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Calling all Warriors: Pagans in the UK’s Anti-Fracking Campaigns

Sun, 2016-12-04 11:39

UNITED KINGDOM — On Oct. 6 this year, the British Government granted fracking company Cuadrilla permission to begin operations at two sites in Lancashire (north-west England). This decision, taken by Business Secretary Sajid Javid, overturned a previous decision made by the Lancashire County Council to grant permission at just one of the two proposed sites.

Under the banner of Frack Free Lancashire, a coalition of local anti-fracking groups has formed. Included in the coalition is the inimitable mothers and grandmothers group The Nanas. Nana is a British colloquialism for grandmother and frequently used in the north-west of England.The Nanas used this term because they wanted to invoke the spirit of the typical Lancastrian matriarch synonymous with the county.

Frack Free Lancashire Demonstration [Courtesy Photo]

Among the many anti-fracking groups involved, there is the Pagan-focused group The Warrior’s Call (TWC), who has campaigned hard to get local voices against the fracking sites heard. We spoke to Alan from TWC to discuss the group’s involvement with the Lancashire campaign, and how they intend to move forward.

“TWC was set up by someone, who isn’t me, to be a focus for Pagans on the topic of fracking,” says Alan. “What the originator found was that a lot of Pagans don’t take a lot of notice of the papers or the BBC but listen to what other Pagans are saying, so the group was set up as a way of saying ‘this matters’ and being able to give it a voice to talk to other Pagans.

“It wasn’t ever intended to be a separate group. It’s for whoever feels the call to step up and defend their land in a magical or physical way. They’re answering the warriors call, so anyone who connects with that kind of protection.”

Frack Free Lancashire (FFL) ran a successful campaign uniting lots of different local anti-fracking groups against the granted permission to frack at one of the two proposed sites. The decision to overturn that ruling was disappointing, but not a surprise, according to Alan.

He says, “It’s expected that the industry is going to challenge. This happened in Wrexham in 2014. There was a site, just outside Wrexham in North East Wales on the border with England, which had been outlined for exploratory drilling. Local people put up a big campaign. The council turned it down.

“The company put in an appeal and the Government overruled the local council. That overruling sparked a massive local interest, because not only was it Government overturning the local council but the English deciding what is happening on Welsh soil.”

Alan thinks it is too early to say if these over-rulings from Westminster are a pattern or not. But he did say that the watershed Balcombe fracking protests of 2013 in West Sussex, Southern England, have ensured that campaigners are much more “clued up and found out what’s really going on” regarding the fracking industry.

One way the anti-frack movement tracks information is to identify where seismic testing is being carried out, and where Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences are being issued. PEDL licences are issued for a specific parcel of land where a company thinks gas or shale may be found. Seismic testing, which involves drilling shot holes about 30 feet deep and then filling the holes with dynamite, offers the data needed to build up a picture of where optimal places to extract might be located. According to Alan, this is also a big clue for anti-frackers as it involves a serious financial commitment on the part of the company and shows “they intend to drill there.”

Education is a big part of TWC message. Ensuring that people are properly informed about the effects of fracking is key. Much of the UK Government’s rhetoric in support of fracking has been to stress the number of jobs the industry will create.

However, as Alan explains, “Fracking is a specialised job, and [the companies] have to keep moving on. So there are no permanent jobs to come out of it. Once the initial set up is complete it runs on computer. One person can control about four sites. It’s not as if they’ll need more people to work in the sandwich or chip shop. Once the gas has gone, they move on.”

Australia, which has a much longer history of fracking than the UK, has already come to this conclusion. “In New South Wales, they banned fracking.They showed that for every 10 jobs created by the industry, 19 were lost from tourism or agriculture.”

Anti Fracking Protest in Chesire 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

In the UK, one fracking company has already come unstuck due to its own claims. Alan says, “Somewhere in the South East, one company sent out a promotional leaflet about the benefits of fracking, which got pulled up by the Advertising Standards Agency.” According to Alan, the leaflet had based its information on then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s rhetoric about fracking.

“So basically the policy had been rubbished by the Advertising Standards Agency,” Alan chuckles.

Since the overruling in Lancashire, FFL has been intent on keeping the story in the public eye. The formidable Lancashire Nanas went down to London and camped outside Buckingham Palace. Alan got one of his local councillors to visit the Lancashire site with him, which led to an interview with Russia Today, as well as an increase in local coverage.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the anti-fracking campaign is the cross-pollination of ideas between different groups. Alan says, “[Anti-fracking campaigning] is a gateway into other things. People that are getting involved in opposing fracking are from ordinary life, as [they get involved] they realise the system doesn’t work like they think it does, and once they’ve goten over that they see injustices in other things.”

He continues, “What I’m seeing is that people come and get involved with fracking and move toward a Pagan way of thinking. I’ve seen a lot of people come through the camp, and they say they’re ‘almost Pagan’ and feel a good connection to the Earth, and loving trees, and loving water and loving air. And, although they’re not joining a coven or an order, or training or learning anything they are becoming genuinely Earth-loving, so there can be a massive boost to British Paganism in general.”

Alan compares this process to Gweir’s prison, referenced in the poem Preiddu Annfwn/The Spoils of Annwn. He explains, “Once your eyes are open though, and you see through the fallacy of what you thought life was, I don’t know if you can go back and close your eyes again. The first line of The Mabinogion is that Pwll feels the call to go hunting, and he responds to that call. He doesn’t decide to go hunting. He responds to the call, ‘He takes it into his heart and his head to go hunting that day.’

“It’s touched on in The Spoils of Annwn. The initiate is held in a prison of their own making, thinking that I have to go work, I have to have a car. Once you have engaged with this, and you’ve seen what the world is like then you’ve broken out of the prison and you’ve shattered that wall.”

Alan believes that the anti-fracking campaigning community also has much to teach Paganism – especially regarding group structure. He says, “We’re encouraging people through the Warrior’s Call to learn about what fracking is and to get involved with their local communities. We’re also encouraging people to look at consensus decision-making and horizontal structure to groups rather than hierarchies.

“All the groups I’m a member of now operate in that way. There’s no one in charge, there’s no leader and we decide by majority. This goes against how most groves and covens are structured as they are hierarchical and I don’t know if that could feed into Paganism. There is a lot of opportunity for crossover and for new ideas to come in now. If they work people can take them into other areas.”

Although the FFL campaign will now change its focus in terms of campaigning, the fight goes on. A fracking approval has recently gone through in Nottinghamshirem in central England, which TWC will be campaigning against.

The movement has produced a network of very committed people. As Alan explains, “One of the things we say, whether fracking goes ahead or doesn’t go ahead, is we can have this structure to campaign on why the local hospital is closing, or the local playground, and these structures are ready to go.

“It’s about driving power into the community again, rather than the people who you voted for three years ago deciding for you. It’s about setting up these groups that can do other things, so even if fracking goes, the network is still there. Part of the nine aims of the Warrior’s Call.”

Renewing the warrior’s call 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Alan stresses the importance of getting involved with local activism. “Pagans that I know of tend to turn up for the rituals but don’t get involved in the campaigning. Ritual is action, action is ritual. You have to give the help you requested from your spirits or your gods, you have to give that away to come through. You have to physically go and make this come about.”

He continues, “Once Pagans move in Pagan circles, in my experience, they tend to remove themselves from the contemporary world. Pagans tend to remove themselves and form their own society, and I think the warrior’s call is pulling people back into the community and saying, ‘You’ve got training and knowledge and spirits, come back into this world and use your skills for the benefit of this world and the land you’re on.’ ”

Alan adds that there is so much people can do. “The stereotypical thing is that you go and chain yourself to a lorry, and some people will want to do that, but there are so many other areas that need help as well, such as becoming a legal observer. They cannot be arrested and it’s vitally important role.

“There is quite a bit of social change involved with the Warrior’s Call. It’s not just about doing a ritual and then going home, or even doing a ritual and then chaining yourself to a lorry, there are different angles to it.”

This interaction between Paganism and activism can make for magical results. Alan says, “At the Upton Protection Camp [the base camp in Chester] we did a massive ritual. There weren’t that many Pagans there, it was mostly local people and we were going around and beating the bounds and I led everyone round the camp

“As I turned the first quarter, I turned around and saw a massive line of people behind me beating drums as if their lives depended upon it! We asked people to write a letter to state how far they were prepared to go to protect the land, and obviously, some are prepared to go further than others, it was secret and there was no disclosure, it’s not a competition or to compare.

“Then we burnt all the letters in a bonfire. After that ritual, when local people turned up to the camp to confront the people doing the seismic testing, there was a bit of a stand-off and a bit of arguing going on, and we got covered in ladybirds, they weren’t on the contractors they were on us, and they were swarming around us for about 15 minutes and then they just all went. This was at the end of September.

Alan says, “If you’ve learnt stuff from being a Pagan bring that back, use it to boost. There’s a crossover of people coming in being more sympathetic as well. As we come into mainstream society more, mainstream society moves toward us.”

The Warriors Call sigil.

Author’s Note Some names have been changed to protect identity

Column: the Virgin of Guadalupe – a Colonial Crossroad

Sat, 2016-12-03 10:59

There is something special about being a polytheist. Belief and practice with multiple gods necessitates an understanding that all gods are real. Certainly, polytheists argue over a “hard” or “soft” approach, debating whether the gods are actual individual entities or exist in a more archetypal manner, but either way a polytheist is able to accept another person’s religious experience with another deity as valid. We are comfortable with experiences that differ from our own. This is much more difficult in monotheistic faiths.

But what about when a polytheist is confronted with the miraculous claims of a monotheist? Can two seemingly opposing cosmologies live together? Can one overcome skepticism of the “other” religion while still validating their own cosmology?

This was the question in my mind as I entered an exhibit at the Bower Museum’s new exhibit.  Entitled “The Virgin of Guadalupe: Images in Colonial Mexico,” the installation documents the origins of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an apparition revered by Mexican Catholics as symbol of religious favor and national pride, yet often derided as a hoax meant to convert and oppress the native, pagan population.

Photo credit: Tim Titus

As told in the exhibit, the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe enfolds though the experience of an illiterate, converted Aztec man named Juan Diego. While Diego was out walking on the hill of Tepeyac on the morning of December 9, 1531, he was called to a spot on the hill. There, a unique manifestation of the Virgin Mary appeared to him in all her glory and spoke to him, giving him a message for the local Catholic bishop.  Diego tried to take the miraculous message to Bishop Zumárraga, the highest religious authority of the colonial government, but he was sent away.

The virgin appeared to Diego three more times, however, and finally instructed him to gather special roses into his tilma (cloak) and carry them to the Zumárraga. He did so, and when he unfurled his tilma to reveal the flowers to the bishop, the famous image of the Virgin of Guadalupe shone out, imprinted forever on Diego’s tilma. A church in honor of the virgin was constructed at the manifestation site. The original image, emblazoned on a poor peasant’s cloak, became a source of religious worship, Mexican pride, and large-scale conversion of the native population by its colonizers. Her feast day is December 12.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The image on the tilma, and now on countless canvases, candles, and items of jewelry, contains icons that brilliantly combine the competing Catholic and native Aztec spiritualities, including symbols that many modern Pagans would recognize today. A young, dark-skinned woman in a pose of prayer stands or kneels in the center, rays of light streaming out from her body. She wears a 12-pointed crown and a cloak covered in stars, and stands on a crescent moon held by a youthful angel. The icon combines power with reverence, but it gives that power to a woman. The entire shape is quite clearly yonic in nature.

Catholic and native symbols combine seamlessly. The Virgin Mary is easily suggested, and her pose is one of Catholic prayer. She is held by an cherub and in a pose of submission, and her unbound hair is a sign of maidenhood. Yet the ribbon around her waist was an Aztec signifier of pregnancy. The flowers inscribed on her lower half, particularly a four-petaled one on the lower right, hold native meaning. The crescent moon would appeal to the locals, but the fact that it is held up by an angel suggests the dominance of the invading culture. Her cloak of stars could likely be seen through either culture’s eyes: is she descending from the heavens above or is she Queen of the Earth covered by the sky? The exhibit relates the star patterns on her cloak to the constellations of the zodiac. Is her 12-pointed crown significant of the zodiac signs, or of the apostles?

Many within the Pagan and Polytheist communities have had direct contact with spirits or deities. It is a relatively noncontroversial belief that entities can and do present themselves through visions into the physical world. Since polytheists admit the existence of multiple gods, it is intellectually honest to admit that the Hebrew god may have communicated and manifested himself through Diego and this image. If Zeus can speak to you in meditation, why can’t another god speak to a young Aztec? Therefore, those who practice a polytheistic faith must accept the possibility that the virgin is a true message from a deity.

[Photo Credit: Tim Titus]

Believers in the miracle of Guadalupe point to many facets of the original work to prove its divine origin. They say that Diego’s tilma is made of agave fiber, which is not durable enough to have lasted as long as it has. They note the lack of a “preparation,” an undercoating that painters use to even out the surface, and they claim that no identifiable brush strokes can be seen as they would be seen on a human painting. The tilma has survived two attacks and was not very well taken care of for 100 years after it was created, and yet it remains vibrant. Artwork that depicts the Christian god as an artist painting the virgin’s image tell the story of divine inspiration.

The Christian god “creates” the Virgin of Guadalupe [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Through a form of sacred geometry and the law of contagion, official copies of the image are reputed to have magical powers. Reproductions that preserve the same proportions and colors as the original, especially if they have physically touched the tilma or a faithful copy, are used as talismans and are said to grant wishes for health, prosperity, love, and safety. Thankful petitioners create ex-votos, images of worshipers thankful for the boons bestowed upon them by the virgin, and display them as offerings to the virgin.

Brian Dunning at skeptoid.com points out the other side of these arguments. He notes that Bishop Zumárraga, to whom the miraculous image was first revealed, never wrote a word about it. It seems strange, to say the least, that a Catholic bishop who wrote prolifically during his career would never say a word about a miracle that manifested before his own eyes. Dunning also notes that the major recounting of the story comes from a text written after both Diego and Zumárraga had died. How did the writer hear about the story?

Dunning adds to his argument the fact that the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, who conquered the Aztecs, was from a region of Spain known to worship an image of the Virgin Mary with dark skin, and that he carried a statue of her with him to Mexico. The natives, he argues, would identify with the dark-skinned statue. Plus, Cortés knew a monk who was both an accomplished painter and familiar with Aztec language and customs.

A representation of the conquering faith that incorporated symbolism of the subjugated, Cortés would have reasoned, would be a powerful weapon in subduing the locals, and it was. There is no question that the conquered citizens of what is now Mexico were successfully converted to the faith of the invaders. In fact, Latin America is now one of most staunchly Catholic corners of the world.

But, as magicians know, one must be careful with the energy they send out. The Virgin of Guadalupe also figures prominently in the expulsion of Spain from Mexican lands. The Mexican revolution against Spain began on Sept. 16, 1810 as Miguel Hidalgo invoked the Virgin of Guadalupe as a symbol of Mexican patriotism and pride in his famous “scream” for independence:

Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once…. Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government! Death to the gachupines!

While the “miracle” led to the spiritual takeover of the native Mexican population, it also led to the Spain’s loss of its conquered lands and the return of freedom to the people of Mexico. The new energy of independence placed into the image on a humble peasant’s cloak forever changed a country’s future. That is magic in action.

Is the Virgin of Guadalupe a piece of magic or a deliberate hoax meant to subvert a colonized population? The answer may lie at the crossroads of these two questions. Magic is performed in the in-between spaces: crossroads, circles, mountaintops. It manifests in strange ways, and it is sometimes said to return to its creator in ways he or she cannot predict. Is it at least possible that this image of the divine feminine was placed by deity for its own purposes, beginning at the hands of a conqueror but finally turning against its creators and ending in the hands of a free people who constantly strive to overcome lingering effects of colonization? Whatever one’s belief, it is undeniable that this image of the divine feminine has powerfully constructed and reconstructed an entire corner of the globe. She may indeed have become, as the exhibit ad banners name her, “the most powerful woman in the world.”

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

Column: Musings on Propaganda in the Age of Authoritarianism

Fri, 2016-12-02 11:03

Quotations are useful in periods of ignorance or obscurantist beliefs.

– Guy Debord

*   *   *

One of the first things I noticed upon arriving in France last summer is that battles were being waged on multiple fronts.

There was the most obvious battle, the one that the media was covering, a nationwide uproar over a set of controversial labor reforms that were widely viewed as a betrayal of the working class on the part of a supposedly left-wing government.

There was a secondary battle that was playing out alongside that uproar, a guerrilla battle against capitalism and international finance that was being waged by leftists and anarchists in the form of smashed bank windows and repeated violent confrontations with police.

And then there was the battle for the imagination, the battle of dueling narratives that leftists and fascists alike were waging on every blank surface imaginable, from street poles to mailboxes to the walls of boarded-up buildings. As opposed to the aforementioned battles, the battle for the imagination was one that the leftists were obviously and solidly winning.

The words and imagery that adorned pretty much every conceivable surface passionately and effectively reflected the world that could be, the world that they were trying to build. With stickers and graffiti and street art, those who believed that ‘another world is possible’ were successfully appealing to the hearts and minds of the populace.

That success was reflected in not only in the physical presence of a leftist culture, but in the widespread public acceptance of many of their ideas and visions and how those ideas manifested in the physical world. Actions that would be almost universally condemned in the United States, such as the repeated destruction of ATMs, were met with an attitude that ranged from indifference to gleeful acceptance.

Even those who disapproved often expressed their sympathies with the sentiments behind such actions, despite criticizing the actions themselves. They understood why the battle was being waged, and their understanding was in part closely connected to the consistent anti-capitalist messaging that they were exposed to on a daily basis.

*   *   *

The distracted person, too, can form habits. More, the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction proves that their solution has become a matter of habit. Distraction as provided by art presents a covert control of the extent to which new tasks have become soluble by apperception. Since, moreover, individuals are tempted to avoid such tasks, art will tackle the most difficult and most important ones where it is able to mobilize the masses.

– Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’

In the above-quoted essay, arguably his most well-known and influential work, Walter Benjamin characterized a primary component of fascism as the politicization of the aesthetic and argued in favor of the revolutionary potential of art. Written in 1936, and grounded in his observations of the role of aesthetics as employed in Hitler’s rise to power, Benjamin detailed the transformation of art as a medium through the technologies of reproduction.

He explained how such modernization had created the potential for the utilization of art as a means in which to influence the masses, but also pointed out how that potential could and would be used for repressive and totalitarian purposes if and when the means of reproduction was concentrated in the hands of the few.

He stressed that if and when the means of reproduction were democratized, art potentially holds the same power as a tool of resistance that it held in Germany as a tool of manipulation which normalized and reinforced oppression.

While his point had always resonated with me, the truth of his statements became plainly evident after my interactions with the countless propaganda-covered street poles that I constantly encountered throughout France.

*   *   *

More than anything, Hillary [Clinton] forgot that Obama owed his first victory to an image, to an idea.

I heard the comment as I walked past an art student, talking on the phone as he was waiting for the bus outside of PNCA in northwest Portland. I knew immediately what he was referring to: Shepard Fairey’s iconic ‘HOPE’ poster, which was a near-ubiquitous image during the 2008 presidential campaign.

While his actual campaign promises and proposed policies were undoubtedly a factor in his success, one cannot underestimate the degree to which his victory was on account of his winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of a disillusioned populace through the ideas of ‘hope’ and ‘change.’ The strength of Fairey’s image and the resonance of the message inspired voters to hit the polls in record numbers.

It was many of those same voters, especially those from rural areas, living in poverty and once inspired by the ideas of ‘hope’ and ‘change,’ who switched parties and voted for Trump eight years later.

They flipped in large part because the changes that they had hoped for and expected did not materialize for them, and their hearts and minds were then subsequently captured by a very different but equally captivating message.

But this time, instead of abstract concepts like ‘hope’ and ‘change,’ this message provided not only concrete promises but definitive scapegoats.

*   *   *

The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.

– Walter Benjamin

Among other factors, fascism gains its traction on account of a compelling narrative.

Fascism takes advantage of crumbling social conditions, evokes a false nostalgia for the ‘good old days,’ and frames the current material conditions as a ‘fall’ from that greatness. It then scapegoats specific parties as the cause of the fall, and promises a restoration to greatness if and only if the people place their trust in an authoritarian leader and give that leader free rein to rid us of the scapegoats that are responsible for the ‘problems.’

To its credit, liberal democracy also presents a compelling narrative. The promise of ‘freedom’ and ‘prosperity’ and ‘rights,’ especially as it is contextualized within the idea of the ‘American dream,’ has captured hearts and minds for generations now. While it is a narrative that realistically has only ever applied to certain segments of the population (mostly able-bodied white people), over the past few decades the promises of that narrative have repeatedly failed even those who had previously been granted that dream .

The ideology of fascism was birthed out of the ashes of World War I, birthed of the anger of a generation in which working-class people throughout Europe were brutally slaughtered in a war that was mainly fought in the interests of the ruling classes and in the name of democracy. It was the betrayal and/or failure of the narrative and the promises of liberal democracy in Europe that caused large segments of the population to embrace the narrative of fascism.

Although its been mostly forgotten in the mainstream retelling of history, the present turn of events in the United States is not the first time that the narrative of fascism has captured the interest of the American public. Fascism first rose in America in the years after the Great Depression, the last time that the narrative and promises of liberal democracy were proven to fail en masse throughout the North American continent.

While there were multiple factors that in combination were able to overpower the pull of fascism in America that first time around (such as the effects of the New Deal), it was ironically the economic boost that came from the war against fascism in Europe that acted as the nails in the coffin for the power of the fascist narrative in America.

Out of that war came the resurgence of liberal democracy in even greater forms, from the recognition of the United States as a global superpower to institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union.

It is the crumbling and decline of those powers in the present day which in large part has ushered in the current wave of fascist tendencies. History demonstrates very clearly that when the contradictions of liberal democracy, both the obvious and hidden, start to weigh heavily enough to crack the foundations of that system, those who have benefited and profited from that system and its contradictions will inevitably embrace fascism in order to secure their wealth and their safety.

In the absence of an equally compelling counter-narrative, a significant portion of the masses will also inevitably embrace fascism and history will be left to repeat itself.

*   *   *

Il est interdit d’interdire (It is forbidden to forbid)

– Situationist slogan, May 1968

In the summer of 1968, revolutions and revolutionary tendencies echoed throughout the Western world, with varying degrees of success and lasting power. Among the most well-known uprisings of the time was the series of events in May of 1968 in France, which at its peak brought the entire French economy to a standstill and nearly toppled the national government. While history generally characterizes the French uprisings as being fueled by violence and physical resistance, the underlying current which sustained the uprisings was based in artistic expression, most notably the tactics and aesthetics of the Situationist International.

The SI was formed a decade earlier, a fusion of libertarian Marxist ideas and the ideologies and aesthetic expressions of the surrealist and dada art movements. Arguably the strongest idea to come forth from the situationists was the concept of the ‘spectacle,’ which Guy Debord described and defined as “a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”

The concept of the spectacle was in itself a deep critique of capitalism, specifically the ways in which commodity fetishism had shifted society away from social relations based on direct experience and instead created an arena where individual expression was primarily exercised through the consumption of commodities. The aim of the SI was to reverse that trend, to prioritize and emphasize direct experience and to replace the manufactured desires of capitalism with actual and authentic desires.

This philosophy was central to the artistic and symbolic expressions that fueled the uprisings of May ’68. The emotional appeals of the SI, which stressed personal freedom, social authenticity, and political liberation, created a climate in which many believed that a new world was truly possible. Despite the eventual failure of the uprisings to foment an actual social revolution, the ideas and tactics of the SI left its mark on an entire generation of French youths, who continued with and passed on those ideas into the modern day.

Situationist graffiti in France. Public domain.

The propaganda and messaging that is currently seen throughout every major urban area in France, as well as the understandings and philosophies behind it, is a direct and often obvious descendant of the imagery and emotion that characterized the SI and the events of May ’68.

*   *   *

When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany;” it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.”

– Halford E. Luccock, as quoted in the New York Times, 1938.

Many tend to position liberal democracy and its inherent values as either the prophylactic against or the antidote to fascist tendencies, just as they consider the same system to be inherently opposed and in contradiction to the narrative and the promises of fascism. The values expressed in fascism are framed as the antithesis of democracy, and it is stressed that it is the failure to uphold the values of democracy that inevitably will lead to fascism.

But in reality, they are two sides of the same coin, pun intended.

Liberal democracy is the clothing we put on to hide the obscene nature of the body exposed, so to speak. When the actualized brutality and obscenity that is necessary to uphold liberal democracy is revealed, such as the violence recently witnessed at Standing Rock, it is demonstrated for all to see that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

In that moment, liberal democracy is then maintained and upheld by the portion of the populace that continues to praise the emperor on the beauty of his garments, despite the obvious nature of the body exposed.

“The system is broken,” they say, when the actual truth is that the system is being exposed in and for its true and brutal nature, momentarily stripped of all its trappings and distractions.

It is in those moments that fascism and anti-capitalist leftism are actually in agreement, united in contradiction to the liberal democratic narrative, that in fact the system is working exactly as intended. The fascist praises and encourages the mechanics as a justified means to an end, while the leftist argues that the means do not justify the ends and that the only ethical response is to abolish the system altogether.

When the lies of liberal democracy are exposed for what they are, when the child comes forth and finally points out to the crowd that the emperor is naked, it is the narrative of either/both the fascist and/or the leftist that hold the potential power to define what is accepted as reality.

Which side actually gains power in that moment is dependent on many factors, but among the strongest factors is the ability of their respective narratives to capture the imagination.

Logical arguments do not hold much sway in those moments. Instead it is a matter of which side wins the hearts and minds of the masses.

*   *   *

Nature is a temple in which living columns sometimes emit confused words. Man approaches it through forests of symbols, which observe him with familiar glances.

– Charles Baudelaire

Writers such as Baudelaire or Benjamin are far from the only ones who recognize the power inherent in imagery.

Witches, Pagans, occultists, magicians, and related folk have long understood the potential power that art and symbols have to affect reality and material circumstances.

A powerful reminder of that knowledge popped up in my inbox while I was in the process of outlining this very article.

“Have you seen this?” a friend asked, and sent me a link.

The link was to a website called Curse DAPL, complete with specific instructions and an accompanying sigil intended to curse those building the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The neverending argument around the ethics of cursing notwithstanding, the use of symbolism in the form of sigils as a method of fighting oppression and resisting is a time-tested method that spans countless cultures and societies.

On a personal level, seeing that folks in our communities are using sigil magic in order to disrupt capitalist forces filled me with pride and hope, especially considering that so many are unable to participate in the on-the-ground fight against the DAPL.

As the material circumstances that characterize our world as we know it continue to shift and disintegrate, I can only hope that such methods become more and more utilized and widespread.

*   *   *

The spectacle cannot be understood as an abuse of the world of vision, as a product of the techniques of mass dissemination of images. It is, rather, a Weltanschauung which has become actual, materially translated. It is a world vision which has become objectified. 6. The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society.

— Guy Debord, ‘The Society of the Spectacle’

While most corporations and retailers used Black Friday as a way to convince people to buy tangible items at rock-bottom prices, the folks at Cards Against Humanity had a different idea.

They decided to dig a literal hole in the ground for three days straight, with an appeal to the public to pay for the digging by the minute. They had a live video feed of the hole, and a running tally that looked no different from any other crowdfunding campaign.

Despite its absurdity, the stunt resonated with people on several levels, not only as a commentary on consumerism and the existential bleakness of the modern day, but as a painful and arguably hilarious example of what people were willing to actually spend money on. Excerpted from the website’s FAQ:

What do I get for contributing money to the hole?

A deeper hole. What else are you going to buy, an iPod?

Why aren’t you giving all this money to charity?

Why aren’t YOU giving all this money to charity? It’s your money.

What if you dig so deep you hit hot magma?

At least then we’d feel something.

In the same country where thousands are dying on the streets without aid and thousands more are suffering from lack of medical care, after three days, the ‘holiday hole’ brought in over $100,000. As has been shown countless times before this one, the plight of the suffering has nothing on the draw and the temptation of the spectacle.

Aside from the obvious resonance in terms of the current sociopolitical climate, my first thought was of Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies showering Wall Street with dollar bills and then laughing while the hapless traders on the floor abandoned their tasks in order to scramble for every dollar, disrupting the machine of capitalism with the very substance that fuels it.

While such tactics and stunts owe an certain debt to the situationists and the idea of the spectacle, its important to recognize that the theatrical tactics of the American ‘New Left’ were arguably responsible for replacing and displacing the last vestiges of actualized radical struggle in the United States. Once political theater became mainstream in terms of both public acceptance as well as expectation, militant tactics were for the most part abandoned by the mostly white, college-educated left in the United States. This eventually led to a massive loss of political power and social capital, which contributed to the rise of neoliberalism and the post-civil rights era conservative movements that now dominate the political landscape and control much of its discourse.

Moreover, the movements and organizations that did not abandon militant radicalism, such as the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement, were left standing alone and subsequently targeted and destroyed from both within and without by the likes of COINTELPRO.

While the humor of such political theater doesn’t lead to direct and actualized change, the potential effect that such humorous spectacles can have on the masses should not be understated. Cards Against Humanity just proved that to the tune of $100,000, and while part of me winces at that reality, another part of me wonders if and how that tendency can be manipulated in favor of a spectacle that creates an actual means to an end.

*   *   *

Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.

– Walter Benjamin

The ‘culture jamming’ movement, which came to prominence in the political climate of the mid-1980s, was deeply influenced by the work of Guy Debord and the Situationist International, most notably their concept of détournement.

Adbusters corporate flag. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh

But of course, in accordance with the tendencies of capitalism, it did not take long for culture jamming itself to go from a simple method and strategy of expression to a marketed product with the emergence of publications such as Adbusters. It only took a few years for Adbusters to reposition themselves from critics of consumer culture to willing participants in commodity fetishism under the guise of ‘ethical capitalism.’

I personally think that the spirit of Guy Debord is simultaneously horrified and amused by such circumstances, as it equally acts as an insult to his legacy as well as a solid confirmation of his theories around the nature of the spectacle. But the success that Adbusters found in marketing dissent is also important lesson in terms of its reach and effectiveness and should not discourage us from carrying on the traditions of politicizing art that were pioneered by either the situationists or the culture jammers.

*   *   *

“Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way.”

– Jean Anouilh

We tend to interpret the word ‘propaganda’ as information that is inherently untrustworthy. We refer to “Soviet propaganda” or “anarchist propaganda” with the understanding that those folks likely aren’t telling the ‘truth.’

Historically, propaganda was generally regarded as a neutral force, holding true to its Latin roots. ‘Propaganda’ derives from propagare, meaning ‘to propagate,’ and propaganda was recognized as a powerful weapon that could be wielded in the name of countless agendas. It was only with the rise the phenomenon that Benjamin observed, of authoritarian governments that disseminated mass propaganda through the means of mechanical reproduction in order to manipulate the public in favor of repressive tendencies, that the word took on a permanently negative connotation.

While our tendency is to distrust anything that we consider to be propaganda, we place a rather impressive amount of trust in the great corporate propaganda machine known as advertising. The assumption is that the unsanctioned graffiti or flyer or poster is trying to pull one over on us, but we tend to accept that four out of five dentists recommend Crest without much thought or criticism. We generally grant the benefit of the doubt to the claims made by advertising, despite widespread knowledge of the degree to which that medium is manipulating us.

And yet, just as the only true difference between ‘militarism’ and ‘terrorism’ is legitimatization on the part of the state, the only difference between what we consider to be ‘advertising’ and what is disparaged as ‘propaganda’ or ‘graffiti’ is legitimatization on the part of society and our acquiescence to the various ways in which the state and capital control the commons. Our trust in one over the other is rooted not in fact or substance but in our cultural programming, in our tendency to trust authority.

Those who condemn political graffiti generally do not reserve the same criticism for corporate and/or political advertising, and in that inconsistency they further strengthen the power that capital has over the commons and by extension over our thoughts and our minds.

Graffiti by Banksy, Brighton, England. Photo by ShoZu

The ubiquity of advertising in modern society and the tight control of access to that medium and the spaces it inhabits act as a current reflection and confirmation of Benjamin’s observations concerning the effects of the means of reproduction when concentrated in the hands of the few.

While the idea of ‘reclaiming the commons’ is usually centered on occupying public space and ‘commoning’ activities such as community gardens, reclaiming and rewriting the messages that currently define the modern commons is an overlooked and necessary component of creating a narrative that has the potential to challenge that of the status quo.

If fascism relies on the aestheticization of politics, fascism needs to be fought by politicizing the aesthetic.

*   *   *

Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet.

Banksy

*     *     *

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

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

Gatlinburg Burning: Eyewitness Accounts

Thu, 2016-12-01 12:49

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — The bustling mountain resort town of Gatlinburg was devastated Monday as wild fires ripped through town, reducing some areas to only ashes and rubble. Believed to have been started by hikers, the fire is being called “the perfect storm” as high winds and dry air created ideal conditions for this tragic event. Officials are now saying the so-called Chimney Tops fire has taken as many as seven lives, burned 17,000 acres, and destroyed more than 700 buildings.

Downtown Gatlinburg, Tuesday morning Nov. 30, 2016 [Courtesy A. Harvel]

“It’s a horror movie,” posted Angie ‘Pinkie’ Harvel. “Our hearts are twisted and in pain at the site of what’s going on around us.” Harvel is a priestess with Dragon Palm Circle, and lives in an area fondly called “Valley of the Dragons” by the resident local Pagan community. This area is 13 miles east of Gatlinburg up Highway 321. While Harvel does not live in one of the areas that fell under mandatory evacuation, the fires reached within 1/4 mile of her home, forcing her and her neighbors to pack up and leave.

At this point, investigators believe that the fire was started days earlier by hikers on the Chimney Tops Trail. Tuatha Dea‘s Danny Mullikin and Rebecca Holman, who live near the city limits of Gatlinburg, noticed the mountain top fire Sunday night during an evening walk. Mullikin told The Wild Hunt that it looked almost like a volcano with the fire ablaze at the very top and lines of orange fire running down.

However, he added, “Nobody was overly concerned at that point. They said everything was contained.” But, by Monday, conditions changed, and changed quickly.

The entire Appalachian region was already in a severe drought with humidity levels rarely experienced in the area. The dry conditions were fueling wildfires throughout eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and northern Georgia. Winds carried the smoke as far south as Atlanta, making breathing conditions difficult for days, and even forcing school systems to keep children indoors for recess.

As it was, these dry conditions made firefighting difficult, but it was largely manageable. However, when a late November storm front closed in on the area, winds began to pick up. By Monday afternoon, there were reports of regular gusts and straight-line winds reaching as high as 89 mph. These high winds began to carry embers and ash from Chimney Tops down the mountain.

Local resident Jewels Wyldwomyn, priestess of Dragonshire, said, “The winds were so bad that I had to dodge tree limbs as I drove home.” Her car was eventually hit and damaged by one of the flying limbs. She did make it home before conditions worsened.

Wyldwomyn owns and lives on Dragonshire, a 32-acres ‘Valley of the Dragons’ campground that hosts annual Pagan festivals and retreats. She said that when she got home, she assumed that a bad thunderstorm was coming. Due to her remote location, Wyldwomyn does not have television, satellite, or cell service. Therefore, she had no idea what was in store for her later that evening.

Local artist and owner of Sword and Ivy Kathryn Rutherford lives on the other side of Gatlinburg in Wears Valley. She was doing errands in town Monday as the fires began to spread, and heard details through her husband Greg, who works for the National Park Service. According to Rutherford, the fire first spread to the Chimney Tops picnic grounds, and then further down the mountain. The winds, then, spread ashes out in all directions, creating more fires. She also reported that the high winds knocked over trees and power lines, causing downed electrical wires to spark their own fires.

“Nobody knew it was coming,” Rutherford said. She recalls hearing the mandatory evacuation, and the call to simply “get out.”

Mullikin said the same thing. “It happened so fast. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Tuatha Dea was rehearsing in a basement when the fire started. Unlike Rutherford, who was receiving reports as early as 2 p.m, the band didn’t know what was going on until the power went out around 8 p.m. As Mullikin explained, they rushed outside immediately and what they saw was “apocalyptic.”

Gatlinburg Nov 28, 2016 [Taken by Tesea Dawson of Tuatha Dea, as she evacuated]

“We came outside.The skies were red,” Mullikin said. “There was heavy smoke everywhere. Ash was coming down from the sky. Sirens were going off everywhere. It was like a movie.” Mullikin and the band ran back inside, packed up their equipment, and evacuated.

Back at Valley of the Dragons, Harvel and her family had made the decision to evacuate as well, and to assist others in the community. Wyldwomyn is one of their neighbors. Wyldwomyn said, “At 8 pm. DJ [co-owner of neighboring property Cerred Ered] knocked on my door and said ‘get out.'” The fires had reached Cobbly Knob, an area located only 2 miles from the valley. Wyldwomyn grabbed her three puppies, everything that she could pack in her car, and left. By 9 p.m., a caravan of cars and trucks, including Harvel’s family and Wyldwomyn, drove slowly down the single lane road that leads people from the Pagan sanctuary to the main highway.

“I don’t know how we escaped. The fire got within 1/4 mile of our property. Our mountain was on fire,” Wyldwoman said.

When they reached the road, as she reports, there was steady stream of cars leaving Gatlinburg, and only “firetruck after firetruck” heading toward the city. “There was so much smoke,” she added. The caravan of Pagans, then, met at a parking lot to decide how to proceed. From there, they separated to find safety for the night.

The members of Tuatha Dea also separated for the evacuation, each taking different side roads out of the city. But as Mullikin said, “It wasn’t easy.” Embers and ash were being blown in every direction. “There is was no rhyme or reason to it,” he added. You could take one road, as he described, and find yourself facing a pocket fire. “And it isn’t like you can go back,” he added. One Twitter user filmed his own escape out of the burning resort town.

It took Mullikin two hours, he said, to reach Dandridge, where he could find a hotel room. Once there, he met up with Holman and others. They have been there ever since.

Gatlinburg is a small town with a resident population of only about 4,000. However, as a resort city, there were many more people in the area at the time. Officials estimate that as many as 14,000 people had to be evacuated Monday evening. Complicating the matter is the city’s location. Being a mountain town located in a valley, there aren’t many roads leading in and out. Some of them, as noted by Mullikin, were completely blocked by fire.

Rutherford watched from afar as the fires blazed. The mountain situated between her home and the city looked as if it were glowing. She was packed and ready to evacuate at any point. Late Monday night, she remembers hearing officials repeating the words: “Gatlinburg is gone! Gatlinburg is gone!” She imagined the worst.

She added that one of her friends, who does not own a car, had two minutes to evacuate as the flames came down on his home. She reported him telling her, “I stood. I ran.” She also said that she heard reports of “windshield wipers melting” and windows cracking just from the intense heat put off by the flames.

Mullikin described a similar scene, saying “The fires were so hot that the ground itself was on fire.”

As the evacuations continued, the rains came. First a mist and then eventually a downpour. Mullikin said, “I don’t think we would have made it without the rains.” Harvel reported that she and friends stood outside in a parking lot and danced. When Wyldwomyn reached her destination at a friend’s home, she immediately began doing water magic to help. She said, “What saved us was the rains. I thank the gods. I thank the gods.”

Despite the Monday night storm, the fires still burned. Winds picked back up on Tuesday, spreading more ash and more fire. But again, by evening, the rains came.

The properties that make up Valley of the Dragons were spared the flames, but did receive significant wind damage. The area of Wears Valley, where Rutherford lives, was also spared. Mullikin’s home, which lies only one mile outside the city, was undamaged by fire, but is currently without power. All of our interviewees called themselves “lucky.”

Mullikin was first able to get back to see his house Thursday morning. In describing what he witnessed, Mullikin said “It is like tornado; the fire jumped around. There are homes burned to the ground, and then next to them, there will be one that is fine.”

While four Valley of the Dragons residents never evacuated, many of the others, who did leave, are now back home. They have spent the last day cleaning up the damage done by the high winds, and assessing needs. A tree went through Harvel’s roof. She and her family are now temporarily living in one of the cabins at Dragonshire.

The center of Gatlinburg is closed as city officials attempt to assess the scope of the destruction. There is no electricity in area and the mayor is advising all area residents to boil their water before drinking. As Mullikin explained, there are contaminates in the air, which may have gotten into the water system. He said, “remember not everything burning was natural.”

Unfortunately, the danger is still not over; fires continue to burn. In fact, WBIR reports that a second Chimney Tops fire is currently “0% contained.” According to one source, officials are patrolling the area, looking for more fires. Residents are being told that further evacuations may be necessary.

As for the people, the local news is saying that 1,200 of Gatlinburg’s 4,000 residents are currently in shelters. The death toll is now at seven, at least 53 are people are injured, and more are missing. Officials say that they expect the death toll to rise.

Wyldwomyn noted that the long-term devastation may run far deeper. She said that most of the residents, like those living at Valley of the Dragon, have jobs in the area’s lucrative tourist industry. Now, they have no jobs to go to. She is concerned with how long it will take for the local economy to recover.

When talking about the area, Harvel explained, “Gatlinburg itself is a very small town as far as residents go. Right now, because of how many folks drive into work in [Gatlinburg], many of us have spent years working and living together. Pigeon forge and Sevierville are one greater community.”

Despite all that has happened, Wyldwomyn offered a “silver lining,” saying that her own community came together in its time of need. In addition, her extended community, those who attend festivals and enjoy her campgrounds, have also reached out to offer assistance to her and other Valley of the Dragons residents. She said, “We are grateful.”

Mullikin echoed that sentiment, saying, “I’ve seen the community [of Gatlinburg] come together like I’ve never seen before.” He said that this is not about being Pagan or Christian or anything else. “People are coming in from all over to help.”

In addition, he said that friends and fans have been sending Tuatha Dea messages and emails, asking how they can help. He said, “We love everybody. Thank you. Tuatha Dea will be fine. We are one of the lucky ones.” But he did add that his daughter, Tesea Dawson, has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to buy toys for Gatlinburg’s children.

On the campaign page, Dawson writes, “Many of the people who lost everything I know personally, my children go to school with or are family of my close personal friends. Many are children […] Many are left without jobs and here we are at Christmas.”

Dawson has, in one day, raised over $1,200.The money will be used “to buy Christmas presents for those children who’ve lost it all or whose parents will be delayed a much needed paycheck during this time. The victims of this living nightmare.” Any remaining money will be given to local charities supporting the recovery, and there are many of those.

Dolly Parton, who owns the nearby Pigeon Forge resort Dollywood, has pledged to give $1,000 per month through her Dollywood Foundation to families devastated by the fires.

In addition, Heathen Amy Kincheloe, the Troth’s Steward for Kentucky, is currently taking up a collection of supplies to bring to the area next week. While she doesn’t have personal connections in Gatlinburg, she said that she “is naturally a caring person” and just wanted to help. Kincheloe said that she knows what it’s like to “lose everything.”  She is collecting clothes, toys, and basic necessities this Saturday in and around her area. She said, “I live in Dixon, however I can travel to Owensboro, Madisonville, and Evansville IN.” For anyone interested in donating, she said to email her at poorventrue1@gmail.com with the title line:donation goods. 

There are many other opportunities to assist the people of Gatlinburg and its surrounding towns. A new hashtag campaign was launched to uplift spirits and foster community: #smokeymountainstrong.  As a fundraiser for victims, two local news outlets are selling t-shirts with the tag on it.

All the interviewees with whom we spoke said that, at this point, the full extent of the damage and any long-term needs are not yet known. The reality of what happened, and is still happening, has not fully set in. They need time.

Mullikin said, “More than anything. This is our home. We have been deeply affected by the fires.” He was breaking up as he spoke about the mountains and city that he loves. “It is part of who we are inside. We are connected to this place. It just hurts.” Now, he said, there is not much to do but manage basic needs. He did say that, as things settle, he and Tuatha Dea will be doing something more for the city, for the community, and for the beloved and magical Smokey Mountains.

 

Note: The Knoxville News Sentinel is providing an updated list of the conditions of various buildings and areas as officials are able to make assessment.

“Rage Donations” Among the Post-Presidential Election Impacts

Wed, 2016-11-30 12:33

UNITED STATES — Even as activists took to the streets to protest the results of the presidential election, others adopted a quieter approach that has been since dubbed “rage donating” or the giving money to organizations that support populations deemed at risk once Donald Trump takes office. A web site named RageDonate was quickly created to channel this very desire; each screen pairs a Trump quote with a donation button tied to a related cause.

Donald Trump [Wikipedia]

Reports from the offices of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) indicate that those are perhaps the two most popular targets for post-election donations, although others also have benefited. On the season finale of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver listed a number of other organizations that he believes could use extra assistance while Trump is in office. These include the National Resources Defense Council, International Refugee Assistance Project, the Project, and the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP.

Specific Pagan causes have not been included in these high-profile lists, perhaps not surprising given that Pagans and those practicing related spiritualities collectively are only a very small portion of the population. The Wild Hunt reached out to representatives of some Pagan groups to find out if it appeared that they have benefited from these so-called “rage donations” since Nov. 8. Given the small sampling, this can only be considered anecdotal evidence, and no clear pattern can be gleaned at first glance.

A representative of Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship responded, “ADF, as a church, is not permitted to engage in the political process, therefore we tend to whether political storms pretty well. I haven’t noticed an uptick in membership numbers” since the election.

Oberon Osiris noticed a change in the yearly cycle at Covenant of the Goddess, and it wasn’t a positive bump. Typically, they see a post-Halloween bump in emails from seekers, but that did not occur. “I have a feeling . . . the decline is tied to nervousness or paranoia about being known or seen to be contacting ‘Witches,’ since the election was won by Mr. Trump.”

“I can’t base it on any actual evidence, just the lack – even possibly more so than normal,” Oberon Osiris continued. “As of this date, late November I have no regular flow of other ‘info’ type questions I might have to handle. Just a lot less flow/volume than we normally get. I was not in this position in 2008 or 2012 so I can’t address if it happened during that Presidential campaign.”

On the plus is The Wild Hunt itself, according to managing editor Heather Greene. Social media followers and email subscribers have increased measurably, and there were even some unexpected donations, which are rarely made outside of the annual fund drive. Greene wrote, “Typically, we receive most of our funding through the fall drive, and that campaign ended before the election. But, since that point, we have been gifted with several unexpected donations. We appreciate the extra support.” Even without this small bump, Greene was clear that The Wild Hunt’s writers will continue to serve the Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities through what is widely expected to be uncertain times to come.

A representative from Lady Liberty League declined to comment, and no response was received from the Patrick McCollum Foundation in time for this story.

[Pixabay]

That is not to infer that Pagans only donate to specifically Pagan causes. Several people have expressed support for the idea of shoring up at-risk causes at this time. Sabina Magliocco posted on Facebook, “I don’t know about all of you, but I’m seriously not feeling like holiday shopping this year. . . . after discussing it with some of my family members, we’ve decided that this year, we’re going to give donations to worthy organizations in lieu of holiday gifts.” Her list includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and support for the Standing Rock protesters.

Gwendolyn Reece posted a list of recommended organizations, and wrote,

This is not a sprint. Therefore we must consciously build our individual capacity and the capacity in our communities to keep going. That means self-care and cultivating joy. Grim determination only really works when it is an expression of love.

Other Pagans asked about their intentions had a variety of opinions. Some, like those above, intend on starting or increasing donations to various organizations. Elizabeth Sturino, for her part, is looking to hunker down and focus on local needs. “I think it is prudent to only spend on necessities, stock up on canned foods and alternative heating sources and put any ‘extra’ money into credit unions instead of a bank at this time. Volunteering is the most authentic form of donation as I am sure my time is going to directly benefit those whom I am serving.”

Activist Peter Dybing raised another question for those heading up progressive causes: “What is your organization’s plan for working with other unrelated progressive causes to defeat Trump? Our old fractured ‘my cause first’ approach is not something we can afford now. Real progressive mutual aid is the order of the day.”

Overall, it doesn’t appear that Pagans — nor any falling under the shadow of the Pagan umbrella — are feeling the need to express rage through their wallets. It is possible that they, like Sturino, are keeping charity close to home, or perhaps they are attempting to supplant rage with a different emotion for their own actions.

Minnesota Metaphysical Boutiques Targeted with Harassment

Tue, 2016-11-29 12:13

WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. — Pagan-owned businesses face all the usual challenges of any small business: overhead costs, long hours by the owner, and maintaining a customer base. Yet they also face the additional challenge of being different than the mainstream, which can result in either an exchange of ideas and mutual respect with customers, or in confrontation. The Minnesota-based Enchanted Boutique often enjoys the former, but more recently experienced the latter.

The Enchanted Boutique is a metaphysical store that has as much product and services about angels and the paranormal as it does items specifically for Pagans and Witches.

On Nov. 18, Bonnie Gurney, owner of the Enchanted Boutique, was helping another customer when she noticed a woman hanging around the back of her store. As she later found out, the person’s name is Kristine Burque. When Ms. Gurney finished with her customer, she approached Ms. Burque to ask if she could help her. Burque asked about another metaphysical shop. Gurney told her that this other shop was out of business, but the owner still did tarot reading. Gurney then handed Burque a flyer about some of the services offered at the Enchanted Boutique, and the woman left.

Up to that point, the exchange was typical.

What Gurney didn’t know was that Burque is a devout Christian who feels a calling to witness in stores and places she feels are “diabolical.” Burque is known to the local Pagan community for her past activities at other business. In August, it is alleged Burque harassed the two owners of Collective Harmony Massage and Healing Arts. They hired an attorney to have Burque’s posts about them, one of which displayed their license plate number, removed from Facebook.

Their attorney, Patrick Farley, told The Wild Hunt, “We did issue a Cease and Desist letter to Ms. Burque and threatened further legal action if she did not comply.” Mr. Farley said Burque was engaging in acts that damaged the reputation of the business, in addition to the harassment of one of its owners. Since Ms. Burque has complied with the terms of the letter, no further legal action is pending.

At the Enchanted Boutique, Gurney received a second visit from Burque. This time, she was holding a bible. “[Burque] stated that she wanted to introduce Jesus to me,” said Gurney.

In response, Gurney reportedly told Burque that she already knows Jesus, and that the store caters to many different religions and Gods. “She seemed uninterested in that, and continued to talk about my meeting Jesus. I told her that I was not interested and asked her to leave. She continued, and I asked her to leave a couple more times before she actually walked out of the shop.”

Burque shared her visit to the Enchanted Boutique on Facebook. She posted a photo of the store with the comment: “This had been a breakthrough for me. I can stand with God’s armor ON!! … and confront my first witch in person.”

In a statement to The Wild Hunt, Burque said that she’s done nothing wrong, “I just wanted to share Jesus with her. No harm in that. There is nothing to report. I see you are not a Christian according to your timeline. I hope you seek Jesus. That is what all of this was about. To stir them up to pay attention because Jesus is be returning. Maranatha.”

Yet the question remains, when does proselytizing cross the line into trespassing? At what point does free speech and the ability to practice one’s religion turn into harassment and stalking? Is it when the unwanted contact is repeated over months, as it is alleged to have happened to the partners of Collective Harmony? Is it when there are social media posts showing your flyer being burned, or when someone drops off wood in the driveway of your home to “burn things?

Burque’s posting of the store’s burning flyer [Facebook photo]

Farley has said that he has started paying closer attention to Burque’s Facebook page now that he knows that she is continuing her behavior toward another, “I am, of course, concerned for my clients.”

Gurney says she appreciates the support of friends and customers, “The support from friends and others on Facebook was incredible, which I really appreciate. Several people posted about it and all were very supportive.”

In a post on Facebook which has since been erased, Burque noted that she would not be going back to The Enchanted Boutique, but was glad to save one of its customers from Satan. Burque wrote, “My mission is complete and did what I set out to do, even though some agreed and others didn’t. I have no need to pursue this agenda any longer. … But, who is to say it was my agenda only, anyway?”

She continued on to say, “I heard a customer leaving from that shop say she is so glad she found herself and now she knows what her purpose is. She found a false god directing her into serving others through Satan. I don’t want anyone being being swayed into the occult world and being distracted from Jesus by practitioners working for Satan and being deceived themselves because Satan is the one talking to you, healing you temporarily, and has you working against God, but you don’t realize it.”

Pagan Community Notes: Ohio State University, Standing Rock, Wildwood Tradition and more!

Mon, 2016-11-28 10:53

COLUMBUS, Ohio — News broke this morning of “an active shooter” on the campus of Ohio State University. At 9:56 am, the OSU Emergency Management Team tweeted, “Buckeye Alert: Active Shooter on campus. Run Hide Fight. Watts Hall.19th and College.” The campus was quickly locked down, and some students tweeted images from inside their barricaded classrooms.*

At noon, the campus emergency team announced that everything was secure, but all classes would be cancelled and areas of the campus would be closed for further investigation. At this point, not much more is known. One suspect was allegedly shot dead, and ten people were reportedly sent to the hospital with stab wounds and other injuries.

We spoke with local Druid Rev. Michael J. Dangler who works on staff at OSU. When he read the emergency announcement, he stayed home and called in safe. Dangler is a Senior Priest in Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) and a Grove Priest of Three Cranes Grove, ADF. He said, as far as he can tell now, everyone that he knows and works with is also okay. However, he was quick to add that the situation is still not settled.

Rev. Dangler is also the co-owner of the local Columbus metaphysical store The Magical Druid, which serves OSU’s Pagan community. While it is too soon to know what will “need to be done” in terms of healing, Rev. Dangler did say, “We’ll probably do something at the shop. I’m waiting on details.” In the meantime, he noted that his store maintains a community altar, which is always available during regular business hours, and it will be there for anyone who needs it at this time.

UPDATE 11/28 4:38pm: The community altar at The Magical Druid was open today from 3-4 pm. Rev. Jan Avende and Rev. Michael J Dangler of Three Cranes Grove, ADF, “were there to offer prayers.” They recorded in a live-stream for those who can’t make it down to the store. Watch the video here.

UPDATE 11/28 4:38pm: It has been reported that the “active shooter” was not a gunman. The suspect reportedly hit people with his car, and then stabbed several others with a knife.

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CANNONBALL, N.D. — As we reported yesterday, tensions continue to mount at Standing Rock as the Dec. 5 deadline looms. According to Reuters, “U.S. authorities said on Sunday they had no plans to forcibly remove activists.” Any remaining activists will be reportedly subject to citations. At the same time, the protesters have made it clear that they will not be evacuating. Additionally, reports indicate that over 400 veterans are now planning to arrive at Standing Rock Dec. 4 to join the protests and support the Water Protectors.

As we have been reporting, Pagans and Heathens also continue to remain active in this ongoing struggle. Solar Cross Temple announced this weekend that, with funds raised, it sent $1,085 worth of supplies to the medics at one of the protest camps. The remainder of the funds will be used to supply the general camp or another smaller spirit camp. Solar Cross is currently talking with people in the area to assess the needs.

Since first speaking with us in September, Casey McCarthy, a member of Mountain Ancestors Grove, has revisited Standing Rock and reported back that “logistics have improved.” This includes areas such as training (e.g. cultural sensitivity, direct action 101, and more), medical and mental health care, construction, and legal consultation. He said, “All of these fall under a council of elders and work in conjunction with each other.” However, McCarthy added that there is “tons of trauma.” He said, “The struggle is real; people are getting hurt, and witnessing horrifying things. I volunteered with the mental health group and heard a lot of horror stories.”

McCarthy also noted that some people are arriving at the camps thinking it’s just a big party. He said, “There is a lot of tension between the native folks and the white people showing up, and treating the place like a festival. I heard some very racist and privileged stuff. White people must understand that the protest is a sacred space and a battle ground, not Lollapalooza.”

Two other volunteers who hope to return soon to Standing Rock are Aquarian Tabernacle Church leaders Belladonna Laveau and Dusty Dionne. They are not sure when and if they can make the journey yet, but they would like to be there when the veterans arrive to support their effort along with bringing more of the needed supplies.

We will continue to bring you weekly updates on this story direct from Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists involved. 

*     *     *

BRISBANE, Aus. — As noted in yesterday’s edition of Hounds, Broadly published an article on an annual Australia Beltane festival sponsored by the Wildwood Tradition. This article, as we noted, was filled with vivid photographs of members enjoying the popular springtime event. However, that article, which was published Nov. 7, sparked anger in the community itself, due primarily to inaccurate information. While this problem may not be surprising, as it does happen frequently within mainstream reports on modern Witchcraft practice, this time tradition members decided to take matters in their own hands. They didn’t simply let it go.

In an email, member Fio Aengus Santika told The Wild Hunt: “[the] article came out without any member of our Tradition being aware it would come out, and it was entirely images of our biggest Beltaine event which happens to be in Brisbane where our Tradition was born.” He added that the questions all “seemed to hinge on [their] Tradition with a Pagan and a Witch not of our Tradition answering for us.” That is how the original article was received.

Santika reported that they immediately contacted the Broadly writer who was at first “quite hesitant to engage.” But the site eventually made the requested changes. Santika said that they removed “all mention of Wildwood,” and removed all photographs of “individuals who did not consent to their images being used in this way.” He added, “Basically, all the information about the Wildwood Tradition that was originally on there (now changed) was given by a Pagan / Witch not of our Tradition so was all entirely incorrect, but thank the Gods and our own our own actions that it’s all gone now.”

In Other News

  • Pagan Blogger John Halstead announced that a hearing in the “Whiting 41” case has been scheduled for Jan. 13 at the Lake Superior Court in Hammond, Indiana. As we reported last May, Halstead and 40 others were arrested during a climate change protest at the local Whiting Oil Refinery. Earlier this week, he and those arrested put out a call for a peaceful protest to be held at the courthouse during the hearing.The Facebook event page reads, “Join us […] to lend your support to the Whiting 41. […] Bring your singing voices. There will be singing and chanting and some street theater (as well as hot coffee).”
  • The blog Thrillist recently shared a story on Minnesota-based Sidhe Brewery. In May 2015, we talked to the Wiccan owners as the business got off the ground. Our article focused on the magical aspects of the brewery, its launch and operation. The new 2016 article focuses on the business as a safe space for the local LGBTQ community. “We’re not trying to advertise ourselves as ‘the queer bar,’ because we’re not, we’re a queer space,” said head brewer/co-owner Kathleen Culhane. “But we’re making it more in the forefront when we put ourselves out there. This is an LGBTQIA — whatever, alphabet soup — friendly bar. We are committed to diversity in all things.”
  • Blogger Heather Awen has recently put out a call for submissions for a new non-profit project that will result in a book titled Steel Bars, Sacred Waters: Celtic Paganism for Prisoners. The book will include rituals, guided meditations, and deity information rooted in Celtic tradition and creatively tailored for polytheists in prison. Why? Awen feels that many inmates learn about Paganism in prison, but there is very little material on Celtic-based practices. Submissions are due May 15, 2017.
  • Many Gods West has opened registration for the 2017 conference held in Olympia, WA. The event is a “gathering of peers to support the growth and practice of Polytheism. […] Join us for three days of discussion, devotion, ritual, and theology! We are now open for registration and for programming proposals.” The 2017 event will be held Aug. 4-6.

That is it for now. Have a nice day.

Pagan Voices: Angharad the Pagan, The Wanderer, Melissa ra Karit and more!

Sun, 2016-11-27 18:03

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media or a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice or artist you’d like to see highlighted? Contact us with a link to the story, post, audio, or image.

“Rocks in Tree” 2016 by photographer Greg Harder, all rights reserved

“Ideally speaking, I would like to be one of those people who does worship every day, morning and night. In my mind, in my heart, I view myself as being a ‘mystic.’ ‘Of course I can do this indefinitely!’

However, the reality is that after months of doing that, I crash. I become emotionally burnt out. I get physically ill and then use my sickness as an excuse to take time away from my devotional practice or, often, any sort of religious practice.

This makes me feel awful. I feel like a failed devotee.

What this is telling me is that perhaps I should limit my devotional work to specific time periods. Six or 8-9 weeks, maybe, of daily practice. At the end of that time period, I can decide (or ask a diviner, procuring their services) whether to keep going or not for another set period of time.” — R.M. McGrath, on devotional work.

I like Jerome (something that causes several of my academic friends to raise surprised eyebrows): he’s curmudgeonly; I’m curmudgeonly. He writes in beautiful (for a Christian) Latin, I like Latin and wish I could write like that. He seems to value the spiritual wellbeing of the lay people with whom he corresponded and didn’t condescend to them or truncate his letters, instead he included a substantial and nuanced theology in his responses, even when writing to someone as insignificant in the Roman world as an unmarried teenaged girl. I was very impressed by that, even though I might not agree with the positions he was espousing. –Galina Krasskova, from What Early Christianity Can Teach Us About How To Be Good Polytheists

I’ve seen Christians who understand this experience far better than pagans. One is the author of the blog Beauty Without Bones, her harrowing account of recovering from anorexia and the constant vigilance to stop possible backsliding while at the same time educating others. There’s obviously no doubt in her that the Christian God is truly at the core of everything she does. . . . That somehow someone could narcissistically lose themselves and escape from the problems of the world via devotional polytheism makes no sense especially considering our gods are in this world. How can putting the Gods of the world in the center of your life not force you into real action changing the world? –Heather Awen on serving humanity and the gods.

Dear gods, don’t be complacent. White supremacy is still here. It never left – not during the last eight years, not during the last hundreds of years. Don’t allow your edge to be smoothed away by articles that want you to go back to being silent, ineffective, and a cog in the system.

Please, please – stop reading and sharing those articles. Don’t let relief overtake your new vigor to fight the system. Stoke that flame of resistance! It is tiny, extinguishable by a thimbleful of water — do not allow it! Stoke those flames of change!

It is the time to RISE, not sit. To keep our eyes open, to shout until we can no more, to stand with the disenfranchised and the marginalized. It is time to put our mouths, money, and bodies between the way it has always been and the world we want it to be! RESIST! –Boneweaver, writing on a sense of comfort emerging after the U.S. election.

I’m not – yet – comfortable aligning myself with a specific religious tradition. I was brought up EXTREMELY inside the box, but it has been over a decade since I stepped outside of that particular box. In that time, I’ve been almost exclusively drawn to earth-based spiritual practices. Yes, I feel there’s a difference between being spiritual and being religious, which is yet another reason I have continued to tick the “no preference: box. . . . While I’m not religious, I do believe in a spirit world, in energy, in the earth. . . does that actually make me Pagan? I’ve hesitated to use the term because I don’t feel I have the level of belief necessary to fit into that sphere. –The Wanderer, No Religious Preference.

Where are the gods? Well, it’s not like they’re all-powerful, and even if they were, it’s not necessarily their responsibility to get us out of the dilemmas we make for ourselves. I may have prayed and lit candles for the Goddess, and poured a libation for Loki, but I also voted, and encouraged other people to vote thoughtfully. I probably could have done more, but that’s a lesson learned. . . . If there are gods, they don’t always act. And they don’t always have the power to do so. Sometimes they are silent. And sometimes they speak out of the darkness. –Angharad the Pagan, from Polytheism after Monotheism.

The best creative thinking isn’t worked for, it’s allowed. When we let our dreaming, imagining minds play freely, the awen is most likely to flow. Try to force and direct it and you are more likely to get something that feels pushed and contrived. Mediation can make a space for unconscious thinking to rise gently to the surface. By letting the mind settle, space can be made for gloriously mad connections to be made, essential what-if questions to be asked and so forth. So we may start with some standard techniques for stilling and settling, but once ‘in the zone’ the last thing we want to do is notice and let go of our thoughts. Instead, we need to notice and explore what arrives. A deliberate wool gathering, daydreaming time, where we go with what happens. –Nimue Brown, from Bardic Meditation.

If you thought I was nasty before
You haven’t seen anything yet
Before you called me nasty for standing in the sun
For demanding my share of power
Light
Attention

But now I’m standing in the shadows too
I’m right behind you
Everywhere you go
At the edge of your vision
At the edge of the world
Reminding you that there is more to be seen

Now I am standing in the darkness
And every time the lights go off
A chill runs up your spine
The darkness is vast and powerful
And the sliver of the moon
Only tells you that all things must wane

Of course, I have been here this whole time
But now your gut knows it
The vision haunts you
Until nightmares become a dream
A shimmer of possibilities
Unfolding
We are unfolding
Ceaseless
Unstoppable

–Melissa ra Karit, If You Thought I Was Nasty Before

That’s it for now. Please continue to recommend voices, art or photography you’d like to see featured here!

Unleash the Hounds! (Link Roundup)

Sun, 2016-11-27 10:43

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

This week saw the death of Cuban leader and despot Fidel Castro (1926-2016). His brother Raul made the announcement Friday on Cuban TV, and word spread quickly evoking both cheers and mourning. Raul said:

“I say to the people of Cuba, with profound pain I come here to inform our people, our friends of America and the world, that today, 25 November, 2016, at 10:29 pm, died the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz.”

Castro was born in 1926, and led a series of uprisings against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. He was eventually successful, becoming president in 1959. Castro then transformed the small island nation according to his political and social agenda, and held power for nearly 50 years. Then, in 2007, brother Raul took over the presidency, when Castro became too ill to continue the work.

Castro’s revolution and his subsequent rule have left an indelible mark on international political history, and throughout his life, he triggered both disgust and passionate celebration. Cuban author and historian Louis E Perez is quoted as saying that Castro “was a historic figure way out of proportion to the national base in which he operated.”  Will, as Castro once himself said, “history absolve him?” That will seemingly depend on when, where, and who writes that history.

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In a story we’ve been following closely, Standing Rock tensions continue to mount. As has been announced, the Army Corps of Engineers will be shutting down parts of the camp Dec. 5. “This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations […] and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions.”

In response, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement, “It is both unfortunate and ironic that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving – a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe. Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the treatment of our people.”

Visiting Pagans,and those involved in other ways, continue to send in reports to TWH, and we will share those accounts as we can.

Other News

  • According to a Daily Beast article, Satanist Monica Lujan is suing a private prison for violating her religious rights and punishing her for her beliefs. “[New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility] allegedly confiscated nearly all of Lujan’s belongings, leaving her with one pair of underwear, and no bedding for four months.”  The chaplain reportedly also berated her in public and “called her the devil herself.” The ACLU of New Mexico is representing Lujan.
  • A Virginia woman is fighting for her right to maintain a lush front yard garden. Lori Brent’s property is reportedly a certified wildlife habitat, and has been for over 10 years. Recently a neighbor’s complaint prompted a visit from the county inspector, who formally requested that Brent cut back her “overgrown” and “abundant plant life.” Instead of complying, she has decided to fight the county.
  • Broadly posted an article about an Australian-based Pagan community and its Beltane festival. The article, “Overflowing with Joy and Pagan Pride at Australia’s Biggest Witch Party,” interviews Pagan Jae Llewellyn, and provides vivid photographs of the event and its attendees. While the article may appear positive to outsiders, it has, reportedly, provoked frustration from the local community. When asked specifically about the reported outrage, Fio Aengus Santika told The Wild Hunt that the article, which seemed to focus on the Wildwood tradition, was released “without any member of our Tradition being aware it would come out.” We’ll have more from Santika tomorrow in Pagan Community Notes. 
  • In a recent article, Heat Street reported on the growth of Paganism in the Army. The article, titled “Paganism Growing in The U.S. Army: Choose Your Own Gods,” follows the practice of Pagans in South Carolina’s Fort Jackson. There are interviews with several circle attendees, as well as leader Rachel Lichtenberger, “whose husband is a drill sergeant.” The video, which is embedded below, can be found at the top of the article and shares the same information.

  • In Kenya, clerics have recently announced that if any candidate uses “witchcraft” to sway the election, they will be banned from church. According to the article, “Embu clergymen say wizards are set to make a killing in the polls.” A “killing” in this case means “get rich.” The article goes on to report on the financial gains made by alleged “wizards” who help aggressive politicians. While the claims of witchcraft-infused politics may seem familiar to an American population, who just witnessed similar claims in the November presidential election, it is important to remember that references to witchcraft in Kenyan culture and politics are not the same as that referenced in the American culture. Witchcraft-related abuses and violence continue to plague this region and to concern local and world human rights organizations.
  • The Getty Research Institute, based in Los Angeles, is hosting an exhibit called The Art of Alchemy. “The mysterious art of alchemy transformed visual culture from antiquity to the Industrial Age, and its legacy still permeates the world we make today.” The exhibit opened in mid-October and will run through Feb. 12.
  • Interested in the ouija board? Did you have the popular toy as a child? Or do you use a similar type spirit board in your magical practice? Here is a short video on the strange history and use of the board with Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America.

Column: Thor, the World Serpent, and What the World Needs Now

Sat, 2016-11-26 11:24

What is the point of mythology today? What purpose do tales of gods and monsters of the long ago time play in our post-postmodern world?

Any given myth within any given mythology can be read at multiple levels by multiple audiences. The Norse myths are no exception.

Children (and the young at heart) enjoy the d’Aulaires retellings of the myths with a sense of innocent wonder at the exciting strangeness of it all. Teenagers (and other bloodthirsty types) revel in the violence and gore of distant derivations such as the Vikings TV show. Heathens (and related religionists) mine the surviving Icelandic versions of the myths for keys to their reconstruction and re-imagining of belief and ritual, although some practitioners actively deny that these materials have anything to do with religion at all.

Like all myths, the Icelandic tales of Thor and the World Serpent can amaze, entertain, and inspire. In the wider picture, for the wider society, what can be made of these stories that will really make a difference in the lives of those who read them? What meaning can we find in myths of a hammer-wielding god who fights a giant snake that lies deep in the sea and encircles all lands?

Thor fights the World Serpent at the Doom of the Gods by Emil Doepler [Public Domain]

Stories of Thor and the World Serpent

The most general understanding of any specific myth is as a story of wondrous adventure. This type of reading focuses on elements of plot (who fought whom), attributes of characters (what weapons were used), and connection to the wider mythology (what effect the fight had).

Here are the basic details of the myths, briefly told.

Adventure 1: The god Thor walks to the World of the Giants with his companion Loki and his two servant children Thialfi and Roskva. After some time, they come to the enormous stronghold of the giant known as Loki of the Outer World.

This second Loki has powerful magic of illusion and plays several visual tricks on Thor and his comrades over the course of a series of tests of their abilities. One of Thor’s challenges is to lift the second Loki’s giant cat into the air. The god grabs the feline under his belly, but no matter how high he lifts the cat, it arches its back enough that only one of its paws leaves the ground.

When the giant wizard reveals all the tricks he played on his visitors, he tells Thor:

That cat was not what it appeared to you. It was the World Serpent which lies encircling all lands, and its length was hardly enough for both its head and its tail to touch the ground. And so far did you reach up that you were not far from the sky.

Thor departs in great anger at having been fooled.

Adventure 2: Thor goes fishing with a giant named Hymir. The god uses the head of an ox as bait and manages to hook the World Serpent. He furiously struggles to pull up the snake, and (in a Paul Bunyanesque moment) he pushes his feet through the bottom of the boat and braces them on the bottom of the sea as he hauls on the line.

The struggle between the god and the serpent is so fiercely fought that “all the ancient earth was collapsing.” Just as Thor lifts his hammer and readies to kill his prey, Hymir panics and cuts his fishing line. Thor throws his hammer after the sea monster, but “the World Serpent lives still and lies in the encircling sea.”

Adventure 3: At the end of mythic time, during the cosmic battle known as the Doom of the Powers, Thor has his final encounter with the World Serpent. The god is victorious, but he only stumbles nine paces away before “he will fall to the ground, dead from the poison which the serpent will spit at him.”

Thor ready to strike the World Serpent by Jenny Nyström [Public Domain]

Meaning within the Mythology

Adventure 1 sets up Thor’s great strength and his position as dedicated adversary to the giants. Before he reveals his illusions to the god, Loki of the Outer World tells him:

Now you shall be told the truth, now you have come outside the castle, which is that if I live and can have my way, you shall never again come into it. And I swear by my faith that you never would have come into it, if I had known before that you had such great strength in you, and that you were going to bring us so close to disaster.

There were several tests set up for Thor besides the trial with the disguised World Serpent. In each one of them, only the deceptive magic of the giant prevented Thor from achieving total victory.

As in the poem “Graybeard’s Song,” in which Thor and Odin debate and insult each other, Thor is presented in direct opposition to magic users. He faces any challenge head-on, using his raw strength and hitting it with his hammer. From his perspective, magic and illusion are dishonest and used as the recurrent refuge of those who refuse to engage openly with their opponents.

Adventure 2 expands on these ideas, positing a situation where Thor is able to face his opponent directly and engage in an open trial of strength and will, yet is still frustrated. Three main ideas are forwarded in this episode.

1. Thor is portrayed as protector and defender. In the late 10th century, the Icelandic poet Úlf Uggason told the story of Thor’s fishing trip, writing:

Fiercely flashed the brow-moons [eyes]
of the friend of gods and mankind [Thor],
deadly glances darting
down upon the serpent.

Similar language appears in the parallel spot in the Eddic “Hymir’s Poem”:

The protector of humans, the serpent’s sole slayer,
baited his hook with the ox’s head.
The one whom the gods hate, the All-Lands-Girdler [the World Serpent]
from below gaped wide over the hook.

The major attribute of the god is not thunder, but protection of the community. He fights to defend the worlds of gods and humans from the threatening forces outside of them.

This story clarifies the conflict between Thor and Loki of the Outer World, providing a motivation for Thor’s journey to the World of the Giants – he wishes to challenges those outside that threaten the world within. It also suggests that the image of Thor traveling with a human boy and girl is to underscore his protective role.

2. Thor is so dedicated to destroying his great enemy that he is completely oblivious to the consequences. He puts his feet through the bottom of the boat and the world collapses around him, yet he never loses focus on his fight to defeat his foe. This concept will be clarified in the next adventure.

3. As in the adventure with Loki of the Outer World, Thor can only be defeated by dishonesty and cheating. Here, Thor is seconds away from finally smashing the World Serpent with this hammer when the giant Hymir cuts his fishing line and allows the sea monster to escape. Without the intervention of the giant, Thor is fully capable of destroying the threat to the worlds he protects.

In typical fashion, Thor’s response is to throw the meddling giant overboard.

Adventure 3 takes two of these strands and follows them to their logical and emotional conclusion in the last battle of Norse mythology. In the “Prophecy of the Seeress,” Thor’s final fight with the serpent is described in cosmic, religious, and moral terms:

Then comes the glorious child of Earth [Thor],
Odin’s son strides to fight the serpent.
He smites in fury, shrine-guarder of the world;
all warriors must abandon their homesteads.
He steps nine paces, Earth’s child,
exhausted, leaving slain the snake which fears no shame.

Thor’s role as protector of the world is emphasized by twice identifying him as the son of the earth goddess. He guards the world itself, but he also defends the culture of men as represented by their shrines. The religious concept of reciprocal gifting between gods and humans is suggested by the juxtaposition of the god guarding the shrines and the warriors leaving their homesteads to join him in battle.

Or do they leave their homes because the battle between Thor and the World Serpent – as in the tale of the fishing trip – tears the world itself apart? In either reading, any wall between the god and his worshipers has now broken down as they are equally affected by the destruction of the last days.

Finally, Thor is able to do battle with his great enemy without illusion or interference. As suggested by both of the preceding myths, his might is enough to destroy the serpent in open combat.

However, both of the other tales suggest that there is a near-equality of strength on both sides, that the protective force is barely stronger than the threatening force. Here, Thor does manage to slay the serpent, but he only lives long enough to take nine steps before he is overwhelmed by the poison spewed by the snake.

Thor fights the World Serpent by Lorenz Frølich [Public Domain]

What the World Needs Now

In 1916, pragmatist philosopher John Dewey wrote, “a theory apart from an experience cannot be definitely grasped even as theory. It tends to become a mere verbal formula, a set of catchwords used to render thinking, or genuine theorizing, unnecessary and impossible.”

In 2016, I suggest a new version of his statement: “a myth apart from an action cannot be definitely grasped even as myth. It tends to become a mere written formula, a set of catchwords used to render thinking, or genuine reading, unnecessary and impossible.”

So, how do we read the myths of Thor and the World Serpent in a way that leads to action today? If Heathenry (both ancient and modern) is truly a world-affirming religion, if we truly are our deeds, how do these myths lead to action in the world?

From the above reading of the myths, here are five concepts that can be applied in our daily lives.

1. Be an adversary. Thor is willing to travel to the World of the Giants and take on any trial. Are you willing to leave your comfort zone and openly challenge those whose actions you oppose? Will you simply signal virtue with a safety pin, or will you stand on the front lines at Standing Rock? We can’t all travel to the front lines, but we can each find some path that leads us beyond our front doors and off of Facebook.

2. Fool me once. After his trusting nature is taken advantage of by the second Loki, Thor heads straight to the sea to pull the serpent from the depths. Once you realize you’ve been played, will you head straight for the core of the corruption and call it out? Americans all along the political spectrum are furious that media and politicians of every stripe have promoted lies and misrepresentations. At what point will you brush illusion aside and focus on reality?

3. Throw the bums out. As soon as the giant Hymir thwarts his victory by cutting his fishing line, Thor throws the giant off the boat. If some supposed ally actively subverts your work, will you keep on smiling or call them out? In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of just such fellow travelers:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

How will you respond to those who claim to have your best interests at heart yet constantly work to undermine them? Will you throw them out or repeatedly reelect them

4. Defend the world. Thor fights for the Earth and all who live on it. His most consistent portrayal is as the defender of the world community. We are all children of the Earth, and we are all part of what was once called – in a more hopeful (albeit patriarchal) time – the brotherhood of man. What can you do to fight for the planet as our common home? What can you do to fight for human rights? As the very ideas of protecting the Earth and the universality of human rights are openly attacked, what will you do to push back?

5. Accept the risks. Thor is willing to destroy the World Serpent even at the cost of his own life. Without taking this literally, without reading the myth as a call for suicide bombing, will you accept the repercussions of standing up for your values? From microaggressions in the classroom to retaliation in the workplace, to hate speech in the online world, will you accept that the trollish elements will rise up to oppose your positive acts – yet still perform those acts? Will you stand strong in the face of ugly opposition?

Hymir cuts Thor’s fishing line by Emil Doepler [Public Domain]

The Strength of the Gods

During the fishing trip, when Thor can finally engage in open battle with the World Serpent, he summons his ásmegin, his god-power. It is this power that enables him to grow to enormous size, to push his fight through the bottom of the boat, and to stand on the floor of the ocean as he fights above the waves.

Aside from his famous hammer, Thor also owns a magic belt and a pair of iron gloves. The belt is called megingjörð, the belt of power, and wearing it doubles his god-power. The iron gloves enable him to grasp the lightning-hammer that he uses to crush those who threaten the community of gods and humans.

If we again step out of a literal reading of the myths, we can find a contemporary meaning in this god-power that Thor summons within himself and that his mystic belt doubles. The myths themselves can inspire us and fill us with a unique power that drives us to action, and girding ourselves with their inspiration can make our commitment to act even stronger.

This is not gamma radiation that turns us into superheroes, but an internal inspiration that rises within us to strengthen our resolve to perform the acts that the world needs now. Odin may bring the Mead of Poetry that brings creativity in the arts, but Thor brings the god-power that leads to action in the world.

Why the need for iron gloves? Because the hammer that would smash the trolls burns hotly, and grasping it with bare hands would destroy the wielder. If you are ready to take up the task, be prepared to hold on.

Note: The quotes from Icelandic texts in this column have been adapted from published translations of the Edda (Anthony Faulkes), Poetic Edda (Urusla Dronke, Carolyne Larrington, Andy Orchard), and Húsdrápa (Lee M. Hollander).

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

The Wild Hunt 2016 Winter Solstice Gift Guide

Fri, 2016-11-25 06:51

[Photo Credit: McKay Savage / Wikimedia]

Looking for the perfect Solstice gift for your favorite Pagan, Heathen, or Polytheist? The Wild Hunt’s annual 2016 Winter Solstice Gift Guide with expert advice, reviews, and recommendations can help as you plan your shopping list over this coming season.* For the Bookworm

Pagans may not be People of the Book, but we are people who own books – lots and lots of books. Yet what book to buy? Here is some help from a few industry experts.

Taylor Ellwood is co-owner of Immanion Press. He’s also a holistic business coach, magician, and author. There are Taylor’s top picks.


The Tao of Craft
by Benebell Wen. The Tao of Craft provides a rare opportunity to learn about Taoist magical practices and what you need if you want to try out those practices.

What is an Altar by Rowan Moss and illustrated by T. S. Lamb. Simply put, What is an Altar teaches your children what an altar is, and how to create and care for one. The book is perfect for Pagan families who wants to teach the kids about their spiritual practices.

Nothing But a Pack of Cards by S. Rune Emerson. Nothing But a Pack of Cards teaches readers how to use Tarot for practical magic work, including what spreads to use and how to create your own tarot spells.

Elysia Gallo is the senior acquisitions editor for Llewellyn Worldwide, based in Minnesota. She is also active in her local Minneapolis community. Here are her suggestions.

The Chaos Protocols by Gordon White. The Chaos Protocols starts with a sobering, eye-watering view of the current global challenges around economics, industry, and the climate, and then reminds us that “Magic is always the tactic of last resort for those who refuse to give up hope.” This book is for people willing to do the work, and makes a good gift for millennials looking for their best chances at success in this shifting world.

Jailbreaking the Goddess by Lasara Firefox Allen. Part intersectional feminist manifesta and part liberationist book of shadows, Jailbreaking the Goddess challenges the old Maiden/Mother/Crone model that limits women to their biology. It is a perfect gift for those who are seeking greater understanding in fighting for autonomy and for marginalized groups. As Allen writes, “We work to dismantle the system from the inside because we are all inside the system, and the system is inside us. Together we will bring it down.”

Magical Destinations of the Northeast by Natalie Zaman. A book you can have fun with! Zaman guides you through sacred or magical sites all over the northeastern portions of the U.S., including nature sites, museums, monuments and graves, sanctuaries, temples, intentional communities, sculpture parks, historical sites relating to Native American and African American history, and more. It contains spells for each state, but it is also a perfect gift for people who are just beginning on the path, or esotericists who love to travel and are looking for interesting places to visit.

A few other picks by Wild Hunt Staff:
Love Magic by Lilith Dorsey
Doreen Valiente: Witch by Philip Heselton
Witch’s Book of Power by Devin Hunter
Taking Sacred Back by Nels and Judy Linde
A Mystic Guide to Cleansing & Clearing by David Salisbury

Infants

Baby Protection Rune ($18) Here is a very thoughtful gift for new parents. The protection rune is made of birch with copper inlay. Cradles were once made from birch for the sole purpose to protect the helpless children. The wood is believed to ward off evil, banish fears, and build courage, and copper is said to have healing properties.

Yggdrasil Rattle ($6) This handmade infant rattle has a spring leaf green fleece top and a bark brown fleece trunk. Brown machine-stitched embroidered leafy vines detail the top and black wood grain stitching details the trunk. The rattle is filled with poly-fil and has one single metal bell.

Little Witch Doll ($25.52) Looking for a gift for your baby witch? This snuggly little witch doll can be customized to hair or skin color of your choice. It is hand crocheted and stands 12 inches high.

Kids

Wood Bowling Game ($25) Long-lasting and made out of wood, this set is not only great fun but also great for developing hand eye coordination. The game is hand carved and finished with beeswax. It is a gift that can be passed down to younger siblings and even the next generation.

Art Cloth Goth Rag Dolls ($55-85.00) These beautiful Ares Crea handmade art dolls can be used for play or for decoration. Each doll is one of a kind and is made to have “its own personality.” Artist Simona Mereu takes custom orders.

Black Doll Cape ($7.99) Now your little Witch in training can take their doll to ritual wearing their very own wool cape. The handmade cape is available in both red or black. Fits all 18 inch dolls.

Bow and Arrow Set ($14) For the little Apollo or Artemis on your list, here is a very lightweight bow, made from pvc and wood. The arrows have eraser tips. Designed to be used outside, this set can help develop the lasting lessons of dexterity, patience, and safety, rolled into the fun of learning a valuable skill.

Teens

Backpack with changeable art flap ($60) Made of heavy black duck and nylon with art on the 11-square-inch outside flap. this handmade backpack Includes three additional zipper pockets of various sizes, a mesh pocket for an ID or permit, and special holders for a cell phone, a water bottle and pens. It has adjustable back straps and a loop for easy carrying by hand or for hanging on a hook when not in use. What makes this a great gift ever more appealing for teens is that you can change the look of the backpack by swapping out the art flap.

Minoan Coloring Book ($14.95) Here is a great new coloring book for both teens and adults. Through this beautifully-drawn collection of 48 images, you will discover the amazing world of the Minoans of ancient Crete, including bull leapers, snake goddesses, prancing dolphins, and other images from the Minoan age.

Tarot of Pagan Cats ($3.99) Cats and tarot – what’s not to like? From popular developerThe Fool’s Dog, this newest tarot app shows cats in both of their worlds; here with us and in an exotic realm of feline power. The imagery is inspired by the classic 1910 RWS scenes with cats taking the place of humans. You can download this app from Apple or the Google Play Store.

Gifts Under $10

The New Radiation Cookbook” Refrigerator Magnet ($4) This is a fun, brand new magnet with a vintage pulp look. Jen Talley Art and Design offers many other similar tongue-in-cheek, pop culture, and feminist-inspired products, including greeting cards, prints and buttons.

Purification Powder ($5) Know someone who needs magical cleansing while they’re cleaning? Gift them this purification Powder to add to their wash water. It is good for doors, windows, and floors.

Krampus Ornament ($7)  Made from wood, this 3×3 mod-podge ornament may be perfect for your holiday season. There here are several different styles of holiday ornament to choose from, but the quantities are very limited. (I am not sure which side of this ornament I like better: Krampus with his tongue out or the screaming child on the reverse.)

The Whole Seed Catalog ($9.95) A catalog as a gift? Oh yes! Just flipping through the pages, imagining the possibilities, will bring months of pleasure to any herb Witch on your list. The catalog offers seeds from over 1800 varieties of heirloom herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. There’s a smaller catalog available for no charge.

Gifts Under $50

Book of Shadows Coloring Book ($11.99) Over 70 one sided pages for you to color, this new coloring book provides a unique way to create a personal Book of Shadows. The pages include the Sabbats, crystals, herbs, elements and more.

Hand Painted Tea Set ($16.33) Each cup and saucer set is hand painted with the pattern of your choice. You can even have the artisan create a custom pattern for you. As an aside, can you imagine picking this out for a handfasting pattern?

Solstice Morning Diorama ($35) This tiny diorama features a Solstice sun rising over a woman making a libation. The house is made of high quality fiberboard, hand painted acrylic paint,  and then sealed with decoupage medium. The diorama measures 4.5 x 2.5 x 1.25.

Cernunnos Wall Hanging ($38.05) This Cernunnos wall hanging is backed with wood and has hooks already installed, making it ready to hang. The Latin word for light is inscribed at the top along with a clear cabochon. Below is the symbol of infinity. This wall hanging is a thoughtful gift for a new homeowner or someone who recently moved into a new apartment. It can be personalized.

Astrological Signs Watch ($38.99) Here is a different take on a traditional gift. This handmade bamboo watch has a leather strap and is very lightweight for its size. A personal message can be engraved on the back.

Leather Wallet ($46) This wallet “Mjöllnir” is made of thick leather in combinations of browns and reds. It is hand-stitched with a waxed thread. It has one main pocket for banknotes and four sections for cards. The wallet’s edges are polished and rubbed with wax.

Cratejoy Magical People Subscription ($5 a month and up) Every month your recipient will receive a themed-box filled with products and illustrated cards with tips and instructions. (To be honest, I was a bit cynical when this subscription first came out, but the reviews have been excellent. After seeing one in person, I was pleasantly surprised.) It is nicely packaged with thoughtful, quality products.

GBG 2017 Year and a Day Calendar ($17.50) Since 2011, the Gerald B. Gardner Calendar has been a treasured yearly gift for many. It is filled with photographs, historical notes, newspapers clippings, and more. The calendar is printed in limited quantities, and a portion of the proceeds go to The Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Museum of Witchcraft.

Gifts Over $50

Oak Leaf Bracelet ($60) This single oak leaf bracelet cuff is made from fold-formed copper and has a beautiful patina that no camera could capture. It contains blues and greens with a bit of the natural copper color shimmering through. Each bracelet is made to order and unique in its patina shading. They are fully adjustable, measuring 5 inches in length and about 2 inches wide.

Handcrafted Broom ($65) These brooms can be used as a working broom, a Working broom, or both. Made by a small, family-owned shop in Washington, these sturdy besoms are woven onto natural branches. They are made from 100% North American broom corn; the sweeps are woven tightly, and the owner says that they’ll never loosen or unravel. The whisks are adorable! (I want one for a hearth sweep.)

Reproduction Book Travel Case ($195) Is there someone on your list who has a special book or five, and would love to have a unique place to show them off? Perhaps they read tarot and would enjoy a special carrying case when they visit clients? These cases come in your choice of wood: cherry, oak, or walnut. You can also choose between the mesh wire front or a brass privacy screen. Each case has a sun engraved on the left side and a crescent moon on the right.
All three drawers are removable leaving cubbies for your own scrolls or instruments.

Felted Witch Hat  ($198) These are practical, wearable fabric art pieces that will turn heads anywhere you wear them. The color palettes, the detailing – perfection! (I had the hardest time picking out just one hat to feature from this artist.) This particular hat features a large full moon with the bare branches of a tree. Silk chiffon trails down the front, softening the look. The artist also offers belts, shawls, gloves, and vests.

MUSIC

Ljos and Svart ($27.31 for both) Originally funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Kari Tauring and Drew Miller put out two spectacular Nordic tradition albums: Ljos (Light) and Svart (Dark). The cuts range from acapella, to trad folk with dulcimer, spoken word with vocal looping, dark electronics backing 10th century verses, improvised spirit journeys, and string arrangements.

Ragnarok  ($15.90) This is Wardruna’s 3rd album and one infused by Nordic spiritualism and Elder Futhark runes. Wardruna’s sound combines the complexity of heavy metal with the repetition of electronic trance. Tracks include Tyr, UruR, and Raido.

Queens of Avalon Original Cast Recording ($20.00) For musical theater fans and Arthurian fans, singer-songwriter SJ Tucker and Heather Dale star in the retelling of the stories Guinevere and Morgana as these two beloved characters meet as young girls. A DVD of the show is also available along with other related packages.

The Green Album ($15) This album is an independent musical compilation created by 14 Pagan musicians from around the world. The goal of the album is to raise eco-awareness with 25% of every album sold by the collaborators is donated to the Rainforest Trust. All fourteen cuts on the album are either brand new or were not released by the artist prior to the album’s release. Available only as a download.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed the gift guide. This is just a small taste of what Pagan or Pagan-friendly artisans have to offer.  As always, when possible, support your community by buying local or buying direct from the artist.

*Disclaimer: This is a wholly independent gift guide. The Wild Hunt was not paid to endorse any of the listed products. All prices were current as of publication date.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thu, 2016-11-24 12:00

Cornucopia [Photo Credit: Jina Lee/Wikimedia]

Whether this is a day of thanksgiving,a harvest day, or mourning (or even “unthanksgiving”) for you and yours, may you find contentment, happiness, and peace. The Wild Hunt will be taking the rest of the day off to cook and spend time with loved ones. We offer thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and supports this site. As we move forward from another successful fund drive, you all give us something to be thankful for.

So thank you.

Guest Column: Pagan Studies at the American Academy of Religion 2016

Thu, 2016-11-24 11:50

[Today The Wild Hunt welcomes back religious studies scholar, author and instructor Christine Hoff Kraemer. In November, she, along with other Pagans, attended the American Academy of Religion’s 2016 meeting in Texas, and she has joined us to share her impressions. ]

The American Academy of Religion held its annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas from November 19-22. The meeting is held concurrently with the Society of Biblical Literature, and the two organizations combined bring together nearly 10,000 educators and scholars of religion for a packed weekend of lectures, workshops, and events.

AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group has been in existence since 2005. This year saw the induction of two up-and-coming younger scholars as co-chairs of the group: Dr. Shawn Arthur of Wake Forest University, and Dr. Amy Hale of Helix Education. Hale and Arthur will be taking over from Dr. Chas Clifton and Dr. Jone Salomonsen, influential Pagan Studies scholars who have provided long-term leadership and service in this fledgling academic field.

AAR presenters strive for unbiased analysis of the history and current trends in contemporary Paganism. The academic tone of the papers, however, could not conceal scholars’ concern for the future of scholarship and the Pagan movement after the 2016 presidential election. Underlying the thoughtful, measured discussions was a grave sense of responsibility, and a commitment to finding truly effective responses to national and global crises.

A Pagan Scalability Crisis

Many of this year’s papers focused on challenges to Pagan communities created by the movement’s growth, the current political and economic environment, and/or the realities of climate change. Dr. Gwendolyn Reece (American University) gave a paper entitled “The Scalability Crisis: Contemporary Paganism and Institutionalization.” Reece suggests that there is an under-acknowledged element to Pagan institutionalization controversies: namely, that the growth of the Pagan population in the United States has strained the movement’s non-institutional resources to their breaking point.

Reece based her work on a large-scale national survey she conducted from 2011-2012, as well as an analysis of 69 blog articles by Pagans on institutionalization. As with similar studies, Reece notes a large percentage of solitary Pagan practitioners in the United States (52% in her study, 79% in a recent study by Helen Berger). Reece’s data indicates that most of these practitioners are not solitary by choice. Her analysis suggests that around 60% of solitary Pagans want a group but cannot find one given current conditions.

Reece argues that this situation is caused by the non-scalability of the “house church” model used by many Pagans. In a “house church” model, groups meet in a member’s home and all leadership services are provided on a volunteer basis. However, these groups are inherently unstable, as they are easily impacted by leader burnout or unexpected life events on the part of the host. Other challenges include the necessity of hiding Pagan practice due to neighbors’ prejudice, limited space for worship, and lack of funds to support aging volunteer leaders.

Due to its inability to serve the majority of self-identified Pagans and its instability, the house church model is failing on multiple fronts. As a result of this unmet need, Pagans are being pushed toward greater institutionalization despite their ambivalent feelings about organized religion. It is unclear, however, whether Pagan communities have either enough density or cohesion to provide the services that Pagans desire.

From left: Patricia E ‘Iolana, Lee Gilmore, Jone Salomonsen, Leigh Ann Hildebrand, Gwendolyn Reece [Photo Credit: C. Kraemer]

In a last-minute addendum, Reece also noted the additional urgency around legitimization and protection of legal rights triggered by the 2016 presidential election. She remarked, “I expect organized anti-defamation to again increase in importance. Because these are external threats that do not make a distinction between the variety of Paganisms, it is possible that this will increase the solidarity among Pagans in resistance.”

Pagan Legitimization Strategies

Strategies for forming Pagan identity and legitimizing Pagan traditions in the eyes of the public were a major thread in this year’s presentations. Both Dr. Patricia E ‘Iolana (University of Glasgow) and Dr. Lee Gilmore (San Jose State University) grappled with the belief that an unbroken line of religious practice is what makes a religion legitimate. This belief has often been problematic in Paganism, leading Pagans to cling to outdated historical research because it seems to support their hopes for their religious communities.

Gilmore explored how the desire for unbroken lineage has influenced Pagan use of the term indigenous at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. She notes that there is no universal consensus about the meaning of indigenous. It is contested wherever it appears.

However, when white North American Pagans use the term indigenous in order to legitimize their religious practices, they obscure the economic and environmental desperation of indigenous communities of color. Gilmore states that Pagan use of the word indigenous “purchases political legitimacy for Pagans on the interfaith stage, but does very little to give back to generationally traumatized and impoverished indigenous peoples.”

Gilmore also notes that narratives of unbroken lineage often tie religious authenticity and identity to blood ancestry. This is a legitimization strategy used by far-right white supremacist groups, and it is associated with concerns about “ethic purity”—concerns that in the past have justified violent campaigns of ethnic cleansing. Gilmore encourages white Pagans to “try to get ahead of [this dangerous rhetoric] by allying with indigenous peoples and other communities of color [and] remaining attentive to the differences and intersections of power in these relationships.”

Responding to these remarks, Dr. Shawn Arthur questioned the desirability of narratives of “unbroken lineage” for any religion: “Do we really believe the old is better than the new? …Upon reflection, I think we can see many of the… ideological positions addressed here today are not particularly helpful for strong or unifying identity development. Nor are they particularly useful for… good community relations, especially when these perspectives unknowingly support existing webs of power and authority.”

Dr. Sabina Magliocco (California State University, Northridge) noted that North American Pagans are not alone in their attraction to ancient and pre-modern cultures. The desire to reclaim cultural and religious traditions, she explained, is a characteristic of a post-colonial world: part of a global movement, not in any way restricted to North America.

She stated additionally that narratives of victimization, such as the narrative of The Burning Times for Wiccans and Witches, are also part of a wider pattern. Since the 1950s, narratives of oppression have been part of the way groups claim identity, and that pattern is now part of the way groups must position themselves in US discourse to be seen as legitimate.

This paper session raised the question: if myths of unbroken lineage and political oppression have negative consequences for our North American Pagan communities, what alternative strategies for legitimization and identity-formation can we pursue instead? This complex question is too large to answer at a single conference, but the second Pagan Studies paper session suggested ways Pagans might alter their existing strategies to be more effective.

An Inclusive Future from an Imagined Past?

In a joint paper, Barbara Davy and Stephen Quilley (University of Waterloo) examined some of the problematic consequences of some Pagans’ desire to dismantle the modern state and return to a smaller-scale, tribal society. Many Pagans indicate that they are willing to accept trade-offs in quality of life in exchange for the community cohesion, lessened ecological impact, and potential spiritual benefits of such a shift. In her presentation, however, Davy noted that the modern state is what protects individual human rights. Without an overarching state that organizes and governs smaller communities, many barriers to the xenophobic behavior that has historically been a component of small-scale agricultural societies would be removed.

From left: Barbara Jane Davy, Thomas Berendt, Sabina Magliocco, Christopher W. Chase, Amy Hale [Photo Credit: C. Kraemer]

Although our society is already torn by systemic inequalities, small-scale societies could be worse, not better, for people with marginalized identities. As Davy and Quilley state, “In the absence of effective nation states, societies would be likely to experience greater violence, intolerance of diversity and an inability to sustain modern health care systems. Existing patterns of institutional care for the disabled and elderly would break down as would the established provision of all manner of public infrastructures.”

Unfortunately, Davy notes, whether or not we have fully accepted the consequences, climate change is likely to cause a collapse of the global economy and force us back to a smaller-scale society whether we find it appealing or not. This research challenges Pagans to re-evaluate their romantic ideas about small-scale pre-modern societies and to more realistically envision the challenges presented by climate change.

Dr. Amy Hale emphasized the need for Pagan religion to be truly responsive to the historic moment, rather than simply reactive. She states, “A lot of anti-modernist rhetoric… is a Romantic expression of privilege, given that conditions of the past were not exactly favorable to women and people of color… Pagans very explicitly look to a past that probably never was, to try to find inspiration for a better, more tolerant and inclusive future.” The past, real or imagined, may not be the best place for Pagans to find strategies for facing environmental and economic crisis.

As right wing, white nationalist political parties gain power in governments around the world, more than ever Pagans must create robust structures to support diverse but harmonious communities. Mr. Thomas Berendt (Temple University) presented on the diversity of Pagan communities in the Philadelphia area, and he particularly highlighted the prevalence of multiple religious and sexual identities among Pagans. This embrace of diversity and hybridity, he suggests, is a strength of the Pagan movement.

In the ensuing discussion, Berendt and Dr. Christopher Chase both spoke passionately about their efforts to create safe community spaces for students fearing harassment and violence. Magliocco also noted a positive aspect of Pagan narratives of historical oppression: these sacred stories, she says, tell us that “We must be in the first line of fire to protect.”

Relating her own family’s experience with sheltering friends and neighbors during the Nazi occupation of Rome, Magliocco reminded the audience that there are many forms of resistance, some as simple as opening one’s home to those in danger.

Additional papers in these sessions were given by Lee Ann Hildebrand (Graduate Theological Union) and Christopher W. Chase (Iowa State University). A complete listing of titles can be found in the 2016 AAR program book. For members of the public who are interested in future Pagan Studies sessions at AAR, the American Academy of Religion annual conference is accessible with the purchase of a registration. Many of the papers presented at AAR Pagan Studies session are later published in The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies or may be available by contacting the author directly. The 2017 annual meeting will be held November 18-21 in Boston, Massachusetts.

[About the Author: Christine Hoff Kraemer is a religious studies scholar specializing in contemporary Paganism, sexuality, theology, and popular culture. In 2008, she completed her PhD in Religious and Theological Studies at Boston University. Christine is an instructor in the Theology and Religious History department at Cherry Hill Seminary. Her books include Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies and the collection Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy (edited with Yvonne Aburrow). She is also the proud parent of an extremely high-energy toddler.]

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

Pagans Support Christian Church Violated by Hate Crime

Wed, 2016-11-23 11:29

SILVER SPRINGS, MD. –In the wake of one of the most contentious U.S. presidential elections in history, a rising number of hate crimes are now being reported against people of color. When an extremely multicultural Episcopalian church near the nation’s capital was targeted, nearly 30 local Pagans showed up at the following Sunday service to make it clear that the victims do not stand alone.

Pagans who attended Episcopal mass as a show of support against hate [Photo Credit: David Miley]

According to reports, a banner advertising Spanish-language services at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior was slashed, and on the back was written the message: “Trump Nation. Whites Only.” That message was also scrawled on a wall, and a “Black Lives Matter” sign was painted over.

An article published by the Episcopal News Network includes pictures of the vandalism.

Local Pagan Sunny Simmons, who has worked in the church office for more than three years, coordinated the efforts to get a Pagan presence at the Sunday service following the incident. It was a gesture that was welcomed by church rector Rev. Dr. Robert Harvey, who knew that Simmons identified as Pagan from the day they met.

As Simmons told interviewers at Pagans Tonight Radio, it was something she could focus on after some weeks of feeling depressed and numb over the election. “I was looking for Pagans that could be grown-ups,” she said, “[and] support a Christian church without freaking out.”

In an interview, Rev. Harvey told The Wild Hunt, “Certainly I will never forget this week.” News of the church vandalism was carried all over the world, he said, and he’s been fielding calls from reporters constantly.

Rev. Harvey’s church is the most diverse one in this Episcopal diocese, with congregants coming from more than 50 countries, mostly in West Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Some 80% of those who attend are immigrants or first-generation Americans, he said. “I’m a white male serving a congregation of mostly black and brown skin,” he said, and those people “felt those racist messages acutely.”

The diversity of the church is intentional, Rev. Harvey said, as an expression of “radical hospitality.” That hospitality was experienced directly by those who came to show their support, which in addition to the Pagan contingent included Muslims, Quakers, Jews, Unitarians, and other Episcopalians. They were all made to feel welcome, and were even invited to participate in the Eucharist, the most sacred ritual in this and many Christian faiths. It is rare for non-Christians to be allowed to accept communion, but not here.

[Photo Credit: Farragutful / Wikimedia]

“He believes that communion is God’s table,” explained Simmons, and that anyone who wishes to sit there is welcome.

Rev. Harvey took pains to make non-Christians feel welcome without proselytizing to them. Another portion of Episcopal mass is the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, a statement of faith. “I announced that they should not feel pressured to say this, it’s how we express our faith and ethical imperatives.”

Caroline Kenner, a shamanic practitioner who lives not far from the church, said that this was the first time she’d ever shared the Christian sacrament of communion, and she found it to be an “interesting spiritual experience” that she “felt very deeply.”

Recognizing that some members of this church are now fearful of attending services, she said that she is committed to doing so herself for the foreseeable future. “They have been traumatized,” she said, which can’t be healed with just one show of support, no matter how large. Kenner said, “The idea that they were singled out because of the status of the parishioners really angers and offends me.”

Rev. Francisco Valle, assistant Priest at Church of Our Savior, holding chalk provided by local Unitarian Church. The chalk was reportedly used to cover the sidewalk in words of love. [Photo Credit: David Miley]

Rev. Harvey acknowledged that some of his parishioners are not in this country legally, including some with children who are citizens by virtue of being born here. “They are concerned about deportation,” he said, and the fate of their citizen children should that come to pass.

Even though the Pagans as a block were the largest group of non-Episcopalians in attendance — sources say there were either 28 or 29 present — Simmons made clear that this wasn’t about Paganism itself. In fact, she worked with Rev. Harvey to minimize any distraction that their presence might engender.

The rector introduced the different groups represented, and Simmons recommended the phrase “Earth-based religions” instead of “Pagan” for two main reasons. First, many members of the congregation come from very conservative Christian traditions where the word “Pagan” has a negative connotation. In addition, Simmons wasn’t sure if everyone she’d gotten to show up used that label for themselves, given the complex nature of the interlocking communities often lumped together under that label.

Those diverse groups included Circle Sanctuary’s Order of the Pentacle, the Order of the Elemental Mysteries, CedarLight Grove of ADF, Open Hearth Foundation, Gryphon’s Grove, and participants in the annual Sacred Space conference. According to Kenner, they came from an area spanning from northern Virginia to Baltimore. Simmons made a rainbow sign with the simple message of “love,” which was signed by all the Pagans who attended. It was then presented to church members.

Protests Continue Against Dakota Access Pipeline as Tensions Rise at Standing Rock

Tue, 2016-11-22 12:04

TWH – Pagans across the country continue to join protests organized against the Dakota Access Pipeline and in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and the Water Protectors in North Dakota.

Tuesday, Nov. 15 was a nationally coordinated day of action against the pipeline. The protests went ahead despite the Army Corps’ postponement of any decision on whether or not to let the pipeline construction proceed – an act which many viewed as a partial success.

In San Francisco, there was a march and protest held outside of the Army Corps of Engineers office. It was organized by local indigenous people, Idle No More Bay Area, and interfaith leaders, including representatives from Reclaiming and the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood.

Claire “Chuck” Bohman of Reclaiming and The Temple of the Waters said that there were several thousand people who gathered for a successful day of action.

Indigenous leaders from Tohono O’odham nation and other tribes leading the march in San Francisco. [Courtesy C. Bohman]

“The prayers and action was powerful and effective, and the US Army Corps of Engineers was forced to close their offices for the day,” she said.

Bohman added that, as people who have a deep spiritual connection with the earth, Pagans need to take action and join in indigenous-led efforts.

“Simply doing magic and praying is not enough. Magic is the food that will sustain our spirits. We must push ourselves out of comfort zones and join together with people of different beliefs who also care about the earth and are committed to stopping this pipeline and moving towards sustainable energy,” Bohman said.

In the nation’s capital, Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd, defending the sovereign rights of Native Americans, water quality for the nation’s citizens and affirming the reality of climate change.

“The idea that at this moment in history, when the scientific community is crystal clear that we need to transform our energy system, that at this moment we have the fossil fuel industry pushing for more pipelines, for more dependency on fossil fuel, is totally insane,” Sanders said.

Among the crowd was Gwendolyn Reece, who said she was happy to see Sanders at the rally but she was just as happy to read about the 300-plus cities that took part in the action and the thousands of people who came out.

The issue of protecting the environment seems to be intrinsically tied to the pipeline fight.

“This issue, the environment, should be non-partisan, and most Pagans, the vast majority of Pagans believe in the sacredness of the planet and we believe in the sacredness of water,” Reece said, who heads the Theophania Temple of Athena and Apollon, Sacred Space Foundation, and is a member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel.

With an incoming White House administration who has reportedly received more than $100,000 of support since June from chairman and CEO Kelcy Warren of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind Dakota Access, the issue seems to be anything but bi-partisan.

For Reece, the results of the election are a setback, but she said that it has only forced her to change focus and tactics.

“To me the pipeline in addition to being something that is a social justice concern, because it’s of the incredible continuing exploitation of native people, it is also one of the clearest demarcated battle grounds for the environment and the environmental activism including for climate change right now,” she said.

Reece added that she sees the battle at Standing Rock as a part of our nation’s miasma, tied to humans’ treatment of the environment, First Nations, and African American people.

The goal, she said, “is trying to heal the miasma, which is when we’re out of right relationship with the gods, ourselves, the planet. As far as our national consciousness, this exists from the beginning of this nation. ”

Sacred Stone Camp [Courtesy Casey McCarthy]

MaryAnn Somervill, a CUUPs member in Asheville, North Carolina, said that she organized a rolling thunder ritual to coincide with the supermoon. The ritual allows people to remotely lend their aid and is so-called because participants join in at a fixed time, regardless of their timezone. If it occurs at 8 pm in the eastern time zone, an hour later it will occur at 8 pm in the central time zone, and so on.

A few hundred people joined in to cast a cone of protection on the camps near Cannon Ball, ND, the water defenders, and their supporters. Somervill said that this event really moved her to take action.

“This is something that made me step up in a way that I hadn’t before. I haven’t been on the front lines of any protests or anything like that,” she said.

At Standing Rock, Linda Black Elk has been there since the beginning. Black Elk, of the Catawba Nation and teacher of ethnobotany at Sitting Bull College, has two children enrolled with the Standing Rock Sioux, recently stated on Facebook that she sees a paradigm shift at work with Standing Rock right at the epicenter. She sees the presidential election as a reaction to that shift.

“(People are) scared out of their minds because change is uncomfortable, and shifting away from fossil fuels, a culture of consumption, and ultra convenience is annoyingly uncomfortable,” Black Elk said.

“We just have to be gentle, loving, patient, and understanding …but we must also be strong, powerful, brave and unshakable. Walk with power. Respect eachother (sic). Listen to the women in your lives.”

The camps, meanwhile, are growing in size and scope, and their needs are changing with the seasons. As snow and cold fronts move into the northern plains, protestors and water protectors are preparing for a long winter.

Dusty Dionne and Belladonna Laveau of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church are among the countless number of allies who have made the trip to North Dakota to show their support. From their home in Index, Washington, Dionne and Laveau received enough donations to buy a cord of wood, which they transporter by trailer from Washington to North Dakota.

Wood is one of the many supplies that are hard to find and very expensive. That might be unexpected, until you take into account that in the grasslands of North Dakota there aren’t very many trees to be found.

Dionne describes a very militarized, intimidating scene as you approach the camps. Countless numbers of police line the perimeter, with vehicles that are outfitted with satellite dishes and radio towers, and “Volkswagen-sized halogen lamps” lining the country side.

Standing in opposition to that is a makeshift barrier made of scrap wood and metal and barbed wire. But once you get inside, the atmosphere completely changes.

[Photo Credit: Tony Webster / Flickr]

“I was really moved with how many people were showing up to help and just the sheer energetic power. It was very inviting, not intimidating,” Laveau said.

“They’ve got a big circle of flags and you pull up to Oceti (the camp set up by the Native American water defenders) and it’s just teepees and teepees and teepees and you’ve got buses creating walled off areas for mini-camps and corrals with horses,” Dionne added.

They both describe being overwhelmed by how many people were there.

“I was really afraid that when I showed up there was just going to be a couple of people, not a lot of supplies. (But) this is organized,” said Laveau.

She says that seeing the size and organization of the camps gave her hope that they might win the fight.

“It is a huge area that they’ve made their encampment, it’s the size of a small town,” Dionne said.

In fact, a small town is exactly what the goal is at the Sacred Stone camp, where supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux have begun setting up the infrastructure to support a community, including building a root cellar and a school.

“They need building supplies, they need firewood, they need subzero sleeping bags, canvas tents. They’re building a town, so they need builders. They need people to swing hammers,” said Laveau.

Corey Moore, a Pagan from Kansas City, MO, also brought a trailer full of supplies collected by friends and family to Standing Rock this week.

“We brought lumber left over from a family’s deck project, a few coats, blankets, medical supplies including bandages, milk of magnesia, eye wash kit, and hand warmers. There were also food stuffs and even a few guitars specifically requested by the Rosebud youth camp. In addition we brought nearly $1000 in cash and gift cards to Lowe’s and Menard’s,” he said.

Moore also reported that they helped build the covered root cellar at the Rosebud camp for winter food storage.

“The indigenous people at Standing Rock are sacrificing themselves, their health, their bodies, their livelihood, to protect the planet and the water that feeds us all. The waters they are protecting serve the entire center of this country,” he said.

Moore said everyone who goes to the camp learns to stay oriented toward “prayerful respect.”

He said that, in the face of infuriating actions, it is very important to maintain that approach.

In spite of the forward momentum of the movement and growing awareness of the issue, Dakota Access and the police protecting the pipeline construction are not backing down. As recently as Sunday night, an action to open a bridge that has been blocked by police for month resulted in authorities firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and a water canon on protesters despite below-freezing temperatures.

Democracy Now reported that a team of legal observers noted 20 mace canisters launched into a confined area within 5 minutes, causing those targeted to vomit and lose bowel control. Angel Bibens, a laywer with the Red Owl Legal Collective, said that the water canon had been mixed with mace, so that even medics and observers were impacted. Medics also reportedly revived an elder who suffered a heart attack. On Monday it was also reported that at least 17 people had been hospitalized, a majority for hypothermia after the actions of police and security personnel.

Actions like these have made some Pagan community members question what our future will look like, and what the role of the Pagan community will be.

“We’re all worried about robots rising up and taking over the world in some kind of distant future but right now corporations have taken over the world and they’re not people. The only thing that they value is profit and that is a real fight right now to take the world back from soulless, mindless companies that do not value human life,” Laveau said.

“What kind of ancestors will we be for the descendants? Will there even be descendants of humanity? All of this is at stake and each of us is needed to turn the tides,” Bohman said.

For those interested in contacting local authorities in the area Yes Magazine has put together a comprehensive list with phone numbers, addresses and more.

Pagan Community Notes: Ten Commandments, Dianne Daniels, The Druid Network and more!

Mon, 2016-11-21 10:31

DENVER, Colo. — A conclusion has come to a story that we first reported in 2014. Wiccan Priestess Janie Felix and Pagan Buford Coone with the full support of the ACLU challenged their home city of Bloomfield’s installation of a Ten Commandants monument on public property. The ACLU argued that city officials “accorded preferential treatment to the monument’s sponsors, disregarding many city ordinances and policy requirements that would regulate the monument’s installation.” The case was heard in early March 2014, and the U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of Felix and Coone in August of that year.

At the time, Felix told The Wild Hunt, “We are delighted . . . with the court’s decision. It feels that the law was upheld and that the court reflected the Founding Father’s [sic] plan for our country.” However, the city decided to appeal the district court’s decision. The case then moved to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado and was heard in Sept. 2015.

On Nov. 9, 2016, the court issued its decision, affirming the lower court’s ruling. While it did note that the “cluster of other [historically-based] monuments surrounding the Ten Commandments can dampen the effect of endorsement,” the court said, “the city would have to do more than merely add a few secular monuments in order to signal to objective observers a ‘principal or primary’ message of neutrality. Thus the impermissible taint of endorsement remains, and as we have said, nothing sufficiently purposeful, public, and persuasive was done to cure it.”

*    *    *

Dianne Daniels

NORWICH, Conn. — It was announced this week that Dianne Daniels would be succeeding longtime NAACP branch president Jacqueline Owens. Daniels is an eclectic Witch with strong leanings toward Wicca, flavored by the Egyptian pantheon, and including her Native American heritage. In a February article, Daniels told TWH that she gathers inspiration from Madam Marie Laveau, Cicely Tyson, and Maya Angelou. In that interview, Daniels also noted that, more recently, she has been “focusing more on my personal heritage – [her] own Black History.”

Originally from Detroit, Daniels moved to Norwich in 1997 and immediately joined the local NAACP branch. She’s been active in the local community, both as a volunteer and as a professional since arriving. Daniels was elected to the office of president Nov. 16. She is quoted as saying that this election was “one of the biggest honors of [her] life.” We will have more from Daniels and her work in the future.

*    *    *

UNITED KINGDOM —  The Druid Network (TDN) announced that it has been recognized as a “full member of the UK Inter Faith Network (IFN).”  The Druid organization, as well as other Pagan organizations, have been involved with IFN for many years. In fall 2014, TDN was granted a two-year probational IFN membership. In 2015, TDN reported that, for the first time, it was able to send a representative IFN’s annual general assembly. At the time, TDN trustee and treasurer Neil Pitchford said, “I have the honour of being the first Druid to attend after I was chosen to be TDN’s first representative.”

Now, after two years of waiting, TDN has reported that it was granted its full IFN membership, which will provide “greater legal standing and also some influence in the religious community of the UK.” In a press release, Joanna van der Hoeven said, “This is a fitting conclusion to over ten years of work by many people to get TDN Druidry recognised as a bonefide [sic] religious practice and outlook. The consequences of full membership, amongst other things, means that the IFN views TDN Druidry as a valid religious practice and, by default because of its funding and remit, the government of the U.K. must now also acknowledge that fact as well.”

Van der Hoeven added, “This announcement marks the end of one journey, one that many asserted could and would never happen. It also marks the beginning of another as we start out in building relationships with other religious groups on an equal standing (possibly for the first time in modern times).”

In Other News:

  • Druid Scott Holbrook will be back in court Nov 22. As we reported, Holbrook was arrested Nov. 2. He was charged with the “dissemination of obscenities,” after he allegedly sent nude photos to an uncover police officer. After a Nov. 3 hearing, Holbrook posted bond and was released from custody. We will update you on this story in the coming week. 
  • In another developing story, Circle Sanctuary ministers Jeanet & David Ewing and Tristan were joined by nearly 30 other members of Maryland’s Pagan and Earth-based spirituality communities in attending the 10 a.m. service at the local Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Silver Springs. The group was there to lend its support to a  congregation that recently found itself the victim of a hate crime. We are following up on this story to learn just what happened at the church and why the Pagan community got involved.   
  • Huginn’s Heathen Hof has announced that it will be launching a new worldwide Heathen survey. In 2013, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried hosted a similar landmark project on his blog NorseMyth.org. “Our hope is that because of that groundbreaking work we will be able to reach a significantly larger portion of the population than that initial attempt, simply because people will be more aware of it due to his previous efforts,” explained Xander Folmer of HHH. The survey is now available in both English and Spanish. Folmer added that they “hope to add Portuguese and a couple of others as soon as possible.”
  • Gods & Radicals has launched is annual fundraiser. This year editors are hoping to raise enough money to pay their hard-working writers. The campaign reads, “Why Pay Writers? Because all work has value. Writing takes time. Writing is work. And in a system that prioritizes profit over creativity, the time and mental space to write is a luxury not everyone can afford.” Gods & Radicals is an online blog and print journal focusing on radical thought and contemplation.
  • Lastly, The Wild Hunt is always looking for new and upcoming guest writers. We enjoy showcasing and sharing the many diverse voices opinions, and practices that exist within our collectives communities both within the United States and beyond. If you are interested in submitting a proposal or a fully written piece, please contact us at editor at wildhunt.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

The Wild Hunt Solstice Guide is Coming!

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2016

Sun, 2016-11-20 11:21

TWH – Today marks the 17th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Around the world, organizations and individuals will be hosting events, memorials, and vigils to remember those who have been lost due to transgender-related violence. It is a powerful day – one that is part of a larger month-long transgender awareness campaign.

Held every Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) marks the death of Rita Hester, who was murdered in her Boston apartment in 1998. The case still remains unsolved to this day. However, a year after her death writer, Gwendolyn Ann Smith held a vigil in San Francisco to honor Hester’s life and to bring awareness to the issues faced by transgender people. The 1999 vigil became the very first Transgender Day of Remembrance. Shortly after, other awareness campaigns and movements were launched, including the website, “Remembering Our Dead.”

Seventeen years later, the movement has grown. Throughout November, activities are held, culminating in the Day of Remembrance. The TDoR campaign’s main site hosts a list of not only the worldwide activities, but also the names of people who have died as a result of transgender-related violence over the past year.

For TDoR 2016, Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary decided to expand its own regular annual memorial observances. Rev. Selena Fox said, “It is important to stand in solidarity with our transgender community members. With transphobia and hate crimes on the rise, it is important that we draw attention to this issue that impacts many in our community and to create a safe and supportive place to share concerns, experiences, perspectives, and support.”

Fox said that Circle has had trans* members since its inception in 1974, and the organization has always worked toward supporting the trans* community’s quest for equality. Four years ago, Rev. Fox began hosting a formal memorial ritual to honor TDoR. This year, that event, which is being facilitated by members Brianne Burne, Jake Bradley, and Nate Metrick, has been expanded to include a candle lighting memorial in the temple room, followed by a sharing circle.

Rev. Fox added, “We recognize that the Divine takes many forms, and that there are many forms of gender expression, all of which are sacred. It is our hope that events like ours will help build a better world where the divinity within each person is honored, and where no one feels afraid due to their gender identity.”

For the 2016 TDoR Wild Hunt forum, we reached out to the coordinators of Circle’s new event, asking them tell us more about living transgender, what this specific day means to them, and how these observance event can help the greater cause. We spoke with Brianne Burke, known as Brianne Raven Wolf or simply Bree. She is a 73-year old gender-fluid trans*woman, who is a member of Circle Sanctuary and a practicing eclectic Witch.

Bree is joined by Jake Bradley, a certified naturalist, death midwife, and doula. Bradley has provided ministry for over 25 years, and designs and manages harm-reduction outreach and shelter programming for people experiencing homelessness. Bradley founded and helped manage the first trans-safe youth shelter in Chicago, and provide training and consultation on LGBTQ competence, trauma-informed care, harm reduction, crisis management, and other topics through their business, Elements Consulting.

In addition to the two Circle event coordinators, we also spoke with activist and minister Katharine A. Luck, who participated in last year’s TDoR forum. Rev. Luck is a transgender woman of mixed racial heritage living in Florida. She is a Neo-Hellenic priestess, minster of Fire Dance Church of Wicca and transgender activist. In 2013, Luck organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in Pensacola. The following year, she setup the transgender advocacy group STRIVE of which she is currently the President.

We welcome our contributors, and thank them for taking the time to speak with us.

The first question asked was whether our interviewees have seen or felt any noticeable change in awareness in the mainstream public’s understanding of transgender issues. If there was a change, has that change been positive?

Jake Bradley: The last few years have been an interesting and exciting moment in public consciousness around trans* issues. Between the emergence of some transgender pop culture figures and wider-spread efforts of education and advocacy, it seems that the “average American” is more aware of the existence of trans* people than before, and dialogue about the needs and perspectives of trans* people is much more commonplace. I am especially grateful for Laverne Cox and celebrities like her who highlight the particular struggles and triumphs of trans* people of color and who speak out in issues that others in the LGBTQ community have often ignored, such as incarceration and homelessness.

While we still see misguided transphobic rhetoric about the dangers of inclusion and respect for trans* people, and plenty of deference to the comfort levels of cisgender people over the dire safety needs of trans* people, it’s heartening to see more and more public figures and organizations affirming inclusion. For example, as ugly and hurtful as the “bathroom bill” policies have been, we now are in a moment in history where many businesses and public figures are willing to … rebuke and boycott the jurisdictions where hate and ignorance are currently winning the day. In more subtle ways, we see less common exploitation and ridicule of trans* people in mainstream media, and several media outlets are making a real effort to use people’s correct names and pronouns, and to educate the public on acceptable terminology, etc.

Schools and other organizations are more frequently realizing they need to educate and skill-build with their faculty and staff. Trans* kids in many places are being given more access to competent and sensitive medical care. Support groups and alliances are more numerous and accessible. There have been some important changes in government policy under the Obama tenure that have led to greater education and non-discrimination practices, and I’m hopeful we will manage to protect these as we move forward into the next administration. We have a very long way to go, but we seem to be headed in the right direction!

Brianne Burne: I think there has been a noticeable change from what it was a few years ago. I’m involved in quite a few groups, locally and nationally. Around Madison [Wisconsin], I belong to the Madison Area Transgender Association and also LGBT OutReach-Madison. We have quite a few trans* activists here, and the growth has really been coming from social media in my opinion.

Katharine A. Luck: Prior to the recent “bathroom bill,” such as the now infamous HB2 in North Carolina, we were largely ignored by legislation, and we have not suddenly started using public restrooms in the last two years. Instead, as trans* people have become more visible, a side effect of visibility is transphobic legislation from people who think our existence began with their awareness of it.

For the next question, we asked what the biggest threat to the community’s safety was. This is a difficult question, but we asked our interviewees, if they could wave a wand to change one thing that would make the biggest impact, what would that one thing be?

JB: This is a difficult question. Trans* and GNC (gender non-conforming) people are at astronomically disproportionate risk for homelessness, unemployment or underemployment, depression and suicide, being physically and sexually assaulted, negative interactions with police, incarceration, and many other challenges and harms, which are all consequences of cisnormativity and transphobia.

It would be easy to say that ignorance and transphobia are the biggest threat. The fact that police often fail to protect and respect trans* folks, and even frequently brutalize us with impunity, makes the everyday safety of trans* people a thing never to take for granted. Still, there are gradations from relative safety to extreme risk inside the community of trans* and GNC people based on other identity and socioeconomic factors.

Race (and racism) is probably the biggest cause of disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable trans* people from competent medical and mental health care, adequate employment, safe housing, and fair treatment by law enforcement. Institutional racism and white supremacy cause so much more harm to trans* people of color, and especially to black and brown trans women, and also cause division within the LGBTQ community, so that young trans* people of color often don’t benefit from allyship on the part of more affluent or empowered LGBTQ people, nor have their safety and quality of life as positively impacted by gains from LGBTQ activism. My magick wand would eradicate white supremacy and dismantle racism. Then, the most at-risk trans* people would benefit, along with people of color of all genders in this nation.

BB: The biggest threat to the community’s safety may well be the new incoming Republican administration given the far right evangelical Christian attitudes of the VP-elect and others in some state and federal governmental positions. Especially in the southern states, such as North Carolina and Mississippi. The one thing that could make an impact: if people everywhere would realize we are all human beings and, even though the trans* community is different, […] we aren’t a threat to anybody.

KL: This country just elected one of the most outspoken enemies of the LGBTQ community to the office of vice president. Our new president-elect is, frankly, a thinly veiled neo-Nazi, having surrounded himself with champions of white supremacy, like Steve Bannon, and has run on a platform of racial fear, hatred, and proposed separatism. Our vice president-elect Mike Pence has specifically targeted the LGBTQ community. He was responsible for Indiana’s anti-LGBTQ legislation and believes LGBTQ people can be “cured” through conversion therapy. He even tried to divert funds from HIV programs to conversion therapy. While its modern incarnation might not include shock treatment, conversion therapy increases suicides, nonetheless.

At present, I can say without reservation that the greatest threat to the transgender community, LGBTQ people, and likely all marginalized people, is the new administration which will begin in January.

Circle Sanctuary TDoR “Green Face” altar [Courtesy Photo]

With that in mind, the third question asked was how can non-trans* people can be the best allies? What should cisgender people do or not do to help raise awareness, support their friends, and eliminate any of the barriers discussed above? 

JB: Here is a handout we made a while ago called “Top 10 Ways to be a Trans* Ally.”

BB: To elevate the barriers. People need to get educated about trans* people through community programs. I am starting to see this in a lot of public schools with programs like GSAFE and adult programs such as PFLAG. We need to eliminate the “fear” that cisgender people have about us.

KL: I consider intersectionality and solidarity to be the key to equality. Every person of conscience in this country and the world must resist the oppression of all people. Trans* people exist in every demographic, and I will do all in my power to advocate for all of them. I ask that everyone else do the same.

For our fourth question, we asked what the Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities could do better in support of their transgender members.

JB: Neopaganism was perhaps founded in part in reaction against patriarchal religious systems that emphasized masculine personifications of the Divine, and Paganism has been revolutionary in its promotion of the Divine as feminine and also as a “balance” or “marriage” of both feminine and masculine. Paganism has made revolutionary contributions to the world in terms of celebrating embodiment, in promoting some feminist ideals, and in sex-positivity. However, for those of us who don’t see our gender as the most essential aspect of our identity, or for whom our gender is not rooted in anatomy or gendered biological life cycles, or for whom binary gendered paradigms don’t fit, there’s still plenty of opportunity for alienation.

Gender constructions are so rampant in most Pagan practice, and are present in so many standard rites of passage. I think lots of Pagan communities (like many in dominant U.S. culture), could become safer for their trans* members by recognizing and celebrating that there isn’t just one way to be a woman or to be a man, that gender doesn’t have to be based on biology, that “maleness” and “femaleness” aren’t mutually exclusive, and that lots of us don’t fit in that binary system in any case. I think that Pagan communities would also find that cisgender members would benefit from the increased freedom and room that recognizing and celebrating gender diversity can offer anyone.

I appreciate the step many groups have made of affirming people’s self-identity rather than projecting gender onto people or having some other qualifying “test” or eligibility criteria for one of the binary identities. The next step might be to question whether rites of passage need to be attached to biological events and gender-based social roles, and to begin to ask people what things are meaningful to them in their passage through life and what symbols there are of these passages, etc., and to begin to develop some non-gender-based rites that affirm the things that are most meaningful to people as they pass through stages of life.

JB (continued): What are the things all of us have in common as we age, regardless of gender or biology? Teenagers are teenagers. Parents are parents. Many of us, if we are lucky to live long enough, have a part of our lives where maybe we work for a living less, and our bodies start to be less sturdy and reliable in ways we might have previously taken for granted. I’m not advocating that cisgender men and women shouldn’t have opportunities to celebrate their embodiment, but just that there be more spaces where gender (and binary-gendered bodies and biological cycles) isn’t the primary aspect of our humanity, and that there be more spaces where diversity of gender identity, expression, experience, role, etc., are embraced more. Finally, I just want to say that I am so deeply grateful for Selena Fox’s leadership and legacy for LGBTQ inclusion throughout her life, and for the efforts made by Circle Sanctuary to embrace and support gender minorities.

BB:  I think the Pagan community is, from what I’ve been involved in, doing a very good job supporting trans* people. I’ve never had a problem with anybody in the Pagan community not making me feel welcome, accepted, and loved.

KL: As Pagans we must diminish the focus on binary gender and become more inclusive. We must have roles in both our society and our practice which can be occupied by anyone, of any gender. If necessary we must be willing to create new roles to suit the needs of the members of our community. We must remember tradition, but we must be willing to adapt. The trans* community has always had a role to play in both pagan religion and witchcraft, and always will.

Next, we asked for words of hope. Often when talking about silenced populations, we focus on the struggle. So, we asked our interviewees to take a moment to share something beautiful about the transgender community or about being transgender: a story or even a moment?

JB: Oh, wow! Thank you for this question! Spaces where gender variance is the norm and where lots of folks under the trans* umbrella are present can be the most beautiful and amazing spaces! There is so much more room for everyone  to be whoever they are, in whatever collection of attributes and expressions they come up with! Trans* people tend to be phenomenally resilient, adaptive, and creative about making family and community across all kinds of difference!

BB: Something beautiful happened earlier this year in Mt. Horeb, Wis. Here’s a little piece: “Last November, at the Primary Center elementary school in Mount Horeb, a transgender first-grader was about to transition.The school administration and staff were fully supportive, and […] had decided that reading the book I Am Jazz. […] Soon the school district and its teachers were threatened with a lawsuit if the book was read and [it] was cancelled. In a show of solidarity, two readings of I Am Jazz were held–one organized by students […] and the other organized by a local mom named Amy Lyle.” [Read the full story]

KL: It is in the struggle and the pain that I find some of the most beautiful moments. It is in the struggle that we find our family and ourselves. I have seen the strongest of bonds formed in the face of oppression. I see hope in a person’s eyes when they walk into one of our gatherings without anyone to call their friend, and they are immediately greeted as family. In the reading of names on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we speak the names many may not have even heard before that night. I am uplifted when I see people mourn the loss of family and friends they never met because they have faced injustice. I gain strength when I see those allies begin to work because the names of those we lost too soon touched their hearts.

Mt. Horeb community reading of “I am Jazz”[Courtesy A. Bledsoe]

To end the conversation, we asked our interviewees what this day, Transgender Day of Remembrance means to them.

JB: In a world where some of us can’t get people to call us by our names and correct pronouns, and where people are invisible (or have to try to be to survive), the reading of people’s names feels entirely necessary; it is simultaneously a frail gesture and one that is revolutionary. Names are commonplace, and they are sacred. We have to call out the names of those who have been casualties of our oppressive and alienating systems. We have to set aside a week for Transgender Awareness, and a day to remember those who have died, so that cisnormativity and cisgender privilege aren’t all that there is, so that trans* folks see that we’re not alone, and so we remind ourselves to keep on working for a world where the numbers of the dead go down from one year to the next.

BB: For me its a very solemn day and has been. It reminds me of all the violence worldwide against our trans* community, more so in other countries. When I hear about the violent murders, beatings, and especially the suicides when a lot of us get so depressed especially when family and friends choose to not love us, or accept us a human beings. That’s where more education will help.

KL: The Transgender Day of Remembrance is a memorial to those we have lost, and it is a reminder of why we must always move forward. It is not only for ourselves that we seek safety and equality. It is in memory of those who came before, and it is for those who will come after. What is remembered, lives.

 *   *   *

Rev. Katharine Luck will be holding a vigil and memorial in Pensacola, Florida through the organization STRIVE. Brianne Burne and Jake Bradley, along with co-coordinator Nick Metrick and Rev. Selena Fox, will be hosting observances in Wisconsin, through Circle Sanctuary.

Bradley noted, “I feel really honored to contribute to [Circle’s event] by helping to shine a light on those impacted by transphobic hate and violence this year, and by helping to celebrate the resilience of the TGNC community. I think events like this are sorely needed, especially at a moment in our national history that feels terrifying and bleak for so many of us, because they help us demonstrate and galvanize allyship.They remind us that some particulars of our stories may differ, but that all those of us who face oppression or marginalization have much in common.”

For those people who are attending organized vigils today or would like to participate in their own way privately or with their own groups, TWH has provided the TDoR list of 2016 victims of anti-transgender violence. There are many others resources on the issues discussed for both trans people and allies. GLAAD provides a short list of legal resources and other support. Now celebrating its second anniversary, the Trans Lifeline is available nationally

Column: The Tiger’s Leap

Sat, 2016-11-19 09:58

In 1940, Walter Benjamin wrote, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ’emergency situation’ in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.” (thesis 8) It’s a good thing that Pagans and Polytheists have been talking about strengthening their communities and developing defense and solidarity networks, but black and brown people in America have long been living in an “emergency situation.” Obama has deported over 2.5 million undocumented immigrants while in office. Black, indigenous, Hispanic and Latino people have been killed by the police at consistently higher rates than those seen as white. This reality must be kept in mind as we analyze the present moment.

Tiger mosaic, “House of Dionysos,” Kato Paphos [Paul McCoubrie / Flickr]

Benjamin also wrote that “to articulate what is past does not mean to recognize ‘how it really was.’ It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” (ibid 6) We live in a moment of danger, but it is up to us whether or not we will seize memories from the past as they flash by, and which memories they will be. For “the true picture of the past whizzes by” and “threatens to disappear with every present which does not recognize itself as meant in it.” (ibid 5)

Like the 1930s, the present is once again “a moment wherein the politicians in whom the opponents of Fascism had placed their hopes have been knocked supine, and have sealed their downfall by the betrayal of their own cause.” (ibid 10) Like the German Social Democrats, “the stubborn faith in progress of these politicians, their trust in their ‘mass basis’ and finally their servile subordination into an uncontrollable apparatus have been three sides of the same thing.” (ibid 10)

In such a moment, we are reminded that “it has been given us to know, just like every generation before us, a weak messianic power, on which the past has a claim. This claim is not to be settled lightly.” (ibid 2) This messianic power is weak because there is nothing inevitable about its victory. Like our ancestors before us, we may well be crushed once again by the ruling classes. Like them, we will seek ways to survive nonetheless. But perhaps this time we will become that “final enslaved and avenging class, which carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion.” (ibid 12)

Benjamin described the seizing of the past in the moment of danger as an explosive rather than a progressive process:

For Robespierre, Roman antiquity was a past charged with the here-and-now, which he exploded out of the continuum of history. The French revolution thought of itself as a latter day Rome. It cited ancient Rome exactly the way fashion cites a past costume. Fashion has an eye for what is up-to-date, wherever it moves in the jungle of what was. It is the tiger’s leap into that which has gone before […] into the open sky of history. (ibid 14)

Burned National Guard vehicles, Lakota land. [Ancestralpride.org]

Make It Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land

Benjamin’s call for the “introduction of a real state of emergency” is echoed in Indigenous Action Media’s recent essay “Anti-colonial & Anti-fascist Action: Make It Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land,” which reminds its readers that “moments and movements” such as Black Lives Matter and the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) “are the result of ongoing resistance that has been waged for hundreds of years on these lands.” The essay quotes black anarchist Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s statement that “we must make it impossible for Trump to govern the country, and must put power in the hands of the people in the streets.”

The struggle against the DAPL, also known as the Black Snake (zuzeca sape), is one that reflects both the current global “state of emergency” and a long history of anti-colonial warfare on the plains of North America. On Oct. 27, six different states (Wisconsin, Indiana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Nebraska) sent officers to assist North Dakota police raid the Sacred Ground camp which was located on Lakota territory under the terms of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, and directly blocking the path of the DAPL. The out-of-state police were sent under the auspices of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an interstate compact that was supposedly “designed for natural disaster situations,” but which has been used against two uprisings in the past two years: the Baltimore rebellion after the police killing of Freddie Grey, and Standing Rock.

In the course of the Oct. 27 raid, a DAPL security guard pointed an AR-15 at water protectors, but his truck was run off the road, looted and burned. The National Guard was sent against a blockade on Highway 1806, the incursion was fiercely resisted, and two military supply trucks were set on fire as well. The active participation of the U.S. military in the operation is a clear sign that the Indian wars never ended. Small wonder that an Oct. 30 dispatch from Red Warrior Camp signed off with the phrase, “In The Spirit of Crazy Horse.”

The Indigenous Action Media essay makes explicit the terms of the ongoing war between the forces of colonization and indigenous communities:

We stopped talking about hope when we had to focus on survival. […] We reconnected to the understanding that we never had a choice but to fight. That colonization has always been war. That we are survivors of its brutality. That we’ve never stopped fighting.

We understand the difference between power over and power with. That there’s more power to the power of people than choosing which system will rule them. That no politician can ever represent Indigenous lifeways within the context of a political system established by colonialism. That representational/electoral politics are oppositional to liberation from colonial oppression. That the struggles of our ancestors, who defended Mother Earth and her beings with prayers and weapons in hand, is the same struggle that we carry forward today.

Olympia anti-fracking train blockade. [Black Spring / Instagram]

We Resonate Across More than One Time and Place

Many calls for direct support and solidarity with the struggle against the DAPL have been made, including by witches and spirit-workers. A “clandestine coven at Standing Rock” has issued a call “to all witches, pagans, and co-conspirators of earth centered spiritual faith to join us in resistance.” They write: “We call you to join a frontline battle in a spiritual war that has been raging for centuries. A war against a dead civilization for all life on earth.”

Spirit-workers have invoked a curse against “the Agents, Executives, and Mercenaries of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” utilizing a sigil which they invite “those who wish to support this curse to inscribe […] against the buildings, cars, equipment of company executives & agents, and law enforcement and private security agencies who serve as their mercenaries.

Since Nov.11, water protectors in Olympia, Washington have been blocking railroad tracks in order to stop “a train carrying hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) proppants from exiting the Port of Olympia.” “Proppants” are ceramic beads used in the fracking process, and the proppants aboard the blocked train are intended for the Bakken oil fields where the oil which DAPL is being built to transport is extracted. On Nov.18, the encampment was cleared by the police, but in the words of one blockader, “This isn’t over. This is never over.” Funds are being raised for legal fees.

The water protectors in Olympia explicitly state that “as we hold down the tracks in Olympia, we resonate across more than one time and place.” They invoke the memory of the Port Militarization Resistance struggle of 2007, when military shipments intended for the Iraq War were blockaded at the port of Olympia. “There is a real force that shares power between these times and places where people have and continue to resist authority,” they write.

Another article traces the roots of the special agents of the Union Pacific Railroad back to the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency: “It is appropriate that the blockade be facing the same agency that birthed both the FBI and every major private security company in the US. All of them were created to protect capital and for no other reason. This is their only function.” The writers align themselves with the “indigenous people, bandits, and saboteurs” who attacked Union Pacific railroads in the 1800s, with the Homestead Steel Works strikers who fought the Pinkertons, with a long and rich lineage of resistance.

Train blockades have been used elsewhere in the anti-DAPL struggle as well, ranging geographically from Atlanta, Georgia to Mandan, North Dakota (about 80 kilometers north of the anti-DAPL encampments) to Montreal, Quebec to the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. During the 1990 conflict at nearby Kanesatake, warriors from Kahnawake shut down the Mercier Bridge for over a month. In solidarity with the struggle against DAPL, the Mercier Bridge was again blocked for several hours on October 28, and train tracks were blockaded on November 4 and again on November 15. The effectiveness of the tactic can be seen in a proposed law in Washington State that would make blocking oil trains or otherwise disrupting transportation and commerce a felony and label such actions “economic terrorism.”

Chess-playing automaton. [Paul K / Flickr]

The Services of Theology

Marxists believe that “the puppet called ‘historical materialism’ is always supposed to win.” Comparing the relationship between historical materialism and theology to that of a chess-playing automaton manipulated by a dwarf hidden inside it, Walter Benjamin turned this thesis on its head: “it can do this […] so long as it employs the services of theology, which as everyone knows is small and ugly and must be kept out of sight.” (ibid 1)

I believe that the guidance of the gods, ancestors and spirits is what will get me and my communities through the times ahead. Here I use the word “through” not in the sense of “along,” but in the sense of “exploding the continuum of history.” We aim to survive, to keep our traditions alive, to defend ourselves, to destroy the system which seeks to destroy us, and to find joy and beauty and love in every moment of the struggle.

*   *   *

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

Column: Traditions and Holiday Magic

Fri, 2016-11-18 12:13

As many people work to figure out how to move forward after one of the most explosive and unnerving presidential elections in recent history, time marches forward into the holiday season. Despite the current complexity of politics in the United States and around the world, this time of the year is most commonly associated with memories and traditions of family, worship, and celebration.

Public Domain [Pixabay.com]

I have always believed that the magic of any season has the ability to transition us toward healing and wellness, and the magic of traditions helps to frame our varied experiences. With this current political client, this idea could become essential in helping us move forward during a time when life feels so uncertain to many.

“Tradition is one of the most beautiful ideologies we have created and experience as living and loving humans. There is no cookie cutter outline for what your tradition should look like, who you should share it with or how it should grow over time.

Tradition remains one of the few practices that truly belongs to your family and close friends, and allows you to cherish the very valuable memories created with your loved ones over the years.” – Daffnee Cohen, Why We Need to Maintain Family Tradition Huffington Post

Traditions within any context reflect on repeated and meaningful customs or beliefs that often connect us to culture. How one interprets culture, and how one enmeshes the many different variations of culture embraced within one’s spirituality can be very unique and very specific. The intersecting layers of culture that we balance are often reflective of our families, spiritual traditions, racial culture, gender, and regional experiences.

Certain times of year we see many of these pieces come together in a very intricate and beautiful way. November and December happen to be the time of year when we often see such things collide.

Traditions are also important within the intersecting communities of modern Paganism. Much focus is placed on training and passing down information from one source or another to support the practice of our craft. But how important are our holiday traditions and do we see them as important?

I see our cultural and familial practices as magical acts that are just as important as any other. These include: the passing down of tradition to those we love; the sharing of memories that hold reflections of history; the solidifying of cultural norms that enhance our connection to identity, purpose, time, and place. In that way, recipes can act like spells and planned activities like rituals that have the ability to manifest powerful threads of connection.

Some celebrate Thanksgiving in November while others embrace the winter holiday season in December. It is interesting to see how many Pagans connect to the different holidays that are widely celebrated in contemporary society. For the same reason that some Pagans celebrate a secular version of Christmas, many of our Pagan families and cultures continue to celebrate the societal norms of such widely accepted holidays.

[Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

Thanksgiving in my home has always been infused with the smells and tastes of collard greens, yams, cornbread, banana pudding, and walnut pumpkin pie. The ritual of cleaning and cooking starts 2-3 days before the holiday – a routine passed down from my grandmother, to my mother, and to me. Recipes and food preparation are as important as any ritual set up, and my grandmother’s memory comes through as we manifest the same traditions year after year.

My family celebrates a spiritual Yule and secular Christmas, opening presents in the morning and spending family time together in the evening. On New Year’s Eve, we all burn the midnight oil until the clock ticks midnight, when we are able to toast to Apple Cider – another long family tradition that we still do every year.

When we are not able to be together, it is tradition for us to call each other right after the New Year rolls in so that we will be together throughout the coming year.

What does it look like for others? What foods, rituals, traditions, and practices are held as sacred throughout the holiday season? How do we create new traditions when those of our past do not serve us? Because there is such a diverse spectrum of Pagan and polytheistic traditions and a wide array of different types of people within our community, I reached out to others to learn what kind of traditions, cultures, practices, memories, and even recipes where cherished at this time.

During Yule we try to stay up all night. Baking. Playing games. Crafts. We do a traditional Christmas as well with presents, tree, decorating. Looking at lights. Lots of family and good good. Like any good ritual. – Chrystie Sargent.

My holiday tradition is to reach out to anyone who might be alone or find family time traumatic. This year a friend who had personal disaster is my Thanksgiving guest; last Christmas Marie and I took a friend whose family is overseas to a movie, and every New Year’s I hold my door open to anyone needing oasis from the pressures and noise of the night. – Diana Rajchel

We hold vigil for the longest night of the year. Staying up and playing games, chatting, movies or whatever. We tend the flame that was lit at dusk. Then just before sunrise we go out and sing up the sun. Everyone lighting a candle to take home with them to carry the energy home.

I also now use a real Yule tree. When it comes down, I shave off the branches and grind the needles to make incense and save the branches for kindling. The trunk I store in my shed until Beltaine. The trunk then becomes the family May pole. The pole once wrapped in ribbons is then stored again until Yule.

When we get the new tree, I pull the May pole out (the previous year’s Yule tree trunk) and cut it up into smaller pieces. Usually about 7-8 inches long. I use one for my own Yule fire and gift the others to friends. – Sabrina H.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC [Photo Credit: D. Smith]

Quite honestly my tradition is to run away and go on a spiritual adventure. Last year I was in New York for Christmas, I attended midnight mass at St.Peters Cathedral, a Thelemic rite, an eclectic Wiccan rite, and a Wiccan/Heathen rite, I even did a pilgrimage to Salem. This year I’m running away to Cuba to experience Santeria first hand.

I was keen on reconnecting to Catholicism this past year because I had been finally able to let go of the hostility I had towards Christianity, as a whole, and I wanted to experience it with new eyes. It was a beautiful experience and when the man on the pulpit started in with his judgmental dogma I was happy to find myself in only minor annoyance compared to seething rage.

Essentially, these trips allow me to connect with myself, my spirituality and forces experiences I haven’t had before as I do these trips solo and I’m not distracted by others. I also tend to fly by the seat of my pants during these trips as I don’t tend to have any hard schedule and allow the experiences to flow. I’ve met very wonderful folks and had amazing spiritual experiences that would not have been possible if the trips had been overly organized. Spending nine days this year in Cuba by myself, as a woman, who has never traveled off this continent will definitely take me out of my comfort zone. – Dominique Smith

Like Thanksgiving? For us it’s a small sit-down dinner, and the only time I get out the good china and silverware (inherited), and the lace tablecloth, also inherited, but not “real” in that it’s machine washable, which is for the best. Turkey, creamed onions, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce (both kinds and both from cans), and stuffing, Mrs. Cubbison’s I think.  And gravy, with giblets on the side because I’m the only one who likes them. Husband cooks; I set the table. We go around the table saying what we’re thankful for. We have finally abandoned the familial tradition (both sides) of eating until we hurt.

For Yule, where we used to do Christmas stockings, we now use those 8″ plastic cauldrons. Then, at my parents’ house, we open those gifts (small silly things) first, have breakfast or brunch, and then open other presents. We do Yule as a potluck dinner with friends, and after a ritual battle of the Kings. The party and feast serves as a time for people who want to exchanged gifts. We save family gifts till everyone’s gone. – Ashleen O’Gaea

Some years ago, I purchased a book titled The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. I’d like to say that the book is quite good, but truthfully, I haven’t really read it. You see, I’m not super mathematically inclined. Upon the first day that I was looking at the book, I leaned over to ask my more-mathematically inclined partner a question about a formula, and the next thing I knew he was baking bread, and I was enjoying fresh baked bread. Since this is a satisfactory division of labor to me, I never really got around to reading it.

One of the gems from that book is this cornbread recipe. It has been dubbed by my most atheist and scientifically-minded friend as “magic cornbread” and has become a staple in our holiday dinners for the last decade or so. While it’s not a yeast bread like most of the others in the book, it is delicious all the same, and we are frequently asked to bring it to gatherings now.  – Stephanie Kjer

[Photo Credit: McKay Savage / Wikimedia]

Mid-winter is the time of the Promise of Life. The plants will bloom again, the birds will sing, creatures great and small will make themselves known once more. The Dark will fade into sunlight. It isn’t here yet, but it will come.

The holiday season is the perfect time to make our own promises. While this is often done at New Years, this is when we feel the need to plan and affirm the actions we will be taking when the warm weather returns in full power. This is when we chart our course for after the thaw of spring releases our languor into animation.

In our family, we take the time to consciously prepare ourselves for the coming year. We have taken the time to remember what has passed at Samhain, to celebrate our present at Thanksgiving. Now is the time to create our futures at Yule. We use the knowledge of the past and resources of the present to conceive our best future, to invest those resources in the next step of our lives. -Kalisara

While something as personal as traditions and culture can be inspirational and empowering, it is also important to acknowledge that not everyone has this same experience with family traditions or with the holiday season. These holidays can be a very challenging time for many people, and this often includes ways to find refuge, solace, and support during this time. All communities have people with a spectrum of experiences and preferences. Therefore, it is important to hold space for this as well.

In moving forward through the next few months, which are inevitably filled with celebrations, expectations, memories, and observances, there is also a unique opportunity to consider what this time of year means for us individually. What holds magic? Which traditions no longer serve us, and which traditions we want to create?

As Thanksgiving fast approaches, I wish everyone a safe, fulfilling, empowering, and magic-filled time. May we all find balance in the traditions we choose. And, maybe even enjoy some these amazing recipes:

Bacon Cornbread
Crystal’s Simple Crockpot Mac and Cheese
Soul Food Collard Greens

Theatrical Production “Doreen: An English Witch” Set to Debut in Brighton

Thu, 2016-11-17 11:38

BRIGHTON — For people travelling to this year’s Witchfest in Brighton, there will be additional entertainment option: the premiere of the play Doreen: An English Witch. This new theatrical production is the brainchild of director Roman Withers and writer Gavin Caine of Normal People Productions. The Wild Hunt caught up with Caine and Withers to talk about the play, its impact, and the creative process that led to its birth.

Withers explained how a meeting with the late John Belham Payne inspired the very latest celebration of Valiente’s life:

“We met John Belham Payne last November, as he was the Head of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, and knew Doreen, so I decided it would be really good to put a play on. We’re both in the craft ourselves and it seemed only fitting as Doreen lived in Brighton and spent many, many years here.”

The play Doreen: An English Witch is the second outing of Normal People Productions, an up and coming new theatre company. As Withers says, “It was only founded about a year-and-a-half ago and this is our second show. Our first show was last year, that was called Cabalesque – which luckily was sold out. That was a combination of cabaret and burlesque that went down last December and will be performed again at Brighton Fringe next year.”

Withers continued on to say, “This is our second play and we’ve got a couple more lined up for next year. But this one has been quite hard work. It’s been intriguing but it’s taken all year to go from start to finish, so it’s taken a lot of time but it’s been very enjoyable.’

The company is keen to stress that it wished to avoid a documentary-style showing and have described their latest effort as covering “certain stories and things that are said or remembered about Doreen.” Writer Gavin Caine says, “We wanted to include things that are told of her, some of the better-known and lesser-known stories of her life.

“We’re not trying to replicate Doreen herself, or do a documentary piece. It’s a work of fiction inspired by a magnificent woman with stories about her that are known by quite a lot of people, or known by fewer people and that are quite interesting or funny.”

Withers adds, “The play covers some of Doreen’s stories, obviously, but it doesn’t cover all of them as there’s about 30 or 40 stories that we could have used, so we had to break it down a little bit. I like to think we’ve picked the best ones and the ones that express how Doreen went about her daily life.”

The play is set in Doreen’s flat, and Withers explains that it begins with Doreen (Sharon Drain) hosting an interview with someone, a young lady (Charlotte Dearing), and the things that follow from that.

Caine and Withers have gone to great lengths to ensure the play is a fitting tribute to the first lady of the Craft but also wanted to make sure it was accessible for non-pagans. Withers says, “When the play was written, we had to make sure that non-craft people would enjoy it as well. I would like to think that the story has been done well, so that if people didn’t know who Doreen Valiente was they can still follow it and enjoy it. There are quite a lot of funny moments in it as well, so I hope we’ve found the find balance between that.”

Caine adds, “It’s trying to find that balance between the Pagans and particularly the Wiccans, because obviously that’s the legacy that we know best, of Doreen and to understand, but that it’s also accessible to people who are not into that area of witchcraft or paganism or any area of witchcraft or paganism to be able to come and see the play and get something from it, and go away from it having learned something and enjoyed it.”

Withers and Caine have been keen to represent, in some way, all aspects of Doreen’s work in the performance. As an example, Caine says, “We […] wanted to give air to some of Doreen’s poetry, which she always thought her best work and which I love and many others do.”

Doreen’s ritual work is also referred to in the play. As Caine enigmatically states,“There’s some suggestion of magical ritual in the play but I can’t say what.” When pushed, he demures, “There’s a magic coconut.”

The play will be presented at the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton from November 21-27. “We wanted to do it at the same time as Witchfest as we thought that would be more helpful for us, as if people were travelling from different parts of the UK they are also able to come and see it,” says Withers.

On the closing night, the performance will include a question and answer session with a panel including Philip Hesleton, author of the recently published biography Doreen Valiente: Witch; Ashley Mortimer, a Trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Director of the Centre for Pagan Studies; Julie Payne, a Trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation.

Since word of the play’s production went public, there has been huge international interest. “We’re having people come from around the world,” says Withers, “We had a ticket bought the other day from Australia, so we feel very, very humbled.”

The company has decided to make the play available on commercial release as a DVD. Withers says, “The play will also be professionally filmed. We’ve had a lot of interest from Wiccans in America asking if we’re going to tour it in America, so we’re having it professionally filmed and we’re turning it into a DVD.” The DVD release will be announced on Facebook, and the upcoming play website.

Rumours also abound that the play will tour in England in 2017, so watch that space for updates.

There is no doubt that the play has been close to Withers and Caines’s hearts. Caine says, “Doreen’s writings are some of the most inspiring things and have contributed a lot towards bringing people into the craft, as is the case for me, so it was a labour of love in that respect.”

Withers agrees, “We wanted to get her stories out to as many people as possible. A lot of people know her stories anyway, but I wanted to spread the word of Doreen Valiente really. She was a remarkable woman and I hope as many people as possible get to see it.”

He adds, “All the profits from the play will be going to the Doreen Valiente Foundation. I’m not doing this for my own gain, I just wanted to get the word of Doreen out there and to help the Doreen Valiente Foundation.”

Looking ahead, there are already new projects in the pipeline for Normal People Productions. Withers says, “We’re working with Preston Manor in Brighton, where the Doreen Valiente exhibition is currently, to produce a play about two of their famous ghost stories.” For now though, the spotlight is firmly on Doreen as this iconic figure takes her rightful place centre stage.

Cast and Crew of “Doreen: An English Witch” do the Mannequin Challenge