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Updated: 17 hours 27 min ago
As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.
Previously unknown ancient culture found in Peru
Archaeologists working in the Atacama Desert in Peru discovered more than 150 burials belonging to a previously unknown farming culture dating to between the 4th-7th century CE.
The bodies were wrapped in woven mats, cotton burial shrouds, or nets. What was most curious was the reeds attached to the ears of the bodies which poked up out of the graves. Archaeologists think the reeds may have enabled the living to communicate with the dead.
Controversial sale of Sekhama statue completed
A statue of an Egyptian scribe named Sekhama was recently sold to a private buyer by the Northampton Museum. The museum said the sale was necessary to raise funds to reinvest in other cultural projects. Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh El-Damati opposed the exchange saying private sales of ancient artifacts are against the values of museums world wide as they should act as vessels to spread culture, rather than businesses searching for a profit.
[Promotional video by Christie's Auction House]
The 4500 year old limestone statue stands only 30 inches high, but is considered culturally important due to the detailed scroll on his lap listing his funeral offerings.
Due to the sale, the Northampton Museum may be found in breach of the Museums Association Code of Ethics. If it loses its Museums Association Accreditation, public, charity, or lottery funding may be cut off.
The statue was put up for auction by Christie’s Auction House on July 10 and sold for a reported $20 million.
Newly uncovered Roman tombs display different funeral rites
Archaeologists uncovered a new cemetery in the old Roman port of Ostia. The funeral rites included cremations and burials. The variation wasn’t limited to a specific time period and all remains are from a single extended family. The cemetery “shows the free choice that everyone had with their own body, a freedom people no longer had in the Christian era when burial became the norm,” said Paola Germoni, the director of the sprawling dig.
Ostia was a bustling, cosmopolitan city dating back to the 7th century BCE and was Rome’s main port. The city was also quite large – larger than Pompeii.
Fabled city Thonis-Heracleion found
Like Troy,Thonis-Heracleion was once believed to be a myth. In fact, archaeologists thought Thonis-Heracleion were two separate cities. But Thonis is its Egyptian name and Heracleion is the Greek name. Found by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio in 2000, this ancient city near Alexandria is revealing that it not only existed, but played an important role in ancient Egyptian religion and commerce.
Founded in the 12th century BCE, Thonis-Heracleion was the port of entry to Egypt for all ships coming from the Greek world. It also had a religious importance due to the grand temple of Amun and his son Khonsou (Herakles to the Greeks). Also discovered was the head of a colossal statue of the god Hapi. Hapi is the god of the flooding of the Nile, who granted abundance and fertility. That large of a representation of Hapi has never been found before and casts new light on his importance in Egyptian religion.
Thonis-Heracleion had its peak occupation from the 6th to the 4th century BC and is thought to have been destroyed over 1,200 years ago, possibly due to major earthquakes and floods. It now lies 4 miles off today’s coastline.
Although the excavation has been going for over 13 years, new and well preserved discoveries are being made constantly. Keep your eyes open for more news on Thonis-Heracleion and how those discoveries are changing views on ancient Greco-Egyptian culture and religion.
70,000 year old African settlement shows they did it first
The first permanent living structures were thought to have been made by humans as they left Africa for colder areas of Europe or Asia. A 70,000 year old northern Sudan village is challenging that long held assumption.
Archaeologists say Affad, the name they are calling the dig site, not only had wood living structures, but also had a large flint workshop and a space for cutting hunted animal carcasses. They’re also trying to pin down a more exact date for when the village was inhabted. So far they know Affad existed some time during the Middle Palaeolithic period when the area was a wetlands. However, the region was a wetlands during two different time periods; about 75 millennia and about 25 millennia ago.
Did Nero really have a revolving restaurant?
It appears he did.
The dining room was first discovered in 2009, but it took them years to figure out what it was and what it was designed to do. Archaeologists at first didn’t know what they had under their feet. They were on an artificial terrace constructed by the Flavians, which they built over the top of Nero’s famous palace. However, the retaining wall was too thin to hold up the terrace. They wanted to know why it hadn’t collapsed, so they did what archaeologists do – they started digging.
They found a round 39 foot tall tower with a 13 foot diameter central pillar and eight arches supporting two floors. Along the top of the upper arches were holes filled with slippery clay. This was the clue needed to uncover the purpose for the room. The holes would contain ball bearings and the slip was a lubricant, and this supported a revolving floor. The floor’s constant movement may have been powered by a system of water and gears.Roman historian Suetonius had written that Nero’s “main dining room was round, and revolved continuously on itself, day and night, like the world.” However most historians thought this was exaggeration typical of early ‘historical’ accounts.
Lead site archaeologist Francois Villedieu says the proof that this was Nero’s revolving dining room isn’t definitive, and the claim caused enough controversy that funding for the excavation was delayed for several years, but he feels the clues are convincing. Now that funding is secured, the work can continue.
Nero, best known as the emperor who fiddled while Rome burned, is emerging as more complex man. Most of what’s known about him comes from those who opposed his populist economic policies which favored the poor. He was a patron of the arts, and if the revolving dining room pans out, he may have been more involved with furthering science and technology than originally thought.
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On July 11, the Italian organization Unione Comunità Neopagane (UCN) was born after 2 long years of planning. A result of Progetto articolo 8 (Project Article 8), the UCN brings together a diversity of Pagan associations under one organizational structure in order to support Pagan practice within the greater Italian culture. Its ultimate goal is to establish official legal recognition for “Neopaganism as a heterogeneous religion” according to the laws of the country.Glastonbury Goddess Temple, explains, “We started gathering together and forming Associations and Study Groups on many subjects related with Paganism.”
Bordin lists some of this work as including “the annual meeting of Trivia in Milan, the annual Council of Witchcraft and Druidry in Biella, the Beltane Festival,” and the birth of many new groups and covens of different paths such as Bordin’s own Cerchio Italiano di Avalon. Many associations have supported workshops with international teachers, such as Phillys Curott, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, Kathy Jones, Vivianne and Chris Crawley. She adds:
Something that happened in these last years has been the constant increase of demand from the pagan community of ‘services’ such as handfastings, sacred unions, wiccanings, baby namings, requiems etc… many Italian pagan authors have written several books on Paganism that have been published by the newborn pagan publishers.
Paganism has grown in the country and the demand for resources and community has increased accordingly. Bordin says, “Following this thread two years ago we started working on a project for the recognition of Neopaganism as religion, or as a composite religion, bonded by principles, festivals and practices.” This work led to the formation of the UCN.Argiope (Venice); Circolo dei Trivi (Milan); L’Antico Trivio (Naples); Corvo Nuvola (Milan); Clan Duir – Antica Quercia (Biella); Il Cerchio delle Antiche vie (Arezzo); La Ruota d’Oro (Rome); Le Intagliatrici (Milan); and Il Corvo e la Civetta (Piacenza). These groups range in religious practice but agree on three founding principles, as borrowed from the Pagan Federation International, and other organizational guidelines.
At this time, the group is home to mostly Wiccans, Druids and electic “Neopagans.” However, membership is open to anyone who agrees to the organization’s ideals. UCN recognizes that Paganism in Italy is quite diverse. Bordin notes that the country has a very unique and rich history that nurtures a connection to its long religious roots. She says:
It is not rare that some groups celebrate their rites in pre-Christian, Celtic or Roman, but also Etruscan or Greek, places of worship … Our territory was a melting pot of ancient cultures, a crossroad among Romans, Greeks, Etruscan, German populations and many others. Here we have also had the Mysteries of Mithra, Isis, etc. Ancient mystery religions and ethnic practices were melted at that time, as it happens now with Neopaganism. So also the Wiccan and Druidic practices are strongly integrated with the local folklore. Italian magical traditions have now found a new frame to express themselves in
None of these minority religious practices have recognized status in Italy. While the country does have a deeply embedded religious history and various entanglements with the Catholic Church, modern Italy supports the religious freedom of its citizens. In legal terms, the state and the Catholic Church are two entirely separate entities, as stated by the 1948 Italian Constitution and reinforced by legal revisions in 1984.
Italian Pagans of any kind are free to practice privately or publicly provided they do not break any secular Italian law. However, this practice is largely considered an activity, like a sport or party. Bordin says, “We can meet in public and celebrate our own rites and ceremonies, asking permission [from] the town Council only if the rites are performed outdoors in public places. Sometimes for bigger events we need to ask permission as a ‘cultural’ meeting.”
Bordin doesn’t like that. She does not want to have to hide the religious nature of her festival or ritual. That is where the the UCN comes in. A organization can enter into an agreement and become the representative of a “denomination” allowing for legal benefits, including the operation of schools, access to state funding and the right to perform legally-recognized marriages. In 2012, both a Buddhist organization (UBI) and Hindu organization achieved this coveted status.Pagan Pride Italia (PPI) has opted not to join the UCN and, additionally, is now protesting its work. PPI believes that the formation of the UCN is unnecessary and counter to the eclectic nature of Paganism. President Vanth Spiritwalker says, “There are the reasons why we don’t want to adhere to it, and then there are the reasons why we are taking action to protest against it.”
PPI doesn’t want to join because, in its opinion, the benefits to be gained through organizational formation are negligible. Italian Pagans already have religious freedom as stated in the Italian Constitution. Pagans can already freely practice, organize and hold public events. PPI also points out that all lawful marriages are ultimately civic, regardless of a religion’s legal stature, even the Catholic ones.
Spiritwalker adds, “What the project is actually doing is something different. They are creating a church” that requires certain hierarchical structures and limitations on practice that conflict with the eclectic nature of the Pagan experience. In addition, PPI is concerned that, with a country full of solitaries, the UCN is only allowing groups and associations full membership status.
Those are the reasons that PPI is not supporting the UCN. However, the organization is also actively protesting for an additional reason. Spiritwalker says:
It is in anyone’s right to create a church … the problem arises when they are doing so choosing a name for themselves that says that they are speaking for every Pagan in the country. This is not only wrong, but creates a lot of potential problems by conveying a representation of the community which is different from the truth. Since we believe that what really gives you rights is social recognition, which means educating people so that they are aware of your existence, of what you do and of your rights. Giving out wrong information can only hinder social recognition, not helping the community in general.
PPI is encouraging Italian Pagans to use the hashtags #nochiesapagana #freepaganism and to post a photo of themselves saying, “I am Pagan. UCN doesn’t represent me.”
The UCN Board is aware of PPI’s complaints. In response, Bordin says, “We are using the word Neopagans to avoid misunderstandings, as there are many Pagans in Italy that don’t follow the principles of the PFI. We don’t want to unify all the paths in one, but to be strong in our differences working on a common base.” The UCN only claims to represent a “heterogenous denomination,” to use the government’s language, that is based solely on or limited only by its three founding 3 principles and its mission.
Bordin also adds that UCN does have plans to add a stronger solitary membership program. The Board is inspired by the structure of the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and its full inclusion of solitary practitioners. In fact, UCN has taken many of its cues from international organizations. Along with CoG, the UCN plans to model its teaching practices and festival organization around the work of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. As mentioned earlier, it borrowed the Pagan Federation International‘s membership principles.
At this point, the UCN is a nonprofit organization. Over the next 3-4 years, it will attempt, as Bordin says, “to become a juridical personality (or charity.)” She says, “If we gain the juridical personality, Neopaganism will “exist” as a non-recognised religion …The next step will be moving from a non-recognised religion to recognised religion, with the start of a long process.” This process could take as long as 20 years.Send to Kindle
Last month, Wild Hunt Managing Editor Heather Greene reported on the new Stylebook put out by the Associated Press, pointing out that despite a large number of new definitions and entries regarding religion, the influential guide for working journalists neglected to include any entries relating to the modern Pagan movement.
“The 2014 AP Stylebook does indeed have an expansive in-depth chapter on religion which includes definitions and details on a variety of minority religion terminology such as Brahmin (Hindu) or gurdwara (Sikh). The guide includes short informational entries on Baha’i, Buddhism and other non-Abrahamic faiths as well as minority sects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It says that Christmastime is one word and suggests using Hanukkah as the standard spelling for the Jewish holiday. However, it says nothing about “Paganism.”
In fact the updated religion chapter makes no mention at all of modern Pagan or Heathen religions. It does not include Druidry or Druidism, Wicca or Asatru. With the exception of Yule, it does not recognize the names of Pagan sabbats or other important festivals and holy days. The word “pagan” only appears once in a recommendation to capitalize the names of mythological gods and goddesses such as Zeus, Athena and Poseidon.
When asked if the inclusion of modern Paganism had been considered for the chapter, the editors responded immediately saying that the Stylebook uses the dictionary for such groups. So what does Webster say? The online version includes a definition for Neo-Pagan and Neo-Paganism both of which use a capital letter. The same dictionary, however, does not include an individual entry for the term “Pagan” with capitalization. The two “pagan” entries define the term as those people who are anti-religious or polytheists from ancient Greek or Rome. Webster does include an entry for Wicca but no other practice.”
Well, it now looks like things might be changing. Maewyn, a copy editor and Witch who uses the AP Stylebook online, alerted me that an entry for Wicca was added on July 14th. Here’s the full text:
“Wicca: Religion shaped by pagan beliefs and practices. The term encompasses a wide range of traditions generally organized around seasonal festivals, and can include ritual magic, a belief in both female and male deities, and the formation of covens led by priestesses and priests. Wiccan is both an adjective and a noun. Uppercase in all uses.
Stylebook Editor’s Note
2014-07-14: Added to stylebook”
This new addition was then tweeted out on the AP Stylebook’s official Twitter account on July 16th.
AP Style tip: Wicca is a religion shaped by pagan beliefs and practices. Wiccan is both an adjective and a noun. Uppercase in all uses.
— AP Stylebook (@APStylebook) July 16, 2014
So that’s a start! So far, according to sources, that’s the only modern Pagan term to make it into the online AP Stylebook proper. Other terms, like Druid, Asatru, or Pagan and Neopagan, are absent, with an official policy of using the dictionary standards for terms not in the Stylebook. Whether the recent campaign by a coalition of Pagan Studies scholars for the capitalization of “Pagan” in major journalism stylebooks when referring to our religious movement will eventually bear fruit remains to be seen.
Why is this issue important? Because as Heather Greene said in her initial article, the AP Stylebook’s decisions change journalistic conventions.
“If you are not a writer, you may ask, “Why should I care?” The AP Stylebook does not affect you directly. However, it does affect you indirectly. The guide is used by journalists and editors all over the country as a writer’s “bible,” if you will. While the AP Stylebook is not the only guide of its kind, it is one of the front-runners that establishes a style standard for journalism that is dependable and regular.
The guide, for example, solves those ever-frustrating grammatical debates over commas and semi-colons. It recommends date and time abbreviations, fixes transition words, and clarifies what should be or should not be capitalized. All of its suggested rules and information are absorbed into the articles published in American newspapers and magazines since the 1950s.”
Guides like the Religion Stylebook, produced by the Religion Newswriters Association, are more comprehensive regarding Pagan faiths, but they are also less influential. I take this new addition as a sign that the AP Stylebook editors are listening, and hope this is a good omen for further entires to come. We’ll keep you posted as this story develops.Send to Kindle
Pagan Community Notes: Polytheist Leadership Conference, Polytheist.com, Cherry Hill Seminary, and More!
Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!
As mentioned last week, the recently concluded inaugural Polytheist Leadership Conference was considered a success by all who attended. Conference co-organizer Galina Krasskova has been rounding up thoughts and reactions from attendees here, here, here, and here. Do check them out for a fuller picture of what went down. In addition the conference has already announced dates for next year, and who their keynote speaker will be: Morpheus Ravenna. Quote: “I’m delighted to announce that Morpheus Ravenna will be our key-note speaker at the Polytheist Leadership Conference in 2015. We just confirmed with her last night. An initiate of the Anderson Feri tradition, Morpheus is a Celtic polytheist, an artist, spiritual worker, and devotee of the Morrigan. She is the leader of the Coru Cathubodua, a priesthood dedicated to this mighty Goddess and was recently featured on the documentary ‘American Mystic.’” For further updates, check out the PLC’s official website.
In other Polytheist community news, a new website, Polytheist.com, will be launching later this Summer. Spearheaded by Anomalous Thracian (aka Theanos Thrax) the new site plans to be safe, dedicated, home to an incredibly diverse Polytheist population. Quote: “For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals, without inviting the targeting and resistance often experienced in spaces not dedicated to this specific aim.” In a recent editorial published at PaganSquare, Anomalous Thracian endorsed an ethos of “And, Not Or” when it comes to Polytheist-Pagan relations. Quote: “A Polytheist and a Pagan. Not ‘either/or’. No war implicit between the two. That does not mean that there is not conflict, and that there is not a need to fight for the rights of identification, of religious and social difference and differentiation; but it does mean that I can dually wield both of those identities. I am never not one, never not either; they do not compete, nor cancel one another out.”
Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the graduation of Carol Tyler Kirk, awarding her a Masters of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, the second such graduation since Cherry Hill Seminary first opened its graduate program in 2009. Quote: “Kirk served the U.S. Army as a nurse in a Vietnam MASH unit from May 1969 to December 1970, then returned home to a career in nursing management. Kirk’s master’s thesis addresses the needs of the ‘wounded warrior,’ those returning from deployment overseas and whose war wounds may be non-physical, running deeper into the soul. Publication of the work is in planning. Kirk has also led several covens, and currently serves as a hospital chaplain and interfaith activist in Huntsville, Alabama. A July 2013 article in the Cherry Hill Seminary newsletter relates Kirk’s role in establishing the Women’s Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., where she spoke at the dedication.” Kirk’s department chair and advisor, Dr. David Oringderff, said that Kirk set “high standards of excellence for all of our students who follow.”
In Other Pagan Community News:
- A new biannual print journal concerning polytheism and spiritwork, Walking the Worlds, has debuted and is looking for submissions. Quote: “Walking the Worlds is a new print journal that will be debuting on the Winter Solstice. Devoted to an exploration of spiritwork and polytheism from a variety of traditions, ancient and modern, we are seeking essays, reviews and poetry on topics such as: gods, ancestors, spirits, spirit-animals, heroes, land-wights, prayer, devotions, offerings, sacrifice, ritual, ritual tech, festivals, temple and shrine-keeping, music, dance, ecstasy, madness, trancework, cleansing, entheogens, healing, initiation, ordeal, divination, oracles, inspired and channeled works, magic, witchcraft, herblore, science, history, mythology and so forth.”
- Yeshe Rabbit and Erick DuPree have launched dharmapagan.org as a free online resource that fuses their work with the dharma and Buddhism through a Pagan lens. Yeshe Rabbit and Erick host Dharma Pagan Dialogues and Discussion videos with guests like Sam Webster and Dylan Thomas, invitations to online sangha and practices such as Tea and Chanting and Chanting Green Tara, as well a guest blog. For more information visit: www.dharmapagan.org
- Artist, writer, and scholar Sasha Chaitow is seeking crowdfunding help to attend and participate in the upcoming OCCULT art salon in Salem, Massachusetts. Quote: “I’ve been invited to the OCCULT Art Salon in Salem, MA this September to participate in the art exhibition and present a workshop on [visionary author Joséphin] Péladan’s work. I am preparing a painting for the exhibition, but I need your help to get there, as the travel expenses are well beyond what I can afford as a (barely graduated) ex-grad student.”
- A Bad Witch’s Blog reports on the recent “Witchcraft Today” 60th anniversary event. Quote: “The tabloid papers often gave particularly lurid, sensationalist and inaccurate accounts of what went on in the Craft. Gerald Gardner was one of the few Wiccans willing to speak to the Press at the time and his book Witchcraft Today was partly written to try to redress the balance and give the public a genuine insight into what witches do.”
- At PaganSquare Cat Treadwell reports on the first Pagan Symposium in London, organized by the Pagan Federation. Quote: “Since the discussions over the Census and the PaganDASH project, there has been a need for cohesive voices and a mature approach to the representation of Pagans across the country, as many of our international fellows are already doing. We would try to accomplish this, as individuals and within groups sharing identities and diverse beliefs under the Pagan umbrella. Even just for today, to see if it worked… these few hours would be a test, of sorts.”
- The Moon Books blog interview Christine Hoff Kraemer, Pagan theologian, author, and manager of the Patheos Pagan channel. Quote: “I think the strength of Patheos Pagan is that it exists in an inherently interfaith context. One of our writers, Julian Betkowski, recently commented on the dangers of accidentally creating “echo chambers” rather than functional religious communities — small cliques of people in which an agenda is enforced and genuine dialogue is discouraged. Hosting a community of Pagan writers in an interfaith environment helps combat that in a number of ways. It forces us to continually refine our own viewpoints in dialogue with each other *and* with people of other religions. Having regular contact with thoughtful non-Pagans keeps us in mind that despite Pagans’ differences, we still have a great deal more in common with each other than we do with the other major Western religions.”
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!Send to Kindle
It may not surprise anyone that the word “God,” “Almighty God,” or similar, is written into the constitution of all 50 states. In most cases, such words are found in the preambles and in the, often required, oaths of office. The mention of “God,” or the like, is used predominantly in reverent thanks or acknowledgment of a divine goodness.
However, what most people do not realize is that eight of the states also include a religious component to a citizen’s eligibility to hold public office and, in two cases, to testify in court or serve on a jury. These states include Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. While the language of each state’s “religious test” is slightly different, the ultimate idea is the same. In all cases, the laws exclude the Atheist from participating in officials roles. Beyond that and depending on one’s beliefs, these constitutional regulations could potentially exclude many citizens of minority faiths, including Pagans and Heathens.North Carolina, Maryland and Tennessee use language that most closely connotes a Christian or an Abrahamic religious worldview. Maryland’s constitution reads, “no religious test shall ever be required” to hold office, “other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God.” The other two constitutions state that persons who “deny the being of God,” or “Almighty God,” as termed in North Carolina, are ineligible for public office. Tennessee goes a step further saying, “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” A “future state of rewards and punishments” refers to heaven and hell.
In four states, the constitutional restrictions are worded with a more expansive concept of deity. In South Carolina, Texas and Mississippi, persons are ineligible for public office if they “refuse to acknowledge” or “deny the existence of” a Supreme Being. In Arkansas, the limitation is imposed on people who deny the “being of a God.” In all four cases, the language used allows for a broader interpretation of deity and, ostensibly, could include some Pagans and Heathens.
Pennsylvania‘s constitution deviates from the other documents in that it reverses the burden. It states:
No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.
In this case, the state does not explicitly exclude persons who deny “a God.” However, it does imply that it could potentially happen. An acknowledgment of the “being of a God” and a heaven and hell secure one’s ability to be appointed. In that sense, the statement is a legal warning or even a compelling suggestion.
Additionally, two states include a religious test for jurors and those testifying in court. In Maryland and Arkansas, the constitution prohibits any persons who deny “the existence of God,” in Maryland, or “the being of a God,” in Arkansas, from testifying in court or serving on a jury.
While all of this may be frustrating and troublesome, the reality is much less bleak than at first glance. In Article 6, the United States Constitution clearly states:
no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States
Additionally, the 14th Amendment states:
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
In 1961, a Maryland Atheist challenged the “religious test” requirement after being excused from his appointment as a notary public.The famous case, Torcaso v Watkins, worked its way through the courts and eventually landed at the Supreme Court of the United States. The justices ruled in favor of Torcaso stating, “This Maryland test for public office cannot be enforced against appellant, because it unconstitutionally invades his freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the 14th Amendment from infringement by the States.”
The 1961 Supreme Court ruling rendered the state religious tests unenforceable. However, the constitutions were never changed. Fifty-three years later, Maryland’s Declaration of Rights still makes the following statements:
Art 36 … nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor either in this world or in the world to come.
Art. 37. That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.
Much of this language appears to be legal “left-overs” and wording from the original state constitutions; some of which were adopted prior to ratification of the U.S. Constitution (1787) and the Bill of Rights (1791). In fact, some states, such as Arkansas, still disqualify people from serving in public office if they have have engaged in a duel. This evolutionary editing process may explain, in part, the oddities and religious language still found in many of the constitutions
Eilers then quotes a Supreme Court statement saying, “The Fathers of the Constitution were not unaware of the varied and extreme views of religious sects … They fashioned a charter of government which envisaged the widest possible toleration of conflicting views. Man’s relation to his God was made no concern of the state.” (Chp. 8, God and Government) While Founding Father Thomas Jefferson may have mentioned the Muslim, Jew, Hindu, pagan and Christian in his work, other early lawmakers may not have been as progressively aware.
During that early period, the use of the word “God” or “a God” or “Supreme Being” may have seemed inclusive enough to satisfy the new American concept of religious diversity. For example, Maryland’s original 1776 constitution required a person interested in public service to declare “a belief in the Christian religion.” This was later changed to “God” in 1851 in order to be more inclusive by contemporary cultural standards.
While these historical details do explain why religious language, like “in the year of our Lord,” appears sporadically in state constitutions, it does not explain how 8 state constitutions have maintained a religious test to qualify someone for public office. Regardless of the historical aspect, such a test has been unconstitutional for centuries. How, in the early revisions of the state constitutions, did those religious tests survive? How have they been overlooked all these years? More importantly, how have they remained unchecked since the 1961 Torcaso case or more recent legal contests?
Eilers explains, “they need to be tested individually…that is … each of them must be challenged.” Furthermore, each state has to be willing to engage in its process to change the constitution, a task that is long and difficult. That has yet to happen.
[Author's Note: Special thanks to Pagan lawyer Dana Eilers for taking time to offer insight and expertise on the subject.]Send to Kindle
“Lady Loreon Vigne was a successful business woman who brought an animal sanctuary, Egyptian Temple and retreat center to the agricultural town of Geyserville. She brought new ideas and welcomed all to be a part of her journey by opening Isis Oasis one Sunday a month to visitors. A local Geyserville personality, Vigne opened her Isis Oasis home to the community for many years.”
Lady Lorean Vigne founded the Isis Oasis Sanctuary in 1978, and it was officially recognized as a church in the state of California in 1996. Dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, they followed the principles of the Fellowship of Isis, as stated at their website.
“We generally follow the principles of the Fellowship of Isis, out of which our temple was born. The FOI was established by Lady Olivia Robertson and her brother at Clonegal Castle, Enniscorthy, Ireland, which has thousands of members in over 80 countries. Those who are members of the FOI are connected only by their love for the Goddess as each practices in whatever way they wish. The idea is to create balance by incorporating the feminine in deity. We all need the nurturing, forgiveness, and compassion that the Great Mother provides, as we seek to integrate and strengthen both our lunar and solar qualities. Those who become Priestesses and Priests of Isis, within this Temple, pledge to honor all life and commit to help the earth and her people’s not only for her preservation but to bring to our lives and the lives of future generations more light and wisdom.”
Lady Lorean Vigne, in addition to overseeing the temple, was an artist and craftsperson, and was married to the Beat-era experimental filmmaker Dion Vigne. A larger than life personality, she was known for her famous pet ocelots, and patronage of the arts in Geyserville. The Temple of Isis at Isis Oasis Sanctuary released the following statement on her passing.
“It is with sad tidings that we announce today the passing of Lady Loreon Vigne into her journey beyond the veil on July 15th. As she enters the care of Anubis, on her journey to the land of Osiris, we have been holding her noon ceremonies and vigils here at Isis Oasis HQ. She has taught and touched many, and continues to do so with her spirit, within the Temple of Isis and beyond. As co-hostess of this Symposium, Loreon had a hand in creating each and every aspect of it, and we will continue her work throughout the event, being true to her spirit and zest for knowledge, and the sharing of that knowledge. In addition, we will have a special High Holy Ceremony honoring the life and work of our Great Lady, celebrating her life and artistry. This formal ceremony will be a precursor to a second honoring at our Annual Convocation, where new Priestesses and Priests are ordained into the Temple of Isis and Fellowship of Isis.”
A formal ceremony honoring Lady Lorean Vigne will be held at the Temple’s annual Inner Sanctum Symposium at the end of August.
“I am sad to hear the news of the passing of another Great Soul, but I know that Loreon knows the way home. Her life was such a blessing to so many others. I met Loreon at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago so many years ago now, yet it feels just like yesterday and though we never had the opportunity to meet again, her work and achievement remain an outstanding inspiration. Thank you Loreon, for blazing the trail that others might follow in your footsteps.” - Naomi Ozaniec
For more on the life of Lady Lorean Vigne, she wrote an autobiography entitled “The Goddess Bade Me Do It” that’s available for purchase through the temple. May she rest in the arms of her goddess. What is remembered, lives.Send to Kindle
This past week several pieces hit the internet that focused attention on Paganism and gathered a response from Pagans. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic priest and blogger on Patheos, wrote two pieces discussing views about Paganism and judgments about those who follow the path. Many Pagans interpreted Longenecker’s writing to be an attempt to poke fun at Paganism, which has led to the discussions, comments and angst often seen when misinformation is published about the community. The Huffington Post also posted an article this week about Paganis; it was a small piece about Pat Robinson’s most recent blaming of Witchcraft, or the Occult, for a child’s painful stomach pains on a recent episode of the 700 Club.
The internet has a way of broadcasting many different types of drama far and wide. Anyone’s opinion can become the talk of a community, an “expert opinion,” and it sometimes travels far beyond the boundaries it was originally intending to reach. The internet has it’s perks; it has greatly increased access to information. Yet it has also contributed greatly to spreading misinformation as well. The Pagan community is no stranger to being on the receiving end of misinformation, and the challenges of being a minority religious group can be exacerbated as a result.
While the content of articles like those mentioned are not really the focus of my discussion, the effect that they have on the tone of the Pagan community are. Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s blog, Standing On My Head, received in excess of 150 comments between the two posts on Paganism, and many of them exhibited what we see happen when this type of issue arises on the interwebs. Posts and incidents like these are not new for the Pagan community; yet they gather the same level of intensity in response repeatedly. What happens for marginalized communities when they feel disrespected, misrepresented, undervalued or intentionally called out? Are the responses we see coming from a place of anger, worry, fear, anxiety, or even hyper-vigilance?
The functioning of the internet can act much like a vacuum, making it hard to conceptualize the range of responses and feelings that are triggered when all we can see is what is on the screen. In light of this understanding, the responses and chaos generated on the internet may not be the only response but it is often the predominant one in the community for those who choose to engage. It appears that a large majority of those who do respond to these types of posts come from a position of frustration. It is important to explore how feelings of marginalization challenge healthy and productive relationships that further connectivity within greater society, and how it impacts community sustainability.
There were many responses on the recent blog posts at Standing on My Head that appeared more informational than emotional in nature, but a large majority of the comments were what we often see during these types of triggering events. Here are some examples of the range of responses posted on one of the pieces.
This post is unworthy of someone who calls himself a priest. That a religion doesn’t look like yours doesn’t mean it isn’t deserving of respect and protection for its followers. – John Beckett
Your mistake is that you assume you understand the motivation of a pagan, and you are sure it can’t be an actual spiritual belief. It must be attention-seeking behavior. This is just ignorance on your part. Ignorance CAN be fixed, if you’re willing. – Michael Hardy
I am disappointed in the tone of this article, its lack of tolerance, and its complete lack of research and fact-checking. hardly a great contribution to interfaith dialogue. – Yewtree
It seems that you are under some misconceptions regarding Neo-Paganism. Neo-Paganism (Or just plain Paganism, if you will) is not something practiced by those “looking for attention”. In fact, what we do, we do simply because it seems right to us – in very much the same way that going to confession once seemed normal to a Catholic. – Deirdre Hebert
How do these types of attention-arousing incidents harm the overall tone of the Pagan community and why do we feel that they garner so much momentum on the web? David Dashifen Kees was one of the bloggers from the Patheos Pagan channel who engaged in the comment sections of the post. He took a different approach to the dialog. I reached out and asked David some questions on why he was inspired to approach the discussion the way he did.
Crystal Blanton: It appeared from your comment on the recent Catholic blog that you chose to take the educational route with the blogger. Is this your normal approach when responding to inaccurate information published on the web?
David Dashifen Kees: Inaccurate information is just that: inaccurate. The people who believe it are simply wrong. Further, inaccuracies can, and should, be corrected and so my response is always to reach toward education before denigration. This is actually why I like the Patheos model of allowing posts like the ones in the past week that caused such a stir; they create a teachable moment and every visitor to those articles, and others like them, might learn from it. The key is to try and identify when a person is deliberately, willfully choosing to remain misinformed. In these cases, I’ve found that there’s little you accomplish via direct, verbal communication and appeals to reason. Instead, experiential education — what the Interfaith Youth Corps calls common action for the common good — usually works better but obviously the Internet cannot facilitate that sort of thing.
CB: Why do you feel that the Pagan community often reacts to such information with anger? Do you think this is similar to the way that other marginalized groups respond within greater society?
DDK: This is a harder question for me to answer because, other than my religious community, I’m not really a part of a marginalized group in society. I guess, back when nerds weren’t cool, that was a thing, but these days even my profession and hobbies have a certain cachet. That being said, I think that it’s perfectly natural to react defensively, with anger or not, when facing intolerant or objectionable behavior. In fact, I think to stand up against such behavior is at least as important as trying to educate those who are performing it. My only worry related to this sort of interaction is that it might simply dissolve into a series of ad hominem declarations rather than focusing on the situation at hand.
CB: What do you often want to see when responding to pieces that give out misinformation about Paganism? Do you have an objective in mind that informs your response tactics?
DDK: My objective, whenever I try to engage someone else a topic I care deeply about — religious or otherwise, is simply to be able to state my case. I can’t really control whether or not they believe me or find my points compelling, though I do spend a lot of time online crafting my responses to try and make them as appealing as possible. Especially in situations like the ones that arose from the Patheos Catholic channel in the last week, I know that my comments are going to be attached to that article for as long as that content remains online. They, therefore, stand as a testimony not just to my points, but all the moments when Pagan and others stood up to the not just the author of the posts, but also the others who, frankly, said far worse things in the comments about non-Catholic religious communities than even the author.
David gives interesting insight into what motivates many people when facing broadcasted inaccuracies: a chance to tell the story. It is quite common for marginalized groups to have a collective response to triggering things, and a shared experience of being “othered,” stripping the chance to feel heard and a part of the actual conversations that need to happen. Is this the same type of hyper-vigilance and response that we see in populations of people who have a history of marginalization, oppression and engagement in protective measures as a part of their cultural experience? It is quite possible that the pattern of responding to intolerance within the Pagan community correlates with many other groups that find themselves in similar positions within the greater societal framework.
The Pagan community goes through periods of recycling the many different ways that collective harm has been perpetuated onto its members from the overculture of society and from within the Pagan community itself. Yet, we do not often look collectively at how patterns and cultures are developed, in part, by being continuously subjected to environmental factors. In social work we refer to what is called “PIE”, Person In Environment, illustrating how behavior, response, thought process, beliefs and culture are co-created by the environment in which people live. It is much like a pressure cooker, and the internet has the ability to create concentrated environments that perpetuate hostility and can be quite triggering.
Jason Mankey, author of Raise the Horns on the Patheos, wrote a rebuttal to the Catholic blogger’s article, and this is not unheard of in the pattern of community response when said incidents occur. In his piece he stated:
Catholicism is not my faith, but I don’t feel any animosity towards it. People should be feel free to choose whatever faith works for them as long as it it’s not harmful to anyone around them. I’d love to live in a world where everyone respected the choices of others, and barring that I’d be happy just to be left alone. Right now I mostly feel sorry for Mr. Longenecker, who knows what sort of wonderful things he’s missing out on by making unwarranted judgments?
While many Pagans express wanting to be left alone, we see behavior within our community that might suggest something altogether different. Validation, respect, acceptance and inclusivity are something that our collective behavior shows we are willing to engage in with others to obtain, and even fight for among ourselves. Yet we struggle in stopping to ask the very questions that might be the most important.
What do we want and why? And who are we willing to fight to get it? When do things become a part of the pathology of a certain culture? Is it a part of the collective Pagan pathology to ride the momentum of reaction to support something we feel is done unjustly to us? What does our behavior suggest?
In Mr. Longenecker assessment of our behavior, he states:
There’s the same kind of ‘Look at me. What are you staring at??’ double think within not only the neo pagans, but also among all the radical, revolutionary types. They love to be revolutionary, challenge the status quo, shock people, scandalize ordinary folks and do crazy stuff, then they turn around and blame everyone else for marginalizing them, making them feel persecuted and not granting them equal rights. Like a petulant teenager they do everything they can to be weird, then when normal people raise eyebrows they get all surprised like a house dropped on them or something.
Maybe it is time to ask ourselves how much of this quite unfair assessment is laced with big pieces of truth.Send to Kindle
For only the second time in its 16 year history, the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER) issued a Declaration. ECER is an international body composed of delegates from 12 different countries which assist European ethnic religious groups in opposing discrimination. The organization focuses on ethnic or indigenous religions, not modern occult or syncretic neo-religions. ECER was founded in 1998 and drew up its first declaration, with a second addition, in the same year.
ECER decided to write a new declaration after the death of krivis (supreme priest) Jonas Trinkūnas of Lithuania, who was ECER’s founder and first president. The group wanted to restate its mission and renew its commitment during a time of transition. It also wanted to address some of the problems that ethnic Pagan groups in Europe still face.
The Wild Hunt spoke with Andras Corban-Arthen, current President of ECER and delegate from Spain, about the declaration. We placed the full declaration below in bold; intersected with it are excerpts of our interview with Mr. Corban-Arthen which clarify or address the section preceding it.A DECLARATION FROM THE EUROPEAN CONGRESS OF ETHNIC RELIGIONS (English Version)
We, the delegates from twelve different countries convened at the European Congress of Ethnic Religions in Vilnius, Lithuania, on this 9th day of July 2014, join our voices together to make the following declaration:
We are members of diverse European indigenous ethnic cultures who seek to revitalize and reclaim our ancestral religious and spiritual traditions. We honor those who went before us, who gave us our life and our heritage. We are bound to the lands of our ancestors, to the soil that holds their bones, to the waters from which they drank, to the roads that they once walked. And we seek to pass that heritage to those who come after us, whose ancestors we are in the process of becoming – our children, our grandchildren, and the many generations yet to be born. We send solidarity and support to those other indigenous nations, races and religions who are also engaged in the struggle to preserve their own ancestral heritages.
Our ethnic religions are the product of the history of this continent; they are the living expressions, in the present, of our most ancient traditions and identities. At a time when the world is precariously balanced on the edge of environmental and economic upheaval, largely as the result of imbalanced individualism and rampant greed, our religions promote very different models of spiritual and social values: living in harmony, balance and moderation with the Earth; the importance of family and cooperative community; and respect and honor for all forms of life.
Yet, in many countries of Europe, the practice of our religions is impeded, restricted, and sometimes forbidden.
Cara Schulz: In the declaration you note that, in some European countries, the practice of indigenous religions is impeded. Are there particular countries where this is so? And what challenges, specifically, are faced?
Andras Corban-Arthen, President of ECER: The situation in Europe is complicated. On the one hand, in some countries — such as Greece, Russia, Lithuania — opposition against paganism is spearheaded by mainstream religious entities, particularly the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The impediments can range from the purely bureaucratic — religious authorities privately pressuring government officials to deny legal status to a pagan religion; to the publicly hostile — vitriolic condemnations of, and false accusations against, pagan religions by prominent Christian clergy, often right from the pulpit, which can profoundly sway public opinion; to outright physical violence against pagan individuals as well as sacred sites by religiously-fueled groups of thugs who, in some cases, appear to have been (unofficially) incited by the churches, as has happened in Italy, Poland and Ukraine.
On the other hand, in countries such as Germany and especially France, which have become largely secular, there has developed a widespread cynicism and mistrust toward religion of any sort, including paganism. The impediments found in such countries have more to do with apathy and dismissiveness than with outright hostility, but they are impediments just the same.
We urge all European governments to fully comply with, and actively enforce, the provisions guaranteeing freedom of religion to all citizens as stipulated in the Treaties of the European Union, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention of Human Rights, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other similar conventions and agreements, and to refrain from granting preferential treatment to some religions over others. We also ask that this equality of religious preference be reflected in the European educational systems.
CS: Do you think the EU will take practical action to help those who practice indigenous religions?
Corban-Arthen: That is certainly one of the outcomes we would love to see. For a nation to join the European Union, its constitution must first meet the Copenhagen Criteria, which ensure the freedom of religious choice and practice. In theory, a country which fails to comply with the protection of such a fundamental human right can be sued in the European Court of Justice. In practice, that’s far easier said than done. The EU is much more of an economic than a political union, and the enforcement of human rights has been very selective. A pagan group would need to have incontrovertible evidence, a large enough organization and membership, really good legal resources, and substantial funding for such a lawsuit to be successful. Needless to say, there don’t appear to be any pagan groups in Europe — certainly no ethnic ones — that meet those criteria. Part of our plan for the ECER is to start compiling some of the necessary resources so that eventually we might get to the point where some agency of the EU will respond favorably toward us.
We urge all our governments to actively engage in the preservation and protection of European indigenous sacred sites – be they human-made structures or natural settings. We further ask that free and open access to those sites be given to ethnic European religions which seek to use them for the purposes of worship and spiritual celebration.
CS: You’re asking for access to religious sites – are there specific sites you have in mind that you can’t access for religious purposes?
Corban-Arthen: There are lots of sites in many countries which, while open to the public for educational or touristic purposes, are off-limits for religious observances — any who attempt to engage in ceremony are customarily forced to leave by the police, and in some cases have even been arrested. Then there are those sites which remain completely unavailable, mostly because they are controlled by the churches. An example that comes to mind right away: the largest known altar dedicated to Perkūnas — the Baltic god of thunder — in Lithuania, lies in the basement of the Roman Catholic cathedral in Vilnius, and the church refuses to grant access to it (even just to see it) to anyone, often to the point of denying that it actually exists. Romuva has been lobbying for years to gain access to it, without success. A couple of years ago, a large number of young Romuva members organized a flash mob to temporarily block access to the cathedral, in the hope of galvanizing enough public sentiment that the church would be forced to grant access to the shrine; unfortunately, that didn’t work, either, though it did start some public debate about the issue.
We do not seek ownership or exclusive rights to those sites – the land does not belong to us, we belong to the land.
We object to the use of the term “pagan” by extremist political groups of any kind, as it reflects negatively on our reputation.
CS: You object to the term Pagan – why is that?
Corban-Arthen: We don’t object to the term “pagan” — in fact, both the ECER as an organization, as well as many of the ethnic member groups, have been using it for a very long time. Our objection is to the misappropriation and misuse of that term by extremist right-wing groups throughout Europe (neo-fascists, white supremacists, anti-Semites, skinheads, etc.) When such people openly label themselves as “pagans,” the churches, the politicians, and the media have a field day tarring religious pagans with the very same dirty brush. We felt that it was important to include some allusion to this in the declaration, if nothing else to create some distance between us and the extremist factions. I understand that the language we chose has been somewhat unclear, since I have now fielded this same question several times. Unfortunately, when you have a group of people who speak a variety of different languages, and you are trying to come up with wording that is understood by and acceptable to everyone involved, sometimes the result will be less than ideal. I hope this clarifies our intent.
Finally, we urge all peoples and all nations to place the well-being of the Earth – who is, literally, our Living Mother – above any and all other priorities.
We send this message in kinship, love, and respect.
Andras Corban Arthen (President), Anamanta, Spain/U.S.A.
Ramanė Roma Barauskienė, Lietuva
Martin Brustad, Norway
Nina Bukala, Werkgroep Hagal, Netherlands
Alexander Demoor, Werkgroep Hagal, Belgium
Valentinas Dilginas, Kuzšei Žemaicĭai, Lithuania
Sören Fisker, Forn Siđr, Danmark
Federico Fregni (Board Member), Societas Hesperiana, Italia
Marianna Gorronova, Czech Republic
Lars Irenessøn (Board Member), Forn Siđr, Danmark
Irena Jankutė-Balkūnė (Board Member), Romuva, Lithuania
Runar Kartsen, Forn Sed, Norway
Daniele Liotta (Board Member), Movimento Tradizionale Romano, Italia
Silvano Lorenzoni, Federazione Pagana Italiana, Italia
Anna Lucarelli, Movimento Tradizionale Romano, Italia
Sachin Nandha, United Kingdom
Zdenek Ordelt, Czech Republic
Elisabeth Overgaauw, Werkgroep Hagal, Netherlands
Eugenijus Paliokas, Šventaragis Romuva, Lithuania
Staško Potrzebowski, Rodzima Wiara, Polska
Prudence Priest, Romuva, U.S.A.
Marina Psaraki, Y.S.E.E., Greece
Vlassis G. Rassias, Y.S.E.E., Greece
Valdas Rutkūnas, Romuva, Lithuania
Ignas Šatkauskas (Board Member), Romuva, Lithuania
Øyvind Siljeholm, Forn Sed, Norway
Dovile Sirusaitė, Lithuania
Eleonora Stella, Societas Hesperiana, Italia
Inija Trinkūnienė, Romuva, Lithuania
Ram Vaidya, United Kingdom
In our interview, Mr. Corban-Arthen discussed ECER’s focus on ethnic religion. That focus can make Americans uneasy as media reports often conflate anything that focuses on specifically European ethnicity with racism or antisemitism. Corban-Arthen says that’s unfortunate, because “while there are certainly some people who fit that pattern, there are far many more who don’t.”He also says that many people are unaware of just how much of indigenous Paganism survives in modern Europe. “…particularly in remote rural areas, which are not only outside the typical tourist routes, but also quite outside of the modern mainstream culture of the countries in which they exist. Some of them have been, to varying degrees, syncretized with Christianity, though it is often not difficult to separate the two. Some have survived as folklore. Some, much harder to find, appear to be unbroken survivals largely untainted by Christianity.”
Identifying and preserving those remnants of ethnic religions is important not only to those reviving the religions, but also to those wishing to incorporate indigenous practices in various forms of neo-Paganism. Corban-Arthen says that we need to realize the changes brought about by modernity which threaten to destroy what remains of European indigenous traditions. He says, “The Lithuanians and the Basques, for instance, are struggling to preserve their cultural identities, including what survives of their ethnic religions and their sacred places, just as the Lakota and the Wurundjeri are struggling to do the same.” Corban-Arthen sees hope, though.
He says indigenous peoples from around the world have started to invite representatives of European ethnic traditions to their gatherings and conferences. Large interfaith organizations such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions are now including European ethnic traditions in their indigenous assemblies. The same goes for intergovernmental, social justice and human rights organizations such as the United Nations.
“We may see, in coming years, an increased awareness of the survival of European indigenous religions, of the difficulties they face, and of the circumstances that led to their near-extinction. The European Congress of Ethnic Religions is committed to help that happen,” notes Corban-Arthen.Send to Kindle
The cultural negotiations concerning religious freedom in the public sphere are continuously peppering America’s daily socio-political dialog. As our country becomes more diverse, or more open about its diversity, with respect to religion, the violations or perceived violations of the “separation of church and state” become more numerous and more of a burden on any given population. Most recently legislative prayers were the focus of this debate. SCOTUS ruled and the dialog shifted.
Student Religious Liberty Act
In June, both North Carolina and Missouri adopted a student religious liberty act, similar to one already in place in Mississippi. According to the North Carolina legislature, its Senate Bill 370 is:
An act to clarify student rights to engage in prayer and religious activity in school, to create an administrative process for remedying complaints regarding exercise of those student rights, and to clarify religious activity for school personnel.
Missouri House Bill 1303, known as the Missouri “Student Religious Liberty Act,” has the similar aim. It states in part:
A public school district shall not discriminate against students or parents on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression. A school district shall treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the district treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject and shall not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject.
The two bills were hotly debated over a period of months. Regardless of any complaints, they were eventually passed and signed into law. On June 19, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrary signed SB 370 after a landslide victory in both the state House and Senate. Similarly, on June 30, the Missouri bill was passed with overwhelming legislative support and then signed by Governor Jay Nixon.
In both cases, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) made the same protest statement:
Students’ rights to voluntarily express and practice their faith in the public schools are already well-protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Students already have the ability to pray and express religious viewpoints and attempts to statutorily protect those rights is unnecessary. (Press Statement May 6, 2014, ACLU – NC)
The ACLU contends that the additional law will only add confusion and potentially lead to “the excessive entanglement of school personnel in religious activity while ostracizing students of different beliefs.”Byron Ballard, a North Carolina resident who has worked very closely with her local school districts on issues of religious freedom, agrees adding:
It will change things because it will embolden people to be even more belligerent than they already are. It will make the school day more difficult for teachers … This is an “open carry” prayer law. Certainly it applies to anyone who wants to pray, so there are Pagans in the state who are pleased to see it. But we are such a minority that this law will continue to serve the majority Protestant Christians in the way they have always been catered to in NC and elsewhere. It codifies the Protestant Christian privilege that is endemic in the public square.
Credits For Religious Education
On June 12, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 171, an act that “permit[s] public school students to attend and receive credit for released time courses in religious instruction conducted off school property during regular school hours.” In a guest post on Cleveland.com, State Rep. Jeff McClain – R applauded the passage of the bill saying:
The Ohio legislature made great gains last week when it comes to protecting the moral and educational rights of our students … these types of programs have a positive impact on children. They help to create a constructive outlet where students can learn morals and manners in an educational environment. I would argue that it makes one a better student and certainly a more respectful one.
The ACLU of Ohio disagrees. In December 2013, they testified against the legislation, calling HB 171 “misguided.” They clarify that the law allows credit for “purely religious instruction, whether done via a private school, place of worship or other non-entity.” The complaint goes on to say, “A public school providing credit for purely religious teaching unquestionably violates [the First Amendment government neutrality] mandate … House Bill 171 is replete with practical and constitutional problems.”
In 2012, a similar statue brought legal action in South Carolina. In the case Moss v. Spartanburg Cty School District, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenged the City of Spartanburg’s issuing of credit for religious education during “released time.” The case worked its way through the courts to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the city issuing credits for religious instruction. In the summer of 2012, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case leaving the lower court’s ruling as final.
Ohio is now the second state behind South Carolina that will issue educational credits for religious classes attended off-campus during “released-time.” While no-school funds can be used to support the religious instruction, the schools do have say on which external classes quality for credit. Could a Pagan or Heathen organization offer such education to its own children for school credit? As pointed out by the ACLU of Ohio, the potential for legal entanglements is very high.Send to Kindle
When Barack Obama won his presidential reelection bid in 2012, the biggest story about the immediate aftermath was how America’s shifting demographics had delivered the victory (and that Nate Silver was right all along, but that’s a different story). A big sub-headline was the rise of religiously unaffiliated voters (“nones”), who now rival the evangelical Christians in size, but also important was the difference between the religious coalitions that supported the presidential nominees. Sarah Posner called it the “great religious realignment.”
“A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s “support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians. Romney draws just 3% of his base from Latino Catholics, 2% from non-Christians, and an unmeasurable portion from black Protestants.”
In short, Republicans rely primarily on conservative Catholics and evangelicals, while Democrats make up that demographic shortfall by relying on a diverse array of religious voters, including religious minorities and “nones.” Now that we are in the second year of Obama’s second term, with partisan politics seemingly as divisive as they ever have been, Gallup polling revisits religious groups and finds that the faiths who still approve of Obama’s performance has remained relatively stable.
“Seventy-two percent of U.S. Muslims approved of the job President Barack Obama was doing as president during the first six months of 2014, higher than any other U.S. religious group Gallup tracks. Mormons were least approving, at 18%. In general, majorities of those in non-Christian religions — including those who do not affiliate with any religion — approved of Obama, while less than a majority of those in the three major Christian religious groups did.”
Gallup points out that overall approval in each group has cumulatively dropped between 5-7% over the last 5 years but that Muslims, Nones, and Jews have largely remained supportive.
“Similarly, Muslims have been the most approving among the religious groups in each time period. Jewish Americans and Americans with no religious preference have also exceeded the national average job approval in each time period, tracking each other closely.”
Gallup ends its analysis by stating that: “Clearly, members of various religions view the president quite differently.” However, I would state that, aside from Mormons, who closely ally themselves with evangelical Christians socially and politically, religious minorities in the United States generally see Obama as someone who isn’t beholding to a particular socially conservative strain of Christianity. So even though Muslims, “nones,” “others,” and Jews aren’t as happy with Obama’s performance as they were, it seems that they are mindful that a Republican replacement might be less well-disposed regarding their concerns.
Considering the power and influence conservative Christians maintain in the Republican party it seems unlikely that comprehensive efforts to woo religious minorities will be forthcoming, despite that fact that a fiscally conservative but socially liberal candidate could theoretically perform very well on a national level, not only with some religious minorities, but with Millennial generation voters as well. That said, barring major shifts in tone and policy, it looks like religious minorities are sticking with Obama, and the Democrats, at least for now.Send to Kindle
Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!
We may be in the midst of Summer outdoor festival season, but the engine that drives West Coast Pagan mega-convention PantheaCon churns ever forward towards February 2015 as it announces that they are now accepting programming proposals. Quote: “The PantheaCon Programming team would like to inform you that the online programming form for PantheaCon 2015 is available on our website! We invite anyone interested in presenting at PantheaCon 2015 to go to https://pantheacon.com/wordpress and click on one of the links to Submit a Presentation Idea or Resources for Presenters. Our theme this year is Pagan Visions of the Future. [...] Our Round 1 deadline is September 1, 2014. Submitting your ideas by September 1 increases your chances of being scheduled and may result in some helpful feedback! After our Round 1 review, we will ask some presenters to revise their submissions for consideration in Round 2. In addition, presentations not scheduled during Round 1 will be considered during Round 2.” So get your best on-theme ideas ready, and perhaps you be the giving the talk to see this coming February.
Artist, author, and shamanic practitioner Lupa Greenwolf has announced that she will be trying out the artist support service Patreon, where individuals commit to a monthly donation in exchange for exclusive perks. Quote: “What do I get out of this? Not just money. I get stability and more of an ability to budget from month to month. And that’s a huge benefit. Knowing that I am guaranteed to get a certain amount of money coming in from my patrons, regardless of whatever other sales and income I get, helps reduce the stress of chasing after dollars. Moreover, it tells me that those who choose to become my patrons really want to see me keep making creative things. I love making art and writing for myself, don’t get me wrong, but it takes other people loving my art and writing enough to compensate me for it that allows me to keep creating at the rate that I do. And at the end of the day, it feels really, really good that enough people like what I do to enable me to be a full-time creative sort. It’s a great motivator to keep making cool things happen.” She’s already reached over $100 dollars per month from 8 patrons, and it looks like it might be an interesting way for several creative people in our community to help make ends meet.
I’ve written a fair bit about the massive success that has been Morpheus Ravenna’s IndieGoGo campaign for her book-writing project “The Book of The Great Queen,” which has now raised more than double its $7,500 goal. In response, Ravenna has proposed a book tour that will grow as further stretch goals are reached. Quote: “The good news is that as of today, we’ve already raised enough to do two cities and just on the verge of a third. That means the book tour is already happening! You, my readers, still get to decide how extensive it will be and where I travel. I’ll be planning my tour sites based on where there seems to be the most active interest, so if you want me to visit your city, drop me a line to let me know! So far I’ve heard from folks in Seattle, Atlanta, Houston, Madison, and upstate New York. Where would you like to see me travel to? I’d also love to hear from people as to good venues in your area for a workshop and booksigning, or if there are events such as festivals or conventions you’d like to suggest as part of the tour. You can email me your suggestions.” I suspect that several Pagan authors might start taking notes on what Morpheus Ravenna did right in this endeavor.
In Other Pagan Community News:
- This past weekend was the Polytheist Leadership Conference, and we’re looking forward to our own Rhyd Wildermuth’s report, but we hope to do a round-up of news and reflections from the event soon. Until then, Rhyd has been posting updates to his personal blog. You may also want to keep an eye on Anomalous Thracian, and his blog (that’s good advice in general, really).
- Druid leader Philip Carr-Gomm has a launched a new spiffy-looking website.
- Our fiscal sponsor, The Pantheon Foundation, was successful in raising slightly over $1000 dollars for their Diotima Prize, which will benefit a Pagan seminarian. Quote: “The Pantheon Foundation announces The Diotima Prize to support the educational goals of one Pagan student who is currently in at least their second year at an accredited seminary program.” Congrats!
- Over at the Patheos Pagan Channel we find out the burning question: Who’s reading John Halstead’s blog? Quote: “Over of [half] you identify primarily as Pagan/Neo-Pagan (35%) or Wiccan/Witch (17%). This was not surprising, considering the makeup of the larger Pagan community. There is also the fact that I identify as Neo-Pagan and my practice and my thought is sometimes Wiccanesque, so it’s not surprising that my readers would be reflective of this. Eleven percent (11%) of you identify primarily as polytheist.” You gotta respect someone who does a survey.
- Speaking of Patheos Pagans, channel mainstay Jason Mankey has joined PaganSquare, where he’ll write about coven stuff. Don’t worry, he’ll still be a Patheos writing about Pagan-y stuff too. For more Patheos Pagan Channel announcements, here’s a recent update.
- Finally, T. Thorn Coyle drops some truth about being a “big-name” Pagan. It’s a must-read.
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!Send to Kindle
In the final article of our series “Pagans on Campus 2014,” we discuss the challenges and hurdles that lay before young Pagans as they reach out beyond campus life and beyond the comforts of the Pagan Student Association. If backlash is not the biggest problem, what is? The students also share their thoughts on the future of Paganism as a whole. What would they like to see as they continue their religious journey over next twenty years?
Syracuse University Chaplain Mary Hudson says, “Being young and not finding teachers or mentors that are willing to work with them. Students are hungry for learning and they are full of energy. I have heard many young Pagans talk about being frustrated for not be treated well.”
Hudson’s comment was echoed by other advisers who regularly interact with college Pagans. Jeff Mach, a Rutgers University graduate, says, “It is incredibly hard to get taken seriously while you’re young and everyone in a position of power tends to assume you don’t have enough life experience to know what you’re doing.”
Interestingly, Pagan students did not cite this as an issue at all. The biggest obstacle for most of the them was the attaining of valid religious and spiritual information. Nick Nelson, president of Ball State University’s Society for Earth-based Religions (SER), said, “Young pagans need access to quality and accurate information on Paganism. That means more than just books.” He believes that young Pagans have limited opportunities to experience ritual or interact with other Pagans outside the small campus sphere. He adds, “The leaders of Pagan [organizations] have to be creative in how they are getting information out there for younger members.”University of Georgia (UGA), wishes there was more available information on non-Wiccan practices. She says, “I think the biggest obstacle for young Pagans is for them to find a Path that truly fits them … You don’t have to follow a specific path word for word. You don’t always have to be Wiccan.” Morgan says that most authors who write specifically for young people are Wiccan. She adds, “We need more options out there.”
It may seem surprising that in a so-called information age it is the information itself that is the biggest obstacle. Several Pagan students specifically said that the Internet is as much of an hurdle as it is an asset. Jackson Elfin, a Heathen studying at BSU, explains “The Internet can breed things that are erroneous and dangerous, and teens have a risk of finding things that are unsafe/untrue … a big need in Pagan education is learning how to sort out the good stuff from the bad.”
Sabine Green, adviser of New Mexico State University (NMSU) Pagan Student Association, notes, “Students are at a pivotal point in their spiritual journey … it is so important to find valid teachers and traditions. It is vital that [elders] help steer the up-and-coming generation to explore and stay safe.” Green feels that guidance is absolutely essential because one of the biggest dangers for young Pagans is exploitation.
Looking at the greater Pagan experience, what would you like to see happen over the next 20 years?recent Purdue graduate, has a similar dream saying, “I would love to see Pagans be open about their religion, just as Christians and Jews are, without being considered crazy.”
Morgan adds, “Many Pagans are becoming a lot more comfortable with coming out … this allows young Pagans to not only feel accepted but also lets them have the resources to grow on their Paths.”
With land ownership and event sponsorship come structure and organization. Most of the young Pagans interviewed want to see cohesion and community-building in the coming years. Nelson says, “It will be much easier for a united Pagan community to gain public acceptance rather than every denomination working individually.”
UGA student Angela Riverio adds, “I feel that part of the reason that we hide so much is because we are divided and that makes us more vulnerable. Separation of practices is perfectly fine, but when a group is being pressured by an outside force, making allies really helps.”
Caity Wallace, president of Drexel University’s Pagan Association (DUPA), says, “Pagans tend to be a decentralized, somewhat religiously anarchist lot, which is great for a lot of things, but it doesn’t lend itself to helping a new cohort enter the community.” She would like to see more strides in community organization that assist new seekers, both young and old. Wallace adds, “Right now I’m seeing the community splintering a bit … However I’ve also been seeing the community be more aggressive about policing itself … and that gives me hope. So in the next 20 years, I see us becoming a much more diverse group, with more accountability.”
Honestly Paganism appears to be simmering down … It’s becoming more of an accepted form of religion, and with that comes a sense of mundanity. This could be good or bad. On the good side, it will allow more people to explore Paganism without fear of negative social and familial consequences … On the other hand, I have to admit, I’m kinda afraid of Paganism getting “old and fat” like the rest of mainstream religions.
There were several other wishes for the future, including the embracing of technology and the building of community centers. Two students turned a critical eye on their own generation in expressing the hope that more young Pagans develop an interest in learning. Veloblom Vigjaldrsdottir, an Asatru student at Nazareth College, explains, “The more you understand your faith and beliefs, the more you understand yourself … Sadly younger Pagans that I meet don’t tend to share that ideology.” She finds that trait primarily in “elderly adults” who convert to Paganism. Vigjaldrsdottir hopes to see a strengthening of the bridge between the various generations so that “we can learn collectively.”
As the African proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Dr. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, adviser to the Pagan Student Union at Skagit Valley College, Whidby Island Campus, says:
To anyone who considers advising such a group … never underestimate what might be possible if you simply ask. We have been able to secure funding [from the school] for attendance of some of our students [to] the Polytheist Leadership Conference … It has been an excellent opportunity to … do something of lasting importance and meaning for members of our community.
Chaplain Mary Hudson adds, “The young Pagans are the future and what we teach is what we will harvest. The students are smart, they are informed in ways that we never dreamed and they are eager to be full, productive members of Pagan communities. Accept their enthusiasm and be honest with them (not brutal) and enjoy the ride.”
To read the previous two articles:
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Depending on how you want to crunch the numbers there are around one million modern Pagans in the United States. Some have argued it’s a bit less than that, some have argued that the figure doesn’t even scratch the surface of our true numbers, but for now, I’m going to use “one million” as a reasonable middle ground for the purposes of this essay. It’s an impressive number, it means we are no longer confined to “thousands” or even “hundreds of thousands,” we’re in the religious big leagues. Using estimated affiliation numbers has long been a tool of minority groups to emphasize their strategic importance in reaching consensus on political and cultural matters in our society. For example, when you’re the head of a religious group that boasts over a billion members worldwide, newspapers create whole sections just to cover you.
So it’s little wonder that Pagans are collectively proud to be in the million+ club, but there’s a hitch. These numbers mean very little in terms of ability to organize, fund projects, or influence legislation. It hasn’t even translated into the religious infrastructure (buildings and money) that many Pagans say they want. There are loads of theories as to why this is, but the simple truth is that “Paganism” (however you want to define that) is an umbrella term for a phenomenon, a movement, a religious impulse, that is deeply individualistic, eclectic, decentralized, and hugely diverse. It is like classifying bike-riders as a religious group. Sure, they all ride bikes, but the reasons for doing it, the kinds of bikes they ride, how much they ride, and how much money they’re willing to devote to that pastime varies.
There’s been a lot of public soul-searching recently as to what our religious community is, what its future should be, and what is expected of “big-name” individuals within our community. To give just a quick overview: Ivo Dominguez Jr. wrote about the importance of alliances within modern Paganism, David Oliver Kling wrote about paid clergy, T. Thorn Coyle pulled back the curtain on how much the “big” Pagan authors actually make, and Jason Mankey pondered if the current crop of high-profile writers on the Internet are even reaching anyone aside from a small but dedicated assortment of invested readers.
“How many Pagans really care? This is a trick question because it means thinking outside of the blogosphere for a second, remember there are perhaps two million Pagans in the United States and only a fraction of those people are regular readers of the Pagan Blogosphere. So is monism something the average Pagan wants to spend hours debating? Is a continued debate over monism really essential to their belief structure? Are extended, and often far too personal, debates really accomplishing anything or are they online pissing contests?”
Mankey gets at something important: How many Pagans really care about what prominent writers, organizers, and activists really do in the name of the community? I’ve heard the old joke about how organizing Pagans is like “herding cats,” but I think a better analogy for the state of our movement is the tail wagging the dog.
“A minor or secondary part of something controlling the whole.”
Think about the biggest explicitly Pagan festivals and gatherings out there right now, your Pagan Spirit Gatherings, or your PantheaCons, you’re talking around 1000 people at one, and pushing 3000 people at the other. While there may have been outdoor Pagan festivals that were once bigger, the median attendance now seems to hover in the middle hundreds, topping out around 1000. Smaller indoor conferences often see registrations in the low hundreds. The point being: these are not huge events, drawing multiple thousands of people. They draw from what one might call the “engaged” class of our movement. The people who want ongoing in-person lessons, who can afford regular interaction with Pagan adherents outside an immediate circle of friends and family, and who may be seeking to become a “name” (or earn a living) within this class.
This engaged class, and I want to note that “engaged” doesn’t mean “better” or “more religious,” it simply denotes a level of participation in what one might call “meta” or “interfaith” Pagan movement events, is the small tail of a “dog” that consists of a conceptual class of people who many expect to start helping the engaged class realize various dreams of establishment. You already know how this pitch goes: If only a mere fraction of our million gave x number of dollars we would be able to fund our temple/clergy program/school/event. The answer, it seems, is that if we only reached out to these Pagans and fellow travelers we could wag our dog towards whatever our ambitious goal is. However, I fear that the “dog” isn’t all that interested in being “wagged,” and has even less interest in propping up the ambitions of their would-be thought leaders.
Why do I think this? Because I live in a region (the Pacific Northwest) where modern Pagan theologies and rituals are seen largely as a resource for building a highly personalized belief system, and I have worked for a music and arts festival (Faerieworlds) that draws a number of Pagan and Pagan-friendly people into a space that while not explicitly Pagan, provides bands, workshops, and activities that many Pagans in the engaged class would recognize. I’ve talked to friends of my step-daughter (who is in her mid-20s) who go to politically anarchic Witch-camps led by Reclaiming-trained teachers but would likely never attend a larger pan-Pagan gathering. They have no interest in our debates, or our ambitions, they are only interested in the spiritual technologies that they can learn that will fit into the lives they are leading.
I could go on, and list other examples, like the people who once bought books by Cunningham or Starhawk 20, or 30 years ago (when the Pagan/New Age book market was a lot stronger), and nominally consider themselves Pagan, but have little interest in more books, or engaging with a broader Pagan movement. The travelers who attend “transformational festivals” as a lifestyle, and find their needs entirely met with that context of practice. Our collective movement is full to the brim of people and groups of people who are entirely satisfied with their current level of engagement in however you want to define “Pagan community.” If you talked to them about your temple, or paid clergy, they may nod their head approvingly, they might even donate a few dollars if they had the extra cash to donate, but we must stop pretending they share our priorities.
That leaves us with a largely undetermined population of Pagans who number anywhere from the tens to the (low) hundreds of thousands who are connected at some level to the engaged class. They might read Pagan media and Pagan blogs, they might regularly attend larger events, they may be dedicated book-buyers or academics. They are not, short of dedicated income tithing from a large percentage of them, going to fiscally support a new more robust Pagan infrastructure. The stuff we have now? The thriving events, the magazines, the websites, the 100% funded crowdfunding campaigns, that’s them. We are, I predict, nearing the limits of how much this group is willing to shell out for in the name of community. There are only so many times you can pass a hat per year before the discretionary income for Pagan stuff is spent.
If we want to engage more people, then the tip of the tail, the big-name movers and shakers should, were I giving advice, robustly fund media that works to reach out to communities, groups, and demographics they have not bothered to reach before. That means local reporting, that means real festival reporting, that means real engagement with the lives of people who really don’t care about the dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin discussions we sometimes get wrapped up in. We keep spending money on building stuff, when we should be spending money on speech to reach. You raise money by reaching people. That’s fundraising 101 stuff, yet I see a number of very smart people hoping that if they build the fundraising site, the money will simply come. Yes, we can raise five or ten thousand dollars here or there, if the people running the campaign are sufficiently engaged, but we will never get to the big leagues with those kind of budgets.
I believe that The Wild Hunt has a loyal audience because we have never strayed too far from our simple purpose: give Pagans news. Now, some people don’t like our site, or think we don’t do enough in various areas, but I believe our relative success points to a larger blueprint. Think about if there was an ecosystem of Pagan media that was more dedicated to writing about what’s happening, instead of writing about what they think should be happening. Yes, there’s a place for editorial, and for theological musings, but there must be a balance with authentic engagement outwards. Short of Pagan itinerant preachers hitting the road, shifting to journalism is the best way, in my opinion, to get that dog actually interested in what the tail is doing.Send to Kindle
The waterfall, I was told, was called Oxararfoss.
It was not the largest waterfall I saw while I was in Iceland; that was Skogafoss, down in the south of the country, where I walked along the rocky beach below the cliffs until I came to the edge of the falls and let myself be drenched in the spray. Nor was it the waterfall I got to experience most intimately – that was Seljalandsfoss, where I walked up a flight of sturdy iron steps that leading behind the waterfall and found that on the other side, the trail’s improvements ended and all that awaited me were a series of sharp, water-slick rocks that had been worn away by the weight of other human feet.
By comparison, Oxararfoss felt small and domesticated. As, I suppose, it was: Oxararfoss had been sculpted by human hands during the settling of Iceland. The settlers diverted the river Oxara sometime in the 10th century and sent it tumbling over the continental ridge that forms the edge of Thingvellir, where the Icelandic parliament was established around the year 930. The resulting river traces a path through Thingvellir before emptying in Thingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland.
I didn’t know any of that at the time – a woman from Ásatrúarfelagið, whose midsummer blót I had come to see, told me of the waterfall’s history after I descended the trail back to the clearing where Ásatrúarfelagið had camped. The only thing I knew about the waterfall beforehand was that it existed: I had seen it, just for a moment, from the road leading out from Thingvellir, with only the crest of the falls appearing from behind the rocks. It seemed isolated from the rest of the valley at that distance, but in reality, a well-maintained wooden path led up a hill to the waterfall from the ground, and there was even a platform built out into the stream so visitors could get closer to the waterfall itself: another place where humans have altered the landscape to better fit our needs.
Still, fabricated, manufactured, artificial: these distinctions all disappear when one is in the presence of a waterfall.
A waterfall is nothing but water, rock, and gravity – three of the most unremarkable components of life on this planet. But their admixture entrances me like nothing else; the wonder of their constant movements, the calculation of how long and how much they have flowed, the study of the ways tiny clefts within the rock manifest later as massive columns of white water before they crash into the surface. Those things are harder to see with the massive waterfalls – they are too tall to observe easily. But as I stood before Oxararfoss, I could look for the details, could contemplate them, could empty myself of myself in their presence.
I stood there for ten or fifteen minutes, perhaps. Not much more than that. I was expecting my ride back to Reykjavik to arrive, and didn’t want to be lost up in the hills when he came, so I turned back. (He didn’t arrive for another two hours, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Rain fell in a lazy drizzle as I walked upon the wooden platforms leading back down to the campsite. Although I had been in Iceland for almost two weeks, cold rain in June still felt like a novelty; I closed my eyes and moved on with a smile. Oxararfoss still roared behind me.
Out of the wordless joy inside my mind, a thought surfaced: It will be wonderful to walk this trail again someday.
Then I stopped walking and opened my eyes, saw again the black and barren rocks of the continental divide and the wide gray sky. I saw the wet planks of the trail ahead of me, where I had been walking.
My grandfather had gone into the hospital just a few days before I left for my trip – he stepped on a nail and then, despite his diabetes, never went to the doctor until he couldn’t bear it anymore. He thought he would be in the hospital for an afternoon – a dose of antibiotics to knock down the gangrene in his foot and then he would be back home.
They cut off his leg just above the knee.
My grandfather was a carpenter, the kind who never really retires; as recently as two years ago, he got in trouble with the City of St. Louis for leaving a two-story-tall ladder propped against the rear of his house, just in case he felt the urge to go tar the roof again. There would be no more of that.
My grandfather will never see this, I thought to myself, that moment on the trail.
This shouldn’t have been a shocking revelation – my grandfather hadn’t gone anywhere more than a couple of hours away from St. Louis in twenty years, even before the surgery – but it was. He would never see Thingvellir. Even if I showed him the photographs, or explained to him the history of Iceland, he still wouldn’t understand what made this place important to me: that I had come here on pilgrimage, searching for gods hiding among the rocks and water and gravity. This was a part of my life I have kept hidden from him, and probably always will.
I began to walk again, and soon came back to the campsite, where there were hot dogs and cans of Egil’s Pilsner waiting. I opened one of those green cans, named for the poet and warrior Egil Skallagrimsson, and walked out a ways into the fields. It was nearly ten o’clock in the evening, but then, there is no such thing as nighttime during the summer in Iceland.
I looked back to the ridge above the clearing. I could see the wooden trail leading up to Oxararfoss, but it turned a corner near the top of the hill and vanished behind the rocks; the waterfall itself was entirely hidden. I would only see it again from the car as we left Thingvellir, tumbling over the rocks and down into a valley whose bottom I could not see.
(Author’s note: This column is the first in a series of pieces about my time in Iceland. I have chosen to anglicize the Icelandic names of places, though with a heavy heart, since I just spent two months learning how to pronounce them. For reference, the Icelandic names for the geographical features are Öxarárfoss, Skógafoss, Öxará, Þingvellir, and Þingvallavatn.)Send to Kindle
While I now live in Minnesota, I was born and spent my early childhood in Nebraska. Most of my extended family still lives there and I visited often over the years since I moved away. Like most Nebraskans, Husker football is a strong part of my life. It’s something that ties us together, no matter how far we roam, and exemplifies the culture of the state. As a Pagan, I recognize the value in honoring the land you’re tied to and recognizing how its ethics shape you. I joke that the yearly trip to watch a game at Nebraska’s Memorial stadium is a pilgrimage to the Motherland. Except it’s not really a joke. I didn’t realize, until years later, that the culture I grew up in – that of Nebraska – was so similar to the ideals of the religion I adopted – Hellenismos.
So how does Husker football and Pagan ethics fit together?
Arete is translated as striving for excellence and it’s one of the main ethics of Hellenismos. Arete is doing the best you can and has little to nothing to do with competition against others or winning. It may happen during a contest or may result in winning, but that’s a by-product. Striving for excellence isn’t something you do in one area of your life, it’s for all areas of your life.Carved into two places on Memorial stadium, where the Huskers play football, is one of the best definitions of arete that I have ever found: “Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory.”
The quote was written by former Nebraska professor of philosophy Hartley Burr Alexander. It both describes the culture of Nebraska and continues to shape it. Every Nebraskan knows those words by heart. Especially the last bit, “In the deed the glory.”
Arete is finding the glory in the deed.
I recently read a book that is filled with men living their lives striving towards excellence. It’s called What it means to be a Husker edited by Jeff Snook, and it contains the remembrances of 50 former Nebraska Husker football players from the 1920′s and beyond. Each player has a few pages in which they talk about what playing for the Huskers was like, what it meant to them, and how it changed their lives. Yes, it’s a book about football and, no, arete is not only or even primarily about sports.
Each story, each man’s life, is a case study in arete. Not just in sports, but in life – in their ethics; in their spiritual life; with their families. How the ethics and culture of the coaches and the people of Nebraska shaped them.
The book starts with Glenn Presnell in the 1920′s and continues on with remembrances by players grouped by decades in each chapter.
You read about Kaye Carstens, named All-Big 8 in 1996, who felt overwhelmed and out-classed when he left the small town of Fairbury, Nebraska to play in Lincoln.
“Football taught me a lot of discipline and hard work and what it takes to succeed, especially with the right coaching staff. … It takes more than talent. You have to put the effort in and that carries into your your business life as you get older. You have to make things happen. It doesn’t happen if you just sit out on the doorstep and watch.” Dr. Carstens graduated with a degree in medicine and practiced family medicine in Omaha.
You also learn about striving for excellence after you hit bottom. Bob Newton was an All-American for Nebraska in 1970 and went on to play 11 seasons for the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks. After his pro-career ended he entered a treatment facility for alcoholism.
He wrote to Husker coach Osborne letting him know what happened and that he was trying to turn his life around:
Coach Osborne immediately wrote me back with words of encouragement and support. In fact, he stated that once I got on my feet, he wanted me to come back and finish my undergraduate degree and work as a graduate assistant coach. Six months later, I reenrolled at Nebraska as an undergraduate student at age 34, and two and half years later, I achieved my degree. Coach Osborne always put a high emphasis on education, and I think he was probably more proud of me going back to school at that age and achieving my degree than he was of all my football accomplishments.
Dave Rimington, who played Center for Nebraska from 1979 to 1982, writes one of the best paragraphs on arete in the book. “The wins and losses, because we played so many games, I don’t remember as well. But all that hard work toward a common goal, with those people who became like brothers to me – that is what I’ll never forget. In reality, that’s what made you work so hard – I never wanted to let down the guy next to me.”
Striving for excellence isn’t just found in the coaches and players, it’s found in the fans. Husker fans are widely regarded as some of the best fans in all of college sports.xenia – hospitality.
Nebraskans are passionate about the Huskers. I’ve overheard a table full of elderly women eating breakfast reciting stats going back decades and debating the merits of the recruits rumored to be in the stands that game day. Husker fans don’t just know their own players and coaches, they also know the players and coaches of the opposing team. They stand and cheer for most of the game. And every single game since 1962 has been sold out. This is the longest sell-out streak in college ball, and they play in an outdoor stadium. I’ve been there for winter games, the swirling winds are brutal. They travel to out of state games and regularly turn the opposing team’s stadium red with their sheer numbers in the stands.
This level of knowledge and passion allows them to fully appreciate excellence in field play. You expect that to be directed at the home team, but they also acknowledge excellence displayed by opposing teams. One of the first games I attended as an adult was a rare home game that we lost. The stands were very quiet. Then something happened that I took as normal, but startled the celebrating opposing fans sitting right below me. Husker fans stood up and began clapping. The opposing fans asked why we were clapping and I heard the man next to them answer, “Your team played some very fine football. We’re clapping for them.”
This culture of arete, In the deed the glory, permeates into all areas of Nebraska. I won’t say the state, or it’s people, are perfect. I’m also sad to say Nebraska is changing a bit. I’ve heard booing in the stands and the culture of Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini are not the same as what Tom Osborne created. But they still strive. And that’s what counts – for football and religion.
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To remember what it was like to be young and questioning and full of excitement. I think that is one of the greatest things we can learn – Chaplain Mary Hudson, Syracuse University.
In Part 1 of “Pagans on Campus 2014,” we looked very generally at the Pagan student experience on American college campuses, as well as the role played by Pagan student associations. While opportunities for positive community building are increasing, students do not attend college to simply engage in religious seeking. Campus life revolves around scholarly pursuits, most of which are very demanding on a student’s time.Today we look at how students balance or integrate their spiritual work into their busy academic careers, and where they find guidance and resources.
The answer to this question varies greatly and is dependent, in part, on a student’s course of study. For example, Caity Wallace, a math major at Drexel University says, “I don’t find [that my major] integrates well with my religious life. That combined with my fear of losing respect for my faith (or having faith – STEM fields tend to favor Atheism in my experience) means I take care to keep those parts of my life distinct.”
On the other hand, Angela Riveiro, a Horticulture major at the University of Georgia (UGA), says, “While I did not intend it, my … major does fit into my focus on Nature. Learning to be a steward of the land and how to grow plants fits nicely with my spiritual beliefs.”
Several of the interviewed students acknowledged only “tangential” connections between their spiritual beliefs and their studies. Jackson Elfin, for example, is a creative writing major at Ball State University (BSU). He notes that his Heathen practice is “handy for providing subject matter,” and that he often “prays to Bragi, Lord of the Poets” while writing.
Rachel Tyburski, president of Penn State’s Silver Circle, says, ” I do not try to keep my studies and faith separate, though they often seem to be … I let faith and school fall in place where they decide.”
Finally, for some students the boundaries between religious life and academics don’t exist exist at all. Jessica Dinsmore, a biochemistry and molecular biology major at UGA, says, “I’ve never seen my religion and my studies as two separate entities, because both are an important part of who I am.”
Veloblom Vigjaldrsdottir, a graduate student at Nazareth College says:
I would say faith is incorporated into every way you walk. I may not directly relate each piece of paper I write on or each lecture I sit through as word from the gods. However, I believe that the Asatru path … is one where you are meant to be the best you can in everything you do and honor the ancestors that have fallen before you by continuing the tradition of determination and strength. That is how I carry my faith and that is how I honor my gods and ancestors.
When you do find time to practice or study your religion, what is your focus? To whom or what do you turn?
Dr. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Polytheist, blogger and adjunct history instructor, acts as adviser to the Pagan Student Union at Skagit Valley College, Whidby Island Campus. Lupus observes:
Given the demands of college life, and of community colleges in particular … there is often neither as much time nor opportunity to engage in some of what [students] would like to with Paganism as they might wish. As a result, this creates an intensification of some experiences when they can happen … [It] causes the occasions to be “more special” because of their much-appreciated rarity.Georgia Gwinnett College, says, “I have an altar and make an effort to celebrate Sabbats. I would like to be more involved, but I don’t have the time yet.” Dinsmore, who is exploring Shamanism, admitted that she often askes “ancestral spirits for guidance and teachings” because she doesn’t have access to relevant books, and has “yet to find a Shaman on a similar path.”
Despite any imposed limitations, most students are, in fact, engaging in some form of religious work. Wallace says, “I’m almost always studying my path. That’s one of my hobbies, … I get most of my teachings from books, the Internet and podcasts. I just downloaded 30 episodes of Selena Fox’ Circle Cast.”
In many cases, the campus-based Pagan student organizations are able to assist with resources and spiritual education. For example, UGA’s Pagan Student Association (PSA) holds weekly workshops that explore different Pagan paths and practices. In the past, subjects have included herbs, crystals, energy healing, shielding, Magick 101 and holiday lore. PSA has also invited practitioners from other religions to promote interfaith education and tolerance.Paul Blessing found his path, Omnimancy, through an RUPSA forum event. Blessing is now an active practitioner and attends weekly meetings with a local Omnimancy group in New Jersey.
While Blessing eventually found and chose a structured Pagan tradition, most of the students said that they were more or less self-taught. Elfin, a practicing Heathen, finds his best resources online, saying “[On the Internet] there are people with similar faiths that I can learn a bit from, pick up tips or ideas for liturgy.”
Due to its near universal availability, the Internet is filling gaps when local resources and connectivity are lacking, or when free time is scarce. Students can download podcasts, read blogs or communicate over social media at any time and across space. Heather Sky Cybele, a Purdue University graduate, believes the Internet is “the biggest asset” for young Pagan students today.
What role does the Internet play in your religious education and spiritual growth?
Outside of Facebook, the most common sites used were Tumblr, Twitter, Yahoo Groups, Meetup.com and YouTube. Blessing says that YouTube “provided a tone of informative videos on practically every topic under the sun.” Wallace called Meetup.com a “low-investment way to meet local Pagans” when she was visiting Maryland.
Students also look to religion-specific sites for information and connectivity. Vigjaldrsdottir visits Slavorum.com in order to stay in touch with “some of the Slavic faith individuals so that [she] can compare traditions and see the evolution of [her] own.” Similarly, Sky Cybele uses the popular Pagan information site, Witchvox.com, to connect with Pagans around the country, specifically when traveling.
What about traditional media resources? All of the students said that they do not read print magazines, for enrichment or entertainment. Wallace explains, “The cost coupled with the frequency of moving makes reading them difficult.”Pagan Channel at Patheos. Elfin says that he also enjoys reading blogs like Raise the Horns, but he doesn’t have as much time as he would like.
Riveira currently follows over 10 different Pagan blogs and websites, adding, “It was through various websites that I found my local groups and information … Young people can learn about their chosen paths without having to put themselves at risk or at a disadvantage of those around them.”
What disadvange? Is it one of age or experience? Do young Pagans feel lost in the greater community or ignored by older generations? In the third and final part of this series, we will examine the relationship between elders and this younger generation. We will also look forward into tomorrow to see how they envision the future.Send to Kindle
Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!
The New Alexandrian Library, a project of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel which hopes to create an institution that will become “one of the cornerstones of a new magickal renaissance,” has launched a new crowdfunding venture to help pay for the final phase of construction. Quote: “We are building a library focused on the mystical and esoteric teachings of all religions with an emphasis on Paganism in all its forms. We are also collecting artifacts, art, ritual objects, etc. for the museum component of the New Alexandrian Library. The first building is in progress and we need your help to finish construction [...] We already have several important collections of books in storage including the entire library from the Theosophical Society of Washington, DC. Judy Harrow, of blessed memory, just left us her library as well.” It’s been a long journey, but this ambitious project is finally reaching the finish line on their first structure. You can read all of our coverage of NAL, here.
The special commemorative edition of Green Egg Magazine dedicated to the life and work of Morning Glory Zell, a Pagan elder and teacher who passed away this past May, is now available. Quote: “Contained herein is the official Green Egg Morning Glory Memorial issue. We are departing from our usual format in order to include all of the photographs, memories, biographies and videos that people have sent to us from all over the world to honor Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. It was put together with much blood, sweat, and tears and was the most difficult issue we’ve ever done. Morning Glory was our good friend and she considered my husband Tom to be her best friend. We cried and mourned her passing a lot as we wrote our articles, poured through photos of her and had too many memories of her stirred up to write about here; indeed if we had included all of our memories, we would still be writing and would have run into literally hundreds of pages.” A free PDF version is also available, here. Contributors include LaSara Firefox Allen, Selena Fox, Oberon Zell, and many more.
Ethan Doyle White continues his interview series at Albion Calling with Professor Ronald Hutton, author of “Pagan Britain,” “The Triumph of the Moon,” and other works. Here’s Professor Hutton speaking about his future plans: “I have a big one on the go at present, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, of a comprehensive study of the concept of the witch, in a global, ancient and folkloric setting, to understand more fully the context of the early modern witch trials. This is of course inspired by the work of Continental historians and folklorists such as Carlo Ginzburg, Éva Pócs, Wolfgang Behringer and Gustav Henningsen, and as such is an approach which has been much less favoured by English-speaking counterparts. It will, however, inevitably have some differences from the work of these Continental colleagues, in making a more comprehensive survey of the evidence, emphasising regional differences much more heavily, and relying less on modern folklore collections to plug gaps in earlier evidence. I have six people on my team, the others consisting of a distinguished Classicist, Dr Genevieve Liveley, a medievalist, Dr Louise Wilson, and three research students, working respectively on Italy, male witches and the animal familiar. Together we should produce three books, mine being the largest and the broadest in its scope, and three doctoral theses with resulting spin-off publications, in three to four years.”
Covenant of the Goddess (COG) national interfaith representatives Don Frew and Rachael Watcher have been posting updates from the United Religions Initiative’s 2014 Global Council and the subsequent Global Indigenous Initiative. Quote: “We talked about how sacred items are treated as ‘art’. His people were part of the Nok civilization, which produced amazing terra cotta figures. Elisha said that when sacred images are recovered by the Nigerian government from foreign museums, they go into museums in Nigeria when they should go back to the people they came from, to take their proper, traditional place in religious ceremonies and sacred sites. Why does plundering a sacred site suddenly turn sacred images into ‘art’? We talked about how the same ideas I mentioned above could be applied to create collaboration between national museums and local stewards of sacred artifacts.” There’s a lot more at the link, including a line-up of who’s attending the indigenous initiative. Fascinating accounts from boots-on-the-ground interfaith work.
In Other Pagan Community News:
- Do you like arty esoteric experimental music? Consider chipping in a few bucks to help rebuild the recording studio of Lux Eterna Records. They are Hermetic Library approved! Here’s the website of the label to find out more about the music they put out.
- In intersections between polyamory and modern Paganism news: Michelle Mueller (who has contributed guest articles to The Wild Hunt in the past) is trying to fund a full study that “will compare polyamory and polygamy of Independent Fundamentalist Mormons using ethnographic research methods and postcolonial feminist analysis.” Meanwhile, “American Mystic” director Alex Mar attends and writes about a polyamory conference in Philly.
- At their personal blog Gavin Frost has announced that he and partner Yvonne will be making revisions to the controversial “Good Witche’s Bible.” Quote: “Another thing we’ve been busy with is the making of very minor modifications to Good Witch’s Bible, to make a handful of self-appointed critics happier with it. Revised copies are now available through the School of Wicca at $ 25.00 each plus $3.95 S&H. Ironically, revisions to only two (2) pages were needed for an independent evaluator to say it was now okay. Of course, since it took forty (40) years for the recent criticism to surface, we expect that when cultural mores change again, we’ll have to revise the book again. Hmm.” You can read our recent coverage of this issue, here. We will be following up as we learn more.
- PaganSquare, a project of Witches & Pagans Magazine, has launched the Pagan News Beagle, which collects thematic news and links each week. Quote: “Exploring the wilds of our amazing, interconnected world, the Pagan News Beagle sniffs out and fetches stories for our communities of Pagans, Witches, Wiccans, Heathens, Polytheists, Gaians, and Goddess-worshippers. No story is too small or too large for the Beagle.”
- A Bad Witch’s Blog notes that Kindle editions of Doreen Valiente’s “Charge of the Goddess” and “Where Witchcraft Lives” are now available via Amazon in the US and UK.
- Check out Ethan Doyle White’s (who writes the must-read Albion Calling) academic review of Ronald Hutton’s “Pagan Britain” and Marion Gibson’s “Imagining the Pagan Past.” I particularly look forward to reading Gibson’s book.
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!Send to Kindle
Last week, two individuals charged with firearm and drug trafficking charges had their convictions overturned on appeal thanks to authorities using their devotion to the Mexican folk-saint Santa Muerte to “taint” proceedings. In the decision handed down by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court blasted using the expert testimony of U.S. Marshall Robert Almonte, who government prosecutors described as a “cultural iconography hobbyist.”
“Missing from the district court’s discussion of Almonte’s qualifications is any discussion of how his Santa Muerte testimony could legitimately connect Medina’s prayer to drug trafficking. There is no evidence that Santa Muerte iconography is ‘associational,’ nor was there any allegation that the ‘main purpose’ of Santa Muerte veneration ‘was to traffic in’ narcotics. Cf. id. at 1562, 1563. Almonte testified that there may be ‘millions’ of followers of Santa Muerte, but he proffered no manner of distinguishing individuals who pray to Santa Muerte for illicit purposes from everyone else. His data comes from his work as a narcotics detective and his compilation of ‘several cases from law enforcement officers throughout the United States where these items have been involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activity.’ Mere observation that a correlation exists—especially when the observer is a law enforcement officer likely to encounter a biased sample—does not meaningfully assist the jury in determining guilt or innocence.”
The decision went on to note that describing Santa Muerte as a “tool” of the drug trade was, legally speaking, a bit of a reach on the part of prosecution.
“The government’s inability at every stage of litigation to explain precisely how Santa Muerte can be “used” elucidates the poor fit between our ‘tools of the trade’ jurisprudence and Almonte’s purported area of expertise. It also highlights that further inquiry by the district court would have revealed that Almonte’s testimony would not properly ‘help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.’”
In short, mere devotion to Santa Muerte is not probable cause, and can’t be used to tie someone to the drug trade. On reading the decision Dr. Andrew Chesnut, a professor of religious studies and author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” tweeted that this was a “big blow” to self-appointed hobbyist experts within law enforcement.
Santa Muerte court ruling is big blow to law enforcement self-appointed “experts” who testify in drug cases on regular basis
— Dr. Andrew Chesnut (@AndrewChesnut1) July 3, 2014
Chesnut went on to tell the Associated Press that “Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases, but she is not just a narco saint, and many of her devotees aren’t involved in criminal behavior.” Chesnut has long advocated against law enforcement trusting the testimony of self-appointed experts on this often misunderstood religious movement, and has written in-depth about Santa Muerte and other folk-saints for Huffington Post.
So what does this ruling mean? It means that the two accused in this case will get a new trial, one that will leave out testimony regarding Santa Muerte, and it is also a huge blow against the liberal use of self-made occult and “cult” experts in criminal trials. This is very good news for anyone who practices a misunderstood minority religion in the United States. It is easy to scare a jury with tales of strange belief systems, when the focus should be on presentation of material evidence in a particular case.Send to Kindle
Our fathers had their dreams; we have ours; the generation that follows will have its own. Without dreams and phantoms man cannot exist.” – Olive Schreiner
We often spend much of our time listening to community elders, learning from experience and absorbing the collective knowledge of past generations. While this is time well spent, it is often at the expense of looking toward the future; toward the growing the minds that will eventually inherit our projects and cradle experience in their hands.
Part I: Community on Campus
“Being Pagan on campus feels a lot like playing Russian Roulette. Most people are simply curious, but there’s always that one person who has to “save” you once they find out about your religion’s beliefs,” says Sarah Morgan, and eclectic Pagan and horticulture major at the University of Georgia (UGA)Pagan Student Association (PSA).
Pagan students groups, clubs and associations have been coming and going for the last few decades. The presence of a strong campus Pagan group can open the doorway to information and community support as students work through their experience and spiritual searching. Pagan chaplain Mary Hudson of Syracuse University says,
The students have changed little [over the years] but their access to information has. They come with more questions and more information, good and bad … Their focus is about soaking up as much information as possible but also about finding community. Many students are now coming from Pagan families but the majority of them are still trying to find a place to belong. The campus Pagan groups are often the first community that they have ever been exposed to.
The survival of such groups is wholly dependent upon the enthusiasm and dedication of its student members. Paul Blessing served two-years as president of oldest continually running college student Pagan club in the country, the Rutgers University Pagan Student Association (RUPSA). Blessing, a Visual Arts major, was introduced to his chosen practice of Omnimancy through the RUPSA. Of the campus experience, he says,
I’ve heard stories from friends that dormed about disapproving roommates. [However] I did enjoy a very friendly interaction with the club’s adviser, who told me she was herself at one point Wiccan … There was even a dean at Rutgers who was himself a practicing Druid of several years.Rutgers is unique because its association has been around since 1994. Jeff Mach, one of its earliest members, said, “I think [RUPSA] has honestly persisted because stubborn survival is part of its character. It came together in the face of great opposition, and brought together a uniquely diverse, even for the Pagan community, group of people. There’s a real feeling that [PSA] has something to offer.”
Similar to Rutgers, Purdue University has a long-lived, active student association called PAN, or the Purdue Pagan Academic Network. Heather Sky Cybele, a former Anthropology student, says, “I moved out to Indiana and started attending Purdue for graduate school. There I found PAN and like-minded individuals. I finally learned that I am not crazy and I started to use the word ‘Pagan’ to describe myself.”ConVocation in Detroit.
Taking support in a different direction, Syracuse University has shown institutional acceptance for its Pagan students. In 2010, Henrick’s Chapel appointed a Pagan chaplain, Mary Hudson and, then in 2013, the school allowed the installation of a dedicated ritual space on the main quad. Veloblom Vigjaldrsdottir, an Asatru practitioner and recent Syracuse graduate says, “I experienced a very open and friendly environment. [At Syracuse] people would ask about tradition. They were genuinely curious and it led to larger discussions where each of us found ourselves more comfortable and changed.”
Vigjaldrsdottir now attends graduate classes at Nazereth College in Rochester where there are no religious activities or supportive clubs. She says, “Thankfully I have kindred of my own in my hometown and through Mary Hudson I have found other like-minded Pagans in my area.” The positive support found within the university environment can carry forward after a student graduates.inclusive Society for Earth-Based Religions (SER). President Nick Nelson, a Buddhist and double major in Anthropology and Religious studies, says “there needs to be a lot more accurate discussion on what other people believe starting at an early age.” Currently SER offers open Tarot readings to any student as a part of an attempt to build a stronger campus presence. Nelson says, “outreach is a priority for the coming year.”
Jackson Eflin, a creative writing major and Heathen at BSU, says that there isn’t much community outside of SER. He adds, “There aren’t really any Heathens in the area beyond me and a few friends and we’re not really organized enough for a structured practice.” Despite the relatively small community presence, neither BSU student has experienced or witnessed any backlash due to religion. Eflin says,”No one ever seems to mind that I’m Pagan. They either don’t care, are casually interested or are approving.”Drexel University has a small active Pagan alliance (DUPA). President Caity Wallace says, “I try to make sure that there are enough activities on campus for fellow Pagans. I’ll admit that I don’t think we do enough, but I’m going to try to be more aggressive this coming year about programming.” Wallace admits that she often goes off campus to attend events and to experience rituals performed by those more experienced in public events.
For those attending universities without Pagan groups, the only option is to “go off-campus.” Suretha Thacker, a Wiccan and International Business major at Georgia Gwinnett College, says, “Pagans are a nonentity on campus … there are 6 organizations dedicated to Christianity and 1 to Islam … [But] I can wear a pentacle and no one really notices. My experience is that most people don’t know what Paganism is or are unable to recognize symbols of Paganism.” Suretha finds her spiritual community outside of campus life.
Whether or not there is an organized group, all of the students reported that there has been, in their experience, little to no significant backlash for Pagans on campus. While some keep their religion relatively quiet, others are more actively involved in Pagan campus activities. However, not one professes to living in the proverbial broom closet.
Another relatively new, but equally important, facet of the Pagan campus club is an online presence. The Internet helps keep students connected and helps them stay connected long after they have graduated. Most of the mentioned Pagan associations have, at the very least, a Facebook presence. Some, like Penn State’s Silver Circle, also maintain websites. Others have gone further. Paul Blessing made a YouTube channel and Twitter account for the RUPSA and Sky Cybele notes that PAN maintains a Yahoo mailing list.
Many more schools have student groups varying in size, type and activity. Some others are Penn State University, M.I.T., University of Texas-Austin, New Mexico State University, Eastern Illinois University, Utah Valley University, Oberlin, Appalachian State University, Georgia State University, University of Southern Maine and Eastern Michigan University.
In the second part of the series, we will focus on academic and spiritual study. What religious activities are important to Pagan students and their groups? How do they maintain their spiritual practice or education while focused on the demands of academic work? In part three, we will discuss Pagan student needs and the obstacles they do face. Do they reach out beyond the campus? And how do they envision the future of Paganism and its place in their lives?Send to Kindle
[The following is an expanded excerpt from a presentation I will be giving at the Polytheist Leadership Conference in Fishkill, New York on July 11, 2014]
I’m staring at a pile of shiny, polished rocks on a counter by the register. Some are smooth river-stones painted in iridescent colors, others are polished common gems, none particularly capturing my interest more than the small handwritten sign in front of them:
“Take a crystal, leave a crystal.”
Just a few minutes before, I’d stared at the wall above the urinal in the bathroom of this cafe, standing longer than was needed for the task at hand, reading and re-reading the poem displayed on the poster. The words admonished against despair, against giving in to the crushing weight of monotonous conformity, urging the reader to look for the presence and gifts and delight of the gods.
Perhaps it might seem strange to some that I wasn’t seeing this all in a Wiccan shop or Occult store. Perhaps where I found these things may seem even more strange: an Anarchist café in Seattle.
But this shouldn’t sound strange at all. Paganism and its beliefs mirror the struggle of Anarchists, and the indigenous activists who host ancestor prayers at that same cafe, and the queer trans* folk who hold meetings and organize protests against corporate pride events or the killing of a man who didn’t have correct fare on the light rail. The beliefs of Pagans, at least on the surface, might seem aligned to the so-called “eco-terrorists” who sabotage the industrial machinery which rapes the land and poisons our air and water, slaughtering thousands and thousands of species upon the earth in which we and the spirits dwell.
They are fighting against hegemonic control of existence, the limiting of human life itself; against the structures which displace people from the earth, disconnecting them from the strength and influence of spirits and ancestors, and turn humans into consumers and producers and subjects of hegemonic control of the powerful. And particularly, they are all fighting against the crushing oppression wrought upon the world by Capitalism.
We should be too, if our beliefs are more than mere opinion.The Matter of Belief
One of the civic myths of late-capitalist Western democracies is that their citizenry is free to believe as they choose. Enshrined into many of the constitutions of European and European-derived democracies are laws guaranteeing the free-practice and free-conscience of each individual, and such laws are further re-iterated in supranational documents such as the UN Charter of Human Rights.
There have been relatively few government-sponsored mass-arrests of Heathens or Jainists in any European country, so on the surface, the guarantee of such rights seems to be true. While the recent experiences of some Pagans in isolated areas might certainly speak to a limited and merely localized persecution of gods-worshipers, it is incredibly difficult to make a legitimate case that America or any Western European country systematically persecutes those of minority religions.
As such, though, I’d argue that precisely the opposite is the case; that one is hardly free to believe what one wants in any of the Western democracies, and, worse, there is specifically a prohibition against certain sorts of beliefs. And most of all, that prohibition is precisely one of the most important bases of Western democracy.
The problem here, I think, is that we fail to understand the very physical nature of belief.
Belief is generally seen, in common parlance, to be an internal category, descriptive of an interiority invisible to any, except the person who experiences such certainties. As such, we tend to regard belief in the same category as “opinion,” a description of an inclination towards particular ontological positions but otherwise indefinable except through verbal communication.
I believe in multiple gods, and when I say “I believe in multiple gods,” I have thus communicated to you my interior state and theological position. But you, the hearer, must judge whether I have expressed something very deeply held, or merely a philosophical stance towards the subject. The ambiguity inherent in such a statement increases if you have no actual relationship with me. Conversely, if you also profess a similar belief, you may wish to parse out further precisely what I mean by “multiple” or “gods” (that is, am I a Polytheist with monist tendencies, or do I mean “literal” gods or more archetypal or psychological expression of deity?)
Expanding this difficulty out of the personal, though, one can see how such statements of belief might become even more ambiguous on the level of social groups, cultures, or entire nations. When we consider statements of statistical fact regarding the religious affiliations of entire nations, like “there are 828 million Hindus in India,” we accept such statements generally as equivalent to “828 million people in India profess to a belief in multiple gods.” But still, we know very little about what such belief actually means beyond the professions of faith and the self-identifications. We might be well-versed in the structures of the Hindu religions and thus have a greater sense of what is meant by “828 million Hindus,” but this still resides fully in the realm of interiority.
The same can be said of Christians, or of any other religious group which professes belief in divine beings who can be experienced, communicated with, oblated to, or interceded with through structures. That is, the landscape itself attests to the interior experiences of individual and group belief, revealing physical activity of the believers which results in the construction of very physical things.
It isn’t just the physical structures, however, which can be used to discern the content and depth of the belief professed by any individual. The physical activities of those whom believe in gods and spirits can also be observed. Christians who wake up early once a week to attend church services are engaging in actual religious activity on account of their beliefs, just as the Muslim who prays to the east five times daily does so on account of her belief in Allah and the prophet Mohammed.
Such activity can be observed not just by others who believe similar things, but even among those who profess no actual belief in gods or spirits. An anthropologist observing the activities of the people he studies can thusly attest to a whole range of activities (often categorized as specifically religious), which are signs of the meaning of interior experiences. That is, it’s precisely all these physical activities which tell the observer what is meant by those statements of belief, and we can then begin to formulate an understanding of their faith.
More so, it’s precisely those human activities which point to the existence of the gods and spirits with who humans encounter and worship. As the post-colonial historian Dipesh Chakrabarty says in Provincializing Europe:
“…gods and spirits are not dependent upon human beliefs for their own existence; what brings them to present are our practices.”Faith Without Works…
I’ve taken a very long way around to get to a point which was made several thousand years ago by one of the minor writers of the Christian’s scriptures. That statement, and the meaning behind it, later became crucial to a split within the Catholic Church 1600 years later during the Protestant Reformation: “Faith without works is dead.”
We can interpret this statement in a more modern and Pagan standpoint by briefly mentioning many of the recent conflicts which led to several gods-worshipers being named “The Piety Posse” on account of their insistence that one should do things for the gods that one believes in. It’s surprising no-one reoriented the debate to the question of the physicality of belief. That is, if Belief means something, it results in physical activities stemming from those beliefs. Or, again, if you believe in gods and do not physically do things which belie such beliefs, your profession of faith is suspect.
Rather than re-invigorate that debate (or really, any others), we should expand upon that conflict to apply it to the rest of Pagan-aligned belief first, and then to that of Belief itself. As it is impossible to understand the interiority of any subject (which ultimately makes them an unknowable “Other”) without the physical manifestations of their beliefs, the polytheist “challenge” to mainstream Paganism is precisely that gods, if they actually exist, result in actually-existing actions on the part of those who experience and believe in them as actually-existing.
This stance, called “radical” by some, is similar to the same challenge posed by indigenous and anti-colonial resistance movements, queer political actions, and leftist challenges to mainstream political parties. Each pose the same critique to the dominant hegemonic political order, that it is not merely enough to have an opinion that another world is possible, but rather one must physically manifest such beliefs into the world.
From this viewpoint, then, we can begin to re-examine precisely what is meant by “freedom of belief” in Western Capitalist democracies. One is certainly “free” (by which one really means “not restricted from”) believing in anything one chooses, but any belief which affects the world around the believer falls into a completely different category. That is, if that belief isn’t mere opinion, than there are, indeed, a whole host of prohibitions against that belief.
One is free to hold any opinion one wishes. However, if that stance rises to the level of actual “belief,” and the person espousing such a belief then begins to do things which show that he or she actually believes such a thing, they quickly fall into the political category of “radical” or “fundamentalist,” and there are laws against acting out such beliefs. We can see such restrictions quite clearly in Europe, where advanced Capitalist democracies such as France and Denmark have outlawed such physical manifestations of belief in schools or passed laws against Kosher and Halal butchery. In America, we can see similar attempts to ban minority expressions of belief while simultaneously affirming the dominant religion’s right to physically follow through with their beliefs.
It would be facile merely to claim that the West is hypocritical. Hypocrisy requires a degree of self-awareness, a purposeful decision to act in a way contradictory to the manner one demands others act. It would not be merely facile to argue this–we’d be utterly wrong.
The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek puts the problem succinctly in an oft-quoted anecdote:
In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia. Aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends:
“Let’s establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false.”
After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink:
“Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theatres show films from the west, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair – the only thing unavailable is red ink.”
And is this not our situation till now? We have all the freedoms one wants – the only thing missing is the “red ink”: we feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom.
This unfreedom can be explained precisely as our inability to manifest belief into the physical world while simultaneously existing under the ubiquitous delusion that we are relentlessly free to believe whatever we desire. In fact, that unfreedom might be adequately restated as a sort of ban on belief-which-matters, or belief which might physically challenge the power of hegemonic Capitalism.Witches, Priests, Bards, and Rogues
An Anarchist, or any anti-Capitalist for that matter, believes that Capitalism and the structures which support it must be abolished. They are certainly free to have an opinion on that matter, but they are forbidden by all manner of laws from actually doing anything about it, thus ensuring that such an opinion lingers in the suspended opinion-stance and is never manifested in the world.
Fortunately, Anarchists don’t care much for the laws which prevent them, as it makes little sense to truly believe that a system is destroying the planet and causing human misery, and not try to do something about it.
But here, then, is where most Pagans appear to part ways with others who share many of their beliefs, and I’m not fully certain why this is. One of the many definitions of Paganism in currency lately is a “collection of earth-based spiritualities,” but the amount of Pagans still using petroleum suggests that perhaps Paganism merely holds a generally-favorable opinion of Nature, rather than believing it should continue to be around for awhile.
It isn’t enough merely to think things should change. And though my words function as a criticism of modern Paganism, I hope I’ve also shown how we’ve gotten ourselves into this restrained position. It’s us, but it’s also not just us. We are free to think what we want, but we are also quite unfree to act upon our deeply-held beliefs, forcing them to languish as mere opinion.
But the hegemonic power of Capitalism seems to be weakening again, and the fierce calls to awaken to belief-which-means-something are beginning to threaten the uneasy (and unholy) peace many of us have made with the powerful. Peter Grey’s recent essay “Rewilding Witchcraft” (and his cunning and cutting screed against belief-as-mere-opinion, Apocalyptic Witchcraft), is hardly the only such call within Paganism, and one might actually read the sudden apparent surge in new “polytheists” as a sign of the weakening of hegemonic control.
That is, it is almost as if the gods and spirits themselves are bursting through the walls we put up against belief, demanding that we do something.
The question is, though, will we Pagans see the allies all around, human and non-human, all pushing towards a new assault against the systems which oppress others and ourselves? Or will it be enough merely to “like” the earth and the old ways, with all the meaning and affect of a Facebook status update? Will we let our hopes, dreams, and desires languish in the dark, repressed interiors worlds, or might we have the courage to make manifest and make true our beliefs, regardless the threatened cost?Send to Kindle