KATHMANDU, Nepal –This past Saturday, at about noon local time, Nepal was struck by an 7.8-magnitude earthquake said to be equivalent to 20 thermonuclear bombs, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. As of this writing, the death toll is reported at over 5,000, and that number is likely to rise as information is gathered from the remote areas closest to the epicenter.

Nepal Earthquake 2015 [Photo Credit: Krish Dulal via Wikimedia]

Nepal Earthquake 2015 [Photo Credit: Krish Dulal via Wikimedia]

As is often the case with powerful disasters, there is a strong desire to help. However it’s not always clear what assistance is going to be the most effective. The Wild Hunt spoke to Peter Dybing, whose experience on the front lines of disaster relief for the 2010 Haiti earthquake gives him a unique perspective on the issue.

Disasters like this have several phases, Dybing explained, and each phase has its own needs. An earthquake of this severity,which occurs roughly every 75 years in this region, will likely require both immediate aid and longer-term, sustainable solutions. The first step in providing aid, however, is assessing both the needs, and how well the surviving infrastructure can support aid workers. “If you don’t have everything that your people need,” he said, “they become part of the disaster” with each additional body needing food, water, and shelter – items already in short supply.

What is known so far is that many Nepalese survivors are sleeping on the streets. From what Dybing understands, water is likely in short supply in the more remote areas, where it must be trucked in along mountain roads. One organization that is particularly good at not becoming part of the problem, Dybing said, is Doctors Without Borders. “They bring all their teams, shelter, food, and water, and can be up and running in 24 hours,” he said.

Most NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, are not quite so nimble. In evaluating which organizations will be able to provide the needed help effectively and quickly, he says, it becomes a question of existing contacts and area infrastructure. In Haiti, he said, “We looked for a school to set up as an incident command base, because it has everything we would need.” For the Nepal response, Dybing expects that relief will be coordinated through India; navigating geopolitical tensions is but one of the challenges that relief organizations must be prepared for in order to be effective.

"Kathmandu - open spaces have become home for thousands of people afraid to return to their houses." [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

“Kathmandu – open spaces have become home for thousands of people afraid to return to their houses.” [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

Having contacts on the ground and a knowledge of the lay of the land is critical to being able to funnel money to where it is most needed, Dybing added. And, the Pagan community itself has just such a resource in the form of the Patrick McCollum Foundation, which has put out its own call for donations for earthquake relief.

“Patrick is the man,” Dybing said. “The idea that he could have a better idea where the needs actually are, and where to send the money, is an awesome thing. The issue is that there’s not an accountability put in place, so you have to trust the person, but I trust Patrick implicitly.” And, because the foundation is based in the United States, it’s required to spend all the donations made for Nepalese earthquake relief on exactly that.

McCollum, who was unavailable to comment, has traveled extensively to this part of the world, which is why his foundation is well-positioned to direct relief efforts. While the organization is primarily focused on social justice and world peace, Dybing said that, right now that specific mission is less important than McCollum’s knowledge about the needs and existing infrastructure in Nepal. “The logistic piece is huge,” Dybing said. “It can cut response time from 10-15 days down to three or four.”

Another small organization that is skilled at fast response is Heart to Heart International, which earned Dybing’s respect in Haiti for quick, effective deployment, followed by its working toward more sustainable, long-term solutions. As for groups with infrastructure already on the ground, Dybing named the Australian Red Cross.

Larger NGOs have what Dybing calls a “long logistics tail,” and take more time to get mobilized. “We were treating trauma victims in Haiti for nine days before the American Red Cross showed up,” he said. While these bigger organizations, like Care International, can’t provide immediate relief, the need in Nepal is probably going to last for years to come, so donations to these larger organizations will not go to waste.

People line up for clean water. [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

People lining up for clean water. [Photo Credit: Walter Lines / Flickr]

It’s also possible, he speculated, for the Pagan community to come together to provide some kind of longer-term, sustainable relief, perhaps targeting the small number of animists living in that nation. Out of a population of 26.5 million people, 3.1% report following Kirantism, which is a tribal religion with strong animistic and ancestor-veneration elements, and another .4% consider themselves animists. By comparison, 1.4% of those counted on the last Nepalese census called themselves Christian.

Just yesterday, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) announced its ADF Cares – Nepal fund, through which money will be sent to Global Giving for longer term relief. “Pagans raised $30,000 for Doctors Without Borders after the Japan earthquake, which was the first time we did that as a community,” Dybing noted. “It blew the doors off the myth that Pagans are poor.” He speculated that such a sustainable effort might involve individuals contributing $30 a month for some years, allowing aid workers in those populations to eventually train Nepalese replacements to continue the effort.  With this level of destruction, Dybing added, “Two weeks isn’t going to cut it.”

 

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Elder Flint of Dragon Ritual Drummers

Elder Flint of Dragon Ritual Drummers

It was announced this week that Dragon Ritual Drummer founder and elder Flint has lost is battle with cancer.  Flint was diagnosed July 2014. The doctor’s gave him only two months to live, but he fought hard, even performing with the band. Utu Witchdoctor posted on the group’s Facebook page, “Brother Flint was one of our founding members, a force to be reckoned with, a soul that touched so many, one of the best there ever was. Our man Flint was the grounding force in our troupe, kept all us youngins’ in place, he was our father, our brother, our best friend.”

After Flint’s family is finished with its private ceremony, the Dragon Ritual Drummers will be holding a special, public Viking funeral for him. Utu Witchdoctor said, “We have already begun the construction of the funeral boat, and it will be set a flame and cast out into the waters as everyone drums and celebrates his life, full open pagan ceremony and celebration.” 

Despite this loss, the Dragon Ritual Drummers will not be taking any time off and plan to honor Flint at every one of their scheduled performances. The next one will be at Florida Pagan Gathering, where the group plans to share many of their memories and release some of their grief. Utu Witchdoctor also noted that the song Bamboula, performed at the end of most shows and captured in a recent video, will be forever dedicated to Flint. He explained that this song has an “historic New Orleans voodoo rhythm [that they] were entrusted with” and that honors one’s ancestors. Flint is now considered an ancestor of “their tribe.” What is remembered, lives.

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Pagan Freedom DayIn South Africa, April 27 marks Pagan Freedom Day. The movement began twelve years ago, in 2003, when a number of local Pagans began discussing the need to openly declare their religious freedom. Damon Leff explained, “At the time, even prominent (public) Pagans were questioning whether or not Witches in South Africa were really free. It was important to show them that we were, that we could gather publicly.” The first gatherings happened in 2004 in “Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and the Wilderness” with no negative backlash.

Over the years, the annual celebration has become larger, spreading to other communities throughout South Africa. Mja Principe, convener of the Pagan Freedom Day Movement and Pagan Council, said, “Freedom Day is the annual celebration of every South African’s right to human dignity, freedom of expression, freedom of association, as well as the celebration of religious freedom, irrespective of the individual’s alternative or mainstream religious background.”  Penton Independent Media has published several posters advertising local celebrations and scheduled activities. Photos of the day’s events will be uploaded to the Pagan Freedom Day Movement Facebook page.

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[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

This past weekend, Rev. Patrick McCollum, together with friends, celebrated his 50 years of service to the Pagan community. In 1965, McCollum began the work that eventually led to his position today as a global ambassador of peace, a respected spiritual counselor and interfaith chaplain. Over those 50 years, he has been involved with a number of Pagan organizations, including Our Lady of the Wells, Cherry Hill Seminary Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary, Lady Liberty League, and more.

In 2010, McCollum won the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism and, through his foundation, he continues his commitment, as a Pagan voice, to global peace work. Most recently, the foundation announced that it is reaching out to communities in Nepal to assist in the aftermath of Saturday’s earthquake. We will have more on that developing story tomorrow.

In Other News

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

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[Editor’s Note: Before continuing with our regularly scheduled story, we would like to take a moment to acknowledge the many victims of the Saturday’s Earthquake in Nepal. The Wild Hunt has reached out to Pagans in South East Asia and to first responders. In the coming days, we will be sharing what we learn and the various ways to assist those victims.]

OAKLAND, California – On April 23, Mills Pagan Alliance of Mills College was presented with the Student Organization of the Year Award. The annual recognition honors an “organization that has demonstrated through their events and activities, outstanding collaboration and dedication to educating the Mills and broader community.” This marks the first time that the Pagan organization has won the award, and been publicly recognized by the college.

[Courtesy K. Oliver]

[Courtesy K. Oliver]

On hand to accept the award were co-founders Kristin Oliver, Rose Quartz and Sasha Reed and member Nikka Tahan. Oliver said:

This award says that the Mills community is a place where Pagans can practice and thrive openly, a place where Pagans at Mills are respected and admired, and where Pagans are known as community leaders. For us, it means that what we do matters. What we say matters.

She added, “We won because of the leadership we demonstrated in the aftermath of losing the campus chaplain. In her absence (and we still don’t have a school chaplain) we played a huge role in keeping spirituality alive and present for all faiths for this entire year.”

Before this school year, the Alliance founders had already been demonstrating strong community leadership. Oliver said that in past years Mills College only had dormant or “defunct” Pagan club. Like at many schools, the viability of the student club is wholly dependent on the eagerness of its members. Often, when the founders and other invested members graduate, the club falters or completely dissolves.

In 2013, one of the college chaplains approached Oliver, asking if she would like to help lead the club with Quartz and Reed. She agreed, as did the others. So, in an attempt to breathe life back into the old organization, they changed the club’s name to the Mills Pagan Alliance and immediately began working to connect with the community.

At the first meeting, they asked attendees “What do you want out of this club?” The answer was unanimously, “We want to learn.” Since 2013, the Alliance has built a small Pagan library with donations from many in the Bay Area. It regularly brings in local speakers, such as Rev. Patrick McCollum, Sharon Knight, Timotha Doane, Violet Fortuna, Moonwater SilverClaw, Thorn Coyle, Crystal Blanton and Granny Greenleaf. And, the club hosts a number of campus events throughout the year. One of the first was a Samhain ritual that was held right in college’s chapel.

In 2014, Rev. Patrick McCollum turned to the Mills Pagan Alliance to find a student interested in accompanying him to the United Nations International Peace Day events in New York City. Then junior Rowan Weir was selected and became a U.N. Pagan youth delegate. As a regular guest of the club, Rev. McCollum also has brought his World Peace violin to meetings and even allowed Reed to play it.

In addition to events and guests, the Pagan Alliance has also begun reaching out beyond the college campus. For example, the group was actively in attendance at PantheaCon 2015 in San Jose. Members assisted Rev. Selena Fox with her Brigid Healing Ritual and were vocal during the Turning the Wheel: Nurturing Young Leaders and Embracing Change panel. During that session, they asked questions on how younger generations can be effective and integral parts of the movement, the important conversations and the evolving structures at both a local and larger community level.

The 2014-2015 Student Organization of the Year Award demonstrates that the college itself noticed all of the Alliance’s work and the rising spirit of leadership within its ranks. However, it was the club’s perseverance after losing its chaplain, which ultimately earned it the recognition.

Oliver explained that the circumstances of the chaplain’s dismissal were “mysterious.” She had played an instrumental role in the rebuilding of the Pagan Alliance and bringing together the three student leaders. Oliver described the chaplain, who preferred to be anonymous, as “a wonderful person and … extremely supportive of the club.” Her dismissal came as a surprise.

Even after the hearbreaking news, the Alliance continued on with its work in support of its mission, and that perseverance won it the award. Member Blue Anderson said:

I think that this award represents an acknowledgement of this club as not only unique, but important. We all knew that the student body knows that we’re here. We have a presence on campus. People see us around. But receiving this award seems to say not only, “We see you,” but, “We value you, too.” 

Co-founder Sasha Reed added:

In today’s predominantly Christian society, pagan groups are so frequently either blatantly discriminated against or simply brushed under the rug. By awarding Mills Pagan Alliance the Club of the Year award, to me this sends a clear message that our school both respects us and recognizes the work we’ve done. When Kristen, Rose, and I first sat together and discussed the prospect of starting a pagan club, I never thought that it would expand to be the community of strong, supportive students it has become today. Winning this award means so much to me; a recognition of my faith as a legitimate, respected practice in my school community, and a recognition of all this club has achieved. Going forward, I hope this award will allow Mills Pagan Alliance to serve a wider community within our school and the surrounding city and also help our club to receive additional funding to host more events, and also solidify this club as a permanent, prominent force on Mills campus. 

Oliver noted that the award also has a very personal meaning for two of its members. Reed and Quartz are graduating. For them, this is the proverbial “icing on the cake” of their time at Mills College and a mark of job well-done.

Kristen Oliver, Rose Quartz, Sasha Reed, Nikka Tahan. (left to right) [Courtesy K. Oliver]

Kristen Oliver, Rose Quartz, Sasha Reed, Nikka Tahan. (left to right) [Courtesy K. Oliver]

The club’s next event will be a Beltane ritual held May 1 at the college’s Botanical Gardens. The event is open to all students, faculty and staff. Then, May 9, the Alliance will be taking part in the 12th annual Berkeley Pagan Festival, during which members will be assisting with the main ritual. Next year the group hopes to host a hospitality suite at PantheaCon that caters to college-age Pagans and addresses issues specifically facing young Pagans. Oliver said:

Going forward, we are still committed to being at the forefront of keeping spiritual and religious life a permanent feature on campus for all until a permanent multi-faith chaplain is hired. But we are also interested in how we can be of service to the greater Pagan community, particularly for those of college age. We will certainly be engaging in the conversation regarding race, gender, and privilege within the Pagan community. 

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sexuality and NRMReview: Sexuality and New Religious Movements. (Part of the Palgrave Studies in New Religions and Alternative Spiritualities series) Edited by Henrik Bogdan and James R. Lewis. (Palgrave Macmillan, 252 Pages)

Few topics can stir us as quickly as sex or sexuality, particularly when it is different from what is assumed to be “right.” Perhaps this is one reason that Sexuality and New Religious Movements is such an engaging read. According to the editors, Henrik Bogdan and James R. Lewis:

Sexuality is intimately connected to questions of identity: who we are as individuals and also our role in society. Human sexuality is thus inextricably linked to cultural, political, and philosophical aspects of life, which are regulated through legal systems based on morality and ethics. Morality and ethics, even in our secularized and late-modern society, are to a large extent based on traditional religious doctrines and teachings (which of course differ in time and place), and it is thus perhaps only natural that new forms of religion often challenge the moral codes and deeply rooted views on sexuality prevalent in the dominant forms of religion and, by extension, in society at large.

Anyone familiar with the marriage equality movement understands the strong role that religion plays in the arguments against gay marriage. In fact, it is difficult to make a case against gay marriage that does not involve religious beliefs that condemn same-sex intimacy. One such slippery slope argument is often framed as a “non-religious” position for “traditional marriage,” though it still takes us back to taboos rooted in religious beliefs. When it comes to our thoughts, our customs, and our laws regarding sexuality and sexual practice, religious beliefs often takes center stage. Not that they have to, but they often do.

Bogdan and Lewis take on the topics of sex and gender in this anthology to give us a peek into beliefs and practices that are less common than the standard-issue Abrahamic ideals. Specifically, they introduce us to sex and gender within western New Religious Movements (NRMs), some of which have received more attention than others.

The editors point out that, often, NRMs are considered nothing more than cults that provide leaders the opportunity to sexually abuse members. They write:

What these critics often fail to take into account, however, is the way that sexuality is actually understood and used by the groups themselves, and to place these teachings and practices within the broader context of the history of religions. As this anthology aims to show, sexual practices that, at face value, seem bizarre or even dangerous might be understood differently when placed in their proper context.

The book continues on with the goal to provide a better understanding of NRMs and to challenge the misconceptions that exist regarding their beliefs and practices where sexuality is concerned.

The anthology presents a series of chapters that each cover one NRM, including one on contemporary Wicca written by writer and historian Chas Clifton. The Branch Davidians, Communes of Osho, and Satanists are all represented in the volume in addition to the views and teachings of Gurdjieff, Adi Da, and Raël. As with any anthology, each chapter varies in depth and breadth since they have different authors. However, the quality of writing is consistently good and, as an academic book, the information goes beyond the simple rehashing of facts, delving into conversation and analysis.

Of all the chapters, the one that I had the strongest reaction to was “Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Empowerment in Mormon Fundamentalist Communities.” After reading the entire book, I was surprised that this was the chapter that generated the most notes, considering all I learned about the fiancées of super-sensitive extraterrestrials within the International Raelian Movement, the ultimate receptivity of the Satanic female altar, and the denunciation of masturbation and same-sex coupling within the writings of Gurdjieff. No, it was the polygamy talk that caught my full attention.

Written by Jennifer Lara Fagen and Stuart A. Wright, this chapter addresses some of the criticisms that have been made against plural marriage and the often-assumed powerlessness of women within Mormon polygamous communities. The writers assert that critics see these women as victims of a patriarchal system, and that this view is “based on the contemporary devaluation of motherhood and conflation of domesticity with oppression that resulted from the deinstitutionalization of marriage and destabilization of gender roles.” They introduce the work of cultural anthropologist Janet Bennion, who argues that Mormon fundamentalist women have alternate ways to achieve power in their communities and that their solidarity is stronger because of the alienating patriarchal control.

They also offer an examination of ideas such as “subservience,” gender roles, and the feminist critique of the “cult of domesticity.” The primary argument presented is that, although these women “do not have the same access to religious or political power as their male counterparts,” it should not be assumed that  they “as a group, are without agency and without voice…”  There are many other problems associated with polygamy within these communities that were not addressed in the chapter, such as the victimization of “lower status males,” the increase in crime due to male competition, and the increase in child abuse and neglect.

The chapter that I was most interested in reading was Clifton’s “Sex Magic or Sacred Marriage: Sexuality in Contemporary Wicca.” His chapter starts with a description of a Beltane ritual then moves into a discussion of the historical roots of Wicca, an exploration of The Great Rite, then the influence of the southern Californian subculture on Paganism. It was all a very interesting read, but what stood out to me the most was the description of the Beltane ritual, where “both lesbian and gay onlookers cheered as the maypole entered the earth.” Clifton touches on the idea of LGBT individuals within Wicca, but I wish this was considered further.

Being a lesbian from the Deep South, I do not harbor any naïve beliefs about Wicca and views on same-sex coupling. Not that I have ever been told that being gay was wrong, but, at times, it has been made clear that I had no place at a Maypole or that I had no right to jump a fire because I did not have a male partner. In my experience, Wiccan metaphors easily lend themselves to heterosexism and this is something I find gets glossed over far too easily.

One of the most difficult tasks when reviewing books about religion is to separate my own religious beliefs from writing about it. There were times when, in reading this book, my jaw dropped in horror, and other times when my MacBook was in danger of becoming airborne. Some of the beliefs and practices described within the pages of this book are off-putting. That being said, editors Bogdan and Lewis set out to put into context views on sex and gender within various new religious movements. They, together with the other authors, succeed in doing just that.

As an academic publication, it is well-written and edited with plenty of footnotes to offer the reader more background material. Sexuality and New Religious Movements is part of Palgrave’s Studies in New Religious and Alternative Spiritualities series. Released in November 2014, it is available for purchase on Amazon and other online retailers.

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“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” – Herman Melville

I. Perception and Ideology

Standing on one corner of an intersection on a main drag in Eugene, Oregon, a young man with earbuds dances around while waving and twirling a “Little Caesars” sign in the shape of an arrow that’s pointing toward the restaurant. He stands out there most days from 9 to 5, and most likely makes $9.10 an hour, minimum wage in this state. One only has to stand and observe the dancing sign guy on the corner for a few minutes to notice the reaction to his presence is mostly positive. People wave from cars driving by; others honk,and some give a thumbs-up. The dancing sign man returns the energy as well as the friendly hand signals. He not only receives praise but obvious showings of empathy, especially on a hot day like this one. “You must be sweating!” one woman yells. “Be careful out there!”

On the other corner, a man also stands with a sign. He has earflaps instead of earbuds, however, and its pretty apparent that his physical condition doesn’t allow him to dance. His sign says, “Unemployed, Homeless, Anything Helps.”  And, one only has to observe him for a few minutes to notice the reaction to his presence is opposite to what the dancing sign man across the street receives. I watched drivers who refused to make eye contact; others who muttered ‘get a job’ under their breath; others who yelled ‘get a job’ quite loudly; one woman who honked at him, and a car full of frat boys who rolled down their window as though they were going to give him money only to then to roll up the window laughing and drive away quickly as the man walked towards their car. I watched for fifteen minutes or so and saw him take in one dollar and some change, which puts his hourly take-in at well under the $9.10 an hour that the dancing sign man across the street receives.

We live in a society where a person who stands on a street corner doing absolutely nothing other than waving a sign advertising for a business is not only perceived as legitimately ‘earning a living,’ but also receives empathy, praise, and positive reaction from passers-by.  And a person who stands on a nearly identical corner with a sign advertising their own personal state of misfortune is not treated kindly but treated as worthless, is yelled at to get a job, and is subjected to repeated public humiliation.

Not only is the panhandler mistreated and derided, but the very act of panhandling is considered to be so offensive that many municipalities have attempted to ban the practice outright; an attempt which often fails due to free speech protections. And in many cases, it’s the same kinds of businesses that hire folks to hold signs on the corner that are instrumental in pressuring local governments and police departments to remove those other folks with those other signs through legislative attempts or simply police harassment.

Call it tragic. Call it inhumane. Call it the sign of a crumbling civilization. Call it what you will. It’s the inevitable result of a society indoctrinated into an economic ideology which judges the literal worth of a human being by their ability to ‘produce,’ by their ability to ‘earn,’ by what they are ‘worth’ under the system of capitalism. The sign-waver for Little Caesars and the panhandler are engaged in the same physical activity, but it is the designation of one as a ‘worker’ who is earning a ‘wage’ in contrast to the other which results in empathy and praise toward one and judgment and mistreatment toward the other.

Actual worth is judged by perceived ‘worth’ under the arbitrary standards of a structure so pervasive and encompassing that few can see through its ideological fog, few question the legitimacy or humanity of such a system. And with this comes the acceptance and promotion of a flawed and arbitrary set of standards, determining how and why we assume some have ‘worth’ (or are the ‘worthy poor’), as opposed to those who are expendable, the throwaways–the ‘unworthy poor.’ Our acceptance of these standards is why we tolerate – even actively ignore – the millions of people, including women, children, and the disabled, sleeping on the streets of our towns and cities every night in America. Worse, we often blame them for their situation and believe that they are not deserving of even the most basic of dignities.

Bread line in New York City, circa 1910. [Public Domain]

Bread line in New York City, circa 1910. [Public Domain]

II. Five Hundred Years Of War

To the casual observer, it would seem that what was once a ‘war on poverty’ in America has turned into an outright war on the poor. From the criminalization of public feeding in at least 21 cities to the recent pushes from politicians to restrict food stamp use and drug-test welfare recipients, the oppression of an ever-expanding class of poor has increased, along with an increase in the poor themselves. The most recent census figures state that 45.3 million Americans currently live in poverty, up from 33.3 million in the year 2000. The American middle-class is quickly disappearing, and the current gap between rich and poor in this country is the highest on record.

While independent studies and government data both make it clear that most of the poor who are able to work are either already working or actively job-seeking, the overwhelming perception in America is that the poor are lazy; that they are ‘takers’ and that they don’t want to work, preferring to live off welfare. Such attitudes are most often stressed by conservative politicians who claim Christianity as the moral basis for their beliefs, which is often countered by liberal and/or progressive Christians who point to the words and teachings of Christ as contradictory to such a position. And while the liberal-minded Christians have a point regarding the words of Jesus, the conservatives are correct about the Christian origins of their ideological stance regarding the poor. For while this attitude generally manifests as an outgrowth of the ‘American Dream,’ (i.e. that hard work equals success), which implies that if one is not successful than they did not work hard, the attitudes concerning the poor – parroted by conservative politicians and citizens alike – are rooted in the days and ideas of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the Protestant Reformation. That is, the era in which the landless underclass was first created and identified.

History is too-often recited as specific events in isolation without their proper context. This reduction of historical upheavals makes it easy to ignore that neither the transition from feudalism to capitalism nor the Protestant Reformation happened in a vacuum. In fact, they were coterminous and codependent. Feudalism claimed its legitimacy based on the divine right of kings, with lord and peasant as a divinely decreed, unquestioned hierarchy. It wasn’t until the emergence and rise of the first ‘middle class’ of laborers and merchants in the years after the Black Death that such claims to legitimacy showed wear. The status and experiences of this emerging class during this economic upheaval, along with the creation of a class that ‘labored’ as the poor had yet enjoyed many of the luxuries of the upper-classes gave rise to a new ethic. The “Protestant work ethic” or the “Calvinist work ethic”, i.e. the belief that ‘hard work’ is not only divinely prescribed but will be divinely rewarded, perfectly matched this new class.

The peasant classes also looked to the ideas of the Reformation for their claim to freedom. The Peasants’ War in Germany, less than a decade after Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, was a direct result of the collision between the Enclosures and the Reformation. The peasant class in Germany was stripped of the right to the commons in the early 16th century, and were forbidden from freely hunting or gathering wood by the feudal lords who had taken control of the land. The loss of their economic freedom combined with the rhetoric of the Reformation ignited a series of revolts in 1524-1525, which spread throughout Germany like wildfire and were backed by many Reformation priests, although Luther himself opposed the revolts despite sympathizing with the peasants’ plight. The aristocracy met the peasants with a level of force that nowadays could only be wielded through the legitimacy of state power, and in the onslaught approximately 100,000 peasants were slaughtered to maintain the social order.

Peasants surround a knight during the Peasants' War. Illustration circa 1539. [Public Domain]

Peasants surround a knight during the Peasants’ War. Illustration circa 1539. [Public Domain]

The Protestant work ethic was essential in shaping a rapidly changing society in the midst of the Enclosures. Peasants were forced off the land into the cities and factories, which created an inevitable underclass of ‘paupers’ and ‘beggars.’ From the crisis of poverty that hit the cities came the Poor Laws, which first carved out the distinctions between the ‘impotent poor,’ the ‘able-bodied poor,’ and the ‘idle poor,’ distinctions which set the stage for the role of the State in the criminalization of poverty, a role still enacted to this day. The philosophy and implementation of the Poor Laws is the direct predecessor to both the modern welfare states in both the United States and Europe as well as to the ideological position regarding the poor that conservative politicians express.

Whether one solely focuses on medieval Europe, or expands their view in order to look at the horrors and ravages of colonialism from a global perspective, the scale of the continuous violence and oppression of those who lack economic power and/or a ‘work ethic’ is everywhere. In Western society, the welfare state and the criminalization and dehumanization of poverty are anything but mutually exclusive.

In reality, the war on the poor is nothing new, if anything it is a war that’s been continuously waged for over five hundred years.

III. Privilege, Disability, and the Exception

It took me well over a decade as an adult to recognize the extent of a significant superpower that I possess, a completely unearned and unacknowledged advantage that allows me to experience day-to-day life in a way and manner that I don’t “deserve” and I haven’t “earned.”

It’s a superpower best described as middle-class privilege.

For I am one of “those people,” one of the “dependent” poor, having lived in poverty for nearly a decade now without any real expectation that my situation might change anytime soon. But I am a poor person who was raised middle-class, poor due to what one would categorize as ‘circumstance’ as opposed to birth, and despite my poverty I retain all the advantages that a middle-class upbringing entails. This middle-class façade grants me an indescribable amount of entrances, exceptions, clearances, and privileges that those who appear as poor do not have. My everyday life experiences and ability to survive are hinged upon and rooted in the fact that the gatekeepers to the worlds I inhabit instinctively assume that I am one of them. I “pass” as middle-class and, therefore, I am largely exempt from most of the harsh words, cruel judgments, and discriminatory treatment that the average poor person faces; treatment that’s even worse if one is deemed ‘unworthy’ poor.

My appearance, my mannerisms, my speech, my cultural references and sense of humor act as signifiers, broadcasting a subconscious suggestion to those in my presence that I am other than poor. I appear to be a person of means, one who earns a wage, one who creates value through production, one who has worth within the context of the capitalist system. Yet, none of those things are true. I pass without effort based solely on factors that I had no part in and did not ‘choose’ or ‘earn’.

Class privilege is a matter of culture as much as a matter of economics, and it’s a misleading oversimplification to define class differences by wealth and wealth alone. Our society is deeply coded along class lines, lines that have existed for hundreds of years between rich and poor, lines which have become blurry due to the advent of the modern ‘middle-class’ and yet reveal themselves much more fixed in the face of a change of fortune. Similarly to white privilege, class privilege is hard to see while one is protected within its embrace; just as fish can’t see water, one often cannot see the boundaries of the bubble in which they live until they are unexpectedly yanked outside of it.

I grew up in a low-crime, affluent suburb, was raised by educated parents, went to top-rated public schools, always had access to quality medical and dental care, and was shielded from nearly all of the brute realities of poverty. It was always assumed that I would go to college and end up living a similar middle-class suburban life as that in which I was raised.

I rebelled against that expectation – I ran off to live in the city in my late teens, forgoing the idea of college with the idea that I could ‘make it’ on my own. I learned quickly what it meant to work for a living, that ‘making it’ meant forever selling one’s time in exchange for money, and that time/money equation varied greatly depending on the task. Selling my time to a retail store earned me $7 an hour. Dogwalking earned me $10. Cleaning houses; $12. Waiting tables; $15. Art modeling; $25. Bartending. I could pull in around $30 an hour on a decent night.

I knew from the very beginning that the game was rigged, and I learned pretty quickly the myth that ‘hard work equals success’ was greatly dependent on what kind of ‘work’ one could find. But it took me a bit longer to see my own advantages in the game; to figure out that I was able to score many jobs that others could not simply by virtue of my being white, able-bodied, and middle-class. Over time, it became more apparent to me that what I was “worth” was not being measured by what I actually knew or could accomplish, but by arbitrary standards that had more to do with perception and class signifiers than anything else. I also knew that I worked much harder cleaning houses for $12 an hour than I did sitting still in a room full of art students for $25, and that most of the women whom I cleaned houses with would never be considered for the art modeling gig.

I worked a varied assortment of those jobs throughout my late teens and early twenties, while painting on the side and making plans to attend college. Then, fate intervened without warning – an accidental event that left me with permanent physical and neurocognitive injuries. Practically overnight, I went from identifying as a self-sufficient ‘worker’ whose time had always been worth money on the open market to having to learn to navigate life as a person with various ‘invisible disabilities’ which largely precluded me from holding down even the most basic of jobs. As a person who had neither health insurance nor a safety net of any kind, I had to quickly accept that I was being relegated to a life of poverty from that point forward.

With that realization came a sudden torrent of denial, shame, and feelings of worthlessness. It also gave me a newly critical eye toward an economic system that arbitrarily determines the worth and value of a human being by their ability to earn money and/or create surplus value. Not until I found myself removed from the worker pool did I understand that disability in our society is defined by how much one can produce, by one’s worth as a worker under the capitalist system.

(This, by the way, is why any disability claim hinges on being able to ‘prove’ one’s worthlessness in terms of one’s ability to earn an income. It is also why those who cannot meet that burden of proof yet cannot earn an income to support themselves are simply left to suffer, discarded from our society, ‘othered’ as the ‘unworthy poor,’ and left on street corners holding signs.)

The loss of self-sufficiency, the loss of economic freedom that I suddenly faced, combined with the physical and cognitive challenges I had not yet accepted or learned to handle, sent me into a downward spiral that took several years to emerge from. It took a cross-country move, a fresh start from scratch, and an eventual confrontation with my own unseen privilege before I was able to come to terms with my feelings of worthlessness and recognize that I was actually in a limited position of power.

*   *   *

The aforementioned confrontation took place on a beautiful spring morning in downtown Eugene, Oregon, a day in which I was riding my bike from my house to the library as I had done nearly every day. I was riding on the sidewalk, as I always did. As I approached an intersection, I noticed that the officer who usually waved at me on my bike every morning was writing a ticket to a homeless-looking man also on a bicycle. I stopped and observed the interaction from a few feet away, and when it was obvious that the officer was finished I asked him what had happened.

He was riding his bike on the sidewalk,” the officer told me. “This is at least the third time I caught him doing that.”

“But I ride on that sidewalk every day,” I replied. “And you’ve seen me many more than three times.”

He looked me up and down, and paused before carefully replying. “I suppose that’s true, but you aren’t causing any problems. You’re just on your way to work. He’s just a bum who hangs out downtown all day.”

I repeated his words in my head, a knot forming in my stomach as I took in what he had said. You’re just on your way to work. He’s just a bum who hangs out downtown all day. Looking at myself up and down as the officer had just done, I realized I looked exactly like the type of person who was off to work, unlike the man on his bike. Thoughts raced through my head. He thinks I have a job. He thinks I’m one of them. He doesn’t realize that I hang out downtown all day as well. He thinks I have money, he thinks I ‘pay my way’. He thinks that I have ‘worth’ and the man he just ticketed does not. I get a ‘pass’ and he does not. He looks poor and I do not.

I stared at the officer, eventually nodding, trying as hard as I could not to show my anger and disgust at what I had just witnessed. It had been years since I’d ever considered myself to be middle-class, but I realized then and there that I still had middle-class privilege and that such privilege was a potential source of power. I learned at that moment what it truly meant to not look poor, and realized the only way I could reconcile the feelings of nausea and rage was to shine light on what I had just experienced. I would have to expose those biases, both for their inhumanity as well as their arbitrary nature. I suddenly realized my privilege was a shield, and my perceived lack of ‘worth’ under capitalism quickly faded once I discovered an entirely different kind of ‘worth’ and ‘value’: I would use my time to point out and fight the biases that both myself and the man on the bike just experienced.

I spent the next three years viewing the downtown as my ‘workplace,’ positioning myself as the proverbial thorn-in-the-side of local government – specifically the police department’s pattern of biased policing against the visibly poor and homeless. I didn’t do so out of guilt or charity, but rather out of obligation and empathy. I did so as someone who struggled as a member of the ‘other’ while regularly passing as one of the worthy ones. I was determined to use that assumption against those in power who arbitrated and enforced those standards.

Throughout that time I was regarded as an equal by middle and upper-class folks alike; few suspected or could even conceive that I was anything other than how I appeared. Nobody ever asked me if I went to college, they asked me where I went to college. Very few asked or even wondered why I was able to devote myself full-time to obviously unpaid volunteer work. It was simply assumed that I had money, and it was evident that it did not matter where that money came from, nor whether I had ‘earned’ it or not. I fit the image so well, in fact, that I often was party to discussions and debates in which “those people” were brought up, where the ‘unworthy poor’ were demonized and dehumanized to my face. Supposedly well-meaning businessmen would take me aside in confidence, first to thank me for my work but then to talk to me privately about ‘those people.’

I can remember several times where, in a moment of bravery, I interrupted the conversation to inform them that I was one of the very people they were talking about. Each time, the conversation went like this:

“Oh, please don’t take that personally. I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about real poor people, the ones that you look at and you just know they can get a job, but they choose not to work and they just want to live off the system.”

“The ones you look at and just know can get a job?” I countered. “You mean the ones who look like me?”

“Again, I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about those other people.”

They were so eager and insistent on distinguishing me as the exception to further elaborate their stereotype that they completely missed the point that I had attempted to make each time: “those other people” inscribed in their minds were manipulated abstractions, and despite being well-spoken and well-dressed I was not the exception at all.

*   *   *

It’s liberating and also an obligation to throw of my facade to illustrate this point. I am a poor, disabled, uneducated member of the American underclass, who was able to build a reputation for initiating a public discourse around the myths and realities of being poor and homeless in America. It was and is a reputation that relied on my audience believing they were listening to a middle-class, able-bodied, college-educated person. Very few ever figured out who they were actually interacting with: a member of that same ‘undeserving,’ ‘lazy,’ ‘entitled’ underclass that they demonized on a daily basis, a member of that underclass speaking from personal experience. Though I’m not trying to downplay my ability to speak truth to power, nor my skills in the public arena, I can say with confidence that I’d never have been able to do so based only on my own merits.

Alley Valkyrie speaking at the Eugene City Club, October 2013

I am no more “deserving” than the man on the street corner begging with a sign. I have done no more to “earn” the respect I am given nor the power that I wield than any of the folks who spend their days at the library and their nights sleeping on the riverbank. Yet, not only is it immediately assumed I’m a person deserving of respect and an audience, even when I fully disclose my situation I am distinguished as the exception. I am arbitrarily deemed ‘worthy’ rather than a throwaway, based only on aesthetic and cultural factors. Meanwhile those who cannot pass are thrown under the bus by the same people who have invited me to the table.

IV. The Tower and The Mirror

“Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” – Aristotle

Whether the American Dream is clinically dead or still technically gasping for air may be up for debate, but the belief that ‘anyone can make it’ and that ‘hard work equals success’ has a very tenuous grip as of late. The inability of much of the middle-class to recover from the last recession may be the final nail in the coffin of the belief that anyone can make it in America if they simply work hard enough.

If anything, it can be argued that the rise of the middle-class in medieval Europe shattered the façade of the ‘divine right of kings,’ similar to how the crumbling of the middle-class in America has shattered the façade of the American Dream. The ‘work ethic’ that serves as a bridge between these two moments in time still stands firm, the ideological ghosts of John Calvin and Martin Luther still hovering close, just as they have haunted Western society for half a millenia. Even as the masses become more aware that the game is rigged, those deeply ingrained attitudes around work, worth, and poverty are clung to more strongly than ever by politician and citizen alike.

The poor in America are invisible for many reasons. They are hidden away, shamed into submission, their existence is minimized, simply not talked about, and outright denied by so many. But they are also invisible to you because they are hiding amongst you, especially those who have experienced downward social mobility within their lifetimes, having found the ability through class-based signifiers to shapeshift between the world in which they were raised and the world in which they are forced to inhabit.

The poor as “other”, as stereotype, as abstraction, these are the methods and tools that the ruling class uses to manipulate us into erecting physical and psychological barriers between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ So much time and effort goes into demonizing an abstract stereotype, that most fail to recognize that many who are poor and struggle with little hope are not reflecting that stereotype but a striking similarity to themselves, their poverty hidden within the familiarity of that reflection.

And as the poor are invisible, their anger is invisible to most as well. But their anger and desperation is growing and nearing a breaking point. The welfare system, which has always acted in tandem with the criminalization and dehumanization of the poor, was never intended to truly ‘help’ the poor or pull them out of poverty. It is and has always been a stopgap measure, designed to prevent revolts like the Peasant Wars that spread throughout Germany in 1524. And now, with ever-rising socioeconomic inequality–combined with assaults on welfare benefits for the poor – it is only a matter of time before the oppressed classes once again are pushed to revolt.

The ultra-wealthy know this full well, and have already started planning their escape routes, and yet the upper-middle, middle, and working-classes are still blinded by the fog, the same ideological fog that has convinced them that they poor are lazy and worthless and that hard work leads to success.

It is only in seeing through that fog that one can catch a glimpse of the Tower that looms.

My own experiences thankfully lifted that fog for me long ago, and I survive on the periphery, ever vulnerable and yet blessed with clarity, haunted by the constant reminder that behind my façade I have very little to stand on. Regardless of what I may signify to the world, regardless of what people may assume based on my clothes or my mannerisms, that edge always looms, and no matter how much I may distract or deceive myself, I am at risk of slipping over at any moment. Which is why every single time I walk past someone on the street who has obviously been pegged as a throwaway by society, I remember that they are a mirror, reflecting my own possibilities and potentials. But for privilege, but for luck, but for perception, but for the grace of the Gods goes I.

Not a moment goes by where I am not sharply aware that I am only one life event away from having to stand on that street corner myself, and despite the assumptions that others may harbor regarding my abilities and worth, the harsh reality is that I would not be dancing with a sign for money on behalf of a corporation, I would be begging with one for my very survival.

And if you ever saw me out there, Gods forbid? You would not be staring at a familiar stereotype, you would be staring at a reflection of yourself, for none of us are exempt from the potential fate of the throwaway. No matter your level of privilege, no matter the strength of your denial or the firmness of your bubble, it only takes a single life event, a single moment in time, to suddenly find yourself on the other side.

A beggar's display in Santa Barbara, CA. Photo by Dori.

A beggar’s display in Santa Barbara, CA. [Photo by Dori]

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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JESOLO, ITALY — On April 15, a Pagan outdoor temple in Italy once again became the target of vandals. However, this time the act was caught on camera. As a result, five men were arrested when temple owners turned over the footage to police. It showed these men using temple chairs to smash a statue of Nike of Samothrace.

Screen capture from the video of the tape provided to police. [photo credit, Venice Today]

Screen capture from the video of the tape provided to police. [Photo Credit: Venice Today]

The Federazione Pagana, a Pagan polytheist group affiliated with the temple, noted that this was not the first time the outdoor temple had been vandalized. The group believes that the attacks may be motivated by ingrained religious bigotry. In a Venice Today article, one member was quoted as saying, “Is there any difference in the motivation of the person who did this from the motivation of [ISIL] to destroy Assyrian antiquities? If you ask [initiated] Pagans, there is terrorism evident from the hatred shown by the vandals. But I am convinced that if these are just random hoodlums, the actions are the result of Catholic education. What sense does it make to break Nike’s wing? Or what sense is there in taking out your rage on a public statue.” (April 17, 2015)

The land the temple sits on is privately owned by a member of the Federazione Pagana, which is headed by Claudio Simeoni. The Federazione Pagana is part of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER).

In a press release dated April 19, ECER member organization the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes (YSEE) made “an appeal to the entire civilized world asking for the condemnation of the desecration of the open air sanctuary of the Italian Pagan Federation (Federazione Pagana) in the town of Jesolo near Venice, by five Christian fundamentalists on Wednesday April 15.”  The release continues on, saying:

The fact that the perpetrators were arrested, because the owners of the sanctuary managed to capture the attack on a video camera, should not placate us or lead us to believe that such an attack could not happen again anywhere in Europe, when people are still being indoctrinated by faiths that instill in them hatred for everything different.

According to the Unione Comunità Neopagane (UCN), the Federazione Pagana and its leader Claudio Simeoni are considered somewhat controversial. In a statement to The Wild Hunt, UCN Public Information Officer said, “I want to underline that, as Unione Comunità Neopagane, we strongly are against every form of violence (wherever it arrives or in every kind of form). But we have to underline that we have nothing to do with him and his group … We sadly note Claudio Simeoni and Federazione Pagana are, in their online pages, promoters of religious intolerance. Even if we understand the animosity against some religious groups, we are not Pagan because we are against someone or somewhat, but because we share common principles of freedom and inclusion.“ The UNC said that it is not yet clear if the vandalism was due to religious bigotry or retaliation for the comments Simeoni made against other religions and against homosexuality.

The UCN spokesman went on to say that generally Pagans don’t face legal problems in Italy. However, the group also said that the Catholic church still has a very strong influence in the country, and that the UCN was originally created to give protection to groups and associations. “We are nothing alone, but we are strong all together. And we live in a country where you must be strong, united and organized if you want to obtain something like civil rights.” UCN also has a Pagan temple, based in Milan, that is very accessible, and the UCN spokeman said that that they too have experienced vandalism or violence directed toward that space.

At this time, there is no mention of the motive for the recent vandalism. The five suspected vandals have been questioned and released, pending charges for trial.

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In 2014, an estimated 300,000 people marched through the streets of New York City and another 40,000 in London in the biggest protest to draw attention to global climate change. The protesters came from all walks of life to stand together to raise awareness and demand action. The landmark event demonstrated, if nothing else, the universality of the concern and the growing acceptance that climate change must be addressed now.

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

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

However, for the average person, affecting real change can become overwhelming and discouraging. Where do I begin? What can I do?  Will recycling a newspaper or using cloth grocery bags actually help? In a past Wild Hunt article on fracking, activist Courtney Weber, co-founder of Pagan Environmental Coalition – New York City, said, “I can’t fight for bees, deforestation and the black rhino. Philosophically I can. But practically I can’t.” She recommended that people, ‘Pick what’s local. Pick what makes you mad.”

Unfortunately, even at a local level, there seems to be an overwhelming number of causes that can make “you mad” from polluted waters and the KXL pipeline to deforestation of rainforests, such as in Tasmania, and the near extinction of species, such as the Black Rhino. Where does a single person begin to affect real change? Not everyone can be a full-time activist.

In recent article for AEON magazine, writer Stewart Brand makes an interesting observation, which may help to answer this question. Brand claims that “the idea that we are edging up to a mass extinction is not just wrong – it’s a recipe for panic and paralysis.” He argues that many people focus on a single extinction or threat, and fail to see the bigger picture. He wrote:

No end of specific wildlife problems remain to be solved, but describing them too often as extinction crises has led to a general panic that nature is extremely fragile or already hopelessly broken. That is not remotely the case. Nature as a whole is exactly as robust as it ever was – maybe more so, with humans around to head off ice ages and killer asteroids. Working with that robustness is how conservation’s goals get reached.

Brand’s concept can be applied well-beyond species protection, in that he compares environmental conservation to human medical care. While one scratch or bruise must be treated properly, these smaller ills are either isolated issues, or indicative of a far larger health problem. Like human wellness, conservation work should focus its resources on identifying and solving the larger problem, and on the general, sustainable health of the entire system – in this case, the ecosystem.

In other words, Brand argues that conversation science and environmental activism should look to repairing and balancing our world’s ecosystems, rather than only focusing on small fixes. And, according to the article, this thinking seems to be trending. He wrote, “As the new science of conservation biology came into its own in the 1980s and ’90s, focus shifted away from concern about the fate of individual species and toward the general health of whole ecosystems.”

With this shift to holistic Earth health, humanity’s role as protector changes. Within that perspective, we become a functioning part of the system, from the micro to the macro. As such, it becomes easier to locate a working role in conservation efforts, both from a practical and religious perspective. John Halstead, editor of Humanistic Paganism.com, said:

Part of my morning devotional is to take a moment on my way to my car to squat down and touch the earth.  I reach my fingers through the grass or leaves or snow until I feel the dirt under my fingers, and then I recite a paraphrase of a poem by Mary Oliver: ‘The god of dirt came up to me and said ‘now’ and ‘now’ and ‘now’, and never once mentioned forever.’  This helps make my Paganism feel real. The feeling of wet or cold or just the “dirt-ness” reminds me not to romanticize nature.  It reminds me that my deity is not the Goddess of the Earth, but the Goddess that is the Earth, the Earth that this very real dirt is a part of.  And it reminds me that that my Paganism needs to mean something for the health of the very dirt under my fingers and everything it is connected to. 

Similarly, Pagan artist Lupa said, “My path is Earth Stewardship. Not in the sense of chaining myself to giant redwoods or yelling at people online because their environmental choices are not my environmental choices. Mine is a quieter revolution based on trying to model better behaviors, ones that I’ve come to through many hours of considering the choices before me. I try to live as though everything is sacred, because to me everything is nature and nature is what I consider sacred.”

Blue Ridge Mountains

[Photo Credit: JSmith / Flickr]

In an opinion piece for The Guardian, George Marshall wrote, “Our understanding of climate change is built on scientific evidence, not faith. The faith displayed in the churches, mosques, and temples on every street is built on a deep understanding of human drives and emotions. Only when we put these different parts of our psyche together can we achieve change; to say to anyone who will listen: “I’ve heard the science, I’ve weighed up the evidence. Now I’m convinced. Join me.”

When referencing “faith,” Marshall is speaking of monotheistic religious practices. He does not address Paganism, Polytheism or Heathenry, many of which already exist at his coveted intersection. As demonstrated by Lupa and Halstead, many of these traditions function with a crossover between the understanding of human spirituality (drive and emotions) and the literal and scientific understanding of place (nature). Editor of Polytheist.com Anomalous Thracian wrote:

“Place” is a concept that gets talked about a lot in Polytheist religion, especially in discussions about regional cultus. In my practice, discussions of “place” are not abstract, but direct and literal, referring to both the specific spirits and deities of that specific place, as well as the physical expressions of that place. Groves of trees, formations of stone and earth, flowing currents of water, are not mere aesthetic assemblage to assist in the desperate grabbing and reaching after mental balance or sense of inner meaninglessness, but instead are — in their vibrantly material presence — the cornerstones of it all, where belief and practice converge.

The personhood-of-place, and its hierarchical placement in literal consideration, realized relational configurations and intentional interaction within the dynamics of hospitality and recognized role, are how it all starts. The places within the natural elemental world are the places where the gods reach through first to touch our lives in raw and visceral fashion, and it is these selfsame places that must be guarded not as holiest of relics but as holiest of relations. The actively and directly engaged protecting of this world, as a collective whole and in its individual places, is paramount to the authentic and embodied expression of any Polytheist endeavor and identity, for without the humility to know one’s place in the natural world one can never hope to hold true piety at the feet of the blessed gods.

Similarly Rev. Selena Fox, who worked closely with Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, on the very first celebrations, sees no distinction between her religious and environmental work. She said, “Environmental conservation and green living are essential parts of my life and work as a Nature religion priestess. In addition to tending shrines and ceremonial areas at Pagan sacred land, Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, I am part of ecological restoration, research and conservation endeavors there. Our national Pagan cemetery, Circle Cemetery, is one of the first Green cemeteries in the USA —  …  Ecological activism is sacred work.”

Although Thracian and Fox practice very different religions, their personal sense of place within the greater natural system, and the health of that system are paramount to both of their beliefs and their daily work. One cannot exist without the other.

Lou Florez, rootworker and witch, also agreed, saying, “I collect trash from rivers and ocean beaches, specifically from the areas where I give offerings and do rituals. I’m also cultivating a small medicine garden to engage a more sustainable relationship. When we talk about Earth-based traditions we are talking about being in connection, investing ourselves in the health and well-being of the land that sustains us.”

The sense of place within the ecosystem, in some form, appears to exist within the religious and spiritual practices of many Pagan, Heathen and Polythiest communities, whether or not the practice itself is considered Earth-based from an environmental perspective. This correlates to Brand’s notion of affecting change through holistic Earth health. As such, Pagans, Polytheists, Heathens may be helping to bridge that perceived gap between religion and environmentalism, as noted by Marshall.

Within the interfaith movement, that already seems to be the case. As mentioned in an earlier Wild Hunt article, Covenant of the Goddess’ Interfaith Representative Don Frew “relayed a story on how the 1990s global focus on the environment led to a greater interest or support for Nature-centered religions within the international interfaith world. Unfortunately, interest waned after 9/11.” Frew added that this is once again shifting.

Co-writer of CoG’s Environmental Statement and Interfaith Representative Aline (Macha) O’Brien said, “My way of expressing devotion, to Earth, to Mother Nature, to different deities, is to chant or sing.” O’Brien relayed a story in which she led a spiral dance at an interfaith wedding using “The Pleiades Chant.”* She said, “Shortly after the wedding, at MIC’s annual interfaith prayer breakfast, my friend Sister Marion of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael came up to me and asked, ‘Now, how did that chant go?’ She said it had been running through her head and she’d really loved it and wanted a refresher on the wording. ”

Much of the work described, such as chanting, rituals and devotionals, are indicators of a spiritual connectivity between religion and place, from within the global ecosystem, rather than independent from it. While those actions alone will not heal the environment or balance the system, they do demonstrate a profound shift in thought. Courtney Weber said:

Turning this tide is tough work. Whether it’s denial, greed, or being overwhelmed by the problem’s size, somehow, the mere truth that we need to change our ways in order to preserve our species is not enough incentive to get enough people on board. Religion can hurt the environmental movement—particularly religions, which believe that a better life in a different world awaits humanity, or a desperately optimistic belief that “everything will work out as God/ess intended.” But religion can benefit the movement by instilling a moral imperative into its practitioners that preserving and improving our environment is a mark of grace and therefore, something that cannot wait.

Brand is optimistic saying, “The trends are favourable. Conservation efforts often appear in the media like a series of defeats and retreats, but as soon as you look up from the crisis-of-the-month, you realise that, in aggregate, conservation is winning.” The diversity and size of the attendance at the climate march is also sign of that favorable trend, as is the support for the “Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” Awareness is a beginning.

Earth

Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

Lupa agreed, saying “I want to invite others to retake their place amid the rest of nature, not as conquerors or guilt-ridden relatives or throwbacks to some dark age, but as members of a community. We’ve had plenty of doom and gloom about what will happen if we continue what we’re doing; I want to show people the benefits and joys of living closer to the land, whether that’s on a remote farm or (like me) in an urban apartment.”

Going back to the original question, “How can I help?” The big picture of environmental health can begin in very small ways, with the tiny ecosystems in our backyards, farms, empty city lots, terrace gardens or even public parks. If all these areas were regularly maintained as balanced, healthy ecosystems, they would, over time, eventually meet up, covering the world-over and, thereby, creating one big healthy, sustainable Earth.

 

* Author’s Note: “The Pleiades Chant” (via Aline ‘Macha’ O’Brien) “There’s a part of the Sun in an apple; There’s the part of the Moon in a rose; A part of the flaming Pleiades; In every leaf that grows.”

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SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND –The year was 1971 and, despite the death of Gerald Gardner some years before, Wicca was continuing to gain adherents. The high priest and priestess of the Sheffield coven of witches, Arnold and Patricia Crowther, who had been initiated by Gardner in 1960, were emerging as strong voices of the movement. Their voices were markedly amplified when they produced A Spell of Witchcraft, a show on BBC Radio Sheffield, explaining to listeners through a half-dozen twenty-minute segments what modern witchcraft was really like.

patricia crowther

Patricia Crowther [Courtesy Photo]

Those programs have recently been made available online by the Centre for Pagan Studies (CPS). Patricia Crowther provided the original cassette recordings, which were digitized and, with approval of the BBC, upload for public consumption.

Arnold passed on in 1974, and Patricia was on holiday and unavailable to be interviewed directly. However The Wild Hunt spoke to CPS director Ashley Mortimer about the significance of these early radio programs. Mortimer was also able to reach Ms Crowther and relay some of her own recollections. Mortimer said:

These programmes are certainly informative, unquestionably, but the deeper historical interest to me seems to be that they show the attitude that Craft members like Patricia and Arnold thought they should adopt in explaining the Craft to a wider world. This has cultural context to the time. I gather they caused a reasonable stir in 1970s Sheffield, a northern industrial town in Britain, and perhaps deliberately so . . . but also carefully thought out to not court controversy while equally not ignoring the fact that it may be viewed as such.

The idea that these segments were produced to carefully “toe a line” does not fit with Crowther’s own recollections, as reported by Mortimer. “She didn’t think much of the question about pagans justifying themselves(!),” he explained, rather, “she said things like her talks and the radio programme were just meant to be interesting and informative. There was no real agenda to promote anything; the Goddess was already rising into people’s consciousness anyway.”

Nevertheless, Mortimer’s observation that these recordings “give a glimpse into the way early pioneers of publicly ‘defend’ paganism and the Craft” isn’t necessarily off-base. The fact that the programs do appear to be a justification today suggests they could have been interpreted as a defense just as easily at the time they were first broadcast.

To better understand what being a public member of the Craft was like in that time and place, we asked Mortimer this question: “Do you think Pagans today feel less of a need to justify themselves, as was done in these shows?”

I think these shows were less of an attempt to justify pagans and paganism than a genuine attempt to simply show that pagans deserved to be treated with equal respect to other faith groups — times WERE different in 1960s and 1970s Britian, that’s for sure. I think today it depends on the cultural context, in some places it’s quite ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’ to be pagan though some people have a tendency to rather flaunt it, whereas in others there is still genuine fear from the prejudice that sadly still rears its ugly head — like the case in Iowa when the local Christian faction decided to show their magnanimity and generosity of spirit and understanding for people of other faiths to their own.

The Crowthers themselves were no strangers to such controversy but, according to what Patricia relayed in a phone conversation with Mortimer, it wasn’t her work on the air that stirred the proverbial cauldron. Mortimer explained, “She said that there was little controversy over the programmes, it was the talks and lectures that attracted some adversity, including the time that a church group prayed for her talk to be cancelled … they didn’t object to a talk on witchcraft but they did object to a witch giving it!!! She also said that she did a lot of talks around that time, she enjoyed the universities because she found the students particularly open to new and different ideas and she also liked the private clubs and the Masonic events she was invited to speak at.”

In the years since A Spell of Witchcraft first aired, many religious practices identifying as Pagan have emerged, and even the word “Wicca” has become broader in how it’s used. But the shifting of labels has in no way diluted the clarity with which Patricia Crowther herself sees her own religious practice. According to Mortimer, Crowther “wanted to stress that paganism and the Craft are not precisely the same thing, and that there are lots of people working in pagan circles who are identifying with the Goddess and paganism, they are certainly pagan but not Craft.”

While these radio programs were intended to convey information about the Craft specifically, the content is expansive and may be informative to other, more eclectic Wiccans and any Pagan whose tradition has been influenced by such early work.

witches for hanging

CPS’ will continue to focus on building a history around the roots of the Craft movement. While there were only a half dozen segments in A Spell of Witchcraft, Crowther told Mortimer that, “she was quite a regular on BBC Radio Sheffield, she was interviewed hundreds of times about Witchcraft, astrology, folklore and all sorts of things.” Mortimer intends on trying to source more of those broadcasts and obtain permission to digitize and publish them online as well.

Longer-term projects include plans to open a museum of magic, witchcraft and folklore, once public funding for the project is obtained, and to continue research into Valiente’s and Gardner’s writings. This may result in published research, but possibly also a conference focused on the various incarnations of the books of shadows used in both their work.

In addition to all of those pursuits, the Centre for Pagan Studies will be republishing Crowther’s novel Witches Were for Hanging on May 1. Also in the works is a brand new biography of Doreen Valiente written by Philip Heselton. Mortimer, who is also a trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, said ” I can promise your readers [that the book] will make some rather startling revelations about Doreen and her life that Philip has uncovered; amazing, actually (but I won’t spoil the surprise for everyone until the book is published!).”

/p>

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[Photo Credit: S. Del Kjer]

[Photo Credit: S. Del Kjer]

On Sunday, April 12, nearly 100 people gathered together to honor the life of Yuvette Henderson, a 38-year old woman who was killed in Oakland in February. The vigil and march, organized by the Anti Police-Terror Project, is one of the many recent Bay Area social justice actions that have been supported by local area Pagans.

In this case, there were at least nine Pagans in attendance. T. Thorn Coyle was one of them and said, “[We] gathered on the corner where Yuvette was killed by Emeryville PD, in Oakland. We then caravaned to deliver letters to Home Depot and the Oakland Police department (who are overseeing the investigation) asking for security tapes.”

While the vigil and march were peaceful, several businesses did close down along the route, including the Home Deport where Yuvette was killed. Overall, the event was called a success. Various marchers noted the friendly car caravan, and bicycle escort, and the moving speeches by the Yuvette’s family members. Coyle, herself, thanked those Pagans who came out with her, saying that she enjoyed “interacting” with all of her fellow marchers.

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James L. Bianchi

James L. Bianchi

On Saturday, April 18, Murias O’Ceallagh, presider of the House of Danu, held a healing energy prayer and rite for organization founder James Bianchi. Last week, Bianchi was reportedly infected with mrsa and put on life support at John-Muir Medical. Doctors are fearful that the infection is attacking his heart.

Bianchi is one of the leaders of the House of Danu. He is also a lawyer, faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary, a filmmaker and skilled drummer. On the Facebook event page, O’Ceallagh wrote, “James has done incredible work and been of incredible service to all in the community throughout the years. Let all of us whom have benefited now be of service to him. Peace & Health to James Heart.”

There was an outpouring of support over the weekend from Pagans around the world. People posted photos of altars with burning candles, and reported drumming activities and other prayer offerings. It was also reported that Bianchi’s condition is improving, if only slowly, and that the continued offering of energy healing is very welcome by his family.

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kindred irminsulIn January, we reported that the Heathen community was growing in Costa Rica. Within that story, we also noted that both Pagans and Heathens had been interviewed on a Costa Rican television program about their religious practices. “On Dec. 4, Costa Rican channel Canal Nueve interviewed the group on its national show Universos Desconocidos.”

Esteban Sevilla Quiros, goði for Kindred Irminsul, recently informed us that the groups were invited back. He said, “We will talk about the beliefs of the vikings, their gods, rituals, sacrifices, and the life after death.” Doing this work is part of his organization’s mission to inform and educate the general Costa Rican population about Heathenry. The show, Universos Desconocidos, can be watched live on Canal 9 via the internet. It will air April 23 at 9pm Mountain Time.

In Other News:

  • Tzipora Katz, former wife of Kenny Klein, launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise legal defense funds. Katz explained that she is now being sued for breaking a 1998 court gag order by speaking publicly about her relationship with Kenny Klein. She added, “I was at a crossroad and had to make a choice.” The fundraising campaign will pay for her defense in this lawsuit and, if there is money left over, she will donate it to A Woman’s Place.
  • The “Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” is in its last days of editing and public comment. It will be posted in its final form on ecopagan.com for signatures on Wed. April 22, Earth Day. In a press release, organizers said, “Beyond technical and political solutions, the Statement calls for a “change in spirit” that fosters ‘a new relationship between humanity and other species and Earth as a whole.‘ “
  • The HAXAN Film Festival is accepting submissions for its second annual event in August. The festival’s mission is support “local filmmakers exploring psychic and mystic connections to our surroundings, ancestors, and selves.” Organizers explain,” We are interested in the Bay Area’s rich history of psychics, savants, mysticism, and occult practices dating back to the psychedelic 1960s and well beyond. We present the weird of New Age pop culture alongside the sacred and mythological, as both serve as an interesting avenue into this city’s colorful history and distinct culture.” Submissions are due by May 15.

haxan

  • The conversations on leadership and accountability continue at Polytheist.com. On April 8, River Devora posted a contemplative article titled, “The Art of Being Led.” She wrote, “As communities grow, leaders step up to help shape, guide, inspire, organize, and support these growing communities and the individuals within them. As leaders arise to guide new and expanding communities, it is important that we who are being led maintain active engagement with the shaping and maintenance of leadership structures.”
  • Festival season is arriving for many Pagans and Heathens across the United States. In Pennsylvania, Grove of Gaia Fest organizers are counting the days to their May 2 day-long celebration. Tennessee’s Pagan Unity Fest (PUF) is held two weeks later May 14-17 and features local band Tuatha Dea. The following week, EarthSpirit Community will be holding its Rites of Spring festival May 20-25 in Western Massachusetts. Those are just three of the many festivals that will be kicking-off the spring and summer season.

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

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Witches and millennials are two of the media’s favorite scapegoats.

When you read an article or blog post written by anyone, there is always an agenda. Everyone has an agenda. I have an agenda. I am both a millennial and a Pagan. As such I probably skimmed over the more favorable pieces to find those with inflammatory headlines and those that were sure to prove my point today. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to go past the first page of Google news results to do so.

[public domain]

[public domain]

My undergraduate thesis was about how the media skews the public perception of Wicca through subtle means. The Wild Hunt reported on last fall’s coverage of witches in Time magazine. That is simply one example of many that witches are othered, shoved into a box and kept separate. This is symptomatic of how the media generally covers many marginalized groups.

Millennials face a similar bias in general life and in the media. Often cast as “lazy” or “self-absorbed” by older generations. Educator Dr. Margo Wolfe wrote, “There is a fear that teens and young people are generally up to no good and that they are all disconnected, just waiting for the next narcissistic opportunity to wreak havoc on unsuspecting adults.”  The media does nothing to challenge this perspective and often continues this narrative either through subtle framing or through blatant clickbait.

Coverage of millennials is often nothing short of horrific. In February, Bloomberg published an article titled “ Most Millennials Can’t Do a Single Nice Thing for Someone Else.” The headline is what’s become known as “clickbait”  or something that is designed to make you click through even if it’s out of anger or annoyance. Then, after clicking through, you quickly discover that the headline and the data presented don’t match up.

In this article, it becomes readily apparent that the study is measuring volunteerism and not acts of kindness. “Volunteers are defined as persons who did unpaid work (except for expenses) through or for an organization,” explains the article. That’s not a high standard, but certainly a very different standard than set forth by the headline.

As noted, there is a severe dip in volunteerism for the 20-24 age range. That’s the age that a lot of people are in college and often times also working to support themselves. Between classes, a part time job, and homework, I didn’t have time to volunteer. Most of my working time was for an unpaid internship. But that short article doesn’t stop to question that. It simply makes a radical statement and then presents some iffy data to back that up. It goes on to call 16-19 year olds “sulky adolescents” and proclaims later that young people are “too selfish – or preoccupied – to volunteer.”

But what about the intersection of Witches and millennials in the media? How is that treated?

In January, pop culture icon 23-year-old Azealia Banks tweeted that she’s a witch, which prompted The Guardian to offer its two cents in a piece entitled “Season of the witch: why young women are flocking to the ancient craft.”

After quoting the tweet, the news outlet opines, “Still, even by Banks’s standards, the witch thing was weird. It came out in the middle of a run about black Americans and their relationship to Christianity … Banks then suddenly took a hard left into what seemed like either a joke, or an unexpected embrace of Harry Potter fan fiction.”

Standard terms for practitioners are placed into quotation marks – “‘magical'” and “‘witch'” for example – almost as if the author doesn’t want to give the words more power by saying them without the safety net of quotations. According to The Guardian writer, a Tumblr blog isn’t run by three witches, it is only “purported” to be run by witches.

As mentioned in the earlier Bloomberg article, the Guardian doesn’t back up the headline. Why are young women “flocking” to the ancient craft? The article spends quite a bit of time discussing why women, in general, might be drawn to witchcraft, but the article’s thesis about young women is never specifically brought up. There’s not even a shred of evidence to back up the claim that millennials are “flocking” to the Craft.

The clickbait headline draws you in and then gives you no evidence to support the facts. Additionally, the article does not give voice to young people or even to Azealia Banks. It only rehashes her 140 character messages and mocks the idea of someone being a witch by calling it “an embrace of Harry Potter fan fiction.”

The Debrief instead asks the question “Are More 20 Something Women Turning To Witchcraft? We Asked An Expert” in response to The Guardian‘s article and tries to answer it. The piece starts off by framing the conversion to Wicca as a “phase.’ This is something often told to young people in a variety of forms: “You’ll change your mind when you get older.” “It’s just a phase, you’ll grow out of it.”  The 26-year old writer, herself, went through a Wicca phase.

While writer Stevie Martin is herself young, she doesn’t interview any other young women, who are both in their 20s and still practicing Witchcraft. Hers is the only young voice in the piece. Fortunately Martin does speak with Treadwell’s Christina Oakley Harrington, who provides a solid response to the writer’s questions. However, Martin’s headline offers a query into a specific intersection of two groups, and no one currently at that intersection is talked to in the piece.

[Photo Credit: James Denham / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: James Denham / Wikimedia]

Now let’s look at a different take on that intersection? Paganism, along with with Polytheism, Heathenry and other minority religious groups, have created their own online media networks. You can find hard-hitting news stories, advice blogs, educational blogs and more.

However there is a veritable desert when looking for things written for millennials by millennials, or even just for millennials. There are pieces about “coming out of the broom closet to parents” or information about college clubs. A few millennial bloggers do exist, such as Conor O’Bryan Warren at Under the Owl’s Wing or Aine Llewellyn at of the Other People. If there are more, they are not openly coming out and saying that they’re are millennial.

To be fair, talking with a minor about these things can be problematic if their parents take issue. However the internet, overall, seems to be lacking in articles about issues that are unique to or primarily affect millennial Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens, whether they are minors or over 18.

Representation is important. It’s critical to be able to see people our own age achieving things that were once relegated to older generations not only as a form of motivation – look at what my generation can do now – but also being able to connect on a different level when the author has had a similar background as the people they’re writing about. Millennials need more positive representation in all media, more opportunities to share their voices, and the will to step forward when given that chance.

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