I. Fire and Bone: July, 2006

I was hurrying home, deep in thought and not paying attention, when I walked right into his sign, accidentally tearing it with my boot as I plowed through the cardboard.

I looked down at the torn sign and snapped back to reality. “Oh god, I’m so sorry,” I blurted to the man sitting a few feet away as I started to bend over to pick it up.

“Only Need $20 More For Bus Ticket Home” the sign said. Next to the sign was a collection of objects presumably for sale. There were a few tattered romance novels, some antique Coke bottles, and what looked like a piece of antler.

I picked up the antler and examined it. Part of it was broken off with a small stump remaining, but it was a beautiful piece, and I realized that if I sanded the broken stump down it would make a nice wand.

“Where is home?” I asked.

“Milwaukee”, he answered. “I left years ago and swore I’d never return, but over the time I’ve decided that maybe one actually can go home again.”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out $20. “Sorry again about your sign, but hopefully now you don’t need it,” I said as I handed him the money.

Image: US Treasury Department

Image: US Treasury Department

He broke into a wide smile. “Oh thank you, thank you so much.” He got up to shake my hand. “I hope that piece treats you well.”

I thanked him again and continued home, waving the antler around like a wand as I neared my corner. I went through the front door of the building and up the stairs, leaving the antler outside my door by the landing on the second floor before going inside.

A few days later, I dug out my dremel and went out on the landing with the intention of sanding off the stump on the antler in order to give it the right shape. I had done some bone carvings some years back, and didn’t think much of it as I put on my goggles and turned on the dremel.

I held the sanding tip to the antler and made contact, and within a second or two I started to suddenly panic and uncontrollably shake. I quickly put down the dremel, and before I could understand what was happening my body went into full panic attack mode. I started to hyperventilate and I lowered myself into a seated position as my heart started to race and I started to sweat.

Terrified, I put my hands over my head and closed my eyes, and all I could see and feel and taste and smell was fire. Visions and sensations poured through my head; a fiery inferno, the screams of the dead, the stench of burning flesh. I felt myself being pulled down into myself and I briefly opened my eyes, but the visions and the smell did not immediately cease and I felt myself tightening into the fetal position as I closed my eyes again and reminded myself to breathe.

My heart was pounding ever faster, and it took me several minutes of slow breathing before whatever had come over me faded and I was able to uncurl myself and sit back up. As I felt myself come back, I stared at the antler in horror, utterly confused and terrified at what had just transpired. What had flashed through my mind was familiar, all too familiar, and yet so deeply buried and deliberately forgotten. But…what? How did the…

At that moment, my upstairs neighbor bounded up the stairs towards the landing, and as he got within a few steps of me he suddenly froze and sniffed the air. He looked at me, wide-eyed.

“That smell. Holy Mother of God, that smell. What the…?” he said, his voice shaking slightly.

I pointed to the antler and the dremel and tried to summon the proper words, but he had no interest in what I was actually pointing to. I looked down again where I was pointing and the objects suddenly read out to me as a solved riddle: friction and antler. Fire and bone. I looked up at him again but he spoke before I could.

“That smell,” he said again, his voice barely above a whisper. “It smells like when the Twin Towers were burning.”

II. A Lesson in Capitalism, A Lesson in Imperialism: February, 1993

Our fifth-grade class had spent all month learning about the stock exchange, and it seemed fitting to wrap up the unit with a day trip to the Financial District. We piled into a big yellow bus and rode into Manhattan along with the morning traffic, eventually inching our way downtown towards Wall Street right at the peak of the AM rush hour.

We started out with a guided tour of the New York Stock Exchange, had lunch at a Burger King near Wall Street and, afterward, we walked over in a group to the headquarters of Solomon Brothers, located in the World Trade Center complex.

7 WTC as seen from the South Tower. Photo by Duncan Rawlinson.

7 WTC and the North Tower as seen from the South Tower. Photo by Duncan Rawlinson.

It was the first time that I had ever seen the Twin Towers in person, and I was instantly mesmerized by their energy and presence. We stood in front of the towers for a moment as our teacher took a few photos, and then proceeded across the street towards Building 7 where Solomon Brothers was located. As we walked away from the towers, I kept looking back as I struggled to process that anything could be so tall, so vast and so otherworldly. There was something truly unreal about them, as though I had stepped onto a Hollywood movie set or I was being fooled by a hologram.

One our way into Building 7, one of the guards wanted to check one of the bags that our teacher was carrying. We stood back as she was searched, all of us quite confused as to why there were security guards in the first place, let alone why our teacher had to open her bag up for them. After she was waved along by security, a few of us immediately wanted to know what that had been all about.

She gently tried to explain that the security guards check bags because they were worried about people potentially sneaking in “bad things”, which only piqued our curiosity further. She then told us that it was hard to explain in a few words but it was something we could discuss the next day, and then quickly led us toward the elevator while changing the subject. Within moments, the incident was forgotten.

In school the next morning, we talked extensively about our trip and what we learned, what the good parts were and what we didn’t enjoy so much. I was still wondering about the security guard and hoping that our teacher would talk about it, but nobody else brought it up and I was too shy to do so.

The following afternoon, we came in after recess to learn that a bomb had ripped through the garage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, with reports of both deaths and injuries. We looked around at each other, both terrified and confused. Why, we asked. Why would someone do that?

Our teacher had no answer that afternoon, telling us only as much as the media knew at the time. Over the next few weeks, however, it became apparent that the bombing was an act of terrorism, which eventually facilitated the discussion around bombs and security guards and bag searching that our teacher had evaded during the field trip.

“But why do bad people want to hurt us?’ one student asked.

“Because we are the most powerful country in the world, and sometimes that means that we do things that anger people who do not have power,” she answered.

Nobody asked anything after that, but I stewed on her words long after the subject had been exhausted. I wrote them down in a journal and thought about them often, especially when watching the nightly news. Between my own personal awestruck experience with the Twin Towers in and of itself and having been on that land in their presence only 48 hours before the bombing, my attention was suddenly aimed towards subjects like terrorism and empire in a way that would never have occurred had we not gone on that field trip.

III. Of Boxes and Blemished Skylines: Summer 1996

I remember the very first time I heard the joke.

I was with a friend, in the backseat of her parents’ station wagon, on our way into Manhattan to see Les Miserables. As we approached the Holland Tunnel, with the skyline clear-as-day in front of us, her father turned around to face us.

“You girls know that the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building are the two tallest buildings in Manhattan, right?” he asked us with a grin.

“But….” I started to immediately correct him, as everyone knew that the Twin Towers were the tallest.

He interrupted me with a laugh. “Yeah, the two boxes that they came in were dumped way down by Wall Street …”

We laughed along with him, immediately getting the joke. It was an understood and unspoken truth that for all their impressiveness in terms of height, the Twin Towers did look like two big ugly boxes, especially in comparison to buildings such as the Chrysler and the Empire State. While I had a strange fondness for them, even I had to admit that while they were otherworldly, they were otherworldly eyesores.

“You know, I was about the same age as you two are now when those towers first went up, and I’ll never forget how much folks hated ‘em at first. They called ‘em a blemish on the skyline, complained that they ruined the view of Lower Manhattan. And now a generation later, everyone’s buying tchotchkes with the Twin Towers on ‘em, and nobody can imagine what the skyline would look like without the towers. Funny how that works…” he said, drifting off into his thoughts.

Manhattan skyline, 1960. Photo by Harold Egeberg

Manhattan skyline, 1960. Photo by Harold Egeberg

I thought about what he has said as we came out of the tunnel. One of my neighbors had expressed a similar sentiment recently, and as I got a brief glimpse of the towers out the back window, for a moment I tried to imagine the skyline without the Twin Towers.

And while it was hard to imagine that those buildings actually existed in the first place, it was even harder to imagine what it would look like without them.

IV. Land, Once Water: Spring, 1999

“And it was right at this spot, at the base of a buttonwood tree, that the contract that became known as the Buttonwood Agreement was signed in 1792, marking the beginnings of what was to eventually become the New York Stock Exchange…”

‘This spot’ was in front of a hot-dog stand on Wall Street near the corner of Pearl Street. I was on a guided tour of the Financial District, having been dragged along by a friend from the West Coast who had never been to New York before. At that point, I had been taking the bus into city once or twice a week and I knew most of Manhattan like the back of my hand, but as I looked around I realized that I hadn’t been down near Wall Street since the school field trip six years earlier. I looked around, down the dark narrow street tucked within the oldest and deepest depths of Manhattan’s concrete jungle, and it was nearly impossible to imagine any sort of tree, buttonwood or otherwise, ever having grown in that spot.

We started walking eastward again behind out tour guide, who continued talking as we ambled along.

“Wall Street itself was named after an actual wall which once protected the settlement of New Amsterdam from both the British and the local tribes. The wall was built in the mid-1600’s, and originally stretched from Pearl Street to what is now called Church Street, which were the original shorelines of Manhattan over three-hundred years ago.”

Wait, what? I said to myself. The original shorelines of Manhattan are Pearl Street and Church Street? The present-day Manhattan extended three blocks east past Pearl and at least as many blocks west of Church. I thought of the Twin Towers, which I knew were just west of Church Street. If the tour guide was correct, that would mean that the entire WTC complex was standing in what was once the Hudson River.

Manhattan, 1865. The yellow areas denote "made land". [Public Domain]

Manhattan, 1865. The yellow areas denote “made land”. [Public Domain]

“By the time the Buttonwood Agreement was signed, landfill had extended Wall Street out an extra block east, and the next year the Tontine Coffee House was built here at the corner of Wall and Water, which was to serve as the headquarters of the New York Stock and Exchange Board until the mid-1800s….”

I looked down where I was standing, suddenly aware that I was standing on an invisible border between bedrock and landfill, between the original boundaries of Manhattan Island and a man-made extension of “land” that was created from refuse. I looked eastward at the blocks and buildings, stretching towards the waterfront, buildings that I now knew stood where fish swam for millennia. I tried to imagine what the shoreline might have looked like around the time that the Dutch first fortified New Amsterdam with a wall, but once again the concrete got in the way.

The tour guide headed back in the other direction, still pointing out landmarks, but I was only partially paying attention at that point, still hung up on the idea that the lower half of Manhattan Island was once only half as wide as it was in the present day. As we approached the New York Stock Exchange, I tuned in to the tour guide again for a moment and quickly couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“And it was right here that on September 16, 1920, that a bomb went off in front of 23 Wall Street, at the height of the lunch hour on a busy weekday. 38 people were killed and over 100 were injured in what was at that time the deadliest attack on American soil. It was suspected that the bombing was carried out by Italian anarchists, but nobody was ever convicted, and it remains an unsolved case to this day.”

Wait, what again? A bomb? Here? My thoughts immediately drifted back to the WTC garage bombing, and then back to the tour guide’s words about Wall Street as a fortified wall that was built as a means of defense. The guide made no mention of the events that led to the need for a fortified wall in the first place, but I understood enough about history and empire at that point to sense a general pattern of cause and effect.

I looked around; the block itself felt like a fortress, holding itself in tension, in constant defensive posture against anything that may try to attack it. It felt nervous and guarded, and I felt the same as I continued down the narrow concrete corridor.

Damage from the 1920 bombing as seen today. Photo by NortonJuster7722

Damage from the 1920 bombing as seen today. [Photo Credit: NortonJuster7722]

 V. Fate and Foreshadowing: Late July, 2001

“You don’t have a fear of heights, do you?” he asked me at one point while giving me a tour of the main dining area. I had been looking out the window for a moment, temporarily paralyzed by the realization of how high up I was, and the look on his face was one of slight concern.

“Oh, no, not at all,” I lied. “I’ve worked in skyscrapers before,” I added nervously. That part wasn’t an outright lie, but I left out the fact that while I had actually worked in a few skyscrapers, I had never been higher up than the 29th floor.

“Uh-huh,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “New hires always tell me that they’re not afraid of heights, but then I’ve had some go and quit on me after a few weeks because they realize they can’t deal with it,” he said to me.

For the money I’ll make here, I’ll learn to deal with it, I thought to myself.

“This is as high up as you get in this town,” he continued, as if I needed any more reminders that I was on the 107th floor of the tallest building in Manhattan.

I nodded and smiled. “I know. I’m OK,” I said again, trying my hardest to project an air of confidence.

He smiled back and waved me over as he walked towards the back of the restaurant.

Other than the awkward exchange around heights, the interview went smoothly. I got along well with the interviewer, he seemed satisfied with my resume despite my relative lack of fine dining experience, and he was pleased at my willingness to take any shift that was available. I left there very hopeful that I had the job.

“I’ll give you a call in a few days”, he told me as I walked out.

But a few days came and went without a call, and by the end of the week I realized that I didn’t have the job after all. For some reason, that time I had really gotten my hopes up, and I took it very hard and very personally. Those around me noticed, and tried in their own little ways to cheer me up.

“You know, I have dreams of that building sometimes,” my partner said to me a few weeks after the interview. “In the dream, I’m standing against the windows on one of the top floors, and all of a sudden the building starts to sway violently back and forth.”

I thought back to when I looked out the window from the dining area of the 107th floor, that terrifying, paralyzing rush that the manager picked up on, and I nodded.

“Frankly, you’re better off with a job closer to the ground,” he said after a while. “Personally, I don’t know if I could handle being that high up all the time. That building always made me a little nervous.”

“Everything happens for a reason. I’ll find a better job,” I concluded.

After dinner, we walked through Midtown down to Lower Manhattan. The sun was setting, illuminating the skyline, and I stared down at the southern tip for a moment, thinking about the job I didn’t get. The job in the buildings that stood where the river once flowed, the buildings that swayed back and forth in my partner’s dreams. I suddenly felt a strangely unexplainable relief that I wasn’t going to be working in that building.

The manager probably made the right call, I admitted to myself as walked through the shadows of the towers towards the Brooklyn Bridge. I probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with being that high up.

VI. Consequence of Empire: September 11, 2001

I opened my eyes just a crack, immediately closing them again as the bright sunshine streaking through my windows temporarily blinded me. I knew it was already mid-morning, and I also knew that I wasn’t ready to wake up quite yet. I had spent the night before out late drinking with friends, and I hadn’t gotten back to my place until close to sunrise. I had only been asleep for three or four hours at that point.

But something had just woken me up out of a sound sleep, and I shifted my head slightly and slowly tried to open my eyes again to see if it was anything that I needed to worry about. The head of my mattress was up against a large bay window, and as I squinted my eyes open again all I saw was blue. The sky was an amazing, brilliant blue, not a cloud in the sky, a rarity that late in the season. I turned my ear towards the open window for a moment, heard nothing but birds and traffic, and rolled over back to sleep.

Blue sky over New York. Photo by Payton Chung

Blue sky over New York. [Photo Credit: Payton Chung]

A little while later, I heard a similar noise again. That time I sat up, again my vision fixated on the sky, wondering if what I heard was the demolition project from a few blocks away. Again I listened for a minute, looked out the window again, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But as I lowered myself back into bed, an unsettling and creeping feeling came over me.

I tried to get back to sleep but failed, eventually settling for lying in bed while staring at the sky, too anxious to fall back asleep yet too exhausted to actually get up.

Out of the silence the phone rang. I jumped at the sound, then slowly reached over and picked it up.

“APLANEAPLANEHITTHETWINTOWERSTURNONYOURTVWEAREUNDERATTACK” was all I heard on the other end of the line.

I recognized the voice of a friend but thought I had misheard what he said. “What?” I asked. “Can you say that again?”

“TURNONYOURTVJUSTTURNONYOURTV’ was the reply.

I stayed on the phone and reached for the remote. I turned on the TV and saw the Twin Towers engulfed in flames.

I threw some clothes on and ran downstairs, flung open the front door, ran down to the end of the block, and looked northwards towards Manhattan. I could see what looked like smoke and fire in the distance, and the air was sooty and acrid. I looked around. My block was mostly empty, and the few faces I saw looked as ashen as the sky in the distance.

I stood, frozen, staring at the smoke in the distance. As I stood there, an older man walked past me, walking with a cane and wearing a hat that proclaimed his status as a Vietnam vet. He stopped next to me for a moment, and then looked me in the eye and motioned towards the smoke with his cane.

“That there,” he said, his voice cracking as he spoke, “that there is the consequence of empire.”

I nodded, repeating his words to myself quietly. The consequence of empire.

My thoughts started flashing, from the bombing of the WTC garage nine years earlier, to the 1920 bombing of Wall Street, to the original fortification from which Wall Street bears its name. The consequence of empire indeed – 350 years of colonialism that led us to this very moment.

I ran back to the house and stood in front of the TV for the next several hours, taking in as many vital details as I could bear. I reflected for a moment on the job that I ended up not getting a few months prior and a knot immediately formed in my stomach.

As I stood there, I slowly took in what this meant in actuality. Subways were shut down. Bridges and tunnels shut down. Flights grounded. Cell phone networks hopelessly jammed. ATM networks down. Stock exchange shut down. Traffic suspended throughout all of Manhattan for the first time in the city’s history. An entire ‘way of life’, shut down in an instant.

And out my bay window, only a few miles away, a fiery pit steadily burned, with television cameras catching every detail save for the one things that I knew could not be transmitted through sight or sound: the stench of fire, of metal and soot, of burning flesh and bone. The news was calling it a “rescue mission”, but my senses and my gut both told me otherwise. I could smell death in the air, and I could hear and feel the dead as well.

VII. City of the Dead: September 12-15, 2001

The morning after, I cracked my eyes open in the identical manner as I had the day before, and it only took a split second of staring at the blue sky to remember what had transpired over the past 24 hours. I lay there for a moment, my dreams still fresh in my mind, dreams filled with fire and horror and the screams of the dead.

I needed to check on a friend who lived downtown, and I couldn’t ignore the pull that I was feeling from the other side of the river, so I grabbed my camera and a few other items and set out on foot towards Lower Manhattan. It was around three miles between my apartment in Brooklyn and the Manhattan Bridge, and with every block the smell in the air increased along with the tension of the land and the unmistakable screaming that shook through every bone of my body.

At the base of the bridge, an officer with an AK-47 guarded the walkway. “Residents only,” he barked as I approached.

“I live on Warren Street,” I lied, and gave the address of my friend.

“ID?” he asked.

“Its in my wallet which is in my apartment on Warren Street.” I answered calmly. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, I thought to myself.

He scowled for a moment, not sure whether to believe me, then relented and let me through.

I walked across the bridge, straight through Lower and Midtown Manhattan right up towards Central Park, walking in a city that other than the sound of emergency vehicles had gone completely silent. Not a single store was open, not a single car was driving through the streets, and there were very few people on the sidewalks. Birds eerily chirped as I made my way uptown, briefly pausing near 14th Street to take in the totality of the silence. It was a literal ghost town, in more ways than one, with the surreal nature only increasing when a military tank rolled right by me as though it was the most normal, everyday thing.

Tank rolling down 14th Street in Manhattan. Photo by Alley Valkyrie

Military vehicle down 14th Street in Manhattan. [Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

I continued uptown, taking pictures as I went. By the time I got to Rockefeller Center, I paused and looked around and for a moment was in utter terror. There was nobody in sight. No cars, no people, no sounds other than the shrill shrieks of sirens and the screaming that I couldn’t tune out. I stood across from Radio City, the only person in a 360 degree radius, and was so taken in and paralyzed by the emptiness around me that it took me a few minutes to realize that I was standing right in the middle of Sixth Avenue. A group of people walked by on the sidewalk and I was so surprised by their presence that without even thinking I pulled my camera out and took their picture.

Photo by Alley Valkyrie

[Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

I then laid down in the middle of the street and did a log roll straight across to the other side. I didn’t know why, but in that moment I needed contact with the land, with the concrete and ashes that I had been walking upon for miles. I lay still in the street next to the sidewalk for a moment, and the screaming I was hearing suddenly became a roar. When I got up, I looked over at the people on the other side and realized that they had been taking pictures of what I had just done. They waved, I waved back.

Remembering that I had a friend that I was checking on, I quickly made my way back downtown. As I approached Union Square, I quickly saw that makeshift memorials were already being erected in the park, and flyers with pictures of the missing were taped to nearly every street-pole.

It brought me back to what I couldn’t tune out, the screaming. The dead. I wanted to stop and pay tribute, but I was still on a mission, and I continued on until I arrived at my friend’s apartment four blocks north of the disaster. As I rang the bell, I could feel the heat of the fire, and the stench had become overwhelming.

“I haven’t seen a thing yet, I haven’t left the house and I don’t want to,” he said to me we sat down on the couch.

“I don’t blame you,” I replied. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get that smell out of my mind.”

He looked up at me. “My grandmother’s been in a constant anxious state since yesterday, and nothing I can say or do will calm her down,” he said, motioning towards the back room. “She says the smell reminds her of Poland when she was a child, and she’s been in a terrible state. She’s terrified. I mean, we’re all terrified, but I don’t even know how to begin to comfort her.”

I didn’t know what to say, and we both sat there in silence for a while with our tea and cigarettes as I tried desperately to tune out the screaming that had hit a deafening pitch.

For the rest of the week, I spent my afternoons in Union Square, praying and making offerings for the dead. The screaming only started to fade a few months later as the fire finally went out, but I heard the screams in traces for the next several years.

VIII. Fear of a Blue Sky: July 2010

“When you were a kid, did you ever hear that joke about the Twin Towers?”

I paused for a minute, trying to access a file in my brain that had been long since tucked away. “You mean the one about how they’re just the boxes that the Empire State and the Chrysler Building came in?”

She nodded, poured herself another glass of wine, and then continued.

“Isn’t it weird how one day the world has suddenly changed and you just can’t say things anymore? Like, my mother would go on and on about those buildings when I was a kid, about how ugly they were and how she wished that they had never been built, on and on. And even remembering and recalling that just feels so weird and inappropriate now. I mean, obviously telling any jokes about the Twin Towers nowadays doesn’t seem right, but even remembering that we used to make jokes feels funny, like we did something bad retroactively or something. Its weird, I almost feel guilty about it.”

“Yes,” I said. I knew just what she was talking about. “I think we all carry around much more baggage around that event and our relationship with those buildings in general than we’d ever want to admit or even conceive of,” I said.

“For example, I’ll give you one,” I continued. “I can remember years ago being in the back of a friend’s car driving into the city from Jersey as her father was telling me how there were no Twin Towers when he was a kid. And when I heard him say that, I stared out at them and tried to picture what it would be like if they weren’t there. I shudder when I think about that now, it just freaks me out. And I swear, its like I’m almost afraid to even put words to it, to say it out loud. Somewhere in my head I seem to think that it never actually happened if I don’t speak of it. “

She nodded. “Can I tell you a secret?” she asked me.

“Of course,” I answered.

“I mean, its weird and messed up. I feel like I’m just crazy or this was just some crazy thing that happened in my head, but I really just need to tell somebody and you’re good with crazy stuff.” She looked at me for affirmation and I nodded.

She took a deep breath. “Okay. So, a few years ago I was having a cavity filled, and I should preface this by saying that I hadn’t gotten any work done on my teeth since before 9/11. But I’m in the chair, and as the dentist started to drill, all of a sudden the smell just jolted something seriously deep and I suddenly started panicking and remembering the towers and the aftermath in this vivid and intense way that felt like I was on psychedelics or something. Its like it was right there for a moment, it was real and in front of me again. I had to get the dentist to stop, and it took me a while to calm down after that.”

I nodded vigorously and I told her about my experience with the antler and the dremel. “It was one quick and hardcore lesson in how deeply scent and trauma are linked in the brain, and the degree to which trauma is retained long after you think you’ve gotten over it,” I said to her. “It felt like an out-of-body experience, like I had completely lost control.”

Her expression suddenly turned to sadness. “There was a part of that experience, the part where your stomach clenches so tight you think you’ll choke…. I’ll tell ya, sometimes that happens to me for absolutely no reason at the most innocent times. Like last week, I was lying on my back in the park and there was something about the color of the sky that just threw my stomach in knots. It was that same blue, something about that shade…”

“I mean, listen to me,” she continued after a moment. “ Fear of a blue sky? It’s just absurd. But its also very real and I don’t know if I’ll ever rid myself of it.”

I just stared at her for a moment. as not only did her experiences so precisely mirror my own, but she had the courage to vocalize something that I couldn’t ever bear to acknowledge to myself up until that moment.

“Yes, the fear of a blue sky,” I said after a while. “It’s very real indeed.”

Author’s Note: Minor details were changed for privacy reasons.

*   *   *

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

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In December 2014, a new website was launched to promote active religious learning and to act as a storehouse for primary religious text and information. The site, called Deily.org, is the brain-child of Shawn Bose and Justin Halloran, two Austin-based entrepreneurs with experience in tech media. In recent months, the site has expanded its content to include “Paganism.”

The site’s name “Deily” is a play on two words – daily and the “latin world “dei, of a/the god or the nominative plural – the gods.” As is explained, Deily’s mission is “to host an online community, where members share and leave their understanding of religious content, that you will participate in every day.”

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In January 2015, Halloran and Bose were interviewed by The Washington Post and, in that article the co-owners offered a bit of background on the project. Bose said:

For many people, their religious experience has become passive. They go to church, temple, synagogue, listen to a sermon, digest and leave. It’s one-way. We wanted to let people engage with content. How can a community come together to explain things to one another? This way they can deepen their faith or understanding. . . .

At the time of that interview, the majority of the published material was on Christianity, and three of its four most popular posts were Christian prayers. The fourth was a piece from the Quran.

However, as the months past, Deily increased its population of non-Christian material. The site now lists searches for Buddhism, Hinduism, Islamic, Judaism “and more.” As Bose told The Wild Hunt, they have recently been expanding into Paganism. Korin Robinson, an elder of the Ancient Celtic Rite tradition and a training priestess of Greenwood Covenstead, has been assisting with this expansion. The site now lists Wicca and Paganism. However, a simple content search demonstrates that the site is also gathering pieces on various Heathen and Polytheist practices.

As explained in both the Washington Post interview and in our email conversation with Bose, the site’s content is purely user driven, similar to YouTube and many other social media sites. Bose explained, “It’s a community-managed marketplace. We have no agenda of our own; there’s no invisible hand. We just say the content has to be about religion, not intolerant, not hateful, and we allow for the community to flag anything that’s inappropriate.” He added that they are forming an advisory board to manage any problems.

And, as issues with Facebook, Instagram and Etsy have recently proven, problems do arise in a purely user-based content model. In fact, one just did. It has come to the attention of several Pagan media outlets and writers that Deily was hosting their written material without any permission, unattributed and unlinked. The work was lifted from Patheos Pagan Channel, Polytheist.com and The Wild Hunt, to name a few.

In reaction, director of Polytheist.com Anomalous Thracian said:

Morpheus Ravenna, co-founding priest of the Coru Cathubodua and author of “Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods,” contacted me today to alert me that this piece of writing — which is published exclusively on Polytheist.com — has been copied over and appears without attribution to the site, at Deily. This is definite violation of Polytheist.com‘s stated and visible policies, of US copyright law, and — apparently — of Deily’s own policies …

Polytheist.com is a small and intentionally slow-growing platform for polytheistic voices, owned and operated by Polytheists in service and trust to the greater intersection of polytheistic religions and advocate. As marginalized religious groups facing at times aggressive erasure, a violation of this sort does little to help the development of safe visibility and open engagement in our world, of the sort that all religious groups should be expected to receive. Responsible and respectful treatment of copyrighted material is paramount to the continued developments of the sorts of religious dialog and interfaith trust that will be needed to preserve these — and any — religious traditions in the future.

Thracian’s own essay, The Polytheist Primer, which was originally written and published exclusively for The Wild Hunt, was also copied to Deily without attribution or permission.

In response to the issue, Bose said that Deily’s official “policy asks [users] to properly cite content and not to post copyrighted materials.” The policy itself is stated on the site’s “terms page.” It reads, in part, users “will not infringe any third party’s intellectual property rights including but not limited to copyright, patent or trademark rights.”

Several writers have reached out to the company in order to correct the problem, and it does appear that Deily is very willing to make these corrections. A number of the Patheos Pagan Channel articles, which were not attributed yesterday, now do have appropriate bylines (i.e., For “Deep Well: Great Heart Society” by Jenya T. Beachy; “Beyond Female Role Models: The Triple Goddess as Nature” by John Halstead). However, there are still many works, originating from multiple sites, that have not yet been fixed.

Unfortunately, due to the user-based model, this copyright infringement problem may be on-going for Deily, who makes it a point to note that it’s staff does not routinely monitor content. As with YouTube and the like, Deily must rely on its audience to identify problems. As Bose said, “We allow for the community to flag anything that’s inappropriate.” Unfortunately, copyright infringement and plagiarism are rampant in the digital media world. Copy, Cut and Paste is all it takes.

Because Deily.org is new and the team, as Bose said, is small, it is just beginning to run into copyright and other problems that typically plague these user-based content sites. As content and use increases, Deily will eventually have to develop a strong watchdog system.

RELIGIONES

[From Wikimedia Commons]


Interestingly, Deily doesn’t only see itself as a collector and curator of religious content. Within the internet startup world, one of the first big questions for any new company is “How are you going to monetize the site.” While Deily formed with investment money “well over seven figures,” its answer to this fiscal sustainability question is crowd-funding. Deily users can create profiles for their chosen nonprofit religious organizations (church, academic institution, temple, community group etc) and, then anyone in the Deily community can choose to donate, through the site, to that organization. The catch? Deily takes 10 percent of all donations.

At the present time, Deily is running a special “Deily Donates” campaign, in which the site matches user donations in several ways. First, for every new member that a current user signs up, their chosen organization receives $10.00. It is a win for Deily, as they build an audience, and it’s a win for the religious organization in donations. As of now, Cherry Hill Seminary and Circle Sanctuary are both listed on the site and have received donations. Through the current “Deily Donates” campaign, the first five organizations to reach the $2000 donation point will also receive a matched donation from Deily.org.

There are a number of Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist groups of interest already listed. This includes Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC), CUUPS, Pagan Educational Network, Ardantane Learning Center, Asterflag, several local Pagan churches (i.e., Richmond Urban Pagan Church), event-based organizations (i.e., Phoenix Pagan Pride), clergy organizations (i.e., Maine Pagan Clergy Association) and other local groups (i.e., Spokane Pagan Alliance).

It remains to be seen how Deily develops or is used by the collective Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist communities. In August, the site entered a partnership with Patheos.com. There is now a Patheos Deily Channel that publishes select content from Deily. In addition, the new site “powers” Patheos’ new “Ask an Expert” blog.

As the Deily grows its content, there will certainly be tech-based and copyright issues to resolve as is typically the case in any user-based platform. However, The Washington Post article touches on two others issues that might plague this particular site, especially as it now builds its Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist content. Halloran and Bose have both said that Deily’s content should focus on religious source material, primary sacred texts and related discussions with limited moderation. How do they define and determine sacred texts and source material for the incredible diversity of world religious practices?  Additionally, as a user-driven platform, how will they negotiate and police what is flagged inappropriate. One person’s inappropriate can be another person’s divine. Where or how will those lines be drawn?

Only time will tell as the site continues to grow.

 

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ORANGE, Conn. — Harvest Gathering is not the only Pagan festival to welcome participants home upon arrival, but its staff put a lot of energy into the idea. The theme came up again and again over the course of the four-day event, and it was evident in the increasing spring in the step of many an attendee. How many harvest events open the first feast to all comers, whether or not they paid for the meal plan? This one does, and it not only helped this first-timer feel welcome, it set the tone of “harvest event” from the outset.

Perhaps Harvest Gathering had exactly the right number of people in attendance, at 163, which is right around Dunbar’s number. Maybe it was the weather, which fell short of oppressively hot thanks to the trees and only smelled of rain once. Or it could have been the “astral car wash” upon entry, where bewinged organizer Gina Grasso smudged my Volkwagen Beetle, Bucephalus, and all that was within. Whatever combination of people, place, and things that contributed to it, Harvest Gathering resonated a warm, welcoming magic that made the best moments more intense, and the inconveniences nearly unnoticeable. (An event at a campground, even one with some amenities, will always require participants to face insects, weather, and walking to a greater degree than modern life generally prepares us for. Inconveniences come with the territory.)

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[Photo: T. Ward]


This is an event with a strong, unapologetic witchy feel. It permeated the rituals, the workshops, the energy of the newly-reconstructed fire circle, and the kinds of vendors who hawked their wares. The depth of that witchiness was hinted at in the workshop schedule itself. For one program slot, both Ronald Hutton and Raven Grimassi were presenting.

However, Harvest Gathering is not an exclusively Wiccan event, and there were rituals and workshops alike which came from very different traditions. The sense of welcome was in no way diminished for those who followed other paths. Those who ran the event walked the walk that matched their talk in an authentic way.

The spirit of community and authenticity could be seen in multiple ways. This was the first year that recycling was implemented for the festival, and it seemed to be a rousing success. With no existing infrastructure, event staff organized the source separation of garbage from recyclable materials, and reusable wine and mead bottles from that. Brewers were invited to collect the bottles from the latter supply, and all attendees were asked to take bags of material home. People recycled with gusto, ensuring that the experiment would continue in future years. At another point, a piece of glass caught my eye on the trail. I stooped to pick it up, and as I rose I saw two people who had been walking ahead of me each bend down to pick up a piece of trash.

One morning I found myself, not surprisingly, gathered around the coffee urn with other devotees of Caffeina. One of these early risers was expressing a longing for more advanced material than is generally found in books on Pagan religions. She found that the ADF curriculum was sufficiently challenging for her intellect, but nearly insurmountable for her pantheist worldview. It turned my own experience on its head, and reminded me that all Pagan religions still have much to learn from one another, despite differences in theology.

Such was the nature of this festival. I found myself hanging on the words of an esteemed scholar one afternoon, and a few hours later having a serious discussion with a ten-year-old boy about the types of spirits he’d encountered in his life. Anyone could, and did, strike up a conversation with anyone.

Classes with class

Faced with the impossible choice of attending a workshop with Hutton or one with Grimassi, I hedged my bets by choosing the third option, a seidh ritual by Patricia Lafayllve. References to this trance practice are scant in the historic record, and Lafayllve explained that absent a clear idea of what the Norse people actually did, she incorporates aspects of her shamanic training to fill in the gaps and perform oracular work. This session proved to be both workshop and ritual, with Lafayllve giving a history of seidh as it is known and a play-by-play of what she and her assistant would be doing during the rite before beginning.

I attended the Grimassi class called The Cord of Greenwood Magic & Working with Plant Spirits.It was a workshop in the truest sense as attendees crafted a magical tool and were instructed how to use it. Research into the consciousness of plants “is not particularly good news if you’re a vegetarian,” explained Raven Grimassi as Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi cut and handed out cords for the work. “We use ourselves for a model of reality,” including an assumption that a being must have a brain and central nervous system to feel and be aware. Studies measuring plants hooked up to lie detectors and other instruments suggest that they are aware of harm on some level, and work to counteract it. In step with that emerging science, the Grimassis helped their students knot magical intention into that cord, to tie it into the life cycle of plants, and then used those new talismans to connect with the spirit of a particular plant known for its spiritual aspects.

Hutton was the talk of the festival in his tweed jacket, but he did strip to just his waist coat in the 90-degree heat of the day. However, summer in New England was not enough to keep him from donning his tweed cap to guard against the sun. He explained that he had grown up in British-colonized India and was, as a result, quite used to the heat. The temperature dropped noticeably after sunset, so perhaps he felt more secure keeping his jacket near to hand.

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Cori Taylor and Ronald Hutton [Photo: T. Ward]

One of the professor’s lectures, The Return of the Horned God, drew heavily upon material from his book, Triumph of the Moon, which sets out the very real historic roots of Wicca. While these are not as tidy as the mythic tales of an unbroken tradition, they are nevertheless deep and genuine. Hutton traced the interest in a horned god in Europe from rumblings in the Romantic era to the resurgence of Pan as the quintessential nature god, only to have the focus shift by the 1940s to a celebration of Cernunnos. The popularity of Pan among European thinkers of the Victorian period came in part from the convenient double nature of his name, which also means “all” in Greek, making it possible for “pantheism to become Pan-theism,” in Hutton’s words. Those sorts of accidents, choosing a rustic Arcadian deity to stand in for all male divinity while at the same time forgetting the hundreds of local gods whose shrines dot the British landscape, Hutton suggestion may itself show the hands of the gods. “These are the names that destiny, or the gods themselves, decided we should have,” he said.

Rich in Ritual

Friday and Saturday nights each featured rituals, which were quite different but not entirely so. The Novices of the Old Ways led the Well, the Forge, the Song, which explored three aspects of Brigid as healer, empowerment, and inspiration. The following night was Awaken the Warrior, organized by Stephanie Woodfield and a group of Celtic practitioners. How these groups set sacred space, invited in the presence of deity, and confronted participants with lessons was very different, as different as Brigid is from Macha and the Morrigan, whom the latter ritual was focused upon. As they both drew upon Celtic tradition and lore, the underlying power felt in some ways the same: many people were bowled over by the force of emotion during each ritual.

The fire circle which was focus of much of the ritual work, as well as bardic and drum circles, was entirely rebuilt this year through the efforts of the community. Some $1,700 was collected to obtain and place stout sitting logs, dancing-grade sand, and rocks to form a clear barrier between embers and bare feet. Fire tenders were vigilant in putting out stray sparks in the path of dancers, but their role was more than safety alone. The flames blazed purple, blue, and green under the ministrations as shining bodies danced to the beat of tireless drummers.

Space for Self

Many festivals and conferences are moving toward larger periods of time between class sessions, and Harvest Gathering is no exception. Not every morning was an early one, and there was sufficient time to walk from building to building, even with a pause to visit the flushing toilets. Plenty of people chose to forgo a session or two to make or reforge connections, so meal times were not the only opportunity to catch up with old friends. The roads looping around the camp property provided plenty of space for quiet walks in the woods, when that was what the spirit asked for.

Harvest Gathering is neither the largest nor smallest outdoor Pagan gathering I have attended. Likewise, I’ve been to events that are both newer and older. For me, it stands out by being one of the most sincerely magical events I’ve been to in 2015. The feeling I was left with was not dissimilar to how I feel after I pick up my weekly farm share: weighed down with bounty, and wondering how I can possibly consume it all.

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As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts, and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up which challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Alexander the Great in a synagogue?
While uncovering a 5th century synagogue in Huqoq, Israel, archaeologists found something very unusual: a mosaic appearing to show Alexander the Great meeting with a Jewish high priest. The mosaic may be the depiction of a meeting between the conqueror and prominent religious Jewish leaders as told by proto-historian Josephus. This is the first example of non-biblical stories and imagery to be found in a synagogue. Also discovered were images of elephants, roosters, theatre masks, women surrounded by cupids, Greek gods and other mythological creatures.

Mosaic thought to portray Alexander the Great [photo Jim Haberman via The Daily]

Mosaic thought to portray Alexander the Great [photo Jim Haberman via The Daily]

Did the Greeks have their own ‘Walking Dead?’
Carrie Weaver, a lecturer and Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, believes they did. Weaver has been examining the burial of two Greek bodies, which are dated between 500 and 200 BCE and were found pinned down with large rocks. She believes that those rocks were piled on the two bodies in order to hold them down and keep them from reanimating as zombies.

The bodies were found just outside of what was once the Greek colony of Kamarina in Sicily. One was a child between 8 and 13 years old and the other was an adult.

Weaver says the ancient Greeks were frightened of zombies prowling the streets seeking retribution. They thought that the persons most susceptible to turning into a zombie were illegitimate offspring, victims of suicide, mothers who died in childbirth and victims of murder, drowning, stroke or plague.  However, the prevailing thought among scholars (and Hellenic polytheists) is that the ancients actually believed that spirits, who were wronged during life, roamed the earth on certain lunar dates and were not actual zombies.

Bigger than Troy
Excavations continue at the largest Bronze Age settlement in the Aegean region. Archaeologists have uncovered multiple castles in the Kaymakçı Hill in Manisa’s Gölmarmara Lake basin in present day Turkey. The castles are all within walking distance of one another and cover an area four times larger than that of the famous city of Troy.

Not much is known about the late Bronze Age (1600 – 2000 BCE) and the people who lived during that time. Those who would have lived in this area would be the ancestors of the Lydians. The Lydians reached the apex of their power in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, but were eventually conquered by Cyrus the Great in 546 BCE. The Lydian religion was a polytheistic religion whose main Gods included Cybele-Rhea, Pidans (Apollon), Artimu (Atremis), Kore, and Zeus. Nothing is known, so far, about the culture or religion of the pre-Lydian people who built the castles just discovered.

One of the castles being excavated. [photo, Department of Historical Antiquities, Turkey]

One of the castles being excavated. [Photo Courtesy the Department of Historical Antiquities, Turkey]

Ancient farmers, not so peaceful
A pet theory that war was rare among Neolithic farming communities is under assault. A 7000 year old mass grave was recently uncovered in Germany which contained the bodies of 26 people. They appeared to be the victims of a war with a rival farming village. Of the 26 bodies found, about half were children and most had their shinbones systematically broke before they were buried in a pit. The skeletons were of 13 adults, one teenager, and 12 children, 10 of whom were under 6 years of age.  

Farming is thought to have spread from present day Turkey into Europe 7500 years ago. Anthropologists have long debated if early farmers were peaceful tillers of the soil or if they also engaged in warfare. This is the third such mass grave in Europe from the Neolithic era and appears to put that debate to rest.

Ancient indigenous Amazonians, not so gentle on the earth
Another popular theory is about to bite the dust. This one posed that the pre-Columbian indigenous people from the Amazon-region lived in harmony with the earth, barely altering the landscape. Instead, archaeologists are now finding a series of square, straight and ringlike ditches scattered throughout the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon. Furthermore, these structures were created before the rainforests actually existed.

As of yet the purpose of the structures isn’t known. They could have been used for defense, agriculture, or for religious purposes. Yet it is now clear that prehistoric Amazon peoples did alter the landscape. The earthworks are up to 16 feet high and as much again wide. The earthworks also call into question if those peoples engaged in slash-and-burn techniques for clearing land.

Even more intriguing, the new find shows that humans have been impacting global climate in how they use the land for thousands of years, rather than just in the last few centuries. The Amazon before 3000 years ago had a climate closer to that of the present day African savanna. Human activity, such as growing more edible plants and trees, may have changed the soil chemistry and composition. When the climate became wetter, that allowed the rainforests to develop.

Amazon - Brazil, 2011. ©Neil Palmer/CIAT

Amazon – Brazil, 2011.
©Neil Palmer/CIAT

A henge twice as old
A henge 39-foot-long and twice as old as England’s Stonehenge has been found in the waters off the coast of Sicily. The man-made stone structure weighs approximately 15 tons and is at least 9,350 years old.

Oceanographers say there is no known natural process that could have created this henge and it is made of stone different from the surrounding rock. The area was an island, until it was submerged in a flood about 9,300 years ago. Archaeologists say this dramatically changes the way we view humans from this time period. To make a monolith requires skilled stone cutting, extraction and transportation techniques, and engineering skills not normally associated with “primitive” hunter-gatherer societies

Vikings no longer first
Someone may have beaten the Vikings to the Faroe Islands, one of the first stepping stones to crossing the Atlantic to the Americas.

The Faroe Islands, positioned halfway between Norway and Iceland, were originally thought to have been first settled by the Vikings during their great migration in the ninth century. Yet contemporary writing hinted that some other people beat the Vikings to the islands.  An Irish monk named Dicuil wrote in 825 AD that Irish hermits had already settled the islands.

It’s not clear who the settlers were or where they were from, but there’s now firm evidence that the islands were colonized 300 to 500 years before the Viking landed. Archaeologists found burnt peat ash that could only be created by human activity. The ash contained burnt barley from what looks like home hearths. Barley isn’t native to the Faroe Islands, so it must have been brought to the islands by the earlier settlers.

Galen was right, mead is a health drink
If you needed an excuse to drink mead, here it is. Scientists from Sweden say that mead may help  fight illness and avoid antibiotic resistance.

Mead has long been thought to be a curative medicine. Galen of Pergamon, a prominent Greek physician in the first century AD, prescribed mead for persons who tended chill easily and to ease “afflictions of the mind,” cure sciatica, gout, and rheumatic ailments.

Now scientists in Sweden are lauding the medicinal properties of the alcoholic beverage made from honey, water, and yeast. They found the lactic acid bacteria in honey cures chronic wounds in horses that had proved resistant normal antibiotics. Now they are testing to see if the bacteria can kill off drug resistant pathogens in humans.

Since the process used to make mead commercially kills off the bacteria, the scientists are brewing up their own brand of mead, Honey Hunter’s Elixir and are having volunteers drink it and measure to see if the  measure different parameters to see if the compounds the bacteria produce could end up in the blood system and for that to cause a prevention or a cure for infections.

Palmyra [Photo Credit: James Gordon / Wikimedia]

Palmyra [Photo Credit: James Gordon / Wikimedia]

This round up of archaeology news is dedicated to all we will now never learn from the temple dedicated to Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria.

The temple was reported to have been destroyed by the Daesh sometime in the last month. The Islamic militants have already established a history of destroying historical monuments, especially those dedicated to polytheistic Gods.

The temple, which was built in the first century AD,  was considered one of the most well preserved in the Greco-Roman world. As we’ve seen, new techniques often shed new light on even the most thoroughly examined archaeological sites, leading to new theories and ways of understanding our ancestors. When sites are destroyed, those opportunities may be lost forever.

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11892119_10153539515579120_7165674815583408908_nOver the last week, University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) graduate students and the school’s administration have clashed over a number of issues including student insurance benefits and overall treatment. The more than 1200 students, calling themselves the Forum for Graduate Rights, have threatened to walk-out of their jobs if the school does not meet their demands. These demands touch on everything from equitable pay, health benefits, tuition wavers, housing, childcare and fees.

The protest was sparked when the University announced that it would be cutting subsides used to pay for health insurance. Our own Wild Hunt columnist Eric O. Scott is one of the seven organizers of the movement. He is currently a graduate student at Mizzou working toward a PhD in English. Scott has been involved since the beginning and has been interviewed by local media.

After the demands were sent, the University did agree to restore the insurance subsidies. However, the students are still unimpressed. As Scott explains, “They have restored our health insurance for one year, but next year we could be right back in this position, and we still have a host of other grievances that haven’t been addressed. We are still rallying on Wednesday, both to celebrate our initial victory and to keep the pressure on the University of Missouri’s administration to recognize the importance of graduate student labor.” The student rally, which is now garnering faculty support, is planned for noon Aug. 26.

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Priestess Maya White Sparks [Photo Credit: M.W. Sparks]In Virginia, Priestess Maya White Sparks has been also been involved in organizing and attending protests and rallies. But for an entirely different cause. Known for her vocal support of tarot reading in Front Royal, Sparks lives in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountain community nested in the Shenandoah Valley. This region is slated to become home to Dominion’s new Atlantic Pipeline. The main gas line cuts through several of the area’s prized forests, just south of the Shenandoah National Forest.

Through the Women’s Alliance of Environmental Justice and Renewal, Sparks first helped to coordinate a local march in the town of Front Royal. But that march was part of a much larger grass-roots movement to protect the region from the planned pipeline. Sparks told The Wild Hunt, “…The deadline for transitioning to renewable energy is upon us. Be vigilant in your local community and say no to any new fossil fuel infrastructure! … Scientists report we are in the 6th Great Extinction, losing species at an unnaturally accelerated rate due to human impacts. Even the Pope sees the critical dangers facing humanity from climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and an exploitative world economy.”

The Front Royal rally was staged in conjunction with a seven state protest coordinated by Hands Across our Land. Sparks added that she is also working with a local core organizing group called Free Nelson, named after the town that will have the main gas pipeline running directly through its center. Sparks added, “When the Pope sounds like a Pagan, you know the writing is on the wall! The Fates have spoken. Please do what you can. Blessed Be!

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PA-Header-960x150-leaf-water-droplets

This August a new Pagan charity, called PagainAid, formed in the U.K. In the simplest terms, its mission is to “fight poverty and defend the environment.” Founded by Ian Chandler, PaganAid “seeks to break this vicious cycle by supporting communities to improve their lives by living in greater harmony with nature.

Along with Chandler, the new organization’s board includes Pagan Federation President Mike Stygal and Chief of the British Druid Order Philip Shallcrass (Greywolf). PaganAid has no paid staff and will be run only by volunteers. All donated money will be used directly to support projects that are inline with its mission. Specifically, PaganAid will partner with other international organizations to improve the lives of those people living in the poorest regions of the world, with the aim of curbing poverty and, at the same time, reducing carbon footprints.

Chandler explained, “Often people living in extreme poverty have little choice but to over-exploit their natural environment just to survive. We will use our supporters’ donations to help people generate an income that preserves the natural world, lifting them and their children out of poverty.” Chandler also said, “Sometimes, communities already living in harmony with nature are being pushed off their lands by outsiders who want to exploit their natural resources. We will support their campaigning and legal actions so that they can defend their lifestyles and roles as guardians of nature.” For more information on its projects and on donating, go to the PaganAid website.

In Other News:

  • Writer Kenya Coviak has launched a new book project that will showcase “images of Pagan Women of Color” and is looking for submissions. She explained, “[The Projectis about collecting, and preserving, images of real women of Pagan faiths so that other women who find themselves on these paths can look and say, ‘Hey, there is someone like me’.” Along with the images, the book will include interviews that will also be cross-posted in the Detroit Paganism Examiner. The specific requirements to be part of this new book are detailed on the media project’s Facebook page. All submissions are due Nov. 7. Once the book is published, a portion of the proceeds will go to Pagans In Need in Michigan.
  • Singer and songwriter Celia Farran will be performing her first ever live broadcast concert from home. To be aired on Aug. 26, the concert will stream through the site concertwindow.com. Farran said, “The show will be at least an hour and we shall see if it spills over. I have at least THREE hours of songs I want to share!”  The concert begins at 5 p.m. PDT. More information is available on the site.
  • Rev. Kirk S. Thomas has released his new book Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods. Rev. Thomas is a Senior Priest and the Archdruid of Ár nDríaocht Féin, A Druid Fellowship (ADF). As noted in the book’s description, Sacred Gifts “explores the development of personal relationships with Gods and Spirits. [Rev. Thomas] describes the subtle and complex integration of personal commitment, devotion and reciprocal offerings that begin and sustain with the Gods and Spirits.” Published by ADF, the book is now available on Amazon.
  • In Sept, actor, singer and tarot creator Mark Ryan will be in the U.K. where he will be visiting the Atlantis Bookshop in London. While there, Ryan will be talking about his personal journey and signing copies of his new book, Hold Fast. Publisher John Matthews will also be on hand with only 40 copies of the new book. The signing and talk will be held on Sept 18 at 6.pm.
  • And finally, a photograph of Margot Adler’s memorial bench in New York City’s Central Park located near the west 93rd street entrance.

[Photo Credit: C. Weber]

[Photo Credit: C. Weber]

That’s all for now.  Have a nice day!

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On Aug., 5, Keith James Campbell, also known as Twilight, died after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Keith was an active member of the Blue Star community and High Priest, who helped launch several different Blue Star groups and used his creative talents to offer service beyond his religious communities.

Keith was born in Kirkwood, Missouri graduating from Kirkwood High School in 1986. He went on to attend the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, where he studied graphic arts. After finishing, he began a long career as a freelance graphic designer and remained in Missouri through 2001.

During that time, he became involved with the local Pagan community and with the Blue Star tradition. He founded his first group called Heretic Clan and became a regular at Midwest Pagan festivals and events. According to close friend and member of the Blue Star Foundation Wendy McNiff, “Diana’s Grove was one of his favorite sacred spaces.”

In 2001, Keith packed up and left for Minneapolis, where he re-established himself and continued his involvement with Blue Star. Under the name OnyxTwilight, he became an active voice within the Blue Star Tradition Live Journal forum posting news, thoughts, prayers and more. He also studied FeriReclaiming, and TwiTrad.

McNiff remembers, “Keith was a legal pagan minister and performed many of our wedding and hand-fasting ceremonies. He was a master of ritual theater, managing to be creative, discerning, and engaging.”

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During that time Keith continued his professional career in graphic design and was fortunately able to merge with his love of singing with his design skills. He was hired as the marketing director for One Voice, Minnesota’s LGBT mixed chorus. For six years, he performed with the group and was also responsible for their visual material. In addition, Keith designed logos for various Pagan businesses, individuals and events including the Blue Star Tradition and Twin Cities Pagan Pride.

In Aug. 2008, Keith moved again. This time he relocated to Pennsylvania, where he received his third degree and helped to create “Coven of the White Oak and Grove of the Acorn.” He eventually settled in Pipersville, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia.

Keith had struggled with his health for a long time. On his birthday in 1998, he was diagnosed with diabetes. During a particularly difficult bought with his health in the summer of 2008, Keith thanked his community for its support and wrote, “I am blessed. And I know it.”

But it wasn’t that condition that took his life. In July 2015, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a type of cancer that is seldom detected early and spreads very rapidly. Within three weeks of receiving the diagnosis, on Aug. 5, Keith died surrounded by his loved ones, who sang to him as he passed.

Wendy McNiff said in her memorial,

Keith was a beloved friend and mentor to many within the pagan community. He was a scholar, a singer, a lore keeper, a graphic designer, and a queen. He was a wealth of knowledge. He was also an open door. Keith helped to welcome many people to their path and helped guide them to their best self.

PNC-Minnesota’s Nels Linde, a Blue Star member, wrote:

I met Keith some twenty years ago as a Heretic singer at festival, and then again last fall at a Blue Star Family Gathering in Minnesota … He was invaluable to my tradition and clearly well-loved and highly respected.

Linde invited PNC readers to post memorials and memories on the site. Kristin of Sprial Tor Coven did just that saying:

Keith was a dear friend and Trad mate of mine. His personality filled every room he entered, and he was loved by countless people. I am deeply honored to have known him. His loss was a great shock to me personally and to our Tradition. While holding vigil during his passing, some of our coven members joked that Keith was such an over-achiever that it didn’t surprise us that he managed to complete his life’s mission in half the allotted time. It might seem trite, but to know him really was to love him. The Summerland has gained a beautiful soul. Hail the Traveler!

Demonstrating the shock felt within that community, Lapis wrote in a public post for the Well Spring Grove & Coven:

We lost a very dear member of our tradition to cancer recently and that has sent us all into a bit of a tailspin … This harvest season and Samhain will be an especially poignant one for us … My advice for everyone lately is to not take your loved ones for granted.

Keith is survived by his parents, his sister and an enormous community of people who have long held him dear. They speak of his energy, his creativity, his devotion to his beliefs, and his commitment to community. Through all of that work and that passion, Keith demonstrated an overwhelming joy in life. As Keith said himself, he was “Blessed.”

Memorial services are being planned in multiple locations across the country. Over Labor Day weekend, there will be services in the Pennsylvania area; no details have yet been released. In Sept. a memorial will be held at Harvest Homecoming in Missouri. Additionally, there will be a service Sept. 13 in Minneapolis from 3-6 pm at the Lake Hiawatha Park Recreation Center. McNiff writes, “Please bring your stories to share, your willingness to sing, and your love of Keith.”

What is remembered, lives.

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Column: Many Gods West

Heathen Chinese —  August 22, 2015 — 19 Comments

Acknowledgement and thanks to the spirits of the land and the water, to the Nisqually and other Coast Salish-speaking peoples on whose sovereign land we were uninvited guests, to my ancestors, to my gods, and to the ancestors and deities and other allies of the humans at the conference. Thanks to my friend and traveling companion. Thanks to all those who showed me hospitality and friendship, and to the organizers of the conference: Niki Whiting, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Rhyd Wildermuth.

The Many Gods West (MGW) gathering was held at the Governor Hotel in Olympia, Washington from July 31st to August 2nd. Over the course of the weekend, 180 humans attended, along with innumerable gods and spirits and crows and other kinds of beings. The conference included twenty presentations, nine public rituals, a keynote address by Morpheus Ravenna, a musical and terpsichorean performance at a local venue, open hours at Skaði’s shrine in one of the hotel rooms, and a communal shrine accessible at most points throughout the day. As at any gathering, many private conversations were held as well, alliances were strengthened, previously separate threads of thought and experience were woven together.

many gods west
Many attendees and presenters have written about their experiences at MGW, or published the texts of their presentations.
These individual accounts are shards in a mosaic-in-progress, strands of wool on a spindle. There are patterns at play here, subterranean and subcutaneous, a fluid and shifting battle formation…if one is trained to notice such things.

The opening ritual was entitled “Many Lands, Many Ancestors, Many Gods, Many People/s.” Similarly to Reclaiming’s practice of mingling the Waters of the World, participants were invited to approach the communal shrine and pour water from a source near their home into a large basin. Soil from the many localities participants had traveled from were similarly mixed in another bowl. Each and every person has some sort of relationship with their local land and water, whether they recognize that relationship or not. This section of the opening ritual was intended to acknowledge and honor those relationships.

Any gathering is likely to be attended by a significant number of people who live in close geographical proximity to the gathering’s location: the logistics of travel dictate this. However, while individuals did travel from the Midwest and the East Coast and other regions to attend, this gathering’s very name reflected a deliberate intention to focus on the West Coast. The concept of “regional cultus” is being discussed in polytheist circles currently. “The West Coast” is a broad term, and certainly contains many smaller regions within it. The entire coast, however, is now united by the shared experience of heatwave and drought and wildfire. As those who live here know, however, from the ashes, new growth springs: a proliferation of new regionalisms, praying for transformation like the knobcone pine, resilient like the manzanita and the madrone.

A fallen madrone (also called madrona or arbutus) provided the wood for the figures which enshrined the ancestors of the conference attendees. Figures carved with faces enshrining Female, Male, Gender-variant, Warrior and Spirit-worker ancestors were passed around the room, allowing each participant who wished to the opportunity to honor their own ancestors in these various categories personally. Meanwhile, the room resounded and reverberated with the song, “Ignis corporis infirmat; ignis sed animae perstat” (“the Fire of the body diminishes; but the fire of the soul endures!”). The Ancestors Of And In The Land and the Dead Who Are Not Yet Ancestors were honored on the communal shrine as well, though their figures were not passed around the room.

Last, but certainly never least in a room full of polytheists, individuals were able to enshrine images of deities and other spirits they have relationships with on the communal shrine. The key word, as ever, is “relationship.” Morpheus Ravenna’s keynote address, entitled “Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods,” reiterated this theme with the grace of poetry and the force of a smith’s hammer or a chieftain’s axe. Not just any archetypal “smith,” or any archetypal “chieftain,” however. Morpheus took care to introduce Goibniu and the Dagda—two gods she has devotional relationships with—to her audience, and to tell stories about their individual personalities and pasts, pointing out that “Living beings don’t just exist, they have stories. They have an origin, they come from somewhere in particular, and they experience an arc of change.”

And of course, they exert change upon the world as well. The mark of the Dagda’s axe can be seen in the cleft of every oak in Ireland. Morpheus argued that the gods leave similar marks on the landscapes of our psyches: “Even when we think the Gods are gone, Their marks on us remain. We ourselves are a map shaped and carved by Their memory.” But human beings have our own agency and sovereignty as well, and Morpheus eloquently wove this deeper understanding of reciprocity into her description of what “true relationship” might look like:

In being another of the peoples that have worshiped, fed and sung songs to Them, we become part of Their stories. This is what comes from engaging with the Gods on this level. This is true relationship. […] They become part of our story. We begin seeking to create a story together, a shared future.

One story, one shared future, found its roots deep in the blood-soaked battlefields of ancient Gaul and the beginning of a new chapter in a dimly lit room at Many Gods West. Three members of the Coru Cathubodua, Morpheus and Brennos and Rynn, conducted a ritual in honor of the Gaulish goddess for whom their priesthood is named. After Cathubodua, the Battle Crow, was worshiped through polyphonic song and offering, those individuals who were called received the Warrior’s Mark from her priestesses and priest. A call “aims at those who can hear it.” That is its power. There is another power in standing and bearing witness, as many of those present at the ritual chose to do. As Rhyd Wildermuth said, “meaning is never a solitary act.”

mgw communal shrine

MGW Community Shring [Photo Credit: Finnchuill]

Rhyd’s talk on “meaning” began with a rejection of the concept of absolute Truth, which, Midas-like, fatally corrupts all that it touches: “Looking for the material being-ness of a thing, rather than its tapestry of meaning, is to destroy it.” For example, a body undergoing vivisection—a cruel name, as it quickly turns into the dissection of a corpse: “What are you, really, when we get to your core existence? A dead and dis-membered pile of bloody muscle and gore.” Better to recognize that “There was [and is] no Truth, only potential meaning.”

Heimlich A. Laguz’s lecture, “Dreaming, Death, and Memory: Sketches for a Heathen Cosmology,” based upon his 2010 essay in Hex Magazine, touched upon the concept of “dis-memberment” during the same time slot that Finnchuill spoke about the history of “disenchantment” and the practice of reenchantment. Their presentations were held in adjacent rooms, in fact. Heimlich utilized a pun to highlight the subtle relationship between “dis-memberment” and memory, “When we re-member the essence of this dis-membered world we discover that death and life are one.”

Heimlich began by pointing out that the Germanic cosmological concept of the World Tree does not exist in some sort of independent stasis, but is watered by “the wells of Urd (Past), Mimir (Memory), and Hvergelmir (the ‘bubbling cauldron’ from which the rivers of the world arise and beside which the death-dragon Nidhogg dwells).” As a living system, the newly-created memories of the present necessarily flow “back down into the wells again to create new layers of history.”

Within this dynamic ecological cycle, death is a source of fertility, and it is memory that “has the power to carry the dead back into the world of the living.” Heimlich told the story of the shepherd Hallbjorn, who slept many nights upon the grave mound of the poet Thorleif, with the intention of writing a poem about Thorleif, though his skills in that area were few. Eventually, Thorleif appeared to Hallbjorn in a dream and taught him how to write poetry. Heimlich pointed out that “poetry is a force of unfettered life and excitation, and the idea that it could be sought through necromantic communication is potent and fascinating.” Furthermore, sleep is associated with death, and Hallbjorn learned poetry in a dream. With such connections as these (and many more), Heimlich deftly tied together the three major themes of his lecture.

Death and memory were also powerful forces behind Sean Donahue’s talk on “The Rattling at the Gates: The Dead as Allies in Resistance,” subsequently typed up and titled “Restoring Life to Death.” Sean spoke of two kinds of death: one beautiful and life-nourishing, and the other untimely and traumatic. He spoke of the salmon dying after they spawn: “Like sacred kings, their bodies and their blood nourish the land.” He spoke of the salmon dying this year before they spawn, slain by the drought and the heat. Those killed before their time are restless, denied the beauty of dignified death, prevented from moving on.

Sean quoted his Colombian friend Hector Mondragon: “Hector said “My murdered compañeros were killed twice . . .” once by bullets or machetes or bombs, and once by a world that refused to acknowledge their lives and their deaths.” He spoke of the importance of recognition and memory: “Witnessing and remembering are the beginning of restoring sacredness to the death around us to enable it to feed new life.” Morpheus used similar language during her speech, “the 20th century had already forgotten that the Gods are alive.” But some people never forgot, and others are now waking from amnesia into the dream of remembrance.

Once forgotten, but still alive, still powerful, and newly resurgent, splendid in their beauty: the Matronae, “a collective of indigenous Germanic and Celtic goddesses who were worshipped syncretically in the Roman Empire,” honored in a devotional ritual led by their priestesses River Devora and Rynn Fox. A well was set up in the middle of the room, filled with water from Olympia’s Artesian Well, surrounded by roses and other flowers. Libations of goat’s milk were poured. Singing, dancing: “Mothers of victory, Matronae. Mothers of the tribes, Matronae.” Oracular trance, messages both for the group and for individual petitioners. Wishes made on pennies, tossed into the well. Weaving.

These words you’re reading now? Merely a thin and tiny thread in a vast tapestry.

The various report-backs on MGW delighted in using the word “many” in their titles. But while there are “many” experiences to be remembered, there is also “more,” for relationship is a continual, ongoing process. There is more work to be done, there are more battles to be fought.

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Diversity is one of those funny things. There never seems to be enough diversity in any community to reflect all the many different intersections within society. Ideas of diversity are often limited to race, ethnicity and gender in larger conversations, and yet there are so many more variations and flavors to the many different types of people, ideas, experiences and circumstances. It has become more of a buzz word in many spaces, such as the workplace, academic institutions and even spiritual spaces – an expectation instead of a reality in some circumstances. 

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

We know that diversity means variety and the representation of a range of differences. Do we have diversity within modern Paganism? Like with many different communities, Paganism has areas of great diversity and some areas that are seriously lacking. While areas of ethnic diversity are have been slow to expand, areas of diversity in sexual orientation, spiritual practice, gender variances, traditions, and socioeconomic status seem to be the opposite. There are a lot of different types of people in our circles, groves, houses, covens, groups and conventions that fall all along the different continuums.

The sheer nature of experiential spirituality allows for people’s differences to have a place within the community dialog, and when it doesn’t it is noticeable. I tend to crave diverse environments, and when there is a noticeable lack of diversity in a specific area, I notice it pretty quickly.

Diversity can be vital to the sustainability of any given community because it challenges our thoughts and stretches the boxes that we construct within our own limited exposures. Diversity supports growth. In The Benefits of Diversity, What the Research Tells us, authors D. Smith and N. Chonfeld talk about quantitative and qualitative research on the impact of diversity in higher education and within organizations. Data continues to point to the importance of diversity and the benefits that diversity has on the development of a community, and the individuals within it. “Our review reveals important links between experiences with diversity and increased commitment to civic engagement, democratic outcomes, and community participation”.

The ability for people to grow and learn through the experiences and connections with a myriad different types of people benefits our ability to think critically and have a larger world view.

So what does diversity look like in the Pagan community and how do Pagans feel about the layers of diversity that we do have? I spoke to four different types of Pagans and Polytheists to ask these questions. John Beckett, Niki Whiting, Sabrina Taylor and Lorrie Patrick; all different people from different flavors of practice with different backgrounds. Some of these people are writers, or college students, and have different socioeconomic statuses. All of them are connected to our Pagan and/or Polytheist communities.

I asked three questions of all three people interviewed:

1. What areas do you feel we are the most diverse in our communities?
2. What do you enjoy about the elements of diversity that the Pagan and Polytheist communities have?
3. What areas of diversity would you like to see our communities grow in?

The answers to these questions were quite diverse in themselves, and show a snapshot of how simple and yet how complex diversity can be.

John Beckett

John Beckett

We are most diverse in our religious and magical traditions. When I first began exploring Paganism in the early 1990s there was Wicca and Druidry and that was about it.  here were other traditions (Thelema, for example, is older than Wicca) but if you were new and didn’t know anybody, you didn’t have much of a chance of finding them.

Now there are more traditions than you can keep up with, and with the internet and especially with social media, a seeker can find pretty much exactly what they’re looking for. The problem now isn’t that there’s not enough diversity, it’s differentiating one group from another.

I like going to Pantheacon or Pagan Pride Day or just surfing the internet and learning something new and different about how to form and maintain relationships with the Gods, ancestors, and spirits of Nature. I like learning about religions and cultures that were thought to be dead that are being revived and reimagined here and now. And I especially like to see Gods that were forgotten being worshiped again, perhaps for the first time in thousands of years.

I’d like us to become more aware of the wide diversity that exists in the Pagan and Polytheist communities. We’re not all the same, and that’s OK.  I’d like to see a deeper appreciation of our diversity of beliefs and practices, not just to avoid cultural appropriation (although that’s certainly important) but to form and demonstrate respect for our differences.

And I’d like for us all to learn to listen better, so we can help seekers find the tradition that calls to them and not steer them toward a tradition we think they “should” follow based on their appearance, name, orientation, or other categorizations. The Gods call who They call. John Beckett

 

Niki Whiting

Niki Whiting

I don’t really know how to answer that question. I don’t think I’m capable or qualified to do so! My communities are relatively small and most active online, which skews my reality. What I see online, what I witness at PCon, and what I saw at Many Gods West are quite different!

The one thing I’ll say is that overall we do a good job of fostering and supporting LGB folk. Some communities are better than others about the T in that equation.

Overall, I love the spirit that is present in both communities. In my limited experience I think the polytheist communities are doing a better job of discussing a wide array of social, environmental, and economic justice issues, and also of listening to diverse voices.

I was pleased to see just how gender variant the attendees at MGW were. Attendees also came with a variety of social needs and several had mobility issues, and all were accommodated in a very organic way. If those people are in our wider communities I feel very hopeful for inclusion and continued diversity in both Paganism and polytheism.

Access and money for access. Many of the people involved in our communities are not wealthy. We make sacrifices to attend gatherings and groups, to tend our shrines and altars. But many people with more than one hurdle are often left out of such gatherings. How can we make these events and gatherings more accessible?

How can we reach out to communities that might otherwise be sympathetic but see Paganism as a white, hippie enclave? I think polytheism has a better “in” in this regard. There are many traditions that don’t consider themselves Pagan but are or can be approached from polytheism. Many of these traditions come from indigenous cultures or Afro-diasporic cultures – groups that are tremendously important to the United States’ history and culture, but often get left out (sometimes by their own choice!) in the overwhelming European milieu of modern American Paganism.”  Niki Whiting 

 

Lorrie Patrick

Lorrie Patrick

What I have noticed in my limited exposure is that we all seem to come from very different backgrounds particularly where and how we were raised. We seem to have a great deal of diversity among us not only in what part of the country or world we grew up in but varying socioeconomic status, religious backgrounds, how and by whom we were raised, and the life experiences that have brought us where we are today.

I enjoy this diversity because I feel we all come together due to a common thread but still have so many different things to offer one another which hopefully helps us to learn and grow.

My hope is that our communities continue to have open dialog about their differences. That we can recognize them, embrace them and use our shared knowledge to strengthen the community in  every way possible. – Lorrie Patrick

 

Sabrina Taylor

Sabrina Taylor

I believe that the Pagan communities are most diverse when it comes to online communities. I think many different factors play a part in this. Due to location (I live in Seattle) I rarely run into other Pagans of color except at festivals and larger community gatherings.

I enjoy the fact that many of us bring an element of social justice to our communities and spiritual backgrounds, either due to who we are as people or what we experienced growing up due to being a minority.

It would be great to see more diversity in pagan leadership organizations as well as within our community’s media. – Sabrina Taylor


When I think about the reasons I was initially drawn to the larger Pagan community I think about the different conversations, and vastly different types of people with whom I got to connect. While it is very apparent that diversity within some areas of our community are slow to develop, I still find that other areas of diversity have been just as important in the connection that I, and many others, have within modern Paganism or Polytheist communities. 
It is my personal opinion that any community should be made up of all different kinds of people. My ideal community would be made up of Black, White, Latino, Multi-Ethnic, female, male, transgendered, gender queer, heterosexual, bi-sexual, gay, meta-sexual peoples of all different socioeconomic statuses, from all different types of regions, from different age groups, different abilities, with the many different experiences and engaging in many different types of spiritual practices.

The more that our communities can identify, embrace and celebrate the various forms of diversity we have, the more culturally competent our communities become. Increased opportunity to break out of the mold of groupthink allows for innovation, enhanced understanding of cultural nuances, and cross-cultural interconnected relatability.

We need to continuously ask ourselves where we excel, where we need to improve, what faces are missing from our circles and how can we support diverse spaces that encourage health of our overall spiritual communities.

There was a section that stuck out to me in reading What Do Leaders Need To Understand About Diversity on the Yale School of Management website. “Here’s the key: If you want diversity of thought, you have to bring in people around you who have diverse experiences. Differences in race, gender, and socioeconomic background are three characteristics, but so are differences in learning style or differences in professional field. And I’m not suggesting that any one of those points of diversity is more potent than others.”

It is important to celebrate where we are great and examine where we need to improve, while fostering an environment that promotes healthy engagement in our myriad differences.

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

  • Let’s begin with a community note. The New York City Pagan community celebrated its 4th annual Witchfest USA in July.The event is a “Street Faire” that is hosted on Astor Place in the heart of Manhattan. The 2015 event was visited by a Broudly journalist who published her, somewhat skeptical or baffled, take on the entire experience. She wrote, “The crowd looked exactly as you’d expect a crowd of polite pagans to: Near the corner of Lafayette and Astor Place...” Regardless, the article offers a nice array of vivid photographs of WitchFest, its people and happenings. For more photos or information on next year’s faire, go to the organization’s Facebook page.
  • Now for less festive news, several Kentucky lawmakers appear to be unwilling to end their quest to publicly support the so-called “Ark Park.” According to Americans United, “Kentucky Sens. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) and Chris Girdler (R-Somerset) said they will file a bill (SB 129)” to delay the start of Kentucky public schools in order to “give more tourists the opportunity to visit state attractions in August.” More specifically, Senator Thayer was quoted as saying that Ark Encounter will become a major tourist destination, and that delaying school will give local children an expanded opportunity to visit. The bill, which will be considered in 2016, comes on the heels of “Kentucky officials [rejecting] up to $18 million in tax rebates” for the theme park. Owned by the group Answers in Genesis, the park is scheduled to open in Summer 2016.
  • Unfortunately, attacks related to “witchcraft” continue to plaque sub-Saharan Africa. But this month, one story shares the hope hope being brought to those who have been victimized by such violence.Tanzanian children, who are born with albinism and are often targets of such violence, are finding aide through a New York-based charity called The Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF)With guidance from Under the Same Sun, GMRF is bringing young victims to the U.S. for medical assistance. According to an Associated Press article,There has been a sharp increase in attacks in Tanzania and neighboring Malawi in the past year,” despite laws against “witch doctors” using human body parts. The first five children sponsored by GMRF are being fitted with prosthetics in New York City. The Fund’s founder Elissa Montanti said, “They’re not getting their arm back … But they are getting something that is going help them lead a productive life and be part of society and not be looked upon as a freak or that they are less than whole.”
  • On a similar note, a recent Namibian article demonstrates the depth of the problem in sub-Sahran Africa. The media outlet recently had to run a counter article to an older one that reported on the death of a man from tapeworms. According to the second article, there were “a number of comments on The Namibian’s Facebook page show that there is a deep misunderstanding of what is or what causes tapeworms.” They go on to illustrate and describe what actually does cause this medical condition. But the article starts the lesson by saying, “In actual fact, having tapeworms has nothing to do with witchcraft or any form of curse.” And to be perfectly clear, the article is titled, “Witchcraft does not cause tapeworms.”
  • Now moving to entirely different global region,The Independent has published an interesting and detailed article on an entirely different religious observance. Entitled “Beer and blood sacrifices: Meet the Caucasus pagans who worship ancient deities,” the article opens a window on a little known religion and culture in the country of Georgia. As one follower describes, “[The people] are the true inheritors and passers-on of the tradition, but they cannot explain it metaphysically. They cannot tell you why they are doing this or that and what it means. They cannot touch bears or wolves, touch chicken or eggs, or touch a woman when she has her period, but if you ask them why, they don’t know. It’s supernatural, it’s a mystery.” The article goes on to share the specifics on the ritual observance as well as other aspects of their theology, dedication and customs.  
[Photo Credit: Fabian Reus / Flickr ]

2010 Toyko Obon observance [Photo Credit: Fabian Reus / Flickr ]

  • Photography: Many people in Japan will be observing the Buddhist festival of the dead, Obon (お盆) in mid-August. The site Global Voices has brought together a number of recent photographs posted to Instagram from various events, festivals and observances. The article, entitled “Instagram Photos Offer a Peek Into Nagasaki’s Unique Send-Off for the Dead,” paints a vivid picture through text and these snapshots of the traditions and the reverence paid to ancestors at this time.
  • Books: National Geographic writer Simon Worrall interviews Isabella Tree about her new book called The Living Goddess. The book’s subject is “the Kumari of Nepal: young girls who embody the creative, female energy, or Shakti.” In the published interview, Tree speaks about her experience in researching and writing the book. She says, “It’s one of the things that I found most striking of all, this idea of worshiping a child, particularly a girl. Throughout much of Nepalese history, the King of Nepal has knelt at these little girls’ feet—nowadays it’s the president—in order to receive permission to rule the country.” Tree first met a Kumari when she was very young, and the book is the culmination of thirteen years of research.
  • Art: Inspired by several of the world’s natural disasters, actor and artist Lorenzo Quinn has created a dynamic sculpture series dedicated to Mother Earth. On his blog, he explains his purpose,”This would be reminiscent of the early statues made as peace offerings to the Gods in the hope of quenching their anger.” Each piece, part of a “Forces by Nature” series, depicts a female figure swinging the Earth around. Versions have been installed in multiple locations worldwide including England, the United States, Monaco, and Singapore. The Bored Panda has published a number of photos of the various statues.
  • Film: Lastly, the trailer for the award-winning film The Witch is now available on YouTube. Directed by Sundance Best Director Robert Eggers, The Witch is a horror film based in 17th century New England. After seeing the film at the festival, one reviewer described the film, “In this exquisitely-made and terrifying new horror film, the age-old concepts of witchcraft, black magic and possession are innovatively brought together to tell the intimate and riveting story of one family’s frightful unraveling.” The Witch is due out in 2016.

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EUGENE, Or. — Last week, Sara Kate Istra Winter, also known as blogger Dver at A Forest Door, announced the release of her new book, Komos: Celebrating Festivals in Contemporary Hellenic Polytheism. It’s intended to be a “201-level” book for Hellenic polytheists who wish to explore the religion beyond household practice. As she was gearing up for publication, Winter was kind enough to answer some questions about her background and the book, giving a sense both of what Komos offers to worshipers of the Hellenic gods, and what it does not.

Sara Kate Istra Winter

Sara Kate Istra Winter

The Wild Hunt: For those who are unfamiliar, can you share a little bit about your religious practices and/or beliefs?

Sara Kate Istra Winter: I usually describe myself as being on the “outskirts” of Hellenic polytheism, simply because while I have a strong foundation in that religion, I am foremost a mystic and spiritworker and I let my experiences with the gods and spirits guide me to whatever will feed my practice best. Therefore I am also influenced by Slavic, Germanic and English folklore and customs, I pay some limited cultus to non-Hellenic deities such as Odin, and all of the spirits I work with are either local or personal, but not from the Hellenic tradition. I am devoted to Dionysos nearly to a point of henotheism (these days I might say I am more of a Dionysian than a broad Hellenic polytheist), though my relationship with Hermes balances that out a bit.

I am a hard polytheist, an animist, and I favor a foundation of reconstructionism tempered by ongoing personal experimentation. I have spent the past two decades studying ancient religion, including as part of a college degree, but I will ultimately choose to follow instructions from a deity or techniques confirmed by divination rather than a strict adherence to past practices.

TWH: What kind of experience do you have with Hellenic festivals specifically?

SW: I have been celebrating Hellenic festivals for nearly twenty years in one form or another. At first I mostly tried to fold them into my ritual group’s multi-tradition rites, then I experimented with a few on my own, then I spent about seven years closely working with Sannion (another Dionysian) to develop a complex and powerful festival calendar. These days I mostly do the strictly Hellenic festivals on my own again, and sometimes with the help of my Heathen partner. I have adapted ancient festivals, created many new ones, worked through interconnected festival cycles, and have experienced both large successes and utter failures. Some festivals were done once and never repeated because they just didn’t work. I have been celebrating others for many years consistently. I have accumulated a lot of experience via trial and error.

TWH: The word “festival” suggests something different than “ritual.” How do you define it?

SW: This is an important point that I address early on in the book. A festival is definitely more than a ritual (and in ancient Greece, it was also more than a sacrifice, which could be held separately from a festival). It is a set of rituals, and ancillary activities, that all focus on a common religious theme. That theme might be a certain aspect of a deity, or a seasonal marker, or a semi-magical concept such as purification. In addition to offerings, libations, [and] prayers . . . a festival also includes celebratory activities such as dancing, music, and feasting, as well as specialized rites particular to each one — this might be something like replacing a statue’s clothing, or making a certain type of cake, or going to a special place sacred to a deity. It is also important to note that a festival is by nature something that is repeated consistently, generally at the same time each year.

TWH: Where do you get your own ideas for festivals?

SW: Well I definitely started with research into the ancient festivals, which I still advise for others. Some of the festivals I still celebrate are ancient ones, such as the Anthesteria. But I also took a lot of inspiration from those and used it to craft new festivals, by learning what the basic approach was, what types of activities might work, what concepts could be expressed, etc. Some of my festivals spring from the place where I live — those honoring the local nymphs for instance, or marking times of regional significance (either culturally or environmentally). Others have arisen in response to personal spiritual experiences with my gods, wanting to mark those in some way, for instance to honor the specific faces of Dionysos that I myself have seen.

komoscovertn

TWH: What might the solitary practitioner find valuable in Komos?

SW: Since I personally have done so many festivals either alone or with only one or two other people, and I’m pretty sure most other Hellenic polytheists are in a similar position, I wrote Komos from that perspective. Almost every suggestion is meant to be adaptable to a solitary practice. Frankly, the Hellenic festivals of antiquity were designed to be celebrated by large groups, so adapting those (or new festivals based on the same principles) for a large group now isn’t much of a challenge — the real issues come up when you try to figure out how to do the same things all by yourself. Processions, competitions, revels, these are all collective activities in our minds, and I’ve tried to suggest ways they can be incorporated even into a solo event.

TWH: How about someone who would like to organize something for a group, or in public? Does it include any advice about the issues that need navigating?

SW: I have mostly focused on solitaries and small groups with this book. I do not know of many people attempting to put on entire festivals (as opposed to rituals) for large or public groups. However, I do think the way I’ve broken down the key elements and the issues regarding timing and localization could all be applicable to larger festivals, and will be especially helpful when people are trying to create new festivals rather than just reviving the same few Athenian ones we all know.

TWH: You’ve described this as a “201-level” book. What would you recommend someone read or do before picking it up?

SW:  Well, it would definitely be useful to read my first book on Hellenic polytheism, Kharis, which covers the religion in a broader sense. I also think anyone coming into Hellenic polytheism should at least read a few basic scholarly books to get a footing — though they don’t need to become scholars themselves by any means! — and this would include authors such as Walter Burkert, Martin Nilsson, Jane Ellen Harrison, Jennifer Larsen, Robert Parker, Karl Kerenyi, [and] Sarah Iles Johnston . . . I also like to recommend Pausanias since he paints a great picture of the variations in cultus across the Greek lands, and of course the ancient playwrights though you have to take them with a grain of salt.

However, I always stress that you can practice Hellenic polytheism from day one, and learn as you go from a combination of reading and experience. It doesn’t take an complicated knowledge to pour out a libation and hail the gods. The rest will come with practice. Komos will definitely make more sense if you’re at least familiar with the Greek gods and some basic ideas of how they were worshiped in antiquity, but it doesn’t require anything more than that. I define all the terms that are in Greek, and I take a fairly practical approach to the whole issue. I call it a “201-level” book because instead of just being an overview of the religion as a whole, it’s focusing in on a specific aspect in more depth, and aimed at people who want to really dig in and expand their practice.

TWH: Will this book be useful for people who worship Roman deities, or perceive them as identical to Hellenic ones except in name?

SW: I suppose it depends on how important it is to them to reconstruct the Roman way of doing things, which was similar but not identical to the Greek way. I admit I am not very knowledgeable about Roman religion, so I’m not sure exactly how much of this would be applicable. I have distilled the concepts that were especially important to the Greeks when thinking about what makes up a festival; I do not know how many were equally important to the Romans, although I would guess there is a lot of overlap. Certainly some of the specific ideas and suggestions could work for either.

TWH: More broadly, is this information specifically Hellenic in character, or do you include methodologies or strategies which could be adapted to unrelated religious practices?

SW: This book is definitely specifically Hellenic in focus. With all my religious practice, I attempt to explore what the foundational assumptions and priorities are in the original religion, and then extrapolate to create new practices that are still consistent with tradition. These things are going to be different for every culture, at least to some degree. Sometimes these differences are negligible — an athletic competition during a Hellenic holy day might seem quite familiar to a Norse heathen — but sometimes there are crucial differences, such as traditions in which you consume the offerings versus those (like ours) where that is forbidden. My discussion of the lunar calendar will have little relevance to those outside the Hellenic worldview, but my chapter on how to localize your rites might strike a chord with anyone practicing a recon-based tradition. I also briefly touch on the issue of celebrating festivals in multi-tradition households in my troubleshooting section.

Komos is now available through Createspace, and also on Amazon, along with Winter’s prior book on the subject, Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored.

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