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Pagan Community Notes: Coru Cathubodua, Wands for Orlando, Brexit and more!

Mon, 2016-06-27 11:01

SAN FRANCISCO – Members of the Priesthood of Coru Cathubodua and its allies attended the city’s pride event to offer assistance with medical aid, safety escorting, and spiritual protection. Wearing their distinctive red priesthood shirts, the members were stationed throughout the event with first aid kits and other “parade-related accessories.”

Communications chief Scott H. Rowe said, “In a time when the currents of hatred and intolerance have been permeating our national and cultural consciousness, events like Pride, which uplift and celebrate diversity, are more important than ever. In order that the LGBTQ community are free to celebrate safely, it is particularly important for community members who are able to do so to offer protection and support.”

Coru Cathubodua is often found assisting at similar events around the Bay Area. Along with Solar Cross Temple, the group also sponsors an annual blood drive at PantheaCon. The front page of their website displays the priesthood’s continued commitment to hospitality, safety, equality and justice. With regards to the weekend’s pride events, Rowe said, “The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood remains dedicated to supporting their LGBTQ friends, allies, and members with both spiritual and practical needs.”

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TWH – After the tragedy struck in Orlando, many Pagans and Heathens throughout the world asked, “What can we do to help?” A group consisting of Pagans from both Italy and the U.K. came up with an idea. They call it “Wands up for Orlando.” As noted on the site, “[The project] aims are to support the LGBTQIA community and celebrate our connection as the answer to hate by sharing ceremonies, artistic contributions, poetry, photos, songs, etc.”

For their first task, the group is currently encouraging people to join with them in a ritual to honor those who died in the Orlando attack. A ritual was jointly written and translated into six languages for use by any groups or individuals. It is also not tradition- or practice-specific. The organizers explain, “We want to emphasise that, as many of the dead may have been Catholics or have had an ambivalent relationship with religion, we are being respectful of that. We performed divinations to check that the ritual would be welcome and needed.”

Where did the name come from? Fans of the Harry Potter franchise might recognize the gesture. Group co-founder Salvatore Caci explained, just as Hogwarts students raised their wands to sweep away an evil curse, “we want to sweep away the curses of intolerance and violence with the light that shines from our hearts and hands joined together and in support of one another.” Caci and the other founders hope that this ritual is only a beginning.

  *    *    *

UK – In a vote that shocked much of the world, the United Kingdom opted to exit the European Union. The vote was close, and the subsequent reactions have been mixed. But the story does not end there, as this historic vote has left many uncertainties it its wake. Our UK news correspondent Claire Dixon has spent the weekend talking with U.K. Pagans about the vote, their concerns, and their predictions for the future. Tomorrow, she will bring us that report, along with a broader look at the situation from an insider perspective.

In Other News

  • The Bay Area Pagan Alliance was another Pagan group in attendance at this past weekend’s San Francisco pride events. Along with enjoying the festivities and supporting the LGBTQ community, the alliance also setup a donation booth through which volunteers helped bring in funds that would ultimately support their own popular annual May festival. The Alliance’s Facebook page shows photos of volunteers working at the booth and also enjoying the day. The alliance did say that, in the end, the money raised will take care of a good portion of the festival budget, but they will still need more fundraising before spring 2017.
  • New York Pagans are getting ready for their annual summer event. The 5th Annual WitchsFest USA is a popular “street faire” held in the heart of Manhattan’s West Village on Astor Place between Broadway and Lafayette. The faire includes presenters, performers, vendors and more. Last year’s WitchsFest was attended by Vice reporter Farah Al Qasimi, who shared colorful and dazzling photos of many of the attendees.
  • T. Thorn Coyle continues sharing her voice successfully through her fiction writing. One of her short stories, titled Salt, was recently selected to be included in an urban fantasy book bundle along with nineteen other books that explore the “hidden magic in everyday life.” Coyle’s story, about “a ghost-talking, magic-wielding, leather daddye,” was originally part of her “free fiction” series supported by her readers through Patreon. Coyle is also the author of the novel Like Water as well as several non-fiction book on Witchcraft, spirituality and daily practice.

  • The Many Gods West conference is coming up in just over one month. It is in its second year and one of the few annual indoor conferences held over the summer. It bills itself as a “gathering for polytheists.” This year’s event features Marcella “Allec” McGuire, Sean Donahue, and L. Phaedrus. There will be no keynote speaker, as the organizers explain, “We have forgone the keynote speaker model in order to encourage the event to grow as a gathering of peers.” Many Gods West is held in Olympia, Washington from Aug 5-7.
  • Starhawk announced that she will be giving away two special edition autographed copies of her new book City of Refuge. To enter the drawing, fans only need to “like” the post and post a quote from any of her books into the comments section. The two winners will be drawn and announced on July 1. Starhawk has also listed all the rules and regulations on her website.
  • Speaking of summer reading, Lewellyn Publishing will be releasing two new books in July, both of which may be of interest to many of our readers. First, Witch and priestess Lasara Firefox Allen shares “a new system that embraces the powerful, diverse, and fluid nature of the lived experience of women today” in her book Jailbreaking the Goddess: A Radical Revisioning of Feminist Spirituality. Second, Devin Hunter’s The Witch’s Book of Power explores “the secrets to unlocking the Witch power within you.” He includes exercises, meditations and practices.
  • If that is not enough to fill your days, Weiser published Judith Illes how-to guide called The Big Book of Practical Spells: Everyday Magic that Works.  And, Moon Books has just released Morgan Daimler’s Fairycraft: Following the Path of Fairy Witchcraft, and Rachel Patterson and Tracy Roberts’ book titled, Arc of the Goddess. 
  • Lastly, Treadwell’s conference exploring the 1980s Satanic Abuse panic is coming up Tuesday, July 5. With the help of six speakers, attendees will explore the history and psychology behind the moral panic that gripped the UK and many other parts of the world.  Discussions will also include “what it was like for Pagans, and then how it ended after researchers and investigative journalism got involved.”

Collective of Seven Women Join to Birth “Dawtas of the Moon”

Sun, 2016-06-26 10:31

BALTIMORE — In a year’s time, our collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities are offered countless opportunities to come together in person in order to celebrate, educate, worship or just to connect. These eclectic and wide-spread events consist of everything from indoor weekend conferences, day-long symposiums, and seven-day camping festivals to picnics, concerts, and small community gatherings. Some of these events provide a space for a vast diversity of programming, such as Pagan Spirit Gathering, Paganicon, or PantheaCon. Others are more focused in their theme, mission and service, such as Trothmoot, Merry Meet or HexFest. One of the newest such events, which was just announced in May, is the day-long gathering called Dawtas of the Moon.

[Courtesy Image: Dawtas of the Moon]

“Dawtas of the Moon is a collective of seven women who have joined together to send out the call to all women of color who are witches, shamans, priestesses, oracles, diviners or healers to convene and uphold the indigenous ways of our foremothers,” explained the organizers in an email interview.

The Event Brite page reads, “The time has come to make sure our voices are heard. The time has come to step out of the back room. The time has come for us to connect, grow, learn, heal, and share our knowledge and sisterhood energy.”

The seven organizers are An L. Kenion, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann, Omitola Yejide Ogunsina, and the three women that make up Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. Kenion, also known as MoonLight Star, describes herself as a shaman and healer among other things. She said that she was born from “a long line of spiritual workers: seers, sages, medicine women, oracles, diviners, hoodoo practitioners.” Barmore describes herself as a “free spirit,” saying that she “greets the world with an open heart.” She is an ancestral-led healer and doula specializing in ritual practices. McKann is a holistic sensual healer whose mission is to bring women back in balance with their feminine energy.

Omi Yejide Ogunsina, known as Mama Omi, is listed on the event site as the primary organizer. She is a an “aborisha on the path to priesthood in the Ifa Spiritual tradition of the Yoruba people (Isese Agbaye).” Among her multitude of experiences and roles, Mama Omi describes herself as a “womb shaman, reiki master, meditation teacher, womb yoga instructor, psychic and medium.”

The final three organizers make up a group called “Magic Moja,” which is an “initiative created […] through the guidance of [their] ancestors.” Moja (pronounced Moy-ya) is Swahili for “one.” As the three women explain, “We are here to assist in the reawakening of the Divine Feminine in melanated women. By doing so this also helps to heal and uplift our melanated men to the Divine Masculine.” Magic Moja “wants [their] people to be balanced on an emotional, mental, social, physical and spiritual level through the restoration and practice of ancient African principles. We don’t want to just merely survive. In this world it is our birthright to thrive.”

Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. [Courtesy Photo]

The seven women came together to create the Dawtas of the Moon event after Mama Omi had a vision of a “Black Witches Convention” in a meditation. MoonLight Star said that, in this meditation, Mama Omi was “surrounded by generations of women, some she knew and others she didn’t. The only words  she heard was ‘It’s time!’ From there, she approached other sisters who are now working with her to plan the convention. They fell in love with the idea.”

That phrase, “it is time,” was repeated in the interview multiple times, as it is on the website. When asked what that means exactly and why “it is time,” Mama Omi said, “Each of us involved in this project have women coming to us who are ready to learn. We have more women of color who are moving away from traditional religion and want to heal mind, body, and spirit. More women are also coming out and boldly using the word Witch, Wise Woman, Shaman, Healer. Many women want to learn from other women of color.”

MoonLight Star said, “We are being guided by Gaia, Mama Earth however you want to call her. She is demanding the harmony to be returned to this planet. The energy shifting demands the respect of those who inhabit this earth to adhere to the Universal Laws which this planet is governed under. Everyone needs to hear the call, however women of color are the first mothers and hold the keys to ensure the harmony is being brought forth.”

Barmore agreed, but added, “The time was actually generations ago. I feel that the inter generational wounds are being healed and it is time to come together. It has been time. We’re late.”

In the interview, the women emphasized that the goal is to demonstrate that there is a sisterhood of like-minds and that “woman of color are not alone in their [spiritual] journey.”

MoonLight Star said, “When An and Omi do their weekly blog shows with Divine Wisdom Radio, [they] often hear our sisters speak on the fact that they don’t have other sisters in their area to connect with and they feel alone. By coming together, we hope to create a time for sisters to create lasting connections with sisters so they no longer have to feel alone.”

Like many practitioners of minority religions that have communities spread out around the country and even the globe, the organizers agree that social media has been very beneficial. However, they also said that “there is nothing like actually coming together and holding each other and being able to see someone’s eyes.” Dawtas of the Moon is an attempt to create that opportunity for a “coming together” in real time and real space.

MoonLight Star, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann [Courtesy Photos]

The women are calling this coming together a ‘coven,’ which is a term typically reserved for small groups of Witches. We asked about the reason behind the use of the term. They said, “While the word coven may be generally applied to a small group, to Mama Omi it also implies a group that comes together as a community and even in some cases with a sense of family. […] Since we are focusing on sisterhood and those who embrace the term “Witch” it only seemed appropriate to use that word.”

Despite the focus on the word ‘Witch’, the event is not limited to practitioners of a specific type of Witchcraft or those who identify as such. The organizers said, “Some [attendees] will come from the African Traditional Religions such as Ifa, Akan, Kemetic, Vodun. Others will may not be part of those particular traditions and work with Hoodoo and other earth based religions.” They said that the purpose is simply to come together. Both the seasoned practitioner and the newbie are welcome.

When asked whether the event was conceived as a private event limited only to women of color, the organizers said no, they welcome everyone. However, they did say that all guests must recognize and respect that the event is specifically being created and hosted as a safe space for women of color. That is their mission.

“There is not much out there for women of color to be able to come together in a safe space and discuss their spiritual journey especially when it is not connected to Christianity or Islam. Because women of color are not able to connect openly, it causes great distress, depression, loneliness, and a lack of sisterhood,” explained Mama Omi.

She continued on to say, “All of the women involved are spiritual healers and some are womb healers. The one thing we constantly see are women who are not connected to their own feminine energy due to a variety of trauma. […] By bringing black women together, you are creating a community of shared experiences, healing, awareness, and sisterhood. While a lot of us have attended events with white women, there is still nothing like gathering with your sisters and feeling free to be yourself and hearing each other’s experiences and fully relating to them.”

Baremore added, “My upbringing was in the AME Church. When my spirit was calling for something more, it was my childhood friends of non-color that understood my need for more. As I have grown into accepting myself for who I am and what I do, I feel that I was able to heal because of the people in my community that looked like me, acted like me, understood what it is to be tossed aside by your family because of your Truths. Women of Color have very few safe and sacred spaces… there are now many sacred spaces for women, Native American women, etc… but very few for women of color.”

As for men, the organizers said that they are also welcome to attend, but they must also show respect for the event’s mission. The women added, “We hope that the men [who attend] gain an even deeper awareness of the value of the embodiment of the goddesses they have living in their home.”

Dawtas of the Moon aims to give women of color a chance to gather with those of like mind and like experience, and to afford these women the freedom of voice. This idea was another underlying current in the interview. As they explained, not only do women of color, specifically Witches, have few chances to meet together, but they also have fewer opportunities to be heard beyond their own small circles. When asked what they might say if given a global microphone, here is what three of the women said:

Mama Omi: We are not sinners, we are not Satan worshipers. We are women who have chosen to return to our traditional indigenous way of life. We have chosen to honor the Divine Feminine and honor our connection to nature.

Barmore: It is time for you to listen to us, and to take heed. To my sisters, within you is everything that you have prayed for. You are your own manifestation. It is time to do the work.

MoonLight Star: The world needs to hear, feel and truly understand that we are present regardless of our battered history. We have been denied the right to be powerful due to lack of understanding and misplaced fear. We as women or color or indigenous women only want peace to be free.

Dawtas of the Moon is scheduled to take place Saturday, October 29 as many Witches and others are preparing for religious and cultural ancestral festivals, such as Samhain. When asked if this timing was happenstance or purposeful, MoonLight Star said, “The time seemed right. It was in alignment with so many things […] the new moon, Samhain, hallows eve, all souls day; it felt more than right to have a gathering of this magnitude.  We will being doing a lot of ancestral work to bring in harmony.”

They aren’t concerned that the holiday weekend will lower attendance. MoonLight Star said, “Within the community a lot are solitary. We have no coven or are informally practicing. This is a chance for all of us to come together and share in the energy and create new practices and rituals.”

Dawtas of the Moon is conceived as an annual event that will grow in size and give strength, support and connection to community year after year. The inaugural gathering will take place October 29 in Gwynn Oak, Maryland at the Wisdom Book Center. Current speakers include Iyalosa Osunyemi Akalatunde, Queen Mother Imakhu, and Iyanifa Alase Olori Oyadele. A luncheon will be catered by the Grind House Juice Bar and Market, a vegan restaurant in Baltimore. More presenters and workshop facilitators will be added over the coming months.

After all is said and done, Mama Omi would like attending women to take away this message: “Be you authentic self and be bold with it. ” Barmore added, “I would hope that my sisters understand that they are no longer alone. That I am here for the conversations, the rants, the healing, the loving and growth. To know that after the convention that we are family, and that I am here for you if and when you may need me. We are all that we need.” And MoonLight Star agreed, saying “They are being welcomed back to the beginning. We have always held space for them.”

Column: A Robot and a Replicant Walk into a Bat Mitzvah…

Sat, 2016-06-25 10:35

I recently stumbled upon three unrelated articles examining new ways of combining technology and religion. The first reports on a robot Buddhist monk, the second asks if apps believe in God, and the third promotes the use of computer models to study religion. The articles aren’t actually as unrelated as they first appear. In each case, the use of current technology serves to create an artificial distance between the twenty-first century (schizoid) man and the spiritual, in whatever form it may take. The focus is on reducing the poetic and unquantifiable experience of religion to prosaic and measureable object that can easily be filed away as just one more manufactured moment in our digital lives.

A Robot Monk

The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports on “the world’s first robot monk,” a two-foot-tall device modeled on a character from a Buddhist comic book. Named “Worthy Stupid Robot Monk,” it was designed and built by Beijing’s Dragon Spring Temple and a consortium of approximately twelve Chinese culture, investment, and technology companies. Looking like a bald monk in a saffron-colored robe, the apparatus holds a touch-pad that allows visitors to the temple to enter questions and statements that are then answered.

Robbie the Robot [Image Credit: DJ / Flickr]

The New York Times provides samples of interactions from the robot monk’s WeChat account, including:

Q: What is love?

A: Love is your own obsessions not being satisfied, the clashing of other people’s troubles with yours.

Q: I want to die.

A: Don’t assume you’re the most pathetic person in the world.

Q: Could there be another Cultural Revolution?

A: Wait, I will ask my master.

The article’s title states that the robot is “mixing spirituality with artificial intelligence.” The concept of AI is regularly invoked in popular media posts dealing with everything from Hello Barbie to smooching. Most of the time, the concept of AI is a clickbait stand-in for “thing that responds to input by producing output.” Any device or program with even the most basic responsive algorithm can lead to a journalist on a deadline to write a breathless post about the coming rise of the machines.

Take another look at the exchanges with the robot monk. The first question causes the device to produce a definition from its database. The second includes a keyword that triggers a prepared response. The third broaches a subject outside the programming of the robot and causes a deflecting non-answer to appear. This type of simulated interaction is strongly reminiscent of ELIZA, the 1960s computer program parodying a psychotherapy session that became widely known in a BASIC version of the late 1970s.

As a child in the early 1980s, I took ELIZA for a game and played it on a dumb terminal connected to Loyola University’s mainframe computer via a dialup modem. Even as a primary school student, it quickly became apparent to me that the virtual therapist’s answers were drawn from a limited pool of responses triggered by certain keywords in my questions, and that any unexpected input would draw stock evasions.

A computer simulation of one of my sessions with ELIZA, c. 1980 [Via www.manifestation.com/neurotoys/eliza.php3]

If 2016 robot monks are really running the same basic software as a 1966 computer therapist – or, at least, the same concept of interaction is serving as a model for its programmers – are we really that much closer to HAL 9000? More importantly, is seeking spiritual enlightenment from a robot monk any less ridiculous than seeking psychological insights from a computer therapist?

The monk project assumes that there are simple answers to the great questions that religions have asked throughout human history. It assumes that the job of a monk or other religious leader is to provide unthinking stock responses. This is unflattering to both the believer and the monk, for it sees each of them as a simple creature unable to wrestle with the complexities of the questions that religion struggles to answer – and it misses that this very struggle is at the core of the religious experience.

Siri’s Bat Mitzvah

The How We Get to Next website asks “Does Siri Believe in God?” and writer Leigh Alexander provides “A theological guide to chatbots and the world’s major religions.” Although the post generates the usual gagging reaction triggered by the tired trope of “the world’s major religions” (here, as always, the three Abrahamic traditions with Buddhism added for “inclusiveness”), it also provides an interesting insight into the way a young twenty-first century woman views the abandoned religion of her childhood – and how that view informs her conclusions on the intersection of technology and religion.

“Excuse me, do you have a moment to talk about ENIAC?”[Public Domain]

“I haven’t thought about religion in a long, long time,” writes Alexander, “but I was raised in a Jewish family.” Providing a perspective that is not uncommon in Pagan and Heathen communities, she portrays her former monotheistic religion as a tradition of rituals “the purpose of which seems primarily to demonstrate the ability to learn rules.” Given such a perspective on her abandoned religion, it is unsurprising that Alexander concludes, “Everything I can remember doing to prepare for my bat mitzvah service a bot could theoretically do.” I think I can hear the groaning of her rabbi from here.

After a dialogue with a computer scientist at UC Berkeley’s Center for Jewish Studies, Alexander concludes that “it would be most in line with Jewish thinking” to welcome a robot as a practicing member of the religious community. After having similar interactions with a Muslim video game designer, a Christian science writer, and a cognitive scientist – and reading a blog post by a Buddhist (an unfortunate lack of personal engagement with the one non-Abrahamic tradition included) – she offers a somewhat standard conclusion for these types of articles, referencing Asimov’s 1942 laws of robotics while warning against the coming rise of the machines.

Alexander’s piece is interesting and insightful, but it also exemplifies the intersection of post-religious identity with today’s personal technology. My own unverified personal gnosis generated by my wizard eye tells me that the most vocal supporters of the “new atheism” are those who were raised in earnestly-believing monotheist families. For some, it seems that the fact that their only religious experience was during the time of their life when their will was subjugated to the wishes of their parents has led to an understanding of religion that is mired in a childhood worldview of seemingly capricious rules and regulations. A similar view of Christianity is especially common among Pagans and Heathens who converted into their current tradition after conservative Christian childhoods.

Such a perspective on religious experience is a natural fit with an embrace of technology as a metaphor for spirituality. Alexander’s reflection on the rituals of her Jewish childhood as rule-bound training devoid of spiritual meaning unsurprisingly leads to a conclusion that an app or robot powered by if/then programming is fully capable of participating in religious community. As with the acceptance of a cartoonish robot as something that can fulfill the complex role of a monk, the idea that a cell phone app can be a contributing member of a religious community brushes aside the deep and complex human experiences and interactions that comprise what we call the spiritual and the religious.

Replicant Believers

A random tweet led me to the website of the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion’s Simulating Religion Project. The anonymous article introducing the project summarizes its ultimate goal: “If the Simulating Religion Project (SRP) succeeds, when questions about religion’s social functions arise, scientists can answer, ‘There’s an app for that,” with app defined as “a simulation program.” In other words, the SRP “aims to develop software that will simulate the cognitive-emotional mental processes and social interactions that mediate the effects of religion on social and cultural systems.”

“Somewhere in here, we’ll find the gods.” [Still from “Manchester Baby.”]

The author argues in favor of “the accuracy or power of computer modeling to model complex human behaviors and interactions.” The study of religion as it exists today is portrayed as something unscientific, unreliable, and imprecise. The primary aim of the SRP is to reduce the unmanageable complexity of religious studies, to “force religious studies theorists to explain their theories in sufficient detail such that they can be modeled,” which “would make theories about religion more specific and hold them to explicit stadards [sic] of coherence and consistency.” Asserting that “religious theories often grow to such a large degree of complexity that one cannot tell what exactly falls under their scope of explanation,” the project “demands clarity from theorists on this front also, because nothing less can handle the concrete challenges of simulation and modeling.”

Note that the final statement suggests that religious studies must be simplified in order to deal with the inherent limitations of computer modeling, rather than calling for computer modeling to be developed that can handle the complexities of religious studies. While acknowledging the limitations of previous attempts to create synthetic models of human religious behavior, the writer seems profoundly troubled by the complexity of data generated by the study of religion:

Past simulation research in religion has grossly oversimplified the way humans interact, think, behave (especially morally), and change; this, obviously, will not do. At the same time, one should not include too much complexity in the simulation because this risks obscuring the issue rather than clarifying it. Too much simplicity gives wrong answers, and too much complexity gives unclear and confused ones.

On the website’s Modeling Religion Project Portal, the stated goals include production of “a simulation development platform that will allow SSR scholars and students to create complex simulations with no programming” and “a series of simulations of the role of religion in key transformations of human civilization, such as the Agricultural Transition (c. 8000 BCE), the Axial age (c. 800-200 BCE), and modernity (c. 1600-2100).”

There’s a lot to unpack here.

The spirit of Dr. Asimov is again invoked, if not by name, as the SRP seeks to create analytical models of human religious history from 8000 BCE to 2100 CE – from the ancient to the future – along the lines of the fictional Hari Seldon’s psychohistory, “that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli.” Creating any sort of model of religious cultures from 10,000 years ago involves assumptions about the knowability of incredibly ancient worldviews that would make even a reconstructionist blush, while asserting the ability of computer models to predict spiritual beliefs of those who will live nine decades in the future seems to evince a belief in the power of prophecy not so different from that of the arch-Heathen. Such an embrace of the powers of computer modeling borders on the mystical.

The pulling back from the messy complexity of religious studies is a typical reaction to the uncertainties of human experience that regularly makes an appearance in scientific communities. A friend who is a professor of engineering recently gave me a personal lecture to the effect Bernie Sanders supporters are sloppy-minded humanities folks whose emotions rule their lives while Hillary Clinton supporters are clearheaded scientists who have objectively evaluated the data. This engineering attitude seems to underlie the SRP’s belief that those who study religion are troublingly incoherent and inconsistent, and that real scientists need to get the data in shape in order to save religious studies from a state of irredeemable confusion.

This worldview is similar to the one expressed in the articles about the robot monk and the Jewish chatbot. While insisting that “too much simplicity gives wrong answers,” the SRP still embraces the idea that religious experience is something that can be reduced to a role-playing game and that believers ancient and yet unborn can be brought to digital life as non-player characters. Human existence is full of irrationality in general. Our desires, decisions, and deaths are not often algorithmic. Religious feeling is one of the least rational experiences of all, for good or ill. The idea that spirituality, of all things, is something that can modeled by computer engineers is itself irrational.

That scholarship on religion is so complex and irreducible to formula is largely due to the nature of the beast. Religious experience, across its broad spectrum and in all its variations, is not something that can be reduced to a Speak & Spell in a saffron robe, an iPhone app in a synagogue, or a computer model on a gaming table. If you want to understand religious experience and haven’t had it yourself – aside from being forced to go to Sunday school or Hebrew school – the best thing to do is to meet people from different religious traditions, get to know them, and listen to what they have to say. That’s a messy process, and it takes much more time and commitment than listening to a one-sentence answer from a robot, downloading an app, or studying replicant religionists that can be silenced with a keystroke. Many in today’s world will go to great lengths to avoid dealing with the complicated world of face-to-face human interaction. That’s not something to be celebrated as progress.

Guest Post: The Building of a South African Vampyre Community

Fri, 2016-06-24 06:58

[The Wild Hunt welcomes guest writer Christina Engela. She is a author, witch, human rights activist, blogger and chief researcher for the Alternative Religious Forum. Engela lives in South Africa and writes regularly for Penton Alternative Media.]

Most members of the South African (SA) Vampyre community (VC) who have done a little research know that this community’s recorded history began May 2010 with the foundation of House Valur. Most will know that the community only started growing and taking form with the founding of the South African Vampyre Alliance (SAVA) in June 2011. But little if anything is known about the community in the years before that time.


Sometimes though, one finds little gems that shine a new light on what we already know. This being the case, we will examine the recollections of one of the community’s earliest builders. Also, we will examine the initial overlap of Vampyre culture with other subcultures and societies at the time – in this case, South African Pagan culture. We will look at the role played by vampyric Pagans in laying the groundwork for the growth and formation of the VC, independently of the Pagan community in South Africa.  Additionally, these events played an important role in the subsequent and continued relationship between the Pagan and Vampyre communities.

Background

In South Africa under the previous Nationalist government, there was no freedom of religion — that is, not unless you were Christian. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism were tolerated by the government, but Paganism, the worship of Pagan deities and any Pagan rituals, reading matter, gatherings or practices were criminalized and outlawed under laws pertaining to ‘Satanism.’ If you were vampyric, well – the less said about that, the better. Government-appointed witch-hunters like Kobus Jonker and his police unit enjoyed cult-fame status among naive evangelical Christians, spinning wild and unlikely tales of ‘Satanist’ conspiracies that could not be, and have never been, substantiated.

The adoption of South Africa’s new constitution changed all that – in theory at least. With the dawning of greater religious freedom in the early 1990s, there came a sudden scramble among those who identified as Pagan (including a lot of people who wanted to identify as Pagans) to establish an open and free, publicly visible Pagan body on the cultural landscape of the country. Several such organizations were formed, with one or two looking to speak for and on behalf of all South African Pagans.

At the start of that new age, however, it becomes clear that not everyone held the same understanding of the term “Pagan” and what it was. The Pagan community is, and always has been, diverse. As such, it is (and likely always will be) a breeding ground for a healthy respect for differences. Personally speaking, I have found the South African Pagan community to be generally a trouble-free zone, where people tend to be more easily accepted for who they are than elsewhere. It is also generally, on point of this article, a Vampyre-friendly place.

But it was not always so.

In 2011, when the fledgling South African Vampyre Community initially reached out to the Pagan community bodies in order to establish formal relations, the results were quite dramatic. The VC was completely unaware of any previous issues within Pagan culture.  As history bears out, the drama resulting from the vampophobic bias of some Pagans made things a little unpleasant for some time.

Pagan Vampyres became the ‘hot topic’ in Facebook groups and forums. The main Pagan spokespeople openly declared their understanding and acceptance of vampyric people who identified with Pagan beliefs (as long vampyrism didn’t become a part of Paganism), and they welcomed them.  Despite that support, it became all too clear that the SA Pagan community was in danger of splitting in two over the issue. Several Pagan writers stormed out of community forums when Octarine Valur accepted an invitation to write a column about vampyrism for a local online Pagan magazine.

Critics refused to accept Vampyres as fact, despite many in the Pagan community who had the ability to identify Vampyres among them by second sight alone. They rejected everything the Vampyres offered in defense of their identity. They were adamant that the purpose of the South African Vampyre Alliance (SAVA) was to ‘coerce’ Pagans to accept vampyrism as a Pagan path or religion.

“Some Pagan elders literally became hysterical,” said Octarine Valur, who is widely recognized as the founder of the SA Vampyre Community, and is regent of the SAVA. “Some of them misunderstood us. They thought we wanted to establish vampyrism as a unique path within Paganism as a religion. Even when we made very plain-language efforts to clarify the point, these seemed to be deliberately distorted by our critics. What our purpose was in contacting the Pagan community, was to clarify that there were Pagans in their covens and groups already who were also vampyric people – people who identify as Vampyres. As SAVA we were simply trying to look out for their interests because of the number of reports we received from vampyric Pagans who were either afraid to be known as Vampyres in Pagan circles, or who had been on the receiving end of prejudice in their Pagan group because they were known as Vampyres.”

Meanwhile, the SAVA had also conducted similar diplomatic outreach efforts, with less success, to other groups. Christianity was the next group which the SAVA reached out to, and later to the SA Goth Society (2013). Christianity is the second most-prevalent religious affiliation in the SA VC according to a contemporary poll. No matter how open-minded the Christian groups thought they were, they did not react as well to overtures of friendship from the Vampyre community as might have been expected. Some of the reactions were rather entertaining, but no further engagement took place in that sector. Some Goths did attend a Vampyre gathering in 2014, but – reportedly – they were simply curious and none of them were Vampyres.

As time went by, things settled down between Pagan and Vampyre communities. The critics’ worst fears did not realize. The Pagan community and Vampyre subculture remain distinctly separate from each other, but there is a lot of cooperation between Pagan bodies and VC bodies. The SAVA and the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) jointly chaired the Alternative Religions Forum in 2013 to combat ignorance, misinformation, and propaganda in the media.

Pagan Freedom Day in South Africa 2009 [Photo Credit: Ginney May / Wikimedia]

Their efforts went on record as having successfully changed how the media portrays ‘occult-related crimes’ and ‘alternative religions’ in its coverage. Vampyre-Pagan covens have organized public celebrations in their locals areas for Pagan Freedom Day, and they have received praise from both the SAVA and Pagan bodies for those efforts. These days, it is not unusual for Pagan groups to openly acknowledge their vampyric members, and the general knowledge among Pagans about Vampyres and Vampyre nature has dramatically improved.

Again, it was not always so, and a lot had to happen for this to occur. The current state of affairs and the history of the Pagan-Vampyre Dispute of 2011 aside, the goodwill had to start somewhere. Before the SAVA began representing the local VC, before Octarine Valur began her search which led to the formation of House Valur – before all that – there were lone, solitary Vampyres who longed for a community of their own.

Darklady

It was 2003 that a young lady in Kriel, a small mining town in Mpumalanga, experienced her vampyric Awakening. She had started her Pagan path as a practicing Wiccan in 2000. Then, three years later, she was first awakened to her nature as a sanguine vampyre. Her first donor was her girlfriend at the time and, although the relationship lasted three years, the donor-vampyre relationship lasted for only two of those years.

Following the termination of that arrangement, after a period of extreme hunger and ill-health, she adapted to feed from storms, running water, wind and strong elements. Like most sanguines, she maintains that this is not as satisfying or lasting as a sanguine feed and frequently endures the effects of vampyric hunger in times of ‘good’ weather when a donor is not available.

Like many vamps, Darklady was drawn to Paganism, and perhaps hoped to find others like her in the process. Adopting the Pagan name of Darklady, she began to explore her nature and what Pagan culture she could interact with online and off. At that time, Pagan culture flatly ignored Vampyres and those who identified as vampyric. The subject of vampyric people was not openly discussed in Pagan groups and forums online, and generally seemed to be avoided altogether.

Also at that time, there was no known Vampyre community or subculture in Southern Africa of any kind. Vampyres who were Pagans would generally keep their vampyric interests to themselves, particularly in Wiccan groups. Like most Vampyres who awaken alone, Darklady looked online for information. What she knew about Vampyres she gleaned from reputable VC resources such as ‘Sanguinarius,’ but there was simply nothing in South Africa for her in that regard.

In 2005, Darklady started a forum group on WAP called ‘Vampyric.peperonity.com’ in order to try and attract local Vampyres. It was an attempt to reach out to a local community of real Vampyres. However, at that time, she never found any vamps via that channel, local or not. In May 2006, Darklady relocated to Hazyview, another small town in Mpumalanga.

The Magenta Dragon

In September 2006 Darklady joined a Pagan forum called Wica.co.za under the name ‘Magenta Dragon.’ Known simply as ‘Magenta’ after that, she interacted there for a while, quickly rising to become one of the site’s administrators. In 2007, an argument broke out between Magenta and a rather influential South African Pagan, which escalated quite rapidly. The issue was about freedom of association and elitism in the Pagan community. At that time, nearly a decade after the vaunted new South African democracy had become a fact of life, many of the then SA Pagan leadership expressed the opinion that only hereditary witches and coven-based witches could have a valid voice in Pagan affairs. Solitary practitioners and converts were portrayed as unworthy or lesser than these.

Magenta, a relative newcomer to the Pagan community and a solitary witch, found herself taking a fiery stand against this position, not even realizing that she was butting heads with the leader of the South African Pagan community at the time. Although she was a 19 year old cocky newcomer and virtually an unknown, she did not stand alone for long.

“I was young, and thought I knew all the answers,” Magenta said, smiling. “I’d also only just learned how to use the internet, and it was all new to me!”

Three other Pagans joined Magenta in this dispute, and their number of supporters grew dramatically in a short period. This group of four would lead what some saw as a necessary wave of change in the SA Pagan community at that time. Together they decided to split away from the main body of Pagans as headed by those seen as elitists, in order to form their own free community of Pagans. They would receive plenty of support from solitary witches and those who did not find the idea of ordered, structured and hierarchical ‘Christian-like’ Paganism appealing. To this end, the group expanded to six – and established Way of the Rede July 4, 2007.

The Way of the Rede

The Way of the Rede (WOTR) still exists today and operates the same forum offering free membership, interaction, and acceptance to all who identify with Paganism and other occult paths.

“The point of it all then,” as Magenta explained, “was to have a safe space where people could interact without being judged, or being looked down on for their views – or for not being part of a coven, or being a hereditary witch. You didn’t even have to be a Pagan or a witch to join – you just had to be friendly.”

Through all of her public debates, arguments, and interactions as Magenta, she was open about her vampyric nature in the context of her Pagan beliefs. At the time, she was the only one to do so. However, she was not the only vampyric Pagan. It was on WOTR’s site that she first encountered other Vampyres in South Africa – the first being a WOTR staffer and, quite ironically, an agnostic Christian.

As a reminder, it has to be noted that not all Vampyres are Pagan. Just like a diabetic can hold any religious affiliation, so can vampyric people. That said, perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that Magenta struggled to find Vampyres in South Africa. Others kept their vampyric nature low-key on WOTR, and in fact, Magenta had no inkling that they were kindred until they confided in her much later.

Meanwhile, on WOTR many ideas were openly discussed, including vampyrism. These essentially remained theoretical. People who commented on them generally wanted more information, but these still did not draw out any new local vamps.

“From the day I discovered I was a Vampyre I never hid it.” Magenta explained. “Through all my work in Pagan groups I was serious about building those groups, but I was also trying to find others like myself. I needed to find others like me, and I couldn’t find any.”

There is little doubt that Magenta and the Way of the Rede had a profound effect on Pagan culture in South Africa between 2007 and 2009.  That influence included, but was not limited to, challenging the status quo – even if this was just to state a viewpoint held by a majority of South African Pagans – and making those in authority aware that the way they wanted things done was unpopular.

Had the Way of the Rede not started, it is quite likely that the future, for the VC at least, might have been quite different. Magenta might never have encountered other vamps. The SAVA might never have found her, and she may have never found a community for herself – and all would be the poorer for it.

Facebook

In 2008, when Facebook began operating, Magenta saw an opportunity to reach out to find more like her. She started a group called ‘Real Sanguinarians,’ since she was looking for sanguine Vampyres in particular. Nothing came of it. The group was made up of herself and another member of WOTR. “But,” she reminisces, “Facebook was brand new and much, much smaller back then. The right people were just not there yet.”

In March 2009, Magenta moved from Mpumalanga to the Western Cape in the hope of finding better employment opportunities. While there, Magenta remained in general contact with other WOTR members – through real life gatherings and social media. And, she basically lost hope and stopped looking for other Vampyres in the country. She knew they existed, but they were just so hard to find.

That year was not a good one for Magenta. She felt isolated, as she had little in common with her social circle, and struggled to make ends meet. Her attention turned increasingly to matters of day-to-day survival.  In February 2010, Magenta moved back to Mpumalanga and began interacting less and less with Way of the Rede. This was partly due to an introspective re-evaluation of her beliefs, as she began to move away from Wicca and adopted a more eclectic and atheistic view.

Meanwhile a new Vampyre group called House of Havoc appeared on Facebook in December of that year. It was based out of Centurion, Pretoria in Gauteng. Over the next few months, Izak Havoc made various postings on Facebook looking for Vampyres in South Africa, and experienced as much lackluster a response as Magenta. And oddly enough, the two never apparently encountered each other online, until they met in the SAVA in 2011.

SAVA

In 2010, Octarine Valur, the woman who would later became Regent of the SAVA, joined Way of the Rede and fleetingly made contact before she founded the SAVA a year later. She had created an account with WOTR, but only made one post to introduce herself, and then never came back.

SAVA’s Logo. Each of the symbols represents one of the nine provinces of South Africa.

“At that time I had joined as many forums and groups as I could just to try and find Vampyres in South Africa,” Octarine said. “It was so hard to keep track. The fact is, I sometimes simply lost links and URLs and never found them again.”

“Val had the right contacts to make the community work,” Magenta said of Octarine. “She’d already been part of the American VC for some time and had support from mentors there to draw on. Looking back, she succeeded where the rest of us failed. She was also more tenacious, I think.”

The first time that Magenta heard of any kind of actual Vampyre community existing in South Africa was around the time of SAVA’s first news interview in 2011. It featured Octarine and Nereo and made News24’s headlines. Shortly before that news break, SAVA had begun to search in earnest for vamps in South Africa. Psion Valur De Nocte, who had been a member of WOTR since 2007 under a different user name, approached Magenta. She too was vampyric, and a member of the newly formed group. She invited Magenta.

Magenta joined SAVA that June as Kay Valkir Noctem, and the rest as they say, is history. The persona of Magenta gradually faded away, while Kay Valkir Noctem’s activities increased within the young and growing South African Vampyre community. Between 2011 and 2013, Kay was a fierce recruiter who discovered many of South Africa’s lurking vamps, and also contributed several significant articles to the VC’s cultural repository, including articles on energy feeding and healing through feeding on disease.

Kay is also credited with creating the Mintaka Code glyph used to symbolize community. By mid-2012, Kay Valkir Noctem had become one of the two Praetors to the Regent of the SAVA, alongside her sponsor, Psion. Additionally, in October 2012, Kay was elected Magister for Ilyatha Halo (Mpumalanga) in the SAVA High Council.

Time marches on, and in 2013, Psion Valur De Nocte retired from SAVA and was succeeded by Lunah Valur d’Eir – one of Kay’s recruits – as Praetor. Since 2013, Kay Valkir Noctem has acted as SAVA’s Ambassador to the Dark Nations, and became a member of the prestigious international VC body, the VVC (Voices of the Vampire Community) in February 2016.

“Back then we didn’t think about the long term repercussions of what we were doing,” She said, smiling. “We just did what we did, we did it for freedom, to be free of the tethers of organized religion.”

Looking back, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when these things changed in South Africa’s Pagan society. However, gone are the days when people not initiated into registered covens are looked down upon or dismissed as ‘wannabes.’ If some Pagans couldn’t accept non-initiated or non-hereditary witches among them, then there would be no way they would accept Vampyres. In some ways, Magenta says, she feels the stand for broad-based equality in opposition to puritanical Paganism paved the way for later acceptance of Pagans who were also Vampyres.

Kay Valur Noctem, as she is known today, still continues to serve the VC in the capacity of Praetor. Since relocating from Mpumalanga in 2016, she has become a member of Coven Veritas within House Valur. This past March, after an absence of several years, Kay resumed an active interest in the Way of the Rede and, as one of its founders, plans to welcome Otherkin (including Vampyres) into that forum as well, now as Kay Valur Noctem.

Protecting the Boreal Forest: Pimachiowin Aki

Thu, 2016-06-23 11:11

MANITOBA — In 2002, the five Anishinaabe First Nations of Bloodvein River, Little Grand Rapids, Poplar River, Pikangikum and Pauingassi joined forces with the provincial governments of Manitoba and Ontario to create Pimachiowin Aki (Pim-MATCH-cho-win Ahh-Key), a unique and pristine Boreal forest area, rich in indigenous culture and nature. They put forth a proposal to have it declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. This vast tract of land covers 33,400 square kilometers (20,754 sq. miles) and straddles the Manitoba/Ontario border. It is an area comparable in size to the country of Denmark. If the bid for UNESCO recognition is successful, it will ensure that this uniquely preserved biosphere and the culture of its people, remain intact.

Boreal Forest in Pimachiowin Aki. [Photo Credit: D. Graham McKay]

The bid went before the UNESCO selection committee in 2013, but it was put on hold and deferred to July of this year. The committee felt that more information was needed in order to make a decision.

Manitoba is a province with a substantial hydro-electric industry. When Manitoba Hydro proposed the Bipole III project, which would run a major power line route from the isolated northern part of the province to the more populated south, they discovered that the cheapest path for it ran along the east side of Lake Winnipeg, straight through Pimachiowin Aki territory. Bipole III is a high voltage direct current transmission project under construction in Manitoba, which will deliver renewable energy to southern Manitoba and the United States.

Its construction could have tremendous impact on the otherwise untouched environment. At the time, the NDP government determined that this was too great a risk to the sensitive landscape and culture of the people. So a longer and more expensive route along the west side of the lake was chosen instead. This was extremely controversial, and taxpayers and the official opposition debated the value of the land versus the money being spent. The NDP government maintained that the money was an investment, preserving the integrity of the land and supporting the UNESCO bid.

In April 2016, a provincial election was held, and the NDP lost the race to the Conservative Party led by Brian Pallister. Now, the proposed Bipole III route making news once again. The new government has written a letter to the United Nations committee in charge of the UNESCO bid, in order to inform them of the possible hydro corridor going right through the proposed World Heritage site.

Deputy minister of Crown services for the province, Jim Hrichishen, said in a recent statement, “I would advise you that the province has recently committed to undertake a review of the Bipole III transmission line project, including different routing options.” Environmental organizations and the Pimachiowin Aki bid committee fear that this proposal could potentially sabotage years of dedicated work to preserve this land from dangerous development.

Map of Pimachiowin Aki territory [Courtesy Image]

Susanne McCrea is a Witch, activist, and an organizer of the Boreal Action Project. She is a strong voice in the fight to save the Boreal forest in Canada. In an email interview with The Wild Hunt, she gave her perspective on the letter written by Pallister:

It’s too late in the process to reroute Bipole III. Too much money has been spent. The land has been spent. Land agreements have been settled with property owners (mostly agricultural on the west side), and about 10 percent remaining has been expropriated for infrastructure; which they can do. Manitoba has enacted special laws on the east side in recognition of the significance both ecologically and culturally. Land use studies have been done by the indigenous communities in the proposed UNESCO site region and legal agreements have been made between the province and those indigenous peoples for no new development.

So it’s not going to happen. Even though Palliser has removed the old hydro board and replaced the members with people of his choosing, they could never justify rerouting after this money has been spent; clearing on the west side and construction has begun and the costs of litigation with First Nations would be prohibitive, too. They will have a have fight in their hands if they try. From First Nations and the environment groups who’ve backed this up.

The proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) is the largest remaining intact boreal forest in the world. It’s the lungs of the planet – sequestering carbon, which when released, leads to climate change. It’s home to hundreds of breeds of boreal songbirds and it contains some of the oldest and best-preserved petroforms. . It’s a spiritual and cultural site of significance and rich history. In fact, it’s nominated as a WHS in two categories; environment and culture.

Let me be clear that Boreal Action and Boreal Forest Network before it, do not advocate that there should be a west side Bipole. We think it’s time for renewables and a Canadian energy plan for the future. This Bipole is not for domestic use. It’s for a certain export market.

In the Anishinaabe language, Pimachiowin Aki means “The Land That Gives Life.” The First Nations people have lived on the abundance of this land for thousands of years and still largely practice a traditional way of life. These communities are small, isolated and remote. Despite a long history of colonialization, residential schools and pressure to move south for education and jobs, the people living in Pimachiowin Aki have managed to preserve their language, culture, and traditional spirituality.

Witches and Pagans in the region also look to the Boreal forest and Pimachiowin Aki as a source of home-grown, local Pagan spirituality. Katherine Bitney, author of “The Boreal Dragon,” is a Witch and writer from Winnipeg. Bitney told The Wild Hunt:

The world needs to know that, first, it is unspoiled, and that it works by itself. It is wild. It doesn’t need humans, but it kindly and generously supports humans willing to respect it. The world needs to know how vast it is, and how dependent we are on it for air and water. That it holds medicines. That it is home to the greatest diversity of life forms in the world. That it belongs to itself and that it need not justify its existence to humans. That it is sacred.

Michelle Forrest, a Witch and activist also based in rural Manitoba, had this to say about how the Boreal forest of this land influences her practice:

The boreal/taiga forest is a circumpolar forest, when that really sinks in, your mind opens another door. I work almost exclusively in the northern traditions of Europe, how does a theology of earth, water and sky in Europe translate to this place, the answer for me was the boreal. My Celtic ancestors in their long migrations went through the boreal, they saw much of the same flora and fauna, the water, in this forest that needs fire and ice to live. They were farther north than we are, but the reverence for the light holds true for the peoples of Europe and the peoples of the north on this continent. It is my belief that reconstruction of those elder faith traditions is far beyond impossible, no matter how many times someone reads a saga or pours, like me, over lore. What I strive for is how can theology and practice find its roots, its ethic in the narratives of the landscape, the dance of earth and sky. The boreal holds my theology.

With only a few weeks remaining until the expected UNESCO decision, environmentalists are concerned for the future of this land.  They are worried that the Pallister government may have turned the tide against conservation and pushed it toward development. Millions of dollars have already been invested in the bid, the research associated with it, and the plan for Bipole III.

As quoted in a recent CBC interview, NDP conservation critic Rob Altemeyer said that he feels “The behavior of the premier is very risky, extremely concerning and extremely suspicious as well. It makes no sense.” He went on to say that the letter was a way for the premier to say that he has done what he can to stop the Bipole III project from proceeding as planned, along the more expensive, but more environmental route, along the west side of Lake Winnipeg.

Bloodvein River, Manitoba. [Photo Credit: D. Graham McKay]

The unique condition of the Boreal in that part of Canada is what Michelle Forrest described. While other parts of the world are trying to restore their woodlands, Forrest noted the still unblemished aspect of this particular landscape. Forrest said:

It is the foundation of life in the north, it is a generous land. Canada’s wealth and much of the old wealth of Britain and France is located in the abundance of this amazing landscape. All over northern Europe, people are struggling to restore this forest, restore its life and abundance, and right here, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, our only job is to fiercely protect the pristine, intact forest and all its life, it is the least we can do.

McCrea looks at this issue as an opportunity for all people to join together and work to heal the damage done by colonialism and abuse of the environment. She said,

Just as the indigenous peoples of this land are tied spiritually to nature; so were our ancestors. We have an obligation to return to an honourable relationship with indigenous peoples, and to stand as allies and defend their rights. They are like the canary in the coal mine. What happens to them happens, also, to us.

This campaign for a World Heritage Site was led by indigenous peoples. I stand with them. My heart beats with them, and the spirits of the land. I call on all who walk this path to raise energy to protect this forest and the animals, plants, fish and birds who make it there home; for future generations and because it’s the right thing to do if you value life. That spirit that connects us all.

We will know what the future holds for Pimachiowin Aki after the UNSECO committee convenes in Istanbul, Turkey, in July 2016.

Paganism Now an Option on Irish Hospital Admittance Forms

Wed, 2016-06-22 10:25

IRELAND — Pagans will no longer get listed as “other” or “no religion” when they are admitted to Irish hospitals. The change came thanks to an agreement worked out by officials of Health Services Executive (HSE), who administers 50 national acute care facilities. Leaders of the advocacy group Pagan Life Rites announced June 9 that it had successfully lobbied for the change, which is expected to be completely rolled out in the coming weeks.

[Graphic from Pagan Life Rites’ April campaign]

Pagan Life Rites co-founder Rev. Kristian Märkus told The Wild Hunt that the group started receiving reports from some of their nearly 500 members, noting an inability to record their religion as Pagan during the hospital admittance process. Märkus provided this quote, which recounts one individual’s experience.

I was asked my religion. I replied, “Pagan,” and the secretary said, “Oh, so no religion then!” I said nicely, “No, but I’m guessing you don’t have Wiccan or Druid or anything like that on your drop down,” and she went, “Oh,” and typed in “Pagan” and we carried on. It is important that we counter the notion that “Pagan” means “godless.”

In other cases, patients accepted the “other” designation without comment. According to the group’s press release, “Even when registered as ‘Pagan’ on arrival staff had twice changed the religious identity to ‘Christian/Catholic’ on the physical version of one patient’s medical records.”

It was an opportune time to raise this issue, as Märkus explained. “Pagan Life Rites received more complaints about this issue on foot of our social media campaign in the lead up to the Irish National Census of May, 2016. Through this campaign we urged community members to unite by stating ‘Pagan’ in the box provided for the ‘other’ option on the question of religious identity on the census form.”

While the overall effort to raise awareness provided the needed momentum, other important groundwork had been laid for this request in 2009, when HSE published its intercultural guide. It included an entire section on Pagan religions, laying out the value of patients being properly categorized, to wit:

Traditional religions tend to be rich in symbolism, ritual and ceremony. Life in general and major events, such as birth, critical illness and death are normally mediated with specific rituals and ceremonies. Many followers have a spiritual teacher/adviser or a personal contact to assist them in their personal practices.

All it took, according to Märkus, was to make clear that miscategorizing patients was in conflict with the organization’s stated ethos. “We are delighted that the Health Services Executive has agreed to accommodate the various categories,” he said. In addition to simply declaring oneself Pagan, Irish patients may select a subcategory of Wicca, Shamanism, Heathenry, or Druidry; these are the four main paths which which Irish Pagans tend to identify, he explained.

Another detail that may have contributed to this accomplishment is that HSE is a publicly-funded organization in a country with what Märkus calls “evolving equality legislation.” That’s not to say it was easy, however, and he added, “Nonetheless, one cannot discount bureaucratic hurdles.”

The experience of Pagan Life Rites has shown that an understanding of state mechanisms, an openness to engaging positively with public servants and a willingness to persevere with a potentially long process of consultation have proven crucial.

These factors served Pagan Life Rites well in the consultation process with the Health Services Executive, as they did in the process whereby twelve of our clergy members became legal solemnisers of marriage, through the General Register Office, a wonderful development which we were privileged to announce just before Valentine’s Day, 2016.

Outside of the small Pagan community, the HSE decision appears to be a non-event in this largely Catholic nation. Märkus is aware of no news coverage of this milestone, which is exactly what happened when the marriage credentials were achieved earlier this year. The reverend said that Pagans vary in how comfortable they are being open about their religion, and the confusion with atheism is not at all uncommon.

Overall, the problems of Irish Pagans are ones of exclusion, rather than outright discrimination.As Märkus explained,

One problematic area relates to schooling, as for historical reasons, the Irish educational system is largely dependent on religious patronage of its school network. Almost 95% of schools are state-aided parish schools run by religious-based boards of management. One common feature of enrolment policy in primary (elementary) schools is the priority given to children who have been baptised. These concerns are a key feature in public discourse around the desire for complete separation of church and state.

On the other hand, a marriage equality referendum was passed last year, and there is a general sense that Catholic influence on public policy is beginning to wane. Still, where religion is expected to have a strong part to play — including in hospitals, prisons, and at the points of birth and death — the people paid to do the work are invariably of that faith.

Pagan Life Rites has a chaplaincy training program in development, and is already making clergy available for pastoral support on a voluntary basis. There will likely be a time when an Irish Pagan doesn’t have difficulty declaring that religious preference for any number of reasons, but for now, they can at least rest assured that they will be considered Pagan when they enter a hospital.

Looking Toward the Future with the Troth’s new Steersman

Tue, 2016-06-21 10:02

During the month of May, elections were held within The Troth, a Heathen religious organization, for officer positions on the High Rede. Among the officers elected are Lagaria Farmer as Associate Steer, John T Mainer for Communications Officer, Amanda T Leigh-Hawkins as Officer Liaison, and  Robert L. Schreiwer as the new Steersman. Mr. Steve Abell, former Steersman, did not seek another term.


Troth members who have been part of the organization for a year and a day are eligible to vote in the election and may also nominate others for the officer position. Those nominated can either accept the nomination or decline to run. In the race for Steersman there were only two candidates, Schreiwer and Mr. Dennis Ford.

Schreiwer joined The Troth in 2007 and has held various roles within the organization. In 2009, he was the Pennsylvania Steward and added Stewardship of New Jersey in 2010 and Delaware in 2011.  Also in 2011, he was elected to the High Rede and rose to Assistant Steer in 2013. In addition to his officer duties, Schreiwer was the Program Coordinator of the In-Reach Heathen Services Program and has represented The Troth at events such as the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City.

Although Schreiwer has his own vision for The Troth, he says there will be continuity between his approach and former Steerman Steve Abel, “Steve and I have much in common. We both care greatly about The Troth and about Heathenry and humanity in general.”

Troth altar at the Parliament of the World Religions 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

He says his background in IT and branding in the hospitality industry have shown him that, although consistency in messaging is important, branding sometimes must evolve to meet the current needs of the public. He says the needs of Heathens have changed over the past decade.

“There are more Heathens online; more kindreds and freeholds have formed. In addition to the top-notch scholarship in The Troth, we now must evolve to meet greater needs – those that are too large for one kindred to handle. In-Reach Heathen Prison Services was the first step toward that goal. We need to spend a few months fixing [our web presence] while sowing the seeds for the next phase of our organization’s functions.”

In the past few years, The Troth has been criticized for its response, or lack of response, to controversial issues playing out in the wider Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities. This is an area that Schreiwer sees as a primary challenge to address, “We find ourselves embroiled in debates that we have not actually chosen to enter into as an organization, and, thus, we are highly reactive rather than proactive.”

Steersman Robert L. Schreiwer [Courtesy Photo]

Through his candidate statement, Schreiwer explained that, “It seems that every time a minor issue arises, it turns into an unnecessarily divisive conflagration that serves mostly to weaken the organization from the core.” He plans to address this issue by crafting strong and clear messaging about what The Troth stands for, what they believe, and what they wish to accomplish.

The Troth has already moved forward on more clearly articulating their position on discrimination policies. Schreiwer says that, while Sovereignty of Conscience or the right for people to what they wish to believe, is an important ethic in Heathenry, The Troth as an organization has the right to draw its own boundaries.

At the recent Trothmoot, members voted to change section 4.4 of their bylaws from “The Troth does not support any misuse of Germanic religion and culture to advance causes of racism, white supremacy, or any other form of discrimination.” to “The Troth is open to all who seek to know and to honor the Gods, ancestors, and values of the Germanic Heathen traditions, regardless of gender, race, nationality or sexual orientation. The Troth stands against any use of Germanic religion and culture to advance causes of racism, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, or any other form of prejudice.”

Schreiwer highlighted his vision for The Troth’s future as Heathenry evolves and changes from individuals whose only link to Heathenry is online to Kindred groups and thriving local communities of Heathens.

He said that The Troth needs to become the “go-to” organization for Heathen issues making news. “We are hindered, though, by our seemingly constant state of reactivity. … Taking control of our own narrative is a major feature of the next phase of The Troth’s growth.”

Another change that Schreiwer has already instituted will make it easier to volunteer. He said that The Troth is going to need more volunteers if they are going to take on projects that are too large for individual Kindreds. The Troth now has Paul Mercurio in the newly created position of Volunteer Coordinator.

New High Rede members oathing to the organization. From left, Lagaria Farmer, John Mainer, Robert Schreiwer, Jo Spinks, Lisa Crowley Morgenstern. [Photo Credit:D. Paxson]

Some of the other new projects Schreiwer proposes are the creation of a network for disaster relief, a revamping the website, assisting with the building Hofs, and a mutual aid society.

Also elected to the High Rede as members of the Board of Directors are Lisa Cowley Morgenstern, Tanya Equality Peterson, Jo Mckee-Spinks, Brian K. Jenkins, Hrafn Skald, and Mikki Fraser. Other volunteer positions filled include Murielle Tugendhaft as Reckoner,  Dennis Ford  as Troth Kindred Program director, and Thomas De Mayo in the permanent role of Provost of the Lore Program.

Pagan Community Notes: CalderaFest 2017, Michigan Pagan Fund, The Troth and more!

Mon, 2016-06-20 09:58

CalderaFest will be returning in 2017. The festival was a landmark event bringing together Pagan musicians from around the globe for four days of fun. Organizer David Banach said, “I decided to do CalderaFest again mostly because the first one was simply pure magic.” The 2016 festival was held in Lafayette, Georgia over May’s long Memorial Day weekend. Most attendees agreed that, despite the problems, CalderaFest was a unique and powerful experience .

Acknowledging that the various problems, Banach said, “I see them as opportunities to make the next one better.” He added that organizers will be making changes both big and small. “We are cutting back on the scale of things. Having 30 acts play on the stage in 3 days was a logistical challenge. Unfortunately, some set times and sound quality suffered […] We are going to reduce the number of vendors a bit and modify the vendor area so it is a more pleasing area for all. […] The stage is going to be slightly relocated. We will turn it almost 90 degrees to keep it out of the direct sun and to face it toward the vendors. We are also looking into a canopy for the front to provide shade for the audience.”  As for complaints about the heat, dirt and dust, he said, “We can’t control them, really we are taking steps to reduce their influence.”

One step to reducing that influence and perhaps the biggest event change is the scheduled date. The 2017 festival will be held in early October rather than late May. Banach said, “I was honestly concerned for the safety of some people. I, myself blacked out on Saturday.” Moving the date to autumn will eliminate the heat problem, as October is one of the most popular camping times in Georgia due to its mild temperatures.

Originally, the fest was moved to Labor Day weekend in late August. Banach explained, “We very quickly realized that was an error and we needed to correct it. First, the heat problem would be there, possibly worse. Second and mostly was its clash with Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I must have received 70 or 80 messages in 2 days myself about this.”  The festival is now scheduled for Oct 5-9, 2017 at Cherokee Farms in Lafayette, GA.

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Michigan Pagan Scholarship

The Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund (MPSF) awarded its annual scholarship to Pete Ryland Shoda, III. Shoda is a graduate of the West Michigan Aviation Academy, and will be continuing his studies at Grand Rapids Community College and Northwestern Colleges. Shoda plans to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Operations.

Shoda’s essay, which is posted in full on the scholarship’s website, is titled, “What Being Pagan Means to Me.”  It reads in part, “Being Pagan means that I have a lot to live up to. The God’s [sic] and Goddesses are watching me, Mother Nature is watching me, and the wind is listening to me, carrying my spells, chants and requests to the Universe. Always helping, always taking care to leave a small mark, always being a good person to others, taking care of the Earth, giving back when I can. These are some of the things that being Pagan means to me.”

The Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund was created after the Tempest Smith Foundation closed its doors in 2014. In response, five organizations, including the Universal Society of Ancient Ministries, Magical Education Council, Pagan Pride Detroit, Witches of Michigan and Witches Ball, decided that the foundation’s scholarship program was vital to their community. The group came together to pick up the project and, since 2014, have been annually awarding the $500 scholarship to winners.

All recipients must be high school seniors, residents of Michigan and Pagan (or a child of Pagan parents). Fund Chairman Gordon Ireland said, “The Michigan Pagan Scholarship purpose is to recognize and encourage young Pagans. Only one scholarships is awarded each year, winners must demonstrate evidence of leadership, and engage in community service.”

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The Troth announced the election of its new Steersman (President) and High Rede (Board of Directors). As noted in a press release, “Robert Lusch Schreiwer took his oath of office as Steersman at Trothmoot at Fort Flagler, WA, on Saturday, June 11.” Schreiwer is founder of the Urglaawe and is a Ziewer (godsman) of Distelfink Sippschaft, located in Pennsylvania. He has been serving The Troth as its Associate Steer under former Steersman Steve Abell.

The new Associate Steer is Lagaria “Gari” Farmer, who has been serving the Troth since 2006 as a Steward from Tennessee and has been serving on the High Rede since 2013. Both she, Lisa Morgenstern and John T. Mainer were all reelected to the High Rede for the coming term. Morgenstern is the Southern California Steward and a member of Hrafn Skjoldr Kindred. Mainer is the western Canada and Military Steward, and serves as Freyr of the Heathen Freehold. Mainer will also be the organization’s new communication officer.

New faces on the Rede include Joanna Spinks and Mikki Fraser. Spinks is the Assistant High Steward of western Pennsylvania, and the founder and leader of The Hearth Of Yggdrasil. Mikki is a godhi (godsman) and co-founder of Vargulf Kindred based in northern Nevada. Other Rede members, who were not up for election, include: Officer Liaison Amanda Leigh-Hawkins, Tanya Peterson, Hrafn Skald, ande Brian K. Jenkins.

We will be bringing you more about the Troth under its new management this week. 

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Raymond Buckland created a stir last week after weighing in on the hexing debate. In a public Facebook post, he wrote, “So very sorry to see so many people who call themselves ‘witches’ talking about hexing people. Just undoing all the work that we pioneers worked so hard to do.WITCHES DO NOT HEX PEOPLE; DO NOT DO NEGATIVE MAGIC – period! Send out love. Find a POSITIVE way to change someone, if you really feel that necessary. (I wouldn’t mind betting that these people haven’t got the power to hex the skin off a rice-pudding anyway!) In love and light — Ray Buckland.”

Almost immediately, Buckland’s post went “viral,” garnering both support and backlash. It was shared 611 times on Facebook alone and earned passionate commentary across social media. Only four hours after making that statement, Buckland followed up with this: “We all walk on different paths and must all be accountable for ourselves. I can only speak for what I have learned and what I teach. In the early days of the Craft in the U.S. a number of us worked long and hard to try to get rid of the misconceptions of witchcraft; the belief that witches worked evil magic and cast curses/hexes on others. To me it is a shame to see all that work being undermined in many ways. But I have spoken my piece. Perhaps it’s good that it has started a discussion?”

In Other News:

  • Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC), the Florida chapter of Covenant of the Goddess, is hosting a vigil for the victims of the Orlando attacks. In a Facebook event page, EMLC coordinators write, “Join the Witches and Wiccans of Everglades Moon Local Council as we hold space for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. We ask that people of all faiths join us to remember the victims and send loving, healing energies to their families and friends, and for our nation as a whole. We invite you to participate no matter where you are.”  Participants can join them from anywhere in the world. It will begin at 9 pm ET.
  • Pagan filmmaker and Wild Hunt writer Dodie Graham McKay has announced pre-production of a new 15-minute documentary project titled, “Starry Skies.” The film will feature amateur astronomer, Pagan author and teacher Kerr Cuhulain and highlight what the night sky looked like and what it meant in world without artificial light. With the help of Cuhulain, Starry Skies “will offer viewers an earthy version of [the Overview Effect], challenging us to restore our spiritual connection to our land and environment, by looking to the stars, and seeing them again for the profound markers of space and time that they are.” Graham McKay has received a grant from BravoFactual and hopes to begin production in August.
  • Other news out of Canada, Gaia Gathering has announced the location for its 2017 conference. It will be held at the Clarion Hotel in Calgary from May 19-22. The theme is “Rhythm and Flow.” Gaia Gathering is an biannual Canadian Pagan conference that moves from city to city and is held over the long Victoria Day weekend.

  • Immanion Press / Megalithica Books has announced a call for submissions for its new anthology titled Trans Pagan: Life at the Intersection of Faith and Gender. As noted on the website, “The vision for this anthology is to include a combination of academic and personally inspired pieces that explore the experience of transgender lives within a Pagan context.” The anthology editor is Deirdre Hebert, a transgender Pagan “whose writing career ranges from technical writing to radio news copy. She is the host of PaganFM – one of the longest-running Pagan podcasts and radio programs.” The submissions are due Sept 1.
  • The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall is already thinking about October. The museum will be hosting a conference on Oct 15 titled “A Day of Talks on Halloween Past & Present.” The event will be held at The Wellington Hotel in Boscastle and will celebrate the “2016 exhibition Glitter & Gravedust exhibition. Speakers include: Ronald Hutton, Judith Noble, Louise Fenton, Tommy Kuusela, Bekki Shining Bearheart, Dorothy L. Abrams and Mogg Morgan. Tickets are already on sale.

 

 

Happy Summer Solstice

Sat, 2016-06-18 22:04

TWH – For many people around the world, this weekend marks the celebration of the Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer or Litha. It is at this time that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted closest to the sun. The astrological date for this year’s solstice is June 20, 22:34 UTC (or 6:34 pm ET).

In honor of the abundance of daylight and sunshine, communities have long used bonfires, music, dancing, and outdoor festivals as traditional features of both religious rituals and secular celebrations. In some modern Pagan practices, it is believed that this holiday represents the highest ascendancy of masculine divinity.

At the same time, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are experiencing the exact opposite. They are coming together to celebrate and mark the winter solstice – a time of darkness, candles and inward reflection.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. [Photo Credit: Hephaestos]

This 2016 solstice event is particularly special. It will be the first time in 70 years that the full moon is happening at the same time. Slooh.com will be broadcasting the rare event live.

There are several international secular holidays that correspond to the midsummer holiday. In 1982, Make Music Day, held annually June 21, was established in France and has since spread to become a global solstice celebration of sound. And, on that same day, others will be honoring the United Nations’ official International Yoga Day, while still others will be taking to the warm summer mountain trails to celebrate Naked Hiking Day.

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

June also marks gay pride month — officially proclaimed this year as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month — which has grown in popularity over the past few decades. Events are specifically held in June to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, which happened in New York City on June 28, 1969.

Similarly, in the social spectrum, June 19 marks the formal end of slavery in the U.S. and is often called Juneteenth or Emancipation Day. While it is not widely celebrated, the holiday is reportedly becoming more popular and gaining ground in cities and local venues. The day is currently marked as an official state holiday in Texas.

While those celebrations mentioned above are all examples of secular-based traditions, there are just as many religious-based holidays that occur at this time, many of which are honored by modern Pagans, Heathens and polytheists.  As already noted, there is the celebration of Litha or Midsummer, or conversely Yule and Midwinter.

The Fires of St. John festival, a Christian-holiday, is also held at this time in many countries and is closely associated with the older midsummer solstice’s traditions, including bonfires and feasts. Similar celebrations are found in many European countries, often known by different names.

In Vodun, Lucumi and other African diaspora religions, there are a number of feast days celebrated around this time, including the Feast of Ochossi and Feast of Eleggua.

In modern Hellenic reconstruction, the festival of Promethea occurs on June 21. One of the traditions is to eat fennel, which this is what Prometheos used to smuggle fire to man.

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering [Courtesy Photo]

Here are some thoughts on the season:

“Litha or Midsummer, a time of bonfires, mugwort, mythical beings, nights and days of mischief and love. The veil is thin. The Celts, the Norse and the Slavs believed that there were three ‘spirit nights’ in the year when magic ran amok and the Otherworld was near. The first was Halloween, the second was May Eve and the third was Midsummer Eve. All sorts of enchantments are in the air now and Spirits and Fairies abound.” –  Danette Wilson, “Outside the Circle: The Bad Fairies of Litha

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“As we honor the solstice we may reach out to the sun, but while doing so we will also reach out to those that have been lost. We will grieve for them and we will grieve with them. Hopefully the energy we raise in their remembrance will inspire us to help bring about the change that will make for better tomorrows. This Midsummer will be a somber sabbat, but that’s what it should be.” – Jason Mankey, “A Somber Solstice

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“There’s a powerful juxtaposing of realities going on right now: one is the world as we know it, with an ethos of fear and scarcity, and an ugly underbelly that’s so evident in the horrific news of recent weeks; and the other is a life-centered ethos revealed in Nature’s emerging summertime landscape of stunning beauty and overflowing abundance.” – Karen Clark, “Three Lessons from the Summer Solstice

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“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.” –  Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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However you choose to celebrate the season, a very happy solstice to everyone!

Column: Against Leviathan

Fri, 2016-06-17 21:00

The massacre in Orlando was an act of war, but how are the sides of the war delineated? Donald Trump, who declared in March that, “I think Islam hates us,” frames the war as Islam against the West. After the Orlando mass shooting, Trump again promised that if elected President, he would use his power to ban “immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.” Trump also accused Muslim communities in the United States of failing to report the “bad” Muslims whom he claimed were known to those communities: “Muslim communities must cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad – and they do know where they are.”

Frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, 1581.

The New York Times published an article covering Trump’s speech dramatically entitled, “Blaming Muslims After Attack, Donald Trump Tosses Pluralism Aside,” in which Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns noted that Trump’s “language more closely resembled a European nationalist’s than a mainstream Republican’s,” and described him as “flouting traditions of tolerance and respect for religious diversity.” Even Republicans have accused Trump of uncivilized behavior:

“Everybody says, ‘Look, he’s so civilized, he eats with a knife and fork,’” said Mike Murphy, a former top adviser to Jeb Bush. “And then an hour later, he takes the fork and stabs somebody in the eye with it.”

Both Trump and the New York Times cast the civilized nation-state of the United States as the protagonist of their stories. The Times just happens to include Trump in its list of those who threaten “American traditions,” whereas Trump would list Mexicans and Muslims instead. But not all storytellers consider civilization itself to be a protagonist.

In his 1983 book Against His-story, Against Leviathan, Fredy Perlman questions the entire narrative of civilization. Perlman borrows the term “Leviathan” from the authoritarian political theorist Thomas Hobbes, who described the organization of human societies into a “great Leviathan called a Commonwealth, or State, in Latin Civitas, which is but an artificial man” (qtd. in Perlman 26). Hobbes’s “artificial man” bears an uncanny resemblance to what Karl Marx called capital: “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” Perlman, too, describes a leviathan as a carcass “brought to artificial life by the motions of the human beings trapped inside.”(27)

Perlman notes that the human beings within the earliest leviathan, that of Sumer, “still seek contact with the spirits of the winds, the clouds, even of the sky itself,” and that this continued contact with the spirits and gods “is probably what accounts for the exoticism that will continue to cling to what we will call ‘early civilizations.’”(23) Later in his narrative, Perlman writes that the commandment “thou shalt have no other gods before me” is a precursor to modernity: “this is modern.”(57) He writes that monotheism is Moses’ “inner emptiness, his armor, his own dead spirit” projected “into the very Cosmos.”(56)

In Perlman’s analysis, leviathans expand by conquering and subsuming more and more human beings. Naturally, many human communities attempt resistance, either by fleeing or fighting. Perlman describes the decision to stay and fight in eloquent animist terms:

Not all communities want to flee. Their valleys, groves and oases, the places where their ancestors are buried, are filled with familiar and often friendly spirits. Such a place is sacred. It is the center of the world. The landmarks of the place are the orienting principles of an individual’s psyche. Life has no meaning without them. For such a community, leaving its place is equivalent to committing communal suicide. So they stay where they are. And they are kissed by the monster’s grotesque lips.(32)

Unfortunately, as these communities attempting resistance build their own permanently walled cities and establish their own permanent standing armies, “soon there are many Leviathans.”(34) The resisters turn into precisely that which they had attempted to resist, and they develop what Wilhelm Reich called “character armor.”

William Blake, “The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve,” 1826.

Perlman uses terminology borrowed from Zoroastrianism to describe the need to shed this internal armor:

Zarathustra reduced Hesiod’s five generations to two: one is outside the Leviathan, the other is inside. The outsider is Light, Ahura Mazda, associated with the spirits of fire, earth and water, with animals and plants, with Earth and Life. Ahura Mazda is the strength and the freedom of the generation Hesiod considered the first, the golden.

The insider is Darkness, Ahriman, also called The Lie. Ahriman is the Leviathan as well as the Leviathanic armor that disrupted the ancient community. […]

Ahriman is in the world and in the individual. The war against Ahriman is waged in the world and in the individual. It is simultaneously a struggle against Leviathan and against the armor. It is waged with fire, the great purifier. The mask is burned off, the armor is burned out, the Leviathan is burned down. And woe to the world if the fire should fall to Ahriman, to the hands of armored men!(77)

Of course, the fire does indeed fall into the hands of armored men, and subsequently, the clashes of rival leviathans are deceptively framed as cosmic battles of good and evil, where one’s own leviathan or civilization is “on the side with the angels,” while “the wilderness is elsewhere, barbarism is abroad, savagery is on the face of the other.”(1) That is precisely what we see today, with Trump, with Clinton, with the New York Times. Tellingly, Perlman begins his entire book with an epigraph from Matthew Arnold:

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night.(1)

A Darkling Plain

In an interview in The Atlantic, “The Meaningless Politics of Liberal Democracies,” Shadi Hamid argues that “there’s a general discomfort among American liberals about the idea that people don’t ultimately want the same things, that there isn’t this linear trajectory that all peoples and cultures follow: Reformation, then Enlightenment, then secularization, then liberal democracy.” He says that political Islamist movements (which vary widely in their interpretations and applications of Islamic law to politics) often “don’t ultimately want the same things” as American liberals, and that these differences should be acknowledged and respected:

As political scientists, when we try to understand why someone joins an Islamist party, we tend to think of it as, “Is this person interested in power or community or belonging?” But sometimes it’s even simpler than that. It [can be] about a desire for eternal salvation. It’s about a desire to enter paradise. In the bastions of Northeastern, liberal, elite thought, that sounds bizarre. Political scientists don’t use that kind of language because, first of all, how do you measure that? But I think we should take seriously what people say they believe in.

Hamid also states that rise of “ideology, religion, xenophobia, nationalism, populism, exclusionary politics, or anti-immigrant politics” all signal a widespread loss of faith in secular liberal democracy. He says to the interviewer, “the question of whether it’s good or bad is beside the point […] I see very little reason to think secularism is going to win out in the war of ideas.”

William Blake, “Behemoth and Leviathan.”

Hamid’s analysis isn’t too dissimilar from that in the New York Times in seeing xenophobia and nationalism as rejections of liberalism, but unlike the Times article, his approach is to analyze the reasons why this may be happening. In Fredy Perlman’s words, “Leviathan, the great artifice, single and world-embracing for the first time in His-story [sic], is decomposing” (301).

Like Perlman, Hamid also understands that violence is central to state building. Therefore, the question of whether Islam as a whole is violent or not is a strange one to him:

A question I get a lot is, “Wait, ok, is Islam violent? Does the Quran endorse violence?” I find this to be a very weird question. Of course there is violence in the Quran. Muhammad was a state builder, and to build a state you need to capture territory. The only way to capture territory is to wrest it from the control of others, and that requires violence. This isn’t about Islam or the Prophet Muhammad; state building has historically always been a violent process.

Perlman writes that although the world-embracing leviathan is now decomposing, “being above all else a war engine, the beast is most likely to perish once and for all in a cataclysmic suicidal war.”(301) We see today an “array of competing actors” in Syria, that battleground that has become emblematic of our times, one where “opposition groups frequently merge and disassociate, producing a dynamic churn that makes understanding the opposition challenging.” These days, the question of “sides” in spiritual and cultural warfare is only relevant if one speaks of the ancient struggle of human communities against leviathan. The decomposition of one leviathan into many little leviathans is no longer particularly interesting.

William Blake, “Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing,” circa 1786.

“People waste their lives when they plead with Ahriman to desist from extinguishing the light.”(301) However, Perlman writes of another vision as well, one which does not involve another armored leviathan rising from the ashes as so many have before:

In ancient Anatolia people danced on the earth-covered ruins of the Hittite Leviathan and built their lodges with stones which contained the records of the vanished empire’s great deeds. The cycle has come round again. America is where Anatolia was. It is a place where human beings, just to stay alive, have to jump, to dance, and by dancing revive the rhythms, recover cyclical time.(302)

The Orlando shooting took place at an LGBTQ+ nightclub. It wasn’t just an attack by one leviathan against another. It was an attack on human beings, on human community, on dancers, on “kinship and community,” on those who “still have an ‘inner light,’ namely an ability to reconstitute lost rhythms, to recover music, to regenerate human cultures.”(301)

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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.

Column: LGBTQ Community Speaks in the Wake of the Orlando Tragedy

Fri, 2016-06-17 11:55

Once again we are standing in the wake of a horrific tragedy and trying to make sense of the lives taken away by an act of violence. On June 12, 2016 around 2 A.M. a gunman walked into the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida with an assault rifle, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others. Pulse, a LGTBQ club, was hosting a “Latin Flavor” event that was packed with approximately 300 people enjoying life and love on that Sunday morning.

Celebrations of love, during this Pride month, turned to the mourning of those who were killed and to the honoring of those wounded in Sunday’s tragedy. While many people try to make sense of the losses and the continued hatred directed at LGTBQ individuals, the mainstream media continues to focus on the shooter and his apparent motives. They have neglected to show the impact on the local, LGTBQ, or Latinx communities.

[Courtesy: Wikimedia]

The pain and loss experienced by these intersecting groups is being overshadowed by the most sensationalized tactics of the mainstream media machine. The erasure of politics and fear is in full force, which is nothing new to this community or to other historically marginalized communities. Little room is left to collectively grieve and support LGTBQ people without hate, fear and political nonsense creeping in.

After the event happened, the spotlight quickly moved toward attempts to identify the motives of the killer, tie him to specific agendas of extreme terrorism, which then becomes political fuel for the upcoming elections. Instead of a focusing on the very real grief of the affected communities, the media bypassed the LGTBQ voice for sensationalized news coverage and terrorist plots.

With so many publications focusing on the story of what happened at Pulse, I felt it was important to prioritize the voices of the LGTBQ, LatinX and the interconnected Pagan/Polytheist communities – voices that are too often lost in the madness.

In doing so, I also recognize that the grief, shock, and pain of such an incident makes it challenging to speak up at times like this. In reaching out to some within the local areas, or within the LGTBQ Pagan community at large, the rawness of the situation deserved care and consideration. Below are some of the reflective, inspiring, emotion filled, fierce words of a community impacted by the events of June 12.

The LGBT community in Orlando, the rest of Florida, and throughout the country and the world is still in shock after this tragic act of hate and violence. Our pain and outrage is compounded by media erasure of the fact that this was a deliberate attack on the LGBT community, and by those who seek to use our tragedy to further Islamophobic and gun control related political agendas.

We are doing our best to build something good out of the tragedy, by using it to bring us together and renew our sense of solidarity and community. Monday night I worked with a coalition of the LGBT leaders and organizers here in Pensacola, working together more closely than ever before to put together a candlelight vigil in honor of the victims of the Pulse massacre. I’ve never been more proud of my community than I am now, since I’ve seen how we respond to tragedy with love and support. – Katharine A. Luck, Ordained Minister of Florida’s Fire Dance Church of Wicca and vice president of STRIVE

A few days before the Orlando massacre, I was talking to a straight friend who was giving me the “things are so much better and homophobia is dying out with the older generations” speech. I disagreed, but my well meaning friend was not ready to hear me. I was in the Orlando area about a month ago and had reconnected with people I know there.

I am an early riser so the horror of watching the news started very early in the day as I worried for my friends, grieved for the losses, and so much more. In addition to everything else, I saw repeated efforts to ignore, minimize, and sidestep the centrality of homophobia to the why and the when of the attack. So in addition to the emotional wound delivered to every LGBT person by the attack, there was also the wounding message that we matter less than making political hay.

I have been out for 42 years and every single one of those years I have been affected by physical, emotional, and political violence. It is useful to have gained some legislation over the course of those years, but ultimately the real work is in changing the culture. Homophobia is not dying out with the older generation, pay attention to the age of most of the perpetrators of violence. The hateful ideas are passed down the line like most abusive behaviors, and I see the same hateful values taught and role modeled today as when I was 16. If you want to do something about Orlando, work to change yourself and our culture, that is where real change lives. – Ivo Dominguez, Jr.

The news about Orlando has pulled at my heart in so many ways. I still can’t read the names or look and their pictures. They look too much like my community, my friends, the ones I go out with to queer bars in San Francisco. It could have been any of the people I know. It could have been me. I’m grieving for the families, especially the mamas burying their young. I’m grieving for the young queers, especially queer Latinx and other QTPOC who feel afraid.

Queer bars are not just safe spaces for me. They are temples. They are where I find the Blue God, the Peacock Angel, dancing among us, rejoicing in our beauty, power, and freedom. And I find myself asking, in what ways does our practice hold us in these moments? How do we stay present when our communities and the communities of those around us experience so much violence?” – Abel R. Gomez

The first thing I read yesterday (June 12) when I woke up was about the Orlando shooting. For most of the day I didn’t really have an emotional response; I was angry but a lot of my other queer friends were more effected. I was driving to a café at around eleven at night when it hit me as I was listening to NPR, though, and I just started crying in the car.

I felt bad for crying. I don’t really feel I have the ‘right’ to be upset, even though I’m queer and even though the whole situation is horrid enough everyone should be crying. I’ve appreciated seeing my queer Pagan friends and leaders talking about the shooting and how to heal and extending themselves to the wider community, especially Elena Rose.  – Aine Llewellyn

Queer is the only word to define us. Queer is the word we will wear. And an ocean of strange friends that we call family, ebb and flow around us. All making up their families as best as they can, too.

And another year follows yet another day. Checking in after morning prayers, there is word from a beloved friend: There’s been a mass shooting. His friends go to that club. One still unaccounted for. He is bereft.

A day of grief shatters a month of joy. A month set aside to mark the uprising, a riot where trans women led gay men to say, “Enough!”

Enough harassment. Enough beatings. Enough killings. Enough arrests. Enough denials of housing. Of children. Of jobs. Of health care. Of being with our loved ones. Enough. Enough. Enough.

We too say enough.

You will not kill us. A few may fall, cut down, but you cannot kill us all. We will not let you. And we will not let you use our blood to organize more hatred and more war. Yes. I’m looking at you. And you. And you, too.

Last night, I made a decision. It is one I’ve made before:

I don’t want to, but if I have to, I will die in the streets defending my siblings from harm. Be they cis or trans. Black, brown, or white. Men or women. Not men, not women. Queer or straight. Or something wholly new. A parent defending a child. A band of Pagans. A Muslim at prayer. A young black man just hanging out. Two women, white, or brown, kissing on a sidewalk. Comrades locking down. A group of friends dancing and laughing, drinking beer at one a.m. – T. Thorn Coyle

Anthony Falls Bridge lit up June 12 2016 [From Tweet by @derekjohnson]

Apparently our mainstream media (MSM) and conservative politicians are bound and determined to erase us, to make the mass murder in Orlando into a “tragedy” that does NOT acknowledge precisely who lost their lives. Queer people. Latinx / Latin@ people. People who were in a safe place, dancing, sharing love and lust and light and space.

The dead are dead because of homophobia. The dead are dead because people in this country have become far more visible in persecuting (through word and deed and law) LGBTQIA people. The acts of violence are nothing new; the laws are flashbacks to the old days when what we wore was legislated.

I am queer. I am terrified, because a man was arrested before he could get to an LA Pride event, and he had guns and bomb-making materials, and apparently enough hate that he drove from the middle of the country to attack people he didn’t know. I am sick with heartbreak, because the conversation is (once again) about the identity of the man who did this, and not about the identities of those who died because of his hate.

Visibility is so necessary to our community. Yes, it’s dangerous, and not everyone can practice it. But if we are not seen, not acknowledged in the truth of who we are, then bigots will continue to ramp up their hateful words, acts, and legislation. – Dee Shull

I have been trying to unwind the various threads that combined to weave together the tragedy of last weekend. Instead I found myself tied up in knots unable to move and heartbroken. The fact that the shooting had even occurred was devastating; the number of deaths and injured unbelievable.

In the GLBTIQ community we refer to each other as family. We share common experiences, some of rejection and hate, others of acceptance and Love. It is these experiences that help to bring us together. We come together in clubs like Pulse to share community, dance, sing; to be our authentic selves and to be safe. These are the only locations where many of us are able to do this.

This attack has devastated our family and shattered our sense of security. In addition that devastating news that most of those killed and injured were Lantinx/Hispanic/Mexican, communities that have been exploited, marginalized, oppressed and are under vitriolic attack in political and public discourse, added an almost unfathomable overlay to the story.  People who have been attacked for both their ethnicity and their sexuality, gunned down in a venue where they anticipated being safe from the attacks they endured from the outside world.

The added knowledge that the killer may have been struggling with his own orientation only adds to the tragedy.  This attack may have been fueled by a combination of internalized homophobia and the misogynistic abusive propaganda put out by individuals and organizations skewing the teachings of their religions to meet their warped political end goals. If this is the case, the shooter is a victim of the lies and hatred told him as much as the victims he shot. This is not to diminish his actions but to highlight the complexity of this tragedy.

And so I find myself in knots, knots that time will eventually unwind, but knots that will forever have an impact on the fabric of my community and my chosen family. – David R. Shorey

Minneapolis Vigil for Orlando Victims [Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr]

3 hours
Yes I’m going there. We, the queers, have been thinking and talking about those three hours.  “Mommy, I love you …  He’s coming.  I’m gonna die.”
Walking in, saying, “If you are still alive, raise your hand.”
WE are talking about it, thinking about it, dreaming about it.
3 hours to be hunted, wounded, die.
Black, Brown, Queer people, and three hours.
A part of me says, “There is no Justice.”  Another part says, “We make our own Justice.”
The cottage/community witch in me is working fiercely to love and be present to my Queer family. The Social Justice witch in me, is in that place where there are three hours going by. For now, that is all I have to say. – Jacki Chuculate

I actually started receiving text messages and emails of solidarity from friends and allies long before I heard the news about Orlando first hand. And of all the messages and voices and memes and social media posts I’ve seen, one message rang the most true. It went something like: If you don’t understand how a club can be a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid of holding someone’s hand in public.

And that brought to mind a poem I wrote my freshman year of college. It’s included in my book, The Playground. It came about after I was physically reminded that I am not – or was not – allowed to exist in all spaces. I was not welcome, and my mere presence was seen as some kind of threat.

And it is in that space where I am beginning to process the fact that in 2016, in our own places of sanctuary, we are just as vulnerable and just as endangered as ever. These spaces are just as important as ever.  – Fire Lyte

I don’t feel sad. I feel RAGE. Being entirely free and open to others, whether Gay or Polytheist, in a country where savagery, ignorance, and entitlement are nurtured is a gamble not worth taking. Want to learn more or come near me, my culture, my beliefs? Fuck you, you can sit by your lonesome until I’M good and ready. Don’t like it? KEEP WALKING. – Lāhela Nihipali

>We are adaptable creatures. Our brains are built to cope with horror. But if you don’t feel this pain, if you can say to yourself “this isn’t about me,” or “this isn’t my fight.” You’re wrong. No matter your sexuality, your gender identity, your race, or your religion.  Violence against one is violence against all. Until we can accept that we are all connected, that we are all responsible, it’s going to happen again. And that is the true horror. – Rúndaingne Ash

[Courtesy Pulse Nightclub Facebook Page]

>I am the mother of an LGBT teen and I had to tell her about the shooting before she left her bedroom this morning. It broke my heart to see her bouncing out of bed in a good mood (a rare enough event in adolescence!) and to have to take that joy away. Her political awareness and spiritual sense of self are both developing in the context of the current climate of divisive and hate-filled politics and public shootings.

She’s scared that marriage equality will be taken away; she’s sad and afraid of violence and hatred. She’s had to deal with ignorant questions about her faith but I don’t think she’s had any vitriol due to her sexual identity. I know that I can’t shelter her from all the hate and ignorance in the world but I’d love to keep her safely under my wing for a little while longer. Of course our family, our friends, our religious community are completely welcoming and loving. It is a gift I am happy that I can give my children. Their Gods and Goddesses love them, their trad mates love them. They have examples of happy adults living all sorts of different  lives.

I wonder if the dissonance between the loving and accepting cocoon of our community and the hate and fear of broader society are going to cause her pain in the long run. Because I know that someday, someone will say something ugly to her for being who she is, whether it is directed at her religion or her sexual orientation. It breaks my heart that I can’t protect my child from the sickness of our society. These are just some thoughts off the top of my head. I appreciate you giving space on TWH for this issue this week. Our home has been rocked by this horrifying event. – Larissa Güran

Truth time;
We are of one blood,
And it bleeds red,
Regardless what pigmentation your skin.
No matter,
Who you like to fuck,
Which is what it boils down to
No matter
Who you are on the inside,
Showing who you are on the outside
And if our paths do meet,
Who am I
To choose when your ending ought to be?
All of our lives
Our Paths,
Even if our paths never cross,
Stitched together by a Maker,
Whomever that might be,
Who can speak for Them?
And if
They do not possess the power to speak for Themselves’,
Who are we to speak for Them?
And furthermore,
Why are we following Them?
So,
50 lives for 50 states,
50 hearts,
50 souls,
Gone in a matter of moments
53 more
Unspeakable atrocities
Made in the image
Either of what you believe in
Or what you fear. – Jeremy Shirey

Vigil at MIT June 14 2016 [Photo Credit: Maia Weinstock, Flickr]

In the wake of this horrific catastrophe, we have the opportunity to step forward and center the voices of the LatinX and LGTBQ communities in our society. We get to challenge a narrative that is so often pushed into the mainstream consciousness without challenge or question. We have the opportunity to embrace those who are often ignored or discarded and pass the mic that will amplify their voices.

Within our interconnected Pagan and Polytheist communities we have a unique chance to truly embrace the spirit of community by listening to the words of our marginalized. We are small enough that we can dismantle the walls keeping us separated and large enough to make an impact in the process.

The chance to use our collective power to demand changes in legislation and laws, and to demand proper representation in our government and organizations holds more power than a simple social media meme or a lit candle. The isolation created by erasure can be lonely and harsh, we can counter it by being present and willing.

As we all continue to heal from the devastation of this unspeakable injury to the LGTBQ community, we should ask ourselves: “Who are the most affected?”

How can we give space and honor those who have lost their voice? What can we do to support our LGTBQ community members and friends? How can we lift up our most marginalized? What actions are needed to support our LGBTQ and other marginalized peoples beyond this moment in time?

The legacy of erasure, oppression, marginalization and othering that happens within the larger societal construct will continue to impact those who we care about, if we are not willing or brave enough to speak up, step out, and work for love.

From Washington DC Vigil June 13, 2016 [Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr]

In our collective road to understanding, let us now acknowledge the names of those who lost their lives while celebrating Life in Orlando, Florida.  As we say, what is remembered, lives! 

Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Cory James Connell, 21
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Frank Hernandez, 27
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Kimberly Morris, 37
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

More from LGBTQ and LatinX leaders:

Author’s note: A special thank you to those who were willing, able or available to contribute to this piece during such an emotionally challenging time. In an effort to put LGTBQ voices forward it became apparent how understandably challenging this was at this time. I honor those who took the time to do this, and I also honor those who were not at the space to be able to. I see you. Thank you.

King Arthur fights ‘pay to pray’ move at Stonehenge

Thu, 2016-06-16 10:40

King Arthur Uther Pendragon has been fighting for the rights of British Pagans since the 1980s, and his main battleground has been Stonehenge. His main foe? English Heritage, the charity that manages the ancient monument in the county of Wiltshire.

Stonehenge [Photo Credit: garethwiscombe/Flickr]

Arthur shot to prominence when he led a campaign to remove an exclusion zone around the inner circle of the monument, so that the solstices and equinoxes could be celebrated properly there.

His fight took him all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, and English Heritage finally dropped the exclusion zone for the quarter days in 2000.

Arthur was born John Timothy Rothwell and was head of a biker gang called the Gravediggers before finding the Druidic path and, as he explained, coming to a realisation that he was King Arthur reincarnated.

He decided to change his name accordingly, but had to wait for updates to English and Welsh Law that allowed it. As a hangover from centuries of being a Christian nation, people could not change their “Christian name” until 1986.

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Arthur said, “I’ve been on this quest as King Arthur for 30 years. It was the Queen’s birthday on June 11th, 1986 that I officially changed my name. I couldn’t have done it before that.”

Arthur is backed by his Loyal Arthurian Warband, a Druidic order that describes itself as the warrior/political arm of the modern Druidic movement. According to Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University, a world authority on Paganism, Arthur has “the biggest Druidic order in the world.”

King Arthur Urther Pendragon [Courtesy Photo]

The latest battle in his ongoing quest is against English Heritage’s introduction of a car park charge of £15 (roughly 21 USD) at the summer solstice. The site is open all year except for Christmas Day, and then the quarter days – when only Pagan communities are given access.

Arthur has been holding pop-up protests against the levy, blocking access routes to the site for tourists.

“This is a pay to pray charge,” he said. “English Heritage make money off Stonehenge for 360 days a year. They receive 1.3 million visitors per year and charge them approximately £20 each per entry. They have a car park capacity of 600 vehicles per hour, soon to be extended to 900.”

To Arthur, this ruling is partly about a clash of cultures and a lack of understanding about the importance of Stonehenge as a pilgrimage site to modern Pagans worldwide. Access, after all these years, is still a key issue.

Arthur said, “An order has been put in for around the site to restrict parking on the roads in and out of Stonehenge, so they would have a monopoly on the car parking.

“Stonehenge has always been a gathering place for like-minded spirits. It’s a Sun temple and is a sacred clock that comes alive at the solstices and equinoxes. It helped us to transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, as through it we knew which time was the right time to plant (crops), otherwise their whole community would have been wiped out. So it was very important to study the stars and know our place in the heavens.”

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge [Courtesy English Heritage]

When we contacted English Heritage it did not address Arthur’s campaign directly but stressed its role as steward of the site and insisted that the charges were a response to booming visitor numbers.

In a statement, the body said, “In recent years there has been huge growth in people and cars coming to the World Heritage Site for summer solstice. To protect Stonehenge and to keep solstice special, English Heritage has introduced two new changes this year, intended to make the occasion cleaner, greener and more enjoyable for everyone.”

Kate Davies, general manager of Stonehenge at English Heritage, added, “As guardians of Stonehenge, it is our job to look after the monument. We ask all attending summer solstice to respect the stones and the people around you.”

As usual, Arthur will be at Stonehenge this year. But he has decided to use his usual time of celebration to protest the charge.

He said, “I’m not going to pay their charges. I’m going to be stood in the car park encouraging everybody not to pay.”

Another bone of contention is the alcohol ban on the site. English Heritage states that “by making solstice alcohol-free and encouraging more people to travel by public transport, we believe people will be able to enjoy Stonehenge and the solstice here”.

But Arthur points out: “Paganism is not a sombre, po-faced religion. We are there to celebrate the rising of the Sun. How we choose to celebrate in our belief structure is no concern to English Heritage.”

Some have raised concerns about the celebrations held at Stonehenge to mark summer solstice not being spiritual enough and Arthur concedes: “It is akin to a secular event for some, something you’d have on your bucket list, like Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve.”

However, he went on to say, “To all the Druids and Pagans who complain it’s not spiritual enough, I say it’s because you’re not going that it’s not spiritual enough. Put your robe on, get there, and start teaching people about the spirituality of it. Then it will be spiritual enough for you.”

Arthur makes a point. Summer solstice is an opportunity for Pagans of all stripes to engage the public, yet many shy away from this. Arthur uses the annual gathering to inform people about the occasion. He said, “I’m there, robed up, talking to people all night about the spirituality.’

[Courtesy Photo]

Summer solstice at Stonehenge is such a big event compared with the other quarter days because the warmer weather and lighter evenings attract a huge crowd. Last year, some 40,000 people turned up.

Another campaign running in tandem with the one on car parking fees concerns the ancient bodies, which had been found buried around Stonehenge. Arthur would like them to be returned to their original resting places at the site.

In his podcast The King’s Speech, Arthur begins outlining what this campaign is about by saying: “As Druids, we believe in honouring the ancestors. We believe that those who were buried around Stonehenge were instrumental in developing the culture there that went before us.”

This re-interment campaign is of its time, as it has paralleled a similar one spearheaded by British Druid Emma Restall Orr called Honouring the Ancient Dead. But Arthur’s campaign is primarily focused on Stonehenge.

He said, “For too long, us Pagans and Druids have been silent on this matter. We cannot see the wishes of our forefathers swept aside in the name of science and technology. We believe our ancient dead have a much right to be left in peace as our recent dead and that their cultural belief structure is as valid as any belief structure to this day.

“They’ve got a skeleton on display in the gift shop. With modern science and technology, they don’t need to do this. Those people were buried there as guardians of Stonehenge and I want them put back. It is disrespectful to take our ancient dead out of the ground and put them on display in such a fashion.”

For this solstice though, Arthur’s focus will be on the car park charges at Stonehenge.

He stresses: “For us it’s a spiritual pilgrimage, we should not be charged to pray, we should not be told how we can and can’t celebrate. We go with a wild Pagan heart and that’s how it’s going to stay.”

From Conjure to Coloring Books: 45 Years of the Witches’ Almanac

Wed, 2016-06-15 11:22

NEWPORT, R.I. — When Elizabeth Pepper first started publishing the Witches’ Almanac in 1971, information on Wicca and Paganism was not easy to find. Most of it came in the form of newsletters and word of mouth, or through copies of the magazine Green Egg, where were read over and over again. Pagans had not yet begun to network in any meaningful way.

The Witches’ Almanac was one of the earliest publications to cater to practitioners of these emerging religions, modeled to some extent upon the Farmer’s Almanac in that it provided useful information in an annual format. With the exception of a ten year personal hiatus from 1981-1990, Pepper published The Witches’ Almanac consistently year after year.

Pepper’s work and legacy continued on past her death in 2006 by her successor Andrew Theitic, who reminisced about the long-lived publication, which now, 45 years later, has evolved into a recognizable brand.

Pepper was already a well-regarded practitioner of the Craft when Theitic first met her in 1974. She clearly embraced the belief that women were the equal of men — an idea that was not widespread by any means. She demonstrated this by becoming the first female art director of Gourmet magazine, serving in that position for most of the 1950s. While her experience in publishing made it possible for the Witches’ Almanac to be created, it was her knowledge of the occult that made the almanac  something to be sought after.

Theitic began contributing soon after the two met, and Pepper eventually asked him to become its managing editor, while she continued to manage the art responsibilities. “When Elizabeth became ill in 2006, and was no longer able to work,” he recalled, “she asked me if I would take over the publication” and of the various titles then within her purview. “Of course I agreed to this. Elizabeth was a close friend for 30 years, and it was important for me to continue her legacy.”

When she died later that year, she bequeathed her publishing business to him, entrusting the legacy into his hands. And, since that point, Theitic has strived to live up to that responsibility. “I have continued with her wishes,” he said, “bringing magic, Witchcraft and wonder to our readership.”

The almanac has seen two overhauls in appearance to keep it up to date, and there have been complementary additions to the business. “I have expanded our line of titles to include books by Charles Leland, David Conway, and soon in the upcoming year, Paul Huson. We now also produce book bags, gemstone jewelry and an assortment of other fun items,” he said. “It is my intention to expand the almanac’s list of authors to include other notable writers. Hopefully we will see this happen over the next few years. In addition, we have some other publishing surprises in store.”

Of those surprises, Theitic was mostly coy, but he did acknowledge that one had to do with hoodoo; the other is “involving a Witches’ Almanac Journal.”

“Flight of the Transformed Witches’ [courtesy image]

With the tremendous growth and diversification in Pagan and associated religions, the almanac’s content and readership have kept pace. Topics include magic in forms from high to kitchen. It includes histories and discussions of various religious practices. There was even one devoted to the logo used by the Obama campaign, which garnered a thank-you note on White House letterhead.

“We receive letters from Witches, physicists, cunning folk, astrologers, Pagans, IT managers, artists, magicians, folklorists, college professors and many others from all walks of life,” Theitic said. He added that Pepper once remarked to him, “Dear, there will never be a shortage of interesting material. Just look at all of the different people who read the almanac. There will certainly be something of interest for everyone.”

Another example of how the Witches’ Almanac brand has been kept relevant is the release of the coloring book. The annual almanac reaches about 20,000 readers, and with this newest offering, “we are reaching the very youngest of our readership, and as I understand it, these little folks are now interested in the almanac too!”

The coloring book, as previously reported, is derived in part from illustrations that have been included over the years in the almanac proper. This includes images like “Flight of the Transformed Witches,” the standard back cover of the publication. The book is broken into thematic chapters, including sections of tarot, creatures, Egyptian themes, and medieval woodcuts.

In the woodcut category, images range from simple to very complex, allowing the artist to choose his or her level of involvedness. Many of the images can be very educational for children. This is especially true of the tarot, planets and constellations categories. Any age group will find the coloring book to be fun and relaxing. However, I feel that if coloring was a joint effort between parent and child, the education component also gets a chance to shine at its best.

The coloring book notwithstanding, “We are now reaching the grandchildren of the readers who were with us from the almanac’s inception.”

Even with his stated push for more “notable” writers, Theitic is willing to consider others less well-known, so long as they’ve been published. “We have a full complement of regular writers,” he said, but “we do welcome new writers, with new ideas.”

Cover 2016

In 2004, the trusted publication entered the online world. As with any printed product, it’s a struggled to decide what to put online, and what to reserve for the page.

“For years, my marketing adviser has been suggesting that we charge for content, and make the site a go-to location for a lot of Almanac/Witchcraft/Magic-related information; almost forming a community. The staff and I have struggled with this, and as is evident, have chosen not to go in this direction at this time.”

What can be found on the site, beyond the publications themselves, is “a book review page, extras from almanac articles (usually an overflow from exceptionally long articles that are too lengthy to run in the printed almanac), Sites of Awe photos, and other information.

“I can’t say that the website has helped with sales. However, in a time when book sales everywhere have been decreasing, I believe the website has been helping to keep us around that 20,000 copies we print each year. In order to reach sales figures like this, it requires us to partner with our distributor, Red Wheel Weiser. The folks there have been invaluable to the growth of the Witches’ Almanac and related publications.”

That partnership, in which Red Wheel Weiser handles distribution, in some ways dates back to 1974. Theitic and Samuel Weiser both owned bookstores at that time and developed a friendship. Many years later, when Red Wheel Weiser absorbed the almanac’s distributing company Hampton Roads, their friendship made it easier for Theitic to trust the new company to continue distribution.

That relationship has supported other projects as well. The Weiser-founded bookstore, now called Weiser Antiquarian Books, sold the leather-bound limited edition of Charles Leland’s The Witchcraft of Dame Darrel of York when Theitic’s company published it. The Witches’ Almanac also hosted the following 2010 interview with Donald Weiser, who was the bookstore’s publishing program.

The Witches’ Almanac and associated projects make up a for-profit enterprise, which is not entirely common in Pagan circles. As such, Theitic finds himself a creator of Pagan jobs. In addition to himself, six part-timers and a full-time art director are employed handling tasks ranging from the more mundane, such as sales and fulfillment to a position just a bit more Pagan in character: the staff astrologer.

“Although our staff is paid, and not volunteer, each of them goes out of their way to fly the extra mile,” Theitic said. “We are a family before we are a business.”

From a rare source of knowledge to a well-regarded Pagan brand, the Witches’ Almanac has thrived in its first 45 years. One can only look forward to what surprises are to be revealed in the coming years and decades.

The Ins and Outs of Pagan Festival Camping

Tue, 2016-06-14 14:12

TWH – The Pagan festival season is in full swing and many festival festival ‘virgins’ are both excited and worried about what to expect. They may be familiar with camping, but haven’t been to a Pagan festival before or they may be new to both camping and Pagan festival culture.


First Time Campers

There are many resources for basic camping tips and lists of gear to bring, and check them out before going to any festival. Two important tips for those new to camping: reuse items already owned and focus on organization.

One of the main frustrations while camping is losing items or wasting time searching for something you need.

Coolers aren’t all that big, but it’s amazing how much stuff can get lost in them. Pack your food items in plastic, waterproof containers. Put all your cheeses in one container and sliced meats in another, and label the top. Prepare and pack all the ingredients for a meal in baggies and put those baggies into a plastic food container along with the recipe. Put snacks for the kids in single serving containers with brightly colored lids. That way, kids can help themselves when they are hungry between meals.

You’ll want a place for your garbage. While there will be communal garbage cans or daily garbage pick up, you’ll  still want your own can. It keeps your area clean and saves your sanity. You can find pop up garbage containers or laundry baskets at most any store in the lawn care or dorm room storage section. Maybe you already have one. Just throw a bag in it and you have a place to put your garbage.

Another organizing tip is to pack your items in stackable plastic bins. Plastic bins protect your items from rain, humidity, animals and bugs. Look for bins that can be snapped or clamped closed. I’ve had my tent completely flooded out but my clothes and gear were kept safe and perfectly dry in these bins. Group your gear in the containers so that everything is easy to find. Your tools go in one bin, your kitchen items in another, and clothes go in a third.

You already own many items that are superior to most camping gear. Just look around your home.

Need a camping kitchen or a dining table? Use an ironing board. Ironing boards are great because they can adjust to countertop or table height. Most camping kitchens you buy are very low which forces you to hunch over while cooking. Another advantage is that an ironing board top, once the fabric cover is removed, is heat resistant and easy to clean. Many of them also have holes or a grid which is perfect for hanging pots and utensils using S hooks or carabiners.


Want a place to store condiments or other small items? Chances are you have a hanging shower organizer in your bathroom.Take it camping. You can hang the organizer on a tent pole or a tree and fill it with fire starters, tools, ketchup, and napkins. Need something to store all your bedside items like car keys, books, flashlight, and glasses? Bring your craft or knitting organizer. Now you won’t be feeling around in the dark for a flashlight when you need to pee at 3am.

If you have an area rug, bring that and put it on the floor of your tent. Just like in your home, it will keep you from tracking dirt further into the tent, which really means your bed. If you can, take your shoes off outside your tent and wipe your feet on your rug. Otherwise you’ll be sweeping your tent and shaking dirt out of your bedding every day.

Pagan Festival Culture

Camping at a Pagan festival is different from camping at your local park. There are unwritten rules to follow so everyone has a safe and enjoyable time.

The first is that showing skin is not giving consent. Many festivals are clothing optional, or attendees may dress in ways that show more skin than you’d normally see. This doesn’t mean they want sexual attention or an invitation for physical contact. Staring or making comments about their appearance are also not appropriate.

Ask before you touch. Some people set up altars in their camp, and they also may have other interesting items on display. There may be moments that you want to hug a person or pick up a child. Or, you may see lovely items for sale in a vendor booth. The general guideline is, if it isn’t yours or your body, ask before you touch it/them.

Similarly, ask before you enter someone else’s campsite. You wouldn’t just walk into a home without asking first, right? Same with a campsite. Most people are thrilled to have you visit them, even people you don’t know. They want new people to visit them! So say hello, and ask if you can come on in. Chances are, you’ll quickly make a new friend.

Noise. Even though you can see and hear most everything happening in the surrounding tents and campsites, pretend you don’t. Likewise, try to keep noise down, especially early morning and nighttime hours.

Bring fun items. Decorate your camp with Pagan items. Make a small shrine. Wear fun clothes and jewelry. Braid your beard. There will probably be drumming each evening (which may last all night) so bring a percussion instrument.

While at a Pagan festival, it’s easy to get so into meeting new people, attending workshops and rituals, and dancing all night that you forget to care for yourself. You become high on community love and being able to be so far out of the broom closet it isn’t even funny. So while you are doing all of that, don’t forget to care for yourself. Wear sunscreen. Drink water. And obey the 5:2:1 rule.


Get at least 5 hours of sleep each night. Caffeine is not an appropriate substitute for sleep. Eat 2 solid meals per day. Snacks don’t count. If you find yourself so busy during the day you’re forgetting to eat, put a sandwich in your bag and eat it between workshops. Take 1 shower per day. It will most likely be hot, and you’ll be sweating. Dirt will get caked in crevices. You will smell and wonder why people are avoiding your awesome hugs. If you don’t want to shower, wash your pits and groin in a basin. Shower time is also a good time to check yourself over for any infected bug bites, ticks, or other injuries that should be cleaned and taken care of.

The Wild Hunt also talked with Lori Dake, author of A Guide to Pagan Camping: Festival Tips, Tricks and Trappings and asked her for her top three tips for camping at a Pagan festival. Here is what she said:

– Bring everything in the bathroom. By this I mean if there is an item you regularly use in the bathroom, be it a toiletry, medication, or something else, bring it, or a trial size of it, with you.

– Prepare for (nearly) all weather. If it’s a high summer festival, you probably don’t need your down parka, but nights can dip down to the 40’s and 50’s. Extra socks, packed in individual zippered plastic baggies, should be on everyone’s list.

– Bring what you can afford to lose. Anything and everything can happen, so don’t bring anything that cannot be replaced or will result in a serious cramp in your mundane life. For example, if you bring a phone, tablet or laptop, everything on it needs to be backed up!

Her book has many more suggestions on how to have a successful Pagan festival experience and is available in paperback or ebook.

Pagan Community Notes: Orlando, Lady Epona, Hexing Help and more!

Mon, 2016-06-13 09:57

ORLANDO — Tragedy struck early Sunday morning when a man open fired inside a crowded Orlando night club killing an estimated 49 people and injuring 53 others. As of publication, federal officials have not conclusively linked the attack to the organization Daesh. However, state and local officials are calling it a terror attack due to the gunman’s history and personal statements.

The owner of the nightclub Pulse, which bills itself as the “hottest gay nightclub” in Orlando, posted this message: “Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today. Pulse, and the men and women who work there, have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you.”

A Facebook application called Safety Check allowed Orlando-based users to check in “as being safe” and allowed others to check on a friend’s status. Many members of the Orlando-area Pagan, Heathen and polytheist community were using that app as news spread. Regardless, the event has shocked the country and the world, being called the worst terror attack on American soil since 9/11. There have been candlelight vigils, social media memes, prayers, blood drives, and other actions being taken to help and show support for the families and friends involved and for the LGBTQ community as a whole.

The Wild Hunt will have more reactions to the weekend tragedy in the coming days.

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ATLANTA — It was announced that Patricia Zook, known to the Pagan community as Lady Epona, had died. She was High Priestess in the Faerie Faith and played a pivotal role it the tradition’s development. According to students Linda Kerr and Cliff Landis, in her early days, Lady Epona worked closely with Mark Roberts, who had previously spent time with Morgan McFarland. They wrote, “Epona emphasized a strong sense of ethics and a focus on personal transformation.”

Over the years, Lady Epona was involved with and led many organizations including the Coven of the White Horse, the Garden Club, and the Mud Witches. She was also a veterinarian and perceptual student of the Craft. Landis and Kerr wrote, “Epona’s thirst for wisdom and community was relentless, and even in her last weeks of life she was sharing her knowledge as a Reiki Master and passing on lessons to her great-grandchildren in the Craft.”

Landis, along with his partners, served as Lady Epona’s caretaker in her final days. She died of cancer, COPD, and congestive heart failure on May 29, 2016, at her home in Decatur, Georgia. There will be a memorial June 19 at 4:00pm at the Clarkston Community Center. A ritual to celebrate her life will be held in October at the FallFling Festival in Alabama. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Gwinnett Animal Hospital’s Good Samaritan Fund. What is remembered, lives.

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[Courtesy Photo]

TWH – After Tuesday’s hexing action went viral, organizer Melanie Hexen received something unexpected. Hundreds of women began contacting her with requests for more hexings. In a Facebook post, Hexen wrote, “Hundreds of women have sent me pictures of their unconvicted rapists and molesters asking for magick.” On Saturday alone, she reported receiving over 300 requests.

Not all those requests came from Pagans, Heathens or other magical practitioners. One of those women said, “I do not practice the art myself… But you gave me new hope on a case that I thought was hopeless and lost.”

Anyone who has followed the hexing story has seen that Hexen and other participants have received both an outpouring of support as well as fierce backlash. While some of that response may have been expected, Hexen did not foresee the enormous number of requests for additional hexings, or more specifically, for hexings of the “unconvicted.” In her post, Hexen said, “Ladies, you are survivors and the strongest witches amongst us and I am humbled.”

Update 6/13/16 4:24 pm ET: Prior to original publication, we reached out to Hexen to see if she had any plans to help these hundreds of women with spellwork or in other ways. She was not available to respond at the time, but has responded since. Here is what she said: “We formed a private Facebook group for sharing stories, resources, and magick. Also, I’ve been reminding [the women] that survivors have the most powerful witchcraft.”

In Other News

  • The Prairie Land Music Festival is on schedule and will be held June 24-26. It is the festival’s first year, and aims to showcase both folk and Pagan music talent. As we reported in the past, organizers were having difficulty rounding up volunteers and funds. Rumors began circulating that the event had been cancelled. However, that was never the case. The Prairie Land Music Festival is now getting ready to open its doors for the first time, featuring “10  great performers scheduled who specialize in Folk, Celtic and Native American Flute Music.” In addition, there will be vendors and kids activities. The festival will be held at the Johnson County Fairgrounds North Arena in Iowa City, IA.
  • The Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA), in partnership with the Vine Arts Center, will be hosting a new exhibit titled “Modern Pagans/Ancient Realms.” In the exhibition, artists respond to the following question, “What does this revival of pre-modern religions contribute to the larger conversation?” The event will feature painting, live performance, photography, ceramics, video, and mixed media. The “Modern Pagans/Ancient Religions” exhibit opens July 8 at The Vine Center in Minneapolis and will be open through July 29.
  • Pagan Spirit Gathering begins this week and runs from June 19-26 in southern Illinois. Rev. Selena Fox, founder of Circle Sanctuary said, “As part of PSG each year, we do workings for Pagan religious freedom. This will be part of our opening rite on Solstice Eve on Sunday night, June 19.” Lady Liberty League also holds its annual meeting during PSG, and it can be attended by PSG guests interested in religious freedom work.
  • The interest in Doreen Valiente and her work has not yet subsided in the U.K. Ashley Mortimer, trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, was just featured on the podcast show “Cult of Nick” about the exhibitions, the book and the upcoming play. And, this weekend, in honor of Gerald Gardner’s 132nd birthday celebration, Pagans and others will be gathering at Preston Manor, where the Doreen Valiente exhibit is being hosted. On June 18, Mortimer, along with Philip Carr-Gomm and Tam Campbell, will be giving talks to visitors, who come to visit the exhibition.
  • For those that did not attend Caldera Fest or for those that want to relive it, a video of one of Tuatha Dea’s performance, featuring Ginger Doss and Sharon Knight, was posted to You Tube. Enjoy!

Transgender Inclusion Debates Re-ignite in Pagan Community

Sun, 2016-06-12 11:09

TWH – Over the past year, issues related to transgender rights have crested in mainstream social discourse. The most recent national debate has centered around the passage of North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (also known as House Bill 2 or HB2) that, among other things, “blocks local governments from allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms that do not match the biological sex.”

The collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, as diverse microcosms of the greater whole, are not free from similar debates, discussions and, at times, serious conflicts on the subject of transgender inclusion. While never fully disappearing from the culture’s meta-dialog, there are times when a particular event or action rekindles the conversation with renewed fervor, pushing it to the forefront of communication.


And that is exactly what has happened over the past month, reaching a fever pitch last week. Transgender inclusion became a focused topic in a conversation at the Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) in Tennessee and, similarly, the subject became the focus of online protests due to a newly proposed anthology edited by musician, author and priestess Ruth Barrett.

While some of the dialog was offline, most of it appeared in digital forums. Those people who do not use social media regularly or not all, may have seen or heard only bits and pieces of the conversation. Through interviews and public postings, The Wild Hunt has put together a look at just what happened and why.

“I guess this all started three weeks ago at Pagan Unity Festival. I was a VIP and sat on a panel to discuss topics of Paganism on Thursday afternoon,” explained Heathen author and craftswoman Gypsey Teague in a message to The Wild Hunt.

“When my turn came I called out some of our female elders in the Pagan community for being sexist and exclusionary due to their philosophy of gender versus sex. I stated that it was insane to tie someone’s religious following to what does or doesn’t appear between your legs or in your genetic DNA. Unfortunately there are still some women out there that not only believe that but force it on their line and their ilk that follow her.”

After that event, Teague was interviewed by Faith Mattingly on the Tree of Life Hour at Pagans Tonight Radio Network. As advertised, the two-part radio show was focused on the “transgender issues that are coming up again and again in our community and how we as a community should respond to folks who have a different gender expression than the binary male/female cisgender.”

Teague said, “By the end of the event it seemed like everyone was talking about transgender exclusion and how I was ‘pissed’ at the discussion; which was not true. What I believe is that if you tie your religion to a penis or a vagina you don’t deserve to be in the religion. We have too many examples of gender fluidity in our paths to still believe or accept this.”

Around that same time, author, musician, witch and Dianic priestess Ruth Barrett was launching an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for her new anthology titled Female Erasure. Barrett explained to The Wild Hunt, “Female Erasure is an anthology that celebrates female embodiment, while exposing the current trend of gender-identity politics as a continuation of female erasure as old as patriarchy itself […] Female erasure is being enacted through changing laws that have provided sex-based protections.” The unedited interview in its entirety is available here.


The IndieGoGo campaign was launched June 4 with a goal of raising $25,000 toward editing, design, legal and technical fees. After only eight days, the campaign has reached 50 percent of its goal. Barrett said, “Our contributors want radical societal change – freedom from oppressive gender roles, not from our sex. We want a world free of the so-called gender stereotypes of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’ We want a world where the ideal of diversity is not abused to oppress and erase 51 percent of humanity. We want a world in which everyone’s biological reality is honored, our sacred bodies are celebrated, and where sex-based violence and enforced gender roles become obsolete.”

Despite Barrett being the editor, the anthology is not a Pagan-specific project. Its projected audience is far broader and most of its contributors do not fall under the Pagan, Heathen or polytheist umbrella. With that said, the project does include several Pagan voices, such as Ava Park and Luisah Teish, and essays that discuss the proposed issues from a Pagan perspective. One of Barrett’s own offerings is titled, “The Attack On Female Sovereign Space In Pagan Community.”

For Barrett, the project is linked to spirituality in that she has been “assisting women in the often painful process of coming into awareness about how male-centered cultural and religious views and institutions have been foundational in their very personal sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and how patriarchal socialization powerfully influences their self-perception.”

While a few of the unpublished anthology’s essay titles evoke what some might consider a feminist spirit consistent with many Pagan practices, other titles raised immediate concerns, resulting in a fierce wave of backlash. Along with that spirit, there is also an expression of what is being called “transgender exclusion” and “transphobia.” In our interview, Barrett said that “transgender politics dismisses biological sex differences as irrelevant, while suppressing critical conceptual examinations of gender itself, ignoring the history of female class oppression, enforcement, male domination, sexual violence, personal suffering, and social and economic inequality.”

The first protest came in the way of a June 5 call-to-action blog post by activist and author David Salisbury. He wrote in part, “As a leader of the largest witchcraft tradition in Washington DC, I refuse to sit in silence. As an author and teacher of Goddess spirituality, I refuse to sit in silence. As a queer person, I refuse to sit in silence.” After Salisbury, the online, written protests only grew in number through both the blogosphere and social media, including posts from Peter Dybing, Vanessa Blackwood, Estara T’Shirai, Yvonne Aburrow, and Susan Harper.

After reading the funding campaign explanation and exploring the work of various authors, Pagan transgender activist and vice president of STRIVE Rev. Katherine A. Jones said, “I find it disheartening that so many women are so mired in a combination of transphobia and internalized misogyny that they are willing to blatantly attack their fellow women in the name of this exclusionary false feminism they have created […]The obsession with so called ‘biological sex’ is an indicator of women who see themselves as nothing more than vaginas. Just like the patriarchal men who oppress them. Unfortunately it seems to be common even within the Pagan community.”

Barrett said that she fully expected the backlash. When asked specifically about transgender exclusion and the erasure of the transgender identity within the scope of the book, she said, “While it is well-documented that physical and sexual violence against women and girls is on the rise globally, so-called progressives and the transgender lobbyists are acting to silence, disrupt, and legislate against our ability to name, gather and address the issues of our own oppression. This is female erasure.”

She added that the anthology addresses “concerns about a very profitable and growing transgender medical industry targeting well meaning parents, vulnerable children and adolescents, with no other options discussed other than transitioning that results in sterilization and a lifetime of dependence on pharmaceuticals and with no long-term studies of the health impact, are silenced. In this industry young lesbians and gay boys can be “normalized” by transitioning them. The possibility that homophobia is playing out in this issue seems to be too taboo to discuss.”

Arguably the most public outcry came from activist and writer Alley Valkyrie via Facebook.* On June 7, Valkyrie posted an “Open Letter to the Pagan Community,” which was shared over 250 times in that forum alone. The letter read in part, “As a pagan and a cis woman, I cannot and I will not remain silent on this matter, and I will not stand by in the face of violent targeting that is being enacted in my name.”

Valkyrie clarified later that, while she does not support the anthology or Barrett’s work, her letter was actually aimed at attacks reportedly being launched at some of the bloggers who had previously spoken out against Barrett’s anthology. In the letter she said, “I also recognize that by posting this, I will also likely become a target.”

Shortly after the publication of her open letter, the post was removed along with other similar ones. Then she was locked out of her Facebook account for 24 hours. Other Pagans were reporting similar occurrences around that time. Valkyrie’s letter can be found in its entirety here.

Valkyrie and others have accused Barrett of being “complicit in this violence” due to her close association with those suspected of enacting what is being labeled as “doxing.” Barrett said she knows nothing of these attacks and hasn’t been following the online backlash.

But that is not where the story ends; it is where it gets more complicated. In her open letter, Valkyrie addressed Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) due to its continued relationship with Barrett. The letter reads, “I am calling on Cherry Hill Seminary to publicly disassociate with Ruth Barrett immediately.”

Within twenty-four hours of hearing about letter, Barrett resigned saying, “I believe very strongly in the mission of Cherry Hill Seminary and their academic commitment to diversity in their faculty and the free exchange of ideas. Rather than let my participation endanger the future of Cherry Hill Seminary, it made the most sense for me to respectfully remove myself. While some doors have closed to me, I will continue to teach as I have been doing all along.”


In an interview CHS director Holli Emore told The Wild Hunt that Barrett tried to resign last fall when similar issues rose the surface, but the CHS governing board would not accept the resignation. Emore explained, “The work of a seminary is to prepare people to facilitate healing and build bridges. The work of higher education is to expose students to as many ideas as possible and to develop critical thinking skills.”

At the time, the seminary stood behind its commitment to academic freedom. However, Barrett did cancel her fall rituals course and, as has been revealed, hasn’t taught any class at CHS for four years even though she is listed as faculty.

This time around, the school accepted the resignation.

“Cherry Hill Seminary has never and would never condone violence against anyone and most certainly supports the full rights of transgender individuals,” said Emore. “The kind of attacks of unbridled animosity against Pagans on issues like this is indicative of a deeper need. It is clear to me that CHS is needed more than ever.”

CHS President Jeffrey Albaugh took to Facebook, saying, “Although I find the events disheartening and depressing, I keep returning to a single question: what do I have to offer that can aid in the process of resolution? The answers were simple. I can listen. I can enter into dialogue. We can have a discussion on the matter. This ability to enter into dialogue is, in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of leadership.”

Albaugh added that, since the issues came to light, nobody had reached out to him personally and that “demands have been posted on the Internet, strewn across Face Book and re-blogged ad infinitum.” He said, “No wonder this is off the rails. Everyone is shouting and no one is listening. So this, then, becomes my invitation. Contact me.”

While issues, reports of attacks, and conversations continued to circulate online, Witch and blogger Pat Mosley took a different approach to action in support of transgender rights. Like Barrett, Mosley is now spearheading an anthology project, but this one gives voice specifically to “Queer, Trans, and Intersex Witches.” The proposed book Arcane Perfection, was first imagined as a coven-based “zine” but, as Mosley explained, “recent events” have changed its direction.

“HB2 was probably the biggest one. We really snapped into this mindset of needing to be there for one another — a lot of us can’t be out to our families or at work, so our coven is really our sanctuary,” explained Mosley. “Hearing that a Pagan community leader was editing a new anthology which, in part, appears to be discussing trans civil rights as an attack on women’s rights inspired our decision too. Both of those things affect more than just our coven.”

Mosley went on to say that many “Queer, Trans, and Intersex people find power in Witchcraft” and that will hopefully serve as a point of solidarity “regardless of specific tradition, and regardless of the geographic distance between us.” Another objective, as Mosley described, is to address “the way Wiccans talk about gender.”

“We want to see that [discussion] evolve,” Mosley said, “Most Wiccans and other Pagans these days seem to want LGBT+ people to feel included. Often that looks like adapting a hetero-centric framework to accommodate other perspectives. Our intention with this zine and now the book is to have Queer, Trans, and Intersex people define and talk about Wicca, Paganism, Witchcraft, etc, rather than positioning cis/het Pagans as the owners of traditions with the authority to include or exclude us.” The deadline for Mosley’s new anthology is set at Aug. 1.

Neither Mosley’s or Barrett’s anthology have a set delivery date yet. However,  they are both in production and moving forward.

Returning to Barrett, in reaction to what has happened this week, she added, “Everyone is entitled to their sense of identity. What often goes unexamined at a deeper level is the contextual influences and cultural norms (including enforced gender stereotypes) that informs consciously or unconsciously how a person arrives at their identity. This is explored within the anthology in many ways. ”

The current debates, arguments and the reported attacks may not yet be over. Time will tell.

But the subject is certainly one that will persist, as it always has, into the future at both public gatherings, like PUF, and online through blogs and social media.

Looking over the entire situation from beginning to end, Emore said, “When respectful dialog is silenced by threats, we are all diminished.”

In a blog post, author Yvonne Aburrow offered a different type of community call-to-action, saying, “Gender essentialism and separatism is the mirror image of patriarchy. We reject the patriarchy and the kyriarchy. […] Let us magnify and glorify the images of divinity within ourselves and each other. Show forth love and beauty and creativity; celebrate the radiance of the many-hued multiplicity of gender expression, sexuality, and the human body.”

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* [Editorial Note: The Wild Hunt always aims for balanced news reporting. However, as a community-based source, there are times when our writers are affiliated, in some way, with aspects of a story. In those instances, we make a decision on how to ethically handle the story. Today’s article was such a case. Our managing editor currently teaches a class at Cherry Hill Seminary, and one of those quoted above is a Wild Hunt columnist. Our editorial team reviewed this article carefully to ensure a clear presentation of the issues.]

Guest Post: Reclaiming The Sexual Self Through Magic and Ritual (Part Two)

Sat, 2016-06-11 06:43

[Guest journalist Zora Burden returns to her discussion with artist, author and hypnotherapist Iona Miller. In Part One, Burden began her conversation with Miller on the subject of sacred sexuality and the reclaiming of the body and sexual self  – a topic that is rarely addressed publicly within a positive framework. Today, we present part two of that interview.]

Casa della Farnesina, Rome, ca. 19 BC [Public Domain]

ZB: In regards to the practice of sacred sex, what would be the best way for a beginner to approach it?

IM: Approach it with love. The key to love is selflessness, and the fulfillment it brings. The soul’s selflessness is as great as the body’s selfishness. Love is the language of the soul that allows us to unleash its unlimited capacity. It is a poetic and aesthetic act, a celebratory rite, and a marriage of matter and spirit as an experience of wholeness. We don’t need to support that phenomenon with any theory, jargon or interpretation. Sacred sex is an inherently healing practice and attitude that promotes well-being. It’s about rapport, reverie, and rebirth.

When you can fully imagine your lover as God/Goddess, their transcendent embodiment of the essence of male/femaleness, you’re there. “Knowing” in the “biblical” sense is direct, undeniable experience — a gnosis. It is ravishment beyond rapture – complete transport to the sacred world which is beyond time, beyond decay. It conveys a sense of the eternal – the fated. It fascinates us because transformation is our biological imperative.

Ultimately, it’s all about love – in or out of bed. You must approach the world as your lover, with naked awareness. That does not mean to be socially naïve or idealistic, nor to overemphasize the mysteries of semen retention, or ‘vaginal weightlifting,’ for example. Did you feel some cosmic merger, some divine infusion? Transcendence? Most will not go through all the initiations and empowerments, but essentially anyone can enjoy the practice of imagining the indwelling divinity of their sexual partner, in or out of an intimate relationship.

The mind is the primary sex organ. The psychological issues remain the same: projection, sex addiction, folie a deux, co-dependence/interdependence, fantasy, rapport, trust, intimacy, and commitment. All libido is sexual energy to some extent, the natural urges of life at any given moment. It is a self-regulating intentionality that knows where it ought to go for the overall health of the psyche. It is the urge to create, an energy arising from “life” drive — physiological or psychic energy associated with sexual urges.

ZB: Could you describe a typical tantric experience for a person to know what to expect and how it differs from standard sex?

IM: Most ‘sacred sex’ is no more than sex with an added psychic dimension, whether that is individual or shared with the partner. That may include visualizations, imagination, adoration of the archetypal aspects of the partner, and as much or little external ritual as one wants or can produce at the time. It does not have to affect spontaneity.

ZB: What is the best way for one partner to introduce tantra into their relationship? How does a committed partner compare to engaging in tantric practice with a stranger?

IM: If you know the person, you can talk about exploring your spiritual and sexual interaction more deeply. It is much like disclosing an interest in any sexual fantasy, and may be less challenging than some exploratory behavior. You find your way along together, moving in mutually satisfactory directions. I cannot comment to the ‘stranger’ issue, but one should avoid romanticizing a sex and love addiction, where there is compulsion at work. If stranger sex is a default or personal choice, then one can probably figure out how they can work out their sexual and spiritual agenda in that context. It cannot be imposed or judged externally, unless there is toxic behavior or reactions of participants. There can be unforeseen consequences.

Iona Miller [Courtesy Photo]

ZB: If a person wishes to find an instructor, how do you advise they find a teacher right for them?

IM: Traditionally, the teacher finds you. One you have a good rapport with is probably better than one you cannot relate to or communicate with effectively, even if they have more knowledge. Pick one that harmonizes with your developmental interests.

ZB: How would one know they are ready to engage in ritual practice as a form of sexual awakening?

IM: There is no harm in trying if it is kept simple. Awakening to deeper levels of sexual experience is open to all who care to do so. It is an experiment you make with yourself. Some people speak of being ‘called’ toward such practice by their unconscious and fantasies.

Libido fuels all appetites. It is a drive, identical with fantasy-images, that motivates us spiritually, intellectually, and creatively. If you think you can have a life-affirming experience in this manner you probably will experiment with it.

ZB: Will you explain how one knows if they’ve activated kundalini and what this means for those who are not familiar?

IM: In some sense any sexual arousal activates kundalini or libido. Senses become more heightened, you may feel heat, vibrations, or pressure, and hear different sounds or pitches. Each chakra has its characteristic effects. The energy flow in the subtle body may range from a trickle to a strong flow. Like sex, it requires surrender. Such broad questions cannot be reduced to quick formulas; each person is different.

ZB: What are the precautions or preparations one should keep in mind for kundalini arousal?

IM: Such precautions for Kundalini yoga and other spiritual practices are covered in Michael Murphy’s book: The Future of the Body.  Gopi Krishna describes Kundalini simply as the normally latent psycho-sexual power that, when awakened ascends through the central channel of the subtle body. The root word “kunda” means a pool or reservoir of energy, likened to a coiled snake, ready to strike at any moment. Correctly directed, it leads to cosmic consciousness and liberation.

ZB: What is the best way to practice tantric sex when so many people are busy with work and the stress of daily life?

IM: Just taking the time to make it special, from relaxing and bathing to a full spa-experience helps prepare both body and mind. But the attitude toward the partner and the sacred dimension remains the main thing, even without any preparation time. Nothing prevents the adoration of the archetype or inner divinity at any given moment. Perhaps it begins with just the interlocking gaze of ‘soft eyes.’

ZB: Do you feel there is any aesthetic that should be included in a ritual of sacred sex?

IM: I don’t think there is ever any rule. Perhaps sometimes you feel very dramatic, other times earthy. It’s nice to have an atmospheric spot, certainly conducive music, and perhaps the right incense for the operation. Aesthetic response is an essential emotional aspect that lends flow and harmony to the process of balance, rhythm and synthesis of immediate perception.

Aesthetics is an artistic philosophy. Imagery evokes a perceptual response — an aesthetic response, a participatory way of knowing, remembering, and reconnecting body with soul and identity. Looks -The nature of beauty is an immediate revelation of things as they are: unity, line, rhythm, tension, elegance. This communion of the soul with the mysteries of inner and outer world is naked awareness of divine self-revelation. The felt-sense of form and beauty is instinctual. There is beauty in the rhythms of nature and our nature. This flow is lyrical, epic and dramatic. Aesthetic signification is one thing, but the deep emotional impact of aesthetic arrest — being suspended for a thrilling radiant moment in the eternal — stops us in our tracks in a moment of realization.

ZB: How can one ideally incorporate working with the gods or goddesses in their sacred sex?

IM: Authenticity – bringing one’s whole self to encounter. If you are sensual, be sensual; whatever your style is, express yourself freely. Let intuition guide you to elicit just what is evocative from the psyche. “She” will let you know, as personal anima and Anima Mundi, soul of the World, the sacred Feminine.

ZB: Regarding those who wish to work with Dakinis, will you give a brief introduction to this practice?

IM: Choosing a Vajrayana dakini, an iconic superhuman form, is a practice path. Traditionally you receive empowerment in order to practice the deity. The practice is always a mix of mantra and visualization based on the principals of the bodhisattva path. Each empowerment is four empowerments, and each dakini practice is mahayoga, based on loving-kindness.

Various blisses may be experienced in the practice. Classical Buddhist practice, in which all the various deity yoga practices are essentially the same. We develop wisdom in solitary practice as emptiness and compassion. Through the years, after various empowerments, one finds practice allegiance to one or two. The only choice involved is to abide in one of the great Vajrayana lineages where such empowerments happen.

ZB: How does one work with the elements during tantric trance states?

IM: The Physical Plane is represented by Earth, and includes the physical trappings, body and instantaneous rapport; the Emotional Plane is Water with its qualities of flow, empathy and inter-being through the subtle body or energy body. The Mental Plane is Airy – conceptual, metaphorical, and mental body; the alchemy of Being. The Spiritual Plane is Fiery, symbolized by co-conscious mindbody melding in Sacred Sex – the essence or Quintessence of Sex Magick.

ZB: What are some aphrodisiacs you recommend? What scents, colors, food, music, environmental factors are important in tantric work or within sacred sexuality?

IM: In any mind-expanding experience, set and setting or atmosphere is important, though that will mean vastly different ‘turn ons’ to different people. Personally, I like heavy oriental fragrances, except in summer. Some perfumers compose scents from your chart. My favorite fabric palettes are rich, shimmery jewel tones that really pop. For example, essential oils or flowers with their scents can represent maidenhood or fecundity. But psychologically they represent the flowering of differentiation that gives rise to creativity in inner and outer life. In perfume alchemy, each scent elicits a psycho-sensual response.

How often do we claim to be bewitched or enchanted or under someone’s spell? It all boils down to rapport. I wrote about enhancing sex with trance in Hyp-Know-Sex. Remember the corny line, “you fill up my senses”?  That pretty much says it.  There are 64 tantric arts that play into intensification of the experience, building anticipation. But maybe your lover doesn’t care about the flower arrangement on the buffet or feng shui, or whatever.

[Aleister] Crowley said, “Be strong, then can you bear more joy.”  Love is the best aphrodisiac, of course. The Lover wants to be with The Beloved. The arousal of desire begins in the mind. Incorporating a mythic or spiritual dimension adds depth, even if that nuance is a strictly personal or interior experience. Prescriptions are reliable, but I say use whatever works for you. The mind is the biggest sexual organ. Great sex is like taking psychedelics – it is a psychedelic, releasing DMT, endorphins and oxytocin. The longer you stick with it, the more chemistry you pump out.

ZB: In your book, The Magic and Ritual Use of Perfume, you explain the importance of scent in sacred sex and as a form of alchemical transcendence. Will you talk about this?

IM: It has been said that it is only with scent and silk and artifices that we raise love from an instinct to a passion. Perfume alchemy differs from other magical perfumery in that we rely strictly on the quality of the scent, not any other attributions. The doctrine of signatures attributes botanicals to astrological signs, colors, and a host of other linked symbols, but perfume alchemy is concerned with the scent first and magickal or qabalistic attributions secondly. No matter how much we clean ourselves, we all emit a unique odor that is individual. We all affect one another with chemical codes or pheromones.

We communicate through a silent, invisible, virtually subliminal smell language whether at work, in the dining room, or in the bedroom. This exposed portion of the brain (”nose brain”) samples the external world, and deals with the regulation of motor activities and the primary drives of sex, hunger, and thirst. Olfactory stimulation also shoots electrical signals to the limbic system and amygdale. This emotional part of the brain is concerned with visceral, sensory and behavioral mechanisms. This is why odors produce such strong emotional reactions and bring up memories. From time immemorial perfumes and sweet-smelling herbs have played an important part in both religion and sex magic.

Exotic scents have evoked ardor, charming and luring both men and women. Perfumes are actually love potions. A truly “magical” scent works on the subconscious mind, as well as the conscious, to elicit a specific predetermined response. Scents can also be used to stimulate the sexual centers directly, and to help us “anchor” positive feelings, thoughts, and states. Then by smelling the scent alone, we can re-evoke the gestalt of those peak experiences. To excite is to set in motion. Specific formulae not only to enhance desirability and call forth predictable responses, they can also condition our consciousness through association. They can be stimulating, soothing, activate our psychic qualities, or be healing. They stimulate us at all levels — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Tapping this potential, we can use scents as a language for communicating with and evoking our sub- and super-conscious energies, and creativity.

ZB: Which scents specifically can you recommend for tantric practices or as sexual enhancements?

IM: Keep your partner’s preferences and allergies in mind. Some like florals, or fruity notes, others languid orientals or animal scents. If your practice is qabalistic, keep the scent correspondences in mind, but realize many are not based on scent but on color, visual or medical analogs. It is important to remember in psycho-sexual alchemy the fragrance of the plant and the sensory response the scent elicits are primary. An alchemical essence is formulated for a specific “psycho-sensory, subliminal response”. This sensory response dictates the formulation of an incense or perfume.

The Doctrine of Signatures where herbs, plants, and flowers were assigned either to planetary rulership, or to parts of the human anatomy was based on the color and shape of the plant; so a kidney shaped leaf ‘healed’ kidney ailments and a red flower ‘cured’ blood diseases.  Color associations, linked to astrology, are even more simplistic.  For example, all red flowers belong to Mars; all yellow plants are ruled by the Sun, etc. This system of attributions, however, has no valid application in perfumery since it did not have anything to do with scent. Medicinal attributions are based on the organic principle of the plant and its ingestion as a tonic or tea, but not on the psycho-sensory fragrance.

ZB: How does one practice solitary tantra as compared to with a partner? Is there a difference in the outcome?

IM: Foremost is respect for the forces of creation, sex, and the divine, however you might conceive it. In this case, sex becomes a driver for inducing an altered state of consciousness. Or, such experience may arise in dreams and may or may not include bizarre metaphors.

The essence of tantra is action. Most tantra is not done with a physical partner and is not overtly sexual. The 4 empowerments of traditional Nyingma teachings describe the context. Tantra means: “thread of continuity”, like lineage. Yes, there are “sexual-yoga” practices for practitioner couples but it is called union practice and is essentially a practice to understand the nature of reality. A lama friend called doing union practice alone, “New Age aggressive innocence.” Religious practitioners of Tantra may be intolerant of the self-styled practices of ‘amateurs.’ Their work is a committed lifestyle which involves lifelong discipline.

ZB: How can a person utilize the internet (cyber-sex) as a form of tantra or sexual magick? Can a person experience sacred sex when using such a forum?

IM: Mostly such libido is used as a generator to create a charge around an operation and desired outcome. You can generate it almost any way you like. Soon people will have virtual and ‘designer’ bodies, so it will get very complicated, including the ethics of such encounters, in and out of relationships.

ZB: Can you give advice for women who experience pain or discomfort during long durational sex in practicing tantra?

IM: Any extended or frequent intercourse can cause “honeymoonitis” or urinary tract infection (UTI), which requires medical remedies. Otherwise, choose positions conducive to your fitness level if you plan to sustain activity in one position for a period of time. Pain is not a part of the process, so if it is excessive maybe this isn’t the right path for that person.

During sex, E.coli bacteria which tend to live on the skin around your anus can be transferred to your urethra by fingers or penis. Honeymoon cystitis is more common among young women in their twenties, although single women in their 50s are increasingly reporting that they suffer from the problem. There is more risk if you start having sex again after abstaining for a long period of time. See a Doctor if pain persists.

ZB: In regards to Westerners who’ve been raised with a damaging and shameful view of sexuality and their bodies, how do you see a person overcoming these feelings so they may begin to embrace their sexuality without this shame?

IM: Tantric notions of innate divinity are a good counterpoint to shame-based thinking. The essence of tantra is that the human being is the deity. We have divine qualities within us. Through tantra you can touch and recognize the powerful deity in yourself and partner. Identifying ourselves as victims damages our humanity. Core shame may be a symptom of codependency and is the root of addiction. If a person had severe attachment traumas some basic personality therapy can clear those layers before one takes on the archetypal worlds. Personality work and self-help create a firm foundation for any kind of spirituality. Unless the blocked emotions are released there will still be inhibitions.

Body shaming is a widespread cultural disorder we are left to deal with as individuals. Each person will have a different reaction, so there are also many solutions – many ways through. The therapies include transactional analysis, hypnotherapy, integrative techniques, and gestalt. They deal with the personal unconscious and embedded memories, not the transpersonal dimension of spiritual practice. If feelings, needs and drives are tied to shame, you are shamed to the core. Internalized shame makes us feel inherently flawed, inferior and defective. That pain leads to denial and defense, and sometimes violence, criminality, war and all forms of addiction. We need more self-compassion, not self-loathing. Toxic shame is demonic in its effects.

ZB: How does our orgasm and instant gratification obsessed society begin to understand the importance of abstaining from climax to find the pleasures of the sexual union itself without the goal of ‘completion’?  How can one learn to retrain their bodies to experience sexuality through tantra?

IM: Sex with totally awakened consciousness of the “now” can be enjoyed as an end in itself. Semen retention technique can be used to prolong sex before orgasm. Since the partner who is first to reach orgasm provides the other with an abundance of life force, sex may be seen as a mock battle in which the “opponents” compete to see who can induce the other to climax. Rather than approaching this as a matter of survival, we could view it as refreshing recreational sex play. Even though it is an arbitrary attitude, in the West orgasm is considered the supreme goal and reward of sex. Aside from certain magical practices, failure to experience sexual release is considered harmful and neurotic. But this attitude contains a cultural bias.

We have become obsessed with “achieving” orgasms, the more the better. We may have lost something by paying little attention to the quality of the experience. An evening of “Taoist lovemaking” might restore some specialness to your relationship. It incorporates some subtle nuances by maximizing body contact with your partner while minimizing leaking of vital fluids. If the partners attempt to complement and harmonize with one another, both will be nourished. When the desire for orgasm is so strong it cannot be resisted, we may submit, and then revive ourselves by sipping some ginseng tea!

ZB: What is the practice of hyp-know-sex that you have written extensively about? How does this create healthy sexuality?

IM: Hypnosis, used consciously or unconsciously is always a process of induction, deepening, and emerging. Eye fixation is one of the simplest mutual inductions for lovers. Deepening enhances relaxation, absorption, and visualization, while amplifying the focus of attention and experience. The key is being hypnotic, rather than doing hypnosis. Suggestions create atmosphere and enhance the pleasure of sexual experience and spirituality. Natural trance can be used to facilitate transcendence.

The consciousness altering heightened excitement, herbal refreshments, luxurious baths, oils, sensuous massage, sparkling drinks, flickering candle-light, incense and languid atmosphere of the boudoir setting are all conducive to self-suggestion for greater relaxation, sensual enjoyment, and fantasy experience. By changing your imagery, you can even evoke a more spiritual atmosphere viewing the act as a sexual sacrament. Mutual hypnosis for use with yourself and your lover is easily learned. The deliberate and charismatic use of hypnotic charms in sex has a long history, and created hysterias in past centuries. It is possible to use self-hypnosis or mutual induction to enhance desire, sex and performance. Self-hypnosis is a natural process.

Most of us spend our lives in automatically programmed trance states, such as driving on auto-pilot, anger trances, love trances, fear trances, trances induced by memories of places, phobia trances, archetypal trances, subpersonality trances, social roles, etc.  Reactions are spontaneous trance states when they happen to us. Consciously using hypnosis for changing old programming and for self-enhancement can open new realms of experience and psychic depth. Self-hypnosis, even outside the bedroom, helps us become more aware of the body, more tuned in to it and our feelings, sensual and otherwise. Self-hypnosis and hypnosis among lovers is a permissive process, rather than authoritarian like the old model of the controlling hypnotist. You simply give yourself and your partner “permission” to enjoy altered states of consciousness, other ways of being.

You can change your body image for the positive, and change any outworn attitudes about sex. Problems created by the mind can be solved by the mind, leaving you freer and more passionate about love and life, in general. Self-imposed limitations and constricting boundaries can be dissolved, even eradicated from your belief system. Sexual trance-formation can be applied to awakening or re-awakening the sensual self, overcoming dysfunctions, fears and anxieties, increasing desire and relaxation, building rapport with your partner.

ZB: What are some of the best books on sacred sexuality and tantric work?

IM: My personal favorite is Sexual Secrets: The Alchemy of Ecstasy by Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger (1999). Montauk Chia is very nuanced in his tantric teachings. Anodea Judith has written extensively on chakras.

ZB: Will you give an example of what we can learn from studying the origins of mythology regarding sexuality and erotica and how this will help us understand it better?

IM: In the myth, Psyche is originally bound to Eros in a paradise of uroboric unconsciousness, and when she sees Eros in the light, this original unconscious tie is dissolved. This change represents a shift from the principle of fascinating attraction and the fertility of the species to a genuine love principle of personal development and encounter. Love as encounter is one of the central psychological insights of the myth. Kama, Eros, Cupid, Adonis are all active and aimed male principles. But Eros transcends erotic passion with ‘divine fire,’ necessary to the Great Work of self-discovery. Such love is fated, an inescapable destiny in which we lose ourselves in a kind of death that transcends our ego’s interests.

*    *    *

[Guest journalist Zora Burden is a regular guest writer at The Wild Hunt, sharing her extensive interviews with interesting occult and Pagan personalities. Burden is a poet, and a journalist for the San Francisco Herald. She has written two books, “Women of the Underground,” featuring female musicians and artists. She also has five books of poetry on the themes of esoterica and surrealism available exclusively at City Lights Bookstore. In all her work, Burden focuses on feminism, radical outcasts, surrealist art, social activism, and the esoteric.]

Column: Heartland – Scenes from the Flood

Fri, 2016-06-10 10:12

This year’s Heartland Pagan Festival, held over Memorial Day weekend in McClouth, Kansas, faced severe weather, including extensive thunderstorms and tornado warnings. Although there were some difficulties, including damage to Gaea Retreat‘s roads, a sudden squall that threatened to damage the festival’s PA speakers and audio equipment, and the inability of several speakers to attend due to travel hazards, the incredible efforts of the festival staff allowed Heartland to continue successfully.

The altar beside Forn Halr at Gaea Retreat. [Photo Credit: Eric Scott]

1.

At the far end of First Field, all that is is mud. Every footfall sinks an inch or two into the muck. We vary the paths we take across the grass, as though we hope to find a secret trail from our tents across the field to the gravel road that links the field with the rest of Gaea, but no such route exists. Where human feet tread, sodden footprints follow; there is no escape from the mud.

It is Thursday afternoon, just before the Heartland Pagan Festival is set to officially begin. My wife and I have been at Gaea for a day already. We had arrived early with the intent of helping the festival get set up, but the rain has never abated for more than an hour since we set up our tent. We laid inside until late in the morning, listening to the rain, running our worried hands through the ever-deepening water trapped on the floor. By the time the rain let up enough for us to make an assessment, the only dry thing left was my wooden chest of ritual tools, a showing perhaps too obvious to be taken for providence.

Now we are sitting in our camp’s kitchen area under a shadefly; the ground beneath our chairs appears to be the place where all mud must someday return. My wife and I munch on trail mix and watch the endless rain. Mark is rummaging through his tent across the way. His girlfriend, my old friend Sarah, is on the far side of the campground, cutting tullies (we call them cattails where I come from) for use in the sweat lodge later in the weekend, meaning that she is standing waist-deep in a lake during a thunderstorm. Peals of thunder rip through the air, some close enough to set off car alarms.

A tornado siren goes off. Neither Mark nor I knew tornado sirens could be heard from Gaea, despite both of us having visited the place regularly for decades.

Should we go down to the main hall? I ask. It’s a long walk from the back of First Field, and I’m not eager to make it in bog-ridden shoes if I don’t have to.

Supposed to, says Mark.

I think about it for a minute. If our friends go down there and we don’t, they’ll be worried that we got hurt or trapped.

The sirens stop, so we decide to stay put. But then a few minutes later they start again, and all three of us decide that means it’s time to go. We trek down to the main hall. None of our friends are there; I worry that they got hurt or trapped.

We find them, eventually. Sarah tells us she didn’t see any point in rushing across the dam to the main hall, even with the tornado sirens. She ran to her brother’s truck and hunkered down there with him. If I’m going to die, she said, I might as well die here.

2.

We sleep, or don’t sleep, in the car that night. I wake up in time to help with the Sunrise Ritual, though not entirely on purpose, but nobody else shows up besides Lorelei, the priestess; I suspect the rest of camp is also trying to recover from the long night.

I wander down to main gate and find that Gaea’s gravel road has been replaced by a whitewater rapid. The lake has spilled over the dam, and the water now rushes over the road in a torrent before falling into a ravine on the other side. I hopscotch across the bare chunks of foundation to the other side, where my friend Bill is trying to put a fuse back into his car without setting off the car alarm. (Unfortunately for all the sleepy Pagans, he does not immediately succeed.)

A long line of cars sits in the grass outside the gates; they had to pull off the road to let an ambulance in the night before, as a person had fallen and injured her knee. Nobody can bring their cars in; the road is closed by virtue of there being no road to speak of. Everyone has to drag their gear -– their tents and clothes and pans and food and bright blue plastic water jugs –- up to the campsites by way of a steep hill. None of us want to do it, but we know we have to. We procrastinate by talking about the rain.

See, the water’s already gone down a lot while we’ve been standing here, we say, pointing to water streaming over the dam. It’s true. In the past twenty minutes, it has degraded from a small river to merely a large creek. It’ll be clear in an hour or two.

And then what? The road is gone.

I guess we’ll have to get some gravel out here.

When is it supposed to rain again?

Afternoon. So if we’re lucky, they can lay down the gravel and get these cars up the hill before the rain washes the road away again.

We fall silent and watch the water recede for a little while longer, then look up again to the steel wool sky.

3.

I steal a few minutes for myself later that morning while it’s still clear and after we have dragged our camp to higher ground. I come to Heartland as much to visit Gaea’s hidden corners as anything else, and in the past few years, I have found myself drawn more and more to one particular spot, an oak tree a local Heathen group has given the name Forn Halr, that is, “Old Man.” Forn Halr grows out of the edge of a cliff, a huge old oak whose roots appear anchored in pure stone. The Heathens draped a hammer around his trunk with a necklace made of chain-links, and erected a stone altar before him. The dirt path leading up to Forn Halr is as soaked in mud as anywhere else at Gaea this weekend, but the ground around the tree itself is remarkably dry.

I always come to Forn Halr with a slight sense of unease. I know, of course, that Gaea’s innumerable ritual grounds were all thought of and built by other people for their own purposes. But Forn Halr feels like it belongs specifically to the people who named it in a way the others don’t. I feel as though I am trespassing, that I have entered the one part of Gaea that does not belong to me. But Forn Halr is also the most beautiful spot on the land, and the tree himself the most majestic denizen of these woods. And the magick I work here quickens like it does nowhere else on earth. I don’t belong here, and yet I wholly belong here. It is someone else’s, and it is entirely mine. And in this, I have much the same relationship to this grove as I do to all things named Heathen.

I pour a bottle of apple cider into a horn and share the drink with the Old Man’s roots, and then I lift my hammer from the rock altar and make a circle around the clearing. I whisper a prayer to Thor. We’re tired and wet, I say. Let us have a rest.

Sun dapples in through the canopy and plays upon the altar. It doesn’t rain for the rest of Heartland.

Pagan Chaplaincy Growing in Canada

Thu, 2016-06-09 11:07

CANADA — The presence of a chaplain is not an extraordinary thing on a Canadian university campus, in a prison, or at a hospital. In recent years, it has become more common across the country to see minority religions being represented. At the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Wiccan chaplain Samuel Wagar volunteers his time to serve the Pagan and Wiccan campus population. He also participates in any interfaith opportunities that arise to create understanding and spiritual growth opportunities for the greater Pagan community.

University of Alberta Wiccan Chaplin Samuel Wagar [Photo Credit: Ed Kaiser]

In recent weeks, that work is keeping Wagar very busy. He and the team of chaplains at the University of Alberta were on call to provide services for the more than 1,000 evacuees from the Fort McMurray fires, who found shelter on the university campus. This past Sunday, Wagar and members of his temple attended Edmonton Pride Day festivities. The celebration included an interfaith service.

In a Skype interview with The Wild Hunt, Wagar described his participation in this service as well as the valuable collaborations that are often born out of events just like this. Wager said:

Last Sunday I was part of the interfaith service for Pride Day, and that is something that our church has done for the past three years. I get these opportunities because I am a chaplain; I get introduced to people and I get opportunities to collaborate with them. There were seven of my temple members there at this event, to engage with other religious communities, that is very valuable for all of us.

The issues of the world are too big and dirty for any one approach. We really have to find a way to pool our approaches to learn from each other. From my perspective as a Wiccan Priest, it indicates to what extent we are now considered a normal part of the conversation, and that is a change from a number of years ago. It was the suggestion of the United Church minister involved in coordinating the service that we should do a Wiccan web weaving as the central ritual element in the ceremony. So I ended up leading this central element.

We were talking about connections and intersections and the way people have different identities and that these different identities lead to different connections with people. So it was an obvious and very good symbol for that kind of connection. But, it wasn’t a suggestion that came from me, it came from this Christian guy! It is because they recognize the particular expertise and particular ways of approaching things that Wicca has, as being a valuable part of the conversation in a way that didn’t happen, even ten years ago. It wasn’t tokenism, it was obvious that this was a very good metaphor for what we were trying to talk about in the larger ceremony.

Across the country in Toronto, the presence of Pagan chaplains on campus dates back to the 1980s. Brian Walsh has been one of two active chaplains at the University of Toronto since 2002. He has also served as a spiritual care worker at a hospital for the last ten years.

Pagan Chaplain, Brian Walsh (courtesy photo)

He clarified these two designations in a recent email exchange with The Wild Hunt. Walsh explained:

While the two words are often used interchangeably, especially in the US and in faith-based environments, the two roles are quite distinct and here in Canada they are being separated more and more. So, while it is certainly the role of clergy and chaplains to stand as tradition-bearers, to form a bridge between the tradition behind them and the person in front of them; the role of a spiritual care provider is to bracket the tradition behind them, and maybe even their own opinions about the divine, in order to facilitate the meaning-making of the person in front of them, irrespective of how that relates to their own or anyone else’s tradition.

Given that religion can be not only a resource, but also a source of problems; having a person whose scope of practice is focused on the individual rather than their cultus of origin can be vital to enhancing a person’s spirituality, agency, and wellness.

The process of becoming a chaplain in Canada varies by region and also by where the chaplain will be working. Walsh said:

The process in universities and private institutions is highly variable, but hospitals usually require training through and membership in CASC, the Canadian Association of Spiritual Care.

Prisons and some other institutions make choices that may be strongly influenced by multi-faith organizations, whose members might be primarily interested in insuring their particular group has representation, and only secondarily interested in inter-faith dialogue; though recently organizations like Kairos (an ecumenical movement for ecological justice and human rights), are trying to insure quality of care while still maintaining a faith-based structure (22% of prison chaplains today are hired through Kairos, including a pagan or two).

In most instances, becoming a pagan chaplain, or a spiritual care provider who happens to be pagan, requires training beyond what is normally offered within this or that tradition as well as community support. I have occasionally received inquiries by people less interested in the work and more interested in seeing if it a short cut to status in the community… it’s not.

What comes after chaplaincy? For Wagar, the next stage of evolution will be the launch of his new venture: The Edmonton Wiccan Seminary. This institution will train Wiccan clergy to lead and establish public temples, provide Wiccan religious education for the general public, and also publish resources for religious education on the Wicca. The seminary will be an independent body in agreement with the Congregationalist Witchcraft Association of Canada, a federal organization founded by Wagar and his coven in 1991. This organization has provincial offshoots in British Columbia, Alberta (CWAA) and Saskatchewan. Membership into any of these groups will not be a prerequisite to enrollment in the Seminary, but ordination into CWAA will be available to successful graduates.

Wagar explained his rationale for creating the seminary, saying:

For many years I have realized that well-meaning bibliophiles don’t necessarily have the formal or systematic theological training and understanding or training and understanding in things like group dynamics, bylaws, organizational stuff, all things that if we are serious, we need to do. I’m a part of a minority tendency in the Wiccan movement that wants this stuff, most of us don’t. It’s institutionalization for lack of a better word and hopefully in a way that doesn’t exclude those people who aren’t interested in the institutions, but provides supplements to them.

The seminary is not about training coven leaders, but temple leaders. I really don’t like projects that are the project of only one person and that live and die with their enthusiasm. It will initially be my project and I will stay the dominant person for the first five or six years. Hopefully by that point there will be other people to take it over. I’ll be 60 later this year, so I figure this will be a nice retirement project and then I can go off an cultivate my roses or something….not likely given my history.

The papers for the seminary are about to be submitted and, once processed, The Edmonton Wiccan Seminary will be an incorporated not-for-profit entity. Registration for students will open in September, with classes starting January 2017. The real-time experience will be based in Edmonton, but there is potential for online classes. Mentorship opportunities are also being negotiated with the affiliated CWA groups in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Times have changed in Canada and the number of Pagan chaplains is growing. Wagar looks back and candidly remembers his first thoughts about his calling to serve his community this way:

When I started this chaplain stuff, I was actually a little nervous, and a bit defensive I thought I may have to defend myself, and our beliefs. It has been extremely positive, almost without exception. What seems to have happened, is that we have crossed a watershed. Wicca and Paganism is now a respectable, small, religious current.

Taking Sacred Back: An Invitation to Pagan Ritual

Wed, 2016-06-08 11:20

CLEAR LAKE, Wis. — Judy Olson-Linde and Nels Linde are longtime members of the Pagan community in the Midwest U.S., and one of the things this married couple is known for are large community rituals, which they often organize at festivals such as Pagan Spirit Gathering and Sacred Harvest Festival. After 20 years of facilitating large public rituals, the couple has written a book, Taking Sacred Back, so that others may benefit from their practical experience in this area and run rituals of their own.

We caught up with Nels Linde as they were packing for Wic-Can Fest, where they will be putting their skills to use. Perhaps the most important takeaway from that conversation was that any ritual organizer needs to know the audience.

“Judy and I have worked doing community ritual, mainly at festivals and in public, for 20 years,” Linde explained. “The book is based on our experience, and documents what worked, and what didn’t work. Anyone who has been to a public or open ritual has experienced something powerfully transformative, but also has had that moment of feeling, ‘I want that hour back.’ We’re trying to provide a resource to avoid attempts that fall flat.”

One of the points that they learned the hard way, Linde said, is that rituals need a clearly defined end point. “We designed one ritual that was very powerful,” he recalled. “Everything flowed smoothly, everyone was energized, but no one knew it had ended and no one wanted to leave. It’s a good problem to have,” he said, at least in the grand scheme of things, but after watching some 200 people milling about they retooled that particular ritual. When they held it again at PSG in 2012, the roughly 800 participants didn’t have any trouble understanding when it was done.

Taking Sacred Back turns that experience of trial and error into a manual of best practices. The book breaks ritual down into its component parts and provides both examples and exercises to give the reader the opportunity to understand the principles and practice the skills. That includes discussions on the importance of rehearsing ahead of time, which for complex rituals should include some model participants so the organizers will find out if they’re going to act as predicted. Rehearsals also allow for blocking, which is the arrangement of where participants will stand and move during the ritual just as it’s done in theatrical productions.

[Courtesy Nels Linde]

Creativity can be spurred by the restrictions imposed by the space, the purpose, or the expectations of the participants, according to Linde. “One large ritual we’ve done at our home for Samhain involves burning a large effigy,” he said by way of example. “Each year we’ve worked on that same theme, but did it differently.” The limits created by a specific tradition, the physical ability of the participants, or even the time allotted are challenges that actually drive creativity, he said.

Scaling a ritual up and down for different numbers of participants is another area of focus. “Certain activities and processes only work well with small groups of people,” Linde said, or must be adapted for larger numbers. He gave the example of pathworking, which in a small group may be done individually, but at a bigger scale might only be practical if several people undergo it simultaneously. That’s closely related to another principle they espouse, which is to eliminate idle time during ritual. “No one wants to wait around,” he said. “Always have something happening the keeps people engaged.”

These are interrelated issues in the ritual structure. An activity that’s not adapted to the scale can easily lead to the entire experience dragging, and lots of bored people waiting around for their turn. Rehearsals can expose such problems before they happen on the big night.

While the included rituals come from the couple’s own experience, Linde said that they strove to avoid shackling the book to any particular tradition, because they want it to be accessible to Pagans and polytheists of all stripes. Regardless of the gods (or lack thereof) and practices involved, the mechanics of moving people through space and time while engaging their attention are relatively stable. Linde and Olson-Linde describe themselves as eclectic Wiccans and recognize the challenge of trying to write something that would be helpful to anyone under the Pagan umbrella, or simply in its shadow.

“Even references to directions, genders, and deities can be offensive to some,” Linde said. Just as with designing a ritual, they had to keep the scope of their book’s audience in mind throughout. Due to the many rituals in which they’ve participated during their years on the Pagan festival circuit, they were able make this point clear.

How-to illustration [Courtesy Mickie Mueller]

Linde said that he and his wife have backgrounds and skills that are complementary for ritual creation. “Judy is more the inspiration and the words, and I’m the organization and prop person.”

Props — how to use them, and how to make them without breaking the bank — are important enough a subject that an entire chapter is devoted to them. Having a team makes it possible to draw on diverse skills and perspectives, shoring up one another and strengthening the final product. Not everyone needs to be a chant writer, a carpenter, or a choreographer. “We’ve been lucky to have each other as a team,” he said.

This particular team tries to be accessible online, as well. In addition to posting book tour dates on their own web site, they maintain a Facebook group called “Ritualista Roundtable.

Taking Sacred Back was published by Llewellyn in April, and received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. According to senior acquisitions editor Elysia Gallo, that’s a big deal.

[I]t’s always been hard to get our witchcraft or Pagan books reviewed in the first place, as the religion category includes books on all types of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and of course general spirituality, New Age spirituality, Eastern religions, and much more. Recently reviewed book topics range from spiritual decluttering to healing shame, from queerness to the Charleston church shooting; it’s a broad category. I think there is a tendency by the mainstream press to view Wicca and Paganism as secondary in status.

Gallo went on to say, “I’m always really excited to get any review in PW, but to get a starred review is outstanding for us.” While there’s no easy way to search for that particular distinction, Gallo is only aware of two other metaphysical books which made the same cut, Wicca for Beginners, Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces, and Doreen Valiente, Witch.

What captured the reviewer’s imagination is impossible to say, but it begins by referencing an evocative quote from the introduction, one which Linde provided in full.

After you have been naked in front of 150 people you no longer worry about making mistakes. Besides cementing our relationship as a ritual team, it verified an oft spoken piece of Pagan folk wisdom about ritual. If you want a powerful ritual either include a nude person or burn something. Do both and you are guaranteed success. In this one we did both.

The truth that is espoused in Taking Sacred Back is that, while that axiom may have some validity, it’s still all about the audience.