For many people, Nigeria is a country only known through stories and news reports. Most recently, the country has taken center stage as Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group, continues its violent campaign in the North Eastern portion of the country. In 2014, Nigeria faced a health crisis during one of the worst Ebola outbreaks ever recorded. The country is also home to the famous Pentecostal preacher Lady Apostle Helen Ukpabio, and others like her, who regular speak out against Witchcraft.

Lou Florez

Lou Florez

But there is another side to the West African nation – a vibrant, indigenous spirituality and history that calls out to many Americans. Next month, Lou Florez, an American witch, rootworker, priest and Olorisha, is headed to Nigeria to experience that side firsthand.

As a student of IFA, the religion of the Yoruba culture, Florez told The Wild Hunt that he’s looking forward to “to encountering the Orisha in their homeland.”  He said:

“Earth-centered traditions engage and conceptualize the divine in unique ways, for us divinity is not exterior to our environment but emerges from and is encountered as the physical landscape itself.  In Orisha traditions there is divinity named Oshun who is known as the mother of the sweet waters, and specifically of the Oshun River in Osogbo, Nigeria. … To go to her river is to meet her face to face and be changed by the encounter. Imagine the ability to meet and engage several of these Orisha and teachings all in one journey.”

Florez was chosen to take this trip by the communities of practitioners involved. He described the experience as a “whirlwind.” Through friend and fellow student Shantell Herndon (Iyanifa OyaDara), Florez met a community of people with whom he now studies. Both the U.S.- based group and its sister group in Nigeria had been discussing sponsoring a pilgrimage for some of their American students. The planning itself took three years, and names were finally selected in the fall 2014.

Florez said, “During the last round of divinations my name came up and I was extended the invitation. I think that part of why this is so important for me at this time is that these types of opportunities aren’t give often or repeatedly.”

Like his friend and fellow traveler Herndon, Florez has launched a fundraising campaign to cover the costs of the trip. The majority of the money paid goes directly back to the Nigerian host community. He sees this as an integral part of the journey. He said, “It is about honoring, supporting, and giving back through my labor, service, and capital to communities who have continued this liberation work despite the oppressions and genocides that continue to happen. The money I am raising goes directly to these communities and makes a difference in their lives.” Most of the funds will be given to the host temple, which will then be distributed to the local people.

After leaving the U.S., Florez will arrive in Lagos where he will remain in the hotel for one night. The following morning he will be taken to the initiation site and, as he said, “be in Igbodu (initiation grove) for 10 to 14 days depending on divination.” He added, “The ritual part of this journey is to solidify the connection between the feminine divine and myself through specific ceremonies and initiations which are meant to seed this wisdom within me. I will also undergo the initiation rites of the high priesthood and study with priestesses in medicinal and magical herbalism.”

Florez and another celebrant making offerings and prayers [Courtesy Photo]

Florez and another celebrant making offerings and prayers [Courtesy Photo]

Making such a journey to Nigeria is not entirely unusual. In Florez’ case, the emphais is on religious learning. However, religious instruction is not the only reason Americans, in particular, have made the pilgrimage to Nigeria. In an article for Grio.com, Nigerian journalist Chika Oduah describes a journey in which African-Americans find solace in reconnecting to their ancestral heritage. In such cases, she writes that the travelers “underwent a ritual cleansing from what they call the stigma of slavery.”

This process, which Oduah describes as spiritual as well as cultural, is something Florez, himself, also touched upon. He said, “I was called to these [religious] paths for my own spiritual healing and upliftment and to bring light to all the transgenerational trauma and oppression held within my body. The vestiges and scars of colonialism, racism, and oppression are not only experienced individually but transmitted in our DNA to the next generation. Part of indigenous practice has been to identify and release those narratives in order to move toward liberation.”

While Nigeria may hold the key to spiritual tradition and transformation, travelers must also remain mindful that it is still a modern land with modern problems and a modern culture – one that might not fully embrace their spiritual undertaking. For example, Christianity and Islam are the dominant religions in the region. While many Americans may be turning to the African Tradition Religions, Nigerians are holding tight to these monotheistic worldviews. Only a small percentage of the population practices IFA, or similar traditions. In many cases, those that do are considered “backward” by modern Nigerian standards.

Additionally, there is the very public and strong national anti-gay sentiment in the country. In 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan signed an anti-same-sex marriage bill into law. The bill was backed unanimously by the legislature and by popular sentiment. In a March 2014 article, Oduah explained that, on this subject, Nigerians are “united under a banner of patriotism and what many perceive as a fight against Western imperialism.”

Florez with friend Yeshe Rabbit pouring libation and honoring the sweet waters at Lake Merritt [Courtesy Photo]

Florez with friend Yeshe Rabbit pouring libation and honoring the sweet waters at Lake Merritt [Courtesy Photo]

Florez isn’t worried, saying that he “implicitly trusts the teachers and communities that I will be staying with.” He added that he has “been very clear, transparent, genuine, and honest that I am a gay man.”

However, in preparation, he has been taking the necessary medical precautions. He said, “I’m in the process of getting all my immunizations in order such as Typhoid, Hep A & B, Yellow Fever, Rabies, to name a few. In terms of Ebola, Nigeria was deemed free of new cases … I will also be staying in pocketed communities and not in general public in terms of transmission. Other than these precautions and usual travel items such as a water purifier, I have no idea what I am walking into.”

Despite any obstacles, Florez is determined to make this trip, one that he knows will benefit his own spiritual journey as well as his community of practitioners and students. He said, “the biggest thing that I’m expecting is having to surrender control both physically and spiritual to the process and to these communities.”

Outside of the initiations and education, Florez hopes to have a bit of leisure time for “personal projects such as reading, writing, listening to music, or watching fuzzy Nigerian soap operas.” He plans to visit the local market, meet artisans and others in the community. He hopes to bring back some “Orisha statues, herbs and sacred tools.” He said, “My curiosity is peaked and I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of things that we don’t have access to here in the states.”

While in Nigeria, Florez will be tweeting and updating his public social media for anyone curious about his experiences. His Twitter handle is @louflorez and he has a public Facebook page and blog.

When he returns, he is planning to share what he has learned and his experiences through readings, workshops, conversations, teachings and lectures. He said, “This trip enables me to help open the door a little bit further for future generations to touch into the history, magic, and birth place of the Orishas.”

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Column: Magic vs. Religion?

Sam Webster —  January 24, 2015 — 27 Comments

Are magic(k) and religion contrary? One of the ongoing debates in our Pagan Community is the place of magic. Some gather to ‘only’ celebrate and worship. Some find magic central to their practice. Being heterodoxic, Pagans revel in the diversity of opinions we hold, so the range held on this topic is vast.

We are not alone in the discussion. There is a very long standing argument in the academic community about what magic is and how it is different from religion. Attempting to coerce the God(s), which they call impiety, or rites performed outside the customary space, time, and staff for them, which they call illegitimacy are among the more consistent elements. Often this shades over into magic meaning any expected result of a ritual action. [1]

Communal harvest altar at Faerieworlds 2013.

Harvest altar [Courtesy Photo].

Historically, we get these values from the Romans, which were then taken over by Christianity and became dominant in Western civilization. In history, even these ideas are problematic. Going back to Egypt, the use of Heka, more or less what we call magic, was available to anyone with the skills and will. Unless you were using it for crime, the act of magic was in no sense a crime.[2] Contrast this to Europe, through most of its history in the so-called Common Era, where imprisonment, torture and death were the common punishments for magic.

With a life potentially on the line, one might think we would have a very clear definition of magic, but that has yet to be produced. Scholars, starting from their Eurocentric foundation, discovered it was much harder to separate magic from religion when they were looking at cultures other than the West. Whereas for us, Christianity supplanted the ancient traditional religions of Europe, but did not come with a substitute for all of the common magics that folks used to potentiate medicine or bring a little luck. (Actually early on it had a number of traditions of magic, taken over from older practice, but these were suppressed in the first centuries.)

To fill this void, spells and techniques from the ancient world were reused, often but not always with a change in the divine names empowering it. The Kyranides text containing elements from the Greek Magical Papyri shows the enduring nature of these ancient spells well into the Christian period.[3] Naturally, biblical resources were deployed, such as using the Psalms for magic. Misunderstood elements of the Mass were taken out of context for magic, giving us the famous “Hokus Pokus” arguably from ‘Hoc est corpus meum’, meaning ‘This is my body,’ the Latin words of consecration.

However, as we well know from our inheritance, many other elements of the classical world came over into Christian culture to provide for the needs of magic. The most obvious ones being the Elements, and the names and character of the Planets. But when we look at the world over, this is unusual. We are possibly unique in that the (once) dominant religion of the West, Christianity, is not the religion we take our magic from. (There may be structures like this in Islamic and Buddhist countries.)

In most cultures the main religion also provides for the deployment of spiritual resources to accomplish the needs and desires of its adherents. Mantra (spells), talismans, all manner of rites of blessing or expiation exist to heal, to help, to make things a bit better. But when they perform these rites, they call upon the names of the Gods they regularly worship. This posed something of a problem for scholars in that it made it hard to see the difference between a prayer and a spell.

While allowing for a few exceptions, most of us who practice magic think what we are doing is good. When we look at how magic is viewed from the perspective of non-magic users (muggles, cowans, normals, etc.), magic is generally seen as bad. Much of the discussion about it in the academy, or among ourselves, really comes down to a value judgment. It is all the harder to discuss since the topic is being variously valued by the participants in the debate: what is the value of magic?

[Photo Credit: by Leila Darwish ]

[Photo Credit: by Leila Darwish ]

The rub is that the definitions of magic, centered in coercion or legitimacy, run into trouble when very similar actions are found in not obviously coercive modes or performed under legitimate conditions. If a need is being addressed through supplication or prayer, the ‘spell’ (such as the Pater Noster or ‘Hail Mary’) is religious, but if presented in a more aggressive mood, it is magic. If done by the right person under the right conditions it is religious but if not it is magic.

We might be able to make these distinctions in our own culture, but they are much harder in other parts of the world. When looked at overall, any given action, such as the repetition of a phrase, would be considered holy japa (mantra repetition) in India, but ‘vain repetition’ in Biblically dominated cultures. (but then there is the Rosary…)

It has become very hard to find an objective difference between magic and religion. So, much of the judgment is actually subjective. It begins with the idea that magic is bad and that religion is good. This is, of course, not universal. The Atheists and Humanists often think of religion itself as bad, but then for them magic is even worse, being vain foolery or failed science. However, the larger society holds to this pattern.

The other major distinguishing factor is the outcome. Are any boons asked, are any supplications made? Is there any hope or expectation that after performing this action spiritual power will be deployed to accomplish what is asked for? If worship is without expectation, but magic expects results, we have an even worse problem separating magic from religion. It is very easy to make the case that the Catholic Mass is magical. It gathers spiritual force and then propitiates the God for benefits for the congregation and beyond. Indeed most worship includes prayer for those in need. If you think about it, even the hope for spiritual improvement or a good afterlife state is still an expectation of result.

What about the ecstasy that comes in worship itself? Is this not an effect or a benefit? When this analysis is applied it becomes very hard to find an example of ‘pure’ worship that has no expectation of result.

I propose that part of the problem with the argument is that we have such a hard time distinguishing between magic and religion that what we are really talking about is a value judgement: is this given spiritual activity good or bad? Calling it magic just becomes a way of saying to someone that their spirituality is bad. Irritating, I know…

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[1] A selection of sources that deal with this problem: Ruth Benedict, ‘Magic’, in Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 10 (1933), pp. 39-41; ‘Religion’ in Franz Boas (ed.), General Anthropology (Boston: Heath, 1938), pp. 64-67; William J. Goode, ‘Magic and Religion’, Ethnos, 14 (1949), pp. 172-82, and Religion among the Primitives (Glencoe: Freepress, 1951), pp. 52-55.

[2] Robert K. Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization). (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago; 2008 reprint edition, 1997). 322 pp.

[3] One example is a spell for getting one’s lover to say who they have been having sex with by putting the tongue or heart of a frog or bird on their breast while they are sleeping. It shows up in all three texts: Hans Dieter Betz, ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), LXIII. 7-12 p. 295, and another version VII. 411-16 p. 129. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa Von Nettesheim, The Three Books of Occult Philosophy: A Complete Edition, ed. Donald Tyson, tr. Jame Freake, (St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1993) p. 47, and Anonymous, Kyranides, On the Occult Virtues of Plants, Animals & Stones (Renaissance Astrology Facsimile Editions, 2005) p. 67.

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The first time I ever drove cross-country, my only real objective was to get it over with as quickly as possible. I was moving from the East Coast to the West Coast, and I wasn’t looking forward to the long hours and days behind the wheel. I mapped out the quickest route that I could find, and took off in a precariously packed minivan full of my worldly possessions with the goal of reaching Oregon in five days.

It turns out that the route that I thought would be the easiest was also the route that those who blazed trails long before me found to be the most practical as well. By the time I hit Nebraska, I quickly realized that I was following the general route of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Following the railroad, with the train in my constant line of sight, it occurred to me that there was an entire history there that I knew very little about, a history that was crucial to the successful settlement of America. Prior to that moment, I had understood the importance of the railroad in theory, but there was something about literally keeping pace, face-to-face with that history that emphasized its significance in a way I had never considered before.

It wasn’t long after I diverted from that route north into Wyoming that I discovered that I was traveling the same route as the Oregon Trail. Similar to the railroad, I was again faced with an essential piece of American history that I knew little about. The farther west I went following the Oregon Trail, the more the rest stops started to double as historical markers. By the time I approached the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon, learning about the horrors of westward migration become synonymous with stretching my legs. A layer below the initial digesting of that history, the colonial perspective of that telling also gnawed at me, as I knew that there was a whole other story within the saga of westward expansion that had not been inscribed on state-owned plaques at rest stops.

The Oregon Trail. [Public Domain]

The Oregon Trail. [Public Domain]

There was also something in the land itself that was commanding my attention– something unexplainable, a pull entrenched in the power of the wounds and stories and spirits of America. In connecting briefly to the history of the land, as one-sided as it was being reflected, I was quickly realizing my overall disconnect to these places as a whole. They themselves seemed to reflect that disconnect to me quite clearly, and the closer I got to my destination, the more I felt the urge to backtrack and explore.

By the time I made it to Portland, I felt like a stranger in my own country, but a determined stranger who wished to understand and befriend the unknown. That small taste of America had suddenly stirred up an enormous yearning, and my new surroundings in Oregon quickly started to relate and reflect the same themes and realizations that I had stumbled upon during the trip. Immersing myself in history wasn’t enough. I needed to meet the land, to understand these places from the bottoms of my feet. I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to find, but I knew that I needed to search for it, and that need only grew stronger as time went on.

A few years later, time and money finally conspired in a way that was too precise to ignore, and I threw an old mattress into the back of my van and hit the road. I left with the intention of connecting with place and with history, of trying to understand my own complex relationship to the America I felt that I didn’t really understand. I wanted to learn from the places that made me feel as a stranger. I wanted know this land by its nooks and crannies.

I decided that my path would be dictated by both fate and curiosity, by signs and invitations alike. I was guided by paragraphs and articles in books and magazines, by roadside markers, by suggestions from friends and strangers and gas station attendants all the same.

From the time I first started out, those same people often asked me where I was going and why, and I quickly found that, while I understood my intent and motives, I didn’t necessarily have the language to express that to others. It was part pilgrimage, part adventure, part surrender, part obligation, part reconciliation, part sequel, and yet none of those things sufficed on their own as an explanation. After a few days of trying to explain it a variety of ways and seemingly failing every time, I simply told folks that I was “searching for America”, which seemed to be an acceptable answer no matter where I went.

Astoria, OR

The mouth of the Columbia River has been known among sailors for well over two centuries as the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific.’ One does not have to be schooled in sailing to sense its treachery; simply standing at the edge of the mouth on a windy day puts one quickly in touch with the intensity, the enormity and mortality that emanate from this crucial intersection of river, sea, wind, and sky.

It is a notable place of both power and history, both as a port in itself and as part of the story of American expansion as a whole. The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter of 1804 bunked down at this spot, and a few years later a party funded by fur magnate John Jacob Astor founded Fort Astoria, the first permanent American settlement on the West Coast. Reminders of that history and the wealth that accompanied it are reflected in the mostly well-preserved Victorian architecture dotted throughout the town. The town reflects both history and modernity, feeling neither gentrified nor stuck in time.

Mouth of the Columbia River as seen from Astoria, circa 1912. [Public Domain]

Mouth of the Columbia River as seen from Astoria, circa 1912. [Public Domain]

As I stood at the mouth, watching the bar pilots guide a cargo ship through the treacherous channel, I thought back to something I had read about Concomly, the Chinook chief who served as the original bar pilot for the Columbia in the early 1800s. Aside from the obvious technological advances, what I was currently witnessing on the river was essentially an unchanged ritual that had been performed regularly in this same spot for over 200 years now.

Thinking of Concomly, the question that approached me seemed to come from outside, from the mouth itself. What did Concomly call this river? This graveyard, this mouth of ghosts – what was her name?

I was only a few days into my trip, but it was already apparent to me that actively decolonizing my surroundings whenever possible on this journey was both a challenge and an obligation on my part, an obligation to the land and the ancestors as well as to myself. I knew from prior research that there was no single indigenous name that the Columbia was known by, and most of the names that had been recorded were badly translated and phoneticized. Nonetheless I wished at that moment that I had one of those names at the tip of my tongue. I wanted to greet the river properly without also invoking the name of a colonizer, but I resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t have the ability to do so at that moment.

But while that specific name may not have been known or available to me at that moment, I also knew that the indigenous place-names of numerous lakes, rivers, and mountains throughout the country were well-known and were easily accessible information. From that point onward in my travels, I took it upon myself to revert to the indigenous names of the places I visited whenever possible, and to make notes and research specific places and place-names when the information wasn’t readily available.

Fargo, ND

“We’ve been staying here for well over two months now. My hope is to get back to New Mexico by the time school starts.”

She paused for a second, looking over at her two daughters across the table, who were distracted by a set of crayons and the activities on the diner placemat.

“But we need to stay for long as there’s decent work. School will do them no good if we can’t afford to eat.”

I had met Marcela and her daughters the night before, at a rest stop right outside of Fargo. Their family had been sleeping in the van next to mine, and it had been immediately obvious to me that they had been living at the rest stop for quite a while. I saw the father leave on foot before dawn and, instead of taking off immediately, I felt pulled to take Marcela and her kids out to breakfast.

I learned over breakfast that her husband was a migrant worker who was currently working in the local sunflower fields. She also worked in the fields on days when she could find someone to watch her girls, but she hadn’t been able to find anyone for at least a few weeks. They had been living out of the van for nearly two years at that point, with brief periods spent on and off with relatives near Santa Fe.

The sunflowers were the focus of my attention the day before, stretching for miles as I was driving down I-94 towards Fargo. When I first saw the sunflowers, I had spotted a few people out in the fields as well, and I had been thinking about the relative invisibility of migrant labor in this country on the drive into Fargo. So it seemed fitting that Marcela was the first person I found myself interacting with when I stopped.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. Photo by Hephaestos.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. [Photo Credit: Hephaestos.]

I knew that there were an untold number of families just like Marcela’s, skirting on the edges of existence and survival, but there was something in listening to Marcela’s story that brought that struggle home for me. Hers was a story that so many know abstractly and yet so few actually hear. I was grateful for the opportunity to share this space and time with this family, as heartbreaking as it was.

After breakfast I took them back to their van, said goodbye, and headed back out. A few miles down the road, I stopped at a roadside stand to buy a bunch of sunflowers. I looked out towards the farm and saw small dots out in the fields that I knew to be humans, and I couldn’t help but to wonder if one of the men out in the field was Marcela’s husband.

Sparta, WI

The first time I drove past the sign I though I must had read it wrong. I did a literal double-take as I passed it, somewhat convinced that I had just seen a sign for an astronaut and bicycle museum and concerned that my eyes were playing tricks on me.

A half-mile later right before the exit, I saw the sign again, and it was no mistake. “Astronaut Deke Slayton and Bicycle Museum”, the sign said. I laughed out loud and turned off towards the exit.

Neil Gaiman has suggested that America’s roadside attractions are America’s most sacred sites, and I was finding more and more by the day that there was a deep truth to that sentiment. I had passed up on several other similarly quirky roadside attractions prior to that morning, but I had no immediate destination. It seemed the perfect day for such a detour. I wasn’t sure what bicycles and astronauts had in common and how or why this was being presented to the public, but I was curious to find out.

It turned out that what the two had in common was the town of Sparta itself. Sparta, Wisconsin was the birthplace of Deke Slayton, one of America’s first and most famous astronauts. Sparta is also known as the “Bicycling Capital of America,” and the museum was a rather impressive (and surprisingly cohesive) expression of those two aspects of transportation. I spent the afternoon unexpectedly immersed in the histories of both bicycles and space, appreciative of both the actuality of what was in front of me as well as the process that led me to this point. While the phrase “only in America” is so often reduced to meaningless cliché, it was the defining thought on my mind as I walked back from the museum to my van.

In finding that museum, not so much the exhibits themselves but the very existence of the museum itself, I found a piece of the unexplainable that I had been itching to immerse myself in.

Lincoln, NE

I pulled up at the gas station, parked in front, and went inside the convenience store to grab a bottle of water. The front door was partially propped-open, and taped to the door was a huge sign. “No hoodies. No exceptions.”

I was wearing a hooded jacket. I pushed open the door the rest of the way to enter, and I immediately started to take off my hoodie as the bell on the door sounded my entrance. The woman behind the counter spotted me and waved me off. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said with a smile. “I’m not worried about you.”

I stood for a moment in discomfort, wondering who she was ‘worried about.’ I then walked to the back of the store to grab a beverage and as my back was to the door the bell went off again. I looked over behind me, and a young Hispanic man was walking into the store. The woman looked up at him sternly and immediately pointed to the sign on the door. “Please remove your hoodie”, she said to him firmly.

I looked at her in horror, gave him a sympathetic look, and quickly made my exit without purchasing anything.

Back in the van, I tried to shake off my anger. I had been on the privileged end of racial profiling before, but there was something about the bluntness of that experience that caught me off-guard. I zoned out on the highway, driving what was quite possibly the straightest stretch of road that I’ve ever driven, to the point where my elbows started to ache for lack of movement. My heart ached along with my elbows, albeit for a different reason.

Pike County, KY

The roads are quite narrow through Appalachia, and navigating them requires a very specific attention to detail that I wasn’t used to in my travels. I spent so much time hyper-aware of my position on the road that I nearly missed a key aspect of my surroundings. Winding through the heart of Hatfield-McCoy country, I was quite taken by the stark contrast between the various rock formations and the lush green beauty.

It wasn’t until I pulled over to stretch my legs that took a wide-range inventory of the terrain that I noticed that I was at the base of a mountaintop mining operation, surrounded by what used to be mountains. While I had been aware on some level that mining companies actually remove the tops of mountains, it had only affected me as an abstraction until that moment.

This is ‘progress’, I thought to myself. We remove the tops of mountains.

Mountaintop removal in Pike County, Kentucky. Photo by ilovemountains.

Mountaintop removal in Pike County, Kentucky. [Photo Credit: ilovemountains.]

I walked up a gravel path into the woods at the base of the mountain, and I was quickly overcome by how angry the woods felt. It was as if a mist of despair and sadness and rage had enveloped this place around me. I felt angry back; I also felt absolutely heartbroken and disgusted. The actual brutality in how this practice affects not just the land itself but the people and the creatures who live here was all I could focus on as I stood there observing the the beauty around me, a beauty which emanated so strongly despite the sadness of the woods.

Later that afternoon, I stopped off for lunch. When I parked the van, a woman was getting into the car next to mine. She had a bumper sticker that read “I Love Mountains”.

“Are there any mountains left?” I asked her, nodding towards the sticker.

“Not for long at the pace they’re going,” she replied, the sadness evident in her voice.

Medora, ND

The distance from the parking lot to the comfort station was less than fifty feet, but by the time I got to the entrance of the building, I had seen at least three separate signs warning me not to try to touch the bison. Inside the restroom, there was another prominent sign, and by the time I made it out of the building and up to the main patch of land overlooking Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the number of bison warning signs I had seen had approached the point of repetitive absurdity.

Who in their right mind would try to touch a bison in the first place? I shook my head in amusement as I climbed up and looked out upon miles of badlands, the untouched wilderness peppered with picturesque herds of bison.

Then I noticed people out on the bluffs, trying to touch the bison.

And I realized that a dozen signs are no more effective than one or none or a hundred when it comes to overcoming the mentality of entitlement that so many feel in terms of our wild places and the creatures that inhabit them. I was furious, watching the display of utter ignorance and disrespect in front of me, not to mention the danger. Suddenly I had no desire to stay and explore this place.

Bison at Theodore Roosevelt national Park. Photo by Matt Reinbold.

Bison at Theodore Roosevelt national Park. Photo by Matt Reinbold.

Walking back, I remembered a talk I had seen by a Native woman who spoke of the prevalence and pervasiveness of ‘settler mentality,’ especially in the American West. I glanced around at the parking lot, at cars bearing the license plates of at least a dozen states and thought back to the bison and what I had just witnessed. That entitlement, that defiant exercise of blatant disrespect, right there was a painful example of the pervasive behavior that she had spoken of.

Rock Springs, WY

I’ll admit that there wasn’t much that caught my eye as I drove into Rock Springs, but I also wasn’t there for the scenery. I was there to pay my respects to the victims of the 1885 Rock Springs Massacre, where at least 28 Chinese immigrants were murdered and mutilated among an ugly backdrop of racism and greed. While the West is dotted with countless massacre sites, the Rock Springs Massacre had always stuck out in my mind as especially significant both in its barbarism and its political implications, and Rock Springs was one of the destinations that I had in mind from the very beginning of the trip.

My mistake was in assuming that there was a memorial.

I asked first at a gas station, and then I asked a few residents who had no idea what I was talking about at all. Eventually I came across the local history museum, where the man at the front desk embarrassingly assured me that there was no such memorial, although he “personally felt that there should be”.

I came here looking for something that did not exist, and the fact that it did not exist was extremely unsettling. Outside the museum, I watched the people walking to and from, realizing that they were mostly clueless about the horrifying carnage that once took place on these very streets.

I thought again of history and of colonization, and of the oft-repeated adage that history is written by the victors. I suppose that going to work each day is much easier when you’re completely unaware that there was once a massacre in the middle of your downtown. I suppose that to publicly recognize such a history would be more than a little inconvenient and uncomfortable, to say the very least.

The wind suddenly blew rather harshly as I stood there, and I could feel something extra in that wind. It was as though the land and the spirits themselves were screaming for recognition, screaming for justice.

Afterword

I spent nearly six weeks on the road, visiting at least twenty states and traveling over 10,000 miles. When I finally got back, it took nearly as long to recover. I spent the next several months processing what I had taken in over the course of the trip. To this day, I find myself often drifting back to some of the people and places that I had come across along the way.

While I can’t say definitively that I found all the answers to my questions or discovered all I was looking for, it was an eye-opening and life-changing experience that greatly influenced my understandings and attitudes about this country, for better or for worse. Looking back, part of what I was searching for was a unifying energy, a linking thread of sorts that I never did find, but in not finding it I also came to see why it was not there in the first place.

More than anything, I came into and remained in touch with the anger and trauma of this land itself, one that is continuous throughout with so many of her wounds unacknowledged. That trauma, and the strong undercurrent of denial that feeds and sustains it, quietly expresses pain and consequences in ways that no history book could ever truly convey.

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

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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 that 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.

You, too, can drink ancient booze
Looking for the perfect drink to offer your Gods or ancestors? Why not serve them (and you) a fermented beverage recreated from ones that existed thousands of years ago? Dr. Patrick McGovern is the Director for the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health for the University of Pennsylvania Museum and he’s been breathing new life into ancient brews.

McGovern tests the residue left behind in ancient vessels used for making, storing, or drinking fermented beverages and identifies the chemical markers that the drink ingredients leave behind. If he finds traces of tartaric acid he knows grapes were used.

Some of the beverages he’s recreated are the Midas beverage, Theobroma ale, and Etrusca ale.

The Midas beverage was based on residues found in the Midas tomb in Turkey, from about 700 B.C.E. It fermented grapes, barley, and honey along with common Mediterranean spices like saffron and cardamom.

The Teobroma ale was based on a Honduran beer from around 1400 B.C.E. and has bitter chocolate notes. And, the Etruscan ale was recreated from a find in a 2,800 year old tomb in Italy and was fermented from wheat, barley, hazelnut flour and flavored with pomegranates and myrrh.

All three of these beverages, plus five more, can be purchased from Delaware-based Dogfish Head brewery.

How to Play an Ancient Greek Drinking Game
Forget quarters and beer pong, kottabos could be the hot, new drinking game. Kottabos was played in ancient Athens during evening get togethers called symposia. Symposia had a social and religious purpose. It involved male guests reclining on couches, while drinking, discussing civil and philosophical topics, playing games, singing, and enjoying the company of flute girls.

Heather Sharpe of West Chester University of Pennsylvania and a few of her students attempted to figure out how kottabos was actually played using a replica of a kylix (a drinking cup) and grape juice. According to images on pottery, there were two ways to play kottabos. One way was to try to knock down a disc balanced on a tall stand placed in the middle of the room with the dregs of wine flung from a cup. The second version of the game depicted players throwing their wine at small dishes floating in a larger bowl of water in an attempt to sink them.

A man plays kottabos  on this kylix, Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Creative Commons, Marie-Lan Nguyen]

A man plays kottabos on this kylix, Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Creative Commons, Marie-Lan Nguyen]

The students quickly learned that an overhand flicking-style throw was more successful than underhand or sideways throws. The students also learned that if you missed the target in the middle of the room, you were apt to hit another player laying on the couch right across from you. Just imagine how messy it would get if you were playing this game after several hours of drinking. Good thing the floors of Athenian homes were stone or packed earth.

So Easter Island didn’t collapse?

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

Archaeologists have long thought that Easter Island’s native population collapsed due to farming practices which damaged the environment of the island. A new study shows that the Rapa Nui people might not have been the object lesson of overpopulation and the over-farming of a fragile environment as environmentalists originally thought.

An international research team has used a technique known as obsidian hydration dating to test various artifacts found around the island. What they discovered was that, although the population declined on some parts of the island at various times, the population increased in other areas during the same time period.

So far the group has been unable to find any evidence of a dramatic population decline, or collapse until Europeans reached the island in 1722 A.D. and promptly infected the Rapa Nui with smallpox and syphilis.

The Easter Islands are famous for the large stone heads called moai that dot the island and the Ivi Atua religion which is still practiced today. This religion is polytheistic with a strong focus on ancestor veneration. It’s thought the moai were representations of deified ancestors and were the living faces of the past.

The Fading of Paganism in ancient Cyprus
While the Cyprus area maintained Pagan beliefs alongside the official Christian religion for longer than most other areas of the Roman empire, well into the 7th century, Polish archaeologists excavating at Nea Paphos found a 1,500 year old amulet which sheds light on the fading of Paganism in the 5th century.

The amulet has a palindrome inscribed on it, which is an inscription that reads the same forwards as it does backwards. In English, the inscription reads “[a god] is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine.”

Bottom, Egyptian god Osiris. Above, Harpocrates.   [Photo by Marcin Iwan, artifact from the excavations of Jagiellonian University in Krakow at Paphos Agora]

Bottom, Egyptian god Osiris. Above, Harpocrates.
[Photo Credit: Marcin Iwan, artifact from the excavations of Jagiellonian University in Krakow at Paphos Agora]

Yet it is the carvings on the front of the amulet that show the fading of Paganism. There is a depiction of the Egyptian god Osiris lying in a boat along with Harpocrates, the Greek god of silence. Harpocrates is erroneously shown covered in bandages, which suggests that the artist, and presumably much of the surviving Pagan population in the area, no longer fully understood the gods who they were still attempting to worship. 

Carbonized scrolls live again in Herculaneum
The library at Herculaneum, which contained between 600 and  700 scrolls, may finally be excavated. Buried by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD, the library was first uncovered in 1752. However, the papyri scrolls contained in the library were so badly burned and fragile that there has never been a safe way to unroll and read them. As a result, the full library has never been uncovered.

But now the Institute of Microelectronics and Microsystems is using a new method of x-raying the scrolls, combined with special software to digitally “unroll” the scroll, so they can finally be read.

The first scroll examined is thought to be the work of a scribe from around the first century B.C.E. copying a work of  Philodemus defending Epicurean philosophy. The other scrolls could possibly contain lost works by Greek or Roman philosophers. Additionally, prior excavations at the site have revealed more rooms, which means that even more scrolls may be found in the future.

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EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – On Jan. 18, the U.K. saw its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage ceremony. Tom Lanting and Iain Robertson, both hedge witches, were married in the 16th century vaulted cellars of historic Marlin’s Wynd. The ceremony was performed by Louise Park of the Pagan Federation Scotland.

[Courtesy Photo. Taken by Cherrie Coutts]

Tom Lanting and Iain Robertson [Courtesy Photo. Taken by Cherrie Coutts of cherriecouttsphotography.com]

“We felt as practicing Pagans we wanted to create a day for not only ourselves but for everyone who attended our ceremony and as Scotland recognizes love within All beliefs we were able to start our lives together bonded in the eyes of the God and Goddess and FINALLY the law,” told The Wild Hunt in a brief interview.

To date, Scotland is the only country in the U.K. that allows for legally-binding Pagan marriage ceremonies. In 2004, the General Registrar Office for Scotland accepted the Pagan Federation as “an appropriate body for the nomination of Celebrants under the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977.”  According to various reports, Pagan Federation celebrants have conducted hundreds of legal Pagan mix-sex marriages since that time.

Author and Wiccan High Priestess Vivane Crowley said, “The Pagan Federation (Scotland) has fought long and hard for equal rights for Pagans in Scotland. It has succeeded in establishing Paganism as part of the spectrum of a thriving multi-cultural country that honors the traditions of the past, while building a society of the future.”

Although Pagan marriages were legally recognized in Scotland in 2004, same-sex marriages were not. In 2013, Scotland’s neighbors, England and Wales, voted to legalize same-sex marriage. However, the two countries still did not recognize Pagan marriage ceremonies. Then, in early 2014, Scotland followed suit by passing its new Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. Same-sex marriage became legal as of Dec. 16, 2014 with the first ceremonies being performed that day. As a result, Scotland has become the first country in the U.K to legally recognize both Pagan ceremonies and same-sex marriage.

Crowley added, “The Pagan Federation joined other religious organizations in a wonderful campaigning for recognition of Gay marriage in Scotland. It is wonderful that the media, including traditional conservative newspaper ‘The Daily Telegraph’, have received the change so warmly and gave such positive coverage of Iain and Tom’s wedding.”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Lanting and Roberson’s wedding has indeed become the recent focus of mainstream media, as well as being a landmark moment in history – both Pagan and otherwise. Attending their ceremony was Tom French, the Policy and Public Affairs Coordinator for The Equality Network, a charity organization serving Scotland’s LGBTI community. French told the BBC:

We were delighted to be able to attend the UK’s first pagan same-sex marriage … Religious and belief groups played an important role in the campaign for equal marriage and this ceremony is a mark of equality and freedom of belief in Scotland.

Recognizing this attention, the couple said, “We are both delighted the world has taken this moment to the heart.”

While the significance of Scotland’s first Pagan same-sex marriage ceremony is certainly far reaching, its impact was felt all the more by the two men themselves. After twelve years of being together, Robertson and Lanting were finally able to pledge their love and commitment to each other in the religious and spiritual manner of their choosing and have it all be legally binding. They said, “We hope in time this possibility will spread worldwide to allow those of all sexualities and beliefs to be seen as equal in legal circles…Thank you to everyone who joined us on the day and to the wider world and our Pagan brothers and sisters globally.”

The Pagan Federation Scotland was unavailable for additional comments. However, celebrant Louise Parks told the BBC, “We feel that, if any couple wish to, they should be able to make their marriage vows before their own personal Gods, friends and family, in a religious ceremony tailored to suit their own beliefs.” She added, “I am absolutely over the moon to have been able to conduct Scotland’s – and the U.K.’s – first pagan same-sex marriage for Tom and Iain, who hold a special place in the hearts of Scotland’s Pagan community.”

In her comments, Crowley agreed, offer her own good wishes. She said, “Congratulations Iain and Tom, creators of the well-known ‘Gemini Wands’ company who will be known to Pagans throughout Britain from their frequent appearances at festivals. ”

The Doreen Valiente Foundation also offered its own words of congratulations saying:

Tom Lanting, one of the couple who were married in Britain’s first same-sex pagan wedding has supported the Doreen Valiente Foundation at various conferences over the years. We see this as a further historic step towards the equality of religion that Doreen and many others have struggled for for many years. That it also reflects the equality struggle of another minority group only makes all the more satisfying to see. Congratulations and blessings to the happy couple from all of us at the Doreen Valiente Foundation.

Fortunately, with all this unexpected publicity, Lanting and Robertson have not received backlash in any form. They continue to be very thankful for the outpouring of support and interest in their story. To other Pagan LGBTQ couples around the world, they offered this positive note, “Congratulations to our brothers and sisters who have received recognition and the rest WILL follow.”

[Courtesy Photo. Taken by Cherrie Coutts of .cherriecouttsphotography.com)

[Courtesy Photo. Taken by Cherrie Coutts of cherriecouttsphotography.com)

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK –In astrology, the planet Mercury begins moving retrograde again on January 21, meaning that the planet will appear to be moving in the opposite direction of other heavenly bodies. This optical illusion occurs three times annually, and usually inspires a plethora of social media posts blaming communication and other blunders on the condition. This time around, Mercury’s reversal has caught the attention of writer Kristin Dombek, who in an essay in the New York Times magazine writes:

On Jan. 21, at 10:54 a.m. Eastern Time, Mercury will begin its first pass by Earth of the new year. For about three weeks, it will appear to move backward across our sky and will, according to astrologers, disrupt technology, communication and human concord. Facebook and Twitter will clog with reports of appointments missed, important email sent to the spam folder, wars between nations, cars crashed and iPhones dropped in toilets, all followed by some version of the hashtag “#mercuryretrograde.” Advice from astrology blogs will arrive in unison: Back up your computer, expect miscommunications, don’t make agreements or important decisions and don’t sign contracts — and hide.

Teri Parsley Starnes

Teri Parsley Starnes

“I thought the article was kinda great,” said Teri Parsley Starnes, an astrologer who writes on the topic for PNC’s Minnesota bureau. She braced herself for a slew of misconceptions, saying, “I figured, ‘here we go,’ someone’s going to make fun of us, but I learned some stuff, like the fact that the craters are named after artists. That’s brilliant.”

While Starnes feels that Dombek’s treatment wasn’t as terrible as it could have been, she does think people with only a passing familiarity with astrology may not quite grasp the concept. “Saturn return and Mercury retrograde are the two things most people know,” she said, and as a result, “It’s easy to blame Mercury” for any mishap that occurs during the retrograde period. As a Pagan, though — she’s a member of the Reclaiming tradition — Starnes looks at the skies through a spiritual lens, and considers what is known about the gods associated with the heavenly bodies.

Mercury and Hermes (Starnes used the names interchangeably during the interview) are gods of communication, but they are also tricksters. “I’m very inspired by the trickster aspect,” she said. “Whatever we expect to do, during retrograde the result is often something we didn’t expect. I think of it as a mirror: what’s my intention? Now, we must do it another way.”

She went on to explain that this is a period where being mindful and present is important. “I think his mission during retrograde is to integrate all of our minds, we often use just our ‘left brain’ or our ‘right brain;’ he encourages both.”That kind of integration is the opposite of how many people move through the day. We often space out, we’re not present,” she said. “I don’t caution to not do things, it’s a really good opportunity to enhance our focus be more present.”

One of Starnes’ clients has exploratory surgery scheduled during this retrograde, and asked if rescheduling was the best option. “No, I would take a little extra care talking to the nurses and surgeons,” she counseled the client, and “express confidence to remind them to be thoughtful. We can actually invoke Mercury as an ally, getting deeper in the surgery,” she explained. “I work with Mercury that way.”

Blaming Mercury may be easy, but it misses the mark. Starnes said, “It’s easy to just blame him and not recognize that we are involved. It’s easy to send emails you regret later. Easy to incite arguments, or get in trouble. I don’t blame Mercury, he’s just showing me I need to be more careful. It bothers me when I hear people blaming Mercury.”

Instead, she sees retrograde as a “real chance to enter sacred time,” and looks to the myths about this messenger god for lessons. “[The] myth of the birth of Hermes [tells how] as a day old baby, he hatched plan to become a major god. He invented the first musical instrument, stole Apollo’s cattle, hid their tracks by walking backwards, [and] invented sacrifice,” she said. “It got the attention of Zeus, and he became one of the pantheon. Mercury is eternally crafty, and we’re also trying to get something we want.”

For those who feel they are getting a little more divine attention than they can handle, “You can appease him,” Starnes said. “Sometimes I will do that, leave offerings at the crossroads, tell him he’s a great god, ask him to be gentle with me as he helps to relink the parts of my mind that need to be linked again.”

Perhaps it’s not enough to simply acknowledge that Mercury is in retrograde when one’s plans run afoul. Perhaps a better approach is to ask, “What point is Mercury trying to make?” and take the lesson seriously. If nothing else, Starnes recommends cultivating a sense of humor for the duration.

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Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started! 

HUAR Banner [Courtesy Photo]

HUAR Banner [Courtesy Photo]

For Americans, today is Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday during which the country acknowledges and celebrates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Due to the current social and political climate, this year’s events have been or will be bigger, and far more poignant than in the past. Several Pagan and Heathen activists have indicated that they are participating in and even organizing public demonstrations, marches and vigils.

For example, on Friday morning, Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR), Solar Cross and Pagans United Against Racism together dropped a banner over the University Avenue footbridge in Berkeley. The banner contained Dr. King’s quote “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” and included the hashtag #MLKalsosaid.

Today, HUAR, Solar Cross, Coru Cathubodua and other area Pagans will be joining a march in Oakland, California to “celebrate the radical legacy of Dr. King.” One of their banners reads “Pagans United for Justice” and “Will we be extremists for hate, or extremists for love? – MLK.” The march begins 10:45 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

According to the PNC Minnesota Bureau, Minnesota Pagans are joining a big #ReclaimMLK march being held in St. Paul at 1:00 pm CST today. Although the article doesn’t indicate any specific names, the groups attending will be marching together and holding signs. The article reads, “Words are wind and many Pagans hope to change that with action.”

[public domain]

[public domain]

In Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Pagan shop owner, Kristin West, is using her monthly “Witch’s Night” to honor King with a discussion on freedom. According to a news report, the popular themed meeting, which usually focuses on religious practice and the Craft, can draw up to 30 people from around the state. This month she changed directions, deciding to connect King’s work to her freedom to practice Witchcraft.  West said “If we didn’t have freedom of religion, we wouldn’t be here.

Others have been discussing or honoring King through their writing. For example, T. Thorn Coyle, who has been actively involved in the above California-based events, published a blog post titled “Disturbing the Peace.” The Humanistic Paganism blog offered a dedicated meditation in its post, “Beloved Community.VooDoo Universe writer Lilith Dorsey considers the complexities of historical remembrances and the honoring of Dr. King. The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel has published its official statement on the #blacklivesmatter movement. HUAR released a solidarity statement for “the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend actions.”

While King’s message and his life had a very specific purpose during a very tumultuous period in U.S. history, over time his message has been distilled down and come to permeate U.S. culture with a meaning that far exceeds the focused goals of that particular decade. In the wake of Ferguson, that message has returned with force, in many ways, to its origins, regaining a new vitality and forward momentum.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. – Dr. Martin Luther King, a Letter from Birmingham Jail

In Other News:

Alane Brown in Peru [Courtesy Photo]

Alane Brown in Peru [Courtesy Photo]

  • The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, located in Iowa, has begun a new earth-based traditions program. According to reports, organizers kicked off the new program with a Yule Sabbat last month, and will continue with monthly meetings and eight yearly sabbat celebrations. Organizer Lana Long told reporters, “We are an umbrella for a little bit of everything — Pagan, Shamanism, Wiccan, etc. One of our goals is to offer a place for people like that to be able to meet in a community.”
  • Pagan Todd Bernston has launched a new “Relationship Survey that “explores and compares relational dimensions such as emotional bonding, anxiety, caregiving, and sexuality, between monogamous and consensual non-monogamous couples.” Bernston is a couple’s therapist who “does a lot of work with couples in non-traditional relationships, such as polyamory and consensual non-monogamy.”  He said that many past studies have not adequately looked at the bonds in non-traditional relationships.  He hopes that “the results [will] help shape our cultural and therapeutic understanding of the growing number of couples who are involved in non-traditional relationship styles.”  The survey is online at Relationship Study.

That is it for now.  Have a nice day!

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DUXBURY, MASSACHUSETTS – The First Church of Wicca (FCoW) has reopened its doors, which has reopened questions about its past. The Wild Hunt talked to Rev. Dr. Kendra Vaughan Hovey, founding Elder High Priestess of the First Church of Wicca, and to some of her congregants about the church, its closing in 2009, and their goals for the future.

To understand why the reopening has caused such controversy we have to look at the history.

In early 2007, the First Church of Wicca and its High Priestess broke onto the national scene when they were featured on an hour long TLC reality tv show, My Unique Family. While the show didn’t portray the family or the religion as freaks, many Pagans were surprised and curious. FCoW followed a Christian format, complete with sermons and congregants sitting in rows, and its High Priestess wore a clerical collar similar to what Christian priests and ministers wear.

The show depicted Hovey as being very dedicated to her church and to the local community. FCoW appeared to thrive with an estimated in-person membership of 200 people. The town of Duxbury, initially suspicious, seemed to accept them as part of the community.

Although everything appeared to be going well for FCoW, its sudden growth and scrutiny brought on by the show may have taken a toll on its leader. According to the April 2007 issue of Grey Matters, an e-zine for the Grey School, Hovey sent an email out to church members saying she was taking a two week sabbatical and all church activities would be canceled during that time. In the fall, the church restructured in an attempt to lessen Hovey’s duties. Then, in January 2008, Hovey took another two week sabbatical. Over the following months, church events were often cancelled on short notice.

What many people didn’t know at the time was that Hovey was not just a typical overburdened High Priestess battling burnout. By 2008, she was considering converting to Christianity.

After seeing the TLC special, Susan Jayne joined the FCoW. She said that she loved going to the FCoW and had made many friends. After being solitary for years, she had found her spiritual home.

For that reason, when Hovey confided she was considering converting to Christianity, Susan Jayne was devastated. She said, “I remember that day, vividly. We were at dinner following some event … 4th of July parade, a Pagan Pride Day, the event escapes me, and she told us that she was being baptized. I have personal issues with Christianity, so I was devastated because I didn’t know what it would mean for the church. Sure enough, it led to the eventual closure of FCoW.”

In January 2009, Hovey closed the FCoW. She sent at letter to all members of the church explaining her conversion from Wicca, pointing out her former faith’s (perceived) shortcomings.

I have come to see the serious failings of the Wiccan faith. A major problem with the faith is that there is no unity among the followers of the faith which makes it very challenging to define exactly what Wiccans do and do not believe in. Wiccans have a very open “do what you will” or “live and let live” perspective in life which very easily can cause harm to oneself and others without one actually knowing it until it is much too late. Additionally, there is no unified moral code of ethics. This puts up huge red flags for society-at-large because no one can really be quite sure of what any group’s intentions are. Society would have no way of knowing, for example, if you are a Wiccan that practices the Great Rite or polyamory, to name only two examples. Also, they would have no way of knowing just what “Do what ye will and harm none” means, and quite frankly, neither does each individual Wiccan. – from email sent by Hovey to church members, January 2009

The closing of the FCoW not only stunned its congregants, but it stunned the wider Pagan community. Once it was made public, her email angered many Pagans who saw it as a misrepresentation and a bad-mouthing of the Wiccan religion.

And then the accusations came – accusations of excessive monetary charges for classes and inflated egos. In a 2009 comment on a blog, Linda, claiming to be an FCoW member and participant in the TLC special, said that the FCoW started out with a fantastic group of people, sharing joys and sorrows while taking a Wicca 101 class. Then, after the TLC special aired, things began to change.

When our Wicca 101 class went from being free to the middle of the 52 week course, she announced that we would have to pay for it, I almost lost my friggin’ mind. The “Church” had also decided that all true members were to send a monthly payment as well for the services rendered to us. I could pay for one but not for both. It was insane! Money was needed for everything and of course we were given the sermon of “give until it hurts.” I was also told that if it hurt me to give, then I was truly giving, but if it didn’t hurt then my spiritually was in question …

I really could go on and on about the messes that were created, the hostility that began to grow. And because I was one of the first to verbally express my dissatisfaction I was one of the first to be “rejected” among the other members. It turned out to be a total nightmare, ruining the relationship that I was in as well as the entire home life. I watched as others who were involved in a relationship become disenchanted and more breakups were occurring than anyone staying together.

The angry blog comment ended with “The First Church of Wicca may it burn as ashes in her christian hell.”

Hovey went on to become a minister of a Christian church for a short time, then returned to her cultural Jewish roots before gradually working her way back to Wicca and reopening the FCoW in fall 2014.

So what happened?
Hovey said that several months before she decided to leave her church, an ongoing situation involving polyamory came to a head. She said that she was asked to take a positive and public stand on polyamory and, after contemplating it, she agreed.

Hovey recalled, “I held a class and taught the entire concept, along with the very clear boundaries that needed to be adhered to, in order for it to truly work among any couple exploring it. Everyone seemed to understand, at least until they didn’t. To say that things got complicated, ugly, and out of control is an understatement.”

She said that people ended up splitting up or divorcing, which caused stress and turmoil in the church. She was then asked to speak about polyamory for a Pagan Pride Day in Maine. She said, “Hindsight being perfect vision, I should have canceled; instead I spoke against it. Needless to say, things were spiraling down.”

Rev. Dr. Kendra Vaughan Hovey [courtesy photo]

Rev. Dr. Kendra Vaughan Hovey [courtesy photo]

During this same time she became friends with a local Christian Pastor. As she came from a Jewish background, she hadn’t much experience with Christianity and wanted to learn more. Over the course of two years, they emailed back and forth daily. “I had learned so much about Jesus and his teachings, that I saw nothing but metaphysics all over it. It spoke to my beliefs, and added a level of dimension that I had never before experienced,” said Hovey.

It was then, in August 2008, that she asked him to baptize her, but she planned to stay with her church. Yet Hovey’s plans changed. “When the whole polyamory mess happened in our church, I thought it might be a sign to move on, and so I did, to Christianity,” she explained.

She said that she was surprised by the reaction from the wider Pagan community when she closed the church and sent out her explanation to church members. “…I had no idea the letter would go viral. I was actually addressing some very serious issues that were taking place in our church, and wanted to be sure my congregation knew what was driving me to leave. However, after all of the backlash from the wider Pagan community, I think the point was lost.”

There and back again – a spiritual journey
Hovey opened Living Waters Community of Hope in the same space as her former Wiccan church. She said it was tough being a progressive minister in a born-again community and her struggle wasn’t so much with the religion, but with other Christians.

By 2011 she had had enough. Although she loved the teachings of Jesus, it wasn’t enough. However, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to return to Wicca, but she knew she was a Witch and she missed magic.

In October 2013 her mother died. When Hovey attended her mother’s funeral, it was the first time she had been to a Jewish event in decades. She said it felt incredibly comfortable and familiar to her, saying, “My children have over the past several years identified themselves as being Jewish, and I thought to honor my mother, I would take my children back and re-embrace my heritage.”

In a December 2014 blog post, Hovey detailed how she underwent a ritual bath to re-embrace the Jewish faith.

December 31, 2013, wasn’t just the start of a new year and new religion for me. It was the end of a very long spiritual journey that had led me in a complete circle. As I immersed in the living waters, I was met with a full gamut of emotions. My journey was complete and G-d was right there in the center of it all embracing me in His loving arms. Then I heard Him whisper, “Welcome home, Shifra, my dear prodigal daughter. Welcome home.-  Rev. Dr. Kendra Vaughan Hovey, writing as Shifra Hovey in her now deleted blog MyJewishness.com

Hovey said that she and her children attended a synagogue for about three months, but the experience only reaffirmed that she had been right to leave Judaism when she was young. That’s when she returned to Wicca.

While Hovey was on this spiritual journey, her former Wiccan congregants were traveling their own paths.

Sara Jayne tried attending Hovey’s Christian church, but soon stopped. She then attended a liberal Christian church that didn’t mind a Wiccan sitting in the pews. “I actually love the Christian philosophy of loving everyone and spreading God’s love, which led me to be baptized myself ultimately,” said Susan Jayne. She eventually served as an Elder in the Presbyterian church, and she thought that was it, “My Wiccan “phase” was over, and I was very spiritually filled.”

But it wasn’t. Susan Jayne explained, “I missed being a Witch, and having a bunch of other Witches to worship the God and Goddess with. I wanted to go back to FCoW then, and every time that thought crossed my mind, I would strongly remind myself that that was in the past, and FCoW was gone.” She said that lasted about ten months. Then she came back from a vacation saw a message on Facebook about the FCoW reopening for a Samhain ritual.

Delia joined the FCoW back in 2006. She enjoyed finding like minded people and felt she was growing by learning from others. She said that she was upset when the church closed and tried attending Hovey’s Christian church but it didn’t feel like home to her.

After that, she continued with her solitary practice and “… took time to reconnect with the Goddess and God on [her] own.” She also kept in touch with other former members of the FCoW. Once she heard the church had reopened she joined back up, happy to once again see her old friends. “It feels like home,” said Delia.

Hovey said that her journey has taught her many things. She said that she’s always been willing to look for answers and doesn’t fear exploration. “I will forever be a seeker, but that doesn’t mean that my seeking needs to be explored by jumping from religion to religion. I have found that the Goddess supersedes all religions, but that I best fit where I am today,” said Hovey. She added that one of the beautiful things about eclectic Wicca is the freedom it gives to seek and experience other faith beliefs.

Allegations from the past
When asked about the allegations that she had excessively charged congregants for classes and tithes, Hovey said that these allegations were false. She explained that the church hosted an annual meeting where members voted on the budget. She said that one year they voted to pay her a salary of $200 a month, adding “a very small salary, but it showed me that I was appreciated.”

In order for FCoW to meet its budget, each member agreed to tithe $40 a month. Hovey said that she understands that for some $40 a month is large amount of money. However, she felt church goers received quite a bit for that voluntary donation. She said that she was a more than a full-time minister who held services every week. There were church outings, religious education for children, and pastoral counseling and healing treatments Monday through Friday from 8am to 8pm. She welcomed church members to eat meals with her family anytime they wished and took in congregants who faced temporary economic hardship.

As for monetary gain? Hovey said her husband donated over $200,000 to the church, and it caused them financial difficulties.  She added, “We ended up having our home foreclosed and currently live in a small two bedroom apartment.”

According to the former FCoW website from 2007, there is no required payment for church membership. It does list the available classes that members can take in order to advance in their initiation degrees or to simply gain basic knowledge. They range from $30 to $100 per class.

And what about the clerical collar and the congregational model of worship?

Hovey said her model for FCoW came from the Unitarian Universalist Church, where she and her husband attended for several years as Wiccans. As for the collar, she said that she had noticed one of the UU ministers wearing one and asked “why.” The minister explained, “because I am a minister and I have every right to wear one if I choose to.” That answer stuck with Hovey. “At the time I was doing both hospital and prison chaplain work as a Wiccan minister and the collar worked out well in providing credibility to our faith,” she explained.

In addition, Hovey makes no apologies for running a church rather than a coven. “We are a public Wiccan ministry and I want anyone who comes to our services to feel something that they can identify with that gives them a level of comfort,” she said. Although FCoW’s metaphysical services look and feel somewhat like a traditional church service, its ritual observances are done in a coven-like setting.

FCoW reopens
Hovey said that she didn’t make the decision to reopen FCoW lightly. She remembers how challenging it was to be a solitary practitioner and not have anyone “standing in her corner when she was ready to come out of the broom closet.” She said that there are Wiccans out there who want a spiritual community, but aren’t trusting of a coven environment. “The First Church of Wicca is public. We have nothing to hide,” said Hovey, adding that FCoW “… encourages people to bring someone they trust with them to check us out—a friend, a family member, anyone. We’re a safe place to explore, and welcome anyone who is curious.”

FCOW Church LogoThe church reopened November 1 to host a Samhain ritual and is currently being run out of Hovey’s home. She said that they have already outgrown the space and so they are looking to return to Tarkiln Community Center in Duxbury. Old members, like Susan Jayne and Delia, are returning and new members are joining.

Hovey noted that their private Facebook group has already grown to 70 members in just two months and that she receives inquiries by phone and email daily. She hopes that the church is so successful in meeting the needs of their members that people forget the past six years.

Susan Jayne is one of those hoping for success, if not quite able to forget the past. She said, “Life in FCoW 6 years ago wasn’t always sunshine and roses, and there were things that happened there that gave me pause. It took a lot of prayer and meditation to decide to return. I decided to go back for the Samhain ritual and get a feel for the new FCoW, and I think that’s where I’m at right now. I’ll stay as long as it’s a positive thing in my life.”

Hovey invites people who have questions to contact her directly at KVHovey@gmail.com. She said that she’s made mistakes in the past and apologizes for the hurt she may have caused. She also added that “…even though our name is the same, our leadership is the same, and our church mission is the same, there have been many things that have changed and are very different here. So, I don’t even view the First Church of Wicca as the same church anymore. It’s something new, and we’ve all been given a fresh start.”

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England is small, green and – apart from a bit in the East – rolling. So hills are plentiful. English Pagans are great clamberers up these hills. However it’s less than half of all sunrises that we will see from these green and luscious vantage points, because the sky is clear so rarely. We stand attentively and enraptured; though a little disappointed on those many visits when the overcast British ‘sunrise’ is actually just a gradual lightening of the sky from a dark grey to light grey over a slow meditative hour.

Hass Hill [Photo Credit: Charlie Kennedy / CC via Wikimedia]

Hass Hill [Photo Credit: Charlie Kennedy / CC via Wikimedia]

In England, Pagans greet the solstice sunrise on their local sacred site, or at a local hill with a good southeastern view. Often people do it alone, or with their partner, sometimes with a small group of friends. Most often people stay local.

When I lived next to Hampstead Heath, I once went to the Whitestone Pond to watch a winter sunrise. When I had a boyfriend in Chalk Farm, I watched the spring equinox sunrise on Primrose Hill. When I lived in Richmond, I went to a dip behind a spot called King Henry’s Mound in the Richmond Park. That’s just a bit of my history around London neighbourhoods.

It’s even stronger across the country, in the more rural areas. Down near Glastonbury my pals lived in a tiny village by Ham Hill. When I went to visit, they regaled me with the origins of the name, the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon settlements found upon it, and described to me the strange lights that were sometimes seen upon it. Of course we had to trek up it.

My witch friends in Gloucestershire always went with their coven members up the hill behind their house. Almost every Pagan in England has an adopted hill. I promise that if you visit on or around one of the sabbats, particularly a solstice, you’ll hear all about a sacred site, and they’ll take you there if they’ve half a chance.

The English learned to write in the Dark Ages and immediately began writing about lore associated with every bump and dip in the landscape. Medieval writers Gerald of Wales and Geoffrey of Monmouth are two of those who recorded the lore of the land. The tradition kept up through the Tudors and Stuarts. Then the 18th-century antiquarians made an encyclopedic project of English landscape lore. Pagans today use the resources at hand to get hold of the earliest information they can about their local hill. Once that’s under their belt, they find which deities are local, and of course – which ghosts may haunt it.

Then there’s the logistical side to master. In other words, can you get up the hill? And can you see the Southeast from it? For Pagans, ‘accessible’ means you can find a way to get into the grounds and up to the top in darkness, and descend in daylight. Accessible may or may not mean technically legal.

Summer Solstice on Breton Hill [© Copyright Philip Halling  / CC lic. geograph.org.uk]

Summer Solstice on Breton Hill [ © Copyright Philip Halling / CC lic. geograph.org.uk]

Many a time I’ve been taken by a friend to a place for a solstice dawn that’s accessible. Well, sort of accessible because you can easily get in if you climb under a gap in the fence at the right spot. ‘We’ll just park in a layby down the road then approach quietly, sticking to edge of the road by the trees’ says the friend. And the farmer never need know as long as we leave it spotless. Sometimes the landowner is the National Park Authority, sometimes the National Trust.

Sometimes a Pagan meets another Pagan atop a hill, purely by chance. It’s a funny moment, that meeting. It’s always cold, dew-damp and dark, and we approach gently, so as not to startle. We then always nod at one another. Then we might offer a little advice as to where the sun’s due to come up, or ask if they came up by the wire fence down the left, just to break the ice a little. Then we separate, to find our own spots, and settle into our respective solitude.

After it’s over, an hour or so later, a few more pleasantries are offered with a query of a local pub in the region that might serve breakfast. When parting, one waves and mumbles unsurely ‘Blessed be.’ In that very English way, one doesn’t want to presume it’s appropriate. On the other hand, it would be rude not to extend the traditional good wish.

We’ve just had the winter solstice here, and I’ve recently moved to South London. For the very first time, I didn’t climb a hill as there isn’t one nearby. It feels all wrong. Tonight I’ll be getting out a local map and finding the nearest one, and tomorrow I’ll be digging out the local folklore. Solstice 2015 will see me climbing a hill again and I’ll feel properly pagan once more.

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[Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org]

[Photo Credit: W. Guy Finley/cc. lic. via wikimedia]

The upcoming convention season brings about much celebration, many learning opportunities and face to face community interactions with other Pagan practitioners. Paganicon, PantheaCon, ConVocation, Sacred Space, Between the Worlds, and the Conference on Current Pagan Studies all happen between January and March. These large convention-style Pagan events have become an essential part of the community landscape.

While these conventions can be more costly than camping festivals, they are packed full of programming and bring a diversity of people to the forefront of our community expansion. Part of the beauty of events like this include the combination of Pagan authors, speakers, practitioners, ritualists, healers, musicians, and emerging or locals talents. And, of course, no one can deny that these events provide an opportunity to shop at incredible Pagan markets.

So what can we expect this year from the upcoming conventions? How do these conventions serve the community in 2015? What are people looking forward to the most?

All conventions have their own cultures. Each one appeals to different people for different reasons. Whether it is the presenters, concerts, merchandise, or the chance to engage with others, conventions seem to serve a multitude of community needs within modern Paganism. Thousands of people pay the entrance fees and hotel costs, and some even purchase plane tickets tickets, just to attend these conventions from the west coast to the east coast. In many ways, these events serve as a pilgrimage for many Pagans and have value in the larger picture of community.

The myriad reasons why Pagans seem to go out of their way to attend conventions are just as diverse as the responses below.

Author and artist Lupa Greenwolf will be presenting at PantheaCon and is an honored guest of Paganicon this year. Over the year, Lupa has been an avid participant and presenter at many pagan conventions.

Lupa Greenwolf
[Courtesy Photo]

There are a few different things that draw me to conventions. Some of it’s business, some of it’s fun. On the business end, I go there to present workshops and other activities, both to share neat things I’ve been working with spiritually, and to promote my writing and artwork. I also vend my art and books at a lot of local conventions, Pagan and otherwise; a lot of these things I simply wouldn’t be able to afford to attend if I weren’t selling my work to pay my way. Conventions are always a great networking opportunity, especially larger ones where you may have people from all over the place.

But that’s the work end of things.I wouldn’t go to these events if they weren’t also fun. I’m a really, really busy person, and conventions are sometimes the only significant social time I get during the craziest parts of the year. They pull together a bunch of people I might not get to see in person otherwise, and they get me out of the apartment! I don’t get to attend as many workshops as I’d like most of the time, just because I’m often preparing for my own presentations, or attending to a booth, or catching up with long-distance friends. But there’s usually something that I absolutely must go see while I’m there, and it’s nice to just sit back and absorb someone else’s wisdom and experience for a while.

I’m really looking forward to PantheaCon next month; I’m already making plans to see people there (and maybe do a little hiking out in the wilder areas out of town.) And then I’ll roll right into MythicWorlds in Seattle, which always has some of the best energy and people-watching. I also just sent in booth applications for both the Northwest Tarot Symposium and Sister Spirit’s Pagan Faire here in Portland; the first one is shiny and new, while the latter is an old, well-loved favorite. And I’m always happy to be with my Faerieworlds folks in the summertime. Closer to home, I’m already making plans for the third year of my own event, Curious Gallery, which while it isn’t blatantly pagan, it is deeply inspired and informed by my dedication to nature.

Taylor Ellwood [Courtesy Photo]

As an author, practitioner, and publisher, Taylor Ellwood participates in multiple conventions around the United States both as a presenter and as an attendee to simply connect with community.

I like to participate in conventions because it gives me a chance to meet other Pagans and magicians that aren’t local to my area. Additionally I enjoy the opportunity to interact with people who like my work and might not otherwise get to meet me.

I’m most excited about attending Between the Worlds, which is a conference that is only held every few years. The next one won’t be until 2020 so I’m excited to go to the one happening this year.

Brenda Titus is a professional hypnotist in Orange County, California, and a regular participant in the annual PantheaCon festival held in San Jose, California. This year Brenda will be adding to the event’s workshops with her own slot, bringing her skills to the participants of the festival.

Brenda Titus [Photo Credit: http://www.ochypnotherapy.com/]

Brenda Titus [Courtesy Photo]

I first attended PantheaCon 5 years ago having no idea what to expect. A friend had been going for years and suggested I go. My first experience was CAYA Coven’s “Wake up to Spirit” ritual. It moved me so deeply, I felt like a part of me had in fact “woken up” well beyond what I expected. I filled myself up to the brim that weekend with workshops, rituals, energy beyond my understanding at the time. I went home with an energy hangover and a deep desire to return!

Over the years, my motivation to return has changed. While I have Pagan community and family at home, people who are deeply part of my personal growth and my life throughout the year, my once a year visit with people that I only see in person at PantheaCon is also a very important part of my motivation to participate. I have had profound experiences at PantheaCon that were propelled by well crafted rituals, performed by people that I have grown to trust, and fueled by serious group energy.

I don’t know if I can pick one thing that I am most excited about, so I’ll have to pick 3:reconnecting with people (at rituals, parties and on the fly), rituals & workshops that will help me on my path for the year … The thing I’m MOST excited about is that this year, for the first time, I get to give back as a presenter. The experiences that I had at PantheaCon over the last 5 years have definitely propelled my career as a Hypnotherapist, so I am thrilled to present “Connecting to the wisdom of the soul with hypnosis.” 

Lisa Spiral Besnett  [Courtesy Photo]

Lisa Spiral is a long time Priestess and the author of two books through Immanion Press. She goes to Pagan festivals routinely and has flown from the midwest to California for the past several years to participate in PantheaCon.

I really enjoy seeing old friends and the opportunity to network. There is often interesting programming and I find it useful to learn and grow outside of my “comfort zone.” As an author I also think it’s important to put my name and face out there in the community.

This year I’m very excited about the expansion of the discussion of Race and Paganism. I think we have a unique community mindset that is ready to actually examine privilege and look for ways to move forward in this area.

While there continues to be a lot of disagreement and confusion around the concept of community and Paganism, these conference are some of the few times Pagans get to practice community in action together. Having collective experiences and shared space among the many different groups underneath the large umbrella of Paganism appears to foster a feeling of community that we often lack otherwise.

So how do these conventions serve the Pagan community? I find this question to be vital in most of the things we choose to do, and conventions are no exception.

They’re a coming together time. We get to have a temporary space where we can share ideas, catch up with people, and let new movements find their footing. It’s a great seedbed for zeitgeist. And for some people, conventions are one of the few opportunities they may have to interact with other Pagans, particularly those of a similar tradition. It’s easier to hit a critical mass that can make great changes in the community at a convention because of the sheer volume of attendees and the relatively public nature of the setting. You may only know a few people there really well, but they know people, and those people know other people, and an idea can spread very quickly, especially if it’s sparked by something in the moment. Look at the situation with transgender women and Z. Budapest at PantheaCon a couple of years ago; that probably wouldn’t have had nearly as much of an impact if it had been one transgender woman being told “No, you can’t join our small Dianic coven, sorry. - Lupa Greenwolf

I do feel conventions serve the community. They provide a space for Pagans to be openly Pagan and have the experience of meeting and working with other people who share their interests. – Taylor Ellwood

These conventions (all, not just PantheaCon) serve the Pagan community because they bring people from various regions, varying traditions and philosophies together to learn with and from each other. What I learn at Pantheacon, I bring back to my own community. This is also a time for regular “coming together” to focus on community issues in order to bring about change. I’ve seen this over the years in regards to gender issues, leadership, safety, people of color, etc. One con does not set the agenda for the entire Pagan community, however important conversations that need to be made in person take place, which help carry forward into growth and paradigm shift. – Brenda Titus

I think the conventions serve the community in a number of ways. They are a very public event, and therefore make an opportunity for new people to see there is a community and for the larger community to acknowledge our subgroup. I think it’s a great chance to touch base with people we don’t get to see regularly and it’s easier for some of us than camping at festivals. I think it’s incredibly important that these conventions represent the diversity in our communities. It’s very easy to see Paganism from our own practice or tradition lens and forget about all the variations that are out there. Intra-faith work is just as important to me as interfaith and these conventions are strong intra-faith opportunities. – Lisa Spiral

January starts the convention season and 2015 is shaping up to be a fascinating year. The Conference on Current Pagan Studies, PantheaCon, ConVocation, Paganicon, Sacred Space and the Between The Worlds Conference all span across a 3 month period. As this year’s convention season unfolds, we get to see the best and the worst elements of community come together in small moments of time that become memories, spark ideas for collaboration, shed light on the need for continued activism and more. Friendships are formed; opportunities for networking or birthing new ideas come to the forefront; and problem areas within them modern Pagan community are often exposed.

Conventions have become part of the foundation of the modern Pagan culture. Good or bad, every year we tend to learn something new about ourselves individually and collectively. We get the chance to ask ourselves how participating in the greater Pagan community, or culture, supports collective goals and advancement. How do we use these opportunities to promote understanding and intrafaith dialog? How can we create a collective culture of tolerance, inclusivity, excitement and respect among the many different, unique and viable parts of our modern Pagan experience? How do these very moments shape the community at large? These are important questions in today’s time.

Descriptions of the five mentioned conventions are listed below, including links for more information.

conference-logo-transparent-background1The Conference on Current Pagan Studies will be held January 24 – 25 in Claremont, California. This year’s theme is Fecundity and Richness of the Dark. There will be two keynote speakers. Vivianne Crowley will present “Stepping out of the Shadows and into the Light: Evolution and Tensions in the Future of Contemporary Pagan Witchcraft.Orion Foxwood will be presenting “Consecrating the Underworld: The Eco-Spiritual and Co-Creative Implications of Faery Tradition”. Other presenters are included in this two day conference, which highlights some of the academic areas of Pagan research.

PantheaConPantheaCon will be held February 13 – 16 in San Jose, California. This year’s theme is Pagan Visions of the Future; Building a Pagan Safety and Social Net. This four day event will feature a wide and diverse array of workshops, panels, concerts, and rituals. The schedule is packed with anywhere from five to eleven workshops in each time slot. With several thousand participants each year, this is the biggest Pagan convention in the United States. This year’s schedule includes authors and performers, such as Jason Mankey, Selena Fox, Rhyd Wildermuth, Alley Valkyrie, Taylor Ellwood, Shauna Aura Knight, David Salisbury, Courtney Weber, T. Thorn Coyle, Christopher Penczak, Pandemonaeon, Lou Florez, Orion Foxwood, Celia, and many, many more.

ConVocation, located in Detroit, will be held on February 19 –  22. This year’s theme is Journey’s End:  A New World Begins and the guests of honor include Andras Corban-Arthen, Kerr Cuhulain, Dorothy Morrison, Diana Paxon, M.R. Sellars and Mother Moon. The featured presenters include Jason Mankey, Ellen Dugan, Michelle Belanger, and others. ConVocation, which has been run annually since 1995, boasts about 100 workshops and presentations, and has approximately 35 vendors for Pagan shopping.

paganiconMinnesota’s Paganicon, now in its fifth year, will be held between March 13 – March 15. According to the website, “Paganicon is organized by Twin Cities Pagan Pride and a host of volunteers to provide an educational and social venue for Pagans, Wiccans, Heathens, Druids & other folk, craft, indigenous or magickal traditions.” This year, Selena Fox and Lupa Greenwolf are the guests of honor, along with performances by Tuatha Dea. The program schedule has not yet been released and there are still several upcoming deadlines should anyone want to be involved. Presenter registration deadline is February 1, and the final schedule will be released February 15.

Between The Worlds

Between The Worlds

For this year only, the Between the Worlds and Sacred Space Conferences have merged. One admission price will give you a joint experience including the list of guests from both conferences. The joint event will be held March 5 – 8 in Hunt Valley, Maryland. This year, there will be presentations by T. Thorn Coyle, Aeptha, Ivo Domínguez, Jr., Katrina Messenger, Dorothy Morrison, Christopher Penczak, Kirk Thomas, Michael G. Smith, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Judika Illes, Diana Paxson, Literata Hurley , H. Byron Ballard, and more.

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