WINDSOR, Ont. – Mystical Mae Moon, a Pagan owned metaphysical store, was destroyed in a fire on Sunday along with several other businesses and apartments. The commercial building housed five businesses with five occupied residential units above. While no humans died, eight cats belonging to one of the apartment residents were killed and the two birds, who lived in the Mystical Mae Moon store, also perished.

[Photo courtesy of Windsor Fire and Rescue via Twitter]

[Photo courtesy of Windsor Fire and Rescue via Twitter]

“It has been a horrible nightmare for us. This business is a dream of ours, it was our baby,” said Mystical Mae Moon owner Ron Story. He said the loss of the store was difficult, but the loss of the family’s beloved birds was worse, “Going in today with the adjustor felt like going to the coroner to identify a body. It was gut wrenching.The loss of our birds hit us, as well as our children, hard.”

The fire started in an office of a laundromat that is owned by the building’s landlord. The fire appears to have started shortly after 9:30 pm Sunday eve. At 10:30, Mr. Story says he was alerted by his security system that both front and back doors had been opened so he headed to the store to see what was happening. When he arrived he found that the area was blocked off, and ten fire trucks were at the scene.

Story said that his store is a total loss. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Mystical Mae Moon, which opened its doors in September of 2015, is one of three metaphysical stores in the area. Paige Vanderbeck, an employee of Mystical Mae Moon, said that Mystical Mae Moon was quickly becoming a gathering place, bringing a splintered Pagan community together, “This is the first time a store like that has operated in Windsor in a really long time. I’ve been a witch here for 20 years and I’ve seen a hundred witch wars and splits in the community, and since working at Mystical Mae Moon more of those people have started coming together than I ever thought was possible.”

Vanderbeck said that her favorite thing about working at the store is that it’s comfortable and authentic. “When you walk in it’s obvious that it’s not a money scam,” she explained. “Ron is also very serious about making everyone comfortable and learning anything he can about everyone’s path. You could walk in and ask about Hinduism, Wicca, Voodoo, Satanism, angels, crystals or herbs and he would answer as best he could and look things up with you right there if he had no idea.”

The Story’s haven’t given up on their dream. Although the store and all its contents are a total loss, they plan on reopening at another location, “We will put this behind us and rebuild.”

Story says the local Pagan community has been very supportive in the days after the fire, “We also would like to thank the Pagan community in this area for the moral support. They have been wonderful. They have started a GoFundMe for us, as well as planning an online auction. They have given us moral support, encouraging us to rebuild.”

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Correction 6-29 6:53 PM: The quoted statements and opinions expressed concerning the nature of others area stores were removed as they were not directly related to the central story of the fire. 

UK – It’s been five days now since the U.K. had its vote to decide whether or not it should be a part of the European Union. The Leave result was close, won by an overall majority of 52%. The Remain camp — the favourites to win — was shocked, saddened, and angry. It is no exaggeration to say that this result has not only torn the nation apart, but also exposed deep rifts which have have existed for many years.

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[Courtesy Pixabay]


After the vote, social media went into turmoil with different groups of people turning on each other. There were many unfriendings on Facebook. Younger people are annoyed with the older generation for “ruining their future.” And, older people believe that the younger generation does not know what is at stake. As noted in The Guardian, the vote has torn families apart.

Even days later, there is still lots of shock; lots of pain. Much pent up hurt and rage is being released.

Due to the volatility of the debates, it has been difficult to garner any public reaction from the U.K. Pagan community, which is a microcosm of the country as a whole. Pagans, on both sides of the issue, are displaying as much anger and hurt about the vote. Many feel that the decision to leave flies in the face of Pagan values, such as tolerance and diversity. Conversely, others in the community feel that the EU is undemocratic and unaccountable. They voted to leave for freedom and independence.

However, many of those contacted were not yet willing to speak on record. In a future piece, I hope to update the situation with personal comments from the UK Pagan community. For now though, I will explain the background behind the vote.

The Breakdown of the U.K.

The vote occurred across the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Britain, also called Great Britain, refers to the countries that exist on the landmass of the island, namely England, Wales and Scotland. Each nation in the U.K. has a form of parliament to ensure its own governance. Northern Ireland and Scotland have more powers over their nations than Wales, due to complex historical reasons that are beyond this discussion.

Since Friday morning, when the results became clear, the U.K. went into a tailspin. David Cameron, our Prime Minister, resigned immediately. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, called for a second referendum on Scottish Independence from the U.K., which would allow them to re-apply to the EU. (Scotland held such referendum in 2014 and voted, by 55%, to remain in the U.K.) In Northern Ireland, concerns about peace have been raised. The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein has begun talking about a border poll for the reunification of Ireland, and many fear the possible implications and the potential for discord.

A Bit of History

The European Union (EU) was a post-World War II bloc that emerged to trade together and to hopefully bring peace to a ravaged continent. Its original members were France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Britain joined along with Ireland in 1973. Other European countries joined throughout the ensuing years. To date, 28 states are members.

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[Via Wikimedia]

Due to the EU, Europeans have enjoyed cheap holidays, a wider range of consumables, and greater work flexibility. But all of that changed with the infamous Maastrict Treaty of 1992, which pushed for both political and economic union. In Britain, the treaty was hotly contested in parliament, with the more extreme ends of both parties blocking the move by the European Economic Community (EEC). While poll tax riots were blamed for the demise of controversial Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it may have actually been her refusal to further integrate into the proposed EU.

However, time went on. And, as the 1990s progressed, Tony Blair came to power as the first Labour Prime Minister for a generation. Simultaneously, the EU expanded, and people from Eastern and Southern Europe came to Britain under the free movement of peoples legislation. The U.K. also began to see the decline of much of its manufacturing industry due to things being apportioned by Brussels, a synonym often used for the EU due to its main, but not official, base being located in that city. (Its official seat is in Strasbourg, France.)

However, the problems really began around the turn of the century when the euro was introduced. Economies in the east and south have traditionally been weaker than those in the west and north of Europe. At the time, the British media began raising concerns. However, Germany and France, the powerhouses behind the euro project, pushed it through.

As the noughties progressed with the credit crunch and austerity measures, the entire EU project began to look increasingly unwieldy. Additionally, the migrant crisis of last summer triggered unhappiness all over Europe, because it epitomised all that was wrong with the EU. More specifically, one country, in this case Germany, deciding to ignore the Dublin Regulations, rightly or wrongly, “off its own bat.”

Back to the vote and a nation torn

The situation is very complicated, and the responses are equally as mixed, without clear lines of support.

This referendum has created a perfect storm in communities that have been abandoned since the Thatcher era of the 1980s. These are the areas that were left behind in the march to globalisation. Many people from the EU came to Britain to seek work in a prosperous, business-friendly country. Many of these working class communities have resented such quick and deep global change. This was reflected by the trend for what are called the Labour heartlands voting in favour of Brexit.

Many on the left are unwilling to talk about this issue at all. Straight after the voting results were released, John Harris and Gary Younge of The Guardian ventured a couple of articles asking people to consider that side of the issue. The failure to address it, according to them, seems to be fuelling the rise of the far-right.

As if to support that point, there have been reports of an upturn in racist incidents across the U.K. These include cards written in Polish posted through letterboxes in areas with a high Polish demographic telling them to get out. People who identify as BME (black or minority ethnic) have been subjected to racial abuse in the street.

pagan federation In response to these incidents, The Pagan Federation has issued a swift response. Luthaneal Adams of PF’s London branch stated:

These are challenging times and I know full well that many people are feeling scared, shocked and intimidated by the horrible rise in racism and xenophobia that has become evident in this country. But we will not allow that bigotry to infiltrate our Pagan Federation and PF-London will do all we can to make sure that our events, groups and activities are free from such intolerance and the people who perpetrate it.

Economic reaction to the decision has also been mixed. The referendum campaign divided British economists and business leaders from the start. Mark Carney, the Canadian head of the Bank of England, stated in early May that Britain was better off in the EU, and Brexit could cause “a technical recession.” However, since the voting result he has backtracked on that. Just three days ago he announced to The Financial Times that “Brexit will not cause a financial crisis.”

Mervyn King, his predecessor, stated in April that the “economic threat of Brexit has been exaggerated,” but would not reveal which side of the debate he supported.

Business leaders have also been divided on the issue. Two days before the vote, Lord Digby Jones, the former head of the Confederation of British Industry, stated that he was a “reluctant leaver” and slammed the EU’s inability or unwillingness to reform. Other business leaders such as Virgin chief Richard Branson and Amstrad founder Lord Sugar backed Remain, whereas James Dyson (the inventor and entrepreneur behind Dyson vacuum cleaners) and another 320 prominent UK business figures wrote a letter to The Telegraph declaring their support for Leave.

Since then, much of the worries regarding the British economy have receded. Boeing has just declared that it will stick with plans to base its new European HQ in Britain. Aston Martin is due to open a new plant in Wales, which needs the jobs. And as stated above, Business Secretary Sajid Javid has rowed furiously away from his previous pessimistic outlook.  Over the weekend, Javid said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that much of the economic doom and gloom that had been forecast was “avoidable.”

Popular personal finance analyst and commentator Martin Lewis, of moneysavingexpert.com, has also downplayed any fears of economic strife. Writing in The Daily Mirror as the result of the vote sank in, his message invoked a motivational slogan from the U.K.’s iconic World War II propaganda posters: “Keep calm and carry on.” He said:

The vote result changes the way people think or act. That’s why the markets have gone down – that’s why people have asked if they should complete on their house sale, or complete their bank account change.

The danger of this ‘sentiment change’ is it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People are worried about the economy so they don’t do things that they would have done otherwise, and that hurts the economy. We have to be very careful of the sentiment change issue.

What it all means

This referendum has basically asked the British people who they are and who they want to be in the future, and this is what is at the core of this issue. Historically, Britain has never been a happy fit in Europe. In fact, one could argue that it is our relationship with Europe that defines us.

The Magna Carta came into being as a revolt against Norman oppression; the Dissolution of the Monasteries was a break from the Roman Church. World War II was a partly a conflagration against German territorial expansion. Many who are part of the Leave camp see similar themes in the EU today, but with different motivations.

Regardless, there is obviously a great split in who we are and how we perceive ourselves – tolerant, multi-cultural, freedom loving.

For some it will take a great deal of time to reconcile the enormity of what the U.K. leaving the EU means. During this time of uncertainty, Pagans are holding fast to their values of tolerance and diversity, and looking to become examples of bringing the disparate peoples of the U.K. together.

In an interview, Kathy Jones of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple demonstrated this fact in her own words, saying:

In these volatile times it’s important to remember that Motherworld crosses all boundaries of nationhood and race. We are one global family in the love of Goddess. Motherworld is the society in which Mother Earth, mothers and the values of mothering – love, care and support for each other – are placed in the centre of society rather than being left out on the periphery.

In their open letter on bigotry, the Pagan Federation wrote:

It’s more than fair to say that June 2016 has been a time of significant change and upheaval in this green and pleasant land. We can only speculate about how our descendants will look back upon this time and what they will think. Our world is changing, as all things inevitably do, though with such massive changes as we are seeing now, we are all scrabbling to deal with these turbulent currents.

I will be following the Brexit fallout very closely and intend to update readers on any developments. When the dust does settle and more Pagans, who are as shell-shocked as everyone else, are willing to share their viewpoints, we will bring you their stories, opinions and concerns

coruSAN FRANCISCO – Members of the Priesthood of Coru Cathubodua and its allies attended the city’s pride event to offer assistance with medical aid, safety escorting, and spiritual protection. Wearing their distinctive red priesthood shirts, the members were stationed throughout the event with first aid kits and other “parade-related accessories.”

Communications chief Scott H. Rowe said, “In a time when the currents of hatred and intolerance have been permeating our national and cultural consciousness, events like Pride, which uplift and celebrate diversity, are more important than ever. In order that the LGBTQ community are free to celebrate safely, it is particularly important for community members who are able to do so to offer protection and support.”

Coru Cathubodua is often found assisting at similar events around the Bay Area. Along with Solar Cross Temple, the group also sponsors an annual blood drive at PantheaCon. The front page of their website displays the priesthood’s continued commitment to hospitality, safety, equality and justice. With regards to the weekend’s pride events, Rowe said, “The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood remains dedicated to supporting their LGBTQ friends, allies, and members with both spiritual and practical needs.”

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13435330_994220324031940_2673996563045981439_nTWH – After the tragedy struck in Orlando, many Pagans and Heathens throughout the world asked, “What can we do to help?” A group consisting of Pagans from both Italy and the U.K. came up with an idea. They call it “Wands up for Orlando.” As noted on the site, “[The project] aims are to support the LGBTQIA community and celebrate our connection as the answer to hate by sharing ceremonies, artistic contributions, poetry, photos, songs, etc.”

For their first task, the group is currently encouraging people to join with them in a ritual to honor those who died in the Orlando attack. A ritual was jointly written and translated into six languages for use by any groups or individuals. It is also not tradition- or practice-specific. The organizers explain, “We want to emphasise that, as many of the dead may have been Catholics or have had an ambivalent relationship with religion, we are being respectful of that. We performed divinations to check that the ritual would be welcome and needed.”

Where did the name come from? Fans of the Harry Potter franchise might recognize the gesture. Group co-founder Salvatore Caci explained, just as Hogwarts students raised their wands to sweep away an evil curse, “we want to sweep away the curses of intolerance and violence with the light that shines from our hearts and hands joined together and in support of one another.” Caci and the other founders hope that this ritual is only a beginning.

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imagesUK – In a vote that shocked much of the world, the United Kingdom opted to exit the European Union. The vote was close, and the subsequent reactions have been mixed. But the story does not end there, as this historic vote has left many uncertainties it its wake. Our UK news correspondent Claire Dixon has spent the weekend talking with U.K. Pagans about the vote, their concerns, and their predictions for the future. Tomorrow, she will bring us that report, along with a broader look at the situation from an insider perspective.

In Other News

  • The Bay Area Pagan Alliance was another Pagan group in attendance at this past weekend’s San Francisco pride events. Along with enjoying the festivities and supporting the LGBTQ community, the alliance also setup a donation booth through which volunteers helped bring in funds that would ultimately support their own popular annual May festival. The Alliance’s Facebook page shows photos of volunteers working at the booth and also enjoying the day. The alliance did say that, in the end, the money raised will take care of a good portion of the festival budget, but they will still need more fundraising before spring 2017.
  • New York Pagans are getting ready for their annual summer event. The 5th Annual WitchsFest USA is a popular “street faire” held in the heart of Manhattan’s West Village on Astor Place between Broadway and Lafayette. The faire includes presenters, performers, vendors and more. Last year’s WitchsFest was attended by Vice reporter Farah Al Qasimi, who shared colorful and dazzling photos of many of the attendees.
  • T. Thorn Coyle continues sharing her voice successfully through her fiction writing. One of her short stories, titled Salt, was recently selected to be included in an urban fantasy book bundle along with nineteen other books that explore the “hidden magic in everyday life.” Coyle’s story, about “a ghost-talking, magic-wielding, leather daddye,” was originally part of her “free fiction” series supported by her readers through Patreon. Coyle is also the author of the novel Like Water as well as several non-fiction book on Witchcraft, spirituality and daily practice.

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  • The Many Gods West conference is coming up in just over one month. It is in its second year and one of the few annual indoor conferences held over the summer. It bills itself as a “gathering for polytheists.” This year’s event features Marcella “Allec” McGuire, Sean Donahue, and L. Phaedrus. There will be no keynote speaker, as the organizers explain, “We have forgone the keynote speaker model in order to encourage the event to grow as a gathering of peers.” Many Gods West is held in Olympia, Washington from Aug 5-7.
  • Starhawk announced that she will be giving away two special edition autographed copies of her new book City of Refuge. To enter the drawing, fans only need to “like” the post and post a quote from any of her books into the comments section. The two winners will be drawn and announced on July 1. Starhawk has also listed all the rules and regulations on her website.
  • Speaking of summer reading, Lewellyn Publishing will be releasing two new books in July, both of which may be of interest to many of our readers. First, Witch and priestess Lasara Firefox Allen shares “a new system that embraces the powerful, diverse, and fluid nature of the lived experience of women today” in her book Jailbreaking the Goddess: A Radical Revisioning of Feminist Spirituality. Second, Devin Hunter’s The Witch’s Book of Power explores “the secrets to unlocking the Witch power within you.” He includes exercises, meditations and practices.
  • If that is not enough to fill your days, Weiser published Judith Illes how-to guide called The Big Book of Practical Spells: Everyday Magic that Works.  And, Moon Books has just released Morgan Daimler’s Fairycraft: Following the Path of Fairy Witchcraft, and Rachel Patterson and Tracy Roberts’ book titled, Arc of the Goddess. 
  • Lastly, Treadwell’s conference exploring the 1980s Satanic Abuse panic is coming up Tuesday, July 5. With the help of six speakers, attendees will explore the history and psychology behind the moral panic that gripped the UK and many other parts of the world.  Discussions will also include “what it was like for Pagans, and then how it ended after researchers and investigative journalism got involved.”

BALTIMORE — In a year’s time, our collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities are offered countless opportunities to come together in person in order to celebrate, educate, worship or just to connect. These eclectic and wide-spread events consist of everything from indoor weekend conferences, day-long symposiums, and seven-day camping festivals to picnics, concerts, and small community gatherings. Some of these events provide a space for a vast diversity of programming, such as Pagan Spirit Gathering, Paganicon, or PantheaCon. Others are more focused in their theme, mission and service, such as Trothmoot, Merry Meet or HexFest. One of the newest such events, which was just announced in May, is the day-long gathering called Dawtas of the Moon.

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[Courtesy Image: Dawtas of the Moon]

“Dawtas of the Moon is a collective of seven women who have joined together to send out the call to all women of color who are witches, shamans, priestesses, oracles, diviners or healers to convene and uphold the indigenous ways of our foremothers,” explained the organizers in an email interview.

The Event Brite page reads, “The time has come to make sure our voices are heard. The time has come to step out of the back room. The time has come for us to connect, grow, learn, heal, and share our knowledge and sisterhood energy.”

The seven organizers are An L. Kenion, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann, Omitola Yejide Ogunsina, and the three women that make up Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. Kenion, also known as MoonLight Star, describes herself as a shaman and healer among other things. She said that she was born from “a long line of spiritual workers: seers, sages, medicine women, oracles, diviners, hoodoo practitioners.” Barmore describes herself as a “free spirit,” saying that she “greets the world with an open heart.” She is an ancestral-led healer and doula specializing in ritual practices. McKann is a holistic sensual healer whose mission is to bring women back in balance with their feminine energy.

Omi Yejide Ogunsina, known as Mama Omi, is listed on the event site as the primary organizer. She is a an “aborisha on the path to priesthood in the Ifa Spiritual tradition of the Yoruba people (Isese Agbaye).” Among her multitude of experiences and roles, Mama Omi describes herself as a “womb shaman, reiki master, meditation teacher, womb yoga instructor, psychic and medium.”

The final three organizers make up a group called “Magic Moja,” which is an “initiative created […] through the guidance of [their] ancestors.” Moja (pronounced Moy-ya) is Swahili for “one.” As the three women explain, “We are here to assist in the reawakening of the Divine Feminine in melanated women. By doing so this also helps to heal and uplift our melanated men to the Divine Masculine.” Magic Moja “wants [their] people to be balanced on an emotional, mental, social, physical and spiritual level through the restoration and practice of ancient African principles. We don’t want to just merely survive. In this world it is our birthright to thrive.”

Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. [Courtesy Photo]

Magic Moja: Bree Hall, Lola Hall and Selissa Brown. [Courtesy Photo]

The seven women came together to create the Dawtas of the Moon event after Mama Omi had a vision of a “Black Witches Convention” in a meditation. MoonLight Star said that, in this meditation, Mama Omi was “surrounded by generations of women, some she knew and others she didn’t. The only words  she heard was ‘It’s time!’ From there, she approached other sisters who are now working with her to plan the convention. They fell in love with the idea.”

That phrase, “it is time,” was repeated in the interview multiple times, as it is on the website. When asked what that means exactly and why “it is time,” Mama Omi said, “Each of us involved in this project have women coming to us who are ready to learn. We have more women of color who are moving away from traditional religion and want to heal mind, body, and spirit. More women are also coming out and boldly using the word Witch, Wise Woman, Shaman, Healer. Many women want to learn from other women of color.”

MoonLight Star said, “We are being guided by Gaia, Mama Earth however you want to call her. She is demanding the harmony to be returned to this planet. The energy shifting demands the respect of those who inhabit this earth to adhere to the Universal Laws which this planet is governed under. Everyone needs to hear the call, however women of color are the first mothers and hold the keys to ensure the harmony is being brought forth.”

Barmore agreed, but added, “The time was actually generations ago. I feel that the inter generational wounds are being healed and it is time to come together. It has been time. We’re late.”

In the interview, the women emphasized that the goal is to demonstrate that there is a sisterhood of like-minds and that “woman of color are not alone in their [spiritual] journey.”

MoonLight Star said, “When An and Omi do their weekly blog shows with Divine Wisdom Radio, [they] often hear our sisters speak on the fact that they don’t have other sisters in their area to connect with and they feel alone. By coming together, we hope to create a time for sisters to create lasting connections with sisters so they no longer have to feel alone.”

Like many practitioners of minority religions that have communities spread out around the country and even the globe, the organizers agree that social media has been very beneficial. However, they also said that “there is nothing like actually coming together and holding each other and being able to see someone’s eyes.” Dawtas of the Moon is an attempt to create that opportunity for a “coming together” in real time and real space.

MoonLight Star, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann [Courtesy Photos]

MoonLight Star, Ayanna Barmore, Shirleta McKann [Courtesy Photos]

The women are calling this coming together a ‘coven,’ which is a term typically reserved for small groups of Witches. We asked about the reason behind the use of the term. They said, “While the word coven may be generally applied to a small group, to Mama Omi it also implies a group that comes together as a community and even in some cases with a sense of family. […] Since we are focusing on sisterhood and those who embrace the term “Witch” it only seemed appropriate to use that word.”

Despite the focus on the word ‘Witch’, the event is not limited to practitioners of a specific type of Witchcraft or those who identify as such. The organizers said, “Some [attendees] will come from the African Traditional Religions such as Ifa, Akan, Kemetic, Vodun. Others will may not be part of those particular traditions and work with Hoodoo and other earth based religions.” They said that the purpose is simply to come together. Both the seasoned practitioner and the newbie are welcome.

When asked whether the event was conceived as a private event limited only to women of color, Mama Omi said, “Yes, the event does focus on women of color. This was intentional.”  She added, “We are not banning white women; it is a public facility. However, we do ask anyone who is not a person of color to understand that these are women who are Africans living in diaspora, indigenous Native Americans, and we identify as such.”

Mama Omi went on to explain, “There is not much out there for women of color to be able to come together in a safe space and discuss their spiritual journey especially when it is not connected to Christianity or Islam. Because women of color are not able to connect openly, it causes great distress, depression, loneliness, and a lack of sisterhood.

“All of the women involved are spiritual healers and some are womb healers. The one thing we constantly see are women who are not connected to their own feminine energy due to a variety of trauma. […] By bringing black women together, you are creating a community of shared experiences, healing, awareness, and sisterhood. While a lot of us have attended events with white women, there is still nothing like gathering with your sisters and feeling free to be yourself and hearing each other’s experiences and fully relating to them.”

Barmore added, “My upbringing was in the AME Church. When my spirit was calling for something more, it was my childhood friends of non-color that understood my need for more. As I have grown into accepting myself for who I am and what I do, I feel that I was able to heal because of the people in my community that looked like me, acted like me, understood what it is to be tossed aside by your family because of your Truths. Women of Color have very few safe and sacred spaces… there are now many sacred spaces for women, Native American women, etc… but very few for women of color.”

As for men, the organizers said that they are also welcome to attend, but they must also show respect for the event’s mission. The women added, “We hope that the men [who attend] gain an even deeper awareness of the value of the embodiment of the goddesses they have living in their home.”

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Dawtas of the Moon aims to give women of color a chance to gather with those of like mind and like experience, and to afford these women the freedom of voice. This idea was another underlying current in the interview. As they explained, not only do women of color, specifically Witches, have few chances to meet together, but they also have fewer opportunities to be heard beyond their own small circles. When asked what they might say if given a global microphone, here is what three of the women said:

Mama Omi: We are not sinners, we are not Satan worshipers. We are women who have chosen to return to our traditional indigenous way of life. We have chosen to honor the Divine Feminine and honor our connection to nature.

Barmore: It is time for you to listen to us, and to take heed. To my sisters, within you is everything that you have prayed for. You are your own manifestation. It is time to do the work.

MoonLight Star: The world needs to hear, feel and truly understand that we are present regardless of our battered history. We have been denied the right to be powerful due to lack of understanding and misplaced fear. We as women or color or indigenous women only want peace to be free.

Dawtas of the Moon is scheduled to take place Saturday, October 29 as many Witches and others are preparing for religious and cultural ancestral festivals, such as Samhain. When asked if this timing was happenstance or purposeful, MoonLight Star said, “The time seemed right. It was in alignment with so many things […] the new moon, Samhain, hallows eve, all souls day; it felt more than right to have a gathering of this magnitude.  We will being doing a lot of ancestral work to bring in harmony.”

They aren’t concerned that the holiday weekend will lower attendance. MoonLight Star said, “Within the community a lot are solitary. We have no coven or are informally practicing. This is a chance for all of us to come together and share in the energy and create new practices and rituals.”

Dawtas of the Moon is conceived as an annual event that will grow in size and give strength, support and connection to community year after year. The inaugural gathering will take place October 29 in Gwynn Oak, Maryland at the Wisdom Book Center. Current speakers include Iyalosa Osunyemi Akalatunde, Queen Mother Imakhu, and Iyanifa Alase Olori Oyadele. A luncheon will be catered by the Grind House Juice Bar and Market, a vegan restaurant in Baltimore. More presenters and workshop facilitators will be added over the coming months.

After all is said and done, Mama Omi would like attending women to take away this message: “Be you authentic self and be bold with it. ” Barmore added, “I would hope that my sisters understand that they are no longer alone. That I am here for the conversations, the rants, the healing, the loving and growth. To know that after the convention that we are family, and that I am here for you if and when you may need me. We are all that we need.” And MoonLight Star agreed, saying “They are being welcomed back to the beginning. We have always held space for them.”

For the full unedited interview, click here.

I recently stumbled upon three unrelated articles examining new ways of combining technology and religion. The first reports on a robot Buddhist monk, the second asks if apps believe in God, and the third promotes the use of computer models to study religion. The articles aren’t actually as unrelated as they first appear. In each case, the use of current technology serves to create an artificial distance between the twenty-first century (schizoid) man and the spiritual, in whatever form it may take. The focus is on reducing the poetic and unquantifiable experience of religion to prosaic and measurable object that can easily be filed away as just one more manufactured moment in our digital lives.

A Robot Monk

The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports on “the world’s first robot monk,” a two-foot-tall device modeled on a character from a Buddhist comic book. Named “Worthy Stupid Robot Monk,” it was designed and built by Beijing’s Dragon Spring Temple and a consortium of approximately twelve Chinese culture, investment, and technology companies. Looking like a bald monk in a saffron-colored robe, the apparatus holds a touch-pad that allows visitors to the temple to enter questions and statements that are then answered.

“Worthy Stupid Robot Monk” of Beijing’s Dragon Spring Temple [Photo Credit: http://eng.longquanzs.org]

“Worthy Stupid Robot Monk” of Beijing’s Dragon Spring Temple [Photo Credit: http://eng.longquanzs.org]

The New York Times provides samples of interactions from the robot monk’s WeChat account, including:

Q: What is love?

A: Love is your own obsessions not being satisfied, the clashing of other people’s troubles with yours.

Q: I want to die.

A: Don’t assume you’re the most pathetic person in the world.

Q: Could there be another Cultural Revolution?

A: Wait, I will ask my master.

The article’s title states that the robot is “mixing spirituality with artificial intelligence.” The concept of AI is regularly invoked in popular media posts dealing with everything from Hello Barbie to smooching. Most of the time, the concept of AI is a clickbait stand-in for “thing that responds to input by producing output.” Any device or program with even the most basic responsive algorithm can lead to a journalist on a deadline to write a breathless post about the coming rise of the machines.

Take another look at the exchanges with the robot monk. The first question causes the device to produce a definition from its database. The second includes a keyword that triggers a prepared response. The third broaches a subject outside the programming of the robot and causes a deflecting non-answer to appear. This type of simulated interaction is strongly reminiscent of ELIZA, the 1960s computer program parodying a psychotherapy session that became widely known in a BASIC version of the late 1970s.

As a child in the early 1980s, I took ELIZA for a game and played it on a dumb terminal connected to Loyola University’s mainframe computer via a dialup modem. Even as a primary school student, it quickly became apparent to me that the virtual therapist’s answers were drawn from a limited pool of responses triggered by certain keywords in my questions, and that any unexpected input would draw stock evasions.

ELIZA

A computer simulation of one of my sessions with ELIZA, c. 1980 [Via www.manifestation.com/neurotoys/eliza.php3]

If 2016 robot monks are really running the same basic software as a 1966 computer therapist – or, at least, the same concept of interaction is serving as a model for its programmers – are we really that much closer to HAL 9000? More importantly, is seeking spiritual enlightenment from a robot monk any less ridiculous than seeking psychological insights from a computer therapist?

The monk project assumes that there are simple answers to the great questions that religions have asked throughout human history. It assumes that the job of a monk or other religious leader is to provide unthinking stock responses. This is unflattering to both the believer and the monk, for it sees each of them as a simple creature unable to wrestle with the complexities of the questions that religion struggles to answer – and it misses that this very struggle is at the core of the religious experience.

Siri’s Bat Mitzvah

The How We Get to Next website asks “Does Siri Believe in God?” and writer Leigh Alexander provides “A theological guide to chatbots and the world’s major religions.” Although the post generates the usual gagging reaction triggered by the tired trope of “the world’s major religions” (here, as always, the three Abrahamic traditions with Buddhism added for “inclusiveness”), it also provides an interesting insight into the way a young twenty-first century woman views the abandoned religion of her childhood – and how that view informs her conclusions on the intersection of technology and religion.

[Public Domain]

“Mr. Watson, come here. I want to know if you believe in God.” [Public Domain]

“I haven’t thought about religion in a long, long time,” writes Alexander, “but I was raised in a Jewish family.” Providing a perspective that is not uncommon in Pagan and Heathen communities, she portrays her former monotheistic religion as a tradition of rituals “the purpose of which seems primarily to demonstrate the ability to learn rules.” Given such a perspective on her abandoned religion, it is unsurprising that Alexander concludes, “Everything I can remember doing to prepare for my bat mitzvah service a bot could theoretically do.” I think I can hear the groaning of her rabbi from here.

After a dialogue with a computer scientist at UC Berkeley’s Center for Jewish Studies, Alexander concludes that “it would be most in line with Jewish thinking” to welcome a robot as a practicing member of the religious community. After having similar interactions with a Muslim video game designer, a Christian science writer, and a cognitive scientist – and reading a blog post by a Buddhist (an unfortunate lack of personal engagement with the one non-Abrahamic tradition included) – she offers a somewhat standard conclusion for these types of articles, referencing Asimov’s 1942 laws of robotics while warning against the coming rise of the machines.

Alexander’s piece is interesting and insightful, but it also exemplifies the intersection of post-religious identity with today’s personal technology. My own unverified personal gnosis generated by my wizard eye tells me that the most vocal supporters of the “new atheism” are those who were raised in earnestly-believing monotheist families. For some, it seems that the fact that their only religious experience was during the time of their life when their will was subjugated to the wishes of their parents has led to an understanding of religion that is mired in a childhood worldview of seemingly capricious rules and regulations. A similar view of Christianity is especially common among Pagans and Heathens who converted into their current tradition after conservative Christian childhoods.

Such a perspective on religious experience is a natural fit with an embrace of technology as a metaphor for spirituality. Alexander’s reflection on the rituals of her Jewish childhood as rule-bound training devoid of spiritual meaning unsurprisingly leads to a conclusion that an app or robot powered by if/then programming is fully capable of participating in religious community. As with the acceptance of a cartoonish robot as something that can fulfill the complex role of a monk, the idea that a cell phone app can be a contributing member of a religious community brushes aside the deep and complex human experiences and interactions that comprise what we call the spiritual and the religious.

Replicant Believers

A random tweet led me to the website of the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion’s Simulating Religion Project. The anonymous article introducing the project summarizes its ultimate goal: “If the Simulating Religion Project (SRP) succeeds, when questions about religion’s social functions arise, scientists can answer, ‘There’s an app for that,” with app defined as “a simulation program.” In other words, the SRP “aims to develop software that will simulate the cognitive-emotional mental processes and social interactions that mediate the effects of religion on social and cultural systems.”

computer

“Somewhere in here, we’ll find the gods.” [Still from “Manchester Baby.”]

The author argues in favor of “the accuracy or power of computer modeling to model complex human behaviors and interactions.” The study of religion as it exists today is portrayed as something unscientific, unreliable, and imprecise. The primary aim of the SRP is to reduce the unmanageable complexity of religious studies, to “force religious studies theorists to explain their theories in sufficient detail such that they can be modeled,” which “would make theories about religion more specific and hold them to explicit stadards [sic] of coherence and consistency.” Asserting that “religious theories often grow to such a large degree of complexity that one cannot tell what exactly falls under their scope of explanation,” the project “demands clarity from theorists on this front also, because nothing less can handle the concrete challenges of simulation and modeling.”

Note that the final statement suggests that religious studies must be simplified in order to deal with the inherent limitations of computer modeling, rather than calling for computer modeling to be developed that can handle the complexities of religious studies. While acknowledging the limitations of previous attempts to create synthetic models of human religious behavior, the writer seems profoundly troubled by the complexity of data generated by the study of religion:

Past simulation research in religion has grossly oversimplified the way humans interact, think, behave (especially morally), and change; this, obviously, will not do. At the same time, one should not include too much complexity in the simulation because this risks obscuring the issue rather than clarifying it. Too much simplicity gives wrong answers, and too much complexity gives unclear and confused ones.

On the website’s Modeling Religion Project Portal, the stated goals include production of “a simulation development platform that will allow SSR scholars and students to create complex simulations with no programming” and “a series of simulations of the role of religion in key transformations of human civilization, such as the Agricultural Transition (c. 8000 BCE), the Axial age (c. 800-200 BCE), and modernity (c. 1600-2100).”

There’s a lot to unpack here.

The spirit of Dr. Asimov is again invoked, if not by name, as the SRP seeks to create analytical models of human religious history from 8000 BCE to 2100 CE – from the ancient to the future – along the lines of the fictional Hari Seldon’s psychohistory, “that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli.” Creating any sort of model of religious cultures from 10,000 years ago involves assumptions about the knowability of incredibly ancient worldviews that would make even a reconstructionist blush, while asserting the ability of computer models to predict spiritual beliefs of those who will live nine decades in the future seems to evince a belief in the power of prophecy not so different from that of the arch-Heathen. Such an embrace of the powers of computer modeling borders on the mystical.

The pulling back from the messy complexity of religious studies is a typical reaction to the uncertainties of human experience that regularly makes an appearance in scientific communities. A friend who is a professor of engineering recently gave me a personal lecture to the effect Bernie Sanders supporters are sloppy-minded humanities folks whose emotions rule their lives while Hillary Clinton supporters are clearheaded scientists who have objectively evaluated the data. This engineering attitude seems to underlie the SRP’s belief that those who study religion are troublingly incoherent and inconsistent, and that real scientists need to get the data in shape in order to save religious studies from a state of irredeemable confusion.

This worldview is similar to the one expressed in the articles about the robot monk and the Jewish chatbot. While insisting that “too much simplicity gives wrong answers,” the SRP still embraces the idea that religious experience is something that can be reduced to a role-playing game and that believers ancient and yet unborn can be brought to digital life as non-player characters. Human existence is full of irrationality in general. Our desires, decisions, and deaths are not often algorithmic. Religious feeling is one of the least rational experiences of all, for good or ill. The idea that spirituality, of all things, is something that can modeled by computer engineers is itself irrational.

That scholarship on religion is so complex and irreducible to formula is largely due to the nature of the beast. Religious experience, across its broad spectrum and in all its variations, is not something that can be reduced to a Speak & Spell in a saffron robe, an iPhone app in a synagogue, or a computer model on a gaming table. If you want to understand religious experience and haven’t had it yourself – aside from being forced to go to Sunday school or Hebrew school – the best thing to do is to meet people from different religious traditions, get to know them, and listen to what they have to say. That’s a messy process, and it takes much more time and commitment than listening to a one-sentence answer from a robot, downloading an app, or studying replicant religionists that can be silenced with a keystroke. Many in today’s world will go to great lengths to avoid dealing with the complicated world of face-to-face human interaction. That’s not something to be celebrated as progress.

[Editorial Note: The Robbie the Robot photo that was previously in this article and is still being used in social media in connection with this article was used taken by DJ on Flickr]

[The Wild Hunt welcomes guest writer Christina Engela. She is a author, witch, human rights activist, blogger and chief researcher for the Alternative Religious Forum. Engela lives in South Africa and writes regularly for Penton Alternative Media.]

Most members of the South African (SA) Vampyre community (VC) who have done a little research know that this community’s recorded history began May 2010 with the foundation of House Valur. Most will know that the community only started growing and taking form with the founding of the South African Vampyre Alliance (SAVA) in June 2011. But little if anything is known about the community in the years before that time.

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Sometimes though, one finds little gems that shine a new light on what we already know. This being the case, we will examine the recollections of one of the community’s earliest builders. Also, we will examine the initial overlap of Vampyre culture with other subcultures and societies at the time – in this case, South African Pagan culture. We will look at the role played by vampyric Pagans in laying the groundwork for the growth and formation of the VC, independently of the Pagan community in South Africa.  Additionally, these events played an important role in the subsequent and continued relationship between the Pagan and Vampyre communities.

Background

In South Africa under the previous Nationalist government, there was no freedom of religion — that is, not unless you were Christian. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism were tolerated by the government, but Paganism, the worship of Pagan deities and any Pagan rituals, reading matter, gatherings or practices were criminalized and outlawed under laws pertaining to ‘Satanism.’ If you were vampyric, well – the less said about that, the better. Government-appointed witch-hunters like Kobus Jonker and his police unit enjoyed cult-fame status among naive evangelical Christians, spinning wild and unlikely tales of ‘Satanist’ conspiracies that could not be, and have never been, substantiated.

The adoption of South Africa’s new constitution changed all that – in theory at least. With the dawning of greater religious freedom in the early 1990s, there came a sudden scramble among those who identified as Pagan (including a lot of people who wanted to identify as Pagans) to establish an open and free, publicly visible Pagan body on the cultural landscape of the country. Several such organizations were formed, with one or two looking to speak for and on behalf of all South African Pagans.

At the start of that new age, however, it becomes clear that not everyone held the same understanding of the term “Pagan” and what it was. The Pagan community is, and always has been, diverse. As such, it is (and likely always will be) a breeding ground for a healthy respect for differences. Personally speaking, I have found the South African Pagan community to be generally a trouble-free zone, where people tend to be more easily accepted for who they are than elsewhere. It is also generally, on point of this article, a Vampyre-friendly place.

But it was not always so.

In 2011, when the fledgling South African Vampyre Community initially reached out to the Pagan community bodies in order to establish formal relations, the results were quite dramatic. The VC was completely unaware of any previous issues within Pagan culture.  As history bears out, the drama resulting from the vampophobic bias of some Pagans made things a little unpleasant for some time.

Pagan Vampyres became the ‘hot topic’ in Facebook groups and forums. The main Pagan spokespeople openly declared their understanding and acceptance of vampyric people who identified with Pagan beliefs (as long vampyrism didn’t become a part of Paganism), and they welcomed them.  Despite that support, it became all too clear that the SA Pagan community was in danger of splitting in two over the issue. Several Pagan writers stormed out of community forums when Octarine Valur accepted an invitation to write a column about vampyrism for a local online Pagan magazine.

Critics refused to accept Vampyres as fact, despite many in the Pagan community who had the ability to identify Vampyres among them by second sight alone. They rejected everything the Vampyres offered in defense of their identity. They were adamant that the purpose of the South African Vampyre Alliance (SAVA) was to ‘coerce’ Pagans to accept vampyrism as a Pagan path or religion.

“Some Pagan elders literally became hysterical,” said Octarine Valur, who is widely recognized as the founder of the SA Vampyre Community, and is regent of the SAVA. “Some of them misunderstood us. They thought we wanted to establish vampyrism as a unique path within Paganism as a religion. Even when we made very plain-language efforts to clarify the point, these seemed to be deliberately distorted by our critics. What our purpose was in contacting the Pagan community, was to clarify that there were Pagans in their covens and groups already who were also vampyric people – people who identify as Vampyres. As SAVA we were simply trying to look out for their interests because of the number of reports we received from vampyric Pagans who were either afraid to be known as Vampyres in Pagan circles, or who had been on the receiving end of prejudice in their Pagan group because they were known as Vampyres.”

Meanwhile, the SAVA had also conducted similar diplomatic outreach efforts, with less success, to other groups. Christianity was the next group which the SAVA reached out to, and later to the SA Goth Society (2013). Christianity is the second most-prevalent religious affiliation in the SA VC according to a contemporary poll. No matter how open-minded the Christian groups thought they were, they did not react as well to overtures of friendship from the Vampyre community as might have been expected. Some of the reactions were rather entertaining, but no further engagement took place in that sector. Some Goths did attend a Vampyre gathering in 2014, but – reportedly – they were simply curious and none of them were Vampyres.

As time went by, things settled down between Pagan and Vampyre communities. The critics’ worst fears did not realize. The Pagan community and Vampyre subculture remain distinctly separate from each other, but there is a lot of cooperation between Pagan bodies and VC bodies. The SAVA and the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) jointly chaired the Alternative Religions Forum in 2013 to combat ignorance, misinformation, and propaganda in the media.

Proudly Pagan PFD KZN 2009

Pagan Freedom Day in South Africa 2009 [Photo Credit: Ginney May / Wikimedia]

Their efforts went on record as having successfully changed how the media portrays ‘occult-related crimes’ and ‘alternative religions’ in its coverage. Vampyre-Pagan covens have organized public celebrations in their locals areas for Pagan Freedom Day, and they have received praise from both the SAVA and Pagan bodies for those efforts. These days, it is not unusual for Pagan groups to openly acknowledge their vampyric members, and the general knowledge among Pagans about Vampyres and Vampyre nature has dramatically improved.

Again, it was not always so, and a lot had to happen for this to occur. The current state of affairs and the history of the Pagan-Vampyre Dispute of 2011 aside, the goodwill had to start somewhere. Before the SAVA began representing the local VC, before Octarine Valur began her search which led to the formation of House Valur – before all that – there were lone, solitary Vampyres who longed for a community of their own.

Darklady

It was 2003 that a young lady in Kriel, a small mining town in Mpumalanga, experienced her vampyric Awakening. She had started her Pagan path as a practicing Wiccan in 2000. Then, three years later, she was first awakened to her nature as a sanguine vampyre. Her first donor was her girlfriend at the time and, although the relationship lasted three years, the donor-vampyre relationship lasted for only two of those years.

Following the termination of that arrangement, after a period of extreme hunger and ill-health, she adapted to feed from storms, running water, wind and strong elements. Like most sanguines, she maintains that this is not as satisfying or lasting as a sanguine feed and frequently endures the effects of vampyric hunger in times of ‘good’ weather when a donor is not available.

Like many vamps, Darklady was drawn to Paganism, and perhaps hoped to find others like her in the process. Adopting the Pagan name of Darklady, she began to explore her nature and what Pagan culture she could interact with online and off. At that time, Pagan culture flatly ignored Vampyres and those who identified as vampyric. The subject of vampyric people was not openly discussed in Pagan groups and forums online, and generally seemed to be avoided altogether.

Also at that time, there was no known Vampyre community or subculture in Southern Africa of any kind. Vampyres who were Pagans would generally keep their vampyric interests to themselves, particularly in Wiccan groups. Like most Vampyres who awaken alone, Darklady looked online for information. What she knew about Vampyres she gleaned from reputable VC resources such as ‘Sanguinarius,’ but there was simply nothing in South Africa for her in that regard.

In 2005, Darklady started a forum group on WAP called ‘Vampyric.peperonity.com’ in order to try and attract local Vampyres. It was an attempt to reach out to a local community of real Vampyres. However, at that time, she never found any vamps via that channel, local or not. In May 2006, Darklady relocated to Hazyview, another small town in Mpumalanga.

The Magenta Dragon

In September 2006 Darklady joined a Pagan forum called Wica.co.za under the name ‘Magenta Dragon.’ Known simply as ‘Magenta’ after that, she interacted there for a while, quickly rising to become one of the site’s administrators. In 2007, an argument broke out between Magenta and a rather influential South African Pagan, which escalated quite rapidly. The issue was about freedom of association and elitism in the Pagan community. At that time, nearly a decade after the vaunted new South African democracy had become a fact of life, many of the then SA Pagan leadership expressed the opinion that only hereditary witches and coven-based witches could have a valid voice in Pagan affairs. Solitary practitioners and converts were portrayed as unworthy or lesser than these.

Magenta, a relative newcomer to the Pagan community and a solitary witch, found herself taking a fiery stand against this position, not even realizing that she was butting heads with the leader of the South African Pagan community at the time. Although she was a 19 year old cocky newcomer and virtually an unknown, she did not stand alone for long.

“I was young, and thought I knew all the answers,” Magenta said, smiling. “I’d also only just learned how to use the internet, and it was all new to me!”

Three other Pagans joined Magenta in this dispute, and their number of supporters grew dramatically in a short period. This group of four would lead what some saw as a necessary wave of change in the SA Pagan community at that time. Together they decided to split away from the main body of Pagans as headed by those seen as elitists, in order to form their own free community of Pagans. They would receive plenty of support from solitary witches and those who did not find the idea of ordered, structured and hierarchical ‘Christian-like’ Paganism appealing. To this end, the group expanded to six – and established Way of the Rede July 4, 2007.

The Way of the Rede

The Way of the Rede (WOTR) still exists today and operates the same forum offering free membership, interaction, and acceptance to all who identify with Paganism and other occult paths.

2000px-Triquetra-Vesica.svg

“The point of it all then,” as Magenta explained, “was to have a safe space where people could interact without being judged, or being looked down on for their views – or for not being part of a coven, or being a hereditary witch. You didn’t even have to be a Pagan or a witch to join – you just had to be friendly.”

Through all of her public debates, arguments, and interactions as Magenta, she was open about her vampyric nature in the context of her Pagan beliefs. At the time, she was the only one to do so. However, she was not the only vampyric Pagan. It was on WOTR’s site that she first encountered other Vampyres in South Africa – the first being a WOTR staffer and, quite ironically, an agnostic Christian.

As a reminder, it has to be noted that not all Vampyres are Pagan. Just like a diabetic can hold any religious affiliation, so can vampyric people. That said, perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that Magenta struggled to find Vampyres in South Africa. Others kept their vampyric nature low-key on WOTR, and in fact, Magenta had no inkling that they were kindred until they confided in her much later.

Meanwhile, on WOTR many ideas were openly discussed, including vampyrism. These essentially remained theoretical. People who commented on them generally wanted more information, but these still did not draw out any new local vamps.

“From the day I discovered I was a Vampyre I never hid it.” Magenta explained. “Through all my work in Pagan groups I was serious about building those groups, but I was also trying to find others like myself. I needed to find others like me, and I couldn’t find any.”

There is little doubt that Magenta and the Way of the Rede had a profound effect on Pagan culture in South Africa between 2007 and 2009.  That influence included, but was not limited to, challenging the status quo – even if this was just to state a viewpoint held by a majority of South African Pagans – and making those in authority aware that the way they wanted things done was unpopular.

Had the Way of the Rede not started, it is quite likely that the future, for the VC at least, might have been quite different. Magenta might never have encountered other vamps. The SAVA might never have found her, and she may have never found a community for herself – and all would be the poorer for it.

Facebook

In 2008, when Facebook began operating, Magenta saw an opportunity to reach out to find more like her. She started a group called ‘Real Sanguinarians,’ since she was looking for sanguine Vampyres in particular. Nothing came of it. The group was made up of herself and another member of WOTR. “But,” she reminisces, “Facebook was brand new and much, much smaller back then. The right people were just not there yet.”

In March 2009, Magenta moved from Mpumalanga to the Western Cape in the hope of finding better employment opportunities. While there, Magenta remained in general contact with other WOTR members – through real life gatherings and social media. And, she basically lost hope and stopped looking for other Vampyres in the country. She knew they existed, but they were just so hard to find.

That year was not a good one for Magenta. She felt isolated, as she had little in common with her social circle, and struggled to make ends meet. Her attention turned increasingly to matters of day-to-day survival.  In February 2010, Magenta moved back to Mpumalanga and began interacting less and less with Way of the Rede. This was partly due to an introspective re-evaluation of her beliefs, as she began to move away from Wicca and adopted a more eclectic and atheistic view.

Meanwhile a new Vampyre group called House of Havoc appeared on Facebook in December of that year. It was based out of Centurion, Pretoria in Gauteng. Over the next few months, Izak Havoc made various postings on Facebook looking for Vampyres in South Africa, and experienced as much lackluster a response as Magenta. And oddly enough, the two never apparently encountered each other online, until they met in the SAVA in 2011.

SAVA

In 2010, Octarine Valur, the woman who would later became Regent of the SAVA, joined Way of the Rede and fleetingly made contact before she founded the SAVA a year later. She had created an account with WOTR, but only made one post to introduce herself, and then never came back.

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SAVA’s Logo. Each of the symbols represents one of the nine provinces of South Africa.

“At that time I had joined as many forums and groups as I could just to try and find Vampyres in South Africa,” Octarine said. “It was so hard to keep track. The fact is, I sometimes simply lost links and URLs and never found them again.”

“Val had the right contacts to make the community work,” Magenta said of Octarine. “She’d already been part of the American VC for some time and had support from mentors there to draw on. Looking back, she succeeded where the rest of us failed. She was also more tenacious, I think.”

The first time that Magenta heard of any kind of actual Vampyre community existing in South Africa was around the time of SAVA’s first news interview in 2011. It featured Octarine and Nereo and made News24’s headlines. Shortly before that news break, SAVA had begun to search in earnest for vamps in South Africa. Psion Valur De Nocte, who had been a member of WOTR since 2007 under a different user name, approached Magenta. She too was vampyric, and a member of the newly formed group. She invited Magenta.

Magenta joined SAVA that June as Kay Valkir Noctem, and the rest as they say, is history. The persona of Magenta gradually faded away, while Kay Valkir Noctem’s activities increased within the young and growing South African Vampyre community. Between 2011 and 2013, Kay was a fierce recruiter who discovered many of South Africa’s lurking vamps, and also contributed several significant articles to the VC’s cultural repository, including articles on energy feeding and healing through feeding on disease.

Kay is also credited with creating the Mintaka Code glyph used to symbolize community. By mid-2012, Kay Valkir Noctem had become one of the two Praetors to the Regent of the SAVA, alongside her sponsor, Psion. Additionally, in October 2012, Kay was elected Magister for Ilyatha Halo (Mpumalanga) in the SAVA High Council.

Time marches on, and in 2013, Psion Valur De Nocte retired from SAVA and was succeeded by Lunah Valur d’Eir – one of Kay’s recruits – as Praetor. Since 2013, Kay Valkir Noctem has acted as SAVA’s Ambassador to the Dark Nations, and became a member of the prestigious international VC body, the VVC (Voices of the Vampire Community) in February 2016.

“Back then we didn’t think about the long term repercussions of what we were doing,” She said, smiling. “We just did what we did, we did it for freedom, to be free of the tethers of organized religion.”

Looking back, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when these things changed in South Africa’s Pagan society. However, gone are the days when people not initiated into registered covens are looked down upon or dismissed as ‘wannabes.’ If some Pagans couldn’t accept non-initiated or non-hereditary witches among them, then there would be no way they would accept Vampyres. In some ways, Magenta says, she feels the stand for broad-based equality in opposition to puritanical Paganism paved the way for later acceptance of Pagans who were also Vampyres.

Kay Valur Noctem, as she is known today, still continues to serve the VC in the capacity of Praetor. Since relocating from Mpumalanga in 2016, she has become a member of Coven Veritas within House Valur. This past March, after an absence of several years, Kay resumed an active interest in the Way of the Rede and, as one of its founders, plans to welcome Otherkin (including Vampyres) into that forum as well, now as Kay Valur Noctem.

MANITOBA — In 2002, the five Anishinaabe First Nations of Bloodvein River, Little Grand Rapids, Poplar River, Pikangikum and Pauingassi joined forces with the provincial governments of Manitoba and Ontario to create Pimachiowin Aki (Pim-MATCH-cho-win Ahh-Key), a unique and pristine Boreal forest area, rich in indigenous culture and nature. They put forth a proposal to have it declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. This vast tract of land covers 33,400 square kilometers (20,754 sq. miles) and straddles the Manitoba/Ontario border. It is an area comparable in size to the country of Denmark. If the bid for UNESCO recognition is successful, it will ensure that this uniquely preserved biosphere and the culture of its people, remain intact.

Boreal Forest, in Pimachiowin Aki. Photo by Dodie Graham McKay

Boreal Forest in Pimachiowin Aki. [Photo Credit: D. Graham McKay]

The bid went before the UNESCO selection committee in 2013, but it was put on hold and deferred to July of this year. The committee felt that more information was needed in order to make a decision.

Manitoba is a province with a substantial hydro-electric industry. When Manitoba Hydro proposed the Bipole III project, which would run a major power line route from the isolated northern part of the province to the more populated south, they discovered that the cheapest path for it ran along the east side of Lake Winnipeg, straight through Pimachiowin Aki territory. Bipole III is a high voltage direct current transmission project under construction in Manitoba, which will deliver renewable energy to southern Manitoba and the United States.

Its construction could have tremendous impact on the otherwise untouched environment. At the time, the NDP government determined that this was too great a risk to the sensitive landscape and culture of the people. So a longer and more expensive route along the west side of the lake was chosen instead. This was extremely controversial, and taxpayers and the official opposition debated the value of the land versus the money being spent. The NDP government maintained that the money was an investment, preserving the integrity of the land and supporting the UNESCO bid.

In April 2016, a provincial election was held, and the NDP lost the race to the Conservative Party led by Brian Pallister. Now, the proposed Bipole III route making news once again. The new government has written a letter to the United Nations committee in charge of the UNESCO bid, in order to inform them of the possible hydro corridor going right through the proposed World Heritage site.

Deputy minister of Crown services for the province, Jim Hrichishen, said in a recent statement, “I would advise you that the province has recently committed to undertake a review of the Bipole III transmission line project, including different routing options.” Environmental organizations and the Pimachiowin Aki bid committee fear that this proposal could potentially sabotage years of dedicated work to preserve this land from dangerous development.

Map of Pimachiowin Aki territory (courtesy image)

Map of Pimachiowin Aki territory [Courtesy Image]

Susanne McCrea is a Witch, activist, and an organizer of the Boreal Action Project. She is a strong voice in the fight to save the Boreal forest in Canada. In an email interview with The Wild Hunt, she gave her perspective on the letter written by Pallister:

It’s too late in the process to reroute Bipole III. Too much money has been spent. The land has been acquired. Land agreements have been settled with property owners (mostly agricultural on the west side), and about 10 percent remaining has been expropriated for infrastructure; which they can do. Manitoba has enacted special laws on the east side in recognition of the significance both ecologically and culturally. Land use studies have been done by the indigenous communities in the proposed UNESCO site region and legal agreements have been made between the province and those indigenous peoples for no new development.

So it’s not going to happen. Even though Palliser has removed the old hydro board and replaced the members with people of his choosing, they could never justify rerouting after this money has been spent; clearing on the west side and construction has begun and the costs of litigation with First Nations would be prohibitive, too. They will have a have fight in their hands if they try. From First Nations and the environment groups who’ve backed this up.

The proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) is the largest remaining intact boreal forest in the world. It’s the lungs of the planet – sequestering carbon, which when released, leads to climate change. It’s home to hundreds of breeds of boreal songbirds and it contains some of the oldest and best-preserved petroforms. . It’s a spiritual and cultural site of significance and rich history. In fact, it’s nominated as a WHS in two categories; environment and culture.

Let me be clear that Boreal Action and Boreal Forest Network before it, do not advocate that there should be a west side Bipole. We think it’s time for renewables and a Canadian energy plan for the future. This Bipole is not for domestic use. It’s for an uncertain export market.

In the Anishinaabe language, Pimachiowin Aki means “The Land That Gives Life.” The First Nations people have lived on the abundance of this land for thousands of years and still largely practice a traditional way of life. These communities are small, isolated and remote. Despite a long history of colonialization, residential schools and pressure to move south for education and jobs, the people living in Pimachiowin Aki have managed to preserve their language, culture, and traditional spirituality.

Witches and Pagans in the region also look to the Boreal forest and Pimachiowin Aki as a source of home-grown, local Pagan spirituality. Katherine Bitney, author of “The Boreal Dragon,” is a Witch and writer from Winnipeg. Bitney told The Wild Hunt:

The world needs to know that, first, it is unspoiled, and that it works by itself. It is wild. It doesn’t need humans, but it kindly and generously supports humans willing to respect it. The world needs to know how vast it is, and how dependent we are on it for air and water. That it holds medicines. That it is home to the greatest diversity of life forms in the world. That it belongs to itself and that it need not justify its existence to humans. That it is sacred.

Michelle Forrest, a Witch and activist also based in rural Manitoba, had this to say about how the Boreal forest of this land influences her practice:

The boreal/taiga forest is a circumpolar forest, when that really sinks in, your mind opens another door. I work almost exclusively in the northern traditions of Europe, how does a theology of earth, water and sky in Europe translate to this place, the answer for me was the boreal. My Celtic ancestors in their long migrations went through the boreal, they saw much of the same flora and fauna, the water, in this forest that needs fire and ice to live. They were farther north than we are, but the reverence for the light holds true for the peoples of Europe and the peoples of the north on this continent. It is my belief that reconstruction of those elder faith traditions is far beyond impossible, no matter how many times someone reads a saga or pours, like me, over lore. What I strive for is how can theology and practice find its roots, its ethic in the narratives of the landscape, the dance of earth and sky. The boreal holds my theology.

With only a few weeks remaining until the expected UNESCO decision, environmentalists are concerned for the future of this land.  They are worried that the Pallister government may have turned the tide against conservation and pushed it toward development. Millions of dollars have already been invested in the bid, the research associated with it, and the plan for Bipole III.

As quoted in a recent CBC interview, NDP conservation critic Rob Altemeyer said that he feels “The behavior of the premier is very risky, extremely concerning and extremely suspicious as well. It makes no sense.” He went on to say that the letter was a way for the premier to say that he has done what he can to stop the Bipole III project from proceeding as planned, along the more expensive, but more environmental route, along the west side of Lake Winnipeg.

Bloodvein River, Manitoba. Photo by Dodie Graham McKay

Bloodvein River, Manitoba. [Photo Credit: D. Graham McKay]

The unique condition of the Boreal in that part of Canada is what Michelle Forrest described. While other parts of the world are trying to restore their woodlands, Forrest noted the still unblemished aspect of this particular landscape. Forrest said:

It is the foundation of life in the north, it is a generous land. Canada’s wealth and much of the old wealth of Britain and France is located in the abundance of this amazing landscape. All over northern Europe, people are struggling to restore this forest, restore its life and abundance, and right here, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, our only job is to fiercely protect the pristine, intact forest and all its life, it is the least we can do.

McCrea looks at this issue as an opportunity for all people to join together and work to heal the damage done by colonialism and abuse of the environment. She said,

Just as the indigenous peoples of this land are tied spiritually to nature; so were our ancestors. We have an obligation to return to an honourable relationship with indigenous peoples, and to stand as allies and defend their rights. They are like the canary in the coal mine. What happens to them happens, also, to us.

This campaign for a World Heritage Site was led by indigenous peoples. I stand with them. My heart beats with them, and the spirits of the land. I call on all who walk this path to raise energy to protect this forest and the animals, plants, fish and birds who make it there home; for future generations and because it’s the right thing to do if you value life. That spirit that connects us all.

We will know what the future holds for Pimachiowin Aki after the UNSECO committee convenes in Istanbul, Turkey, in July 2016.

IRELAND — Pagans will no longer get listed as “other” or “no religion” when they are admitted to Irish hospitals. The change came thanks to an agreement worked out by officials of Health Services Executive (HSE), who administers 50 national acute care facilities. Leaders of the advocacy group Pagan Life Rites announced June 9 that it had successfully lobbied for the change, which is expected to be completely rolled out in the coming weeks.

[Graphic from Pagan Life Rights campaign]

[Graphic from Pagan Life Rites’ April campaign]

Pagan Life Rites co-founder Rev. Kristian Märkus told The Wild Hunt that the group started receiving reports from some of their nearly 500 members, noting an inability to record their religion as Pagan during the hospital admittance process. Märkus provided this quote, which recounts one individual’s experience.

I was asked my religion. I replied, “Pagan,” and the secretary said, “Oh, so no religion then!” I said nicely, “No, but I’m guessing you don’t have Wiccan or Druid or anything like that on your drop down,” and she went, “Oh,” and typed in “Pagan” and we carried on. It is important that we counter the notion that “Pagan” means “godless.”

In other cases, patients accepted the “other” designation without comment. According to the group’s press release, “Even when registered as ‘Pagan’ on arrival staff had twice changed the religious identity to ‘Christian/Catholic’ on the physical version of one patient’s medical records.”

It was an opportune time to raise this issue, as Märkus explained. “Pagan Life Rites received more complaints about this issue on foot of our social media campaign in the lead up to the Irish National Census of May, 2016. Through this campaign we urged community members to unite by stating ‘Pagan’ in the box provided for the ‘other’ option on the question of religious identity on the census form.”

While the overall effort to raise awareness provided the needed momentum, other important groundwork had been laid for this request in 2009, when HSE published its intercultural guide. It included an entire section on Pagan religions, laying out the value of patients being properly categorized, to wit:

Traditional religions tend to be rich in symbolism, ritual and ceremony. Life in general and major events, such as birth, critical illness and death are normally mediated with specific rituals and ceremonies. Many followers have a spiritual teacher/adviser or a personal contact to assist them in their personal practices.

All it took, according to Märkus, was to make clear that miscategorizing patients was in conflict with the organization’s stated ethos. “We are delighted that the Health Services Executive has agreed to accommodate the various categories,” he said. In addition to simply declaring oneself Pagan, Irish patients may select a subcategory of Wicca, Shamanism, Heathenry, or Druidry; these are the four main paths which which Irish Pagans tend to identify, he explained.

Another detail that may have contributed to this accomplishment is that HSE is a publicly-funded organization in a country with what Märkus calls “evolving equality legislation.” That’s not to say it was easy, however, and he added, “Nonetheless, one cannot discount bureaucratic hurdles.”

The experience of Pagan Life Rites has shown that an understanding of state mechanisms, an openness to engaging positively with public servants and a willingness to persevere with a potentially long process of consultation have proven crucial.

These factors served Pagan Life Rites well in the consultation process with the Health Services Executive, as they did in the process whereby twelve of our clergy members became legal solemnisers of marriage, through the General Register Office, a wonderful development which we were privileged to announce just before Valentine’s Day, 2016.

Outside of the small Pagan community, the HSE decision appears to be a non-event in this largely Catholic nation. Märkus is aware of no news coverage of this milestone, which is exactly what happened when the marriage credentials were achieved earlier this year. The reverend said that Pagans vary in how comfortable they are being open about their religion, and the confusion with atheism is not at all uncommon.

Overall, the problems of Irish Pagans are ones of exclusion, rather than outright discrimination.As Märkus explained,

One problematic area relates to schooling, as for historical reasons, the Irish educational system is largely dependent on religious patronage of its school network. Almost 95% of schools are state-aided parish schools run by religious-based boards of management. One common feature of enrolment policy in primary (elementary) schools is the priority given to children who have been baptised. These concerns are a key feature in public discourse around the desire for complete separation of church and state.

On the other hand, a marriage equality referendum was passed last year, and there is a general sense that Catholic influence on public policy is beginning to wane. Still, where religion is expected to have a strong part to play — including in hospitals, prisons, and at the points of birth and death — the people paid to do the work are invariably of that faith.

Pagan Life Rites has a chaplaincy training program in development, and is already making clergy available for pastoral support on a voluntary basis. There will likely be a time when an Irish Pagan doesn’t have difficulty declaring that religious preference for any number of reasons, but for now, they can at least rest assured that they will be considered Pagan when they enter a hospital.

During the month of May, elections were held within The Troth, a Heathen religious organization, for officer positions on the High Rede. Among the officers elected are Lagaria Farmer as Associate Steer, John T Mainer for Communications Officer, Amanda T Leigh-Hawkins as Officer Liaison, and  Robert L. Schreiwer as the new Steersman. Mr. Steve Abell, former Steersman, did not seek another term.

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Troth members who have been part of the organization for a year and a day are eligible to vote in the election and may also nominate others for the officer position. Those nominated can either accept the nomination or decline to run. In the race for Steersman there were only two candidates, Schreiwer and Mr. Dennis Ford.

Schreiwer joined The Troth in 2007 and has held various roles within the organization. In 2009, he was the Pennsylvania Steward and added Stewardship of New Jersey in 2010 and Delaware in 2011.  Also in 2011, he was elected to the High Rede and rose to Assistant Steer in 2013. In addition to his officer duties, Schreiwer was the Program Coordinator of the In-Reach Heathen Services Program and has represented The Troth at events such as the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City.

Although Schreiwer has his own vision for The Troth, he says there will be continuity between his approach and former Steerman Steve Abel, “Steve and I have much in common. We both care greatly about The Troth and about Heathenry and humanity in general.”

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Troth altar at the Parliament of the World Religions 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

He says his background in IT and branding in the hospitality industry have shown him that, although consistency in messaging is important, branding sometimes must evolve to meet the current needs of the public. He says the needs of Heathens have changed over the past decade.

“There are more Heathens online; more kindreds and freeholds have formed. In addition to the top-notch scholarship in The Troth, we now must evolve to meet greater needs – those that are too large for one kindred to handle. In-Reach Heathen Prison Services was the first step toward that goal. We need to spend a few months fixing [our web presence] while sowing the seeds for the next phase of our organization’s functions.”

In the past few years, The Troth has been criticized for its response, or lack of response, to controversial issues playing out in the wider Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities. This is an area that Schreiwer sees as a primary challenge to address, “We find ourselves embroiled in debates that we have not actually chosen to enter into as an organization, and, thus, we are highly reactive rather than proactive.”

R. Schreiwer

Steersman Robert L. Schreiwer [Courtesy Photo]

Through his candidate statement, Schreiwer explained that, “It seems that every time a minor issue arises, it turns into an unnecessarily divisive conflagration that serves mostly to weaken the organization from the core.” He plans to address this issue by crafting strong and clear messaging about what The Troth stands for, what they believe, and what they wish to accomplish.

The Troth has already moved forward on more clearly articulating their position on discrimination policies. Schreiwer says that, while Sovereignty of Conscience or the right for people to what they wish to believe, is an important ethic in Heathenry, The Troth as an organization has the right to draw its own boundaries.

At the recent Trothmoot, members voted to change section 4.4 of their bylaws from “The Troth does not support any misuse of Germanic religion and culture to advance causes of racism, white supremacy, or any other form of discrimination.” to “The Troth is open to all who seek to know and to honor the Gods, ancestors, and values of the Germanic Heathen traditions, regardless of gender, race, nationality or sexual orientation. The Troth stands against any use of Germanic religion and culture to advance causes of racism, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, or any other form of prejudice.”

Schreiwer highlighted his vision for The Troth’s future as Heathenry evolves and changes from individuals whose only link to Heathenry is online to Kindred groups and thriving local communities of Heathens.

He said that The Troth needs to become the “go-to” organization for Heathen issues making news. “We are hindered, though, by our seemingly constant state of reactivity. … Taking control of our own narrative is a major feature of the next phase of The Troth’s growth.”

Another change that Schreiwer has already instituted will make it easier to volunteer. He said that The Troth is going to need more volunteers if they are going to take on projects that are too large for individual Kindreds. The Troth now has Paul Mercurio in the newly created position of Volunteer Coordinator.

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New High Rede members oathing to the organization. From left, Lagaria Farmer, John Mainer, Robert Schreiwer, Jo Spinks, Lisa Crowley Morgenstern. [Photo Credit:D. Paxson]

Some of the other new projects Schreiwer proposes are the creation of a network for disaster relief, a revamping the website, assisting with the building Hofs, and a mutual aid society.

Also elected to the High Rede as members of the Board of Directors are Lisa Cowley Morgenstern, Tanya Equality Peterson, Jo Mckee-Spinks, Brian K. Jenkins, Hrafn Skald, and Mikki Fraser. Other volunteer positions filled include Murielle Tugendhaft as Reckoner,  Dennis Ford  as Troth Kindred Program director, and Thomas De Mayo in the permanent role of Provost of the Lore Program.

13445578_488511431359897_8033680499354600496_nCalderaFest will be returning in 2017. The festival was a landmark event bringing together Pagan musicians from around the globe for four days of fun. Organizer David Banach said, “I decided to do CalderaFest again mostly because the first one was simply pure magic.” The 2016 festival was held in Lafayette, Georgia over May’s long Memorial Day weekend. Most attendees agreed that, despite the problems, CalderaFest was a unique and powerful experience .

Acknowledging that the various problems, Banach said, “I see them as opportunities to make the next one better.” He added that organizers will be making changes both big and small. “We are cutting back on the scale of things. Having 30 acts play on the stage in 3 days was a logistical challenge. Unfortunately, some set times and sound quality suffered […] We are going to reduce the number of vendors a bit and modify the vendor area so it is a more pleasing area for all. […] The stage is going to be slightly relocated. We will turn it almost 90 degrees to keep it out of the direct sun and to face it toward the vendors. We are also looking into a canopy for the front to provide shade for the audience.”  As for complaints about the heat, dirt and dust, he said, “We can’t control them, really we are taking steps to reduce their influence.”

One step to reducing that influence and perhaps the biggest event change is the scheduled date. The 2017 festival will be held in early October rather than late May. Banach said, “I was honestly concerned for the safety of some people. I, myself blacked out on Saturday.” Moving the date to autumn will eliminate the heat problem, as October is one of the most popular camping times in Georgia due to its mild temperatures.

Originally, the fest was moved to Labor Day weekend in late August. Banach explained, “We very quickly realized that was an error and we needed to correct it. First, the heat problem would be there, possibly worse. Second and mostly was its clash with Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I must have received 70 or 80 messages in 2 days myself about this.”  The festival is now scheduled for Oct 5-9, 2017 at Cherokee Farms in Lafayette, GA.

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Michigan Pagan Scholarship

Michigan Pagan Scholarship

The Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund (MPSF) awarded its annual scholarship to Pete Ryland Shoda, III. Shoda is a graduate of the West Michigan Aviation Academy, and will be continuing his studies at Grand Rapids Community College and Northwestern Colleges. Shoda plans to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Operations.

Shoda’s essay, which is posted in full on the scholarship’s website, is titled, “What Being Pagan Means to Me.”  It reads in part, “Being Pagan means that I have a lot to live up to. The God’s [sic] and Goddesses are watching me, Mother Nature is watching me, and the wind is listening to me, carrying my spells, chants and requests to the Universe. Always helping, always taking care to leave a small mark, always being a good person to others, taking care of the Earth, giving back when I can. These are some of the things that being Pagan means to me.”

The Michigan Pagan Scholarship Fund was created after the Tempest Smith Foundation closed its doors in 2014. In response, five organizations, including the Universal Society of Ancient Ministries, Magical Education Council, Pagan Pride Detroit, Witches of Michigan and Witches Ball, decided that the foundation’s scholarship program was vital to their community. The group came together to pick up the project and, since 2014, have been annually awarding the $500 scholarship to winners.

All recipients must be high school seniors, residents of Michigan and Pagan (or a child of Pagan parents). Fund Chairman Gordon Ireland said, “The Michigan Pagan Scholarship purpose is to recognize and encourage young Pagans. Only one scholarships is awarded each year, winners must demonstrate evidence of leadership, and engage in community service.”

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trothThe Troth announced the election of its new Steersman (President) and High Rede (Board of Directors). As noted in a press release, “Robert Lusch Schreiwer took his oath of office as Steersman at Trothmoot at Fort Flagler, WA, on Saturday, June 11.” Schreiwer is founder of the Urglaawe and is a Ziewer (godsman) of Distelfink Sippschaft, located in Pennsylvania. He has been serving The Troth as its Associate Steer under former Steersman Steve Abell.

The new Associate Steer is Lagaria “Gari” Farmer, who has been serving the Troth since 2006 as a Steward from Tennessee and has been serving on the High Rede since 2013. Both she, Lisa Morgenstern and John T. Mainer were all reelected to the High Rede for the coming term. Morgenstern is the Southern California Steward and a member of Hrafn Skjoldr Kindred. Mainer is the western Canada and Military Steward, and serves as Freyr of the Heathen Freehold. Mainer will also be the organization’s new communication officer.

New faces on the Rede include Joanna Spinks and Mikki Fraser. Spinks is the Assistant High Steward of western Pennsylvania, and the founder and leader of The Hearth Of Yggdrasil. Mikki is a godhi (godsman) and co-founder of Vargulf Kindred based in northern Nevada. Other Rede members, who were not up for election, include: Officer Liaison Amanda Leigh-Hawkins, Tanya Peterson, Hrafn Skald, ande Brian K. Jenkins.

We will be bringing you more about the Troth under its new management this week. 

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bucklandRaymond Buckland created a stir last week after weighing in on the hexing debate. In a public Facebook post, he wrote, “So very sorry to see so many people who call themselves ‘witches’ talking about hexing people. Just undoing all the work that we pioneers worked so hard to do.WITCHES DO NOT HEX PEOPLE; DO NOT DO NEGATIVE MAGIC – period! Send out love. Find a POSITIVE way to change someone, if you really feel that necessary. (I wouldn’t mind betting that these people haven’t got the power to hex the skin off a rice-pudding anyway!) In love and light — Ray Buckland.”

Almost immediately, Buckland’s post went “viral,” garnering both support and backlash. It was shared 611 times on Facebook alone and earned passionate commentary across social media. Only four hours after making that statement, Buckland followed up with this: “We all walk on different paths and must all be accountable for ourselves. I can only speak for what I have learned and what I teach. In the early days of the Craft in the U.S. a number of us worked long and hard to try to get rid of the misconceptions of witchcraft; the belief that witches worked evil magic and cast curses/hexes on others. To me it is a shame to see all that work being undermined in many ways. But I have spoken my piece. Perhaps it’s good that it has started a discussion?”

In Other News:

  • Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC), the Florida chapter of Covenant of the Goddess, is hosting a vigil for the victims of the Orlando attacks. In a Facebook event page, EMLC coordinators write, “Join the Witches and Wiccans of Everglades Moon Local Council as we hold space for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. We ask that people of all faiths join us to remember the victims and send loving, healing energies to their families and friends, and for our nation as a whole. We invite you to participate no matter where you are.”  Participants can join them from anywhere in the world. It will begin at 9 pm ET.
  • Pagan filmmaker and Wild Hunt writer Dodie Graham McKay has announced pre-production of a new 15-minute documentary project titled, “Starry Skies.” The film will feature amateur astronomer, Pagan author and teacher Kerr Cuhulain and highlight what the night sky looked like and what it meant in world without artificial light. With the help of Cuhulain, Starry Skies “will offer viewers an earthy version of [the Overview Effect], challenging us to restore our spiritual connection to our land and environment, by looking to the stars, and seeing them again for the profound markers of space and time that they are.” Graham McKay has received a grant from BravoFactual and hopes to begin production in August.
  • Other news out of Canada, Gaia Gathering has announced the location for its 2017 conference. It will be held at the Clarion Hotel in Calgary from May 19-22. The theme is “Rhythm and Flow.” Gaia Gathering is an biannual Canadian Pagan conference that moves from city to city and is held over the long Victoria Day weekend.

  • Immanion Press / Megalithica Books has announced a call for submissions for its new anthology titled Trans Pagan: Life at the Intersection of Faith and Gender. As noted on the website, “The vision for this anthology is to include a combination of academic and personally inspired pieces that explore the experience of transgender lives within a Pagan context.” The anthology editor is Deirdre Hebert, a transgender Pagan “whose writing career ranges from technical writing to radio news copy. She is the host of PaganFM – one of the longest-running Pagan podcasts and radio programs.” The submissions are due Sept 1.
  • The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall is already thinking about October. The museum will be hosting a conference on Oct 15 titled “A Day of Talks on Halloween Past & Present.” The event will be held at The Wellington Hotel in Boscastle and will celebrate the “2016 exhibition Glitter & Gravedust exhibition. Speakers include: Ronald Hutton, Judith Noble, Louise Fenton, Tommy Kuusela, Bekki Shining Bearheart, Dorothy L. Abrams and Mogg Morgan. Tickets are already on sale.