TWH — This weekend and next, many modern Pagans, Heathens and polytheists are observing the summer festival of Lughnasadh, also called Lammas, Lughnassa, and Harvest Home. Typically celebrated on Aug. 1, Lughnasadh is one of the yearly fire festivals and marks the first of three harvest celebrations. It traditionally honors Lugh, the Celtic god of light and many talents, and his foster-mother, Tailtiu.

In addition, the weekend brings the Ásatrú festival of first fruits called Freyfaxi. Both celebrations are celebrated with feasting, songs, games, thanksgiving and the reaping of the first fruits and grains of the season.

[By Shree Krishna Dhital via Wikimedia Commons]

[By Shree Krishna Dhital via Wikimedia Commons]

There are many other late summer religious and secular holidays around the world, some of which are related to the harvest and some are not. In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, followers will be celebrating Choekhor Duechen Aug. 4. The day marks the time when “the Buddha Shakyamuni first taught the four noble truths in Sarnath, India, and first turned the wheel of the dharma.”  The Order of the Black Madonna, based in California, hosts a number of feast days in August, including an annual dinner in mid-August to honor the Queenship of Mary.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Pagans, Heathens and polytheists are readying for Imbolc, and other holidays focused on late winter and the coming potential of spring.

This year, the new moon arrives Aug. 2, and the full moon Aug. 18.

Here are a few quotes about the seasonal celebration:

“This time of year is marked by the burning rays brought down by the Dog Star Sirius, signaling the scorching heat that can come during the “dog days” of summer. The same light that provided nourishment for the green world now parches the earth. This is the last gasping breath of summer, whose days have grown steadily shorter since the solstice. The dark god of the Wildwood, leader of the Wild Hunt comes to claim his throne. The light god of the green that has ruled this half of the year is sacrificed to ensure the cycle continues. This is Lammastide.” – Coby Michael Smith, Lugh, Lucifer and the First Harvest.

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“For the vegan Pagan, Lammas presents an opportunity to celebrate the long-standing blessing of plant-based foods. And surely the Queen of these foods is bread. The Hebrew testaments canonized by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam mention the connection between women and the creation of sacred cakes. Of course in these documents, the mention is a disgruntled and disapproving one. But the pagan religions carry forth innumerable references to sacred loaves, or ‘cakes and ale.’ Liquor, incidentally, is another use for these sacred grains, and is also associated with numerous goddesses, like Cerridwen and Bridget. And most of us in Greco-Roman influenced cultures know Demeter as a goddess of the grain.” – Leslie J. Lindor, Lammas, The Ancient Heritage of Grains

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“Our life stories are not blockages or burdens we must repress, cut away or transcend; they are the very life-blood, our teachers and guides, on our journey of healing and transformation. We are meant to harvest and ingest the core lessons held within our stories, and then, and only then, will our stories be done with us …This week, in the spirit of Lammas, the pagan sabbat of the early harvest, spend some time in personal reflection, considering the parts of your life story that are ripe and ready for harvesting.” – Karen Clark, Lammas Pathwork, Harvesting Your Life Stories

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“On Lammas day in 1940 witches gathered in the New Forest to raise a ‘cone of power’ to prevent Hitler’s troops invading England. The assembly included Gerald Gardner and Old Dorothy Clutterbuck and several other renowned witches. Traditionally Lammas is celebrated by taking a spiral path to the summit of a Lammas hill such as Silbury Hill or Glastonbury Tor […] When harvesting, farmers will often leave the last stand of corn as it contains the spirit of the crop. In some parts of the country this will be cut by ritually throwing sickles. The corn would then be used to decorate the farmhouse for ‘Harvest Home,’ and be made into a corn dolly to protect the home and guarantee the crops for the next season. ” – Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, Lammas Windows

[Photo Courtesy Museum of Witchcraft and Magick Lammas Windows]

Lammas Decorating Ideas [Photo Courtesy Museum of Witchcraft and Magick Lammas Windows]

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“It is turning darker sooner, slowly, little by little. The lengthening shadows are appearing as a sign that the nights will be winning once again, as the Wheel of the Year turns. As twilight appears it is rife with legends of the darker ones becoming more and more prominent […] The Witches of the past learned their magic from the fairies, meeting them in the woodlands and fairy mounds that ordinary people avoided. Given herbs, potions, and the secrets of the Craft. In the woodlands, following a path deep into the heart of the greenwood.” – Danette Wilson, Outside the Circle: Dark Spirits of Lammas.

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“Traditionally Lammas (or Lughnasadh) is the time of the first harvest, and this is a time to celebrate the abundance in your life – friends and family, physically, creatively, or spiritually. Take time to give thanks for what you have, and consider what you can give back to the world.” – Circle Sanctuary

A very blessed first harvest to all of our friends, family and readers celebrating at this time! 

It was the end of my time in Europe, as I was set to fly out of Cologne in a few days. I had just traveled from Strasbourg, France to a friend’s house just outside of Mannheim, Germany, and I was trying to figure out the best way to Cologne from there.

“If you take the train from Mainz, I can show you the Isis temple in the basement of the mini-mall,” she said to me.

I was sure that I hadn’t heard her right. “Wait, what?” I asked. “A temple in a mini-mall?”

“Well, in America it would be called a mini-mall. Here it’s just a regular mall because we don’t have big malls like you do. But yes, when they were building the mall they uncovered the remains of a temple to Isis, and now the temple is in the basement of the mall and anyone can go visit it.”

Still not quite believing my ears, I immediately decided to travel out of Mainz. I spent the night at my friend’s wonderful old farmhouse, and made plans to go to the temple the next day, and then on to the train station.

That night, I dreamed about the burial mounds in and around Chillicothe. I woke up not quite understanding the connection, but it was made clear to me before long.

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Mainz is located in western Germany on the west bank of the Rhine. Known as Mogontiacum in the days of the Roman Empire, the city was founded as a military stronghold in the first century BC and named after the Gallic god Mogons. Mogontiacum was one of the most important fort cities in the Roman Empire until it was destroyed by Attila the Hun in 451 AD.

In 1999, construction workers broke ground for a new shopping center in Mainz only a short distance from the bank of the Rhine. Unlike in America, where many states have no laws whatsoever that protect archaeological remains, German local historic preservation offices automatically oversee the digging of a pit in any historic location.

When the remains of the Isis temple were discovered, construction on the shopping center was halted for seventeen months as the remains were carefully uncovered and catalogued by a team of archaeologists. During the excavation, over 5000 photographs were taken, and over 350 scaled drawings were created of the finds. Three meters of soil were removed and carefully sifted through, and extensive geographical survey charts were drawn up which noted the exact locations of the remains as well as how far above sea level they were found.

Not only was an ancient temple discovered, but also the remains of a Celtic burial ground dating back to the Iron Age. The temple itself was dedicated to both Isis and Cybele, who the Romans knew as ‘Magna Mater.’ It is the only temple to both gods that has ever been found outside of Italy.

When the excavation was completed, local citizens pressured the government and the developers to preserve the temple in its original location, and to make it available for public viewing. As a result, a museum that contains and features the remains of the temple was built right into the structure of the shopping center. Today, the museum is accessible from the inside of the shopping center and is open and free to the public.

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I admit that I didn’t know much about either Isis or Cybele other than what is contained in the standard myths that most Pagans are familiar with. I had no idea, for example, that Isis was adopted into the Roman pantheon and that her cult thrived there. I had known that the cult of Cybele had reached Rome, but I didn’t know that temples dedicated to her were ever built within the Roman Empire.

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Entrance to the Isis temple in Mainz. [Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie.]

Arriving at the mall that contained the temple was quite a surreal experience. In the downtown of a major city, we parked and took an elevator to the first floor. As soon as we walked into the mall itself, the temple was right there near the entrance with a staircase leading down below.

The volunteer at the desk handed me a tour guide in English, and my friend was kind and patient enough to translate everything on the panels inside the museum, which were all in German. What I learned over the next hour from my tour guide and my friend’s translation was the following, retold to the best of my memory with the assistance of a few notes:

Archaeologists and historians knew that a temple to both Isis and Magna Mater had existed at one point in Mainz, but they didn’t know where until the discovery and to this day they still don’t know why it was built. According to historians, a temple like this was usually built after some sort of political catastrophe and/or misdeed on the part of the Roman Empire as a way to both appease the local community as well as appease and ask forgiveness of the Gods. And given the size and the detail of this specific temple, it is assumed that there was some sort of significant event that the Emperor and Senators of the Roman Empire felt a great need to rectify.

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Tablets inscribed to Isis Panthea and Magna Mater. [Photo Credit: A.Valkyrie.]

Among the consecrations carved on limestone tablets was the following:

For the welfare of the emperor (and) of the Roman senate and the people and the army, Claudia Icmas, freedwoman of the emperor, and Vitulus, slave of the prince, under the priest Claudius Atticus, also a freedman, have had this inscription set down for Mater Magna.

Another tablet bears the identical words except that they were set down for Isis Panthea. The naming of these various persons and institutions is suggestive of a very grave or controversial occasion or event that the consecrations were meant to make amends for. There are also a significant number of stamps from various Roman legions on the outer walls of the temple, signifying that not only did the legions feel the need to specifically mark their participation in the building of the structure, but that the structure itself was a state-sponsored and state-financed project.

And yet the specific event or catastrophe that prompted the building and consecration of such a temple is missing from the historical record.

The temple itself was built in several phases, starting in the latter half of the first century, AD, and the cults of Isis and Magna Mater worshiped at the temple for approximately two-hundred years. It had gone through various renovations over that time, with differing materials and architectural styles found throughout the layers. When parts of the temple were demolished and restructured, the building materials from the destroyed parts were re-used in the rebuilding.

Remains of the temple in the center of the museum. [Photo Credit: Matthias Süßen / Wikimedia]

The insides of the temple were off-limits to those who were not initiates of the cults of either Isis or Mater Magna. However, those who were not initiates were still allowed to participate in certain celebrations, activities, and offerings. Pits were discovered outside the temple walls, which contained layers of burnt offerings. Anyone could leave or burn offerings in these pits in order to request and/or secure divine assistance. Hundreds of oil lamps were also unearthed, many which were found in the offering pits. Other lamps had images of gods carved onto the surface. Evidence of animal sacrifices were also found in the pits, primarily the bones of chickens and other birds.

Discovered among the ruins were many poppet dolls and curse tablets, some of which were very detailed in their targets and their aims. The curses ranged from requests for revenge on jilted lovers to pleas for justice in legal matters. The tablets were made of lead, and were rolled up and buried once inscribed. The archaeologists discovered many of these tablets in various stages of decay, which had to be carefully unrolled in order to decipher and translate what was written on them.

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Devotional objects and curse tablets on display. [Photo Credit: Martin Bahmann / Wikimedia]

Also uncovered and displayed were a large assortment of sacrificial and devotional objects, such as pottery, resins, carved bone, grains, and various figurines. Some of the figurines were hand-carved, others molded, and varied from representations of ordinary people to statues of gods and goddesses.

Remains from the Celtic burial ground that existed in that space prior to the building of the temple were also on display. A burial chamber built of wood planks, which was originally set between an earthen mound, was uncovered and inside the bones of what is believed to be a noble woman were discovered. Her remains were dated through a dendrochronological analysis and were thought to be from around 650 BC. Found buried with the remains were fragments of pottery and jewelry, ostensibly her personal possessions.

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Reconstructed scene and remains from the Celtic burial chamber. [Photo Credit: Martin Bahmann / Wikimedia]

As someone walking through the display for the first time and with little knowledge of what I was about to observe, I felt an immediate connection to the objects and the history that was being displayed and expressed, not only because of its presentation but because it was displayed in the actual location where it was found. There was a certain resonance, a connection between the space itself and the objects on display, that was unlike any other museum I had ever seen.

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With my head full of a wide assortment of new knowledge and thoughts and ideas, I bade farewell to my friend, thanked her for her hospitality and her tireless translation throughout our visit to the museum, and then boarded the train to Cologne.

Once I was on the train, I sat and relaxed for a few moments and remembered the dream that I had the night before. I suddenly realized its significance in terms of what I had just learned and witnessed. Aside from the general theme of ancient and sacred places, the Celtic burial chamber that was unearthed below the temple had originally been built below a burial mound, a mound which was constructed for the same purpose and around the same time as the burial mounds in my dreams.

The burial mounds scattered in and around the Ohio Valley and West Virginia were built in the time of the Adena culture, which is estimated to have thrived between 1000 and 200 BC. But unlike the varied historical protection laws that European countries have enacted concerning archaeological remains, Ohio has never enacted a law that protects structures or finds of historical significance despite years worth of pressure on the state legislature to do so.

As a result, countless burial mounds have been destroyed over time, especially over the past century.

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Adena Mound, circa 1900, prior to destruction. [Public Domain]

In 1998, a commercial property owner in Chillicothe, Ohio wanted to develop a piece of land for retail purposes. But unlike the situation in Mainz, they knew from the start that the Chillicothe land in question was a sacred site in the form of a burial mound, which was in the way of their plans. So, they simply demolished it despite efforts from preservationists to stop the destruction.

The land then sat for nearly two decades until last year when developers wanted to build a mall. The developers claimed that they were not aware that the parcel was a recently bulldozed sacred site. Under pressure from the community, they consented to allow archaeologists to dig for thirteen weeks.

And over the course of that time, many archaeological finds were uncovered from bones and teeth to shards of pottery. A local archaeologist estimated that the mound dated from between 200BC to 200AD, putting it in the same general time frame as the remains unearthed in Mainz.

But unlike the temple in Mainz, nobody built a museum in the basement of the new shopping center, which was built on top of the sacred site. What stood before in that spot has not been properly respected or honored or protected. What was once a burial mound is now a Dick’s Sporting Goods, with nothing to remind those who shop there that the building stands on sacred ground.

While the trip to the Isis temple was a breathtaking example of the importance of preserving and restoring historic remains, it was also a stark reminder of how little my own country has progressed in showing such respect or care for the sacred remains that are scattered throughout this land.

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Early stages of the destruction of the mound, 1901. [Public Domain]

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

On July 15, reports exploded across the world’s media that there had been a military coup against the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pronounced Erdon) in Turkey. The reaction across the European Union, which Turkey is negotiating to join, was shock and intrigue.

Erdogan, who first came to power in 2003 (as prime Minister until 2014, and President since then) is regarded in Europe as a divisive, authoritarian figure with Islamic fundamentalist leanings. Since Erdogan’s ascendancy, Turkey has slowly been transformed from the secular, progressive Islamic vision of Kemal Ataturk into an increasingly religious and conservative state. Such a change has resulted in an increasing amount of pressure on Turkish Pagans for years.

The Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul was a Greek Orthodox Christian basilica when the city was Constantinople

The Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul was a Greek Orthodox Christian basilica when the city was called Constantinople. [Photo Credit: Arild Vågen / Wikimedia]

The Wild Hunt spoke with Renee Redbird, a Turkish pagan living in Turkey, and Morgana Sythove, the head of Pagan Federation International, which has a branch in Turkey.

“The past five years have been really hard,” said Redbird. “Pagans cannot express their views to other people in Turkey as they think we worship Satan. Turkey isn’t secular, in a secular country they can choose their beliefs – we can’t. My citizenship ID card states Islam as my religion but they didn’t ask me. When my father registered my birth, they put Islam as my religion, and I can’t get that erased.”

Redbird explained that it is also the same in schools, adding: “We just learn Islam, Islam. It’s going extreme, real extreme. Even Christians and Jews can’t say anything, not just pagans.”

Sythove stressed just how much Turkey has changed over the past few years. Erdogan has grown increasingly intolerant of any dissidence. A recent flashpoint was the Taksim Square riots in June 2013, during which local protesters were violently evicted from a peaceful sit-in over plans to urbanize Gesi Park.

Inspired by movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the protesters wanted, among other things, to protect the trees that were scheduled to be destroyed as part of the development. They were also there to protest Erdogan’s authoritarianism. The ensuing riots were suppressed with tear gas and water cannons. In the end, 11 people killed and 8,000 injured.

The protests at Taksim Gesi Park in 2013

The protests at Taksim Gesi Park in 2013 [Photo Credit: Fleshstorm / Wikimedia]

Turkey lies in the far south-eastern corner of Europe and is the gateway to the Middle East. It occupies a small landmass in mainland Europe, which borders Greece and Bulgaria. It then crosses the Bosphorus Strait with the rest of its territory bordering Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Georgia. Turkey is a key country in Europe as it serves as a bridge between these two worlds. Indeed, much of the recent refugee influx has passed through Turkey with the other main route being Libya in North Africa.

Turkey’s story represents something of a pattern for the Middle East, which has been exacerbated by recent International involvement, primarily from the US and UK, which has destabilised the entire region. This has not affected Turkey directly, but has resulted a flourishing of the more fundamentalist arms of Islam across the Middle East.

Over the past few months, tension has built up enormously. Just a month ago, police shut down the annual Istanbul Gay Pride festival, which has been held without concern since 2003. There were issues with the event last year, and the permits to hold the 2016 event were denied. But the festival went ahead anyway. Nineteen people were arrested and water cannons were used.

And, it was a similar story at a transgender event held in Istanbul the week before the Pride March. This authoritarianism is creeping into more informal events as well. Redbird said, “A few weeks ago I heard of a man, I can’t remember where he was from, but it was somewhere in the Far East, and he had a party for Coldplay fans to come and listen to their music at his house. The police went to his house, broke up the party and began beating people.”

It would seem that even this type of more secular, informal gathering is now difficult to hold. “This was not a problem a few years ago,” Redbird stressed. “People could have a party with alcohol. Even non-Muslim shopkeepers who serve alcohol are now being beaten by the police. None of this was happening a few years ago.”

Sythove echoed her comments. “I’ve noticed people being less open, there are more headscarves around now, women are less open as the men seem to guard them – even in Istanbul. I never thought I’d see that in Istanbul.” Although Ankara is the official capital, Istanbul is its most prominent city and enjoys a more liberal reputation than some of its other regions.

The hijab is becoming an increasingly common feature in daily Turkish life. There is concern that this will put pressure on greater numbers of women to wear one. Erdogan is also putting a constant pressure on the judiciary of Turkey to overturn the Constitutional ban on wearing headscarves in public institutions. Redbird said, “We are getting used to it now though, unfortunately. We have to.”

With the way things are going, she admits that she is pessimistic about the future. “It will become like Iran here. There will be no difference between Iran and Turkey.”

Sythove said that since the attempted coup was quashed, Erdogan has worked to tighten his grip on power. More than 60,000 people have been arrested. Erdogan claims that the failed revolt was the work of his former ally Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, Turkey’s main opposition leader who now lives in exile in Pennsylvania, US.

Sythove added, “Academics are not allowed to leave the country, as Erdogan believes many schools and teachers are funded by Gulan.” Redbird chipped in: “That’s a lie!”

Concerned for friends she has across Turkey, Sythove said, “I have some friends who I cannot get hold of, who were having problems even a couple of years ago (due to their beliefs and associations). This has been bubbling under for about two to three years.”

Redbird agreed, adding: “You would hear of isolated cases where someone would be arrested, but nothing on this scale. I’m really scared of everything now. I am scared for my life, for my friends’ lives, for my family’s lives. If I had the opportunity I would leave Turkey. My husband and I are looking into study programmes so that we can leave.”

Unfortunately, Turkey was on the brink of a deal with the EU to ease visa restrictions from Turkey, making work and study more accessible to Turkish citizens. This has been quickly dropped since the failed coup.

While not popular in Europe, Erdogan has solid support at home. He remains a popular figure. Sythove explained, “He has done a great deal for the poorer parts of Turkey, particularly the east. He has improved infrastructure and built roads, airports and so the people love him.”

Redbird added, “Many here are calling for the death penalty for the coup collaborators and soldiers. They are playing music to celebrate.”

Turks take to the streets of Istanbul to oppose the attempted coup in July

Turks take to the streets of Istanbul to oppose the attempted coup in July [Wikimedia]

Turkey is an unusual country in that its secular position has usually been upheld by the army. It has experienced a string of coups, whenever the country is deemed to be swerving too far from the Ataturk principles it was founded upon.

Alarm bells rang in Western Europe earlier this year when major Turkish newspaper Zaman, which was critical of Erdogan and his regime, was seized and its journalists arrested. Zaman was then completely shut down.

These actions were not considered those of a leader who upholds the democratic, secular values of the EU. With Turkey poised to join the politico-economic bloc, and Chancellor Angela Merkel handing the nation billions of euros to keep refugees there in order to ease pressure on Germany, the Brussels bureaucrats were getting worried.

However, the coup put paid to that. Erdogan was pictured facetiming Turkish CNN to urge everyone to get out on the streets and show their support for him. They answered his call and at some time during the night the army surrendered.
Many have since questioned whether the coup, which appears to have been poorly planned and executed to the point of farce, was actually orchestrated by Erdogan to justify the subsequent purge and consolidation of his autocratic power.

There have also been reports that many of the troops involved in the attempted coup were unaware of what was happening and thought they were simply taking part in a major training exercise.

The one thing that is certain is, since the events of July 15, the Turkish regime has suspended, detained, or begun probing 60,000 people, including soldiers, policemen, judges, teachers, civil servants and journalists. In this climate, any political or ideological position considered to deviate from a state-sanctioned norm is under scrutiny. Given that the same may happen with religious views, Pagans in Turkey face an even more uncertain future than they did before the failed coup.

Many thanks to Renee Redbird for speaking to me under difficult circumstances, and to Morgana Sythove of PFI for her assistance.

 

Names and some details have been changed or omitted to protect identities.

OHIO– The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick has been in existence, off and on, since 1966. But the collection, which was once featured in publications from the New York Times to the Scholastic Voice, hasn’t been publicly displayed since Jimmy Carter was president. Now two longtime friends of Raymond Buckland – the man who brought Gardnerian witchcraft to the United States – are trying once again to make an ever-growing collection of Pagan artifacts available to the public.

Buckland, circa 1960s, holding 250-year-old mandrake root [Courtesy Photo]

The museum’s heyday was its first ten years from 1966-1976. During that time, Buckland himself housed it on Long Island where he lived. When he moved to New Hampshire, he tried to keep it up. However, by 1980, he decided to put the collection in storage. He was much in demand as a lecturer and writer, and found himself unable to devote the necessary time to the project.

The collection remained in storage for close to 20 years. Then, Buckland made arrangements to pass it on to Monte Plaisance, whose intention was to reopen the museum in New Orleans. That, unfortunately, never came to pass. As The Wild Hunt reported in 2008, attorneys were retained to negotiate the return of the artifacts to Buckland. Since that point, there have been allegations that the collection was not returned complete from its journey to New Orleans.

We contacted Michael (Monte) Plaisance about the accusations. He said, in part, “When I returned the museum [collection], all of those items were accounted for and those documents were signed off by the mediating attorney, who took the collection and brought it to whoever was the next person to handle it. […] I wish the current curator/owner of the collection the best of luck with the task ahead.” Read his full response to the allegations here.

Rev. Velvet Rieth was the next person to try to take on the project. However, Rieth became ill, so Buckland sought other curators, which he found in Toni Rotonda and Kat Tigner. Buckland has said, “These two ladies have taken on a formidable task but are doing wonderfully well with it. I have absolute trust in them and am extremely grateful to them for taking this on.” Rotonda and Tigner spoke to us about their plans for the collection.

The Wild Hunt: How did the two of you come to own this collection in the first place?

Toni and Kat: The two of us, Kat and Toni, have been friends with Raymond Buckland for quite some time. Over the course of several years, we have had a number of conversations about the museum collection. Last year (2015), we were made aware that Reverend Velvet Rieth, the then-curator of the museum, had become ill and was unable to continue managing the museum. After much discussion and consideration, all parties thought it would be the best option to bring the collection back to Ohio for safekeeping. This has proven to be a monumental task, as the collection is extremely extensive.

TWH: What kind of background in Paganism do you have?

Kat: I have studied witchcraft and the occult since 1970. I was a solitary practitioner for over 30 years until I felt a strong need to connect with other Pagans. I started a Pagan website back in the late 1990s (there were very few back then) and began selling my own ritual candles and oils. In 1999, I decided to quit my lucrative government job to open a small “witch shop” called The Cat & The Cauldron in Columbus, Ohio. A risky endeavor, to say the least, but you’ve heard the old adage “build it and they will come.” Well, they came and business grew. I learned from Llewelyn publishers that Ray Buckland lived in Ohio, so I decided to contact him and invite him for a book signing and lecture at my shop. Ray initiated me into the Craft (his first initiate in 20 years), then became my mentor and close friend, which we’ve been ever since. We co-founded a coven together in 2005 called the Temple of Sacrifice which follows an Egyptian pantheon, but I still recognize and worship the gods and goddesses of many cultures today.

Toni: I grew up in an extremely diverse family in many ways. My great-grandmother was a Vodou practitioner. My maternal grandmother was an in-the-closet Hungarian gypsy. My paternal grandmother had holy water basins attached to several walls of her home (which I loved) and would walk around mumbling prayers with her rosary in hand. And my nanny, well, let’s just say tea leaves and tarot before breakfast was standard fare. I had a very colorful childhood, and for that I am very thankful. I’ve always been fascinated by the various beliefs of different populations, and still am. I have studied various religions and paths over the years, when finally, in 1999, I wandered into a little shop called The Cat & The Cauldron.

TWH: Do you have any experience with starting and running a museum?

Kat and Toni: No, but we certainly have some great guidance from Ray who started the original museum in 1968! We have been involved with and have had guidance from several other museum curators as well as historical societies. Ashley Mortimer, from the Doreen Valiente Foundation, has been instrumental in helping us with laying the groundwork. It has been comforting to work with a group that understands the importance of protecting the integrity of such a collection. We hope to work with them more in the future.

There is definitely a lot to learn but it has been an exciting and worthwhile project. We have each owned and currently own our own businesses and have a wealth of knowledge and guidance from many that are anxious to see this project up and running.

Crystal balls owned by Sybil Leek and Raymond Buckland, respectively [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: What can you tell me about the Buckland collection itself that you own?

Kat and Toni: It is as diverse of a collection as one could imagine. When we originally received the collection from New Orleans in July of 2015, the items were not carefully packed or labeled in any way. There were large foot lockers filled with what could only be described as chaos. We had no idea who (and in some cases, what) these items belonged to, or their relevance to the museum. Many of the items were in pieces (in separate foot lockers), broken, or missing. It was very disheartening. Thankfully, because of Ray’s extensive record-keeping (thank the gods!), we were able to identify, catalog, and restore many of the artifacts.

Ray began this collection in the 1960s. Having worked for British Airways, it allowed him the ability to travel around the world to collect various ritual artifacts. Ancient Egyptian, African, Meso-American, and Australian Aboriginal ceremonial artifacts are among the many items in the collection. As we all know, Ray has been a beacon for many on the Pagan path. Because of this, Ray has met many others that have also been instrumental on the Pagan front. Individuals such Gerald Gardner, Monique Wilson, Sybil Leek, Aiden Breac, Israel Regardie, Patricia Crowther, Scott Cunningham, and Eleanor Bone just to name a few. These individuals as well as many others have donated some amazing personal artifacts to the museum.

TWH: Have there been any recent donations?

Kat and Toni: For the past six months, we have been communicating with a number of Pagan elders and teachers. It was absolutely no surprise to us that a number of these individuals that we’ve spoken to were close friends with Ray, some as far back as the 1960s. It’s been amazing to discover that long before the internet, these pioneers all knew each other even though they were spread all over the globe. They have all been extremely helpful and more than willing to donate something to the collection. Some recollect having seen the collection in the 1970s, and many have wonderful stories of the early days!

Wooden chalice donated by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, pictured on altar [provided]

Wooden chalice donated by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, pictured on altar [Courtesy Photo]

Recently we made a trip down to Atlanta, Georgia to meet with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. They had just released their latest book, Lifting the Veil, and were doing a workshop at the Phoenix and Dragon bookstore. After the workshop, Janet and Gavin presented the museum collection with a beautiful wooden chalice. This chalice had been used by Stewart, Janet, Gavin, and their coven for many years.

They told us a personal story behind the chalice that most have never heard of until now. When Stewart passed away and after the funeral services, he was cremated. His ashes were placed in many of his favorite places. However, some of them were set aside. Their coven went to one of Stewart’s favorite places, cast a circle and held a funerary ritual. Stewart’s ashes were placed in the chalice and filled with a good Irish whiskey. The chalice was then passed around the circle and everyone got a drink of Stewart! We were very pleased and honored to have received such a personal gift to the collection

The hospitality that we had received from everyone in Atlanta was overwhelming, and we’ll never forget the time that we spent with Janet and Gavin (haven’t laughed that much in a long time).

Since we have started reaching out to the community, we have received some wonderful donations. Among them are Christopher Penczak’s original athame, handmade spell cords from Laurie and Penny Cabot, a chalice from Sam Webster and his coven the Crescent Hellions, a gorgeous headdress that belonged to Morning Glory from Oberon Zell, and Ray has recently included his original manuscript of Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. [Ed: We have previously covered Oberon Zell’s similar effort to start a Pagan museum.]

There are also a number [of people] that we have spoken to that are trying to decide what best represents themselves and their path. This is an important decision. We have had extensive conversations with Phaedra Bonewits about what she would like to donate. She says that she has an idea, but is still pondering on what would best represent Isaac.

We cannot stress enough how important this process is for the museum collection. Expansion of the museum collection from donations is imperative to the preservation of our history. Without them, the history would be lost.

Oberon Zell donated items to the museum [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: What’s your vision for what the museum will look like once it’s open?

Kat and Toni: We actually have Ray’s original blueprints for a larger museum project that he had planned, and it would be wonderful to stay as close to his vision as possible. The exhibits will walk the viewer through the history of witchcraft and magick, to the present day practices and blending of traditions.

TWH: When do you hope you can open the doors?

Kat and Toni: We have not decided on an exact date as of yet. We are still in the process of restoring some of the items and building permanent display cases. We do have an idea of a location here in Ohio, but we are still working on the details.

TWH: How is the museum to be legally structured? Do you own the objects personally, or is there some kind of board or other organization officially in charge? Are the donations tax-deductible at this time?

Kat and Toni: Currently we own the museum and are legally registered with the State. However, our long term goal (much like the Valiente collection) is to establish a foundation. We feel that it is extremely important to protect and grow the assets, and establishing a foundation with a board of trustees will keep the museum intact for future generations.

Unfortunately, no, donations are not tax-deductible at this time. This, as well as a non-profit status are in the works for the future.

TWH: Please provide all the ways that people can support this project, including financially and non-financially, such as item donations.

Kat and Toni: We have just recently started a [crowdfunding campaign] to help with costs. The costs of restoration, utilities, rent, insurance, application fees, [and] display cases can be overwhelming, so anything donated to the fund is greatly appreciated. There is also a donation page on the Buckland Museum website. We have had some wonderful feedback and contributions from friends, family and fellow Pagans who would like to see this history preserved. People can help in many ways by making a small donation, a large donation, or even just forwarding the information to their family and friends!

We would also like if people could share any memories or stories that they may have of the museum over the years. Along with this, we love hearing stories, tales, and anecdotes of the people that have been instrumental in this cause.

TWH: Do you have any criteria that you could share about item donations, or is it really on a case-by-case basis?

Kat and Toni: We would still like to continue to have as diverse of a collection as possible. Certainly anything that pertains to Pagan religions and traditions. We would also like to try to continue to display items from prominent Pagan leaders who have been instrumental in making Paganism what it is today.

TWH: Who would you like to see attending the grand opening?

Well of course we would hope that Ray Buckland will be there to cut the ribbon!

PHILADELPHIA – A Wiccan High Priestess took part in an interfaith prayer circle today as part of the activities surrounding the Democratic National Convention this week. The DNC Prayer Circle is hosting this four day event, during which clergy and other faith leaders representing various communities lead attendees in a short prayer daily at 9:00 am. High Priestess Karen Bruhin with the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and Tenders of the Earth Temple joined Eileen Bowman with Soka Gakkai International: Nichiren Buddhism, and Dr. Jessica Russo with Falun Dafa for today’s prayers.

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[Courtesy Image from Interfaith Prayer Circle Event]

The DNC Prayer Circle organizers said that they host these events because their members believe “… the work that the delegates will do inside for the DNC, and the work that the demonstrators will do on the streets of Philadelphia, are both worthy of spiritual support.”

They also said that they want to help the city and the world to come together and heal spiritually.

High Priestess Bruhin noted that she joined the effort because, “There is so much rancor and polarization surrounding our current political process. I want to do my part to try and add more balance and tolerance to the situation.”

The DNC Prayer Circle isn’t officially affiliated with the Democratic Party or the convention itself. It is a group lead by Vanette Jordan-Lumogo, a member on the DNC Action Committee, a Philadelphia-based coalition offering assistance to organizers and visitors taking actions around or protesting the DNC.

Bruhin said that she was talking with Ms. Jordan-Lumogo about the upcoming Prayer circle when the opportunity to participate arose. “When I found out why and that it was an interfaith event, I asked how interfaith it was and explained who I was, and blatantly asked to take part. They were absolutely ecstatic to have another faith involved.”

Kathy

Wiccan High Priestess Karen Bruhin [Courtesy Photo]

Bruhin led one of the prayers Tuesday morning – the second day of the Prayer Circle event. She said that everyone held hands while standing in a circle. “People were there for a purpose and remained focused and present,” she noted.

Bruhin said that she didn’t write out the prayer in advance, but spoke from the heart. This is what she is reported to have prayed:

I call on Athena of the Polis, Lady protector of the city the state. Guide the Delegates and leaders here let them remember that their civic duty to us as a people and nation is to do what is best for the whole of the nation and not an elite few. Remind them that civil and respectful discourse is what we need most now. Let them know passionate speech needs to be tempered and honed until agreement can be reached.

I also call on Columbia, who was frequently invoked by the Founders. Remind those that represent us that the concepts of liberty and freedom are not achieved, by placing others at a disadvantage. Only by working together, towards our mutual good, can we all truly be free.

So mote it be.

In retrospect, Bruhin said that being part of the interfaith effort outside the DNC convention was a wonderful and powerful experience. “All the prayers revolved around the themes of unity, compassion and recognizing the inequalities that currently exist. I wish I could take more time from my day job to be there for the next two days. It was an honor and privilege to work with these individuals this morning.”

BLMausMELBOURNE — The Black Lives Matter movement has reached Australia. So far, there have been rallies in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane. The ABC, Australia’s state-owned and funded national public broadcaster, reported that 3,500 people attended the Melbourne rally on Sunday, July 17.

The movement, which began in the U.S., has a struck a chord with Australia’s aboriginal people. Although aboriginal people make up only about 3% of the Australian population, they reportedly make up 26% of the prison population. Blogger and Witch Cosette Paneque explains, “BLM is also embraced by [Australia’s] non-aboriginal black people and other people of colour who regularly experience institutionalised racism.”

Paneque lives in Melbourne and attended the recent local rally. She said, “I’ve been watching the BLM movement with great interest since the 2013 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I’d been watching from a distance and feeling helpless. I had to go to the Melbourne rally to show solidarity with the movement and with my black friends who are perpetually grieving and terrified for their children. It’s moving to see BLM speak to Australians.”

Paneque called the rally “a powerful and peaceful display of solidarity.” She added that it was “incredible to walk to with aboriginal people and elders, Torres Straight Islanders, West Papuans, as well non-aboriginal black people, African-Australians, and other people of colour.”

“As a woman of colour and as a Pagan, for me, the personal is political; I had to be there.”

 *    *    *

Don Frew

UNITED STATES — The July Issue of The Interfaith Observer (TIO) featured Wiccan elder Rev. Donald H. Frew, who has been involved in religious freedom actions and interfaith work since the 1980s. Frew has attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions since its re-establishment in the 1990s, has acted as an interfaith representative for Covenant of the Goddess, and has traveled extensively abroad representing modern Pagan practice in various interfaith forums.

The July TIO issue includes ten of Frew’s articles, covering subjects such as, “When Wiccans and Evangelical Christians Become Friends,” originally published January 2012, and “When Nature Talks Back,” originally published February 2015. The issue also includes two articles by the journal’s editor focusing on Frew’s work, and it also includes a video interview.

TIO is a “monthly electronic journal created to explore interreligious relations and the interfaith movement as a whole.” The journal is “a member of the North American Interfaith Network, an affiliate of United Religions Initiative-North America, and a Cooperation Circle of United Religions-Multiregion.”

 *    *    *

PD200-228x228LONDONPagan Dawn magazine, the official publication of the Pagan Federation, is celebrating its 200th issue. Along with work by the magazine’s regular staff writers, the issue includes “exclusive interviews with Prof. Ronald Hutton, Susan Cooper, Steve Rothery and Pat Mills.”

Pagan Dawn was founded in 1968 as The Wiccan. When the Pagan Federation was born in 1971, it was adopted as the organization’s official publication. In 1994, the magazine changed its name to reflect the growing number of non-Wiccan Pagans in the community.

Editor Kate Large said, “Reaching 200 issues is an incredible landmark for a magazine staffed and run by volunteers. And our journey from just a few sheets of paper to a glossy, full-colour magazine, also mirrors the larger journey of Paganism. Once, Pagans had to tread carefully; the community was smaller and much more divisive. Now, we can live more freely, often thanks to the work of the Pagan Federation. We’re now looking to a future of inclusivity and diversity, and are eager to engage with more international readers.”

Other contributors to the 200th celebratory issue include “Candia McKormack, Rachel Patterson, Rebecca Beattie, Joanna VanderHoeven, Andrew Pardy, Baba Studio, Nimue Brown, Valerie Thomas, Vix, Tony Furminger, Anna McKerrow, Daniel Bran Griffithand, Andy Stout, David Spofforth, Claire Dixon and Sam Proctor.”  Pagan Dawn has been publishing quarterly since its inception. It is available through its website in both print form and, since 2014, in a paperless edition.

In Other News

  • Tenders’ high priestess Karen Bruhin of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel will be participating in a four day interfaith prayer event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Titled “DNC Prayer Circle Hosts: Interfaith Prayer Circle for Peace, Unity, and Justice,” the event will host prayer circles offered by 15 different clergy and religious leaders over a four-day period, while the Democratic National Convention is taking place. Organizers Xelba and Vanette write, “Please join us as we pray, chant, and meditate to promote peace in the city and the world, unite our people and causes, and lend spiritual strength to those who lift up their voices for justice.” For interested locals, Ms. Bruhin is on the schedule for Tuesday’s session. More information is on the Facebook event page.
  • The Edmonton Wiccan Seminary has received its incorporation as a federal non-profit, and will begin accepting its first students January 2017. Founder Samuel Wagar said, “Edmonton Wiccan Seminary is established to provide clergy training in the Wiccan religion to those called to a public clergy path and Wiccan religious education services to the general public.” Wagar went on to say that the group will have four paths, including “academic work, personal work, outer court group leadership, and starting new public groups.” He also added that the seminary is hoping to partner with temples and clergy to “mentor its students.”
  • The Pagan/Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN) announced the time and date of its 4th online conference. PAEAN will held online Nov 7, from 6-9 p.m (+1 UTC). The theme will be “Pilgrimage in Europe: Ancient and Contemporary Pagan Pilgrimage Practices.” The keynote speaker will be Dr. Thomas Clough Daffern, philosopher, educator, and peace studies specialist. Organizers are currently looking for paper submissions on a number of related topics. Specifics are on their event page, and the deadline is Oct. 7. PAEAN is a conference sponsored in part by Pagan Federation International.
  • For those readers who own the book Simply Runes by Kim Farnell, it has been re-released by publisher Hampton Roads as Runes Plain and Simple. Blogger Morgan Daimler reviews the new edition on her Patheos blog Irish-American Witchcraft. Daimler writes, “It’s a decent very basic introduction to the runes. I would still suggest supplementing it with another rune book as well though for a different point of view.”
  • Many Gods West is only two weeks away. Polytheists from around the U.S. are preparing to meet in Olympia, Washington for three days of talks, lectures, rituals and other festivities. The schedule of event is now online. The opening remarks and ritual, hosted by Sean Donahue, will be held Aug. 5 at 12:30 p.m.

That’s if for now. Have a great day!

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotes and images from figures within Pagan and Heathen communities. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media or a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, expression, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice or visual artist you’d like to see highlighted? Contact us with a link to the story, post, audio, or image.

I care about many things. I love many people, communities, and the Earth. I am passionate about many issues. I lean into the discomfort when I discover something that is wrong in myself, cultures, technologies, religions, and politics so that I can do my part to change what can be changed. This means I live a rich life with bright lights and abysmal darks, and I would not have it any other way. . . . . . . I’ve been heartened by the outpouring of support and the encouraging words about taking time for self-care. I appreciate the support and I’d like to say that my self-care is as much for you as it is about me. — Ivo Dominguez Jr., on self-care in the wake of the Orlando attacks.

We were made for these times. You are the result of generations of ancestors who lived through the terrible times and survived. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Take out your comfort basket. Enjoy beauty. Hold your beloveds close. Drink tea. The struggle will still be here when you come back. Goddess knows, it ain’t showed much sign of disappearing heretofore. — HecateDemeter, “I Will Not Leave You Comfortless.”

The truth is though, that globalism and nativism are mutually exclusive ideas. You cannot preserve the identity of a people’s native heritage, and bind them all together as one giant, unified species. There’s too many mutually exclusive differences between the groups. It would be like trying to fuse Asatru with Islam, when at every turn they differ on absolutely every issue, from how many gods there are to how you treat women, to what is the appropriate way to regain lost honor. — Lucius Svartwulf Helsen on the inherent tension between nativism and globalism.

“A lot of food assistance available is through other religious organizations,” said Rev. Amy J. Castner, a priest in the Druid faith and vice president of Pagans in Need. “A lot of people who are Pagans or not religious don’t feel comfortable receiving help from people who don’t share their religious views. Knowing there’s a place for them to go where their lifestyle is accepted makes people feel more comfortable.” — Amy Castner, quoted in the Lansing State Journal article “Fresh veggies, clothes offered at Pagans in Need food pantry.”

In a sense, polytheism is like art. It is interpretation and expression, and absolutely does not and cannot place emphasis on any single unity. There is no end point for polytheism, or for the multiplicity of the divine. It branches and twists, turns and splinters into a hundred iterations, a thousand views and infinitely more interpretations, all underneath the conception of what it means to be a “god,” many of which exist alongside each other under a wider religious umbrella. That which is conceptualized as a single divinity is ultimately – sometimes intimately – multifarious, producing a range of attributes, qualities, and experiences which can felt differently between people of the same household, let alone what would have constituted the differences between two regional traditions. — The Lettuce Man, “I Call It ‘Musashi Contemplates Caravaggio’.”

From WitchsFest 2016 [Photo by Ron Frary. All Rights Reserved]

From WitchsFest 2016 [Image by Ron Frary. All Rights Reserved]

This idea that people who are evil or commit evil acts couldn’t possibly be Pagan, it drives me batty. It is not up to us to decide what another person’s religion is. If someone is a practicing Pagan, let’s say a practicing Hellene: they worship the theoi, they practice Hellenic ritual forms, they do what Hellenes are supposed to do. They don’t suddenly become not-Hellene because they commit some act that I and other Hellenes think is evil. — Bekah Evie Bel, “Pagans Aren’t Evil.”

We can solve all the world’s problems, we can stop the violence, once we stop looking at life as the singular and start looking at life as a whole. There was a time back in history when humans worked together in order to survive in this world, sadly that was when our ancestors ventured out of Africa into the harsh unknown.

We can make all these advancements in technology, but we cannot make any advancements within ourselves. That is going to lead us down a path that we will not survive and the ego isn’t going to help us when we are there. With everything you see and hear that is going on in the world, we are on that path right now sprinting to the end. — Bear (CanadianDruid), “Can We End Violence?

I have a theory that what the religious “nones” may be looking for is not the “religionless church” offered by the Sunday Assembly and Unitarian Universalism, but “churchless religion” — symbol, myth, and ritual, without the moralism, dogmatism, and hierarchy — a kind of “Hinduism for the West.” . . . . I suspect that part of the reason we Pagans have not yet capitalized on the growth of the nones is that people can’t find us . . . . I question whether people can really experience Paganism virtually or by reading a book. — John Halstead, from an essay on eco-shrines.

Although the majority of modern Pagans are not anti-capitalists, there is a fundamental contradiction between the Pagan and capitalist worldviews. The worldview of capitalism is sociopathic; it treats everything and everyone as an object to be used. The worldview of paganism is relational; not only does it not treat people or animals as mere objects, it doesn’t look at anything else as a mere object either. — Christopher Scott Thompson, “What is Pagan Anarchism?

One of the reasons Pagans (people who practice earth-based spirituality) might not know if a curse is legit or not is because there are groups, like Wicca and some variations of shamanism, and other Pagan traditions, that follow the “harm none” principal. Those groups tend not to use curses or hexes in their spell work at all so they might not study that negative juju enough to know exactly how energetic harm is made. That means they might also not know how to stop a curse, or protect themselves from one, once one has been enacted against them.

Yet even those groups that practice “harm none” know that curses in the Pagan community do exist and either by experience or observation they tend to believe they can cause great harm. Most practitioners of the above-mentioned philosophies greatly fear curses for the mayhem, disease, and destruction they can cause someone. That’s part of the way they shun such teachings. — SunTiger, “What Every Pagan Should Know About Curses.”

[Greg Harder]

Yucca [Image by Greg Harder. All Rights Reserved.]

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

[From court document]

[From court document]

CHICAGO — Wiccan inmate Gilbert Knowles sued the warden of the Pontiac Correctional Center, located in Pontiac, Illinois, for refusing to allow him to wear his pentacle necklace. According to Appellate Briefs, the facility was concerned that the “star” was gang-related or would promote gang activity. Other sources say the same, reporting that the correction center had banned “all inmates from possessing five- and six-point star symbols” for that reason.

Knowles, who is serving a 52-year sentence in the death of a toddler, sued the warden under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the case was recently heard by the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago. The court ruled that Knowles’ religious rights had been violated, and the judge granted a temporary injunction, allowing the inmate to wear his pentacle. The opinion concludes, “His freedom of religion has been gratuitously infringed by the prison. The judgment of the district court is reversed with instructions to grant the preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiff.”

Related: Broadly published an article for its readers concerning Pagan practice in prison. Titled Witch Trials: There Is Nothing Magical About Being a Pagan in Prison, the article details a decade-long religious freedom case in California, and includes an interview with Starhawk.

Religion, Politics and Taking a Stand

  • Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) has published an article discussing a recent statement by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. At the Republican National Convention, Trump vowed to work hard to repeal the laws that limit religious organizations from endorsing, supporting and promoting political candidates. He said, “You have so much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits.”  In the AU article, writer Simon Brown explains the history of this federal tax code amendment, called the Johnson Amendment, and how Trump is not the only politician actively seeking its removal.. Brown writes, “The issue is currently under consideration in Congress. Republicans in the House of Representatives have added a rider to an appropriations bill (H.R. 5485) that would make it harder for the IRS to enforce the Johnson Amendment.”  AU has set up a petition to oppose any change to these tax laws.
  • In a landmark move, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) passed a measure that supports the 2015 Paris Climate agreement. According to The Huffington Post, 30,000 members met in Philadelphia at the organization’s annual conference, where the measure was adopted in coordination with the interfaith group Blessed Tomorrow. In a statement, Bishop John White, President, Council of Bishops of the AME Church, said, “Damage to our climate puts the health of children, elderly, and those with chronic illnesses at greater risk and disproportionately impacts African Americans. We believe it is our duty to commit to taking action and promoting solutions that will help make our families and communities healthier and stronger.”

Around the World

  • In Guan Yu Park in Jingzhou, China, there now sits a 1,320-ton statue depicting the god of war. Designed by artist Han Meilin, the statue is reportedly 58 metres (190 ft) tall, contains over 4,000 strips of bronze, and has a museum in its base. General Guan Yu is one of the most popular figures in Chinese history. He lived from 162-219 C.E. and was a major character in the 13th-century Chinese novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. His popularity has grown over time and, in more recent years, Guan Yu has become a common figure in pop culture. At the same time, Guan Yu is revered as a god. According to one website, “It is said that a shrine for him is in every Hong Kong police station. He is also a patron god of Chinese criminal groups for his bravery and fighting prowess. Business people and shop owners put up shrines in order to gain wealth. He is worshipped as a Daoist god, a Buddhist deity, and by Confucianists.”  The new statue was just recently unveiled, and will tower over the city of Jingzhou for many years to come.

[Courtesy BoredPanda.com]

[Courtesy BoredPanda.com]

Arts and Culture

  • The Huffington Post recently featured an interview with Reverend Yolanda, a “Genderqueer Singer-Songwriter/Interfaith Minister.” In 2003, Reverend Yolanda was awarded the title of “outmusician of the year” by New York City newspaper Gay City News. Huffington Post writer Jed Ryan speaks to her about that award, her work since that point, and how her spirituality informs her music. Reverend Yolanda told Ryan: “At the heart of all spiritual paths is the understanding that we are all one … and that there is a divine life source energy that animates all life on Earth. That energy needs to be respected […] I do not subscribe to any one religion, but I do connect with that universality which is in all paths. I love paganism and Wicca and goddess-based spirituality which really honors the Earth.”
  • It was announced last week that the Jim Henson Company would be producing a film adaptation of Sir Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men.  Award-winning writer and Pratchett’s daughter, Rhianna Pratchett will be creating the screen adaptation. For those who aren’t familiar with the work, “The Wee Free Men is the first in a series of Discworld novels starring the young witch Tiffany Aching. A nightmarish danger threatens from the other side of reality. Armed with only a frying pan and her common sense, the young witch-to-be must defend her home against the monsters of Fairyland.” The Jim Henson Company will serve as the production company, with Pratchett, backed by her company Narrativia, serving as one of the executive producers. Filming will begin in 2016. No release date has been announced.
  • Did you know there is a secret world in Tumblr? And it’s filled with Witches. MIC has published an article exploring Tumblr’s teen Witch culture, including several interviews on coven activity and practice.
  • Coming soon to a computer screen near you will be the new webseries Brujos. Written by New York University student Ricardo Gamboa, and directed by both Gamboa and Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke, Brujos will follow the story of “four gay Latino grad students who are witches” as they battle witch hunters. Gamboa writes, “Supernatural has double meaning as these characters access their magic to fight evil and are also depicted struggling to love themselves and combating oppressions like poverty, gentrification, police, sexual trauma…”  The show is in production now and will be available in winter 2017. Here is a preview.

Brujos (2017) — Teaser Scenes from Open TV (beta) on Vimeo.

All years are full of death, just as they are full of life. This year, however, seems particularly violent. Admittedly, this dark feeling is encouraged by the mainstream media, the alternative media, and social media. Even with that caveat, the past month has seen a heartbreaking tide of killing. Between June 12 and July 22, we collectively witnessed over 150 violent deaths: the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Dallas and Baton Rouge police shootings, the Nice and Munich attacks, and the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Of course, there were many, many other killings in the United States and around the world, but these are the ones that have dominated our national discussion. During the same period, more than 80 people were murdered here in Chicago. Although repeatedly referenced in arguments and memes, the names of the Chicago dead go unspoken as they are used in politicized one-upmanship. Even as we change our Facebook profile images to show solidarity with victims of one of the tragedies obsessively covered by the mass media, mass murders in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere continue to go unmentioned. Such are the workings of our collective consciousness.

I unequivocally condemn every one of these killings. They are all acts of terror and horror, and people of conscience should be mortified by each of these awful acts of violence. Depending on our politics, we blame some victims and lionize others, allowing our prejudices to parse which victims are more deserving of being honored. It is time to move beyond such narrow perspectives and recognize that each life snuffed out is an equal tragedy.

Sigmund’s Death by Johannes Gehrts (1885) [Public Domain]

The deceased themselves are no longer able to care what ideology or mental state lead to their death. Dead is dead. The question for the rest of us is whether we can find a response better than blaming entire religions, professions, races, or movements. Can we do something more productive than increasing the level of hate?

The time has come for those of us who practice a form of Ásatrú or Heathenry to ask what positive actions we can take in such a charged climate.

For many Heathens in the United States, a cornerstone of worldview is the declaration that “we are our deeds.” If this is to be more than a slogan, we should treat the killers in each of the tragedies equally and hold them accountable for their actions. Rather than focusing on the dead who can no longer speak for themselves, we can demand that the perpetrators be put on public trial and face a lawful reckoning. We can act like the Heathens of old, and insist on bringing the killers before the modern-day equivalents of the ancient Thing, the assembly where public judgments were rendered.

If we are our deeds, let us hold the doer of the deed publicly accountable rather than declaring him innocent without indictment or giving him the martyrdom he seeks by executing him in the street. We often hear the refrain that the innocent have nothing to fear from the police. If that is so, then any officer who kills a citizen in the line of duty should have nothing to fear from a jury of citizens and should volunteer to be put on trial instead of asking his union to prevent legal proceedings. Rather than killing a mass killer on the spot or blowing up a shooter with a robot, let the professionals we employ with our tax dollars use their training to capture and bring killers to account.

Heathens often point to academic definitions that tag historical polytheism as “world-affirming” — in contrast to traditional Christianity, which is asserted to be “world-denying.” Are modern Heathens truly “world-affirming?” To be so means that we are active in the world, that we have a place in this world’s flow of events. Many of us are attracted to the history, legends, and sagas of the ancient Germanic tribes and peoples because of their wide-ranging travels and the determined spirit that led them to play major roles in the timelines of multiple world cultures and civilizations. If we consider ourselves the spiritual descendants of the ancient Heathens, how do we make our mark on the world of today? How do we involve ourselves in the great debates of the issues of our own time?

1493 world map nuremburg chronicle

World map from Nuremburg Chronicle (1493) [Public Domain]

Some Heathens insist that they are only interested in their own innangarð, focusing exclusively on the “inner yard” of their closest family and friends. As in the distant past, today the outside world forces itself into the inner one. Family members who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are targeted for hate crimes by both Islamic extremists and those whose personal issues lead them to strike out in extreme acts of public violence. Our Black loved ones are disproportionately targeted by police officers who break their own rules of conduct. Right-acting police officers in our communities are gunned down, and their killers –- in both Dallas and Baton Rouge –- are damaged veterans of our nation’s military.

If we turn our backs on the world and pretend that nothing affects us or those we love, honoring the deeds of our literal and aspirational ancestors while performing blót and symbel, how are we different from Sunday Christians who only turn their thoughts to Christ while sitting in church pews?

If we truly believe that we are connected in a web of wyrd, we must acknowledge the length of the threads that bind us all. We are affected by the wyrd of the police officer shot by a sniper and by that of the unarmed Black man shot by a police officer. We are connected to the children driven down in Nice and to the club-goers massacred in Orlando. Rather than fanning the flames of division, can we agree that all who commit these acts should be held accountable in courts of law, rather than crucified in the court of public opinion or gunned down in primitive street justice?

By putting the perpetrators on trial, we can distinguish between the lone gunman and the agent, between the disturbed and the driven. Maybe this can prevent us from tarring an entire community with the deeds of one violent person. By refusing to even indict officers who shoot unarmed Black children, we encourage conspiracy theories suggesting all police departments are filled with white supremacists. By executing mass shooters in the street rather than prosecuting them, we enable the hateful to draw connections to racial, ethnic, and religious communities where there may be none.

As members of a much-misunderstood minority religion, these issues are of primary concern to us. The targeting of specific groups and the slandering of their reputation is something with which we can deeply empathize. As individual Heathens, we are often tarred with the deeds of the most extreme who claim a connection to our tradition, and even the deeds of those who are only connected to our religion by unprofessional journalists who refuse to perform due diligence.

Shortly after the shooting of the Dallas police officers, The Huffington Post accused one of the victims of being a white supremacist and connected him to Ásatrú – even while acknowledging that he was a Christian. The accusation was based solely on the “research” of “a band of international internet sleuths;” in actuality, on a meme and a blog post by “Johnny Islamabad.”

Quoting the same old quotes from the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center that are trotted out every time a Thor’s hammer is mentioned by the press, The Huffington Post states that “Asatrú” symbols are not “inherently racist” while still insisting that “Asatrú beliefs appeal to white supremacists.” No parallel assertion is made for the appeal of the officer’s Baptist beliefs to violent racists.

Thor’s hammer pendant from Sweden, c. 1000 [Public Domain]

When practitioners of Ásatrú or Heathenry complain to writers and editors about this sort of meme-based and poorly sourced journalism, their concerns are laughed off or ignored. For Heathens who neither deny their religious beliefs publicly nor cover them with assumed Icelandic-styled pseudonyms, articles like this have serious consequences: no matter how derivative or poorly written they are. In our private and professional lives, we are faced with people who only know of our religion through this sort of journalism. They assume that we share views of the most extreme fringe, or they are at least suspicious that we harbor unsavory notions.

We can pretend that this doesn’t matter, or that we are “tough guys” who care little for the opinions of others. However, these types of media-driven assumptions can have serious repercussions that affect our ability to earn a living or make us targets for various stripes of bigot.

In such a climate, how can we not support others who are suffering the same slanders? We can say that we do not stand up for Black lives, because we are not Black. But when they come for us, who will be left to speak for us? If we don’t want our own rights taken away, we must stand up for the rights of others.

We often speak of the ancient Heathens who faced violent conversion from overbearing rulers in Scandinavia and continental Europe. We puff out our chests and fantasize about how we would have acted if we lived then. We place great emphasis on the keeping of oaths. Shouldn’t we stand today against the oath-breakers among the police who abuse their power to terrorize, torture, and kill our fellow citizens? Shouldn’t we stand with the honorable members of the police departments, the Muslim community, the Black community, and the LGBTQ+ community against those in every community -– including our own -– who would harm us all?

There is much that we can do. Heathens of positive intent can push back against horrifying acts of violence, engage with the larger world, take part in the dialogue of our times, and help Heathens themselves overcome the slander of our own tradition. This is a question of individual conscience and local community initiative, but there are many actions that we all can take.

Volunteer and vote for candidates who stand against hate aimed at any community. Openly challenge friends and family (online and in real life) who promote prejudice. Contact the media and push back against biased reporting. Call your representatives and tell them you want them to fight against hate. Get to know your local police officers and support the ones who publicly speak out. Support minority communities in your area and take part in their protests. Join interfaith organizations. Work to make your own Heathen group welcoming to practitioners from all generations, races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual identities.

Or, you can welcome the current climate of hate, deny the world, draw lines of separation between people, and retreat into a monochrome practice that excludes anyone who isn’t exactly like you. But then you must ask what your deeds make you.

Every community has common stories, images, histories, and practices that help to shape and define a narrative. This very narrative can serve as a thread of culture and togetherness among the community, yet it can also serve as a gatekeeper that restricts change or expansion. This intricate dance exists within every group, society, and even within modern Paganism and Polytheist communities.

[Pixabay, Public Domain]

[Pixabay, Public Domain]

Shared narratives help to define what becomes the status quo, even among smaller subset groups and cultures. The default beliefs and practices often shape how we relate with one another, what becomes acceptable, and what is expected within a given space, community or interaction. Not everyone is fond of pushing against the boundaries of the status quo, it often rubs against our understanding of the world, and it challenges our relationship with change, empathy and cultural sensitivity.

In his piece titled Changing Stories: Using narrative to shift societal values, Jonathan Dawson speaks to the power of the narrative. He writes:

There has, in recent years, been a growing recognition of the power of story to frame how we understand the world around us and our place within it. By ‘story’ in this context, I refer to the grand societal narratives, those clusters of beliefs and cultural norms that give shape and meaning to the human cultures within which we live. In general, these stories are so deeply rooted and so thoroughly embedded within a society’s language, behavior patterns and rituals as to be all but imperceptible. They constitute the bedrock of beliefs that are widely, if generally unconsciously, accepted to be universally true, even though they tend in fact to represent a distinct break with the dominant societal stories of previous epochs.

How does the current narrative within our community support us, and how does it also limit our ability to see beyond the walls we use to contain us? Who is brought in and who is left out in our cultural narratives? Do our narratives keep us stuck and without the ability to grow magically or spiritually? Questions like this often open the doors for dialogue that can lead to an increased awareness and understanding of the way that our community engages internally, and within the world.

Understanding that challenging our narratives can lead to renewed possibilities and a deeper reflection of the many nuances within community can bring about a lot of personal and societal growth. This very concept is not a new one, and there are many people within the modern Pagan and Polytheistic communities, who are doing pushing against the many narratives that often go unchallenged.

This is critical and valuable work.

I reached out in three different directions to explore the radical and often difficult work of deconstructing the overculture of the Pagan community. There are so many depictions of the challenger’s work — too many to capture in any one piece. This notion leads me to consider the value of this as an ongoing discussion, which looks at the many ways that this work is being done by people within our community today.

For this piece I reached out to Lasara Firefox Allen, the Order of the Black Madonna, and the High Priestess Clio Ajana, to discuss how their work  challenges the very narratives that help to shape our shared story.

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Lasara, author and spiritual coach, is not new to Goddess’ work. Her latest book, Jailbreaking the Goddess: A Radical Revisioning of Feminist Spirituality, has generated some discussion that challenges the very narrative of the way that we view, engage, and represent the Goddess.

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Crystal Blanton: Your most recent work in Jailbreaking the Goddess approaches the Goddess in a radically different way than many previously accepted narratives within modern Paganism. What motivated you to approach the many forms of the Goddess within the framework that you did?

Lasara Firefox Allen: Coming from a strong feminist, anarchist, and somewhat anti-capitalist frame, I experienced the threefold model as both limiting and delegitimizing, in a sense. As women we have been told that our bodies are not our own. The threefold model, being based in biology, is rooted in our utility and productivity.

In addition, the strict binary, and how the threefold model is in a sense responsive to that, removes our agency.

I am a great believer in my politics and my spiritual systems lining up. I didn’t feel that alignment with the threefold model.

The fivefold model that I put forth in Jailbreaking the Goddess is fluid, flexible, self-defining, and offers the group for women to truly stand fully in our power, unto ourselves. Not merely as producers, not only as mother-in-potentia, but as whole and holy beings that are complete at every stage.

CB: The maiden, mother, crone archetypes often highlighted within modern Pagan circles have brought about dialogue of limiting the myriad of faces of the Goddess. This has been challenging for many women who do not see themselves within the faces of a fertility based system. How does your work challenge this narrative?

[Photo credit: Angela Greystar of Greystar Pictures]

Lasara Firefox Allen [Photo credit: Angela Greystar / Greystar Pictures]

LFA: The fivefold model, and the work of Jailbreaking the Goddess in total, recognizes the divine feminal in all. And it recognizes our process of creativity not singularly as the power of motherhood, but recognizes the divine power in all the ways we create, design, divine, play, love, destroy, teach, craft, compose, sing, dance, fuck, cry, cocreate, collaborate, weave, reap, plant, burn. It also acknowledges the child as a divine being – again, whole and holy unto Herself. And the Old woman.

The five faces are Femella, Potens, Creatrix, Spaientia, and Antiqua. The model can be viewed in the linear, but also has nonlinear application. We may exist in more than one of her faces at a time. We may experience ourselves in Potens in a new interest, while embodying Sapientia in our chosen vocation. We may experience both Femella and Antiqua in us as we sit with a dying parent.

The flexibility of this model really speaks to people – most of us don’t experience life progression in a strictly linear manner.

Many say that the threefold for them is metaphor – that motherhood can really be any kind of creation. Well, I think there is a great deal of value to be found in stepping into models that mean what we believe. I feel that the fivefold model offers this to those of us who have net felt seen or honored in the threefold model.

CB: How does challenging the narrative within your work enhance your personal spiritual path, and how does it support a change in the status quo of our spiritual community?

LFA: I believe it is time for us all to ask, “Is my spiritual system in integrity with my personal beliefs?” And if not, let’s create and recreate it in greater alignment. Does your spiritual system speak of power in a way consistent with your heart? Does it address matters of importance? Does your system allow you to align your personal values, spiritual values, and your acts in the world?

We have been making excuses for outmoded beliefs for too long. you see it in most faiths. Here’s the deal: we don’t need to settle for the inconsistencies.

Throughout Jailbreaking the Goddess I offer tools to create greater alignment. My hope is that each person who reads the book will come out of the experience with a sense of alignment that allows for grace, love, and power in her path.

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The Order of the Black Madonna has a radically different approach to Pagan space. The last two years of public ritual at PantheaCon have shown a diverse audience with very different concepts of Paganism, coming together to share devotion with the Sisters of the Order of the Black Madonna. While the order originated in the Bay Area, it has since grown to having members in all different areas of the United States.

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[Courtesy Photo]

There are answers from different people within the Order that show many commonalities and some differences in the diversity of thought. This alone challenges the idea of a static narrative.

Crystal Blanton: How does the Order challenge common narratives in Neo Paganism around inclusivity, gender, and devotion?

Sr Marie Courage: The Order of the Black Madonna was established to be a radically inclusive, feminized, social justice-oriented working group for people from all backgrounds to connect with the Dark Mothers in personally-relevant practices, to all experience the essential-but-not-essentialist meaning of spiritual sisterhood, and to make room for culturally-diverse ritual activities and discussions relevant to Goddess spirituality and peace through justice. Our workings in the name of the Dark Mothers are by and for the benefit of everyone.

Sister C: Most Pagans believe they’re inclusive and they wouldn’t intentionally discriminate against racial, ethnic or sexual minorities, or people who have a disability. But being inclusive is more than thinking you’re inclusive and saying you’re inclusive. Just as Paganism isn’t the norm, inclusivity is not the norm either. We have to continually educate ourselves, challenge ourselves, and actively work towards building inclusivity into our spaces.

Tradition is valuable, but traditions can also be oppressive. Pagans leave Christianity because of its patriarchal traditions. Why uphold Pagan traditions that are equally patriarchal and oppressive? The Order of the Black Madonna challenges male supremacy. It challenges White supremacy. It challenges Christian supremacy. We are racially, ethnically, and sexually diverse. We use inclusive language. We make space for members to use our own symbols and ceremonies. If Pagan groups want to be more inclusive, they should examine their theologies and practices.

Soeur Marie Verité: The Order of the Black Madonna challenges its members and ritual participants to see differences, not to ignore them; to acknowledge how our differences make us great as a culture and a society, and how celebrating differences and honoring the experiences and voices of those who are different from ourselves brings even greater strength to the community as a whole.

We do not exclude anyone based on race, gender expression or lack of gender expression, paths of devotion, or sexual preference; we emphasize and prioritize a culture of respect and consent; and we make space to allow all voices to be heard, especially the voices of marginalized groups who experience blockage, silencing, and exclusion elsewhere. We have created public rituals naming and honoring those who have been murdered by the dominant culture simply for being different; we have stood up together in public to call attention to these events and the systemic destruction of people of color, to say as loudly as we can, “We stand for unity and respect for all, especially the most vulnerable among us, because that’s what She would do, who is Mother of All.”

CB: The Order of the Black Madonna also includes many differing cultural expressions and a radical inclusion of diversity in its shared spaces. How does the Order navigate such shared space while leaving room for the complexity of varying cultural expressions without prioritizing dominant culture?

Sr Marie Courage: In the Order of the Black Madonna, because our members are culturally and ethnically diverse, we align our rituals and workings with some of these basic common denominators, and then invite each member to bring relevant personal practices of their own to the table. In any given ritual, we might involve a multiplicity of languages, cultural concepts, and activities, each represented by a member of the Order who is genuinely connected deeply to what they have brought either by blood or lengthy study. In this way, rather than conforming to a single common belief system, or appropriating belief systems with which we are unfamiliar, we can include numerous different belief systems with respect.

Sister Maria Socorro: The Order’s main priority is to make the world a more just place for those that have been trampled on by the dominant culture, so following that nature we would never prioritize dominant culture. We aim to hold a space that is sacred and all inclusive while not encroaching on cultural appropriation.

CB: Centering devotion for the infinite Blackness brings about many examples of challenging the framework of modern Paganism. How can the devotional space of the Black Madonna expand the (too often) Eurocentric narrative of deity within Pagan practices?

Sr Marie Courage: One of my favorite prayers found in modern Paganism is the Charge of the Star Goddess. I feel deeply the connection in my heart when I say the words, “I am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars.” However, the dominant narrative in the west is about Good Versus Bad, Light Versus Dark. So, although lots of Pagan groups do their work to explain that in Paganism, Dark is not seen as equivalent to Bad, there is nonetheless a really strong paradigm we are battling from the overculture.

The Order of the Black Madonna shifts our focus entirely away from the Eurocentric Light=Good, Dark=Bad paradigm by centering Darkness, specifically Blackness, as the Original Goodness, provider of all possible solutions to our own and society’s current problems, infinite in both compassion and capacity for creating transformation. This has scientific, mythic, and sympathetic implications.

Scientifically, The Black Madonna is the Blackness of space, the generative void beyond the sun, moon, and stars from which all arises and into which all dissolves. Mythically, she is the Black Earth which births us and shapes our flesh, and she is the dark space of creative power at the center of each being. Sympathetically, in the view of the Order, the Black Madonna is each and every woman of color, and we specifically make the effort to honor the rights, needs, and accomplishments of women of color in our ritual and service works.

Sister Maria Socorro: The Order aims to open the eyes of Pagans who have only followed Eurocentric paths, we create a space that is magically straightforward and understandable so that people can comprehend that even if they’re not POC they can still respect, adore, and access the Blackness that is ultimately the source of us all.

Soeur Marie Verité: The Order of the Black Madonna worships the Great Dark Mother at the center of all, in all Her enormous variety and forms that include but also range far beyond the boundaries of Europe. Our members currently worship Her in Her manifestations as a Buddhist goddess, a West African goddess, a Norse shamanic giantess, and the Catholic Theotokos and patron Saint of Poland, Mexican Holy Mother of the Dead, and Notre Dame de Sous-Terre.

We welcome and cherish Her priestesses who feel called to honor and worship Her within their indigenous traditions, and we welcome and respect all matriarchal expressions of deity as they appear in Pagan and non-Pagan practice. Presenting a vision of Her that is clearly multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-layered, multi-storied, and multi-Ancestral, yet all functioning together in a harmonious dance to celebrate Her power and love, has and will hopefully continue to demonstrate in Pagan spaces that the Eurocentricity of too much modern Paganism is leaving out an enormous pathway of connection, understanding, and devotion that no longer needs to be.

Soeur Marie Intégrité: Devotional practice to the Black Madonna challenges the common Eurocentric deities within pagan practices: because she is the Mother of All, and images of the Black Madonna can be found in most cultures going back through history, I think that pagans can connect to a cultural representation of the Black Madonna that resonates with them.

Sister LH: One pernicious iteration of systemic racism lurks in the way black and dark are framed in the occult and New Age, that position darkness/blackness as inherently negative (ugly, violent, transgressive, etc). We talk about Black vs white magic, we praise the light and devalue darkness. At best, and I have heard this from all kinds of witches and have been shocked each time i do, the Dark is something which we must accept, to balance the goodness and light. This framing itself shows how deeply embedded this bias is rooted, in language, so deep that white magickians who absolutely consider themselves not racists, can perpetuate this really destructive polar binary hegemony without knowing it.

Sister LMR: One of my favorite prayers is the Charge of the Dark Goddess. One of the most moving passages there for me is “when you gaze into the mirrored abyss, I am there”. The New Age fear and negation of all things dark shows up in our mundane lives as well. Darkness and blackness is feared in our society, and people are dying due to this fear. When we do not actively acknowledge our shadow, it begins to run the show. Confronting our wounds, our prejudices, our privileges is essential to our growth as individuals, to the Order as a whole, and to society at large. Knowing that She is there in the deep blackness, that She is that deep blackness, makes it possible for us to explore the side of our psyche that is often dismissed and discounted.

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As a Black woman that is a High Priestess of a Hellenic tradition, Clio Ajana embodies the very spirit of challenging the common narrative of the Eurocentric framework within Pagan leadership.

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

Crystal Blanton: How do you feel that being your whole self within Pagan leadership brings a newness that expands previous limitations in our community culture?

Clio Anja: As a Seeker in 2004, I saw few persons of color, maybe five in my first year or so. I did not think about leadership as I found only one person who was in a leadership position, and that was after two years of active involvement in the community.  I felt then, and on occasion now, as though I was the “near-invisible” person who might not be the traditional “face” of a typical Pagan.

I am a lesbian and in a tradition that is very pro-LGBTQIA oriented. When I first came to the community, I got the sense that I would have to hide or compromise my sexuality (since I could not hide my skin color) in order to fit in with any particular group. Unfortunately, previous limitations in our community culture have included those who are LGBTQIA, less physically able, geographically-challenged, non-white, or just not practicing according one’s culture of origin. If I see someone now, my personal goal is to encourage folks to embrace the tradition or path of their choice, regardless of perceived limitations in larger Paganism. Being my whole self means that if someone like me were to come along now, in 2016, that person would feel more comfortable knowing that there is a place at the table.

Now, I can lead ritual, teach classes, give back to the community through public discussions or working with those who confined in some way. Visibly, every time I show up to give a talk or to act as a high priestess, there is both surprise and gradual acceptance that a large, black woman is embracing Modern Paganism with such fervor.

The more Pagans see others who do not fit the image of a white female or male practitioner of traditional Wicca, which remains the more commonly-advertised narrative, the more they are seeing that Modern Paganism is moving away from stereotypes that have restricted or even repelled those who might consider practicing or joining a religion under the Pagan umbrella. Being my whole self means that others who are coming along will see that yes, you can embrace your culture while being a Pagan leader.

CB: How do you feel your spiritual and community work stretches our common expectation of what the average practitioner within Modern Paganism looks is like?”

CA: Again, it comes to appearance and the expectation that if you are X, you will follow Y tradition; if you are a Pagan, you must look like A, dress like B, and engage in activities C, D, and E. Through leading and appearing at public ritual, I am a clear statement that not all average practitioners are white, Eurocentric, and from a certain background. I also have done community work where I was very well received, but tested at first for skills.

Early on, I was a participant and leader at rituals where someone has walked past me to one of my fellow practitioners to ask questions, even though I was clearly a part of the ritual. I’ve also been in spaces where the presumption was that I only practiced African tradition, since I am black. Over the years, by doing the work, others see that those who identify as practitioner are more than just those who are hiding in the shadows. We are open, we are out, and we render service to let others know that they are welcome.

In a few decades, I sincerely hope that the common expectation is that the “average” practitioner has no stereotypical appearance or particular path. We need those who are willing to serve as chaplains, as clergy, for the community at large. We won’t get them if our expectation remain small.

CB: How do you feel that challenging the narrative empowers people magically and spiritually?”

CA: The narrative can only be changed when those who don’t fit the “norm” are willing to stand up and be counted.  Magically, we grow as individuals and as a community when all who are within dig deep to practice the traditions we are fighting so hard to keep and to maintain. Our spirituality grows from sharing with others, interacting with public ritual and in the circles, groves, blots, and rituals that Pagans maintain throughout the year.

Challenging the narrative permits a larger use of cultural background to broaden the horizon of what can be done regardless of skin color.  As persons of color, we draw from the ancestors, from a variety of traditions, and a core of strength. I like to think of it as a residue left from how my ancestors were treated – to survive, we had to have strength. As a practitioner of color, regardless of tradition practiced, I feel all gain empowerment with the gods and in religious devotion.

Magic, Witchcraft, Conjure and Rootwork has always been a way that we privately and collectively challenge the status quo. Embracing and working from a different perspective than the mainstream religious framework has helped to shape the common narrative of Modern Paganism. The story of any community can be a very powerful thing, contributing to the ways that we create, interpret, inherit and apply our spirituality within our lives.

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While a cultural foundation can be created on ideals that challenge acceptable greater societal norms, challenging those very structures can open up the many areas of growth and opportunities. When communities become more invested in ideals that reinforce comfort than pushing against those stories as a means to explore our understanding, we limit our ability to grow beyond the boxes we create.

People are doing amazing work to challenge and reconstruct some of the narratives of our modern Pagan status quo. Pushing against the walls of our static stories can breed possibilities and great spiritual opportunities.  

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