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

First, we update a story reported on last week:

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary has announced its plans to assist all PSG 2015 attendees, who are in need. Several Circle Ministers have volunteered to offer spiritual counseling. Included in this healing work was a special full moon ceremony last night, which was dedicated to “PSG Healing and Renewal.”  In addition, Circle Sanctuary has also announced that it will be “offering a gift to all 2015 PSG paid registrants who request it — a $100 certificate ($50 for minors aged 12-17) that can be used toward any Circle Sanctuary event.”  The announcement explains more about that gift certificate, Circle’s event insurance, and the various struggles faced by the organization itself.  “This year our community was tested and found to be strong, unshakeable and unbreakable.

Now on to the links:

  • We first visit Russia where officials in the city of Nizhnevartovsk have reportedly banned the practice and teaching of yoga in city-owned buildings. The Moscow Times reports that letters to several yoga studios explained that the “move is crucial in order to prevent the spread of new religious cults and movements.” In addition, the Times reported that Nizhnevartovsk city officials claim that yoga is “inextricably linked to religious practices” and has an “occult character.” In 2013, a similar argument was made by parents of an Encinitas, California elementary school. The U.S. courts eventually ruled against the parents, allowing for the practice to continue. More recently, an Austrian elementary school banned yoga for religious reasons and, according to Southern Poverty Law Center, there are a number of American school districts who continue to ban the practice as well. However, it appears today that more American school districts are concerned with the wearing of the pants then the actual physical activity.
  • Another story coming out of the same region tells of the Night Witches. However, they are not who you might expect. According to a story in Vanity Fair, the Night Witches were an “all-female squadron of [Soviet] bomber pilots who ran thousands of daring bombing raids” during World War II. The women, ranging from ages 17-26, flew silently over Nazi soldiers by turning off their engines and gliding. The Nazis reportedly heard only a “whoosh” sound and began calling them the “Nachthexen” or Night Witches. Interestingly, the article claims that the Nazi soldiers had “very real fear of witches.” This statement recalls the 1932 popular German film Blue Light directed by famed filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. In the movie, the townspeople’s fear leads to the labeling of a woman as “witch.” Blue Light was Riefenstahl’s first film and attracted the attention of a young Hitler, who eventually commissioned her to create Nazi propaganda films.
  • Back to 2015, in the United Kingdom, a fear of witches and witchcraft led to an arrest and court hearing. According to the Central Somerset Gazette, “Hilary Joy Osborne took an obsessive dislike to Lynda Brown who was a spiritualist and taught pagan drumming and also practised Druidism, mantra chanting and Buddhist traditions.” This “dislike” led to regular harassment; including threats, the beating on walls and doors, and verbal abuse. Brown called the police and Osborne was charged with harassment to which she pleaded not guilty. However, a magistrate judge slapped Osborne with a 2 year restraining order, fines and other conditions.  Osborne was disappointed with the results, believing that the police “let her down.”
  • Now moving south to a very different climate, witchcraft or the accusation of can lead to far more tragic and distrubing fate. It was reported Tuesday that Daesh, in a first, had beheaded two women for allegedly practicing witchcraft. The terrorist organization killed both the women and their husbands, along with two other women, who were accused of being “agents for the Nusayri regime.” According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Daesh has since seized one couple’s home and property. SOHR has been appealing to the UN for greater assistance in their human rights efforts and is now reporting that the month of June marks the deadliest month in 2015 with a estimated 5247 people killed in Syria alone.
  • In recent months, Americans have faced their own form of home-grown terrorism, including the AME church massacre and the recent church burnings. Religion News Service published an article titled “3 Religions, 3 Approaches to Forgiveness in the Aftermath of Evil.” Through three different voices, the article highlights the concept of forgiveness within the major faith traditions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. For our purposes, this might lead to the question of forgiveness within Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist practices. How and when do we forgive? Are there limits? But the article opens up another concern. None of the three people interviewed represented the American black community – the target of the recent violence. While Charlestonians themselves showed a remarkable unity and Mother Emanuel together with the victims’ families expressed forgiveness, the idea is certainly not universally accepted. A New York Times op-ed piece discusses the other point of view. Writer Roxane Gray writes, “…I do not foresee ever forgiving his crimes, and I am totally at ease with that choice.”
  • On that note, it would be impossible to run a link list without mentioning Bree Newsome, the activist who climbed the South Carolina flag pole to remove the Confederate flag. The photo of her on the flag pole itself is one that will live in the history books alongside famous images, such as the lone activist standing before tanks in Tiannaman square; the coming down of the Berlin Wall; firefighters in the rubble of 9/11; and even the photo of the famous kiss as World War II ended. This iconic image of Newsome will inspire generations to come. According to Jezebel, Newsome said, “We needed that moment to say ‘enough is enough.’ We want an end to the hate.” Newsome was recently interviewed by ABC News. Here is a link that video.
  • Now we travel across the world to Malaysia where a group of teens violated a sacred space – Mount Kinabalu. In this story, however, the only things broken were the rules. “Briton Eleanor Hawkins, Canadians Lindsey and Danielle Peterson, and Dutchman Dylan Snel” climbed Mount Kinabalu and disrobed for an impromptu photo shoot. They were caught, jailed and fined for public indecency. Some reports claimed that the Malaysian people, who consider the mountain sacred, are now blaming the teens for the recent earthquake that killed 18 people. One Malyasian tabloid headline read, “Your boobs have angered mountain gods.” However, some locals are discrediting these sensationalist media accounts, and simply remark that the mountain is a sacred place in Malaysian culture, and that the teens were disrespectful to the local customs, beliefs and rules.
  • According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans’ confidence in religion is at an all time low. The survey, which is limited in its observations, suggests that trust in religious institutions has dropped; now putting it 13 percentage points lower than the historical average. 42% of Americans are estimated to have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in religion; the historical average is 55%. However, as noted, the study is limited in its reporting by only breaking the surveyed sample into three sub-groups: Catholics, Protestants and non-Christian/No-Religion. Additionally, Gallup published a study on America’s overall confidence in various institutions. Until recently, religion was top of the list. Now it falls fourth behind the military, small business and the police. However it is still ahead of Congress, Medical institutions, the media and others.
  • Now for something a bit lighter. Robin Hardy, director of The Wicker Man (1973), has launched a crowdfunding campaign to produce his long-awaited third film based on the original cult classic.  Hardy’s second film, titled The Wicker Tree, was released in 2011. Despite its lackluster reviews, the sequel is considered to be better than the 2006 Hollywood remake of the 1973 original. Now Hardy wants to revisit the story one more time with a script that he has titled “Wrath of the Gods.” Hardy told the Guardian that he had always envisioned the story as a trilogy. Through an IndieGoGo campaign, the 85-year old director is hoping to fund the project. With various perks, he is also offering fans a chance to appear in the film and even act as the film’s producer.
  • And, in our last news link for this month, Japan says goodbye to Tama, the stationmaster cat. According to The Huffington Post, “The calico cat has been credited with saving the struggling station, and its railway line, from financial collapse.”  After she was appointed stationmaster in 2007, the financially struggling train station began to earn revenue from tourists and visitors who stopped by just to see the little cat at work. Tama died at the age of 16 on June 22. Nearly 3,000 people attended her funeral. As reported, “During the Shinto-style ceremony, Tama was elevated to the status of goddess.” In addition, she has been given the title, “honorable eternal stationmaster.”
[Photo Credit: Takobou via Wikimedia Commons]

The Goddess Tama [Photo Credit: Takobou via Wikimedia Commons]

 

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LINCOLNTON, North Carolina — Prayer at public meetings is often a battleground with members of minority faiths seeking to have their viewpoints represented, while others argue that such religious ceremony doesn’t belong in a governmental setting. Since the Supreme Court’s 2014 Town of Greece v Galloway decision that allowed such prayers provided minority faiths are included, Pagans and others have sought to test those boundaries. For example, the pantheist David Suhor sang an invocation of the quarters at a county commission meeting in Florida.  More recently, when the issue of inclusiveness sprang up in the foothills region of North Carolina, it led to a new level of interfaith dialog in the form of the Foothills Interfaith Assembly.

Lincolnton Historic Main Street [Photo Credit: Roxyloveshistory / Wikimedia]

Lincolnton Historic Main Street [Photo Credit: Roxyloveshistory / Wikimedia]

The commissioners of Lincoln County in North Carolina open their meetings with a prayer, and it’s always been a Christian one. When another county in the state was forced by a federal judge to cease pre-meeting prayers altogether, a reporter asked Caroll Mitchem, chairman of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, if any changes would be made to their meetings. Mitchem’s response was to the point. She said that prayers — and only Christian ones — would continue. He was quoted in The Lincoln Times-News.

“A Muslim? He comes in here to say a prayer, I’m going to tell him to leave,” Mitchem said. “I have no use for (those) people. They don’t need to be here praying to Allah or whoever the hell they pray to. I’m not going to listen to (a) Muslim pray.”

Mitchem’s comments caught the attention of local Muslim community as well as others practicing minority faiths in the county, and two of them showed up at the next meeting to speak to the issue. They were Reverend Tony Brown of the North Carolina Piedmont Church of Wicca, and Duston Barto, a Muslim who doesn’t yet belong to a specific spiritual community. During that meeting, commissioners softened Mitchem’s comments into a policy that said that “the religious leaders or chosen leaders of any assembly that periodically and regularly meets in Lincoln County for the purpose of worshiping or discussing their religious perspectives are invited to offer an invocation before a meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.”

In those words, the two men saw an opportunity to have their faiths included, but the idea quickly grew well beyond a mechanism to promote religious freedom. “The policy said any faith could give a prayer, if it was sponsored by something that met in county,” Brown said. “I don’t know if it was designed to be restrictive, but the thought might have been to put up barriers that ensure only established faiths qualify.”

foothills logoBarto and Brown created the Foothills Interfaith Assembly —  named not for the county, but the more inclusive region of the state — as a way to allow people of different religions to engage with one another around their beliefs. Qualifying to offer prayers was the impetus, but Brown said that from the get-go the deeper idea was to “take advantage of everything else that interfaith can do.”

The first meeting had much better attendance than Brown had expected, and was spent hashing out some of the formative of the assembly. “A dozen people were there, and we went around introducing ourselves and explaining what brought us here, and our personal goals for the group. We hashed those around into group goals, and from that we came up with a list of five guiding principles.”

Those principles were given to a subcommittee which was tasked with writing a mission statement, which Brown expected to be voted upon at the June 30 meeting. That sort of administrivia is expected to become less prominent as the group finds its rhythm.

Based on who attended that first meeting, Brown expects the future get-togethers to offer robust opportunities to learn about different traditions. Besides himself and Barto, the group includes members of the Baha’i faith, a Baptist minister from an intentional Christian community, a Celtic Pagan, and a non-denominational Christian. “The diversity of people was a surprise, especially in Lincoln County, North Carolina,” he said. Interfaith work “always will appeal more to minority faiths, but we can band together, lift each other up, [and have a] better chance of being heard than whispering alone.”

The group’s structure will likely settle into a pattern of education, discussion, and socialization. “Ultimately I hope that people will come together, and in the first part of the meeting a person presents or there is a panel,” Brown explained, for example, “the basics of Baha’i, followed by questions and answers, or a panel on reciprocity with members of different faiths to explain its role in their tradition. It will be dialogue, and meeting as equals.”

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WILLOW, Alaska – A Pagan community center in the Sockeye region of Alaska has completely burned down in a wildfire. The community center consisted of over nine acres of woods with four cabins, and is now considered a total loss. Center Director Anthony Bailey said clean up efforts are underway, and he is asking for financial assistance to help rebuild the center.

The Alaska Pagan Community Center, more commonly known as The Land, is located near Willow.  It opened about five years ago as a non-profit nature sanctuary and Pagan retreat. Volunteers cleared areas for camping, built the cabins, created a pump and well house, and built shaded areas for workshops and classes.

Because community members had to evacuate so quickly, they were unable to take tools and equipment, such as generators, with them. The entire nine acres of trees were also burned in the blaze.

Cabins at the community center and retreat 2 weeks prior to the fire. [courtesy photo]

Cabins at the Pagan Community Center and Retreat 2 weeks prior to the fire. [Courtesy Photo]

Cabins and trees after the fire. [courtesy photo]

Cabins and trees after the fire. [Courtesy Photo]

Bailey said that the rebuilding has already begun. “Today we were able to return to the land and begin our cleanup and recovery efforts. We spent a long, tiring day salvaging what we could and trying to clear out anything that was unsalvageable.” Bailey shared this video:

 

Bailey noted that, while the local Pagan community has been turning out to physically help, they need funds to help rebuild, “It’s difficult to express the pain I feel at the loss of so much financial investment but also the loss of hard won progress our community had labored together to gain these last five years.” He said that any donations made to the GoFundMe account will be directly used to make community center and retreat capable of meeting the needs of the Pagan community again. Donations for the Alaska Pagan Community Center can be made here.

The wildfire near Willow is just one of roughly 300 fires still burning in Alaska. A particularly fierce blaze. it is called the Sockeye Fire, and has destroyed 55 homes and damaged many more in addition to the community center.

The total area affected by the over 300 fires is roughly 624,000 acres.

Blogger Peter Dybing, a Pagan first responder, was recently sent to Alaska as part of his mundane job to help fight the fires. He is assisting with the wildfires in the Fairbanks area. Dybing said that Alaska has more firefighters responding now than at any time in its history. “Firefighters from the lower 48 are struggling with extreme fire behavior, sleep disruption due to 24 hour daylight and rapidly changing fire conditions.”

Dybing said that the Alaska fires are unique. “With tundra duff up to 18 inches deep, rain can make a fire appear to be out, yet just a few hours of sun and the fire roars back to life. Much of this is complicated by the disappearance of permafrost that normally is at about the 10 inch level. Global climate change has taken a toll on the fire environment in Alaska.”

Volunteers begin the cleanup effort at the Pagan Community Center site. [courtesy photo]

Volunteers begin the cleanup effort at the Pagan Community Center site. [Courtesy Photo]

While there has been speculation that the Sockeye fire was started by neighbors of The Land, authorities still haven’t said conclusively if the fire was set deliberately or accidentally.

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mythopoeticPagan author Sarah Avery is a finalist for the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in the category of adult fiction. Administered by the Mythopoeic Society, this award is given to “the fantasy novel, multi-volume novel, or single-author story collection for adults published during the previous year that best exemplifies ‘the spirit of the Inklings.‘ ” In other words, it honors the spirit of wild imagination as found in the works of such classic fantasy authors as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Other categories include “Children’s Literature,” “Inkling Studies” and “Myth and Fantasy Studies.”

Avery was nominated for her Pagan-inspired book Tales from Rugosa Coven, which she says is a collection of novellas and is published by Dark Quest Books. She added that the award is a “pretty big deal,” pointing out that one of the finalists regularly makes The New York Times Best Seller list and “is one of the most important writers of literary fantasy of the decade.” On her blog, Avery wrote, “My brain is trying so hard to process this list … Somehow I got preferred for something over an unknown number of authors that probably included at least a few major names who were publishing with major presses.”

The winner will be announced at Mythcon46, which will be held at the Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs, Colorado from July 31 – August 3. The event’s theme is Arthurian Mythos with guests appearances by Jo Walton and John D. Rateliff.

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galina

Last week, a second call has been issued to protest the destruction of antiquities and ancient sacred spaces. Back in April, we noted that Pagan Jack Prewett had called for a Global Day of Mourning as terrorists continued their destruction of ancient cities, including Nimrud and Hatra.

Now, Polytheist Galina Krasskova has issued a call for a “Polytheistic Day of Protest and Remembrance.” Krasskova writes, “This is not a Syrian issue. This is not a Muslim issue. This is a world issue. It is a human issue. Daesh is purposely targeting memory. They’re targeting their history, and their own *physical* connection with their polytheistic ancestors. It is done to demoralize, terrorize, and desecrate.”

On her website, Krasskova encourages everyone to participate in a global silent protest on July 31. She includes a meditation, which she suggests doing 9x that day and then sharing the results with others. She says, “This is a way of holding space for polytheism, ancient and modern, it is a way of drawing a line in the sand and declaring to the world that we stand in solidarity with those whose voices once rang out in praise to a plenitude of Gods and Goddesses. It is a statement that for every stone of every temple destroyed, we will restore that cultus a thousand fold. It is an act of evocation, execration, and magic. We’re still here.”

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paganmarketlogo2small-300x92In response to the recent controversy on Etsy and past conflicts on eBay, a small group of Pagans has announced the development of an online marketplace for “magical supplies.” The Pagan Market, as it is called, will be an online community of shops dedicated to magical supplies, including those banned from other venues.

Blake Greenman Carpenter is spearheading the project and writes, “We all need a break from the outside world sometimes and this site can give us that small clearing in the forest away from the pressures of those who don’t think like we do.” He notes that the site is a big project, and he encourages people to share ideas with him. Carpenter added, “We may start a fundraiser if we feel the funds to build the community site may end up out of our personal budget range, if so there will be extra benefits to helping the cause.

Carpenter also notes that they are currently looking for sponsors and inviting people to volunteer as beta testers. To date, there are already more than 40 responses, most of which are offers to assist, sponsor and beta test. Some of the commenters even specifically mention the closing down of their Etsy shops. Carpenter said that the group hopes to have the Pagan Market up and running around September 21.

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Solar Cross TempleMany Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists are starting to prepare for an October trip to Salt Lake City to attend the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions. Solar Cross Temple, an intrafaith group based in California, has just announced that they have had two programs accepted by the Council. These programs include: Calling the Ancestors Home: A Ritual of Truth and Healing” and “Healing the Wounds of Violence with Restorative Justice.”

Attending the 2015 Parliament and preparing the programs will be Board members “Crystal Blanton, T. Thorn Coyle. Jonathan Korman, and Elena Rose, along with temple member Annika Mongan.” The Temple Board noted that its “members attended the previous Parliament in Melbourne, 2009 and found it to be a tremendous experience.”

In the coming months, more people will be announcing the the Council’s acceptance of their presentations and programs. We will continue to share that exciting news as it comes in. As for Solar Cross, its members are looking forward to attending and, in order to defer the high costs of travel, have started a GoFundMe campaign called, “Send Solar Cross to the Parliament.”

In Other News

  • Did you notice something different at Polytheist.com? The site was relaunched last week with a brand new design. Director Anomalous Thracian said, “It has been rebuilt…with a new engine under the hood and a more stable hosting environment.” In addition, Thracian announced a “quarterly call for submissions” that will happen each solstice and equinoxThe call is for “articles or essays on subjects, topics, perspectives or challenges related to living and practicing Polytheist religions and spiritual traditions today.” Additionally, Polytheist.com is launching a new multi-author column “showcasing entirely anonymous authors, sharing personal and informal accounts of liminal, ritual, magical and ecstatic experiences within their pursuits as Polytheists.”
  • Across the internet at HumanisticPaganism.com, there is another call for submissions. In a blog announcement, HumanisticPaganism editors write, “July 12 is Malala Day,which honors Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist who survived an assassination attempt and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.” They also note that July hosts several “important anniversaries in the Transcendentalist movement.” In honor of Malala and Transcendentalism, HumanisticPaganism.com is looking for essays discussing the themes of “individualism, religious tradition and gender issues.
  • Several members of Idaho’s Pagan community were featured in a local news article called, Potions and Paganism in Boise. The article profiles the metaphysical store, Bella’s Grove and the Tri-Council Academy or the Treasure Valley Pagan community. The reporter writes, “Woventear [owner of Bella’s Grove]…strives to create a space where budding witches and pagans can learn without judgment.” The news article provides a brief look into one of the many thriving, very local Pagan communities nestled in towns throughout the U.S.
  • Filmmaker and artist Antero Alli has announced a “rare screening” of his dark comedy To Dream of Falling Upwards (2011). He writes, “Set in the parallel worlds of an urban magickal order and the rural magic of Castaneda-style desert brujas, a sex magickian accidentally summons a demon who wants to be his best friend.” The screening will take place July 2 at 8 p.m. in Finnish Kaleva Hall in Berkeley, California.
  • A Change.org petition was started to “Legalise Pagan Handfastings in England and Wales.” On Saturday, Melissa Page started the petition asking for 5,000 signatures. In just two days, she has received nearly 3,000 signatures and has already sent one request letter directly to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron MP. Page writes that she is “waiting on a reply,” but more voices are still needed. She encourages people to keep signing.
  • And, one last note, the Celtic Rock Band Dragon’s Head has recently released its very first album called “Songs of the New Old Ways.” Their sound is described as “heavy, melodic, and inspiring …taking their cues from alternative, progressive rock, punk, jazz and Celtic balladry.” You can get a taste of their music and read the inspiration behind making the album at ReverbNation.

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

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On May 1, Courtney Weber’s new book Brigid: History Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess was released by Weiser Books. This is Weber’s first venture in publishing. While reading the book, I found myself most intrigued by the journey that led to the writing this book and by Weber’s personal relationship to the Goddess,Brigid. I decided to contacted her. And, through an interview, I had the opportunity to further explore this aspect of the book and more.

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

[Photo Credit: H. Greene]

The Wild Hunt: I can see that a great deal of work was put into this book, not only through your own journey to learn more about Brigid, but also through the practical wisdom in the questions that you pose and the workings you present. Despite all of that effort and research, what really stands out to me is the story of how this book came to be; the story of the promise you made as a young witch to create this book in exchange for Brigid’s assistance. When I read about that promise I thought of some of the promises that I had made as a young witch and shudder at my foolishness. How do you now look back on your promise?

Courtney Weber: I look back and laugh. I truly underestimated the nature of Witchcraft and the Goddess, Herself. It’s been a blessed, although winding, journey. There were a lot of sacrifices I made along the way and many of them were painful, but now I’d much rather have this book out in the world than have any of the other things I had to give up in order for it to happen. I don’t think anyone could have explained to me the nature of honoring your word in Witchcraft back then. I think the nature of Gods coming to claim their debts is something that needs to be fully experienced, independently.

TWH: At the time you vowed to write this book, is this the end product that you had envisioned it would be? Is there anything you wished you would have, or could have, done differently?

CW: I originally thought I would write a book of poems for Brigid. I think I thought I would fill it up with poems put it on my altar and that would be enough. I bought a blank notebook, wrote two crappy poems, and then an apology note for not finishing it. I guess I thought the apology would be enough. The rest of the book is blank (I still have it). I’m not a great poet—or even a good poet—so I suspect Brigid is happier with my non-fiction. I really wish I had included my footnotes. Someone who proofread it for me suggested I omit them for practical reasons. As it was my first book, I didn’t argue as this person had far more experience in publishing than I. In retrospect, I really regret it. I also would have had my Irish friend who is extremely well-versed in indigenous Irish language and culture give the whole thing a once over as there are a couple of spelling and factual things that could have used tweaking.

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Courtney Weber at a book reading and workshop 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

TWH: In the book, you speak about how blocked you were between the time that you made the promise and the actual writing of the book. How have things changed for you since you’ve upheld your vow?

CW: I now write constantly. I can’t keep up with the ideas I have and opportunities I once fantasized about are absolute realities. This is a far cry from sitting over a blank notebook in a West Village coffee shop with absolutely nothing to put to paper, and conversations with potential literary agents that ended in “No” before I could finish my pitch. Maybe that’s just the journey to being a writer, period. I want to go back and comfort 24 year old me who so frustrated and angry by wanting to write and having nothing to write about. If I’d known, I’d probably have more hair as I wouldn’t have pulled so much out.

TWH: Much of your book is spent delving into the many aspects of Brigid – Brigid as Healer, as Warrior, as Bard, as Earth Goddess. Is there a particular aspect of Brigid that you find yourself most drawn to?

CW: It changes. Recently, with the events of the shooting in Charleston and the #blacklivesmatter movement plus the creation of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York, I’m feeling far more of Brigid the Warrior. Today, I came home from a weekend in New Hampshire and found my Brigid the Warrior effigy knocked off the wall. I’m not sure exactly what that means (other than naughty cats), but I suspect it means I have more Brigid-influenced warrior work to do. Five-seven years ago, I was far more in tune with Brigid the healer. I also flow into Brigid the Mother when I’m with my nephew and niece or my Godchildren. I feel like Brigid has a vested interest in the needs of our world and tweaks her Devotees for the work as necessary.

TWH: The chapter that I enjoyed most was about the Healer. There was a certain part that rang so very true that I read it a few times to let it sink in. In in your wrote, “The task of emotional healing frequently brings up deep wounds from the darkest wells of our souls. When this happens, it’s easy to want to pull back, preferring to exist in familiar illness than take the path of unknown and often uncomfortable healing.” I’m curious, how do you, as a teacher, support your students in diving in to the important and scary places they need to go to find the healing they need?

CW: I want them to know that they have a lifeline—they won’t sink. They also, if they are working with Brigid, need to know that the painful healing is part of the process. When She chips away at that which is holding us back, it doesn’t feel good. Knowing this and knowing it’s part of the process keeps them going so they don’t quit. The pain is temporary. The healing can be permanent if we let it.

TWH: In your writing, you talk about the importance of putting practice and effort into learning a craft and mention that this is “one of the tougher lessons for contemporary practitioners.” How do you think this impacts some Pagans in their spiritual and magickal practices? What role do you think the elders and teachers of our community have in addressing this issue?

CW: I’m a child of the 80’s. Like many of my peers, my schools had “Talented and Gifted” programs. I was never a “TAG” kid. Whether it was math, art, music, or something else, there seemed to be a great deal of emphasis at pulling children’s natural gifts out of them as opposed to teaching them to develop skills and strengths. I’m in my 30s now and I see this among a lot of my peers: if we’re not naturally good at something, we often don’t try and instead we look for something else to do that we are naturally adept at doing.

I do see a lot of students skip the process of honing Magickal abilities or write off aspect of spiritual development because “they’re not good at it.” As a teacher, I am very open about my journey and my mistakes. I want people to know the work that has gone into my talents and abilities. If I make the mistake of letting people believe I’m gifted when in truth, I’m a stubbornly hard worker, I’m not only being dishonest, I’m setting a poor example.

TWH: If there was one thing you would want people to take away from your book, what would it be?

CW: There are several things I hope make an impression. One, that spiritual practice with Brigid is accessible and feasible for the average person. Connection with her doesn’t require elaborate rituals or steep practices. Second, it’s important to me that readers know St. Brigid as not a denigration of the Goddess Brigid and in fact, the incarnation of Brigid as a saint adds to her rich history and lore. Finally, I hope people walk away deeply in love with her history and mythology.

TWH: Where can our readers find you and your book?

CW: I live on the internet. My website is www.thecocowitch.com and my [Facebook] page can be found at this link. I encourage people to ask for the book at their local New Age or occult bookstores, but I also carry it on my website, where I can sign it for people upon request

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WASHINGTON D.C. – The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), in a landmark decision, legalized same sex marriage in the United States of America. On Friday, June 26, SCOTUS issued its 5-4 opinion on the Obergefell v. Hodges case. Kennedy delivered the opinion, opening with, “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”

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Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

Through that opinion, SCOTUS reversed the decision of the lower Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which had upheld same sex marriage bans in four states: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. SCOTUS ruled these bans unconstitutional, saying:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

The Court’s opinion also made it clear that marriages performed legally in one state had to be officially recognized in other states. As SCOTUS ruled:

The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character.

Within the opinion, Justice Kennedy offered an historical perspective, saying that marriage has been central to the “human condition” for “millennia and across civilizations.” While he acknowledged that most of the historical references speak of opposite sex unions, he goes on to say that “The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time.”

Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomeyer. Dissenting opinions came from Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Roberts wrote:

This Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be … Today, however, the Court takes the extraordinary step of ordering every State to license and recognize same-sex marriage. Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration. But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening.

While there are those who directly oppose same sex marriage on religious or philosophical principles, there are others who, like Roberts, feel that the process should have been left to the states and the vote of the people.

Priestess signing legal documentation for a same-sex married couple in Alabama [Courtesy K. Privett-Duren]

Priestess signing legal documentation for a same-sex married couple in Alabama [Courtesy K. Privett-Duren]

As the news flooded the internet, we gathered some reactions from Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists around the country. Here is what they had to say:

Dianne Duggan is a Pagan Priestess who worked for the US government for decades and practiced law. Last year in her in Illinois, she was finally able to legally marry her wife. Duggan said, “Given that marriage is a legal contract, sanctioned by government, I’ve never understood the faith-based arguments against it. Even marriages that take place under religious circumstances must be sanctioned by government through licensing .. Rights are rights. That is that.” Read Duggan’s full comment

Another legal expert, Dana Eilers, author of Pagans and the Law, said that SCOTUS had “affirmed the great American Experiment, which is the separation of church and state.” She went on to say, “Critically, the majority of the Court found that the opponents of gay marriage had failed to provide any foundation for the dire outcomes which gay marriage opponents so often assert. This, to me, is crucial: there was, apparently, no proof offered to support the awful predictions made by the opponents of gender equality in marriage. Proof and evidence are not yet dead in American courts.” Read Eilers full comment.

Heading south, Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren, also known as Rev. Seba O’Kiley, is a Priestess of the Gangani Tribe in Alabama, a marriage equality battle-ground state. Same sex marriage was legalized in February 2015, but state and local officials have been fighting ever since. Privett-Duren said that it “takes the efforts and courage of many to change any inequities in the world.” She added that this impulse to enact change should be a “human one born of the need to set things right.” Privett-Duren added:

I am saddened at the responses of some of my Southern friends and family to the SCOTUS ruling.  However, this is only a small faction of our South and will, inevitably, become only another archaic echo of a culture’s growing pains. ….  My tribe and I hold firm that we can be both Southern and progressive.  And while my neighbors are truly heartbroken at the SCOTUS decision, it is my hope that they will one day see that any oppression to any people oppresses us all. Read Privett-Duren’s full comment

Wizzard Rodney Hall, a transgender and pansexual Pagan from Alabama, said, “It has been a long march from … Stonewall riots to the marriage equality decision by SCOTUS … Though I told my partner after SCOTUS struck down DOMA … that this was a landmark decision and we were on a downward slope toward equal marriage rights, I had no clue that it would move this fast.” Like Privett-Duren, Hall knows that there will be some conflict within the state, saying “In Lee County AL, where I live, our courthouse was closed today until they review the SCOTUS decision. There is also Alabama Senate Bill 377 still pending, which seeks to replace marriage licenses with a contract process … Though we still face obstruction from bigots and the ill-informed religious right, I feel that we are on the upswing.”

From Georgia, two Pagans shared their thoughts. Blogger Sara Amis said, “I think it’s important to emphasize the religious equality angle. Pagans, who by and large are happy to recognize same-sex unions, should not be constrained by the beliefs of other faiths in this matter. And now we won’t be.” Amis went on to say that for bisexuals, like herself, “not being invisible matters. Social recognition matters.” Then she added, “And speaking as a Pagan, symbols matter. Rituals matter.” Read Amis’ full comment.

And, Benratu, a Witch and native Georgian, agreed, saying, “I am thrilled to see our leaders make the right decision!” He lamented that for so long he has been unable to “share the same rights and privileges as the rest of the country.” Benratu said “[It]is now possible. I felt a great sigh of relief.” Like Hall and Privett, Benratu also expressed a concern that the ruling may trigger a backlash and increased incidents of homophobic violence. However, he added, “My hope is this will bring our country together and user in more acceptance of different viewpoints.”

Friday Celebrations in Midtown Atlanta [Courtesy S. Amis]

Friday Celebrations in Midtown Atlanta [Courtesy S. Amis]

California-based author and activist T. Thorn Coyle took a more radical position, saying, “I stand for love, yet haven’t joined in very active support of what some people call ‘gay marriage’ or others call equal rights because the struggle feels much, much larger.” She explained, “..allowing two men or two women to marry one another just isn’t enough. It isn’t the sort of equality I really want. I’m more queer than that, and more of an anarchist, of course. I desire equity far more pluralistic than the simple replication of a state sanctioned nuclear family.” Read Coyle’s full comment

Also hailing from California, Rev. Patrick McCollum shared his thoughts, saying, “As one who has worked for gay rights for more than thirty years, I am elated that one of the fundamental rights that we’ve all fought for so long has finally come to be.” McCollum tied the ruling’s importance to his beliefs. He wrote, “Just as we speak of the interconnectedness of all things in a spiritual context, we must also realize that the same principles apply in our mundane lives. How we make space for everyone and how we honor the sacredness of diversity speaks directly to who we are as a people.” Read McCollum’s full comment.

Like McCollum, Rev. Selena Fox has been an longtime activist working for LBGQT equality and religious rights. When Friday’s ruling was handed down, Fox called for a celebration, saying, “I am glad that the USA has now joined the 20 other countries in the world that have legalized same sex marriage — and it is my hope that there will be marriage equality in every nation on this planet.” She said that she has been performing same sex handfastings since the 1980s with the first one in 1983, and assisting with the first legal handfasting at Pagan Spirit Gathering in 2014. Read Fox’ full comment.

Jumping the Broom. Sparky T. Rabbit and Ray 1984. One of the first same sex marriages at PSG [Courtesy PSG Archives]

Jumping the Broom. Sparky T. Rabbit and Ray 1984. One of the first same sex marriages at PSG [Courtesy PSG Archives]

Finally, in Washington D.C., we caught up with witch and activist David Salisbury, who works for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). He said:

This enormous victory really speaks for itself. For years I’ve been involved with fighting state-by-state and we’ve seen many victories and some losses. Now that marriage equality is the law of the land, I can’t wait to shift my focus on the other important areas where LGBT people are still not equal. In most states, you can now get married on Sunday and fired on Monday. We now need employment and housing nondiscrimination as soon as possible. But for now, I will celebrate here in DC with the many people involved in this movement, and in spirit with many others around the nation. Love won, and that deserves a celebration.

Agreeing with Salisbury, Circle Sanctuary minister Vic Wright from Kentucky said, “It is a blessed day when the Supreme Court chooses to uphold the law … Now on to the next issues.” In her reaction statement, Fox also looked forward, saying, “We need to be vigilant and take action to counter attempts by bigoted forces that already are planning to undermine this victory under the guise of ‘religious freedom.’ ” Of course, she is referring to the RFRAs, which could potentially be used to counter this ruling. Whether that happens or not is up for debate

California-based Heathen Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir also expressed the need to keep pressing for rights by offering this call-to-action, “The fire is hot, the iron is stoked and burning bright, let’s strike at other issues that affect the lives of the rest of us who live under the “rainbow umbrella … Let’s keep the pressure on our legislators to provide the protections and dignity that we deserve in every facet of our lives; queer, trans, bi, however one chooses to identify.” Read Odinsdottir’s full comment.

The HRC, as an organization, also agrees that there is much work to be done. After issuing its celebratory statement, it turned its focus immediately to remaining problems by sending out a second statement that called for all “state officials to remove obstacles to marriage equality immediately.” These obstacles, for example, include such things as the closed Alabama courthouses noted earlier by Hall, and the public response by Louisiana’s Governor. Just after the SCOTUS ruling, Gov. Jindal issued his own opposing statement, going as far as saying, “Let’s just get rid of the court.” Louisiana is one of the few states that didn’t issue licenses on Friday.

However, not all the remaining 13 states, which prior to Friday’s ruling didn’t issue same sex licenses, were opposed. Georgia reportedly issued the very first same-sex license after the ruling was issued. In Texas, people lined up to get married. Along with the ceremonies, celebrations have happened and will continue throughout the weekend.

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Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

Kasha, a Wiccan Priestess from Florida who is currently serving as National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, called for a moment of remembrance. She said, “I … hope we pause during our celebrations to honor those involved in this struggle that did not live to see this day – those that inspired the fight, endured persecution and violence, and lived and died with secrets.” Read Kasha’s full comment.

And, Jesse Hathaway Diaz, proprietor of The Wolf and Goat, shared this advice going forward, “I’m a firm believer in the ladder principle – if you are going to ascend the ladder, you must bring someone up to your current rung, or you backslide. Nature abhors a vacuum. Let the ‘victory’ of today similarly be a tool. Bring others to the current rung – what we envision should be a reality. Do not be complacent. Share the success. Advance others….. Help others understand why it’s worth sharing. Help others be able to share it with us someday.” Read Hathaway’s full comment.

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I thought I was a strong swimmer. But I was also seventeen, and I thought I knew everything.

It was hot, and the Delaware River was refreshingly cool. I can do this, I said to myself, perhaps a little too confidently. I stood at the bank of the Pennsylvania side, with my eye on a small sandy landing across the river in New Jersey. I jumped in and made it across easily, then without really thinking about it I quickly turned around and swam back.

Halfway back, I learned quickly that I wasn’t as strong of a swimmer as I thought, and that I should have given myself more time to rest before attempting the trip back. I was caught in the current, and started to move sideways instead of across. Foolishly I tried to fight it; tried to swim against the current and, as I started to drift downstream, I quickly tired myself out.

I felt myself losing the battle, and allowed the current to carry me for a while. I struggled to stay afloat, felt myself starting to drown, found myself reflecting in that panicked moment how this is never what it looks like on TV or in the movies, all while still facing upstream and still attempting to swim back the way I came. I tried floating on my back but the river kept pulling me down. Knowing that there wasn’t a human in sight that could hear a scream for help, I started shouting the names of every deity I could think of at that moment, but yelling for only those few seconds quickly weakened me further. I switched from screams to silent thoughts as I felt I was about to go under, my last concern being that I didn’t tell anyone I was even going for a swim in the first place.

And then I literally smacked into a ton of bricks. I had been facing upstream the entire time, and in all my struggling I didn’t notice that there was a bridge behind me. I landed on a masonry pier, and the height of the water was at an exact level that I found myself seated on the ledge of the pier before I even realized where I was. The moment I was about to go under, the bridge had provided a chair for me to rest.

I sat there for the next few hours, first to catch my breath, then to reflect. I had done a very foolish thing, and I nearly paid with my life. I owed that life to what I would have always considered to be an inanimate object … until that moment of collision. There was something so alive about the pier; the way an old tree or the river itself felt alive. And the longer I sat there on the edge of the pier, in a strange dazed delirium filled with fear and gratitude, the more I felt a very deep connection with stones themselves, even more so than I had every felt from a tree or a river. There was a true mutual appreciation in that moment: I appreciated the pier for being where it was, and the pier seemed to appreciate my just sitting on it for a few hours in contemplation. I thought about the people who constructed that pier, each brick laid down by hand, the literal sweat and blood that went into this structure that held me in a time of need.

When I felt rested and clear-headed enough, I prepared to swim back to the riverbank. I found myself thanking the pier profusely, at that point having the same regard for its spirit and sentience as I would any person or animal, and right before I jumped back in the river I asked the pier to wish me luck and if possible to see me over to the other side. The swim back was easy, and by the time I landed on the riverbank the only pain I felt was a bruise on my side from when I had smacked into the pier.

The bridge that caught me. Photo by Aerolin55.

The bridge that caught me. [Photo Credit: Aerolin55]

After asking around a bit the next day, I learned that, although the bridge had been rebuilt three times, the pier was the original and had been standing in that water for over 150 years. Other than the river itself, those masonry piers were the just about the oldest thing around. This made sense to me, as the pier definitely felt old, and yet there still was something much more to that pier, something much deeper than age alone.

That pier had life; that pier had spirit. That pier had imprinted something unshakable upon me.

*   *   *

It may be painfully typical to state that such an experience dramatically shifts one’s perspective on life, but it’s the only way to describe the transformation that I went through in the months after the bridge incident. Not only was I grateful for and deliberate in my existence in a way that I couldn’t have imagined beforehand, but I became fascinated by and fixated on both spirits and bridges in various ways.

After spending a few months processing what happened at the bridge, I left home and started to couch-surf with friends in New York City, first in lower Manhattan and then in Brooklyn. At first, I took with me only my backpack and a small bag of possessions that most would consider mere knick-knacks but I saw as infused with consciousness and spirit. Among those possessions was a small piece of moss that I had pulled off the masonry pier.

I loved so much about Brooklyn, but I loved the bridges the most. I found myself mesmerized by the bridges; first by their structures themselves and then by the lush history behind their existence. I spent hours in the library, drinking in stories of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, and later the Verrazano.

 

Verrazano Bridge from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Photo by Alley Valkyrie.

Verrazano Bridge from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. [Photo by A. Valkyrie.]

The stories also revealed a darker side, one I had never considered before. Those who financed and engineered such bridges were usually remembered by history as those responsible for the bridge itself, not so much the workers who gave their labor and often their lives to actually bring the bridge into existence. Similar to the building of the railroads, those who actually built the bridges were mostly forgotten while those who backed it are remembered and glorified. Also forgotten were those who were displaced by the building of such bridges. Planning for the Verrazano Bridge, which broke ground in 1959, wiped out an entire stretch of neighborhood in Bay Ridge; bulldozing Victorian-era brownstones, and displacing working-class families and second-generation immigrants who had nowhere else to go in a rapidly developing city. The cruelty and injustice inherent in such urban planning was no different than today’s urban gentrification battles that raged throughout Brooklyn as well as cities across the nation.

I loved and appreciated those bridges, but did I ever shutter deep down whenever I thought of the true cost, whenever I consider the ghosts of a generation uprooted.

*   *   *

Nearly a decade after the bridge incident, I packed my things and moved across the country. I didn’t have time to say goodbye to that bridge when I left, but I kept it in my thoughts and my prayers as I was saying goodbye to the East Coast, to Brooklyn, to the bridges that I had adopted as my own in the years that I was a resident of New York City. I took only what I could carry in my van with the front area behind my seat reserved for carefully-packed boxes containing, what I then referred to as, ‘spirit-items’.

On day five in the car, driving along the Columbia Gorge in Oregon less than an hour from Portland. I suddenly saw a sign. Bridge of the Gods, it said.

I turned off at the exit.

The bridge looked rather modern, almost disappointingly so, but a historical plaque told an intriguing story about an ancient bridge that once stood in that spot. There was a natural land-bridge that once blocked the river, that was the subject of various folkloric tales from indigenous tribes that populated the area prior to European settlement.

There was something about stumbling upon local mythology, around gods and bridges, so close to the end of my journey to a new home that struck me in a very significant way.

I walked down to the base of bridge, going as far down the steep riverbank as I safely could manage. I introduced myself, and left a few coins at the base. Despite its newness, despite its lack of any real connection to the historic ‘Bridge of the Gods’, there was something about it that still felt sacred.

Walking back up, a rock the size of a golf ball bounced down straight towards me. I stopped it with my foot, picked it up, and put it in my bag. I slipped it into the special box right behind the front seat.

Eight years ago, eight moves ago.

*   *   *

“Hey, would you mind holding onto Grandpa for me? I really don’t have a safe place for him and … well … you’ve already got a big collection of dead things that you take care of …”

‘Grandpa’ was a jar of ashes; more specifically the ashes of my ex’s grandfather who had passed over during the first year of our relationship. Grandpa had indeed found a comfortable spot among my various collections of dead things over the course of our relationship.

We were at the point in the break-up process in which we were dividing our things in preparation for his move back to the Midwest, and I was deliberately forcing a mindset of collaboration and compassion in order to maintain my sanity. I had already been keeping an eye on Grandpa as though he were my responsibility. It seems sensible to maintain what was already routine for me.

“Of course, don’t worry.” I replied. “Leave Grandpa right where he is, I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Five years ago, five moves ago.

The Patio of Living Things, circa 2010. 'Grandpa' is hidden in the corner behind the lavender.

The Patio of Living Things, circa 2010. ‘Grandpa’ is hidden in the corner behind the lavender. [Photo: A. Valkyrie]

It was never made clear at the time whether my custody of Grandpa was temporary or permanent, but Grandpa seems to have become a perpetual addition to the strange assortment of items that I had been carrying around. The assortment has grown considerably since I was in my late teens, an assortment of items that themselves possess spirit and soul to the extent where simple ideas of ‘ownership’ quickly evolve into reverent caretaking of a very peculiar kind.

*   *   *

I knew he was severely depressed to the point where he was possibly suicidal, and I knew that a change of environment can often positively shift someone that is in such a state. It was only a few days after I started scheming on how to get him out here that a thousand dollars literally dropped into my lap unexpectedly in a way that only happens when greater forces are at work. I bought him a plane ticket from upstate New York to Eugene and, a few weeks later, we were headed down the 101 in my van, packed for camping and exploring.

We drove for ten days, down from Florence, Oregon all the way to Mendocino and back, stopping at every place that looked interesting and many other places that were simply quiet and serene. We camped in the redwoods, on the coast, on the bank of the Russian River. He ran right in, I timidly waded up to my knees and stood in contemplation. I took a few steps more but wouldn’t go in past my waist.

He asked why, I told him. “Once bitten, twice shy,” I said when I finished the story.

He nodded. We shared many other stories that week, of close calls and near-death experiences, as well as darker experiences such as self-harm and suicide. He admitted to me that he had contemplated killing himself, both in the past and very recently. I nodded; I had sensed as much. I didn’t have to say aloud that such worries were why I flew him out here … it was unspoken but understood.

By the time we got back to Eugene, the van was filled with various objects, both natural and man-made, that we had amassed over the course of our trip. He had the same sense and affinity for what he called ‘living’ objects as I did. Much of our trip consisted of stumbling upon such wonders like small children, giggling as we left offerings in return.

As he packed up to return to New York, we both tried in vain to fit the entirety of his new collection in his baggage, cramming nearly everything except for a pile of bark and a bag of meticulously chosen and extremely ‘living’ bunch of sticks that he had intended to carve an ogham set with.

“I have to leave that all here. You can have the bark,” he said. “But I would love that bag of sticks back from you one day.”

“I’ll give them back to you the next time I see you,” I replied.

Four years ago, four moves ago.

bag copy

[Photo: A. Valkyrie]

Eighteen months after he left, I got a message from a mutual friend. Call me immediately, the message said, followed by her phone number. My throat tightened; I knew instantly that he had done it; that he had committed suicide.

I called her to confirm what I already knew and subsequently broke down for several hours. At one point, I looked over at the bag of sticks, hanging on the door, and remembered my words to him.

“I’m still going to hold onto your sticks until I see you again,” I said aloud.

A few days later, I placed them with the rest of the collection.

*   *   *

When I knew I had to leave Eugene, I surrendered my fate to the Gods, who very quickly and bluntly guided me to a tiny little studio, 100 yards from the river, smack dab between two of Portland’s most iconic bridges. I didn’t even begin to question it, I simply accepted it and settled in.

The tone had been instantly set for my Work in this new place, and the very first action I took even before signing the least was to make offerings at the bases of both bridges. I thanked the bridges for their presence and their function, I made prayers and offerings to those who were sacrificed in the construction of the bridge, and to those who had taken their lives by jumping. I also made prayers and offerings for those who currently lived under the bridges, those who we tend to label as ‘homeless’ and ‘mentally ill’ and ‘addicts.’

The studio was just under 400 square feet. Realizing that there was not enough room to unpack the majority of my possessions, within a few months I put myself on a waiting list for a bigger space in the same building, unheeded by the warning from management that it could take well over a year to happen. The studio served an immediate purpose in terms of survival and a place to print, but was unsuitable as a place of worship or Work. I took my worship and Work to the riverbank, to the bridges, building altars on abandoned piers and stone foundations.

rivermile11 copy

[Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

Against the wall in my studio, meticulously stacked boxes, boxes containing packed up altars and places of offering, boxes containing those packed up objects-turned-obligations. Bones and sticks, including ‘Grandpa’ and the ogham bag, the rock from the Bridge of the Gods and the moss from the bridge that saved me, all in safe storage, in plain sight and yet obscured by corrugated cardboard.

One year ago, one move ago.

There’s something admittedly strange and yet comforting in talking to boxes, feeding them and caring for them just as you would were they outside of the box. I kept an eye on them, checked up on them constantly, awaiting the day when I would be able to unpack them again and put them in their proper places.

*   *   *

There have been well over 200 drownings in Oregon in the past decade The vast majority of them occurring in rivers in the Willamette Valley.

I don’t have the luxury of believing in coincidence, so it only seemed perfectly natural that I stumbled across a detailed list of those drownings the same day that my computer screen was filled with headlines and opinions focused on the racial dynamics of a pool-party incident in Texas. Browsing the list of drownings, it struck me immediately that a significant number of those who have drowned in Oregon were people of color, in a state that is overwhelmingly white.

In a vastly unequal society where minorities and the poor were both historically and still presently denied access to safe, publicly accessible bodies of water, it sadly makes sense that so many would seek to relieve themselves from the heat in the rivers, and meet a tragic fate in doing so. Learning how to swim, learning what to do when one is in danger of drowning, and being able to safely access bodies of water when it is hot, are basic needs in terms of public safety that should be accessible to anyone and everyone in this country, regardless of race, socioeconomics, or documented status.

I read through the list again, this time focusing on the descriptions of the incidents. It hit a tender nerve when I read through accounts of drownings that resulted from those who thought that they could swim across a river. It has been more than fifteen years since I nearly drowned, but after having relived the incident more times in my mind than I ever care to acknowledge, the naivete and commonality of my mistake still reverberates. I thought I was a strong swimmer, I still cling to occasionally in defense. I thought I was a strong swimmer.

But there’s a piece of moss on my altar that will always remind me otherwise.

With those thoughts swirling through my mind, I went down to the base of the nearest bridge, as close to the water as I could get, with flowers for those who have died in the river. I petitioned the bridge and the land spirits to do what they could to protect those who may be floating by in distress. I spent a moment in touch with my inner terror, that taste of death that has never quite left me since my own dip in the river years before, and I whispered prayers of protection towards the opposite side as I let that terror go on the riverbank.

*   *   *

It has been unbearably hot this past week, as my partner and I moved boxes from the tiny studio to a larger space in the same building, after nearly a year of waiting for such a space to open up. The new place faces the river just across the street, and the breeze from the Willamette blows directly into my new living-room and bedroom. It’s at least fifteen degrees cooler than the studio, which faced southward with very little breeze.

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[Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

Unpacking the boxes, with layers of altars and old friends hidden away for nearly fifteen months, becomes an unexpectedly emotional reunion. Bits and pieces of my life and journeys all spread out for my eyes to take in, each infused with life and spirit as well as countless stories. I uncover Grandpa and sit him on a shelf; I find the bag of ogham sticks and hang the bag out on the patio. I dust off my friends, I smile, and for the first time in years I know I’m exactly where I should be.

Now. Here.

A hundred yards from the river, between two bridges, I finally feel like I am home.

 *   *   *

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

 

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Etsy, a widely-used site for selling handcrafted and other items online, sent shockwaves through the Pagan online vendor community by clarifying a company policy on spell-related items. While “clarify” was the word officially used to describe the action, in effect the change banned even a whiff of the supernatural in the names and descriptions of items for sale. An email sent to shop owners advised of the policy updates, but it wasn’t until items — and entire shops — were being disallowed that people really started to notice.

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An article on the policy shift at the Daily Dot explained what has changed:

 . . . under Etsy’s previous rules, spells and hexes were allowed to be sold, as long as they fit two criteria: They didn’t guarantee results, and they produced something tangible. . . . Recently, however, Etsy quietly adopted new guidelines that prohibit the sale of spells and hexes. According to its new rules, ‘any metaphysical service that promises or suggests it will effect a physical change (e.g., weight loss) or other outcome (e.g., love, revenge) is not allowed, even if it delivers a tangible item.’

As reported by The Daily Dot, Shop owners reported notifications of suspensions as early as June 9. They were given no advance notice that their shop or item descriptions would have to be changed.

Etsy spokesperson Sara Cohen spoke to The Wild Hunt using nearly identical wording to the responses given to the Daily Dot, as well as the phrasing in the policy itself. This suggests that the message is being tightly controlled. She said:

Services have always been prohibited on Etsy. Any service that does not yield a new, tangible, physical item is not allowed (for example: tailoring, restoring or repairing an item, photographic retouching or color correction).

We’ve recently updated our policies to reflect that this includes metaphysical services that promise or suggest a resulting physical change (i.e. weight loss) or other abstract outcome (i.e. fortune or luck), even if they deliver a physical object. We appreciate that it is a tricky, nuanced area, and our policy and enforcement teams weigh many factors to fairly, reasonably and consistently enforce our policies.

By tightening restrictions in the metaphysical arena and in “clarifying” the policy, Etsy has also removed the categories of ‘Religious Services and Readings’ and ‘Spells, Rituals and Readings’ entirely. It is following in the footsteps of eBay, who banned the sale of curses, spells, hexes, magic, prayers, blessings, magic potions, healing sessions and similar items and services in 2012, despite a petition signed by 2,845 people in opposition. Unlike eBay, Etsy did not give its vendors clear advance warning, which might explain why a similar petition seeking to end this ban has gathered 6,180 signatures to date.

[Courtesy Astrelle] Goddess ritual bath salts removed from her shop.

[Courtesy Astrelle] Goddess ritual bath salts removed from her shop.

The organizer of the Etsy petition drive, Astrelle, runs the Celestial Secrets shop on Etsy. What happened to her and others she spoke to didn’t suggest that the implementation of the new policy was done reasonably:

I had some listings deactivated by Etsy for not fitting within the parameters of their guidelines, though I have been luckier than most. I have noticed stores with more items that they consider ‘services’ than not have been entirely removed. I have been told this erases all of their customer info and wipes their shops. Many have said this happened without warning. I have been in contact with other shop owners, and some have said they only received warning after their shops were deactivated.

Astrelle’s experience, as well as those she reported, were very different from the approach that Etsy representative Cohen said has been taken:

Our goal is to support as much of the metaphysical community on Etsy as possible, and that is why we worked hard to reach out to individual sellers to help bring them into compliance.

To be clear, we are not shutting down all metaphysical shops as part of this policy update; we’re contacting only those shops or items that violate our policies. Sellers may continue to sell astrological charts, tarot readings, and other tangible objects, as long as they are not making a promise that object will effect a physical change or other outcome, such as weight loss, love, revenge, or a medical cure or claim.

While gauging the full scope of the reaction is difficult, there were a number of comments on various threads indicating support for the protection against fraud, while others attacked the alleged lack of consistency in enforcement. One commenter said, “What’s funny is that ebay stopped allowing spells to be sold over a year ago-and all the crazies went to Etsy; the ‘big booty’ ‘penis enlargment’ and ‘breast augmentation’ spells were all over Etsy. They allow those but not spell kits?”

As some users tried to parse the meaning of the word “suggest,” others, including petitioner Astrelle, saw a pattern in the shops and items being targeted for removal; a pattern that gave Christian-themed merchandise a pass. Thelemite blogger Scott Stenwick put it this way:

The problem, though, is that mainstream religion gets a pass on metaphysical claims in the minds of many people, and it’s starting to look like the Etsy admins are no exception.

The example of someone told to change a ‘spell kit’ to a ‘prayer kit’ is precisely what I’m talking about. A prayer that is intended to produce a tangible effect is the same thing as a spell. Also, a ‘kit’ is not a service but rather a collection of items, so why that would fall under the new policy remains a mystery to me — unless there’s an admin out there who just doesn’t like the word ‘spell.’

Spokesperson Cohen addressed that concern by saying, “We would like to be clear that this is NOT targeted at witches, Wiccans, or any religion. Etsy strongly believes in freedom of thought, expression, and religion, and we will never institute a policy that discriminates against sellers for their religious beliefs or practices.” And, when asked about items such as the St. Christopher medallion which was linked to by both Stenwick and The Daily Dot, she replied, “Due to the nature of our platform, where anyone may list anything at any time, it is possible that a service may appear for sale on the site before our enforcement teams have a chance to remove it. Members are welcome to flag these items and report them to us; we have a timely review process for all flags.”

[Courtesy Astrelle] Money Cones; one of the items removed from Etsy.

[Courtesy Astrelle] Money Cones; one of the items removed from her Etsy shop.

Nevertheless, the change has generated interest in finding alternatives to Etsy. Some shop owners are disheartened by the sanctions imposed, or are struggling to rewrite item descriptions to fit in the newly-clarified guidelines. Others don’t feel comfortable including disclaimers stating that their products are not intended to help, heal, diagnose, or do anything else in any way. They feel that such wording would run counter to the intent of the magic, and could well invalidate any spells actually cast.

“This is a part of my kind of people’s religious views! I don’t see how it’s anyone’s else business,” wrote Jenya, a Russian Pagan who was left very confused by the new rules.

Among the alternatives are lesser-known platforms like Square, Storenvy, and Folksy, which is only available in the United Kingdom. It’s also possible to simply sell through one’s own web site. None of those options can match the internet reach of Etsy, but a less establish seller needs to be engaging in some kind of marketing to drive traffic regardless. For top Etsy sellers, the revenue hit may be significant.

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina – Last week the small southern city of Charleston, South Carolina was rocked to its foundation as news spread of a mass murder inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, also called, “Mother Emanuel.” Wednesday night, after services ended, a small number of people remained for an 8 p.m. Bible Study. A stranger entered the old church, and he was invited to join them. One hour later, that stranger opened fire, killing 9 of the 12 people in the Church.

[Photo Credit: Cal Sr from Newport, NC]

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church [Photo Credit: Cal Sr from Newport, NC]

While police worked to locate and arrest suspect Dylann Roof, the city of Charleston was left to deal with the aftermath. According to witnesses and a later confession, the suspect reportedly made his racially-motivated mission very clear. He wanted to start a race war. As news spread across the nation, there was a collective pause, while the country came to grips with this act of home-grown terrorism. What would happen next?

Solitary Pagan Tyanna lives in South Carolina. She said, “When I heard what happened I was at a loss for words. I could not believe what had happened. I thought to myself, ‘With all of the people out there in other countries that hate and want to kill us, we have to worry about people like this at home too.'”

Tyanna grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal church (AME). She had been to Mother Emanuel many times. She recalled, “That church has been home to many quarterly conferences and is full of history. I went there myself as a child and climbed the narrow steps to the balcony to hide from the adults with my friends.” She and her family knew several of the victims. She said, “I can’t believe that they are gone … It is hard to know you won’t see that person again. But we are all praying, and we know they are not in pain anymore.”

Kelly Scott, chairwoman of the Charleston Area Lowcountry Council of Alternative Spiritual Traditions, remarked that she is “struggling to understand the whole tragedy on a personal spiritual level.” Scott explained, “I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the fact that this senseless act of violence happened on sacred ground. It does not matter that my spiritual path is different from those at Mother Emanuel … what matters is the sacredness of where they were when this occurred. The men and women opened their house of worship to a stranger, what we should all strive to do, to share and learn in comfort without judgment, and became victims of a deep-seeded [sic] hatred…”

Charleston is called “The Holy City” because of the number of churches or church steeples visible in its downtown area. Additionally, the history of many of those buildings is remarkable. Mother Emanuel is the oldest AME church in the South and reportedly “houses the oldest black congregation” south of Baltimore. Similarly, Charleston is home to the oldest Jewish Synagogue and the oldest Unitarian Universalist Church in the South.

[Photo Credit: H. Greene] Angel Oak

[Photo Credit: H. Greene] Angel Oak

Charleston breathes history. It cannot be escaped. The stones in the streets hold the secrets of generations. The ivy, which creeps up the historic buildings, have stories to tell. In a similar way to old southern port cities of New Orleans or Savannah, ancestors speak in the wind, tickling the Spanish moss that hangs from the live oaks. If you listen, the history of the land and all of its people can be heard – both the horrors and the joys. Within these grounds is the famous Angel Oak, one of the oldest trees on the East Coast. It has stood witness to all of this history for over 500 years. Like the city’s modern day residents, the Oak is now adding another chapter to Charleston’s story.

As the shock wore off and people began to react, the city surprised the nation. South Carolina resident Holli Emore, director of Cherry Hill Seminary, said, “The people of Charleston – really all of South Carolina – did the opposite of what the shooter anticipated. We came together, in love, in pride, in humility and compassion.” Like Tyanna, Emore knew one of victims, Senator Clementa Pinckney. She added, “So many parts of the web of connections [are] now broken and tangled, so much sadness.”

But by Sunday, Mother Emanuel reopened for service. Thousands of people arrived to listen. People of all races, ethnicities, and religions. Despite the soaring temperatures, the city was packed, and buses were running to and from the historic area just to help ease traffic. Emore’s husband, Clyde Roberts, works for the American Red Cross. He has been stationed downtown to assist for several days. He recalled seeing the owner of a local events management company set up tents around town in order to help bring shade to the thousands of people at the vigils and services. People brought water and food supplies. The entire city was trying to come together, making new connections and untangling old ones.

On Sunday night, the crowds walked across the iconic Charleston bridge, coming from both sides to meet in the middle. Roberts and Emore speculate that there were 15,000 people in the area that night. Emore said, “Charlestonians are proud that they have come together.”  All of those people that we interviewed expressed the same feeling. Tyanna said that the population is showing “unity and forgiveness” in the face of this violence. She added, “The overall feeling went from shock to one of racial harmony.”

[Courtesy H. Emore] Pagan Prayer Service in Charleston 2015

[Courtesy H. Emore] Pagan Prayer Service in Charleston 2015

Along with the Emanuel opening, there was a city-wide call for all faith groups to hold their own services at the same time. Priestess SIRI of Coven Earthbound decided to take up that call and hosted an open Pagan ritual in Wannamaker County Park in North Charleston. She said, “There were many opportunities to go and pray throughout the Charleston area. There didn’t seem to be anyone stepping up to do a Pagan prayer service so I felt called to do so. I felt it was important for us as Pagans to express our love for the victims, their families and their church.”  It was well-attended and even attracted a few onlookers. She said, “We rang our bells in unison as I spoke the names and ages of each victim one by one … ”

[Courtesy H. Emore] Priestess Siri (in blue) leads Pagan Prayer Service

[Courtesy H. Emore] Priestess Siri (in blue) leads Pagan Prayer Service

Emore attended this event and noted that one of the participants said, “[AME]’s black community is showing us all what should be done. We have so much to learn.” Another women stood up and said, “We didn’t do this. But we’ve all been part of this happening. I want to apologize for my ancestors role in making this happen.” Emore said there were many tears.

These expressions of unity continued as the days progressed. Scott said, “I as a community leader am so very proud of my Pagan community as well as the Charleston community as a whole. We have not let such a malicious act of vile bigotry divide us … Our spirituality is deeply treasured and it will be the rock that we continue to stand on to rise above this tragedy.”

SIRI said, “We are Charleston Strong.”

Charleston’s small size, its living history and its mark as ‘The Holy City’ are all part of the magic that is helping to bind its people together. Tyanna said, “I hear so many things happening it is very hard to keep track, but what’s important is everybody is showing solidarity.”

Like the others interviewed, she used the word “pray” multple times. Tyanna said, “I pray for the victims and their families. I also pray for the family of Mr. Roof. Most people don’t understand why but you must realize that they are victims too. Although they did not pull the trigger to some people they are guilty by association. Not that [they] are all completely without blame …. but there are family members who are. I haven’t been Christian in a very long time, but I do remember that the Bible teaches forgiveness.”

As the city came together in prayer and in compassion, another issue bubbled to the surface in the wake of the discussions on racially-charged violence. There was immediate call to take down the Confederate flag from the State Capitol. Since Friday, there have been numerous “take down the flag” rallies in Columbia, South Carolina. Emore and other local Pagans attended one event saying, “it was beautiful and moving … People were embracing, smiling, weeping.”

Tyanna has joined a newly formed group called “Bring it down.” She said that, in the year 2000, a similar rally would have had 50% or less of its attendees supporting the removal of the flag. Now that number is much higher. Tyanna added that, in recent days, corporations, such as NASCAR, Amazon, eBay, and WalMart, have banned products with the flag or publicly distanced themselves from it.

The Confederate flag is a part of the South’s past, in various incarnations. NPR has published a short, but detailed, look at that timeline. As a native Southerner Scott said, “I for one am a member, as well as the other women in my family, of the Daughters of the Revolution and Daughters of the Confederacy and the flag is part of my history. I cannot change that. I can only learn from it.” Scott believes that the flag does not need to be on “statehouse grounds” but rather in a museum.

Since the “bring it down” call was resurrected, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who is from a Sikh background, has spoken out in support of removing the flag from the State Capitol. And, just yesterday, Alabama’s governor took down the Confederate flag from its State Capitol. A number of other Southern states have reportedly proposed phasing out the symbol on licenses plates.

Despite this growing movement to retire the Confederate flag to the annals of history, there are still many who disagree, either saying that its a piece Southern heritage or saying that its removal will not fix any social problems or stop racism. The conversation is on-going.

[Courtesy Photo] South Carolina Pagan Tyanna

[Courtesy Photo] South Carolina Pagan Tyanna

While there is still real lingering fear, especially among black residents and churches, Charleston and the people of South Carolina seem driven to continue supporting each other in the healing process as the victims are given private and public services. There have been two charities set up to help the families and Mother Emanuel. Around the country, many religious groups have been staging regular services and memorials devoted specifically to the Church and the victims.

Tyanna advised Pagans outside of South Carolina, “Help where you can. Join rallies; attend services. Do what you think is helpful and kind.” She said that a difference of religion shouldn’t stop you. “You aren’t helping another faith. You are just helping people.” And, Tyanna’s words express perfectly what the people of Charleston want the rest of the country to hear and see. They are “Charleston strong” in prayer, in compassion, in love, in respect, and in support of each other for social justice, peace, change, and growth into the future. The city is not perfect but its their city.

In honor of the lives of those killed:

Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons Sr and Myra Thompson.

What is remembered, lives.

 

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EARLVILLE, Illinois – On Sunday June 14, the opening day of a week long Pagan festival called Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), it stormed at the Stonehouse Farm campground as it had done all the previous week. Then on the following Monday afternoon, a flash flood hit the camp. Cars and trucks were engulfed in mud and water up to their axles. People had to abandon their tents and spend the night in other attendees’s tents that were located on higher ground. They were cold, worried, and many had only the clothes on their backs.

Then it rained some more. The next morning, Tuesday, attendees were stunned to hear the announcement: Pagan Spirit Gathering was shutting down five days early. Everyone had to leave within 48 hours. This had never happened in the 35 year history of the Pagan camping festival.

Pagan Spirit Gathering 2014 [Photo Credit: F. Edwards-Miller]

Pagan Spirit Gathering 2014 [Photo Credit: F. Edwards-Miller]

Pagan Spirit Gathering is the biggest, and arguably most well-known, of the Pagan camping festivals. It lasts a full week and is sponsored by Circle Sanctuary. Beginning in 1980, PSG attracts over a thousand attendees, and it hosts over 400 events.

The decision to close the festival wasn’t made lightly. PSG is the primary fundraiser for Circle Sanctuary. It’s also a very important place for the over 1000 attendees, who go to spiritually recharge for the coming year, to participate in workshops and classes, and to meet up with friends they only see at this event. The PSG merchants, musicians, and food vendors hope to make a portion of their year’s income at the event.

Yet when the extent of the flooding was seen, complete with animal and human waste mixed into the water and with more rain and storms in the forecast, the decision was clear. The festival was over and everyone needed to evacuate as quickly as possible. It would be a Herculean effort and PSG would need to do this on their own. No outside relief agencies would be assisting.

[Photo Credit: L. Dake]

[Photo Credit: L. Dake]

During the flash flood, one third of the camp had to be moved to another area within 2 hours. Volunteers helped those in the flood path take what they could and move to higher ground. Food, water, and shelter had to be found for the roughly 200 to 300 people who had been displaced for the night. Circle helped direct it, but it was other attendees who gave those people a place to sleep, fed them, and hugged them.

All of the cars in the flooded parking lot had to be moved. The water was still rising and the mud was getting deeper. Dozens of volunteers spent the entire afternoon and evening on Monday pushing cars and trucks out of the mud, mostly by brute force. Several cars couldn’t be moved and were a total loss. Other cars were initially able to be moved, but later were also declared damaged.

Tents and a camper were destroyed by falling tree branches and trees. Countless gear and personal items ruined. Fortunately, with all that damage, no one was seriously injured. Water was rising up over the lip of tents, filling them with a mixture of water, mud, and sewage. People were wet, tired, and uncertain what the morning would bring.

And yet, that night there was singing. There was drumming. There was love and gratitude.

Here’s what happened at PSG as told by the people who were there. They share how the attendees and volunteers came together and lived this year’s theme – “Celebrating Community.” They’ll also describe the emotions felt now that most of them are back home. When possible, we’ve noted where the attendee was camping, which you can find on the map below.

The pink was under water at one point, everything else was ankle- to knee-deep in mud. The green section became an island. By Bob Paxton of Circle Sanctuary

The pink was under water at one point, everything else was ankle- to knee-deep in mud. The green section became an island. By Bob Paxton of Circle Sanctuary

 

Excited for the Festival
For many attendees, going to a festival like PSG is the only time they are able to participate in community rituals. It may the only time they are able to be openly Pagan. For others, it’s a time to learn more about practicing their religion, either by attending workshops or through one on one conversations with people they look up to as mentors. When attendees enter PSG they are traditionally greeted with the phrase, “Welcome home!” because they are entering their spiritual home and are now with their tribe, even if they arrive not knowing a single soul.

JE, 4th time attendee, Rainbow Camp:
“After my very first year I vowed to do everything in my power to return every year. I was particularly looking forward to this year. I had started a new job in August as a Manager of a truck stop. It’s good work, and I enjoy it. However, over the months I had let mundania get the best of me. My spiritual side was lacking, my connections weak. I hadn’t done a proper ritual in ages, it seemed. I wanted to be rekindled by the bonfire, the drums, and of course, the tribe. I had to put in a lot of hours before PSG in order to make it happen, and indeed I wasn’t even sure it would be possible to pull off with only 2 days of personal time. Determination, and a good boss, prevailed and I registered us with only a few days to spare.”

Beth Yoder-Balla, PSG Coordinator
“I had surgery at the end of last year and ended up having to use all my vacation time. I had to work loads of overtime to be able to go to PSG. The day I got my gate pass, I burst into tears because I wasn’t sure I should go because of my health issues and a strained relationship with my campmate, but I decided the pros still outweighed the cons and I went.”

Eric Eldritch, attendee
“I had just come through a huge wave of interfaith and pagan ministry work … [I] carefully reserved time for co-coordinating PSG’s 35th Anniversary Main Ritual and teaching two classes Masks of the Divine and Generations. I put my all into honoring PSG with classes and ceremony. The expectation for an amazing magical weekend was something I could feel as tangible.”

Edmund Zebrowski, 4th time attendee, RV land
“This was my fourth PSG at the Stonehouse location and the second time to have encountered the rains and winds common to a late midwest Spring. This was the first year that I came in from out of state, as well as the first time renting an RV for the week of the trip. Several months back I moved to Boston and my boyfriend, now finance’, were flying in to meet with several friends for our traditional week of fun at PSG.”

Three Rivers Pagans
“[We] had a contingency of six, three that were 1 year veterans, and three virgins.  The veterans had told the virgins what to expect, what might happen, and what they would see that was vastly different than our conservative town has to offer.  For some, it could be quite the culture shock.  There’s no judgement at PSG, from how you want to dress to how you practice your faith.  There’s no “you’re doing it wrong”.  People actually ask how you are doing and they mean it.  They also pitch in to help when something happens.”

Saturday: Merchants set up

Tracie Sage Wood, Merchant
“When we first got there, to tell you the truth, it was a clusterfuck. You could feel the tension in the air. it wasn’t a ‘welcome home’ sigh of relief, I got emotional right away, feeling it. They couldn’t put trailers in RV camp because of the mud … I’m a vendor with electric, and couldn’t put my small camper in my site. I need electric for my husband’s c-pap machine, and was told “oh, well” by a high person in charge, but later was found a site. It was a foreboding of things to come. I almost turned around at that point and left, this feeling of impending doom was so strong.”

Beth Yoder-Balla, PSG Coordinator
“We got there a day early due to being coordinators [for PSG]. The first night,we lost my daughter’s tent when it took on water.”

Lori Dake, Merchant
“When we arrived at the gates around 1pm, I made [my son] Ryan get out and ring the virgin bell. We found our merchant spot, which I got a double this year, and I started setting up. We unloaded the car, got the canopies up, and we draped the tarp over [the canopies], but that was about it. At that point, we go to set up everything, including pushing Ryan to make sure his tent was up too, because I knew even more rain was predicted that night. And just as his tent was fully pitched, the rain came … and a battle to save our mostly-constructed campsite was on.

“At around 11:30pm, I … went to sleep … in the back of the car. I don’t know how much later, but I was awoken by beams of light piercing through the car window, which is when I heard the rain pounding again. It turned out that Guardians had come by and noticed my campsite had taken a turn for the worst…everything was just about ready to come crashing down. So, they said the best course of action was to move everything to one side under the newer canopy/tarp/car setup and gently lay down the old side. After that, I slept. Hard.”

*   *   *

A "widow maker" branch above Lori Dake's tent. photo by Lori Dake

A “widow maker” branch above Lori Dake’s tent. photo by Lori Dake

Sunday: The Gates Open

Edmund Zebrowski, 4th time attendee, RV land
“After flying in at the insanely early hour of 6:05 a.m., we were picked up at the airport and headed to breakfast and our Second Sunday Tarot Meet-Up before getting to Stonehouse. The day was sunny and we were in high spirits that the move in would be a dry one. Once at the site of PSG we were informed that we might not be able to get the RV that we had being delivered for us back to the area that was set up with electric and water. Through the grace of The Gods and with the full knowledge that if we got stuck while getting the RV in that we were on our own to get it out, we managed to secure a spot for our home away from home. Sunday night came and despite the camp roads already being 2-3 inches deep in mud, we all had a great time. This was the first PSG for several of my friends, a few of whom were tenting out in the high mound in the back of Quiet Camp. We walked around and for the most part things looked like they were going to go just fine.”

Lori Dake, Merchant, Merchant area
“Well, some folks came by, one by one, and told us to look up. That’s when we saw [a large dead branch hanging above us]. Yeah, so there’s that. I mentioned it to several PSG important-type people to see what could be done about it …About an hour or so later, PSG coordinators asked me to move across the street to the single slot. I was a little grumpy about that, losing a whole slot, but what was I going to do? … Everything got moved over with a bit of help …And then – more rain. I made sure everything was secure, and I said screw it to go hang out with Judy and Nels for a gin and tonic. I was halfway through my cocktail when the rain started coming down in buckets. I helped them get their stuff tied down, then I ran back to my spot. And wouldn’t you know it? It all came down. More poles bent. Stakes pulled up. And, the canopy I had left, one of the legs was bent inward …We released the tarps to keep things dry and sat in the car with the heat on to dry off. I felt like a complete failure and totally defeated.”

JE, 4th time attendee, Near the pond
“We left later than intended Sunday … When we arrived it was beautiful setup weather with plenty of blue sky, and I was quite thankful. We camped by the willow in roughly the same spot we’ve taken the last two years. Since people were getting stuck, we were told to leave our SUV at our site for now. After setting up we “made the rounds” and connected with old friends, and made a few new ones right away. We got back to our site as the opening meeting at the pavilion was taking shape. The drumming! We could see it across the pond, and listened as the … as we were still figuring out how to secure all of the sidewalls of our new canopy system before the rains started.

“I was watching the meeting when something caught my eye. To the south, a funnel cloud formed and stretched halfway down to the ground. It only lasted about five minutes, but it was a bit concerning. Luckily, it never appeared to touch down. It dissipated, and then the rains came. Anyway, after the rains had let up, Josh and I wandered a bit wondering if the procession would happen. The opening ritual was as fantastic as always. I wanted to join in the dancing, but we were quite tired from lack of sleep and turned in early.”

Funnel cloud sighted over Stonehouse Farm. Photo by JE

Funnel cloud sighted over Stonehouse Farm. Photo by JE

Carla, attendee with children, Quiet Camp
I had been to a few PSGs. Three adults and six kids meant lots of gear, and before I go any further, I want to thank everyone that helped Rain and I get the gear out of camp while my sister watched the kids in the aftermath of the flood … The rain had held off all of Sunday while we set up camp. By evening, Rain and I were pretty much spent and watched opening ceremony with the kids from our site across the pond … Shortly into opening ceremony, the first deluge hit, scattering everyone … That night and the following day brought more rain, but the real torrent was yet to come.”

Elise, attendee, age 13
“It was my first year there, I came on Sunday and it seemed a lot of fun. There was so much to do there! I went with my family, my aunt with my cousins and her friend with her kids.  It would rain for around five minutes then it would be so hot. It was muddy too, I always had to take off my flip flops, it didn’t bother me until I stepped of a sharp rock.”

Eric Eldritch, attendee, Rainbow Camp
“Before leaving I got word that the whole week was going to be filled with rain. As a precaution, we brought umbrellas and bought contractor grade heavy duty bags as back up.  When we arrived we set up as high as we could in Rainbow Camp and Twist left for Chicago. From our first welcome meeting, were instructed about separate evacuation and tornado signals and that meeting was cut short by a downpour. I weathered that first bout just fine. With the help of friends I readjusted tarps and was ready for the next rain to come down. But I wasn’t prepared for water to rise up.”

Bryan O’Dell, First time attendee
“[Sunday] I even got to be the first to ring the virgin bell. I went and began setting up my camp, which had already been partially done as my partner was on setup so she had our tent already staked up. The rest of our group arrived and set up. I went to park my van and immediately got stuck in the mud, as it had rained rather intensely the night prior. It was stuck for some time, needing to be pulled out and parked separately. After that I met up with my partner and our group went down to the pond for some together time and to enjoy being home. That night and the next morning was pretty fantastic seeing friends and meeting new ones.”

Bill Wheaton, attendee, Quiet Camp
“My companions crashed early … so I got the candle lantern … and trucked on over to the main opening ritual where the fire that is kept burning all week was laid and waiting for the spark of life. I arrived a hair late, but in time to honor the elements and the directions, the kindling of the fire, and witness the charge given to the Guardians – the people, duty bound to protect the land, the spirits, and the people attending the gathering.  It was quite ritualized and participatory and beautiful. As we gathered closer in, sharing candle lights and sparks we began to dance the circle round – faster people in the center, slower, stumblers like me on the outside – all ages just dancing around a fire to the beat of 20 people on drums.

“It was so magical. I had finally arrived! PSG was unfolding before my eyes, and I was with my people. People who I had met last year, people who I met online in between. Faces that would have names and stories to share before long.  But not yet … There there was just enough time to get back to my tent to put on dry socks and don my new dairy boots. Those boots were a life saver … At 11pm, and we were all gathered waiting for Arthur [Hinds] to begin. … Selena and Dennis arrived, and then Kathryn showed up!  Wonderful songs and stories of Welsh heroes and weird births and magic enchantments and an invite to finish up the story the next day. Afterwards we mingled and hugged the latecomers and then I high tailed it back to what we would soon call ‘the island.'”

Monday: Flash Flood Hits

Three Rivers Pagans:
“Monday brought more downpours and a lot of mud. As a Tribe, we became mud people, trudging everywhere through it, our feet covered to our ankles. Shortly after 5 pm on Monday, the word came through: we were going to flood … Guardians … were assembled, along with anyone that could help. Cars and tents were in the floodplain and it wasn’t going to be long before they were underwater. A dam upstream was going to be opened to let water out of Shabbona Lake and we were in the path of that water. It was time to move.

“Teams fanned out, calling out to people to move their cars if they were in the lower parking lot. Some of them were stuck, but people volunteered to push, pull, and drag them out of the mud and rising waters … Hours later, a mere 8 cars were left, their owners unknown. Many of them were totaled … People who were camped on the lower end of the campground around the pond and Grandmother Willow were helped to high ground. Many had to leave their belongings behind, watching as the water rose and engulfed everything they brought with them, leaving a sludge of mud coating most everything. I helped direct traffic for a while … I watched as people lugged up their tents and whatever they could carry, a look of shock on all of their faces…

“At the TRP camp …  We were on the edge of the flood zone and we needed to get to safety …We had a mere fifteen minutes to grab what we could and find our way to higher ground. It was hard, I’m not going to lie. I set our virgins on a path that I knew would take them away from the flooding, but I stayed behind. Two members of our camp had gone to move cars and I didn’t know where they were. When one of them returned, we ran, praying to the Goddess that the last missing member was safe with guardians. When she met up with us later, she had been helping push out cars from the mud, but she was safe. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was take three people who did not know the terrain and send them to safety, not knowing where they were when I made the trek myself. Monday night we were able to return to camp.  We were very waterlogged, muddy, and a mess, but everything was ok.  We were alive, together, and could support each other.”

Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]

Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]

JE, 4th time attendee, Near the pond
“We headed back to the site and secured everything, ready to ride out the storm with some fun activities. We started hearing sirens around the camp. At first we thought it was a medical emergency. But then the sirens came this way. At first the communication was mixed and garbled; a suggestion to leave due to a possibility. We didn’t know what to do; should we stay and ride out the storm in our setup? Pack up everything and relocate? If so, to where? … Then the word came. Grab what you can and get out. … Most of our items were in totes, so we grabbed the totes and threw them in the back of the SUV along with the duffle bag with our clothes, and the cooler with all of our food (and booze!). ….

“We realized the scope of the situation when we were finally moved out and saw the green for the first time. Wow … Then we heard that they were trying to push cars out of the parking field that was flooding. I rallied Josh and we headed that way. Originally we were told that there were enough people there at that time, but we needed to get the word out for people to come get their cars. So, I used my heralding skills I got last year and did my best to spread the word. We then went back to the field. An incredible site to see cars in that much water. Many people were already there helping, and more were arriving. A few of the cars were actually floating as they were being pushed out. The rallying cry became “keys!” when someone arrived with them. “Pushers!” when and where they were needed, splitting the workload between the field and the edge of the green. It was surreal. The pictures tell the tale quite well.

“After we rescued all that we could, we found our way to gate camp to talk to the troll. We were taken in and cared for by the whole group. They let us use their shower, gave us water and mead, paper towel to clean up.They were all very nice. We cleaned up and relaxed for a while before retiring to the back of the SUV for a poor night’s sleep. On the way, we went over to the road leading to the quieter area. The road was washed out under a river leading into the pond, and the pond was growing wider and wider. It was beyond belief.”

Attendees push cars out of the mud in the parking area now known as "Lake Keys." Photo by Heike Feller

Attendees push cars out of the mud in the parking area now known as “Lake Keys.” Photo by Heike Feller

Rain, attendee, Quiet Camp
“ ‘Flash floods! Grab your valuables and get to your car!’ these were the words that would turn what was a fun and relaxing day at my first PSG, into an utter nightmare. I was making dinner for the kids in our 3 family camp, so with a spatula in one hand and a tortilla in the other, I looked from the creek to the pond confused. “Do you need any help?” which would be the words I would hear over and over in the next 24 hours. I ran to my tent to see what I could save, I closed the totes, threw anything loose on the air mattresses and stared at my children (3 & 9) and the other children (5,9,11&13) standing under the canopy looking bewildered and crying. I could vaguely hear the conversations outside but I did hear a guardian tell my son to take care of his little sister and little brother and for the kids to help their moms.

When the crying became louder and more fearful, I heard a guardian say “now listen to uncle… it will be ok, I’m here” Assured that they were in good hands, I grabbed my keys and started to grab my drum when the wind blew so hard it pulled the tarp right off my tent and the poles to the ground. I’d decided that there was absolutely nothing more valuable in my tent than my children standing outside. I closed up my tent and looked around at the mess we’d left outside, my friend Denise’s daughter (13) asked if she could take my kids to the truck and without hesitation I let her and watched her run off in the rain. Denise and I secured camp as much as we could in the little time we had, while Carla fed the creek and asked it to spare us. I can honestly say that I don’t know what all was happening around me, my focus was secure camp and get out!

“With the wind howling and the rain pouring down, I’d made the decision that it was just time to leave. Once in my car I watched those around me scurrying to close up their camps, I white knuckled the steering wheel and waited for someone to tell me to leave. The children were eerily quiet in the back seat, the pulse in my ears was maddening, I was unable to hear the announcements so I called over a guardian to confirm if we could leave or if we had to stay. I was told that they weren’t ready for everyone to go and I told him I had small children and I really wanted to just go to safer ground. Once I had been given the ok, I backed out and immediately got stuck in the mud, but with the assistance of several people, I was pushed out of the mud and onto the road. I looked over and saw my friends with their kids huddled together by their car, so my assumption was that they were on their way, too. Slowly making my way down the muddy road, first to head out, I believe. I’d made the decision that it was best to just leave entirely. I stopped momentarily to call my friends to check on their safety, but I didn’t want to get parked in, so I headed out.

“Fortunately I live relatively close so I left PSG and took my children home to safety, as I got closer to home I pulled over and called Carla and she told me that she was stuck in the teen center pavilion and couldn’t get an answer on her sister’s phone, I’d offered to come back and get her kids, but she had opted to stay … I worried about them, I worried about Renee and her son (4) who was camped only one camp over, I was relieved to hear from all of them and to hear their experiences. Carla, Denise and Renee had all ended up waiting the storm out in the pavilion, close to their children and other families who had been displaced. They eventually were able to get their cars pushed out of the mud, Carla and Denise went to Carla’s house, but Renee had to ride out the storm. Renee was able to walk back to camp with her wagon and drag her things back to her car, she ended up taking refuge in someone’s camper. While scary for all of us, our children were safe, our cars were out of the mud and we were out of immediate danger.”

Carla, attendee, Quiet Camp
“We had all the kids in the cars and Rain managed to get hers out of the area and up the hill thinking that my sister and I were right behind her, but my car was blocked in so I went back to the tent one last time to save a toy my son was screaming for. When I returned back to the car, we were being told to abandon them and get to higher ground immediately, so the six of us ran to the pavilion where we watched until the rain had let up a bit. After a while, it looked like all the cars except ours had been moved. I said to my sister that if we were going to get the cars out and get the kids home, we needed to go try right now while there were still helpers down there. We left the kids in the pavilion which was now itself flooded because of a temporarily blocked drain with orders to my thirteen year old niece to keep the kids with the group up there.

“With the help from our tribe that was still down there, we got the cars back on the road and were headed up the hill. My sister made it up just fine, but I was stopped by the big field and told to pull over to make way for trucks that needed to get through with the promise that they would push me out if I got stuck. I tried to reach my sister, but her cell phone was dead, and after what seemed like an eternity waiting for these trucks that never came, I asked to be pushed out, knowing that my kids must be frantic not knowing where I was since they couldn’t see my car. Finally reaching the pavilion, we left camp for the night knowing that there would be no way of returning to there until at least morning and figuring that it was nine less people to worry about for everyone else.”

Renee, attendee, Quiet Camp
“I was camped over by the sweat lodge facing the creek. We were called to evacuate, taking only essentials. The teenagers came over to help us load. … Once I had what I thought I needed, we sat in the car-which was running, while the rain was pouring down and the creek was rising. Cars were already being pushed out. This was my first sense of being trapped. I had to wait in my car as the waters rose, unable to move in any direction for the other cars to get out. I waited, sobbing, and pointlessly sending out distraught texts to my sister and husband.

“It came to be my turn, and a lot of people with their cheerful faces and positive attitude gave me the assurances I needed and they pushed my car out of there, got me turned around and … I just followed that truck, through the river that was running between the green and the pond. She parked up at the stage, and I parked there, too. When we both rolled our windows down, it turned out that she had been following the one in front and we weren’t actually being directed by any person on the roadway. She and I were both crying. We left our cars and hugged. This was the first time I had met J., although, I was on her tail, praying for her leadership the whole way out. I met J.’s campmates at this point, and we stayed in touch on and off until we left …

“Moonfeather and Selena Fox came to the pavilion. They explained about the reservoir and said, now we could go back over there on foot and get anything we could. I had my child’s red wagon with me, and I proceeded to make 4 trips barefoot (the water was up to my calves, and I couldn’t get a foothold with my shoes). I used bungees and ropes to hold everything onto that child’s toy. On the 2nd trip back, I saw that my car was parked in by a trailer! Again, I was trapped … I had baked and decorated a cake for the potluck, this I shared with those in the pavilion. I was offered a spot in a trailer … I was lucky for offer, and her trailer was warm, high, dry, and quiet for the night. My kid was fascinated with all the gadgets in the trailer, the stove, microwave, toilet, the folding table.”

Area near workshop #10. Nearby tree fell on a camper, crushing it. photo by Michelle Johnson Walach

Area near workshop #10. Nearby tree fell on a camper, crushing it. photo by Michelle Johnson Walach

Tracie Sage Wood
“My husband [was] watching the weather minute by minute on his phone. He started receiving the emergency alerts Monday morning…flash flood warnings… and we thought… what are the disaster plans that should be in place for a place like this? I went to vend, and told one guardian [to] let whoever is in charge of the guardian’s know…flash flood coming… well… nobody did anything. I later heard they knew, but rather than alarm people, they hoped it would go around us. This was the most dangerous, stupid thing I’ve ever seen. Because of this, at the last minute, it was mass evacuation…

“There was no reason for chaos and it was chaos  …  hey could have told everyone in the field it’s coming and we think you should move, and we have people to help you … there would have been no rush. The thing that saved everyone is the tribe, not the guardians or the people in charge. The tribe itself jumped in to help everyone else. people out in the weather helping neighbors move, giving them dry towel, clothes, food.”

Elise, age 13
“Monday, around the afternoon, my aunt’s friend from PSG came over and told her there was a flood warning, I heard little about [what] they were talking about. [A] couple minutes later when we were starting to eat, three guys told us we had to leave and pack up. Ten or five minutes later it started to rain really hard, all the little kids were freaking out. I carried one of the kids, my aunts friends and the older brother was leading me to the car. I told him to keep his sister calm. I helped as much as I could and tried to stayed calm too. We put stuff in the tents and put the stuff we need in car..

“Some of the people were telling us to leave and some were saying to stay, it was confusing. Then one of the helpers was bringing me and my brother to the tween center. They were asking if we were hungry, cold or okay. We started to see cars so my mom and aunt tried to get the cars out. They put me in charge because I’m the oldest. We got out safely and went to my aunts house for the week. My aunt and her friend brought the stuff back and brought other friends so they had a place to sleep. I heard a lot of people got flooded …”

Eric Eldritch, attendee, Rainbow Camp
“I hurriedly sorted and protected non essential replaceable stuff into contractor lawn bags and piled everything that could stay, or be lost, on queen side cot bed. I grabbed essentials … It was hard to convince myself that it would be alright, I had experienced the deluge of campsites swept away in a flash flood years ago at Four Quarters. I was shocked by that devastation and wanted no repeat experience. No time to think about that I was in grab and go, and the pelting rain was jolting me to reality. When I look at the flooded fields and campsites, even the pictures, I get a catch in my breathe. This storm was expansive, extensive, exceeding expectations.

“As the rain pelted, I made trips to convey my essentials near the road. Trudging and slipping up the road in the slick mud, several folks grabbed a bag, lightened my load and pieced together a plan with each slippery step. I had nowhere to go, just up and out. It was confusing, truely confusing. Where are you going? Where are you staying? I had to trust others for those answers, I had never been displaced in that kinda rush. I had never been helped so selflessly. I experienced being swept away in wave of love and help. I was in the midst of what Selena calls out over and over again year after year. She invoked the reality of “P-S-G Community!” After finding shelter in an RV, I sloshed out to help others and to document the car evacuation with pics and video. The mobilization of support and direction was in full gear. I felt relief. Help was being coordinated in a good way.”

Michael Greywolf, 5th year attendee, Rainbow Camp
“Our car was parked right down the hill from Rainbow Camp, so we quickly threw everything into it. As we were running things to the car it started to rain, and it was coming down hard. As soon as we had finished my partner told me they were only letting one person per car move them. I had my partner go and I stayed behind to help where I could. The rain was still coming down very strong and everyone was getting soaked. The Guardians and coordinators were directing people to move their cars to higher ground. Volunteers were helping to push as many of the stuck cars as we could out of the mud. There were a couple of instances where we had to help a couple of people gather up their belongings and toss them into their cars …The frantic and chaotic energy from the whole situation was making me very tense and a bit scared.

“While there we helped where we could, my partner was running errands for a few people and I was comforting my ‘adopted’ niece … She was scared and I did the best I could to keep her comfortable. As we were sitting in the pavilion we could see groups of people moving whole tents from the area that was going to be flooded. We saw people pulling wagons of gear, and trucks hauling possessions and people to higher ground. One of her moms’ finally returned and took over comforting her daughter. When I returned to Rainbow Camp I could see the water was covering the road and it was coming up to my thigh. Several tents had been moved to higher ground and the parking area in front of us had been cleared. …The energy had kinda calmed a bit, people were laughing, cheering and congratulating each other for all the work we had done as a community. After that I returned to my tent, we were well above the rising water and passed out.”

Tents in standing water in the background. Area called the Green where rituals were held. Photo by Sarah Kaczmarek

Tents in standing water in the background. Area called the Green where rituals were held. Photo by Sarah Kaczmarek

Bill Wheaton, attendee, on The Island (former Quiet Camp)
“Right before sunset around 8:30, the rain stopped. We had been watching it on radar, and the pittance coming behind it wouldn’t do much more. The lake to our north that was threatening to open its levies was actually getting less rain that we were getting, so we were really doubting that would happen. However, Indian creek had already breached and drained into the meadow and the causeway past the pond was a waterfall. …The Guardians told us over and over to move. I realized that even though we might be safe, that I was causing turmoil and real concern to those charged with protecting us. I realized that if I was wrong, and someone had to come rescue us then they might be injured or worse. … I decided to take the last opportunity to leave before The Peninsula became The Island. And now I was a refugee.

“The town was surprisingly up-beat. Not knowing what else to do I dropped by Kathryn’s & Arthur’s tent and chatted. Eventually, it got around to “So where will you go?” I was stunned. I had not even thought of it. I was still reeling from the frenzy of staying so long on the island, and pretty worried about my companions …  Kathryn offered me the back of their van which I gladly filled with my bedding. I was still wired though and walked to the fire circle, and then onto the new waterfront. There were parties going on in shuttered vendor tents out of the final rain. I stopped by the EnCHANTment tent and joined voices with them to sing the most powerful chants I have ever done before. Everything was going to be ok.”

Bryan O’Dell, first time attendee
“I joined the efforts to help push and maneuver cars into the high ground of RV land. The next few hours went on like this: parking somewhere between nine and fifteen vehicles. During that time a nice lady offered us some chili, but we were still moving vehicles. So were unable to take her up on the offer …. I continued to help push vehicles and then when done helped moved items out of the rain. One of the people I was with insisted on me getting some Gatorade. Which they escorted me to the med tent so I could partake. … After staying there for a bit [a medic] noticed I looked a bit peaked and asked me when the last time I ate was. Upon examination, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything except a protein shake that morning at eight am, it was now past eight pm. I remembered the chili from earlier and went to inquire about it. It had been given to the teens just prior my arrival, but the lovely woman cooked me up a quick meal of eggs and potatoes. I was extremely grateful and shall be for years to come.

“After that I wandered back to camp. During the whole time I noticed some pretty amazing acts of heroism. People in our community doing anything and everything they could just to help out. To help out people they may or may not have known. It didn’t matter, the only thing that mattered was it was all hands on deck and from what I saw, no one had idle hands. The staff, both Circle and Stonehouse, zipping back and forth organizing everything they could to ensure the safety of all. Everyone else using whatever skill set they had to ensure everybody was taken care of. Yes, there were losses, but no one severely hurt and it could have been significantly worse. It was literally a natural disaster. I will always keep in my heart the amazing efforts and acts I saw, took part in and witnessed.”

Lori Dake, Merchant
“When the rain finally stopped enough for me to feel safe enough to lie down around 11pm, a friend was texting me about everything that was going on. As I was texting back, I heard some crackling and thought someone was shooting off fireworks. Very soon after, I heard walkie-talkies and Guardians talking about a tree falling down on a camper! My jaw dropped and I texted my friend about it, too. I then started hearing about people whose cars were trapped and now drowned in the newly formed lake, since named Lake Keys, we had seen rising behind us during our potluck and food hand-out. Even though I was exhausted, and my feet were soaking wet down to the bone, wrapped up in several blankets, I prayed for the best outcome that no one was hurt. Once again, I do not remember going to sleep.”

Tuesday – PSG Closes – stage 1 of evacuation

Three Rivers Pagans
Tuesday morning, our traditional morning meeting was mandatory. It was announced that we all had to leave. PSG 2015 was over. It was time to go home … I looked around as the realization hit everyone … The land could not support us in its waterlogged state. The shower house was overrun with water as was the septic system. It was no longer safe for us to stay. I spent the day organizing camp slowly, not aware of my own feelings yet.  I was shell shocked.

Lori Dake, Merchant
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a sad morning at PSG, but on this day, most everyone was pretty down. The vibe was a sad, anxious, with people eager to compare notes and share what they have heard. Lots of rumors were going about. Some were saying PSG was going to cancel. Others were talking about wanting refunds. Branches, like the one I had over my head, had indeed crashed through people’s’ campsites. Some people said their neighbors did more than just evacuate to higher ground and went to a nearby hotel all together …

“Now usually at morning meeting, there’s a good amount of people there, but not that day. It was packed … Usually too, the bonfire dancing slows down just a touch after 10am, but at 10:20, it was still going strong, so I knew then they were going to cancel PSG. That dancing was the last hoorah. They were letting people have a little bit of fun before the bad news … [And] Arthur did NOT say “Good morning, PSG!” That too was a big hint.

“Before the…  bad news [was] announced at the meeting, Selena, Bob, Sharon and everyone else from Circle, thanked everyone for jumping in and helping. We were reminded that the nearby town of Paw Paw is three times bigger and would have called the police, fire department and National Guard to help, but we had done it all ourselves. That was certainly encouraging about the Spirit part of PSG. We really do care about each other, even if we don’t necessarily get along with or even like everyone else ….”

Rain, attendee, Quiet camp
“Tuesday morning Carla and I came back, the road to Quiet Camp was closed so we waded through ankle deep water past the sweat lodge to our camp that had been at least a foot under water the night before. We had mixed emotions as we saw that our camp was relatively unharmed, in spite of it all and that it wasn’t still under water. There were a few inches of water still in my tent, but for the most part other than some wet bedding and clothes, things were dry. The problem was then how do we take down 3 tents, 2 canopies and collect all of our gear and get it down a muddy road with 2 red wagons. Out of no where we hear those words again “do you need any help?” Yes! Volunteers came and took down our tents, helped packed our gear, loaded it all on tarps and dragged everything down to the clearing where more volunteers trucked everything to dry ground. It took us 7 hours to collect everything and get everything loaded to go home, but without those volunteers that I can’t thank enough, we might still be there packing gear or given up completely.”

Tracie Sage Wood
“The day after [the flood] was a true coming together. We put out  a table of food, as we were at the crosssroads across from the pond, and people dropped food off and ate as they needed to. some people shopped. some packed up. It was a beautiful day, looking at the tribe helping, and one of the most precious moments of my life. But it was the people and not the ones in charge that saved it. They dropped the ball … They should have alerted people sooner and let the people make the decision to move or not. They put people in danger.”

Michael Greywolf
“We had weathered the storm and it was going to be a lovely day. As the morning started to pass the heralds were going around saying that Morning Meeting was mandatory that day. My partner and I got there and did what you normally do at a Morning Meeting, drink your coffee and have a seat as the drummers drum and people dance around the fire. It was there that the Circle Board told us the heartbreaking news that PSG was going to be ending right after Morning Meeting. You could feel a wave of sadness pass over everyone who was there. The board members were in tears, in the 35 years of PSG history they had never had to do this. But they told us another line of storms was coming and the flood waters were going to get worse. They wanted us safe and keeping the festival going was going to put their tribe, their family in danger. So we started the packing process and still tried to make the most of the time we had left. Vendors stayed open and the artists who were supposed to be performing all week were giving little concerts. Not everyone was able to leave that day. Those who were left were sharing food with each other and fellowshipping as much as we could. We even had a concert and fire spinning. But the next day my partner and I had our car packed up and were on the road back to our apartment.”

Bill Wheaton
“That meeting is when my emotional magic carpet ride began. I do so love those people. It is exceedingly hard to explain to someone who has not been through it. I have always needed community, probably since I was a little kid. It gives me strength, and a sense of normalcy I can’t get any other way. When I don’t have it, everything is wonky and doesn’t work for me. They are my pack, my tribe. You can have your rugged individualism any day, but give me my herd or I die.

“The rest of the day was spent with the volunteers. There were tarps, tents, canopies to shake earthworms from. There were teams of strong lads hauling tarp-fulls of boxes, mattresses and water soaked gear across a muddy plain and filling pickup trucks time and again. There were cars to get unstuck. Eventually though it was my turn to leave. I was in phase 1 of the evacuation. According to the triage plan I had to leave quickly so that others could get out…”

Edmund Zebrowski
“[Tuesday] night the mandatory meeting was held up on the high ground of the pavilion were all the performers set to play that week gave an impromptu concert as a way to help the weary have some fun after a long day of helping others pack and getting cars out of the mud. Stories were told and dancing happened but while the tone was joyous it was bittersweet. That night more rains came. All night we could hear them on the roof. Our numbers were now down by half and the spirit of joy and happiness was not as present as we waited for the night and, hopefully, we would still be able to make it out.”

Three Rivers Pagans
“Tuesday night, we grieved. We partied. We drank. And we listened to some of the best music ever played. Bardapalooza happened in the pavilion and it was glorious. SJ Tucker, Celia Ferran, Mama Gina, Spiral Rhythm, and a host of others all lent voices and talent to keep us entertained and brighten our spirits. We were blessed to hear a beautiful story from Janet Farrar. Firespinners went all out on the only night they were going to get to spin.  And of course, there was drumming and dancing around the Sacred Fire.”

The Aftermath

As attendees made it back to their homes and logged into social media they expressed gratitude to the PSG staff and volunteers for their efforts to assist campers to safety. They noted that they witnessed a level of caring and love that they’ve seldom seen in their lives. They also expressed sadness at leaving PSG early; guilt for not helping more or for not having it as rough as others did. Anger and fear over lost cars, belongings, and experiences. Some have started having nightmares, anxiety, and spats of crying.

get over it

In talking with Anthony Rella, a Seattle mental health therapist, these reactions don’t appear to be uncommon for people who have lived through a natural disaster. Rella said, “What is happening sounds like very typical responses to trauma. Psychological trauma occurs in an overwhelmingly stressful situation in which one is unable to process all the emotions happening at once.” He went on to say that, although it sounds like the community did an amazing job of supporting each other and surviving the immediate trauma, now that the life-threatening crisis is over they are beginning to process their experience. He said that it’s not unusual for people to relive moments or feelings associated with such trauma.

Rella added that PSG wasn’t “just a festival” and the feelings aren’t just about the loss of money and belongings,  “…this festival holds an important place in the participants’ lives, there was a lot of emotional and financial investment in it, so to have been disrupted with this awful experience is definitely a trauma.” He said:

Intellectually most of us ‘know’ that terrible things happen every day, but we don’t always get this on an emotional level. If we were emotionally aware of the possible disasters we could encounter in our daily lives, we would be overwhelmed with fear and anxiety or constantly on edge, watching for danger, which is essentially what happens in full post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead, most of us live with a basic sense of safety and trust that nothing awful will happen to us, and most of the time it does not. When it does, however, then that emotional part of us becomes deeply aware of danger and loses touch with that basic sense of safety and security. When someone comes to expect this event every year as an important part of their lives, then it is a major loss of security to know that it could be, and in fact has been, disrupted like this. Then you add in the stress of these financial losses and losing “stuff” which probably also had personal meaning, that creates a lot of stress that needs to be attended to.

Rella noted that the best thing is to return to typical living activities as soon as possible, while also giving oneself permission to continue experiencing these distressing emotions. Friends and community members can give affected people the emotional safety to share whatever they want to share. “If a person who went through this shares their story with you, then do your best to listen … with compassion, validating their feelings and not trying to judge or fix their experience,” advised Rella.

KitKat shows off her new tattoo to commemorate the struggle at "Lake Keys." Tattoo by Kidril Telrunya

KitKat shows off her new tattoo to commemorate the struggle at “Lake Keys.” Tattoo by Kidril Telrunya

JE
“The PSG facebook page lit up with stories of heroism, and stories of loss. My heart breaks for those that have lost so much. As Shouting Mountain put it a few days ago, we all experienced loss. Some lost experiences, some lost business, some lost tents, some even cars. However, NO ONE LOST LIFE. For a natural disaster to affect a concentrated group of 1000 people without modern infrastructure and no one to be seriously hurt or killed is surprising. Nature is going to do what she is going to do…but I still believe the Gods listened to our plea for consideration and safety. We truly demonstrated our intention of celebrating community. It was fantastic to see everyone pitching in and helping, everyone in their own ways.

“In the end, It’s not the way PSG is supposed to be. Instead of renewed, I feel drained. Instead of happy, I feel disheartened. Instead of rekindled, I feel numbed. I had hoped that typing all of this out over the course of 3 hours would help sort it all out for me. However, the experience was what it was. It will write a new chapter in the PSG history book, where the tribe connected in a way it had never before, and became stronger for the experience. … My immense thanks to the tribe, to the Guardians, to the teardown crew, Stonehouse staff, Circle Staff, and especially Moonfeather. The choices that were made were not made lightly, but they were made correctly. Blessed be.”

Rain
“This experience had brought a myriad of emotions, from fear to disappointment to gratitude and just like any other devastating experience; we are working through these feelings. Our children have amazingly bounced back due to kindness of the volunteers and those who were able to act quickly and with kindness. We are very thankful that everyone is able to say “we’ll see you at PSG 2016!” Community! #WeAreTribe”

Carla
“Someone pointed out that even though the week was abruptly ended, we still had our Rites of Passage. My niece who had been planning on her Young Womanhood initiation, more than earned it, keeping her younger brother, cousins, and Rain’s children safe in a crisis. The Hunt which was to happen Thursday night, happened all around us as people and property were rescued … Before my first time at PSG, the person who introduced it to me told me that PSG was as close as we could get to The Summerland on this plane of existence, which at the time I thought was a bit melodramatic. After my first PSG though, I also felt that way. We have been all mourning the loss of our week in The Summerland together, and some of us dealing with loss of property, but everyone came through this experience safe from harm, and for that I am so thankful this Solstice morning. I have never been so proud of my tribe, or so thankful to all of them. We will have many more weeks in The Summerland together, but this one cemented us together … as the saying now goes, ‘been there, survived the flood, bought the tshirt ‪#‎WeAreTribe‬‘”

Tracie Sage Wood
“Thinking about this from a lessons learned, other than the complete lack of disaster planning, it was a lesson for us pagans, for the community. We’ve become so regimented. … Many of our rituals have become huge theatrical productions that I come away from feeling nothing. After the morning meeting where we were told we were closing up, Selena had an impromptu healing ritual … for people and the earth. Everyone that was left there was hugging in a circle, and crying… THAT was community. That was the first ritual there where I felt the energy, and felt the love. Perhaps we need to get back to our roots. to a more spontaneous group effort at things … everyone eating together, singing together…helping each other. I feel closer to my tribe than I ever have.”

Eric Eldritch
“As a community, I’ve learned far more than I ever could imagine about the resilience and reliance on community. Online I read a PSG post saying ‘Is it natural to feel guilt about wanting to stay and help out some more, but having to leave?’ I learned about how torn I was to stay or leave. I decided to follow the need to follow disaster coordinator’s lead and help from afar. It was important to have people on the outside responding to emails, texts and posts to keep up morale while the evacuation rolled out. Pulling together onsite and offsite gave a sense of community that was more expansive than any storm. Feeling, Seeing and Experiencing Tribe in Action was life changing for us all.”

Michael Greywolf
“So now we are home and missing our tribe so much. Three days was not enough, but it was an amazing three days, I wouldn’t trade that time for all the world. We saw our community come together in the face of a crisis, a disaster and we overcame it. In 35 years PSG has never had to use their disaster plan, not once. But we did it, we showed just how strong our bond as a community, as a tribe, as a family truly is. Sure we lost a lot because of it. We lost time with friends we only see once a year, we lost experiences we were hoping to have, we lost a few possessions, we lost money, but no one lost their life. And that’s what really counts.”

Bill Wheaton
“This week was an exhilarating, sublime and harrowing experience, but one I hope not to ever repeat in the same way. Since that time I have had a lot of stress symptoms. Bad dreams, emotional ups and downs, trouble concentrating, worry about others and other stuff like that. And really the whole reason I am writing this at all is to help me get it sorted out and back to normal. Things are still wonky, this helps …”

Edmund Zebrowski
“We did make it out by about 10 o’clock [Wednesday] … Our flight is not till Monday and funds to change tickets were not in the budget for the trip so we opted to spend the week with friends and enjoy the world of Chicago while we are here. We feel very fortunate to be able have been taken in and cared for as we been told of several people that were not so lucky. So the money that was set aside to eat at PSG now is being used to by dinners that we are cooking at friends houses. We are sleeping in spare rooms and washing up the one or two pairs or normal clothes we brought … Online people try and make sense of what happened and we all sit and wonder how this will affect next year.”

Tina Stover, Merchant and wife of PSG Guardian
“After 23 years of going to PSG, I have seen my share or bad weather. We have been evacuated and hunkered down before. This year, however at the end of it all, I felt devastated and broken. I watched people helping in all kinds of ways from pushing cars to comforting children. I saw everything from people hiding to acts of courage. We all came together and managed the best we could. However, there was something missing at the end. It was healing. All the other times when we went through bad weather, we had the chance to heal and spiritually comfort everyone. This year the only spiritual time we had was the opening ritual and then disaster and then get the hell out now! There was no relief … The poor herald’s constantly reminding people and then others telling you constantly move your car, leave, move your car, leave. It was more than I could take. The last words said to us on Thursday afternoon, was not of love and thanks, but another reminder that we had to be gone by 5pm. I was so hurt and devastated at that point, I cut my wristband off and threw it out the window on the way home … These are just my personal feelings and I think that healing was forgotten and replaced by urgency. I blame no one. It was a lesson in love and loss for everyone.”

Three Rivers Pagans
“Now that we are home, we are working on healing the deep cuts to our psyche from seeing such devastation. No matter how much you helped out, it never seemed enough. No matter how many people you fed or pulled out of the flood zone, there were still more. But as a community, we came together. We got things done faster and more efficiently than any government agency could ever think to do. Together, we celebrated community in the best way possible: by becoming that which we celebrated.”

Bryan O’Dell
“Yes, there were losses, but no one severely hurt and it could have been significantly worse. It was literally a natural disaster. I will always keep in my heart the amazing efforts and acts I saw, took part in and witnessed. I will make it an effort of mine to keep that level of community going.”

Melanie Moore
“So me and my tribe were very upset by PSG’s decision to close. This was my 25th PSG. We have been through floods, tornadoes, heat waves and we are a group of good campers. We had planned to just stay at Stonehouse. When it became clear that that was not an option, threatened with the sheriff, we decided to move the festival to my house … Wednesday, on the drive home, my coven sister … and I brainstormed a list of activities. We didn’t do all of the list. But we did do: reiki attunements, nail and make up day, beach day … We also supported each other through our grief stages. It was a giant slumber party. I remember waking up … at four in the morning on the floor of my living room. I woke up and saw that all my best friends were passed out all around me. I felt such love and joy.”

"Spa Day" at Melanie Moore's house, after PSG closed. Photo by Melanie Moore

“Spa Day” at Melanie Moore’s house, after PSG closed. Photo by Melanie Moore

Beth Yoder-Balla
“I was home one night when a tornado hit my neighborhood. It touched down on my street. We were lucky, some of my neighbors, not so much. Then came possibly the biggest blow of all, not one of the people here [in my town] that I thought were my closest friends offered to come help. The friends that I’ve helped move, or helped when basements flooded, or talked through emotional crises. So here I am today, and I’m angry, sad, and tired. Very tired. I’m not asking for anything here except a safe place to put these feelings. Thank you for that. Blessed be.”

*   *   *

Attendees aren’t the only ones trying to recover from the flood. Stonehouse Farm has a massive and expensive clean up operation ahead of them. Likewise, Circle Sanctuary had to clean up, pack up, and leave the campground as fast as possible, too. They also face an uncertain financial future and said they will be making a statement soon on how the flood affected Circle Sanctuary’s finances. Circle asked for volunteers to assemble at Circle Sanctuary last Saturday to help scrub every item of gear they use for PSG and over 75 volunteers showed up.

Volunteers clean Circle Sanctuary equipment. Photo by Circle Sanctuary

Volunteers clean Circle Sanctuary equipment. Photo by Circle Sanctuary

“We’re once again overwhelmed and amazed by the strength of our community. After the work was done, our volunteers joined in a Summer Solstice ritual of healing led by Selena Fox and were treated to an impromptu concert by Wendy Rule. The healing and recovery process will continue over the coming weeks, and we give thanks once again for our compassionate and dedicated PSG tribe!” said Florence Edwards-Miller. Circle Sanctuary will be  hosting a special podcast tonight, June 23, at 7 to 9pm Central. The podcast will focus on sharing experiences and perspectives by a variety of Pagan Spirit Gathering community members.

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