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Updated: 5 hours 29 min ago
The Wild Hunt will be taking the rest of the day off to cook, bake and spend time with loved ones. But first, we would like to offer thanks to each and every person who reads, comments, and supports this site. As we move forward from another successful fund drive into the festive season of lights, it is your continued support that brings us back here each day.You have given us a reason to be thankful this season. So thank you!Send to Kindle
On Monday the grand jury announced that it would not indict officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 8 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. While protests were already in full swing prior to the announcement, there was an immediate and intense increase in activity on streets of Ferguson when the news broke. By Tuesday morning, 1500 National Guard joined the already 700 present to contain the explosive reactions to the decision.
Protests were not isolated to Ferguson. People rallied, held vigils and marched in major cities across the U.S. including, New York, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The internet also exploded with response to the Grand Jury announcement. Issues, such as the militarization of police, racial profiling, and the disproportionate killing of unarmed Black and Brown men and women, have become the center of an intense dialog on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
While these discussions show that America is still very divided, what is often missing is the underlining pain and grief felt by many communities, especially for People of Color. However, over the past few days, those feelings of hopelessness, overwhelming sadness and fear, concern and safety and grief and loss have been prominently displayed on the streets of America.
St Louis resident Jacki Richardson talked about the protests on the night of the announcement and the following day. In her reflection, she told me:
We were talking, fumbling clumsily through our stories to identify where the other is coming from and telling our own. Three of us, childless, talked of our choice to tell the truth or a lie to our parents about where we are spending our time, commiserating on their well-meaning (if disregarded) plea for our safety. A mother, whose son made it home safely in the early hours last night walked away with tears in her eyes. I realized too late that she was choking on the terror for her son’s safety. Yes, today he’s okay, but what about tonight? I felt my heart stop for a second. Goddess, hold the hearts of mothers gently this night.
River Higginbotham, another local St. Louis Pagan, shared his thoughts on the unfolding tragedy in Ferguson. He said:
The tragic events of August 9th in Ferguson, just five miles from my home, when Michael Brown was killed by Officer Wilson, spark great sadness, frustration and anger – from many sides of the story. Each side has dug into their view of the meanings and motives. For many hearing the other perspective is nearly impossible. With this comes violence or marginalization. Neither helps. Both tear the fabric of the Ferguson community. I was deeply saddened and shocked at the violence that followed that night.
This is complicated. I can see many layers here. I empathize with the loss the Brown family feels and the fear sewn in the community from the violence that raged in August and raged again this week after no indictment was made. I understand the confusion of those who just do not see the systemic injustices and the frustration of police and officials who struggle to know how to cope with chaotic and dangerous circumstances that have boiled into the streets.
While the scene in Ferguson might look different from the ground than what people are seeing on the television screen, it it still evokes emotions and reactions in people around the U.S. and even the world.
Ferguson is especially heartbreaking because we are repeating history that we have often celebrated being past (not that most people really believed we were.) Instead of moving forward with equality and civil rights, Ferguson is a sign we’ve sunk lower. As much of a setback as this is, there are seeds of hope on the horizon: movements for putting cameras on police, the raised awareness of white privilege – the angry resistance is really a sign of hitting home – and right now, our highest hope is that the Justice Department will live up to its name. In the meantime, the best we can do is read the documents that the Ferguson case jury did, and send personal letters of condemnation but NOT threats to those that have failed we, the people the most. – Diana Rajchel
I wish I could say I’m shocked. I’m not. But I AM appalled. As much by the decision, as by the unwillingness of most people to talk about what the real issues are … The truth is that white people are afraid to talk about racism. But it MUST be talked about. We need to say the words. Feel the feelings. Move into and through the discomfort. Again and again. As people who understand the necessity of creating and supporting spaces in which change may occur, we can and MUST use our resources in order to create those spaces. This is what we can move forward with. What we MUST move forward with. – LaSara Firefox Allen
I am usually pretty reserved when events like this pop off. “Same old, same old. I don’t know why people are surprised.” But this time is different. Something infernal stirred within me last night – not just for Mike Brown, or Ferguson, but for the insidious web that has been woven that allows things like this to keep happening. – Dava Greely
As a young mixed, Latina and white youth, it hurts, it makes me angry. It makes me scared for my black and brown peers. It sends a clear message to us that… They don’t care about us. And that we have to fight to survive. Education is our weapon, and love is our shield. – Ellie Skye Faulkner
The racial caste system is still in place, with a militarized police keeping down African-American communities, and too many white people feeling that they are not bound to respect the rights of Black people. I’m horrified to see this refusal to indict for a cold-blooded shooting, and I can tell you the world is scandalized too. We need to push back against this oppression, and by we, I mean white allies have got to act and educate and put pressure on against these continuing injustices. – Max Dashu
I see no colors, I see human beings. Shooting a person 6 times does not imply self defense, it implies a crime and the perpetrator is walking unharmed protected by a jury who is not able to see reality beyond the reasonable doubt. Justice has not been served in this trial. A life was lost and there are no consequences. Justice is supposed to be blind but in this case it was tainted. – Carolina A. Amor
They did not know that when they left him dead on the street that he was a seed that has scattered in the wind. I guess others can play from there….? It feels trite, but it’s true. We all bear the fruit of these actions, these continued atrocities committed against black bodies. As a non-black PoC, I have to be honest and direct about the ways I perpetuate the systemic issues, too. And as much as I break those, it’s a daily thing. To remember to be present in these times… – Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir
This verdict leaves nothing but raw dust in the mouth, heartache, restlessness and division, and a lack of faith, regardless of one’s take on Ferguson. I see it as the beginning of an end with a cold energy that permeated the senses; no one escapes the residue, the energy depletion, the anger and the helplessness. I don’t know whether to cry, hide or fight. – Clio Ajana
The ruling in favor of Darren Wilson demonstrates the systemic racism that is central to the U. S. Justice System. If this country is to show that black lives matter we must expose the flaws in our justice system and make needed changes that bring real justice for all people instead of just White people.– Taylor Ellwood
I was born in 1960. This reminds me of the Watts Riots. A lot of sorrow and a lot of pain. – Najah Lightfoot Bagley
Privilege colludes us with oppression by having us believe that the world does not look this way. Institutional and societal violence on black and brown bodies is reality and it exists in all our communities. Bearing witness to this tragedy is not enough. We have to be willing to see the dirt and filth and no longer swallow it as our own reflection. – Lou Florez
Blog posts have begun to surface, exploring many different aspects of the intersecting issues that rise up during times like these. Annika Mongan wrote a post titled “Staying Awake – Because of Ferguson,” which reflects on her personal processes while listening to the protests within her own California community.
Sometimes, on nights like these, I wish I could go back to the sleep, but I am just beginning to wake up. Waking up to a system of injustice, systemic racism, my own white privilege, and the realization of how I perpetuate racism has been painful. But it isn’t near as painful as waking up to find that the killer of my child goes free, that justice doesn’t apply to me, that my country declares my life to matter less, all because I am black. Those are experiences I am privileged not to have. So the very least I can do tonight is to learn, to listen, and yes, to stay awake.An Open Letter To White People. She starts by stating,
I am sending out a call for compassion. I am sending out a call for reason. I am sending out a call for an expansion of our presence with one another.
I am sending out the remembrance of the threads of our connection. We are not isolated beings on this planet. Collectively, in our gorgeous variance, we make up this living organism we call life.
I barely slept last night, the night of the Ferguson Grand Jury decision on Officer Wilson. After marching in the streets of Oakland, I came home, checked in with loved ones, ate something, and tuned in to what was happening in Ferguson. And what continued happening in Oakland until the small hours, and what was happening in 160 other cities.
It is an overwhelmingly amazing realization that so many people, in so many cities around the United States, are worried about the current state of justice enough to hit the streets in protest. People of all types are expressing a concern over the circumstances that led to the situation involving Michael Brown and other very similar cases. These issues are not a isolated to this one death; they speak to a pattern.
Regardless of one’s opinions on the issues, most people do agree that the death of any citizen is a tragedy; that past race relations have left a legacy that affects our modern communities; that justice is often served through a subjective process. Furthermore, the fear of a militarized police force is one shared by our collective population. However, the impact of these situations are a heavier weight for communities of color. The disproportionate number of incarcerations, police brutality and death of ethnic minorities, by the hands of law enforcement, increases the sense of dispair and urgency.
While people can debate circumstances all day long, there are some bigger issues being revealed in the conversations had by many Pagans. How do we create and support a sense of safety for the marginalized in this country? How can we better support those who are afraid and who live without equity? How does modern Paganism look at the ways that communities intersect and our obligations to one another’s stories? Can we listen to the pain that is being expressed through grief and loss or are we more invested in the politics of right and wrong?
These are just a few of the many things for modern Pagan communities, as well as many groups around the U.S., to contemplate going forward.
River Higginbotham said something that resonated to me, and I will close the article with his words.
…In this time of rage and grief, I am heartened to witness people coming together, across lines of race, economics and religions to confront the anger and pain while seeking to understand the root causes and take steps towards building solutions. Interfaith and interracial prayer circles have sprung up. New community collectives have been founded to seek solutions. There are signs of hope even in these dark hours. Is it possible to listen deeply enough to heal some of the pain?
The resonance others across the region and nation feel with the issues of race, policing, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly have brought reactions that amazes me and ultimately offers me more hope. Today there were protests and demonstrations all across the nation.
I believe that the energy and focus sparked by that tragic death has begun a chain reaction that can really offer hope for real positive changes. Changes for good in Ferguson and across our culture. It is time to open our hearts, open our ears and join hands to support positive growth and transformation for individuals and for our diverse communities of all colors, beliefs and roles. Opportunity has knocked. Blessings on those who hear it and respond with love in action.
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This past weekend, more than fourscore Pagans attended the first Pagan Activism Conference Online, or PACO. The event was sponsored by the Pantheon Foundation, which also serves as fiscal sponsor for The Wild Hunt, and included a total of nine sessions on how activism fits into Pagan lives. Having been given a press pass to the conference and experiencing some of the sessions firsthand, I’ve elected to depart from my usual style of journalistic third person, and write about what I learned at the conference, as well as pull together reactions from other people.
— Rhiannon (@GypsyMamaRhi) November 24, 2014
On a technical level, the conference was a success. The minor hiccups that did occur, such as presenters unable to log in to the software on time, some people being harder to hear than others, were no more distracting than similar challenges faced during any in-person workshops. Yeshe Rabbit, one of two event organizers, worked hard to find the right platform for the job. She said:
PACO exceeded my technical expectations. I have been using the conference software Zoom for over a year for my personal readings, CAYA Coven meetings, and the Tea & Chanting sangha, so I have a pretty decent familiarity with it. I know it’s easy to learn, user-friendly, and generally reliable. I researched 4 different conference software programs before choosing this one for its clean, simple interface and how it had performed in my other projects.
The software was indeed easy to use, and allowed participants to see each other and the presenters, as well as chat with each other individually or as a group — something which Rabbit gently discouraged at the beginning of each session by asking attendees to show restraint until the floor was opened to questions. Zoom also allowed attendance by phone only, or by watching online and listening via phone. That’s the combination I chose during one session, because I could watch the action and move around my kitchen. But the convenience for me paled in comparison to the simple access it granted to others who normally wouldn’t be able to participate in an event like this. Rabbit said:
Online conferences, in my opinion, are one of the best ways to host a really inclusive conversation about ideas, data, and strategy. They are: widely accessible, Earth friendly, economical, and they allow people from all over the nation to connect meaningfully when they might not otherwise be able to. We had attendees at PACO who cannot attend other Pagan events due to disability, financial reasons, and chemical sensitivity. That level of inclusion felt like a big win. While not a replacement for street activism or the connections we create at in-person events, this conference showed me that we can take our online activism a step further. Beyond just sharing posts that outrage us, or commiserating in the comments sections of blogs, PACO showed me that we are able to use this medium to learn, trade tools, connect, plan, and strategize for actual change.
That strategizing for change came through in a number of different panel discussions. Some sessions addressed using existing tools (e.g., the media) or models (e.g., building infrastructure) to amplify the voice of Pagan activists. Another session focused on the nuts and bolts of the “Care and Feeding of Pagan Activists.” In the spirit of keeping our own house in order, one session was entitled “Consenting Adults: Sexual Ethics in the Pagan Community,” while another focused on Pagan religious rights and how to defend them. The opening panel for the conference, called “Earth Activism,” addressed an area of concern near and dear to Pagans of many paths, while two other sessions focused on Pagans who may often feel silenced, those of color and the LGBTQI community, and how to ensure that their voices are heard. In the keynote address, T. Thorn Coyle spoke to the how that silencing can happen. She pointed out that white people feel that they must contribute to the conversation, and that is usually done by talking and not listening. As a white man who has worked very hard on speaking out rather than giving into shyness, I found that Coyle got more than too close for comfort with that observation.
— Wizard Lizard (@tristissima) November 23, 2014
Organizers Yeshe Rabbit and Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir made sure to take advantage of the online nature of this conference. The hashtags #PACO and #RITEaction were promoted as tools to talk about the event on social media, along with individual hashtags for each session: #PACOECO, #PACOMedia, #PACOPOC, #PACOGender, #PACOCare, #PACOBuild, #PACORights, and #PACOConsent. While these hashtags can reveal of wealth of commentary about the conference, I found that #PACO has many other uses on Twitter, so it’s more difficult to sift through to the good stuff using that hashtag alone.
Each of the sessions was also recorded, and I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to see sessions that I didn’t attend.
— Yeshe Rabbit (@yesherabbit) November 22, 2014
One theme that I noticed cropping up, and Rabbit remarked upon as well, was hospitality:
The focus for this year’s PACO was, ‘Human Rights & Relations.’ We were looking primarily in this conference at how humans oppress one another, how we can support one another instead, how we think about the issues on the table, who is at the table for the discussion, and how we can safeguard that everyone has a voice at that table. From there, the biggest theme that emerged, and it emerged brilliantly through our speakers, was that at its foundation, activism for human rights sits most effectively on a commitment to hospitality. Learning the art of welcoming people to the table, making room for those we might otherwise ignore from our positions of privilege, treating one another’s needs and preferences as worthy and sacred, and creating an atmosphere of celebration of our differences rather than competition are all aspects of the hospitality our speakers called for this weekend. “If I had to sum it up briefly, I’d say that I came away from this conference with the clear message: ‘We are all guests on this Earth. Let’s host one another while we are here with great care.’ And then we learned lots of different ways to care for one another well.
Could hospitality be one of those elusive shared values among the many Pagan, Polytheist, and Indigenous religious communities? I won’t say for sure that it is, but as someone who is always seeking to articulate the common thread among our traditions, it certainly appeals. Hospitality is implicit in being able to talk with, and ultimately work with, people of widely different viewpoints by setting those aside long enough to find common goals. While it’s possible to suppress or ignore differences among people working together, it’s a lot harder to vilify someone of a different color, political affiliation, or socioeconomic class if you know them to be a human being, too.
What’s next for Pagan activism? That remains to be seen. Any conference, online or in person, can create more light than heat if the passion felt by participants doesn’t translate into action. I’m hopeful that, in the coming weeks and months, the hashtags used during the conference will be able to track #RITEaction that follows, but only time will tell.
What’s next for PACO? Yeshe Rabbit pronounced it a success, and is already planning for the next one, tentatively scheduled for November of 2015. “One change we are looking to make for next year is to have an American Sign Language interpreter in a separate, high-resolution window so that D/deaf folks can follow along more readily if they don’t have closed captioning for this sort of software on their own computers,” she reported. “We also intend next year to leave the chat windows open for 15 minutes after the sessions have closed, to allow for the kind of mingling and informational exchange that would happen if one attended an in-person event.”
The conference has also inspired two related projects for the Pantheon Foundation. One is a weekly roundup of Pagan activism links (submissions for which can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org), and the other is an annual Journal of Pagan Activism Studies to be edited by Rion Roberts.Send to Kindle
Pagan Community Notes: Doreen Valiente Foundation, Michigan Pagans Adopt-a-Family, AAR 2014 and much more!
Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!
On Thursday, Nov. 20, the Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) made a statement regarding the local showing of a horror film called The Wicca Man.” The Liverpool Echo described the film, directed by Jacqueline Kirkham, as being “inspired by notorious Blundellsands-born satanist Gerald Gardner” and, as reported, is about a filmmaker who “[infiltrates] a witches’ coven with disastrous consequences.”
After the article was published, the Foundation became inundated with requests to respond to the film and subsequent media coverage. However, DVF opted to issue a statement to its community and supporters instead. The message read, in part, “We don’t encourage public displays of outrage on behalf of Witches or Pagans in relation to this movie specifically. We believe that a low-budget, local movie for which even the local paper story could only attract 3 comments, mostly criticising the film for being poorly made, doesn’t deserve such attention and is best left to be ignored … That’s NOT to say that we don’t believe in standing up for the rights of Witches and Pagans not to be defamed! We just think that it is a long war to fight and picking the battlefields is the strategic key to success.” To read the full statement and reasoning, go to the Foundation’s site.
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The Michigan Council of Covens & Solitaires (MCCS) has launched its Yuletide/Christmas “Adopt A Family” program. Organizers explain, “Every year there are children in the U.S. that go without presents for Christmas. There are children right here in Michigan that wonder where their next meal is coming from. DHS doesn’t cover everything, that’s where other organizations like MCCS step in.”
MCCS is holding a food and toy drive through Dec. 13 at The Smokey Crystal in Woodhaven, Michigan. Monetary gifts are also being accepted and will be used to purchase needed items that were not donated directly. The website also contains a link to the form used to nominate a family that may be in need of help this holiday season.
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Over the past weekend, the American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in San Diego. There were many Pagans in attendance including Sabina Magliocco Ph.D., M. Macha Nightmare, Jeffrey Albaugh, Chas Clifton, Amy Hale, Wendy Griffin, Rev. Patrick McCollum and others. The organization itself, as well as attendees, live tweeted with the hashtag #sblaar14 and #aar.
This year’s AAR meeting included discussions on climate change. During the event, AAR, in conjunction with the Public Religion Research Institute, released a report titled: “Believers, Sympathizers, and Skeptics: Why Americans are Conflicted about Climate Change, Environmental Policy, and Science.” The report was compiled from the “findings from the PRRI/AAR Religion, Values, and Climate Change Survey.” We will be reporting more on the AAR Pagan experience in the near future.
In Other News:
- Yvonne Aburrow announced the release of her book All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca. Published by Avalonia Press, the book “is a companion guide to inclusive Wicca, which includes all participants regardless of sexual orientation, disability, age, or other differences, not by erasing or ignoring the distinctions, but by working with them creatively within initiatory Craft.” It is currently available for pre-order.
- Photographer Daragh McDonagh left his adopted city of New York to return to his Irish homeland and “reconnect with the natural world.” After some time, he turned parts of his experience into a series of photographs that explore Irish Shamanism. The resulting collection is called: Daragh McDonagh: The Modern Pagan. McConagh told The British Journal of Photography that, in the photographs, he attempted to capture “a compelling presence that in some way reflects the inner spirituality of each sitter.” Some of his striking photos can be seen on the magazine’s website.
- “Lithuania Romuva elected a new guide, Inija Trinkūnienė,” as announced by ECER. Trinkūnienė has the distinction of being the first woman ever elected to this position of Kriva (supreme priestess). According to ECER, her election was part of broader discussions on “looking forward” into the religion’s future.
- Chas Clifton announced the release of a new anthology called Sexuality and New Religious Movements published by Palgrave Macmillan. According to a blurb on Amazon, “Issues relating to sexuality, eroticism and gender are often connected to religious beliefs and practices, but also to prejudices against and fear of religious groups that adopt alternative approaches to sexuality.” The book explores the subject through a number of different religions. Clifton is one of the essayists, and the co-editor is Henry Bogdan of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism.
- On Nov. 20, Mythicworlds announced that “Einar Selvik, founder of the acclaimed Nordic band, WARDRUNA and a composer for the hit series, VIKINGS, on the History Channel will make his premiere appearance at Mythicworlds in Seattle on February 20-22.” He will be doing three workshops and talking about his involvement on Vikings.
That is all for now. Enjoy your day.Send to Kindle
Student protests, rallies and sit-ins are a distant memory for much of the population; a nugget from another time. To others they are merely stories out of history books or photographs in magazines. But for a group of Syracuse students, faculty and staff, protests have become a very real and very contemporary reality.
“It is clear now, in instances too numerous to describe … that the administration is turning focus away from values of diversity, and rather toward higher academic ratings and rankings; away from transparency and accountability, and toward secretive, top-heavy models of dominance; away from values of community engagement and towards the Ivory Tower on the Hill model; away from considering itself a university and toward functioning as a corporation,” wrote members of the student group Campaign for an Advocacy Center in an Oct. 29 letter-to-the-editor of The Daily Orange.
Just a few days later, Nov. 3, the Campaign for an Advocacy Center joined with a newly formed student organization called THE General Body for a rally on the steps of Hendricks Chapel. This united front of students had long list of grievances against the university’s new administration. These grievances included the closing of the Advocacy Center as well as the “defunding of the POSSE program, a lack of diverse student representation in the new FAST FORWARD program, rejection of the University Senate’s proposed tenure and promotion policy,”and unrecognized “pervasive issues concerning privilege and discrimination against individuals with marginalized identities.” The list in its entirety and in full detail is posted on the organization’s website and, after being finalized, was sent directly to new university Chancellor Kent Syverud.
Pagan student Madeleine Slade told The Wild Hunt that she’s involved with the protest because she has “experienced firsthand the insufficiencies of the mental health services at this school.” Slade went on to relay a story in which the allegedly underfunded medical program had no personnel available to handle a crisis situation. She said that she was forced to go off-campus to a city mental health facility. Slade said, “We need sufficient services here so we don’t put students’ lives at risk.”
As Slade and other students explained, the trouble all began in June when the administration shut down the advocacy center, originally called the R.A.P.E center. According to Senior VP and Dean of Student Affairs Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz, the center’s services and staff were to be consolidated with the school’s counseling program, rather than remain a stand-alone facility. The closure was due partly to University-wide budget cuts needed to correct well-publicized debt crisis, which according to Syracuse.com, more than doubled under the former Chancellor. Kantrowitz said that the administration would host “listening meetings for the campus community in June, July, August and into the fall semester” to determine how the new counseling structure could best serve students.
However, there was an immediate outcry. Students began organizing and started an online petition to #BringBacktheAC. In September, a rally was held with students chanting “This is an advocate.”
In response, the administration formed a student work group to help examine the situation. In response, The Campaign for the Advocacy Center said, in a Daily Orange article,” we believe that, in response to the groundswell of community involvement and concern, the university has since improved the new support services.” However they added:
One important component that remains lost, however, is a dedicated center — a safe space and resource center that also serves as a powerful symbol of the university’s solidarity with all who have been impacted by sexual and relationship violence and against rape culture. We will continue to mourn the loss of this space and work to restore it.
While the news continued to circle around the Advocacy Center, other problems surfaced. The school announced changes to the POSSE scholarship program, which is considered an integral part of the university’s commitment to maintaining student diversity and to supporting students who otherwise might not have the personal resources or home support to attend college.THE General Body.
Despite the administration’s inclusion of student work groups in its Fast Forward strategic master plan, student protestors did not feel that the administration was actually listening. THE General Body called for another rally – a Diversity and Transparency Rally (DAT Rally), which quickly evolved into something much bigger. After the scheduled Nov. 3 DAT rally, students flooded the Crouse-Hinds Hall of Languages and staged a sit-in, which would then last for 18 days.
Although the list of grievences doesn’t explicitly focus on religion, it does include issues concerning a student’s safety from harassment. Slade said that, while “Hendricks Chapel has always been pretty accepting,” this is not the case campus-wide. Recently, for example, Slade’s Pagan friend was allegedly harassed over religious beliefs. She says, “I think that this falls under issues that THE General Body has already been discussing, namely the way the school handles hate speech.”
Syracuse Pagan chaplain Rev. Mary Hudson did confirm that several of her students were involved in the protests. She told The Wild Hunt, “Its crazy… Most of us here look at this as the students exercising and practicing everything that they have been taught to cause real change. They are being effective and they are doing it peacefully and respectfully and I must say I’m impressed.”
During the 18 day sit-in, the administration and THE General Body went back and forth with communications, negotiations and press conferences. The students issued demands, which included a meeting with Chancellor Syverud, insistence that their grievances to be acknowledge, and insurances that change would happen.
Meanwhile, as they sat each day, students garnered an ever increasing amount of support from both inside and outside the university community. Protests, vigils and rallies were held on campus each day by those not in the hall. Faculty entered the building to offer teach-ins, and some, such as the department of Women and Gender studies, the English Department, and the Geography Faculty, sent open letters to the administration in support of student concerns.
— The General Body (@THEgeneralbody) November 19, 2014
Support flooded in from off campus as well. For example, emails, tweets and letters arrived from Colgate University students, United Healthcare Workers East, 601 Tully, members of the city of Syracuse Community and the broader University of California community. Pagan activist T. Thorn Coyle has been watching since the beginning. She told The Wild Hunt:
The situation at Syracuse feels connected to youth and student activism happening all around the country and in other parts of the world … Education reform is clearly needed and young activists aren’t toeing the line any more. From walk outs in middle schools and high schools, to building occupations, lock downs, or carrying a mattress to class to highlight rape on campus, student activism is on the rise for good reasons. Students want more of a say in their educational institutions, in student safety on campus, and in how institutional money is invested and spent …We need to pay better attention to young people right now..
On Nov. 20, the sit-in came to a close. While much happened over those 18 long days of tense negotiations with Chanceller Syveud, there were some concessions made on both sides. In a blog post for THE General Body, student Tessa Brown details what the organization sees as its achievements. In a different post, student Vani Kannan explains “phase 2″ of the campaign. She wrote:
We are leaving with the knowledge that what we are asking the Chancellor to commit to works towards equity, justice, and safety for every person here today and every person not here … This new phase represents a growing body of students, faculty, staff, and community members who refuse to submit to undemocratic administrative policies that hurt this campus and this community. We will continue to fight alongside each other despite the forces that are trying to divide us.The Chronicle of Higher Education, “I have learned much through this process and appreciate how committed these students are to making our university better. I want the university community to know I remain fully committed to continuing these conversations and working to make Syracuse University the kind of campus where everyone feels welcome and respected.”
After the students left the building, many of the principle organizers held a news conference, which can be heard here, discussing the accomplishments and the future of the movement. Then, as is reported on the blog, the participating students and faculty marched in solidarity to Henricks Chapel where it all began on Nov. 3. One student tweeted: “Anger mobilized is a beautiful thing. THIS MOVEMENT HAS CHANGED MY DAMN LIFE!” They held up signs that read “#comebackstronger2015.”Send to Kindle
How do we know if a Pagan leader is any good, is ethical, or if they are qualified to teach or lead? Today we have their writings and their reputation. This can be a lot, but the standards are inherently subjective and some kind of objective verification would be beneficial. Some matters, like lineage and certification, can be strictly factual. Can these be verified with confidence? Would it be good to have a trusted place to look up any Pagan leader’s qualifications, history and reputation?
Lydia Crabtree, has just such a project. Called Pagan Pro, the idea is to produce an on-line database to which leaders in our community can register and have third-party verification of their Pagan and academic qualifications. The ability of the public to comment on and validate the skills and character of those leaders will be featured.
What are the ethics of this? What choices do we have? Our way has generally been ad hoc. Strategies of staying under the radar, out of public light, and unaccountable except to our immediate circle have been fading away as Paganism is becoming a better known minor religion. With the exposure, we, as with other societies and communities, need better ways of validating the quality of leaders with whom we wish to work. This comes with the specter of ‘professionalism’.
In the medieval period, three professions arose: medicine, law, and theology, for doctors, lawyers and (mostly) priests. To do any of them required an education and certification process, often with a licensing dimension as well. One went to a qualified school, got a degree or certificate, and then was granted a license to practice by some authority. This was hardly different than the trades, where (simplifying enormously) the apprenticeship was the education, your master administered the tests and attested to your skills, and then you were inducted into the guild as a peer to engage in your trade. What they all have in common is an educational process, validated by the educator, and then again by the members of the profession. The peer relationship is most visible in the trades and least in theology, which was subject to the authority of the church.
In modern times, these structures are still present and echoing in medical, legal, and other trade organizations which create a professional body to certify or license members of the profession. In this case, peers police themselves. They are, usually, highly motivated to protect the reputation of the profession and recognize that the bad actions of one reflects badly upon all.
Less present today, but not absent, are those organizations that have a hierarchy in place to qualify members. In this case a central organization is created that validates and vouches for the quality and character of its professionals. This is the common mode in religious professions and the Roman Catholic Church is the archetype. The hierarchy itself has institutional power to enforce its standards and, in theory, should maintain the quality of its member professionals.
As Pagan culture advances, we will need to find ways of validating the quality of our leadership. Should we choose to create professional organizations, and certainly some of the lineages attain to this capacity in some measure, this approach would require Pagan leaders to subject themselves to each other’s scrutiny, and be willing to accept the judgment of their peers. Our fiercely independent character, born of years of oppression, make it hard to yield to external authority.
Creating a centralized organization with the authority to control, deploy, and discipline Pagan leaders is even less likely. Seriously, would we ever do that? But it is the most direct method and available to those organizations and societies that have consolidated power. A few Pagan or para-Pagan organizations have this kind of structure and wield that kind of power over their membership, but the community as a whole would never stand for it. Overall our kind of authority structure most matches an immature and developing form of what we see richly and maturely in Hindu culture, with its highly distributed power and plural, diverse, centers of authority.
Since we are not going to put up with a centralized top-down power structure (and nor should we), and we may be a ways out from creating any kind of Pagan leader professional organization (if we ever do make one), we still have the problem of being able to vet our leadership.
The Pagan Pro scheme is to ask each leader or teacher to post their qualifications, and then have a staff member validate them though research. Did this person get trained to the level and from the person they claim? Do they have the academic education claimed? Are they members of any Pagan organizations? And so on…
The Pagan Pro organization would base and stake its reputation on the fact checking. A service like this could be a registry for leaders asserting that they follow professional standards around the treatment of students, sexual conduct, willingness to adjudicate conflicts and others. Then if they are found in violation of these principles, the breech could be published there too. More aggressively, should a Kenny Kline-type predator emerge, then they could be logged on Pagan Pro, as could any other person who failed a background check and still sought leadership status. While this is intended to be a non-judgmental resource, that may prove difficult if it does include anything other than a factual listing of a person’s claimed qualifications.
In the next months Pagan Pro will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to get the project moving. At that point you will have the opportunity to vote with your wallet communicating your opinion as to how valuable this idea is for our community. But, since we have the advantage of the blogging medium, I invite you to discuss the concept in the comments below. I’m sure Lydia Crabtree will be listening.
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Disclosure: Lydia Crabtree is the sister of Wild Hunt columnist, Crystal Blanton.Send to Kindle
“My world, my Earth is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and fought and gobbled until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first.” - Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed
A Fire in the Earth
I’m not sure what was on my mind that morning, other than hoping I could reach Columbus by nightfall, but as I drove west on I-80 through eastern Pennsylvania I started to zone out. It wasn’t until I hit Bloomsburg that I realized that I had missed the exit for I-81. I pulled off at the downtown exit with the intention of turning around, but after I got some coffee and walked around to stretch my legs a bit, I was seduced by the beautiful, sunny day and decided that, rather than head back the opposite direction on I-80, I would take the back roads southward through the country towards I-81.
I pulled out the map from under the passenger seat, which by the design and typeface looked as though it had been printed at least fifteen or twenty years earlier, and quickly found what looked like the most sensible route to take. It looked easy enough. Keep heading further down 487 towards Catawissa, where the numbered route would change to 42 and, then, continue on through Numidia and into Centralia. In Centralia, the route would then again change to 61, which would take me down through Ashland and, then, through Gordon, where I could meet up with I-81.
And yet, the town was empty. There were streets and intersections just as it showed on the map, but very few signs of civilization. Curious, I took a right turn onto what was supposed to be the main drag, and drove slowly in silent horror as the abandoned emptiness continued on and stretched all the way to the end of town. Driveway after driveway led to nothing but empty lots. Sidewalks were overgrown and obviously hadn’t been tended to in years. Mailboxes sat in front of bare foundations. The few houses that still stood literally looked terrified in the midst of their abandoned surroundings. There was not a single person in sight.
I parked the car on the side of the road and got out for a moment. There was a strange, acrid smell in the air. The silence was deafening, and yet amidst that silence I could literally hear the land screaming. The ominous feeling in my gut grew stronger by the second. I quickly became overwhelmed, got back in the car, and turned around to return back to my intended route. I looked at the map again. My faith in its accuracy was already shaken, but I needed to make sure I knew how to get out of this place. According to the map, Route 61 would take me straight out of town, and I needed to fork right just after the cemetery in order to stay on the highway.
The fork didn’t exist, however. Instead, the road forced me left, onto another road that was marked as a side-road on my map but according to the signs in front of me was now also Route 61. I glanced at the map once more, and then again at the highway in disbelief. My eyes were not playing tricks on me. The abandonment of a town, the re-alignment of a highway, something had definitely happened in this area over the years.
A few minutes down the road, I arrived at the next town, which I was relieved to find was no different than any other small Pennsylvania town, complete with buildings, people, and commerce. I parked and walked into a pizzeria and ordered a slice to go. As I was being rung up, I caught the cashier’s eye and decided to ask him about what I had just seen.
“Hey, why is the town just north of here deserted?” I asked, calmly and politely. “And is that related to why 61 is in a different place than what is marked on my map?”
He looked at me somewhat surprised, as though he couldn’t understand why anyone had to ask such a question. “You’re not from around here,” he said slowly as he handed me my change. It was a statement, not a question.
I nodded in affirmation. He continued as he started to cut my slice.
“There was a fire, its still burning. It’s a ghost town. The authorities forced just about everyone out over the past thirty years or so. There’s a few stragglers, but it’s not safe to live there and they know it. It’s dangerous to even walk around there. The ground, its hot to the touch from the fire. ”
I remembered the acrid smell in the air, but I hadn’t seen any fire. “The fire? Where’s the fire?”
“Underground,” he said, gruffly. “There’s a fire in the earth, in the mines, it started in the mines but they say it goes even deeper now. Its been burning since I was a kid. “
From the early 1800s onwards, Pennsylvania and West Virginia were at the center of the nation’s coal industry, which fueled the Industrial Age and continues to help fuel “progress” in the modern day. The first anthracite mines in Centralia opened in the 1850s, and the town became quickly populated by mine workers, who were for the most part of Irish Catholic ancestry. At its peak in 1890, nearly three thousand people lived in Centralia, and the coal deposits in the area were mined continuously until the Depression. A limited amount of mining continued through the early 1960s, right up to the time of the fire that would eventually lead to the evacuation of the entire town.
While the origin of the fire has been somewhat debated over the years, most agree that it was caused by an intentional landfill fire that was set in a former strip mine at the edge of town. The fire accidentally ignited an exposed coal shelf that extended underground to the numerous abandoned mines, some which had been dug nearly a century earlier and had long since collapsed. The fire quickly spread underground, and a few months later all of the area mines had to be permanently evacuated. It continued to spread further over the years, and by the early 1980s, residents started to experience health and other environmental effects. In 1984, Congress allocated money in order to relocate the residents of Centralia, and many residents accepted a buyout in exchange for moving to nearby towns while others stayed despite the ever-growing danger.
Nearly a decade later, thirty years after the fire started, and after four separate excavation attempts and untold millions of dollars were spent trying to put out the fire, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania decided to invoke eminent domain in order to displace the remaining residents. Aside from eight residents who fought relocation and were eventually allowed to stay until their deaths, the town has been completely abandoned. The buildings were razed, much of the infrastructure removed, and what remains is crumbling and overgrown.
Some of the trees have turned white from the fumes. The ground is so hot that in some places, a match will light if you drop it. Smoke seeps out of cracks in the earth and the smell of burning coal permeates throughout. Route 61 had to be re-routed due to cracks and fissures that appeared in the original road over time.experts believe that there are many more burning that have gone unreported. Nearly two centuries’ worth of coal mining has scarred and devastated the earth beneath our feet, and yet the mining still continues with our nation’s current need for sources of commodified energy. And from that need, the consequences remain long after the coal is gone. Massive ecological destruction and widespread unemployment and poverty remain throughout the regions of America where the mining industry once flourished.
Experts estimate that the fire beneath Centralia, Pennsylvania will be burning for the next 250 years.
Black Gold and Bleeding Veins
In addition to coal mining, nowadays we rely mostly on conventional oil drilling, hydraulic fracking, and most recently the extraction of tar sands in order to fuel our march towards “progress”, our march towards our eventual extinction as a species. Tar sands oil has been described by climate scientist James Hansen as “one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet,” and it is the extraction of tar sands from northern Alberta that is driving the push for environmentally devastating projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline.
I hear lots of talk of “the pipeline” lately, as though it was a singular entity, as though there weren’t already 2.3 million miles of pipeline laid beneath American soil. It’s a positive sign overall that the average person is finally paying attention to pipelines and, while Keystone XL is undoubtedly the most widely-publicized and controversial pipeline project in American history, the focus on Keystone XL as though it is a singularity distracts from the fact that pipelines are already everywhere, wreaking environmental damage and destruction throughout the nation.
For all you know, there could be a pipeline directly underneath your own local, sacred refuge.
Millions of miles of metal veins criss-cross the country, with black gold coursing through on the journey from source to destination. Metal veins that lie under streams, across fault lines, through watersheds, beneath farmlands and cemeteries, shoddily-built metal veins that often bleed out that black gold that runs through them, seeping out through uncountable leaks and fissures, poisoning the land we live on in the name of “profits” and “freedom.” From 2008 to 2012, pipelines beneath American soil have spilled an average of more than 3.1 million gallons of toxic liquids each year, causing at least $1.5 billion in property damage. Potentially leaky pipelines are literally in our backyards.Oregon LNG project, the Pacific Connector, and the Jordan Cove LNG terminal are intended to expedite the transport of liquefied natural gas to markets in Asia. These projects are still in the early stages of development, but the Pacific Connector project has so far received the go-ahead from the federal government.
Earlier this year, an energy company known as Williams Partners announced its intention to place a natural gas pipeline in the ground through eastern Pennsylvania in order to cheaply move liquefied natural gas (acquired by fracking) from the Marcellus Shale across the state to the Eastern Seaboard. The pipeline, dubbed ‘Atlantic Sunrise’, would stretch through eight counties on a north-south trajectory, connecting two pre-existing pipelines that run across the northern and southern ends of the state. Local residents and Native groups have mounted a significant challenge, and some local government officials are also against the project, but the project is still under review and no decisions have been made either way.
The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is slated to be built less than twenty miles to the west of the still-burning Centralia mine fire.
An “Act of War”
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would be the final section of a multi-phase pipeline system that has been under construction since 2008. The first phase, completed in 2010, delivers tar sands oil from Hardisty, Alberta through Saskatchewan and the Dakotas to Steele City, Nebraska, and then on across Missouri to refineries in Illinois. The second and third phases connect to the first pipeline in Steele City and carry the oil south through Oklahoma to a refinery in Port Arthur and Houston, Texas. The Keystone XL pipeline, which still awaits government approval, would duplicate the route from Hardisty to Steele City, but would go through Montana in order to transport Bakken crude, as well as tar sands, through the Midwest.
Keystone XL is slated to cross active seismic zones, fracking wells, the Ogallala Aquifer, and numerous indigenous lands and sacred sites. Opposition to the project has been steadily increasing among the American public. However, support for the project remains strong in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.over a thousand college students representing 80 different schools marched on Washington. Approximately 400 were arrested after they marched on the White House, with many of the protesters chaining themselves to the fence with zip-ties, and others re-creating an oil spill using black plastic sheets in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. A month later, an organization known as the Cowboy Indian Alliance, composed of tribal members, farmers and ranchers, marched on Washington, some on horseback, and held a five-day gathering near the White House in order to draw attention to their opposition of the Keystone XL pipeline and to lobby Congress. At the gathering, Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer stated that “Keystone XL is a death warrant for our people,” and he urged the U.S government to reject the pipeline and to respect Native treaty rights.
On Friday, November 14th, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline by a 252-161 vote. In response to the vote, Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Cyril Scott stated the following: “We are outraged at the lack of intergovernmental cooperation. We are a sovereign nation and we are not being treated as such. We will close our reservation borders to Keystone XL. Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people.” Scott added that, not only does the Keystone XL pipeline violate the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, but also the Sioux Nation has not been properly consulted on the project by either the U.S. government or TransCanada, who owns the Keystone Pipeline network.
Four days after the House voted to approve Keystone XL, the proposal lost by one vote in the Senate, which is currently controlled by the Democratic Party. However, the Republican Party will gain control on January 1, and the Keystone XL proposal will undoubtedly be approved next spring. Whether or not they will have enough votes to override a presidential veto has yet to be determined. In the meantime, other pipeline proposals are in the works, and alternative plans to move crude oil are already being discussed should the Keystone XL proposal fail.
Whether its Keystone XL or the Atlantic Sunrise project, a war is indeed being waged against the land; against the gods and spirits that inhabit that land; against the health and well-being of the animals and people who inhabit that land and against all life as we know it. This war is not over a cause nor a belief, it’s a war being waged in the name of greed and profit. It is a battle for the fate of the planet itself.
Our addiction to oil and gas is literally destroying our ability to live on this planet, and yet it continues undisturbed and unfettered over the objections of many, but nowhere near enough, people. Despite the limited successes of pipeline resistance movements such as the Tar Sands Blockade and Idle No More, the extraction still increases and the poisoning of the land and its people still continues at an unprecedented rate, with no end in sight.
How much more does the Earth need to burn and bleed before we change our ways? How many more towns will we be forced to be abandoned, how many more oil trains must derail, how many more pipelines must leak before finally decide that enough is enough? How many more must die, how many more must be poisoned before we finally realize that the land that we live on is more important than profit?
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This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.Send to Kindle
Pagan and mainstream are not two terms you often hear together, but they were a winning combination for a local art show in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists presented Doorways to the Underworld in a mainstream art gallery called Stevens Square Center for the Arts, Oct. 25 through Nov. 15.
The show was aimed at two audiences: Pagans who would understand the Samhain theme, and non-Pagans who were made more familiar with this spiritual path. Approximately 150 guests attended the show on opening and closing night, with an average of 50 guests attending on the other evenings that the show was open. The exhibition received positive and considerate coverage from mainstream and Pagan press.Doorways to the Underworld
As Samhain is one of the best known Wiccan holidays and has the most built in visibility and interest for the general public, the Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) decided this would be a good time to launch into the public eye. The group also felt the theme, Doorways to the Underworld, was auspicious.
Roger Williamson, one of the founders of the MCPA and also one of the artists, said, “Doorways are forms of machines that allow us to move from one reality into another. My paintings are machines that move a viewer from one realm of reality into another. In the context of the show, the Doorways of the title can be understood as machines that move us from outer to inner space, inner space generally being accepted as the region of the Underworld.”
The MCPA was formed in 2014 and consists of Roger Williamson, Ali Beyer, Helga Hedgewalker, and Paul B. Rucker. The MCPA had exhibited at last year’s Paganicon, a Pagan conference held in Minneapolis, but hadn’t yet exhibited in a more mainstream setting.
Paul Rucker says Roger Williamson, who was a long time member of the Stevens Square Center for the Arts, was instrumental in helping secure the exhibition space for the MCPA. Rucker adds that the group crafted a proposal for their debut show and were pleased it was accepted by Stevens Square Center for the Arts.Helping non-Pagans understand Samhain
The show used longer than standard descriptive labels on many of the works to help non-Pagans understand the symbolism and metaphorical language with which Pagans work. A person who has no grounding in Pagan ritual, belief systems, or traditions could understand what they were seeing. Rucker, who also exhibited at the show, said, “They can go beneath the surface of the art and grasp more of how these Pagan experiences and values shape the work. Viewing art is a form of cultural transmission that allows the viewer to learn about the artist’s intent and have a completely personal, intimate experience at the same time.”
The show has changed peoples’ perceptions about Paganism. Rucker related how a young man, who attended the closing event by chance, came away with a different view of Paganism, “He had associations with Pagan and Paganism as being about Satanism or evil, but that experiencing our show totally turned his head around.” Rucker said the young man was so enthusiastic about this experience he signed their guest book with his email, so that he could be notified about future shows.A Pagan view of the show
For Pagans, the show experience was different. Many of the Pagans attending said that the pieces spoke to them on a personal level. Penny M said, “I fell in love with Paul’s Witchfire piece at Paganicon last year and was immediately drawn to it at the show this weekend. The red, black, and gold entwined with jewel tones spoke to me. Life and death, the finality of skeletal remains with the vibrant colors. The first time I saw it I literally stopped breathing.”
Penny added that the theme of the show was appealing to her, not just because Samhain was so close, but because of what was happening in her personal life, “A close family member died recently. Art exploring the Doors to the Underworld called to me.”
Curating the show
In addition to being one of the MCPA founders and having pieces in the show, Ali Beyer was also the curator. Since the 1990s, she has worked at art galleries and museums along side curators at places such as The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Her work experience, combined with a master’s degree in fine arts, led other members of the MCPA to ask her to curate the show.
As a foundation for the show, she started with works from four members of the MCPA, and then looked for guest artists to round it out. “As curator, it was important to me to include a variety of different types of art,” said Beyer, “… I was looking for artists who self-identify as Pagan whose work was quality but who worked in different mediums than we do, and I was especially interested in finding more 3-dimensional work.”
Other guest artists included in the show included Katie Clapham’s photography, Rmay Rivard’s narrative collage-sculptures, and Alana Mari’s dance performance piece for opening night. Beyer says for future shows, she’ll look to include poetry and storytelling as well as more dance and other types of performance art.
Not only were the artists working in different mediums, but Beyer also wanted the artists to be at different points in their career. “When I saw the pottery of Ellie Bryan I was very excited to include her. She recently graduated with a BFA in ceramics from the University of Minnesota and she is also in the band Crow Call which performs regionally at Pagan events,” said Beyer. Not only was Bryan’s ceramics in the show, her band performed at the closing night event.Attendee Traci Amberbride was particularly taken with Bryan’s pottery. She said, “Ellie’s pottery is magnetic. The colors and etchings are inspired and reflective of divinity on the micro and macro level. That Ellie’s such a young artist who already has a profound voice promises many years of her offerings and the chance to watch her work grow and morph into new and inspired pieces.” Amberbride, who lives in Wisconsin, traveled to attend the closing of the show as part of her birthday celebration.
A dream come true
MCPA founder Helga Hedgewalker said her largest piece on display, “Bear Mother,” was already started when the group began discussing themes for the show. She said,”It was a happy coincidence that the painting I was currently working on fit the Underworld theme so perfectly: a priestess wearing a mask, sitting in a cave among the bones of the ancestors.” She went on to say that having a looming deadline of a show motivated her to complete the piece and she feels it’s her best painting to date. She asked Minneapolis Pagan wood-worker craftsman, Christopher Odegard, to build a special frame for her to display the piece at the show.
She says the experience was a dream come true and she enjoyed watching the expressions on peoples’ faces as they viewed the art. She says it has renewed her soul and she, “…want[ed] to deeply thank the Pagan community and everyone who took the trouble to come out and be a part of something that means so very much to me, building Pagan culture through the arts.”
The MCPA is currently looking at other mainstream venues to host other shows. They are looking mostly at universities, galleries, and art centers. Rucker says, “It’s very important for us to present our work to the general public as well as to the Pagan “in-crowd”. In fact, it’s critical to the process of legitimation for ourselves as artists who, while grounded within this specific community, are also conveying ideas about what this Pagan experience means to the larger world.”
Yesterday, the New York Court of Appeals issued its final decision in the case of the Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, Inc. v. McCoy, (The Town of Catskill, N.Y.). In a unanimous decision, the court ruled in favor of the Maetreum, thereby ending a lengthy legal struggle over property tax exemption. In reaction, Rev. Cathryn Platine told The Wild Hunt, “I’m still in shock as this has consumed my life for eight years now.”
In Tuesday’s short 3-page decision, the Court of Appeals referenced the previous 2012 judgment made by Judge Richard Platkin of the state’s Supreme Court. As noted, that earlier decision rejected the Maetreum’s petition, concluding “that the religious and charitable uses of the subject property were incidental to [the Maetreum]‘s primary, non-exempt use of providing affordable cooperative housing.” The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Town of Catskill.
However, in 2013, the Appellate Division of New York’s Supreme Court “reversed [the decision] and granted the [Maetreum's] petitions, holding that the testimony at trial by [the Maetreum]‘s witnesses demonstrated that [the Maetreum] ‘uses the property primarily for its religious and charitable purposes’ and was therefore entitled to a property tax exemption…” On Tuesday, the New York Court of Appeals agreed, saying, “The Appellate Division properly granted the petitions.”
Along with Maetreum attorney Deborah Schneer, Rev. Sister Viktoria Whittaker and her husband Gary Whittaker were in attendance at the Oct. 21 hearing at the Court of Appeals in Albany. Those arguments were summarized in an article published in the Albany Times Union. After that hearing, Rev. Whittaker told the Times-Union, “If we weren’t 100 percent sincere in this, we wouldn’t be standing here today.”
In that same article published in October, Catskill lawyer Daniel G. Vincelette explained the town’s position, saying, “It’s no more than if you or I had a crucifix or Star of David in our homes. That doesn’t entitle us to the exemption.” He also noted that the legal battle has cost the town approximately “$30,000 to $35,000″ but added that “The importance to the town isn’t dollars and cents. It’s precedent.”
After the release of Tuesday’s Court of Appeals decision, Rev. Platine told The Wild Hunt, “The town wanted to drive us out that is now impossible as there is no further legal action possible on their part.” With this new decision, the Maetreum has been automatically granted its property tax-exemption. However, like all other similar organizations, it will have to re-apply every year. Rev. Platine isn’t worried and explained that the process will now involve just “a simple form rather than the major 3 section multiple page one [they've] been forced to file every year up to now.”
While the long battle has left the organization tired and broke, Rev. Platine appeared more relieved than anything. “We won the battle,” she said enthusiastically, adding, “This will be the case cited in all future religious legal actions in the state of N.Y. That’s how important it was and it has been cited at least twice since the Appellate win already.”
Rev. Whittaker echoed Platine’s statement, saying “It was a very, very important case, not just establishing equal protection under the law for Pagans, but it also emphasized the importance of establishing and maintaining Pagan congregations in the real world.” Whittaker also emphasized the importance that her spiritual beliefs played in this journey. She said:
The Great Mother Cybele brought us to the place, made sure that we were not only able to purchase it and maintain it over the last 12 years, and also to win a lengthy and expensive court case like this. With her support and guidance, we did what few would have thought possible. Through Her, indeed, nothing is impossible. I truly feel that this is one of the most important things I have done with my life.
When asked what is next for The Maetreum of Cybele, Rev. Platine said, “Personally, I plan to return to my research writing and theology studies. The Maetreum will commit to get our community radio station on the air by April of next year and resume our charitable work once we get our financial feet under us again.”
The Town of Catskill informed us that it has not yet issued any public response or reaction to Tuesday’s ruling.
For more history on this case, go to our April 2014 report.Send to Kindle
Despite the strong countercultural thread that runs through many Pagan religions, there has long been a concurrent drive to develop the infrastructure and tools of the overculture, and turn them to our own ends. Arguments over owning land, creating seminaries, forming churches and other not-for-profits have been hashed out for decades, and this will likely be the cause of lively discourse for many years to come.
At the same time, those in the community who do forge ahead with these projects continue to speculate why one idea might flourish and another fail. For example, some posit that Pagans are too poor to support these works or perhaps too cheap. Others claim that Pagans want all the nice things but don’t wish to pay for them. Still others assert that Pagans are scarred by the experiences of their birth religions and, therefore, will not donate to any cause which promises to lift up religious hierarchies.
Online communication makes it easier to connect with donors. As a result, the internet has made older donation platforms more accessible, and allowed new ones to emerge. In recent years, crowdfunding platforms have become the method of choice to raise funds from the dispersed Pagan communities. Sites such as IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, and Kickstarter have not only helped individuals secure funding for everything from burial expenses to pilgrimages, but they have also become invaluable to organizations such as The Wild Hunt, which is bankrolled by its annual online fund drive. Indeed, the egalitarian nature of crowdfunding makes it a popular way to promote a cause or rally community members to support one of their own.
Crowdfunding sites provide tools for social engagement and promotion, making them the media darlings that garner a lot of visibility. One aspect of these platform’s popularity is that, for the most part, they do not discriminate about the worthiness or the motivation for a campaign. If someone can successfully promote making potato salad, it does not matter if that someone is an individual or a corporation; or whether that someone is seeking profit or not. This is particularly beneficial to the individual, because many other sources of money are closed to all but non-profits, which have the blessings of the national government. Here in the United States that means the approval under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Dusty Dionne marketing director for the Aquarian Tabernacle Church said that when it comes to raising money “we as Pagans can’t hold your immortal soul up against your wallet — we have to give you something in return.” To that end, ATC’s founder Pete Pathfinder was always seeking things that could be given in return for donations, such as cookbooks and The Other People, which took the text of an Oberon Zell article and transformed it into a parody of a Chick tract. Dionne said, “My job is to find something to give you, the Pagan,” in return for a donation.
During the last two years of his life, Pathfinder “grew increasingly concerned with the financial stability of the church,” Dionne recalled, and he spent considerable time “finding ways to raise money without badgering the community and trying to make them feel that it was their responsibility only.” Aware that many organizations don’t successfully transition beyond the founder’s death, Dionne is now focused on finding as many revenue streams as possible for the ATC.
Those include passive revenue streams, such as Kroger Community Rewards and Amazon Smile. The latter is a portal set up by Amazon.com that allows shoppers to direct 5% of their sales to a not-for-profit. and the former is a similar program for customers of Kroger’s and Fred Myers, which are regional grocery stores. Corporations benefit from such programs by creating goodwill in the community, providing tax write-offs, and increasing brand loyalty. Often the store’s presumed support of a particular cause alters shopping habits to match.
Another church which avails itself of the Amazon Smile program is the Maetreum of Cybele, which has long been raising money for an interminable court battle over the tax-exempt status of its property in the town of Catskill, New York. Neither the Maetreum nor the ATC has seen a lot of money streaming in from this source. Dionne said that ATC’s first check was for thirteen dollars and, according to Reverend Catherine Platine, “It yields a small amount of donations but also allows us to purchase for the Maetreum items from Amazon with a cash back. We haven’t really promoted them outside occasional reminders on our FB page.”
PayPal’s Giving Fund (formerly eBay’s Mission Fish) is an independent 501c3 organization that helps for-profit businesses set-up and maintain similar giving programs. Non-profits can register with the program in order to be listed as a potential recipient of donations. Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) has been a registered recipient with this program for several years and has received small donations through eBay purchases.
Corporations do other kinds of giving as well, such as those listed in the Whole Foods community giving program, which isn’t restricted to non-profits. In-kind donations of products and services can often be obtained through a conversation with a local store manager, or by completing a simple application, but typically some amount of advance notice is required. CoG took advantage of this program for its 2014 Merry Meet event in Atlanta. Whole Foods donated $50.00 worth of groceries, which were used to help feed attendees at its day-long leadership workshop.
A pattern for much of this corporate largesse is that it doesn’t fully hit the company’s bottom line. In-kind donations cost less than the retail value that’s declared, and anything that can be written-off softens the fiscal blow, and is frequently encouraged by bean-counters in the back office. Passive programs, such as Amazon Smile, only generate donations based on customer sales, which may not have ever happened without those fundraising programs. Many of the largest companies may match donations made to certain charities, or have employee giving programs, which provide a convenient mechanism for those donations (in the form of payroll deduction) to translate into regular checks sent to a chosen charity.
Perhaps the most alluring employee giving campaigns are those set up by the government itself, because there are a lot of people employed in public service. Mistakenly called “United Way campaigns,” because that charity was once the only administrator of such programs, these campaigns are generally created under the auspices of a governing body, but operate independently of it.
For example, in New York, a program called the State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA) is run by a council of state employees and retirees, who divide the state into a number of regions, which are then managed by local volunteer committees. Each of those regions hires a fiscal manager – a non-profit organization – to work with the local committee in order to promote the campaign and ensure that the donations end up where they’re intended.
These programs have certain advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that it’s easy to receive a donation from employees of that government. But on the down side, if that government makes decisions which are unpopular with its employees,such as pay freezes and layoffs, it could impact what given. Donations can also dry up if employees feel that the charity is reflecting well upon an undeserving boss. In other words, these programs can be terribly political.
There are many local governments with campaigns, and about twenty states have them. However, the biggest one is the combined Federal campaign due to the large number of people who can potentially be reached. However, these campaigns all have different application standards and reporting requirements, which may not be worth the effort if there aren’t employees standing by ready to donate to a cause. The first step that any organization should take, with regards to government programs, is to find out how many members or supporters actually work for the body in question.
Even if all the necessary hoops are jumped through, donations are rarely received from anyone who isn’t actually asked to give one. No matter the size or structure of the organization, regardless of what tools are available for raising money, and whether or not that money is going to a non-profit or just someone trying to deepen a personal spiritual practice, there’s never going to be anything that replaces the need to ask.Send to Kindle
On Nov. 8, the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Inc. (CUUPS) has announced its new structure and officers. Long time member, David Pollard, was hired as executive director, and the organization welcomed Jessica Gray, Maggie Beaumont and Martha Kirby Capo to the new board. Nominations are being sought for the position left open by Pollard. The organization says, “If you are a currently paid member of CUUPS for a year and would like to serve on the board please contact President, Amy Beltaine.” CUUPS is also in the middle of their revisioning process, which was put into place in order “to identify our common principles and values, create a shared sense of identity and purpose among Pagan-friendly UUs and UU-friendly Pagans, and develop a mission and vision for CUUPS for the next ten years.”
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On Nov. 11, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, suffered a severe brain hemorrhage and was in intensive care. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, poet, author and peace activist. When the news was announced, Asa West, writer of the new Patheos Pagan Channel blog Shekinah Calling: Reclaiming Witchcraft with a Jewish Twist, offered a healing blessing in her second blog post. She discusses the energy of mindfulness and healing work in the Buddhist tradition, as requested in the announcement concerning the Zen Master’s condition. West adds, “I hope Thich Nhat Hanh makes a full recovery. May all beings be happy, well, and safe from harm.” The worldwide call for meditative energy healing may have worked. Reports are now indicating that Thich Nhat Hanh condition is stable and he is on his way to recovery.
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The Fairy Investigation Society has published a new survey asking people to record any encounters they’ve had with fairies, as well as opinions and experiences on the subject. F.I.S. explains, “The Fairy Census is an attempt to gather, scientifically, the details of as many fairy sightings from the last century as possible and to measure, in an associated survey, contemporary attitudes to fairies. The census was inspired by an earlier fairy census carried out by Marjorie Johnson and Alasdair Alpin MacGregor in 1955/1956, a census that was published in 2014.” The survey and more about the organization can be found on their website.
In other news:
- The Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) has published a statement “denouncing Irminfolk as racist” based on the Irminfolk bylaws. The HUAR statement reads, “We denounce them for their blatantly obvious support for such ideas, and we move that all members of Heathens United Against Racism disassociate with the organization, its officers, representatives, events, functions, and all affiliates.” The statement in its entirety can be read online as well as the Irminfolk bylaws.
- A video taken at Margot Adler’s memorial service has been posted on You Tube. The video includes speakers, tributes and songs. The memorial was held on All Souls Unitarian Church in NYC, on All Hallows’ Eve 2014.
- Circle Sanctuary’s Pagan Spirit Gathering has launched is registration for its summer festival 2015. This will mark PSG’s 35th year. Rev. Selena Fox said, “I am thankful to all who have contributed to PSG and its community over the years. This is the earliest we have opened PSG registration — we hope that this will give us more time to share ideas and plan for PSG 2015.” The event will be held at Stonehouse Farm in Northern Illinois from June 14-21.
- Courtney Weber, organizer of the Pagan Environmental Coalition – NYC, has announced the upcoming publication of her book Brigid: History, Mystery and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. Due out May 2015, the book is already listed on Amazon for pre-sale. Weber is also planning a book tour.
- The Universal Society of Ancient Ministry is celebrating the acceptance of its trademark, including the phrase Pagans in Need and PIN. Gerrybrete Leonard, CEO and HPS, wrote, “One year ago Universal Society of Ancient Ministry absorbed Pagans In Need to run under the Churches 501(c)3 … This now means that we can now publish and print our name with legal support.” The organization has also recently launched its Toys for Yule holiday giving program. Information can be found on its website.
That is all for now. Have a nice day.
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On Oct. 28, Time magazine published an article called “Why Witches on TV Spell Trouble in real life.” It was part of the avalanche of articles on Witches and Witchcraft that typically appear in October. As suggested by the title, the article’s intent was to examine the social factors surrounding the popularity of TV witches. After publication, Time and the writer, Jennie Latson, were hit with a wave of backlash from Pagans and Witches.
The article contains two sentences that became the target of those reactions. The first is a quote from Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University. He writes, “Witches, like terrorists, ‘threaten to wipe out everything you believe in.’ The article’s second offending sentence is “The difference, of course, is that terrorists are real, while witches are not.”
On Oct. 30, Silver Ravenwolf published a brief response:
I am shaking my head. I am wondering what rock these people are crawling out from under. How about you actually take the time to interview a real Witch, to live their life for 30 days, and then I dare you to come back and tell me that I’m a terrorist.
Jason Mankey posted a longer response titled “Dear Time magazine, Witches are Real!” on his blog Raise the Horns. His tempered response included:
I don’t think Ms. Latson’s article was intentionally insulting. She was simply trying to rationalize the explosion of Witch-themed shows on cable television. Fair enough, that’s the kind of article we all expect this time of year, but her execution was exceedingly poor.
Adam Osborne of Salisbury, North Carolina began a change.org petition asking Time magazine to apologize. He wrote,”The article, although seemingly benign, puts Pagans and those who practice witchcraft in a bad light, and could encourage others to “punish” us as they would deem fit.” The petition has received 5,078 supporters to date.
While Pagans sent angry tweets to both the magazine and writer, several online media outlets reported on rising tension. The International Business Times wrote, “Many practicing Wiccans were not amused, and some accused the magazine of comparing witches to terrorists.” The Inquisitor published an opinion piece on the subject and Religion Dispatches posted a reaction from religion professor Joseph Laycock. On Nov. 10, Latson linked to that response in a tweet:
— Jennie Latson (@JennieLatson) November 10, 2014
Although the backlash was notable, Pagan reactions were not uniform, and many felt the article wasn’t a problem. Osborne’s petition has yet to receive the requested number of signatures. Why? Because the Latson article focused on fictional witches and the legends surrounding Salem. When she said, “Witches aren’t real,” she was referring to the type of witch found in most Hollywood representations (e.g., Maleficent,2014; Witches,1990; The Chronicles of Narnia, 2005).
The word witch is, and has always been, a very loaded term. Outside of fictional representations, the word has many meanings, each of which evokes a very different culturally-dependent reaction. When someone says “witch” in a small Nigerian village, the meaning is entirely different from a person using the word while relaxing at Treadwell’s Bookshop in London. It means something different within the walls of the Vatican than it does at a Pagan Pride event in California. And, it means something different today than it did 100 or 500 years ago. Contextuality is everything when using the word “witch.”
Considering the reactions, Latson’s article failed to adequately contextualize its subject matter in order to avoid criticism. The sentence “Witches are not real” was not encased in language that demonstrated an understanding or sensitivity to the term’s varied contemporary usage. This resulted in outrage.
Limiting her statement to Hollywood cinematic language, Latson’s statement about witches is mostly true. However, the article makes other claims, beyond those two statements, that prove problematic from a cinematic and historical viewpoint. The article suggests that fictional witches are more popular during times of trouble. This statement is not supported by film research. As with the word “witch” itself, the iconic meaning of the cinematic witch needs better contexualization in order to understand its popularity.
…may have its roots in the post-9/11 panic over terrorism and what could be seen as a Salem-like erosion of civil rights in the name of security — or, more recently, in the revelations that the National Security Agency seems to be spying on ordinary citizens as stealthily as neighbors spied on neighbors in colonial Salem
However, fictional witches were not only popular in times of trouble. Witches were prolific in American films at the turn of century because filmmakers, who wanted to showcase a new entertainment product, used popular stories, such as fairy tales and histories, to draw in audiences (e.g, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1910; In the Days of Witchcraft, 1913; Joan the Woman, 1917). Similarly, witches were popular in times of economic stability such as the 1950s and 1990s.
Film scholars believe the popularity of witches is less about social instability and more about the negotiation of gender roles. When discussing witch films, theorists focus on female agency and sexuality. As noted by Tanya Krzywinska in A Skin for Dancing in, “Witchcraft [in film] has become a language of resistance to the cultural norms of femininity…” (Krzywinska, p.117) These norms include beauty, family roles, career paths and power held within society.
While this very specific cinematic codification is consistent across time, it doesn’t explain everything. The use of the filmic witch as an icon of radical femininity is wholly dependent on time and genre. In the 1920s, when women were experiencing unprecedented social freedom, witches nearly disappeared from the American screen. In 1934, witches returned as the Depression took hold and traditional family structures were celebrated. At the very same time, the Catholic-based censorship office began its control of the Hollywood production (e.g., The Wizard of Oz, 1939; Spitfire,1934; Maid of Salem, 1937). In this case, witches were an example of what not to be.
By the 1970s and after the social revolution, the horror film began incorporating versions of the witch figure. In these films, the focus is more on aberrant female sexuality than conventional social roles (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; Carrie,1976; Witches of Eastwick, 1987; The Craft, 1996). And, in today’s market, the narrative positioning of the Hollywood witch trope has changed again as society plays with the acceptance of non-traditional cultural modalities. This can be seen in thematic and narrative complexities playing out in recent shows such as Salem, American Horror Story: Coven, the Witches of East End and others.
In addition, most discussions of cinematic witches, like the Time magazine article, fail to take race into account. Most Hollywood cinematic witches are white. The female, brown-skinned witch has a very different role and cinematic meaning within Hollywood language. Analysis of this type of witch reveals threads of racism, colonialism and the unfettered objectification of the “other” (e.g., The Devil’s Daughter, 1939, The Crucible, 1996; Salem, 2014) This is an entirely different story.
The popularity, or the lack of popularity, of the witch in TV and cinema proves to be as complicated as the use of the term “witch” itself. In both cases, scholarship is not complete without acknowledging those complexities even on a small scale. Muddling this matter further are the many blurred lines between the various meanings – both fictional and real. There are shared details, such as black hats, cauldrons, magical work, healing and aspects of the Occult, that underlie our cultural understanding of the witch. These elements are often what lead to frustration and anger for those that identify as modern-day real Witches. Many people, non-Witches, don’t or can’t see the distinctions between the purely cinematic and fictional, the historical legends, the accusations in Africa, and the real, genuine practice of Witchcraft around the globe.
UPDATE 11/17/14: Prof. Emerson Baker, who was quoted in the original Time article, did issue his own apology on his site for the confusions that were generated by Latson’s story.Send to Kindle
In my previous article describing my experiences with Paganism in Australia, particularly in the state of Victoria, I mentioned that the local Pagans, who I have talked to, are interested in exploring Aboriginal culture and spirituality. American readers also seemed interested in hearing more about this subject as well. As I have mentioned, this subject presents some special challenges. Today, I explore some of those challenges.
While we use the term ‘Aboriginal’ to refer to the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands, we ought to remember that there has never been a single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. The broad term includes 900 regional groups with distinct languages, beliefs, and practices.
British colonisation of Australia began with the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay in 1788. We don’t know with certainty how large the Aboriginal population was at that time. Some ecologists estimate it may have been 750,000 to a million (1). What followed is the familiar story of colonialism and colonisation: the spread of virulent diseases, the appropriation of land and water resources, the introduction of alcohol, opium, and tobacco, violence, exploitation, dispossession, the spread of European settlements, forced religious conversion, the establishment of racist institutions, and the general obliteration of the languages, literature and culture of native peoples.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, by 1900 the recorded Indigenous population of Australia had declined to approximately 93,000 and the belief that the Indigenous Australians would soon die out was widely held. While Australians are well aware of what happened next, most Americans know little about the Stolen Generation.
Up until as recently as the 1970s, the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments removed Indigenous children from their families. Newspaper articles, reports, and other documents suggest that motivations included child protection and fear over the mixing of racial groups. Aboriginals were referred to as blacks (they still are) and the government wanted to “breed out the colour by elevating female half-castes to white standard with a view to their absorption by mating into the white population” (2).
In Australia: A Biography of a Nation, Phillip Knightley wrote:
This cannot be over-emphasized—the Australian government literally kidnapped these children from their parents as a matter of policy. White welfare officers, often supported by police, would descend on Aboriginal camps, round up all the children, separate the ones with light-coloured skin, bundle them into trucks and take them away. If their parents protested they were held at bay by police.
The exact number of children removed is unknown, but the Bringing Them Home Report stated that “not one family has escaped the effects of forcible removal”.
On 13 February 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology to Indigenous Australians.Overview of Australian Indigenous health status confirms what many can imagine. Aboriginals live in remote communities, and have poorer health, lower education, greater problems with alcohol abuse, earn less, are at greater risk for self-harm and suicide, and die sooner than non-Indigenous persons.
It’s a bleak picture, but it’s not a hopeless one. A great number of Australians care very much about the state of Aboriginal people and there are many private and public efforts to improve Aboriginal health and well-being as well as promote reconciliation.
As I mentioned above, there is no single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. I use the term “Aboriginal spirituality” only for convenience. How to pin-point it? We can talk about the creation, ancestral, and totemic beings, but that misses the point. There is next to nothing I can tell you about what’s left of Aboriginal ceremonies because I am not privy to them. It is “secret business” as one reader commented in my last piece. What we’re really talking about is culture and one that is inextricably tied to the land.
Aboriginal Australian groups had a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land. Their forcible removal by European settlers severed them from the cultural and spiritual practices necessary to maintain the cohesion and well-being of the group. All the Dreaming stories, the tales of timeless time, tell significant truths within each Aboriginal group’s local landscape and these establish the structure of their societies, the rules of behaviour, and the ceremonies performed to ensure continuity of life and land.
Many Aussie Pagans would love to have greater access to Aboriginal wisdom. I’ve met one Pagan man that traveled to remote areas of Australia and spent time with some Aboriginals and learned a great deal. There are opportunities to visit cultural centres, public events, and there’s volunteering. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult and there is an invisible line in the sand. Aborigines are distrustful, and who can blame them. Australians are sensitive to the plight of Aborigines and often paralyzed by a sense of helplessness. I rarely hear Pagans here talk of cultural appropriation, but they all know what it means and they know Aboriginal spirituality is mostly off limits.
In Australia, we’re often working with inherited materials from the Northern Hemisphere that don’t always apply well. That’s why I love the science and technology publications from CSIRO and why one of my favourite Pagan bloggers down under is Inga Leonora at Australis Incognita who studies native Australian Flora and Fauna in her Craft. I’ve taken up bird-watching, which gets me out in nature and has helped me learn more about the native wildlife and the seasonal shifts through their migration and breeding patterns.
In the U.S., Pagans balance the myths and rites of a foreign Pagan religion with those of the land we inhabit. It’s no different here in Australia. The best way to learn about native spirituality is to learn about native land.
- Neil Thomson, pp153, “Indigenous Australia: Indigenous Health” in James Jupp (ed), The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their Origins, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- C. E. Cook to Administrator of the Northern Territory, 7 February 1933, National Archives of Australia, Commonwealth Records Series, Department of the Interior file A659/1; 1940/1/408
Cultural appropriation is not a new issue and definitely not new within Paganism. The story of American capitalism has created a strong foundation for what has continued to be one of the most important, and yet challenging, discussions underlying the modern Pagan experience. Conversations of cultural appropriation reach outside of the boundaries of this spiritual world and intersect with various other aspects of our everyday society, leaving a complex web to untangle.
For example, the New Age sector’s use of various aspects of Native American* cultures, as well as the selling or misappropriating of that culture, has continued to drum up controversy. Indian Country Today Media Network recently published an article called Selling the Sacred, exploring the objectifying of Native religious and cultural “secrets” in New Age arenas. The article highlights several places that claim to certify people as Shamans or even award a Masters Degree in Native American Shamanism.
There are many things to consider. When does exchange become more about honoring another culture rather than just adopting it while leaving its roots behind?
The growing eclecticism of Pagan practitioners make these distinctions more challenging to unravel. How do we determine the boundaries of respectful cultural exchange within modern Paganism when individual understandings of this concept are so vast and varied?
The complexity of exploring the nuances of cultural appropriation versus exchange are not easily defined by one set of criteria. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University – Northridge, answered questions about the layered intricacies of the often controversial concepts of appropriation and exchange.
… while on paper one can try to distinguish appropriation from exchange, in practice, it’s much more complicated. Cultures come into contact with one another in many different ways, and some of those involve violence. Nonetheless, cultural exchanges do emerge from those contacts — all the time. Think of cultural exchange as a crossroads. In folklore, the crossroads is a liminal place of magic, but it’s also a dangerous place, a place where death and destruction can happen. Crossroads deities are tricky (Eshu, Loki, Odin) and fierce (Hekate). Yet from that destruction and trickery, new life arises. It’s kind of the same with cultural contact and exchange.
Usually, when defining cultural exchange, the premise is that the two cultures entering into the exchange are on equal terms: neither is more powerful than the other. Cultural material — narratives, verbal lore, music, material culture, foodways, magical techniques — are shared as part of the process of intercultural contact. Thus, for example, when the Irish settled in New York City after fleeing the potato famine in 1848, they found that all the storekeepers in the neighborhoods where they could afford to live were Jewish. They didn’t have any lamb or pork, but they did carry Kosher corned beef. Thus, corned beef substituted the kinds of meats they had eaten in their homeland. That’s the reason we think of corned beef and cabbage as “Irish” food today — it’s really Irish American food, born of that cultural exchange.
Appropriation happens when one culture conquers another, destroys or damages their culture and substitutes its own as the dominant culture, then borrows elements of the subjugated culture, re-contextualizing them for their symbolic value.
So, for example, the destruction of Native American cultures by European Americans, followed by the use of decontextualized elements from those cultures (feather headdresses, sweat lodges, jewelry, fringed clothing, architecture styles, concepts such as “spirit animal”) as icons of authenticity or spirituality is an example of appropriation.
All this is easy on paper, but more challenging on the ground, because in reality, cultures are seldom on equal footing in terms of power. Moreover, cultural borrowing and exchange happens constantly. We are moved to adopt elements we find attractive or advantageous through a process called “mimesis” (imitation).
Attempting to keep your own culture “pure” and free of any appropriated or borrowed elements is just as noxious as free-wheeling appropriation: it leads to a kind of cultural fascism, like what we see now developing among certain kinds of right-wing, nationalist Paganisms in Eastern Europe and Russia.
Basically, avoiding blatant cultural appropriation is about respecting the feelings and rights of other cultures with which you co-exist. It’s about recognizing when there’s a history of power-over, exploitation, and cultural destruction, and being mindful of that … It’s about power dynamics — and those are frequently subtle.
In light of the complicated, interwoven and challenging prospect of analyzing what might be culturally appropriative and what might be considered respectful exchange, several other people have shared their thoughts to this complex topic. The personal insights of these practitioners show a myriad different angles and ideals that mirror such diversity in thought and practice.
Lupa Greenwolf is an author and artist that has worked with shamanic aspects in her personal practice. She is the editor of the 2012 anthology Talking About the Elephant: An Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation published by Immanion/Megalithica Press. Lou Florez is a Rootdoctor and Orisha Priest in the San Francisco Bay Area. His spiritual work focuses on the liberation of the body, and he works as a southern-style Tarot and Dillogun reader at a metaphysical shop in Oakland, California. Kenn Day is the author of several books on post-tribal shamanism, including Post-Tribal Shamanism: A New Look at the Old Ways published in 2014 by Moon Books. Janet Callahan is an author of several published works and is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Tribe.
The problem in a more practical sense is that, in the U.S. at least, there is no established shamanic path in the dominant culture, and so people who come from that culture (like me) have to choose either to try to shoehorn ourselves into an indigenous culture that we may not be welcome in let alone be trained in, or research cultures of our genetic ancestors and find that we are no more *culturally* German, or Slavic, or Russian than we are Cherokee or Dine’. Or we take a third road, which is to try to piece together from scratch some tradition that carries the same basic function as a shamanic practice in another culture, but which is informed by our own experiences growing up in the culture we happened to be born into.
As to how to realistically avoid appropriation to the best of your ability, while also honoring your own need for spirituality and the spirits/community you serve? A lot of it is a matter of educating yourself on where you’re coming from versus the origins of the traditions you may be inspired by, and how your own cultural experiences inform your own practice of similar-but-not-the-same traditions. One of the problems I have with core shamanism is that it claims to be “culturally neutral”, or at least a lot of the practitioners thereof claim it is. And that’s basically impossible. Your culture ALWAYS affects how you approach everything, from spirituality to communication to food. So try to be a shaman of your own culture, not of someone else’s (unless specifically invited).
I think the biggest problem is when non-indigenous people wholesale take indigenous practices, and then claim to be indigenous themselves. That’s part of what makes it tougher for people who are genuinely trying to create a practice for themselves while remaining as culturally sensitive as possible, because we get lumped in with those who outright lie about who they are. So you need to be honest and clear about where your practices come from and what inspired them, what’s your own creation and what came from others.
I’ve had people tell me everything from “You shouldn’t use the word ‘shaman'” to “You shouldn’t use a drum with a real hide head” to “You shouldn’t work with hides and bones at all”, all because I’m a European mutt. For a while I kept backing up and backing up and acquiescing to whoever criticized me–and then I realized that if I gave in to every criticism, I’d have no practice left at all. So I very carefully reviewed what my practice entailed, did my best to claim that which I created myself while also being honest about how other cultures’ practices inspired me, and that’s where I drew my line, where I would back up no farther. I don’t consider myself a neoshaman any more, mostly because I don’t use specifically “shamanic” practices like journeying, and use the term “naturalist pagan” for what I currently practice, but I still work with hides and bones, I still have my totemic practice, all in ways that I have developed for myself over the years. – Lupa Greenwolf, Author
The history of cultural appropriation makes me more cautious when I encounter a new group or teacher or situation. I ask more questions about what is planned, look more at the history of who they’ve learned from, and so on. I want to make sure I’m not walking into a situation I can’t ethically support.
I think people really need to do their homework. They need to understand not just the physical aspects of a practice, but the bigger picture in terms of culture and language and what is really going on (and to do that, frequently you realize it’s not actually possible to take it out of context).
My immediate family is not “Traditional” (which is generally used to mean those who follow tribal ways rather than being Christian and otherwise following white ways), but portions of my extended family are. And what I understand now, that I think is lost outside of the culture, is that religion/spirituality and culture are woven together. They are not separate entities. And that means that taking something out of context loses much of the value of it. – Janet Callahan, Author
As the framework of culture continue to evolve and change, so does the black and white definition of what constitutes appropriation. The context of how something is regarded, shared, explored or used may vary within different cultures and different time frames. This means there is not a clear definition of what is and is not an acceptable with regards to the use of elements from another culture. Context is everything.
Instead we are left with a list of considerations that should be given to cultures, people and histories that are not our own, and a level of awareness that reminds us that everything is not open property just because we wish it to be so. Releasing the conditioning of post-colonialism in America reminds us that everything is not ours to take, everything is not ours to sell and everything is not free. What prices are paid when cultural treasures are taken from a people?
Kenn Day spoke to the complexity of learning to navigate our relationships with living cultures. He said, “These living cultures can be dealt with respectfully in much the same way as many modern seekers have approached native traditions of shamanism, by approaching them with humility and asking to learn from the lore keepers of that people. This means recognizing that their traditions are not yours to take. They can be gifted, but even then they remain within the territory of that people. It is demeaning to have elements of your culture taken out of context and displayed for the entertainment of those outside your community.”
How do we as modern Pagans respectfully exchange with other spiritual cultures? What are we giving in exchange for the knowledge that we gain and using for our own spiritual experiences? How can we respect the context, culture, history and people of the cultures we are exchanging with? All of these are questions that should be evaluated on an ongoing basis within any spiritual community that is growing and evolving.
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*Author’s note: I am very aware that many of the different names and labels, which are commonly used to refer to the indigenous of this land, come with traces of colonialism. Since there is no universally-respected term that can possibly fit all native indigenous/Native American/American Indians/First Peoples, I want to acknowledge this fact and communicate my sincere desire to be respectful.Send to Kindle
Minneapolis Witch Tasha-Rose knows the power of belly dance and how it can transform. She’s hoping to use that transformational energy to help at-risk girls break the poverty cycle through the empowerment found in learning a cooperative dance style know as American Tribal Style belly dance. To achieve this goal, Tasha-Rose has formed a group called Our Dancing Daughters and is seeking funding for a larger studio space and for scholarships for young women in need.Kamala Chaand Dance Company, turns to crowdfunding to raise the initial funds needed to launch the program.
While Our Dancing Daughters is not a religious organization, Tasha-Rose is assisted by a board made up all Pagans and Witches. Board members include LaDonna Bartol, Laurie “Remedy” Howard, Breana Larson, and Becky Munson, with Tasha-Rose as the Executive Director.
So far they have raised $1,314 of their $10,000 goal on their GoFundMe site. Stacie Braford, who made a donation to Our Dancing Daughters, says, “This is an awesome thing you are doing! Love it. I wish we’d had access to something like this when I was young.”
The Wild Hunt talked to Tasha-Rose about her plans for Our Dancing Daughters, how her Pagan ethics guides her in this project, and why she believes this could be a valuable resource for at-risk teen girls.
Cara Schulz: Why did you start Our Dancing Daughters? What was the inspiration?
Tasha-Rose: Our Dancing Daughters is a concept I have had for a lot of years. I have daughters and it initially started as a way to get daughters dancing with their mothers. Slowly it evolved in concept to where we are now.
CS: How will Our Dancing Daughters have a positive impact on at-risk young women?
TR: Our Dancing Daughters is designed to teach young women to dance cooperatively using the American Tribal Style format that I and two of my troupe mates are certified in. There is so much emphasis put on at-risk youth that they are on their own. We want them to learn interdependence. Additionally we are all taking crisis intervention training eventually, in order to better mentor these girls. Other components will be financial literacy, education accountability and getting into college. We hope to team up with other groups on occasion as well, namely The Emily Project, for education on healthy body image.
CS: Paganism and non-western styles of dance seem to go together. Why do yo think that is?
TR: I think it has a lot to do with the ability to trance out in this dance form. In ATS you have to be in the moment and communicating with the others dancers. That in itself is a form of trance I feel.
CS: How do your religious ethics come into play with this effort?
TR: My religious ethics have everything to do with this. I believe firmly in helping people to achieve their greatest self whenever possible. It can sound selfish I suppose, like I’m seeking accolades, but really I’m not. Self-empowerment comes from oneself. No one can do that work for anyone else, though I believe it’s each of our duties to be instrumental in the lives following ours, to make for a better world. Altruistic? Maybe. But I do what I can anyway.
CS: Who is Our Dancing Daughters open to and how will you assess eligibility for scholarships?
TR: We will open our applications up to anyone who wants to apply. There will be some focus on family income, since this program is in part focused on breaking the poverty cycle through empowerment. We will also be asking for teacher recommendations, hold a panel interview and ask that they write an essay for us. It isn’t necessarily only about those of limited financial means, however. There are young ladies from wealthier families who may not have involved parents and are suffering. We want to reach them, too.
CS: How long is your funding effort going on? How are the grant seeking efforts going?
TR: We have been working on raising funds for about 4 months now. We are just over 10% funded. We don’t have to raise the whole of it though, which is nice. Our grant research has opened lots of doors for us.There are lots of people who love to give money to projects like ours. We have two of our Executive Board going to a grant information meeting tonight in fact.
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Tasha-Rose says the organization is at a major crossroads right now. Next week they have the opportunity, through the East Side Arts Council, to get into Washington High School to teach American Trial Style dance for a week. Tasha says, “It’s a really big foot in the door that we are all really excited about.”Send to Kindle
This editorial was originally slated to be published two weeks ago, on the last day of our fund drive and a few days after Jason announced his retirement. However, life happened. As a result, we had to move with the news and not with our own agenda. I consider this a “take two” or perhaps even a “take three.” I have lost count. So before time escapes anymore and the world is lost beneath a flurry of silver solstice cheer, I now squeeze this article into the rotation. Please sit back and relax as I welcome you to join us as The Wild Hunt begins its new journey…
I remember as a child standing in the expansive LAX airport, tears rolling down my face, as we readied to board a jumbo jet and to wave goodbye to my grandparents. The pain of leaving was always oppressive. The bonds, which had been forged over a week’s vacation in sunny California, were now stretching, buckling and tearing under the weight of those goodbyes. Before stepping out into the jetway, my grandmother would always kneel down and hug me one last time. I would muddle out a little “goodbye” between sobs and, she would always say back, “This is not goodbye, Heather. This is just a ‘see you later.'”
This concept is particular powerful at this time of year, as the veil thins and we honor our dead. As one road ends, another is always waiting. The memories and imprints of past journeys, good or bad, remain with us as we embark on new roads. The past becomes the archives of our lives – ready to guide, ready to remind, ready to influence. Although it may be hard to let go and frightening to continue, the journey does continue.
After landing back in New York City and returning to my daily routine, I carried with me the memories of our California vacation. I remember picking lemons off the tree while listening to my grandparents’ tales of working in Hollywood during its golden era. I remember my grandfather’s woodshed and my grandmother’s bright pink lipstick. Memories of those summer days made my childhood richer and stronger. They undeniably shaped my future. Furthermore, the bonds between us never broke no matter how far we traveled; even beyond the veil.
So here I am, at Samhain, facing another transition. The Wild Hunt has said goodbye to its founder and turned its attention to a new era. For me, this change is quite profound. Samhain not only marks my transition to full-time editor but also my start as a weekly Wild Hunt writer. My first article, an interview with actor Mark Ryan, was posted Oct.27 2012. Now, almost exactly two years later, I find myself taking on the role of steering this crazy ship or, better yet, leading this proverbial “wild hunt.” As it has always been for me, Samhain brings ends and beginnings.
When I started writing for The Wild Hunt, Jason said, “Write a post introducing yourself.” I never did. So I suppose this will serve partly as my introduction. Who will be managing The Wild Hunt going forward? Being a Gemini that is an extremely complicated question. What day is it?
Perhaps you would prefer to know what led me to Paganism? Last year, I was asked to write that story as a guest blog post and can still be read online. It has something to do with Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, high school angst, social anarchy and Manhattan.
What I can say now, in clarity, is that it all started with that book – The Heart of Darkness. There in that place, where all the social constructs are gone, there is nothing but raw, unbridled, animalistic humanity – body and blood, love and lust, hate and rapture, and spirit. It is the elemental point of beginnings. It is only from that point that we can see the world for what it is – a stack of cards. It is only from that point we can see ourselves, explore our past and find our motivation. It is honesty at a critical level. Deep within the Heart of Darkness, we are pure. Coming out from that space is the journey of a lifetime – and it just may blow your mind.
So let me begin at Samhain 2012. When Jason first asked me to contribute, I was very surprised. “Who Me? Why? Are you certain that you dialed the correct phone number?”
Do I really need to elaborate on how Jason’s invitation presented a very welcome change?
Now exactly two years have passed and the best part of the entire experience has been in the learning. Before writing for The Wild Hunt, I was only moderately aware of the myriad colors, details and diversity present within the collective communities for whom we write. I did not personally know anyone practicing Asatru, or a Polytheism or Hellenic Reconstructionalism. Now I work with one of each. You can’t get that writing publicity materials for wireless corporations – at least not yet.
Last spring, when Jason asked me to take over as editor, I was equally surprised – honored but surprised. Stepping into the editor’s role brings with it new obstacles that will, no doubt, be difficult and, at times, grueling. However I’m willing to stand in that space and take up the reins, because I know that the work will ultimately be rewarding for me personally, for our writers and for our readers.
While the entire staff was sad to see Jason leave, we recognize and embrace the need for change – both his and ours. We are collectively thankful to him for providing us with the opportunity to be a part of this wild journey.
On Samhain, we finally closed that door and, in doing so, I was reminded of my grandmother’s words: “See you later.” Although one era is over, the cycle of influence never ends. Jason has left an enduring legacy and a strong foundation here. That influence remains no matter where he travels next or where we go. In that way, our “goodbye” is only a ‘see you later.’
This year’s fall funding drive was a huge success. With your generosity and help, we reached our goal in just two weeks and, then, far exceeded it. Thank you. All of those donations and words of support have empowered us to maintain and hopefully expand our work. Our columnists will be returning at their regular times to explore and discuss the issues of the day. Our two weekly staff writers will be covering the news as it happens. Next month, we will be welcoming our eighth and final weekend columnist, who will be focusing on the issues and subjects important to the youngest members of our communities – the college and high school students.
As editor, I will strive to uphold the ethical standards, sensitivity and substance, which has been the hallmark of The Wild Hunt. Our mission will not change. We will aim to provide a broad spectrum of news and poignant commentary as we have always done since The Wild Hunt‘s inception as one man’s blog and through its evolution into a respected independent news organization.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for supporting us. And most importantly…see you later.Send to Kindle
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — In a move that has raised eyebrows — and some ire — in the online Catholic community, Loyola University of Chicago recognized a student group that promotes Paganism. The club was approved by the university’s student government, a step which is necessary in many colleges to become eligible for funding and for the use of school buildings, not the school’s administration. When the administration became aware of its existence, the club was told to remove “Pagan” from its name. Administrators were apparently unaware of the new club until the story was picked up by the national news site The College Fix.
I started the club in the hopes of letting people know that there are Pagan students on campus. My friend and VP is a Celtic pagan and he and I both wanted this club to at least acknowledge our existence, even if we didn’t make it past the initial interview stage.The upper administration had little to do with the original process and only came into the picture after the [College] Fix article alerted them of our existence.
Kreider, who also serves as an interfaith advocate on campus, didn’t share much with The Wild Hunt, citing a desire to “tread lightly” and a heavy school workload. In an email to The College Fix about the club, she shared some of her vision:
Loyola’s mission states that, ‘seeking God in all things’ is one of the main [tenets] of the university. While the mission primarily focuses on the Abrahamic God, there is no reason a Pagan student (or a Hindu, Baha’i or Sikh student) cannot seek using his or her own faith, regardless of which god they are doing it for.
Loyola University Chicago is one of 175 run by the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, of which Pope Francis is a member. The school is named for the Jesuits’ founder, Ignatius Loyola. Kreider’s remarks resulted in a firestorm of comments, articles and posts online, especially attached to that original story.
While some equated Pagan religions to Satanism or defended those faiths, a larger number of the posts speak to the internal conflicts within Christianity itself. Based on the comment threads, Roman Catholicism is deemed suspect by many other Christians, in part because of the veneration of saints and the Virgin Mary, which critics equate with Pagan idolatry. Defenders of Paganism, using well-worn arguments about the Pagan symbolism underlying many Christian festivals, have been met with agreement from those who wish to denounce Catholicism as a tool of the Devil. Here’s a typical anti-Catholic diatribe from another Christian in the thread:
The Catholic cult is the largest organization of homosexuals, pedophiles and anti-christs on this earth. Their doctrine is pagan and the Word of God identifies them with over 20 points of identification that THEY ARE INDEED THE BEAST OF REVELATION AND DANIEL. –Jennifer Chronister
University officials appear to be treading lightly themselves in this case. In response to inquiries by The Wild Hunt, spokesperson Steven Christensen provided the same statement given to The College Fix. Here is that response in its entirety:
I can confirm that the Pagan Student Alliance was granted recognition by the Department of Student Activities and Greek Affairs (SAGA), which is a unit within the Division of Student Development, on October 9, 2014. Requests to form new student organizations are accepted at the beginning of each semester, and a number of factors are considered before recognition is granted to an organization. Those factors do not require a potential organization to identify with the religious views of the University.
Following the SAGA approval, other leaders within Student Development expressed concerns related to the organization’s name, and the breadth and lack of definition of its constitution. During the week of October 13, the president and vice president of the Pagan Student Alliance met with Student Development leadership regarding these concerns and the group agreed to modify the name of the organization to the Indigenous Faith Traditions Alliance. As with all student organizations, a clear sense of purpose is required, and the group has been asked to further define their purpose on campus. The group has agreed to this request.
Related to this, and all student groups, at Loyola we welcome and foster an open exchange of ideas and encourage debate and sharing differing views and opinions to advance education. We believe that discussion around complex topics results in deeper critical thinking skills and well-rounded citizens.
According to the university website, “The search for truth is carried out in an atmosphere of Academic Freedom and open inquiry based on two fundamental assumptions of the Catholic faith. First, that the truth will set us free. Second, that faith and reason ultimately bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.” Welcoming a Pagan, or rather an “Indigenous Faith Traditions,” club appears consistent for a university that already has Muslim and Hindu clubs on campus.
In editorial on Christian blog site Aleteia.org, Susan E. Wills prodded at the new name of the club, saying, “. . . one can’t help but picture a group meeting of Buddhists, Taoists, Santeras . . . Wiccans, and pagans all arguing over whether Wiccans should even be allowed in the club. It is not an ‘indigenous’ religion at all. It was basically created in the 1950s by the self-proclaimed Druid Gerald Gardner, an Englishman.” Wills goes on to question how Wiccan theology fits into a Catholic worldview, saying:
“Wicca is a religion only in the loosest sense of the word, having been cobbled together from various sources in the 1950s, having no defined doctrine (as each practitioner is free to believe what he or she wants) and largely practiced alone … While individual Wiccans may be ‘good people’ and ‘good citizens’, it is difficult to see any nuggets of truth or goodness in Wicca itself.”
While the original College Fix article points out that Wicca is one of the better-known Pagan religions, it’s the only reference to the Wiccan faith in connection with the club. It’s not clear why Wills chose to fixate on Wicca in her remarks. Kreider identifies herself as Hellenistic Pagan and her vice-president as a Celtic Pagan. The group’s original mission as posted on Facebook was, “to unify Pagans, the spiritual but not religious, those seeking faith or religion, minority faith students (including but not limited to: Buddhists, Taoists, Shinto practitioners, Santeras, etc…) pluralists and those students interested in New Age religions on Loyola’s campus. If you don’t have a faith group on campus, we’re here to fill that gap!”
In an article published in the Oct. 17 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Beth McMurtrie discusses the new problems facing Catholic colleges today as the religious climate of the United States changes. According to the article, in 1973 82% of full-time freshmen at Catholic colleges identified as Catholic. In 2013, that number was only 50%. Loyola’s acceptance of the new Pagan club appears to be one example of a Jesuit university being forced to wrestle with its own identity in modern society and, as such, making an effort to adjust to an evolving student population.Send to Kindle
Pagan Community Notes: Prayers in Huntsville Alabama, Honoring Transgender Dead, PACO, Veterans Day and much more!
Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!
On Thursday Nov 6, Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk returned to the Huntsville Alabama City Council chambers to deliver the pre-meeting invocation. As we reported last June, Kirk had been removed from the schedule due to complaints by various citizens. After that news was made public, the Huntsville city council opted to continue opening meetings with invocations that reflect the city’s religious diversity.
Kirk was placed back on the schedule and, last week, delivered the prayer before the council meeting. He opened with, “Let us pray. O gentle Goddess and loving God, we thank You for the beauties and the wonders of the day that You have given to us, and for the opportunity we have this evening to assemble here and work together to make Huntsville a better city for all of its residents. We ask that You grant to the councilors and other officials present here tonight the wisdom they will need to make the best decisions that they may for the governance of our city.”
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From Nov. 12 to Nov. 20, a “group of radical trans activists and spirit workers” will be holding a nine-day ritual to honor beloved transgender dead. Others are welcome to participate. Organizers say “Our dead deserve to be remembered and elevated, and we are humbled by and grateful for the encouragement we have received so far.” They have set up a tumbr blog with specifics and suggestions for participation. They also welcome questions and submissions of photos and prayers.
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The Pantheon Foundation has made two new announcements regarding its upcoming online activist Conference, PACO. The weekend event now “includes an Earth Activism panel, to be held on Friday, Nov. 21.” This bonus panel will include Celia Alario, Andy Conn, Laurie Lovekraft and Starhawk.
Organizers have also decided to cut the conference ticket price. In a statement, they said, “We’ve had a few sensitive queries about the ticket cost of PACO … A few folks have let us know that this cost is just too far outside the means of an activist’s budget for their comfort … We have decided to cut the ticket cost for this event dramatically, to allow more people to attend. Starting today, tickets for the entire event will be $40 instead of $100, with individual panel tickets being $10 instead of $20.” PACO 2014 will be held the weekend of Nov 21-23, completely online. More detail on the new panel and the ticket price change can be found on Pantheon’s website
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Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the U.S. and Circle Sanctuary has launched its annual Operation Circle Care program. In a recent release, the Circle organizers state, “For the eighth year in a row Circle Sanctuary will be sending Yuletide gift packages, including pentacles, CDs, crystals, copies of CIRCLE Magazine and other items, as spiritual support to Wiccan, Heathen, Druidic, and other Pagans on active duty in the US Military who are stationed overseas and on deployment.“
They are currently calling for donations of both funds and items to support the yearly Yuletide care packages. However, a more urgent need is the contact details for Pagans serving overseas or on deployment. To ensure a Yuletide delivery, organizers have asked that this information be sent by Nov. 29. Further details and instructions are listed on the OCC website.
In Other News:
- On Nov 2., people gathered at Circle Cemetery to honor “Pagan elder, musician, ritualist Peter Bruner Soderberg (aka Sparky T. Rabbit)” and to inter his ashes.The ceremony was part of a larger Samhain ritual, which included memorial services for others buried or honored at the Pagan cemetery and a “ritual sweeping of the gravestones.”
- Israeli PhD candidate Shai Ferero has launched a new blog to share his academic research on subjects relating to Feminist spiritualism and Modern Paganisms in western culture. His work has won him scholarships, awards and academic distinctions. Although not Pagan himself, Ferero is a strong supporter and involved with the Pagan Federation International and its new Israeli chapter. Through his website, those interested can follow his work. His pending dissertation title is “The Priestess, the Witch, and the Women’s Movement: Women and Gender in British Magical and Pagan Groups, c.1888 – c.1988.”
- The PantheaCon 2015 program guide is now available, including event descriptions and presenter bios. Organizers have also launched an improved Personal Schedule Tool that “allows you to to customize your schedule by selecting only those events that you want to attend.” This year’s theme is Pagan Visions of the Future; Building Pagan Safety and Social Nets. The event will be held at the San Jose Doubletree Hotel from Feb. 13-16.
- Patheos Pagan Channel has launched a new blog called Between the Shadows – The Craft of a Liminal Witch,which features the thoughts and writings of Sable Aradia, “a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions.”
- Recording artist Ruth Barrett will be performing at the Monte Vista Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Montclair,California for the Spirit of the Solstice evening concert. The event will take place on Dec. 5 and will also feature percussionist Jenn Valleley.
- This week the bohemian PaganFolk band Omnia begins its European Earth Warrior Album tour 2014. The tour begins at The Garage in London and will continue through December.
That is all for now. Have a nice day.Send to Kindle
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, there is small town called Dahlonega. This quaint southern town is home to wineries, apple orchards, antique shops and picturesque views. It is also home to a small college called the University of North Georgia (UNG), which is made up of both a traditional university and one of only six prestigious senior military colleges in the entire U.S.According to City-Data.com, the town is 89 percent Christian. The dominant religious practices are Southern Baptist, United Methodist and Old Missionary Baptists.This is echoed in the makeup of the student body as shown by the represented faith groups on campus. Of the 9 religion-based clubs, all are Christian except for the Interfaith Alliance. Additionally, there is a Secular Student Alliance or Skeptics Society.
As such, UNG is not a place that one might readily expect to find a Pagan or Heathen student. However, not only are they there, but they just earned official status as a formal university club.
The story begins in the fall of 2013 when a Heathen soldier, who is enrolled in the cadet program, applied for admission to the Corps Cadet Chaplaincy training program. At first the program administrators ignored his application. Then he applied again in the spring of 2014 and was informed that, in order to be accepted, he had to be Christian.
This allegedly was not an isolated case. According to multiple reports, other non-Christian cadets have been rejected in the past. While these other cases could not be confirmed, the accusations are plausible considering the program website. The Corps Cadet Chaplaincy advertises itself by opening with a biblical passage and, in secondary document, quotes a cadet chaplain saying, “Keeping the Lord’s purpose as our goal that should be our purpose our drive.”
UNG senior Trevor Graham, a civilian psychology major and Hellenic Reconstructionalist, heard the Heathen cadet’s story in August 2014 after meeting him for the first time. In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Graham said that he was not at all surprised. However, he was surprised to find another Pagan or Heathen on the UNG campus.
Graham, better known on campus as the kilt-guy, spent three years not having any Pagan community. Over this past summer, he decided that it was time to look for like-minds. So when school started back, he placed a letter in the campus non-denominational meditation center. Inside this former evangelical church, students can engaged in contemplative, quiet thought and peaceful correspondence. Graham’s letter, which invited other Pagans to contact him, sat with other correspondance on a desk within the space.
Within hours of Graham placing his letter in the meditation center, the cadet answered the call and the two met. Graham said, “It felt amazing to have somebody to talk to.He may not do what I do but it’s somebody.” Shortly after, the two launched an advertising campaign to build a Pagan club and establish a community. Graham took the lead and began chalking the sidewalks and posting flyers.
Within a week, they had a response. By mid-October, the group had grown to 16 students. It was, and still is, comprised an eclectic mix of Wiccans, Hellenic Reconstructionalists, Asatruar, Naturalist Pagans, Polytheists and others. Graham said that their goal is simply to build a comfortable and welcoming place for any student that practices any of these alternative religions.
As one might expect, the newly formed club experienced some backlash from the conservative religious community. Fliers were removed and chalked signs were washed away. Around Halloween, the group placed a cauldron with candy and a harvest blessing message inside the university meditation room. Within 24 hours, the candy was completely removed and, in its place, were Christian pamphlets that read “Atone for your sins.” Despite all of that, Graham did add that he has yet to experience any real personal backlash or threats.
Although the new Pagan group was formed by mid-October, it was not an official university club. They could only meet off-campus or discreetly on campus. However its goal was ultimately to earn university recognition. Both the Interfaith Alliance and Secular Student Association reached out to offer guidance to the fledgling Pagan organization.
During the final weeks of October, the group prepared paperwork on its structure, constitution and mission. Due to club diversity, it was renamed The Old Faith Community of UNG. Then, with the support of faculty member Dr. Michael Bodri, Graham presented its application to UNG administrators on Oct 31. Several days later, the Old Faith Community was awarded its official student club status. The UNG Pagans, as they are still known, have become both the first Pagan group on campus and only the second official non-Christian religous club.
Why did the chaplaincy administrators change their minds only six months after rejecting the Heathen candidate?
During this period of time, UNG came under fire from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an advocacy group that seeks to “ensure that members of the United States Armed Forces receive the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.” According to UNG school newspaper, The Vanguard, the Secular Student Alliance invited MRFF’s Mikey Wienstein to speak at the school. On Aug. 18, he addressed a large crowd about the problems with school-sanctioned prayer at Corps Cadet events, saying:
We were asked to come here …We want to express in no uncertain terms that we do have a constitution. This is our founding document of this country. In this country, unlike North Korea or Saudi Arabia, we do separate church and state. It does not mean you cannot have your religious faith.
On Oct. 1, the MRFF sent a letter to UNG after learning that the state school had allowed a Christian prayer during a mandatory Corps Cadet 9/11 memorial program. The letter’s intent was to “to make the University aware of its’ “illegal actions.” As an aside, MRFF also did note that the college was only allowing “Baptists into the chaplaincy program.” On Oct. 29, MRFF announced “plans to take litigious measures against the university.”
There is no substance for a complaint against the University. MRFF has provided the University with supplemental information regarding their concerns, and the University is examining those claims.
Jacobs also stressed that administrators respect MRFF’s opinion, saying that “the university should not endorse religion” but that ” it is equally important that we strike a balance that also protects the constitutional right of genuinely student-initiated speech afforded by the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment.”
While Graham and the other members of the Old Faith Community had absolutely no involvement, or even knowledge, of the mounting tensions with MRFF, it is not insignificant that these two situations happened simultaneously. It may very well be that the attention brought to UNG by MRFF helped facilitate the acceptance of the UNG Pagan club. It may have also spurred the Chaplains into finally accepting a non-Christian cadet.
Regardless of that influence, the work done by the UNG Pagans cannot be attributed simply to opportunism or luck. The club’s beginnings, including the dream behind it, began long before MRFF ever came to campus. When we asked Graham what he might tell other students facing a similar environment, he said, “You are not alone. We are all a community.” He specifically wants that message to be heard by any other UNG Pagans or Heathens that have yet to find the Old Faith Community.
As for the cadet who was unable to be interviewed, we asked if he would be willing to, at the very least, offer a few words of wisdom to other Pagan or Heathen cadets or civilian students who may feel alone. He said this: “If there is no local community, be the local community. If you aren’t going to do it, who is.”Send to Kindle
In 2005, Richard Louv introduced an emerging theory that many of our modern children’s ills – obesity, depression, behavioral problems – are caused by their lack of interaction with nature. In his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, he brought together research and information from several sources to support the idea that reconnecting with nature was the antidote for many of these struggles.
His work was inspirational and influential in several ways including the founding of the Children and Nature Network, an organization with a vision of creating a world “where every child can play, learn and grow in nature.” This is a stark contrast to the reports of children who spend endless hours inside watching television and playing video games.
Increasing numbers of people, either out of support for the environment, concerns over rising food costs, or the desire to feed their families higher quality foods, are creating urban and suburban gardens and (re)learning how to preserve food, brew beer, make cheese, and raise chickens. Other people, including many who have been inspired by Louv’s work, are doing so for the healing that nature provides. Still others turn to nature in their search for deity and a meaningful spiritual connection to the Earth that we share.
In Cliff Seruntine’s most recent book, Seasons of the Sacred Earth, he argues that in “this artificially rational, industrial era … it is important that folks remember the truth of a deeper reality.” Seasons of the Sacred Earth is a collection of thoughts, stories, and magical experiences that take the reader from the Louisiana bayou to the Alaskan wilderness and, finally, to his family’s Novia Scotia homestead. Seruntine’s storytelling and vivid imagery make the magic of forests, raging storms and even a struggling vegetable garden come alive.
Raised in Louisiana, Seruntine recounts the many childhood hours spent in a “vast, rambling, lazy realm of forests and farms,” losing all sense of time on river banks while deepening friendships on forest floors and becoming mesmerized by the natural magic surrounding him. After leaving this magical environment for college and career, he and his wife moved to Alaska where he learned the ethical hunting of caribou, the way to fish for salmom, and the process for harvesting wild mushrooms.
When his chosen career path as a psychotherapist took a toll on his spirit, he and his family moved to Nova Scotia and began setting up a homestead called Twa Corbies Hollow (“Two Raven’s Hollow). There he “found again the truth [he] knew as a child—the natural world is enchanted, powerful, healing, and ultimately vital to our wellbeing.”
Arranged by months, Seruntine’s book takes us through the Wheel of the Year and highlights the lessons that his family has learned by living close and in rhythm with the Earth. The most important lesson, it seems, is to “live in harmony with life’s weave and Nature keeps you.”
Seasons of the Sacred Earth is rich with stories and ideas that many practitioners of earth-centric religions will appreciate. He does not include spells, scripted meditations, or devotional prayers; nor does he include any history and interpretations of various deities across culture and faith traditions. Seruntine set out not to write a homesteading how-to book, but rather to offer a book about this “knowing,” about finding our spiritual journey in Nature rather than in books. He recalls,
… the more I studied the various paths, the more I realized their essential foundation in Nature was slipping from the experience of modern folk. Most modern witches I had met had never picked a wild herb in the woods. Followers of Norse lore were more concerned with casting runes than wandering the wild mountains in search of wisdom, as their god Odhinn had done. The British druids, who come from a path firmly rooted in the green world, had become an almost entirely urbanized and academic lot. I recall a discussion I once read on an online druid mailing list. A new person asked what he should study to become a contemporary druid. Every person on the network referred him to enormous reading lists on Celtic history and culture. Not one thought to advise him to immerse himself in the green world for a spell. How very odd for a path that is considered a Nature religion to entirely neglect the essential need of Nature.
In many popular seasonally-based, Pagan books and you will find crafts, spells, and meditations for each sabot or rite of passage. The writings often seek to inform us of the harvest of Samhain, the bitter cold and promise of Imbolc, the explosion of life at Beltane, and the hard work and toil of Lughnasadh. Seruntine’s stories take us beyond the meditations and workings that many of us perform in our climate-controlled temples with store-bought bread and wine, which are often followed by a feast of food shipped in from all over the globe.
Through his stories, Seruntine offers the reader the experience of enormous hauls of ripe sweet fruit from Grandfather Apple, blinding blizzards, stir-crazy humans and animals, balefires with friends, home-brewed cider, frighteningly violent electrical storms, and a soggy-turned-wildly-abundant vegetable garden. Along the way, Seruntine weaves in conversations and experiences shared with his daughters on magic and spirit folk, communication with other species, and sightings of the barn bruanighe and the Green Man.
He acknowledges that it may be difficult for many people to leave the comforts (and discomforts) of the cities and suburbs in order to set up a self-reliant homestead like Twa Corbies. He writes:
You don’t have to launch off deep into the wilds as we have done, but you do have to go out your door. The trees and grass, the animals and brooks and sea, and earth and sky have much to teach any who look at them. There is magic and wonder beyond your door, and it is happy to enrich you if you walk its way.
As it is for many Pagans, Seruntine’s relationship with deity and with nature is highly personal. This book is an intimate peak into his own experiences and interpretations. There are times when he has profound epiphanies that will easily stir excitement, despair, and understanding. There are also moments that, in his wanderings through the forest and farm, his explanations are so particular to his observations and experiences that readers may find it challenging to follow his logic. But logic is often not the stuff of enlightenment. Seruntine’s overall message is that, if we take care of the land and its spirit folk, they will take care of us in return. There is wisdom is in the dirt, in the trees, in the animals and in the Great Cycle.
The development of deep spiritual relationships with the land is not a new idea. It was over 150 years ago that Henry David Thoreau built himself a tiny house by Walden pond as an experiment, the experience leading to him famously writing, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” His explorations became an inspiration to many who value and advocate for the environment. Seruntine, like Richard Louv, is newer contributor to a continued movement toward a simple life embracing nature for both health, balance and spiritual connectivity.
Seasons of the Sacred Earth is available through book retailers in paperback and electronic formats. Seruntine’s ongoing musings and activities can also be found on Facebook and on his blog.
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