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CNN Ties Accused White Supremacist Killer Frazier Glenn Cross to Odinism

Tue, 2014-04-15 06:40

On Sunday, avowed white supremacist Frazier Glenn Cross (aka Glenn Miller) allegedly shot at two Jewish community centers in the Kansas City area, killing three people. Cross reportedly shouted “Heil Hitler!” during his arrest, and authorities have officially classified the shooting rampage as a hate crime. This shocking incident, which happened on the eve of the festival of Passover, has had individuals, and the press, digging for more information on the alleged shooter. Daniel Burke, co-editor at CNN’s Belief Blog, believes he has uncovered the religion angle to this story: Cross is not a Christian, but an Odinist.

Frazier Glenn Cross

“Frazier Glenn Cross is a white supremacist, an avowed anti-Semite and an accused killer. But he is not, as many think, a Christian. [...] The 73-year-old has espoused anti-Semitism for decades. He also founded racist groups like a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Both groups have deep ties to Christian white supremacists. But according to Cross’ 1999 biography, he is an adherent of Odinism, a neo-pagan religion that experts say has become one of the most vicious strains in the white supremacist movement.”

The article then quotes from an autobiography written by Cross in 1999.

“I’d love to see North America’s 100 million Aryan Christians convert to the religion invented by their own race and practiced for a thousand generations before the Jews thought up Christianity. Odinism! This was the religion for a strong heroic people, the Germanic people, from whose loins we all descended, be we German, English, Scott, Irish, or Scandinavian, in whole or in part.”

As this new information came to light, Heathen groups and individuals were quick to distance their faith from the racist strain of Germanic paganism practiced by Cross and those like him. These voices speaking out included members of The Troth, one of the largest mainstream Heathen organizations in North America, and the activist group Heathens United Against Racism.

“Asatru and the worship of Odin have no connection with white supremacy, no more so than Christianity has to do with white supremacists. And there are bigots and haters in all faith traditions. In The Troth, we embrace diversity and welcome all who are called to our Gods, and are working with our program, In-Reach, to offer an alternative to the racist material that is circulated in prisons by members of racist gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood. Crime such as what Frazier Cross is accused of, is abhorrent to us. Personally I extend my prayers to the Jewish community on this heinous crime committed during the high holy time of Passover.” – Lisa Morgenstern, member of the High Rede of The Troth, and Volunteer Chaplain at CSP-Los Angeles County for Heathens, Druids, and Wiccans.

“Equating all of Heathenry to the beliefs of a racist Odinist is the equivalent of equating all the beliefs of Christianity to the beliefs of the Westboro Baptist Church. While Heathens are by nature a highly diverse and sometimes argumentative lot, those who are discovered to be white supremacists are quickly ostracized from the general Heathen community. Heathens United Against Racism tries to help expose those who would try and use our faith to promote hatred.” - Natalie River Smith, a member of Heathens United Against Racism.

Another HUAR member, Harrison Hall, added that “Cross’s actions are unforgivable, without question” while Steven T. Abell, Steersman for The Troth, says that he hopes for “swift and harsh judgment and punishment for the perpetrator.” Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, who writes at The Norse Mythology Blog, called the shooting “heartbreaking” and “infuriating.”

“The disgusting violence in Kansas on Sunday is truly heartbreaking. I can’t begin to imagine the overwhelming pain of a family losing both a teenage son and his grandfather on the same day. The man accused of killing them seems to have been an ignorant racist maniac on a willful anti-Semitic rampage, which makes this horror not only tragic but infuriating. I find it personally abhorrent that the accused, at least at some point, claimed that his white supremacist delusions were rooted in his purported ancestors’ worship of Odin. I believe that there is no place for racism in heathenry. There is no place for anti-Semitism in heathenry. It is completely repellent to me that a violently disturbed individual tried to import his ideology of race-hatred into a contemporary religious tradition that focuses on wisdom, generosity and a balanced relationship with the world around us.”

These Heathen voices speak to the high value placed on honor, truth, and hospitality within their interconnected communities. Individuals, groups, and family units that abhor the racist appropriations that have blossomed on the fringes of society. That said, CNN’s assertion as to faith of the alleged shooter starts to get murky as the piece progresses. After quoting from the 1999 autobiography, we then learn Cross presented himself as a “traditional monotheist” when running for political office in 2008, and then, according to a religious studies professor who knew him, as an atheist.

“David Embree, a religious studies professor at Missouri State University, said Cross presented himself as a traditional monotheist when he ran for Congress in 2008. But when he spoke at Embree’s classroom in 2012, his views had apparently changed, the professor said. ‘He essentially self-identified as an atheist,’ Embree said.”

This section is inserted towards the end of the piece, and is then seemingly ignored in the closing (which again quotes the 1999 autobiography). So, what are the actual beliefs of Frazier Glenn Cross? Odinist? Generic monotheist? Atheist? If professor David Embree is to be believed, he hadn’t publicly identified as an Odinist for several years. Is there some source that Daniel Burke has tying Cross to Odinism recently that he isn’t quoting? As it stands, some Heathens are unhappy with the way this piece was reported, with Troth Steersman Steven T. Abell expressing the “hope that the reporter who wrote the CNN article will learn to do his job better.” Meanwhile, Dr. Seigfried notes that no Heathens were interviewed for the CNN Belief Blog article.

“Mr. Burke fails to quote a single actual follower of the Old Way. Maybe he made a heroic effort to contact heathen religious organizations, leaders, individuals and writers to gain their input, and no one responded. It would only be good journalistic practice to include the voice of at least one follower of a faith tradition you are covering, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, he was sure to get in a disclaimer distancing Christianity from white supremacist action: he quotes Jonathan White saying, “It’s hard to get a violent god out of Jesus.” Leaving aside the endless historical and contemporary examples that contradict this statement, wouldn’t it be nice to have had some heathen, any heathen, being asked by CNN to make a statement about their tradition?”

 The problem of Pagan and Heathen faiths being appropriated by racists is a real one, and it is necessary and right for our organizations to speak up on the subject when horrific and brutal incidents like this occur, but the headline “Frazier Glenn Cross’ racist religion: Odinism” seems misleading at best when the alleged shooter appeared uncertain if he believed in any higher power as recently as 2012. For this CNN article to travel beyond mere sensationalism, a solid source pointing towards what Cross believed recently should be added, and if such a source does not exist, the piece should be altered to reflect what we actually know. In the meantime, Heathens are currently organizing to raise money for the victims of the shooting.

ADDENDUM: Daniel Burke at CNN’s Belief Blog has updated the piece with commentary from Josh Rood, founder of Óðrœrir Heathen Journal, and an MA student in Norse Religion at the University of Iceland. He has also changed the headline to “The accused Kansas killer’s neo-pagan religion.”

“I want to say that Frazier Glenn Cross is a monster, and it cannot be denied that he’s not alone,” said Josh Rood, an expert on Asatru at the University of Iceland. ”The prison systems, and the white separatist movements have been bastardizing Asatru beliefs, symbols, and myths for a long time.”

It should be noted that Dr. Seigfried’s quotation was written before Rood’s commentary was added to the CNN piece.

ADDENDUM II: Heathens United Against Racism have posted an official statement.

“We wish to make it clear that Cross, and any others, who invoke the names of our Gods, our traditions, or our symbols as justification for their bloody rampages are the lowest of the low in our eyes. We stand, as a community, against all who would try to co-opt and pervert our practices just as the Nazis once did to support racist, fascist, or otherwise bigoted agendas. Such people are unquestionably unwelcome in our community and any who give them aid, shelter, or otherwise enable their bigotry are equally unwelcome in our hearths, rites, and events.

We extend our most sincere and heartfelt condolences to the victims of this terrible crime and the community this honorless, cowardly individual sought to terrorize. We stand with you in this time of terrible tragedy and will do whatever we can to help heal the wounds inflicted yesterday by one hateful man. We hope that going forward we can build a respectful, genuine dialog between our communities and work together against all who would inflict their hatred on others.”

You can read the entire statement, here.

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Pagan Community Notes: Pagan Census, Morning Glory Zell, Arthur Hinds, and More!

Mon, 2014-04-14 08:44

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

A follow-up to the Pagan Census Revisited is now up and asking for Pagan participation. Here’s a quote from sociologist Helen A. Berger, who is overseeing this project along with James R. Lewis: “The PCR II is a follow up to the Pagan Census Revisited, which itself is a follow up the Pagan Census. You don’t need to have responded to either of those to participate in this survey. This survey is short, they contain some of the question we wished we had asked in the PCR. For those of you who don’t know about the PC it was the first large scale survey of US Pagans. I published a book on it Voices from the Pagan Census and all the results are online at the Murray Institute at Harvard University for any and all to view. The more information we have about contemporary Pagans the better for understanding the religion, its participants and how it might be changing. Thanks to those of you who have taken the time to complete the former surveys and those of you who complete this one.” I encourage wide participation in this survey, as it shapes research into our communities, and gives insight to those of us inside of the movement. The 2009 revisitation data was a big eye-opener for many, and it will be important to know how we are changing over the years. Click here to take the survey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PCR-II).

Morning Glory Zell

As has been reported here recently, Pagan elder Morning Glory Zell has been in and out of the hospital due to kidney issues and other complications. Her condition is serious enough that a celebration of her life is being planned for April 19th. Quote: “Celebration of Life for Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. Our intention is to give her the energy to stay with us as long as possible. Come celebrate Morning Glory’s life while she is still here to enjoy your stories: How did you first meet Morning Glory? How has she touched your life? We are working with a few people on plans to video-tape your stories, poetry, song – whatever you bring to share.” Morning Glory’s partner, Oberon Zell, adds that “Morning Glory remains at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital; however, she is rallying against the pneumonia.” Today, April 14th, is Oberon and Morning Glory’s 40th wedding anniversary, and our congratulations go out to them on this milestone. “The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism,” which focuses on the lives of Oberon and Morning Glory Zell, was recently released by Llewellyn Worldwide.

Pagan singer-songwriter Arthur Hinds, a member of the band Emerald Rose, recently launched a Kickstarter to fund a new CD entitled “Dance In The Fire.” Quote: “So let’s talk about this new CD, which I’m already at work recording in the Kitchen Studio. It’s called Dance in the Fire, and you can expect a lot of energy and beats that are going to want to make you move. You’ll also hear soulful love songs, chants that honor the seasons and our connections to Spirit, rousing rock anthems that you won’t be able to stop singing along with (so my Lovely Wife tells me), and more. But to get all of this out into the world, I need your help.” Happily, the Kickstarter has already reached and surpassed its modest goal of $2,500, and is now working on stretch goals. Quote: “If we reach 3500, I will be able to produce my next solo collection, tentatively called, Words of Mystery, and anyone who pledged forty or more will also get a copy of these bardic tales when it becomes available in the fall. So spread the word and lets bump this up. To be clear, if we hit 3500, everyone who has pledged forty dollars or more will get Dance in the Fire, a t-shirt, a tattoo,  Words of Mystery and I will throw in a copy of Poetry of Wonder for good measure. Thanks!!!!!” Congratulations to Arthur Hinds!

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • While I’m on the subject of Kickstarters, Pagan scholar and author Brendan Myers is looking to fund his fantasy series “Fellwater.” Quote: “It’s a series of novels about factions of ancient demigods and the everyday people caught in the conflict. Secret societies vie for control of the last corners of the Earth where the Mythic Age survives. It’s a world of alliances and betrayals, cults and politics, friendship and power. It’s what happens when you make a wish, and the horror of it coming true.” Sound interesting? Check out the campaign.

Character portraits from Brendan Myers’ “Fellwater” series.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Two Wiccan Officers File Suit Against LAPD for Harassment

Sun, 2014-04-13 06:38

Over the past three weeks, two Wiccan Police Officers have filed suit against the City of Los Angeles in response to workplace discrimination. On March 26 Officer Victoria DeBellis filed her complaint charging the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) with “harassment, discrimination and retaliation” due to her “sex and religion.” One week later her husband Sgt. A.J. DeBellis filed a similar suit.

Both officers are veterans of the LAPD. Sgt. DeBellis joined the force in 1990 while his wife joined in 1996. During the time of the reported problems, the couple worked in entirely separate divisions. Sgt. A.J. DeBellis was stationed in Devonshire. Officer Victoria DeBellis worked in North Hollywood and was later transferred to West Valley.

Officer DeBellis’ story begins in March of 2011 with what she describes as “severe sexual harassment.”  During that time, an unnamed fellow officer made repeated inappropriate propositions and engaged in unwelcome physical touch.  After filing a complaint with Internal Affairs, she was granted a request to move departments. However the harassment only followed her from North Hollywood to West Valley.

According to the report, DeBellis endured another two years of sexual harassment at the hands of one particular officer, Thomas Tenney.  At first it was limited to sexual harassment. Tenney allegedly admitted to having a “dislike and disrespect for women, including his own wife, mother, in-laws, and several ex-female officers Tenney supposedly tried to have fired because of their incompetence.”  DeBellis claims that Tenny even bragged about hitting another female officer with a basketball.

Within a few months of transferring to West Valley, DeBellis became the target for Tenney’s abuse. For example, he allegedly would shoot her with rubber bands followed by “inappropriate sexual and gender comments.” She endured the harassment over the next year and throughout her pregnancy.

Upon returning from maternity leave, DeBellis claims that she was hit immediately with both Tenney’s harassment and departmental discrimination due to her decision to breast feed. She requested daily personal time as afforded her by the Police Department’s Lactation Accomodation Policy.  At first she was denied this request causing physical pain and “embarrassment.”  After some struggle, she was eventually given the time. Before one lactation break, DeBellis recalls Tenney making the offensive remark,  “Are you going to milk it?”

LAPD Police Cars [Photo Credit: Flickr's 888BailBond]

In March 2013 Tenney discovered that DeBellis was a practicing Wiccan Priestess and a Buddhist. He allegedly said, “Woman can’t be Priests” and told her that she “could not switch religions.”  He also told her that she would “burn in hell” and allegedly warned other officers not to trust her. On one occasion Tenney hung a Blues Brothers poster near DeBellis’ work space. It read, “We are on a mission from God.”

In her filed complaint DeBellis describes the various ways in which she attempted to mitigate the situation. She met with superior officers, attended meetings, spoke with Internal Affairs, and repeatedly asked for assistance. DeBellis maintains that the Department did little to alleviate her problems and in some cases even made it worse.

DeBellis says that LAPD “denied her a work-environment free of harassment, discrimination and retaliation.”  As a result her “career has been materially and adversely affected, irreparably harmed and damaged by the conduct of the Defendants” including both the Department and a number of unnamed individuals.

A week after Officer DeBellis filed suit, her husband, Sgt. A.J. DeBellis filed his own complaint charging the LAPD with religious discrimination.  He specifically cites an incident that occurred in December of 2012.  His department held a mandatory training session at the Church of Rock Peak.  According to the report, the meeting included prayer and religious music. The filed complaint reads:

As a practicing Wiccan, (DeBellis) was deeply offended by the department’s decision to conduct the training session and holiday gathering at a religious facility and reasonably believed that the event violated the Establishment Clause and separation of church and state.

Over the next year, DeBellis became the target of further religious-based harassment which he believes was in retaliation for his initial internal complaint. On one occasion, someone placed a sign on his desk reading, “One Nation, Under God.”  In addition Sgt DeBellis states that he was forced into meetings without his lawyer and denied disability insurance and more.

The Los Angeles Police Department has declined to comment on either case at this time. However the Department does maintain strict policies regarding discrimination and harassment. These policies are publicly available for review on their website.

It is the policy of the Los Angeles Police Department that discrimination in the workplace on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. 

A Department employee may file a complaint on any action, procedure, practice, or condition of employment which the employee believes to be discriminatory on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, including sexual harassment; age…. [and more]

Following the case with interest is The Officers of Avalon, a nationally-based fraternal, educational, and charitable organization that provides community and networking for Pagan first responders and military. Currently the organization does “not have an official position regarding this issue as [they do] not know all the facts and circumstances surrounding this dispute.” However the organizers did say:

We stand in support of our fellow officers and hope that soon an understanding will be reached … While working in law enforcement, you must put your life in your co-workers hands and be able to trust that they will do all they can to get you home safe after your shift. You must also take the responsibility for their lives and safety. Trust is paramount, and there is no room for prejudice. No matter what sex, color, creed or religious calling, we all bleed blue.

Both cases are filed with the Superior Court of California, City of Los Angeles. The DeBellis’ and their attorney have declined comment. We will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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Guest Post: Responding to Abuse in the Pagan Community

Sat, 2014-04-12 05:00

[The following is a guest post from Cat Chapin-Bishop. Cat Chapin-Bishop became a psychotherapist in 1986, and she has had over 20 years of experience as a counselor specializing in work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She served as the first Chair of Cherry Hill Seminary's Pastoral Counseling Department, and designed the earliest version of CHS's Boundaries and Ethics course, which is still central to the program there. Cat has been a Pagan since 1987, and a Quaker as well as a Pagan since 2001. Her writings can be found online at Quaker Pagan Reflections.]

TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with an discusses sexual abuse and suicide, and may be triggering to some people.

The first perpetrator of child sexual abuse I ever reported committed suicide.

I’m aware that there are those who, on hearing that, will say, “Well, good!  One less pervert in the world.”  Unfortunately, the world is not so simple as that.

This was back in the mid-eighties, and I was still an intern in psychotherapy.  My client was a single parent, the mother of two young boys, barely scraping by, in part with the help of a boarder… who, it turned out, had sexually abused both the boys.

“But it was only once!” the mother said.  “And I watch them all the time now.  It has never happened again!”  But, of course, it had happened again, and more than once.  We found that out after I did what the law required and made the phone call to child protective services.  Later that day, CPS called at the family’s home to interview the room-mate.  And later that night, he went into the garage and hung himself.

It was one of the boys who found his body.

To him, this man was not “a perpetrator.”  To him, this was the man who had taken him fishing and helped him with his homework.  Because while the abuse had been awful, it had not been all there was to this man’s presence in the boy’s life.  His feelings, like life itself, were complicated.

So the mandated counseling to help the boys recover from sexual abuse became counseling to help them cope with sexual abuse and the suicide of a member of their household.  And for a time, everyone in that small family had to struggle with the added burdens of guilt and financial hardship caused by this death.

I do not in any way regret making that report.  I do not believe that taking a young boy fishing wipes out the harm of abusing him, nor that paying part of a family’s living expenses erases the guilt of sexually abusing a child.

But the story points out the trouble with making sweeping generalizations about perpetrators.  Those who prey on children are also friends, family members, wage-earners… And sometimes they are artists, musicians, teachers, or members of a spiritual community whose work is missed when they are removed from those communities.

It is dangerous to caricature offenders as all alike, easily spotted, or wholly monstrous.

The trouble is, if we begin to believe that all perpetrators of child sexual abuse are like comic-book villains, we risk becoming blind to the cases that don’t fit that simple picture.  Our communities may begin to make excuses, to minimize, rationalize, and deny the abuse.  We say to ourselves, “But she was a teenager—she could have stopped it,” or “He’s not like those other perpetrators—it was only because he was drunk (had just lost his job/ had been divorced/ was depressed.)”

And then we may not pick up the phone and make the report—or we may not enforce a community statement that says we have a “zero tolerance policy” around sexual abuse.  Or we may try to “fix” an abuser through compassion and good intentions, without understanding that those are not the tools needed for this particular job.  To prevent that, we need to go beyond rhetoric and slogans, and understand the real world of perpetrators and their victims.

So what we do know about perpetrators?

They are, overwhelmingly, male.  Women can and do sexually abuse children, but it is far less common.

They are no more likely to be gay than straight, despite years of right wing propaganda to the contrary.  However, being gay does not mean that someone is not a perpetrator; there is no relationship between those two things.

They may well be minors themselves; the problem of sexual abuse of children by older children and teens is probably under-reported, and can be difficult to tell from “sexually reactive behavior” in which children act out abuse they may themselves have experienced.  (Effects on the victim may be very similar, though the prognosis for the perpetrator may be very different.  This is one case where seeking help, and not turning away from a perpetrator because he is not what we have been led to expect, can make an enormous difference for everyone.)

Some perpetrators will largely confine their abuse to members of their own family; others will offend primarily against unrelated children.  Some will have only a handful of victims, but many will abuse hundreds of children over the course of their lives.

Perpetrators are almost always survivors of childhood sexual abuse themselves.  Often, they are sexual offenders in multiple ways.  They may well have ongoing sexual relationships with adult women (or men) at the same time that they are abusing children.  They often (though not always) abuse drugs or alcohol, sometimes as a way of lowering their own inhibitions against committing a crime.

Often they will have a habit of objectifying the targets of their sexual interest; this is associated with an increased likelihood of reoffending.  Generally, they lack empathy for others, and particularly for children, but this is not always obvious.

It can be hard to get good information on recidivism among perpetrators of sexual abuse, because most studies rely on criminal convictions, which self-reports of convicted perpetrators reveal to be far fewer than the number of victims offended against.  What is clear is that sexual abusers of children have a high rate of repeating their crimes.

Treatment does lower that risk… but only if it is specialized offender treatment.  Counseling from sources other than specialists in this field seems to have no effect in lowering the risk of reoffending, and this is one area where no ethical pastoral counselor should even think of offering their “help” as a substitute for reporting abuse officially and having an offender complete a specialized offender treatment program.  Unless you have been trained in this specific area of practice, this one really is over your pay grade.

So who are the victims of child sexual abuse, and what are some of the effects of that abuse?

They’re a lot of different people, it turns out.

About 20% of adult women and 5—10% of adult men recall having been sexually abused as children.  Boys are more at risk of abuse by non-family members, possibly because boy children tend to be more mobile and independent of their parents’ supervision in our society.

Some research shows risk is evenly distributed across age groups, but other studies find that teenagers are especially at risk—an important thing to keep in mind, as there can be a tendency to blame the victim where teens are concerned; it’s important to remember that, though teenagers can engage in consensual sex with other teens, they still lack the knowledge and resources of adults, and there is always a power imbalance between an adult and a child.  Perpetrators take advantage of that power imbalance to manipulate victims of any age.  And there are other vulnerabilities perpetrators look for, to exploit among their victims.  We know that children who have been victimized in other ways, or whose families are affected by poverty, substance abuse, or violence are at higher risk for sexual abuse.

Whatever makes a child more vulnerable, in other words, makes them more vulnerable to sexual abuse.

The lingering effects of having been abused as children can include depression, PTSD, and a higher risk of substance abuse, suicide or self-injuring behaviors into adulthood.  Children who have been sexually abused may show prematurely sexualized behavior, and there is an elevated risk of being re-abused or sexually assaulted among children who have experienced sexual abuse.

It is worth mentioning that even when there is clear evidence that penetration has been part of sexual abuse, in only a small fraction of cases will there be genital injuries of that penetration.  This is important to understand, so that we do not refuse to accept the testimony of victims that is not corroborated by physical injury.

Sexual abuse is definitely harmful—but it may not be harmful in the ways we’ve been taught to expect.  And while children are in no way responsible for their own abuse, some responses to having been sexually exploited, such as early sexualization, may be misunderstood by adults in a way that allows us to dismiss their testimony.  We need to be careful to remember that victims of sexual abuse are complicated human beings, and no more likely to fit one mold than any of us.

What do we know about helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse to heal? 

There are a number of things we as a community can do to support survivors in their recovery after sexual abuse.

Research shows that some very simple things can make an enormous difference to how well survivors heal from the most horrific abuse: things like, when a victim reports their abuse to an adult in authority, that adult takes them seriously and acts on the report.

Counseling can be important, of course, but there is definitely a place for just standing by survivors and showing empathy.  Research suggests that other important factors in healing include having at least one non-abusive adult a child can confide in, and having a community that responds with what might be called moral clarity, making it clear immediately that, no matter what, children and teens are not to blame for their own abuse, and that sexual abuse is always the responsibility of the adult.  It turns out that simply being clear that the sexual abuse of children is wrong is of enormous benefit to survivors. We do not need to burn perpetrators in effigy to support survivors.

That’s a good thing for a lot of reasons: threats of violence against perpetrators, for example, may not be reassuring to a victim, but instead, can stir up feelings of guilt or fear—fear for themselves, as survivors of another form of violence, or for other adults in the child’s life, who may have been threatened by the abuser as a way to secure the victim’s silence.

Instead, reporting suspected abuse to the authorities, if that is still possible, and firm, consistent limit setting with those we reasonably believe to have sexually exploited children—regardless of the age of the victim, regardless of whether force was used, or whether the victim confided the abuse in an adult at the time or much later—is likely to be more helpful then vengeful rhetoric or acts of violence.

What else can we, the Pagan community, do to make our gatherings and groups safer for the children and teens who attend them?

In this area, there is a lot that we can do.

  • 1.  We should structure programs for children and teens to minimize the risk of abuse at gatherings.

This one is pretty straightforward.  Many gatherings are now large enough to have children’s programming, and that’s great.  However, we need to think about these programs as potential risks.  Perpetrators are often drawn to positions where they can interact with kids, because access allows opportunities to abuse.

To limit that, we need to do what other religious organizations and reputable child care programs do: make sure that children are never left in the company of just one adult.  All children’s programs need to have more than one adult staff member with kids at all times.  In addition, we need to make sure that kids’ programs happen in locations with lots of visibility and easy access for the parents.  For instance, one of my favorite gatherings features a large rec hall just off the main dining hall.  Both rooms are a hub of constant activity during the event, and the children’s programming happens mainly in that rec room, with parents and other community members constantly passing through.  It adds a note of cheerfulness to everyone’s experience… and it means that the whole community is aware of what is happening with the kids all the time.  Not conducive to abuse!

  • 2.   We should institute mandated reporter training for all gathering staff, along with education on perpetrator behavior and warning signs.

Many Pagan religions feature initiatory oaths of secrecy, and Pagan leaders often need to observe confidentiality around the identities of participants in community events in light of the religious discrimination which many of us still face.

However, there is a difference between protecting initiatory secrets and maintaining the confidence of Pagans in sensitive positions and preserving secrecy around suspected child abuse. Mandated reporter laws in every state require clergy, counselors, and child care workers to report all suspected incidents of child abuse—physical or sexual—and neglect.  Notice, the standard here is suspected abuse—not proven, not confirmed, but suspected abuse.

Staff at a Pagan gathering, Pagan clergy in the performance of their duties, and staff who provide programming for children and teens at community events are required as a matter of law to report when they suspect abuse has occurred to any underaged person.  Everyone whose work will put them in contact with the community’s children needs to be aware of their duty to report suspected abuse and neglect to that state’s child protective services… and the organization’s procedure for doing so.

Not only is this the law, but I believe there’s a moral case for following this law without exception.  I can’t tell you how painful it has been for me, as a counselor, to hear over and over again from adult survivors of child abuse that they had told a trusted adult what was happening to them… only to have that adult ignore their confidence.  The sense of betrayal caused by abuse is only deepened when an entire community seems willing to look the other way.


I understand that we may be tempted to short-circuit the legal channels for abuse.  We may not want to trust them.  However, we are not trained investigators in this field; we are not in a position to truly protect kids from abuse without help.  We are in no position to evaluate even the most sincere-sounding promises by an abuser that they will seek help.  No matter how counter-cultural our values may be, in this one area, I firmly believe we need to follow the legal process for signaling the state that a child may be in danger.

  • 3.     We should create trained community ombudsmen, to reach out to children and families affected by sexual abuse or sexual violence.

It’s great to have mandated reporter training for staff at events, but Pagan events are large, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes bewildering things.  There can be hundreds of strangers all around, and very few of us, surrounded by strangers, feel comfortable asking for help in a time of crisis.  Newcomers to a community may not even know where to turn for help.

The time has come for all large Pagan events to have clearly identified contact people who make it their job to be welcoming and accessible, and to serve as the first contacts for incidents or individuals that cause concern, whether or not they rise to the level of sexual assault or sexual abuse.

Needless to say, these people should have additional training, probably including in some form of counseling.  They will need to be calm, grounded, and very familiar with the resources of the area where any events are being held, and they will need to have the ear of the gathering’s coordinators and the community’s leaders. Finally, and most importantly, their job will not be to act as finders of fact—no individual is in any position to do that.  Instead, their job is to make sure that problems get noticed, victims get supported, reports get made, and records are kept—confidentially between the gathering’s leaders and any official investigators.

  • 4.     We should not attempt to create a secondary court system to determine the ultimate guilt or innocence of accused perpetrators.

This is a difficult thing.  We need at one and the same time to take seriously allegations by children and teens who report their abuse, and we need not to attempt to act as finders of fact. While false reports of abuse are exceedingly rare—at least as rare as false reports of other serious crimes, according to the FBI—they do occur.  Moreover, it is one thing to believe the testimony of victims themselves, and another to allow rumors and friend-of-a-friend accounts to rush us to judgement.

This is not only for the sake of the accused.  Not only are we, as a community, unable to provide the system of checks and balances that allow defendants their rights to fair trial, we are also unable to provide the level of expertise that properly trained investigators bring to their work with abused children.  Ironically, if we rush to create a parallel system to mete out justice, we may endanger the rights of both victims and the accused at the same time: we can both deprive the accused of a fair process within our communities, and also contaminate the evidence so that even solid grounds for a conviction will be inadmissible in a court of law.

Fact finding just isn’t our role.  When there is reason to suspect child sexual abuse, we need to hand the ultimate finding of fact over to those who have the resources to do the job properly.

  • 5.     We should empower local organizations to respond to suspicion and to concerns, through mandated reporting, banning, and/or watchful waiting for persons of concern. 

While it’s not the role of our communities to be substitutes for the legal system in determining guilt or innocence, neither do we have no role to play in judging what actions we need to make on a local level to protect our kids, and also to be sure that our leaders and teachers are held to a high standard of ethical conduct.  We need to establish clear guidelines in our local communities for removing persons of concern from positions of trust within the community, with or without a criminal conviction, when there have been credible, specific allegations of misconduct made.

I’m not talking about banning individuals based on vague rumors or the notion of guilt by association.  But I am talking about times when there have been repeated reports of troubling behavior made against a person, as reported by the people who were directly involved.

This may seem like a contradiction to my recommendation not to attempt to adjudicate questions of guilt or innocence on our own, but in fact, it is not.  Because, while we really need the standard of innocent until proven guilty where someone has been accused of a crime, whether we grant or refuse the privileges within our own communities is a different matter.

There, our standards will be different from those of a criminal court.  Not only will a different level of proof apply to our own hearings, but a different standard of behavior may be needed, too.  I would suggest that the higher the position of trust granted someone, the higher the standard of behavior we will hold them to.

Among our leaders and teachers, despite the fact that we have no means of our own of establishing guilt or innocence, credible reports of child sexual abuse at a minimum create an appearance that is at odds with our community’s ethics.  And in the case of a leader or a teacher, allowing them the privilege of holding themselves out as representatives of our religious traditions while they are under investigation for sexual abuse is simply inappropriate.

Likewise, given the high rates of recidivism among perpetrators, we may want to think twice about allowing anyone access to gatherings where children will be present, who has either a past conviction of any form of sexual exploitation of children, or who has been the subject of repeated, specific allegations from within the community, with or without any criminal convictions.

  • 6.     On an national and international level, we should encourage full, open disclosure of objective indicators of risk, like arrests for charges related to pedophilia.

We should report allegations as allegations where legal processes have been initiated, but not in the absence of legal action.  On some levels, this is very unsatisfying: how can past victims hope to warn future victims when a perpetrator who has never been arrested or convicted moves from one place to another?

On another, it is a way of recognizing the reality that we will never know every potential source of harm within our communities… while allowing our budding news services to function as they function best—as news services, reporting only what is subject to confirmation, only what is objective.  Trading in rumor may serve justice one day, but it will thwart it the next.  Without the greater knowledge of one another we can only have within local communities, we will have no way to prevent the kinds of abuses that many of the critics of the current wave of coverage fear: vague accusations that make polarize us, without actually making our communities any safer.

We live in a world of complexity, and as much as we might like to think otherwise, we are not separate from even the most dysfunctional aspects of our society as a whole.  Child sexual abuse is a part of our modern world, and sadly, it will remain part of the Pagan community as long as that continues to be true.

The good news is that we are not helpless.  We can do more to protect victims, and to keep perpetrators from using our communities to find and access victims.  It’s not enough; surely, we all wish we could do more.  But it is a good deal more than nothing.

As we work together to heal the world as a whole, may our efforts within our own communities take root and flourish.

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We Know Time

Fri, 2014-04-11 07:54

“Prosperine,” Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1874.

I woke up this morning – one of the first mornings where I was able to sleep with the window open, the surest sign that Spring has finally arrived – and found it was still dark. I rarely wake up so early, and I took a moment – well, more like fifteen minutes – to lay there in the darkness, still beneath the covers, and listen to the birds calling in the dawn. After a few minutes in which my universe consisted only of birdsong and darkness, a sentence came into my head and began swirling around, like a song with an inescapable tune. “We know time.” It’s a koan that Dean Moriarty, Jack Kerouac’s trickster saint, repeats again and again throughout On the Road. “Everything is fine,” says Dean. “God exists, we know time.”

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that I am a devotee of Jack Kerouac – like many writers, my first encounter with On the Road filled me with shock and liberation, awakened me to possibilities of language and structure that I would not have thought possible. Over the years, I’ve come to think of The Dharma Bums as the better work in Kerouac’s oeuvre, the Apollonian remedy to the Dionysian morass of On the Road, but On the Road is the one everybody remembers best, including me. The peculiar draw of that book is Dean, who is charming and fickle, loving but selfish, and the spots of wisdom to be found among the chaos of his existence. “We know time.” An exhortation to remember how quickly life slips past, perhaps; or a reminder of how human existence depends on the progression towards its own end; or just a bit of truthful-sounding nonsense from a man who, viewed objectively, was an irresponsible, callous exile.

“We know time.”

I came into St. Louis a few weeks ago for my family’s Ostara. It was still cold here in Missouri, and snow flurries continued to fall until the 25th of March; it did not feel much like Spring had begun. Before the ritual, we mostly sat around the fire pit and tried to keep warm; after the ritual, most of us went inside and stayed there for the rest of the evening.

The ritual itself contained a passion play, as many of my family’s rituals do – Kore and Demeter, that foundational myth of the seasons. I called a quarter – West, which is the one I always choose – but otherwise had no special role in this ritual. Instead, I watched as my friend Megan bounced on her toes in anticipation of her cue to speak with the voice of Persephone. But before Persephone can return, Demeter must mourn; the mother must speak before the daughter. And in that moment, I saw one of the more powerful things I’ve ever seen in ritual.

I watched as Therese invoked Demeter. Therese is the high priestess of Watershade, the sister coven to my family’s Pleiades coven; I have known her my entire life. One of my earliest memories is of a sabbat held at her house – one of the Spring festivals, I think, maybe Beltane – where a food fight broke out. My friend Joe and I, only three or four years old at that point, didn’t understand the implicit rules, and started throwing apples. (My dad claims we started asking for canned goods.) When we talk about Therese, we talk about her as a mischief maker, a prankster, a trickster saint in her own right. That is our collective vision of her.

But she was not that person at Ostara. Her son had passed away between Candlemas and the equinox. I don’t want to get into it any more than that – I know how raw that feeling is for me, and cannot imagine how it must be for her. Demeter is a goddess who grieves for a lost child; Therese was a woman who had just lost a child. In the ritual, I saw the duality of the invocation – how Therese was not just a woman, nor even “just” a goddess. In that moment, I saw her, and I understood Demeter in a way I never had before. I was about to write that, in her, I saw the grief made flesh, but that isn’t right; the grief is the flesh. The myth is life.

The only difference is that, in the myth, Kore comes back.

“We know time,” I found myself whispering, still listening to the sound of the birds. I wondered how Therese had felt about playing that role in the ritual, whether she had identified consciously with the myth, whether it brought her any catharsis. I hadn’t thought to ask at the festival; I wished that I had.

My bedroom began to lighten, the black turning slowly to blue. I dug out clothes from the closet and dressed in the dark.

Time in Wicca, as I’ve explained over the years, is about circles, not lines; the wheel of the year turns, but in turning, it comes back around. It’s different than the linear progression of events inherent in the march from creation to fall to salvation to Armageddon. But there is no escaping the linear nature of the individual experience, either, even to one who believes in that cycle. A human life does proceed from birth to death with no backwards steps. Perhaps there are children who follow and continue the cycle – but not always. Sometimes, there’s just the line.

I got upstairs, made breakfast, sat down at my writing desk. Daylight had come, and the birds of the dawn had been replaced by the birds of the morning. I saw them dart from branch to branch in the trees outside my window. New green leaves had formed on branches that were barren a week before. Spring, here at last.

I found myself thinking of the nervous Kore, waiting to say her lines. I found myself wondering if even mighty Persephone truly knows time.

Author’s note: Some names have been changed.

Cheap plug note: Many thanks to my readers for helping to fund my research visit to Iceland! I’m really looking forward the columns that will come out of the experience. There’s still 22 days left in the campaign, so if you want to get your hot little hands on an ebook of my Iceland writings, and maybe a postcard from Reykjavik or other swag, head over to my Indiegogo page and donate a buck or three.

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Recovery & Healing for Military Pagans at Ft. Hood Open Circle

Thu, 2014-04-10 07:24

For the second time in five years, Ft Hood, Texas is the site of a mass shooting by a lone gunman. For the second time in five years, military members, dependents, and area residents must deal with the emotional aftermath. Among them are members of the military’s first officially recognized Pagan congregation, the Ft. Hood Open Circle.

“We still have to go to work here every day. How do I help my congregation do that?” asks Ft. Hood Open Circle Designated Faith Group Leader, Michele Morris.

The Ft. Hood Open Circle is comprised of up to 100 active duty soldiers, dependents, and military retirees. They, like other military communities, have endured repeated overseas deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. For them, coming back to Ft Hood isn’t just coming back to a job. It’s coming home.

Designated Faith Group Leader (DFGL) Michele Morris understands how challenging recovering from this incident will be. “The most difficult aspect of this is that many soldiers have deployed, some several times. This is supposed to be home, where they’re safe, and can recover from the emotional stress of deployment. When something like this happens, you lose that feeling of being safe at home.”

Emotional, spiritual, and mental assistance for area Pagans dealing with the effects of April 2nd’s shooting, in which 4 soldiers were killed and 16 were injured, comes from several quarters. The military, DFGL Morris, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and a team of volunteer Pagan counselors are working to provide assistance for Ft. Hood Pagan community members.

DFGL Morris, ‘boots on the ground’ assistance
DFGL Morris, a civilian, describes herself as a “full time minister, a full time student, and a full time mother.” She’s been leading the Open Circle since February of 2009, just months before the earlier mass shooting where 13 people were killed and 30 injured. Her background is in mental health and she’s currently in college working toward a degree in social work. Normally her role at Ft. Hood primarily uses her skills as a High Priestess and ordained minister, but with last week’s shooting she’s using every tool she has to help her Circle.

DFGL Michele Morris

Upon hearing the news last Wednesday that there was an active shooter, Morris got word out to those in the Open Circle to not come onto the post as Ft. Hood was in lock down. Then, using her phone and social media, she tracked down her congregation to make sure they were accounted for and safe. She quickly assessed her community’s immediate needs and offered her support. Thankfully no one in Ft. Hood’s Open Circle was physically injured. Her next move was to ensure that the planned Pagan retreat, scheduled to start on Friday, and last through the weekend, was still a go. It was.

DFGL Morris said the retreat allowed Open Circle members the chance to come together in privacy and begin to heal. The retreat was held in tents adjoining the grassy, outdoor worship area set aside for the Open Circle at Ft. Hood. They physically and spiritually rebuilt the stone circle surrounding their worship area. They purged themselves of grief and strengthened community bonds. “Through ritual, Ft Hood Pagans have a way to process grief that otherwise wouldn’t be available,” says Morris.

Morris was able to make something else available, a way to connect to Pagan counselors, organized by Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. While the military offers extensive and caring counseling services, “The military resources are soldier specific. What Circle Sanctuary offers is Pagan specific,” says Morris.

Circle Sanctuary offers assistance

Rev. Selena Fox

Just as she had five years ago, Rev. Selena Fox, immediately reached out to DFGL Morris and offered Circle Sanctuary’s help. Rev.Fox assembled a team of seven Circle Sanctuary ministers and ministers-in-training to be available to Ft. Hood Pagans through phone consultations. Confidentiality and anonymity is of paramount concern and Rev. Fox says all the counselors understand this.

Due to Rev. Fox and Circle Sanctuary’s long association with Ft. Hood Pagans in particular and military Pagans in general, Fox knows the complex dynamic specific to counseling military members, “Most people don’t understand the constant stress military deployments cause, then you add a trauma like this, and they still have to do their jobs. They do it without complaint and they don’t normally ask for help.”

Rev. Fox says providing support early is crucial, as it creates a solid framework for healing. Feeling alone and not connected complicates trauma.

In addition to standing ready to counsel Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, Rev. Fox has been offering support to Pagans who have family members stationed at FT. Hood or who formerly were stationed there.

How other Pagans can help
Rev. Fox says it’s important for Pagans to pray for the soldiers and their families. Another thing she stressed was the need for Pagan groups to discuss how they honor military Pagans, “Warriors in Native American cultures are both honored and visible. Pagans can look at their religious ancestors and find out how warriors were honored and bring those traditions and practices back.”  She says too often Pagan warriors are invisible or feel they need to keep that part of their life private. Having community support, when honored or acknowledged, is what sticks in their minds and helps them heal from any trauma they may have experienced while serving their country.

A long road to recovery
Although the counselors haven’t yet received a call from Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, DFGL Morris says this isn’t unusual, “Some experience the stress right away, for others it takes a while for the shock to subside.”

Rev. Fox agrees, “Sometimes people need to talk in the first 24 to 48 hours, sometimes they don’t feel the need to talk for weeks after the event. Whenever they are ready to talk, we will be here for them.”

[Cara Schulz has joined The Wild Hunt team as a weekly staff writer.]
Note: An earlier version of the article said the retreat was held in cabins. This was incorrect. The retreat was held in tents.

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Pagans In the Parliament Are Honored at MLK Chapel in Atlanta

Wed, 2014-04-09 07:46

On Thursday, April 3, 2014, two Pagans were inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. International College of Ministries and Laity at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Andras Corban-Arthen and Phyllis Curott were given this honorary designation for their ongoing efforts in the interfaith movement namely for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion. The special ceremony was one part of a much larger event celebrating Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion.

In 2008 Karen Armstrong, author and fellow at the Society of Literature, received a $100,000 TED prize for her global messages of peace and compassion. Dr. Armstrong took that money and launched a campaign called the “Charter for Compassion” which would embody her message and grow a movement. The Charter is described as:

a cooperative effort to restore no only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.

In February 2014 the city council of Atlanta joined the movement by unanimously voting to become a “Compassionate City.” The declaration was the result of a grassroots effort by a group called Compassionate Atlanta. The local movement garnered a number of supporters including The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel at Morehouse College.

Dr. Lawrence Carter

Dr. Lawrence Carter, the dean of the Chapel at Morehouse, happens to also be a Parliament trustee. As Andras explains:

Through his involvement on our Board, Dr. Carter, who has been Dean of the MLK Chapel since its inception, felt that it would be significant for the Chapel to recognize the longstanding interfaith efforts of the Parliament, so he proposed that the current trustees be inducted as honorary ministers. 

Dr. Carter scheduled the “investiture ceremony” to coincide with Atlanta’s “Celebration of Compassion” and the honoring of Dr. Karen Armstrong. All events were held on Morehouse College’s campus in downtown Atlanta.

Prior to Thursday’s ceremonies, Andras and Phyllis met with local Pagans and Interfaith representatives to discuss “Pagans in the Parliament.” This talk was held north of the city in Sandy Springs at The Phoenix and Dragon, a local metaphysical bookstore and Charter for Compassion Partner.

Phyllis Curott and Andras Corban-Arthen at Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore, Atlanta

After a digital slide-show highlighting the 20 years of Pagan involvement in the Parliament, the elders discussed the positive effects that global interfaith work has had on Paganism in general.  Lydia M. N. Crabtree, author with Immanion Press was one of those in attendance. She said:

It was interesting to see where much of interreligious tolerance for Paganism has come from. Without Phyllis Curott, Andras Corban-Arthen and many other, often unnamed and unrecognized leaders, working on a global level, interreligious work done by Pagans at the local level would be a pothole-riddled road to try and travel upon.

Then on Thursday morning, Andras and Phyllis gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel for their induction ceremony. Andras says:

I feel deeply honored and also overwhelmed, since MLK was my childhood hero, someone I’ve looked to for inspiration all of my life. It’s truly a humbling experience to walk down the photo-lined halls of the Martin Luther King Memorial Chapel, seeing all the faces of the remarkable women and men who put their lives on the line in the struggle for civil rights.

As part of its interfaith programming the Chapel has been “conferring honorary inductions” to those people whose work is “congruent with the principles set forth by Gandhi, King and Ikeda,” as Andras explains.  He and Phyllis became the first two Pagans, of any tradition, to receive this honor. Andras adds:

To have two of us welcomed into the ranks of a storied Southern Baptist institution; to sit on a stage along with Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Catholics, Indigenous, Hindus, Sikhs, and Bahá’ís while the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta stirred up the audience with all the zeal of an old-time black preacher; to be treated not just with openness and respect, but with actual deference by everyone at Morehouse — it really brought home just how far we’ve come. That scene would not have taken place as recently as 20 years ago, when the Parliament, much to its credit, first let us in the door.

Later that evening at the same Chapel, Compassionate Atlanta held its own reception and ceremony to honor Karen Armstrong and her work. Mr. Ajit Jumar of the consul General of India, Mr. Martin Luther King III, son of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mr. Shigeo Hasegawa, Vice President of Soko Gakkai International presented Dr. Armstrong with three different peace awards and an honorary degree. In addition, they unveiled a commissioned painting of her which will hang in the King Center Hall of Fame Gallery.

Andras Corban-Arthen at the Celebration of Compassion

Sitting on the stage during the evening ceremonies were both Andras and Phyllis as trustees of the Parliament. Andras says:

It’s not every day that I get to share a stage with both the son of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi — a fascinating, educational, inspirational and productive visit to Morehouse College in Atlanta! 

Several local pagans attended the event including Eibhelan, Priestess and member of the Interfaith Community Initiative in Atlanta. She says:

Dr. Armstrong was engaging and thought provoking as she cited example after example of the existence of Compassion as a core tenet in religious faiths around the world. She ended her presentation with a statement that we could move closer to God by opening ourselves to seeing the Divine in everyone’s eyes – most especially in those who have caused us the most heartache. Compassion is not comfortable – it is standing in integrity and strength to embrace the world in its entirety. It was an honor and a joy to feel that embrace include me as a Witch and Druid.

Compassionate Atlanta has a complete overview of the entire event including photos, music samples and prayers read.  Want to know if your city is Compassionate? Go to the Charter for Compassion to see which cities have signed up for Dr. Armstrong’s “Compassionate City Initiative” and which local venues are Compassion Partners.  

Karen Armstrong at Compassionate Seattle (Photo Credit: Seamus Rainheart via Flickr)

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Pagan Community Notes: Hexenfest, Heathens on Racism, The Frosts Respond, and More!

Tue, 2014-04-08 07:15

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Hexenfest, a “festival of magick, music, and dance” is coming up on April 26th in Oakland, California. Featured musical performers include Ego Likeness, Pandemonaeon, Tempest and Nathaniel Johnstone, and Unwoman. The event will also feature dance performances from Anaar and Morpheus Ravenna, with DJing by Daniel Skellington. The event, now in its 3rd year, hopes to “create a San Francisco Bay Area festival that caters to the mythic imagination in a way that appeals to adults. Sensual and fierce, and willing to explore darker themes, Hexenfest seeks to awaken inner archetypes in all their aspects. To our knowledge, this is the first festival devoted specifically to the arts in the Neopagan revival. We believe that a culture’s art is both shaped by, and a shaper of, the identity of its people. As such, the inclusion of the arts in the Neopagan sphere is very important. As our young movement both rebuilds ancestral traditions and grapples with a modern identity, the arts will be essential to the legacy of our spiritual community.” Were I in the Bay Area of California I would surely be there. You can buy tickets to Hexenfest online.

Alyxander Folmer

Last week two different essays, from two different Heathens, tackled the issue of race, and racism, within modern Heathenry. First was from Alyxander Folmer, an anthropology student who wrote a piece for Patheos.com entitled “Drawing The Line – Heathens Against White Supremacists.” Quote: “Like it or not, there is a small segment of the modern Heathen community that not only buys into this kind of blatant racism, but co-opts our faith and uses our religion as an excuse to do so without having to admit that they ARE racist. These people twist the idea of ancestor veneration and cultural pride as a way to justify and mask their hate, as if using religious reasoning for their behavior somehow exempts them from the consequences of their actions. I refuse to allow them to abuse and dishonor our faith, our community, and our gods. We have the power to speak up and strip away that religious mask they wear. We CAN expose these people for what they are and show the world that they do NOT represent us.” Then, on Tumblr, the writer known as ‘Grumpy Lokean Elder’ posted a much-shared essay critiquing “Folkish” Heathenry. Quote: “You can be a very intelligent person, you can have the best intentions and not want to be racist at all, and when you’re starting out in Heathenry, Folkish recruiting can still hook you and reel you in.” Both of these essays come in the wake of talk at PantheaCon (featured in the most recent Elemental Castings podcast) that focused on racialist/white supremacist Paganisms. Is this all coincidence, synchronicity, or is the Heathen community gearing up for a new conversation on these issues?

In an update to Sunday’s story on controversy at Florida Pagan Gathering, Gavin and Yvonne Frost, the authors of “The Witch’s Bible” (reprinted  later as “The Good Witch’s Bible”) have posted a long response at their blog defending themselves. Quote: “If your group practices the Great Rite, then surely it is better to state that fact plainly than to hide behind euphemisms and try to blame others for things that those others have not done. And, surely, you do not have active members in your group under the age of 18. Living in the Craft means that you work daily to realize how sick and twisted are the ‘norms’ of the culture in which you find yourself.” It should be noted for clarity that the “Pagans For Change” group, in their public statements, never accused the Frosts of sexual impropriety, or illegal actions, only that they objected to their content on sexual initiations and didn’t wish for them to teach at FPG. Meanwhile, in the wake of the renewed debates and controversy over this issue, the Frosts have decided to not attend the upcoming Michigan Pagan Fest. What the long-term ramifications are of this decades-long issue within the Pagan community resurfacing once again remains to be seen.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • PMPChannel and Green Egg/Five Rivers hosted a conversation on Friday with Jo Pax and Tzipora Katz. Quote: “Ariel Monserrat and Michael Gorman, the hosts of Green Egg/FiveRivers, have Jo Pax and Tzipora Katz join them on the air. Jo is the biological son of Kenny Klein and Tzipora is his ex-wife. The topic is a tense and emotional one, they will be talking openly and honestly about their experiences as Kenny Klein’s son and ex-wife.”
  • A new service, Pagan Broadcasting International, is starting to emerge. Quote: “While we’ve got a basic station begining to function, to turn this into a world-class Internet station will still take a bit of work – and a bit of money. So later this week, we’ll start a campaign to help fund the equipment  and software that it will take to make this happen. I haven’t decided exactly what form that campaign will take, but check back here for details!” Interested in helping out? They have a Facebook group.
  • Damh the Bard has a new songbook coming out on April 17th, “The Four Cornered Castle,” now available for pre-order. Quote: “This chord book contains the chords from my last three studio albums, The Cauldron Born, Tales from the Crow Man and Antlered Crown and Standing Stone. As with Songbook 1 there is no musical notation in the book – I don’t read music myself – but the chord shapes and locations within the lyrics will show you more about my writing process, and how to play the songs as I do. As with my last songbook, I hope you enjoy singing these songs around your camp fires, in your covens and groves, or simply on your own or with friends. Get strumming!”

  • European Pagan-folk band Omnia’s new album “Earth Warrior” is out now and available for order from their website.  Quote: “OMNIA’s 14th independant production is a studio concept-album all about the Living Earth and the fight against her destruction by humanity containing 14 OMNIA compostitions written in varying acoustic-musick styles, from classical, country, bluesgrass, hard rock, jazz, native american,celtic-folk, Balkan all the way to OMNIA’s original PaganFolk.” For those of us in the United States, Omnia will be playing at Faerieworlds this Summer, and FaerieCon in November.
  • Star Foster has issued a call for participants in a book on doubt, belief, and spiritual struggle in polytheism. Quote: “I am writing this book because I think it will help people. If you have experienced a spiritual struggle, then I hope you will share your story to give others comfort and hope. I will be collecting stories until June 1, 2014.”
  • Happy 20th anniversary to Murphy’s Magic Mess on KZUM in Lincoln, Nebraska. Quote: “Thank you for all the well wishes as The Mess reaches 20 years on air. loved the ‘bumps’ musicians sent [and it] was a very fun show. We started with Buffy Sainte Marie’s “God is Alive, Magic is Afoot’ because that is the music with which I began my very first show. My how time flies. It doesn’t seem like 20 years.”
  • A few weeks back, I mentioned that The Temple of Witchcraft in Salem, New Hampshire would be holding a Spring Open House on April 6th. Now, you can see the pictures!

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Unleash the Hounds! (Link Roundup)

Mon, 2014-04-07 08:27

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

Peter Matthiessen

  • Noted naturalist and author Peter Matthiessen died on Saturday after battling leukemia. Mattheiseen, a Zen Buddhist, wrote over 30 novels, was an environmental activist, co-founded the Paris Review, and famously wrote “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,” which chronicled the story of Leonard Peltier. Quote: “Matthiessen is held in such high regard as a nonfiction writer by nonfiction writers that they sometimes say, ‘How is it possible that this guy can be such a virtuoso fiction writer, and give his equally substantial body of nonfiction work such short shrift?’ Because all the rest of us are trying to do what we can to mimic his nonfiction work.” What is remembered, lives.
  • Two people in Western Kentucky have been arrested on charges of committing sexual offenses against children. One of them, Jessica M. Smith, allegedly described herself as a Witch and threatened the children with her powers. Quote: “Prosecutors say the two threatened the children with ‘hexes and curses’ [...] Police said Smith described herself as a witch and told the kids ‘she was going to put a spell on them’ and that ‘if they told anyone, something bad would happen to them.’”
  • A federal appeals panel has ruled that New York City has the right to block religious services in public schools. Quote: “The decision does not mean that the city must force religious groups out of the schools, but merely that a city prohibition on religious worship services in schools would comply with the Constitution.” Appeals are expected.
  • It seems that “real housewife” Carlton Gebbia isn’t the only reality television star who has practiced Wicca. It seems that Millionaire Matchmaker star Patti Stanger was a “real Wiccan” for six years. Quote: “I’ve studied Kabbalah, I’ve studied Wicca, so you can’t be like that. You can’t throw stones at people, because karmically it’s going to come back to you even worse then you threw it at them.”
  • Is the Internet destroying religion? A new study makes the case that the rise of the Internet has been an important factor in individuals abandoning traditional forms of religious practice. Quote: “Today, we get a possible answer thanks to the work of Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, who has analyzed the data in detail. He says that the demise is the result of several factors but the most controversial of these is the rise of the Internet. He concludes that the increase in Internet use in the last two decades has caused a significant drop in religious affiliation.” Of course, correlation is not causation, but Downey says that “correlation does provide evidence in favor of causation, especially when we can eliminate alternative explanations or have reason to believe that they are less likely.”

Terence Spencer—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these we may expand into longer posts as needed.

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The Florida Pagan Gathering: a community in crisis

Sun, 2014-04-06 08:08

Crisis hit the Florida Pagan community this week when locals became aware that Gavin and Yvonne Frost, founders of the Church and School of Wicca, were scheduled presenters at the annual Beltane Florida Pagan Gathering 2014 (FPG.)  In the past, the Frosts’ presence at FPG has generated a moderate number of complaints. Attendees and past headliners, such as T.Thorn Coyle, have expressed concern over specific content in The Witch’s Bible (reprinted  later as The Good Witch’s Bible) describing the religious initiation practices for sexually-mature minors. This year the Frosts FPG invitation sparked more than just voiced concerns. It led to decisive action.

Ray Romanowicz, former Division Coordinator, explains:

Monday I was checking with the workshop coordinator to see if she was doing OK … and she mentioned that the only issue she has [was] figuring out which of the preferred workshop locations to put the Frosts. I was stunned and taken aback to hear the Frosts were coming back …

In 2013 Romanowicz openly stated that if the Frosts ever returned to FPG he would resign as coordinator. On April 1 that is just what he did. He explains “I could not in good conscience be a part of any entity that allows [the Frosts] … A stand must be made someplace and I see it as here for me.” He immediately informed his community saying, “I really felt I had no other choice other than going as public as I could to shine the light on who would be speaking at FPG.”

As word spread Florida Pagans began to organize over social media. Discussions were hosted in a new private Facebook group called FrostFreeFPG. It was later renamed to Pagans for Change to reflect a more positive and global intent.

Rayna Templebee

Concerned attendees also expressed their concerns directly to the Board via email. As Rayna Templebee describes, the response was always “the same generic reply that dismissed [their] concerns.” Rayna goes on to say, “I asked the TEG board to open their hearts to the many members of the FPG community who have survived abuse or had it touch their lives and to create a safe space by dis-inviting the Frosts to present. I never asked for them to be banned from the festival, but I respectfully suggested that they not be given an official platform for teaching as leaders or elders.”

Over the next 24 hours Rayna helped facilitate the writing of a “joint resolution to the FPG Board.” Using contributions from over a dozen people, Pagans for Change authored this official resolution stating in part:

We stand together, as modern Pagans, to urge the FPG Board to listen to our concerns and to help host and foster discussion about this critical issue. We call for a removal of the Frosts as presenters at FPG and a ban on any distribution or vending of their materials. It’s past time that our beloved community take a stand against those who advocate abuse. Silence = complicity.

While that was in process, a heated debate erupted on the the FPG Facebook page. On April 2 the Board opted to delete all of these posts saying:

Hot button issues tend to attract spectators and it has always been one of our greatest duties to protect the anonymity of our guests and staff especially those who are still in the broom closet. This is not an effort to prevent anyone from expressing their feelings about this issue whether positive or negative and we will not attempt to prevent people from posting elsewhere.

Later that same day, the FPG Board published its own statement in response to concerns stating:

Florida Pagan Gathering Beltaine 2014 will be hosting all of our headliners and workshop presenters currently signed up to present workshops, events and concerts. We want to assure everyone that FPG and TEG never has, and never will condone assault of any nature, be it verbal, physical or sexual. When our guests and staff are at FPG we work with our Guardians and fellow staff members to keep everyone as safe as possible and we respond to threats immediately.

Meanwhile Pagans for Change created a new public Facebook page in order to gather support for their cause. To date the joint resolution has been “signed” by 254 individuals and organizations including The Treasure Coast Pagan Pride Project, Everglades Moon Local Council (CoG), Moon Path Pagans, Officers of Avalon, Circle of the Moonlit Sea, Central Florida Pagan Association and more.

The situation turned into what appeared to be a standoff as frustrations mounted on both sides. Florida resident and FPG Board member, Medea described the crisis as a “moral panic” saying, “What’s ironic is that the very thing [moral panic] that caused FPG to come into existence is the same thing that the community is facing today.”

As the hours ticked by more and more people voiced their opinions via social media. Vendor and presenter Gypsey Teague announced that she would no longer be attending FPG on ethical grounds. Orion Foxwood signed the resolution and added:

Orion Foxwood

Some reactions to the resignation of a Florida Pagan Gathering staffer have been very narrow in their understanding of the impact a leader or author has on its community. The undeniable publishing of statements that encourage sex with minors as a “supposed traditional practice” encourages those who have these tendencies to follow them and feel they have an endorsement for it. Waiting for an arrest to stop such behavior is like saying that we need not prevent war until a bomb is dropped. With all due respect that approach is ill informed. There are two types of social change agents; activists and planners. The FPG staffer’s resignation became an activist’s call to action. Now, comes social planning where we all must foster systems to prevent harm and encourage well-being.

Then the standoff broke when an unknown individual took it upon himself to directly contact the host facility, Retreats By the Lake. Using both Twitter and Facebook, this person informed the facility’s owners that “Florida Pagans [were] embracing Sex-With-Children Advocates.” His very public statement understandably caused real concern for the child-friendly camp facility. They immediately contacted the FPG Board who then issued a second public statement:

Originally, we had a resolution where instead of hosting workshops there was going to be an open discussion with the Frosts … Unfortunately with the attack on the camp, and its owners, we cannot, in good conscience, allow the Frosts to come, even as private guests.

In response Pagans for Change emphatically stressed that this unknown person was not one of them and that his approach was “damaging to the entire community.” They added, “We support the Board’s request that it handle its relationship with the camp… We agree with the FPG Board that we need to offer each other love, support, compassion and honesty.”

After the latest turn-of-events, Ann Marie, President of the board of directors of the Temple of Earth Gathering (TEG), stressed the need for community healing in a final statement sent directly to The Wild Hunt. On behalf of the FPG Board, she said:

At the coming festival, in place of workshops that will now never be presented, we instead will attempt to hold some workshops and rituals focused on healing the community, because the pressing need right now is for us all to remember we are about one another, and our collective care for our community.

Many locals agree that the healing process does now need to begin. FPG has been and still is a beloved Florida event that is one of the center pieces in Florida’s Pagan festival life. However not everyone knows how to proceed or is even ready. Coral Bruce, a member of Spiraling Heart Coven, says, “I think [the Board] handled [the situation] poorly. They did not respond appropriately to the concerns of the community. Yes, there needs to be healing. I want to heal but I don’t know how yet.”

Camping at FPG Samhain 2013

Marla Roberson, a Georgian elder and regular attendee from South Carolina agrees saying, “I have a lot of sympathy for the Board – what they have to put on and what they have to do. But I think they need to listen to their attendees … [Now] We do need to heal but I also don’t know how.” Neither Marla or Coral plans to attend FPG this year.

Rayna Templebee, on the other hand, will be attending. She says:

I had a workshop accepted that was already going to touch on sexual boundaries and ethics … so I look forward to offering that to the community.  I want to work from the inside to model a healthy and safe sexuality for the modern Craft.  I honor the work the TEG board and staff do to put on FPG and I know we can all help improve the way communication … is shared with attendees.

The situation is still on-going as new threats of lawsuits begin to appear in social media. Yesterday on Twitter the Frosts’ daughter called the protesters’ actions “illegal and bigoted.” The Frosts themselves have yet to respond to the situation on their own blog. As for Florida Pagans, FPG will go on as planned April 30-May 4 while its broken community finds ways of rebuilding and healing.

Will concerns raised in the sunshine state follow the Frosts throughout the year as they travel to other communities? Will these global ethics and safety concerns raised by Pagans for Change unleash a dialog elsewhere? Will event organizers nation-wide reevaluate their own communication processes and their relationship with their attendees to allow for more open communication concerning ethics and safety?

As the story develops, we will continue to keep you informed

Full statements:
Joint Resolution to the FPG Board
FPG Board Statement #1
FPG Board Statement #2
Pagans For Change Response
FPG Board Statement #3

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Pagans Fight LNG Port Construction in NYC

Sat, 2014-04-05 05:00

[The following is a guest post by Courtney Weber. Courtney Weber is a Wiccan Priestess, writer, Tarot Adviser, and teacher living in New York City. She runs open events in Manhattan and teaches workshops on Witchcraft from coast to coast. Photography in this article is courtesy of George Courtney.]

Warning: This Post Contains a Scary Movie, a Scary Monster, and New Yorkers. (But also cupcakes.)

Six months ago, I organized an event that ended with weepy Witches fleeing the room. I showed a film, which should have come with a trigger warning: “Empaths beware: This film will break your heart chakras.”

The film was Gasland, the documentary exposing the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (“Fracking”) for natural gas extraction. A few of the scariest scenes included kitchen faucets belching blue flames, rivers turned to mass graves of wildlife, bizarre diseases, horses and kitty-cats losing chunks of fur. The gold rush-esque drive for natural gas has pounded on New York State’s front door for years. The film showed how it impacted our neighbors in Pennsylvania along with other regions and how quickly it could happen in our state, too. Witch tears flowed at views of the toxic rape of our very regional land. Guests thanked me for screening the film, but also thanked me in advance for never, ever showing it again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0fAsFQsFAs

(By the way…if you haven’t seen Gasland, you need to make time to see it. I do recommend having your favorite two or four-legged creature nearby for comfort-snuggles. And a cupcake.)

A few months later, I was mean enough to consider showing the sequel: Gasland 2, an even more violent depiction of an actual assault on Mother Earth, but with a much more apocalyptic and panicked conclusion. My friend Damon Stang sagely recommended that we do something else. Maybe we throw a party, instead? Maybe a ritual, too? Get active without bringing people down? The Pagan community is attuned and aware of the environmental problems we face. Why not focus on solutions instead of bad-scary problems?

It was a wonderful idea, I agreed. Let’s have a “fix-it” gathering instead of a depressing gathering focused solely on scary awareness. We’ll have speakers talk to us about ways to help and raise energy to motivate ourselves and Magickally help the cause. Let’s have a pretty Witch do burlesque and more pretty Witches sing songs onstage! And this time…..CUPCAKES. LOTS OF THEM.

As it turned out, the timing could not have been more pertinent.

Fracking hasn’t started in New York, but an equally ugly monster is making its way over here. A company with a strange business address in the Cayman Islands has applied to build a liquefied natural gas plant off the coast of Long Island. This is a terrible, terrible idea. Here are few reasons why:

  1. STORMS, GUYS! One of these days we’re going to get another Sandy and it will totally beat the crap out of an LNG port and spill its natural gas guts into the sea. Bye-bye beaches. And whales.
  2. BIG-ASS-TERRORIST TARGET. Oh, sweet. Let’s go paint one more scarlet bull’s eye on this town. That bull’s eye would also have massive tankers lurking around the port. One guy taking a boat and slamming it into the side of a tanker could potentially causing 2nd degree burns on all the people within a mile radius—“the kind of intensity our industrial fires have never seen…there is no way to put out that kind of fire.” It sounds a lot like Wildfire and Stannis Baratheon’s fleet. AWESOME. And by “awesome” I mean “suck.” Leave it in books and television.
  3. WIND!!!! Another proposed project is a big, beautiful, wind farm fifteen miles off the coast, which will lovingly green-power our region. It has applied for the same stretch of water as the LNG port, and the powers that be say we have to pick one or the other. The wind plant would actually create an artificial reef which would help local fisheries and would be far enough away at sea so as not to impact tourist views. Turbines would be set far enough apart for whales to navigate around, easily. Whales historically haven’t had that kind of luck navigating around fossil fuel spills.
  4. IT’S NOT ABOUT US. The Port Ambrose project claims to be an import station to help the region gain energy independence…but directly across the Atlantic sits a ready-made natural gas import station, posed like a hungry-hungry hippo to gobble up all the fracked shale gas from North America. It’s not going to import, but export. It will help a select few gain a ton of money by sending cheap, fracked gas overseas: overcharging our friends in Europe and polluting our land, water, and air at home. The rich get richer and the poor get flaming faucets.

I could go on about how it’s only going to create 20 permanent jobs while the wind farm would create 250…plus methane emissions from natural gas contributing to climate change….but let’s focus on solutions. We wanted to make our voices heard, but we wanted to have fun doing it. We wanted Governor to hear us say “NO TO LNG.”

Still disturbed by the Gasland viewing, but also inspired, Witches gathered at Catland Books, on Monday, March 24 for a party. We included burlesque by Sweet n’ Lo, the Queer Mermaid of the NYC Pagan Scene and had music by Thorazine Unicorn—the Electro-Goth Chiptunes band, 100% composed of Real Witches:

Thorazine Unicorn provides the dance break.

David Alicea of the Sierra Club

The plan was to each call the Governor on entertainment breaks, but the voicemail boxes were full. Lame. Still, petitions were signed and speakers spoke. How do you solve a problem like fracking? Our speakers shared their views on the problems with the LNG port and what local people can do about it.

As opposed to the Gasland night, people laughed and cheered instead of wept. Our community truly had had enough doom—they needed outlet for the concerns. It was helpful to have ears outside the Pagan community. Within any community, it’s easy to believe we’re the only ones who care. Activists often feel the same way as many Pagans do—all of us operating in our sad little fishbowls thinking we’re alone in this. Bridging these communities—all lovers of Gaia in different ways—helped us become acutely aware of one another and how we can work together. Edie Kantrowitz of United for Action said, “NeoPagans certainly know the importance of protecting the Earth. It’s exciting to see that the Pagan community is becoming increasingly interested in environmental activism.”

Our night culminated with a ritual to cleanse ourselves of dependence on fossil fuels, and charge green apples with “hunger for green energy.” The apples were taken to Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—the trajectory of the fracked gas to the proposed port.

Cleansing away addiction to fossil fuels

It was an important step for our community. We love our land and waters. Sandy has made us acutely aware of the side effects of climate change. We moved from “What do we do?” to “What do we do, next?” While the call-in element went far more 8 of Swords than 8 of Wands, the event sparked interest, desire, and most importantly, concrete tools of action. In the coming weeks, the planning group will be meeting again to brainstorm next steps.

Charging apples with hunger for green energy

It’s not just a New York thing. Due to fracking, the US is posed to be the leading exporter of natural gas, globally. American companies have submitted 21 applications to build export plants around the country—as of this posting, 6 have been approved. Check your beaches. Are they building one near you? If so, what will you do to stop it?

The idea of stopping this landslide seems daunting—but then again, so has every major switch in civilization. A century and a half ago, our country was fed the same lies we are fed about fossil fuels. People were told the enslavement of human beings was necessary for a country’s economic survival. Not so long after that, other people were told that empowering women with the right to vote would decimate our societal structure. Change came from small groups of people who knew in their souls that these things were wrong on their basest level. Historically, social justice and change is rooted in places of faith and Spirit—Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques. We can include Circles, Groves and the back rooms of occult bookstores to that list as it’s happening here and now.

If you are in New York State, You can find your NYS Senator and phone number by clicking on this link. You can find your NYS Assembly Member and phone number by clicking on this link. Call to Governor Cuomo at 518-474-8390 or leave a comment and tell him you oppose the LNG Port Ambrose project and ask the governor to veto the project.

If you are not in New York State, find out what threatens your region. Find your local grassroots organizers and invite them to your next Circle. Find what breaks your heart and address it in a way that gives you joy. Raising energy and Circling together can only go so far—we have to break the Circle of dependence and sometimes that means stepping into uncharted Groves. If we truly honor the Earth as Mother and Goddess, we have an obligation to fight for change in the way she is treated. But we can also have fun doing it. My community loves dancing, music, and ecstatic ritual. What does your community love and how can you connect it to the work that needs to be done?

Blessed Be, Kitty Kats! Happy Spring!

[We would like to thank Courtney Weber for sharing this slice of New York Pagan life. The views in this guest post reflect those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Wild Hunt or its staff.]

 

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Perspectives: Blood Sacrifice and Modern Paganisms

Fri, 2014-04-04 01:00

Last month The Wild Hunt asked five members of the community — Thracian polytheanimist Anomalous Thracian of the blog Thracian Exodus; Mambo Chita Tann of Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We; priestess, author, blogger, and Solar Cross Temple board member Crystal Blanton; OBOD Druid and Under the Ancient Oaks blogger John Beckett; and Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) Druid Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh — for their thoughts on sacrifice. The following continues the conversation with part two of that interview.

How is sacrifice separate from blood sacrifice? Does blood sacrifice include personal blood offerings or is it limited to animal sacrifice?

Anomalous Thracian

“Blood sacrifice is not a term that I use and I would argue it as vague and somewhat useless. Ritual bloodletting would be more appropriate in this context, if I am reading the question correctly, as it is general enough to include many things, such as: ritual cutting of one’s own flesh to create a bond or pact with a spirit; ritual cutting of a sexual partner’s flesh in a ritual or ceremony; ritual cutting of an animal (not for the purpose of killing, but for producing the essence of a specific animal’s life force); “marking” a person with your own essence under certain ritual circumstances, whether for positive (protective, warding) or negative (hostile, magically infectious) reasons. Similarly cutting one’s self to feed one’s own blood to a specific deity — exactly as you might use, say, a goat, but without an immediate death — could be considered a sacrifice, and is still generally categorizable as “bloodletting.” I would hesitate to call anything that does not involve intentional death a sacrifice, in personal use of the term, but I would consider “the feeding or offering of blood, without death, to a deity or spirit” to be a form of sacrifice when circumstances call for it. Note: In many traditions, there are HEAVY restrictions upon forms of bloodletting of this sort, as the spirits and deities in question will take this as indication that the person being bled is “food,” and they will be regarded as such.” — Anomalous Thracian, Thracian Exodus

Mambo Chita Tann

“We do not ever offer human blood in Haitian Vodou, despite stereotypes to the contrary. Blood can be offered in the rituals around making animal offerings, which almost always become food for ritual participants, once the spirits have taken their share. It is possible to consider sacrifice in the sense of other offerings of great worth that are given to the spirits, such as the great amount of effort, money, resources, and time an entire Vodou sosyete will dedicate to initiation ceremonies or annual observances of special ritual, but we still do not place these offerings as being more precious or higher than the ultimate sacrifice of an animal’s life to provide protection, blessing, and sustenance for that sosyete and its members.” — Mambo Chita Tann, Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We, Haitian Vodou

Crystal Blanton

“There are many different types of sacrifice, and it is not limited to blood sacrifice. Different traditions access this differently. I personally do not practice blood sacrifice, but I have made personal blood offerings. I honor the life force of the individual, and the power of the divine within me, adding magic in the process.” — Crystal Blanton, Daughters of Eve

 

John Beckett

“Blood sacrifice is a subset of sacrifice, a particular form of sacrifice. It can include personal blood offerings or it can include animal sacrifice.” — John Beckett, Under the Ancient Oaks

Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

“Sacrifice often is confused with “blood offerings.” Blood sacrifice really doesn’t have a place in a modern Neopagan context, yet there are established cultures that still perform blood sacrifices. In a modern Druid context, sacrifices are often things such as whiskey, grains, flowers, prayers, poems, songs, and anything else that is a tangible item used to give to the gods. There are instances where Neopagans will sacrifice some of their own blood as a form of blood oath, but that is a rare instance. Killing of a live animal is another form of archaic sacrifice or offering that really is not something that is all that common in a Neopagan context. Most of us purchase our meat already slaughtered for consumption, but there are ways to offer a portion of that meat as a sacrifice in the form of the shared meal.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh, Druid, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF)

Do modern Paganisms stand to gain anything positive from giving offerings and sacrifice to the Gods? What about blood sacrifice?

“As a Polytheist who does not really identify as a Pagan, I can’t speak for “modern Pagans.” I believe that authentic religious traditions — rather than psychological models drawing from religious terms or structures, or social movements similarly using the aesthetic of religion for artistic, activist, or community-centered reasons, etcetera — should have trained specialists who handle the navigation of sacrifices to the respective gods of said group, assuming that said gods request, require, or even accept sacrifices. Not all gods like bloodshed or death. As for “blood sacrifice,” I will take this to mean “ritual bloodletting” (as indicated above), and again say, that while I cannot speak for Modern Paganisms, I can state that magically and religiously there is great potency in these technologies which can be certainly used for ‘gaining something positive.’” — Anomalous Thracian

“Giving offerings to the gods cannot possibly be a bad thing. Like prayer and interaction with one’s religious community, I tend toward the belief that you can’t get enough of it. Giving special offerings that take effort, non-blood sacrifices, are just more of the same. I do not believe that Pagans need to give blood sacrifice unless and until they understand the context of that act, have trained personnel who can perform it for them, and have a distinct need to do it: either because they need to share ritual food, they are in a place where they need to butcher their own meat and they choose to sacralize that act by offering their food animals to the gods, or their gods demand it of them and no other options are satisfactory. Even in the last case, I still believe it is imperative and necessary for context and training to occur first. As I stated in the PantheaCon panel, I expect that most modern Pagans, living in countries where they do not have to butcher their own meat and practicing religions that have lost their connection to customs where blood sacrifice was practiced, will never need to do this, and their deities would not ask it of them as a result.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Our relationships with the Gods dictate the value of sacrifice within a particular context. Much of what we would gain would be within the relationship itself, and that would depend on the practitioner and the God(s) in question. To make a broad, sweeping statement here about gain or loss would be devaluing to the individual and cultural relationships of varying practitioners of the craft.” — Crystal Blanton

“I have mixed feelings about blood sacrifice. On one hand, it would do us all good to get a first-hand understanding of where our food comes from and a first-hand understanding that what we are eating was itself alive only a short time ago. On the other hand, butchering animals requires skills you just don’t learn unless you grow up on a working farm and the only thing worse than not sacrificing is sacrificing clumsily – the animal should not suffer needlessly. Beyond that, I look at the community and legal problems blood sacrifice brings to some of the Afro-Caribbean religions – that’s not a battle I care to fight. But when you move beyond the issue of blood sacrifice, there is unquestionable benefit from sacrificing to the Gods. It brings us into closer relationships with Them, and it forces us to consider our relationships with food and with the non-food offerings we may be asked to give.” — John Beckett

“Absolutely, yes. We gain their blessings and we build our relationships with them through sacrifice. As far as blood sacrifice goes, in my years as a pagan and decade plus in ADF I have rarely heard it mentioned. I think we as Neopagans should focus on how we can use practical items to sacrifice in ritual, rather than trying to focus on something that is uncommon.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Where does volition and willingness come into sacrifice?

“Pretty much everywhere. Consent is sacred at every step; consent of the person performing or contemplating the sacrifice, consent of the sacrifice itself, consent of the one who raised or produced the sacrifice, consent also of the spirit or deity in question.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Constantly. If a thing is done against one’s will, it cannot be a sacrifice, period. If a person is forced to make an offering, that is no sacrifice, it is compulsion, and no good spirit or deity accepts that as sacrifice. In Haitian Vodou and in all the other traditions I know of where animal sacrifices are performed, no one would ever offer an animal without that animal’s permission; again, to do so without it would be compulsion and would not be a proper sacrifice. Even in halal and kosher ritual, from Islam and Judaism respectively, the animal must be awake and willing to be sacrificed; it cannot be knocked out before the knife is used. This is causing some issues with animal rights activists, most recently in Denmark, for example; but the alternative, to knock an animal unconscious and then kill it, would be completely wrong in that sacrificial tradition — while it may appear to the untrained eye of an animal lover looking at a video to be “kinder” to do this, an unconscious animal is unable to give consent and thus it is both cruel and, from a sacrificial standpoint, unholy/wrong. Those who understand butchery know that there are techniques to kill an animal without pain, and all who perform halal and kosher rituals must be certified as trained.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Volition means the act of making a decision, and willingness simply means being prepared to do something. As in all rituals, we have to properly prepare ourselves. In many traditions it means putting on special ritual clothing, setting up an altar, smudging ourselves, ritual bathing, and other things to prepare us for the act of ritual. In ritual, we decide who we are going to sacrifice to and why. We always need to enter ritual with a purpose, and we should always have a reason for sacrifice—even if it is just to build a better relationship with our gods. A ritual without a purpose is a waste of everybody’s time.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Does volition come into play in animal sacrifice, does it matter, and if so, how is it obtained?

“Yes. There are various methods for this, from speaking with the animal directly and observing its behavior (or hearing back, if the asker can communicate with animals directly), and so forth. The ritual structure being employed should provide the structures for ascertaining this. If they do not, they should maybe be reevaluated in order to ensure that they are completely understood and trained.” — Anomalous Thracian

“In terms of how we obtain it: In Haitian Vodou, animals are raised explicitly for the purpose of food and for ritual-related food or ritual purposes where the animal cannot be eaten afterward. These animals are raised by hand, by the community that will sacrifice them. Before they are sacrificed, they are washed, decorated, and prepared by the community. They will be led into the peristyle (the Vodou temple), and presented with a number of various foods. One of these foods is chosen ahead of time as being the official sacrificial food. The animal is told what will happen, and that if it is willing to be sacrificed, that it should eat the official food to signify this. Only if the animal eats the special food will it be presented to the spirits for sacrifice. If it eats anything else first, it must be let free because it is not willing to do the work. It has been my experience that the willing animals not only go immediately to the official food, they will eat all of it, and not even touch the other food (which will be the same: for example, three identical piles of corn for a chicken). They also act like they know what is happening, and they do not fight when they are picked up by the butcher, etcetera. It is a profound experience that is observed with the greatest amount of kindness and dignity. The animal has one life, and is being willing to give it up for us — how could we be less than respectful of that?” — Mambo Chita Tann

“It would have to come into play. A person has to choose to sacrifice an animal, and that is the very definition of volition. In a Neopagan context, I find the notion of animal sacrifice not necessary except for rare exceptions.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

Should animal sacrifice have a place in modern Paganisms, reconstructionisms, and Witchcraft?

“As I am none of these things, I do not feel that it is my place to answer for them. That said I believe that animal sacrifice should have a place in any authentically lived religious tradition which has spirits or gods which request or traditionally receive such things.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Until and unless those practices have a stated need for animal sacrifice – and I believe that most of them never will – I would say no. Should that become necessary, for logistical reasons (i.e., not living in a land with easy access to food animals, refrigeration, etc.), or should the gods require it, then I would believe that those same gods would provide access to the proper context, training, and ability to do so. Vodouisants themselves have this situation. Very, very few individual Vodouisants perform animal sacrifices, and even those who do, do not do it on a daily or regular basis. In the cases where that is a necessary event, there are trained personnel that one can go to, who will perform it on your behalf. I rarely perform that act in the United States; it is simply less necessary here, given our modern conveniences when it comes to food. Even in Haiti, I do not perform it often, and in all cases, I have access to trained personnel who can help me with the sacrifices I am not trained to perform myself. Everything is community-based. Modern Paganisms would have to define the same sorts of communities before they would even know if that was something they were going to need to do. If it ever happens, I believe it would be a long time in the future.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“In general, it could have a very important place, but unless it can be done right it shouldn’t be done at all.” — John Beckett

“In most instances I do not think animal sacrifice really has a place in modern Neopaganism. I do know of a heathen farmer who raises his own pigs and ritually sacrifices one, but this is a rare situation. In a modern context, there simply are alternatives to sacrifice that are every bit as effective.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

What is the nature of sacrifice in terms of transactions between spirits, Gods, and other entities?

“Sometimes sacrifices are a form of payment. Other times they are a form of celebration. Sometimes it is a transaction, sometimes it is praise; always it is reverent.” — Anomalous Thracian

“Depending on the context and the nature of the sacrifice, the sacrifice can reinforce connections by being a thanksgiving for help that has been given; it can be made as a promise for future action; it can be given as a substitute for someone else’s life (as I mentioned above). Sacrifice can represent a total offering of the self to the deities or spirits, or it can be a payment for an expected reciprocal benefit. There is no general meaning that applies to all sacrifices from all people to all spirits or gods – each one, like its nature as a unique and special thing, has a unique and special meaning.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“The nature of sacrifice is that which defines our relationship with the gods (and Kindreds). There are many reasons for sacrifice, and that defines what exactly is being asked or expected in the transaction. Here are few types of sacrifices as our Arch Druid Kirk Thomas has discussed in his various works:

1. Transactional sacrifice is the most common form of sacrifice where the sacred object is offered, and in the nature of hospitality, a gift is given in return. The basis of ADF’s Return Flow portion of ritual is “a gift calls for a gift.” The best one can offer is given, and the blessing and gratitude from the gods is given in return. 2. Piacular Sacrifice was a common Roman offering given during ritual to ask for recompense in case the offerings given weren’t enough or good enough. It is based on the fact that humans are inherently flawed, and the offering is given to acknowledge that. This type of sacrifice is still seen in the Roman Catholic Church. 3. The appeasement sacrifice is a type of offering given to a being or god to leave you alone. It is literally the “take this and leave” offering. Generally, this type of offering is given to beings not aligned with the ritual being worked, and they are given an offering out of respect to acknowledge they exist, but they are not part of the work being performed. 4. The shared meal is a type of sacrifice where a portion of the cooked food is offered to the gods. This is a very common ancient and Neopagan practice. 5. Chaos mitigates cosmos is a type of sacrifice that uses a series of offerings to recreate the cosmos in a ritual setting. This type of sacrifice goes back into the pan Indo-European creation story of Man and Twin. Man kills Twin and Twin is dismembered to create the world and cosmos. The chaos is the unknown or Otherworld, and Man takes his place as king of the Otherworld. This type of offering is meant to recreate this, but without any actual bloodshed.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

What about relationship; how does it play into the idea of sacrifice?

“I cannot imagine giving a sacrifice without having a relationship both with the being receiving the sacrifice and the community that would benefit from it; either in the form of food/reversion of the offerings, in the benefits gained from the sacrifice, or both. One might give a random gift to a stranger, for example, but it would be unlikely that one would give a random stranger the most expensive, most wonderful thing one owned. Sacrifice is a special event in the already-existing relationship between beings.” — Mambo Chita Tann

“Sacrifice strengthens relationships: between worshipers and their Gods, and among members of a religious community.” — John Beckett

“Sacrifice is as much about building relationships with the gods as any other reason. It is an act of hospitality. When we open sacred space, we invite the Kindreds into the ritual as family and kin. That relationship is built on sharing and trust. We sacrifice to solidify our relationships and make them stronger. Sacrifice allows the gods to give us their blessings and strengthens their bond with us.” — Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh

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Pagan Community Notes: Tragedy at Fort Hood, Florida Pagan Gathering, The Unnamed Path, and More!

Thu, 2014-04-03 08:38

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Yesterday, a shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas killed 3 people, and injured 16, before the shooter took his own life. This tragedy comes after the 2009 base shooting that claimed 13 lives. I mention this here because Modern Pagans in the military and Fort Hood have a long history, and that history became controversy back in 1999 when several politicians made an issue of Wiccans and Pagans having religious gatherings on-base. Today, Pagans are an accepted part of military life at Fort Hood, and there is a regular open circle held there, with military spouse Michelle Morris serving as Distinctive Faith Group Leader. Circle Sanctuary, which has sponsored the Pagan circle since its inception in 1997, released a short statement calling for prayers of healing and support. Quote: “I, along with others with Circle Sanctuary, are networking support for the Fort Hood Open Circle as well as all in the Fort Hood community & beyond who have been impacted by today’s shootings.  We are encouraging Pagans and those of many paths to send prayers, rituals, meditations of healing, strength, and support.” We will be following up on this story next week, and speaking with Pagans on-base. For now, our prayers go out to them.

The Florida Pagan Gathering’s Beltaine festival is coming up at the end of April, and concerns are being raised over the event allowing Gavin and Yvonne Frost to present there. The Frosts, founders of The Church and School of Wicca, have had controversy follow them for decades over material published in their “Witch’s Bible” that included instructions on ritually deflowering underage youth. While a disclaimer was added in a later edition of said book, their sexual politics have often seemed very out of step with the rest of the Pagan community. I think it would be fair to say that their reluctance to remove or recant the material first published in 1972 have kept these controversies alive over the years. Now, a joint resolution signed by a number of Florida Pagans, plus supporters outside of Florida, has called for the festival to not let the Frosts teach at FPG. Quote: “We stand together, as modern Pagans, to urge the FPG Board to listen to our concerns and to help host and foster discussion about this critical issue. We call for a removal of the Frosts as presenters at FPG and a ban on any distribution or vending of their materials.” Meanwhile, the board of FPG seems to be, for now, standing by their decision to allow the Frosts to present. Quote: “Over the last 24 hours there has been several emails sent to the Board and many messages on Facebook in protest of the attendance of Gavin and Yvonne Frost as guests and workshop presenters at our upcoming FPG. At the same time we have gotten a flood of emails supporting FPG and its staff and guests. Our attendance numbers have not been affected and we are confident that this Beltaine will be well attended by the people who were truly meant to be there.” We will have more on this story on Sunday.

After the unexpected passing of Eddy Gutiérrez (aka Hyperion) back in January, there were questions as to what would happen with The Unnamed Path, a shamanic path for men-who-love-men that he had founded. Now, with the blessings of Hyperion’s family, the Brotherhood of the Unnamed Path has pledged to carry on the work of their tradition. Quote: “Hyperion has left a legacy and although nobody can replace him, we The Brotherhood recognize that we have a calling to continue this legacy and reach out to other Men-Who-Love-Men through the teachings of the Unnamed Path. His vision has become our vision and will continue to flourish despite his recent transition. This path WILL continue for Hyperion and for our selves. Classes are continuously forming for Men-Who-Love-Men seeking apprenticeships that lead to initiation by wonderful teachers who have gone through teacher training under his loving and knowledgeable guidance.” The Unnamed Path has an open group on Facebook, and you can also keep an eye on the official Unnamed Path website for further updates.

In Other Pagan Community News:

Draft from The Sigilic Tarot

  • Hey tarot lovers! There’s a new tarot Kickstarter, this time it’s The Sigilic Tarot by Olivia Cox. Cox, who runs the popular The Living Wiccan Tumblr, says the deck emerged from extensive craft work using sigils. Quote: “The Sigilic Tarot is unique in its design, with 50 cards made up of 5 suits of 10 instead of the traditional 78 of major and minor arcana. Each suit represents a different aspect of our lives.” Do check it out, the designs seem very inventive!
  • Pagan elder, and avid Second Life user, Circe (also known on Second Life as Nepherses Amat), is terminally ill and raising money for home hospice care. Quote: “Circe has no money to pay for professional care. Over the last two and a half months wonderful friends and family from around the country have come to spend a week or more with her as she cannot live alone and needs assistance.”
  • For the third year in a row, The Norse Mythology Blog has won the Best Religion Weblog category in the Weblog Awards (aka “The Bloggies”). Quote: “THANK YOU to everyone who voted & asked others to vote! I hope that this groundbreaking win will send a message that the Old Way still lives in the modern world. However people approach the myths – as simple stories, as exciting adventures, as ancient truths, or as sacred writ – there is something for all of us in this wonderful tradition.” The blog now enters the hall of fame of this contest, and will no longer be eligible to run.
  • Immanion Press has issued a call for papers to be collected in an anthology on Pagan leadership, group dynamics, community activism, and healthy boundaries. Quote: “This anthology will explore leadership for real Pagans and real groups. We’re looking for essays and articles that detail leadership success stories, best practices, and ways you have worked through challenges and obstacles. Our specific focus is on techniques to help Pagans build healthier, stronger, and more sustainable groups and communities. We’d like to see a combination of hands-on how-to, personally-inspired, and academic pieces that will offer readers tools they can use in their own groups.”
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum will be participating in a Peace Ambassador Training lead by James O’Dea. At this gathering once can, quote, “learn from the world’s top peace visionaries, and become an impassioned ambassador for inner and outer peace.”
  • Pagan Spirit Gathering has announced its featured presenters for this year’s festival. They include Byron Ballard, T. Thorn Coyle, musician Arthur Hinds, and several others.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Canadian Supreme Court Hears Religious Freedom Case

Wed, 2014-04-02 05:42

In Canada’s Quebec Province, there has been an on-going debate over the teaching of a government mandated Ethics and Religious Culture Program (Programme Éthique et culture religieuse.) The ERC school curriculum was created and implemented in 2008 by former premier Jean Charest. Since that point it has caused multiple controversies and court cases which have now taken the debate to the steps of Canada’s highest court.

Canadian Supreme Court (Photo Credit: D. Gordon E. Robertson, cc lic. Wikimedia)

According to this mandate all Quebec schools, private and public, must teach a prescribed Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum or an equivalent. The province’s website explains:

For the purposes of this program, instruction in ethics is aimed at developing an understanding of ethical questions that allows students to make judicious choices based on knowledge of the values and references present in society. The objective is not to propose or impose moral rules, nor to study philosophical doctrines and systems in an exhaustive manner.

Instruction in religious culture, for its part, is aimed at fostering an understanding of several religious traditions whose influence has been felt and is still felt in our society today. In this regard, emphasis will be placed on Québecs religious heritage. The historical and cultural importance of Catholicism and Protestantism will be given particular prominence. The goal is neither to accompany students in a spiritual quest, nor to present the history of doctrines and religions, nor to promote some new common religious doctrine aimed at replacing specific beliefs.

To summarize, the program’s goal is twofold:  to expose children to aspects of Quebec’s own culture and to engage in a type of diversity training. Religions included are Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Judaism, Native spirituality, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and “other religions.”  The aim is not at all spiritual instruction. Author Brendan Myers, a Druidic Humanist and Philosophy professor explains:

Quebec was, up until around 50 years ago, a Catholic theocracy in all but name. Several Christian institutions, most prominently the Catholic Church, were the main taxpayer-funded service providers in education, health care, low-income housing and the like … The Quiet Revolution changed that and now most Quebecers want a vigorously humanist state. [The]  “Ethics and Religious Culture” course is in some ways a continuation of Quiet Revolution values. Its purpose is to expose students to a lot of different ethical world views from a lot of different religions, and thus continue to move the culture further away from the Catholic lock-step of life before the Quiet Revolution. 

In other words, the ERC is aimed at building a better secular state by educating its youth on the religious diversity found within its borders.

Brendan Myers

This government educational requirement is applicable even to the province’s private institutions. As Myers explains, Quebec regulates private schools with a “light tough.” For example, it might offer partial tuition subsides for “students attending schools meeting certain regulatory criteria.” However the ERC mandate has been handled differently. Myers says, “A private school which doesn’t offer this course won’t get its tuition subsidies for its students and might have its charter revoked.”

Since implementation in 2008 the program has come under considerable fire from both secular and religious communities. Should the government be allowed to force private religious schools to teach ethics that are contrary to their own belief structure? Should parents have the right to exempt their children from the program if its teachings are contrary to family belief? Should the teaching of religion and ethics instruction be allowed in secular schools at all?

The most recent battle began when a Montreal-based Catholic high school, Loyola, challenged the l mandate by asking the government for an exemption. The school does not want to include what it considers to be a “neutral” teaching of Christianity.  In its place the school would teach the ERC material but from “its own Jesuit style” that would be “respectful to [its] Catholic faith and morals.”

In 2008 the Quebec government refused the school’s request for exemption which sent the case to court. In 2010 a provincial Judge upheld the request saying, “The province’s order places Loyola in an untenable position: either it teaches the ERC program required by the Minister and thus violates its religious precepts, or it teaches the ERC course with its own program and thus violates the Act.”

In 2012 the province won an appeal which eventually led to the current Supreme Court case:  Loyola High School, et al. v. Attorney General of Quebec. According to reports, the debate is now centered on a new issue – one that is particular to the reading of Quebec law. In its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms religious rights are granted to “every person” and to “human beings.” The Charter never refers to institutions. Are the same religious freedoms, protections and rights granted to organizations such as Loyola?

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic Wikimedia]

In support of Loyola, various organizations have recently come forward. The World Sikh Organization of Canada said,

Freedom for collective religious activity is important to Sikhs in Canada as it is impossible to be a Sikh by oneself but only as a part of a larger community of believers. A broad interpretation of freedom of religion is critical for the protection of minority religious groups which are more vulnerable to government interference in their internal functioning.

Other groups acting as interveners at the March 24 Supreme Court hearing were The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada, Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada and a variety of Christian-based organizations. The CCLA wrote:

This appeal is of particular importance to the CCLA as it could determine and clarify – for the first time – whether and when a body corporate can invoke freedom of religion against the State. This is an increasingly pressing issue at the national and international levels

Should the school, as a “corporate body,” be granted the same religious freedom as an individual?  Should it realize that freedom by way of exemption from teaching a mandated ethics curriculum that is in direct conflict with its own belief structure but aimed at the betterment of society?  Can the celebration of religious pluralism within a multicultural environment overstep its bounds?  These are the issues now facing the Canadian Supreme Court. The debate will continue as the province and country now await on the Court’s ruling.

(Webcast of hearing available.  French only)

 

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Unleash the Hounds! (No Fooling Edition)

Tue, 2014-04-01 10:22

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. I know it’s April 1st, and thus, April Fools day in the land of journalism, but I promise we’ll keep the fooling to an absolute minimum.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

  • Let’s start with the religious origins of April Fool’s Day traditions, which the Religion News Service explores. Quote: “Some argue that April Fools’ Day is a remnant of early ‘renewal festivals,’ which typically marked the end of winter and the start of spring. These festivals, according to the Museum of Hoaxes, typically involved ‘ritualized forms of mayhem and misrule.’ Participants donned disguises, played tricks on friends as well as strangers, and inverted the social order.” 
  • The Associated Press checks in with the town of Greece in New York, as the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s decision regarding prayer at government meetings. Quote: “After the complaints, the town, in 2008, had a Wiccan priestess, the chairman of the local Baha’i congregation and a lay Jewish man deliver four of the prayers. But from January 2009 through June 2010, the prayer-givers were again invited Christian clergy, according to court documents.” I’ve written extensively on this case, and the outcome could have far-reaching affects on religion in our public square. When the decision comes down, you can be sure we’ll cover it.
  • An LAPD police officer who identifies as Buddhist and Wiccan has filed suit claiming sexual and religious harassment in her workplace. Quote: “DeBellis told Tenney that she no longer practices Catholicism and was now a Buddhist-Wiccan and a priestess, the suit states. ‘Tenney was visibly upset and appeared disgusted by plaintiff’s comment and told (her), ‘Women cannot be priests,”  according to the complaint. Tenney later told DeBellis she ‘cannot switch religions’ and that she ‘will burn in hell,’ the suit states.”
  • The New York Times Magazine interviews Barbara Ehrenreich about her new book “Living With A Wild God” which documents her exploration of an intense mystical experience she had when young. Quote: “I didn’t see any creatures or hear any voices, but the whole world came to life, and the difference between myself and everything else dissolved — but not in a sweet, loving, New Agey way. That was a world flamed into life, is how I would put it.”
  • Metro has a story on Pagans and Witches serving in the British military. Quote: “Prof Ronald Hutton said pagan worship is ‘pretty well’ suited to being in the military. ‘There is no pacifism necessarily embedded in modern pagan or Wiccan religious attitudes, and ancient pagans could make formidable soldiers,’ he said.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0IkMgR6SmI

  • The Miami Herald has an interesting piece on Santeria, and the challenges it faces as it grows and changes in an increasingly interconnected world. Quote: “The growth of the back-to-roots movement has kindled infighting, widening rifts between the Yoruba faiths’ spreading branches. It’s a friction particularly felt in Miami, where Lukumi has become more mainstream since the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the religion in a landmark 1993 case. Highly visible Miami priest Ernesto Pichardo considers many so-called traditionalists nothing more than ‘religious tourists,’ being fleeced by Nigerians, who return with strident views that their faith is somehow more authentic.”
  • The Wiccan Family Temple in New York won’t be able to hold a Summer Solstice festival at Astor Place because the group couldn’t prove they were “indigenous” to the neighborhood. Quote: “But the chairman of Community Board 2′s Sidewalks and Street Activity Committee Maury Schott told DNAinfo that the organization had to prove that the proposed street fair was ‘indigenous’ to the street between Broadway and Lafayette, although he could not explain what that meant.” There’s still a chance they could get approved though, so I guess we’ll see how “indigenous” to that part of Manhattan they really are.
  • Sorry Reiki healers, but Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is not on your side. Quote: “Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals—that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately. What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of ‘true scientific discourse.’ It isn’t.”
  • At HuffPo, Tom Carpenter endorses a military chaplaincy for “all the troops.” Quote: “Emergent faith communities in the military are properly seeking recognition. Many of these communities not only include but celebrate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service members. Humanists and Wiccans seek to join Buddhists, Hindus and other minority groups seeking recognition and representation in our military [...] The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy strongly supports the recruitment and retention of highly qualified, clinically trained chaplains who are representative of and committed to a chaplaincy reflecting a broad and inclusive range of interfaith, multicultural and diverse life experiences.”
  • There’s worry over proposed military housing that could potentially block the solstice sunrise at world-famous Stonehenge. Quote: “A plan to build thousands of new homes for soldiers returning from Germany could have to be changed – because they will be built on the horizon where the sun rises on summer solstice at Stonehenge. The Ministry of Defence said they were ‘aware of the issues’ and were organising a meeting with experts on the stones.” In other news, the nearly-as-famous Nine Ladies Stone Circle was recently vandalized. This is why we can’t have nice things, folks.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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(Pagan) Books To Look For: Page duBois, W.D. Wilkerson, Paul Christopher Johnson, and More!

Mon, 2014-03-31 05:00

With all apologies to Charles de Lint for borrowing his column’s title, here are some recently released and upcoming books that I think readers of The Wild Hunt will be interested in checking out.

“A Million and One Gods: The Persistence of Polytheism” by Page duBois: Page duBois, Distinguished Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego, author of “Out of Athens: The New Ancient Greeks” has a new book coming out in June that comes to the defense of polytheism. Quote: “Many people worship not just one but many gods. Yet a relentless prejudice against polytheism denies legitimacy to some of the world’s oldest and richest religious traditions. In her examination of polytheistic cultures both ancient and contemporary–those of Greece and Rome, the Bible and the Quran, as well as modern India–Page duBois refutes the idea that the worship of multiple gods naturally evolves over time into the “higher” belief in a single deity. In A Million and One Gods, she shows that polytheism has endured intact for millennia even in the West, despite the many hidden ways that monotheistic thought continues to shape Western outlooks.” Considering how few mainstream-marketed books we get that really address polytheism, I’m sure this work will generate a lot of conversation in our interconnected communities. Out June 2nd, 2014.

“Walking With The Gods: Modern People Talk About Deities, Faith, and Recreating Ancient Traditions” by Dr. W.D. Wilkerson:  Speaking of polytheism, here’s a new ebook, out now, that looks at contemporary Western polytheists. Quote: “In spring of 2011, Dr. Wilkerson began interviewing contemporary Western polytheists about their religious practices. The point of her research was to discover how “faith” is defined in a polytheist context, and to demonstrate how the experiences of polytheists constitute a unique type of religiosity that deserves to be taken seriously. It was anticipated that there would be between 20-30 interviews, but before the three years of research and writing were finished, over 120 people participated in this large-scale ethnographic study of emerging polytheist religiosity. As the research demonstrates, contemporary Western polytheists are intimately concerned with the business of connection: actively and deeply engaging with their Deities, ancestors, land, and community, and living a whole and fulfilled life within that nexus of connection. This theology differs significantly and substantially from the concerns of the pervasively monotheist culture in which they are immersed. More importantly, these differences raise important theological questions about our culture’s assumptions regarding Deity, faith, religion, nature, and humanity’s relationship with each.” Some of the interviews include folks we know, like P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, and Erynn Rowan Laurie. Ebook available now, print edition due May 1st.

“Spirited Things: The Work of ‘Possession’ in Afro-Atlantic Religions” by Paul Christopher Johnson (editor): This new collection of essays, edited by Paul Christopher Johnson, author of “Diaspora Conversions: Black Carib Religion and the Recovery of Africa,” tackles the sometimes complex topic of possession within African religions. Quote: “The word “possession” is trickier than we often think, especially in the context of the Black Atlantic and its religions and economy. Here possession can refer to spirits, material goods, and, indeed, people. In Spirited Things, Paul Christopher Johnson gathers together essays by leading anthropologists in the Americas to explore the fascinating nexus found at the heart of the idea of being possessed. The result is a book that marries one of anthropology’s foundational concerns—spirit possession—with one of its most salient contemporary ones: materiality. The contributors reopen the concept of possession in order to examine the relationship between African religions in the Atlantic and the economies that have historically shaped—and continue to shape—the cultures that practice them. They explore the way spirit mediation is framed both by material things—including plantations, the Catholic church, the sea, and the telegraph—as well as the legacy of slavery. In doing so, they offer a powerful new concept for understanding the Atlantic world and its history, creation, and deeply complex religious and political economy.” Out May 9th, 2014.

 “Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On” by Trevor Greenfield (editor): It would be fair to say that the publication of Gerald Gardner’s “Witchcraft Today” in 1954 was a monumental moment in modern religious history. Not only launching Wicca into the public eye, but sparking a much wider Pagan revival. Now, on the book’s 60th anniversary, Trevor Greenfield at Moon Books has collected a number of voices in an anthology celebrating and examining the ramifications of this work. Quote: “In the sixty years following the publication of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, new paths have appeared, and older ones emerged out of the shadow of repression and illegality, to express with a new and more confident voice their beliefs and practice, and share, with a steadily growing audience, their knowledge, their certainties, their questions and their vision. This book is a celebration of some of the many paths that Witchcraft/Wicca has taken and of the journeys that people have embarked upon.” Vivianne Crowley calls the book a “fitting tribute,” and I’m sure there’s a lot here for those interested in Gerald Gardner’s legacy. Out June 27th, 2014.

Other Pagan Books To Look For:

Do you know of some recently released or upcoming books that should be spotlighted here? Leave a comment or drop us a line and it may be featured in a future edition of this series. You can find previous installments of this series, here. Happy reading! 

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Editorial: The Importance of Archiving

Sun, 2014-03-30 06:15

Before beginning I’d like to express my enthusiasm for the future of The Wild Hunt. Writing for and about this extended community has been both challenging and invigorating. One of the perks of the job is in the education. Every time I write an article or retell someone’s story, I learn something new. That’s the gift that I receive in return for my time and effort. In addition, I am ever thankful to Jason for instilling his trust in me to help usher in a new decade for this amazing resource.

That brings me to the subject for the day: resources or, more specifically, archival resources. Over the past 10 years Jason has been cataloging Pagan news. The Wild Hunt has become an historical archive containing data on many past events. Each post is a point in time providing a snapshot of what’s going on – the good and the bad; the progressive and the not so progressive and the downright ugly. It catalogs our successes and our failings as well as capturing the whimsy in celebration and expansion.

Photo Credit: Flickr’s timetrax23

Archival research has always been essential to much of my work and that remains true to this day. As I child I was told to never make a statement without 3 supporting facts. My teacher would often say, “Prove it.” I took her advice to heart and will do an excruciating amount of digging before making any type of claim. Now I find something very exhilarating in the finding of the “tiny needle in a haystack” after hours digging through archival material.

However the preservation of historical data serves more than just research junkies like me. There is a higher purpose. The founders of The Adocentyn Research Library explain, “We are living in a period of growth, diversity and change akin to the first few hundred years of Christianity. Future scholars shouldn’t have to rely on the discovery of a future Nag Hammadi library in order to understand our diversity and our history.” This is a project whose time has come.

Here’s an example from my favorite subject: film history. At the turn of the 20th century, movies were considered lowbrow entertainment or sideshow novelties. Nobody thought much more about the filmed product. Technical innovators focused on production while producers focused on the building of a commercial venture. Nobody stopped to catalog or archive the footage being shown. Nobody considered or knew how highly flammable the early celluloid material would be. The American film Industry focused on the doing and not the archiving. Consequently most early films are lost in whole or in part. The historical data contained in those early film reels and in the production processes are completely gone. That’s nearly 40 years of lost material.

Photo Credit: Flickr’s Sonear

The Pagan Movement, as it’s been called, is now well beyond the stories of Gerald Gardener, Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune and the like.  Up to this point the focus has been more on the doing and not the archiving. No doubt much has already been lost. Regardless we still have many long trails of breadcrumbs through our cultural forest that can be captured. Sabina Magliocco, one of the founders of the Pagan History Project says:

It’s clear that we’re now one of the fastest-growing new religious movements in the world. The documentation of our early history is thus doubly important, especially as the movement is changing in important ways. The elders who were involved in the movement’s early days are now in the twilight of their lives; we have already lost a number just in the last year. Recording their histories and archiving documents from the beginning of the diffusion of modern Paganisms in the US will help preserve that history for future historians.

Just in the past two weeks, Judy Harrow’s crossing came as a surprise to many. Director Holli S. Emore says, “At Cherry Hill Seminary we are all too painfully aware of how the loss of someone like Judy Harrow inserts a sort of glottal stop in the narration of how we came to be where we are today. Anything we did not learn from Judy before last Friday is now gone forever.”

There are lessons to be learned from past experience at all levels of practice. What worked and what didn’t? Why did this group fold and this one last for 30 years?  Shauna Aura Knight is an author and presenter whose focus is on Pagan leadership skills. She says:

When I travel and teach Pagan leadership, what I see over and over is reinventing the wheel … I’ve seen local Pagan unity-type organizations–with actual not-for-profit status–folding because the leaders couldn’t sustain the organizations any longer. Thus those resources become lost, and any future group has to start again. 

Fortunately a number of projects have formed or are forming to fill this very need. Located in California’s Bay Area, The Adocentyn Research Library aims to preserve an expansive amount of material from a variety of religious communities “including indigenous, tribal, polytheistic, nature-based, and/or Earth-centered religions, spiritualities and cultures around the world and throughout human history.” They currently have cataloged more than 6,000 books and are working with the “Lost and Endangered Religions Project on conservation and storage of Pagan materials from India, Turkey and Guatemala.”

Similarly, in southern Delaware, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is raising money to finish the construction of the New Alexandrian Research Library (NAL). The “Library will be collecting materials from all religious traditions focusing on their mystical and the spiritual writings.” Founders hope that NAL will serve as both a functional community and research center as well as become a “cornerstone for the new magical Renaissance.”

Photo Credit: Circle Sanctuary, Circle Magazine

All archiving doesn’t need to be done by librarians and institutions. Several groups have digitized their own newsletters such as the Georgian Wicca Tradition and the Covenant of the Goddess. Back Issues of old print periodicals are available for purchase such as Circle Magazine whose offers issues dating back to 1980 when it was still called “Circle Network News.” The Founders of Adocentyn say “Archiving our history ourselves is important because we take our movement seriously, know how parts relate to one another, and understand it.”

Another recent development is the effort to capture individual stories. Shauna Aura Knight is co-editing a new anthology for Immanion Press has that very aim. She says, “I hope to start collecting the stories of what works and how leaders can use that, but also, what hasn’t worked. What are the mistakes we want to avoid in the future?”

The Pagan History Project has a similar objective. Sabina Magliocco explains:

The Pagan History Project is modeled after other oral history projects such as the American Folklife Center’s Veterans’ History Project. We rely on community members to record oral histories from other community members. These digital documents will be posted on a website and made available to other community members and scholars. … At this point, we are focusing on interviewing elders in our community who were involved with the inception of Paganisms in the US.

The Project seeks to create a “mythic history” that captures our humanity through the recording of voices. Currently organizers are looking for volunteers to go out into their communities and interview anyone willing. In this way future generations can benefit from the experiences of even those who have chosen to lead a quiet, non-public life. Holli S. Emore says,”For the many mystics among us, and most certainly for reconstructionists, an understanding of our historical roots has proven to be a vital part of our spiritual journey …  We are deeply enriched by learning the many layers and traces of Pagan history.”

The preservation of the past serves to not only enrich our present experience but to help build a stronger future. Together all these records will tell the greater story of a Movement or Movements with all the nuance and color one might expect. And, if nothing else, these archives will help future historians, research junkies and Wild Hunt journalists look back and say, “So that’s how it all came to be…”      

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A Confluence of Outsiders

Sat, 2014-03-29 08:25

The fact that it was the spring equinox did not occur to me at first. I was drawn out of my house by the rare March sun, and was immediately and utterly transfixed by a vibrant downtown which had suddenly come alive after several months’ worth of of gloomy weather. As I stood there, soaking up the sun and the atmosphere, I heard the familiar yell in the distance, and when I turned around I saw John Brewster coming around the corner on his bicycle, uttering yet another variation of his trademark line:

“I love America and I love the sunshine and I love freedom of speech, but LTD can lick my sweaty, shaven….”

Spring has arrived, I thought to myself. The locals are officially no longer in hibernation.

John Brewster (aka “LTD guy”)

In a town well known for its eccentric and colorful residents, John Brewster is one of a handful of figures who stand out even amongst Eugene’s characteristically odd landscape. Better known as the “LTD Guy”, Brewster has been riding around downtown screaming about his nether regions for well over a decade now, often while dressed in flamboyant costumes. Brewster’s tirades against the Lane Transit District have earned him a certain degree of notoriety, and he has achieved a local cult status with an accompanying fan club. Many people cheer him on as he passes by, while others roll their eyes in annoyance or ignore him outright. In the warmer months, Brewster can often be spotted on a daily basis, sometimes several times over the course of a sunny afternoon.

Brewster’s story and history has been profiled in local media and he has even been the subject of a student documentary, and yet most people in the community who see him on any given day still don’t know what he’s so angry about. They laugh, they make small conversation, they note the differences over time in his costume or his script, but the point of his rant or the history behind it is lost on them for the most part. It’s evident from the way that most people react to Brewster that the story behind his anger is not nearly as significant or meaningful to them as the spectacle that is Brewster himself.

John Brewster is one of Eugene’s (mostly) celebrated outsiders, and in the minds of many, the community’s enthusiastic embrace of such figures demonstrates our local values in action, the idea that Eugene is an inclusive community that accepts everyone despite their quirks. But while so many cheer on and support these eccentric local celebrities as a testament to the idea of radical inclusion, what so many fail to recognize is the fact that the circumstances surrounding their notoriety are a result of systematic exclusion policies, policies which seemingly stand in stark contrast to the ideas and values around inclusivity. In embracing the spectacle of the person rather than their actual story, the community can feel good about accepting people of all stripes while conveniently failing to acknowledge the widespread practices that result in such ‘outsider’ status in the first place.

In Brewster’s case, a fight with a bus driver many years ago over whether he could bring his bicycle on the bus resulted in a permanent ban from the LTD bus system, and absent any accessible method of recourse, Brewster has aired his grudges very publicly and theatrically ever since. He is one of a countless number of people who have been banned from the bus system, the vast majority of them homeless and/or mentally ill. And while his theatrics are often embraced, supported, and laughed at, the serious plight of Brewster and so many others is routinely dismissed and ignored. Brewster makes me smile as well, but behind the humor I recognize the dark truths that motivate his actions.

When I saw Brewster ride by on that unusually sunny equinox day, my thoughts immediately went to Glassbar Island, where I’ve seen Brewster sunning himself many times over the last several years. Unlike the theatrical character I often encounter downtown, out at Glassbar he’s not riding around screaming about anything at all. He’s simply one of the regulars, one of many stewards of the land who contribute to the unique character of the hidden little island at the edge of town, a place where outsiders like Brewster go to get away from it all.

Satellite image of Glassbar Island.

Situated on the confluence of the Coast Fork and Middle Fork of the Willamette River, Glassbar Island was originally known as “Bring Beach” due to the island’s location behind the old Bring Recycling facility, which sat on a county-owned parcel just outside the city limits. For over fifty years now, Glassbar Island has served as a hideaway of sorts for various people, groups, and activities that are not always accepted by the mainstream community. The island first gained a reputation as a nude swimming-hole in the ‘60s, later gained notoriety as a cruising spot in the ‘80s and ‘90s, has served as a sanctuary for the homeless throughout its history, and in the past decade has become recognized by scientists and botanists for its biological diversity and gained a reputation as an ideal spot for nature identification walks. Today, the island is mostly known as a spot for nude sunbathing, but folks of many different stripes not only peacefully co-exist on the island but also cooperatively maintain and care for the area.

Glassbar functions as a self-policing autonomous zone of sorts, publicly-owned yet left to its own devices. The island is open and welcoming to all, provided that one respects a code of behavior that is best described as mutual respect, cooperation, discretion, and leaving no trace. More often than not, I’ve found myself to be the only one on the island who is neither homeless nor naked, and yet I have always felt completely welcome in this community of outsiders. I fall into another category of respectful visitors: those who simply find the place enchanting and otherworldly.

Coyote tracks found at Glassbar Island.

The otherworldly aspects of Glassbar Island are not limited to what is found on the island itself. Getting there is often an adventure plucked straight out of a fairy-tale. In the spring and summer months, the Coast Fork dips low enough that one can easily walk across an ankle-deep natural land bridge to the island. During the rainy season, however, the river has been known to crest at well over twelve feet, cutting off island access to everyone except experienced boaters. While my own local sign that spring has arrived is the spotting of John Brewster, the true sign of spring for the close-knit Glassbar community is the day the river dips low enough to safely wade over.

Even when the river is safe to cross, access is still limited to those “in the know”. For an untold number of years, most people accessed the island from a county-owned parcel that led to the low point of the river, until last year when the County shut off access, citing environmental and safety concerns. The parcel was gated and fenced to keep the Glassbar community out, and according to both the county and the state, the island is designated “river access only”, meaning it is only legally accessible by boat. This has not deterred the regulars, as there are numerous entrance points throughout the adjacent properties that all lead to the river. Those entrances are not easy to find, however, and the lack of knowledge around the current access points has only added to the island’s mystique. In its present state, it is not only an island of outsiders, but of outlaws as well: one must break the law to access it on foot. The island is still public and open to all, but every person who fords the river to the island has committed an act of criminal trespass.

There are many angles to the controversy over restricting land access to the island, but remembering John Brewster’s association with Glassbar always brings me back to the politics of inclusion and exclusion, especially in light of the County’s hyperbolic excuses for closing the parcel. County officials publicly cited problems with prostitution, drugs, and sex trafficking in justifying their actions without offering any evidence to back the allegations, and in response the media outlets and private citizens alike alluded to the presence of nude sunbathers, homeless people, and the gay community as the potential sources of those problems. And while the county’s claims were mostly refuted or disproven by the Glassbar community as well as area residents, the fences went up nonetheless and the voices of opposition were drowned out.

No trespassing gate.

The idea that law and policy has created yet one more restriction on where the John Brewsters of the world are allowed to exist troubles me not only on an ethical level, but on a deep spiritual level as well. Scare tactics were used to defend actions that in the end only served as an attempt to further exclude the already marginalized amongst us, and the interconnectedness between the island itself and the community that interacts with and tends to it was completely disregarded in the equation. Among many other things, it was never considered that the island itself greatly benefits from the community and the stewardship that the Glassbar community provides. To say that the relationship is reciprocal would be putting it mildly.

Glassbar path

As I stood downtown on that sunny equinox day, watching John Brewster ride past me as my thoughts drifted to Glassbar, I felt an immediate pull to head out to the island myself, something I’ve never attempted so early in the season. I had spent much of the winter ruminating on the ways that community, exclusion, and perception interact in and with this specific place that is Eugene, and Glassbar contains and expresses each of those elements more concretely than any other singular place I know of here. And at that moment, heading out to the island seemed more of a directive than anything else, a directive that I was determined to fulfill despite the fact that the river was reported to be nearly three feet high at the crossing.

With the sun holding out, a few days later I set out towards the island with two friends, neither who had ever experienced our destination before. And despite setting out with explorative intentions and a focus on exclusion, my initial reasons for the trip evaporated as we were immediately caught up in the area’s magic. From the moment we stepped upon the initial path beneath the trestle that leads out the abandoned haul road, which we followed for a mile to the river crossing in order to trek across the river itself, I felt myself moving in and through a world completely out of place and time, anchored only by the constant reminder that I was supposedly acting as a navigator for my companions. We took off our boots and set out to ford the river, and although I am usually nervous and wary around rivers, the numinous aspects of our surroundings and the otherworldliness of the moment completely drowned out my anxiety. As I stood in the middle of the Willamette, thigh-high in rushing water, my feet grasping for the next river stone in front of me as I tried desperately not to fall, a message came through to me loud and clear, a message that came straight from the river itself:

Do not focus on exclusion so much that you miss the enchantment.

My fellow adventurer crossing the river behind me.

And the enchantment swept over me, midway across the river. As soon as we made it across to the island itself, another friend of mine spotted us and immediately took on a tour guide role, taking us around the island while explaining the history and landscape to my companions. I followed closely, trying to pay attention, trying to process what was occurring in the moment, but I kept slipping away despite my best intentions. Space and boundaries blurred as I walked on, and the more I tried to revisit my original purpose, the more I slipped into the otherworld that lay before me. I always felt welcome on this island of outsiders, but I also have always felt as an outsider myself. This time, I felt a part of the island’s dance, pulled in and transfixed by its numinosity. By the time we had reached the other end of the island, several hours had gone by in what seemed like mere moments. As I stepped in the river to cross back, the feeling of inclusiveness and belonging held me up in one sense, as the physical presence of a friend held me up in the literal sense.

The following day, I walked towards downtown with the ideas of inclusion and enchantment floating around in my brain, and John Brewster came around the corner once again like clockwork. I watched as a group of college students interacted with him, and I thought back to the message I received in the river. Do not focus on exclusion so much that you miss the enchantment. The students were laughing as they spoke to him, obviously enchanted in the moment. The policies and forces that create outsiders like Brewster are often unjustified and contradictory to the stated values of this community, but that does not cancel out the power and the beauty of the community’s embrace of such characters, nor does it weaken the effect that these outsiders can have upon the people around them and the everyday nature of a given place. Despite his exclusion, John Brewster interacts within a place where he feels like he belongs, and he is a part of the dance of this community just as much as I felt a part of the dance of the island. Brewster’s presence is a tragedy of sorts, but his presence is also a gift.

The rains came back in a few days ago, and the Coast Fork is slated to crest at ten feet in the next day or two, once again cutting off access to Glassbar Island. Our island trek the week before suddenly seems like a faraway dream, and knowing that our visit occurred in what turned out to be a small window of accessibility only adds to the mysticality of the experience. The county may not be able to successfully block off access to Glassbar Island, but the river itself can achieve that task without issue. And a community of outsiders will wait patiently until they can cross at the ford once again.

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Allegations Emerge After Pagan Author Charged With Possessing Child Pornography

Fri, 2014-03-28 08:56

On Tuesday, following an investigation by state law enforcement in Louisiana, Pagan author and musician Kenny Klein was arrested on multiple counts of possessing child pornography.

Kenny Klein

“Kenneth Klein, 59, was arrested around 7 a.m. at his home on the 2800 block of Carondelet Street. Detectives in the State Police Special Victims Unit began investigating Klein in February after receiving a tip about his online activities. Upon executing a search warrant of Klein’s residence, they discovered on his computer a large volume of explicit photos and videos involving minors under the age of 13 engaging in sexually explicit activities, according to an arrest report. Klein admitted to detectives that the computer was his and that he had used the computer to share and download the explicit material, the report says.”

Klein has been a visible presence in the modern Pagan movement for over 30 years. He has performed and taught at festivals, writtten books, contributed to magazines, and taken part in various pan-Pagan endeavors. The news of his arrest went out on Wednesday afternoon; by Thursday, social media had exploded with discussion about Klein. Many were shocked and horrified by the allegations made in the news article, but perhaps more disturbing are the emerging voices that allege Klein made advances towards them, or their friends, while they were minors.  One of them is Vyviane Armstrong, a Priestess with the Sisterhood of Avalon.

“Back in 1996/1997 I was sixteen years old and new to Paganism. I attended many Pagan festivals in my home state of Georgia, and got involved in hanging out behind the scenes at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. It was during this time I met Kenny Klein. I attended his concerts as he was one of the first Pagans I met in person and was certainly the first “famous Pagan” I had met. He started flirting with me which made me very uncomfortable. Despite no reciprocation on my part, he continued to relentlessly pursue me. This included heavy inappropriate flirting and sexual innuendos, him offering me alcohol constantly, as well as using various tactics (books, food, etc) to encourage me to go somewhere alone with him, and other inappropriate gestures which, as an adult, I can look back upon and see as incredibly manipulative. He would come up and wrap me up in his cloak and hug me, which sounds benign, but I had asked him multiple times to stop and it was just horrible. This happened over the course of two Faire seasons. It is important to note that during this time there was a huge overlap between the Georgia Pagan community and those who work and perform at the Georgia Renn Faire.

Although I voiced my concerns with the Faire organizers, and adult leaders in the general Georgia Pagan community, I felt as if I was not being taken seriously. I grew even more concerned when I saw one of my fourteen year old friends sitting on Kenny’s lap and drinking from his flask. I was told that Kenny was a long time Renn Fairer and Pagan Elder, and that he was just being ‘friendly’ and my concerns were brushed aside. Wikipedia puts his age at the time to be 43. I chose to stop going to Faire altogether because I could not deal with the constant harassment from Kenny any longer.”

You can read Armstrong’s entire statement, here. In it, she also says that she is in contact with others who have had similar experiences. At a Patheos.com article regarding Klein’s arrest, a commenter using the pseudonym of “EnergyFiend” said she and her friends encountered this behavior as well.

“He would run children’s workshops whenever he could at gatherings when I was younger (maybe still, I don’t know). I was a 12 yr old girl back in the early 90′s when I first encountered him back before the first round of this came out. I have been warning parents ever since, when I notice he’ll be at a gathering I’m going to, because people in a religious/spiritual community have this odd blind trust in it’s leaders, and that includes leaving their children alone with him while predators sing or tell stories. So maybe you don’t have kids (I don’t), but it’s all our responsibility to speak up when we see injustice and not “protect the community” as has been done for more than 20 years now. [...] Luckily, what he did to me was just creepy and inappropriate. Trying to get me alone, giving me massages, etc. I had close friends who were younger and not so lucky. They did go to the police and he still got away with it. No one believed them.”

Another Pagan, who requested anonymity, also contacted me to share her story.

“Kenny cajoled me into doing a set of nude photos when I was about 18 or 19, essentially using the ‘nudity at a Pagan festival’ vibe to justify it–it was my first festival. Never touched me, the photos were not explicit, just nude chick in the woods. Still, I knew something was wrong and I never felt good about it.”

All of these narratives about Klein in our community begin with his former wife, Priestess, and singing partner, Tzipora Katz, who revealed to me in a phone conversation on Thursday night that she and her children were abused during their relationship, which ended in 1992. However, despite the pain, anger, and worry that these new developments have brought about, Katz says that she wants her voice to bring healing and closure, and wishes that Klein could have gotten help those many years ago. Katz further expressed that our community needs to recognize the “walking wounded” among us, and that we should be there for them, with each of us becoming “the community you want to be.” In our conversation, Tzipora Katz parted with a simple hope: “I don’t want anyone to suffer the way we suffered.”

While Klein has not been yet been tried or convicted on the charges for which he was arrested, nor faced legal proceedings for these additional allegations, the Pagan community has taken his seeming confession, and the testimony of those who’ve interacted with Klein, seriously. Ramifications for this arrest are already starting to ripple outward. Immanion Press / Megalithica Books has pulled Klein’s book “The Flowering Rod” from their publication lineup.

“The Flowering Rod by Pagan Author and Musician Kenny Klein is being pulled from our line of Esoteric Non-Fiction books as a response to the recent news that Kenny Klein has been charged of downloading and sharing child pornography. Mr. Klein has admitted his guilt in this matter, and we do not feel that we can, in good conscience, continue to publish his book. We are removing the book from our line-up effective immediately. At Immanion Press we do not believe in knowingly supporting acts of behavior that violate the Pagan community or how it is represented to the world by our authors. We are committed to publishing books that help the communities we are a part of, but we also believe that any author is a role model and should behave accordingly. We offer our condolences to people who have been effected negatively by this situation or any other actions Mr. Klein has done.”

Meanwhile, PNC-Minnesota reports that Witches & Pagans Magazine has suspended Klein’s blog at their PaganSquare site, pending the outcome of the trial, Sacred Harvest Festival has cancelled his pending appearance at their festival, and Llewellyn Worldwide has issued a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed to learn of the allegations against one of our authors.” Also speaking out are clergy from the Blue Star tradition of Wicca, where Klein was a High Priest. Here’s a statement from Keith Campbell, a 3rd degree Blue Star initiate from Pennsylvania.

“Like most Craft traditions, Blue Star is composed of many independent, autonomous covens and groves, and no person or organization can speak for the tradition as a whole. Speaking only for myself, news of Kenny Klein’s arrest deeply saddens and troubles me, and my thoughts and prayers are with his coven and grove at this extremely difficult time.    The acts of which he is accused are very serious, and do not reflect the values, principles, or teachings of my tradition. I certainly don’t have enough information yet to make any judgments about what is and is not fact in a very complicated situation; that is the task of the courts. I pray that the investigation and judicial process will lead to truth, and that out of truth comes justice. I pray that all those affected by this issue find healing and peace.”

No doubt further actions from these parties, and others, will happen once a verdict is reached in this case.

As for the larger Pagan community, many of whom may have had several uneventful or positive interactions with Klein over the years, there can be many conflicting emotions relating to this situation. Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan psychotherapist whose specialty was counseling survivors of childhood sexual abuse, counsels against thinking that all abusers are obvious or easily found out.

“Some of us have given in to the temptation to dismiss Klein as simply a creep. It’s important though, to remember that if we allow ourselves to believe that all perpetrators are simply and obviously creeps, we’ll refuse to see the perpetrators who don’t fit that stereotype. There may have been warning signs to some, but not everyone saw them. And that may not be about blindness, either–it’s best not to make that assumption, and not only risk blaming victims, but also risk failing to see future perpetrators, if they don’t seem ‘obvious.’ I write this as a former psychotherapist, who worked as a counselor in the field of sexual abuse for about 20 years. I vividly remember the first perpetrator it turned out I knew: he’d been a local minister who had been active on the same board I had, that founded a battered women’s center. That disabused me of the notion that, as a trained professional, I, at least, could ‘always spot’ a perpetrator. It’s important to pay attention to signs of trouble; it’s more important to structure kids’ programs in a way that is likely to keep them safe (like always having two or more adults in charge of kids, and free access and open visibility to parents at all times). But it’s also important to remember we won’t always know, and we won’t always keep kids safe. We’ll do better if we do our best with a little humility.”

This arrest, and the shockwaves it has sent through the Pagan community, are bringing about important conversations about how we address abuse in our interconnected communities, and how we react when serious allegations are made in our communities and at our events. As this issue progresses, The Wild Hunt will continue to explore not only this story, but how we can move towards being a healthier, safer, more transparent, community.

Note: Tzipora Katz wants the community to know that her children do not want to discuss this matter publicly, and that anyone wanting to reach out to them should contact her directly first, so they can speak when they’re ready.

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Ten Years of The Wild Hunt

Thu, 2014-03-27 05:00

On Saturday, The Wild Hunt will have been running continuously for ten years. On March 29th, 2004 I decided to re-launch a Pagan-themed blog I had already started (called “Pagan Thoughts,” itself a re-launch of an even earlier blog called “MythWorks”) with a new mission: prove that a daily Pagan news blog could work. To say that my early posts were somewhat rough around the edges would be kind, I literally learned how to write in public. Indeed, at the time I didn’t even consider myself a writer, as my ambition was geared more towards visual art and graphic design. Inspired by already-existing services like Wren’s Nest, PagaNet News, and Tuan Today, I wanted to show that a daily news site could be done, thinking my efforts would inspire nebulous “professionals” out there to take up the task in a more robust manner.

The Wild Hunt, circa 2004.

When I started, Pagan media on the Internet was very different. Most online Pagans communicated on bulletin boards or via a vast number of e-mail lists. None of the existing print Pagan magazines had a robust online presence, though to be fair neither did a large number of mainstream periodicals. As for blogs, they were still largely a curiosity for many, and extensive searches at that time only turned up a handful of Pagan-themed blogs, at best. Little did I know that huge changes were in store for mainstream media, and for the new media powered by blogging platforms.

The Wild Hunt, circa 2007.

As for The Wild Hunt, I had the luxury of incubating in relative obscurity, developing a voice as my audience slowly grew. I think the turning point in terms of influence and audience came in 2006 when I interviewed Margot Adler, and started doing more original reporting from within our interconnected communities (instead of simply linking to and commenting on mainstream news stories). As more and more people turned to the Internet to find news, more and more people seemed to find The Wild Hunt and enjoy the service it was providing. In the intervening years, I have strived as best I could to make The Wild Hunt a useful service for as many people as possible. Now, as we pass this landmark anniversary, I want The Wild Hunt, and Pagan media as whole to continue maturing, growing, and providing a vital connection for individuals within our interconnected religious movement.

The Wild Hunt, circa 2011.

Between now and October, The Wild Hunt will be instituting the following changes that I think will better prepare us for the future, and hopefully create one model for sustainable Pagan media. 

  • The Wild Hunt will receive fiscal oversight from the Pantheon Foundation, relieving us from the stress of handling our increasingly complex fiscal realities, allowing our editors, staff, and columnists to focus on creating the best reporting, commentary, and content we can. As part of our agreement with the Pantheon Foundation, an appointed member of the Wild Hunt team will always have a seat on the PF board so we can have a voice in how the organization is run. The service they are providing is important, and I think being overseen by a religious non-profit will allow us to fundraise more effectively. I (Jason Pitzl-Waters) will be serving as the initial founding board member for The Wild Hunt, though this can change as things progress.
  • Staff writer Heather Greene will become the new Managing Editor of The Wild Hunt. For those who have been following Heather’s work for The Wild Hunt, you’ll know that she’s an amazing writer and reporter, and truly “gets” our mission here. Heather has an impressive media background, and has worked for a number of Pagan organizations. She has the contacts, and skills, to step into this role. As we move towards October, she will be taking on a larger workload, and eventually will be overseeing all contributing writers and columnists at the site. I will become the Founding Editor, and start to focus more on “big picture” issues relating to The Wild Hunt, and Pagan media in general. I’m also hoping to use my additional free time to finally work on some Wild Hunt-related book projects.
  • We will be increasing the number of writers and columnists who work for The Wild Hunt. We have ambitious plans for the way we’re going to be doing things at this site, and that includes making our collective voice as diverse as possible. Whenever I added a new writer to our staff I asked the question: will this individual bring a perspective I can’t? Having a team who simply echoes the editor would be boring, and run counter to what our diverse religious movement is about. Weekends at The Wild Hunt will eventually be populated with a selection of columnists who bring unique perspectives and ideas to the table, joining our already impressive lineup of Rynn Fox, Crystal Blanton, Eric Scott, and Alley Valkyrie. We will also be looking for interns and staff writers to help us produce reporting and news during the week. Think you could be a part our team in the future? Drop us a line.
  • Finally, as things get set up with the Pantheon Foundation, will be making improvements to the site that will make it easier to support us, and submit news to us. We will be rolling out a number of donation and underwriting options, including monthly donations, which several people have inquired about during our yearly pledge drives. All donations, once this is active, will be tax-deductible. Secondly, will be working to develop a new service, Pagan Press Releases, that will make it easy to not only send us your news, but send other Pagan media outlets your news as well.

As for me, while I’ll be cumulatively writing less as times goes on, I will still be completely enmeshed in The Wild Hunt, and in the larger world of Pagan media. I will be working to make sure we are fiscally stable, that we continue to grow and thrive, and also work to expand what can do. With Heather stepping in as Managing Editor, I’ll be able to focus more on the “meta” issues of what we do, and also do more consulting work with Pagan organizations seeking to improve their own media footprint. Because we need a robust media ecosystem if we are going to achieve the ambitious plans many of us have laid out for our collective future.

I want to thank all of you for making The Wild Hunt the success it is today. I am eternally humbled by what you have collectively given me as I’ve done this work over the past decade. I am richer in friendships and connections than I could have ever anticipated, and I feel optimistic for what the next ten years will bring. I hope you’ll continue with us as we journey into what I hope will be a future of positive change and growth. Thank you, and here’s to the next ten years!

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