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Heathens in Politics
Heathenry and politics have not always been happy bedfellows, yet there have been Heathens around the world who have campaigned for public office. Some have even won elections. The thumbnail portraits below feature four Heathens from four countries who have four very different stories of engagement with and disengagement from public life.

In Iceland, Liberal Party co-founder Sigurjón Þórðarson was elected in 2003 to represent the Northwest Constituency in the Alþgingi, the national assembly. The parliament was founded in 930, seventy years before the nation converted to Christianity. At the time of his election, Sigurjón was a goði (Heathen priest) in the Ásatrúarfélagið (Ásatrú Fellowship), the organization that began the modern revival of Old Norse religion in 1972. His election made him the first goði with a seat in the Alþgingi since the fourteenth century.

The Icelandic Alþingi [Photo Credit: Zinneke]

When asked by Reykjavík Grapevine how other members of parliament reacted to his religion, he said, “I don’t think my faith matters to them. If anything, I think I get respect for that.” As the land that did the most to preserve Norse mythology, Iceland is a special case, as Sigurjón acknowledged: “I think this faith has shaped Icelanders’ views on things. A lot of what we believe comes from the old beliefs, and has influenced how we are today.” After serving only one term, Sigurjón is no longer a goði, and the party he co-founded no longer exists. The fortunes of the modern goði are as unpredicatble as those of his ancient model.

Ásatrú practitioner Anika Tanck (now Petersdorf) was a 2009 candidate for the state parliament of Schleswig-Holstein, a German state so far north that the first element of its name contains a Germanized form of –vík (Old Norse for “inlet”) and the second refers to one of the pagan Saxon tribes (Holcetae, from *Holtsāton, “inhabitant of the forest”). She ran as local leader of the Piratenpartei Deutschland (Pirate Party Germany), the German division of the international confederation known as Pirate Parties International. The party program is long and detailed, with an emphasis on protecting freedoms in the wake of the digital revolution.

In the light of current U.S. media criticism of the Green presidential candidate as someone who serves as a spoiler for the Democratic one by peeling away millennial voters, it’s interesting that German newspaper Der Spiegel used similar rhetoric against Tanck and her Pirate colleagues, “The entry into the state parliament is unlikely. But the Pirate Party competing will at least cost the Greens important votes. Typical Pirate supporters include young people – an age group whose election turnout is chronically below average. Quite possibly, more otherwise apolitical people will go to vote.” Tanck won 2.2% of the vote, almost exactly the percentage Jill Stein receives in current polls. Seven years later, she told me, “I’m not anymore in politics. I now own a store for organic food.”

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[Courtesy Photo]

Canadian Heathen Robert Rudachyk serves as vice-president for the Saskatoon-West Riding Association of the Liberal Party. When he ran for Member of Parliament in 2014 and was edged out for the party nomination by Lisa Abbott, he worked for the greater good by joining her and volunteering as her Deputy Campaign Manager. After the election, he was invited to a small gathering with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and thanked for his work in the Liberal Party. Earlier this year, he was also a candidate for the provincial legislature. When I asked Rudachyk what role his religious beliefs play in his dedication to political action, he said:

I strongly believe that, if we as a faith wish to be taken seriously by society, we need to participate in society. If we want our worldview to be accepted, we need to incorporate it into society by taking a leadership role so that we can be understood and accepted.

He also emphasized the importance of representing Heathenry well as a public figure:

Because we are still on the fringes of society, those of us who choose to take on a leadership role must represent the best of what we have to offer society. We must show honesty, integrity and honor that is above reproach. If we do this solely to enrich ourselves or to preach an agenda of racial hatred, then we will destroy the credibility of all heathens in society for generations to come.

Unfortunately, the highest-profile Heathen in U.S. politics failed to live up to any part of this standard.

In 2009, Daniel Halloran was elected to the 19th City Council District in Queens, New York as a Tea Party Republican. A practitioner and leader of Theodism, Halloran became “the first openly elected heathen in the nation.” Despite his religion being widely known, he stressed his Roman Catholic upbringing during the campaign in an article for the Queens Chronicle called “I believe in God,” never once mentioning Theodism, Heathenry, or polytheism. The campaign of Kevin Kim, his Korean-American rival for the council seat, stated that political supporters of Halloran made racist statements to Kim’s followers. A Halloran volunteer publicly portrayed the election as “white faces” versus Koreans, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund stated that the contest was “marred by racial harassment and anti-Asian slurs.”

Two years later, Halloran appeared in a video documenting “The Ground Zero Mosque: The Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks,” an event sponsored by a group calling itself Stop Islamization for America. He was lauded by the group’s supporters as “the only member of the City Council willing to speak out against the Ground Zero mosque.” In 2013, Halloran was arrested and charged with brokering a $200,000 attempt to bribe Republican county leaders and fix the race for mayor of New York City. Unluckily for Halloran, the multiple payoff meetings were held with an undercover FBI agent. Halloran remains incarcerated after his insanity defense and appeal for reversal of his ten-year prison sentence were rejected. The court stated, “We have considered all of Halloran’s remaining arguments, and find them without merit.”

Politicians and Heathens
Despite the relatively small size of the Pagan and Heathen communities, there have been two U.S. presidential candidates who have been willing to engage with practitioners.

In 2011, Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson held a Google+ Hangout with journalists from the Hellenic, Hindu, Wiccan and Witch communities. The hosts of a Heathen podcast were invited to join, but declined to participate. The lack of any voice from the Heathen community is regrettable, as there seems to be a great interest from Heathens in Johnson’s current presidential run as a Libertarian.

Gary Johnson in 2012 [Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore]

However, Chuck Hudson – New Mexico Heathen, host of the popular Heathen broadcast Raven Radio, and creator of the Pagans for Gary Johnson Facebook page – recently told me that, in his personal conversations with the candidate, Johnson “had nothing to say about Heathens or other Pagans.” Regardless, the most recent public post by the administrator of the Pagan page is in reaction to an article reporting on Johnson calling radical Islam’s threat “overblown” and shows a sharp turn away from supporting the candidate. Hudson writes, “After being a Libertarian since the late 80s, I’m done. This is the last straw. I am officially voting for my dog.”

In the Google+ Hangout, the questions relating to religion dealt with general Pagan and Wiccan issues, and Johnson seems to not have made any public statements directly relating to Heathenry. At the time of the 2012 election, there were issues that some segments of the Heathen community were definitely working on. The push to have the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs approve Thor’s hammer a religious emblem allowed on government headstones was still underway; it was not approved until after the election, in 2013. The lack of Pagan chaplains in the U.S. military – a subject also of interest to Heathens – was brought up in the Hangout, but Johnson’s answer appears a bit confused in the transcript:

I guess I’m gonna be in the camp … why are there any chaplains in the military and if there are chaplains in the military why are there then not Rabbis in the military and I didn’t realize there was a Pagan chaplain but you can see that that’s obviously part of the equality equation here.

There have, in fact, been rabbis serving as military chaplains in the United States since Rabbi Jacob Frinkel was commissioned in 1862, and there is still no official chaplain of any type of Paganism in any branch of the U.S. military – although progress has recently been made.

The military situation is a bit different for Heathens than it is for other Pagans. Although Wicca has been recognized as “a nontraditional faith” by the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps since 1978, the status of Ásatrú and Heathen soldiers in the army remains in limbo. After seven years of soldiers, veterans, and allies working to have Ásatrú and Heathenry added to the U.S. Army’s religious preference list as a faith option for soldiers, the administration continues to delay making the change, despite a letter-writing campaign, a Heathen Resource Guide for Chaplains being submitted to the Department of Defense, and the announcement and retraction of the addition being approved.

The obstinate and years-long resistance of the U.S. Army was thrown into relief by the success of Master Sergeant (MSgt) Matt Walters, who simply made a formal request to the Air Force Chaplains Office and was quickly successful in having Ásatrú and Heathenry added to the Air Force’s religious preference list. Why the U.S. Army Chaplains Corp has been so determined to block the addition for its own branch of the military remains a mystery.

On September 9, the day after taking members of Thor’s Oak Kindred to see Dr. Jill Stein speak at her Chicago rally, I sat down for a one-on-one interview with the Green Party presidential candidate. This was the first time a presidential candidate spoke on the record with a Heathen journalist and made a public statement in support of equal religious rights for Heathens in the military. I had been attempting to get Stein to address this issue for a while, but had not had much luck getting directly to her via her social media accounts. When she came to town for her rally, I figured out the proper contact person and was immediately scheduled for a private interview.

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Jill Stein in Chicago [Courtesy of The Norse Mythology Blog]

After speaking with Stein about her family history, religious background, support for protecting sacred land, and engagement with minority religions, I asked her what message she would send to U.S. Army chaplains on their denial of equal rights to Heathen soldiers who serve their country at home and abroad. After comparing their situation to that of others “who do not subscribe to the certified list of religions,” Stein said of the Heathen soldiers,

It’s really unfair, unjust, and undemocratic in this democracy that they are defending for their human rights not to be respected. I would strongly urge that all religions – whether they are Judeo-Christian or not – all religions should be given the seal of approval there, in order to sustain those people who have put their lives on the line for our country.

They deserve the benefits of real democracy, and real democracy means we do not discriminate according to religion, creed, race, ethnic background, or gender. Period.

Whatever the political allegiances of a given Heathen, this should be recognized as a positive moment. Given the many attempts and limited success of Heathens seeking to enter the political world as officeholders, it is a small step in the right direction to have a presidential candidate on the national stage acknowledge the issues facing Heathens and publicly draw attention to the need for discrimination to end.

I am under no illusion that Stein will power through to the White House, wave a seiðr staff, and make every Heathen’s personal wish list materialize in a powdery puff of sandalwood smoke. However, I do believe that each good action taken makes another connection in the web of wyrd, and – when there enough actions taken and connections made – change will come. Mounting public pressure may finally lead to official recognition of Heathenry by the U.S. Army. That recognition may lead to the appointment of Heathen chaplains. That appointment may lead to more acceptance of Heathens in other professions. That acceptance may lead to positive changes in your own life. Wyrd bið full āræd– wyrd is fully inexorable.

Note: The full text of the Jill Stein interview can be read at The Norse Mythology Blog.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

[Alley Valkyire is one of our talented monthly columnists. On the fourth Friday, she brings you insight and analysis about issues coming from within or affecting our collective communities. If you enjoy her work, consider donating to our fall fund drive today. It is your dollars and your support that make it possible for Alley and our columnists to continue their dedicated work, and for us to bring on more talented monthly voices. Please donate today and share the campaign! Thank you.]

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I. The Discovery

A few weeks ago, it was announced that the wreck of the HMS Terror, one of two ships that comprised the long-lost Franklin expedition, was found on the ocean floor southwest of King William Island in what is now known as Terror Bay.

This discovery comes almost exactly two years after Franklin’s other ship, the HMS Erebus, was found farther southward in the same general area. Both were found by exploration teams that were financed by the Canadian government.

Many major news outlets in both North America and Europe have covered the story of both “discoveries” and to some degree have mentioned the history that has led to this point, but overall these media sources have failed to highlight the fact that the location of the shipwrecks have been known to local Inuit communities since the time of the exploration’s disappearance in 1848. Instead, the focus of the stories have mostly been on modern technology and due diligence, with only a few articles even briefly mentioning the Inuit.

Native and alternative media sources, on the other hand, have been stressing this crucial aspect of the story that Eurocentric media sources have summarily ignored: that the discoveries validate over 150 years’ worth of Inuit accounts, of orally-passed folklore concerning the fate of the Franklin expedition, accounts that were dismissed and ignored countless times by generations’ worth of European explorers and researchers. While European-descended Canadian explorers celebrate their “discovery” of the ships, indigenous voices are pointing out that “the Inuit were right”, a fact that mass media as a whole has failed to note.

II. The Officer

When Sir John Franklin of the British Royal Navy set off in search of a navigable route through the Arctic Circle, he was following in the footsteps of over 350 years’ worth of exploration attempts to secure a “Northwest Passage” for the purposes of trade between Europe and China.

Franklin sailed from England with two ships and 135 men in the spring of 1845, first traveling to Scotland and then to Greenland, where the exploration then sailed west through Baffin Bay. The last European sighting of the expedition was in July of 1845, when a whaling ship spotted the Erebus and Terror moored off an iceberg in Baffin Bay, south of what is now called Devon Island.

The expedition spent the winter of 1845-6 in an encampment on the western coast of Devon Island and attempted to sail on further in the summer of 1846, but the ships became trapped in ice off the coast of King William Island in Sept., 1846.

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The note from Franklin’s crew, written in 1848 and found in 1859 . [Public domain]

The only written clue as to what had transpired from that point on came in the form of a note dated April 25, 1848, which was found in a pile of cairns on the north coast of King William Island 11 years later by an explorer searching for the lost expedition. The note stated that the crews of the Erebus and Terror had abandoned the ships in the ice just north of the island after being stuck for two years, and that 24 men had perished at that point, including Franklin in the summer of 1847. The note went on to say that the rest of the crew were going to follow the “Back’s Fish River” south, where a trading post was located.

None of the crew members ever made it to the trading post, and the most widespread and accepted theory from the time the note was found has been that both ships had sunk off the north coast of King William Island and Franklin’s crew died on foot en route to the trading post. For this reason, countless searches and rescue missions have been focused on the Victoria Strait and the northern part of King William Island.

But from the very beginning and for decades thereafter, that version of the story conflicted with numerous stories from the Inuit people, who relayed a different version of the fate of Franklin’s crew that was dismissed time and time again by those searching for the exploration.

Over 50 searches for Franklin and his crew were conducted in the decades after the disappearance of the ships and crew. Over time, more explorers and ships were lost in search of the Franklin expedition than the original casualty count of the Franklin expedition itself.

A route through the Arctic wouldn’t be discovered for nearly 60 years after Franklin’s attempt, when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen successfully navigated the passage between 1903 and 1906.

III. The Lady

By all accounts, Lady Jane Franklin, the explorer’s wife, was a woman well ahead of her time. An famed explorer in her own right, she first gained attention for her travels through Australia while her husband was the lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land in the 1830s, and became a popular figure amongst the citizens of the colonies, noted for charitable actions and kindness. She was instrumental in founding early schools throughout the Australian settlements. She was also an early advocate concerning the conditions female convicts in Tasmania, and had corresponded with famed prison reformer Elizabeth Fry about their plight. Lady Franklin also was deeply involved in her husband’s career, with accounts detailing how she significantly managed his affairs and advised his career behind the scenes.

After her husband’s expedition was confirmed as missing in 1849, Lady Franklin devoted the rest of her life and much of her personal fortune towards finding what became of the it. She sponsored seven search parties to the Arctic between the time of the disappearance and her death in 1875, and used her social status and wealth to consistently bring attention to the unknown fate of her husband. She offered sizable cash rewards for information, and worked diligently to keep the story in the public eye and a matter of national interest.

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[Amelie Romilly, public domain]

However, she was fiercely protective of her husband’s image and legacy to a fault, and when explorers returned with information that she disapproved of or disbelieved, she also worked tirelessly to discredit such stories and in one case went to great lengths to discredit the explorer himself.

IV. The Search Parties

Scottish explorer John Rae was one of the first tasked with searching for the Franklin expedition under the authority of Lady Franklin, and he made three journeys through the Arctic from 1849 to 1854. In 1851, during an attempt to cross Victoria Strait towards King William Island, Rae described finding pieces of wood in the strait that had come from a European ship.

Three years later, while exploring the Boothia Peninsula, Rae came across local Inuit tribes who saw two ships trapped in the ice when they passed through in the fall on their way south. When they had come back through the area the following spring, they found multiple corpses and evidence of cannibalism.

When Rae relayed this information upon his return to England, he was initially credited with solving the mystery of the Franklin expedition and was granted the promised reward. Lady Franklin, however, reacted in horror, and many in the British press and upper classes, including writer Charles Dickens, shunned and publicly condemned Rae for suggesting that the crew would resort to cannibalism.

A few years later, in 1859, when Sir Leopold McClintock of the British Navy was searching for the Franklin expedition, a group of Inuit shared similar accounts of the fate of the missing ships with the explorer and his crew. They claimed that one ship sunk and another became trapped in the ice in an area they described as “Ootloo-lik.” During that same search expedition, McClintock’s team found the note left by Franklin’s men, describing ships trapped in the ice in Victoria Strait and the death of Franklin. When McClintock returned with this information, Lady Franklin apparently initially dismissed it, still convinced that Franklin was alive.

Five years after McClintock’s expedition, in 1864, American explorer Charles Hall was also searching for the Franklin expedition when he also encountered Inuit from the same region, who told him that they had stripped wood and metal from an abandoned ship that had been stranded in and crushed by the ice off the southern coast of King William Island. The ship had been found while seal hunting, there had been evidence that it had been recently inhabited, and a decomposing body had been found on board. They had also seen footprints leading to shore that were not made by Inuit.

These accounts contradicted the theory that was based on the note that McClintock found, that both ships had sunk off the northern coast of the island. The Inuit stories suggested that instead of following the river to their death, some of the crew members re-boarded the second ship and attempted to sail south, only to once again become stuck near the southern coast where they eventually perished.

And again in 1878-9, when explorer Frederick Schwatka and journalist William Henry Gilder searched for the expedition, they were told stories by local Inuits of skeletons found on the southern part of the island, and of compasses and watches and human remains found on the trapped ship. Once again signs of cannibalism were mentioned, of bones that looked as though they had been sawed off.

Lady Franklin had died a few years earlier, and could not personally refute these new claims as she had in the past, but nonetheless the claims were overall discredited and dismissed, in part because they contradicted the heroic narrative that had developed in the decades after Franklin’s disappearance.

Artistic rendering of the Franklin Expedition sailing through the Northwest Passage. Public Domain.

Artistic rendering of the Franklin Expedition sailing through the Northwest Passage. [Public domain.]

V. The Legend

The disappearance of the Franklin expedition created a sensation throughout Victorian England. Franklin and his crew were quickly cast as romantic heroes and cultural icons in the eyes of the public, and Franklin was memorialized in countless ways, from statues erected to stories and plays and musical compositions written in his honor.

One of the earliest tributes to Franklin is arguably also one of the most lasting and well known testaments to his heroic status. The folk ballad “Lady Franklin’s Lament,” which first appeared around 1850, tells of the disappearance of Franklin and the subsequent heartache of his wife from the fictional point of view of a sailor who had a dream about Franklin. Countless versions and recordings of the song have been published over the years, more recently and famously by artists such as Pentangle and Sinead O’Connor.

The lyrics of the ballad beautifully capture the sentiments of the time:

We were homeward bound one night on the deep
Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep
I dreamed a dream and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew

With a hundred seamen he sailed away
To the frozen ocean in the month of May
To seek a passage around the pole
Where we poor sailors do sometimes go

Through cruel hardships they vainly strove
Their ships on mountains of ice were drove
Only the Eskimo with his skin canoe
Was the only one that ever came through

In Baffin’s Bay where the whale fish blow
The fate of Franklin no man may know
The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell
Lord Franklin alone with his sailors do dwell

And now my burden it gives me pain
For my long-lost Franklin I would cross the main
Ten thousand pounds I would freely give
To know on earth, that my Franklin do live

Such sentiments, however, and the public image of Franklin that inspired such material, came up against many conflicts over the years as explorers brought back more and more information about the fate of the expedition, most notably the numerous Inuit accounts regarding cannibalism. From Lady Franklin’s public evisceration of John Rae to the subsequent dismissals of Inuit lore regarding the fate of the expedition, much of the denial of these stories was driven by the need to protect the public image of Franklin and his crew. The idea that the crew resorted to cannibalism to survive was highly offensive to Victorian-era sensibilities, as such heroic Englishmen would obviously never resort to such “barbaric” acts.

VI. The Bones

Searches for the Franklin expedition continued throughout the early part of the 20th century, but tapered off after the 1930s. The last notable expedition of that era was in 1931, when a manager for the Hudson’s Bay Company named William Gibson retraced the assumed route of the expedition on land and found several skeletons as well as pieces of naval cloth and wood from the ships.

Fifty years went by after Gibson’s finds without any other significant developments. Then in 1981, a forensic anthropology project backed by the University of Alberta started to search for remains of the expedition on the west coast of King William Island. Researchers found extensive skeletal remains, and they had the bone matter tested. The results showed that the crew members of the Franklin expedition likely died of vitamin C deficiency and/or lead poisoning.

Later excavations throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s yielded bones with distinctive cut marks. Scientists then determined the cuts were likely the result of cannibalism, thus validating the various Inuit accounts as well as the reports from John Rae, whose name and career had been essentially destroyed as a result of accurately relaying what he had been told.

VII. The Discovery

In 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper initiated a new round of searches for the Franklin expedition, although it has been steadily argued that his intent was not to solve the mystery of the expedition as much as it was to assert dominance over the Northwest Passage and the Arctic Circle as a whole for the purposes of trade and profit.

Due to the increased melting of the polar ice caps, the Northwest Passage has become more easily navigable and for a longer portion of the year than it has ever been in the history of maritime exploration. This “development,” courtesy of climate change, has significant consequences for international trade as the “ownership” of those waters has long been in dispute. Canada claims sovereignty over the waters of the Arctic based on the British Empire ceding their claims to Canada in the 1880s, but the United States and many other countries consider the Northwest Passage to be international waters.

Additionally, the melting ice is also creating countless new opportunities for offshore drilling and mineral exploration, and the Canadian government has a significant interest in securing and asserting the rights to such explorations. Canada’s claim on the Northwest Passage has been framed as a matter of national interest, a message which has been specifically aimed towards Inuit communities in the Arctic Circle despite the fact that climate change and offshore drilling threatens the livelihood of those very communities.

Uncovering the wrecks of Franklin’s ships also factored prominently into the nationalist ideals that Harper’s government had promoted since taking power. The Franklin expedition was a key moment in the early history of Canada, and discovering the remains of the expedition would not only potentially legitimize Canada’s claims to the Arctic, but it would also inevitably strengthen the narrative that romanticizes the Arctic Circle as the birthplace of Canada as a nation.

For seven summers, Canadian anthropologists searched the northern, western, and southern shores of King William Island, uncovering numerous artifacts related to the expedition. They also conducted underwater searches both in the northern location where the note stated that the ships had become trapped as well as the more southward locations where Inuit lore claimed one of the ships had sailed before becoming permanently trapped.

In September of 2014, Harper announced that one of the ships had been found south of King William Island. At the time of the initial announcement, archaeologists had yet to determine which ship it was, but a month later it was reported that the find was the remains of the HMS Erebus, the ship that Franklin himself was thought to have died on.

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[Alex Guibord]

But despite the fact that it was found in an area that matched the Inuit accounts of where it had sank, Harper’s public statement failed to mention those accounts and their importance in the discovery, instead lavishing credit onto various military and governmental entities before giving unspecified thanks to the government of Nunavut for their “tireless efforts.” Additionally, Harper’s government excluded representatives from Inuit communities from discussions and negotiations concerning the ownership of the finds, despite a legal agreement which grants 50% of archaeological finds in Nunavut to the Inuit people.

Then in September 2016, it was announced that the “perfectly preserved” remains of the HMS Terror was found on the southwest coast of King William Island, north of where the Erebus was found but still 60 miles south of where the ships were assumed by Europeans to have been abandoned in the ice. Not only was it also found in an area that the Inuit had been mentioning for over 150 years, but the sunken positions of both ships in relation to where they were assumed to have abandoned also matches up with Inuit accounts.

Additionally, it is of note that the only reason that the search team was searching that specific area in the first place was due to hearing a story from a young Inuit crewman on their ship. He stated that he had seen a wooden mast sticking out of the ice in Terror Bay off the southwest coast of King William Island while on a fishing trip six years earlier. The search team was initially set to search in area described by the note found in the cairns, but after hearing the story from their fellow crewman, the ship decided to break with historical tendencies and for once a search party did not dismiss the story they had been told by a local. The ship then headed towards the location where the wreck was finally found.

But once again, the Inuit are fighting for a voice in the upcoming discussions concerning what is to become of the artifacts.

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If there is any one consistent theme that defines the Franklin story from the very beginning to the present events, it is the belief in European superiority. From the earliest dismissals and outrage over Inuit accounts of the crew’s fate to the current denial of Inuit rights to the artifacts from the wreckage, its clear that overall the attitudes and actions on the part of those in positions of power have not changed much in over 150 years.

It is also that superiority which has fueled the relentless pursuits of strategic dominance that set the stage for both the beginning and the eventual ending of the Franklin story. The fact that the remains of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were only ever recovered in concert with Canada’s attempt to exert control over the very same route that Franklin died attempting to navigate is a notable synchronicity to say the very least. And its a connection that occurred as a continuation of the same imperialist and economic intentions that prompted the initial wave of European exploration through the Arctic in the first place.

As Inuit representative Cathy Towtongie told the Guardian:

If Inuit had been consulted 200 years ago and asked for their traditional knowledge – this is our backyard – those two wrecks would have been found, lives would have been saved. I’m confident of that.

But they believed their civilization was superior and that was their undoing.

 

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

 

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Help fund another year of independent journalism at The Wild Hunt.
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TWHEnglish Magic Tarot is a deck devised by magician and comic book artist Rex Van Ryn, painter Steve Dooley and Pagan writer and musician Andy Letcher. With a foreword by Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids Philip Carr Gomm, the new deck deftly entwines all aspects of English Magic.

As Philip Carr-Gomm states: “With this deck and book, you have the chance to explore the world of English magic directly, engaging with its peculiar charms and eccentricities. And with what excellent guides!”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Drawing on High Magical Traditions represented by organizations such as Order of the Golden Dawn and embodied by the likes of Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune and Austin Osman Spare, the deck is replete with Hermetic symbolism. It also acknowledges the low magic path of the cunning folk and how the tarot has been used in that tradition. As Andy Letcher notes: “We regard the tarot as a kind of distillation of Western wisdom.”

The deck is set in the Tudor and Stuart periods, beginning with the reign of Henry VIII (although the Tudor period began earlier), through the upheaval of the Stuarts.This was a time of radical change in England.

The Elizabethan part of the Tudor period and the subsequent Stuart age almost fall into two distinct halves in terms of differences in culture and attitude, and the outlooks towards religion and magic going a long way to define each period.

The Tudor period featured the Reformation and the subsequent Dissolution of the Monasteries, which resulted in conflict with Europe that culminated in the Spanish Armada. It was also in this period that the Enclosure Act restricted the use of common land, having a huge impact on poorer people. But under Elizabeth, this was also a time of relative freedom in religion and the arts flourished as a result.

As Matt Sutherland for Foreword Reviews notes: “The mysticism, mysteries, rituals, and lore of Elizabethan-era England (were) perhaps history’s most fervent period and place for the magic arts.”

Elizabeth was much more tolerant of religious differences than any of her other family members and her successors – James I, instigator of the witch trials, being the most notable example. She also employed Dr John Dee, astrologer and occultist, as one of her courtiers and spies during her reign. His interest in the esoteric as well as alchemical and magical practices paved the way for later luminaries such as Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon.

[Public Domain due to age of image]

[Public Domain due to age of image]

The English Magic Tarot acknowledges this overlooked period of magical tradition and celebrates the spirit of possibility and exploration synonymous with the Elizabethan age. In Europe, this period, as well as overseeing the Renaissance, saw the birth of the tarot and its establishment as an essential tool in high and low magical traditions. One cannot help but wonder what kind of world we would be living in if the alchemical traditions celebrated in the deck had been developed and explored to their fullest capacity.

Another aspect of this deck worth mentioning is the emphasis on storytelling and how important this was in the Elizabethan age, evidenced by the growth of the arts during this time, the theatre in particular. The cards themselves are awash with riddles and symbols inspired by the Elizabethan era.

As Letcher confirms: “There are indeed riddles, references and lore scattered through every card. All these are significant and have been placed there deliberately. On one level, they are there simply to encourage readers to look more closely at the cards and to entice them into a deeper understanding of English magic. But we also wanted there to be an overarching theme to the cards, something that ran through them all and bound them together. The riddles do all point to something. It’s a kind of treasure hunt, if you will, and there is an actual answer at the end.”

Each card feels like a story in itself and the entire deck appears to be telling its own tale of some kind. The companion booklet discusses at length the growth of the arts during this period – theatre in particular  – and the magical, transformational aspects of that process.

Letcher says: “Our storytelling approach to the tarot means we encourage people to use the cards as a device to help them discover, and take control of the stories they tell about themselves and their lives.”

The set also gives the reader some unique techniques for using the cards, which are inspired by the Art of Memory tradition. This technique utilises concepts such as the alchemy of theatre and art in general, which only add to the depth and mystery of this deck.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

The visual impact of the deck cannot to be ignored. It’s rootedness in the comic book genre via Rex Van Ryn’s work gives it a contemporary edge and vitality but it clearly acknowledges the classic Waite-Smith deck and salutes the contribution of Pamela Colman Smith’s work as an artist, and how art can be magical and transformative.

As Van Ryn explained, the imagery of the deck was conceived in a very magical way. “I meditated on the cards’ meaning using a drum beat to induce a trance state, sometimes dancing, sometimes prone. When I had imagined the ‘image’, I broke my trance and drew what was in my mind.”

Dooley’s colouring work added to this process. He says: “At no point did Van Ryn say how I should colour the cards. He had faith. I devised an entire palette purely on instinct. It had to work for me on many levels. Each card had to work as an individual image, yet they also had to work together. I wanted them to be earthy yet bright, old but relative to today.”

Obviously, the artistic and magical backgrounds of both Van Ryn and Dooley would ensure that the visual impact of the deck and the significance of art as a transformational tool would come to the fore. As a result, the deck is a rich, with every card layered with symbolism and meaning.

It is interesting that the English Magic Tarot has emerged from the collective unconscious at this time. As stated earlier, the Tudor and Stuart periods were a turbulent time in English history, with a great deal of social and religious change. Given the upheaval across the world at present, it is no surprise that this period should emerge and remind us of how the use of magical practices and the occult helped to temper seismic upheavals in previous eras.

As author John Matthews, co-creator of The Wildwood Tarot and other decks, states: “Its clear (they’re) tapping into the national psyche, and with all that’s going on since Brexit that can be quite lot.”

The English Magic Tarot comes with a companion booklet that has a wealth of information about period and its magical practices. The deck stays true to the classical format of the period from which tarot emerged and consists of a 22 major arcana deck and a minor arcana of four suits of cups, wands, coins and swords. The booklet gives some very interesting techniques of how to use the cards, not only giving spreads but also going into great detail about the art of memory technique employed by alchemists during this period. This is a fascinating technique, invoking the literal magic of theatre into the process.

There is also a description of the use of archetypes and how they were used by the flourishing theatre movement during the Elizabethan age, which used many neo-Platonic techniques (this is why the famous theatre was called the Globe).

This is a great tarot deck, lovingly crafted and which gives respect and acknowledgement on many levels to the tarot and those who have shaped its development, yet with an edgy and fresh style.

Happy Autumnal Equinox

The Wild Hunt —  September 21, 2016 — 1 Comment

TWH – This year, the autumnal equinox falls on Sept. 22 at 14:21 UTC in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the moment that officially signals the start of fall. At this time, there will be an equal amount of light and dark, after which the nights slowly grow longer as we head toward winter. Outside of religious life, this season is very well celebrated. It is punctuated by harvests, craft, and art festivals, outdoors sports, pumpkin picking, scarecrow contests, and the aromas of spice and apple cider.

Here at The Wild Hunt, it’s when we begin our annual fall funding drive, which lasts until Nov.1. And, it is also when the UN celebrates its International Day of Peace (Sept. 21).

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

[Wikimedia Commons]

[Wikimedia Commons]

In many modern Pagan traditions, this is the second of three harvest festivals, with the first being Lughnasadh and the third being Samhain. Autumn equinox holidays have many names. For Wiccans and Witches, it is sometimes called “Harvest Home” or “Mabon.” In Druidic and Celtic-oriented Pagan groups, it can be called “Mid-Harvest,” “Foghar,” or “Alban Elfed.” In modern Asatru, it is sometimes called “Winter Finding.” The Greek term for it is “Phthinopohriní Isimæría.” In Old English it was called “efnniht.” In addition, there are those who just simply prefer to use “autumn equinox” or “fall.”

At the same time, our friends and family living in the Southern Hemisphere begin the journey to summer. Sept. 22 will mark their vernal equinox and the beginning of spring. The days will begin to lengthen and become warmer as light triumphs over dark and the Earth reawakens from its winter slumber.

Here are some thoughts on this seasonal holiday:

“In the Wheel of the Year mythos that I enjoy, at Mabon the god and goddess become the Sage and Crone, and with experience, comes the inner vision to see deeply into both the past and future. They know the sacred order of the “perfect” complete cycle that is symbolized by the wheel; they teach us that life is sustained through death, just as death contains the promise of rebirth (at Ostara). As symbolized in the yin/yang, the key to one side of any polarity is found in the heart of its opposite. The fruits that are cut down will rise again both as the seeds planted next year, [and] by sustaining the living. As we are fed another year, the gods live on through us.” –Heron Michelle, “Mabon Feasts Serve Up a Challenge

“At its heart, the garlanded table, groaning with food, decked with flowers, pumpkins, squash. Around it, the standing torches, the looping strings of marigolds in their harvest colors. In the old days, the period of the harvest was the most intensive work of the entire year: the hard, back-breaking labor of reaping a year’s worth of food in a few grueling days. When finally it was over, it was time, and high time, for a party.” –Steven Posch, “Crowning the Harvest

“At this time, our ancestors saw the sun, for the first time in half a year, be unable to outshine the dark. Although he still shines with strength, his strength grows weaker as the days grow shorter. Today he holds the darkness in equal measure to the light, but he is struck in his season with the wound of time and from day to day the darkness will grow as the lord of light sinks into his age, for the wound is grievous and will not heal. This is a time of farewell and gratitude for the summer that has been. –from the Road to Kamarg blog

“In this time, we pray, honor and make blot to the Vanir and fertility gods to bless and hold the land in the coming dark and cold. We blot to the Vaettir, the Alfur and Landvaettir, to keep and hold not only ourselves and the land, but themselves as well. Winter can be cruel to many forms of life. Blot to whomever you feel should be honored at this time. Traditionally the Vanir are honored above all at this time, for it is their gifts and sacrifices that make the land fertile, and survive the coming dark. Frey, and his twin Freya are especially honored.” –“Winter Finding, theasatrucommunity.org

Happy harvest to all of those celebrating, and a very merry spring to our friends in the south.

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[The Wild Hunt brings you regular seasonal posts throughout the year, highlighting the many celebrations and holidays honored throughout our collective communities. If you enjoyed this post, consider making a donation today. Check out our new perks and our story. Share our campaign. Help make it possible for The Wild Hunt to continue serving you holiday inspiration through the year.]

[Cara Schulz is one of our talented weekly news writers. Each week she brings you news and stories coming from within or affecting our collective communities. If you enjoy her work, consider donating to our fall fund drive today. It is your dollars and your support that make it possible for Cara and the news team to continue their dedicated work. Please donate today and share the campaign! Thank you.]

It’s a situation that’s becoming increasingly common on social media. You’re scrolling through your feed and come across a post from a friend who appears to making a threat of suicide. For most of us, there are only moral questions we face in deciding what to do next. Should you try to contact your friend, or your friend’s family or local friends? Report it to the police and ask for a health and welfare check? For Pagans who claim the title of clergy, there are ethical and legal layers to this decision, as well. Are they considered Mandatory Reporters, and do they have a legal requirement to report possible suicide attempts? If they are ordained, does their governing body require them to report or ask that they maintain confidentiality, even outside of a counselling setting?

[public domain]

[public domain]

Rev. Kenya Davis, who received her ordination in 2011 by the Universal Life Church, experienced just such a decision on Sept. 15. A friend posted on Facebook what appeared to Rev. Davis as a serious contemplation of suicide. Believing she had a moral, ethical, and legal duty as Pagan clergy, she called police and asked them to do a health and welfare check.

The person is safe, but deeply unhappy with Rev. Davis’ actions. Others, including some who self-identified as Pagan clergy, were also critical of reporting a possible suicide attempt to police. They felt Pagan ministers don’t have the same obligations as Christian ministers. Others felt that friends don’t “snitch” on friends, and Davis should have stayed in the role of friend, rather than minister.

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“The person I reported had a history of trauma and has a suicide plan in place that they shared at other times in their life. On the occasion of a personal trauma, they intimated that they no longer wished to live on in face of a loss. Due to previous episodes, and the depth of the loss, I felt the words that this person shared with me held the gravity that merited a call to ensure this person’s safety,” said Rev. Davis. She added that she remains convinced the person was seriously contemplating carrying out a suicide attempt.  

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What are the moral, ethical, and legal issues Pagan clergy may face in situations such as this? What training do they receive and what value does that training have for the greater Pagan community? What do we mean when we talk about Pagan clergy and how is that different, if it is, from mainstream religions’ clergy?

Pagan Clergy
At its most basic, clergy are the formal leaders of any religious group. In the United States, our views of clergy, and how clergy interact with the State, have been modeled on the Christian concept. Clergy marry, bury, and carry (counsel persons or carry the burden of counseling).

Are Pagan clergy members the same as mainstream clergy? The answer appears to be both yes and no.

Some Pagan clergy don’t minister to persons, but instead maintain a temple dedicated to a particular God or Goddess. Others lead religious services, but do not counsel members and are not part of a specific group. Then there is the controversy playing out in city council chambers and courtrooms whether tarot reading is entertainment or a religiously-protected counseling practice. Although there are no official studies to definitively claim one way or another, Pagans appear to have a higher number of lay clergy (or those not ordained by a State but recognized by a religious organization) than other more mainstream religions.

Yet Pagan clergy are performing legal marriages, presiding over burial ceremonies, and counseling members. They are also pushing for greater acceptance within societal constructs, such as the military, hospitals, and prisons. They want the respect that is granted by default to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy.

Rev. Davis says a fellow Pagan clergyperson told her if a Jewish, Christian, or Muslim person tells the public they are clergy, and their community accepts them as such, and their traditions accept them as such, there is no question. However, if a Pagan tells the state they are a priest or a reverend, the state demands proof of by a church body in order to accept them. She believes it’s unfair that a church organization can ordain a pastor, but a coven cannot ordain a priestess or reverend without being double checked.

While much of this attitude is part of a systemic problem of privilege by dominant religions toward those in the minority, she believes part of this is also because some Pagan clergy aren’t serious about their responsibility and are too casual about seeking out formal training.

“All clergy should know the laws of their state, and their articles of belief. Training in safeTALK, Mental Health First Aid, and other programs should be an ongoing learning,” said Davis. She believes that all Pagans who wish to take on the role of clergy need to be ready to assume all the duties and responsibilities of that role and that means being properly trained.

Responsibility and Training
Pagan clergy training runs the gamut from no training at all, self-training, and formal training by an organization. They may be ordained by a religious group or may not feel this is necessary for the duties they perform.

What training options are open to Pagans seeking to become clergy?

One of the only Pagan seminary currently operating is Cherry Hill Seminary. They offer a Masters in Pastoral Counseling, a Chaplaincy Master of Pagan Ministry, and A Community Ministry Certificate. The Community Ministry Certificate can then be used to apply for credentials through Sacred Well Congregation, an organization who recently became an Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Yet Pagans are taking other routes to becoming clergy.

Davis studied at Family Life Education at Spring Arbor College before she received her ordination through Universal Life Church. Neither the college nor the religious group through which she received her ordination are Pagan. She said there weren’t as many options back when she sought ordination.

Oberon Osiris went the self taught route, “My training was in the School of Experience, I learned by doing.” He said he began his counseling over 40 years ago as a tarot reader. After performing a few marriages, he began seeking out books specifically on counseling skills in the marriage and relationship field.

“Most couples I’ve married get that counseling and some work-ups and exercises on relationships as part of the package. I refuse to marry anyone I don’t know well enough to see how their relationship works.” Osiris said that he doesn’t often marry people anymore, but still keeps his credentials up to date and continues his self study.

Pagans wishing to become clergy can also take classes from programs such as Circle Sanctuary’s Ministry Training Program. This program takes a minimum of three years and includes distance training by telephone conference calls, online group discussions, one-on-one mentoring face-to-face, and more traditional classes at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve and Pagan Spirit Gathering.  After students complete training they can then apply for ordination through Circle Sanctuary.

Rev. Selena Fox, Founder of Circle Sanctuary, highlights that Circle Sanctuary’s clergy training includes teaching about Mandatory Reporting. Fox said that Rev. Dr. Paul Larson, psychologist and professor with The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, is among their Ministers who train students in this area.

[Photo Credit: Kelvin_Kevin/ GanFlickr]

[Photo Credit: Kelvin_Kevin/ GanFlickr]

Legal Considerations
Although state law can vary widely, in most states clergy of all types are considered mandatory reporters. Mandatory reporters are selected classes of people legally required to report suspected cases of abuse to government authorities.

Clergy are a special class of mandatory reporters. While most states do require them to report cases of suspected child abuse or suicidal behavior, the laws vary on if they are required to report suspected abuse of adults or self harm and possible suicide attempts by adults. Clergy are shielded in most states from lawsuits stemming from breaking confidentiality if they choose to report abuse or self harm, so guidelines will sometimes tell clergy “when in doubt, error on the side of reporting.” Knowing your state’s laws is vital.

Clergy are also always considered to be clergy. They are never considered regular citizens or just a friend or not on the clock. Persons don’t need to be in a recognized counselling session for their conversation to be protected by confidentiality laws and for the clergy member to under mandatory reporting laws.

Ethics of Profession
In Confidentiality and Mandatory Reporting: a Clergy Dilemma?, Rev. Marie M. Fortune explains that the profession is torn between the ethics of protecting people and the expectation of confidentiality in a spiritual setting.

But there is another set of ethical principles which enter into this discussion from a faith perspective. They have to do with one’s professional responsibility to victims of abuse. Within both Jewish and Christian traditions, there is the responsibility of the community to protect those in its midst who are vulnerable to harm.

Although this is usually talked about in the context of abuse, self harm can also be considered abuse within clergy circles and those experiencing suicidal thoughts may be categorized as vulnerable.

In the situation Rev. Davis encountered, Osiris said that he would have felt obligated to act, “I certainly would want to find out if they are being helped and by whom.” He stopped short of saying that he would have reported the situation to police.

Davis added that she feels saddened by having to execute what she felt was her duty. She said that while she is trained clergy she’s not a licensed counselor and felt proper authorities needed to assess the situation, “I think, no I know, that that is what I am supposed to be about. That, and being in the service of the Ones I committed to serve.”

Moral responsibility
Aside from the legal or ethical requirements of clergy, how are people to react when they see what appears to be a suicidal post on social media?

Experts suggest that you think the person is in imminent danger, dial 911. Have as much information about the person’s location as possible.

If the threat seems more vague, respond immediately with a brief, clear statement that offers help, such as the number to a suicide hotline. Then report the post to the social media platform. On Facebook, such a report alerts the Facebook’s safety team, which immediately sends an email to the user and starts a confidential online chat with a crisis worker. Your name won’t be shared with the user.

Experts also say to take every post that sounds suicidal seriously. Davis agrees, “I would rather have the hatred and derision of a living former friend than the good esteem of a dead one.”

Cherry Hill SeminaryCOLUMBIA, S.C. — Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) has announced the launch of a new Community Ministry Certificate. In partnership with the Sacred Well Congregation, the new 15-month program is designed to lead to ministerial credentials. The program covers such topics as ethics, leading ritual, diversity understanding, family dynamics, addiction and more.

As we previously reported, CHS has recently found itself at a crossroads. Director Holli Emore has said, “Unpredictable cash flow has compromised our ability to be sustainable. The nature of the extended Pagan community, the economy, and even the very face of higher education have all changed dramatically in the past decade.”

Despite that struggle, the organization is continuing operation, keeping its commitment to students. The new ministerial program is part of that work. In a press release, CHS notes that they never offered this type of training before because, as they explain, times were different: “Most people belonged to covens, and some of those leaders advised CHS founders of a concern that students would leave their home group if they got training elsewhere. Now a large percentage of Pagans surveyed say that they are either solitary by choice or unaffiliated with a group for other reasons. Finally, most tradition training does not cover the topics taught at a seminary.”

Registration for the new program begins in November. In meantime, CHS has just launched a new survey to help gather input “in planning [their] programs so that they can best meet [the community’s] needs.”

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heathercooperPARKERSBURG, W.Va — It was announced that the city council of Parkersburg had a change of heart and has lifted the ban on fortune telling. The reversal to the July decision came Tuesday, surprising many locals. Heather Cooper, who had initially challenged the law, was there to witness the vote, and told a local journalist, “I figured it would be passed, but when they finally said it was passed we weren’t really sure that it was passed. We figured there would be a lot more to it. So we were like what?”

As we previously reported in June, Cooper had discovered that fortune telling was banned in the city. As a result, she was unable to fully operate Hawthorn, her new metaphysical store that focused primarily on tarot reading. When she challenged the old code, the city council upheld the ban. At the time, Cooper pledged to fight, launching a GoFundMe campaign that ended up raising $500 to cover legal retaining fees.

Then, this past Tuesday, the ban was dropped. We caught up with Cooper, and she briefly explained what happened to change the city’s mind. “The ACLU wrote them a letter, telling them it was unconstitutional. Parkersburg lost a lawsuit the last time the ACLU was involved over panhandlers. [The city] lost $80,000. The city attorney told them they had to pass it.”

Cooper added that it helped that she had already hired a lawyer, saying, “[My lawyer] was also talking to other city council members. City councilman Brown decided to change his vote from no to yes, which got the ordinance back on the agenda. From there the ACLU did the rest of the convincing. Sounds like they can be quite persuasive.”

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TWHThe Wild Hunt has begun its  annual Fall Fund Drive. Since 2004, The Wild Hunt has been serving its global readership with modern Pagan news and commentary. What began as an informative, community-minded blog has slowly and steadily grown into one of the most widely-read nonprofit online news magazines for modern Pagans, Witches, Polytheists, and Heathens in the world. Today, our reliable, independent news agency is made up of a 16-member team of reporters, columnists, and editorial staff, all of whom make sure that you receive relevant, well-crafted, original content every day of the week.

During our annual Fall Fund Drive, we ask that you help us continue to do that; to continue to be here for you every single day. We are grateful for the support you have already shown that has allowed us to come as far as we have. With your continued support, we’ll do our best to repay your generosity by expanding and growing our delivery.

For more on our fall campaign, the exciting perks, our future goals, and other fun TWH facts, go to our newly launched IndieGoGo campaign. And, while you are there, consider donating today and sharing the link. Support independent, nonprofit, Pagan journalism!

In Other News:

  • Norse Mythology blogger Karl E. H. Seigfried recently sat down with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. In that interview, Seigfried and Stein discuss a number of very current issues, one of which is her awareness of non-Abrahamic religions. In response to one question, she said, in part, that one of our contemporary challenges is”to find our common humanity and overcome the sense of fear, otherness, and divisions by embracing each other as members of the same human family. We may tell different stories, but that’s okay. Different stories are enriching the traditions of us all.” The entire interview is published on The Norse Mythology Blog.
  • The California-based Academy of Arcana, launched last year by Oberon Zell and several colleagues, is continuing its quest for more funding. In recent letter, board member Emrys Dragonseye said, “I pen this letter to you with a heavy mind, for there comes a time in all our lives when we reflect back upon the path that has led us to where we are today […] Sadly, we have seen too many of our revered elders pass through the veil in recent years as age and its accompanying trials continue to erode their mortality.” Dragonseye goes on to say that the Academy of Arcana’s new board is working “toward the goal of seeking out a means by which to preserve the Zell’s museum and library collections of Pagan archives and artifacts.” The board is calling to the Pagan community for assistance. In a second letter directly to The Wild Hunt, Dragonseye confirmed that this call to action has nothing to do with Zell’s own health. He said that Zell “is doing fine,” and only “a bit disheartened at watching so many of loved ones, friends, and close associates pass away.”
  • The New Mexico-based Ardantane Learning Center will be hosting a “Hate Crimes” two-part lecture series featuring Kerr Cuhulain. The event page explains, “People use misinformation to paint ugly and slanderous pictures of others to further their pursuit of power, influence, and prosperity. Kerr shares the lessons he learned dealing with hate crimes during the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s and his experiences with educating law enforcement and other public agencies about Pagan religions. This course is based on Kerr’s 25 years as a hate crimes investigator.” The two classes will be available online Oct. 16 and 23.

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  • Rev. Patrick McCollum and his work were recently featured in The Interfaith Observer. Written by Ruth Boyde Sharone, the article is titled, “An Instrument of Thy Peace” and focuses on his violin in advance of the upcoming UN International Day of Peace, Sept. 21. McCollum told The Wild Hunt, “I am so honored to have my work selected to represent this momentous occasion, and I hope to continue to shift the consciousness of the world to a new meta-narrative that promotes the truth that we are all family and that there isn’t an us versus them, there is only us.”
  • The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, located in Boscastle, England, will reportedly appear in a future episode of “Antiques Roadshow.” Museum managers Judith and Peter Hewitt took one of the artifacts to the show’s nearby filming event in hopes of it being used for the “Enigma Game.” The item was chosen and filmed for reportedly five minutes with the Hewitts in the background. The museum has posted several photos and more about that experience on its site.
  • In response to the continued actions and support for the Great Sioux Nation and the Standing Rock protests, blogger Melissa Hill felt compelled to publish her thoughts about the place of magic and meditation in this work. In Singing the Cricket Song for Standing Rock Tribe, Hill wrote, “[Magic] in no way replaces the physical work of the protesters. It doesn’t replace sending money and supplies, or contacting your governmental representatives, or signing petitions. But it does have a place.”

If you have news tips, events, or story suggestions, contact us.

Review: Blair Witch (2016)

Heather Greene —  September 18, 2016 — 3 Comments

TWH – In 1994, three student filmmakers walked off into the dense woods near Burkettsville, Maryland in hopes of a discovering the truth behind a local legend. They were never heard from again. One year later, their equipment was found, and the footage became the film The Blair Witch Project (1999). This weekend, the story continues in a new film, with the brother of one of the lost filmmakers traveling to the mysterious Black Hills of Maryland in hopes of learning exactly what happened 22 years ago.

Or so the story goes.

official-bw-poster

While the Blair Witch project did begin in earnest 1994, the entire film venture is manufactured, including the plot, the legend, the town, the footage, and even the made-for-television, promotional mockumentary, titled Curse of the Blair Witch (1999). Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, The Blair Witch Project was an indie success, a technical novelty, and a marker of its time. According to a Fortune magazine article, the film cost $60,000 to make, and earned $1.5 million at the box office on the first weekend, while only in 27 theaters. [i]

Outside of the early buzz created by the SyFy Channel’s pre-release of the mockumentry, The Blair Witch Project captured the imagination of a viewership already engrossed with supernatural or paranormal entertainment vehicles (e.g., X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, So Weird, Ancient Mysteries). In addition, new technology was quickly eliminating barriers to indie filmmaking, making the film’s concept very possible.

This new digital medium, far more than its analog counterpart, also increasingly allowed for the construction and the reconstruction of recorded reality, leaving much room for the manipulation of our nonfictional storytelling. What is real and what has been falsified? Can we trust what we see in photos and film? In that way, The Blair Witch Project at its very essence captured not only its own time, but also what was to come. It seemed to be a doorway into the new millennium of how we tell our stories.

The breakout success of the original Blair Witch Project led to a 2000 sequel, titled Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which was directed by Joe Berlinger. However, the sequel, costing $10 million, was unsuccessful, failing to capture the original’s grit or poignancy. Hard-core fans and reviewers often remark that they would simply like to forget that the second film even happened. In 2000, New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden had some kinder words for the film, but added, “For all its clever notions, ‘Book of Shadows’ often seems more like a montage of pasted-together images than a coherent horror story.” [ii]

With the end of the witch film cycle at hand and the poor showing of the second film, this seemed to be the end for The Blair Witch Project. However, in 2016, as witch films have made a return to the screen, so has the Blair Witch.

Before going forward, this review will discuss some, not all, details of the new film. If you haven’t seen it, you can stop here. However, with that said, neither The Blair Witch Project nor Blair Witch are heavily dependent on plot elements for enjoyment. In other words, even if you know what is going to happen, your viewing experience won’t necessarily be spoiled. Both films operate as journeys, and the tension is created in the process and not the story itself. It is analogous to riding a roller coaster. No matter how many times, or in what detail, a friend tells you about roller coaster, the experience of riding can never be spoiled. That is how both The Blair Witch Project and Blair Witch work.

In this new film, Jason, the brother of lost filmmaker Heather, seeks to find the truth of what happened in 1994. He is accompanied by a friend and indie filmmaker Lisa, his best friend Peter and Peter’s girlfriend, Ashley. When arriving in Burkettsville, Maryland, the group meets up with locals Lane and Talia, who accompany them into the woods. From there the search begins.

Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, Blair Witch (2016) is structured identically to the original. It is more of the same, from character introductions, through equipment gathering and travel, to the trek into the woods. Once in the Black Hills, like its predecessor, the film progresses through a slow buildup of a tension, making use of the film’s medium and documentary approach (e.g., extreme close-ups, quick cuts, movement, and point of view).

In many ways, it’s a repeat with new characters and contemporary technology. And like the original, we are trapped in the cameras, which for this film have been increased in number. This visual claustrophobia mirrors the characters’ mounting fears. You might find yourself frustrated and tense, asking, “What is going on?” While it serves the purpose well for most of the film, there are points where it becomes a detriment.

But as much as Blair Witch mirrors its parent, the two are not the same. The new film spends less time focused on the investigation, or legend-tripping, and more time enjoying the horror. The original film worked through a slow buildup to its end. The new film jumps quickly into its terror points, moving ever faster from one to other and slowing down only to enjoy itself once there. For example, the narrative stops fully to indulge in the removal of a wound’s bandage, emphasizing the experience of disgust with the heightened sound of what seems to be wound and ooze.

Additionally, Blair Witch makes a few interesting attempts at layered characterizations, moreso than the original. For example, when the four friends enter Lane and Talia’s living room, they find a confederate flag hangs on the wall. From presumably Jason’s camera view, we watch Peter, who is black, look at the flag and then turn back to the camera. His disgusted expression is poignant and unmistakable. Minutes later the four are outside and Jason asks whether they should take Lane and Talia on the trek. Without a pause, Peter says emphatically, “No,” and his facial expression once again says it all. Unfortunately, the film abandons these clever indulgences in characterization as soon as it takes up its horror role.

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Lionsgate “Blair Witch” (2016)

But what about the Blair Witch herself? This is another point where the film deviates from its parent. As noted earlier, the original narrative was presented as a legend-tripping experience, with the object of fear being only an archetype that lives within our collective culture consciousness. She is the Baba Yaga figure, the monster in the woods. But is she real? The first film leaves that answer to the imagination.

Blair Witch moves in a different direction, offering viewers an answer to that very question. There is in fact an object. There is a monster. Although it is not visually made clear, this thing in the woods is called the Blair Witch and gendered as female. “Don’t look at her directly and she won’t hurt you,” says Lisa. With that definition, the monster becomes, in earnest, the old woman in the woods, a symbol of primal fear and that which is unattainable and wild. The new film leaves no question as to the existence of the monster.

This age-old archetype of Baba Yaga or the wild woman in the woods pervades American witch films across the decades. Woman’s power is equated to that which is naturally wild and uncontrollably dangerous. In Orson Welles’ Macbeth (1948), the influence of the weird sisters and that Lady Macbeth are visually juxtaposed to leafless trees, storms, rocks and night sky. In the 1987 film, The Witches of Eastwick (1987), the devil, portrayed by Jack Nicholson, angrily asks a congregation if God made a mistake when creating woman. Then he says, “When we make a mistake, it’s called evil. When God makes a mistake it’s called nature.” But even more recently, Roger Eggers’ The Witch uses the very Baba Yaga archetype found in Blair Witch as a counter to the severity of social control present in early Puritan America. In these examples, woman is nature, and nature is magic, and it is all uncontrollable.

While the story is pervasive in western society, it doesn’t always sit well with modern Witchcraft practitioners due chiefly to the religious implications placed on it by Christian theology. In fact, Berlinger’s Book of Shadows included Erica, a Wiccan character who was unhappy with the first film’s portrayal of the witch.

In reality, modern Witches have had a mixed response to the Blair Witch films, as often is the case. In 1999, blogger Peg Aloi spoke with directors Myrick and Sánchez about the archetype. Myrick said, “We never meant to say anything bad about Witches in general.” The use of the witch was just a reason to “get the kids out there.” It was a plot device or what Myrick called “a triggering mechanism.” The original film was essentially mimicking the popular teenage legend-tripping experience, which can be horrifying in and of itself. As Sanchez remarks, “It has nothing to do with witches.”[iii]

The original directors were, in fact, very conscious of modern Paganism. They included a bit on Wicca in their promotional mockumentary. Among the other “footage,” they inter-spliced segments from a fake 1971 film called “Mystic Experiences.” Aside from its use of the term Wiccanism as a name for the religion, this segment, which allegedly featured a real Witch, is as authentic feeling as any other piece of the mockumentary.

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Still From: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

However, as noted earlier, the new Blair Witch takes the archetype into a different place, well beyond the surreal experience of legends, ghost stories, and the imagination. Here, although mostly visually obscured, “the witch” is a real object of some kind. This monster is not derived simply in the mind, from centuries of legends and a collective fear of the woods. It is there. It is real, and it is described to us, through the characters and their collective cultural understanding, as being female.

While the film’s many embedded traditional horror elements, like this manifested monster, may bother some fans, the new film could not have functioned in the same way as the original. Part of its success was in the confusion as to what aspects of the story were real, and what were constructed. The suggestion of reality added to the original’s terror.

Now we know the story.

For a successful 2016 reboot, Blair Witch needed to find a new terror device to take the place of that tension. It chose classic visual and audible horror tropes, like jump-moments, gore, bodies, intense sounds, thunderstorms, tight shots, obscured imagery, and a very classic manifested horror monster.

The new story is about the witch, and it will continue to be so if there is another journey. The franchise has no choice…for better or worse.

While the many classic horror details are not, in and of themselves, disappointing or distracting, they do give Blair Witch a different feel and speed than the original film. Hard core fans, as noted earlier, might be disappointed with that shift. For others, it may be a plus.

No, Blair Witch does not (and could not) have the technological ingenuity of the original, and it will not hold the same cultural significance. However, despite any flaws and differences, it is a well-structured horror film that moves through its thin story and delivers on entertainment. Many viewers will enjoy going back to the Black Hills again in search for the truth, which in the end is apparently out there.

*    *    *

[i] Carvell, Tim. “How The Blair Witch Project Built Up So Much Buzz Movie Moguldom on a Shoestring.” Fortune Magazine. (Aug. 16, 1999)
[ii] Holden, Stephen. “Burkittsville Revisited, With More Mind Games.” Rev. of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Dir. Joe Berlinger. New York Times (Oct 27, 2000)
[iii] Aloi, Peg. “Blair Witch Project: an interview with directors.” Witchvox, (July 11, 1999)

Column: Tupac Amaru Shakur

Heathen Chinese —  September 17, 2016 — 4 Comments

Twenty years ago, on Sept. 7, 1996, the rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur was shot in Las Vegas at the age of 25. He is reported to have died in the hospital six days later, on Sept. 13. Conspiracy theories abound that his death was staged and that he is still alive and in hiding. But while the line between death and life may seem absolute to secularists, death doesn’t mean the same thing to polytheists and spirit workers, for whom “there is no death, only a change of worlds.”¹

Whether or not he is currently embodied, Tupac’s legacy is undeniable. From Los Angeles to Rio De Janeiro, he is honored as an ancestor. For ancestry is not merely biological, but relational: one becomes an ancestor by being honored by one’s descendants.

Ipanema, Rio De Janeiro [Marycsalome / Flickr]

Rio De Janeiro [Marycsalome / Flickr]

To better understand Tupac as an ancestor, it is instructive to look at the lineages that he is a descendant of. We start not with his parents, but with his name. Many cultures recognize the power of names, from the Egyptian myth of Isis and Ra to the German fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin. There is, moreover, a particular power in the passing down of names from generation to generation.

Two examples from Icelandic sagas are particularly striking in this regard. In Svarfdaela Saga, H. Lauer writes, “Thorolfr promises to pass his good hamingja (luck or power) on to any son of his brother who should be named Thorolfr; it is this or else Thorolfr’s name risks passing ‘out of use like withered grass.’”² In Vatnsdaela Saga, the desire to pass one’s name down is not limited to one’s own family, but even extended into the family of one’s enemy. The warrior Jokull lies dying on the battlefield, and asks a final boon from his killer: “not to let my name pass away…if a son be granted to you or to your son.”³ While every tradition is different, the name “Tupac Amaru” contains an especially rich history of being passed down through the centuries.

Túpac Amaru: I Feel Like Pac For Real

The first Túpac Amaru was the last of the Incan emperors. His brother submitted to Catholic baptism and Spanish rule, but Túpac Amaru refused to do so, and was beheaded by the Spanish in 1573. Túpac Amaru II claimed to be a descendant of Túpac Amaru and adopted that name when he led an indigenous revolt in Peru in 1780. He, too, was drawn, quartered and beheaded. In the twentieth century, several South American leftist guerrilla groups such as the Tupamaros in Uruguay (founded 1963) and the MRTA in Peru (founded 1983) named themselves after Túpac Amaru II.

A similar thread can be found in Chinese history, where several millenarian Daoist movements claimed to be led by reincarnations of Li Hong:

A great many charismatic leaders came from the Li family, and certain of them claimed to be the god Laozi returned to earth; a sage of western China, Li Hong, who had actually lived during the 1st century BCE, became the favourite recurrent figure of later would-be messiahs. […] The last recorded Li Hong was executed in 1112.

Nor is this phenomenon limited to Latin America and China. This year, after the police killing of Alton Sterling, the rapper Young Buck released a song entitled “Riot,” which begins with a vocal sample from Tupac: “I would rather tell a young black male to educate his mind, arm yourself and be free and defend yourself, than you know, just sit there and turn the other cheek. So whatever message that sends out, that’s the kinda message it is.” Young Buck then says, “I mean I feel like Pac for real in this bitch today bruh.” And on the song, “Fuck Donald Trump,” Nipsey Hu$$le directly quotes Tupac’s “To Live & Die in L.A.,” rapping in favor of brown and black unity, “It wouldn’t be the USA without Mexicans […] Black love, brown pride and the sets again.” Tupac Shakur thus acts in today’s struggles in the United States in a similar fashion as Li Hong did in the first millennium CE, Túpac Amaru I did in the 1780s, and Túpac Amaru II did in the late 20th century.

Tupac’s first and middle names tie him to a lineage of remembrance and revolt in the Western Hemisphere. But why was he given these names in the first place?

Tupac Amaru I [Public Domain]

Tupac Amaru I [Public Domain]

Shakur: It Goes Down my Family Tree

Tupac was born to a family of militant black revolutionaries, the Shakurs or “thankful ones.” In an interview, Tupac stated that “I like to think that at every opportunity I’ve ever been threatened with resistance, it’s been met with resistance. And not only me but it goes down my family tree. You know what I’m saying, it’s in my veins to fight back.”4 He was not exaggerating when he spoke these words.

Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, was a member of the New York chapter of the Black Panther party. While pregnant with Tupac in 1969, she was a defendant in the Panther 21 case, in which twenty-one Black Panther party members were accused of conspiring to assassinate police officers and blow up buildings including police stations. In 1971, the Panther 21 were acquitted of all charges.

In 1982, when Tupac was ten years old, his stepfather Mutulu Shakur was indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) law on charges relating to “participation in a clandestine paramilitary unit that carried out actual and attempted expropriations from several banks” between December 1976 and October 1981 including a 1981 Brink’s armored truck robbery as well as the 1979 prison break of Assata Shakur. Mutulu went underground for nearly five years, was captured in 1986, convicted in 1988, and is still serving a 60-year sentence. Tupac’s song “White Man’s World” was “dedicated to my motherfuckin teachers Mutulu Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, Mumia Abu Jamal, Sekou Odinga, all the real O.G.’s.”

Assata Shakur is Tupac’s godmother. She was imprisoned for the 1973 killing of a police officer, but escaped in 1979 and moved to Cuba. Sekou Odinga, who was also part of the Panther 21 case along with Afeni, and who, like Mutulu, was convicted of RICO charges relating to the Brink’s robbery and Assata’s liberation, is the father of Yaki Akiyele Fula. Yaki rapped as Kadafi in the the Outlawz, the rap group founded by Tupac in 1995.

The dedication of “White Man’s World” shows that these family connections and relationships were important to Tupac, and that adoptive kinship was just as important as biological. The political consciousness of his elders is also apparent in Tupac’s lyrics, in which he raps such lines as, “‘It’s time to fight back,’ that’s what Huey said/Two shots in the dark, now Huey’s dead” (Changes) and “Malcolm X or Bobby Hutton died for nothin'” (Ghetto Gospel). These lines, of course, reflect the pessimism of Tupac’s generation regarding the failed efforts of their predecessors. Therein lies an inescapable truth: we are all shaped and molded by our parents and ancestors, but we all have our own paths to forge, and we choose how to carry our lineages forward. Tupac’s deliberate choice to honor his Shakur family legacy was an integral part of his path.

Mutulu Shakur [Public Domain]

Mutulu Shakur [Public Domain]

That’s Why We Go to Thug Mansion

Given the complex web of ancestry that any individual is descended from and comprised of, it makes sense for that complexity to be retained after death. Tupac’s lyrics posit quite a few possible afterlives. In “Only God Can Judge Me,” Tupac raps, “My only fear of death/Is comin’ back to this bitch reincarnated.” In “Thugz Mansion” he speculates that “Ain’t no heaven for a thug nigga/That’s why we go to thug mansion,” a place reminiscent of the ancient Greek Isle of the Blessed, where one can enjoy the company of such individuals as Billie Holiday, Malcolm X and Latasha Harlins. On the cover of his final album recorded before his shooting, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, Tupac, now rapping under the name Makaveli, depicts himself crucified like Jesus.

To some, these may seem like irreconcilable possibilities. Many polytheist and animist traditions, however, believe in multiple souls or in the multi-part soul. Chinese tradition, for example, contains the concepts of the shén (神), the hún (魂, which itself may be three entities) and the pò (魄, which may be seven entities), all of which are distinct from concepts such as jīng () and qì (). The ancient Egyptians conceived of people being comprised of multiple parts as well: “the main constituents were the body, its ka, and its name which remained always in close proximity to each other even in the tomb, and the shadow, the ba, sahu and akh.”

Furthermore, in the realm of practice, multiple eschatologies can coexist simultaneously. In China, for example, Buddhist beliefs in reincarnation have coexisted with traditional ancestor veneration practices for millennia. The multiple-soul theory provides one possible explanation for how this may work on the other side. Even within ancestor veneration, the existence of both grave-tending and ancestor shrines and temples suggest that a distinction is made between the soul attached to the physical body and the ancestral soul. We see in Tupac’s lyrics the possibilities of a soul that is reincarnated (which in some traditions is seen as a neutral fact, in others as something to transcend), one that dwells in the heroic paradise known as Thug Mansion, and perhaps even one that undergoes resurrection and apotheosis. There is also the aforementioned name of Tupac Amaru, which in Icelandic tradition would be linked with the hamingja of Túpac Amaru I, and the familial Shakur ancestral soul.

For a poet like Tupac, there is always the poetic immortality that one finds in the “everlasting glory” promised to Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, in Catullus, and in Shakespeare. In Kendrick Lamar’s song “Mortal Man,” he carefully alternates quotes from Tupac’s interviews with his own words, creating through bricolage a conversation between himself and Tupac. As he speaks to Tupac, Kendrick identifies himself as “one of your offspring of the legacy you left behind.” In another song, “Black Friday,” Kendrick declares that he will personally “make sure [Tupac] lives on.” Poetry brings another level of elevation to the dead altogether.

[George Hannz D / Wikimedia]

[George Hannz D / Wikimedia]

We Just Letting our Dead Homies Tell Stories

Tupac is most famous for his musical career, but in his own words, rapping was always a spirit-guided act: “Because the spirits, we ain’t even really rappin’, we just letting our dead homies tell stories for us.”5 And in “Ghetto Gospel,” he rapped, “God isn’t finished with me yet/I feel His hand on my brain/When I write rhymes I go blind and let the Lord do his thing.”

In his essay “The Head of Orpheus,” published in Scarlet Imprint’s Mandragora: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poesis, Michael Routery writes that like Hesiod receiving the breath of inspiration from the Muses on Mount Helicon, in traditional societies “around the world poets were seen as inspired by gods, spirits and the dead, and conduits of a world of transpersonal memory, and prophecy.” Clearly, Tupac’s quotes fit well into this framework of spirit-inspired poetry, and songs like “Pour Out a Little Liquor” exist within a much more widespread street culture of remembering and libating the dead.

Routery’s naming of both memory and prophecy as poetic functions is deliberate, for “among many primal, archaic and indigenous peoples the poet and prophet were combined, or perhaps better to say unseparated.” Some of Tupac’s words have a prophetic ring to them as well, though as P.E. Easterling writes in her introduction to Sophocles’s Trachiniae, “the special characteristic of oracles” is that “they represent a glimpse of the truth which can only be properly understood when the events they foretell take place” (3).

In an interview, for example, Tupac predicted black insurgencies paralleling that led by Nat Turner:

I think that niggas is tired of grabbin’ shit out the stores and next time it’s a riot there’s gonna be, like, uh, bloodshed for real. I don’t think America know that. I think American think we was just playing and it’s gonna be some more playing but it ain’t gonna be no playing. It’s gonna be murder, you know what I’m saying, it’s gonna be like Nat Turner, 1831, up in this muthafucka.6

Whether this prophecy will be fulfilled or not remains to be seen, but for now, his words serve merely as a “glimpse of the truth” that cannot yet be properly understood.

[$amii / Flickr]

[Image Credit: $amii / Flickr]

T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.

Tupac is also known for promulgating a standard of behavior for gangsters known as the Code of T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., which his step-father Mutulu Shakur is said to have helped write. The code sought to mitigate the effects of drug dealing with prohibitions on selling drugs to children and pregnant women and to reduce violence towards those not involved in criminal activity. At the same time, it was an attempt to embrace the derogatory word “thug” in a manner similar to religious and spiritual practitioners’ reclamations of the terms “Witch,” “Pagan,” and “Heathen.”

The term “thug” is derived from the Hindi “thag,” which literally means “to cheat,” but according to Kim Wagner’s article “The Deconstructed Stranglers: A Reassessment of Thuggee,” it could mean either a conman or a violent robber in precolonial India (943). Under British colonial rule in the 1830s, the term “thuggee” was used to specifically describe a particular form of robbery in which bandits “attacked travelers on the high road using trickery or deception” and in which the victims were strangled (942), and a campaign was launched to suppress thuggee. Thuggee was also said to be a form of Kali worship, and the murders by strangulation were allegedly carried out as human sacrifices.

Wagner casts doubt upon this narrative on the grounds that “there is no mention whatsoever of thuggee as a religious practice in the material predating […] the campaign to eradicate thuggee,” and argues that “ordinary dacoits in 19th century India, who were never assumed to be motivated by religious fervor, would also hold a ceremony or puja after a successful robbery and make votive offerings to a deity” (953). While her article is focused on deconstructing and reassessing the image of the thug constructed by the British, this particular quote also suggests that religious offerings were indeed the norm for bandits, which is in and of itself and interesting area of study.

Wagner suggests that the conflation of thuggee with extreme religious devotion was an example of confirmation bias, and also of a deliberate legitimization of thuggee on those interrogated by the British who may have been sympathetic to thuggee:

The extreme interest in the subject exhibited by the British prompted the informers to rethink their religious identity. When the approvers promulgated thuggee as a religious practice in worship of Devi they were legitimizing their actions and practices, which conferred a higher moral and social status to the thugs, setting them aside from ‘ordinary’ criminals. (954)

Interestingly, Tupac’s Code of T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. essentially sought to do the same thing, to distinguish thugs from “ordinary criminals.” Tupac said in an interview: “Yes, I am gonna say that I’m a thug. That’s because I came from the gutter and I’m still here. I’m not saying I’m a thug because I wanna rob you and rape people.”

[Public Domain]

Thugs about to strangle a traveler [Public Domain]

Problematic Ancestors

Unfortunately, despite being one of the few rappers to express moderately pro-feminist sentiments in his songs and interviews, Tupac himself fell far short of his claims. In 1995, he was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse.

Let us be clear about this. Rape, abuse, and all apologia for and minimization of such acts are categorically unacceptable.

The practice of ancestor veneration does not change that position in the slightest. But the question of problematic ancestors must nevertheless be confronted. When Tupac declared, “only God can judge me now,” was he ready for his god to call his bluff?

The concept of multiple souls allows for the possibility that there are souls that undergo judgment of some sort and then receive the consequences of their actions. In the Egyptian conception of multiple souls, for example, the heart (F34, jb) is weighed after death by Anubis against the feather of Ma’at. If too heavy, it is devoured by Ammit. Furthermore, in the case of particularly hated individuals such as the monotheist pharaoh Akhenaton, human descendants would destroy inscriptions containing that individual’s name and their very memory. The Roman senate is also known to have enacted similar decrees against despised emperors and would-be emperors, a practice that in modern times was given the name damnatio memoriae. And if one honors one’s ancestors as collectives, it may well be that particularly problematic individuals have been removed from that collective by its other members.

Not all conceptions of afterlife judgment and punishment are the same. In Chinese Buddhism, when souls go to Dìyù (地獄), they are tortured for their crimes by the Ten Kings (十王, shíwáng), but the tenth and final king “turns the wheel of transmigration that carries the dead to their new existences as either gods, human beings on earth or in hell, good or bad demons, or animals.” In other words, in this particular tradition, the torture is not an eternal punishment, but a form of purification akin to Catholic purgatory.

Just as Catholics perform masses for the dead in order to “help the departed souls undergoing purification” in purgatory, so can ancestor work be done to help the dead within polytheist and animist traditions. The particular details of how this works vary greatly from tradition to tradition. Within the hypothesis of multiple souls, it may be the ancestral soul that is uplifted and elevated by ancestor work, while other souls or soul-parts are affected to differing degrees. There may be purifications or retributions that must be undergone and cannot be affected by the living at all. None of this should be taken to “cancel out” or minimize the effects of harm caused to others during one’s lifetime. Once the stone has been cast into the water, sticking one’s hand in the water to stop the ripples and pretend the stone was never thrown is impossible.

On the other hand, in “The Fire Is Here,” I quoted James Baldwin about “the crime that is committed until it is accepted that it was committed.” Like the curse on the descendants of Tantalos, which manifested as kinslaying in successive generations from the fratricide of Atreus to the matricide of Orestes, the crimes committed by one’s ancestors weigh upon the descendants and seek, vampire-like, to be recommitted and brought into the world in yet another incarnation. In these cases, the best form of ancestor work is to “put the souls of your ancestors at peace,” as the Chinese god Guan Sheng Di Jun advises, “by doing good.” In other words, to break the cycle in one’s own generation.

In “Tupac’s Law: Incarceration and the Crisis of Black Masculinity,” Seneca Vaught wrote that one of Tupac’s “greatest personal shortcomings was the inability to leave the “plantation of maleness,” a mentality that clinical psychologist Na’im Akbar (1991) characterized in Visions For Black Men” (89). Tupac Shakur’s descendants can never erase his shortcomings, but they can try to overcome those shortcomings in themselves, to themselves escape and destroy the “plantation of maleness.”

Weighing of the Heart, Book of the Dead. [Public Domain]

Weighing of the Heart, Book of the Dead. [Public Domain]

Endnotes

  1. Attributed to Chief Seattle.
  2. “Death, Dreaming and Memory” by H. Lauer, quoted in “Arguments in Favor of Universalist Heathenry” by Heimlich A. Laguz.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Sampled on Kendrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man.”
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
*   *   *
The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

The Polytheist community is vast. Cultures around the world celebrate versions of polytheistic worship and commune with the Gods as a way of life. Modern polytheistic practices are just as wide of a range as in any other time in history. There are many contextual differences, nuances, cultures, beliefs, stories, and practices that fall under a very large umbrella of Polytheism.

[Wikipedia]

[from Wikimedia]

The strength of any community is enhanced and yet challenged by the variety of diversity it faces. How we see worship, who we worship, how we engage in community worship, how we are inspired to worship; all things that can encapsulate the myriad differences that play a role within any snapshot of the Polytheistic community.

The complexity and variety of practice is what brought the My Polytheism project to creation. Writer and polytheist Jolene Dawe started working on this project in August of this year, which has unfolded to include many different writings and reflections from people within the Polytheist community that are speaking about their personal version of Polytheism.

I was quite drawn in by the creativity and variety of the posts on the site because they showed so many different interpretations and practices within this community. The myriad nuances that can be rooted within any practice create a vital context to the very connection one has with the Gods, their practice, community, and their place within it. I can relate to this concept because of the many different aspects in my own practice that are outside of the “norm” within greater community expectations. My personal culture plays a big role in my own brand of Polytheism.

There have always been many attempts, whether over the internet or in person at festivals, to clarify what acceptable Polytheism is. The ongoing desire to define modern Paganism and Polytheism is nothing new, and sometimes that is accompanied by judgement and the creation of normative values focusing on who fits inside of the circle and who does not. Communities often focus on differences as a way to identify parameters and cultivate shared social standards. These very differences and nuances also push people into the margins of a community and can lead to ridicule, feelings of isolation, and additional challenges that come with being right outside of the lines of acceptable culture.

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And for all of these reasons, I decided to turn to Jolene Dawe and speak with her about the motivation and drive to create what has become #MyPolytheism.

Crystal Blanton: In creating the My Polytheism site and concept, did you think that it would call to so many people?

Jolene Dawe: I cannot emphasis ‘no’ enough, here. The site started as a place for me to gather links that I didn’t want to lose, when people started writing their own #mypolytheism posts in response/inspired by mine. One day, someone was wrong on the internet, and I got annoyed. Those responses were heartening.

I’ve been blogging about my path for awhile, and I do get people reaching out to me regularly, who are put off by the debate style that passes for community building in the louder section of the Pagan blogosphere, who don’t want their paths or experiences picked apart, who are tired of hearing that they’re wrong somehow. As there’s been more and more talk about this so-called Polytheist Movement, I realized that, you know, phrasing it like that, as if there’s some collective movement around whose tenets people agree, is misleading.

Because My Polytheism has zero interest in deciding if others are ‘doing polytheism right.’ The idea of there being some homogeneous polytheism tradition, where one must approach the gods through appropriate people, really turns me off. The looking back to how ancient polytheism was, with some rose colored glasses, as if that’s something to bring forward . . . no, thank you, but no. I don’t want a state-sanctioned polytheist approach. I’m female; would I have been allowed to devote myself to Poseidon for life, if we existed under a polytheist world since antiquity? Because, I doubt it.

So, My Polytheism came about in part because of that — can we maybe stop arguing about who’s ‘doing it wrong’ and instead maybe share what it is that we’re doing? Can we move away from wanting contemporary polytheism to be rooted in sameness — in where we hold the gods in the ordering of society, in how we think of them, in how we worship — and instead maybe root it in hospitality? I’m weary of it being acceptable to tear into people online, because “they’re nice in person” — which is a refrain I heard all the time during my years interacting with heathens on the east coast, in person. Can we be kind to one another? Can we stop pretending that personal attacks because you don’t agree with someone is acceptable? Can we admit that the perennial debates are going to keep happening, and not everyone needs to be a theologian, or a scholar, or even just want to debate. Can we please, please, move beyond this stage?

I did not know My Polytheism was going to become a project, when it went live. It was really supposed to be this depository of links, for my own ease of reference. Clearly, I was wrong.

CB: What do you feel that My Polytheism adds to the idea of community and the culture of modern Polytheism?

Jolene Dawe

Jolene Dawe [Courtesy Photo]

JD: Off the top of my head? A safe space to share, where the authors of the various essays/blog posts get to determine how they engage with others. It’s been criticized that because My Polytheism does not allow debate on the site, that it’s anti-debate. It’s not. I’m not. What I am, though, is against the idea that people are obligated to participate in debates, that they somehow owe anyone else an explanation as to why their experiences are as they are. I’m not going to provide one more space for people to attack someone. If you want to talk to one of the contributors about what they have to say, you need to go to their blogs and comment to them directly. They then get to decide if they want to engage with you or not. It’s completely up to them.

I think My Polytheism also increases visibility of the diversity with contemporary polytheism. I want it to. I hope it does. I do know that already people have found others whose work they may not have found otherwise — I’ve ‘met’ a ton of new people I didn’t know of before, that’s for sure. There are so many people who have felt alone, or in the minority, and I think My Polytheism is helping to challenge that. Certainly, having examples of the different ways a polytheist life might look is a positive thing.

Another thing about My Polytheism is that — yeah, I’m the curator of sorts, in that I’m maintaining the space — but it is nothing without the contributions of other polytheists. In that way. it’s a collective effort. My Polytheism is ours. It wouldn’t work any other way, because I really do not care about telling people how to be. I want to share what I do, and I want to know what you do, because I’m nosey, and because I’m curious, and because I find this all fascinating, and because I find it inspiring. I like stories. I want to hear yours. You know?

CB: Sometimes bridge work can be difficult in any community. What would you want to emphasize about My Polytheism to those may not understand the need for safe space within the modern Polytheism community?

JD: I’d like them to pause and consider that, if they don’t feel a need for a safe space within the modern Polytheism community, it might be because they have the privilege of not needing it, and that this does not mean others do not. I know ‘privilege’ is something of a buzzword these days, but it’s necessary to confront this: people want safe spaces. I’d argue that they need them. Not everyone can tackle issues in the same manner, whatever those issues are, and they shouldn’t be expected to.

I want community, I even want in-person community, but I don’t want just anyone. I want the people that are going to nourish me, who are going to encourage me. Beyond that, I don’t want people to feel they cannot approach their gods because of whatever reason. Because they can’t leave their houses, because they don’t *want* to leave their houses, because they’re not able-bodied, because they’re not comfortable in their skin, because their would-be communities are intent on telling them why they can’t be involved with the powers they’re involved with, because of their skin color or their gender orientation or their sexual preference, or a host of other reasons. We need safe space within the modern Polytheism community because modern polytheists are asking for it, are responding to it. You don’t have to understand. You don’t have to want to contribute to it — but you don’t get to decide what other people want or need .You do not get to decide how other people want to build community.

My Polytheism is not a place for everyone, and it’s not trying to be. There is the whole of the Internet to debate and attack and criticize. If that’s all you’re after, in community building, you’re going to have to go elsewhere. And, because I know there are those out there who love to send hateful and abusive private messages and emails, I’ve also made it clear that any sent my way about this topic are to be considered submissions for publication, because they will go live. So far, I haven’t gotten any. Which maybe isn’t the best way to build bridges, but I’m not interested in building bridges with people who only want to tear others down.

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When reaching out to Jolene about this project and its subsequent impact, I also decided to reach out to several of the people whose pieces were published on the website. What motivated them to write about their brand of Polytheism? What inspires their reflection of Polytheism? What hope did they have in sharing this with others?

Their answers are just as diverse and layered as the makeup of our community.

I was motivated to write an entry for #mypolytheism because I know I’m deviating from the “mainstream” ideas of Paganism and Polytheism with my practice. There’s a lot of gatekeeping in the wider online community, ideas of how things should be done in order to be correct, which can be demoralizing for those of us who can’t seem to find a home in the established Pagan and Polytheist religions. Personally, I take the stance of a Chaos Magician, in that what is correct… is what works. And that may not be the same for everyone; each person needs to experiment and see what works for them. And it’s likely to be a continuing work in progress.

I wanted to be part of something that strives to show everyone who is doing things a little different that we’re not alone. And I wanted to be part of showing the gatekeepers that we are just as valid and active as they are, no lectures required. We’re all doing our own thing, and it’s beautiful, and awesome, and amazing. By being able to share what we’re doing with each other, we’re sharing ideas, and helping each other.

Maybe someone in Russia is doing something really interesting someone in California might like to try out. Maybe new and more dynamic and inclusive religions and traditions can grow out of solitaries sharing information, and maybe not. I know there’s already a new community of support that’s grown out of the movement, for Pagan and Polytheist monastics, and it’s so exciting to see everyone talking, and so many people saying “I’ve been interested in this for *years* and never knew anyone else was interested!” It’s wonderful to see so many people connecting and sharing ideas. I don’t know if that would have happened without #mypolytheism. – Celestine

Alley Valkyrie [Courtesy Photo]

Alley Valkyrie [Courtesy Photo]

I was motivated on two levels. One was the increasingly rigid definitions that were being put out there by self-styled “leaders” about what polytheism is and isn’t supposed to be. I felt that those ideas were very limiting and excluding of many people and practices, and that they failed to accurately capture the diversity of ideas and ways within polytheism.

The other motivation was those who had already put their reflections out under the #mypolytheism hashtag. It was quickly obvious to me that so many of us had been feeling the same thing and they idea of putting out our own thoughts became quite contagious.I hope that from this sharing that others who are either on the edge looking in or have felt excluded by the rigid definitions of the past realize that there is a place for their practices and style of worship within polytheism, and that there is no “one true way” of being a polytheist.

I envision a community where folks are free to share their ideas and experiences without being told that they are “doing it wrong”, and that they can take inspiration from others who are putting their experiences out there. – Alley Valkyrie

As I understand it, My Polytheism was started in order to highlight the many diverse ways of being a polytheist. It has already shown that people are building community in ways that are unique and valuable, such as polytheist monasticism (the kind of monasticism that serves a wider community). It has created a safe space where people can share their feelings about their relationship with the gods.

Some people have complained about it not being a space for debate. As I see it, there are two ways to arrive at knowledge – (1) by debating and trying to eliminate the “incorrect” point of view; (2) by sharing experience & feelings and building up a richly textured view of reality. Since religion is largely about feelings and experiences, the debating approach won’t help much. My Polytheism is clearly about sharing feelings and experiences. And frankly I don’t want my heartfelt experiences to be a matter for debate. You can debate theology all you want, but ultimately the nature of the gods is a mystery and one that we all perceive in different ways.

There is so much debate everywhere else on the Internet – it’s lovely to have a space that is more like a sharing space where people can post their thoughts & feelings and not get shot down in flames for it. – Yvonne Aburrow

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Yvonne Aburrow [Courtesy Photo]

It was the tag line on the Facebook page that first caught my interest: “Visible. Vocal. Diverse.” That’s well aligned with my values. I want folks to hear from polytheists who celebrate diversity in polytheism. There are plenty of people who will tell you you’re doing it wrong, or assert that you’re not really a polytheist. There are plenty of places that attract attention by courting controversy and heated debate. But there are precious few places where I can set aside that sort of discourse entirely, and simply be heard on my own terms in a space of sacred hospitality. Magic happens in those places, and I want to contribute to that magic!

As a member of a minority religion, it takes courage for me to share details of my devotional and contemplative practice publicly. There are risks involved in doing so, especially given that sincere religious devotion in a polytheist context is often dismissed as “crazy” or “backward” in the dominant cultural milieu. If I fear my personal religious experience might be debated or insensitively picked apart by bullies – people who don’t know me or the challenges I deal with, and aren’t even peripherally involved in my relationships with the deities I venerate – I’m far less likely to share these things.

By providing a welcoming space for marginalized voices, and relief from the constant worry about being dragged into the kind of debate-driven discourse that is so prevalent elsewhere, My Polytheism emboldened me to speak up and contribute.

I hope it will amplify the voices of polytheists who are marginalized – voices that might not have been on our radar otherwise, yet have much to contribute to modern polytheism. I hope the project reaches people who feel underrepresented or unwelcome in polytheism, and brings them comfort, camaraderie, and the reassurance that they’re not alone. And finally, I hope it drives home the importance of creating spaces with clear and well-defined boundaries, in which voices that often go unheard are given a platform to address their communities on their own terms. I’m a co-administrator of a new discussion group on Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism, and our guidelines were inspired by those of My Polytheism, so the project’s influence is already expanding! – Danica Swanson

Danica Swanson [Courtesy of Arrowyn Craban Lauer]

Danica Swanson [Courtesy of Arrowyn Craban Lauer]

This project, while drawing some criticism, has come at a time when many people are looking for a place to celebrate their differences and similarities with others in spiritual community. It is also very relevant that many are actively in search of a safe place within the world; our spiritual communities are not void of this need.

As our communities grow and expand, we see more glimpses of what gaps exist and what needs go unfilled within the larger communal sphere. Acknowledging the needs of those within the margins can be a vital and healthy piece of the much larger picture of any group of people. How do we embrace the sharing of those same perspectives as the gifts that come from the diversity of different practices, experiences and stories?

It brings back into focus many of the questions that communities ask when they are in a process of growth and formation. How can we embrace differences? What is the value of holding space for those who outside of the norm of overculture? How do we welcome diversity? What is the benefit of stretching our own understanding about the practices and needs of others? How is safe space for the nuances of culture intersect with our ability to create healthy community? How does the desire to formulate a common framework for Polytheism limit our ability to learn and grow through the myriad of practices and beliefs we encounter?

While some of the concepts that communities explore in the development of culture are large and require much contemplation, others are rather simple. Our collective community is just as varied as the Gods who are worshiped around the world. We often forget inside of modern depictions of polytheistic practices, that we are but one segment of a much larger system of worship that spans time and physical spaces And what we have to gain from exploring the many different interpretations of personal practice is much greater than what we could ever lose.

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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.

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.