Column: The Fire Is Here

Heathen Chinese —  November 29, 2015 — 29 Comments

Five people protesting the police killing of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man, are shot and injured by a group of white men in Minneapolis. A candidate for the United States Presidency says that a database for all Muslims is “certainly something we should start thinking about.” When asked the difference between such an idea and Nazi Germany’s registration of Jews and other minorities, his only reply was, “You tell me, you tell me. Why don’t you tell me.” The same candidate’s white supporters physically attack a black heckler at a rally; the candidate states in an interview, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.” In Greece, the neo-fascist political party Golden Dawn, which has no relation to the occult organization, became the third leading party in the country by winning 7% of the vote in the elections this September, approximately 500,000 votes.

[Public Domain / Wikipedia]

[Public Domain / Wikipedia]

What do Pagans and Polytheists see when they read the news; when they look at history? Do they see deviations from an inevitable progressive march from animism and polytheism to monotheism to atheism, from savagery to barbarism to civilization? Or do they see the snake of the ouroboros choking on its own tail time and time again? Do they see what Walter Benjamin described in 1940 — what the Angel of History sees? “Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet.” Or as Rhyd Wildermuth wrote recently, “History doesn’t really ‘repeat itself,’ but it’s full of repeating forms.”

Benjamin, looking at the current events of his own time, wrote that those who viewed the rise of fascism as a regression from some sort of historically-ordained “progress” only hindered the struggle against it. He wrote, “The astonishment that the things we are experiencing in the 20th century are ‘still’ possible is by no means philosophical. It is not the beginning of knowledge, unless it would be the knowledge that the conception of history on which it rests is untenable.”

When the new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explains the demographics of his newly-appointed Cabinet by saying “Because it’s 2015,” he displays the same kind of historical blindness that Benjamin critiques. Have the Laws of History decreed that sexism, racism and fascism are not possible in 2015, that they are mere fossils from the past? Should we greet fascism’s continuity and its re-emergence with astonishment? Or with preparedness?

In a fragment from The Arcades Project, Benjamin suggested an alternate conception of history. “Marx says that revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But the situation may be quite different. Perhaps revolutions are not the train ride, but the human race grabbing for the emergency brake.” Can you hear the reverberating echo of the final prophecy of The Morrígan at the Second Battle of Mag Tuired (section 167)? Do you hear the last gasps of the Race of Iron described by Hesiod in Works and Days, as Aidos (Shame) and Nemesis (Retribution) “forsake mankind” (lines 170-201)?

An anti-progressive conception of history requires radically different ideas about death and ancestry as well. Pagans and Polytheists tend to think about these ideas frequently anyway…and what’s more, to live them, to embody them, to experience them directly. These ideas are powerful and dangerous, as can be seen by the popularity of Evola among fascists. From an anti-racist and anti-fascist position, however, we can claim James Baldwin as an Ancestor and Prophet who spoke about these same ideas with refreshing clarity.

[Public Domain / Wikipedia]

James Baldwin. [Photo Credit: Allan Warren / Wikipedia]


In his 1963 book The Fire Next Time, Baldwin wrote that the veneer of politics is used by white Americans to conceal the inescapable fact of death:

Behind what we think of as the Russian menace lies what we do not wish to face, and what white Americans do not face when they regard a Negro: reality—the fact that life is tragic. Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.

The word “tragic,” of course, traces its etymology back to worship of Dionysos in ancient Greece, to the views of fate and limited human agency put forth by ancient playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. The philosopher Albert Camus defined the “tragic” condition as being characterized not just by death and absurdity, but by self-awareness of one’s situation: “The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.”

The awareness and acceptance of the inevitability of death can be seen in many different cultures, in many different traditions and texts. For example, in Homer’s Iliad:

As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another
dies. (6.146-150, trans. Lattimore)

Or in Óðinn’s words in the Hávamál:

Cattle die,
kindred die,
we ourselves also die;
but I know one thing
that never dies,
judgement on each one dead (section 77, trans. Thorpe)

These themes of successive generations and enduring judgement shall return later in this essay. But first, we must look at the conclusions Baldwin draws from this basic fact. Far from despair, Baldwin exhorts his readers toward an ethic of celebration and passion and responsibility. His words read like the invocation of the Descendants that they are:

It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: it is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.

Baldwin sees white Americans’ collective willful refusal to acknowledge and “earn” their deaths as the underlying fear that dominates race relations in America: “But white Americans do not believe in death, and this is why the darkness of my skin so intimidates them. And this is also why the presence of the Negro in this country can bring about its destruction.” In other words, he speaks of the need to acknowledge the mortality of an entire country or civilization, not just of the individuals within its power structure.

The concept of “race,” after all, is ultimately tied to a question of power, an attempt to guarantee a certain societal and cosmological order. The link between the fear of death and the desire for control can be seen in ancient texts as ancient as the Epic of Gilgamesh, where the powerful king of Uruk searches for the plant of immortality, only to have it stolen by a serpent as he slept. Power, Baldwin reminds us, is in fact inherently unstable, even though many people think that it is a guarantor of stability:

It is the responsibility of free men to trust and to celebrate what is constant—birth, struggle, and death are constant, and so is love, though we may not always think so—and to apprehend the nature of change, to be able and willing to change. I speak of change not on the surface but in the depths—change in the sense of renewal.

But renewal becomes impossible if one supposes things to be constant that are not—safety, for example, or money, or power. One clings then to chimeras, by which one can only be betrayed, and the entire hope—the entire possibility—of freedom disappears.

Walter Benjamin might say that the possibility of freedom has in fact been betrayed time and time again throughout the history of class-stratified societies, and that “progress” is yet another “chimera.” And in the 7th century BCE, Semonides of Argos wrote of the folly of clinging to false hopes, which are always projected into the uncertain future:

There is no mortal who does not believe that next year
he will arrive as a friend to Wealth and material goods.
But one man is first overtaken by hated old age
before he reaches his goal. Other men are destroyed
by wretched disease. Others, overcome by War,
Hades sends down under the black earth. (trans. Mastronarde)

Or as Medea said in Seneca’s version of her story, “Whoso has naught to hope, let him despair of naught.” (163)

[Public Domain / Wikipedia]

Frederick Douglass. [Public Domain / Wikipedia]


Death, however, is constant. And so too are the dead, and the ancestors. In a 1971 conversation with the anthropologist Margaret Mead, Baldwin described the experience of drawing upon the strength and legacy of one’s ancestors, a feeling that is difficult to define but which can be recognized by anyone who has experienced it:

Baldwin: One’s ancestors have given one something, just the same. It is something difficult to get at. You know it when you are in trouble, in real trouble […] It is not exactly that you hear a voice. It’s just that you pull yourself together to confront whatever it is according to some principle which does not exactly exist in your memory but which has been given to you.
Mead: In the name of your ancestors.

Baldwin made clear that when he speaks of ancestors, he is speaking not only of those ancestors who are biologically related, “Let us say I can claim Frederick Douglass as one of my ancestors. I am very proud of him because I think he was a great man and in some way handed something down: his indignation was handed down; his clarity was handed down.” The key concept, then, is that he “handed something down,” something that future generations can draw upon.

Mead responded, “We have a term for this in anthropology: mythical ancestors. […] They are spiritual and mental ancestors, they’re not biological ancestors, but they are terribly important.” The concept is familiar to many Pagans and Polytheists, many of whom have their own terms for these types of ancestors as well: ancestors of spirit, ancestors of tradition, the Mighty Dead. And in ancient Greece, the war dead as well as certain cult heroes were honored by entire cities, not just by their immediate families. Tyrtaeus of Sparta wrote of the honors due to both warriors who died in battle and to their descendants:

This man they lament, young and old alike,
the whole city is affected with a painful longing
and his tomb and children are conspicuous for fame among men,
and his children’s children and race thereafter.
Never are his noble fame and his name forgotten,
but he is immortal, though lying under the earth. (trans. West)

This notion of fame—or infamy, or any other type of experience—being passed down a line of descent is important. This can particularly be seen when Baldwin discusses his relationship with Christianity.  He was a Christian preacher in his youth, but left the church after three and a half years. He framed his relationship to Christianity as one of personally “being there” or not in certain historical situations:

Baldwin: I wasn’t there among the early Christians in the Middle East.
Mead: That’s right.
Baldwin: But I was on those cattle boats which brought me here, brought me here in the name of Jesus Christ. […]
Mead: They did not bring you here in the name of Jesus Christ! That is a perversion.
Baldwin: One of the boats was called “The Good Ship Jesus.”

What did Baldwin mean when he said “he was there?” He didn’t mean reincarnation of an isolated individual soul. He seems to have meant a certain type of ancestral experience, a certain collapsing of time, an expanded definition of the self, and most importantly, the undeniable and ongoing impact of history on the present. “By the time I was five,” he said, he had been “handed down” his ancestors’ suffering not just by genetic descent but by his first-hand experience of that history continuing to play itself out:

Baldwin: I had to accept that I was on a slave boat once.
Mead: No.
Baldwin: But I was.
Mead: Wait, you were not. Look, you don’t believe in reincarnation?
Baldwin: But my whole life was defined by my history […] by the time I was five by the history written on my brow.

In his 1940 Dusk of Dawn, W.E.B. Du Bois similarly called skin color a “badge” of “a common history,” “a common disaster” and “one long memory.” (p. 33) Du Bois wrote that this badge symbolized an experience shared over time and space:

The physical bond is least and the badge of color relatively unimportant save as a badge; the real essence of this kinship is its social heritage of slavery; the discrimination and insult; and this heritage binds together not simply the children of Africa, but extends through yellow Asia and into the South Seas.

Though his life was “defined” by it since he was five years old, Baldwin still spoke of having to “accept” that history. And what happens when people are unable or unwilling accept their histories? In the words of Walter Benjamin, “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.”

At the same time, however, Benjamin wrotes that “fine and spiritual” qualities are present in the class struggle “as confidence, as courage, as humor, as cunning, as steadfastness,” and that “they will, ever and anon, call every victory which has ever been won by the rulers into question.” Similarly, in The Fire Next Time, Baldwin described the black children who walked through hostile crowds to newly-integrated schools as “improbable aristocrats” possessed of true nobility of spirit. He wrote:

The Negro boys and girls who are facing mobs today come out of a long line of improbable aristocrats—the only genuine aristocrats this country has produced. I say “this country” because their frame of reference was totally American. They were hewing out of the mountain of white supremacy the stone of their individuality.

Walter Benjamin. [Fair Use / Wikipedia]

Walter Benjamin. [Fair Use / Wikipedia]


Baldwin’s ideas about “accepting” his history are closely related to his ideas about responsibility. We have seen Baldwin’s call to be “responsible to life.” Now we see the idea of taking responsibility—which is often conflated with guilt, but is in fact a different concept—for history, and for the failures of the present moment. In his conversation with Mead, Baldwin not only identified himself with the slave on the boat, but with the Africans who sold other Africans to Europeans as well:

Baldwin: I’m not guiltless, either. I sold my brothers or my sisters—
Mead: When did you?
Baldwin: Oh, a thousand years ago, it doesn’t make any difference.

Ironically but tellingly, Baldwin begins The Fire Next Time with an epigraph from Rudyard Kipling, which was originally intended to be a “measured” encouragement of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines. But subsequently it was used by Baldwin to call for a true reckoning, a true judgement:

Take up the White Man’s burden
Ye dare not stoop to less
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you.

Taken as a justification for colonization, the “White Man’s burden” is a disgusting lie. Taken as a commentary on collective responsibility, however, it bears further thought. In his conversation with Mead, Baldwin asked, “How does a civilization distinguish from an individual? It’s a loaded question.”

Enlightenment thought has led to the glorification of the rational individual. In Benjamin and Baldwin, however, we find traces of older views of the relationship between the individual and society. Michael Löwy, for example, called Benjamin “a prophet; not like someone who tries to see the future, like a Greek oracle, but in the Old Testament sense: that is, one who calls the people’s attention to future dangers.” Baldwin willingly adopted the same term for himself:

Mead: You’re being an Old Testament person.
Baldwin: Prophet.
Mead: You’re taking an Old Testament position, that the sins of the fathers are visited on their children.
Baldwin: They are.

This position, though, is far from unique to the Old Testament. For example, the Athenian lawmaker Solon wrote in his hymn “To the Muses” that Zeus’s punishment for greed and injustice could be intergenerational as well:

Such is the vengeance of Zeus. […]
One man pays the price at once, another later on. For those who escape
In themselves, and gods’ approaching doom does not reach them,
It comes in any case thereafter. Innocents pay the price,
Either their children or their later descendants. (trans. West)

Similarly, Herodotus relates that when Gyges usurped the kingdom of Lydia, the Delphic Oracle of Apollon predicted “that the Heraclids would have their revenge on Gyges in the fifth generation: a prophecy to which neither the Lydians nor their kings paid any attention, until it was actually fulfilled,” in the reign of Croesus (1.13, trans. De Selincourt). And a Chinese prayer to Guan Di warns that those who “entice others to do evil, and do not even a bit of good” themselves will bring down consequences for their entire family: “Retribution will fall upon them, their sons, and their grandsons.”

Baldwin’s position, however, is more nuanced. He speaks of the way in which a crime committed once can be committed over and over again, by the act of forgetting, by the act of refusing to accept:

Mead: A crime that was committed a long time ago.
Baldwin: The crime that is committed until it is accepted that it was committed. If you don’t accept, if I don’t accept whatever it is I have done— […] I ‘m doomed to do it forever. If I don’t accept what I have done.

He points out the paradox of an entire system that denies personal responsibility: who is responsible for creating such a system—a system not just political or economic, but a “system of reality?” It can only be “all of us:”

We agreed this morning that guilt and responsibility were not the same thing. But we have to agree, too, that we both have produced, all of us have produced, a system of reality which we cannot in an any way whatever control; what we call history is perhaps a way of avoiding responsibility for what has happened, is happening, in time. [emphasis added]

And thus, he returns to the importance of a personal ethic, of personal honor:

What I am trying to get at is if any particular discipline—whether it be Christianity, Buddhism or LSD, God forbid—does not become a matter of your personal honor, your private convictions, then it’s simply a cloak which you can wear or throw off. If it is not interiorized, as we would say these days, then it really is meaningless.

Joshua Tree National Park, June 2015. [Public Domain / NPS]

Joshua Tree National Park, June 2015. [Public Domain / NPS]

Vengeance and Salvation

If the “system of reality” we have constructed lies beyond the responsibility of any one person or organization, if history itself is “a way of avoiding responsibility,” what can cut through this Gordian Knot? In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin warns of “historical vengeance, a cosmic vengeance.” A divine vengeance, an ancestral vengeance:

The intransigence and ignorance of the white world might make that vengeance inevitable—a vengeance that does not really depend on, and cannot really be executed by, any person or organization, and that cannot be prevented by any police force or army: historical vengeance, a cosmic vengeance, based on the law that we recognize when we say, “Whatever goes up must come down.”

Baldwin had already written these words by the time he sat down with Margaret Mead. He had written, too, of the mistake of “clinging to chimeras.” And so, Baldwin sought to slay the “chimera” of American self-importance, shocking Mead greatly:

Baldwin: From my point of view, America does not matter so very much.
Mead: What does?
Baldwin: Mexico matters.
Mead: You think—
Baldwin: Vietnam matters.
Mead: You think that Mexico and Vietnam can save the world? I mean for the future?
Baldwin: I know that we will not.
Mead: Well, if we don’t save it—
Baldwin: We won’t.
Mead: Jimmy, if we don’t save it we will destroy it.
Baldwin: We won’t. My point precisely.
Mead: And Mexico and Vietnam will have nothing to do with it.
Baldwin: My point precisely.
Mead: All right. You are saying, then, the world is going to be destroyed; there is no use doing anything about it?
Baldwin: No. I don’t intend to be passive. But America will not save us.

Like Semonides of Argos, Baldwin accepts the reality of the present without delusion about the future: “The future doesn’t exist for me. […] I am not romantic. I am not at home here and never will be.”

Let us, too, take a clear look at the time we find ourselves in. The Fire Next Time is couched as a warning of an impending apocalypse, which could perhaps be averted if the “intransigence and ignorance of the white world” are abandoned. But this has not happened. And just as the crime is committed anew until it is accepted, so is the destruction of the world an ongoing process, not a “future” one.

Let us avoid the pitfall of the Christians who are eternally trying to predict the date of the Rapture, forced to forever re-calculate as the proclaimed date arrives and passes. Time is not linear progress, but cyclical, compressed and eternal. The fire is not coming “next time,” it is already here, and it has been here.

And as we began this article with reference to the police shooting of Jamar Clark, so we end it with a final quote from James Baldwin:

I don’t care how well the cops are educated. I know what their role is in my life, and I will not accept it.

What more needs to be said?

Selected Bibliography

  • Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. New York: The Dial Press, 1963.
  • Baldwin, James and Margaret Mead. A Rap On Race. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1971.
  • Benjamin, Walter. “On the Concept of History.” 1940.
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I. The Other

“I don’t practice what I preach because I’m not the kind of person I’m preaching to.”Rev. Ivan Stang

Sitting on my patio, I looked up from the clay in my hands and was suddenly and immediately awestruck by the silence. For a moment, the entire street symphony was quiet: the birds, the cars, the workers on the Broadway Bridge, the pedestrians, it was though the volume had been suddenly turned down for dramatic effect. I looked around and down towards the street, surprised by the silence, and it was at that moment a truck came roaring by out of nowhere, hit the loose pothole right outside my building, and set off the car alarm for the fourth time that day.

I looked down towards the car from my third-floor balcony, enraged. I knew exactly which vehicle it was, license plate number and all, as I had been directing my anger towards that car on a near-daily basis for several months now. It was a beat-up black Honda, one of those late-80s models with the exaggerated black rear window louvers, and its alarm went off nearly every time without fail whenever a truck directly hit the lose pothole.

The view from my balcony. Photo by Alley Valkyrie

The view from my balcony. [Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

The car had been a constant source of my frustration and rage since the first week that I settled into this unit, having moved from a smaller unit upstairs at the beginning of last summer. Other than the constant car alarm, the unit and the streetscape that accompanied it were exactly to my liking, which in retrospect I realize only further aggravated my anger towards the car. It was the only nuisance in an otherwise ideal scenario.

The alarm stopped for a few seconds and then started up again. My mind started to rant, presenting the same line of questions that came forth every time I got aggravated over the alarm. How can the owner not know it’s going off all day? What kind of person acts so inconsiderately towards their neighbors and their neighborhood? I can’t be the only one pissed off about this.

I stood up and looked over the balcony, noticing as I rose that my instinctive reaction had become a ritualized routine at this point: Truck goes by; alarm goes off. I get up as my mind starts to rant. I look down at the car in anger; beam rage down from the balcony; contemplate filing a noise complaint; remember that it won’t have any effect; fantasize about having the car towed; silently curse the owner under my breath; and then get back to whatever I was doing until the next time the alarm goes off.

In consciously realizing the pattern I decided to interrupt it at that moment. Instead of stepping into the cycle that I had just identified, I went inside, closed the door, and turned up the music. My housemate looked at me quizzically.

“Its that Gods-damned car alarm,” I said. “Every time I hear it, all I want to do is throw a brick at that miserable excuse for a car. This has been going on for months! When’s it going to stop?”

He looked out the window towards the street below for a moment and then shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t even notice it,” he said. “I mean now I do, because you pointed it out…”

If only I didn’t notice it, I thought to myself.

I grabbed my jacket and went out for a walk, hoping that by walking it off I could drain the frustration out as well.

As I walked, the rant between my ears carried on. How does the owner not know that their alarm is broken? Can’t they disable the alarm? If it goes off here constantly, it must be going off anywhere they park. How does a person not figure out that it’s their car? I mean, they have to know, right? Which means that they’re just an inconsiderate excuse for a human being, and they don’t care that someone like me has to hear it all day. I hate people. Dammit, I hate people so much…

I allowed the stream of consciousness to fade out as I started to physically tire, and I could feel the anger had mostly drained away. After a few hours I turned back toward my building, making mental notes of the patterns and emotions that I had just experienced in the hopes that I could react more rationally the next time the alarm went off.

I was a half-block from my building, walking directly below my balcony on the sidewalk, when a car pulled into a space a few feet in front of me. I was so deep in my head that I almost walked past it when I noticed the telltale black louvers out of the back of my eye.

My heart and my stomach jumped at the same time, as my anger immediately rushed right back in. This was the car. And the driver is inside.

I froze and stared at the car, realizing that in all the months of anger and frustration and rage that I had never actually conceived of this moment in my mind, never thought that I would actually ever be face-to-face with the person responsible for the constant interruptions that had plagued me since the summer. What do I do? What do I even say?

The door opened, and the driver stepped out. I shifted immediately from anxiety and anger to bewilderment and shock. The driver that just emerged from the car was my former neighbor from across the hall when I lived upstairs – a sweet, elderly, nearly-deaf woman who I befriended and interacted with on a daily basis when I lived in my old unit.

Instantly, the entire situation explained itself, and my consistent internal questions were answered. Of course, I said to myself. She can’t hear the alarm from inside the building. She probably doesn’t hear it if she’s more than ten feet away. It then occurred to me that even if she did know that her alarm was broken, fixing it would be a great challenge as she lives on a fixed income and did not seem to have family nearby. As it was, she collected cans in the building to supplement her income.

She saw me, smiled, and waved. I waved back, barely noticing that I was returning the physical gesture as feelings of guilt and nausea swept over me. I immediately thought of how may times I had been tempted to call the police; how many times I had wanted to have the car towed; the amount of anger and hate and frustration that I had exerted towards an unknown entity, the ‘other’, who had turned out to be a friend.

She continued to grin as she walked toward me, and I had to remind myself that she was unaware of my internal transgressions. She had no idea that I had been wildly fantasizing for months about throwing a large object from the balcony onto her car. She nodded hello and I nodded back and, in my awkwardness of the moment, I offered to help her with her bags. She accepted, and we walked in silence up to her apartment.

After I dropped her bags off at her front door, I went back to my place and completely fell apart. It wasn’t just the immediate situation, but a much harsher feeling of hypocrisy and a failure to live up to my own standards. As someone whose work for years has been rooted in demystifying and breaking down ideas and prejudices around the ‘Other,’ I had fallen into the identical trap that I have spent countless hours of my life writing, teaching, arguing, and lecturing on. I had demonized the unknown based on a personal inconvenience, and spent months projecting my anger and rage onto that Other, only to find out that the Other was actually not only a friend, but one of the most vulnerable people I know.

While the car alarm had been a legitimate annoyance, one could argue that the homeless man who plays bucket drums on the downtown was a comparable annoyance – the man who I see being yelled at all day by working folks who scream “get a job”. And I have always stood as the constant defender of him and others like him, always conscious of the fact that the anger projected at him is much greater than the annoyance warrants, always aware that such anger is being displaced onto him because he represents the Other.

I sat with that hypocrisy and with that discomfort for what seemed like endless hours, finally passing out only to enter into a dreamland in which my conscience and hypocrisy were at the forefront.

The next morning when the car alarm went off, I immediately felt a guilty pang upon first hearing it but then found that I could almost immediately tune it out. Later in the day, when it went off again, I was instantly able to tune it out, which was relieving on one level but also made me even more uneasy on another. I thought of my housemate, who is able to tune it out every time, and I realized that my past overreactions and my prior inability to tune it out had everything to do with my displaced rage and little to do with the actual annoyance factor of the sound itself.

Against the other regular sounds that float in off the balcony, the alarm suddenly seemed no louder nor more prominent than anything else in the immediate sonic landscape. I knew deep down that it has everything to do with the fact that I now immediately connect the sound to a vulnerable friend who lives in poverty, as opposed to the unknown, horrible, mythically inconsiderate person that I had built up in my head. I could see clearly what had happened; I could see and understand and explain the trap that I had fallen into. But understanding it did nothing for my conscience and my anxiety.

In hindsight, at that moment I was in the midst of yet another repeat lesson that I hadn’t realized that I needed. For the rational mind can explain and justify and forgive, but it has little effect on the psyche as a whole if the emotional mind throws up enough roadblocks.

*     *     *

A few days later, I met a friend down by the waterfront and spilled the whole tale.

“On a intellectual level, I recognize how powerful social conditioning is, I recognize that no matter how much work we do we can never root out that conditioning completely, and I know that to dehumanize the Other is deeply rooted in that conditioning. And yet despite recognizing that, I’m having a hard time forgiving myself. No matter how strong the conditioning, the fact is that I still caught myself red-handed not practicing what I preach, and when I look at how easily I fell into that trap, I feel like perhaps I haven’t embodied the lessons that I teach as much as I thought I did.”

She thought for a minute, and then spoke.

“Or maybe the fact that you can never embody it fully, that no matter what you do you will always be somewhat susceptible to that conditioning, maybe that’s the lesson you needed to learn instead.”

 II. The Self

I remember when I first encountered anthropocentrism. I was in primary school and, in preparation for our confirmation, the class was learning about the afterlife.John Burnside

It was one of the most powerful learning experiences of my life, powerful enough that it reverberates just as deeply over fifteen years later as it did the time the lesson first sank in.

“Go out for a walk in the park, make it a long one,” he instructed me. “And while you are out, concentrate fully on everything occurring around you, and assume that every single thing that you notice, that occurs in your presence, that falls across your path, is a message from the Gods. Absorb as much as you can, and come back to me when you can’t hold onto any more of it.”

And so I went out on a beautiful spring day into Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and spent the next several hours divining my environment according to instruction, taking in everything I saw as a significant symbol or trail of meaning. As I made my way through the park, reading the swaying of the trees and the patterns of the birds, I hit a moment of what felt like enlightenment, a spiritual breakthrough, a place of true power.

The Nethermead at Prospect Park. Photo by Garry R. Osgood

The Nethermead at Prospect Park. [Photo Credit: Garry R. Osgood]

The entire park is speaking to me, I though to myself. I am in communication with the universe as a whole. We are one, we are connected, we can read each other’s thoughts. All the archetypal notions of woman as witch, woman as connected to nature, the universality of the divine – at that moment all were at the forefront.

I headed back to my teacher, intoxicatingly high on what I had perceived as the ultimate taste of power and divinity, floating on air and my own ego as I approached his house. He opened the door as I walked up the porch stairs, took one look at me, and his face immediately fell.

“Dammit,” he said, shaking his head while also trying to stifle a smile. “I should have known. This is just like when I gave my son the whiskey.”

“Wait, what? Whiskey? What are you…”

My voice drifted off as I stood there, my face reflecting my complete and utter confusion, a confusion that brought me down from my metaphysical high almost instantly.

He laughed. “When I was young, maybe ten or eleven, I was walking with my mother one day and we saw some of the older kids in my neighborhood drinking in a nearby alleyway. There was something about it that intrigued me as we walked past, I started asking my mother about alcohol and drinking and all of that business. So when we get home, she asks me if I want to try some alcohol. I was stunned… and confused, of course… why was she offering me something that was forbidden?

“So of course I say yes. She hands me a bottle and I take a foolishly big gulp, and it was the most horrifying taste and sensation I had ever experienced in my entire life. I immediately vomited and started to cry, and I didn’t dare try alcohol again until I was well in my college years. Meanwhile, those kids who drank in the alley all the time, they never made it to college. And of course as I got older I recognized why she did what she did, as unorthodox as it was, and I recognized how effective it was on me as a kid. It made me a believer in preventative measures.

“So when my son first showed curiosity around alcohol, I repeated the lesson. I handed him a bottle of cheap, cheap whiskey, the kind that tortures your insides no matter your disposition, and he took the same big swig that I did as kid. But unlike me, his eyes immediately lit up as it went down. He loved it, I remember him licking it off his lips. I remember standing there in horror – what had I done?”

He paused for a moment and then smiled. “My son, though, I raised him right, and he understood that his reaction was the exception to the rule, and that my intent was to keep him on the right path, and he internalized what I had intended in the lesson despite that lesson backfiring in reality. He stayed away from the troublemakers in the neighborhood and went on to finish college like I did.”

“But what does this have to do with me?” I asked.

He smiled again and paused to collect his thoughts. “Well, I basically sent you out there hoping it would have the same effect as a bitter gulp of whiskey, so to speak. But you reacted just like my son. I can tell that you loved it.”

I thought back to the intoxicating high I felt during my journey in the park. “I did love it. That was amazing. But I still don’t quite understand what you’re getting at.”

He waved me inside and we sat down at the table, the tea already set out for two in anticipation of my return. I took a few sips and he started to speak again.

“The reason its like the whiskey is because I intentionally gave you an exercise that in a sense was supposed to make you sick. Not vomiting sick, but anyone else I’ve ever sent into that park has come back here either physically exhausted, angrily frustrated, or teetering on the edge of madness. But you, you’re happy and glowing like you just came back from a successful first date.”

He continued. “When one works with place, with the land, with the land spirits, its very easy to fall into the trappings of anthropocentrism. The connections forged in an ongoing relationship with the land, the ongoing process of learning to read signs and symbols, it can open up a dangerous space where we as the spirit worker become convinced that the universe and the gods and the spirits are speaking to us at every moment of every day.

“The universe is always speaking, yes. Absolutely. It is relaying messages at every moment of every day in every corner of existence. But neither you as an individual nor us humans as a whole are necessarily the intended target or recipient of those messages. And yet, many fall into that trap where they are convinced that every leaf, ever feather that falls in front of them carries a crucial meaning, and it is those unfortunate souls that tend to descend into either narcissism or madness.”

I nodded. I thought back once more to that feeling that carried me through the park, but this time I immediately recognized its potential danger.

“So yes,” he continued. “Again, the universe is always speaking, but the point is that its not always speaking to you, and the intended lesson was that opening oneself to the idea that they are the center of the universe does not end well. Sometimes the Gods are trying to get your attention, and sometimes the squirrels are just chasing a leaf and it has nothing to do with you whatsoever.

“And yet I feel that we both learned unintended but powerful lessons today. You are smart, as smart as my son if not more. And I have no doubt that you understand the lesson in its intent just as my son did. You’re just going to learn it a little differently in its application. Like my son, you will need to keep in mind how much you liked that forbidden taste, which may make resisting it a bit more challenging.”

You’re just going to learn it a little differently, I repeated to myself.

“Wait, going to learn it?” I asked. “I thought I just learned it. “

He laughed. “You have. But you’ll learn it again and again before you’re done, my dear. Lessons like these don’t begin and end, they hover constantly and tap you on the shoulder when you need another reminder.”

*     *     *

I was walking home from downtown last month when I decided to take a detour, making my way down to the riverfront so that I could walk through Waterfront Park towards the Steel Bridge.

Waterfront Park in downtown Portland. Photo by Alley Valkyrie.

Waterfront Park in downtown Portland. [Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie.]

It had been one of those days where the planet seemed off and the land felt shifty somehow, as though the place itself was tense in expectation. I couldn’t help but internalize that feeling as I did my errands that day, feeling myself slip into moments of uncertainty and paranoia, and everything that fell before my path seemed to confirm or further validate what I was feeling.

I was nervous, started to quicken my pace towards home, when I suddenly heard a racket out of nowhere coming from the seagulls above my head. I looked up for a split second and quickly did a double-take.

The air was full of seagulls, but they were flying haphazardly through the air, swooping unnecessarily and chaotically as they circled the immediate area. They reminded me at once of stunt pilots, swooping through the air to dazzle and amaze the crowd. But these were birds, not airplanes, and in all my years of concentrating on the flights of birds, I had never seen birds act like this before. I thought back to the uneasy feeling I had been noticing all afternoon, and as I continued to watch the birds I slowly and surely became absolutely terrified.

I watched as two gulls nearly crashed into each other, and the one that was nearly hit responded by darting up and then nose-diving straight into the river.

My mind started to race. Are we about to have an earthquake? Is a meteor about to hit? A hurricane? I looked around to see if there were any other animals acting oddly in the vicinity. A couple was walking their dogs down the riverfront path, oblivious to what I was witnessing. Their dogs were also oblivious, ambling along and sniffing the path without a care in the world.

I looked up again. The seagulls were still flying around everywhere, swirling around without end, with some yelling while others bounced from tree to tree in bursts and fits. Did something horrible just happen? Was there a terrorist attack? I pulled out my phone and quickly pulled up the news headlines as my eyes kept focus on the gulls. I then glanced back down for a moment and scanned the page. Nothing unusual, just a few sports games and some kind of international conference.

I looked back up at the sky, my fear growing as I started to think back on all the signs, all the synchronicities, all the feelings that had drifted through and past and before me over the course of the afternoon. I watched as two seagulls landed in front of me, stared blankly at each other while yelling, and then quickly took off and started circling around the nearest tree.

Minutes went past, and I continued to stare at the sky in terror, having no idea how to proceed. I wanted nothing more than to walk away, than to pretend that I never witnessed this and/or that it was simply a random and easily explainable occurrence that held no significant meaning. But my fear would not allow for such a decision. What in the world is going on here? What does it mean? What are they trying to say?

A group of seagulls then landed in front of me, and as I looked down at them I also once again glanced around the immediate vicinity, hoping that someone else was at least witnessing what was occurring in the sky. As I turned and looked behind me, I noticed a group of street kids about twenty feet away, watching me as they were stifling their laughter.

I shot them an angry look. “What are you laughing at?” I pointed at the gulls, who had once again taken to circling around like stunt pilots. “This is not funny. There’s something seriously wrong here. Birds aren’t supposed to do this. I pay attention to the gulls every day and I’ve never in my life seen them do this.”

The street kids started to crack up uncontrollably. “They’re fine, I promise you,” one of them said through his laughter.

“No, they’re really not, they’re not fine at all,” I countered.

“Well, they may not be fine right now, but they’re acting as expected,” he replied

He looked back at his friends for a moment and raised his eyebrows at the group; a few responded with a nod and a shrug. He turned back to face me again.

“Seriously, they’re fine. We just gave them some acid, that’s all.”

I stared at him, shifting from disbelief to anger to relief back to disbelief. I looked up at the birds and then back again at him, and I knew immediately that he was telling the truth.

Suddenly, my fear melted away and an overwhelming wave of relief came over me, a wave of relief so powerful that the part of me that was horrified and disgusted that someone would give psychedelic drugs to seagulls was immediately drowned out and overcome by a feeling of safety. This has nothing to do with me. Not only am I not the intended recipient, this isn’t a message for anyone. This is not an omen, the world is not ending, the universe is not trying to communicate through the seagulls. They’re birds on drugs, that’s all.

I wanted to give the kid a verbal thrashing, but I found myself speechless as the sense of relief started to shift to a feeling of utter foolishness. I can’t believe I fell into that trap, I said to myself as I stood there in front of him. I looked up once again. Oh, gods, I thought. Those poor birds.

He walked back to the group, which was still trying to collectively contain their laughter. And as I walked away towards home, I thought back to the original lesson in the park all those years ago. I continued to hear laughter around me long past the point where the street kids were out of earshot. It was laughter that I admittedly deserved. I could almost hear my teacher’s voice in my head, his commentary slightly altered for the occasion:

Sometimes the Gods are trying desperately to get your attention. But sometimes, the seagulls are just on acid.

III. The Fabric

“All human knowledge takes the form of interpretation.” Walter Benjamin

My morning routine takes me up eighty-one steps to the top of the Broadway Bridge, then down the ramp past the rear of the Post Office Facility toward Lovejoy Street, my eventual destination being a coffee shop a few blocks further down the road. It is a half-mile stretch that I have walked near-daily for over a year now, and there is not an inch of the terrain that I haven’t either studied or committed to memory at this point.

It is that deep familiarity and intimacy with the terrain and its expressions within that half-mile stretch that allow me to quickly lose myself and tune in completely to my surroundings while maintaining enough of an awareness to engage in the varied rituals that have revealed themselves as necessary over the course of many months. Every block and turn in the journey has aspects and signifiers that demand specified attention and, while I go out of my way not to invest too much meaning into any given signifier, I cant help but to ‘read’ my daily walk the way some read the tea leaves at the bottom of their cup each morning.

A week or so after the Paris bombings, I was on the return leg of my daily outing, walking up the ramp that connects Lovejoy Street to the Broadway Bridge, when I looked up at an instinctive spot and noticed an inconsistency in the landscape.

Pigeons on the light-post. Photo by Alley Valkyrie

Pigeons on the light-post. [Photo Credit: Alley Valkyrie]

The light-post at the top of the ramp is home to a pigeon’s nest, and there is rarely a time that at least a dozen pigeons are not perched on the top of it. Passers-by often notice the pigeons the hard way as they are hit by poo as they walk underneath. After observing this a few times, I started making eye-contact with the pigeons as part of my daily routine, announcing my presence each time I walked under and asking them to grant me a poo-free passage.

On that day, however, when I looked up at the light pole from the bottom of the hill, I noticed that instead of pigeons, there were crows atop the pole, and they were all staring down at something below. There was not a pigeon in sight. I greeted the crows from a distance as I walked towards the pole, reaching into my pocket for some peanuts while looking around to see where the pigeons had gone.

A few steps closer, I was able to see onto the rooftop below the bridge where the crows’ gazes had been fixed for at least a minute now, and from a distance it looked like two pigeons were mating. I laughed at the idea of the crows as voyeurs, assuming that the other pigeons had the decency to grant the pair some privacy, but my amusement quickly turned to shock as the roof came into focus and I once again looked down.

Staring directly at me, less than twenty feet away, was a hawk with a pigeon in its talons, jumping up and down to smother the bird and smash it against the concrete surface while simultaneously squeezing the life out of it. I looked away in horror as I heard the crows editorializing above. I looked up briefly and observed them leering over, and I followed their eyes down as they watched the brutal display on the roof with a rapt fascination.

The hawk and I again locked eyes, and continued to stare for several seconds. The hawk maintained eye contact while continuing to squeeze the life out of the pigeon. I thought back to the seagulls in the park a few weeks prior, and then shifted to the brief and hopeful notion that this was a random occurrence devoid of any significant meaning. And yet I could not unlock my eyes, and the hawk seemingly read my mind and both his gaze and the motions of its talons intensified. At that exact moment, I heard the hawk in the back of my head.

Make no mistake. This one is for you.

I started to shake as once again terror came over me. I felt paralyzed, held there by fear and the realization that I was meant to bear witness, trapped in the gaze of the hawk as the pigeon screamed for its life. I averted my gaze for a split second and looked down at my hand, realizing that I was clenching the peanuts that I had taken out for the crows. I then turned back at the hawk, who was staring bullets through me, its head nodding in a taunting manner as the pigeon continued to struggle between the grip of the hawk’s talons.

At that moment the pigeon let out a horrible, desperate wail, and before I realized what I was doing I flung the peanuts in my hand onto the roof a few feet to the right of the hawk. As the peanuts landed on the roof, the hawk tightened its talons once more, snuffing the rest of the life out of the pigeon, and then took off with the bird in its claws while continuing to stare me down until he flew past.

The crows and the gulls on the light-pole immediately took after the hawk, and out of nowhere came a flock of pigeons, literally screaming for justice as they followed in pursuit behind the crows and the gulls, who chased the hawk under the Broadway Bridge and across the Willamette River.

I stood there, shaking, once again stunned at what I had just witnessed. I glanced around, hoping someone else had seen what I had, but this time there was nobody in sight. Looking down toward the roof, the only evidence of what had just occurred was a scattering of feathers in the exact place where the violent act had unfolded. I then scanned my eyes over toward the river in the direction of the birds, drawing immediate meaning from both the randomness and the significance of the incident as the birds disappeared out of sight.

I walked to the top of the ramp and crossed over toward the bridge and the staircase, briefly stopping to glance back at the path I had just walked. Unlike the other repeated lessons of late, this one needed no explanation, no reference, no external validity. I was all too familiar with what it meant to have a hole torn through the fabric of one’s routine, through one’s illusion of safety, and once again I recognized the value of an old lesson reinforced. I thought of the Paris attacks again and shuddered.

Heading down the stairs, a wild-eyed man was walking up toward me, and I could hear him muttering to himself as we neared each other. “Death, She speaks through the birds,” I heard him say as he brushed past me on the way up.

“Yes, yes, I know,” I muttered back.

*     *     *

Note: Columnist Alley Valkyrie, who has been with The Wild Hunt since 2013, has started her own Patreon account to help enable her to become a full-time writer and artist. 

*     *     *

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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Looking for the perfect Solstice gift for your favorite Pagan, Heathen, or Polytheist? The Wild Hunt’s 2015 Winter Solstice Gift Guide, with expert advice, reviews and recommendations for the latest movies, books, gifts and treats can help. If you find something you like, just click on the photo to find more information or to purchase the product.*


CalendarAstral Calendar – This calendar was designed for people to get more connected to a genuine solar year, even if they know little or nothing about astrology. Each zodiac month features a nude montage by Jean Jacques Andrè, an artist and photographer who has been creating with the female form since the 1950s. It also includes the Celtic holidays, eclipses, and the new & full moons–although the main focus is on the sun’s (earth’s) annual cycle. You don’t need to have any previous knowledge of astrology to use this calendar, and yet seasoned astrologers will also love it. $15 CAD

Adult mug

Cauldron Mug – These mugs are made to order, meaning you can pick the glaze color and choose a left hand or right hand mug. As a lefty, this is a big deal! You can even add a name or different words to the mug for an additional $5. All mugs are are made from red stoneware clay, and are microwave and dishwasher safe. Please note that the artist says turnaround time for custom orders is four to six weeks.So if you want this mug under the tree as a special gift you’ll need to order quickly. $35

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACommunity Supported Witchcraft Share – I love this concept. It’s like Community Supported Agriculture, but for magic. You can purchase a “share” of magical ritual goods and give them as a gift. Each month a different collection of three to six products are offered, whatever the artisan Witch is creating. It is both a fun gift and a way to support the further practice of Witchcraft as an art. $35-50 CAD

adult - medalianRaven Talisman – The etching on this copper medallion combines Norse and Celtic style elements and creates a look that is just a bit different from the typical raven. Ravens are known as messengers and watchers, and they can carry spirits off to the underworld. Ravens can bring you wisdom and magic or they may try to trick you. The talisman is hand etched on copper and is 1.5 inches in diameter. The Talisman comes with a woven leather cord. Not interested in a Raven? There are also many other talismans styles featuring animals or Gods and Goddesses. $29

Many gods

Many Gods, No Masters T-Shirt – A fun t-shirt that any Polytheist on your list would get a kick out. These t-shirts are super soft, and the image is hand-silkscreened. The shirt comes in unisex sizes, and is also available in a women’s cut. Practical Rabbit also has other fun shirts to order for both adults and kids, as well as other hand-made related items. I own the Beet the System, grow your own food shirt, and if anyone wanted to order me a women’s Fuck Bigotry shirt I wouldn’t complain. These shirts have been my go-to tees for the past year. $22


PieThe Raspberry Pi 2 Model B – This is a ridiculously affordable embedded computer that is perfect for teens interested in programming and building electronics. The size of a credit-card, this computer plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. It is a capable little device that enables people of all ages to explore computing, and to learn how to program in languages like Scratch and Python. It’s capable of doing everything you’d expect a desktop computer to do, from browsing the internet and playing high-definition video, to making spreadsheets, word-processing, and playing games. $35

adult evil eyeEvil Eye Bracelet – Being a teen is hard. This bracelet can help make it a bit easier. This cuff evil eye bracelet turns away curses and the bad intentions of others while looking pretty bad ass. The cuff is made of brown leather and lined with velvet. It’s laces help to ensure a good fit. The evil eye center bead is hand carved wood with a beeswax polish. Along with the powerful bead, there are also turquoise stone beads sewed on, imbuing the wearer with peace, calm, and more protection. There are currently only two of these cuffs left. $38

Tree of Life Key Chain – Got a new driver in the house? A thoughtful gift could be this Tree of Life key chain, a gentle reminder of how they are connected to everyone and everything else. The key chain comes in either black or brown leather and is distressed with paint suitable for leather. The Key of Life medallion is made of brass. Artisan accepts custom orders for other colors and materials. Created in Greece, ships worldwide. $19


admin-ajaxThor’s Hammer Plus Rattle – This is an adorable little rattle for your Viking baby! The charcoal gray fleece ‘hammer’ has a bark brown fleece handle, and is filled with poly-fil and two metal bells. It has white machine stitched embroidered detail on the hammer and black stitched wood grain detail on the handle. And, they even offer the option to have your little Viking’s initials sewn in one side in Norse Runes. $14

Infant - hatWitches Hat – I’m not all that into babies, but even I have to admit this is pretty cute. Not only do you get the hat, but it also comes with a headband, too. Both are handknit from acrylic and is machine washable on gentle cycle. The one pictured is for 0 to 6 months and is ready for immediate sale. If you need something custom made, be aware it can up to 12 weeks. However, if the Witch hat isn’t to your taste, the foxes ears are to die for. $20

Infant - baphBaphomet Plushie – I’ve never thought of Baphomet as adorable, but then again, I’ve never seen a Baphomet plushie. Until now! And really, why can’t a representation of the sum of the entire universe be cute? This plushie is made of soft fleece and is hand stitched felt. The plushie stands about 8 inches high. It might also make a good gift for the little Thelemite in your life. $20


Children BuddhaOriginal Buddha Board – Children live such hectic lives and are always on the go. The Buddha Board not only is a creative outlet,  but it also allows them to live fully in the moment. Think of it as a Zen-like Etch-A-Sketch. Children use the brush and water to paint designs onto the board, no paint needed. As the water evaporates the image fades away, but reveals a new perspective on your creative endeavors, encouraging the Zen idea of living in the moment. Since it can be used over and over with no other supplies needed, it is environmentally friendly, too. $35

Child - tattooAnimal hand tattoos – I want a set of these! Simply apply these temporary tattoos with water, and kids can make their own puppet show. You get two sets of eight different animals in your pack – bird, shark, zebra, giraffe, cow, alligator, tiger and bumblebee. Uncommon goods has some great educational and eco-friendly toys for kids, but they are usually pricey. These tattoos are relatively inexpensive, but they are made in China. Life is full of trade-offs. Retail $12

child chewingMake Your Own Chewing Gum – Part chemistry project, part botany lesson, all fun. Glee gum uses chicle, a tree sap, as its base. With adult supervision, kids can melt the sap and add flavors to make their own gum. Each ingredient comes with information on where and how it is harvested, and the history behind it. This kit makes learning fun. Parents can feel good about the gum because the chicle has been sustainably harvested, which helps preserve rainforests. And, what’s more, the packaging is eco-friendly. The same company also sells a Make Your Own Chocolate and Make Your Own Candy pack. $14

Coloring Books and Tarot

Tarot - GreenGreen Witch Tarot by Ann Moura and Kiri Østergaard Leonard – Ms. Gallo says that this is Llewellyn’s hottest tarot. Very in tune with Pagan sensibilities, the deck features different names for many of the majors, such as the Green Man in place of the Fool and The Lord and Lady for Lovers. Presenting Witchcraft practices and meaningful encounters with plants and animals, The Green Witch Tarot lets you open a channel between the reader and the spiritual beings of nature. It is full of powerful symbols and energetic wisdom that you can use to find the answers you seek. $29

Tarot - RavenRaven’s Prophecy Tarot, by Maggie Stiefvater – If you’re looking for a tarot deck for a teen, this is a good option. The deck was written and illustrated by uber-popular New York Times bestselling YA author Maggie Stiefvater. The iridescent sheen of a raven’s wing reveals a tantalizing glimpse of the future. A tattooed hand, sinews roiling like ley lines, peels back the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next. The Raven’s Prophecy Tarot reveals the wisdom of dreams, helping you harness the opposing forces of intuition and cunning, Moon and Raven, spirit and intellect. $29

games - coloring bookNorse Gods Coloring Book by Grace D. Palmer – Coloring is becoming more and more popular these days – with kids and adults alike. Many of the recently published coloring books are geared more for adults, but this book could be enjoyed by the entire family. It contains images of ten of the Norse Deities: Odin, Frigga, Frey, Freya, Thor, Tyr, Loki, Sigyn, Eir, and the Nornir. $20

owlUnleash the Goddess Coloring Books by Kerri Hirsch – Each book contains thirteen pages of unbound coloring fun. The books themselves are actually made of individual loose cardstock paper and can be colored with markers, watercolors, or acrylics. There are 12 different coloring book themes to choose from, and they range from simple drawings to more complex designs – all created by Hirsch herself. The themes include, for example, mandalas, Goddesses, pentacles, hearts, and Celtic knots. The one shown at the right is from the pack “Wild Whimsy.” $15

Epicureans and Fashionistas 

BeltRune Belt with Celtic Buckle – Have a Druid or Heathen on your gift list? The belt is handcrafted from full grain leather and is tooled, dyed, finished, and assembled by hand. It is affixed with four heavy duty Chicago screws with glued threads. The belt itself features runic script while the buckle has a knotwork design. You can customize either the runes or the buckle. $68

dressPentagram Dress – Buying clothing for your mate can be tricky, but pretty much any person would be ecstatic to receive this pentacle dress. Elegant, but still fun. It is made from soft touch jersey fabric so it has plenty of swing and drape, while still being as comfortable to wear as a pair of PJs. Need something dressier? Or maybe your mate doesn’t do above the knee dresses? No problem.There’s a floor length version with the pentacle in the back for extra drama.$65

GAIA- Goddess on EarthPhoto by Lisa LevartGoddess On Earth Coffee Table Book – This book is so lovely and powerful that I broke my own rule to only include books published in the last year. Goddess on Earth features over 95 lush color portraits and is printed with a rich European cloth cover by Editorial Bortolazzi-Stei in Italy, one of the most renown bookmakers in the world. Introduction by Jean Shinoda and afferword by Starhawk. The photo shown, titled Gaia, is of a mother and her children just days after she had given birth at home, a few inches from where the photo was taken. $56

The Craft dolls

The Craft Nesting Dolls – Are you kidding me? These are nesting dolls of The Craft Witches Nancy, Bonnie, Rochelle, and Sarah. Nancy is the biggest doll (natch!) at 5.5 inches while Sarah is the smallest at 2 inches. But don’t feel bad for Sarah, she has a tiny surprise inside. These dolls are hand painted, signed by the artist, and made to order. They ship worldwide from Australia and can take 4 to 6 weeks to create. Well worth the wait. $140

The Clitoring – There is power in female sexuality. This ring is a stylized anatomical representation of the newly rediscovered internal clitoris. I can definitely see this ring as a perfect receptical for storing energy raised during rituals. Luxurious enough to be worn at black tie events or as an everyday reminder of the Goddess within us all. The artist says the ring can even be set with precious stones. All handmade, choose from solid sterling silver or gold. $122 for sterling silver, $575 for gold.

rune ringSet of 6 Rune Rings – These rings contain power of another sort – the power of runes. There are six rings in this set, each a different rune. Algiz, for protection, on your thumb. Inguz, for love, on your index finger. There are two rings for your middle finger – Mannaz for unity and Kenaz for enlightenment. Teiwaz, for victory, on your ring finger and Othala, signifying your heritage, on your pinky. The rings are made from sterling silver, but have a dark oxidized patina. You can order them in sizes up to a 10 and single rune rings are also available. $320

epi - rugGoddess rug – This handmade crochet rug features Goddesses on top of circles of color. The rug is made from fabric strips that are cut up, tied together, and then crocheted together to make a 27 inches in diameter rug. The Goddesses are slightly padded and made of felt. The artisan can also make similar rugs featuring moon gazing hares,owls,foxes,faeries and badgers and can use wool in place of felt. I’m not sure I’d use this rug in a high traffic area, but it would be eye catching in just the right spot. $47

Epi - combRoman Comb – This is a beautiful gift for a Roman reconstructionist of any gender from a man with a truly glorious beard or a newborn baby. This comb is a handmade replica of a comb from the late Roman Period housed in The British Museum. It is made from ash wood and rubbed with linseed oil. It measures 10.5 centimeters long. There are several other styles to choose from, and many are quite intricate. $15


pebblePebble Smartwatch – One of the very few smartwatches that are compatible with both Andriod and iOS. And, it has excellent battery life, too. Pebble has several different watches available, some of them fall under $200. Like most smartwatches, you can take calls, manage your calendar,your sleep and your exercise. You can even text and email. $180 and up

rokuRoku – Know someone who wants to cut their cable? Roku is a good option for them. Compatible with many different viewing systems and one of the more cost effective and reliable non-cable solutions on the market. It is very user friendly, too. There are several different options to choose from – one device even turns older TVs into smart TVs. $40 to $130

FireAmazon Fire Tablet – This solid tablet is hard not to recommend just based on the bang for the buck ratio. It has consistently high reviews and works as well as tablets several times the cost. This 7 inch tablet has both rear and front facing cameras, and 8 GB of internal storage, which isn’t bad. But what’s really nice is that it comes with free unlimited cloud storage for all Amazon content and photos taken with Fire devices. If that isn’t enough storage, you can add a microSD card for up to 128 GB of additional storage. Normally $50, it’s on special at Amazon for Black Friday for $35.

Tree Hugger


One of the best gifts you can get someone who craves nature is a pass for a National or State Park in their area. Most parks offer a gift pass purchase as an option. State Park passes cost between $25 to $75.

Passport-program_2National Park Passports – Also available from the National Parks are Passports books. These little treasures are filled with maps, information, data and guides to the many National Parks throughout the U.S. Every time you visit a park, there is a place within the book to earn a stamp, much like a travel passport, and also a spot for a photo. Friendly rangers and shop keepers have the stamps ready to go when you arrive. Available at the parks and online, these little books are a great way to educate, create memories and even set travel goals. The Passports are available in several formats including one geared toward kids and one for adults. $8.95.


Music - songbook

Yule Songs – Miss singalongs while you’re gathered around the tree? This book contains a selection of songs perfect for Yule. Drawing on the Heathen and Pagan traditions of the season, it collects songs for the feast table, songs for rituals, and door-to-door customs still practiced in Britain. Also included are songs in honor of the Northern gods. Combining both original lyrics and music alongside traditional folk songs, this would be a good gift for covenmates, family members, or friends. $5

naked_harp_2015_tThe Naked Harp by Omnia – Just released this fall, The Naked Harp is Omnia’s 17th album. It contains 15 original songs and runs for just over 48 minutes. It is described as a “beautiful and timeless musickal journey into the realms of Dreams and Faery” and is good for meditation, dreaming and inspiration. Omnia is bohemian folk band from Europe. The newest album is available on their site along with many of their other works. 18 EUR

For the Bookworm

Elysia Gallo is the senior acquisitions editor for Llewellyn Worldwide, based in Minnesota. She’s also active in her local Minneapolis community and blogs for Llewellyn’s Paganism blog, Reflections of the Moon. Llewellyn is offering Black Friday specials, use the code FRIDAY2015 when you check out. Here are her suggestions:

Book - oberonThe Book of Oberon by Daniel Harms, Joseph Peterson, and James R. Clark – A fascinating addition to the magical literature of the Elizabethan era, this lavishly illustrated grimoire is a must-have for magic practitioners, collectors, and historians. The Book of Oberon is the meticulous transcription and translation of a sixteenth-century manuscript acquired by the esteemed Folger Shakespeare Library. Unlike the more theoretical magic books of the era, this collection of spells, secrets, and summonings was compiled gradually by unknown authors for working practical magic.This is a significant contribution to the annals of magical history, bringing to light the kind of grimoire that was commonplace in its era but is rarely published today. $65

Books - YuleYule by Susan Pesznecker –  What better Yule gift could you give someone than a book on celebrating Yule? Also known as the Winter Solstice, Yule is celebrated when nighttime has reached its maximum length, and there is a promise of brighter days to come as candles are lit and feasts are enjoyed. This guide shows you how to perform rituals and work magic with the energy of rebirth and renewal that comes with the return of the light. Its 240-pages contain rituals, recipes, spells, prayers, and more. This is the seventh book in Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series, exploring the old and new ways of celebrating the seasonal rites that are the cornerstones of the Witch’s year. $12

Books - EightCircle of Eight by Jane Meredith – Good for any Witch or Pagan who wants to listen to her immediate surroundings and work local magic with others. The Circle of Eight is an exciting magical system for developing powerful, transformative rituals based on your relationship with the land. Through explorations of mythic work, invocations, inner discovery, and relationships within magical circles, this book provides much-needed insight into the experience of local magic—whether you live in a rainforest, a city, or anywhere in between. With instructions for setting up your own Circle of Eight, Jane Meredith’s unique approach will radically reinvent your relationship with traditional circle magic. Suitable for beginners, advanced ritualists, groups, and solo practitioners, this book helps you step boldly into the powerful magic of place and the great Wheel of the Year. $18

Books - divine magicThe Practical Art of Divine Magic by Patrick Dunn – This is for any Pagan or magician who wants to work more on direct access to the divine, a stronger relationship with deity. Dunn revisits Neoplatonic practices and makes them fully accessible and practical for the modern user. The ancient world of Egypt, Greece, and Rome was home to a set of magical and spiritual technologies, called theurgy, that unite the practice of magic with the aims of religion. Theurgy, or “godwork,” is the art of creating a stronger bond between the theurgist and his or her deities. The results of this stronger bond were imminently practical: stronger magic, more meaningful existence, and a better life. With the fall of Rome, these techniques faded into obscurity, and many of them were lost forever. Whether you practice Witchcraft, ceremonial magic, or chaos magic, you can benefit from the practice of theurgy. $20

The following selection was recommended by Red Wheel/Weiser.

book - brigidBrigid by Courtney Weber – Mother, daughter, healer, bard, warrior, fire goddess, goddess of the oak, animals, and magic. Brigid of the spring, her festival Imbolc, oversees fertility of all kinds. Brigid is many things to many people. In this enticing book, Courtney Weber offers up a wide-ranging exposition and celebration of all things Brigid, who is arguably the most popular figure in Celtic mythology and religion. Meet Brigid in her various incarnations—Celtic Pagan Goddess, Christian Saint, and Voudon Loa. Each chapter ends with guided meditations and exercises that help readers tap into Brigid’s healing powers. Inside you’ll find Brigid-focused spells, blessings, recipes, and rituals for love, harmony, protection, and much more. $13

To Trim the Tree ornament ank

Ankh Tree Topper – The Ankh represents eternal life, a nice sentiment during the longest night. This ankh tree topper is 8″ diameter and uses a beveled glass border. Iridescent clear granite glass surrounds a clear amber Ankh, while the solder lines are silver. The artist notes that the topper is quite heavy and suggest it only be used on trees 6 ft or taller. City Free Glass also makes pentagrams and peace symbol tree toppers. $70

ornament - dryadDryad Resin Ornament – A dryad, otherwise known as a wood nymph, is a perfect ornament for your tree. This ornament is 6 inches tall and is made from a hand painted resin. The artist is a classically trained sculptor with a wide selection of ornaments, candle holders, and statues. If Krampus ornaments are more your thing, Dellamorteco has you covered as well. $20

ornament broomstickBroomstick Ornament – Here’s one for all the Witches on your gift list. This adorable little broomstick ornament is handmade in France by The Witch Chandlery. I’m not a Witch and I want one of these. If red ribbons are not your thing, other colors are available to fit your holiday decor. Ships worldwide. $10

ornament - roosterRooster Ornaments – The rooster is the animal most sacred to the Greek God Helios, greeting the Sun each dawn, which makes him perfect for a Winter Solstice tree. The ornament is laser engraved from Baltic birch and hand painted. I ordered five of them and they are just as cute in person. $8

Children - advent calendarYule Countdown Calendar – Delight children with treats or surprise a special loved one with gifts of appreciation during the holidays with this countdown-until-Yule tree calendar! Each day of December, up until Yule, is marked on a little drawer, perfect for hiding tiny gifts or candies. The drawers measure 1” wide x 1” high x 1” deep. The tree is decorated with wood-burned knot work and stained with sealer. The tree measures 18 inches tall, and 15 3/4” wide at the base. The calendar is supported upright using an easel stand. $85

We hope you’ve enjoyed the gift guide. This is just a small taste of what Pagan or Pagan-friendly artisans and stores have to offer. As always, when possible, support your community by buying local or buying direct from the artists.

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*Disclaimer: This is a wholly independent gift guide. The Wild Hunt was not paid to endorse any of the listed products. All prices were current as of publication date.

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OAKLAND, Calif — Last evening, Pagan spiritual leaders T. Thorn Coyle and Marissa Evans, along with 12 other interfaith leaders, were arrested for trespassing at the Alameda County Court House. The spiritual leaders were part of an interfaith service and a rally, demanding District Attorney Nancy O’Malley drop all charges against a group that has come to be known at the Black Friday 14.

The faith leaders arrested are from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Deacon of First Congregation Church of Oakland, Bend the Arc: Jewish Partnership for Justice, United Church of Christ, and the Starr King School of Religion. Also included was T. Thorn Coyle, Pagan author, spiritual leader, and President of Solar Cross Temple, and Marissa Evans, co-founder of Light Hands Healing and a Pagan seminarian at Pacific School of Religion.

Police arrest T. Thorn Coyle (center) and other faith leaders.

Police arrest T. Thorn Coyle (center) and other faith leaders. [Photo Credit: Michelle Puckett]

In a statement to The Wild Hunt after she was released, Ms. Thorn Coyle said:

We are in a state of emergency in the U.S. Something must be done to counter the corrosive effects of white supremacy and racist systems that are killing Black, brown, and trans people on a daily basis. Bearing witness to this, as a reminder that we are all part of the sacred web of connection feels important to me. It is part of my religious and spiritual practice to invoke justice whenever I can, in as many ways as are possible.

The charges the Black Friday 14 are facing must be dropped. They chained themselves together and stopped the wheels of commerce for a few hours in order to tell us: Wake up! Remember what connects us! What connects us does not have to be greed and consumption. What connects us is breath, and life, and all that we call holy.

I was willing to get arrested to stand in solidarity with such a powerful wake up call. It is my job to invoke the sacred and to call on justice. And as I said in my statement [on Facebook]: I must fight for what I love. What I love are these people, struggling for life and freedom.

Being arrested is a small price to pay. And in the scheme of things, I’m a middle class white person who spent only a few hours in jail. That is nothing compared to the suffering of Black, brown, immigrant, indigenous, poor, or trans people who get shuttled through these inequitable systems built to protect the interests of a tiny portion of our society. All of this suffering feeds the .001%. If I can highlight that at all, by placing myself in the hands of that system for a few hours, I consider that community service.

I feel blessed and grateful to the Interfaith 14, the Black Friday 14, the people in the streets of Oakland, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York City, Ferguson, and everywhere that voices are raised for the call of love and justice.

The Black Friday 14 are a group of protesters, affiliated with the Black Lives Matter, who blocked access to the BART trains in West Oakland Black Friday 2014. The West Oakland stop is in the heart of the Bay Area and one of the busiest sections. Four of the system’s five trains pass through that station, and Black Friday is when the trains are running at full capacity. The protestors successfully shut down the station for several hours.

Similar shut downs took place at stations in other parts of California, such as in Los Angeles.

Black Lives Matter activists have alleged that white protesters in other transit shut downs are normally cited and released, while the fourteen black activists in West Oakland were arrested and initially threatened with $70,000 fines. The fines were later dropped, but the Black Friday 14 are still facing misdemeanor charges of interfering with train operation and trespassing. These charges carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail.

Marissa Evans, who identifies as a Witch, agreed that justice appeared to be applied unequally based on race. She said, “Last year [a few weeks after Black Friday] I joined a group of faith leaders protesting in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement: we engaged in a nonviolent direct action of obstructing a freeway. All charges against my mostly white group were dropped. The harsh penalty that the Black Friday 14 are facing for their action reveals systemic racism.”

Those charges are what the interfaith group were protesting last night by staging a sit in at the Alameda County Court House. The sit in, led by a group called the Interfaith Committee In Support of the Black Friday 14, is the latest in a string of actions that began last week when labor leaders also occupied O’Malley’s office, demanding the charges be dropped.

The interfaith service started at 1:30 pm outside the courthouse. Lou Florez, Awo Ifadunsi [Orisha Priest], was asked to attend the interfaith service to bless three of the Black Friday 14, pour libations, and evoke the ancestors in the ritual space. He also helped construct the altar that was used during the service.

Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, a Dedicant of Umbanda, decided to attend because Thorn had said that a Pagan presence was requested at the rally. Odinsdottir said, “At this time, more than any other, we need to use as many of our tools as possible to fight the systems that are creating more dead black bodies in our streets.” She also said that as a nonwhite Person of Color she couldn’t stand by when oppression is being masqueraded as law.

Florez and Odinsdottir at the interfaith service outside the courthouse. Altar is in the background. [Photo from Florez]

Florez and Odinsdottir at the interfaith service outside the courthouse. Altar is in the background. [Courtesy Photo]

Lou Florez, invokes the ancestors, during the interfaith service. [photo credit Clark Sullivan]

Lou Florez, invokes the ancestors, during the interfaith service. [Photo Credit: Clark Sullivan]

When asked why he agreed to participate in the protest, Awo Ifadunsi said, “As a man of color, I don’t have the privilege of turning a blind eye to the lived experiences of racial inequity and injustices. As an Orisha priest and practitioner, who works with African deities, how can I say they are sacred and holy if I’m not willing to fight for their people? I was there because Black Lives Matter.”

While the interfaith service was happening outside, the 14 faith leaders were staging their rally inside the courthouse. Beginning around 1:20 pm, they joined hands in a circle, read statements, and sang. When the service was over, several of those outside entered the building to join in solidarity. Then, shortly before 4:30 pm as the courthouse was scheduled to close, police issued their first warning to the protesters. At 4:55 pm, they arrested all fourteen faith leaders including Thorn and Evans.

Thorn describes the experience:

We were handcuffed and led to a holding space in the courthouse and told to face the wall. The whole time we were singing: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes!” and “Which side are you on, friends?” We were asked a list of questions and had IDs taken. Searched. In custody, I was reminded of the story of Inanna, because, hands cuffed behind me, the arresting officer started stripping my things from me, one by one. Necklace. Earrings. Rings. Belt. Sign around my neck. Shoelaces. Black Lives Matter buttons… and then, still singing, we were taken in a caged elevator down, descending like Inanna. We then walked a long circuitous warren of cement hallways, following a red line, singing all the while.

We were then placed in holding cells. Then moved. Then moved again. Then we had to take shoes and socks off. Then put them back on. Spread our legs and stand against the wall. Get searched a second time. Back in a holding cell. Then another holding cell.

Finally, we were cited and released. As usual, they had trouble taking my fingerprints. This always amuses me.

As I was being searched the second time, I kept thinking of people for whom this is a regular occurrence. People who are not white. Not middle class. Without the stamp that clergy offers. Nine out the 14 of us were white, and several wore clerical collars. It was clear we were religious leaders. What if we hadn’t been? Our experience would have been vastly different.

All fourteen faith leaders peacefully submitted to the arrests, were cited for trespass, and released later that evening.

CORRECTION 11/26 4 p.m.: The original article stated that the interfaith rally and protest happened one after the other. However, the protest inside the building began as the rally was happening outside. We have corrected that timeline.

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –The spate of worldwide attacks attributed to the terrorist group al-Dawlah al-Islamīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām in recent days has sent ripples of shock and fear in their wake: the downing of a Russian passenger plane leaving Egypt, suicide bombings in Beirut, and the Parisian attacks which topped the trifecta with a bloody bow. The fact that these attacks all took place outside of war-torn Syria and neighboring Iraq led to rampant speculation that the terrorists were concealing themselves in the massive crush of refugees fleeing those areas, and reports confirm that one of the Paris attackers did possess a Syrian refugee passport. While US elected officials and presidential candidates reacted with plans to stop accepting refugees or even start labeling Muslims already in this country, one anonymous person took matters into their own hands, tossing a brick through the sign of Isis Books & Gifts.

Dear friends, this happened to us over the weekend. We humbly request that you send protective energy to us, as this is…

Posted by Isis Books & Gifts on Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The post clearly resonated with members of the many polytheist and Pagan communities, giving them once again an opportunity to express their frustration over the most widespread acronym used for this hate group, a shortening of “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” Karen Harrison, one of the store’s owners, carefully spells out the name when she uses it:  “I-S-I-S.”  She takes pains to avoid any of the confusion that has become commonplace for her and her husband, Jeff. She said:

Since [events] in Middle East, people who don’t know their history or mythology have apparently gotten confused, and think that we may be a terrorist gift shop — but, we’re not.

Just what to call this jihadist group is complicated by issues of translation, religion, and politics. Founded in 1999 as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (“The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad”), the group’s founder swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden.  And, in 2004, he changed the name to Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn (“The Organization of Jihad’s Base in Mesopotamia”), which became more commonly known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

The group changed its name to I-S-I-S, or ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī-l-ʻIrāq wa-sh-Shām, on April 8, 2013, which is alternately translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Then, on June 29, 2014 came the announcement that the group’s leaders were renaming it ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah, or the Islamic State, and declaring a worldwide caliphate. Referring to these terrorists as a “state” is seen in some quarters as lending it legitimacy. It is particularly problematic for other devotees of Islam, because the name implies a religious authority that is a direct successor to the prophet Muhammad. Neither mainstream Muslim groups nor the United Nations accept that designation and, since the Paris attacks in particular, several national governments (including those of France and the United States) have shifted to using the name “Daesh” for this group.

That name “Daesh” is a translated acronym that has been used by Arabic speakers for some time. It is also an entendre that can be taken to mean “one who sows discord” or “one who crushes something underfoot.” The name is apparently so disliked by members of the group itself that they have cut out the tongues of some who have used it in territory the group controls. It has not, however, gained widespread acceptance in mainstream media. Representatives have largely ignored concerns over acknowledging the group as a state as well as any pleas made for such a wording change, such as the one put out by the Fellowship of Isis last year.

We contacted the NPR Ombudsman with concerns about the use of the term, and were referred to an updated policy reinforcing that outlet’s official position:

. . . we believe the audience is familiar enough with that group to allow us to say ‘ISIS’ on first reference.

Until recently, NPR referred to that group as the “self-declared Islamic State” on first reference. Now, the practice has morphed into preceding any quote which uses “ISIL” or “Daesh” with an explanation that these are alternative names for the group, not the preferred one.

Neither official government designations, nor the desires of devotees of the goddess, seem to be able to budge media outlets, of which NPR is but one example. The Wild Hunt reached out to members of the Fellowship of Isis to find out how the use of this term has impacted their lives.

The only real confusion I experienced was in a dubious email, asking for more information about FOI in a way that made me wonder about the writer’s intent. I simply replied that we are a spiritual group following the path of the divine feminine in all Her forms and directed the person to the main FOI website.

I . . . am very troubled that ISIL/Daesh is named as it is in the press. Daesh is a new term to me, and I hope it moves into general use. The horrifying, psychopathic practices of that group could not be farther from our principles of honoring life, the law of three (much like karma) and the overarching principle of harming none. — name withheld

Denise Wong, Iseum of Green Fire, Florida said:

The only thing I can report is my emotional pain and worry from that terrorist organization being referred to by the name ISIS. I think the word has come to be associated with cruelty and evil, which is certainly not what the goddess Isis is about. I have posted information a couple of times to try to point out and correct the error. Honestly, I doubt my efforts and the efforts of others in that respect will do much good; I think the harm is already done.

Isidora Forrest, author of Isis Magic and Offering to Isis, and blogger at Isiopolis said:

While you may be aware that the Goddess’ Egyptian name is Iset (you’ll also see Aset and Auset), I most often use the Hellenized/Anglicized version simply because that’s the name by which most people in the world would know Her. This is, of course, the version of Her name that is being so abused right now. Isiopolis has had a huge upswing in visitors who came to the blog when they searched for “what does Isis mean?” That has been ongoing since “ISIS” came into the news. I do see large spikes in visitors to the blog whenever one of Daesh’s many atrocities makes the news. The recent Paris murders sent thousands of people to the blog each day for several days because I had a post called “Isis & the French Connection.” Unfortunately, a lot of those visitors were coming from a network of conspiracy sites that include Jews, Jesuits, and racial groups—along with various politicians and corporations—among the evil world conspirators. To stop any new linking and break existing links, I took that post down, but intend to retitle and repost it later. I have also been proselytized by a well-meaning Muslim or three.

I must admit that when we first began hearing about Daesh by the ISIS acronym, it made me almost literally sick to my stomach every time it was mentioned. I have since become hardened against it, but oh would I welcome the switch to Daesh.

For her part, Harrison is glad that the recent damage to her bookstore has gained so much attention, but she and her husband are generally taking the vandalism in stride. She said that they have experienced some anti-Pagan sentiment since opening in 1980 — most notably, someone tried to burn the place down in 1989 or ’90, not long after Connie Chung covered their shop in a not-so-flattering interview during the Satanic Panics of that time.

However, for the most part, actual vandalism has only been in the past couple of years. “We’ve had paint thrown on our sign, someone bashed in the glass front door, and the signs in our parking lot were torn up,” Harrison said, prior to the brick-throwing incident which went viral. Because these events were all under cover of darkness, she said, there’s no way to be certain that they are related to the terrorist group. But it seems a reasonable conjecture to her. “I’ll call the police only if we feel like we’re in danger, or if the damage is enough that the insurance company will actually kick something in,” she said.

As their damaged sign has been covered by numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, the Harrisons have been trying to raise awareness about the naming problem, as well as channel the groundswell of support toward charitable giving.

So many of our friends have offered their financial support to help us fix our broken sign, or to help us pay for…

Posted by Isis Books & Gifts on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Harrison said that she has spoken with several people who have opted to change the name of their business in the wake of this issue, but that there are no plans to change the name of Isis Books & Gifts. Also, not everyone affected can so easily solve the problem; thousands of women the world over are named Isis as well. “Should they change their name?” Harrison asked. “Just a couple of years ago it was the name of a sacred goddess, and for 3500 years before that.”

The recent push to view the acronym I-S-I-S as offensive to Muslims may eventually bring the change that a small number of Isis worshippers have unsuccessfully lobbied for, but it’s likely that such change will still happen as quickly as any of those people might hope.

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downloadReview: The Book of the Great Queen: The Many Faces of the Morrigan, from Ancient Legends to Modern Devotions Written by Morpheus Ravenna. (Concrescent Press, pp 506)

I’ll be honest. I have never been drawn to deities associated with war or battle. I appreciate them as I see their strength, honor, and courage. But my draw to Paganism and the gods has always been along more of a tree-hugger sort of route. Non-violence in acts, words, and thoughts is a goal of my spiritual path, leaving me feeling distant from deities like Odin, Ares, Sekhmet, and The Morrigan. When Morepheus Ravenna’s The Book of the Great Queen came around, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to get to know The Morrigan better and see if I could finally connect on some level with this Goddess who is so foreign to me.

In her introduction, Ravenna asserts that there can be no comprehensive text on The Morrigan. She writes:

Her roots reach deep into the Indo-European past and connect her, and her cults of worship, to a great constellation of divinities and cultures. Her nature is so complex and so changeable that even if someone could capture her history in a volume, the lived experiences of practitioners engaging with her bring constantly new revelations about her relationships with the forces of history, of culture, and with her devotees themselves.

While this is all true, Ravenna has created the most thorough volume I could possibly expect on this Goddess.

The book begins with a section about who The Morrigan is according to mythology, history, and literature. Several chapters within this section also consider the stories of Babd, Macha, Anu, Nemain, and Fea and their relationships with The Morrigan. The final chapter in the section is the poetry of The Morrigan, allowing for further understanding of not only Her, but also the culture that surrounds her.

The second part of the book focuses on the worship of The Morrigan, with each chapter looking first at historical practices followed by suggestions for creating new traditions within our modern contexts.

One of the discussions that I particularly enjoyed concerned the triple Goddess, a concept that I had learned about as a shiny new Pagan. When Eriu called to me early in my path, I researched Her as well as I could. Unfortunately, there was and is still no book even remotely like Ravenna’s dedicated to Eriu. Regardless, I did learn that she was also one of three aspects of the Triple Goddess. But which one? Maiden, Mother, or Crone? Eriu and her sisters do not fit into this model, just as The Morrigan fills none of these roles, which Ravenna defines as modern constructions focusing solely on the reproductive status of females. She writes:

The triple Goddess archetype is too tidy to contain our fighting queens and wild war furies, our pregnant sorceresses and lascivious hags. Most importantly, the identities and roles of the Morrigan Goddesses are never primarily defined by reproductive status. Motherhood tends to be incidental to their function; we are told the names of sons borne to The Morrigan and Macha, but these acts of motherhood are peripheral to their narratives. Even when sexuality takes center stage in their narratives, it is in the context of granting sovereignty, victory, or another form of Otherworld favor, rather than a socially defined reproductive status.

I have known several female Witches over the years who have said they did not find themselves fitting into the concept of Maiden, Mother, Crone either because they never had children or because even with having children, their identities were more tied to other aspects of themselves and their work. Though they made due with the idea that the stage of womanhood we call “Mother” could mean a lot of things, it’s always been obvious that there was still something missing. The next time this comes up, I’ll remember to point people in the direction of the Sovereigns and celebrate the wider diversity of Goddesses.

In the second part of the book, Ravenna focuses on the cults of The Morrigan, both ancient and modern. Topics covered include, for example, temples, land veneration, iconography, prayers, divination, and the functions of priesthood. Each chapter is divided into two distinct sections. History and ancient practices are covered first, followed by a focus on “Living Practice” and the development one’s own practice. Rather than a cookbook-style approach, the Living Practice sections offer questions, thoughts, and ideas to consider while developing your work.

For the most part, these chapters are full of great information and ideas. But she throws a serious curveball: sacrificeI dislike that Pagan religions are equated with sacrifice. I dislike even more that mainstream folks have no concept of the context within which sacrifice was performed by Ancient cultures. I dislike the whole thing so much I’d rather not see it mentioned in any of my books except to say it is wrong. But again, non-violence in thought, act, and speech is something I strive toward.

But here it is, Chapter 12, in big bold letters: Sacrifice. Ravenna begins by writing:

… to understand the sacrificial practices of the ancients, we must reserve judgment in the present chapter, laying aside modern moral positions about the perceived brutality or savagery of the practice in order to first understand, as best we can, what it meant to people of the period.

I took a deep breath and read through some of the historical information on the Druid belief that sacrifice was an act of creation versus destruction; that it was devotional and honorary. I understood what Ravenna is saying, but I was anxious to get the part about how we don’t do this anymore. Despite what I wanted, she writes, “Instead of reacting from fear and horror to dismiss sacrificial practice, I think we need to re-examine it intelligently with respect to our values and the way we practice today.”

I cautiously continued onto a subsection called “The Ethics of Animal Sacrifice.” Here, Ravenna presents two primary ethical dilemmas, which she encounters where sacrifice is concerned. The first is about the idea of the animal suffering, that the act of sacrifice is cruel. She correctly reminds us how cruel industrial animal farming is. She compares this to modern priests who make a great effort to ensure that sacrificial animals have a high standard of living and that the sacrifice itself is a “gentle, pain-free, and dignified death.” The, the sacrificed animal is utilized as sanctified food. Aside from a priest performing a ritualistic slaughter, I suppose I don’t see this as different from buying your meat from a local humane farmer.

The other dilemma Ravenna brings up is how ethical it is to kill “a sentient being who presumably, if given a choice, would want to continue living.” This is likely the stance of most vegetarians and vegans, and it is a stance I do respect even though I am a dedicated omnivore. At the same time, I heard my own thoughts echo in Ravenna’s closing paragraph:

What is now dawning to our understanding is a truth that the ancients always knew: participation in life is participation in death. As living beings who need to eat other living in order to survive, we cannot opt out of participation in the ecology of life and death. We are part of a deeply interwoven system of beings who live through consumption of other life. The best ethical position available to us is to participate in this ecology of life and death compassionately, intelligently, and unapologetically, in an active commitment to respecting other beings.

Though she may not get many fans by offering a supportive stance on sacrifice, Morpheus does present valid points that are worth considering when making decisions about an ethical position on the topic.

Overall, this is a book loaded with information. Most of what is in these pages will not be new to someone who has studied The Morrigan extensively. However, as far as I have seen, this is the first book to contain so much information about The Great Queen in one place. There are even many gems for developing a practice that are not specific to The Morrigan, so people who, like myself, have not been called by Her can still find useful ideas within its pages.

A spiritual worker, artist, and teacher, Morpheus Ravenna has created a valuable resource for both those called to The Morrigan and for those interested in simply exploring Her through history, lore and modern devotion. Signed copies of the book are now available through Banshee Arts, and it is also available through and 

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admin-ajaxThe case against musician Kenny Klein, who is accused of having child pornography on his computer, has been dragging on in New Orleans since March, 2014. One snag, which may hold up the wheels of justice, is the fact that Klein is now suing his ex-wife Tzipora Katz, for defamation of character.

The basis of Klein’s complaint is a 1997 consent order in the pair’s custody case, under which Katz “agrees she will not discuss any issues relating to any allegations of sexual abuse by Kenneth Klein with any parties other than her immediate family and mental health professionals who are treating members of her immediate family.” In return, Klein withdrew his “application for custody and visitation” of their child. That order had no listed expiration date.

Katz declined comment, saying that she was unable to speak about the current situation. The case against Katz has been adjourned while her attorney works on additional papers to support her motion to dismiss; her daughter is asking for help with legal fees to pay that attorney. Klein’s case in New Orleans is on the docket again for December 4.

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Cherry Hill Seminary

This week, Cherry Hill Seminary released a statement about its position and practices in response to a petition request to end their ties with certain instructors, who have been publicly accused of transphobia. The petition, created by Melissa Murry, is called “A Transphobic Elder is No Elder of Mine.” It was born out of and directly addresses recent online debates and tension over specific statements and actions made concerning the acceptance of transgender Pagans.

Cherry Hill Seminary responded the same day with the statement “Cherry Hill Seminary Calls For Academic Freedom, Respect and Civility.” In it, CHS responds directly saying, “Recently, one of our faculty members signed a petition that some people found hurtful and offensive.  Cherry Hill Seminary has been pressured to terminate this faculty member.” And then it goes on to remark that the community does not understand its role in high education, but welcomes open dialog on the “issues which might otherwise divide us.”

The response to CHS’ statement has been mixed with some people supporting its stance, and others withdrawing their support. The debate is on going and may continue to punctuate online conversations into the near future.

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In 2014, at the People’s Climate March, a project was born called “The Climate Ribbon” project. It is “an arts ritual to grieve what we each stand to lose to Climate Chaos, and affirm our solidarity as we unite to fight against it.” People selects a ribbon and, on it, write what they most value in life; what propels them  to protect our ecosystem and our future livelihood? After doing so, the ribbon is tied on a community board or a frame.

Climate Ribbon Project organizers were at the recent Parliament of the World’s Religions. Since that time, Circle Sanctuary members have partnered with the organization. Rev Selena Fox said, “[We] are among the partners with this global project and are among those contributing ribbons to this EcoArt project that will be part of the international Climate March taking place in Paris on November 29, 2015 at the start of the UN COP21 Climate Conference.”

Unfortunately, after the Paris attacks, the French government cancelled the 2015 Climate March due to safety concerns. The event would have brought an estimated 200,000 people into the city and out into the streets. While the cancellation may be disappointing, climate march organizers have said that there still are over 100 local events around the world scheduled for Nov. 29. And, one of those events is the Paris EcoArt installation by the Climate Ribbon Project. Organizers wrote, “The Climate Ribbon will be there to create ritual space to grieve and mourn what we have lost and are losing to climate change, and commit to courageous action, together.” The installations will be placed all over the city.

Rev. Fox said, “Ribbons we have sent to the project were created by Pagans at events at Circle Sanctuary land, including our Samhain Full Moon Circle, and at Hallowed Homecoming Samhain Retreat in Virginia the first weekend in November.” Anyone is able to participate and partner with the Climate Ribbon Project. You can send in ribbons through the mail or digitally.

In Other News

  • Druid Thaum Gordon has won his bid for re-election as Supervisor for Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District in Maine. As we reported earlier this month, Gordon has been serving in the position since 2011, and many people know that he is Pagan. Gordon believes that Conservation District positions are a great first step to getting involved in public office. He added, “Likewise, there are thousands of water utility districts, sewer districts, parks commissions, and other special-purpose units of government that need board members. These can be stepping stones to more competitive county or municipal elections.”
  • The Legacy of Tyr, a Virginia based Asatru group for military and veteran Heathens, is pushing a hashtag campaign #IAmAsatru and #IAmHeathen. The group came up with this social media campaign after the recent arrest of three white supremacists claiming to be Asatruar. Founder Carrie L. Pierce explains, “We are encouraging people to include these hashtags when posting about their everyday lives with photos and statuses on social media platforms. We do things like serve in the military, coach little league, and do volunteer work just like regular every day people. If the public sees that we are regular people with careers, families, hobbies, etc.the image that has been painted about us might change in some aspect.
  • For those following the Save Deirdre and Lily battle in New York state, Druid Cindy McGinley recently announced that the court ruled in favor of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The judge dismissed her petition. As we reported in July, the DEC had demanded that McGinley’s two deer be put death. McGinley, a trained wildlife rehabilitator, refused, taking her story to the courts. This week, she lost the legal battle. However, she has since said that the two deer will not die and that she will find a way to save them.
  • A new documentary is available titled Heksen in Holland (or Witches in Holland.).The film explores Wicca in the Netherlands through the group Silver Circle, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary. The documentary and corresponding book include interviews with Silver Circle members Morgana Sythgrove, Lady Bara, Joke and Ko Lankester, and Jana. Filmmakers also interviewed Rufus and Melissa Harrington, and Geraldine Beskin from the Atlantis Bookshop in London.  There is a memorial chapter to Merlin Sythgove, including .”an old audio fragment from the Charge of the Goddess in Dutch, spoken by Merlin and Jana.” The 90 minute documentary is currently only available in Dutch through Silver Circle’s site, but they soon will be releasing a copy with English subtitles.

  • For fans of Mark Ryan,  the actor and author is holding an online launch party for the U.S. edition of his biography Hold Fast. Ryan is known for his role as Nasir in the television series Robin of Sherwood, for his work in the Transformers franchise, and most recently for his role as Mr. Gates in the Starz series Black Sails. Ryan also is the creator of the popular Greenwood Tarot and The Wildwood Tarot. The online launch party process, which includes prizes, is explained on the event Facebook page. He will be there live answering questions about the book and its content. The event begins at 3 p.m EST/2 p.m. CST.

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  • Lastly, a note from The Wild Hunt editor’s desk: The delivery of all fall funding campaign perks is underway. It takes some time to coordinate and reconcile the large amount data. All online changes to links and listings will begin in December. Thank you again to everyone who came out to support our work. If you have any questions, contact us directly.


UPDATE: The original report on Kenny Klein included some speculative information that was found to be problematic with regards to the legal case. The Wild Hunt did not intend any harm, has removed this data, and has apologized to the parties concerned. 

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On Sunday, Nov 15, it was announced that Marc Pourner, who had been missing since Nov 12, had been found in the woods the previous night. His body was laying not far from what remained of his burned-out GMC Sonoma truck. When news was reported, family and friends had to face their worst fears.

“No parent should have to experience the death of their child, but the way that he went was more a blow than his actual death. Who would want to hurt the man who had never intentionally hurt someone in his life?” questioned Jasmine Tempest Moon, a longtime close friend.

Marc was born in North Carolina on Aug. 2 1987 to parents Mark and Jolena Pourner. During a memorial tribute, his father described Marc as a “wonderful kid,” “a force of nature,” and “unrestrainable.” Marc had ADHD, which was partly responsible for his vivacious and lively spirit. Another close friend, Patrick, said, “All he did was laugh. Since day one, all he did was laugh.”

Jasmine first met Marc in high school where they became quick friends. And, it was through her that Marc was first introduced to Wicca. She herself was exploring her spirituality and said, “Marc was enthralled.” Jasmine remembered, “We did a lot together learning about the different paths, dabbling as one shouldn’t at times, getting into trouble with those who did not approve of our alternative beliefs.”

At the same time, Marc was also discovering himself in other ways. Shortly after high school, he came out as gay to his several close friends. Jasmine said that, at first, he faced some rejection, but eventually received the needed support from those that loved him. As time progressed, Marc came into his own, seemingly unafraid to be who he was and to express himself to the fullest.

In 2011, Marc began actively engaging with the internet-based Pagan community. He became involved with the now defunct Wicca World Social Network, a forum exclusively for people following Pagan paths. After the original owners left in 2012, Marc took over as site President with the help of good friends Steve Pugh and Bryn. He paid for the site’s operation out of his own pocket, helped seekers find their way around, and created a number of corresponding online videos. In this world, he became known as Axel the Pagan.

3021a8cd-ddf8-42f0-ab3e-f20c58cdd13dAfter about a year, Wicca World’s membership began to decline and the site ran into some problems with unruly visitors. The three moderators shut it down, and moved the forum to Facebook, opening “The Cauldron – A Mixing Place for Witches, Druids, and Pagans.” Pugh said that, originally, they had imagined this space as a new home for their 2.5k members. But it didn’t take long for that number to “swell to a massive 36.5k members.” Marc remained an active participant for quite sometime before moving on to other ventures. But that was enough time for him to develop friendships and become known to many people in the worldwide, online Pagan community.

As his father noted in the memorial tribute, Marc was a “creature of social media.” He posted as Axel the Pagan on many other sites, which included You Tube, Vine, MySpace, Instagram and more.

But Marc also had life off the internet. He was solitary Wiccan practitioner and a Trekkie. He loved to sing and described himself as a outgoing, hopeless romantic. Jasmine also added that Marc loved to dress in drag. She said, “We all attended the local Pride festivities and he often went to drag shows, even showing up in drag himself.” Marc was proud of who he was and, as noted by friends over and over again, he inspired that strength in others.

So what exactly happened to Marc? According to his roommates, he received a phone call late Thurs night. After a tense conversation, he abruptly left his apartment and never came back. On Friday, Marc’s family contacted Randall’s, his place of work, and found that he had never reported for his shift. This was highly out of character. Marc’s father also noticed that his son was not posting to social media, which was also out of character.

Over the next day, through local outreach, the Pourners received a tip on where Marc’s truck might be and called the Sheriff’s department. The tip proved accurate. And, deep in some thick woods, officers found not only the vehicle, but also Marc’s body.

Within 24 hours, the sheriff’s department had a suspect and, in coordination with Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana, the suspect was arrested. According to Lieutenant Brady Fitzgerald of Montgomery County, their investigators are still in Indiana working with that local office to complete the extradition. He did not know how long that would take.

What is missing from this story is a motive? Why would anyone kill such a dynamic and well-liked person? Currently, there is much public speculation, but the sheriff’s department has not released any details to date. Although the suspect was arrested with the charge of capital murder, it has not yet been ruled a hate crime.

When asked to specifically speak to some of the rumors, Lt. Fitzgerald said that he had no further information. He wasn’t aware of a second person of interest and could not confirm the relationship between Marc and the suspect. He also said that, as far as he knows, Marc’s religion has not been discussed. Lt. Fitzgerald added that, in time, details will be released.

Similarly, Jasmine, who is in touch with Marc’s parents, said that she was also unable to talk specifically about the case. So, as for Marc’s full story, most of us will have to wait.

1_thumbAs that official investigation continues, the focus has turned on Marc’s life lived, rather than on his deeply tragic death. Due to his own love of social media, many people, hailing from around the world, are now getting a better look at Axel the Pagan, a man they only knew and loved through The Cauldron and other online networks.

Steve Pugh wrote:

Marc was a truly great guy, always a word to cheer you up if sad, even if his own life wasn’t too great at times he would always be there … He was a great supporter of Paganism, and proud both of that and of his sexuality.

Jasmine, who is now the keeper of her dear friend’s pentacle pendant, wrote:

Words can not fully do the man justice. He was a wonderful person, a light in this world snuffed out too soon. He wanted to help people and he did. He saved more people than I think he knew. I know he saved us a few times, saved a few friends from dark roads, some from deaths door. He loved people with a capacity that most people can’t fathom. Thats who he was. He was love. I’ll miss my dorky soul brother, and will carry his memory always.

Marc, Axel, it was a blast, my friend. May your soul find peace and when we meet again, it’ll be one hell of a party. Goodnight and goodbye for now, my friend.

A memorial vigil was held on Wed, Nov. 18 and recorded for others to watch. Near the end of the video, Marc’s mother leads the group in singing the song, You Are My sunshine. Alone her voice rings out through her tears, “The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamt I held you in my arms, When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken, So I hung my head, and I cried…”

A public Facebook group has been set up to honor his memory and share stories. Many tributes and photos have been posted. Family and friends gathered for memorial services on Sat, Nov. 21, in Spring, Texas. A GoFundMe campaign was created to help Marc’s parents with all funeral costs. However, as his mother noted, those expenses are fully covered so all money raised will be used “to establish an annual memorial scholarship in Marc’s name for LGBT teens.”

Marc Pourner’s life was cut short. But that brief life was energized and filled with laughter. He was cherished for his boldness, his caring and his generosity. He helped friends through hard times and fully embraced the good times. Marc was proud to be Pagan, to be gay, and to be himself. He clearly lived a life out loud. And, in his death, he left that seed of inspiration in everyone he touched – from his home state of Texas and beyond.

What is remembered, lives.

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Restorative and Transformative Justice are concepts we have heard more about recently in justice and criminal work, institutions, and inside of schools. Oakland, Denver, Portland, Chicago and many other cities have implemented Restorative Justice practices in their schools to deal with issues of violence, trauma, and in the building of community. Trained facilitators in restorative work have become increasingly common, and the need for such skills have become more apparent.

Yet we live in a culture that often supports response instead of contemplation, and the popularity of social media has compounded this culture of reactivity. The nature of social media and tools of expression at our fingertips promote instant responses any time of the day.

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

[Public Domain / Pixabay]

We see the harmful side effects of such things happening daily; flame wars, Facebook threads of miscommunication, and what develops into mob mentality all over the internet. What we don’t see as much is people taking the opportunity to dialog, to restore harmed relationships, and to extend the benefit of the doubt to those with whom we share social media space.

Restorative Justice (RJ) philosophies and practices are based largely on various indigenous practices of community, communication and conflict. A recent RJ report, published by the University of California – Berkeley’s Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, states:

The philosophy of restorative justice is partially derived from the ways some indigenous cultures, such as the Maori, respond to conflict and harm. Rather than requiring retribution for wrongdoing, restorative justice seeks to encourage accountability, repair harm, and restore relationships. As a set of practices, it is best known for its use of a circle. The circle brings together the harmed, those who caused harm, and the community in which the harm occurred to respectfully share their perspectives, feelings, and concerns.

Developed from this foundational place, RJ extends a belief that all people are important and valuable within a community. RJ practices are often recognized for the ability to equalize voices within the circle, giving everyone the chance to be heard with the same about of capital. The philosophy of the RJ process is further defined in UC – Berkeley’s Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice report on school-based RJ intervention in West Oakland.

The philosophy of restorative justice is partially derived from the ways some indigenous cultures, such as the Maori, respond to conflict and harm. Rather than requiring retribution for wrongdoing, restorative justice seeks to encourage accountability, repair harm, and restore relationships. As a set of practices, it is best known for its use of a circle. The circle brings together the harmed, those who caused harm, and the community in which the harm occurred to respectfully share their perspectives, feelings, and concerns.

Catherine Bargen adapted the Restorative Justice Principles originally created by Susan Sharpe’s in Restorative Justice: A Vision for Healing and Change. These principles state that RJ is to invite full participation and consensus, heal what has been broken, seek full and direct accountability, reunite what has been divided, strengthen the community to prevent future harms. All of these elements are key to the purpose of restorative justice and restorative approaches to community.

As a trained Restorative Justice facilitator, I often look at approaches to community within the interconnected modern Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist communities and wonder how changing our culture of engagement could change the landscape of our conflicts and collective relationships. Communities that have consistent methods and practices to engage relationships, differences and conflict often change the culture around responding to challenges.

In exploring the need for more tools within the interconnected dynamics of our communities, I reached out to others who have varying levels of experience with restorative practices, and asked for their take on what impact RJ could have.

I have been reading about restorative justice from different religious perspectives, so I was interested in seeing it in action at a session at the Parliament of World Religions. The session was led by Crystal Blanton and Thorn Coyle. We sat in a huge circle and we—one by one—spoke. There was only listening, not comments, not even signs of support for each other.

I did not expect to feel the way I did afterwards: as if my perspective had stretched, grown. We did not talk, we did not process. It was weirdly powerful. I still do not know what to make of it.
Restorative justice works. I do not understand how it works; but, I see it. The Pagan community has its share of conflict and I would have been grateful to sit in a restorative justice circle with other Pagans this past week and a half, as questions we thought were answered blew up around us. Being there would help. Hearing would help. Keeping our reactions to ourselves would help.

There is a power in a safe place to hear, share and – sorry, but –sit quietly until our own perspective stretches and grows. There were many voices that I did not hear over the last week, and I wanted to hear them.  Trying to keep my own knee-jerk reactions to a minimum, trying to be fair and make space for others on Facebook is dicey at best. I failed. I would have been truly and deeply grateful to be in that restorative justice circle with other Pagans last week. – Sandy Foo

I really want to say that restorative justice practices can have a positive impact in our community. I’ve seen it work very well, situations where the process helped mature and deepen the character of the wrongdoer/individual(s) of concern. I’ve also experienced situations in which the resolution left no one happy.

So much depends on context, in particular the structure of the community. It seems to me that RJ works best when there are community bonds that create a structure and help hold people accountable. There need to be tangible incentives for remaining within the community, and respect for the worth of everyone involved (at least an openness to developing respect), if not their actions or opinions about what has transpired.

This is where it gets difficult for me to say more about whether or not I think the tools and practices of RJ can shift the culture of conflict within the Pagan community. In our online and geographically dispersed world, it is too easy to enter and exit various aspects of the community without accountability for harm/wrongdoing. If I can walk away from conversations that make me uncomfortable, change my screen names, and find different groups to attend, what’s to stop me from doing so and repeating the pattern again?

Elders and other community leaders certainly can and do help guard against this, but I think we need more folks with both the gravitas and resources to do this well – people embedded within our physical and online spaces in ways the “big name Pagans” aren’t always. This is small part of why I think professional Pagan clergy could be a big boon for our community as a whole. – David Christy

[Public Domain / Wikipedia]

[Public Domain / Wikipedia]

Yes. I do believe that RJ can offer a positive impact in our communities. I think this works on several important levels.  It emphasizes the importance of understanding the impact we have on each other and on our communities.  It asks us to look at our selves and notice where we have impact, both positive and negative.  Encouraging this deeper self awareness we can open a door to self discovery, growth and to the potential to make choices that bring more positive impacts to our community.  Understanding ourselves and our is the initial challenge and step.

RJ also introduces a time and space for deep listening. A practice and opportunity that we need more of in every community. Why is listening so important? Especially listening in a psychologically safe place?  To help us get along better, to heal wounds from conflict, we really need to develop the capacity to imagine ourselves in the others shoes and skin, to see through their eyes and feel with their hearts.  Placing value on deep listening and safety in an RJ circle can promote more intense and effective listening which can greatly increase our ability to understand the perspective of others.  This is of vital importance.  Our journey to restore trust and health in our communities requires understanding our own impact and listing offers information that is uniquely personal and important in this process.  

RJ also offers a time and a space for voices.  Voices speaking in pain or anger but being profoundly witnessed can offer healing in ways that other exchanges cannot.  Being heard and witnessing another’s deep sharing of hurts, pains or joys can be transformational experiences.  RJ brings this to communities which may not have any models for such authentic and personal sharing and witnessing.  Further, we learn more about each other in this process and discover more and more common ground. That is a way toward healing for all. – River Higginbotham

Our communities experience with RJ was after a significant loss of trust with community leadership. It wasn’t tangible physical harm needing to be stitched up. RJ did not make some of the major sources of conflict; differences in class, income, education, gender, race, and even levels of self centered-ness disappear. What the process did do was help us to realize how undefined our sense of group values were, and motivated us to do the work to define them. With this work now behind us, when conflict arises we can rely on our shared values to see us through to resolution without being destructive to ourselves in the process.

In the RJ process we learned to recognize and acknowledge our own emotions, and the sense of having been harmed.

We learned to empathize with and support the feelings of others without judgement. Most people came into the process thinking we would all speak, sort it all out objectively and someone would then render “justice” to affirm our feelings. The “justice” we discovered was that each of us had emerged from the conflict with different “scars”, and when we validated them together for each other, we could begin to heal together as a community. – Nels Linde

As our community diversifies in numbers, ideals, values and practices, it is important to look at ways that other communities are utilizing tools of engagement to create healthy dynamics despite differences, challenges and social media. Success within communities in Oakland has had success with RJ practices within places where rival gangs share space, creating a feeling of togetherness among those who would otherwise resort to violent interactions that lead to death and trauma. Surely, if schools are using restorative practices in the most violent, challenging and dangerous subsets of society to help decrease problematic conflicts and build community, then modern Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists might be able to pick up some useful tools and practices as well.

This brings the discussion back to contemplating the skills and tools that leaders and clergy members can be trained with in order to better navigate the shifting dynamics of our ever growing communities. In light of what appears to be ongoing conflict and infighting, it seems obvious that the tools we currently have are no longer effective for what we need.

Are restorative practices the answer? Are there other tools that can open up the ideals of dialog and help to define boundaries of healthy community for those who fall under the Pagan umbrella? There are plenty of traditional conflict mediation methodologies that are being phased out for more community-based models of practice, yet not all of them have the same commitments to relationships, self reflection and accountability. The more that our greater society grapples with ways to build healthy cultures around relationships, conflicts, and differences, the more important this will become to our small microcosm. The impact of harm felt within our relatively small subset of society is magnified by the imbalance of mismanaged attempts to cope with the process of community.

In addition, the unique time and physical space constraints of our geographically diverse spaces require more than impulsive and reactionary methods of navigating challenges that come up. We may not be able to physically sit in Restorative Justice circles all the time, but we can engage in community building practices, participate in circles in our local and larger communities, and engage in restorative practices as a part of our normal operations.

Howard Zehr, a leading expert and trainer of RJ, wrote an article titled 10 Ways to Live Restoratively. In this piece he frames easy ways that we can engage in restorative practices, ones that will support healthy space despite distance. These tips are important ideas to cultivate self reflection, creating normative values, expressing empathy, and what I call “holding one another lovingly accountable”.

  1. Take relationships seriously, envisioning yourself in an interconnected web of people, institutions and the environment.
  2. Try to be aware of the impact – potential as well as actual – of your actions on others and the environment.
  3. When your actions negatively impact others, take responsibility by acknowledging and seeking to repair the harm – even when you could probably get away with avoiding or denying it.
  4. Treat everyone respectfully, even those you don’t expect to encounter again, even those you feel don’t deserve it, even those who have harmed or offended you or others.
  5. Involve those affected by a decision, as much as possible, in the decision-making process.
  6. View the conflicts and harms in your life as opportunities.
  7. Listen, deeply and compassionately, to others, seeking to understand even if you don’t agree with them. (Think about who you want to be in the latter situation rather than just being right.)
  8. Engage in dialogue with others, even when what is being said is difficult, remaining open to learning from them and the encounter.
  9. Be cautious about imposing your “truths” and views on other people and situations.
  10. Sensitively confront everyday injustices including sexism, racism and classism.

Whether on cyberspace, or in our local religious communities, we are all responsible for finding ways to support healthy options for sustainability. Creating cultural norms and values based on lifting up social capital, equalizing privilege and power, and giving everyone a voice in our interconnected relationships might just be worth evaluating.

There are many complex and justified questions about the conflict culture of our community. What are we willing to do collectively to change that?



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Today marks the 16th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. People across the world will be holding various events and vigils, remembering those people who have been lost due to transgender violence. It is a powerful day that is a part of a larger month long awareness campaign.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is held every November, marking the death of Rita Hester, who was murdered in her Boston apartment in 1998. A year after that death, which still remains unsolved, writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith held a vigil in San Francisco to honor Hester’s life and bring awareness to the issues faced by Transgender people. The 1999 vigil became the first Transgender Day of Remembrance, which also launched the website “Remembering Our Dead” and several other awareness campaigns and movements.

Now, every November, a growing number of activities are held during the month, culminating in the Day of Remembrance. The main site for the campaign lists activities across the globe.

[From Allies&Angels; used for a vigil being held in Syracuse, NY]

[From Allies&Angels; used for a vigil being held in Syracuse, NY]

We reached out to several Transgender Pagans for their thoughts. Asking only a very few questions, we allowed them to have the stage, so to speak, and tell us more about living transgender and what this specific day means to them. Our interviewees included, Luke Babb, Elain Corrine Moria and Rev. Katharine A. Jones. Babb is a transmasculine Pagan living in Chicago with an English degree from Truman State University. Pagan Elain Corrine Moria is a transgender woman living in Washtington State. Rev. Katharine A. Jones is a transgender woman of mixed racial heritage living in Florida. She is a Neo-Hellenic Priestess, minster of Fire Dance Church of Wicca and transgender activist.

We welcome our speakers.

The first question asked was whether they have seen or felt any noticeable change in awareness in the mainstream public’s understanding of transgender struggles or issues. Last June saw the very publicized “Caitlyn Jenner” story, which brought very mixed reviews from the transgender community. Has there been a growth in awareness and, if so, has it been positive?

Babb: I haven’t really been out in the community long enough to see any real societal shifts. Right now, people have access to information about trans issues. They’re able to see trans folks- real live people- living and talking and being regular folks. I was lucky enough to come out at a time and in a place where many of the people I know had already been exposed to the idea of trans identity. I’m profoundly grateful for that, and the relative comfort I live in because of it.

But I know that a lot of my experience is a byproduct of my privilege. I work in a large, fairly progressive city, and I surround myself with educated people who both have access to all of this information and the impetus to go and find it. The fact that at least sixteen trans people have been murdered in the US this year means that we cannot make any sort of claim about our society as a whole having a trend toward trans acceptance. Trans Day of Remembrance is not a time for us to talk about how far we’ve come-  if anything, that’s the Trans Day of Visibility, on March 31st. Today is about recognizing how far we have to go, how many people we have lost along the way, and how hard we must work to fight against losing any more of our brothers and sisters to hatred and bigotry.

Morria: In just the last few months I have seen a change within certain areas of society. Some good, and some not so good. Within society in general there has been a marked improvement in tolerance, acceptance and understanding for and toward transgender people. However, in some other segments of society, the hatred for us has grown and become more rabid. They use lies and demonstrable falsehoods to defeat LGBT protections, in particular, to defeat protections for transgender people. Their hatred, malice and rage all too frequently gives some of them an excuse to murder us simply for trying to be true to ourselves.

Jones: Particularly in the last year, there has been an increase in transgender visibility. This has made it easier to educate those who are willing to learn. Many who once regarded trans people with confusion and discomfort now understand who we are, and that being transgender is perfectly normal. Our number of supporters has increased, but so has the hatred we face. Some of the people who once paid us no attention now seek to attack us. This year sets the record for homicide and hate crimes against the transgender community. This year we have seen a number of attempts by bigoted politicians to pass legislation specifically against us.

In 2013, Jones organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in Pensacola. The following year, she setup the transgender advocacy group STRIVE of which she is currently the Vice President. This year, along with Debra Dubose of Safe Port Counseling Center, she is hosting a two day remembrance event, during which they expect over 50 people. 

11947460_634898819947050_4134799355407870099_nFor the next discussion, we wondered what the biggest threat to the community’s safety was. This is a difficult question, but we asked our interviewees, if they could wave a wand to change one thing that would make the biggest impact, what would that one thing be?

Babb: I strongly believe that the single biggest threat to acceptance is ignorance – and I don’t know how to explain that in a way that doesn’t sound cliched. I have a lot of conflicted feelings about Harvey Milk’s call to come out of the closet.  I don’t like the way it can be used to vilify people for keeping themselves safe in often dangerous environments. But I think the idea behind it is solid. Society will only really change when people realize that their loved ones, friends, and coworkers are trans.

If I could wave a hand and change one thing, I would make everyone realize that trans issues are not an academic interest – they affect the people you know and love. And it’s true – the current best guess is that 0.3% of the population is transgender, and the data is so hard to get that the real number is probably much higher. The odds are excellent that someone you know identifies on the trans spectrum. It’s easy to vilify a population if you think they are different from you- we see this all the time. But I have seen such change, and such love, from people who educate themselves because they know someone who is trans.The only thing I can think to wish is that more people start down that road.

Morria: I believe the single greatest threat to acceptance is conservative religious ideology, regardless of the religion it is from. We suffer from it within the Pagan community as well. A community formed on and growing around the idea of acceptance and inclusiveness. Sadly, this hatred seems to be growing and too many people who should know better, have fallen under the spell of conservative hatred.

Jones:  It is very difficult to say specifically what is the single greatest obstacle we face. I find myself struggling with this question in large part because I’m sure if you asked a hundred trans people this question you would get a hundred different answers. … In a general sense ignorance is the root of all our problems. If accurate, well-articulated information was made available to the general public, and became common knowledge, most of our problems would be solved. 

More specifically, the lack of knowledge in the medical community is a problem. If I had a magic wand that could change just one aspect of the world, I’d probably make a complete education on transgender healthcare (provided by a transgender teacher) a prerequisite for a medical degree. Too often I talk to doctors and mental health specialists who won’t take transgender patients because they don’t know how to treat us. I feel like if the medical community was educated, their influence would also effect politicians and employers.  Conversely, it is my personal opinion (though some disagree with me) that employment discrimination is the biggest problem we face. Many trans people can’t get to a doctor (or even find a place to live) to begin with because they have no job and therefore no money.

With that in mind, the third question asked was how can non-trans people can be the best allies? What should cisgender people do or not do to help raise awareness, support their friends and eliminate the barriers discussed above? 

Babb:  Educate yourself. I can’t emphasize this enough. Educate yourself. Struggle with your internalized transphobia- seek it out, own up to it, struggle to overcome it. Speak up when your privilege gives you an opportunity to defend trans lives, but let trans people speak for themselves, with their own voices, whenever possible. There are a million articles on the internet that answer this question in depth, with examples. Read them.

And accept the responsibility for your own allyship. Trans people do not owe you anything. They do not owe you their thanks for being a decent person. They do not owe you the time or effort that it would take to educate you. Trans people are incredibly busy trying to exist  in a society that tells them that they can’t, or shouldn’t. If you are going to help them, it is going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to be work. But it’s not going to approach the level of discomfort and work they go through, every day.

This is what I tell myself in my efforts to be an ally. It’s a hard thing to accept, a harder thing to internalize, and I have to keep reminding myself that the times I feel classist, ageist, racist- those are the times when I’m challenging my comfort zones, and growing. It is not up to my friends to make me a better person, or reward me for becoming one. It is up to me to make their lives better, any way I can.

Morria: Cisgender people can be awesome allies if they do three things … 1. Educate themselves about what being transgender IS … 2. Be polite, but firm in not allowing [other] people to misgender us, paint us as child molesters or deviants. Refuse to allow [the] mistreatment of us stand without a (legal) fight. 3. Promote and support legislation that protects our rights. Fight legislation that tries to deny us basic human dignity and rights (bathroom laws come to mind, we after all, #OnlyWantToPee).

Jones: Without a doubt the best thing you can do as an ally to the transgender community, is listen. If there is someone in your life who is transgender, whether they are family, friend, co-worker, or anything else, ask them what you can do to make their life easier, and do that. What each person needs will be different, so I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer.

As to how you can make a real difference on the larger scale, give trans people the stage. People don’t listen to us. Whether it’s because they think we’re mentally or spiritually ill, or just make them uncomfortable, most people want us to be quiet. The ones who do want to help often try to speak for us, which is almost as bad. If you have a microphone in your hand, pass it to someone who’s transgender. If you have an audience for a TV show, a blog, a newspaper, or an event, ask them to listen and let them hear a transgender voice. We are here, we are just like you, and we are already speaking, but many don’t hear us.

Transgender people are speaking out. This is a 2013 video by Pagan activist, author and artist Elena Rose. The video is from Girl Talk, “a critically acclaimed multi-media performance show promoting dialogue about relationships of all kinds between queer transgender women, queer cisgender women, and genderqueer people.”

Elena Rose [Still from Girl Talk Video]

Elena Rose [Still from Girl Talk Video.]

For our fourth question, we asked for words of hope. Often when talking about marginalized, oppressed, and silenced populations, we focus on the struggle, violence and pain. So, we asked them to take a moment to share something beautiful about the transgender community or about being transgender: a story or even a moment?

Babb: The problem with talking about the joy of oppressed peoples is that you’re talking about the joy of living, for a group of people who have that basic level of existence threatened every day. The stories of joy that I have are the quiet moments of being myself, and being seen as myself, being surrounded by people who love me. They don’t lend themselves well to my method of storytelling – there’s nothing exciting about them, no build up to a climax of realization. They’re the moments when I look in the mirror and recognize the person looking back. When my partner puts her arm around me and calls me by my name, holding me in myself on a level so basic that most people don’t question it. When I meet someone, and we talk together, and what we say is Yes, and Me too, and it feels vanishingly rare and extraordinarily valuable.

Then I talk to  other trans people, we share stories that are painful – moments when we were threatened, moments when we were scared, moments when someone threatened the truth of who and what we are. We share those stories and we laugh, because for a moment we are in a place where everyone knows the truth, and anyone who would argue with it is wrong to the point of being absurd. The best thing I can compare it to is the joy of ritual – being surrounded by people who are joined with you on sending out positive energy against a negative world. That sort of community, wherever it is found, is beautiful. I’m very lucky to have found other gender rebels to share it with.

The joy of being trans is the joy of being yourself, and valued, and happy. It’s no more unusual or special than the joy of being anyone else. What makes it hard to talk about, what makes it seem so strange, is that it is a joy we are told we aren’t qualified to have, and don’t deserve. When we dare to have it anyway, it is a joy that is taken from us by force.

Morria: On May 5 of this year, I felt terribly alone, terribly isolated and felt myself to be a pariah. I attempted and very nearly succeeded in commiting suicide … Three communities stood by my side. The Pagan community, who threw out a lot of energy to help me stay here. The Transgender community, who were terrified that they had lost yet another sister. And the Christian community who also prayed very hard for me and did everything they could to help me through it. All three communities, disparate as they are, rallied around one goal. Making sure I felt loved and accepted, and making sure there was a lifeline for me to find my way back.

To me this is beautiful because it shows that when we want to, we can ALL get along and work for a mutual goal. Since those 10 days I was in the hospital, all my friends, be they Pagan, Christian, Transgender, etc have shown me an amazing amount of love and support. I don’t feel nearly as alone and isolated as I did, and though I still feel somewhat like a pariah … I find that I care more about being who I am, as best I can, than the opinions or thoughts of people who have never walked a fraction of my journey …

Jones: Mostly, the pain, violence, and struggle is what needs to be talked about, but there is beauty too, and there is love. I like to say, family is the people who love the real you and are there when you need them, everything else is relatives. Most trans people have, to varying degrees, lost family because of who they are. I come from a big family. My childhood memories are punctuated by the presence of twenty to a hundred people who I saw two to three times a year on special occasions. Out of all those people, I only talk to five now. Some of us have no one at all, so we make new families– families of the heart, people who know us and love us as we are.

My transgender family is closer, more loving, and more devoted than I think any other could be, because we picked each other. When one of us needs something, we all pitch in to make it happen. When one of us couldn’t afford a medical bill a few months ago, the rest of us raised the money in less than a day. When some of us had nowhere to go for the holidays, several different people opened their homes and held potluck parties for ANYONE who wanted to come. We throw parties just because every couple of months, so we’ll have an excuse to gather and enjoy each other’s company.

Living with my blood family, I could go a day and a half without seeing people who lived in the same house with me. Now, I rarely go that long without an impromptu visit from someone who “just happened to be in the area”. I call them my people, because we are like a tribe. We take care of each other, because no one else is doing so.

cropped-tdor1_zpsd6602842As Babb mentioned earlier, Transgender Day of Remebrance (TDOR) “is not a time for us to talk about how far we’ve come” … It is “about recognizing how far we have to go.” Every year, the TDOR website includes a list of names of those people known “to have died because of anti-transgender violence.”  To end our interviews, we asked our interviewees what the day means to them.

Babb: Transgender Day of Remembrance is important because it’s our opportunity to mourn the ones we’ve lost. So many trans people are cast out of their birth families- we say their names so that someone will, because they are valuable, because they are our family and we have to mourn them

Morria: Trans Remembrance day is exceedingly important for me because it reminds me of all my transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were ended for no other reason than they were trying to live true to themselves. It reminds me that to some groups of people, my life is utterly worthless and killing me in their minds, is a service to whatever it is they believe in. It also reminds me that, while we have managed to come a long way quickly where Transgender rights and equality is concerned, we have a long way to go, and each life it costs, is a price too great and too painful to have to pay.

It makes me ask the question every time I am out. “Will I be the next statistic? The next victim? The next one whose loss is mourned by my family, loved ones and transgender brothers and sisters?” It also reminds me that our murderers are rarely ever apprehended, because our lives don’t seem to matter to investigators, and our murderers when caught, are rarely ever given sentences that match the crime. We are maligned. Hated. Lied about and treated as fifth class humans unworthy of the same protections others have and take as a given. It reminds me that society, while imroving, still sees my life as less valuable because I am Transgender … It reminds me that the fight MUST continue.

Jones: Since 1998, the Transgender Day of Remembrance has honored the victims of transphobic violence. We light candles, and we say their names, to show that they have not been forgotten or ignored. The vigil is usually followed by advocacy and activism discussions geared toward reducing violence against the trans community and moving media and law enforcement toward handling the murders correctly. They often go unreported, and law enforcement fails to investigate fully more often than not. 

The Day of Remembrance gives trans people a chance to express the heavy emotions which come from living our lives in this kind of danger and oppression, and it reminds us of what we are fighting to change. It also increases our visibility and encourages others to educate themselves, or even join our fight for equality. Last year, one of the names we read was an eight year old girl named Alex Medeiros beaten to death by her own father, for refusing to cut her hair, liking women’s clothes, and dancing. The moment I read that aloud was the last time there was a dry eye in the gathering until we came to the end.

This year it’s more important than ever, because we’ve had more violence than ever. There are approximately 27 victims right now, but different sources give different numbers because the deaths are not correctly reported and because there are no government statistics. The average homicide rate of trans people is about 1 in 12, as opposed to roughly 4.7 in 100,000 for the general population. That’s higher than any other demographic except sufferers of certain life threatening illnesses. I am currently running a petition to have the TDoR declared a national holiday … We need this event to raise awareness of these terrifying statistics. I’m more likely to die going to the grocery store than you are in a plane crash. I want this to be the last year that my identity is life threatening.

  *   *   *

For those people who are attending organized vigils today or would like to participate in their own way privately or with their own groups, we have attached here the TDoR list of 2015 victims of anti-transgender violence. There are many resources on the issues discussed above, as well as resources for both trans people and allies. GLAAD provides a short list of legal resources and other support. Now celebrating its first anniversary, the Trans Lifeline is available nationally. It helps “empower Trans people to help other Trans people in the darkest moments of their lives.” 

The Wild Hunt thanks all three of our interviewees for their time and willingness to share their thoughts.

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