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Updated: 13 hours 25 min ago

Winter fire festivals in the UK celebrate Viking heritage

Thu, 2017-02-23 11:52

UNITED KINGDOM — Winter in the UK is often a dull and dreary affair. The winds are cold and biting, the skies are grey and loaded with drizzle. Any snow, with its temporary sense of wonder and magic, tends to be short-lived. So what do we have to get us through the Winter Fire festivals!

Up Helly Aa © Copyright Anne Burgess

Britain, Scotland in particular, has a long history of winter fire festivals to mark the end of Yuletide and welcome the returning spring and days of more sun. Two well-known festivals are the Burning the Clavie and the world famous Up Helly Aa. Burning the Clavie takes place in the Moray region and harkens back to the old custom of tar barrelling. Up Helly Aa is described by Bryan Peterson of Shetland Arts as “36 hours of lawlessness, where by-laws are bypassed, marital vows are suspended and health and safety becomes very subjective.”

Peterson adds: “For many Shetlanders, it’s bigger than Christmas and New Year put together.”

Over recent years, the Up Helly Aa festival has seen an explosion of popularity. The event, whose name roughly translates as “End of Holy/holiday time for all,” marks the end of Yuletide on the Shetland Isles. Its date can alter as it is celebrated on the last Tuesday in January.

The Up Helly Aa tradition is an old one and originally involved the practice of tar barrelling, where barrels of tar were set alight and rolled around the streets in a procession with accompanying mischief making. This is likely to be a nod to the Lord of Misrule antics that often traditionally accompany festivals around such as this time. Since Christianity’s arrival, these traditions have been more associated with Epiphany.

Tar barrelling was phased out during the mid 19th century, and the more modern ceremony slowly evolved over that period. By the turn of the century, the galley ship and torchlit precession were firm fixtures of the Up Helly Aa festival. Today, the procession consists of roughly 1,000 torchbearers, known as guizers, making their way to a central spot where a huge Viking galley awaits.

The guizers form different squads, and the whole event is led by the Guizer Jarl, who has his own squad of between 50 and 70 men. This group has formed the Jarl Squad for Up Helly Aa since the 1920s. The squad dresses in Viking regalia and calls themselves Vikings for a day.

A new galley is custom built every year for the festival. As the procession gathers, the guizers move around the boat in a spiral with each member throwing their torch into the boat. As the boat catches fire, wishes for the new year are taken to the gods. The current Up Helly Aa celebrations are held at 10 different locations on Shetland.

The festival is also a celebration of Shetland’s Viking roots.The Norn language, directly related to Old Norse, only died out in the mid 19th Century, and the current dialect (Shetland Scots) spoken there has many Norse-related words in its vernacular. Due to its location – it is roughly the centre of a triangle between the Northern coast of Scotland, Norway and the Faroe Isles – Shetland has a prominent Viking history and many of its traditions and dialect share a Scandinavian lineage.

Even the costumes for the festival are given the utmost care and attention and are an important part of the ceremony. The Guizer Jarl wears a full suit of Viking armour which dates to the 1930s. Every year a new shield and suit design is commissioned for his men and preparations often begin up to two years in advance. Other squads are tasked with making their own suits.

Jarl Squad 1973 © Copyright Anne Burgess

The procession begins in the morning, when squads march into town and read The Bill which sets out the instructions for the day. This is usually light-hearted and informal direction. As the sun sets, which is early on Shetland, the squads make their way to the galley. As they approach the boat, they sing the Up Helly Aa song, followed by the Galley Song. Later they sing the Norseman’s Home as they come away from the boat. By that point, the galley is ablaze and is returning to Valhalla as described by Northern Tradition.

The guizers then retire to the local pubs, where lots of after-parties and dances take place, often into the next morning. The next day, thankfully, is a public holiday.

The popularity of these festivals continues to grow, drawing bigger and bigger crowds. Up Helly Aa is now streamed on You Tube. And other fire festivals are beginning to take root as Britain rediscovers its often neglected Viking links.

In the remote headland of Flamborough, East Yorkshire, a New Year’s Eve fire festival began two years ago as a celebration of the area’s Viking history. Like Up Helly Aa, the Flamborough Fire Festival also has a torchlit procession, during which a Viking longship is drawn through the streets.

This is a reenactment of an 8th Century Viking invasion at Flamborough and the settlements that existed there for hundreds of years since. The crowds are encouraged to throw coins into the longship for good luck. Throwing money into wells and fountains is a well-known European custom, and it manifests here in this newer event.

The Flamborough festival also has fire swallowers as part of its procession, which is said to be based on an old Northern tradition of using fire to clear the air to make way for the new energy of the year.

Speaking to the Scarborough Evening News, organisers Jane Emmerson and Pam Sayer said: “The Festival is a very special event to celebrate Flamborough’s Viking heritage, as we believe Flamborough is the home of the Vikings.”

The Vikings may be gone but more and more Britons are keeping their fire burning.

President Trump attracts magical ire

Wed, 2017-02-22 09:41

UNITED STATES –President Trump continues to raise hackles among progressives — as well as some conservatives — during these first hundred days of his term in office. Some of his opponents in the Pagan and polytheist communities are working magic against the 45th president, and in the tradition of hexing Brock Turner, some of that work is being done very publicly.

Witch’s Bottle [Wikimedia Commons]

Gala Darling broadcast a “bind Trump” ritual on President’s Day, capitalizing on the holiday to focus energy on the effort. Based on the participant locations she rattled off, the effort was an international one.

Binding is a form of magic that is less ethically problematic for practitioners who subscribe to the threefold law or similar injunctions against manipulative magic. “Binding spells are traditionally used to prevent someone else’s energy from interfering with yours,” she wrote on her site, “and when there’s a dangerous narcissist dictating the direction of the USA, I think it’s high time to employ a powerful binding spell.”

Last Monday was not the only opportunity to get involved in such a public effort, however. Another binding spell is scheduled to take place on Feb. 24, the start of the waning crescent moon. It’s been popularized by author Michael M. Hughes, who wrote, “It was allegedly created by a member of a private magical order who wishes to remain anonymous. I make no claims about its efficacy, and several people have noted it can be viewed as more of a mass art/consciousness-raising project . . . . but many are clearly taking it very seriously.”

Both of those binding spells are broadly intended to keep the current president from doing harm, and they share components such as thread, candles, and pins. Where Darling’s spell provided only general guidelines regarding the casters’ intentions, the spell shared by Hughes was quite specific, including such details as:

Bind him so that he shall not break our polity
Usurp our liberty
Or fill our minds with hate, confusion, fear, or despair
And bind, too,
All those who enable his wickedness
And those whose mouths speak his poisonous lies

There are witches, root workers, and other magical practitioners who don’t believe that a binding is the only alternative. A trend to refer to Trump simply as “45” to undermine his perceived ego has more extensive magical expression in a hex of obsolescence, for example. However, many of the online examples were written before the election, which is itself may be a commentary on their effectiveness.

What the spells offered do have in common is a rich variety of symbolism. Carrots and orange candles are used to evoke Trump’s hair. That tarot decks have a trump called the Tower is too tempting to ignore. In the tradition of political advertising, unflattering pictures of the president are sometimes incorporated.

The result of decades of self-branding provides a wide variety of icons and images to use in work targeting him, including delivering written intentions to Trump Tower.

Hurling curses at the so-called leader of the free world does raise ethical questions separate from the political ones. As noted previously, adherents to the threefold law of return and similar edicts are mindful that what they work will revisit them in turn. The Wiccan Rede, “an it harm none do as you will,” also stands as warning against working negative magic.

That doesn’t sit well for people who agree with Witch and shaman Mat Auryn, who last month wrote, “As we continue down on our path, many of us start seeing the flaw of fulfilling the Rede as we meditate upon it. The act of existence is harmful by nature. The act of eating kills something, regardless of our dietary choices. The body itself tends to be constantly breaking down and destroying life as it exists.”

To help place the ethical issues in context, we turned to Ivo Dominguez, Jr., who has written a number of books on the practice of magic.

The Wild Hunt: What’s your ethical position on doing this kind of magical work in general?

Ivo Dominguez, Jr.: I believe that it is ethical to perform operative workings if they adhere to the same ethical and moral framework that you would apply in any other arena of life. I apply the same guidelines and codes to whatever change that I want to make in the world whether I use words, deeds, or wands. The larger the potential impact on myself or others, the more carefully I review my intentions, methods, and possible outcomes. The powers raised by passion and will are essential in powerful workings, but a strong container and focus of action is just as essential. In this regard ethics, morals, and careful consideration of the possibility of unintended outcomes is just as important as good magickal tech and ritual-craft.

TWH: Whether or not you’d do something like that yourself, are there pitfalls that you think people who work such magic commonly overlook? Unintended consequences, that sort of thing?

ID: The most common pitfall is failure, which wastes time, energy, and can be demoralizing. In a way similar to rituals that work well for a handful of people but fall apart when offered as a large group ritual, political magick requires different approaches. The spell that works well for quelling angry gossip in the workplace, or keeping obnoxious neighbors at bay, etc. does not often provide a useful template for political workings. For operative magick to be effective when applied at this scale, modifications must be made to both the planning and to the execution of the workings. The methods for analysis and implementation need to be a mixture of mundane practices in combination with low, middle, and high magick.

There have been successful workings in the past such as the witches and magicians that fought against Hitler in World War II, the practitioners of Vodou that started the Haitian Revolution, Maria Soliña and her coven who defeated an attack by the Turkish fleet against Spain in the Middle Ages, and many more. I personally know of numerous instances in the last several decades where magick worked to bring criminals and political figures to justice. These efforts often involved, many well-trained and talented people in close, coordinated, and cohesive groups. Although there is great potential for mass workings arranged through social media, more often than not it is like a gargantuan orchestra with no conductor and works about as well.

TWH: For binding specifically, is there one piece of advice you’d give to avoid disaster or improve the chances of a positive outcome?

ID: Often there is little or no blow-back from many of these efforts because the magick never hits take-off velocity or falls apart against the large and powerful shields created by the hopes and adoration of a public figure’s supporters. When the working is powerful but poorly designed and hastily implemented, there is a greater possibility for blowback. I have taught a nine-part series on operative magick, each part a day-long class, and still just scratched the surface. It is hard to give a single piece of advice other than pick something that matches the scale of your resources and knowledge.

Those supporters of the president that Dominguez referenced do include Pagans and polytheists, as we noted after the election, some of whom may be trying to bolster the commander-in-chief magically. The situation could be likened to nuns praying for their favorite team to win, except that polytheists pray to many gods if they pray at all.

Despite his skepticism that mass spells such as these will succeed, Dominguez said, “There is often a valuable emotional and psychological boost that comes from doing magick against oppressors, wrongdoers, and the like even if the magick does not work.” For his part, though, “I am more excited about doing workings to strengthen and support our people so that we can change the world in lasting ways. That said, there are times when direct opposition is necessary.”

For those who don’t wish to join the fray on the magical plane, there remain many other ways to support favorite causes, including volunteering and making donations to them; just ask Mike Pence.

New Nature’s Spirit Conference unites science, religion, activism

Tue, 2017-02-21 05:55

NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. — In late January, the newly created Nature’s Spirit Conference brought together scientists, activists, and spiritual leaders from various religious traditions to raise awareness for and address the critical water and environmental challenges facing South Florida.The goal of this day-long conference was twofold: to provide scientific information about the environmental challenges facing Florida and to explore interfaith and spiritual opportunities that will invigorate environmental activism.

Everglades National Park [Public Domain]

The conference took place January 28 and was organized by the Pagan Environmental Alliance and the Justice Action Ministry of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palm Beaches, and it was held in the Congregation’s sanctuary. Under near perfect weather, activists and others gathered to strengthen their understanding of the connections between science and their various religious paths with the goal of helping Florida’s ailing environment.

The criticality of the moment was not lost on the morning panelists who focused on educating the forty or so conference attendees on the vital issues facing the state and her waters.

After a brief welcome and opening blessing by Rev C.J. McGregor of the UU Congregation, Marty Baum, the Indian Riverkeeper and member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, began the morning panel discussion by immediately raising the immediacy of action required to foster a sustainable relationship with the environment and the accessibility of fresh water.

Baum exhorted that “you have a right to clean water.”

In that talk, Baum said that, when a government fails to limit contamination of water, which he called “our most vital resource,” it is more than negligence or political expediency. “Half the state, in one direction of the other is drying for lack of water,” he asserted.

Baum added that we should understand water to be a national treasure not merely a national resource to be exploited.

Other panelists agreed. Mr. Drew Martin of the Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group underscored the critical role that fresh, unpolluted water plays in sustaining the complex ecology of the Florida Everglades, where even small amounts of contaminants may have far-reaching consequences across both distance and time.

Each of the panelists noted the recent algal blooms in South Florida as indicative of the need for more activism, vigilance, and regulation.

Agal bloom around docks in Florida [Photo Credit: By John Moran / Public domain]

However, the main thrust of the conference was on religion-based action. Citing the struggles of the Great Lakota Sioux Nation and their allies resisting the North Dakota Keystone pipeline project, more commonly known as DAPL, and the lessons of the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s, the conference’s book made clear that “faith is a potent mover for human action”.

Dayan Martinez, one of the conference founders and member of the Pagan Environmental Alliance, explained his personal motivation for wanting to create the Nature’s Spirit Conference.

“I organized the majority of the conference myself. I had some help from members of Palm Beach Pagans, our local social network of Pagan folks.I organized it to make two points. First spirituality has a role to play in environmental activism. And, secondly it is an integral part of Pagan spirituality to be an activist.”

The event’s afternoon panel honed in on those two issues.Participants from different religious traditions offered insights into how spirituality informs and helps each of them manifest their activism. The panel included Rev. Houston R. Cypress of the Otter Clan of the Miccosukee Tribe, who offered a benediction and addressed the relationship that Native Americans have with the land and the water of the Everglades.

Another panelist, Whale Maiden, is founder of the Earthways Shamanic Path. She noted how much she enjoyed the exchanges across the religions represented and found the panel interactions “thought-provoking.”

Betty Osceola of the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida noted that activism and spirituality are bound in the words we release to the universe. She explained how words create our path and how choosing the right words help us align ourselves with the natural environment and living in harmony with it.

Panelists at Nature’s Spirit Conference. From let to right, Betty Osceola, Rev. Houston R. Cypress, Rev. Tom Norris, Whale Maiden, Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno, Kristin Ixayacuauhtli Bauer, and Samuel Tommie. [Photo Credit: Kathy Lezon]

Participants of the conference were impressed with the intersections of religion and environmentalism. Kathy Lezon, the current Second Officer of Everglades Moon Local Council and former National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, made it a point to attend the conference.  Lezon commented that she “was drawn to the combination of spirituality and environmentalism.”

“With all the loud political rhetoric swirling around us,” Lezon continued. “I thought that a day spent talking about Florida’s earth-issues would be (literally and energetically) grounding.”

Martinez also noted that he felt very fortunate “to have the involvement of a wide array of interesting people, representing various organizations from Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group to Audubon Society of the Everglades, to members of the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes of Florida. Everyone seemed to walk away inspired, uplifted, and asking for more on the topic.”

The conference also provided practical advice on leveraging religious belief and one’s relationship with the Earth to promote action and environmental awareness. “I really enjoyed the interfaith approach, along with hearing from experienced and working activists,” Lezon said, adding that she felt that the conference “helped [her] develop some ideas about what I could do to make a difference”.

As for next year, Martinez said, “I will absolutely hold it again … In the meantime, I will remain in contact with those contacts and alliances I made and continue to find ways to work together for Florida’s environment. There might also be a “reunion feast” in the works for the Fall.”

Pagan Community Notes: Dana Eilers, Oroville Dam, Holli Emore and more!

Mon, 2017-02-20 08:45

Dana Eilers [courtesy photo]

CAPE COD, Mass. — Word spread quickly this weekend that Pagan and Witch Dana Eilers had died unexpectedly. Born Sept. 15, 1956 in North Chatham, Mass, Eilers spent much of her adult life using her knowledge and skills to assist the growing Pagan community in its quest for religious freedom.

Eilers held a law degree from the New England School of Law and spent more than 17 years practicing in the states of Missouri and Illinois. Over the past three decades, she also applied her extensive knowledge of constitutional law and her passion for religious freedom to help Pagans facing religious discrimination. Included in that work was the writing of the essential guide book, Pagans and the Law.

“Dana was a cherished and dear colleague at The Wild Hunt. Whenever I personally needed assistance working through court documents for an article, Dana would drop everything to help. No matter how long it took or how arduous it was, she did it. Her influence and support knows no bounds in our communities. She will be missed.” said Heather Greene, managing editor of The Wild Hunt.

At this point, the exact details of her death have not been made public. We will have more on that in the coming week, as well as more details on her life and her work. What is remembered, lives.

* * *

[Courtesy state of California]

GEYSERVILLE, Calif. — After a devastating drought, the rains are now coming in California and have led to a very different set of consequences. The dams now need to hold back water again. The Oroville Dam, in particular, was in such dire straits that evacuations were ordered last week, affecting many thousands of people including local some Pagans.Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) member Rachael Watcher shared some recollections about her experience, which began with an evacuation notice. “The only spillway for the entire Oroville Lake Reservoir, the second largest reservoir in California, had suddenly begun to spew chunks of cement, and they immediately closed it down to view the damage.”

Closing the spillway led to the lake filling too fast, leading the Feather River to flood quickly. “We had just enough time to grab the cat, the dog, the computers and our meds and beat feet out of town. … By Sunday evening the highway patrol had closed all of the roads both north and south of Oroville.” The spillway ultimately did not fail, and while they were able to return home, concerns about more heavy rain this week hang over her and her family.

As concerns over the Oroville Dam’s condition mounted, leaders of the Temple of Isis offered sanctuary to anyone evacuated from the dam’s vicinity. “With 180,000 evacuees potentially overwhelming existing resources, I thought we had an obligation to open up if we could possibly be of help,” said temple director deTraci Regula, particularly since the temple grounds have room for evacuees’ pets and larger animals. The temple is three hours’ drive from the dam, and the crisis was handled in relatively short order, meaning that this show of hospitality was not needed this time around.

However, this is not the first time the temple’s doors were opened to those fleeing a potential or manifest disaster.  When the Valley Fire scorched over 76,000 acres in 2015, including the Harbin Hot Springs retreat center, those services were needed. “For that incident, we provided food and shelter and other support for about 35 people and some animals for up to three weeks here at Isis Oasis Sanctuary,” according to Regula.

* * *

COLUMBIA, S.C. — An interfaith healing ceremony at the state capitol brought out many people from different paths, among them members of Temple Osireion, including Holli Emore, its head priestess. Emore told a reporter at the event that there were many tragedies that still require healing. “Orlando, the pulse night club, Bataclan in Paris, San Bernadino, the Charleston shootings, it was just one thing after another,” she said.

“We all need food, shelter, love, support, safety,” said Melissa Miranda Allgrim, another temple member.

While this was an interfaith event, Temple of Osireion was the only organization named in the WLTX news coverage, with more than half the quotes provided coming from members.Others who were interviewed were identified simply as “attendees.”  The video segment is available to stream directly from the WLTX news site.

In other news:

  • Wyldwood Radio is set for a relaunch on Feb. 27 by original creators Herne and Lottie, after a hiatus that began last September. The internet station, which will broadcast Pagan, Gothic, and dark folk music, is supported by listener donations through PayPal and Patreon. Future plans include “live shows, band promotions, band contact, playlists and website updates, all managed by the core team of Herne and Lottie.” The founders said, “We hope to find our many listeners once again, as it was over 21,000 per month near the end of the old incarnation of Wyldwood Radio.”
  • Sable Aradia is inviting her fellow Pagan fiction authors to take over the internet. A series of writers are scheduled to post on the aforementioned Facebook event page for an hour apiece. According to Aradia, “this includes introductions, FAQs, personal info, social media and website links, and most importantly, teasers, trailers, and giveaways or contests for ongoing prizes.” Authors scheduled thus far are Jocelyn Babcock, Aradia herself, Frances Pauli, Sarah Burhman, Treeson, Brendan Myers, Shauna Aura Knight, Roxanne Rhoads, Shannon Barnsley, T.A. Moorman, Samantha Nocera, Sarah Avery, and Graeme A. Barber.
  • A doctoral student at Loyola University Maryland is conducting research into the role of spirituality in resilience. David Christy is “especially interested in reaching out to the Pagan community since we are so underrepresented in the research literature (despite the fact that we’re the second fasted growing religious group in the U.S). Christy wrote, “Please consider taking this survey and boosting the signal by sharing it with others in your communities.” The survey, found here, should take 30-40 minutes to complete.
  • Registration for this year’s Equinox in the Oaks is now open, signaling the beginning of festival season. In addition, the indoor conference ConVocation is coming up this weekend in Detroit.
  • Word comes from the Adocentyn Research Library that over 10,000 books have now been cataloged in that project. The library was started with the private collections of seven elders in the Bay Area of California, and organizers are in the process of putting the entire catalog online. They added that, right now, they “are very interested in preserving runs of Pagan and Wiccan newsletters in our collection.”
  • T Thorn Coyle is among several authors who contributed to the anthology The Resistance, United in Love, which is being released today for President’s Day. Proceeds will be donated to the American Civil Liberties Union. Pre-release this book has already hit #1 slots on Amazon under several categories. Here’s a brief video blurb:

 

Power of art: an interview with artist Laura Tempest Zakroff

Sun, 2017-02-19 10:17

SEATTLE, Wash. — Laura Tempest Zakroff, known to many by the name Tempest, is a Pagan artist and Witch from the Seattle area. She travels the country attending festivals and conferences, sharing her work, teaching, and performing. Her art incorporates her visions of the world as well as creating powerful connections to her spiritual beliefs, to Witchcraft, to healing, and more recently to her own brand of political activism.

Laura Tempest Zakroff

Raised in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia, Zakroff was the youngest of three children in a mixed-religious family.Her father is Jewish and her mother is Catholic. Zakroff’s two brothers, as she said, were much older and so she felt as if she was “practically an only child.”

In addition, Tempest added that many of her childhood friendships didn’t last. Children in her school or her neighborhood would move away or go to a different school. Friendships were hard to maintain, and she was often alone.

Zakroff said, “I remember spending a lot of time outside in the back yard, turning over rocks, collecting moss, playing with plants, and gathering them to dry in the little wooden play cottage my parents built for me. When I wasn’t outside, I was inside drawing, painting, and building things […] I learned to amuse myself, keep my attention occupied by nature and art.”

We spoke with Zakroff more about her childhood, her influences, her spiritual beliefs, and how it all comes together in the very varied modes of artistic expression for which is she is known.

*   *   *

TWH: Coming from a household with a multi-faith background, how were you reared?  

LTZ: My brothers and I were all raised Catholic, and went to Catholic school from kindergarten onward.

TWH: As a child, how did you experience this Catholic upbringing specifically?

LTZ:   I remember finding priests fascinating at a very young age, and I loved the beautiful churches. Ours had large amazing stained-glass windows, and my grandparents’ church in Philadelphia is the oldest Italian church in the U.S. [It is] filled with murals, stained glass, and mosaics.  But very early on, it did not sit well with me that women could not be priests, girls could not be acolytes (now they can, but not back then). With the exception of the rituals that focused on the adoration of the Virgin Mary, I found going to mass to be extremely boring and lacking energy or purpose.

But I got dragged to mass every week with my mom until I was 18. I went through all of the sacraments up through confirmation. I think every sacrament there was actual concern that I’d let loose or somehow otherwise get rejected, especially during confirmation. Despite my internal leanings, I was an excellent student, so I was driven to do well on all of the things – including religion.

TWH: Let’s talk about the arts. When did you first experience the arts?

LTZ:   My parents are both creative people who majored in journalism. My father ran his own audio-visual business out of the third floor of our home; filling it with books on history and art, photography, slides, and early computers. My mom has always been a talented crafter, making and selling beautiful wreathes and arrangements. Later on, she became a school librarian and eventually a religion teacher.

Because both of my parents being creative people, I was born into a house that was filled with art, and there was a wonderful series of books called Museums of the World, which I spent many hours looking at.  We often went to art and craft shows, as well as artsy places like Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, Penn. or Flemington, New Jersey (now both are mainly known for outlet stores) and Cape May, New Jersey. So art and making art seemed very integral to life from a very young age. I wanted to know the meaning of paintings and how different things were made. Art clearly had purpose.  

TWH: During your childhood, did you study art formally or were you self-taught? 

LTZ: The earliest art classes I remember were at the Ocean City arts center around age three. I was one of the youngest kids, but if you sat me down in front of clay or paper, I could do it for hours. Remember fashion plates? I got bored with the selections they included and started drawing my own fashion sheets. At age six, I started afternoon drawing classes at Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, New Jersey; formal still-life compositions and all that. Then every Saturday during the school year, I attended Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia up until I was 14.

When I was 15, at the end of my freshman year at Holy Cross High School, we moved to Columbia, South Carolina. It was a fantastic culture shock. […] Being artistic, smart, and culturally a bit different than my classmates in New Jersey made me stick out and the target of a lot of abuse, but moving to South Carolina and going to public school was a completely fresh start. The school had an excellent art program, including advanced placement studio arts, as well as a literary magazine which I became the editor for. At that time, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts was a summer-only program, and I got accepted into that my rising senior year. That experience solidified for me that I wanted to focus on the visual arts, so after that I applied and got a scholarship to go to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). There I majored in printmaking and got my bachelors of fine arts.

TWH: At that point in your life, what were your goals?

LTZ: Heading into college, I think I had an idea of running my own gallery/cafe/witchy shop. Even though I majored in printmaking, I knew I didn’t want to be a print maker, at least not in the sense of printing other people’s art, which is what most print makers do for work. Before I even graduated, I managed to snag a job as the associate director of a gallery owned by a RISD alumni in nearby Bristol. Then the director quit and it was just me and the owner, and mainly just me most of the time. So I taught myself web design and Photoshop during slow times. But my husband at the time was originally from California, and my best friend from college was also from there, so in 2001, I moved to the Bay Area with aspirations of working at the SF MOMA or something similar.

[Courtesy Photo]

TWH: Outside of art, what other jobs have you held and when did you become a professional artist?

LTZ: After arriving in the Bay Area, I quickly discovered how far apart things were. San Francisco was not very close and [there were] very few openings in the arts. Around day three, taking a break from unpacking, I stopped by the Psychic Eye in Mountain View.  As a lark, I asked about doing readings, and shortly afterward was hired. I had done readings professionally back east to make extra money, so it seemed like a good intermediate way to bring in money.

Three years later, until they abruptly closed, I was working full time as a psychic and teaching metaphysical classes. And, to answer the usual question of, ‘didn’t you see that coming?’ – yes, I actually had a dream a month before it closed. During this time, I had also been studying and began performing belly dance, so I was also making art and designing costumes, and that began to really take off. To supplement, I also got a job as a picture framer in Menlo Park, and mastered a lot of those skills.

Then in 2007, I wanted to leave the Bay Area to be closer to my family, and in particular my grandparents so we moved back to New Jersey. There I got a job as a graphic designer and jewelry designer for a woman-owned jewelry manufacturer and importer, which also involved designing for Disney World. I was designing during the week, and often traveling somewhere on the weekends to teach and perform belly dance. Then, in 2009, we moved again back to Providence, and I was hired as a fashion jewelry designer for a major corporation. I designed for Target, Macy’s, and many box stores.

Three years later, I had had enough of corporate culture, enough of my 15-year marriage to a narcissist, and enough of not making art. I filed for divorce, quit my job, and moved to Seattle to start a new life. So while I had been making art, designing, crafting, and illustration in some form since 2000, it wasn’t until midway through 2012 that I embarked on the road to what I consider being a professional artist.

TWH: Tell us when and how you found Witchcraft and Paganism?

LTZ: I had always been fascinated with ancient cultures – the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks. I loved the Mysteries of the Unknown series. I read Jane Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series starting around age 12 – and similar pre-history novels, especially ones that focused on Native American myth and culture prior to the European invasion. But it didn’t occur to me then that these faiths and deities could still be a living thing.

A girlfriend of one of my brothers lent me a copy of The Mists of Avalon when I was around 14. I remember finishing that book and being both simultaneously inspired and enraged. Yet I was still not cluing in that there was some modern practice that I could participate in. It seemed the closest thing out there was Native American beliefs and practices, but even at that age, I knew I could only admire them, not partake in them. Those roots weren’t my roots. I formulated my own practice and belief system instead.

So when we moved to South Carolina, I could get my license at 15, and by 16 I was able to take my mom’s car out to the mall on weekend nights, where the big bookstore and cafe was open late. So my friends and I would drink coffee and discover the New Age section. It was there I found Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler, which appealed to me more than the Wicca books on the shelves that seemed more like fantasy than reality. I hung out in IRC chat rooms -Pagan_Tea_House -and learned more.

TWH: When did you decide to reach out to other Pagans or find a Pagan community ?

LTZ: When I went to RISD, I was all eyes and ears on the trail of Paganism. I found the Society of the Evening Star (also based in Providence) and wrote them for information, but my relationship at the time didn’t really give me the space to try it. Luckily though, when I started working at the RISD store not long into my freshman year, I was clued into a witch publication in the magazine section by the gentleman in charge of that section. It was actually published by a fellow RISD student, and it was a glorious beautiful magazine on real witchcraft and paganism, called Crescent Magazine.

My coworker pointed out the girl who made the magazine one day, and I am pretty sure my heart skipped several beats. Tall, long thick dark wavy hair, big dark eyes, dressed in velvet; a living Pre-Raphealite painting. I managed to work up the nerve to talk to her, and pretty soon we were fast friends, and I also got involved in the magazine. However, she was two years ahead of me, and so all-too-quickly she graduated and moved back to California. I managed the magazine post box, wrote articles, and then (very lonely) became determined to start a Pagan Society for RISD and Brown. The Cauldron of Annwyn Pagan Society took off like wildfire, and expanded quickly to include more colleges, and then pretty much anyone who wanted to get involved.  Soon I was leading large public rituals and crafting my own tradition.

TWH: Let’s shift now to your current work as a professional artist. When people look at your art,  it is clear that your personal expression and spiritual path are interwoven. Before we talk about that. Tell us more specifically which forms of expression are you focused on now and why.

LTZ: I design, dance, write, and make art. I write songs for our band, and play instruments. I design because I enjoy solving problems, I dance to be engaged with my body and spirit (and teach others to do so), I write because I can’t shut up (hello Gemini), and I art because I have to.

And I feel Witchcraft interweaves with all of those things. I find that I mainly go between making art and writing nowadays, though I teach dance from my home studio every week, and still perform/teach workshops. I’m constantly thinking about images to create, and words I need to say.  But I find that I need to word sometimes, and art other times. They’re both creative, but take different moods and settings. I also completely work for myself, so it comes down to what things need to get done to pay the bills first.  Sometimes that’s a week for working on a book, and two weeks of making art.

TWH: How do you experience the partnership between your spiritual life and your artist expression?

LTZ: For me personally, it’s near impossible to separate the artist from the Witch, to the point where I would say that my art itself is a form of witchcraft, which I guess makes up for the fact that despite my love of herbal magick, a Green Witch I am not. […] I believe that the path of Witchcraft teaches us to have power over ourselves. Art can be a manifestation of that power.

[Courtesy]

TWH:  In you workshops and writings, you often talk about a art as being a source of power. How do see that manifesting in the our daily lives outside of Witchcraft practice?

LTZ: Modern-day society tends to dismiss the arts as frivolous, something that is superfluous to our daily existence.The arts belong to the realm of the rich, who have the funds to invest or waste.This reinforces that idea that being an artist, writer, musician, dancer, or poet are not respected or valued paths.

TWH: You said “modern-day society.” Do believe that this modern opinion of art’s purpose or function was not always the same?

LTZ: Yes. The earliest signs of civilization – ultimately the very dawn of our species, are intimately linked with the making of art. Our predecessors may have used tools and formed societies, but it was when we began to use line and mark as symbol that pinpoints the moment in which we truly began to see and think differently. Drawings that described the upcoming terrain or weather changes indicated a new sense of spacial recognition, an understanding of cause and effect, and the passing of time. Decorative treatments for the living body as well as the decoration and burying of crafted items for the deceased demonstrated both individuality and tribal recognition.Cave paintings hint at ritual explorations and metaphysics – the interplay between the microcosm and the macrocosm.

Our ancestors understood that art was not useless, but rather an integral tool to interacting with the world and with each other. It talked to the gods and spirits; it helped us remember stories and wisdom; it identified and explained us; it helped us define the spaces we lived in. All of those aspects are still incredibly valuable things in our daily lives.

TWH: If modern society has lost this connection to artistic expression, what do you believe is needed to get it back, so to speak?

LTZ: I believe the solution is intricately linked with ritual, spirituality, and metaphysics – entities that are just as misunderstood and belittled as art-making. Both [art] and concepts involving magick are often dismissed as fantasy or fiction; It’s easy to dismiss the so-called “invisible.”  Yet many would attest to seeing real tangible results in the work. It’s all really about different ways of viewing, seeing, and using power. When we believe in something, we give it power. That goes for social movements, deities, and symbols alike. Ideas are intangible, yet have real physical repercussions.

TWH: Why is it so easy to dismiss, what you call “the invisible?”

LTZ: Art seemingly comes from nothing. A song is pulled from the air; a painting unwrapped from a vision in the mind.  From out of thin air, an artist, musician, writer, dancer transforms concept into concrete reality. The sudden appearance from “nothing” generally belies the fact that years of training and practice were involved. Any one can pick up a paintbrush, write some words, or hold a violin, but it takes more than the physical act to bring forth art. It’s that seemingly unseen element, brought forth by talent, practice, and/or strange encounters with muses that makes the difference.

Regardless of how it happens, the experience of hearing or playing music, reciting a poem, reading a story, looking at a painting, feeling a sculpture, or watching or doing dance – all have mental, emotional, and even spiritual effects.

Sigil for our Times [Image Courtesy Laura Tempest Zakroff]

TWH: Will you talk about the intersections of art and religion in general? What role do you see art playing in religious practice?

LTZ: I remember in my college art history classes, the professors would cite the Catholic Church’s patronage of the arts as what heralded the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment and the Renaissance at least for Europe. The church recognized the power of art and architecture to transform a space or idea, to give a sense of heaven, to teach, and to inspire.

But they weren’t alone in linking art with the divine and teaching spirituality. Although in Judaism and Islam it is forbidden to make icons to varying degrees, both religions have utilized artwork, writing, and fine craftsmanship to elevate humanity in order to better understand and unite with the divine. Hindu temples not only have sculpted the divine in bodily format for centuries, but within them dance is taught as an expression of and for the gods.

And while P-words (Pagans, Polytheists, Pantheists, etc) may not have as much in the way of built real estate or museums, the arts are integral to our various and diverse systems. Modern Druid practices hearken back to a time when the bard as poet and musician shared the knowledge and carried on the stories of the spirits, gods, and humanity. There are multiple traditions that see art-making as a means to communing with the divine. Anaar in her book The White Wand says, “the language of Feri is the language of poetry, of art, of ritual. The foundation of this language is our intimate communion with God Herself.” Another example of the importance of the handmade mark: in Vodou, the drawing of veves is a sacred act of invoking a Lwa.

TWH: In your most recent workshops, for example at Dragon Con 2016,  you talk specifically about the power and use of sigil magick. What is it and why is it important?

LTZ: Sigil magick is an excellent way of harnessing intent and gathering focus. For countless generations, we have used symbols to stand in for larger, more complex ideas. [Symbols] condense down those big ideas into small, recognizable marks that hold meaning for those who understand, see, and use it. They can cover whole walls or be hidden inside a charm.They are often easy to make and to replicate, regardless of your level of talent with a pen, pencil, or brush.

Unfortunately, most of us are very aware of symbols that are used as vehicles of hate, to spread damaging ideas and cause harm. Often times these symbols are used without a thorough understanding of their history, by the misguided and the angry. Therefore it’s even more important for us to use symbols that encourage, empower, invigorate, protect, and heal. We can make and use art that grounds, grows, and inspires.

TWH: Recently you’ve been doing a little sigil magick of your own. Will you talk a bit about that project? 

LTZ:  Shortly after the 2016 election, I felt the need to create a power sigil – for myself, for all those who need protection and empowerment. When I had the urge to make that sigil, I simply knew I had to do something in the realm of what I do best, making art. Since then, the new sigil [seen above] has been shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter, the blog posts reaching over 30,000 hits. I have seen it marked on pottery, stitched in fabric, painted on walls, made into avatars, etched in metal and stone, hennaed and tattooed on numerous bodies. With every person who responds to it and draws it for themselves, it adds to not only their personal power, but the power of the symbol to do its work.

Sure, it’s “just” a collection of shapes and lines, but it has clearly spoken to the individual and collective consciousness, who recognized something within those marks. They gathered their thoughts and beliefs, focusing upon the symbol to call upon power, seeing it more than just some drawing. And so I encourage you to take a moment to consider your surroundings, and what symbols and images you believe have power – or don’t.

All art has the potential to be a guide for power – whether it’s a song, a poem, a dance, a sculpture, or a sigil. It simply needs to be manifested.

*   *   *

Since this interview, Zakroff has co-launched another campaign called #wearearadia. She has created a second sigil for use by those supporting the effort [seen below]. Columnist Tim Titus will have more about the #wearearadia movement in full including more from Zakroff about the new sigil.

Until then, Zakroff’s work and the schedule of performances and workshops can be found on her websites Owlkeyme Arts or Laura Tempest Zakroff, and her writing can be found on  her Patheos blog, A Modern Traditional Witch.

#wearearadia sigil [Image Courtesy Laura Tempest Zakroff]

Column: Oshun on the Altar of Pop Culture

Fri, 2017-02-17 18:45

With the her announcement of twins and her recent Grammy performance, Beyoncé has become the center of media attention once again. Not only is Queen Bey trending this week, but she has been trending throughout the entire month of February. With her Instagram announcement of her pregnancy Feb 1, Beyoncé broke the record for the picture earning most likes on the social media platform with 2.4 million likes in one hour. As is usual, the fans and the haters are all over the interwebs weighing in on the topic.

“I have three hearts” [Beyoncé.com]

With all the hype about what’s next for Beyoncé and the loud group of people vocalizing how much they do not care, I couldn’t help but focus on the strong spiritual significance of the imagery on display. This isn’t the first time that Bey brought forward strong spiritual connections and images associated with Oshun and the spirit of the Orisha; we saw this in the visual album Lemonade released in 2016. Once again Beyoncé appears to be capturing overt messages and imagery that connects to the spirit of African Diaspora and peaking the interest of those in Orisha spirituality.

On her website Beyoncé posted the poem “I Have Three Hearts” from Warsan Shires specifically naming Oshun, Yemaya, and Nefertiti among the pictures of her pregnant belly.

With Beyoncé wrapped in golden yellow materials, immersed in water, and showing the fullness of her belly pregnant with twins, the connections made within the photos show deep spiritual meaning beyond the glitz and glamour of this Queen. And just when we thought we were looking at this concept at it’s peak, Beyoncé graced the stage at Sunday’s 2017 Grammy Awards in a golden dress, adorned with a crown of gold, and her belly showing through. The stage flooded with flowers and beauty, and that moment she took the stage the internet exploded.

Video blog personality, and Ifa and Osun initiate Alafia posted online shortly after the Beyoncé performance on the Grammys.

So who is Oshun and why should it matter what Beyoncé is doing in her latest social media explosion?
Oshun is one of the most revered Orisha in the African Diasporic religions. She is known for her beauty and grace through many cultures and lands. Usually shown in her yellow clothing, golden jewelr,y and associated with the rivers and honey, Oshun is often a force to be reckoned with. She has many variations of her name within different regions and practices (e.g. Ochún, Oxúm, Ọṣun).

Folk stories say that as one of the wives of Chango, Oshun gave birth to the sacred and divine twins Ibeyi. It has been said that the Ibeji bless people with happiness, abundance, and joy. They are said to drive out the devil and uncover secrets.

While there are some that have hinted at the thought that Beyoncé is appropriating Oshun imagery, others firmly believe she is channeling Oshun in a very public way. Despite where people may fall on the spectrum of thoughts around the Queen Bey on stage, it is clear that she is placing Orisha in the minds of many people.

Reaching out into the community I gathered the thoughts and opinions from Oshun priestesses, priests, and followers of different stripes to see exactly what they thought about Beyoncé’s work and what stood out to them:

*   *   *

Lilith Dorsey

“I am excited that Beyoncé’s recent birth announcement,accompanying photo shoot, and Grammy performance has brought attention to an ancient and powerful religion.This is the first time many people have even heard of Oshun or Yemaya, and they can see them rise from the waters with all the glory and beauty they command. I applaud her reverence for the ancestral mothers and her message of self-love. The fact that she is having twins draws the parallels between her and the Orisha Oshun (believed by many to be the mother of the sacred twins Ibeji,) even clearer.

“However, Beyoncé has opened a door here, and I’m not quite sure what will come through. How many people are taking the time and dedication to learn the true beauty and power of these religions ? You can’t play in the fields of the gods … they must be met with respect and honor. There is a Yoruba saying “you can’t get Awo (sacred knowledge) from a book.” You also can’t get it from watching a video. La Regla Lucumi (more commonly known as Santeria) is a religion of teachers and students, parents, and children. Proper devotion involves years, if not decades, of tribute and learning. There is still no clear word from the Beyoncé camp about her participation, or initiation in the religion. Her Grammy performance mimicked a certain initiation process in Santo, but without a clear message many were speculating and making painfully wrong generalizations about what she may be saying.

“She is an icon and an inspiration for millions of women, and if these are truly her beliefs she needs to make them openly known. I say this both as a daughter of Oshun (with initiations in the tradition) and as a scholar and performer who has dedicated my life to promoting accurate and respectful information and practices about these religions. There is so much false information out there (many of it perpetrated by Pagans/Christians/Mainstream media who have no real knowledge of the practices). Beyoncé should be adding to the truth of the tradition. I know this probably isn’t a popular statement to make, but if anyone can come out about this in a positive and productive way it is this Queen Bey.”

Angie aka La Strega Bhramari Aisling

“I’m to this bad ass African water goddess for life. Not in a traditional way of a headwash. Because I didn’t choose her, she chose me. Before I dedicated myself to her when I became an Amazon priestess in the CAYA Coven now congregation. Of which I’m now distant affiliates, my dedication to my golden goddess of life waters remains, and so shall it be as I move through this lifetime, and who knows if not into the next. My relationship with her started when I was either 5 or six years old, back in the day when you could camp along coyote creek, all my family and friends were swimming in the water and I was looking for shiny stones in the water)

“Our water was a lot clearer back then as I was walking along the shallows I must have had been on a shelf because as I moved forward I slipped off into the water (I was unable to swim at the time). I saw a wall of bubbles (like those in a fish tank) and then blacked out, I remember waking up in pain as the water left my lungs, not sure how long I was in the water. If it wasn’t for the gold barrettes I was wearing, shining in the water I would have never been found. I’ve always had this kinship with water, I’m an air sign not a water sign but cancer is in my Venus so who knows. I’ve always held a vision of beauty and used to draw a woman standing in water/river water, her arms reaching up to the moon as it reflected upon the water around her.

“When I came to Caya, Oshun made herself known to me in many ways, in my dreams, my thoughts and in my sensuality. It was then that I “officially” dedicated myself to her. When I attempted suicide by overdose (this is when I was moving through a very dark time), it was she that saved me, my ex lit her candle on her altar and some one after that I woke up when I should have died. Her waters healed my liver when it should have been damaged beyond repair. She heals my heart on the daily, helped renew the value I hold in love and being loved. She lives within my temple her waters fuel my life force. I keep an altar to her and celebrate daily. There are many nuanced a reminders from her that I feel and see which shows she is always with me, my other Oshun sisters, bees, flowers, my partners reverence to her and the water, my tears, her strength, love and vulnerability, sexual power, wisdom, beauty, delight, sacredness, sweetness, fierceness. Beautiful Oshun! Ase!

“Beyoncé bringing Oshun into the spotlight within herself and in the public eye embracing all women as holy is honoring not only the gift of life within her womb but also all daughters and priestesses of our great goddess, a major and extraordinary LOVE fest. An in your face power blast of our honied hive. It feel so good in this time of turmoil and resistance, to have a powerful Black woman represent and embody a powerful black goddess of life. It’s amazing.”

Leni Hester

The first time i saw the video for Bugaboo, I was like, I must go to Texas, I must find that woman, and lay roses at her feet. Beyoncé carries her ashe so explicitly–her remarkable physical beauty, her talent, her drive to perform.

Oyeronke Olajubu writes, in Women in the Yoruba Religious Sphere,  “…the position of oshun is both symbolic literal: she is the female principle and women in the cosmic enterprise.” (p80, 2003)

Beyoncé, with Formation, the superbowl black panther moment, the operatic Butthurt re: the super bowl black panther moment, all the ways in which she and Jay Z have supported BLM — it does not feel like ‘celebrity activism’, it feels like a powerful woman using her resources and influence to create justice, peace, and plenty. And that is Oshun. She evoked oshun every damn minute in Lemonade.

And now she’s pregnant with twins????!!!!!! Twins are sacred in Yoruba (and Dahomey) spirituality, and the Yoruba have the highest rate of twinning in the world. Oshun fell in love with her own reflection in the mirror, made love to herself, and gave birth to the Marassa – the divine twins. So as a devotee of Oshun, I totally see that ashe coming forward in her, and of course, veiled Beyoncé on an altar of flowers. the fact that that photo evoked the visual shorthand of Afro Cuban altars, Cuban lithographs, magic realism.

Beverly Smith

Beyoncé’s performance at the Grammys mesmerized me. I was called into formation during her last year’s Super Bowl show, and drawn under her spell since her Lemonade album,  and my admiration for Beyoncé has grown.

Recently her photo announcement of her pregnancy dazzled me. I was taken with her beauty. I was also puzzled to read critique after critique of Beyoncé’s pregnancy announcement. It was apparent that mostly white women were leveling ridiculous criticisms, comments like Beyoncé is callous and guilty of perpetuating unrealistic images of pregnant women and indifferent to their feelings. Others called her photos “tacky” and “gaudy”. Others projected their own emotions of inadequacy or frustration about their fertility issues, as though Beyoncé should have considered *their* feelings before releasing her photos. In typical fashion, these white women want to dictate to a black woman. This time, it is about how this particular black woman should feel about her pregnancy and whether or not she should announce it. It was Beyoncé’s good news to share. But predictably some white women felt the need to center themselves.

And still others took issue with Beyoncé’s Grammy portrayal of the gorgeous, mysterious, and sensual Orisha Oshun, the Yoruban goddess of fresh water, sweet rain, fertility, love, and sexuality. Many had no clue of the cultural and religious significance of the portrayal of Oshun, and instead, attributed Bey’s inspiration to Hindu and Wiccan goddesses, almost as though nothing perceived as “beautiful” could have possibly come from African sensibilities.

Additionally, there are those who feel that only those formally initiated to Oshun have any right to express devotion or admiration for Her in any way. There are those who don’t seem to understand that our affinity and connection with Her is in our blood. There are those who criticize us when we sing Her praises. There are those who say that only the initiated may claim Her.

I disagree. We children of the African diaspora need no one’s permission to embrace our birthright. We the uninitiated may not know the proper sacrifices to make or proper prayers to recite, but our blood is our lifeline to our African deities. I have no idea whether Queen Bey is an initiated devotee of Oshun. But it matters not to me. I honor and celebrate our African Mother, Oshun. Maferefun Oshun.

Embed from Getty Images

M.A.

Beyoncé’s Grammy performance practically shouted to the world that she is Oshun’s daughter. Bedecked in gold and yellow, flowing like the river. Pregnant with twins just as Oshun is the mother of Ibeji, the divine twins. Queen, mother, seductress; Oshun is all of these and more. She is the divine feminine. Beyoncé, as much as possible, captured many of Oshun’s attributes throughout her performance. The performance took on the same dreamlike quality as the Lemonade video; opening up the realm of the metaphysics of womanhood and magic

River Devora

Since Beyoncé’s studio album and conceptual video “Lemonade” was released, folks have been quick to point out the likelihood of Oricha inspiration behind some of Beyoncé’s look and imagery. With her most recent pregnancy photo shoot, and her stunning performance at the Grammy’s, I’ve heard folks talking even more about Beyoncé’s possible connections to the Oricha Ochun. In some cases, I have even heard folks saying they feel like they’re seeing a true face of that Oricha, or feeling that they understand Ochun’s mysteries better based on Beyoncé’s music and visual arts. Several folks I’ve heard talking about feeling a calling to Ochun thanks to Beyoncé’s recent work, and have been looking for resources and ways to connect with Ochun’s energy.

I have been sitting with my feelings about all of this for the past several months. I am a priest of Ochun, crowned in 2011 through a traditional Santeria lineage. All of the recent buzz about Oricha makes me smile – I am so proud of my Crown, of my elders, my lineage and my ancestors of both blood and initiation, and the love and attention Ochun herself is getting makes my heart really happy. My initiation changed *everything* in my life, and all the blessings in my life that have unfolded since my Santo have passed through my Mother’s hands. To me, she deserves every bit of love that finds its way to her.

But ultimately, I also feel some trepidation about the way folks have been overly associating Beyoncé with the Oricha herself. Oricha are not human, they are vast untamed forces of nature. They are the sacred intermediaries between humanity and the great unknowable Divine, who is called Olofi, Olorun, Olodumare in my lineage. And each Oricha governs many, complex things. So when I thought about what I wanted to say with regard to all of this Beyoncé/Ochun buzz, I thought it might be helpful for me, as a priest, to say more about who I understand my crowning Oricha to be. I must always caveat this by pointing out that there are many traditions that worship or honor Oricha, including Santeria, Lucumi, Ifa, Candomble, Umbanda and others. And each of these traditions understands Oricha in their own nuanced way, which may be similar but in some cases are not the same from tradition to tradition. Furthermore, I can only speak for my own understanding of what my own elders have taught me; different lineages even within the same tradition may have individual nuances in their understanding, and I am still a young priest. Any mistakes I make in my interpretations of what I have been taught are on me alone.

Ochun is the Oricha of love, beauty, abundance, female sexuality and fertility. She is the sweet waters, the flowing river, the sweetness of honey. She is the pumpkin, swelling plump and rich with seeds. She is the flow of blood through our veins, the waters in our own bodies, our tears and sweat and fluids of arousal and completion. Ochun is the flow of love between people, all different kinds of love. She is the web of love that holds relationships together, that binds communities. Because of this, she is also the respect that must be present between people for relationships and communities to stay peaceful and loving. That respect includes social rules and norms, the ritualized protocols that keep people in harmony with one another. Ochun is the untamed drive to survive, and that especially includes self love that expresses itself as self preservation (sometimes by any means necessary).

Ochun is the Oricha who was so unwilling to tolerate disrespect that when the children of Ile Ife refused to honor their pacts with Obatala and began to treat him with disrespect, she turned herself into a vulture and consumed them. She is also the Oricha who gave up her beauty to save humanity when no other Oricha was able to effectively intercede on our behalf, in this she teaches us the true nature of her compassion and her all encompassing love. Ochun’s color is yellow. There are many versions of the story of how yellow came to be her color, but one version says she came upon hard times and only owned one dress, which was white. She was proud and would wash her dress every day. Eventually the dress turned yellow through repeated washings. This story shows also that she is an Oricha who understands how to maintain one’s dignity and self respect even through adversity and deprivation.

As you can see, Ochun is an Oricha with many layers of nuance and depth. To simply look at a pop singer and see gold and yellow clothes, to hear songs of romantic love, and to assume that Ochun is simply an archetype of modern day beauty, love and wealth is to miss so many important aspects of the Oricha. Ultimately, Oricha are not human, and it’s important to not overly ascribe human qualities to a vast and otherworldly force of nature. I am delighted that folks are finding their way to Oricha, and I hope that as folks find Ochun they can find the rest of the richness and diversity of the Oricha herself, all the other Oricha with whom she exists relationally, and the beautiful and ancient lineage that holds and shapes Oricha’s mysteries and blessings.

*   *   *

Listening to the words of the Priests, priestesses and followers of Oshun bring us a lot of insight into the many different ways and understandings around the impact of Beyoncé’s recent display. Of course it is never as simple as some may think, and rarely is that the case with the Gods, Orishas, ancestors or spirits. Yet there are a lot of things that the recent pictures, performances, associations and correlations have done.

>Initiating the discussion of the Orisha and of Oshun in the wider society invokes a conversation that has too often been silenced. It would be remiss for me not to mention that it is also reigniting discussions of Orisha within the Black community which is culturally significant due to the layers of historical oppression around our roots.

Is there a downside to more people being aware of the power and reverence of Oshun, the Orisha, and African spirituality? Opinions might vary about the many ways that our communities are impacted by this buzz but it might have just unlocked an interest for a new generation of people making them curious about the path of the African Diaspora.

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

Column: Dowsing Rods

Fri, 2017-02-17 12:49

The beautiful thing about England, I thought, was that with a rail pass you could get just about anywhere in the country within a few hours. That was before I got there, of course. I hadn’t plotted the courses to the places I needed to visit in any great detail; I assumed that England, having an actual public transit system, would lead me anywhere I liked with no great effort on my part. Experience had proved otherwise. Two weeks into my trip, I had learned that if a map could be misread, I would misread it, and if a timetable could be missed, I would miss it. And for some reason, although I had loved every moment of riding the red buses around London, the buses outside of London — such as this one, boarding from Stratford-Upon-Avon — set me ill at ease. So it was with some trepidation that I asked my question of the driver as I counted out my change for a day ticket.

Midwinter sun on the road to the Rollright Stones. [Photo Credit: E. Scott.]

“Is this the bus that goes to the Rollright Stones?”

He frowned, but before he could speak, an elderly woman spoke up from the middle of the carriage. “It goes past the Rollright Stones, yes. But there’s no stop there.”

“Right,” said the driver. “We’ll pass by the road, but it’s probably a half mile walk to get to the stones themselves from that intersection. But if you’re okay with that, I can drop you off; just stay down here so I don’t forget about you.” I felt a little disappointed; I tried to spend every bus trip I made on the upper deck, preferably in the front row, so I could have a look at that authentic English countryside everyone brags about. But I took a seat behind the woman, who turned around in her seat and smiled at me.

“What are you studying, then?” she asked, already knowing that I was a student of some kind. Given that I finished my bachelor’s degree a decade ago, I’ve always been surprised by the assumption, but then I suppose it’s a safe guess for an American with a backpack better suited to books than camping gear. “History?”

“English, actually,” I said. “Doing research for my dissertation.”

“Really? Then what on earth do you want with the Rollright Stones?”

The answer, like everything else on this trip, had to do with Deryck: Deryck Alldrit, the civil engineer from Birmingham who founded the coven that eventually birthed the coven I had been born into, who had disappeared from our lives before my birth. According to my coven’s legends, Deryck had been part of a group that worshiped at the Rollright Stones before he came to the United States in the 1970s, and sometimes the stories even said the name of the group was “The Rollright Coven,” or the “Coven of the Rollright Stones.” All of that information came to me third- or fourth-hand, and the accuracy of the details remained suspect; indeed, some of the things I had learned on my trip had already made me have doubts about whether such a coven ever actually existed. But regardless of whether the coven had existed, the Rollright Stones obviously meant something to Deryck, or else he would never have mentioned them at all – and if they meant something to Deryck, then they meant something to me. That was, after all, why I was there.

The King’s Men. [Photo Credit: E. Scott]

The bus let me off almost an hour later at a highway crossing. There were no signs that I recall to note the location. Although it was late in the morning, the northern midwinter sun hung low in the sky, and frost clung to the grass in every patch of shadow. I realized as I started to trek up the road to the stones that ice still covered the roadway, and my shoes — walking shoes designed with something like rounded cleats, meant to bite into dirt for traction — were close to worthless for keeping me upright on the asphalt. As long as I stayed to the narrow shoulder, I could walk, but the surface became as polished glass if I took so much as a step onto the white dividing line. I cross the roadway to walk facing the traffic; at least if I fell, the driver might see my body before running it over.

I took my time, stopping to invoke the elements at the structure called the Whispering Knights before circling the field separating the knights from the main Rollright complex, the stone circle called the King’s Men. Across the road, the King’s Stone stood apart; the names all referred to a legendary king who, in his zeal to conquer all of England, ran afoul of the local witch of Long Compton, the small town just over the ridge from the King’s Stone. The witch preyed on the hubris of the king and his followers, causing them all to be turned to stone. According to the legend, sometimes the King’s Men returned to life, able to move about for just a few moments before resuming their stone shapes – an explanation for the mysterious movement of the stones, and their seemingly uncountable nature.

I walked around the circle, taking in the pale, pitted stones. I had a feeling much like the one I’d had at Stonehenge a few weeks before: the sense of time, deep time, that these stones had seen the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires, princes and gods, had been here before Christ and Buddha, had attracted the same puzzled wonder I held for three or four millennia; and the sense of a history more recent, if no less deep for that: Deryck had stood here once. Maybe just the once, for all I knew, but he had been here.

The mission was to find Deryck – to find out about him, of course, tracking down his death certificate and his childhood home and all the detritus of living we leave in our wake. But also to find him, the sense of his presence. To feel like I knew him. I don’t think I ever really achieved that. There, standing among the stones, I felt the closest to it.

I waited for other visitors to leave, and set up an altar in the middle of the circle – nothing fancy, just Pan and Willendorf, a glass of water, a wooden athame. I cast the circle, holding back a smirk: “This is the circle, this is the space between the worlds…” Well, yes, here, if anywhere.

In my Wiccan tradition, after the circle’s cast and the elements called, we invoke the gods by imagining ourselves as features of nature: animals, plants, weather patterns. We cast ourselves as three worldly forces. I had my eyes closed, fallen into a meditation; I was midway through the invocation, having just imagined myself as the grass between the ancient stones.

A hand lighted upon my shoulder, shaking me from the dream.

A smiling man with long hair and a beard, wearing a broad brown hat, held up two brass rods. They were bent into handles at one end. “Here,” said the stranger. “You look like the sort of person who could use these.”

It was not the sort of thing to argue with.

I took hold of the man’s dowsing rods and stepped forward, past my statues and tools. I had never dowsed before, and truthfully, it was one of those activities that lit up my sense of skepticism: despite, perhaps because of, having been raised by occultists, many such practices have always struck me as dubious. The rods did, in fact, seem to move of their own accord in my hands, slipping always to the right, guiding me in a spiral outward towards the stones. At some point I began laughing – because really, who would arrive at the Rollright Stones and find themselves walking an invisible labyrinth? It seemed absurd, and wonderful.

The old woman on the bus had told me one bit of Rollright lore before she got off just outside of Stratford-Upon-Avon. “The story is that if you can count the same number of stones on three consecutive passes, whatever you wish will come true.” I counted as I walked the spiral: 71. I counted again: 71! Still laughing, I rounded a third time, counting the rocks peaking up from the dirt, and wondering if Deryck had ever done the same, with or without the ghostly Coven of the Rollright Stones.

I counted 72 on the third pass. Very close. But not close enough for wishes.

The King’s Stone. [Photo Credit: E. Scott]

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

Australian Pagans express concern over pending release of convicted predator

Thu, 2017-02-16 11:43

VICTORIA, Aus. – In 1998, Robin Angas Fletcher, also known as Timothy Michael Ryan, The Red Druid, and Balin, was sentenced to ten years imprisonment with a minimum of eight years, for a series of sexual crimes committed against two 15-year old girls.

Adding to the sensationalism of this already brutal and shocking case were Fletcher’s claims that he was a Witch or Wiccan, and that his crimes were merely an expression of his Pagan religion. Over the years, newspaper headlines have capitalized on this point, referring to Fletcher as, for example, “an Evil witch,” “ a self-proclaimed black magic sex witch,” and “a notorious pedophilia witch.”

Robin Fletcher [Photo Credit: Craig Abraham]

In the mid-nineties, Fletcher was based in Melbourne, Australia. He was working as a youth counselor, using hypnosis to help his clients. It was this professional position of trust that enabled Fletcher to meet his two female victims and eventually manipulate them.

Further complicating the issue was the fact that, in 1998, a law against Witchcraft was still on the books. As David Garland, president of the Pagan Awareness Network (PAN) since the early days, explains: “The community was very much in the shadows in 1998 […] Witchcraft was still illegal in two states in Australia, Victoria and Queensland, so no one was in any great hurry to report anything, along with the fact that if you were lucky or unlucky enough to find a so-called teacher in the craft, regardless of if they were legitimate or not there was a tendency to let some things slide as you did not want to lose the opportunity at gaining knowledge that could not be gotten anywhere else.”

“It was and still is in some ways the perfect place for a predator to hide,” Garland adds.

Fletcher was arrested in 1996 and eventually convicted in 1998. In court he pleaded guilty to two counts of committing an indecent act with one of the girls, committing an indecent act and sexually penetrating the other girl, one count of child prostitution, and one count of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Throughout the trials it was repeatedly reported that Fletcher used hypnosis, drugs, money, and other mind-altering techniques to coerce the two girls. According to the prosecution, Fletcher advertised one of the girls on the internet as a “schoolgirl prostitute” and subjected both of them to torture, bondage, flogging, and rape, all under the pretense of a Witchcraft “initiation.”

Fletcher served a total of ten years in Ararat Prison (now called the Hopkins Correctional Centre), a facility for sex offenders in the Australian state of Victoria.

His talent for causing controversy continued as he unsuccessfully attempted to sue Corrections Victoria and the Salvation Army in 2004, under Victoria’s religious vilification laws.

His attempts at gaining parole were refused at least twice when it was discovered that he had used the internet to seek “BDSM slaves” and to position himself as a “Master of the Dark Path.”  Additionally, it was discovered that, in 2005, he was “grooming” potential victims in Ghana via handwritten correspondence.

One of two girls from the original case died in 2003 due to drug overdose, which was reported to have been a suicide.

In a 2006 media release Marian Dalton of the Pagan Awareness Network was quoted as saying “[Fletcher has] made it that much harder for Pagans with genuine complaints to be taken seriously. He’s set back recognition and acceptance for our religion at least ten years – a day for every day he’s spent in prison. What is worse is the possibility he might re-offend.”

The courts did agree that Fletcher was a high risk for re-offending. He has never shown any remorse for his actions, and he continues to defend the stance that his actions were his religious right.

Upon release from prison in 2006, Fletcher was placed under the Serious Sex Offenders Monitoring Act and transferred to a facility called Corella Place, a village-like complex for sex offenders who are at high risk to re-offend. Known as the “Village of the Damned,” residents here must wear GPS-monitored ankle bracelets, attend counselling sessions, participate in rehabilitation programs, observe a strict curfew, and only leave the property under guarded supervision.

Corella Place “The Village of the Damned” [Source: News Corp. Australia]

That is where Fletcher has remained to this day, despite attempts in 2015 to have the conditions of his supervision relaxed.

Then, on Feb. 8, it was announced by Supreme Court Justice Phillip Priest that Fletcher’s supervision order was being revoked. Despite describing the crimes as “repellent” and “utterly degrading” to his victims, Priest agreed to release Fletcher, now age 60, from the mandated supervision. The judge cited that, due to his age, legal blindness, and physical weakness, Fletcher posed “no greater risk of re-offending than the average sex offender released into the community.”

Two days later, on February 10, the secretary of the Department of Justice Greg Wilson launched an appeal. Court documents state, that “The evidence in its totality justified the conclusion that the offender posed an unacceptable risk.”

That appeal is expected to go to court this week. Until this is settled, Fletcher will remain under supervision.

Pagans in the state of Victoria have worked hard to ensure that their community remains a safe place. The media has sensationalized Fletcher’s claims that he is a Witch, and the headlines have been damaging to the reputation of Pagans in Victoria and throughout Australia.

The Pagan Collective of Victoria, an umbrella organization in the state of Victoria, told The Wild Hunt, “When he was arrested it sent shock waves through the Pagan community here. This and other scandals in the late nineties shattered the Pagan scene and caused many people to leave the scene or return to solitary practice. [Fletcher] has maintained his interest in Paganism and may try to re-enter the Victorian Pagan community.”

As PAN’s president David Garland has noted, “It has been a constant battle over the almost 20 years that I have been dealing with the media over his claims, disputing them at every turn,” says Garland “It has been a long haul but now the media and the general public are well aware that what he did is not a part of modern practices.”

Over the years, PAN has worked to fix and control the harm done to the community’s reputation in Australia since this story hit the news in the late 1990s. The organization has been one of the voices for the Pagan community, and has issued press releases  in recent years denouncing Fletcher and offering support to the victims of these crimes.

In a 2008 media release, at a time when Fletcher’s supervision was up for review Garland wrote:

What Fletcher did has nothing to do with the legitimate beliefs and practices of Pagans. Trying to claim a religious motive for his actions is abhorrent. It demonstrates he is still not rehabilitated, and that’s why he needs to remain under intensive supervision.

And in 2009, when Fletcher was appealing his extended supervision order, Garland was once again quoted in a PAN media release, saying:

Fletcher is regarded by the entire Pagan and Witch community with revulsion. His claims that child sex is part of the Wiccan religion are false and contemptible – he has slandered our community in the worst possible way. Most people I talk to about this man would be happy if he simply died in prison.

As the day of Fletcher’s potential release into the general population draws closer, The Pagan Collective of Victoria (PCV) has released a statement, condemning his actions, and putting it quite clearly that: “Child sex abuse, non-consensual sex acts, substance abuse, and violence play no part in modern Witchcraft or Paganism.”

The Pagan Collective of Victoria [Courtesy Photo]

When we asked PCV for more information about their position and why they felt it necessary to speak out, PCV responded:

Two decades down the track [from Fletcher’s original arrest] there are many now who have not heard of him and may not be aware of the danger he poses.The PCV is the state’s ‘umbrella’ organisation, bringing together the many groups, covens, groves, events providers and solitary practitioners to share news, networking opportunities, events, and discussion.

While we do not claim to speak for all Victorian Pagans, we felt it was important to make a public statement for a two main reasons; to protect members of the Victorian community from Fletcher and to reassure them that here and now, Fletcher, and any others like him would not be tolerated. We are not going to turn a blind eye, and we commit to providing and maintaining a safe and supportive community to the best of our ability.

The other reason – and in fact one of the catalysts for forming The Pagan Collective of Victoria in the first place  was that even as late as a few years ago, the first results of an internet search on Paganism or Witchcraft in Victoria would be news articles about Fletcher and his crimes, linking “Druid” and “Wiccan” practices with sexual abuse. Another part of keeping the Pagan community safe is to provide a rebuttal to mainstream media misinformation and the resultant stigma.

To date, more than 70 groups and individuals have signed PCVs statement in support of their work. PCV encourages Australian Pagans to contact  the organization if they wish to sign this initiative.

The court ruling on Robin Fletcher’s release into the community has not yet been determined, but at some point, he will be released. Garland is thinking ahead to how the community should respond: “We are hoping it does not happen, however, we need to be very careful in what we do and say, if he is released then the establishment believes he has paid for his crimes and any action taken by people will need to make sure they are not infringing on his rights.”

But there are two sides to this story. There are also community members who would reach out to Fletcher, as Garland explains. “The sad thing is that there are people awaiting his release, some who want to reach out and allow him back into the community, and reports even of new followers who are looking forward to getting him back., ” Garland says.

“To me this is a bigger issue as if they cannot see past his crimes against humanity with what he did to the young girls from his position of trust in the general community, let alone the damage he has done to the public perception of the craft over the last 20 years. What will they do to protect him once he is out and possibly offends again?”

A decision is expected imminently, and The Wild Hunt will report on the decision, once it is reached.

Pagan chaplains and others share views on the death penalty

Wed, 2017-02-15 11:26

TWH –On June 17, 2015, violence ripped through a South Carolina community in one of the worst ways imaginable: the perpetrator joined his victims for a Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and then shot nine people dead, wounding a tenth. The shooter, a white man, hoped to bring about a race war through his execution of his black victims. He was sentenced to death in federal court for those actions, but is now seeking a new trial.

The case has received a significant amount of press coverage, and the nature of the crimes themselves — targeting victims during a religious service in the hopes of igniting further racially-motivated violence — appears to typify one of the most serious cultural problems in the United States today.

It is in the context of these recent stories that we decided to speak with a number of Pagans to examine views on the death penalty. Like members of the overarching society, those interviewed had varied and nuanced positions on this complex topic. Is taking a person’s life ever appropriate, and if so, under what conditions?

[Pixabay]

 Donna Donovan, of Appalachian Pagan Ministries, has cultivated her views while working with condemned prisoners. “I try [to] make it a point not to know the charges of the inmates I work with,” she wrote, but on death row “that proves difficult, as most of their cases are very public, especially if execution is upcoming. I have to suspend my personal feelings and do what I was called to do by my gods and ancestors, and give that inmate spiritual service. It’s hard.”

It’s not hard for Artemisia Barden; she’s opposed to the death penalty across the board. According to Barden, the prospect of innocent people being put to death, which she asserts is 10% of all those executed in the U.S. even with a lengthy appeals process, is too high a price to pay, and particularly given that the sentence is given disproportionately to people of color.

Barden’s concern about wrongful convictions is echoed by Aline “Macha” O’Brien, a longtime prison chaplain. In a guest post for the California Correctional Crisis blog, she wrote, “One of those so sentenced, a man named Carillo, who was convicted by no fewer than 16 eyewitnesses, later was exonerated by DNA evidence in testing that was not available at the time of sentencing. However, DNA exists in only 20% of homicide cases. How many other innocent people may have been executed? Is there any justification for executing an innocent person, no matter how convincing the evidence? No.”

Byron Ballard, who serves as elder priestess of the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, recognizes that misuse of the death penalty — intentionally or not — is its biggest limitation. “My study leads me to think that some crimes should not be forgiven, and some people who perpetrate these crimes cannot be rehabilitated. In an ideal system, most of these people could be housed in a humane way and kept from the general public. But for some, their actions have stripped them of their humanity and death for the perpetrator may begin the healing of those that had been victimized by them.”

However, Ballard isn’t confident that justice will always be done. “I believe the death penalty has value and a place in a free state, but I also believe our government and its penal system are basically corrupt and can’t be trusted to execute it (if you’ll pardon the pun).”

“Worse still,” wrote O’Brien in her article, “the death penalty is inequitably applied: far more minorities are sentenced to death than are Euro-Americans. When the color of the convict determines the sentence, this is not blind justice. It is not justice at all.”

She was not alone in voicing deep and abiding concerns about the racial inequity in capital convictions. Patrick McCollum, California’s first Pagan prison chaplain, recalled noticing “that many of the condemned inmates were from minorities,” as well, and research bears their experience out. The ongoing South Carolina case notwithstanding, most people executed in the U.S. are not white.

Ballard argued that there are times when an execution is necessary to allow healing to begin for victims and survivors, and while she was not entirely alone in that opinion, others questioned whether killing the perpetrator does that at all.

Donovan recalled, “I was asked once by an inmate, who had completely admitted guilt, if I thought he should die for what he did. I asked him, ‘Are you asking me as a mother? Or as someone who is providing spiritual guidance?’ He said, ‘Both.’ I was honest with him. I said, ‘As a mother, I would have killed you myself. You would not be on death row. But I am not here as a mother. I am here to help you get yourself right and prepare for the next step in your journey. We can’t change what happened.'”

For her part, O’Brien observed, “Killing the perpetrator, which I consider to be state-sanctioned homicide, does not bring back the dead loved one. In the words of the San Diego County District Attorney, the death penalty is ‘a hollow promise to victims.'”

“I am a favour of restorative justice,” wrote Dr. Gareth Thomas, a New Zealander who also lived for some years in the U.S. No one has been executed in New Zealand since 1957. “This is because restorative justice favours and empowers the victims, something which modern laws do not seem to do in most cases.”

“While there may be some closure in seeing a murderer executed, there is also a certain level of horror associated with this,” Thomas explained. “Reading stories and statements from the families of victims who witness the permanent removal of killers from society, you often find that the closure is minimal. There is no opportunity to heal, just the relief that perhaps this will not happen to another family.”

The flip side of retribution is deterrence, or the idea that the very threat of the death penalty will prevent crimes from being committed.

“Deterrence doesn’t work well,” according to Barden, “because in a democracy (as opposed to, say, a fascist/authoritarian regime) there have to be many legal safeguards to ensure as much as is possible that the person convicted is guilty, which takes so many years that I don’t think the prospect deters very many criminals considering committing a capital crime.”

San Quentin Prison yard [TWH Photo]

 McCollum is in agreement, saying that “many promote the idea that the death penalty provides a deterrent to capital crimes, [but] my direct personal experience with condemned inmates was that none of them had reflected on that potential punishment before committing their crimes.Instead, each and every one of them feared life in prison far more than being executed!”

An argument that often resonates with conservatives and liberals alike is the economic one: imprisoning someone for life is costly, but the automatic appeals and other requirements for death-row inmates are even costlier.

“It just costs society so much more per person to put a prisoner to death (after keeping them for years through the legal processes) than it does to hold them for life without parole that it just fails in terms of money,” pointed out Barden.

“Capital convictions entail further expense because they carry an automatic appeal,” wrote O’Brien. “It is these appeals that cost the state thousands of dollars. In fact, capital cases cost twenty times more than non-capital cases to pursue and bring to conclusion.” She also noted that daily visits from a mental health professional are standard on death row.

Further, O’Brien argued, “By abolishing the death penalty, California could save a billion dollars in only five years. Think of the many ways that kind of money could be used. It could put more cops on the streets. It could be used to solve crimes.

“It could be used for education and after-school programs, giving at-risk youth knowledge and skills so they have a better chance at success in their lives. Accomplished, learned, self-assured people have more hope and less despair, and are less likely to be lured into lives of violence.”

Another concern related to cost was raised by McCollum, who worked with many prisoners who “were often underrepresented and underfunded in their cases.”

It should come as no surprise that a topic as controversial as the death penalty yields a multitude of perspectives from the panoply of Pagan beliefs. Prison ministers such as Donovan must try to set aside their personal feelings while serving on death row, but that doesn’t mean those opinions go away. “I am not Wiccan, nor do I follow any rede; I am human and a mother, and as such I have human failings such as judgment,” she observed.

McCollum, too, emphasized that aspect of the job. “It is important to note that as a chaplain my job wasn’t to judge, but rather to listen and counsel those on death row. And so I simply interacted with those before me as fellow human beings.”

Nevertheless, he reports that his time doing such worked moved him from supporting capital punishment in some cases to complete opposition, largely because he saw evidence of compassion even in those so convicted.

“A core belief I live by is that all things are interconnected,” responded Rev. Rowan Fairgrove, who is working to get the California death penalty abolished.

“I truly believe that we are all one human family, and being kin doesn’t only mean the pleasant connections we cherish,” Fairgrove said. “Being kin means being part of all that is. Everything that happens affects the whole. Whether it is storms a world away caused by a butterfly’s wing or an unkind word that ruins someone’s day, or the smile that lights up a world, or an inmate put to death by the government.

“Mahatma Ghandi observed that, ‘All humanity is one undivided and indivisible community. I cannot detach myself from the wickedest soul.'”

Thomas observed, “I’m certainly not morally against the idea of final justice. My gods are not pacifists, and the legends of my ancestors and heroes are replete with tales of someone settling a balance. Similarly my ancestors put faith in a group of individuals (Druids) who were the judges of these matters.”

If Paganism is thought of as a tapestry, the thoughts about justice and capital punishment stitch out a complex pattern in black, white, and many shades of grey. While preventing such heinous acts is preferable, the question of how to deal these perpetrators will reach no easy consensus among Pagans and polytheists.

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

Love actually: Lupercalia and St. Valentine’s Day

Tue, 2017-02-14 10:34

TWH -Feb. 14 marks the secular holiday St. Valentine’s Day, complete with chocolates, hearts, roses, and all things that symbolize love. While this contemporary holiday is mired in overly-commercialized products and is considered inconsequential in some circles, the celebration does have spiritual roots and ties to deeper religious meaning.

In ancient Rome, Feb. 15 marked the traditional festival of Lupercalia, which was an observance of fertility and the coming of spring. Lupercalia is considered a holiday sacred to the god Faunus, and the mythical she-wolf who reared Romulus and Remus, the semi-mythical founders of Rome. Lupercalia was considered an important holiday of religious observance and purification.

There have been many written accounts of what went on during Lupercalia, and some of these make it seem like simply an excuse for copulation and frivolity. One description comes from W. J. Kowalski’s Roman Calendar page.

The rites of this day included the sacrifice of a goat or a dog at the cave-grotto known as the Lupercal. With the sacrificial blood wiped across their foreheads, the youth partaking in this ceremony would then run the circumference of the Palatine hill, perhaps about 5K, tracing the traditional route of the city boundary traced by Romulus the day he founded Rome.

In the process, girls who approached the runners would be brushed or splattered with the februa, thongs of sacrificial goatskin, presumably bloody, symbolically blessing them with fertility. Red is the color of the day as it is with Valentine’s Day, the day invented to replace the Lupercalia. Fertility and sexuality were likewise replaced with the puritanical pipe dream of sexless love.

In a recent article on NPR, professor Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was quoted as saying, “The Roman romantics ‘were drunk. They were naked.’ The article then goes on to explain that there was also “matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival — or longer, if the match was right.”

In a 2011 blog post, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a modern expert on the ancient festival of Lupercalia and its celebration, stated that the two holidays – St. Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia – actually have little in common:

The fertility here involved is not necessarily sexual fertility in women, though it was often thought to be such when the origins of the festival were eventually forgotten. It was fertility represented by the goat skin itself, a fertility of an agricultural and livestock sort.

The young men running the race were symbolically committing themselves to the protection of their communities, thus their race around its boundaries which indicated their area of influence and the “home territory” they were protecting. The young men who were Luperci underwent a part of the ritual earlier in which the blood from the sacrificed goat and dog were mixed together, dabbed on their foreheads with a knife, and then wiped off subsequently with wool dipped in milk, signifying their transition from a lawless, wild state into a settled and civilized mode of life. [from Lupercalia is not just for Pagan fetishes (15 Feb. 2011) ]

As Lupus describes, it is the “the fertility of the community’s resources, through this protection, is what is being celebrated, not necessarily (nor exclusively) the fertility of humans in reproduction.”

“Representation of Lupercal” From the portico of the Piazzale dei Corporazioni in Ostia, Antica. (98-117 CE). [Public Domain]

Lupercalia and its surviving lore are relatively unknown, overshadowed by St. Valentine’s Day. In fact, although the contemporary holiday is largely secular, the general population might be more able to identify the holiday’s Christian origins rather than those tied uniquely to the ancient Roman religious practice.

By some accounts, it was Pope Gelasius I who finally ended the surviving Lupercalia tradition in the fifth century C.E. by combining it with stories of a St. Valentine. According to Professor Lenski, “[The new feast day] was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it.That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love.”

These new celebrations survived to some degree, eventually giving way to modern traditions.There are reportedly records of Valentine’s Day card exchanges as early as the 1400s.

However, historians note that there is very little historical data remaining to explain the origins of the St. Valentine aspect of the holiday’s story, or even who the real St. Valentine actually was. Some accounts say there was clearly one man named Valentine, where other stories say there may have been up to four.

In one tale, as told by a Catholic historian, Emperor Claudius II executed a Roman priest on Feb. 14 for marrying young people against the emperor’s will. Claudius was said to have believed that single men made better soldiers and didn’t want any marriages to occur until a man was finished with his service.The priest did not agree with the emperor’s edict nor, according to the story, did he agree with other widely-accepted cultural norms surrounding sexuality, fertility, and marriage. This priest continued to perform these ceremonies for young people in secret, but he was eventually caught and executed. He later became known as St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers.

Like many other similar secular holidays, the modern incarnation of St. Valentine’s Day brings with it a cultural whirlwind making it difficult to avoid. According to Nielsen reports, the February holiday runs neck-and-neck with Halloween and Easter every year in the race for top U.S. candy sales.

Despite St. Valentine’s Day’s consumerist trappings, many Pagans do attempt to weave their spiritual beliefs and magical work into the day’s energy. Priestess and author Lilith Dorsey told The Wild Hunt, “There is certainly some room for crossover appeal with this holiday. If only to celebrate and recognize that at this time, Valentine’s Day, so many people are focused on love. We can use this to amplify and expand on the love in our own lives. Focusing not just romantic love, but also love resonating with the universe, self love, love we have for family, friends, pets and last, but not least, our deities.”

Priestess and author Lilith Dorsey [Courtesy Photo]

Dorsey recently published a book called Love Magic, which is both an inspirational guide and practical resource on the subjects of “self-love, marriage, fertility, erotic adventures, and the ethics of love magic.”

“For me personally, the time from Imbolc up to Valentine’s Day has always been a special time for love magic,” Dorsey explained further. “Pay attention to your dreams during this time, if possible do readings concerning love. There are also plenty of spells and rituals in my book that will benefit from being performed at this time – everything from an aphrodisiac chocolate strawberry recipe to a self-love spell with 3 roses (rose water, rose of Jericho, and rose quartz.)”

Although today’s St. Valentine’s Day celebration focuses its attention on romantic love in an overtly commercial way, Dorsey sees a connection between her seasonal spiritual work and the secular traditions attributed to the modern holiday. She said, “We can definitely use their celebration items to our advantage.”

“There are a lot of elements of Valentine’s Day that we can use in our own real magick. Flowers, incense, chocolate, candles, all of these have their special place in invoking romance,” she explained.”It is almost as if the mundane world wants to be witches again for a day … as if Samhain wasn’t enough. Only kidding, but this is true because love is magickal for all of us.”

Dorsey added, “I never liked the saying, ‘keep Christ in Christmas,’ but we can certainly try to keep love in Valentine’s Day. Love is the emotion behind the creation of life itself, it should get more than one day it should get a whole year, but today’s a good start.”

Between the secular St. Valentine’s Day and the ancient feast of Lupercalia, the two days do present back-to-back opportunities for modern Pagans to celebrate and feast, in honor of love and fertility in whatever forms are deemed needed, desired, and appropriate.

Pagan Community Notes: Patheos, PantheaCon, the awen and more.

Mon, 2017-02-13 09:23

TWH – The tensions between bloggers and the Patheos company continued this week as former Patheos writer John Halstead announced that he and others would be demanding that their material be taken off the site.

Their joint letter begins: “We the undersigned former and current Patheos Pagan contributors hereby request that you remove our names, likenesses, and our intellectual property, including our writing, art, and images, from your site. We previously gave Patheos license to publish our writing, but Patheos is no longer the company that we contracted with.”

The letter continues on to list the writers’ grievances and detail why the group feels that Patheos is no longer the company that it once was. In its conclusion, the letter says, “We should not be forced to affiliate with or be seen to support, through our work, organizations which are inimical to our values and which, in many cases, are hostile to our existence…” 

Currently eighteen bloggers have signed the document. Halstead says the letter will be sent to Patheos Monday after a few more people confirm their support.

*   *   *

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The annual Pagan conference PantheaCon begins this week. Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists from all over the country are preparing to descend on the Double Tree Hotel in San Jose, California for this annual indoor event. It is the largest conference of its kind, boasting “more than 200 presentations that range from rituals to workshops and from classes to concerts.” The event attracts everyone from newcomers and children to seasoned veterans and tradition elders. For those who can attend each year, the journey to San Jose is consider almost a religious pilgrimage.

As we reported in 2015, PantheaCon began as a small, local event, but quickly expanded under skilled, experienced management and teamwork. Today, the conference fills nearly the entire hotel, including 48,000 square feet of “function space,” guest rooms and hospitality suites. There are only a few people roaming around the hotel, outside of the staff and personnel, who are not with the conference.

The 2017 event theme is Pagans of All Ages and Kinds. The programming book is available online as a schedule maker. PantheaCon begins on Friday, Feb. 17 and wraps up Monday, Feb. 20.

*   *   *

BARNVELD, Wis. — As we previously reported, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has accepted the awen for use on headstones and other memorial markers. The Druidic symbol, now #65 on the official VA list, has a variety of meanings for those Druids who use it, such as the triple aspect of deity or body, mind, and spirit.

This weekend, the first stone displaying the awen was installed in Dallas-Fort Worth National Veterans Cemetery located in Texas. It marks the grave of Air Force Captain Wayne Laliberte. As noted by Circle Sanctuary, Wayne was “not a member of any Druid organization, but he was a Bard, and the Awen, the flowing spirit of inspiration, was central to Wayne’s spirituality and life.”

His wife Dr. Rita Louise said, “When Wayne died [in 2013], none of the symbols that were options for VA gravestones at that time were suitable. So I decided to let the place for the symbol on his stone remain blank.” Now that the awen is approved, she had the headstone changed. “I am glad that my husband will have the Awen on his gravestone as a symbol of his spiritual beliefs.”  She was able to visit the grave for the first time on their anniversary day.

[Photo Courtesy Dr. Rita Louise]

In other news:

  • The North Carolina court case involving Daniel Scott Holbrook has been postponed again. The new date is set for Mar. 3. In fall 2016, Holbrook was arrested on one count of the “dissemination of obscenities.” He had allegedly sent pornographic photography to an undercover officer. Now Holbrook is awaiting his trial date. We will continue to follow the case.
  • In Australia, it was announced that a judge has revoked the supervision mandate on Robin Fletcher, a man who was convicted of sexual assault in the 1990s. At the time of his arrest, Fletcher told the courts that his actions were part of Pagan religious beliefs. We will have more on this story and a reaction from the local Pagan community in the coming week.
  • The Academy of Arcana organizers have renewed their request for funding help. Oberon Zell and colleagues opened the Academy of Arcana in 2015. Located in Santa Cruz, it is the physical campus of the Grey School of Wizardry, a magickal education center founded by Zell in 2004. The location also includes the Museum of Magick and Mysterie, a library and reading room, and a gift shop offering magickal items, ritual supplies, books and jewelry.
  • In November 2015 we reported on a story out of Nederland Colorado concerning a local reverend who had started a religious literacy program in his church. He had invited Wiccans to participate in the unique children’s education program. Since that point, despite a few minor bumps in the road and a few complaints, Rev. Hansen Wendlandt has continued to sponsor the program. On Mar. 21, Wiccan priestesses Kim Culver and Kimba Stefane will be welcomed back to offer a spring equinox class with food, crafts, and information. Rather than being at the church, the program is being held at the Blue Owl Boutique.
  • While PantheaCon may be on the minds of many people this week, there is another conference that follows right on the heals of its larger sibling. ConVocation, held in the Detroit area, begins Thursday, Feb. 23 and wraps up on Sunday, Feb 26. The event always occurs the weekend after PantheaCon and many people attend both. ConVocation was first held in 1995 and has been ongoing since.

An American political cocktail: nationalism, religion, and nostalgia

Sun, 2017-02-12 10:06

WASHINGTON D.C. – On the first Thursday of every February, religious dignitaries, politicians, and other guests are invited to Washington, D.C. to attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast. It is sponsored by the Christian organization called The Fellowship Foundation and has been an American tradition since 1953.

This year was no exception. On Feb, 2. President Trump attended his first breakfast, held at the Washington Hilton. During that morning event, Trump addressed the crowd, saying: “America is a nation of believers. In towns all across our land, it’s plain to see what we easily forget — so easily we forget this, that the quality of our lives is not defined by our material success, but by our spiritual success.” [i]

[Photo Credit: unknown / public domain]

In those words, he defines U.S. society by a specific standard of religiosity: we are believers and we must remember that fact. The language corresponds with the administration’s ongoing branding effort to Make America Great Again – a slogan built on two assumptions: America is not great now, and America was great at some point in the past.

Together with the embedded religious rhetoric, which is exemplified in Trump’s words noted above, the administration’s marketing campaign has created a uniquely American cocktail containing a mixture of religion and nationalism with a hearty splash of undefined romantic nostalgia.

In the prayer breakfast speech, Trump suggests that, as Americans, we must remember a time when religious pursuits preempted the consumerist impulse. While many may agree with this feel-good statement, it can appear ironic coming from an American real estate tycoon who, during the same annual religious event, asked for prayers to boost the ratings of a reality television program of which he’s still listed as the executive producer.

That aside, it is this very style of religious rhetoric that is thriving in the current political scene, and even tipping the balance of power.

Later in that same speech, Trump talks about the importance of religious freedom and its enemies. He says: “We have seen peace-loving Muslims brutalized, victimized, murdered and oppressed by ISIS killers. We have seen threats of extermination against the Jewish people. We have seen a campaign of ISIS and genocide against Christians, where they cut off heads.”

In these sentences, he acknowledges the multi-faith world more than in other speeches and tweets, and he even hints at the complexities of religious politics with regard to global terrorism. However, at the end of his speech, he returns to the idea of America being defined as a “nation of believers” using an even more specific religious framework. He says:

America will thrive, as long as we continue to have faith in each other and faith in God. It’s that faith that sent the pilgrims across the oceans, the pioneers across the plains and the young people all across America, to chase their dreams. They are chasing their dreams. We are going to bring those dreams back. As long as we have God, we are never, ever alone. Whether it’s the soldier on the night watch, or the single parent on the night shift, God will always give us solace and strength, and comfort. We need to carry on and to keep carrying on.

President Trump’s words draw on romantic notions of Americana as defined within culturally-specific and idealized notions of religiosity, saying “we will bring those dreams back” again. This is where that splash of nostalgia is evident.

Religious revival

At the end of his speech, Trump says: “For us here in Washington, we must never, ever stop asking God for the wisdom to serve the public, according to his will.” That final statement flirts dangerously close to the establishment clause, begging the question as to whether it is actually a violation.

But Trump is not alone in that danger zone. Since the inception of the National Prayer Breakfast, presidents have had to walk an uneasy line between religious expression (personal or otherwise) and the establishment clause in their annual talk. It has been questioned whether the breakfast tradition itself, supported by an evangelical organization, is even constitutional at all.

However, it is important to note that the First Amendment doesn’t forbid public religious practice. As TWH columnist Clio Ajana said, “To say that one prays does not mean that an individual is a monotheist and that prayer is the dominion of such traditions. Prayer is for all of us.” However, that inclusive ideal and its actual manifestation in American political culture may not always line up.

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

Well before our current era, America’s elected officials have pushed the legal boundaries between religion and politics, in speeches and policy-making. For example, in a 1799 presidential proclamation recommending a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer, John Adams said:

It is […] most reasonable in itself that men who are made capable of social acts and relations, who owe their improvements to the social state, and who derive their enjoyments from it, should, as a society, make their acknowledgments of dependence and obligation to Him who hath endowed them with these capacities and elevated them in the scale of existence by these distinctions. [ii]

President Adams’ dream of a National Day of Prayer didn’t last; nor did the second attempt by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It wasn’t until 1952 that the current National Day of Prayer was formally signed into law under the Truman administration.

One year later, the National Prayer Breakfast was established. Like the newly-created day of prayer, the breakfast was one of the more visible outcroppings of the intersection between religion, specifically Abrahamic in nature, and American politics.

The birth of the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, as it was called then, was actually part of a larger religious revival propelled by newly-elected president Dwight D. Eisenhower. In a Smithsonian Magazine article titled “History of the National Prayer Breakfast,” journalist Diane Winston writes, “Soon after his election in 1952, Eisenhower told [famed Southern Baptist minister and evangelist Billy Graham] that the country needed a spiritual renewal. For Eisenhower, faith, patriotism and free enterprise were the fundamentals of a strong nation. But of the three, faith came first.”

Eisenhower was the first president to attend the breakfast established by The Fellowship Foundation. According to Winston, Eisenhower was initially wary about attending, but he was reportedly convinced to go by Rev. Graham. In his 1953 speech at that breakfast, Eisenhower concluded, “All free government is firmly founded in a deeply-felt religious faith.”

With this in mind, it is not surprising that, two years later in 1954, the words “under God” were added to the pledge of allegiance. And, two years after that, the 84th Congress backed by President Einsenhower made “in God we trust” the national motto.

Of cocktails and witch-hunts

While political shifts are always complicated and rife with ideological competition manifesting in changing legislation, historians often attribute this so-called spiritual revival to the coming Cold War and the growing fear of communism. It was in 1950 at a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday that Joseph McCarthy gave his famous Wheeling Speech. McCarthy defined the U.S. in religious terms:

Can there be anyone who fails to realize that the communist world has said, “The time is now” – – that this is the time for the showdown between the democratic Christian world and the communist atheistic world? Unless we face this fact, we shall pay the price that must be paid by those who wait too long. [iii]

While the the term “God” used by Eisenhower’s legislation can be justified as being generally Abrahamic, McCarthy employed far more specific religious language. Capitalizing on a social fear, he dangerously defines political lines of “good and bad” within religious terms; thereby tying global politics to a deeply personal experience. He deftly equates nationalism to religious belief in order to influence political opinion and the general population. On the side of good was Christianity, America, and democracy. On the side of evil was atheism, the Soviet Union, and communism.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy at 1954 hearings [Public Domain / US Senate]

In that speech, McCarthy went on to  say: At [World War II’]s end we were physically the strongest nation on Earth and, at least potentially, the most powerful intellectually and morally.” Later in the Wheeling speech, he references the 1947 conviction of State Department official Alger Hiss for treason:

The reaction of the American people to this would have made the heart of Abraham Lincoln happy. When this pompous diplomat in striped pants, with a phony British accent, proclaimed to the American people that Christ on the Mount endorsed communism, high treason, and betrayal of a sacred trust, the blasphemy was so great that it awakened the dormant indignation of the American people.

The spark of morality, as he said, was rekindled. This is, once again, an appeal to nostalgia. It recalls time when America was supposedly “the most powerful,” “the strongest nation,” the smartest, and the most moral.

During the trials, McCarthy went on to assert himself as a key part of the solution to the presented social problem. As seen in the Wheeling speech, he made claims that he alone possessed proof of “57 cases of individuals who would appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party, but who nevertheless are still helping to shape our foreign policy.”

While McCarthy’s work eventually proved to be inaccurate and what we might now call ‘fake news,’ it did lead to several years of HUAC hearings and the famous political witch-hunts. Interestingly, the final hearings in 1954 were televised, which reportedly led to a public outrage against McCarthy and his methods. It can be speculated that the popularization of this new visual medium, and the resulting wide availability of source material as it were, helped to end of the HUAC trials and hunts.

As a side note, it was near the end of those trials that the recently debated Johnson Amendment was enacted changing the tax codes to prevent nonprofit organizations from influencing legislation and election processes. Lyndon B. Johnson, then a senator from Texas, was allegedly concerned about the above-mentioned growing conservatism, the anti-communist sentiment, and the rise of McCarthyism.

Some historians speculate that Johnson’s push for the tax code change was simply a personal political move, targeting his own opponents who had backed the HUAC hearings; others say it was an attempt to silence any nonprofit organizations participating in anti-communist political war mongering and ‘cold war’ propaganda. It may have been both.

Either way, most agree that Johnson’s proposal of the code change was not meant as a move against religious bodies or so-called attempts at a religious revival. In other words, the enactment of the code was not a result of religious freedom concerns.

The morning after hangover

During this not-so-distant past, there were many politicians who, like McCarthy, were advocating for a strong nationalism as a means of protection from foreign enemies during a time of growing global fear, and this surge of nationalism was neatly wrapped in religious rhetoric attributed to America’s great past. It is a cocktail from which America has still not fully recovered.

The tradition of the National Prayer Breakfast comes out of that time, as do the other religious components still resident in our contemporary American cultural experience, such as the pledge of allegiance and the motto.

[Pixabay]

However, it is important to note that there are other politically-based social traditions that are intertwined with similar religiosity, but were not born in that 1950s time frame. The White House Christmas tree lighting began in 1923. Irving Berlin wrote the famous song “God Bless America” in 1918. From the presidential inauguration ceremony to the patriotic songs commonly sung, religious language finds itself in many places. In fact, written into the end of every presidential proclamation at least over the past 150 years is the statement:

“IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand seventeen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.”[iv]

Much of this religious language is so well embedded into America’s systems and cultures that it is largely accepted and ignored, being challenged only periodically by religious freedom organizations.

Making America something again

Beyond words and the draperies of yesteryear, religion-based rhetoric continues to provide momentum for the newly-elected administration, stirring controversy from the cabinet selections to the executive orders. The immigration ban, for example, is now called “the Muslim ban” and is being challenged in court on the premise that it violates the establishment clause.

While Trump has claimed that the ban is regional and not religious, he has also reportedly been quoted by the The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) saying that he would prioritize Christian refugees: “We are going to help them. They’ve been horribly treated.” As such, political lines of good and bad are being defined along religious lines, connecting global politics to the deeply personal.

Trump’s pre-election talks and speeches only serve to support that point. In spring 2015, Trump told CBN journalist David Brody: “Believe me: If I … win, I will be the greatest representative of the Christians that they’ve had in a long time.” Later that October, he reportedly told Iowa supporters,“I’m a good Christian […] If I become president, we’re gonna be saying merry Christmas at every store …you can leave happy holidays at the corner.”

Furthermore, in his book Crippled America, published that same year, Trump illustrates the overall concept with the statement:The belief in the lessons of the Bible has had a lot to do with our growth and success.That’s our tradition, and for more than 200 years it has worked very well.” (p. 132)

In contemporary America, it is a fear of terrorism or maybe something else entirely different, rather than communism, that is fueling the connection being made between nostalgic greatness, nationalism, and religion; in this case, Christianity.

However, similar to McCarthy, Trump is setting himself up as the great protector with the solution. In the Feb. 2 prayer breakfast speech, Trump says, “The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out. Okay? That’s what I do. I fix things. We’re going to straighten it out. (Applause.) Believe me. When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it.”

[Photo Credit: Alan Strakey]

The religious rhetoric floating alongside and within the administration’s overall branding of a nostalgic nationalism seems to be working, if we are to look at the numbers. It is this branding that reportedly led to 80% of white evangelicals and born-again Christians to vote for him in 2016. Make America Great Again. [v]

It is under this marketing banner that President Trump hangs his hat, and even created his hat if you will, to serve up that unique and powerful cocktail of nationalism, religion and nostalgia.

Who drinks the cocktail, and how it will affect the future of American politics is still yet to be seen? How will the resultant actions, based upon the binding of those elements, resonate and manifest at the grass roots level in terms of true religious freedom for all, including and especially those Americans who do not fit the “nation of believers” model being touted?

NOTES:

[i] The entire speech is available on the White House web site.
[ii] Adams, John. Proclamation—Recommending a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer. The American Presidency Project.
[iii] The entire text of the Wheeling Speech is available at Digital History.com.
[iv] Quote pulled from President Donald J. Trump Proclaims February as American Heart Month <www.whitehouse.gov>. All presidential proclamations end with these words dating back as far as the mid 1800s.
[v] “2016 Exit Polls.”The New York Times <www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/2016-election/exit-polls>

Column: Conjured Bodies, Transgressive Witchcraft, and the Politics of Resistance

Sat, 2017-02-11 08:45

[This month’s featured guest columnist is Lou Florez-Tanti. Also known as Awo Ifadunsin Sangobiyi, Florez-Tanti is an internationally known Spirit worker, medicine maker, priest, activist, and artist who has studied with indigenous communities and elders throughout the globe. Florez-Tanti grounds his teachings and practice in the idea that connectedness to ourselves and our physical, emotional, spiritual, and environmental landscapes is a fundamental necessity for any long lasting change to occur. He holds that through creating these living, dynamic relationships we become conscious of the inherent power available to us in every second of our lives.]

Finding a movie for a group of leftist, working class, gender queer, Latin American witches is a challenging task on a good day, but with five bucks between us and no working transportation, it meant that we were sneaking into the UC Boulder student union while trying not to get caught. The choices were limited to either Mona Lisa Smile (2003or The Examined Life (2008) [i], which is a documentary by Astra Taylor comprised of interviews of eight current philosophers and the central concepts that inspire and animate their work. Needless to say, The Examined Life was the best fit and gave us endless hours of discussions and debates over a plate of french fries at the twenty-four hour IHOP next door.

Judith Butler, who is one of those eight philosophers interviewed, has been at times both an intellectual crush and an unhealthy obsession. Her work challenges the essentialized notions of gender and sexuality, as well as gesturing toward a methodology for the interrogation of cultural signs and symbols that are taken as innate reality when unquestioned.

As a witch, rootworker, priest, and diviner my world is the semiotic, the study and uses of signs and symbols, and their interpretation. Magic as a practice and discipline is, at its most fundamental, a vehicle through which semiosis occurs. It offers a multitude of tangible, elegant possibilities that unfold through the subtle construction of relationships between interdependent entities and energies – signs and symbols that when aligned become a new manifested reality.

On screen, Butler paraphrases another philosopher, Deleuze, who has asked “what can a body do?”[ii]. This concept has been an ongoing theme in my own work and practice over the last decade. It throws into question not only what is a body, in terms of the intersectional and multidimensional nature of identity, identity politics, and the physical boundaries between the self and “others,” but also how these numerous bodies, which we have within our singular selves, enact their existence in the worlds we inhabit.

Since the election and its after math, the question of “what can a body do?” has been at the forefront of my thoughts; not only in terms of accessibility and privilege within the current political climate, but also in what roles our magical bodies play in resisting the normative discourse of who we are as American peoples. The roots of earth-based spirituality and specifically Pagan and Neo-Pagan teachings center themselves in the practices of our individual and collective ancestors, and how they engaged these worlds within their lifetimes.

After looking at historical ethnographies and interviews within Hoodoo and Rootworking communities of the South, It becomes apparent that these forms of magic were tied to the power dynamics inherently at play within the practioners lives. The magical workings necessitated not only addressing and remedying the specific issue at hand but also contextualizing the problem within the larger systems of power, privilege, and oppression.

An example of these multivalent approaches comes from Harry Middleton Hyatt’s Hoodoo, Conjuration, Witchcraft, & Rootwork [iii].  In this text, he Hyatt is interviewing an informant, who speaks of a working used to stop police interference and brutality in New Orleans:

“Yo’ walk in de woods an’ find yo’ a poplar tree an’ yo’ don’t want it tuh be – well, it couldn’t be all de way no larger den [a] chair post [leg], an’ de end would have to be smaller de time de day yo’ cut it down, three feet long. Turn de big end down an’ yo’d walk along wit it as ’twas a walkin’ stick. Yo’ git home an’ yo’ bo’ yo’ a hole in de ground up unto dat knot dere [demonstrates]. —- (Up to the big bone in the wrist.) • nat dere.

Yo’ apply dat stick in dat hole an’ yo’ name dat stick whatevah laws [policemen] dat dere wus in de city, “Dis is Mr. So,-an’-So, an’-So.” An’ yo’ drive it an’, “Dis is Mr. So,-an’-So, an’-So.” An’ drive it. Call de names of de city, ah mean de laws, until yo’ drive dat stick down in de ground, clear down in de ground. An’ aftah yo’ git dat stick down in de ground, den yo’ would read de 35th Psalms of David, “Plead mah cause, 0 God, to dem dat’s drivin’ me. Please fight against dem dat fight against me.”

An’ jes ‘ plant it out whare no one could tell whare it wus, but chew want it tuh be on de outside of de gate, not de inside. Let ’em go downtown and 24 hours aftah it is in de ground – let ’em go downtown or wherevah dey wanta, an’ put de laws behin’ ’em. De law will come to yore gate an’ call yo’, if yo’ not standin’ out dere, an’ ast yo’ did yo’ sell any whiskey. ”No suh.”

Reversing Candle against immigration policies [Photo Credit: L. Florez]

As we stand at the threshold of a presidency that seeks to “make America great again” by reverting society and our liberties to a McCarthy era world view in which narcissistic nationalism and unchecked power was used to subvert, silence, and destroy difference, it is time to reawaken and remember the voices of our transgressive ancestors. Our magical bodies and our political bodies are inexorable linked in as much as every magical act grants us an inherent opportunity for the transformation of ourselves and our environments in its most poignant form.

Magical action requires us to first recognize the world as it truly is without illusion, artifice, or self-deception and then to call into existence a new vision, or way of being which is divorced from restriction and all forms of domination. Political engagement becomes the form through which magical action manifests to not only resist the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy, but to also become liberated from it. It becomes our duty as medicine holders and Witches to interrogate the government-employed signs and symbols that seek to normalize oppressions and to work our spirits and magics in order to enact new visions and possibilities for our world and the worlds that are yet to be birthed.

NOTES:
[i] The Examined Life. Dir. Astra Taylor. Sphynx Productions: 2008.
[ii]  Deleuze, Gilles “What Can a Body Do?” Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Zone Books: New York, 1990.  pp. 217-235.
[iii] Hyatt, Harry. Hoodoo, Conjuration, Witchcraft, & Rootwork. First Edition. Self-published, 1935. pp.1253-1254.

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

Column: Red and White

Fri, 2017-02-10 10:26

The water in the Chalice Garden stains the rocks red. It falls from a tap in the shape of a lion’s head down onto a stone dais, and flows from there down a series of channels down the hell – and it runs red for the whole length of its course. Someone has left a glass beneath the tap, and so I take a drink, and then another. The flavor, a strange iron musk, overtakes me. I restrain myself from a third glass – in part because I imagine the iron I’ve already drunk will cause me problems on an empty stomach, and in part because, as I realize only after the second glass, I have no idea how many other lips have touched that glass since it last saw soap. At least the Red Spring is known for healing.

The Lion-Head tap at the Chalice Gardens, Glastonbury, UK. [Photo Credit: E. Scott.]

The Chalice Well has deep roots in legend, like so much else in Glastonbury – and like most of the rest, the legends are distinctly Christian. The red waters come, they say, because Joseph of Arimathea brought the Grail to England and hid it in the well, or because of exposure to the nails of the true cross. For me, and the other Pagans who make their pilgrimages to the Red Spring, of course the scarlet water recalls the Goddess and the blood of the moon, but that’s a 20th-century interpretation.

The sites that bring travelers to Glastonbury — the abbey, the spring, the tower atop Glastonbury Tor — are all steeped in medieval Christianity. Yet we seem to have adopted them as our own, and now Glastonbury Abbey is flanked on both sides by rows of shops selling occult books and witch supplies. It reminds me of what I’ve heard of Salem, back in the United States — I’ll admit I’ve never been, but my parents have — but whereas Salem adopted the trials of the 17th century as the basis for becoming a city of witches, Glastonbury seems to have simply been absorbed by the Pagans. Is it that the King Arthur legend has somehow become part of Paganism? Can we blame this on Marion Zimmer Bradley? I remain unsure, but the contradictions intrigue me.

Claudia, my friend and guide for the day, takes me across the street from the Chalice Garden, promising a surprise. The building she takes me to looks unassuming: a square of white bricks with four buttresses rising from the sidewalk. But that’s just the outside.

Claudia leads me to the threshold, and when she sees the look on my face she smiles with satisfaction. “Wonderful, isn’t it?”

The building houses the White Spring, smaller and less famous than its red counterpart across the way. Where iron fills the Red Spring, calcium fills the white. Neither of the springs provides water to Glastonbury anymore; the iron makes the Red Spring unsuitable for everyday drinking, and the buildup from the calcium would swiftly ruin the town’s plumbing. This Victorian well-house no longer has a practical function in regards to delivering water to the city, and as I understand, it was abandoned until the 1980s. The well-house became a temple in 2004, a temple to the spring water and its healing properties, a place cool, and dark, and damp.

The inside, brick vaults and stone floors, has only candles for light. A circular pool dominates the center of the room; several smaller pools rise from it, the water falling from one into the next, eventually running onto the floor where, as Claudia tells me, some water from the Red Spring also ends up – red and white, Goddess and God, merging into one. A bower of sticks hinged together fills one alcove of the space; shrines line the walls. Sounds reverberate off the bricks, so that a single note of music fills the entire room with a dense echo.

In its intimacy, its humanity, its humble grandeur, the White Spring temple reminds me of nowhere more than the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple before the fire. As much as I admire the sweeping architecture of cathedrals, buildings like this seem to me the closest to the divine. Every offering on every shrine suggests a story of a human reaching towards the heavens.

Claudia and I sit beneath the bower and start chanting – “we all come from the Goddess,” at first. In this place, my voice becomes far deeper and richer than I have heard it before. Claudia and I lose track of time while we sing together; the words spill into one another, merging with the water to form an endless loop of sound. After a time, the words leave us, and we simply hum the tune, feel the echo envelop us.

A young woman sits down next to me in the bower. She carries a flute and wears a big knit scarf. We smile at each other, and I continue my humming. Then I start another chant, “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes,” and the woman says, “Oh, I know that one,” and joins in, and in that moment the three of us seem to slip into one another, our voices melding into the walls of the well-house.

When we finish our chant, the woman says, “Do you want to get into the water?” I look at her incredulously. It is, after all, January, and the well-house’s doors are open to the air outside. While the spring remains a constant temperature year-round, I have dipped my hands in it already, and it is extremely cold. Further, I am a three-hour train ride away from my nearest change of clothes.

Of course I say yes, and a few moments later we, along with her companion, a man with salt and pepper hair and an easy smile, have stripped off our clothes and climbed to the brick lip of the uppermost pool. He gets in first, and I see him standing in water up to his navel. Well, that’s not so bad, I think, and I climb in after him. What I do not realize is that my new friend is standing on a ledge within the black water; a ledge that I miss by half a pace. I stumble forward and fall up to my neck into the icy water, sputtering.

I get back up to my feet and shoot him a mournful look. He smiles back. “Try singing – it helps!”

It does. We stand in the White Spring, I and these two lovely strangers, singing against the cold – not singing in words, but in tones and notes, in a harmony of discord. Glastonbury, it occurs to me, is a strange place, where it seems perfectly natural to have an experience like this, this communion with unknown friends. We stay there, freezing and happy, until the well-keeper comes to tell us it’s time to close.

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

Sisters toast 25 years of rekindling Brigid’s fire

Thu, 2017-02-09 09:43

KILDARE TOWN, Ireland — Revered by Pagan and Christian alike, the Irish figure of Brigid is perhaps the perfect symbol of the spirit needed in our troubled times. She left an inspiring legacy as a spiritual leader, peacemaker, woman of the land, advocate for the poor, and giver of hospitality.

And in her native County Kildare, Brigid is honoured at the Solas Bhride centre, run by the Brigidine Sisters.

In 2017, the centre has just used its annual Feile Bride festival to celebrate 25 years of work spreading her message to people of all faiths and none.

The order was founded in County Carlow in 1807, under Bishop Daniel Delany, as a restoration of an old order of St. Brigid that was started in the 5th century and ended in the Reformation.

In 1992, the order returned to Kildare, where Brigid had her last order.   They opened Solas Bhride (Light of Brigid) with the aim of reconnecting with their Celtic roots and reclaiming Brigid in a new way for a new millennium.

The next year, the order hosted an international conference with Action from Ireland (Afri) to mark the 10th anniversary of Afri’s St Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign. During its opening, the Flame of Brigid that had been maintained by the old order was re-lit, and the sisters have tended it in Solas Bhride ever since. The annual festival of Feile Bride, celebrating St Brigid’s Day on February 1, also grew out of that original conference.

Solas Bhride seeks to honour Brigid’s legacy and stresses its relevance in the modern world by making the centre a place of welcome, tranquillity, and peace where people of all stripes can deepen their spirituality with reflection, prayer, ritual, education and culture.

In its mission statement, the centre says: “There is mystery at the heart of what holds us together, expressed in shared faith, symbols, stories and experiences. We engage with the issues of our time, stand in solidarity with the oppressed and seek to build a more inclusive community.”

The crowds that joined the celebrations of this year’s milestone festival were proof of its success. Hundreds turned out for the week-long Feile Bride schedule, which included rituals, prayer, reflection, talks, and St Brigid’s cross workshops.

Performers entertained crowds with poetry, music, song, and ceili (Irish dancing), while schoolchildren dramatised the legends of Brigid. Overall, there was a mix of pilgrimage and peace issues with a blending of the secular and the sacred.

[Photo Credit: Culnacreann / Wikimedia]

Contemporary subjects on the agenda included war, climate change, and forced migration – a subject that Féile Bríde has addressed throughout its 25 years and is still as relevant today, if not more so. Once again, the festival incorporated a peace and justice conference in collaboration with Afri and put a focus on the experience of refugees in Ireland.

One of the performers at the festival was popular folk singer Luka Bloom, who said: “Since 1993, at the start of every February, I have watched large groups of men and women gather in my home county of Kildare. They come to welcome the beginning of spring.

“They come to Kildare because it is the home of Brigid, whose feast day is February 1st. Brigid is the goddess of love, poetry, justice in pre-Christian Ireland, and she is the patron saint of Kildare. People also come to Kildare at this time to speak about justice in the world, or lack of it.”

Bloom continued: “There is reflection, talk, music, and dance. It is not a big trendy festival, but a gathering of people who want to celebrate the coming of spring, and who want to call Brigid’s qualities into the world, to light a spark for change.

“And every year we gather to welcome the light into our world; and to hope that more light will shine in the world; and that someday out of the darkness of war, hunger, greed, poverty, will come the light of community, sharing, justice, music, dance, peace and love.”

Solas Bhride has certainly shone a light, not only in Kildare and Ireland but around the world.

St. Brigid of Kildare [Public Domain]

The re-lighting of the Flame of Brigid in 1993 sparked global interest and the centre was invited to take it to the Royal Albert Hall in London and to conduct a ritual at the opening of the Conference on What Women Want, in preparation for the 1995 UN Women’s Conference in Beijing. The flame has also visited peace conferences in places including The Hague, Iona, Australia, New Zealand, the US.

And kindling the flame of knowledge, Solas Bhride has led workshops on Celtic spirituality in North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Northern Ireland, and Wales. The sisters were also invited to address the Goddess Conference in Glastonbury as “Catholic Sisters from Kildare.”

In April 2011, the Dalai Lama made a spiritual visit to Kildare Town organised by Solas Bhride and groups including Afri.

Looking to the future, Solas Bhride is placing an emphasis in its ministry work on leading those who visit Kildare from around the world on pilgrimage. Brigid’s Way, from Brigid’s Well in Faughart, County Louth, to her well and Solas Bhríde in Kildare, has recently become the 13th National Pilgrim Path in Ireland.

But the core message the sisters will continue to spread is that there are many ways in which each and every one of us can walk Brigid’s path.

 

Pagan temple planned in Poland

Wed, 2017-02-08 10:27

WROCLAW, Poland –Followers of the Slavic tradition known as Rodzimowierców announced in December that they hope to build a temple according to historically accurate plans that will also serve as a cultural center. A crowdfunding campaign has received donations totaling six percent of the money needed to make the project a reality, using a pitch video that includes lively music and images of stockade buildings.

Dorota Solega, a representative of the group Watra which is behind the scheme, was pleased to answer questions about the project. Her responses were translated from Polish, and have been edited with her permission for clarity.

Architectural rendering of the temple and cultural center [Courtesy Photo]

 The Wild Hunt: Please give some basic information about your religious tradition: what it’s called, how long it has been practiced (including whether this is a “broken tradition” due to Christian rule), and a brief description of the kinds of rituals involved and the gods or spirits you honor.

Dorota Solega: We call each other ‘rodzimowiercy,’ which can be translated as ‘native faith believers.’ The reactivation of our religion has begun in 20th century, mostly in ‘90s, however some exhorts for the revival has existed in the beginning of last century. The direct link of pagan tradition from the medieval times until now has been broken after the spread out of Catholic religion in Poland, but folk tradition has preserved lots of beliefs such as names of gods and demons with their main features, pagan rites, and magical practices. Although is it said the Christianity came to Poland in 966 and from then our country became Catholic, the native faith stayed much longer in lesser areas, like villages, and still in the 15th century there were some places where people followed two religions at once.

Slavic native faith is based on nature and its seasonal transformations, similar to other Pagan traditions. We are worshiping gods who create the nature, and who are nature themselves, and the process of how they change across the wheel of the year. Our main gods are the two divine creators – Perun (the thunder) and Weles (god of the underworld), Mokosha – the mother goddess and goddess of the Earth, Svarog – the divine smith, Dadzbog – the sun, Svarozhyc – the fire, Stribog – the wind, Rod – the head of the tribes (gods and humans), Jarylo – god of fertility, Mazhanna and Dzievanna – goddesses of stars, water and vegetation, Dola – fate, and several others.

Our worship is based on celebration of annual festivals, like solstices (‘Kupala’ in summer, ‘Gody’ in winter) and equinoxes (‘Jare’ in spring, ‘Plony’ in autumn), but also few more rites between the main ones – ‘Dziady’ (which can be compared to Samhain), ‘Zapusty,’ which is the day of Weles, as well as the day of Jarylo, day of Perun, and day of Mokosha.

Items laid out during ritual [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: Is this tradition handed down orally, or are there written records that inform you?

DS: In Slavic native faith there were no written records saved from the pagan or recent times. Our knowledge of the religion is based on many sources, such as folklore (beliefs, folk songs, folk tales, rituals), publications of religious studies, and historical studies. Many of native faith believers are some kind of scientists who are trying to investigate and rebuild the mythology by putting up together different information from different records. This type of study brought a lot of fresh air to our understanding of Slavic pagan tradition.

TWH: How many people do you believe practice this same tradition today?

DS: It is really hard to speculate how many native faith believers are living in Poland, as the number is changing constantly. The difficulty lays also in the way of worshiping the religion by single person – not all of us are attending the public festivals or keep close bond with other Pagans. We can estimate that in Poland there may be about 5,000 Pagan believers. It can be extended much more if we add Pagans from Slavic countries like Ukraine, Russia, Czech Republic, Serbia and others.

TWH: Do you use initiations in your tradition? If so, are outsiders able to participate in any rituals?

DS: In the Polish native faith (and in other Slavic countries also) there are many independent regional groups that initiate believers. Each group can have their own way of doing so. The tradition does not say anything about the initiation ritual for joining the Pagan group (which is related to the fact that the religion was natural for every member of society, and wasn’t secret knowledge), therefore an official rite of initiation does not exist. However, in some people rises a need of passing such a ritual as a confirmation of their personal religious transformation, and many groups conduct this ritual for them.

In Watra, we are not likely to perform any initiation rite for anyone to join the group (unless it has been requested by the individual), and the rituals are open for everyone who has a will to join. However, we usually require new members to meet us before the ritual, at occasional meetings organized by our group.

TWH: This will be a temple and cultural center; can you describe the different ways the space will be used?

DS: The space will be used variously due to our plan of running different activities and educational programs. As you’ve mentioned, our purpose is to create a Slavic Cultural Centre in this building, which will be dedicated to the promotion of our traditional culture. We are planning to run different programs such as classes in traditional crafts, music, and historical lectures. We have among us many people with necessary educational background like anthropologists, historians, architects, and artists, as well as people with similar passions.

The building will also become some sort of museum of Slavic native faith, and it will be playing the role of Slavic temple for educational purposes, but also for the performance of living rituals for native faith believers. We are open to any form of cooperation, so anyone who has a will and good idea related to promotion of Slavic culture could find the space there and perform his activities.

Rodzimowiercy performing ritual [Courtesy Photo].

 TWH: How many people do you expect will use this temple/cultural center for religious purposes once it is complete?

DS: We hope that this place will become an attraction for more than only native faith believers. In Wroclaw there are approximately 100 people who could potentially use this space for religious purposes. We are hoping many more will attend other events. We also hope that it will be visited regularly by the native faith believers from all over the country, and maybe other lands also.

TWH: I understand some officials in the Polish government are very intolerant of non-Catholics; one minister even would like them to sign some kind of loyalty oath or be deported.  Are you worried that this climate will cause you any problems with this project?

DS: This is very common question. It is true that our current government is pro-Catholic so, theoretically, we might expect to notice some non-supportive attitude from this side. However, we are the citizens of Poland and no one can deport us (also, this minister’s statement was bit misunderstood, as how she explained later, this loyalty oath would be directed mostly to immigrants) or – according to Polish law – perform any other act of religious intolerance. If we would face any problems, we can always turn to the Polish constitution, where the plurality of religion in Poland has been legitimized by the law.

TWH: On the other hand, some people who have commented on articles about this project have claimed that members of your organization are intolerant of others, even going so far as to characterize your beliefs as fascist. Similar accusations are sometimes leveled against people following traditions from northern Europe here in the United States.  What would you say to these critics?

DS: These comments are completely without foundation. This is a religious organization the purpose of which is to popularize Slavic traditional beliefs and folklore, and we have no links at all into politics and political views. Obviously, each of us can have their own views and to sympathize or not with something, and that is totally natural. Even if in the past we can find a lots of ties between the native faith and nationalism (what, for some people is considered wrongly as similar with fascism), nowadays members of native Pagan groups have various views and political plurality is not a matter of discussion. In Watra, here in Wroclaw, we have both right-wing and left-wing followers and we do not interfere with their views or opinions.

I can also ensure that within our group there is no place for any political extremists.

Rendering of temple and surroundings [Courtesy Photo].

TWH: How did you decide on that particular design for the building? I read that it is an old design; where did you find it?

DS: Our plan is to reproduce the construction of a real Slavic temple from old times. The design is based on archaeological reconstruction of the Slavic temple from Gross Raden, Germany. Our architect analyzed the reconstructed scheme and redesigned it, adjusting it to our needs and architectural standards.

TWH: Do you have any floor plans that would provide a sense of how the space will be used once it is constructed?

DS: The room will have two areas; most of the space will be given over to different activities to be carried in the building, so we can say it will be given over to people. But also, there will be a sacral part with the statues of gods. Besides that, there will be also a separated place for a bonfire and the sacrifices (no worries, no animal will die ;).

TWH: When do you hope to begin construction?

DS: We are planning to start work in the spring. First we have to prepare the ground for the building works, which will take some time. Hopefully, we will start to build in early summer.

TWH: How long do you think it will take to complete this building?

DS: It depends on many factors; most of them are related to money. It also depends on our time and the people factor. Obviously, there always might be situations which we are not able to forecast, so it is really hard to give the date by when the building will be finished. If everything would go smoothly and without bigger obstacles, taking into consideration the necessary time to perform all the works, we’ll be happy if we could finish it by the end of 2017.
While there is clearly enthusiasm for this project, organizers have quite a bit of money to raise to achieve their goal. It also remains to be seen if regulatory hurdles or public sentiment will pose any barriers to the work. Those interested in supporting this effort to rebuild a native European faith community may do so by donating to the campaign; there are even some rewards available to benefactors.  Here’s the pitch video:

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

Activist T. Thorn Coyle helps build a wall (of safety)

Tue, 2017-02-07 11:27

PORTLAND, Ore. – Pagan author and activist T. Thorn Coyle helped build a wall Sunday separating Latino, Hispanic, and Mexican Catholics from their fellow Portland neighbors. This wall, however, was an interfaith effort aimed at sheltering attendees of a dual language church from harassment.

On January 29 several persons shouted insults as parishioners entered St Peter Catholic Church before the Spanish language Mass. Attendees of this church are mostly Latino or Hispanic. According to reports, the persons yelled ethnic slurs and called the women whores.  Several people reportedly yelled, “You’re going straight to Hell.”

After that incident, a call went out over social media for church supporters to help form a human wall of protect around the church during following church service February 5. Volunteers were asked to place their bodies between the church and anyone who would attempt to interrupt the services or taunt parishioners as they entered or exited the building.

Father Raul, of St Peters Catholic Church, speaks to the crowd and thanks them for coming out in the rain.[Courtesy T.T.Coyle]

When that Sunday arrived, approximately 200 people showed up to create a protective wall of bodies. The Wild Hunt talked with one Pagan who answered the call for support: T. Thorn Coyle.

The Wild Hunt:  How did you hear that the church needed protecting?

T. Thorn Coyle: I first heard about the attack on the church while on the bus coming home from a rally in support of immigrants, Muslims, and refugees last Monday. The woman next to me saw my signs and told me a church in her neighborhood had been targeted by people who disrupted services with racist shouting the day before. Then I saw a call for support on Facebook. At first, there seemed to be confusion: Did the church actually want our support? Once it was confirmed that yes, the church welcomed community assistance, folks decided to show up last Sunday.

TWH: Do you know the people who organized the call for support?

TTC: I did not. Since I’ve only been in Portland for 9 months, I’m still building my networks. I did the usual – double checking associations on Facebook as best I could.

TWH: Were other Pagans present?

TTC: Not that I know of or that I saw – though in a crowd that size, I’m sure there were some others! My decision to attend in support was last minute, so there wasn’t any organization around getting other Pagans out.

TWH: Why did you go?

TTC: It felt important to show solidarity with people under racist attack. That has always been important, but these days, with hate incidents increasing, it feels ever more vital. For people to enter a church and disrupt a worship service by spewing hatred? That is unacceptable to me. It needs to be stopped. The community is trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This was not an isolated event. Several of us gathered talked about strategies to help other churches and places of worship who might need support in the coming days.

I know that other groups have also mounted a boycott of the small business run by the man who seems to be a main instigator of these attacks on local churches. He also showed up at the Portland Airport when people were protesting the immigration bans. But this man isn’t the only one. He has help. And as long as racists are targeting churches or mosques, communities must come forward to intervene, and state clearly what sort of communities we wish to foster.

Caption T. Thorn Coyle arriving at the church. [Photo credit: Jamie Andrea Rae Mathis]

TWH: What do you say to people who think things like this can’t happen in Portland because it’s a liberal bastion?

TTC: That’s a huge question. Portland, like everywhere, is complex. But Oregon has a deeply racist history. It was founded specifically to exclude Black people from living, working, or owning property. Black people couldn’t even move to Oregon until the 1920s. Workers from Mexico – many of whom had been in the area since the 16th century – were temporarily barred from agricultural work during the Great Depression.

My understanding is that the Latinx population in Portland has grown quite a lot since the 1960s, even increasing recently, while declining elsewhere in the country. There are immigrants from many places living in Portland, but it is still a very white city. The indigenous population here is very small. Add gentrification into the mix, and non-white populations are at continued risk.

Portland is around 75% white. That has an impact. The less time people spend around people whose culture is different from theirs, the less open they are to examining their prejudices and assumptions. This allows racism to fester and grow, whether in subtle or overt ways.

That said, I’ve encountered many people in Portland trying to reach beyond their bubbles and find common ground. I’ve met people determined to support the more marginalized communities here. My hope is to find a place to be useful in those networks of support. The first refugee family to arrive at the airport since the federal courts suspended the travel ban was greeted by a group of cheering people yesterday evening. That’s a good thing.

TWH: You are a very active activist. Is it your religious beliefs that drive your activism?

TTC: I’ve been an activist of some sort of other since my early teens. A strong sense of justice vs injustice rooted itself into me at a young age. My religious beliefs are tied to that, and support my quest for justice, but I’d likely be this way no matter what. Lately, I’ve been doing extra work with my ancestors, trying to untangle this mess we’re in. And calling on Brigid for help with both inspiration and the forging process. But I’ve also been doing a daily meditation suggested during a reading at the new year. I won’t detail what it was exactly, but it has to do with being of militant, active, service here, in this world. That’s what I keep trying to shape my life toward.

My spiritual practices give me the foundation to do that.

TWH: Can I ask a bit more about your ancestor work? Why are you looking to your ancestors?

TTC: I always do some ancestor work, but in recent years, the more I confront the racism and white supremacy in this country, the more I need to deal with my direct blood ancestors. My ancestors were working class white folks who struggled with their own demons, but never really confronted their own racism, to my knowledge. That legacy –from people who would have been considered “good people” but who also harbored violence, racism, misogyny and other things –is a force to be reckoned with.

By communing with their photos every day, I can both thank them, and comprehend the impact of their lives on my own. It makes it easier to see the ways racism erupts all around us. For most white people, racism runs in our blood, way back. Looking that in the face helps strengthen my resolve to do what I can, here and now. Looking that in the face when it comes from the very people who shaped me enables me to not place racism outside of myself, my life, and the things I love. I love and appreciate my ancestors. So what do I do with the racism? I learn to interrupt it. We must challenge and embrace those we love in order to grow as humans.

TWH: What made you think of doing that? And what about spiritual ancestors?

TTC: Drawing on ancestors of spirit keeps me inspired –it’s part of why I make so many art memes with quotes from those who have gone before us who lived their lives full to the top –they help us comprehend what ordinary people can do with our own lives. I do ask my ancestors of spirit for strength as well.

But to be clear, both my ancestors of blood and spirit had the strength and courage to keep going during bad times. I honor them all for that.

TWH: There are some Pagans wondering why any Pagan would defend a Christian Church as they see Christians as the oppressors. How do you navigate that?

TTC: If I want the freedom to practice and worship as I will, why wouldn’t I want that for someone else? Christianity has oppressed throughout the ages, most certainly. I don’t support Christian missions, for example. I think they are terrible things. But defending someone’s right to have a religious service without being attacked? That seems pretty basic to me.

I also like to remind Pagans that Christians don’t corner the market on oppression. All we have to do is look at Ancient Rome for a great example of imperialism and oppression in action. Oppressive behaviors are part of being human. It’s a part of humanity we can do our best to correct. Holding out our hands to people being attacked is one way to interrupt oppression.

We also need to look at what scholar Kimberle’ Crenshaw named “intersectionality.” There are intersections of oppression: class, race, gender, sexuality, religion etc. This church was being attacked by white people for being Spanish speaking and serving the local Latinx community. So, while Pagans might say St. Peters has “Christian privilege” we need to take a step back and recognize that in this case, their oppression as non-white worshippers is really what is at play.

 *    *    *

No one showed up to harass parishioners last Sunday, but supporters say they stand ready to shield the church again, if needed. Coyle says not only was this an interfaith effort with representatives from multiple faiths, there were also members of Antifa, labor unions, and many concerned Portland neighbors.

Pagan Community Notes: Anne Lenzi, Patheos Pagan, Lady Sara Cunningham and more.

Mon, 2017-02-06 10:07

[From Facebook Memorial Page]

PORTLAND, Ore. — It was announced on Feb. 1 that Druid Anne Lenzi (1974-2017) had died suddenly due to a heart defect. Born in 1974, Lenzi had become a pillar in ADF’s Druid community. She was a founding member of Abhainn Glas Grove, ADF, and she also served terms as Member’s Advocate and the ADF Northwest Regional Druid.  Along with her spiritual work, she was trained as a doula, loved children, and worked in various position as an advocate for people in need, even going so far as to speak in court sessions and hearings.

Longtime friend Amanda Giles had this to say in part: “Anne placed great value on each human soul. She was a safe haven for the downtrodden. She was a mother figure to many and friend to more. She was an excellent listener and a willing sharer. She was loyal and forgiving. She was fierce and maintained forward momentum. She nurtured growth: in herself, in her family, in her community. Thank you, incomparable Anne, for everything. You are still shining for us and ever will be.”

In Amanda Giles’ full memorial write-up, she shares the depth of Lenzi’s interests, and her spirit. That memorial piece is published in full on a crowdfunding campaign page, which has been set up to raise money to help cover Lenzi’s final medical expenses. In two days, the campaign has raised over $3,000, which is a testament to the number of people that Lenzi touched over her life.

Lenzi leaves behind a loving husband and two young children. As noted on the funding page, she never let her heart defect slow her down, despite living under a “mysterious deadline.” In the end, “Anne fought valiantly, but there was nothing to be done, not by the surgeons earlier in her life, and not by her husband Ron, [who] he fought right along-side her.” What is remembered, lives.

*    *    *

TWH – In an update to the Patheos Pagan story, the bloggers involved in the contract negotiations did receive a response and an updated contract. The new agreement addressed several of the Pagan bloggers’ concerns. The updated contract states that posts may not disparage “Patheos and Beliefnet,” rather than “Patheos or any of its related companies.” In addition, the section on editing has been adjusted to remove the words “without limitation.” Patheos still “reserves the right to edit” posts, as the contract reads, “for the purpose of correction or clarity without altering the intent of the piece, as well as the right to take down any of your posts that it deems offensive.”  Most of the contract remained unchanged.

Reaction to the new contract, which went into affect Feb. 1, has remained mixed. Some writers refused to sign either contract and will be taking their work elsewhere, whether that be independent sites or to larger blogging venues like PaganSquare. Other writers will remain with Patheos until, and if ever, the time comes when the Patheos business model no longer fits with their goals and work. John Halstead, who posted the initial response to the new contract, was not impressed with the changes, and will not be returning to Patheos despite being given the opportunity. On the other side of the spectrum, John Beckett, who explained his reasons for staying on his Patheos blog, remarked that a new contract made no difference in his decision to sign.

In the meantime, a fundraising campaign is underway to potentially support a new Pagan-owned blogging site.

*    *    *

TWH – In Dec 2016, Lady Sara Cunningham (1935-2016), elder priestess and pioneer in the early days of the Pagan movement, passed way at her home in Oregon. Originally from Tuscon, Arizona, Sara Cunningham Carter spent much of her early adult life in the Los Angeles area teaching and practicing her Craft. In 1970, she founded the the Church of the Eternal Source in Pasadena, and was a longtime teacher to many who then went on to form their own groups. Author and teacher Raven Grimassi, for example, lists Lady Sara as one of his early instructors.

Additionally, according to her biography, Cunningham wasn’t only running a church and teaching. She also owned a “Stonehenge Shop in Pasadena, CA and had a mail-order course.” Later in life, Cunningham joined Iona Miller and Libby Patterson in the hosting of the website Perfume Alchemy. As written there: “Hermetic Qabalistic Perfumer, Lady Sara [had] decades of experience in formulating exotic, traditional and personalized scents.” Through the site, she was sharing her decades of experience on the subject matter.

Cunningham moved to Colorado and then to Oregon where she remained until her death. Oberon Zell, a close friend and contemporary, has now placed her name on the memorial list of elders that he has been keeping up-to-date for years. What is remembered, lives.

In Other News

  • The Troth has released a new and updated organizational “inclusion affirmation” for all members. The inclusion affirmation reads, “I agree to keep frith with all Troth members regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, gender, or family structure.” The Troth board moved to have this newly-worded affirmation placed in many visible and public spaces, including the Troth website’s current member login screens and “the Join and Renew pages.” Steer Robert L. Schreiwer states that, “This presents prospective members and current members with an opportunity to affirm their understanding of The Troth’s inclusive policies and positions and to abide by the ‘law of the hall.'”
  • As we reported Thursday, Canadian Pagans continue to show solidarity with the nation’s Muslim community. In Winnipeg, a contingent of Pagans, Witches, and Heathens got together to join 1,500 other citizens in the March for Human Rights. Despite temperatures reaching a chilling minus 11 Celsius, folks were reportedly in good spirits, and people from all walks of life joined the action. TWH journalist Dodie Graham McKay, reporting from the event, said: “An event like this is important for our city, which was declared the most racist city in Canada by Macleans magazine in 2015. The event was organized by the mayor, Brian Bowman, who is working on having our city declared a ‘sanctuary city’ for undocumented workers.”
  • The American Academy of Religion (AAR) has placed out its submission call for its 2017 annual meeting. The Pagan studies theme is most specifically “Witch Hunts: Rhetorical, Historical and Contemporary.” As noted on the site, “the term witch hunt is used as a rhetorical strategy in contemporary political discourses, and yet there have been and are actual hunts for witches past and present. The Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit invites papers on a variety of topics, using various methodologies, exploring rhetorical, historical, and contemporary ‘witch hunts.'” More information on submitting to AAR is available on the website. This year’s meeting will be held in Boston, Mass., Nov. 18-21.
  • Assembly of the Sacred Wheel has launched a funding campaign for the New Alexandrian Library. The group has produced a new album called Dreams Sung True, and it features 25 Pagan chants and songs “for rituals and devotional ceremonies.” As noted on the CDBaby website, “The album runs the gamut from rousing to contemplative to passionate with the power to raise and move energy.”

  • Matt Auryn collected the opinions of a number of Pagans, Heathens, and polytheist on the subject of hexing. It is a controversial topic even within a specific religious practice. Auryn writes, “When we see injustice and oppression, which is more harmful, remaining silent and allowing the harm to continue or stopping it if we have the power to do so? I decided to seek out the opinions of other magickal practitioners of all kinds; witches of different types, root workers and conjurers, warlocks, sorcerers, druids and pagans. They say that if you ask three witches a question you’ll get at least ten different viewpoints.”

Column: The Inaugural Sacred Circle

Sun, 2017-02-05 06:28

“You begin to realize that you’re always standing in the middle of a sacred circle, and that’s your whole life….”

American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön writes. “Whatever you do for the rest of your life, the circle is always around you. Everyone who walks up to you has entered that sacred space and it’s not an accident. Whatever comes into the space is there to teach you.”[1]

The sacred circle is not unfamiliar to most spiritual seekers. Regardless of praxis of faith, the circle has been a place to hold collective, the celebrations and sorrows of many.  The circle is richly and innately Goddess in some cultures and yet we welcome that same circle as distinctly God. For many, the circle and the casting of it stands as a foundation upon which the work of magic. In popular culture the witch may be as famous for calling quarters and casting circles than any other ceremony, ritual, and celebration. It is no wonder that since prehistory the circle seems to have been the hub for community.

Diagram of a system of imaginary lines radiating from Cusco that connected cities, shrines, temples and sacred sites of the Incan empire. [Photo Credit: McKay Savage / Wikimedia Commons]

“When we meet in circle we join to hold everyone in sacred space and purpose. We are bringing forth an ancient way of connecting into modern times. We gather to share stories, to deepen our identities individually and in group—often with the intention to enable and shape a post-patriarchal way of being. We also gather to heal life.”[2]

Earth too, is a circle that is hosts to species long since departed.  They are called, Rock, River, and Tree.

On January 20, 1993, American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, Dr. Maya Angelou stood atop Capitol Hill, a place that at the time of her birth in 1928 was not accessible to people of color, let alone a woman of color. She spoke plainly:

“A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed…”[3]

Dr. Angelou spoke of the past and called to the circle – the ROCK.

“But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny…
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness…
The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.”

Swiftly moving around the circle from the rock to the river, Dr. Angelou sang out and invited the River:

“A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one…”

By this point, Dr. Angelou had invoked strong Rock and singing River. In a deft transcendence that is akin to transubstantiation, she called upon “creator.”  I and the tree and stone were one. This was more than poetry; this was liturgy. And, in true liturgical fashion, there was dogma. “Come clad in peace and study war no more.”

Not too dissimilar from Dr. Angelou’s statement is one from the Charge of the Goddess, written by Doreen Valiente. It reads: “Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice, for behold, I am the Mother of all things and My love is poured out upon the earth.”

Dr. Maya Angelou at the 1993 presidential inauguration ceremony [By Clinton Library / Public domain]

There on Capitol Hill, a circle was cast. In that space, there was Dr. Angelou and her guides and her allies: Rock, River, and Tree. And again, it was time to invoke the singing River and the wise Rock. Dr. Angelou said:

“So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.”

On that day and in that space, all were welcome there – even you, and I. But what’s more, Dr. Angelou’s circle was going to reach back in time. She said:

“Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation…
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream…”

See, the circle needed to remember the time when other’s blood, sweat, and tears paid for a dream. Dr. Angelou continued…

“I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again…”

Within that circle there was courage to face the past and look at the future – to acknowledge and empower. Dr. Angelou continued:

“The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country…”

Atop a hill, Dr. Angelou stood and called out to the hosts of species long since departed. She called them by name, and she rekindled their light as ally. Perhaps she was casting a circle that called into the hearts of citizens the United States of America. Ideals that might be similar to the language written on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”[4]

We are always are standing in the middle of a sacred circle, and whatever comes into the circle comes in to teach us, even the Rock, the River, and the Tree. They bear the lesson of the priceless gift of the inclusion when we stand within the sacred circle.

 

Notes:
[1]Chödrön, Pema. The Wisdom of No Escape, p. 28.
[2]  GoettnerAbendroth, H. Societies of peace: Matriarchies past, present and future. p 184.
[3] Angelou, Maya. On The Pulse of Morning. William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
[4] Lazarus, Emma. The New Colossus.

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

Column: Prayer in Uncertain Times

Sat, 2017-02-04 07:54

[Today The Wild Hunt welcomes its newest columnist Clio Ajana. Coming to us from the upper midwest of the U.S., Ajana is an educator and caregiver with a master’s degree in writing and a doctoral degree in literature.  She is also a Hellenic Orthodox High Priestess and member of the House of Our Lady of Celestial Fire, E.O.C.T.O. Ajana has been published in the blog Daughters of Eve and contributed to the anthology Shades of Ritual: Minority Voices in Practice, and Bringing Race to the Table.  Her column will appear here the first weekend of every month.]

At the beginning of February, in the cold northern hemisphere, we celebrate the return of the light. In my home tradition, we call the sabbat Brunalia. It is all about the spark, the creation, the renewal, and dedication to the transformative fire.  Yet, at the point, we are also currently in an uncertain times, and prayer, whether for this Sabbat or not, is needed and almost required.

Devotion to the gods begins with devotion to the self and to the communities in which we live, work, play, serve, and enjoy the resources. To be a mageia, a witch, a pagan, a Druid, a Wiccan, a magical practitioner or wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, takes courage. It takes stability of mind, of will, of body, and of spirit. Wherever and however you choose to land is aided by prayer.

However, sometimes it seems that we, as Pagans, do not speak of prayer as much as other communities do, and perhaps we should.

[Pixabay / Public Domain]

Several years ago, at a ritual to celebrate the ancestors and to remember and revere those who have passed from our lives and the earthly plane of manifestation to what lies beyond, a woman asked me to recommend some books. She had been very moved by the ritual and wanted to continue.  After I responded, she gave me a strange look.

I probably explained it poorly. Ritual is experiential. We pray. When someone comes to our classes or to our circles, and wants to know the best way to start, I always recommend grounding, centering, listening to the Gods, and prayer. I saw the surprise and almost fear in this woman’s eyes: she had come from an area and a part of the country where a specific type of Christianity was the norm and a close personal relationship with the Christian god was a given. She presumed that in Paganism prayer was not a thing.

This made me think about how prayer is viewed in our overall community.

I asked myself how often do I hear other Pagans speak of the need for prayer outside of ritual, daily, or otherwise. We hear about it when there are tragedies, and we respond in unison on Facebook when someone posts requests for healing energy and prayers. We also see it in person at rituals and ceremonies.

However when a Seeker, someone who has been a solitary for a few weeks or a few years, comes out into the light to participate in public ritual, the term “prayer” might be a strange and unwelcome creature. Perhaps the understanding of the practice needs a public relations face-lift.

Prayer is not just for monotheists. A solid relationship with prayer and the Gods, individual or collectively, helps to enhance the magical experience.

Now I must confess that when I entered the community in 2004, I presumed that prayer was an unmentioned given. I saw ritual as a gathering for those of like minds, and those who wished to experience the communal nature of the Gods. I certainly went through enough direct encounters with Hecate, including her toga pulls and falling on the floor, that I knew she was real.

My communication with Her was a through prayer; this was our conversation. Outside of my daily prayers, she also spoke to me when I needed to be grounded; hence, there were those toga pulls. Without prayer, I would not have grown in closeness with Hecate as a goddess, nor with those other people in my community.

My personal background in the black Baptist and A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopalian) churches had forged a sense that if “God” was around, then a conversation would be just fine. I left Christianity for good at the age of twenty, but that understanding of prayer remained.

Since then, I have met many who have fled Christianity and other monotheist paths for a Pagan tradition, some under the guise of hating organized religion and some due to hurt feelings caused by the God of their original tradition or by how worshippers of that tradition treated those who were not 100% like them.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

 One of the not-so-hidden gems within Paganism, as a large and glorious umbrella, is that the role of prayer does not change across practice. We call upon the Gods to help us in so many ways: to find a home, a job, friends, money, a partner or multiple partners, occasional sexual companions, world peace, a group similar in beliefs to one’s own, and so many other important things. There are those who don’t call it prayer, but they will still light a candle and call upon the Gods at the full moon or dark moon or at any time.

This brings up the question of why an aspect vital to the religious life of Pagans is kept in the closet more than almost any other? Are we so deeply scarred by past religious experience that stating the word is anathema? Is the concept of prayer being tied to a monotheist tradition, specifically Christianity, so deeply ingrained that it is impossible for those under the Pagan umbrella to speak as openly about how important prayer is to the individual here as it is for a monotheist?

In the coming year, which began in turmoil and with uncertainty, my personal pledge has been to explore and to hold onto prayer. Ironically, when we are seen by the outside non-Pagan world, in some parts of the country, it is the acknowledgement that we do pray (by whatever term call it) that makes those who would otherwise shun us begin to acknowledge our goodness as people.

Our community as a public face may be now shrink in the United States during the term of the next President; however, this is exactly the time to bring a most open acknowledgement of prayer to all of our communities. Our religions will potentially be challenged by those who do not like people who are “different”. If you do it but haven’t called it by that specific term, that works too.  As a black, lesbian, overweight witch, I stand out like a lush green cactus in the desert sands. I cannot hide. But I can pray and believe.

Due to the uncertainties surrounding the past few months, the closed nature of human reaction, whether positive or negative, has meant the circle of those with whom we worship may have shrunk. In the realm of Paganism and various groups, this type of “internal cleansing” has lead me to question whether the very foundation of prayer in any religious tradition can withstand the outer currents of political and personal change. If those in your group feel or think differently than you do, does that make large public group prayer in ritual or smaller private gatherings more exclusive? Or do you choose to act one way outside of ritual circle and accept without comment  those who enter circle with you?

I’ve discovered that behind the faint smiles, the grimaces, the gulped silence, and the hasty ending of conversations, there is an awkwardness that challenges those who are torn between accepting and working with those whom they cannot tolerate on a political or personal ethics level. Why is this important when it comes to prayer? If our specific religious traditions under the umbrella of Paganism are to survive, should we consider whether we are able to accept those practitioners who turn out to be different in a way that is not appealing to us? If so, how?

[Public Domain]

In the context of prayer, this means that you might find yourself in a situation where you disagree vehemently with the person standing next to you in circle. You may have found out that the person holds opinions, political or otherwise, that would make you question the value of your friendship or association. Is disagreement and disharmony enough to dictate the circle of those whom you allow into your religious life? Sometimes the answer is absolutely yes. And, in other cases, it is more complicated.

During these complicated times, I think about how the use of prayer as a repair agent is similar to Restorative Justice. One thing that can be agreed upon, in our community and in the United States, is that our family lives, our religious lives, and our social lives have been irreparably changed and in some cases damaged through the smashed barriers of the 2016 election cycle. I have clung to prayer and ritual as a means of getting through the waves of deep emotional grief, anger, confusion, and despair seen in some of those around me.

This competes with the surprise, joy, excitement, and anticipation that I see from those few who tentatively admit that they were desperately unhappy before the election and now find that any change is a release from pain. I do not pretend to understand these currents; however, the best first response I could find at the time has been prayer.

I was reminded of this response while walking on a very slick parking lot this morning. The asphalt shone through the sheen of white that appeared clear at times and slushy in other places. After slipping a few times, I remembered that black ice plays no favorites and to tread carefully would get me across the parking lot faster than falling multiple times. When times are uncertain, prayer in the regular world is like walking across fractured ice, black ice. We do not know where we are going or if we will make it; but we have faith that we will.

As Pagans, we give solace to each other by remembering the world that some forget. If nothing else, it is okay to say, to believe, and to be a bit more open about the “P” word – prayer.  To say that one prays does not mean that an individual is a monotheist and that prayer is the dominion of such traditions. Prayer is for all of us. It is free. It is convenient. It is one of the most Pagan of practices: we are calling to the Gods. We are sharing who we are. We are letting the Gods in. As we go through these uncertain times, I believe that we will survive as a community. We will make it across the ice and thrive with the help of each other and of prayer.

 *   *   *

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