There’s something to be said for a localized religion with deep and specific roots and its own stories about every rock and tree; it sacralizes ordinary things, and makes the numinous part of each particular part of the world.”  – SM Stirling

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The entire Emberverse series is addictive to Pagans because it spells out one of our fantasies – what would it be like to live in a community where our religion was the dominant religion? If our rituals, our ethics, our Gods were unabashedly the norm and seen as positive, vibrant, and diverse.
The Wild Hunt looks at the latest book in the Emberverse series, The Desert and the Blade, and interviews New York Times Best Selling author SM Stirling.

Book:  The Desert and the Blade
Author:  SM Stirling
Publish Date:  September 1, 2015

Sample Chapters
Buy the book:  Amazon and Barnes & Noble
Author’s Yahoo Group
Previous coverage of SM Stirling: Author’s Books Change Opinions About Paganism; Review of The Golden Princess

Series Background:

A mysterious event happens across the globe that causes electricity, gunpowder, cars,and all the things that make modern life possible stop working. As a results, 90% of the population die off within one year due to starvation and disease. While the series could have come across as grim, Stirling focuses on how humans band together to not only survive, but thrive in this new world they find themselves in. The books contain classic fantasy elements, but the setting and characters are not. They are your friends and neighbors and is set in towns you live and work in.

Those that survive The Change (as the event becomes known) band together in small, isolated groups and form new, surprising cultures. After living through the horrors of those early days, people try to forget the past and forge a new life by turning to myths. A professor of medieval history, his SCA friends, and local gang members use feudal England as a model for a new society and build castles in the Portland area. A soldier turned devout monk is elevated to Abbot and turns the abbey into a fortress to guard the flock from roving bands of cannibals. Teenagers infatuated with Tolkin grow into serious scouts and caravan guards as the Dunedain Rangers.

Due to its ability to feed its population, Iowa becomes the most powerful area left in the old United States. Bib overalls and a feed cap become the dress of the upper class and Farmer is a title of respect. A pseudo-Celtic clan is formed in Oregon when a community coalesces around a Wiccan coven with a Bard and powerful witch as a High Priestess. The Lakota once again follow the ways and Gods of their ancestors and the buffalo number in the millions.

Religion, especially modern Pagan religions, are central to the series. Pagans take center stage as the heroes. Wiccans, who are the majority in the USA, are also the majority of Pagans in the Emberverse. There are also Heathens, Hellenics, and polytheists of other varieties throughout the series.

The Emberverse books can be broken into 3 (or 4) sub-series. Dies the Fire, The Protector’s War and A Meeting at Corvallis follow the events immediately after the Change and take place primarily in the pacific Northwest. These books treat magic as something that might or might not be real and show the beginnings of how wildly new cultures are formed. The next grouping of 7 books takes place 25 years after the Change and follows the children of many of the main characters of the first books. This is also where the books turn from being Alternative History/Post-Apocalypse to Fantasy with subtle, but real magic. The culture changes are now becoming more entrenched.

The Golden Princess and The Desert and the Blade take place 46 years after the Change. They follow Princess Órlaith, heir to a kingdom that stretches across most of the former western USA, her Knight Heuradys, and Reiko, Empress of Japan. The books take place mostly in the Pacific Northwest and California, but the stories also bring in Korea and the kingdom of Capricornia in Australia. There are bad guys, a brewing war, witchcraft, battling Gods, and a quest.


Interview with S.M. Stirling:

Cara Schulz: What started out as a book of alternative (future) history with a few instances of perhaps-magic-but-probably-better-explained-by-coincidence evolved into an outright fantasy series with Gods and magic. Did you know from the beginning that was how the series would evolve?

SM Stirling: Yes, I had that pretty much in mind. The Change is more broad-ranging than it at first appears!  Part of the fun was taking modern (more or less) people and their immediate descendants and putting them in that setting. Even Juniper Mackenzie, who was a Wiccan high priestess before the Change and always believed in magic, is a bit startled. Though in a good way!  I do try to keep the magic from turning into D&D and fireballs from the fingertips, though. That’s fine for some books, but these have a different structure.

CS: In your books you take something very normal and mundane and show how far it can be taken if a small band of isolated survivors make it their core identity. The crashed plane of Boy Scouts, who develop into a cross between legendary Indian Trackers and Appalachia Firefox students, is one of the best examples. Another is a core of Army vets who, while intending to rebuild the USA, reinvent the Roman Legions. How do you come up with these different communities?

SMS: That’s a toughie. The glib answer writers usually give is that they get their ideas from a mail-order firm in upstate New York, but seriously it’s a bit of a mystery. Some of it just does well up from the subconscious. I had glimpses of Juniper sitting next to a campfire next to her Traveller’s wagon, and knew she was a witch, for example.

In the case of this series overall, I wanted -amplitude. That is, I wanted a lot of different cultures and customs, and the post-Change world is full of ’em. As a character says, when the going gets weird, the weird get going — and this is a set of circumstances in which it’s a positive survival advantage to be a bit weird. I find that amusing, not least because I’m a bit weird myself. The board is swept clear of the ordinary and the predominant.

Also, it’s a meditation on the nature of historical change and on the interaction between the present and our memories and ideas about the past. The past is gone and can never be wholly brought back — as one character says, “even if you wear its clothes” — yet we can never entirely reinvent ourselves; the past is also always present. How people build on what their know of (or dream of) their pasts is part of the story.

CS: Other communities form around a religion and many of those religions are Pagan religions such as Wicca, Hellenismos, Heathenry, and now Shinto. Why did you decide to make minority religions such a prominent and positive part of your series?

SMS: Well, see above. Partly it’s just that I find them fascinating; partly it’s the people I’ve met along the way building the series and concepts in the course of the research, which I do compulsively; partly it’s the internal logic of the initial premises. Throughout most of human history religion has been the core of most communities, woven into the very fabric of their lives.  I don’t see why it should be different after the Change; quite the contrary, since it’s once again a world of villages and face-to-face communities. And while I’m not prejudiced against the Abrahamic religions, it is sort of tedious the way they’ve reformatted so much of the world. There’s something to be said for a localized religion with deep and specific roots and its own stories about every rock and tree; it sacralizes ordinary things, and makes the numinous part of each particular part of the world. Also it makes travel more interesting!

The “world religions” are still part of the world in the Change series; they’ve just been trimmed back somewhat and made less hegemonic, having to learn to be good neighbors.

CS: From the very first books, you acknowledged Wiccan Kier Salmon with assisting you in creating realistic Wiccan characters and Heathen Diana Paxton for inspiring the series with her Westria books and for helping create the Heathen community and characters by referencing her Essential Asatru and Our Troth books. In your latest book, The Desert and the Blade, there is a long list of Pagans thanked for their help or for allowing you to use their lyrics in your book. What has it been like to develop this network of Pagans as resources and how has that helped you as an author?

SMS: Well, first it’s been a lot of fun! I’ve met a great many delightful, intelligent and interesting people, and some of them have become close friends. As an author, it’s been helpful both directly (getting information, preventing embarrassing errors) and by exposing me to different outlooks and worldviews. This is particularly important for a science fiction and fantasy author. If you’re writing mimetic fiction, it can suffice to know one milieu and part of the world intensely, and the people in it. When you’re building entire worlds, they should have something of the width and breadth and intricate close-grained variability of the actual world, which is huge and diverse beyond our comprehension. Broadening your exposure to different ways of thinking helps prevent your imagined worlds from being too flat and monochromatic.

CS: The Desert and the Blade has three young women as the main characters. One is a Wiccan, another is a Hellenic polytheist, and the third follows Shinto. All three are politically and physically powerful. Normally fantasy and magic novels have the men wielding swords and going on adventures and the women are relegated to rape bait or magic users who needed to be protected. Why push against the norm by having all three main characters be powerful, intelligent, physically strong women?

SMS: There’s an old Mexican joke about a man from Sonora and a man from Yucatan sitting in a pulqueria somewhere talking about their home regions. The man from Sonora pounds his fist on the table and says “In Sonora, we’re real men!  All of us!  Every one!” The guy from Yucatan looks at him for a moment and says: “That’s odd. In Yucatan only half of us are men.The other half are women, and we like it that way.”

I’ve always used a lot of female characters, from the start of my writing career, for pretty much that reason!  Also because my mind just seems to work that way. Perhaps it was being in single-sex schools for my teenage years; I OD’d on the alternative. It wouldn’t be thought at all odd to have a monarch, a knight and the heir to a throne as lead characters — why not a monarch, a knight and the heir to a throne who happen to be women?

CS: The Desert and the Blade also starts taking a closer look at non-Western culture, namely that of ancient Japan if it were to be revived again. How difficult is it to to leave a Western mindset to show how Empress Reiko would view different situations? Do you think you were successful?”

SMS: I think I was reasonably successful. It helps that Reiko’s culture isn’t that of ancient Japan, strictly speaking: it’s a post-apocalyptic Japan which has used a lot of its memories and concepts of the past to shape a -new- culture. One which, of course, as resident deity of that fictional universe, I designed! Nearly all the post-Change cultures involve a rejection of modernity, which is discredited by the appalling trauma of the Change itself. The survivors more or less have to cut themselves free to come to terms with things and to get on with their lives.  But none of them is a direct recreation of the past; that’s not possible, in my opinion. Modernity still -shapes- the new cultures which emerge; they may use swords and sailing ships (and horse-drawn railways and heliographs) but they’re still the product of people who went through the modern world, and their descendants.  As the saying goes, you cannot -not- know history; there’s no such thing as a blank slate, even if the world ends, though the concept of the tabula rasa, the new start, is itself a powerful historical force. Or as Marx put it, human beings -make- history… but they don’t make it just as they please. Their choices are inevitably limited, channeled and shaped by their circumstances, which are a product of the previous history they’re stuck with. I’ve tried to reflect this in the Change series.

CS: There are now 12 books in the Emberverse, but they can be divided into three sub-series series. The first series is about the immediate aftermath of the change. The second series focuses on the children of those survivors. And this series takes place about 46 years after the change and follows the third generation of survivors. As the author, where can people new to these books start?”

SMS: Well, that’s a more and more difficult question as a series goes along. Technically the whole shebang starts with ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME, where the Change starts on Nantucket and it’s thrown back to 1250 BCE. It’s the same overall imagined universe and there’s some lapover in characters — the brother of one of Juniper’s original friends is on Nantucket and is a secondary character in that trilogy. You can start with DIES THE FIRE easily enough, though:  it isn’t necessary to know what happened to Nantucket, though it helps.  I think you could come in at THE SUNRISE LANDS for the second series in the Change universe; and with THE GOLDEN PRINCESS for this new trilogy. It would be a -little- more difficult, but I tried to make them approachable that way. Although that has its own hazards; if you’re not careful, you can take up half a book with recapitulation!

CS: Thank you for chatting with us about your books. In addition to the books written by SM Stirling, there is also a newly released anthology based in the Emberverse called The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth and one of the stories included is from Kier Salmon.

Author SM Stirling and Wild Hunt Staff Writer Cara Schulz

Author SM Stirling and Wild Hunt Staff Writer Cara Schulz

Review of The Desert and the Blade

In a nutshell you have a princess, a knight, and an exotic foreigner on a quest for a magical sword. But that’s where the tropes end. All three main characters are women, all three practice different types of polytheist religions, and all three can kick serious butt with a blade. These are not helpless damsels.

The landscape they travel through, a post-apocalyptic portion of Western USA, is familiar. Readers will recognize the landmarks, even though they are mostly abandoned and falling into ruin. Yet the land itself is recovering from the abuses of modern life and fossil fuels. The tone of the book matches that – filled with hope, renewal, and youth.

The quest itself is just starting after forces from Korea kill the fathers (and reigning monarchs) of two of the main characters. Princess Orlaith and Knight Heuradys, who are from a kingdom that was formerly the western half of the US, are assisting Japan’s young Empress Reiko on her quest to find the fabled sword that can be used to avenge the death of their fathers. This isn’t a fight to take over Korea or based on xenophobia. Korea’s leader has been taken over by a type of demon, and the evil is harming the Koreans and threatening to spread.

The book goes into fairly complex nuanced explorations of the ethics of war and a leader’s responsibility for those who follow her and those who oppose her. It also explores respect for different cultures and religions while standing firm against oppression and evil.

When faced by an enemy, who has killed some of her friends, Órlaith wins the fight. But she also frees the man’s soul to return to his ancestors in the afterlife:

Órlaith looked into the eyes, into a whirling circle of dissolution that was eternally motionless, a nothing that thought it was everything, a futility that believed it was perfection. Where there were no lies because there was no truth, only an endless chewing of stale memory into smaller and smaller bits beneath the gaze of the Solipsist.

“No,” she said. “I will not leave even a bitter enemy so. Find freedom, man of the People. Find truth.”

She stepped forward and thrust. For an instant bewildered pain and hatred ran through her in a shuddering wave. Then it was as if a door opened – not for her, though she was enough of it to see and stand on the threshold for a moment.

The skaga took his hand from the dorsal fin of the great creature that bore him on a journey, one she sensed had been far longer for him than her. He made a gesture of thanks as it turned and dove into water like froth-tipped icy jade; his eyes caught hers for seconds, and he nodded, then turned to those who waited for him.

The rituals used by the various polytheist characters to honor their Gods and ancestors are realistic, respectful, and meaningful. The same goes for all the other religions encountered, including Christianity, a few forms of Judaism, and other various cultures. Respect is one of the key themes of the book. Respect for self, for others, for the beauty of diversity, and for the world.

That respect also extends to the use of magic, which isn’t treated lightly. The witches are respected and respectful of the powers and Gods on which they call. Thankfully, the author also extends that same respect to his readers by giving a solid, non-sensational view of spellcasting.

One of the kilted northerners was on his… no, her knees, it was the woman named Gwri, the dark one with her hair in small tight braids tipped with silver balls – sensibly muffled with a kerchief under her helmet for this work. Her face had a sinuous design in dark green and brown and burnt ochre drawn on it now; Mackenzies didn’t tattoo like their relatives, but they did paint their faces for war when they had time.

She was kneeling up behind a fragment of wall, with her arms out to either side and palms up, swaying slowly to left and right, with an arrangement of rocks and scratches in the dirt before her and objects at the points of a pentagram inside a circle – a feather, a bone, things he couldn’t see clearly. And as she swayed she chanted or half-sang, very softly, words that trickled into your ears like warm honey, her eyes heavy-lidded. Like your mother singing to you in your cradle… and Connor’s mother had died in childbirth, he’d been raised by his father and a bunch of neighbors, he didn’t remember her at all.

Except that somehow now he did, with an overwhelming sense of homecoming, like staring into the hearth as it flickered low while it rained outside.

The entire bestselling series should be read by every Pagan. Not only is it a joy to read such positive portrayals of Pagans in this gripping, smoothly paced, and well-written series, but also Pagans get the unusual bonus of catching a glimpse of what Pagan communities could look like. However, I wouldn’t wish the Change on anyone. The Desert and the Blade hovers between Young Adult and Adult and can be enjoyed by either audience. If you’re looking for books with Pagan, GLBT, and feminist characters in them with lots of action, heart, and intelligence you’ll enjoy these books.

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four quartersFour Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary, a farm and campground located in Pennsylvania, was in the news after a festival-goer reported being attacked. Four Quarters opens its land to a number of yearly external events. One of these events is Big Dub, a 4-Day EDM festival that brings together “40 of the regions biggest electronic dance dj’s to perform and hold workshops.

On the final day of the festival, a women reported to festival security that she had been drugged and raped. Security turned the case over to local police who launched an investigation. Both Four Quarters and Big Dub are reportedly cooperating fully with authorities. Four Quarters spokesperson Orren Whiddon told local reporters, “We are allowing the law to work its course.” Unfortunately neither Whiddon or Big Dub organizers answered our requests for further comments or updates. Currently, Big Dub’s website is down.

Despite the investigation, Four Quarters is moving forward with its own extensive schedule of fall events and happenings. Upcoming this week, the organization is hosting its own 5 day festival called Stones Rising. The sanctuary is also home to the Four Quarters Meadery, which earned 4th place recognition for its sweet brew back in the Spring.

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starhawkStarhawk is in the final hours of her Kickstarter campaign to self-publish City of Refuge, the sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. As we have reported in the past, Starhawk’s manuscript was rejected by her former publisher. While she was initially both frustrated and angry, Starhawk decided to take a leap and publish the book herself.

Starhawk describes the new book, “Do you choose to imagine a future filled with food gardens and community or guns and isolation? City of Refuge offers the world an alternative vision of the future- one where we can face down the oppressors and the violence with confidence that a peaceful and abundant world is possible.”

Starhawk launched the City of Refuge crowd-sourcing campaign on Aug. 5 with a goal of $50,000. However, she has surpassed that goal, raising $73,136. The campaign closes later today and, according to the site, a special first edition of the novel will only be available through the Kickstarter event. Additionally, Starhawk announced that, if she reaches $75,000, she will create an audio book version of City of Refuge. The book is due to be released for sale in 2016.

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Pagan Pride Day logo

Pagan Pride Day logo.

We have now officially entered Pagan Pride Day season. A few events have already taken place but most are still in the final planning stages. Pagan Pride events offer a wide diversity of opportunities, which often reflect the flavor of the local community. At the Patheos’ blog Heathen At Heart, guest writer Náf Andrewson shares a unique reflection on representing Heathenry and the group Nebraska Heathens United at Pagan Pride Day Omaha. Andrewson wrote, “My purpose was simple; represent Heathenry at this event and make the distinct voice of all of Heathenry clear compared to other Pagan religions.”

Generally speaking, Pagan Pride events typically contain three main elements: public ritual, a food drive and media outreach. While not every event is run the same, these elements are reportedly required in order to be considered a part of the Pagan Pride Day project. For example, in July, Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day sent out its press release announcing the event’s return on Sept. 5. Others have made similar efforts. The Pagan Pride Day website has an easily searchable list of all local Pride events even some happening in Latin America and Europe. In addition, many of the local Pride organizations host Facebook pages and groups for community support.

In Other News:

  • EarthSpirit Community has announced its schedule for the upcoming Parliament of the World Religions in Salt Lake City. Members will be involved with at least 6 different scheduled programs, serve on various host committees and will be speaking on panels. The organization has launched a fundraising campaign to offset travel costs to the big interfaith gathering.
  • For those of you who missed the Many Gods West conference, Morpheus Ravenna’s keynote address has been published in full at Polytheist.com. In her speech titled “Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods,” Ravenna said, “The key, in my mind, to understanding the nature of the Gods and what makes Them distinct from archetypes, is agency. And this is a theme I am going to emphasize a lot here.”
  • Circle Sanctuary will be hosting its fall festival on Sept. 19-20 in Wisconsin. The event is called an “Old Tyme Community Harvest Faire: a Celebration of Hearth and Harvest.”  It includes rituals, workshops, crafting and more. For more information and for tickets, Circle has set up a dedicated web page filled with information and photos from past events.
  • Humanistic Paganism has opened a call for submissions for its September theme: Gaia philosophy and the Earth. Editors write, “This month in 1965, James Lovelock, the author of the Gaia Hypothesis, started defining the idea of a self-regulating Earth … In the meantime, also in September … one of the fathers of Neo-Paganism, Tim (Oberon) Zell had his a vision which inspired him to articulate vision of the earth as a single living organism.” In honor of that work, editors are looking for papers that focus on Earth Stewardship and related topics. All deadlines and requirements are posted on the site.
  • The Association for the Study of Women and Mythology has put out a call for proposals for its 2016 conference. “ASWM’s supports the work of those whose scholarly/creative endeavors explore or elucidate aspects of the sacred feminine, women and mythology.” The conference, to be held in Boston in April, is themed: Seeking Harbor in Our Histories: Lights in the Darkness.” Specifics on the conference and submission guidelines are listed on the organization’s site. In addition, ASWM is seeking nominee’s for its Kore award and for its Sarasvati book award.
  • The Pagan band Taibhsear has just released its debut album called “Tears Upon the Water.” The band’s sound is described as “somewhere between Pink Floyd and Damh the Bard.” The new album is available through iTunes, Amazon and other outlets.

Tears-upon-the-water-COVER

That is it for now! Have a nice day.

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[Warning: This article deals with a topic that may be upsetting for some of our readers.]

On Aug. 26, 1920, American women were granted the right to vote when the Secretary of State certified the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ninety five years later, the day is acknowledged as “Women’s Equality Day.” While the Utopian ideal of gender equality in the U.S. is far from realized, long term statistics do suggest significant improvements for American women.

Political and cultural shifts have opened doorways, allowing for opportunities that were not available to the many brave women who walked in those early protests nearly a century ago. American women are also increasingly finding the voice to continue the work needed to improve their lives, to confront issues still lurking in the corners of American society and to empower the next generation of girls by reminding them each and every day, “We are half the sky!”[i]

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

But as we pause for a moment to acknowledge, reassess, plan or celebrate, the following creeps across our digital desks…

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. (From “Isis Enshrines a Theology of Rape,” The New York Times, Aug. 13, 2015)

To fully comprehend the quote above, one must read the entire New York Times report. A summary will not capture the sheer horror embedded in that story as relayed by 21 survivors. Briefly, Yazidi women and girls are being sold to Daesh soldiers as sex slaves and systematically raped in prison structures as part of the conquest of war. These violent acts are being justified by Daesh’s developing theological legal system for the caliphate. The social boundaries that once may have prevented such attacks are now lying in ruins alongside the shattered remains of the Mosul museum, Palmyra and other similar ancient sites.

Daesh is attempting to rebuild a society based on its own extremist interpretation of Sharia law, and sex slavery has become a legitimate part of that construction. The organization has even created a functioning infrastructure specifically to uphold the practice. As The Times article reports, “The Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales and contracts notarized by ISIS-run Islamic courts.” And within that theologically-based legal structure, rape is considered a form of worship.

This new slavery system was institutionalized when Daesh first invaded the Yazidi region. They killed both men and older boys. Then, they transported the women and girls and the remaining young boys to prisons and camps. Professor Matthew Barber, a expert on the Yazidi, told The New York Times, this “offensive” was not at all a land invasion, but a calculated “sexual conquest.”

As we reported last September, the Yazidi people are a small, often misunderstood religious minority living in northern Iraq. Many news outlets have defined their religious practice as polytheist and, periodically throughout history, they have been labeled “devil worshippers.” However, neither is correct. The Yazidi tradition is a closely held belief system that, by design, remains a mystery to outsiders. While their religion may be kept hidden, what is clearly known about the Yazidi is that they are currently the direct targets of a modern genocide.

Last October, Daesh’s online magazine Dabiq published an article explaining the organization’s actions. The text reads, “The Islamic State faced a population of Yazidis, a pagan minority existent for ages in regions of Iraq and Shām … Their creed is so deviant from the truth that even cross-worshipping Christians for ages considered them devil worshippers and Satanists … ” The article goes on to justify not only slavery as a whole, but specifically sex slavery and the taking of women as concubines. The writer explains how slavery was once openly practiced, and Daesh seeks to return to that time.

While Daesh is openly enslaving the Yazidi women, it has not yet demonstrated a large-scale offensive against the area’s Islamic, Christian or Jewish women. Islamic women are considered believers, and have a designated role in the caliphate as dictated by a March 2015 piece of propaganda, titled, “Women of the Islamic State: A Manifesto on Women by the Al-khanssaa Brigade.”  Interestingly, this manifesto is being used to recruit young Muslim women from around the world.

Christian and Jewish women, on the other hand, have a special non-believer status because of their theological link to “the Book.” As explained in October’s Dabiq article, Christians and Jews have the option of making ” jizyah payments,” which is a tax for non-Muslims living in the caliphate.

However, the Yazidi are considered, as noted earlier, pagans and devil-worshipping polytheists or mushrikun (shrik is defined as the sinful practice of idolatry or polytheism; mushrikun are those that commit this sin against Islam). The mushrikun can either be converted, killed or enslaved.

The bartering for and enslavement of women as a war conquest is sadly not a new practice. For centuries, the female body has been treated like the hidden valuables of a conquered region. Women exist for the taking; a spoil of war and a right of victory, as demonstrated by the phrase to “plunder, pillage, rape.” In May, when Nigerian troops freed 234 women and girls from the terrorist group Boko Haram, many returned pregnant. Boko Haram treated these women and girls in very much the same way that Daesh is treating the Yazidi women.

However, Daesh has added a new spin to this entire horrific engagement. It is brandishing these attacks and promoting these laws as a way to encourage young men to join its ranks. Sex slavery and rape have become the proverbial carrot before the horse; a prize for signing up or reward for a job well-done. And, the entire process is wrapped up in a guise of religious clothing. In a March 2015 Dabiq article, writers attempt to justify their institutionalization of slavery by criticizing the world for even calling a sexual act with a slave girl “a rape.” [ii]

A prostitute in your lands comes and goes, openly committing sin. She lives by selling her honor, within the sight and hearing of the deviant scholars from whom we don’t hear even a faint sound. As for the slave-girl that was taken by the swords of men following the cheerful warrior … then her enslavement is in opposition to human rights and copulation with her is rape?! What is wrong with you? How do you make such a judgment? What is your religion? What is your law?

That very comment in the April issue of Dabiq invites a broader discussion on basic human morality. Is there an intrinsic morality embedded within humanity, or even a socially-constructed baseline that defines which acts should never be considered acceptable regardless of religious belief? That discussion goes well-beyond this article. But it does lead back to the original New York Times headline, “Isis Enshrines a Theology of Rape.” Is the institutionalization of rape through religious doctrine truly a mark of “theology?” Or is a religion simply being used – victimized itself – as an excuse to commit violent sexual acts against women, to perpetrate a genocide against a perceived enemy and to strengthen a propaganda campaign to recruit new young male followers?

The world’s Islamic leaders are decrying these atrocities and publicly discussing the secondhand destruction being caused to their faith practice and belief system. There is a distinction being made between Islam and Islamism; between Muslims and Islamists. In a recent CNN report, Dr. Qanta A. Ahmed wrote:

 I am an observant Muslim. And because I am a Muslim, I believe in pluralism. I believe in tolerance. These are the beliefs that Islamist totalitarians are determined to extinguish in the world as they oppress and brutalize those they deem to be ‘the other.’ … Because of their abuses in the name of Islam, Islamists smear each and every Muslim, tarring us all with the same brush.

As the world has became increasingly aware of Daesh’s slavery practices, some people are asking why the world’s governments don’t appear to be focusing more on this particular horror. “Do they believe it is just a women’s issue?” In a 2014 article published at Foreign Policy, Aki Peritz and Tara Maller, former CIA analysts ask that very question. They observe, “Rarely do [sexual attacks] seem to be the focal point of politicians’ remarks, intelligence assessments, or justification for counter-terrorism actions against the group.” Peritz and Maller conclude, “Sexual violence carried out by terrorist groups should be catalogued as ‘terrorist attacks.”

Before Daesh’s 2014 Yazidi offensive, there were already reports of rapes and kidnappings in the general Iraqi region. Where once the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) was steadily working to improve Iraqi women’s legal rights, it now, as reported Foreign Policy in Focus, “takes everything the organization has just to keep their shelters open and women safe.” The article explains how, in war-torn Iraq, all men have guns and can do whatever they want. Women live in fear.

Along with OWFI, human-rights organizations around the world are joining the struggle to help the region’s women. Yazda is an Iraqi-based international Yazidi organization that is sponsoring relief efforts. YezidiTruth is a U.S.-based organization that educates and collects donations. In Israel, The Combat Genocide Association is also working to educate, raise money and find ways of actively assist the many refugees from the affected areas. These are only four examples.

While grass-roots efforts and government action may end the nightmare and alleviate some of the trauma. None of those actions can fully root-out a more deeply embedded problem – one of indoctrination found within the pages of Daesh’s manifesto and the writings by the organization’s supporters. All of these works continue to teach boys and men that it is culturally acceptable and even their right to objectify women’s bodies.

Living far away from the violence and the realities in Iraq, American women can walk freely, secure enough in their own struggle for equality. But even in the U.S. there are reminders that a very similar problem still lies deep beneath the lands where once the suffragettes marched. This was recently demonstrated by several back-to-school fraternity banners displayed at Old Dominion University. “Freshmen daughter drop off,” one read. While these manifestations and related traumas are not comparable to the open institutionalization of sex slavery and rape in Iraq, a connection remains.

In celebrating the advancements made over the past 95 years, we also acknowledge there is much work to be done. That work includes continuously encouraging our young girls to stand up and speak up because they are half the sky. But at the same time we cannot forget to teach our boys that they are only half the sky.

And, without both, the sky will fall.

*    *    *

[i] The term “Half the Sky” is borrowed from a movement that addresses the worldwide oppression of women. The term originated as the title of a book written by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and then was adopted for a corresponding effort to help women worldwide. The Half the Sky movement is not to be confused with the foundation of the same name, which specifically addresses child welfare in China.

[ii] There are countless published articles and essays by Daesh supporters that demonstrate and theologically justify the promotion of the slavery practice. However, we have made editorial decision to not link to any of these pieces.

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celebrate wilderness front cover a 2smlReview: Celebrate Wildness: Magic, Mirth and Love on the Feraferia Path. (First Edition) Written by Jo Carson.

Years ago I was given a list of books to read in response to my interest in pursuing Paganism. Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon was one of those books and, through that text, I first learned of the Feraferia tradition. At the time, the tradition did not specifically call to me. Even if it had, there was lack of access to information and teachers in Georgia in the 1990s. Wrapped up in trying on different practices and traditions, I didn’t give it much more thought.

Then, a few months ago, I came across the path again while reading Palgrave’s academic text Sexuality and New Religious Movementsand I was reminded of that part of modern Pagan history. Consequently, when Jo Carson’s Celebrate Wildness: Magic, Mirth and Love on the Feraferia Path arrived in my inbox, I was very interested in exploring it in order to learn more about Feraferia, a tradition that appears to have had a strong influence on many Pagan paths in the United States.

The word “Feraferia” literally means “celebrate wildness,” stemming from “fera,” as in wild (feral), and “feria,” meaning festival. It is a religious tradition founded by Fredrick Adams in the 1950s. According to the forward of Celebrating Wildness:

Fredrick Adams was a writer and an artist. He has been called a modern American William Blake. The majority of his work is on mystical themes relating to the Divine Feminine and the relationship of the Mother Goddess and her Daughter to Sacred Nature. Adams and his life partner Lady Svetlana were among the first founders, and most elegant proponents, of Goddess Religion in the Western Hemisphere. Through their religious fellowship, Feraferia, they inspired thousands of modern romantics and Neo-Pagans with their lyric paradisal visions, profound ecological-spiritual philosophy, elegant ceremonial rites and stunning artwork…

Even as a boy Fred dreamed of paradise. He hoped to eventually create an Eden-like environment where he and his friends could live and love each other, in and at peace with the ‘All Wild of Nature’ as he called it. A goal of Feraferia is the creation of such paradisal sanctuaries, focused on celebration and the culture if native trees and plants in harmony with the seasons… (Forward written by Carroll ‘Poke’ Runyon)

In a recent interview with Jason Mankey, author Jo Carson said that one of Adams’ unfulfilled intentions was to write a book about Feraferia in order to make it accessible to everyone. She told Mankey, “He wanted other people to be able to experience something like what he had experienced.”

For anyone not familiar with Feraferia, here is a succinct description, which can be found on the Feraferia website:

Feraferia promotes the love of nature, the “land-sky-love-body” of all wild. We take nature in the widest sense, to include ecology, physiology (human and non-human) and psychology.

Feraferia sees the Goddess as the most ancient deity of all humankind. To honor Her, we hope to serve the community of all life.  At the same time, the unique deity we celebrate most is the young maiden Goddess, the laughing Girl Goddess, the Merrie Maiden – also known as Kore (pronounced kor-ee), from the ancient Greek. By her characteristic innocent grace, She allows for the freedom and joy of all.

Our basic spiritual goal is the awakening of a deeper identity with landscape as a conscious, living presence…

While preparing to review this book, I struggled with putting together a clear conceptualization of Feraferia as a religion based on the introductory information provided. This forced me to look in other places for background material. After I had more information I went back and re-read the first section and things started to make more sense the second time around.

As someone who has studied Pagan beliefs for years, I did find much of the information familiar. Even so, my overall impression of the book, and the first section in particular, is that there is too little information given on any one subject. For example, details on several concepts, including Kore as Twin Goddess (Light Kore and Dark Kore), Mysteries of Death and Rebirth, Trance and the Magic of Dreams, are wrapped up in a page or less.

With these very short bits of information coupled with loads of enchanting artwork, the book is designed more as coffee-table material than anything else. It’s the sort of book that is beautiful and that you would pick up to look at while you’re waiting for your clay sculpture to bake, but not necessarily read cover to cover. This is especially true considering the decision to print white text on black pages, which was hard for these middle-aged eyes.

That being said, I like coffee table books and this one had some beautiful art work, intriguing information and ideas all wrapped up in one.

The best section of the book was Part Three: Feraferia’s Deep Roots. It was in this section that the discussion of ancient henges, the Eleusinian Mysteries, and the ancient peaceful cultures of Crete were explored. Not only were these discussions interesting, but it was at this point in the book that things really started to click. I began to have a clearer idea of what Feraferia is and, more specifically, what is meant by the phrase: “the awakening of a deeper identity with landscape.”  

It was through this section that I could put into context the rites and practices described earlier in the book. For example, I understood the importance of creating the Faerie Ring Henge in the manner presented in Part Two, and I began to understand more about the tradition’s focus on the Minoan Crete culture and on Kore/Persephone.

Generally speaking, the book was interesting, and I was only disappointed in its organization. There were countless times that I read something late in the book and had a “Oh, that’s why…” moment, leading me to re-read earlier articles, reconsider artwork, and research the tradition through other means. For example, if “The Hallows of Feraferia” (written by Admas in 1967) had been included in the beginning rather than the end everything would have made more sense the first time around.

While I have a firm-enough foundation in Pagan history to understand much of what was presented, I am not certain if a person, who is new to Paganism, could use this first edition hardbound art book as an introduction to Feraferia. Fortunately, Carson has recently released a second edition, which is smaller (11 x 8.5) contains more articles, art, a bibliography and further reference information. In addition, more books are planned, which will dive deeper into the beliefs and practices of the tradition. Until then, I will happily gaze at the enchanting artwork within the pages of Celebrating Wildness and figure out how to create a fairy henge that won’t alert my neighbors in my tiny suburban backyard.

Jo Carson is a long-time follower of Feraferia and is the tradition’s current leader. She has a Master’s degree in Film Production and in addition to her extensive work in the film industry, also produced documentaries Dancing with Gaia and A Dance for the Goddess. Her book, Celebrating Wildness, is available through the Feraferia website.

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I. Fire and Bone: July, 2006

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

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

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

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

“Where is home?” I asked.

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

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

Image: US Treasury Department

Image: US Treasury Department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Of Boxes and Blemished Skylines: Summer 1996

I remember the very first time I heard the joke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manhattan skyline, 1960. Photo by Harold Egeberg

Manhattan skyline, 1960. Photo by Harold Egeberg

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

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

IV. Land, Once Water: Spring, 1999

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 V. Fate and Foreshadowing: Late July, 2001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VI. Consequence of Empire: September 11, 2001

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

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

Blue sky over New York. Photo by Payton Chung

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

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

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

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

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

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

“TURNONYOURTVJUSTTURNONYOURTV’ was the reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ID?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Alley Valkyrie

[Photo Credit: A. Valkyrie]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIII. Fear of a Blue Sky: July 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course,” I answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELIGIONES

[From Wikimedia Commons]


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

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

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

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

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

Only time will tell as the site continues to grow.

 

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

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

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[Photo: T. Ward]


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

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

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

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

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

Classes with class

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

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

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

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

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

Rich in Ritual

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

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

Space for Self

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon - Brazil, 2011. ©Neil Palmer/CIAT

Amazon – Brazil, 2011.
©Neil Palmer/CIAT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palmyra [Photo Credit: James Gordon / Wikimedia]

Palmyra [Photo Credit: James Gordon / Wikimedia]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Other News:

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

[Photo Credit: C. Weber]

[Photo Credit: C. Weber]

That’s all for now.  Have a nice day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy McNiff said in her memorial,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is remembered, lives.

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