much the Norse and Sámi people have been engaged with each other. Some say that some of the Norse earls could actually have been Sámi, and others say that the Norse could have sought the advice of Sámi shamans, and that they were kin and traded with each other. There are also stories about how Harald Hårfagre (King Harald Hairfair), married a Sámi girl. All this is very interesting but I have just started digging into it and my goal is to find out why there is still such a big gap between the Sámi and the Norwegians, why there are still so many misunderstandings between us, even if we have this long history in common.”

If Kåven’s goal indeed is to bring more visibility to Sámi culture, while showcasing her art, one could say that she’s been rather successful as of late. After wooing Sámi audiences in local events such as the Kautokeino Sámi Easter festival in 2011, Kåven made her first high-profile national appearance in 2013 at the centenary celebration of Norway’s women’s suffrage, which was attended by members of the royal family and broadcast live on national TV and watched by hundreds of thousands.

Following this much-publicized performance, Kåven multiplied her live appearances, both in Norway and abroad, until the spring of the current year, when she entered the national contest for representing Norway at the Eurovision song contest 2017. Working this time with renowned producer Robin Lynch (Pink, Cher), they wrote and recorded First Step In Faith, which placed fourth among the 10 contestants. Despite not making it to the Eurovision itself (Norway’s pick, Jowst, finished 10th out of 26), Kåven and Lynch decided to soldier on and go back to the studio to record a full-length album. Hopefully it will be released next year under the moniker of Elin and the Woods. One could only hope that this new venture will bring the deeply spiritual shamanistic echoes of the arctic fairy to shores yet unseen.

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

Column: Alone at the Festival

Fri, 2017-06-09 10:24

It is Monday morning, Memorial Day. Another Heartland Pagan Festival has come and gone.

At the moment I am sitting in the muddy nook I picked for a campsite, looking up at the canopy and wishing that my tent would simply put itself away, perhaps animated by a helpful djinn. My wife suggests that it’s better off that tents don’t do this; even a helpful tent-spirit might sometimes get the notion to pack itself away with us still inside.

A little house in the woods of Camp Gaea [photo by E. Scott].

I do not hear her voice when she tells me this. I only see her words light up inside a box of glass and plastic. Right now she is standing a little under 7,000 miles away from Camp Gaea, far enough that we exist on different days of the calendar, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, looking at her own box of glass and plastic. In a few hours, she will board an airplane; tomorrow — at least as that word makes sense from my point of view — I will greet her at the airport, the first we have seen of each other in person (or better, in the flesh, a phrase that communicates that most holy of mammal delights, the touch of skin to skin) since Yuletide.

But that is tomorrow. For today, she and I remain words in glass to one another.

For me, the festival has been a lonely one. My campsite sits only a few feet from the spot where the members of my coven and our cousins have for years built a tiny neighborhood in the woods, but the village of tents did not appear in the meadow this year. Some had decided to try a pitching a tent in the merchants’ circle, some had joined the festival staff and needed to be closer to the main sites of action, and some — unfortunately, mainly our cousins, folks I only saw at Heartland — simply did not make it out to Gaea this year.

Which is not to say that the meadow lay empty, of course; other campers, looking for a fire pit and good drainage, set up camp. I made the acquaintance of many of them over the course of the weekend. Still, the melancholy rose within me as I walked through the new village. The meadow and the trees and the fire pit, all of these were the same as they have been for the 12 years I have been coming to this festival as an adult; doubtless they were much the same when I came here as a child, in the time before memory. But the spot itself and all it represents, the names we attached to it — Avalon in sobriety, the Isle of Misfit Toys in jest — these are functions of the people who gather there. At least this year, that particular gathering has moved on.

The leaves and branches sway above me. The shaking dance of green leaves and blue sky brings me to the edge of trance, but I stop short of it, thinking instead of something I heard Chas Clifton, who was one of the guests of the festival, said at his workshop on nature religion. Clifton said, in short, that we, as Pagans, could be doing much more to live up to the idea of being a “nature religion;” that we, by and large, miss out on a wide variety of knowledge about the land we live on and travel through that would deepen our experience of those places. (Of course, the notion of Paganism as de facto meaning “nature religion” has been challenged, but I think most folks who attend Heartland would consider “nature worship” to be a major part of their practice.) Many Pagans do know the lore of their locations: the knowledge of plants, soil, the water cycle, that make up the distinctive features of a given spot on the Earth.

But not me, I’m afraid. I love the trees that surround my campsite, and the rocky staircases that buttresses the trails down in Gaea’s low-lying areas, and even, sometimes, the dark mud after the inevitable Saturday morning thunderstorm. Of the soil series, the names of the leaves, even the question of where Gaea gets her water — a well, I think? — I must admit my ignorance.

I get up and, still not quite ready to take down the tent, head out of my nook and into the sunlight. I take this walk every Memorial Day. I consider it as fundamental a ritual as I have, a chance to say goodbye to this land that I have had a connection to, felt was, to some degree, mine. I walk down to the merchants’ circle, hug my friends, help take down one of the festival pavilions, sort a few piles of elbow joints and aluminum framing rods.

My final walk through Gaea does not quell the ball of alienation I have felt in the pit of me this weekend — not entirely, anyway — but at the same time, it does remind me of the reasons why I love Gaea, why she has remained my heart-land. I think back to something one of my uncles said at the fire Saturday night. We were watching the dancers, listening to the drums, feeling the cool air of midsummer at the edge of the fire. “It occurs to me,” my uncle said, “that for better or worse, these are the people I’ve devoted the better part of my life to. To this vision of America. To think that it exists at all, and in Kansas, of all places.” He smiled at me. “Any version of America where this allowed to exist has to be a pretty wonderful place.”

He’s right, about all of that. It is a wonderful place, and a wonderful, if passing, vision of a better world. Not a perfect one, of course, and populated by imperfect people including me, who despite coming here for longer than memory, still does not know the trees. It does not salve all wounds to be surrounded by other Pagans, even on Pagan land, but even when I feel alone here, I still feel at home. Perhaps that, more than simple laziness, explains my continued reluctance to take down my tent.

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

Heathen community continues the struggle to distance themselves from extemism

Thu, 2017-06-08 11:46

UNITED STATES — When two men were fatally stabbed and another injured on a Portland train in May, officials and journalists began to follow the predictable course of profiling the attacker in an effort to understand why he would resort to such actions. After a few short days, several sources began to speculate on his Heathen religious practice, more specifically on Odinism.

This assumption rests squarely on Facebook posts made the attacker over the past year. On May 9, he wrote, “Hail Vinland!! Hail Victory!!”

[Photo credit: Paul Walker.]

According to historians, Vinland refers to a land that exists “beyond Greenland where wild grapes and wheat grew” and is casually referred to in various Icelandic texts as well as other similar sagas and documents coming from Northern European cultures.There is no firm agreement on exactly where or what Vinland was considered to be by early Vikings. However, according to a collection of archaeological evidence, the area seems to have been located somewhere between Newfoundland and New England.

The term Vinland has more recently become a rallying point for white supremacist groups and has been used in the naming of related organizations, such as the Wolves of Vinland. In a post last fall, the Oregon attacker wrote, “I Hereby Solemnly swear to Die trying to Kill Hillary (Herself a filthy Murderess) Clinton and Donald Trump should they be elected to the post of President in my faire country on Vinland.” [sic]

The ideological meaning placed on Vinland in these cases is not entirely dissimilar from the Trump administration’s call to “make America great again.” At their core, both rallying cries center around a false nostalgia, hearkening back to a time when life was allegedly better than it is today, and promising that a return to that illustrious time would fix all modern problems. Although similar, one cry is far more openly extreme than the other.

Along with using Vinland, the Portland attacker has also referenced other Pagan or Heathen terminology, and has suggested that he harbors polytheist beliefs. According to one news report, he was introduced to such religious practices while in prison for another crime,.

Most recently, in an Apr. 19 post, the stabber wrote, “May all the Gods Bless Timothy McVeigh” and then quoted William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus. In an earlier post he says he’d like to put an end to the “monotheist question,” threatening to kill “All Zionist Jews, All Christians who do not follow Christ’s teaching of Love, Charity, and Forgiveness.”

As the mainstream media continued to follow the line of reasoning that the attacker was indeed an Odinist, various Heathen organizations issued statements in response to these claims.

The Troth condemned the attack, reflecting on the need for in-prison military services. Mallory Brooks, program coordinator for the organization’s In-Reach Heathen Prison Services, wrote: “Our hearts go out to the targets and victims of last Friday’s attack. The alleged perpetrator brought shame to our religion and, in the eyes of many, to our gods and goddesses. This is unacceptable.”

Heathens United Against Racism’s statement offered its support to the family, adding that the “Portland Killer is our community’s responsibility, and we must do everything we can to prevent it from happening again.”

“The Portland Killer’s actions didn’t happen in a vacuum,” reads HUAR’s statement. “In an environment where hate-speech is being normalized and promoted, it tends to bubble over into violence.”

Both the statements from the Troth and HUAR both work from the assumption that  the man was indeed Heathen in some way, and send out a call to action to the greater Heathen community to join in the fight to stop the use of Norse mythology and related modern religions to justify extremist violence. Their pleas are not unlike those often found in the Muslim community.

However, not all Heathens were convinced that this man was actually co-religionist. Wild Hunt writer and editor of the Norse Mythology Blog Karl E. H. Seigfried told a reporter that the stabber’s various Facebook rants “invoke Lilith (Jewish), Tiamat (Babylonian), and Lucifer. His oath ‘to Odin, Kali, Bastet and all other Pagan Gods and Goddesses in my Aryan Theosophical Nucleus’ concludes by invoking Jesus Christ and Bernie Sanders.”

He goes on to argue: “This muddles together Norse, Hindu, Egyptian, Christian, and Jewish figures with ‘an unsectarian body of seekers’ whose founder was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church.”

“To pick one thread out of this insane tapestry and declare it to be the religious determiner of […] hate would be nonsensical.”

Seigfried makes a point. Over the past year, the stabber posted information about ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses; he called specifically to Gaia, Kali Ma, and even Jesus. On Apr. 28 he wrote, “Until you cross that line then nothing will stop our come to Jesus talk friend or foe. If our come to Jesus talk fails you will face the come to Lucifer talk.”

The only term that stands out as repetitive is Vinland, which has become interwoven in contemporary white supremacist ideology, independent of religious practice. As Seigfried suggests, this points directly to the question of whether or not this man actually practices any form of religious Heathenry?

Are the stabbers words simply the markings of a supremacist viewpoint? If so, another question arises. Should the use of Norse mythology simply as symbolism or as a coating for extremest ideology, rather than as true religion, be enough to push Heathens into action? Is the attacker their responsibility, as suggested by HUAR and the Troth?

This is where the proverbial waters are muddied, and the Heathen community’s struggle becomes increasingly difficult. Publicly speaking, connections are being made between the religious practice, the mythology, and extremists acts. Picking them apart is not always easy.

In 2015, the Richmond Dispatcher asked the question: are white supremacists in prison using a Pagan religion to radicalize young men? The article was written after the FBI broke up a ring of men who were plotting to attack a number of synagogues and black churches in Virginia. The article posits that there has been a growing number of Odinists and Asatruar in the prison system, but it also notes that there is a growing number of white supremacists.

The analysis provides no speculation on where the intersections between religious believe and extremist views lie, and how the reported statistics correlate. Which ideology is bred first? Do white supremacists find Odinism? Or do Odinists find white supremacy? It is a chicken-and-egg question.

In the recent Troth statement, Brooks explains: “Racist groups within prisons often engage in bullying tactics to instill fear into inmates who do not hold such views, and the racists’ rhetoric and dominance cause them to be the Heathens most visible to the correctional officers, chaplains, and administrators, who often do not understand the dynamics at play.

“As such, the racists become who defines Heathenry in many of these facilities.”

Brook believes that a better, stronger, and more extensive Heathen prison ministry can help clarify the divide and support inmates, who are genuinely interested in the religion, from getting caught up in the game being played by supremacists.

As suggested by the above article, Heathenry, in these radicalized forms, is reportedly attracting a large number of young men, which is similar to reports on Islamic extremism.

Dr. Jennifer Snook, lecturer of sociology at Grinnell college, speculates: White supremacists are attracted to it […] sometimes, but often just because they’ve seen the show Vikings, and it allows them to enact a hypermasculine performance while appealing to their (imagined) super-white Northern European bloodlines – a source of perceived privilege and status when other avenues of power (economic, political, manhood) begin to feel cut off. ”

It is a way for these young men to find personal empowerment within a contemporary and changing landscape. Snook explains that this says more about the supremacists than the religion, and she adds that the connection is nothing new.

“There is historical precedent for white supremacists (think: Third Reich) to co-opt images of Germanic warriors, gods and heroes in an appeal to the epic past (think: Wagner). Norse mythology is the cultural inheritance of Northern Europe – the whitest of white folks. It’s also perceived as “untarnished” by Christians – which is completely untrue (the stories were recorded by monks, after all) – which white supremacists view as a ‘desert religion’ for the racial ‘other.’ Add to that an overdose of hypermasculinity, and you’ve got quite a mess.”

As Snook suggests, the connection between the extremist ideology and symbolic presence of Norse mythology is obvious when placed in an historical context. However, what about the modern practice of Norse-based religions? In the suggested framework, these religions have become victims, being pulled unwittingly into a universe of hate.

“The increase in white supremacy isn’t a Heathen problem, it’s an American problem, ” Snook says. “It indicates more about the current political climate in the United States than anything that Heathens are doing or saying.”

Snook’s comment returns to the question of responsibility; a question that can be posed to any religious subgroup. Are violent extremists, who openly claim or use a religion to justify violence, the responsibility of the rest of that religious community, even if the extremist is not practicing?

As suggested by the recent public statements, the members of both HUAR and the Troth believe that it is their responsibility. Both public opinion and the consistent media focus on the connection between Heathenry and extremism has significantly affected the work and lives of many Heathens worldwide. It keeps Heathen writers such as Seigfried and Snook busy with interview requests from mainstream journalists. This conflation was the catalyst for the formation of groups, such as the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry, Heathens against Hate, and HUAR.

One interviewee who wished to remain anonymous keeps his religious practice hidden from coworkers and superiors, not because he’s worried about being labeled a devil worshiper, but because he is concerned, due to the public opinion, that he’ll be called white supremacist.

The reality of the situation has placed the Heathen community in the uncomfortable position of perpetual defense, waging a monthly, weekly and sometimes even daily public relations battle to protect and defend their religion against a minority of people who are using Norse mythology to define their ideology, whether or not they practice the religion.

This social problem shows no signs of ending; the Oregon attack is just another example in a long line of similar cases. Heathen organizations continue to remain vigilant with regard to the public relations issues, as well as suggesting proactive strategies to curb the problem.

HUAR is encouraging all Heathen groups and individuals “to create and enforce anti-discrimination/anti-harassment statements.”

With regard to her prison work, Brooks has said, “We ultimately want to be able to bridge a gap to help both the Chaplains and inmates understand that they don’t have to give into the hate. There are other ways and they don’t have to follow the crowd. This is truly the hardest part of prison outreach.”

“We will not give up and we will not give in.”