[Terence P Ward is one of our talented weekly staff writers. He brings you the news and issues that most affect the Pagan and Heathen worlds. If you like his work and that of our other weekly reporters, help us by donating to our fall fund drive. Bringing you news and stories is what we love to do. Your continued support makes it possible for us to continue. Thank you very much.]

PPD logo

The recent equinox not only marked the change of natural seasons, but also the midpoint of the official Pagan Pride season, which runs from August 1 to October 31, 2014. Pagan Pride Days have been held for at least sixteen years, and probably a lot longer than that. The popularity and success of these events continues to rise, according to some metrics. However there’s an ongoing debate over whether or not the movement is achieving its softer goal – outreach beyond of the Pagan community.

According to reports from the Pagan Pride Project (PPP), the organization behind many of these events, the numbers look great. Carla Smith, Vice President/Membership Director of the PPP provided these statistics:

We have 110 events scheduled for 2014 and 15 of these are new events. We have events in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Mexico, Italy and Austria. In 2013, we had 98 events across the USA; Canada; Mexico City; Brazil; the Dominican Republic; Rome; and Vienna, Austria. Our 2013 attendance was 65,717: an increase in attendance by over 20,000 when compared to 2012. We collected 39,962.80 pounds of nonperishable food and donated $6,918.48 to charities including the Wounded Warrior Project. We donated 1,262.60 pounds of pet food as well as dog collars and leashes along with other necessities for animal rescue groups. We collected and donated items for Operation Circle Care for Pagan military personnel, clothing and baby items to a charity for infants, coats for the homeless, [and] 53 pounds of sugar for a bee apiary. Our attendees donated 54 pints of blood for the Red Cross and local hospitals. We donated 78 books to prisons for Pagan inmates to further their knowledge.

The events which were new this year included nine in the United States, half a dozen in Brazil, one in Colombia and another in Canada.

Charitable donations, specifically food drives, are a requisite part of any Pagan Pride Day event supported by the PPP. Organizers must also agree to coordinate “a public gathering where Pagans can network with each other and celebrate an Autumn Equinox ritual.” In addition, they are charged with reaching out to local news outlets with press releases for “media coverage of [the] events in order to present the truth about Paganism to our communities, refute common misconceptions, and draw political attention to Paganism in order to try to prevent legislative discrimination against Pagans.”

The success of that public outreach is hard to measure, and that may be what has spurred a discussion about the purpose of PPD events in the Official Pagan Pride Project Facebook group. One member expressed a concern that many PPD events seem to be geared towards Pagans alone, not the wider community. He wrote:

I have gone to many PPDs over the last several years all the activities, workshops, rituals and etc. are geared towards Pagans. No what is Paganism workshops, no this is what and why we do what we do. Rituals take place unexplained. Advertising is strictly to Pagan groups. Media involvement has become unwelcomed. Have we given way to PPDs just being another Pagan exclusive festival?

The Wild Hunt reached out to the Pagan Pride Project, and spoke with several PPD local coordinators to get their take on the issue of public outreach. While it’s basic to the PPP’s mission, the implementation can be complicated.

Location, Location, Location

14524_454460254591551_559255499_nWhere a pride event takes place can determine if it’s a Pagan party or public outreach event. Public parks are the venue preferred by the Pagan Pride Project, but between fees and insurance requirements, they can be cost-prohibitive. Some events are hosted at Unitarian Universalist churches, but an indoor location never has as much visibility as a similar outdoor one, which means extra efforts are needed to draw people in who wouldn’t normally stop by a UU church.

Changing locations worked well for Gina Leslie, who said:

Three years ago we moved our Los Angeles/Orange County event to a much more public location for that very reason. We loved where we were and the park personnel were great to work with but it wasn’t something the public would see driving by and stop to investigate. Now we are in the middle of a very active tourist area in Long Beach, on a very busy main street and we have lawn banners announcing that the event is free and open to the public.

A visible location hasn’t been the sole solution in Kansas City, according to local coordinator Sam Shryock. “We are in a Farmer’s Market shelter,” he said, “so I believe we are on neutral ground and easily accessible.” However, he added, “I struggle to find the angle that would make people want to come to this event.”

In Morgantown, West Virginia, Marc Roney reported that it was difficult to get local Pagans to show up for something in a public setting at first. However, the PPD there has grown from about a dozen people in 2009 to about 110 this year.

Preaching to the Choir

button2Concern about religious persecution is very real for some Pagans, and none of the local coordinators interviewed actually tracks whether attendees identify as Pagan, seeker, or something else. While the lack of data is understandable, it can lead to suppositions about whether or not the public is actually involved.

“This year we are trying something new, and providing name tags that state, ‘I’m a Proud Pagan because…,” said Shyrock. We will see how well that turns out.” At the same time, the Kansas City event has de-emphasized the word “Pagan” and instead markets itself as a harvest festival. His experience has taught him, “People do not seek out different [sic], they avoid it. I think most people are not interested in knowing about Paganism, they would prefer to avoid it or argue with it.”

Roney said that “some courteously curious Christians” have attended, and he adds, “a small part of our funding for this year came from a Catholic couple who were curious about our event.” But most of those who show up at the Morgantown PPD are, indeed, Pagan themselves. Roney attributes the rise in the number of Pagan attendees to the fact that fears about “trouble with Christians” have not manifested.

10615513_10154561726860254_5127674005610753054_nTimothy Anderson and his group, the Hellenic Temple of Apollon, Zeus, and Pan, have been involved with the Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day as both vendors and main ritual organizers for several years. “[I'm] not sure how many non-Pagans are getting involved, [but] it seems like it is mostly if not all Pagans,” he said.

Limited Promotional Outlets

With small budgets, local coordinators rely on as much free publicity as they can muster. That means much of the advertising and publicity comes through Pagan-owned businesses like metaphysical shops. It can be an effective way to reach local Pagans and seekers, but not for reaching those people who may have the preconceived notions that PPD is intended to dispel. Free web sites and event calendars bolster those efforts. However, without a means to track the religious affiliation of attendees, determining who actually shows up continues to be a challenge. Privacy concerns will likely keep that from changing anytime soon. This leads to a frustrating irony. When the day comes that all Pagans are comfortable acknowledging their religion publicly, Pagan Pride events might no longer be needed . . . but, in order to reach that day and overcome false assumptions, the impact of such events on the community is needed.

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Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. If you enjoy this series and our other recurring entries, please consider donating to our 2014 Fall Fund Campaign. Your support and donations make it possible for us to keep sharing the news and these important stories with you. Now let’s get started! 

Blake Kirk

Blake Kirk

The Interfaith Mission Council (IMS) of Huntsville, Alabama has announced that Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk is scheduled to offer an invocation before the Nov. 6 city council meeting. In June, Kirk was removed from the schedule due to complaints from local residents. After much discussion, the Huntsville city council opted to maintain its inclusive prayer policy prayer rather than removing invocations entirely. The executive director of IMS, the local organization charged with coordinating invocation speakers, Jeannie Robison told AL.comWe [IMS and the city council] want to honor Huntsville’s commitment to being an Inclusive City and to meet Constitutional standards regarding freedom of religion.”

This past Thursday, the council demonstrated its commitment to diversity by inviting an Atheist to speak. Following that meeting, IMS announced that Kirk had been invited back. In response to the city’s actions, Kirk said, “I think it’s an extremely positive development for Huntsville, and it suggests that people have learned something from the unfortunate situation in June, and are really trying to do better.” You can watch Kirk’s invocation live on Nov. 6 through Huntsville’s live streaming site

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

On Sept. 28, Oberon Zell-Ravenhart posted a call on Witchvox for information about “Pagan Lands for Pagan Burials.” He wrote, “Since Morning Glory’s death, I have been inspired (nay, “assigned!”) to co-author a handbook for Pagan Final Passages—including green burials.” In the spring, the Church of All Worlds’ sacred land of Annwfn was legally-secured as an “officially-recognized cemetery for full body burials.” Morning-Glory was the first to be buried on that land, and Oberon is thankful to those who helped make that possible. Now he wants to turn his experience into, what he describes as, a “how-to manual.”

To accomplish this work, Oberon is looking for input from anyone who maintains Pagan land, a green cemetery, or anyone who is planning to build a cemetery space. He adds, “Previously, virtually all members of the modern Pagan community who have died (at least in the United States) have been cremated, as this seemed to be the only option other than the impossibly expensive and distasteful mortuary practice of embalming and burial in a fancy coffin in a concrete vault. But for many of us, cremation is a repellent choice, as we remember the Burning Times, and have no wish to consign our flesh to the flames yet again!”

10171120_828816003799940_5240040217082249423_nPagan/Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN) will be holding its 2nd online conference on October 9, 2014. The event is held in coordination with the Pagan Federation International (PFI) and is focused on “a variety of topics around the subjects of Paganism and Witchcraft.” This October’s theme is “The changing of Magic: Modern and Ancient Witchcraft.” There will be two panels on the following subjects: “Ancient Witchcraft and its adaptation” and “Western Esotericism practices and the academy.”  

The online PAEAN conference is held twice a year, in the spring and fall. Coordinators hope that the unique online platform, which allows a diversity of people to engage in dialogue and interaction, will “increase learning, understanding and developing from the combined discussions.”

Spelcastor [Courtesy: EMLC]

Spelcastor [Courtesy: EMLC]

On Sept. 20, the CUUPS chapter of Fort Lauderdale, Florida presented local Pagan Spelcastor an award for “his long time service of 19 years as the gatekeeper and facilitator” of Pagan Pride Day held at the Unitarian Universalist Church. Spelcastor is now officially retired but, as CUUPS organizers said, “he will long be remembered for keeping the flame alive.” In response, Spelcastor remarked, “I am deeply honored by this outpouring of gratitude and reminded how persistent service to the Craft year after year pays off.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

That is all for now.  Have a great day!

 

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Hello to everyone! I wanted to let you know how our annual Fall Funding Drive is going just six days after we begun. We’ve raised a little over $6000 dollars, which is 49% of our $12,500 goal! 

This is incredible progress in such a short time. Of course, it is all due to the continued support, and the generosity of individuals, like yourself, and organizations within our community.Through a donation to our 2014 Fall Fund Drive, you are saying that the The Wild Hunt is a valued service and you’d like to see it not only continue for the next year, but also grow and expand in its coverage. With your help, we can do just that.

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Wielding signs and drums and offering chants and dance, Pagans joined the nearly 400,000 people who jammed the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March on September 21. Scheduled to take place just ahead of the United Nations 2014 Climate Summit, the event was the largest in a worldwide series of protests that may have brought out more than half a million people calling for action.The Wild Hunt spoke with several of the participants about how they organized, what they were trying to accomplish, and what may come out of this historic event.

The march couldn’t have come at a better time for Courtney Weber, High Priestess of Novices of the Old Ways and member of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City (PEC). Weber said the PEC was “a baby group that just started in March” when she and others “realized there needed to be a Pagan group in the work to make New York, and New York City specifically, an environmentally viable place.” Talk of “a big rally or march” was bouncing around on various activist email lists as early as May, and it seemed like a natural fit for the new group. She said:

“It started with us agreeing that we would be going to the march, then we were talking about organizing it, then it turned into organizing an entire weekend, and bring Pagans from out of town and house some of them, and getting some big speakers and making sure there’s a Pagan presence, and it turned into something really large.”

PEC’s efforts included a crowdfunding campaign to pay the travel costs for several Pagans who wanted to join the event. Seven people had their expenses covered so they could participate in the march. “That doesn’t seem like a lot to members of other religions,” Weber said, “but to have seven Pagans march with us thanks to the support of the community is a very special thing.”

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit:  Groundswell Movement)

PEC members hold an impromptu ritual during the march. (Credit: Groundswell Movement)

On the night before the march, PEC held a ritual and fellowship-gathering in Central Park, during which participants were encouraged to share how climate change had impacted their lives. What emerged, Weber said, was, “a message of deep concern. People spoke about droughts in their area and, for the New Yorkers, Hurricane Sandy was on our minds. We had a group coming down from Canada, which has been working really hard to fight the pipeline construction up there. We showed up as a community of faith, to say that this was a spiritual calling to be part of this march, because we regard the Earth as sacred and divine, and it was important that we be there and lend our presence and witness.”

Across the Atlantic, the Pagan Frontiers of London  organized its own presence for that city’s march. Dr. Vivianne Crowley joined the group for the event.  She said, “We thought it very important that there should be a Pagan presence at the pre-march multi-faith meditation, as well as at the march itself. We wanted to show that this was an issue that united faiths and we were delighted to say together (with a small Pagan adaptation) Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s prayer.”

Back in New York City, Andras Corben-Arthen offered an invocation for approximately 5,000 people just before the march began.

 

In the Spirit of the Earth, we are coming together;
in the Spirit of the Earth, we are one…” *
We come from the north, and we come from the south;
we come from the west, and we come from the east.
We gather from all directions
to march for this living planet
who is our home, who is what we are.
But we do not march only for ourselves,
we march for all beings of the Earth.
And so we call to sun, to wind and rain;
we call to mountains and glaciers;
we call to all who walk and crawl, who fly and swim;
we call to our ancestors, both seen and unseen;
we call to oceans and streams,
to trees, and grasses and stones
to guide and bless every step we take,
that we may once again live in harmony
with our Mother the Earth.
As it was, as it is, as it ever shall be;
with the flow and the ebb, as it ever shall be.

© 2014, Andras Corban-Arthen
*© 2000, Deirdre Pulgram-Arthen

Corban-Arthen also participated in the Religions for the Earth interfaith conference, which was held in conjunction with the march. He and members of the EarthSpirit community joined the interfaith section of the march alongside PEC.

Another Pagan organization in attendance was the Pagan Cluster, whose members gathered further north on the route. Here’s their account of the interplay between the two Pagan groups:

The group [Pagan Cluster] decided to participate in the ‘We Have the Solutions’ part of the march, bringing the earth-based energy to the midst of the food justice and big NGOs section. Another contingent of pagans organized by the Peoples Environmental Coalition marched as part of the faith block. Midway through the march the pagan groups ran into each other, played with each other’s energy a bit, but ultimately brought different energies to the streets and separated out again.The Pagan Environmental Coalition had a boisterous, high-energy vibe dominated by drums.The Pagan Cluster intentionally brought an energy deeply grounded and expressed through chants, carrying the sacred woad-dyed cloth of the Living River that has been at countless actions over the past 15 years. Both energies were needed in the march and valued by those around them. At the end of the march the Pagan Cluster, having been on their feet for over eight hours and 2.5 miles of pavement, ended with a spiral dance, bringing in bystanders and raising sweet energy to feed the work needed to fight climate change.

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York

Courtney Weber of the Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York (credit:  Charles Beisser)

In the interfaith section, Pagans were “wedged between the Universalists and Humanist Jews,” Weber recalled, where “Jews marched to the sound of drums and Pagan groups followed close behind.” At one point, in what she called “a perfect moment of interfaith action for the planet,” their musical talents combined:

“Our chants were quickly adopted by members of other faith groups because they’re earth-centered, inclusive, and easy to learn. At one point, while we were singing the ‘Air I Am’ chant, a Jewish guy in a bicycle cab next to me started playing along on his clarinet.”

In London, Crowley experienced the same kind of solidarity, noting in her statement, “For us, one of the outstanding aspects of the march was the diversity of those who came. It wasn’t only dedicated environmentalists and Pagan Earth Warriors. It was all ages from 0 to 90, demonstrating a solidarity for the Earth that cut across divisions of faith, class, race, and politics.”

Historic as the Climate March was, what comes next is more important still.

“We’re all very, very tired, and there’s a sense that we want to take a break,” said Weber, “but I think that would be the worst thing we can do.The march had a carbon footprint of its own, so we have to make this count for something so that carbon we put in was not wasted.”

Credit:  Charles Beisser

Credit: Charles Beisser

Crowley had similar sentiments, writing, “Climate Change marches have impact if they are linked to events like the UN summit that help give them high profile – political and business leaders are sensitive to public opinion. But marches are showpieces. It’s the actions we take every day to lessen our impact on the planet that also make a huge difference, and what we spend our money on. Consumer choices can make ‘People Power’ real.”

The summit itself was full of rhetoric but short on action, which was widely predicted. Weber reacted afterwards with a statement saying, “The words were encouraging, but what was missing were the concrete plans. President Obama pushed the need to reduce carbon emissions yet his administration is railroading the construction of dozens of liquefied natural gas export stations along both US coastlines. Natural gas is worse! Its extraction belches methane into the air which is a worse greenhouse gas than even carbon. It felt synonymous with the march in many ways: encouraging and hopeful. But like the march, the summit is a failure if specific action does not follow. I personally don’t want to hear any more leaders talk about the need to reduce climate change pollution. I want to hear specifically what they plan to do about it.”

Pagans don’t appear to be ready to rest on their laurels. New groups have emerged, such as Pagans Defending the Earth, and there are events on the horizon that can be used to continue the momentum, like the Global Frackdown on October 11. While the earth-centered religions are not able to force lightening-quick change, they are at least demonstrating the relentless pressure of a tectonic plate.

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Accountability is a critical aspect of leadership in any community. For Pagans, this is a special challenge because our structure and power dynamics are neither the norm, nor easily shaped to produce accountability.

Ordinarily, there is a strong dimension of economic and regulatory reciprocity in the relationship between leaders and the communities they serve.The CEO is hired by the board of directors. The minister is called by the congregation (in congregational polity) or placed by the hierarchy. The president is elected by the people. If a leader does not perform to expectation or to standard, he or she can be fired or replaced. In the case of the president, the standards for malfeasance are high, but so are the consequences: impeachment, removal from office, or simply not being reelected.

[Graphic by lumaxart - CC lic. via Wikimedia ]

[Graphic by lumaxart - CC lic. via Wikimedia ]

Pagan leaders are unusual in that they are often ‘self-called’ to their role. They decide to form a group and do so by collecting people around them. They are generally not paid, and often the group meets at the leader’s home. Generally, they are the principal teacher, and likewise, the sole initiator. This makes censuring or dismissing the leader very difficult. It usually disbands the group and, only sometimes, will a fraction of the group continue without the leader. The usual penalty of loss of pay simply does not apply.

Shauna Aura Knight recently wrote about the difficulty of holding leaders, or ‘elders’ in her frame, to account. In a previous and cited work on whistleblowers, Shauna describes the painful reality of individuals speaking out against the abuse of leaders and elders.They are regularly disbelieved and punished, while the accused is often powerfully defended. Many instead choose to remain silent.

The economic dimension of mutual control is only the most obvious lack in Pagan groups. When viewed per their power dynamics, most groups are (hopefully) benevolent and consensual autocracies. Besides being the founders of the group or the event, the leaders are the bottom line, and the one who maintains the commitment to making it all happen. Flakey and unreliable as many Pagans are, without firm leadership events fail and groups fade away.

Basic funding for them also tends to come out of the pockets of the leaders as well, bringing back the economic aspect, but without checks and balances. On the other end of the political spectrum, in consensus-based groups there can be a problem assigning accountability (not to say blame).  However, there can be an advantage in being accustomed to group decision-making, which provides its own kind of accountability. But when the consent breaks down, so do the groups.

There are alternatives but these require significant effort on the part of the group-members and real courage on the part of the leaders. In the Facebook thread on her page commenting on Shauna’s above mentioned post, Samuel Wagar (09122014) pointed to the way our society as a whole has worked out how to solve this problem:

I have created lasting groups (the festival now twenty years old, the church ten years), using democracy and congregationalism as the keys. And one such group fired a leader, and has disciplined others. It can be done, with a model that is not centered on the charismatic leader.

Here, democracy is the power structure, congregationalism is the social structure and ownership model, and not being centered on the charismatic or celebrity leader is crucial to long term success. Since groups of all kinds are most commonly started by charismatic leaders because they are the ones with the chutzpah to make it happen, we need to build models for migrating start-ups into long standing organizations. The leaders themselves need to take the lead in this transformation, and the members have to step up and take on the load.

[Photo Credit: Chris Beckett/Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Chris Beckett/Flickr]

This is not easy in a corporatocratic and consumer society. We don’t believe we have the power to govern the institutions in which we are embedded and, in many senses, we believe we should just be delivered good services without our having to work to make them good. This is reinforced by the belief that the ‘invisible hand of the market’ will just provide.

Experience does not support this notion. The iron law of oligarchy (Robert Michels, 1911) painfully shows that, without considerable will, power and authority accrue to the few or the one. The challenge is that leaders need to empower the membership and then give up power and authority to those they empower. Then the membership needs to not develop a new oligarchy. It’s not easy.

We can begin by building feedback-mechanisms. Starting with something as simple, if challenging, as setting up a council of advisers, leaders can begin to establish true two-way communication with committed members. Asking the difficult questions like, “What am I doing wrong?” and “What is the worst thing I have done?” are not fun to ask, hear, or even reply to. Doing this before crisis and developing a de-escalated methodology in a low emotional charge atmosphere can be a significant part of building an organization that learns, corrects its mistakes, and figures out what it is doing well so it can do more of that.

A powerful technique used in businesses committed to being learning organizations is to perform “Plus/Deltas” at the end of each meeting. It is often worthwhile for someone other than the meeting’s facilitator to run. A fresh facilitator steps up at the end of the meeting, draws a line down the middle of the note-taking surface (e.g., white board or easel pad) headed by a plus sign (+) on one side, and a triangle (∆) for the Greek letter Delta on the other. Then the facilitator asks the group what went well in the meeting (plusses) and what should be changed (deltas). Even simply taking down the list of these plusses and deltas  and seeing them on the page leads to improvement.

Building feedback and accountability into organizational structures is a serious challenge, but the laws of our country support a powerful means. This is the board of directors in a corporation. Corporate structure allows for the design of governance structures that can reflect the values of the community that creates the organization and give them the force of law. The community owns the corporation, selects the board of directors, who then empowers the executive officer(s) to run the operation.

[Photo Credit: rrafson CC-BY-SA-3.0  via Wikimedia Commons]

[Photo Credit: rrafson CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

How this is done is up to the community. The board can be elected with a limited term. The executives could have very specifically defined powers. The Unitarian Universalist Association and its member churches are built this way, and something like this structure is what Samuel Wager is referring to in his above comment. When started by a charismatic leader, the leader has the task of setting up the organizational structure on behalf of the future, designing in democracy, and then subordinating themselves to its authority. Incidentally, this is what the Founders of the United States of America did, and why they deserve the honor in which are held. They easily could have set up an oligarchy.

Besides having the right structures, when there is a (potential) problem or abuse, the right procedures have to be in place. There is a reason why we have developed the justice system that we have in the meta-society. Humans are awful at determining guilt. Due process, worked out over innumerable errors and injustices, has produced the body of jurisprudence that governs our courts. While we neither need nor want that level of complexity, we do need to learn from its wisdom. Besides the general idea of innocent until proven guilty, three specific items are critical:

  1. If someone is accused of malfeasance, the person bringing the accusation has to have ‘standing’“ the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party’s participation in the case.” This protects the system from frivolous suits and acts of power from outside of the community in which the offense occurred. This is where the whistleblowers are crucial; they alone have the standing to bring accusation. It also means they need to have access to proper representation and counsel.
  2. The body (court) to which the case is brought must have ‘jurisdiction,’ meaning “the practical authority granted to a formally constituted…body or to a…leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility.” They must have authority over the parties involved and the actions claimed to have been done. Otherwise, one organization is asked to rule over another organization’s problem, without explicit agreements that they can. Naturally, all parties may ask an otherwise outside group to adjudicate a matter but, in that case, they are intentionally submitting to that authority.
  3. A case must be presented. The accuser must produce a defined accusation, preferably in writing, which states that the accused did some specified action at a particular time and place. Without this, the accusation can be a vague claim of misbehavior or abuse which becomes impossible to prove or counter. What is left is a vague air of impropriety; the besmirching of a reputation. No resolution is possible without a specific and clear case.

Instituting structures and procedures like these, appropriately informed by our Pagan culture and values, is part of the long process of maturation that we are undergoing as a community. Our increasing diversity also signals the need to find ways of working out our differences as well as managing conflict and misbehavior. Building the right structures and procedures are foundational to justice and fairness. By Maat, Themis, and Forseti, justice must be duly applied or it becomes a vendetta when we bring accusations against anyone, leader, follower or whistleblower. With time, I pray we can find our way to suitable means in which we can live in justice, correct our errors, and find methods that helpfully support and hold our leaders to account.

Accountability is a mutual relationship. It is not automatic or assured except with effort. Organizations have to be designed with built-in accountability. All parties in the system must fulfill their roles with energy and diligence. The ad hoc approaches that we have used in our small-group religion are reaching their limits, and our community is showing the strain. Hopefully this brief exploration of the common means of accountability and adjudication can provide some guidance for advancing the quality of Pagan leadership.

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[Alley Valkyrie is one of our talented monthly columnists. If you like her stories and want to support her work at The Wild Hunt, please consider donating to our fall fundraising campaign and sharing our IndieGoGo link. It is your wonderful and dedicated support that makes it possible for Alley to be part of our writing team. Thank you very much.]

I came across the marsh last spring on my very first walk through the new neighborhood.

Three blocks from my building I stumbled upon it, flourishing within the confines of a city block in sharp contrast to its immediate surroundings. Overshadowed by condominium complexes on three sides, a vacant lot sits to the north, and then another park on the other side of that lot which stretches to the riverfront. The vacant lot allows for a breathtaking view of the Fremont Bridge gracefully arcing over the Willamette River.

Tanner Springs Park, as the marsh is officially known, is a modern recapture/recreation of the creek and wetlands that flowed through this area up until the late 1800’s. The original creek was filled in to make way for industrial development, which dominated this area from the turn of the century until approximately twenty-five years ago. When the industrial cover was eventually stripped away in order to plan the neighborhood as it stands today, the city was presented with an opportunity to restore a small piece of the natural topography, which eventually manifested as a thriving, swampy ecosystem contained within the boundaries of a city block. The park is not only specifically designed to capture storm water as the native environment once did; the storm water is then treated and pumped back into the spring as opposed to simply being directed back into the river.

Since that first encounter with the marsh, I’ve visited the spot nearly every day, sometimes only for a minute or two and other times for the better part of an afternoon. The marsh feels very tucked into itself; there is something very grounding and psychically cohesive about the block that is not felt among its surroundings. There are strange spirits among the grasses and ponds here, spirits both old and very, very new, and their presence seems to magnify the more I pay attention to them. The marsh is both beautifully out of place and also completely fitting as it stands. Its surroundings protect and isolate it while highlighting it at the same time, and the open space between the block and the river creates a positive aesthetic flow that opens up the surrounding neighborhood in a very distinctive and pleasing manner.

The wonderful marshiness of Tanner Springs Park. Photo by Alley Valkyrie.

The wonderful marshiness of Tanner Springs Park

At the marsh, I can hide in plain sight. The more I pay attention to the everyday details, which are contained within its borders, the more the everyday details outside of its borders become more obvious to me. I have developed an energetic reciprocity with this spot, and the spirits have made it clear that they welcome my presence. In a sense, it’s the only block in this neighborhood where I feel at ease.

*  *  *

For the past seven years, I had been deeply engaged in a close relationship with a small section of the Willamette River, specifically the curve that defines the border of Alton Baker Park in Eugene; a spot that the State of Oregon defines as River Mile 183, and that I could never quite define myself.

Nowadays, I live exactly 172 river miles north of that spot in a building that sits a few hundred yards away from the west bank of the Willamette in Portland at River Mile 11. While the mile markers of the Willamette generally don’t carry a specific connotation, River Mile 11 is significant and often referred to by name due to the fact that it marks the furthest point upstream where the Willamette has been designated as a Superfund site. From the Broadway Bridge downstream several miles to Sauvie Island, the river suffers from highly elevated levels of toxicity due to well over a hundred years’ worth of industrial activity on the waterfront. The banks and waters of River Mile 11 are specifically noted for their toxicity apart from the rest of the Superfund site. The area from the Broadway Bridge downstream to the Fremont Bridge is the only stretch of the Willamette in Portland where swimming is not only ill-advised but advisory groups caution against even walking barefoot on the riverbank.

The toxic effects of a century’s worth of industry was not confined to just the water itself. The housing complex I live in was built on top of formerly toxic brownfields, as were many of the surrounding buildings and current features of the neighborhood including my beloved marsh. But while the toxicity on the land has been cleaned up to an extent over the past twenty years, any substantive cleaning of the river itself has yet to begin.

The view at River Mile 11.

The view at River Mile 11

I have learned that she is both the same river I knew in Eugene and a completely different character at the same time. I feel as if I’ve gotten to simultaneously know her in two separate stages of her journey. The youthful exuberance of the Willamette at Mile 183 is largely absent from the river that now sits across the street from my building. Here, the river has been altered into submission, industrialized to a point where the energies that I easily sensed in Eugene are almost unrecognizable.  And yet, she is my old friend all the same. And, while I miss dipping my feet in, the understandings and lessons that I am quickly gaining from living on this stretch of the river far outweigh what I used to take for granted.

*  *  *

I stood in front of the statue, keeping in mind that the imposing woman before me was the second-largest copper repouseé statue in the country after Lady Liberty herself. Hunched down, she reaches out to me with her right hand as she wields a trident in her left. I take in her essence, both fierce and inviting.  In the tradition of Columbia and Brittania as well as Lady Liberty, she is intended to embody the persona of this city. I feel that she does in many ways, although not necessarily in the ways that were originally intended. For me, she is a powerful symbol of what is held back as much as what she inspires to push forward.

Symbols hold tremendous power, and one of the reasons that the Statue of Liberty is such a powerful symbol is that she can be seen everywhere. One does not have to visit her in person to quickly conjure up her likeness in the imagination. She appears on everything from birthday cakes to snow globes, and to step inside of any New York City tourist shop is to be visually assaulted with countless versions of her likeness.

The statue I stood before at that moment, however, is barely a recognizable symbol at all. Her likeness is restrained under threat of litigation. Despite the fact that the statue was built with public funds, the statue’s creator retains the copyright to the statue’s image, in contrast to most publicly funded art, which is generally in the public domain. Not only does the artist retain the copyright, he aggressively enforces it, which means that commercial reproductions of the statue’s image are practically non-existent. You will not find a cheap postcard with her image in a tourist shop.

Interestingly enough, despite its failure to become a symbol of any sort, the statue’s name is instantly recognizable among the American public, albeit the association is far removed from its original source. When people hear the name “Portlandia,” they generally think of a television show, not the beautiful copper goddess that kneels before me at that moment.

Standing before her, it struck me as strangely fitting, in a depressing sense, how the name of this statue has come to be primarily associated with a show that satirizes the very real tendencies and excesses of hipster capitalism, as opposed to being associated with the statue itself, a powerful and potentially iconic image that has been intentionally repressed and held back from mainstream recognition on account of its creator’s excessive love affair with capitalism.

Portlandia

Portlandia

I left a flower for Portlandia at the entrance to the building that she hovers over, and bid her adieu. As I walked away, I deliberately tried to picture her in my mind as I had just seen her, but strangely enough, or perhaps not strangely at all, her specifics had already become a bit of a blur.

 *  *  *

The cargo trains are often close to a mile long, and several times a day they slowly roll past less than a hundred feet from my bedroom window. When the cargo is mainly lumber, my throat occasionally tightens as I think of the forest, but my throat tightens much more when I spot the ominous black tanker cars that I know to be carrying crude oil, mostly from the Bakken region of North Dakota en route to a refinery near Clatskanie, Oregon.

The oil trains have been a subject of controversy, especially since a tragic accident in Quebec last year when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed, killing 47 people. Oil trains started running through Portland a few years ago without public notice or input, and oil train shipments have increased 250% just in the past year. Railroad companies are not required to report the entirety of their oil shipments through Oregon; only trains that are carrying over a million gallons of Bakken crude on a single train, the equivalent of approximately 35 cars, must report.

Oil trains crawling past my building complex

Oil train crawling past my building complex

Aside from the dangers of transporting crude oil in the first place, the frequency and slowness of these cargo trains creates additional environmental and quality-of-life issues on a local level. Vehicles are stopped several times a day for the trains to pass, and dozens of cars sit idling, sometimes for the better part of an hour, while stopped in a narrow traffic corridor lined on both sides by residential apartment buildings. Especially in the summer, and when the air is already stagnant, the build-up of car fumes as the train crawls past is noticeable and unpleasant.

There’s a cruel irony in witnessing all the refined oil being wasted as cars just sit there in frustration. These cars, which are often covered in pro-environment bumper stickers, idle away, waiting for the trains carrying Bakken crude to pass on the final stage of the journey towards becoming refined oil.

*  *  *

A block south from the marsh, I walked down Lovejoy Street and once again couldn’t ignore how new the corridor felt. The entire neighborhood feels new to an extent, which makes sense in that most of the development is less than thirty years old. But Lovejoy Street radiates newness in a way which truly captures the feel of the neighborhood.

In relation to the surrounding neighborhoods, I can’t help but to liken the Pearl District to an ultramodern bathroom in an otherwise old Victorian house. From the turn of the last century until the late 1980s, this area was simply known as the NW Industrial area.  Then rezoning and the removal of the viaduct that towered over Lovejoy Street opened up the area for development. The classic gentrification pattern followed: artists moved in, developers followed, artists were then priced out, and today the Pearl District is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Portland. It’s a neighborhood that reminds me more of SoHo in New York City than anyplace else.

Portland Streetcar one block north from Lovejoy Street

The Portland Streetcar one block north from Lovejoy Street

I did not choose this neighborhood — this neighborhood chose me. My ideal vision of living in Portland consisted of a cute little bungalow in the southeast with a garden in the backyard, but the Gods had other plans. I surrendered once I realized what was at work and, while there is something awkward and distressing about both the newness and the lack of standing history in the area, the why part of the “why here?” question is starting to become clearer to me by the day. Right now, within that one question, my task is to simply bear witness and take notes.

*  *  *

I was sitting at the edge of the dock at the marsh last month when I first heard the sound of the pile driver. I looked over at the vacant lot in horror, and noticed that overnight the lot had been surrounded with fencing and filled with construction equipment. I realized immediately that my beloved view of the Fremont Bridge was about to disappear.

And though I’ve only lived here since last Spring, it feels very personal and very raw in its effect upon me.

My view, interrupted by construction

The view, interrupted by a wall and a pile driver

Every day since, I’ve watched as the hole in the ground expands, and the pile driver has just recently been replaced by a crane as concrete paneling is quickly ushered in. Most who walk by seem much more affected and upset by the sound of the construction itself than the fact that another huge mega-building is about to go up in the vacant lot, destroying the open feel of the park. Part of me, the small part that tends to envy the bliss inherent in ignorance, wishes I was as unaffected as everyone else who walks past. But I just can’t shake the inevitability and the reality of the impending loss.

Slowly but surely, developers are stealing a little piece of my sky.

The spirits in the marsh seem unsettled and anxious; their feelings mirroring my own, affected by not only the construction but by the utter disenchantment in everyone around us. Sitting in the marsh, it feels like the spirits and I are the only ones who feel that there’s something subtly disturbing in the acceptance and normalization of urban development as it occurs before us. For everyone else, it seems to be business as usual.

This neighborhood has many impressive features: three well-designed parks, several coffee shops, countless yoga studios and art galleries, Portland’s first dog gym, a spiffy new streetcar line, and more “sustainable” restaurants than one could possibly track. But what it notably lacks is what stood out for me the most at that moment.  It lacks both a collective memory as well as a cohesive community spirit.

construction

 *  *  *

I came back from lunch to learn that activists from Portland Rising Tide had temporarily blockaded the train tracks leading to Clatskanie as a protest against the shipment of crude oil.

I sat with this for a moment, silently honoring anyone and everyone who potentially puts themselves in harm’s way in the name of environmental justice. At that moment, I heard the train signals clanging outside my window, and I could tell from the sound against the tracks that it was a cargo train.

Quickly, I ran out of my building to see the black oil tanks snaking their way down the tracks towards the Steel Bridge. At the end of the side street, I saw vehicles backed up over a mile in each direction from the tracks, most of them idling away as the oil train crawled past. I looked behind me, and something on the light-post caught my eye.  It was a faded sticker that read “Portland: America’s Greenest City.”

I glanced out across at the river and, as the sun reflected off the water, I remembered hearing that there was currently a rare and toxic algae blooming on the Willamette. The advisory not to enter the water now reached far past the confines of River Mile 11. The oil train made its way across the Steel Bridge as I looked on; an ugly feeling grew in the pit of my stomach as I watched the dangerously toxic train cross the dangerously toxic waters.

I walked back in the other direction and headed over the pedestrian bridge that crosses the tracks at Union Station. On the bridge, I looked out at the train. Its black cars stretched eastward as far as the eye could see. A few tourists walked by, snapping pictures from the overpass, and then stopped to stare at a map for a few moments. I asked them what they were looking for.

“Do you know where we can find that big statue, the one that you see in the intro to ‘Portlandia’?” they asked me.

I pointed to a spot on the map. “Just so you know, Portlandia is actually the name of the statue itself,” I told them. “That’s where the show got its name from.”

They looked at each other, surprised. I smiled and nodded and continued walking across the bridge. At the bottom of the stairs, I paused for a moment. My original destination had been the marsh, but I suddenly felt the urge to bring a flower to Portlandia once again.

I took off in the direction of the statue, tuning out the sound of the oil train in the background as I conjured up the image of Portlandia in my mind’s eye and, for the first time, I was truly able to picture her clearly.

 

 

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Thoughts on Death and Burial

Cara Schulz —  September 25, 2014 — 20 Comments

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Persephone Queen of the Underworld Artist: Kinuko Y. Craft

Persephone Queen of the Underworld Artist: Kinuko Y. Craft

“Be to her, Persephone,
All the things I might not be:
Take her head upon your knee.
She that was so proud and wild,
Flippant, arrogant and free,
She that had no need of me,
Is a little lonely child
Lost in Hell,—Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee:
Say to her, “My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here.”

Laura LaVoie wishes that this poem by Edna St. Vincent Milay to be read at her funeral

What will happen when you die? This isn’t an esoteric pondering of where your soul resides in the afterlife, if you believe you’ll enjoy one, but the nuts and bolts of your funeral or burial. Have you planned it out? Does your family know your wishes? Will they follow your wishes?

For some, death is something too uncomfortable to contemplate. For the Pagans that The Wild Hunt talked with, it brings them peace of mind knowing they’ll be eased beyond the veil with rites which fit their religion and show honor to their Gods.

Kathryn Fernquist Hinds [photo by Fox Gradin, Celestial Studios Photography]

Kathryn Fernquist Hinds [photo by Fox Gradin, Celestial Studios Photography]

Kathryn Fernquist Hinds has a congenital heart defect and has already had four open-heart surgeries. She says that she’s always felt the proximity of death and, before each of her two most recent surgeries, made sure her wishes were known to her husband and her chosen family.

“I’ve wanted a Viking funeral ever since I first read about it as a kid,” says Kathryn. She notes her father’s family is Swedish and very proud of it, and that they always had books on the Vikings in the house.

Although a Viking-style cremation is legal in North Dakota, that’s too far away from Georgia, where she calls home. So she’s opts for a more practical solution, “…I will probably request normal cremation and then have some of my ashes taken to Lake Ontario, where I grew up.” She’s also impressed with the green cemetery at Circle Sanctuary and may have some of her ashes buried there along with a location near her current home. She wants her friends and family to have the comfort that comes from having a burial site they can visit.

As for her funeral? “I would like my service to be very open, with my friends and family of all faiths sharing memories and stories about me. Music, dancing, and good food and drink would hopefully feature as well,” says Kathryn. She hopes that her Pagan family will honor and remember her in the Samhain ritual following her death, according to Wiccan tradition.

Jeremiah Myer [photo provided by Myer]

Jeremiah Myer [photo provided by Myer]

Jeremiah Myer is a Minnesotan witch who started thinking about his funeral because he’s getting older and death is part of the natural order of life. “I’m not afraid of the next step in my journey nor am I afraid of what that step will bring,” says Jeremiah. He says, when the time comes, he’ll leave with a smile on his face.

He also realizes that his funeral is, in many ways, the last time he’ll have to speak with family and friends and allow them to experience the depth of his faith. He wants his ashes to be taken up to Baker lake, near the boundary waters canoe area. Once there, his oldest son will take his ashes by canoe to the middle of the lake and pour them in. Jeremiah says, “The water from the lake flows north and I’ll travel back to the great Mother.”

Jeremiah’s funeral ritual will be a blend of Wiccan Goddess Celtic practices with his daughter-in-law and a local witch casting the circle. “I’ll write my own ritual, my ritual tools will be used and when the ritual is over they [sic] are to be gifts to these women,” says Jeremiah. He wants his patroness, Danu and her consort the Greenman, invoked during the funeral rites.

Nicholas Sea

Nicholas Sea

Nicholas Sea also wishes to be cremated without any body preparation or viewing. He has asked a friend to scatter his ashes in a designated location, but says the friend can change the location if circumstances warrant it.

He wants to keep things very simple. “My view regarding memorial services is that friends and family can arrange memorial services if they would like,” Nicholas says. He goes on to say,”My family back east is not much a part of my life and generally follow a more involved funeral process than I. Since my desire is for very little funeral process, simple memorials are best in my view.”

Nicholas says his practical and simple view came from assisting in a number of funeral services, burials, and cremations over the past 35 years. Additionally, he doesn’t have any children or a partner, and most of his friends live all over the country.  He says, “From experience, allowing for several small memorials in different places seems best.”

Several small memorials would allow the people in different parts of his life to have a memorial that best fits them. “For example, Circle Sanctuary would likely include my passing in a PSG and a Samhain memorial,” says Nicholas. “My local friends and adopted family would likely have a small local memorial and my family back east would likely have a small memorial as well.”

Simple and adaptable doesn’t mean Nicholas is without preferences. He says there are two core elements of his religious practice that he’d like to see in his memorial services. “First is the notion of letting go. In our lives we experience a recurring cycle of engagement and release. When someone passes from our lives, we go through a period of transition and ultimately release. So, as with the small things in our lives through the seasons each year, so too with the larger endings,” says Nicholas. That reminder of letting go is what he’d like to see as a part of the memorials.

The second element involves reincarnation and the awaking of our inner selves through each life we live. Nicholas says, “I have every expectation of returning in a coming generation and I am looking forward to the future world we create and evolve, day by day in our lives.” Nicholas is appreciative of the Tibetan approach to guiding individuals in their departure from life into the Bardo between lives, but doesn’t have any friends versed in that process, so he’ll do what he can ahead of time.

Nicholas says it’s important to have everything in writing so clear guidance is available to everyone. He isn’t worried about what his family will think of his last wishes. He says his sister and brother understand his wishes, and he believes they would be very supportive. He also thinks family and friends would do their best to carry out his requests but knows unexpected circumstances can pop up. He explains, “I know full well that many people are not in the same harmonious situation I am in, and that many times legal difficulties arise.”

Dawn Marshall takes a different approach to her funeral rites. She’s leaving it up to her partner and children. She says that funerals are for the living to help them grieve or say goodbye. So although she’s shared her ideas about cremation and green burials, her family can decide what to do. “Even if I pre-arrange and pre-pay for all funeral goods and services, those actually making the arrangements can change them when the time comes. Why put them in the position of having to blatantly oppose choices I made in a time they are likely to be under a great deal of stress.”

She likes the idea of a more generic Pagan-style service for her public memorial but envisions something different for those closest to her, “For those close to me spiritually and magically, I like to imagine a ritual specific to the tradition I practice, Feri.” She wants those grieving her loss to experience a service and practice that eases their pain, helps them find closure, feels like they have honored the relationship they had with her.

Because she’s leaving all decisions up to her loved ones, she’s not worried about any problems that may happen if those arranging her funeral don’t agree with her suggestions  Dawn says, “I have communicated with them that I want them to do what will help them most.”

Laura LaVoie, near her home in Asheville. [photo credit, Laura LaVoie]

Laura LaVoie, near her home in Asheville. [photo credit, Laura LaVoie]

Laura LaVoie recently started thinking about what she’d like for her funeral after the daughter of a close friend passed away after a lifelong battle with illness and disability. She says, “It didn’t take long for it to stir up conversations in our home about death and funerals.”

Laura has a clear idea of what she wants, and doesn’t want, at her funeral. For starters, she doesn’t want people to be too sad, “When I die I want people to remember how much fun I liked to have and celebrate that.”

As for what she wants? She would like her favorite poem by Edna St. Vincent Milay, quoted at the top of this article, read at the service. She also wants to incorporate Pagan elements that everyone can appreciate.  Laurea says, “I once saw a suggested ritual for a funeral where the family petitions a representative of Kharon for safe passage into the underworld by offering coins. I love that and would love to incorporate that.”

In addition, she’d like to have a big party with lots of drinking and fun. “I want my funeral to reflect who I was in life, Pagan or not.”

She thinks her wishes will most likely be carried out. As her parents are getting older she feels the chance that they would outlive her are slim, “Even still, I don’t expect that they would fight it much.” She doesn’t have any children and has a living will and power of attorney which designate her partner to make these decisions.

Maggie Beaumont is a Pennsylvania Wiccan who has been thinking about her funeral since she was in her 30′s, after losing a couple friends. She says her views have changed over the years, “I started out with ‘cremation’ because I didn’t want to use up a lot of financial and geographic resources by claiming a burial plot. Later I learned how energy intensive cremation actually is, and began looking for something else.”

That something else has included donating her body to medical science, as that was what her mother chose to do. But now she has a different plan.  Maggie says, “Nowadays my intention is for my body to go to one of the ‘Body Farms’ where it can be laid out in an outdoor site to add to forensic knowledge of how a body decomposes under different conditions.” If this isn’t an option for her, she’ll opt for a green burial, which returns the body to nature. She says all life feeds off of life and since her body has been sustained by eating plants and animals, she wants her body to feed them in turn.

By Bs0u10e01 [CC-BY-3.0  Wikimedia]

By Bs0u10e01 [CC-BY-3.0 Wikimedia]

Maggie’s views on the service or ceremony have changed, too. Just a year ago she wanted a life celebration “with people invited to share their memories of [her], and a little bit of drumming or chanting.” She says, “I was clear that I would want a cast circle, but as a good number of the folks who would want to be there are not Pagan I wouldn’t want the circle to be obtrusive.” Now she’s considering a home funeral and has begun preparing her family and covenmates to assist.

There are some challenges to a home funeral. Maggie lives alone and her children are widely scattered, so they most likely wouldn’t be able coordinate a home funeral. If willing, that may be handled by her fellow coveners.

The home funeral she’s envisioning would have evening ‘calling hours’ during which folks can sit beside her body, if they like, or gather in another room, if they prefer. The next day there would be a more formal ritual of leave-taking. Maggie has not yet written out the ritual she’d like used, but says she will do so since otherwise her family and coveners would need to create it during a time of grief and stress. She adds that the local Unitarian Universalist congregation would also hold a memorial service for her.

Maggie says the leave-taking ritual would be a mix of Wicca and Feri in the tradition of Victor Anderson. It would involve opening the Gates of the East, South, West and North and inviting each Element to contribute its powers and invoking her coven’s Patron deities. She’d also want someone to invite her power animals and guides: Bumble Bee, Dolphin, Wolf, and Chiron. She’d like her body blessed with salt water and incense and anointed with sage and rosemary. An important part of the ritual would include telling her that it’s time for her to leave her body,”Telling me, explicitly, to go to the light and look for guidance as to my next steps. Telling me, explicitly, that I am forgiven for my assorted wrongdoing and offenses against others; and telling everyone there present that I offer my global forgiveness to anyone who feels they need it.”

She wants her funeral to reflect her spiritual stance in this life and bring the most comfort to the people who are most important to her. She doesn’t anticipate any problems with carrying out her wishes.

As for my thoughts on the rituals of death?

Rituals have to have meaning, they have to serve a purpose, or they are discarded. Even when the religion that gave birth to the ritual is forced out, powerful rituals remain. In the US Military there is a ritual that is played each and every time a military member dies in combat, and it’s a ritual from the burial rites in Athens.

Centuries ago, in Athens, when someone died the body was taken by procession to the burial or cremation site. A family member would say the dead person’s name three times to see if they would answer. It was to show the person was really dead, to bring the reality that they had crossed to the land of the dead and will never be coming back.

The US military does the same thing. They take a final role call of the squad or element the military member belonged to and they call the dead person’s name last. Then they call it again adding in the first name. Then they call it a third time, using the person’s full name. When the person doesn’t respond, it is announced they person is dead and where they died. It’s as powerful a rite now as it was 2 or 3 thousand years ago, which is why it is still done. Which is why this will happen at my funeral.

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Hello everyone, just thought I’d check in and let everyone know how our annual Fall Funding Drive is doing two days in. I’m pleased to report that we’ve so far raised a little over $4000 dollars, around 33% of our $12,500 goal! That is amazing progress two days in, and it could only happen through the support of the individuals and organizations within our community pitching in to make a statement: That the The Wild Hunt is a service they value, and want to see continue. 100% of our budget comes from this drive, and 100% of that money goes back into running this site, paying for hosting, and most importantly, paying our contributors for their work. This year, thanks to the fiscal underwriting of the Pantheon Foundation, all donations will be tax deductible.

WH2014_BIG

 

I’d like to take a moment now to thank just some of the amazing people who have donated so far:

Melissa McNair, Ashley Atkinson, Anna Korn, Joann Keesey, Angus McMahan, Frater Arktos, The New Wiccan Church, Hecate, Columbia Protogrove of ADF, Keepers of the Flame TV, Burning Brigid Media, Morpheus Ravenna, Ashleigh McSidhe, Gerald B. Gardner ‘Year and a Day’ Calendar, the amazing folks at The Witches’ Voice, and many more!

I hope you’ll join them in supporting our mission to produce Pagan journalism and bring you thought-provoking columnists for another year. It only happens with your support. So please, consider donating now, and help spread the word! Here’s the link to the IndieGoGo campaign site:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-wild-hunt-2014-fall-funding-campaign/x/497880

Again, THANK YOU, to everyone who has donated so far, let’s wrap this drive up quickly so we can continue to focus on the work that brings you here.

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Part of Southern culture is a deep loyalty to one’s Alma mater. That loyalty is often synonymous with kinship, sister or brotherhood and community. Although this deep attachment is most obvious during big sporting events, it lasts long after the lights are dimmed on any playing field.

"William J. Samford Hall" at Auburn Univ. [Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan, via Flickr/Wikimedia CC. lic]

“William J. Samford Hall” at Auburn Univ. [Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan, via Flickr/Wikimedia CC. lic]

For that very reason, Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren was all the more devastated when she found out that her position as an english instructor at Auburn University (AU) had been terminated without a given reason. Not only was she an employee but also a three time Auburn graduate. When she was in her 30s, with a GED, three children and divorce papers in hand, she earned a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. She says:

As an alumni, myself, I cannot reconcile such an action against my deep loyalty to my university …  I have been, in effect, disowned by the very institution that created me as a teacher and a scholar without any more ado than that given to a stranger.

In the local Alabama Pagan community and in the blogosphere, Dr. Privett-Duren is better known as Seba O’Kiley, the Southern Fried Witch. She has been a spiritual leader, Pagan teacher and blogger for years. However, until May, her two identities were, more or less, kept separate. Religion is generally not discussed. A former English Department colleague Dr. Robin E. Bates said:

In the Auburn English department, faculty and staff don’t discuss religious feeling openly. I think that, for  most, this is because it is a publicly funded school and many feel that faith has no role in the workplace there … No one discusses religion with students, because it’s outside the purview of the job as teachers of English, and discussion of anything personal like religion would be considered unprofessional.

While some colleagues, like Dr. Bates, knew Dr. Privett-Duren’s religion and even followed her Pagan blog, the College of Liberal Arts administration did not. Due to the alleged “hush hush” circumstances surrounding her termination, Dr. Privett-Duren believes that her religion was, in fact, the cause. She explained:

They [administrators] found out when a colleague complained about me to the Dean’s office. I have never been allowed to know the details of that complaint and it (apparently) was unfounded and dropped. Soon thereafter, the Dean asked that I not accompany my committee of which I was a member for our meeting with the Dean. He did not want me there. From that moment, it escalated.

Seba O'Kiley

Seba O’Kiley or Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren

The initial problems arose in the fall of 2013 but, as she noted, appeared to have been dropped within a month. In fact, in April 2014, Dr. Privett-Duren was honored with the English Department’s teaching award for the 2013-14 school year. In addition, she was being considered for a promotion to a permanent lecturer and for a grant to establish online class material.

However, things turned sour that very same month. On April 4, the administration sent Dr. Privett-Duren an email informing her that she was “was not selected” for the grant. Her department chair admitted that he was “surprised by the decision which was made outside the department.” She was unable to obtain any further information about the decision-making process.

A month later, Dr. Privett-Duren was sent the termination letter with no further explanation. Within days, she contacted her chair, the administration and the Affirmative Action/EEO offices. During that time, she was neither able to gain an audience with the Dean, nor learn the conditions of her termination.

Frustrated and confused, Dr. Privett-Duren turned to the American Civil Liberties Union. Within days, the organization returned her letter stating, “We have reviewed your request for assistance and concluded that your situation raises serious questions about the possibility of discrimination with your company.” However the ACLU also added that her complaint did not constitute a civil rights issue and recommended that she contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

On June 16, she filed a charge of religious discrimination and ageism with the EEOC in Birmingham. The organization is currently investigating her case and, she is waiting for a response. She says:

How do I feel about the whole thing. I feel betrayed–not by my department, as I understand that their hands were tied, nor by my students, who didn’t know nor care about the status of my religion. I feel betrayed by the red tape of administration that did not protect me from the machination of Dean’s Aistrup’s decision and by the refusal of the Provost’s office to investigate it. The unprecedented act of terminating an employee without regard to work record, the opinion of the supervising faculty or the simple (ethical) step of allowing that employee the right to meet with the dean of the college is nothing short of a witch hunt. 

While Dr. Privett-Duren was communicating with officials at the school and with these outside agencies, her students launched their own protest in the form of an online petition. By June,142 students of many faiths digitally signed a request to “Bring Dr. PD Back to Auburn University.” While the petition doesn’t directly address the reason behind her dismissal, it does highlight her reputation as a popular, well-loved teacher. Former student Sam Christensen said, “I don’t know anyone who disagrees with the petition. I can say that I would be surprised if there was serious student opposition to it, I haven’t known many professors as universally liked by students as her.”

Many of these students didn’t find out that “Dr. PD” was Pagan until the petition was made public. Former student Casey Jo Berland, a practicing Christian, said, “Kat kept her religion completely hidden from her students. I had absolutely no idea until after the semester was over and I called her for advice. And even then she was hesitant to open up about it.”

Dr. Privett-Duren’s hesitation to discuss her religion was more about professionalism than about fear of discovery. All of the interviewed students and faculty agree that Auburn’s climate is generally more progressive as compared to many other locations in Alabama or the Southeast. The University was even home to an active Pagan student organization, Pantheon, for years.

More recently, the town itself has become host to the only Pagan Pride Day event in the state. In fact, Auburn Pagan Pride Day is held at the Arboretum on the University campus. APPD organizer and longtime resident Linda Kerr says, “I’ve lived here since 1983, and have been Pagan here since 1988, and have never had any issues due to being Pagan. I worked at Auburn University for 25 years, and never had any trouble there either.” She holds the Pagan pride event on campus because, “the site is beautiful and lends itself well.” However, APPD is not endorsed or sponsored by the University in any way.

Kerr’s comments, however, were corroborated by other Pagan residents and students. Former Pagan AU student, Jillian Smith, actually applied to the university upon encouragement from Dr. Privett-Duren. She said:

Kat told me how open-minded and accepting AU was, allowing for a great deal of personal expression, pursuance of personal interest and acceptance of differing viewpoints when well presented. She spoke of AU as forward-thinking, encouraging of new ideas, and a supposed melting pot of creed, race, color, religion, sexual orientation, and so forth. This was not only a driving point for my application to AU, it was also the kind of community environment in which I wanted my son to be raised — an environment of AU “family” and “All in.”

Despite this progressive climate and academic environment, Dr. Privett-Duren still maintains that her termination was related to her religion. She says that the University is located in the very conservative South and that administrators are sometimes not as open-minded as the professors working in the departments. As she points out, her termination came from the college administration, who didn’t know about her religion prior to last fall, and not from her department head, who did.

Unfortunately, the University declined to comment due to this situation being “a personal employment matter.” Both the AA/EEO department and Dean’s office responded similarly saying that they are unable to speak publicly in such cases.

Dr. Privett-Duren

Dr. Privett-Duren in her garden

Therefore, the investigation into Dr. Privett-Duren’s termination and her allegations of religious discrimination now rest entirely with the EEOC. In the meantime, Dr. Privett-Duren has begun other projects. She will be teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary and at another online university. She is writing a memoir about life as a witch in the south and has already sent a fiction project to a publisher. In addition, she is the newest, regular writer at Crone Magazine. Her column, which begins this October, is aptly called “Southern-Fried Crone.”  Dr. Privett-Duren says:

As a direct result of my termination, I have been forcibly outed by the process. For over a decade, I existed in fracture:  Seba O’Kiley, the country witch versus Dr. Privett-Duren, the academic. That fracture has healed from the chaos.  What I am now is quite a force of nature, and for that alone, I am grateful. I am now whole, a witch/teacher/mother/academic with no apologies.

Regardless of the outcome of the EEOC investigation, Dr. Privett-Duren says that she will keep fighting. She loves Auburn University and the students that call it home. With the spirit of “War Eagle” in her tone, she says, “I just want my job back. I just want to teach.”

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We are now in the 10th year of The Wild Hunt! What began in 2004 as an experiment run by an enthusiastic novice, has slowly morphed into one of the most widely-read news magazines within modern Paganism. I am still taken aback by the fact that thousands daily read not only my work, but the work of a growing number of reporters and columnists dedicated to a vision of journalism and accountability within our family of faiths. It has been a distinct honor and privilege to oversee this project, and I believe that good work has been done, work that has helped define who we are, and what we value.

What has been instrumental in shepherding our transition from a small blog into a project with a editorial structure, staff, and a selection of columnists who challenge and enlighten us has been your fiscal support. This year’s Fall Funding Drive will be vital to the future health and growth of The Wild Hunt. As you may know, I recently announced that I was transitioning away from the daily running of the site, and passing on the duties of Managing Editor to the capable shoulders of Heather Greene, who brings to the job deep experience working directly with a variety of Pagan organizations, and an impressive professional media background. Likewise, our two staff reporters, Cara Schulz and Terence P. Ward, also have backgrounds in professional journalism, and are moving The Wild Hunt closer and closer to an ideal of providing top-notch primary source journalism on a regular basis.

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Over the years many have said our community has a hard time supporting institutions and services that benefit them. I don’t believe that is entirely true. I think we can come together if something is worthwhile, and goes to the trouble to ask. I believe The Wild Hunt is giving something unique to our community, and I am asking you, please help us expand and grow into an independent institution that can serve your daily news and information needs. Our success won’t just be for us, it will be for you, and for those who follow us.

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