The interaction of religion and politics in Ásatrú and Heathenry has long been a contentious one, as we have recently been reminded during the many heated reactions to a divisive public statement by the new Alsherjargothi of the Asatru Folk Assembly.

Heathens are not usually shy about sharing their views. There have been some very intense online discussions of current politics by Heathens in the United States. Since worldview is so often stressed as greatly important to Heathen practice, I asked several practitioners the following question:

How does your Heathen worldview affect your view of the presidential election as it now stands?

The goal in asking was to present a diversity of opinion from as many Heathens around the nation as possible. Some were unable to answer by publication, and some – due to the divisive nature of this election in particular – declined to speak out publicly.

Here are responses from seventeen Heathens in sixteen different states. While there are some common threads between their comments, there is also a great diversity of opinion. Even such a small sampling shows the wide range of worldviews within the United States Heathen community. Thank you to all who agreed to spend their time providing a response!

Lagaria Farmer (Coopertown, Tennessee)
I try to live an honorable life and help those around me. I believe our gods and ancestors appreciate that. I strongly hold to the value of hospitality, and I believe it’s a two-way street. I look for these characteristics in the candidates for public office and vote accordingly. There are a few (counting the third-party candidates) who have some of these qualities. There is at least one who doesn’t, and that person will not have my vote.

Matt Walker (Trenton, Missouri)
My worldview is one that places significant importance on community, on loyalty, gifting, and the reciprocity of those things. On relationships and duty. Honor. Obligation. In line with that, my view of a proper president – or any leader – is that they should be a person who is honorable and does right by their people, a person who holds their responsibilities above their own personal concerns. An intellectual, knowledgeable, articulate soul bound by loyalty to the Republic and reverence for the rule of law (especially the Constitution); a person who understands what justice is, as well as diplomacy; and who is known for regular, genuine displays of generosity, compassion and integrity.

Where does that leave me in this election? It leaves me without a candidate, while the world watches my countrymen fight bitterly over whether we should elect a corrupt establishment politician beholden to corporate interests or a trust-fund troglodyte fomenting violence amongst an army of quasi-literate scum.

Thad N. Horrell (Denver, Colorado)
Heathenry motivates me to keep up the struggle for justice and truth, even when so many people close to me are taken in by the demagoguery of angry words and hateful speech. The Hávamál [“Sayings of the High One”] teaches us to welcome the stranger and be hospitable to guests, especially those who are in need of shelter and assistance. We should be strong against our enemies, but we should know who our enemies are first. Declaring all people who do not look like us or who do not practice our religion are our enemies is cowardly and despicable. I do not practice Donald Trump’s religion, and I stand in solidarity with all those worthy people he would deport or ban from entering our country.

Kari Tauring (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
My Heathen root, like my Christian root, is primarily Norwegian. I come from the school of free farmers and not church or royal landholders. We believe in democratic governance. My grandma and grandpa – who arrived in the U.S. at age thirteen – proudly voted. People walked or rode in wagons miles to their polling places. If I can’t vote for something, I write in my answer. I do this on the census and “race check” boxes. I believe that the people who most value the water and land should be in charge of keeping it clean for everyone. This is the worldview of my Nordic folkway, and I think it is folkways that will save this world.

Thomas de Mayo (Tidewater, Virginia)
I support Clinton, because she is the most likely candidate to defeat Trump and move the country in a progressive direction. Many of my friends are considering voting for a third-party candidate, because they do not consider Clinton sufficiently liberal or have concerns about her character. I sympathize, but I believe they are mistaken.

In Heathen terms, I view modern elections as being like a medieval Icelandic Thing. The Thing was a sacred assembly, a court of law, and a place for vicious politicking. A disputant who wanted to assure a good outcome for their case needed to assemble a coalition of allies; that meant making compromises, returning favors, and pragmatically accepting settlements short of total victory. So too our modern democratic process (although sacred in its own way) requires tempering heartfelt conviction with strategic thinking.

I am totally appalled by Trump’s bigotry toward Muslims and other minorities. I don’t trust him to administer the laws of our country domestically, and I don’t trust him to make military decisions abroad. In the contest of the Thing, it is best to ally with the strongest friendly chieftain able to obtain victory.

Drew Johnston (Los Angeles, California)
This election cycle has been very hard to deal with. Honor is so important to us, and none of our candidates seem to have any, nor do many of our elected representatives. Truth is also one of our core virtues, and I’ve seen very little of that myself. Perseverance demands that I stay my course and vote for the candidate I have chosen, but it gets harder every time I turn on the news. As a Heathen, I would say that I am very disappointed with this state of affairs – both the election and where our country is today.

Vicki Burns [Courtesy Photo]

Vicki Burns (Bronx, New York)
My worldview is best described as neo-tribal. While we can’t return to tribal ways of our ancestors, I still think we can look to them for guidance here in the present and for future generations. Of the two remaining candidates for the upcoming election, I feel that Hilary Clinton, despite some strong reservations I still have about corporate ties that she may have, is still the best choice for me. I have been struck by her commitment to the health of children and of families – which I think is fundamental to our future as a nation – with a focus on higher wages, childcare, insurance, and affordable education. Additionally, she echoes Obama’s original pledge to develop renewable energy and create new jobs. For our sake and for Mother Earth, I hope she follows through.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is nothing but a neo-feudal opportunist who is exploiting the working class, who are understandably upset at the lack of opportunity in the country as it stands. His lack of experience and empathy and his overblown ego and unbridled narcissism will eventually destroy him and, if he is elected, will destroy us all, as well. May the old gods prevent that, and may we all exercise our right to vote on Election Day.

Heidi Shewchuck (Oak Grove, Oregon)
[My worldview] doesn’t really [affect my view]. But what does affect my view is being a history nerd, and for me this means our current presidential election is no different than any of the electioneering that has gone on before. In particular I am reminded of the late Roman Republic. This was a period when politics were rife with bribery, slander, slippery deals, accusations of slippery deals, and all manner of electoral abuses – including vote tampering and election fraud. There were riots in the streets, with the political supporters of rival candidates forming gangs, behaving badly, and engaging in open – sometimes bloody – conflict with one another. Our current election in the U.S. has had all of this, but unlike Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Licinius Crassus, Hillary, Trump, and Bernie have yet to form a triumvirate. However, we do have two more months, and anything is possible.

Jennifer Snook (Grinnell, Iowa)
Heathenry sacralizes my commitment to social justice and the urgency and centrality of truth-telling and honor. In that regard, the current election troubles me, as neither candidate has shown a commitment to honesty. However, if I wanted to quantify the “truthiness,” integrity, or honor-in-action of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Trump would most certainly lose. His commitment to divisive politics; childish name calling and bullying of politicians, protesters, and journalists; his consistent and perpetual refusal to honor his debts, his word, his commitments; his pandering to white supremacist ideology and sympathizers; his openly racist, misogynistic, classist and ableist rhetoric; his consistent inconsistency of position; and his inability to formulate a coherent argument are all in conflict with my values and expectations of what kind of person qualifies as “presidential.”

I was a Sanders supporter, and although I’m not a die-hard fan of Clinton and do have some concerns as to her commitment to institutional and structural changes that will alleviate the human suffering caused by the inequalities of income, health access, education, and the lack of political agency of disenfranchised groups – she’s certainly a less terrifying option.

Victor Booker

Victor Booker [Courtesy Photo]

Victor Booker (Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin)
The current major party candidates, just as many before them, tend to push ideals that appeal to Christianity. This is especially true for the Right. As Heathens, we have not only an immunity to this, but perhaps even a tendency to be more scrutinizing when a candidate starts throwing around old political Christian catchphrases. Heathens don’t care about that. Many of us look for progressive ideas, solutions to issues plaguing our communities, and global policies that will help unite America with other countries. Instead we often get roundabout answers that aren’t really answers at all, with a nice thick covering of religious rhetoric that has been successful in buying voters since Americans started voting. All in all, being a Heathen that cares about politics in America is frustrating. A Heathen worldview is just that, a worldview. And American politics is rarely such.

David Carron (New Bedford, Massachusetts)
Religion and politics make poor bedfellows, and this election is poorer then most. Our ancestors were well familiar with the difficulties and faults in leadership. With Mr. Trump, I am reminded of Sigvaldi from the Jómsvíkinga saga. He swore to conquer Norway or die trying – spoiler alert; neither happens. His men, clearly knowing the character of their leader, swore to fight until he turned tail and ran, which he did. With Ms. Clinton, I have to think more of Loki from Lokasenna for a comparison of her credibility, likability, and truthfulness. I may just move after this election.

Douglas Helvie (New Bern, North Carolina)
I am a practitioner of Urglaawe, and my viewpoint is simple. Hillary is crooked, pure and simple. As an avowed political independent, I originally was going to vote for Bernie Sanders – until the world found out that our political system is corrupt, and – more specifically – the DNC has this nasty habit of rigging primaries. So, in true Heathen spirit and in the sense of revolt and revenge, I am voting for Trump.

Stevie Miller

Stevie Miller [Courtesy Photo]

Stevie Miller (Greensburg, Pennsylvania)|
As a Heathen, I’m appalled by the behavior of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president – and their parties – this election cycle. Their lying, mudslinging, and scheming are completely contrary to virtues like truth, honor, and generosity. Polarizing our population and excluding and vilifying certain groups of people flies in the face of the Urglaawe goal to fight rootlessness, that force that undermines both our communities and the World Tree. The designations of “liberal” and “conservative” are completely useless, serving only to create an us-them mentality that hurts people while doing nothing to solve our actual problems.

In the lore, we see again and again that our gods are strongest when they work together, combining a variety of voices and talents to achieve the goals of their community. In action, this translates for me to supporting third parties, speaking up for diversity and inclusiveness, and making a particular effort to listen to and understand opinions I disagree with. I feel that this election – with two candidates who are so widely known to be corrupt and power-hungry, and two out-of-touch parties that are oblivious to the problems in our country – has reached a new low for American politics that I have not seen before as a voter.

As a Heathen, I believe the solutions mean including new voices and perspectives, building strong communities, and working hard at hands-on problem-solving at the local level (not substituting social media for action!) to create the kinds of changes we want to see at the national level.

Ren Anderson (Exeter Township, Pennsylvania)
Being Heathen in this country during any election is disheartening. With the presence of the electoral college and the fact we live in a corporate oligarchy, I fully understand and recognize that our elections do not determine how we choose to be governed but rather serve as a distraction from our crumbling economic infrastructure. In Heathenry, with the emphasis on self-reliance and sustainability, I find our community better prepared than the surrounding culture of consumerism by embracing our agricultural heritage. Although I am active on Facebook, I still encourage people to find actual physical copies of books and to focus on improving personal skills that would do well in a local barter economy as hobbies.

I personally see the U.S. elections as a distraction at best, and a corruption at worst. Instead, to focus on the local community and to personally bring visibility to personal hot button issues that affect our lives is a better use of our resources than arguing over which stuffed-suit sociopath gets to be the “face” of our country for the next four-to-eight years as the bourgeois find ever more terrible and ingenious ways to accumulate more wealth at the expense of the well-being of the common man.

In Heathenry, I feel that we should educate ourselves as well as we are able (even though our media is now void of unbiased journalism) but to focus primarily on personal survival and accumulating contacts of others with useful skills while trying to avoid becoming entwined with the questionable and possibly violent extremists that also exist in great numbers among U.S. Odinists who have drawn similar conclusions about the facade of democracy.

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Vincent Enlund [Courtesy Photo]

Vincent Enlund (Mesa, Arizona)
When it comes to the presidency, I think my worldview affects how I rate a lot of things. First off, I have to look at all the candidates, and how they sling mud at each other. We look at the two primary parties that will always debate over the Left or Right, conservative or liberal. And now this year, for the first time in many decades, there’s a legitimate third-party option – the Libertarian Party and what they have to offer for the future, as well.

Really, if you’re looking at this from a Heathen worldview, for me, I need to think about what my ancestors looked for in a leader. They didn’t look for politicians. They looked to the people who had success and glory in their life – people who made accomplishments and showed what they were capable of under stress to benefit their people and their tribe. I think today, as Heathens with a Heathen worldview, we need to be looking for leaders to do the same thing. We need to be looking for leaders who have shown us that they’re capable of leading a country, of managing the kind of decisions that are required to do what is best for the people of this nation and the Constitution that it was built on – leaders that demonstrate courage, honesty, intelligence, and the ability to lead the community both economically and socially.

For me, the hard part about this is that I haven’t seen a leader like that for this country in my life. I hope that this third-party – the Libertarian Party – may provide a leader for today that could accomplish at least some of those things. But until I reach a point where I see a leader that I think my ancestors would look up to, these are only hopes.

William Thor Conner

William Thor Conner [Courtesy Photo]

William Thor Connor (Villa Park, Illinois)
I take seriously the pillars of troth, key virtues that are sorely needed in our society. Many in our current political arena have no problem straight-up lying and breaking their word, using lies in base ways to bolster their own privilege. The whole current legal progression towards a corporate oligarchy is based on selective control of (dis)information. We have a set of candidates that couldn’t win on the strength of their ideas alone.

Hillary Clinton will be a competent administrator of the current system, and – to be honest – I will vote for her in November. There is not really another choice. Trump originally ran as a lark or a saboteur and had unexpected success. I still think he doesn’t want to win but is acting as crowd control for the less educated aspect of the same outrage at the system that enabled Bernie’s rise. I proudly call myself a progressive democratic socialist and have been following the words and ideas of Bernie Sanders for more than a decade.

Without trying, Sanders embodies the troth. His struggle to bring the U.S. into a more egalitarian, less rent-seeking model that our Scandinavian cousins successfully practice is an effort worth emulating and being part of. And he didn’t lose. We are more aware of the egalitarian dream being possible than we have been since Lyndon Johnson. I hold hope that the progressive takeover of the Democratic Party could be a viable answer for real change in America.

Destiny Ballard [Courtesy Photo]

Destiny Ballard [Courtesy Photo]

Destiny Ballard (Miami, Oklahoma)
My understanding is that the known tenets and values of Heathen spirituality require its adherents to be consciously present and world-affirming. The current presidential race is a seriously contentious one, which is highlighted by the extremist speech and behaviors it has incited. Guided by my Heathen worldview, I am driven to actively speak up and participate in bringing about political advancement and reform for the benefit of all people.

As such, I must reject the agendas and policy platforms of leading presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both further the advancement of political systems that include cronyism, environmental destruction, cross-sectional oppression, and warmongering. As a Heathen, I am therefore morally compelled not to be a passive participant in political concerns. These have a measurable impact on the well-being of my family, my community, and my country – truly, on the earth itself, which I strive to honor and protect through my daily actions and spiritual votive works. The only way I see forward is through a commitment to political activism that will disrupt and replace these systems towards ones that provide healthful stability for all human beings, so we might reach our best scientific and spiritual potential.

 *    *    *

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.

TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Pagan community lost one of its members in an apartment fire early Monday morning. Leticia Gill, also known as Tisha Gill, and her mother Rhonda Gill were killed after becoming trapped in the burning building. According to the most recent reports, the fire has been ruled arson, set by a downstairs neighbor. Because of that designation, Tisha’s and her mother’s deaths are being treated as homicides.

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Tisha Gill [Public Facebook Photo]

Born Feb. 15, 1975, Tisha was a solitary Hellenic Dianic Witch who had just begun reaching out into the local Pagan community. She was a member of the Coven of the Sacred Moon located in Topeka, and she helped to create Topeka Pagan Gatherings, attending the group’s local “coffee events” when possible.

Kansas Pagan Jeannie Hazelwood said, “I met [Tisha] while working on the Pagan Pride committee a couple years ago. We spent a good amount of time together as part of that effort and got to know each other. We met for coffee a couple times. I had invited her to join us for ritual a couple times. She had never been to festival so we invited her to join us at Heartland this year, loaned her a tent, shared our camp, and watched as she bloomed and blossomed with the new experience.”

Tisha lived with her mother and two cats Castor and Pollux, both of whom also are presumed to have been victims of the blaze. In an interview with a local news station, Tisha’s aunt Jessica Jones said Tisha and Rhonda were very close, calling the two “inseparable.” Jones added, “I really feel like I am in a nightmare, a nightmare slash dream, I’m here I’m kinda numb.”

Tisha was the oldest of five children and graduated from Topeka West High School in 1993. She was employed at Math Tutor, and studying to be a forensic scientist at Washburn University.

She was also known as a poet and musician, and was involved with several online poetry forums. She published some of work directly on her Facebook page. One of her last poems, titled Moonfire, begins:

“A Silver Flame
Ignites my heart
Its mercurial heat
Searing my skin
Bringing a vitality
A quickening within…”
– from Moonfire by Tisha Gill (July 8, 2016)

Tisha had recently attended a workshop given by ritualist, artist, teacher and performer Shauna Aura Knight, who was “saddened to learn” of her death. Knight said, “I did not know her very well, I had only met her that night, but she had lots of plans for her life and was very excited to be reaching for them.”

Knight added, “[My] workshop was about finding your personal magic and reaching for your dreams so this is a little heartbreaking especially because of that.”

Tisha had also promised that she would bring her violin to the next ritual that Knight held in the Topeka area. Knight said, “Many blessings on your journey, Tisha. I wish we’d have gotten that chance to musically jam together.”

“Higher, higher- I am lifted
Of lost Happiness- I am gifted
Blessed by the Divine
I am given what is truly mine.
The vision of the tungsten blaze.
Enlightening my eyes with its glaring gaze.”
– from Moonfire by Tisha Gill

According to investigators, the fire was intentionally started by the Gills’ downstairs neighbor in her own living room. Some speculate that the neighbor’s motive was suicide, but no official reports have been issued confirming that theory.

The morning blaze quickly spread upward, trapping the Gills in their home. The mother and daughter were unable to escape through their only means of exit, the front door. They hid in a closet in a back bedroom with the hopes of surviving.

The Topeka Fire Marshall told local media, “Fire crews arrived to find heavy smoke and flames coming from the rear of the apartment building, with flames engulfing all exterior stairways and four apartments.” Neighbors did reportedly attempt to rescue the women, but were unsuccessful. The downstairs neighbor. who allegedly started the fire, was also killed in the blaze.

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Tisha Gill [via Facebook Memorial page]

Since family, friends, and community members received the tragic news, there has been an outpouring of support. Topeka Pagan Gatherings will be hosting a Pagan Passing Blessing and Candlelight Vigil in Tisha’s honor. Members will be gathering at the rose garden in Gage Park Sunday at 5:00 pm to “offer blessings and stories about Tisha among fellow Pagans and friends.”

Later that same night, family and friends will be gathering at 10:00 pm for another candlelight vigil – this one at White Concert Hall located on the Washburn University campus.

A friend, who asked to remain anonymous, explained, “Tisha and her mother would take nightly walks. Just Sunday evening Rhonda was telling me about the fox that visits them when they are sitting on the steps of White Concert Hall. So what better place to honor their memory but where they got such great enjoyment with the moonlight and nature.”

In addition, family member Chelcee Gill has set up a “Rhonda and Letitia Gill Memorial Fund” to help with the funeral costs.

In remembrance, Jeannie Hazelwood said, “[Tisha] was the kind of person who loved every new experience and had an innate curiosity. She was extremely intelligent, but at the same time had an innocence and naive quality that allowed her to fully experience the wonder of new knowledge and experiences.”

Close friend and fellow classmate Joy Spicer posted on Facebook, “Tisha was clever, exquisitely beautiful, so funny, earthy, a lover of G’d and nature, and a gentler, truer friend is hard to find.”

Another friend, Adolphus Coleman, posted, “Such a beautiful spirit. When I had nothing to write about you gave me inspiration. When I battled depression you were there with encouragement. When ever I thought about giving up you’d send me a quick inbox.”

And, in Tisha’s own words:

“Hotter, hotter
Sweat begins to fill my pores
Coolness covers me
I am drenched from head to toe
The inferno grows bigger,
whiter It now consumes me.
Dark Phoenix, I have become
My transformation is now complete
The old self is long and gone
Purged and shed away
Liveliness has granted me Rebirth
I have become anew.”
– From Moonfire by Tisha Gill


What is remembered, lives!

SALEM, Mass. — Lorelei Stathopolous sees her role as an animal-rights activist as a natural extension of being a Witch. “I defend the defenseless,” she said, and in particular she tries to protect dogs as a way to honor the two dogs hanged here in 1692, during the infamous witch trials. Acting in accordance with her beliefs is what she was doing Aug. 14, when she responded to a call about a dog in a hot car. Trying to intervene on the animal’s behalf got her arrested, leading to breathless coverage over local and national media outlets.

Lorelei Stathopoulos [courtesy photo]

Lorelei Stathopoulos [courtesy photo]

Stathopoulos owns Crow Haven Corner, billed as “Salem’s oldest Witch shop,” and she’s also the founder of Salem Saves Animals. The manager Hex, another local witch shop called to ask her advice after noticing that a dog had been left in a car with only a slightly open window on a 98-degree afternoon. She recommended breaking the window. When she was told no one at Hex was comfortable doing that she told them, “Get the bat ready, I’m on my way down.”

She calculates that the dog had been in the vehicle for at least 21 minutes by the time that she arrived.  Since she had notified police on the way to the area, she did not actually break the window.  Instead, she tried to persuade officers that the animal was not as well off as they believed.

Salem’s animal control officer, who reportedly has both the training and equipment to take a dog’s temperature through the window, only works 30 hours a week. Stathopoulos urged the officers to call the fire department to extract the dog, and then to charge the car’s owner when he appeared. However, their assessment was that the dog was not in distress.

“I don’t blame the officers. I blame the training they have received” she said.

Noting that the dog was “panting heavily,” Stathopoulos attempted to give it water through the window before the owner arrived, over objections of the police officers. The dog didn’t take any, which may have been due to it not being thirsty or being excited by the attention, or even in extreme distress. That was never determined and the dog was not taken in for examination.

The dog’s owner was eventually given a warning. However, this was not enough for Stathopoulos. who informed the officers that if he wasn’t arrested that she should be. They obliged, charging her with disturbing the peace. The video below shows some of what occurred at that moment.

 

“I have no regrets for the arrest, or what I said. These are emotional beings,” Stathopoulos said, which is why she and others have been pushing for a more comprehensive animal protection law in Salem. “Even the Pope said that all dogs go to heaven.”

A stronger law would, she hopes, provide for better officer training with regard to animal issues. She recounted a time recently when a pit bull was found tied up and abandoned, and how the police response was, “Bring it down to the station, we’ll shoot it.” The city animal control officer once declined to assist a coyote caught in a fence, presumably because the training only deals with handling dogs.

What makes this story particularly good fodder for “shock jocks” and mainstream media reporters is the fact that there is going to be a trial, and it is scheduled for Oct. 26.

Stathopoulos wouldn’t agree to plea guilty, and the district attorney has opted to take the case to trial, although the charge can only amount to a fine of $150. The guilty plea would have included agreeing to stay away from the car owner, whose name she said that she has yet to learn.

She also estimates that she will have to pay her own attorney $3,-5,000, and that she will “lose thousands that day on readings” that she won’t be able to do at her shop. It is possible that the only beneficiaries of the trial will be the commentators who are watching the developments, such as conservative radio host Jeff Kuhner, who interview Stathopoulos on The Kuhner Report for the Boston station WRKO.

Kuhner admittedly was unfamiliar with modern-day Witches and, at one point, asked Stathopoulos if she were a Wiccan, but pronounced it “weeken.”   He wasted no time comparing this “modern day witch trial in Salem” to the historic events of 1692, saying, “It didn’t turn out well for your ancestors then.”  The segment can be heard in its entirely at WRKO’s site, and it appears that he based his understanding of the events on a WHDH video news segment.

Stathopoulos, who said she has extensive experience being interviewed, was not impressed with the coverage overall. “I do have a colorful personality,” she acknowledged, but making light of the Witch trials is inappropriate in her opinion. “Professional interviewers can make it go one way or another,” she said. “For them to ask, ‘Did the Witch do the right thing?’ is sort of appalling. Do [they] think we should leave the dog in the car?'”

Kuhner said several times during the segment that he did not agree with leaving the animal in distress, but thought the matter should have ended when the owner arrived and could turn the air conditioning on in the vehicle. He never answered the questions posed by Statholopoulos on whether he’d consider it the same if it had been a baby. Later on in the segment, Christian Day — owner of Hex outside of which the incident took place — pressed him on that point, and the host admitted that he believed the life of a baby is more important.

Witches and other Pagans should brace for another round of “Salem Witch trial” stories making the media rounds this fall when Stathopoulos has her day in court, Oct. 26, just in time for the busiest tourist season in America’s Witch city.

[The Wild Hunt welcomes Nathan Hall as today’s guest journalist . He makes his home in South Florida where he works for a local media company and lives with his wife and soon-to-be first child. He grew up without any real religious background but always felt connected with the spirits of the land. Because of this connection he has always felt a strong kinship with environmental causes and the primacy of nature over humanity’s exploitation of it. Nathan has followed many paths, including ceremonial magick, Norse and Druidic traditions. Recently, he has come into alignment with the Temple of Witchcraft tradition where he is a student in the Mystery School. You can find more of his writing at The Arrival and the Reunion.]

MIAMI, Fla. — “I have a message for anyone who would listen to it, from the spirit of our lady, Florida,” Dayan Martinez begins his presentation, addressing the dire situation of the Everglades. He was a guest presenter, among a handful of speakers, at the Love the Everglades Summer Symposium 2016 held August 6 at Miami’s Miccosukee Resort and Convention Center. Other presenters, representing First Nations, faith groups, local communities, and NGOs, participated as well.

[Photo Credit: Chris Foster / Flickr]

Florida Everglades [Photo Credit: Chris Foster / Flickr]

Martinez recalled reaching out during his shamanic journey work when he first made contact with Her – Our Lady Florida.  Martinez had been struggling with his own sense of powerlessness in the face of decades of over-development and environmental upheaval in Florida.

“Goddess is just a word that I use because everyone seems to get the idea that there is a spirit. But she’s enormous in a way, the entire state, from bedrock to clouds,” he said. Since meeting who he refers to as both La Florida and Our Lady Florida, his life has become more focused, with a new sense of purpose.

This is what compelled Martinez to take part in the summer symposium, as not just an activist, but also as a public Pagan. He was joined by friend and fellow community member, Mathew Sydney.

“I believe it was Dayan who in one of these journeys asked:  ‘What can we do for you?’ Her response was, ‘I don’t want candles and offerings of incense and trinkets, I want you to go out there and speak for the environment and take care of the waters,’” Sydney said.

On June 29, Florida governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin and St. Lucie counties because of the volume of blue-green algae that had clogged the St. Lucie river and adjoining canal systems and estuaries. The order did little to address the immediate problem, however, mostly just providing additional funds to test water and providing vague instructions to store water in other parts of the Everglades.

The Everglades is a one of a kind ecosystem on the planet, with water slowly moving south toward Florida Bay at a near-glacial pace. Also called the River of Grass, it historically extends from the Kissimmee River basin, just south of Orlando, down through Lake Okeechobee, continuing through the current Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve out into the Bay, which is hugged by the Florida Keys.

During the push for agricultural land in the 19th century and a development boom that was facilitated by baron-capitalists of the early 20th century, draining the Everglades became an obsession for land owners, sugar and citrus interests, keen on making money off the Sunshine State. After two nasty hurricanes in the 1920’s lead to massive flooding from Lake Okeechobee, the opportunity was seized upon and the federal government stepped in, ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a dike along the southern edge of the lake.

From that point on, the historic flow of the Everglades has been cut off. Canals jut out to the east and west from the lake, and when the water level gets too high, instead of flowing south as it has for countless millennia, it is routed out to the ocean.

This has lead to an ongoing environmental disaster that has been reportedly exacerbated by mismanagement, poor infrastructure, and climate change. It has now culminated in large swaths of blue-green algae overcoming valuable estuaries, smothering wildlife, and sickening residents. According to researchers, restoring the historic flow of the Everglades is the best solution to this problem.

Matthew Sydney and Dayan Martinez [Courtesy Photo]

Matthew Sydney and Dayan Martinez en route to symposium [Courtesy Photo]

Both Sydney and Martinez came away from the symposium feeling like it was a great first step, but with the realization that there was a lot more work to do. Sydney said, “The speech was very well received, I think that bringing like-minded people together is more important now.” He especially felt that there was a need for more Pagan-identifying folks to be present, saying that he’d love to see an entire panel featuring earth-centered religions as part of future secular environmental gatherings.

“In my evolution I have come to feel that those of us who identify as Pagan or Neopagan, or who practice earth-based faiths, we of all people have to stand up and lead the way to speak on behalf of the manatee, the bear, the dolphin, and the honeybees and all the other creatures who are being impacted,” Sydney said.

In an effort to lay the groundwork for more Pagan-centered activism, the two men have started a new environmental organization called the Pagan Environmental Alliance. The nascent group has already held their first protest, with a uniquely Pagan twist.

“Ritual can be a protest, ritual can be a political statement. So when we gather (in downtown West Palm Beach), we will be making our political-activist point by being ourselves in a spiritual manner. Hopefully that will inspire further types of ritual protest,” Martinez said.

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[Courtesy Photo]

Their first event was a small showing, but they were happy with the outcome. They used Doreen Valiente’s Witches Creed for its ritual structure and theme of stepping out from the shadows and saying what Witches are. They also poured fresh rainwater into the intracoastal waterway between West Palm Beach and the island of Palm Beach and asked that there be an awakening within the Pagan community.

But public ritual and educational symposiums aren’t the only facet of their efforts.

“Another part of what we’re doing, another strategy is guerrilla magick. We’re developing strategies whereby quietly, undercover and surreptitiously we can perform magickal acts. The purpose of which is to restore mankind’s balance with nature,” Sydney said. He said that they’ve already begun covertly utilizing sigil magick in public places.

But, Sydney added that there’s still a good bit of work that needs to be accomplished well within the public’s view. While many Pagans have gotten their start as solitaries and continue their practice alone, he said, “I think that it’s time that (we) put aside all that solitary, private practice and actually become leaders in the community.”

Restoring the natural flow of water in the Everglades system is the goal that Martinez and Sydney have been compelled to do by La Florida, but it won’t come easy. After the economic crisis and subprime mortgage meltdown, which happened between 2008 through 2010, ownership of property in South Florida has moved out of normal, working people’s hands. As home values plummeted, banks, hedge funds, and shady development corporations moved in, consolidating land ownership right into the hands of the people who created the crisis.

These financial juggernauts, as well as Big Sugar, who has actively fought Everglades restoration and contributes to the campaigns of governor Rick Scott and former senator Marco Rubio, are the opponents that Martinez and Sydney will be facing.

Despite the odds against them, the two activists both see a moral imperative to the work that the are doing. “I don’t think that we can continue to call ourselves Pagan and ignore the fact that nature is calling, you know? Nature is asking us to do something for her after she has given us food, shelter, wealth, power and faith. It’s time to give back,” Martinez said.

Sydney feels that Pagans should take a note from those who practice Santeria and indigenous faiths and begin incorporating the idea of reciprocity. “If we want the gods or the spirits or the ancestors to help us with our problems, the mature thing is to have the courage to ask them how we can help them.”

Just this week, Martinez announced on social media that he and Sydney have been asked to be presenters at the fall Florida Pagan Gathering. “We are excited to present on … November 5th,” Sydney said, “Our Lady Florida is ready for us to awaken.”  Martinez also stated that he hopes to take the same workshop around the state in the near future.

Dayan Martinez presentation at the Everglades Summer Symposium 2016

 

BUTLER, Mo. – The Sacred Well Congregation (SWC),  a universalist, independent, non-evangelical Wiccan Church, announced it ise an Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization (EEO) for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This designation means they are now able to endorse qualified clergy from Wicca and Earth-Centered Spiritualities who wish to apply for chaplaincy positions with the VA. This marks the first time that any Pagan group has been approved as an Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization for the VA.

In a message on its official Facebook page, SWC said, “This is a tremendous breakthrough, and will enhance our standing with professional chaplains organizations such as COMISS [The Network on Ministry in Specialized Settings, formerly known as the Coalition on Ministry in Specialized Settings] and [Association of Professional Chaplains], as well as strengthen our position as we move forward in our endeavors to secure status as an EEO for military chaplains.”

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Rev. David L. Oringderff, Executive Director of Sacred Well Congregation, said that due to his military background, most of his work and advocacy for religious freedom has been with the DoD and VA. He explained, “I represented Earth-Centered Spiritualities at the US Air Force Academy conferences on Religious Respect in 2010 and 2012, and was a keynote at the dedication of the USAFA Falcon Circle Cadet Chapel on 3 May 2011.”

Rev. Oringderff has been working toward the goal of a Pagan Military Chaplain since 1997.  “For a non-mainstream organization to gain access to the inner circles, it takes a lot of work.” He added that his efforts are far from done, but securing EEO status within the VA is major milestone.

The Difference between Ecclesiastical Endorsing Organization and a Pagan Military Chaplain

Every department and bureau in the federal government that has professional chaplains has its own EEO system and approval process. Most of those processes are modeled on the DoD system. However,  just because an organization is granted EEO by one federal agency, does not mean they are granted it by any other agency.

At the federal level, the EEO must be a religious organization that holds a Letter of Determination from the IRS recognizing it as a 501(c)3 Section 170b1Ai Church or Association of Churches. Even though all churches are tax exempt, this determination letter is something a religious organization needs in order to apply for EEO status, which would allow them to endorse chaplains to serve with federal agencies and departments.

Rev. Dr. David Oringderff speaks with Lt. Gen. Mike Gould during a dedication ceremony for the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle May 3, 2011. Oringderff is the executive director of the Sacred Well Congregation and represented the Earth-Centered Spirituality community during a religious respect conference at the Academy in November 2010. Gould is the Academy superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Rev. Oringderff speaks with Lt. Gen. Gould during a dedication ceremony for the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle May 3, 2011. [Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan]

A chaplain is different than an ordained minister of a particular faith, denomination or sect. Chaplains must be capable of and agree to provide spiritual care for every person under their supervision. Currently there are no military or VA chaplains who carry an endorsement from a Wiccan, Pagan or Earth-Centered spiritual organization.

The Sacred Well Congregation has been endorsing chaplains for hospitals, first-responders, and correctional institutions, and Lay-Leaders for military groups for several years.  They are now formally approved to endorse chaplains for the Department of Veterans Affairs, but they have not yet received that status for military forces.

However, Sacred Well’s new EEO status means that the way is open for a Pagan chaplain to be hired by the VA and for that chaplain to begin ministering to veterans while they are patients in VA hospitals or using other VA services.

Rev. Oringderff estimates it will be still be three to four years before we see a Pagan military chaplain — someone who ministers to active cuty and reserve military members, as well as their dependents living on military bases while deployed.

The First VA Pagan chaplain?

Now that the VA has approved SWC to be an endorsing agency, this opens the door to the VA hiring a Pagan chaplain. And, Rev. (David) Oliver Kling may be the VA’s first Pagan Chaplain hire.

Rev. Kling’s background describes his religion as a syncretistic path that combines Wiccan, Druid, and Gnostic strands of Christianity. He graduated from Wright State University with a degree in Philosophy and another in Religious Studies. His graduate work is in Black Church and African Diaspora Studies and he has completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, WV.

Currently, Rev. Kling is a  professional hospice chaplain in Northeast Ohio.  Like Rev. Oringderff, he has a military background. “I’m a veteran of the US Navy and a Gulf War veteran so working with veterans would be an honor for me,” said Rev. Kling.

David Oliver Kling

David Oliver Kling

Rev. King is on the SWC Board of Deacons, chair of the Ministry, Advocacy, and Leadership Department at Cherry Hill Seminary, and was rated “fully qualified” for a VA chaplaincy position vacancy.

The process for gaining employment with the VA is difficult and highly competitive.  Rev. Kling said that he has applied at over 10 different VA hospitals for employment.  Each application is  vetted to ensure the candidate is qualified and points are assigned to this process.

“All of my applications were rejected but one. The rejections were vague and unclear, ‘Missing documentation,’ etc. Oddly, all the applications were the same. One was sufficiently vetted and I was awarded a score. Now that Sacred Well Congregation is a recognized VA endorser it will make this process easier since we are now on the list.”

VA chaplain positions traditionally go to retired military chaplains as their applications are awarded more points, but Re. Kling says he will continue to apply to available openings.

Rev. Kling added that having Sacred Well Congregation on the list of endorsers is a huge milestone for him as a professional chaplain.  “Now, no matter where I choose to seek employment as a chaplain I can point to that endorser list when anyone looks at my resume and says, ‘I’ve never heard of Sacred Well Congregation.’  I can direct them to the VA endorser list.  That list has weight.”

Kling also said that when he goes for board certification as a chaplain to any of the certification organizations having SWC on that list makes the process easier because the VA has already vetted SWC as an organization.

Rev. Kling hopes the Pagan community understands how important SWC being on the EEO list is for other Pagans who wish to be chaplains. “It is not just about the VA. It opens doors in other avenues because it lets other would be employers know that Sacred Well Congregation has been vetted by the VA as an ecclesiastical organization. In my application process it wasn’t just me that was being vetted, it was also Sacred Well Congregation.”

 

1930212_1044474605610182_2135655129642865778_nDENTON, Tex.– Eight months after a fire damaged its building, Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship came together in a newly constructed space to celebrate and recommit to its mission. As we reported in December, the Denton church was repeatedly vandalized by a single teenager, who eventually set fire to the building. At the time, Rev. Pam Wat said, “The damage from the fire is significant, but not overwhelming.”

Since that point, members were invited to hold their services in the First Christian Church, located across the street. As noted by Denton CUUPS chapter coordinator John Beckett, “They displayed the best of Christianity.” Specifically, the CUUPS group was able to hold regular Sunday meetings at the facility as well as seasonal events, including its “Imbolc, Ostara, Summer Solstice, and Lughnasadh circles.”

Meanwhile, the damaged building was being rebuilt. Construction was completed just in time for the annual “Ingathering Service” that the church uses to “kick off its year.” Beckett was an integral part of Saturday’s event, helping to “compose two of the liturgical elements” for the service, as well as delivering a “colloquy as the Act of Reconsecration” together with Rev. Wat. Beckett, who wrote in a blog post, “It was a perfect example of collaborative ritual, and of how a UU service can be truly multi-faith without being bland and soulless.” The colloquy is posted in full on his blog.

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cuupsSALEM, Mass. — In other CUUPS news, this weekend marks the start of Convocation, the organization’s annual gathering. This year’s conference event, themed “Awakening Our Tribe,” will be held at the First Church in Salem, Massachusetts. CUUPS organizers have scheduled three full days of workshops, rituals, lectures, and entertainment, inviting people to join them “for this special gathering as we return to the roots for inspiration.” The current schedule and guest speaker list is posted on their website.

Additionally, with the event being held in the “Witch City,” organizers have built time into the plans for attendees to get out and stroll the streets or take self-guided historical tours. Rev. JK Hildebrand will speak on the subject. “Why are there so many of us [in Salem]? When and how did it all come to be? What have been some of the lessons of religion vs. commercialism? How does CUUPS fit in?” There will also be a discussion and viewing of the documentary With Love, from Salem, which focuses on the practice of modern Witchcraft in the historic city.

Convocation runs from Aug 26-28.

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The Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) is stirring up controversy on social media after newly-selected Alsherjargothi Matt Flavel posted a short statement on AFA’s Facebook page. Sunday night, Flavel wrote:

“Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make it clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children. The children of the folk are our shining future and the legacy of all those men and women of our people back to the beginning.”

While the post has generated some visible support for the organization and its new leadership, there has been a growing wave of protest and, simultaneously, calls to publicly denounce the AFA. One Facebook user asked for clarification, “Am I misunderstanding the message here or does this mean that if someone wasn’t white or if they were queer they wouldn’t be welcome in the AFA?” Flavel responded in part, with “You are not misunderstanding.”

No official reactions have come out yet from other Heathen or Pagan groups, or individuals, by the time of publication; nor has the AFA made any further comment. We will continue to follow this story and report as needed.

In other news

  • As noted in late July, the court case for musician Kenny Klein was due to start on Aug. 15. However, it has once again been delayed. According to the latest report, defense attorneys have hired a professional to analyze Klein’s computers and provide a report. They are also asking for copies of the photographs. However, prosecutors will only allow them to see the originals, rather than provide them with copies. With all the various motions on the table, the trial date has been pushed back to Sept. 29.
  • Hellenion, a US-based religious organization “dedicated to the revival and practice of Hellenic polytheism,” has opened a new ritual group, or “Proto-Demos” located in Southeast Michigan. The new group, called the Apple Blossom Proto-Demos of Hellenion, was formed in late spring and held its first ritual July 16 at the Pagan Pathways Temple in Madison Heights. Apple Blossom joins eleven other such Hellenion groups located around the US.
  • A new metaphysical store is coming to Oregon. The Sacred Well, located in the Bay Area, announced that it will be opening a second location in Portland this October. The Sacred Well employs and serves Pagan, polytheist, and Witchcraft practitioners with readings, ritual supplies, temple events, and classes. The new store will open at 7927 SE 13th Ave in the Sellwood neighborhood. To follow their progress, go to the Sacred Well Portland Facebook page.
  • Don’t forget it is Pagan Pride season. Denver Pagan Pride kicks off its local festivities on Saturday as do many others around the country. Pride events associated with the Pagan Pride project are listed on its website.
  • Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC), the Florida-based affiliate of Covenant of the Goddess, released its 24th seasonal podcast. The 2016 Lughnasad edition contains music by Emerald RoseGinger Doss, and Mama Gina. Members discuss everything from tarot tips and Nervine Tea to “getting inebriated at festivals.” The regular seasonal podcast can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Libsyn, or on the EMLC website.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our email list to ensure you don’t miss a single Wild Hunt story.

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CORRECTION (8/24/2016 12:50 pm): The original article stated that an online exchange between a user and AFA leaders had been deleted. At the time of original publication, that short exchange was not publicly visible and assumed to have been deleted. However, it has since reappeared and is publicly accessible on the organization’s Facebook site.

TWH – Muggle. Ravenclaw. Azkaban. These are familiar words to the millions of Harry Potter fans around the world. With more than 450 million books in print in over 200 countries, the Harry Potter franchise, including films and other marketing tie-ins, make it one of the most successful in history. This success has not subsided, as shown by the recent buzz surrounding the London opening of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is set 19 years after the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The play premiered July 30 and a print version of the story was released July 31, a date that also marks both J.K. Rowling’s and Harry Potter’s birthdays.

2180px-Harry_Potter_wordmark.svgOver the past 19 years, the Harry Potter stories and their expansive pop culture mythos have drawn a significant amount of attention to the possibility of world filled with magic. Rowling asks, “What if…” and proceeds to answer the question with the Harry Potter world.

Due to the magnitude of the franchise’s influence, a natural intersection has formed between its fantasy exhibition of magic and the reality of modern Witchcraft practice. This cultural intersection, which does in fact exist with other pop culture witch products, is sometimes an amusement for real practitioners, many of whom are loyal Potter fans. But, in other cases, the intersection is ignored or shrugged off as silly.  In other cases still, this cultural intersection between real magic and fantasy play can cause a real-life problem.

That is just what happened recently to small business owners and eclectic spiritualists Richard Carter and Jackie Restall. In April, Restall opened Mystical Moments, a metaphysical shop located on Britannia Road in Slaithwaite, England. She and Carter had been previously traveling around selling their craft works, crystals, and other items at local Pagan festivals and events. The store was the next step, and they used much of their remaining life savings to make it happen.

In an interview, Carter told The Wild Hunt, “Although we are a business, one of our main aims is to sell spiritual goods at a price that people can afford.” The couple sees their work as a service to other magical and spiritual workers. Mystical Moments offers healing services, as well as selling items such as “incense, crystals, sage, Angels, Buddhas, [their] own handmade ringed love goblets, runes, and wands.”

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Richard Carter [Courtesy Photo]

While Restall focuses on crystal work and healing, Carter makes the wands, which he considers “a spiritual calling.” He said, “I received an urge to craft wood […] I still can’t explain it, having never had worked with wood in my life.” In 2012, Restall gave Carter a lathe, after he had suffered a heart attack and was unable to return to work.

Carter went on to say, “The first time I used [the lathe] it was like I was being guided on how to use the chisels and how the wands turn out.” Four year later, wand making is now his passion. He said, “I make wands from oak, yew, mahogany, cherry, walnut, sycamore, sweet chestnut, and sometimes a combination of woods.”

In July, the new store’s presence attracted the attention of local reporter Chloe Glover, who writes for The Huddersfield Daily Examiner. After meeting with Restall and Carter, she wrote an article titled “From Slytherin to Slaithwaite – magic wand shop opens in the village,”  which was was not-so-coincidentally published July 30 – the opening day of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

While Glover’s article does provide an objective overview of the store itself, she focused predominantly on Carter’s wand making and injects language from the Potter world. Glover wrote, “Richard Carter may sound like a character out of a Harry Potter book, but his curious real-life skill is gaining nationwide fans amongst those with a spiritualist leaning.”

Despite the article’s level tone, it became the catalyst for a controversy of the magical kind. Carter explained, “The day after [Glover’s] article appeared I received a call from a freelance journalist asking if he could also do a piece on the wands. During the conversation it became apparent that he was interested in Harry Potter.”

Wands in Olivander's at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter [Pixabay]

Wands in Olivander’s at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter [Public Domain]

During that second interview, Carter said that the journalist asked him if he “would sell one of [his] wands to a Harry Potter fan.” It was Carter’s quoted response that captured international attention: “If I had someone come in wanting a wand just because they liked Harry Potter I would not sell them one, no matter how much they were offering.”

On Aug. 6, the Sunday Express published that quote along with a short article titled, “Real-life wandmaker bans Harry Potter fans from his shop.” Within 48 hours, both British and international media had picked up on this click-bait story:

Man who runs magic wand shop in Huddersfield BANS Harry Potter fans for not taking magic seriously” – The Sun
Harry Potter fans banned from wand shop for not being real wizards” – The Independent
Witchcraft shop refuses to serve Harry Potter fans because it sells ‘spiritual tools’ not toys for young Muggles” – The Telegraph
Expelliarmus! British Wand Shop Bans ‘Harry Potter’ Fans“- The Hollywood Reporter
UK wand-maker bans Harry Potter fans from ‘real magic shop’ ” – The Indian Express
Magic Shop bans Harry Potter fans” – New Zealand Herald

Without fail, each of these articles reports that Carter stated that he would not sell a wand to a Harry Potter fan. They also report that Carter can tell fans from a real magical practitioners by their auras.

However, according to Carter, much of what is being reported is inaccurate. He said, “We have never banned anyone from our shop.” In fact, Restall herself is a Harry Potter fan. The aura comment was in reference to helping customers choose the proper wood for their wands.

So what did Carter really say and mean? Both Carter and Restall “believe [their] wands are spiritual tools and not toys for Harry Potter fans to play with.” In other words, their wands are not intended to be used for cosplay, Halloween parties, or other types of pretend play. Carter’s wands are real.

He explained, “The point that I tried to make, but was misunderstood or more like misquoted, was that the wands, which I am guided to make, are for other like-minded people to partner with.” He added that they are made “to help [practitioners] with spells, to use during an healing, or to sit with in meditation. They are not toys.”

Carter believes that if Harry Potter fans want a play wand, they should “look on eBay and buy a mass produced toy, not something that has been made as a spiritual tool.”

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Mystical Moments hand-crafted wands [Courtesy Photo]

American wand maker Gypsey Teague agrees with Carter to some extent. Her wands, like Carter’s, are handmade as spiritual tools, and are not toys. In fact, Teague won’t even sell them over the internet for that very reason. She said, “No one should buy a wand over the internet. You have to match your energy to the wand.”

She added that other craft people, and even buyers, are shocked and put off by her policy. She said, “Other sellers have said, ‘How dare you not sell over the internet?’ I respond, ‘How dare you sell over the internet, as if they are toys?'”

Like Carter, Teague places a emphasis on the importance of the wood matching the user’s energy and magical needs, and, she would know. Along with being a Georgian elder, Teague has a master’s degree in landscape architecture and has been worked with hundreds of species of wood for over 35 years. She sells her wands at events and said that, in some cases, people take hours looking for the right wand match. In other cases, a customer can walk clear across a crowded field or vendor room and pick the right wand in seconds.

Teague added, “J.K. Rowling got a few things right,” one of which is the concept that the wand picks the witch. Like Restall, she is a Harry Potter fan. In fact, in her book The Witch’s Guide to Wands, Teague included a short chapter called, “The Wands of J.K. Rowling.” It begins, “Yes, I know. J.K. Rowling probably doesn’t have wands. However, her most famous protagonist does, and so do his friends and enemies.”

In the subsequent six pages, Teague analyzes the woods described as being used by several of the Potter characters, including Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Rubeus Hagrid and more. “It is not surprising that the holly was the wand of choice for Harry Potter. Harry embodies all that is good and strong in the magical world,” she wrote.

When asked if she would sell a wand to a Potter fan, Teague said, “Yes, as long as it is in person.” Unlike Carter, she doesn’t mind if they want to own a real magical wand. However, she did note that her wands don’t look like the movie wands, and most fans want replicas, which are typically mass-produced toys.

As far as she knows, she has never had anyone buy a wand specifically because they were a Potter fan. With that said, she has undoubtedly sold to Potter fans, because many real Witches and Pagans, like herself, are in fact also fans.

Wand make Gypsey Teague [Courtesy Photo]

Wand maker Gypsey Teague [Courtesy Photo]

Carter agrees with Teague. He was quoted as saying that “J.K. Rowling has obviously done her research” with respect to wands and woods. And he himself has enjoyed the movies.

Fortunately for Carter and the store, there has been no direct backlash. Most of the negative commentary has been contained within internet-based public comment areas. In the Telegraph articlefantasy author GP Taylor was quoted as saying, “I think this is terrible. Harry Potter fans should be served. They are going crazy over the Cursed Child and need their wands. It is discrimination against Potter fans. They should go to court for justice.” Several Twitter users called for a protest outside of the store, but nothing ever manifested.

Carter said, “We have had Bento magazine in Germany, Marie Claire magazine, Dublin radio and the BBC contact us but at least that gave me the opportunity to put the facts across on what I had actually said.” Journalist Chloe Glover, whose local article about the store started the media frenzy, also did a follow-up article that shares Carter’s reaction.

But it didn’t end there. On July 14, the entire fiasco caught the attention of J.K. Rowling. She tweeted:

Her tweet launched another round of international articles about Carter and his wand making:

Harry Potter author JK Rowling defends fans ‘banned’ from wand shop – ABC Online
Spells trouble: JK Rowling joins row over Harry Potter fans’ right to ‘real wands’ – The Guardian
J.K. Rowling responds to store owner’s ban on Harry Potter fans – New York Daily News

On Twitter itself, Rowling’s comment garnered many responses, many of which supported her words and ridiculed the controversy or Carter himself. However, other tweets came in from Pagans, looking to correct her seemingly irreverent statement.

“Really? Mocking a man over his religion, and not selling his religions tools to just anyone?” – @Acadia Jules

“They’re hand-crafted religious objects. They deserve to be treated with respect.” – @Laina

“He’s selling to Wiccans, a proper religion. It’s like someone taking a cross from a church to go hunt vampires.” – @MystBornWoW

When asked if he had responded to Rowling’s statement, Carter said, “No […] mainly because I am not on Twitter and a bit of a technophobe.” He went on to say that if he was to respond it would be to say simply: ‘Each to their own, but like us try not to be judgmental of other people.’

Carter will continue making his wands and selling them in the new store, letting his customers choose their woods as guided by their own energy. At this time, Mystical Moments does not have a website or online presence with the exception of its Facebook fan page. Carter added, “We would like to thank all the people globally who have shown their support and respected our right to keep our tools sacred.”

Column: Black August

Heathen Chinese —  August 20, 2016 — 2 Comments

The dog days of summer are here, marked by the rising of the star Sirius in the morning sky, “the star they give the name of Orion’s Dog, which is brightest among the stars, and yet is wrought as a sign of evil and brings on the great fever for unfortunate mortals.”¹ On August 13, Sylville Smith was killed by a Milwaukee police officer. In the following two nights, eight businesses and numerous cars were burned, rocks and bottles were thrown at the police, and guns were fired on multiple occasions, resulting in at least one hospitalization. Meanwhile, the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center has alleged that the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) prison gang may be planning “to kill correctional officers and Aryan Brotherhood gang members” in commemoration of Black August.

george jackson

George Jackson 

Black August originated in the 1970s following the August 7, 1970 deaths of Jonathan Jackson, James McClain and William Christmas during a prisoner liberation and hostage-taking at the Marin County Courthouse and the August 21, 1971 death of George Jackson during a prison rebellion in San Quentin.

Prisoners participating in Black August “wore black armbands on their left arm and studied revolutionary works, focusing on the works of George Jackson. The brothers did not listen to the radio or watch television in August. Additionally, they didn’t eat or drink anything from sun-up to sundown; and loud and boastful behavior was not allowed. The brothers did not support the prison’s canteen. The use of drugs and alcoholic beverages was prohibited and the brothers held daily exercises.”

Black August also commemorates numerous other significant moments in black history including but not limited to the Haitian Revolution, which began on August 21, 1791 and was preceded by the Vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman on August 14, the slave rebellions led by Gabriel Prosser on August 30, 1800 and by Nat Turner on August 21, 1831, the founding of the Underground Railroad on August 2, 1850 and the Watts rebellions in August, 1965. In their article on Black August, the Malcolm X Grassroots movement writes, “if we stand tall, it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.” Like a flowering branch nourished by roots wrapped around the decaying bodies of the dead, the visible manifestations of revolt are supported by a vast invisible network of spirits and subterranean traditions.

A New Birth, At Once Into Life and Into Death

In his study of “The Traditional Chinese Mourning Categories,” anthropologist David K. Jordan notes that mourning is characterized by two indicators: “distinctive mourning clothing” and the requirement to “avoid normal activities, sometimes even subsistence activities.” We see the same two indicators in the black armbands worn by prisoners during Black August, and in their avoidance of a wide range of “normal activities,” including fasting.

The need to mourn the deaths of George and Jonathan Jackson was also seen clearly by both James Baldwin and Jean Genet. The friendship of the two writers and their writings about the Jacksons are analyzed in Bædan: journal of queer time travel. In No Name in the Street, Baldwin compared the grief of Georgia Jackson, Jonathan and George’s mother, to that of the Virgin Mary:

George Jackson has joined his beloved baby brother, Jon, in the royal fellowship of death. And one may say that Mrs. Georgia Jackson and the alleged mother of God have, at last, found something in common. Now, it is the Virgin, the alabaster Mary, who must embrace the despised black mother whose children are also the issue of the Holy Ghost.²

Jean Genet also wrote about Georgia Jackson, but in his “half-waking dream” that he experienced “a few hours after [George] Jackson’s death,” George and Jonathan were reborn from a different womb:

Jonathan and George violently came out of the prison, a stony womb, on waves of blood. […] It was not their mother who gave birth to them that night, for she was there, upright, impassive but alert, looking on. If it was a new birth, at once into life and into death, who but History was delivering the two black men covered, as with every birth, in blood.³

In a strange parallel, Baldwin declared that “an old world is dying, and a new one, kicking in the belly of its mother, time, announces that it is ready to be born. This birth will not be easy, and many of us are doomed to discover that we are exceedingly clumsy midwives.” He prophesied that “there will be bloody holding actions all over the world, for years to come: but the Western party is over, and the white man’s sun has set.” We are still seeing the “bloody holding actions” today, and we have indeed proven to be “exceedingly clumsy midwives,” but these struggles are nothing new.

Haitian_revolution

Haitian Revolution. Battle of Snake Gully, 1802 [Public Domain]

Dance Groups or Associations Which Foster an Esprit de Corps

The Vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman on August 14, 1791 also served as a kind of bloody Caesarean birth, for the Haitian Revolution began exactly one week later. The ceremony was first written about by Antoine Dalmas, a French doctor who fled to the United States and then wrote a report in 1794 based upon the interrogation of prisoners. That Dalmas’ portrayal of the ritual is unsympathetic is an understatement that should go without saying, but nonetheless, it is the first written account of the ceremony:

[They] celebrated a sort of feast or sacrifice in the middle of a wooded untilled plot on the Choiseul plantation, called le Caïman, where a very large number of Negroes assembled. An entirely black pig, surrounded by fetishes (fétiches), loaded with offerings each more bizarre than the other was the holocaust offered to the all-powerful spirit (génie) of the black race. The religious rituals that the negroes conducted while cutting its throat, the avidity with which they drank of his blood, the value they set in possessing a few of his bristles, a sort of talisman which, according to them, was to render them invulnerable, all serve to characterize Africans. That such an ignorant and besotted caste would make the superstitious rituals of an absurd and sanguinary religion serve as a prelude to the most frightful crimes was to be expected.4

Later accounts, such as that of the French abolitionist Civique de Gastine in 1819, would add further details such as the renunciation of Christianity as “the religion of their masters” and a collective oath “to perish rather than return to slavery,” but these writers were much further removed from the actual events in Haiti in 1791. It is, however, telling that “the second Haitian president, Alexandre Pétion, in 1814 prohibited the gathering of ‘all dance groups…or associations which foster an esprit de corps.’5 In other words, it is indisputable that subaltern religious organizations were seen as a threat by those who gained power after the revolution, which speaks to their significance and power during the revolution itself.

A quick survey of cross-cultural and historical comparisons shows that rituals intended to grant invulnerability were also associated with the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, Chinese spirit mediums in general, the Native American Ghost Dance, and the mainads of Dionysos written about in Euripides’s Bakkhai: against the mainads, “sharpened weapons drew no blood at all.”6 While Euripides was a playwright and may be accused of poetic license, the historical record shows that Dionysian worship was seen as a serious threat in Rome. Like Pétion in 1814 CE, the Roman Senate in 186 BCE banned all Bacchic cults not approved by the praetor urbanus, declaring that “henceforth they shall not form conspiracies among themselves, stir up any disorder, make mutual promises or agreements, or interchange pledges; no one shall observe the sacred rites either in public or private or outside the city, unless he comes to the praetor urbanus.”

The fear of conspiracies, disorder and oaths is obvious in the senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, and even more so in Livy. Just like Dalmas’s claim that Bois Caïman was a “prelude to the most frightful crimes,” Livy associated the Bacchic rites with criminality and violence:

With the added liberation of darkness, absolutely every crime and vice was performed there. The men had more sex with each other than with the women. Anyone who was less prepared for disgrace and slow to commit crimes was offered up as a sacrifice. To consider nothing wrong was the principal tenet of their religio. Men, as if insane, prophesied with wild convulsions of their bodies, married women in the dress of the Bacchants with streaming hair ran down to the Tiber carrying burning torches, which they dipped into the water and brought out still alight.

Like Dalmas, Livy was clearly an unsympathetic narrator, but the disapproval and disgust of these reactionary writers merely goes to show how seriously “dance groups or associations which foster an esprit de corps” have historically frightened the ruling classes.

Mainad. Kylix, 490–480 BCE, Vulci, Italy. [Public Domain]

Mainad. Kylix, 490–480 BCE, Vulci, Italy [Public Domain]

The Chaplains Corps of the War on Slavery

Rebelliously-inclined religious organizations were present in the Antebellum Southern United States as well, some of which are written about in Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford’s Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South. For example, one of the leaders in Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion testified at his trial that he was sent to recruit the “outlandish people” who were “supposed to deal with witches and wizards,”7 and thereby recruit the sorcerers as well.

Furthermore, the early black nationalist Martin Delany (1812–1885) wrote of a council of conjure men and women known as “the Head” located within the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The Head performed rituals in a cave in the swamp, where they also kept a large sacred serpent. The Head played a major role in the initiation of new conjure men and women: “in order to be ordained as conjure men or women, non-maroons were forced to (at least temporarily) escape their bondage and find the council.”8 This initiatory escape, even if temporary, served to forge ties between the maroons in the swamps and the rebels on the plantations.

The Head was involved in numerous slave insurrections and “considered themselves to be the chaplains corps of the war on slavery. The Head deeply revered the memory of Nat Turner, and claimed to have been associated with his effort. As young conjure men they had fought alongside General Gabriel and took pride in that action forty years later.”9 By venerating the ancestors of the struggle and keeping their memories alive, the Head contributed to future revolts as well.

Shirley and Stafford argue that the maroon communities that were rooted in the Great Dismal Swamp were crucial to the exceptionally high number of large uprisings that broke out in the Tidewater region of Virginia and North Carolina, and that diverse and syncretic spiritual practices were an inherent and central part of maroon social organization.10 Like the Eolh-sedge of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, the maroon community “is mostly to be found in a marsh; it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound, covering with blood every warrior who touches it.”

Nat Turner. [Public Domain]

Nat Turner [Public Domain]

Let the Crops Rot, Betray the Whites

These are but a few of the stories and ancestors invoked by Black August. And even after August 31, the memory of previous uprisings guides the struggles of the present. On September 9, the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, prisoners are calling for a general strike of prison labor across the United States:

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.

This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.

While the prisoners address their fellow prisoners directly, solidarity actions proliferate outside the walls of the prisons. But the conditions of imprisonment extend beyond the facilities themselves, as Milwaukee demonstrates clearly. Jean Genet’s words after the death of George Jackson ring as true today as they did in 1971:

We must look closely…at all imprisoned blacks—whether in jail or the ghetto—who are in danger at every moment of being assassinated like George and Jonathan Jackson or of being wasted away by the white world. In fact, we must learn to betray the whites that we are.11

Genet, despite declaring George and Jonathan “two black Gemini,” eschewed the language of mythology and instead called this task a “human labor directed against the dense and sparkling mythology of the white world.” Nonetheless, I maintain that the war is waged on all fronts simultaneously, and that the spiritual realms are inseparable from the social and the material.

Footnotes

  1. Homer, Iliad 22.29-31, translated by Richmond Lattimore.
  2. Quoted in Bædan 110.
  3. Quoted in Bædan 111.
  4. Quoted in Elizabeth McAlister, “From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History” 9.
  5. Ibid 8.
  6. Euripides, Bakkhai, translated by Anne Carson 40.
  7. Quoted in Dixie Be Damned 43.
  8. Ibid 44.
  9. Hugo Leaming, quoted in Dixie Be Damned 44.
  10. Ibid 21.
  11. Quoted in Bædan 111.

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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.

In my column last month,  we looked at the idea of challenging the narrative, and how this both supports and provokes community. Within this reflection, we were able to look at three different areas in which Pagans were challenging expectations within our own interconnected Pagan and Polytheistic communities. There are many ways that individuals, groups, and subsets are challenging what has become the operation of the over-culture within our community. The inevitable response to constructed boundaries within any segment of society becomes the pushing of barriers.

owl-1240961_1920Marginalization and outsider politics happen within every community. Considering the impact of such dynamics can be difficult and are often based in perspective. Conversations will yield different responses from those who are connected more to a common narrative, than those who exist within the margins of the margin. As it is within most segments of society, acceptable narratives are more openly discussed and have a way of drowning out those that are not. Challenging the narrative often means identifying and amplifying the voices that are often underrepresented or too often lost in the repetitive nature of the over-culture.

What happens when people actively push against the narrative of any community? Does the common story, language, history, symbolism, and practices of the mainstream serve as a means to marginalize those who do not fit within the prescribed narrative?

While subsets of our community continue to work to define modern Paganism or Polytheism, other subsets actively push against this notion. And some just do not fit within the sometimes narrow walls of any of the common narratives at the table.

In exploring the many different areas of these typical narratives, the over-culture, marginalization and the boundaries of conformity, I reached back into the pool of voices for four different perspectives. Coming from different places within the spectrum of our Pagan and Polytheistic community, I spoke with Tamilia ReedKarina BlackHeart, Laura Tempest Zakroff, and Langston Kahn. People from different locations, spaces, paths, cultural histories, and trainings; all a part of our evolving communities’ narrative story.

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Karina BlackHeart is a longtime teacher, mentor and practitioner. Her book, A Witch’s Book of Silence, was recently published in 2015 and focuses on many aspects of power, wisdom, love and self.

Crystal Blanton: How do you feel that writing about silence challenges the narrative of our current community?”

Karina BlackHeart: I hope it encourages people to stop and think before speaking. One of the downfalls of social media is that it engenders a kind of impulsive immediacy in response to information coming in. So, when we are challenged by opinions, practices, theologies or world views which differ from our own, the instinct is to respond defensively. And, because we are using platforms which effectively erase the words we read — losing them in a sea of other posts — that compulsion to react as soon as thought arises is a strong one!

Perhaps, a more mature or self-possessed response might be to sit with the “offending” information and engage is some self inquiry. As in, “Why is this making me so angry? Why do I feel defensive about this? Does this practice or theology invalidate my own? Why, exactly, do I feel the need to defend myself or blame and shame others?”

This line of questioning requires self-reflection. It takes time. It puts us face to face with our own stuff — insecurity, doubt, persecution complexes and ego attachments. It’s uncomfortable and, in the over-culture (of which we are a part, by the way) very unusual. Taking a step back, sitting with ourselves and entering silence allows us the opportunity to question ourselves rather than attack the Other. In doing so, we may find our beliefs are strengthened. Conversely, we might actually expand our world view.

I hope my work on silence helps explain why it’s so very important for magical people to engage with. But, I also hope it gives people permission to be still and silent when their impulse and the expectations of others demand the opposite.

Karina BlackHeart

Karina BlackHeart [Courtesy Photo]

CB: Do you feel that the common narrative of our community has impacted how you have had to navigate the intersecting dynamics of your family culture and your spiritual culture?

KBH: It’s an interesting question because when I wrote that piece about my lived experience as a white Mom parenting biracial, brown-skinned children, it had nothing to do with Paganism. I didn’t write it thinking, “I need to make a statement to Pagans about why black lives matter.” I wrote it because it felt important to me to respond in the way I could to the denial of racism in the over-culture. Again, we Pagans are a part of that and reflect many more of the values, beliefs and habits of the over-culture than we care to admit.

I needed to speak my Truth, my own lived experience in hopes that maybe even one of the “All Lives Matter” people or those holding on to the racially-biased perception that what POC report as lived experience is false, exaggerated, playing the victim etc.

As to the question of the Pagan culture impacting the way I navigate in those communities as the Mother of biracial kids, Yes. There certainly have been times when I’ve had to say to white Pagans speaking racist ideology, “Hey. My kids are black. You’re talking about my kids.” Most people respond by saying, “I’m not talking about *your* kids, I’m talking about *those* kids.”  Then, I ask how they would tell my kids apart from those kids.

For the most part, though, I keep a pretty low profile with regards to my private life. My kids are my private life. Who I date is private. I was lucky, I think, to be trained in the Craft to question not only how the over-culture indoctrinates us into perpetuating systems of oppression and power-over, but to also question the ways and means Pagan subculture does the same.  As a result, the way I navigate Pagan culture is to continually and purposefully keep a low profile.

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Langston Kahn embodies a myriad of experiences, identities, and training that all push against the boundaries of any standard over-culture. He is a Shamanic practitioner initiated into traditions of the African Diaspora and a Black/Bi-racial man in New York City.

Langston Khan

Langston Kahn [Courtesy Photo]

Crystal Blanton: Common narrative within community often reinforces the boundaries of inclusion or what inevitably becomes excluded. Do you feel that your experience within the larger Pagan and Polytheistic community has been inclusive of your various, intersecting, marginalized identities?

Langston Kahn: It’s so hard to answer this question because of the multiple Paganisms and polytheisms I’ve been a part of over the years along with the multiple marginalized identities I embody– black, biracial, queer. I first came up in neo-Paganism, specifically neo-Wicca. I didn’t find any real mirrors for my blackness there, the cultural influences and depictions of divinities were all overwhelmingly European. At the time however, it didn’t consciously bother me because I was struggling with my own identity issues as someone who was raised in a predominately white community. At that time in my life, Paganism provided a basic framework for engaging with the sacred that was extremely valuable for me, but it also always felt like something was missing.

Eventually I found my way to a traditional Gardnerian coven where I stayed for four years. All my coven mates were white, but my high priest was gay so that part of my identity felt fairly seen and included. It was interesting to talk with my High Priest about how he saw his sexuality at play in the tradition.

During this time I also found my way to MAGPAGAN, a gay men’s Pagan circle in NYC. Again, this space was predominately white but it was an extremely valuable space for learning to begin to lead ritual as anyone could volunteer each month to engage the other members in whatever ritual practice they were interested in. It also lead me to Between the Worlds, a Pagan gathering for those who identify as men who love men in Ohio.

Say it with me now– predominately white (I think there was one other person of color there when I went) but it opened me up to many facets of Paganism I had not yet experienced. Expert ritualists, Druids, extremely skilled Witches, shamanic practitioners, devotional polytheists, etc. I experienced some extremely catalyzing rituals there and I realized there was a way in which queer people / men who loved men connected traditions across the usual boundaries in a really beautiful and important way. For me this felt like seeing the dream of Paganism actualized. A big umbrella where people with many different traditions and perspectives could gather in a way that was respectful of their differences and created something larger than the sum of their parts.

I began to have a series of initiatory experiences with spirits that lead me away from my coven and to begin to study (and join)some indigenous traditions and begin a four year training program in a contemporary shamanic tradition. During this time I also joined a house of devotional polytheists. While this house was also largely white– many people in the house were also intimately involved in African Tradition Religions as well as contemporary shamanisms so they were able to provide much better support for both the identity work I was doing as well as the spiritual experiences I was having.

I found that polytheists emphasized the importance of decolonization as central to the practice far more than the Pagan communities I was a part of. They gave me insight into the type of ancestor work that demanded you do the hard work of bringing all of your many identities to the table and exploring and processing the pain those identities carry with them in our contemporary western culture which was invaluable to me. Suddenly I had frameworks for engaging all of my identities intimately in my spiritual process.

My shamanic tradition was where I finally found the tools I had been looking for to truly work with life as a teacher and begin to understand some of the unique challenges of our time and gain tools to address them. The work was centered around aligning more and more with the helping spirits that walk with us and our authenticity and so the teachings brought me to engage deeper with all of my identities.

CB: How do you feel that your spiritual work pushes the boundaries of the common community narrative?

LK: This question is hard for me as I’m not sure what the boundaries of the common community narrative are. In fact– that might actually be how my work challenges the common community narrative. I am part of a shamanic community that defines community as people coming together with shared skill sets and shared beliefs and principles. We strive to be contemporary people working together in a way that mirrors indigenous community structures. We strive not just to use indigenous technologies, but do the work necessary to transform the contemporary distortions from our culture within ourselves so we can approach the technologies closer to how indigenous / pre-contact peoples do.

So I think what challenges the common community narrative about my work is that I am deeply invested in communities that mirror indigenous communities where the bar is very high. People are expected to do their work or if they aren’t willing to, to leave the community. Additionally, there is an understanding that if someone is manifesting a problem, such as mental illness or physical illness– it is often something that the entire community needs to look at within themselves and how the individuals dynamics mirror the community dynamics.

The more I have experienced the treasure of having this type of community over the last five years, the less I am invested in using the word community to define groups of people that are not willing to cultivate the skills necessary to be in true community together. This might sound a little grouchy, and that’s not how I intend it, but the more I have experienced the gift of actual community (along with all of the headaches and challenges that it brings), the less I want to use the word describe anything less. I think we need to think carefully if we really do want to come together as a community and if so, we might need to acknowledge that collectively we need to learn new skills (for personal emotional work, non violent communication, mediation, leadership by council, etc) to be able to do so effectively rather than projecting the drama that arises or the failures to come together on “a few bad apples” that happen to be in focus because they have risked stepping into leadership.

 *    *    *

Laura Tempest Zakroff is not just a great person, but is also a someone whose work is very inspiring in showing a balance between many different pieces that come together in unique ways. Her bio says that she “can be described by many different labels: artist, author, blogger, dancer, designer, event producer, teacher, witch – to name a few. Coming from a long line of diverging cultures, she is most at ease in blending her skills and inspirations throughout all of her work.”

Laura Tempest Zakroff

Laura Tempest Zakroff [Courtesy Photo]

Crystal Blanton: Your spiritual work within the Pagan community operate outside of the margins of the common Pagan narrative. How do you feel this empowers your work?

Laura Tempest Zakroff: My first response to the question started with “it does?!” Then the list of things started building up quickly, providing the clear evidence on so many levels, so I suppose that really is true! I suppose that speaks to the fact that I’m often not found comparing my path as a Witch to others, which is extremely empowering in itself.  I think that’s one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in the last 20 years – that when you trust your gut, ask questions and seek to find your own answers, you can see your own path so much more clearly.  I know what works for me because I have done the experimenting, I have seen the results, and adjusted accordingly. There is a huge amount of freedom that comes with defining   your own path through balancing instinct and intuition, research and revelation – as well as responsibility to yourself and the Divine.

CB: Have you felt restricted by the over-culture of common Pagan narrative and how do you navigate those boundaries within larger community?

LTZ: I can’t say that I’ve felt specifically restricted, but rather have used it as a guide to affirm what I do and don’t want in my practice. As a designer and artist by trade, I’m excited by problem-solving – I’d rather find a solution then get bogged down in the frustration and angst of the problem or specific experience. For example, many years ago, I attended a ritual at a Pagan Pride event that was a huge circle, with only a handful of certain people having any sort of active role in the center, while everyone else had to stand and watch for an hour what they did. It was static, long, and felt disrespectful to everyone else there. If I wanted that kind of ritual, I would have stayed in the Catholic Church! So instead, I focused on making sure that when I held a group ritual, it was a dynamic experience for everyone, that made them feel truly included as active participants to their level of comfort. I am huge supporter of integrating movement into ritual – connecting mind, body, and spirit.

I’m not about to tell anyone that the way they are approaching or doing something is “doing it wrong”, especially if it works for them. Instead, I can ask them about the how and why they do a thing for my own education and understanding. Also, I can talk about what works for me and why – and mutual respect if that works or doesn’t work for you. Nobody can tell you that your experience is wrong, especially when it involves the Gods. If anyone has a place to tell you you’re “doing it wrong”, the Gods do, and they tend to also show you how to do it right.

I will admit to having been nervous in a few situations where I’ve presented material at conventions/festivals that could be considered “out of the box” to the general P-word world. But whether that’s been regarding my take on Sigil Magick, Visual Alchemy, integrating dance and ritual, eclectic workings, the Self Divine, etc – the response has been incredibly positive, well-received, and exceptionally enthusiastic. Which means that it is striking a chord with many people who feel the same way, but maybe didn’t feel comfortable yet in expressing or exploring those concepts.  I often tend to mix in humor with what I do, which always makes it easier for folks to grasp!

Next May, my first book The Witch’s Cauldron will be coming out from Llewellyn as part of their Witch’s Tools series. I’m very excited as well to see how it will be received, as I dig deep into some of the popular cauldron myths and uproot them, as well as I propose some new and unconventional ways to look at and use the cauldron in your personal practice.  It follows my personal guidelines of: critical thinking, creative freedom, and personal responsibility.

Laura Tempest Zakroff

Laura Tempest Zakroff [Courtesy Photo]

CB: How does the over-culture of modern Paganism influence the subcultures that exist within our community? Does it influence you?<

LTZ: I think there’s a fair amount of Judeo-Christian residue that we’re still running into in terms of organization/structure, doctrine, and practice that trickles down. Which is fair – as Paganism (or your favorite P-wordism) is still fairly young in modern culture, and it’s common to look to models that are around you. But we HAVE accomplished a LOT in a short amount of time.

I remember at the Pagan Leaders Summit in 2001 where we discussed issues about establishing temples and churches, helping inmates, getting Pagan symbols on soldiers’ tombstones, etc – and it’s astounding to see what’s happened along those agendas since then, and so much more! Or look to the social awareness and justice issues that are hot and important topics right now – the changes I’ve seen in just the last couple of years has been inspiring – and there’s still more to come! Whether this is a movement from the overall narrative downward, or from the subcultures upward, it’s working.

In the end, no one wants to be told they’re wrong, but everyone wants to be respected – and most people do want to make sure they’re being respectful to others. It’s a matter of spreading and sharing awareness in a way that educates and inspires, instead of excludes or alienates. That mode of thinking has been a very positive and invigorating influence on my work. I appreciate ideas and patterns that challenge me, that make me think and reconsider my own beliefs and actions, adjusting accordingly to make sure I’m being respectful and inclusive. I believe that being flexible, considerate, and fluid are integral to being a Witch.

 *    *    *

Tamilia Reed is an author that brings much more than written word to the community. She currently writes for Patheos Pagan on several different blogs and draws on reconstructed Heathen, Hellenic, and Roman practices.

Crystal Blanton: Common narrative within community often reinforces the boundaries of inclusion or what inevitably becomes excluded. Do you feel that your experience within the larger Pagan and Polytheistic community has been inclusive of your various, intersecting, marginalized identities?

Tamilia Reed: I identify as a Black bisexual woman. In my experience, those identities intersect to form a unique experience that is not well captured by any subset of the three. Within the Pagan community, I believe that there is ample room for any number of identities. Whether or not those identities will be seen, recognized, and understood is a different issue entirely. I find that my identities as a bisexual and a woman have been more readily seen, recognized, and understood by others than my identity as a Black person.

This is not surprising given that race has a long, complicated, bloody, and uncomfortable history that violates many of the love and light principles that glue many brands of Paganism together. Consequently, my blackness is more often addressed as a physical characteristic than a socio-political identity complete with unique lived experiences. Only in the wake of police brutality in the media have more Pagans come forward and expressed their desire to learn more about my lived experiences as a Black person. Even then, the reality of what it means to be Black and a woman and bisexual is grist for the mill of another day.

Within polytheistic and reconstructionist communities, there is greater awareness of concepts like cultural appropriation and depending on the degree to which my Blackness is understood as cultural I am sometimes invited to those conversations but rarely does anyone start a conversation about race in America with me, and definitely not a conversation that engages contemporary expressions of Paganism and its underlying philosophies in connection with US race politics.

Tamilia Reed

Tamilia Reed [Courtesy Photo]

CB: How do you feel that your spiritual work pushes the boundaries of the common community narrative?

TR: In a way, I feel that doing anything while being Black, woman, and bisexual pushes the boundaries of the common community narrative. The common community narrative says that my Black woman bisexual identity is welcome and beautiful, but not necessarily spiritually significant beyond what can be appropriated from the cultures that I am assumed to align with. My spiritual path pushes the boundaries by acknowledging my ancestors of blood and of spirit, by honoring gods at the intersections of my identities, and by pursuing social justice inside and outside of Pagan sacred spaces.

CB: Have you felt restricted by the over-culture of common Pagan narrative and how do you navigate those boundaries within larger community?

TR: Just as I have felt restricted outside of the Pagan community due to my Black bisexual woman identity, I have felt restricted within it. Since coming to Paganism I have noticed that my Blackness, when seen at all, is treated as a credit to the diversity of the community rather than a set of lived experiences worthy of communal and spiritual attention. In my attempt to navigate those boundaries, I work diligently to share my experiences as a Black bisexual woman with my Pagan friends and acquaintances. I am committed to giving voice to my experiences – the good and the bad – as a person with intersecting marginalized identities within the Pagan community. For me, overcoming the over-culture has meant recognizing it and daring to defy it in every circle I cast and in every relationship I cultivated across those problematic boundaries.

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It is important to consider the effects of a culture that becomes too rigid and unable to be flexible with the ebb and flow of community. Whether or not modern Paganism or Polytheism has grown in that direction is not mine to decide. It is an evolving paradigm that each of us need to pick apart for ourselves in order to decipher what kind of community we are creating, and what kind of community we want. Any facet of society that does not acknowledge the grey areas, the role of the challenger, the beauty of difference, or the need to acknowledge the diversity of humanity leaves little room for the creativity that comes from the fringes. There are so many people operating within the margins of any given society, creating a narrative that will inevitably push against the status quo in ways that are culturally relevant, fresh and new, or can support a new way of embracing the art of engagement.

Some of the many gifts we have to share, or learn, come from perspectives, experiences, and variations that stretch us mentally and spiritually. Challenging the narrative pushes against an over-culture that often become monotonous. Once again, a reflection on the myriad of differences within our community opens door to discussions, insights, curiosity, and magic.

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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.

The Kremlin has brought in a raft of laws on religion that Russian Pagans fear could impact their community. The legislation, which came into force July 20, was rushed through parliament under the banner of combating religious extremism.

According to Russian Pagan and activist Gwiddon, the move is “a package of changes to deal with several different laws which are anti-terrorism measures.” He added: “It increases penalties for terrorist action, it puts responsibility on friends and family to report terrorist action, otherwise there is a criminal sentence.”

The laws include making social media and mobile phone companies store all communications for six months, and a summary of each communication for three years. As this is the first move of its kind, it is unknown whether or not it is actually possible to store such a massive amount of data.

The legislation also requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of Justice and to inform the government of the nature of their group, their leaders and members, including civil names and addresses, and where rituals are performed. In addition, groups need to declare in writing that they will uphold Russian values, which includes agreeing with the military draft, upholding the law, and supporting family values. Of the latter, Gwiddon stated, “You have to write that one down, or else you will get problems.”

Vladimir Putin with Russian religious leaders [Photo Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office / Wikimedia]

Vladimir Putin with Russian religious leaders [Photo Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office / Wikimedia]

A failure to comply is regarded as an “administrative injustice” and can result in a nominal fine – approximately 320 roubles. “It’s a small thing, but it’s a precedent,” noted Gwiddon.

For pagans, the main impact comes in the form of what is being defined as “missionary activity.” This makes expressing religious or spiritual thought to a non-member of your group an administrative injustice. It can also cover online activity and violations carry a fine of 50,000 roubles.

Gwiddon said, “Over the past 10 years there have been increasing ties between the State and the Church, the Russian Orthodox Church in particular. Even though our constitution is completely secular, we’ve seen an erosion of that concept in the past few years.”

Russian Orthodox is the official religion, and the Church has enjoyed a boom in governmental support over the past decade. Gwiddon explained, “The Church has become the ideological ministry, the ministry of thought so to speak. They promote governmental agendas and they criticise what the government wants them too.”

He went on to say, “The government uses the Church as the glue to bind society together. This came about intentionally as the government tried to find out what it means to be Russian now, what is our national identity now. They arrived at this idea, as we had so many years of Communism and before that monarchy and empire, and, as all that has gone, they think, ‘We have nothing left but the Church’. About 65 per cent of the people belong to it, not an overwhelming majority but it’s still many.”

According to Gwiddon, the new laws were established to combat all forms of religious extremism, such as radical Islamic groups and also groups like the Church of Scientology and the Hare Krishna movement.

He said: “They are trying to fight terrorism that is influenced by militant religious rhetoric. The law is there to prevent fanaticism in young people. They also want to fight cults and sects which they believe are damaging and destroying people’s lives, by giving away their money, being mind- controlled by these foreign and unusual cults.

“This change is not just to fight terrorism, but to protect citizens from dangerous cults. The government views such groups, such as the Hare Krishnas, with suspicion and are concerned.”

In fact, the first person to be prosecuted under the new legislation was a supporter of the Hare Krishna movement. Moscow was keen to demonstrate this new law in action and, on July 27,  a man from southern Russia was prosecuted for handing out leaflets about the Hare Krishna group that he supports. Someone filed a complaint to the police.

It was later shown that the man was not an official member of this group, but only supported it. However, expressing such thoughts publicly, is considered proselytizing, which is forbidden.

Gwiddon said, “That’s what happens in Russia, a new law comes in and they try it out with show trials to indicate who is being punished and what for.”

The part of the law pertaining to “missionary activity” is what is so concerning for most Russian Pagans. The new laws are vague and open-ended, leaving them wide open for a variety of interpretations – especially as they also cover online activity. Gwiddon explained, “If you speak to your friend on a train, say, about a religious topic and someone overhears you, according to the new law that is an administrative violation and you can be fined 50,000 roubles. You won’t go to jail for it, but it’s a hefty fine, given that the average Russian wage is 30,250 roubles a month.”

Sharing images of deities over Facebook, for example, could also be regarded as proselyting. And, it is unknown as of yet if this law will be applied retroactively to social media.

This crackdown extends to private homes as well as public arenas and venues. Missionary activity has to be confined to a temple or a church, or lands belonging to them and are legally registered, or to cemeteries, morgues and other such sites where religious activities may occur.  This is to prevent door-to-door proselytising, as performed by groups including the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Any sort of worship in public places is banned. This has obvious implications for public rituals, even solo affairs, as any such activity is now subject to the same 50,000 rouble fine. It is not even possible to hold group rituals in your own home, as it is not a designated place for religious worship. Under Russian law, you can own a piece of property personally but you cannot transform into a church or religious building unless you transfer it out of the realm of private dwelling and into the realm of religious dwelling.

The irony is that, although the Kremlin is keen to strengthen the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, few Russians actively practice the faith. Gwiddon said: “In our last National Census in 2011, only 65 per cent of Russians regarded themselves as Russian Orthodox, only 5 per cent of those attend Church services regularly and only 4 per cent have read the Bible. We are not a religious people, we are like Spain – where everyone is Catholic but no one goes to mass.”

The Russian Orthodox Church seems perturbed by the rise of Paganism among the young, echoing a trend across the Slavic nations. “These younger and more energetic group of people are not prepared to conform to an ideology which is about being meek and turning the other cheek,” explained Gwiddon. “They are attracted to Paganism partly because it is more fun. The young men in particular want something more manly and many are attracted to the old Slavic gods or Asatru, where the hero thing is going.”

Romuvan ceremony [Photo Credit: Mantas LT / Wikimedia]

Baltic Romuvan ceremony [Photo Credit: Mantas LT / Wikimedia]

Gwiddon points to neighbouring Lithuania as an example of Paganism being more readily accepted by the authorities. He said, “Lithuania has Romuva – it is a reconstruction of their old faith. But some say it is a continuation. The Romuva are supported by the Lithuanian government. Instead of going to the Catholic church exclusively, they have looked at different options of what it means to be Lithuanian today and they picked up Paganism as one part of the spectrum.

“They have said, ‘This is a flavour of what it means to be Lithuanian’. They use taxpayer money to support them and help build temples in some way at least, even though the majority of Lithuanians are Catholic. In Russia, they have gone for the majority and the rhetoric is that Pagans are the bad sheep and we are lost and can still come back to the flock.”

Gwiddon added, “At the moment the law is very vague and open to interpretation. It is impossible to know how it will be implemented yet.”