Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotes and images from figures within Pagan and Heathen communities. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media or a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, expression, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice or visual artist you’d like to see highlighted? Contact us with a link to the story, post, audio, or image.

I care about many things. I love many people, communities, and the Earth. I am passionate about many issues. I lean into the discomfort when I discover something that is wrong in myself, cultures, technologies, religions, and politics so that I can do my part to change what can be changed. This means I live a rich life with bright lights and abysmal darks, and I would not have it any other way. . . . . . . I’ve been heartened by the outpouring of support and the encouraging words about taking time for self-care. I appreciate the support and I’d like to say that my self-care is as much for you as it is about me. — Ivo Dominguez Jr., on self-care in the wake of the Orlando attacks.

We were made for these times. You are the result of generations of ancestors who lived through the terrible times and survived. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Take out your comfort basket. Enjoy beauty. Hold your beloveds close. Drink tea. The struggle will still be here when you come back. Goddess knows, it ain’t showed much sign of disappearing heretofore. — HecateDemeter, “I Will Not Leave You Comfortless.”

The truth is though, that globalism and nativism are mutually exclusive ideas. You cannot preserve the identity of a people’s native heritage, and bind them all together as one giant, unified species. There’s too many mutually exclusive differences between the groups. It would be like trying to fuse Asatru with Islam, when at every turn they differ on absolutely every issue, from how many gods there are to how you treat women, to what is the appropriate way to regain lost honor. — Lucius Svartwulf Helsen on the inherent tension between nativism and globalism.

“A lot of food assistance available is through other religious organizations,” said Rev. Amy J. Castner, a priest in the Druid faith and vice president of Pagans in Need. “A lot of people who are Pagans or not religious don’t feel comfortable receiving help from people who don’t share their religious views. Knowing there’s a place for them to go where their lifestyle is accepted makes people feel more comfortable.” — Amy Castner, quoted in the Lansing State Journal article “Fresh veggies, clothes offered at Pagans in Need food pantry.”

In a sense, polytheism is like art. It is interpretation and expression, and absolutely does not and cannot place emphasis on any single unity. There is no end point for polytheism, or for the multiplicity of the divine. It branches and twists, turns and splinters into a hundred iterations, a thousand views and infinitely more interpretations, all underneath the conception of what it means to be a “god,” many of which exist alongside each other under a wider religious umbrella. That which is conceptualized as a single divinity is ultimately – sometimes intimately – multifarious, producing a range of attributes, qualities, and experiences which can felt differently between people of the same household, let alone what would have constituted the differences between two regional traditions. — The Lettuce Man, “I Call It ‘Musashi Contemplates Caravaggio’.”

From WitchsFest 2016 [Photo by Ron Frary. All Rights Reserved]

From WitchsFest 2016 [Image by Ron Frary. All Rights Reserved]

This idea that people who are evil or commit evil acts couldn’t possibly be Pagan, it drives me batty. It is not up to us to decide what another person’s religion is. If someone is a practicing Pagan, let’s say a practicing Hellene: they worship the theoi, they practice Hellenic ritual forms, they do what Hellenes are supposed to do. They don’t suddenly become not-Hellene because they commit some act that I and other Hellenes think is evil. — Bekah Evie Bel, “Pagans Aren’t Evil.”

We can solve all the world’s problems, we can stop the violence, once we stop looking at life as the singular and start looking at life as a whole. There was a time back in history when humans worked together in order to survive in this world, sadly that was when our ancestors ventured out of Africa into the harsh unknown.

We can make all these advancements in technology, but we cannot make any advancements within ourselves. That is going to lead us down a path that we will not survive and the ego isn’t going to help us when we are there. With everything you see and hear that is going on in the world, we are on that path right now sprinting to the end. — Bear (CanadianDruid), “Can We End Violence?

I have a theory that what the religious “nones” may be looking for is not the “religionless church” offered by the Sunday Assembly and Unitarian Universalism, but “churchless religion” — symbol, myth, and ritual, without the moralism, dogmatism, and hierarchy — a kind of “Hinduism for the West.” . . . . I suspect that part of the reason we Pagans have not yet capitalized on the growth of the nones is that people can’t find us . . . . I question whether people can really experience Paganism virtually or by reading a book. — John Halstead, from an essay on eco-shrines.

Although the majority of modern Pagans are not anti-capitalists, there is a fundamental contradiction between the Pagan and capitalist worldviews. The worldview of capitalism is sociopathic; it treats everything and everyone as an object to be used. The worldview of paganism is relational; not only does it not treat people or animals as mere objects, it doesn’t look at anything else as a mere object either. — Christopher Scott Thompson, “What is Pagan Anarchism?

One of the reasons Pagans (people who practice earth-based spirituality) might not know if a curse is legit or not is because there are groups, like Wicca and some variations of shamanism, and other Pagan traditions, that follow the “harm none” principal. Those groups tend not to use curses or hexes in their spell work at all so they might not study that negative juju enough to know exactly how energetic harm is made. That means they might also not know how to stop a curse, or protect themselves from one, once one has been enacted against them.

Yet even those groups that practice “harm none” know that curses in the Pagan community do exist and either by experience or observation they tend to believe they can cause great harm. Most practitioners of the above-mentioned philosophies greatly fear curses for the mayhem, disease, and destruction they can cause someone. That’s part of the way they shun such teachings. — SunTiger, “What Every Pagan Should Know About Curses.”

[Greg Harder]

Yucca [Image by Greg Harder. All Rights Reserved.]

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

[From court document]

[From court document]

CHICAGO — Wiccan inmate Gilbert Knowles sued the warden of the Pontiac Correctional Center, located in Pontiac, Illinois, for refusing to allow him to wear his pentacle necklace. According to Appellate Briefs, the facility was concerned that the “star” was gang-related or would promote gang activity. Other sources say the same, reporting that the correction center had banned “all inmates from possessing five- and six-point star symbols” for that reason.

Knowles, who is serving a 52-year sentence in the death of a toddler, sued the warden under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the case was recently heard by the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago. The court ruled that Knowles’ religious rights had been violated, and the judge granted a temporary injunction, allowing the inmate to wear his pentacle. The opinion concludes, “His freedom of religion has been gratuitously infringed by the prison. The judgment of the district court is reversed with instructions to grant the preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiff.”

Related: Broadly published an article for its readers concerning Pagan practice in prison. Titled Witch Trials: There Is Nothing Magical About Being a Pagan in Prison, the article details a decade-long religious freedom case in California, and includes an interview with Starhawk.

Religion, Politics and Taking a Stand

  • Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) has published an article discussing a recent statement by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. At the Republican National Convention, Trump vowed to work hard to repeal the laws that limit religious organizations from endorsing, supporting and promoting political candidates. He said, “You have so much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits.”  In the AU article, writer Simon Brown explains the history of this federal tax code amendment, called the Johnson Amendment, and how Trump is not the only politician actively seeking its removal.. Brown writes, “The issue is currently under consideration in Congress. Republicans in the House of Representatives have added a rider to an appropriations bill (H.R. 5485) that would make it harder for the IRS to enforce the Johnson Amendment.”  AU has set up a petition to oppose any change to these tax laws.
  • In a landmark move, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) passed a measure that supports the 2015 Paris Climate agreement. According to The Huffington Post, 30,000 members met in Philadelphia at the organization’s annual conference, where the measure was adopted in coordination with the interfaith group Blessed Tomorrow. In a statement, Bishop John White, President, Council of Bishops of the AME Church, said, “Damage to our climate puts the health of children, elderly, and those with chronic illnesses at greater risk and disproportionately impacts African Americans. We believe it is our duty to commit to taking action and promoting solutions that will help make our families and communities healthier and stronger.”

Around the World

  • In Guan Yu Park in Jingzhou, China, there now sits a 1,320-ton statue depicting the god of war. Designed by artist Han Meilin, the statue is reportedly 58 metres (190 ft) tall, contains over 4,000 strips of bronze, and has a museum in its base. General Guan Yu is one of the most popular figures in Chinese history. He lived from 162-219 C.E. and was a major character in the 13th-century Chinese novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. His popularity has grown over time and, in more recent years, Guan Yu has become a common figure in pop culture. At the same time, Guan Yu is revered as a god. According to one website, “It is said that a shrine for him is in every Hong Kong police station. He is also a patron god of Chinese criminal groups for his bravery and fighting prowess. Business people and shop owners put up shrines in order to gain wealth. He is worshipped as a Daoist god, a Buddhist deity, and by Confucianists.”  The new statue was just recently unveiled, and will tower over the city of Jingzhou for many years to come.

[Courtesy BoredPanda.com]

[Courtesy BoredPanda.com]

Arts and Culture

  • The Huffington Post recently featured an interview with Reverend Yolanda, a “Genderqueer Singer-Songwriter/Interfaith Minister.” In 2003, Reverend Yolanda was awarded the title of “outmusician of the year” by New York City newspaper Gay City News. Huffington Post writer Jed Ryan speaks to her about that award, her work since that point, and how her spirituality informs her music. Reverend Yolanda told Ryan: “At the heart of all spiritual paths is the understanding that we are all one … and that there is a divine life source energy that animates all life on Earth. That energy needs to be respected […] I do not subscribe to any one religion, but I do connect with that universality which is in all paths. I love paganism and Wicca and goddess-based spirituality which really honors the Earth.”
  • It was announced last week that the Jim Henson Company would be producing a film adaptation of Sir Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men.  Award-winning writer and Pratchett’s daughter, Rhianna Pratchett will be creating the screen adaptation. For those who aren’t familiar with the work, “The Wee Free Men is the first in a series of Discworld novels starring the young witch Tiffany Aching. A nightmarish danger threatens from the other side of reality. Armed with only a frying pan and her common sense, the young witch-to-be must defend her home against the monsters of Fairyland.” The Jim Henson Company will serve as the production company, with Pratchett, backed by her company Narrativia, serving as one of the executive producers. Filming will begin in 2016. No release date has been announced.
  • Did you know there is a secret world in Tumblr? And it’s filled with Witches. MIC has published an article exploring Tumblr’s teen Witch culture, including several interviews on coven activity and practice.
  • Coming soon to a computer screen near you will be the new webseries Brujos. Written by New York University student Ricardo Gamboa, and directed by both Gamboa and Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke, Brujos will follow the story of “four gay Latino grad students who are witches” as they battle witch hunters. Gamboa writes, “Supernatural has double meaning as these characters access their magic to fight evil and are also depicted struggling to love themselves and combating oppressions like poverty, gentrification, police, sexual trauma…”  The show is in production now and will be available in winter 2017. Here is a preview.

Brujos (2017) — Teaser Scenes from Open TV (beta) on Vimeo.

All years are full of death, just as they are full of life. This year, however, seems particularly violent. Admittedly, this dark feeling is encouraged by the mainstream media, the alternative media, and social media. Even with that caveat, the past month has seen a heartbreaking tide of killing. Between June 12 and July 22, we collectively witnessed over 150 violent deaths: the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Dallas and Baton Rouge police shootings, the Nice and Munich attacks, and the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Of course, there were many, many other killings in the United States and around the world, but these are the ones that have dominated our national discussion. During the same period, more than 80 people were murdered here in Chicago. Although repeatedly referenced in arguments and memes, the names of the Chicago dead go unspoken as they are used in politicized one-upmanship. Even as we change our Facebook profile images to show solidarity with victims of one of the tragedies obsessively covered by the mass media, mass murders in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere continue to go unmentioned. Such are the workings of our collective consciousness.

I unequivocally condemn every one of these killings. They are all acts of terror and horror, and people of conscience should be mortified by each of these awful acts of violence. Depending on our politics, we blame some victims and lionize others, allowing our prejudices to parse which victims are more deserving of being honored. It is time to move beyond such narrow perspectives and recognize that each life snuffed out is an equal tragedy.

Sigmund’s Death by Johannes Gehrts (1885) [Public Domain]

The deceased themselves are no longer able to care what ideology or mental state lead to their death. Dead is dead. The question for the rest of us is whether we can find a response better than blaming entire religions, professions, races, or movements. Can we do something more productive than increasing the level of hate?

The time has come for those of us who practice a form of Ásatrú or Heathenry to ask what positive actions we can take in such a charged climate.

For many Heathens in the United States, a cornerstone of worldview is the declaration that “we are our deeds.” If this is to be more than a slogan, we should treat the killers in each of the tragedies equally and hold them accountable for their actions. Rather than focusing on the dead who can no longer speak for themselves, we can demand that the perpetrators be put on public trial and face a lawful reckoning. We can act like the Heathens of old, and insist on bringing the killers before the modern-day equivalents of the ancient Thing, the assembly where public judgments were rendered.

If we are our deeds, let us hold the doer of the deed publicly accountable rather than declaring him innocent without indictment or giving him the martyrdom he seeks by executing him in the street. We often hear the refrain that the innocent have nothing to fear from the police. If that is so, then any officer who kills a citizen in the line of duty should have nothing to fear from a jury of citizens and should volunteer to be put on trial instead of asking his union to prevent legal proceedings. Rather than killing a mass killer on the spot or blowing up a shooter with a robot, let the professionals we employ with our tax dollars use their training to capture and bring killers to account.

Heathens often point to academic definitions that tag historical polytheism as “world-affirming” — in contrast to traditional Christianity, which is asserted to be “world-denying.” Are modern Heathens truly “world-affirming?” To be so means that we are active in the world, that we have a place in this world’s flow of events. Many of us are attracted to the history, legends, and sagas of the ancient Germanic tribes and peoples because of their wide-ranging travels and the determined spirit that led them to play major roles in the timelines of multiple world cultures and civilizations. If we consider ourselves the spiritual descendants of the ancient Heathens, how do we make our mark on the world of today? How do we involve ourselves in the great debates of the issues of our own time?

1493 world map nuremburg chronicle

World map from Nuremburg Chronicle (1493) [Public Domain]

Some Heathens insist that they are only interested in their own innangarð, focusing exclusively on the “inner yard” of their closest family and friends. As in the distant past, today the outside world forces itself into the inner one. Family members who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are targeted for hate crimes by both Islamic extremists and those whose personal issues lead them to strike out in extreme acts of public violence. Our Black loved ones are disproportionately targeted by police officers who break their own rules of conduct. Right-acting police officers in our communities are gunned down, and their killers –- in both Dallas and Baton Rouge –- are damaged veterans of our nation’s military.

If we turn our backs on the world and pretend that nothing affects us or those we love, honoring the deeds of our literal and aspirational ancestors while performing blót and symbel, how are we different from Sunday Christians who only turn their thoughts to Christ while sitting in church pews?

If we truly believe that we are connected in a web of wyrd, we must acknowledge the length of the threads that bind us all. We are affected by the wyrd of the police officer shot by a sniper and by that of the unarmed Black man shot by a police officer. We are connected to the children driven down in Nice and to the club-goers massacred in Orlando. Rather than fanning the flames of division, can we agree that all who commit these acts should be held accountable in courts of law, rather than crucified in the court of public opinion or gunned down in primitive street justice?

By putting the perpetrators on trial, we can distinguish between the lone gunman and the agent, between the disturbed and the driven. Maybe this can prevent us from tarring an entire community with the deeds of one violent person. By refusing to even indict officers who shoot unarmed Black children, we encourage conspiracy theories suggesting all police departments are filled with white supremacists. By executing mass shooters in the street rather than prosecuting them, we enable the hateful to draw connections to racial, ethnic, and religious communities where there may be none.

As members of a much-misunderstood minority religion, these issues are of primary concern to us. The targeting of specific groups and the slandering of their reputation is something with which we can deeply empathize. As individual Heathens, we are often tarred with the deeds of the most extreme who claim a connection to our tradition, and even the deeds of those who are only connected to our religion by unprofessional journalists who refuse to perform due diligence.

Shortly after the shooting of the Dallas police officers, The Huffington Post accused one of the victims of being a white supremacist and connected him to Ásatrú – even while acknowledging that he was a Christian. The accusation was based solely on the “research” of “a band of international internet sleuths;” in actuality, on a meme and a blog post by “Johnny Islamabad.”

Quoting the same old quotes from the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center that are trotted out every time a Thor’s hammer is mentioned by the press, The Huffington Post states that “Asatrú” symbols are not “inherently racist” while still insisting that “Asatrú beliefs appeal to white supremacists.” No parallel assertion is made for the appeal of the officer’s Baptist beliefs to violent racists.

Thor’s hammer pendant from Sweden, c. 1000 [Public Domain]

When practitioners of Ásatrú or Heathenry complain to writers and editors about this sort of meme-based and poorly sourced journalism, their concerns are laughed off or ignored. For Heathens who neither deny their religious beliefs publicly nor cover them with assumed Icelandic-styled pseudonyms, articles like this have serious consequences: no matter how derivative or poorly written they are. In our private and professional lives, we are faced with people who only know of our religion through this sort of journalism. They assume that we share views of the most extreme fringe, or they are at least suspicious that we harbor unsavory notions.

We can pretend that this doesn’t matter, or that we are “tough guys” who care little for the opinions of others. However, these types of media-driven assumptions can have serious repercussions that affect our ability to earn a living or make us targets for various stripes of bigot.

In such a climate, how can we not support others who are suffering the same slanders? We can say that we do not stand up for Black lives, because we are not Black. But when they come for us, who will be left to speak for us? If we don’t want our own rights taken away, we must stand up for the rights of others.

We often speak of the ancient Heathens who faced violent conversion from overbearing rulers in Scandinavia and continental Europe. We puff out our chests and fantasize about how we would have acted if we lived then. We place great emphasis on the keeping of oaths. Shouldn’t we stand today against the oath-breakers among the police who abuse their power to terrorize, torture, and kill our fellow citizens? Shouldn’t we stand with the honorable members of the police departments, the Muslim community, the Black community, and the LGBTQ+ community against those in every community -– including our own -– who would harm us all?

There is much that we can do. Heathens of positive intent can push back against horrifying acts of violence, engage with the larger world, take part in the dialogue of our times, and help Heathens themselves overcome the slander of our own tradition. This is a question of individual conscience and local community initiative, but there are many actions that we all can take.

Volunteer and vote for candidates who stand against hate aimed at any community. Openly challenge friends and family (online and in real life) who promote prejudice. Contact the media and push back against biased reporting. Call your representatives and tell them you want them to fight against hate. Get to know your local police officers and support the ones who publicly speak out. Support minority communities in your area and take part in their protests. Join interfaith organizations. Work to make your own Heathen group welcoming to practitioners from all generations, races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual identities.

Or, you can welcome the current climate of hate, deny the world, draw lines of separation between people, and retreat into a monochrome practice that excludes anyone who isn’t exactly like you. But then you must ask what your deeds make you.

Every community has common stories, images, histories, and practices that help to shape and define a narrative. This very narrative can serve as a thread of culture and togetherness among the community, yet it can also serve as a gatekeeper that restricts change or expansion. This intricate dance exists within every group, society, and even within modern Paganism and Polytheist communities.

[Pixabay, Public Domain]

[Pixabay, Public Domain]

Shared narratives help to define what becomes the status quo, even among smaller subset groups and cultures. The default beliefs and practices often shape how we relate with one another, what becomes acceptable, and what is expected within a given space, community or interaction. Not everyone is fond of pushing against the boundaries of the status quo, it often rubs against our understanding of the world, and it challenges our relationship with change, empathy and cultural sensitivity.

In his piece titled Changing Stories: Using narrative to shift societal values, Jonathan Dawson speaks to the power of the narrative. He writes:

There has, in recent years, been a growing recognition of the power of story to frame how we understand the world around us and our place within it. By ‘story’ in this context, I refer to the grand societal narratives, those clusters of beliefs and cultural norms that give shape and meaning to the human cultures within which we live. In general, these stories are so deeply rooted and so thoroughly embedded within a society’s language, behavior patterns and rituals as to be all but imperceptible. They constitute the bedrock of beliefs that are widely, if generally unconsciously, accepted to be universally true, even though they tend in fact to represent a distinct break with the dominant societal stories of previous epochs.

How does the current narrative within our community support us, and how does it also limit our ability to see beyond the walls we use to contain us? Who is brought in and who is left out in our cultural narratives? Do our narratives keep us stuck and without the ability to grow magically or spiritually? Questions like this often open the doors for dialogue that can lead to an increased awareness and understanding of the way that our community engages internally, and within the world.

Understanding that challenging our narratives can lead to renewed possibilities and a deeper reflection of the many nuances within community can bring about a lot of personal and societal growth. This very concept is not a new one, and there are many people within the modern Pagan and Polytheistic communities, who are doing pushing against the many narratives that often go unchallenged.

This is critical and valuable work.

I reached out in three different directions to explore the radical and often difficult work of deconstructing the overculture of the Pagan community. There are so many depictions of the challenger’s work — too many to capture in any one piece. This notion leads me to consider the value of this as an ongoing discussion, which looks at the many ways that this work is being done by people within our community today.

For this piece I reached out to Lasara Firefox Allen, the Order of the Black Madonna, and the High Priestess Clio Ajana, to discuss how their work  challenges the very narratives that help to shape our shared story.

  *    *    *

Lasara, author and spiritual coach, is not new to Goddess’ work. Her latest book, Jailbreaking the Goddess: A Radical Revisioning of Feminist Spirituality, has generated some discussion that challenges the very narrative of the way that we view, engage, and represent the Goddess.

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Crystal Blanton: Your most recent work in Jailbreaking the Goddess approaches the Goddess in a radically different way than many previously accepted narratives within modern Paganism. What motivated you to approach the many forms of the Goddess within the framework that you did?

Lasara Firefox Allen: Coming from a strong feminist, anarchist, and somewhat anti-capitalist frame, I experienced the threefold model as both limiting and delegitimizing, in a sense. As women we have been told that our bodies are not our own. The threefold model, being based in biology, is rooted in our utility and productivity.

In addition, the strict binary, and how the threefold model is in a sense responsive to that, removes our agency.

I am a great believer in my politics and my spiritual systems lining up. I didn’t feel that alignment with the threefold model.

The fivefold model that I put forth in Jailbreaking the Goddess is fluid, flexible, self-defining, and offers the group for women to truly stand fully in our power, unto ourselves. Not merely as producers, not only as mother-in-potentia, but as whole and holy beings that are complete at every stage.

CB: The maiden, mother, crone archetypes often highlighted within modern Pagan circles have brought about dialogue of limiting the myriad of faces of the Goddess. This has been challenging for many women who do not see themselves within the faces of a fertility based system. How does your work challenge this narrative?

[Photo credit: Angela Greystar of Greystar Pictures]

Lasara Firefox Allen [Photo credit: Angela Greystar / Greystar Pictures]

LFA: The fivefold model, and the work of Jailbreaking the Goddess in total, recognizes the divine feminal in all. And it recognizes our process of creativity not singularly as the power of motherhood, but recognizes the divine power in all the ways we create, design, divine, play, love, destroy, teach, craft, compose, sing, dance, fuck, cry, cocreate, collaborate, weave, reap, plant, burn. It also acknowledges the child as a divine being – again, whole and holy unto Herself. And the Old woman.

The five faces are Femella, Potens, Creatrix, Spaientia, and Antiqua. The model can be viewed in the linear, but also has nonlinear application. We may exist in more than one of her faces at a time. We may experience ourselves in Potens in a new interest, while embodying Sapientia in our chosen vocation. We may experience both Femella and Antiqua in us as we sit with a dying parent.

The flexibility of this model really speaks to people – most of us don’t experience life progression in a strictly linear manner.

Many say that the threefold for them is metaphor – that motherhood can really be any kind of creation. Well, I think there is a great deal of value to be found in stepping into models that mean what we believe. I feel that the fivefold model offers this to those of us who have net felt seen or honored in the threefold model.

CB: How does challenging the narrative within your work enhance your personal spiritual path, and how does it support a change in the status quo of our spiritual community?

LFA: I believe it is time for us all to ask, “Is my spiritual system in integrity with my personal beliefs?” And if not, let’s create and recreate it in greater alignment. Does your spiritual system speak of power in a way consistent with your heart? Does it address matters of importance? Does your system allow you to align your personal values, spiritual values, and your acts in the world?

We have been making excuses for outmoded beliefs for too long. you see it in most faiths. Here’s the deal: we don’t need to settle for the inconsistencies.

Throughout Jailbreaking the Goddess I offer tools to create greater alignment. My hope is that each person who reads the book will come out of the experience with a sense of alignment that allows for grace, love, and power in her path.

  *    *    *

The Order of the Black Madonna has a radically different approach to Pagan space. The last two years of public ritual at PantheaCon have shown a diverse audience with very different concepts of Paganism, coming together to share devotion with the Sisters of the Order of the Black Madonna. While the order originated in the Bay Area, it has since grown to having members in all different areas of the United States.

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[Courtesy Photo]

There are answers from different people within the Order that show many commonalities and some differences in the diversity of thought. This alone challenges the idea of a static narrative.

Crystal Blanton: How does the Order challenge common narratives in Neo Paganism around inclusivity, gender, and devotion?

Sr Marie Courage: The Order of the Black Madonna was established to be a radically inclusive, feminized, social justice-oriented working group for people from all backgrounds to connect with the Dark Mothers in personally-relevant practices, to all experience the essential-but-not-essentialist meaning of spiritual sisterhood, and to make room for culturally-diverse ritual activities and discussions relevant to Goddess spirituality and peace through justice. Our workings in the name of the Dark Mothers are by and for the benefit of everyone.

Sister C: Most Pagans believe they’re inclusive and they wouldn’t intentionally discriminate against racial, ethnic or sexual minorities, or people who have a disability. But being inclusive is more than thinking you’re inclusive and saying you’re inclusive. Just as Paganism isn’t the norm, inclusivity is not the norm either. We have to continually educate ourselves, challenge ourselves, and actively work towards building inclusivity into our spaces.

Tradition is valuable, but traditions can also be oppressive. Pagans leave Christianity because of its patriarchal traditions. Why uphold Pagan traditions that are equally patriarchal and oppressive? The Order of the Black Madonna challenges male supremacy. It challenges White supremacy. It challenges Christian supremacy. We are racially, ethnically, and sexually diverse. We use inclusive language. We make space for members to use our own symbols and ceremonies. If Pagan groups want to be more inclusive, they should examine their theologies and practices.

Soeur Marie Verité: The Order of the Black Madonna challenges its members and ritual participants to see differences, not to ignore them; to acknowledge how our differences make us great as a culture and a society, and how celebrating differences and honoring the experiences and voices of those who are different from ourselves brings even greater strength to the community as a whole.

We do not exclude anyone based on race, gender expression or lack of gender expression, paths of devotion, or sexual preference; we emphasize and prioritize a culture of respect and consent; and we make space to allow all voices to be heard, especially the voices of marginalized groups who experience blockage, silencing, and exclusion elsewhere. We have created public rituals naming and honoring those who have been murdered by the dominant culture simply for being different; we have stood up together in public to call attention to these events and the systemic destruction of people of color, to say as loudly as we can, “We stand for unity and respect for all, especially the most vulnerable among us, because that’s what She would do, who is Mother of All.”

CB: The Order of the Black Madonna also includes many differing cultural expressions and a radical inclusion of diversity in its shared spaces. How does the Order navigate such shared space while leaving room for the complexity of varying cultural expressions without prioritizing dominant culture?

Sr Marie Courage: In the Order of the Black Madonna, because our members are culturally and ethnically diverse, we align our rituals and workings with some of these basic common denominators, and then invite each member to bring relevant personal practices of their own to the table. In any given ritual, we might involve a multiplicity of languages, cultural concepts, and activities, each represented by a member of the Order who is genuinely connected deeply to what they have brought either by blood or lengthy study. In this way, rather than conforming to a single common belief system, or appropriating belief systems with which we are unfamiliar, we can include numerous different belief systems with respect.

Sister Maria Socorro: The Order’s main priority is to make the world a more just place for those that have been trampled on by the dominant culture, so following that nature we would never prioritize dominant culture. We aim to hold a space that is sacred and all inclusive while not encroaching on cultural appropriation.

CB: Centering devotion for the infinite Blackness brings about many examples of challenging the framework of modern Paganism. How can the devotional space of the Black Madonna expand the (too often) Eurocentric narrative of deity within Pagan practices?

Sr Marie Courage: One of my favorite prayers found in modern Paganism is the Charge of the Star Goddess. I feel deeply the connection in my heart when I say the words, “I am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars.” However, the dominant narrative in the west is about Good Versus Bad, Light Versus Dark. So, although lots of Pagan groups do their work to explain that in Paganism, Dark is not seen as equivalent to Bad, there is nonetheless a really strong paradigm we are battling from the overculture.

The Order of the Black Madonna shifts our focus entirely away from the Eurocentric Light=Good, Dark=Bad paradigm by centering Darkness, specifically Blackness, as the Original Goodness, provider of all possible solutions to our own and society’s current problems, infinite in both compassion and capacity for creating transformation. This has scientific, mythic, and sympathetic implications.

Scientifically, The Black Madonna is the Blackness of space, the generative void beyond the sun, moon, and stars from which all arises and into which all dissolves. Mythically, she is the Black Earth which births us and shapes our flesh, and she is the dark space of creative power at the center of each being. Sympathetically, in the view of the Order, the Black Madonna is each and every woman of color, and we specifically make the effort to honor the rights, needs, and accomplishments of women of color in our ritual and service works.

Sister Maria Socorro: The Order aims to open the eyes of Pagans who have only followed Eurocentric paths, we create a space that is magically straightforward and understandable so that people can comprehend that even if they’re not POC they can still respect, adore, and access the Blackness that is ultimately the source of us all.

Soeur Marie Verité: The Order of the Black Madonna worships the Great Dark Mother at the center of all, in all Her enormous variety and forms that include but also range far beyond the boundaries of Europe. Our members currently worship Her in Her manifestations as a Buddhist goddess, a West African goddess, a Norse shamanic giantess, and the Catholic Theotokos and patron Saint of Poland, Mexican Holy Mother of the Dead, and Notre Dame de Sous-Terre.

We welcome and cherish Her priestesses who feel called to honor and worship Her within their indigenous traditions, and we welcome and respect all matriarchal expressions of deity as they appear in Pagan and non-Pagan practice. Presenting a vision of Her that is clearly multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-layered, multi-storied, and multi-Ancestral, yet all functioning together in a harmonious dance to celebrate Her power and love, has and will hopefully continue to demonstrate in Pagan spaces that the Eurocentricity of too much modern Paganism is leaving out an enormous pathway of connection, understanding, and devotion that no longer needs to be.

Soeur Marie Intégrité: Devotional practice to the Black Madonna challenges the common Eurocentric deities within pagan practices: because she is the Mother of All, and images of the Black Madonna can be found in most cultures going back through history, I think that pagans can connect to a cultural representation of the Black Madonna that resonates with them.

Sister LH: One pernicious iteration of systemic racism lurks in the way black and dark are framed in the occult and New Age, that position darkness/blackness as inherently negative (ugly, violent, transgressive, etc). We talk about Black vs white magic, we praise the light and devalue darkness. At best, and I have heard this from all kinds of witches and have been shocked each time i do, the Dark is something which we must accept, to balance the goodness and light. This framing itself shows how deeply embedded this bias is rooted, in language, so deep that white magickians who absolutely consider themselves not racists, can perpetuate this really destructive polar binary hegemony without knowing it.

Sister LMR: One of my favorite prayers is the Charge of the Dark Goddess. One of the most moving passages there for me is “when you gaze into the mirrored abyss, I am there”. The New Age fear and negation of all things dark shows up in our mundane lives as well. Darkness and blackness is feared in our society, and people are dying due to this fear. When we do not actively acknowledge our shadow, it begins to run the show. Confronting our wounds, our prejudices, our privileges is essential to our growth as individuals, to the Order as a whole, and to society at large. Knowing that She is there in the deep blackness, that She is that deep blackness, makes it possible for us to explore the side of our psyche that is often dismissed and discounted.

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As a Black woman that is a High Priestess of a Hellenic tradition, Clio Ajana embodies the very spirit of challenging the common narrative of the Eurocentric framework within Pagan leadership.

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

Crystal Blanton: How do you feel that being your whole self within Pagan leadership brings a newness that expands previous limitations in our community culture?

Clio Anja: As a Seeker in 2004, I saw few persons of color, maybe five in my first year or so. I did not think about leadership as I found only one person who was in a leadership position, and that was after two years of active involvement in the community.  I felt then, and on occasion now, as though I was the “near-invisible” person who might not be the traditional “face” of a typical Pagan.

I am a lesbian and in a tradition that is very pro-LGBTQIA oriented. When I first came to the community, I got the sense that I would have to hide or compromise my sexuality (since I could not hide my skin color) in order to fit in with any particular group. Unfortunately, previous limitations in our community culture have included those who are LGBTQIA, less physically able, geographically-challenged, non-white, or just not practicing according one’s culture of origin. If I see someone now, my personal goal is to encourage folks to embrace the tradition or path of their choice, regardless of perceived limitations in larger Paganism. Being my whole self means that if someone like me were to come along now, in 2016, that person would feel more comfortable knowing that there is a place at the table.

Now, I can lead ritual, teach classes, give back to the community through public discussions or working with those who confined in some way. Visibly, every time I show up to give a talk or to act as a high priestess, there is both surprise and gradual acceptance that a large, black woman is embracing Modern Paganism with such fervor.

The more Pagans see others who do not fit the image of a white female or male practitioner of traditional Wicca, which remains the more commonly-advertised narrative, the more they are seeing that Modern Paganism is moving away from stereotypes that have restricted or even repelled those who might consider practicing or joining a religion under the Pagan umbrella. Being my whole self means that others who are coming along will see that yes, you can embrace your culture while being a Pagan leader.

CB: How do you feel your spiritual and community work stretches our common expectation of what the average practitioner within Modern Paganism looks is like?”

CA: Again, it comes to appearance and the expectation that if you are X, you will follow Y tradition; if you are a Pagan, you must look like A, dress like B, and engage in activities C, D, and E. Through leading and appearing at public ritual, I am a clear statement that not all average practitioners are white, Eurocentric, and from a certain background. I also have done community work where I was very well received, but tested at first for skills.

Early on, I was a participant and leader at rituals where someone has walked past me to one of my fellow practitioners to ask questions, even though I was clearly a part of the ritual. I’ve also been in spaces where the presumption was that I only practiced African tradition, since I am black. Over the years, by doing the work, others see that those who identify as practitioner are more than just those who are hiding in the shadows. We are open, we are out, and we render service to let others know that they are welcome.

In a few decades, I sincerely hope that the common expectation is that the “average” practitioner has no stereotypical appearance or particular path. We need those who are willing to serve as chaplains, as clergy, for the community at large. We won’t get them if our expectation remain small.

CB: How do you feel that challenging the narrative empowers people magically and spiritually?”

CA: The narrative can only be changed when those who don’t fit the “norm” are willing to stand up and be counted.  Magically, we grow as individuals and as a community when all who are within dig deep to practice the traditions we are fighting so hard to keep and to maintain. Our spirituality grows from sharing with others, interacting with public ritual and in the circles, groves, blots, and rituals that Pagans maintain throughout the year.

Challenging the narrative permits a larger use of cultural background to broaden the horizon of what can be done regardless of skin color.  As persons of color, we draw from the ancestors, from a variety of traditions, and a core of strength. I like to think of it as a residue left from how my ancestors were treated – to survive, we had to have strength. As a practitioner of color, regardless of tradition practiced, I feel all gain empowerment with the gods and in religious devotion.

Magic, Witchcraft, Conjure and Rootwork has always been a way that we privately and collectively challenge the status quo. Embracing and working from a different perspective than the mainstream religious framework has helped to shape the common narrative of Modern Paganism. The story of any community can be a very powerful thing, contributing to the ways that we create, interpret, inherit and apply our spirituality within our lives.

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While a cultural foundation can be created on ideals that challenge acceptable greater societal norms, challenging those very structures can open up the many areas of growth and opportunities. When communities become more invested in ideals that reinforce comfort than pushing against those stories as a means to explore our understanding, we limit our ability to grow beyond the boxes we create.

People are doing amazing work to challenge and reconstruct some of the narratives of our modern Pagan status quo. Pushing against the walls of our static stories can breed possibilities and great spiritual opportunities.  

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This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

BARRIE, Ont. – Organizers of PaganFest, an annual event established in 2008, announced the winners of the Canadian Pagan Hero Awards last weekend. PaganFest, along with S.E.E.D Fest and Muse Fest, are organized by the registered non-profit organization Canadian Pagan Spiritualists.  The three festivals are hosted on seven acres of land owned by festival host and sponsor Earth and Sky Connection, a metaphysical medicine retail store.

paganfest

For this years event, organizer Tamare White-Wolf decided to hold the awards as a way to fight back against the negativity that she has been witnessing. In an email exchange with The Wild Hunt, White-Wolf described her inspiration. She said:

Honestly, what motivated this was our sick society’s way of finding flaw in others. We need to stop spreading gossip, nick picking, over analyzing, being overly critical and shoving our expectations and hidden agendas onto others. We have overall allowed ourselves to align with some very negative mean spirited ways.

As Pagans who expect others to not judge them, to allow space for uniqueness, for differences of opinion, we expect or at the very least want to be accepted as we are. We don’t want to be defined, we don’t want to have to align with what doesn’t feel right … Yet I have witnessed them/us do exactly what we have been fighting against, the very thing we stand in our truth firmly about. They/we are guilty of it. (This) has to change. I hashtagged #SpreadGoodness instead of saying stop your gossiping and constant hypocrisy. I was inspired to take a proactive and positive approach to help turn the wheel.

Community members were encouraged to nominate individuals who they felt stood out as a “hero.”  All nominees received a Nomination Award, and a thank you gift, for their “dedication to the old ways and persistent will to help others.” The gifts, were donated by local community members, and the display table holding them was “breathtaking to see,” according to White-Wolf.

The nominees for the Canadian Pagan Hero Awards

The nominees for the Canadian Pagan Hero Awards

The nominees were divided into three categories:

  1. Super Heroes: These are the people serving as police officers, nurses or doctors, volunteers, and any others who selflessly serve the community for the benefit of others.
  2. Honour Roll: These are people who have publicly advocated for the community and given freely of their time and energy teaching Pagan ways. They have have volunteered their time for a spiritual cause.
  3. Pagan Performing Artists: These are members of the community who utilize the Muses to portray their personal love and beliefs regarding the earth and the old ways.

The response was overwhelming, as almost sixty nominations came pouring in. Instead of voting to decide which of the nominees would receive the awards, community members at PaganFest decided instead to pull names from a hat, as it was proving to be difficult to choose between so many dedicated and worthy candidates.

The winners were announced from the stage by White-Wolf, with assistance from a one-year-old girl, who toddled up to hug her as she was announcing the nominees.

White-Wolf explained why she feels that it is so important to acknowledge the “Heroes” in Pagan communities:

I think there are so many unsung Heroes, we need to acknowledge before they are dead. Society seldom acknowledges it’s Heroes. I see the bigger picture – just imagine the inspiration infused when someone has been honoured and appreciated while they still live and breathe. That fuel may source a revolutionary discovery or heal a nation or drive a message home that changes the world for better, forever! We as a society need to change our ways. This is my little secret plan to heal the world of Pagans. These awards, I hope, will help

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Super Hero Winner Kim Morgan [Courtesy Photo]

Kim Morgan, a youth services officer, ordained minister and Pagan priestess, took home the award for “Super Hero.” She was surprised to be recognized in this way for her work.  She said:

Wow! Thanks to Tamare for starting this award. I was amazed and honored that I’d been nominated. I’m even more humbled to have been selected as a hero. I do what I do to give back to the community and to honor the memory of a great woman who was my coven sister, Dana Rondeau. I’m so humbled that I was chosen and thank all the people that voted for me. I also challenge everyone to be the change in the world you want to see.

The winner in the Honour Roll category was Laurie Benson, a Green Witch who has shared her talents as an herbalist, presenting workshops and herb walks at festivals and events far and wide:

Honour Roll winner Laurie Benson

Honour Roll winner Laurie Benson [Courtesy Photo]

I am certainly honoured and very surprised about being nominated and then actually winning the Honour Roll of “Canadian Pagan Heroes” out of 60 fabulous nominations. I have been around the festivals of Ontario for over 30 years (and Starwood when it was in New York) and have volunteered and been on staff at all of them, so I guess a lot of people know me!

This past weekend I was at my own festival, “Wild Wisdom Weekend” where ideas are passed from the older generations to the younger ones, so couldn’t attend Paganfest. I will get there soon though, as well as some of the other gatherings that are held there and are growing up around the province. My children were brought up at festivals and are now on staff, as well – pass it on!

The Pagan Performing Artist award went to Joshua Doerksen, a music producer, composer and performer from Toronto. Doerksen has created many original and heartfelt musical experiences, which he freely shares, far and wide. He could not be reached for comment at press time.

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Performing Arts Winner Joshua Doerksen [Public Facebook photo]

In addition to the Canadian Pagan Heroes awards, PaganFest also featured camping, workshops, music, rituals, vending and a potluck feast. The keynote speaker was herbalist and wise-woman Susun Weed, and the featured stage show was a concert by local favourites and Canada’s hottest Pagan music export, the Dragon Ritual Drummers. Witchdoctor Utu and members of the Dragon Ritual Drummers also hosted a Voodoo ceremony for festival goers on the Friday night.

Despite being called the “Canadian Pagan Hero Awards,” nominees only represented the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Organizers hope to reach farther, next time. They have yet to determine if the awards will become an annual part of the festival, but White-Wolf said that they are considering holding them every three years, so as not to saturate people, and to allow for up-and-coming heroes to be known.

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Last week, religious rights activist David Suhor delivered an invocation before the Pensacola city council. It wasn’t the first time that he had successfully lobbied for the right to give an opening prayer before a local governmental body. However, doing so as a member of The Satanic Temple resulted in much more attention than when Suhor offered a specifically Pagan prayer before the Escambia County commission in 2014. While only one commissioner left the room during the 2014 prayer, his recent appearance before the city council was greeted by dozens of Christians seeking to drown him out.

When Suhor rose to deliver the invocation, dressed in a black robe with a hood partially obscuring his face, many of the attendees rose along with him. It was not their intention, however, to join their voices in with his Satanic prayer. They stood to recite the Lord’s Prayer, while some of their number brandished crosses and apparently sought to cast out demons. After the protesters began their third recitation of the Christian prayer, council president Charles Bare was forced to order the room cleared.

[Video Still from July 14 Pensacola City Council Meeting]

[Video Still from July 14 Pensacola City Council Meeting]

The decision was faced with objections by people who knew that Suhor himself had recited his own prayer during the delivery of the invocation at the previous meeting, which had been called to specifically discuss whether prayers should be replaced with moments of silence. The first twelve minutes of the official video show the entire series of events as they unfolded, including how the fervor spilled over into the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“My approach in the beginning was to get invocations dropped” from the meetings, Suhor told The Wild Hunt, but those efforts led to no changes. Now, he said, “I am demanding radical inclusion.”

That shift was in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece v Galloway, which rather than eliminating prayers from public meetings, required that members of all religions be given the opportunity. In addition to the prayer he offered before the county commissioners meeting, he has also tried to get on the agenda of the Escambia County School Board and the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, but was unsuccessful.

According to Suhor, “We meet all the requirements of all the boards, which are none.” He also noted that, because they are not legislative bodies, neither the school nor utility board is allowed to include prayer under the Galloway decision.

Suhor said that he still identifies as Pagan despite having joined The Satanic Temple (TST), and doesn’t find anything contradictory about that fact. He also continues to use the term “agnostic” to describe himself, but does not consider himself an atheist.

He said, “I can identify with ten different paths, and reject all religions that say you can have only one. I explore many faiths.”

He still enjoys Pagan rituals, he explained, because of the “strong spiritual component.” However, he finds nothing in the seven tenets of The Satanic Temple that makes him uncomfortable. On a pragmatic level, joining TST opened his and mind to finding allies. He said, it “helped us up our game. […] No one seemed to care when I did Pagan, pantheist, or agnostic invocations, but when name Satan and they care about the issue.”

Suhor has shown consistency about that position over time; during his 2014 interview with The Wild Hunt, he was already considering invoking Satan or the Flying Spaghetti Monster to get the issue taken seriously.

None of the four elected boards has a written policy to ensure non-discrimination, he said. This leaves members to practice what he calls an “appeasement policy,” only allowing prayers from individuals who won’t upset the Christian majority in the area. “They give the veneer of inclusion,” he said, but only just barely.

He recalled one school board meeting that he attended on the issue during which the invocation was provided by a local rabbi. The board member who invited him specifically said it was for the cause of diversity. “That poor rabbi thought he was being honored,” Suhor observed, but was actually being used to advance “tokenism.”

Bayview cross [David Suhor]

Bayview cross [Photo Credit: David Suhor]

This is not the only way in which Suhor has expressed dissatisfaction with what he sees as unapologetic Christian privilege in his part of Florida. He is also one of several local residents suing to get the Bayview cross removed from public property.

Named for the public park in which it stands, the 20-foot-high cross is a gathering place every Easter Sunday. After determining that no one had ever obtained a permit for the gathering, Suhor himself applied for and received one for this year, but the day was rained out. Both the lawsuit — which is being advanced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association — and the permit move are about opposing the tacit governmental endorsement of one religion.

In truth, Suhor seems satisfied that his invocation was delayed and constrained and otherwise opposed. City council members opted to leave his scheduled invocation on the schedule, choosing to “grin and bear” the Satanic blessing and hoping the issue would then go away. However, a press release made sure that local reporters were following the debate leading up to the July 14 meeting very closely.

It is not clear if Suhor’s latest invocation received more scrutiny because it carried the name Satan, as he believes, or because The Satanic Temple is more media-savvy than most Pagans. Suhor is a co-founder of the West Florida chapter of TST, and while he’s careful not to say that he speaks for the organization, he acknowledges that he has assumed the de facto role of public face for the group. Membership is growing, he added.

While city council members may not have been prepared for the furor resulting from the request to perform the invocation, Suhor did prepare for the possibility. He recorded a video of the prayer he sang, complete with hand motions, in case it was difficult to follow along at the meeting. That video is below.

“It’s been a great journey, but all things have a life cycle. It is time for us to let you all know that Emerald Rose has decided to retire as a band after the end of this year.” – Arthur Hinds, July 16

ATLANTA, Ga. – On July 16  Arthur Hinds, singer and songwriter for the popular band Emerald Rose, announced via his personal Facebook page  that it was time to split the party. The Wild Hunt talked with Hinds, who is also a well known ritualist and bard at Pagan gatherings, about the highlights of performing with Emerald Rose and what’s in store for him in the future.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Over the years, Emerald Rose gained a devoted following in two areas that often overlap: Paganism and geek culture. The group was formed 20 years ago among a group of friends who enjoyed getting together and playing Magic the Gathering. As Hinds explains, one of their spouses said that they were wasting their time and should make some music for the Pagan community.

Larry Morris was already well-known in the local Pagan community as a drummer. Logan Sullivan had previous experience being in a band as a brass player. Clyde Gilbert’s background was in heavy metal. Hinds had been a singer and songwriter since he was in his teens.

“Our first paid gig was at a nudist resort where we played about 6 songs.” – Arthur Hinds

While the group was ostensibly created to appeal to Pagans, the group developed a Celtic folk-rock sound that soon made them one of the top local bands in the Southeast United States. Most of their music draws from Celtic mythology, but one CD, titled Con Suite, highlights their roots as a group of guys who love all things geek. It was the odes to Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and gaming culture that further widened their audience. Their music was used on the soundtracks of two documentaries, including Ringers, which is about Lord of the Rings fans, and Done the Impossible, which is about the Firefly Television series. They were also the headliners for Hollywood Lord of the Rings Oscar parties in 2003 and 2004.

The Wild Hunt: So you were created as a Pagan band, but when did you become a sci-fi/fantasy convention favorite?

Arthur Hinds: Ahhh, well all four of us were geeks- from comics to anime to science to RPGs and of course MTG. Clyde and I had been to a bunch of DragonCons [a yearly Sci-Fi and Fantasy convention in Atlanta] in the varied incarnations it went through, but we did not know each other at the time.

Then in 2002 Clyde talked [DragonCon] into letting us in. Larry, in particular, writes wacky geeky songs that fit well, but really our strength at cons has been as a Pagan band. The overlap between Pagan and geek is gigantic.

TWH: Yes it is. Why do you think there’s such an overlap?

AH: There are probably PHD papers on that subject. It might have to do with the power of imagination, creating thought forms. Most Pagans identify with created worlds where Nature is recognized as live and worthy of veneration. So many Pagans are first drawn to their path after being illuminated by fiction. Mists of Avalon called many to the Goddess. Also, the willingness to think outside the mainstream is there as well.

TWH: So, at the start, all band members were Pagan? Are they still?

AH: Honestly Cara, I would prefer not to speak for another person about their spiritual path. I think it is safe to say that I am very much Pagan.

TWH: Fair enough. The announcement that Emerald Rose is disbanding comes 20 years after its creation. Is their significance to that? Did you think, “20 years? Hmmmmm…..”

AH: I can’t say that the number really impacted our announcement. It was simply time. Our lives and commitments did. 20 years, however is a loooooooong time.

TWH: It is. Most bands don’t stay together anywhere near that long. Life changes, personality conflicts. Why were you able to stay together?

AH: Well, first of all, we started as really good friends and many of the choices we made over the years were based on that friendship. And really, the Pagan root that we grew from helped to give stability as well.

TWH: In that 20 years you’ve created so much music. Played so many venues. Do you have a favorite memory from a Pagan venue or some time where the spiritual component was most memorable?

AH: Wow, you are asking a lot

TWH: I know, right?

AH: I always love singing Freya Shakti for the right crowd, it has raised much power, but I think I am going to go with a different song. We were performing Dagger of the Moon outside on an overcast night, when the crowd gasped as one. I turned to see that the clouds had parted to reveal a crescent right behind us.

TWH: Where was that at?

AH: I think Maryland Fairy Fest, but I’m not entirely sure. Another one of my favorite Pagan show memories took place on a rainy night. We were dry and safe on a covered stage but the crowd was getting damp. They did not scatter, but kept on dancing. All of a sudden the sky opened and a rain fell. Did the people run? No, they took off all of their remaining clothes and danced harder. I bet U2 never had that happen. it was a mighty rain

TWH: On the flip side, what has it meant to you, to be able to offer excellent quality Pagan music? Why do it?

AH: I love it. I love Pagan music. I love playing and performing in general, but being able to let my spirit shine is the glimmer on the lake. For me it is part of my clergy work and art of my Bardic spiritual path.

TWH: So you know this question is coming. Why is Emerald Rose breaking up?

AH: We haven’t had a giant fight. We still like each other, but our lives and creative paths are separating. It has been happening for a couple of years, and we thought that we owed it to our fans to not just sort of fade away. We wanted to let them know that we are leaving this wonderful path with good feelings and great memories.

TWH: I know from my own experience with serious health challenges how stressful it can be on a spouse. Your wife has been facing her own medical challenges. Is that coming into play for you personally as a reason why you’re ready for Emerald Rose to end their run?

AH: Only a little. I think. I have walked a hard medical path with My Lovely Wife our entire relationship.

TWH: What’s next for Arthur Hinds? I can’t picture you not performing and I’ve seen how much you enjoy encouraging people to perform at Pagan Spirit Gathering’s talent show.

AH: Well, I came to Emerald Rose as a singer and songwriter of both Pagan and secular music, and that is how I leave it. I have three solo CDs and I am working on a fourth. I plan to continue touring and singing and telling the old tales. I had an awesome crop at this year’s PSG show and I’ll continue to do that as well.

TWH: Thanks Arthur. Anything you’d like to add?

AH: Well, I just want to thank the fans who supported us all of these years. I know that sounds like an old saw, but in truth, it is what kept us going. We had a hell of a time.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

hcooper-256x500PARKERSBURG, W.Va.- The city council has “voted to uphold a ban on fortune-telling this week, despite a formal request from a local entrepreneur to do away with the decades-old law,” as reported by Riverside City News. In June we published the story of Heather Cooper, who had opened up a local shop called Hawthorn. Her intent was to offer Tarot readings as well as a place for local artists to display their work. However, she was denied a business license due to an old fortune-telling law, and she pledged to fight to have it removed.

After her first attempt, it was announced that the Council opted to keep the law, with a vote of 5-3. Cooper was disappointed, but she is continuing to work in the store and will keep trying. Cooper wrote, “We will not be doing any readings until further notice. We WILL, however, have classes at our store and continue to have consigned work from local artists. Stop by to see what we have and continue to watch the page for upcoming classes.”

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PENSACOLA, Fla. — Pagan David Suhor, the founder of the local chapter of The Satanic Temple, delivered his invocation before the Pensacola City Council meeting July 14. As we previously reported, Suhor’s scheduled appearance generated concerns, and a special meeting was held in order to decide whether or not to cancel the city’s inclusive prayer policy.

The council voted to keep the invocations, and Suhor was left on the schedule. However, when the day arrived, the council meeting did not run as smoothly as officials would have liked. Suhor’s invocation was interrupted by people reciting the Lord’s Prayer, one council person walked, and others protested. During the meeting several people, including Suhor, debated the policy again.

The entire meeting, including the opening invocation, can be viewed online. We will have more from Suhor about his religious freedom work in the coming week.

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287078_10150255779783742_3999081_oATLANTA, Ga. — It was announced this week that the Celtic American folk band Emerald Rose would be retiring. The announcement reads, “It’s been a great journey, but all things have a life cycle. It is time for us to let you all know that Emerald Rose has decided to retire as a band after the end of this year.”

The group will be performing at Dragon*Con, held in annually in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend, and they are looking for one more venue to stage a farewell concert. The Wild Hunt has spoken to band member, singer and songwriter Arthur Hinds about Emerald Rose’s history, music and the retirement. We will bring you that interview this week.

In Other News

  • EarthSpirit Community’s co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen has been in Prague participating in the annual meeting for the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER). Corban-Arthen, who is currently serving as the organization’s president, wrote, “Representatives of 20 countries have gathered in a marvelous old building which currently houses the Czech Academy of Sciences.” Reporting from the event, Corban-Arthen said that they participated in a ritual built around “an old Celtic tripod of stones on the grounds of Vyšehrad.” He was reportedly told by locals that the “more than two hundred” people at that ceremony made up “the largest gathering of pagans in [Prague] in modern times.”  
  • The Temple of Goddess Spirituality, dedicated to Sekhmet, is experiencing a fiscal crisis. Founded in 1993, the temple is located in the Nevada desert near Cactus Springs. For 23 years, it has operated on the principle of the “gift economy.” However, in reality, the temple, which includes land and a structure, has been almost entirely supported by its founder Genevieve Vaughan. Donations reportedly make up less than 5% of their budget. Now in her 70s, Vaughan is not able to keep up with the temple’s needs. The organization has created a new governing “Temple Council” to develop new methods of funding. As they do that, donations of money and supplies are being accepted.
Temple of Goddess Spirituality in Nevada [Courtesy Photo]

Temple of Goddess Spirituality in Nevada [www.sekhmettemple.com]

  • Earth Traditions, based in Illinois, has announced a Death Midwife Certification Class for February 2017. The announcement was just made and a Facebook event created. The class will be held in Archer House, Northfield Minnesota and will be led by Angie Buchanan, who was trained and certified as a Certified Death Midwife by Nora Cedarwind Young, one of the founders of the Death Midwife movement. Buchanan said, “Death is the only guarantee we have in life and it is a sacred Rite of Passage deserving of as much thoughtful care and planning as any other life event.” Registration for the class is online and currently open.
  • The Guardian has reported on the opening of a local metaphysical store in the city of Lancaster. The owner of the new shop, called Bell, Book & Candle, is 38-year-old Dubhlainn Earley, who describes himself as a necromancer and a practitioner of “black magic.” In the interview he said that there should be more shops in the city due to its history. Lancaster is similar to the U.S. city of Salem. The Pendle witch trials took place in Lancashire, and the accused were all tried and sentenced in Lancaster due to it being the county town.  Earley believes Lancaster needs a Witch museum and hopes more Witches come forward now, saying, “there is no need to hide away, come out, come out wherever you are.”
  • There is a call for authors for the upcoming book Encyclopedia of Women in World Religions: Faith and Culture Across History. “Author-Scholars are needed for the two volume reference work […] to be published by ABC-CLIO Publishing. We seek contributors with expertise in Women, Religion, and History to write articles of 500 to 2000 words, with overview, historical background, and selected details.” More specifications and requirements are on the website. The current deadline is August 15.
  • Another upcoming submission deadline is of the music kind. The Hermetic Library, which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary, is calling for artists to submit work for their 2016 Magick, Music, and Ritual 12 album. “These anthology albums help promote artists to the audience of the Hermetic Library and beyond. These albums raise awareness about the connection between ritual, music and magick. And, they are a mass of awesome fun.” The submission deadline is Aug. 15.

A Note from the Editor’s Desk

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Over the past month, the new mobile virtual game Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. The app is now reportedly the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. According to the SurveyMonkey Intelligence blog, Pokémon Go has exceeded by several million the daily peak users record held by Candy Crush. Within “three days of release” the game attracted more users than Twitter and now, according to the blog, the breakout game is aiming “for Snapchat and Google Maps.”

pokemon-header2
What is Pokémon Go? It is a mobile game application created by the same team that originated the Pokémon franchise in 1996. Just as in the original concept, the user is a Pokémon trainer who must gather Pokémon, or fictional “pocket monsters,” to train for battle. Using GPS locators, the game “places” Pokémon virtually within the users real space. They are on sidewalks, in homes and in buildings. Trainers can “see” when these virtual creatures are near and must get within a certain distance to catch them. But there is far more to it than that, including PokeGyms, PokeSpots, battles, leveling up, teams and more.

Rattata found roadside in South Georgia [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Rattata found roadside in South Georgia [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

But what does Pokémon Go, or Pokémon in general, have to do with the occult? The easy answer: absolutely nothing.

However, when are we ever satisfied with the easy answer?

So let’s get out our flux capicitors and head back in time 20 years to when Pokémon first arrived on the pop culture scene.

In the not-so-distant past, Satoshi Tajiri imagined a video game that involved users catching bugs and training them to fight. After six years of consideration and negotiations, the idea became Pocket Monsters, which was shortened to Pokémon. In February 1996, Nintendo released two Pokémon games for its popular handheld Game Boy system. The games weren’t an instant hit, but there was enough buzz for the launch of the first generation card game in October of that year, and an anime cartoon series the following spring.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

It didn’t take long for the new franchise to generate backlash. Excitement surrounding the card game built to near fever-pitch among children. Many school officials opted to ban the game from their campuses due to a variety reasons, including: distraction, competition, excessive commercialism, fights, and the violence of in-game battles themselves.

Along with those practical and secular concerns, another issue arose; this one of a moral variety. Religious groups began to speak out against the franchise’s promotion of immorality, which some labeled satanic. They equated the game’s symbology and monstrous qualities to demonology, mysticism, Witchcraft, Wicca and modern Paganism. In one video sermon, a pastor explains:

Pokémon is a game that teaches children how to enter into the world of witchcraft. How to cast spells. How to use psychic phenomena. How to put to work supernatural powers against their enemies. How to fantasy role play… Pokémon World is a world of the demonic, of the satanic.

Several of the Pokémon histories suggest that reactions, similar to that above, led to the creation of the Christian card game Redemption. However, this Bible-based trading card game was created and released an entire year before the Pokémon came on the scene. Redemption was more a reaction to the lingering memories of Dungeons & Dragons and the contemporary success of Magic: The Gathering and other similar gaming offshoots.

Redemption‘s creator Rob Anderson said, “Many of the games available had dark and horrific themes […] Much of what is offered in the collectible trading card game market is difficult to reconcile with the Christian faith.” Although Anderson’s card game preceded Pokémon, the idea was the same and the arrival of Pokémon only fueled the flames of that fear and ideology.

The Christian backlash became so prevalent that the Catholic Pope reportedly spoke out. In 2000, the Vatican TV satellite station announced, on his behalf, that “Pokémon trading cards and the computer game is [sic] ‘full of inventive imagination,’ has [sic] no ‘harmful moral side effects’ and is [sic] based on the notion of ‘intense friendship.’ ”

While the Pope’s alleged message signaled his followers to relax, others, outside of the Christian and Catholic world, remained unconvinced. As reported in 2001 by the BBC and other outlets, as the cards reached the Muslim world, national leaders began actively banning the franchise because they believed it promoted gambling and other immoral activities. Saudi leaders specifically called it a “Jewish conspiracy” that promoted Zionism. Interestingly, these same leaders also identified as a problem the franchise’s use of “crosses, sacred for Christians and triangles, significant for Freemasons.”

In 2001, the Anti-Defamation League responded to the cries of “Jewish conspiracy,” calling them “outrageous.” But, several years prior, ADL had its own concerns with two specific Pokémon cards (Golbat and Ditto) that contained what looked like a swastika. As explained in an ADL press release, the symbol on the cards were “intended to represent a ‘manji’ sign ascribed to Buddhism and Hinduism.” These versions of the two cards were only suppose to be released in Japan where the image would be understood as such. However, due to the game’s popularity, the cards made it to the U.S. where the symbols were read as a swastika.

In 1999, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director said, “In today’s shrinking world due to globalization, what is deemed appropriate or acceptable by one culture may have a significantly different meaning in another.” Nintendo did reportedly take the ADL complaint seriously and responded to the group’s satisfaction.

[Photo Credit: Jarek Tuszyński / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Jarek Tuszyński / Wikimedia]

In the same year, Time magazine published an interview with creator Satoshi Tajiri. While the conversation focused on his work, the interviewer did briefly ask about criticisms specifically concerning the immorality or “satanic” nature of the game. He responded, “I never heard of that! [Laughs] I heard there was a guy who criticized [kid’s book character] Harry Potter because of the magic. But I saw the author, and she seemed really nice. The critic seemed like a grouchy mean guy.”

Putting things in context, this era, 1996-2000, occurred just after the notorious satanic panics in the U.S. and U.K., and it also followed on the tail end of a pop culture Witch craze. This was a period that saw the release of The Craft and the reign of The X-Files, Sabrina, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. J.K. Rowling had just released a new book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which would soon become an international best-selling series and movie franchise.

While the pop culture engine generally and slowly shifted from a high concentration of satanic Witches to other occult or fantastic themes, the interest in magic and mysticism never died. Cultural fears and desires, relating to social issues, politics and more, continued to play out in various fantasy narratives. Pokémon played into this collective dreaming.

Additionally, the game was a feature of the shrinking global culture, which was precipitated by the internet and an increasingly tech-driven world. Not only was the card game a symbol of this new world-based digital cultural phenomenon, but it was also a distraction for a generation of children, who were showing a decreasing interest in attending religious services, as noted by Pew Forum.

Now let’s go back to the future….

It is now 2012, with the internet and social media in full swing. A blog site called Playing4Real published a mock Time magazine interview with Satoshi Tajiri. The post, titled, “Pokémon Creator Admits Games are Anti-Christian, Aimed Towards Satanists,” was not marked clearly as satire. The mock interview has Satoshi Tajiri saying, in part:

Tajiri: Yes. Pokémon is essentially the correct answer towards life, not Christianity. Everything presented in the game is the opposite of what Christians may believe. Some have said that the game promotes voodoo or magic, and I agree in the sense that there are many things that occur in nature that are unexplainable …

Any regular user of social media might expect what happened next. The Playing4Real post was shared with wild abandon. The fake interview inspired a new round of Pokémon backlash, feeding any still lingering demonic origin theories.

For example, as published in 2010, opponent Brett Peterson compared the Pokémon universe’s use of the elements as equivalent to that use in modern Pagan practice. Peterson wrote, “Most Pagan and earth based religions and philosophies find power in the Four Elements? Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind. These are the energy cards in the Pokémon game! […] What are we allowing to come into our homes!”

Yet, at the very same time, another cultural reality was being birthed, one that makes that same connection between the occult and modern Paganism, but from an entirely different angle. This new reality can be found embedded in the growing practice of Pop Culture Paganism. As an example, the owner of the Pokemon Paganism Tumblr blog writes:

I have been working for a while now on a Pokémon elemental correspondence system based on a combination of the two most prominent systems from antiquity (Western and Eastern). So far I think I’ve come up with a pretty fleshed out system and I hope to be able to make a few posts on it in the coming weeks. My goal is to have a workable magic system to be used alongside my devotional work with the various Legendary/Mythical Pokémon. All and all I’m hoping to form a more vibrant practice that is more immersive and can also work alongside some of my more traditional polytheist practices.

The majority of people integrating Pokémon into magical practice were born in the Millennial generation or are younger. That should not be surprising, because these are the same people who grew up with the original Pokémon franchise of the 1990s.

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Pokemon Tarot Deck [Publicity Image]

Tumblr user Kitty, who runs the Pop Culture Paganism blog, also posts and reblogs notes concerning the use of Pokémon in religious, spiritual or magical practice. And, in 2014, Cokujyo Eikyu created a Pokémon Tarot deck, now in its second edition.

Let’s move forward in time again to the present.

This year, 2016, marks the 20th anniversary of Pokémon and the release of its arguably most popular game, Pokémon Go. And, although it’s based on the same gaming premise, the backlash has been decidedly different because of the way it has played out within our collective world cultures.

The new game is getting people outside and moving around, even if that movement is zombie-like or resembles herds of wild animals on a David Attenborough special. One Tumblr user wrote, “Pokémon Go deserves a nobel peace prize for getting me off my ass.”

Pokemon show up in the most untimely of locations [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Pokemon show up in the most unseemingly of locations [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Additionally, the company has created what it calls PokeStops and PokeGyms, which are actual places where Pokémon congregate and where battles happen. Users must be physically within range of these locations to catch these wanted Pokémon and engage with the game further. As a result, Pokératti, those masses of players, are showing up at random locations, with phones in hand, and sometimes are even putting themselves at risk of being arrested for trespassing.

Interestingly, many churches are reportedly labeled as PokeGyms and, as a result, groups of young people are showing up at their doorsteps to play the game. Many church leaders, such as in the Church of England, are beginning to see this phenomenon as a positive development. While the Pokératti may not stick around for sermons, leaders see this move as “a good way to start a conversation that may lead on to other things,” as noted by the BBC.

The same Pokémon game, which once was thought to have driven people from religion, is now being considered a tool to potentially lead them back.

And churches aren’t the only institutions looking to take advantage of the PokeStop or PokeGym feature. Companies, organizations and event planners are using the built-in “lure” or the “incense” game actions to bring Pokémon to their locations in hopes of attracting visitors, customers or the like. The more Pokémon at the site, or the stronger and rarer the Pokémon, the more Pokératti show up.

The Wild Hunt’s own Cara Schulz, who is running for political office in her hometown of Burnsville, has teamed up with a local restaurant and is using the game’s lure feature to attract people to her campaign event. It is a clever marketing tool that creates a pickup community space, which could potentially “lead on to other things.”  As we move into Pagan Pride and fall festival season, this tool may be a marketing concept that organizers can employ to attract visitors to their own public events.

However, before a planner jumps on the band wagon, there is a downside. Do you want groups of gamers lingering on your doorstop? These players are typically more interested in catching Pokémon than the services being offered. This fact has caused problems worldwide where players create hazards for real shoppers or similar. The U.S. Holocaust Museum Memorial, for example, was made a PokeStop and has been reportedly attracting groups of loud and disrespectful Pokératti.

“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told the Washington Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”

As noted earlier, the PokeStops and PokeGyms are chosen by the company, and only recently has it opened up the option to suggest new locations. The system is not at all monetized, but the company has suggested that it may be in the future.

Another organization contending with Pokératti is the Westboro Baptist Church. The location was made a PokeGym, attracting battling trainers who are now allegedly vying for the right to control this particular gym in order to “troll the Church.” The church’s leaders responded with their own Pokémon-inspired message saying, “Pokémon Go and Sin No More.” One spokesperson told USA Today that they are using the “language that is understood.”

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Another one caught. [Photo Credit: E. Howard]

Today the Pokémon franchise, which began as a simple video game, has now become a viable tool within a magical system, an exercise method, a community-building activity, a marketing strategy, and a political weapon. At the same time, the game is still inspiring the same backlash that it did in 1990s, including new conspiracy theories, angry sermons and fatwas.

Going back to the original question: what does Pokémon have to do with the occult? The easy response, as said earlier, is absolutely nothing.

But human culture never allows for that level of simplicity. Therefore, the actual answer is “a whole lot.”

Happy hunting.

Get ready for the seventh generation in November as a new wave of danger hits the market.

Rob Collins as Waruu West in ABCs Cleverman

Rob Collins as Waruu West in ABCs Cleverman [Publicity Still]

“Firstly, it’s The Dreaming. Present tense. Our stories are not static, they’re not locked in the past, bound, just as Hairypeople are not bound by what is,” says Waruu West (Rob Collins) in ABC’s latest original Australian drama Cleverman.  Found in the second instalment ‘Containment,’ this moment stood out. Collins, playing an Indigenous spokesperson on a TV news panel discussion, delivers the line with acid on his tongue, shifting in his seat and barely able to maintain his countenance to suit the panel’s format, which is supposed to represent the epitome of polite society in serious discussion.

In the world of Cleverman, the Dreaming is mentioned here with the same condescension it might be on an actual TV weekly news and current affairs panel. I’ve seen enough Aboriginal Elders and commentators on such shows to know that Collins did not have to look very far to inspire his character’s reaction in this moment. As an Indigenous man himself, Collins probably didn’t even need that.

In the make-believe dystopian near future of Cleverman, not six months before the action takes up with the first episode, the Dreaming just materialised in the form of the Hairypeople. What was once thought of as just an Aboriginal story and a monster to scare children, is now flesh and blood. They are an entirely different species of human that is stronger, faster, harder, covered in hair, and absolutely not a figment of some distant story derived from an uncivilised past. This narrative fact makes the host’s condescension in this scene all the more misplaced, purposefully nasty.

[Above: Q&A Monday 09 June, 2014. Aunty Rosalie Kunoth-Monks’ “I am not the problem” speech, in conversation regarding John Pilger’s Utopia.]

This point in the show also created a moment during which, it was white Australian viewers’ turn to shift uncomfortably in their seats, if they had not already. In that scene, with its similarity to real day-to-day viewing, it felt like director Wayne Blair, and writers Michael Miller and Jon Bell were speaking directly to us. And I confess: it was my turn for a little bit of solidarity with my Indigenous Brothers and Sisters fist pumping. Waruu’s statement contained within it something that could easily translate to my own experience as a Pagan and a Witch: Our Mythos. Present tense. Our stories are not static, they’re not locked in the past, bound, just as the Otherworlds are not bound by what is.

Cleverman is a futuristic sci-fi narrative told using the contemporary language of television and chocked full of very real and very current issues. Included in its themes are Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, forced imprisonment, our nation’s crimes against humanity, as well as the physical, mental, and emotional trauma suffered at our hands by those most vulnerable: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, immigrants, and refugees. Additionally, the show includes the Scientific Frankenstein, the Shady Media Mogul, themes of fear, terror, racism, bigotry, atrocity, isolation, desperation, violence, and police brutality.

These details are all woven together in a sprawling story that we should in fact not be confused about at all. However, it is the twist with which it’s told that is the real highlight. The fictional Hairypeople are lifted directly from several Aboriginal Dreaming stories. They speak Gumbaynggirr, a language from northern New South Wales, as is the Namorrodor, the monster stalking urban Sydney. Indigenous actors dominate in both the Indigenous and Hairypeople roles. The Cleverman is a cultural facticity.

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen West on Cleverman show poster

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen West on Cleverman [Publicity Poster for SundanceTV]

Our reluctant hero Koen West, is Aboriginal, a refreshing change from what we so often see highlighted by Australian and international news. Koen, an opportunistic young Indigenous man who refuses to choose a tribe, has suddenly had the Cleverman superhero powers thrust upon him. The power is real and present in this show’s world. It is manifest in Koen, Waruu, in the Hairypeople, and in the short (but always sparkling) performance of Jack Charles as Uncle Jimmy the Cleverman who passes the nulla nulla (or waddi a warrior’s club) of the Cleverman onto Koen.

If Koen stands as a proxy for young Indigenous viewers, then the narrative comes with a dare: Pick up your power, claim your strength. Our Dreaming is not static. None are left to wonder about the nature of that strength and power. It’s Indigenous and it comes from a very real place.

In this way, Cleverman is the Dreaming. The show is Indigenous story soaked with a real Indigenous past and a contemporary Indigenous experience. With the help of CGI and special effects, the show demonstrates how the Dreaming contains within it the ability to confront new issues and problems with no less potency. The Dreaming refuses to stay static.

The Dreaming is not at odds with western science, political systems, media, or indeed, the future. Rather, here, the Dreaming uses all these modern ideas and formats to its own end. Standing alongside these contemporary mainstream Australian institutions as equally valid and powerful, the show tells a story of change, of how it is made manifest in those who engage with it, and how it can reclaim itself – its Indigenousness – from those very institutions who have sought to diminish it. The Dreaming claims itself, as strong, powerful, old, political, and social, and entirely relevant, in the now.

It is here, precisely at this moment, that Australian Pagans and Witches should feel the pangs of empathy. This is art as story magic.

In the first place, we should be familiar with the historical arc that underpins the show. In summary, cultural practices, myths and stories are outlawed, then, after a time, they are repackaged as oddities from a distant past for children’s entertainment. Then, finally, adults start taking these “oddities” back.

Pagans around the world know this story. In recent times, we have seen a major resurgence in many myths and folktales. Appearing on the small and silver screens alike, these stories are being torn apart and remade with entirely relevant themes and contemporary issues, and very often strictly for adults. Examples range from American Horror Story: Coven‘s unabashed, subversive femaleness in all its complicated and messy glory; to the miraculous image at the end of The Witch showing power embraced as the young protagonist is liberated; to Michael Hirst’s Vikings in which a historical Pagan worldview is given prominence over early Christian ideas. Even at Disney, the early and mid-20th Century children’s stories are being approached anew, with the likes of Angelina Jolie’s turn as the Mistress of All Evil in MaleficentWe get this.

However, these things – our myths, reimagined in the mainstream, artistic, and pop culture spheres – can serve to be a hindrance to the legitimisation of contemporary Pagan and Witchcraft discourse. They can be wildly disrespectful and further propagate tired tropes and negative stereotypes that influence the very real lives of the Neopagan and Witchcraft communities. These things do not exist in a vacuum. But at their best, they can serve as a powerful quickening to such communities, who, in turn, find the inspiration to readdress the magical and mythical narratives within the ritual space itself.

These modern retellings can normalise themes and ideas in the mainstream, which can then further legitimise those same ideas as they are contained within our contemporary discourse. The young and aspiring seeker of the Craft, for example, can find heroes and heroines in these places, urging them to look further.

Pick up your power, claim your strength. Our Myths are not static.

As a story and as a Dreaming narrative, Cleverman excels at demonstrating that power is best realised through the creative vision, voice and bodies of those who are living a direct experience of it already. Inside contemporary culture, it further demonstrates the power of community support and participation required to push forward with these new narratives. Cleverman‘s mainstream success and positive reviews are a testament to two hundreds years of fighting to legitimise Indigenous voices.

This is a lesson Pagans in Australia can take away. It is a salient reminder that our own myths are strong, powerful, old, political, and social, and entirely relevant, now.

Especially as Australian Pagan communities begin to increasingly realise their social and political voices, it is this thought that should stay in the back of our minds when we engage with Pagan discourse, writing, art, and craft, and reimagine our stories inside our ritual space to confront and work with contemporary and very real social and political issues. It is important to promote that same creative talent inside our communities in order to achieve change, justice, fairness, highlight social issues right now.

These ideas and concepts are all on top of the stand-alone joy of engaging with Australian Indigenous voices and creative talent as found through Cleverman. The final episode of season one was aired Thursday, July 7.  This particular episode felt like one giant teaser for season two. It left me wanting much more.

We left our anti-hero, Koen, much less “anti” and coming finally into his own, as all sides are baying for war. I agree with AV Club‘s Brandon Nowalk, whose review pointed out the first season was more promise than delivery in terms of story.  It was a season of exposition that has left a carefully crafted set of characters ready for the real meat of season two.

But that exposition can be easily forgiven. After all, there would only be a handful of people on this continent with enough knowledge of Aboriginal Law and Dreaming not to require background information. I can only imagine the culture shock and complete lack of context for those watching in the US and, shortly, the UK.

Thankfully, for those interested, there are a few helpful guides that wade into the dystopian near future of Cleverman‘s Sydney. This includes Zebbie Watson’s guide at Inverse, and The Guardian‘s episode by episode recaps. For some extra fun, check out the behind the scenes video with Adam Briggs and, one of my favourite Australian voices, Gurrumul Yunupingu and the inspiration for the Cleverman theme song.

Behind the Theme Song – “Cleverman” from Goalpost Pictures on Vimeo.