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Pagan Community Notes: Rev. Elena Rose, Caldera Musical Festival, Church of the Eternal Circle and more!

Mon, 2016-05-23 11:44

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — On May 19, Solar Cross Temple board member Elena Rose graduated from the Starr King School for the Ministry and, a few days later, was ordained by the historic Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. During the graduation ceremony itself, all students were given two minutes to speak at the podium, and Rev. Rose used this opportunity to ask her school “to do better.” She explained, “I used my speaking time both to declare my love for the community and to speak about the various struggles I’ve faced there as a trans woman of color, and then asked the community to do better.”  These struggles, which happened over five years, included everything from the continued use of wrong pronouns to physical threats.

Prior to graduation, Rev. Rose’s speech was approved by the dean of students, who expressed support and even asked for suggestions on policy changes. When the speech was delivered, it was given applause. Then, the next day, President Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt released a public statement in response to Rev. Rose’s words.

It read, in part, “Starr King School for the Ministry is dedicated to educating people for progressive religious leadership. We study and work as a community in order to counter oppressions and to create sustainable, inclusive, beloved communities […] One of our graduates shared her story of the moments when members of our community, or the school’s systems, failed her. Her story is deeply unsettling for all of us at Starr King, and though these events preceded my arrival as president, I am so sorry that this happened to her.”  The statement also noted that the school would be implementing training programs to address the “larger, complex issues of oppression against transgender people, including the specific issues and concerns of transgender women of color.”

Rev. Rose said, “My focus wasn’t punitive; it was on helping the community grow so it was better equipped to deal with these kinds of issues.” She has not received any personal communication from the school about the statement or the speech.

When asked what she plans to do with her new title and education, she said that she plans to enter into clinical pastoral education (CPE) with the aim of getting her “certification as a hospital chaplain.”  Along with that she will continue her work with the Transfaith Council, Solar Cross Temple, and the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. She is writing a “forthcoming book of monster theology,” co-editing Queer and Trans Artists of Color, Volume II and will be performing at the Fresh Meat Festival show for the National Queer Arts Festival in June.

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The Caldera Music Festival kicks off this weekend in the north Georgia mountains. More than 30 musicians and 100 vendors will be descending on Cherokee Farms for festivities lasting from May 26-30 in Lafayette. The festival organizers have created an app for use by attendees. They said, “In an effort to stay green and avoid printing as much as possible, we have created a simple app for Android and iPhone with the info you need to navigate CalderaFest.”

As we reported Sunday, Caldera Fest will be hosting the launch of The Green Album. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The website contains a preliminary schedule of all the performances and workshops.

At this time,organizers are still looking for volunteers. They said, “We have had, for legitimate but frustrating reasons, five volunteers drop out. If you, or anyone you know who can be vetted, would like to attend this festival for FREE (our favorite price), please have them fill out an application.” That application is on their website.

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Over the past few years, TWH has reported on the damages caused by natural  and man-made disasters, including fires, flooding and storms. Not all of these stories happen on a big scale. Recently, Wild Hunt journalist Terence P. Ward discovered such problem in his own home town.  A small Pagan community, called the Church of the Eternal Circle, has been struggling with regular flooding at its sacred space. Ward reached out to the church to offer assistance. He  helped them to create an informational video news release and a corresponding GoFundMe campaign.

The Church of the Eternal Circle is a Celtic Wiccan Fellowship based in New Paltz, New York with approximately forty members. As noted by high priestess Lisa Stewart, they have been circling at their site for more than 20 years. The flooding has only been occurring recently and is now affecting their ability to use the outdoor circle space. Stewart said that the cause is most likely “breached cisterns” that were first built 40 years ago in a neighboring fully-paved lot.

The church has decided to turn to the greater Pagan community for help in funding a new french drain system. Such a system would take the water away from the circle space and channel it into a holding tank that would then allow them to reuse it for gardening and other needs. Stewart said that members of their local village have already pledged some financial help, but she estimates the total cost to the church, after that donation, will be around $5,000. The group is very active, holding weekly sacred circles. Stewart looks forward to a day when she doesn’t have to worry about the whether her space is usable.

*Editorial Note: Ward’s work on this project was done independently of The Wild Hunt. TWH has no direct affiliation with the Church of the Eternal Circle.

In Other News:

  • For those in the Northeast, EarthSpirit Community kicks of its 38th annual Rites of Spring festival May 25. The Rites of Spring is “open to all who celebrate the sacred nature of the Earth”  and is billed as “a week filled with over a hundred workshops, rituals and performances.” The festival takes place at a summer camp in the the southwestern corner of Massachusetts. Registration is still open.
  • In July, Treadwell’s will be co-hosting an evening conference called “UK Satanic Abuse Scare, 25 Years On.”  To be held at the London School for Economics, the event’s purpose is to educate attendees about the UK Satanic panics of the 1980s and 1990s. Through five different speakers, the event will revisit “the scare with first-hand accounts of what it was like for Pagans, and then how it ended after researchers and investigative journalism got involved.”  As noted on the site, the event will include a wine reception and “small exhibition of periodicals and ephemera of the era.”  More information is available on Treadwell’s website.
  • Wild Hunt writer and activist Crystal Blanton will be starting her annual #30DayRealBlackHistoryChallenge. The online educational series begins May 28 and runs through the month. Each day she posts a story, a picture or a news article that promotes and highlights people, organizations and events in black history. Her series has been very popular since its start in 2014. It can be followed on Facebook and on the series’ website.
  • The New Alexandrian Library is making headway on building its collection.  The library’s organizing board thanked the volunteers for their work in “shelving recently acquired books and cataloging them.” They said, “We are very close to a mini-milestone, the cataloging of the first 1000 books. Now that a number of people have experience with the software the pace will increase.”  Located near Georgetown, Delaware, the library is “dedicated to the preservation of books, periodicals, newsletters, music, media, art works, artifacts, photographs, and digital media focused on the metaphysical aspects of all religions and traditions.”  It is open to both research and lending.
  • As June gets closer, more and more people begin to make plans for Summer Solstice. For some, that includes attending Pagan Spirit Gathering, which is readying for its first time at a new location. After last year’s floods, PSG organizers moved the popular week-long camping event to Tall Tree Lake campground, in southern Illinois. This year’s theme is Our Spirit – The Key to Our Roots. Registration is open, and organizers are looking forward to “welcoming everyone home.”
  • Not all Pagans are preparing for summer solstice. Our friends in the southern hemisphere are moving toward the winter solstice. Australia’s Tasmanian Pagan Alliance has just announced that “Choon & Goon will be [the] entertainment” for the Saturday evening of their Yule festival. The alliance said, “We loved them last year, so bring your dancing shoes!”  The Yule Fest is advertised as a “weekend honouring the deep, dark winter” and away to “warm yourself with good company, fire, feasting & celebration!”  The Tasmania Pagan Alliance is based in Hobart.
  • From the blogosphere, Tim Titus shared his interview with author Tomás Prower about his book titled, La Santa Muerte. Titus wrote, “So who is Holy Death? […] Prower is a devotee of the La Santa Muerte, and his book unveils many aspects of Her worship and details about working with her magickally that were previously difficult to find in the English speaking world.”

Tuatha Dea Presents The Green Album

Sun, 2016-05-22 10:02

Due to be released next weekend, The Green Album is a collaborative work containing songs from 14 different Pagan musicians. The project was born in late 2014 and has been spearheaded by Tuatha Dea, a “Celtic, Tribal, Gypsy Rock Band” from Tennessee. Not only is The Green Album a collection of songs expressing an eclectic musical variety, but it also focuses on the preservation and stewardship of our ecosystem. Each song is devoted to the theme and 25 percent of the album’s profits will go to the nonprofit organization Rainforest Trust.

“Music is the Universal language. It crosses all barriers. As musicians we are often allowed a larger (or at least louder…lol) voice and we personally believe we do have a responsibility to address topics that affect us all. Not just the environmental ones, but any and all,” said Tuatha Dea’s Danny Mullikin in an interview with The Wild Hunt. “Music is known for touching peoples’ spirits.”

We caught up with Tuatha Dea while they were on the road headed for the Pagan Unity Festival. Mullikin explained that the idea for The Green Album came when Tuatha Dea was producing its third CD called The Tribe. The recording included a collaboration with a number of other Pagan musicians. Mullikin said, “We were more than a little blown away by their graciousness and willingness to step in and help selflessly create music with ‘the new kids.’ ” Tuatha Dea had only first formed in 2010, unlike many of the collaborators who have been around for decades.

After that powerful experience, Tuatha Dea felt that something bigger could be done, something that was “important” and. as Mullikin explained, “could give back to [the] community and the universe as a whole, not just in word and art but in action.” The group imagined this as a global effort.  And, the mounting concerns for the world’s ecosystem seemed the most logical choice for a focus. Mullikin said,”The idea of producing something so potentially important was admittedly a bit daunting but fortunately we knew the right universally conscious amazing folks to contact.” That is just what they did.

Tuatha Dea [Courtesy Photo]

Tuatha Dea first reached out to Wendy Rule, S. J. Tucker and Murphey’s Midnight Rounders and, then, a few months later contacted Sharon Knight and Winter. The response was “immediate” and “overwhelmingly positive.” From there the project only grew.  Mullikin said, “We all began inviting other wonderful artists, including Ginger Doss, Bekah Kelso, Damh The Bard, Kellianna, Celia Farran, Mama Gina, Brian Henke, Spiral Dance and Spiral Rhythm; all of which graciously stepped in, stepped up and stepped beyond to create a musical message that would hopefully both draw attention to the circumstances of world that sustains us and Celebrates her nurturing majesty.”

Adrienne Piggott, lead singer and lyricist for the Australian band Spiral Dance, recalled, “[We were] on tour in the USA last Samhain, and we got a call from Danny Mullikin from Tuatha Dea asking us to come on board with the project. Danny was so excited about the project and his enthusiasm was infectious! Straight away we thought what a wonderful thing to do on so many levels.” The band discussed it and, as Piggott said, “It was just a no-brainer.” The group immediately began working on their musical contribution.

UK-based musician Damh the Bard also heard about the album through Tuatha Dea. He said, “There is a wonderful phenomena with Pagan musicians. In many other walks of life we would be seen as being in some kind of competition with each other, but the reality is that we all support each other. The words and music we write and sing about speaks to all of us. It’s what we believe in, so the idea of bringing all of that together on one album was too exciting a prospect to pass up.”

Kellianna, a singer and songwriter from Massachusetts, was first contacted by Wendy Rule. She said, “I loved the idea of a being involved in a collaborative project with our global pagan music tribe.  I was pleased with the idea of a portion of the proceeds going to a green charity, and I love nothing more than singing about our wondrous Earth!”

Spiral Dance [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album will not only fiscally benefit a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainability efforts, but the songs themselves all reflect on our relationship with the earth and are performed in ways that are unique to each of the artists. Singer and songwriter Ginger Doss begins the album with a song titled “Gaea Lives,”  and Atlanta-based Spiral Rhythm ends the album with “Help it Grow.” And the twelve songs in between are no less environmentally-centered.

Florida-based singer Mama Gina said, “I had just written a very angry song about the Florida Bear ‘Harvest’ (Slaughter) last October, and had my guitar still in my hands wondering what I was going to do with this very angry song, since I don’t do angry often. My cellphone rang, and it was Brad from Murphey’s Midnight Rounders inviting me to participate in The Green Album. I said, ‘Brad, I think I just wrote that song!'” Mama Gina’s song, titled “Due North,” is number 9 on the album. Although the song’s recording has not yet been released, she has played it at a few recent live performances, during which she noticed that the audience “gets angry” and cries.

While Mama Gina‘s song was written just as the project began, most of the album’s songs were written specifically for the project. Cleveland-based musician Brian Henke said, “The song that I’ve written and recorded for The Green Album, “Queen of the Summer Stars,” is taken from the perspective of Mother Earth as a playful little girl from morning to night dancing barefoot under the Sun and then playing with fireflies and stars, keeping the World green for yet another day.” Henke’s song is number 10 on the album.

Mama Gina [Courtesy Photo]

A few of the songs, like Henke’s, had a spiritual, mythological or religious component.  Spiral Dance, for example, weaves the story of the Green Man in its song “Spirit of the Green.” Piggott explained, “We like to think of the Green Man as the bridge between us and the land and if we listen closely enough we will hear his song of the earth reminding us of our relationship with our environment.”  Of her song “Gaea Lives,” Doss said, “It speaks of my love for this living planet and reminds us to be mindful of every step we take upon her.”

Some songs were created as celebrations of earth’s tangible and natural abundance, such as Sharon Knight and Winter’s “Blood for Gold” and Kelliana’s “Sing for the Day.” Kelliana said, “I did not write about the cause and effect of our actions on this Earth. I sang about the glory of the natural world that we are trying to protect.” She then added, “I believe that we as musicians are in a unique position in that we are able to reach a broad range of people with our messages. If we can positively influence just one person toward living an eco conscious lifestyle, then it is like ripples in a pond as they in turn influence someone else, and so on.”

Damn the Bard agreed, saying “Music is a universal language. It goes in through the ears and grabs us in our gut, then we sing along and declare the lyrics out into the universe. Music can reach people with songs, short 3-5 minute messages that are listened to over and over again. It really is a powerful way to get a message across. Just ask Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and John Denver.” His song, “How Can We Believe We Own it All,” directly addresses the environmental crisis facing humanity including issues of politics and war.

Damh the Bard [Courtesy Photo]

He was not alone in this focus. Many of the musicians chose to emphasize the politics, the problems or, what might be called, the human factor. For example, Celia offers the spirited “I Will Not.” Tuatha Dea presents the haunting song “Green,” and Mama Gina sings a soulful “Due North.” Other similar themes were included in the songs by Murphy’s Midnight Rounders’, S.J. Tucker, Bekah Kelso, Spiral Rhythm, and Wendy Rule. But lines are blurred and each song layered with meaning, weaving in moments of celebration and moments of lamentation. Some even offers suggestions for change.

Doss said, “I have written many other songs about my love of the planet and its sacred nature. But this is the first project in which funds from the sale of a song are benefiting an environmental organization.”

Henke echoed her thoughts, saying “All of my instrumental music has been influenced by nature, many of the songs actually written while hiking. This is the first time I’ve been able to give financially to Mother Earth with my music though.”

Brian Henke [Courtesy Photo]

The involved artists chose the nonprofit Rainforest Trust, to receive 25 percent of the album’s profits. Based in Virginia, the Rainforest Trust states its mission is to “protect threatened tropical forests and endangered wildlife by partnering with local and community organizations in and around the areas that are being threatened.” They do this by purchasing acres of endangered land and then “empowering the local people to help protect it by offering them education, training and employment.” Formed in 1988, Rainforest Trust reportedly has already purchased more than 11.5 million acres in over 20 countries.

Doss said, “Musicians (song writers) have always had a cultural voice like no other. They are capable of putting into words and music the deepest parts of our being and bring to light issues of grave importance in a way that crosses all boundaries and can touch the heart of all who hear.”

Mama Gina agreed, saying, “We do what we do best – make folks feel something, and take the opportunity, while folks hearts are cracked wide open, to educate (for me, that comes without prosletyzing).”

Kellianna [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album won’t be released until the opening of the Caldera Music Festival, which is being held over Memorial Day weekend in Lafayette, Georgia. Many of the performers will be sharing their songs live for the first time. On the Saturday evening of the festival, 12 of the 14 artists will be debuting their songs together on one stage. Mullikin said, “This will be a truly unbelievable moment as it is very likely this many of the albums artist may never be all together in one spot ever again.”

Outside of The Green Album, each of the artists that we spoke with have other projects in process. Tuatha Dea, Brian Henke, Mama Gina and Spiral Dance all said to look out for new albums in late 2016 or early 2017. Damh the Bard is working on a project that has been in the planning stages for 20 years. He described it as a “very deeply writing a spoken word/musical retelling of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a series of ancient myths that tell the stories of many of the Deities we revere. Rhiannon, Arawn, Aranrhod, Blodeuwedd, Pryderi and Lleu Llaw Gyffes to name just a few.”  Similarly, Kellianna started writing “what will be [her] seventh CD, all based on Norse Mythology.”

As for Doss, she said, “I will continue to travel and perform my spiritually centered music and do all I can to bring light to the world and her people.”

Ginger Doss [Courtesy Photo]

The Green Album is a unique and powerful addition to the Pagan music world. Not only does it tie words to action giving directly back to its stated cause, but it also provides a sampling of the eclectic variety of sounds produced by a number of popular Pagan musicians from around the world. If you don’t like one song, go to the next. There is something for everyone on the album and, as such, it provides a way for those unfamiliar with Pagan music or with any one of these musicians to get a taste of their sound, their voices and their art.

The Green Album will be available beginning May 26 at the Caldera Music Festival, and through the album’s website and the individuals artists. The songs will not be available for purchase individually. Starting on the release day, the album’s website will contain some previews and the option to purchase the album. The collaborative group also maintains a Facebook page with project updates, along with links and music from the various artists.

Mullikin said, “Producing The Green Album has been an amazing experience! Rewarding beyond compare.” He added that the enthusiasm has been so high that there is the “potential for future projects and compilations incited by this first production effort.” He already has ideas, but added, ” I think we’ll give it a minute to bask in this one before jumping into the next but It’s safe to say this is hopefully only the beginning […] We are STOKED!!!”

Column: Dionysos

Fri, 2016-05-20 21:00

At the keynote address of the recent National Earthquake Conference in Long Beach, the director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, Thomas Jordan, warned that the southern San Andreas Fault is long overdue for a large earthquake. And in 2013, the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast estimated “a greater than 99 percent probability of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake in the next 30 years in the state as a whole.” I’ve written before about ongoing crises such as California’s drought and the inevitable consequences of the American delusions of progress and white supremacy.

Wounded Bear of California Atop Burning San Francisco, 1907. Public domain.

Drought, especially, is a crisis characterized not by a singular event, but rather by an ongoing “non-event” (Cohen 72-73). Furthermore, the longer a drought lasts, the greater the emotional anxiety generated about when it will finally end. An earthquake, on the other hand, is a singular catastrophe. However, just like a drought, the longer we go without experiencing a major earthquake, the more pressing the question of when “the big one” will hit becomes.

In Euripides’ tragedy Bakkhai (Βάκχαι), King Pentheus of Thebes unsuccessfully attempts to ban Dionysos’ cult. Dionysos, impersonating his own priest, is brought before Pentheus, who orders him imprisoned. Dionysos then summons an earthquake to destroy Pentheus’ palace. “So much for trying to put me in jail,” he comments wryly (36).

In a recent ritual I participated in, Dionysos possessed a medium and warned that the earth is going to split open soon, and the dead are going to rise…literally, not metaphorically. He said that ceremonies will need to be performed for the dead bodies that are exhumed by earthquakes, and that people will need to take care of their communities.

Ironically, in San Francisco, already famous for its destruction in the 1906 earthquake, cremations and cemetery burials were banned in the period between 1902-1910 and “families were forced to transfer their beloved’s remains elsewhere,” leaving only the Columbarium to house the dead. But San Francisco’s historical eviction of the dead, coupled with its contemporary evictions of the living, will not save the city from Dionysos’ prophecy.

Though Dionysos stressed that the rising of the dead will be literal rather than metaphorical, there is always a metaphorical dimension as well. In the words of Tupac Shakur:

The ground is gonna open up and swallow the evil. That’s how I see it, my word is bond. I see—and the ground is the symbol for the poor people, the poor people is gonna open up this whole world and swallow up the rich people. Cause the rich people gonna be so fat, they gonna be so appetizing, you know what I’m saying, wealthy, appetizing. The poor gonna be so poor and hungry, you know what I’m saying it’s gonna be like… there might be some cannibalism out this mutha, they might eat the rich.

Judgement (XX), Rider Waite deck. Public domain.

Through his medium, Dionysos pointed out that the dead are cannibals, for they are fed by the blood of the living soaking into the earth. Nor did he forbear to offer his own unique social commentary, raging that corruption hides in order and pretends to be good because it’s orderly…but that doesn’t make it lawful. “We’re sick of that shit.” Things are going to change, things are going to get torn apart. The same theme is present in the initial exchange between Dionysos and Pentheus in Bakkhai, where the god scorns the double standards Pentheus applies to corruption:

Pentheus: And are your mysteries performed at night or in the day?
Dionysos: Mostly at night. Darkness is serious.
Pentheus: Yes it is, seriously corrupting, for women.
Dionysos: Can’t corruption [αἰσχρόν] be found in daylight too? (30)

San Francisco is no stranger to corruption masquerading as order in broad daylight. On May 19, a San Francisco police sergeant shot and killed an unarmed 27-year-old black woman, SFPD’s third fatal shooting of a person of color in six months. In the last year, SFPD has seen not one but two scandals over racist and homophobic text messages exchanged between officers, convictions for corruption, investigations of rape, and video evidence of systemic anti-black racial profiling. The 2014 police shooting of security guard Alejandro Nieto, falsely accused of being a “gang member” by the so-called “user experience design professional” Evan Snow, has been labelled “death by gentrification.” Tensions between tech workers and the homeless have led to the destruction of homeless encampments, “leaving, still unanswered, the question of how to truly get rid of tent settlements that keep popping up in the city.” In the wake of the most recent shooting, the police chief has been deposed, but the problems run much deeper than one man.

San Francisco’s systemic corruptions, long known to their survivors, have been exposed for all to see in recent months. There is a word for this process. The English word “apocalypse” is derived from Greek apokalyptein (ἀποκάλυτειν) meaning “uncover, disclose, reveal,” from the prefix apo- “from” plus kalyptein “to cover, conceal.” An apocalypse is an uncovering. An apocalypse is an initiation on a massive scale.

The whole world is going to go through initiations,” Dionysos said through his medium. The destruction of the twin towers was an initiation, an old sacrifice, not necessarily feeding things that we might want fed, but feeding them nonetheless.

Why is initiation important?” he asked. Answering his own question, he told us “you only stay in your mother’s womb for a bit, the rest of the growing happens outside.” The first initiation any of us undergo is birth, coming into the world screaming.

Antigone, Sébastien Norblin, 1825. Public domain.

The second is naming. Dionysos scorned the replacement of traditional naming ceremonies by government-issued birth certificates, noting that the newborn is thereby made known to the government, but not properly introduced to the spirits and gods. In ancient Athens, for example, every Athenian man was presented to the familial organization known as the phratria in front of the shrines of Apollo Patroos (Ancestral) and Zeus Herkeios (Of the Enclosure) by his father at age three and again as an ephebos; a newly-wed husband would also bring his bride before the altars of his phratria (Burkert 255).

The Athenian tragedians understood well the precedence of the laws of the gods over the laws of men. Sophocles’s Antigone, for example, centers on this conflict. Several generations after the events of Bakkhai, King Kreon of Thebes attempts to forbid his niece Antigone from carrying out the religious obligation of burying her brother Polyneices.

Antigone famously defies Kreon, appealing to the laws of the gods:

It was not Zeus who made this proclamation;
nor was it Justice dwelling with the gods below
who set in place such laws as these for humankind;
nor did I think your proclamations had such strength
that, mortal as you are, you could outrun those laws
that are the gods’, unwritten and unshakable.
Their laws are not for now or yesterday, but live
forever; no one knows when first they came to light.
I was not going to pay the gods just penalty
for breaking these, dreading the purposes of a
mere man. (lines 450-460)

In Bakkhai, the conflict of Dionysos and Pentheus highlights the same theme:

Pentheus: And hand over that stupid thyrsos.
Dionysos: Take it yourself. It belongs to Dionysos.
Pentheus: Then I’ll put you in jail.
Dionysos: The god will let me out. (30)

Pentheus, Casa dei Vettii, Pompei. Public Domain.

After Dionysos destroys Pentheus’ palace with earthquake and frees himself from imprisonment, he convinces Pentheus to dress as a maenad and spy on the Theban women worshiping Dionysos in the mountains. The women, led by Pentheus’ own mother Agave, discover him and tear him to pieces with their hands. Agave brings her son’s severed head back to Thebes, under the delusion that it is the head of a lion she has slain.

Thus, in his own way, Pentheus is initiated into the mysteries he sought first to suppress and then to surveil. The chorus of Dionysos’ Lydian followers exclaim: “born of a snake/dressed as a woman/he took up a thyrsos and followed a bull directly down to Hades./For the thyrsos is certain death!”

According to Plutarch’s Life of Crassus, when Crassus, the Roman general who suppressed the slave revolt of Spartacus, was killed fighting the Parthians, his head was used as a prop for Pentheus’ head in a performance of Bakkhai (33.2-4). Whether this story actually happened or not, it is noteworthy that Plutarch says of Spartacus, “when he was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power” (8.3).

Spartacus’s wife is described as a Dionysiac prophetess, and Crassus’ head ends up as a double for Pentheus’. Classicist Page DuBois notes, “Dionysos is present here in these moments of rebellion and vengeance” (29). From his recent words, delivered through a possessed medium, the same appears to be true today. And the state of affairs in California, both geological and social, make his prophecies nearly inevitable. Ιω Βάκχε!

Bibliography
  • Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985
  • Cohen, Paul. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
  • DuBois, Page. Out of Athens: The New Ancient Greeks. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010.
  • Euripides. Bakkhai. Translated by Anne Carson. London: Oberon Books, 2015.
  • Sophocles. Antigone. Translated by Ruby Blondell. Newburyport: Focus Classical Library, 2002.

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

Culture and Community: Lemonade, Spirituality and #BlackGirlMagic

Fri, 2016-05-20 08:27

Ice cold lemonade on a warm sunny day can be one of the most enjoyable moments in an otherwise complex world. This is often the concept that comes up for me when thinking about great summertime drinks and refreshing moments of bliss created by what is notoriously sour.

On April 23, 2016, Beyoncé released her video album, Lemonade. Not only did she capitalize on that analogy, but she also used an intense combination of imagery, music, poetry, and Black Girl Magic to do it. The hour long video premiered on HBO for 24 hours, showcasing the incredible musicality of one of today’s largest and fiercest performers.  


However, the video did much more than that. Images of Black women flooded the screen; magnetic poetry from Warsan Shire transitioned us from scene to scene, as Beyoncé told a story of womanhood and recovery through her songs. Not only did the screen light up with images of the rural deep south, there were also beautiful faces of Black women painted with the tribal artwork of South African artist Laolu Senbajo. Serena Williams used her strong powerful body to dance in her feminine embodiment, and the sisters of Ibeyi and actress Zendaya made an appearance on the video alongside Beyoncé.

Lemonade tells the story of a strong woman walking through the stages of hurt, grief, and recovery, while healing from infidelity within her relationship. There were 11 stages in the process outlined in the video: Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Reformation, Forgiveness, Resurrection, Hope, and Redemption. With each segment the video shows an intense and personal process to which many people can relate as they cope with a cheating spouse, and with the experience of womanhood.

But was this video just about a cheating husband? Through the piece, Beyoncé created a complex piece of art by layering on the experiences of the personal, political and cultural within one snapshot. Is it about Black women and empowerment? Is it about a political agenda? Or is it about the power and magic of Blackness?

Freja Dam appropriately and eloquently responds to this topic in a piece on Spin.com. She wrote, “On first listen, Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade is all about Jay Z’s cheating. But the 65-minute film accompanying the music makes the personal political by visually empowering black women, celebrating Deep Southern culture, and referencing the Black Lives Matter movement, Malcolm X, and Hurricane Katrina. Beyoncé is not just a single woman scorned — she represents a scorned demographic, or as the film directly quotes Malcolm X: ‘The most neglected person in America is the black woman.’ ”

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Some might wonder why this celebrity release has gotten so much attention, or why some in the magical community are talking about it. But the reality is that an intense tie to the magic of the African American community is often ignored in mainstream celebrity culture. People all over are now talking about the images and references to the African Diasporic religions, Orisha, Black Girl Magic, and Southern magic cultures that Beyonce brought into the Lemonade video documentary.

In exploring the intense connection felt by many in response to the release of Queen Bey’s latest work, I started to take note of article after article highlighting the same observations that I had made. Opinion pieces, Lemonade reading lists, and interviews started popping up everywhere. And while all of the circulating pieces were not favorable toward Beyonce, Lemonade, and the hype, many correlations were being made about the impact of this work and the implications of Black women and their magic.

I was not expecting to be cracked wide open by this project. I was not expecting to shed a lifetime of tears. But I did. Lemonade is about so much more than one relationship and its infidelity. Lemonade is about the love that black women have – the love that threatens to kill us, makes us crazy and makes us stronger than we should ever have to be.  – Ijeoma Oluo, The Guardian

Beyoncé’s Lemonade is grown-ass black woman magic. And the lemons that Queen Bey is working with, powerful hoodoo ingredients for overpowering bad energy, are clearly the Louisiana kind. Lush, troubling visuals show that Beyoncé is the goddess, the goddess is furious, the goddess is victorious, and most important: The goddess is every black woman. Slay. – Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Time magazine

This latest work of art by Queen Bey essentially ends silences around many aspects of our culture, centering black women and potentially daring to acknowledge neglected spiritual practices that have femme deities. What a time to be alive. –  Amanda Alcantara, Remezcla

Every Black woman in Lemonade has been robbed of something. Every Black girl, too. And they are owed accountability. They are owed healing. They are owed more than what the world has granted them. Lemonade sends the message that we must be vocal about this. We must not assist the world in erasing our suffering. We must honor ourselves. We must perform magic tricks. We must pull ourselves out of our own bones and help ourselves along. We must find communion in our reflections in each other. We must say: I see us. – Dominique Matti, Medium

Mainstream reflections of powerful Black women have always been problematic in our culture. We are more likely to see images of the “angry” black woman, the hyper-sexualized black woman, or the welfare queen than those who humanize our complex experiences and highlight our survival in alignment with hundreds of years of power, spirituality and healing.

I have personally struggled with the disconnect between the magic of my people and the magic taught to me through modern Paganism. There seems to be little room within our community to explore, or often to acknowledge, that the magic of Black women has a rich lineage that is enmeshed with the struggle and survival of our people. Black women have continue, through time, to use our stories, our folk remedies, our lineage and our pure existence as a way to enhance and manifest magic throughout time. It has often been the medicine to our ailment, the way that we conjure faith, and the opportunity to shift our reality toward mental and physical survival. 

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In Lemonade, Beyoncé highlights that richness and, as a result, it has as become a anthem for Black women empowerment. She dances around the screen showing the various faces of the Black woman, all powerful and all present. She wears an Ankh in the Don’t Hurt Yourself segment, shows strong ties to the rebirth in various prominent water scenes, demonstrates righteous anger wearing an Oshun inspired dress in Hold Up, dances with South African face paint in Sorry, and sings Freedom to the mothers of Black men while they hold up pictures of their children killed by police.

While many have been able to connect with the intersecting spiritual messages throughout Lemonade, what kind of impact has it had on the Modern magical communities? On Black women within our community? On the culture of Blackness our current times?

I reached out to a few Black women within the modern Pagan, Polytheist and African Diasporic Religions to see what their thoughts were on these very topics. 

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Kenya Coviak wrote:

Let’s talk about Beyonce’s offering in Lemonade, or as I refer to her energetic reality shifting super-self, Our Lady of Unapologetic Blackness. She has really sparked a fire under some of us due to the phenomenal imagery and historical inside references in this work. Specifically, some of the Witches and Magickians in the Diaspora found a “moment” in this that resonated not just on the sociopolitical level, but on the soul deep level of being a Black woman in magick.

In her archetypical representations of the female experience she elicits the more complete gnosis of the Goddess and the Story we live as her images on earth. The detail of human experience, the mother wit, the sheer raw grit and tears and joy of it all, are an empowering and heady mix. Despite the attacks and dismissive diminishing of her motivations, this new veil rending into her maturing role as a voice in the continuum of our artistic experience is powerful.

How many of us have had those moments when we reach that wall of shared ancestral and current experience when we try to share our Black Magick with others?  She pushes that soda pop punchline political pandering of our assimilationalist Sisters in Black and gave us a good swift kick in the skirt ruffle. Her video primer on being ourselves in our own skin motivated countless diasporic Witches to become more visible.

I could dissect the imagery to death, and still not touch on the impact that it had on many of us. The thrill of seeing that parlor with all these powerful women. The nod to the transcendence beyond the petty colorism. The bold embrace of the right to anger, sexuality, and emotional agency are blazing through my blood.

And sorry, bell hooks, I admire you but you need to put the machete down a second. If James Brown could write that he could say it loud that he was Black and proud, why can’t Beyonce? This is a new time and generation, and thus new entertainers say it their way. I really have a scored bone to pick with this constant criticism of her using her talent to be successful. I am no member of the Bey Hive, but I can tell when an artist aspires to be more than what she is thought to be. I find it odious and offensive that she be belittled and denied her journey of actualization because she is not doing “feminism” like you think she should.  

The markings on the faces of the women in the bus were hitting too close for me. These are very close to what is used in my practices when I am alone. The white dresses for rebirth and death of the self, the yellow for what many suspect was a nod to Oshun, and the anger of the parking garage represented every vengeful goddess story. These images fed me. They fed my soul in a similar way that I am sustained when I am quickened in ritual. And finally, I have to get one of those sharp ass hats. Elizabeth Ruth said it best when she said we need to step up our Witch fashion game. Seriously, my ritual closet needs to get in formation. 

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Iyanifa Fayele said:

Lemonade was affirming for Black Girl Magic culture in that it offered a popular and empowering face to what has traditionally been something that was hidden. Suddenly those who were dabbling in African spiritual traditions felt like…”if Beyonce” is not afraid to put her practice out, I can too.” I don’t know if it did much for me as I was already there. It did cause my phone to blow up though…because everyone had questions and wanted to know more.

The images that were most spiritually empowering for me were those involving the irunmole..primordial power, Ọṣun. Ọṣun is well loved and known all over the world and represents self esteem, self value. A lot of people focus on Ọṣun as beauty and sweetness, but they don’t know that Ọṣun is the epitome of women’s power and might. So much of the video touched on things many women go through… In relationships … We hurt, we cry, we transform, we are reborn, we rise, we trample under foot, we forgive, and we love … Ọṣun teaches us about relationships…and merging that with the video, it offers some healing magic through the process of relationship. It says … feel a thing, but don’t get stuck, own your power, use i t… And stand tall. That is Ọṣun.

She speak of many things those who are initiated in the tradition go through. Initiation is a death and resurrection process. Everything means something…and old you dies … A new you is born … Of blood and stone, of power and spirit … You are protected as a child and nurtured through that process. That is what she is describing as she goes under water. Anyone who initiated knows what all of it means because we all went through it. 

Tanisia Greer said:

Water. That was the biggest through-theme I took away from Beyoncé ’s “Lemonade” visual album.

Water is life and death. It can wash away dirt and “sins”, and can suffocate and drown. It can give life and take away life. Grow plants and people, and break down the biggest mountain over time. And in the most breathtaking (literally) sequence in the Lemonade film, Beyoncé acted out, in a dreamy underwater sequence, the similar suffocation that some women go through to make themselves small in life. Not just in relationships, but in society itself. And that happens to Black women more than most –holding our breath, holding in our essence so as to not disturb other people’s conceptions of our existence. To stop our breath, to make ourselves still and silent, and to drown ourselves, if necessary, in order to appease other people.

When Beyoncé emerged from that building, water gushing out, that felt like a vicarious birthing sequence, a baptism and a cleansing in more ways than one. Being set free to express the fullness of herself, and myself by implication. (I could wax poetic about her epic “Hold Up” destruction sequence,but that’s a whole ‘nother delicious subject to get into. To express joy in finally owning and expressing that righteous fury like a tsunami, but I digress.)

The entire Lemonade movie was magical. There were the obvious tribal cues – the face paintings and tattoos, the signaling of the Orishas (Oshun of the Sweet Waters, most of all), invoking of divine sisterhood and claiming of woman power writ large. And that theme was carried over into her Formation Tour, which I was blessed to attend on Monday night in Santa Clara, at Levi’s Stadium. That’s where the magic came to life for me.

Near the end of the show, the foot of the catwalk filled with water. And she and her crew slowly glided toward the platform on the catwalk conveyer belt. And they performed three dramatic numbers, splashing through the water, stomping and ululating into the night. And when they were finished, the concertgoers around the foot of the platform were treated to Beyoncé playfully splashing them from the stage. A sort of baptism that I felt even from my lofty perch. Her joy. Giving joy to us.

Joy and permission to love ourselves. That’s the magic that I’ve carried from being exposed to Lemonade. That’s been her consistent message throughout her tour, from Lemonade, and possible throughout her career.

Beyoncé has become my new muse. She and Lemonade have rekindled my inspiration fire and reminded myself that I’m the most important person in my world. If I’m not happy, I can’t be there for anyone else. She also reminded me to revel in my womanhood – my Black womanhood, specifically. To be unapologetically “Black” and proud of my roots.

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Celebrity and mainstream culture often have an influence on the shifting tone within modern society. Dismissing the impact of Lemonade ignores the incredible power that something of this magnitude – something that uniquely centers Black women at the forefront of the discussion – has on the dynamics of our interconnected communities. Empowerment of any historically marginalized population has immediate and lasting repercussions on how that group navigates the world. Within our modern Pagan and Polytheistic communities this can change how we look at spirit, how we connect to others, how we redefine our shared space and how we speak on matters of our spiritualness.

The layers of the political, spiritual and magical, which are all demonstrated in Beyoncé’s Lemonade, show a clear correlation with the everyday path of Black women all over the world. Embracing the #BlackGirlMagic in our circles and communities only enhances our collective power in society.

If you haven’t seen it yet….Maybe you should get in Formation.

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This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Building Community at the Spirit of the Marsh Festival in Lincolnshire

Thu, 2016-05-19 11:17

THEDDLETHORPE, Lincolnshire — The Lincolnshire Salt Marshes in England are an unforgiving place. The countryside edges the local Wolds and the wind blowing in from the neighbouring North Sea can be bitter. The flat landscape lends itself to breathtaking panoramic skies.

This area is steeped in Viking history, a past etched into the landscape in its place names, in which Nordic suffixes such as -thorpe, -gham, -by and -ford abound. Perhaps it’s link to Viking culture also explains the fighting spirit that pervades its history, right up to modern times.

© Copyright Mat Fascione

Lincolnshire has birthed radical and revolutionary thinkers including English Civil War leader Oliver Cromwell, Methodist Church founder John Wesley and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. All of three, whatever people think of them, demonstrate the region’s prevailing sense of self-sufficiency, stoicism, modesty and pragmatism.

And it seems as if such spirit is still alive. If proof were needed that the people of Lincolnshire are still radical yet rooted in tradition, and ultimately ready to fight for their beliefs, then that proof can be found in annual Pagan festival called Spirit of the Marsh.

The festival was conceived as a defiant response to a briefing by the Lincolnshire County Council, which rated the coastal village of Theddlethorpe as “failing” and “unsustainable.” The county announced that it would no longer fund any public services there.

Locals held an impassioned meeting to determine a course of action and, from that meeting, the Spirit of the Marsh (SotM) festival was born. The event is the vision of local Pagans Julie Shepherd, Sarah Goodley and Gary Nowell. Taking guidance from the late Anna Salter, the three began planning the first gathering in 2011, which was finally held in 2013.

“No one from the council came to talk to us when they pronounced that we were a ‘failing village’ says Julie. “We didn’t like being labelled that way.”

From the left: Gary Nowell, Julie Shepherd and Sarah Goodley [Courtesy Photo]

The long-term vision of the festival is threefold: to create a space where Pagans from all over the UK could come and celebrate Beltane; to provide a market space to showcase the diverse talents that are hidden away in the area; and for proceeds of the weekend (minus running costs) to be ploughed back into a community fund for Theddlethorpe village.

In previous years the festival has explored the region’s Nordic roots by having a Viking village and re-enactments on site. However, the team stresses that Spirit of the Marsh is a truly Pagan festival and a celebration of Beltane.

The importance of community dominates the weekend and it was also integral to the creation of the camp. As Sarah explained: “We wanted to show the hidden qualities in and about this area. There’s a real alternative subculture here of healers, Pagans, home educators. We wanted to celebrate the energy, the talents and the knowledge of people in the region.”

This year, the festival celebrated its 3rd anniversary and despite some teething problems (last year the wild winds of the marshes carried one of the marquees away), a relaxed mood prevailed. The camp has moved to a new site on a local farm, where the farmer and his family are supporting the event by providing the land for free and selling their locally reared produce on a stall.

Spoonmaking Demonstration [Courtesy Photo]

There are many local businesses here, including woodworkers, falconry centres, massage therapists and artists. Julie said: “We wanted to show the world that we are not failing and that there is passion and talent in our area. By having the fair we wanted to give some confidence back to the region and show what we can do.”

During the festival, Ian, a woodcarver from the nearby town of Market Rasen, gave a demonstration of the ancient craft of spoonmaking. He said that he was keen to get involved with SotM, saying: “This festival is refreshing in that it doesn’t pander to over-commericalisation and marketing, it’s just about helping the community.”

Creating an appropriate space for a temporary Beltane community was important to the team. As Gary stressed, “We wanted to create a space where people can get together to celebrate and create a community, albeit for the weekend. We’re particularly keen on providing a space for Pagan families to come and celebrate Beltane. We’re not interested in becoming the next Glastonbury, but just helping the Pagan community, and in turn helping the local community in Theddlethorpe.”

The festival also features bands and musicians, from both the region and afar, playing the main tent each evening. Local folk heroes Whiskey Before Breakfast returned as did Liverpool-based rockers Leafblade. And Leafblade’s effort to help out underlines the broader sense of community present at SotM.  Gary met lead singer Sean Jude on a camp site in Wales years ago, and they became friends. When Spirit of the Marsh launched, Jude answered its call.

Leafblade [Courtesy Photo]

There were also talks and demonstrations from local pagans, which Gary in particular is hoping to develop for next year’s festival. The energy of the weekend was held in the steady and gentle hands of John Licence from Pan’s Grove in South Wales, who led all of the Wicca-inspired ceremonies of the weekend.

Since the festival’s inception, the word has quietly spread about the importance of this festival and how the Pagan community can help out Theddlethorpe. People travelled from far and wide to this remote patch of Eastern England, where all main roads have long since petered out. They came to offer support because they believed in its ethos.

There were people from Dorset in South West England, people from the cities of Manchester and Liverpool in the North West, and one couple, who had driven from Southend-on Sea on the south coast. But one striking new development was that the festival now had registered on the radar of The Dagda.

Members of The Dagda. From Left to Right: Aus, Elric and Rich [Courtesy Photo]

The Dagda describe themselves as “the gatekeepers.” In Irish mythology, the Dagda is a father figure or protector of the tribe. These “gatekeepers” are a team who provide security, marshalling and general helping-out at the majority of Pagan summer camps across Britain. Aus and his son Elric, who were part of the crew, spoke with The Wild Hunt about their own take the subject of community building.

The Dagda came about at the tail-end of the 1980s after a series of high-profile and often violent clashes between Pagans and various groups, including the police and Christians. The most notorious of these was the Battle of the Beanfield. The Dagda was created on the back of these events. Aus explained, “There was a lot of persecution then against Pagans from Christians and other groups. Any gathering that we tried to have was either cancelled at the last minute or would get mobbed by Christians. People used to get worried by it, saying ‘What happens if the Christians turn up?’. Me and my mate Dog decided that this was something we could do for our community, so we kept on doing it.”

The Dagda is going strong now, with approximately 45 members and, as Aus is quick to point out, “Under Anglo-Saxon law that’s enough for a small army.”

The group gatekeeps most of the Pagan camps on the summer circuit. “This year we’re doing 28 camps,” says Elric. “This is our summer, virtually every weekend we’re off all over the country helping out at camps, collecting tickets, making sure people don’t get too drunk and helping out where needed.”

Elric has grown up in The Dagda and now organises his own Pagan events. His commitment to the British Pagan community is obvious. “This is one way I can give something back to our community. I wouldn’t be the person I am today, have the mindset I have, the outlook I have, if it wasn’t for growing up Pagan.”

Aus has seen many changes over the years and stresses the need to remember the importance of community. He said, “When The Dagda first started out, people would ask, ‘How can I help the community?’ I think we’ve lost that, sadly. People seem to turn up to camps now and say, ‘Here’s my money, entertain me’. It may be that this is an inevitable result of Paganism being more widely accepted in British society today. People are fine with it now. Where I work, they just take the piss out of me! But then I take the piss out of them for supporting Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanders soccer club, which is based in the West Midlands, England)! It’s just good-natured banter.”

Ritual at Spirit of the Marsh Festival 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Elric is keen to point out that the Pagan Symposium, a coming together of groups representing the wealth of different Pagan paths in the UK, has been important for the British community. He said: “I think it’s a good idea, it’s brought lots of different facets of the Pagan community together instead of working against each other. There’s enough people outside of the community who are against us, let alone the people inside the community being against each other. We should be coming together.”

As Aus said: “This is what we do for our people and our community, I can’t write articles or organise events, but I can do this, so this is my way of giving back.”

The sense of giving something back is what is at the heart of Spirit of the Marsh and what has clearly resonated with The Dagda. As the dust settles on the 2016 gathering, Julie, Sarah and Gary are already brimming with ideas for 2017. And as their fight for Theddlethorpe continues, they can expect plenty of new recruits.

Pagans Break Free, Risking Arrest to Protest Climate Change

Wed, 2016-05-18 10:18

TWH — May 2016 has been punctuated by a series of worldwide climate-action protests organized under the name Break Free. These actions have been focused on ending the practice of using non-renewable fossil fuels for energy. The Wild Hunt spoke with John Halstead and Margaret Human, two Pagans who participated in this week’s Break Free protests.

Police surround protesters at Whiting refinery [Courtesy Photo]

While both Halstead and Human were focused on the same goal, their experiences leading up to and during the actions were very different.  A retired person in her 70s, Human is open about her Paganism, but she doesn’t write, teach, or promote her beliefs other than to gather with like-minded people in various locations near her home in the Hudson Valley. She has been protesting against war and environmental degradation since the 1960s. She has been arrested multiple times over that period of time, although nobody was arrested at this week’s action.

An attorney in his 40s, Halstead writes prolifically online about his particular flavor of Paganism, and spearheaded the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment from its inception. Halstead became actively concerned about the environment only in the past few years, and this was his first direct action. This was also the first time he’s ever been arrested for any reason.

The idea behind Break Free fired Halstead’s imagination. It is coordinated on a massive scale (20 actions on six continents, according to the official web site) with civil disobedience being a key component. Halstead said:

Our part of the action took place at the BP oil refinery on the shore of Lake Michigan, in Whiting, Indiana, which is 30 miles from where I live. The action drew over 1,000 people from around the region. Many people who had never been to the area discovered first-hand how unbreathable the air in Whiting and surrounding communities is. We had specific demands, which included creating a moratorium on all new pipeline projects and creating a regional citizen review board to oversee all fossil fuel related industry projects. But the larger context is that we want BP shut down, and a just transition to renewable energy worldwide.

The Whiting refinery is, Halstead explained, the largest refinery for tar sands in the United States. It’s also not far from where 1,600 gallons of oil was spilled in Lake Michigan, which supplies drinking water to the region. Environmental concerns are high in that area.

Human was also one of a cast of over a thousand concerned about newer — and likely more dangerous — petroleum products when she joined marchers in Albany, New York. With a number of other people who were prepared to be arrested, she sat down on railroad tracks to stop the movement of so-called “bomb trains” through the state’s capital city. These are trains carrying petroleum — often Bakken crude, derived from hydraulic fracturing — to refineries for processing. In addition to worries over the environmental impact of using these products, the rail shipments have local residents concerned about what might happen if one derails, which is not unknown.

Protesters block train tracks in Albany, NY [Courtesy Photo: Stop the Bomb Trains: Albany Free of Fossil Fuels]

Halstead explained that, only a couple of years ago, he “wasn’t even recycling, much less taking part in direct action.” Many of those who joined him were also quite new to the idea. He said, “I was driven to take part in the arrest action by a growing sense of urgency in the face of increasingly undeniable global climate change and seeing (and smelling) the effects of the petroleum industry where I live and in neighboring communities, like Gary, Indiana, where people of color are disproportionately impacted.”

After he helped draft the community statement, one of the few criticisms he saw about it was that “words are not enough,” and he found himself agreeing with that enough to take action himself. He said:

About 40 people were arrested with me. We marched with over 1,000 at our backs. That alone was incredible. When we arrived at entrance . . . and then unanimously decided to cross the property line of the BP refinery. We then formed a circle in front of the police line. Then we sat down and began singing, “We shall not be moved, Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, We shall not be moved.” And after a period of time, we were given warnings to disperse, and then we were arrested one by one, handcuffed with plastic zip restraints, and put in waiting vans. The police were, for the most part, professional and restrained.

In Albany, the only arrests were some miles away from where Human and others arrived at their point of civil disobedience, also with a massive network there to support them. If police had rounded them up, though, she would have missed out anyway; it was the cold and the rain which ultimately defeated her. She explained that she’d caught pneumonia during the Occupy protests in Washington, D.C., “and that’s when I got really old.” Therefore, she made the decision to leave due to the weather. “I’m willing to risk arrest, but not risk pneumonia,” she said. In the 1960s she made a similar decision, but at that time she chose not to risk arrest because she was the mother of young children.
She plans on protesting a pipeline in Peekskill, New York this coming weekend, and to continue with such actions as long as she is able.

Halstead was philosophical about the impact of his efforts. “The effect we had on BP’s bottom line was undoubtedly negligible,” he said, “but I know we made an impression, not just on BP, but also on the Northwest Indiana community, and on many others who will read about or watch the event in the media – and if those people will stand together, then will not only hurt BP’s profits, but we can bring an end to Big Oil altogether!”

In the video above, Halstead is arrested at time marker 44:46. The Break Free website also includes a second video of the Free Midwest march.

Canadian Fire Spares Polytheist’s Altar and Shrine

Tue, 2016-05-17 08:09

SAINT ALBERT, Alberta – When a fire nearly engulfed a Canadian polytheist’s cabin, not only was the structure spared, but so was an altar and shrine to his ancestors and Brighid, both of which were, and still are, tucked in the woods.

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Mhaoillain and his wife were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon on the deck of their cabin, located in the woods near Saint Albert when they heard a voice call out for help with a fire.

“At first, I thought it was some stupid joke, as the whole of Alberta has been under a strict fire ban for weeks, and considering the recent devastation in Fort MacMurray, in northern Alberta, why would anyone purposefully start a fire?” said Mhaoillain in an interview with The Wild Hunt.

Then he heard the voice call out again saying that there was a fire. Mhaoillain said that he ran through the wooded area to the end of his property and was met with a growing brush fire. It was quickly spreading onto his property and up his very dry trees.

Mhaoillain said his first reaction was to attempt to stamp the fire out, “Here I was, alone in the trees, doing a little dance as the flames grew and began to move past me.”

When he realized the fire was too large and serious to be put out this way, Mhaoillain went back to the cabin. His wife was holding a garden hose. He explained, “She had seen the flames, and was obviously thinking much clearer than I was. I began spraying at the approaching flames, trying to chase the circumference with my pathetic garden hose, when I heard more and more voices all around me.”

The voices belonged to neighbors who were carrying shovels, hoes, and buckets of water. The neighbors helped him battle the blaze for almost an hour, until the Barrhead County Fire Department arrived and took over.
[Courtesy Photo]
When the fire department had finally put out the blaze and was satisfied the danger was over, one fireman approached Mhaoillain and asked ‘Is that your set-up out there, with the candles and such?’ He was referring to an altar, which Mhaoillain had created in a secluded area tucked back in the trees.

“I replied ‘Yes sir,’ expecting him to begin accusing me of starting the fire,” Mhaoillain recalled. ‘[The fireman] said ‘Come with me,’ and so I followed him through the blackened trees. He stopped just before my altar, and motioned with his hand, ‘It didn’t burn. I thought you should see that,’ he said, then turned and walked off.”

To Mhaoillain’s surprise, while the fire had burned the area around the altar on three sides, the altar, the two upright tamarack poles holding deer antlers, as well as all the items on the altar were untouched by the fire.

“I stood there alone, just looking at it all. I didn’t know what to think at all.” said Mhaoillain.

Mhaoillain said that the cabin is a creative oasis for him and his wife to write and paint. He added that he may do a ritual of thanksgiving at the altar, “…but I haven’t thought about it enough to come up with something appropriate.  Maybe something with water!”

Pagan Community Notes: Hindsley and Leffert, Scott Symonds, “Why Black Lives Matter too” launch, and more!

Mon, 2016-05-16 10:37

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Two members of Indiana’s Heathen community were arrested last week on child molestation charges. David Hindsley and Nicole Leffert are being held “on felony charges including child molesting and conspiracy to commit child molesting.” Local news reports state that neighbors overheard the couple talking about “sex acts with children” and contacted the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department. After an investigation, the arrests were made on the evening of May 10.

Hindsley and Leffert are both known within the local Heathen community as artisans and the makers of specialty kilts. Hindsley owns the Etsy shop and Facebook page Heathen Spirit. In a 2014 article published in Purdue University’s student newspaper The Exponent, Hindsley was interviewed about the health benefits of wearing kilts. Both Leffert and Hindsley are listed on Odin’s Children, attend local Pagan events and participate in online Pagan and Heathen communities. The Wild Hunt has also learned that the Hindsley and Leffert were trying to start a new kindred in the Lafayette area. We reached out to several local Heathens, all of whom were declined to comment at this time.

According to reports, “prosecutors are not yet identifying the victims in the case.”  The bond amount is listed at $500,000 for each arrest, and both have court dates set for May 19. We will bring you more on the story as it develops.

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[Courtesy Photo]

STOCKON, Calif. — It was announced this weekend that Scott Symonds, a regular and well-known vendor at PantheaCon, had died. Scott was originally diagnosed with cancer in January 2015.  As he wrote himself, “I was rushed to the hospital, bent over, all day, in pain.”  The doctor’s assumed that he had diverticulitis and pancreatitis, but after a colonoscopy, they found tumors. He endured many months of difficult treatments. Then, in November 2015, Scott was diagnosed as terminal.

Several weeks ago, Scott asked friend Eleina Ridolfi to set up a GoFundMe campaign to help his wife Amber after he was gone. He said, “I would like to build a fund that Amber can pull from as needed for the first so many years on a monthly basis to help cover costs that I am no longer able to cover.”  To date, the campaign has raised nearly $20,000 over a short nine-day period of time.

Along with donations, people from Scott’s various communities have been reaching out to post words of support for his family, express love, and share memories on his Facebook page. Chris Sanchez wrote, “Scott Symonds you will be forever in our hearts and thoughts. You will missed my friend. Thank you so much for your courage, your strength, and your inspiration to make us all better human beings. I wish I could find the words…..”  What is remembered, lives.

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TWH – A new anthology, edited by author Dr. Mary Canty Merrill, is due to be released in June. The book, entitled Why Black Lives Matter too, is a multi-author work that includes a diversity of voices from around the country. One of the voices chosen for this work was Pagan blogger and activist Cat Chapin-Bishop. She said, “The writing I’ve done against racism, for the book and at my blog, has been from a spiritual root. It’s not an intellectual drive, the drive to speak out on racism–it’s coming from spiritual leadings (of the sort Quakers talk about, but which Paganism first taught me to follow).”

On her website, Dr. Merrill writes that the book is due to be released on what is known as Juneteenth—a holiday commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in June 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African American slaves throughout the Confederate South.  She added that all proceeds will “benefit the Sentencing Project, a leader in the effort to bring national attention to disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system through the publication of groundbreaking research, aggressive media campaigns and strategic advocacy for policy reform.” Chapin-Bishop is passionate about the effort and the book’s launch, saying, “I really, really want this project to do well. The Sentencing Project is [an] important tool in the fight against systemic racism.”

In other news:

  • On Friday, May 13, Leigha LaFleur, a Wiccan practitioner based in Portland, led a public ritual to offer support to the Bernie Sanders campaign. The story caught the attention of mainstream media, who expressed both curiosity and skepticism. The L.A. Times wrote, “There are lots of ways to support a political candidate, from making phone calls to donating money. Some turn to prayer, Christian or otherwise. Add Wiccan rituals to the list.”  According to the article, there were as many observers as their were participants. LaFleur, not deterred by the media’s attention, has planned a second ritual event, scheduled for Monday, May 16 at 5:30. As with the first one, the Ritual for Bernie Sanders 2 will be held in Woodstock Park in Portland, Oregon.
  • “Heathen at the Helm.” Wild Hunt writer and Norse Mythology blogger Karl E. H. Seigfried was elected to be the new president of Interfaith Dialogue at the University of Chicago. Seigfried said, “I’m not sure how many interfaith organizations at major institutions are headed by a practitioner of Asatru, but I’m guessing not many.” As noted on the website, “Interfaith Dialogue at the University of Chicago is an organization that hosts discussions on religion and spirituality, presents guest speakers, visits local places of worship, studies different religious traditions, and produces an interfaith journal.”
  • Normal People Productions has launched the trailer for the upcoming theatrical production Doreen Valiente: An English Witch. Based on the recently published biography, the play will run Nov. 21-27 at the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton. Tickets are now on sale.

  • Three Drops from the Cauldron, a U.K.-based publisher, is putting together an anthology on, as it says, the “best writing we receive on Witches, rituals, and spells.”  The deadline for submission is coming up May 29.  The anthology will be called Full Moon & Foxglove (An Anthology of Witches & Witchcraft), and will be published in paperback. Not a practicing Witch? Three Drops has several other calls for submissions with deadline and requirements posted on its website.
  • And, from the blogosphere, Alison Leigh Lilly discusses the Shaman & Priest: How America’s Cultural Landscape Shapes Its Religious InstitutionsOn Nature’s Path, the Patheos blog dedicated to Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Lilly writes, “In a culture that still clings to the social traditions of agricultural society and dismisses hunter-gatherer lifestyle as inherently “primitive” even while adopting some of its characteristics, Druidry can find a place of balance and harmony, acknowledging everything priesthood and shamanism have to offer.”
  • The Wild Hunt is currently accepting submissions from Pagan, Heathen and polytheist writers from outside of the United States for its Around the World monthly column. For more details, contact editor at wildhunt [dot] org.

Send us your news tips and story ideas.

Michael Wiggins 1965 – 2016

Sun, 2016-05-15 10:18

Michael Wiggins, a pillar of the Michigan Pagan community, passed away on the morning of May 4, after suffering a sudden heart attack. Michael was not only the “face of ConVocation” and president of the Magickal Education Council,  but also a well-respected artist, dancer, entrepreneur, and visionary.

On June 13, 1965, Michael John Wiggins was born “Guilain Michael Palmateer” to Donald and Alyce Wiggins. He was baptized in a local Catholic church and later given a Wiccaning within his mother’s own coven. Family friend Sue Wert remembered him as being “a little and lovable kid, always sharing smiles and hugs.”

Michael grew up in Highland Park and Hazel Park, both suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He attended Hazel Park High School, where he was introduced to theater, dance and marching band. This ignited a creative spark that never burned out.

After graduating in 1983, Michael went on to study music, performance, and theology at Finlandia University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In 1986, he earned his associate’s degree and went on to a long successful career in the arts. Sue Wert wrote, “My biggest memory was when you said this was your life and you would live it as you wished. You did just that.”

While still in school, Michael began working for Arthur Murray Dance Studios. He fell in love with dance and, as a result, it became the focus of his career. Since 2000, he was a principal dancer with the company Dance Thru History (The Madam Cadillac Dance Theater and The Detroit Renaissance Dancers). The troupe performs 16th-19th century French and English court dances at museums, schools and historical reenactments around the country. Over that time, Michael was also a choreographer and instructor.

In addition to dancing, Michael became increasingly active in Detroit’s Pagan community. He had grown up with Wicca due to his mother’s own practice and the community as a whole was not foreign to him. In 2013, wife Cindy Wiggins said that he had always kept up with his “involvement in the Pagan community […] in different facets: co-leading a private teaching group for friends and children of friends; attending ‘Meet Your Local Witch’ nights at the long-gone Lavender Moon Cafe.”

But Michael is most known for his involvement in ConVocation. He first joined the event’s security team in 1997. The following year, he volunteered to be the Magickal Education Council’s public relations officer. In 2000, he was named its president, a position that he held until 2014. In a tribute, M.E.C’s Board said, “As a board member and longest sitting president of the Magical Education Council [Michael] was afforded the opportunity to shape the development of a community he loved deeply.  It was an opportunity he made the most of. The institutions he helped to build will continue to inspire generations of seekers yet to come.”

In 2013, Michael was honored as Detroit’s Pagan of the Year, an award given to the “person or group that has done the most to influence events and who best serves as an advocate for the Pagans of Michigan.”

[Courtesy Photo]

In addition to community service and a dedication to dance, Michael was also the creator of other artistic and theatrical ventures. He was the owner of the Phoenix Cafe art and music venue in Hazel Park.  And, he is the founder of the Steamtopia and Up in the Aether conventions. Just as Michael was instrumental in helping to strengthen the local Pagan community, he was also instrumental in bringing together Detroit’s steampunk community. In a Facebook post, Guy Cox explained, “After the first World Steam Expo, [Michael and DJ Tom Downey] started holding monthly dance parties at the Phoenix in Hazel Park. It was these events that brought all of the unique individuals in the Detroit area together. These events lasted several years and the people from there (myself included) helped support and encourage the creation of Capitol Steam and other Michigan steampunk groups. Without Michael, there is a good chance none of us would know each other.”

Of himself, Michael said that he was always interested in and involved in community and human interaction. He wrote, “With Detroit’s economy being where it is, there is a special value to the many community centers and creative collectives […] that have sprung up […] As money has run out, society has been more able to refocus its attention on something that it can’t always buy in the first place: connection. Connection to ourselves and to others is the substance of life, the deepest measure of success that especially reveals itself when the material measures, such as money and possessions, either run dry or lose their luster.”  Through his work, Michael attempted to create these bonds, and to “help refocus our potential for connection in all its forms.”

It was announced May 4 that Michael had unexpectedly died of a heart attack, leaving many people throughout the Detroit area shocked at the sudden loss of a respected leader, teacher, dancer, friend and family member. The M.E.C. Board wrote:

It is an impossible task to encapsulate the entirety of a life in a few sentences, especially if lived well. To attempt to do so with the life of Michael Wiggins would be an exercise in futility. The man we know was a loving father and husband, stalwart friend, artist, dancer, singer, motivational speaker and a dedicated leader of our community. His works speak volumes about the degree of change he inspired in everyone who knew him. […] Losing him is something none of us will recover from quickly and so we mourn his passing while we honor his motto “The Show Must Go On.” He is and will continue to be missed.

In a blog post, Detroit native Kenya Coviak said, “Michael was a truly beautiful soul. A witty conversationalist, one evening, I had the privilege of hearing a little about his story as a young boy growing up in ’60s Detroit. You never knew what insight you would get, but it was always something thoughtful and surprising. His wisdom helped shape a vision of what greatness and beauty that can be ours if we grasp it. It sustains those of us who knew him.”

Oberon Osiris, another longtime member of Michigan’s Pagan community, said, “Michael came to the community during a time of great change and brought cohesion, stability, humor and common sense to it. He was the face of Convocation for years and always ready and there for anyone.”

Michael’s cousin and a fellow MEC Board member Claudine Durham started a GoFundMe campaign at the request of both the Pagan and steampunk communities. All raised funds will be used to offset the expenses associated with Michael’s memorial and funeral services. Durham wrote, “Michael was a pillar in the community and was loved by many and respected by all. Even though this is a great shock and loss I know from the amount of requests already in the early hours that we need to help in any way we can. […] We ask that you keep the family in your thoughts and hearts and remember that with each person Michael touched, a part of him lives on in our stories and memories.”

To date, the fund has raised $7,191 with a goal of $10,000, a figure that’s been changed twice already after donors met and exceeded the first two goals. This outpouring of support speaks to Michael’s reputation within the various communities that he has served. In a note attached to its donation, Michigan Pagan Fest said, “Remember him with smiles and laughter for that’s the way he’ll remember you.”

Michael Wiggins lived a life out loud, dancing and creating in ways that he loved. He shared that vibrant spirit with all those around him, through his own art, his teachings, and his unique ability to make creative connections and bring people together. As he told Sue Wert many years ago, this was his life, and he would live it as he wished. And the Detroit community and all of those people he has touched are better for it.

What is remembered, lives.

Column: The Ancestors and ANZAC Day

Sat, 2016-05-14 11:33

Paganisms and Witchcraft traditions in Australia are no less subject to the times as they are anywhere else in the world. While we draw vast inspiration from the past of Europe, Christian and pre-Christian, we are subject to the influences of contemporary pop-culture, public discourse, prevailing political paradigms and social trends as they are manifest in post-colonial Australia. This influence can go one of two ways in terms of our practices. First, as a minority spiritual school(s) of thought, as a sub-culture, or indeed, a counter-culture, standing outside the square and looking in on society writ large, modern Pagans and contemporary Witches can be deeply progressive, revolutionary, subversive and flat out contrarian. Or, our practices change according to the influences of the over-culture.

[Photo Credit: Pöllö / Wikimedia Commons]

Our collective strength is in our ability to inhabit the Janus Head and look both ways, drawing inspiration from that past and being completely free to adapt it according to our present needs and into the future. We are not beholden to a dogma, our focus in on praxis, on the demonstrable, the experience of the individual such that the modern Pagan, or Witch, is free to completely re-examine our relationships with spirit, and indeed, notions of belief entirely. A literal reading of our collective myths is not required as it is in Christianity, nowhere is it written that we must subjugate our Will.

This is particularly true of Witchcraft. Here, the key lessons pertain to power; who has it, what doesn’t, how the web of Wyrd subtlety connects us all and moves us, how to see what has power over us, and how to diminish that influence, and exert our own, according to our Will. This key ability or fundamental lesson is not boxed in and cut off from any sphere of human activity or thought, we can, and do apply it broadly and examine power structures and influences in the broader culture as well.

It is precisely these freedoms and considerations that mean, in Australia, most Pagans and Witches celebrate Samhain at the end of April. Anyone with eyes can see that Samhain is linked to a particular power structure in Nature – a particular shift that allows a moment we often describe as the thinning veil between the Worlds. And anyone with eyes in Oz knows that shift in power doesn’t happen at the end of November, it happens on or around April 30.

That is a kind of power that one does not need to be a Witch to see. Everyone in the Southern Hemisphere is well acquainted with it, as is everyone in the Northern Hemisphere.

In Australia and New Zealand though, something else happens in late April: ANZAC Day. Increasingly, it pops up in reference to Samhain, or All Hallow’s Eve. And in terms of mainstream Australian culture and dominant political paradigms, it has become extremely powerful and, at the same time, increasingly contentious. The question I find myself asking is simply this: How well have Australian Pagans and Witches considered the influence and power of ANZAC Day to either the growth or detriment of the aims of our ancestral based practices at Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve?

Online advertisement for ANZAC Day 2016 including specials for restaurant Bivianos in Dural in regional NSW.

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day falls on April 25, the anniversary of the Gallipoli Landing in 1915. Historically, it marks the operation of the Allied Forces in WWI designed to capture the Gallipoli Penisula and open the Black Sea to the Allied navies. In terms of engagement, ANZAC Day completely overshadows November’s Remembrance Day, which is the day to commemorate the end of the First World War as well as a day to honor all who have died in war.

In terms of the place, one might be forgiven for thinking Australians had a hand at winning the battle fought on the Gallipoli beaches. But, we didn’t. We lost; the Allies never took the Cove and Çanakkale Savaşı (The Battle of Çanakkale) remains one of the most celebrated WWI victories for the Ottoman Empire.

Since 1990, the annual pilgrimage to the Turkish shore has only increased, and the land suffers yearly from Australians’ collective rubbish, which is particularly lovely given the area is a National Park. The bones of the fallen are exposed due to foot traffic, and various efforts have been made to develop and redevelop the area to accommodate the yearly tourist visits. This big business is threatening smaller local enterprise.

At home, it has become acceptable to crack a tinny (open a can of beer) directly after an ANZAC Dawn Service, which is early even for most Australians. This has somehow become a patriotic duty according to both beer companies and former military leaders who advertise the very tinny that one should patriotically crack. And while Australia’s alcohol problem is conveniently forgotten for ANZAC Day, we also blatantly change the rules regarding gambling, so we can all partake of the (illegal every other day)  “Australian Diggers’ Game” of Two-up. While my tone may suggest that we have a serious gambling problem as a culture, fear not. In 2004, during a debate regarding the legalisation of Two-up, the then New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, told the House:

One of the charities most involved in problem gambling, the Wesley Community Legal Service, a body dealing with problem gamblers, has confirmed it has never encountered a problem gambler addicted to two-up. That is an interesting bit of trivia for everyone to take home with them. If anything, a slight extension of two-up to other days of significance would fit in with the Australian commemorative tradition when we remember our war dead not with strident nationalism but with a beer, a laugh and a few of these harmless games.

Perhaps that is the story of how Australia came to be known as “the lucky country.”

To many an Aussie, my complaints may just be examples of a lack of honour, duty, and the increasingly sacred tenet of Australian society; mateship. This is symptomatic of the fact I’m not a “digger,” not a patriot, and most definitely un-Australian. Peter Cochrane gathered a litany of such criticisms in his article for The Conversation’s article ‘The past is not sacred: the ‘history wars’ over Anzac.‘ Included in this piece is a quote from The Australian, originally published April 26, 2013. It reads:

The best advice we can offer is that they ignore the tortured arguments of the intellectuals and listen to the people, the true custodians of this occasion. They must recognise that the current intellectual zeitgeist is at odds with the spirit of Anzac. It recognises neither the significance of a war that had to be fought nor the importance of patriotism. Honour, duty and mateship are foreign to their thinking. They may be experts on many things, but on the subject of Anzac, they have little useful to say.

Arguably, ANZAC Day has become a leviathan of government and privately funded advertising, and the furtherance of an erroneous myth of Australianness that supports and underlies an increased sense of Australia as a military nation. It expresses a nationalism that feeds troubling social trends and promotes Anglo-centric white Australian patriotism.

ANZAC Day is supposed to be a remembrance, not just of the Gallipoli Campaign, but of all wars in which the Australian military have engaged, from the Boer War to Afghanistan. But we must not be confused, ANZAC Day is not for everyone.

The above video shows Murrawarri man Fred Hooper – a man who usually marches in official parades with his non-Indigenous Navy colleagues. Hooper’s grandfather served in WWI, and his great uncle was Harold West, who inspired ‘The Coloured Digger,’ a famous poem by WWII soldier Bert Beros. The poem was written while Beros and West were still on active duty, and it tells of the bravery of Private West, who attacked a Japanese machine-gun pit “single handed.” The final two stanzas read:

He’d heard us talk Democracy –
They preach it to his face –
Yet knows that in our Federal House
There’s no one of his race.
He feels we push his kinsmen out,
Where cities do not reach,
And Parliament has yet to hear
The abo’s maiden speech.

One day he’ll leave the Army,
Then join the League he shall,
And he hopes we’ll give a better deal
To the aboriginal

In 2015, Hooper decided to make the trip to Canberra to lead the ‘undeclared Frontier Wars’ march. As the Australian Federal Police Officer pointed out, “this day is not for you“, Mr Hooper.

In case you thought the AFP officer was just being nasty, or worse racist, he wasn’t really. They are, after all, the undeclared Frontier Wars. Wouldn’t it be disingenuous of us as a nation to recognise an Aboriginal military force as being raised and active at a time when we didn’t actually consider them a people; during a time when we didn’t consider them civilised enough to have so complex an institution as a military or even a guerilla force? Such things would fly in the face of terra nullius.

As Alan Stephens wrote for ABC s ‘The Drum’ in 2014:

According to the Australian War Memorial Act (1980), the AWM’s purpose is to recognise “active service in war or warlike operations by members of the Defence Force”. The act then defines “Defence Force” as “any naval or military force raised in Australia before the establishment of the Commonwealth”.

That definition allows the AWM to commemorate the wars of choice fought by white “Australians” in the Sudan, South Africa, and China before Federation, but excludes the war of necessity fought by Indigenous “Australians” for Australia itself between 1788 and the 1920s.

In other words, pre-Federation white volunteers who chose to fight overseas for the British crown and its commercial and colonial interests have been legally defined as “Australians”, while pre-Federation Indigenous warriors who fought invaders for their homeland, their families, and their way of life, have been officially defined out of our war commemoration history.

Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve have always been a way through which the neo-Pagan and Witch engages directly with the Ancestors. We actively feed them, their memory and propagate their wisdom, keeping that which enriches our lives. Not the positive and the happy memories alone, but also the negative, the difficult things as well. We recognise within these lessons and wisdom, which, by keeping, we strive against repeating mistakes of the past, in order to live more whole, healthier, and happier lives.

As ANZAC Day exerts its not so subtle influence on our lives and increasingly becomes associated with our Sabbat, what powers and structures are we feeding alongside our Beloved Dead? Are we so certain that “lest we forget” as a catch-phrase represents a concept wholly aligned with our goals at All Hallow’s? Here are some quotes:

Calypso Apothecary writes, “Today is Anzac Day. Gathering at dawn, today is a day to show respect and honour the men and women that served and died at war, fighting for our freedom. For me, this day also marks the beginning of Samhain. The decent into the dark part of the year and with the whole of Australia honoring those that have died, today they begin to walk among us.”

Coralturner writes, “In Australia Samhain occurs around the same time as Anzac Day. I find this significant as Anzac Day is the time of year that those from Australia and New Zealand remember those who died prematurely in war. Anzac Day is Ritualized across the country with services, parades, people getting together for meals to remember their deceased friends and relatives. Anzac biscuits are eaten and the game of Two-ups is played.”

Frances Billinghurst‘s, author of Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, wrote,On the eve of 30 April those of us south of the equator pause in silent contemplation and remembrance of our ancestors. Following on the heels of Anzac Day (the day when those fallen in combat from Australia and New Zealand are remembered as well as the increasing number of victims of war), the timing for the Southern Samhain could not really be any better.”

The following was published on Spheres of Light: “It is a time to honour those who have gone before us and it is a poignant co-incidence that Australia and New Zealand’s day of Remembrance for their fallen in war, ANZAC Day on April 25, should be so close to the southern Samhain.”

Venerating the war dead is not new or unusual. Indeed, there are many military uniforms present on my own shrine to my Beloved Dead, and each serves to remind me to be thankful that for two generations, and counting, my family has not known war.  It is never a bad activity to remember the one thing that all wars have in common is a body count. The fact that, as a nation, Australia has troops currently deployed in conflict zones should be more readily discussed. History is written by the victors and we should examine how that fact has resulted in the otherwise contradictory nature of, on one hand, unabashed celebration of a mammoth defeat in a battle in a war we ultimately won, while on the other, denying completely the existence of a war fought on our own soil.

Another quote comes to us from writer Lee Pike, who lives in Perth. Ruminating on Samhain and ANZAC Day together, Pike writes:

I have been thinking a lot, too, about the role that my ancestors have on how I have been shaped and who I am today. How much are we products of our blood or of our soil? Do the dead remain on this plane or another? What can ancestor work offer a magical path? What would the Anzacs truly think about these ‘festivities’? I am sure the answers would be as diverse as they were. War is complex and so is the notion of sacrifice. When remembering the dead, the last thing we should do is boil it down to simple, digestible, and marketable slogans… and brands.

Lest we forget.

Column: Godsend

Fri, 2016-05-13 10:07

Last year saw the release of Apotheon, a computer game set in the milieu of Greek myth. The game’s striking visuals mimic the black-figure pottery of the 7th through 5th centuries BCE, which has the effect of making the game feel more distinctively identified with its source material than any of its predecessors. We look at the ancient vases and feel an aura of myth that cannot be replicated by modern illustrations; Apotheon plays on that aura to deliver a sense of wonder that could not be matched by more sophisticated, “realistic” graphics.

But despite Apotheon’s enchanting presentation, its plot engages in a common pattern not at all faithful to the mythology. The game begins by announcing that the gods have abandoned humanity and seek to punish mortals by denying divine gifts, up to and including the light of Helios, shrouding the world in darkness. A young hero named Nikandreos receives the blessing of Hera to fight back against the gods, climbing Mount Olympus and challenging them to battle. By the end of the game, Nikandreos has slain more than half of the Olympian deities, culminating in a final battle against Zeus. In the process of killing the gods, Nikandreos acquires their special tools – -Apollo’s lyre, Zeus’s thunderbolt, and so on -– and thus their powers. By the end of the game, Nikandreos has effectively become a single omnipotent god, commanding the might of every Olympian at once.

This plot bears a strong resemblance to that of the earlier God of War series, in which the protagonist, Kratos, similarly slays and replaces Ares as the titular god of war, and then goes on to slay other deities, culminating, just as in Apotheon, in a battle against Zeus. The pattern continues in other media as well: by the end of Wrath of the Titans (2012), the gods have perished, as much at the hands of mortal indifference as monsters. Even in the Greek mythology-inspired Theros set of the card game Magic: The Gathering, the plot revolves around a mortal hero, the planeswalker Elspeth, slaying a rogue deity with the ambiguously-named magical weapon Godsend.

One would think the gods only exist to die.

Elspeth slays Xenagos, God of Revels [Art from the Magic: The Gathering card “Deicide” by Jason Chan]

What’s puzzling is that all of these stories take as their basis Greek mythology, in particular; a mythology which makes a point of the immortality of its gods, in contrast to other myth-systems in which gods can and do die. The trope of mortals doing battle with the Olympians occurs very infrequently in the myths; Diomedes’ battle with Aphrodite, Apollo, and Ares in the Iliad is a rare example. Diomedes just manages to wound the gods, and even then only with the aid of Athena. The idea of a mortal actually slaying a god -– much less the “kill and absorb” motif found in Apotheon and God of War –- is unthinkable within the mythic worldview.

Now, it could be argued that this recurring plot line merely reflects the genre: namely, all the works mentioned have belonged to the action genre. This is especially true for video games; the notion that games must employ combat as a core mechanic remains entrenched in the medium, and games that eschew combat altogether are few and far between. In Apotheon and God of War, the vast majority of “characters” Nikandreos and Kratos interact with are merely targets for their weapons. The argument goes that a combat game requires enemies to fight, so in a game inspired by Greek mythology, one might as well fight against the Olympians. But that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny: Greek myth hardly lacks for fantastic monsters that players could battle, monsters with much more visual appeal and potential for interesting mechanics than the gods (who, in the end, tend to just resemble large humans).

I suspect there is more to it than a simple need for game mechanics. Notably, these works tend to also feature a story wherein the bond between the gods and humanity ruptures. In Apotheon, the gods turn against mortals as punishment for human arrogance; in God of War, Zeus betrays and attempts to murder Kratos; in Theros, the Zeus stand-in, Heliod, similarly betrays his follower Elspeth after she discharges her duty to him. (The Titans films, breaking with this pattern, have the bond severed on the other end: humans stop believing in the gods, and thus the gods become mortal and die.) The pattern is not just one of mortals fighting against gods: it is specifically the revelation that the Father God is a liar, hypocrite, and oath-breaker, who unjustly attacks his human subjects and must be deposed in response.

In other words, it seems to me that Greek mythology is being used in its traditional post-classical role as a stalking horse for Christianity, a version of religion that can be invoked and critiqued without exposing an author to the dangers of openly discussing the dominant religion. Gods -– mainly Zeus, a proxy for the monotheistic God -– act as open antagonists to humanity, and can be used metaphorically to condemn the perceived corruption of religion as a concept. The mortal human grows to have more power and agency than the gods themselves, and in their destruction, rises to a mastery of the cosmos; in the case of Apotheon, ultimately recreating human life as a new, singular deity.

The narrative parallels the decrease in religiosity in western societies. As the nones increase in number, this narrative becomes more and more attractive, for it allows a generation of nonreligious gamers to role-play their resistance to religion within the safe confines of a “dead” mythos. (A God of War where the hero kills Zeus is a fun action game; a God of War where the hero kills Yahweh is grounds for international controversy.) The Titans storyline, if anything, displays this atheistic motif more obviously: the rise of nones in their film universe is directly responsible for their demise.

It’s fascinating, if I’m sure disheartening to those who worship them, that the Greek gods get chosen for this duty. For the most part, gods of other mythologies get more sympathetic treatment in popular culture, even though their stories contain just as many incidents of jerking around their followers. But then, it’s nothing new for the classical gods to be used in this way: when King Lear laments that humans are as flies to the gods, he’s also referring to the Olympians.

Wildfire Crisis in Fort McMurray

Thu, 2016-05-12 10:39

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta – On Sunday, May 1, a wildfire was reported 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) outside of the town of Fort McMurray, Alberta. This fire, encouraged by unusually dry conditions, hot temperatures and high winds, spread quickly. By the evening of May 3, officials declared a mandatory evacuation of the entire city of 88,000 inhabitants.

Fort McMurray, or “Fort Mac” as it is often referred to, is an oil industry boomtown located near the Athabasca Oil Sands in northern Alberta, Canada. Edmonton, the capitol city of the province, is Fort Mac’s nearest significant neighbor. The city lies 435 kilometres (270 mi) to the southwest of Fort Mac on Highway 63, the main route between the two communities.

The Fort McMurray fire is just one of the 41 wildfires burning across the province of Alberta. Five of those fires, including the Fort Mac fire, are considered to be out of control. As of nightfall on May 11, more than 1,715 firefighters, 101 helicopters and 26 air tankers were battling the blazes.

Wildfire blazing along Highway 63 [Photo Credit: Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS]

Among the displaced residents of Fort Mac are a few members of Alberta’s Pagan community.  Naomi, a Pagan working for Suncor Energy as a boilermaker, had very little time to make her escape from the fire zone.  The Wild Hunt was able to reach her via email, which she sent from her mobile phone during the evacuation. Here is Naomi’s account:

I got a little more warning than most people. I received a text from a peace officer friend who told me we were going to be placed under a mandatory evacuation in 30 minutes. I had about 10 minutes to grab the necessities and flee in my car with my dog.

When I received the text, I went to all my neighbours and told them to pack and leave. After my car was loaded I went to my friend’s house to help her pack for her, her partner and their dog. We had 10 minutes to get their stuff. The time between when I arrived at their home and when we left their home, the air went from being slightly smoky to difficult to breathe. We then left and went down the hill from where we all lived in Abasand (a suburb of Fort Mac) via a bike path through the trees. I needed to get gas, so we went to a gas station it was closed, the fuel was emergency locked out.

We then were directed north … It took 8 hours to get to a safe place. We watched the area where our houses were burning, while we were stuck in traffic. We found lodging at a camp for oil workers with my partner and spent the night without sleeping.

In the morning I was able to secure a flight for my partner and my dog from CNRL (Canadian Natural Resources Limited). I dropped them off and then I went to my work at Suncor as I was told I was an essential worker and had to report for work. There was no room at that camp so we were waiting for a room when my peace officer friend told me we had a 30 minute window to make it south through town until the fires would close off highway 63 south again. So I called my work and informed them I was leaving and left.

The devastation surrounding us as we sped south was gut wrenching. We made it though town safely. We then ran out of gas twice on the way to Fort Saskatchewan. People were, and continue to be, so generous and kind. Random strangers gave us enough gas to get to a gas station and buy a sandwich. Now we are all staying at a friend’s house. Safe and sound.Together.

Many evacuees, like Naomi, fled north on Highway 63 to the promised safety of the oil worker’s camps, only to be told they had to head back south through the burned and burning areas around Fort Mac. This journey took most of them to the city of Edmonton, where they were received by friends, relatives and strangers. Edmonton’s local Pagan community opened its doors to ensure that evacuees had the needed shelter, food and hospitality. Kate Lomnes, a Pagan mother of four, was packing to move house when the evacuees began arriving in town. Like many other Edmonton residents, she did not hesitate to open her door to strangers. Lomnes said:

I posted on Facebook that my husband Cory and I would accept a family into our home. Our home was half-packed to move and [we have] four children, three of which are four years old. Aldeady crammed into a narrow town house, I didn’t know how we would do it. However, we have a home, walls, a roof, and means to survive. Our resources are limited, but they are meant to be shared. After all, I am Pagan and this is what we do, right? We love, we care, we share.

Not long after my initial Facebook post, a very close coven member said she had a friend that needed somewhere to house his cat. I found out after speaking to him that him and his girlfriend would not separate from their beloved meow baby, and needed a place too. There was no question; there was no pause. An airbed was dug from the abyss, as were end tables and blankets that had been previously packed. But I still felt we could do more. After a frantic $200.00 Dollarama spree, we dropped and dispersed toiletries at the relief centre and brought some home for our Fort McMurray refugees.

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

Evacuees are also staying on the University of Alberta campus, where they can seek the care and counseling of the on-site Wiccan Chaplain, Samuel Wagar, who said:

As a chaplain, I am part of the counseling and support team for the refugees. The University has mobilized its student services and mental health support, along with city and provincial emergency response.

My specific responsibility is to provide spiritual care – meditation, prayer, a quiet place to reflect. We’ve set up an interfaith chapel space as a headquarters for that.

I’m also a resource person to direct people to other things they may need. I’m getting a crash course in social services and emergency resources. Luckily, the provincial and federal responses have been exceptional (especially considering the scope of the evacuation).

The organizing team of PanFest, a weekend long camping festival that happens just south of Edmonton every August at Lughnasadh, have announced that all funds raised during the their recent used book sale will be donated to the Canadian Red Cross fund for evacuees.  PanFest chose the Red Cross due to the recent announcement that money donated to aid evacuees will be matched by the Government of Canada.

 

Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze, and human carelessness is suspected. What is known is that the extremely dry conditions that made this fire get out of control can be attributed to climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions cause higher overall temperatures and decreased precipitation, leaving forests drier and more prone to ignition. The influence the oil industry has on these factors is a topic of fierce debate among Pagans. Wagar said:

Climate change is real. There was much less snow this winter, the spring came earlier and much hotter than it was used to. The boreal forest is tinder dry. This is likely to be the new normal, just like drought in most of the United States, the sea level rise, and rendering uninhabitable of many tropical areas. The moral imperative on Pagans to do something to stop climate change is beyond theoretical now. Mother Earth with adjust, this current great extinction may proceed along, but humanity will not survive.

I keep hoping that humanity at large, or at least our Pagan community, will be shocked out of complacency as the ecological disaster of global warming unfolds.

But too many of us are complicit. Here in Alberta, so much of our economy is presently tied into carbon pollution, so many jobs. It is very difficult to ask people to stop working in oil and gas, when capitalism does not provide other options.

Lomnes added, “I know many Pagans are viewing this climate disaster as Gaia on a furious cleansing spree. Others see it as a result in human’s carelessness contributing to Global Warming. I will leave those opinions to the scientfically educated more experienced Pagans. It may be one or the other, or none it all, but we all know we should be doing our part in saving The Earth.”

The most recent on the ground reports state that 85% of Fort Mac is still standing, but the damage to the community goes beyond the immediate destruction from the flames. The power grid is down and the water in the area is not safe to drink. There is an air quality warning in effect because of the heavy smoke hanging over the area. It is not yet known when it will be safe for residents to return to their homes, or if they even still have homes. The government of Alberta website warns that residents of Fort McMurray should not expect that homecoming for an extended period of time.

After their dramatic escape from the flames, Naomi, her partner and their dog are safe. They made their way to Calgary, another large city in Alberta, 655 km (407 miles) south of Fort Mac. For now, the future for them is uncertain, and their house and its contents are gone. Naomi wrote:

My family and I have lost everything. We have left with a little bit more than the clothes on our backs. I am so blessed and thankful that we are together and safe. Everything is extremely surreal right now. I’m still in shock. To my fellow Pagan community I would just want people to know that this disaster is horrible, terrifying, and heart breaking. Everyone got out safe and that is a miracle. Please don’t blanket judge people who live and work up here. Just see us as a community that has been decimated, is strong and will persevere. Thank you for all your concern and support. It is much needed and appreciated.

As of press time, there have been no reported human casualties of this fire. Sadly, two teenagers died when their vehicle collided with a tractor-trailer just outside of Lac La Biche, Alberta during the evacuation. It is predicted by Alberta’s fire authorities i that these fires will be burning for some time to come, and that the best help they can hope for would be for a substantial amount of rain to help put out the flames.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pagan Prisoner Lawsuit Revived

Wed, 2016-05-11 11:35

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Pagan inmates at the Lovelock Correctional Center may finally see their day in court. Three judges on the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled in March that a case dating back to the 2009 destruction of an outdoor Pagan worship area will be able to move forward. A lower court had made a summary judgment against the plaintiffs, but the appeals court panel has now found that there is, in fact, enough open questions to allow for a more detailed look at the evidence.

Pagan worship area at Lovelock Correctional Center [Photo Credit: Brooke Keast]

Brian DeBarr, Chioke Gadsden, and Nathan Peterson were all inmates at Lovelock. They used an outdoor garden space to practice their Pagan religions. In 2009, a construction project destroyed that space, according to 2009 court papers. Nevada Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Brooke Keast explained that the focus of that work was a walkway. She said:

It’s a dirt walkway lined with railroad ties. Underneath the walkway are the pipes leading from one building to the next. All the utilities were run underground when they built on to the facility. The walkway and areas near it were dug up when one of the pipes had corroded and was in need of replacement. About 30 to 40 feet of pipe had rotted and was replaced and then the grounds were replaced as well.

At the time, the inmates claimed that while they were aware of the construction project, the area of effect wasn’t supposed to include the sacred spaces. They filed official grievances and, per the relevant regulations, only included one specific complaint for each one. While the exact number of grievances filed isn’t clear, it was enough that prison administrators decided that the inmates were filing just to harass staff members. And, that would be an abuse of the grievance process.

However, the crux of the two lawsuits — which were later consolidated into a single action — was not the destruction of the site or the lack of notification, but the punishments the inmates received for complaining in the first place. DeBarr was transferred from Lovelock, which is near Reno, to High Desert State Prison, which is north of Las Vegas. He believes that was done in retaliation for the grievances that he filed.

The plaintiffs contend that their First Amendment rights were violated throughout the entire process.

Pagan worship area at Lovelock Correctional Center [Photo Credit: Brooke Keast]

Today, the outdoor area still exists and is being used by Pagan prisoners. According to Keast, it’s a space about 40 by 80 feet. “We have approximately 60 people who claim to be Pagan,” Keast said. “Of those inmates, 16 are considered in the ‘solitary group’ and spend time in the gardens. By ‘solitary group’ I mean, they dislike the worship offered for whatever reason, so they go to the garden to worship alone. They often group up in the ‘solitary’ group as well which is rather counterproductive if one wants to worship alone – but whether alone or in a group, they have the garden to enjoy as do the other Pagan inmates.”

In addition to that space, Keast said, there are groups of Pagans who worship together in indoor spaces. Some of these activities are facilitated by outside volunteers, as they are in other correctional facilities. She would not provide the names of any of these volunteers, citing privacy concerns.

While there appears to be access to worship opportunities for Pagans incarcerated at Lovelock now, it  still remains whether three Pagan inmates were punished for complaining when that religious freedom rights were curtailed. The justices on the appeals panel did not buy the argument that the grievances were filed solely to harass.  In that ruling, the justices wrote that the three men “engaged in the prison’s informal resolution procedure before filing their grievances.”

Prison administrators based their position in part on what they called “duplicative” grievances in violations of the rules governing that procedure. However, the justices noted that the law did not actually forbid duplication. It “only limits the number of ‘unfounded frivolous or vexatious grievances,’ a disputed issue in this case.”

That’s just the kind of issue that infuriates Rev. Patrick McCollum, who has been party to lawsuits aimed at providing equal access to worship opportunities for Pagan prisoners. In an email to The Wild Hunt, he said:

Unfortunately the prison system is pre-loaded with prejudice, as its roots are deep in Christian theology. The penal system is based on penance and redemption and the cells and inmate activities are based on monasticism. The courts have mostly deferred to the penal system’s judgment on these issues.

While not intentional (in most cases), when religions like Paganism ask for sacred space and such, it just doesn’t compute! The whole system is simply not set up for that!

In order to counter inmate non-Christian religious requests, the system itself has developed a complex system of derailing grievances and such and has actually created a built in punishment for inmates going against the dominant Christian standard. This is what happened in Nevada.

In California years ago, an inmate received six months in solitary confinement for filing a grievance to have Pagan sacred space in prison. The system has a long way to go, but the inmates in this case are in the right, and hopefully over time will win.

The reason the court ruled to let this particular case go forward after it was denied, is the direct result of McCollum v California and Hartman v the California Department of Corrections. Both are cases that we brought forward. Both of these cases clearly showed the court with evidence, that the system is skewed around Pagan grievances, Pagan sacred space, and Pagan religious accommodation. Progress is slow, but gradually moving forward!

Rev. Selena Fox said that leaders of the Lady Liberty League, the religious rights advocacy organization sponsored by Circle Sanctuary, have taken an interest in the case as well. However, she personally doesn’t know any Pagans working in the Nevada state correctional system.

This case may or may not have lasting legal implications, but its outcome will certainly have an impact on at least one of the plaintiffs. DeBarr is now back in Lovelock, and as he’s serving a life sentence. And he is likely to see more construction projects planned at the facility in the future.

Former Heathen candidate Robert Rudachyk attends meetup with Canada’s Prime Minister

Tue, 2016-05-10 11:20

SASKATCHEWAN – On April 27, Robert Rudachyk had an opportunity few in Canada have enjoyed; to attend a meetup with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Even more remarkable about the invitation is that, in a time when many politicians run from associating with those in minority religions, attendees were unconcerned about Rudachyk’s Heathen religion. In an interview with The Wild Hunt, he said that it is a non-issue. 

Robert Rudachyk and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau [Courtesy Photo]

The meet-and-greet was held at the Sheraton Cavalier Saskatoon Hotel to thank the Saskatchewan-based Liberal Party volunteers, who had worked on the federal election in October. The event was limited to 450 guests, all members of Trudeau’s Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is considered a centrist party in Canada, while the Saskatchewan Party is the provincial level right wing party and the New Democratic Party is to the left.

Rudachyk, a long-time member of Canada’s Heathen community, volunteered as Deputy Campaign Manager for Lisa Abbott’s 2015 federal run. He is also currently the vice president for the Saskatoon-West Riding Association for the Liberal Party. He said that he’s always actively looking at how he can help “serve, guide and build the Liberal Party” in preparation for the next provincial or federal election.

Along with that work, Rudachyk ran himself as the Liberal Party candidate in the April 4 elections. He was running to represent Saskatoon-Riverdale as a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA). A seat in the MLA of Saskatchewan is similar to holding office as a Representative in the House at the state level in the U.S. Rudachyk’s election would have made him the first openly Heathen candidate elected in Canada and the highest elected Pagan in North America. Although he was unsuccessful in his bid, the good news for Canadian Pagans and Heathens is that religion appears to not have played any role in the outcome of the race.

He said that the Liberal Party is very inclusive, and it has active and dedicated members of many different religions and backgrounds. Rudachyk said, “It’s nothing. It’s just your faith.”

Religion also appears to not have played any role in the invitation to the appreciation event. The meetup began with a chance for all volunteers to network with each other. He said that everyone knows that he’s Heathen. He has no reason to hide it.  

Then, after some time, Prime Minister Trudeau visited the reception hall. After giving a short speech, Trudeau walked around, greeting as many people as he could. Rudachyk said that he was fortunate. He not only had a photo opportunity with Trudeau but also was able to spend a few minutes chatting with the Prime Minister.  While some politicians may have snubbed a Heathen or Pagan candidate, Trudeau figuratively and literally embraced Rudachyk. 

Rudachyk said that being invited was a huge honor and a positive step forward. He added, “[This] shows what is possible when Heathens […] work to be part of the larger community.” In our interview, Rudachyk added, “This is why we need to work within the systems. The more we isolate ourselves; the more people will not want to trust us. They will only see the bad press about our religions. We need to be part of our communities, and work with them as a whole.” He said that, in doing so, “we bring our world view to the table. We protect ourselves and the future of our faiths.”

And that is just what Rudachyk is aiming to do in his own work. He said, “I’m not in this for me, for glory, or for the money.” He said that he doesn’t care whether everyone agrees with him on all issues or on his approach. He said that he just wants to make things better for his community, his province, his country and his co-religionsists. He added that he aims to do his part now so that his kids can one day say “I’m Heathen” and not have to worry about backlash.

The volunteer event provided the necessary inspiration and incentive for Rudachyk to keep going. He will continue his volunteer work, and he also is researching a possible run for city council. However, there are a number of considerations before he commits. He said, “As the first openly Heathen/Pagan person to become a candidate for a major political party in Canada, I only hope that someday I will finally become successful in this goal and bring our worldview into the political arena so that we can one day have our voices heard.”

Pagan Community Notes: Michael Wiggins, Asatru Folk Assembly, Canadian Wildfires, and more!

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:03

DETROIT – On May 4, Michigan’s Pagan community lost one of their beloved leaders. Michael Wiggins was a teacher, artist, dancer and the “face of Convocation,” an annual Pagan conference held in Michigan. He was born into a Pagan family, making him a second generation witch. He was president of the Michigan Education Council and was declared “Michigan Pagan of the Year” in 2013 for his influence on local events and his advocacy work in the community.

A memorial fund has been set up to raise the needed money to cover his various unexpected final expenses. The current goal amount, which is now at $10,000, was raised twice over the past four days after donors quickly exceed the original and secondary marks. L. Claudine Durham wrote, “The new goal is just a number and is not an expectation…you have already blown away this out of the water and we love you all.”

Fellow Michigan Pagan and writer Kenya Coviak wrote on her blog, “Michael was a truly beautiful soul. A witty conversationalist […] You never knew what insight you would get, but it was always something thoughtful and surprising. His wisdom helped shape a vision of what greatness and beauty that can be ours if we grasp it.”  We’ll have more on Michael’s life and his legacy in the coming days. What is remembered, lives.

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TWH – On May 1, the Asatru Folk Assembly announced a change in its leadership. Current Alsherjargothi Stephen McNallen stepped down, handing the reins over to, as he wrote, “an able team consisting of Gothi Matt Flavel, Gythja Pat Hall, and Allen Turnage as Lawspeaker.”  McNallen made the announcement saying, “I created the Asatru Folk Assembly twenty years ago and have led it through thick and thin.” He explained that he had looked around “at the other leaders of [his] generation” and saw them backing off of their daily involvement in organizational operations. He said that it was time for him to do the same.

McNallen wrote, “Others need a chance to lead, without standing in my shadow. They need room to grow, for their own good but also for the good of all that I, and we, have built. I don’t want to be that old geezer hanging on at age eighty-five because he’s just too stubborn to let go.” One of those new incoming leaders, Gothi Matt Flavel, wrote in response, “We are so deeply honored for the trust and the responsibility to lead the Asatru Folk Assembly into a glorious future. We have a strong and proud tradition to build upon and great momentum to continue the good work and mission of the AFA.”

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[Video Still]

ALBERTA – A Canadian wildfire in the province of Alberta still rages out of control as residents have been forced to evacuate the area. The Fort McMurray wildfire is said to be larger than both Boston and Chicago combined, and has “grown to nearly 400,000 acres (625 square miles), as of Sunday morning and has destroyed more than 1,600 structures.” The fire, which started on Sunday, may have been ignited by campers or by a lightning strike; the source is not known. While officials say that wildfires are common to this remote area, the region’s prolonged dry conditions have led to the fire’s quick spread and its incredible growth.

Dodie Graham McKay, our Canadian news correspondent, has been speaking with members of Alberta’s very active Pagan community. Edmonton, located in the southern portion of the province, is home to a number of different Pagan organizations, events and retail stores. At this point, Graham McKay has said, “It’s chaos there right now.” Reports are coming in that, as the winds move steadily southeast, the fire is now threatening the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. Graham McKay said, “Fires are also now raging along the Manitoba/Ontario border. Winnipeg is being affected with smoky skies and fire bans. And, it’s only May. The dry season isn’t supposed to happen until August.”

A recent shift to cooler weather and some rain has brought hope in Alberta, and has slowed the spread of the massive fire’s flames. However, officials still say that the flames could burn for many more weeks. Graham McKay has been in contact with several local Pagans in the fire zone and will have the full story on Thursday.

In Other News

  • Over the weekend, the Bay Area Pagan Alliance honored another one of its local community members with the title of Keeper of the Light: Glenn Turner. She is known for many years of devoted work within the local community, as well as being PantheaCon‘s event coordinator. She was given the title of Keeper of the Light during the alliance’s annual May festival held in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.  She was presented with the title by Wild Hunt writer, author, and activist Crystal Blanton, who was honored in 2015. Congratulations to Glenn Turner!
  • As noted in the Tallahassee Democrat, a number of religious leaders from the Tallahassee area have signed a joint statement appealing for courtesy. Included in that interfaith group is Covenant of the Goddess member and priestess Diana Kampert.  After listing a number of recent violent and hate-driven events, the group wrote, “These are but a few of the factors that seem to be contributing to a denigration of civil discourse among us. We sense a rising tide of fear, suspicion, disrespect and disregard for one another’s full humanity.” Then the interfaith group called on people to “resist those who would turn us against one another. We urge our neighbors to listen respectfully to people of differing religious and political convictions, and to share their own perspectives without resorting to slanderous attacks.”
  • The Austin Pagan community has also recently garnered some mainstream press coverage. Mary Caldwell, Ed Fitch and Philip Elmore were interviewed by Qiling Wang, a writer for Reporting Texas. The article is titled “Out of the Shadows: Wicca Grows in Austin and Beyond,” and it reportedly caught the attention of the Drudge Report. After more than 400 comments streamed into the site within the first hour of publication, the news outlet had to shut the comments down. The Austin Pagan community is generally very pleased with Wang’s article and her respectful treatment of the subject.
  • The annual festival Rites of Spring is coming up this month. It is hosted by the EarthSpirit Community and held every year in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. The event is open to “all who celebrate the sacred nature of the Earth.”  The Rites of Spring is one of the first week-long Pagan festivals of the summer season, and features workshops, rituals and performances with the reported goal of establishing “a vibrant and joyful living community that expands outward with [attendees] when [they] leave.” Organizers remind interested guests that “on-line registration is open until Friday May 13.”
  • Cherry Hill Seminary has posted its class schedule for summer 2016, and has opened registration. This list of classes include several masters level classes, the military specialization stackables, a selection of short 4-week insight classes, as well as the new educational program that allows students to earn a Certificate Environmental Leadership. Cherry Hill Seminary is the “leading provider of education and practical training in leadership, ministry, and personal growth in Pagan and Nature-Based spiritualities.”

Editorial: The Music and the Magic of the Night

Sun, 2016-05-08 10:48

On this Sunday, the U.S. has paused to honor motherhood in all its many forms. Last year, I wrote an article entitled The Radical Roots of Mother’s Day, which points to the progressive feminism and social idealism that eventually gave birth to the commercial marketing frenzy we know today. As I wrote, “The holiday [has] far deeper and more soul stirring [roots] than the simple niceties of white carnations and overpriced orchids.” This year I have decided to celebrate the holiday in a radical way, by casting aside yet another attempt to encapsulate its history in a journalistic format. Instead, I want to talk about something totally different. Something that inspires me and is part of who I am. That something is music.

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

When David Bowie died in January, there was a mass outpouring of emotion. Fans around the world shared memories, re-watched his movies, and listened to their favorite Bowie songs. The international media machine dug up stories about his life and influence. Bowie was, and still is, an icon representing a form of transgressive pop culture. Through that work, he pushed boundaries into the fantastic and was fully embraced for his oddity. In January, The Hollywood Reporter called him a “genre- and gender-bending British music icon whose persistent innovations and personal reinventions transformed him into a larger-than-life rock star.”

Three months later when Prince died, there was a similar collective outpouring of emotion. Once again, fans shared memories, cried, held vigils and shared their favorite songs. Cities and monuments were bathed in purple light; The New Yorker released an issue with a cover image of rain drops dripping down an all-purple background. Like Bowie, Prince challenged social boundaries, becoming an icon of transgressive pop culture, and he was also embraced for this oddity. In April, The New York Times wrote, “[…] his catalog of songs addressed social issues and delved into mysticism and science fiction. [Prince] made himself a unifier of dualities – racial, sexual, musical, cultural – teasing them in songs like ‘Controversy’ and transcending them in his career.”

For most people the two celebrities were only known through their work and fame. When each of them died, fans were essentially mourning someone they had never met. This single human being, who was neither in their immediate family nor in their larger circle of friends, was held in deep regard. After watching this tremendous public reaction, I began to wonder why and how people can mourn a perfect stranger with such a depth of feeling from a point of real truth. How is that possible?

I believe the answer is in the music.

Shortly after Prince died, a friend relayed a story to me about how the film Purple Rain was playing repeatedly on the television system in the hospital where her ailing mother had been admitted. Over a period of days, she sat by her mother’s bedside repeatedly watching this movie. Many years later, after hearing the news of Prince’s untimely death, deep emotions stirred within her. The song Purple Rain evoked powerful memories of her mother – both of the many joyful times and the difficulties in an untimely death that happened not long after that very hospital stay.

For my friend and others, the song Purple Rain had become an unbreakable thread that tied the past to the present. And that scenario is not uncommon. Music does just that. It can touch us in places of deep privacy where nobody else can go, and remain there as an indestructible bond, a seductive path, and a powerful trigger. Music can move us into experience, not unlike meditation, trance work and magic.

And, through that emotional constant, we can develop deeply felt connections to the creator of the source. We feel personally connected to Prince or Bowie or whomever.  Music creates a sacred internal bond and, in doing so, it turns its creator into a friend and confidant, a lover, a teacher, or a even a god. Someone who really knows us.

” Flames – they licked the walls. Tenderly they turned to dust all that I adore” – Bastille

Growing up, I was surrounded by music. Some of my oldest memories are of my neighbor playing piano as his daughter and I danced to silly songs. “Put your right foot in and right foot out,” we would sing. I eventually was enveloped by music, through piano lessons, chorus, dance and musical theater. Music was everywhere I was and it still is. Every day begins with an overture, and every person has a theme song. I look for rhythm in my writing and in my magic.

Whether or not you live to the beat of music so obsessively as I do, music has been scientifically proven to have many positive effects on the brain. It can create pathways into places we might not readily be able to easily access ourselves, such as past memories, inner drives, and difficult community connections. These are three examples of  the way music works its magic.

“Once upon a time, once when you were mine; I remember skies, reflected in your eyes” – Moody Blues

First, music acts as a time machine. It creates powerful, lasting memory connections that can “transport us” to another time and place. According to scientists, music impacts what is called implicit memory, or the type that is tied to emotion and absorbed outside of direct consciousness. It is described as being “robust,” unlike conscious, or “explicit,” memory, which can be more fleeting and easily damaged. Diseases like Alzheimer’s or accidents affecting the brain can limit access to explicit memory, but not affect the more robust implicit memory, which includes music memory. Therefore therapy using sound can be very effective in reawakening lost memories in many patients.

Because of its ability to trigger memory through emotion, music has been used as a therapeutic tool, mnemonic device, calming activity, mood changer, and also a magical time machine returning us to times long gone.

When my grandmother died, I asked my grandfather to write down the story of his childhood. I didn’t know much about his early life growing up as an immigrant in Chicago, and I didn’t want to lose that part of our family history. He agreed, and after two weeks, he sent me a five-page handwritten essay, not about his childhood but about his life with my grandmother. He had probably never wrote anything in his life. But he wrote this – a cathartic tribute to the woman with whom he had spent his entire life.

[Pixabay / Public Domain]

My grandfather opened is story with, “The organ played ‘Because You’re Mine,” just one of the many songs which became a part of their lives. “Only You,” “You Belong to My Heart,” “You Made Me Love You,” “Didn’t We.” In the myriad of songs and lyrics encountered over the years, there was always constant reminder of the commitment.” Alongside each handwritten paragraph, he had scratched in the margins the name of a song. Listening to the songs as I read his story helped to transport me deeper into his memories, which began in Depression-era Chicago and went through his family life in Santa Monica to retirement in Carson City.

This is part of its magic. It transports you, if you let it.

Music attaches itself to our experience and remains dormant there until we hear the song again. Then, it acts like a trigger, taking us back in time.  And, frankly, sometimes you have no choice. As noted earlier, it affects our implicit memory; it seeps into our brains often without us consciously knowing. Ever start singing a song that you don’t like? I spent many years going to sleep listening to Air Supply. The walls of my parents’ apartment were thin and my neighbor was a big fan.  To this day, I know the lyrics to “I’m all out of love.”

Even when the song is not attached to a memory, music can reach deep into our souls, opening up doorways of perception that allow us to relax into ourselves. In magical circles, chanting and other sound-based rituals often help open the senses for deeper workings. But this type of connection is not relegated to spiritual work. For example, primary school teachers will use calming music in the class to settle young students and create a more effective learning environment.

This illustrates the second way in which music works its magic. Through our emotional connection to music, we can derive personal empowerment and the expression of our own deepest longings, thoughts, pains, struggles and ideas.  Artists with a musical gift help us to tap our inner world. The songs in my grandfather’s story helped illustrate his emotions better than his own written words.

“Strumming my pain with his fingers, Singing my life with his words” – Roberta Flack

Music reminds; it informs; it empowers. It makes us want to act and sometimes it even explains why. Music is magical in the way it dances through our lives, enticing us to join along. In doing so, it asks us to not be afraid of what it is, who we are, and what it evokes within our spirit. Just as music triggers memories, it triggers creativity. Just as it can transport us back in time; it can transport us to places of personal secrecy. Music can make us cry when we can’t, and dance when we are too tired.

“And now we got a revolution, Cause i see the face of things to come” – Nina Simone

Music can also help with magic. The very first magical working that I did was long before I ever picked up a Witchcraft book. This was long before I knew another Pagan. I was a secular atheist with no interest in religion, but I knew about magic, and I knew it worked. How? Because as long as I could remember, I felt the magic in the music. From a very young age, it transported me through its sound, and I was lost in its beauty. Therefore, it was a natural progression go from music being magic, to magic being music.

For that very first working, which I did as a preteen, I used the music of Madonna, which brings me to my next point. Whether music is rock, pop, classical, folk, alternative, punk, mystical or Pagan, it doesn’t matter. Whether it’s comprised of drum beats, flutes or an entire orchestra, it doesn’t matter. Rhythm, sound, instruments, vibrations, voices and words…. If in any combination, the resulting product opens a doorway into your personal being-ness, then it can serve the purpose and be your magic carpet into the past or an altered magical state.

“I sing the Body Electric. I glory in the glow rebirth, creating my own tomorrow, when I shall embody the Earth.” – Fame

Now to return to the original question of why we mourn pop music icons, such as David Bowie or Prince, we must look to the ways in which music affects our lives. These two artists, like many others, are the ones who, in essence, wove that “magic carpet.” They are the ones who were able to create the experience of music, which in turn allowed us to connect to ourselves, to our past, to our history, to our ancestors, to our gods, and to our magic.

A Psychology Today article accounts for the mourning saying that “When artists with decades-long careers like Bowie, [Whitney] Houston, or Michael Jackson die, they take a little piece of our pasts with them.” This applies to non-musical artists as well, such as Robin Williams or Alan Rickman. If a deep part of them can touch a deep part of us, we mourn their deaths just as we would our intimate friends, family and lovers.

In that same article, the writer also points to the third way in which music works magic. It bonds us together through a language that transcends the spoken word, even when there are lyrics. Music can unite us in a sort of social harmony, unlike anything else, because it does so through our sense of universal humanity. Psychology Today writes, “Discovering a shared fondness for a particular film or song brings us closer to others, because our cultural tastes often reflect our values and worldviews.” And when the artist dies we find ourselves in a “collective mourning [that] reminds us that we’re part of a [something] and helps us to celebrate the cultural touchstones that define us.”

Both David Bowie and Prince will live on through their music and their art. Their sound will continue to transport us, empower us, and connect us to others worldwide. Their music will continue to work its magic.  As we say, what is remembered, lives.

Now, I will take this final moment to return to the Mother’s Day subject. Last week, my daughter noted that her new piano book had the music for the song “Scarborough Fair.” She said, “You sang that to me when I was a baby.” I was taken aback. I did sing it every night whenever I rocked her to sleep. That was a bit of my nighttime magic. If she ever needs comfort and nurturing in the future, even long after I’m gone, this song will remain dormant in her memory, standing ready to once again rock her to sleep.

That is the magic of music.

Column: Coming Into the Out

Sat, 2016-05-07 07:30

“For the beloved should not allow me to turn my infantile fantasies into reality: On the contrary, he should help me to go beyond them.” – Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of The Earth

[Home / Movie Still]

I resist watching movies. I have things to do, essays to write, shipping manifests to update, revolutions to plot, tea to drink. But his muscled arms are insistent; the scruff of his beard nuzzling relentlessly. We’re full fed on quiche and french toast with Irish butter and maple syrup reduction, and it’s raining. I give in.

He chooses the film, a kid’s movie. Home, it’s called.

I cringe inside – it’s animated, but not Miyazaki. How can I trust something that’s not Miyazaki? He’s the reason I’m a Druid, an anarchist, a fag. One day I’ll write that essay, “Oh, Hayao!” I’ll tell the tale of the 10 year old boy sitting in a leaking, cigarette smoke-filled Appalachian trailer watching a VHS copy of a VHS copy of Nausicaa: The Valley of the Winds and becoming right there an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist gay Pagan boy.

But this isn’t Miyazaki. It’s Dreamworks. “You’ll like this,” he says, and I’m sure he’s wrong. He doesn’t know that I’m pretty sure I hate this shit. But he also didn’t know that I was really certain I hated when a man feeds you bites of the breakfast that you just both made, guiding a fork-speared piece of thick bread dripping with butter and tree-sap toward your mouth, smiling. He didn’t know that I was certain I’d dislike syrup dripping into my beard, or that I’d been convinced I’d never smile and laugh and feel so deeply alive when he tongues it off your face and then kisses you.

Turns out I was wrong on all that, and the film starts on the tiny screen of my overheating $200 laptop. He kisses me, and I meet the Boov.

I didn’t like Rihanna either, though I’d let myself sing along a little (furtively) to Diamonds and What’s My Name. Because who doesn’t sort of want to say to a man, despite it being popular:

You’re so amazing, you took the time to figure me out

Or, even really–

Oh na na, what’s my name?

And especially if he reminds you a little of what Drake is supposed to remind you of, because pop is all symbolic containers into which we invest our dreams. Drake is an archetype; Rihanna another, and you play the song on repeat to awaken the encoded magic.

Post-Colonial Exclusion

The film’s plot is simple. A colonizing civilisation of aliens occupies earth. A young girl is looking for her mother. One of the non-conforming aliens caused a problem for his entire society and is on the run. He befriends the girl, and they help each other out while confronting each other’s differences. But the film is also a work of genius, particularly if you are a Pagan leftist wrestling with the disease of whiteness while locked in the arms of a Native man who makes you think of Brighid and Rihanna.

I do like Rihanna, especially in the film as Tip, or Gratuity Tucci, a girl from Barbados who’s cat saved her from being relocated to internment camps in Australia by the Bourgeoisie Boov. The Boov are an alien race with a highly-refined culture tasting as any other highly-refined product of industrialisation – bland, monotone, and certain of its own superiority. Displaced from their ancestral lands through traumatic displacement, divorced from any sense of community or the consequence of their universal exceptionalism, the Boov decide to make their new home on earth.

The Boov’s mission civilatrice is unmistakably Liberal, Western and Democratic (in case we miss the point, the capitol of their occupation is Paris.) The Boov have come from elsewhere, eternally fleeing their unacknowledged shadow and causing relentless, unexamined havoc in their search for a feeling of home.

Their last planet destroyed, the Boov select Earth, informed scientifically that the inhabitants will benefit greatly from the efficiency and cultural superiority of their new guests. But like Manifest Destiny or the last 80 years of US war, like British occupation of Africa & the Caribbean, or France’s great adventures in Vietnam and Algeria, the Boov re-organize the natives, relocating the primitive savages to places where they will be safer and happier with ice cream. And, as in all modern Democratic occupations, the colonized people are infantilised. The Boov set up pavilions in the center of the refugee camp orreservations where the benevolent paternalists can dispense knowledge to les enfants sauvages under proud banners proclaiming “Ask a Boov.”

Laying on the bed next to my First Nations boyfriend, his arms around me and his beard grinding occasionally into mine, I’d search his face, listen to his laughter, and try not to think about what happened to his people.

The Bourgeoisie and The Witch

It’s difficult not to think about Rihanna throughout the Dreamworks film. The choice for such a voice actor was brilliant. Perhaps more than most pop archetypes in currency. She embodies perfectly Franz Fanon’s post-colonial subject. Born in the former British colony of Barbados (like Gratuity Tucci), she is also the ‘exotic’ product of a Western culture machine which values her as financial capital yet pounces doubly in extreme jouissance at her experiences of domestic abuse.

Rihanna is both spectre and whore on the symbolic. Like Beyonce and other Black women singers, she is both a product of colonial oppression and also a commodified product within Capitalism, priced according to her appeal, rewarded when she entertains, and yet brutally punished when she bites the paternalistic hands that feed her – most of all when she reveals herself to be real. Like other peoples who stories we do not allow to be told, she is acceptable only when she remains a symbol. Otherwise, she’s a whore, which is another word for witch.

Speaking of which, the most poignant scene of Home is where Rihanna and ‘Tip’ become twinned in a parallel of the video for Rihanna’s song,”What’s My Name.” While the music video has Drake and Rihanna standing in front of a convenience store refrigerator, dropping a quart of milk on the ground (Brighid, I thought when I watched that), Tip and the rogue Boov are likewise before a display-fridge.

Tip is in the midst of pillaging the shop of the petty bourgeoisie to eat (New Orleans after Katrina, LA after Rodney King) while Oh – another Boov who is obsessed with the bohemian ideals of parties and friendships, rather than order and security – is doing likewise. Oh is running, because his search for authenticity has triggered a cosmic calamity. Oh has invited the whole universe to a celebration from which certain shadows must forever be barred.

Encountering the alien colonist, Tip locks Oh in a freezer, a trick most witches know. Tip even ‘cools off’ the aggressor by locking him in with…a broom. And in their ensuing conversation, we glimpse the entire core of Marxist post-colonial analysis of the colonizer:

Oh: What for are you did this? I am Boov, beloved by all humans.
Gratuity ‘Tip’ Tucci: I know what you are.
Oh: Excellent. Can I come into the out now?
Tip: No. This is what you get for stealing planets and abducting people.
Oh: Oh, you are thinking a mistake. Boov do not steal and abduct. No. Boov liberate and befriend.

The parallel between the Boov and the modern gentrifier or Liberal Capitalist was delightful, but there’s something even more fascinating here. Throughout the film, Oh quite clearly, and hilariously, seeks authenticity and a sense of community. He is completely unaware of the exceptionalist prison he inhabits.

He then gives voice from the freezer to the question unspoken by the spiritual tourist, the yuppie Yoga practitioner, or the Western Polytheist and Pagan:

Can I come in to the out now?

[Home / Movie Still]

Oh speaks the traumatic wound of the colonist. In Provincializing Europe, Dipesh Chakrabarty addresses precisely that when he speaks of Europe’s self-classification as ‘modern and secular.’ The colonialist subject cannot see the exceptionalist prison it has made for itself. We are inside, desiring to enter into a world that is completely outside of us. Yet we occupiers by our refusal to see ourselves as non-exceptional, and we cannot comprehend that we have created the very categories of ‘in’ and ‘out.’

Suffering the same displacement from home as the Boov, the American, Canadian, or Australian ‘white,’ just like the modernized European, cannot help but see ourselves somehow ‘inside.’ Civilization, modernity, democracy, capitalism — these are all polite words spoken with our indoor voices, while all the rest of the world stands in the ‘out,’ the primitive, the backward,the fetishized as authentic, and ever so alluring to those of us who want something more than what the markets provide.

Is this not what Western Paganism is thus far, with our foreign gods on occupied, colonized, brutalised land? Our European fantasies of what it means to be native, grand flights of ravens and war hammers, wine and mead poured out upon soil still fed by the blood of the conquered, built upon the bones of slaves—we are still stuck ‘in,’ unable to come into the out.

Why was Rihanna born in Barbados in the first place?

Raven man, Raven gods

I sing Rihanna songs in my head all the time when I think of the man who coaxed me to watch Rihanna-as-Tip. Our first date, he brought me milk. The discount sticker was still on it; half-off, bought with his food stamp card, the only income he had.

“You said you’re always out of milk,” he answered, when I’d asked him why he got it for me.

I didn’t remember saying that. I take milk with my tea, perhaps I’d been out and grumbled how my cereal-eating roommates never bought milk and always depleted the gallon by the time I’d wake. Waking without milk for tea can ruin a day.

Brighid, I thought.

Brighid, I also thought as I watched the search for “home” in Home, the Boov displaced by the decisions of their rulers. They are like all us ‘whites’ in America, displaced from Europe, settled on lands cleared for us by soldiers and slaughter. But, of course, unlike the earthlings in Home the First Nations weren’t given ice cream when pushed onto reservations.

Brighid, I thought, when he first messaged me, a week before we watched that film. “The shelters are full tonight and I’m soaked. Can I crash on your floor?”

He’s Tlingit. Raven moiety. We’d met 16 years before. I’d crushed on him then. I crushed on him still when I saw him again. I’m still crushing on him now.

He’s Tlingit, Raven House. I worship a god named Raven. But I’m a white man on land cleared of natives, a bastard child of a slaughtering empire, housed while a descendant of the survivors slept in shelters and on streets.

Brighid, I thought, and Brân, but also, “what good the gods of whites here on this blood soaked land?”

It is I who want to come into the out. I am Oh, the rogue Boov, eager for the authentic but trapped in the chill of the world that made me.

“Yeah, come over” I’d said. “It’s cold out there. You can share my bed.” And a week later, we fell in love. And during that week, all I listened to was Rihanna.

The Body, The Home

He smashed a “tater tot” into my mouth that day we fell in love. I’d cooked an odd number, I tried to give him the last, he insisted it was for me. “Eat it,” I’d try to say, but there was suddenly shredded potato in my mouth and all over my beard, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the audacity.

It was, admittedly, a little less Rihanna and Drake than I’d been hoping. But utterly Tip and Oh.

Later in the film, Tip calls the Boov a liar. Oh protests, insists he is telling the truth. Tip stands her ground, and he demands to know why she’s certain.

Oh: I never lie!
Tip: Yes, you do! And you know how I know? Because every time you lie, you turn green!

And Oh is shocked, having never noticed such a thing about his people or himself. What caused such an alienation from the body for the Boov is never addressed, but Marxists and most Witches have known for quite some time what caused ours. From Silvia Federici’s Caliban & The Witch:

It was in the attempt to form a new type of individual that the bourgeoisie engaged in that battle against the body that has become its historic mark. According to Max Weber, the reform of the body is at the core of the bourgeois ethic because capitalism makes acquisition “the ultimate purpose of life,” instead of treating it as a means of the satisfaction of our needs; thus, it requires that we forfeit all spontaneous enjoyment of life (Weber 1958: 53). Capitalism also attempts to overcome our “natural state,” by breaking the barriers of our natural state by lengthening the working day beyond the limits set b y the sun, the seasonal cycles, and the body itself. (Federici, p. 135)

This is, of course, the self-same alienation of the modern European subject (Pagan or otherwise) from the knowledge of the body, the ‘out’ for which Oh longs to come into. It’s the tater tot smashed into the mouth; the muscular arms wrestling the body onto the bed to watch a children’s movie. It’s the knowledge lost for which a quart of milk spilled on the floor of a convenience store is the return.

It is also the moment the symbolic stares back from all our talk of gods and ancestry, magic and ritual and leers, lewdly.

What we have now –  our obsession and exploitation of those who are ‘out’ has not changed. Early colonists wrote of the indigenous peoples in the Americas with a mix of fascination and disdain, which is no different from the white world’s love-fear relationship with indigenous culture today. From British explorer and conqueror James Cook:

From what I have said of the Natives of New-Holland they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans; being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them. They live in a Tranquillity which is not disturb’d by the Inequality of Condition: The Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life, they covet not Magnificent Houses, Household-stuff &c., they live in a warm and fine Climate and enjoy a very wholesome Air…

Of course, such observations never changed colonial policy; if anything, the certainty of conquerors that they fully understand the cultural forms of those they’ve conquered is precisely what enables the continuation of the violence. The colonial mind pieces together the worlds of the others not through the body and its experiences, but through the same analytical and empirical tools which have disenchanted us.

The Boov in Home do this too: human objects we consider deeply important to the functioning of society (like wheels) are deemed useless by the superior intelligence of the conquerors and thus destroyed. Being a children’s movie, we see no mass buffalo slaughters and deforestation. We don’t see the churches built upon sacred lands. We don’t see the mission schools.

Nor do we get a look at what life is quite like for the displaced Earthlings in Australia, only that they are quite compressed together. The internment villages look nothing like the shelters in which my lover slept for months, nor the Indian Community Centers in which he’d wait for hours to get medicine or help looking for housing.

But then again, we adults don’t look at those things, either.

“Love wants to reach out and manhandle us
Break all our teacup talk of God”
–Hafiz

The Boov search for home only because they flee an enemy that they have created. Their leader, possessing all the inherent right-to-rule that every authority claims (and no authority ever has) is heroic; at least until the actual founding horror of their displacement is revealed. They overthrow their ruler, replace him with the enlightened Oh. Presumably, they live happily ever after, co-existing upon Earth without reprisals from the humans who they oppressed. There is no blood in the streets – no Ferguson or Baltimore or Fallujah uprising. One can only hope whites would be so fortunate.

And yet perhaps within this children’s film is revealed precisely the path out of being a settler, addicted to our exceptionalist modernity. At the end, the humans teach the Boov to dance, almost violating their physical autonomy. Their bodies revolt against them, following the thread of wisdom that only the physical can accept. This is, of course, what the post-colonialists have always been on about. Only when we become again bodies can we see the oppressed as something beyond symbols. The homeless Native man, the Black woman singer — they can only be bodies to us when we are bodies to ourselves.

And the only way to do that, of course, is to love.

Is that now why, perhaps, we are so obsessed with pop songs about love? And perhaps also why post-colonialists like Frantz Fanon wrote so much about it. We do not know love, so we must have it sung to us, yet turn around and scorn the bodies which create those songs.

Perhaps to ‘come into the out’ is merely to join the rest of the world, which of course means giving up all the things which keep us in and everything else out.

  *    *    *

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

Column: Caveat Emptor

Fri, 2016-05-06 10:34

Odùduwà is the power of the womb, the well of existence in the Yoruba religion. He is the progenitor of the Yoruba people, brother of Orisha Obatalá (the justice bringer) and, in some stories, the first ancestor. When the world was covered in water, it was Odùduwà who first descended from heaven and laid the spell that pulled up the land up from the sea, finishing the work of his brother, Obatalá, who had become inebriated partly through the work of Orisha Eshu. The first bit of land that rose from the waters would become the city of Ile-Ife, Nigeria, the spiritual center of the Yoruba religion and the gateway to heaven.

Statue of Oduduwa at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Photo Credit: Manny Tejeda-Moreno

When human forms were later molded by Obatalá, Odùduwà became their first emperor, the Oba, of Ile-Ife. It would be through him that all the lineages of all the Yoruba would trace ancestry. He would become the father of all seven leaders that headed the seven kingdoms comprising the Yoruba confederacy. Still, while Odùduwà would be revered as the founder of the Yoruba and first builder of the land, neither was an act of leadership. He would not become the Orisha of leadership. He was simply there laying those foundations and doing the groundwork as it were. Leadership was something else.

The title “Orisha of Leadership” would belong to Orisha Chango, the fourth king of Òyó, one of the seven Yoruba kingdoms. Through Obatalá’s tutelage in diplomacy, justice, governance and kindness, Chango would become the Orisha of Leadership because of his hard work, his intelligence, his compassion and his charm. Chango is charismatic, powerful and seductive. He would show his faults: ego, arrogance, lust and manipulative tendencies. He is imperfect, but he uses all his industry, intelligence and charisma on behalf of his community, in order to make it ethical, just and powerful. But Chango is also genuine, eternally and deeply concerned for his children. Despite his temper and his self-absorption, Chango works hard — inexhaustibly hard — so that his children can succeed. He goes into battle for them, prepared for his own sacrifice so they might thrive in a difficult world.

These stories are complicated. They are part of an oral tradition and so versions of the story naturally vary. But they offer some important insights into what our expectations should be of our leaders. Simply put: leaders should serve; they should be genuine; they should be transparent.

There is large body of science concerning leadership, literally tens of thousands of research studies. It’s far too much to cover, but the evidence points in much the same direction. Effective leaders organize compassionately, avoid judgments, engage their community, serve transparently, and act genuinely; see Yukl (2012) for a comprehensive review.

Despite the wealth of lore from many traditions, the idea of “leadership” is a modern construction. Somewhere around 1821, the words “leader” and “ship” get combined during a speech in British parliament to mean the demonstrated act of being a leader. Before that point, words were used like headship, origins of which seem to go back to the 14th Century.

But the Proto-Indo-European root, leith- from which the word leader evolves in the Western language set has a deeper meaning. It means “to leave and die,” in modern parlance, to sacrifice. It echoes the theme of the dying and rising god, and that theme is found across the Pagan landscape from Baldr to Dionysius to Quetzalcoatl. Leaders suffer and sacrifice to bring new life into the world. They exist to serve. Their acts of service to the community should define them.

And that is what’s important in these messages: the community should come first. This should neither be underestimated nor subordinated. It remains one the great wells of strength that is tapped by all faiths. Yet, that message is consistently underappreciated and even overtly ignored by some leaders in favor of their own insights, authority and careers. It is important now, as we make choices about how we will spend our resources of time, money and spirit.

As the festival season clicks the turbo button, we experience an annual embarrassment of riches. Almost uniquely to the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, we experience an opportunity to be in a community that is often denied to a broader Pagan world.  These festivals are an opportunity to enter fellowship with others of similar minds, faiths, paths, and ways of interpreting the world around us. Festivals are a tremendous opportunity for such fellowship. But, regrettably, they have also become increasingly tainted with a focus on celebrity over community.

Festivals are not sacred sites; they will never rival the natural majesty of such locations. They can take place in or near sacred locations. More importantly, they can be sacred encounters. On a day-to-day basis, many people exist in relative isolation from other Pagans. The occasion to engage in uncensored, non-judgmental conversation is uncommon within most of our professional lives and even throughout our daily lives. The opportunity to share personal gnosis or spiritual experiences without persecution can be stiflingly rarefied. The act of simply being among is itself powerfully transformative. That act requires no celebrity and no confounding of leadership with celebrity; it only requires community.

Rather than focus on the opportunities and strength of fellowship, there’s an overt competition to find individuals who will provide the biggest draw, and then confusing acts of salesmanship or entertainment with acts of leadership. Now, before going on, I should be clear. Make no mistake with my point here: festivals must make money in order to survive, and that’s perfectly fine. That sustenance means a future festival.

However, often times the role of a leader becomes tiredly entangled with secondary professions like performer, author or speaker. We like the term headliner, and we even focus on those people as the reasons to go to a festival. Sadly when that happens, we also diminish the significance of fellowship. We fall into the common — even mainstream — spiral in which the power of the community is underestimated; launching a slow but real and persistent slippage to attract festival goers by offering interactions with celebrities.

[Photo Credit: marfis75 on Flickr]

Now “celebrity” isn’t bad, but it’s not leadership, and conjoining that space opens a dangerous door. Celebrity is presentation; it is talent and in some ways, disguise. Celebrity rarely seeks humility or transparency. It rarely espouses hospitality or subordinates itself to community. It may say so, but it seldom feels genuine. Celebrity is pomp. It’s about claims; it’s about sales. It is much more about marketing than service, genuineness or transparency.

And it’s troubling. But not because we shouldn’t have headliners, and not because the festival producers shouldn’t make money. Both are good. It’s troubling because we get treacherously close to mixing celebrity and religion, especially when we actually have true leaders in our community who do offer their service, genuineness and transparency without having anything to sell.

In Dune, our ancestor Frank Herbert (1965) explores how the powerful will exploit religion for social control. Herbert shows how ritual and religion can come together to create an elite class that ultimately promotes hierarchy and suppresses revolutionary thought. He certainly was not the first to make such commentary. Another ancestor, sociologist Max Weber (1947), also argued that, while the tendency toward bureaucracy constituted the most rational solution for social organizing, it also built an impersonal “iron cage” of rule-based social control.

But above all, Weber noted that groups — especially when there is a time of need or confusion — have a tendency to seek leaders to explain the world and offer us insights, or help us navigate the mystical and become more powerful. Weber termed it charismatic authority, a form of leadership and power that comes neither from legal nor traditional authority. This form of authority that can, in its darker moments, attempt to consolidate all three to become controlling and nothing more than celebrity. Sociologist Eileen Barker (1984) famously aligned these behaviors with the leaders of new religious movements, especially cults.

And there is an even darker side here; a much darker one.

Those style leaders focus their charisma on building their celebrity and status. They use the tools of marketing and manipulation to entrench themselves in the lives of followers. They promise the revelation of secrets; they insist on making followers feel chosen or invested in being graduated as new spiritual leaders themselves.These individuals seek devotion through the promise of spiritual awakening. The worst of these types look to sex as a means of control, while others are even more sinister in that they demand emotional intimacy. Some of these spiritual “leaders” will add a sense of inclusiveness and secrecy that promotes the specialty of the followers and go so far as to offer a unique name that identifes those people on the outside, and those on the inside.

These leaders place themselves as the gatekeepers of spiritual paths. They cultivate a belief in their power, their insight, and their hidden knowledge. They nurture adoration and finally suggest a price. Sometimes the price is fiscal, sometimes it’s emotional. And through that price, they seek control over others. They selfishly channel our energy to themselves; all in the name of spiritual awakening and the building of a new and powerful movement.

But that is not a movement. It’s an audience. And community inoculates us from these kinds of deceptions.

Creating and sustaining community is about building a network of options and support that strengthens our spirit. The community gives us the courage to build a mission and the hope to see it fulfilled. A strong community helps us live, helps us achieve and eventually helps us die. Community helps us grow our spirit and helps us release it. Our stories, our experiences and our teachers share the certainty that leaders must be in community with us. Good leaders and powerful leaders work within community so they themselves are no longer needed. They are our headliners.

The Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist movements have been famously insulated from achieving cult-status. By having no central charismatic figure, there is no authority and no bureaucracy to decide how our morality is to evolve. There is no one person responsible for validating our experiences or legitimizing our beliefs. Pagan scholarship, from as early as Adler’s (1979) groundbreaking Drawing Down the Moon and Luhrman’s (1991) problematic Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft, has consistently demonstrated that the group and not the person was critical to the viability of a Pagan movement. Even in our more prominent spiritual organizations with centralized leadership, the role of the central bureaucrat is to support, not validate.

Our approaches to consensus are a testament to our community-focus and commitment. Real leaders leverage that strength to make themselves obsolete. They strive to be genuine and build the trust of those they serve. They don’t need to appoint magical successors or keepers of secrets; their message is their magic and their community is its manifestation. Our community is blessed with many.

The respected elders I know in several traditions have never denied access to their knowledge. They have never hidden behind secrecy or secrets, and they are the first to admit when they too are grasping for answers. If they are oath-bound, they say so but never make you feel like outsider or unworthy of such knowledge. They are apologetic when they are narcissistic, ungrateful and controlling, because they share their failings. They are not special and want to share their ordinariness. They expose their humanity rather than boasting their exceptionality.

These kinds of leaders don’t care about lighting up a room: they care about making a connection. They care about community. The coming summer and festival season offers us a new opportunity to live in community. It also offers us the opportunity to witness how are leaders strengthen it. Those relying on celebrity will point to their magic, those relying on the joy of community will stand aside as the magic happens.

Citations

Adler, M. (1979).  Drawing down the moon.  NY: Viking Press

Barker, E. (1984).  The making of a moonie: Choice or brainwashing.  Oxford: Blackwell.

Herbert, F. (1965).  Dune. Philadelphia : Chilton Books

Luhrmann, T.M. (1991).  Persuasions of a witch’s craft: Ritual magic in contemporary England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Weber, M. (1947).  The theory of social and economic organizations (T. Parsons, Transl.). NY:  Free Press.

Yukl, G. (2012). Leadership in Organizations. NY: Pearson.

Of Witches and History: an afternoon with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone

Thu, 2016-05-05 11:44

HIGHLAND MILLS, N.Y. –Throngs of people smiling under sunny skies after days of chilling rain, a festive maypole, live music, rows upon rows of vendors hawking their wares.  This was the scene that welcomed Gavin Bone and Janet Farrar to the ninth annual Beltane Spring Festival put on by the owners of Brid’s Closet in the gently rolling landscape of Palaia Winery. The pair were actually on hand for several days, offering workshops, running rituals, presiding over a wedding beneath the ribbons that hung from the maypole and hummed like a flock of the eponymous birds, and talking about their new book, Lifting the Veil. The only potential cloud that might have been cast upon the events was the fact that copies of their book had not yet arrived. Signings were taken off the schedule. If Mercury going retrograde two days earlier had any bearing, no one mentioned it.

[From Farrar and Bone’s website www.callaighe.com]

A conversation with these two authors, each of which has had a high profile in Pagan spheres for decades, can wander like an expedition through a hedge maze, with surprises and delights. That includes personal recollections of other well-known Pagans. Raymond Buckland, Gerald Gardner, and Ronald Hutton were all mentioned. It also includes observations about the way the Paganism itself has been divided and transformed, and has multiplied. A fair amount of time was also devoted to talking about Lifting the Veil.

Farrar described Lifting the Veil as a labor of love over many years; indeed, she promised a long wait for this book when the pair was interviewed for The Wild Hunt in 2008. It’s an exploration of trance and possession work that attempts to place these concepts in a Wiccan context. It’s an area of particular interest to Bone, who started exploring these ideas before he met Farrar and her late husband, Stewart.

“I’ve had an eventful life in the craft,” Bone said. He recalled being a solitary Pagan in 1985, and meeting some people to go into the woods near Portsmouth for his first ritual on Halloween. “I was quite Catholic,” he recalled, and he “wasn’t quite comfortable” with the observances. That discomfort may have come from a “nasty elemental,” which had attached itself to him during the ritual; he learned about its presence some time later when the owner of an occult shop made note of it. Then, he said, “I found out that behind every occult shop is a secret group.”

Bone recounted how he built a rather eclectic resume that wove Arthurian elements in with Sufi mysticism, ritual magic, energy work, and spirit contact through mediums. Meanwhile, members of the mainstream Wiccan community in England “shunned” him for not having had an initiation. He eventually was initiated into Seax Wica using a Tree of Life ritual run, he explained, by a dyslexic: “I was the first Jesuit introduced to Wicca,” he joked.

Even as he was exploring esoteric and religious paths, Bone was training as a psychiatric nurse. Studying in these two fields simultaneously placed him in positions where he started seeing patients who had already died and needed assistance crossing over, as well as those who were in trance or ecstatic states induced by conditions such as grand mal seizures and hypoglycemic shock. These altered states of consciousness excited his interest. “I was curious about the physiology” that was tied to these states, he said.

That curiosity led him to look into the seidr practices in Anglo-Saxon cultures, as well as the possessions which take place during Vodou ceremonies. When he met the Farrars in the 1990s, he learned that people sometimes shared with Janet their frustrations about not being able to use the techniques she described for drawing down the moon, in which a deity is invoked into a person. The problem, Bone felt, was that “drawing down the moon was missing training in trance work.”

Farrar and Bone have traveled the world researching this book, including the techniques practiced by Aleister Crowley, shamans of the Russian steppes, Hellenic oracles, Thessalanian and Thracian practices from antiquity. Bone explained that many ancient oracles began their work in caves, and that traces of ethylene found at Delphi validate the hypothesis that subterranean gases helped induce the necessary trance states for them and for similar priestesses such as the Sybils.

Looking into the past and at different modern cultures drew them back to modern Paganism to try to fit together the missing pieces, and they consulted with Diana Paxson about trance work. Seidr priestesses of northern Europe, unlike the Sybils, were traveling seeresses; the methods of inducing trance appear to have included veiling and singing. From other cultures come elements like drumming and alcohol, and gradually Bone and Farrar started to develop the concept of there being four keys to successful trance induction. This includes energy work such as chakra stimulation, recognition of spirits and deities as separate beings, our concepts of mythical cosmology, and exterior elements including drumming, veiling, masking, and use of entheogens.

Even speaking about these topics, Bone can never quite turn off the medical side of his brain. Use of entheogens — hallucinogens — for ritual purpose is not without peril, he warned, just as other intense techniques such as fasting and sleep deprivation can be overwhelming. He recalled a friend who used those last two to have what Bone described as “genuine experiences,” but experiences that his friend “couldn’t come back from” afterward.

“The line between illness and psychic experience can be thin,” Bone said. “Schizophrenics have them, but in that case it’s a symptom, not a cause.” On the other hand, “One person’s madness is another person’s seer.”

Combinations of techniques are most common, and one element — pain — entered into the Pagan communities forcefully in the 1980s, when there started to be overlap with the BDSM community. The release of endorphins caused by those practices are reminiscent of the scourging used in early Gardnerian ritual, he explained, and can be much more intense than entheogens or even substances like opiates. “You can get hooked on it,” he explained.

Some of the work done in writing this book tried to place things like the ecstatic trance of Vodou “in a European context;” not an appropriation, but an attempt to revive practices such as the Dionysian rituals of Italy using techniques which have survived elsewhere in the world when the European traditions did not fare so well.

They did have an opportunity to share views about Paganism more generally, and that’s when Farrar — who took pains to let Bone talk up the book — was more than happy to weigh in. Sometimes described as an oath-breaker for the information she has put into her books, Farrar is unapologetic about her life, and contrasted herself and her husband from English Pagans in particular. Where many of the British “can be stiff-upper-lip people,” they are instead “salty and earthy,” willing to make ribald jokes about well-known figures and otherwise shock their more proper countrymen.

Bone and Farrar describe themselves as polytheists, and count that as part of the Wiccan march away from monotheism. “First it was one god and one goddess,” said Bone. “Then there was a triple goddess. It was awhile before people were polytheists again.”

How they see those gods is as shapeshifters, something which is attested to in many myths and evidenced in the various names and epithets some gods are referred by. “I wear a nurse uniform,” said Bone, but that doesn’t make him a different person. “Do the gods even get a voice?” Many Wiccans, they agreed, get “stuck in the maiden-mother-crone stuff” and seek to mold gods into that model.

“Frey wears an Armani suit and carries credit cards,” said Farrar. “Mercury is a telecommunications worker. Jehovah thinks he’s all alone.” She delighted in announcing that the Venus de Milo statue once bore a name plate of “Eris.” Doreen Valiente, she said, was definitely a polytheist, and likely worshiped Diana. In practice, “she was much more of a hedge witch. She wanted to commune in the forest, not practice high magic.”

Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone [Courtesy Photo]

Recollections of people who brought modern Wicca into the world include this observation by Farrar: “Gerald Gardner was its mother; Doreen Valiente its father and Alex Sanders smacked its bottom.” Sanders, she said, was a much more complex person than his public persona, but that face was necessary for Wicca to grow.

Farrar practiced with Valiente and is beside herself with excitement over the revelations that she had a secret life working for the British government. “She never mentioned it,” although friends might have had suspicions, and it took the research skills of Heselton to prove it. “I saw Doreen with the Queen Mother, and they were clearly old friends,” she recalled. Knowledge of the occult make creating and breaking codes a natural progression, they theorized, making people with that background more effective than the “chinless wonders” who were otherwise recruited for that work. The Official Secrets Act technically only binds a person for 50 years, but in practice most people take those secrets to their graves, as did Valiente.

On the differences between American and British Wicca, Farrar said the most obvious thing that she noticed when she first visited these shores was a tendency towards titles. “Everyone was lady this and lord that,” she said, but “I’m no lady.” She also said that “American covens tend to watch over each others’ shoulders,” while the British ones are largely left as autonomous units.

They are bemused by the emergence of the term “British Traditional Wicca,” which they say isn’t used anymore in England than the French refer to themselves when frying potatoes. “It started like a group label” around the turn of the century, Bone said, “and now it’s a rejection of it.”

Another interesting evolution is the distinction between Witchcraft and Wicca. When she was initiated by Sanders, Farrar said, “We were Witches and Wicca was the religion.”

Bone said that at one point the aphorism was, “All Wiccans are Pagan, but not all Pagans are Wiccan. Now it’s turned about, so that all Wiccans are Witches, but not all Witches are Wiccan. It’s a generational shifting of the goal posts.”

Generally, they’ve watched as Paganism has matured over the decades. One change they specifically noted is that magic is becoming less the center of Wicca and related practices, and more a tool. The shifting language may at times puzzle them, but they do see a genuine interest in honoring the gods. The path to do so may have changed into an umbrella, and even that umbrella is rejected by many who fall under its shadow, but that may be because like the gods themselves, Paganism is a shapeshifter.

Doreen Valiente – Witch, Spy and Friend to Royalty

Wed, 2016-05-04 10:44

[The Wild Hunt welcomes journalist Claire Dixon to our weekly news team. She is our U.K. correspondent and will be covering news and events specifically in that region, as well around the world. To learn more about Dixon’s background and her experience, check out her bio page.]

BRIGHTON, England — The doors opened on an exhibition of artifacts from the Doreen Valiente collection this month, but it was the new biography of the U.K.’s most famous Witch that caused the biggest stir. Why? The book revealed that Valiente had worked at the legendary MI6 spy base Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

[Courtesy Doreen Valiente Foundation]

As reported in The Wild Hunt in January, Philip Heselton’s book, Doreen Valiente Witch, was published by the Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) to coincide with the landmark exhibition in Brighton, West Sussex. It is the book’s third chapter, titled Glimpses Through the Shadows (Or What Doreen Did During the War), which has been attracting the most interest.

MI6 used Bletchley in Buckinghamshire as its code-cracking centre and would intercept all manner of German ciphers. The most famous was the Enigma code, because it had more than 100 million variations. Heselton states that Valiente had signed the Official Secrets Act and was part of Bletchley’s ISOS division, whose job it was to translate intercepted messages.

DVF trustee Ashley Mortimer said that Heselton, in his research for the book, had finally confirmed a long-standing suspicion that she was involved with this code-cracking. The discovery was an exciting development for DVF and the Pagan community, in general.

Mortimer said, “John and Julie (Belham-Payne, founders of the foundation) had always believed Doreen was involved in secret work during the war, they’d both speculated that Doreen may even have been at Bletchley Park. So to have this confirmed by Philip was truly thrilling.” He added, “This aspect of Doreen’s life, now revealed, throws a new perspective on other aspects – certainly her ability to be secretive and to take her promises seriously, as she plainly did with the Official Secrets Act.”

Unfortunately, this new chapter of Valiente’s story, which Heselton has now opened, may never be fully told. The work carried out at Bletchley Park was first disclosed in the 1970s. But because Valiente signed the Official Secrets Act, she was prohibited from speaking about the nature of her business with the government. For intelligence work, this limitation would usually apply to the remainder of the signatory’s lifetime and , furthermore, any information covered by the Act can sometimes be officially classified for up to 100 years.

So what do we actually know? According to Heselton, the ISOS division, which was based in Hut 18 at Bletchley, was part of the effort to counter the Abwehr, or German military intelligence. Abwehr had spread itself through Europe by sending out spies posing as refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. These spies would then report back on enemy military sites, training regimes and so on. ISOS worked to intercept those messages, crack ciphers, and track down the spies.

Once detected, German spies were given a stark choice. They could become double agents or face execution. Many chose the former, which led to the creation of the highly successful double-cross system. False information was fed back to German, and one very notable success was to convince the Nazis that the Allies would be landing at Calais rather than Normandy on D-Day. These double-agents went unnoticed by the Germans, and it is estimated that the work of Valiente and her colleagues at Bletchley saved millions of lives, cutting the length of the war by up to four years.

Heselton also claims that Valiente spent a lot of the Second World War travelling between Bletchley and South Wales. She was reportedly gathering information from foreign merchant navy men regarding the Battle of the Atlantic, at the core of which was the Allied blockade of Germany. It was during this time that Valiente met her first husband Joanis Vlachopolous, who drowned only six months after they were married in 1941. However, Valiente’s role in South Wales is less clear than her role at Bletchley.

Heselton’s research has undoubtedly added an important new dimension to Valiente’s story, and the Pagan community is abuzz with questions. However, as noted earlier, given her signing of the Official Secrets Act, we may never know the true extent or nature of her work during the war – or at least not for some time. Mortimer said, “The research continues, and we are all convinced that there will be further information and other revelations to discover. Doreen Valiente remains an enigma and it seems the more we find out about her the more we realise how little we know.”

Bletchley Park was contacted for a comment but did not reply.

[Courtesy Doreen Valiente Foundation]

Meanwhile, another interesting disclosure in Heselton’s biography is Valiente’s acquaintance with the British royal family – particularly the Queen Mother (who passed away in 2002). Heselton told the Brighton Argus: “I have had it from a number of people that she indeed knew the Queen Mother. As with a lot of her life, much of this is a mystery and will remain so but we have certain clues to their relationship.”

According to Heselton, the Queen Mother flew Valiente to Balmoral, which is the royal family’s official summer residence in the Scottish Highlands, by private jet in the 1980s to warn her that the government of the time was thinking about outlawing Witchcraft again. Witchcraft had been banned in Britain in the 16th century under the reign of Henry VIII and was punishable by death. Notable purges include the North Berwick witch trials in East Lothian, Scotland (1590) and the Pendle witches trial in Lancashire, northern England (1612).

However, in 1735 a new Witchcraft Act was passed to reflect the Enlightenment values of the times. Being a practitioner was no longer punishable but belief in witchcraft was. The maximum penalty was one year’s imprisonment or a fine, and the Act remained statute law until 1951.

When Gerald Gardner introduced Wicca to popular culture in 1954, Witchcraft began to enjoy a resurgence. Therefore, the possibility of a fresh ban must have been alarming. Heselton was unclear on the exact timing of Valiente’s flight to Balmoral, but he said, “My impression is that her meeting with the Queen Mother was some time in the 1980s.”

Another related rumour cited by Heselton is that the hand-held mirror used by Valiente in her rituals, which can be seen in the current DVF exhibition, once belonged to the Queen Mother. Valiente reportedly picked it up at a jumble sale at a village neighbouring Balmoral after the Queen Mother had a clear-out. She is said to have got chatting to the Queen Mother at the sale, who confirmed that the mirror was hers. However, there is at present no way of verifying this story.

As with this rumour and the Bletchley tale, it would appear that there are many more stories to be told about Valiente. We will keep reporting as they continue to surface.