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Building a Sacred Temple Dedicated to a Female Buddha

13 hours 31 min ago

Two Pagans are part of an interfaith group raising funds to rebuild a temple dedicated to a female Buddha in Tibet. The temple is dedicated to Yeshe Tsogyal, a Buddha considered to be the mother of the Tibetan people and the embodiment of the “Enlightened Feminine.” The Wild Hunt spoke with one of the Pagans involved in the fundraising efforts about the temple and how her trip to Tibet has deepened her spirituality.

Yeshe Tsogyal, whose name means Victorious Ocean of Wisdom, was a disciple and consort of the Indian master Padmasambhava during the 8th century in central Tibet. This was during a time when it was thought that women’s bodies themselves were a hindrance to enlightenment. Padmasambhava, however thought the opposite:  women’s bodies were superior to men’s in the ability to attain enlightenment. She was said to have lived over 200 years and wrote an autobiography titled Mother of Knowledge. The book is written as a guide to the path of spiritual awakening through the practices of Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism. Yeshe Tsogyal was, and is, widely considered a Buddha – a person who has achieved full enlightenment.

The original temple was built in the 9th century on what was thought to be the birthplace of Yeshe Tsogyal and named Tsogyal Latso. At the site are two springs, said to be the breast milk of Yeshe Tsogyal and to have healing powers. There is also a lake which induces visions and a sacred tree. All three were said to come into being at her birth.

Sacred lake at Tsogyal Latso [Courtesy of Yeshe Rabbit]

During the Cultural Revolution of the 1970’s, most of Tibet’s temples were destroyed, and Buddhist practices forbidden. Tsogyal Latso was destroyed; the lake was filled in and the springs were capped. By the 1990’s, China slightly relaxed their prohibitions and, in 1994, Ani Samten, along with three Buddhist nuns dedicated to Yeshe Tsogyal, arrived at the ruins. They began the slow work of building living spaces, cleaning out the lake, uncapping the springs, and caring for the sacred tree. By 2004, the nunnery was rebuilt and there were 8 nuns living there dedicated to Yeshe Tsogyal’s teachings.

In 2015, the number of nuns had grown to 16 and they started construction on a new temple. The greater Buddhist community, especially Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo out of Hawaii, created Jnanasukha, a nonprofit interfaith group that helps care for the sacred site and nuns of Tsogyal Latso in Tibet. While most of the exterior work is finished, it is expected it will be several more years until the interior is finished.

Temple under construction, May, 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

Yeshe Rabbit, is a High Priestess of CAYA Coven and one of the two Pagan members of the fundraising committee of Jnanasukha. Yeshe Rabbit feels a special connection to Yeshe Tsogyal and Tibet. She was able to travel there on pilgrimage in 2014 and is returning to Tibet in September. The Wild Hunt spoke with Yeshe Rabbit about the temple, how studying in Tibet deepened her spiritual practice, and about her upcoming trip back to Tibet.

The Wild Hunt: People wouldn’t typically think of this temple as a “Pagan” (or Neo-Pagan) temple – why should Pagans in the USA care about this temple effort?

Yeshe Rabbit: First of all, this Temple is about religious freedom. Pagans and Polytheists uniquely understand what it means to experience religious and other forms of persecution, and overall we tend to be passionate about those subjects. In 1959, there were over 2700 temples in Tibet. But 1978, only 7 remained. This is one of the only temples that has been allowed significant construction, and this alone is a testimonial of success in overcoming the legacy of religious persecution.

Secondly, many Pagans and Polytheists are devoted to the Goddess or specific goddesses from specific cultures, yet this is still not the global operating paradigm. The global operating paradigm is still largely male-God oriented. The fact is, ANY temple to the Divine Feminine, The Goddess, or any goddess at all deserves our community’s celebration and support, as these are rare and precious, and we want them to be much more commonplace. Further, these 16 women are building a Temple, with obscenely limited resources, in one of the most highly politicized regions in the world. They are the kind of women that many of us aspire to be, because their strength and dedication is manifesting something many people thought we would never see in this lifetime.

TWH: How did you get involved with the fundraiser? Who started it?

YR: This project is a long time coming. Tsogyal Latso or “Tsogyal’s Lake” is the birthplace of Yeshe Tsogyal, who was the first female Buddha of Tibet and sacred consort to Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Tibet from India. The lake was renowned since the 8th century as an oracular site, a healing site, and a site of spiritual nourishment, much like Brigid’s Well at Kildare or the Chalice Well in Glastonbury.This is because, at the time of Yeshe Tsogyal’s birth, a holy lake formed outside her home as fresh water gushed from the Earth. It is located in a magical valley overlooked by “Mount Lady Turquoise” and other sacred mountains dedicated to the Enlightened Feminine.

For centuries, Tibetan people would go there for dream incubation, traditional meditation practice, and to make petitions for their own well-being or the well-being of others. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s in Tibet, the site was severely desecrated.  All relics were thrown into the lake and the lake was clogged and blocked, with parts sealed over. In the 1990’s, as restrictions on the practice of Buddhism were alleviated somewhat, several Tibetan practitioners began the work to restore the sacred site, and brought the message of this sacred place and its magic to their western students. Among the principal supporters of this site since then have been the late teachers His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, as well as the still-living Sang-ngag Rinpoche. The work is now being carried forward by a western woman practitioner and translator, Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo, who is one of my teachers.

About 8 years ago, I read an account online by Nagasiva Yronwode of Lucky Mojo Curio Company about an experience he had at a ceremony for Yeshe Tsogyal in the 90s, and I felt tremendously drawn to her energy. I read several versions of her autobiography, received initiation to her practices, and my personal connection grew from there. I appended her name to mine as a symbol that she is an exemplar in whose footsteps I follow. Then, I found out about Lama Wangmo and Jnanasukha, and my relationship with Yeshe Tsogyal and this sacred site has grown stronger and stronger since that time.

TWH: Is this why you became involved in the effort to rebuild the temple?

YR: I am involved with the restoration and ongoing care of this site because, simply, it is my karma to be involved. I cannot explain the magical circumstances that led me to Yeshe Tsogyal’s practices, and inexorably drew me to this site physically, in any other way. From the moment I read that, “a miraculous lake rushed forth at the time of Tsogyal’s birth,” I knew, KNEW, that I HAD to see this place. I sent donations of support to Jnanasukha, waited, saved up, dreamed, and prayed for 7 years, and finally took the steps to bring that visit to fruition in 2014. I had no idea when I visited last year that this would become such a big part of my life going forward, though in reflection, I should have known based on my prior attraction to this place, and Tibet in general.

Although I have no familial or blood connections in Tibet, I have nonetheless been drawn to Tibetan culture and the dharma since I was 13 years old. For the past decade of my more formal study, I have sat with many, many different teachers of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan cultural arts, yet nothing has moved me as much as the profound desire to be near this specific place and to steep in Yeshe Tsogyal’s mysteries. At a heart-and-soul level, this place is sacred to me beyond what words can describe.

Yeshe Rabbit, and her husband Albert, meditating.

TWH: You did a previous fundraiser to help you with your spiritual education – how did that experience and education change your life – spiritually and in mundane ways?

YR: Last year my husband Albert and I were able to raise the funds, through the generous donations of many people, to go on a 6-week pilgrimage where we did a little bit of teaching and a whole lot more studying. We attended the Sacred Harvest Festival in Minnesota and I offered some rituals and presentations there, which was really fun and we cemented some great, continued friendships from that visit. Then we went on to Tara Mandala in Colorado, where we performed the 9-day White Dakini Drubchen, a Great Accomplishment ceremony. This is a ceremony that runs continuously for 9 days, with a highly-structured series of activities, daily teachings, and a rigorous schedule of mantra recitation. I brought a lot of what I learned there about ritual structure, the evident power of continuous magical activity over a period of time, and certain methods of personal discipline, back with me. For instance, I can now sit a bit longer in meditation, chant for longer periods of time without needing a break, and have learned better techniques of moving energy through my body with sound. I also learned, at that retreat, a certain passion that had not arisen in me before during dharma practice. An ecstasy beyond the previous ecstasy. Last Samhain, CAYA Coven did our first ever- 24-hour Ancestor chanting marathon, and it was very powerful. I am hoping we will do something like that again this year.

Following that, Albert and I went to Tibet. And to be honest, it was very, very difficult in so many ways. The most challenging place I have ever been…very provocative on so many levels. The altitude quite literally takes your breath away. The ardor of spiritual practice there is unequaled. Spirituality is built into every.single.aspect of daily life, from simple transactions to elaborate ceremonies, and spiritual practice there is quite demanding. The terrain is still really rugged in many places, though that is changing rapidly, and there is construction on an enormous superhighway through Central Tibet which will bring its own set of difficulties. But there is also a holy beauty there. A somewhat terrifying beauty. The landscape is craggy, sharp, wild and harsh, yet so peaceful, all at the same time.

I walked away from the experience with an inner sense of my identity disturbed. Truly, my mind and spirit have changed since then, and not always in comfortable ways. I have come to see where people here take so much for granted, thinking how difficult we have it. I am aware of how much we can learn from the indomitably peaceful and tenacious commitment to skillfulness that is inherent in Tibetan spirituality and culture, and I admire how generously and caringly they share their practices. In Tibet I learned fortitude, and how to push past walls of aversion, and that it’s OK to need help and to ask for it. I learned how to give up hope, in a way. How to give up wishing things would be different, in favor of just taking care of what is right in front of me as best I can. I learned a new level of honesty with myself and others, how to let go of my story about what’s happening, and just be with what’s real– this is not always pretty, or media-friendly, or happy, and once seen, cannot be unseen. I learned that pride is useless in a crisis, and that the world will never not be in crisis in some way. I learned to just do the best I can with what I have.  And this visit set me on a path. I do not know where that path is leading, but right now it is leading me to care for this Temple, and it is leading me to commit to going through that challenge again.

TWH: You’re visiting Tibet again this year, correct? When is your trip and what are you looking to accomplish?

YR:  I will be in Tibet for most of September this year. In addition to bringing support to the nuns for the new Temple at Tsogyal Latso, I will be on pilgrimage throughout Central Tibet to visit different sites associated with my lineage, as well as several other oracular lakes. Personally, I hope to accomplish the main goal of any pilgrimage: to deepen my connection to my spiritual practice, and that my journey will in some way be of benefit. But on a socially-conscious level, I will be bringing some practical support to this Temple and the 16 nuns who live there.

TWH:   Anything you’d like to add that you think is important?

YR:  In addition to financial support for the Temple and the nuns, which we are gratefully accepting at the Tsogyal Rising web site, we have also been invited to perform mantras and prayers to ensure that this venture continues to go smoothly, that it receives the support it needs, to clear all obstacles, and that it become a profound blessing to the community of practitioners. I host an online group nearly every Saturday morning at 10 am via Zoom for the new temple at Tsogyal Latso. If folks would like to join me, they are welcome. It is one hour in length. You can find the practice text and the link to the video conference on the Sky Dancer Sangha website here.

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Pagan Community Notes: Robert Rudachyk, Fairy Survey, Many Gods West, Heathen Groups and more!

Mon, 2015-07-27 05:33

Heathen Robert Rudachyk has announced his candidacy for Canada’s Liberal Party of Saskatchewon. Rudachyk ran in 2014 and, in an interview with The Wild Hunt, talked about his goals and his work as an openly Heathen candidate.

He said,If I am able to become the candidate, I intend to run my campaign on the issues facing all Canadians, not on my faith. I will never hide who I am, but I will also not whip my hammer out in public and shove it into people’s faces.”

This year, Rudachyk is running “to be elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly ( MLA) for this seat or district as you might call it. It is for the provincial government of Saskatchewan It is essentially the provincial parliament.” The campaign was just announced, and we will have more from Rudachyk in the weeks to come. The election itself will be held in April 2016.

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(Photo: T. Mierzwicki)

On July 17, Professor Sabina Magliocco created a new survey for an independent study on fairy legends in the Pagan community. Magliocco is a professor of Anthropology at California State University – Northridge. Her online survey was titled “Fairies in Contemporary Paganism.” She wrote, “I’m interested in your legends, experiences and beliefs surrounding the fairies, fae, sidhe, Fair Folk, pixies, trolls, and similar creatures from any cultural tradition. What are they? Do you work with them in your spiritual practice? What is their role in the world today?”

Within one week, Prof. Magliocco received over 500 responses, far exceeding the allowances of the technology used. She announced the survey’s closing and began compiling the data. Although the work has only begun, she offered this quick assessment: “a majority of respondents believe fairies are real and associate them with the natural world. Nonetheless, fairies are not central to the majority of respondents’ religious practice — but a substantial number of respondents do interact with them, mostly by making offerings.” The full results will be presented at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, held in Claremont, California in January 23-24, 2016

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Coming up this weekend is the brand new conference, Many Gods West. As noted on the event website, it is “meant to be a celebration of [many] traditions, those newly-reconstructed and those continuously-practiced. There are many gods in the world, and many peoples worshiping them.”

Held at The Governor Hotel in downtown Olympia, Washington, Many Gods West will feature three days of workshops, lectures, rituals and more. The keynote address will be delivered by Priest and Author Morpheus Ravenna on Friday at 7:00pm. Rituals include the Bakcheion (Βακχεῖον)’s “Filled with Frenzy,” Coru Cathubodua’s “Devotional to Cathobodua,” and Viducus Brigantici, Filius’ “Kalends Ritual” and more. Many Gods West opens for the very first time on Friday, July 31 and runs to Sunday, Aug 2.

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Over the past few months, there have been some changes to the group Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR). According to various sources, the group experienced internal conflict in June, which led to a split between the various moderators, organizers and facilitators. The disagreements were centered around internal operations and structure.

HUAR is currently still in operation and slowly re-building. In a recent post, The HUAR Team wrote, “We have undergone some recent internal reorganization to be more effective in accomplishing our goals of opposing racism and co-optation of Heathenry by racialist groups and organizations. We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons from the mistakes of the past few years and are working to be more effective now and going forward.” *

In addition, a new group has formed called Heathens For Social Justice (HFSJ), which was created after the June events. HFSJ is run by nine democratically-elected board members. They describe the group as a “safe space” and as being “committed to fighting all oppressions, wherever [they] find them, in service to both [the] heathen community and [their] local, regional and national communities.” Organizers added, “We are about action, not platitudes.”

While the two groups do have some crossover in purpose and goals, their focuses do appear to be slightly different. We will continue to report on both groups as they continue or begin their advocacy and work.

In Other News

  • The Sacred Harvest Festival is about to kick-off its eighteenth year at its brand new location in Northern Minnesota. The festival will be held at Atchingtan in Finlayson,MN, which is 90 minutes north of St. Paul. As always, the scheduled is packed with rituals, drumming, workshops and other events. The guest speaker will be Shaman Joy Wedmedyk. PNC-Minnesota has recently published an interview with Wedmedyk, in which she says, “I want the people who attend to know the reason I teach is because I want people to have as much information as possible to be able to move forward spiritually and to know prosperity and abundance in all levels of their life. I love to encourage people to develop their own skill set, and perhaps offer them a different perspective about a practice they may already be doing.” Sacred Harvest Festival begins on Monday, August 3 and runs through Aug. 9.
  • Mills College Student and co-founder of the Pagan Alliance Kristen Oliver has been selected as a Chapel Programs Assistant. Oliver said, “I will be working for the interim Multifaith Chaplain and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life (SRL). I will be doing things like managing SRL’s Facebook page, helping to organize and lead activities and events like the school’s multifaith Festival of Light and Dark which happens in December, and being available to students who have spiritual/religious queries.” Oliver added that she “continues to be impressed” by the school’s support of the Pagan Alliance and Pagan students.
  • As we reported last week, Starhawk has ventured into self-publishing for The City of Refuge, the sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. To accomplish this task, she will be opening a Kick Starter Campaign to pay for various aspects of the process. The campaign will begin on July 31, as suggested by Starhawk’s favorite astrologer. As she writes, “It’s also the eve of Lammas or Lughnasad, August 1, one of the eight great festivals of the Celtic and Pagan year.” 
  • EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen was invited to sit on a panel called the “Indigenous Leadership Talk Issues and Innovation” at the Nexus Global Youth Summit, held at The United Nations. The other panel participants included “Abhayam Kalu Ugwuomo, Chief Kalu Ugwuomo, Tonatiuh Cervantes, Aina Olomo, Ricardo Cervantes, Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk.”

[Courtesy Photo]

  • Ivo Dominguez, Jr will be hosting a new workshop in Delaware to be taught by Byron Ballard. Held on Aug. 29, the workshop, called “Old Wild Magic of the Motherlands,” will be based Ballard’s new research on Appalachian traditions. Ballard’s work is focused on the magical traditions and cultures of her home in the mountains of the Appalachian region. For her next book, she has been studying the various customs that came over from the British Isles. Ballard notes, “The charms, spells and talismans that crossed with those ragged immigrants from Scotland, Northumberland, Cornwall and Cumbria are little known and very interesting. Weather workings, healing charms, curses and blessings–all handed down to us from a by-gone age.” The new workshop will present her findings and will be held in Georgetown, Delaware on Aug. 29.

That is it for now! Have a great day.

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The Equality Act of 2015: a summary

Sun, 2015-07-26 08:38

On Thursday, legislation was introduced simultaneously into both the U.S. House and Senate, which seeks to ensure equitable treatment across a wide-range of social structures, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identification. The Equality Act, as it has been called, will “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and for other purposes.” Along with any new statutes, the act also aims to strengthen protections against discrimination for other minorities through the expansion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is considered landmark legislation and has been called “visionary.”

[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]

In his opening speech before the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said:

There are few concepts as fundamentally American as equality … For more than two centuries, we have been working to fulfill that vision of equality. We have taken direct action as a nation so that our laws align more closely with these founding ideals. We have challenged unjust rules and destructive prejudices and chosen to advance basic civil rights.

Merkley introduced the Equality Act (S. 1858) in the Senate on behalf of himself and 39 other Senators. At the same time, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the same bill in the House on behalf of himself and 157 other representatives. Cicilline, who is one of seven openly gay House members, said, “Fairness and equality are core American values. No American citizen should ever have to live their lives in fear of discrimination.”

The Equality Act predominantly focuses on amending established federal legislation. In many cases, the terms “sex, sexual orientation and gender identity” would be added to the list of protected classes “joining race, color, religion and national origin.” The acts to be expanded or amended include, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Service Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Government Employees Rights Act of 1991 and the Civil Service Reform Act. Through these changes, lawmakers hope to establish and enforce a more equitable environment in various areas such as public accommodations and education; employment, housing, federal funding, juries and more.

The legislation is considered landmark, because it is wide-sweeping, rather than focused on any one particular area of society. In 1974, two representatives introduced a similar bill. House Bill 14752, also called “The Equality Act,” proposed expanding the Civil Rights Act to include “sexual orientation.” However, that bill never passed. Then in 1994, the idea was revisited, but only for the employment sector. That became ENDA, or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been lingering in Congress ever since.

After The Equality Act of 2015 was introduced, three corporations immediately announced their support, including The Dow Chemical Company, Levi Strauss & Co. and Apple Computers. Apple’s Tim Cook, who is the only openly gay chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company, told the Human Rights Campaign:

At Apple we believe in equal treatment for everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. We fully support the expansion of legal protections as a matter of basic human dignity.

In March, The The Washington Post published an op-ed written by Cook, on a slightly different but related topic. He said, “There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country. A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors.” He is speaking of the federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. Cook goes on to say, “These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear … This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook [Photo Credit: Mike Deerkoski]

The tide is certainly shifting, as suggested by the recent SCOTUS ruling, the push for anti-discrimination legislation across the states, growing awareness of transgender struggles, and even the recent proposed policy changes for the Boy Scouts. The RFRAs are seen as reactionary legislation to this cultural shift, and are, thereby, dragging religion into the socio-political spotlight as a shield against change.

For example, in June, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) co-sponsored a bill called The First Amendment Defense Act, which was introduced in response to the SCOTUS marriage equality ruling. This bill seeks to “prohibit the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction…” with regards to same-sex marriage. He told U.S. World and News Report, “Religious freedom is something that is essentially the cornerstone of all other freedoms. If we lose it, the Founding Fathers’ dreams are lost.”

The new Equality Act addresses two important points regarding the protection of religious freedom. First, in regards to employment, the act makes no changes to the current religious exemption. It “would continue to allow religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, and societies to hire only individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with their religious activities.” In other words, a Pagan-specific charitable organization or church would not be required to hire non-Pagans to “perform work connected with religious activities.” The Equality Act protects your right to religiously discriminate in those very limited and specific circumstances.

However, with that said, the new act also dives directly into the RFRA debate. In summary, the act reads:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cannot be used [as] a defense for individuals or entities to discriminate on any basis under any provision of existing law amended by this Act.

With this piece, the Equality Act goes beyond protecting only LGBTQ rights and also strengthens those of all minority classes. It essentially takes the wind out of RFRA sails, disallowing the use of religion as a shield from the law. The bill makes it very clear that RFRAs would not be able to be used to defend any act of discrimination “on any basis under any provision of existing law amended by this Act.” In this way, the Equality Act and the newly introduced First Amendment Defense Act are in direct conflict.

In a blog post, The Human Rights Campaign noted the same point, saying “While the act provides much-needed protections for the LGBTQ community in all 50 states, it would additionally strengthen protections for all men, women and racial, ethnic and religious minorities.” The deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union agrees, calling the act visionary, historic and long-overdue.

While there does appear to be much support for the Equality Act, suprisingly some LGBTQ members and organizations are not rallying in support behind the congressional effort. An article in The Washington Blade illustrates why. In summary, there are those people who believe that “opening up” the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is dangerous, because it is a sacred piece of legislation specifically protecting racial discrimination. Others believe the Equality Act doesn’t go far enough in its protections. Still others are concerned with the lack of Republican backing. LGBTQ Republican Party members have expressed a feeling alienation, saying that the Equality seems to have been drafted as “a partisan cudgel [rather] than a pragmatic LGBTQ non-discrimination bill. by the lack of inclusion.”

While some opponents, outside of the LGBTQ community, do state a concern over privacy rights and federal government interference in industry, most fall back on the religious freedom argument as exemplified by the Rep. Franks statement above.

Regardless, many supporters speculate that the act is ultimately doomed due to the current political climate in Washington. Slate writer Marc Joseph Stern said, “The Equality Act, of course, will go absolutely nowhere … Still, it’s notable for two reasons.” Stern goes on to explain that the new act serves to keep the issues of equality central to current public discourse, while also “sounding the death toll” for ENDA, which is still limping along in legislative limbo.

Whether or not it does pass, the Equality Act, as noted by Stern, continues the discussion of LGBTQ rights and the realities of discrimination across social platforms and peoples; the potential need to revise older legislation to meet contemporary needs; and to highlight the potential dangers present in the RFRAs.

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Book Review: The Case for Polytheism

Sat, 2015-07-25 05:44

Review: The Case for Polytheism. Written by Steven Dillon. (Iff Book, 96 Pages)

As an undergraduate freshman I stumbled into a Philosophy 101 class primarily by default. It was the only class out of the list of humanities requirements that still had a space available, and I needed full-time status to keep my scholarship. I was not excited to learn about the self-indulgent musings of dead white men; Philosophy 101 usually means Western Philosophy after all.

By the end of the term, however, I was considering changing my major to philosophy. While I ultimately chose not to change majors, I took as many philosophy classes electives as possible. Why the change of heart? I realized by studying Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, et al, that I had never learned to think critically. It was exciting to learn how to deconstruct a series of premises and to weigh the merits and fallacies of arguments made.

Now that nearly 20 years have passed since my last philosophy class, I honestly could not tell you much about any of those philosophers, their assumptions, or their arguments. I found that I lacked interest in reading philosophy without a group of people to talk things out so my studies ended and much of what I knew (or thought I knew) slipped away.

So it has been years since I thought about those classes in logic, existentialism, epistemology, and ethics. Upon reading Steven Dillon’s The Case for Polythiesm, I began to wish that I could remember everything that I had worked so hard to understand so many years ago. I wished that I could be surrounded by others reading it simultaneously so we could talk about it’s content. I wished that there was time to read it a second time and third time to truly absorb and more fully consider its propositions.

In his book, Dillon engages the reader in a defense of natural theology, which is “just a systematic attempt to ‘prove or show’ to be probable the existence of God or gods, and to acquire knowledge about them, on the basis of evidence or premises that can be accepted by non-believers, such as empirical knowledge about the natural world.” While monotheists have been the primary voices in natural theology arguments, Dillon brings polytheism back into the conversation with this book.*

Dillon begins with an exploration of what a God is, and if there is a God. He proposes three conditions needed for something to be considered a God: disembodied consciousness, immensely more powerful than evolved minds, and remarkable greatness. He goes on to explore each of these qualities in turn, recognizing the problem of defining terms like “consciousness,” “immense,” and “remarkable.” He then goes on to present a formal argument for theism followed by an exploration of the assumptions within. The argument he presents is:

  1. The existence of the universe is either due to its own necessary nature or to an external cause.
  2. If it is due to an external cause, then at least one god exists.
  3. The existence of the universe is not due to its own necessary nature.
  4. Therefore, it is due to an external cause (From 1 and 3.)
  5. Hence, at least one god exists. (From 2 and 4.)

The following 8 pages are an exploration and defense of each of these premises in order to present a “reasonable case for theism.” It was at this point in the book that my recollection of my former classes came to the front of my mind, and I felt an unexpected desire to be back in those 200-year-old un-airconditioned university buildings surrounded by other lovers of wisdom.

I have problems with these propositions for which I cannot seem to find the words. I can sense a gap in the logic presented, but have no idea how to express it. In psychology, the lack of words to describe one’s emotions is called alexithymia. Alexithymia (literally, “no words for emotions”) has been linked to depression, eating disorders, and other lovely conditions. I don’t know what the word is for “no words to explain the reason for a dysphoric cognitive response,” but that word should exist for situations such as this. And I am quite sure that this condition would be linked to headaches, inattentiveness in conversations, and forgetting to eat dinner.

But that aside…

After a brief break, I moved on to the next chapter which explores the question of how many gods there are. Since I am Pagan, and therefore biased by my own polytheistic beliefs, his arguments for religious experiences of gods were not personally problematic. However, this could be a sticky argument for a lot of monotheistic and atheistic folk. To sum it up as succinctly as possible, he writes that we can trust perceptual experiences (“unless and until we have good reason not to”) that, if gods have been perceived then polytheism is true, and that gods have been perceived, and therefore, polytheism is true.

It is an endearingly simple argument, but so loaded that I would like to secure a front row seat to watch the debate ensue. He spends several pages presenting these arguments that he assumes (and rightly, I think) would be used to deconstruct his propositions. He even addresses one of several I had but had no name for (until now): the Theory-Ladenness Objection. It explains that prior theory affects observation, and that this influence makes our interpretation of perceptual experiences unreliable. For instance, if one is only aware of a single warrior Goddess, than any warrior Goddess that is experienced would be perceived to be the one already known.

In the end, Dillon concludes that he finds the objections “wanting” and that through his arguments

…we have managed to mount a reasonable case for polytheism. We have good reason to believe in the deities that have been perceived all over the world, from the Goddess experienced by Wiccans and Cernunnos by Druids, to the Hindu deities that have been experienced, and even YHWH. The gods and goddesses come in all shapes and sizes.

I finished this chapter thinking that the objections to his propositions are deserving of more consideration, and that his arguments for polytheism are wanting.

Dillon states that his goal with this book is to “inspire thoughtful individuals to discuss and reevaluate the merits or demerits of polytheism.” Despite any problems with his arguments, he succeeds in opening up a conversation in academic circles, and I feel an unexpected sense of gratitude for this. However, the book may be a bit inaccessible for people without some background or understanding of philosophy and debate. Regardless, Dillon presents many interesting points and poses plenty of questions that naturally encourage discussion and exploration.

Author Steven Dillon is a Pagan living in South Dakota. He publishes the blog Pagan Scholasticism. He “primarily works on researching and developing theoretical foundations for Pagan ideas.” A Case for Polytheism is his first book. It is currently available in electronic and paperback formats.

*  *  *

* The term polytheism, as used in this book, expresses the generic meaning “many gods” within any religious tradition or practice. This is distinctly different from Polytheism as a very specific religious identifier. As such, the term ‘polytheism’ is not capitalized in the book or the article, whereas the identifier would always capitalized. For more on this distinction or on Polytheism in practice, read the Polytheism Primer or visit Polytheism.com

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Whims of the Father

Fri, 2015-07-24 04:46

(Author’s note: The following attempts to capture a recent four days in time and about time with as much accuracy as possible. Minor details have been changed to protect privacy.)

I walked from my apartment to the elevator, going past a dozen or so doors on the way. It was early afternoon, and I could hear a TV blaring in nearly every apartment as I walked past. In a typical apartment building, most folks would be at work, but here in this building a noticeable number of the residents are home all day with little to do other than to watch television. I was used to the sound of TV as I walked past, but right then it was much more noticeable than usual.

I live in what is generally referred to as “tax-credit housing”, meaning that the property was built under a federal program that grants a 30-year property tax credit in exchange for renting the units for well below market value and only to those who make less than 60% of the area median income. As a result, the building is composed of a noticeably varied range of working-class and poor folks, from single moms and working families with kids to retired folks who live on Social Security, as well as a significant number of disabled folks, including several war vets, who also live on fixed incomes. There are also several multigenerational households, where younger relatives work while their elderly parents and/or grandparents are at home during the day for the most part.

I stepped into the elevator, where a man was awkwardly leaning in the corner, propping himself up to relieve pressure off his leg, which I noticed was in what looked like a permanent brace.

“You ever watch that Kardashian show?” he asked me as the elevator door started to close.

“Nope,” I replied. I don’t have a TV.”

He looks at me in amazement. “You don’t have a TV?” He looked me up and down. “Well, I suppose you don’t need one. You’re young, you can go amuse yourself in the real world. Twenty years ago I thought I couldn’t afford cable. Now I realize I can’t afford not to have it.”

I nodded. It had occurred to me often as of late that the very fact that I can sufficiently keep myself occupied to the point where I did not need a TV was a significant privilege that many of my neighbors did not have.

“My nephew criticizes me, tells me I’m wasting my money,” he continued. “I asked him, what else am I supposed to do with it? I get a little over $700 a month plus my food stamps and whatever I can get returning cans. $595 for rent, $40 for electricity, $20 for a big bag of dog food, after that I got well under a hundred dollars left to amuse myself for the entire month. Can’t even afford a respectable drinking habit. So cable it is. Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but it is. Cable and my dog, that’s what keeps me occupied.”

“Makes perfect sense to me,” I said to him as the elevator door opened into the lobby.

He nodded. “Thank you, I need to hear that. My nephew, he’s the only blood family I really have around here but he’s so judgmental. The kid doesn’t understand how easy it is to think the way he does when you’re bringing in $50K a year. He goes bowling, goes to the movies, goes to the coast. Doesn’t know what its like to not be able to afford all that, and then lectures me for how I spend my money. He doesn’t think about the fact that his time itself is worth money, while my time doesn’t hold value for anybody. ‘Time flies’, he says to me. Not for me it don’t.”

I looked at him sympathetically as we walked out the front door. “You know what’s best for you better than anyone else does,” I said to him as we parted ways.

As I walked on, his words rang on in my head, as they illustrated the core divide that the sound of the TV had come to symbolize for me as of late: the divide between those whose time had a market value, and those for whose time did not carry a transferable value and was often regarded as a burden, as the enemy, as something that needed to be intentionally wasted and consumed in the absence of a meaningful way to spend it. For some, time flies, while others are in constant need for time to fly away.

*   *   *

I was sitting for a moment just outside the library when he approached me.

“Hey, you got a smoke?”

I’m not a smoker nowadays, but I still carry cigarettes sometimes, deeply aware of the power that tobacco has to initiate random conversations with strangers. I handed him one and he lit it up.

“Ah, thank you. I’ll tell ya, it’s the only addiction I have left, but this one’s manageable and I’ve stopped trying to give it up. I gave the rest of them up, I still need something, you know.”

I nodded and he continued.

“My counselor said to me many times that addiction was a demon. I could tell that she meant it as a metaphor, but over time I’ve come to realize that it’s literal. A heroin addiction is the ugliest of demons – it’s a beast inside of you that you constantly need to feed, and feeding it becomes your utmost priority over time. But time is the key, time. An addiction also eats the time, and gives purpose to the time, and time itself is another demon, one that also eats away at you. And as screwed up at this sounds, in the face of the demon of time, the demon of addiction is actually a bit of a comfort. Simply put, it gives you something to do. You wake up, and the first thought is that you need a fix. Immediately you have a task, a goal. Something to do with your time. Something to take care of, something to feed.”

“How’d you kick it?” I asked.

He pointed down towards the corgi at his feet. “After I finally got through rehab, I got myself a dog,” he answered. “Figured having something else to feed would keep me out of trouble. And it did in terms of smack, but I didn’t stay completely out of trouble and after a while I collected a wife and then a kid as well. So now I have a houseful of creatures that howl to be fed in the morning.”

He paused for a moment and smiled. “But at least they’re all external. And I love them all dearly. I’d rather feed kids and dogs than those other demons. But often it’s better to feed demons than to be left to the whims of the father without sufficient distraction.

“The father?” I asked. “You mean God?”

The price of a conversation. [Photo by Alley Valkyrie.]

He laughed. “No, Father Time,” he said. “But he might as well be God. Cruelest force there is, that time. Never enough of it when you need it the most, then it drags on endlessly when you desperately need it to pass.”

He put out the end of the cigarette. “The tricks of the Father are endless. Time files sometimes, but never when you want it to. A winged demon, that Father Time.”

“And that’s no joke, that’s real as you and me.”

*   *   *

“This next sequence will run for four minutes.”

The strange patterns of beeping noises started again, and I closed my eyes and desperately tried to relax, trying to block out absolutely every aspect of the current situation. As I had discovered in the past, if I ignored the headphones and earplugs and panic button in my right hand, the coldness and the brightness and the very fact that I was in a cylindrical tube, if I blocked out all of that successfully, for a split second it was almost as though I was just lying down listing to some sort of avant-garde techno music.

I held the illusion for a moment, until the beeping shifted to a faster-paced and much more jolting rhythm, which snapped me back immediately into the realization that I was currently in an MRI machine. I think this is why I don’t like techno, I thought to myself.

“This next sequence will run for two-and-a-half minutes.”

I closed my eyes once again and tried my best to pretend that it was a just techno-tunnel.

When the final sequence was over, it struck me how 38 minutes in a tube, broken down into 2-4 minute segments that are announced step-by-step, makes for one of the most accurate flows of time that I experienced as of late. As uncomfortable as it was on one level, it was exactly as long as it seemed, as long as it was supposed to be without the catches and loopholes that are often present in time. The ‘tricks of the Father’ were conspicuously and surprisingly absent this time around, which considering the circumstances was quite a relief. For once, time seemed a strange constant.

They pulled me out of the tunnel, took down some additional information, and told me that I would hear back within a week.

“I know that the waiting is the hardest part,” she said to me, sympathetically. “Time can be especially cruel that way…”

I thought of the man that I talked to that morning with the dog outside the library. Time can be cruel in many ways, I silently whispered to myself.

“Do you need a parking validation?” she asked.

“No, I walked here.”

She looked down at the screen at my info for a moment, and then looked up at me again. “That’s a quite a bit of a walk,” she said to me.

“Yeah, it took a while. But I find it a good way to clear out some time.”

“Must be nice to have that kind of free time,” she said.

Trust me, its not nearly as nice as you think, I thought to myself, and thought hard for a second before answering

“Yes and no,” I said to her after a moment. “Free time tends to lose its value and appeal once its no longer being weighed against the time you wish you didn’t have to spend elsewhere. Eventually, it becomes somewhat of a liability, especially when you don’t have adequate ways to waste or spend it. I’m grateful in a sense that I’m able to spend the amount of time that I do walking around Portland, especially considering how many folks I knew with mobility issues who don’t have such an option. But the time itself isn’t always a good thing to have, especially for those who can’t get out as I can.”

She looked at me, silent for a moment.

“Huh,” she finally said. “I hear you. I never thought of it that way before, but I can definitely see what you’re saying.”

*   *   *

I dragged a chair and a small table out on my patio, intending to spend a good portion of the afternoon making pinch-pots while watching the traffic below me.

My upstairs neighbors started watching a TV program about UFOs, which I could hear clearly from where I was sitting, and before I realized what was happening I found myself sucked in. I forgot about the clay in my hand as I strained to hear their TV above the sounds of the traffic while staring out mindlessly towards the street below.

Out of nowhere, their dog started to bark uncontrollably, which set off the dog next door and another dog nearby, and the neighbors either muted or paused the TV while yelling at their dog to shush. I snapped back into reality, and as I listened to the chorus of barking dogs I looked out and noticed the doggy day camp van pull up in front of the luxury condos across the street. I had noticed the van many times before, but seeing it in that moment brought with it a whole new significance.

I tuned in to the cacophony of barking throughout the building for a moment, dogs that for so many folks here were instrumental in giving their time and their lives meaning in the face of very few accessible amusements or comforts.

And as I listened to the barking, I closely watched across the street as the van driver walked the dog toward the building, the owner approaching them from the other direction. In stark contrast to my upstairs neighbors who spent most of their waking hours caring for their dog with the TV blaring in the background, this dog owner’s time is so valued under capitalism that he can afford to pay someone to amuse his dog for several hours every day while he’s gone so that the dog itself doesn’t get bored in his absence.

Sitting on the porch, staring across the street, I realized that I was experiencing two worlds at once, worlds that in the moment were being illustrated by dogs and separated and defined by the value and perception of time.

As the van drove away and the barking died down, they turned the UFO show back on upstairs. I started to listen in once again, but my thoughts kept interrupting my ability to concentrate as I couldn’t help wondering what a dog actually does all day at doggy day camp.

*   *   *

“Daddy, why is the market only open on the weekends?”

“Because during the weekdays, everyone is at work. They’re off on the weekends, so they can come here and shop,” he replied.

Sitting in the back of my market booth, the weekend ‘workplace’ that I’ve steadily inhabited for over a decade now, I tipped both my eye and my ear towards the direction of the conversation.

“But there are some people who work on the weekends too,” the kid countered. “These people here all are working right now,” he said, pointing towards the booths in front of them.

Smart kid, I thought to myself, curiously anticipating how the father would attempt to explain this particular aspect of class dynamics to a six-year-old.

“Well, yes, you’re right. Some people do have to work on the weekends.”

“But when do the people who work on the weekends get to go to the market?”

“I guess they just don’t get to go,” the father said after a moment. “We’ve talked before about how the world isn’t always fair.”

“Are the people who work on the weekdays more important than those who work on the weekends?

“Well, I guess some would say that. Those who work weekdays generally make more money than those who have to work on weekends, and there are many people who think that those who make more money are more important than those who make less money.”

“That’s stupid,” the kid said defiantly. “The people who work on the weekends should make more money, because they’re the ones who are missing all the fun.”

Portland Saturday Market. [Photo by Steve Morgan]

“Are you hungry?” the father asked abruptly, desperately trying to change the subject at that point. The kid nodded and they walked away towards the food carts.

“If I was in charge, I’d have a market all week just for the people who have to work weekends,” the kid said as they walked out of earshot.

The father looked around for a moment, his expression one of pure helplessness and exasperation.

Right on, kid, right on, I thought.

*   *   *

As I watched her hand, moving so eloquently and furiously, I realized that I had seen her before, although in a different park on the other side of the river. She finished the bird with a few quick strokes and started to write underneath the picture in Chinese, quickly scribbling out a few rows of text in what seemed like seconds.

She then picked up the picture, blew on it, quickly looked both ways, and muttered a few words under her breath. And before I really understood what was happening, she pulled out a match and quickly set the paper on fire.

I gasped aloud, not meaning to, and she turned around, surprised to see me there. She nodded hello at me and I nodded back.

“It is OK, it is supposed to burn,” she said to me, smiling. “It is a prayer for the sparrows.”

“But you just spent so much time….” I stopped mid-sentence, recognizing the thought-trap regarding the value of time that I was about to fall into. She laughed.

“I have all the time in the world to draw things and set them on fire,” she said. “I am retired, I do not work. I do not like TV, I do not like bingo. Instead, I draw and I pray and I pay attention to nature.”

I stared at her for a second, wondering if I should say aloud what I was dying to ask her, then took a breath and went for it.

“Do you mind if I ask why? Why did you burn what you just drew, what was it for?”

She motioned for me to sit, and I immediately dropped down on the ground next to her.

“I draw them to ask forgiveness for the past. When I was a girl back home, one day our leader commanded all the people to kill the sparrows, all the sparrows. It was a matter of duty, of honor, patriotism, all of those things, to kill every sparrow we could find. So we did, we chased them, killed them, destroyed nests, some shot them out of the sky. Throughout my village, throughout the country, the people killed all the sparrows, every one they saw.”

As she paused for a moment, I thought about her age and realized that I was hearing a personal account of the Great Chinese Famine. My stomach clenched up as I anticipated what she was about to say next.

“But sparrows eat locusts and locusts eat grain, and when sparrows don’t eat locusts, locusts eat all the grain that is grown to feed the peasants. And then, after the sparrows were gone, after we killed them all and the locusts came, the droughts also came. And for years, there was famine, and millions and millions died.“

“Years later, I moved to America to be with my daughter, and everywhere I see different kinds of sparrows. And they reminded me of my childhood, of the famine and the death, and at first I was very angry at them. They almost felt haunting. But then I thought of what the people had done, and what happened as a result, and how all of the species are connected and interdependent. Here we both reside, me and the sparrows, and we are both alive, both survivors, and I don’t like bingo. So eventually I thought why not reach out to them?”

She smiled and looked around. “So I started coming to the parks, and when I see sparrows, I draw them and write prayers of forgiveness and send them up towards where I spotted them. I think it heals both of our wounds.”

I stood there for a moment, slightly shivery. “Thank you for sharing that with me,” I told her.

She nodded. “Nobody can change the past, but I can at least give them the time I have now. I often feel like I’m just wasting my days away when I sit at home, but then I remember the sparrows and I realize that my time has value.”

*   *   *

Walking back from the park towards my building, I noticed the man who has asked me about the Kardashians the other day, sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette. He looked up and I nodded; he waved me over.

“Hey, you ever hear of a time bank?” he asked.

Before I could answer, he continued, excitedly. “I saw something on TV this morning where they were talking about unemployed folks in Greece and how they’ve started these exchanges called time banks. It’s a bartering of services where if you can perform a skill, you can trade your time for the time-skills of another. Everyone’s time is worth the same no matter what service they perform, and services are traded hour for hour, no money exchanged.”

I nodded and he went on. “I’m one hell of a wood-turner. Put me in front of a lathe and I’ll make you some of the most amazing things you’ve ever seen. But I can only do it at most for a few hours at a time, which is why I’m useless to an employer. But if I could trade a few hours a week’s worth of my skill for, say, someone who could help me fix my car up or could repair my boots, I’d be so much better off.”

He pointed toward our building. “That whole place, I’m sure almost everyone can do something. But so many do nothing at all, because they’re trapped in their apartment with nothing but a TV and maybe a chat with the neighbor once in a while. What they know, what they do, it all just goes to waste. Nobody’s time has any real value as it stands.

“But just think of what we all could do if we all decided to start organizing ourselves and our skills around something other than money. You’d have a whole bunch of folks who think they’re useless who would suddenly find themselves quite useful again. We’d all have an easier time of it, a much easier time.”

“A much easier time,” he said again after a moment. “It always comes back to time.”

 *   *   *

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

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Deborah Ann Light 1935 – 2015

Thu, 2015-07-23 04:48

2002 [Photo Credit: Christopher Werby]

Priestess, ritualist and elder Deborah Ann Light passed away the morning of July 21, 2015. On Wednesday, her family announced:

Philanthropist Deborah Ann Light, a key figure in establishing Eastern Long Island’s Peconic Land Trust and pioneering Wiccan priestess, died Tuesday, July 21, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida, at age 80 after a long illness.

Deborah was born in London to American parents Dr. Rudolph Alvin Light and Ann Bonner Jones, while they were both attending Oxford University. She was raised on a farm in Nashville, Tennessee, while her father taught surgery at Vanderbilt University. As she grew up, she lived in a variety of places, including Virginia, Italy, and New York. In 1961, she graduated with a B.F.A. in textile design from the School for American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology. With her first husband, she gave birth to her son, Michael, in 1963.

Four years later, Deborah settled in the small hamlet of Amagansett, Long Island, where she quickly became involved in local politics and community service. As noted by her family, Deborah engaged in every activity with “dedicated professionalism” and, at the same time, indulged in many eccentricities. At one point, for example, she cared for over 36 cats.

In addition, Deborah became increasingly dedicated to women’s issues and earth stewardship. With a love of the land, she continued to acquire more property around her home, and became involved with a local land trust.

Then, in 1980, Deborah attended a Reclaiming-sponsored trip to Ireland, and had, what her family calls, “a spiritual epiphany” that led Deborah on a brand new journey. In 1982, she started attending EarthSpirit’s Rites of Spring. Through that connection, she also became an active member of the newly formed North East Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess. And, during the same period, she began attending Circle Sanctuary’s new festival, Pagan Spirit Gathering. As a result, Deborah became an active member of all three organizations.

While building relationships within the growing Pagan world, Deborah began working on a masters degree in religious studies at Norwich University in Vermont. Her thesis, titled “Contemporary Goddess Worship: The Old Religion as Currently Practiced in the United States” reflected her new spiritual direction. In 1985, she received her degree, and also met her life-partner, Jeri Baldwin.

But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Deborah’s philanthropic and active dedication to her new path became very public. In 1989, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live. As a result, she endowed nearly 200 acres of land, part of her Suffolk County estate, to Long Island’s Peconic Land Trust. Her goal was to keep the land from being over-developed. The Trust established Quail Hill Farm. Honoring Deborah a hero, Alec Hirschfield created a film about the farm called Out Here in the Fields: Quail Hill Farm (2008).

Then, in 1992, Deborah created the Thanks Be to Grandmother Winifred Foundation, which “encouraged individual mature women to achieve goals that would enrich the lives of other adult women.” Named after Deborah’s Grandmother Rachel Winifred Upjohn Light, the foundation supported 321 projects over its nine year history. In 1996, photographer Robert Giard was commissioned to capture the faces of the many women recipients. These photos are archived at Radcliffe College, Harvard University.

Deborah Ann Light at 1999 Parliament [Courtesy Photo]

Fortunately, Deborah beat the odds of her diagnosis and began taking on a far more active role in interfaith work. In 1993, she became one of the first Pagans to sit on the assembly at the Parliament for the World’s Religions as a representative of Covenant of the Goddess, EarthSpirit and Circle Sanctuary. At the start of the event, it was announced that there was only one open assembly slot for Wiccans. The three attending organizations chose Deborah, who happen to be a member of all three and who had proven her dedication by quickly securing the required insurance for their open full moon ritual. As their representative, Deborah signed the Global Ethics Charter as a “neo-pagan” along with Lady Olivia Robertson and Rev. Baroness Cara-Margurite Drusilla.

Deborah’s interfaith work continued over the next seven years. She traveled the country representing Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) as one of its first Interfaith Representatives. She became a member of Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) and wrote for the newsletter Pagan NUUS. In 1998, she attended the United Religions Initiative (URI) Global Summit. In 1999, she once again represented Wiccans at the Parliament.

By the turn of the millennium, Deborah cut back on her public interfaith work. CoG interfaith representative and longtime member Don Frew remembers that, after she stopped attending URI summits, attendees always asked how Deborah was doing and added, “give her my love.” Frew said:

Everyone always wanted to give Deborah their love. She called forth the love in everyone she met. We could never have asked for a better ambassador to the religions of the world. I could never have asked for a more loving and caring friend.

In 2001, Ellen Evert Hopman published a book called Being a Pagan: Druids, Wiccans and Witches Today containing a 1994 interview with Deborah. Starting on page 291, the interview discusses Deborah’s practice as a witch, performance artist and ritualist. It notes that her work “honors the earth as she presents alternative creation myths.”

After retiring from public interfaith service, Deborah continued the loyal support of friends and community. She attended memorials, weddings, and Pagan events around the country; she continued to donate money to EarthSpirit, Circle Sanctuary and other Pagan organizations. In 2010, she and Jeri formed the Crone’s Cradle Conserve Foundation with 756 acres of land in Florida’s Marion County. The land, which had been obtained over 25 years, was established as an ecological preserve and education center located in Marion County.

Unfortunately, Deborah’s health slowly started to decline. In 2007, she began having blood pressure problems and moved permanently to Florida, where she regularly practiced yoga and continued to spend time with family and friends. Her condition worsened in 2012, and she was placed in hospice. A Facebook group was created in order to share daily blessings and news with her. In 2014, the Covenant of the Goddess honored her with its brand new Award of Honor “for outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities.” Frew accepted on her behalf as she was not able to attend.

[Courtesy Photo]

In recent months, Deborah’s health only continued to decline, and on July 21, she passed away in the presence of her partner and family.

Andras Corban-Arthen, co-founder of EarthSpirit and a close friend, said:

Deirdre and I are saddened to let our community know that, early this morning … our beloved Deborah had died … Deborah’s diverse contributions have been instrumental in shaping who we are as a community today: as she now becomes one of our venerable ancestors, we will continue to keep her legacy alive.

Circle Sanctuary posted its own tribute. Rev. Selena Fox said:

Along with others in the Circle Sanctuary Community, I am thankful for [Deborah’s] friendship, wisdom, intelligence, grace, strength, and dedication to helping others. May we take comfort in knowing that she lives on in the lives and endeavors of many individuals and groups that she inspired and supported. 

Pagan author Byron Ballard said:

It’s a joyful moment to think of her free and dancing and creating and…she has been dear to me since she befriended me at a URI North America Summit in Salt Lake City. I didn’t know anyone and she took me under her wing, gave me projects to do and introduced me around. A good good heart.

It is clear from the trails left behind that Deborah’s life was one of service, compassion and outreach. Pushing well beyond the boundaries of the Pagan community, Deborah used her influence, her spirit, her passion and her love to empower and protect. She did this through philanthropic means as well as through setting a living example. According to Frew, not only did she bravely “come out” as Pagan at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1993 in order to protect religious rights, but she also came out as a lesbian before URI’s international attendees in order to stand up for LGBTQ rights.

Deborah was brave; she was bold; and she was gracious. As Frew said, her “charm won people over.” But Deborah was more than a philanthropist, a ritualist, Pagan witch, an organization member, mother, partner and friend. Deborah was a inspiration. Not only will her spirit live on in the memories of all those who knew her; but it will also continue to live in those many paths that she forged and the projects that she built, which have allowed so many others to thrive.

What is remembered, lives.

 

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Boy Scouts Poised to Weaken Ban on Gay Leaders

Wed, 2015-07-22 09:06

IRVING, Texas –On July 27, the national executive board of the Boy Scouts of America is expected to ratify a new policy regarding adult leaders. If passed, it will clear the way for adults who identify as homosexual to volunteer in the organization at all levels — with significant exceptions carved out for religious objections. Such a move would bring the organization’s rules more in line with an underlying philosophy that the Boy Scouts is not an appropriate place to discuss, nor engage in, sexual activity.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s deflam

Back in 2013, the Boy Scouts agreed that sexual orientation should not be a barrier to participation by boys themselves. This most recent move was in response to pressure from both within and without, and a recognition that the current policy forbidding volunteers based on sexual orientation is not likely to survive all the court challenges it faces.

Dr. Robert Gates, before becoming national president for the Boy Scouts, oversaw the repeal of the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as Secretary of Defense; a policy which was put into place as a compromise under President Bill Clinton. Speaking during the national business meeting in May, before the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry, he said that he had hoped the 2013 decision to allow gay scouts would put the issue to rest for the duration of his two-year term. That was not to be.

. . . events during the past year have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and we cannot ignore. We cannot ignore growing internal challenges to our current membership policy . . . in open defiance of the policy, to more and more councils taking a position in their mission statements and public policy contrary to national policy. . . . nor can we ignore the social, political, and juridicial changes taking place in our country . . . not to mention the impending US Supreme Court decision this summer on gay marriage.

The legal and cultural pressure placed “the BSA in an unsustainable position,” he said.  It could lead for court-ordered changes to the membership policy if the executive board itself did not act. “Waiting for the courts to is a gamble with huge stakes,” and could lead to the removal of all membership standards, including the “duty to god” clause, which requires all members to believe in a higher power.

What’s emerged is a policy which will allow adults to apply for volunteer positions, but preserve the rights of religious organizations which sponsor troops to continue to discriminate. Since some 70% of Boy Scout troops are sponsored by religious organizations, how much more leeway toward equality this new policy will actually grant remains to be seen.

Gates and the executive council, which released the proposal on July 13, believe it will be enough to shield the BSA from litigation. To that end, he promised a crackdown on councils that have imposed more inclusive policies. The Boy Scouts will also defend the rights of its religious sponsors to bar gay adults from participating. A statement released after the body approved the plan said in part:

This resolution will allow chartered organizations to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation, continuing Scouting’s longstanding policy of chartered organizations selecting their leaders. The National Executive Board will meet to ratify this resolution on Monday, July 27.

“This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change would also respect the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own. The 2013 youth membership policy will not be affected and remains unchanged.

Much like that youth membership policy, this one has been deemed unsatisfactory by people on both sides of the issue. Presidential candidate and Eagle Scout Scott Walker said that the existing policy “protected children and advanced Scout values” but later backpedaled to claim he meant to say that it protected those children from media scrutiny. Reactions among Christians are mixed, with some churches pondering if it’s time to end the relationship, and others supporting the measure.

The Mormons, who sponsor a lot of troops, issued this statement:

As a chartering organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs. Any resolution adopted by the Boy Scouts of America regarding leadership in Scouting must continue to affirm that right.

Southern Baptist Russell Moore predicted the decision won’t go well. “I have seen a definite cooling on the part of Baptist churches to the Scouts,” Moore said to Religion News Service. “This will probably bring that cooling to freezing.”

Advocates for equal rights are dismayed by the religious exemption. RNS quoted Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, as saying:

(W)riting in an exemption for troops organized by religious organizations undermines the potentially historic nature of the executive committee vote …As we have said countless times, half-measures are unacceptable and discriminatory exemptions have no place in the Boy Scouts.

Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, took a more measured tone. “While this policy change is not perfect — BSA’s religious chartering partners will be allowed to continue to discriminate against gay adults — it is difficult to overstate the importance of today’s announcement,” he said on that organization’s web site.

Boy Scouts 2010 Jamboree. Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s Preston Kemp

Circle Sanctuary minister and Eagle Scout Bob Paxton joined the protest against anti-gay policies in 2012, when he symbolically returned his Eagle ribbon in protest, a decision he discussed in an interview with Cara Schulz on behalf of the Pagan Newswire Collective. The Wild Hunt asked Paxton to weigh in on these new developments, and what it might mean for an organization that helped him, and likely other boys, find their way to Paganism.

The Wild Hunt: What do you think of the proposed policy on adult leaders?

Bob Paxton: The policy, which was adopted last week, now permits gay leaders, while still permitting troop sponsors to make their own choice on the troop level as to whether to discriminate or not. I think it’s a positive step forward — but not quite enough. The Girl Scouts of America has had a blanket anti-discrimination policy for quite a long time.

The difference in sponsorship and ownership models is significant: Boy Scout troops are “owned” by their sponsoring organizations, where Girl Scout troops are “owned” by the national Girl Scouts organization. While Girl Scout troops do often get local sponsorships, the lack of a sponsor does not mean the troop is dissolved. However, if a Boy Scout troop loses its sponsor, it must either find a new sponsoring organization or dissolve. 70% of Boy Scout troops are sponsored by religious organizations, with half of those troops being sponsored by the Mormon church — which as we know has been strongly opposed to GLBT rights initiatives.

I can understand why the national BSA organization made that choice, but I don’t think they were as courageous or as helpful as they could have been. That said, the perceived need to placate sponsors says to me that the BSA should re-evaluate the balance of power between sponsors and the central organization, and endeavor to fix that weakness in their structure.

TWH: My understanding is that the BSA has longstanding rules which prevent an adult from being alone with a boy, but revelations about the secret files kept on adults of concern suggest that either those rules didn’t work, or weren’t being enforced. Given that there’s no compelling research suggesting a link between sexual abuse of youth and sexual orientation, do you think it’s possible to come up with a policy that protects the boys, but allows them to benefit from the mentoring which is a strength of scouting?

BP:  BSA’s current Youth Protection policy is quite good. It also didn’t exist in the 1980s, when I was a Scout. That said, those secret files — which the BSA fought unsuccessfully to keep private — tell interesting stories. A large number of them were released in 2005, and can be reviewed here.

Reviewing a small random sample, what I see is a fairly consistent pattern of behavior: reports of problematic behavior, some degree of investigation, and a permanent note in a confidential file which barred that person from attempting to register as a Scout leader elsewhere in the country. To that extent, it seems to me that the BSA organization tried to protect Scouts against predators. What I did not see was reporting to local law enforcement, and that’s a problem. The current Youth Protection policy puts mandatory reporting at the very top, which is as it should be.

All of this is to say: I don’t believe any of that changes with this new policy allowing for gay troop leaders. The BSA’s current Youth Protection policy is strong and unambiguous.

TWH:  Should the policy be passed, would it change your attitude toward the organization? Would you want your Eagle back?

BP:  My attitude toward the Boy Scouts has always been conflicted. There were a lot of positive values, and there was a lot of bullying and other problematic behavior. The programming itself is very good, and the facilities are really top-notch: any Pagan organization who got their hands on a Boy Scout camp like the one I went to in northern Wisconsin would have a festival ground which would be the envy of Pagandom. I can’t stress strongly enough how astonishingly good the Boy Scouts’ infrastructure is — it’s the result of decades of successful fundraising and quality maintenance. All of that was marred by enshrining discrimination in policy, thus providing official sanction for a cultural bias against young men whose sexuality differed from the perceived norm. As such: if the “on the ground” culture in Boy Scout troops shifts toward tolerance as a result of this, then that’s a good thing.

As to getting my Eagle medal back: when I returned it to them, it was a symbolic gesture showing my displeasure with the BSA’s failure to come to grips with this social change. I did not send back to them the really valuable things — the lessons I learned of leadership, or the formative experiences I had in the woods which led me to become a Pagan. Would I ask them to return it? No. Would I accept it if they chose to return it to me? Absolutely.

TWH:  Any thoughts on the short- or long-term consequences this policy might have on the BSA?

BP:  Short-term: it really depends on what the sponsoring organizations do with this. There may be some loss of sponsorships, which would be a pity. Long-term: it really depends on whether the BSA organization engages in the restructuring I talked about earlier, where individual troops would no longer be so tightly-controlled by conservative religious groups. It could be a transformative moment, or it could be a continuation of the gradual membership decline they’ve seen in recent years.

TWH:  Do you believe that there is still room for boys to connect with Paganism through this organization, in the manner you described in your interview with Cara Schulz? Is there room for a more overt Pagan presence, such as troop sponsorship or religious awards?

BP:  There was room for me to connect with Paganism organically in the 1980s, and nothing has changed about that. There are great benefits to encouraging young men to get outdoors consistently, regardless of the religious paths those young men eventually walk. I do think there is an opportunity for Pagans to engage more deeply with both Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting, especially now that troop sponsorship is an option for those Pagan orgs which may have held back due to that discriminatory policy. That opportunity isn’t so much proselytizing — that’s not really our thing — but in highlighting the sacred values of interconnectedness and inclusiveness. There is genuine value in working with organizations that have long institutional history, good funding, and highly-developed infrastructure and programming. Many Pagans like to go their own way — that’s how they got there as Pagans, after all — but building coalitions and working with others gets faster and often better results.

*   *   *

This controversy has given rise to alternative organizations for youth development, most notable in the Pagan sphere being the Spiral Scouts. However, due to its deep infrastructure and, as Paxton pointed out, excellent facilities, the Boy Scouts are likely to continue to play a part in the lives of Pagans into the future, although it won’t always be tacit. And, while it’s likely that some scout troops will become more inclusive as a result of this decision, it may take a bit longer for openly Pagan-sponsored troops to emerge.

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Facing Violence in Chattanooga: Two Heathens Share their Experience

Tue, 2015-07-21 07:12

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee — At about 10:45 am Thursday, a driver in a silver convertible drove up next to the Armed Forces Career Center and opened fire. Almost 55 rounds were fired into glass front windows of the military recruiting station. Then, the driver sped off toward the Naval Reserve Center, just 7 miles away.

Chattanooga [photo credit: Keegan via Wikimedia Commons]

Meanwhile, Jaden Craft was at work. He manages about 150 employees at a facility one mile from Chattanooga’s Naval Reserve Center. Married with two children, Craft is also a devoted Heathen.

Adam Skipper, who follows a Norse and Ancient Egyptian path, was at the Chattanooga 911 Call Center.across the street from the Naval Reserve Center. He was there for the first part of a job interview and was wearing headphones taking a test. He was on the last two questions when officers shut down the testing and turned the room into a command base. This was his first indication that something unusual was happening. It was at about 11 am, at the same time the gunman was entering the Naval Reserve Center.

The shooter drove the convertible through the Reserve’s chain link fence and then entered the Naval grounds on foot. Police were already in pursuit and exchanged gunfire with the shooter. One police officer was hit.

Across the street at the 911 call center, Adam Skipper was told there was an active shooter nearby and that they couldn’t leave the building, “They took our names and moved us to a training room to sit with one of the operators and we were able to hear one of the conversations that the police were having with the 911 Call Center.” He said that one of his fellow applicant’s father was an EMT and so they received updates as to what was happening from him, too.

Adam Skipper [Courtesy Photo]

Skipper said that everything and everyone was very calm and orderly in the call center. He heard when officers found out about the wounded police officer. “It was interesting while there we learned of the wounded and everyone was sad for them but learning of the wounded police officer, everyone was very interested to learn of his condition and if he would make it.”

Inside the Naval Reserve Center, four Marines were killed and a Sailor was wounded. He would later die.

By this time, Jaden Craft received a call from the police department that there was an active shooter down the street and businesses in the area needed to take precautions. The facility where Craft works has multiple buildings and it took a few minutes to shut down all forklift traffic between the buildings and lock the gates. “We kept all employees inside our locked facility and followed every news feed we could,” said Craft.

Over in the 911 Call Center, Skipper found out the four Marines were dead and and the wounded Sailor wasn’t expected to make it. Soon after, the gunman was killed reportedly by law enforcement officers. Skipper was no longer in lockdown and eventually made his way home to his wife, Lee.

Craft received notice that the shooter was no longer active at about 1:30 pm. The plant opened the gates allowing people to once again come and go.

Both Craft and Skipper said their faith helped them through this time and that it colors their view of the events.

Craft said that his religious training got him through, “My Gods are always there with me. I guide my actions. They are simply part of those actions, inseparable. When it was done and the dangers had passed, I grounded and reflected upon the actions of the day. I thought of the young fallen Marines dying, not in battle, but at the hands of a coward.”

Skipper had the same view of the shooter. He said,“I view the shooter as a coward, not even getting out of his car to shoot up one of the recruitment centers, the whole idea from the Norse, face your enemy on the field of battle.”

Skipper said overall he felt safe during the attack. But when he left, “I left I felt very angry and I did get sick to my stomach several hours later. I have not had time to sit and think about it yet, though I am close to the gods as I ever was.”

Jaden Craft [Courtesy Photo]

Both men also agreed that the violent attack, which is only tentatively labeled a terrorist attack, happened in the most unlikely of communities. And they both have had very Heathen reflections on interconnectedness and courage in the face of evil.

Craft said, “I’ve reflected on the thoughts of gun control, the connotations that the shooter’s name brought forth and the fact that this type of thing has come to the “biggest Mayberry” in the world. You get the feeling that we, here, are separated from many of the atrocities of the world. This brings it home.”

“Don’t think what happened in Chattanooga, TN can’t happen where you live, that was proven here last Thursday,” said Skipper. He went on to say, “We need not live in fear either, if we do, then the evil of men has won.”

*   *   *

Author’s Note: In some ancient polytheistic societies, the worst punishment that could be meted out was to erase a person’s existence by no longer speaking or writing their name and erasing any reference to them. It was thought this also negatively affected them in the afterlife. As a matter of personal policy, follow this concept and this is why I have not named the shooter in this article. However, The Honored Dead do deserve to be known:

U.S. Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith, age 24. Smith grew up in Paulding, Ohio and leaves behind a wife and three young daughters. Smith was a surface warfare specialist, and had received the Navy “E” Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal and Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon. He died Saturday, surrounded by family.

Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, 25. Served in the Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment in Tennessee and had been on two tours during 2013 and 2014 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt, 35. Wyatt, who specialized in field artillery, had served three tours of duty, one in Afghanistan and two in Iraq. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Lance Cpl. Squire K. Wells, 21. Wells served as a field artillery cannoneer and waiting to be deployed. He was the only child of a single mother and left college to enlist in the Marine Corps.

Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40. Served in the Marines for almost two decades. He was deployed twice to Iraq and was the recipient of two Purple Hearts, a Combat Action Ribbon, the Korean Defense Service Medal, a Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and two Iraq Campaign Medals.

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Pagan Community Notes: American Heathens, Gen-Hex, Starhawk, U.S. Army and more!

Mon, 2015-07-20 05:47

A new book American Heathens: The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement will is now available from Temple University Press. Written by Professor Jennifer Snook, the book “is the first in-depth ethnographic study about the largely misunderstood practice of American Heathenry (Germanic Paganism).” Snook traces the trajectory of the movement itself and highlights stories from modern practitioners.

Snook is a professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi, and has been a practicing Heathen since the age of eighteen. Because of her perspective, the book “treats Heathens as members of a religious movement, rather than simply a subculture reenacting myths and stories of enchantment.”

American Heathens was published on June 12 and is available in print and ebook. For those interested, the publisher’s website is currently offering a content list and a PDF excerpt from chapter one.

*   *   *

Cambridge University will be hosting a day-long workshop titled “Generation Hex: Politics of Contemporary Paganism.” To be held on September 10, the workshop “aims to explore the political discourses of contemporary Pagan religions, whether Witchcraft, Druidry or Goddess spirituality.”

Organizers say, “Pagan ideologies are interwoven with the political, from the feminist eco-anarchism of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, to the conservative racial essentialism of Stephen McNallen. How these representations translate into ethical/political commitments is open to question.” They are currently calling for papers on the topic within the disciplines of “Critical Theory, Cultural Studies, Gender and Religion, Study of Religions, Social Anthropology, Intellectual and Political History, Gender Studies, Queer Studies.”

The conveners include Jonathan Woolley, University of Cambridge; Kavita Maya, SOAS, University of London; Elizabeth Cruze, Druid Elder and Activist. For more information they ask that people contact them via email at l genhex15@gmail.com.

*   *   *

Starhawk

Speaking of Starhawk, she has just announced the publication of the long-awaited sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. Written over twenty years ago, The Fifth Sacred Thing has become one of the Starhawk’s most notable and popular works. As she writes, it is a “futuristic novel in which an ecotopian Northern California struggles to resist an invasion by the brutal, militarist Southlands using nonviolence and magic.”

Since that publication, Starhawk moved through many other projects, which even included a potential film version of the novel. But, then in recent years, she returned to the story, saying, “the characters from the world of Fifth were coming alive for me again, clamoring to tell more …” Completed October 2014, the book was shipped to Bantam Publishing, Fifth‘s publisher.

Unforutnately, after several months of waiting, Starhawk received a rejection letter. As a result, she has decided to venture into the world self-publishing. She wrote, “I was mad. Yes, there is an audience for the book … Maybe not Stephen King’s audience, but I believe there are a significant number of people who would like to read the book. And I intend to get it to you all!” The new book, entitled City of Refuge, now has a Facebook page, where readers can follow the Starhawk’s progress on this new adventure.

*   *   *

Making the mainstream media rounds is a report featuring a story that we’ve been following for quite some time. Active-duty Heathens in the U.S. Army continue to push for recognition or, as The Washington Post asks, “Will Thor Join the Army?”

In January, Josh Heath and other Heathen soldiers had been informed that recognition was finally achieved. However, neither Asatru or Heathen was ever added to the approved list. As we reported in June, the decision was put on hold “pending the findings of a Defense Department working group investigating how to create a single set of faith group codes across the service.”

With this recent article, which was produced by Religion News Service, the story has now attracted the attention of mainstream audiences. RNS journalists interviewed Jeremiah McIntyre, an active-duty sergeant who has joined the cause. McIntyre is quoted as saying,”It’s all well and good to be allowed to display my religion on my tombstone, but I’d like to be able to display it while I’m still alive.”  He is, of course, referring to the Department of Veterans affairs acceptance of Thor’s Hammer for gravestones in 2013. While the symbol is accepted for tombstone markers, McIntyre and other Heathens still cannot claim the religion while on active-duty.

The RNS article recounts their struggle, saying that, six month after being informed of acceptance, Heathens are “back to square one.” It also notes that Heath, McIntyre and others are now doubling their efforts with a brand-new letter writing campaign and outreach. Time will only tell if the increase in visibility, both through the new campaign and recent media attention, will help turn the tides in their favor.

In Other News

  • There has been a small update in the Kenny Klein case. In 2014, Klein, a well-known Pagan musician, was charged with the possession of child pornography. Ever since the arrest, his case has been lingering in the Louisiana courts. Now, it is being reported that there are eight charges open, and Klein’s attorney has made a motion for a speedy trial to be heard on August 21. We will continue to bring you updates on this story as they occur.
  • Treadwell’s bookshop in London will be featured in a music video for the up-and-coming singer/songwriter Ben Craig. Owner Christina Oakley Harrington spent Saturday and into Sunday morning at her store while filmmakers did their work. Interestingly, this was not the first time that Treadwell’s was used in a music video. She said, “The last time we hired out the shop the unknown band was a little folksy group called Mumford & Sons.” The video, “White Blank Page (The Bookshop Sessions)” is still available on the internet.
  • Pagan Pride season is getting closer and groups are beginning to announce their programming. Pagan Pride Raleigh, which reportedly attracts over 3,000 people, is held over two days in September. Organizers have added a new feature called “Friends and Family Day” that will focus on educating the non-Pagan public about “Pagan lifestyles.” Further north, Philadelphia Pagan Pride has announced its return on September 5. They are currently looking for vendors, presenters, donations and volunteers. Look for more Pride event announcements in the future.
  • Wild Hunt journalist Terence P. Ward has put together a new book of prayers to Poseidon. Titled Depth of Praise, the book, as Ward explained, “started out as an assignment [directly] from Poseidon. ‘Learn more about me,’ he said, ‘by writing hymns to my epithets’. ” First Ward wrote, “29 separate hymns and prayers that explored [Poseidon’s] aspects.” Seven of those writings will be included in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina volume From the Roaring Deep” and he has since written more. While much of this new devotional is finished, Ward has started a small kickstarter campaign to fund interior illustrations, which he admits that he cannot do himself. He hopes that the final book will contain a good number of line drawings “depicting Poseidon in his many aspects.”
  • Gods and Radicals is now accepting submissions for its first print journal. The subtitle reads, “Forest-edged dreams against Capital Inked Dreams of an Other World.” Editors are looking for everything from prose to poetry; photographs and reviews. All submissions are due Sept 15. Interested parties can contact them at gods.and.radicals@gmail.com

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

CORRECTION: We originally reported the publication date of American Heathens as being in August, which was the date given in the press release. However, that date did change and the book is currently available.

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A Look at Pop Culture Magick

Sun, 2015-07-19 05:34

In the myriad Pagan books that have been published over the years, there are ample descriptions of how to perform magick within various religious or non-religious systems, what tools to use, what precautions to take and what imagery to invoke. However, very few of these books offer any direction on using Pink Floyd in meditation or Howard Shore’s “Ride of the Rohirrim” in ritual. And, there might be even fewer practitioners who would suggest calling on Batman for spiritual protection or Princess Luna for inspiration. In fact, the very idea typically causes laughter and, in some cases, disdain.

[Photo Credit: Ruth Hartnup / Flickr]

However, the reality is that there are many people who practice, or employ in some form, what is termed pop culture magick. In some situations, pop culture products provide a doorway into the occult world by giving a young seeker something familiar on which to launch a spiritual, religious or magical journey. In the 1996, for example, The Craft served that very function. In other cases, pop culture remains at the center of spiritual inspiration and magical workings for years beyond youthful introductions.

“I spotted my Master of Puppets CD sitting on my desk and immediately began to think of the four members of Metallica as each of the elements. I saw the bassist representing earth, the guitarist representing air, the singer fire and the drummer water. To me both their instruments and their personalities seemed to fit, so I decided to run with it and see how it went. I cast my circle and then called the elements, visualizing the band members as their respective elements. It worked flawlessly,” wrote blogger Emily Carlin.

Carlin is an vocal proponent of pop culture magick. Not only does she regularly blog on the subject, but she was recently interviewed by Vice Channel, Motherboard. In that article entitled “The Pop Culture Pagans Who Draw Power from Tumblr,” the writer explores varied uses and perspectives on pop culture magick, saying, “A common entry way for pop culture spirituality is feeling disconnected from nature and finding better connection in art and media.”

Before going any further, it is important to distinguish pop culture magick from other religious or spiritual practices based on pop culture fandom. This article will not explore, for example, Jediism or secular-based ethical systems that have developed wholly around entertainment franchises such as My Little Pony. In this discussion, I am interested in the use of pop culture within more traditional Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist systems of practice.

In looking at this practice, it is also important to note the difference between pop culture magick and pop culture Paganism. In a blog post, Carlin explained it this way:

Pop Culture Magick (PCM) is the use of pop culture stories, characters, images, music, toys, etc. as magickal mechanisms – the tools and techniques you use to bring your magick into being … Pop Culture Paganism (PCP) is the use of pop culture characters and stories as either an approachable face for traditional Pagan deities and powers, or as a substitute for more traditional powers and mythologies

In pop culture Paganism, deities, for example, might be represented by specific Marvel super heroes or movie characters. As noted above, Carlin visualizes the elements as Metallica’s band members. In pop culture magick, a musical score might be incorporated into a more traditional rite or magical working in order to enhance its effect. For example, writer Jason Mankey has used Doors music to empower rituals that explore personal excess.

In 2004, Taylor Ellwood, a vocal proponent of pop culture magick, published his first book on the subject. In it he answers the question “Why pop culture magick?” He writes:

It gives creative magicians a different approach to doing magick, without any prescribed approach or system governing how you do it. Not only that, but it’s also a vigorous, energizing current within our society. Pop culture is contemporary, occurring right now, and that kind of energy is vibrant for us because we live at the time it occurs and can understand the context of the pop culture icon or genre or whatever else.

In 2008, Ellwood published The Pop Culture Grimoire, an anthology of essays demonstrating various ways to work with pop culture in every day practice. And, he is currently finishing up a second book, Pop Culture Magick 2. He gave me a sneak preview. In that book, Ellwood notes that much has changed since his first book was published. One of those things is his own definition of pop culture.

In the first book, Ellwood wrote, “Pop culture is defined by what it does. Pop culture resists the mainstream culture. It possesses and represents different value systems, which clash with the values of mainstream culture.” (pg. 10)  In his newest interpretation, Ellwood amends that analysis saying, “I no longer consider pop culture to be something which resists mainstream culture. Rather I see it as an extension and expression of mainstream culture, but also of subcultures that don’t overtly fit into mainstream culture.”

[Credit: Nicc37 / Deviantart]

The project of defining pop culture is important in understanding its role in our lives and its potential impact within religious or magical practices. That definition can be framed most simply through a socio-economic framework. Pop culture is, in short, “popular culture.” It is of the “populous,” the masses, the people. It is differentiated from high culture, which is traditionally considered the culture of the educated, the elite, the distinguished. Additionally, there can be smaller subcultures that produce products and influence society. But like high culture, their reach is often limited. Pop culture, on the other hand, lives in the most pervasive, mainstream current.

The comparison of high and pop culture comes with very specific, socially-ingrained valuations. High culture (e.g., Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Charles Gounod, William Shakespeare, George Balachine) has historically been considered more valuable than pop culture (e.g., Jonathan Larson, Freddie Mercury, Wendy Wasserstein, Michael Jackson.) This concept can be taken even further into an analysis along racial, ethnic and gender lines. Although the boundaries have certainly been cracked, American high culture has been typically white, male and of European origin.

While pop culture certainly dominates modern society, this antiquated valuation still permeates our collective thinking, which is one of the reasons that pop culture is often not taken seriously and why pop culture magick inspires ridicule. It might not be surprising to find a midsummer rite using the Shakespearean quote, “If we shadows have offended, Think but this and all is mended, That you have but slumber’d here While these visions did appear” from the play Midsummer’s Night Dream. However, one might be taken aback to hear a priest or priestess break out into “Summer Lovin’ Had a me a blast…” from Grease.

Interestingly, there was a time when Shakespeare’s work existed within a type of “pop” culture. Author Diane Purkiss, in her book A Witch in History, remarks on this very point when talking about the play Macbeth. She suggests that the weird sisters were simply “comic relief” based on the popular notion of witchcraft during the Jacobean era. Purkiss writes, “[the sisters] were a low-budget, frankly exploitative collage of randomly chosen bits of witch-lore, selected not for thematic significance but for … sensational value.” (pg. 207)

Over time culture certainly evolves and, to be fair, the lines between high and pop culture are not hard and fast. For example, artists, like Andy Warhol, challenged the very notion of high and low art. Similarly the Alvin Ailey Dance Company pushes well-beyond traditional dance techniques, while still remaining one of the elite. And, over the past few decades, film and animation studies have been increasingly accepted in the halls of academia.

Is pop culture magick taking a similar route and breaking through cultural or religious stigmas and boundaries? Judging by the recent surge in interest, that may be the case. Ellwood wrote, “What people are creating, beyond content, is an intersection of pop culture with their identities, and in the process they are changing their identities.”

In the 1990s, as noted earlier, many young people turned to movies, such as The Craft (1996), to birth a magical practice. While for many this was only a method of seizing one’s agency in defiance of authority, there were those who actually believed. And within that subset, there were those who, eventually, were reborn as real Witches or practitioners of magick. The use of The Craft and its fabricated system helped many young witches re-frame their world, change their identity and set them on a new spiritual path. It opened the doorway, where there wasn’t one before.

We see this happening especially with pop culture products that incorporate, are inspired by, or even fully appropriate for better or worse, mythological stories. Rick Riordan’s books are perfect examples. The novels are introducing children to mythology in ways that relate to their own lived experiences. While their religious value is still debated, the books can function in similar ways to The Craft. A child who enjoyed reading Riordan may one day pick up Homer’s The Illiad and beyond.

In an increasingly secular society, pop culture can offer ways to develop these ethical systems and connect with spiritual ideas; especially those within religious systems that are hidden or remain less accessible – like Paganism, Heathenry and Polytheism. Carlin wrote, “I was an atheist and had a really hard time with the idea of working with deities of any kind.” The use of pop culture imagery within her practice was the key she needed to reach her inner world, make magick work and have her religion mean something.

This accessibility rests on pop culture’s very nature; its existence as something of, for and about the masses. As Carlin wrote, “I don’t live in the world that Mannanan Mac Lir walked through, but I see Captain America t-shirts every day.” As noted by Ellwood, pop culture reflects the energy and spirit of today’s society, rather one of limited access, of yesteryear or of something disconnected from one’s own reality.

[Photo Credit: BagoGames / Flickr]

Pop culture is society’s virtual playground and also a community connection point, which Ellwood himself observes in both of his books. It is a medium that reflects current trends, tries on new ideas and pushes boundaries. It connects with our lived experience. Where our relationship with high culture is often limited by either language, exposure, cultural understanding or even educational level, our relationship with pop culture can be all encompassing.

Both Carlin and Ellwood have each independently observed a recent upswing in the practice of pop culture magick and pop culture Paganism, as mainstream fan-based subcultures continue to crop up around favorite televisions series, books and movies. Ellwood also believes that social media has contributed to the growth of the practice. Whether that is true is unknown. However, social media has certainly contributed to its visibility.

The specific ways that pop culture is used in magickal practice or how it fits into a religious system is very personal (e.g., as deity, thought form, inspiration), which appears to be just another part of the attraction. While there are those who still question the spiritual authenticity of this work and its true religious value, the magical workers who do employ pop culture simply respond with the question, “Why not?” It works for them. Carlin invites people to “Try it.”

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Ásatrúarfélagið Threatened with Vandalism over LGBTQ Support

Sat, 2015-07-18 06:08

Ásatrúarfélagið, the Icelandic Ásatrú organization, has attracted widespread international attention since announcing plans to build a temple in downtown Reykajavík last February. Although much of that attention has been positive, it was reported earlier this week by the Icelandic news service Vísir that Ásatrúarfélagið had received hate mail and threats of vandalism from foreign Pagans. These threats have, in turn, forced Ásatrúarfélagið to consider the security of its temple and the relationship of its organization to the rest of the world.

According to the alsherjargoði, or high priest, of Ásatrúarfélagið, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, the society began to receive large amounts of hate-mail in February, just after a widely-circulated article about the temple was published in Iceland Magazine. Although the society has always attracted the occasional letter of this sort throughout its four-decade history, this surge of messages was unprecedented.

Even more troubling, however, are alleged plans by several Heathen groups in Germany and the United States to “re-consecrate” the Icelandic temple once it has been completed. “At least three groups have been talking about going to Iceland,” Hilmar told The Wild Hunt. “They say, ‘it’s our temple, it’s our heritage, and these Icelandic idiots are doing it all wrong.'”

These re-consecration ceremonies reportedly would involve scattering blood throughout the temple, which goes against Ásatrúarfélagið’s condemnation of animal sacrifice in their religious practice. The rituals, should they be attempted, would be intended to suggest the illegitimacy of Ásatrúarfélagið, while at the same time acknowledging the importance of the temple.

From Ásatrúarfélagið’s point of view, many of the recent attacks stem from a perception that the organization wants to dictate the rules of Ásatrú for everyone. “The thing is, because we have made a point of being the Icelandic Ásatrú society, we don’t do outreach,” says Hilmar. “We never really have never had any interest whatsoever in guiding anyone outside of Iceland in their beliefs. Everyone is free to do what they want on their own turf. We are working in Iceland to serve Icelandic needs.” Hilmar does not believe his duties involve being a Heathen missionary: “We are not looking for lost sheep from the house of Ingvar Ragnarsson.”

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, alsherjargoði of Ásatrúarfélagið. [via Wikimedia]

In particular, there is a clash between Ásatrúarfélagið’s long-held support for same-sex marriages and some anti-LGBTQ Heathens. Ásatrúarfélagið advocated for the legal authority to perform same-sex marriages as early as 2003, years before Iceland passed its 2010 gender-neutral marriage law. Ásatrú weddings are increasingly popular among same-sex couples in Iceland today. Although Heathenry at large does not discriminate against homosexuality, there are some segments of the religion that consider homosexuality to be inherently dishonorable, and an extreme fringe that sees any support for LGBTQ issues as equivalent to “spiritual terrorism.” This fringe seems to be responsible for the majority of the messages being delivered to Ásatrúarfélagið since February.

Given these threats of vandalism, Ásatrúarfélagið now must consider how to handle foreign visitors to its temple. One idea being considered is to only allow visitors into the temple as part of guided tours. “When it was first suggested to me, I just laughed it off and said, ‘no, no, that won’t be necessary,'” said Hilmar. “To me, the idea of a religious building is that it should be open for worship. The last two or three months have really made me reconsider. We are used to people coming to us – in the summer time, there are more foreigners in our open house meetings in our office in Síðmúla than there are Icelanders. We’re used to those people being really polite and really nice and thanking us for the hospitality… So it’s a shock that we’re suddenly being put into this spot.”

After the publication of the article in Vísir, a number of Pagans have posted notices supporting Ásatrúarfélagið and calls for equality throughout Paganism. At the time of this writing, a Facebook event, “Ásatrúarfélagið – we are at your side!,” created by has attracted nearly 2000 supporters. There have also been petitions created by Pagan writer Yvonne Aburrow and open letters posted by Heathens United Against Racism and Kindred Irminsul, the Costa Rican kindred previously covered by The Wild Hunt. For the Kindred, Esteban Sevilla said:

All the way from Costa Rica, we stand with you and your right to marry LGBT couples. What you have done is admirable and an example to follow, you have stood against racism and homophobia, you believe anyone can practice Ásatrú regardless of their ethnicity or sexuality. To me this deserves an applause and I explicitly request others to send you support in your mission.

Hilmar has expressed his gratitude for the support. “It’s surprised me in a pleasant way,” he said, “because I’m used to nice people not being as vocal as the obnoxious ones.” The outpouring of support has dwarfed the amount of malicious messages, but the attention garnered by the negative statements has worn on the society, especially when they appear in public spaces like Ásatrúarfélagið’s Facebook page.

The temple announcement has attracted more attention than Ásatrúarfélagið was prepared to handle. Just having the staff available to mind the temple full-time may prove to be a challenge, regardless of any threats of vandalism. “Most of the people who work for the society are just doing it as voluntary work,” said Hilmar. “We’re being accused of doing this as a tourist trap. You’ll find that in some of the commentaries – that this is all just a clever ploy to sell things and charge admission, which was never the intention. I don’t know how, during weekdays, we could man the temple as it is. In a way, it’s caught us totally by surprise. The practical issues are totally unresolved.”

Ásatrúarfélagið currently employs only one part-time office clerk. Hilmar added, “If we only had to think about us, then everything would be in place, but now the whole picture seems to have changed.”

Members of Ásatrúarfélagið 2009 [Photo Credit: Lenka Kovářová]

But in the era of the viral article, it is becoming less and less possible for any organization to only think of its own constituents. Due to its history, both modern and ancient, Iceland continues to have an outsized influence on Ásatrú, despite Ásatrúarfélagið’s insistence on its organization only being interested in the local community. Its temple project has drawn the eyes of many admiring supporters, but also vocal detractors, some of whom may be planning physical or metaphysical vandalism against Ásatrúarfélagið.

“When I lived in the center of Reykjavík, on the road of Freyjugata, people would be pissing in my gardens on the weekends,” Hilmar said. The weariness in his voice is impossible to mistake. “This feels a bit the same. I didn’t like people pissing in my garden, and I don’t like this.”

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Community and Culture: Promoting Healing and Change from Injustice

Fri, 2015-07-17 07:13

It is a challenging time in many parts of the world today. Many within society are having discussions and trying to understand the complexities of our problems and the needs of the most vulnerable people. These growing discussions have been happening within Pagan and magical communities as well, empowering opportunities to further explore the issues within our circles and groups that are often underrepresented.

We are seeing an increase in focus and community support for many topics related to issues of equity, marginalization and justice. Projects, rituals, healing work, and groups have been forming in an attempt to address some of these very needs, and support solutions for the increasing number of headlines involving issues faced by minority populations today. While some of these issues in society are not new, the increased attention gained in mainstream America has brought them to the forefront.

As society seeks change and healing, we are seeing some of that manifest in our local communities, and within the Pagan community as a whole. In looking at some the work that has come forward within the community, I found amazing motivation showing that people have to be present for the needs of others. While I am sure there are many projects working to address concerns of racial injustice, police brutality, LGTBQ rights, and issues of equity, there are several new ones that stuck out.

The United Pagans of Color is a new support group forming in Southern California for people who self identify as People of Color. It is gearing up for their inaugural in-person gathering scheduled for August 1 in Long Beach, CA. Co-Founder Yvonne Conway-Williams spoke about the purpose of this forthcoming group as a way to bring support and healing within POC Pagan communities. She said, “The gatherings will allow attendees to share their personal experiences with racism, particularly within our own Pagan communities, but not exclusively. The hope is that this will bring greater awareness to each person’s plight, but also perhaps allow one another to recognize they’re not alone. From there we will work on moving toward healing ourselves as individuals as well as a community. We’d like to then take that energy out into the greater community with the hopes of healing and helping to create harmony.”


When I asked Conway about her motivations in forming this group, she spoke about her experience at PantheaCon 2015.

Back in February I attended my 10th year at Pantheacon … Sunday evening was the Pagans of Color Caucus. That event was a huge shift for me. As I rolled on up I saw a line of people out front and assumed they were waiting. When I asked if the room was still getting cleared out for the next event I was informed the line of people were there to protect the event and was immediately invited to go inside. This was a PoC only event. My husband was allowed to help me into the event, but once I was set up he had to leave. The door closed behind him and for the first time in my life I was in a room with only Pagan PoCs. I was used to being one of very few in a sea of white faces and here was a large circle of us.

One by one people shared their experiences with racism within the community. I was shocked by some of the stories, but mostly I was saddened to hear all the hurt expressed by many. When it came my turn to speak I professed disappointment about certain events in December with a large Pagan organization … and that I would be interested in putting my energy toward a project that would be helpful to the PoC community.

The next morning was a last minute gathering to allow people to convey any issues they felt about a parody schedule … At the end of this gathering those who were PoC were asked to stand in a circle with our allies circled around us as we built up energy and prepared to release the frustration, anger, hurt, and grief with a continuous collective scream. The tremendous pain in the voices from my friends circled around was so overwhelming … All I could do was cry.

My eyes were pinned open from that weekend on. The shaded veil of acceptance I had been wearing as a means to get through life was removed and every memory of racism from my childhood through to adulthood was flooding my mind. I was forced to acknowledge the impact of racism on my life and I wanted to write it out, but I wasn’t able. Instead I shut down.

Once I was ready to talk I called my friend … I told her about my experience that weekend, how I had been feeling since, and learned she’d been going through a similar intense emotional transition. I mentioned I wanted to facilitate a support group for Pagan PoCs so the two of us began working together to flesh out what would become the United Pagans of Color…

Among some of the incredible efforts of people working toward addressing the harm in our society, Trans Lifeline is one of the most needed. It was shortly before the Pagan Alliance Festival in Berkeley that I heard of the organization and the work that they were doing. I was very pleased to see them with a booth at the Pagan festival, bringing their work to the attention of local Pagan organizations.Christina A. DiEdoardo, Chairwoman of the Board for Trans Lifeline, answered some questions about the 2014 launch of this new organization.

According to the best statistics we have available–from the 2011 report “Injustice at Every Turn” by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality— 41 percent of Trans people will attempt suicide at least once in their lives, compared with 1.6 percent of the overall American population.

Our co-founders Greta Martela and Nina Chaubal wanted to do something about this. The genius of Greta and Nina’s concept is that it accomplishes two goals at once.Trans Lifeline trains Trans and gender-noncongruent volunteer operators … who are then empowered to serve their community by listening and supporting Trans people during the darkest hours of their lives. Callers know that they are talking to an operator who is one of their kindred and don’t need to waste time explaining what being Trans or GNC means in a situation where every second can count.

In practical terms ideally, two things happen with each successful call. First and foremost, we want the caller to be out of crisis and in a better place emotionally at the end of the call than at the beginning. Second, we hope both the caller and the operator reflect on the fact that the only reason the call is taking place is because (a) Trans people banded together to create the lifeline and (b) a Trans or GNC person gave of their time to take the call. These are examples of members of a community taking their power back for the benefit of all of their members, rather than reflections of abject powerlessness. As Trans people begin to recognize how much power we do have when we act in coalition with each other, our community’s ability to address other issues like violence against Trans Women of Color (TWOCs) will only grow.

In Sacramento, local activists Jasper James and Darcy Totten have been facilitating two new projects that are quite inspiring and community-minded. The first is a project called #altarsforjustice and the second is the facilitation of a series of “Spirituality and Social Justice” Workshops.

Darcy Totten and Jasper James

My partner Jasper and I are currently working with a dedicated group of Pagan activists to define and codify an approach to social justice activism, based in part off of Tim Titus’ Pentacle of Activism. We wanted a way to speak truth in multiple voices and disparate spaces in order to shed a light on the injustice, fear, grief, anger and the shadow work around race and racism that has been left undone for so long in this country and in many of our pagan communities.

We are holding six workshops, the end result of which we hope will be a loose framework of structured group ritual and practice that actively seeks to shift culturally embedded white supremacist ideology out of our spiritual spaces. This model creates a new way of organizing within our communities around issues of social justice using the elements as cornerstones to provide an overarching framework adaptable to any Pagan tradition.

Additionally, we have an ongoing public art project going on. Inspired by photos of [the] large Justice Altar at a recent Pagan Festival, #AltarsforJustice is a series of small shadow box altars that are, by and large, memorials to those killed by police violence and hate crimes. Initially, this project was conceived as a local one. We wanted to make space for those experiencing grief over the brutal deaths that we have been collectively experiencing in the news but had no real outlet to express our sorrow and our solidarity. Art is a powerful method of communication and I realized quickly that these altars could start to connect people around social justice issues.

For anyone looking to participate … The altars should be made and then left in a public space. They can be left in coffee shops, bus stops, on newsstands or street corners. I would characterize the work as being conceptual in nature.The idea and the execution of it are more powerful than the technique, we make them out of shoeboxes and basic arts and crafts supplies. [They] should include the name, photo, and a snippet of information of the person killed. We often include a candle and dried flowers along with a hashtag link, and information for those who might see it to find out more about the project. Once placed, we ask that you upload a photo to the Facebook page … and tweet it with the hashtag #altarsforjustice. In addition to the hashtag, we ask that you name the place you left the altar … and revisit occasionally.

It is a new project but our goal is for everyone to get involved … from different traditions, cities, towns, levels of activism and intersecting interests to make one and leave it somewhere in their own community. Our hope is to create a powerful form of group communication and community around the issues of police violence and racism in America while providing space for grief and healing in places that are accessible.

Altar for Rekia Boyd. #altarsforjustice

In June of this year four people of different magical paths came together to collaborate and facilitate a ritual for “Healing Racist Violence in our Communities.” Courtney Weber, Queen Mother Imakhu MuNeferet, Khi Armand, and Langston Kahn led this working in Brooklyn’s Catland Books. The store donated the space for the healing work, and community members joined together to bring the energy and focus. The Facebook event page described the working by immediately calling out the Charleston tragedy and the violence against Black people. It reads, “The act of terror in Charleston has injured our hearts, but it’s tragically far from an isolated act of ongoing racist violence against Black people. Please join us in the Spirit of healing this horrific epidemic in our world.” According to Weber, the rite started with adding dirt from Ferguson to the sacred bonfire “as a way to feed the Cleansing Fires.” Weber said:

We talked about the impact the violence has had on our collective psyches as of late, how we received the news of the shooting. The persons of color who attended shared their stories of experiencing racism from strangers, neighbors, classmates, even partners.

For me, there had been such pain in our community since Eric Garner’s death, but no Pagan outlet to process or release it. After Sandy and after the Boston bombing, we had success in creating space for healing. I wish it hadn’t taken the shooting to incite us to come together specifically to acknowledge the pain of racist violence on our Pagan and broader community. We hoped it would not only provide healing and stir conversation, but encourage action. It did feel as though we need more actions like this one–spaces of healing to raise energy and enact action in a Pagan context.

Kahn shared some of his experiences and reflections of the ritual:

The elements simplify things. With issues as complex as racism, the elements can be a great solace. During the ritual, Fire and Water and the stories that came up for me to share, showed me how I had silenced myself in various ways. The elements made it clear that silence was not an option. That there would never be perfect words to discuss the unspeakable.There would never be a perfect time to discuss what should never happen. I simply had to do my best to talk about my experiences and the changes I wanted to see in the world, and in myself in public ways. To find the best words I could in each moment. To not use power is also an abuse of it. I left the ritual feeling recharged. Still in pain, aware of a lot more work I had to do, but at least no longer numb. I needed the container of community ritual to truly be able to access the emotions arising in response to the madness. It was too big and overwhelming to feel alone.

The Black Witch Chronicles, a collective of three Black women practitioners, have made a strong appearance in 2015 with their Youtube video channel, blogging and magical photos. This collective of women includes Keesha Harris, Zoe Flowers and Dr. G. Love, who are all “practicing Reiki Master healer, Teachers, Diviners, and Spirit guided artists”. In speaking about this work, Dr. G. Love said, “Overall, I feel that Black Witch Chronicles is carrying a universal message of holistic integration and balance that can and does resonate across belief systems.”

Eye Candy from AfroPunk quoted the group in a May 2015 Photo Essay, saying, “In a society where the images and voices of Black womyn over the age of 40 are rarely seen or heard, we are here to reflect the wisdom, joy, and vision that our community embodies. We communicate from our collective wisdom as mothers, healers, artists, visionaries, and change makers connected to the ongoing story that sings to us from our ancestral roots.” The powerful pictures of these women in the AfroPunk piece show the incredible spark of magic, empowerment, and strong community togetherness that they present.

These women speak openly and candidly about their desire to promote healing within their communities and across spiritual paths. In asking them what they felt was their motivation to do this work, each one of them gave answers that spoke to the complexity of healing, empowerment and magic.

Black Witch Chronicles [Courtesy of photographer Fabiola Jean-Louis]

I believe what motivates me to do this work collectively is that I know that I can’t do this by myself. Magic is meant to be collective work. Through the human eye I may see one star shining brightly in the sky, it doesn’t mean that that star is all by itself in the cosmos. Technology has made it so that even the most solitary witch can access her people. This is, I believe, the work of Black Witch Chronicles — to make visible that  which has had to be hidden for survival. To fearlessly proclaim our Black Prizmatic voice within the community of magic and within our own communities. – Keesha Harris

I’m a poet playwright and am the program mgr for the Women of Color Network a national organization dedicated to securing economic security and leadership for advocates working in the domestic violence movement. What attracted me to the group initially was the opportunity to share time, space and conversation with Dr. G. and Keesha. And now I am interested in sharing our insights with our audience and to inspire other spiritual minded individuals to step out of the shadows and embrace their true selves and to love the magickal part of themselves. – Zoe Flowers

I feel guided as a Spirit, Artist, Healer, and Black Prizmatic being to participate in the re-membering of ourselves as Whole multidimensional cosmic entities. Black Witch Chronicles is a platform for us to reflect our complexity to the larger global community that is reclaiming our birthrights as interconnected, power points in the universal grid. We are illuminating the innate power of the Divine Feminine as it expresses itself across all gender and species on Planet Earth. We believe that our reflection is a catalyst for empowerment and cultural evolution towards harmony.Dr. G. Love

These three women continue to work as healers in their own individual practice, while also bringing work to wider audiences and sharing their power with others.

We are not only seeing this type of work with individuals and organizations, but we are also seeing some of the equity work within our communities at conventions like PantheaCon and Paganicon. The board members of Paganicon facilitated a Black Lives Matter and Cultural Appropriation panel in this year, and PantheaCon continues to support a host of programming on issues of race, equity, gender and justice related issues. The groundbreaking POC suite continues to create safe space and support at Pantheacon every year, and other supports are continuing to surface.

As greater society is faced with these grave injustices and heartbreaking realities, our modern Pagan community is learning how to come together and set intention for issues related to this specific kind of pain.  As our collective spaces are continuing to work out how to address the myriad needs, emotions and layers of grief, some people are reaching out to create change through magic and by empowering others. So often people talk about wanting to do something but not knowing what to do. The magic of these new projects, and the many others not mentioned, is that they show people ways to get involved.

Change continues to happen all around us, and how we respond to these unfolding events will support us in growing into a more present, empathetic, and supportive community that promotes healing and equity. As these injustices continue to happen, it is empowering to see some of the incredible momentum of those who are rising above the pain of a grieving society to enact change.

Thank you to the organizations and individuals who’s work is highlighted in this piece, and to all those doing the similar work. This must continue.

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Maetreum of Cybele launches FM Radio Station in New York

Thu, 2015-07-16 06:03

The first Pagan FM radio station is set to launch tomorrow in the small town of Palenville, New York. The radio station is owned by the Maetreum of Cybele, a Pagan convent most known for winning its lengthy legal battle against the nearby town of Catskill, New York.

The Maetreum was granted a license from the FCC to operate a low power FM radio station.Their broadcast signal area includes the town of Catskil along with a small area outside the town.The Maeterum has a provisional permit for now, but can apply for a standard licence once they are on the air full time.

New antenna on the back of the temple. [courtesy photo]

The radio station plans to host a combination of music and local talk radio programming. Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine said the radio station is another way for the convent to serve the local community, “We have found that our ongoing local community involvement has done wonders for our acceptance as a Pagan church, convent and charity as has our commitment to providing a place of safety for the community in emergencies, a positive example of green energy generation and gardens and old fashion homesteading style life.”

Rev Platine says Pagans often isolate themselves from their local community out of fear, but the Maetreum decided to go another route. The Maetreum is hosting the Grassroots Radio Conference. The Grassroots Radio Conference is a national conference of community based, low power FM radio station owners and operators and staff. Rev. Platine expects about 200 people to attend this inaugural conference, which will be held at the Maetreum grounds from September. 24 through the 27th.

Rev Platine says the local community sees the radio station as a “gift to our community that will provide a voice of the people, all the people, on all issues of local importance that often has been overlooked by standard media and local government.” She added that their little hamlet also sees the Maetreum’s legal battle with the town of Catskill as a victory for the hamlet.

That lengthy legal battle, in which the Maetreum needed to defend itself against the town of Catskill, was centered around the exemption that religious organizations receive on their property taxes. The town of Catskill maintained that the Maetreum was an “illegitimate religion” and was using the property for residential, rather than religious uses. The Maetreum said that the town didn’t want to “open the floodgates” to other nonprofit groups claiming tax exemptions, which would then deprive the town of tax revenue. The issue took 8 years and tens of thousands of dollars to resolve. In the end, the Maetreum won the dispute in 2014.

The Maetreum convent grounds were purchased 12 years ago. The temple home itself is called the  The Catskill Phrygianum and is the permanent residence of several priestesses of Cybele. The property includes a main temple home that used to be a resort inn settled on over three acres.

To date, the new radio station, 102.9FM, has been mostly funded by the members of the Maetreum itself to the tune of $10,000. They have created a studio and put up the transmitter. Local citizens and members of the Maetreum start hosting community focused shows Friday July 17. As of yet they have no immediate plans of rebroadcasting the programming via the web, but that may be something they do in the future.

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Pagan Facebook Pages Hacked

Wed, 2015-07-15 06:51

WILMINGTON, Delaware — It was over within minutes. That’s Annene Burgos’ recollection of how quickly her most popular Facebook pages, with more than 33,000 likes combined, slipped through her fingers. She had simply followed instructions received in a message on the site. That message, which appeared to come from Facebook itself, had warned Burgos that her most popular page, The Power of 3, had been flagged as fraudulent. It included the steps to take in order to verify that it was a legitimate, human-run page. The name of the page proved eerily prophetic. After following the steps and entering her credentials, Burgos soon found that she had lost control of three of her most popular pages.

“I’m very leery of scams, hackers, and all kinds of stuff like that,” Burgos said. “I’m not going to be stupid enough to just click a link and follow it.” But she was convinced that this message was from a Facebook employee, and opted to trust the instructions.

The three people listed as the page owners soon found that they had also been removed, as had the three administrators. On the pages themselves, which included The Power of 3, WOMAN TO WOMAN: Our First Amendment right to Bitch and Tormented and Crazy as F*ck 2 Resurrected, a series of malicious click-bait links started appearing in lockstep, attempting to draw in the many followers and get them to engage.

Burgos got a security message advising that there had been an attempt to log in to her account from Virginia, and quickly changed her password. She saved her private account, but her pages were not so lucky.

On one level, this is a cautionary tale about hackers who have become exceedingly sophisticated in their attempts to capitalize on the success of hard-working, honest users. Burgos, who also goes by Rhiannon, said that she has spent years building up a following for her pages only to have it all taken away.

The hackers were selective in what they took. Burgos manages a number of other pages. Unlike the stolen pages, the others have likes only in the hundreds or low thousands, and were apparently not worth taking.

For nearly a week now, the three hacked pages have been pumping out spam links to all of Burgos’ followers, who may have been taken in by the source and clicked on them. Doing so would only lead them on their own journey into the world of virtual victimhood. The fact that her pages have largely Pagan audiences may have heightened that risk. Some users place a higher level of faith in links that appear to be shared within one’s own faith community.

But this isn’t just a story about Facebook users being inattentive, gullible, or too trusting. While the social media giant itself may not have been complicit in the events that led to Burgos and her co-admins losing control of the pages, Facebook has demonstrated a lack of responsiveness once the situation was reported. “Myself and the other admins, and a lot of other people, reported the pages repeatedly,” she said, but for nearly a week, the lack of a response earned a big, fat “dislike” from them. “I even wrote on Mark Zuckerberg’s page, saying that these pages had been hacked and were now posting spam. I asked him to get me the pages back, or at least take them down. I didn’t expect him to answer,” but out of desperation, she tried anyway.

Burgos also made the futile attempt of warning her former fans by posting on the hacked pages and commenting on the suspicious links. She warned people not to click and encouraged them to report the pages themselves. She gave up that effort because she couldn’t keep up, and it wasn’t clear if it was helping turn the tide anyway.

This image was reported as including nudity, and Facebook apparently agreed.

Meanwhile, Burgos and her associates were experiencing what may well have been other effects of the hacking, although it’s not really clear. After she received the notification of the login attempt from another state, Burgos started receiving friend requests from a particular character. “They were random requests from people with one friend,” she recalled. “I don’t know if they were the hackers, but I thought it was weird and denied them all.”

A few days later July 11, Burgos was automatically logged out of her account and advised that she needed to address a problem with an image that she had posted. Although it depicted a fully-clothed woman, the graphic had been reportedly flagged for nudity. While an automatic flagging system might not be expected to know the difference between clothing and skin, Burgos was advised that the image was deemed a violation of Facebook’s terms and would be removed. The image, first posted on July 7, has not yet been removed as of this writing.

The two people who shared ownership in the three hacked pages also found themselves facing similar accusations. They quickly realized that the image flagging all took place within the space of one hour.

“All of our profiles are private, so only our friends can see the pictures,” Burgos said. “I figured that it must have been a mutual friend who did it,” but her investigation showed that they didn’t actually have any friends in common among all three of them, resulting in another dead end.

The Wild Hunt did attempt to contact a Facebook staffer who had been responsive in the past, but discovered that she is no longer with the company. And, her replacement did not respond to our numerous voice and emails seeking comment. If he had done so, we would have asked for ways that Facebook users can remain vigilant against hackers who are becoming increasingly crafty, and what measures Facebook itself is taking to address these concerns.

Regarding both the lack of a human response to Burgos and the odd response to the flagging of non-nude images, Facebook was asked in our email if and when the company actually expects human beings to evaluate these situations. Shortly after the attempt to contact Facebook, all three of the pages were removed from public view. It’s not known if the timing of this action was a coincidence or was precipitated by the contact attempts.

Facebook has a longstanding reputation of avoiding any sort of human-based customer service, a situation which stymied Herman Mehta, the so-called Friendly Atheist, when his own page was hacked. Mehta may have cracked the near-impenetrable Facebook fortress, because it appears he has had his page restored, but he apparently has certain advantages. He wrote:

I got mine back because a friend of a friend knew someone at Facebook who could fast-track it back into my hands. Sneaky option: Tell Facebook you want to buy advertising, [a]nd then say you would buy it but someone got ahold of your page. Can’t promise it’ll help, but they’re much more likely to help you if they think you’ll give them money.  Also, you’ll get to talk to a human.

Security vulnerabilities at Facebook made worldwide headlines in 2013, when a Palestinian researcher hacked Mark Zuckerberg’s own page in a last-ditch attempt to notify the company about a security flaw. That particular hole was apparently plugged, but it seems new leaks continuing to spring up, and the company has beefed up neither security nor customer service sufficiently to respond.

Burgos has started new versions of several pages, with The POWER of 3 -pagan path already having gathered more than 1,300 likes as of this writing. But that is still less than 10% of the old page’s following.

As of this morning July 15, Burgos reported that all three of her former pages were live again, with fresh new inappropriate content. Followers of those pages have already been expressing outrage, and Burgos is hoping that no one will fall prey to what are likely malicious links posted at The POWER of 3, Tormented and Crazy as F*ck 2 Resurrected, and WOMAN TO WOMAN: Our First Amendment right to Bitch, all of which are offering identical — and clearly inappropriate — content.

“I just want my story to warn people,” said Burgos. “I know that there are people whose livelihoods come from selling through Facebook, and I can’t imagine how something like this would affect them.”

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Two Letters Turn Up Warning of Cult Activity

Tue, 2015-07-14 09:39

In early April, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council received an anonymous letter warning it of satanic activity in the city. “Please remove the Satanic Cult Church from Eagle Rock California,” it reads. Several months later, a similar anonymous letter turned up on the other side of the country. That letter, written to Mayor Carl Hokanson, implores, “Please remove the Satanic Cult Church from Roselle Park, New Jersey.”

[Photo Credit: Petar Milošević via Wikimedia]

In both cases, the handwritten letters were sent from someone living in Wisconsin. The first was mailed from Milwaukee, and the second from Green Bay. Both call for the removal of a cult, warning of animal sacrifice and people “rebelling against authority.” The letters then go on to call the practice of, what it terms, “satanism” disgusting and illegal. The Roselle Park letter ends at that point, but the Eagle Rock letter includes a post script with some suggestions for solving the water shortage problem.

While the letters don’t specifically call out the so-called cult by name, it appears that writer has been reading the old Criminal Intelligence Report. Published in 1988, the report lists a large number of U.S. and Canadian groups that were considered potentially dangerous. It was accompanied by an article titled “Satanism and Crime.” The article begins:

There is increasing evidence that the United States and Canada are facing a rapidly expanding area of criminal activity that some experts claim could be the most difficult to detect of any that law enforcement agencies have ever had to deal with. The computer files of Criminal Intelligence Report (CIR) magazine contain the names and addresses of three thousand Occult groups located in the United States and Canada. Within this listing are those who have a general involvement with and / or interest in witchcraft or pagan religious lore, history or practices

The list and article were part of the infamous Satanic Panic of the 1980s. This was also the period of time in which Pagan organizations fought the Helms Amendment, which proposed to remove tax-exempt status from Wiccan churches. Lady Liberty League was born out of that struggle.

In 1992, one of the leading FBI agents, Kenneth V. Lanning, published a report on Ritual Satanic Abuse. Lanning calls for education, research and calm in the wake of these on-going investigations. In the article, he remarks on the dangerous level of panic that had already occurred and attempts to dissect of the cultural meaning of the term “satanic.” In talking about an educational conference for law enforcement, Lanning wrote:

All of this is complicated by the fact that almost any discussion of satanism and the occult is interpreted in the light of the religious beliefs of those in the audience. Faith, not logic and reason, governs the religious beliefs of most people. As a result, some normally skeptical law enforcement officers accept the information disseminated at these conferences without critically evaluating it or questioning the sources.

As Lanning points out, there were few distinctions made between actual belief, religious practice, pop culture, and more. Anything that was not mainstream or was feared, to a degree, could have been and was labeled “satanic.”

The two recent letters were both addressed to cities that were on that 1988 Criminal Intelligence Report cult listBoth cities were once home to legitimate Pagan religious organizations. Eagle Rock was the original location of Feraferia, founded by Fred Adams and his partner Lady Svetlana in 1967. The organization was incorporated in California as a non-profit on Aug. 2 of that year. As noted by biographer and filmmaker Jo Carson, “Feraferia was designed to be a religion based on the bliss between lovers, with both the Goddess and the God.” The practice inspired Carson’s film, Dancing with Gaia (2009), and now has adherents around the world. However, it is no longer based in Eagle Rock.

The second letter, addressed to Roselle Park, was reportedly the home of a Wiccan-based organization called The Order of Osiris. A Circle Sanctuary guide from 1987 lists the group with this description:

Ancient religion and ethics revealed through World Teacher first manifested in Egypt, guiding humanity to peace through the Primal Creator. Members prepare for religious service and ordination. Women and men welcome.

The Order of Osiris also reportedly published a newsletter called, New Horizons, and may have had a sister group in Cranford, New Jersey. Ten years later, the organization was no longer listed in the Circle guides; nor does it appear to be active today.

As for the letters, investigators believe that they were written by the same person. The LAist, a California-based media outlet, first reported that the writer was a child. And, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council didn’t take the warning very seriously. On its Facebook page, the council posted an image of the letter, saying, “We enjoy reading your letters and emails, like this one that came all the way from Milwaukee.” With few exceptions, most of the local responses laughed off the post as a joke.

Roselle Park took its letter a bit more seriously, turning it over to local police. A New Jersey handwriting expert confirmed that it was not a child. He told the local news, “Who ever is doing this is writing in such a way as to disguise their own writing. This is a very deliberate way of writing … This looks like a fabricated writing. I don’t think it’s a kid.”

While the identity of the writer is still not yet known, it does appear that the acts are linked to those old lists and hearken back to those old fears. Unfortunately, the 1988 Criminal Intelligence list is publicly available online and, therefore, accessible to any person wanting to “warn people of occult activity.” And, there are still a number of fundamentalist groups that openly report “watching” occult organizations. This includes organizations such as C.A.R.I.S., which happens to be based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and The Watchman Fellowship, which is based in Arlington, Texas. The latter organization maintains its own public internet-based occult index, which includes Feraferia but not the Order of Osiris.

At this point, only two letters have been made public. We are in contact with the Roselle Park police and we will update the story as needed.

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Correction: The article originally read that the Watchman Fellowship was based in Columbus, Georgia. It is actually now based in Arlington, Texas. 

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Pagan Community Notes: Summerland Spirit Festival, Equinox Publishing, Letter of the Year and more

Mon, 2015-07-13 08:20

Another damaging summer storm has a hit major Pagan festival. This time it is Summerland Spirit Festival held in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. The intense winds and rain arrived Sunday night around 10 p.m. on the festival’s first full day. According to reports, tents were damaged or completely lost, and parts of merchant row have been destroyed. During a race to get into the permanent shelters, several people sustained minor injuries such as scrapes and twisted ankles.

Fortunately, the intense storm was over in thirty minutes, and did not cause the local creek to rise. Those who did lose tents were able to find sleeping space within the lodge or in neighbors’ tents. While there has been property loss, the festival will continue on. As today’s sun dries out the campground, attendees and the organizing committee will spend the day cleaning up, looking for lost items and assessing damages. Beyond that, the organizers plan to continue on with Summerland programming as scheduled. While the weather reports do call for another possible summer thunderstorm today, the rest of the week looks promising.

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Equinox Publishing will be launching a new peer reviewed journal in 2016. It is titled Body and Religion and will “provide a forum for the study of all manner of ancient and contemporary practices, concerns, ideals, and connections or disconnections between body and religion.” The editors are Shawn Arthur of Wake Forest University and Nikki Bado of Iowa State University. The book reviewer will be Kevin Schilbrack of Appalachian State University.

Body and Religion will be published twice annually and is currently seeking submissions. The editors write, “We welcome English-language submissions from scholars who use diverse methodologies and approaches, ranging from traditional to innovative, to explore issues of’“body’ as a fundamental analytical category in the study of religion.” They will “consider submissions from both established scholars and research students.” Equinox is also the publisher of Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

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Havana, Cuba [© Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons]

In the past, we have reported on the New Year divinatory tradition held by Cuba’s Santeria Priests. For more than 30 years, these Priests have offered recommendations and predictions for the coming year. Traditionally, these readings have been performed independently from each other. Last week, however, The Havana Times reported that this will change in 2016. The article reads, “The two main currents of Cuban Santeria that announce different “Letter of the Year” prophecies at the beginning of each January have finally decided to come together and make public a single version of the predictions by the popular oracle Ifa.”

The partnership between the two leading “currents,” led by Lazaro Cuesta and Jose Manuel Perez, is reportedly being seen as a “means of consolidating the community of Afro-Cuban religion practitioners” Rather than offering competing recommendations, the groups will offer a joint “Letter of the Year” for the first time in history.

The Havana Times article goes on to discuss the relationship between the Cuban practice and that of Miami’s Santeria Priests, who also offer their own Letter of the Year. As is written, “Perhaps the new winds of change blowing between Washington and Havana will end up bringing Ifa priests on both shores together in their dictates and recommendations for the year.”

In Other News:

  • Author Marla Hardee Milling, a native of Asheville, has published a new book called Only in Asheville: An Eclectic History. The book examines why Asheville, North Carolina is often labeled “America’s quirkiest town.” In it she explores aspects of the bohemian character of her home town, interviewing a number of local residents. One of the interviews is with local Priestess Byron Ballard, who has the distinguished title of local Village Witch.
  • Llewellyn has published a guest blog post written by Aaron Leitch, which examines whether the Bible outlaws magick. He writes, “The question of magick among these traditions arises every so often. Usually, it is asked by newcomers who feel a calling to practice the arts of magick, but have been raised with the belief that it is directly proscribed by their religion.Their fear is very real—they worry if delving into the arts will result in the loss of their immortal soul.” Leitch then goes on to examine various references to magick, Witchcraft and sorcery.
  • Circle Magazine is currently seeking submissions for its upcoming fall issue, which will be titled “Life’s End & Beyond.”  Editor Florence Edwards-Miller said that she is “hoping to cover a wide range of topics … including end-of-life planning and care, Pagan funerals, coping with loss of a human or animal companion, honoring ancestors, deities associated with the dead or dying, myths or beliefs about what comes after death, reincarnation, or other related subjects.” The issue will also cover the rituals, crafts and food associated with Samhain. Due to the PSG flooding, the submission deadline is now Aug. 7.
  • Over the past week, Patheos Pagan Channel writers have been debating the somewhat controversial subject of deity popularity. Channel manager Jason Mankey kicked off the conversation at Raise the Horns, which was then followed by several other reaction pieces.The latest post was written by John Beckett at Under the Ancient Oaks.
  • Another Pagan programming announcement has been made for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Andras Corban-Arthen put together a proposal for a panel entitled “We Are the Earth: Pagans Respond to Pope Francis on the Environment.” It was accepted by the Council. The new panel, moderated by Sylvia Linton, will include Corban-Arthen, John Halstead and myself. Other Wild Hunt writers will also be in attendance at the Parliament, and we will be reporting directly from the October event.

That is it for now. Have a nice day!

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Violence and Sacred Space

Sun, 2015-07-12 07:51

I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the fact that this senseless act of violence happened on sacred ground. It does not matter that my spiritual path is different from those at Mother Emanuel … what matters is the sacredness of where they were when this occurred.” – Kelly Scott, Chairwoman of the Charleston Area Lowcountry Council of Alternative Spiritual Traditions.

In recent months, it seems that news report after news report speaks of violence either against or within a sacred space. These acts range from the horrifying terrorist attack at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel to the destruction of ancient religious sites. While the magnitude of each tragedy is, and never should be, comparable, these two specific examples, as well as others, involve unwelcome aggression and destructive violence against far more than body and property. They include the desecration of the sacred.

Romanian Church Burning [Public Domain]

Why does violence against the sacred or within the sacred “feel” worse to us than violence in non-sacred space? What is this transgression exactly? And what imprint does it leave in its wake?[i]

In a recent discussion, I asked priest, spirit worker and devotional Polytheist Anomalous Thracian his thoughts. Thracian not only maintains several personal altar spaces, but he also is currently working to build a community worship space. He said:

Certain lines must be held as absolute, and religious spaces — the freedoms and promises therein — are among those. This must be held to be universally warranted. As with the sanctity of a child’s innocence, the trust that we must hold that sacred spaces are safe and protected is an intrinsic expression of what it is to be a human in a society; these are fundamentals. There will always be assaults, always be murders, always be robberies, but certain transgressions are felt (and held) at a deeper and higher level of severity in response and reaction, specifically because those intrinsic lines and boundaries are not abstractions.

The invisible boundaries that define a sacred space, whether that be within the walls of a church or outside in a field, are created by deeply felt meaning. Those meanings, based on belief, spirit and emotion, can be or often seem like abstractions. However, because the sanctity of the space itself is recognized and understood beyond the meaning-makers or the church-goers, the boundaries, as Thracian said, are not at all abstractions.

In other words, Pagans can respect the sacred nature of a Christian church, even if they don’t follow the religion; and vice versa, a Christian can recognize the sanctity of Wiccan circle or Heathen temple. “The intrinsic lines” separating the sacred from the common world “are not abstractions.” This accounts for Charleston’s community turnout in support of the AME church. As Scott said, “It does not matter that my spiritual path is different from those at Mother Emanuel….”

Unfortunately, it is also this universal understanding that precipitates the violence itself. The attacker knows the value placed on the space, which makes it a target. In his book War on Sacred Grounds, Ron Eduard Hassner wrote “The more sacred a site, the more likely it will provide crucial functions, the more likely the friction with other groups, and the greater the odds of large-scale violence…”[ii]

The attack is, therefore, not typically directed against an individual person, nor against the practice of religion in general. It is an attack on a people; on a community at its heart and center. In the case of Charleston and the recent church burnings, the attack is on America’s black community.

In the essay “Sacred Spaces and Accursed Conflict: A Global Trend,” Chaiwat Satha-Anand wrote, “When a site becomes sacred for its believers, it is founded on the four political pillars: sovereignty, legitimacy, meaning and a sense of community. As a result, attacking sacred spaces is seen as an attempt to undermine the foundations on which their opponents identity and faith rests.” (p. 27)

Traditionally speaking, churches, temples and other sacred sites have been the “foundations” and hearts of community. While in today’s secular-based society the so-called “master planned cities” are developed around commerce and recreation, there is still room for the sacred as a binding factor and identity maker. Even if the sacred space isn’t physically central, or if there is no building at all, the space can still remain the heart beat of a community. For example, in local Wiccan circles or even in large yearly festivals like Pagan Spirit Gathering, it is the sabbats and the seasons that bring people together, year after year, into a sacred, ritual space. Whether the circle is in a home or a forest, it is a communal world built with the noted pillars of meaning, sovereignty, legitimacy and community.

Is that space sacred without human intervention? That discussion is beyond this article. However, at this point, it is enough to know that the sacred has traditionally been recognized as central to community and even to personal identity building.

Notre-Dame still sits at the center of Paris. [Photo Credit: Atoma via Wikimedia]

In our conversation, Thracian agreed, noting that violence against the sacred “is a violation of the entire fabric of what binds people together.” He added:

Society is humankind’s gods-and-spirits-directed answer to the first question posed by the natural world itself, of survivability through the dark night. The purpose of society is to answer the question of survivability in the positive by way of a vouched-for promise to the people in the dead of night: gather round this fire, and you will be safe. Within that answer, certain places carry a stronger emphasis in the promise than others.

Mother Emanuel’s victims had faith in the sanctity of the church’s building, and that faith built meaning into its walls, thereby creating a sacred environment. It is in that place they studied theology, spoke with their deity, celebrated and mourned. With guards down, they felt secure, held within the promise of that sanctity. Based on this understanding, they permitted a stranger not only into the physical building but into that safe space; into that trust.

In that respect, sacred spaces can act as expressions of divine hospitality. In other words, just as a temple serves to nurture its own people, the space also easily welcomes the stranger. Whether it be a Christian church, a Wiccan circle or an Asatru temple, all are constructed houses of or for deity and, as such, spaces of welcome. At Pagan Spirit Gathering, for example, guests, both old and new, are greeted with the words, “Welcome Home.” All are invited to experience the community as well as the divine. Since sacred boundaries are considered universal and not-abstract, it is easy to offer, accept and value this hospitality. Therefore, any violence against or within that sacred space becomes a jarring violation of this divine hospitality, as well as a direct devaluation of a community’s worth.

Unfortunately, the June attack on Mother Emanuel is not the only recent instance of violence within sacred space, and it is not even the most recent. Many will remember the 2012 terrorist attack on The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. During Sunday morning services, Wade Michael Page entered the building, open fired and killed seven people. This past March, Al Badr mosque and Al Hashoosh mosque in Yemen were the targets of a suicide bombing that killed 137 people. More recently, during the holy month of Ramadan, terrorists attacked worshippers at al-Imam al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait, killing 13. These are only a few such incidents.

Violence against or within sacred space is not limited to cases where there is loss of life. Along with the recent church burnings in the U.S., terrorists are engaged in the systematic destruction of ancient sacred sites. In an article partially entitled “Tracking a Trail of Historical Obliteration,” CNN recounts the recent destruction of religious sites such as Jonah’s Tomb, Nimrud, Hatra and Bosra. According to news reports, Daesh (also known as the Islamic State) is now calling for the “obliteration” of the Egyptian pyramids and Sphinx.

The ruination of sacred sites is not limited to terrorist acts. Commercialism, colonialism, expansion and “progress” have all been blamed for such transgressive acts. And, such accounts are not only in our history books. In a March 2015 article, entitled “Selling off Apache Land,” The New York Times reports that the San Carlos Apache Tribe has been fighting to save Oak Flat, an area used for prayer and ceremonies, from mining interests. In The Guardian, Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, writes “Canada’s Tar Sands aren’t just oil fields, they are sacred lands for my people.” These are just two examples of many from around the world.

Moonrise over San Carlos Apache land in New Mexico [Photo Credit: John Fowler via Wikimedia]

Whether land or edifice, sacred spaces promise connection and safety, created by a communal meaning. They exist at the heart of community and are often bonding points. However, these sacred spaces also have another role. They connect us, through memory, to our past and to spirit. Thracian said:

The promise is not merely made to humans: it is made to the gods, and to the ancestors who came before us. Ancestors of religious lineage (saints, prophets, teachers, martyrs, heroes) and ancestors of society (founders, forefathers and foremothers, familial relations, immigrants who survived atrocity to bring their families to safety), going back thousands upon thousands of years.

As noted in The New York Times Apache Land article, “the archaeological record at Oak Flat contains abundant evidence that the Apache have been there since well before recorded history.” The Apache Tribe is protecting more than just a plot of dirt on which they perform ceremony. Through the sacred we can locate a connection across time, which allows us to deepen our present and develop our future.

Memory itself, absent of religion, can even bring about this condition of sanctity. The spaces to which we nostalgically cling become sacred themselves – our childhood bedroom, a grandmother’s kitchen, a pet’s burial ground, the park bench where you had your first kiss or even a quiet spot in the forest where you once hid. While not traditionally or religiously sacred, these places are personal examples that demonstrate how memory brings about sanctity.

In that vein, there is a type of sacred space that is born of violence and its memory. The 9/11 Memorial, otherwise known as Ground Zero, was once a thriving business center in which two iconic towers stood. They were symbolic of both New York City and the thriving heart of American business. In that way, the Twin Towers were similar to a church, containing more meaning than existed within its physicality alone. However, the space was not sacred.

All of that changed on Sept. 11, 2001. Today, the memorial’s meaning far exceeds its construction and its past purpose. Here, violence begot the sacred. Within that memorial space, visitors connect to memory, to ancestors and even to deity. The memorial’s guards request low voices and respectful behavior. All around, people pray, cry, remember and walk slowly in thought. Other examples of such a space are Auschwitz, the Anne Frank House, battlefields such as Gettysburg or Normandy. And, there are many countless smaller memorials around the world that mark past atrocities, loss of life and acts of violence, all of which have given way to sacred space.

9/11 Memorial, New York City [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

When violence births the sacred, it is difficult to reconcile the two in one thought. Even when one is put back together. While the 9/11 memorial is a beautiful place, it only exists because of that violence. This develops a sanctity that is uncomfortable, but powerful nonetheless. You can’t appreciate the memorial’s beauty without acknowledging the tragedy. That is not easy.

In all cases, transgressive violence against the sacred suggests a toxic aggression – one that breaks down community. The sacred is about wholeness and congruity; violence is about division and chaos. One nurtures and supports; while the other undermines and destroys. They can’t coexist; therefore, together they create a discord in our thinking – a cognitive dissonance. There is, at that terrible intersection, a stuttered void, in which we find ourselves only able to ask: “How? Why?”

 

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[i] This essay discusses unwelcome and toxic violence aimed at community destruction or obliteration. This must be distinguished from any small ritual acts, which in some cultures are considered acceptable including, for example, animal sacrifice or effigy burnings.

[ii] This quote was pulled from Chaiwat Satha-Anand’s essay “Sacred Spaces and Accursed Conflict: A Global Trend?” which was published in the book Protecting the Sacred, Creating Peace in Asia PacificTransaction (2013). Hassner’s own book, War on Sacred Grounds, was published by Cornell University Press in 2009.

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Around the World: On the Altar, in the Academy

Sat, 2015-07-11 06:22

When Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon hit bookstores in 1999 something changed in British Pagan culture. It was immediate. Someone known to be friendly and spiritually sympathetic had put us on the academic map, and shown Pagans we have a rightful place in Britain’s cultural history. The book was eloquent and magisterial, linking Pagan ideas to literature, social justice, liberalism and the broad cultural avenue of western esotericism. The book drew young Pagans who were intellectually gifted to want to study Pagan-related subjects at universities for Masters and doctorate degrees.

Exeter University Lopes Hall [Photo Credit: Smalljim via Wikimedia]

And so a trend began here in the UK. Through the noughties, the Exeter University MA and PhD programmes in Western Esotericism were a key centre. Headed by Professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke and quietly under-written by the Theosophical Society, these programmes turned out over thirty scholars, many of whom are still working and publishing in the field. Bath Spa University ran a MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, whose first professor was religious studies scholar Michael York. Other smaller programmes were dotted round the country. It seemed it was all going to carry on growing, particularly when the University of Amsterdam graduate programme headed by the luminary Wouter Hanegraff hired several British lecturers.

Now there’s a quiet crisis going on. The Exeter programme closed down with the death of Goodrick-Clarke in 2012, and there has been no replacement programme of its calibre for those taking an historical approach. I spoke to several scholars who asked for anonymity on where they saw the future of the Pagan and esoteric scholarship in the UK. These insider sources report that senior academics, who care deeply about Western esotericism including its pagan heritage, have held private meetings with more than one institution to find a home for a programme to replace Exeter. So far nothing has come to fruit

It is no secret that there are plenty of first-tier scholars of international standing who could (and would) teach on such a programme. It is also apparent to everyone that the students are there. In fact, there is something of a tidal wave, particularly art history and intellectual history. Esotericism conferences hosted by Cambridge graduate students Daniel Zamani and Imma Ramos in 2012 (Charming Intentions) and 2014 (Visions of Enchantment) were oversubscribed in excess of five times what they expected. Both had submissions from senior scholars around the world seeking to participate.

London is an obvious place to situate a scholarly hub, because it is the most accessible common point in Britain  – all roads and trains lead to London. It is also handy for European centres of esoteric academic study like Amsterdam, Paris, Goteburg and Turin. Among my sources, the name of The Warburg Institute keeps coming up as the dream site. It is a place that is dear to the hearts of many who have never even been permitted inside its walls.

The Warburg is a research institute and library founded in 1944 by Aby Warburg, a Jewish scholar of intellectual esotericism. Based within the University of London, it was headed by Frances Yates, a scholar of occultism, for decades in the mid 20th century. He argued the ‘the occult’ was culturally significant in the Renaissance period. Subsequent leaders, however, distanced the place from the esoteric tradition, often using condemnation and even ridicule. But even so, it is still loved by British Pagans of an intellectual bent.

The Warburg Institute [Stephen McKay via Wikimedia Commons]

The Warburg is home to world-class scholars of the artistic and intellectual traditions of the West, and it boasts the largest occult-intellectual library in the world. And between the lines, articles and books of esoteric scholarship have been produced there, including the key edition of the grimoire Picatrix, it is clear to observers that it is now a time of tremendous opportunity. Recently the Warburg has faced financial difficulties. Last year, it had to fight a hard battle for its independent existence. It also has a new director who can bring new vision and direction. There are good students who would pay the fees gladly. Those I spoke with are watching and waiting to see if the Warburg will see the gains to be made in re-embracing its esoteric heritage.

Of course all does not hang upon this, as other centres are holding strong. A history of astrology and astronomy Masters degree is offered at the University of Wales, and an MA in Cosmology of the Sacred is now at Kent. There are also individual scholars who are working solitary in departments of all disciplines from history to literature to anthropology. Within the British graduate school system, a student studies under a single professor and researches independently without attending courses. Therefore, a student simply needs to find a sympathetic professor with a compatible interest, and then work under their direction. Ronald Hutton supervises in this way, for example, in Bristol’s History department. Young scholars in this system can develop, even without ‘esoteric’ or ‘pagan’ programmes. But a university-based centre would make a difference for the academics of all ages and levels, as well as grad students. Centres are both a statement and a forum.

Intellectual Pagans in Britain are watching the situation closely. They have a sense that the time is so ripe that something has to happen soon. Since Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon, those who have an academic bent and have Pagan affinities have started taking their place, slowly but surely, in the world of letters, and it feels like the next chapter is about to unfold – everyone is curious about where, and when.

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Column: Bend in the Steel

Fri, 2015-07-10 03:58

Sometimes you only walk away with scratches.

A photo posted by Eric Scott (@lofrothepirate) on Jun 30, 2015 at 6:27pm PDT

[Warning: The following column involves a description of a serious car accident.]

Two sounds in quick succession, so close together that, as I remember them now, I cannot tell which came first – the sound of the front right tire digging into the mud and gravel shoulder of the two-lane highway, or the sound of my wife seizing up in anticipation. I am driving, for the next few seconds, anyway. I turn the wheel, only thinking to escape the shoulder, but my turn is too hard. I try another. Too hard, but in the other direction. We leave the road; our ascent is brief, but dramatic. We land in the grass hard on the driver’s side, and the momentum carries us tumbling, onto the side, onto the roof, onto the side, onto the roof again.

And there we stop. The fury of the ten seconds past rises out of us, like mist against the dawn. We unbuckle our seatbelts, drop onto the floor that was so recently a ceiling, and crawl out through the windows of the set-piece that was our car. Air hisses from a tire. My wife’s duffel bag sits out on the wet turf right side up, as though she had set it there on purpose. Her forehead is bloody – a gash, right on her hairline. Neither of us have our glasses – they were thrown off while we spun against the earth, and we never do find them again.

So we wait, bloody and half-blind, until an ambulance and an Appanoose County sheriff’s deputy appear. They fit my wife with a backboard and a neck brace; me, they leave alone. We ride to a tiny hospital that’s little more than a garage for the ambulance to pull into. They put us in separate rooms – they want to run a CT scan on her, to make sure she hasn’t injured her spine or skull. They insist I stay in the room next door, able to hear but not see her, so that they can occasionally check on my blood pressure. The deputy comes by. Where were you going?, he asks.

To a wedding, I tell him. Up in Chaska, Minnesota.

Are you still planning to get up there today? he asks, and I wonder if that question sounds as insane to him as it does to me.

He writes me a ticket for failure to maintain control, then hands me a bag of soggy documents from the glove compartment and a note saying where we can pick through the car. He leaves, and again I am alone in the room with the blood pressure cuff and the sound of doctors talking to my wife in the other room. The adrenaline has mostly worn off; in the ongoing critique of consciousness that is my inner monologue, I note how quickly shock and fear has turned into irritated boredom.

The CT scan eventually comes back: clean. My wife has a pulled muscle in her neck and some bruises, but is otherwise unharmed. I have some scrapes on my hands from the broken glass where I crawled through the window, and, as I will discover two days later, a half-dozen wicked patches of poison ivy – but that’s all. We walk out of the ER with our friends and, after making three complete passes through the town of Centerville, Iowa, we locate the lot where our car was towed. It’s more like an eight-slot driveway than anything; the cars sit out in front of a garage next to the tow driver’s home, only a few dozen yards away from his flower garden.

I stop for a moment while we are picking through the husk. The car’s roof folds down into a sharp crease that runs the entire length of it, an indented line in the metal that marks the point of collapse. The sharp edge of that point is about three inches away from where my skull would have been. I run my fingers across the bent angle, caked with mud. Three inches.

We eat sandwiches pulled from the wreck for dinner. My wife finds a forgotten set of glasses hidden in the car. We report it to the insurance, and we sleep in our own bed that night.

That was on Sunday. It’s three days later now – Wednesday, prayer night – and I am sitting on the sheepskin prayer rug set out in front of my altar and wondering what to say. When I think back to the moment of the crash – what I remember feeling as the tidal forces in my gut jerked against the pitch and yaw of the rolling car – I do not remember any thought of religion. I didn’t see the face of Odin, nor did I hear any Valkyrie songs. I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes. I remember distance, and annoyance, and no real fear of death. Mostly, I remember rolling, and crawling out, and wishing that I had my glasses. It was only later, lying in bed next to wife, my wife, with nothing but a pulled muscle in her neck, that the enormity of it came to me.

What does a person say to the gods – these personal saviors, these mythic undercurrents, these names we give to the wind and the sea and the rolls of the dice that make up reality – what does one say to them in a moment like this?

I pour a glass of aquavit for myself and for them. I feel it burn its way down my throat, into my stomach. I think of my uncle, who died in a car accident not much different from mine. I think of the three inches between my head and the bend in the steel. I think of my wife, with whom I was angry the night before the wreck, who was strapped to a backboard out of my sight in the hospital. I think – I think of fear, hope, gratitude, wonder, the troubling revelation of life, life, life.

But I don’t say anything. If the gods can understand our tongues, they can understand their inadequacy; if the gods can hear at all, they can hear the breadth of our silence.

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Canadian Truth and Reconciliation

Thu, 2015-07-09 07:11

OTTAWA, Ontario – Last month, a landmark document was delivered to the people of Canada. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its much anticipated report summary, detailing 94 recommendations to heal the generations of conflict, racism, mistrust and misunderstanding that were created by the Indian Residential School system in Canada.

[Public Domain Photo]

Indian Residential Schools were created by the Canadian government in the late 19th century as a way to assimilate aboriginal children into the developing white Canadian society. Aboriginal children were removed, typically by force, from their families and home communities.They were taken to residential schools and forbidden to speak their own languages and were denied access to their culture. Many survivors of the residential school system report extreme cases of physical and sexual abuse, starvation and neglect at these institutions, which were co-run by the church and the state.

Accurate records of how many children were abducted do not exist, but it is estimated that at least 150,000 children were subjected to the system. It is without question that the reach of Indian Residential Schools crept into every native community in the country. We now know that more than 6,000 children died while in the care of the schools, and they were usually buried in unmarked graves. It was even common for the families to not be informed of what had happened to their kids. This is not ancient history as the last school closed as recently as 1996.

In this new environment of reconciliation, many Canadian Pagans are finding themselves thinking about how native spiritual practices have influenced their own journeys and are trying to grasp the extent to which the legacy of these institutions have shaped the attitude with which both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians view each other. Can we learn from each other and share our practices with respect? Is there enough common ground to grow understanding? Can we honor without appropriating aboriginal culture or identity?

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For some Pagans of European descent, walking the Red Road was part of a path that led to European-inspired Pagan spirituality. For Lawrence, an initiated Witch, the journey from his devotedly Mennonite background to Witchcraft was inspired by experiences with native culture:

My cultural background is ethnic Russian Mennonite. Very European, with my mother born in Russia just before the revolution. My relationship with indigenous people of Canada and US was first a matter of social justice, but spending 2 years working with AIM (American Indian Movement) people in Minneapolis and 2 years in Attawapiskat (a remote northern reservation) gave me experiences far beyond the realm of social justice, and it changed my life.

Most of those people will never know how much they influenced my path. They have been more than generous … and this against the backdrop of the appalling treatment they’ve received. From evangelical Mennonite, to a universalistic mysticism, to paganism, to witchcraft, it’s been a journey that was heavily influenced by the spiritual practices of the indigenous people I spent time with.

For Nana Du, a Canadian Witch of Scottish and English background, her journey on the Red Road came to her as part studying for her degree in social work:

During the late 90s, I was enrolled in a four-year undergraduate degree (in social work). I learned a lot about First Nations People on Turtle Island, while in university. This period of study taught me a lot about the negative impact of Church and State on the Indigenous People of this area. I started to attend sweat lodges, pow wows, as well as Sundance ceremonies to learn more experientially. Returning to the Mother’s womb (lodges) was challenging, yet rewarding. Eventually, years later I started to Sundance.The Aboriginal Traditional Ways of Healing are powerful and deserving of respect. I continue to have visions while in the sweat lodge and/or during the Sundance.

There are many Spiritual and/or Mystical paths, perhaps all leading to the Original Source: Creator, God & Goddess for example. As a professional I work with a large Aboriginal population. My teachings and practices have assisted tremendously in connecting with First Nations People. I am mindfully aware that I sit with Spirit, whenever I meet with any children, youth and/or families. A Pagan Path shares many similarities with Traditional Teachings, both honour and respect Mother Earth (Gaia), Grandmother Moon (Luna), and Father Sky, for example. Both also celebrate the solstices and equinoxes (Sabbats). Many ceremonies (circles) consider the 4 directions (East, South, West & North). Pagan, Wiccans and First Nation People are highly concerned about Climate Charge and social as well as environmental issues. I am honoured to be a Witch, returning to my Celtic Roots, my Blood Memory has been activated along the many paths that I have walked.

Many Canadians are of mixed backgrounds, both native and European. And, for those people, the blending the two cultures and spiritual practices become a part of life. Dr. Maryanne Pearce, Co-Owner of Raven’s Knoll Campground and Co-Director of Kaleidoscope Gathering is of mixed Celtic and Mohawk blood.

I was raised Christian, with indigenous spirituality as a “common-sense” type background. It was this that I gravitated to. Through feminism and environmentalism, I also discovered Paganism. It reminded me of elements of my background that I so treasured. I purposely began to research and experience more elements of indigenous cultural and religious practice. Eventually, after many years, I have found that I am most comfortable describing my religious practice as I do my ethnic background. I am a mixture, and I practice both. For example, it was my Pagan friends who assisted me in creating a huge dreamcatcher, in the shape of the Triple Goddess, as a memorial to the missing and murdered Indigenous women that I documented in my doctoral work. It was raised at our campground as a memorial.

Dr. Pearce made newspaper headlines across Canada in 2013 when she released her Ph.D. thesis entitled “An Awkward Silence: Missing and Murdered Vulnerable Women and the Canadian Justice System.” This paper drives home the need for a public inquiry into the epidemic of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. This point was also part of TRC’s recommendations.

Anne-Marie Greymoon, organizer of Wic-Can Fest and Harvest Fest, is Metis, a distinct culture of French and Aboriginal blending. She grew up with the all too common experience of not being told the truth about having aboriginal ancestors. Denial, a form of racism, is no longer accepted by a growing number of people as they proudly reclaim their heritage:

I always danced in the rain and loved it when my relatives called me a savage, a term I loved! My grandpa told me about my ancestry when I was a little kid, my mom said it was a lie to make me happy!! Now I know and, yes, my cousins look WAY more native or Inuit than I do. There is a book on the custom of “passing” as in “passing for white” written by someone who discovered she had black ancestors. It’s really interesting as it is in great part what happens here with people of indigenous ancestry … Metis people. My family insists they are all white and all from France! There are so many of us who are strangely dissociated from our roots because of colonial life! How do you repair a people, hundreds of years after the fact?

It is becoming more common to see Aboriginal spirituality being represented at Pagan events. Christian Dennis, an artist from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, a community of Chippewa in southern Ontario, shares his aboriginal teachings with Pagans at Wic-Can Fest each year by leading a traditional sweat lodge:

I feel non-aboriginal people exploring our path is a positive as long there is some sense of a spiritual respect from the beginning. Those that have not the respect for each other seem to create chaotic energy or energy of ignorance. When people come to a place of respect to begin with, they are open to understanding… I am grateful to the pagan community for [their] openness to embrace me as well as I them. I have healed so much in their midst and of considered them as my family… It is my hope that the sweat lodge, or Inipii, will spiritually inform and create awareness to all who visit and experience The Lodge. The Lodge is a Sacred Ceremony where we come together to recreate, heal, and celebrate the remembering of ourselves as ONE

On July 19, Dennis and his work will be featured in an art show in Durham, Ontario.

[Courtesy Christin Dennis]

We can see change happening in Pagan communities, bridges of understanding are being built. The big question facing all Canadians now is, will the Truth & Reconciliation Commission bring change to Canada? The 94 recommendations cover a broad spectrum of need for Aboriginal people, including health care and language rights; new education legislation; a public inquiry into the crisis of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls; funding for the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation; a commitment to eliminate the over representation of aboriginal people in the prison system, and the list goes on.

Lawrence sees this as an opportunity to effect a change and build understanding:

At no time in our history have we had a more clear opportunity to respond to the genocide of the residential schools. Though knowledge of the residential school horrors is not new, we now have the clearest, most complete picture we will ever have of the deliberate and callous actions against the aboriginal people of Canada. And this despite the Government of Canada’s refusal to hand over millions of documents still held in secret. So there is no better time than now for our relationship to take a new turn, and start the long road to truly just relationships. We are not called to act unilaterally. We must do this as a relationship.

Dr. Maryanne Pearce observes that this is a call to action and understanding for all of us living in Canada:

I do not think many people found much of what the TRC recommended to be unexpected. All Canadians should be grateful to Justice Sinclair and all of his commissioners and staff for the long years of heart breaking work. But mostly, grateful to the survivors and their families for being so incredibly brave as to expose their hearts and souls by telling their stories. I believe that those who listen, and read not only the tales of what happened, but its aftermath on individuals and generations that followed those students, may have a better understanding of the situation of Indigenous people today – and understand that it is the responsibility of everyone, not just governments, to make the future one built on trust, acceptance and reconciliation.

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