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Update: Alaska Pagan Community Center Destroyed by Sockeye Wildfire

2 hours 56 min ago

WILLOW, Alaska – A Pagan community center in the Sockeye region of Alaska has completely burned down in a wildfire. The community center consisted of over nine acres of woods with four cabins, and is now considered a total loss. Center Director, Anthony Bailey, says clean up efforts are underway and is asking for financial assistance to help rebuild the center.

The Alaska Pagan Community Center, more commonly known as The Land, is located near Willow. It opened about five years ago as a non-profit nature sanctuary and Pagan retreat. Volunteers cleared areas for camping, built the cabins, created a pump and well house, and built shaded areas for workshops and classes.

Because community members had to evacuate so quickly, they were unable to take tools and equipment, such as generators, with them. The entire nine acres of trees were also burned in the blaze.

Cabins at the Pagan Community Center and Retreat 2 weeks prior to the fire. [Courtesy Photo]

Cabins and trees after the fire. [Courtesy Photo]

Bailey said that the rebuilding has already begun. “Today we were able to return to the land and begin our cleanup and recovery efforts. We spent a long, tiring day salvaging what we could and trying to clear out anything that was unsalvageable.”  Bailey shared this video:

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Bailey noted that, while the local Pagan community has been turning out to physically help, they need funds to help rebuild, “It’s difficult to express the pain I feel at the loss of so much financial investment but also the loss of hard won progress our community had labored together to gain these last five years.” He said that any donations made to the GoFundMe account will be directly used to make community center and retreat capable of meeting the needs of the Pagan community again. Donations for the Alaska Pagan Community Center can be made here.

The wildfire near Willow is just one of roughly 300 fires still burning in Alaska. A particularly fierce blaze. it is called the Sockeye Fire, and has destroyed 55 homes and damaged many more in addition to the community center.

The total area affected by the over 300 fires is roughly 624,000 acres.

Blogger Peter Dybing, a Pagan first responder, was recently sent to Alaska as part of his mundane job to help fight the fires. He’s assisting with the wildfires in the Fairbanks area. He said that Alaska has more firefighters responding now than at any time in its history. “Firefighters from the lower 48 are struggling with extreme fire behavior, sleep disruption due to 24 hour daylight and rapidly changing fire conditions.”

Dybing said that the Alaska fires are unique. “With tundra duff up to 18 inches deep, rain can make a fire appear to be out, yet just a few hours of sun and the fire roars back to life. Much of this is complicated by the disappearance of permafrost that normally is at about the 10 inch level. Global climate change has taken a toll on the fire environment in Alaska.”

Volunteers begin the cleanup effort at the Pagan Community Center site. [Courtesy Photo]

While there has been speculation that the Sockeye fire was started by neighbors of The Land, authorities still haven’t said conclusively if the fire was set deliberately or accidentally.

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Pagan Community Notes: Mythopoeic Award, Polytheistic Day of Protest, A Pagan Market, Solar Cross and more!

Mon, 2015-06-29 09:24

Pagan author Sarah Avery is a finalist for the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in the category of adult fiction. Administered by the Mythopoeic Society, this award is given to “the fantasy novel, multi-volume novel, or single-author story collection for adults published during the previous year that best exemplifies ‘the spirit of the Inklings.‘ ” In other words, it honors the spirit of wild imagination as found in the works of such classic fantasy authors as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Other categories include “Children’s Literature,” “Inkling Studies” and “Myth and Fantasy Studies.”

Avery was nominated for her Pagan-inspired book Tales from Rugosa Coven, which she says is a collection of novellas and is published by Dark Quest Books. She added that the award is a “pretty big deal,” pointing out that one of the finalists regularly makes The New York Times Best Seller list and “is one of the most important writers of literary fantasy of the decade.” On her blog, Avery wrote, “My brain is trying so hard to process this list … Somehow I got preferred for something over an unknown number of authors that probably included at least a few major names who were publishing with major presses.”

The winner will be announced at Mythcon46, which will be held at the Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs, Colorado from July 31 – August 3. The event’s theme is Arthurian Mythos with guests appearances by Jo Walton and John D. Rateliff.

*   *   *

Last week, a second call has been issued to protest the destruction of antiquities and ancient sacred spaces. Back in April, we noted that Pagan Jack Prewett had called for a Global Day of Mourning as terrorists continued their destruction of ancient cities, including Nimrud and Hatra.

Now, Polytheist Galina Krasskova has issued a call for a “Polytheistic Day of Protest and Remembrance.” Krasskova writes, “This is not a Syrian issue. This is not a Muslim issue. This is a world issue. It is a human issue. Daesh is purposely targeting memory. They’re targeting their history, and their own *physical* connection with their polytheistic ancestors. It is done to demoralize, terrorize, and desecrate.”

On her website, Krasskova encourages everyone to participate in a global silent protest on July 31. She includes a meditation, which she suggests doing 9x that day and then sharing the results with others. She says, “This is a way of holding space for polytheism, ancient and modern, it is a way of drawing a line in the sand and declaring to the world that we stand in solidarity with those whose voices once rang out in praise to a plenitude of Gods and Goddesses. It is a statement that for every stone of every temple destroyed, we will restore that cultus a thousand fold. It is an act of evocation, execration, and magic. We’re still here.”

*   *   *

In response to the recent controversy on Etsy and past conflicts on eBay, a small group of Pagans has announced the development of an online marketplace for “magical supplies.” The Pagan Market, as it is called, will be an online community of shops dedicated to magical supplies, including those banned from other venues.

Blake Greenman Carpenter is spearheading the project and writes, “We all need a break from the outside world sometimes and this site can give us that small clearing in the forest away from the pressures of those who don’t think like we do.” He notes that the site is a big project, and he encourages people to share ideas with him. Carpenter added, “We may start a fundraiser if we feel the funds to build the community site may end up out of our personal budget range, if so there will be extra benefits to helping the cause.

Carpenter also notes that they are currently looking for sponsors and inviting people to volunteer as beta testers. To date, there are already more than 40 responses, most of which are offers to assist, sponsor and beta test. Some of the commenters even specifically mention the closing down of their Etsy shops. Carpenter said that the group hopes to have the Pagan Market up and running around September 21.

*   *   *

Many Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists are starting to prepare for an October trip to Salt Lake City to attend the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions. Solar Cross Temple, an intrafaith group based in California, has just announced that they have had two programs accepted by the Council. These programs include: Calling the Ancestors Home: A Ritual of Truth and Healing” and “Healing the Wounds of Violence with Restorative Justice.”

Attending the 2015 Parliament and preparing the programs will be Board members “Crystal Blanton, T. Thorn Coyle. Jonathan Korman, and Elena Rose, along with temple member Annika Mongan.” The Temple Board noted that its “members attended the previous Parliament in Melbourne, 2009 and found it to be a tremendous experience.”

In the coming months, more people will be announcing the the Council’s acceptance of their presentations and programs. We will continue to share that exciting news as it comes in. As for Solar Cross, its members are looking forward to attending and, in order to defer the high costs of travel, have started a GoFundMe campaign called, “Send Solar Cross to the Parliament.”

In Other News

  • Did you notice something different at Polytheist.com? The site was relaunched last week with a brand new design. Director Anomalous Thracian said, “It has been rebuilt…with a new engine under the hood and a more stable hosting environment.” In addition, Thracian announced a “quarterly call for submissions” that will happen each solstice and equinoxThe call is for “articles or essays on subjects, topics, perspectives or challenges related to living and practicing Polytheist religions and spiritual traditions today.” Additionally, Polytheist.com is launching a new multi-author column “showcasing entirely anonymous authors, sharing personal and informal accounts of liminal, ritual, magical and ecstatic experiences within their pursuits as Polytheists.”
  • Across the internet at HumanisticPaganism.com, there is another call for submissions. In a blog announcement, HumanisticPaganism editors write, “July 12 is Malala Day,which honors Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist who survived an assassination attempt and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.” They also note that July hosts several “important anniversaries in the Transcendentalist movement.” In honor of Malala and Transcendentalism, HumanisticPaganism.com is looking for essays discussing the themes of “individualism, religious tradition and gender issues.
  • Several members of Idaho’s Pagan community were featured in a local news article called, Potions and Paganism in Boise. The article profiles the metaphysical store, Bella’s Grove and the Tri-Council Academy or the Treasure Valley Pagan community. The reporter writes, “Woventear [owner of Bella’s Grove]…strives to create a space where budding witches and pagans can learn without judgment.” The news article provides a brief look into one of the many thriving, very local Pagan communities nestled in towns throughout the U.S.
  • Filmmaker and artist Antero Alli has announced a “rare screening” of his dark comedy To Dream of Falling Upwards (2011). He writes, “Set in the parallel worlds of an urban magickal order and the rural magic of Castaneda-style desert brujas, a sex magickian accidentally summons a demon who wants to be his best friend.” The screening will take place July 2 at 8 p.m. in Finnish Kaleva Hall in Berkeley, California.
  • A Change.org petition was started to “Legalise Pagan Handfastings in England and Wales.” On Saturday, Melissa Page started the petition asking for 5,000 signatures. In just two days, she has received nearly 3,000 signatures and has already sent one request letter directly to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron MP. Page writes that she is “waiting on a reply,” but more voices are still needed. She encourages people to keep signing.
  • And, one last note, the Celtic Rock Band Dragon’s Head has recently released its very first album called “Songs of the New Old Ways.” Their sound is described as “heavy, melodic, and inspiring …taking their cues from alternative, progressive rock, punk, jazz and Celtic balladry.” You can get a taste of their music and read the inspiration behind making the album at ReverbNation.

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

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Column: An Interview with Author Courtney Weber

Sat, 2015-06-27 18:33

On May 1, Courtney Weber’s new book Brigid: History Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess was released by Weiser Books. This is Weber’s first venture in publishing. While reading the book, I found myself most intrigued by the journey that led to the writing this book and by Weber’s personal relationship to the Goddess,Brigid. I decided to contacted her. And, through an interview, I had the opportunity to further explore this aspect of the book and more.

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

The Wild Hunt: I can see that a great deal of work was put into this book, not only through your own journey to learn more about Brigid, but also through the practical wisdom in the questions that you pose and the workings you present. Despite all of that effort and research, what really stands out to me is the story of how this book came to be; the story of the promise you made as a young witch to create this book in exchange for Brigid’s assistance. When I read about that promise I thought of some of the promises that I had made as a young witch and shudder at my foolishness. How do you now look back on your promise?

Courtney Weber: I look back and laugh. I truly underestimated the nature of Witchcraft and the Goddess, Herself. It’s been a blessed, although winding, journey. There were a lot of sacrifices I made along the way and many of them were painful, but now I’d much rather have this book out in the world than have any of the other things I had to give up in order for it to happen. I don’t think anyone could have explained to me the nature of honoring your word in Witchcraft back then. I think the nature of Gods coming to claim their debts is something that needs to be fully experienced, independently.

TWH: At the time you vowed to write this book, is this the end product that you had envisioned it would be? Is there anything you wished you would have, or could have, done differently?

CW: I originally thought I would write a book of poems for Brigid. I think I thought I would fill it up with poems put it on my altar and that would be enough. I bought a blank notebook, wrote two crappy poems, and then an apology note for not finishing it. I guess I thought the apology would be enough. The rest of the book is blank (I still have it). I’m not a great poet—or even a good poet—so I suspect Brigid is happier with my non-fiction. I really wish I had included my footnotes. Someone who proofread it for me suggested I omit them for practical reasons. As it was my first book, I didn’t argue as this person had far more experience in publishing than I. In retrospect, I really regret it. I also would have had my Irish friend who is extremely well-versed in indigenous Irish language and culture give the whole thing a once over as there are a couple of spelling and factual things that could have used tweaking.

Courtney Weber at a book reading and workshop 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

TWH: In the book, you speak about how blocked you were between the time that you made the promise and the actual writing of the book. How have things changed for you since you’ve upheld your vow?

CW: I now write constantly. I can’t keep up with the ideas I have and opportunities I once fantasized about are absolute realities. This is a far cry from sitting over a blank notebook in a West Village coffee shop with absolutely nothing to put to paper, and conversations with potential literary agents that ended in “No” before I could finish my pitch. Maybe that’s just the journey to being a writer, period. I want to go back and comfort 24 year old me who so frustrated and angry by wanting to write and having nothing to write about. If I’d known, I’d probably have more hair as I wouldn’t have pulled so much out.

TWH: Much of your book is spent delving into the many aspects of Brigid – Brigid as Healer, as Warrior, as Bard, as Earth Goddess. Is there a particular aspect of Brigid that you find yourself most drawn to?

CW: It changes. Recently, with the events of the shooting in Charleston and the #blacklivesmatter movement plus the creation of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York, I’m feeling far more of Brigid the Warrior. Today, I came home from a weekend in New Hampshire and found my Brigid the Warrior effigy knocked off the wall. I’m not sure exactly what that means (other than naughty cats), but I suspect it means I have more Brigid-influenced warrior work to do. Five-seven years ago, I was far more in tune with Brigid the healer. I also flow into Brigid the Mother when I’m with my nephew and niece or my Godchildren. I feel like Brigid has a vested interest in the needs of our world and tweaks her Devotees for the work as necessary.

TWH: The chapter that I enjoyed most was about the Healer. There was a certain part that rang so very true that I read it a few times to let it sink in. In in your wrote, “The task of emotional healing frequently brings up deep wounds from the darkest wells of our souls. When this happens, it’s easy to want to pull back, preferring to exist in familiar illness than take the path of unknown and often uncomfortable healing.” I’m curious, how do you, as a teacher, support your students in diving in to the important and scary places they need to go to find the healing they need?

CW: I want them to know that they have a lifeline—they won’t sink. They also, if they are working with Brigid, need to know that the painful healing is part of the process. When She chips away at that which is holding us back, it doesn’t feel good. Knowing this and knowing it’s part of the process keeps them going so they don’t quit. The pain is temporary. The healing can be permanent if we let it.

TWH: In your writing, you talk about the importance of putting practice and effort into learning a craft and mention that this is “one of the tougher lessons for contemporary practitioners.” How do you think this impacts some Pagans in their spiritual and magickal practices? What role do you think the elders and teachers of our community have in addressing this issue?

CW: I’m a child of the 80’s. Like many of my peers, my schools had “Talented and Gifted” programs. I was never a “TAG” kid. Whether it was math, art, music, or something else, there seemed to be a great deal of emphasis at pulling children’s natural gifts out of them as opposed to teaching them to develop skills and strengths. I’m in my 30s now and I see this among a lot of my peers: if we’re not naturally good at something, we often don’t try and instead we look for something else to do that we are naturally adept at doing.

I do see a lot of students skip the process of honing Magickal abilities or write off aspect of spiritual development because “they’re not good at it.” As a teacher, I am very open about my journey and my mistakes. I want people to know the work that has gone into my talents and abilities. If I make the mistake of letting people believe I’m gifted when in truth, I’m a stubbornly hard worker, I’m not only being dishonest, I’m setting a poor example.

TWH: If there was one thing you would want people to take away from your book, what would it be?

CW: There are several things I hope make an impression. One, that spiritual practice with Brigid is accessible and feasible for the average person. Connection with her doesn’t require elaborate rituals or steep practices. Second, it’s important to me that readers know St. Brigid as not a denigration of the Goddess Brigid and in fact, the incarnation of Brigid as a saint adds to her rich history and lore. Finally, I hope people walk away deeply in love with her history and mythology.

TWH: Where can our readers find you and your book?

CW: I live on the internet. My website is www.thecocowitch.com and my [Facebook] page can be found at this link. I encourage people to ask for the book at their local New Age or occult bookstores, but I also carry it on my website, where I can sign it for people upon request

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Supreme Court Rules for Marriage Equality: reactions and thoughts

Sat, 2015-06-27 08:34

WASHINGTON D.C. – The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), in a landmark decision, legalized same sex marriage in the United States of America. On Friday, June 26, SCOTUS issued its 5-4 opinion on the Obergefell v. Hodges case. Kennedy delivered the opinion, opening with, “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”

Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

Through that opinion, SCOTUS reversed the decision of the lower Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which had upheld same sex marriage bans in four states: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. SCOTUS ruled these bans unconstitutional, saying:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

The Court’s opinion also made it clear that marriages performed legally in one state had to be officially recognized in other states. As SCOTUS ruled:

The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.

Within the opinion, Justice Kennedy offered an historical perspective, saying that marriage has been central to the “human condition” for “millennia and across civilizations.” While he acknowledged that most of the historical references speak of opposite sex unions, he goes on to say that “The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time.”

Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomeyer. Dissenting opinions came from Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Roberts wrote:

This Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be … Today, however, the Court takes the extraordinary step of ordering every State to license and recognize same-sex marriage. Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration. But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening.

While there are those who directly oppose same sex marriage on religious or philosophical principles, there are others who, like Roberts, feel that the process should have been left to the states and the vote of the people.

Priestess signing legal documentation for a same-sex married couple in Alabama [Courtesy K. Privett-Duren]

As the news flooded the internet, we gathered some reactions from Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists around the country. Here is what they had to say:

Dianne Duggan is a Pagan Priestess who worked for the US government for decades and practiced law. Last year in her in Illinois, she was finally able to legally marry her wife. Duggan said, “Given that marriage is a legal contract, sanctioned by government, I’ve never understood the faith-based arguments against it. Even marriages that take place under religious circumstances must be sanctioned by government through licensing .. Rights are rights. That is that.” Read Duggan’s full comment

Another legal expert, Dana Eilers, author of Pagans and the Law, said that SCOTUS had “affirmed the great American Experiment, which is the separation of church and state.” She went on to say, “Critically, the majority of the Court found that the opponents of gay marriage had failed to provide any foundation for the dire outcomes which gay marriage opponents so often assert. This, to me, is crucial: there was, apparently, no proof offered to support the awful predictions made by the opponents of gender equality in marriage. Proof and evidence are not yet dead in American courts.” Read Eilers full comment.

Heading south, Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren, also known as Rev. Seba O’Kiley, is a Priestess of the Gangani Tribe in Alabama, a marriage equality battle-ground state. Same sex marriage was legalized in February 2015, but state and local officials have been fighting ever since. Privett-Duren said that it “takes the efforts and courage of many to change any inequities in the world.” She added that this impulse to enact change should be a “human one born of the need to set things right.” Privett-Duren added:

I am saddened at the responses of some of my Southern friends and family to the SCOTUS ruling.  However, this is only a small faction of our South and will, inevitably, become only another archaic echo of a culture’s growing pains. ….  My tribe and I hold firm that we can be both Southern and progressive.  And while my neighbors are truly heartbroken at the SCOTUS decision, it is my hope that they will one day see that any oppression to any people oppresses us all. Read Privett-Duren’s full comment

Wizzard Rodney Hall, a transgender and pansexual Pagan from Alabama, said, “It has been a long march from … Stonewall riots to the marriage equality decision by SCOTUS … Though I told my partner after SCOTUS struck down DOMA … that this was a landmark decision and we were on a downward slope toward equal marriage rights, I had no clue that it would move this fast.” Like Privett-Duren, Hall knows that there will be some conflict within the state, saying “In Lee County AL, where I live, our courthouse was closed today until they review the SCOTUS decision. There is also Alabama Senate Bill 377 still pending, which seeks to replace marriage licenses with a contract process … Though we still face obstruction from bigots and the ill-informed religious right, I feel that we are on the upswing.”

From Georgia, two Pagans shared their thoughts. Blogger Sara Amis said, “I think it’s important to emphasize the religious equality angle. Pagans, who by and large are happy to recognize same-sex unions, should not be constrained by the beliefs of other faiths in this matter. And now we won’t be.” Amis went on to say that for bisexuals, like herself, “not being invisible matters. Social recognition matters.” Then she added, “And speaking as a Pagan, symbols matter. Rituals matter.” Read Amis’ full comment.

And, Benratu, a Witch and native Georgian, agreed, saying, “I am thrilled to see our leaders make the right decision!” He lamented that for so long he has been unable to “share the same rights and privileges as the rest of the country.” Benratu said “[It]is now possible. I felt a great sigh of relief.” Like Hall and Privett, Benratu also expressed a concern that the ruling may trigger a backlash and increased incidents of homophobic violence. However, he added, “My hope is this will bring our country together and user in more acceptance of different viewpoints.”

Friday Celebrations in Midtown Atlanta [Courtesy S. Amis]

California-based author and activist T. Thorn Coyle took a more radical position, saying, “I stand for love, yet haven’t joined in very active support of what some people call ‘gay marriage’ or others call equal rights because the struggle feels much, much larger.” She explained, “..allowing two men or two women to marry one another just isn’t enough. It isn’t the sort of equality I really want. I’m more queer than that, and more of an anarchist, of course. I desire equity far more pluralistic than the simple replication of a state sanctioned nuclear family.” Read Coyle’s full comment

Also hailing from California, Rev. Patrick McCollum shared his thoughts, saying, “As one who has worked for gay rights for more than thirty years, I am elated that one of the fundamental rights that we’ve all fought for so long has finally come to be.” McCollum tied the ruling’s importance to his beliefs. He wrote, “Just as we speak of the interconnectedness of all things in a spiritual context, we must also realize that the same principles apply in our mundane lives. How we make space for everyone and how we honor the sacredness of diversity speaks directly to who we are as a people.” Read McCollum’s full comment.

Like McCollum, Rev. Selena Fox has been an longtime activist working for LBGQT equality and religious rights. When Friday’s ruling was handed down, Fox called for a celebration, saying, “I am glad that the USA has now joined the 20 other countries in the world that have legalized same sex marriage — and it is my hope that there will be marriage equality in every nation on this planet.” She said that she has been performing same sex handfastings since the 1980s with the first one in 1983, and assisting with the first legal handfasting at Pagan Spirit Gathering in 2014. Read Fox’ full comment.

Jumping the Broom. Sparky T. Rabbit and Ray 1984. One of the first same sex marriages at PSG [Courtesy PSG Archives]

Finally, in Washington D.C., we caught up with witch and activist David Salisbury, who works for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). He said:

This enormous victory really speaks for itself. For years I’ve been involved with fighting state-by-state and we’ve seen many victories and some losses. Now that marriage equality is the law of the land, I can’t wait to shift my focus on the other important areas where LGBT people are still not equal. In most states, you can now get married on Sunday and fired on Monday. We now need employment and housing nondiscrimination as soon as possible. But for now, I will celebrate here in DC with the many people involved in this movement, and in spirit with many others around the nation. Love won, and that deserves a celebration.

Agreeing with Salisbury, Circle Sanctuary minister Vic Wright from Kentucky said, “It is a blessed day when the Supreme Court chooses to uphold the law … Now on to the next issues.” In her reaction statement, Fox also looked forward, saying, “We need to be vigilant and take action to counter attempts by bigoted forces that already are planning to undermine this victory under the guise of ‘religious freedom.’ ” Of course, she is referring to the RFRAs, which could potentially be used to counter this ruling. Whether that happens or not is up for debate

California-based Heathen Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir also expressed the need to keep pressing for rights by offering this call-to-action, “The fire is hot, the iron is stoked and burning bright, let’s strike at other issues that affect the lives of the rest of us who live under the “rainbow umbrella … Let’s keep the pressure on our legislators to provide the protections and dignity that we deserve in every facet of our lives; queer, trans, bi, however one chooses to identify.” Read Odinsdottir’s full comment.

The HRC, as an organization, also agrees that there is much work to be done. After issuing its celebratory statement, it turned its focus immediately to remaining problems by sending out a second statement that called for all “state officials to remove obstacles to marriage equality immediately.” These obstacles, for example, include such things as the closed Alabama courthouses noted earlier by Hall, and the public response by Louisiana’s Governor. Just after the SCOTUS ruling, Gov. Jindal issued his own opposing statement, going as far as saying, “Let’s just get rid of the court.” Louisiana is one of the few states that didn’t issue licenses on Friday.

However, not all the remaining 13 states, which prior to Friday’s ruling didn’t issue same sex licenses, were opposed. Georgia reportedly issued the very first same-sex license after the ruling was issued. In Texas, people lined up to get married. Along with the ceremonies, celebrations have happened and will continue throughout the weekend.

Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

Kasha, a Wiccan Priestess from Florida who is currently serving as National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, called for a moment of remembrance. She said, “I … hope we pause during our celebrations to honor those involved in this struggle that did not live to see this day – those that inspired the fight, endured persecution and violence, and lived and died with secrets.” Read Kasha’s full comment.

And, Jesse Hathaway Diaz, proprietor of The Wolf and Goat, shared this advice going forward, “I’m a firm believer in the ladder principle – if you are going to ascend the ladder, you must bring someone up to your current rung, or you backslide. Nature abhors a vacuum. Let the ‘victory’ of today similarly be a tool. Bring others to the current rung – what we envision should be a reality. Do not be complacent. Share the success. Advance others….. Help others understand why it’s worth sharing. Help others be able to share it with us someday.” Read Hathaway’s full comment.

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Column: Vignettes on Death, Gods, and Bridges

Fri, 2015-06-26 06:25

I thought I was a strong swimmer. But I was also seventeen, and I thought I knew everything.

It was hot, and the Delaware River was refreshingly cool. I can do this, I said to myself, perhaps a little too confidently. I stood at the bank of the Pennsylvania side, with my eye on a small sandy landing across the river in New Jersey. I jumped in and made it across easily, then without really thinking about it I quickly turned around and swam back.

Halfway back, I learned quickly that I wasn’t as strong of a swimmer as I thought, and that I should have given myself more time to rest before attempting the trip back. I was caught in the current, and started to move sideways instead of across. Foolishly I tried to fight it; tried to swim against the current and, as I started to drift downstream, I quickly tired myself out.

I felt myself losing the battle, and allowed the current to carry me for a while. I struggled to stay afloat, felt myself starting to drown, found myself reflecting in that panicked moment how this is never what it looks like on TV or in the movies, all while still facing upstream and still attempting to swim back the way I came. I tried floating on my back but the river kept pulling me down. Knowing that there wasn’t a human in sight that could hear a scream for help, I started shouting the names of every deity I could think of at that moment, but yelling for only those few seconds quickly weakened me further. I switched from screams to silent thoughts as I felt I was about to go under, my last concern being that I didn’t tell anyone I was even going for a swim in the first place.

And then I literally smacked into a ton of bricks. I had been facing upstream the entire time, and in all my struggling I didn’t notice that there was a bridge behind me. I landed on a masonry pier, and the height of the water was at an exact level that I found myself seated on the ledge of the pier before I even realized where I was. The moment I was about to go under, the bridge had provided a chair for me to rest.

I sat there for the next few hours, first to catch my breath, then to reflect. I had done a very foolish thing, and I nearly paid with my life. I owed that life to what I would have always considered to be an inanimate object … until that moment of collision. There was something so alive about the pier; the way an old tree or the river itself felt alive. And the longer I sat there on the edge of the pier, in a strange dazed delirium filled with fear and gratitude, the more I felt a very deep connection with stones themselves, even more so than I had every felt from a tree or a river. There was a true mutual appreciation in that moment: I appreciated the pier for being where it was, and the pier seemed to appreciate my just sitting on it for a few hours in contemplation. I thought about the people who constructed that pier, each brick laid down by hand, the literal sweat and blood that went into this structure that held me in a time of need.

When I felt rested and clear-headed enough, I prepared to swim back to the riverbank. I found myself thanking the pier profusely, at that point having the same regard for its spirit and sentience as I would any person or animal, and right before I jumped back in the river I asked the pier to wish me luck and if possible to see me over to the other side. The swim back was easy, and by the time I landed on the riverbank the only pain I felt was a bruise on my side from when I had smacked into the pier.

The bridge that caught me. [Photo Credit: Aerolin55]

After asking around a bit the next day, I learned that, although the bridge had been rebuilt three times, the pier was the original and had been standing in that water for over 150 years. Other than the river itself, those masonry piers were the just about the oldest thing around. This made sense to me, as the pier definitely felt old, and yet there still was something much more to that pier, something much deeper than age alone.

That pier had life; that pier had spirit. That pier had imprinted something unshakable upon me.

*   *   *

It may be painfully typical to state that such an experience dramatically shifts one’s perspective on life, but it’s the only way to describe the transformation that I went through in the months after the bridge incident. Not only was I grateful for and deliberate in my existence in a way that I couldn’t have imagined beforehand, but I became fascinated by and fixated on both spirits and bridges in various ways.

After spending a few months processing what happened at the bridge, I left home and started to couch-surf with friends in New York City, first in lower Manhattan and then in Brooklyn. At first, I took with me only my backpack and a small bag of possessions that most would consider mere knick-knacks but I saw as infused with consciousness and spirit. Among those possessions was a small piece of moss that I had pulled off the masonry pier.

I loved so much about Brooklyn, but I loved the bridges the most. I found myself mesmerized by the bridges; first by their structures themselves and then by the lush history behind their existence. I spent hours in the library, drinking in stories of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, and later the Verrazano.

 

Verrazano Bridge from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. [Photo by A. Valkyrie.]

The stories also revealed a darker side, one I had never considered before. Those who financed and engineered such bridges were usually remembered by history as those responsible for the bridge itself, not so much the workers who gave their labor and often their lives to actually bring the bridge into existence. Similar to the building of the railroads, those who actually built the bridges were mostly forgotten while those who backed it are remembered and glorified. Also forgotten were those who were displaced by the building of such bridges. Planning for the Verrazano Bridge, which broke ground in 1959, wiped out an entire stretch of neighborhood in Bay Ridge; bulldozing Victorian-era brownstones, and displacing working-class families and second-generation immigrants who had nowhere else to go in a rapidly developing city. The cruelty and injustice inherent in such urban planning was no different than today’s urban gentrification battles that raged throughout Brooklyn as well as cities across the nation.

I loved and appreciated those bridges, but did I ever shutter deep down whenever I thought of the true cost, whenever I consider the ghosts of a generation uprooted.

*   *   *

Nearly a decade after the bridge incident, I packed my things and moved across the country. I didn’t have time to say goodbye to that bridge when I left, but I kept it in my thoughts and my prayers as I was saying goodbye to the East Coast, to Brooklyn, to the bridges that I had adopted as my own in the years that I was a resident of New York City. I took only what I could carry in my van with the front area behind my seat reserved for carefully-packed boxes containing, what I then referred to as, ‘spirit-items’.

On day five in the car, driving along the Columbia Gorge in Oregon less than an hour from Portland. I suddenly saw a sign. Bridge of the Gods, it said.

I turned off at the exit.

The bridge looked rather modern, almost disappointingly so, but a historical plaque told an intriguing story about an ancient bridge that once stood in that spot. There was a natural land-bridge that once blocked the river, that was the subject of various folkloric tales from indigenous tribes that populated the area prior to European settlement.

There was something about stumbling upon local mythology, around gods and bridges, so close to the end of my journey to a new home that struck me in a very significant way.

I walked down to the base of bridge, going as far down the steep riverbank as I safely could manage. I introduced myself, and left a few coins at the base. Despite its newness, despite its lack of any real connection to the historic ‘Bridge of the Gods’, there was something about it that still felt sacred.

Walking back up, a rock the size of a golf ball bounced down straight towards me. I stopped it with my foot, picked it up, and put it in my bag. I slipped it into the special box right behind the front seat.

Eight years ago, eight moves ago.

*   *   *

“Hey, would you mind holding onto Grandpa for me? I really don’t have a safe place for him and … well … you’ve already got a big collection of dead things that you take care of …”

‘Grandpa’ was a jar of ashes; more specifically the ashes of my ex’s grandfather who had passed over during the first year of our relationship. Grandpa had indeed found a comfortable spot among my various collections of dead things over the course of our relationship.

We were at the point in the break-up process in which we were dividing our things in preparation for his move back to the Midwest, and I was deliberately forcing a mindset of collaboration and compassion in order to maintain my sanity. I had already been keeping an eye on Grandpa as though he were my responsibility. It seems sensible to maintain what was already routine for me.

“Of course, don’t worry.” I replied. “Leave Grandpa right where he is, I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Five years ago, five moves ago.

The Patio of Living Things, circa 2010. ‘Grandpa’ is hidden in the corner behind the lavender. [Photo: A. Valkyrie]

It was never made clear at the time whether my custody of Grandpa was temporary or permanent, but Grandpa seems to have become a perpetual addition to the strange assortment of items that I had been carrying around. The assortment has grown considerably since I was in my late teens, an assortment of items that themselves possess spirit and soul to the extent where simple ideas of ‘ownership’ quickly evolve into reverent caretaking of a very peculiar kind.

*   *   *

I knew he was severely depressed to the point where he was possibly suicidal, and I knew that a change of environment can often positively shift someone that is in such a state. It was only a few days after I started scheming on how to get him out here that a thousand dollars literally dropped into my lap unexpectedly in a way that only happens when greater forces are at work. I bought him a plane ticket from upstate New York to Eugene and, a few weeks later, we were headed down the 101 in my van, packed for camping and exploring.

We drove for ten days, down from Florence, Oregon all the way to Mendocino and back, stopping at every place that looked interesting and many other places that were simply quiet and serene. We camped in the redwoods, on the coast, on the bank of the Russian River. He ran right in, I timidly waded up to my knees and stood in contemplation. I took a few steps more but wouldn’t go in past my waist.

He asked why, I told him. “Once bitten, twice shy,” I said when I finished the story.

He nodded. We shared many other stories that week, of close calls and near-death experiences, as well as darker experiences such as self-harm and suicide. He admitted to me that he had contemplated killing himself, both in the past and very recently. I nodded; I had sensed as much. I didn’t have to say aloud that such worries were why I flew him out here … it was unspoken but understood.

By the time we got back to Eugene, the van was filled with various objects, both natural and man-made, that we had amassed over the course of our trip. He had the same sense and affinity for what he called ‘living’ objects as I did. Much of our trip consisted of stumbling upon such wonders like small children, giggling as we left offerings in return.

As he packed up to return to New York, we both tried in vain to fit the entirety of his new collection in his baggage, cramming nearly everything except for a pile of bark and a bag of meticulously chosen and extremely ‘living’ bunch of sticks that he had intended to carve an ogham set with.

“I have to leave that all here. You can have the bark,” he said. “But I would love that bag of sticks back from you one day.”

“I’ll give them back to you the next time I see you,” I replied.

Four years ago, four moves ago.

[Photo: A. Valkyrie]

Eighteen months after he left, I got a message from a mutual friend. Call me immediately, the message said, followed by her phone number. My throat tightened; I knew instantly that he had done it; that he had committed suicide.

I called her to confirm what I already knew and subsequently broke down for several hours. At one point, I looked over at the bag of sticks, hanging on the door, and remembered my words to him.

“I’m still going to hold onto your sticks until I see you again,” I said aloud.

A few days later, I placed them with the rest of the collection.

*   *   *

When I knew I had to leave Eugene, I surrendered my fate to the Gods, who very quickly and bluntly guided me to a tiny little studio, 100 yards from the river, smack dab between two of Portland’s most iconic bridges. I didn’t even begin to question it, I simply accepted it and settled in.

The tone had been instantly set for my Work in this new place, and the very first action I took even before signing the least was to make offerings at the bases of both bridges. I thanked the bridges for their presence and their function, I made prayers and offerings to those who were sacrificed in the construction of the bridge, and to those who had taken their lives by jumping. I also made prayers and offerings for those who currently lived under the bridges, those who we tend to label as ‘homeless’ and ‘mentally ill’ and ‘addicts.’

The studio was just under 400 square feet. Realizing that there was not enough room to unpack the majority of my possessions, within a few months I put myself on a waiting list for a bigger space in the same building, unheeded by the warning from management that it could take well over a year to happen. The studio served an immediate purpose in terms of survival and a place to print, but was unsuitable as a place of worship or Work. I took my worship and Work to the riverbank, to the bridges, building altars on abandoned piers and stone foundations.

[Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

Against the wall in my studio, meticulously stacked boxes, boxes containing packed up altars and places of offering, boxes containing those packed up objects-turned-obligations. Bones and sticks, including ‘Grandpa’ and the ogham bag, the rock from the Bridge of the Gods and the moss from the bridge that saved me, all in safe storage, in plain sight and yet obscured by corrugated cardboard.

One year ago, one move ago.

There’s something admittedly strange and yet comforting in talking to boxes, feeding them and caring for them just as you would were they outside of the box. I kept an eye on them, checked up on them constantly, awaiting the day when I would be able to unpack them again and put them in their proper places.

*   *   *

There have been well over 200 drownings in Oregon in the past decade The vast majority of them occurring in rivers in the Willamette Valley.

I don’t have the luxury of believing in coincidence, so it only seemed perfectly natural that I stumbled across a detailed list of those drownings the same day that my computer screen was filled with headlines and opinions focused on the racial dynamics of a pool-party incident in Texas. Browsing the list of drownings, it struck me immediately that a significant number of those who have drowned in Oregon were people of color, in a state that is overwhelmingly white.

In a vastly unequal society where minorities and the poor were both historically and still presently denied access to safe, publicly accessible bodies of water, it sadly makes sense that so many would seek to relieve themselves from the heat in the rivers, and meet a tragic fate in doing so. Learning how to swim, learning what to do when one is in danger of drowning, and being able to safely access bodies of water when it is hot, are basic needs in terms of public safety that should be accessible to anyone and everyone in this country, regardless of race, socioeconomics, or documented status.

I read through the list again, this time focusing on the descriptions of the incidents. It hit a tender nerve when I read through accounts of drownings that resulted from those who thought that they could swim across a river. It has been more than fifteen years since I nearly drowned, but after having relived the incident more times in my mind than I ever care to acknowledge, the naivete and commonality of my mistake still reverberates. I thought I was a strong swimmer, I still cling to occasionally in defense. I thought I was a strong swimmer.

But there’s a piece of moss on my altar that will always remind me otherwise.

With those thoughts swirling through my mind, I went down to the base of the nearest bridge, as close to the water as I could get, with flowers for those who have died in the river. I petitioned the bridge and the land spirits to do what they could to protect those who may be floating by in distress. I spent a moment in touch with my inner terror, that taste of death that has never quite left me since my own dip in the river years before, and I whispered prayers of protection towards the opposite side as I let that terror go on the riverbank.

*   *   *

It has been unbearably hot this past week, as my partner and I moved boxes from the tiny studio to a larger space in the same building, after nearly a year of waiting for such a space to open up. The new place faces the river just across the street, and the breeze from the Willamette blows directly into my new living-room and bedroom. It’s at least fifteen degrees cooler than the studio, which faced southward with very little breeze.

[Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

Unpacking the boxes, with layers of altars and old friends hidden away for nearly fifteen months, becomes an unexpectedly emotional reunion. Bits and pieces of my life and journeys all spread out for my eyes to take in, each infused with life and spirit as well as countless stories. I uncover Grandpa and sit him on a shelf; I find the bag of ogham sticks and hang the bag out on the patio. I dust off my friends, I smile, and for the first time in years I know I’m exactly where I should be.

Now. Here.

A hundred yards from the river, between two bridges, I finally feel like I am home.

 *   *   *

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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Etsy’s New Policy Riles Magical Communities

Thu, 2015-06-25 07:11

Etsy, a widely-used site for selling handcrafted and other items online, sent shockwaves through the Pagan online vendor community by clarifying a company policy on spell-related items. While “clarify” was the word officially used to describe the action, in effect the change banned even a whiff of the supernatural in the names and descriptions of items for sale. An email sent to shop owners advised of the policy updates, but it wasn’t until items — and entire shops — were being disallowed that people really started to notice.


An article on the policy shift at the Daily Dot explained what has changed:

 . . . under Etsy’s previous rules, spells and hexes were allowed to be sold, as long as they fit two criteria: They didn’t guarantee results, and they produced something tangible. . . . Recently, however, Etsy quietly adopted new guidelines that prohibit the sale of spells and hexes. According to its new rules, ‘any metaphysical service that promises or suggests it will effect a physical change (e.g., weight loss) or other outcome (e.g., love, revenge) is not allowed, even if it delivers a tangible item.’

As reported by The Daily Dot, Shop owners reported notifications of suspensions as early as June 9. They were given no advance notice that their shop or item descriptions would have to be changed.

Etsy spokesperson Sara Cohen spoke to The Wild Hunt using nearly identical wording to the responses given to the Daily Dot, as well as the phrasing in the policy itself. This suggests that the message is being tightly controlled. She said:

Services have always been prohibited on Etsy. Any service that does not yield a new, tangible, physical item is not allowed (for example: tailoring, restoring or repairing an item, photographic retouching or color correction).

We’ve recently updated our policies to reflect that this includes metaphysical services that promise or suggest a resulting physical change (i.e. weight loss) or other abstract outcome (i.e. fortune or luck), even if they deliver a physical object. We appreciate that it is a tricky, nuanced area, and our policy and enforcement teams weigh many factors to fairly, reasonably and consistently enforce our policies.

By tightening restrictions in the metaphysical arena and in “clarifying” the policy, Etsy has also removed the categories of ‘Religious Services and Readings’ and ‘Spells, Rituals and Readings’ entirely. It is following in the footsteps of eBay, who banned the sale of curses, spells, hexes, magic, prayers, blessings, magic potions, healing sessions and similar items and services in 2012, despite a petition signed by 2,845 people in opposition. Unlike eBay, Etsy did not give its vendors clear advance warning, which might explain why a similar petition seeking to end this ban has gathered 6,180 signatures to date.

[Courtesy Astrelle] Goddess ritual bath salts removed from her shop.

The organizer of the Etsy petition drive, Astrelle, runs the Celestial Secrets shop on Etsy. What happened to her and others she spoke to didn’t suggest that the implementation of the new policy was done reasonably:

I had some listings deactivated by Etsy for not fitting within the parameters of their guidelines, though I have been luckier than most. I have noticed stores with more items that they consider ‘services’ than not have been entirely removed. I have been told this erases all of their customer info and wipes their shops. Many have said this happened without warning. I have been in contact with other shop owners, and some have said they only received warning after their shops were deactivated.

Astrelle’s experience, as well as those she reported, were very different from the approach that Etsy representative Cohen said has been taken:

Our goal is to support as much of the metaphysical community on Etsy as possible, and that is why we worked hard to reach out to individual sellers to help bring them into compliance.

To be clear, we are not shutting down all metaphysical shops as part of this policy update; we’re contacting only those shops or items that violate our policies. Sellers may continue to sell astrological charts, tarot readings, and other tangible objects, as long as they are not making a promise that object will effect a physical change or other outcome, such as weight loss, love, revenge, or a medical cure or claim.

While gauging the full scope of the reaction is difficult, there were a number of comments on various threads indicating support for the protection against fraud, while others attacked the alleged lack of consistency in enforcement. One commenter said, “What’s funny is that ebay stopped allowing spells to be sold over a year ago-and all the crazies went to Etsy; the ‘big booty’ ‘penis enlargment’ and ‘breast augmentation’ spells were all over Etsy. They allow those but not spell kits?”

As some users tried to parse the meaning of the word “suggest,” others, including petitioner Astrelle, saw a pattern in the shops and items being targeted for removal; a pattern that gave Christian-themed merchandise a pass. Thelemite blogger Scott Stenwick put it this way:

The problem, though, is that mainstream religion gets a pass on metaphysical claims in the minds of many people, and it’s starting to look like the Etsy admins are no exception.

The example of someone told to change a ‘spell kit’ to a ‘prayer kit’ is precisely what I’m talking about. A prayer that is intended to produce a tangible effect is the same thing as a spell. Also, a ‘kit’ is not a service but rather a collection of items, so why that would fall under the new policy remains a mystery to me — unless there’s an admin out there who just doesn’t like the word ‘spell.’

Spokesperson Cohen addressed that concern by saying, “We would like to be clear that this is NOT targeted at witches, Wiccans, or any religion. Etsy strongly believes in freedom of thought, expression, and religion, and we will never institute a policy that discriminates against sellers for their religious beliefs or practices.” And, when asked about items such as the St. Christopher medallion which was linked to by both Stenwick and The Daily Dot, she replied, “Due to the nature of our platform, where anyone may list anything at any time, it is possible that a service may appear for sale on the site before our enforcement teams have a chance to remove it. Members are welcome to flag these items and report them to us; we have a timely review process for all flags.”

[Courtesy Astrelle] Money Cones; one of the items removed from her Etsy shop.

Nevertheless, the change has generated interest in finding alternatives to Etsy. Some shop owners are disheartened by the sanctions imposed, or are struggling to rewrite item descriptions to fit in the newly-clarified guidelines. Others don’t feel comfortable including disclaimers stating that their products are not intended to help, heal, diagnose, or do anything else in any way. They feel that such wording would run counter to the intent of the magic, and could well invalidate any spells actually cast.

“This is a part of my kind of people’s religious views! I don’t see how it’s anyone’s else business,” wrote Jenya, a Russian Pagan who was left very confused by the new rules.

Among the alternatives are lesser-known platforms like Square, Storenvy, and Folksy, which is only available in the United Kingdom. It’s also possible to simply sell through one’s own web site. None of those options can match the internet reach of Etsy, but a less establish seller needs to be engaging in some kind of marketing to drive traffic regardless. For top Etsy sellers, the revenue hit may be significant.

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Charleston Strong: From Tragedy to Unity

Wed, 2015-06-24 09:57

CHARLESTON, South Carolina – Last week the small southern city of Charleston, South Carolina was rocked to its foundation as news spread of a mass murder inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, also called, “Mother Emanuel.” Wednesday night, after services ended, a small number of people remained for an 8 p.m. Bible Study. A stranger entered the old church, and he was invited to join them. One hour later, that stranger opened fire, killing 9 of the 12 people in the Church.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church [Photo Credit: Cal Sr from Newport, NC]

While police worked to locate and arrest suspect Dylann Roof, the city of Charleston was left to deal with the aftermath. According to witnesses and a later confession, the suspect reportedly made his racially-motivated mission very clear. He wanted to start a race war. As news spread across the nation, there was a collective pause, while the country came to grips with this act of home-grown terrorism. What would happen next?

Solitary Pagan Tyanna lives in South Carolina. She said, “When I heard what happened I was at a loss for words. I could not believe what had happened. I thought to myself, ‘With all of the people out there in other countries that hate and want to kill us, we have to worry about people like this at home too.'”

Tyanna grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal church (AME). She had been to Mother Emanuel many times. She recalled, “That church has been home to many quarterly conferences and is full of history. I went there myself as a child and climbed the narrow steps to the balcony to hide from the adults with my friends.” She and her family knew several of the victims. She said, “I can’t believe that they are gone … It is hard to know you won’t see that person again. But we are all praying, and we know they are not in pain anymore.”

Kelly Scott, chairwoman of the Charleston Area Lowcountry Council of Alternative Spiritual Traditions, remarked that she is “struggling to understand the whole tragedy on a personal spiritual level.” Scott explained, “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. The men and women opened their house of worship to a stranger, what we should all strive to do, to share and learn in comfort without judgment, and became victims of a deep-seeded [sic] hatred…”

Charleston is called “The Holy City” because of the number of churches or church steeples visible in its downtown area. Additionally, the history of many of those buildings is remarkable. Mother Emanuel is the oldest AME church in the South and reportedly “houses the oldest black congregation” south of Baltimore. Similarly, Charleston is home to the oldest Jewish Synagogue and the oldest Unitarian Universalist Church in the South.

[Photo Credit: H. Greene] Angel Oak

Charleston breathes history. It cannot be escaped. The stones in the streets hold the secrets of generations. The ivy, which creeps up the historic buildings, have stories to tell. In a similar way to old southern port cities of New Orleans or Savannah, ancestors speak in the wind, tickling the Spanish moss that hangs from the live oaks. If you listen, the history of the land and all of its people can be heard – both the horrors and the joys. Within these grounds is the famous Angel Oak, one of the oldest trees on the East Coast. It has stood witness to all of this history for over 500 years. Like the city’s modern day residents, the Oak is now adding another chapter to Charleston’s story.

As the shock wore off and people began to react, the city surprised the nation. South Carolina resident Holli Emore, director of Cherry Hill Seminary, said, “The people of Charleston – really all of South Carolina – did the opposite of what the shooter anticipated. We came together, in love, in pride, in humility and compassion.” Like Tyanna, Emore knew one of victims, Senator Clementa Pinckney. She added, “So many parts of the web of connections [are] now broken and tangled, so much sadness.”

But by Sunday, Mother Emanuel reopened for service. Thousands of people arrived to listen. People of all races, ethnicities, and religions. Despite the soaring temperatures, the city was packed, and buses were running to and from the historic area just to help ease traffic. Emore’s husband, Clyde Roberts, works for the American Red Cross. He has been stationed downtown to assist for several days. He recalled seeing the owner of a local events management company set up tents around town in order to help bring shade to the thousands of people at the vigils and services. People brought water and food supplies. The entire city was trying to come together, making new connections and untangling old ones.

On Sunday night, the crowds walked across the iconic Charleston bridge, coming from both sides to meet in the middle. Roberts and Emore speculate that there were 15,000 people in the area that night. Emore said, “Charlestonians are proud that they have come together.”  All of those people that we interviewed expressed the same feeling. Tyanna said that the population is showing “unity and forgiveness” in the face of this violence. She added, “The overall feeling went from shock to one of racial harmony.”

[Courtesy H. Emore] Pagan Prayer Service in Charleston 2015

Along with the Emanuel opening, there was a city-wide call for all faith groups to hold their own services at the same time. Priestess SIRI of Coven Earthbound decided to take up that call and hosted an open Pagan ritual in Wannamaker County Park in North Charleston. She said, “There were many opportunities to go and pray throughout the Charleston area. There didn’t seem to be anyone stepping up to do a Pagan prayer service so I felt called to do so. I felt it was important for us as Pagans to express our love for the victims, their families and their church.”  It was well-attended and even attracted a few onlookers. She said, “We rang our bells in unison as I spoke the names and ages of each victim one by one … ”

[Courtesy H. Emore] Priestess Siri (in blue) leads Pagan Prayer Service

Emore attended this event and noted that one of the participants said, “[AME]’s black community is showing us all what should be done. We have so much to learn.” Another women stood up and said, “We didn’t do this. But we’ve all been part of this happening. I want to apologize for my ancestors role in making this happen.” Emore said there were many tears.

These expressions of unity continued as the days progressed. Scott said, “I as a community leader am so very proud of my Pagan community as well as the Charleston community as a whole. We have not let such a malicious act of vile bigotry divide us … Our spirituality is deeply treasured and it will be the rock that we continue to stand on to rise above this tragedy.”

SIRI said, “We are Charleston Strong.”

Charleston’s small size, its living history and its mark as ‘The Holy City’ are all part of the magic that is helping to bind its people together. Tyanna said, “I hear so many things happening it is very hard to keep track, but what’s important is everybody is showing solidarity.”

Like the others interviewed, she used the word “pray” multple times. Tyanna said, “I pray for the victims and their families. I also pray for the family of Mr. Roof. Most people don’t understand why but you must realize that they are victims too. Although they did not pull the trigger to some people they are guilty by association. Not that [they] are all completely without blame …. but there are family members who are. I haven’t been Christian in a very long time, but I do remember that the Bible teaches forgiveness.”

As the city came together in prayer and in compassion, another issue bubbled to the surface in the wake of the discussions on racially-charged violence. There was immediate call to take down the Confederate flag from the State Capitol. Since Friday, there have been numerous “take down the flag” rallies in Columbia, South Carolina. Emore and other local Pagans attended one event saying, “it was beautiful and moving … People were embracing, smiling, weeping.”

Tyanna has joined a newly formed group called “Bring it down.” She said that, in the year 2000, a similar rally would have had 50% or less of its attendees supporting the removal of the flag. Now that number is much higher. Tyanna added that, in recent days, corporations, such as NASCAR, Amazon, eBay, and WalMart, have banned products with the flag or publicly distanced themselves from it.

The Confederate flag is a part of the South’s past, in various incarnations. NPR has published a short, but detailed, look at that timeline. As a native Southerner Scott said, “I for one am a member, as well as the other women in my family, of the Daughters of the Revolution and Daughters of the Confederacy and the flag is part of my history. I cannot change that. I can only learn from it.” Scott believes that the flag does not need to be on “statehouse grounds” but rather in a museum.

Since the “bring it down” call was resurrected, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who is from a Sikh background, has spoken out in support of removing the flag from the State Capitol. And, just yesterday, Alabama’s governor took down the Confederate flag from its State Capitol. A number of other Southern states have reportedly proposed phasing out the symbol on licenses plates.

Despite this growing movement to retire the Confederate flag to the annals of history, there are still many who disagree, either saying that its a piece Southern heritage or saying that its removal will not fix any social problems or stop racism. The conversation is on-going.

[Courtesy Photo] South Carolina Pagan Tyanna

While there is still real lingering fear, especially among black residents and churches, Charleston and the people of South Carolina seem driven to continue supporting each other in the healing process as the victims are given private and public services. There have been two charities set up to help the families and Mother Emanuel. Around the country, many religious groups have been staging regular services and memorials devoted specifically to the Church and the victims.

Tyanna advised Pagans outside of South Carolina, “Help where you can. Join rallies; attend services. Do what you think is helpful and kind.” She said that a difference of religion shouldn’t stop you. “You aren’t helping another faith. You are just helping people.” And, Tyanna’s words express perfectly what the people of Charleston want the rest of the country to hear and see. They are “Charleston strong” in prayer, in compassion, in love, in respect, and in support of each other for social justice, peace, change, and growth into the future. The city is not perfect but its their city.

In honor of the lives of those killed:

Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons Sr and Myra Thompson.

What is remembered, lives.

 

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Pagan Spirit Gathering 2015: Stories from the Flood and the Aftermath

Tue, 2015-06-23 10:04

EARLVILLE, Illinois – On Sunday June 14, the opening day of a week long Pagan festival called Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), it stormed at the Stonehouse Farm campground as it had done all the previous week. Then on the following Monday afternoon, a flash flood hit the camp. Cars and trucks were engulfed in mud and water up to their axles. People had to abandon their tents and spend the night in other attendees’s tents that were located on higher ground. They were cold, worried, and many had only the clothes on their backs.

Then it rained some more. The next morning, Tuesday, attendees were stunned to hear the announcement: Pagan Spirit Gathering was shutting down five days early. Everyone had to leave within 48 hours. This had never happened in the 35 year history of the Pagan camping festival.

Pagan Spirit Gathering 2014 [Photo Credit: F. Edwards-Miller]

Pagan Spirit Gathering is the biggest, and arguably most well-known, of the Pagan camping festivals. It lasts a full week and is sponsored by Circle Sanctuary. Beginning in 1980, PSG attracts over a thousand attendees, and it hosts over 400 events.

The decision to close the festival wasn’t made lightly. PSG is the primary fundraiser for Circle Sanctuary. It’s also a very important place for the over 1000 attendees, who go to spiritually recharge for the coming year, to participate in workshops and classes, and to meet up with friends they only see at this event. The PSG merchants, musicians, and food vendors hope to make a portion of their year’s income at the event.

Yet when the extent of the flooding was seen, complete with animal and human waste mixed into the water and with more rain and storms in the forecast, the decision was clear. The festival was over and everyone needed to evacuate as quickly as possible. It would be a Herculean effort and PSG would need to do this on their own. No outside relief agencies would be assisting.

[Photo Credit: L. Dake]

During the flash flood, one third of the camp had to be moved to another area within 2 hours. Volunteers helped those in the flood path take what they could and move to higher ground. Food, water, and shelter had to be found for the roughly 200 to 300 people who had been displaced for the night. Circle helped direct it, but it was other attendees who gave those people a place to sleep, fed them, and hugged them.

All of the cars in the flooded parking lot had to be moved. The water was still rising and the mud was getting deeper. Dozens of volunteers spent the entire afternoon and evening on Monday pushing cars and trucks out of the mud, mostly by brute force. Several cars couldn’t be moved and were a total loss. Other cars were initially able to be moved, but later were also declared damaged.

Tents and a camper were destroyed by falling tree branches and trees. Countless gear and personal items ruined. Fortunately, with all that damage, no one was seriously injured. Water was rising up over the lip of tents, filling them with a mixture of water, mud, and sewage. People were wet, tired, and uncertain what the morning would bring.

And yet, that night there was singing. There was drumming. There was love and gratitude.

Here’s what happened at PSG as told by the people who were there. They share how the attendees and volunteers came together and lived this year’s theme – “Celebrating Community.” They’ll also describe the emotions felt now that most of them are back home. When possible, we’ve noted where the attendee was camping, which you can find on the map below.

The pink was under water at one point, everything else was ankle- to knee-deep in mud. The green section became an island. By Bob Paxton of Circle Sanctuary

 

Excited for the Festival
For many attendees, going to a festival like PSG is the only time they are able to participate in community rituals. It may the only time they are able to be openly Pagan. For others, it’s a time to learn more about practicing their religion, either by attending workshops or through one on one conversations with people they look up to as mentors. When attendees enter PSG they are traditionally greeted with the phrase, “Welcome home!” because they are entering their spiritual home and are now with their tribe, even if they arrive not knowing a single soul.

JE, 4th time attendee, Rainbow Camp:
“After my very first year I vowed to do everything in my power to return every year. I was particularly looking forward to this year. I had started a new job in August as a Manager of a truck stop. It’s good work, and I enjoy it. However, over the months I had let mundania get the best of me. My spiritual side was lacking, my connections weak. I hadn’t done a proper ritual in ages, it seemed. I wanted to be rekindled by the bonfire, the drums, and of course, the tribe. I had to put in a lot of hours before PSG in order to make it happen, and indeed I wasn’t even sure it would be possible to pull off with only 2 days of personal time. Determination, and a good boss, prevailed and I registered us with only a few days to spare.”

Beth Yoder-Balla, PSG Coordinator
“I had surgery at the end of last year and ended up having to use all my vacation time. I had to work loads of overtime to be able to go to PSG. The day I got my gate pass, I burst into tears because I wasn’t sure I should go because of my health issues and a strained relationship with my campmate, but I decided the pros still outweighed the cons and I went.”

Eric Eldritch, attendee
“I had just come through a huge wave of interfaith and pagan ministry work … [I] carefully reserved time for co-coordinating PSG’s 35th Anniversary Main Ritual and teaching two classes Masks of the Divine and Generations. I put my all into honoring PSG with classes and ceremony. The expectation for an amazing magical weekend was something I could feel as tangible.”

Edmund Zebrowski, 4th time attendee, RV land
“This was my fourth PSG at the Stonehouse location and the second time to have encountered the rains and winds common to a late midwest Spring. This was the first year that I came in from out of state, as well as the first time renting an RV for the week of the trip. Several months back I moved to Boston and my boyfriend, now finance’, were flying in to meet with several friends for our traditional week of fun at PSG.”

Three Rivers Pagans
“[We] had a contingency of six, three that were 1 year veterans, and three virgins.  The veterans had told the virgins what to expect, what might happen, and what they would see that was vastly different than our conservative town has to offer.  For some, it could be quite the culture shock.  There’s no judgement at PSG, from how you want to dress to how you practice your faith.  There’s no “you’re doing it wrong”.  People actually ask how you are doing and they mean it.  They also pitch in to help when something happens.”

Saturday: Merchants set up

Tracie Sage Wood, Merchant
“When we first got there, to tell you the truth, it was a clusterfuck. You could feel the tension in the air. it wasn’t a ‘welcome home’ sigh of relief, I got emotional right away, feeling it. They couldn’t put trailers in RV camp because of the mud … I’m a vendor with electric, and couldn’t put my small camper in my site. I need electric for my husband’s c-pap machine, and was told “oh, well” by a high person in charge, but later was found a site. It was a foreboding of things to come. I almost turned around at that point and left, this feeling of impending doom was so strong.”

Beth Yoder-Balla, PSG Coordinator
“We got there a day early due to being coordinators [for PSG]. The first night,we lost my daughter’s tent when it took on water.”

Lori Dake, Merchant
“When we arrived at the gates around 1pm, I made [my son] Ryan get out and ring the virgin bell. We found our merchant spot, which I got a double this year, and I started setting up. We unloaded the car, got the canopies up, and we draped the tarp over [the canopies], but that was about it. At that point, we go to set up everything, including pushing Ryan to make sure his tent was up too, because I knew even more rain was predicted that night. And just as his tent was fully pitched, the rain came … and a battle to save our mostly-constructed campsite was on.

“At around 11:30pm, I … went to sleep … in the back of the car. I don’t know how much later, but I was awoken by beams of light piercing through the car window, which is when I heard the rain pounding again. It turned out that Guardians had come by and noticed my campsite had taken a turn for the worst…everything was just about ready to come crashing down. So, they said the best course of action was to move everything to one side under the newer canopy/tarp/car setup and gently lay down the old side. After that, I slept. Hard.”

*   *   *

A “widow maker” branch above Lori Dake’s tent. photo by Lori Dake

Sunday: The Gates Open

Edmund Zebrowski, 4th time attendee, RV land
“After flying in at the insanely early hour of 6:05 a.m., we were picked up at the airport and headed to breakfast and our Second Sunday Tarot Meet-Up before getting to Stonehouse. The day was sunny and we were in high spirits that the move in would be a dry one. Once at the site of PSG we were informed that we might not be able to get the RV that we had being delivered for us back to the area that was set up with electric and water. Through the grace of The Gods and with the full knowledge that if we got stuck while getting the RV in that we were on our own to get it out, we managed to secure a spot for our home away from home. Sunday night came and despite the camp roads already being 2-3 inches deep in mud, we all had a great time. This was the first PSG for several of my friends, a few of whom were tenting out in the high mound in the back of Quiet Camp. We walked around and for the most part things looked like they were going to go just fine.”

Lori Dake, Merchant, Merchant area
“Well, some folks came by, one by one, and told us to look up. That’s when we saw [a large dead branch hanging above us]. Yeah, so there’s that. I mentioned it to several PSG important-type people to see what could be done about it …About an hour or so later, PSG coordinators asked me to move across the street to the single slot. I was a little grumpy about that, losing a whole slot, but what was I going to do? … Everything got moved over with a bit of help …And then – more rain. I made sure everything was secure, and I said screw it to go hang out with Judy and Nels for a gin and tonic. I was halfway through my cocktail when the rain started coming down in buckets. I helped them get their stuff tied down, then I ran back to my spot. And wouldn’t you know it? It all came down. More poles bent. Stakes pulled up. And, the canopy I had left, one of the legs was bent inward …We released the tarps to keep things dry and sat in the car with the heat on to dry off. I felt like a complete failure and totally defeated.”

JE, 4th time attendee, Near the pond
“We left later than intended Sunday … When we arrived it was beautiful setup weather with plenty of blue sky, and I was quite thankful. We camped by the willow in roughly the same spot we’ve taken the last two years. Since people were getting stuck, we were told to leave our SUV at our site for now. After setting up we “made the rounds” and connected with old friends, and made a few new ones right away. We got back to our site as the opening meeting at the pavilion was taking shape. The drumming! We could see it across the pond, and listened as the … as we were still figuring out how to secure all of the sidewalls of our new canopy system before the rains started.

“I was watching the meeting when something caught my eye. To the south, a funnel cloud formed and stretched halfway down to the ground. It only lasted about five minutes, but it was a bit concerning. Luckily, it never appeared to touch down. It dissipated, and then the rains came. Anyway, after the rains had let up, Josh and I wandered a bit wondering if the procession would happen. The opening ritual was as fantastic as always. I wanted to join in the dancing, but we were quite tired from lack of sleep and turned in early.”

Funnel cloud sighted over Stonehouse Farm. Photo by JE

Carla, attendee with children, Quiet Camp
I had been to a few PSGs. Three adults and six kids meant lots of gear, and before I go any further, I want to thank everyone that helped Rain and I get the gear out of camp while my sister watched the kids in the aftermath of the flood … The rain had held off all of Sunday while we set up camp. By evening, Rain and I were pretty much spent and watched opening ceremony with the kids from our site across the pond … Shortly into opening ceremony, the first deluge hit, scattering everyone … That night and the following day brought more rain, but the real torrent was yet to come.”

Elise, attendee, age 13
“It was my first year there, I came on Sunday and it seemed a lot of fun. There was so much to do there! I went with my family, my aunt with my cousins and her friend with her kids.  It would rain for around five minutes then it would be so hot. It was muddy too, I always had to take off my flip flops, it didn’t bother me until I stepped of a sharp rock.”

Eric Eldritch, attendee, Rainbow Camp
“Before leaving I got word that the whole week was going to be filled with rain. As a precaution, we brought umbrellas and bought contractor grade heavy duty bags as back up.  When we arrived we set up as high as we could in Rainbow Camp and Twist left for Chicago. From our first welcome meeting, were instructed about separate evacuation and tornado signals and that meeting was cut short by a downpour. I weathered that first bout just fine. With the help of friends I readjusted tarps and was ready for the next rain to come down. But I wasn’t prepared for water to rise up.”

Bryan O’Dell, First time attendee
“[Sunday] I even got to be the first to ring the virgin bell. I went and began setting up my camp, which had already been partially done as my partner was on setup so she had our tent already staked up. The rest of our group arrived and set up. I went to park my van and immediately got stuck in the mud, as it had rained rather intensely the night prior. It was stuck for some time, needing to be pulled out and parked separately. After that I met up with my partner and our group went down to the pond for some together time and to enjoy being home. That night and the next morning was pretty fantastic seeing friends and meeting new ones.”

Bill Wheaton, attendee, Quiet Camp
“My companions crashed early … so I got the candle lantern … and trucked on over to the main opening ritual where the fire that is kept burning all week was laid and waiting for the spark of life. I arrived a hair late, but in time to honor the elements and the directions, the kindling of the fire, and witness the charge given to the Guardians – the people, duty bound to protect the land, the spirits, and the people attending the gathering.  It was quite ritualized and participatory and beautiful. As we gathered closer in, sharing candle lights and sparks we began to dance the circle round – faster people in the center, slower, stumblers like me on the outside – all ages just dancing around a fire to the beat of 20 people on drums.

“It was so magical. I had finally arrived! PSG was unfolding before my eyes, and I was with my people. People who I had met last year, people who I met online in between. Faces that would have names and stories to share before long.  But not yet … There there was just enough time to get back to my tent to put on dry socks and don my new dairy boots. Those boots were a life saver … At 11pm, and we were all gathered waiting for Arthur [Hinds] to begin. … Selena and Dennis arrived, and then Kathryn showed up!  Wonderful songs and stories of Welsh heroes and weird births and magic enchantments and an invite to finish up the story the next day. Afterwards we mingled and hugged the latecomers and then I high tailed it back to what we would soon call ‘the island.'”

Monday: Flash Flood Hits

Three Rivers Pagans:
“Monday brought more downpours and a lot of mud. As a Tribe, we became mud people, trudging everywhere through it, our feet covered to our ankles. Shortly after 5 pm on Monday, the word came through: we were going to flood … Guardians … were assembled, along with anyone that could help. Cars and tents were in the floodplain and it wasn’t going to be long before they were underwater. A dam upstream was going to be opened to let water out of Shabbona Lake and we were in the path of that water. It was time to move.

“Teams fanned out, calling out to people to move their cars if they were in the lower parking lot. Some of them were stuck, but people volunteered to push, pull, and drag them out of the mud and rising waters … Hours later, a mere 8 cars were left, their owners unknown. Many of them were totaled … People who were camped on the lower end of the campground around the pond and Grandmother Willow were helped to high ground. Many had to leave their belongings behind, watching as the water rose and engulfed everything they brought with them, leaving a sludge of mud coating most everything. I helped direct traffic for a while … I watched as people lugged up their tents and whatever they could carry, a look of shock on all of their faces…

“At the TRP camp …  We were on the edge of the flood zone and we needed to get to safety …We had a mere fifteen minutes to grab what we could and find our way to higher ground. It was hard, I’m not going to lie. I set our virgins on a path that I knew would take them away from the flooding, but I stayed behind. Two members of our camp had gone to move cars and I didn’t know where they were. When one of them returned, we ran, praying to the Goddess that the last missing member was safe with guardians. When she met up with us later, she had been helping push out cars from the mud, but she was safe. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was take three people who did not know the terrain and send them to safety, not knowing where they were when I made the trek myself. Monday night we were able to return to camp.  We were very waterlogged, muddy, and a mess, but everything was ok.  We were alive, together, and could support each other.”

Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]

JE, 4th time attendee, Near the pond
“We headed back to the site and secured everything, ready to ride out the storm with some fun activities. We started hearing sirens around the camp. At first we thought it was a medical emergency. But then the sirens came this way. At first the communication was mixed and garbled; a suggestion to leave due to a possibility. We didn’t know what to do; should we stay and ride out the storm in our setup? Pack up everything and relocate? If so, to where? … Then the word came. Grab what you can and get out. … Most of our items were in totes, so we grabbed the totes and threw them in the back of the SUV along with the duffle bag with our clothes, and the cooler with all of our food (and booze!). ….

“We realized the scope of the situation when we were finally moved out and saw the green for the first time. Wow … Then we heard that they were trying to push cars out of the parking field that was flooding. I rallied Josh and we headed that way. Originally we were told that there were enough people there at that time, but we needed to get the word out for people to come get their cars. So, I used my heralding skills I got last year and did my best to spread the word. We then went back to the field. An incredible site to see cars in that much water. Many people were already there helping, and more were arriving. A few of the cars were actually floating as they were being pushed out. The rallying cry became “keys!” when someone arrived with them. “Pushers!” when and where they were needed, splitting the workload between the field and the edge of the green. It was surreal. The pictures tell the tale quite well.

“After we rescued all that we could, we found our way to gate camp to talk to the troll. We were taken in and cared for by the whole group. They let us use their shower, gave us water and mead, paper towel to clean up.They were all very nice. We cleaned up and relaxed for a while before retiring to the back of the SUV for a poor night’s sleep. On the way, we went over to the road leading to the quieter area. The road was washed out under a river leading into the pond, and the pond was growing wider and wider. It was beyond belief.”

Attendees push cars out of the mud in the parking area now known as “Lake Keys.” Photo by Heike Feller

Rain, attendee, Quiet Camp
“ ‘Flash floods! Grab your valuables and get to your car!’ these were the words that would turn what was a fun and relaxing day at my first PSG, into an utter nightmare. I was making dinner for the kids in our 3 family camp, so with a spatula in one hand and a tortilla in the other, I looked from the creek to the pond confused. “Do you need any help?” which would be the words I would hear over and over in the next 24 hours. I ran to my tent to see what I could save, I closed the totes, threw anything loose on the air mattresses and stared at my children (3 & 9) and the other children (5,9,11&13) standing under the canopy looking bewildered and crying. I could vaguely hear the conversations outside but I did hear a guardian tell my son to take care of his little sister and little brother and for the kids to help their moms.

When the crying became louder and more fearful, I heard a guardian say “now listen to uncle… it will be ok, I’m here” Assured that they were in good hands, I grabbed my keys and started to grab my drum when the wind blew so hard it pulled the tarp right off my tent and the poles to the ground. I’d decided that there was absolutely nothing more valuable in my tent than my children standing outside. I closed up my tent and looked around at the mess we’d left outside, my friend Denise’s daughter (13) asked if she could take my kids to the truck and without hesitation I let her and watched her run off in the rain. Denise and I secured camp as much as we could in the little time we had, while Carla fed the creek and asked it to spare us. I can honestly say that I don’t know what all was happening around me, my focus was secure camp and get out!

“With the wind howling and the rain pouring down, I’d made the decision that it was just time to leave. Once in my car I watched those around me scurrying to close up their camps, I white knuckled the steering wheel and waited for someone to tell me to leave. The children were eerily quiet in the back seat, the pulse in my ears was maddening, I was unable to hear the announcements so I called over a guardian to confirm if we could leave or if we had to stay. I was told that they weren’t ready for everyone to go and I told him I had small children and I really wanted to just go to safer ground. Once I had been given the ok, I backed out and immediately got stuck in the mud, but with the assistance of several people, I was pushed out of the mud and onto the road. I looked over and saw my friends with their kids huddled together by their car, so my assumption was that they were on their way, too. Slowly making my way down the muddy road, first to head out, I believe. I’d made the decision that it was best to just leave entirely. I stopped momentarily to call my friends to check on their safety, but I didn’t want to get parked in, so I headed out.

“Fortunately I live relatively close so I left PSG and took my children home to safety, as I got closer to home I pulled over and called Carla and she told me that she was stuck in the teen center pavilion and couldn’t get an answer on her sister’s phone, I’d offered to come back and get her kids, but she had opted to stay … I worried about them, I worried about Renee and her son (4) who was camped only one camp over, I was relieved to hear from all of them and to hear their experiences. Carla, Denise and Renee had all ended up waiting the storm out in the pavilion, close to their children and other families who had been displaced. They eventually were able to get their cars pushed out of the mud, Carla and Denise went to Carla’s house, but Renee had to ride out the storm. Renee was able to walk back to camp with her wagon and drag her things back to her car, she ended up taking refuge in someone’s camper. While scary for all of us, our children were safe, our cars were out of the mud and we were out of immediate danger.”

Carla, attendee, Quiet Camp
“We had all the kids in the cars and Rain managed to get hers out of the area and up the hill thinking that my sister and I were right behind her, but my car was blocked in so I went back to the tent one last time to save a toy my son was screaming for. When I returned back to the car, we were being told to abandon them and get to higher ground immediately, so the six of us ran to the pavilion where we watched until the rain had let up a bit. After a while, it looked like all the cars except ours had been moved. I said to my sister that if we were going to get the cars out and get the kids home, we needed to go try right now while there were still helpers down there. We left the kids in the pavilion which was now itself flooded because of a temporarily blocked drain with orders to my thirteen year old niece to keep the kids with the group up there.

“With the help from our tribe that was still down there, we got the cars back on the road and were headed up the hill. My sister made it up just fine, but I was stopped by the big field and told to pull over to make way for trucks that needed to get through with the promise that they would push me out if I got stuck. I tried to reach my sister, but her cell phone was dead, and after what seemed like an eternity waiting for these trucks that never came, I asked to be pushed out, knowing that my kids must be frantic not knowing where I was since they couldn’t see my car. Finally reaching the pavilion, we left camp for the night knowing that there would be no way of returning to there until at least morning and figuring that it was nine less people to worry about for everyone else.”

Renee, attendee, Quiet Camp
“I was camped over by the sweat lodge facing the creek. We were called to evacuate, taking only essentials. The teenagers came over to help us load. … Once I had what I thought I needed, we sat in the car-which was running, while the rain was pouring down and the creek was rising. Cars were already being pushed out. This was my first sense of being trapped. I had to wait in my car as the waters rose, unable to move in any direction for the other cars to get out. I waited, sobbing, and pointlessly sending out distraught texts to my sister and husband.

“It came to be my turn, and a lot of people with their cheerful faces and positive attitude gave me the assurances I needed and they pushed my car out of there, got me turned around and … I just followed that truck, through the river that was running between the green and the pond. She parked up at the stage, and I parked there, too. When we both rolled our windows down, it turned out that she had been following the one in front and we weren’t actually being directed by any person on the roadway. She and I were both crying. We left our cars and hugged. This was the first time I had met J., although, I was on her tail, praying for her leadership the whole way out. I met J.’s campmates at this point, and we stayed in touch on and off until we left …

“Moonfeather and Selena Fox came to the pavilion. They explained about the reservoir and said, now we could go back over there on foot and get anything we could. I had my child’s red wagon with me, and I proceeded to make 4 trips barefoot (the water was up to my calves, and I couldn’t get a foothold with my shoes). I used bungees and ropes to hold everything onto that child’s toy. On the 2nd trip back, I saw that my car was parked in by a trailer! Again, I was trapped … I had baked and decorated a cake for the potluck, this I shared with those in the pavilion. I was offered a spot in a trailer … I was lucky for offer, and her trailer was warm, high, dry, and quiet for the night. My kid was fascinated with all the gadgets in the trailer, the stove, microwave, toilet, the folding table.”

Area near workshop #10. Nearby tree fell on a camper, crushing it. photo by Michelle Johnson Walach

Tracie Sage Wood
“My husband [was] watching the weather minute by minute on his phone. He started receiving the emergency alerts Monday morning…flash flood warnings… and we thought… what are the disaster plans that should be in place for a place like this? I went to vend, and told one guardian [to] let whoever is in charge of the guardian’s know…flash flood coming… well… nobody did anything. I later heard they knew, but rather than alarm people, they hoped it would go around us. This was the most dangerous, stupid thing I’ve ever seen. Because of this, at the last minute, it was mass evacuation…

“There was no reason for chaos and it was chaos  …  hey could have told everyone in the field it’s coming and we think you should move, and we have people to help you … there would have been no rush. The thing that saved everyone is the tribe, not the guardians or the people in charge. The tribe itself jumped in to help everyone else. people out in the weather helping neighbors move, giving them dry towel, clothes, food.”

Elise, age 13
“Monday, around the afternoon, my aunt’s friend from PSG came over and told her there was a flood warning, I heard little about [what] they were talking about. [A] couple minutes later when we were starting to eat, three guys told us we had to leave and pack up. Ten or five minutes later it started to rain really hard, all the little kids were freaking out. I carried one of the kids, my aunts friends and the older brother was leading me to the car. I told him to keep his sister calm. I helped as much as I could and tried to stayed calm too. We put stuff in the tents and put the stuff we need in car..

“Some of the people were telling us to leave and some were saying to stay, it was confusing. Then one of the helpers was bringing me and my brother to the tween center. They were asking if we were hungry, cold or okay. We started to see cars so my mom and aunt tried to get the cars out. They put me in charge because I’m the oldest. We got out safely and went to my aunts house for the week. My aunt and her friend brought the stuff back and brought other friends so they had a place to sleep. I heard a lot of people got flooded …”

Eric Eldritch, attendee, Rainbow Camp
“I hurriedly sorted and protected non essential replaceable stuff into contractor lawn bags and piled everything that could stay, or be lost, on queen side cot bed. I grabbed essentials … It was hard to convince myself that it would be alright, I had experienced the deluge of campsites swept away in a flash flood years ago at Four Quarters. I was shocked by that devastation and wanted no repeat experience. No time to think about that I was in grab and go, and the pelting rain was jolting me to reality. When I look at the flooded fields and campsites, even the pictures, I get a catch in my breathe. This storm was expansive, extensive, exceeding expectations.

“As the rain pelted, I made trips to convey my essentials near the road. Trudging and slipping up the road in the slick mud, several folks grabbed a bag, lightened my load and pieced together a plan with each slippery step. I had nowhere to go, just up and out. It was confusing, truely confusing. Where are you going? Where are you staying? I had to trust others for those answers, I had never been displaced in that kinda rush. I had never been helped so selflessly. I experienced being swept away in wave of love and help. I was in the midst of what Selena calls out over and over again year after year. She invoked the reality of “P-S-G Community!” After finding shelter in an RV, I sloshed out to help others and to document the car evacuation with pics and video. The mobilization of support and direction was in full gear. I felt relief. Help was being coordinated in a good way.”

Michael Greywolf, 5th year attendee, Rainbow Camp
“Our car was parked right down the hill from Rainbow Camp, so we quickly threw everything into it. As we were running things to the car it started to rain, and it was coming down hard. As soon as we had finished my partner told me they were only letting one person per car move them. I had my partner go and I stayed behind to help where I could. The rain was still coming down very strong and everyone was getting soaked. The Guardians and coordinators were directing people to move their cars to higher ground. Volunteers were helping to push as many of the stuck cars as we could out of the mud. There were a couple of instances where we had to help a couple of people gather up their belongings and toss them into their cars …The frantic and chaotic energy from the whole situation was making me very tense and a bit scared.

“While there we helped where we could, my partner was running errands for a few people and I was comforting my ‘adopted’ niece … She was scared and I did the best I could to keep her comfortable. As we were sitting in the pavilion we could see groups of people moving whole tents from the area that was going to be flooded. We saw people pulling wagons of gear, and trucks hauling possessions and people to higher ground. One of her moms’ finally returned and took over comforting her daughter. When I returned to Rainbow Camp I could see the water was covering the road and it was coming up to my thigh. Several tents had been moved to higher ground and the parking area in front of us had been cleared. …The energy had kinda calmed a bit, people were laughing, cheering and congratulating each other for all the work we had done as a community. After that I returned to my tent, we were well above the rising water and passed out.”

Tents in standing water in the background. Area called the Green where rituals were held. Photo by Sarah Kaczmarek

Bill Wheaton, attendee, on The Island (former Quiet Camp)
“Right before sunset around 8:30, the rain stopped. We had been watching it on radar, and the pittance coming behind it wouldn’t do much more. The lake to our north that was threatening to open its levies was actually getting less rain that we were getting, so we were really doubting that would happen. However, Indian creek had already breached and drained into the meadow and the causeway past the pond was a waterfall. …The Guardians told us over and over to move. I realized that even though we might be safe, that I was causing turmoil and real concern to those charged with protecting us. I realized that if I was wrong, and someone had to come rescue us then they might be injured or worse. … I decided to take the last opportunity to leave before The Peninsula became The Island. And now I was a refugee.

“The town was surprisingly up-beat. Not knowing what else to do I dropped by Kathryn’s & Arthur’s tent and chatted. Eventually, it got around to “So where will you go?” I was stunned. I had not even thought of it. I was still reeling from the frenzy of staying so long on the island, and pretty worried about my companions …  Kathryn offered me the back of their van which I gladly filled with my bedding. I was still wired though and walked to the fire circle, and then onto the new waterfront. There were parties going on in shuttered vendor tents out of the final rain. I stopped by the EnCHANTment tent and joined voices with them to sing the most powerful chants I have ever done before. Everything was going to be ok.”

Bryan O’Dell, first time attendee
“I joined the efforts to help push and maneuver cars into the high ground of RV land. The next few hours went on like this: parking somewhere between nine and fifteen vehicles. During that time a nice lady offered us some chili, but we were still moving vehicles. So were unable to take her up on the offer …. I continued to help push vehicles and then when done helped moved items out of the rain. One of the people I was with insisted on me getting some Gatorade. Which they escorted me to the med tent so I could partake. … After staying there for a bit [a medic] noticed I looked a bit peaked and asked me when the last time I ate was. Upon examination, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything except a protein shake that morning at eight am, it was now past eight pm. I remembered the chili from earlier and went to inquire about it. It had been given to the teens just prior my arrival, but the lovely woman cooked me up a quick meal of eggs and potatoes. I was extremely grateful and shall be for years to come.

“After that I wandered back to camp. During the whole time I noticed some pretty amazing acts of heroism. People in our community doing anything and everything they could just to help out. To help out people they may or may not have known. It didn’t matter, the only thing that mattered was it was all hands on deck and from what I saw, no one had idle hands. The staff, both Circle and Stonehouse, zipping back and forth organizing everything they could to ensure the safety of all. Everyone else using whatever skill set they had to ensure everybody was taken care of. Yes, there were losses, but no one severely hurt and it could have been significantly worse. It was literally a natural disaster. I will always keep in my heart the amazing efforts and acts I saw, took part in and witnessed.”

Lori Dake, Merchant
“When the rain finally stopped enough for me to feel safe enough to lie down around 11pm, a friend was texting me about everything that was going on. As I was texting back, I heard some crackling and thought someone was shooting off fireworks. Very soon after, I heard walkie-talkies and Guardians talking about a tree falling down on a camper! My jaw dropped and I texted my friend about it, too. I then started hearing about people whose cars were trapped and now drowned in the newly formed lake, since named Lake Keys, we had seen rising behind us during our potluck and food hand-out. Even though I was exhausted, and my feet were soaking wet down to the bone, wrapped up in several blankets, I prayed for the best outcome that no one was hurt. Once again, I do not remember going to sleep.”

Tuesday – PSG Closes – stage 1 of evacuation

Three Rivers Pagans
Tuesday morning, our traditional morning meeting was mandatory. It was announced that we all had to leave. PSG 2015 was over. It was time to go home … I looked around as the realization hit everyone … The land could not support us in its waterlogged state. The shower house was overrun with water as was the septic system. It was no longer safe for us to stay. I spent the day organizing camp slowly, not aware of my own feelings yet.  I was shell shocked.

Lori Dake, Merchant
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a sad morning at PSG, but on this day, most everyone was pretty down. The vibe was a sad, anxious, with people eager to compare notes and share what they have heard. Lots of rumors were going about. Some were saying PSG was going to cancel. Others were talking about wanting refunds. Branches, like the one I had over my head, had indeed crashed through people’s’ campsites. Some people said their neighbors did more than just evacuate to higher ground and went to a nearby hotel all together …

“Now usually at morning meeting, there’s a good amount of people there, but not that day. It was packed … Usually too, the bonfire dancing slows down just a touch after 10am, but at 10:20, it was still going strong, so I knew then they were going to cancel PSG. That dancing was the last hoorah. They were letting people have a little bit of fun before the bad news … [And] Arthur did NOT say “Good morning, PSG!” That too was a big hint.

“Before the…  bad news [was] announced at the meeting, Selena, Bob, Sharon and everyone else from Circle, thanked everyone for jumping in and helping. We were reminded that the nearby town of Paw Paw is three times bigger and would have called the police, fire department and National Guard to help, but we had done it all ourselves. That was certainly encouraging about the Spirit part of PSG. We really do care about each other, even if we don’t necessarily get along with or even like everyone else ….”

Rain, attendee, Quiet camp
“Tuesday morning Carla and I came back, the road to Quiet Camp was closed so we waded through ankle deep water past the sweat lodge to our camp that had been at least a foot under water the night before. We had mixed emotions as we saw that our camp was relatively unharmed, in spite of it all and that it wasn’t still under water. There were a few inches of water still in my tent, but for the most part other than some wet bedding and clothes, things were dry. The problem was then how do we take down 3 tents, 2 canopies and collect all of our gear and get it down a muddy road with 2 red wagons. Out of no where we hear those words again “do you need any help?” Yes! Volunteers came and took down our tents, helped packed our gear, loaded it all on tarps and dragged everything down to the clearing where more volunteers trucked everything to dry ground. It took us 7 hours to collect everything and get everything loaded to go home, but without those volunteers that I can’t thank enough, we might still be there packing gear or given up completely.”

Tracie Sage Wood
“The day after [the flood] was a true coming together. We put out  a table of food, as we were at the crosssroads across from the pond, and people dropped food off and ate as they needed to. some people shopped. some packed up. It was a beautiful day, looking at the tribe helping, and one of the most precious moments of my life. But it was the people and not the ones in charge that saved it. They dropped the ball … They should have alerted people sooner and let the people make the decision to move or not. They put people in danger.”

Michael Greywolf
“We had weathered the storm and it was going to be a lovely day. As the morning started to pass the heralds were going around saying that Morning Meeting was mandatory that day. My partner and I got there and did what you normally do at a Morning Meeting, drink your coffee and have a seat as the drummers drum and people dance around the fire. It was there that the Circle Board told us the heartbreaking news that PSG was going to be ending right after Morning Meeting. You could feel a wave of sadness pass over everyone who was there. The board members were in tears, in the 35 years of PSG history they had never had to do this. But they told us another line of storms was coming and the flood waters were going to get worse. They wanted us safe and keeping the festival going was going to put their tribe, their family in danger. So we started the packing process and still tried to make the most of the time we had left. Vendors stayed open and the artists who were supposed to be performing all week were giving little concerts. Not everyone was able to leave that day. Those who were left were sharing food with each other and fellowshipping as much as we could. We even had a concert and fire spinning. But the next day my partner and I had our car packed up and were on the road back to our apartment.”

Bill Wheaton
“That meeting is when my emotional magic carpet ride began. I do so love those people. It is exceedingly hard to explain to someone who has not been through it. I have always needed community, probably since I was a little kid. It gives me strength, and a sense of normalcy I can’t get any other way. When I don’t have it, everything is wonky and doesn’t work for me. They are my pack, my tribe. You can have your rugged individualism any day, but give me my herd or I die.

“The rest of the day was spent with the volunteers. There were tarps, tents, canopies to shake earthworms from. There were teams of strong lads hauling tarp-fulls of boxes, mattresses and water soaked gear across a muddy plain and filling pickup trucks time and again. There were cars to get unstuck. Eventually though it was my turn to leave. I was in phase 1 of the evacuation. According to the triage plan I had to leave quickly so that others could get out…”

Edmund Zebrowski
“[Tuesday] night the mandatory meeting was held up on the high ground of the pavilion were all the performers set to play that week gave an impromptu concert as a way to help the weary have some fun after a long day of helping others pack and getting cars out of the mud. Stories were told and dancing happened but while the tone was joyous it was bittersweet. That night more rains came. All night we could hear them on the roof. Our numbers were now down by half and the spirit of joy and happiness was not as present as we waited for the night and, hopefully, we would still be able to make it out.”

Three Rivers Pagans
“Tuesday night, we grieved. We partied. We drank. And we listened to some of the best music ever played. Bardapalooza happened in the pavilion and it was glorious. SJ Tucker, Celia Ferran, Mama Gina, Spiral Rhythm, and a host of others all lent voices and talent to keep us entertained and brighten our spirits. We were blessed to hear a beautiful story from Janet Farrar. Firespinners went all out on the only night they were going to get to spin.  And of course, there was drumming and dancing around the Sacred Fire.”

The Aftermath

As attendees made it back to their homes and logged into social media they expressed gratitude to the PSG staff and volunteers for their efforts to assist campers to safety. They noted that they witnessed a level of caring and love that they’ve seldom seen in their lives. They also expressed sadness at leaving PSG early; guilt for not helping more or for not having it as rough as others did. Anger and fear over lost cars, belongings, and experiences. Some have started having nightmares, anxiety, and spats of crying.

In talking with Anthony Rella, a Seattle mental health therapist, these reactions don’t appear to be uncommon for people who have lived through a natural disaster. Rella said, “What is happening sounds like very typical responses to trauma. Psychological trauma occurs in an overwhelmingly stressful situation in which one is unable to process all the emotions happening at once.” He went on to say that, although it sounds like the community did an amazing job of supporting each other and surviving the immediate trauma, now that the life-threatening crisis is over they are beginning to process their experience. He said that it’s not unusual for people to relive moments or feelings associated with such trauma.

Rella added that PSG wasn’t “just a festival” and the feelings aren’t just about the loss of money and belongings,  “…this festival holds an important place in the participants’ lives, there was a lot of emotional and financial investment in it, so to have been disrupted with this awful experience is definitely a trauma.” He said:

Intellectually most of us ‘know’ that terrible things happen every day, but we don’t always get this on an emotional level. If we were emotionally aware of the possible disasters we could encounter in our daily lives, we would be overwhelmed with fear and anxiety or constantly on edge, watching for danger, which is essentially what happens in full post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead, most of us live with a basic sense of safety and trust that nothing awful will happen to us, and most of the time it does not. When it does, however, then that emotional part of us becomes deeply aware of danger and loses touch with that basic sense of safety and security. When someone comes to expect this event every year as an important part of their lives, then it is a major loss of security to know that it could be, and in fact has been, disrupted like this. Then you add in the stress of these financial losses and losing “stuff” which probably also had personal meaning, that creates a lot of stress that needs to be attended to.

Rella noted that the best thing is to return to typical living activities as soon as possible, while also giving oneself permission to continue experiencing these distressing emotions. Friends and community members can give affected people the emotional safety to share whatever they want to share. “If a person who went through this shares their story with you, then do your best to listen … with compassion, validating their feelings and not trying to judge or fix their experience,” advised Rella.

KitKat shows off her new tattoo to commemorate the struggle at “Lake Keys.” Tattoo by Kidril Telrunya

JE
“The PSG facebook page lit up with stories of heroism, and stories of loss. My heart breaks for those that have lost so much. As Shouting Mountain put it a few days ago, we all experienced loss. Some lost experiences, some lost business, some lost tents, some even cars. However, NO ONE LOST LIFE. For a natural disaster to affect a concentrated group of 1000 people without modern infrastructure and no one to be seriously hurt or killed is surprising. Nature is going to do what she is going to do…but I still believe the Gods listened to our plea for consideration and safety. We truly demonstrated our intention of celebrating community. It was fantastic to see everyone pitching in and helping, everyone in their own ways.

“In the end, It’s not the way PSG is supposed to be. Instead of renewed, I feel drained. Instead of happy, I feel disheartened. Instead of rekindled, I feel numbed. I had hoped that typing all of this out over the course of 3 hours would help sort it all out for me. However, the experience was what it was. It will write a new chapter in the PSG history book, where the tribe connected in a way it had never before, and became stronger for the experience. … My immense thanks to the tribe, to the Guardians, to the teardown crew, Stonehouse staff, Circle Staff, and especially Moonfeather. The choices that were made were not made lightly, but they were made correctly. Blessed be.”

Rain
“This experience had brought a myriad of emotions, from fear to disappointment to gratitude and just like any other devastating experience; we are working through these feelings. Our children have amazingly bounced back due to kindness of the volunteers and those who were able to act quickly and with kindness. We are very thankful that everyone is able to say “we’ll see you at PSG 2016!” Community! #WeAreTribe”

Carla
“Someone pointed out that even though the week was abruptly ended, we still had our Rites of Passage. My niece who had been planning on her Young Womanhood initiation, more than earned it, keeping her younger brother, cousins, and Rain’s children safe in a crisis. The Hunt which was to happen Thursday night, happened all around us as people and property were rescued … Before my first time at PSG, the person who introduced it to me told me that PSG was as close as we could get to The Summerland on this plane of existence, which at the time I thought was a bit melodramatic. After my first PSG though, I also felt that way. We have been all mourning the loss of our week in The Summerland together, and some of us dealing with loss of property, but everyone came through this experience safe from harm, and for that I am so thankful this Solstice morning. I have never been so proud of my tribe, or so thankful to all of them. We will have many more weeks in The Summerland together, but this one cemented us together … as the saying now goes, ‘been there, survived the flood, bought the tshirt ‪#‎WeAreTribe‬‘”

Tracie Sage Wood
“Thinking about this from a lessons learned, other than the complete lack of disaster planning, it was a lesson for us pagans, for the community. We’ve become so regimented. … Many of our rituals have become huge theatrical productions that I come away from feeling nothing. After the morning meeting where we were told we were closing up, Selena had an impromptu healing ritual … for people and the earth. Everyone that was left there was hugging in a circle, and crying… THAT was community. That was the first ritual there where I felt the energy, and felt the love. Perhaps we need to get back to our roots. to a more spontaneous group effort at things … everyone eating together, singing together…helping each other. I feel closer to my tribe than I ever have.”

Eric Eldritch
“As a community, I’ve learned far more than I ever could imagine about the resilience and reliance on community. Online I read a PSG post saying ‘Is it natural to feel guilt about wanting to stay and help out some more, but having to leave?’ I learned about how torn I was to stay or leave. I decided to follow the need to follow disaster coordinator’s lead and help from afar. It was important to have people on the outside responding to emails, texts and posts to keep up morale while the evacuation rolled out. Pulling together onsite and offsite gave a sense of community that was more expansive than any storm. Feeling, Seeing and Experiencing Tribe in Action was life changing for us all.”

Michael Greywolf
“So now we are home and missing our tribe so much. Three days was not enough, but it was an amazing three days, I wouldn’t trade that time for all the world. We saw our community come together in the face of a crisis, a disaster and we overcame it. In 35 years PSG has never had to use their disaster plan, not once. But we did it, we showed just how strong our bond as a community, as a tribe, as a family truly is. Sure we lost a lot because of it. We lost time with friends we only see once a year, we lost experiences we were hoping to have, we lost a few possessions, we lost money, but no one lost their life. And that’s what really counts.”

Bill Wheaton
“This week was an exhilarating, sublime and harrowing experience, but one I hope not to ever repeat in the same way. Since that time I have had a lot of stress symptoms. Bad dreams, emotional ups and downs, trouble concentrating, worry about others and other stuff like that. And really the whole reason I am writing this at all is to help me get it sorted out and back to normal. Things are still wonky, this helps …”

Edmund Zebrowski
“We did make it out by about 10 o’clock [Wednesday] … Our flight is not till Monday and funds to change tickets were not in the budget for the trip so we opted to spend the week with friends and enjoy the world of Chicago while we are here. We feel very fortunate to be able have been taken in and cared for as we been told of several people that were not so lucky. So the money that was set aside to eat at PSG now is being used to by dinners that we are cooking at friends houses. We are sleeping in spare rooms and washing up the one or two pairs or normal clothes we brought … Online people try and make sense of what happened and we all sit and wonder how this will affect next year.”

Tina Stover, Merchant and wife of PSG Guardian
“After 23 years of going to PSG, I have seen my share or bad weather. We have been evacuated and hunkered down before. This year, however at the end of it all, I felt devastated and broken. I watched people helping in all kinds of ways from pushing cars to comforting children. I saw everything from people hiding to acts of courage. We all came together and managed the best we could. However, there was something missing at the end. It was healing. All the other times when we went through bad weather, we had the chance to heal and spiritually comfort everyone. This year the only spiritual time we had was the opening ritual and then disaster and then get the hell out now! There was no relief … The poor herald’s constantly reminding people and then others telling you constantly move your car, leave, move your car, leave. It was more than I could take. The last words said to us on Thursday afternoon, was not of love and thanks, but another reminder that we had to be gone by 5pm. I was so hurt and devastated at that point, I cut my wristband off and threw it out the window on the way home … These are just my personal feelings and I think that healing was forgotten and replaced by urgency. I blame no one. It was a lesson in love and loss for everyone.”

Three Rivers Pagans
“Now that we are home, we are working on healing the deep cuts to our psyche from seeing such devastation. No matter how much you helped out, it never seemed enough. No matter how many people you fed or pulled out of the flood zone, there were still more. But as a community, we came together. We got things done faster and more efficiently than any government agency could ever think to do. Together, we celebrated community in the best way possible: by becoming that which we celebrated.”

Bryan O’Dell
“Yes, there were losses, but no one severely hurt and it could have been significantly worse. It was literally a natural disaster. I will always keep in my heart the amazing efforts and acts I saw, took part in and witnessed. I will make it an effort of mine to keep that level of community going.”

Melanie Moore
“So me and my tribe were very upset by PSG’s decision to close. This was my 25th PSG. We have been through floods, tornadoes, heat waves and we are a group of good campers. We had planned to just stay at Stonehouse. When it became clear that that was not an option, threatened with the sheriff, we decided to move the festival to my house … Wednesday, on the drive home, my coven sister … and I brainstormed a list of activities. We didn’t do all of the list. But we did do: reiki attunements, nail and make up day, beach day … We also supported each other through our grief stages. It was a giant slumber party. I remember waking up … at four in the morning on the floor of my living room. I woke up and saw that all my best friends were passed out all around me. I felt such love and joy.”

“Spa Day” at Melanie Moore’s house, after PSG closed. Photo by Melanie Moore

Beth Yoder-Balla
“I was home one night when a tornado hit my neighborhood. It touched down on my street. We were lucky, some of my neighbors, not so much. Then came possibly the biggest blow of all, not one of the people here [in my town] that I thought were my closest friends offered to come help. The friends that I’ve helped move, or helped when basements flooded, or talked through emotional crises. So here I am today, and I’m angry, sad, and tired. Very tired. I’m not asking for anything here except a safe place to put these feelings. Thank you for that. Blessed be.”

*   *   *

Attendees aren’t the only ones trying to recover from the flood. Stonehouse Farm has a massive and expensive clean up operation ahead of them. Likewise, Circle Sanctuary had to clean up, pack up, and leave the campground as fast as possible, too. They also face an uncertain financial future and said they will be making a statement soon on how the flood affected Circle Sanctuary’s finances. Circle asked for volunteers to assemble at Circle Sanctuary last Saturday to help scrub every item of gear they use for PSG and over 75 volunteers showed up.

Volunteers clean Circle Sanctuary equipment. Photo by Circle Sanctuary

“We’re once again overwhelmed and amazed by the strength of our community. After the work was done, our volunteers joined in a Summer Solstice ritual of healing led by Selena Fox and were treated to an impromptu concert by Wendy Rule. The healing and recovery process will continue over the coming weeks, and we give thanks once again for our compassionate and dedicated PSG tribe!” said Florence Edwards-Miller. Circle Sanctuary will be  hosting a special podcast tonight, June 23, at 7 to 9pm Central. The podcast will focus on sharing experiences and perspectives by a variety of Pagan Spirit Gathering community members.

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Pagan Community Notes: Sockeye Wildfire, Christopher Blackwell, Charleston and more

Mon, 2015-06-22 09:23

Alaska Sockeye Wildfire 2015

On Sunday, June 13, a wildfire exploded in Willow, Alaska, about 80 miles north of Anchorage. According to reports, the wildfire went from covering 2 acres to 6,500 acres within a matter of hours. Gov. Bill Walker has declared the region a “disaster area,” with an estimated 1700 people displaced from their now-destroyed homes. Along with residents, firefighters have had to rescue hundreds of sled dogs, as wells as goats, sheep, horses and many other local animals.

Making its home in Willow and now nestled within that devastated region is the Alaska Pagan Community Center (PCC). Fondly called “The Land,” the PCC is a “non-profit Nature Sanctuary and Earth Retreat Center … where people can come out to … celebrate the changing of the seasons and create a relationship with others and the earth that sustains us.” It was purchased just over 5 years ago and has served the local Pagan community ever since.

The property was near the epicenter of the fire. As described in a member’s blog post, the group’s “Fire Tribe” (safety and magic crews) was making final preparations for Solstice celebrations when the fire broke. She noted that those members were lucky to escape because they were “landlocked behind the ignition point.” Officials believe the conflagration was started by fireworks set off by The Land’s neighboring residents.

At this point, Firefighters have contained the blaze to about 53%, saying it has destroyed up to 7,264 acres. Although many residents were allowed to return to the evacuated regions, there have been lightening strikes setting off new fires. PCC director and founder Anthony Bailey believes that most of the PCC property is destroyed, and has started a crowd funding campaign to help the center rebuild. We will have more on this story after the group assesses the full extent of the damage.

*   *   *

Christopher Blackwell

Christopher Blackwell, editor of Alternative Religion Education Network’s ACTION magazine, has announced his retirement. ACTION has been digitally published on every sabbat for 11 years. We interviewed Blackwell about his work and the history of ACTION in January. At the time, he said, “ACTION will last only as long as I and Bill care keep it going. I had hoped to have more helpers but that never happened. I am coming to the end of my life.” He also emphasized that he was very satisfied with what he had accomplished with the journal.

In the recently released Litha issue, Blackwell wrote, “So there comes a time to bring things to an end while they can be ended well. Bill and I mutually decided to make this the last issue. I thank all the readers, and all those interviewed, for making this possible. It has been quite a learning experience for me. I hope you have all enjoyed your part of it as well … I have a new project to get a started.” What that project is, he suggested “model trains,” but there may be other adventures on the horizon.

*   *   *

Emanuel African Methodist Church [Credit: S. Means / Wikipedia]

After the tragic murder of 9 people in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Charleston, the city has reportedly come together in support not only of the victims families, but also in confronting racism, and enacting real social change. The local Charleston-based Pagan community and other Pagans in the region were not absent from this call-to-action.

Within hours of the news hitting the airwaves, Holli Emore, director of Cherry Hill Seminary, sent out this statement, “We are concerned by the culture of violence which has shattered the peace of a sacred space. Our prayers for healing go out to the people of Emanuel who have lost a caring pastor, the constituents of District 45 who lost a powerful advocate for justice, and the people of Charleston, who are suffering this violation of their beautiful and peaceful city.” Cherry Hill Seminary is based in South Carolina.

Emore is also an active member of the Interfaith Partners of South Carolina and has worked with members of Emanuel AME. That group said, “As people of many faiths who are widely-diverse not only spiritually, but also ethnically, socioeconomically and culturally, we stand in solidarity today with Emanuel AME and its members and community and pray for peace with justice.” And that is the universal feeling held within the city at this point, which has been noted by a number of news reports.

The Wild Hunt is currently working with a group of South Carolina Pagans, including one who grew up in the AME church. With their help, we will share a local perspective on the current situation, the protests, the conversations and the grief. We will have that full story later in the week. Until then, there is a call is to remember the names of victims. We list them here: Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons Sr and Myra Thompson. What is remembered, lives.

*   *   *

Other stories coming up this week at The Wild Hunt: Etsy Changes its Sellers Policy and Pagan Spirit Gathering Recovers: the Flooding and the Aftermath.

Other News:

  • Taffy Dugan has published part of her work on children in Pagan practice. In early June, we interviewed Dugan as she prepared for “Gerald Gardner Birthday Bash.” On her site “Magical Kids Blog,” she has shared parts 1-4 of her work. Dugan wrote, “There are many Pagan-type things you can share with your kid without being specifically Pagan – the turning of the seasons, love and respect for Earth, herbal remedies, faeries, dragons, unicorns. The easiest and most discreet way would be to give the kids bread crumbs to follow.” She also included the parenting questionnaire, saying that she welcomes more input.
  • In another follow-up to a past story, Wiccan Priest Erik Walton finished the AIDS race. We brought you Walton’s story in May as he was preparing for the 545 mile bike ride called AIDS Lifecycle: Riding to End AIDS/HIV. In that story, Walton shared both personal tragedies and his triumph against all odds. Once again and this time as a Team Ride Leader, Walton finished the bike race.
  • The Satanic Temple has announced the unveiling ceremony of its completed Baphomet statue. According to the announcement, the statue “weighs one ton and [towers] nearly nine feet tall.” It will be revealed at Berts Warehouse Entertainment in Detroit, Michigan on July 25. However, the statue’s final destination is “next to the Oklahoma State Capitol’s monument of the Ten Commandments.” The Temple said, “The event will serve as a call-to-arms from which we’ll kick off our largest fight to date in the name of individual rights to free exercise against self-serving theocrats.” Tickets for the event are now on sale.
  • Over at Polytheist.com, Dagulf Loptson discusses the ways to build strong connections to spirit and deity in an article entitled, “Strengthening Spiritual Communication.” After sharing various methods of going about this devotional practice, Loptson concludes, “The secret to successful spiritual contact is actually very simple, and in many ways self-explanatory. The hardest part about building these relationships is simply just doing the work, consistently and with love. Extend the courtesy and effort that you would give a flesh-and-blood relationship to the Gods and spirits, and everything else will follow.”
  • RealPagan.net: Paganism for the Real World” launched a new e-Zine at Beltane. In part one of that first publication, editor Steve Paine writes, “Beltane being a festival of fire and life it seemed a most appropriate time to try this venture. As is best with all new ventures we are starting small and humble but are hoping that as time goes on, folks will become motivated to be involved and will come and add their own thoughts and ideas to what we are creating.” RealPagan.net is a social media society that began in 2011. This is its first venture into publishing.

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

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Pope’s Environmental Encyclical Elicits Pagan Responses

Sun, 2015-06-21 14:00

VATICAN CITY — Many, if not most, Pagans consider the Earth to be sacred. This has been true for at least as long as Wicca and other modern Pagan religions have been in the public eye. For many in the mainstream media, this is considered an identifying characteristic of Paganism. Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has finally released his long-awaited 180+ page encyclical on the environment, called Laudato Si. This one document has been in the news for some weeks and is the strongest message about the subject ever released by that Church.

[Courtesy NASA / Flickr]

The Pope’s statement that has been in the works for months, and has been called a “game changer” for the environmental movement. The Wild Hunt asked some members of the Pagan community to weigh in on the weighty document.

Given the diverse nature of Pagans — including those who are often lumped under the Pagan umbrella, whether they wish to be or not — It is not surprising that the responses ranged across a wide spectrum. Some common threads have emerged in these early reactions, but as this message and its ramifications are absorbed and digested, those threads could either strengthen or snap. The bulk of the reactions from those people, who were able to take the time to read and respond to the encyclical, is largely positive, with some important exceptions.

John Beckett

Druid John Beckett was quick to notice that “environment” seems to include much more than animals and trees. He said:

If you think Pope Francis’ encyclical is only about climate change, you need to read it for yourself. It’s about the inherent value of all living things, about a ‘throwaway culture’ that mistakenly seeks meaning in things, about the connections between humans and the rest of Nature, and about how the results of our environmental desecrations are borne predominantly by the poor.

‘Laudato Si’ is grounded in Christian scripture and tradition, but Pope Francis understands these are global problems requiring a global approach. Perhaps most importantly, he understands real, lasting change cannot come from technology, but through changes in culture and spirituality.

Pope Francis gets it.

John Halstead, who has been a driving force behind the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, noted that it includes a number of elements with which a Pagan might identify. Halstead said:

John Halstead

Repeatedly throughout the statement, the Pope observes that everything is interconnected, which is an article of faith for many Pagans (¶¶ 16, 70, 117, 138). He also recognized that we are inherently part of the earth: “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live,” he says, “We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” (¶ 139) “[O]ur very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” (¶ 2) In my mind, this echoes the Pagan environmental statement. In fact, something like these words might have been spoken at Pagan Spirit Gathering this year or at a CUUPS summer solstice ritual.

Pagan Environmental Coalition NYC member Courtney Weber was reassured that the Pope was placing environmentalism into a Christian context, but also felt that there are parts of Christian teaching which continue to fly in the face of stewardship. She said:

It is absolutely encouraging to see the Pope take such an unflinching, yet hopeful, stance on the future of our ecological revolution. He strikes down the all too destructive interpretation of Christian scripture and insists that we all have a part to play in turning this around, particularly for citizens of wealthier nations. This could not be more important or true. He misses the mark, however, when he says that controlling the population isn’t a major part of solving this crisis. To not include reproductive control as imperative to surviving the climate crisis speaks of antiquated and dangerous Catholic doctrine. Pagans, however, will probably enjoy section 241, which talks about Mother Mary as Queen of Creation.

Holli S. Emore

Cherry Hill Seminary‘s Holli S. Emore struck a similar tone, saying:

Pope Francis has created a masterpiece, in my opinion, in the recent encyclical on the environment. Rather than lurking in the safety of official doctrine, he has expounded theologically on a solid grounding of science, economics and social justice. While I wish he had been able to go further in calling for population decrease, I agree with his assertion that blaming overpopulation for our ecological woes is disingenuous. The beauty of the encyclical is that, in addition to the many millions of Catholics around the world who respect the teachings of a pope, the document is crafted in language that people of virtually any faith can embrace. On my desk is a small vase of roses from my garden. They were only buds when I cut and brought them in, but they have gradually opened into blooms of great beauty and fragrance. I choose to see the Pope’s statement as a bud with the power to transform many as it opens and blooms, if only we will nurture the vision.

The Reverend Patrick McCollum released a statement while traveling, which welcomed the Catholic Church to the table of people fighting to protect the Earth. Rev. McCollum said:

I would like to offer praise and admiration on behalf of the Earth Based Spiritual Traditions for the Pope’s brave step forward to join us and others in dialogue about the care and future of our planet. Both we and our indigenous brothers and sisters share many of the same concerns and reverence for the sacredness of our earth that the Pontiff proclaims and we have long waited for a time when all peoples might set aside some of our differences in order to work together as a family toward our common humanity and the place we call home.

There is much work to be done and many challenges to be overcome as we move forward, but as a representative of many millions who treasure the sacredness of creation, I reach out my hand to accept the Pope’s gracious invitation and to share his powerful message worldwide.

The “sacredness” which McCollum referenced has surprised many Pagan observers. Attorney Robin Wright, whose work against the Keystone XL Pipeline has been chronicled here, zeroed on its implications. He said:

Robin Wright

As someone with a Pagan world view, little did I think I’d ever be anticipating the release of a communication from the Pope. I starting realizing the significance of this work when barely into the introduction I read these words: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment is one of the more powerful documents I’ve read in quite some time, and presents a major contribution to development of an underlying moral, ethical, and spiritual framework for our relationship with the Earth. In some respects, I balk at using the word “relationship” because it implies a separation of humanity from the Earth, but Pope Francis tackles that head-on in the introduction, where he writes that “[w]e have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

It also struck Peter Dybing, who said, in part:

After reading the complete document my personal understanding of the nature of Catholic Church is profoundly affected. Here, the institution most responsible for the spread of Patriarchy, colonial power, suppression of indigenous cultures, cultural and environmental genocide, takes an about face. This new Pope steps forward and establishes himself as a leader, not just of his church, but also of those seeking environmental, economic and social justice on a planetary scale.

As I was reading I was drawing parallels with some of the most forward progressive ideas being embraced by Pagan sites like Gods&Radicals. Frankly I am stunned. This may be a watershed document of our generation, establishing an urgency that the world has so far failed to muster for environmental action.

Sean Donahue is a writer for the aforementioned Gods&Radicals, and the import was not lost on him, either. He said:

“Pagan” and “Heathen” are words that originally referred to the unchurched and unlettered people of the countryside, and these were the people Francis of Assisi ministered to — a ministry marked not by conversion but by inclusion in an animist form of Christianity, which saw plants and animals and sun and rain and wind and stars as humanity’s kin. It is telling and significant that the saint’s namesake draws quite explicitly on that original Franciscan language, theology, and spirit in an encyclical addressed not to Catholics but to the world.

Sean Donahue

Pope Francis calls the world to join him in adopting what he rightly describes as St. Francis’s radical stance — “refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.” In so doing, he challenges the fundamental tenets of capitalism, and calls for new political and economic approaches which value both human and non-human life. He explicitly condemns anthropocentrism and asserts that all species have inherent worth and a right to live — a far cry from his predecessor who condemned such views as rooted in “attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism.” He also takes the position that Indigenous peoples are the best caretakers of their traditional homelands, and that they deserve to be allowed to honor an protect “a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.”

All of this marks a tremendous theological shift, a reversal of centuries of church doctrine. Pope Francis believes that there is one God (though he also speaks eloquently of Mary, who “grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power.”) My path is one not of belief, but of relationship, and I am connected with many gods — the Feri gods and the gods of my Celtic ancestors. But that is about all that separates my perspective on the world and the perspective the Pope articulates in this encyclical. And that is deeply healing to my once Catholic heart.

Not everything in this dense document was entirely welcome, however. Halstead pointed out that he had two main concerns. Halstead said, “The first is his lingering anthropocentrism. Although he criticizes ‘distorted’ or ‘excessive’ anthropocentrism (¶¶ 69, 116), he nevertheless insists on humanity’s ‘pre-eminence’ (¶ 90) and ‘superiority’ (¶ 220). He argues that, in the absence of this belief, human beings will not feel responsible for the planet. (¶ 118) While I agree that human beings are ‘unique’ in many ways among the world’s fauna, and that we have special responsibilities as a result, I know from personal experience that undermining the belief in humanity’s ‘superiority’ can produce a greater sense of responsibility to the earth. And I know the reverse to be true as well: belief in our ‘pre-eminence’ can weaken our sense of ecological responsibility.”

Pope Francis [Photo Credit: Catholic Church England / Flickr]

Then, there’s the notion of the fragility of the earth. Halstead goes on to say, “In one place, the Pope says that ‘a divinization of the earth . . . would prevent us from . . . protecting it in its fragility.’ (¶ 90) . . . . The earth, nature, the biosphere is resilient. There is no sense in the Pope’s statement that human beings are facing an existential threat. And naturally, many Pagans know that the ‘divinization of the earth’ can, in fact, inspire us to protect it.”

Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), is also a longtime observer of the Church. He didn’t mince words with his response:

I personally believe, given the very long and painful history of criminal acts committed by the Catholic Church and its repeated denials of guilt and refusal to honestly atone for many of these sins, that this Church has no moral standing to pontificate on any subject at all, to anyone. An apparently liberal and certainly more affable Pope than his Nazi predecessor does not for one instant change the Church’s actual conservative and often hostilely prejudicial position on any number of subjects Francis may or may not have bantered on since he took office; LGBTI rights and marriage equality, Pagan minorities, witch-hunts, traditional religions in Africa and Europe, Women, poverty, racism, paedophilia and illegal child abduction by nuns in Ireland and elsewhere.

The modern Catholic Church has neither proven itself better nor more moral than its historic predecessor. As for Francis’ statement on the environment, it’s too little too late. The world according to that Church is a pile of sinful dirt. For me and countless others who are not of the opinion that matter is inherently sinful, She is a divine body in need of global rescue. Nothing Francis can say can rescue her. The real battle for Her survival is being waged daily by committed environmentalists against both governments and global corporations completely committed and determined to profit from Her demise at any cost. One only has to look at current issues around and affecting global warming, Monsanto and Roundup Ready GMOs, fracking and polluting industry self-regulation to see that, at best, what any of us ‘believe’ about anything is as useless, in the face of an army of capitalists determined to destroy life as we know it for every planetary species, as spitting curses against the wind.

To Dybing, those aspects which didn’t jibe with his theology are still opportunities for learning. He said, “There are some areas where my personal understanding of divinity and women’s rights are in clear opposition to principles put forth in the document. That fact, however, has me wondering if my personal opinions of the church lead me to seek areas of difference when in fact there is so much in this document that sets the stage for world wide intersections of purpose and action for people of faith.”

No matter these early reactions, Dybing’s recommendation to read it and form one’s own opinions may be well worth heeding. In time, history will judge whether Laudato Si is truly a game-changer, or simply a flash in the pan. If time shows that this document succeeded in getting the entire Roman Catholic Church pulling for the Earth, it will be significant indeed.

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Happy Summer Solstice

Sun, 2015-06-21 04:54

“The sun shines not on us but in us.”John Muir

For many people around the world, today marks the celebration of the Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer, or Litha. It is at this time that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted closest to the sun. In honor of fertility, light and abundance, communities have long used bonfires, music, dancing, and outdoor festivals as traditional features of both religious rituals and celebrations. In some modern Pagan practices, it is also believed that this holiday represents the highest ascendancy of masculine divinity. Additionally, while many people are basking the long days of light and heat, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating and marking Winter solstice, a time of darkness, candles and inward reflection.

[Public Domain]

This year, the Summer Solstice also happens to fall on the celebration of Father’s Day in the United States. The history of this secular holiday does not have the same radical roots as its counterpart Mother’s Day. In 1908, a Washington state woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, who had been raised by a widower, wanted male parents to be honored in a similar way to mothers. In 1910, Dodd was able to convince the state to establish an official Father’s Day. The idea spread very slowly, meeting much resistance. Many felt that the holiday was silly, and others protested against the establishment of yet another commercially-focused celebration. However, after being given a boost by World War II nationalism, the unofficial Father’s Day was widely embraced by people around the country. Then, in 1972, Richard Nixon signed the proclamation that made the day an official U.S. holiday.

This date, June 21, also marks “Make Music Day,” an international secular solstice celebration of music. The movement began in 1982 in France, and has spread worldwide. According to the website, nearly 700 cities now participate. This is one of the many demonstrations of how global secular culture participates in the the solstice festivities.

And, finally, we can’t forget to mention that today has been declared International Yoga Day!

Here are some recent quotes on Summer Solstice:

Observers celebrate the solstice in myriad ways, including festivals, parades, bonfires, feasts and more. As one member of the Amesbury and Stonehenge Druids explains, “What you’re celebrating on a mystical level is that you’re looking at light at its strongest. It represents things like the triumph of the king, the power of light over darkness, and just life – life at its fullest.” – The Huffington Post

Then we wait, and watch for the Sun to touch the horizon. We sing the Sun down on the shortest night, just as we sing it up on the shortest day, joining our hands and our voices to turn the Wheel of the Year. We are reminded when we are in the cycle, what has come before and what will come again. On the highest hill in Minneapolis, we know where we are. Looking at each other singing, we know who we are. We want to be aware of who we are, where we are, when we are. – Magenta Griffith, from “Singing Down the Sun”

In the modern world, we may feel less dependent on the agricultural cycles of the past, yet our lives still revolve around the earths fertility even if we shop and eat from a world wide larder. However, taking the time to acknowledge the sun and its effects on us all can make us more conscious of our connection the seasons and the cycles of life. Just remembering that our very existence depends on this vast ancient explosion that is our sun can be consciousness expanding all by itself…and making time to weave in these spiritual moments into our lives in a way that is relevant to us today, not only taps us in to the traditions of our ancestors, but continues and evolves those traditions in an every growing and renewing thread that enriches us all for generations to come. – Danu Forest, From “The Magic of Summer Solstice”

In spite of all the fire and light imagery of the date, the Jungian in me inevitably turns to thinking about the shadows cast by those fires. I imagine the Goddess and her consort, the Oak King, consummating their union, which becomes a conflagration which will eventually consume the Oak King. This fire casts a shadow across the land, foreshadowing the decline of the Oak King and signaling the escape of the Dark God from his imprisonment … Fire and shadows … In the light of the recent publication of the Pope’s environmental encyclical and “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”, these fires call to my mind the warming of our climate. Climate change is the Jungian shadow of our industrial culture... – John Halstead, From “How Hobbits Celebrate the Summer Solstice: Raising the Shire.”

At Midsummer on our land in Brittany, the Celtic region of north-west France, we invoke Belisama, the Bright One, Lady of Summer. Some say she is the bright golden sunlight; others that she is more fiery, a Lady of Battles and Arrows. We find her in France and we find her in the Milan region of northern Italy, where Celtic tribes came seeking new lands … We know little of how people centuries ago understood her and worshipped her. Belisama is like the sunlight – she changes day by day. We are content to worship her as she chooses to come to us and in her we see and know and remember nature’s beauteous summer face. May your deities come to you as you honor the season’s tide. May your Midsummer be golden with prosperity and healing. May you and your path be blessed. – Vivianne Crowley, from “Midsummer Blessings of Belisama,” Greening the Spirit.

Happy Summer Solstice!

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Guest Post: Drought and Religion

Sat, 2015-06-20 05:39

[As climate change and extreme weather are at the forefront of people’s minds, many are asking how and where religion fits into the conversation. Today, we welcome guest writer Heathen Chinese. He is the son of Chinese immigrants and is a diasporic Chinese polytheist living in the San Francisco Bay Area (stolen Ohlone land). He practices ancestor veneration and worships (among others) the warrior god Guan Di, who has had a presence in California since the mid-1800s. He writes at Gods and Radicals and at heathenchinese.wordpress.com.]

California has been in a State of Emergency due to drought since January 2014. As the map below shows, the U.S. Drought Monitor calculates that as of June 9th, 98.71% of the state is in a condition of “severe drought,” 71.08% is in a condition of “extreme drought,” and 46.73% is in a condition of “exceptional drought.”

From U.S. Drought Monitor [Public Domain]

When it comes to definitions of drought, the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) notes that “research in the early 1980s uncovered more than 150 published definitions of drought.” The NDMC draws upon the work of researchers Wilhite and Glantz to categorize “the definitions in terms of four basic approaches to measuring drought: meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic.”

Though supply-and-demand or “socioeconomic” aspects of drought can be analyzed through economic and political lenses, droughts that are triggered by a lack of precipitation have historically been interpreted through the framework of another powerful and widespread social force: religion. In History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth, historian Paul Cohen writes that in China during the late 1800s and early 1900s, “where it had been widely believed for centuries that there was a link between human behavior and the actions of Heaven, as expressed through nature, it was not at all uncommon to blame droughts and other natural calamities on official misconduct and to seek to alleviate the crisis by changing either the conduct or the official.”

Cohen provides several examples of drought being attributed to the upsetting of cosmic balance by governmental actions:

‘I have heard,’ one censor commented in response to the drought of 1876-1879, ‘that if one woman suffers an injustice, for three years there will be no rain.’ Another censor, citing the precedent of a three-year drought during the Han dynasty following the unjust execution of a filial wife, connected the 1870s drought to the disruption of heavenly harmony caused by excessive judicial torture.”

As these examples show, drought could be linked to widespread policies such as torture, but also to singular harmful acts against individuals like the execution of an innocent. They also show that two different individuals, even if they both share the basic belief that human actions can lead to drought as a divine repercussion, can reach different conclusions as to which particular action is responsible for the current drought.

Cohen rejects the idea that religious interpretations of drought are “supracultural or intrinsically human,” noting that in the modern era many people speak of drought purely in secular terms. He concedes, however, that “supernatural agency is […] a very widely encountered cultural construction.”

Responses
Cohen observes that there are two major categories of attempts to mitigate drought through religious behavior: the “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” and “prayer and other rain-inducing ceremonial practices.” These two approaches can, of course, be utilized either in conjunction or independently of one another. A prayer or ceremony for rain does not necessarily imply a belief in human causation of the state of drought, though it certainly could also be perceived as the right course of action to offset whatever offenses may have been committed. No specific narrative regarding the cause of drought, for example, was included in the description (36) for the “Bring on the Rain! Mojo for Parched CA” ritual that was held at Pantheacon 2014 in San Jose, California.

Cohen suggests that prayer or ritual is common as an initial response to lack of rain, but that if results are not forthcoming, the other category of response may become more prominent: “The first recourse for people faced with drought is, as we have seen, to offer up prayers and perform a range of rain-inducing rituals. But when such conventional means fail to produce relief, and the anxiety occasioned by the drought deepens, people often resort to more heroic measures. The generic element here is scapegoatism, the identification of a human agency deemed responsible for the crisis and the punishment of that agency.”

During the severe drought in Northern China in 1899-1900, participants in the Boxer Rebellion circulated notices explicitly blaming Christian missionaries and converts for angering the gods and thereby causing the drought. One notice, for example, contained the doggerel lines:

They proselytize their sect,/And believe in only one God,/The spirits and their own ancestors/Are not even given a nod/ […] No rain comes from Heaven./The earth is parched and dry./And all because the churches/Have bottled up the sky./The god[s] are very angry./The spirits seek revenge./En masse they come from Heaven/To teach the Way to men. – (translation by Joseph Esherick)

One Boxer placard directly addressed Chinese converts to Christianity, saying that they had abandoned the gods and their ancestors, angering the gods to the point that they withheld rain.

China was not the only traditional society to blame Christianization for drought. Nineteenth-century Botswana blamed a prolonged drought on Christianity, especially when a well-known rainmaker was baptized and summarily abandoned his previous practices. When the local missionary left after several years of disaster, the rain did indeed come back.

Cohen argues that the growing presence of foreigners in 1899-1900 was not a common experience to most Chinese living in the North China plain in the same way that drought was. A villager who had never seen a missionary could be convinced to join the Boxer movement in the hopes of propitiating the gods and bringing back the rain. The drought, of course, also caused widespread unemployment among peasants, giving them both the time and additional motivation—either hunger or fear of hunger—to join the Boxers. Cohen concludes that “it was this factor, more than any other, in my judgment, that accounted for the explosive growth both of the Boxer movement and of popular support for it in the spring and summer months of 1900.”

Scapegoating, of course, is a dangerous phenomenon, especially when one is a member of a minority religion. However, it can be secular as well as religious. California has already seen television commercials by a group that believes that “California’s drought could have been prevented” with anti-immigrant policies. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, points out that blaming the drought on immigrants is illogical. It isn’t caused by immigrants drinking too much water or showering too often, he says, but rather it is due to meager snowpack and poor planning.

Though most people are not so quick to attribute causation of the drought itself to any demographic, the drought has highlighted awareness and criticism of individuals and institutions perceived to be using more than their fair share of water. One group that has been criticized is almond farmers, who grow a popular perennial cash crop that requires watering every year and cannot be left fallow. Another group that has been criticized is Southern California residents, who astoundingly “used more water than ever this February,” according to Amy Westervelt of The Guardian.

Public outrage has also been directed at companies bottling water in California to sell elsewhere, such as Walmart and Nestlé. Nestlé’s CEO recently stated that Nestlé would “absolutely not” stop bottling its water in California and added that “if I could increase [the amount being bottled], I would.” An online trend known as “drought-shaming” has also targeted members of the upper class who still maintain their lawns and swimming pools.

Percentage-wise, agriculture accounts for “roughly 80% of all human water use” in California. Bottled water companies and urban residents have been quick to point out this fact, disclaiming the overall significance of their own water usage. Even among farmers, though, “water scarcity and buckling land have neighboring farmers eyeing one another warily,” writes Matt Richtel  in the New York Times. “Buckling land” is a consequence the practice of groundwater pumping, which drains aquifers and can cause the ground to sink, an effect known as subsidence. In areas “where subsidence is the worst, the land can sink as much as a foot each year.”

The heightened awareness around water usage and its consequences has led to an increase in water’s value as a commodity. However, this has not necessarily led to an increased respect for the sacred—certainly not at the level of public policy. The drought has also drawn attention to California’s system of water rights seniority, in which claims “staked more than a century ago” are the last to be subjected to mandatory cuts in water usage. However, this policy ignores the fact that indigenous people have the greatest seniority when it comes to a relationship to the land and watersheds, and instead privileges the heirs of the first colonizers.

One proposed “solution” to water scarcity is a raising of the Shasta Dam. However, this proposal is a reiterated existential threat to the Winnemem Wintu, an indigenous tribe inhabiting “ancestral territory from Mt. Shasta down the McCloud River watershed.” The Winnemem Wintu website states:

The Winnemem not only lost our villages on the McCloud River when the Shasta Dam was erected during World War II, we also lost many of our sacred places beneath Shasta Lake. These are places to which we hold an emotional and religious connection, and their loss remains a void in our lives as Winnemem.

The proposed raising of the dam would have additional disastrous effects. The Winnemem Wintu explain, “A dam raise of about 18-feet, the most likely scenario, would permanently or seasonally flood an estimated 39 sacred sites along the McCloud River, including Puberty Rock, and would essentially end our ability to practice our culture and religion.” The website poses the question as an issue of religious freedom: “If there were only a few hundred people left who practiced Islam or Judaism, would the country support knocking down the last mosque or the last temple? That is what a dam raise would do to the Winnemem.”

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

The initial construction of the Shasta Dam also “blocked the salmon runs,” and the Winnemem “advocate for all aspects of clean water and the restoration of salmon to their natural spawning grounds.” The Winnemem Wintu website promotes salmon restoration as “a far more sensible, cost-effective economic stimulus that will provide long-term rather than short term benefits,” and points out that the proposed dam raise would ultimately “yield a relatively small amount of very expensive water.”

The Winnemem Wintu clearly know what they are fighting for. What stance will other minority religious traditions, especially those that see water as sacred or honor spirits related to water, take on the drought and issues surrounding water usage?

Paul Cohen states the obvious when he writes that “while the basic premise that natural disasters are to be accounted for by some supernatural agency acting in response to human wrongdoing appears with great frequency, the particularities of a society’s response to such disasters…will be shaped by the special cultural forms and historical experience of that society.” In other words, given religious diversity, such as one finds across the spectrums of Neo-paganism or polytheism, one can only expect a diverse array of religious interpretations of and responses to drought. The previously cited example of government officials attempting to ascertain the cause of drought during the Late Qing Dynasty shows that divergence of interpretation can reach even the individual level. Nonetheless, some general ideas about the relationship between religion and drought in the modern day can be considered and discussed.

The idea of “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” does not inherently require the targeting of a specific demographic for punishment. At its core, this idea relies upon the religious concept that there is such a thing as “cosmic harmony” in the first place. Second, a quick look at current events is likely to lead many to reach the conclusion that if such a thing as “cosmic harmony” exists, it has been disrupted, and that drought is a symptom of that disruption. Finally, though definitions of what constitutes “human misconduct” may vary widely, the essential principle behind the idea is that human actions matter; they have unseen consequences.

Based upon these three principles, a great number of religious interpretations and responses are possible. The “correction of human misconduct” could entail changing one’s own behavior, seeking to convince or coerce others to change theirs, direct action to stop specific acts of “misconduct,” or a combination of any of the above. The Boxer placard addressed to Chinese Christian converts advocated both change of personal behavior and joining the larger social movement: “It is a matter of great urgency that you quickly join the Boxers and sincerely mend your ways.”

One recent interpretation of the California drought can be found in P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’s short story “Robigalia 2015,” which marked the annual sacrifice to the ancient Roman deity Robigo or Robigus. Robigo was once propitiated to avert blights on grain. Lupus notes that grain blight is less of a concern in the modern day than it was in antiquity, but proceeds to explore the possibility that “the water shortages of California–an event as much due to human causes as to the waning portion in the cycles of nature–became the outlet via which Robigo was able to come to the fore again.” In a comment below the story, Lupus writes, “I don’t think by any means this is ‘the answer’ or anything of the sort; but, I think given the state of the world, if we thought more in these terms as polytheists, people might want to do something about these matters (insofar as they can) more than they do otherwise.”

In his essay “Restoring Sovereignty and the Path Forward,” Brennos writes about the ancient Irish concept of divinely-granted sovereignty:

The failure of a King to meet their obligations either by breaking their agreements with the Otherworld or their people, resulted in withdrawal of Sovereignty which had disastrous effects such as crop failures and famine, the death of livestock, disease and hardship. In a situation like this, the failed King would step down, die in battle, or be sacrificed to allow a more suitable King to take their place.

The quotes by Qing government officials are related to similar ideas in China about the link between political legitimacy and cosmic harmony. Even more explicitly, in Transcendence & Divine Passion: The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China, Suzanne Cahill writes that drought and rebellions and heterodox religious movements were all seen equally as signs “of the imminent fall of the Han rulers.” Or in other words, these events were seen as symptoms of the ruling dynasty’s loss of the Mandate of Heaven.

What does any of this have to do with people who don’t live in California? As Brennos writes, “At the heart of this type of Sovereignty of the Land is interconnectedness.” This interconnectedness is both natural and divine. It has a social aspect as well.

Everything is Connected

In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis links the worldwide droughts of 1876-79, 1888-91 and 1896-1902 to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather pattern, the rise of the global capitalist economy, and the expansionist land-grabs of the New Imperialism.

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

According to the NDMC, El Niño is a phenomenon involving increased water temperatures off the western coast of South America, while the Southern Oscillation is a “seesaw of atmospheric pressure between the eastern equatorial Pacific and Indo–Australian areas.” The acronym ENSO is used to describe the two phenomena in conjunction. “Atmospheric interactions between widely separated regions,” such as those seen during ENSO events, are termed “teleconnections.” Though not all variations in weather patterns during ENSO years are attributable to ENSO, the NDMC reports that “researchers have found the strongest connections between ENSO and intense drought in Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, parts of east and south Africa, the western Pacific basin islands (including Hawaii), Central America, and various parts of the United States.”

Davis notes that all of these areas, plus China, were severely affected by worldwide droughts during the late Victorian era, though “the instrumental record before 1957 is generally too poor to support” attaching the El Niño label to specific years. He further observes that colonial policy and capitalist economics contributed to many of the resulting famines. During the 1877-78 drought and famine in British-ruled India, for example, “grain merchants […] preferred to export a record 6.4 million cwt. of wheat to Europe in 1877-78 rather than relieve starvation in India.” The British Viceroy, Lytton, further imposed an increase in taxation on salt and on “petty traders (professionals were exempt),” which he claimed would serve the purpose of “insuring this Empire against the worst calamities of a future famine.”

In fact, however, “the whole accumulated fund was used either to reduce cotton goods tariff or for the Afghan war.” Lytton’s increase in taxation demonstrated not merely a policy of laissez-faire, but of deliberate imperial expansion at the direct expense of the starving poor. Thus, Davis concludes, the deaths attributed to the “natural” causes of disease and El Niño-exacerbated drought cannot actually be separated from economics and politics. Davis’s analysis of the Indian famine of the 1877-78 can be applied to the present day as well.

2015 is an El Niño year. American scientists initially described this year’s El Niño as “weak” in March, but Australian scientists disputed this forecast in May. “‘This is a proper El Niño effect, it’s not a weak one,’ David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters.” El Niño has been linked to increased rain in California in the past, but Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pointed out in March that “this El Niño is likely too late and too weak to provide much relief for drought-stricken California, as California’s rainy season is winding down.” However, as always, El Niño is predicted “to increase prices of staple foods such as rice, coffee, sugar and cocoa” around the world.

Mike Davis calls famines “wars over the right to existence.” He notes that the Late Victorian era saw explicitly religious revolts in conjunction with droughts in China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Brazil. And, as the export of wheat from India in the 1870s and Nestlé’s bottling of California’s spring water both demonstrate, famine and drought are inextricably linked with economics as well as with military campaigns and politics. Any religious interpretation of current events, therefore, must necessarily take a global perspective as well; ENSO’s “teleconnections” are not merely meteorological. From a religious point of view, unseen “teleconnections” can be said to underlie the very fabric of reality. As the drought in California continues to intensify, both Californians and non-Californians will be affected by more and more drastic changes. The need for more prayers and rituals—or a perhaps even a fundamental “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony”—will intensify as well.

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Culture and Community: The Ritual of Commencement

Fri, 2015-06-19 07:08

It is graduation season. Pictures are popping up all over the internet of people who have walked the stage in accomplishment of achieving their educational goals. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), it is estimated that approximately 1,855,000 students will graduate in 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree.The Institute of Education Sciences states that “18.0 million students are expected to enroll in undergraduate programs and about 3.0 million will enroll in post-baccalaureate programs.” The higher learning academic machine continues to see an increase in students signing up for college, and an increase in students striving for the end goal of a graduating with a degree in hand.

Years of study and college classes lead to more than just a diploma or certification. The ritual of completion is a part of many individual’s journey to celebrate achievement, and this is seen in many areas of spirituality as well. Within the modern Pagan community we have seen a wealth of achievement or milestone based ceremonies, such as dedications, initiations, cronings or sagings, unions, and even the celebration of womanhood when a lady gets her menses. These celebrations show us that the ritual act of setting intentions, celebrations and acknowledgements are often done inside a ritualistic process.

The choice to participate in the activities of commencement is an individual one, and there are always people who decline. However, the majority of those that do participate are doing so in a highly ritualized way that initiates them into the world of academics. The ritual song, the long walk, the wait, the outfit and regalia, the turning of the tassel or placement of the hood for Master’s and doctorates, all of these are symbolic and important elements to creating the magic of the moment.

My personal journey to this point in my life was one layered with a lot of excitement, concerns, and questions. Walking the stage June 12 left me with wondering how this process felt for others who were approaching the graduation stage of their academic journey, and how the ritual of this ceremony felt for them. I reached out to several Pagans who have recently graduated with a degree of higher education to ask them some questions about their experiences.

I received my Associate of Science degree in Network Systems Administration, which falls under the (very large) umbrella of Computer Science. I did attend the graduation ceremony because it symbolized a very large milestone both personally and to my family. Being the first person in my immediate family to complete an educational level above high school, I wanted to do the walk, be handed the diploma—get the whole experience. It was something I wanted to share with my wife and my parents/in-laws as well.

Part of the importance of the ritual is acknowledging the work which has been put into the process. Another part is the physical manifestation (diploma) which acts as a sort of reward. The experience was quite inspiring, and I gained a lot of momentum which will be used to achieve future milestones. Bachelor’s degree, definitely. And maybe a Master’s? – Chris Williams

Graeme A. Barber

I graduated with an Associate Degree of Arts, with Distinction. My emphasis was in Environmental studies, and the bulk of my studies was in archaeology and physical geography. This was awarded to me by Okanagan College, in British Columbia, Canada.

I participated in my commencement ceremony because in a society as bereft of milestone and changes in life rituals as ours are here in North America, it’s important to participate in events like this. There was also a strong family component in my decision. The importance of the ritual was recognition, not just from peers, but from larger society. There was also the aspect that I was one of the few POC in my programme, and there is something important in “showing the flag” as it were. Supporting my transition forward to the next phases of my education, participation showed that I consider myself a part of the academic world, not apart from it, which again, is an important message to send. – Graeme A. Barber

Rose Quartz

I graduated with my Master of Arts degree in Education with an emphasis in Teaching and my Single Subject teaching credential in English. I was in an accelerated program and only had one year of graduate school because I started on it while also doing my Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. This is one of the main factors behind participating in my second commencement in two years at Mills College. I am heavily invested in and involved with the Mills community. Many of the other grad students in the Education program did not attend, but all 10 of us in the accelerated program participated.

The sense of community I derived from my program colleagues and from my extended networks at Mills – including the Mills Pagan Alliance – made participating important. It was a time I got to share with friends and family, and a tangible recognition of five long years of difficult, rewarding work. I saw this ritual as one which was both for me and for those I call my extended family to recognize and celebrate my academic successes.

The event marks a beginning of my chosen career – I am now considered qualified to teach, and the next school year will start with one major difference. No longer at Mills, this coming year will see me stepping into the role of teacher instead of continuing as a student in an academic setting. Life-long learner that I am, I know this is hardly the end of all my knowledge-gathering, but there is a certainty that comes with walking across the stage, that once you reach the other side you cannot walk backwards. At the end, I felt like I was truly done with one phase of my life and prepared to go into the next stage of learning. – Rose Quartz

Ryan Smith

I graduated with distinction with an MA in World History with a regional focus on the Middle East and a thematic focus on Urban History. I did not participate in my commencement ceremony due to some stupid red tape reasons that resulted in me getting my financial aid necessary for paying for graduation in time to walk after the deadline. I didn’t really have a choice on that question as by the time I was able to pay my graduation fees it was already too late to be one of the people walking. – Ryan Smith.

Katie Thackrey

I got my Bachelor of science in psychology.Yes, I participated in commencement because I didn’t want to regret not doing it later.

There was the idea that life is made up of experiences and I should have as many as possible. I felt it was important to solidify in my mind what I had accomplished; I don’t think I would have truly recognized the amount of work and how much of an accomplishment it is without the ceremony. The ceremony evoked immense feelings of gratitude for all those who gave their support, knowledge, and patience along the way. – Katie Thackrey

Katrina Ray-Saulis

My degree is a BFA in Creative Writing. I did attend graduation. I completed my coursework in December so I had already been a graduate for many months before the ceremony, but there was a sense of accomplishment that came from attending that I didn’t get during the months in between the last day of classes and graduation.

It’s possible that I may have received that sense of accomplishment when I got my physical diploma, I’m really not sure. But the head of the writing department has been pivotal in my graduation. She was a deciding factor in me attending that school, she’s been an incredible mentor, and she’s helped me in so many ways. I wouldn’t give up that moment when she traded me my diploma for a hug for anything. I wasn’t going to go to graduation at all until another professor told me how much it meant to the department head to see her students march. I’m heading into grad school in the spring of 2016 and my eventual goal is to teach. I think attending the ceremony helped me to see what I have to look forward to as a teacher more than anything else. – Katrina Ray-Saulis

My degree will be in sociology (Ph.D.), if I complete all requirements by end of August 2015. I did NOT participate in the commencement ceremony for two main reasons: 1) I wasn’t far enough along with completing deliverables for finishing in order to walk;  2) disconnect with my field and specific school of study.

We are a small program within the School of Nursing (incoming class for Fall 2015 has 3 students).[I] did not pursue walking in the school commencement ceremony because 75%+ of graduates are Master’s-level nurses whose courses and fieldwork don’t overlap with ours. Also [I] chose not to walk in the commencement ceremony at the university level because the various schools (Pharmacy, Dental, Grad Division, Nursing, etc.) function independently of each other. Since we also don’t have an undergrad study body, there is even less interaction between schools. – Mary Gee

I participated in my commencement ceremony, though I won’t technically graduate until Summer quarter – but once I get my thesis published, I’ll have an M.A. in Communication.

There’s a bit of backstory to why I wanted to walk for my M.A.. I got my B.A. from the same university, but the day that I walked, nobody showed up for me. I had the other students in the department, but everyone else who said they were going ended up as a no-show. So when I decided I was going to walk for my M.A., I initially planned on doing it just for me. After everything I had gone through to get the M.A., I felt I deserved to do something to acknowledge that. But a number of my friends (who had heard the story about my B.A. commencement more than once) got together and were there for my M.A. It definitely helped heal the wound left over from feeling abandoned on the previous commencement walk.

I will admit, I have a bit of an anti-authoritarian streak. I participated in the ceremony because it’s one of the pieces that helps confirm my achievement, but when they put the hood on me… it didn’t have the impact I’m sure they were aiming for. For me, it was a total stranger doing that, someone who had no idea of who I was, what I had done, or everything I’ve gone through in pursuit of my M.A. I’d much rather have been hooded on the other side of the stage, because at least over there one of the faculty I know was helping with the process. It may be more accurate to say, however, that I place more importance on established connections with other people than authority figures. As I said, however, this is just one piece of the whole that is my graduation, and I’m still glad I went through it. – Dee Shull

Many factors and red tape go into the final act of walking the stage, but that very act of crossing the stage gives many grads a sense of completion, accomplishment and recognition to go along with the diploma that will be received. While some people do not feel the need to go through this ritual or were unable to, others find that commencement is a very important part of the academic process.

It is not uncommon within many modern Pagan practices to believe that the symbols and practices of our ceremonies increase in power with repetition over time, and that lineage and acknowledgement from our community of elders has great meaning and purpose. As many people continue to participate in ceremonies from institutions of education, we will continue to identify correlations between the importance of our call to ceremony and how that contributes to the way we relate to it’s significance. This also gives us another opportunity to look at the continued contributions that Pagans within different fields make to the sustainability of our own communities, and how the act of learning within various institutions add to it.

Crystal Blanton being hooded at ceremony
[Courtesy of Stephanie Kjer]

In reflection of my own journey, I surprisingly sat under the sun of my own commencement ceremony thinking about all the layers of magic that went into the process of walking the stage; something that would otherwise be such a simple act. In the end, no ceremony alone will make my Master’s of Social Work degree more valuable within the workforce. However the ritual of commencement does give it another layer of special meaning for me personally. After not participating in my undergrad ceremony, I am glad to have experienced the magic of commencement for my masters.

Congratulations to all those who completed their degrees in the class of 2015. May your hard work bare the fruit that you intended!

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Should the Catholic Church apologize to Pagans?

Thu, 2015-06-18 08:04

On Thursday, Pope Francis released his long-awaited 184-page encyclical on climate change and environmental protection. We will have reactions to this work in the coming days. In the meantime, we consider one particular phrase from that document as it relates to a question recently raised by Debra Macleod in The Huffington Post.

Macleod asks whether the Catholic Church should acknowledge its role in the destruction of classical Pagan culture and religion. In the new encyclical, Pope Francis says, “Human Beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.” Using that framework, Macleod’s question can be rephrased. Should the Church “rise above itself, choose again what is good and make a new start?”

[Photo Credit: Neokortex &: Kallistos via Wikimedia]

In the article, Macleod explains:

Forced conversions to Christianity were common, as was the seizure of property or assets belonging to pagans. And in an unprecedented move of religious tyranny, it became illegal – upon pain of torture or death to honor Vesta or other gods and goddesses even within the sacred privacy of one’s own home.

It isn’t pleasant to hear — especially for those who hold their religion dear — but forced conversions and cultural destruction, done on a massive scale, played a significant role in the way Christianity established itself as the dominant religion.This approach set the tone for the fear and oppression of the “Dark Ages” when anything that wasn’t Christian — including science, medicine and free thought — was deemed heretical and violently suppressed.

…To solidify Christianity as the sole religion of the Empire, early Christian leaders legalized brutal policies that persecuted pagans. This gave Christians the legal green light to commit atrocious acts of vandalism that destroyed centuries of Classical art, history and culture.

Christian vandals smashed the heads and limbs off statues of beloved gods and goddesses that had been venerated for generations. They knocked the noses off the faces, and carved crosses into the foreheads, of deities, heroes and emperors. They burned ancient texts, obliterating centuries of knowledge, literature and heritage.

While some comments on Macleod’s article note the similarities between the early church’s destruction of historical sites and forced conversions to ISIL’s current actions, many people appear to refuse to acknowledge this history, or they believe the early Catholic church was justified in its action in order to save souls. However, this history isn’t news to many Pagans. It has been outlined in books. In 2000, a group of Pagans even sent a formal letter asking for such an apology.

We decided to ask several Hellenic Pagans what they think. Should the Catholic Church acknowledge its role in the destruction of classical Pagan culture and religion?

Here is what they had to say:

This is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand if they do acknowledge the destruction of the Temples and statues, it would be a nice gesture, but actually rather meaningless unless they are going to rebuild them. Which I am fairly certain they aren’t. The more important thing though is what they did to the status of the worship, the practice of the religion. That legacy lives on today. I’ve been flat out asked by a Christian, ‘How could can you believe in that Zeus crap?’ My rather indignant answer was,’because Zeus has been around for six thousand years or more. A whole lot longer than you guys.

The actions of the Church were in many ways unprecedented, they set out to completely destroy another religion, not for political reasons like the ones between the Romans and the Druids, but because they wanted to. Like The Huffington article said, the early Christians were determined to make their God the one and only. And they didn’t stop with Greco/Roman religion/culture, they carried it wherever they went for centuries.They have never acknowledged the harm they have done throughout the world. This would be a first step, but only if they acknowledge the harm on a spiritual level, a cultural level and how wrong it is to attempt to only allow one religion in a world of 7+ billion people. By one religion I mean all three monotheistic religions because they are related. I’m a hard polytheist so I see each pantheon as being different individuals. – Victoria White

*   *   *

The Catholic Church’s denial of wiping out the Greek and Roman polytheistic religions was for centuries a matter of academic interest only. In recent years, however, more and more people have been embracing these spiritual modalities, not just as a curiosity but as a viable belief system, imbuing them with life again. Denial stands as a major obstacle to effective interfaith dialogue between the Catholic Church and contemporary practitioners of the revived Greek and Roman polytheistic religions. What is needed is an environment of transparency and openness.” – Tony Mierzwicki, author

*   *   *

“My personal belief is that any such apologies only develop from within a given organization, not from without. So, since not a current practice, not something for us to decide. Reparations for groups persecuted within past 200 years by entities are much more valid pursuits, such as the Native American population and Japanese Americans in the 1940’s, for example.” – Kalen Cap

*   *   *

“I would like them to apologize because what I want acknowledged is that there is a political reality of oppression that is behind the triumph of Christianity and not its inherent superiority that is an expression of a greater stage of spiritual evolution. That is a myth that continues to be largely promulgated and it is not true. However, that is also why I don’t think that they will apologize for the destruction of classical Paganism. Also, at least in the Hellenic situation, it predates the split between the Roman and Orthodox churches. The Greek Orthodox church is still highly repressive.” – Gwendolyn Reece

*   *   *

“It is the continuing fact of the continuing denial of the authenticity of the Gods and our religions. I am pleased to say that their God is authentic. Why can’t they return the civility? I don’t want to see anyone’s religion destroyed. However, our Gods were around for a lot longer than theirs and for them to claim that They do not exist is hubristic.” – Julia Ergane

*   *   *

“The apology would be valuable because it would help pierce the idea that “people just changed their minds.” It’s time this discussion took place within Jan Assman’s coordinates, “religion” and “counter-religion.” Those coordinates are so crucial that any discussion of Abrahamic atrocities without them seems philosophically naive. The point, briefly, is that the Abrahamic religions developed as a reaction against and anathematization of traditional (read “Pagan”) religions. The oppression of traditional religion isn’t some “wrong choice.” It’s a structural prerequisite of Abrahamic religion.” – Todd Jackson

*   *   *

“There is a need to acknowledge that the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans was appropriated by Christianity in the Classical Era. There needs to be an acknowledgement that the temples of the Gods were turned into things like brothels and animal pens in a way do insult the Pagans and discredit the Gods.

There needs to be an acknowledgement of the destruction of scientific knowledge in things like the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the murder of scholars like Hypatia. If these things had not happened we might have been much farther along in both the physical and social sciences than we are now instead of having regressed because even knowledge that wasn’t “approved” by the Church powers was “of the Devil”.

Until we can get the general population to acknowledge these things intellectually, an apology from the two largest Christian denominations (Roman Catholic and Orthodox) would be essentially a meaningless gesture. It took many years of increasing awareness by the Jews and African-Americans before apologies were offered in any meaningful way.”  – Anne Hatzakis, GreekRevivialistMommy blog

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Sober Spaces and Support at Pagan Festivals

Wed, 2015-06-17 07:45

For those who participate in one or more festivals during the warm weather, it’s an opportunity to let down some personal guards and be temporarily freed from the pressures of the overculture. Festivals are often the only way for many Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists to worship in groups, learn from respected authors and elders, and compare notes with co-religionists. Within these spaces, they can recharge their spiritual batteries and become inspired to deepen religious practice.

Attendees dance at Pagan Spirit Gathering 2014 [Photo Credit: Cara Schulz]

Joy and revelry are also not at all uncommon. As such, festivals represent a mixed blessing for would-be participants who struggle with a substance abuse problems, or those wishing to continue a recovery process without backsliding. Alcohol and, in some jurisdictions, marijuana are legal for adults to consume, and can be readily found. These and other temptations can prove difficult to resist for a recovering addict, but they are part and parcel of these beloved festivals that offer valuable opportunities to connect, learn, and celebrate.

The Wild Hunt reached out to organizers of a wide range of festivals to find out what, if any, resources are available for people in recovery. The answers varied, depending on a number of factors, including the size and age of the event, the interest level of participants in there being sobriety supports, and the philosophy underpinning the festival itself.

12 Steps and More

The 12 step program, first developed for Alcoholics Anonymous, is by far the best-known support system for people in recovery. It is also strongly rooted in Abrahamic tradition and, therefore, it is often presented in a strongly Christian context.  However, there are adaptations designed to be more explicitly Pagan-friendly, such as Spiral Steps. With those changes, it is possible to run a 12-step meeting for Pagans that provides participants with the support they need.

Rev. Selena Fox wrote the book on Pagans in recovery called When Goddess is God: Pagans, Recovery, and Alcoholics Anonymous.  It is the 60-page thesis that resulted from research done as part of her Master’s degree in counseling. While the work wasn’t published until 1995, Fox’s applied work in the field began much earlier, and led to the creation of Amethyst Circle at Pagan Spirit Gathering.

Amethyst is both a site for daily 12-step meetings during PSG, and a camping area that is alcohol-free. Zan, one of the coordinators, took the time to talk to us, even while packing for this year’s event:

We have meetings at lunchtime every day.There is a lot going on across the festival at that time, but we are located away from most everything. We never talk to anyone about who we saw at our meeting, or what was said.That is the norm for 12 step meetings so we can feel safe to talk. As far as I know, there has never been a problem involving anonymity. I have had people run into me around the festival and talk about issues. This might be indicative of the quest for more anonymity or busy schedules, I cannot be sure.

The camping area is open to anyone who does not plan to drink. Many people camp there who are not familiar with 12 step programs [and choose to camp there] because it is a quieter area of the camp. In truth, there are few people who go to our meetings who actually camp in Amethyst camp itself. I chock that up to relationships people have formed over the years.

Florida Pagan Gathering also has similar meetings. As explained by organizer Ann Marie, “We had a request from some of our patrons about 10 years ago, and since that time we do have onsite AA meetings,”  which are run each evening by a longtime attendee. She added, “We set aside a very private space for the group to meet. Thus far everyone has stated they do not want a sober section and prefer to camp with all of their friends, but if we had such a request from even one person we would designate an area. FPG supports sobriety and are happy to accommodate the needs of our patrons whenever possible.”

Hand in hand with confidentiality is discretion, which is part of why camps like Amethyst Circle are away from the main traffic areas. At Kaleidoscope Gathering, discretion extends to the programming, which according to organizer Maryanne Pearce includes this blurb for AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings:

Some people have a difficult time with the Well of Dionysus, the gold of Aegir’s Cauldron, Kvasir’s Blood, or the products of Faerie Wings. If that describes you, then you are welcome to hang out for some positive support, on-site temporary sponsorship, or simply get some things off your chest.You’re not alone. We ask attendees to maintain the trust and anonymity of other participants. Come together, and find support for your path in life from a community of sober, magic-loving people. Meetings daily.

The meetings at Kaleidoscope Gathering arose spontaneously, and were formalized some 10 years ago. “Given that one person cannot know everyone, or all those in AA, [the organizers] thought having it in the program was important,” Pearce explained. “Now that we run KG and own the land, one thing we did was to provide a physical space. Meetings are in the schedule daily, and held at 7 pm in the children’s area, which is empty at night. The door is off to the side, so those entering can do so discretely. The people who first told us about the meetings no longer come, but that is fine. Many people do attend. No one had asked us to do this, but we thought it important. However, in the past 3 years, I would say there is at least 1-2 people who are new that contact us or staff about meetings. This is why its so important to have it in the schedule and program.”

For someone for whom a 12-step program works, knowing that there is support available can make all the difference. Todd Berntson, president of Summerland Spirit Festival, speaks from experience. “Over the past couple of years we have scheduled space for people in recovery,” he said. “I have been sober since 1983 and have been active in twelve step programs since then. Several of our other attendees also have a considerable amount of sobriety, so we make it a point to hold a couple of meetings for people in recovery throughout the week.” In addition, “We just try to make it known that there are sober individuals who are available and times set aside so that people who are in recovery can find support.”

However, not every event that has 12-step programming gets any interest.  At  Michigan Pagan Fest (MPF), Jim Ekhardt has offered a 12-step program that he calls Chalice Well, but so far he’s not had a lot of takers. It’s the same program that he has facilitated at ConVocation for many years, and he freely admits that Amethyst Circle was part of the inspiration. But like Spiral Steps, Chalice Well has tweaked the classic AA formula to make it more relevant for Pagans, and so a name change was in order. “You can’t say it’s AA if you change it,” he explained. The eponymous well in England, he said, is “where people go to put their troubles in. They make offerings to Cerridwen or the Goddess, and we thought it would be a cool symbol for a recovery group.” The rewritten steps, which are “easier on the ear for Pagans” and adapted so that members of any 12-step program would feel included.

Ekhardt said that, while 2-3 meetings a day can be supported at ConVocation, he has only had one person approach him at MPF. “I think it’s because a lot of people are local, and can leave the site, and know where the meetings are,” he said. However, he believes that having it available is important, because an initial meet-and-greet can provide people with familiar faces, and allow them to seek each other out for support at any time.

Joy Burton explained that Beltania, in Colorado, provides 2-3 support group meetings over the four days of the event, and staff have laid out clear guidelines for the use of intoxicants:

“Alcohol and legal marijuana is not allowed in community space and must be confined to private campsites, and there is no smoking in or within 20 feet of any building (as the new and uncertain legal marijuana situation unfolds, we are defaulting to combining our smoking and alcohol regulations).So it is an expectation that everyone should arrive sober at any ritual, workshop, or other activity. In the rare case that alcohol is a part of an event (like a mead-n-greet or Heathen blot) it will be clearly stated in the program. Rituals that offer cakes and wine will have a non alcoholic option always available.”

Free Spirit Gathering also has support meetings, and sometimes a sober camping space. Coordinator Eve reported, “We have two staff members for sobriety support who also offer a meeting every evening. We’ve had a sober cabin on and off when there have been folks who requested one. No one requested for this year.”

According to Cecelia Thomas, Communications Officer for Dragonfest, sobriety has long been part of that event’s traditions. “Dragonfest is celebrating our 30th year here in 2015, 15 of those years we have had a dedicated sobriety circle. Phoenix Circle is a drug and alcohol free space for those looking for recovery support. Families and friends of those with drug and alcohol problems are also encouraged to join us. We have daily recovery meetings and plenty of fellowship. We also have a nightly fire circle until 10 PM.”

Depending on the year, they have also hosted various workshops and rituals, two repeat favorites being the Wild Breakfast (spicy and/or weird foods) and the Caffeina Ritual. No further information on either of these rituals was available at this time.

Beyond the 12 Steps

While 12-step programs are widespread and are being used with or without adaption at Pagan events, the tenets do not sit well with all comers. That’s why the organizers of the Heathen event Trothmoot have been exploring other options, including SMART Recovery and Rational Recovery. One of the leaders of those ongoing discussions, Su Eaves, explained what these systems have to offer:

“Both SMART Recovery and Rational Recovery reject labeling the person in recovery as a lifelong ‘addict’ or an ‘alcoholic.’ Neither uses god or any sort of divinity in their approach to recovery. SMART Recovery lists four points as its main goals: it helps a person to enhance and maintain motivation to abstain, cope with urges, manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and balance momentary and enduring satisfactions. . . . Unlike SMART Recovery or AA, there are no support groups in Rational Recovery. In fact, this is the issue that caused the two systems to break apart. Rational Recovery . . . . claims that the desire to attend groups comes from the AA model that tells people that they will have a relapse if they do not attend meetings. They say that this self-doubt is the addictive voice, and reinforces the belief that one cannot stay sober independently.

I believe that both of these systems can have a lot of merit for Heathens. Heathens highly value self-reliance, courage, and strength of character. Both of these systems emphasize self-reliance and teach coping techniques. They don’t rely on a higher power, but on one’s internal strengths. Because of this, I believe that these systems could be very beneficial to Heathens attempting to get (and remain) sober.

Together with Robert L. Schreiwer and Laurel Mendes, who have also guided these discussions, Eaves explained that other parts of the popular 12-step programs aren’t a good fit for Heathens. “For example, stating that one is powerless over one’s addiction is, in the minds of many, not a Heathen value. While we do not see a particular need to create a program within the Heathen religious context, we do need to consider the content even of secular programs to be sure that they are consistent with the general Heathen mindset.”

Some forms of alcohol, such as mead and ale, are widely considered sacred by Heathens, said Schreiwer, but groups usually make accommodations. “For example, Urglaawe ceremonies typically include two steins: one with alcohol and one without, and the two are considered equal,” he said. “The Troth has typically had two horns at some Trothmoot ceremonial events for many years, [but] having two horns became an official Troth practice at Trothmoot this year.”

Other Strategies

Not every event is set up with formal recovery supports, for a variety of reasons, but every organizer who responded indicated that the use of intoxicants has at least been considered. Here’s a sampling:

Equinox in the Oaks: “Our host site had specific rules about use of alcohol use,” said organizer Manny. “However, we did note to participants that we would set up a private sober area and none of the participants requested the accommodation. Also, we make clear expectations of sobriety at rituals and have mandatory clean and sober events such as fire-walking and similar challenges.”

Spring Mysteries Festival: ” Our festival is very spiritually focused. The schedule doesn’t allow time for drinking and partying, so we have never had a need,” said Belladonna Laveau.

Free Cascadia Witchcamp: In a similar vein, the unsigned response read, “Free Cascadia Witch Camp is actually an entirely sober event!”  It continued one to explain, “There are designated spaces for people who medicinally use cannabis to take their medicine, but recreational use of alcohol and drugs of any sort are not permitted. This camp is a program in teaching magic, ‘the art of changing consciousness at will.’ From our perspective, learning to shift and change our state of awareness at will takes focus and concentration, and requires a clear state of consciousness as a starting point. Blending our awareness and raising energy together in ritual flows easier when consciousness isn’t pre-altered by chemicals or alcohol. Out of respect for the intensity of the spiritual and healing work we do here, we encourage participants within the circle of camp to engage in the transformational work of changing consciousness at will without the use of externally intoxicating substances.”

Starwood: A full response was not available by press time, but organizers did reply, saying, “We do have sobriety programing on our schedule.”

Beltaine: Pagan Odyssey Festival.  Organizers provided an unsigned statement which read, “Actually, the sober space embraces the whole festival except for the over 21 camping area, and BYOB under a dining tent. It solved the whole problem as too many get sloppy and rude when they are drinking. We have discussed a support group at festival, and there was one person who wanted to lead one but he left the temple. Still open to that idea. The Panthean Temple is a sober space at our other public events; even the ‘ale’ is pomegranate juice.”

PanGaia: Co-director Katrina Rasbold advised in part, “Guests are aware that alcohol is served by the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars, owners of the site] and it is their choice to remain there or leave with that being the case. We do not provide support groups for those who might be traumatized by the fact that someone in the general vicinity has consumed alcohol. There has been no discussion by the North Western Circles Association (who hosts the festival) to add these services or options to future events because we trust each guest who is of legal age to be a discerning adult who knows how to excuse themselves from what they perceive as an unhealthy situation …We have security in place to handle anyone who is over-served, as well as information cards giving guests options for designator driver services. We have had events at this venue for more that fifteen years and have never had an issue of the type your questions might address. The greatest issue we ever encountered was from VFW members who became volatile when drinking alcohol, not festival guests, and they were managed quickly and efficiently by event security.”

Pagan Unity Festival: As reported by one of the organizers, Star Bustamonte:

PUF is a family-friendly festival.Our policy regarding alcohol is, no alcohol in original containers in common or shared areas. What you do in the privacy of your own cabin or tent is your own business, provided you are not causing a problem or disturbing others. Drunkenness is prohibited. Alcohol (and the consumption of it) is not allowed in any of the areas where children and teen activities are conducted.

The grounds where PUF is held are large enough to find plenty of places to avoid revelry that might include drinking. And while we do not have a policy about alcohol during workshops or rituals, I cannot remember a single incident where drinking was an issue at either. To my knowledge, no one has ever expressed a desire for a sobriety zone or for any type of support group. If someone were to ask, we would likely suggest they take on organizing it and would support them in their efforts to do so.

Sun Wheel Music & Arts Festival: “We believe that sobriety is an important aspect of much of our festival, especially in sacred spaces [and] ritual,” responded Terry for the organizing team. “As Sun Wheel Festival is an outdoor camping event, we do expect that some folks are going to want to unwind and socialize with a drink, but we are also a family event, and many folks bring their children to the festival. As a result, we try and keep the families with children in one area of the tenting/RV space, away from the tenting areas where folks without children will be.”

MerryMeet: Gordon Stone, Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess, had this to say about CoG’s big annual event: “The workshops at MerryMeet are provided by volunteers from within the organization. The facilitator chooses the topic for a workshop, which is then submitted to the organizing committee. CoG welcomes any proposal from our members to provide sober space or a support group meeting during MerryMeet.”

Many Gods West: Niki Whiting explained how this polytheist gathering is positioned.

Many Gods West does not have any designated sober spaces. We are a small, first-time gathering, and this year our focus was on affordability, access for the mobility restricted, and diversity across race, tradition, sex and gender. We do have two 21+ events, a social and musical gathering at a local venue and one ritual. I can see that that might be alienating to some. We at MGW would be happy to work with people if they are concerned. If someone wants to offer their room as a safe space we can include that in the program (we already have one person offering up their room as a shrine space during certain hours) and get the word out to our attendees.

Ultimately, everyone’s sobriety is their own responsibility, but Many Gods West aims to be a supportive, inclusive, harassment-free gathering. Peer pressure or other activity that aims to override anyone’s consent in any regard will be unwelcome and not tolerated. Depending on the feedback we receive after our event, we will decide not only how to best serve our communities, but also if we will do a future gathering!

Coph Nia: “We do not currently have a designated sober space but the sole reason for that is that we have not had a request for it. While Coph Nia is a festival for the larger queer pagan community, our sponsoring organization Ordo Aeternus Vovin, is a Thelemic organization so there’s a lot of emphasis on personal choice at our event. Because we’re small (about 50 men), we’d prefer to provide networking, support and sober alternatives over a designated sober space. In a festival our size, our worry is that a designated space requested by someone might be stigmatizing or single them out or isolate them,” advised Julian Hill.

Harvest Gathering: “HG hasn’t had the ‘sober spaces’ before, but we do offer activities that don’t encourage drinking,” said organizer Gina Martini. “During the day it’s all about learning, not really the format for drinking festival style. Evenings we offer all sorts activities that have nothing to do with drinking, walking an illuminated labyrinth, yoga by candlelight, rituals, relaxation tents, and we have a massage therapist. We don’t want to single anyone out as ‘the alcoholic.’ We provide a relaxing environment for everyone. If someone would like to talk or feels the need for sober space, we have someone to talk who also doesn’t drink.”

[Photo Credit: Martin Cathrae / Flickr]

All told, those events without a formal program tend to focus on personal responsibility or simply avoiding exposing young people to intoxicants and intoxicated behavior. Most event organizers were open to the idea of a more robust program, particularly if someone stepped up to organize it.

Being an addict doesn’t necessarily mean being cut off from the festival circuit. There are many events that make available supports for those in recovery, but there are quite a few others which placemore of that burden on the attendees themselves. Anyone in recovery should take the time to find out what policies and programs are in place for any given event, and decide whether or not to attend accordingly.

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UPDATE: Pagan Spirit Gathering Closing Due to Flood Waters

Tue, 2015-06-16 10:39

[Photo Credit:Beth Yoder-Balla]

EARLVILLE, Illinois- Shortly after we reported on the extensive flooding at the 35th annual Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), organizers announced that the festival would be shutting down. All attendees and staff personnel must evacuate by tomorrow. According to reports, the grounds have become unsafe, and more rain is on the way.

As reported by local news, Illinois state emergency planners are now closely watching the Illinois River as the waters begin to rise, reaching flood-level in some locations. Due to the record downpours across the region, several cities have already initiated emergency plans.

Circle Magazine editor Florence Edwards-Miller said, “While PSG has endured severe weather before, including a near miss by a tornado at a different campground, this is the largest scale emergency in the festival’s 35-year history.”

During the Tuesday morning meeting, attendees were informed of this decision, and an emergency evacuation plan has been put into place. During stage one, those people camping in the flooded areas, such as Rainbow and Quiet, will be evacuated first. PSG has asked anyone in the drier areas of camp to help assist with the effort.

After the meeting and before the packing began, Rev Selena Fox led a “community ritual of healing and farewell.”

[Courtesy Pagan Spirit Gathering]

Edwards-Miller said:

In the wake of the emergency, the community rallied to support those displaced and the PSG volunteers and Safety team. Offers of spare tents, bedding, and food flowed in and people opened their hearts and campsites to friends and strangers alike. Guest musician Wendy Rule performed for those displaced and waiting.This year’s PSG theme is ‘Celebrating Community’ and the community rose to the challenge.

Evacuating and clean-up won’t be easy. There are about 800 people currently on site at PSG, including the staff.  Many cars still won’t start, and camping gear is underwater. In addition, the sanitation fields are flooded, which brings further safety and clean-up concerns. PSG will be holding a mandatory meeting tonight for those people still around. Edwards-Miller added:

PSG and Circle Sanctuary plan to release further information later in the week, but for now the focus is on helping those affected and on organizing a safe early departure from the site.  Circle Sanctuary thanks the PSG community for a truly awe-inspiring display of strength and mutual support, and asks for continued understanding as we work together to get everyone home safely.

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Flooding at Pagan Spirit Gathering

Tue, 2015-06-16 08:23

EARLVILLE, Illinois – As the 35th annual Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) got underway June 14, attendees found themselves grappling with unusually wet weather. Earleville, located 70 miles west of Chicago, has seen an above average amount of rainfall since May, with more than double the monthly average falling in the first half of June alone.

Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]

The rains began again on Wednesday and continued on and off through the weekend. By Monday, PSG attendees found themselves in the middle of a deluge with rising waters throughout the campgrounds. One of the fields, which is now completely underwater, has joined with a nearby pond that has overflowed its banks. Attendees have jokingly labeled this “Lake PSG.”

Rainbow, the LGBT area, was the first to flood and, as reported,  the waters rose so fast that attendees has to quickly grab their stuff and run. The parking area is also completely flooded. On Monday, attendees joined with PSG staff members in a muddy attempt to rescue remaining vehicles. Some cars did sustain water damage, and a few reportedly wouldn’t even start. Additionally, there have been limbs downs throughout camp, and unconfirmed reports of trees falling on tents and campers.

Many PSG attenees have taken to social media to report their experiences and the damage. Blogger Lori Dake has posted a video:

http://wildhunt.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/11248628_913537712061644_1272811235_n.mp4
A small number of attendees have left permanently; most are staying. Of those staying, some people have taken refuge temporarily in locals hotels and others have moved into their cars. Despite these adverse conditions, spirits remain high, and nobody has been hurt. The community has cooperated with the PSG staff, who have reportedly worked efficiently and effectively to make the best of the situation. Praise has been pouring in specifically for the work done by the PSG security team, known as the Guardians,  as well as the medics. Some people are going so far as to call them, “heroes.”

Today’s weather reports call for part sun and only a 10% chance of rain. Although the waters have not receded and very little has dried out, today’s prospect for clear weather brings with it the hopes of assessing damages and reorganizing the weeks activities. However, the weather report do call for more rain tomorrow through Sunday. As a result, there may be little drying out, more water soaked tents and more rescheduling in PSG’s future.

We are in touch with the Staff  and will share more as reports come in and the story unfolds.

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Pagan Community Notes: Environmental Statements, Raven & Crone, Christopher Lee and more!

Mon, 2015-06-15 09:04

Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

On Thursday June 18, Pope Francis is scheduled to release a “teaching letter,” also called an encyclical, on the environment. This highly anticipated document will most likely become big news of the week as the Pope enters the debates on climate change. A recent New York Times article suggested that, through this work, he is “seeking to redefine a typically secular discussion within a religious framework.” Many activists, around the world, stand ready to applaud his efforts to publicly engage in the global Earth Stewardship conversation and, thereby, hopefully increase pressure on communities, businesses, organizations and governments to enact change.

To some Pagans and others, who already position the Earth or a connection to natural systems of place, at the center of their spiritual practice, the need for such a document might seem superfluous. However, the team who created the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment did a very similar thing. They made a public statement that clearly positions environmental protection within a spiritual framework.  Now, many Pagans view the pending encyclical as an opportunity to demonstrate, in a concrete fashion, that people of different religious beliefs can stand together for one cause. Writer John Halstead said:

I wonder if the timing of the publication of ‘A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment‘ and the papal encyclical on the environment might be an opportunity for the beginning of a rapprochement between Pagans and Christians. No doubt this will be difficult for both, as we tend to define ourselves in contrast to each other … It can be difficult to see this when we are immersed in our own distinct paths. But when we suddenly find those paths intersecting, as they are at this moment, perhaps we can reconsider whether we — and all other life on Earth — would be better served by emphasizing our similarities, rather than our differences.

As for the Pagan statement itself, it is now has 6, 272 signatures, coming from people all over the world and many religions.

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In the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina, there is a small metaphysical store called Raven and Crone. Although the store has only been around a short time, it has been making headlines in one of the city’s local magazines. In a recent article in Capital at Play, writer Roger McCredie featured the store in an article titled “Raven & Crone: Asheville’s Most Bewitching Retailers: Wiccan Make This Work.”  McCredie writes, “In recent decades a saying has arisen that there are probably more Wiccans in the woods of Southern Appalachia than there are rabbits. The sentiment may be fairly new, but the fact it addresses is as old as human habitation of these mountains.” He refers largely to the traditional magical practices and spiritual beliefs found within the Appalachian region.

The store is owned by Lisa Svencicki and Kim Strobel. In the article, McCredie, who is not Pagan, interviews them both about their backgrounds, the decisions that led to the store’s birth and how they are doing. He writes, “Lisa and Kim saw the runic writing on the wall and decided the time was right to create a retail source that could serve the whole spectrum of Asheville’s growing alternative religion communities and also to cross-market to the general public.” The entire article, originally published in print, is available online. Raven & Crone, which bills itself as “the only only “Old Age” metaphysical supply store,” is located on Merriman Avenue near the University campus.

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Christopher Lee at the Women’s World Awards 2009 in Vienna, Austria

On June 7, actor Christopher Lee (1922-2015) passed way at the age of 93. Lee is remembered for a number of roles, including Dracula in group of Hammer Horror films and the Man with the Golden Gun in the James Bond film franchise (1974).  However, younger movie goers will recognize him as Count Dooku or Darth Tyranus in the Star Wars series (2002-2008), or as Sarumon in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2012-2014). And, many Pagans will also recognize him as Lord Summerisle in the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man.

Lee was born in London in 1922; in the early years of the film industry. During WWII, he served as an “intelligence officer for the Long Range Desert Patrol, a forerunner of the SAS, Britain’s special forces.” He returned to London in 1946 and began his illustrious acting career. After sixty-three years of work, Lee was knighted in 2009 for his contribution to the arts.  Known for his deep voice, Lee was also a singer and recorded a number of operas during the 1980s and 1990s. In 2010, at the age of 88, he recorded a symphonic metal album called “Charlemagne: By the Sword and Cross” and then in 2013 “Charlemagne: the Omens of Death.”

Lee’s career was extensive, full and long-lived. Through his artistic legacy and the characters he brought to life, he will continue to entertain generations to come.  What is remembered, lives.

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In Other News

  • Twin Cities Pagan Pride has just released details about its Paganicon 2016 conference. The theme for its 6th year will be “Sacred Traditions: Global Visions & Voices” and the guest of honor will be T.Thorn Coyle. Organizers said, “We walk this world together; we have different spiritual ways of interacting with our deities, our ancestors, our families, and our rites, but ultimately we share many similar traditions and techniques of relating to the sacred.” Next year’s event will celebrate and honor this diversity. Submissions for programming will be accepted later this week.  In addition, organizers are currently holding a related T-Shirt design contest. Entry rules are posted on the website. Paganicon 2016 will be held from March 18-20 at the Double Tree Park Place in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
  • Lydia M. Nettles Crabtree’s book Family Coven: Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft has just been released. Crabtree has been researching and writing this book for over ten years. She calls it a “comprehensive guide to developing a family oriented spiritual practice … covering the basics of communication, relationship building, finances and parenting.”
  • Coming in October is Cernnunos Camp, a five day festival devoted to the Horned God. Organizers say, “Come and feel the antlered mysteries and abandon yourselves in a celebration of wild unfettered worship of Him with hand, tooth, claw, hoof and feet. Bring your bodies, your drums and rattles, antlers, masks and other ceremonial tools.” Cernnunos Camp will take place from October 14-18 in Shropshire in the West Midlands of England. Tickets are now on sale.
  • Over at Patheos’ The Agora, Dana Corby recalls the making of the album “Songs for the Old Religion.” As the story begins: “In 1973, a friend of mine returned to Southern California from a visit to a Wiccan gathering in the Bay Area telling me about a musician he had met by the name of Gwydion Pendderwyn who had a songbook full of wonderful music … “  Corby then goes on to describe the process and spirit that led to actual recording of the music.  She writes, “We didn’t know we were pioneering anything, or that there would soon be a booming cottage industry in self-produced Pagan music. We just wanted to “show ‘em how it should be done!” This post, which is marked as part one, provides a nice look into some of the early history of the modern Pagan movement in the United States.

  • On June 5, a writer for Motherboard published an article called “Pop Culture Pagans Who Draw Power From Tumblr.”  The article discusses the use of Pop Cultural icons within magical and religious practice, as well as the controversies surrounding it.  A number of Pagans were quoted or interviewed for the discussion, including author Christine Hoff Kraemer, lawyer and witch Emily Carlin, and editor Taylor Ellwood, who has published a number of books on Pop Culture Magick. In the Motherboard article, Carlin explains, “For those of us who grew up stewing in pop culture, using those ideas in magick seems only natural.” In addition, Carlin has published the writer’s full interview on her own site.
  • Organizers of the upcoming 2016 Pagan Music Festival have recently announced some changes to the spring event. Originally the festival was to be hosted by Dragon Hills in Bowdon, Georgia. However, those plans fell through. Organizers have successfully relocated the festival to Cherokee Farm in LaFayette, Georgia, which is only 2 hours north of its original location. In addition, the event has been renamed to The Caldera Pagan Music Festival. Organizers did add that programming ha not changed; more than 20 bands are scheduled to perform over the 4 days from May 26-30. More information can be found on their website.
  • Tomorrow, Ardantane Learning Center will begin a new “Teaching intensive with Ina White Owl and Amber K.”  The four week course will instruct students on how to “teach more powerfully and effectively,” including “creating lesson plans, working with psychic energies in classrooms, communicating on multiple levels, evaluating your own strengths as a teacher, and handling various other challenges.” Teacher and author Amber K is the executive director of Ardantane, which is located in the deserts of New Mexico. The teaching intensive will be held Tuesdays at 7 pm from June 16-July 7. Registration is now open.

That’s all for now,  Have a nice day!

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The Intersection of Religion and Public Education

Sun, 2015-06-14 09:11

For most of the United States, public school is out of session, and children are outside making mudpies, playing ball, climbing trees and building Minecraft fortresses on small electronic gadgets. Nobody is thinking about school.

Well, almost nobody. June is “Public School Religious Freedom Month.” Or, at least it is in Pennsylvania; the state in which the historic 1963 Schempp case began. As we previously reported, Abington School District v. Schempp is considered a landmark case in the on-going struggle for religious freedom and equality within public school environments. Schempp challenged the constitutionality of Bible reading within American public schools.

[Photo Credit: Joseph Barillari, cc-lic. Wikimedia]

In recognition of Pennsylvania’s honorary month, we decided to look at recent school-related court cases and proposed or enacted legislation, which challenge and even flout (e.g., Basevitz v. Fremont RE-2 School District) the U.S. Constitution’s implied “Separation of Church and State.”

Religious equality in public schools is unique within the larger cultural negotiations of religion in the public sphere, chiefly because it involves minors – the very protected, very impressionable, youngest sector of the population. These cases often become a power struggle between the administration or even a single teacher and parents or guardians. In a few cases, the struggle is between a teacher and administrators. The Atheist activist group Freedom From Religion Foundation has said that 40% of its received religious-freedom complaints are school-related.

In some situations, the struggle over control of a child’s education and personal expression calls into question the social lines drawn between educational responsibility and rights. These situations also question the ethical boundaries of exposure and advertising to young people (e.g., Lubbock v. Little Pencil), and the capitalizing on expectations or positions of authority (e.g. Boy Scout in-class recruiting.) These cases can even go so far as to insult a parent’s credibility, marginalize a minority religious practice or culture (e.g., Griffith v Caney Valley Public School), and place a fragile young spirit in awkwardly social positions, ostracizing them from friends during a critical social growth period.

These battles, in many ways, are a wrestling-match over our future – personal, community, and legislative.

[Photo: H. Greene]

Imagine picking up your child school from school and finding a group of older men in sensible sport jackets, red ties and khakis handing out mini copies of the New Testament. As the last bell rings and children exit the school building, these men stand ready to hand each child a brightly colored book strategically decorated like a school locker for greater appeal.

This very scenario happened in May at a school district in north Georgia. When approached, the men happily said that they were simply “sharing teaching Bibles with the children” and that the school knew they were there. Unconstitutional? The men passing out the Bible made it a point to stand just off school property near the three entrances, and only began distribution after school ended. While this situation remains frustrating for many non-Christians and Christians alike, the group was within legal boundaries.

Situations like this and other school-related religious freedom issues are unfortunately not uncommon. While every case doesn’t directly involve Pagans and Heathens, every situation and decision affects the entire student body, not only the families who take their story to the press, to the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United or, if you are in the Pagan world, to Lady Liberty League.

Let’s look at two recent situations.

Creationism Regularly Taught in Louisiana Schools

Do you have children in Louisiana public schools? If so, you might want to look closely at the science curriculum. According to a recent Slate magazine article, Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education said, “We know that one in eight high school biology teachers advocate for creationism, even though it’s unconstitutional.”

In 2008, Louisiana passed the “Louisiana Science Education Act,” which opened the door for the teaching of creationism within its public school system. This law, commonly referred to as the “Creationism Act,” states that its purpose is to “promote students’ critical thinking skills and open discussion of scientific theories … including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.” Although the law also specifically states that it “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine,” a new investigative report has proven the contrary.

Recent investigative work by Slate’s Zack Kopplin demonstrates that creationism is regularly taught in school districts across the state, using Bibles as supplemental teaching texts. He revealed his findings in two separate articles for the online news journal. Not only does his research demonstrate open school support of such teachings, he also suggests that state legislators have been pressuring districts to include creationism in the curriculum.

Kopplin also notes that there have been 10 attempts to repeal the Creationism Act since its enactment, but none have been successful. In his latest report, Kopplin concludes, “All it will take is for one Louisiana parent or student to sue the state for endorsing religion in public school, and teaching creationism will become illegal again. But for the moment, because Louisiana politicians refuse to take action, Louisiana students are reading Genesis in science class.” Americans United (AU), the ACLU, and Freedom From Religion Foundation have all made it clear that they are watching and waiting. AU wrote, “Let’s hope someone will step up soon.”

Prayer in School

In Indiana, the ACLU filed a lawsuit June 1 on behalf of a Jim and Nichole Bellars, whose son attends River Forest Junior / Senior High School. As reported, the complaint reads:

The coach-led prayers, the School Board prayers, and the graduation prayers all violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

According to the Indiannapolis Star, the child was told to “get along better” with the coaches and that he should “just sit there and be quiet but that the prayers would continue and that [he] had to remain huddled with the team.” Since the parents got involved, the child has been subjected to harassment by others at the school.

Interestingly, the case touches on three different observational complaints, implicating the sports program, the graduation exercises and the school board meetings. According to ACLU reference material, the Supreme Court is clear on the unconstitutionality of both coach-led and graduation prayers. “In 1992, the Supreme Court held in Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577 (1992), that prayer – even nonsectarian or nonproselytizing prayer – at public school graduation ceremonies violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” Similarly “in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 68 U.S. 4525 (2000),” the United States Supreme Court ruled against coach-led optional prayers before sporting events. The ACLU explains:

Such system encourages divisiveness along religious lines and threatens the imposition of coercion upon those students not desiring to participate in a religious exercise. Simply by establishing the schoolrelated procedure, which entrusts the inherently nongovernmental subject of religion to a majoritarian vote, a constitutional violation has occurred.

The third issue raised in the Indiana case is the legality of prayer before school board meetings, which is an entirely different challenge. School Board meeting are largely adult forums and do not involve the education of minors. So this raises an important question. Does the 2014 Town of Greece v. Galloway case, allowing for sectarian prayers during government meetings, apply to such school boards?

According to the ACLU documentation, it does not. The document says that “In Coles ex rel. Coles v. Cleveland Bd. of Educ., 171 F.3d 369 (6th Cir. 1999) …the Court observed that ‘[t]he very fact that school board meetings focus solely on school-related matters provides students with an incentive to attend the meetings that is lacking in other settings.” The organization goes on to suggest that, in many cases, students are required to attend such meetings. Therefore, since there is a potential for coercion of minors, sectarian prayer at school board meetings is definitively unconstitutional. This idea is firmly based on the premise of protecting our youth. Adults can presumably handle hearing opposing views without being coerced, where children can’t.

Americans United agrees with the ACLU. However, without a specific SCOTUS ruling, there is still much debate.

[Photo Credit: Jayhawksean via Wikimedia]

Many other situations and cases are on file and pending. In the Basevitz case, as linked below, a Jewish teacher is currently suing her district for allowing a local church to offer services in the lunchroom during school hours. In the Griffith v. Caney Valley Public Schools case, a student sued the school board for not allowing her to wear a sacred eagle feather during graduation. She lost her case. In Lubbock v. Little Pencil, a school district was sued when it rejected a religious advertisement proposed for its stadium’s jumbo tron. The court ruled in favor of the school. And, in Georgia, a local high school has recently announced that its “back to school activities” will be held in a nearby Baptist megachurch due to building construction. There is no legal challenge to this action yet.

The cultural discussions over religious equality often seem to just spin round and round. The freedom of religious expression (e.g., Griffith v Caney Valley Public School) and the definitive separation of church and state (e.g., Basevitz v. Fremont RE-2 School District) often come into conflict within that struggle, adding nuance to already complicated legal situations and personal sacrifice. In addition, the rules change and situations become more emotional when children involved; when the future and the, often-considered sacred, rights of parents and guardians as religious and cultural guides, is challenged.

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Guest Post: Midsummer’s Generative Promise

Sat, 2015-06-13 06:02

[With the Summer Solstice just a week away, we decided to take a pause from our regular schedule and invite Erick DuPree back to share his thoughts on this seasonal celebration. DuPree is the author of Alone in Her Presence: Meditations on the Goddess and editor of Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral. He teaches heart-centered practices that unite breath to heart, inviting a holistic relationship with the Goddess. His writing can be found on his own website as well as on the Patheos Pagan Channel.]

“Who made the world?” begins Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day

“Who made the world? 
Who made the swan, and the black bear? 
Who made the grasshopper?”

As dawn rises over the horizon and into the warmth of possibility, the northern hemisphere approaches the Summer Solstice. For many people, this is the time of Helios, the sun g*d, the Oak King and of St. John. Here the masculine has triumphed anew. These are the days when the sunlight lazily lingers into a short balmy dream. Where the possibilities are seemingly as endless as the sun stands still in the sky.

Midsummer is not in my colloquial “wheelhouse” of Pagan holidays. The myths, legends, and wisdom traditions where, as Joseph Campbell describes, “mankind’s deep need to give g*d a name and face” have never been for me the names of Cernunnos, Lugh, Oak and Holly King or Ra. Those masculinized representations seem a foreign extrapolation of all things resonant, a dual binary not reflective of how I honor the world.

[Photo Credit: ©2015 Norm Halm | Photographmaker]

So, imagine my trepidation when I was invited to write about Midsummer! Dare I attempt feebly to write about Litha? Or better still, some dilettante collection of musings about each Sun g*d? Well, I could always just write about the matriarchy… and the breath! Because that’s exciting, right?

“Is that all he ever writes about?” I can hear it now.

But there is still meaning in the sun and a lesson within our common lexicon that is Midsummer, even when how we come to know and experience Midsummer is different. It was Starhawk who reminds us,“Paganism has no litmus test for belief entry.” And so, I set out to write about Summer Solstice and, more directly, Midsummer.

For me, “who made the world” is always divinely feminine, even before I could identity what was distinctly different between “male” and “female.” Like a gravitational pull, that once was “alone, awesome, and complete within herself.” I have always known a generative nexus that is all Goddess. I recognize that this is not a common denominator within my Pagan community, or at times even a welcome one. Perhaps had I been born a cis-gendered woman, I’d be writing a very different article to a very different audience. Actually, I’d probably be married to an Evangelical Christian preacher, hosting a ladies luncheon on the actual solstice.

How we come into presence weaves our lives. For me, it all started while being the only guy participating in a group of all women of a certain age in the parish room of a Unitarian Universalist Church, and with a book called Cakes for the Queen of Heaven. Lead by a woman name Janice, she begrudgingly made the exception. A year later, she revealed another name to me, EveningStar, and explained there was more to The Spiral Dance than a book. She taught me to spiral dance, she gave me ecstatic ritual, and she called me priestess.

She was the one who first taught me to be in presence. The truth is, when I stand in the sun at Summer Solstices longest day, I am in presence. It is a reminder of the living, of growth, renewal, and generation. Summer Solstice lives in my heart (and I suspect the hearts of many Pagans and Heathens, regardless of praxis of belief or knowing) as a time to drink-in the glowing, our faces turning towards the radiance that is sunlight, and the cultivation of brightness and renewed warmth. I lean into the possibility of what can be, because the sunshine invites a newness that is possibility.

What might it be like to step into the sun from the shadows? Each ray of sun that comes foreword at this time of year feels like a hand extended and to beckoning me. To be unafraid of this light. I spent years hiding from the rays of the sun. What might they reveal? Ashamed to be seen. My body heartbroken and battered; and like so many, not good enough. Not for the beach or a pair of shorts or even a t-shirt? No dancing around a fire or merry making. There was no worshiping in a heart that rejoiced.

Yet Midsummer can be the healer because healing is the sun as She fills the shifting spaces of darkness with a new light of potentiality washing over pale forearms and faces. This is the promise of the sun as I take her hand and step out of the darkness of winter and allow myself to be held in the generative mother that is Goddess.

[Photo Credit: ©2015 Norm Halm | Photographmaker]

To me, this too is the ultimate expression of Midsummer. This is where I can hear the speaking of the trees as I lean against bark, or nestle into the grass. Here taking a moment to breathe into Her sacred embrace that is All Goddess. The fertile Earth that has blossomed anew from the warmth of a sunlight, which has nourished Her fertile mantle some the beginning of time. The riches of seeds planted that feed and sustains all.

While cultures near and far have rituals and celebrations that occur on or around the midsummer, I come into this time with a simplicity that is knowing the Goddess as Earth Mother. It is here where I see the brightness of the sun reflected most. This matrifocal wellspring that is Goddess inviting the complicated curiosity to heal and nurture. You and I looking at Her. Where possibility is met with a maternal-like spaciousness that Midsummer creates.

I couldn’t write about the longest day and the warmest of night, and feel empowered to come out of the dark and step into the sun, without Goddess. That wouldn’t be me. Goddess is the reflection of the generative space that first appears when we take a deeper breath in, and a longer one out.The breath we have known from the beginning. From before we knew that we were actually breathing.

This isn’t about an obligation but rather the invitation to give permission to create space to explore to feel the light. This Midsummer’s dream is the revelation that is always the saving message when we turn toward the mother whom flows in, among, and around us to feel her warmth.Growing full. Inviting abundance. Shining from that place of limitless virtuosity. That which is All. That which invites hope. That which heals. That which says. “Come walk by me, in the sun and get comfortable.”

Mary Oliver continues…

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

Solstice and Midsummer continue to invite the precious warmth of community. Each of us has pause to reflect on the things that draw us together. How like the sun, we can support each other; generative, growing, renewing, warm. Wildly imperfect, yet perfectly complete, this cycle is the continued moment we share together. For me, this is the generative promise Goddess gives our precious life.

*   *   *

Oliver, Mary. “The Summer Day.” New And Selected Poems. Beacon Press: Boston 1993. 102-103. Print.

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