The Wild Hunt

Subscribe to The Wild Hunt feed
Updated: 10 hours 36 min ago

The Oklahoma Black Mass: Controversy, Confusion and Religious Freedom

Thu, 2014-09-18 07:36

Amid a flurry of controversy and confusion, the Oklahoma Civic Center Music Hall in Oklahoma City will be become the setting for a public Black Mass this Sunday, Sept. 21. The event, which is being billed as “enlightening and educational,” is reportedly now sold out. The purpose of the public staging, as written in the Civic Center’s blurb, is to bring a feared ritual “into the light.”

Just as problems arose when a Harvard University Extension club attempted to sponsor a Black Mass, the Oklahoma event has inspired local protests that began immediately after the Civic Center listed the Black Mass on its schedule. However, in this story, the ensuing controversy took a few unexpected twists and turns that go well-beyond typical outrage from the city’s Catholic community.

Oklahoma City Skyline [Photo Credit: Urbanative, CC - Wikimedia]

Oklahoma’s Archbishop Paul Coakley was the first to react publicly. On July 1, he issued a news release that read, “We are astonished and grieved by this proposed sacrilegious event.” He called on the Civic Center to cancel the event and on Oklahoma Catholics to pray.

A month later, after getting no response from the Civic Center, the Archbishop published an open letter asking all Christians to pray for protection, saying, “I am certainly concerned about the misuse of a publicly supported facility for an event which has no other purpose than mocking the Catholic faith.”

Despite public pressure, the Civic Center maintained a position of neutrality. Recently, general manager Jim Brown explained to a Christian news network, Aleteia:

Since we’re a City of Oklahoma facility we’re required to abide by all First Amendment rights to the Constitution, which don’t allow us to turn away any productions … As a public facility, we’re required to rent to organizations and individuals as long as they abide by our policies and procedures.

None of this public pressure is new to the Civic Center.  In 2010, a Satanic church called Four King Princes, originally The Church of IV Majesties, held a exorcism in the same space. At that time, the Center made clear that it upholds the city’s policy of non-discrimination. And that policy still stands today.

Governor Mary Fallin [Courtesy of the State of Oklahoma]

While the Civic Center itself has remained neutral, Oklahoma’s state officials have not. On Aug. 13 Governor Mary Fallin released a statement in which she said, “It is shocking and disgusting that a group of New York City ‘satanists’ would travel all the way to Oklahoma to peddle their filth here. I pray they realize how hurtful their actions are and cancel this event.”

Unfortunately, in making that public statement, Fallin not only demonstrated religious bias but also managed to muddle an already volatile situation. She assumed that The Satanic Temple was responsible for the upcoming Black Mass.

This may seem like an easy mistake. The Satanic Temple is a very active, vocal and public organization that works aggressively in defense of religious freedom. The organization is behind the quest to place a Baphomet statue in the Oklahoma courthouse and assisted the Harvard Club with its Black Mass in May. Just this week, The Satanic Temple announced that it would begin distributing religious materials to students in Florida’s Orange County Public Schools. The news release reads:

In response to a recent School Board decision in Orange County, Florida that allows for the dissemination of religious materials in public schools, The Satanic Temple has announced they will follow suit by providing Satanic materials to students during the new school year. Among the materials to be distributed are pamphlets related to the Temple’s tenets, philosophy and practice of Satanism, as well as information about the legal right to practice Satanism in school.

However, The Satanic Temple is not behind the upcoming Oklahoma Black Mass. Representative, Lucien Greaves told The Wild Hunt that it has “nothing to do with the event” and said:

There was some confusion about this when Gov. Fallin specifically, erroneously, denounced The Satanic Temple in relation to this Black Mass prompting us to disseminate a press release making clear that we are not involved, and asking an apology from the governor’s office. The governor never replied.

Sunday’s Black Mass was organized by a local Oklahoma Satanic church called Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. When asked about the church’s intentions, co-Founder Adam Daniels told ABC News that “One of the dictates of the church is not only to educate the members but to educate the public … and to debunk the Hollywood-projected image of our beliefs.”

Adam Daniels [Photo Credit: A. Daniels, Flickr, CC lic]

Despite this and other attempts at explanation, Daniels was unable to mollify the community. Confusion and frustrations only mounted. Then, Aug 20, the saga took a twist when Archbishop Coakley filed a lawsuit against Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. He did this after learning that Daniels planned to use a consecrated host in ritual. Archbishop Coakley said:

Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the form of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. The local organizers of this satanic inversion intend to use a stolen consecrated Host obtained illicitly from a Catholic Church to desecrate it as a sacrifice to Satan. Through this lawsuit, I hope to avoid the desecration of the Host.

According to reports, Daniels claims that he didn’t steal the wafers and that they were mailed to him by a Turkish priest. He then accused the Church of attempting to defame his character and planned a countersuit. However, after days of negotiations, Daniels agreed to return the host to the Church and, in return, the Archbishop dropped the lawsuit.

While that portion of the conflict ended, other protests continued. The conservative Christian TFP Student Action organization launched an online petition asking both the Civic Center and Governor “to stop the sacrilege.” The petition now has over 85,000 signatures.

To complicate matters, this summer’s national publicity has also dredged up problems from Daniels’ past, providing more sensational fodder for protesters for local media. Daniels is on Oklahoma’s sex offender registry. Although he has publicly addressed the offense in 2010, he has reportedly developed a reputation that has led to several group conflicts and mistrust within his own religious community.

It was this reputation and associated conflicts that triggered, in part, the The Satanic Temple’s quick response to Governor Fallin’s error. Greaves explains that there are certainly many different interpretations of Satanism. He is unfamiliar with Daniels’ particular beliefs so he could not “condone nor condemn” his work.  However, he said:

We do know … that Mr Daniels has developed a very poor reputation in his community, one that further encouraged us to make clear his lack of affiliation with us. We have built a great deal of goodwill among Oklahomans who understand the importance of our attempts to preserve an environment of religious liberty/pluralism in their home state. We certainly don’t want activities beyond our control to compromise that in any way.

Despite the flurry of concerns, both personal and religious, the Black Mass will be staged as planned. After the lawsuit was finally dropped, the only remaining issue was to ensure that the ritual itself would uphold all state laws. As noted on the site, Daniels assures the public:

The Black Mass being performed at the [Oklahoma] Civic Center has been toned downed as to allow it  to be performed in a public government building. The authenticity and purpose of the Black Mass will remain in tact [sic] while allowing for slight changes so that a public viewing can occur without breaking Oklahoma’s laws based on nudity, public urination and other sex acts.

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach Daniels for further comment. However, if “preserving religious equality” or educating the public are indeed Daniels’ goal, the extraneous complications, stories of theft, and a dubious past may have muddied his mission. It can be very difficult to spot religious freedom activism through lawsuits and accusations of impropriety. Regardless of any these issues, the event will go on and the city-run Civic Center will uphold Daniels’ constitutional right to free expression of his religion. In that way, Dakhma of Angra Mainyu has ultimately managed to test the boundaries and soundness of religious tolerance and freedom in Oklahoma City.

Send to Kindle

Comic Book Gods: The Wicked + The Divine

Wed, 2014-09-17 05:00

Almost from the beginning comic books have lent themselves to repurposing mythology in order to tell stories. Usually this process was indirect, with new characters like Superman and Batman acquiring mythic resonances over time. However, the riches of ancient cultural myths and stories were far too tempting to simply borrow elements from, and soon you had figures like Thor and Hercules fighting alongside more down-to-earth heroes. In the late 1980s and through the 1990s this dive into ancient myth and religion took a more serious turn as writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Jamie Delano, and Grant Morrison grappled with increasingly complex notions regarding the narrative reality of fantasies they were producing. Comic books, many started to argue, were the conveyers of the new mythologies.

“Promethea is, from the very first issue, described as a fictional character. Now there’s a strange loop of self-reference going on there, because you’re reading about this fictional character who is perfectly aware that she is a fictional character and indeed that is the source of her occult power. So it’s kind of more or less saying that, yes, this emblem of Promethea that you are looking at—this is the actual goddess Promethea. That this is an actual embodiment of the imagination. In fact for one panel I thought that we pretty much manifested the god Hermes. How would a god of language and communication manifest in a physical universe? And of course, just as a goddess of dreams would manifest through dreams, then a god of language and images and communications, and, if you like, comic strips, would probably manifest through a comic strip.” – Alan Moore

For those embrace a polytheistic belief system in the modern world, who take seriously the “old” gods and goddesses, these philosophical twists and turns within the comic medium (not to mention the quality story-telling) started attracting a lot of attention. Soon, works like Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles” were being used as inspiration for real-life occult and religious practice with Morrison himself taking gleeful part. The role of religion in comic books and how it has influenced the people reading them was now something being seriously studied and written about. Now, a new generation of books are continuing this process, most notably “The Wicked + The Divine” by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. 

“Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critically thermonuclear floor-fillers Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to start a new ongoing superhero fantasy. Welcome to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, where gods are the ultimate pop stars. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.”

What’s interesting about “The Wicked + The Divine” is that it portrays a world where gods seemingly walk among us, but in a manner that leaves plenty of ambiguity as to what’s really going on (all wrapped up in a murder mystery). The divine beings take seat in ordinary mortals, instantly changing them into celebrities, at least until they die. A reporter, who happens to have studied mythology in college, gives voice to the natural skepticism towards such a phenomenon, critiquing the strange appropriations and contortions of these “gods.” This is mythology in a post-modern world, as pantheons and cultures are jumbled. Where The Morrigan and Baphomet do underground performance art to a select group of followers, and Lucifer is locked in jail claiming to be framed. As seemingly miraculous things continue to pile up, the series looks at the thin line between fame and faith.

“I’ve always thought that if comics are a part of pop culture [then] they should reflect pop culture, but a lot of the time comics, superhero comics especially, just feed on themselves. For me, comics should take from every bit of pop culture that they can; they’ve got the same DNA as music and film and TV and fashion and all of these things.”Kieron Gillen

This series isn’t the first time that Gillen and McKelvie have traveled mythic territory. The series Phonogram dealt directly with the idea of music as magic, complete with aspects of gods who oversaw different musical epochs (the goddess Britannia, for example, oversees British guitar pop). Both series, by fusing pop-culture and fame with myth and magic, allow for the creation of a new tapestry of ideas. Making us see how the revels we read about in ancient texts might truly manifest in our modern world.

“Phonogram was explicitly about our world. It’s a fantasy which is happening around us all, unnoticed except for those who’ve fallen into its world. In a real way, it’s real. Conversely, W+D is much more overt. The appearance of the gods changes the world, and has changed the world going back. There’s the strong implication that certain figures in our world simply didn’t exist in The Wicked And The Divine‘s world, because they were replaced by a god.”Kieron Gillen

“The Wicked + The Divine” like Moore’s “Promethea” and Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” gives us another context through which we can think about the numinous world; About gods, magic, and how we interact with both of those concepts. While the depictions may seem irreverent to some of the devout, an interesting and vital exploration is taking place, and I think it’s a journey worth taking. Issue #4 of the series is out today, available digitally and in most comic book stores. Digital back-issues can be purchased at Comixology and other digital comic outlets.

Send to Kindle

Shedding Secrecy, Vodou Becomes More Public

Tue, 2014-09-16 07:27

Whether it’s spelled Voodoo, Vodou, or Voudoun, this frequently-misunderstood religion of the African diaspora is starting to get a makeover in the American consciousness. A traditionally secretive religion, Vodou has long been represented in movies and television shows as being focused on sticking pins in dolls and making people into zombie slaves. That image is starting to change, however, in ways that could make members of the Pagan community sit up and take notice.

In contrast to the Hollywood vision of Vodou, an exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago seeks to present an accurate picture of Haitian Vodou through its artifacts. According to a press release about the exhibition, “Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti looks beyond myths and manufactured Hollywood images – exhibition visitors will see no dolls with pins

© Canadian Museum of History, Frank Wimart

stuck into them. Instead, the exhibition explores the underground history and true nature of a living religion and reveals Vodou as a vital spiritual and social force which remains an important part of daily life in Haiti.” Text and video of members of the religion are used to explain the symbolism behind, and uses of, the more than 300 objects, many of which are on loan from the Marianne Lehmann Collection in Pétionville, Haiti.

Patrons of the Field Museum will come away with some understanding of Haitian Vodou, one of the major branches practiced in the United States today. The other is Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo, a tradition which evolved in that southern city thanks in part to the fact that slave families were more likely to be kept together than they were in the East. Followers of the two paths kept mostly to themselves in the city, according to a profile of the religion in Newsweek, although initiation into both wasn’t entirely unknown. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina changed all that; many Vodou practitioners lived in the Ninth Ward, which bore the brunt of the damage when the levies broke:

“After Katrina, the remaining members began to forge a new, cross-faith community. The mixed ceremonies and social gatherings served a support network for participants from both sides of voodoo as they rebuilt their lives. “We became more close-knit. Those of us who stayed and didn’t evacuate opened what lines of communication had been closed,” says Michael “Belfazaar” Bousum, an employee of Voodoo Authentica and a priest of New Orleans voodoo.

“The new scene has also encouraged members of the ancient religion to create a web presence —- forums such as “Vodou, Voodou, Vodoun, Vodun” on Facebook and “A Real Voodoo Club” on Yahoo Groups are popular —- as well as welcoming outsiders to their events for the first time. “Before, you really would have had to know who a mambo or a houngan was to participate in a public or private ceremony. You would have to be in the inner circle. Now it’s accessible with a few keystrokes,” says Parmelee. “Plus, people who left are returning. The community is definitely coming back.””

New Orleans Healing Center

The most impressive demonstration of this new face of Vodou is surely the New Orleans Healing Center, a 55,000-square-foot complex which has become a focal point for the religion since it opened in 2011. The center hosts public ceremonies, a bustling shop, and has gone a long way towards normalizing perceptions of this religion in New Orleans. It cost a reported $13 million to build, including both public and private funds, and represents the type of infrastructure many Pagans yearn for, and others shun.

There are many reasons why such an massive project was possible in the Vodou community, while similar ideas remain dreams for Pagans. For one, while there are different schools of thought, Vodou is not an “umbrella” of often unrelated faiths, as Paganism is. For another, Paganism is wrestling with questions of money that Vodou has mostly put to rest.

Lilith Dorsey

“Gardner said not to charge for spiritual services,” explained Lilith Dorsey, who writes the blog Voodoo Universe, but “Marie Laveau was the first to charge for services.” She was referring to Gerald Gardner, whose contributions to Wicca in the 1950s set the tone for many conversations in the Pagan community today, and 19th-century Vodou priestess Laveau, whose impact on New Orleans Voodoo was equally seminal. “Some people may have no other way of making a living,” she said, “they might be uneducated, or crazy, or this is just the only skill they have.” Instead of having a cultural bias against accepting money, in Vodou it’s expected.

One of the interesting details about this mainstreaming of Vodou is the monotheistic bent it’s taking. The Newsweek article is quite clear on that point, saying that both New Orleans and Haitian Vodou “are monotheistic (the highest god is Bondyè, the “good lord”), are mostly oral- instead of text-based and celebrate thousands of cosmic and natural spirits (akin to Catholicism’s saints).” Since Dorsey writes about Vodou for a Pagan site, The Wild Hunt asked her if Vodou is a monotheistic religion.

“That’s a sticky question,” Dorsey replied. “It’s more acceptable to be monotheistic in this culture. I approach it anthropologically: if you offer to it, it’s a god or goddess. I consider lwa and oreshas to be gods. In the Catholic Church they call them saints, but they function like gods.” However they function, though, in her experience, “People don’t want to have a lot of gods.”

Dorsey, who maintains connections to the Vodou communities in New Orleans and New York City, also said that not everyone is happy with the public face of Vodou that is emerging. “Will it be good? I can’t say. On one hand, the more neighbors you have who practice Voodoo the more okay it seems. I have neighbors who are okay with Voodoo but not with ‘evil Santeria.’ On the other hand, public ceremonies mean cameras, and there are things one should not be taking pictures of. “That’s hard for the average person to determine. I do a class on ritual blessings for camera, and once you start talking about photography, that’s another whole level.”

Art museums and shiny new healing centers are signs that the face of Vodou is changing fast. Dorsey said that, like water, it will find its own level. When it does, it could be possible to draw some conclusions about how Pagan religions may change as they become more normalized, for good or ill.

Send to Kindle

Pagan Community Notes: Pagan and Polytheist Portals, Abraxas, I:MAGE, and much more!

Mon, 2014-09-15 05:00

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!

Let’s start off this week by taking a tour of the ‘big four’ Pagan/Polytheist portals.

First stop is the recently launched Polytheist.com (see our news story about the launch), which has debuted columns by P. Sufenas Virius LupusConor O’Bryan Warren, Niki WhitingTamara L. Siuda, and many more. Helenic Polytheist artist Markos Gage (aka The Gargarean) captures a bit of the general buzz and excitement of the launch of this new site. Quote: “Something like the PLC is a privilege, a gift. Although you dudes went to some hotel in a town with a weird name, gave lectures to one another for a weekend and went home, it has affected people outside. Reading and hearing the fallout of this event has really set a spark in my heart that makes me *want* to be part of the community. This is why I am honoured to be invited to write on this site and sincerely hope I contribute some insight to the beauty of polytheism into the future.” From what I’ve heard, this is just the beginning, so be sure to keep an eye on this site as it develops!

At the Patheos.com Pagan channel, John Beckett writes about the commodification of humanity, Sarah Thompson shares a prayer of compassion for Z. BudapestSterling shares on de-colonizing ourselves so we can help others, and T. Thorn Coyle writes on becoming leaders. Quote: “We can surround ourselves with a cloak of righteousness, or with sycophants, or just friends who won’t be honest with us, in hopes “oh please oh please oh please” that we won’t be honest with them, in turn.Sometimes I say that my primary work as a teacher is to help those who work with me to become better adults. A martial arts instructor I know often comments that what he really wants to teach is adulthood. I think he does. It just takes a long time. Why? Because of the process of becoming. We learn a little bit today, and the rest slides by, until an event happens, or we learn enough other things, and then all of a sudden, that thing we saw or heard four years ago makes sense. And those of us who are teachers or leaders or parents are involved in that same process. Continuously.”

At the Witches & Pagans hosted PaganSquare, Steven Posch shares a proverb from his favorite dystopian novelsKai Koumatos describes being a Witch in seminary, Taylor Ellwood talks about anthropomorphic assumptions that show up in magical work, Deborah Blake extolls basil, and Aline “Macha” O’Brien discusses when consensus decision making is not truly consensus decision making. Quote: “The most common problem I’ve encountered is what I will indelicately term the ‘bully factor.’ It’s always deliberate, if perhaps unconscious. It’s simply a fact of life that some voices carry more weight than others. And it has nothing to do with volume. I’ve just experienced, once again, decision-making by the ‘bully factor’ trying to pass itself off as consensus. When there is a call for a sweeping decision that doesn’t allow for individual voices to speak on different perspectives on an issue, it’s extremely difficult for one or more individuals to voice an objection. Even when the facilitator asks for any objections or concerns, anyone voicing such concerns risks derision and disdain, resulting in one’s concerns being dismissed. That person (or persons) may be viewed as being an antagonistic malcontent rather than a valued contributor to the process. Hence, alienation and a breakdown of communal trust.”

Finally, at The Witches’ Voice, the normal selection of weekly essays is replaced by a special response to the “New Atheists” by Mike Nichols, author of “The Witches’ Sabbats.” Quote: “In this essay, I plan to analyze the following TWO questions: “Do you believe in God?” and “Do you worship Nature?” Although in my culture, the first is usually asked with reference to Christianity and the second is usually asked with reference to Paganism, I have come to realize the two questions are eerily parallel. And they both share the same crop of problems. Let’s start with ‘Do you believe in God?’ I have been asked that question with surprising regularity for almost as long as I can remember. It didn’t take me too long (high school, perhaps?) to come to the conclusion that this was one of the most absurd questions anyone could ever ask me –or anyone else. What could such a question possibly mean? In order to answer whether or not I believed in ‘God’, I would obviously need to know what my questioner meant by the term.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

  •  Óski’s Gift, a scholarship funded by the household of Galina Krasskova and Sannion, is quickly nearing its deadline for submissions. Here’s what Sannion had to say about the initiative: “Óski’s Gift is a scholarship our household is contributing $300 towards twice a year, awarded to people who are doing work on behalf of their gods and communities. All that one has to do to be eligible is send a short (900-1300 word) description of what that work is to Galina at krasskova@gmail.com. Anyone, from any polytheist tradition, can enter. If you would like to contribute money in addition to what we are offering for the scholarship contact Galina.” Deadline is September 20th.
  • The Emergent Studies Institute is holding a webinar on the subject of eco-spirituality featuring Luisah Teish, M. Macha Nightmare, ecopsychologist Ginny Anderson, and several others. Here’s a quote about Luisah Teish’s presentation: “Examining the myths that have shaped our attitudes toward Woman as representative of Nature (Goddesses, Mermaids, Demons etc.) and to physical environment (Forest, Ocean or Earth). We delineate the ways that these myths have impacted our lives as individuals and as members of the global community. After exploring alternative myths from variety of cultures we discuss the worldview they represent and their effect on Woman and Nature.” The webinar takes place on October 4th.
  • Just a reminder that the I:MAGE London 2014 show is coming up at the end of October. Quote: “In most magical and esoteric traditions the end of October is a sacred time of year, a time for honouring the dead and communicating with the spirit world. It is a time to acknowledge the winter months and delve into the darker part of the year and of the self. The boundaries between the familiar and what is Other shatter. The veil is thin. The magic begins. For I:MAGE 2014, artists will explore what it means to communicate with spirits through art. They will give us a glimpse of a unifying theme across different esoteric practices and offer us the perfect opportunity to introduce you to a truly international show.”
  • September 26th will see the release of a new issue of the always excellent Abraxas Journal. Quote: “Abraxas journal Issue #6 offers more than 160 large format pages of essays, poetry, interviews and art. Printed using state-of-the-art offset lithography to our usual high standard, contributions for Abraxas #6 include an interview by Anna Dorofeeva with the artist, Penelope Slinger, who also kindly designed the cover for this issue; an evocative photographic essay by Victoria Ballesteros of Marjorie Cameron performing a Chen-style sword form of tai-chi, published here for the first time; Matt Marble explores the Hermes of Harlem, Robert T. Browne; Kelly Hayes shares with us a powerful series of images documenting the spiritual lives of an Afro-Brazilian community just outside Rio de Janerio; and we are especially pleased to offer a special feature on Leonora Carrington, with essays from two leading scholars; Susan L. Aberth and Wouter J. Hanegraaff.” 

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

Send to Kindle

The U.N. Invites a Pagan Youth Delegate to International Peace Day

Sun, 2014-09-14 09:57

On Sunday Sept. 21, the United Nations and others around the world will be honoring the International Day of Peace, a 32-year-old yearly tribute, recognition and call for peace worldwide. Just as last year, Rev. Patrick McCollum will be attending multiple events in New York City. He was asked to bring his World Peace Violin for an evening vigil in Manhattan’s Central Park, and he was also asked to bring a youth delegate to represent Paganism.

The U.N. has long sponsored youth outreach programs. This year will mark the first time a Pagan youth delegate is present at the organization’s World Peace proceedings. To find a candidate, McCollum turned to Mills College in Oakland, California, which boasts an active Pagan student association. After giving a workshop for the group, McCollum spoke with its president about the Peace Day opportunity.

Rowan Weir, a junior studying biopsychology and the current treasurer of the organization, was quick to apply for the job. After the application process was complete, Weir was selected to be the U.N. Pagan youth delegate. She is now making her final plans to attend the U.N.’s World Peace conference, which has included a crowd funding campaign to pay for the trip. We caught up with her morning last week before class.

A native of San Diego, Weir is not at all new to Paganism. While her mother never used the term Pagan, she grew up with a definite “earth-centered” spiritual understanding. For example, Weir’s family has always held a yearly Winter Solstice ritual; her grandmother would, on occasion, refer to herself as a witch; and her mother regularly talked about their inter-connectivity with nature.

Although the family didn’t identify its religion using the word Pagan, Weir now sees a connecting Pagan theme in her family’s ethics and beliefs. Weir says, “The solstice ritual was a recognition of the transition of the year and as a kid it was an interesting thing to observe.” She still returns to San Diego yearly to attend that family ritual.

Now a college student in Oakland, Weir labels herself as simply a Pagan. She feels that she is still learning and growing spiritually. That education is being nurtured through her involvement with the Mills Pagan Alliance (MPA). The group sponsors workshops with leaders and elders from the area, field trips, seasonal rituals and school events. Through attending and helping to organize MPA functions, Weir is able to, as she says, “learn all the different forms that Paganism can take.”

Rowan Weir

Weir’s role as a U.N. youth delegate is an extension of that religious learning. She says that she “loves to make connections” and hopes that the majority of time spent in New York will be doing just that. She looks forward to engaging in conversations with people very different from herself. She says, “It’s all about the learning.”

At the present time, Weir has not received the specifics of her schedule or duties as a delegate. There was a call put out for presenters but Weir didn’t apply. She felt that she didn’t have anything specific to present and that she would better serve her community as an observer. She explains, “I feel very strongly that the majority of my opportunities will come from connecting with people on a personal level.” That, she adds, will be the most fulfilling.

Weir also hopes to learn more about the many “new aspects of the peace process and global social justice.” She wants to take that information back with her and figure out where her role is within that dynamic. She asks, “Where can I fit myself in? What can I give? What does the world need of me?”

While these questions won’t be answered in full at the peace conference, Weir hopes to get glimpses of the possibilities. As a U.N. youth delegate, she will have the opportunity to discuss social justice within a global context and to see the Earth as one social unit. This is what she is most interested in doing. She says, “This experience will expand my viewpoint and show me the bigger picture and then I can bring it back into my personal work.”

One way in which Weir will “bring back” the international conversation will be through a blog. She says, “I will be writing about my experiences through the blog to make sure the [Mills College] club can see [the event] through my eyes and stay involved through me.”

Weir Haleakala National Park [Courtesy of R.Weir]

When asked if she was nervous or fearful about possible negative reactions to her presence or conflict, she said that hadn’t really considered that. She explains:

I grew up in a sheltered community. Everybody I’ve met is liberal. My only exposure to opposition has been in the form of protestors at events. I haven’t been forced to engage in that kind of very direct opposition personally.

However, she adds that she is ready for anything because of her “strong sense of self” and her connection to her family and her community at Mills College. She says:

I always felt as though I carry them with me. I carry with me their positive intentions and their protection. My community will help me to a engage without reservation or being held back by fear. 

While Weir isn’t clear on what the youth delegates will be doing, she does believe that the U.N. is very conscious of the need to connect with younger generations. She, herself, sees a very marked benefit to combining the energy and proactive nature of youth with the experience and learned wisdom of age. She believes that having the generations work together is the key to accomplishing more and better things. She says:

Paganism has always relied heavily on the connection of young and old. Traditions are passed down. The passing down of these traditions is a type of transformation.

However she did acknowledge that there are serious barriers to overcome in that work. Both generations often feel alienated from each other. Weir believes that it is the responsibility and burden of the older generation, the current leaders, to break that barrier. She says, “Extend [to youth] an invitation to the table; to the conversation … Youth want to connect and want to see as many news things as possible. But it is difficult to know how to approach older generations.”

She also has a message for other young Pagans.  She says, “Keep asking why?” She explains:

I know youth are already predisposed to asking questions, but it is perhaps not yet often enough, or it may be they do not see the resolution of their query through to it’s ultimate resolution. I try to incorporate this idea into both my daily life and deeper philosophies, as an aspect of personal development as well as social investigation. Pagans are natural protectors and activists, what they consider to be absolute truths are often the very things we must pursue if we want to better our relationship to the earth, and to each other. But the first step in translating ideals into actions is the asking of why. Why do these issues exist? And asking it again: why do they not improve? You continually delve deeper into the very essence of human suffering, of international conflict, of ecological devastation, and you discover your personal relationship with. It is imperative also that you apply a similar system of analysis to deconstructing the self. Young pagans want to know where they fit and what part they can play in change, but they need to know themselves implicitly, to pursue introspection as a path to inner strength, so when they approach that change, it is from a foundation of solidity and security. In addition, I implore young pagans to connect, in whatever ways are available to them. Our greatest resource is each other, and it is together that we will attain our greatest triumphs. We are a circle, we are open, we are unbroken.

Weir  sees the U.N.’s youth delegate program for World Peace Day as this type of invitation or barrier breaking. She sees the time that she will spend with Rev. Patrick McCollum as a valuable connection between two generations. With all of that sitting before her, she is both overwhelmed and excited to be included to the world table and to an international conversation about achieving global peace.

Send to Kindle

Guest Post: Ending Silence to End the Bigotry

Fri, 2014-09-12 19:20

[The following is a guest post from Ryan Smith. He is one of the co-founders of Heathens United Against Racism and a graduate student studying modern history. He practices with his kindred in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He has been a Heathen for seven years and a Pagan for seventeen.]

In Pagan and Heathen communities, topics related to discrimination, prejudice and bigotry are often uncomfortably avoided with a telling silence and knowing glance. After all, as goes the common narrative, we are, as a community, accepting of everyone. We welcome people of different walks of life, religion, perspectives, Gods, and forms of worship so how could racism possibly be a problem?

Heathenry in particular has something of a dubious reputation on this subject; one that has been made worse by the refusal of many Heathens to even discuss it in any way. The continued quiet emanating from active Heathen organizations in the United States and Canada is made even more stark by the statement issued by Asatruarfelagid of Iceland in response to a recent split within the Danish national organization between proponents and opponents of Stephen McNallen’s theories on spirituality and genetics..

The refusal to discuss this subject is fed by many hands, which all flourish on a combination of growing up in American society and all that goes with it; the desire to not rock the boat; the perception that a lack of visible tension is the same thing as peace; the continued failure on the part of institutional American Heathenry to confront the problem in a decisive fashion; and the cold hard fact that, at the core of the racism, bigotry, misogyny and homophobia, is an organized, cohesive movement, which thrives off these cancers. Only when this problem is shoved in the collective face of Heathenry does any discussion happen, much of which is then greeted with the common urgings to “show respect,” “not tear people down,”and “stop being so negative.”

The recent case of Norsewind is one such instance. On Aug. 23, Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day released a statement regarding a change to the event schedule for that day. Norsewind was removed from the lineup. As it clearly states, Philly PPD was ensuring the mission of Pagan Pride Day was honored, and the safety of the patrons was not endangered. As would be revealed Aug. 29, this decision was based on information provided by Philadelphia Antifa who uncovered evidence leader singer Danjul Norse and his band were closely connected to Keystone United.  Philly PPD organizers have informed me, as they did The Wild Hunt, that they stands by the decision and will be making no further statements on this subject.

From L to R: Anna Hagalaz, Danjul Norse, Paul Fredericks [photo credit Norsewind facebook page]

For those unfamiliar Keystone United, it is hardly what one could describe as an innocent cultural group or anything similar. Formerly known as the Keystone State Skinheads, Keystone United is the largest single-state racist skinhead crew currently in the United States of America. With branches throughout Pennsylvania and ties to other white nationalist groups like the Vinland Social Club, Hammerskin Nation, Blood and Honour, and the National Alliance, Keystone United is easily one of the most notorious organized hate groups with a history of violent activity ranging from assaults to murder. There is little question from its activities and official website that Keystone United is a dangerous racist organization..

In the information presented by Philadelphia Antifa on Tumblr, a number of specific charges were made. During an interview with The Wild Hunt, Danjul claimed to have performed only two paying gigs for Keystone United. Antifa found this video from a Keystone United gathering in 2009 clearly showing Danjul Norse in attendance marching with them and holding a Norwegian flag (0:32-0:46).

According to Daryle Lamont Jenkins of One People’s Project, “As far as we and Philly Antifa were aware Norsewind was a mainstream Pagan band.” The discovery of this video was, while surprising, not sufficient enough to claim Norsewind had any real connection to or sympathy for racist skinhead ideology. Antifa did not act until further photos surfaced of Danjul wearing a T-shirt from Keystone United’s 2013 Leif Erikson festival, which prompted further investigation.  Those further investigations, according to Daryle, uncovered Norsewind had not only played for two private KSS parties but also at the funerals of KSS members. According to Danjul from his interview with the Wild Hunt:

It was a job and we decided to do it. It’s a business for us and it was a festival dedicated to Leif Erikson and his voyage. There were no signs of White Supremacy or neo-Nazi or hate. It was just a barbecue and they treated me with respect and enjoyed our music. That was it. So when they asked us to play again last year, I thought, OK.

As to his views and his music Danjul Norse told the Wild Hunt:

 Our message is for everyone. I don’t pick and choose. Not politics and not skin color. I just want people to hear my message of tradition and family. Perhaps it’ll influence them toward something positive. Or just make them laugh or be happy.

When I contacted him, he further added:

The band performs music based off our love for history and culture in Europe and North America, as well as other places around the world. We write and love folk songs that sing of ancestors and bravery as well as traditions that our early settlements and tribe’s have sung about in early scripts. We have chosen this path of art so that we may portray a positive message as well as a non-judging stance as a band…..which is why we play pretty much anywhere we are respected!!!

On the surface one would think that claims of being nonjudgmental, accepting, and totally not racist would fly. After all Philly Antifa did concede there was nothing in Norsewind’s body of work that is overtly racist. Many are asking what is the problem with a band with an established history and connections with a gang of violent racists playing at Pagan Pride Day when they themselves claim not to be bigots?

To understand what is going on here requires some brief explanations of neo-Nazi organizing tactics and philosophy. One key concept at work is what is known as metapolitics. As defined by white nationalist distributor Counter Currents Publishing, metapolitics is the practice of bringing about social change by using nonpolitical means to establish a new dominant cultural frame, also referred to as cultural hegemony. The intent is not to challenge people’s politics but to find other ways to win them over through means like music, art and events organized under the banners of cultural preservation and tradition.

Stripping away the philosophical meandering, the result of this strategy is a pattern of deliberate obfuscation, misrepresentation and deception. People, for perfectly understandable reasons, would want nothing to do with a group openly advocating for the establishment of a fascist, jackbooted dictatorship. This is where metapolitics comes into play. An example is the concept of apple pie words, such as the substitution of terms like “racial supremacy” with more innocent ones like “identity” or “culture,” to conceal true intent and win over the unwary. The BNP, KKK, and other white nationalists are not alone in using this approach, as can be seen in the three tiers strategy of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany who focus on cultural, community and electoral activism. This is the reason many white nationalists will claim they are totally not political. They just want to hang out with people who share the same race-based culture and who also happen to think Jim Crow was a good idea and the Holocaust was a hoax,.

Along with metapolitical tactics is another approach used by white nationalists known as the Bob Whitaker mantra, a pithy rebuttal that is essentially a crude, ham-fisted attempt at political judo used to deflect accusations of racism and bigotry. This, like the deceptions used in metapolitics, is rooted in very ruthlessly practical concerns. Just as most people would have nothing to do with a person seriously proposing we all put on jackboots and start heiling Hitler, the same can be said of those who openly identify as racists and bigots. It is from this observation that Bob Whittaker first conceived his witty line: “I know you are but what am I?” According to a rather unusual understanding of cultural diversity and tolerance, the true culprits are those who dare to call out others on their hateful words and deeds, turning  the opponents of racist groups and organized bigotry into ” the REAL racists.”

Such an argument traces right back to core concepts in modern white nationalist ideology. According to whitenationalist.coms FAQ and advocated by individuals like Julius Evola, Miguel Serrano, and Stephen McNallen all culture is inherently biological and a factor of genetics. A culture only exists as long as its genetic legacy remains intact, untainted and pure. Achieving that requires ethnic segregation in which each race would be able to exist without fear of degeneration. Some might see no harm in such goals if, of course, you think bantustans and reservations are totally fine, having no drawbacks whatsoever.

For those who feel otherwise, the broader pattern of apartheid apologism; the unspoken implication it would be the white nationalists determining who goes where; the obvious racism in their rampant miscegenation phobia; and the baseless claims of an ongoing genocide against all white people says far more than any lip-service offerings of multicultural understanding could ever conceal.

Getting back to Norsewind, adding further weight to the argument are certain things found floating around social media that directly contradict Danjul’s claims of tolerance. For example, he has Mein Kampf and March of the Titans: History of the White Race under his book “Likes.” Burzum, one of infamous neo-Nazi musician Varg Vikernes early projects, is number two under his music:

One Peopel’s Project also uncovered a comment by Norsewind band member Poul Augustsson, who said, “Torden Stamme and Norsewind raised a horn to you last night” in a post thanking fans for supporting a skinhead counter demonstration in response to a community demonstration against hate and racism in Philadelphia.

Another point was raised about the band’s use of the black sun symbol. This was part of Philly Antifas case, which cited the repeated uses of the Wewelsburg black sun in Norsewind’s album art and promotional materials.

Many apologists have claimed that anyone making accusations of racism toward those using the symbol are ignorant, prejudiced, and mean to harm all Heathens and Pagans. After all, as they argue, the black sun is an ancient pre-Christian, Germanic occult symbol and is on close to the same level of importance as the Valknut or the Hammer of Thor.

Funny how it seems the ancient Germanics never got that memo.

The only evidence we have of a black sun design existing in ancient times comes in the form of a handful of belt buckles and broaches found at dig sites in western Germany and eastern France, and dating from around the time of the Roman Empire. The black sun is simply has not been found in even remotely the same context, importance, or focus as the Valknut on the famous Hammar stone in Gotland, the numerous Mjolnir pendants, and plenty of other examples of sacred symbols.

The first place this specific design has been seen is the North Tower of Wewelsburg Castle in northwestern Germany. From the 14th century until it fell into ruins in the 18th, the castle was the property of the Prince-Bishop of Paderborn.  It had a largely unremarkable history ranging from an old ruin to a youth hostel . Then, in 1934, the castle and grounds were purchased by Heinrich Himmler. He intended for the castle to serve as the new center of the cult of the SS. The room with the Wewelsburg Black Sun was a meeting and ritual hall for Himmler and his generals during the Second World War.

Casting doubt on the already dubious antiquity of the Wewelsburg Black Sun is the lack of documentation showing when it was installed in the North Tower floor, with no mention in both the SS or older castle records. Between the lack of clear evidence as to when this design was installed, the castle’s long history as the property of a bishop, and SS renovations, there is no question that the popular Wewelsburg black sun is not an ancient Germanic occult symbol.

[Photo Credit: Sunnydog [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Its first use postwar by esoteric Hitlerists and neo-Nazi occultists, coupled with its questionable origins, leaves little doubt as to what the real meaning behind this cryptic design is. In many ways the widespread, unquestioning adoption of the black sun by well-meaning, inclusive Heathens and groups is easily the best example of how incredibly insidious and effective metapolitical tactics can be.

This leaves us at the same place we always end up. When the question of racism, bigotry, and organized hate rear their hydra heads,what is to be done?

If we are to look to the recent past, one preferred way of handling this case would be to seek some way to justify or minimize the significance of the skinhead connection, claim Norsewind does not represent Heathenry at all, and claim they are just an outlier. Another would be to attack anyone who dares to bring it up or ask questions about it, arguing that anyone who does is breaking frith or tearing someone down. The end result of both has also been a very consistent: silence.
Whether by refusing to address the bigger questions of why stuff like this keeps happening or through shouting down those who bring it up the end result is the same. Without open discussion, education, and confrontation, the situation in American Heathenry is never going to improve and may get worse. When bigoted, narrow-minded sentiments rear their heads they need to be called out for what they are. Excuses and misdirection must be challenged for what they are.

However, it is not enough to call out the obvious symptoms, the co-optation, and the work of the organized groups seeking to use Heathenry as a launch-pad for their twisted fantasies of race war. We must dig deeper and confront the greater problems that gave them ground to work from in the first place. As much as Heathens and Pagans try to keep broader society at a distance, there are elements of modern life in North America that are simply inescapable.

The greater patterns of misogyny, racism, fundamentalism, homophobic and transphobic words and deeds do not solely exist in the mainstream. Many of these assumptions are at work in our communities and in our movement. If we dig out the organized, most egregious examples of these toxins by root, stem, and branch, but leave undisturbed the soil in which their seeds first took root, then we will be passing this terrible burden on to the next generation of Heathens. Without decisively removing the ubiquitous influence of systemic prejudices against the marginalized in our society, then any immediate success over organized hate groups will be at best a fleeting victory.

The course ahead will not be easy and will take everyone well past what they find comfortable. But in that challenges, struggle and toil, there is an opportunity to truly prove ourselves. We can, and we must, show the often quoted words from the Havamal:

Cattle die, kinsmen die
And so dies oneself
One thing I know never dies
Is the fame of a dead man’s deeds

It is more than just a nice idea but a principle that we stand for, fight for, and will make real no matter the obstacles arrayed against or within us.

For those who feel as I feel and agree this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, I urge you to educate yourself ask questions, speak out and call out these actions as you see them. Give those fanning the flames of hatred no peace, and most importantly reach out to all those who seek a practice in which they are truly free, equal, welcome, and able to truly explore spirituality without fear.

 

 

Send to Kindle

Perspectives: Pagan Elders

Fri, 2014-09-12 05:00

Perspectives is a monthly column dedicated toward presenting the wide variety of thought across the Pagan/Polytheist communities’ various Paganisms.

The Wild Hunt asked four members of the community their opinion on the subject of elders. These community members include Taylor Ellwood, managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press and author of Magical Experiments; Cara Freyaswoman, Freya priestess, co-founder of the Vanic Conspiracy and blogger; Glenwaerd, a Commissioned Army Officer, witch, current board member of The Gathering for Life on Earth and former member and leader of The Order of Scathach; and Shauna Aura Knight, author, teacher and activist.

Do you use the term ‘Pagan elder’? Why or why not? And if so, what’s your personal criteria for defining a Pagan elder? If not, what’s your alternative and why?

Taylor Ellwood

“I have used the term Pagan elder before. I’ve used it because it is used by other people and is descriptive of certain people who might be considered “leaders” of the community. Though I also think the term is sometimes synonymous with “Big Name Pagans” as it seems that many of the Pagan elders are people who have published books or put together conventions. I’m not entirely convinced that this term should be connected to Big Name Pagans. For that I also don’t think the term should be applied to someone just because they have gray or white in their hair.

My personal criteria for defining a Pagan elder really comes down to service. How is this person serving their community? What activities is this person doing to actually help the community? How does this person balance their own self-interests with their desire to serve the community and what do they do to make sure they aren’t actually harming the community with their actions? I think of a Pagan elder as a leader, as someone who takes a service based approaches to leadership, recognizing that what they do is for the good the community as opposed to serving their own agenda.” — Taylor Ellwood, managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press and author at Magical Experiments

“Though I’m a Heathen polytheist, I still consider myself an integral part of the larger Pagan community. As such I have heard the term ‘Pagan elder’ used, and I myself have used it on occasion, often when interacting with people from other spiritual traditions. Personally, though, the term does not resonate with me nearly as much as the term ‘Pagan leader.’ What ‘Pagan elder’ conveys to me is that a person has been active in their specific tradition (or in a multiplicity of traditions) for a significant amount of time. Time spent, however, does not necessarily equate with level of service a person has given to their community/communities, nor does it equate to the leadership skill or teaching ability a person has to offer. I’d prefer the use of the term ‘Pagan leader.’ To me this term contains within it service, experience and a willingness and ability to lead, which the generic term ‘Pagan elder’ doesn’t encapsulate. I know that recently the term ‘Pagan leader’ has come under attack—and understandably so—as many high profile Pagans are often considered to be ‘Pagan leaders’ whether or not they have the skills, ethics and experience to go along with leadership. Though problematic, I still prefer this term over ‘Pagan elders.’ When I think of the Pagans/Heathens/Polytheists/Wiccans/spirit workers that I respect the most, not all of them are ‘elders’ and not all ‘Pagan elders’ have my respect.”— Cara Freyaswoman, Freya priestess, co-founder of the Vanic Conspiracy and blogger

Glenwaerd

“I define a Pagan elder as being a recognized and accomplished member of their Pagan community. They are a spiritually powerful person in their own right, for whom the connection with deity is strong and vivid and present. For me to personally accept someone as an Elder in something more than a passing sense, it’s a case of seeing is believing. So there needs to be clear homage paid to that Elder by the surrounding community or alternately, the elder themselves must be convincing in that first moment of contact, that moment of truth, that they are someone who has a store of wisdom or experience that I can respect. You might call it a spark that they are willing to share. In this sense, a Pagan elder can be a solitary mystic uncomfortable with the mantle of leadership as easily as they can be a populist leader of a larger group. The key aspect for me is that the elder’s actions must support the notion of who and what they are. Saying you are something is easy, but only through deeds and the recognition of them by others does one actually earn such the mantle of elder.

The word elder of course implies that one is of an advanced age, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that one must have white hair and be using a walker to be honored with the title of elder. That level of respect can also be given to a person who has accomplished much within a few decades, but who may not be the eldest within a particular community. Perhaps they are even middle aged. It’s about the experiences that they have had, the things they have learned along the path and how they pass them on to future generations, not their physical years.

Because the label of Pagan elder is most often bestowed upon respected members of the community rather than assumed, the most important aspect of their subsequent position within the community is that a Pagan elder acts with integrity and avoids becoming the center, intentionally or not, of a personality or hero cult. Not that elders are supposed to be make no errors at all, but they should be wise and experienced enough to have seen that particular trap before and be willing to take steps to avoid it.”Glenwaerd, a Commissioned Army Officer, witch, current board member of The Gathering for Life on Earth and former member and leader of The Order of Scathach

Shauna Aura Knight

“Most of the time I hear the word “elder” referred to in Pagan communities, it’s someone rolling their eyes in reference to something horrible a Pagan leader has done (again.) Or it’s an egomaniacal Pagan leader trying to enforce their title. Thus, I typically don’t use the word because of its poor connotation. But here’s the thing. I really value the idea of Pagan elders—older, experienced community leaders who have the experience to guide younger group members and other leaders. I wouldn’t be leading and teaching without the benefit of the mentorship of wiser and more educated leaders who guided me.

My personal criteria for an elder starts with wisdom, experience and integrity. It’s about actually serving community. It’s not enough to be older. It’s not enough to lead a group for 30 years–some of the worst things I’ve ever heard about Pagan leaders and misconduct or abuse are from long time leaders. It’s not enough to have a high-ranking degree in a tradition or even a Master’s or Ph.D. Sometimes contrast is useful; an elder is not abusive, bigoted, or known throughout the community as a stubborn jerk. Pagan leaders and elders don’t need to be perfect, but they should set the bar to help the next generation.

Alsohere’s an anecdote. Once I was doing leadership mentoring and workshops for Pagans in Milwaukee. Some local folks had come to me with a problemsome of their long time local group leaders were really causing some problems. They told me about a leader with thirty-some years under his belt who would sometimes engage new local leaders in what was referred to as an “Eldering Ceremony.” Apparently when a local leader had been around for a bit and seemed to generally agree with this guy, he’d clap them on the shoulder and say, “It’s time for us to make you an elder.” There was a ritual for this (in his tradition, of course) wherein the new “elder” was asked to swear fealty and kiss his ring. No joke. Any local leader who did things in a way he didn’t like was ostracized as much as he and his group could manage. Nowthere’s tons of additional context in thisbut I think it goes to show how some of these things start to become a problem.”Shauna Aura Knight, author, teacher and activist

Do you use the term elder in your practice? How is it used?

Send to Kindle

Uncovering the Past: Stonehenge has a Sister, Delphi’s Power, and more!

Thu, 2014-09-11 10:35

As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Economic analysis proves another theory of Delphi’s power:

The Oracle of Delphi was located between the powerful Greek city-states of Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes and was extremely influential starting in the 8th century BCE. Once a month petitioners would gather at the site to ask the Oracle of Apollon, called the Pythia, questions about what they should do in any given situation. The answers were thought to come directly from Apollon to the Pythia but were often riddles that the petitioner must puzzle out for himself. The rich and powerful were no exception and they often gathered in advance and mingled and traded information.

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix, 440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Prof. Colleen Haight, an associate professor of economics at San Jose State University, uses economic analysis as an analytic lens to help explain what she calls “seemingly irrational behavior such as relying upon the supernatural judgment of an oracle to make life-and-death decisions.”

The economic theory of how religion affects cultures have largely been split between monopolistic state religions and laissez faire religious competition. Religious monoplies mean that the secular ruler is also in control of the relious institutions. This allows them greater control over their population, but can breed distrust in the legiticmacy of both the religion and ruler. Laissez faire religious competition is a benefit to religious groups, which are often numerous in an area, but doesn’t grant any more power to secular rulers.

Prof. Haight posits a third theory that fits Delphi – the neutral nexus.

In this situation, secular leaders maintain control over their own cults within their own territory, but also rely upon an outside, third-party source of religious legitimation for their rule. This is the role that the Oracle of Delphi played. With several ancient Greek city-states essentially locked in a balance of power, the city of Delphi could assert its neutrality amidst the larger political players of the region (i.e, Sparta, Athens, Corinth, and Thebes). More importantly, the rulers of each of these city-states could use the Delphic Oracle as a source of information regarding future military campaigns or other major decisions.  It was in the interest of each of secular rulers both to provide the oracle with valid information and to rely upon its pronouncements as valid. In many ways, this helped to mitigate conflict between the different regional powers. It was only when one ruler (Philip II of Macedon) was able to consolidate territorial power over the bulk of ancient Greece that the Delphic Oracle lost its neutrality and, hence, its authoritative power.

You can listen to the podcast interview with Prof. Haight here.

Tomb of Alexander the Great’s mother found?

Greece is abuzz on the discovery of a tomb of a royal queen that dates back to the period immediately following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. The tomb, located beneath the great mound at Amphipolis in Macedonia, is considered such a significant find it was unveiled in August, during a visit by Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras. Greek Reporter writer Andrew Chugg believe the tomb is that of Alexander’s mother, Olympias.

This tomb, if it is that of Olympias, would be of particular interest to those Pagans who worship Alexander as a deified Hero. In mythos, Olympias was impregnated by Zeus’ thunderbolt and Alexander was the result of that union. Olympias helped Alexander to become King after her husband, Philip II of Macedon, was assassinated. Alexander went on to become on of the greatest military generals of all time, building one of the largest empires of the ancient world through conquest. It stretched from Greece, into Egypt, and into present-day Pakistan. When he died at age 30, his empire was divided up between his generals. After a brief revolt by his mother and his wife, Roxane, against the general who took control of Macedonia, both women were put to death along with Alexander’s son, Alexander IV.

The tomb is thought to be Olympias because of the size, the decorations that closely resemble the tombs of Alexander’s father and his son, the unusual presence of sphinxes, and its location.

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) – [Greek Reporter]

On this evidence I consider Olympias to be the leading contender at the time of writing (6/9/2014) for the occupant of the magnificent tomb at Amphipolis currently being excavated with Roxane also a strong possibility. It should be recalled that the tomb mound has a diameter of 155m, larger even than the Great Tumulus at Aegae and posing the question of whom the Macedonians would conceivably have spent this much money and effort upon commemorating, Olympias is by far the most convincing answer at present. Although it is true that the ancient accounts say that she was unpopular at the time of her death, it is nevertheless clear that she was only really unpopular with Cassander’s faction, whereas Cassander himself was sufficiently worried about her popularity as to arrange her immediate death in order to prevent her addressing the Macedonian Assembly (Diodorus 19.51). Furthermore, her army under Aristonous stayed loyal to her cause long after she herself had surrendered. Ultimately, her cause was seen at the time as identical with the cause of Alexander himself, so it was in a sense Alexander whom they honoured by building his mother a spectacular tomb.

You can read more about the tomb here.

With Viking burials, a sword does not a man make:

A new study of Viking burial remains in England is challenging the previously widely held theory that Viking women stayed home. It’s also firming up a changing view of Vikings from violent thieves to marriage-minded colonists.

The Vikings invaded England in waves starting around 900 AD and founded a medieval kingdom called theDanelaw. Originally, archaeologists thought the Viking settlers consisted almost exclusively of men because of written Christian accounts and because most of the Vikings buried in England from that time were buried with swords and knives.

A new study of 14 Viking burials published in the Early Medieval Europe Journal by Shane McLeod of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia puts those assumptions in doubt.

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

McLeod reports that 6 of the 14 bodies are women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. This was determined by examining isotopes found in their bones and looking at the osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male.

For example, at one mass burial, three swords were found and yet all three bodies whose sex could be determined were female. This new study suggests that women made up roughly ½ to 1/3 of Viking settlers in England.

A nice look at the new evidence and what it means for the idea of Viking female warriors can be found in a comment on an article here.

Solomon’s mines worked by Magicians, not slaves:

In another theory that turns out to not be true, the Edomite’s who worked King Solomon’s copper mines in Timna were highly paid “quazi-magicians,” not slaves. Of course, they may not have been working for Solomon, either, but Egypt. Or themselves.

Archaeologists originally thought the workers were slaves because of the harsh desert conditions, how uncomfortable it would be to work the hot furnaces, and a massive stone wall that was thought to prevent escape. The Timna valley is located in present day Southern Israel.

Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen, of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, say the workers were highly skilled, and highly pampered, artisans. They analyzed the remnants of food from 3,000 years ago, which were perfectly preserved by the arid conditions of the site. The workers who manned the highly sophisticated kilns were fed imported and expensive meats, fruits, and grains. The wall, once thought to keep slaves in, is now thought to be a protective barrier to keep workers safe. They also claim the advanced skills needed to work copper would place these artisans in a social class similar to that of “quasi-magicians” because the complex process, in which 30-40 different variables were managed by the smelter, would seem like magic to ordinary persons of that time. The mines themselves, however, may have used slaves or criminals for labor.

The Timna Valley mines are located in the southern edge of the Kingdom of Edom [Wikipedia Commons]

The kingdom of Edom was located in the Southern Levant south of Judea on the shores of the Dead Sea. Its people were Semetic and followed a Canaanite religion, although not much is known about their specific practices. Canaanite religions were typically polytheistic, with a strong focus on ancestral household deities. According to Jewish tradition, the Edomites were conquered by Israel in the late 11th century BCE, although archaeologists argue that the scale of 10th century BCE mining on Edom lands and signs of sporadic wars with neighbors over many centuries, are evidence of a strong and independent Edomite kingdom well into the 4th century BCE.

Stonehenge has a sibling (and then some):

Archaeologists, using ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry and other techniques, have found 50 massive stones buried just 2 miles away from Stonehenge. The sibling henge, along with 17 other Neolitihic and Bronze age religious monuments, were found during a four year investigation into Stonehenge’s sacred landscape. The finds indicate the monuments formed a processional walkway to the main sacred site and formed a cohesive religious complex.

[Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project]

The sibling henge, dubbed Superhenge, helped form a c-shaped enclosure and it faced the river Avon. Later it was fully enclosed to make a circle.

The monument was later converted from a c-shaped to a roughly circular enclosure, now known as Durrington Walls – Britain’s largest pre-historic henge, roughly 12 times the size of Stonehenge itself. As a religious complex, it would almost certainly have had a deeply spiritual and ritual connection with the river. But precisely why is a complete mystery, although it is possible that that particular stretch of water was regarded as a deity.

The sibling henge stones are roughly 10 ft long and 5 feet wide and are laying down horizontally, although they could have originally stood vertically in the ground. It’s estimated they were placed on site around 2500BC.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dniElFYIJ10

“This radically changes our view of Stonehenge,” said Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University. “In the past we had this idea that Stonehenge was standing in splendid isolation, but it wasn’t … it’s absolutely huge.”

You can see images and links to more information of the new discoveries at the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.

A two-part special BBC Two documentary (Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath), being shown tonight and next Thursday, is set to reveal the details of many of the investigation’s new discoveries.

Send to Kindle

Pagan Community Notes: a Parliament in Salt Lake City, Circle Magazine, CUUPS Revisioning and more

Wed, 2014-09-10 07:00

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. Our 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!

CPWR Logo.

In a Tuesday news conference, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions announced the site for the long-awaited 2015 Parliament. The first U.S. Parliament in 22 years will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 15-19 2015. The announcement was delivered from the Salt Palace Convention Center where the event will take place.

Salt Lake City was chosen for a variety of reasons, one of which is its natural beauty. The organization’s press release describes the terrain as “stunning the eye and moving the heart of all to protect the only earth we have.”

The mountain town certainly provides a majestic backdrop to a world interfaith event. However natural beauty wasn’t the only reason for the selection. Board trustee Andras Corban-Arthen is the chair of the site-selection committee. He explains,

Our site-selection criteria had to be pretty flexible and, more than anything, pragmatic. Since we lost Brussels (our previously designated host city) as a result of the European economic downturn a couple of years ago, we’ve been searching for another city that would provide us with the opportunity to organize the next Parliament as quickly as possible  … while still enabling us to maintain the level of autonomy, as well as the quality of organization and programming … When Salt Lake City contacted us, we felt it was a good fit for us to meet a lot of our main objectives. While it’s very true that Utah is the Mormon stronghold, Salt Lake City itself has a much more diverse population.

That diversity includes interfaith groups as well as individual practitioners of a variety of minority religions. He adds, “Bringing the Parliament to Salt Lake City will encourage the further development of interreligious dialogue in the city. It should also provide a much more pluralistic outlook on important, controversial topics such as same-sex marriage and the ordination of women to the priesthood within a context that won’t be dominated by the dogma of any one religion.”

The Council has not yet decided on a main theme or focus for the 2015 Parliament. However, Corban-Arthen says, in general, the event will reflect contemporary concerns including “environmental destruction; poverty and economic disparity; violence; the erosion of human rights; racism; gender and sexual discrimination; the destruction of indigenous cultures.”

Tuesday’s announcement was made by a number of speakers, including Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid; Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson; Arun Ghandi, Parliament trustee and grandson of Ghandi; Andres Himes, Executive Director for the Charter for Compassion and Sande Hart, North American Chair for the United Religions Initiative. Present at the ceremony were two local Salt Lake Pagan religious leaders.

Corban-Arthen says, ” I would love to see a large pagan turnout in Salt Lake City. The Parliament has been very good to us: it was the first major interfaith organization to not only open its doors to us, but also to actually invite us to sit at the table.” He encourages Pagans and Heathens of any and all traditions to attend.

MotherTongque, EarthSpirit’s Ritual Performance Troupe, at 2004 Parliament in Barcelona [Courtesy of A. Corban-Arthen]

CoG Interfaith Representative Aline “Macha NightMare” O’Brien is hoping to attend. After hearing the announcement she said, “Having been involved in the interfaith arena for some years, mostly locally and regionally, I’m thrilled that the Parliament will be convening on this continent…Until now, I’ve watch international interfaith mostly from afar, so I’m eager that there’s now a possibility for me to experience it up close and personal.”

Corban-Arthen encourages Pagans and Heathens to attend, not just those engaged in interfaith work, and he advises for all “to go with open hearts and minds, and to listen and to engage.” He says:

There’s an awful lot any of us can learn at a Parliament, not just about the teachings of other religions but, maybe more importantly, about living our spirituality and manifesting it in the world, about finding common ground, about confronting and transcending prejudices, theirs as well as ours. Many of us have found that the Parliament has been a life-changing experience; I certainly have.

Registration is now open and programming information will be available over the next year.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • The Toronto, Ontario Pagan community has been gripped with grief over the discovery of remains that may belong to a missing member of their community. Quote: “In an interview last week on CBC’s Metro Morning, Currie’s older sister, Jennifer, said she suspects her sister may be in a state of emotional distress. She also said her sisters suffers from paranoia. She is an avid cyclist and a member of Toronto’s Wiccan community.” A positive identification has yet to be made. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the friends, family, and community members of Kit Currie.
  • The Pantheon Foundation has undertaken the creation of a Pagan events calendar for the Bay Area of California (and beyond). Quote: “At the recent All Pagans Organizing meeting held August 16 in the East Bay (other locations coming soon!) the Pantheon Foundation volunteered to take on the responsibility for establishing and maintaining a calendar of events for Bay Area Pagans, and anyone else who wishes to have their Pagan (broadly construed) events listed. The primary maintainer of the Calendar is Molly Blue Dawn, who will be converting her regular event list email into this new tool and moderating the submissions so we are not flooded with spam.” You can find this new resource, here.
  • Covenant of the Unitarian Universalist Pagans have announced the launch of a revisioning process, which will include internal discussions, analysis, and public surveys. The organization says that its goal is to create a “mission and vision” for the next ten years. John Beckett is heading up the revisioning team and writes,”Our goal is to produce a mission and vision statement that will set the high-level direction for CUUPS and for building a shared sense of identity and purpose. We want to include all our stakeholders: CUUPS members, UU-friendly Pagans, and Pagan-friendly UUs – if you have an opinion on what CUUPS is and what it should be, we want to hear from you. The first public survey is online here.

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

[Correction: Andras Corban-Arthen and Phyllis Curott were not in attendance at the PWR ceremony on Tuesday. However, two local Pagans representatives were there among the other local religious leaders.]

Send to Kindle

Polytheist.com Adds a New Voice to Online Dialog

Tue, 2014-09-09 07:48

“It’s a damn fine time to be a Polytheist.”

That’s an unofficial tag line of polytheist.com, a web site launched on September 8, 2014 as “a safe online hub devoted exclusively to the topics, issues, discussions and news of the growing Polytheist movements.” With the official tag line of, “honoring many gods,” the site promises to give voice to the perspectives of a population that occasionally feels silenced by the wider Pagan community — or who bristle at the idea of being identified as Pagan at all. They most frequently are described as devotional or “hard” Polytheists, and are generally characterized as relating to their gods as external beings that were not created by human thought or deed.

Polytheist.com banner

The idea for creating a site dedicated to the Polytheist movement was the brainchild of Anomalous Thracian or, as he explained, “My gods made me do it.” Thracian’s vision was a site that not only provided a platform for those among his co-religionists who felt they weren’t being heard within broader Pagan sites, but also a place where lesser-known writers could share and discuss their experiences. “There are non-professional voices, but it will be a professional, quality product,” he said. “Someone taking a college course should be able to learn from our articles, even if they can’t cite them.”

The site launched with contributions from ten different columnists. In a press release, Thracian promises:

Over two-dozen talented writers, voices and visionaries from around the world, representing a diverse expression of religious traditions, lineages and communities brought together in solidarity around one basic, foundational principle: honoring many gods. In providing dedicated space for these important conversations, and fostering responsible dialogue and practice, the site brings together a group of priests, shamans, spirit-workers, theologians, philosophers, educators and prayerful dedicants from a varied set of backgrounds and walks-of-life, to share in this essential community undertaking.

The term “columnist” is not accidental. “This is not a blog site,” Thracian said. “It’s professional columns, and it’s content-driven, not personality-driven.” That’s why he’s opting not to contribute to the site himself, preferring to keep himself in the background as a means to ensure that a plurality of voices are what’s heard. “It’s not my vision which is reflected,” he said.”It’s vision reflected.”

Anomalous Thracian

Another way that the site avoids being a cult of personality is through its funding. “It’s entirely out of pocket, and I don’t have any pockets,” Thracian said. He quietly sought donations from a number of individuals to pay for everything from the domain name itself, which was bought at auction, to the server space that houses the WordPress multisite installation and powers the whole operation. “I didn’t want anyone to have such a stake in it that there was a sole controller,” he explained.

Polytheists are only just developing a group identity, and that has been in no small part due to feelings that their experiences are not being heard and sometimes not welcome in the broader Pagan community. Some Polytheists refuse the “Pagan” label entirely, seeing it as describing a religious approach which they scarcely recognize. While others, Thracian said, have felt torn between their Pagan community and their Polytheistic devotions.

One of the more visible attempts for this group to become a more cohesive community was this summer’s Polytheist Leadership Conference held in the Hudson Valley of New York State. Like the conference, polytheist.com is another step within that same process.

Nevertheless, Thracian was clear that the site does not represent “a war on Paganism.” Instead, it is intended to be a place where those who perform devotions to external gods can write and learn about those experiences. “If a Jungian comes here and says we’re doing it wrong, we can tell them that this isn’t the place for that,” he explained.

Unlike many who call themselves both Pagan and Polytheist, Anomalous Thracian wasn’t a Pagan first. “My Pagan identity is only about six months old,” he said, but he’s been a Polytheist for years. He credits Sam Webster with shifting his thinking to something he refers to as, “and, not or.” When compared to the dominant monotheistic religions, he sees more commonalities between Polytheists and Pagans than differences. “The line between them can be a lot blurrier” in some traditions than others, he pointed out.

The site’s launch date was originally set for September 2, not September 8. While there were some technical glitches, the reason for the delay was to avoid distracting from recent online controversies. Although drama is a notable characteristic of online communities, Thracian doesn’t expect that tendency to short-circuit polytheist.com. Instead, he’s focusing on the fact that the internet has made it possible for Polytheists and Pagans alike to connect in ways that was not imaginable a generation ago, and to build upon that momentum. 

His sense of hope was echoed by Sannion, who remarked that the site may actually defuse such tensions:

“One of the reasons I think there has been so much flamewarring over the last couple years is because it’s an opportunity for us to come together across communal lines and talk about issues that impact all of us. Well, what if we did that without controversy fueling everything? Now with this new communal hub we have an opportunity to find out.”

The first set of columnists include writers who are decidedly laity and, even one, who is presently incarcerated in the penal system. The stable of writers come from at least four different countries and follow several different traditions, including Kemetic, Hellenic, and the Otherfaith, a Polytheist religion which has only recently emerged. There are plans to continue to build the diversity of the site. “I’d love to get someone from a middle-American Heathen group,” Thracian said with hope evident in his voice.

Just as polytheist.com is not intended for baiting members of the Pagan communities, it’s also not about converting readers to any particular Polytheistic path. Instead, it’s a safe space for dialog among those who honor many gods.

Send to Kindle

Editorial: Addressing Outings, Conflict, and Community

Mon, 2014-09-08 05:00

Normally on Mondays I do my weekly round-up of news and happenings within our religious movement. However, this week I’d like to instead address something in a more personal editorial. In the previous week, there has been a lot of discussion in our interconnected communities over an ugly and hurtful exchange that invoked issues relating to outing (aka “doxing”), toxic communications, and the reality of rape culture. For those who want some more background, Polytheist.com has a public statement up that talks about what happened. Since the initial exchange in question was made public, there have been a number of replies, a public apology, a response to that public apology, calls for a boycott of the prominent Pagan involved, and an ongoing simmer of activity as word slowly reaches different communities.

When this emerged, a number of people asked me when I would respond. As the Founding Editor of one of modern Paganism’s largest news sites, many look to us for an “official” report on important events. In this case I was hesitant, not because of the prominent Pagan involved, who actually offered to give me a public statement, but because I know how the magnifying “bully pulpit” power of this site works. Given that the genesis of this incident starts with the outing of public identities, I didn’t want to draw more people towards giving scrutiny to someone who is already dealing with the ramifications of being outed. So instead I want to briefly touch on some underlying issues, and the challenges our interconnected communities, our broader religious movement, faces as a consequence.

[Photo Credit: S. Fox]

  1. There is no excuse for the outing (or “doxing”) of individuals who choose to use pseudonyms short of matters that would involve criminal charges (in those cases, the authorities should be called). The basic functioning of our movement depends on the safety of our assumed identities, as we are still members of religious minorities who largely live in countries where the dominant religious paradigm views us with skepticism at best, and with hostility at worst. Those of us with the privilege of being “out” can sometimes have a hard time understanding the ramifications of having your identity revealed, and thus being exposed to hostility, discrimination, or personal danger as a consequence. Even removing all dangers, calling Starhawk ‘Miriam Simos,’ when she’s asked to be called Starhawk, denotes a lack of respect that eats away at the basic functioning of any sort of community.
  2. Relationships are the backbone of polytheism, of Paganism, and anything that perpetuates rape culture or abusive language is anathema to it. Our religious reality is about overlapping relationships: with gods, with spirits, with our ancestors, with our family, and with our wider religious community. Those relationships encompass every expression of gender, race, orientation, and ethnicity. It has to, or else we end up denying some piece of what we call sacred. I don’t have to like everything all of the time, I’m not endorsing some sort of false utopia of harmony, but I cannot forget that any time I break or poison a relationship my actions ripple out into a larger world, often in ways I could not anticipate. Further, hospitality is a common value many of our communities share, and we should bring that ethos to the Internet and social media in a real way. A chat window on Facebook may not feel like “home” but in a very real way we entering and exiting other people’s personal spaces and should ever be mindful of that. Lastly, as a family of faiths that encompass beings we call goddesses, the perpetuation of toxic patriarchal memes or sentiments degrades our mission of cultural shift.
  3. We’re part of a broad movement of different faiths, but we interact in community. Community can mean a lot of things: On an immediate level it means our family, our direct religious community, and the beings who we honor in the course of our lives. However, community also means the friends we make on Facebook, the groups we join, the causes we support, the events we attend, the acquaintances we make. Sometimes the virtual world can feel very much like a life-giving and supportive community, and sometimes it can feel hollow and fake, and in those moments we can be tempted to forget the humanity of those we interact with. When that happens, horrible things can follow. I have been skeptical lately of whether there can be a national or international “Pagan Community,” or if true community can only be built in a small grass-roots manner, but even still we cannot deny those interactions we maintain outside of our personal faith communities. Our movement may be a convenient umbrella fiction for scholars and polemicists to bandy, but it is there, and we do have a stake in our small faiths finding a way to thrive in our modern world. There is no way to “No True Scotsman” our way out of people behaving badly, there is only doing the work to make sure we’re all accountable to the communities we participate in.

This has been a hard year for our community. We’ve been hit by the deaths of pivotal figures within our movement, by horrific crimes and scandal, by a world increasingly under stress, and it can seem easy in these times to simply drop our tools and walk away to the relative safety of our hearths and homes. I know that I have been tempted, when hit by that “one more thing”, to question why I am here. Wouldn’t my life be easier, better, if I simply kept to my own practice, my own family, my own tight circle of close friends? But I have to believe that our interconnected families, our almost impossibly diverse movement, is indeed worth something, and worth fighting to improve. In the years to come I do plan to focus more on my local experience, but I will not give up fighting for a better movement to be in, and to honor the amazing people I have met as a consequence of my outreach into ever-wider circles of community. I hope we can take this moment, and pivot towards something great, something that says “we have learned” and that we can build better in the years to come. A place where we feel safe once more.

Thanks for listening.

Send to Kindle

The Celebration of World Goddess Day

Sun, 2014-09-07 07:08

Today has been declared World Goddess Day. As described by the organizers, it is a day for all Goddess-worshiping people worldwide to come together and openly celebrate or pay tribute to the Goddess in all her forms. The website says, “The purpose of the Project is [to] grant to the Goddess one day of visibility to share Her many myths, stories and worship diversity.”

The World Goddess Day project was founded by Brazilian author Claudiney Prieto, who has written a number of popular books on Wicca and Witchcraft. Prieto is a priest of the Dianic Nemorensis tradition in Brazil and was recently acknowledged by Z. Budapest for his spiritual work within that tradition. As he writes on the project’s website:

Nowdays, in a staggered society impaired by centuries of patriarchy, heteronormativity and sexism, the Goddess is considered by many people the only way to reunite ourselves with the true Self, with our most inner Self. She is the only way to get rid of so many years of oppression that only brought differences, prejudices and wars So a World Goddess Day has never been such necessary as now!

The World Goddess Day project organizers chose September because it is the ninth month of the year. As Prieto explains, “The number nine is one of the most sacred to the Goddess.” In the future, World Goddess Day will always be celebrated on the first Sunday of the month. This year, the date is Sept. 7.

Through their Facebook page and website, organizers put out a call to people around the world to organize and come together on this day or for individuals to find private ways to honor the Divine Feminine. Currently, the project website lists 30 different registered World Goddess Day events happening around the world.

While most of these registered events are in Prieto’s home country of Brazil including his own event in Sao Paulo, enthusiasm did spread across borders. Wiccan Priestess Lady Majo is hosting a celebration in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Z.Budapest is sponsoring a Goddess Festival in California. There are three registered events taking place in Spain; three in the U.K.; three in the United States and one in Western Canada.

In addition, there are a number of unregistered events including one in Miami, one in Illinois, and one in Spitchwick Common in Dartmoor, England. The Reformed Druids of Gaia are gathering for a picnic in Singleton Park, in Swansea, Wales. In Toronto, Canada, people will be gathering at High Park for a “happy celebration” coordinated by Wiccan practitioner Cattarina Guanais.

The Triangle Area Pagan Alliance (TAPA), based in Durham, North Carolina, is one of the registered hosts of a World Goddess Day event in the United States. The local organization is sponsoring a public ritual in Thaumatury 777, a magic supply shop.  TAPA member Rev. Amanda Morris, a neo-Wiccan and Gnostic Witch, says:

When I found out that Claudiney Prieto was organizing an international event in honor of the Goddess, I was excited and brought the idea to my group, the Triangle Area Pagan Alliance.  We all shared personal stories of the power of the Goddess (in Her many names and faces!) in our lives, and we knew that honoring the Divine Feminine was important to us.  We really hope that others in our community would agree and join us for an open and public ritual … I’m thrilled and excited to be joining individuals and groups from literally around the world as we support World Goddess Day, and I hope we honor Her with our collective love and magick!

On the other side of the state in Hamlet, North Carolina, Deb Holmes-Roberts, a High Priestess of Hermetic Magic and a Reiki Master, is organizing a day long event that includes workshops, drumming and meditation. She says:

There are many reasons to celebrate this “World Goddess Day” but the most important to me is to be able to share the information with my daughters and other young women to embrace their femininity and flourish in the strength of it and all that it is.

From the Spitchwick Common, Dartmoor Event

To the south in Miami, Florida, Kimberly Moore, founder and Priestess of MotherHouse of the Goddess Temple, says that she is “hosting a Full Moon Goddess Feast Sunday and loving the synchronicity with World Goddess Day.” Moore has been actively working to encourage Goddess-based spirituality for years. Among her work, she helped to establish a Miami-based Dianic Women’s Temple and the Full Moon’s Women’s Circle. She says:

I am absolutely delighted to see an organized effort in establishing a World Goddess Day. Bringing the Divine Feminine in all forms to the forefront of alternative spirituality and traditional religions is absolutely vital for bringing balance to the planet and humanity. Bravo to Claudiney Prieto for lighting the torch! 

In West Yorkshire England, a group of Pagans will be celebrating in a different way. Attendees plan to meet at the Leeds City Museum in Millennium Square to view two stones that were dedicated to Brigantia, their local Goddess. Once there, organizer Gary Smith will read poetry inspired by the Divine Feminine. Smith says:

I’ve organised a small gathering of people from our Pagan Meet-up group to honour our local goddess Brigantia, as I recently came to the Goddess through my research of 30 years looking into the meaning of the Cretan Spiral Labyrinth. The Goddess is needed now to address the balance, and heal the world.

In Cornwall, the Priestesses of Kernow are hosting a celebration at Pengersick Castle, Praa Sands. Priestess Sue Edwards, founder of the Cornwall School of Mysteries, says:

The Goddess is associated with many things including earth, motherhood, fertility, love and vegetation, but also war, death, destruction as well as healing, compassion and life. As a Priestess of Kernow who follows the Goddess traditions, I feel it’s important to have one day granted to the Goddess in which we can remember her in all her forms. Women especially are looking for something which celebrates the feminine within and are turning to the way of the Goddess. She is re-entering into our modern life bringing back her vitality, power, wisdom and healing, through Pagan traditionsit is important to support the Project World Goddess day and to bring the divine feminine back into our lives , to adapt her stories for modern day and to bring balance back to our world.

In announcement after announcement, organizers are calling out to their communities to join them in dance, song, meditation, and ritual celebration of the Divine Feminine in whatever form or forms that she takes within one’s own religious tradition. On the event page for the Illinois event, organizer Ze Marie says, “The energy of this event is growing!!! Spread the word, it is going to be awesome! Everyone is welcome!!! It is time for the Goddess to be heard!!!”

While the day was launched by Prieto, a priest of the Dianic Nemorensis tradition, it was not imagined as a tradition-based or exclusive idea. Nor has its spirit be restrained in anyway.

Yemaya Temple in Cuba [Photo Credit: DominiqueMichel, WikiCommons CC lic]

Interestingly, however, this very first incarnation of World Goddess Day also happens to coincide with a very specific Goddess’ day. Today is Yemaya’s Feast day, a celebration with its own sacred traditions within the Lucumi (Santeria) religion. While World Goddess Day won’t always fall on Sept 7, this will happen again in the future. If the project continues to gain momentum, will the new universal honoring of the Divine Feminine detract or enhance this much older Lucumi tradition? Lilith Dorsey, a Voodoo Priestess, author and filmmaker, says:

The slippery issue here when we begin to discuss Sunday Sept. 7,2014 as World Goddess Day is that not all mother goddesses are the same. The same way not all mothers are the same. In La Regla Lucumi, also known as Santeria, Sept. 7 is the traditional feast day for Yemaya. People have already made the connection online, and since I am also a practitioner of Santeria as well, I would just like to caution that while anyone is welcome to leave an offering of pears or watermelon for Yemaya, the uninitiated must not make petitions or demands from this Orisha. The Santeria religion is a complex system that takes decades if not a lifetime of training to begin to understand.

As Dorsey suggests, not all Goddess’ are the same and their worship manifests in many ways that are often very specific to a tradition, culture and religious practice. As long as the details of the World Goddess Day celebration and its over-arching message remain respectfully fluid and open, the new day can co-exist with the Lucumi holiday. Dorsey adds, “The celebration of the Goddess is important each and every day, not only because it helps us better understand our collective cultural yesterdays and tomorrows, but also ourselves. I firmly believe this both as a Voodoo priestess and an anthropologist…. I hope everyone continues to respectfully salute the Goddess this Sunday, and every day.”

Send to Kindle

Alchemical Capitalism

Sat, 2014-09-06 05:19

There is a dark magic within Capitalism, rarely spoken of and often missed, by both Pagans and materialists alike. This is not mere fairy tale nor conspiracy, and I suspect we miss it because we’ve set up boundaries between the spiritual and the physical; between the observations of theorists and the wisdom of occultists. And I do not mean the pablum published as “wealth magic,” which is too often re-marketed prosperity magic.

Usury and Wyrd

“Die Nornen Urd, Werdanda, Skuld, unter der Welteiche Yggdrasil” by Ludwig Burger [Public Domain]

Most know the history of banking in Europe to some degree, that the Catholic Church forbade the taking of interest between Christians. However prohibitions against taking interest started earlier with the Greeks–both Plato and Aristotle were opposed to it, and it was likewise forbidden in the Torah. All three of the monotheisms have, at some point or another, forbidden charging interest on loans.

Several reasons existed for this prohibition. But one of the most intriguing for a Pagan who is familiar with magical theory is that of the Catholic Church because it mimicked an aspect of God. The God of the Christians was said to have created everything out of nothing (ex nihilo), rather than reformulating creation from stuff which already existed. That is, he was the founding principle of creation, existent before all things were created and therefore the creator of everything which exists.

The Council of Nicaea banned usury among clergy, and it did not take long for this to extend to all Christians. Those who lent money at interest were forbidden the sacraments (transubstantiated bread and wine, likewise, a power only belonging to God through his priests.)

Money was still lent at interest, mostly by the Jews. Several historians have convincingly shown that Jews did not become money-lenders out of pleasure or greed, but because it was one of the few roles allowed to them within Catholic kingdoms.(Jews in the Caliphates and other Muslim states had more economic freedom and thus didn’t follow the same paths as European Jewish communities). That is, it was all that was left them, a dark role too horrible to make one a good Christian.

Interest on debt does not just create an excess for the lender, it invokes a shadow upon the borrower, a vampiric drain upon her or his life. The lender now has power over the person, who must come up with more than what they had. Neither in alchemical theory nor in physics is such a thing actually possible: nothing is created from nothing, only transmuted from one thing or form into another.

This shadow, this debt, should be familiar to Heathens particularly. It is a manipulation of the borrower’s Wyrd, the shadow of Skuld. Fate is respun; the future diminished. But it is the same bargain of Faust, borrowing against a future that now cannot manifest, offering soul to the darkness in return for a little more life.

The borrower knows she will never have enough. After juggled debt and more borrowing, the time is due; the rent unpaid; the car repossessed.To survive debt, she must take from others, profit from others needs. Usury is a rip in the social fabric, breeding the darkness of desperation, a spiral of displaced misfortune.

Enchantment and Money

Magicians, witches, priests and alchemists imbue physical items with esoteric qualities. Candles, stones, wands, potions—we combine some degree of material (wax, stones, herbs) and measurable aspects (candles burn, potions contain herbal or other tinctures) with the immaterial (protection, healing, curses.)

But where does the magic in a talisman reside? For some, and for some things, perhaps the etheric quality is only in the mind, a soul-resonance between the enchanted item and the enchanter. For others, and for other things, the magic is within the item itself, overlaid, woven, sealed within stone, wax, or wood. Some dare only suspect intent and the symbolic, others think only of the external. Most, I suspect, think on both.

I craft a magic candle to warm the hearth. Wax, awakened Damiana and Vetiver. Blessing of Brighid, light of moon, focus of will. I imbue and invest, coax and request, and then gift it to the hands of another. The candle is enchanted. It is a pillar of forged wax and herbs and also something else. Magic inhabits the physical, woven from meaning.

The candle is a symbol of a warmed hearth, but is nothing until it is burned. The candle is also a physical thing imbued with meaning. Either way, and both ways, it burns the same, to the same effect. The enchantment may derive from the alignment of ambient celestial or earthly energies, sometimes from spiritual co-habitation or blessings, and sometimes from mere intent of the enchanter.

But in all cases, one might say that the enchanter is imbuing the item with some added or distilled quality. We can state that the item itself, at least on some level of understanding, has become something else, or is “also” something else. That is, the candle is not “just” a candle, but is an “enchanted” candle. It functions no longer just as a candle, but as a candle with added meaning. Or, to borrow from the Marxists, there is some added quality or value in the candle.

This foray into magical theory is necessary to understand something so profound and also yet apparently invisible about the most everyday sort of magic in which we engage; indeed, perhaps, the only magic most people ever encounter: money.

Money is a kind of magic. Faces printed on round pieces of metal and thick fabric paper are mere material. The metal composing them is hardly rare, the paper not particularly beautiful. But it’s enchanted, and it operates both on the symbolic and the physical. In both ways, it is said to have value. We can call a hundred-dollar bill mere paper, but we certainly still don’t throw it away. It is imbued with meaning and value, and not just to ourselves, but to others as well. That is, its value is not just in our head, it’s in all of our heads.

To some degree, this aspect of money mirrors what the Naturalists and Archetypalists believe. Magic is an aspect of psychological, unconscious processes. Money is imbued with value and apparent spirit but is mere matter overlayed with meaning.

We should remember, though, what money can do physically. It is no mere thought-form. I hand you five dollars; you give me something, an expensive coffee perhaps or two city-bus tickets. The money compels the actions—without it, you will not give me a coffee, unless you like me.

Commodity Fetishism and Symbolic Enchantment

Karl Marx described the process by which we imbue meaning into money as “commodity fetishism.” Noting the similarities between how Capitalists in Europe appeared to do the same thing with money as non-Capitalist peoples did with religious items, Marx suspected that we treat physical objects as more-than-physical, endowed with qualities, meaning, and “value” that are not intrinsic to the item itself.

I shall restate this. We treat money as if it were enchanted. Like Animists recognizing the spirit-in-nature, money functions for us on an unseen realm, embodied with a quality invisible but nonetheless quite powerful.

We sense this invisible quality, this enchanted value, both in its potential and its resolution. To accumulate a lot of money is to accumulate a corresponding amount of “wealth.” I am quite wealthy if I have a million dollars, though I cannot eat them and be nourished. Still, within that one million is the promise of more than I’d dare eat.

Money is a matter of faith. I believe that others will want my money, I trust that my money will compel them to give me what I want. Above us all are the governments who print the money, sustaining this faith, though they do not “create” it, nor enchant it. We enchant it. We collect and imbue the paper upon which money is printed with “value,” as also abstract ciphers which represent amounts of that money deposited in banks.

That value is not only intrinsic. We imbue the paper with meaning and value, and as long as we use it and respond to it, the enchantment holds. But it isn’t just our enchantment. We cannot imbue it with more value than the paper allows, and that value diminishes always, manipulated by the priesthoods of finance. Each year, the enchantment fades a bit, and we must have more. What sufficed before is now no longer enough. Each year we toil harder as its magic slips through our hands.

The Alchemy of Labor

“The Alchemist” by Pieter Bruegel (Brueghel) the Elder [Public Domain]

Wheat is a sort of grass. It grows tall stalks with coarse and difficult-to-digest seedheads which are quite uncomfortable to eat raw. Unworked, without human intervention, wheat is just wheat and quite useless to us.

But separated from the rest of the plant and then ground, it becomes something. Flour, combined with water, salt, and yeast makes bread, something which is both edible and often times delicious. Each time the wheat is changed, transformed and combined, it becomes something else, something with more value. And it is by our hands that this happens, the alchemy of work.

A bag of flour requires work to be eaten, but a loaf of bread requires less work. That is, wheat flour contains less labor than a loaf of bread. Moreover, a sandwich made with bread and other things contains even more work and is thus “worth” more (that is, it costs more) than its component parts.

Why? Because a human worked it on your behalf.

Each time a human works an item, they imbue the item with their labor; they’ve transmuted the item, or enchanted it. It still bears the original ingredients (just as a potion contains all the original herbs and extracts), but it is no longer just those things. It is something altogether different, and rarely can be returned to its original state. Some items are more enchanted than others. Artisan bread contains more human labor than factory-produced white bread.

Human labor is an alchemical transformation of something into another thing. It imbues each transformation with its own qualities. Unlike money, the enchantment is intrinsic to the item itself, not merely on the symbolic realm. Wheat is barely edible off the stalk; it must be imbued with human labor to function as food.

The Enchainment of Work

Capitalism is this: a person with money compels others to transmute things on his behalf, always (if he is a good Capitalist) for less than the transmutation cost the worker. That is, the goal of a Capitalist is to accumulate as much money as possible through the use of other people’s labor, selling their magic for more than he pays them.

A Capitalist starts with money, builds a factory, a shop, or a restaurant, and employs people to work raw materials into more complicated things. We always get less than what others are willing to pay for the product of our work. We enchant things for him by changing one thing into another. We give not just our physical labor, but our very creative force to him (at a computer, at a cash register, in a kitchen, or on a factory floor), while he does not need to expend his own. He harnesses our will and intention and innate, human magic. And, we always get less in return, while he gets more from this magical system into which he never contributes.

Why do we settle for this?

We are always in debt. The shadow of usury plagues us. We have no land, no wealth. We sustain the enchantment of money, but it is not we who control the enchantment. Without us the Capitalist can only transmute as much as any other person. He needs us so that he can have more to avoid the shadow.

He and the usurer are in agreement. Together they hoard and own all the land, all the factories and shops, the restaurants and work-sites, and all the enchantment of our work.

He accumulates potential in the form of money with which he purchases the results of human labor. We are always in debt, always with less than we started, with less potential each day as we grow older, more tired, less attractive, and frail. What we can purchase in return for all our lifeblood will never equal how much of it we spilled out upon the altars of Work, frightened servants of dark would-be gods who cannot, nor would not, restore to us our shortening days.

 

Send to Kindle

The Candle

Fri, 2014-09-05 08:09

Tjörnin at midnight.
Photo by the author.

Part three of my columns on Iceland. Previously: Oxararfoss and Njord.

This candle has traveled further in its short life than I traveled in the first twenty-two years of mine. I bought it at my favorite metaphysical shoppe back home.1 It came with me from Missouri to Minneapolis, and from there, to Reykjavík, where it sat on the hard plastic desk bolted to the wall of my dorm room for the first week of my stay. Now we are sitting at a picnic table hidden in a copse of trees next to Tjörnin, a lake in downtown Reykjavík, my candle and I. I am looking at it in the half-light, running my fingers along its surface. It is ten inches tall, with a white wick. Anywhere else in the world, I would describe it as midnight blue, but “midnight” is such a variable color in Iceland.

This boot knife came from a dealer’s booth at the Heartland Pagan Festival near Kansas City, long enough ago that I do not remember the exact year it came into my life. Its handle and sheath might have been gold, once, but that color has faded, in parts to silver and in parts to rust. Its blade has never been sharp. The unsheathed knife now rests in my right hand; I press its dull blade into the blue wax of the candle, cutting deep, straight lines into its surface.

This cup came from a ceramics department sale held in 2006 at the university I attended then. Its bare clay is the color of wet sand, the glaze closer to brick. There is a runic message drawn around the stem of the cup in blue acrylic paint: ODRAIZ. I found the formula in an Edred Thorsson book years ago and copied it without bothering to take notes; I have no idea what it is actually supposed to mean. The cup sits before me on the picnic table, full of a pilsner named for Egill Skallagrimsson, the priciest beverage sold at the 1011 convenience store near the dormitory. I believe the sculptor intended for it to be used as a flower vase.

This hammer came from a hardware store in south St. Louis; it has no further story, and is clearly the least sentimental of the tools arrayed in front of me.

It is the middle of the shortest night of the year, and I am sitting in a public park with a lit candle, a dull knife, a cup, and a sledgehammer. Clearly, the time is right for magick2.

MIDSUMMER, I carve into the wax. If I were more clever, I would have thought to look up phrases in Icelandic for this purpose before I left for Tjörnin, but it was too late for that now. I had to settle for English words, in letters that predated either of the languages that currently make up my world, the language of my birth (the language of power, comfort, ignorance, colonialism) and the language of this land (the language of frustration, error, isolation, faith.) ICELAND, MIDSUMMER 2014 I carve, along with three other words, and I set the candle to burning, to release my spell into the night.

I lean back on my elbows and watch people – mostly young, mostly drunk – pass by on the sidewalk that rings the lake. If any of them noticed me, the large, bearded man in a cloak burning candles at midnight, none of them said anything. I feel invisible and safe in that invisibility. I go back to my ritual – eating bread I had consecrated earlier, along with another draught of Egil’s Gull – and see someone approaching, walking down the path into the woods. It is an old woman with white hair and a lavender tracksuit.

(Even as I write this memory, I remember it in darkness: a deeper night, denser trees, and no light except for my little candle. I remember the woman entering into the light cast by my candle. But that is absurd; the lack of true darkness was my impetus for doing my Midsummer ritual at midnight in the first place.)

The woman comes over to my table and says goða kvöldið, good evening. I respond: Gott kvöld. She sits down at the picnic table, not seeming to notice all of the ritual paraphernalia that I had laid out in front of me, except for the candle, which she warns me I need to be careful about. She had been afraid that I was vandalizing the picnic table; I am not sure where I could have done so, since carvings and words written in thick black Sharpie already covered the entire surface of the table.

We talk for an hour or more, about language (the declension of Icelandic numbers), travel (the years she spent abroad in France and the other Nordic countries), and tourists (they had completely ruined Gullfoss, she claimed.) After we had been talking for a while, she eyed the table, taking in the knife and the hammer and the cup. “Are you practicing Ásatrú?” she asks. I nod and explain that I had come here in part because of Ásatrú. “I think that it is very beautiful,” she says. English words came slowly to her; she had to consider every sentence before she spoke.3 But when she got the words put together, they came out in a pleasant, musical rhythm. “They have such respect for nature. It is very beautiful.”

We do not go to parks in the middle of the night where I come from; the only people to find there are drug users and drug pushers, and I would have been taking my life in my hands to do this. (Or so I had been told all my life, anyway – whether experience would bear that out is another question.) Here, old women in tracksuits were perfectly happy to go jogging at one AM and stop for long talks with cloaked Americans when the opportunity presented itself. While I had several moments where I encountered the sublime in Iceland, this might have been the most genuinely otherworldly point of my visit.

The old woman leaves eventually, with no more explanation than she gave when she sat down, and I am still bemused by the encounter. I begin the process of closing up my ritual. It is, by now, three AM; I had, at one point, considered going to a nightclub after the ritual with some of my twenty-year-old classmates, but the bars had long since closed by now. I gather up my tools and stuff them into my pack, ready to go home.

The candle is the last to go. I run my thumb across the grooves of the three words I had carved earlier in the night. I will return.

 

Notes:

1. Pathways New Age Books and Music, in lovely South County, St. Louis. Tell ‘em they owe me twenty bucks.
2. Yes, I use a k. Spell it however you want.
3. Though of course, her English was better than my Icelandic. In English, we had a long and engaging conversation about life, language, and religion; in Icelandic, I might have managed to ask her for directions to the post office.

Send to Kindle

Heathen Band Faces Charges of Racism in Pennsylvania

Thu, 2014-09-04 06:40

The Heathen band Norsewind was removed from the Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day (PPPD) schedule after being labeled a White Nationalist [Supremacist] band. In August, Antifa Philadelphia, a “collective of militant anti-fascists committed to opposing the rise of the far-right,” contacted the organizers of PPPD. They claimed that Norsewind, a band scheduled to play at the Aug. 30 event, had “strong ties to the Keystone State Skinheads” and labeled them a White Nationalist band. PPPD promptly dropped the band from its event and issued a statement saying that the organizers find “hate and intolerance in any form abhorrent.”

From L to R: Anna Hagalaz, Danjul Norse, Paul Fredericks [Courtesy of Norsewind Facebook page]

The Claims
Antifa posted the information that it sent to PPPD on Tumblr. It is titled Norsewind and their ties to Neo-Nazi hate groups. Antifa lists known White Supremacists that are Facebook friends of the band members. It also documents that the band had played for the White Supremacist group Keystone United at a private event on at least two separate occasions. Keystone United describes itself as having the goal of “uniting all racially aware skinheads in the state of Pennsylvania.”

Lead singer Danjul Norse doesn’t dispute that the band played for Keystone United. He also says that, after Antifa posted the article, he looked up and confirmed that he is Facebook friends with the persons listed. However, he strongly disputes that the band has any racist ideology or personal ties with White Supremacists.

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Danjul explains,”Our band is non-political, we don’t have any politics.” He goes on to say, ”I’m not a White Supremacist; I’m not for that at all. I don’t share those views. I don’t judge people on their politics. I don’t hate anyone. I have no hate in me. I have love for all people. Why can’t people just be people and love each other?”

Danjul adds that people like his band’s music and send him friend requests on Facebook. He then “friends” them back. He doesn’t personally know any of the people listed by Antifa. As for playing at a private Keystone United party, he says:

It was a job and we decided to do it. It’s a business for us and it was a festival dedicated to Leif Erikson and his voyage. There were no signs of White Supremacy or neo-Nazi or hate. It was just a BBQ and they treated me with respect and enjoyed our music. That was it. So when they asked us to play again last year, I thought, OK.

Danjul was surprised by the controversy and the threats of violence that he has received over the past two weeks. He adds that the PPPD board was also harassed with calls and emails by Antifa, even after the board removed Norsewind from the event schedule. He says:

[Antifa activists] said if we played, there would be skinheads in the crowd and they [Antifa activists] would start a riot. Who threatens violence? Why would they threaten a riot? PPPD told me to not even show up because they worried I’d be assaulted.

PPPD has not confirmed this allegation and was unavailable for further comment. Antifa, however, did say that there was no harassment adding:

The reality is that a brief e-mail exchange with some pictures made it perfectly clear that Norsewind and the people they were inviting to Pagan Pride Day were not in synch with their stated mission.

In its claims, Antifa notes that the band displayed a Nazi symbol, the black sun, on its album cover. While Antifa wasn’t able to show any specific racist statements or music by any single member of Norsewind the organization says:

Individually these issues might not seem like much, but when combined they appear to paint a fairly compelling picture of a man with many ties to white supremacy.

In response to these allegations, Danjul says that, although the band prefers to play for Pagans and Heathens, they will “play for anyone.” He adds:

Our message is for everyone. I don’t pick and choose. Not politics and not skin color. I just want people to hear my message of tradition and family. Perhaps it’ll influence them towards something positive. Or just make them laugh or be happy.

There is currently no word out yet on future events for the band or how this controversy will affect its future bookings.

 

[Update:The article was edited from its original form after new facts were brought to our attention. In addition, at the time of original publication, we were unable to reach anyone willing to go on record in counterpoint to the band's claims. However, we will now be following up this article with an op-ed piece from Ryan Smith of Heathens United Against Racism.]

 

Send to Kindle

The Grand Witches Tea Party: a Call to Women Worldwide

Wed, 2014-09-03 08:33

For some, the phrase “tea party” conjures up images of little girls in pink taffeta dresses, or perhaps angry colonists on tall ships or, better yet, Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell. What it doesn’t conjure up is 380 witches convening on the historic grounds of Exeter Castle in the UK. But that is exactly what happened this past weekend at the “Grand Witches’ Tea Party.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

On Aug. 31, over 300 witches and others supporters, wearing pointy hats, capes and carrying brooms, arrived at Exeter castle to honor the lives of three British women hanged for Witchcraft. The Bideford witches are largely considered to be the last three women actually executed for the crime of Witchcraft under the 1605 statute.

As history tells, the judges believed that these women were innocent of their accused crimes. However, the men yielded to angry local mobs who called for a hanging. On Aug. 25 1682, Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles were all sent to the gallows at Heavitree. Today there is a plaque on Exeter Castle commemorating their lives and marking the tragedy in their deaths.

[Public Domain Photo]

Now 332 years later, modern U.K. Witches and their supporters rally at the same sight to call attention to the women’s story with the goal of having them officially pardoned of the accused crimes. In August 2013, author Christine Nash and local official Ben Bradshaw launched an e-petition to make this happen. However, the campaign failed with only 426 signatures. Ben Bradshaw is quoted as calling the hangings “a stain in our history.”

This year’s campaign was organized by local witch Jackie Juno and a group of her friends. However, the Grand Witches Tea Party became more than just a simple petition event. It grew larger, incorporating more expansive contemporary ideas within a respectful, yet festive, environment.

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

Not only was the Grand Tea a rally asking the government to pardon the Bideford Witches; the event also aimed at becoming the largest gathering of witches in the U.K. or the world. Juno’s official count stands at a total of 380 people in all the regalia. She adds, “We set a new southwesterly record but fell short of world or U.K. records. But the main important bit of the day was the ceremony.”

The event began with a commemorative ritual dedicated to the three accused “willow” women. The ceremony was recorded and posted on YouTube in three parts. In retrospect, Juno says:

[The event] went beautifully, thanks to all the helpers and supporters of the event. I feel we did the women proud with the commemorative ceremony which was deeply moving.

The outdoor ritual included poetry, shrine offerings, moments of silence and sacred song. One of the organizers stepped forward to read Erica Mann Jong’s poem, “For Those Who Died,” which is a somber tribute to the many women who were tortured and killed as witches.

In addition to the ceremony and the gathering of signatures, the organizers also collected donations for the international organization Womankind.org, a “women’s human rights charity working to help women transform their lives in Africa, Asia and Latin America.” Womankind.org partners with other organizations around the world to “tackle the day to day issues that affect women’s lives.” Womankind’s projects include education and outreach, ending violence, gaining independence and protecting women’s health.

The organizers of The Grand Witches’ Tea Party sought to create a connection between the persecution of the Bideford Witches and the difficult conditions under which many women live today. A local Wiccan practitioner told an Independent reporter, who was present at the event,“Misogyny is still a massive part of our culture. It’s symbolic to get together to remember how women were being persecuted.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

During the ceremony, Juno read the following poem:

I am your grandmother killed for celebrating All Hallows. I’m your mother dragged from my bed to the gallows. I am your sister, a conquest of war at gunpoint. I am your daughter, a victim online at some point. I need all women who hear me to speak up for those without voices. I need you, every man who loves me, to protect me to make the right choices. I am your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your daughter. I call from beyond the mystery to say no to the horror and betrayal and the slaughter. We must right the wrongs of history.

At various moments, attendees raised their brooms and besoms to show support and solidarity for the cause. Juno says, “After the solemnity of the ceremony people enjoyed a fun and very friendly picnic, meeting new friends and old.”

As the event’s title suggests, many witches were seen drinking tea and enjoying the sunshine. Several bands entertained the group including The Mysterious Freakshow. On its Facebook fan page, the band wrote, “Witches, witches everywhere! Fabulous day at The Grand Witches Tea Party! The magic in the air was tangible. A true inspiration.”

[Photo by J.Moore, Balmy & Zen Photography]

Juno was pleased with the turnout at the 2014 Grand Witches’ Tea Party. She added, “Folks traveled from far and wide to attend and we hope to hold a similar gathering next year.” She and several of the organizers are working to set up an organization that will continue this work. Although now just in the planning stages, the new organization will be called, “The Merrivale Group.”  In the meantime, they are currently counting the donated funds and enjoying the incoming photographs, videos and stories being shared on the event’s Facebook page.

[Note: With the exception of the plaque, all photos included here were taken by professional Pagan photographer James Moore of Balmy & Zen photography. They were used with permission but remain under strict copyright. For more shots of the Grand Witches' Tea, go directly to Moore's FB page.]

Send to Kindle

In the Crosshairs of Persecution: the Yezidis

Tue, 2014-09-02 05:18

Among the many atrocities committed by members of the Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIL) is the group’s attack on the Yezidis, a tribe in northern Iraq known mostly for its secretive religion and repeated persecutions by neighbors. The reports on the Yezidis hiding on mountainsides to escape conversion or death was a factor in President Obama’s decision to use airstrikes against ISIL.

Yezidi refugee girl with her family at Newroz camp [Photo Credit: Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee/UK Dept of International Development]

The average westerner knows little about the Yezidi people and their religion, and media channels have struggled to learn more. The Yezidis are typically described as polytheists and have been branded as devil-worshipers many times over the centuries that their culture has endured.

However, neither label is a good fit. The Yezidis could be considered polytheistic in the same way that Roman Catholics might be. They do honor more than one entity. But the Yezidis don’t consider themselves polytheists. Many Pagans and polytheists will understand how one’s gods can become the devils of another.  That is the case with the Peacock Angel, the primary among seven angels worshiped in the Yezidi religion.

The sacred texts of the Yezidis and the religion itself are not intended for sharing with outsiders. The only translations into English come by way of The Sacred Books and Traditions of the Yezidiz, written by Isya Joseph in 1919. Joseph translated the sacred texts from an Arabic manuscript, which he was led to believe had been translated from an authentic original. Because the primary sources — the Yezidis themselves — are very secretive about their practice, any historical records of their treatment is left up to the interpretation of fragmentary knowledge within a context of political expedience.

Amin Tomeh, member of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, explained why Yezidi beliefs are sometimes interpreted as devil worship by followers of Abrahamic faiths. He said:

They view the Abrahamic traditional story (of God asking His angels to bow before Adam upon creating him) from a different perspective. According to what I read, they believe that there are seven archangels; chief among them is Malek Taous (with Malek translating to angel and Taous translating to Peacock or chief, i.e., Chief of all Angels). It was this Malek Taous that refused to bow before Adam while the other six forgot their pledge to God to not bow before anything or anyone other than to Him (i.e., God).

The similarity between this belief and what Muslims believe in that a creation of God (who dwelled with the angels, but was not an angel himself) called Iblis was the only one to refuse bowing before Adam. Iblis was cursed for refusing God’s command and was given a reprieve until the day of judgment before he would face his punishment. Iblis, Satan or the Devil are one in the same from a Muslim perspective. The intersection of these very similar stories is why – I would suppose – some may think that, in fact, it is Satan whom the Yezidis worship. But Yezidis themselves see the nature of Malek Taous as different from the whispering Satan who suggests evil deeds to humans.

Melek Tausi [Public Domain Image]

Malek Taous, Melek Ta’us, Taus Melek, or Tawsi Melek is the being that the Yezidis primarily worship. Also called the Peacock Angel, Malek Taous is an intermediary between what they call “God” and the physical world. As described on yeziditruth.org:

The Yezidis do not believe that the Peacock Angel is the Supreme God. The Supreme God created him as an emanation at the beginning of time. He was brought into manifestation in order to give the invisible, transcendental Supreme God a vehicle with which to create and administer the universe. Tawsi Melek is thus a tangible, denser form of the infinite Supreme God. In order to assist Tawsi Melek in this important role, the Supreme Creator also created six other Great Angels, who were, like the Peacock Angel, emanations of the Supreme God and not separate from him.

The references to Adam and God are not coincidental according to Hatim Darwesh, a American-based Yezidis who maintains a Yezidi Facebook group. Darwesh served as translator to the U.S. military during the Iraq War, when Saddam Hussein was persecuting the Yezidis as part of his broader oppression of the Kurds. For his work, Darwesh was granted a visa to come to this country. He now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

While quick to say that he is not a “religious expert,” Darwesh was clear on several points: God is the same being who is worshiped in Abrahamic faiths; the Peacock Angel is not any sort of devil and the Yezidi religion is definitely monotheistic. In addition, within Yezidi culture, he says that the term “pagan” is used as a pejorative and not a label they themselves would welcome. At the same time, he explains that the Yezidis “worship the sun” and are sometimes called “sons of the sun.” He did not elaborate on that point, nor did he respond to a question about whether his religion is an Abrahamic one or not.

While the nuances of the Yezidi faith continue to be elusive, what is certain is that these people have been oppressed many times in their history. Once, according to Amin Tomeh, they were considered valuable allies. He tells of the Yezidi Prince Hussein Bek Al Daseni, who supported Sulemain the Magnificent‘s bid to retake Baghdad from the Safavids, and was given the title of prince over Soran, Irbil and Dahouk.

Tomeh says, “This story demonstrates amply that, when political expediency demanded it, the Caliph himself found no reservation in allying his empire with the Yezidis and rewarded them accordingly.” He adds:

But again that does not mute the fact that the Yezidis often fell victim to the wrath of the political power of the day under religious guise and sometimes nationalistic (as was the case in Saddam’s time) pretexts. I personally see that phenomenon as the quintessential xenophobic impulse of blaming the presumed weaklings in any society.

Followers of mainstream media may believe that the present crisis for the Yezidis is past, but Darwesh says that this is far from the case. He reports that 2-3,000 “women, kids, and virgin girls” were taken by ISIL forces, and that “their fate remains unknown.” He explains the extremist agenda as he understands it:

Men have two choices: to convert to [Islam] or they will be slaughtered. Women are assaulted sexually and sold into slavery, and our kids are taking [sic] to be trained on learning of Quran and teach them Islamic religion.

He describes the crisis as “severe,” with 2-3 families living in a house, if they are lucky enough, and many others living under bridges. “They need to be out of there very soon,” he says. He wants them to be given the opportunity to live in a western country, like the United States or Canada, but they lack the deep support that larger religions have.  He says:

Our situation is different from Christians and everyone else in Iraq; we don’t have anyone to help us. Christians have at least Vatican to support them and [the] Pope is behind them because the religion [has] linked them together and we as Yezidis don’t have anyone but God.

To date, Darwesh finds that he is able to practice his religion freely in the United States. But what hangs over him, and all the Yezidis fortunate enough to live in Lincoln, is the fate of their tribes people half a world away.

 

Send to Kindle

Pagan Community Notes: RIP Jeff Rosenbaum, Climate March, Curriculum Reform, Polytheist.com, Honoring Margot Adler, and More!

Mon, 2014-09-01 08:16

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!

Just as we were going to press, the passing of Jeff Rosenbaum was announced. The cause of death was a brain tumor. Rosenbaum is perhaps best known as the conceiver and a founder of the Association for Consciousness Exploration (ACE), the Chameleon Club, the Starwood Festival, and the WinterStar Symposium. Through the 1990s and early 2000s the Starwood Festival was arguably one of the most popular (and populous) outdoor festivals of its type, thanks to organizers cross-pollinating Pagan communities with other religious and visionary movements, featuring guests like Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson. Rosenbaum talked a bit about this organizing vision when he was interviewed in the book “Modern Pagans.”

“Starwood is a big college of alternative thinking and alternative spirituality that suddenly appears like a carnival or circus. The tents go up, it stays there for a week, and then BOOM it’s gone, til next year. We have 140 or more classes from 9:30 in the morning till 6:15 in the evening–sometimes as many as 12 at a time. You can learn about Druidism, Ceremonial Magic, Wicca, Tibetan Buddhism, and Native American Practices. We have classes on psychedelia and psychology, and different “movement systems” like tai chi, yoga and aikido. Past speakers have included Timothy Leary, quantum physicist Fred Allen Wolf, Paul Krassner, and Steven Gaskin, who created the Farm, the biggest hippie commune in America. It’s all included in the cost of admission.”

As Rosenbaum puts it, he was “a student of an eclectic array of spiritual paths, philosophies, and illuminating pursuits,” and it was that wide-ranging desire to experience and know that drove his life. In addition to his work with ACE and Starwood, he was Robert Anton Wilson’s lecture agent for six years during the 1980s, played guitar & percussion with Ian Corrigan and Victoria Ganger in the bands Chameleon and Starwood Sizzlers, and was published (and interviewed) in a number of Pagan-themed publications. Tributes to Rosenbaum are already flooding his Facebook profile, but I think the most apt was a posthumous status update from Jeff Rosenbaum himself, which I think does a good job of capturing his spirit. Quote: “At 6:23 pm EST tonight I crossed over and left my body behind. My friends were by my side, the Firesign Clones were playing on the TV. It was calm and peaceful. Thank you all for your good wishes and support. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” What is remembered, lives. ADDENDUM: Here’s an obituary written by close friend Ian Corrigan.

The Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC has sent out a call for help. The People’s Climate March is less than a month away and the number of Pagans pledging to march as part of the Interfaith contingent is “exploding,” according to organizers. PEC-NYC has started an Indigogo campaign with the goal of $3,000 by Sept. 18th. The monies will cover supplies for the weekend and hopefully, fund the transportation for Pagans from far-away to get to NYC for the weekend.  “$10 is breakfast for ten people. $100 is a bus ticket for a marcher from the midwest, $250 is a train ticket for a west coast based Marcher.” said Courtney Weber, an organizer with PEC-NYC. “We are at a pivotal point in history, and history has shown that boots in the streets truly can change the world. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show world leaders that the people want serious action to address climate change, now. Marching alongside other faiths is the perfect opportunity to increase our knowledge and understanding of one another, and cross belief-barriers to fight for a common cause.” The link to the campaign can be found, here. If you are interested in attending the march with a Pagan contingent, please see their blog

Pagan organizations and individuals have endorsed a campaign to urge California Governor Jerry Brown to sign California Senate Bill (SB) 1057 into law. The measure, which overwhelmingly passed in both the Assembly and the Senate, would mandate the reform of history and social science materials used in California schools. Supporters of 1057 claim it will “prevent bullying and promote a positive self-image for children” of different religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities. This will be done by requiring “an expert advisory group to create new History-Social Science Content Standards in a fair, open, and transparent manner. The advisory groups will be composed of scholars and educators, and must make a good faith effort to seek the input of representatives from diverse communities.” Pagan organizations that have signed on to this effort include the American Vinland Association/Freya’s Folk, Our Lady of the Wells Church, and The Patrick McCollum Foundation. In addition, Sabina Magliocco, author of “Witching Culture,” has signed on as a supporting academic. SB 1057 has also garnered the support of several religious minorities in California, including Hindu, Jain, and Jewish organizations.

The new resource/website Polytheist.com will be launching this week! In an update to the forthcoming site’s Facebook page, posted last night, the official launch’s imminent arrival was heralded. Quote: “Coming this week, the official launch of Polytheist.com! Please stay tuned for this exciting set of columns, from a talented team of writers, voices, and visionaries from our Polytheist communities!” Polytheist.com, once launched, will be a “an online hub of columnists, contributors and content creators who are dedicated to many gods across many traditions.” The site is spearheaded by Anomalous Thracian (aka Theanos Thrax), who recently explained why this site is important. Quote: “For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals, without inviting the targeting and resistance often experienced in spaces not dedicated to this specific aim.” Stay tuned, as we will be talking more about this project very soon. In the meantime, be sure to bookmark that link!

Margot Adler

Earlier last month I reported on an initiative to raise money for a memorial bench in Central Park honoring Margot Adler, author of the landmark book “Drawing Down the Moon,” who passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. Quote: “Many of you have asked about ways to honor Margot’s memory. After discussions with a few of her closest friends, it’s been decided that collecting donations toward buying a memorial bench in her name in Central Park is the best plan. It’s something she spoke of in her final days. As you know, she lived on the edge of the park nearly her entire life and walked through it daily.” I’m happy to report that the month-long fundraiser has managed to raise over $11,000 dollars, enough to pay for the memorial bench, and to also endow a tree in the park. A large number of Pagans and Pagan organizations donated money towards this initiative, including The Sisterhood of Avalon, the Michigan Council of Covens and Solitaries, and The Witches’ Voice. This is a fitting tribute, one that will no doubt become a place of pilgrimage for all who honored her and her work.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

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

Send to Kindle

U.S. Court Ruling Supports Polyamorous Families in Utah

Sun, 2014-08-31 08:00

On August 27, a U.S. District Court Judge finalized a ruling stating that Utah’s ban on cohabitation was unconstitutional. This decision is the latest chapter in an on-going legal battle between Utah state officials and the Brown Family, stars of TLC’s reality show “Sister Wives.” 

The Brown family practices the Apostolic United Brethen faith, a type of Fundamentalist Momonism that supports plural marriage. Although polygamy was largely abandoned by the mainstream LDS Church in the 1890s, some Mormon churches have continued to allow the practice. These sects or people are typically referred to as Fundamentalist Mormons. Some are affiliated with churches and some are independents.

Since the TLC show first aired, the Brown family has experienced a great deal of legal trouble due to their unconventional family structure. Police investigations began the day after the first show debuted in 2010.

Most states, including Utah, have laws governing aspects of marriage, sexual relations and habitation. These laws include the well-known definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Additionally there are limits and restrictions on cohabitation, especially when intimacy and children are involved.

In 2011, the Brown Family decided to challenge Utah’s family laws. Utah Code Title 76, Chapter 7, Section 101 states:

Bigamy: (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person. (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree. (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.

After several years in the courts, Brown vs. Buhman landed in the U.S. District Court of Utah before Judge Clark Waddoups. In December 2013, Judge Waddoups ruled that the state’s ban on cohabitation was unconstitutional. He said:

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101 (2013) is facially unconstitutional in that the phrase “or cohabits with another person” is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is without a rational basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; to preserve the integrity of the Statute, as enacted by the Utah State Legislature, the Court hereby severs the phrase “or cohabits with another person” from Utah Code § 76-7-101(1)

The ruling wasn’t finalized until this past Wednesday when Judge Waddoup added that, in the early investigations, county officials had violated the family’s first amendment rights. As a result the Judge has ordered the state to pay all attorney’s fees and other associated legal costs incurred by the family. In a blog post, the Brown family attorney, Jonathan Turley, wrote:

This [last] count sought to establish that state officials, and particularly Mr. Buhman, acted to deny protected constitutional rights ranging from free speech to free exercise to equal protection….[Judge Waddoup's] decision in this case required a singular act of courage and principle as the first court to strike down the criminalization of polygamy. In doing so, Judge Waddoups reaffirmed the independence of our courts and stood against open prejudice and hostility toward plural families.

While some reports say that Utah has officially legalized polygamy, it actually has not. The December ruling only removed the ban on cohabitation. Bigamy, or more one legal marriage, is still prohibited by Utah code 76-7-101. In his ruling, Judge Waddoup made that distinction very clear.

Regardless, the court’s decision is still considered historic. After Wed, only three states now criminalize cohabitation of any kind. These states include: Michigan, Missouri and Florida. In addition, the final portion of the court’s decision affirms the constitutional right of plural families to exist guided by their own religious principles.

In recent years, there has been an increase in attention and support for non-conventional family structures. This is partly due to the marriage equality movement as well as shows like “Sister Wives.” In an essay published in 2010, Morning Glory Zell predicted, “This whole polyamorous lifestyle is the avante-garde of the 21st century. Expanded families will become a pattern with wider acceptance as the monogamous nuclear family system breaks apart under the impact of serial divorces.”

Rev. Allyson [Courtesy of White Winds.com]

Rev. Allyson is a Wiccan Priestess and interfaith minister who also practices polyamory. She says, “I see the ruling as good, because it reinforces that which goes on between consenting adults behind closed doors is really no one’s business.” If a spiritual community or faith practice embraces polyamory or polygamy and there are no legal restrictions on cohabitation, than a plural marriage can be recognized spiritually without fear of legal ramifications.

There is a secondary social benefit to Utah’s ruling. As Rev. Allyson points out, “[The decision] also opens up the door to more women who are in abusive poly relationships, allowing them to come forward without the concern that they will end up in jail themselves.”

Michelle Mueller

Michelle Mueller, a doctoral student at the Graduate Theological Union who is studying polygamy and polyamory, agrees. She says:

The decriminalization of polygamy also helps women who may be in abusive relationships. Women who are consensually polygamous but in an abusive relationship are unlikely to report abuse to police because they would risk prosecution as polygamists. Basically, the de-criminalizing of consensual polygamy between adults enables law enforcement to tend to actual problems like violence.

The removal of the cohabitation laws and the court’s ruling in favor of the Brown family’s religious rights are two small showings of legal support for non-nuclear families who live peacefully according their own private, religious principles. While plural families within Fundamental Mormonism might look or act different from those within a Pagan context, the secular laws create the same barriers and reinforce the same cultural stigmas in all cases. Therefore the Utah ruling helps everyone regardless of religious affiliation.

Rev. Allyson says, “All that said, as a minister, as a pagan, and as a polyamorous person, I feel that the world is slowly become more accepting. I don’t know that we’ll ever get to a place where poly marriage is acceptable, and I’m not overly concerned about it. What I’m most interested in seeing is acceptance of whatever intentional families people create.”

On Thursday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert told local press that he personally believes plural families are “not good policy or practice.” However, he added that the courts ruled as such because cohabitation laws are unenforceable. He advises anyone who dislikes the judge’s decision to make use of the democratic system and try to change it. To date, the Utah Attorney General has not announced whether he will appeal the case. 

Send to Kindle

#nakedcoffee

Sat, 2014-08-30 05:59

If you’ve ever attended a Pagan festival, you’re familiar with post-festival letdown. You spent a weekend, or a week, at fest being fully yourself; living your ethics with every breath; being emotionally open to others; meeting amazing people who now feel like family to you; relearning to love your body and embracing your unique beauty. You feel glorious and strong and loved.

And then you go home, away from all those people you’ve grown so close to in such a short time, where you cover up your religion and you cover up your skin, to a greater or lesser degree. Insecurities creep in. The world is a bit grayer while you feel blue. You know festival has to end, but you wonder how to keep the positive feelings and lessons and people of festival all year round. Just a slice of it.

Melanie

Enter #NakedCoffee. It’s exactly how it sounds. People rolling out of bed and drinking coffee while buck naked and posting a photo of it on Facebook to continue remembering how beautiful you are; to stay emotionally open; and to stay connected.

#NakedCoffee was born at Pagan Spirit Gathering. Melanie Moore and a group of friends met each morning to do makeup and chat over coffee. Since it was a particularly rainy, muddy PSG, they gave up on clothes and just hung out naked.

And then PSG ended. “The sister hood was so strong,” says Melanie Moore. “When I got home I missed it so much I wept.” So she posted a picture on fb of herself drinking coffee, naked. They reciprocated. “We started doing it more and more, even teasing each other with our cool mugs.”

Tasha Rose didn’t attend PSG, but she had already been taking her morning coffee in the nude, at festivals and at home, for a while. Then she noticed Melanie’s photo and she posted one, too. “It felt like a nice way to connect with dear ones who I don’t see often. I post the pics online for no real reason other than vanity, maybe a little bit of the feeling that we are all in the room together naked and drinking coffee.”

It’s mostly women joining in #NakedCoffee. Their ages vary. They pose Individually and in groups; no makeup; hair messy. Some gaze confidently into the camera lens. Others display exuberant joy. In groups, they stand close, touching, completely comfortable. These are women who own themselves and own their power. They’ve found a way to bring the positive, body image culture of Pagan festivals back home.

Kristin, Judy, Alana

“It wasn’t a spiritual thing in that it had a religious meaning, but it did have a certain ‘baring of the soul ‘ quality to it,” says Tracie Sage Wood. She says it is very empowering, “This is me. Take me or leave me, I don’t care, but here I am.”

Tracie

For Tasha it has become a necessary part of her spiritual practice. For her, it’s a conscious effort, not mindless routine. “Yesterday was really a rough start. I woke up and had a headache and felt terrible about the load of things I had to do. I yelled at my kids, it was bad.”  Then she realized that she hadn’t done the two things that she usually does first thing every morning – make an offering and drink coffee in the nude. “I made offering and my coffee and the day was better from there,” said Tasha. Her husband now joins her for #NakedCoffee on Saturdays and they’ve posted the photos to prove it.

Posting the photos on social media seems integral to #NakedCoffee. It’s a way for them to connect with one another and to combat the toxic messages that mainstream culture bombards us with every day. “Body image is huge. How we see ourselves. How others see us,” says Tracie. She enjoys posting the photos and seeing others do the same, “It was very freeing. And when I see others I think how carefree and beautiful they look.”

Travis and Tasha

Tasha is taking #NakedCoffee on social media to the next level. She’ll be joining friends for naked coffee on a live webcam on a Google+ Hangout. They’ve been waiting for one of their group to get her webcam set up.

Since #NakedCoffee first appeared on my FB feed, I’ve been watching it spread. First to other Pagan and now to non-Pagans. There’s a big difference in the photos between Pagans and non-Pagans. In non-Pagan photos, there is not as much playfulness, more staging, and more focus on genitals.

Will this continue to spread? Will it help Pagans sustain the positive body image festival culture? And is this something the mainstream can learn from us?

“This was originally about sisterhood,” says Melanie. She notes how powerful and needed sister time is. When asked if she’s hopeful that others feel empowered by doing something like #NakedCoffee she said,”If that’s what folks take from this, that’s awesome! Love your naked body! It’s amazing.”

Send to Kindle