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Half the Sky is Falling: theology or conquest

Sun, 2015-08-30 09:16

[Warning: This article deals with a topic that may be upsetting for some of our readers.]

On Aug. 26, 1920, American women were granted the right to vote when the Secretary of State certified the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ninety five years later, the day is acknowledged as “Women’s Equality Day.” While the Utopian ideal of gender equality in the U.S. is far from realized, long term statistics do suggest significant improvements for American women.

Political and cultural shifts have opened doorways, allowing for opportunities that were not available to the many brave women who walked in those early protests nearly a century ago. American women are also increasingly finding the voice to continue the work needed to improve their lives, to confront issues still lurking in the corners of American society and to empower the next generation of girls by reminding them each and every day, “We are half the sky!”[i]

[Public Domain]

But as we pause for a moment to acknowledge, reassess, plan or celebrate, the following creeps across our digital desks…

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. (From “Isis Enshrines a Theology of Rape,” The New York Times, Aug. 13, 2015)

To fully comprehend the quote above, one must read the entire New York Times report. A summary will not capture the sheer horror embedded in that story as relayed by 21 survivors. Briefly, Yazidi women and girls are being sold to Daesh soldiers as sex slaves and systematically raped in prison structures as part of the conquest of war. These violent acts are being justified by Daesh’s developing theological legal system for the caliphate. The social boundaries that once may have prevented such attacks are now lying in ruins alongside the shattered remains of the Mosul museum, Palmyra and other similar ancient sites.

Daesh is attempting to rebuild a society based on its own extremist interpretation of Sharia law, and sex slavery has become a legitimate part of that construction. The organization has even created a functioning infrastructure specifically to uphold the practice. As The Times article reports, “The Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales and contracts notarized by ISIS-run Islamic courts.” And within that theologically-based legal structure, rape is considered a form of worship.

This new slavery system was institutionalized when Daesh first invaded the Yazidi region. They killed both men and older boys. Then, they transported the women and girls and the remaining young boys to prisons and camps. Professor Matthew Barber, a expert on the Yazidi, told The New York Times, this “offensive” was not at all a land invasion, but a calculated “sexual conquest.”

As we reported last September, the Yazidi people are a small, often misunderstood religious minority living in northern Iraq. Many news outlets have defined their religious practice as polytheist and, periodically throughout history, they have been labeled “devil worshippers.” However, neither is correct. The Yazidi tradition is a closely held belief system that, by design, remains a mystery to outsiders. While their religion may be kept hidden, what is clearly known about the Yazidi is that they are currently the direct targets of a modern genocide.

Last October, Daesh’s online magazine Dabiq published an article explaining the organization’s actions. The text reads, “The Islamic State faced a population of Yazidis, a pagan minority existent for ages in regions of Iraq and Shām … Their creed is so deviant from the truth that even cross-worshipping Christians for ages considered them devil worshippers and Satanists … ” The article goes on to justify not only slavery as a whole, but specifically sex slavery and the taking of women as concubines. The writer explains how slavery was once openly practiced, and Daesh seeks to return to that time.

While Daesh is openly enslaving the Yazidi women, it has not yet demonstrated a large-scale offensive against the area’s Islamic, Christian or Jewish women. Islamic women are considered believers, and have a designated role in the caliphate as dictated by a March 2015 piece of propaganda, titled, “Women of the Islamic State: A Manifesto on Women by the Al-khanssaa Brigade.”  Interestingly, this manifesto is being used to recruit young Muslim women from around the world.

Christian and Jewish women, on the other hand, have a special non-believer status because of their theological link to “the Book.” As explained in October’s Dabiq article, Christians and Jews have the option of making ” jizyah payments,” which is a tax for non-Muslims living in the caliphate.

However, the Yazidi are considered, as noted earlier, pagans and devil-worshipping polytheists or mushrikun (shrik is defined as the sinful practice of idolatry or polytheism; mushrikun are those that commit this sin against Islam). The mushrikun can either be converted, killed or enslaved.

The bartering for and enslavement of women as a war conquest is sadly not a new practice. For centuries, the female body has been treated like the hidden valuables of a conquered region. Women exist for the taking; a spoil of war and a right of victory, as demonstrated by the phrase to “plunder, pillage, rape.” In May, when Nigerian troops freed 234 women and girls from the terrorist group Boko Haram, many returned pregnant. Boko Haram treated these women and girls in very much the same way that Daesh is treating the Yazidi women.

However, Daesh has added a new spin to this entire horrific engagement. It is brandishing these attacks and promoting these laws as a way to encourage young men to join its ranks. Sex slavery and rape have become the proverbial carrot before the horse; a prize for signing up or reward for a job well-done. And, the entire process is wrapped up in a guise of religious clothing. In a March 2015 Dabiq article, writers attempt to justify their institutionalization of slavery by criticizing the world for even calling a sexual act with a slave girl “a rape.” [ii]

A prostitute in your lands comes and goes, openly committing sin. She lives by selling her honor, within the sight and hearing of the deviant scholars from whom we don’t hear even a faint sound. As for the slave-girl that was taken by the swords of men following the cheerful warrior … then her enslavement is in opposition to human rights and copulation with her is rape?! What is wrong with you? How do you make such a judgment? What is your religion? What is your law?

That very comment in the April issue of Dabiq invites a broader discussion on basic human morality. Is there an intrinsic morality embedded within humanity, or even a socially-constructed baseline that defines which acts should never be considered acceptable regardless of religious belief? That discussion goes well-beyond this article. But it does lead back to the original New York Times headline, “Isis Enshrines a Theology of Rape.” Is the institutionalization of rape through religious doctrine truly a mark of “theology?” Or is a religion simply being used – victimized itself – as an excuse to commit violent sexual acts against women, to perpetrate a genocide against a perceived enemy and to strengthen a propaganda campaign to recruit new young male followers?

The world’s Islamic leaders are decrying these atrocities and publicly discussing the secondhand destruction being caused to their faith practice and belief system. There is a distinction being made between Islam and Islamism; between Muslims and Islamists. In a recent CNN report, Dr. Qanta A. Ahmed wrote:

 I am an observant Muslim. And because I am a Muslim, I believe in pluralism. I believe in tolerance. These are the beliefs that Islamist totalitarians are determined to extinguish in the world as they oppress and brutalize those they deem to be ‘the other.’ … Because of their abuses in the name of Islam, Islamists smear each and every Muslim, tarring us all with the same brush.

As the world has became increasingly aware of Daesh’s slavery practices, some people are asking why the world’s governments don’t appear to be focusing more on this particular horror. “Do they believe it is just a women’s issue?” In a 2014 article published at Foreign Policy, Aki Peritz and Tara Maller, former CIA analysts ask that very question. They observe, “Rarely do [sexual attacks] seem to be the focal point of politicians’ remarks, intelligence assessments, or justification for counter-terrorism actions against the group.” Peritz and Maller conclude, “Sexual violence carried out by terrorist groups should be catalogued as ‘terrorist attacks.”

Before Daesh’s 2014 Yazidi offensive, there were already reports of rapes and kidnappings in the general Iraqi region. Where once the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) was steadily working to improve Iraqi women’s legal rights, it now, as reported Foreign Policy in Focus, “takes everything the organization has just to keep their shelters open and women safe.” The article explains how, in war-torn Iraq, all men have guns and can do whatever they want. Women live in fear.

Along with OWFI, human-rights organizations around the world are joining the struggle to help the region’s women. Yazda is an Iraqi-based international Yazidi organization that is sponsoring relief efforts. YezidiTruth is a U.S.-based organization that educates and collects donations. In Israel, The Combat Genocide Association is also working to educate, raise money and find ways of actively assist the many refugees from the affected areas. These are only four examples.

While grass-roots efforts and government action may end the nightmare and alleviate some of the trauma. None of those actions can fully root-out a more deeply embedded problem – one of indoctrination found within the pages of Daesh’s manifesto and the writings by the organization’s supporters. All of these works continue to teach boys and men that it is culturally acceptable and even their right to objectify women’s bodies.

Living far away from the violence and the realities in Iraq, American women can walk freely, secure enough in their own struggle for equality. But even in the U.S. there are reminders that a very similar problem still lies deep beneath the lands where once the suffragettes marched. This was recently demonstrated by several back-to-school fraternity banners displayed at Old Dominion University. “Freshmen daughter drop off,” one read. While these manifestations and related traumas are not comparable to the open institutionalization of sex slavery and rape in Iraq, a connection remains.

In celebrating the advancements made over the past 95 years, we also acknowledge there is much work to be done. That work includes continuously encouraging our young girls to stand up and speak up because they are half the sky. But at the same time we cannot forget to teach our boys that they are only half the sky.

And, without both, the sky will fall.

*    *    *

[i] The term “Half the Sky” is borrowed from a movement that addresses the worldwide oppression of women. The term originated as the title of a book written by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and then was adopted for a corresponding effort to help women worldwide. The Half the Sky movement is not to be confused with the foundation of the same name, which specifically addresses child welfare in China.

[ii] There are countless published articles and essays by Daesh supporters that demonstrate and theologically justify the promotion of the slavery practice. However, we have made editorial decision to not link to any of these pieces.

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Book Review – Celebrate Wildness Magic: Mirth and Love on the Feraferia Path

Sat, 2015-08-29 06:57

Review: Celebrate Wildness: Magic, Mirth and Love on the Feraferia Path. (First Edition) Written by Jo Carson.

Years ago I was given a list of books to read in response to my interest in pursuing Paganism. Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon was one of those books and, through that text, I first learned of the Feraferia tradition. At the time, the tradition did not specifically call to me. Even if it had, there was lack of access to information and teachers in Georgia in the 1990s. Wrapped up in trying on different practices and traditions, I didn’t give it much more thought.

Then, a few months ago, I came across the path again while reading Palgrave’s academic text Sexuality and New Religious Movements, and I was reminded of that part of modern Pagan history. Consequently, when Jo Carson’s Celebrate Wildness: Magic, Mirth and Love on the Feraferia Path arrived in my inbox, I was very interested in exploring it in order to learn more about Feraferia, a tradition that appears to have had a strong influence on many Pagan paths in the United States.

The word “Feraferia” literally means “celebrate wildness,” stemming from “fera,” as in wild (feral), and “feria,” meaning festival. It is a religious tradition founded by Fredrick Adams in the 1950s. According to the forward of Celebrating Wildness:

Fredrick Adams was a writer and an artist. He has been called a modern American William Blake. The majority of his work is on mystical themes relating to the Divine Feminine and the relationship of the Mother Goddess and her Daughter to Sacred Nature. Adams and his life partner Lady Svetlana were among the first founders, and most elegant proponents, of Goddess Religion in the Western Hemisphere. Through their religious fellowship, Feraferia, they inspired thousands of modern romantics and Neo-Pagans with their lyric paradisal visions, profound ecological-spiritual philosophy, elegant ceremonial rites and stunning artwork…

Even as a boy Fred dreamed of paradise. He hoped to eventually create an Eden-like environment where he and his friends could live and love each other, in and at peace with the ‘All Wild of Nature’ as he called it. A goal of Feraferia is the creation of such paradisal sanctuaries, focused on celebration and the culture if native trees and plants in harmony with the seasons… (Forward written by Carroll ‘Poke’ Runyon)

In a recent interview with Jason Mankey, author Jo Carson said that one of Adams’ unfulfilled intentions was to write a book about Feraferia in order to make it accessible to everyone. She told Mankey, “He wanted other people to be able to experience something like what he had experienced.”

For anyone not familiar with Feraferia, here is a succinct description, which can be found on the Feraferia website:

Feraferia promotes the love of nature, the “land-sky-love-body” of all wild. We take nature in the widest sense, to include ecology, physiology (human and non-human) and psychology.

Feraferia sees the Goddess as the most ancient deity of all humankind. To honor Her, we hope to serve the community of all life.  At the same time, the unique deity we celebrate most is the young maiden Goddess, the laughing Girl Goddess, the Merrie Maiden – also known as Kore (pronounced kor-ee), from the ancient Greek. By her characteristic innocent grace, She allows for the freedom and joy of all.

Our basic spiritual goal is the awakening of a deeper identity with landscape as a conscious, living presence…

While preparing to review this book, I struggled with putting together a clear conceptualization of Feraferia as a religion based on the introductory information provided. This forced me to look in other places for background material. After I had more information I went back and re-read the first section and things started to make more sense the second time around.

As someone who has studied Pagan beliefs for years, I did find much of the information familiar. Even so, my overall impression of the book, and the first section in particular, is that there is too little information given on any one subject. For example, details on several concepts, including Kore as Twin Goddess (Light Kore and Dark Kore), Mysteries of Death and Rebirth, Trance and the Magic of Dreams, are wrapped up in a page or less.

With these very short bits of information coupled with loads of enchanting artwork, the book is designed more as coffee-table material than anything else. It’s the sort of book that is beautiful and that you would pick up to look at while you’re waiting for your clay sculpture to bake, but not necessarily read cover to cover. This is especially true considering the decision to print white text on black pages, which was hard for these middle-aged eyes.

That being said, I like coffee table books and this one had some beautiful art work, intriguing information and ideas all wrapped up in one.

The best section of the book was Part Three: Feraferia’s Deep Roots. It was in this section that the discussion of ancient henges, the Eleusinian Mysteries, and the ancient peaceful cultures of Crete were explored. Not only were these discussions interesting, but it was at this point in the book that things really started to click. I began to have a clearer idea of what Feraferia is and, more specifically, what is meant by the phrase: “the awakening of a deeper identity with landscape.”  

It was through this section that I could put into context the rites and practices described earlier in the book. For example, I understood the importance of creating the Faerie Ring Henge in the manner presented in Part Two, and I began to understand more about the tradition’s focus on the Minoan Crete culture and on Kore/Persephone.

Generally speaking, the book was interesting, and I was only disappointed in its organization. There were countless times that I read something late in the book and had a “Oh, that’s why…” moment, leading me to re-read earlier articles, reconsider artwork, and research the tradition through other means. For example, if “The Hallows of Feraferia” (written by Admas in 1967) had been included in the beginning rather than the end everything would have made more sense the first time around.

While I have a firm-enough foundation in Pagan history to understand much of what was presented, I am not certain if a person, who is new to Paganism, could use this first edition hardbound art book as an introduction to Feraferia. Fortunately, Carson has recently released a second edition, which is smaller (11 x 8.5) contains more articles, art, a bibliography and further reference information. In addition, more books are planned, which will dive deeper into the beliefs and practices of the tradition. Until then, I will happily gaze at the enchanting artwork within the pages of Celebrating Wildness and figure out how to create a fairy henge that won’t alert my neighbors in my tiny suburban backyard.

Jo Carson is a long-time follower of Feraferia and is the tradition’s current leader. She has a Master’s degree in Film Production and in addition to her extensive work in the film industry, also produced documentaries Dancing with Gaia and A Dance for the Goddess. Her book, Celebrating Wildness, is available through the Feraferia website.

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Column: Fear of a Blue Sky

Fri, 2015-08-28 05:52

I. Fire and Bone: July, 2006

I was hurrying home, deep in thought and not paying attention, when I walked right into his sign, accidentally tearing it with my boot as I plowed through the cardboard.

I looked down at the torn sign and snapped back to reality. “Oh god, I’m so sorry,” I blurted to the man sitting a few feet away as I started to bend over to pick it up.

“Only Need $20 More For Bus Ticket Home” the sign said. Next to the sign was a collection of objects presumably for sale. There were a few tattered romance novels, some antique Coke bottles, and what looked like a piece of antler.

I picked up the antler and examined it. Part of it was broken off with a small stump remaining, but it was a beautiful piece, and I realized that if I sanded the broken stump down it would make a nice wand.

“Where is home?” I asked.

“Milwaukee”, he answered. “I left years ago and swore I’d never return, but over the time I’ve decided that maybe one actually can go home again.”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out $20. “Sorry again about your sign, but hopefully now you don’t need it,” I said as I handed him the money.

Image: US Treasury Department

He broke into a wide smile. “Oh thank you, thank you so much.” He got up to shake my hand. “I hope that piece treats you well.”

I thanked him again and continued home, waving the antler around like a wand as I neared my corner. I went through the front door of the building and up the stairs, leaving the antler outside my door by the landing on the second floor before going inside.

A few days later, I dug out my dremel and went out on the landing with the intention of sanding off the stump on the antler in order to give it the right shape. I had done some bone carvings some years back, and didn’t think much of it as I put on my goggles and turned on the dremel.

I held the sanding tip to the antler and made contact, and within a second or two I started to suddenly panic and uncontrollably shake. I quickly put down the dremel, and before I could understand what was happening my body went into full panic attack mode. I started to hyperventilate and I lowered myself into a seated position as my heart started to race and I started to sweat.

Terrified, I put my hands over my head and closed my eyes, and all I could see and feel and taste and smell was fire. Visions and sensations poured through my head; a fiery inferno, the screams of the dead, the stench of burning flesh. I felt myself being pulled down into myself and I briefly opened my eyes, but the visions and the smell did not immediately cease and I felt myself tightening into the fetal position as I closed my eyes again and reminded myself to breathe.

My heart was pounding ever faster, and it took me several minutes of slow breathing before whatever had come over me faded and I was able to uncurl myself and sit back up. As I felt myself come back, I stared at the antler in horror, utterly confused and terrified at what had just transpired. What had flashed through my mind was familiar, all too familiar, and yet so deeply buried and deliberately forgotten. But…what? How did the…

At that moment, my upstairs neighbor bounded up the stairs towards the landing, and as he got within a few steps of me he suddenly froze and sniffed the air. He looked at me, wide-eyed.

“That smell. Holy Mother of God, that smell. What the…?” he said, his voice shaking slightly.

I pointed to the antler and the dremel and tried to summon the proper words, but he had no interest in what I was actually pointing to. I looked down again where I was pointing and the objects suddenly read out to me as a solved riddle: friction and antler. Fire and bone. I looked up at him again but he spoke before I could.

“That smell,” he said again, his voice barely above a whisper. “It smells like when the Twin Towers were burning.”

II. A Lesson in Capitalism, A Lesson in Imperialism: February, 1993

Our fifth-grade class had spent all month learning about the stock exchange, and it seemed fitting to wrap up the unit with a day trip to the Financial District. We piled into a big yellow bus and rode into Manhattan along with the morning traffic, eventually inching our way downtown towards Wall Street right at the peak of the AM rush hour.

We started out with a guided tour of the New York Stock Exchange, had lunch at a Burger King near Wall Street and, afterward, we walked over in a group to the headquarters of Solomon Brothers, located in the World Trade Center complex.

7 WTC and the North Tower as seen from the South Tower. Photo by Duncan Rawlinson.

It was the first time that I had ever seen the Twin Towers in person, and I was instantly mesmerized by their energy and presence. We stood in front of the towers for a moment as our teacher took a few photos, and then proceeded across the street towards Building 7 where Solomon Brothers was located. As we walked away from the towers, I kept looking back as I struggled to process that anything could be so tall, so vast and so otherworldly. There was something truly unreal about them, as though I had stepped onto a Hollywood movie set or I was being fooled by a hologram.

One our way into Building 7, one of the guards wanted to check one of the bags that our teacher was carrying. We stood back as she was searched, all of us quite confused as to why there were security guards in the first place, let alone why our teacher had to open her bag up for them. After she was waved along by security, a few of us immediately wanted to know what that had been all about.

She gently tried to explain that the security guards check bags because they were worried about people potentially sneaking in “bad things”, which only piqued our curiosity further. She then told us that it was hard to explain in a few words but it was something we could discuss the next day, and then quickly led us toward the elevator while changing the subject. Within moments, the incident was forgotten.

In school the next morning, we talked extensively about our trip and what we learned, what the good parts were and what we didn’t enjoy so much. I was still wondering about the security guard and hoping that our teacher would talk about it, but nobody else brought it up and I was too shy to do so.

The following afternoon, we came in after recess to learn that a bomb had ripped through the garage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, with reports of both deaths and injuries. We looked around at each other, both terrified and confused. Why, we asked. Why would someone do that?

Our teacher had no answer that afternoon, telling us only as much as the media knew at the time. Over the next few weeks, however, it became apparent that the bombing was an act of terrorism, which eventually facilitated the discussion around bombs and security guards and bag searching that our teacher had evaded during the field trip.

“But why do bad people want to hurt us?’ one student asked.

“Because we are the most powerful country in the world, and sometimes that means that we do things that anger people who do not have power,” she answered.

Nobody asked anything after that, but I stewed on her words long after the subject had been exhausted. I wrote them down in a journal and thought about them often, especially when watching the nightly news. Between my own personal awestruck experience with the Twin Towers in and of itself and having been on that land in their presence only 48 hours before the bombing, my attention was suddenly aimed towards subjects like terrorism and empire in a way that would never have occurred had we not gone on that field trip.

III. Of Boxes and Blemished Skylines: Summer 1996

I remember the very first time I heard the joke.

I was with a friend, in the backseat of her parents’ station wagon, on our way into Manhattan to see Les Miserables. As we approached the Holland Tunnel, with the skyline clear-as-day in front of us, her father turned around to face us.

“You girls know that the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building are the two tallest buildings in Manhattan, right?” he asked us with a grin.

“But….” I started to immediately correct him, as everyone knew that the Twin Towers were the tallest.

He interrupted me with a laugh. “Yeah, the two boxes that they came in were dumped way down by Wall Street …”

We laughed along with him, immediately getting the joke. It was an understood and unspoken truth that for all their impressiveness in terms of height, the Twin Towers did look like two big ugly boxes, especially in comparison to buildings such as the Chrysler and the Empire State. While I had a strange fondness for them, even I had to admit that while they were otherworldly, they were otherworldly eyesores.

“You know, I was about the same age as you two are now when those towers first went up, and I’ll never forget how much folks hated ‘em at first. They called ‘em a blemish on the skyline, complained that they ruined the view of Lower Manhattan. And now a generation later, everyone’s buying tchotchkes with the Twin Towers on ‘em, and nobody can imagine what the skyline would look like without the towers. Funny how that works…” he said, drifting off into his thoughts.

Manhattan skyline, 1960. Photo by Harold Egeberg

I thought about what he has said as we came out of the tunnel. One of my neighbors had expressed a similar sentiment recently, and as I got a brief glimpse of the towers out the back window, for a moment I tried to imagine the skyline without the Twin Towers.

And while it was hard to imagine that those buildings actually existed in the first place, it was even harder to imagine what it would look like without them.

IV. Land, Once Water: Spring, 1999

“And it was right at this spot, at the base of a buttonwood tree, that the contract that became known as the Buttonwood Agreement was signed in 1792, marking the beginnings of what was to eventually become the New York Stock Exchange…”

‘This spot’ was in front of a hot-dog stand on Wall Street near the corner of Pearl Street. I was on a guided tour of the Financial District, having been dragged along by a friend from the West Coast who had never been to New York before. At that point, I had been taking the bus into city once or twice a week and I knew most of Manhattan like the back of my hand, but as I looked around I realized that I hadn’t been down near Wall Street since the school field trip six years earlier. I looked around, down the dark narrow street tucked within the oldest and deepest depths of Manhattan’s concrete jungle, and it was nearly impossible to imagine any sort of tree, buttonwood or otherwise, ever having grown in that spot.

We started walking eastward again behind out tour guide, who continued talking as we ambled along.

“Wall Street itself was named after an actual wall which once protected the settlement of New Amsterdam from both the British and the local tribes. The wall was built in the mid-1600’s, and originally stretched from Pearl Street to what is now called Church Street, which were the original shorelines of Manhattan over three-hundred years ago.”

Wait, what? I said to myself. The original shorelines of Manhattan are Pearl Street and Church Street? The present-day Manhattan extended three blocks east past Pearl and at least as many blocks west of Church. I thought of the Twin Towers, which I knew were just west of Church Street. If the tour guide was correct, that would mean that the entire WTC complex was standing in what was once the Hudson River.

Manhattan, 1865. The yellow areas denote “made land”. [Public Domain]

“By the time the Buttonwood Agreement was signed, landfill had extended Wall Street out an extra block east, and the next year the Tontine Coffee House was built here at the corner of Wall and Water, which was to serve as the headquarters of the New York Stock and Exchange Board until the mid-1800s….”

I looked down where I was standing, suddenly aware that I was standing on an invisible border between bedrock and landfill, between the original boundaries of Manhattan Island and a man-made extension of “land” that was created from refuse. I looked eastward at the blocks and buildings, stretching towards the waterfront, buildings that I now knew stood where fish swam for millennia. I tried to imagine what the shoreline might have looked like around the time that the Dutch first fortified New Amsterdam with a wall, but once again the concrete got in the way.

The tour guide headed back in the other direction, still pointing out landmarks, but I was only partially paying attention at that point, still hung up on the idea that the lower half of Manhattan Island was once only half as wide as it was in the present day. As we approached the New York Stock Exchange, I tuned in to the tour guide again for a moment and quickly couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“And it was right here that on September 16, 1920, that a bomb went off in front of 23 Wall Street, at the height of the lunch hour on a busy weekday. 38 people were killed and over 100 were injured in what was at that time the deadliest attack on American soil. It was suspected that the bombing was carried out by Italian anarchists, but nobody was ever convicted, and it remains an unsolved case to this day.”

Wait, what again? A bomb? Here? My thoughts immediately drifted back to the WTC garage bombing, and then back to the tour guide’s words about Wall Street as a fortified wall that was built as a means of defense. The guide made no mention of the events that led to the need for a fortified wall in the first place, but I understood enough about history and empire at that point to sense a general pattern of cause and effect.

I looked around; the block itself felt like a fortress, holding itself in tension, in constant defensive posture against anything that may try to attack it. It felt nervous and guarded, and I felt the same as I continued down the narrow concrete corridor.

Damage from the 1920 bombing as seen today. [Photo Credit: NortonJuster7722]

 V. Fate and Foreshadowing: Late July, 2001

“You don’t have a fear of heights, do you?” he asked me at one point while giving me a tour of the main dining area. I had been looking out the window for a moment, temporarily paralyzed by the realization of how high up I was, and the look on his face was one of slight concern.

“Oh, no, not at all,” I lied. “I’ve worked in skyscrapers before,” I added nervously. That part wasn’t an outright lie, but I left out the fact that while I had actually worked in a few skyscrapers, I had never been higher up than the 29th floor.

“Uh-huh,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “New hires always tell me that they’re not afraid of heights, but then I’ve had some go and quit on me after a few weeks because they realize they can’t deal with it,” he said to me.

For the money I’ll make here, I’ll learn to deal with it, I thought to myself.

“This is as high up as you get in this town,” he continued, as if I needed any more reminders that I was on the 107th floor of the tallest building in Manhattan.

I nodded and smiled. “I know. I’m OK,” I said again, trying my hardest to project an air of confidence.

He smiled back and waved me over as he walked towards the back of the restaurant.

Other than the awkward exchange around heights, the interview went smoothly. I got along well with the interviewer, he seemed satisfied with my resume despite my relative lack of fine dining experience, and he was pleased at my willingness to take any shift that was available. I left there very hopeful that I had the job.

“I’ll give you a call in a few days”, he told me as I walked out.

But a few days came and went without a call, and by the end of the week I realized that I didn’t have the job after all. For some reason, that time I had really gotten my hopes up, and I took it very hard and very personally. Those around me noticed, and tried in their own little ways to cheer me up.

“You know, I have dreams of that building sometimes,” my partner said to me a few weeks after the interview. “In the dream, I’m standing against the windows on one of the top floors, and all of a sudden the building starts to sway violently back and forth.”

I thought back to when I looked out the window from the dining area of the 107th floor, that terrifying, paralyzing rush that the manager picked up on, and I nodded.

“Frankly, you’re better off with a job closer to the ground,” he said after a while. “Personally, I don’t know if I could handle being that high up all the time. That building always made me a little nervous.”

“Everything happens for a reason. I’ll find a better job,” I concluded.

After dinner, we walked through Midtown down to Lower Manhattan. The sun was setting, illuminating the skyline, and I stared down at the southern tip for a moment, thinking about the job I didn’t get. The job in the buildings that stood where the river once flowed, the buildings that swayed back and forth in my partner’s dreams. I suddenly felt a strangely unexplainable relief that I wasn’t going to be working in that building.

The manager probably made the right call, I admitted to myself as walked through the shadows of the towers towards the Brooklyn Bridge. I probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with being that high up.

VI. Consequence of Empire: September 11, 2001

I opened my eyes just a crack, immediately closing them again as the bright sunshine streaking through my windows temporarily blinded me. I knew it was already mid-morning, and I also knew that I wasn’t ready to wake up quite yet. I had spent the night before out late drinking with friends, and I hadn’t gotten back to my place until close to sunrise. I had only been asleep for three or four hours at that point.

But something had just woken me up out of a sound sleep, and I shifted my head slightly and slowly tried to open my eyes again to see if it was anything that I needed to worry about. The head of my mattress was up against a large bay window, and as I squinted my eyes open again all I saw was blue. The sky was an amazing, brilliant blue, not a cloud in the sky, a rarity that late in the season. I turned my ear towards the open window for a moment, heard nothing but birds and traffic, and rolled over back to sleep.

Blue sky over New York. [Photo Credit: Payton Chung]

A little while later, I heard a similar noise again. That time I sat up, again my vision fixated on the sky, wondering if what I heard was the demolition project from a few blocks away. Again I listened for a minute, looked out the window again, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But as I lowered myself back into bed, an unsettling and creeping feeling came over me.

I tried to get back to sleep but failed, eventually settling for lying in bed while staring at the sky, too anxious to fall back asleep yet too exhausted to actually get up.

Out of the silence the phone rang. I jumped at the sound, then slowly reached over and picked it up.

“APLANEAPLANEHITTHETWINTOWERSTURNONYOURTVWEAREUNDERATTACK” was all I heard on the other end of the line.

I recognized the voice of a friend but thought I had misheard what he said. “What?” I asked. “Can you say that again?”

“TURNONYOURTVJUSTTURNONYOURTV’ was the reply.

I stayed on the phone and reached for the remote. I turned on the TV and saw the Twin Towers engulfed in flames.

I threw some clothes on and ran downstairs, flung open the front door, ran down to the end of the block, and looked northwards towards Manhattan. I could see what looked like smoke and fire in the distance, and the air was sooty and acrid. I looked around. My block was mostly empty, and the few faces I saw looked as ashen as the sky in the distance.

I stood, frozen, staring at the smoke in the distance. As I stood there, an older man walked past me, walking with a cane and wearing a hat that proclaimed his status as a Vietnam vet. He stopped next to me for a moment, and then looked me in the eye and motioned towards the smoke with his cane.

“That there,” he said, his voice cracking as he spoke, “that there is the consequence of empire.”

I nodded, repeating his words to myself quietly. The consequence of empire.

My thoughts started flashing, from the bombing of the WTC garage nine years earlier, to the 1920 bombing of Wall Street, to the original fortification from which Wall Street bears its name. The consequence of empire indeed – 350 years of colonialism that led us to this very moment.

I ran back to the house and stood in front of the TV for the next several hours, taking in as many vital details as I could bear. I reflected for a moment on the job that I ended up not getting a few months prior and a knot immediately formed in my stomach.

As I stood there, I slowly took in what this meant in actuality. Subways were shut down. Bridges and tunnels shut down. Flights grounded. Cell phone networks hopelessly jammed. ATM networks down. Stock exchange shut down. Traffic suspended throughout all of Manhattan for the first time in the city’s history. An entire ‘way of life’, shut down in an instant.

And out my bay window, only a few miles away, a fiery pit steadily burned, with television cameras catching every detail save for the one things that I knew could not be transmitted through sight or sound: the stench of fire, of metal and soot, of burning flesh and bone. The news was calling it a “rescue mission”, but my senses and my gut both told me otherwise. I could smell death in the air, and I could hear and feel the dead as well.

VII. City of the Dead: September 12-15, 2001

The morning after, I cracked my eyes open in the identical manner as I had the day before, and it only took a split second of staring at the blue sky to remember what had transpired over the past 24 hours. I lay there for a moment, my dreams still fresh in my mind, dreams filled with fire and horror and the screams of the dead.

I needed to check on a friend who lived downtown, and I couldn’t ignore the pull that I was feeling from the other side of the river, so I grabbed my camera and a few other items and set out on foot towards Lower Manhattan. It was around three miles between my apartment in Brooklyn and the Manhattan Bridge, and with every block the smell in the air increased along with the tension of the land and the unmistakable screaming that shook through every bone of my body.

At the base of the bridge, an officer with an AK-47 guarded the walkway. “Residents only,” he barked as I approached.

“I live on Warren Street,” I lied, and gave the address of my friend.

“ID?” he asked.

“Its in my wallet which is in my apartment on Warren Street.” I answered calmly. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, I thought to myself.

He scowled for a moment, not sure whether to believe me, then relented and let me through.

I walked across the bridge, straight through Lower and Midtown Manhattan right up towards Central Park, walking in a city that other than the sound of emergency vehicles had gone completely silent. Not a single store was open, not a single car was driving through the streets, and there were very few people on the sidewalks. Birds eerily chirped as I made my way uptown, briefly pausing near 14th Street to take in the totality of the silence. It was a literal ghost town, in more ways than one, with the surreal nature only increasing when a military tank rolled right by me as though it was the most normal, everyday thing.

Military vehicle down 14th Street in Manhattan. [Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

I continued uptown, taking pictures as I went. By the time I got to Rockefeller Center, I paused and looked around and for a moment was in utter terror. There was nobody in sight. No cars, no people, no sounds other than the shrill shrieks of sirens and the screaming that I couldn’t tune out. I stood across from Radio City, the only person in a 360 degree radius, and was so taken in and paralyzed by the emptiness around me that it took me a few minutes to realize that I was standing right in the middle of Sixth Avenue. A group of people walked by on the sidewalk and I was so surprised by their presence that without even thinking I pulled my camera out and took their picture.

[Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

I then laid down in the middle of the street and did a log roll straight across to the other side. I didn’t know why, but in that moment I needed contact with the land, with the concrete and ashes that I had been walking upon for miles. I lay still in the street next to the sidewalk for a moment, and the screaming I was hearing suddenly became a roar. When I got up, I looked over at the people on the other side and realized that they had been taking pictures of what I had just done. They waved, I waved back.

Remembering that I had a friend that I was checking on, I quickly made my way back downtown. As I approached Union Square, I quickly saw that makeshift memorials were already being erected in the park, and flyers with pictures of the missing were taped to nearly every street-pole.

It brought me back to what I couldn’t tune out, the screaming. The dead. I wanted to stop and pay tribute, but I was still on a mission, and I continued on until I arrived at my friend’s apartment four blocks north of the disaster. As I rang the bell, I could feel the heat of the fire, and the stench had become overwhelming.

“I haven’t seen a thing yet, I haven’t left the house and I don’t want to,” he said to me we sat down on the couch.

“I don’t blame you,” I replied. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get that smell out of my mind.”

He looked up at me. “My grandmother’s been in a constant anxious state since yesterday, and nothing I can say or do will calm her down,” he said, motioning towards the back room. “She says the smell reminds her of Poland when she was a child, and she’s been in a terrible state. She’s terrified. I mean, we’re all terrified, but I don’t even know how to begin to comfort her.”

I didn’t know what to say, and we both sat there in silence for a while with our tea and cigarettes as I tried desperately to tune out the screaming that had hit a deafening pitch.

For the rest of the week, I spent my afternoons in Union Square, praying and making offerings for the dead. The screaming only started to fade a few months later as the fire finally went out, but I heard the screams in traces for the next several years.

VIII. Fear of a Blue Sky: July 2010

“When you were a kid, did you ever hear that joke about the Twin Towers?”

I paused for a minute, trying to access a file in my brain that had been long since tucked away. “You mean the one about how they’re just the boxes that the Empire State and the Chrysler Building came in?”

She nodded, poured herself another glass of wine, and then continued.

“Isn’t it weird how one day the world has suddenly changed and you just can’t say things anymore? Like, my mother would go on and on about those buildings when I was a kid, about how ugly they were and how she wished that they had never been built, on and on. And even remembering and recalling that just feels so weird and inappropriate now. I mean, obviously telling any jokes about the Twin Towers nowadays doesn’t seem right, but even remembering that we used to make jokes feels funny, like we did something bad retroactively or something. Its weird, I almost feel guilty about it.”

“Yes,” I said. I knew just what she was talking about. “I think we all carry around much more baggage around that event and our relationship with those buildings in general than we’d ever want to admit or even conceive of,” I said.

“For example, I’ll give you one,” I continued. “I can remember years ago being in the back of a friend’s car driving into the city from Jersey as her father was telling me how there were no Twin Towers when he was a kid. And when I heard him say that, I stared out at them and tried to picture what it would be like if they weren’t there. I shudder when I think about that now, it just freaks me out. And I swear, its like I’m almost afraid to even put words to it, to say it out loud. Somewhere in my head I seem to think that it never actually happened if I don’t speak of it. “

She nodded. “Can I tell you a secret?” she asked me.

“Of course,” I answered.

“I mean, its weird and messed up. I feel like I’m just crazy or this was just some crazy thing that happened in my head, but I really just need to tell somebody and you’re good with crazy stuff.” She looked at me for affirmation and I nodded.

She took a deep breath. “Okay. So, a few years ago I was having a cavity filled, and I should preface this by saying that I hadn’t gotten any work done on my teeth since before 9/11. But I’m in the chair, and as the dentist started to drill, all of a sudden the smell just jolted something seriously deep and I suddenly started panicking and remembering the towers and the aftermath in this vivid and intense way that felt like I was on psychedelics or something. Its like it was right there for a moment, it was real and in front of me again. I had to get the dentist to stop, and it took me a while to calm down after that.”

I nodded vigorously and I told her about my experience with the antler and the dremel. “It was one quick and hardcore lesson in how deeply scent and trauma are linked in the brain, and the degree to which trauma is retained long after you think you’ve gotten over it,” I said to her. “It felt like an out-of-body experience, like I had completely lost control.”

Her expression suddenly turned to sadness. “There was a part of that experience, the part where your stomach clenches so tight you think you’ll choke…. I’ll tell ya, sometimes that happens to me for absolutely no reason at the most innocent times. Like last week, I was lying on my back in the park and there was something about the color of the sky that just threw my stomach in knots. It was that same blue, something about that shade…”

“I mean, listen to me,” she continued after a moment. “ Fear of a blue sky? It’s just absurd. But its also very real and I don’t know if I’ll ever rid myself of it.”

I just stared at her for a moment. as not only did her experiences so precisely mirror my own, but she had the courage to vocalize something that I couldn’t ever bear to acknowledge to myself up until that moment.

“Yes, the fear of a blue sky,” I said after a while. “It’s very real indeed.”

Author’s Note: Minor details were changed for privacy reasons.

*   *   *

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

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New Religion Site Introduces Pagan Content

Thu, 2015-08-27 07:48

In December 2014, a new website was launched to promote active religious learning and to act as a storehouse for primary religious text and information. The site, called Deily.org, is the brain-child of Shawn Bose and Justin Halloran, two Austin-based entrepreneurs with experience in tech media. In recent months, the site has expanded its content to include “Paganism.”

The site’s name “Deily” is a play on two words – daily and the “latin world “dei, of a/the god or the nominative plural – the gods.” As is explained, Deily’s mission is “to host an online community, where members share and leave their understanding of religious content, that you will participate in every day.”


In January 2015, Halloran and Bose were interviewed by The Washington Post and, in that article the co-owners offered a bit of background on the project. Bose said:

For many people, their religious experience has become passive. They go to church, temple, synagogue, listen to a sermon, digest and leave. It’s one-way. We wanted to let people engage with content. How can a community come together to explain things to one another? This way they can deepen their faith or understanding. . . .

At the time of that interview, the majority of the published material was on Christianity, and three of its four most popular posts were Christian prayers. The fourth was a piece from the Quran.

However, as the months past, Deily increased its population of non-Christian material. The site now lists searches for Buddhism, Hinduism, Islamic, Judaism “and more.” As Bose told The Wild Hunt, they have recently been expanding into Paganism. Korin Robinson, an elder of the Ancient Celtic Rite tradition and a training priestess of Greenwood Covenstead, has been assisting with this expansion. The site now lists Wicca and Paganism. However, a simple content search demonstrates that the site is also gathering pieces on various Heathen and Polytheist practices.

As explained in both the Washington Post interview and in our email conversation with Bose, the site’s content is purely user driven, similar to YouTube and many other social media sites. Bose explained, “It’s a community-managed marketplace. We have no agenda of our own; there’s no invisible hand. We just say the content has to be about religion, not intolerant, not hateful, and we allow for the community to flag anything that’s inappropriate.” He added that they are forming an advisory board to manage any problems.

And, as issues with Facebook, Instagram and Etsy have recently proven, problems do arise in a purely user-based content model. In fact, one just did. It has come to the attention of several Pagan media outlets and writers that Deily was hosting their written material without any permission, unattributed and unlinked. The work was lifted from Patheos Pagan Channel, Polytheist.com and The Wild Hunt, to name a few.

In reaction, director of Polytheist.com Anomalous Thracian said:

Morpheus Ravenna, co-founding priest of the Coru Cathubodua and author of “Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods,” contacted me today to alert me that this piece of writing — which is published exclusively on Polytheist.com — has been copied over and appears without attribution to the site, at Deily. This is definite violation of Polytheist.com‘s stated and visible policies, of US copyright law, and — apparently — of Deily’s own policies …

Polytheist.com is a small and intentionally slow-growing platform for polytheistic voices, owned and operated by Polytheists in service and trust to the greater intersection of polytheistic religions and advocate. As marginalized religious groups facing at times aggressive erasure, a violation of this sort does little to help the development of safe visibility and open engagement in our world, of the sort that all religious groups should be expected to receive. Responsible and respectful treatment of copyrighted material is paramount to the continued developments of the sorts of religious dialog and interfaith trust that will be needed to preserve these — and any — religious traditions in the future.

Thracian’s own essay, The Polytheist Primer, which was originally written and published exclusively for The Wild Hunt, was also copied to Deily without attribution or permission.

In response to the issue, Bose said that Deily’s official “policy asks [users] to properly cite content and not to post copyrighted materials.” The policy itself is stated on the site’s “terms page.” It reads, in part, users “will not infringe any third party’s intellectual property rights including but not limited to copyright, patent or trademark rights.”

Several writers have reached out to the company in order to correct the problem, and it does appear that Deily is very willing to make these corrections. A number of the Patheos Pagan Channel articles, which were not attributed yesterday, now do have appropriate bylines (i.e., For “Deep Well: Great Heart Society” by Jenya T. Beachy; “Beyond Female Role Models: The Triple Goddess as Nature” by John Halstead). However, there are still many works, originating from multiple sites, that have not yet been fixed.

Unfortunately, due to the user-based model, this copyright infringement problem may be on-going for Deily, who makes it a point to note that it’s staff does not routinely monitor content. As with YouTube and the like, Deily must rely on its audience to identify problems. As Bose said, “We allow for the community to flag anything that’s inappropriate.” Unfortunately, copyright infringement and plagiarism are rampant in the digital media world. Copy, Cut and Paste is all it takes.

Because Deily.org is new and the team, as Bose said, is small, it is just beginning to run into copyright and other problems that typically plague these user-based content sites. As content and use increases, Deily will eventually have to develop a strong watchdog system.

[From Wikimedia Commons]


Interestingly, Deily doesn’t only see itself as a collector and curator of religious content. Within the internet startup world, one of the first big questions for any new company is “How are you going to monetize the site.” While Deily formed with investment money “well over seven figures,” its answer to this fiscal sustainability question is crowd-funding. Deily users can create profiles for their chosen nonprofit religious organizations (church, academic institution, temple, community group etc) and, then anyone in the Deily community can choose to donate, through the site, to that organization. The catch? Deily takes 10 percent of all donations.

At the present time, Deily is running a special “Deily Donates” campaign, in which the site matches user donations in several ways. First, for every new member that a current user signs up, their chosen organization receives $10.00. It is a win for Deily, as they build an audience, and it’s a win for the religious organization in donations. As of now, Cherry Hill Seminary and Circle Sanctuary are both listed on the site and have received donations. Through the current “Deily Donates” campaign, the first five organizations to reach the $2000 donation point will also receive a matched donation from Deily.org.

There are a number of Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist groups of interest already listed. This includes Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC), CUUPS, Pagan Educational Network, Ardantane Learning Center, Asterflag, several local Pagan churches (i.e., Richmond Urban Pagan Church), event-based organizations (i.e., Phoenix Pagan Pride), clergy organizations (i.e., Maine Pagan Clergy Association) and other local groups (i.e., Spokane Pagan Alliance).

It remains to be seen how Deily develops or is used by the collective Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist communities. In August, the site entered a partnership with Patheos.com. There is now a Patheos Deily Channel that publishes select content from Deily. In addition, the new site “powers” Patheos’ new “Ask an Expert” blog.

As the Deily grows its content, there will certainly be tech-based and copyright issues to resolve as is typically the case in any user-based platform. However, The Washington Post article touches on two others issues that might plague this particular site, especially as it now builds its Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist content. Halloran and Bose have both said that Deily’s content should focus on religious source material, primary sacred texts and related discussions with limited moderation. How do they define and determine sacred texts and source material for the incredible diversity of world religious practices?  Additionally, as a user-driven platform, how will they negotiate and police what is flagged inappropriate. One person’s inappropriate can be another person’s divine. Where or how will those lines be drawn?

Only time will tell as the site continues to grow.

 

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Harvest Gathering Offers New England Bounty

Wed, 2015-08-26 08:23

ORANGE, Conn. — Harvest Gathering is not the only Pagan festival to welcome participants home upon arrival, but its staff put a lot of energy into the idea. The theme came up again and again over the course of the four-day event, and it was evident in the increasing spring in the step of many an attendee. How many harvest events open the first feast to all comers, whether or not they paid for the meal plan? This one does, and it not only helped this first-timer feel welcome, it set the tone of “harvest event” from the outset.

Perhaps Harvest Gathering had exactly the right number of people in attendance, at 163, which is right around Dunbar’s number. Maybe it was the weather, which fell short of oppressively hot thanks to the trees and only smelled of rain once. Or it could have been the “astral car wash” upon entry, where bewinged organizer Gina Grasso smudged my Volkwagen Beetle, Bucephalus, and all that was within. Whatever combination of people, place, and things that contributed to it, Harvest Gathering resonated a warm, welcoming magic that made the best moments more intense, and the inconveniences nearly unnoticeable. (An event at a campground, even one with some amenities, will always require participants to face insects, weather, and walking to a greater degree than modern life generally prepares us for. Inconveniences come with the territory.)

[Photo: T. Ward]


This is an event with a strong, unapologetic witchy feel. It permeated the rituals, the workshops, the energy of the newly-reconstructed fire circle, and the kinds of vendors who hawked their wares. The depth of that witchiness was hinted at in the workshop schedule itself. For one program slot, both Ronald Hutton and Raven Grimassi were presenting.

However, Harvest Gathering is not an exclusively Wiccan event, and there were rituals and workshops alike which came from very different traditions. The sense of welcome was in no way diminished for those who followed other paths. Those who ran the event walked the walk that matched their talk in an authentic way.

The spirit of community and authenticity could be seen in multiple ways. This was the first year that recycling was implemented for the festival, and it seemed to be a rousing success. With no existing infrastructure, event staff organized the source separation of garbage from recyclable materials, and reusable wine and mead bottles from that. Brewers were invited to collect the bottles from the latter supply, and all attendees were asked to take bags of material home. People recycled with gusto, ensuring that the experiment would continue in future years. At another point, a piece of glass caught my eye on the trail. I stooped to pick it up, and as I rose I saw two people who had been walking ahead of me each bend down to pick up a piece of trash.

One morning I found myself, not surprisingly, gathered around the coffee urn with other devotees of Caffeina. One of these early risers was expressing a longing for more advanced material than is generally found in books on Pagan religions. She found that the ADF curriculum was sufficiently challenging for her intellect, but nearly insurmountable for her pantheist worldview. It turned my own experience on its head, and reminded me that all Pagan religions still have much to learn from one another, despite differences in theology.

Such was the nature of this festival. I found myself hanging on the words of an esteemed scholar one afternoon, and a few hours later having a serious discussion with a ten-year-old boy about the types of spirits he’d encountered in his life. Anyone could, and did, strike up a conversation with anyone.

Classes with class

Faced with the impossible choice of attending a workshop with Hutton or one with Grimassi, I hedged my bets by choosing the third option, a seidh ritual by Patricia Lafayllve. References to this trance practice are scant in the historic record, and Lafayllve explained that absent a clear idea of what the Norse people actually did, she incorporates aspects of her shamanic training to fill in the gaps and perform oracular work. This session proved to be both workshop and ritual, with Lafayllve giving a history of seidh as it is known and a play-by-play of what she and her assistant would be doing during the rite before beginning.

I attended the Grimassi class called The Cord of Greenwood Magic & Working with Plant Spirits.It was a workshop in the truest sense as attendees crafted a magical tool and were instructed how to use it. Research into the consciousness of plants “is not particularly good news if you’re a vegetarian,” explained Raven Grimassi as Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi cut and handed out cords for the work. “We use ourselves for a model of reality,” including an assumption that a being must have a brain and central nervous system to feel and be aware. Studies measuring plants hooked up to lie detectors and other instruments suggest that they are aware of harm on some level, and work to counteract it. In step with that emerging science, the Grimassis helped their students knot magical intention into that cord, to tie it into the life cycle of plants, and then used those new talismans to connect with the spirit of a particular plant known for its spiritual aspects.

Hutton was the talk of the festival in his tweed jacket, but he did strip to just his waist coat in the 90-degree heat of the day. However, summer in New England was not enough to keep him from donning his tweed cap to guard against the sun. He explained that he had grown up in British-colonized India and was, as a result, quite used to the heat. The temperature dropped noticeably after sunset, so perhaps he felt more secure keeping his jacket near to hand.

Cori Taylor and Ronald Hutton [Photo: T. Ward]

One of the professor’s lectures, The Return of the Horned God, drew heavily upon material from his book, Triumph of the Moon, which sets out the very real historic roots of Wicca. While these are not as tidy as the mythic tales of an unbroken tradition, they are nevertheless deep and genuine. Hutton traced the interest in a horned god in Europe from rumblings in the Romantic era to the resurgence of Pan as the quintessential nature god, only to have the focus shift by the 1940s to a celebration of Cernunnos. The popularity of Pan among European thinkers of the Victorian period came in part from the convenient double nature of his name, which also means “all” in Greek, making it possible for “pantheism to become Pan-theism,” in Hutton’s words. Those sorts of accidents, choosing a rustic Arcadian deity to stand in for all male divinity while at the same time forgetting the hundreds of local gods whose shrines dot the British landscape, Hutton suggestion may itself show the hands of the gods. “These are the names that destiny, or the gods themselves, decided we should have,” he said.

Rich in Ritual

Friday and Saturday nights each featured rituals, which were quite different but not entirely so. The Novices of the Old Ways led the Well, the Forge, the Song, which explored three aspects of Brigid as healer, empowerment, and inspiration. The following night was Awaken the Warrior, organized by Stephanie Woodfield and a group of Celtic practitioners. How these groups set sacred space, invited in the presence of deity, and confronted participants with lessons was very different, as different as Brigid is from Macha and the Morrigan, whom the latter ritual was focused upon. As they both drew upon Celtic tradition and lore, the underlying power felt in some ways the same: many people were bowled over by the force of emotion during each ritual.

The fire circle which was focus of much of the ritual work, as well as bardic and drum circles, was entirely rebuilt this year through the efforts of the community. Some $1,700 was collected to obtain and place stout sitting logs, dancing-grade sand, and rocks to form a clear barrier between embers and bare feet. Fire tenders were vigilant in putting out stray sparks in the path of dancers, but their role was more than safety alone. The flames blazed purple, blue, and green under the ministrations as shining bodies danced to the beat of tireless drummers.

Space for Self

Many festivals and conferences are moving toward larger periods of time between class sessions, and Harvest Gathering is no exception. Not every morning was an early one, and there was sufficient time to walk from building to building, even with a pause to visit the flushing toilets. Plenty of people chose to forgo a session or two to make or reforge connections, so meal times were not the only opportunity to catch up with old friends. The roads looping around the camp property provided plenty of space for quiet walks in the woods, when that was what the spirit asked for.

Harvest Gathering is neither the largest nor smallest outdoor Pagan gathering I have attended. Likewise, I’ve been to events that are both newer and older. For me, it stands out by being one of the most sincerely magical events I’ve been to in 2015. The feeling I was left with was not dissimilar to how I feel after I pick up my weekly farm share: weighed down with bounty, and wondering how I can possibly consume it all.

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Uncovering the past: Alexander the Great, The Walking Dead, the Faroe Islands and more!

Tue, 2015-08-25 09:41

As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts, and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up which challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Alexander the Great in a synagogue?
While uncovering a 5th century synagogue in Huqoq, Israel, archaeologists found something very unusual: a mosaic appearing to show Alexander the Great meeting with a Jewish high priest. The mosaic may be the depiction of a meeting between the conqueror and prominent religious Jewish leaders as told by proto-historian Josephus. This is the first example of non-biblical stories and imagery to be found in a synagogue. Also discovered were images of elephants, roosters, theatre masks, women surrounded by cupids, Greek gods and other mythological creatures.

Mosaic thought to portray Alexander the Great [photo Jim Haberman via The Daily]

Did the Greeks have their own ‘Walking Dead?’
Carrie Weaver, a lecturer and Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, believes they did. Weaver has been examining the burial of two Greek bodies, which are dated between 500 and 200 BCE and were found pinned down with large rocks. She believes that those rocks were piled on the two bodies in order to hold them down and keep them from reanimating as zombies.

The bodies were found just outside of what was once the Greek colony of Kamarina in Sicily. One was a child between 8 and 13 years old and the other was an adult.

Weaver says the ancient Greeks were frightened of zombies prowling the streets seeking retribution. They thought that the persons most susceptible to turning into a zombie were illegitimate offspring, victims of suicide, mothers who died in childbirth and victims of murder, drowning, stroke or plague.  However, the prevailing thought among scholars (and Hellenic polytheists) is that the ancients actually believed that spirits, who were wronged during life, roamed the earth on certain lunar dates and were not actual zombies.

Bigger than Troy
Excavations continue at the largest Bronze Age settlement in the Aegean region. Archaeologists have uncovered multiple castles in the Kaymakçı Hill in Manisa’s Gölmarmara Lake basin in present day Turkey. The castles are all within walking distance of one another and cover an area four times larger than that of the famous city of Troy.

Not much is known about the late Bronze Age (1600 – 2000 BCE) and the people who lived during that time. Those who would have lived in this area would be the ancestors of the Lydians. The Lydians reached the apex of their power in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, but were eventually conquered by Cyrus the Great in 546 BCE. The Lydian religion was a polytheistic religion whose main Gods included Cybele-Rhea, Pidans (Apollon), Artimu (Atremis), Kore, and Zeus. Nothing is known, so far, about the culture or religion of the pre-Lydian people who built the castles just discovered.

One of the castles being excavated. [Photo Courtesy the Department of Historical Antiquities, Turkey]

Ancient farmers, not so peaceful
A pet theory that war was rare among Neolithic farming communities is under assault. A 7000 year old mass grave was recently uncovered in Germany which contained the bodies of 26 people. They appeared to be the victims of a war with a rival farming village. Of the 26 bodies found, about half were children and most had their shinbones systematically broke before they were buried in a pit. The skeletons were of 13 adults, one teenager, and 12 children, 10 of whom were under 6 years of age.  

Farming is thought to have spread from present day Turkey into Europe 7500 years ago. Anthropologists have long debated if early farmers were peaceful tillers of the soil or if they also engaged in warfare. This is the third such mass grave in Europe from the Neolithic era and appears to put that debate to rest.

Ancient indigenous Amazonians, not so gentle on the earth
Another popular theory is about to bite the dust. This one posed that the pre-Columbian indigenous people from the Amazon-region lived in harmony with the earth, barely altering the landscape. Instead, archaeologists are now finding a series of square, straight and ringlike ditches scattered throughout the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon. Furthermore, these structures were created before the rainforests actually existed.

As of yet the purpose of the structures isn’t known. They could have been used for defense, agriculture, or for religious purposes. Yet it is now clear that prehistoric Amazon peoples did alter the landscape. The earthworks are up to 16 feet high and as much again wide. The earthworks also call into question if those peoples engaged in slash-and-burn techniques for clearing land.

Even more intriguing, the new find shows that humans have been impacting global climate in how they use the land for thousands of years, rather than just in the last few centuries. The Amazon before 3000 years ago had a climate closer to that of the present day African savanna. Human activity, such as growing more edible plants and trees, may have changed the soil chemistry and composition. When the climate became wetter, that allowed the rainforests to develop.

Amazon – Brazil, 2011.
©Neil Palmer/CIAT

A henge twice as old
A henge 39-foot-long and twice as old as England’s Stonehenge has been found in the waters off the coast of Sicily. The man-made stone structure weighs approximately 15 tons and is at least 9,350 years old.

Oceanographers say there is no known natural process that could have created this henge and it is made of stone different from the surrounding rock. The area was an island, until it was submerged in a flood about 9,300 years ago. Archaeologists say this dramatically changes the way we view humans from this time period. To make a monolith requires skilled stone cutting, extraction and transportation techniques, and engineering skills not normally associated with “primitive” hunter-gatherer societies

Vikings no longer first
Someone may have beaten the Vikings to the Faroe Islands, one of the first stepping stones to crossing the Atlantic to the Americas.

The Faroe Islands, positioned halfway between Norway and Iceland, were originally thought to have been first settled by the Vikings during their great migration in the ninth century. Yet contemporary writing hinted that some other people beat the Vikings to the islands.  An Irish monk named Dicuil wrote in 825 AD that Irish hermits had already settled the islands.

It’s not clear who the settlers were or where they were from, but there’s now firm evidence that the islands were colonized 300 to 500 years before the Viking landed. Archaeologists found burnt peat ash that could only be created by human activity. The ash contained burnt barley from what looks like home hearths. Barley isn’t native to the Faroe Islands, so it must have been brought to the islands by the earlier settlers.

Galen was right, mead is a health drink
If you needed an excuse to drink mead, here it is. Scientists from Sweden say that mead may help  fight illness and avoid antibiotic resistance.

Mead has long been thought to be a curative medicine. Galen of Pergamon, a prominent Greek physician in the first century AD, prescribed mead for persons who tended chill easily and to ease “afflictions of the mind,” cure sciatica, gout, and rheumatic ailments.

Now scientists in Sweden are lauding the medicinal properties of the alcoholic beverage made from honey, water, and yeast. They found the lactic acid bacteria in honey cures chronic wounds in horses that had proved resistant normal antibiotics. Now they are testing to see if the bacteria can kill off drug resistant pathogens in humans.

Since the process used to make mead commercially kills off the bacteria, the scientists are brewing up their own brand of mead, Honey Hunter’s Elixir and are having volunteers drink it and measure to see if the  measure different parameters to see if the compounds the bacteria produce could end up in the blood system and for that to cause a prevention or a cure for infections.

Palmyra [Photo Credit: James Gordon / Wikimedia]

This round up of archaeology news is dedicated to all we will now never learn from the temple dedicated to Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria.

The temple was reported to have been destroyed by the Daesh sometime in the last month. The Islamic militants have already established a history of destroying historical monuments, especially those dedicated to polytheistic Gods.

The temple, which was built in the first century AD,  was considered one of the most well preserved in the Greco-Roman world. As we’ve seen, new techniques often shed new light on even the most thoroughly examined archaeological sites, leading to new theories and ways of understanding our ancestors. When sites are destroyed, those opportunities may be lost forever.

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Pagan Community Notes: Mizzou, Priestess Maya White Sparks, PaganAid and more!

Mon, 2015-08-24 10:53

Over the last week, University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) graduate students and the school’s administration have clashed over a number of issues including student insurance benefits and overall treatment. The more than 1200 students, calling themselves the Forum for Graduate Rights, have threatened to walk-out of their jobs if the school does not meet their demands. These demands touch on everything from equitable pay, health benefits, tuition wavers, housing, childcare and fees.

The protest was sparked when the University announced that it would be cutting subsides used to pay for health insurance. Our own Wild Hunt columnist Eric O. Scott is one of the seven organizers of the movement. He is currently a graduate student at Mizzou working toward a PhD in English. Scott has been involved since the beginning and has been interviewed by local media.

After the demands were sent, the University did agree to restore the insurance subsidies. However, the students are still unimpressed. As Scott explains, “They have restored our health insurance for one year, but next year we could be right back in this position, and we still have a host of other grievances that haven’t been addressed. We are still rallying on Wednesday, both to celebrate our initial victory and to keep the pressure on the University of Missouri’s administration to recognize the importance of graduate student labor.” The student rally, which is now garnering faculty support, is planned for noon Aug. 26.

 *   *   *

In Virginia, Priestess Maya White Sparks has been also been involved in organizing and attending protests and rallies. But for an entirely different cause. Known for her vocal support of tarot reading in Front Royal, Sparks lives in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountain community nested in the Shenandoah Valley. This region is slated to become home to Dominion’s new Atlantic Pipeline. The main gas line cuts through several of the area’s prized forests, just south of the Shenandoah National Forest.

Through the Women’s Alliance of Environmental Justice and Renewal, Sparks first helped to coordinate a local march in the town of Front Royal. But that march was part of a much larger grass-roots movement to protect the region from the planned pipeline. Sparks told The Wild Hunt, “…The deadline for transitioning to renewable energy is upon us. Be vigilant in your local community and say no to any new fossil fuel infrastructure! … Scientists report we are in the 6th Great Extinction, losing species at an unnaturally accelerated rate due to human impacts. Even the Pope sees the critical dangers facing humanity from climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and an exploitative world economy.”

The Front Royal rally was staged in conjunction with a seven state protest coordinated by Hands Across our Land. Sparks added that she is also working with a local core organizing group called Free Nelson, named after the town that will have the main gas pipeline running directly through its center. Sparks added, “When the Pope sounds like a Pagan, you know the writing is on the wall! The Fates have spoken. Please do what you can. Blessed Be!

*   *   *

This August a new Pagan charity, called PagainAid, formed in the U.K. In the simplest terms, its mission is to “fight poverty and defend the environment.” Founded by Ian Chandler, PaganAid “seeks to break this vicious cycle by supporting communities to improve their lives by living in greater harmony with nature.

Along with Chandler, the new organization’s board includes Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal and Chief of the British Druid Order Philip Shallcrass (Greywolf). PaganAid has no paid staff and will be run only by volunteers. All donated money will be used directly to support projects that are inline with its mission. Specifically, PaganAid will partner with other international organizations to improve the lives of those people living in the poorest regions of the world, with the aim of curbing poverty and, at the same time, reducing carbon footprints.

Chandler explained, “Often people living in extreme poverty have little choice but to over-exploit their natural environment just to survive. We will use our supporters’ donations to help people generate an income that preserves the natural world, lifting them and their children out of poverty.” Chandler also said, “Sometimes, communities already living in harmony with nature are being pushed off their lands by outsiders who want to exploit their natural resources. We will support their campaigning and legal actions so that they can defend their lifestyles and roles as guardians of nature.” For more information on its projects and on donating, go to the PaganAid website.

In Other News:

  • Writer Kenya Coviak has launched a new book project that will showcase “images of Pagan Women of Color” and is looking for submissions. She explained, “[The Projectis about collecting, and preserving, images of real women of Pagan faiths so that other women who find themselves on these paths can look and say, ‘Hey, there is someone like me’.” Along with the images, the book will include interviews that will also be cross-posted in the Detroit Paganism Examiner. The specific requirements to be part of this new book are detailed on the media project’s Facebook page. All submissions are due Nov. 7. Once the book is published, a portion of the proceeds will go to Pagans In Need in Michigan.
  • Singer and songwriter Celia Farran will be performing her first ever live broadcast concert from home. To be aired on Aug. 26, the concert will stream through the site concertwindow.com. Farran said, “The show will be at least an hour and we shall see if it spills over. I have at least THREE hours of songs I want to share!”  The concert begins at 5 p.m. PDT. More information is available on the site.
  • Rev. Kirk S. Thomas has released his new book Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods. Rev. Thomas is a Senior Priest and the Archdruid of Ár nDríaocht Féin, A Druid Fellowship (ADF). As noted in the book’s description, Sacred Gifts “explores the development of personal relationships with Gods and Spirits. [Rev. Thomas] describes the subtle and complex integration of personal commitment, devotion and reciprocal offerings that begin and sustain with the Gods and Spirits.” Published by ADF, the book is now available on Amazon.
  • In Sept, actor, singer and tarot creator Mark Ryan will be in the U.K. where he will be visiting the Atlantis Bookshop in London. While there, Ryan will be talking about his personal journey and signing copies of his new book, Hold Fast. Publisher John Matthews will also be on hand with only 40 copies of the new book. The signing and talk will be held on Sept 18 at 6.pm.
  • And finally, a photograph of Margot Adler’s memorial bench in New York City’s Central Park located near the west 93rd street entrance.

[Photo Credit: C. Weber]

That’s all for now.  Have a nice day!

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Keith James Campbell 1968-2015

Sun, 2015-08-23 08:56

On Aug., 5, Keith James Campbell, also known as Twilight, died after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Keith was an active member of the Blue Star community and High Priest, who helped launch several different Blue Star groups and used his creative talents to offer service beyond his religious communities.

Keith was born in Kirkwood, Missouri graduating from Kirkwood High School in 1986. He went on to attend the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, where he studied graphic arts. After finishing, he began a long career as a freelance graphic designer and remained in Missouri through 2001.

During that time, he became involved with the local Pagan community and with the Blue Star tradition. He founded his first group called Heretic Clan and became a regular at Midwest Pagan festivals and events. According to close friend and member of the Blue Star Foundation Wendy McNiff, “Diana’s Grove was one of his favorite sacred spaces.”

In 2001, Keith packed up and left for Minneapolis, where he re-established himself and continued his involvement with Blue Star. Under the name OnyxTwilight, he became an active voice within the Blue Star Tradition Live Journal forum posting news, thoughts, prayers and more. He also studied FeriReclaiming, and TwiTrad.

McNiff remembers, “Keith was a legal pagan minister and performed many of our wedding and hand-fasting ceremonies. He was a master of ritual theater, managing to be creative, discerning, and engaging.”


During that time Keith continued his professional career in graphic design and was fortunately able to merge with his love of singing with his design skills. He was hired as the marketing director for One Voice, Minnesota’s LGBT mixed chorus. For six years, he performed with the group and was also responsible for their visual material. In addition, Keith designed logos for various Pagan businesses, individuals and events including the Blue Star Tradition and Twin Cities Pagan Pride.

In Aug. 2008, Keith moved again. This time he relocated to Pennsylvania, where he received his third degree and helped to create “Coven of the White Oak and Grove of the Acorn.” He eventually settled in Pipersville, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia.

Keith had struggled with his health for a long time. On his birthday in 1998, he was diagnosed with diabetes. During a particularly difficult bought with his health in the summer of 2008, Keith thanked his community for its support and wrote, “I am blessed. And I know it.”

But it wasn’t that condition that took his life. In July 2015, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a type of cancer that is seldom detected early and spreads very rapidly. Within three weeks of receiving the diagnosis, on Aug. 5, Keith died surrounded by his loved ones, who sang to him as he passed.

Wendy McNiff said in her memorial,

Keith was a beloved friend and mentor to many within the pagan community. He was a scholar, a singer, a lore keeper, a graphic designer, and a queen. He was a wealth of knowledge. He was also an open door. Keith helped to welcome many people to their path and helped guide them to their best self.

PNC-Minnesota’s Nels Linde, a Blue Star member, wrote:

I met Keith some twenty years ago as a Heretic singer at festival, and then again last fall at a Blue Star Family Gathering in Minnesota … He was invaluable to my tradition and clearly well-loved and highly respected.

Linde invited PNC readers to post memorials and memories on the site. Kristin of Sprial Tor Coven did just that saying:

Keith was a dear friend and Trad mate of mine. His personality filled every room he entered, and he was loved by countless people. I am deeply honored to have known him. His loss was a great shock to me personally and to our Tradition. While holding vigil during his passing, some of our coven members joked that Keith was such an over-achiever that it didn’t surprise us that he managed to complete his life’s mission in half the allotted time. It might seem trite, but to know him really was to love him. The Summerland has gained a beautiful soul. Hail the Traveler!

Demonstrating the shock felt within that community, Lapis wrote in a public post for the Well Spring Grove & Coven:

We lost a very dear member of our tradition to cancer recently and that has sent us all into a bit of a tailspin … This harvest season and Samhain will be an especially poignant one for us … My advice for everyone lately is to not take your loved ones for granted.

Keith is survived by his parents, his sister and an enormous community of people who have long held him dear. They speak of his energy, his creativity, his devotion to his beliefs, and his commitment to community. Through all of that work and that passion, Keith demonstrated an overwhelming joy in life. As Keith said himself, he was “Blessed.”

Memorial services are being planned in multiple locations across the country. Over Labor Day weekend, there will be services in the Pennsylvania area; no details have yet been released. In Sept. a memorial will be held at Harvest Homecoming in Missouri. Additionally, there will be a service Sept. 13 in Minneapolis from 3-6 pm at the Lake Hiawatha Park Recreation Center. McNiff writes, “Please bring your stories to share, your willingness to sing, and your love of Keith.”

What is remembered, lives.

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Column: Many Gods West

Sat, 2015-08-22 05:04

Acknowledgement and thanks to the spirits of the land and the water, to the Nisqually and other Coast Salish-speaking peoples on whose sovereign land we were uninvited guests, to my ancestors, to my gods, and to the ancestors and deities and other allies of the humans at the conference. Thanks to my friend and traveling companion. Thanks to all those who showed me hospitality and friendship, and to the organizers of the conference: Niki Whiting, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Rhyd Wildermuth.

The Many Gods West (MGW) gathering was held at the Governor Hotel in Olympia, Washington from July 31st to August 2nd. Over the course of the weekend, 180 humans attended, along with innumerable gods and spirits and crows and other kinds of beings. The conference included twenty presentations, nine public rituals, a keynote address by Morpheus Ravenna, a musical and terpsichorean performance at a local venue, open hours at Skaði’s shrine in one of the hotel rooms, and a communal shrine accessible at most points throughout the day. As at any gathering, many private conversations were held as well, alliances were strengthened, previously separate threads of thought and experience were woven together.


Many attendees and presenters have written about their experiences at MGW, or published the texts of their presentations.
These individual accounts are shards in a mosaic-in-progress, strands of wool on a spindle. There are patterns at play here, subterranean and subcutaneous, a fluid and shifting battle formation…if one is trained to notice such things.

The opening ritual was entitled “Many Lands, Many Ancestors, Many Gods, Many People/s.” Similarly to Reclaiming’s practice of mingling the Waters of the World, participants were invited to approach the communal shrine and pour water from a source near their home into a large basin. Soil from the many localities participants had traveled from were similarly mixed in another bowl. Each and every person has some sort of relationship with their local land and water, whether they recognize that relationship or not. This section of the opening ritual was intended to acknowledge and honor those relationships.

Any gathering is likely to be attended by a significant number of people who live in close geographical proximity to the gathering’s location: the logistics of travel dictate this. However, while individuals did travel from the Midwest and the East Coast and other regions to attend, this gathering’s very name reflected a deliberate intention to focus on the West Coast. The concept of “regional cultus” is being discussed in polytheist circles currently. “The West Coast” is a broad term, and certainly contains many smaller regions within it. The entire coast, however, is now united by the shared experience of heatwave and drought and wildfire. As those who live here know, however, from the ashes, new growth springs: a proliferation of new regionalisms, praying for transformation like the knobcone pine, resilient like the manzanita and the madrone.

A fallen madrone (also called madrona or arbutus) provided the wood for the figures which enshrined the ancestors of the conference attendees. Figures carved with faces enshrining Female, Male, Gender-variant, Warrior and Spirit-worker ancestors were passed around the room, allowing each participant who wished to the opportunity to honor their own ancestors in these various categories personally. Meanwhile, the room resounded and reverberated with the song, “Ignis corporis infirmat; ignis sed animae perstat” (“the Fire of the body diminishes; but the fire of the soul endures!”). The Ancestors Of And In The Land and the Dead Who Are Not Yet Ancestors were honored on the communal shrine as well, though their figures were not passed around the room.

Last, but certainly never least in a room full of polytheists, individuals were able to enshrine images of deities and other spirits they have relationships with on the communal shrine. The key word, as ever, is “relationship.” Morpheus Ravenna’s keynote address, entitled “Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods,” reiterated this theme with the grace of poetry and the force of a smith’s hammer or a chieftain’s axe. Not just any archetypal “smith,” or any archetypal “chieftain,” however. Morpheus took care to introduce Goibniu and the Dagda—two gods she has devotional relationships with—to her audience, and to tell stories about their individual personalities and pasts, pointing out that “Living beings don’t just exist, they have stories. They have an origin, they come from somewhere in particular, and they experience an arc of change.”

And of course, they exert change upon the world as well. The mark of the Dagda’s axe can be seen in the cleft of every oak in Ireland. Morpheus argued that the gods leave similar marks on the landscapes of our psyches: “Even when we think the Gods are gone, Their marks on us remain. We ourselves are a map shaped and carved by Their memory.” But human beings have our own agency and sovereignty as well, and Morpheus eloquently wove this deeper understanding of reciprocity into her description of what “true relationship” might look like:

In being another of the peoples that have worshiped, fed and sung songs to Them, we become part of Their stories. This is what comes from engaging with the Gods on this level. This is true relationship. […] They become part of our story. We begin seeking to create a story together, a shared future.

One story, one shared future, found its roots deep in the blood-soaked battlefields of ancient Gaul and the beginning of a new chapter in a dimly lit room at Many Gods West. Three members of the Coru Cathubodua, Morpheus and Brennos and Rynn, conducted a ritual in honor of the Gaulish goddess for whom their priesthood is named. After Cathubodua, the Battle Crow, was worshiped through polyphonic song and offering, those individuals who were called received the Warrior’s Mark from her priestesses and priest. A call “aims at those who can hear it.” That is its power. There is another power in standing and bearing witness, as many of those present at the ritual chose to do. As Rhyd Wildermuth said, “meaning is never a solitary act.”

MGW Community Shring [Photo Credit: Finnchuill]

Rhyd’s talk on “meaning” began with a rejection of the concept of absolute Truth, which, Midas-like, fatally corrupts all that it touches: “Looking for the material being-ness of a thing, rather than its tapestry of meaning, is to destroy it.” For example, a body undergoing vivisection—a cruel name, as it quickly turns into the dissection of a corpse: “What are you, really, when we get to your core existence? A dead and dis-membered pile of bloody muscle and gore.” Better to recognize that “There was [and is] no Truth, only potential meaning.”

Heimlich A. Laguz’s lecture, “Dreaming, Death, and Memory: Sketches for a Heathen Cosmology,” based upon his 2010 essay in Hex Magazine, touched upon the concept of “dis-memberment” during the same time slot that Finnchuill spoke about the history of “disenchantment” and the practice of reenchantment. Their presentations were held in adjacent rooms, in fact. Heimlich utilized a pun to highlight the subtle relationship between “dis-memberment” and memory, “When we re-member the essence of this dis-membered world we discover that death and life are one.”

Heimlich began by pointing out that the Germanic cosmological concept of the World Tree does not exist in some sort of independent stasis, but is watered by “the wells of Urd (Past), Mimir (Memory), and Hvergelmir (the ‘bubbling cauldron’ from which the rivers of the world arise and beside which the death-dragon Nidhogg dwells).” As a living system, the newly-created memories of the present necessarily flow “back down into the wells again to create new layers of history.”

Within this dynamic ecological cycle, death is a source of fertility, and it is memory that “has the power to carry the dead back into the world of the living.” Heimlich told the story of the shepherd Hallbjorn, who slept many nights upon the grave mound of the poet Thorleif, with the intention of writing a poem about Thorleif, though his skills in that area were few. Eventually, Thorleif appeared to Hallbjorn in a dream and taught him how to write poetry. Heimlich pointed out that “poetry is a force of unfettered life and excitation, and the idea that it could be sought through necromantic communication is potent and fascinating.” Furthermore, sleep is associated with death, and Hallbjorn learned poetry in a dream. With such connections as these (and many more), Heimlich deftly tied together the three major themes of his lecture.

Death and memory were also powerful forces behind Sean Donahue’s talk on “The Rattling at the Gates: The Dead as Allies in Resistance,” subsequently typed up and titled “Restoring Life to Death.” Sean spoke of two kinds of death: one beautiful and life-nourishing, and the other untimely and traumatic. He spoke of the salmon dying after they spawn: “Like sacred kings, their bodies and their blood nourish the land.” He spoke of the salmon dying this year before they spawn, slain by the drought and the heat. Those killed before their time are restless, denied the beauty of dignified death, prevented from moving on.

Sean quoted his Colombian friend Hector Mondragon: “Hector said “My murdered compañeros were killed twice . . .” once by bullets or machetes or bombs, and once by a world that refused to acknowledge their lives and their deaths.” He spoke of the importance of recognition and memory: “Witnessing and remembering are the beginning of restoring sacredness to the death around us to enable it to feed new life.” Morpheus used similar language during her speech, “the 20th century had already forgotten that the Gods are alive.” But some people never forgot, and others are now waking from amnesia into the dream of remembrance.

Once forgotten, but still alive, still powerful, and newly resurgent, splendid in their beauty: the Matronae, “a collective of indigenous Germanic and Celtic goddesses who were worshipped syncretically in the Roman Empire,” honored in a devotional ritual led by their priestesses River Devora and Rynn Fox. A well was set up in the middle of the room, filled with water from Olympia’s Artesian Well, surrounded by roses and other flowers. Libations of goat’s milk were poured. Singing, dancing: “Mothers of victory, Matronae. Mothers of the tribes, Matronae.” Oracular trance, messages both for the group and for individual petitioners. Wishes made on pennies, tossed into the well. Weaving.

These words you’re reading now? Merely a thin and tiny thread in a vast tapestry.

The various report-backs on MGW delighted in using the word “many” in their titles. But while there are “many” experiences to be remembered, there is also “more,” for relationship is a continual, ongoing process. There is more work to be done, there are more battles to be fought.

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Culture and Community: The Impact of Diversity Within Modern Paganism

Fri, 2015-08-21 08:32

Diversity is one of those funny things. There never seems to be enough diversity in any community to reflect all the many different intersections within society. Ideas of diversity are often limited to race, ethnicity and gender in larger conversations, and yet there are so many more variations and flavors to the many different types of people, ideas, experiences and circumstances. It has become more of a buzz word in many spaces, such as the workplace, academic institutions and even spiritual spaces – an expectation instead of a reality in some circumstances. 

[Public Domain]

We know that diversity means variety and the representation of a range of differences. Do we have diversity within modern Paganism? Like with many different communities, Paganism has areas of great diversity and some areas that are seriously lacking. While areas of ethnic diversity are have been slow to expand, areas of diversity in sexual orientation, spiritual practice, gender variances, traditions, and socioeconomic status seem to be the opposite. There are a lot of different types of people in our circles, groves, houses, covens, groups and conventions that fall all along the different continuums.

The sheer nature of experiential spirituality allows for people’s differences to have a place within the community dialog, and when it doesn’t it is noticeable. I tend to crave diverse environments, and when there is a noticeable lack of diversity in a specific area, I notice it pretty quickly.

Diversity can be vital to the sustainability of any given community because it challenges our thoughts and stretches the boxes that we construct within our own limited exposures. Diversity supports growth. In The Benefits of Diversity, What the Research Tells us, authors D. Smith and N. Chonfeld talk about quantitative and qualitative research on the impact of diversity in higher education and within organizations. Data continues to point to the importance of diversity and the benefits that diversity has on the development of a community, and the individuals within it. “Our review reveals important links between experiences with diversity and increased commitment to civic engagement, democratic outcomes, and community participation”.

The ability for people to grow and learn through the experiences and connections with a myriad different types of people benefits our ability to think critically and have a larger world view.

So what does diversity look like in the Pagan community and how do Pagans feel about the layers of diversity that we do have? I spoke to four different types of Pagans and Polytheists to ask these questions. John Beckett, Niki Whiting, Sabrina Taylor and Lorrie Patrick; all different people from different flavors of practice with different backgrounds. Some of these people are writers, or college students, and have different socioeconomic statuses. All of them are connected to our Pagan and/or Polytheist communities.

I asked three questions of all three people interviewed:

1. What areas do you feel we are the most diverse in our communities?
2. What do you enjoy about the elements of diversity that the Pagan and Polytheist communities have?
3. What areas of diversity would you like to see our communities grow in?

The answers to these questions were quite diverse in themselves, and show a snapshot of how simple and yet how complex diversity can be.

John Beckett

We are most diverse in our religious and magical traditions. When I first began exploring Paganism in the early 1990s there was Wicca and Druidry and that was about it.  here were other traditions (Thelema, for example, is older than Wicca) but if you were new and didn’t know anybody, you didn’t have much of a chance of finding them.

Now there are more traditions than you can keep up with, and with the internet and especially with social media, a seeker can find pretty much exactly what they’re looking for. The problem now isn’t that there’s not enough diversity, it’s differentiating one group from another.

I like going to Pantheacon or Pagan Pride Day or just surfing the internet and learning something new and different about how to form and maintain relationships with the Gods, ancestors, and spirits of Nature. I like learning about religions and cultures that were thought to be dead that are being revived and reimagined here and now. And I especially like to see Gods that were forgotten being worshiped again, perhaps for the first time in thousands of years.

I’d like us to become more aware of the wide diversity that exists in the Pagan and Polytheist communities. We’re not all the same, and that’s OK.  I’d like to see a deeper appreciation of our diversity of beliefs and practices, not just to avoid cultural appropriation (although that’s certainly important) but to form and demonstrate respect for our differences.

And I’d like for us all to learn to listen better, so we can help seekers find the tradition that calls to them and not steer them toward a tradition we think they “should” follow based on their appearance, name, orientation, or other categorizations. The Gods call who They call. – John Beckett

 

Niki Whiting

I don’t really know how to answer that question. I don’t think I’m capable or qualified to do so! My communities are relatively small and most active online, which skews my reality. What I see online, what I witness at PCon, and what I saw at Many Gods West are quite different!

The one thing I’ll say is that overall we do a good job of fostering and supporting LGB folk. Some communities are better than others about the T in that equation.

Overall, I love the spirit that is present in both communities. In my limited experience I think the polytheist communities are doing a better job of discussing a wide array of social, environmental, and economic justice issues, and also of listening to diverse voices.

I was pleased to see just how gender variant the attendees at MGW were. Attendees also came with a variety of social needs and several had mobility issues, and all were accommodated in a very organic way. If those people are in our wider communities I feel very hopeful for inclusion and continued diversity in both Paganism and polytheism.

Access and money for access. Many of the people involved in our communities are not wealthy. We make sacrifices to attend gatherings and groups, to tend our shrines and altars. But many people with more than one hurdle are often left out of such gatherings. How can we make these events and gatherings more accessible?

How can we reach out to communities that might otherwise be sympathetic but see Paganism as a white, hippie enclave? I think polytheism has a better “in” in this regard. There are many traditions that don’t consider themselves Pagan but are or can be approached from polytheism. Many of these traditions come from indigenous cultures or Afro-diasporic cultures – groups that are tremendously important to the United States’ history and culture, but often get left out (sometimes by their own choice!) in the overwhelming European milieu of modern American Paganism.”  Niki Whiting 

 

Lorrie Patrick

What I have noticed in my limited exposure is that we all seem to come from very different backgrounds particularly where and how we were raised. We seem to have a great deal of diversity among us not only in what part of the country or world we grew up in but varying socioeconomic status, religious backgrounds, how and by whom we were raised, and the life experiences that have brought us where we are today.

I enjoy this diversity because I feel we all come together due to a common thread but still have so many different things to offer one another which hopefully helps us to learn and grow.

My hope is that our communities continue to have open dialog about their differences. That we can recognize them, embrace them and use our shared knowledge to strengthen the community in  every way possible. – Lorrie Patrick

 

Sabrina Taylor

I believe that the Pagan communities are most diverse when it comes to online communities. I think many different factors play a part in this. Due to location (I live in Seattle) I rarely run into other Pagans of color except at festivals and larger community gatherings.

I enjoy the fact that many of us bring an element of social justice to our communities and spiritual backgrounds, either due to who we are as people or what we experienced growing up due to being a minority.

It would be great to see more diversity in pagan leadership organizations as well as within our community’s media. – Sabrina Taylor


When I think about the reasons I was initially drawn to the larger Pagan community I think about the different conversations, and vastly different types of people with whom I got to connect. While it is very apparent that diversity within some areas of our community are slow to develop, I still find that other areas of diversity have been just as important in the connection that I, and many others, have within modern Paganism or Polytheist communities. It is my personal opinion that any community should be made up of all different kinds of people. My ideal community would be made up of Black, White, Latino, Multi-Ethnic, female, male, transgendered, gender queer, heterosexual, bi-sexual, gay, meta-sexual peoples of all different socioeconomic statuses, from all different types of regions, from different age groups, different abilities, with the many different experiences and engaging in many different types of spiritual practices.

The more that our communities can identify, embrace and celebrate the various forms of diversity we have, the more culturally competent our communities become. Increased opportunity to break out of the mold of groupthink allows for innovation, enhanced understanding of cultural nuances, and cross-cultural interconnected relatability.

We need to continuously ask ourselves where we excel, where we need to improve, what faces are missing from our circles and how can we support diverse spaces that encourage health of our overall spiritual communities.

There was a section that stuck out to me in reading What Do Leaders Need To Understand About Diversity on the Yale School of Management website. “Here’s the key: If you want diversity of thought, you have to bring in people around you who have diverse experiences. Differences in race, gender, and socioeconomic background are three characteristics, but so are differences in learning style or differences in professional field. And I’m not suggesting that any one of those points of diversity is more potent than others.”

It is important to celebrate where we are great and examine where we need to improve, while fostering an environment that promotes healthy engagement in our myriad differences.

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Unleash the Hounds (Link Roundup)

Thu, 2015-08-20 09:22

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. 

  • Let’s begin with a community note. The New York City Pagan community celebrated its 4th annual Witchfest USA in July.The event is a “Street Faire” that is hosted on Astor Place in the heart of Manhattan. The 2015 event was visited by a Broudly journalist who published her, somewhat skeptical or baffled, take on the entire experience. She wrote, “The crowd looked exactly as you’d expect a crowd of polite pagans to: Near the corner of Lafayette and Astor Place...” Regardless, the article offers a nice array of vivid photographs of WitchFest, its people and happenings. For more photos or information on next year’s faire, go to the organization’s Facebook page.
  • Now for less festive news, several Kentucky lawmakers appear to be unwilling to end their quest to publicly support the so-called “Ark Park.” According to Americans United, “Kentucky Sens. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) and Chris Girdler (R-Somerset) said they will file a bill (SB 129)” to delay the start of Kentucky public schools in order to “give more tourists the opportunity to visit state attractions in August.” More specifically, Senator Thayer was quoted as saying that Ark Encounter will become a major tourist destination, and that delaying school will give local children an expanded opportunity to visit. The bill, which will be considered in 2016, comes on the heels of “Kentucky officials [rejecting] up to $18 million in tax rebates” for the theme park. Owned by the group Answers in Genesis, the park is scheduled to open in Summer 2016.
  • Unfortunately, attacks related to “witchcraft” continue to plaque sub-Saharan Africa. But this month, one story shares the hope hope being brought to those who have been victimized by such violence.Tanzanian children, who are born with albinism and are often targets of such violence, are finding aide through a New York-based charity called The Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF)With guidance from Under the Same Sun, GMRF is bringing young victims to the U.S. for medical assistance. According to an Associated Press article,There has been a sharp increase in attacks in Tanzania and neighboring Malawi in the past year,” despite laws against “witch doctors” using human body parts. The first five children sponsored by GMRF are being fitted with prosthetics in New York City. The Fund’s founder Elissa Montanti said, “They’re not getting their arm back … But they are getting something that is going help them lead a productive life and be part of society and not be looked upon as a freak or that they are less than whole.”
  • On a similar note, a recent Namibian article demonstrates the depth of the problem in sub-Sahran Africa. The media outlet recently had to run a counter article to an older one that reported on the death of a man from tapeworms. According to the second article, there were “a number of comments on The Namibian’s Facebook page show that there is a deep misunderstanding of what is or what causes tapeworms.” They go on to illustrate and describe what actually does cause this medical condition. But the article starts the lesson by saying, “In actual fact, having tapeworms has nothing to do with witchcraft or any form of curse.” And to be perfectly clear, the article is titled, “Witchcraft does not cause tapeworms.”
  • Now moving to entirely different global region,The Independent has published an interesting and detailed article on an entirely different religious observance. Entitled “Beer and blood sacrifices: Meet the Caucasus pagans who worship ancient deities,” the article opens a window on a little known religion and culture in the country of Georgia. As one follower describes, “[The people] are the true inheritors and passers-on of the tradition, but they cannot explain it metaphysically. They cannot tell you why they are doing this or that and what it means. They cannot touch bears or wolves, touch chicken or eggs, or touch a woman when she has her period, but if you ask them why, they don’t know. It’s supernatural, it’s a mystery.” The article goes on to share the specifics on the ritual observance as well as other aspects of their theology, dedication and customs.  

2010 Toyko Obon observance [Photo Credit: Fabian Reus / Flickr ]

  • Photography: Many people in Japan will be observing the Buddhist festival of the dead, Obon (お盆) in mid-August. The site Global Voices has brought together a number of recent photographs posted to Instagram from various events, festivals and observances. The article, entitled “Instagram Photos Offer a Peek Into Nagasaki’s Unique Send-Off for the Dead,” paints a vivid picture through text and these snapshots of the traditions and the reverence paid to ancestors at this time.
  • Books: National Geographic writer Simon Worrall interviews Isabella Tree about her new book called The Living Goddess. The book’s subject is “the Kumari of Nepal: young girls who embody the creative, female energy, or Shakti.” In the published interview, Tree speaks about her experience in researching and writing the book. She says, “It’s one of the things that I found most striking of all, this idea of worshiping a child, particularly a girl. Throughout much of Nepalese history, the King of Nepal has knelt at these little girls’ feet—nowadays it’s the president—in order to receive permission to rule the country.” Tree first met a Kumari when she was very young, and the book is the culmination of thirteen years of research.
  • Art: Inspired by several of the world’s natural disasters, actor and artist Lorenzo Quinn has created a dynamic sculpture series dedicated to Mother Earth. On his blog, he explains his purpose,”This would be reminiscent of the early statues made as peace offerings to the Gods in the hope of quenching their anger.” Each piece, part of a “Forces by Nature” series, depicts a female figure swinging the Earth around. Versions have been installed in multiple locations worldwide including England, the United States, Monaco, and Singapore. The Bored Panda has published a number of photos of the various statues.
  • Film: Lastly, the trailer for the award-winning film The Witch is now available on YouTube. Directed by Sundance Best Director Robert Eggers, The Witch is a horror film based in 17th century New England. After seeing the film at the festival, one reviewer described the film, “In this exquisitely-made and terrifying new horror film, the age-old concepts of witchcraft, black magic and possession are innovatively brought together to tell the intimate and riveting story of one family’s frightful unraveling.” The Witch is due out in 2016.

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Hellenics Get a New Advanced How-To Book

Wed, 2015-08-19 06:58

EUGENE, Or. — Last week, Sara Kate Istra Winter, also known as blogger Dver at A Forest Door, announced the release of her new book, Komos: Celebrating Festivals in Contemporary Hellenic Polytheism. It’s intended to be a “201-level” book for Hellenic polytheists who wish to explore the religion beyond household practice. As she was gearing up for publication, Winter was kind enough to answer some questions about her background and the book, giving a sense both of what Komos offers to worshipers of the Hellenic gods, and what it does not.

Sara Kate Istra Winter

The Wild Hunt: For those who are unfamiliar, can you share a little bit about your religious practices and/or beliefs?

Sara Kate Istra Winter: I usually describe myself as being on the “outskirts” of Hellenic polytheism, simply because while I have a strong foundation in that religion, I am foremost a mystic and spiritworker and I let my experiences with the gods and spirits guide me to whatever will feed my practice best. Therefore I am also influenced by Slavic, Germanic and English folklore and customs, I pay some limited cultus to non-Hellenic deities such as Odin, and all of the spirits I work with are either local or personal, but not from the Hellenic tradition. I am devoted to Dionysos nearly to a point of henotheism (these days I might say I am more of a Dionysian than a broad Hellenic polytheist), though my relationship with Hermes balances that out a bit.

I am a hard polytheist, an animist, and I favor a foundation of reconstructionism tempered by ongoing personal experimentation. I have spent the past two decades studying ancient religion, including as part of a college degree, but I will ultimately choose to follow instructions from a deity or techniques confirmed by divination rather than a strict adherence to past practices.

TWH: What kind of experience do you have with Hellenic festivals specifically?

SW: I have been celebrating Hellenic festivals for nearly twenty years in one form or another. At first I mostly tried to fold them into my ritual group’s multi-tradition rites, then I experimented with a few on my own, then I spent about seven years closely working with Sannion (another Dionysian) to develop a complex and powerful festival calendar. These days I mostly do the strictly Hellenic festivals on my own again, and sometimes with the help of my Heathen partner. I have adapted ancient festivals, created many new ones, worked through interconnected festival cycles, and have experienced both large successes and utter failures. Some festivals were done once and never repeated because they just didn’t work. I have been celebrating others for many years consistently. I have accumulated a lot of experience via trial and error.

TWH: The word “festival” suggests something different than “ritual.” How do you define it?

SW: This is an important point that I address early on in the book. A festival is definitely more than a ritual (and in ancient Greece, it was also more than a sacrifice, which could be held separately from a festival). It is a set of rituals, and ancillary activities, that all focus on a common religious theme. That theme might be a certain aspect of a deity, or a seasonal marker, or a semi-magical concept such as purification. In addition to offerings, libations, [and] prayers . . . a festival also includes celebratory activities such as dancing, music, and feasting, as well as specialized rites particular to each one — this might be something like replacing a statue’s clothing, or making a certain type of cake, or going to a special place sacred to a deity. It is also important to note that a festival is by nature something that is repeated consistently, generally at the same time each year.

TWH: Where do you get your own ideas for festivals?

SW: Well I definitely started with research into the ancient festivals, which I still advise for others. Some of the festivals I still celebrate are ancient ones, such as the Anthesteria. But I also took a lot of inspiration from those and used it to craft new festivals, by learning what the basic approach was, what types of activities might work, what concepts could be expressed, etc. Some of my festivals spring from the place where I live — those honoring the local nymphs for instance, or marking times of regional significance (either culturally or environmentally). Others have arisen in response to personal spiritual experiences with my gods, wanting to mark those in some way, for instance to honor the specific faces of Dionysos that I myself have seen.

TWH: What might the solitary practitioner find valuable in Komos?

SW: Since I personally have done so many festivals either alone or with only one or two other people, and I’m pretty sure most other Hellenic polytheists are in a similar position, I wrote Komos from that perspective. Almost every suggestion is meant to be adaptable to a solitary practice. Frankly, the Hellenic festivals of antiquity were designed to be celebrated by large groups, so adapting those (or new festivals based on the same principles) for a large group now isn’t much of a challenge — the real issues come up when you try to figure out how to do the same things all by yourself. Processions, competitions, revels, these are all collective activities in our minds, and I’ve tried to suggest ways they can be incorporated even into a solo event.

TWH: How about someone who would like to organize something for a group, or in public? Does it include any advice about the issues that need navigating?

SW: I have mostly focused on solitaries and small groups with this book. I do not know of many people attempting to put on entire festivals (as opposed to rituals) for large or public groups. However, I do think the way I’ve broken down the key elements and the issues regarding timing and localization could all be applicable to larger festivals, and will be especially helpful when people are trying to create new festivals rather than just reviving the same few Athenian ones we all know.

TWH: You’ve described this as a “201-level” book. What would you recommend someone read or do before picking it up?

SW:  Well, it would definitely be useful to read my first book on Hellenic polytheism, Kharis, which covers the religion in a broader sense. I also think anyone coming into Hellenic polytheism should at least read a few basic scholarly books to get a footing — though they don’t need to become scholars themselves by any means! — and this would include authors such as Walter Burkert, Martin Nilsson, Jane Ellen Harrison, Jennifer Larsen, Robert Parker, Karl Kerenyi, [and] Sarah Iles Johnston . . . I also like to recommend Pausanias since he paints a great picture of the variations in cultus across the Greek lands, and of course the ancient playwrights though you have to take them with a grain of salt.

However, I always stress that you can practice Hellenic polytheism from day one, and learn as you go from a combination of reading and experience. It doesn’t take an complicated knowledge to pour out a libation and hail the gods. The rest will come with practice. Komos will definitely make more sense if you’re at least familiar with the Greek gods and some basic ideas of how they were worshiped in antiquity, but it doesn’t require anything more than that. I define all the terms that are in Greek, and I take a fairly practical approach to the whole issue. I call it a “201-level” book because instead of just being an overview of the religion as a whole, it’s focusing in on a specific aspect in more depth, and aimed at people who want to really dig in and expand their practice.

TWH: Will this book be useful for people who worship Roman deities, or perceive them as identical to Hellenic ones except in name?

SW: I suppose it depends on how important it is to them to reconstruct the Roman way of doing things, which was similar but not identical to the Greek way. I admit I am not very knowledgeable about Roman religion, so I’m not sure exactly how much of this would be applicable. I have distilled the concepts that were especially important to the Greeks when thinking about what makes up a festival; I do not know how many were equally important to the Romans, although I would guess there is a lot of overlap. Certainly some of the specific ideas and suggestions could work for either.

TWH: More broadly, is this information specifically Hellenic in character, or do you include methodologies or strategies which could be adapted to unrelated religious practices?

SW: This book is definitely specifically Hellenic in focus. With all my religious practice, I attempt to explore what the foundational assumptions and priorities are in the original religion, and then extrapolate to create new practices that are still consistent with tradition. These things are going to be different for every culture, at least to some degree. Sometimes these differences are negligible — an athletic competition during a Hellenic holy day might seem quite familiar to a Norse heathen — but sometimes there are crucial differences, such as traditions in which you consume the offerings versus those (like ours) where that is forbidden. My discussion of the lunar calendar will have little relevance to those outside the Hellenic worldview, but my chapter on how to localize your rites might strike a chord with anyone practicing a recon-based tradition. I also briefly touch on the issue of celebrating festivals in multi-tradition households in my troubleshooting section.

Komos is now available through Createspace, and also on Amazon, along with Winter’s prior book on the subject, Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored.

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Kemetic Wiccan Builds Temple Dedicated to the Goddess Hathor

Tue, 2015-08-18 08:12

Just over 10 years ago work started on a new Egyptian temple dedicated to the Goddess Hathor. The design for the temple was revealed by the Goddess herself to Tim, a solitary Kemetic Wiccan living in rural Wisconsin. Over the years, Tim worked almost daily to recreate the temple that he saw during his trance.

Now nearing completion, the temple consists of an eleven foot entry gate and two circles of cement pillars 11 feet high and weighing two tons each. The temple is a testament to Tim’s dedication and shows what one devoted polytheist can accomplish when he’s sincere in honoring his Gods.

Tim describes himself as a Kemetic polytheist who was initiated into an eclectic Wiccan Goddess path back in 1979. The Wild Hunt talked to him about why he built this temple and how it has affected his worship.

View of the entire temple. [Courtesy photo]

The Wild Hunt: Many people dream of building a Pagan temple, how did your dream start?

Tim: By 2006 I had been a practicing Wiccan for 27 years following an eclectic Goddess path and was wondering if maybe the circle casting for Wicca could be a subconscious residual type memory carried through from previous lives relating to the stone circle rituals of a forgotten distant past. I wondered what would happen if someone built a modern structure to practice ritual in. I also wanted to move away from the eclectic path of many Goddesses and go into a path of total devotion to one Goddess only. With these two issues at the forefront of my ritual practice every time I did ritual, I decided to act on them both.

For Spring Equinox of 2006 I did my usual circle casting and put myself into a trance and asked Goddess to reveal a specific form for me to put my devotional efforts towards. She whispered the name HauetHer to me and simultaneously I was shown many images of Goddess Hathor and Her temples from old Egypt. OK, I now have a Deity to direct my efforts towards, even though I had pretty much never heard of Her before. So then the next time I did a circle and ritual, which was Beltane of 2006, I asked Goddess Hathor for Her help in designing a temple as I had tried for almost 10 years and just could not get any ideas. Again, in a ritual trance, I put my question to Goddess Hathor and Her reply to me and I quote Her on this, “if you are to build a temple for me, this is how you shall do it”, and in a split second I had a sort of video clip put into my memory of the structure I have built.

Still in trance, I wondered how am I going to build this. She replied that I need not be concerned, She will show me all I need to know. The next question I had was what am I going to use to build this and Her instant reply was “liquid stone” and images of concrete were put into my mind. And that is how it all got started.

TWH: This is a major undertaking. How long have you been working on the temple and how have you funded it?

Tim:  I have been working on the temple for 9 years now, with the first 7 working on it almost daily. The temple itself has cost about 5 thousand dollars total in materials. It is built on a 40 acre parcel of land I bought in 1989 which is also where I built my house. I have financed the whole project through my paychecks from my employment as a Tool and Die maker for manufacturing.

Images of Hathor can be seen from any point in the temple [courtesy photo]

 

TWH: The pictures are amazing. Can you describe the temple layout and the significance of why it laid out in that manner?

Tim: The layout of the temple is 2 concentric rings of columns with a semicircle entry/transition path. When I was building the structure, I had no idea why it was built this way. I put my complete trust in my designer, Mother God Hathor and as construction progressed, She would reveal to me the exact purpose behind each group of components.

The inner circle of columns is 33 feet across and consists of 4 pedestal quarter markers with a pair of obelisks equally spaced between the quarters. The obelisks make this a strictly solar temple. For some reason still unknown to me, the obelisk shape works only with solar energy .This is also the main working circle, creating a ring of energy, a permanent version of a cast circle. Alignment of the temple is to magnetic north.

The main circle entry is also on the north end, as we enter as earthly beings, earth being a north aspect in my practice. The center point of the central table is the point of origin for all measurements used to build the temple. In the west, there will be a Naos shrine with sacred image of Hathor in it. For now, I have a temporary image of Her at that spot.

The outer circle of pillars, the T shaped ones, are the outer boundary of the temple. These are an array designed to collect and amplify the natural energies flowing through the Earth and create a large and permanent bubble or sphere of living interactive energy flow. This circle is 47 feet across and consists of 26 triangular shaped pillars with capstones placed on top of each one. The capstones somehow change the vibrational frequency of the whole temple. Before the capstones were put on the outer pillars, the site had a low hum type of feel to it. After I put on the first 6 capstones I noticed the hum started to change to a ring. After all 26 pillars had capstones installed, the site had a constant ringing feel to it, sort of like the effect you get with a Tibetan bell. Not an audible ring, just a sensory type of feel to the site. The outer pillars are equally spaced based on a 27 position circle, however one was removed to allow the entry ring to be built.

The entry ring, the stargate looking structure, is a molded concrete ring 9 feet across on the inside and 11 feet across on the outside. It is of critical importance for safe passage in and out of the temple circles. The entry ring leads out to the transition pathway, a pathway lined with 9 pairs of equally spaced pillars, another critical component and a safety feature. Pairs of pillars create a mild energy field between them and you get energetically groomed passing through this area. When doing temple ritual, one enters and maintains very heightened states of being and the transition path reintegrates you into the regular world.

At the end of the semicircular transitional pathway are the massive entry pillars. These pillars are 10 feet tall and over 2 tons each. They are spaced closely so you can stand between them with hands on both to completely ground yourself whether entering or leaving the temple. All structures in the temple have integrally molded foundation posts extending into the ground between 4 and almost 6 feet. This withstands frost heave in the winter and gives a solid connection to the flow of earth energies. And that is the basic operating principles of this temple.

The entry arch spans 11 feet and the flanking pillars are 12 feet high. [courtesy photo]

TWH: I know the Goddess Hathor asked you to build the temple, but what purpose does it serve? How will it be used?

Tim:  The purposes of this temple so far are for worship and personal spiritual development. It also is developing into a metaphysical research device. For now, it is private worship only as I have very few facilities for any larger uses. Future plans call for building a small pavilion shelter and getting a porta toilet put in place to accommodate small groups. The religious holidays I celebrate are the 8 quarter and cross quarter days and also an additional 20 ancient Egyptian days to honor Mother God Hathor.

When I started out on this project, I had some ideas on how I was going to utilize a permanent temple. In very short order, I found out that what I thought I knew and what actually happens with a functioning temple are very different realities. Because of the permanent energy field the temple generates, circle casting is not needed. I was made aware of that very clearly when I went to cast a circle to use after the inner circle of columns was completed. I started to cast my circle and had a rather firm thought come to me that it is not necessary to do circle casting anymore. I continued anyway and as I almost was done with my circle, I got a command, “you don’t need to do that anymore”. So I haven’t cast a circle since. Have not needed to either.

The space between the inner and outer circles of pillars I use as a processional path to do temple purifications and cleansings. There are 33 images of Hathor of 4 different types in the temple so wherever you are in the temple Her image is visible. Symbolizes Her presence everywhere in creation. The entire structure is an interactive device that seems to stimulate the intuitive areas of the brain and heighten this type of sensory awareness. I have used it daily since I started on it in 2006 and have noticed a dramatic increase in creative abilities, intuition and chakra activity.

Another very important side effect is the instant credibility I get from the mundane world when it comes to discussions of the religious practices I follow. So that is the story behind my adventure into the world of contemporary temple building.

Construction is now focused on detail work such as painting the pillars and images. Tim works under a portable shade canopy. [courtesy photo]

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For now, the temple is for private use only, and Tim is still working to finish painting the pillars, images of Hathor, and the capstones. If the temple space becomes available for groups to use or visit, The Wild Hunt will update readers.

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Pagan Community Notes: Covenant of the Goddess, Green Religions Symposium, YSEE and more!

Mon, 2015-08-17 10:00

Over the past weekend, Covenant of the Goddess held its 40 year anniversary MerryMeet event in Ontario, California. The weekend included its annual two-day Grand Council, during which the consensus-based organization conducted its internal business including the election of officers.

After a tumultuous and uncomfortable beginning to 2015, the organization did come back to internally address what had happened. A break-out group was asked to review and present the organization’s revised social justice statement and make further recommendations. The result of the meeting was the creation of a permanent internal Social Justice committee to address the problems of racial inequity and systemic racism. Of this news, incoming First Officer Yvonne Conway-Williams said, “I think CoG is taking earnest effort at looking towards the future and drawing a line in the sand about who we are and what we stand for.” Conway-Williams is also a member of the new committee and was instrumental in the revising of the statement. More information on these developments will eventually be posted on CoG’s media sites.

The 40 year old organization is one of the oldest Pagan organizations in the country, and that was the theme of this year’s event. Looking toward the future, long-time member Amber K said, “I am fairly hopeful because representatives here seem to embrace change. They are cautious and careful but not stuck in methods of the past which would allow us to evolve and stay relevant.” Covenant of the Goddess will begin its 41st year on Samhain with new officers:  Co First Officers Yvonne Conway-Williams and Jack Prewett, Second Officer Glenn Turner, Co-Publication Officers Stachia Ravensdottir and Zenah Smith, Public Information Officer Greg Harder, Membership Officer Rachael Watcher, Communications Officer Rev. Peter Hertzberg.

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In April 2016, Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) will be hosting a new three day conference in conjunction with The University of South Carolina. The symposium and environmental leadership training will be centered around the theme and title, “Greening of Religions: Hope in the Eye of the Storms.” The keynote speaker is University of Florida Professor Bron Taylor.

CHS Academic Dean Wendy Griffin said, “Laurie Zoloth, bioethicist and president of the American Academy of Religion, has called climate change the greatest moral issue of our time.  Increasingly, voices from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions are bringing the link between religion and climate change to national and international notice, from the Green Seminary Movement, to the expected Papal encyclical, to conferences ranging from the purely academic to those like the World Parliament of Religions, and to the growing emphasis on environmental justice.”

CHS is now calling for “proposals from a broad understanding of religion, including the Abrahamic, the Dharmic, the contemporary Pagan and the Earth-based, as well as from diverse methodologies: theoretical and practical, qualitative and quantitative, normative and descriptive.” The due date for abstract submission is September 30, 2015. The three day event runs from April 1-4, 2016 and will be held on the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia.

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The Supreme Council of the Greek National (YSEE), an umbrella group working to restore the traditional polytheistic religions of Greece. was dealt a blow in its quest to gain state recognition as a religious community. On Aug. 1, a spokesperson said, “Once again, the Greek State has shown that it has yet to get rid of its byzantine and medieval whims and, being unable to respect with dignity its own laws (in this case Act no. 4301/2014). It has rejected by the intermediation of its court of First Instance the motion signed by hundreds of Ethnikoi Hellenes to obtain recognition as a statutory corporation of religious character for their ancestral, indigenous and historically continuous to our day despite cruel persecutions by Christianity Hellenic Ethnic Religion.”

Founded in 1997, YSEE is currently registered as a non-profit organization and, as explained on its website, has been on the front lines in the on-going battle for religious community recognition. Such a recognition would allow them to do things like buy property for the community to use. Its work has included “14 years of activity in the (modern) Greek reality with more than 230 interventions (letters and press releases) and many protests for the protection of the Hellenic tradition, human rights and religious tolerance, 300 seminars, tactical celebration of the ancient festivals, public rituals and educational events.”

In Other News:

  • We are pleased to announced that Polytheist blogger Heathen Chinese will be joining The Wild Hunt as a monthly columnist starting this Saturday. His first work will be a review of the Many Gods West conference that wrapped up two weeks ago. In the meantime, he has posted a link list that includes a number of other reviews and discussions sparked by the new Polytheist conference. As for Heathen Chinese’s new Wild Hunt column, it is scheduled to be published regularly on the 3rd Saturday of each month.
  • The upcoming Haxan film festival has added another day to its roster. Organizers will be hosting a “ritual blessing of the birth of the HÄXÄN Festival” Thursday, Aug. 27 at E.M. Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore. Along with film screenings, the festival also includes a Friday night costume dance party.  As noted on its site, “HÄXÄN Festival is a Bay Area film festival focusing on local filmmakers exploring psychic and mystic connections through experiments in video and film. Celebrating witchcraft and the Personal Occult.”
  • Pagan writer and blogger Laura LaVoie was just voted “Childfree Woman of the Year” and featured on the website “International Child Free Day.” As described on the site, LaVoie has been a leading advocate for a woman’s right to NOT have children. She is one of the organizers for The NotMom Summit, and blogs regularly at NotMom.com. The write-up offers more details on LaVoie’s work with the NotMom movement, as well as featuring her efforts advocating for Tiny Houses. Congratulations to Laura LaVoie!

  • A new Heathen podcast is now fully off the ground. Beginning in July, “Heathen Talk” has been airing “live every Wednesday at 7pm Pacific/10 Eastern and post new podcasts every Sunday!” The hosts said, “Heathen Talk was launched by four diverse Heathens who met on Reddit’s /r/Asatru community. This live podcast hosts weekly discussions on topics that are important to modern heathenry, focusing on representing the diverse points of view in the community. [Hosts] Josh, Lauren and Thorin, and producer Marc have a combined fifty years of experience within heathenry.” You can catch the new show through Heathen Talk’s website or its Facebook page.
  • A recent article in Vice.com describes how Witchcraft is an empowering life choice for many “queer and trans people.” The article reads, “Witchcraft is seeing a resurgence among queer-identified young people seeking a powerful identity that celebrates the freedom to choose who you are.” Those witches interviewed include Colby Gaudet, Jared Russell, Dakota Hendrix, and Mey Rude. In the article, Rude was quoted as saying, “There is no one way to be a witch … It’s a really freeing identity.”
  • Nathalie Andrews, owner and operator of Girl and Cat Publishing, is looking for author submissions. As noted on the Bad Witch’s Blog, Andrews is a Pagan, whose “aim is to change the way authors look at non-traditional publishing.” She offers workshops and classes on the subject. Based in the U.K., Andrews describes Girl and Cat Publishing as “not a vanity press but more a self-publishing service.” She can be contacted through her website.

That’s it for now! Have a great day.

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Story Updates: Instagram, HexFest, Pensacola

Sun, 2015-08-16 07:59

Today we update several of the big stories that we’ve been following… 

Instagram bans #Goddess

On July 30, we reported that Instagram had banned the hashtag term #goddess. The social media site was attempting to curb, as it has done before, the posting of unacceptable content or images. In a statement, Instagram specifically said that “#goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity.” The ban inspired a #bringbackthegoddess protest, including wide-spread criticism and backlash from around the world.

After a recent check, it appears that the hashtag is coming back. You can now tag your photos with #goddess and search the term (sort of). In July, if you searched #goddess, you would only see #goddesses. Now you can once again see a listing for the over 1,450,000 images using the #goddess label.

However there is a caveat. Although Instagram has brought its use back, the company is still limiting the search view to only “top posts.” You will not have the option to view the “most recent” additions. As Instagram explains, “We may remove the Most Recent section of a hashtag page if people are using the hashtag to post abusive content in a highly visible place.” The company adds that the limitation is placed on searches in order to protect the integrity of the hashtag and search page.

This may or may not be temporary. The partial unblock was also done to #curvy, after its banning inspired a similar backlash. That hashtag still contains a moderated search view. Similar to #goddess, the term #curvy will only yield a select group of about 36 “top posts.” In late July, Instagram told The Washington Post,

We want people to be able to express themselves, and hashtags are a great way to do that. At the same time, we have a responsibility to act when we see hashtags being used to spread inappropriate content to our community. In the case of #curvy, we don’t like putting restrictions around a term that many people use in very positive ways, so we have decided to unblock the hashtag while taking steps to ensure that it’s not used as a vehicle for bad content.

It appears that #goddess is now following the same moderated trajectory.

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New Orleans HexFest Forced to Change Location

On Aug. 9, we reported that HexFest had been forced to change its opening ritual location with only two weeks to go. Opening Friday Aug. 21, the event is now taking place on the Creole Queen Riverboat rather than at its original location on the Steamboat Natchez. According to the organizers, a Natchez sales representative said that the cancellation was due to religion, but then later changed that reason to breach of contract.

When we originally published the article, we had not yet heard back from either steamboat. We finally did hear from both. Natchez spokesperson Adrienne Thomas simply told The Wild Hunt, “The HexFest river event has been relocated from the Steamboat Natchez to the Creole Queen Riverboat, and arrangements have been coordinated by all parties involved.” She declined to answer any specific questions, nor would she say anymore about the situation.

Creole Queen spokesperson Jill Anderson said that she was “surprised” by what had happened to HexFest. And that the organizers were lucky that Creole Queen was available at such at late date. She also reiterated that company was pleased to be hosting the evening event.

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Florida Triple Murder Ignites Witchcraft Frenzy

After an Aug. 4 news conference, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) set off a media firestorm that focused enormous attention on “Witchcraft” and “Wicca.” As we originally reported, the first flood of stories emphasized the alleged reality of a “ritualistic, blue moon, witchcraft” triple homicide. Then, within 48 hours, the news shifted, with local, national and international outlets turning to Wiccans and Witches for reactions.

NBC, who published the first news report using the term Wicca, also returned to the story and included an interview with blogger Peg Aloi. In that update, journalist Erin Calabrese specifically noted that Sgt. Hobbes of ECSO did use the word “Wiccan” during a phone interview. Calabrese’s report is in direct contrast with the ECSO statement, which stressed that Sgt. Hobbes was misquoted and never said the word “Wiccan.”

Regardless, over the following days, there was a swell in similar mainstream reports demonstrating the outrage felt within Wiccan and Witchcraft communities. Along with Lady Liberty League, Covenant of the Goddess and others, even those outside of Pagan religious spheres, made public statements or posted commentary decrying ECSO’s careless use of either term.

On the flip side, the media attention also provided teaching opportunities. Priestess and author Courtney Weber was interviewed by Thom Hartmann for his show “The Big Picture”

Now, nearly ten days later, there have been no official updates to the case, and ECSO is refusing to take any more media questions. However, on Aug. 14, the local Pensacola CBS affiliate WKRG did once again attempt to get clarification on the use of the word witchcraft. While following the Sheriff outside, the WKRG reporter asked specifically if ECSO was still calling the crime witchcraft. The Sheriff said “pull up the tape” and “that’s where the misconception was.” The reporter does just that, demonstrating the Sheriff’s clear usage of the term. This interaction was caught on tape and is now posted on WKRG’s Facebook page.

As for the three victims, they were laid to rest on Aug. 14. Short obituaries with photographs are posted on the website of a local funeral home.

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Around the World: Is Australia a Secular Country?

Fri, 2015-08-14 06:40

In 2009, the Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in Melbourne, Australia. Over 6,000 people, including American and Australian Pagans, attended. The theme was “Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth.” That same weekend, in Sydney, the National Conference for all Concerned Christians was held. Its theme was “Australia’s Future and Global Jihad”.

Australia is a secular country. Australia is a Christian nation. Which is true?

In his book A Secular Age, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor identified three different forms of secularism.The first is a political secularism – a strict removal of religion from the public sphere through exercise of legitimate state power. The second is social, when there is a decline in the level of religiosity of the population. In this second sense of secularism, religious communities generally cease to influence politics, education, and public life. In Taylor’s third notion of secularism, belief in God is one option of many, and religion is just one voice in the public sphere.

Whether you consider Australia to be secular depends on the definition of secularism that you use.

Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

Secularism in Australia means no state church. It means people have a choice between belief and no belief, and parliament can’t discriminate against people because of their religion. Another basis for describing Australia as a secular nation is the relaxed attitude and even scepticism toward institutional religion. Although 64% of Australians check the Christianity box, attendance at religious services is declining, and people often describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.

However, it should not be assumed that religion takes a marginal place in Australia’s public and intellectual culture.

In the U.S., religious freedom means rigorously protecting the boundary between Church and State. Not so in Australia. The law prevents establishment of religion. It doesn’t prevent interaction with it. There are small ways in which this happens, such as prayer in the parliament. And then there are big ways. For example, in the state of Victoria, special religious instruction (SRI) is given in public schools.  

SRI is “instruction provided by churches and other religious groups and based on distinctive religious tenets and beliefs.” Scheduled during normal class time, SRI is not compulsory, and parental consent should be obtained.

The most common form of SRI is Christian religious education (CRE) delivered by ACCESS Ministries. Between 2009 and 2012, ACCESS Ministries received almost $20 million in government grants. The parent-run, grassroots organisation Fairness in Religions in School (FIRIS) claims that alternate forms of SRI are less common and receive no government support.

ACCESS Ministries also provides chaplains for the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP). In the 2014 federal budget, the government provided $243.8 million over a four-year period to continue this program, which funds chaplains in Australian primary and secondary schools. The 2015 budget added $60.6 million every year for four years.

In a 2008 address to the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion National Conference, Dr. Rev. Evonne Paddison, CEO of ACCESS Ministries said:

In Australia we have a God-given open door to children and young people with the Gospel, our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples.

SRI has its critics and there are allegations of proselytizing and bias. In an article in The Age, Melbourne priest and academic Professor Gary Bouma called the curriculum “appalling” and “crap” delivered by “bullies.” Mostly, it goes on unnoticed and unchallenged.

Some Pagans don’t see a problem with SRI or the Christian chaplains in public schools. The connection isn’t missed by academic and former High Court judge Michael Kirby, an Anglican. In the article mentioned above, he said:

One just has to look around at the ignorance and prejudice concerning homosexuals and women to see what damage can be done by some narrow religious instructions. There have to be viable alternatives which parents and students can consider and opt for.

Marriage equality is currently a hot topic. Australians rejoiced with Ireland and the U.S. when both countries legalised same-sex marriage. Many Australians think it’s time for it to happen here. Polls consistently show that a majority of Australians support legalising same-sex marriage.

Australians rightly point to conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott as a major force against marriage equality. However, a big undermining effort comes from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).

The ACL is a powerful, political organisation headquartered in Australia’s capital, Canberra. Its vision is to see Christian principles influencing government and business.The ACL successfully sways votes and controls outcomes. During the 2010 election, the ACL struck a bargain with both sides of politics not to support the introduction of same-sex marriage. The ACL is a potent political force not just because it can mobilise its supporters, but also because of its direct influence on politicians.

It is a paradox that Australians are increasingly identifying as non-religious, but don’t object to huge amounts of Government dollars being poured into Christian organisations that teach Christianity in public schools while climate change funding, foreign aid, university funding, and health care are all cut. It is a paradox that the ACL opposes same-sex marriage on behalf of Christians while most Christians actually support marriage equality.

Australia is home to many beliefs, including those of 30k Pagans, according to the 2011 census. Is Australia a secular country?

Yes, but it is one that privileges the members of one faith over others. Australian Pagans don’t need to be dismayed, however. A close examination of the Christian Right reveals a small network of prominent figures who use smoke and mirrors to create a narrative that suggests that they have widespread public support. This doesn’t mean we can sit back and relax; we should continue to engage in causes that are important to us. And, we can feel hopeful about the increasing secular ideals and values, which will bring balance and diversity to the intersectionality of religion and politics.

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Column: God as a Small Thing

Fri, 2015-08-14 05:00

Oden från Lindby. Bronze. Historiska Museum, Sweden.
Gabriel Hildebrand SHMM

The figure stands, unsteady and misshapen, only a few centimeters tall. It lacks its left arm, and its bronze form has become so weathered that I cannot easily read its face; the head rises to a point like an arrowhead, and two curving lines beneath the nose suggest a mustache. Its right eye is just a slit in the metal; a protruding oval marks the wide left eye. A nearby sign lists the figure’s provenance: Lindby, Skåne, Sweden, created sometime during the Iron Age – there’s no more definite date given than that.

Because the figure is missing an eye, it is usually interpreted as the god Odin.

I had not known this figure, Oden från Lindby, was in the Field Museum’s Vikings exhibit before I came face to face with it. It sits in a round glass case that formed one-third of a circle near the far end of the exhibit’s opening hall. In the hollow at the center of the cases, a projector displays a computer model of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology, controlled by a touch screen on the outside of the circle. For those seeking the vikings’ myths, this display is the heart of the exposition; beyond this, it’s all ship’s nails and broadswords, blacksmith’s tools and relics of the White Christ. But here, in this case, Odin Allfather stands, incarnated in an inch of bronze.

The Oden was not the only manifestation of the gods in this circle. The Vanir, Freyja and Freyr, appeared as well, and the exhibition featured several Thor’s Hammer pendants. But the figure of Odin catches my attention more than the others. Despite the throng of museum attendees circling the cases, I have to stop and kneel in front of the case for a better look. The fragility of the piece strikes me – the phantom arm, the worn-away feet. I wonder how it had even been found. Had the shovel gone into the dirt three inches in either direction, it could have been missed entirely.

The strangeness of seeing this statue before me, just a few inches away behind the glass shield, increased because I knew this statue intimately, after a fashion. A replica of it – made of clay from the sacred Ganges River, the manufacturers were always keen to say – has sat on my altar since I’ve had an altar. It’s not an exact copy. The replica has both of its arms, and instead of the original’s dilapidated feet has clay filled in to make a sturdy base. (Although the replica shares the original’s arrowhead skull, for some reason, the sculptor chose not to copy the original’s prominent nose, instead leaving Odin with eyebrows that seem to slope directly down into his mustache, giving his face a somewhat squid-like character.)

I can’t say when I came by this statue; perhaps as a Yule present, long ago, along with a heftier bronze statue of Thor. It began at the outer edges of my altar and slowly worked its way into its present central position, mirroring my own relationship to Odin and to Heathenry in general. I have carried it with me to Pantheacon and Reykjavík, a companion on my pilgrimages. The most powerful vision of my mystical career came while sitting in front of this little statue. If you were to ask me for the image that comes to me when you say the name Odin, it would be the face of this replica by firelight.

I kneel there by the case, struck by this figure which I both see every night before I sleep and have never seen before in my life, still caught by the size of it, the delicacy. A person could put all three of these figures, Odin, Freyja, and Freyr, into their cupped hands and still have room for the Thor statuette sitting in the National Museum of Iceland. These little fragments of the past, so unlike the monuments that have survived from Greece and Egypt. A few months ago, I found myself staring up with awe into the impassive face of a plaster cast of Athena Velletri, who stands ten feet tall. This Odin is not so tall as that Athena’s little finger. The feeling it inspires for me is not awe, but astonishment, the wonder that such a thing still exists to be seen at all.

When Christian preachers spoke against the ancient pagan religions, idol worship was invariably one of the greatest targets of their scorn. Augustine wrote in his commentary on Psalm 115, “For they have mouths, and speak not: eyes have they, and see not. They have ears, and hear not: noses have they, and smell not. They have hands, and handle not; feet have they, and walk not; neither cry they through their throat. Even their artist therefore surpasseth them, since he had the faculty of moudling them by the motion and functions of his limbs, though thou wouldest be ashamed to worship that artist. Even thou surpassest them, thought they has not made these things, since thou doest what they cannot do.” The heathen worships idols, but they are deaf, dumb, and dead; they worship rocks and mistake them for gods. Apparently such preaching was effective; I’m reminded of the legend of Thorgeir the Lawspeaker, who, after making the decision for Iceland to become Christian, threw his statuary into the waterfall Goðafoss, many centuries after Augustine.

But that particular line of attack feels like the worst kind of simplistic literalism to me. Of course the idol is not the god. Has anyone ever really thought that? Even in the most grandiose legends of statues with hidden levers and contraptions supposedly meant to gull the naive into believing false miracles, they were only manifestations of deity. Of course the idol is made of metal or stone; of course it is made by human hands. That’s the point. They form a bridge between the human and the numinous; they give us a focus for the invisible, a face for something that is, at its core, faceless.

This little statue of Odin – this little thing – is not Odin himself. But it is a link between me and the ancient heathen who once held it. Perhaps he or she carried it in a pocket, a reminder of their devotion, as I carry the replica in my suitcase. It is worn, a little broken, a little decrepit. But it survives.

I quickly kiss the glass, like an Orthodox Christian before an icon, and rise to let the little girl next to me have her time with the Allfather.

(The Vikings exhibit runs until October 4th at Chicago’s Field Museum.)

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Brendan Myers: Fact & Fiction

Thu, 2015-08-13 05:05

Philosopher, musician, writer, game designer, professor and Pagan, Dr. Brendan Myers is a creative and prolific creator of words, thoughts and music. Deemed a “dangerous man” by the late, great Isaac Bonewits, Dr. Myers prolifically writes fiction and non-fiction with the passionate intensity of a true visionary.

After growing up in the picturesque small town of Elora, Ontario, Myers went on to earn his PhD in philosophy from the National University of Ireland, Galway. This launched his professional career as a professor of philosophy, leading him to teach in six different institutions in both Canada and Europe.

[Photo courtesy of Brendan Myers]

This summer, Dr. Myers accomplished a rare feat. He published his sixteenth book, Elderdown  It is the fourth and final book in the Hidden Houses fantasy series. When recently interviewed for The Wild Hunt, Myers had this to say about this to say about Elderdown:

Elderdown is about a group of refugees, the remnants of a once-proud Celtic clan and their allies, hunted by the Roman-descended demigods of House DiAngelo. Yet these refugees are also divided among themselves. Some want to continue fighting their ancient enemies; some want to build a new home for themselves on the faraway secret island of Elderdown.

The series in general is about an ancient pagan idea: the gods of mythology had mortal children, and their descendants still live among us today. Imagine House of Cards or Game of Thrones, but with Celtic warriors versus the descendants of Roman emperors, and played out in a small town in modern Canada.

It’s a fantasy adventure, but it’s also an human adventure. It features magical characters but it’s not about magic. It’s about what it means to have a home, and to belong somewhere. It’s about the tragedy of the blood feud, and how to escape it. It’s about how we handle grief and loneliness, and whether conflicted or wounded people can still be heroes.

Fiction may be Myers most recent writing adventure, but it is his non-fiction writing that first made him a regular feature at Pagan events across Canada and beyond. These books are where philosophy and Pagan themes meet. “A Pagan Testament: The Literary Heritage of the World’s Oldest New Religion” published in 2008 was a prime example of this. The work garnered praise from other high profile Pagan writers. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone called it “A remarkable resource for anyone following the Wicca/Pagan path. It gives an insight equally into wiccan philosophy, as well as history and practice. We highly recommend it. A useful book for the individual witch; but an essential book on any coven’s bookshelf”.

So, for fans of the non-fiction writing, does Dr. Myers have another offering on the way?  In our interview, we asked him. He said:

Brendan Myers: I do, and I think it’s going to be exciting. The working title is Ecology and Civilization. Many of us enter the pagan world because of a not-well-defined yet nagging feeling that there is something wrong with civilization, especially Western civilization. It might have to do with the destruction of the environment, or the patriarchy, or the cultural genocide of Aboriginal people, or some kind of intrinsic absurdity. So I want to ask: what is civilization? What’s wrong with it? What can we do about it? Big questions! My working hypothesis right now is that the science of ecology may point the way to some answers. I’m also going to look at economics, anthropology, political science, and of course my own field, philosophy. At this moment I’m 15,000 words into the manuscript. I expect to be finished by the end of 2015.

The Wild Hunt: With sixteen books published since 2004, you have had an incredibly busy writing career, full of challenges and adventures. But what is the highlight that really stands out for you?

BM: The biggest highlight so far has been the evening in 2013 when I was one of the invited speakers at a TEDx conference at the University of Guelph. My presentation was based on the ideas in Loneliness and Revelation, the book of mine which has earned the most critical praise (and the least commercial success). TED is like a nerd’s paradise. It brings together people who think about things in weird new ways, people who make weird new things, and the like, and it invites the public to contemplate and to celebrate their ideas. People dress up in their Sunday best for it. After a childhood and teen years where I was ignored or severely bullied for having nerdy interests, appearing on TED after publishing a book felt like a vindication.

TWH: You’ve said that the wide and varied themes and topics in your books reflect your own love of travel, and for the interesting people and places you meets along the way.

BM: If it is not too bold: I’d like to suggest a new (actually very old) pagan tradition: the long distance pilgrimage. Celts of Ireland used to gather at places like Uisneach and Tara for annual political and Druidic assemblies. Greeks used to hike to Olympus or Delphi, seeking spiritual bounty. Ancient pre-Muslim Persians made the journey to the temple of Zoroaster. I think this custom should be revived. Let’s encourage each other to travel to a spiritual centre of each person’s choosing: a destination of no small cultural or historic importance, and as far away from home as your finances and your physical health will allow. Let’s encourage a culture of traveler’s tales, adventurism, and worldly knowledge. Let’s take short adventures once a year, and a longer one to somewhere very far, perhaps on another continent, at least once in a lifetime. By proposing this, I do not intend to diminish the importance of local values like environmental awareness, or community solidarity. Yet very few activities teach courage, open-mindedness to difference, adult responsibility, generosity, and thankfulness for the generosity of others, like long distance travel.

At the time of this interview, Myers was packing his bags to head to Czech Republic for research and adventure purposes. A 40-minute video with his impressions of this trip can be found here.

Dr. Brendan Myers, author. Photo by the Man Himself

TWH: Outline the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction.

BM: In nonfiction it’s more obvious that I write with my own voice. But every character in a work of fiction is the author’s self-portrait. In fiction it’s more obvious that I’m telling a story—that is the very meaning of fiction. But good nonfiction tells a story, too. An argument is pursued to a conclusion; evidence and counter-arguments may be met along the way; the conclusion itself is the climax of a rising logical action. A reader might enjoy a well-crafted argument in the same way she might enjoy music. I often call chapters in my nonfiction books movements for that reason.

It seems to me that the differences between fiction and nonfiction are matters of emphasis and style, not essence. Both attempt to reveal something which the reader might not have encountered before, and (following George Orwell’s advice) both attempt to change the way we think about something. Where fiction and nonfiction differ most is perhaps only in the way they are marketed!

Writers who work in both fiction and nonfiction aren’t unusual. Among philosophers, there’s Umberto Eco, and Iris Murdoch, for instance. Among pagan writers there’s Gerald Gardner himself, Stewart Farrar, Aleister Crowley, and Starhawk. There are writers best known for fiction who also write journalism or polemics: Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman, for instance. I like to imagine that by writing both, I am in good company.

TWH: Elderdown was published under your own publishing imprint, Northwest Passage Books. What prompted your to take this route to get your books out there?

BM: Originally, I created it to publish just one book: Clear and Present Thinking, the free college-level textbook on logic and critical reasoning that I launched on Kickstarter a few years back. Having my own imprint allows me to issue ISBNs to myself at no cost. Soon it occurred to me that I can use the imprint to publish my fiction, and to offer self-publishing assistance to other writers. (I still seek traditional publishing for my nonfiction.) At the time, self-publishing was taking off in a big way. Some well established writers were moving to it; industry analysts were calling it the wave of the future; platforms like Kindle, Nook, and Kobo were easy to use. I did shop my first novels to literary agents, but admittedly I didn’t look long. But creating my own imprint taught me a lot about writing and about the publishing industry. I‘m proud of what I’ve published this way.

TWH: With so many accomplishments under your belt, and so many varied interests, how do you choose to see yourself?

BM: I think of myself as an human being and a philosopher first, and everything else second. But between you and I, the word philosopher means rather more to me than a particular kind of professor (although it happens I am a professor, too). The quest for good answers to the highest and deepest questions—the philosophical quest—is for me a deeply spiritual activity. This is so because, for one thing, pagans invented philosophy. Yet for another, the method of philosophy, systematic critical reason, is one way that we mere mortals can discover the immensities, and put ourselves into a better relationship with them. The sacred is that which acts as your partner in your search for the highest and deepest things; the sacred is that which emerges from your relationship with those partners. For me, the most important of them, after my friends and the land where I live, are my predecessors in the western philosophical tradition. And some of them, the philosophers of Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Germanic antiquity, were pagans, living in a pagan culture.

TWH: It will be hard for fans of the Hidden Houses series to say goodbye to it. What can you say to fans?

BM: Now that the main series is complete, I plan to write spinoff books, set in the same world but featuring different characters. I’m following the precedent of Charles de Lint’s Newford and Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld here. I’ve published two spinoffs already: “The Seekers” and “A Trick of The Light”. An entire volume of more is in the works. I’ve also got a tabletop RPG set in the world of the Hidden Houses: the text is 90% complete, and there might be a Kickstarter campaign in the near future to pay for the artists.

Although I’m best known in the pagan world for my nonfiction, I think my novels may be among the most heartfelt and personally revealing works of art I’ve made so far. Like any writer, I hope for commercial success; but I shall consider them truly successful if they are read, studied, argued about, and loved, by good people.

*   *   *

For news and updates on the work of Brendan Myers, you can read his blog, find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Heroin Sting in Salem Leads to Arrests

Wed, 2015-08-12 06:50

[Photo Credit: Mark Sardella / Flickr]

SALEM, Ma. — An investigation into a heroin dealing in Salem resulted in the arrest of two men August 7, including Richard Watson, a well-known psychic and member of the Wiccan community living in the self-styled “Witch City.” Reaction to the story was swift. Watson’s church revoked his credentials, and people took to social media to condemn his alleged involvement.

According to the Salem News, police received information about heroin being sold out of Watson’s apartment at 100 Bridge Street, and made some undercover purchases before obtaining a search warrant and raiding the premises. Inside the place, they found Watson and another man, Javier Pena-Abreu, sitting at a table on which there was reportedly a pile of heroin.

Pena-Abreu is no stranger to police encounters, and was free on a $20,000 bail resulting from another heroin-trafficking arrest last year. He invoked his right to remain silent. Watson, on the other hand, cooperated with police by showing them the remainder of the heroin in the apartment, totaling more than two ounces. Police allege that $10-15,000 of the drug was passing through the apartment on a weekly basis.

This was not the first time that Watson, or his apartment, had been touched by less-than-legal activities. In 2007, during the so-called “witch wars” over psychic licenses in Salem, Watson arrived home to discover a grisly scene. As was reported by the Salem News at the time,

Richard Watson said he went back to his Bridge Street apartment on the night of May 26 to a disturbing scene: his roommate, Sharon Graham, dressed in black, surrounded by four young men, also all in black, standing around a jar. Inside that jar was the eye of a raccoon, police say. And in two trash bags in Watson’s refrigerator was the rest of the critter, which had been dismembered.

Graham was one of the people who later pleaded guilty to leaving parts of that raccoon on the steps of two psychic shops. Watson was a witness in that case, and claimed at the time that Graham had pressured him to not testify.

However, this time, it was Watson caught by surprise. He and Pena-Abreu have different recollections of what was happening when they were discovered at a table piled with heroin. Watson has asserted that he was allowing Pena-Abreu to keep the drugs in the apartment as a favor, while not profiting from the dealing whatsoever. Pena-Abreu’s attorney, at the arraignment Monday, claimed his client was only there for a tarot reading, and had no involvement with the heroin. Only Pena-Abreu had money on his person, although it is not clear if it was heroin proceeds or cash for a reading.

Reverend High Priestess Lori Bruno of Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, where Watson was an ordained minister, issued a statement denouncing the news. She said, in part:

What I cannot stomach is one who would be a purveyor of death to the innocent. Therefore, after the news article I saw today and having also been directly informed about this, I and our clergy counsel have come to the decision to revoke the ministerial credentials of a trusted minister to humanity, Richard Watson. It is with much sadness that I do this, because I trusted Richard Watson to carry on the creed of our people.

I still hope that may be there is no truth in this, but as it stands right now, to protect our people, I have to remove him from clergy status. I hope that he is innocent of this, but should he not be, this revocation will stand.

Heroin is a growing problem in Massachusetts, and nationwide. The supply of the drug has increased since the United States took the Taliban, whose oppressive policies included a near total shutdown of opium poppy cultivation, out of power in Afghanistan. At the same time, drug manufacturers developed stronger and stronger prescription drugs to manage high levels of pain, many of which are opium derivatives themselves. The powerful prescriptions created more dependence among legitimate users, and also wended their way into the black market, increasing addiction.

Attempts to curb prescription drug abuse, together with the now greater supply of heroin, has led to more addictions and more overdose deaths. In 2014, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick declared this to be a public health emergency, with at least 185 suspected heroin deaths in the prior six months and 363 opioid-related deaths in 2011, the most recent year for which figures were available for that broader metric.

Courtesy of Flickr’s jimmywayne

Another Salem witch, Sandra Wright, had a somewhat nuanced reaction to the news. Wright is a third-generation Salem resident who is High Priestess of Elphame coven. Speaking only for herself, she commented to The Wild Hunt, “Wiccan priesthood comes with responsibilities” Wright said:

People of the Priesthood of the Craft of the Wise should possess leadership ability. Not everyone is cut out to lead. . . . and they need to display integrity, wisdom, and most of all, compassion. Compassion is the one that can be hardest to maintain, especially when lines are crossed. So I myself failed to show compassion to Rick Watson when this story broke because I believe that even though he claims he was just allowing others to deal drugs out of his apartment and that he himself was not dealing the drugs, he was allowing people to poison the community he claimed to serve. He was serving as a conduit for an epidemic that has taken lives left and right in this city and the surrounding area. And if he was actually dealing the drugs, he is even more directly responsible for ruining the lives of others, nevermind his own. And for this reason, I find myself hard pressed to offer compassion.

At the same time, Wright said, “my compassion kicks in” as a reaction to the Trinacrian Rose Church removing his credentials … and the local community trying to disavow him as a Wiccan. And, as for the broader community reaction, she observed:

And now everyone … he was close to is scrambling to distance themselves from him, and distance him from Wicca, because they don’t want to be associated with a drug dealer. They are making him a pariah because they don’t want the rest of the world to think that Wicca sanctions this kind of behavior. Of course it doesn’t! No faith of any value would approve of capitalizing on the addicted and afflicted. Anyone who thinks Wicca has anything to do with Rick’s decisions doesn’t understand Wicca. Like the Pensacola murders, the mundane media is trying to sensationalize the story by including the buzzwords they think will rile people up. Well, we are riled.

Another Salem witch and High Priestess, Penny Cabot had only these few words. “I feel that the shameful situation speaks for itself, no words are needed,” she said.

Watson’s bail was set at $50,000, but Pena-Abreu’s was set at ten times that. In addition, his bail in the prior case was revoked, so he won’t be getting out of jail before the September 2 status hearing in any case. We will continue to follow the story as it unfolds.

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Atchington, Pagan land for Pagan festivals: a review

Tue, 2015-08-11 07:28

While attending last year’s Sacred Harvest Festival, a small Pagan festival held in Minnesota, I heard that a dreaded rumor was true. The festival had to move. The venue, a beloved place set in the midst of a Burr Oak grove, had become unfriendly toward any camping and wanted to focus on large music festivals. To say that I, and many other attendees, were unhappy is an understatement. The trees and the festival were inseparable in my mind. How could you have Sacred Harvest Festival anywhere else?

As the months went by without an announcement of a new location, my concerns increased. Would Sacred Harvest Festival even happen? What would the new place look like? Can the festival survive a venue change?

When the new location was finally announced in spring, a place called Atchington, my apprehension only increased.

I had heard of Atchington in passing. I knew it was about 90 minutes north of the Twin Cities and was purchased in 2013 by Paul and Janette Ferrise, active members of the Twin Cities Pagan community. While I knew it was their dream to one day turn this 40 acre parcel of land into a self-sustaining retreat, it was presently just woods surrounding an open hay field. Other than their home, there were no facilities at all. There wasn’t even a road to get to the field, where I was told the festival would take place.

I considered not attending. I complained on Facebook. I pumped people for information and was told the venue was being worked on by the Ferrises and by volunteers from Harmony Tribe, the group that produces Sacred Harvest Festival. I was assured that there would be a bathroom, a place to shower, and a way to get into the open field to camp. They were working on it. No, nothing is ready yet, but they’re working on it.

I didn’t feel assured.

[Photo: C. Schulz]

I decided to go for a long weekend instead of the entire week. I also decided to pack light because if it was miserable, I was throwing my tent back into my car and leaving. Yes, I am a delicate snowflake, and I was already biased against the place.

After attending the festival I can say that Harmony Tribe made the right decision in relocating its festival to Atchington. The amount of work already done is impressive, containing many festival venue Best Practices. The Ferrise’s future plans are equally impressive, and it’s clear they have been working with permaculture experts.

The site’s entrance is what you’d expect to find in a rural area. A long drive cut into a heavily wooded area. I could tell immediately when I got to the newly created section of dirt road, because it wasn’t as compacted as the main driveway, and it became slick after a rain. The road dumped out into the meadow, which was far smoother than I thought a converted hayfield would be. We were able to unload at our campsite and then park close by. Everything was clearly laid out with an eye to traffic flow, accessibility, and being as gentle as possible to the land.

Special Guest Kari Tauring teaches a Beginning Staving class on the hay trailer stage. [Photo: C. Schulz]

We had purchased electrical and, as of two weeks ago, the electrical wasn’t laid in yet. I had been told it was very limited, but this turned out to not be correct. There was plenty of electrical for any of the 140 attendees who wanted it and then some. In talking with Paul Ferrise, he noted that this year those wanting electrical were packed in a bit tight, but next year the electrical would be extended out further in two directions. This is welcome news for those who have medical conditions requiring access to electricity, but who still would like to attend a camping festival.

The very next thing that I noticed (I drank two Coke Zeros on the drive to the festival) was the portapotties. Two of them were pink and were reserved just for women. They didn’t have the urinal in them and had a hook to hold your purse or bag on the inside. I appreciate having separate women and men’s portas. Let’s just keep our disgusting stuff separate, shall we?

All portas had an LED light in them, a huge upgrade from any other Pagan festival I’ve attended. Just having a built in overhead LED light for night time use kept the portas so much cleaner.

Drinking water tanks in the foreground, showers in the white tent, dish washing station and trash/recycling in front.

The portas were located near the showers. Showers are usually cringe-worthy at camping festivals, but these were another pleasant surprise. The two stalls were built up on wood platforms, one with a ramp for accessibility while the other had stairs. The showers had hot water on demand systems, and the grey water was collected in tanks underneath. There was plenty of room to shower, dress, and move around. In fact, they were downright spacious. Dr. Bronner’s body and hair wash, which is very earth friendly, was provided, and we all got to experience the joy of having our hoo-hoo tingle.

Harmony Tribe members say that the showers were a late addition, and the original plan was much more modest. Two showers for 140 attendees was about right. There was rarely a line, nor did you have to pay for them. Ferrise said that more showers, with a slightly different design, will be added before next year’s Sacred Harvest Festival.

Sacred Harvest Festival attendee washes breakfast dishes

On the other side of the showers were tanks for filtered drinking water and a sink station for washing hands or dishes. It had a nice long counter-top where many attendees brought items to wash and dry. The drinking water was just what you’d find from a home tap, so next year attendees won’t feel the the need to bring bottled water. Because the tanks formerly held raspberries, the water had a slight raspberry flavor. I considered that a bonus.

Atchington appears to have solved one problem that plagues most Pagan events: how to get people to properly recycle. They did so in the easiest, most straightforward way. Several barrels set up with signs on them that list what can be thrown in each barrel. Genius. There was a barrel for food scraps, one for aluminum cans, one for plastic bottles, one for paper, and another for trash. They were emptied each evening. No more guessing what goes in the single recycle bin and what goes in the trash bin.

I looked in the bins periodically to see if people were following the rules and each time I looked, everything was thrown in the appropriate barrel. It appears that clear labels and easy access to proper disposal places are all it takes to make recycling and composting work at a festival. I’m wondering how this will scale up to larger events.

There were other nice touches at the venue, such as Paul driving attendees into town once a day to go to the grocery store; unlimited firewood for personal campfires; and the Tree of Life with accompanying permanent shrine. You could see the Ferrises were serious about living the Pagan ethics of caring for the earth and providing thoughtful hospitality for their guests. Planned upgrades include a storm shelter, gardens, and a place for musical performances.

Paul Ferrise said that he knew this was the land they would buy once he saw the Tree of Life on the property. They then built a shrine in front of it. [Photo: C. Schulz]

The Ferrises have worked hard to create good relations with their neighbors and to include county officials in their plans. The Ferrises said that the officials that they’ve worked with have been extremely helpful and very open to what they’re trying to accomplish. Their neighbors are excited and supportive of the permaculture ideas the Ferrises are putting into place, and so far haven’t had a problem with late night drumming.

Atchington’s vision of a sustainable retreat utilizes permaculture techniques [Courtesy Photos]

The festival site itself is located in a large, cleared field and most attendees, like myself, camped in full sun; or full rain depending on the weather. If it hadn’t been so temperate, that could have created problems for some people. By which, I really mean me, and I did feel a bit under the weather after one 80 degree sunny day. There was some shaded camping in the tree lines, but those sites went pretty quick.

Paul said next year’s plans include clearing out some of the underbrush in the woods to provide more shaded camping and cutting a trail so attendees can enjoy the creek that runs through their property. The field was fairly smooth, but there were odd holes and ruts so you needed to watch your step when walking around. A few days and nights of heavy rain left standing puddles of water. However, it was less muddy than I thought a field would end up, so drainage doesn’t appear to be a problem. In addition, the new road had to be worked on after storms went through Thursday night.

(left)The Hearth Chakra is where the main community fire and drum circle takes place. (right) Tents dot the treeline [Photos: C. Schulz]

All in all, both Harmony Tribe and the owners of Atchington appear to be a good match for one another. Both are willing to work hard to create a wonderful, uniquely Pagan space to hold festivals. And, both were willing to put in a considerable amount of money to make this happen. Harmony Tribe paid for two years in advance, while the Ferrises turned a 5-year plan into a one year reality.

Other festivals and events have already booked space at Atchington, and now that I’ve been there, I can see why. It’s a beautiful property with dedicated and friendly owners who are willing to get their hands dirty and who appear to have the skills needed to do much of the work themselves. I’m very excited about attending Sacred Harvest Festival next year and can’t wait to see all the new changes happening at Atchington.

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